Grave Matters

June 17, 2011

Death had never been an enemy. It was a friend who brought fish to their larder, linens to their table, and extra coin to their purses. Her dearest confidants lay amongst the mossy headstones and sun-flecked patches of soil. Death was not her enemy, but somehow they had begun to grow apart. It was stealing away more and more beasts, good beasts who did not yet belong in one of Papa’s wooden boxes… or in an unwilling earth.

“Tam, watch the–”

“Miz Tam!”

Colm swore and Tamarack yelped as the lip of the grave collapsed, taking her with it into the chest-deep hole. She felt her slick shovel thwack something, and then Colm’s arms were about her waist, arresting her plunge into the brown sludge lining the bottom of the grave. The vixen frowned at Cobb as the mole pressed a paw to what was surely a shovel-shaped lump on his forehead.

“Martin’s stripy pants, Tam!” Colm snarled, setting her down before shoving her into the slimy wall. “I told you to stay back.”

“I was trying to shore it up!”

“You sure done something, mudface.”

“Toady-eyed scragg–”

“Miz Tam,” Cobb said, “Oi think… maybe it would be better if we’m took it in turns to work on th’ grave. Th’ earth’s being roight temperamental.”

All around, Tamarack could see the evidence of last night’s storms. The trees, still blooming in pink, white, and lavender buds, had scattered their petals across the graveyard – a colorful and fragrant carpet to greet the mourners. The rain had washed clean the markers and warrior’s monument, and puddles gathered in the trenches around the newer plots. Her boots had been caked with mud and twigs even before they’d started digging.

“Mr. Cobb’s got a point.”

“Aye.” The older fox rubbed his snout leaving a long brown streak across his russet fur. “Aye… Fate’s take it. Go on and check with Clacher about Raimun’s marker, then. It’s an hour past due, and it’ll be my own grave I’m digging here if there’s a problem.”

“I can dig instead.” She knew she’d said it too quickly when Colm’s exasperation turned to a sneer. It was well enough for him to stand there and make faces; he didn’t have to face the old badger.

Clacher was under the disturbing notion that his days as a roving warrior entitled him to a fox-tail motif in his workshop. Every time the vixen had entered his establishment in the past, the stonemason would stroke his various conquests, all the time fixing her with his beady gaze.

“Please…?”

The cruelest big brother in the world had spoken. “Get, Tamarack.”

“Oi’d be happy to go with her, if’n that be all right, Zir Colm.” Tamarack flashed Cobb a bright grin and latched on to his sticky arm.

“Right gentlebeast, Mr. Cobb is! More than I can say for some.”

“Fine. Just go. And be back soon. We still got the flowers to take care of.”

She waved away the command as Cobb boosted her out of the grave and followed. “Right.”

“Oy, mudface.”

Tamarack felt a tug on her tail and turned back to kick mud in his face to see how he liked it. The worry stretching Colm’s features into a grimace stayed her footpaw, though. “What is it?”

“You be careful, you hear? I… you been worrying beasts something fierce running around these days asking questions about things you ain’t supposed to. You promise me you’ll watch out.”

“Watch out for what, zir?”

“Abbot Carter,” Tamarack answered, staring hard at her brother. He turned his eyes to the mud and worms beneath him. Did Colm know about them having the cloakpin, then?

“You just watch out,” Colm mumbled, driving his shovel into the bottom of the grave in a half-hearted way that hurt Tamarack more than his punches and shoves. “Both of you.”

Cobb looked to her, but the vixen could only shake her head. Whatever this was, they needed to find out soon. Colm never told her to be careful, but if it was true about Grandpa Durian being murdered because of something like the cloakpin…

“Come on, Mr. Cobb, we can see Ms. Saskia first,” she said as they trekked toward the gate. “And then – Mr. Noel!”

The vixen raced to greet the weasel, forgetting the mud that covered her face and arms as she grinned at the campball coach. “All right, Mr. Noel?”

“Oh… Tamarack.” He favored her with a pensive smile as a pleasant mixture of grass, sweat, and tobacco tickled her nose. A touch of honey lingered about him, as well – Isidore’s influence, no doubt. “Aye, I’m all right. You?”

“Right as can be, sir! I’m sorry I missed your games last night, but I was…” She trailed off, glancing back as Cobb joined them. The mole and weasel exchanged a nod. “I was busy.”

“Shame about Raimun.” Noel picked at the rust on the gate.

“Murder always is, sir.”

“Miz Tam, may Oi speak to you?” She felt a bit guilty at the fear in the mole’s voice, but this was different. This was Noel.

“Isidore didn’t think it was a natural death either.”

This time she did look to Cobb for approval. The mole sighed, but he stepped forward, closing their circle to unwelcome listeners. “There’s something else: I delivered a package to him not two hours afore they found his body. And it were something I don’t think him or no beast in the Abbey were meant to have.”

“What was it?”

