Tell a Sacred Story

September 2, 2011

“He’s not going to like this,” said Noel, but his voice creaked with excitement. Even the sour taste that dinner had left in his mouth couldn’t stifle the revelations jumping on his tongue. The lawn between Great Hall and the main doors of Redwall Abbey, where the archive nestled snug opposite the Gatehouse, had never felt wider than at that moment.

“Oh, go on,” said Tam. “It’s a proper riddle, Brother Alo’ll love it. And now we’ve solved it, all we need is for Martin to make one of his famous appearances.”

“What’s that?” Foweller nudged the spade of his shovel with an idle fist.

“You know the old stories – Martin’s spirit appears to brave beasts when Redwall’s in trouble. Fates know it’s about time he showed up.” Tamarack leaned in front of the door just as they arrived, her broad grin barring the way. “You haven’t had any dreams lately, have you, Mr. Noel?”

“Wish I could say so.” Noel chewed his lip and pushed open the door.

Aloysius, upside-down and wrapped tight in sleep, could only be roused after an effort. Two misty, red-rimmed eyes did not hide their disapproval at the onslaught.

“Master Noel,” he croaked, and, after a petite harrumph, “Foweller, Miss Tamarack. Would it surprise you to learn you have even invaded my dreams, my dreams?”

“Must have been a good one, then,” said Noel.

“We think we’ve solved the riddle,” said Foweller.

Tamarack’s prediction came true. Alo swooped from his perch down onto the floor, scuttling along the tiles to his desk. As he went, the Heraldry appeared from where it had been pressed against his heart.

“Well?” he demanded. “Tell me, tell me!”

“We thought about what we decided before we went off to dinner.” Tamarack recounted the points of discussion on her claws. “The page, the line, and the word have got to be talking about the actual pages, lines, and words of the Heraldry, right? So there must be a code hidden in the book itself.”

“Yes, but the sequence – impossible to tell from such gibberish, gibberish.” Aloysius cut short his own sigh and darted his gaze over the trio, searching for an answer.

“We think it’s a number trick,” said Noel. “‘I am that is’, we know that’s Matthias. In a lot of the bum poetry they print on the outside they call him Martin’s second coming.”

“And ‘churchmice’ sounded like it meant Timothy himself,” said Tamarack. “And you said that Tess was his twin sister. Two churchmice!”

“That just leaves the grandson.” Noel crossed his arms and slumped down into his coat. “And that’s the part we can’t figure out.”

But Aloysius threw himself out of his seat, sending an eruption of books and balled-up paper flying across the room.

“Martin!” he squealed. “By Martin, it’s Martin! You see – you see, you see – after Matthias there was Mattimeo. He married Timothy’s sister Tess, and Matthias became a grandfather when they had a son – a son they named Martin the Second.” At the blank stares of his pupils-turned-riddlers, Aloysius could only bumble with ecstasy. “Twos! They are all twos, twos! Just like the record itself, two hundred and twenty-two. How blind we have all been!”

“So what do you think?” said Noel. “Page two, line two, word two?”

“Likely it is more than that, Master Noel. The Heraldry is quite a book – I expect Timothy hid quite a message there for us, for us.” Only Aloysius’s voice was still with them. He had returned to his desk headfirst, digging out quill, ink, and paper. When he reemerged his face was that of a bat far younger than Noel remembered. “Now – let us begin.”

Aloysius opened the book to its second crinkled, withering page, and traced one dainty claw along the second line to its second word.

“Well, what is it?” cried Tamarack.

“Very promising, promising. ‘The’.” Aloysius squinted up at his companions, across a distance of only a few inches where their heads had packed together over his shoulder. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but this is a task best left to one dedicated historian, historian. Do not be so downcast! It will not take long. You may return within the hour.”

* * *

Noel could remember a time when the walls whispered his name. They breathed with the spirit of the peaceful warrior, the wanderer whose journey had come to an end. In the first few weeks of his extended stay at Redwall, a lockdown had seemed a pleasure.

Today the walls stared down at him, stern and lifeless. The red sandstone had turned murky brown in the twilight. They encroached on his soul.

Dawdling in the grass outside Aloysius’s study, Tamarack and Foweller were a welcome comfort. Most of their hushed and fervent chatter was spent daring one another to suggest what secrets the message would unveil.

“Maybe it is a prophecy.” Noel traced a dream-cloud in the dust between his footpaws. “It might even mention us.”

“I bet it says Carter is actually half-weasel,” said Foweller.

“Nah. He’s far too ugly for that.”

“How long ago did Brother Timothy live, Mr. Noel?” asked Tamarack.

Noel shrugged.

“Sorry. Most of what I know’s about Martin. I didn’t even remember there was a second one.” He sneaked a grin at Foweller’s shovel. “Or a third.”

“They’re all the same at the end of the day.” Foweller beamed. “Ridding the world of vermin, one dirty murderous weasel at a time.”

If they had not followed that with a pause, if somebeast had thought of something else to say, Noel might not have made the connection. Tamarack looked away, as if she had heard his heart go silent.

“Foweller,” he breathed. “Virrel – was it you that….”

The little otter seemed to perceive for once that this weasel had a heart. Apprehension tarried on his face only an instant before disgust shoved its way past.

