July 26, 2011
She hadn’t thought Saskia would be able to carry a full-grown bat up a flight of stairs; she hadn’t thought Saskia would be able to do a lot of things. A light frame seemed to balance out the heavy heart contained within the winged scholar, though, as the hare dragged him up and out of the cellar. Tamarack waited for the lurching silhouette to disappear before skittering over to Noel.
“Just a few scrapes.” The weasel preempted the question on her lips. “I’ll be fine. I… We need to get out of here.”
“Aye.” She held out her paw to him, and they departed, fireflies stealing through the aisles of ale and port.
The moon watched them through her hooded gaze as Noel and Tamarack paused just outside the cellar door.
“Noel, we almost…”
“What’re we going to do? What if he’s hurt bad?” This wasn’t how spying was supposed to be. Aloysius was supposed to stay away, safe, locked in his archives where the worst he had to worry over was a paper cut. She’d turned to him for help at the start, but how could they trust a beast in the Abbot’s thrall?
Noel tugged at her paw and they began to walk. The night paid no mind to the events in the cellar. The rustle of leaves and reeds filled their ears with a low roar while the staccato chirrup of crickets repeated in every direction. A cool breeze brought the scent of flowers and dewed grass – fresh, clean smells.
“I’m sorry, Tam,” Noel said once the chirrups had given way to the steady lap of the pond against the shore. She glanced up at his face, but he was looking away, out over the water. “I panicked. Fates, I didn’t think I would…”
“You did what you had to.” She wanted to believe that as his jagged claws and well-worn pads brushed against her paw. “Ms. Saskia’ll take care of him, make sure he’s all right.” Neither added the millstone that would weigh down those words: ‘until he wakes up.’
“We can trust her.” It was more question than statement.
Tamarack thought of the fierceness in the hare’s eyes and the words as sharp as her blade. Saskia was a good beast. She wouldn’t let them get caught… would she? “We have t–Ack!”
It was only the weasel’s campballer reflexes that saved the vixen from plunging snout-first into the lawn. Once they’d both caught their balance, Noel, pointed their lantern at the spot she had tripped.
A bloody digging claw reached toward the circle of light.
“Don’t,” Tamarack whispered, even as the weasel raised the lantern higher.
There could be no mistaking the jacket, though the body lay twisted, and jagged white shone through the velvety black fur. What she’d taken as a puddle was something darker, thicker.
“Tam, that’s not… is it?”
She couldn’t scream. Death didn’t hear screams. It was deaf, dumb, and blind, but it certainly touched everybeast – had no choice in the matter. Murderers, though…
“He ain’t wearing his goggles,” the vixen noted, sticking her paws into her pockets and tracing the cloakpin. She’d bullied him that first night into helping her, needling just right to get him to come. The other pocket held the pamphlet Saskia had given her the day she’d dug Andrew’s grave: Policraticus, on the Right to Revolt.
Noel shone the light where the mole’s kindly features had been. A mess of blood and bone greeted them; she heard the weasel gag.
“Do you got a knife or something, Mr. Noel?”
“I’m going to go kill Abbot Carter.”
The tone of disbelief sparked something inside of her. Ice melted away as fire infused every hair on her body. Her paws snapped up to grasp the weasel’s coat and jerk him down so they were snout-to-snout. “That murdering son of a harlot did this! Can’t you see that? Look at Mr. Cobb. Look what that… that plank-tailed scum-sucker did to him!” She didn’t have seasons of memories for Cobb. Two months? Not even that. They burned away, each of his distant smiles and chuckles fueling the flames.
Noel’s dark eyes lit with understanding, and she felt a heat to match her own growing within him. “They must have heard him talkin’ to Saskia. Rigg. I bet he helped drag Cobb up there.” He jerked his muzzle toward the bell tower.
“He ain’t getting away with this. Not this one.” Tamarack bared her teeth as tears blurred her vision. “I don’t care no more. Beasts is got to know!”
The weasel’s rough paw closed over one of her own. “Let’s go. Right now. Before he has a chance to lie, to cover it up.”
They didn’t have swords or pistols, nor even a dagger between the pair of them as they ran toward the Abbot’s house. Teeth and claws would do well enough for a monster, the likes of which not even Andrew’s imagination could conjure from the depths of Hellgates.
The upstairs window glowed, a brooding orange eye in the night. Tamarack might have paused by the Abbot’s flowerbeds, at the unspoken line dividing what was his from what was theirs, but there was no time to plan, no time think. They had to do this, for Raimun, Andrew, Ripple, Cobb, and all the beasts dead by the old otter’s paws.
She reached the doorway first and twisted the handle. Locked.
Our doors are always open.
Noel nudged her aside and kicked it in.
Their first sight was of Isidore, one paw holding a candle and the other wrapped around a pipe. Tamarack could taste the sweet tobacco wafting toward them – summer nights on the porch with Papa and Colm… but not Cobb. “What is the meaning of this, Noel?”
“Where is he, Isidore?”
When the rat did not answer immediately, but stood considering them, Tamarack barked, “Where’s Abbot Carter?”
Isidore descended the rest of the steps, entering into the foyer. “The Abbot is where any beast save those with invitation should be at this hour: in his own room.”
Tamarack started toward the stairwell, but the rat moved to intercept. “Get out of the way, Mr. Isidore.”
“I don’t know what fire is in your belly, lass, but you’d do well to quench it,” the rat said, puffing on his pipe. “I’ll ask you to leave only once.”
“He murdered Mr. Cobb.”
“Cobb?” He frowned. “No. That’s complete nonsense.”
“Just move!” She swung out at the rat. He simply stepped to the side and let her twirl in the stairwell. It was good enough. Tamarack shot forward and up, but the rat’s claws clamping down on her tail halted the charge.
“I will not let you–”
Noel made no sound as he moved to attack, but the foyer was suddenly plunged into shadows as the rat dropped the candle. Tamarack heard a grunt and then felt a sharp yank on her tail. The dark spaces stretched out for a moment as she flailed through the air, connecting with what had to be Noel. They collapsed in a tangle of limbs.
“You helped Abbot Carter! You’re only fighting because you helped him!”
“Helped me what, my child?”
All three beasts froze as the Abbot appeared, releasing the hood on his lantern so that light flooded the stairwell and foyer.
