“I didn’t never want to hurt anybeast,” the voice whispered.
“Yes, we got that part,” Skipper said, roughly but not unkindly. No age hung on the otter’s face, only the weight of experience. It was hard to take the pitiful thing before him as any type of threat, sea rat or no. “Where’s your crew? What are you doin’ in these parts?”
At the word ‘crew’, the rat jerked away. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t-”
“Keep it together!” One of Skipper’s otters shouted.
The rat huddled down. “Are ye going to kill me?”
“We ain’t decided yet,” the same impulsive young otter muttered, tightening a grip on his javelin.
“Just answer our questions,” Skipper repeated again. In his long life, he’d dealt with vermin of all types. His whiskers told him this one was scared and too shaky to be any kind of threat. His brother’s blood-stained teeth flashed in his memory, and his resolve hardened.
“I’m tellin’ you, I don’t know where my crew are,” the rat rasped again, “and as to how I got here-” he trailed off and broke into hysterical laughter. “Kill me,” he whispered, “Jus’ kill me. You’d never believe me anyways-”
“Belay that,” Skipper barked. “He ain’t done nothin’ yet.” Taking a breath to calm himself. He turned back to the rat. “No matter how crazy it sounds, we need to know how ye came so close to our holt.”
“The angel cast me ashore,” the rat whispered after a long pause, “I didn’t know anythin’ about where I was, I swear it-”
Slowly, Skipper unfroze. For a long moment, he looked the rat over. Then, finally, he said “Leave us.”
“Skipper, do you really think-”
“I said give us a moment,” Skipper ground out, “Or are ye tellin’ me I can’t defend against one searat?”
Muttering, his warriors pulled back, then dispersed. Skipper waited a moment, then sat next to the searat. “An angel, huh?” he said thoughtfully.
“Me mother allus said not to fear the angels,” the rat said, “but I don’t think she ever saw one up close. She never saw the- long, spindly limbs, that awful face-”
“Let’s try this again,” Skipper said, extending a paw. “‘M the Skipper.”
The rat eyed him warily before a thin paw shot out and met the Skipper’s. “Blaggut.”
“You say an angel cast ye ashore? Why?”
Blaggut's breath hissed through his teeth, shaky, unstable. "Don't remember it well. We was all on the ship, celebratin' our decision to go south... Cap'n Slipp woulda gone ashore, but he 'ad a feelin' somethin' was up in 'is gut..."
"Someone stole our ship. Our other ship- we had two, ye see. Two cap'ns, two ships. An' of course we gave chase- I ain't never been on a faster ship than the one that was stolen, an' of course the captains knew it. Cause it was 'is ship stolen, Cap'n Slipp steered the other ship, the Shalloo, in order to get it back-" Blaggut squeezed his eyes closed.
"So ye persued the thieves. Then what?"
The rat sat still for a long moment, trembling before he said at last, "they was clever an' tried to shake us off by lurin' us into a great- a big hole in the sea." He eyed Skipper, looking for signs of ridicule, but Skipper simply nodded encouragingly.
"The water all spinning around like a top, right?"
Blaggut's tension decreased a tooth's worth. "Aye. I don't have no words for it. I was sure we were all gonna die-"
The rat burst into laughter. "I could still be dead, y'know. Maybe I saw it all in my head-"
"'ey, calm down matey," Skipper said, hesitantly putting a paw on the distraught rat's back, "I'm real. You're real."
Laughter crescendoed, then slowly faded as the rat got himself under control. "So there was the hole in the sea. An' then what?"
"...We didn't fall in," Blaggut said, his voice hushed. "I thought for sure we was goners, but- ain't no better helms beast than Cap'n Slipp. Took a lot of touch an' go, and for a moment we rode the-" shudder. "But we broke free. Cap'n Slipp was laughin' like a mad beast, swearin' at the sea, at the beasts who took his ship-" his voice lowered. "At Vulpuz himself."
Skipper laughed, feeling it catch in his throat as he cast a look over his shoulder. In his long life, the otter cheiftain had learned one concrete fact: Vulpuz could not be defeated by any force in their world. Woodlanders scoffed at the fox deity, but he was no laughing matter.
"An' that's when the Angel came," Skipper said.
"Aye," Blaggut whispered, "Aye. Pale's death and- terrible as the very sea." His paws clasped each other. "I- I don't remember exactly what happened. They said somethin', pointed at the Captain- an' the crew all just. Started to rot. Like barnacles were eatin' them."
"But not you."
"I- I can't remember," Blaggut said, his breaths coming quick as the tide, "I can't- I just found myself floating-"
The rat paused. "You alone are protected," he said quietly, in a voice not quite his own.
Skipper's paw tightened on his javelin at the otherworldly tone. The rat's eyes snapped back into focus, his mouth wrinkling with nausea. "I don't know nothin' else," he begged, "Please. Just make it quick."
The otter relaxed his grip on the javelin, sizing the rat up. "Do you really want to die?" he asked.
Blaggut eyed him warily. "I don't know," said at last. "I can't get what I seen out of my head. And all my crew-" he started, turning seaward to some noise only he could hear. "They won't let me go," he whimpered.
"...I know a place for you," Skipper said quietly.
"There ain't no place for people like me," Blaggut returned, his shoulders hunching.
"At least give it a try," Skipper said, standing and extending a paw. "Beasts like us have to stick together."
The rat's yellow eyes flicked up. "Beasts like us?"
"There's a reason most Skippers don't have mates or children," Tungro returned quietly. "The title's cursed."
"...by the Angel?"
"They say it was Skipper Bankrose," Tungro said quietly. "She died mid combat, and her friend Firjak had nobeast to stay by his side against overwhelming odds. So determined to keep fightin' was she that Bankrose attacked the Angel of Vulpuz that came for her. Of course, she lost, but they were amused by her loyalty, so they allowed her to remain by Firjak's side. But for her insolence they barred her from the gates of Dark Forest 'til another beast sent her." Tungro lowered his paw. "She outlived Firjak by eras."
"But I was just spared, not cursed," Blaggut said, standing.
"For your sake, I hope that's the case," Tungro said. "But until we know for sure, Redwall's the best place for you."
"They might not like you at first," Tungro cautioned, after a moment, "But I think you'll do just fine."