Nor Shall My Sword Sleep

August 7, 2011

Foweller had found the burnt planks of wood around the back of Isidore’s shed. At first they had meant nothing. Then the drone of bees and crackle of flames reminded him. Finding a strip of charred wood, he had tried marking his own name in black on a slat that had escaped the fire. F…A…O…W…L…A…R, the chunk of wood pronounced. The F was the boldest letter, the otter’s writing growing progressively smaller and more crooked.

B…L…U…D. Where was she? Actually finding the kitten was near impossible, but she always popped up whenever there was fun to be had. Maybe Foweller had driven her away, playing his games with Isidore instead.

“Brother Isidore?” Foweller dropped the slat as Isidore passed him at the door. The rat gave him a tired nod of greeting. “I have the proof. About Merritt.”

Isidore emerged back into the light of the evening, maw closed over his pipe. He puffed for a few tense moments, Foweller shifting his weight. He withdrew the offending pamphlet from his sash and held it out.

“Ah. Yes, I’ll deal with that,” Isidore muttered, stowing the paper away. Duty done, Foweller washed his paws of soot in Isidore’s washing basin. He wondered what Isidore would do. Beautiful images of a blazing cart sprang to mind.

“Did any beast ever… take their own way out. When you served?” Isidore asked. He then frowned and shook himself. “Shouldn’t have… go to Cavern Hole, lad. Your supper will get cold.”

Foweller shuffled to the door, but hesitated. “One,” he replied. “One I knew about.”

“What did he do?”

“Lost Lord Baxter’s colours. The Long Patrol wasn’t too big, so we had the one battle standard. Took a patrol up North across the River Moss,” Foweller related. The words came easily; he could have been recounting a picnic. He folded his arms and leant against the doorframe.

“What happened?”

“Barge overturned. Otters ordered into the water after it. Spent… spent hours in the blackness. Every beast was furious. I was freezing. Must’ve swum a mile. Couldn’t find camp till dawn.”

“Did you get in trouble?”

“No. Had a good laugh after a while,” Foweller cheekily showed off his teeth. Isidore shifted, uncertain.

“Your tail?” He questioned. Foweller gave a bark of laughter.

“Oh, I had my tail. You know how the ensign did himself in?”

“Shooting?”

“And waste His Lordship’s powder? He didn’t dare. He went to look for the flag himself. His kind… isn’t built for swimming. Drowned himself.”

“Noel thought Father Abbot was a murderer,” Isidore muttered. Foweller inhaled the pipe’s smoke and closed his eyes.

“Do you think the Abbot could murder any beast?” Foweller asked carelessly, the comment of an innocent kit. Andrew fell down the steps in his mind, over and over.

“No. Noel was wrong.”

~~~

Foweller felt cramped, though the benches in the Great Hall were roomy enough. Skipper Rigg had taken to sprawling across the bench with his legs splayed, shooting hawkish stares at Uncle Duster when he thought his brother was not looking. Rigg had a trick of soaking his bread in hotroot soup then sucking in like an orange-tinged sponge. Duster was less exuberant. He was perched with his legs crossed at another table, sipping each spoonful in between copious gulps of ale.

“Fowel, me good mate.” Rigg thumped a fish fillet onto Foweller’s plate and snatched at a lemon slice from the middle of the table. “Ye’ve not had much chance to experience the privileges of bein’ on the crew. I was thinkin’, the Abbot won’t mind if we take a trip to the river. We can visit Camp Willow. Somethin’ I want to show ye there. My treat as Skipper.”

“The river’s full of ghosts.”

“I’m scarier than ghosts!” Rigg thumped his rudder. Foweller choked out a laugh. Duster looked up at the joyful noise, but Foweller averted his eyes.

“When do we leave, Skipper?” Foweller asked. Duster’s bowl rattled across the floor as he fled the Hall. Foweller wilted. He had gone too far. Rigg’s eyes narrowed and his paw crushed the lemon juice out onto Foweller’s fish.

~~~

Foweller found Duster in his room. Rigg had told him his brother ought not to be disturbed. That he should mourn without interference.

Rigg did not know everything.

“Uncle Duster?” Foweller peeked around the door. The former Skipper rolled from his bed, presumably where he had been brooding. Foweller sidled in, paws fidgeting behind his back. Then he was bowled over as Duster embraced him.

“Ye’ve been avoiding me, Fowel,” Skipper said, not unkindly. Foweller scrabbled for an excuse. Nothing came to mind.

“I’m sorry, Uncle,” Foweller murmured. Duster patted his back.

“I know why. Ye think I’m angry at ye. Right?” Skipper pulled back to look into Foweller’s eyes. The kit was shocked silent for a moment. Then his confessions spilled out.

“I wasn’t watching Rip, I should’ve known there’d be trouble with the weasel, I didn’t come between them, I wasn’t paying attention, it’s my-…” Foweller was silenced with one claw to his muzzle.

“No. It wasn’t yer fault. No beast can rightly blame ye,” Skipper said haltingly. His eyes cast downwards. “Virrel’s no murderer either. If ye want to point claws, point ‘em at the Abbot’s accursed guns.”

Foweller’s throat seized up. Now it really was just between him and Brother Isidore. Not even Uncle Duster could know that Foweller intended to avenge his son.

~~~

Foweller and Rigg set out that evening. The little otter felt like a bound captive, being lead from the Abbey gates. The tight strap across his chest and the hard weights of the objects pressed against his hips by the sash were his guards. Rigg himself sported one of the new muskets. There were still monsters in the woods, after all.

It was past midnight when Foweller dropped to the grass. Martin took up his night vigil in the crook of the kit’s arm. A heavy sheet tied between two sturdy saplings gave the Skipper his cover. Foweller lay under the stars. He could hear the breeze come and go by the rush of the forest’s foliage. He heard Rigg turn uneasily before crawling out to join the kit.

“Warm night,” Foweller mused.

“Aye. Thought I’d join ye.”

“River’s haunted.”

“Not scared of ghosts are ye?”

A short pause. Rigg shifted. A twig cracked.

“Fowel?”

“Rargh!” Cold, sweaty paws clamped onto Rigg’s neck. Rigg yelped, then laughed at the kit’s antics. The brawny otter wrestled Foweller to the ground. Soon they were both rolling and tussling in the leaves, guffawing like mad beasts.

~~~

Foweller was in love with Camp Willow. In the early morning mist, he hopped from one sandy, dry cave to another. He tapped at the roots of the willow tree that sheltered them and hummed a marching tune. Such a cunning defence! Invisible to even the brightest of vermin.

The grave was marked by a lonely cairn of stones a little way from the tree. The site was secluded by rough mossy boulders, which seemed to deaden the trickling sound of the river. The solemn tomb brought Foweller to his knees.

“His name was Riverwyte, but they all called him the Mask. He was a warrior… till the vermin cut off his tail,” Rigg said. Foweller shivered.

“What happened then?”

“He lived peacefully, until his brother called on him to do his duty… one last time.”

“For Martin?”

“Aye, for Martin,” Rigg agreed. Foweller reached out to brush the pile of rocks with his claws.

“Did he have kits?”

“No. His family lived on though. His kin still swim among us.”

“You know any?” Foweller felt Rigg’s eyes on him. The Skipper knelt beside him and hummed.

“I think I do, mate,” Rigg said.

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