O2 In Love

July 3, 2011

Foweller folded his shirt on the infirmary bed. He only had the one and it would simply not do to be swathed in a scratchy green habit. Even Rip’s stripey trousers were more passable than that.

“Fowel! Skipper told me ye needed me?” Ripple hobbled through the door, pausing in uncertainty as he caught sight of Foweller.

“Uncle Skip thinks I should tell you,” Foweller tried to steady his voice, “it’s the right time. For both of us.”

“What is, Fowel?” Ripple asked, drawing near. Foweller turned and gave him a radiant smile.

“We’re joining Skipper’s crew!” He exclaimed. Ripple blinked.

“But I… I don’t want…” Ripple mumbled something and tugged at his habit. It was then Foweller noticed a flash of blue cloth underneath. Before Ripple could stop him, Foweller grabbed the otter’s habit sleeve and yanked it up. The bright brass button on the cuff of a Long Patrol jacket shined up at him.

“What…?” Foweller’s maw cracked into a grin. Rip stumbled back, hiding his jacket in silent fury. It was then Foweller started to laugh. First a snicker, then a fit of hysterical gasps that made Sister Amery look into the room with a puzzled expression.

“I never realised the Long Patrol had infiltrated the abbey!” Foweller chuckled, buckling over to hold himself.

“Oi, lemme be. I don’t make fun of yer sho—of Martin. Anyway, did Skip say what ye gotta do? He’s always got a test planned.”

Foweller noted the rapid change of subject.

“We have to swim all the way across the pond. Under water!”

“The pond…” Ripple flinched. “Uh, I don’t have to, aye? Skip knows I… I’m not ready.”

“Oh…” Foweller’s face fell, “Well, I was hoping you could help me. I’m not the strongest swimmer, what with my rudder gone. I suppose I can manage without you.”

“Ye can’t swim? Um, that is, ye can swim, but without yer rudder, er… Can’t be that different, aye? It’s not, um, a real rudder, not like a ship, I mean, just a tail I thought…” Ripple blustered. Foweller shrugged.

“Oh, well since I lost it, swimming has been a lot harder. I usually paired up with another otter to get through it. But I reckon I can do it myself this time.”

“An’… if ye can’t?”

“I drown!” Foweller winked and skipped off, his footpaws askew. His ears perked as he heard Ripple hobbling to catch up with him. That had been easy.

~~~

The Abbey pond did seem larger than usual today. Foweller suspected recent rain had something to do with it. The two otters stood together, shaking a little under the expectant gaze of the Abbey’s population of otters. Foweller could name a few faces from the crowd. Uncle Skip, Rigg, Remy, Gabriel and even Abbot Carter were amongst them. An image of Andrew’s body flashed before Foweller and he set his teeth in resolve. He would show Carter that he was not such an easy target as the mouse had been.

“Right, lads, ye know th’ rules! Ye must swim without takin’ no breath o’ fresh air from this end of the pond t’the other. A test of strength an’ endurance what’ll prove ye to be fit fer Skipper’s crew!” Skip bellowed in his most officious tone.

“Uh. Fowel. Did yer mother ever try to drown ye as a kit?” Ripple murmured. Foweller gave a nervous snort.

“Tried, yes. She was cunning alright, getting me by the neck at the crack of dawn. The trick was to learn to swim. She gave up after she realised she had no hope of succeeding!” Foweller puffed his chest.

“Aye. Mine tried to lure me in with promises of mussels. Then she made me dive for ‘em,” Ripple recounted darkly. Carter stepped forward and gave the two kits a reassuring smile. Foweller found the Abbot an eerie sight. He felt behind those friendly eyes, Carter suspected him. Or worse, knew about the break-in.

“I know you two will do Skipper and our Abbey proud. This is your first step towards becoming the wholesome and noble goodbeasts that Redwall needs in such tempestuous times as these. You have no need of luck, my sons. Martin is on your side.”

“I know!” Foweller replied smartly, earning a chuckle from the assembly.

“On yer marks. Take a breath! Go!” Skipper shouted. The cheers of the crowd were instantly muffled as Foweller plunged in. The cold shock was enough to get his heart racing as he spread his webbed paws and paddled through the gloomy depths.

Foweller soon lost his sense of time as he swam, knowing nothing but the muffled reverberations in the water and his own pulse. He fell into the easy rhythm of strokes and started to wonder why he even needed a rudder at all. Swimming was dead easy. The moment he thought that, he found himself belly-up, flailing about like a drowning pup. So that was what his rudder had been for!

Something tugged at Foweller’s arm. He shook it off. Weeds, or maybe even a little fish. It grabbed at him more ferociously and Foweller realised that Ripple had caught up. Ripple pulled him back on track and Foweller gave him a thumbs-up. He squinted through the water. Rip did not seem pleased. Something was wrong.

Ripple’s face was scrunched in panic, his claw desperately jabbing at his muzzle. He was running out of air. Whilst Foweller had been fooling about, Rip must have been desperately trying to make it to the other side with his sore, sad legs.

Ripple pointed to the surface but Foweller shook his head. No. They had to get across together without breathing fresh air. It was the rules, or they would not be allowed on the crew. No expeditions with Skipper, no visiting shrew clans, no defending Redwall Abbey. Foweller tugged Rip along, both of them thrashing for the end. But the end was not coming. Instead of a friendly shore, more dark water stretched on as far into the gloom as Foweller could see.

Foweller realised he was no longer pulling Rip along; he was more pulling Rip down, away from the surface. Bubbles issued from Rip’s snout. His friend needed air. Foweller began to feel his heart pounding. What if they were going in circles? What if Rip really drowned? Foweller had forced him into this!

Foweller was trained to act rather than think too much. He was not going to fail this time. Rip needed air. No fresh air. No fresh air… Fresh air!

Foweller grabbed Rip’s head and forced the otter’s muzzle against his own. He breathed out, trying to ignore Rip’s muffled cry of distress. Foweller’s breath entered Rip’s depleted lungs, causing Ripple to shudder in relief. Foweller kicked and paddled, feeling Ripple start to move with him.

