Honesty Is Hardly Ever Heard

September 2, 2011

“Yer loony!” Remy exclaimed striding away even as Tamarack chased her across the lawn.

“Am not!” the vixen barked. “Just listen. Everything at dinner, all that about Mr. Case, it’s a lie. Abbot Carter’s the one who done it, and now he’s–”

She cut herself off as Remy whirled around, cheeks puffed up and webbed paws balled into fists. “Go away! Abbot Carter tol’ the otters ye attacked him an’ poor Brother Isidore. You an’ that…” She trailed off, and Tamarack felt her hackles rise.

“Noel didn’t have nothing to do with Ripple.”

“‘Noel’ is it?” Remy sneered. “Gettin’ familiar with an outsider, eh? Go home. See t’ buryin’ the dead an’ quit tryin’ t’ blame the Abbot fer every ill ye see.” The otter bit her lip and deflated with a sigh. “Plenty o’ ill these days without ye heapin’ it on the one beast tryin’ t’ protect our Abbey. It was that dirty Rigg who’s been killin’ beasts, an’ we’ve got him locked up now. An’ this Case fellow’s bad news. He’s corrupted an’ killed so many beasts at the Abbey already. Ye dug the graves!” Another sigh. “I’m sorry about Ripple an’ Cobb, Tam. I know ye were stuck on ‘em like mussels, but ye have t’ know how daft ye sound. Abbot Carter loves the Abbey… loves us all. He’d never hurt us. An’ yer sayin’ Martin didn’t exist? But I’ve seen his sword! Held it in me own paws, too.”

“It’s not that he didn’t… Brother Timothy’s…” She faltered, then brightened. “Come see Brother Aloysius with me. He can say it pretty-like. Honest, Remy, I ain’t just telling tales this time.”

The otter shook her head. “Go home, Tam,” she repeated before bounding away, making for the pond and water too deep to follow. Tamarack watched her go, ears and tail drooping.

Dreschner, Celia, Betsy Goldhammer, Ada, Willowtail, Edgar and Darcy Lock, Lacey Spackett, Keefe… and Remy made ten. Ten beasts just as certain as she had been a week ago of Abbot Carter’s honest intentions.

Remy didn’t want to believe it, though. The most Tamarack had to count on were Hagia and Harald, creatures who had seen fewer suns that even Bludd.

Tamarack gritted her teeth. There were still more beasts – more sensible, older beasts who wouldn’t believe the Abbot’s lies.

“Lass.” Isidore was not one of these beasts. “What are you doing out here?”

“Telling the truth.” The vixen crossed her arms and raised her snout. “And you, Brother Isidore?”

The rat’s face molded itself into a wry grin as he replied, “Washing.” The smile faded as he hefted the skep in his paws. “My bees have died, tainted by some disease. I thought you might like to know, though, the Abbot and I buried Cobb by the youngest alder at the forest edge. He blessed the spot.”

“The Abbot…?” That didn’t make sense. Why would he be so kind? She pressed a paw to her still-tender ribs, but did not lower her eyes from the rat. “I’m sorry I tried to hurt you on account of thinking you and him killed Mr. Cobb, sir.”

“But you’re not sorry you did it,” he finished.

“No, sir.” The vixen bared her teeth. “It were the right thing to do.”

He held his silence for a long moment, the heavy skep tilting his frame to one side. She nodded and turned to go when he said, “Many have died for beasts doing what is ‘right’ for the wrong reason, lass.”

Tamarack glanced back over her shoulder, but kept walking. He seemed changed somehow, his sweet honey fragrance soured with too much smoke and sulfur. “Many are dead already, sir.”

She laid the snowdrops and asphodel she’d stolen from Abigail’s garden on the mound of fresh earth beneath the alder. If the old vole was going to ignore her warnings and accuse her of being a nuisance, the vixen would earn the title honestly. A light breeze brought the smell of tobacco, earth, and sweat.

“What do you want, scraggtail?” she asked when Colm stood beside her, staring down at the grave and her meager offering.

“It’s time to come back to the graveyard, mudface,” he said, paws clasped behind his back. “Whatever Brother Aloysius has you studying, there’s a reckoning to be had over what happened the other night. And Grannie’s worried half out of her hide, though she ain’t said it.”

