June 30, 2011
Once, when she was eight, Tamarack stumbled across a snake. She and Ripple had wandered away from the other dibbuns who were frolicking and daisy chain-weaving just outside the Abbey’s main gate, and the creature had risen from the tall grass to block their return. Clutching the otter’s paw in a vice-like grip, the vixen had waited for the snake to strike. She remembered that it had smelled like Aloysius’ archives, a collection of cobwebs and dust overrun by decaying tomes piled higher than she was tall. The thing had considered them for a moment, flicking out its forked tongue. Then, with a hissing sigh, it had slithered away. It was the first time she had ever thought about her own grave.
Meeting the cold, reptilian eyes of the otters, Julian Case, Cassius, and Locria as they sat in the musty cellar, Tamarack felt that same terror gripping her. These were murderers, villains, enemies… but then what was Selendra doing with them?
“If you aren’t interested in talking…” Case let the threat hang, a noose in the suddenly-thick air. They all began to speak at once.
“We’m came from th’ Abbey–”
“Lookin’ fer adventure–”
“We wanted to see–”
“There was a great gaping hole–”
The hedgehog held up his paws and Locria rapped the butt of her pistol on the table. “One at a time, chaps.”
“Let’s start with something simpler,” Case said. “Who are you?”
The mole placed a digging claw to his brow. “Oi be Cobb.”
“Cap’n Bludd,” the kitten said, her tail and ears held high. “Saver of mousey maids an’ plunderer of abbots.”
“Noel Lingham.” The set of the weasel’s jaw did not catch her attention so much as Cassius’ raised brows. It was her turn, though.
“Coffincreeper,” Case finished, a faint smile touching his lips. “I thought you looked familiar. You’ve certainly grown, though, haven’t you?”
“Sir?” The vixen couldn’t help her hackles rising. Case sounded almost like the Abbot, that air of knowing about him that made her fur prickle.
“Ah, forgive me. You would have been about…” He trailed off, sizing the vixen up before placing his paw a little above the table’s edge. “About so high last I saw you. Durian’s murder rather curbed my enthusiasm for graveyards. And while I’m reluctant to dispose of an old friend’s granddaughter… and a kitten who saved one of our own, I would hope you recognize the difficult position you’ve all put me in. So, tell me, young Tamarack, why should I not kill you?”
Tamarack felt her stomach drop as everybeast turned to her. Playing at leader was well and fine when they weren’t standing with one footpaw in the grave, a willing executioner ready to push them the rest of the way. Here, though? Now? She scrabbled for Cobb beneath the table and found a small part of her courage returning when he wrapped his digging claw around her paw. From the other side, Noel squeezed her arm. Even Bludd offered a roundabout sort of support in a poorly executed whisper.
“Snout to the cannons and charge, matey.”
She took what strength she could from her friends and began. Julian Case was a murderer, but she would not give him the satisfaction of hearing her voice quaver. “We came from Redwall, sir.”
“This I can see.” The hedgehog cast a glance at Selendra who shook her head. He ran his claws through the graying spikes atop his head. “I’m rather more interested in the why, what, and how, though.”
“Mr. Cobb found a tunnel when we was digging Mr. Andrew’s grave.”
“Andrew’s dead?” Selendra interrupted.
“Aye, just this afternoon, and it were the Abbot what done it. Said Mr. Andrew attacked him after admitting to killing Brother Raimun, but Bludd and Foweller saw them. It weren’t no self-defense.”
There was a collective intake of breath from the non-Abbeybeasts.
“The rotter’s getting bold,” Locria hissed.
“Well, he tried to have me killed, as well. Why Andrew, though? He’s just–”
“Were a bit of plunder what done ‘im in,” Bludd said. “Like th’ medallion Tam ‘as.”
Tamarack felt Noel’s paw tighten around her arm again as they both jumped and looked over at Cassius. It was the first the pine marten had spoken.
“It’s a cloakpin,” Noel corrected, a hint of challenge edging into his tone.
“Aye. Found it on a bunny what gone and got hisself tossed in my graveyard without a proper burial. Colm – he’s my brother – were scared half out of his hide just looking at it.” Tamarack reached into her pocket and held the cloakpin up. Locria grabbed it without preamble. “Oy!” The vixen lunged for her treasure, but Cobb and Noel held her back.
“It’s not worth it,” the weasel muttered.
“It be all roight, Miz Tam,” the mole added as the hare tossed the pin to Case and Cassius. “Oi doan’t think Miz Sel will let them keep it.”
True, the mouse had prevented their untimely demise, but she wasn’t proving to be a particularly vocal advocate for their continued existence.
“You say you found this on a body?” Case asked, pawing the pin off to Selendra.
“Aye, sir.” Tamarack tracked the pin’s progress, coiling herself up to spring for it at the next possible chance. It was her only solid link to Colm, to the graveyard, to home down here. She wouldn’t let them steal it without a fight. “The Abbot weren’t none too happy when he found out, neither.”
“Carter knows that you have this? Fates!” The panic in the hedgehog’s voice was enough to draw her attention to him. He was glaring at Selendra. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“I didn’t know,” the mousemaid countered, bristling. “I’ve been following the lead on Tompkins and Delores to protect that one.” She jerked a claw at Noel, and Tamarack felt the weasel stiffen beside her. Protect him from what? “Merritt’s the one who had her deliver the package to Raimun.”
“Merritt let a flipping kit… well no wonder Raimun’s tripped off to meet his bally maker. I told you we couldn’t trust the blighter, Case. Too busy dabbing it up by half!”
“Merritt’s done us far more good than–”
“Always defending that ferret, Sel,” Locria scoffed, crossing her arms. “You’ll make Berend jealous.”
