The Softbrush Saga

By Katie Sullivan, a.k.a Snowfur

  Early morning shadows stretched across the leaf-covered floor of southern Mossflower woods.  The summer sun beat down, burning off the tendrils of fog.  Mariel and Dandin trekked ever southward, with no particular destination in mind.  Each had a well-stocked haversack slung under their shoulder.
    “What a beautiful morning,” Dandin commented, breathing in the loam-scented air.
    “No rain in sight,” Mariel said.
     Somewhere in the distance a sparrow twittered.  Mossflower was at peace.
     Suddenly, the anguished cry of a young beast shattered the stillness.
     Mariel and Dandin stopped dead in their tracks.  “Did you hear that?” Mariel asked, putting a wary paw on her Gullwhacker.
     “I sure did,” Dandin said, visually probing the misty depths of the forest.
     The cry came again.
     “It’s coming from over there,” Mariel said, creeping cautiously eastward with Dandin in tow.
     They followed the miserable sound and found it to be issuing from a hollow log.
    Sword in paw, Dandin peered into the log.  To his immense surprise, he found a tiny foxbabe, clad only in a thin shift.  The infant was damp with dew and shivering.  She whimpered feebly.
     “It’s a newborn fox,” Dandin said, stepping back.
     “Vermin,” Mariel said contemptuously.  “We should leave it alone.”
     Dandin’s Redwall upbringing said otherwise.  “But she’s only a babe.”
     “She’s still a vermin.”
     “She’s obviously been abandoned.  We can’t just leave her here.  She’d die.”
     “One less vermin to worry about.”
     “Mariel!  She’s just a Dibbun!”
     The mousemaid looked down at the quivering little fox.  Her expression softened.  “Oh, all right.  We’ll take her with us.  But just until we find someone to take her in.”
     “We could take her back to Redwall, I suppose.”
     “That would take weeks!”  Mariel made a sour face.
     Dandin nodded.  “You’re right.”  He stooped to pick up the tiny fox and immediately wrapped the chilled infant in his cloak.  She opened her jet-black eyes and whimpered pitifully.  Mariel put a paw on the fox’s damp, furry head.  “I wonder where she came from.”
     “Who knows?  Wandering foxes are all over the place.”

     Mariel and Dandin took turns carrying the little fox as they wandered southward. The sun rose ever higher, drying off the infant.  Soon it was time to stop for lunch.  It was then that they realized their biggest dilemma.   Mariel inspected their food supplies.  “There’s nothing here a newborn can eat.”
     “You’re right.”  Dandin winced as the fox scratched him with a tiny claw.  “She’s restless, too.  I’m sure she’s hungry.  But what can we do?”
     “I really don’t know, Dandin.”  Mariel pursed her lips.  She guiltily ate a handful of berries.  The moisture in her mouth gave her an idea.
     The best they could provide for the baby was a little berry juice.  She smacked her lips enthusiastically at the sweet red liquid, then cried for more.  But the mice had nothing more substantial to give her.
     What would Mother Mellus do? Dandin wondered.
     They continued on their journey, but the pitiful baby wiggled and wept inconsolably.
    Supper came and went in much the same fashion.  It was summer, so no fire was needed for warmth overnight.  Mariel and Dandin bedded down on cushions of leaves and wrapped themselves in their cloaks.  The baby’s ceaseless whimpering kept them awake, however.
     So it was that both mice were alert enough to hear the footsteps of somebeast hurrying through the forest.  While pretending to be asleep, Dandin got his paw on his sword, and Mariel did the same with her Gullwhacker.  The footsteps halted a short distance from where they were feigning sleep.  The baby continued fussing.
     “Softbrush?” came a fearful female voice.
     Dandin and Mariel cautiously turned toward the voice.  A trembling young vixen stood at the edge of the clearing, dressed in a loose green healer’s cloak.  Her brown eyes were wide with terror at the sight of the two warriors.  She held up her paws beseechingly.  “Please don’t harm me.  I’m unarmed.  I’m only searching for my daughter, Softbrush.”
     Mariel and Dandin exchanged a quick look.
     “Uh...what does she look like?” Dandin asked.
     Wringing her paws anxiously, the vixen said, “She has large black eyes and is only a week old.  My husband had wanted a son, and he took her from me.  I don’t know what happened to her...if she’s even still alive.  I left my husband forever after that.  I’ve been searching for Softbrush ever since.”  The vixen swallowed to clear the lump from her throat.  “You haven’t seen her, have you?” she implored.
    “As a matter of fact...” Mariel said, stepping aside to reveal the furry lump in Dandin’s cloak.  “This might be her.”
     “Softbrush!” the vixen exclaimed, rushing to the baby.  She nuzzled the little fox against her face.  “Oh, Softbrush, my baby!  Thank you.  Oh, thank you so very much,” she said, tears of joy running down her face.
    Dandin and Mariel could see she was not an evil fox and relaxed their guard somewhat.
 “I have nothing but my healing skills with which to repay you,” the vixen said. “Are either of you in need of a healer?”
     Dandin shook his head.  “Thankfully, no.”
     “Oh,” the vixen said, looking somewhat disappointed.
     “We are mice of Redwall,” Mariel explained.  “We need no reward.”
     “Then take my thanks.  You saved my child’s life.”
     “You’re very welcome,” Dandin said politely.
     “If ever you need a healer, find me.  My name is Longbrush.”
     “We will.”
     “Thank you again!”
     “You’re welcome.”
     Longbrush hurried off into the depths of Mossflower, speaking softly to her infant.
     Dandin turned to Mariel.  “Now aren’t you glad we took her along?”
     Mariel gave a twisted smile.  “Yes.  She wasn’t too bad...for vermin.”
     Dandin shook his head fondly, and they resumed their travels.
     Neither mouse knew what tomorrow would bring...


