September 22, 2011
Isidore excused himself as many times as grow blossoms on an apple tree, as many times as there swam fish in the ocean, as many times as his heart had beaten in his life. The blood on his blade should have glimmered, should have taunted him. He should have wiped it away.
Yet the night turned it river-deep. He could only fall endlessly into the dark slick, into the thing he had made.
Once when he was very young his brother found a secret, winding maze of stone in the great southern deserts. They wandered it together, leaving pebble-trails behind them, and once or twice they crossed their own paths. Isidore’s brother went further in and further down. Isidore sat, and he tried to keep his torch from going out.
He watched water carve trails in the stone. His paws slithered over the tiny rivers and grooves he thought were once writing; it occurred to him somebeast had lived there. Pawmarks in madder and bone-black still clung to the ceiling. Suddenly, he could not breathe for fright. It felt as though a hundred ghosts crowded him, reached in his chest and clawed at his heart.
Later his brother emerged. He didn’t have his torch.
“How did you do that?” Isidore asked, between sobs. How had he followed their trail without light? How had he not been swallowed entire, by haunts or by the darkness?
“I knew I had to,” said his brother. “So I did.”
Pretend, then, he stayed in that cavern. The ghosts filled his lungs with breath, and he watched firelight dance on old paint until his brother found him. They came to the surface together. That story wrote others: Iphigenia never left. He kept bees, or he farmed. He never scrubbed Foweller’s blood from his sword.
In this story, he fled; everything went the way it went. He never descended and came away whole. He looked at the blood and he fell.
He paused outside Carter’s door. He thought he would say I have done this. This is the blood of a child who might have been my son. I have done this and done it too long. Yet when he saw the Abbot, he bowed, and one word left his lips.
Carter rubbed sleep from sleepless eyes. “What do you mean?”
“I won’t do this any more,” Isidore said. “Foweller is dead.”
“Then I’m sorry for your loss.”
“I did it, fool,” he spat, “I’m the one staved his head in. They’ve got out, all of them– Noel, and the vixen, and the ones that– the ones that–” he shuddered, a little, and the words stung his throat like bile “– I killed him.”
“I am sorry.”
“No,” he said.
Carter took his paw. “Let’s find you some tea.”
He stumbled to the kitchen, Carter leading him like he would a lost dibbun. Carter reached for the tea, then for a bottle, and Isidore sat on the floor. The Abbot shoved a cup of brandy in his paws. He did not drink.
“You said ‘got out.’ Where?”
“There are tunnels in the cellar.”
“I don’t know their names. Merritt Stirling. Brother Aloysius. At least a score.”
“You’d let them traipse into Case’s paws.”
“What should I have done?” Isidore said. “Should I have killed them all, whoever I could? Do you think me capable?”
“Yes,” Carter said. “Since you’ve done so much already.”
He was falling, again. Somewhere in the pebble-trails he and his brother had made he saw a path where he kept this course: he listened, and obeyed, and when the Abbot came to trial he did too. There was another path, one where he renounced Carter and went to Julian Case. He would die, of course. He thought he might deserve it.
Carter held Martin’s sword.
Isidore did not reach for it. He watched Carter loom over him, dandling the blade. He lifted his chin and offered his neck, but the otter did not lunge; instead he bent and took Isidore’s paw, daintily. He caressed it like a lover would. “The way I see it, you have nowhere left to go.”
Then the metal kissed his throat. He thrilled at its touch. He watched Carter tense; he wondered how it would feel to bear that silver-crimson, final thrust, and when his killer would do it. But the Abbot relented.
“You have nowhere left,” he said again. “Why would I do that? Take the sword. It is yours.”
Isidore choked back something like a sob. “Father.”
“Will you protest? You can either die, or triumph. And I believe you can choose wisely.”
“I– I–” he stuttered. “I’ll fight.”
That ended it. They drank their brandy, dawdling on the kitchen floor like children. The night was quiet but for spring wind whistling over the Abbey. Isidore could feel a chill creep through the stone and into his joints. He wondered if he might ever feel warmth again.
Something clattered in the hallway. Isidore’s paw leapt to the hilt of his sword, but he hesitated to wield it. The intruder’s paws thumped on the floor; this small noise seemed to shake his bones, to jar something inside him. “Father!” the intruder called– he knew that voice. It was Amery’s. “Father Abbot! There’s a fire!”
September 21, 2011
The ground was damp with dew as Aloysius fluttered to the ground in front of the gathering, Carter at its head.
