Breaking and Entering

June 19, 2011

Foweller lolloped up the stairs, bouncing from wall to wall through the narrow passage. It was easier to go on all four paws, even if Badgermum Agnes had made him wash them before lunch. What really troubled him was that Ripple had slept through a funeral.

“Rip! They’ve gone and buried your dead body!” Foweller called up the attic. Obviously, since Ripple had found Brother Raimun, it was his claim. Without Ripple to talk to, Foweller had pointedly tried to avoid eye contact with Tamarack the whole morning. He did not much fancy being put on the fizzer, though he certainly deserved it.

“Rip?” Instead of Rip’s smiling face as he expected, he saw an alarmed mouse. It was that cook Foweller liked. The one that was always too distracted to ever notice him sneaking another round of ale.

“Who goes there?” Andrew quavered. Foweller waited for him to come down, wondering why the adult was so nervous in the dark.

“Foweller goes there. And here. Is Rip up there?”

“Rip? Oh, no, nobeast’s up there,” Andrew replied. Foweller trotted to keep up with the cook, tugging at the mouse’s habit to keep balance. Luckily for him, Andrew seemed more interested in getting away from the attic. “I was just searching.”

“Searching for what, squire?”

“Andrew. Brother Andrew, to you. Just… Things.”

“Right you are, squire. I’ve seen things too!” The door ahead of them swung open and a familiar otter’s head popped out.

“Fowel? Don’t tell Brother Andrew that!” Ripple jested half-heartedly. Something about Ripple’s face told Foweller that he was being serious.

“Aw, I was just being friendly, like!” Foweller stuck out his paw to shake Andrew’s. The mouse’s eyes lingered over the burns on the otter’s rough pads, before shaking it gently.

“Some marks you’ve got,” Andrew commented. Foweller smiled and fired an invisible gun in explanation.

“Burning powder. Musketeers get that the worst though, burns their whiskers right off!” Foweller chuckled haltingly at his joke. He stopped when he noticed Ripple giving him an uneasy look.

“You have a musket?” Andrew asked, his platelike ears perking. Foweller blinked. What did Andrew care?

“Er, no, squire. I had a pistol, lovely little thing. The Abbot’s looking after it though. Shall I ask him to show you?”

“He’ll carve out yer gizzard afore he would do that, me hearty!”

Foweller sighed as Bludd tumbled from under a pile of dirty linen left in the dormitory hall, swishing her tail upright in greeting. The otter kit put his paws on his hips, giving the kitten a withering look that could make even the vilest weasel hesitate. Andrew jerked back and gave the laundry an accusing glare.

“Little vermin nearly gave me a heart attack!” Andrew spluttered.

“Bludd’s no vermin, she’s too little! She’s just a spy,” Foweller grumbled. Bludd ignored him, flashing her teeth merrily at Ripple. “Besides, no decent commander would deny his beasts their rightful prize. Even a humble sapper gets a mark or two for his next mug of ale!” It was just good common sense, after all.

“Ye drink ale? How do ye stand the stuff. Blegh.” Ripple wrinkled his snout.

“How do you stand drinking fizz for babes?” Foweller shot back. His disdain for dibbun drinks like strawberry fizz had caused more than a little shock for some beasts. His preference for ale had delighted Skipper, even under the badgermum’s stern disapproval. Another reason why Skip deserved his affection.

“That greedyguts Abbot stole me booty, I tells yer! He’s keepin’ it locked up in ‘is fancy ‘ouse and won’t even let me ‘ave a ruddy peek!” Bludd interjected, throwing her paws wide for emphasis.

Foweller was stunned. His precious belongings were confiscated? Scandal! No beast had business coming between an honest otter and his prizes. Not if he could help it! He clapped his paws together and strode into Uncle Skip’s room. Why had Rip slept in here? The attic was much better.

“Right! We’ll see about that! A debt is a debt. If the Abbot withholds our loot, then we must loot the Abbot.” He frowned as Ripple stuck up his paw.

“Fowel, um, that sounds… well, barmy. The Abbot wouldn’t steal nothin’ from us. I’m sure he’s got reasons for keepin’ it all in his house. Have ye tried askin’ for it back? That’s the best way. Always ask first! It’s not like… ha… not like ye have to try somethin’ nutters like breakin’ in.” Ripple gave a squeaking laugh. Foweller’s cheeky grin soon quietened his big brother.

