Mischievous Blues

May 25, 2011

Ripple frowned at his pennies. Not enough? How could there not be enough! He had… that was a five… and a ten… so… He had twenty-six pennies! How could that not be enough!

His eyes raised up, misery sparkling and dripping down his cheeks, as he beheld his hero in all his colored glory. This was the one. Everyone he knew had one. But it was either a Sunflash, or the Fourth Edition species set… and he needed weapons for those, if he got them…

“What’ll it be?” said Merritt.

Ripple’s lower jaw jutted out.

“I’ll be right back, sir!”

He hobbled off, his pace varying until he found a comfortable stride. Not too fast, not too fast! The grass felt slippery, mushy and warm. He felt much better back inside the coolness of the abbey.

He’d seen Skipper earlier, talking to that over-eager weasel, Noel. The sight of them conniving had made his lip curl in disgust. If he could just get Skipper away for a minute…

He found Skipper walking down the rear hall, to the backside entrance of the main abbey building. He was involved in a boisterous conversation with two other otters, all of them yammering and chortling over something. The weasel was nowhere in sight. Ripple tried to get within hearing range.

“Skip… Skipper! Skip!” Exasperated, Ripple put on a fresh burst of speed. One of his knees popped, and he tumbled. Grimacing and grinding his teeth, he grabbed a door handle and lifted himself back up, managing a few more limping hops. “Skip! Skiiiippeeeeer! Dad!

This succeeded in getting the Skipper’s attention. Seeing Ripple panting and leaning heavily against the wall, he jogged back down the corridor.

“Wot is it? Somethin’ wrong?”

It took Ripple a moment or two to catch his breath.

“Um, no sir. There’s merchants come.” Ripple held up his sweaty paw, displaying his pitiful pennies. “I’m a mark short… Could I have my allowance today, instead?”

“Seems an awful lot there already. Wot’re ye buyin’?”

Ripple frittered, pretending to re-count his pennies as he arranged his appeal. “There’s a new map, sir, it’s got a river. An’ there’s a new deck out as well. But Brother Aloysius tole me to get this rare ole book. For study. An’ if I buy that, I don’t got enough… I been doin’ my chores,” he added.

“Aye, that ye have.” Skipper fumbled in his pocket. “There ye are. Need any help?”

“No!” Oops. Too hasty! “I can carry it all up myself, sir.” Skipper nodded. Ripple admired his new coin. Skipper coughed. Ripple blinked up at him. “Um… thanks…” He deflated a little upon having to say it.

“Get along then,” said Skipper, giving him a pat on the back.

Ripple scurried with great care. As he reached the end of the corridor, Skipper called out. “Oi, Rip!” He turned around, squinting at Skipper’s fuzzy shape. “I’d shore like to read that book when yer done!”

Ripple waited until he was around the corner before uttering a meek “Eep.”


“So that’s five for the weapons pack, fifteen for all of the new starter species, three for the river map, and that includes two bridges; sixty, sorry, fifty for the watercolors… and twenty for Sunflash the Mace second edition. Ninety-seven in all.”

Ripple held aloft his blessed mark. Merritt plucked it out of the air. In that moment, the fur on his nape stood on end: transaction successful! The ferret packaged it all neatly in Ripple’s bag, folding the map with almost over-exaggerated caution. Sunflash the Mace was put directly in Ripple’s paw. He felt light-headed. He blamed it on the lack of shade.

“And here’s your seven pennies…” Merritt’s paw hovered, clenched tight. “Unless there’s something else I can interest you in?”

Ripple quizzed the display again, after glancing at the hare, who shook her head silently.

“I don’t got enough for another character pack, sir,” he said.

“Oh, there’s more than cards here.” Merritt began to open a crate that that Ripple hadn’t even noticed was there. The hare reached over and slapped it shut. Merritt only just pulled his claws out in time.

“Merritt! Just give the lad ‘is pennies.”

They tumbled into his non-Sunflash-filled fist.

“Gee! Thanks, sir, marm.”

Ripple headed back to the doors, only half listening to their ensuing banter.

“Merritt… the bag…”

“Well now, what’ve we got here…”

“What are you doin’? Give it back to ‘im… ‘ere, I’ll do it.”

Inside again, Ripple could have sworn that Sunflash’s stripe glittered as he passed under a window’s honey-fog stream. He could practically hear the creak of the badger lord’s armour, feel the draft of air from the swinging mace…

A touch on his shoulder caused him to jump. Saskia held out his bag.

“You forgot this.”

“Oh… sorry…”

“It’s alright. Just keep your ‘ead on your shoulders next time, wot?”

Ripple blushed and slipped his pennies into the bag. He puttered on in a hurry back to the stairway and began edging his way carefully upwards, sliding the folds of the bag along the banister underpaw. Once in the dormitory hallway, he allowed himself to review his prize again.

There were twelve spikes on Sunflash’s mace. Ripple stuck his tongue out at it. “Daaahh…” Oh, well. Twelve was just as good as eleven, right? It was still the same card in the end.

He flipped it over. Ooh, and they’d added a Skarlath command! No wonder Locria had boasted about it.

Using his trusty friend Skarlath, Sunflash does not have to be beside a chest to equip items from it. However, this can be used only once per turn, for Skarlath needs to rest between –

“Watch where you’re going!”

“Oh, um, sorry.”

Ripple pressed himself against the wall, letting the weasel past.

“Um, hey, Virrel, look…” He held up Sunflash. Virrel craned his head in closer. Realization dawned.

“Ah.”

“It’s Sunflash the Mace! Second edition. All colored in!”

“Ah. Right.”

“Ye goin’ to buy yer own packs? They got the new species in. We could start a new game.”

