To the Rowsdowermobile!
(There's an author's note below the story--I recommend reading it afterwards.)
The little mousemaid lay crumpled in a pitiful, soggy heap where she had washed ashore the night before. Now the soft warmth that soothed parts of her trembling body told her that the first rays of a hot sun were beginning to shine down on her, but somehow her eyes were deceiving her. They stung horribly, but she was sure they were open, so why was it that all she saw was darkness? Her mind was blurry with shock and exhaustion--not fully conscious, but unable to fall into the relief of actual sleep. Stirring weakly, she let out a hollow whimper.
So dazed was she that the young mouse didn't even notice the other creature on the beach with her until she was carefully scooped up out of the sand and quickly-drying masses of seaweed she was coated with by a pair of strong, rough paws. She vaguely felt herself being carried, though it was more like a dreamy feeling of floating, only punctuated by sharp bolts of pain up her right leg, and the overall ache of the rest of her battered body. The sensation was somewhere between dizzying and comforting, but eventually it, along with the heat of the sun and from the body of the creature bearing her along, got the better of her, and she finally fell into a deep sleep.
Panic gripped the maid as she began to wake many hours later. She felt the familiar warmth of a fire beside her, but again opened her eyes and saw only blackness. Her leg hurt so badly, and the memory of the shipwreck that separated her from her friends was flooding back violently. The others, she remembered them shouting to swim in towards land...but when she jumped, what had happened? She vaguely remembered the feeling of striking something in the water and starting to black out. There must have been more tall rocks than the ones that damaged their craft. Had she been accidentally left behind, then, to wash up by herself, far from the others? Would they come looking for her? Lying helplessly in the suffocating darkness, she began to cry, making no effort to stifle the sobs that wrenched from her hoarse throat. She was wounded too badly to defend herself properly or look for the others, and she was alone.
“'Ey now, shhh...everythin's alright.”
The mousemaid sat bolt upright with a little yelp of pain, startled by the voice. The tone was gentle, though the voice was strong and gruff, and the speaker was obviously very near, possibly on the other side of the fire. Turning to face it, she wiped a paw across one of her stinging eyes. She still saw nothing. “Who's there?” she demanded threateningly.
She was answered by a low chuckle. “Not lackin' in guts, are ye, missy? That's a pretty bold tone t' take fer an unarmed little mousemaid with 'er leg broke. But don't worry none, miss, yer safe 'ere.” There was such a comforting sincerity in the voice that the maid couldn't help but trust the unseen creature's words. “What's yer name?”
“Lavender, and don't think I wouldn't put up a good fight in any state, if I had to! Who are you? Have you seen any other creatures out here?” The casual tone and hope in her voice rang a little false. Lavender had always been one to try and keep up a tough appearance, so the mouse attempted to stay calm and forget the embarrassment of having been caught weeping like a child.
There was a brief silence before her new companion replied, “Eh, me name's not important, ain't nobeast called me by it in ages any'ow.” Lavender thought she detected a bit of a smile in his voice as he continued, “Just call me Cap'n. But as fer seein' anybeast else, miss, I'm afraid I 'aven't.” His voice was suddenly closer, like he'd come around the fire to sit beside her, and carried a bit of sympathy. “An' if I'm not mistaken, you 'aven't either. Am I right?”
Turning her face downwards to hide her pained expression, the young mouse spoke quietly. “There's something wrong with my eyes, yes. I can't see anything at all. I have to find my friends and make sure they survived the wreck, but I have no idea how to start looking for them when I can't look for them! And I'm not even sure I can walk on this leg. Are you sure it's broken?”
“Aye, miss, I'm afraid so. I'll do what I can fer it, though, if you'll let me.”
“Oh, yes, of course! Thank you, Cap'n.” She turned her face to where his voice seemed to come from and gave him a grateful smile. The young maid wasn't surprised to hear her new friend's title, with the way he spoke having immediately given him away as a sea-going beast. Vaguely recalling the strength with which he had lifted her from the sand, she wondered if perhaps he was an otter.
After a little while of just sounds of nearby movement as make-shift medical supplies were gathered, Lavender winced as the Cap'n went to work on her leg. To distract herself from the pain, she attempted to strike up further conversation. “So, Cap'n, you must have a ship, then, right?”
There was a heavy silence, and the treatment of her wound halted momentarily. The mouse sensed she'd brought up a sore issue. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you,” she mumbled.