“You’re right on the ball, Rip! Here’s our strategy…”

~~~

“The Abbot should be having afternoon tea by now. Code of the day is ‘Gildalily’, Commander.”

“I’m not shoutin’ that,” Ripple replied, fidgeting with his habit sleeves. Foweller pouted. This was no fun if Rip refused to play along. “What do ye even need a pistol for, Brother, sir?”

“Oh, academic interest, Ripple. It can’t hurt to have a little look!” Andrew breezed, as he eyed the Great Hall’s windows opposite the Abbot’s house. The band of four loitered outside the Abbot’s manor, trying to look nonchalant. At least, Foweller was. Bludd, he noted, was too easily distracted by butterflies.

“You do want to help us, don’tcha Commander?” Foweller wheedled. Always use the officer’s rank. Flattery never does any harm.

“Not really! Yer gonna all get in trouble! An’ me, again!” Foweller slumped his shoulders and gave Ripple a pleading look. Bludd took the less subtle approach of mewling like a milk-starved kitten. Foweller held Rip’s eyes in his gaze as he watched the otter sag. “Only ‘cos yer my friends. I’ll, uh, do a sparrow trill, how about?”

“Oh! Bird calls. Brilliant.” Foweller was back in his element, hopping in anticipation. Bludd looked uncomfortable.

“There’s not gonna be any real birds, right?”

“No,” Foweller said. “That shouldn’t be a problem. Unless the Abbot has all the sparrows locked up!”

It was Ripple’s turn to look consternating. “Don’t even joke about that. Bludd, yer not scared of birds, are ye?”

“Scared?! No! But don’t blame me if one starts peepin’ an’ cheepin’ an’ I come outta there wid feathers all in me mouth! I can’t ‘elp it!”

The otters rolled their eyes. Foweller checked nobeast was watching and gave his little platoon a webbed thumbs-up. Bludd skittered around the corner to the north side whilst Andrew hurried to the front door. The master planner himself felt along the Abbot’s south walls to the dining room window.

The Abbot’s home was a tidy stone manor with flowerbeds arranged in a neat parade. Vines had scaled the Great Hall’s masonry, but the master of the Abbey had such unwanted growths promptly routed from his property. The house had no fences, yet Foweller had always felt there was some invisible line around the garden that was understood to be the Abbot’s private territory.

Foweller slid the window frame up and waited. He did not dare even peek over the windowsill. He was coiled on his haunches, ready to spring. His fur prickled in the breeze as he gazed up at the unmoving, heavy curtains which guarded against any intrusion into the Abbot’s domain.

A sparrow’s trill fluttered across the noise of the dibbuns squabbling in the Abbey School. Foweller leapt up through the window. This was the moment where he felt just like a pure-blooded fighting stoat. He tumbled across the kitchen table, rumpling the pristine white tablecloth. No foebeast could catch him! He swiftly rolled off, knocking down a high-backed chair with a loud clatter. It was the only chair in the room. The Abbot did not have guests. In fact, there were very few signs anybeast lived here at all. The walls were undecorated apart from the candle holders, which had been scraped free of wax.

“Now, squire!” Foweller growled as deep and officer like as he could. His eyes roved the dining room, noting the collection of pokers at the fireplace. Andrew burst in gallantly through the front door and slammed it behind him, causing the candles to topple to the floor. A tearing noise and a bump informed Foweller that Bludd had successfully commandeered the Abbot’s curtains on her entry through the sitting room window. He bent his knees low and crept to the hallway where Andrew stood looking lost.

“Jolly good. I don’t think quite everybeast heard us,” Foweller said drily at his intrepid team. Bludd flopped through the sitting room doorway, wriggling free of the curtains.

“You’ll make the Long Patrol yet, Bludd!” Foweller grinned.

“Why d’you always talk so weird, Fowel?” Bludd asked with a chortle. Foweller’s mess of whiskers drooped.

“I… sorry,” he mumbled.

“You were in the Long Patrol?” Andrew asked, his eyes shining in wonder.

“Psh, no! I was in a militia company attached to a Patrol battalion…” Foweller’s reminiscent overtures died out at Andrew’s look of non-comprehension. “Er, not important. Let’s go.”

The trio stole up the stairs as stealthy as thunder. Foweller hesitated in the semi-darkness, his paw resting on the door at the top. He silently counted down with his claws before dashing through, executing a messy forward roll. Bludd followed suit, brandishing an invisible cutlass. Andrew plodded in after them. Foweller recognised the Abbot’s study from his first visit, its atmosphere even more stifling with only the window to illuminate it.

