If the Sun Won't Rise on My Soul
November 3, 2011
“Take this,” said Case.
“No.” Noel pushed the sword back out of his paws. Only when it was safely away from him and cradled awkwardly in Case’s arms did Noel sense the years in the blade. He warmed the dust from the handle between his claws. “Where’d you get that?”
Weapons rained down from the upper windows of the Tremontaine Inn, catching the moonlight and glittering gold and silver on their way to earth. They landed in thuds and clanks on the dusty street outside, where shadows broke free from the crowd to snatch them up close. Of the rebellious element of Redwall City, heroes and lunatics alike, there couldn’t have been more than a hundred beasts assembled outside. Noel was pleasantly surprised.
“Flint came across an armory as he put the finishing touches on our cellar tunnel. I call it ours – it was only our discovery.” Case’s gaze followed the fluttering path of an airborne mace and chain. “They really should be more careful with those.”
“Tim Churchmouse’s reliquary.” Noel glanced at Tam, but in the midst of inspecting their army she had stooped to collect one of the ancient weapons on the floor. “You found it?”
“Surely you of all beasts don’t think us clever enough to have excavated so long a tunnel in such a short time?” Case chuckled away at his self-deprecation. “It was a forgotten room, at the end of a collapsed tunnel that led from somewhere in the cellars. Only Flint’s expertise detected that there had been a construction there at all. Within we found these weapons, many of which -” He laughed again. “You may think it mad, but to me they fit the description of many an ancient weapon of Martin’s chosen warriors, once thought lost in time. In actual fact, we found this in amongst it all.”
Case opened his outstretched paw to reveal a chilling, familiar trinket: the glittering cloakpin symbol of the Society.
“It seems our friends must have lost track of the room in relatively modern times,” Case murmured. “We couldn’t let these treasures fall back into Carter’s paws.”
“And you didn’t think of makin’ this public?” Noel threw out his arms. “Beasts’ll follow a fable anywhere, we could’ve had the whole city behind us!”
“If you could tell me who would have believed they were real,” said Case, closing his paw back over the cloakpin, “maybe I would have considered it.”
His knowing smile soon found itself a reflection on Noel’s muzzle. Even when the truth was clear for all to see, as stark as death at the paws of a tyrant, beasts would rather see a gracious protector and an invisible enemy.
“Hsst! Case!” A shadowy face peered down at them from the upper room. The craggy outline against the light suggested Maggie, the badger whose homely inn had become a war room. “Is that the weasel with you?”
“Yes. Yes, I’ll…send him up.” Case’s body turned back toward Noel, but his nose kept going until it was pointed toward the ground. “There’s somebeast in that room I meant to show you, before Clacher – Fates, lad, Clacher! What happened? Why haven’t you said?”
“He’s dead,” Noel mumbled. “But – the beast in that room. Is he -”
“Dead,” said Case.
* * *
“What was that?” Tam waited for Noel to approach, eyeing Case as he hobbled into the depths of the assembly. “Not another batch of post?”
Noel’s stare was pinned on the dirk in her paws, but it took in none of the ornate styling, the ancient crafting, none of its beauty or its violence. He seemed, as he had done all that first winter that Tam had known him, to be searching the pits and bruises of his own soul.
“They’ve got me brother,” he said. “He was in the street, shot. Sounds like Rigg and Foweller were there. The bailiff was gonna take him away, but Case…he knew I’d come for him.”
“Oh, Mr. Noel.” Tam started and her head tilted back up straight. “But maybe it was Rigg that -”
Noel shook his head and waved the faint hope away.
“Doesn’t matter now. I dunno if it’s on me to forgive what Fowel’s done, but I have, even before…anyway, it don’t matter. When this finishes, I’ll take him home.”
Tam laid a paw on Noel’s ever-shifting shoulder.
“That’s right,” she said. “No matter what anybeast says, he belongs with all our friends – Mr. Andrew, and Bludd, and Ms. Saskia.”
“Tam, I meant – Norford.”
There was a spike in Tam’s start, an extra tremor of alarm as she released his shoulder from her grip. If looking at her was painful for Noel before, it was unbearable now.
A shadow swooped down on them and stifled anything more they might have to say. Fyfe came crawling out of the darkness, a keen blend of kindness and frenzy on his brow.
“Mr. Lingham,” he said. “I believe we have prepared everybeast as well as we are able, able. Are you ready to move?”
Noel gave one last decisive glance at Tam, and in the pursuit of the truth their eyes could still meet.
“Yeah. As good a time as any.”
* * *
“You sure you going in there empty-pawed?” said Tam.
Noel lolled his head at her and laughed. It was a good sound to hear, even if it drew a few nervous glares from their compatriots in the woods. The air was crisp and icy and the moon was lost in the tangled branches of the trees, but the night felt refreshing, like a pint of October ale after a long hot afternoon on the campball pitch.
