Into the Adder's Den

August 4, 2011

Aloysius woke in much the same way he had fallen asleep: groggy, and fighting it the whole while. He coughed, then hissed as his throat flared up in pain. He struggled to sit up.

“ ‘Ere,” Saskia said, and a warm paw gently pushed him back down. “Lie back. ‘Ow’re you feelin’?”

“Not well, not well,” he murmured, his voice gravely and sore. “I am assuming last night was no mere dream.”

“I’m afraid not.”

A wing brushed over his nose. “He doesn’t have fever, thank the moon, the moon,” Saifye said. “Come, Eilonwy, let’s brew some tea.”

Eilonwy hesitated. “What happened to Uncle Alo, Uncle Alo?”

“Uncle Alo is being punished for not taking his brother drinking, my dear, my dear,” Fyfe said. Aloysius could hear the smile in his voice. “Go on, follow your mother.”

“Fyfe, please,” Aloysius croaked. He needed to clear his throat, but he dared not for fear of the pain it would cause. “Now is certainly not the time to jest, jest.”

“Is that so? For once you take your brother’s advice, and yet fail to extend the invitation. At what point did it come to pass that family came last?”

“There have been … many disturbances in the abbey as of late. You can’t fault me for trying to hold things together as well as I can.”

“By playing spy for an abbot who doesn’t care one lick about the beasts under his care?”

“Carter is a good beast, Fyfe…” he tried to say, but it was betrayed by a harsh cough. Aloysius shut his eyes at the wave of nausea that overcame him. His head was splitting apart.

“And if you say it enough, perhaps it will come true, come true.”

“We have had this conversation before,” Aloysius said, a bit harsher than he intended. He attributed that to his throat. “Beasts are dying, dying. I am doing all I can to keep them alive.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that you may be putting them in harm’s way by following his wishes?”

“Enough, Fyfe!” Aloysius snapped. “I cannot abide you speaking ill of this abbey.”

“You’ll have to forgive my brother, my brother,” Fyfe said to Saskia. “He is an idiot.” And with that, he fluttered away.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Aloyisus said, feeling the blush on his muzzle and hoping it was too dark to see.

“He has a point, you know.” He didn’t have to see Saskia’s face to hear the sincerity in her words.

“And what is that?”

“You said to me once that Carter has our interests at ‘eart. You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“If I said I did, I did?”

“Then I wouldn’t believe you.”

Aloyius sighed, focusing hard to quell the migraine threatening to overcome him. He would not complain. He brought those demons on himself; now he had to face them. But he would not confirm his deepest fears. Instead, he spoke of lighter topics. “It’s plain to me that I’m not in the cellar as I should be, or beneath the earth, either. What happened?”

“Noel tried to kill you. He might have succeeded, too, but you ‘ad left me a note telling me your whereabouts.”

The bat nodded. He had such hopes for the weasel. Pushing those thoughts aside, he smiled. “I was afraid you wouldn’t see it. Did you find my candied beetles, candied beetles?”

“I don’t quite have a penchant for candied beetles, I’m afraid.”

“Ah, more for me then.”

There was a lull in the conversation, before Aloysius extended a wing to grasp the hare’s paw. “Thank you.”

“It was nothing, really.”

“But it was something, something.”

It was at that point the telltale squeak of the attic stairs betrayed the incoming beasts. Fyfe, Saifye, and Eilonwy all fluttered back to Aloyius’s side. “Your tea will be here shortly,” Saifye said.

The five of them sat silent as a beast carrying a tray made their way over to the bed. “It’d be a lot easier if you bats kept regular hours,” Sister Agnes’s familiar voice spoke.

“Thank you, Sister Agnes,” Aloysius said. “You didn’t have to.”

“Oh, but I did, thanks to your niece, here.”

“It is rather hard for a bat to carry a teapot and cups up a flight of stairs, stairs,” Saifye said.

“Yes.” Sister Agnes did not bother to shade the annoyance in her voice. She poured the tea. “Well, if you won’t be needing me, I’ll be back to bed.”

