Where the Little Folk Go

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.

Skreee.

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.”

“And Blaggut?”

“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.”

“And me?”

 

“I can’t say, can’t say. Only your heart can.”

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