One rough brown paw snicked down into the undergrowth and, when Noel caught up to Tam a moment later, he was carrying a fallen bough of rotting oak. It was Tam’s turn to laugh as Noel busied himself snapping the twigs off his new club.
“You’re going to face down Brother Isidore with that thing?”
“Oh, aye. Don’t be surprised when he takes off running for his mum.” He nodded at the blade in Tam’s paw. “What’s that you’ve got?”
“Some Long Patrol dirk.” She shrugged. “Case laughed when he saw me with it, said it belonged to another beast named Tam. How’s about that?”
“We call that fate, my dear.” Case had appeared behind them, grin wrinkling his face into a dim shroud of shadows in the moonless woods.
“But Mr. Lingham here thinks he controls his own destiny,” said Case. “Yet you believe in Martin, as well as Redwall.”
After a pause, Noel replied, “Yeah.”
“Yet those stories are built on prophecy and fate. To trust in both freedom and fate must take a great deal of balancing skill. I’m envious to learn.”
“It all makes more sense to me without it.” His downcast head sprang up. “What’s that?”
Tam’s paw could be seen tightening around the handle of her dirk.
“How long ago did Fyfe fly ahead?” Noel demanded. “Is he back?”
“Not yet,” said Case. “He’s only been gone quarter of an hour, if that. Why?”
Noel lunged forward.
“I smell smoke.”
* * *
Overground, the gates of Redwall appeared much sooner than did the yellow candlelight at the end of the rebel tunnel, but it was the scene that confronted them that made time stand still. The gates were framed in bright blazoning light, overshadowed by billowing columns of smoke.
“Fire,” Case breathed. “Redwall, my Redwall!”
The gates, or what was left of them, were thrust outward into the night, lest the heat and the flame creep into the depths of the stones and bring them tumbling down to earth. For the first time since he strode into Redwall in the depth of winter, seeking shelter from the storm and respite from his tormentor, Noel saw the gates of the Abbey as they were meant to stand: open.
“Now’s our chance!” Noel lifted his bough high above the heads of their scanty crew, then stormed the ditch as if he might land before Redwall in one leap. “Now!”
In the haze and heat and panic on the other side of the gates it must have seemed like thunder on the wind. From out of the night, their vision stung with smoke and the stabbing blaze of the flames, abbeybeasts Noel and Tam hardly recognized must have thought the nightmare murderers of winter were upon them at last. They dropped their buckets and scattered before the lightning struck.
“Through the gates!” Noel heard his voice crowing with lust and glory. “Through the gates, come on! Redwall’s ours!”
* * *
“Brother Aloysius,” Tam gasped. “He must’ve done it! But -” Her head swiveled over her shoulder as they passed through the smoldering hulk of boards and twisted, mangled rivets that had made Redwall a prison for so many months. Noel drew her close, shielding her from the wave breaking around them.
“What is it?” he said.
“Look – the archives.” The friendly little hut where Aloysius and Martin had lived side by side was crumbling under the tremendous weight of the flames. The fire looked to have bled away from it, spreading from there up to the gates. “Why would he have done that…?” said Tam.
A roar of anguish cut short their fearful thoughts. Finishing the race across the lawns, they found Case empty-pawed, weapons thrown to the floor, fists pummeling helplessly against the solid oaken doors of Great Hall.
“Blast it all, I had him. I had him, he was in my sight!”
Noel passed his claws over the sealed doors, then seized Case’s shoulder and brought them both hurtling backwards at once. A glass jar full of the infirmary’s viscous cure-all solution struck the earth where they had stood, and as Case sat recovering from the near-blow tiny Sister Delores could be seen leaning out of a high dormitory window.
“You murderer!” she shrieked. “Are you behind this? Look what you’ve done to our abbey!”
“Now, now, Sister. That’s hardly in the spirit of our order, is it?”
Case could only manage a squeal of rage as Carter appeared over the ledge. Noel struggled to put himself in the hedgehog’s place, imagined that Mum and the Old Weasel and Lucy and Tam were all snatched from him in one terrible instant. Even with the real losses they had sustained at his paws, he couldn’t fathom the depths of that void in Case’s heart.
“Brother Case,” said the Abbot. “Enough of this, please. You were sentenced with exile so that we might all put the past behind us and live in peace.” Carter’s smooth velvet tones tumbled down on them like a fog, drawing a haze over their own passions. But Noel could sense the darkness in his heart with the scorched edge in his next few words. “I see now that we have taken alarm at a mere pawful of beasts. This cannot end well for you. I pray, turn back now and you may leave Redwall as free beasts.”
Noel’s paw sealed itself over Case’s shoulder once more, warm and heartening this time. He lifted himself up from the ground.
“There’s more than enough of us to keep an eye on every door out of that building, and for as long as we need.”