Noel was the first to regain his voice. “Helped you murder Cobb, Father.”
“What are you talking about, child?” For a moment, Tamarack might have believed he was honestly confused. From the furrow of his graying brow to the nightcap atop his head, he looked the picture of an elderly beast preparing to retire after a drink with a friend. It was only a moment, though.
She didn’t bother to answer, just launched herself up the stairs once more. This time, Isidore was not fast enough, and from the growling at her back, Noel had risen to challenge him once more.
The vixen bounded up the stairs on all fours, leaping at the Abbot with claws out-stretched. She would scratch and tear and bite, gouge out his eyes and rip off his ears so that he could never hurt anybeast again.
Abbot Carter kicked her in the chest before she could even land the first blow. Tamarack crashed back down, hitting the hard wood with a crack. The air whooshed out of her lungs in one great rush, and she rolled the last few steps to level ground. The otter descend at a more sedate pace, eyes narrowed to slits. Noel’s paws were around her in an instant, pulling her close as she struggled to breathe.
“She’s just a kit,” the weasel spat.
“Kit or full-grown,” the otter replied, “I do not take well to beasts breaking into my home and attacking me and my companions, my child.”
“Stop…” Tamarack managed. “Stop calling us… that.”
“I think, perhaps, we shall need to escort young Tamarack back to her home, Brother Isidore.”
“You lay a paw on her, I swear to Martin I’ll rip it off.”
“You are more than welcome to accompany us, my child.” The otter smiled, all teeth. “I think, perhaps, that would be for the best.”
It was a much longer walk than usual to reach the graveyard. It felt like at least a half-dozen of her ribs were broken, and the thought that the Abbot would just shrug off Cobb’s murder made her blood boil. She wouldn’t let him.
Isidore banged on the front door, and Papa answered almost immediately – no hour was too unreasonable for an undertaker. He blinked several times at the beasts before him.
“Good evening, Emmerich, I’ve come to return young Tamarack,” the otter said. “She and Noel felt it necessary to break into my house some few minutes ago.”
“He murdered Mr. Cobb,” Tamarack challenged, bristling. “Me and Noel found his body by the bell tower. He killed Cobb just like he killed Brother Raimun and everybeast else!”
“What’s going on?” Mumma’s voice came, thick with sleep.
“Wake up the boy, Larch,” Papa called. “Cobb’s dead.”
“He’s not just dead, Mr. Coffincreeper,” Noel interjected, “he’s murdered.”
“And you saw the Abbot, here, do him in, did you, lad?”
“I know he done it, Papa,” Tamarack said. “Fowel and Bludd saw him kill Mr. Andrew.”
“A terrible thing to see, to be certain,” the Abbot bowed his head as Papa, Mumma, Ida, and Colm filed out onto the front porch. “I wish I had been able to stop Brother Andrew without harming him, but when he came at me with his knives and guns…”
“He’s lying! He’s–”
Tamarack cringed away from Mumma’s blow, her paw landing perfectly on the still-healing welt that Locria had left.
“You will be silent, girl.”
“But he–” The older vixen wrenched Tamarack’s ear, dragging her over to Colm.
“Put her in her room,” Mumma commanded. “Now.”
“I’m awful sorry, Father,” Papa sniveled while Colm marched her inside. “And to you, Brother Isidore. That lass gets some fool notions in her head.”
“You would do well to keep your children under closer watch, Mr. Coffincreeper,” Isidore advised.
“She wasn’t lying!”
Tamarack lost the rest of Noel’s protest as the door closed behind them.
“By all the Warriors of Redwall, Tam,” Colm muttered, “what’s in your head? You don’t go accusing the Abbot of murder.”
“He is a murderer. And you know it, you yellow-bellied Chickenhound.”
Colm boxed her ears before shoving her into her room and slamming the door shut. It clicked a finality she had not known in seasons. “Better a coward than kill us all, you damned fool. I told you not to stick your nose in it!”
The vixen pounded her fists against the unyielding wood before stomping over to light her lantern. A gleam of something on the bed caught her eye, and she went to pick it up.
Cobb’s tinted goggles. Why would he leave them in her room, unless…?
It hadn’t been the Abbot. Tamarack collapsed on the bed, curling into a ball around the goggles. She let the tears come as every bit of the fire inside went out. Just this once, it hadn’t been him.
July 26, 2011
Cobb wandered the Abbey grounds after leaving Tompkins’ room. He shivered, though from the chill night air or the past few days’ events, he wasn’t sure. The mole looked up at the bell tower, so high above him. He had never been up that high, never seen what the birds did. It just wasn’t natural for a mole to be in the air, they belonged in the earth. Still, Oi moight be able to see moi farm from up there.
The mole entered the graveyard, intending to go back to the house and sleep. Instead, he ambled among the stones, touching each one that belonged to a grave he had helped dig. There were far too many for the little bit of time he had spent with the Coffincreepers.
Cobb thought of his own parents, then, buried in the family plot on their farm. They had died ten seasons ago when an illness of the lungs had swept through Redwall City and the surrounding areas. Cobb had never gotten the illness, but after his parents had died, he wished he had had it too.
He sat down on the ground and cried.
It just be too much. Oi doan’t know down from up anymore.
The mole thought about his neighbor and one-time friend Isidore. Sobs wracked his body as he realized that he was on the opposite side of the conflict. A conflict that really wasn’t Cobb’s at all. What did he care about the Abbey? He had never even been inside of it until he was thrown in the dungeon.
But there be Tamarack. The mole sniffled, trying to regain his composure, but failed at the thought of the young vixen and sobbed some more. She’m be loike a sister. She’m be th’ reason Oi’m doing any of this.
He sniffled again and stifled his tears. Cobb walked into the house and to Tam’s room. He needed to talk things out with her — find out where she stood in all this. Then he’d have a purpose, a reason to fight against Isidore, and the Abbot, and the Society.
But she wasn’t in her bed. Cobb shuffled around the house, hoping to find her reading by the embers. But she wasn’t there either. She hadn’t returned from the tunnels.
Oi’ve even failed to keep Tam safe. Cobb could feel his despair sink even lower in his stomach. He felt sick, and calm all at once.
The mole returned to Tamarack’s bedroom and removed his goggles. He laid them on her pillow and left the house.