Tamarack reached out her paw to him, and he took it. When he started to pull her away, though, she held her ground. “I’m doing this for you. We done it for you from the start.”


“Me and Mr. Cobb,” she explained, eyes fixed on the mole’s grave. “You was so scared of that cloakpin… I had to find out why.” The tears came unbidden, foolish things that she tried to blink away. “But then Brother Raimun, Mr. Andrew, Ripple, Mr. Cobb… Bludd. You know I’m telling the truth. The Abbot’s a murderer. That’s why you were scared. And I don’t know how to protect you or anybeast else because they don’t want to believe it.”

She felt him move closer, taking her muzzle in his other paw and turning it so she faced him. His maw was twisted into a frown.

“Why you got to be an idiot, Tamarack?”

“Don’t it suit me?” She tried to smile, reaching out to embrace him.


They broke apart after a moment, the vixen rubbing her eyes as the elder fox cleared his throat.

“I don’t want you doing this for me,” Colm said, jabbing a claw at her nose. “I don’t want you doing this at all… whatever this is.” Before she could protest, he continued, “But short of tying you up and tossing you in the cellar, I suppose you’ll find a way thanks to that Noel fellow you been running with. You’re making me go gray up to the ears, mudface.” He pinched the bridge of his snout. “What can I do?”

Tamarack beamed. He was going to help them, but what could he do that wouldn’t get him in trouble, as well? Something quiet. Something secret. A thought struck her, and she dug into her pocket, producing the pamphlet Saskia had given her. “Ms. Saskia told me to leave this where beasts could read it. But we need more. Could you copy it? Get it to everybeast you can think of?”

Colm scrunched up his face. “I ain’t a writer, Tam.”

“Ida could do it! Or Grannie. Grannie would do it.”

“You plan on fighting the Abbot with words, then?” he grumbled, taking the pamphlet and shoving it into his own pocket.

The young vixen shook her head. “Naw. He’d win that soon as you like. We’ll fight him with Ms. Saskia’s ideas!”

“Any luck, Tam?” Foweller asked, forcing a cup of tea into her paws as soon as she entered the Archives. Noel sat ensconced among the stacks of scattered fairy tales and cobwebs while Aloysius had draped himself across his desk, snoring gently into Brother Timothy’s secret message.

“I’ve had better luck pulling teeth out of a worm,” the vixen growled as she slinked over to a tray of pasties perched upon a volume thicker than her brush. “Ran into Colm… said he’d try to help, but beasts don’t care. Hear them talk, you’d think bodies popping up in the spring were natural as daisies. Least it ain’t bad for business. How about you two?”

The little otter glared at his tea for a moment. “Sister Delores thinks I’ve gone barmy. Told me I was shouting absolute nonsense and needed a lie down. Huh! If they hadn’t shuffled Uncle Duster off to detention along with Rigg for starting that fight, we’d have given her what for!”

“Sister Saffron and Brother Abel tried to get a couple of the otters to throw me out of the Great Hall,” Noel added. “The beasts I managed to talk to before that just told me I should’ve run off when Virrel did.” His features tightened, and Tamarack looked away. Colm was no hero, but he was a fair sight better at brothering than Virrel had been. At least nobeast wanted him dead… yet. She grabbed another pasty and went to curl up beside the weasel.

“If Major Shanar were here, he’d have everybeast lined up in smart order, ready to march out at dark. Civilians.” Foweller spat the word as he might a curse.

Whether by chance or some innate sense of impropriety in his archives, Aloysius shuddered into consciousness, maneuvering his splayed wings so that he could push himself up and turn to look at them. He blinked, then chirruped, the high-pitched wave making Tamarack flinch. “I see you are returned, returned.” There was a hint of exasperation in his voice. “I pray the Fates brought sense to the beasts with whom you spoke.”

They took it in turns to relate their failed excursions, Foweller in the infirmary, Noel in the main building, and Tamarack around the lawns and smithy. Their midnight plan to spread Timothy’s message, galvanize Redwallers to turn against Carter and break the lockdown, seemed little more than idiocy in the noonday light.

“I talked to every Abbeybeast I could think of,” Tamarack growled, ripping into her second pasty in frustration.

