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Ciar Tynan
Martin the Warrior

Martin the Warrior trudged onwards down south. It was a hard road, and a thankless one. Every night the tragedies behind him returned as dreams. The snarling faces of the marsh lizards......the dead bodies of the Fur & Freedom Fighters littered around the cart.......the tears coursing down Grumm's face...... and Rose. Every night he saw it again. She had attacked Badrang, he with a sword, and she with nothing but a loaded sling. She had struck at him, many times, but his claws had lifted her, and thrown her against the wall. Martin remembered watching her lifeless body slide down the stones of Marshank, stones that he and the other slaves had hewn.

And he remembered the terrible wound. The wound that could never be healed. The burning ache inside him, the sorrow that would never go away. Rose had died because of him. If had not been for him, she would never have returned to Marshank. Never had gone through the tunnel. Never tried to defend Grumm against the Tyrant. She would have been safe in Noonvale, staying because her father had said so. It was all his fault.

But he could not dwell on the past. What had been, had been, and he could not change it. He looked down at the path, and noticed a milestone. It read: Beechnut Inn- 1 mile. Good. An inn. There he could get a good night's rest, and something to eat and drink. He could trade some things perhaps, innkeepers normally enjoyed bartering for their services. He walked on, his step perhaps a little lighter in anticipation of a proper bed and a good meal.

The inn looked very cheerful when he arrived. It was a large, sprawling building, made out of red sandstone (there seemed to be a lot of this in the Mossflower area), and a sign hung above the door. It bore a cleverly painted beechnut, and the words 'Welcome to the Beechnut Inn- Wayfarer's Joy.' Martin grinned.

Pushing open the oaken door, he found himself in a cosy little room. Lit by a fire crackling in the large hearth on the opposite wall was a place full of squashy little armchairs and small tables. To one side was the bar, surrounded by tall stools. Martin made his way over there, hauled himself onto a stool (they were only a little shorter than him), and turned to face the landlady, a cheery-looking squirrel. She had a plain green dress on, with puffed yellow sleeves, and over this was a neat white apron, with a pocket in which was a notebook and a stick of charcoal. She smiled warmly at him as he leant on the bar.

"What can I get you, me dearie?" she asked.

"Hmm... just a glass of strawberry cordial for now, madam." replied Martin, removing his pack. The landlady's grin grew even wider.

"Oho no me dearie, don't you be a' madam-ing me. Nay, I'm just plain Cail Beechleaf, o' the Beechnut Inn. Anyways, I'll go an' get you your cordial, sir, you look sore weary, so you do." She bustled off to find a clean glass.

Martin looked around. Hardly anybeast had noticed him. A few were looking warily at his sword, but that seemed to be it. Martin put a paw up, and touched the hilt of the rusty old blade he carried across his back. He had won this sword hard, and it had got him out of many a scrap further north, as he travelled through the wild, untamed lands that were between his old home and the northern reaches of Mossflower.

"Here you are me dearie," said Cail, placing the glass before him. "The best strawberry cordial in all Mossflower. Not that you'll find much further south." she added in an undertone. Martin leaned forward.

"Is there trouble further south?" he asked.

"Well, up 'ere in the north- west we don't 'ear much but rumours, dearie, but 'tis said that not two leagues from 'ere a great vermin army rules the land," She glanced at his sword. "Not that you'll 'ave much trouble with vermin, from the look o' you. You one o' those warrior mice from the northlands?"

Martin nodded as he sipped the cordial, sitting back.

"Aye, I do come from up north."

"You look like somebeast with a tale t' tell. Bad times behind you dearie?" Martin sighed, and fell back on the story he had created during his journey south.

"I was born in a cave on the north-western shores, my mother was killed by searats when I was very young. My father swore vengeance on them, but he had to bring me up. He trained me in the way of the warrior. I remember one season, when he was injured, and I fought off foes from our cave, while he sat inside, yelling instructions out to me and preparing supper. But one day, when he deemed I was old enough, he captured a ship with his comrades. He left me his sword, and they sailed away into the sunset, to avenge my mother's death. I stayed for many seasons, defending the cave. That's when they started to call me Martin the Warrior, not Martin, son of Luke.

"But when I felt that my father would not return, I took up the sword and began my wanderings, and I have been doing so ever since." Cail patted his shoulder sympathetically

"Ah, 'tis sad what can happened to a beast, out on the open sea. But will you be wanting a room for the night, me dear? 'Tis getting dark outside." Martin nodded

"Aye, I've got goods to barter."

