I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose, I would always greet it in a garden.

June 9, 2011

Cobb sat a little ways away from the Coffincreeper family finishing his meal. Miz Tam won’t be happy that th’ kitten left. Oi didn’t foind out more about th’ pin. His head sank a little lower.

Where be Miz Tam anyways? She be gone a long toime naow. He looked around; nobeast was watching the unobtrusive mole. Cobb got up from the table and headed in the direction Tamarack had gone. Oi’ll foind her moiself, then.

Cobb found himself wandering towards the abbey’s main building. He passed an unattended cart piled high with pamphlets and books. His eyes caught on one of the books’ spines and widened as he recognized a couple of the letters. “‘A’. And that’s a ‘C’.”

Cobb stood staring at the letters. He could pick out a few more, but the others swam in front of his eyes. The mole shook his head and re-focused on the abbey’s main building. As he was watching, the doors opened and a familiar figure came bounding out. Tamarack was carrying an envelope clutched tight to her chest. She turned her head to look behind and almost ran into him.

“Watch out, Miz Tam.” Cobb caught the vixen as she stumbled to regain her balance.

“Come on, Mr. Cobb. We got to get this to Brother Raimun, now.”

“What be in th’ envelope?”

“Something about Julian Case. I don’t rightly know, but I think it’s important.”

“Miz Tam, you’m be sure we should be doing this?”

“Mr. Cobb, I have to deliver this. You don’t got to come with me. It’s your choice, but there’s something mighty peculiar going on in this Abbey, and I reckon it ain’t just a body and pin.”

The vixen plowed forward, heading towards the gatehouse. She be going boi herself. Oi need to go with Miz Tam just to keep an eye on her. Young ladies loik her shouldn’t be wandering about boi themselves. Cobb plodded along in Tamarack’s wake.

The pair passed the tables set out on the lawn, now about empty while everybeast enjoyed the activities. Cobb almost ran into Aloysius.

“Oi’m gurtly sorry, Brother Aloysius.”

“Oh, it is no problem, problem. I was just returning to the gatehouse for a moment, moment.”

“Brother Aloysius, have you seen Brother Raimun?” Tamarack looked at the bat expectantly.

“Yes, my child. He was just finishing his supper at the table beneath that tree, that tree.”

“Thank you, Brother Aloysius. C’mon Mr. Cobb. We got a job to do.”

Cobb shuffled along behind Tamarack who was trotting towards an elderly mouse sitting at one of the long banquet tables.

“Brother Raimun, Mr. Merritt asked me to give this to you. I’m not rightly sure what it is, but he said it’s real important.” The vixen handed the mouse the envelope. He opened it and looked at the paper inside.

“Thank you, Miss Tamarack. And who is your friend?”

“Oi be Cobb, zir. Oi work for th’ Coffincreepers.” The mole looked at Tamarack. “Miz Tam, Oi think we’m should be returning to your family naow.”

“Just a moment, Mr. Cobb.” Tamarack turned back to the mouse. “Brother Raimun, who’s this Julian Case fellow?”

“Julian Case used to reside here at the abbey, Miss Tamarack,” Raimun replied.

“He did? What happened to him, sir? What was the ‘Unjust, Cruel, and Barbarous Proceedings’? Is that why he don’t live here no more?”

The mouse sighed. “Miss Tamarack, it seems you have been reading something that wasn’t meant for a young beast’s eyes. Don’t trouble yourself with this anymore. Run along now; I won’t say any more about Julian Case.”

“Miz Tam, we’m been gone a long toime. Let’s go an’ leave Brother Raimun to his reading.”

A spark of protest flickered in Tamarack’s eye, but Cobb saw it extinguished a moment later when she turned to look at him. “Aye. You’re right, Mr. Cobb. Mumma’ll send Colm looking for us if we don’t get back soon… and Ms. Saskia’ll be wondering after me. Good night, Brother Raimun.”

“Good night, my children.”

Cobb and Tamarack headed towards the bonfire that was at the center of the night’s activities. Some beasts were dancing, some were playing games, still others were chatting with neighbors from outside the abbey’s walls. But all of them had drawn close to the fire that was lighting the night.

“Cobb, Tamarack,” a voice said from the shadows, “please come closer.”