Cobb looked down at the ground from the top of the bell tower. His vision swam and he clung to the red-stone next to him. He looked to the east, towards his family farm. He’d never see it again, now. The though brought tears to his eyes once more.
The mole stepped away from the support of the building and continued to search for his farm. At least th’ last thing Oi’ll feel is th’ earth.
Cobb closed his eyes and fell forward to the inviting ground.
Oi be sorry, Tamarack.
July 21, 2011
And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it!
Saskia bit into a tea biscuit. The delicacy of lemon and fine sugar were interrupted by a hot blossoming of pain as she caught her tongue between teeth. She swallowed, and the bitter memory of lemon mixed with the filthy black-iron taste of blood in her mouth, the sugar departing entirely.
“Mmmf. Bit my tongue.” Saskia spat red on the ground beside her and swallowed blood again.
Merritt offered her a kerchief, perfect white and fringed with spiderweb-thin lace, but she waved him off. No reason to stain such a fine thing. She sipped at her tea instead, setting the cup back atop the makeshift picnic table they’d fashioned from Merritt’s empty crates.
“I’ve been doing well lately,” Merritt said. “The more seditious flavors of philosophy are selling quite well. Can hardly abide the risk, though.”
“You’re known to be a friend of Selendra and that idjit Gabriel about tried to punch Rigg’s muzzle off. No ‘iding for you, pretending to not take a side.” Saskia frowned. “Not that you’ve taken that to ‘eart, ‘ave you?”
Merritt spread his paws wide. “If Carter or Rigg or anybeast of their party wishes to retain the goodwill of the Abbeybeasts who believe themselves righteous, they’ll have to present evidence in public.”
“Evidence. Like they did for Raimun. Or for Andrew. And Aloysius stands aside and says nothing still, ‘im as righteous as any of ’em.”
Merritt fell silent. He sipped his own tea. Was this to be a council of war, then? Saskia imagined her parents planning for the battles of their glory days, but she couldn’t pry their wisdom from her own memories. Did she fancy Merritt her commander? No. Would she be his, then? Saskia smothered a laugh. He’d never allow it, he’d never let Selendra control him before and wouldn’t let her do it now. This wasn’t a battle anyhow, nothing so dignified. The Abbey lawn was not the field of honor.
No matter how Isidore might delude himself that it was so.
A few beasts walked by as she and Merritt drank and ate in silence, engrossed enough in their own conversations to pay no mind to the picnickers. Among them was Foweller, who slowed his steps, looking a bit too conspicuously nonchalant. Saskia leaned down to refill her cup but kept a careful eye on him, seeing him duck behind their cart.
“Merritt, wot’s the name of that otter chap who was ‘arassing you earlier?” Saskia murmured.
“The kit? Foweller, I think it was. About the right age to start being a proper customer, I half-expect him to come dragging his tail–ah, poor choice of words, innit?–back to me wanting some… more interesting literature.”
“Blunt today, aren’t you?”
“Pardon me for a moment.” Saskia rose and quietly stepped over to the cart, giving it a heavy shove. It tilted away from her momentarily but didn’t tip; it slammed back onto the ground where it had been. A yelp came from behind it, and Foweller scampered out, glowering.
“Ah.” Merritt frowned.
“And just wot did you think you were doing back there?”
“I… I… ” Foweller cringed briefly before abandoning his defenses to conduct a counterattack. “I got one of them p–por–nasty pamphlets, the one ya gave Ripple. ‘Filth that must be cleansed.’ Oughta take it to the Abbot.”
Merritt raised his eyes to the heavens, intoning dramatically to nobeast in particular. “And what is it he thinks will happen to me then, this callow youth? The Abbot is not a complete imbecile, he already knows–”
Saskia ignored him.
“And you were there why, again?” She let the question hang in the air. Foweller glared. “Never mind, I know why. I’d not be making trouble, if I were you. Beasts could get ‘urt.”
“Good sapper never let that stop ‘im, marm.”
“If I’d pushed a little ‘arder, you’d be bally well missing a leg, too. Go on.”
Foweller looked as though he intended to say something else, but trudged off instead.
Saskia turned back to Merritt, eyes narrowed. “Wot’re you ‘iding? Should be worried.”
Merritt smiled, beatific, and offered her another biscuit.
“Miz Saskia? Oi be needing to talk to you’m.” Cobb cast a dubious glance over at Merritt. “Alone.”
Merritt snorted, and Saskia led Cobb off on a walk across the lawn–or, more appropriately, a trundle. She nearly tripped over her own feet, taking strides short enough to match his.
“Wot could you be needing, Mister Cobb? Some tracts on vegetable gardening, per’aps?”
Cobb frowned and looked down at the ground. “Hurr… Oi need, well… Miz Althea said Oi need a proimer.”
Saskia felt a flush creep up her ears. “I ‘ave some of those. Can always sell a few to the Abbey, so I bring them.”
Cobb nodded. He stopped walking. “You’m know what Miz Selendra be doing for th’ rebels? Miz Tam said you’m moight.”
Saskia shook her head. “Not past wot Tam’s told me ‘erself. I never spoke to Sel much about them. You’d do better asking Merritt. Er, don’t tell ‘im I said that,” she said.
“Aye. Oi should go ask him, then.”
“Wait.” Saskia held up a paw. “Wot do the rebels ‘ave you doing?”
“We’m be watching Brother Tompkins. We’m be told he be part of th’ Society.”
“Brother Tompkins, yes. I know that from Miss Tamarack. Why?”
Cobb frowned. “He’m moight change soides. If we’m do it roight.”
“Hmm. D’you think we could talk to ‘im?”
“Foremole said we’m shouldn’t. And Oi’ve got to stay out of trouble.”
“You can say it was my idea. It’d even be true.”
“Maybe you’m should just go.” He paused, blushing. “Hurr burr. Me an’ Miz Tam an’ Noel aren’t clever city-beasts loike you’m.”
Saskia bowed her head. “I ‘ope I can do a bit of good.”
Tompkins’ room was neither ascetic nor indulgent: the curtains were neither silk nor burlap, bedclothes neither velvet nor gunny. Everything had an air of worn comfort. He’d polished the surface of his little desk smooth, but still it showed the stains and cracks of age.
He looked at them expectantly, and Saskia realized perhaps too late that she hadn’t quite planned this out to the end. Or the beginning. Still, she knew much of rhetoric; her schooling had taught her that at least, how to turn ears to listen.
