Don't Give Me a Reason…

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.”

“Where?”

“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.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“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.

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