“He must keep it in here,” he whispered. Though the Abbot was not in, the desk emanated Carter’s austere presence. Worse, the Abbot’s portrait stared at them from the back wall above the fireplace. The artist had given Carter a soft smile of benevolence, welcoming travellers to his abbey. Yet something about the positioning of his arms reminded Foweller of a weasel holding a dagger behind his back. The otter kit crawled around the immaculately varnished desk and began shuffling through drawers with practiced ease. Andrew fretted over him, wincing at each scrape of wood against wood. Out of the corner of his eye, Foweller could see that Bludd’s quest for her loot was sending papers raining from the neat piles stacked on the desk.

“Here! No…” Foweller faltered. The weapon he pulled from the bottom drawer was not his own. It was a heavy flintlock pistol, unloaded and bereft of adornment. He held it up to the window’s light in confusion. For a moment, even Bludd was stilled.

“This isn’t right,” Foweller mumbled, at a total loss. Bludd resumed her destructive search.

“Aha!” Bludd cried in triumph, holding up some shined object. She hissed in disappointment when she realised what it was. Foweller barely noticed; his snout was pressed to the flintlock’s pan, smelling for powder. Andrew’s reaction was a little more explosive.

“Hey! Let me see that!” he exclaimed, forgetting all manner of stealth. Foweller’s ears twitched and he tugged Andrew’s arm. Another sparrow trill! He trembled as the Abbot’s voice floated through the open window downstairs. Andrew froze. Foweller exchanged a worried look with him.

“Ripple? Were you looking for me?” Carter’s voice sent a chill through the frightened kit. Escape! But there was no escape now.

“Aye! I was practicin’ my sparrow calls while I waited for ye, Father. I, uh, I got a problem. I think I got sold somethin’ I didn’t pay for yesterday, an’ I don’t know who to ask… I can show ye, it’s in the attic…” Ripple’s reply came. Foweller silently punched the air, his muzzle silently mouthing yes yes yes! Rip really was the bravest otter he knew.

“My dear son, must you make an old beast traipse all the way to the attic?” Carter sounded more impatient than concerned. Foweller pulled at the hem of Andrew’s habit and pointed down. Andrew’s eyes were transfixed on Bludd’s treasure.

“The pin…” he breathed. Foweller tilted his head and examined the pin. It was a little silver version of the abbey, with a red jewel encrusted within it.

“Tamarack found one just like it. When I told the Abbot, he seemed to think it was important,” Andrew explained.

“Int’restin’!” Bludd chirped, although she elaborated no further. She handed Foweller the pin and held aloft the real treasure; her precious silver ring. Foweller glanced down at the pistol in his other paw.

“This one’s been fired. Seems nobeast bothered to scour it properly afterwards.”

”Ma’aps the Abbot killed somebeast! Shot ‘im right in th’ face!” Bludd theorised, her eyes widening in excitement. Foweller could have sworn the cat seemed happy about it.

“That’s foolish, Bludd! The Abbot would never.” Andrew rebuked, taking the pistol for his own inspection.

“We can talk later. Let’s get out while the Abbot is busy!” Foweller darted for the stairs, almost dragging Bludd out. Andrew thumped after him, making the otter grind his teeth in frustration. They clattered down into the hallway, Foweller racking his brains for an exit strategy that would be both rapid and suitably heroic. The window again? The sparrows were getting quite loud outside. Wait…

His eyes caught the door handle turning. Before his mind could even catch up he had taken a rapid dive to his right, through the dining room doorway. Ignoring Bludd’s yowl of protest, he clamped his paw over her muzzle and crawled to cover, under the cloth on the dining room table.

Foweller heard the Abbot stride in. A pause, as he imagined Andrew and the Abbot seeing each other. The mouse was silent. Something was hurting Foweller. He realised he was still clutching the pin, his stomach threatening to meet his throat as a wave of hot blood cascaded through him. Being on the verge of discovery was unbearable.

“Brother Andrew?” The Abbot’s voice was quiet and betrayed no hint of surprise. The slight hint of fury in the otter’s tones made Foweller shudder. The kit’s face was stony as he released Bludd. Two beasts under his protection captured in as many days? He deserved a belting for that. Foweller’s heart jumped as Andrew spoke.

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