“My brethren, brethren, stop!” he called.
“Brother Aloysius,” Carter said, raising a paw to halt the crowd. Aloysius could see familiar faces, but some were near unrecognizable, bloodied and swollen as they were from the escapees. “It seems we have received word of where the entrance to the rebel encampment lies. Amery spotted a group of beasts heading down into the cellars, but they have yet to surface.”
The bat straightened, wrapping his wings around himself for comfort, as well as appearances. “Turn back, Carter. They are out of your bounds, now.”
The otters eyes grew wide and his nostrils flared. “I am Abbot, Aloysius, and this is my abbey.”
“They are not abbeybeasts. They are creatures who make their homes outside these walls. They are not under your command, command.”
“You’re aiding them?” He took a step towards the bat. “And Julian?”
Aloysius pinned his ears back as he heard gasps from the crowd. He shuffled on his feet as he averted his gaze. “I am merely providing an exit for those who seek it, seek it.”
“Then you are no Brother of Redwall,” Carter growled from his throat.
“No?” Aloysius felt a singular ire rising within him, one that lent ice to his tone as he raised an eyebrow and cocked his head. “Then I say to you: Since the beginning of this lockdown you have held beasts against their will, their will that decides freely what their heart desires. What kind of leader does that but a tyrant?”
“I am protecting the wellbeing of those within my walls.”
“And yet they wish to be free from these bonds.”
Carter shook his head. “I would have never imagined you of all beasts would turn your back on this abbey, Aloysius.”
“I have not turned my back on this abbey, this abbey,” Aloysius said, shuffling a few paces back. “It is you who have done that, old friend. Redwall was always meant to be a safe haven, a safe haven for those who desired it. Now it has become no more than a place of death and hostility. I want no part of it.”
“Then why return?” Carter demanded. “Do you intend to spread Julian’s lies here, as well?”
Aloysius felt his wings tremble. There was murder in that voice, and he longed to take to the sky, longed to fly back to Fyfe, Saifye, and Eilonwy. He longed to fly away from the abbey, from Saskia’s murder, Foweller’s death, and toward his family, towards home. But Tamarack and Noel needed him to buy this time, to lend wings to their own paws as they raced to save this place and all that it meant. Even without Martin, the stories of Redwall still spoke of heroes.
“Do you remember the otter named Keyla, Keyla? He was once given a chance of freedom, enslaved as he was in Marshank, but he stayed for those too young and too old to escape. Your words have convinced many, but they will need a guiding wing when your own lies surface, surface.”
Carter flashed his teeth. “As you wish, Aloysius. As you wish.” Turning, he faced the throng. “Those that have found passage outside of these walls are not our own. I am no tyrant, my children, though there are those who would accuse me of such things. I care only for you, for the beasts in my protection. Let them be. Let these creatures who may well come back to kill our families and friends be as Aloysius wishes. But I say to you, this—” He turned back to the bat. “—if I find another beast has left or entered these walls during my Lockdown, there will be consequences. I did not think you would turn against our abbey, but I suppose a creature lost in the past cannot hope to understand what we must deal with in the present.” The abbot shook his head and turned, stalking back toward his manor.
The rest of the crowd mingled, until they too, scattered like dandelion seeds on the wind. Aloysius watched them go, then took flight for the gatehouse. He had not expected to convince the group to turn away, but even so, there was another task he had to accomplish tonight.
Closing the door to his archives, Aloysius went to his desk and retrieved Merritt’s diary. He shuddered as he touched it, at the blasphemy contained within its pages. Aloysius had always believed there was good in everybeast, but this book was proof that evil dwelt alongside it. He had to dispose of it, lest it fall into the wrong paws. This book contained secrets, dark secrets, but secrets nonetheless, and Aloysius supposed that everybeast was allowed his vices.
Taking the page that contained Merritt’s code, he placed it in the flickering candlelight and watched as it caught, brilliant red embers spiraling into ash. He set fire to the rest of the diary. With his desk alight, Aloysius took a tome and placed it on the flames. Then another, and another, until the fire was able to sustain itself.
The historian watched as the pages burned. His life, his being, everything that he had stood for had turned to ash. They were nothing more than lies, fiction, made to incriminate a group of beasts that should have had no part in the stories they produced. How many times had the histories been rewritten, tampered with, to create the fear mongering that held woodlanders hostage? Ever since Aloysius had come to the abbey the creed had been the same: Vermin were bad, and needed to be dealt with accordingly. Rats, weasels, ferrets, stoats, wildcats. Even when the abbey had opened their doors to them the prejudice remained.
