Blown Buds of Barren Flowers

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.

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