For the first time since they’d begun, Tamarack found herself eyeing Noel, sizing him up. Shouting about the pins to everybeast had gotten them a thorough and rather terrifying rebuke. Still, the fact stood that this was Noel, a beast who had brought all of the Abbey kits together again, had given her a reason to step out of the graveyard apart from mischief and errands.

“I can’t tell you everything, Mr. Noel. I promised I wouldn’t. But I can tell you what the Abbot saw.”

Noel’s eyes widened. “The Abbot saw what you had.”

“Aye. And I’m downright scared it had something to do with Brother Raimun’s death. The Abbot sounded… he didn’t tell me off, but something weren’t right about the way he was acting. He saw part of the title of a pamphlet I was taking to Brother Raimun. Just a name: Julian Case.”

“Who’s that?”

“I don’t know. I was hoping Ms. Saskia might. We were going to go talk to her. I’d ask the Abbot, but…”

“But,” the weasel agreed.

“Do you know where she might be?”

“‘Fraid not. Last I saw of her was at the festival…though she does seem to be friendly with Aloysius. Now it’s my turn to ask: have you seen Bludd?”

“Not since last noight when she’m scurried off loik a little spoider,” Cobb replied. Tamarack nodded her agreement.

“Ms. Saskia might know, though! Why don’t we go see her together?”

“If that’s all right with ye, Cobb…” The weasel’s eyes flicked to the mole.

He shifted a bit. “Whatever Miz Tam wants.”

“Right, then!” Tamarack waited for Noel to step back before opening the gate and ushering Cobb through. The mole, weasel, and vixen stood for only a moment before Tamarack linked an arm with each and began leading them toward the gatehouse. If all else failed, that was around about where Merritt’s cart was, and the ferret would know where to find the wayward hare.

They talked of inconsequential things as they went: campball, the new songs that had played at the festival, and the stonemason’s terrible taste in decor. It seemed important, though, these meaningless words. More and more, Tamarack had noticed their disappearance from her usual conversation. She and Cobb spoke of the pins, mysteries, and murder. Exciting, but she missed speaking of things that did not matter.

“Martin’s on our side,” Noel said as they approached the archives to see Saskia emerging.

Tamarack unhooked herself from the older beasts and reached a paw up to wave. “Ms. Saskia!”

The hare hesitated for a moment, her eyes fixed on something beyond the trio, then she nodded and returned the wave. “Tamarack, I’d wondered where you’d got to last night.” She glanced at the males.

“Mr. Cobb knows about the pins, and I trust Mr. Noel.”

“Were you able to read Merritt’s book?”

“Aye, a bit. He, er… caught me afore I could get much into it. Sorry.” She lowered her ears and glanced away. The hare sighed. “I did see something, though! He has a bunch of names of beasts living in the Abbey. Some of them are Brothers and Sisters, but most are just beasts like me and Mr. Cobb. I remember Mr. Rigg, Sister Saffron, and Mr. Trioson were there. But it didn’t look like a ledger for beasts what owe him… just little squiggly lines next to the names. I’m sorry.”

“Well, you’ve gotten farther than I ‘ave,” Saskia admitted.

Cobb’s digging claw felt heavy on her shoulder. “Oi doan’t think you’m should be sneakin’ looks at things loike that. Even if it’s for Miz Saskia. You’m could of gotten in a lot of trouble.”

“But she didn’t. And it’s done.”

The vixen shrugged the mole off. “It’s fine, Mr. Cobb.”

“There’s less to say about your cloakpin, I’m afraid,” Saskia continued. “I couldn’t find anything like it in my books. I ‘ave more back at the shop, but your Abbot ‘as decided to trap me ‘ere.”

“He’s not my Abbot,” Noel interjected.

“Fair enough.”

Tamarack chewed her lip. “Well, have you heard of a beast called Julian Case, then?”

Saskia blinked, then cocked her head to one side. “Of course I ‘ave. I wouldn’t expect a gel like you to, but ‘ave the pair of you been living under a rock?” She addressed this to Cobb and Noel.

The mole wilted, and the weasel hunched his shoulders, bringing his arms up to cross over his chest. “I’m… sure Ms. Saskia didn’t mean nothing by that,” the vixen said. “Right?”

Seeming to realize the misstep, the hare backpedaled. “Ah, right. I print papers for a living. I forget not everybeast reads them. Case was around a few seasons ago, set to take over the Abbey from old Abbot Simon. But then ‘e murdered ‘is own family with the ‘elp of some marten named Cassius. Simon banished the pair of them, and Carter took over. We sold rather a lot of papers when that was ‘appening.”

“Cassius?”

Tamarack turned with the others to look at Noel. The weasel’s arms had fallen to his sides, and his brow was furrowed so deeply, it looked like it would take a hot iron to smooth it once more. She reached out and grasped his paw, shaking him from his reverie.

“Mr. Noel, what’s wrong?”

“That can’t be right. Cassius ran a gang. Why was he at Redwall?”

“Planning th’ murder with Zir Case?” Cobb suggested.