Aloysius had tried to get them to change. Noel, Virrel, Tamarack, Bludd, Isidore, these were not evil beasts, and deserved not the scorn they received. He had hoped to bring the abbey back to its founding roots, the Woodlander’s Code, an idea that did not depict speciesism, but relied purely on the virtues and morals within. But the stories said otherwise, and until those stories were destroyed, beasts would always come back to them.
It pained his heart to see his work go up in smoke, but they deserved this, any beast who held himself as a true woodlander deserved this. Turning from his archives Aloysius left, the fire—which had started with a single leaflet—blazing behind him. The dry, brittle pages served well as tinder and were quick to ignite. He couldn’t tarry long, lest he be caught in the ensuing inferno.
He put a winged claw on the doorlatch and pulled, but the door did not budge. Furrowing his brow, he pulled harder, straining against the heavy weight but still there was no give. He was locked inside. Growing frantic, Aloysius turned, seeking another way out. Unlike so much of the abbey there was no secret passageway he could rely on for escape, but there were windows.
Taking flight, Aloysius chirped, the room erupting into a brilliant silver sheen, but all it brought back were the clouds of smoke that billowed in the room. He flew in tight circles, chirping desperately for any sort of clearing, but there was nothing. A bookshelf barred his path, and he crashed into it with a terrible thud, his claws scrabbling for purchase as he pulled books from their housing. Once he managed to get to the top, he covered his face in his wing and coughed. His lungs burned with the acrid taste of smoke. Taking a deep, ragging breath, he chirped again, but there was nothing he could hear. The smoke and fine ash scattered his echoes in a million directions.
With a flap of his wings, he cleared the smoke as best he could before taking a deep breath, then launched himself from his perch. He could not hear the windows, but he would find them, he could still find them. He knew where they were—often he had watched the moon pass by, seated at his desk—but he was disoriented and could not tell which face of the wall he was on. Still, he had to try.
Eyes shut tight, he wheeled around, gaining purchase as he climbed higher in the air. The ceiling smacked against his back and he nearly exhaled, but he managed to shake off the shock. If he flew in a single direction, he’d reach the wall, and then it was only a matter of time before he could reach a window.
The sound of a sickening crack filled his ears, and Aloysius’s head exploded in pain. But there had been some give, and the bat realized that somehow he had reached a window. He scrabbled at the pane, and his claws stung as he gripped splintered wood. The glass had cracked, but it was not broken. Throwing his body at his only chance of escape, he failed to break the glass, too weak and exhausted from his efforts. He took a breath, his lungs exploding in pain. The wood slipped from his grip, and he fell to the burning floor like a dropped inkwell.
Fire surrounded him, searing his wings and scorching his fur. In a surge of strength born of desperation, he launched himself from the fire, but there was nowhere he could land that wasn’t aflame. Bludd and Eilonwy had certainly done a job covering the floor with his books.
At some point he found hot stone, collapsing into a fit of hacking. He tried opening his eyes, but they stung too much, just like his lungs, just like his wings and the rest of his body. There was nothing he could do. Nowhere he could fly, nowhere he could hide. Never again would he spend a night drinking with Fyfe, chat with him and Saifye over a candied beetle, or tell Eilonwy a story. He had missed his opportunity, duty bound to the Abbey, unable to spend even a single night with his family. What a fool he had been.
Aloyisus had truly been as blind as a bat, unwilling to see what lay before his very eyes. He curled on the ground, thinking of Tamarack and Noel. At least they knew the truth, and they would spread it to listening ears. The fate of the abbey now rested in their paws; it was the only consolation he had left.
So many beasts had died and gone to Dark Forest. Raimun, Andrew, Ripple, Bludd, Cobb, Saskia, Foweller. Perhaps he would see them again. And maybe, if he waited patiently enough, Fyfe and Saifye and Eilonwy would come to see him.
Yes, he would like that.
September 21, 2011
The devastation in the rebels’ humble subterranean abode stretched beyond the small sad body of a hare on the floor. Chairs had been flung and smashed, and their remnants hung with torn scraps of paper. The table sat collapsed in an unrecognizable heap of shattered boards. The walls were scraped and clawed and smeared with blood.
But Locria was all they saw. Tamarack made the noise that Noel felt inside: a gurgle of sick despair. He imagined that no body she had ever put into the ground at Redwall had looked like this.