“Brother Tompkins, I ‘ope I’m not intruding too badly,” she began.
He smiled a flat and ashen smile. “Not at all.” Tompkins’ paws were folded in his lap, one clenched around something she couldn’t see. “I haven’t had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, miss. Saskia, I believe? The printer?” He extended one paw for her to shake.
“I see my reputation ‘as preceded me,” Saskia said, laughing nervously as she took Brother Tompkins’ paw in her own.
“Aloysius speaks highly of you.”
“Does ‘e? That’s kind of ‘im.”
“What brings you here, miss?”
“I’m not sure. Wot’s ‘appened in recent days, I suppose. The disappearance of Selendra Bon, my dear friend. The deaths, all of them.”
Tompkins’ fist tightened in his lap. “I had hoped not, miss. I had hoped–” He looked down into his lap. “–to speak of more pleasant things.”
Saskia softened her voice. “There seem to be passing few pleasant things lately. Begging your pardon, Brother.”
“Yes. What brings Mister Cobb here?”
Saskia nodded to Cobb, who spoke. “I doan’t rightly know. Th’ same’s Miz Saskia.”
“We’re told,” Saskia continued, “you might ‘ave some unique insights.”
“I am old. I’ve watched this Abbey prosper and falter, seen the building of so many new things, changes beyond measure, beyond wisdom. What insight could I offer, anymore?” He closed his eyes.
“You love this place, I can see it, and I can see you’re saddened by it. Anybeast with eyes to see would know.”
He swallowed. “Yes.”
“Some things’re going on that doan’t be right,” Cobb interrupted.
“‘E can smell something foul ‘ere, Brother, same as you can. I’m not of this place, I want to go ‘ome. I can smell it too, feel it go through me like cold in summer. A thing outside its season, strange and terrible to the bone. But I won’t be allowed to go ‘ome, will I?”
Tompkins didn’t reply, nodding into his own lap as though falling asleep, shoulders hunched. “I apologize, Miss Saskia. You have been treated abominably, here, in a place where hospitality was our highest calling since the days of Martin.”
Saskia curtsied. “Thank you, Brother.”
Tompkins moved his clenched paw to the desktop and opened it. With a gentle clink, a glitter of silver spilled out, a ruby set in the middle. He pointed to it. “This was a beautiful thing.”
Saskia’s voice caught in her throat. “Wot is it?”
He paused. “I oughtn’t say. It would be a betrayal–”
“Would it? You say it was a beautiful thing. As a trinket, it is, still.”
“So it is.”
“I’ve ‘eard of something called the Society. Wot is it?”
Tompkins flinched. “Then–then I suppose it couldn’t hurt to tell you this is its symbol, could it?”
“Miz Tam, she’m found one in the graveyard.”
“She might’ve done, true. We’ve all spent far too many of our days there, especially of late. The winter was unkind to us all, most unkind to those who carry these pins.”
Saskia kept her eyes on him, as did Cobb, who’d broken into a sudden frown. “Wot is it, Brother? Something behind all that’s ‘appened, I warrant.”
“Unkind, yet I truly believe there are those who may have relished it,” he muttered. “But I’ve said far too much already.”
“‘Ave you? You’re troubled still.”
“My troubles are not for you to bear, miss. Mister Cobb neither.”
“If you wish to share them yet, I’ve often found Brother Aloysius a willing ear, and ‘onorable. I’m sure you know.”
Tompkins smiled. “You speak as fairly as he does, miss, though with a bit more cunning and a bit less fine diction, if I may say so.”
“We’ve ‘ad different lives, ‘e and I.”
“So have we all. Good evening, Cobb, Saskia. Do visit again, you may find me here often as not.”
Saskia turned to leave.
“Oh!” Tompkins said. “Do send Selendra and the rest my regards, if you happen to see them.” He looked directly into Saskia’s eyes, the restful glow of a warm hearth behind his own, a conscience set at ease. Her own shivered, searched for a quiet corner to weep unnoticed.
She nodded tightly. He’d turned, then? Or not quite? Something had shifted, but the ground beneath her paws felt as damp and treacherous as ever. “I shall.”
Sand-dusted barkcloth scratched at her paws; she’d hoped to find Aloysius at the archives, hoped to scrape clean her fears and write over them in new ink. The work was dusty, tedious, and freeing–it occupied just enough of her mind to blot the worst of her troubles.
Down with the cellarhogs? Aloysius?
Perhaps she’d misjudged the bat, or the news of Ripple’s death had toppled him entirely.
She set the barkcloth note back down and then thought better of this, slipping it into her pocket. Aloysius had meant it for her.
…the clarity and good humour and solace furnished only by one’s dear friends. I leave this so you might know where to find me…
Aloysius intended her to follow him. Saskia set off for the cellars.
It was the dark that saved her, and that the glimmer of upstairs light was at her back. She could see more clearly than they could.
Saskia flung herself down the last of the stairs and caught Noel by the midsection, bowling Tamarack over as well. She and the weasel rolled right through the young vixen’s ankles as though they were nothing at all. Saskia shoved Noel off of her and chanced a look back at Aloysius; the bat lay on his back, unmoving.
“Noel, wot in ‘ellgates are you doing?” Saskia snarled. “Decide Ripple wasn’t enough?”
Noel groaned and slumped against the wall. “I didn’t–”
“I can… I can explain,” Tamarack cut in, struggling to get her paws under her in the gloom. Saskia knelt and slipped one paw under the hem of her skirt. Noel froze at the sound of metal. The dagger her parents had convinced her to carry was drawn in anger for the first time.
“I never want to use this. But I’ve been taught ‘ow.” Saskia stood between Noel and Aloysius.
“All right now. Don’t you risk Tam over this,” he said.
Saskia turned to where the light from upstairs outlined Tam’s form. “Would you ‘urt me if I killed ‘im, Tam?” She jerked her head at Noel.
“Yes,” Tamarack snapped.
“Thought so. Point taken?” They all stood motionless, breathing heavily; Aloysius was silent, still, but Saskia thought she saw his chest rising and falling, slow and shallow. “You said you could explain.”
Tam pointed to the wine rack. “The tunnel comes out right here now, ma’am. Brother Aloysius found us coming back through, and saw it. He’ll go to the Abbot, and we’ll all be dead come morning. Like Andrew or Raimun.”