“Maybe. Maybe. Later.”

“Oh. Alright. Bye…

Ripple pondered after the weasel. It was hard to say, but it had seemed like Virrel hadn’t even been impressed.


The eleventh stair from the top creaked. Ripple avoided it, and his leg muscles had no qualms in voicing their annoyance with him for the longer stretch. He was already worn out from chasing after Skipper.

The attic welcomed him. Or at least, he felt welcome here. It had been a library, dusty and somber, always empty, and therefore a perfect place for a sulk in his dibbunhood. After the accident, its charm was even more alluring. No stares, no whispers, no bloody sympathy tuts… Just him, the stacks, the dust, the rafters, the aviary up above… and Brother Aloysius.

Well, even Dark Forest had its toadstools.

It had been easy to convince Skipper to move a bed and some other furniture up. A window in the slanted roof to study the stars, Ripple had pointed out. A long way up from the Great Hall would surely help his recovery, strengthen his legs again. And since it was unfair for him to go all the way down to the gate house for lessons, he could continue his private tutoring under Aloysius right here, without the bat having to flit through the dormitories to find him. It was perfect!

Ripple shuffled through the stacks to his corner and placed the bag on his desk. Privacy was no concern, for the bookshelves separated the entire attic into quadrants. Aloysius would have to make a great deal of noise, flapping over them through the rafters, or else tapping along the ground with his strange crawling gait. Right now the bat was probably asleep, and the aviary was locked down, and so he had the attic very much to himself.

First things first. Ripple reached over his battlefield of a bed and dragged his pillow off, shook the sawdust onto the floor, then placed Sunflash the Mace down with alarming reverence on top. He gave the side a tap so it was centered perfectly.

Then he opened the bag and slid out the map. It was a simple affair, little more than a ten-by-ten grid filled with words: “Grass” filled most of the boxes, with “Wall” arranged strategically throughout. This one was different, with a line of boxes marked “River” running through the middle. Ripple hoped he had enough blue to fill it out. He set about pinning it up on the wall, alongside the rest of them. There was hardly a blank space left. The maps on the walls were forested with pins, each one tipped with a dried bean of a specific color.

With that accomplished, he tugged his habit off, balled it up and tossed it on the floor, and sat himself down in his old wheelchair. He let his body relax for a moment, releasing the stress of his trip downstairs, and rubbed his knees through his pajama bottoms. When he was quite comfortable again, he rolled himself up to the desk.

He pulled open a drawer and took out the folded uniform jacket, all blue and gold in grand Long Patrol tradition. One of Locria’s letters clung to a cuff and fluttered out. Ripple put it back and tucked them deeper inside the drawer. Leaning forward, he slipped the jacket on, tugged it tight down his back, and went to work clearing the mortuary that was his workspace.

He brushed cat fur off the sails of his model sailing ship, re-assessed the snapped foremast and tangled lines, and, with a sigh, scooted it to the far corner. He organized and stacked the star charts and sailing books. The spyglass he dusted off, removing the stains of disuse, and after some consideration tossed it gently onto his bed, aiming for a spot not filled with chunks of wall and shelving. When all that was out of the way, he emptied the bag, setting the cards to one side and tucking the watercolor set in the still-open drawer for later. Which left…

He stared for some time at the item he most certainly had not purchased. His heart quickened, and he glanced around behind him before turning the picture over. After a few minutes he lifted an edge and peeked under it. It was still the same picture. He leaned back.

He couldn’t return it. It was simply not feasible in any manner. Throw it out the window? But then someone might see him, or trace its flight path, make the connections… He settled for sifting it in with Locria’s letters. It was his private drawer, the one Skipper knew was off-limits. It should be safe until he figured out how to destroy it.

If he even wanted to.

Then Ripple’s calm, calculating coolness burst like a dam. A manic grin sent his whiskers splaying and he rubbed his paws together in a positively unsettling manner.

“Time to review the troops! Wot. Wot.”

He tore into the light twine binding his new packs, ripping the knots with his teeth. He bounced in his seat as he arranged them in rows alongside his older cards. His rudder swished merrily. The room surrendered to his imagination, walls falling to reveal smoking plains dotted with snapping standards, the bookshelves behind him a crowd of eager soldiers, frozen in salute as they awaited Commander Eliwood’s verdict.

Someone screeched in the distance, breaking his concentration.

The soldiers assembled into arrays of bleak tomes. The valley’s horizon folded up again, smoke curls hardening back into grains and knots. Ripple grunted in annoyance and pushed away from the desk. He wheeled himself to the window, grabbing his spyglass from the bed as he passed by.

“Wot in ‘ellgates is goin’ on…”

He stood, nosing under the curtain, and tilted his eye against the spyglass to better see the commotion.

Far below on the Abbey’s lawn, some sort of fight was brewing. And then breaking apart. And then brewing again. It was like watching a miniature flock of starlings. Moles ambled in the midst, squirrels skittered, otters galumphed buoyantly. Out of the confusion, a ball shot out, sailing between two chairs that had been placed on the grass. The hedgehog standing between them flung himself in the opposite direction a good second or two after the ball had already passed by. Badgermum Agnes blew a whistle. Someone screeched again. Someone else screeched back. A weasel bounded after the ball. Skipper hoisted a mouse onto his shoulders and paraded him around as half the congregation sulked.

Ripple shook his head. He thumped the window with a fist and growled.

Playing! Skipper was playing! The antics of dibbunhood! Not out looking for Ruslen and the others, not protecting the Abbey…

Something fishy was going on. Everybeast was on edge and, as always, Ripple was left alone in the dark. They knew something he didn’t, and they wouldn’t tell him what it was, not even the dibbuns who always came up to bother him with their pointless news.

