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An autumnal sun lent its enriching rays to a golden wheatfield, which bowed and tossed beneath an amber dawn.
A weasel called Saltmarsh wiped a paw across his brow, leaning against the old scythe that had belonged to his Uncle Cizero before him. He stared out across the field at a full harvest, surveying his lands- his little domain -with a proud smile of accomplishment.
The door to the tumbledown cottage behind him creaked open to reveal a slightly younger female weasel- his mate. "Mister Saltmarsh?"
"Aye, Missus Saltmarsh, m'darlin'?"
It was a quaint autumn ritual, for the most part forgotten by the newer generations in grand old Mossflower, but Saltmarsh and his wife, whose proper name was Feltie, always called eachother "Mister Saltmarsh" and "Missus Saltmarsh" respectively, and always rose promptly at five-thirty every day except Saturdays; Feltie to collect yeasty bread dough that had been rising during the night, and Saltmarsh to the fields to check on their small stand of wheat. It was especially important to do this as harvest time grew nearer; Saltmarsh was certain that it would be any day now and diligently took his scythe with him on his morning walks.
Today was that day. "Bread an' butter's hot an' tasty as it'll ever be, Mister Saltmarsh."
"Then I'll be glad to break fast wi' me charmin' wife. No' a prettier weasel in all Mossflower wid which ter share such marv'lus vittles."
"Oh, Mister Saltmarsh, yew wicked flatterer."
"It ain't flatter if 'tis true," he winked.
"Heehee, stoppit this h'instant, Mister Saltmarsh," Feltie giggled, then whispered, "Tain't proper."
The young couple went inside and sat down around the simple table that Saltmarsh had built for them from rugged pine cuts. Breakfast lay on the table, warm and inviting. The famished laborer ate quickly but politely. "Butter, please, Missus Saltmarsh?"
"Oho, shure, Mister Saltmarsh."
"Thankee."
"More beer, Mister Saltmarsh?"
"Fates bless ye fer a kind weasel, Missus Saltmarsh. I'm fair parched."
Talk soon turned to the harvest. "A good fine crop this year, aye Mister Saltmarsh?"
"Aye," he grinned through a mouthful of blackberries.
"I saw the Currants yesterday."
"Oh, did ye now?" Saltmarsh said gruffly without looking up from his barley beer.
"Aye, I did indeed, Mister Saltmarsh. Missus Currant had a new baby, too: a wee little bean!"
"Currant, eh. Never liked those foxes."
"But she had a baby, Mister Saltmarsh."
"More foxes to spoil this good green earth, I say. Foxes is thieves, aye, an' gypsies, so they say. Fakes an' liars."
Feltie stood up. "Mister Saltmarsh, they had a baby!"
Saltmarsh froze, at a loss for words. After a moment's silence, he muttered something under his breath about barley grains this time of year and, retrieving his threshing scythe, he stumped out the door.
Saltmarsh awoke, panting, in the ditch.
It was muddy and generally inhospitable down here; he stood up, wiping sweat from his cheeks and forehead. The weasel's eyes caught the dagger lying in the ditchbed, which had been forgotten as he slept the previous night. He snatched it up and clutched it close, his eyes wide and desperate.
The weasel was on the run.
Everywhere it lurked, everywhere it slithered, terrible, hideous, vile. He could hear its voice in his head even now. "Asmodeus. Asmodeusss."
Asmodeus!


"Yer scared, shipmate?"
The young crewrat looked up at the grinning fox Captain, who gave him a fond wink as he spun the wheel.
Cluny was older now, tougher, and the bruises and scratches inflicted by his late father had healed for the most part. And he had a new tunic, which Cap'n Ironfang had specially filched himself and presented the enthusiastic new sailor. This was to be his first raid. He felt good.
The rat patted the head of the axe resting in his belt confidentally, a bold smile spreading across his lips.
"I fink I can 'andle a few mice, Cap'n."
The green eyes of Cluny the Scourge opened, flicking from one side of the road to the next.
The damp morning air was cool and fresh, and a very welcome feeling to the sunbeaten warlord who sat on the ever-moving cart. The large rat unclipped his cloak and tossed it into the back of his vehicle. He intended to fully enjoy the breeze while it lasted.
His horde captains and lieutenants sat behind him, Ragear, Darkclaw and the rest, fully enjoying their vacation from the weary marching the rank and file horderats seemed never able to avoid as the army made its way North.
The only one not enjoying the special treatment of the officers was Skullface, for he was the very slavemaster that kept the cart-pulling badger slave in line.
They'd caught the wretched young creature near the kingdom of Floret, where his family once mined the royal squirrel family's gold, filling their coffers with riches.
The bold, stubborn badgers had decided to stand in Cluny's way when he demanded they give his horde their precious metals. He spoke with them prior to the attack, offered them a chance to get out of the confrontation alive... and they laughed in his face.
So he slew them, at the cost of twenty horderats. The young badger had barely managed to avoid death himself when he had offered to show the rats the minerals already harvested, and in exchange, Cluny spared him from an early demise.
But he did not spare the badger from a pitiful existence beneath the whip and claw of Cluny the Scourge.
The huge rat stood slowly up, just as golden sunlight began sifting through the clouds to warm the cart and its riders. A sign had caught the warlord's attention.
It was broad and wooden, thrust into the ground alongside the side of the worn road.
The letters were painted in faded, peeling letters, and long weathered by the country's time and climate.
"R E D W A L L A B B E Y : 15 M I L E S"
Skullface was ordered into the cart. His prior function was no longer required.
The towering conqueror raised his tail high. It was a horrifying instrument of torture; a long, muscle-bound tail with a poisoned blade attached to the tip. The blade had been added by fox healers, a gift to the Warlord in exchange for their lives.
It was said that a single prick from the blade could end the life of any creature Cluny chose. One cut.
The heavily-coated poison upon the vile weapon did all the rest.
The tail was the source of the rat's title, and only added to the fearsome legend surrounding the black-furred, one-eyed creature of nightmares.
He wouldn't use the blade to poison the badger. It was far too useful to him at the moment.
Instead, he used the sheer force of his powerful tail-flesh to whip the chained prisoner into action through additional agony.
Moaning and squinting through wretched tears, the badger increased in intensity as the rat staggered and clamped a paw onto the cart's edge, roaring a challenge out to the skies as the speed of the five hundred-strong horde marching out behind him increased.
They surged, thundering after the warlord and his officers as they added their own savage voices to the Scourge's bloodthirsty howl. They bristled with weaponry, and waved banners and trophy-studded standards high.
Cluny's horde had conquered kingdoms.
They had toppled monarchies and slaughtered sea captains, ransacked fortresses and dived to the bottom of the sea to retrieve loot from storm-ravaged wrecks.
Every one of them had heard of Redwall Abbey, regardless of where they came from.
It was legend wherever they went.
This was why they had come so far North.
They wanted Redwall!
"Reeeedwaaaaaaaaall! Cluny the Scourge has come!"



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