“Lemongrass and honey, honey,” Saifye said as Saskia offered Aloysius the mug. He had quite a time with it—bats were not well accustomed to maneuver when wrapped in bedsheets.

He blew on the mug, the scent enveloping his sense. He sipped at the tea, the citric heat welcome as it soothed the archivist’s throat. “I’ll have to send my compliments to Brother Isidore. A shame what happened to his beehives. He treats his insects as though they were his children, children.”

There was a pause, and then, “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like a word with Saskia.”

Saifye nodded. “Come, Eilonwy, Eilonwy. I bet I can catch more moths than you.”

“But I want to stay with Uncle Alo,” the young bat whined.

“You will,” Aloysius said, sipping his tea. “I’ll have you know I’m the champion moth catcher in all of Mossflower, Mossflower.”

“You better get practicing then,” Saifye said as she ushered her outside.

With a giggle, Eilonwy shot out the window, Saifye in close pursuit.

Fyfe watched his family go. “If it’s no bother, brother,” he said, turning to Aloysius. “It seems as though you almost died tonight, tonight. I’d like to know what my brother has gotten himself into.”

Aloysius shook his head and winced. “It’s an matter for the abbey. The abbey shouldn’t concern you.”

“It’s a family matter, matter. It does concern me.”

The elder bat sighed. “Fair enough, fair enough.” He paused. “Fyfe, you mentioned before there was a resistance forming outside Redwall.”

“I did, I did.”

It annoyed him, how callously he spoke those words. “What do you know of it?”

“Only the rumours that carry on the winds. Not a resistance against Redwall, but Carter.”

“Saskia?” he asked the hare.

“I know about as much as you, ‘m afraid.”

“Does Merritt know more, know more?”

“Mm, can’t say. ‘E doesn’t share many secrets with me.” There was a shortness to her words; he wondered what she was hiding.

“Why do you ask, brother?”

“I believe I’ve discovered their entrypoint into the abbey.”

“How so, how so?”

“I came upon a hole in the cellar wall, hidden behind a wine rack. Noel was there, and young Tamarack, too. I don’t believe they were stopping me from seeking the Founder.” He said that to Saskia.

Silence reigned in the attic. Aloysius chirped. Fyfe was smiling; Saskia’s lip was held in her teeth.

“Then it’s true, it’s true.”

“Wot are you goin’ t’do?”

Aloysius sipped at his tea. It was cooling too quickly. “I suppose the right thing would be to inform Abbot Carter, Carter.”

“An’ will you?”

Aloysius didn’t answer her question. Instead, he asked one of his own. “Tell me Fyfe, have the winds betrayed who’s behind this resistance?”

“A beast named Case, Case.”

“Brother Julian, Brother Julian.” He took a sip, then nodded. “I’d like to see him.”

***

“Wot do you intend, Aloysius?” Saskia demanded as they stood in front of the wine rack. She held the lantern in her paw with malice.

“I intend to speak to an old friend.” He glanced at her. “Friend.”

She drew a quick breath, but before she could protest, Aloysius pulled at the wine rack, curling his ears at the mechanical squeal that ushered forth. The tea had done well to quell the pain in his throat and head, but the grating noise brought it back full force.

“Blow out that light. I will guide us, guide us through.”

Standing full in the tunnel’s entrance, Aloysius squeaked. Darkness answered him, the walls a silver sheen. “Come, come,” he said, after Saskia had closed the gate. He extended a wing, seeking her paw, then led the way.

They were quiet as they traversed the tunnel. No sounds reached his ears—his echoes disappeared into nothingness. As far as the bat was concerned, it was only he and Saskia.

He winced as he stretched his left wing towards the wall of the tunnel, still sore from his encounter with Noel. He could only stretch it so far, but it was far enough. He caressed the silver dirt as he walked, cool and moist to the touch. Memories of the tunnels he used to explore with Fyfe deep in Bat Mountpit flooded his senses, and a wistful feeling of home struck him harder than fire whiskey ever could.