Many seasons later...    

     The prow of the Pearl Queen cut through the gray seas north of Salamandastron.  Dandin closed his eyes and felt the fresh sea breeze ruffle his whiskers.  He, Mariel and Bowly Pintips were finally going home to Redwall.  In the past three years they had sailed all around the globe, and although they had enjoyed their adventures immensely, there was something comforting in the knowledge that their next destination was Redwall.
    “River Moss ahoy!” Bowly shouted down from his perch on the rigging.  Dandin squinted across the sun-flecked waters and saw the mouth of the river emptying into the sea.  The seasoned crew of Guosim shrews readied the poles to navigate the ship up the river.
    A day and a night later, the bell tower of Redwall was visible through the trees of Mossflower.  The travelers docked the Pearl Queen on the banks of the River Moss and hastened through the forest to Redwall.
     All the Abbey residents rushed to the orchards to greet the homecomers.  Mariel, Dandin and Bowly were reunited with old friends and met new ones, including all the Dibbuns who had been born since they went questing.  The tiny beasts crowded around, tugging on their heroes’ robes and giggling.
    “Can we see your Gullwhacker, Miss Mariel?” asked a Dibbun squirrel.
    “Later,” she said.  “Ow!”  A mole Dibbun tugged on Mariel’s tail.
     “Zorry, Miz Mureul,” the mole said sheepishly.
     “Soilpaw, how many times have I told you not to pull otherbeasts’ tails!” scolded Sister Blackberry.
     “Hurr, oi’m said oi wuz zurry, marm,” Soilpaw said.
     “No harm done,” Mariel said, picking up the meek molebabe.
     Sister Sage quietly stepped up to Dandin’s side.  “Come with me,” she said gravely, motioning to the two warriormice.  “There is something I must tell you.”  Dandin and Mariel extracted themselves from the cluster of adoring Dibbuns and followed Sage into the Abbey building.
 Wordlessly, they climbed the stone stairs to the infirmary.  It felt good to be home again, but Sage’s serious expression made them apprehensive.  Sage slowly opened the infirmary door and went inside.  Mariel and Dandin entered the room and saw the prone form of Abbot Saxtus lying in one the beds.  Sage stood at the Abbot’s bedside.  Saxtus gave no indication that he noticed their presence.
     “He fell ill this spring,” Sage whispered solemnly.  “He lost consciousness about a week ago, and we can’t seem to revive him.  He’s alive, but only barely.  It’s a complete mystery.  Not even the most seasoned elders can remember somebeast with this ailment.”
     Dandin set his jaw sadly and gazed down at the still form of his childhood friend.
     “What can we do?” Mariel asked.
     Sage shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I was hoping you had picked up some knowledge on your journeys.”
     Dandin shook his head.  “I’m afraid not, Sage.”
    Sage sighed and started for the door, her tail dragging listlessly.  She looked as if her last hope had been taken away.  Mariel and Dandin lingered at the bedside of the comatose mouse for several long seconds before leaving.

