It's been a while since I covered Mouse Guard: Autmn 1152, you can blame fluctuating Amazon prices for my delay in picking up the sequel miniseries Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 as a birthday gift from my dear old mum. But here we are. A quick introduction, Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 was first published in 2006 written and drawn by David Peterson. It featured the titular guard which is made up of sword wielding mice who protect their own from the dangers posed to mouse sized animals. The first book saw them deal with a traitor in their own ranks and an assault on Mouse Guard headquarters by "The Army of the Axe" lead by the rebellious Midnight, wielder of the stolen Black Axe. He proclaims that the Guard is a joke, and that they need one strong leader to rule all the terrtories. They need "One who can offer security and prosperity. One who is not afraid to hunt down our predators. One who is more than a mere Guard mouse". The rebellion is crushed and Midnight defeated when the real, legendary Black Axe makes himself known and The Mouse Guard restore order. But it ends on an uncertain note with leader Gwendolyn noting in her diary about mounting distrust of the Guard in the mouse terrtories and the threat still posed by those in the Army of the Axe who melted back into their normal lives. She finished up by saying that winter is coming and they are dangerously low on supplies and that ended Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152. We now move onto the direct sequel, Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 published in 2007-2008. We follow the main characters from the first miniseries as they act as ambassadors for Gwendolyn in an attempt to unite the Mouse territories to aid their base town of Lockhaven through the winter and adventures ensue.
We're reintrodued to the major characters who have been sent to retrieve some Elixir from a mouse town. There's Kenzie and Saxon the brothers in arms, Sadie the scout and Lieam the youngest who has been taken under the wing of the oldest, Celanawe who is also the legendary "Black Axe" which he carries with him at all times.
The band of mice make their way through the snowy weather as a storm rages around them. They have the city of Sprucetuck to get to, but they'll never make it in this weather. Celanawe has another plan though, there is an underground route they can take if they tunnel their way there.
|Celanawe, Sadie, Kenzie Lieam, Saxon.|
The elderly governer wants to know what brings the guard in such heavy weather. Kenzie says the Lady Gwendolyn extends an offer of "continued goodwill" and also that they are in dire need of elixir. The governer says their own stocks are low and can only spare two bottles, which are accepted with grateful thanks.
The guard pay with currency this town does not use, but the governer says they'll make an exception for them. The governer says the town owes its existence to the guard, they are mice of "science, not swordmice". The elixir is brought to the mouse guard, it has been infused with special herbs so less per dose is needed.
The governer says the letter they bought mentions a summit. Kenzie says in "seven sundowns the neccessary escorts will arrive", but for now they need to get these supplies back to Lockhaven. The mice then leave and return to the surface.
Saxon takes Kenzie to one side and asks who really leads the group, Kenzie is supposed to, but is it Celanawe? "You bend an ear anytime he speaks" and Lieam follows his steps in awe says Saxon. Kenzie says Celanawe is Gwendolyn's ambassador and the voice of experience but he, Kenzie leads the group.
Saxon says his loyalties lie with Lockhaven and Gwendolyn, "not that axe". Kenzie says Celanawe has done nothing but protect them and the guard. Saxon says the incident with Midnight proves threats can come from anywhere. Saxon says he's been friends with Kenzie too long to question his loyalty, "I will always follow your lead." Kenzie says "I know."
|Sadie sees off a threat.|
Back there, Gwendolyn writes in her diary about sending out the guard to collect provisions. Then she and a couple of other mice pour over a map and discuss the places the various groups have been sent to. Kenzie's team have the most arduous journey but Gwendolyn has great faith in them.
Gwendolyn: "I hope we have that much time. Starvation and illness will take more lives than the last Winter War."
She goes to see how a mouse called Rand is faring as he is in the throes of sickness. She asks Abigail who is tending him how long he has. She says with no medicine to treat him he'll not last long. Gwendolyn hopes he can last long enough for Kenzie's group to return with medical supplies. The mice in question are stocked up and returning with Lockhaven two days away when the ground suddenly give way beneath them and they all bar Celanawe and Lieam fall down a hole.
|The party gets into trouble.|
Kenzie relights the lantern and they have a good look around the tunnel they have fallen into. It appears to go in the same direction as Lockhaven so both parties will travel independently now. Celanawe and Lieam have the much-needed supplies to take there, the others will just have to see where the tunnel takes them. Unfortunately that is likely to be a place called "Darkheather", but Kenzie grimly says he will lead them out come what may.
As Celanawe and Lieam travel, Celanawe gives his assessment of Kenzie and Saxon. He says they rely on each other too much:
Celanawe: "Saxon knows he can afford to be reckless since Kenzie acts as his conscience. And Kenzie can linger in his thoughts and plans because he knows Saxon can depend upon him".
