Shoot, Don't Talk

August 16, 2011

The sky was dim and heavy, the horizon glowing red in anticipation of the morning. The dusty track bit at Foweller’s cold paws as he trudged on, back hunched over from Martin’s weight. The loaded pistol and knife in his sash were rubbing him raw. He had formed a picture of the Mask in his head. The otter he saw was strong and courageous. He was reminiscent of Ripple and Duster, especially when he smiled.

Redwall City was a grand name for a humble town. Old facades from past seasons, faded signs and dusty windows greeted the two otters. The centre of town was near deserted at dawn, every beast indoors and in bed. Save one.

Foweller stopped short at the sight of a lean figure passed out in the gutter of an inn at the crossroads. The Tremontaine Inn, the plaque proclaimed. Foweller clicked his teeth; Rigg just frowned. It was Virrel.

“Good morning,” Foweller announced, the words hissing between his sharp little rows of teeth. Virrel squinted open an eyelid. Foweller waved jovially, as if they were old drinking partners. The weasel looked crumpled and beaten, the smell of burnt wood and sweat making Foweller wrinkle his snout.

“Don’t you move!” Rigg kicked Virrel down as he tried to scarper. The weasel gave them a hideous look, his eyes lingering across Foweller.

“Come for my blood, huh?” Virrel spat. He looked angry at himself, his gaze darting from window to window, seeking a saviour. Or perhaps checking no beast would be audience to his lamentable state.

“I should demand satisfaction of ye, if I thought ye had the honour,” Rigg growled, keeping his otherwise voluminous voice down. Foweller shook his head.

“No. Duelling’s for important beasts. It’s for the officers and the grown-ups. Diggers ‘n weasels don’t duel.”

“I’m not duellin’ or lettin’ you anywhere near me!” Virrel shrieked. He struggled to his paws, his paws fidgeting and dusting himself off. Foweller smelled beer on his stale breath. “It was never my fault, Ripple shouldn’t have been grabbin-…”

“Don’t talk about him!” Foweller’s voice tore into a ragged snarl. Virrel rudely turned his back on them and marched off. Dawn was breaking and the orange sun was rising over the road to the east.

“Running again?” Foweller spat. He spat well and proper like the hare corporal taught him on his eleventh birthday. The gobbet of saliva met its mark. Virrel stopped, his paw caressing something in his jacket. Foweller’s eyes narrowed.

“Foweller, watch it!” Rigg shouted. Virrel whirled around.

BANG.

Foweller blinked and sniffed. The smell of smoke was a sweet relief. In the Abbey it had just felt wrong, but out here it was the proper place and time. Rigg’s voice had died down into a stunned mumble. Foweller wondered if his hearing had gone.

“You alright?” Foweller blurted. He felt dizzy with emotion. The ground tilted under him and he collapsed with a groan. Curse the day he had lost his tail. He could picture it now, a simple otter’s rudder with a dash of black ink across its tip; the fur markings that made him feel unique.

After a few minutes, Foweller struggled into sitting cross legged on the road. Woodlanders and vermin alike had been startled by the noise, peeking out of windows and hiding their little ones from seeing. A maid screamed at the sight of blood. Rigg kneeled by Foweller’s side.

“Ye… ye can stand, can’t ye, Fowel?” Rigg quavered. Foweller smiled. He was blissfully warm in this sunlight, his little reward for their early, cold start. He should have like to have stayed there and rested. But it was time to move on.

“Just needed… a moment to take it in,” he muttered and grasped Rigg’s paw. The big Skipper heaved his young charge upright, “We should go, Uncle Rigg.”

“Ye can make it to Redwall?”

“Got to get home, Uncle Rigg! Before anybeast tries to stop us. Sister Melina will have our breakfast ready… I have to see Brother Isidore. Maybe play with Tamarack and Bludd too.”

“What about Virrel?” Foweller could have sworn Rigg’s eyes were going moist.

“Leave him.” Foweller cast one more glance at the weasel. Virrel was spread-eagled on the road, glazed eyes staring blankly at the sun. A loaded flintlock pistol was still clenched in his paw.

“Ye’re fast, for a kit.” Rigg said, a trace of admiration in his deep tones.