“Me, too,” Foweller echoed.

Noel nodded his agreement.

“It would seem there is a simple solution to our troubles, then,” Aloysius replied. “If the beasts who make their homes here will not listen to madness, madness, perhaps those whose families and friends lie beyond these walls will.”

Tamarack’s jaw dropped. It couldn’t possibly be that easy… could it?

“It wouldn’t matter to them why they’re leaving,” Foweller said. “They’d only care that they had a way out. Oh, I say, that’s brilliant!”

“And it would only take one of them,” Noel continued.

The vixen thrust her pasty in the air, narrowly avoiding the weasel’s head. “Mr. Merritt and Ms. Saskia! They could lead them out, and then they’d be able to tell everybeast in Redwall City what’s going on in the Abbey. Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius could get all the information they want out from there with their print shops. What do you think, Brother Aloysius? Have you seen Ms. Saskia since last night? Would’ve thought she’d be done with Mr. Merritt by now.”

“Ah…” The bat fidgeted, wings rustling as his eyes darted to the books, pamphlets, and paper scattered about his lair. “No, no. I have not seen her. You might find Master Merritt in the Guest Dormitories, though.”

“Right.” Tamarack, Noel, and Foweller stood. “We’ll be back soon, Brother Aloysius. Don’t you worry about nothing.”

“I never worry about nothing, about nothing,” he muttered. She stopped to ask him what he meant, but Foweller shoved her out the door.

“Hst! Mr. Merritt,” Tamarack hissed as they peaked into the peddler’s shared room. The ferret sat reading one of his books while a number of other guests played cards at a table near the far wall. He glanced at her, then went back to his reading with a half-hearted motion to enter. The vixen, weasel, and otter filed in.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Ms. Tamarack?” he wondered, carefully marking his place and setting the tome aside. It seemed strange that he would stop at a question instead of plying his wares, but Tamarack pressed forward as the ferret was casting a leery eye on Foweller.

“We were looking for Ms. Saskia, but you could… What’s the matter?” At the mention of the hare’s name, the ferret had grimaced. “Mr. Merritt?”

“She’s gone.” When they only stared at him, has maw flashed into a sneer, all jagged edges and yellow sheen. “Dead. Deceased. No longer among us. Tipped her cap to old Basil Stag Hare. Shall I go on?”

“No.” It was Cobb all over again, that terrible hatred welling up in her, threatening to split her from snout to tail. Bludd had been bad enough – an innocent kitten with seasons ahead of her. But Saskia was too clever for death, too careful with her words and thoughts. Noel’s paw intertwined with her own, then. She saw the mole’s goggles on her bed. They couldn’t do it again, even if they were sure this time. There was too much at stake now. They had a plan and they had to keep to it.

“Gabe and I,” Merritt began, voice hollow, “we were walking at night and heard something near the orchard. When we went to look, Isidore was shoving her body in a hole.” He bared his teeth again, though he wasn’t looking at them. “I couldn’t speak a bloody word.”

Isidore. He’d killed Saskia, buried her, and had the gall to… Tamarack had apologized to the dirty wormtail not three hours ago. Had he gone to wash Saskia’s blood off his habit, too? Even with the weasel’s comforting presence beside her, she could not help the snarl building in her throat as a portrait of the rat, carefree in the afternoon sunshine, painted itself in her mind.

Foweller seemed taken aback, as well, moving to pat Merritt’s arm. The peddler shook his head, drawing in a deep breath. “I take it from the gossips that you three are trying to expose the conspiracy our mutual friends, Julian and Cassius, have been working at for seasons now? You’ve wracked up quite the body count…” He was silent for a moment, the frost in his words hanging like icicles from the Great Hall eaves. “I’ll give you this, though, you’ve certainly done a fine job at rocking dear Carter’s boat. I’m surprised you’re still alive when better beasts aren’t, really.”

“We’re gettin’ beasts out,” Noel explained, “tonight.”

Merritt eyed them before leaning forward. “And how would you do that. It was bad enough trying to get out with the lockdown, the Skipper and his little exceptions not withstanding. Now Carter’s made his grand stand, there’ll be armed otters and squirrels in every corner of the Abbey come dusk.”

