Count the Garden By the Flowers

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?”

“About Ripple.”

“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.”

“Yes, sir!”

“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.

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