“Not that fast. But he had a hangover,” Foweller replied. Rigg’s friendly grasp in one paw and the smoking wheel-lock in the other, Foweller suddenly felt much lighter. Neither otter looked back as they made their way back home.

~~~

The walls shone red in the morning light, the forest pressing the Abbey in on all sides. Foweller imagined the spiky fronds of the bushes were vermin spears in old times. To complete the illusion of a siege, he spotted the glint of a musket barrel peeking over the crenellations of the gatehouse.

“Ahoy! Not asleep at the gate, are ye?” Rigg boomed. An otter’s face jerked over the stonework, examining the travellers with sleep-ridden eyes. Foweller saluted politely. The guard disappeared from the wall and soon the heavy wooden door creaked open. Rigg yawned. “Mornin’, Remy.”

“Sister Melina has made some excellent cherry pies this morning,” Remy exclaimed, wiping the crumbs from her tunic. Foweller screwed up his face into an expression of childish revulsion.

“Cherries are gross,” he pointed out. Rigg chuckled and tried to muss the otter’s fur. Finding it a little too short, he patted the kit on the head instead.

“Aye, well if yer not plannin’ on much eatin’, maybe ye could take some vittles out for Brother Aloysius. It’s been a little too long since last time he collapsed from over-readin’,” Rigg suggested.

“Brother Aloysius is weird,” Foweller retorted, but Rigg did not let him off the hook.

“I think ye best run along an’ do him a kind service,” Rigg commanded. Foweller accepted the order with good grace, though his stomach voiced its own complaints.

~~~

Foweller was exhausted, though he told himself otherwise. His paws ached, his mind still echoing with the report of the shot he had fired on the lonely crossroads at dawn. He needed breakfast; lots of it. Then he could clamber into that hammock in the orchard and doze through the morning.

Psst!

No such luck.

Fowel!” Two arms wrapped about his waist and hauled him unceremoniously into the Abbey school. This early in the morning, the Dibbuns would be safely tucked in bed.

“I’m not sure you’ve got the hang of hide and seek, Tam,” Foweller joked. The vixen responded by swatting his nose and giving the windows a thorough check. Noel appeared, leaning in the doorframe to stand guard over the meeting. Foweller guiltily avoided eye contact.

“The Abbot might’ve seen you!” Tamarack exclaimed. Foweller’s eyes adjusted to their new hiding spot. Dimly lit and abandoned, with little dibbun-sized seats, stacked tablets of slate and a chalkboard.

“I’m not scared of him,” Foweller replied, tilting his head to examine yesterday’s lesson. It was some sort of battle plan. He could already see the teacher had got it wrong. He took the chalk and scribbled out the ballista. In its place came a stout, short-barrelled cannon. There. A mortar would be far more effective. And instead of flooding the castle’s foundations, the sappers should lay barrels of explosive powder.

“Fowel, you’ve got to stay clear of him. I… I might’ve let slip something. About you seeing him murder Mr. Andrew.” Tamarack winced as the chalk clattered and broke on the floor.

“That’s… a complication.” Foweller stared at the drawing he had corrected, seeking inspiration. “This cat in the tower. Who is it?”

“I don’t know, Fowel, don’t you understand? The Abbot could try and kill you next!”

“You know what this cat’s problem is?” Foweller tapped the little stick figure stoats on the castle’s battlements. “No forward offensive strategy. These stoats have fixed their bayonets, they need to close the distance and capture the artillery. They can’t hesitate now, or they’ve lost.”

“Foweller, will you shut up about the stupid picture for one minute?” Tamarack’s voice cracked. It was then Foweller noticed the shadow around her reddened eyes, the droop of her tail.

“You need rest. What have you being doing?” Foweller asked. Tamarack waved him off, blinking with weary exasperation.

“It’s complicated. Where’ve you been, anyway?”

“It’s complicated. Tam, we need to mobilise fast, or we’re going to end up like this cat in the tower. Maybe… I should show Isidore the pin. He’ll understand, if I explain what happened. I need him on my side. I’ll get Bludd too, any beast that we can trust. What forces can you muster?”

“Muster? Oh, we can trust Mr. Noel. You can’t be serious about Brother Isidore! He’s the Abbot’s beast through and through!” Tamarack balled her fists as if the Abbot were there with them. Foweller drooped.

“I have to try. If he’d rather kill me than help me… well, at least I’ll know where he stands.” Foweller clicked his claws, another friendly face coming to mind. “What about Uncle Duster?”

“This ain’t a war! You got to keep your head down. I don’t want to lose nobeast else.” Tamarack gritted her teeth. Foweller bared his fangs in return.

“Oh, isn’t it? So I should just skulk about until he finds me? I’ll be trapped like this poor sod!’ The chalk-drawn cat received a sharp tap from the otter’s paw. Tamarack ran her claws across the fur on her head, closing her eyes in surrender. “If I do nothing, I’ll have no friends left. Then no beast will stand up to Carter. Divide and conquer. He’ll kill me like he did Andrew.”

“Fine, fine! But for Martin’s sake, Fowel, don’t start nothing. We’ve got to… use stealth tactics.” Tamarack looked surprised at the military jargon that had slipped over her tongue. The words seemed to touch Foweller, his eyes shining and alert. He chuckled. Tamarack stifled a giggle and they were just kits again, playing hide and seek.

“I promise I won’t do anything rash.” Foweller held out his paw. Tamarack shook it firmly and slapped a paw on her fellow digger’s shoulder. Noel grinned. Foweller shifted his weight from one paw to another and grinned wryly back.

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