The Good Rebel

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.

“Follow me.”

* * *

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.”

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