“I read once a group of abbeybeasts discovered in the cellars a door, a door that led to a deep expanse of tunnels,” Aloysius murmured. To himself or Saskia, he was not sure. “There was a mole with them, Foremole Gullub I believe his name was, who discerned they came to pass by an underground stream. If my conjectures are correct, they may have been the tunnels used to sink Kotir before Redwall’s founding. Alas, I have searched for them without success. It seems, it seems, if the records are true, they collapsed long ago. But listen to me prattle on. In any case, these beasts, when exploring those tunnels, encountered a fork in the path. Down one route granted them the Eye of Evil. The other led to certain death.

“Saskia, should we encounter a similar fork in our trail, we’ll have to choose wisely. Down one path will our eyes surely open; the other will close them forever.”

The hare pulled at his wing, halting him in his tracks. He turned to face her. “Aloysius,” she said, her voice soft. “You’re speakin’ as though you’re walkin’ to your death.”

“I might be, might be. There’s a murderer waiting for us at the end of this path. This path that leads … where, I’m not sure. You never should have come, Saskia. I’m sorry I brought you here.”

“I brought myself, remember?”

“And I was a fool, a fool to let you.”

Let me?”

Aloysius extended his other wing, trapping her. He didn’t need sound to see the hare. In the dark, damp, and cool cave, her warmth was enough to place her.

“Promise me,” he said. “Promise me, that you won’t do a fool thing and put yourself in harm’s way. As far as you or I am concerned, you’re nothing more than my guide.”

“You can still turn back, y’know. Take your family and fly away from here. You have a means of travel nobeast can follow.”

“I can’t do that, do that. I need questions answered.”

“An’ when you get your answers, wot will you do? Go to Carter?”

“If it comes to pass, yes. Yes.”

There was a disturbance in the air. She was shaking her head. “Don’t go to Carter. He’ll kill them. Tam, Noel, Selendra. He’ll kill them all. Your foe is Case, and Case alone.”

“Turn around, Saskia. This isn’t your battle, your battle to fight.”

“Neither is it yours!” Her voice was low, but harsh.

“You still have a press to own, my friend, my friend. Don’t waste your life for an old historian condemned to live his life in the past.”

She moved towards him, he stiffened his wings. What he did not expect were the arms that wrapped around his neck, holding him tight. Their muzzles brushed, and the warmth that overcame him was not from her body heat alone. “I’ll not leave you, Alo.”

He hesitated, then returned the hug, wrapping his wings around her in a comforting embrace. A shudder passed between them. “For you, for you, I’ll not go to Carter. Should I survive, I’ll decide what to do.”

He released her, and gripping her paw, led the rest of the way. It was a good while before the bat’s echoes returned something of substance: a silver dot that grew in size but not shape. He slowed to a halt when it dissolved into form.

“We’re nearing the end, the end of the tunnel,” he whispered.

“Is there anybeast there?”

Aloysius chirped. “No, but stay quiet. I must listen.”

He heard nothing as they traversed the last hundred paces with tentative pawsteps, until at last they reached the door. Aloysius put his ear to the wood, but still heard nothing.

“Wot is it?”

“I don’t know, don’t know.” What to do. Open the door and barge right in? If the wrong beast was behind that door, then their lives were forfeit, and the whole point wasted. Aloysius chirped, and found his answer. “Follow me.”

He pulled her to the side. There was another passageway, one that might lead them to a safer entrance. He stepped over clods of dirt, Saskia stumbling behind him. This passage was smaller, with the scent of fresh dirt in his nose. He was no mole, but it was plain to him that this had been made mere days ago. A small light shone on the wall.

Crouching down, Aloysius peered through the peephole, scanning the room that presented itself before him. Noel sat at a table reading, while young Tamarack paced beside him. In front, a hare laid curled in a fetal position, her breathing labored. He moved aside so Saskia could see.

There was sound of a door opening and closing, and a rush of air greeted them. Aloysius could smell cooking.

“What happened to her?” A familiar voice called. It belonged to a mousemaid.

“She pointed that gun where it shouldn’t have been pointed,” Noel answered, his voice cool as the dirt that surrounded them.