“Will you both–”
“Shut up.” Cassius might well have shouted for the reaction those two simple words produced. The table fell silent, and Tamarack took advantage of the distraction to snatch the cloakpin from Selendra’s lax grip. Stuffing it back in her pocket, the vixen glanced over at Cassius and felt her own paws freeze. There was something altogether hungry about his face, like a pike on the prowl. This beast was a predator. “Seems t’ me our guests ‘ave quite a lot o’ information they shouldn’t, a quality the likes o’ us can appreciate. Question is: Can we trust ’em?”
“Don’t even think about it, Cassius,” Selendra growled. “They don’t know what’s going on.”
“No, but I’d sure as shooting like to!” Tamarack laid her ears back and cringed. That had come out much louder than she’d intended.
“Me, too!” Bludd chimed. The vixen smiled at the kitten and received a grin in return. When had the fuzzy tidal wave of destruction become reliable? After saving Selendra? She’d have to ask about that if they didn’t get their heads chopped off.
Noel nodded. “Only seems fair if you’re going to kill us all anyway.”
“Listen here,” the vixen continued, “we been running around for three days trying to figure out why a pin would scare my big brother. We been threatened, lied to, and turned around in circles just trying to fit everything together. Two beasts have been murdered inside the Abbey in as many days, two dozen more in the last season, and now we find a pair of murderers sitting pretty as you li–”
Locria cut the rant short, smashing her pistol across Tamarack’s muzzle. The vixen screeched and fell back as the bench she and the others had been sitting on toppled. Eyes watering and the sharp tang of blood in her mouth, she dragged herself up to avoid one of the guard otter who was charging Noel.
The weasel held Locria in a headlock while Cobb grappled with the other otter. Selendra only just had hold of Bludd, the kitten thrashing like a five-limbed octopus in her arms.
“Sto-guck!” The vixen choked. Everything smelled like blood. She knew it was just in her mouth, but the first otter had reached Noel. “Stop! Leave him–”
Tamarack rubbed away her tears and panic, focusing on the cloud of smoke that had begun to wrap itself around Case’s arm. The hedgehog’s pistol was pointed straight out toward the far wall.
“I’m glad to have your attention. Locria, quit struggling, be quiet, and if you even think about hitting an ignorant kit without permission again, I will personally shoot you with your own gun. Do I make myself clear?”
“I’m sorry, Locria?” There was that same sweet smile the Abbot wore. Tamarack shuddered and coughed, spitting out a tooth. She wiped her maw with the back of her paw and winced. She’d lost most of her baby teeth to Colm’s rough housing, but this took the gilded coffin in terms of pain.
“You’ve been clarity itself, sah.” Locria sighed.
The weasel released her after a wary moment, and the otter fighting Cobb backed away to join his companion. Bludd landed a shallow scratch on Selendra’s arm and hissed as the mouse let go. Selendra probably hadn’t deserved that… not entirely. Maybe just a bit.
“Now that we’ve all calmed down,” Case continued, holstering his pistol, “why don’t we sit?”
“You’m keep your paws off Miz Tam,” Cobb warned with a more terrifying glower than Tamarack would have thought he possessed. She laid a paw on his shovel-like digging claws as they sat down, all too aware of the peculiar reversal.
“I’m fine, Mr. Cobb. Mumma’s done me worse with one of her birchings.” A little lie never hurt now and again.
“I promise no more unexpected violence.”
“And what about the expected sort?” Noel growled.
Tamarack felt herself bristling again as Case grinned at them, too benign for sincerity. “Hopefully, it won’t come to that. I think we need to clear up a few things, though. I am not a murderer, and neither is Cassius. Well… not the murder you’re thinking of, anyway. It’s a lie that Carter started.”
“Then who did it?” Noel asked while Tamarack nursed her snout.
“I suspect Carter and whoever his cronies were at the time. That pin you found, it marks his inner circle. Or, a circle that he’s taken over, anyway.”
“The Society o’ Martin,” Cassius drawled, throwing his arms wide. “Sworn defenders o’ Mossflower country and bent on the eradication o’ vermin just like you and me. They run Redwall, and Case didn’t like that so much. Ain’t ‘e a proper gent?”
“So, then…” Tamarack said, leaning in as the missing pieces slotted into place. “Abbot Carter murdered your family, Mr. Case, and said it was you, so that he’d become abbot instead?”
“A gold coin for the lass!” Cassius exclaimed, with a mock-clap. The vixen would have sneered at him if she hadn’t known that it would hurt like a pistol to the face. She settled for a glare and let Noel sneer for her. The marten offered a smirk in return, but the expression dissolved into something uglier a moment later, all fangs and slitted yellow eyes. “We been workin’ t’ bring that bloody prater down ever since. And now we ‘ave you lovelies. Selendra tells us the kitty saved ‘er life. The rest o’ you, though…”
“They’re me crew,” Bludd said, her voice sounding smaller, for once fitting her tiny frame. It was unnatural.
Tamarack left off her staring at Cassius. Bludd’s shoulders were tensed, her tail bottle-brushing behind her. The vixen reached across Noel and grabbed the kitten’s paw. A quick flick of her eyes and a squeeze were enough. Bludd had given her support when Tamarack had needed it most, she would do the same.
“I trusts me crew, and ye should, too,” the kitten boomed, falling into fine captain form. “That’s Bosun Tam, that is, Cobb th’ Gobb, an’ Lieutenant McNoel. A cap’n never launches into a new venture without ‘er crew!”
“I think they’ll be all right, Cassius,” Selendra agreed, grimacing as she touched a paw to her bandaged ear. “They already know about the tunnel, and there’s only so much information Sebastian and Flint can gather now that I’ve gone. You all have to promise to keep this a secret, though. We aren’t ready to take down Carter yet because–”
“Because he’s the Abbot,” Noel concluded, “and you’re just murderers.”
“Precisely,” Case said. “So, the question becomes: Will you help us?”
“What if we say no?” Tamarack put in.
The hedgehog shrugged. “Then we discuss the expected sort of violence, my dear.”
“Right…” A quick glance to confirm that dying was not on the preferred list of activities this evening. “I suppose we’ll be helping you, sir.”