“What happened?” Tam moaned. “Who did this?”
“You know who it was.” Case answered them from the inner doorway, his voice faded and lost. What Noel could see of his eyes were glazed and white and pinned on him.
“Clacher,” Noel murmured.
“This is your doing, weasel.” The hedgehog betrayed the full weight of his many years, hardships, and sacrifices as he staggered toward them. The gray ends of his spiketips seemed to stretch their blanched claws up to his brain. “Only a madbeast would send a badger through that tunnel. You’ve destroyed us.”
Noel bit back images of Foweller, fought back with hollow anger.
“He was wounded,” he said. “He should’ve been put somewhere safe.”
“He was.” Case’s accusations, already weak and weary, died away. “He was…allowed to escape. A fault of ours with which you are already familiar.”
“Who let him go?” Tam cried.
Case waved a paw.
“It matters little now. The beasts you sent through told me about your escape. It may not have been your paws that attacked those on guard, but you surely cannot return to Redwall now.”
“Wrong,” said Noel. “We’re going back tonight.”
“Fool!” Case was alive again now that outrage flared to stir him. “Are you after an early death? You want to march now, now that you’ve burdened us with your refugees, and when my Lieutenant – when this poor lass is dead!”
“More’s gone on than what they told you. And -” Noel forced his gaze onto the dead hare, drinking in the image of a bedazzled young leveret and drowning out the beast whose pistol had pointed at him one too many times. If he squinted he could just make out that the gun’s flintlock was still cocked. “Like you say, I haven’t got any clues on how to raise the dead. No, it was Cassius who said that. Where’s he?”
Case’s face glazed over, as distant as it had been when they found him. He hobbled toward the inner door.
* * *
Cassius was sweating, writhing, moaning in turbid sleep. He lay prone on a table in the center of the empty Tremontaine Inn, the building atop the rebel hideaway. As Noel gazed down at him in his pestilent slumber, even the sweet cool air of freedom turned murky and sour.
Case hesitated only a moment, as if seeking somebeast’s permission, before lifting the blanket. Beneath it there stood exposed the oozing mess that had conquered Cassius’s leg, the one Case had shot.
“I did that to him,” said Case. “Cassius, my brother -”
“Why haven’t you got him to a doctor?” Noel snapped.
“Locria was looking after him.” Case lowered the blanket and mumbled the rest of his half-reply. “Now that she’s gone….”
“Who’s left?” said Noel.
“Myself. Flint and Sebastian. Corwin and Irwin watch the door from outside.”
“Don’t forget the rear guard.” Two skeptical eyes stabbed at them from the kitchen door. Merritt sauntered out, followed by the stares of other faces that had become familiar to them in their flight through the tunnel.
Tam crossed her arms, flashing a smug grin as the ferret approached.
“I thought you weren’t gonna do anything reckless.”
“It’s always in my interest to avoid idiocy. I’ve developed a finely tuned sense for it, and, miracle of miracles, I somehow find you two here. Why are you back?” He jerked a claw toward the door – which, as Noel peered at it, betrayed slivers of moonlight between warped hinges. “Your friend left that-a-way.”
“Never mind all the beasts you socked, we’ve been found out,” said Noel. “Isidore knows.”
Merritt’s face plunged into something dark and beyond, for once, the power of his words. Everybeast else had the pleasure of witnessing helpless confusion swamp Case’s expression.
“The beekeeper?” he said.
“More like enforcer, nowadays,” said Tam.
“Well, that won’t do at all,” said Merritt, at last. “I dare say that’s who Selendra’s gone after.”
Noel swiveled on Case, who only looked sideways before answering.
“She disappeared when Clacher broke free.”
“You don’t think she let him -” said Tam, but Merritt cut short the thought almost before it began.
“She has more reason than anybeast here to see him dead,” said Merritt. “What you’d better bother yourself worrying about is why he had us all playing hide-and-seek up here instead of going back to Redwall the way he came.”
“He might’ve heard us coming,” said Noel. “Or he might have sniffed out a real mess starting and turned tail.”
“Mossflower might give him more chance for the kind of stuff he gets up to,” Tam muttered.
“We’ve still got to find him.” Noel felt the eyes in the room turning on him and Tam, and for once he didn’t feel the stares of reproach and ridicule sap his strength. They empowered him. “Merritt, you and the others sound the alarm. Get as many beasts from the city as you can to be at Redwall by morning. I’ll find Clacher.”