“It’s Selendra!” Saskia breathed. “It’s safe. She won’t hurt us.”

“Saskia, wait! Fool hare!” Aloysius cursed, but she had already departed. Stumbling through the tunnel, Aloysius followed her right into the adder’s den.

“Selendra!” Saskia said, capturing her friend in a tight hug.

“Saskia?” Shock accosted the mouse before she could think to return the embrace.

Then came the barrage of names.

Noel was first. “Saskia?”

Tamarack was quick to follow. “Saskia!”

“Tam! Noel!” Saskia called to them.

Aloysius?” Tamarack said, catching sight of the bat.

Aloysius nodded. “Miss Tamarack, Master Noel.”

“Brother Aloysius.” Noel’s voice was meek, but heartfelt.

“Aloysius?” Selendra asked, looking over the hare’s shoulder.

“Miss Selendra,” Aloysius greeted.

“Carter?” Tamarack asked, hesitation in her voice.

“I’m afraid our father abbot won’t be visiting,” Aloysius answered, stepping fully into the room, then closed the door behind him.

“So he…”

“No,” Saskia said. “Carter doesn’t know.”

Tamarack smiled, but that did not make Aloysius feel any better. There was still the matter of Julian, and at least one beast in this room had made an attempt on his life. He worried that number would climb, and quickly at that.

“Brother Aloysius,” Noel started, rising from the desk. “I’m … I’m sorry.”

“Are you now?” He cleared his throat, though it may not have been necessary. “I am glad, glad you no longer feel threatened by my presence.” Noel blushed.

“He didn’t mean it, honest,” Tamarack said, then dropped her voice to a meeker level. “We were afraid you would tattle.”

“And I very well might have, if Saskia did not convince me otherwise. But that is a matter for another time. Time is short. It is nearing dawn, and I have not yet checked the gatehouse records. Abbot Carter likes his reports to be punctual. I was hoping to speak with Julian, if he is available, available to talk.”

“Case is…”

The cellar door opened, and an old acquaintance of Aloysius came bounding down the stairs—an old acquaintance he had hoped not to see. “All right, boss,” Cassius sneered the word. “You got your wish, but Case wants t’ hear it ‘imself.” The marten hesitated halfway to the floor. “In ‘ellgates is goin’ on!”

“Relax,” Noel said. “They’re not here to cause trouble.”

“A hare and a bat.” Cassius ambled the rest of the way, drawing a pistol. Aloysius’s heart skipped a beat. “ ‘Ow many other beasts did you tell?”

“Relax,” Noel said again, this time firmer.

“I’m not relaxin’. I know this beast, ‘ere.” He pointed the gun at Aloysius. “One o’ Carter’s ilk,” he spat.

“ ‘E’s not,” Saskia interrupted.

“An’ who are you? Not a little bunny who’s lost her way.”

“Cassius,” Aloysius said, trying hard to keep his voice from trembling. “I’d like to speak with Julian, if I may.”

“Oh, you may, you may indeed.” He cast a wicked grin, baring his teeth threateningly. “ ‘E’ll be down in a few.”

They waited in tense silence, until at long last the old hedgehog made his appearance. “Brother Aloysius,” he said, his look of surprised quickly traded for a warm smile. Aloysius did not return it. “It’s been a long time.”

“It has, it has been a long time. Julian, might I have a word alone?”

“Alone? No, you may not. But you may have a word.”

He opened a side door, motioning for Aloysius to enter. The bat threw one last glance towards each beast in the room, his eyes lingering on Saskia. Cassius followed him as Julian retrieved a lantern, then shut the door behind them.

It was an old storage cellar, but the room had been stripped bare. No boxes, barrels, or wine racks, just cold hard stone that made up the walls and floor. Overhead, the wooden ceiling creaked.

“Come, sit,” Julian said, motioning with the lantern. “It’s not much, but I hope it will do for you.”

“I was never much for furniture, furniture that was not my desk,” Aloysius said. He waited until Julian and Cassius plopped themselves down on the floor, then sat in front of them. The marten laid the pistol between them, and Julian placed his lantern beside it.