     That evening, mixed emotions filled Cavern Hole as the Redwallers took their supper.  The empty Abbot’s chair stifled much of the joy over Mariel, Dandin and Bowly’s return.  Mariel nibbled half-heartedly at a pastie, and Dandin stared into a mug of October Ale with a disturbed expression.
     Suddenly, Mariel dropped her pastie and turned to her companion.  “Dandin,” she began.  “Remember that healer fox we helped all those seasons ago on our way south?”
     Dandin thought for a moment.
     “You remember, we saved her baby.”
     “Oh, yes...what was her name?”
     Mariel delved back through her memory.  “Something brush...Redbrush?  Darkbrush?  Foxbrush?  Longbrush!  That was it!”
     “And she said we could turn to her if we ever needed a healer.”
     Mariel shook her head.  “Oh, but she probably doesn’t know anything different. Forget it.  It was a silly idea.”
     “It may be a bit silly, but what other options do we have?  I can’t just stand by and watch Saxtus die!” Dandin said.
 Mariel shrugged.  “I suppose you’re right.  It’s worth a try.  But how will we find her back?  That was years ago, and healer foxes wander all over Mossflower.”
     “We can ask around.  We’re mice of Redwall.  Woodlanders will tell us if they’ve seen anything.”
     Dandin looked into Mariel’s eyes.  “Shall we start tonight?” he asked, raising a hopeful eyebrow.
     Mariel smiled.  “Oh, why not?  I was getting sick of all this peace and quiet, anyway,” she joked.
     Dandin clapped an encouraging paw on Mariel’s shoulder and headed into the Abbey kitchens to get supplies.


At dawn’s first light, Mariel and Dandin took their full haversacks and set off through Mossflower Woods.  The rosy sun on the horizon cast extended shadows through the forest.  It felt good to stretch their legs after so much time at sea.  They tried to take the same route as they had on their way to Southsward all those years ago.
     About mid-morning, an acorn flew out of the sky and ricocheted off Mariel’s skull.  “Ow!” she said sharply, rubbing her head.  She and Dandin looked up to see where the acorn had come from.  Perched in a nearby oak tree was a young squirrel, barely past Dibbunhood.
     “You little rouge!” Mariel chided with false severity.
     The squirrel giggled mischievously.
     “What’s your name, little one?” Dandin asked.
     “What’s yer name, likkle one?” the squirrel repeated.
     “I’m Dandin and this is Mariel.  Who are you?”
     “I’m Dandin and this is Mariel.  Who are you?” the squirrel chattered.
     Suddenly an annoyed female voice rang out.  “Leafear!  There you are!  I’ve been searching for you since breakfast, you little whirlwind!  You know you’re not supposed to be this far from home!”  A squirrel a few seasons older than the first swung through the trees and landed on the branch next to him.  “Wait until Mama gets her paws on you!  She’s  been worried sick, you know, she--”  The older squirrel’s voice cut off when she noticed the two warriormice below.  She clasped her paws around her little brother protectively.
     “No need for alarm,” Dandin said.  “We’re Redwallers.  We mean you no harm.”
     “Oh, Redwallers!” the female squirrel said, her face brightening.  “Really?  I’ve never seen real Redwallers before!”
     “I’m Dandin, and this is Mariel,” Dandin said yet again.
     “I’m Blossomtail, and this little rascal is my brother, Leafear.”
     “Well, Blossomtail,” said Mariel, “perhaps you can help us.  We’re looking for a healer fox named Longbrush.”
     “I don’t know anybody like that,” Blossomtail said apologetically.
     “I don’t know anybody like that,” Leafear repeated with a titter.
     “Stop being such a pest!” she chided.
     “Stop being such a pest,” he mimicked.
     Blossomtail turned her eyes skyward.  “Maybe our parents would know,” she offered.  “I can take you to them, if you like.”
     “Yes, please,” Dandin said politely.
     “Follow me,” Blossomtail said, bounding off through the trees.  Leafear hurled another acorn at the mice and tagged along after his sister.
     Mariel and Dandin scrambled to keep pace with the swift squirrels.  Soon they reached a homely little shanty nestled between two pine trees.  “Home sweet home,” Blossomtail said, dropping out of the trees and plopping to earth by her front door.  She opened the door.  “Mama!  There are Redwallers out here!  They want to talk to you!”
     “What?” said an adult female squirrel.  She appeared in the doorway, dusting flour off her paws onto her apron.  “Oh, hello,” she said.  Leafear clung to his mother’s skirts, and she put a loving paw on his small head.
     “Hello,” said Dandin.  “We’re Redwallers.”
     The mother squirrel’s eyes widened.  “Redwallers!  You don’t say!  Lackaday, and me all mussed up,” she said, waving her bushy tail.
    “Sorry to intrude,” Mariel said, “but we’re looking for a healer fox named Longbrush.  Might you know where we can find her?”
     The mother squirrel pursed her lips and thought.  “Let me see...Longbrush...  Hmm.  I believe I recall that name...  Oh, yes!  Now I remember.  Longbrush.  She and her daughter passed through here last summer.  Nice beasts, for vermin, really.  I think they said they lived due east of here.  Yes, east it was.”
     “Did they say how far to the east?”
     “No, I’m afraid not.”
     “Well, it’s something to go on.  Thank you, ma’am,” Dandin said.
     “No trouble at all,” the mother squirrel said warmly.
     “No rubble tall,” Leafear mimicked from behind a fold in his mother’s skirt.
     They exchanged good-byes, and Mariel and Dandin headed due east into the morning sun.  Abbot Saxtus’ life depended on their success.