“What makes you think I’ll take another pawstep in this trail of destruction you’ve so lovingly crafted?” Merritt demanded. “And what makes you think anybeast will roll out of bed not two hours after midnight just because they’re needed at the red stone shack on the hill?”
“Because if they don’t, it’ll just be us.” As Merritt conceded with gesture of defeat, Noel’s attention caught Flint and Sebastian tread haltingly downstairs. After a quick nod to them, he settled once more on Case. “You get your own self together, and any weapons you’ve got. You started this rot, you’ll bloody be there when it ends.”
“Wait,” said Case. “Take a weapon for the badger before you go.”
Noel waved him off and plowed his way to the front door.
“I won’t need it.”
“Even Martin took he up the sword,” said Flint.
“Well I’m not him, am I?” Noel’s jaw slanted earthward. Flint, Sebastian, Case – they all stared back at him in dull delusion. None of them knew the truth. Only a glimpse into Tam’s clever eyes dragged him back to what had become their awful reality.
“Before you say what I know you’re thinking,” she said, “I’m coming with you.”
“He’ll want that tail of yours.” It was a half-hearted attempt to frighten her and doomed to fail. Tam just grinned back.
“You need somebeast to make sure you do the job right this time.” Her paw closed around his, and with half a smile between them the pair stepped out into Redwall City.
* * *
“It’s late,” said a voice from above, “and if I am not mistaken, mistaken, not where my brother expects you to be.”
In a silent street on the outskirts of Redwall City, the most Noel expected was a paw to come crushing into him from out of the night, or a scream from Tam’s lips as Clacher stole his terrible prize. What they encountered not long after leaving the borders of Redwall and rebellion behind was a gentle flutter of wings, and a dimunitive huddled shadow that came to rest on the road.
Noel nearly uttered the name of the Historian himself, but Tam broke out in a grateful grin.
“You’re Aloysius’s brother,” she said. “I thought you all left.”
“I am Fyfe. And no, we’ve not quite gone, not quite gone. Aloysius has seen fit to make Redwall his home. In a way, it becomes ours as well, as well.” The bat shuffled in place. Noel flicked his gaze at Tam before directing it downward once more.
“We’re looking for a beast,” said Noel.
“I suspect you’re looking for many beasts, many beasts.” Pointed pearlescent teeth winked up at them in the moonlight. “We’re aware of what goes on in that establishment – yes, in the Abbey as well as that inn, that inn. We’ve been hoping to aid and abet it.”
“Have you -” Tam lowered her voice from a delighted cry to a whisper. “Have you found beasts who’ll listen?”
“Some,” said Fyfe, “with memories of simpler times, and with love for something they see dying before them, before them. But you’re not expecting their assistance tonight, are you?”
“We are.” Noel nearly stammered. “But – not us, not right now. We – the badger -”
“It is dark, and his stride is long.” Again, something about the way the light bent around his face suggested Fyfe was smiling. “I doubt a beast like yourself could find him, find him.”
“What about a beast like you?”
* * *
Unlike his fellow sinner Cassius, Clacher had not earned forgiveness enough for the treatment of his wounds. The place in his body where Noel had striven to rend muscle from bone had grown bloated and pungent. No amount of dock leaves, pressed to the site in the safety of the woods where Fyfe’s pitchless shrieks detected him, would save his mutilated arm.
But Noel remembered his own wounds: the bones still creaking in his chest, the blood that had tinged his spittle for a night and a day. As Fyfe led them through the dark, his body’s secret complaints brought him forward, into the open and the dim glow of the clearing.
Clacher froze. Tam did the same, steady but tense in the brush behind Noel, who after announcing his presence stepped forth with clenched fists.
“Stay where you are,” he said. “Stay there and I won’t hurt you.”
Clacher stood up. He held out his paws, as if to express what fear pain had to offer him. Noel saw that he held nothing in them.
Yet they came toward him like pawfuls of knives, claws swiping at air first by lack of speed, then lack of luck. Noel stumbled backward over a downed ash tree, and as he landed every old bruise and tear bore back in on him at once. They pressed him into the dirt and begged him to give up his foolishness, that if he would not discharge the monster he could at least accept a speedy death of his own.
He felt two paws drag him clear of the downward blow that would have killed him. From out of the mud and the leaves they pressed a stone into his hand. He flung it, and blood spewed from Clacher’s nose.