They’d given up the search. If he could only do something… If he could ask Locria, if he could get her patrol’s help! Just find word, that would be enough. Had Ruslen and Chamomile survived the winter? Had they run off for adventures? If so, why hadn’t they told him? He wasn’t that much of a tattletale… was he?

But no, there was nothing he could do but wait. He was no more than a dibbun himself. His only power over his world, his immediate access to the postal sparrows in the aviary above, had been shut off from him. All he could do was wait the seasons out and hope the Abbot would change his mind before his friends forgot about him. Maybe they would get the news somehow, and understand his silence.

Maybe they would think he died.

There was no use worrying. It was out of his paws.

He swiveled the chair back to his desk and resumed comparing the new species to his old hare collection.

“Boo,” said a voice behind him, and then it laughed as he jolted out of his chair, cards cascading like snowflakes around him. Ripple shrugged out of his Long Patrol jacket as fast as possible and shoved it under the bed, falling into habit before his brain could catch up and realize he’d already been caught.

“That’s never a good hidin’ spot, y’know. First place anybeast’ll look fer loots.”

Ripple glared up at the little wildcat.

“Yer not allowed in here!” He hissed, keeping his voice low for Aloysius’s sake. He began to collect his cards from the ground. Oh, if any of them got dented! “‘specially without jumpin’ on the creaky step like I tole ye to!”

“Said I was sorry, din’ I?” Bludd looked up at the wall above his bed, as if admiring a job well-done. “‘s not so bad. Wall’s still there. Rubbish place to put things that are gonna fall, though.”

“They’re not s’posed to fall… Or be slept on.”

Bludd snorted and pawed at her nose. She wiped it off on the edge of his desk. Ripple tried not to look.

“Oh,” she said, jigging a little. “I remember now! There’s something I want to show ye!”

“I already know ye can stand on yer head…”

“No, this is much better.” Bludd preened. “Much.”

Burn After Reading

May 24, 2011

Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes,
Tenets with books, and principles with times.

“Aloysius, as always a pleasure.”  Merritt grinned.

“About so much a pleasure as ever, ever,” the bat replied, half-fluttering out of the way as Merritt tugged a heavy wooden trunk down from the back of the cart.  “Good morning, Saskia.  I hope the journey found you well?”

Saskia nodded.  “Oh, I’ve got the edition of Moral Essays you wanted, just here.  I ‘ad to correct the Cobham sections myself, nobeast else ‘ad it in print.”  She reached behind a crate of dubious provenance–one of Merritt’s–and plucked the handsomely-bound volume out of her own boxful of previous orders and passed it to the bat.  Aloysius wasn’t a very profitable customer, but if she could pick up a few marks here and there, all the better.

Merritt leaned in.  “And if ever you get tired of moral essays–”

“I’m bally well certain ‘e knows where to find you.  Aloysius, I’ll be along shortly with your other book.  Need to talk to you, too.”  Saskia hefted a trunk full of Merritt’s ridiculous trinkets–some complicated game or other with printed bits–absurd, but apparently financial alchemy.  Merritt raved about it turning ink into gold.

“I’ll wait for you in the gatehouse, I have some copying to do, copying to do.”  The bat trundled off, and Saskia turned back to unloading the cart.

Merritt had finished with his own wares, and both of them reached for the last box at the same moment, the ferret getting a grip on it first.  As he lifted it, a book tumbled down, striking Saskia in the chest.  She caught it, and examined the cover.  Its binder hadn’t bothered to grace it with a title, yet it was of the finest quality, morocco with a bit of gold tooling–

Merritt snatched it from her paws.  “Now, now, best not let a delicate lady such as yourself look through that.”  He winked, but Saskia kept her eyes on his–the usual sunny mischief in his expression had been occluded by something less comforting.  Merritt flicked his wrist and sent the gilt-covered book flying into one of his crates of less-than-savory wares.  It landed like a one-legged raven, tilted and crimped.

“Shouldn’t keep the fair Brother waiting.  I can set everything up while you talk to him,” Merritt said, and he handed Saskia the other book Aloysius had ordered, a draft copy of some philosophical treatise on rightful government.  It had been the first text she’d enjoyed typesetting for Sheridan in what felt like months.

Saskia glared at Merritt.  He smiled back, book in paw.

“Fine.”  She snatched the volume and strode off toward the gatehouse, casting a glance behind her and seeing Merritt retrieve the gilt-covered book he’d thrown.

She knocked on the gatehouse door.  “Come in!”

Saskia entered the gatehouse.  Paper covered every flat surface, looking as though somebeast with a careful and stubborn heart had taken it upon himself to sort and stack the autumn leaves.  It had much the same musty smell as autumn too, the smell of cinnamon and ditchwater characteristic of ancient books.

“Thank you for bringing these.  You can leave the other…” Aloysius paused to scan the room. “Oh, on top of this stack would serve well, serve well.  My apologies for the mess, Miss Saskia.”

“Not at all.  I’d ‘oped to ask you whether y’think we should be printing a new edition of Moral Essays.”  Saskia happened to glance out of Aloysius’ narrow window and realized she could see Merritt.  She perched herself on the edge of the desk as a vantage point, half-sitting and half-leaning, her back mostly to the bat.  A pile of loose papers shifted, but Aloysius halted the avalanche with an outstretched wing-tip.

“I should advise you, I would think, that I am hardly qualified to offer business advice, miss.”

“Rather, but per’aps you could at least offer some judgment on the work for itself?”

Outside, Merritt conversed with a tall otter who almost matched the ferret in manic energy, constantly shifting weight.  Saskia remembered him, faintly, from a previous visit–Gabriel, was it?   Merritt dug through a box.