Celanawe says he "tested" Kenzie earlier, and saw that it was Saxon's coaxing that made swayed Kenzie's mind. He tells Lieam, "be complete within yourself young redfur. You will never disappoint. Even in solitude." As they walk, Lieam takes a plunge into some water
They make camp so he can warm up and Celanawe says he had heard of Lieam's slaying of a snake through its mouth before he met him. Then freezing rain starts up and they go on their way back to Lockhaven, Celanawe notes "it seems I have an apprentice".
The underground team are also making their way along. They find ruins and Kenzie says it is important to travel deeper into them as they have found "potential threats to the securities of the territories". Celanawe and Lieam will get to Lockhaven, they have a new mission.
Saxon is dubious about the youngest and oldest of the guardmice making it, but Kenzie says with the Black Axe and Lieam having proved worthy he has no concerns they won't make it. They come across an enormous wooden door guarded by two opossums. They immediately draw their weapons and ready an attack.
|Saxon is headstrong.|
They are confused as to why it wasn't destroyed in "the war". Then they hear something and Kenzie orders Sadie to scout ahead, to the annoyance of Saxon. They have arrived in Darkheather and Saxon says "I need to know you're ready to fight our way out."
Back in Lockhaven Gwendolyn goes to check on the sick Rand, who is Lockhaven's "shield-bearer". He groans in agony and she realises he's been poisoned with hemlock. Gwendolyn orders all of Lockhaven immediately sealed, much to the annoyance of Isabel who was about to ride out to Oakgrove and Lake Cities.
Isabel goes to see Gwendolyn and finds a group of mice all talking at her. They have sealed the city and the suspected culprit, Abigail who was caring for Rand, must still be within the city walls. Gwendolyn has hidden Rand away to keep him safe, they have cured the poison but he is still dreadfully sick.
Gwendolyn: "I know not of Abigail's motives. But it makes little difference. Hunt her down."
Back with Celanawe and Lieam, the sleet has got so bad they are drenched in it. Celenawe says they must stop and dig in. Lieam says what about the mission? Celanawe says they will fail it if they die.
|A very cold Lieam and Celanawe.|
Celanawe says that can be a "dangerous slogan". Midnight thought what he was fighting for was right and that the ends justified the means. Lieam asks him if he truly is the Black Axe. Celanawe wonders how, after all the time they spent together, Lieam can doubt him. Lieam says he was afraid to ask before. Celanawe says he is indeed the Black Axe.
He then tells Lieam how Midnight managed to acquire the Black Axe itself. He was crafty and able to move in the shadows. Midnight is the only user of the Black Axe who was not the Black Axe in person to "have wielded the Black Axe and not felt the bite of its blade."
Celanawe: "Yet despite his theivery, murder and motives, he was not wholly wrong... his goals were selfish, he wanted to rule on high. But the idea of the territories needing unification and protection is what I do with this axe."
He goes on to say he does good for the mice of the territories but is beholden to no matriarch, he puts the needs of all mice before his own. He has shaped the course of wars, fought predators to beyond their borders and "carved portions of this very landscape".
Lieam asks how that can be possible, he's not old enough to have been around when the axe was first forged or accomplish all the legends attributed to him. Celanawe just responds that he is "shrouded in myth and legend" and mystery has grown up around him. The tale of when his paw first touched the Black Axe is for another day, "tales are best told at the end of a journey".
He asks Lieam where he got the scar on his ear. Lieam won't say. Celanawe says they both have their secrets even if those secrets can't keep them warm. Meanwhile Kenzie, Saxon and Sadie are carefully walking through Darkheather the old weasel kingdom.
Sadie says it's time to go. Saxon says the bats will alert the enemy weasels within a day flight away. The head bat is annoyed by this. Saxon however draws his sword. The bats fly at him en masse. Bats say that long ago they offered to fight for either side. But the birds did not trust their fur and the earth dwellers did not trust their flight. So after the war, they secluded themselves in this ruin:
Various Bats: "Our seclusion is our life...we are accepted by none when we offered loyalty to all... You come to our sanctury where we eat. Where we breed. And you challenge our trust?"
Saxon manages to jump on the head bat and hold his sword to its throat demanding it show them a way out. There is a scuffle and Sadie hurls a dagger through one of the bats and its thrashing causes some of the masonry to crumble, which blocks our plucky mice safely away from the angry bats. Apart from Saxon that is, who is flown away on the back of the head bat.
|The owl returns.|
Saxon meanwhile is hanging off one of the bats, they tell him freedom is above him but he needs wings to reach it. The bats say mouse bones sleep below the soil and Saxon will join them, but Saxon says he'll take a few of them out before he does so. He slashes the throat of the bat he is holding and they both fall into a dark hole. He lands on a mountain of bones, meanwhile all the bats fly out of the hole in the ceiling taking their fallen brother's soul "to the stars."
Kenzie and Sadie are wandering through a maze of tunnels shrouded in darkness. Kenzie calls for Saxon, Sadie says they don't know if he is alive, but Kenzie knows he is. He says Saxon was a fool for starting a fight with the bats, but Sadie says there was no other way out. She says she hoped calm talk would prevail, but she expected a battle.