And then the blood flowed from his skull, and from his ears, and it did not stop. Tam’s paws clenched around Noel’s shoulders now in terror. They could only watch, bound together and to the earth as Clacher’s head imploded before them.
Fyfe’s blinding screech brought stillness back to the clearing. Once the insides of Noel’s head stopped rebounding against the sound, he lurched upright and collapsed again on top of the ghost that had appeared to wreak its vengeance on Clacher. The club that killed him finally dropped from Selendra’s grip.
“What’ve you done?” Noel gurgled. “Look what you’ve done.”
“Berend.” Selendra squeaked and writhed underneath him. She felt like a heart beating its last, and Noel leapt back up to tear free of her. “Berend, Berend.”
Fyfe dropped to the ground, brushing against Tam until she too had recovered. Selendra wept, cocooning herself in loam and dust, until finally something called her to stumble upright once more. Noel’s footpaw landed on her club just as she reached for it.
“Enough,” he said. “No more – I said no more!” Selendra tore the club free, and received a goal-scoring belt to the chest for her trouble. The pain didn’t register or didn’t last, only saw her scramble to her paws and stagger choking into the darkness.
Tam didn’t seem to want to look at Noel’s kicking paw either, as embarrassed by his reaction as he was.
“Should we follow her?” asked Tam.
“Let’s get back,” Noel muttered. “We’ll see her again before long.”
September 14, 2011
“Fowel?” Tamarack whispered, dabbing at the otter’s bleeding eye with the edge of her shirt. Foweller did not move again, his muzzle slack and eyes fixed on something none of them could see.
She heard Aloysius slump against the door of the cellar, so much like a stack of his scrolls scattering across the archive floor. “Fates, Fates. Oh, dear Fates.”
“Shouldn’t have said anything,” Noel muttered as he sank to one knee, rocking the kit back and forth. “Should’ve run.”
The vixen sat down hard, mindless to the dewy grass that dampened her fur and clothes. He’d saved them, saved Noel. Tears welled up in her eyes even as the beast in her belly began to snarl. What could they do now? Kill Isidore? Fill her graveyard with the bodies of every beast that stood with Carter?
She glanced down to where Foweller’s blood painted a fresh memory on her shirt, something urgent and dark. They needed help. Right now, they needed to stop this before any other kits, printers, diggers, cooks, or recorders died.
“Get up,” the vixen mumbled, pushing herself to her footpaws. “Get up.” She went to Noel and hugged his long neck, licking his cheek until he stopped shaking and his paw met her own. “Get up.” She went to Aloysius and helped the bat to stand, his shuddering echoed by the hitch in her own voice. “We got… we got to go. Isidore’s going to tell the Abbot, and all them guards we knocked out won’t… won’t stay knocked forever.”
“Go where, where?” Aloysius whispered.
“Out to the city,” Noel said, sniffing as he shifted Foweller to a more comfortable place in his paws. “But I…” The weasel looked down at the little otter.
“My family,” Tamarack answered. “We’ll take him to Colm.”
Even weighed down by their burden, sneaking across the lawns proved a simple enough task for only two beasts. Aloysius guided them around those guards who had remained at their posts and into the comforting shade of the graveyard. The scent of earth and flowers wrapped Tamarack up in a blanket she had always loved. Even just the one night in Aloysius’ archives had felt wrong, everything dry and old. That was the smell of decay to her, not here where the earth was fresh and the trees grew tall on the backs of every Abbeybeast that had come before.
They stopped beside the window of Colm and Ida’s room, and Tamarack tapped her claws along the glass.
Tap. Taptaptap. Tap. It was their special rhythm, the one that said it was time to relieve the dead of all the trinkets they would never need.
It took longer than with Papa – Colm still had seasons to learn – but the fox appeared at the window, raising it up to blink blearily at the beasts outside. Tamarack noticed Ida beside him.
“What’s happened?” Ida hissed, her sharp eyes drawn to Noel and Foweller.
The weasel stepped forward and presented the otter. “Isidore killed him,” he said. “We were hoping…”
Colm held up a paw. “Bring him around the back.”
They gathered on the porch, Noel shifting Foweller to Ida’s arms as if he were a sleeping kit. She nodded and disappeared inside, off to Papa’s workshop.
“How’d this happen?” Colm asked, and the trio took it in turns to explain, each picking up when another could no longer speak. The fox was silent at the end of their explanation, then said, “I’m coming with you.”