~~~

Foweller shot out of the water, heaving onto the sweet dry land. He coughed and collapsed to his knees, sensing Ripple crawling up the bank beside him.

“We… augh… made it!” Foweller wheezed. He could hear Skip’s footpaws drumming the earth as the big otter hurried to the pond’s edge.

“What… were ye… doin’?” Ripple choked.

“Buddy breathing, you mean?” Foweller caught Ripple’s glare.

“Ye made that up.”

“Did not!”

“Lads! Are ye alright?” Skipper called, rushing to Ripple’s side. Foweller snickered as he heard Rip spit profusely on the ground. He could hear the applause rising from the otter crew.

“I knew they’d do it, pair of strong young fellas like that!” Rigg cheered, pumping an arm in triumph. Foweller tried not to retch.

“Well done, my sons.” The Abbot’s clap was slow, deliberate and soon quietened every beast. Foweller had never heard a beast clap with such deadening menace. But then, he was not going to forget what had happened to Andrew. “Today you are no longer mere dibbuns. You take on the responsibility and the pride of the Skipper’s crew. To celebrate, I have arranged a surprise in the Great Hall!”

“A… surprise?” Foweller repeated. He staggered to his feet and helped Rip up with one paw. What could Carter be planning? The two otters staggered across the bright green lawn, tired but grinning. Carter strode in front to open the doors of the Great Hall himself.

Foweller blinked. Boxes, neatly lined along a table. They were open, their contents padded with hay. He leant over, his eyes adjusting from the bright morning sun. Oiled, varnished and shined. Muskets. Foweller lifted one of the weapons from the hay and kissed it. It was a flintlock, no dirty old matchlocks for Redwall.

“Now here’s a familiar group of friends,” he joked, nudging Rip. The otter crew stared in silence.

“Where did these come from? Are we allowed to send out packages?” Ripple piped up, a tinge of cautious hope in his voice. Rigg laughed and slapped Rip’s back.

“’Fraid these have been here a while. The Abbot had me store them in the cellars till the time came!” Foweller noted Ripple’s crestfallen expression. The Abbot clasped his paws together.

“Foweller and Ripple are the new blood in this clan of otters. This Abbey cannot remain closed to the new forever. These firearms symbolise our future in the modern world and the safety and security these walls harbour. We must embrace them or perish in obsolescence,” he announced.

“Oh. I was just hopin’ for jam scones,” Rip said. The tension was broken and there was laughter again. The Abbot smiled and surrendered his audience to the kitchens. Though Foweller tried to wriggle his way through the throng of hungry otters, somehow the Abbot caught up with him.

“My son, I have a special gift for you,” Foweller shivered as the Abbot’s whiskers tickled his ear. Reluctantly, he was steered from the hungry congregation and back to the boxes of firelocks. It was then he saw what lay on the table beside them.

Two pistols. Foweller recognised both. The first was his, a worn looking wheel-lock made of iron. The second was the heavy flintlock that he had pulled from the Abbot’s drawer. He tired not to recall the last he had seen the weapon. In Andrew’s paws, right before…

“I once told you a dibbun had no need of such things,” the Abbot continued, lifting the weapon. “But of course, you’re not a dibbun anymore, nor is Ripple. And in the coming times, I fear you shall need this more than ever.”

Foweller picked up his pistol and caressed it, his pads brushing along the old familiar lines in the metalwork. It had been for nothing. Andrew would have lived if only Foweller had not been so reckless and impatient. All he had to show for his escapade was a cloakpin and a mystery. Foweller looked up to realise the Abbot had left him. Instead, there was Ripple, scoffing a scone.

“Mmf, woffit?” Ripple said around his bulging cheeks. Foweller pointed at the flintlock, putting Carter out of his mind.

“Present for you!” Foweller turned away as Ripple took it, his eyes lighting up. Foweller was still hungry. He stumbled for the door in excitement, placing a paw on the tapestried wall to steady himself. Scones and guns, what more could he want?

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