“I was warned about you.” The dark anger threatened to consume Carter entirely. “There were many who told me not to welcome two ragged weasels into our home. They feared an outsider would be the one to bring destruction to our Abbey.” He lifted his voice, to the many faces now peering from the windows and to the countless abbeybeasts within. “Let it be known to all present that this beast – this creature to whom you entrusted your dibbuns – is a deceiver. He followed a beast named Cassius, a notorious vagabond and murderer in his own right, for many seasons in Mossflower. It is only fitting that he now allies himself with another old enemy of this place.”
“An old enemy?” Noel demanded. “Nobeast up there heard what Case did and thought, no, that can’t be right? Because you knew him, and he was your friend?” Noel offered his paw to Case, along with a faint smile. “Time we heard the truth.”
Case nodded and stood on his own. He brushed the dust and ash from his knees and stepped forward, and in the dawning light of a new day in his abbey – his home – the heartbreak of his scheming and rage fell away. Each and every face lining the windows beheld only a shattered beast, yearning for something that could never be.
“My family – my Arabella, my lads Lucas and Michael, my Betony – they were murdered. That will always be true. But they were taken from me. By that beast there – Carter, the beast you call Abbot!”
Even from the ground, Carter’s face could be seen betraying a flinch. Perhaps he had expected, or hoped, for silence, for more of the stinging catcalls and jeers that echoed down from the heights. The overwhelming sound was one of gasps, of terrified whispers and doubt.
“For years he’s been plotting to destroy me,” said Case, drawing strength from his audience, “ever since he discovered I was next to be abbot. A wayward Long Patrol thug, the taking of Redwall was just another campaign for him. And he’s deceived you all as well. So many of the beasts you’ve lost this last winter, and since, their blood was spilled by his paws!”
“We’ve heard this before!” Sister Ambrosia shoved herself to the front of another window, glancing only briefly at the stubborn shape of her brother on the ground. “Your rumors and your tall tales have got round by now. What reason would the Abbot have to murder his own beasts? Brother Andrew and little Ripple – they were only taken from us once this vermin and his brother came to poison our home!”
“Watch how you use that word, ma’am,” Tam snapped.
“Indeed, Sister,” said Case. “Don’t think us foolish enough to believe your Abbot walks alone. We are aware of the tools he holds, the names of those who follow his every command, even to murder. We know who you are!”
The Society responded to the call-out with silence, cold as marble. Noel searched the ground, the obeisant ranks of his army ringing the building, standing awkward guard at every threshold. Up above, angry and anxious and empty faces stared down, waiting for doomsday to rise with the sun. Through one portal Noel caught a glimpse of the cool, penetrating eyes of a rat before they disappeared again into the red stone walls.
“You say you come here to rescue my own beasts from me,” said Carter at last. “I, who have done all I can to protect them against you – who drew first blood and then cast our beloved dead back at our gates like so much filth. You claim to save this place and everybeast in it, and yet you stand here and let this abbey burn!” A curious expression lit his features, something between resignation and delight. “I will be the one to save this place. I cradle Redwall in my paws. This foolishness will end now.”
* * *
Isidore was waiting for him inside.
“The muskets,” said Carter.
“No!” Emmerich Coffincreeper, still coughing up smoke from the firefight, threw himself at the Abbot’s footpaws. “Please – my Tam’s out there. I don’t know how, and when all this is over I’ll thrash her to the ends of the earth, but Father Abbot -”
Carter deigned to set a paw on his head.
“I am afraid the time for instructive punishment has ended. Our way of life now is threatened. Surely you would not side with one who shames your kind, who earns himself the name of vermin?”
Emmerich offered only a sob in return. Carter released him, sighing.
“We will do what we can to spare your kin,” he said, “but the most I can promise is to protect this abbey. Brother Isidore -”
* * *
Then suddenly, there was light. Light and no sound – and then a terrible roar, rumbling and fire.
“What was that?” Tam said it as they ran, arms thrown over their eyes to deflect the light and the heat searing outward from the far side of the main abbey building. Noel kept pace alongside her, oak branch still held aloft.
Not much more than what they found would have convinced them that doomsday was truly nigh. The rear of the abbey building was almost no more, a smoking hole of charred sandstone belching smoke and flame. The smell brought an image to Noel’s mind of a thousand of his old flintlocks all firing at once.
“What happened here?” Case shook Flint’s stunned prone form where he found it lying several yards away. “Blast you, brother, wake up!”
“Case, get back to the main doors!” Noel snapped. “Don’t let one eye off Carter, you hear me?”
“These were the store rooms. Who did this?” In Tam’s murmur Noel could hear what was beginning to dawn on her, and what had yet to touch him as the outsider: Redwall was burning. Now that its heart was aflame the horror of it became real. The abbey, a landmark of peace for generations – Martin’s home – stood at the brink of destruction.
“Forget what it was, Tam. This is it.” Noel summoned his strength and thrust his club into the yawning breach. “Redwall is ours!”
He unbuttoned his coat and threw the free edge over his muzzle. With a glance for Tam to steel them both against the onslaught, he narrowed his eyes and threw himself forward, dissolving into the flames.