“No.” Tamarack shook her head, taking her big brother’s paw. “You got to protect Mumma and Papa and Grannie and Ida. I won’t be here for that no more. You got to keep them safe because we’re coming back. And… and it ain’t just going to be us.” She looked to Noel and Aloysius. They hadn’t talked about it, hadn’t planned that far ahead, but what else was there? “We’re going to bring every beast we can, any beast who’ll listen. We’ll tear down the gates and stop Abbot Carter and Mr. Isidore and all the beasts helping them. We got Mr. Merritt out there now, and you… the pamphlets?”
Colm lowered his ears. “We were only able to make three copies. Left them in infirmary and refectory. I don’t know if anybeast read them, Tam. Most ain’t got words past what they was taught as dibbuns.”
“There are enough, enough I think,” Aloysius murmured. “Those who seek the truth will always find it, find it for good or ill.”
“We better go now, afore the Abbot and everybeast else finds the tunnel. You make sure the others are safe. Keep them inside.” She turned away, but this time, Colm held her, not letting go. She looked up at him. He had his teeth bared and his glare fixed on Noel and Aloysius.
“You come back without my little sister, I swear on my family’s name that I will nail each of you in a coffin and bury you alive.”
Aloysius grimaced, but Noel nodded, taking her other paw. “If she doesn’t come back, neither will we.”
Tamarack squeezed her brother’s paw one more time before letting go. “I love you, Colm.”
“Wait!” The older fox hurried inside and return a moment later with their hooded lantern. “Just in case.” She took the lantern and flint that he offered with a faint smile. Colm had always been better about preparation.
The trio did not pause until they reached the doors of the cellar once more. The Fates had been kind enough to delay Isidore’s return as far as they could tell. There, Aloysius held back.
“I will meet you in Redwall City, Redwall City,” he said.
“What? Why?” Tamarack’s brow furrowed.
The bat rubbed a claw across his nose before settling. “I saw the beasts on the lawns moving toward us, toward us before I landed. I do not think we will have the time to reach Julian and his friends before they are upon us.”
“You’re not sacrificing yourself, too, Brother,” Noel growled. “Don’t you even think about it.”
“That was not my intention, Master Noel, though it is a rather grand thought,” Aloysius replied, arching a brow. “I think a distraction would be of more practical value, value when I have more than one means of escape.” He flapped his leathery wings.
“What are you going to do?” Tamarack asked.
“What I must. Please, please, go quickly, my friends.”
“Good luck,” the weasel said.
“Good luck,” Tamarack echoed, hugging the frail historian. “You’ll be all right?”
He smiled, a tired, ragged expression that would have better suited a beast thrice his age. “Of course, of course, my dear. Now go!” They broke apart, the bat taking to wing while the weasel and vixen lit their lantern and descended into the cellar.
They did not speak as they hurried through the tunnel, but Noel’s presence was enough. Feeling the slickness of his paws as they jogged, hearing his measured puffs of breath, she could imagine Aloysius with them, beating his wings high above the earth as they scurried below. The pair finally slowed as they came in sight of the door leading to the rebel base. It was open and jagged strips of light shone through, tearing into the shadows of the tunnel.
“Merritt and the rest must have just arrived,” Noel said, though he’d stopped some distance away.
Tamarack felt the hairs on the nape of her neck rising as she took a step back. “Then why ain’t there no beast talking?”
The weasel had no answer, but motioned for her to hood the lantern so that they could creep closer. “Stay behind me,” he muttered as they drew near enough to peer into the room. “I can’t see…”
The lantern clattered to the floor, its flame extinguished in the rush of oil. Locria lay near the door, neck twisted at an impossible angle, ears ripped off, and pistol in pieces beside her.
Carter had reached them first.
September 2, 2011
“Don’t you let this out of your sight, young digger!” Major Shanar tossed the muddied shovel out of the earthworks at the kit’s dozing form. Foweller started awake, his rudder thumping the mud with a wet smack. The shovel had been brand new, the blade sharp and bright.
“Sorry, Lock,” Foweller groaned.
“Major, on duty. I think you should find a strap for that, eh, Fowel?” Shanar’s whiskers twitched into a smile.
“I’ve decided my shovel’s called Fowel,” Martin snickered, playfully twirling his own shovel. “So I can stick Fowel’s head into the mud if he starts jawing too loud.”
Foweller gave the stoat a baleful glare then tackled him to the ground. The bigger otter kit soon had his friend pinned.
“Aye, well mine’s called Martin. One day I’ll break it in half, to match your face!” Foweller growled. Martin looked indignant. The both of them started to cackle like little kits.