As he leaned back and folded his paws in his lap, Tamarack swore she saw a flicker of forked tongue. Whatever else he was, the vixen suspected they’d avoided Julian Case’s fangs by a hairsbreadth.
Cobb led Tamarack through the graveyard to the tunnel entrance. Each carried a satchel filled with bread, a hunk of hard cheese, and a canteen of mint tea. Noel had not yet arrived, so they sat down to wait, the light from their tin lanterns glowing like over-sized fireflies in the darkness.
Tamarack broke the friendly silence first. “What do you reckon we’ll find down there?”
“Oi doan’t know. Oi didn’t go any farther than you’m did, but Oi know it be dug boi moles.”
The vixen’s eyes shone, twin sparkles of excitement. “Maybe Foremole helped dig it… and his crew! Reckon it’s a secret tunnel the Abbot to uses if the Abbey’s attacked?”
Cobb started at that idea and chewed on his digging claw while he thought. “Oi doan’t think so, Miz Tam. Th’ digging is newer closer to th’ Abbey. It be dug from th’ outsoide in. Somebeast dug it to come into th’ Abbey.”
“But then they can’t leave. Why would anybeast want to be stu–”
A figure leapt out of a nearby tree onto the vixen.
“Watcher doin’ sittin’ by a hole?” Bludd sat up on Tamarack’s chest and began to clean her paws.
“Get off, Bludd.” She shoved the kitten onto the ground and sat up.
“We’m be waiting.”
“Waitin’ fer wot? Is sommat gonna come out? Ye didn’t bury any treasure down there, did yer, mates?” Bludd bounded to the side and peered into the darkness. “I don’t see nothin’.”
Tamarack looked at Cobb and raised her eyebrows.
“We’m be waiting for th’ King of Spoiders to come out!”
“Yer lyin’!” The kitten’s eyes went wide and she jumped back from the side of the hole.
Tamarack joined in the fun. “Aye. An’ all his spider sons and daughters. They’ll crawl all over you, too!” She crept up behind the kitten and tickled her claws along Bludd’s back and neck.
Bludd turned to the side, her back arched, her tail poofed, and hissed at them.
“Bludd, doan’t get you’m’s hackles up! We’m only be joking with you’m.”
“O-of course ye were, mateys!” The kitten’s eyes darted. “Well, ye might as well tell me what yer waitin’ for. Cuz I’ll just wait til it comes.” The kitten plopped herself down to wait with them.
Cobb and Tamarack looked at each other. He sighed and nodded.
“We’re waiting for Mr. Noel so we can see where that tunnel leads.”
The weasel walked up to the group, his own satchel in paw. “And now I’m here, so, Bludd, you can scamper off, and we can be on our way.”
“Fft! I’m comin’ along, too. Ya needs a ‘sperienced adventurer ta lead ya!” She marched down the ramp and into the tunnel. “Are you lot comin’ or not?”
The three beasts looked at each other. “She be trouble, Oi ‘spect.”
“Aye, but now she knows, what are we gonna do?” The weasel looked at him and shrugged.
Cobb helped Tamarack down the ramp, and the group set off to see where the tunnel led.
Tamarack suppressed a yawn.
“Do you’m want to go back, Miz Tam? We’m could sleep before morning chores.”
The vixen pawed at her eyes and glanced over at Noel before replying. “Not a chance, Mr. Cobb. Expect this here tunnel’ll end soon as you like.”
Bludd came bounding back from the darkness ahead. “There’s a door up there!”
“A door?” Cobb sniffed and felt around the walls, trying to figure out where they were. “We’m be in Redwall City, Oi believe, but Oi doan’t know where in th’ city. Perhaps we’m shouldn’t go in yet.”
Tamarack sighed. “You’re worse than a little old mousemum crossing a road. What was the point of coming if we ain’t going through. That door might well lead to the truth, Mr. Cobb. About the pins, the Abbot, Mr. Andrew, Brother Raimun… even my gramps.”
“But, Miz Tam, we’m doan’t know who be behoind that door. What if it be more beasts loike Abbot Carter?”
“Gobby, it’s an adventure! We should duel ‘em!” The kitten mimed brandishing a sword about and hopped around the tunnel.
“Shhh. Bludd, you’m be quiet. What if somebeast hears you’m?”
Noel chimed in, then. “He’s right, Bludd. But, Cobb, we came all this way. We have to find out what’s behind that door. And the only way to do it is to go through. What do you say?”
Cobb was silent a moment. “You’m wait here. Oi’ll dig a tunnel around to th’ soide. Then Oi can peek in an’ see what be behoind th’ door. We’m can decoide what to do after Oi get back.”
Tamarack opened her mouth, but it shut it again before speaking.
“Cobb, I think… well, I think that’s a good plan,” Noel said.
Cobb smiled and nodded as they agreed to his plan. Tamarack sat Bludd down and took out her bread and cheese to share with the kitten.
The mole went a few feet farther down the tunnel and felt the wall. Digging his claws in, he tested a few spots before he started his own, smaller passage. Soon, clods of dirt were flying from his claws in a steady stream, collecting in piles as he burrowed further into the welcoming earth.
The dirt felt delicious. It had been such a long time since Cobb had dug just for the sake of digging. He relished each clawful as he allowed it to slip through onto the floor behind him. He could smell the earth worms and the recent rain that still dampened the soil.
Five minutes passed before he paused, letting the vibrations of the earth move through him. He could feel movement coming from what must be the room behind the door. Somebeast was pacing back and forth. Cobb also felt something bouncing: Somebeast bouncing his leg whoile sitting, maybe? He turned and dug towards it, stopping just short of breaking through into the room. With one claw, Cobb made a cautious hole. He put his eye to it and peered through.
Inside the room, there were three beasts sitting around a table and a pine marten pacing the floor. As Cobb watched, they all stiffened, then the hedgehog yelled at somebeast he couldn’t see. There was movement along the wall where Cobb stood, and he felt more than heard the door being opened. The beasts inside drew their weapons and faced it.
