I Shovel Well

June 4, 2011

Foweller scurried from the attic, his chest heaving. Betrayal, in his keep!

“Hitting me over a silly picture. Wasn’t even worth the ink they printed it on, wot!” Foweller grumbled out loud. If Ripple was so interested, all he had to do was see the train of maids that followed your average battalion…

Still, Uncle Skip had been fair on Foweller. Perhaps he would forgive his friend. Ripple was a good beast after all. Yes! It had all been in fun, he was sure. He ambled through the hallway, rubbing his jaw. Ripple admittedly punched like a very angry weasel.

“Oi!” A harsh voice rang out across the hard stones. Foweller skidded to a halt. There was a young weasel staring at him from the door of one of the dormitories. Foweller nodded his head at the vermin.

“Virrel,” he muttered curtly. The larger beast loped over to the kit, checking that nobeast was coming. Virrel’s grinning teeth seemed very prominent to Foweller.

“Been having fun with me brother?” Virrel asked. A smirk passed across Foweller’s features.

“Always a jolly pleasure showing a weasel his place. Same goes for you, squire,” Foweller remarked. Virrel looked hurt, placing a paw to his heart.

“You say the cruelest things, mate. We’re not all bad, us weasels. I been the very soul of kindness to you and Rip,” Virrel said, slinking back into his room. Foweller followed, casting his eye curiously at the book laid open on the weasel’s bed.

“Teaching yourself to read, eh squire?” he asked. Virrel’s face twitched. He almost threw himself backwards on the bed, sitting firmly on the book.

“Yeah, very funny, mate,” Virrel’s whiskers drooped, his ears flicked as he heard the badgermum’s calls from outside through the window, “I know they don’t like me here. But if there ever was a blackhearted vermin to stroll right in here, it’s me brother! He frames me for everything, always has, y’know what I mean? ‘course you do, you see right through him, don’t you?” Foweller nodded slowly.

“Proved meself though, didn’t I? That first night you came I brought your food up and everything,” Virrel reminded Foweller, his eyes staring into the kit’s. Foweller smiled. Martin had told him to put Virrel to rest with his blade, the night Skipper had found him and brought him to these red stone walls. Foweller’s stomach had won the argument; the weasel had been on kitchen duty. The embarrassment of being nursed to health by a weasel was not lost on him.

“I don’t forget my debts, squire. I’ve got my eye on Noel,” Foweller replied, holding out his paw. Virrel shook it with a wink.

“It’s been quite an adventure today, Martin. Razed a fortress, defeated that big weasel,” Foweller crooned to the shovel. He slung the strap into the familiar groove on his shoulder, the comfortable weight once more on his back. It would be unfair to leave Martin cooped up in the infirmary all day. Foweller bounced down the stairs, scraping his claws against the curving wall.

“Lad!” Foweller cocked his head as he spotted the rat at the foot of the staircase. Isidore’s face creased as he recognised the otter kit. Seeing his look, Foweller’s paw drifted to the shovel’s handle behind him.

“Don’t you give me that look lad. Are Skipper and Ripple upstairs?” Isidore asked with a frown. Foweller sneered. His eyes glinted with malice.

“Why, sir, I expect he’s recovering,” he hissed. Isidore started forward, his paw raised. Foweller skipped up the stairs backward, tripped and slumped against the wall. Martin sounded a metallic clatter. Both beasts hesitated, before Isidore’s paw dropped.

“Watch your step, little one,” Isidore muttered as he passed by the kit. Foweller was mad, but he was not blind. The paw raised to the light had been slashed with white searing burn marks. Foweller waited for the old vermin to disappear before bounding down the steps, nearly falling over himself in his carelessness.

“Vermin, trying to scare me! Huh!” Foweller followed the wall, navigating around the Great Hall until he reached the large arched doorway. He could hear loud voices as the Nameday Feast preparations got underway. Foweller sidled out of the Abbey and along the rough stone walls, watching Rigg lumber past him, a chair under each beefy arm.

Foweller ducked behind some bushes, avoiding work. That was the trick, go missing for a little bit while jobs were being handed out. Then if anybeast did see you, dither about looking like you’re helping lift something heavy. Foweller’s neck fur prickled.

Some beast hauled him out of the bushes by his shovel. The little otter hissed and swinging his fists uselessly. He heard a snicker. Foweller fell to the soft grass, slipping out of his strap.