The duo halted and turned towards the voice in the trees. Tamarack started forward, but Cobb put a claw on her arm. “Miz Tam, you’m think we should follow a voice out there?”

“You worry too much, Mr. Cobb. Could be important. Maybe something about the cloakpin from Ms. Saskia!”

They stepped closer to the trees and the shape of a beast wearing an abbey habit came into view. It turned and went a little further into the trees, beckoning them to follow. They did and started when the Abbot’s kindly face turned back towards them.

“It seems we have a couple of thieves in my abbey.” The otter peered out of his hood at the mole and vixen. “Cobb, you’ve already been imprisoned for stealing from me. And Tamarack, what would your parents think if they knew of your nightly activities?”

The duo stared at the abbot, wide-eyed.

A pike’s smile stretched from ear-to-ear. “We live in a community, my children. One that I have worked so very hard to build. The community keeps us safe. It keeps us loving each other. Which is why I’m so very disappointed that two of my children would seek to undermine that in times when terrible forces threaten us all. Stealing from one of my Order, smuggling the literature of cowards and liars, and lying to your abbot… so boldly.” The otter’s teeth glimmered from the shadows.

“We’m didn’t –”

“We weren’t trying –”

“Have you heard the story of the curious fox, my children?” At their silence, Carter continued. “There once was a little fox named Durian. He was a clever beast, far too clever for his own good. And curious. So very curious. Every night, Durian would wander the Abbey lawns looking for new and interesting treasures, and one night, he came upon a beautiful cloakpin… silver with a red ruby at its heart. He wanted to know more about this pin, though his friends and the Brothers and Sisters of the Order warned him that it might be dangerous, that the pin’s owner might somehow hurt Durian if he persisted. Durian would have none of it, and… well… I believe you know this part of the story, Tamarack? I would hate to have another Coffincreeper turn up dead on the lawns. Durian was curious, just like you, my child. You would do well to remember that curiosity may kill the fox” — his eyes flicked to Cobb — “and her accomplices as well as the cat.”

The otter pushed his way past the stunned beasts who turned to watch him leave.

Cobb looked at the vixen as Carter padded off through the crowd. “Perhaps we’m shouldn’t tell so many beasts about th’ cloakpin, Miz Tam.”

“A-aye, I think you’re right, Mr. Cobb. We’ll have to step right careful from now on.”

Cobb took the vixen’s paw and led her back towards where they had left the Coffincreeper family. They walked in silence, until the mole spotted some familiar beasts. “Look! There be Zir Colm an’ Miz Ida! Let’s go an’ join them.”

The duo threaded their way through the throng of beasts towards the fox couple, happy to be among friends again. Colm and Ida were seated by the bonfire surrounded by a scared-looking group of dibbuns. “Hah!” Tamarack perked up, and Cobb smiled. “Colm’s telling one of his scary stories. The dibbuns love hearing about ghosts in the graveyard.”

“Miz Tam?” Cobb stopped at the edge of the group of dibbuns. “There really be ghosts in th’ graveyard?”

“You ain’t scared, are you, Mr. Cobb?” The young vixen lilted the question, teasing the mole.

“Just a bit, Miz Tam. Oi doan’t want to meet any ghosts.”

Cobb and Tamarack sat down to enjoy the story. The fire flickered across the faces of everybeast, the shadows becoming masks.

Colm continued his story in hushed whispers. “The ghost of Mattimeo rose, then, all armoured splendor. ‘Halt, vermin,’ he said. ‘Why are you stepping on the sacred ground of Martin?’

“Gramps – my grandpa, Durian Coffincreeper – stood his ground. ‘Revered Mattimeo, times have changed; I live here.’

“‘A vermin living within these walls? It cannot be. I will gut you where you stand, fox!’

“Mattimeo charged at Gramps, his sword drawn –”

A dark, hulking figure stumbled into the edge of the group. Cobb shrieked, joined by a chorus of dibbuns. He felt Tamarack jump at his side.

The figure let out a moan and opened its mouth:
“So when she needs a-scrubbin’
‘Tween ‘er keel an’ ‘er rudder
Be sure it’s not a-scuppin’
From the paw of another

‘caaaaaaaause

Unless you want ‘er poop deck soaked
An’ ‘er aft-castle all a-flooded
Be sure to keep yer draft a-slicked
E’en if it is a-rutted.

