A young mouse named Matthias dreams of times of adventure rather than a life of quiet servitude, but he is counseled to patience by his elders. Redwall is a fixture in the local community, set in the heart of Mossflower Woods, and was designed to be a place of refuge for the beasts of the forest in times of trouble.
Trouble arrives in the form of Cluny the Scourge in the Summer of the Late Rose. Cluny is an evil, infamous rat, owning an extra-long tail with a poisoned barb on the end, and commander of a horde of vermin. He has only one eye, having lost the other in a battle with a pike, which he killed. The foebeasts arrive at the beginning of the book and make their headquarters at the Church of St. Ninian, to the south of Redwall, with the intention of taking the Abbey for themselves. The Abbey inhabitants, who refuse to back down, make ready to defend themselves if necessary; most of the inhabitants of the surrounding area are now within Redwall. None of them are particularly martial, but Redwall folk, and indeed much of the Mossflower population, are generally slow to anger but fierce fighters when roused; they are able to make an effective defense. Matthias, fearing that Cluny will still overrun them, begins a quest to find the legendary sword of Martin the Warrior, which is supposedly hidden somewhere within the Abbey. He is helped particularly by Methuselah, an old and grizzled mouse, who is the abbey recorder. Matthias is a brave-hearted young mouse, if small in stature, and as the story continues, his natural leadership abilities begin to emerge.
Clues to the location of Martin's sword, as well as his shield and the sword's scabbard, have been built into the Abbey. Matthias recovers the shield and sword scabbard, and with Methuselah's help eventually divines where the sword is hidden. Unfortunately, it isn't there any longer, having been stolen by a wild sparrow tribe that dwells on the Abbey roof and then by an adder named Asmodeus, who appears throughout the novel to pick off wandering creatures. When trying to escape from the lair of the Sparra tribe with the help of Jess Squirrel, Matthias is attacked by the king of the sparrows. The two of them end up falling from the Abbey roof, resulting in the sparrow's death. After recovering, Matthias continues to the lair of the gigantic snake Asmodeus, acquiring several allies along the way: Log-a-Log, the leader of a local band of shrews; Basil Stag Hare, wandering do-gooder and general cad, and Warbeak Sparra, the princess of the aforementioned sparrow tribe. He also befriends Captain Snow, an owl, and Squire Julian Gingivere, a cat. Matthias and Log-a-Log succeed in retrieving the sword from Asmodeus's cave, killing the snake in the process, and Matthias rushes back to Redwall to save his friends after being alerted to the fall of the abbey by the sparrows.
Cluny, in the meanwhile, has been attempting to gain entrance to the Abbey. He deals with traitors Sela the vixen and her son Chickenhound, who kills Methuselah, and is also seriously injured by a fall. After numerous failed attempts on the abbey that include a tunnel, a siege tower, and a battering ram, he captures a family of dormice and forces Plumpen, the family's head, to open one of the gates. Plumpen complies and Cluny finally invades the abbey, taking all the Redwallers prisoner. His victory is short-lived, however; soon after he takes over the Abbey, Matthias returns. Matthias, his new allies, and the assembled Redwall population turn on their captors; Matthias himself defeats Cluny by dropping the abbey's bell on him, crushing him and cracking the bell in the process. However, a great deal of damage is done and there are many casualties. Abbot Mortimer, who was inflicted by Cluny's poisoned barb, dies after proclaiming Matthias Warrior of Redwall and Brother Alf the new Abbot of Redwall.
The novel closes with an epilogue. Matthias has married the fieldmouse named Cornflower and she has given birth to their son, Mattimeo, an abbreviated version of his full name: Matthias Methuselah Mortimer. Also, Brother Alf is now known as Abbot Mordalfus, and John Churchmouse, a resident of the Abbey, is now the Abbey recorder.
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