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.

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