Aloysius scratched his head with a claw.  “I hardly know where to begin, to begin. It is a fine work, to be certain, but I could not say if you would profit from its printing.”

“If it’s a work of merit, Sheridan could be convinced.”

Gabriel shook his head at whatever Merritt was brandishing, giving it hardly a glance.  Good for him.

“Sheridan always struck me as a fine gentlebeast, gentlebeast.”

Saskia tried not to snort.  ” ‘e’s got a unique taste, true, and much of wot we print wouldn’t be printed elsewhere.”  Because it’s bally rubbish.

“He does a fine service to us here, that is for certain.  Though I do wish your coming to Redwall so often was not at the cost of…”

Aloysius looked out the window as well.  Gabriel still stood across from Merritt, who swayed like a willow in a stiff wind as he spoke.  Gabriel laughed, and that sound penetrated even the gatehouse walls.

Saskia shifted and slipped off the edge of the desk, taking a sheaf of paper with her.  Aloysius fumbled for it as it slid to the floor.  “Oh, sorry!”

“I have been reorganizing the archives, I’m afraid, I’m afraid,” he explained.

“Ah.  As I ‘ad been about t’ say, some things…”

Saskia looked outside.  Gabriel nodded assent to something Merritt had said, and then walked away.  He wasn’t carrying anything.

“…some things, well, they may be regrettable, but they can’t often be ‘elped.”  Saskia felt as though she were back at school.  Aloysius was the strict schoolmarm to whom she offered answers only as half-questions, fearing disapproval.

Aloysius looked down at the papers he held, shaking his head.  “Perhaps.”  He sat the papers atop their stack.  “Was there anything else, miss?”

Saskia kept her gaze fixed on Merritt; she saw a young otter step up, a heavy limp marring his stride.  Probably after those cards, but…

“No, no, Brother, I really ought t’ be on my way, wot!  So I’ll just, I’ll be going along, then.”

“Mmmm.  Fare you well, you well.”  He bowed slightly, as far as the size of his wings would allow in the cramped space.  Serenity, if not a smile, had crept back into his expression.

“Thank you.”

Saskia approached warily.  Merritt had sat down on a crate, all the better to be at eye level with his customer.  Saskia might’ve called it his “gale-force” sales pitch.  The young otter was half turned away from Merritt, and shielding his eyes from the sun with one paw.

“Well, Mister Ripple, I do happen to have a set of new watercolors–which, since these are the newest cards, just came out–”

“Um, Fourth Edition?”  Ripple’s eyes lit up.

“Yes, just got them printed last week!  And I can get you a package deal on the watercolors, ten pennies off the whole price if you throw in the new map for three pennies.  Should be plenty of colors for sprucing up all these cards and the map besides!”

Saskia watched.  I’d wager a month’s wages that ten-penny discount is about as mythical as the Ribbajack.  She spoke up.  “‘ere, lad, don’t let this ‘uckster take your whole allowance.”

Ripple looked at his own paws.  Merritt scowled, and stared at Saskia.  “Oh, Ripple.  This is Saskia.  She has some books of moral poetry that I’m absolutely certain would interest a lively young fellow such as yourself.”  He drummed his claws on the side of the crate idly, head cocked to the side as though in dreamy contemplation of a cloud.  “Or perhaps not.”

“Well, can’t blame me for trying to wrest ‘im from your claws.”

“Ah, well, you’re Aloysius’ favorite and I get everybeast else.  Seems fair.”  He turned back to Ripple, while Saskia sat down on a crate beside his.  “Speaking of fair, I do have a Sunflash the Mace, Second Edition, which I believe you said you were in the market for?”

Ripple grinned.  “Ye remembered!”

Merritt dug through his box of game cards.  “Ah, yes, here it is.”  He held it out to Ripple, who cradled it in his paws.  Saskia thought the little otter might be shaking in awe, but maybe it was a breeze stirring the card.  It was beautifully painted, she had to admit.  “I might be convinced to throw in a Rosalie, First Lieutenant, if you like.”

Ripple snorted.  “I wouldn’ be payin’ fer it, that’s fer sure.”

“Merritt, you bally–” Saskia hissed.  Ripple gave them an uncertain look, as though he wanted mostly to flee but was held transfixed by the promise of cards.  “That’d be my mum,” Saskia said.  Ripple cringed.

“Oh, wow, yer mum’s a Long Patrol hare?” he asked weakly.

“Less interesting than it sounds, don’cha know.”

Merritt cut in. “Yes, yes, I’m very touched–”

“Yes, I’d say you’re pretty touched,” Saskia stage-whispered.  Ripple hid a grin with his paw.

“–but, anyhow.  The Sunflash is twenty, and fifteen for the new starter species, five for their weapons, three for the river map, plus sixty for the watercolors.”

“Thought you were giving ‘im a discount on the watercolors, wot?”

Merritt forced a smile.  “Right you are.  Fifty, my mistake.”

Ripple counted out his coins.

Aloysius heard them at his door – how could he not? The thuds reverberated in his ears and shivered through his wings. When he glanced at the page, he sighed: the lessons of Saint Julian developed – into nothing more than a splotchy scrawl. He ought to answer the door. Somebeast needed him. He shuffled past the sheaves and slid a claw into the latch.

“Good evening, friends, friends,” Aloysius said. “Is that young Tamarack, I hear? And Brother Andrew, I hope you are well, well.” He touched each of their paws in turn as he spoke. “Cobb, out of imprisonment I notice. Delightful to see you again, – I always enjoy our talks, talks.”

“As do Oi, Zir.”

“No need for sirs, friend Cobb. We are all equals here. Step inside, inside.” Aloysius beckoned them within his study, then began to fret as the three wedged past his work. Gangly limbs, blunt claws, and an excitable nature might set his careful piles toppling at the slightest provocation.