“You there!” Cobb heard somebeast shout from the tunnel.
He turned and ran back towards his friends, no longer taking the time to enjoy the earth encompassing him.
When he reached the main tunnel, he saw Tamarack, Noel, and Bludd on their footpaws, being led into the cellar by a pair of otters, each brandishing a sword.
“You’m sea dogs leave Miz Tam alone!” Cobb threw himself at the nearest otter only to be slammed into the ground.
“Up ye come, hero! Yer goin’ in, too.” The otter plucked the dazed mole off the floor and shoved him forward.
Inside, the group was met by a pine marten, a hedgehog, a young haremaid, and a burly mouse with a bandaged ear.
The haremaid looked at the hedgehog. “Should I kill ‘em, Case?” She raised her pistol and pointed it at Cobb.
The hedgehog gave a small, thin-lipped smile and nodded.
“No!” A voice broke through the tension. “Case, that kitten is the one that saved my life.”
“Selendra!” Bludd hurried over to the mouse, arms open to hug her. Selendra pushed the kitten away, and instead mussed her fur between her ears.
“Very well, Sel,” the hedgehog said. “We’ll hear what they have to say, then we’ll decide. Locria, do lower your pistol.”
The haremaid put her weapon away and sank back into her chair, arms crossed across her chest. Selendra led Bludd to the table and the pair sat down.
Case gestured for Cobb, Tamarack, and Noel to sit as well. Cobb moved towards the table to take his seat.
“Well, Cassius, what do you think of our intruders?” Case turned to the marten.
The marten said nothing, but let his eyes wander over the group. His eyes fell on Noel and stopped, then flitted back to the hedgehog.
Shifting in his seat, Cobb cleared his throat. “Hurr… hurr…” He began, but stopped when he looked around at the stony faces of their captors. The mole lowered his eyes to the table.
June 29, 2011
It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.
“And Saskia–if you could keep an eye on Virrel, I’d… he’s me brother, y’see.”
Saskia nodded, but Noel didn’t see; he’d already swept away, lost in some different thought. His posture was different from the campball coach she’d glimpsed before. Noel had the appearance of somebeast bruised and penitent, of a guttering candle’s soft and tilted flame. Virrel was his?
She remembered meeting Virrel once. The weasel had attempted to haggle with Merritt through intimidation, shoving a pile of books off the makeshift counter. Merritt had sent him scampering with a few choice words–too soft for Saskia to hear–and returned the books to the countertop, whistling as he dusted their covers…
Noel had decided that idiot ruffian was his full responsibility?
For the moment, however, that was unimportant. Saskia tried to organize her thoughts. There was a way to escape. She needed to find Merritt and Selendra, to get them ready to flee. Aloysius couldn’t leave–but he could fly, of course he could–he wouldn’t leave, then. He’d not forgive this, and she would lose him.
It wouldn’t do to forego what might be a last chance, not even with Aloysius’ friendship in the balance. To delay merely invited the escape route to be discovered in the meantime, to remain in Carter’s grasp might be suicide.
Only what matters, only think about what matters. Merritt. Selendra. You can save them. You can save yourself.
She had canvassed the Abbey, subtle queries into Selendra’s whereabouts yielding no result but a twisting sensation in Saskia’s chest and the feeling of being slowly smothered. Nothing, nothing, nothing again. Her inquiry to the Friar leaked desperation, her discomfort ruling over wisdom. He had asked if she needed chamomile to settle her stomach, or ginger tea.
Was Selendra gone, then? Disappeared by some scheme of Carter’s? Had she escaped first?
Saskia lurked on the north lawn, keeping guard as she pondered. Could she find Berend, perhaps? Or would they both have gone together?
Saskia spotted a wildcat wandering, playing some game known only to herself; she would run up to a spot, pounce, and then remain perfectly still for a moment before darting to another spot. A blanket, tied like a cape, trailed behind her as she ran.
The cat noticed her, gave her a long look. Saskia felt as though she were being measured up. The cat glanced around, then loped over. “Yer Saskia.”
“And you are?”
“C’n call me Bludd.” Bludd cocked her head to one side. “Better watch yerself! King Carter th’ Bloody sent me ter slit yer throat!”
Saskia felt a sudden wave of nausea. Oh, Hellgates. She tried not to tremble. “Does he?” Should I run?
Bludd bared her teeth and snarled. Saskia couldn’t help but jump back and let out an undignified whimper. Bludd’s eyes narrowed.
She burst out laughing.
“Got ya, din’t I? Shoulda seen yer face.”
Saskia let out a held breath, too relieved even to be angry. “You did.”
“Yer that mouse’s shipmate, aren’t ya?” Heard ya bin asking ’round.” Her ears flicked.
“Yes, Selendra. Do you know anything?” Saskia couldn’t keep hope out of her voice.
“I’m an assassin! King’s orders were ter poison ‘er grog.” Bludd looked at the ground. “I din’t.”
Oh no. “Did ‘e really?” Saskia grabbed Bludd’s shoulder, and the cat had to squirm hard to escape her grasp. “Don’t be joking with me about this. Is she alive, still?”
“Aye. She got out.”
“Oh thank the fates…” Saskia sank into a squat, down at Bludd’s eye level. Of course. The tunnel. She looked Bludd in the eye. “Thank you. For telling me, and… and for Selendra. Does Carter know Selendra’s gone? If ‘e ‘asn’t seen a body yet, you’d best get out yourself.”
“Don’t worry yer pretty bob-tail about me, matey. He thinks I slew ‘er, she cut off a bit o’ one of her lugs ta show him.”
“That settles that, then. I should go talk to Merritt–do you know who ‘e is?”
“That ferret with the fancy clothes, like a cap’n.” Bludd wrinkled her nose. “An’ books.”
“That’s ‘im. You need anything, you come talk to me, or to ‘im. Otherwise… I’d not tell anybeast wot you just told me.”