“Numbers!” Foweller declared. “Rally ‘round enough desperate beasts, and you’ve an army in the making.”

“They’ll need weapons.”

“They got claws and teeth, sir,” Tamarack pointed out.

Something like a bark of laughter escaped his lips before his muzzle tightened into a grim smile. “We’ll not fade quietly, eh?”

“Quiet as a firecracker come Summer Solstice,” the vixen retorted. “Abbot Carter don’t got no say in Redwall City. Ms. Sas… You and the others can tell them what’s been happening. And you won’t sound loony like Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius.”

“You’ve noticed that about them, then?”

Tamarack had flitted through the afterdark shadows of Redwall since dibbunhood. She could sniff her way across the lawns and into the forest, the kitchens, the bakery. Each held a scent so particular that the sharp blue paths lit by the moon acted more a hindrance than a help to the senses. Now, as thirty-odd beasts stole toward the cellar with only one hooded lantern between them, those pools of light became sinister, open water where serpents and pike might lurk.

“Stop, stop!” The whisper of Aloysius overhead brought Tamarack and Foweller, the pair leading the line, to a halt. She felt the delicate wash of the bat’s echoes as he listened for the Abbey guards. “Our first obstacle lies ahead, lies ahead,” he hissed, as he swooped down to them. “Tanbark, Naida, and Brother Abel stand guard beneath the belltower.” A quartet of hedgehogs moved forward without a word. “Be gentle, be gentle with them. They are good, honest beasts.”

Merritt had pushed his way to the front. “Just like Abbot Carter and Brother Isidore?”

“Be gentle,” Aloysius repeated one last time, ears going flat as the hedgehogs rounded the tower. Tamarack wanted to tell him they would not hurt the guards badly, but he had lied to them about Saskia, had let them believe she was alive. The vixen could forgive the archivist’s cowardice, but she would not count it as a kindness to be repaid.

They encountered three more groups of guards, leaving each a bloody, unconscious mess in their wake. Tamarack, Foweller, Aloysius, and Noel kept well clear, though Foweller held his gun at the ready, one shot to silence any watcher. There would be debts enough to pay for this without marking themselves for a swift hanging.

One by one, everybeast crept down the stairs of the cellar, Tamarack blocking out the stars as she closed the door on the last of them.

“What in the name of port are you lot doing down here?” The vixen’s ears pricked as a meaty thwack followed Ambrosia’s exclamation.

Noel released the hood on the lantern, drawing out the queer shades that inhabited the cellar. As the weasel walked toward the tunnel, containing their light within one of the alcoves, Tamarack welcomed the darkness – all the better to ignore Ambrosia’s huddled form and smashed muzzle. The Head Cellarhog had always been a jolly creature. She hadn’t deserved that.

“Is this it?” Merritt asked.

“Aye,” Noel said, setting down the lantern and motioning to a few others. They shoved the wine rack in, revealing the pitch black maw of the tunnel. “Head due north. At the door, rap three times. The password is ‘The bells of St. Ninian’s still chime at midnight.’ Tell them Noel and Tam sent you.”

“Mr. Merritt should lead,” Tamarack piped up. “Ms. Selendra’s there, too. She’ll stop them shooting you. Maybe.”

“You make it so hard to refuse,” Merritt scoffed as beasts shuffled into the tunnel, becoming a sea of eyes that watched and waited for the ferret and the lantern.

“I hope you will hold to your word, your word when you are outside the walls of this abbey, Master Merritt,” Aloysius said. Merritt stopped short. “I know many who would turn away once free, free.”

“I’m a merchant, Brother Aloysius. My word is my bond. And I would ask something of you in return.”

“What do you want?” Noel asked, brow furrowing.

Merritt’s muzzle scrunched up, and he looked away from them. “Gabriel. Tell him I’m coming back for him. I don’t want him to do anything… reckless. You’re all free to, though.”

“We’ll tell him so long as you do your duty,” Foweller assured with a sharp salute.

The ferret returned the motion with a roll of his eyes.

The vixen joined the little otter’s farewell. “Fates guide you, sir.”

Merritt quirked a brow, face illuminated by the fire’s glow as he moved to close the wine rack the rest of the way. “I think a lantern will do well enough, Ms. Tamarack.”

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