    A light drizzle accompanied the rising sun the next day.  Mariel and Dandin miserably trekked eastward through Mossflower.  Their cloaks were becoming quite soaked in the irritating rain.
     “I sure wish I was in a chair in front of the fire back at Redwall,” Dandin said longingly, his paws squelching in the muddy ground.
     “Remember what we’re doing this for.  Who we’re doing this for,” Mariel said.
    Dandin nodded.  “Right, Mariel.  Saxtus is depending on us.”
     Suddenly, Mariel perked up her damp head and peered through the trees.  “What’s that?” she asked excitedly, pointing.
     Dandin squinted through the drizzle at the square shape in the distance.  “It looks like some sort of structure.”
     “Well, if it isn’t Longbrush, someone there might be able to give us directions,” Mariel said, hurrying on with renewed energy.

     They reached a simple but sturdily-built cottage in a clearing.  A chopping block and firewood by the door showed recent signs of use, and a well-tended garden lay nearby.  Dandin and Mariel strode up to the door, and he knocked.  There was no answer.  He tried again.  Silence.  The two warriormice looked at each other.  “What now?” Dandin asked.
     “Well, my paws could use a rest.  Let’s just stay here until someone shows up.”
     “All right.”
     They sat down on the ground, sheltering from the rain underneath the eaves of the cottage.  After about fifteen minutes, the drizzle began to taper off.  Soon a few peeks of sunlight poked through the low, grey clouds.
     Mariel and Dandin had been waiting for about a half hour when footsteps began crunching toward them through the leaves.  They stood up in anticipation and watched for the source of the sound.
     A young vixen with obsidian eyes came through the trees, swinging a small burlap bag.  She was humming contentedly to herself, but stopped abruptly when she saw her visitors.  “Who are you?” she asked warily, ducking behind a tree.
     “Don’t be afraid.  We don’t mean you any harm,” Mariel said.
     The vixen peered anxiously around the tree trunk, her dark eyes filled with suspicion.  “What are you doing here?”
     Dandin stepped forward.  “We’re looking for a fox named Longbrush.  Do you know where we can find her?”
     The vixen lowered her eyes.  “You can’t.  Find her, I mean.  She died last winter.”
     “Oh.  I’m sorry,” said Dandin.
     “You wouldn’t be Softbrush, by any chance, would you?” Mariel asked.
     The vixen looked up in surprise.  “Yes.”  She lowered an eyebrow suspiciously.  “How do you know my name?”
     “We knew your mother.  And we knew you, too, but you were too young to remember,” Dandin said.
     Softbrush finally came out from behind the tree and cautiously walked into the clearing toward the two mice.  “Wait a mother told me about you.  You’re the mice from Redwall who saved me, aren’t you?”
     “That’s right,” Mariel said.
     Dandin decided to get right down to business.  “Your mother offered to repay us for saving you.  Redwallers don’t normally accept rewards, but our Abbot is gravely ill, and we need a healer.”
     “I’m afraid I can’t help you,” Softbrush said quickly, heading for her door.
     “Did your mother teach you any healing skills?” Mariel asked.
     Softbrush shut the door tightly and locked it without answering.  Dandin and Mariel stood awkwardly, perplexed by Softbrush’s strange behavior.
    No amount of knocking could bring a response from the fox inside.
     Dandin sighed.  “Now what do we do?”