“It’s awful dark in here, Brother Alo – you weren’t sleeping, were you?” Tamarack expected a negative answer, which he gave. “I thought so, see!”

“Such pride, young maiden. Though perhaps you would like a light, a light?”

“Yes,” said Andrew. “We’ve found something interesting – who has it now?” The sound of frantic patting accompanied Aloysius’ search for a candle. He wished they would not jostle so. Once he found a stub, he cleared a space on the desk and struck a match. It flared, and light blossomed in the small room.

“Oi think you’m had it, Zir Andrew.”

“Oh – so I did, right here.” He placed it on the desk. Even from afar, Aloysius could see the pin’s glimmer.

Tamarack leaned forward. “D’you have any idea what it means? Only we thought you’d know, seeing as you’re the one what’s got everything about the abbey. And see – it’s the abbey, right there!”

“I do indeed see, see.” Aloysius peered close. A lens would help; he cracked open a drawer and withdrew a silver-rimmed slice of glass. “I might have a record of this symbol, symbol. It is not unfamiliar to me, though I cannot place its precise origin, origin. Perhaps,” he continued, halting Tamarack as she drew a breath to speak, “perhaps it can be found in Brother Timothy’s A Mossflower Heraldry. I shall be but a moment, moment.”

Aloysius ducked between two stacks of paper and knelt beside one of the near-hidden bookshelves. The state of them! He ought to fix the overflow soon, though he did not know how – his study could not fit another piece of furniture. When he tugged the ledger’s bulk from the bottommost shelf, the other books slumped to fill its place.

Aloysius hauled the tome onto his desk. “Now, let us look. To M for Mossflower, since A does not count, count.” He had found that beasts enduring the silence of a scholar’s search grew more comfortable with narration. “How did you come to have this pin, this pin?”

“Miz Tam found it, Zir,” said Cobb. “We’m be roight coorious.”

“Found it, found it?”

“That’s so,” said Tamarack, bristling. “I found it, that’s all. On the ground, somebeast must’ve dropped it.”

Aloysius turned another page. “You needn’t say anything your conscience deems unnecessary, Tamarack.” He felt her whiskers quiver, but she gave him no reply.

Once he found the location, he knelt beside a different shelf, squinting at the bindings as he traced a claw over the rich fabrics. “I keep the large books at the bottom. That way I find them easier to handle, handle.”

“That be mighty smart, Zir Aloysius,” said Cobb.

Aloysius sat back, frowning. “It should be here, here.”

“It’s not?” Andrew’s voice was sharp.

“How come?” asked Tamarack.

“If only I knew, knew,” said Aloysius. He squinted again, and a flash of annoyance huffed through him. Patience was a virtue. “Surely it must be here. Everything has its place, though I know my study seems crowded, crowded.”

“Someone stole it!”

“Let us not be hasty, Brother Andrew. Why would any abbeybeast steal, steal? They need only ask me to borrow, borrow.”

“Mayhap if it was one of these fancy ones,” said Tamarack, “somebeast might try to fence it. Not that they could now, seeing as there ain’t noplace to go.”

“Such speculations, speculations,” said Aloysius. “I am certain it is somewhere in my study. I will search for you – in the meantime, perhaps you can ask the printers’ opinion on the morrow, morrow.” He expected new editions for his collection.

“Good idea,” said Tamarack. “I’ll ask Miss Saskia if I get the chance.”

“Should we’m be telling folk about th’ pin, Miz Tam?”

Tamarack scoffed. “Saskia’s the very soul of – what’s the word – discretion. I don’t think she’d be like to spread tales.”

“I shall leave this decision to you, friends, friends.” An itch crept over Aloysius’ wings, and his thoughts turned to everywhere, anywhere his missing friend might be. “I am awake, wide awake, but I think that you all are tired. Rest on it. I will send for you if I find the book, book.”

“Right then,” said Tamarack. She scooped the pin into her paw. “Come on, Cobb – I could use some shuteye.”

As Aloysius followed them to the door, he unfurled his wings around them – a friendly gesture, and a protection from limbs askew. Any bump would send everything toppling over, and he needed his library intact.

“Goodnight, Brother Aloysius,” said Andrew.

“Goodnight, Brother Andrew, friends Cobb and Tamarack. Martin’s grace be with you.” After a courteous bow, Aloysius closed the door behind them.

He blew out the candle. A search, then, or perhaps he ought to think of it as a quest – a noble albeit irritating pilgrimage through his stacks.

He pictured the book: a beautiful folio, encrusted with jewels in the old style, though the binding had endured no more than thirty seasons. He recalled that it was paw-written, too, illuminated in faded reds and greens when he peered close. Over time, countless new bindings must have housed the pages. They crinkled under his claws – why, only a season ago he had pressed a thin new sheet between every leaf. If he weren’t otherwise occupied with translating a faraway moralist’s Confessions, he might have read it.

Aloysius chirped; his spires of paper and towers of books sang back at him. A pretty folio could scarce hide between papers – books first. One by one he felt the heft, trailed a claw over the cover, and then shifted it to a new pile. As the new stacks soon began looming over the old, his hopes dwindled. His chest heaved. His head hurt. He nearly slammed a book.

His ledgers lied, though they never had before – such corruption! To what temptation had they fallen? How silly they were, the thoughts that plagued his aching head. Sighing, Aloysius folded his wings behind him and curled upon the floor. Beasts depended on his precision; often he could locate a book with a single squeak. Ah – perhaps this was a lesson meant to chastise his pride.

I am but a humble purveyor of histories, he thought, a vessel of the written word.