Bludd nodded, and her claws nibbled at the edge of her blanket-cloak. Saskia smiled and left. Merritt had mentioned something about picnicking, maybe he’d be outside.
Raimun died by poison, and now this? She’s not lying, she’d not be clever enough to say it was poison if she were. A image of Carter, gurgling and limp, flashed before her eyes unbidden, leaving behind it only a filth-smeared feeling of satisfaction.
Merritt sat in the grass, an old quarto volume of etymologies in front of him. He wasn’t reading it–it lay there closed, a ballroom floor for his paws as he shuffled a double-pack of cards. The deck arched, was held for a moment in tension, and then slumped into a unruly pile. Gabriel sat on the other side of the book, apparently taking a moment’s rest from the game to peer up at the sky.
Saskia thought she saw a whisper of a smile, almost smug, almost an echo of Merritt’s, but she knew she must be wrong.
“Two thousand to me, nine hundred thirty to you? Oh, hello Saskia, how is our… extended vacation from our troubles… treating you?” Merritt burbled. Gabriel nodded at the score.
“Wonderfully. Though perhaps not as beneficial to my canasta game as to yours, I see. I ‘ope you’re not playing ‘im for money, Gabriel.”
The otter smiled, but Merritt replied before he could. “Of course not.”
“Good. It’s a game for the devious-minded, I doubt ‘e’d ‘ave a chance.”
“Hmm. What do you need?”
“I need to talk to you.”
Merritt dealt. “Go ahead.” He picked up his hand and began sorting.
“Alone,” Saskia snapped.
Merritt glowered. “I’m having a perfectly nice day. Not ‘corrupting anybeast’s honor’. Nobeast who doesn’t want it corrupted, anyhow. I’m playing cards on the Abbey lawn and shortly I’m going to tea.” He made a tea-drinking gesture with his little claw stuck out. Gabriel muffled a laugh. “So if you’ve managed to get Isidore’s bees in your bonnet, could you possibly inform me of the fascinating and tedious details later?”
Saskia took a deep breath and put on a pleasant tone. “Wotever it is you’re attempting to deny you did, I’ll be bally interested to find out. I do think you’ll want to ‘ear this.”
Merritt stood up, laying his hand face-down on the book. Gabriel frowned. “Just a moment, Gabriel.”
Saskia steered him away from Gabriel, toward the north lawn. She could watch from there, as Noel had suggested.
“What is it?”
“Two things. First, there’s a tunnel out of ‘ere.”
“Hmmm. Well, that is a stumper. We’ll be leaving, of course, but who ought we take with us? Think I can convince him?” He nodded back at Gabriel.
“Not ‘ardly. This is his ‘ome. And if you’re thinking of leaving, then you’d best be concerned about convincing me. Second thing. Carter tried to ‘ave Selendra killed. She escaped.”
Merritt whistled quietly. “Wow. Your source is credible, I take it?”
Saskia frowned. “Not particularly. But seeing as Selendra’s gone from the Abbey I’m inclined to believe it. It’s… it’s better than thinking ‘e succeeded.”
“And you’re not going to leave?”
Saskia took a deep breath. “No. I can’t. I won’t leave Carter in charge ‘ere.”
Merritt gave her a long look. She could hear a distant voice on the breeze, the rustling of treetops. He nodded, and smiled. “Good.”
Saskia stared back, puzzled. “I would’ve thought you’d be ready to leave. Don’t tell me you’ve grown a conscience.” She glanced back at Gabriel. “Or ‘ave you met one, then?”
“Neither. Carter’s bad for business.”
“You ‘ave another reason.”
“Do I need one?”
“Most beasts, maybe not. But you do.”
He grinned, showing his teeth. “That’s for me to worry about. By the by, I have something of yours.” Merritt bent over, hiking up the cuff to his pants, displaying a finely-carved wooden sheath. He untied it, and handed it to her.
Saskia looked at him. “That was in the false bottom of my trunk.” She snatched up the blade and checked for otherbeasts within sight–only Gabriel, who was paying them no attention. It fit tightly against her calf, concealed by her long skirt.
“Not a very good false bottom, was it?”
“Evidently not.” She gritted her teeth.
“Mind you don’t get caught sending little vixens to look through my things, and I’ll keep my own paws out of yours.”
“It–” Saskia frowned. The blade was from her youth, when her parents still believed one day she would join the Patrol. The strap itched below her knee. “Thank you. I should ‘ave it with me.”
Merritt slung an arm around her shoulders in a brief embrace. “Don’t get yourself killed.”
“Wot’ll you be doing? Sunning yourself?”
“I’m sure I’ll occupy myself somehow, while the rest of you are taking sides.”
Saskia sighed. “I’m sure you will.” Merritt smiled, and rejoined his card game.
“Miss Saskia!” Tamarack leaned on a shovel, surveying the half-dug grave next to her. Cobb had gone to take a break, and she had an unusually pensive expression.
“I’d think you’d be a bit better at sneaking than to let Merritt catch you. Considering.”
Tamarack’s ears drooped. “Oh.”
“Well.” Saskia flapped a paw. “‘e ‘ad a few words to say to me about it, was all.”
“Sorry. Um.” She looked down at the grave again. “This is for Mister Andrew…”
“Andrew’s dead? ‘Ow?”
She lowered her voice. “We think Carter killed him.”
“Seems likely. ‘E tried to kill Selendra. Thinks ‘e managed it, so I didn’t tell you that.”
“Fine… but I really wanted to talk to you about something else.” Tamarack fidgeted.
“Well, you go around with Mister Merritt, right?”
Oh this can’t be good. “Yes?”
“I was wondering about some of them things in the, uh, pamphlets.”
Fates preserve me. “The…. those pamphlets?” Saskia cringed.
“Yes.” She caught Saskia’s expression. “Oh, nothing like that, I can tell how it works.” Tamarack scratched at an ear. “But I’ve got friends, like, um. Ripple, and Noel.” Saskia raised an eyebrow. “And I don’t know how to tell the difference with… friends, and that, and anything… anything between, I guess.”