“So you ‘ad to kill ‘im, then?”
“No,” Noel snapped. He was almost panting. “I just couldn’t let him–he can’t see.”
Saskia swallowed. “Why is it you went through that tunnel? Wot ‘appened there?”
“I told you that already.”
“Yes, the bit where the rebels are there, wot-‘ave-you. Fine. Why d’you want to ‘elp them? Beasts wot gave you that welt on your muzzle?”
“Because the Abbot killed our friends, you daft bally hare!” Tamarack’s hissed words echoed off the walls. A hedgehog stirred and rolled over, groaning in her unconscious state.
“So you take to killing mine, then.” Saskia pointed at Tamarack, dagger in paw. Noel shifted along the wall and she pivoted, glaring at him. “And yes, I can see you. Not very well but well enough.”
“He’ll get us killed,” Tam said.
Saskia sighed. “‘E won’t, I swear it.”
“How’re you going to stop him?”
“At the moment, ‘e’s in no fit condition to be telling anybeast anything. I’ll take ‘im upstairs, put ‘im to bed, and stay with ‘im. ‘E wakes up, we’ll talk.”
“What if you can’t talk him out of it?”
Saskia gulped, voice suddenly trembling and high. “Then I’ll stop ‘im myself, and straight to ‘ellgates with us all.”
“I don’t believe you,” Tam whispered.
“I swear it,” Saskia replied, swallowing a sob. “Nobeast ought to die ‘elpless.”
“Like Raimun,” Noel put in.
“Or Ripple.” He flinched. “I’ll do wot needs to be done. ‘E oughtn’t die, but neither should you.”
Tam nodded. “Fine.” She looked sick, even in the dim.
Noel shook his head, eyes downcast.
Aloysius was a heavy burden as she mounted the last of the stairs; he’d woken partially, mumbled something incoherent, and dribbled on her shoulder.
His living space was a perfect portrait of disuse. Ripple’s belongings occupied half of it, scattered and forlorn. Saskia nudged Aloysius over to the narrow, unused bed on his own side and lay him in it as best she could.
When he swallowed in his sleep, he coughed and turned, throat occluded by the damage Noel had done.
Saskia sat on the bed next to him and lay a paw on his chest. His heart continued to beat, deep and sluggish. She felt only the rhythm of blood and the tightness of the knife-sheath, circling her leg like an iron shackle.
July 20, 2011
The letters fell across the page – thin arcs and dots and crossed t’s – in simple script blotted only occasionally as a memory of Ripple or Raimun invaded Aloysius’ thoughts. They had begun to merge, a mouse-otter who had a horizon of possibilities stretching before his young eyes, yet whispered with a voice strained through the seasons that more days lay behind than ahead. The bat tried to separate them; each memory contained, bound, catalogued, and placed upon the shelves in precise order.
He needed to finish the letter to Saskia.
“You need a drink, brother, brother.”
The bat started, but seasons of care left only his ears to spasm at Fyfe’s sudden intrusion into his Gatehouse.
“That would not be prudent, Fyfe,” Aloysius replied, continuing to write. “I have duties to attend. To attend at the Abbey.”
“Oh? The Abbot makes a fine slavemaster, slavemaster. No time to mourn, Brother Aloysius?”
“We mourn in our own ways. Please leave me. Leave me.” The archivist hunched over his desk, the perfect picture of a diligent scholar. He had not written a word since his brother had entered. His quill itched, and he desired to scratch it.
There was a rustle of wings, but instead of departing, Fyfe’s claw landed on Aloysius’ shoulder. His touch was warm, a bracing thermal. “Don’t file this away like one of your tomes, brother. Those beasts deserve better, better.”
With a hiss, he was gone, back to Eilonwy and Saifye and the attic where Ripple no longer slept. Aloysius glanced down at his letter. A large black spot glared back.
A moment could be spared, perhaps, to count the cellarhogs and inspect their stocks.
Signing his name, Aloysius reviewed his work and frowned. Despite the barkcloth’s state, the archivist sprinkled sand on the glistening ink. He would not start anew—a part of him fancied the way it looked. Saskia deserved better, but he knew that she of all beasts would understand.
It was not often Aloysius joined the cellarhogs on their weekly night of brew tasting, but tonight he figured the moon was blue enough, when it hid behind the thin clouds just so, and when he was looking at it through a particular stained glass window.
“Aloysius!” Sister Ambrosia exclaimed as the bat made his cautious way down the stairs. Knowing the gig was up, he fluttered the rest of the way. The cellarhog turned and offered him a smile as she set the keg in her paws upon a rack. “I thought you might come, old friend. I’ll have Sebastian tap a barrel of ale. October, aye? You were always one for the traditional brews.”
“Perhaps, for tonight, something a bit stronger, stronger?”
The hedgehog paused for a moment, considering him as he might consider a particularly faded page. A moment later, she nodded and shouted toward another hedgehog who had just emerged from one of the many subterranean alcoves, “Celia, tell Sebastian to pull a keg of Fire Whiskey from the back.”
“Yes’m!” The cellarmaid trotted off, and Aloysius followed Ambrosia to a nook where several other hogs sat playing a game of dice. The bat had hoped for cards.
“Sorry about Ripple, Brother,” one of the hogs mumbled by way of greeting. The rest followed suit, offering their condolences for a budding pupil.
“Thank you. All of you.” The bat bowed his head, a tiny tremor of guilt fluttering through him at the sympathy.
Ambrosia directed him to a crate as Sebastian entered with the keg. Celia entered a moment later and filled the mugs in her paws before passing them around.
“To Ripple,” Ambrosia declared, raising her mug. “Shame a kit like that dying so young.”
Aloysius reached out, catching her arm before the head cellarhog could raise drink to her lips. “No. Lucky that he lived, he lived to share his life with ours.”
“To Ripple!” everybeast cried.
The whiskey burned as it went down, a fiery celebration of all that the otter had been, all that Raimun and Andrew and the others had been: friends.
Hushed voices and the squeal of metal roused Aloysius from his drunken stupor some time later. The bat blinked, then clicked a wall of sound in the dim cellar. He flared his ears as the echoes returned a crisp, silvery image of hogs sprawled across the floor and each other. He did not want to fathom how they could do it, but he was sure it had something to do with the empty keg.