The quartet fell into an uneasy silence. Tamarack tried to think of something to say to ease the air of consternation about Noel, but she was trying to fit together this new information herself. Why would a pamphlet about Julian Case cause so much trouble if the story had been in the papers? How did the pins fit in? And now there was Cassius, a murderous ex-gang leader to contend with.

This time, Cobb’s digging claw on her back was welcomed, as were his gentle suggestions. “Oi think Miz Tam and Oi should get back to work. Th’ funeral…”

Saskia and Noel both nodded.

“Thanks for your help, Ms. Saskia. You too, Mr. Noel. If I find out anything else about what’s going on, I’ll… I’ll let you know.”

This time, she let Cobb lead them away.


Preparing for Raimun’s burial took the rest of the morning as the Coffincreepers folded Cobb into the routine of a full-service funeral. Mumma and Ida wove wreaths of lily, asphodel, amaranth, and marigold in the kitchen while Papa cleaned and shrouded the body in his workshop. Tamarack lost herself in running messages in Grannie’s crisp script to the bell ringer, the cooks, and the beasts who would speak at the service. Colm and Cobb finished digging the grave, laid the marker, and filled in the worst puddles surrounding the plot. Just before tea, they all gathered on the porch to take turns in the bathtub, pulling on starched black suits and dresses after. Cobb practically swam in one of Papa’s old suits, the slacks too long by a paw-length, and the jacket hanging off his frame like tar.

“We’ll see you have something proper for next time,” Ida assured, perching a hat atop the mole’s head.

Tamarack felt as ill-fitted to her own costume with the high collar chaffing at the fur of her neck. They were all too clean. This wasn’t life, and it certainly wasn’t death. Redwall demanded this picture, though. Their art reflected teary ladies and somber gentlebeasts in black too well to dismiss. Their art also reflected more interesting things, but many of the illustrations in Merritt’s pamphlets seemed destined to stay just that.

“Quit grinning like a punch-drunk rabbit,” Colm hissed in her ear.

The vixen reformed her face to a thoughtful grimace, greeting the last of the mourners. “Brother Aloysius, I’m glad you and your family could make it.”

The bat looked more harried in the sunshine – no shadows to hide the wrinkles on his young face. “Raimun was a good friend to me. I feel his loss keenly in my heart, my heart.”

Many beasts spoke, each sharing the piece they held of Raimun’s life before laying it with a lily upon the dark coffin. Even the most unlikely had something to say.

“Showed me how to make hats from paper when I was a kit. Never forgot… and never learned another ruddy foldin’ trick neither,” Skipper admitted when it came to his turn, and suddenly, they were allowed to smile again.

“I remember he told me a story about Martin and Gonff bein’ chased by an irate badgermum with a broom,” Noel told them with a grin. “He said he thought it might help me understand Sister Agnes better.”

Foweller’s tribute was rather more solemn. He did not say anything, merely saluted the coffin before tottering back to stand among the dark-clothed ranks.

“My children,” the Abbot said when the last of Raimun’s friends and acquaintances had finished, “we all mourn the passing of one of the cornerstones of our Abbey and Order. Raimun was a good and kind beast. His pawsteps will resonate in our hearts and in these walls forever.”

Tamarack let her eyes drift over the crowd of mourners as the Abbot rambled on about his close, personal kinship with Raimun. Saskia stood with Merritt, both of them stiff, as if uncertain of their roles on such an occasion. A flash of teeth caught her attention, and she refocused on Brother Tompkins. The squirrel was glaring daggers laced with poison, tipped with barbs at the old otter. She elbowed Cobb’s side and motioned with her muzzle.

“He looks roight fierce,” the mole muttered. She could only nod as Colm fixed them with a reproachful scowl. Tompkins looked like he was about ready to take a shovel to the Abbot’s face.

“Now.” Abbot Carter clapped his paws. “Brother Aloysius has prepared something for the passing bells.”

Tamarack shifted her gaze to the bat as he shuffled toward the coffin, laying a claw upon it for support.

“There are not many who could befriend a bat. Not many who would try, who would wait to retire at dawn after a day’s full work simply to share a conversation, conversation.” He looked so frail with his large ears pinned back. “I did not start this life as a scholar, but Raimun taught me how to live as one, live as one. How to find strength in that place between one’s body and mind. I thought we would grow old together, recording the stories of this wondrous place. Such are the dreams of children, of children. This is for Raimun.”

The Abbey bell began to sound as the bat spoke.

“Suns that set as seasons turn,
Flowers grow and wither yet.
Who can say what flame may burn,
Friends that we have known and met.
Look into the young ones’ eyes,
See the winter turn to spring,
Across the quiet eternal lake,
Ripples spread-”

Aloysius’ voice hitched, but he collected himself after a pause and deep breath.

“Ripples spreading in a ring.”

Tamarack found her paws intertwining with Cobb’s and Colm’s as they stood waiting for the bell to ring out each season of Raimun’s life. The ripples had begun with the cloakpin – a small stone cast into dangerous waters. She would not allow them to fade.

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