“Noel’d be a bit old for you, wot?”
Tamarack nodded. “And he’s not a fox.”
“Far be it from me to scold you about that.” Saskia gave a crooked smile.
“You and Mister Merritt.”
“Augh, no, no, no,” Saskia spluttered. “No, never, ‘orrible… why would you even think that?”
“Well, you’re around him all the time, and you fight like you’re–”
“–So any’ow I couldn’t possibly complain. About any interest on your part, in Ripple. Or Noel, I suppose, given some seasons.” Saskia was certain the insides of her ears were a brilliant shade of scarlet. “Besides, Merritt would never–”
“–He’s like the pirates in that one book he has, ain’t he?”
“Never read it.”
“But you have… you’ve had feelings about somebeast as wasn’t a hare, you’re saying.”
Saskia swallowed hard. “Yes.”
“Was he handsome?”
“Very, and intelligent, and not kind precisely. Could be cruel. But sweet enough in ‘is own way. Everybeast was so jealous of me.” She grinned. “‘E was a squirrel.”
“Oh, ‘e’s still alive somewhere, I s’pose. Parents decided ‘e ought to be properly courting a squirrelmaid. ‘E listened.”
“That’s not very.” She frowned, searching for a word. “Romantic. Or decent, seems to me.”
Saskia hung her head. “Guess it depends wot you think about that sort of thing,” she muttered. “Anyway, I can’t tell you ‘ow it ‘appens, getting from friends to pamphlets. It just ‘appens.”
“But what does it feel like?”
“Feels like you couldn’t imagine feeling any other way,” Saskia said, decisively ignoring any other possible interpretation of the question.
“Not much of an answer.”
“It’s the answer I’ve got. Any’ow, if you’re more curious, can always ask me about this type of thing later. Feel like we’re being watched, out ‘ere in the open.”
“I should get back to digging.”
“I should… I don’t know wot I should do. Oh, ‘ere, one thing I should do is give you this.” Saskia fished a pamphlet out of her pocket. Policraticus, on the Right to Revolt, the title read. “Take this ‘ome, and leave it around where somebeast might read it. And don’t let anybeast know you ‘ave it. It says some things about beasts like the Abbot.”
Tamarack slipped the paper into her own pocket and saluted.
“If you know anybeasts who might want something like it, just find me.”
Saskia felt a pang, letting a younger beast bear the burden of something that might… best not to think about it. She would go to see Aloysius, maybe then she would feel better.
“Oh dear, Saskia, you look as though you’ve fallen down the stairs, down the stairs.”
“I’m perfectly well, Faraday.”
“Oh. Sorry. I was thinking of somebeast else, lately. I’ve lost my ‘ead entirely, ‘aven’t I?”
June 25, 2011
The storehouse door creaked to life and then shut to in silence. It was the only door, which made it the same one Noel had secured moments before diving into the dust and dank in search of spelunking equipment. He swung round, holding his unlit lantern high.
“Who’s that?” he demanded.
Two shuffling pawsteps answered from behind the mounds of scrap and smithing goods blocking his view of the exit. He expected to hear the Abbot’s soothing tones, or Selendra’s disinterested queries. What Noel heard was the voice of his own father.
“Oi, Mabel! You seen me dressing gown?”
Noel froze, blinked. His reply was automatic.
“You’re wearin’ it, y’ dunce!”
From behind the barrels of rope and firewood Virrel appeared, and the two brothers did something they had not done together in months. They laughed.
Noel bent forward over his haunches, struggling for breath.
“You really nailed ‘im that time – that was ‘im, the ol’ kook -”
“He’s turnin’ into a right old codger, isn’t he?”
“Bleddy Hellgates, Virrel.” Noel coughed and wiped his eyes. “What’re you doin’ here?”
Virrel shrugged, a motion made awkward by whatever it was he was holding behind his back. There had been a day when the thought of that object would have stirred a menagerie of fears in Noel’s mind – a mace, a club, a knife? – but that day had passed, far back in the wintertime.
“Saw you come in ‘ere from upstairs in the dorms,” said Virrel. “What’re you doin’?”
“Nobeast else saw, did they?”
Virrel made a face, the ugly one Redwall had grown accustomed to.
“I dunno, what’s that matter? What’ve you got them lanterns for, then?”
Thirty seconds earlier, Noel might have told him. But that savage expression lost him, in how often it had once foretold his own pain and humiliation.
“Listen Virrel,” said Noel. “I’m gonna be away for a while.”
“I dunno how long, but -”
“Where? Can you get us outta here?”
Noel sighed and gazed out a murky window.
“I dunno. I guess that’s what I’m gonna figure out.”
Virrel nearly dropped whatever it was he was hiding, flailing a paw at the ropes and lantern-poles half-assembled at Noel’s footpaws.
“You can’t carry all that swag by yourself, who you goin’ with?”
“Leave off it and just trust me, will you? We’re proper stuck here now anyway, you may as well get used to it.”
“Yeah, we wouldn’t be if you’d let us leave.”
“You could’ve left on your own, gotten sliced up by whatever’s lurkin’ out there. Martin knows you said you would enough times.”
“Always bloody Martin with you – oi, it’s not so safe inside here then, is it?” Virrel hobbled a few steps back and forth, pacing like a hawk in a cage. “You know they’re sayin’ old Abbot Cartwheels did the Recorder mouse in. And now that ravin’ cook’s dead – I liked him, always good for a laugh, he is. Was.”
“I know, you bloody watch yourself around that streamdog, all right?” Noel felt his own face turn jagged and fierce. “If we find somethin’ I’ll come straight back for you. ‘Til then mind those other streamdogs as well, that Foweller’s shapin’ up to be an odd one.”
“Yeah, well, that’s fine, that. Ripple, aye, he’s more of a brother to me than you ever were.”