So scrub ‘eartie, scrub matey
Keep the barnacles at bay
A swift current, swift stroking
Keeps her sailing every day.”*

Skipper collapsed onto the ground, sobs shaking his body. “I miss Loire. So much, I miss ‘er.”

“There, there, Skipper,” Ida said, patting his back. “Let’s get you inside and to bed.”

She motioned to two nearby otters; each hooked one of Skipper’s arms around his neck and half-dragged him towards the Abbey dormitories.

“Hurr burr, Oi wasn’t scared when th’ Skipper showed up.”

“Nobeast said you were, Mr. Cobb. Sure you weren’t just a bit scared?”

“Burr, Miz Tam, not Oi. Zir Colm, will you’m finish th’ story, please?” Cobb sat down again on the grass, leaning forward in anticipation of the conclusion.

“Shhhh. The abbot’s about to give his speech,” traveled through the crowd in whispers. Cobb stood up and, with everybeast, turned towards the steps where Abbot Carter was standing, his paws held up to quiet the masses. He waited until all eyes were upon him and cleared his throat.

“These times have changed our fair Abbey, my children. Old foes live in peace within our walls, we have sent forth missionaries to aid the sick and wounded wherever they may be, and the wonders of our times allow us to spread the word of peace to everybeast in Mossflower. These are troubled times, though. Lockdown, murder…” His eyes seemed to fix on Cobb, “thievery. And mistrust grows as a tumor within the flesh. It begins small, innocuous, but the disease will spread, destroying what we all hold dear.

“We must cut away these tumors, though it pains us so, before they can lead to worse. We must trust each other, and you must all trust me. We have lost so many friends, young and vibrant, old and well-loved, alike. Until this menace has departed from our woods, you must stay safe in the Abbey. Look to me, look to the Brothers and Sisters of our Order to care for you. Nobeast shall go wanting within these walls. Most of all, though, look to each other. Ensure that we are, all of us, banded together.

“If you know a beast –”

The abbot’s words were cut off by a loud “Skreeeee!”

Cobb could feel the wind from flapping wings as shrieks from the crowd around him joined the chorus of skrees above.

Somebeast shouted, “Move out o’ th’ way,” and the mole felt himself being jostled against Tamarack and Colm, the three of them being shoved back as a group of bats swooped down and landed next to the bonfire. Cobb strained to see them over the beasts in front of him.

There were three bats. One was male; the mole thought it looked like his ear had been chewed by a very large beast. The other two were female.

“Uncle Aloysius,” the smallest bat called out into the night. She was wearing a beret and a striped scarf.

Carter’s eyes flashed as he looked around for the bat in question. They found him as he was joining the other bats by the fire. “Brother Aloysius, since you seem to know these bats, please escort them to the gatehouse so their identifications may be processed. No beast may enter the abbey without it. Brother Isidore, please accompany them and provide assistance.”

“Eilonwy, my little niece, come with me, with me.” Aloysius smiled as he led the three bats through the parting crowd and towards the gates.

Cobb‘s eyes sought out Isidore and found him standing near the fire. The rat nodded at the abbot and followed the bats.

Carter watched the group of beasts disappear into the dark before he turned back to the crowd to continue his speech.

“If you know a beast who has been acting suspicious, let one of the Order know. We can confront this individual, learn what motivates him. And, if he is a spy, if he is one of these vile creatures who has targeted innocent Abbeybeasts, we will deal with him accordingly.

“We have been through much, but this is just a test, my children. This past winter has been hard, but it is spring now. A time for birth and growth. But with these new beginnings comes the bittersweet sting of remembrance. And so, this spring shall be known as The Spring of Remembering Lost Friends.”

A murmur went through the gathered beasts. “The Spring of Remembering Lost Friends.” Everybeast mulled it over, seeing how it tasted in their mouths.

Next to Cobb, somebeast whispered, “I didn’t think he’d name it for the murdered beasts.”

Cobb turned to Tamarack, his mouth open in surprise. The vixen’s own face mirrored his. “Mr. Cobb, why is he naming this spring for them? It’ll make everybeast sad when they think of it.”

“Miz Tam, Oi think that’s whoi he did it. Oi think he wants us to remember them.”

 

*A “Thank you” goes out to Tibsy for writing Skipper’s Song for me. Everyone knows he’s the bird to go to for poetry!

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