The litany echoed in his thoughts as he continued his search. With every blink his eyelids felt thicker, heavier. Dawnlight touched the tops of his stacks. Echoes of a cart’s wheels and snapping-wit voices met his ears. Surely they had not arrived yet! He had but one more pile to finish. If the Mossflower Heraldry remained in his study, then there it lay.

He settled himself, and he forced his breaths into calm. Saskia and Merritt waited for him; he’d not allow his selfish distress to shadow their meeting.

 

*Written and posted by Aloysius’ sub.

“…they first make mad.”

 

Andrew sat in the chair, his eyes heavy. Lack of sleep had worn away at his desire to stay ever vigilant, and his head was beginning to droop. He felt himself being drawn into the abyss of sleep, sucked into the peaceful blackness…

He had barely closed his eyes when a sound on the edge of his awareness caused him to start. The mouse rose, sighing. It looked like he wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight. It happened every time. He would be just about to get some rest, and then his ears would pick up the unnatural scrabbling of those Things and that would be the end of that. Andrew would freely admit that he lived in terror of whatever it was that he heard at night; usually the problem was that beasts wanted him to stop talking about it. Well, it would serve them right once they were all killed like poor Bayard.

Over the week and a half that he had spent locked up in the kitchen Andrew had conjured up with a mental picture of what the monsters looked like, and if the image were ever put to paper he would probably have been censured by some of the more conservative Abbeybeasts. The Things of his nightmares had the slinky, sinuous bodies of a weasel, and the heads of wolverines. Their great slavering mouths were full of knife-like teeth, curved to deadly points, and they had sickly yellow eyes. Their tails resembled those of rats, all fleshy and constantly twitching. The beasts walked on four paws, which looked somewhat like a marten’s, and had giant sickle-shaped claws.

Andrew lived in both constant terror and hope that he would encounter one of these abominations. Hope because he would finally be proven right, and fear because he had seen what they did to their victims.

The mouse looked out over the darkened Abbey lawns for the umpteenth time and still did not see anything. This did not discourage him. The creatures were stealthy, but he could hear them crawling around and one day he would catch them in the act. Besides, the Abbot was on his side. Surely everybeast would believe him now?

***

“I would like to speak with Andrew,” said Carter from the other side of the door. The mouse in question, who was listening through the keyhole, could not suppress a brief shudder of apprehension. The Abbot, coming to speak with him? It must be something seriously important. Perhaps there were finally going to force him out of the kitchen.

“Alone, if you please,” said the otter. There was the sound of retreating pawsteps as the guards that stood by the kitchen door were dismissed, and then silence. It was eventually broken by Andrew.

“Well? What is it you want to say to me? Still trying to coerce me out of here, I suppose.”

“No, Andrew,” said Carter in a soft voice. “I’m here to tell you that you’re right.”

“Well, your cajoling isn’t going to work on me. I know that those things are out there, and…” There was a pause while Andrew’s brain backtracked to make sure it had heard the otter’s statement correctly. “Wait, did you say that I’m right?”

“Yes. Listen, I don’t have much time. Those beasts you hear are real. I was trying to protect the Abbeybeasts from it because I knew they’d panic, but you were too clever and you found out. You have to realize that these things are the reason for the lockdown, and the only way I can keep everybeast safe is if they all listen to me. I understand now that it would be best to inform everyone about the monsters, but I cannot do it myself for fear of being called crazy.

“But you, Andrew, know more about these things than I do. You have to get the word out and inform everybeast about the danger they’re in. Tell them why the lockdown is needed. I’m relying on you.”

“Yes…sir,” said the awestruck mouse. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that he would ever be taken seriously by anybeast, let alone by the Abbot himself. And he was entrusting Andrew with such an important job!

“I won’t let you down, Father Abbot!”

“Good. Good. I have to go now, but Andrew…remember what I told you. You are very important to my plan.”

“Yessir!” said the mouse, who, getting rather carried away in the moment, saluted even though he and Carter were separated by a solid wood door.

***

Andrew mulled over this conversation again and again in his mind. It was thrilling to have his fears vindicated by authority, but the part of his brain that saw the little inconsistencies in the world* was giving him trouble. What exactly was the advantage in having Andrew spread the word instead of the Abbot himself doing it? Beasts were more likely to believe Carter than him, as Andrew already had quite a reputation as a crazy beast. And why had the Abbot stressed the importance of the lockdown so much? Everything didn’t quite add up…

The mouse shook his head to banish such thoughts from his mind. Beasts would take him seriously if he was on a mission from the Abbot, and he wasn’t going to ruin that. He just had to figure the best way of getting the word out.

Well, I’m certainly not going to be able to do it from this kitchen, he thought glumly as he surveyed the room. Beasts tended to be skeptical of someone who locked themselves in a small room for days, and though he was taking a big risk in going outside, he would have to do it for the sake of the Abbey. That just left the problem of how to escape. Not through the door, certainly. There were always guards posted, and they would drag him off to the Council if he put one paw out the door. Andrew did not want to have to explain what was obviously a secret mission to a large group of beasts who had never been very accepting of his knowledge.

That left the window. The mouse examined it. It had a somewhat low frame, but he would be able to squeeze through with little difficulty. Plus, it had the advantage that even though the noise of him shattering the pane would summon the guards, he would be out before they could break down the door.

Andrew decided to seize the moment before he had a chance to talk himself out of it. He swung the heavy cleaver in both paws and was rewarded with many glass shards and a loud noise, which as predicted caused a hubbub of voices on the other side of the door. The mouse quickly cleared out the worst of the broken glass from the window and jumped through. It turned out to be a tighter fit than he anticipated, and Andrew found himself stuck midway through the window.

Then he heard the loathsome skittering of one of those Things behind him. They had gotten into the room! They were going to kill him for knowing too much!

The mouse mustered all his strength and popped out of the window like a cork from a bottle of champagne. He tumbled onto the Abbey lawn, rolled, and took off running as fast as he could. Andrew’s heart was pounding in his ears as he ran, and he imagined he could almost hear the Things pursuing him. He decided to make for the shadow of the west wall, where he could conceal himself and assess the situation, but as he rounded a corner he crashed into a group of shadowy figures. He grabbed the nearest one, intending to get it with the cleaver and at least take one of the things with him.

“You!-” Andrew’s heroic last words didn’t make it past the first pronoun as he realized that this was a female fox, not the monstrosity of his imagination.

“Let go! Let go!”

“Oi didn’t do it!” A heavy bass voice cut through the young vixen’s screeching, followed by the sight of a large dark shape looming over the pair. This did nothing to calm Andrew’s nerves.

“Help me, please! They know! They know I know!”

The fox’s leg lashed out, kicking Andrew in the stomach. He doubled over, releasing her.

“What are you doing- Hey, I remember you.”

“Really?” The mouse recovered his cleaver from where he had dropped it, and held the weapon up triumphantly.

“Aye. You’re Mr. Andrew, the one that showed up for that otter’s funeral and talked about those things that ripped out his throat. Didn’t half scare me, I can tell you that. I had nightmares for-”

“That really isn’t important right now. There’s something after me-” Andrew took a quick glimpse across the lawn back the direction he had came. All he saw was a quiet, moonlit panorama of grass completely devoid of slavering monsters. “…and now there’s not. Figures that they never show up when other beasts are around.”

“What never shows up?” asked the dark figure, who in Andrew’s rapidly adjusting vision was revealed to be a mole.

“…Never mind. I’ll tell you later. Anyway, what are you two doing wandering around at this hour?”

“What are you doing attacking me at this hour?” shot back the vixen.

“Escaping. I thought you were one of the monsters. Now answer my question. I’ve had a very trying night.”

“Found this pin on a body what was dumped in my graveyard. We’re taking it to Brother Aloysius to see if he has anything in his records about it.”

“Can I see that, Miss…”

“Tamarack, not miss. And this is Cobb.”

“Hello. Noice to meet ee,” said Cobb.

“I’m Andrew. Now can I please see that pin? It may be something important.”

Tamarack handed over the cloakpin with bad grace. It was made of silver, or at least a silver-colored material, and it was fashioned in the shape of the Abbey. There was a bright red gem where the gates were supposed to be. As he examined it, Andrew’s paranoia-honed instincts told him that this was important. This pin was obviously part of something big, possibly even bigger than the murders. Or they could be related, since the previous owner of the pin had been killed, maybe by the Things. Either way, there was no way he could let something like this walk away from him.

“This is quite interesting,” said the mouse at length. “May I join you? I would like to know where this pin comes from myself.”

“…Aye. But you keep your paws to yourself.”

“It won’t happen again,” promised Andrew.

The odd trio made their way across the lawn to the gatehouse, arriving at the door without incident. Tamarack knocked loudly.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

After waiting about half a minute and receiving no response, Cobb broke the silence.

“Per’ap’s ee’s asleep.”

“Don’t be silly. He’s a bat. They sleep during the day,” said Tamarack.

“Isn’t it lizards that don’t sleep at night?” asked Andrew.

“Oi thought it was cats.”

“You two are as dense as Colm. Everybeast knows-”

The creak of the gatehouse door opening interrupted the rest of the vixen’s statement. The three looked up and saw a figure silhouetted in the doorway.

***

*Which were shortly afterward corrupted by the rest of his mind into illogical paranoia. The brain works a lot like a corporate office, with the added difficulty that the ratio of employees to managers is reversed.

 

Dead Not Sleeping

May 23, 2011

It was a fact that Grannie slept like one of the daisy-pushers inhabiting the Abbey graveyard. That didn’t mean she was deaf, though.

“Shh!” Tamarack held a claw to her lips before closing the shutter on her lantern and kneeling beside the bed. “I need your help, Mr. Cobb.”

“What toime is it, Miz Tam?” She could feel the mole shift, his whiskers twitching against her arm. “Oi’m gurtly toi–”

The vixen wrapped her paws around his muzzle and leaned in to whisper. “It’s important. We can’t wake nobeast, or we’ll get in trouble. Please, Mr. Cobb, there ain’t nobeast but you as can help. Something strange is going on, and it’s got Colm scared half out of that half-wit he’s got knocking around his head.”

Cobb nodded, and Tamarack released him to pick up the lantern. She opened the shutter once more, the faint beam of candlelight illuminating the bedtime shadow puppets that hid in the bookshelves, corners, and closets of even the dullest rooms. As she turned, the flame’s glow revealed the stacks of spare coffins lining the walls, and the trinkets scattered about the floor. They made navigating the room a treacherous journey for footclaw and shin alike; it was a wonder Grannie hadn’t tripped and broken her neck yet.

Tamarack felt Cobb’s digging claw on her shoulder. Time for doing, not thinking.

Three tolls of the Abbey bells covered the squeak of the hinges as the pair stole out of the room and into the moonlit corridor. They made their way toward the kitchen, then out the back door into the graveyard. The vixen snatched her shovel from the porch as they went.

“Now where was it?” Tamarack eyed the grave markers as her lantern revealed each name – friends unmet, but ever willing to point her in the right direction. “Across from Ms. Julep and Mr. Reuben?”

“What’s this all about, then, Miz T–”

“Hold these.” Tamarack tossed the shovel and lantern to the mole before crouching and setting her snout to the ground. She heard him fumbling for a firm grip on each item and bit down on a chuckle. He was better at catching than most moles, at least. He was also better at being caught… which didn’t bode well for their venture. They’d carve that epitaph if, and only if, it came time for that, though. “It was around here….” A perfume of mint beckoned from the north. “Hah! Come on, Mr. Cobb.” Keeping their heads and voices low, Tamarack and Cobb crept around the graves to where the scent of tea and candy was strongest. “Colm’s been acting right peculiar since we found this cloakpin yesterday.”

“Cloakpin? Like th’ one Miz Ida were wearing for dinner?”

“Naw, Colm bought her that with the coin we got lifting a few trinkets from the permanent residents around here.” She flashed a quick grin at the mole before furrowing her brow and explaining about the rabbit, the pin, and Colm’s queer reaction. “I’ve never seen him tuck his tail between his legs like that. You’d think the thing was a snake what come out and bit him.”

They stopped, and Tamarack took another sniff before scratching a few pawfuls of dirt away to reveal a wadded pile of peppermint. Mumma would probably tan her hide when she noticed the lot had gone missing, but this was too important to worry about backsides and their eventual whipping.

“But if it were a rabbit from th’ Abbey, woi would they be tossing him in th’ graveyard without asking?” Cobb wondered as he returned her shovel and set the lantern down.

“Expect he got offed by some fellows as don’t want no beast knowing he been offed.” The mole stiffened, and the vixen felt her own paws clench just a little tighter about her shovel.

Murder. Since that winter, when her paws had bled and arms ached for each victim buried in the frozen ground, the word had become more sinister, more cruel. What was this vile thing, then, creeping from outside the great stone walls and into her graveyard? It had terrified her big brother, and she wasn’t about to let it get away with that.

“I didn’t bury it none too deep,” she continued, forcing a smile. Cobb looked ready to bolt half the time as it was, best not worry the old digger too much. “Just so’s Colm wouldn’t notice. Figured we could take it to Brother Aloysius to see if he knows anything about it. He’ll be in his gatehouse about now.”

There was a note of disapproval in the mole’s tone as he set his claws and she set her shovel to the task. “Miz Tam, we’m got chores t’ do tomorrow. Oi doan’t think we’m should go runnins about hither an’ yon in th’ noight. What would Zir Emmerich an’ Miz Larch say?”

Tamarack pulled a face. “Expect they’d say that so long as I get to getting in the morning, I can do whatever I like.” She could feel Cobb’s raised brow more than see it, and stuck out her tongue. “This is all for Colm, Mr. Cobb.”

“Roight.”

“You’re right suspicious for a mole.”

“You be roight supicious for a fox.”

They paused in their digging, the vixen pursing her lips at the be-goggled mole. A beat passed in total silence before she felt a smile tugging at her whiskers. “I like you, Mr. Cobb. Ain’t too many beasts bold enough to steal from the Abbey gardens.”

“Oi was hungry.” He shrugged, and they resumed.

“That reminds me, though. Don’t forget to ask Grannie for the latest advert in the morning. Ms. Saskia’s coming, and Papa wants something fresh for the season.” She couldn’t help a wicked grin curling her lip up. “And Mr. Merritt’ll be coming, too.”

“Zir Merritt?”

“He’s the best! Sells all sorts of things as ain’t nobeast else’ll sell. I been saving up for one of his special pamphlets.”

“What be a spec– Oi think Oi found it.” The mole held the cloakpin up to the lantern’s light. The finely-crafted surface glittered, the faux-stonework of the Abbey etched in painstaking detail around the ruby gate. It had to be worth a few silver marks, maybe even a full gold coin. “You said it were a rabbit wearing th’ pin?”

“Aye. Looked like it for the ears. Couldn’t make out the face, though. Whoever done him in weren’t kind about the doing.” She plucked the cloakpin from Cobb’s paws and rubbed it clean on her slacks. “We’d best be off. Like you said, we got work tomorrow, and I think Mr. Noel’s planning on another campball game, too. Remy’s been holding her nose so high in the air since she beat us last week, I reckon she’ll be bending over backwards afore long.”

They refilled the shallow hole, and Tamarack pocketed the cloakpin before they returned to the house. The vixen replaced her shovel and sneaked back into the kitchen while Cobb fretted outside. Brother Aloysius was a generous bat, but he wouldn’t look kindly on the pair of them interrupting his research on the ‘historical ramifications of the changing morals of Mossflower country’. Something to butter him up, then…

Tamarack’s claws clicked across jars in the pantry until they came to her personal treasure. The candied beetles had cost her three graverobbing adventures, but the sugary confections had been worth every penny. She picked out five of the smaller beetles and placed them with the pin before returning to Cobb.

“Oi was wondering, Miz Tam,” Cobb began once they were on their way, “woi not just ask Zir Colm woi he were scared?”

“I tried! He won’t even admit there was a rabbit, though. Just told me to belt up, or he’d chop off my tail and give it to Ida for dusting the house. Whatever it is, Mr. Cobb, Colm ain’t speaking a word on it. And I can’t ask Mumma or Papa. What if it is something dangerous? It’ll be Colm in trouble instead of me. He’s in charge of the graveyard… Papa’ll raise old Cluny screeching about not reporting what happened what with all the beasts disappearing. We can figure this out ourselves, then tell the Abbot personal. We’ll just leave out where we found the pin.”

“Oi… doan’t think that’s th’ best–”

You!” Something latched onto her arm, its icy cold claws prickling the skin beneath her fur. Tamarack tried to wrench herself away, and the lantern went flying.

“Let go! Let go!”

“Oi didn’t do it!”

“Help me, please! They know. They know I know!”

Well, for a monster, it sounded rather desperate.