“Same here, I never had to bail him out o’ no jailhouse in Veil Village in the middle o’ winter.”
“I never asked you to do that, I never asked you to do nothin’ -”
“Our mum bloody well asked me -”
“Count on you to bend over backwards for her, if she can’t even get the Old Weasel to do it -”
“I’m the only beast who does owt in this family, and you’re the best example o’ that by far!”
Virrel gave no warning before he lunged. No truly dangerous fighter ever did. There was only the barely detectable coiling of the spring, the long fluid stretch across the space between them, defying time, confounding Noel’s senses until he had already been tackled to the floor.
Dust sprayed skywards, fists flailed, hushed grunts and snarls threatened to break out into screams. Noel’s collection of lanterns skidded across the room, driven aside by kicks and thrashes. In the corner of his eye he could see it – up came that fist, that terrible bundle of claws four years younger than his own but carrying the cruelty of generations behind it –
Whump. Whump. Both of Noel’s punches landed dully in his brother’s gut, and it was over. The elder weasel shoved Virrel off himself and lurched upright. Before he realized he was safe he had already taken up a lantern pole and raised it over his head. He was not going to be punished this time, not again –
“I never,” he breathed, “never would in me life, but for you, I…I just might.”
Noel threw the lantern pole across the storehouse, where it crashed against some smithing tongs and brought them to the floor. He reached down to offer Virrel a paw up from the earth.
His muzzle full of chokes, maybe even sobs, Virrel stared at that paw only a moment before skittering to the door on all fours, snatching up his prize, and fleeing back outside. Noel caught a glimpse of what he held as he went – a book?
Now the affair had ended Noel’s stomach complained as bitterly as his heart. But there was no time to sit down – things had to be put right, and then the answers might begin to come at last. Perhaps there would be an answer for Virrel, too.
* * *
There was another beast on her way to the graveyard, but coming along the eastern wall had made Saskia part audience to the mayhem that had erupted inside the storehouse.
“‘ey.” Despite the softness of her voice, Saskia still had to raise a paw to calm Noel’s start. “Everything all right?”
“Yeah. Fine. Ah – did you see me brother?”
“Virrel Lingham. I didn’t know ‘e was yours.” Saskia half-smiled, but Noel didn’t think to ask what she meant by it. “Yeah, ‘e split pretty quick. Wot’s all this stuff you’ve got ‘ere?”
Noel nodded to himself. Virrel wasn’t too broken, anyway – he’d have to apologize, if he could find a way to do so that didn’t mean tempting the shark with blood.
“Look, Saskia,” he murmured. “We found somethin’. It’s big.”
“Tam, Cobb and me. I think it has somethin’ to do with – with bloody all of it, d’you know what I mean? These weird deliveries, Raimun, the Abbot -”
“Well, wot is it?”
“Cobb’s found a tunnel. We think it goes out.”
Saskia’s eyes reminded him of Virrel’s just before they had gone ugly. Now he had time to study them, Noel saw one word reflected there: escape.
“We’re gonna check it out tonight,” he said, “make sure it leads somewhere less dangerous than here, y’know. If you wanna do us a favor y’ might keep an eye on the north wall later on, see that nobeast’s snoopin’ around.”
“So y’ think this might be our ticket out of ‘ere.”
“It’s our ticket t’ somethin’, anyway.” Before striding on in search of a place to stash his goods until nightfall, Noel paused, frowned, and seemed to look inward. “Saskia – if you could keep an eye on Virrel, I’d…he’s me brother, y’see.”
Swallowing composure, he didn’t remain long enough to see that Saskia understood what he meant. It was a question whether or not he understood it himself.
“Mr. Cobb, Tamarack!” The young otter scrambled through the sopping graveyard towards the pair. Bludd bounded after him, sacrilegiously leaping on the markers to avoid muddying her paws.
“Brother Andrew… he’s… the Abbot….” Foweller leaned over, paws on his knees, gasping for breath.
“Fowel, what’re you saying?”
Cobb and Tamarack crowded around the newcomers, their clean-up duties forgotten in the intrusion.
The otter caught his breath and continued. “Brother Andrew’s dead. Me and Bludd heard it. We were in the Abbot’s manor. Abbot Carter, he murdered Andrew!”
“You’m be sure about that?” Cobb looked the pair of young beasts over.
“Me ol’ Gob, have ye ever known me t’ be a fibber?” The kitten’s tail switched behind her. She was playing with something inside her blanket, pawing at it nervously.
“There be the toime with th’ spoider, Bludd. But, Foweller, you’m can’t be accusing th’ Abbot of murder without proof. Even if he be a roight creepy beast.”
“Proof?! Andrew’s dead on the Abbot’s front steps and we heard the fight. And I have this pin!” Foweller brandished the silver pin with the red jewel in it’s center. Cobb and Tamarack leaned over to see it up close.
“Aye, that’s the same kind of pin we found, Mr. Cobb! Where’d you get it, Fowel?”
“It was in the Abbot’s study, along with a flintlock pistol. We went and told Rip first, but he didn’t believe us.”
“Th’ landlubber told us we must’ve ‘eard wrong! He said that th’ Abbot would never do that.”
“I reckon the Abbot does more than most beasts might expect. Right. Let’s get to the bottom of this.” The vixen strode off towards the gates at the entrance of the graveyard.
“Miz Tam, if Andrew be dead, shouldn’t we’m bring Mr. Colm along with?”
Tamarack stopped and turned back to the others. She screwed up her face for a moment and twitched her whiskers. “No, Colm’ll only tell us we can’t go on account of it being too dangerous. He’ll tell Papa, and we’ll get sat here to mind the yard. And if Mr. Andrew really is dead… Let’s go!”
The group of beasts picked their way around the grave markers and mud and squished their way towards the Abbot’s manor. As they neared it, they could hear the schoolmaster trying to herd the dibbuns back into the school. Kits were sobbing and pointing as the group approached the flower-lined pathway that led to the Abbot’s front steps.