That sound again. Something unyielding, accompanied by whispers in the dark.
“Ambrosia,” the bat muttered, prodding the hedgehog with a careful wingtip where she lay slumped over Sebastian. The cellarhog snorted, but gave no other indication of life. He pulled his claw back and ran it across his brow. Whatever was making the noise didn’t sound like it belonged in the earthen halls of the cellar. It was too mechanical. “Ambrosia, there is somebeast else down here, down here.” He felt like giggling, though it was difficult to say why. “Ambrosia, I’m going to go look, look.”
Aloysius flopped to the ground, mindful of the living spike balls around him as he proceeded to crawl out of their nook, away from the dim glow of the lantern. He swayed on his limbs, feeling like a kit just finding his wings. A humorous thought struck him of a young baby bankvole and suddenly the song came back to him.
“Seek the Founder in the stones,
I know where the little folk go.”
It was difficult to suppress his mirth, but the sound of scraping did well to sober him up. He sent out clicks, hearing the barrels, kegs, and wine racks as they called back to him.
Fuzzy though his mind was from the whiskey, the bat knew well enough to follow the sounds and echoes. He made a brief attempt at flying, then gave up and skittered on his claws toward one of the alcoves. There was the very faint glow of a flame within, but it was coming from behind the wall. Aloysius blinked several times, then sent out a series of clicks, and saw only the wine rack … moving.
“Cluny’s tail, but it’s making a racket!” Aloysius heard the unmistakable lilt of Tamarack Coffincreeper.
“So are you,” Noel replied. The weasel always had had a fascination for Martin the Warrior. Aloysius wondered if they too were seeking the Founder.
There was another mechanical screech, and the wine rack pivoted at the center, revealing a small crack that the vixen and weasel squeezed through. Noel set the lantern in his paw down and, together, they pushed the wine rack back.
“There, now. Not too … did you hear that?”
The weasel was suddenly alert, tense. Tamarack froze beside him, arm half-stretched toward their lantern. Aloysius shifted, trying to get a better look at the curious wine rack.
“Who’s there? Show yourself!” Noel hissed.
“Master Noel, it’s me, Brother Aloysius, Aloysius,” the bat called out, mindful to be quiet for the sleeping hogs. He pushed himself upright and offered a warm smile. “What are the two of you doing down here? You’re not seeking the Founder like I am, I am?”
“The founder?” Tamarack said.
“Yes.” Aloysius giggled, his gait amplified as he approached the two. He put a wing against the wall to steady himself. “Look at you. My books and stories weren’t enough, were they, were they? You had to seek Martin out yourself, like they did all those years ago. But I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Master Noel, Martin doesn’t lie where the little folk go.” He took a step towards them, and they stiffened. Aloysius frowned. “That’s Abbess Germaine. Martin lies elsewhere…” he trailed off, trying to recall the ancient stories of the abbey, but he could grasp none of them. “… though I cannot recall where. Is the abbess there? Behind the wine rack, wine rack? May I see?”
He took another step towards them. Noel intervened. “Nothing’s behind the wine rack, Brother. You must have been seeing things.”
Aloysius furrowed his brow. “Come now, I know there is no wall there. I can hear it, hear it. Don’t be selfish, Noel. Even a scholar like me can have his adventures.” Pushing the weasel aside, Aloysius reached the wine rack and tugged. A mechanical scrape filled his ears as the obstruction gave way.
And then Aloysius found himself on his back, his left wing folded awkwardly beneath him, and a heavy weight on top. He squeaked in protest.
“Noel, what are you doing,” Tamarack said in a vicious whisper.
“I can’t…” Noel cried. “I can’t let him see.”
Aloysius whimpered as a strong paw clasped around his throat and squeezed.
“Master Noel, Have I ever told you about the story of Blaggut, Blaggut?” Aloysius said, pulling the weasel away from the tapestry to wander down the halls. “He was a vermin, like yourself.”
“I don’t want to hear about vermin, Brother. I want to hear about Martin.”
“Ah, but Martin is not the only righteous beast who has graced the halls of this abbey, abbey.”
Noel paused to consider this, then nodded. “And who was Blaggut?”
“Blaggut was a rat, the boatswain of a ship called the Pearl Queen. He and his captain, Slipp, came to our abbey seeking shelter after their ship had been reclaimed by Finnbar Galedeep. They were the only survivors, survivors. The brothers and sisters of Redwall Abbey took them in, offered them food, shelter, and hospitality, but Slipp wanted more. He wanted treasure, as vermin are wont to do, and when he was fooled by infant playthings, took his revenge in murder, murder.”
“Poor Blaggut was not a smart rat. Easily persuaded, and easily led astray by his captain, Captain Slipp. But even he knew the difference between right and wrong, and once he enacted justice upon Slipp renounced his vermin ways, living his life by the stream as a true woodlander, one who lives by the creed that built this very abbey. So you see, Master Noel, not all vermin are vermin, vermin. For some can be woodlanders if they desire it.”
“I can’t say, can’t say. Only your heart can.”
July 17, 2011
“It’s all right to cry, Fowel,” Tamarack whispered to the young otter.
They stood before Ripple’s grave with most of Skipper’s crew and a pawful of others. Raimun’s marker had seen dozens upon dozens of beasts, but the very old were easier to bid farewell than the very young.
Tamarack touched Foweller’s paw; he jerked away, rubbing it across his cheek.
“A sapper doesn’t cry when he’s doing his duty.”
The vixen grasped the otter’s paw firmly, and this time she did not let go. “No, but a friend does. And that ain’t a coat you take off at the end of the day.”
Tamarack smiled at him through her own tears, as much grief as exhaustion, and felt Foweller sag. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders for support, but the movement was awkward; they didn’t quite match yet. The handle of his knife dug into her waist, and she shifted away.
Where was Bludd? She should be here. Foweller was more the kitten’s friend, anyway, and she had loved Ripple, too. Hadn’t she? Was Bludd still so afraid Rigg and Isidore would find her? The otter wasn’t even there, though the rat hovered at the edge of the crowd, drawn by the rich perfume of death – more fly than bee. She had heard talk that Carter might have sent him; Duster would have no part of the Abbot of Redwall standing with his old crew for Ripple’s funeral.