“Can’t say I ever expected to see you here, old friend. What brings you? Noel and Tam, no doubt.”

“I encountered them in the cellars, moving an old forgotten wine rack.”

“So you caught them. Who else knows?”

“Saskia,” he hesitated. “And Fyfe, Fyfe.”

“Ah, Fyfe! He was a good lad. How’s his snout?”

“The same. Never quite healed properly, I’m afraid.”

“Shame.”

Cassius fidgeted.

“Settle down, old friend,” Julian said, breaking the gaze on Aloysius to turn to the marten. “It’s been a long time since we last spoke.”

“A long time indeed,” Aloysius agreed. “I see you still find yourself in the company of vermin, vermin.”

“Aloysius, you always had a unique outlook on what made a vermin. One that didn’t hold to species standards.”

“I suppose, I suppose so…”

“Then I could say the same thing to you.”

Cassius laughed, a sound that made Aloysius curl his ears.

“You believe our Father Abbot a vermin?” Aloysius said.

“Your father abbot, friend, not mine. Remind me, the Woodlander’s Code.”

Aloysius didn’t miss a beat. “ ‘All honest and true woodlanders are pledged to help each other and never to harm a living creature, living creature.’ ”

“And those that don’t?”

“Are vermin.”

“Then surely, by your logic, Carter is a vermin.”

Aloysius shook his head. “He is only doing what is best for the abbey, the abbey.”

“Then you truly are as blind as a bat. Do you believe I murdered my own family?”

He paused, his eyes flickering to Cassius. “No,” he said at last. “No.” Firmer.

A low growl rumbled in the marten’s throat.

“Neither was Cassius responsible,” Julian answered.

“And I’m to believe that Carter was?”

“Think about it. Who else was standing in his way to becoming the next Father Abbot?”

Aloysius took a deep breath. His wings were trembling. “There’s no proof.” He shook his head. “No proof.”

“Only our words. But we were Brothers once.” Julian’s eyes were sincere. What was he to believe? “Tell me, why did you come down here?”

“My brother once told me that instead of storing history, I should write it instead. The last time I tried that, many beasts were hurt. But now, I can’t stand idly by, idly by with a new threat facing the abbey. Just because it is not in the form of a vermin horde does not make it any less real.”

Julian nodded. “I am glad you came.”

“What do you know of the Society of Martin?” Cassius demanded. It was the first time he had spoken.

Aloysius hesitated, taken aback by the marten and his harsh tone of voice. “Not much, not much, I’m afraid,” he mused. “There were brief mentions of it in Brother Timothy’s A Mossflower Heraldry, but beyond that, there is very little else.”

“We believe there’s a secret code hidden deep in the Heraldry,” Julian said. “Foremole was kind enough to lend us the book, after you were kind enough to lend to him. Unfortunately, we can’t make head nor tail of it. Timothy mentions a key in his Author’s Note, locked away in one of his two hundred and twenty-two Abbey Records. We need those records, Aloysius, if we want to expose the evils of Martin’s Society, and depose Carter as Father Abbot.”

Aloysius couldn’t believe his ears. “You are asking me to betray the abbey?”

“I am asking you to betray Carter.”

“To betray the Father is to betray the abbey,” he said with a frown. “Julian, don’t ask me to do this.”

“Then we’ll tell you instead,” Cassius said with a sneer, retrieving the pistol. “You know too much now, anyway. We can’t let you go if we thought you might snitch t’ Carter. I wonder, if you hold that creed as close to your ‘eart as you say you do … would it make you a vermin if not cooperatin’ brought harm t’ one of your friends? Noel, or Tam, maybe? You looked at that hare as though you might never see her again. Maybe you won’t.”

Aloysius’s eyes grew wide. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would.”

“We won’t harm the lass,” Julian said. “Not tonight. Think on it, old friend.” The hedgehog stood, lantern in paw. Cassius rose with him. “You have a lot to consider. Thankfully, there aren’t many distractions in here.”

They left Aloysius alone as he buried his head in his wings. Then the door closed, enveloping him in darkness.

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