“Nah, no need ter be sorry, miss. I just ain't 'ad a ship fer a while now--she was stolen,” he said, darkly. “I try not t' think on it much, gets me too worked up. I swear, if I ever get me paws on th' scurvy, mutin-”
Hearing the rising fury and violence in her companion's voice, Lavender cut him off before he could continue his vow, worried he'd forget himself and become less gentle with her wounded limb. But she had to ask. “Was it searats, Cap'n? I've heard some terrible stories.”
Again the Cap'n went quiet, and took his paw off her ankle. After a long, tense silence, he answered sullenly. “Aye, 'twas searats, miss. Now you must be thirsty, 'ow's about a drink?”
With a small smile, the mouse nodded, thankful for the subject change. She didn't even want to imagine what the infamously cruel searats must have done to her new friend and his crew before taking their ship, especially not while her friends were still out in the wilderness somewhere along the shore. He handed her a small bowl of fresh water, and she drank thirstily.
“I hate to ask, but you don't happen to have any food to spare, do you, Cap'n?”
“Eh, not much, but I reckon I c'n scrounge up some vittles pretty quick like. Stay 'ere, I'll be back.” Lavender listened to his footsteps fade as he strode off out of earshot.
She felt around herself a bit, trying to figure out as much as she could about where it was her friend had his camp. Unused to her lack of sight, she had a difficult time, but eventually she pieced together a few bits of information and filled in the gaps with what seemed like logical guesses. There was a rough stone wall not far from her, and from the sound of the wind being muffled and the way the fire burned undisturbed, she guessed she was in some kind of cave. She was sitting on a blanket, but beyond that the ground was sandy, so the shore was probably still close by. Slowly she scooted closer to the fire, hoping its heat would help dry out the remaining dampness in her plain gray dress. Waiting for the Cap'n to return, hopefully with something to eat, the young mouse wondered just where her friends were, and if they were safe.
It wasn't long before her thoughts were interrupted, however. With the same even strides that had told Lavender of his departure, the Cap'n came marching back to the small camp, sounding pleased. “'Ere y' go, miss, fresh from those nice liddle trees over yonder,” he announced, depositing a small armful of ripe fruit onto the blanket beside her, so that it bumped her paw. “And, with a bit o' luck 'n 'elp from the tide, fresh from the pools on th' shore...well, ye can't see it, miss, but trust an ol' Cap'n, this 'ere's the nicest, biggest fish what anybeast ever caught.” His tone suggested this might just be a small exaggeration, and once the catch was cooked, the small amount of meat it actually provided had Lavender laughing cheerfully at her friend's facetious boasting.
After the small but pleasant meal, the mousemaid finally told the tale of how she'd ended up lying wounded on the beach. She spoke of the shipwreck, her friends, and where they were headed, and the Cap'n listened intently. When she had finished, feeling slightly as though she was monopolizing the conversation, she gently prompted him to tell her more about himself. “So where are you from, Cap'n? How long have you been here?”
There was a moment of silence, enough that Lavender started to worry perhaps she had put him to sleep with her story. “Cap'n?”
“Yeah, I 'eard ye,” he replied dismissively. He paused another second, then his tone turned amiable again, but he spoke as if she hadn't asked him a question. “'Ow about a song, miss? Betcha got a right pretty voice t' go with that pretty young face.”
The response was not what he was expecting—the mousemaid began laughing. “What's so funny?”
“Pretty young face, Cap'n? Haha! You're making fun of me, I'm the one that's s'posed to be blind here!” She was grinning in his general direction, like his joke compliment still somehow flattered her.
Her friend, however, wasn't laughing. “No I ain't, miss, I meant it,” he objected, sounding confused, but vaguely amused. “Why wouldn' I?”
“Oh come on now, I know I'm not too bad an eyesore, but I'd hardly call myself pretty! You should see the boys turn tail and run when I flirt!” She laughed again, a strong, hearty sound.
She could tell the Cap'n was grinning too now, from the slight chuckle in his voice. “Oh that don't mean nothin', missy, some fellas got no taste. Yer still young, but just you wait--you'll be breakin' 'earts before y' know it, you liddle rogue. Someday may'aps you'll even find somebeast strong enough t' 'andle yer.”
“Haha, I'm gonna choose to take that as a compliment, Cap'n!” Lavender whooped, wiping a tear of mirth from a sightless eye. “In gratitude, I'll refrain from subjecting your poor ears to my horrid off-key singing! I never was any good.”
“Eh, who needs on-key singin' anyway!” laughed her friend. “If yer laughin's any indication I bet yer could belt out a tune fiercer than any ol' drunken sailor, miss! An' don't worry, that's just about the 'ighest compliment I could give yer!”