Dandin and Mariel lingered uncertainly around the small cottage.  They were perplexed by Softbrush’s abrupt manner.
     “Dandin, come look at this,” Mariel said from behind the cottage.  He followed her voice and found her standing by a tablet of stone that was leaning against a tree.  Small purple flowers proliferated on the grave, and the name Longbrush was inscribed in painstaking detail on the stone slab.  The two mice stood respectfully and silently by for a few moments.
     Suddenly, Softbrush dashed around the cabin, brandishing a pike.  “Hey!  Get away from there!” she shouted.
     Dandin’s sword flashed into readiness, and soon he and the young vixen were face to face, weapons locked against each other.
     “This is my home.  Leave,” Softbrush snarled.
     “We don’t want to fight with you.  But we need your help,” Dandin said firmly.  “Our Abbot is dying.”
     Softbrush frowned and lowered her eyes and her weapon.  “I can’t help you.”
     “Surely Longbrush instructed you in the ways of a healer,” Mariel interjected.
     The fox drove her pike into the ground beside her and sighed.  “She tried.”
     “Then you do know some things,” Mariel said.
     “Yes,” Softbrush said reluctantly.  “But I’m not any good at it.”  She kicked despondently at the dusty ground.
     “Anything would be useful.  Our Abbot is running out of time,” Dandin said.
     “I can’t,” she said again.
     “Why not?” Dandin asked in frustration.
     Softbrush glanced self-consciously at her mother’s grave.  “I...” she began hesitantly.  “I just can’t do it.  Not anymore.  Not again.”
     “What do you mean 'not again’?” Mariel pressed.
     Softbrush’s black eyes glistened with unreleased tears.  She frowned even more deeply and blurted, “I couldn’t save my mother, and I can’t save your Abbot!”  She turned and ran back into the cottage, leaving her pike and two startled mice behind.

    Dandin and Mariel ran after Softbrush, but the door slammed in their faces again.  Dandin
pounded on the door and called, “Please, Softbrush!  I’m sorry about your mother, but another sick creature needs your help now!  You’re our Abbot’s last hope!”
     “I can’t!” came the vixen’s anguished voice.  “I watched my mother die, and there was nothing I could do!  I won’t do it again!”
     Mariel gave it a try.  “We know how hard that must have been.  We’ve watched comrades die, too.  But just because you couldn’t help Longbrush doesn’t mean you can’t help Saxtus!  Think of how good you’ll feel after saving him.”
     Dandin jumped in before Softbrush had a chance to protest again.  “If your mother taught you healing skills, then she must also have taught you that healers are sworn to help all ailing creatures.  Would your mother have wanted you to let Saxtus die?”
     “No,” said Softbrush through tears.
     “Then come with us to Redwall.  Please, Softbrush.  We need you,” Dandin said.
     There was a long period of silence, and the warriormice began to think Softbrush was planning on completely ignoring them.
     Then the door opened and a solemn fox emerged with a bag slung over her shoulder.  She stood straight and swished her tail restlessly.  “Let’s go,” she said quietly.
     Dandin and Mariel’s faces brightened.  Softbrush wasn’t exactly enthusiastic, but at least she was consenting to help them.
     Dandin clasped the young vixen’s paws in his.  “Thank you, Softbrush.  You won’t regret this.”
     She forced a small smile.  “I hope not,” she said with a nervous sigh.


