Cutting the Weeds

July 17, 2011

Twirl. Twirl. Catch it! Foweller’s claws scrabbled for the knife. It was a simple flick, yet the more he tried to do it, the more haphazard his attempts became. However, he had learnt the trick to catching vermin. Watch their habits. Mister Merritt, for instance, spent his afternoons sipping tea, stuffing his face with some cook’s hard work and playing cards.

“Fancy bumping into you!” Merritt thumped a paw on Foweller’s shoulder as he came sauntering out of the Great Hall. The otter was steered down the steps in the direction of Merritt’s cart, the ferret’s black, spidery paw holding him uncomfortably close.

“Why, jolly good afternoon, Mister Merritt,” Foweller responded, almost as if he had not been deliberately loitering at the doors and sneaking glances at the day’s spread of strawberries and cream.

“Now, my young friend,” Merritt gave Foweller a winning smile as the ferret drew to the kit’s eye level, “You seem a likely sort of lad that’d be interested in my range of wares. I don’t think I’ve formally introduced you to the wonderful world of print!”

“You have anything on the natural history of stoats, squire?” Foweller asked, his eyes darting across the boxes as if one of the beasts in the flesh would leap out at him. His lip curled at the stumped look behind that robber’s mask. The vermin rapidly changed his tune into another greedy sales pitch.

“Aha, quite the wit, lad! It’s not all boring essays and pamphlets in here, no sir! Why, you wouldn’t happen to be into cards, would you? Must’ve sold almost every pack since coming here, but I’m sure I can find something special for you.”

“Is that all? I’ve rather lost the taste for card games. My fellow players are…” Dead, or soon to be be. Foweller wrinkled his nose. No moping. Not on a mission! His eyes dulled and studied the ground, exuding disinterest. He had taken Merritt’s hook, now he needed the ferret to reel him in. Isidore had told him about the weed’s tricks, how he talked the marks straight out of a goodbeast’s purse.

“Ah, depends what you’re after, young sir. There’s always something for a lad that can keep a secret,” Merritt winked. Foweller’s fangs were in full display as he smiled.

“I’m not so little no more, Mister Merritt,” he quipped. Merritt gave him a sly look. The ferret reached for another box and withdrew a pamphlet with great care. Foweller frowned at the title. The…School…for…

“I’m sure a beast your age tires of dry histories they teach in that Abbey school. This material has a bit more… creative flair, you’ll find. And if you get tired of it, there’s always more where that came from. Special price, only twenty pence for that one.”

Foweller floundered. That had been disgustingly easy. He had not even gotten to lying about his age, yet here was the evidence, just as Brother Isidore had suspected. Amazing how the vermin had smuggled his wares under the Abbot’s nose for this long.

“Oh, great! Er, right then.” He could not buy it. He had no money of his own any more. It was strictly off-limits to the point of sacrilege to plunder from Ripple and he did not much fancy begging Uncle Skip… Uncle Duster for pennies.

“Do you want this or not?” Merritt asked, nose flaring as if he could scent his fee. Foweller cracked; his cunning infiltration at an end.

“No time to count out coins. I’ll be late for work. Tarra, squire!” Foweller gave a short bow. Merritt raised an eyebrow.

“Late for work?” He repeated. Foweller paused, no longer listening. The pamphlet, the secret dealings, Ripple’s picture. It all fit into place.

“Uhhhh…”

“Haha, it’s so gross. Lookit that.”

“That’s not mine…”

“The pamphlet,” Foweller breathed. Then he was running. Merritt must have sold Ripple that pamphlet. That’s why he’d hidden it from Skipper. It must still be in the attic! All the evidence Foweller needed… that Brother Isidore needed. Ripple had already shown him the answer.

Foweller all but dived through the doors of the Great Hall. His luck ran out before he even reached the stairs. Foweller’s vision tipped and Martin the Warrior stood over him, gazing coldly down as if he had come to life and shoved the otter to the floor himself. Foweller pulled himself up and winced. He had grazed both his paws as he had tumbled down.

There was nothing under Ripple’s desk. Nothing in the drawers. Foweller contained his strangled cry of frustration and headed for Uncle… Duster’s room.

“Help me, Rip,” Foweller muttered as his sweaty, grazed paws scrambled through Rip’s satchel. He felt a loose leaf of paper and froze. Drawing it out, he set his teeth, incensed yet satisfied. There it was. Exactly the sort of thing Brother Isidore had to know about. Who would actually want to buy this anyway? It was shameful and worse, it looked stupid.

Foweller tucked the offending filth surreptitiously into his sash. The thick red cloth around his middle was quickly becoming a very useful carrier for concealed items.

~~~

“My son,” Carter intoned, “will you walk with me?”

“I… Isidore… yes, sir.” Foweller had only darted into the infirmary for a second to get Martin back over his shoulder where he belonged. He had closed his eyes and stuck his claws in his ears, then rushed past the figure concealed by the white sheet. Of course Carter would be lurking around for him like a vulture.

“I think it would do you and young Tamarack good to come to terms with what has happened.”

The two otters waddled sombrely to the graveyard. Foweller was helped along by the Abbot, his small paw lost in Carter’s heavy grip. It occurred to Foweller, with a sick lurch in his stomach, some beast had planned for the graveyard to sit by the infirmary. Not such a pleasant view for the members of the fishmonger’s bill, he mused.

“Tamarack!” Foweller bounced forward to greet his campball rival. He hesitated at the thought of embracing her, stopping with a short bow of the head.

“Fowel! Oh… Father Abbot.” Tamarack hoisted her shovel. “I was looking for the right place. For the burial.”

“Not overly keen on burying. But I’ll help you dig,” Foweller mumbled. Carter rested a warm, comforting paw on his shoulder.

“I think you should let the Coffincreepers go about their business. It’s the only reason they stay in Redwall, all things considered.”

“Actually, sir,” Tamarack interrupted, “I wouldn’t mind an extra pair of paws. It’s no trouble.”

Foweller chanced a look up at the Abbot. The older otter’s eyes seemed to flicker for a moment.

“I’ll let you two decide on the place,” Carter excused himself and departed, leaving the two alone. Foweller looked at Tamarack and she him.

“Thought it could go near the treeline. It’s shaded there.” The vixen pointed to the row of graves. Foweller unslung Martin and squinched his eyes at the designated area. A good enough distance to avoid the tree’s roots.

“Jolly good. I’m not putting you out of work, am I?” Foweller jerked his head at the distant figure of the Abbot’s back as it was swallowed into the Great Hall.

“You sure are, Fowel. Me and my family are going to starve,” Tamarack answered with a frown. Foweller looked mortified. Tamarack bared her teeth and playfully dinged her shovel against Martin. He could not help but split his maw in return.

“Come on. Can’t let Papa catch us slacking!”

Foweller tapped the ground with Martin, his face wrinkled in thought. He marked out where he thought the boundaries ought to be. Tamarack corrected the more wayward marks so the patch of earth would be neatly aligned with the rows of graves. Foweller began with his webbed footpaw splayed on Martin’s head, driving the blade into the grassy roots. Lever it out, now he had a neat wedge of earth to cast aside.

“If we could dig a little faster?” Tamarack asked. Foweller gave her an askew glance.

“I didn’t want to embarrass you,” he replied, with a twitch of his muzzle.

“Famous last words?”

Foweller glared. Tamarack’s tail gave a jaunty swish. Then the race was on. He was not sure exactly what the rules were, but he would not be the first to stop and wipe his brow. Twin arcs of brown sprayed across the rapidly growing mound of earth as the two diggers spurred each other on.

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