“A beast with half a brain ‘twixt his ears would be glad. Rigg said that when you found out about Ripple, you -” Foweller made as if to get up and leave, but just turned the other way in his rudderless seat.

“I’m not sorry he’s gone.” It didn’t surprise Noel to admit it, but it shamed him. “I wish I could be, but all I feel’s…relief. I feel free. I….” He lowered his head. “I just wanted him to be me brother. But he never was that.”

Foweller reached into the dust and grasped Noel’s paw. When Noel looked into his face he saw it had changed like a turning tide, full of grin and mayhem once more.

“Soldiers are brothers,” he said. “They’re bound in blood and fire. There’s nothin’ stronger.”

Noel squeezed his paw in return. Tamarack stood over them, nodding back toward the archives.

“C’mon,” she said. “Curfew’ll start soon. May as well pester Brother Aloysius while we still can.”

* * *

The archive had not changed since they left, still untidy and raging with dustclouds – yet there was something newly broken in the atmosphere. Noel and Tam exchanged a glance. Foweller bolted forward.

When they reached Aloysius’s desk they found only the bat, still alone and still alive. He cringed and trembled and did not acknowledge them.

“It was nothing, wasn’t it?” Tamarack mumbled. “Just gibberish, like you said.”

“Worse than that. Lies, lies. Callous lies.” Aloysius strangled the paper in his claws. “It says – it dares to suggest – our Martin, our guiding spirit -”

Noel reached out a paw.

“Let me see.”

“It is absurdity.” Aloysius yielded his notes without argument, eager to give them up. “A dead end, dead end. Brother Timothy must have been no more than a charlatan.”

“No.” Before Noel’s eyes had finished tumbling down the page, he too was shaking. Just like love, he recalled, he could sense the truth.

The letters grew scrawling and weak as Aloysius had watched his faith crumble away. Noel’s voice did the same as he read aloud:

The Society of Martin formed soon after his death. He was not buried in secret, but with fanfare at Redwall’s heart. Those who remained swore to follow the ways of Martin and the Woodlander’s Code.

Time passed. War and famine challenged Redwall. Hope failed.

Fables of Martin told in Mossflower became truth to many. Visitors came telling of miracles and visitations. Inspired, Saxus enshrined legends in recorded history. It was accepted, then taught, that he came to heroes in dreams. Prophecies were concocted. All forgeries and fiction. But faith in Martin revived.

Falsehoods were discovered many times by scholars. Those who found the truth had to choose: die or join. History was rewritten to eliminate these incidents from the record. Soon only beasts selected by the order were allowed to hold positions of leadership, to minimize exposure.

Treaties with vermin tribes made Redwall neutral ground. War came only when the order thought to frighten abbeybeasts into submission. Salamandastron ensured damage was not excessive. Wars did not break out, they were organized. The rat general and fox slaver broke the agreements.

This writer’s brother makes demands: vermin must never enter Redwall, must be destroyed when possible. Much disagreement resulted. Society, among which this scribe is shamefully counted, nearly split. Compromise that vermin will be called enemies of Redwall, but when abbeybeasts grow too content vermin are summoned to carry out what has been made their ancestral duty.

This one knows not if Martin truly lived, but reliquary holds treasures of fondest heroes, alongside names of those who defied the order. The sword remains. This Recorder gives you what truth is known. He begs who reads this to learn the rest.

If the walls of Redwall had been tightening around Noel before, they were collapsing on him now.

There were no questions in him anymore. He sensed there were still answers left to be found, but they were faraway hopes, stylized ideals, only silhouettes of reality. In the absence of his continual dogged assault on the truth, only Foweller’s innocent query made it up to the goal line.

“I thought there were only two churchmice,” he said. “If Timothy had a brother, too, then the words must be wrong.”

“Mattimeo was Timothy’s brother-in-law,” said Aloysius. “The rat and the fox are Cluny the Scourge and Slagar the Cruel. It appears the effects of the war and his enslavement as a Dibbun drew vengeance from his heart, his heart. Before then, this Society appears to have had genuine intentions.”

“They lied.” Noel’s throat was raw, as if the message had poisoned him on its way out. The others were still crowded round him, their eyes fixed on him and on the sheaf in his paws. He felt like a clown and a broken creature. “Martin’s dead. He always has been. Maybe he never even -”

There was a terrible resolve in the way Noel’s pawsteps took him toward the door. He didn’t know where he was going.

“Stop, Master Noel.” Aloysius’s voice reached him as if from a great distance, but on the verge of the doorway Noel lingered to obey. “Martin did exist. I do not know to what reliquary Brother Timothy refers, but he is right. The Warrior’s paws still held that sword that has seen so much bloodshed. This…this may redefine our faith, but it does not destroy it, destroy it.

“We do not,” Aloysius gulped back tears, “we do not need dreams. Even the early Society knew this. They lived by the Code, the Code. As must we all.”

Noel turned back to face him, leaning against the doorframe for support.

“Nobeast will believe this,” he said.

“Perhaps not, but Brother Timothy has made a request. I…I think it only polite to honor it, honor it.”

“To learn the truth.” Noel still struggled to hold himself upright, but his smile shone bright and strong. “I can do that.”

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