It was a night for raiding. Beneath a dark, moonless sky, high seas ran grey and smooth to the shores of the Northern Isles. With her big single sail bellying smoothly, the vessel Bludgullet nosed shoreward, like some huge seabeast seeking its prey in coastal waters. Perched at the masthead, straddling the mainsail spar, the lookout, a small rat called Firty, was first to glimpse the glimmering, golden light on the far side of the saltmarshes.
Noting the position of the illumination, he slid skillfully down a rope to the gently heaving deck. Scurrying to the captain's cabin, Firty rapped on the door. He waited until a tall, golden fox emerged. The little rat tugged his ear in salute. "Cap'n, dere's a light showin' ashore, dead ahead. I t'ink it might be sum sorta buildin', Cap'n."
Flinging a heavy cape across his shoulders, Captain Vizka Longtooth smiled, exposing a pair of oversized fangs. Firty swallowed hard. He, like every Sea Raider aboard the Bludgullet, had come to know the danger in Longtooth's smile.
"A buildin', ya say! Better sumthin' than nought on dis sun-fersaken shore, eh?"
The small crewrat nodded nervously, watching his captain reach for the mace and chain. It was a vicious weapon, a spiked iron ball on a thick chain, attached to an oaken handle. Firty crept backward, trying to stay out of his captain's way as he toyed with the mace and chain, swinging the spiked ball with a flick of his paw. The golden fox continued smiling, allowing the mace spikes to dent the woodwork of the cabin door. Firty tried to keep his eyes off the hypnotically swinging weapon.
"Will ya be goin' ashore, Cap'n?"
Vizka halted the swing of his mace;he fondled the spikes lovingly. "Aye, it wouldn't be gudd manners not t'call when dey left a light on fer us. Tell Codj ter rouse der crew. We're goin' visitin'!"
As Bludgullet's keel ground into the shallows, the small, golden light stood out clear against the dark, velvet canopy of night sky. The vermin waded ashore, everybeast armed to the teeth, eager for booty and blood.
It was a night for raiding!
Lost in the deep sleep of total exhaustion, Gorath lay slumped by a glowing turf fire in the small farmhouse. There was a claw missing from one of the young badger's forepaws, his pads were thick with calluses and hardened scars. Wrestling half-buried boulders and uprooting scrubby tree stumps from the frozen earth was hard and punishing labour for a single beast. Gorath performed all his tasks unaided; his grandparents were too old for such heavy work. It was no easy life on the Northern Isles, both the weather and the land were hostile. Gorath, however, had youth on his side, plus unbridled strength, and an inborn tenacity. In short, he was like most male badgers, doggedly stubborn.
All Gorath knew of his early life had been imparted to him by his grandparents. His family came from the far Southern lands; both his parents were warriors who had fallen in battle during the Great Vermin Wars. The remainder of Gorath's family had been forced to flee the South.
The two old badgers took their little grandson in a small boat. They set off seeking a dream, a refuge of peace and happiness, where they could live without fear. They had heard tales of such places, the mountain of Salamandastron, and the Abbey of Redwall, legendary havens!
However, cruel fate and capricious weather shattered their dream. The aged badgers were landbeasts, with little knowledge of the sea. Their boat was blown far off course, and wrecked upon the rocks of the Northern Isles by a mighty storm. Gorath's grandparents stumbled ashore, carrying him between them, all three fortunate to be alive. That was how they came to a new life on the cold Northern Isles.
Their first few seasons ashore taught the three badgers some harsh lessons. A need for nourishment and shelter was paramount. Using timber from their wrecked boat, local stone, earth and moss, the grandfather built the house. Gorath and his grandmother foraged for food, whilst struggling to make the scrubland arable. It was hard, but they survived until their first meager crop came in, confirming that they were finally farmers.
Gorath grew to be a dutiful grandson, and a diligent worker. He never failed his grandparents, though as the seasons passed, one into another, things became more difficult for him. Wearied with age and illness, his grandparents grew unable to carry on working.
Thus it was that Gorath faced the hardships alone. He carried on clearing the windswept scrubland, planting, digging, coaxing and harvesting sparse crops from the thin soil. It was grindingly arduous work for a lone young one, but Gorath never complained. Sometimes in the long, dark evenings, when the wind dirged outside, Gorath would sit by the turf fire, listening as his grandfather told tales of Salamandastron or Redwall Abbey. How much truth there was in such stories, none of the badgers really knew, having never visited either place.
But the young Gorath was ever eager to hear more. He was thrilled at the thought of Salamandastron, the fortress of warriors, ruled by Badger Lords, where none knew the meaning of fear. His grandfather taught Gorath a song about Salamandastron. Though the young badger never had cause or reason to be anything other than a peaceful farmer, something in the ballad wakened a feeling deep within him. It stirred warlike emotions, which made Gorath both excited and fearful, when he sang it as he worked throughout the daylight hours.
"Where wild waves break on West'ring shore,
that mighty rock mark well,
here live the free, the bold, the brave,
Aye, here the warriors dwell . . .
In dreams you speak to me.
Great fortress by the sea.
"Let evil ones come as they will,
our steel awaits them here,
wild fighting hares and Badger Lords,
will teach them how to fear . . .
Our battle cry rings far.
Come shout Eulaliaaaaa!"
Other times his grandmother told stories she had heard about Redwall Abbey. Gorath would gaze into the fire longingly. What a delightful place, the young badger thought. One immense home, built on happiness, peace and prosperity. Where many types of creatures lived in harmony, working, feasting and enjoying life together. Though Gorath was stirred by his grandfather's stories of Salamandastron, he also liked to hear about Redwall, with its gentle, more tranquil way of life. But what did it all matter now? Cruel fate and ill winds had denied everything to the young Gorath, leaving him far across the stormy seas, marooned on the harsh Northern Isles, with no means to follow his dreams.
These days, Gorath's main refuge came through sleep. Moreso as his grandparents had gone silent, they seldom told tales, or sang. They, too, withdrew into themselves, slumbering constantly.
The young badger lay by the fire, letting his eyes close, thinking how the weather had played a miserable trick on him. It had been a wild winter, followed by a false spring. In the space of a single night, all the crops, seedlings and fresh green growth, which Gorath had toiled upon, were blighted. Winter had returned with renewed fury, withering and freezing everything which had begun growing.
Gorath fell asleep with his grandmother's words echoing through his mind.
"If we have little else, at least we have peace on these Northern Isles."
And so they had.
Until that night, when the Bludgullet sailed in, and Vizka Longtooth decided that it was a night for raiding!