Suddenly, there was a loud BANG! as the door was thrust open, and a gang of surly looking vermin- two ferrets, a fox, four rats and a weasel- lounged into the inn. They were all drunk, except perhaps the fox.

"'Ere missis," slurred a rat, slumping up to the bar and grabbing Cail's sleeve. "Where's yer grog?"

"Unpaw me!" cried Cail, wrenching her dress out of the drunkard's grasp. Beside her, Martin's paw strayed to his sword handle. Cail gave him a sharp look.

"There'll be nay o' that sir. I've ne'er had a fight in the Beechnut before, and I don't intend to have one now, bless my soul."

"'At's right missis," snarled the fox. "You don't give us no trouble, we'll make none, see?" Martin growled, and clenched his teeth, but he said nothing. The ferrets slouched up to the bar, and began groping for the empty bottles that Cail had on a shelf as decoration. The fox chuckled.\par "Ya idjits, them's empty. But look 'ere!"

He had grabbed a full bottle of elderberry wine.

"'S mine!" cried the weasel, diving on his companion. The fox stumbled, and the bottle went flying from his grasp. It soared through the air, and smashed on the bar right in front of Martin. He was covered in its contents.

Pandemonium broke out. Cail, who had managed to keep calm until then, was now in a towering rage at the wasting of precious wine. She had grabbed the weasel's head, and shoved it into a plate of mashed tubers. The mole who had been eating the tubers started yelling at her. Somebeast from across the room threw an onion and mushroom pastie at him; it squished on his head. The mole's companion, a tiny shrew, hurled a slice of bread and butter, but instead of hitting the pastie thrower, it smacked into the face of a burly otter. The otter, looking for somebeast to blame, saw one of the rats. She cuffed him round the head with a baked trout.

Food flew across the room from all directions. The only two beasts aloof were Martin and the fox. The vulpine grinned wickedly, showing blackened teeth.

"Plenny o' time ta find somfin' valuble nah." He grabbed the storeroom keys from where Cail had dropped them on the floor.

"Oh no you don't!" cried Martin. He reached out for a weapon, his sword forgotten. His paw closed around a bottle of strawberry cordial. He brandished it at the fox.

"Heh heh heh," laughed the would-be thief, and pulled out something from his belt. It was a long-bladed knife. The fox advanced towards the mouse warrior, who backed slowly up against a wall. An evil grin split the vulpine face as he raised the knife. Martin's reflexes kicked in at the last minute.

"Fur and Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeedom!" he yelled swinging the bottle. Smash! It splintered over the fox's head, knocking him out. His red-brown fur was laced with the pink liquid. Martin kicked his one-time adversary to one side, and turned to the main conflict.

Ducking under flying pies and soaring cakes, Martin made his way to the centre of the room. He clambered onto a table top, and was immediately hit in the face by a piece of plum and damson cake. He wiped the mess off of his snout, and called out.

"STOOOOOP!"

At his command, everybeast did just that. Taking a deep breath, Martin continued, trying not to laugh at the scene. Everybeast was covered in food, from smears of meadowcream to splodges of onion. Even Cail had gravy stains all over her dress, though she was still trying to suffocate the weasel with the tuber mash.

"There is no point in fighting," yelled the warrior mouse. "All we must do is get these drunkards out of here." He pointed to the rats and ferrets, who had grouped together, trying to drink out of an empty beaker.

"I have-er- defeated their leader, and Cail seems to have dealt with that weasel admirably-"

"Admoirably! That's moi mashed tuber, et is!" Martin looked sternly at he mole, and he ceased his complaining.

"So anyway, who's with me?"

A great chorus of 'Me's arose from the assembled beasts. The burly otter helped Martin carry the fox out, while a hedgehog wielding a fork and a squirrel with a spoon sheparded the others. It took five strong moles to get Cail off the weasel; she was still mad about the elderberry wine. But a venerable-looking old mousewie sat her down, and the innkeeper was soon back to her normal self.

Everbeast was treating Martin like a hero. Cail said he could stay for free any ime he wanted; though Martin was sure she didn't know about the strawberry cordial. The burly otter told him that he must come and train with her someday, she would love to test her skills against his. A crowd of little ones followed him round everywhere, begging him to teach them to be warriors. That night he slept in a comfortable bed for the first time in weeks.

But his dreams were fraught with strife. The old tragedy returned again, and now there ws a new phantom figure to haunt his sleep. A tall cat, with claws outstretched towards him. Martin shuddered in his slumber.