Their laughter continued until the sun began to set, the Cap'n insisting on teaching the young maid an old drinking song he knew, until she could roar it out with appropriate gusto. With a big toothy smile on her face, she had almost forgotten her wounds, and the blackness that hung possibly permanently over her vision. She couldn't fight the exhaustion that crept through her small body, though, and soon after darkness had fallen she guiltily admitted that she needed sleep. Her friend offered her another blanket, and even helped tuck her in as she curled up by the fire. A warm smile passed over her face as she felt a strong paw pat her shoulder affectionately.
“Aye, miss, 'ave yerself a good rest, get that strength back up,” she heard him say as he settled back in across the fire. The mousemaid was drifting gently off to sleep as the Cap'n continued, speaking partially to himself. “You'll be shipshape in no time, yer a tough liddle maid. I never 'ad no kids, but y'know, I like t' think if I'd 'ad a daughter, she'd 'ave turned out like you, miss...” If he said anymore, Lavender didn't hear it—she was soundly and peacefully asleep.
“Lavender! Lavender wake up! Mates, I found her, here she is!”
The joyous cries snapped the sleeping mousemaid from her slumber, and almost immediately the blurry silhouette of a young mouse took shape against the light of the sun shining through the mouth of the cave. Blinking furiously and rubbing at her blurry eyes, she stared at the shape and the light behind him. She could see! With a huge smile of relief, and then a wince, she threw her arms around the familiar mouse. “I never thought I'd see any of you again!”
“We thought you'd been lost at sea! When we reached land and you weren't there...it was the worst feeling I've ever had. We knew there wasn't much hope, but we weren't gonna give up without searching. Oh, I can't believe you're okay!” the other mouse cried. “Mates, help me carry her, she's wounded!”
As her friends helped her out of the cave, Lavender looked around for the Cap'n, but didn't see him. “Have you seen my friend, that was camped here with me?” she asked the pair of woodlanders supporting her as she limped out into the sunlight, but they both shook their heads.
“Good news, though!” grinned the young mouse that had first greeted her. “The ship isn't a total loss after all. It'll take a lotta work, but the captain thinks we can get her sailing again!”
“Wonderful! Ha, I was worried we'd be living the rest of our days on this little island.”
“Huh, be glad we aren't!” he replied, with an unhappy look. “And we’ll have to be a bit more careful from now on, posting lookouts and so forth.”
“Why's that?” Lavender looked concerned at the serious words.
“Searats,” he snorted, his face now grim with hatred. “We already ran into one this morning, and close to your camp, too. He nearly got a couple of us while we were stopping to pick some fruit.”
Realization hit the mousemaid suddenly, and she looked frantic. “Where was this fruit? The Cap'n mentioned some fruit trees yesterday--what if he went out there this morning?” Quickly Lavender's friends took her to the area where they had encountered the rat, staying alert in case there were more about, and keeping their eyes peeled for the maid's friend.
When they arrived, there was no sign of any creature, save the dead rat lying beside the trunk of an old fruit tree. Lavender looked the corpse over with contempt—so this was a searat. He was big and evil looking, covered with scars and tattoos, and had a long knife lying beside his paw where he had dropped it. The mousemaid found herself trembling slightly. This rat looked strong, probably a born fighter. Would the Cap'n have survived a one-on-one confrontation with him? She tried to reassure herself that there was no doubt—she remembered again the ease with which he had carried her back to his camp, when he rescued her.
Turning on her heel so she wouldn't have to look at the slain searat anymore, Lavender continued a careful search with her friends, but they never found the Cap'n, and eventually had to rejoin the others, and repair their ship. Twice more they went out searching, but never did they find a sign of the former captain that had saved the mousemaid and kept her company, protecting her during her blindness. When at last the ship was repaired, the party of woodlanders set back out to sea to continue their heroic journey, and never returned—and Lavender was left forever wondering what had happened to the friend she had made.
Okay, so this is my first fanfic ever, and the first story I've actually completed in a while, so sorry if it's not that great. I realized recently that while a lot of fans discuss the black and white nature of good and evil in the Redwall books, and the gray characters, what doesn't seem to be talked about as much is whether the characters see the world in black and white, and what this might mean about some of the heroes. I started thinking about this after rereading The Bellmaker and catching a line of Finnbarr's about not pitying the crew of searats that had just died because they had gone "where all searats deserve to go"--yet this is the same book that has probably the most obviously "good" vermin character in the series, the searat Blaggut. I can't help but wonder if this was intentional, but whether it was or not, I think it gives us something to think about, and inspired this little story of mine.
Thanks for reading, and I appreciate any and all feedback! <3