Foweller headed out of the tunnel. He was eager for this mission to come to an end. The open tunnel door gave him an uneasy feeling. If the Abbot found it, then they would all be at risk.
“Who goes there? Noel?” Isidore called from the cellar door, a dark silhouette against the moonlight. Foweller cursed and looked back into the tunnel. Merritt’s lantern was a pinprick, flickering and finally disappearing. “I know you’re there, boy.”
Foweller said nothing. He silently hoped Tamarack and Noel had heard this. Perhaps they could surprise the old rat as he came down the stairs.
“Noel, I saw your band of escapees. This is treason.” Isidore warned. Foweller’s face flushed as he tried an old trick from his days in battle. He slumped against one of the wine barrels and let out a sad sigh of surrender.
“Don’t struggle, Noel. If you will not see reason, then perhaps young Tamarack will. She is here also, is she not?” Isidore came down the steps, approaching the figure he had sensed in the shadows. Foweller tensed, his grip tightening around Martin. He pictured in his mind the sharp blow that would keep Isidore down whilst they escaped.
Foweller lunged forward, the shovel raised. In that instant, Isidore struck with the sword had held behind his back.
The sword cleaved the shovel apart with a loud crack and kept going into Foweller’s head. The otter sprawled heavily against the barrel with a sharp cry. The decapitated head of Martin clanged to the cold stone floor in defeat.
“The trouble with old soldier’s tricks, boy, is old soldiers know them,” Isidore growled.
“Aye… ‘member this’un?” Foweller forced the syllables out past his pain-wracked jaw, drew his pistol and fumbled to cock it. Isidore drew back in horror.
“No… No! Idiot boy! I would never… Foweller! My child…” Isidore dropped the sword and reached in the shadows for the otter. By the shaft of moonlight from the door, Foweller could make out sword’s lettering. “It only nicked you! It only nicked you, boy! Come here.”
“Gerroutta my sight…don’ wanna shoot…” Foweller slumped to the ground, the ruined remains of Martin falling from his limp paw. I…AM…THAT… The last word of the blade’s inscription was masked by his blood.
“Foweller!” Tamarack screamed from the alcove. Noel gave an animalistic bellow and charged the old rat. Isidore was routed; his only choice was to retreat to his superior officer. Carter.
The cut was seeping blood into Foweller’s left eye. He could have sobbed; his body could have shaken with grief. The shovel, that heavy bit of wood and metal had been on his shoulder for four years. He would miss it. The handle could be replaced, but it would not be the same.
Foweller squeezed his eye tightly shut. He could hear Noel’s footfalls slow and hesitate as they neared. A rustle of cloth, Foweller squinted up at the dark face kneeling over him. The weasel’s paw held the back of his head up.
“’s gonna leave a mark,” Foweller muttered between clenched teeth. It did not hurt too much once the shock had worn off. Foweller felt his body going numb. He heard nothing for a while, but he had the light, floating feeling of being carried. They were out of the cellar, the air was cool and free again. The moon lit his face, giving Noel a good look at the damage.
“’S not so bad, Fowel. It’ll… just leave a scar. Might suit you,” Noel choked. Foweller closed his eye and went limp. For a moment he was peaceful, but the weasel shook him back to consciousness. “Foweller? Don’t you go nowhere.”
“Fowel, we need a… a serious talk about avoiding trouble,” Tamarack squeezed his paw. Foweller gave her an apologetic grin. “You stay with us, now.”
Foweller stirred, his claws weakly stretching to find his shovel. He had been ordered never to lose it, after all. The otter felt quite lost. Had he fallen asleep for a moment?
“Who’s that? Ripple? Martin?” Foweller asked, giving the blurry weasel an unfocused stare. A fox was there too, dabbing blood from his eye. “Where’ve you been… silly stoat…?”
“No, it’s Noel. Tamarack’s here too. We’re your friends, Fowel.” The weasel blinked back tears. Foweller frowned a little in confusion. It wasn’t Martin at all.
“Friends? I only know my brothers… and my sisters,” Foweller slurred, his voice growing drowsy, “Are you my brother?”
“Yes, Fowel,” Noel replied. He gasped, Foweller dimly realised his shivering paw was tight around Noel’s. For a moment he was scared, until he heard Ripple’s comforting voice on the breeze. Foweller gave a short chuckle.
“If a weasel can be my brother… this must be… Dark… Forest…”
Foweller rested in Noel’s arms.