Cobb led the others through the small group of beasts gathered to watch the spectacle. Andrew’s body still lay on the steps, his face twisted into a horrible grimace. Abbot Carter was sitting on the steps, a little ways from the body, being tended by Sister Delores.
As the group approached, Carter eyed them all as he continued to moan about his injured arm. Sister Delores was trying to bandage it, but the Abbot was too engrossed in recounting his tale of what had happened.
“He cut me! I saw something change. Something in his eyes. I should have listened when everybeast said he was mad, but I had to try.”
Skipper arrived with a guard of otters and pushed his way to the front. “What’s going on, Abbot Carter? What happened?”
Carter allowed Sister Delores to finish bandaging his arm before he stood up to speak. “Brother Andrew confessed to me that it was he who murdered Brother Raimun.”
A murmur went through the crowd, and the Abbot allowed it to die down before continuing. “I was holding him in isolation for questioning. When I opened the door to interrogate him, he went mad. His eyes widened and glazed over. He starting shouting about those Things that he always ranted on about. Then, he attacked me and cut my arm. I had to kill him, you see. Brother Andrew tried to kill me.” Carter looked at Cobb and Tamarack and gave them a half smile.
“Miz Tam,” the mole whispered. “Oi doan’t think Andrew could kill nobeast.”
“I reckon you’re right, Mr. Cobb. This was murder.”
“Shouldn’t we’m tell somebeast? Maybe we’m should tell th’ Skipper about it.”
“Who’d believe us with the Abbot sitting there pretty as you like? Let’s just offer to get rid of the body. Papa’ll have a fit that nobeast called him.”
Foweller broke into their conversation in a low hiss. “He’s lying right out! Th’ Abbot’s lying about it all!”
“We believe you, Fowel, but don’t go telling nobeast. The Abbot already threatened me and Mr. Cobb when he found out about us sniffing after the pins.” She looked at the kitten next to him. “That goes double for you, Bludd. Don’t go telling nobeast. If he’s willing to murder Mr. Andrew out in the open like this…”
“Come on, Miz Tam. Th’ Abbot be looking at us funny again.”
The pair mounted the steps and approached Carter. “Father Abbot, zir, we’m wanted to know if you’m wanted us to clear out th’ body.”
“My children, that would be wonderful. Now I won’t have to call your father to do it, Tamarack.”
Cobb grabbed the mouse’s shoulders and Tamarack lifted at his ankles.
“Oh, and Tamarack,” the Abbot paused, “there won’t be a funeral. A traitor to the Abbey doesn’t deserve to be mourned. Or remembered.”
“Aye, sir. I’ll let Papa know.”
Dinner was over and the sun was beginning to set as Cobb and Tamarack dug the grave for Andrew.
“It isn’t right, Mr. Cobb. He should have a proper funeral.”
Cobb grunted as he moved a rock out of the hole. “Oi think so too. Perhaps Zir Colm could say something when we’m bury him. Or you’m could. Th’ Abbot can’t stop us from remembering Andrew.”
“I suppose you’re right. We’ll have to think of something really nice to say.”
Cobb glanced up and saw a lean figure striding through the graveyard toward them. As it came closer, he could see that it was Noel, the campball coach.
“Hello, Tamarack, Cobb.” Noel nodded at each in turn.
The vixen whipped herself around and beamed at the weasel. She quickly brought her paws up to wipe the mud off her face and to straighten her fur. “Hi, Mr. Noel!”
Cobb looked up from the deepening hole. “What be you’m doing here, Noel?”
“I wanted to talk to you more about Cassius.”
“That’s the fellow you said ran a gang?”
“Aye. You see, I used to –”
“Miz Tam, Oi think there be something here you’m need to know.”
The vixen sighed and leaned over to peer into the hole. “What is it?”
“Well, Oi was digging an’ well… you’m know how Oi can feel things in the ground? Well, under this hole isn’t as solid as it should be. Oi think there’s another hole under th’ hole.”
Tamarack pulled a face at the mole. “What do you mean a hole under the hole?”
“Oi mean, there’s something down under this graveyard.”
The trio looked at each other. Noel and Tamarack grabbed shovels and hopped into the hole with Cobb. They all dug as quickly as they could, the mud flying out over them.
They hadn’t dug far when Cobb’s claws broke through the dirt into open space. He stopped the others before the floor under them collapsed. It took a bit of creative digging, but they managed to create a crude ramp down into a long, open space.
“Mr. Cobb, can you tell how far it goes?” Tamarack squinted into the darkness, trying to see the end.
“Oi can’t feel an end. This must be a tunnel of sorts.”
“Wait here. I’ll get the lantern.” Noel went back up the ramp and returned a moment later, his face lit up by the flame. “It’s not much, but we should be able to see around us.”
“Oi’m not sure we’m should be exploring this. That way,” Cobb pointed in one direction, “be closer in towards th’ Abbey.”
“Then we’ll go the other way!” Tamarack set out down the tunnel, the two males forced to follow her into the darkness.
The tunnel twisted and turned but never branched off. They followed it until Cobb held up a claw to stop the other two. He stood still and felt the walls of the tunnel for a bit. He sniffed the dirt and nodded.
Tamarack sighed impatiently. “What was that all about?”
“Roight above us be th’ Abbey walls. Th’ south walls.”
“Could these tunnels lead to Redwall City?” Noel looked as far ahead as the small light allowed him to.
“Oi can’t tell how far they’m go. Perhaps we’m should go back naow.”
Tamarack frowned at the mole. “But we need to know where they go.”
“Miz Tam, your parents will wonder where we’m be if we’re not insoide for bed.”
The weasel spoke up. “We could go back, get some better lanterns, maybe some bread and cheese to bring with and come back. Tam’s right, we need to know where these tunnels are goin’.”
“Aye!” The vixen smiled at Noel. “Mama and Papa won’t know if we come back after they’re asleep.”
Cobb sighed. He knew he’d already lost the battle.