    Days later, the travelers spotted the spires of Redwall.  Softbrush hesitated at the main gate.  “I’m not sure I can do this,” she said, clasping her paws to her chest nervously.
     “Please,” Mariel said, gently pushing at Softbrush’s back.
     The young vixen slowly walked past the incredibly thick walls and into a place precious few foxes were ever allowed to go:  Redwall Abbey.
     Sister Sage met them at the door of the main abbey building.  Her face looked drawn, as if she hadn’t slept in days.
     Dandin took her by the arm.  “How is he?”
     “The same,” Sage said.
     He nodded.  “At least he’s no worse.”
     Sage eyed Softbrush warily.  “And this is...?” she asked.
     “Sage, Softbrush.  Softbrush, Sister Sage,” Dandin introduced.
     “Hello,” said Sage.
     “Uh...hi,” Softbrush said shyly.
     “Softbrush is the daughter of the healer we told you about.  We hope she can help the Abbot,” Mariel said.
     Sage shrugged.  “A fox healer?  Why not?  We’ve tried everything we can think of.  Come with me.”
     Mariel, Dandin and Softbrush followed Sage into the abbey and up to the infirmary.
     Saxtus was still in bed, unconscious.  His breathing was shallow and he looked very pale.   Softbrush cautiously approached the bed, her face troubled.  The three mice stood quietly by as she assessed her patient.  Softbrush pulled up Saxtus’ eyelids and squinted into his eyes.  She felt his pulse and looked in his mouth.  Finally, she stood back and frowned.
     “I seem to remember my mother telling me something about this...” she said, trying to push back the mists of time to remember.  “It’s a type of fever.”  Her face brightened.  “Now I remember!  It’s Tallgrass Fever.”
     “Tallgrass Fever?” Sage echoed.  “I’ve never heard of it.  Is it contagious?”
     “No.  You get it from touching a certain type of plant.  It’s rather rare, though.”
     “So can you help him?” Dandin asked anxiously.
     Softbrush gave an apologetic look.  “I don’t know.”
     Dandin’s shoulders fell in disappointment.  Often, there are no easy answers.

     Using supplies from her sack and from the Abbey infirmary, Softbrush mixed a brown paste.  Dandin frowned at the mush in the bowl.  “Are you sure this is the cure for Tallgrass Fever?”  Softbrush sighed.  “No.  It’s been years since my mother taught me the recipe.  But I think this is it.  Or something close, anyway.  I’m sorry.  It’s the best I can do.”
     Dandin smiled and took the young vixen’s paw.  “Of course.  That’s all we can ask.”
     Softbrush half-heartedly returned the smile and walked over the Saxtus’ bed.  She sat in the chair by the bed and carefully began spooning the brown paste into the ill mouse’s mouth.  When coaxed with a little water, he swallowed.  Softbrush nodded approvingly.  “I’ll have to administer a few more doses before we see any change,” she said.  She still sounded unsure of herself, however.

     Through the day and into the night, Softbrush fed Saxtus the medicine.  As dawn light began to stream through the infirmary window, Mariel looked up with a start.  “He moved!” she said.
     Dandin was instantly awake.  “What?”
     “He moved his paw!  I saw it!” Mariel said, coming over the bed.  “Saxtus, if you can hear me, please wake up!”
     Softbrush looked relieved.  The medicine was working.

     Saxtus slowly became aware of his surroundings.  There was light.  And an herbal taste in his mouth.  He was lying down.  In bed.  Not his own bed.  The infirmary?  He struggled to open his eyes.  He found himself staring in Dandin’s concerned face.  Mariel was at his side.  And there was a stranger.  A vixen!  In Redwall?
     Dandin spoke.  “Welcome back,” he said, grinning widely.
     Saxtus’ lips curved into a thin smile.  “Hi,” was all he could think of to say.  His mind was fuzzy.
     The vixen turned her back to the sickbed and walked a few paces away.  Soft sobs were heard.
     While Dandin rejoiced over his friend’s recovery, Mariel went to Softbrush and put a paw on her quaking back.  “Thank you,” she said simply.
     Softbrush smiled through her tears.  “No,” she said.  “Thank you.”


      The residents of Redwall stood at the east gate a few days later.  Abbot Saxtus still looked pale, but was quickly regaining his strength.
     “You know you’re welcome to stay here,” Dandin said.
     Softbrush adjusted the well-stocked haversack on her shoulder and shook her head.  “No.  I already have a home.  The woodlanders need a healer.  But I’ll never forget you.”
     Dandin and Mariel shook paws with the vixen, who then set forth into Mossflower Woods.  At the edge of the trees, she turned and waved.  The Redwallers waved farewell.  As the form of the young fox became lost among the trees, Mariel put her hands on her hips and turned to Dandin.  “There goes the nicest vermin I’ve ever met.”
     Dandin smiled.  “Come on, now.  We have a feast to get to.  If we don’t hurry, there won’t be anything left!”
     Mariel chuckled, envisioning the massive tableau of cuisine that always graced Redwall banquet tables.  “Not likely,” she said.
     The two warriormice drifted across the lawn toward Cavern Hole.
     Somewhere in Mossflower, a bird twittered.



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