The young otter’s tutor was nowhere to be seen either, but Tamarack had let the bat sleep. Aloysius would hate her, but she could not be the one to give him this, too. His heart still echoed a hollow place for Raimun.
As Skipper – Duster, he no longer held that title – went to stand beside Ripple’s coffin, the passing bell began to sound. Just thirteen peals to celebrate Ripple’s life. She had a memory for each of those seasons, though, ones that nobeast could steal away. Tamarack held tight to them and Foweller as Duster’s crew began to sing, a loud, raucous sound that filled the graveyard, sweeping her into that moment with them. Ripple had taught her the words a very long time ago for his mother’s funeral. She joined them:
“Ride ’em high, ride ’em low
Ride the course as the river flows
Hear the heart o’ an otter beat
Filled with joy an’ with defeat.
We lost a sailor here t’day
Guide him Fates as he’s on his way
T’ that forest ‘cross the sea
Where Finnbarr waits fer you an’ me
T’ raise a glass or two or three
In a land where all’s plenty!”
When they finished, she felt Cobb’s paw on her back. She wanted to shrug him off, the weight too much when she was already dead on her paws from their adventure last night and the digging race with Foweller today, but it was a kindness.
“Oi think you’m should be having a loie down, Miz Tam. Zir Colm and Oi can direct beasts to th’ refectory for th’ reception.”
It would have been nice to say yes, to collapse on the porch and forget about everything for a few hours. A pair of tall ears caught her attention, though, then a flash of silvery teeth beneath a masked face.
“That’s a right kind offer,” she replied, stepping back from Foweller as he shuffled over to pet and soothe Duster with the rest of the crew, “but this is my job. Sure as you like, I’ll be doing it. Need to talk to Ms. Saskia, anyway.”
She caught a glint of suspicion behind his tinted goggles. “Woi do you’m need to speak to her?”
“Oh.” He deflated. “Oi’ll just–”
The vixen hugged the mole; he matched right. “I’ll tell you about it once I’ve talked to her.”
A little of his digger’s enthusiasm returned. “Of course. You’m just be careful about what you say.”
“Ms. Saskia, do you have a minute,” Tamarack called, catching up to the hare and her ferret companion before they could reach the refectory.
“Ms. Tamarack, you’re certainly looking quite austere in that dress,” Merritt exclaimed. “I have a few pamphlets that you might–”
Saskia’s glare could have chiseled the ferret’s epitaph.
“We’ll talk about this later. I think I’ll go check on poor Gabe, shall I?”
The hare sighed. “Sorry about that. Wot do you need?”
“I wanted to… It’s about Ripple.” Tamarack bit down hard on a bark of slightly-hysterical laughter as Saskia’s whiskers and ears curled. “Not that. I wanted to ask if you know how this happened.”
“No more than you, probably,” the hare replied, smoothing out once more like a page in one of her books. “Terrible accident.”
“It was the Abbot’s fault!” the vixen challenged, but she was less sure of that now. In the graveyard, before she’d spoken to the old otter, there had been a sadness there, something more than the veneer he painted on each morning. But it was his fault. It had to be his fault, like Raimun and Andrew.
Saskia glanced toward the refectory where Tamarack could just hear the strains of another shanty beginning.
“I don’t know about that. Jolly irresponsible for ‘im to paw off a pair of pistols to some kits, but the way I ‘eard it, that Virrel chap’s more the scoundrel. I feel bad for Noel, really.” Her smile was as faint as the music. “Can’t choose your family, though.”
The vixen crossed her arms and hunched her shoulders in her best imitation of the campballing weasel. “The Abbot’s the one what gave them the guns in the first place. He should’ve known better than to let Ripple aim a stick, let alone a pistol.”
“That doesn’t mean ‘e killed ‘im.”
“A beast’s got to pull the trigger, is it?” Tamarack only realized she’d growled that bit when she noticed Saskia’s raised eyebrows and the thin line of her mouth. The vixen quickly retreated, covering her bared teeth and forcing her hackles to a more neutral position. “I just don’t want Noel – Mr. Noel to feel…”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Saskia.” Tamarack cringed, gaze fixed on the grass below the hare’s footpaws. “I been up all night and all day. It’s catching up to me.”
“That ‘all night’ where you earned that lump on your snout?”
The vixen’s paw leapt to her muzzle. “It was an accident.”
“Does that excuse ever work?” Saskia snorted and scrunched up her nose.
“With Papa sometimes.”
“Forgive me for saying, but in that case, your father’s about as thick as an Aulkner novel.”
The hare smirked and the vixen couldn’t help grinning back. It hurt a bit, but the good kind. “He one of them ‘moral’ fellows?”
“Moral enough that Merritt keeps well clear. ‘Is works provide excellent ‘iding places. But you’re cleverly avoiding my question. What makes a gel grow lumps in the night?”
“I…” She stopped herself short. Case had told them to speak to nobeast about this. She’d already broken that promise with Grannie. “I can’t tell you.”
“Wouldn’t ‘ave to do with that tunnel Noel found?” the hare pried.
“Noel told you about the tunnel?” Tamarack demanded. How many beasts knew? Cobb had done his best to hide it, but without filling it properly, there was always the risk that somebeast less friendly than Saskia might find or find out about it.
“Aye. I played a bit of lookout for ‘im. What did you find?”
Lying wouldn’t help anything at this point. Saskia knew more about the beasts than she did, at least. “Julian Case. And Cassius.”
“Wot?” The hare’s eyes widened.
“Ms. Selendra was with them. And a pair of otters, and a haremaid. That’s where I got this.” She motioned to the welt. “Right tetchy about her bosses being called murderers.”
“Well… who wouldn’t be?” Saskia sounded like she was about to throw up. Tamarack took a precautionary sidestep.
“You all right, Ms. Saskia?”
“I’ll be fine. I just… wot in all of Mossflower is going on?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” The vixen shook her head, weariness returning – a mosquito that nagged her with its tinny whine. “There’s the Society of Martin, Ms. Selendra sniffing around Brother Tompkins, and then Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius being set up by Abbot Carter for the murders. I don’t even know what they’re expecting us to do for them.”
That caught Saskia’s attention. “Do for them? You’re a kit. You shouldn’t be doing anything for them!”
Tamarack bristled. “I buy Mr. Merritt’s pamphlet’s; I ain’t a kit no more.”
