You Can't Make Me Spit It Out

August 19, 2011

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.

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