Kenzie says Saxon drew first blood though, Sadie says Saxon can be "stubborn and crude. I doubt he agrees with the idea of ladymice as guard". Kenzie laughs and says he knows Saxon loves someone from afar. Sadie asks if there are any ladymice Kenzie admires from afar?
Kenzie says they life of the guard isn't generally conducive to relationships. He hunts opossum, sleeps on the hard soil and spends more time outside than other mice. "Where do you think I would find a ladymmouse who would appreciate such things?" Then he and Sadie share a silent moment. Kenzie starts humming a tune to break the awkward silence, Sadie asks what it is and he tells her it's a ballad of "The Ivory Lass".
|Saxon finds the remains of his old teacher.|
In Lockhaven, Abaigail has been cornered. She calls them fools and says she was instrumental in ridding Lockhaven of its stock, while in the other mice territories the same thing occured. She says countless mice still stand by Midnight's views and she was to be his queen. She throws herself down the well as she is peppered with arrows, and poisons it as she lands to her death. Then we briefly cut to the battle against the owl, Celenawe has fallen and Lieam is facing it down alone.
Kenzie and Sadie are snoozing together, when Saxon suddenly appears. He teases Kenzie for "snuggling with your new lady". Kenzie splutters it's nothing like that, he asks where Saxon ended up. Saxon says never you mind, it certainly wasn't "dreaming next to a lady". Kenzie says if Saxon is mad at him, leave Sadie out of it. Saxon apologises then shows them the buckle he found. He is also now wielding Loukas's sword.
|Kenzie and Sadie snuggle, d'awww.|
And that takes us back to the battle against the owl. Celanawe is back in the fight and picks up the Black Axe and cuts the foot of the owl with it. He tells Lieam to run and get the medicine back to Lockhaven, "make sure the greater good is served". The owl's wing knocks Lieam down, then it's foot grabs Celanawe and crushes him.
|Lieam will not be deterred.|
The others are in a small bucket paddling up the underground river. Saxon checks the compass in Loukas's sword and confirms they are heading north-east towards Lockhaven. Sadie wonders how the weasel kingdom could have come so close to the mice territories. Kenzie says the weasels might not have built this, the caverns could be older and the weasels simply annexed it like they tend to do.
They spot something in the water. It is a mouseguard's corpse with mouse arrows in it. It's Abigail's corpse although they don't know that as it's floating face down. They find the mark of Lockhaven and climb up the well arriving back in Lockhaven safely. Gwendolyn greets them saying after sending Abigail down there to death they never expected three live mice to come out. She fills them in on what has been going on and the fact that Celanawe and Lieam have not returned.
The owl, is still alive. Celanawe too, he brandishes the Black Axe and leaps at the owl, who snatches him out of the air and bites him before dropping him on the ground him to Lieam's horror and distress. It turns its attentions to him as he holds his sword and prepares for a last stand.
Lieam tearfully remembers all the advice Celanawe gave him as the owl bears down on him. As the owl makes to snap him up he stabs it in the throat and the foot and it collapses. He goes and picks up the Black Axe and brings it down onto the top of the owl's head finally killing it. Then he collapses too.
|Lieam takes up The Black Axe and gets his revenge.|
They ride out and find the dead owl, and footprints leading away to the east. They follow them and find Lieam deliriously carrying Celeanawe's body, the Black Axe and an owl feather. When he sees them he collapses again.
The hares take them all back to Lockhaven. Lieam is conscious again and has a broken arm which he just shakes off. Gwendolyne is told the bad news about Celanawe. His body is laid out on a pyre and he is cremated with great ceremony. Gwendolyne gives a heartfelt eulogy while a recovered Rand whispers that he thought the Black Axe was immortal. "No mouse is Rand..." says Saxon, "no mouse is".
After the ceremony Saxon opens his heart out to Gwendolyne, the ladymouse he admired from afar:
Saxon: "M-M'lady Gwendolyne. I have been to hell and back... twice now... and I need to know there is more to our lives than this".
And they kiss. Lieam recalls Celanawe's last words to him, he knew this journey would end in his death and he declares Lieam as the new Black Axe then he dies, which brings the story to an end.
|Saxon and Gwendolyn kiss, double d'awwwww.|
Kenzie and Sadie oversaw the excavation and repairs to the cistern which purged the well of poison, "they have been inseparable since their return". She writes that dealing with threats from within still are hampering their efforts to deal with threats from without.
Lieam was aimless after the funeral, as she writes that she wants to give him more responsibility we see him going to where the Black Axe is. She also writes that Saxon has made an impact on her life and says that although she has no plan to leave her post anytime soon, the situation between her and Saxon has her on the lookout for a successor. The book then finally finishes on Lieam, with the Black Axe, walking out of Lockhaven to make his own way in the world...
|A new Black Axe strikes out into the world.|