The Abbess dismissed him with a regal sweep of her paw. "Oh, confound the rules. I hereby change them. Friar Soogum, you have permission to sing where and whenever you so desire. Skipper Ruark, be so kind as to announce our Friar's song immediately."
The Otter Chieftain pounded the tabletop. "Ahoy, Red-wallers! Attention, everybeast. Give good order for Friar Soogum. He's goin' to give us a song, which'll be entered into the contest. Friar!"
Mounting the table and straddling scones and pasties, Soogum beckoned. "Are ye ready, Drull? Don't make the key too high."
One of the kitchen staff, a small hogwife, began tuning a Hogalino. This is a stringed instrument, which hedgehogs hold upside down, plucking it with their headspikes by moving it back and forth.
After a short introduction, the Friar launched into his song. He had a good baritone voice and was able to quaver and warble readily.
"Pray hearken to this humble beast, no warrior am I.
I crave no spear or sword to wield, no arrow to let fly.
No foebeast have I ever slain, my friend, I'll tell you why, because I'm but a simple cook, come try my apple pie!
"Let fighters from the battle rest, victorious but sore, they throng into my dining hall, and what do they ask for?
More enemies to charge against, no no, when war is through, they'd trade their vict'ry medals, for a bowl of my hot stew!
So look you on this humble beast, and, pray, regard me well.
My paw has never swung a blade, foul vermin for to fell.
My kitchen is no battlefield,
I'll shout no loud war cry.
Because I'm but a simple cook, come try my apple pie!"
The Friar's ditty was so well received that Redwallers pounded the tables, cheering him to the echo. Some of the molecrew (who, it is common knowledge, can become quite emotional over the simplest things) wept openly into large, spotty kerchiefs.
"Boohurrhurr, oi do dearly loike songs about plain 'umble beasts. Will ee singen et agin, zurr?"
Abbess Marjoram addressed the assembly. "That was a fine ballad, and well sung, though there is no need for our friend to sing it again. I think he deserves far more
applause for the delicious dishes he produces for us day in and day out. Friar Soogum, please take a bow!"
There was another round of wild cheering, but the good water vole was not there to acknowledge it. Being the timid beast he was, the Friar had fled back to his kitchens.
In the tree line, beyond the open sward at the Abbey's south wall, vermin lay watching and listening. A ferret named Raddi nudged her mate, eyeing Redwall enviously.
"Wot I wouldn't give ter be livin' in there, eh. A nice lid-die pond, an orchard full o' fruit, an' woodlanders cookin' up all those good vittles!"
Her mate, Daclaw, nodded agreement. "Aye, they must have a big cookin' place in there. When the breeze was right, I could smell bread bakin', pies an' cakes, too. I 'ad to quit sniffin', t'stop me guts rumblin' an' growlin'. Redwall must be a rare ole place, mates."
A young stoat named Globby piped up. "Well, why don't we climb over the wall an' slay 'em all, exceptin' the cooks? They're only woodlanders, aren't they? We're Ravagers!"
A voice, low and menacing, silenced further talk. "Don't turn around. Keep looking straight ahead. I'm right behind you, carrying my sword."
It could be only one creature, their commander, Zwilt the Shade. How long had he been eavesdropping on them? Anybeast who had spoken swallowed nervously, hoping they had not condemned themselves with loose talk. Zwilt was merciless. There would be no running or hiding from him. Many vermin were of the opinion that it was not wise to even think the wrong thing in his presence.
Daclaw, the ferret who was group leader, ventured a reply. "Sire, we're just watchin' the place as ye ordered. Anybeast who steps outside those walls will be trapped an' captured by us. That was wot ye wanted, eh, Lord?"
Zwilt moved swift and silent. Raddi felt him standing alongside her; the hairs bristled upon her neck. She held her breath, not knowing what to expect.
The dead black eyes of Zwilt swept over the vermin band. He hissed scornfully, "Idiots, ye haven't the brain of a worm betwixt ye. Listen to me and learn. Redwall Abbey must never be touched. Ye don't have to understand that--just obey it. Leave the thinking to those with brains. Clear?"
Their heads bobbed in silent unison. Raddi was about to relax when she felt the broadsword at her neck.
Zwilt watched her throat pulsing against the blade's edge. He leaned close to the terror-stricken ferret, taunting her. "You, what have ye got to say for yourself?"
Raddi's voice was reduced to a fearful whimper. "Nu-nu-nothin', Lord."
It was one way of instilling obedience into others. Zwilt persisted with his torment of Raddi.
"Only deadbeasts have nothing to say. You're not a deadbeast, are ye?"
He uttered a low chuckle as he watched her striving to think of the right reply, but she had lost the power of speech. Keeping the broadsword at her neck, he turned his attention to Daclaw, knowing that he was Raddi's mate. "You tell me--is she a deadbeast?"
Daclaw knew what to say.
"Aye, she is, Sire, unless she lives only to serve you."
With eye-blurring speed, Zwilt swept the sword at Da-claw's head, stopping its point a hairsbreadth from his eyeball. The sable enjoyed seeing the fear of death in others. Daclaw was openmouthed, rigid with naked fright. Zwilt returned the weapon to his belt casually.
"A good answer, my friend, very good!"
He paced quietly backward until he was behind the group. None dared turn to see where he was. Again he spoke to Daclaw.
"If nobeast has left the Abbey by sunset, then split your force into four groups. You watch the front gates from the ditch on the west side. The others can take up positions where they can see the three small wallgates. Until then, stay here and keep your eyes on that building."
It was nearing sunset; none of the Ravagers had dared to move. Daclaw was shocked when the young stoat called Globby stood up and stretched himself.
Daclaw whispered hoarsely, "Wot are ye doin'? Get down, ye fool!"
Globby twitched his snout impudently. "Fool yoreself. Zwilt's long gone--take a look."
It was Raddi who ventured a peek. "Yore right, but how'd ye know Zwilt was gone?"
Globby shrugged. "He always does that. Whenever Zwilt tells ye to watch somethin', well, do it. Then count ten an' take a look behind ye. Hah, that's why they calls 'im the Shade--he's always gone."
Daclaw felt the need to regain his authority, so he pushed Globby roughly in the chest. "Think yore clever, eh? Well, you'll be dead clever afore long if'n ye carry on like that, smart mouth!"
The young stoat merely laughed. "Cummon, let's split up an' watch those liddle gates. Me'n Dinko'll take the back un. Let's go, mate."
Dinko, an equally forward young rat, bounded off after Globby, who was already on his way.
Daclaw called after them, "I never told youse t'go. Wait for my order--come back 'ere!"
Raddi waved a dismissive paw. "Ah, let 'em go. Those two are troublemakers--we're better off without 'em."
Daclaw took his mate's advice and set about picking watchers for the other gates. He winked at Raddi. "Yore right. Cummon, me'n'you'll watch the front gates together. We can take turns sleepin'."
Not far from the east wickergate at the back wall, the two young Ravagers had found a blackberry patch. Dinko sat in the loam, his lips dyed purple with juice.
"This is the life, mate-- 'Ey wot are ye doin' there? Git down outta that tree!"
Globby kept his eyes on a high branch as he climbed a
sycamore which grew reasonably close to the wall. "I can't get the smell o' that cookin' out me snout. Those scones, that bread, right out the oven, an' that cake. I've never tasted real cake afore!"
Dinko almost choked on a berry. "Git down, ye knot'ead, afore ye fall an' 'urt yoreself!"
Globby stopped to rest on a sturdy limb. "I'll be alright-- don't you worry, cully. See that branch up there? If'n I climb along it, I'll bet I could jump an' reach the walltop. I'm a good climber."