“Tamarack, Merritt’s a bloody git. ‘E’d sell those pamphlets to a beast ‘alf your age if ‘e thought ‘e’d get a return customer.”
“But…” The vixen wilted. “I’m still helping. I’m treading light, but I won’t stick my head in a grave and let the seasons turn around me. What would you do? The Abbey ain’t going to believe me without proof. And Mr. Cassius said this Society’s running Redwall anyway.”
“I don’t know.” The hare pinched the bridge of her snout. “Bloody blast it to ‘Ellgates! I don’t know. You need to be careful. That’s what you need to do. I wouldn’t trust Carter, or Cassius and Case.”
“No, ma’am,” Tamarack assured. “I don’t trust them, but I got to believe something. You weren’t there. I ain’t never seen two beasts more determined. And at least they’re the sort who’d tell you afore sticking a sword in your back.”
Saskia just shook her head.
Sunsets always reminded Tamarack of the soil after a rain, the red, orange and yellow light running down the tree trunks and buildings in rivulets of color to pool amongst the shadows. They smelled thick, heavy, even in the winter, like the whole of Mossflower had breathed out at once.
“What do you want, lad?” Papa’s growl cut through the younger vixen’s musing.
“Asylum?” Noel replied. The weasel was leaning against the graveyard fence, nonchalant defiance in the face of suspicion.
They’d only just seen Duster and his crew out of the refectory and into their beds to sleep off Ripple’s wake. Papa had let her dance with Foweller, linking arms with the younger otter and twirling with him while Duster’s crew hollered out ‘Let Martin Lead a Lad’. She’d wished it had been Noel, but Duster wouldn’t have him at the funeral any more than the Abbot.
“You’d best be finding that in the Abbey proper,” Papa rumbled, plowing forward. Noel stepped aside without complaint, and the fox paused. “What’re you really up to?”
“He’s here to help me and Mr. Cobb, Papa,” Tamarack interjected. “Thought we’d need… a bit of muscle moving… moving…”
“The shed,” Grannie supplied. Noel, Cobb, Tamarack and the rest of the Coffincreepers turned to look at the old vixen. “I asked the lad to help them pulling down that rickety old thing.”
Papa’s face furrowed into a map of hard-cut ravines and daredevil peaks. “Mum, we been working all day. That shed–”
“That shed will come down tonight, Emmerich Coffincreeper,” Grannie snapped, ears tilting forward as she drew herself up to match the dogfox snout-to-snout.
“It’s all right, Papa, I’ll help, t–”
“No!” Colm might have staggered at the force of four voices hitting him all at once had Ida not been there to support him.
“We’m told Miz Althea we’m would take care of it…”
“Yesterday! Ain’t that right, Mr. Noel?”
“Expect so.” The weasel scratched his chin.
Mumma sighed and flapped her paws at Papa. “Leave it Emmerich. I’m tired. Let the kits run themselves ragged. You’ll be up with sun, though, Tam, or it’ll be old Slagar moving my paw across your tail come the light.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The younger vixen winced, paw moving to cover her rump. Another late night would be some trouble, but better asleep on her footpaws than awake over Mumma’s knee.
“Naow just hold it there,” Cobb commanded, voice muffled by the slats and mat above Tamarack and Noel’s heads. They each pressed up, extra support as the mole filled the hole in the graveyard. “You’m holding?”
Tamarack and Noel exchanged a glance. The mole had been second guessing them ever since he’d crawled back up to the surface.
“Aye, Mr. Cobb.”
“All roight. Oi be fillin’ it in naow. Hurr… but you’m think Saskia really be a good beast to ask about Brother Tompkins, Miz Tam?”
“Already told her about Mr. Cassius and Mr. Case. Reckon she’s our best bet unless Bludd can think of somebeast… once she quits playing at hide-and-seek with Mr. Rigg and Brother Isidore.”
“Maybe. Oi’ll ask her when we’m finish here.”
“Best we finish, then,” Noel piped up. “Me back’s starting to hurt, Cobb.”
The welcoming weight of the dirt on their shoulders was the mole’s reply.
“You doin’ all right?” Noel asked once the only things they could smell were the earthen walls and each other.
“Reckon I could lift anything you can,” Tamarack proclaimed, supporting herself on one paw and grinning. She watched the shadows around the weasel’s eyes deepen in the lantern light as he smiled.
“I don’t doubt it. I meant about everything that’s happened.”
She’d hoped he would let it go, let the joke carry them on to campball and the tricky pawwork she’d been meaning to beg him to show her. “Right as a beast can be. I’m more worried about Bludd. She didn’t show up for Rip’s funeral. I ain’t saying he’d cry over it, but it ain’t him I’m worrying about.”
Noel grunted, and for the first time, she noticed that the weasel’s claws had gored the soil around his paws. Virrel had been the one to pull the trigger, the one Saskia blamed.
“Will you be all right?”
Noel started and stared at her, his brow furrowed. Then, he laughed. It wasn’t hollow, just resigned. “Yeah… yeah, I think so.”
Tamarack knew better than to press. He’d let her be ‘all right’, she’d let him.
“Anyway, you think he’s finished yet?” Noel jerked a claw upward.
The vixen craned her head around, forcing her cheek flush with the mat and letting her whiskers sweep across it. She was no mole, but enough seasons digging graves, and a beast was bound to learn a thing or three. “Nothing coming down no more.” The vixen smirked. “You ready to see if this here contraption we built holds up?”
“Drop on the count of three?” the weasel suggested.
“Sounds right enough. Been nice knowing you if this lot falls and suffocates us, sir.”
“Nah, we’d get stabbed by the slats an’ bleed to death first.”
“Well, ain’t that a comfort?” She stuck her tongue out at him, and he winked.
“One. Two. Three!”
Tamarack and Noel flattened themselves against the slope of the ramp. Nothing happened. A small part of her was disappointed. No heroic rescue, grasping the weasel’s paw and dragging him to safety as the tunnel groaned and collapsed around them. Merritt’s pamphlets were terrible lies.
“Huh,” Noel articulated as he rolled over and sat up. “Cobb’s a fine mole.”
“The best.” Tamarack nodded.
“Well, then, seeing as we’re not dead… Head for the cellar?” He offered her his paw, leaning down to pick up the lantern with the other.
“Aye.” The vixen beamed as friendly shadows danced around them.