“Leave Martin alone!” Foweller fizzled between his clenched teeth, taking a swipe at the vermin who held his friend aloft. The fox dodged him and smiled, not unkindly.

“Foweller, isn’t it? I heard you was in the business of war. What’re you doing hauling around this piece of driftwood?” Tamarack examined the rough digging tool.

“Miss Tamarack, you’ll creep your last if you don’t…” Foweller was silenced by one fox paw over his muzzle.

“I got a mission for you, Fowel. Do you know who Mister Merritt is?” Foweller nodded, his eyes focused on Martin. Tamarack winked and dropped her paw from his mouth.

“I need you to give me a shout if you see him near the cart.” Tamarack glanced over at the ferret. Merritt had become distracted by the emergence of the famed Redwall October Ale from the cellars. The ferret was taking little steps towards the Great Hall, inquisitive and eager to sample some.

“Martin?” Foweller pined. Tamarack lowered the prized shovel into the kit’s grabbing clutches. Foweller straightened up and combed his whiskers. “I accept. Code word of the day is “Gildalily” and if he catches you it’s your bally lookout, fox.”

Foweller fidgeted, hopping from one footpaw to the other. He did not dare move from his guard post at the door to the Great Hall. He watched Ripple talking with a hare down on the lawn, their arms loaded with jubilant streamers. Oh, how he wanted to go down and meet them! He had not crossed paths with a hare since he last stood beside the dwindling beasts of the Long Patrol. Yet the Mission came first…

Foweller eyed the shadows of the trees moving as the pale yellow light came closer. Two vermin, the stupid creatures never seeing him in the dark. The light flashed in his face and he bared his teeth, thinking himself caught. He swung at the dark shape holding the lantern. There was a pained cry, the light dropped into the mud. The shovel blade hissed as Foweller swung it down. He heard the vermin’s head drop…

“I didn’t know ye danced, Fowel,” Ripple said. Foweller blinked at the otter. He had hop-skipped from the door all the way across the lawn. Everybeast had taken it for joyful frolicking. He grinned, feeling blood rush to his cheeks. Not that anybody would notice. He would bet his fur on it.

“I… I love a jolly good feast, wot!” Foweller exclaimed. There was something he was sure he was supposed to be doing, but his mind could not focus.

“Where do you ‘ail from, young… Fowel?” the hare beside Ripple asked. Foweller resisted the urge to salute, but at least stood to attention.

“Mossflower Country, marm. Though I’m just as bally well a Redwaller as any other beast, don’tcha know?” Foweller effused, his hare-like speech thickening in the presence of the maid.

“As you like. I’m Saskia, I work at the print shop,” Saskia explained, Foweller giving Ripple a knowing glance, “I say though, oughtn’t you ‘ave more an otter’s way with words?”

“Whatever a streamdog such as myself has to say is an otter’s way with words, wot!” Foweller retorted, making the haremaid laugh. Ripple coughed awkwardly and opened his mouth…

Foweller opened his maw and bit the vermin’s face. The creature howled, dropping Foweller. In the dark, Foweller more sensed his prey than saw him. He thrusted Martin into the softer midsection of the vermin; where no bones would get in his way. The foebeast gurgled and dropped. Foweller examined his handiwork by the lantern’s weak flame. A headless rat and… a stoat. Foweller knelt by the noble corpse and stroked its head, gazing into its lifeless eyes. He had no right to leave such elegance to rot away in the open. He would bury it with Martin’s help. Foweller began to sob…

“- really hope we can still be friends. So, um… do ye forgive me, then?” Ripple finished. Foweller had been staring past him, his mouth hanging open. Realising he looked a bit foolish in front of Saskia, he shut it. What was Ripple talking about?

“Forgive… oh!” Foweller jumped forward and embraced his friend, “Nothing to forgive, Rip!” Ripple squirmed away, abashed as he noticed Skipper had seen that from the table.

“Come on, let’s get our seats!” Foweller ordered, skipping ahead. He stopped dead in his tracks as he spied a ferret waltz across the Abbey grounds to the cart.

“Oh… Oh! Gildalily! Gildalily! Gild… ah…” Foweller winced, his whiskers drooping. Merritt had gotten through. His had failed his mission.

%d bloggers like this: