A Loose Seam

August 31, 2011

The door to the archives burst forth with an unexpected clatter. Aloysius jumped from his perch with a squeak, spilling his inkpot over the tome he was studying before he could react. In haste, he removed the pot and dabbed at the page with his habit, but half the well had emptied, and the page was ruined.

Taking care first to place protective sheafs astride the ruined page, he turned in fury towards Noel and Foweller. The pair were whooping and hollering as if they had just won a campball match, with those wide grins on their faces and rubbing their bodies against one another in typical male fashion. Aloysius never cared for sports, and now he had another reason.

“Foweller! Master Noel!” Aloysius hissed, fluttering their way before landing hard on the ground, his wings spread before them.

Their grins vanished as soon as they saw the bat’s livid face.

“Brother Aloysius,” Noel began.

“Knock first, Master Noel, as any courteous beast would do, would do before disturbing a beast at his work.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“Well I didn’t mean to spill ink on Brother Timothy’s compendium, but it seems we’re all filled with surprises, surprises.” The words were out of his mouth before he had meant to speak them, and regret filled him as Noel’s face fell. Foweller grasped the back of his neck and looked away. Aloysius sighed. “My apologies. It seems these past few days has taken quite a toll on me.”

“You haven’t slept yet, have you?”

Aloysius stood, curling his wings around himself. His habit was damp with ink, but he tried not to think about it. “I have not, have not. But then, it seems neither has she.” He nodded to Tamarack, curled up as she was beside his desk. She had stirred with the commotion, but aside from a whimper, she wasn’t bothered too deeply.

“Tam’s been keeping you company?”

“Indeed. I requested her leave from grave duties on account of recent,” he faltered, “events.”

“I’m surprised Larch allowed it.” Noel had a questioning look, but he didn’t press, for which Aloysius was thankful.

“On the contrary, contrary,” the bat said, keeping the conversation on Tamarack, lest Noel become more intrigued. “Larch was delighted Young Tamarack was turning to her studies.”

Somewhere during their chat, Foweller had escaped the bat’s field of vision. Aloysius squeaked in a few directions until he spied the otter tossing a capped inkwell in the air. His hackles rose on pure instinct. “Foweller,” Aloysius called, “be careful, please. I can’t have that breaking.”

“I’m just playing!” Foweller said, tossing the small pot in the air at a new height. He had to stumble over a few scattered books to catch it.

Aloysius felt as if he was going to sick up. On the next toss, the bat took off in the air, snatching the pot at the peak of its throw. He landed at his desk, where the inkwell went promptly into a drawer. “That is not yours to play with, play with! Now if you please, and you have nothing better to do, do kindly take your leave.”

Foweller gave a goofy grin, which only irritated him more.

“Come on, Foweller, I’ll catch up with you later,” Noel said. The otter saluted and bolted for the exit, and Aloysius had quite a time turning a blind eye as he bounded over scattered books and papers.

“Thank you Noel. I don’t have quite the knack with young ones as you do, you do.”

“It’ll get worse with age and studies. Have you found anything?”

“I’m afraid not, not,” Aloysius said as he sat down properly at his desk. “There are clues, clues to the secret that lies within the Heraldry, but I’m afraid we are at an impasse.”

“In what way?”

“Brother Timothy mentions writing two hundred and twenty-two entries as abbey recorder, but my compendium only lists two hundred and twenty-one.”

“Could you have missed one?”

“Impossible,” Aloysius scoffed. “The official abbey records was my first big project as historian. I scoured these archives for every one, every one I painstakingly transcribed into this very volume. No, Noel, if Brother Timothy had a two hundred and twenty-second record, I’d have it, have it.”

The archivist didn’t need to see Noel to hear the intake of breath that would soon become an argument. “And even if I had,” the bat said before Noel could speak, “it would be impossible to find with the archives in their current state. It is useless, useless!” He slammed the compendium closed, wincing as he remembered the spilt ink, still damp and bleeding.

Noel was silent, but Tamarack was not. The young vixen stirred from her slumber, stretching her limbs and giving a wide yawn as she recalled where she was.

“Noel?” She blinked at the weasel.

“Mornin’, sunshine.” Noel grinned.

Tamarack stretched a second time before she stood, peering over Aloysius’s shoulder at the closed volume on the desk. “What’s going on?”

“Old Brother Case has us chasing doomwytes,” Aloysius said. His tone would have made any dibbun scrunch their face.

“Brother Alo’s mad because there’s only two hundred and twenty-one entries in his compendium, instead of two hundred and twenty-two.”

Tamarack yawned once more, digging her paw pads into her eyes. “And why’s that a bother?”

“We are missing the last entry, entry,” Aloysius said.

“Well, we only need the two hundred and twenty-second, right?” Tamarack’s voice was hopeful. “What’s to say there ain’t one missing in the middle?”

“The last entry in this compendium tells nothing of a secret in the Heraldry, Heraldry.”

“What’s it say again?” Noel asked.

Aloysius took a laborious effort to open the book to the last page. “Extract from the diary of Brother Timothy Churchmouse, Recorder of Redwall Abbey,” he began.

“It has been many a season since I first brought quill to parchment as the Recorder of Redwall Abbey, and I fear I am at the end of my days. Worry not, for I am quite well, as are we all, those who are still healthy enough to lay by the abbey pond and bask in the sun’s warm gleam, the water lapping at our paws.

“A great silverfish was caught by Cheek Stag Otter, not quite as big as the one Matthias pulled from the pond all those seasons ago. Or at least, so the elders tell me; I was but a Dibbun during that time, and can hardly remember such epic events in our history. No, most of my memories lie beyond the great sandstone walls, when Mattimeo and his wife, my sister Tess, were captured along with me by the evil Slagar the Cruel and sold into slavery to the wicked polecat Malkariss.

“I have lived through the time of two great Abbots, Mordalfus and Durral. He’s still our Abbot, Durral, you know, and more spry and energetic than any Dibbun I’ve seen. He’s got quite a few seasons left—he may even outlive Constance!

“Yet, while we live in such peaceful times, I cannot help but reminisce about the past, when war threatened our peaceful abbey time and again. The abbey has changed, I’m afraid to say, and for better or worse depends on who you are asking. I envy the young, those who are naïve and ignorant of the blood that’s stained these abbey walls. Sometimes I wonder how much of our walls are still tinted red with the sandstone that built them, or if it’s been replaced by the blood of our fallen.

“And so I pass my quill to Rollo Bankvole, lest my disposition taint these hallowed walls. He has grown much since General Ironbeak laid siege on our abbey, when he was still just a kit. He’s quite learned, and skilled with a quill. I’ve no doubt he will make a fine recorder of our abbey, one that’s still innocent to our bloodied past.

“I will still be writing, don’t get me wrong. My greatest achievement and gift to this Abbey has yet to come, but I cannot be bogged down with the duties of a simple recorder. A Mossflower Heraldry, I’ll call it, on the Order of Redwall Abbey and the Orders that inhabit our fair woodlands. I’m afraid, though, it will be quite some time before it’s finished. Once it’s complete, I’ll spend the remainder of my days in the Gatehouse, ready to welcome any beast that knocks on our door.”

“Seems rather cryptic,” Noel breathed.

“I’m afraid Brother Timothy has lived through troubling periods, periods of our history that he did not bother to record,” Aloysius said.

“It’s in the Heraldry, then,” Tamarack said, triumphant.

“Yes, but there’s no secret to unveil. If there is another entry, it would be impossible to find in this mess. This is nothing more than a fool’s errand, errand.”

“Well…” Tamarack leaned over Aloysius, peering at the entry. “He says he’ll spend the rest of his days in the Gatehouse. Perhaps we could look there.”

Aloysius exchanged a look with Noel.

The weasel shrugged. “I don’t see any reason why not!”

And so the three of them found themselves in the Gatehouse, though what they were looking for, none had any idea. Aloysius yawned and rubbed his eyes. He could not fathom how these beasts could keep the hours they kept, working all day and playing vigilante by night.

“And you think there is a hidden tomb somewhere in these walls, walls?” Aloysius asked.

“Don’t see why not,” Tamarack stated. “After all, weren’t it Abbess Germaine what was buried beneath the cellar? And Boar the Fighter had his own tomb in Salamandastron.”

Aloysius opened his mouth to object, but his admiration of the kit stopped him. “Well, I suppose you are right. As a matter of fact, each Recorder does have their own little tomb here in the Gatehouse. Look at the bricks built against the ramparts, ramparts.”

“There’s names here,” Noel said, brushing a paw against the small inscriptions.

“Every recorder of Redwall has had the privilege of carving his name in a Gatehouse stone.”

“Does Brother Raimun have a stone?” Tamarack asked.

“He does, he does, at the far north corner.”

“Will you have a stone, Brother?” The kit grinned at him.

Aloysius could do naught but smile back. “Alas, historian and Gatekeeper do not qualify as Recorder.”

“But we need a recorder. Perhaps when this is all done, you can take the position.”

“Perhaps, my child, perhaps.”

“Here it is!” Noel called out. “Right between John Churchmouse and Rollo Bankvole.”

In a trice Aloysius and Tamarack were at Noel’s side. The vixen pushed the block, as if she expected to activate a lever. She sighed.

“Maybe it’s loose,” Noel suggested, taking Tamarack’s place and rubbing his paw against the stone. “No, it’s wedged in there, all right,” he said, disappointed.

Tamarack crossed her arms. “Hmm, well, it can’t be anything else.”

The three of them stood there silent, contemplating. Then Aloysius chirped.

A silver lining washed over the wall before him, emphasizing every inscription, every bump and flaw, including the tiny crack that lay in the mortar between the bricks. Without a word Aloysius withdrew a spare quill, placed the metal nib in the crack, and pulled. The stone shifted a fraction.

“It moved, did you see that?” Noel said, failing to hide the excitement in his voice. Aloysius continued to wiggle the stone, freeing it enough until Noel had the leverage to remove it entirely from its placement. Dropping the stone to the floor with less care than Aloysius would have wanted, the weasel reached inside the hole, a full arm’s length and beyond. Then he screamed.

Aloysius jumped back in a panic; Tamarack scurried across the room.

“I got something!” Noel said cheekily.

“You’re a buffoon!” Tamarack yelled. Noel giggled in response.

Despite his mood, Aloysius could not stop the curling of his muzzle into a faint grin. “Well? What is it, is it?”

Noel pulled his paw free. He held a rolled up parchment.

Tamarack was jumping with excitement. “What’s it say? What’s it say?”

The weasel tossed the scroll in the air, then paused when he caught it. He turned to Aloysius, a look of sincerity in his eyes. “I think you should do the honors, Brother.”

“Thank you, Noel,” Aloysius whispered. He extended a claw, and his wing shook as he took the ancient record. It was aged, there was no doubt about that. Despite the dried and brittle cloth, he could feel the weight of a thousand seasons grasped in his wing. He pulled at the string that bound it together and unraveled the parchment.

“Wait!” Tamarack yelled.

Aloysius paused mid-breath.

“Where’s Ms. Saskia? She should be here for this!”

The bat’s heart sank. Any elation of finding a lost record dissipated like smoke on the wind.

“Yes, where is Saskia?” Noel asked, turning his head towards the door as if expecting she had been there the whole time.

“Saskia…” Aloysius drew a shuddering breath, turning his gaze to the page to hide his face. He could not tell them, not now, when their spirits were so high. Saskia would not have wanted it, or perhaps it was just him. “Saskia had duties to attend, to attend with Merritt.”

Tamarack frowned. “Just like that ferret to steal her away when we need her like this.”

“Well, it can’t be so important she can’t take a break. I’ll go get her,” Noel said. He turned to leave.

Aloysius bit his lip hard; focusing on the physical pain and the taste of blood that washed over him.

“This is too important to wait! We’ll show her later. She’d understand,” Tamarack said. Her tail twitched with anticipation.

Noel looked again at the door, then at the parchment in Aloysius’s claws. “Oh, all right.”

Holding the record before him, Aloysius trembled. The words jumped around the page; he couldn’t possibly read it now.

A strong paw patted his back. “I know,” Noel said. “I’m excited, too.”

He didn’t know how, but the weasel’s touch was calming enough to keep the page steady. Aloysius dabbed at his eyes with a wing as quick as he could manage, then cleared his throat.

“Ex—Extract … from the Diary of Timothy … Timothy Churchmouse, Recorder of Redwall Abbey…” he began.

In the pages of A Mossflower Heraldry lies Mossflower’s greatest secret. To those that wish to know the truth of Redwall Abbey and all that it stands for, I present thee this riddle:

I – am that is the page
The grandson is the line
The churchmice are the word

Tim Churchmouse (Recorder of Redwall Abbey
in Mossflower country).

Advertisements

Dead Reckoning

August 24, 2011

“Brother Aloysius? I brought some pie.” Foweller set the plate on the bat’s desk and made to leave. The Recorder seemed deep in thought, poring over scraps of paper. The little otter could not imagine anything quite so horribly tedious.

“Wait, wait.” Aloysius took his eyes off his study and scrutinised the kit. He offered a small twitch of a smile. “Thank you.”

“What sort of, er, things are you reading, Brother?” Foweller asked politely.

“Records of times past, times past. The archives tell us of our ancestors of old.”

“Ancestors, huh? Reckon I can find my family in here?” Foweller thumbed the spines of a few of the dusty tomes. “Try under ‘D’, for Dantor.”

“Dantor, Dantor? They show up quite often, as a matter of fact.” Aloysius left his tome in search of another dusty record. “Which Dantor would you like to hear? There was once a story of a gypsy pup named Kaja and a slave named Sandrose, who recovered the ancient Green Stone in a time where it would have surely brought war upon all of Mossflower. You must hear it someday. What else, what else? I believe there was mention of the Dantors in a story of an endemic plague that originated underground…” He was shuffling through sheafs of ledgers and books with no apparent direction. “And then there was Juniper Dantor, who actually…” Aloysius paused. “…was found guilty of murdering the Abbess of Redwall. Now, child, why are you asking of such things?”

“The Abbot’s probably trying to get me as payback,” Foweller muttered under his breath. His snout twitched as his search dislodged puffs of dust from the shelves. “I was actually wondering if you’ve got anything on the Mask.”

“Ah, you mean Riverwyte, Riverwyte! He’s one of our oldest heroes, you know. He lived in a time before this Abbey was even built, when vermin ruled the land from Kotir, a castle that became Redwall’s very foundations. He lacked a tail, but it allowed him to disguise himself as anybeast, anybeast he wanted to be. They called him the Mask.”

“Rigg said he died.” Foweller clasped his paws and adopted the sort of thoughtful pose he imagined scholars used.

The bat sighed. “Indeed. He was killed rescuing other figures in our abbey records, records. Ferdy and Coggs, the baby hedgehog twins, and Gingivere, the wildcat.”

“A wildcat!” Foweller gaped. Aloysius smiled.

“A good wildcat, wildcat. Thanks to Gingivere, Mossflower has forgiven the house of Greeneyes.”

“I suppose Bludd’s a good enough wildcat as any,” Foweller said. He looked up, and saw tears in the archivist’s eyes. “What is it, Brother Aloysius?”

~~~

An hour later, Foweller wandered into the Great Hall in a daze. It was midday lunch. Mice, squirrels, otters and the occasional vermin sat in their groups, gossiping and filling their faces. Did no beast remark on the absence of the little wildcat?

“Skipper!” Foweller called. Rigg did not hear, too busy in conversation with Remy. The day’s lunch of pastry rolls and cheeses were snaffled up by greedy otter muzzles, with pitchers of cordial to wash it down. The tables were awash with the candelabra set and neat rows of plates scattered with crumbs. “Skipper Rigg!”

“Aye, sit down, Fowel,” Rigg waved him over. The kit tottered forward, but could not take the seat. His limbs would not even budge at the Skipper’s welcoming paw.

“Where’s Bludd?” Foweller imagined for a moment that saying her name aloud would summon the kitten. She would roll from under the table and yowl at him, the scurvy streamdog that he was. The pit in his stomach suggested otherwise. “Where’s my friend?”

“Er, Bludd? The little kitten?” Rigg scratched his ear thoughtfully. “I haven’t seen her, well, since…”

“Since she died?” Foweller said at an embarrassingly loud volume. The chatter around him promptly faltered.

“What? Died?” Rigg spluttered convincingly.

“You were chasing her. Couple of days ago. Some beast told me where she was found.” Foweller trembled as Rigg stood up, alarm replaced by livid fury.

“Don’t you dare talk to your elders like that, you insolent kit!” Rigg thundered. Foweller hopped back. Rigg’s eyes flickered from side to side as the eyes of the Abbey turned on them, voices dying out and ears perking at the sound of a shouting match. “Out with you! Go off to the rat’s shed where you belong.”

“Why, did you leave another corpse in it? Killed off any other defenceless Redwallers recently?” Foweller screamed back.

“Who’s been filling this little one’s head with ideas? Me, poisoning Redwallers? You have a nerve, you foulmouthed Dibbun,” Rigg growled. Foweller froze. His mind ticked for a second. The body Ripple had found. Brother Raimun!

“I never mentioned poison.” Foweller’s eyes widened. He did not have to shout any more. There was a shocked silence and Rigg’s face betrayed all. “Oh, ‘Gates. You murdered the recorder.”

Rigg strode forward and caught Foweller’s shoulders. Surprised, the pinned kit struggled as Rigg cuffed him over the ear.

“Apologise, you little wretch!” Rigg yelled and struck Foweller again. The blow slammed against his head, making him wince and hiss at the crushing vice clamped over his arm.

“Get your paws off my nephew, you flexing prat,” Duster’s warm tones were laced with icy rage. Foweller’s adoptive uncle had marched from his seat to confront his brother face to face. Rigg sneered at Duster and shoved the kit to the floor.

Duster punched Rigg.

The Great Hall was suddenly in uproar. Woodlanders scattered as the otters exchanged blows and a few vermin were egging the whole thing on, cheering at each thud and crack. Members of the Order moved in to break up the otter brawl, with little success. The crew was soon split between otters that supported Rigg and those that were loyal to Duster.

Foweller choked down a guffaw as he saw Gabriel tackle two otters at once. Sister Redronnet was herding the squealing Dibbuns out of the door, most of whom were throwing themselves at her to be allowed to watch. Rigg had Duster pinned to the table, pitchers rolling over and cascading out their contents. With barely a thought, Foweller jumped on the table, Martin unslung.

Eulalia!” Foweller cried, swinging Martin. Rigg had his paws on a candelabrum. The two pieces of metal connected with a loud clang. One of Rigg’s supporters, Tanbark, grabbed at the kit’s ankles from behind and toppled Foweller onto the table. Crockery shattered under him.

“Norford firsts!” Noel wrestled Tanbark to the ground. Relief flooded through Foweller at the sound of a familiar voice. He leapt up to give Noel a paw. Well, the flat head of the shovel to Tanbark’s stomach. The otter rolled over and groaned, clutching himself.

“Norford firsts? What regiment is that?” Foweller asked, giving the weasel a quizzical grin. Noel grabbed his paw.

“Campball team, actually. Is this your idea of not doing anything rash?” Noel tugged the kit, his eyes on the door. Foweller pulled back.

“We can’t leave Uncle Duster.” Foweller glanced back at the two otters that now danced back and forth across the dining table. Rigg had drawn his sword and was bearing down on Duster’s little knife. The former Skipper was dodging his brother’s bloodwrath of swings and flinging plates at Rigg’s head. Ceramic chunks littered the floor. Badgermum Agnes had an indignant Brother Abel in a headlock and Gabriel was breaking a chair over a foolish otter that had grabbed a musket.

In the midst of the riot Foweller saw Isidore, sat at a table drinking a cup of tea with his little claw sticking out, studiously ignoring the bloody-nosed squirrel and otter strangling each other on the floor beside him.

“Fowel, wait!” Foweller could hear Noel’s pawsteps pounding after him. Strong paws, good for… kicking.

“Noel, drop kick!” Foweller snatched up a melon from the next table and hurled it at the weasel. He could see Noel’s instincts conquer his mind as he flawlessly booted the fruit down the hall. The delicious projectile exploded like a shell over Rigg’s face.

“Goal!” Foweller and Noel crowed, jubilantly punching the air. The heavy beast crashed onto the table with a satisfying thump and the tinkle of cracked plates. When Rigg cleared his vision of juicy mush, he found Duster’s knife tickling his throat. Gabriel whooped and Noel gave Foweller an embarrassed chuckle.

What is going on here?” Carter asked softly. The remainder of the brawl quickly halted at the sight of the Abbot at the far end of the hall. Carter took in the ruined plates, the food scattered across the floor, the bleeding members of his Order and the two brawny otters on the dining table. Isidore coughed and stood, placing down his teacup.

“The Skipper has been charged with two murders, Father.”

“To say the least,” Noel commented drily.

“So, Duster, you saw fit to destroy the hall and terrorise my Order?” Carter hissed. The Abbot seemed in no rush to go near any of them. Foweller’s tunic was damp against his chest with spilt cordial and Duster was drawing blood from his brother’s chin. Tanbark was still moaning.

“He laid paws on my kit and he hasn’t denied the accusations yet,” Duster growled, “Now let him deny it!”

Rigg was silent. His face went through a myriad of contortions before settling on intense hatred. Duster spat in his face.

Foweller slowly started to back his way to the side door to the dormitories, nodding his head at Noel. The two of them edged through the door, out of Carter’s line of sight. Grasping each other’s paw, the two friends trotted frantically down the hallway. The raised voice of the Abbot echoed after them as they broke into a run. Foweller and Noel burst out of the Abbey into midday sunshine and galumphed as far from the scene of their crime as possible.

“Did you hear him? I’m Duster’s kit!” Foweller gave a victorious cheer. Then, he began to laugh.

Earlier, that morning…

“Erm…Brother Aloysius?”

Noel wasn’t sure what to expect when the bat turned to face him. What he saw was surprise, but there was something tugging at the corners of Aloysius’s mouth – up or down, he couldn’t quite tell – that suggested something deeper.

“All right?” said Noel, faintly.

“Yes. There is a difference in how you appear just now – that is all, that is all.”

“I meant after last night.” Noel edged his way further into the sanctity of the archives, bending his spine to fit stacks of books, pawing in short stubby steps to avoid seasons-old records papering the floor.

“I am well enough, well enough. The occasional adventure does an old body no harm. Apologies for the state of my archives – Saskia and I have just been in search of an old record of mine, of mine.”

As Aloysius inclined his head toward the book open before him, Noel took the opportunity to reach for the tome weighing down his own coat, the one he and Tam had coaxed from Locria’s submissive paws.

“What’s that?” Noel asked. Aloysius obliged to lift the cover and show him. “The Complete Records of Brother Timothy Churchmouse?”

The archivist’s mild expression betrayed a twinge of what Noel suspected was irritation. The volume was lying open at the end, but Aloysius’s claws returned it to the middle.

“An omnibus of mine – although ‘complete’ may be a relative term, relative term.”

“Think this would help?” Noel withdrew the book from his coat and laid it beside Timothy’s chronicles. Aloysius leapt up in his seat, the haze of sleep once clouding over him cleared in an instant as he grasped it like the paw of an old and well-missed friend.

“Noel – this is the Heraldry! Where did you get it, get it?”

“A couple of the lads back at the hideout were kind enough to lend it to me.” Noel only half-winked, interrupted by that expression renewing itself on Aloysius’s face. “What’s the matter?”

“Something has indeed changed about you.” A flicker of worry crept into Aloysius’s eyes. “You remember the story of Blaggut, don’t you, don’t you?”

“Aye, and I remember another about a beast named Romsca.”

Aloysius folded his claws before him.

“Romsca was a brave soul, but a lonely one. In the end she died at violent paws.”

“Okay, well.” When Aloysius looked up again it was to Noel’s grinning teeth. “I don’t plan to follow in her exact pawsteps.”

“How do you plan to proceed, proceed?”

“I want the killing to stop. I’m goin’ to stop the killer.”

“You don’t mean to attack the Abbot – again -”

Noel waved a paw.

“I can handle one otter in a green dress -” He winced, tilting his head at Aloysius’s habit as an apology, and added, “It’s the other beasts on his ticket I’ve got me eye on. Got to make him powerless. I don’t know about you, but one more death and I’ll…oh, for Martin’s sake.”

The sorrow that dimmed the bat’s face at that final remark said everything Noel needed to know. Aloysius reached for his paw.

“My friend, I have more sad news, sad news.”

* * *

Tamarack was waiting outside for him on the lawns, a triumphant grin threatening to burst at her muzzle. Noel hated to rob it from her, but he didn’t have to – it was gone as soon as he came slouching forth into the sunlight.

“Fates,” she whispered. “What is it? Did he tell -”

“No. It’s Bludd.” There were no tears this time. Perhaps they had all been spent on Ripple, or perhaps he had already known. “Aloysius found her in the woods this morning. She’d been dead a while.”

Tamarack gave a sound that Noel couldn’t identify as gasp or sigh, but she covered her mouth all the same. It grieved him that she might have to fake her own horror, but could more death actually shock them now?

“We should’ve believed her,” she whispered, claws reaching up to dig into her forehead. “Say what you like about Cobb, this really is my fault.”

“I’ll say what I like about whatever I like. It’s not and you know it.” Noel glared, seeking the fire in his heart until he struck upon the plan outlined to Aloysius not five minutes before. “Who were the beasts after her again? Tell me for certain.”

“Brother Isidore. Mr. Rigg was with him.”

Noel turned his glare inward. Despite Ripple, despite the impassable void now yawning between them, he failed to conceive an image of that rat capable of such a crime – even knowing the truth, he couldn’t make himself see. Why was that? What stood in his path?

“I’m gonna find ‘em, then.”

“I’m coming with you.”

Noel led their storming way toward the Abbot’s house. With Tam at his right paw he tried to smile, in vain only because of this nameless obstacle still obscuring his sight.

* * *

They never made it to Isidore. Rigg presented a more immediate opportunity near the entrance to Great Hall, holding conference there with a badger Noel loathed to recognize.

Maybe Rigg sensed this supposed change in Noel, too. He motioned Clacher to silence and nodded at their approach, a faint smile playing about his eyes.

“Noel,” he said.

“Rigg.”

“You seen Fowel this mornin’, I guess?”

“You seen Bludd?”

“Aye. Not too long ago.” Rigg’s smile vanished. “Aloysius brought her in from the little wood. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

“We were thinking Brother Isidore might,” said Tamarack.

Rigg crossed his arms and fixed the duo with that haughty slant-eyed suspicion Noel was so familiar with.

“I think Brother Isidore’s seen enough o’ you for a while,” said Rigg. “If you’ve got any sense o’ decency you’ll let well enough alone.”

“Suppose we did see somethin’,” said Noel. It came out sudden, harsh and unnatural. He wondered if this was what wheedling sounded like in his voice. “Maybe we could help.”

“What do you think you saw?” said Rigg. “I’m fair convinced you two must’ve dug yourselves a little cave somewhere for when you’re not busy attackin’ Father Abbot – where do you two get off to?”

Noel swore under his breath and spun toward the Great Hall doors. Tam hung behind him a moment with their still-unfinished business.

“C’mon,” he snapped. “I need a drink.”

The vixen skipped up beside him, bouncing with impatience and confusion.

“I thought we were going to the Abbot’s,” she whispered.

“Quick detour. The cellars,” said Noel. He was breathing fast. “Stay close to me, Tam.”

* * *

The beasts of Redwall Abbey bustled past on their hungry way to Cavern Hole, taking little notice of the grim-faced pair. By contrast with the ground floor halls growing warm with noonday sun, the cellar was cool, calm and empty. It was just the right time of day for heading back through the tunnel. But the plan in Noel’s head was different, and too terrible to convey.

“Tam.” It was the first thing Noel had said since his abrupt turn back inside the abbey, uttered once they were deep down an aisle of cellarhog ale kegs. “When he comes down the stairs I need you to go, run. Find Flint or Sebastian, whoever we know on our side who’s got a spare bit o’ muscle between his shoulders.”

“Noel, for Martin’s sake, what’s going on?”

“Clacher’s coming.”

“How do you -”

“I think he was the one who…did it to Bludd. When I fed ‘em that line just now, it wasn’t Rigg who looked like he wanted to wring me neck.” Noel almost grasped at his own collar. Cassius was wrong, in a way – he could feel the noose tightening, but as if it were snaking around his soul. “Tam, what should I do?”

Tamarack’s confusion had failed to lift. Her gaze was one of upturned eyebrows and worried eyes.

“If he killed her,” she said, “and if he’s one of these beasts we’re talking about who’s doing Carter’s dirty work…we have to get rid of him.”

“He has to die.”

Tamarack nodded, but it was slow – and worse, doubtful.

Heavy pawsteps rang out like belltolls dampened by rust, cutting short any further protest, obscured only briefly by the slamming of the cellar door and the sound of something dense being set to in front of it. Tam tightened her grip on Noel’s paw.

“I won’t let him hurt you, Tam,” he whispered. “I’ll distract him and you run.”

“Two dead weasels in a day – a fine day.” It wasn’t a voice they heard often, but it broke like distant thunder. “Only a shame they didn’t bring me the brother’s tail to match.”

“I won’t let him hurt you,” said Noel. Tears began streaming at once down either side of his face. “I won’t let him, I won’t let him -”

“Noel – oh, Fates -”

The thing blocking his sight, the mystery feeling that wouldn’t let him see Isidore as a killer, that for years stayed his fist from his brother’s face, that breathed in that open letter from the post still sitting in his coat pocket – it sparked and burned and took shape in the light. It stabbed him over and over again somewhere he couldn’t defend. Like he could sense love now, he had always been able to sense the truth: that somebeast who had been part of him was dead, and that in a few moments he would be, too.

“Tam, go. Go now!”

She burst forth from their hiding place, tearing across the darkened cellar like a rust-colored comet. Clacher swung his club, but too late, striking a shelf support in her wake. A full keg dropped a yard to the earth, contents running out like watery blood across the floor. Noel leapt forward, taking up one of the shattered staves in his paw.

Something like gunfire exploded into his side and burst in diamond sprays before his eyes. He felt himself flying, only for a moment, until a jutted-out keg tap connected with one of his kidneys. The pitch of his scream was too high to carry sound, but he heard the crunch as he landed and the heavy pawsteps coming for him, fast.

Noel hadn’t a chance, he knew. It was Virrel who’d been the brawler. If only he had a gun – he could nick a dry leaf in the breeze – but bullets exploded and mushroomed and killed. And if Virrel was dead, there was nobeast left whom he had ever desired to destroy. He was free.

The club came down just as he rolled out of the way, and it didn’t lift fast enough to evade the jagged stave Noel drove sideways into cords of muscle. Clacher made no sound as Noel kicked it deeper into his arm. He would have twisted it to ensure the badger would never lift a club again, but that club was coming for him in the other paw.

Blood was burbling from his gullet like strawberry fizz, but still he darted, still he climbed, finding purchase in the shelves against the wall. They were desperately near the rack hiding the secret doorway from view, and he could suddenly remember the way Aloysius’s delicate throat had felt in his claws. It must have been similar to how his ankle felt in Clacher’s, now that he had caught him up halfway up his ascent. Noel dug his claws into the back of the shelving, felt his knuckles bury themselves against the wall as from the other end Clacher tried to stretch his long weak body to nothing.

And then he could feel his mind start to spin as up became down and time became infinite and the whole rack came toppling down upon them both.

* * *

Tam was only gone a few moments. Sebastian himself was already on the other side, straining to force the door, witness to their silent pursuit but too late to intervene. When Tam had levered the mighty keg of October Ale free of the door, they paused only long enough to watch it fly down the steps, rolling to a long sad stop against the far wall.

It was there that they found a choking, bloodied weasel pacing in broken steps above a badger, stunned and half-crushed by a demolished rack of shelving, a halo of shattered jars smashed to pieces against his skull.

“What am I gonna do with you?” Noel shrieked. “What am I gonna do?”

Tam rushed toward him, just quick enough to catch him as he slumped into her arms.

Sebastian held back only a moment to assure himself that the beast stumbling into the cellar after them was Flint. When the hedgehog returned to the crisis before him, his rigid face swelled with an unexpected pity.

“You’ve made a right ruddy mess, haven’t you?” he mumbled. Sorting through the heap of tools and glass from the fallen shelves, he produced a bung hammer and shuffled toward the prone form of the badger on the floor.

“Stop.” Noel’s head emerged from Tam’s embrace, a paw wiping the blood from his muzzle. “Open the tunnel. We’ll clean up. You and Flint take him through, if you can manage him safe. Tell Locria to find a better place for him than where they stuck Aloysius.”

Sebastian shook his head, but question overrided argument.

“What are you goin’ to do – chuck every undesirable out into Redwall City like it’s your own personal dustbin? And what makes you think they won’t come back?”

“They never did,” said Noel, pausing to wheeze, “when Martin sent them away.”

The hedgehog opened his mouth only to shut it again. He repeated the process twice more before cursing aloud and gesturing for Flint to help him move the rack and expose the tunnel. Tamarack helped Noel move a few yards away, the pair of them feeling his bones crack as if they belonged to one another.

“Mr. Noel,” she murmured. “Are you sure that part of the stories was true? They never said if the…vermin ever came back or not.”

He could have pontificated about Martin like he did to Isidore in happier days, or to Virrel when he would listen, but he wasn’t sure how to tell her that Clacher’s life would continue because Noel was a slave to something else besides truth.

In an instant, Tamarack recognized the letter Noel took forth from his pocket.

“Is that from your home?” she asked.

He just handed it to her. This is what it said:

Noel,

You and I are through, if you think I am going to wait one more day for you to get the idiot out of jail you are gravly mistaken, where have you been? Dad says Redwall is closed but if thats your excuse for not saying nothing to me in 3 months then you can just get stuffed all rite!!

P.S. I hate your stupid flowers, they have all dried out and Mum is on me to get rid of them

L
xoxo

At Tamarack’s questioning look, Noel lowered his eyes to the ground.

“That’s Lucy,” he mumbled.

“She don’t sound real fond of you at the minute.” Tam offered the letter back to him, her voice painfully distant. Noel waved the paper away.

“She’s not here right now. You are, though, Tam, and – I need you.” He buried his face back in her arms and made no sound.

Balance

August 19, 2011

“Qui plume a, guerre a.”

-1-

Brother Aloysius,
Once I found a story of Redwall long past, a lonely battle long forgotten, born of desperate greed and slain in fire. Its historical provenance is far from certain, but I think you would do well to read it, Brother. Maybe I shall have you printed a copy after this all has ended. If, indeed, either of us survives.

Its chronicler wrote: “Never have I ended a tale with more misgiving.”

This shan’t be the end of our tale, you and I, but I find myself approaching the end of this book’s pages, and those words are fitting enough as I wet the last of this paper with ink and tears. I write with misgiving. I will convey you this letter and this book only with misgiving, you who should know my guilt far better than any of your Brothers. I did nothing.

What ought we to have done? What will become of us?

The records of my business herein, I entrust to you for safekeeping. If you wish to keep all your friends innocent in your thoughts, I entreat you not read them. For that reason alone, they are of inestimable practical value. The records of my days, idle thoughts… those you may find somewhat less distressing.

Yours,
MS

-2-

Saskia considered the best method of searching; Timothy’s records did not appear in their newly-written ledgers. Therefore, if it were someplace that she or Aloysius had access to it, it would be among the manuscripts they hadn’t yet archived. Unfortunately, they had spent only a few days together working through the largely-chaotic Abbey library, and the rest was–as far as she could tell from Aloysius’ apologetic descriptions–irretrievably muddled.

“Account of the Winter of Deepest Snow.” Saskia tossed the book aside; Aloysius shot her a stern look and she muttered an apology, stacking it in a corner. “The Spring of the Thrice-Bedamned Tulips,” she grumbled, and added another book to the stack.

For his part, Aloysius was not examining any books, contenting himself with swooping about, piling manuscripts in neat towers, and casting long glances over shelves. Apparently he expected to remember what the records in question looked like, perhaps, or hoped for it to leap forth into waiting wings.

“Is it here?” Aloysius asked nobeast in particular. His voice was raspy, as though the night of drinking still lingered in his throat.

“Summer of the Bally Frogs,” Saskia sighed. “I’ve no idea, Aloysius, you would know better than I.”

“True. There must be a copy somewhere, somewhere.”

Saskia watched Aloysius as he worked; by appearance alone he was much unlike any otherbeast there, wings like living paper stretched around a brittle frame. Despite this fragility, Aloysius held the same enduring quality as his archives–his thoughts and words were proof against any influence.

There was a sudden rapping at the door; three stately knocks resounded in the little room.

“Come in, come in! Ah, Brother Isidore, what brings you here, here?”

The rat pursed his lips. He wandered over to an end-table and ran a scabbed paw over the one sliver of its surface that wasn’t covered in age-crinkled paper.

-3-

Isidore walked with a bit of a hunch, paws clasped behind him.

“Fine day for a walk, Brother, but there is much to be done back at the archives. Per’aps if you’ve anything to say, it would be best done quickly?”

Isidore barked what could have been a sour laugh and stopped; they stood now in front of the beehives. “Then let it be done quickly. I hadn’t thought it possible you were the one who corrupted Miss Selendra.”

Saskia rolled her eyes. “Oh, not this nonsense again, surely. There are better uses of my time.” She turned to leave, but shortly found an iron-strong grip around her wrist; iron-strong and faintly sticky. Isidore’s paw was burned, scabbed. “Let go.”

“You will listen, lass.”

Run. Run. Harm him as best you can, and run…

“Wot is it I’m accused of then, in the specifics?”

“You brought dear Selendra over to Case, to the blight that blackens this Abbey.”

“Brought ‘dear Selendra’ over, did I? ‘Ave you ever spoken with ‘er, then? Spoken with ‘er to listen to ‘er, I mean. Nobeast could convince ‘er of anything–”

His grip tightened around her wrist.

“And it seems the only point on which we’re in agreement is that there’s something dreadfully wrong ‘ere.”

“A traitor’s lies,” Isidore snorted.

“Not a traitor, surely, if this isn’t my ‘ome? In every account I’ve read of it, every gardening manual I’ve set into type, there is one point on which everybeast seems to be in agreement. Blight comes from the inside, outward. If you get my meaning, sah.”

“Lies, all the same, lass.”

“‘Ow’d you burn your paw?”

“Not important.” He tightened his grip again. Saskia fancied she could hear the small bones in her wrist grind together, but wouldn’t cry out. “You and that ferret, you never should have been brought into this place.”

Saskia tried not to flinch. Merritt next… have to try to help him.

“Oh, Merritt ‘asn’t ‘ad anything to do with much of anything, really.”

“I know what sort of filth he sells,” Isidore growled.

“Besides that, I mean.”

“So you are one of Case’s minions, then. If you claim the ferret isn’t guilty.”

I’m trapped.

“No, but you won’t believe it.”

Isidore dragged her roughly toward a hive. Buzzing filled her ears, a maddening hum. She swallowed. Isidore’s tools lay next to the hive, a box full of steel, blunt and sharp alike. He hefted a trowel.

“No, I won’t believe it. Not when I heard from Brother Tompkins.”

Oh, no. No, no, no…

Saskia’s heart thundered in her chest.

I’m sorry Aloysius, I’m sorry Merritt, I want nothing but for you to live–

She took a deep breath.

“You’re going to kill me, then.” It wasn’t a question.

Can I reach my dagger? No.

Isidore didn’t answer it. He frowned. A flicker of what could have been regret was stillborn in his expression. The bees buzzed on, oblivious.

Even if I escape for now, he–they–can find me…

“Then I’ll tell you something true, something I believe with all my soul.” She sighed. “If the rebels ‘eld in their ‘earts the evil you accuse them of, your Abbot would already be dead.”

Isidore shook his head. Saskia stared into his eyes.

Don’t cry.

“You know they could ‘ave done it, by now.”

Saskia closed her eyes. The bees–abruptly–were silent.

-4-

Later…

Night had fallen; the stars aligned in familiar constellations, blissful in their ignorance of happenings on the terrestrial sphere. Aloysius couldn’t decide whether he ought to take comfort in their steadiness or vent bitter fury, that the stars did not know what he’d lost, the news he’d been given. The Abbey lawn was quiet. Somebeast padded through the dark.

Aloysius stood, wings wrapped protectively around himself. He felt as though he’d been thrown down stairs, disoriented and tender.

“I told her she’d come to no good… end,” Merritt said, his voice at first like the crunch of an icicle against a stone path, but rising uncontrollably at the end to a chirp of strangled birdsong. He sat down hard on the grass, paws over his eyes. “Perhaps she had the right of it after all. Perhaps I’ve been foolish.”

Aloysius stood, mouth open. “It seems she may be right, be right.”

“Have been.”

“Y-yes. Have been,” Aloysius whispered.

Merritt stood and uncovered his eyes. His mask was unmarked by tears, but he seemed to Aloysius to be looking past him or through him.

“I have a gift for you, or I shall soon enough. A book.” He paused. “If you would take me as an ally, or at least the lesser of two evils. I care not for this paltry, filthy little war. But I shan’t see a friend go unavenged. Whatever you think of me, I’ve never brought pain or death into this Abbey.” Merritt’s voice grew sharper. “I know you cared for her. Help me.”

Aloysius swallowed, and bowed his head.

“I–“

Like a Black Stone Falling

August 19, 2011

Isidore walked. Dawn clarified the world; he winced at the brightness of leaves, grass, the earth beneath his paws.

He lacked his burden. When he tried to speak to the Coffincreepers, he would have said I didn’t. We didn’t. I couldn’t, but the untruth plugged his throat, and so they took the body. In the forest, he managed. Brother Aloysius found…

Enough, said the old tod. Enough death, enough children. Isidore wished he had coins to put on her eyes.

He stumbled into the orchard. A root caught him and he tripped, landing hard on his burnt paw. A pair of arms wrapped around him; this is my death, he thought, but the arms were warm and small and childish. Foweller helped him to his feet. The otter studied Isidore’s burn, frowning with all the gravity of a senior physician. “You’ll be all right,” he declared. “Take whiskey. Three times a day.”

“They’ll throw me in the Abbey jail.”

“I might’ve said willow-bark tea.”

“Boy,” Isidore said. “Tell me everything you saw.”

He had the whole tale: Camp Willow, the Mask, blood-spattered cobblestone in Redwall City. He chanced to put his paw on Foweller’s shoulder, and he spoke gruffly. “You’re all right?” Foweller withdrew, contemplating this, then leaned into Isidore. “I don’t know,” he said, “but he’s gone. I did it.”

“You did,” said Isidore, thinking of the matted, stinking thing he carried, and whether Foweller could smell it. The young otter felt so certain, so real– Carter could not hurt him too. There must always live someone like Foweller. The whole of Hell could batter at the Abbey gate, at Isidore, but he would lock and bar his soul against it. He would keep this.

The brooch in his pocket pricked his thigh. “Can you tell me something? In confidence.”

Foweller tensed. He knew. “What?”

“I won’t tell. Not even to the Abbot. I swear it.”

“You’re lying.”

“He wants to hurt you. Or he will.” Isidore clutched at Foweller. “You saw him kill Brother Andrew. He knows. I won’t let him touch you–” he pulled the child close “– please.”

“Let me go,” Foweller squeaked. “I didn’t. I don’t know–”

“The vixen. She told me. What happened?”

The otter slouched away, drawing like a snail into its shell. “Andrew said some things about a pin, and a pistol, and his monsters. Bludd ‘n me hid, and then Andrew was dead…” He dug in his pocket. “I brought you something. I would’ve shown you, I was gonna.”

The silver pin seemed older than Isidore’s brooch: worn knotwork vines climbed the Abbey’s walls, cradling the ruby like a flower. At a twitch of Isidore’s paw, Foweller pulled it away, but the rat brought out his own.

“Bury it,” said Isidore. “Throw it in the cess. You shouldn’t know what this is, should never have seen it.”

“Isidore, tell me.”

“We have an understanding now.” Isidore dropped to his knees. “Let me keep you safe.” Foweller looked at his feet, and for an instant Isidore thought he would ask for an apple, some whiskey, some childish treat, but instead he took the bone-handled knife from his sash.

“Take it back.” He buried the blade in the ground. “Nothing happened. I want to rest.”

Carter paced before his fireplace. Isidore didn’t like his silence: he had confessed to his dealing with Foweller, but the Abbot gave him no response. Instead he listened to the tread of Carter’s paws, a patter light as moths’ wings. But it stopped– Carter stood before him, trembling. “Why do you test me? Why now? When I have given you so much?”

What have you given?, he wanted to ask, but then the Abbot knelt before him and took his burnt paw and said, “We are friends. We have that, don’t we?”

“Yes, Father.”

“I didn’t give you leave to speak.”

Abashed, Isidore let him examine the burn. “You’re healing well,” said Carter. “I wonder if you’ll remember what happened. What will I do then? What will I give, to keep you here? And what can I take?”

He squeezed Isidore’s paw, smiled at the pain he caused, and continued. “It hurts me too, remember. When I tell you to do something, you do it. I don’t care if you want it or not.” And then Carter drew his claw over the burn, first light and then deep and fast, carving a ragged path in the flesh. Isidore let him. If he allowed this, what else?

Anything, anything. Penance, the satisfaction of their oaths.

“Take the kit,” said Carter. “And keep him safe. But you must give me someone else.”

In his years alone he learned to read the script of Mossflower. He’d traded for an old book, the Legend of Great Beasts; he thought it was a history, but it was a kind of compendium. It said this: Of all creatures, bees alone were created for the sake of others. They are loved for their virtue, for in all things they are diligent. They collect honey from the air and purify it, build their basilicas of wax, and keep and tend their brothers under the guidance of a king. They have one kind and dwell together until their deaths. One working and flight and flower is common to them all.

Later, Isidore learned this was wrong.

Bees kept a fat queen, and they had never issued from dead flesh or strained honey from a summer breeze. But they flew with their queen in swarming. When her wings failed, the company carried her. Those that did not, those that would not work or fight for common cause, doomed themselves to die by their fellow soldiers’ stings.

Carter had the Legend in his library. Isidore stroked the thick linen pages, watching Tompkins watching him over the top of his lorgnette. He uncovered knowledge like finding sweet apples in worm-picked windfall. They live in fixed places, are diligent in producing honey, build their houses with great skill, gather honey from various flowers, weave wax to fill their homes with many offspring, have kings and armies with which they wage war, flee from smoke, and are irritated by noise…

The door creaked open and Carter entered. “Brothers!”

“Father,” said Tompkins, and he nodded. Isidore did not answer. He resumed reading. And bees choose to their king him that is most worthy and noble in highness and fairness, and most clear in mildness, for that is chief virtue in a king…

“Brother Isidore, will you get the tea?”

He stirred from his rest. “Yes, Father.”

He went to the kitchen. Carter had left out a canister of tea redolent with lavender. Isidore ran his claws through the leaf, inhaled the sweet, earthy scent. The kettle was so hot it still squealed when he took it off the fire; in the pot, flower and field mingled with cast iron. It hurt his paw to carry it, even with a rag wrapped around the handle.

“I will make this one thing clear,” he heard Tompkins say. “It’s unconscionable. I resign.”

“The kit could not be helped, Brother.”

“And every other beast?”

“Oh, tea, at last.” Carter beamed at Isidore.

The Abbot had brought out a service of cups glazed with humble nut-brown. Isidore poured for him first. Carter savored the brew, cradling his cup like it held the finest mead.

“No poison,” Tompkins said. “Aren’t I blessed.”

“No, no poison,” Carter said. Isidore felt blood beading on his paw again. Carter’s claw tapped against the side of his cup, once, twice, grazed porcelain with the faintest clink, like a distant bell. Isidore unstoppered the kettle, and a gout of steam burst forth.

He threw the tea on Tompkins.

The squirrel toppled from his chair, writhing and squealing, and Isidore could see him flush crimson under his fur. Tompkins scrabbled at the floor. Isidore straddled him and pulled a knife from his sash: his brother’s knife, Foweller’s gift. The blood had gone from Tompkins– his skin was yellow-white as the knife’s bone handle.

The squirrel’s flesh peeled under Isidore’s touch like a mushroom gone soft. Tompkins groaned, and a horrible chortling word escaped him: “No-ooo.”

“You made mockery of us,” Isidore said.

“I just wanted– I just wanted– Ruslen,” Tompkins whimpered, “and Chamomile.” He fixed his gaze on the Abbot, but his eyes were blind, soft marbles. “He made me hold the knife, with Thistledown. That’s what he does. Please don’t kill me, please.”

“Where is Julian Case?” Isidore asked. “Who are his agents?”

“I don’t know. Don’t let me die. Hyssop and lavender. Please.”

“Quiet, Brother. Names.”

“The printer. Saskia.”

Isidore considered this, and then he slit the squirrel’s throat.

“I had to. I had to keep them in, like so many ants in an anthill. You don’t leave if there’s wolves in the wood.” Carter slumped into him. The otter was sweating, and his eyes rolled so a sliver of white showed at the edges. “Yes. Yes. Keep them where Case couldn’t– you did it,” he said. “You did it. My friend. My champion.”