Grace (Found Briefly)

June 9, 2011

After meeting Noel, Selendra returned to the Nameday Feast. She kept to the shadow of the belltower, away from the games and gluttony and commotion. Her neckerchief made her itch and sweat; she tied it, untied it, eventually tucked it into the waist of her skirt. A match flared and then fell from her paw. She champed the stem of her pipe.

Someone joined her: a ferret.

“It’s a lovely evening,” she said. He smiled; they stood there in the dark each like one half of a different pair of lovers, each waiting for some other elusive beast. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time: “It’s your turn to say something, Merritt. I’ve talked about the weather.”

“Whatever you want me to say, I will. Formalities, a poem, something ribald–”

“Poem. A good one.”

“Good at its heart? Or popular, lots of stirring empty-headed words, maybe a heaving bosom or two?”

“Merritt,” she snapped. “Don’t toy with me.”

“Sorry, then.

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead beasts rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea
.”

“Hum.” She tapped the ashes out of her pipe. “You always know how to bother me.”

“Yes. But I also meant it’ll end.”

She sighed and lit her pipe again. She last met her contact weeks ago, for a delivery of parcels at the wicker gate. She had taken a crate filled with tinkling jars: someone had marked the marjoram’s lid, for “joy.” On delivery to the kitchen she opened the jar and found a dried nasturtium amongst the herb– that was for “victory.” Julian had reached Salamandastron.

She also found a sprig of prince’s feather, meant only for her.

“Where’s Berend?” she asked. “No one told you anything?”

“No.” He dug in his pocket. “I’ve got to show you the most remarkable pamphlet, though, it’s about Case– things even I never thought I’d see–” He offered her a crumpled, sextodecimo booklet.

She turned it over in her paws and then tore it down the middle. “That’s not funny. Who made this?”

“Wasn’t Saskia,” he said. “Wasn’t anyone I know.”

“Don’t talk to me. Bother someone else.”

She stalked away, but Merritt called her back. “Come, then, Sel, some little words. You know how fond I am of you.

I prophesy, with feet upon a grave,
Of freedom, though all beasthood were one slave;
Of truth, though all the world were liar; of love,
That time nor hate can raze the witness of
.

“So you see, I’m not so bad,” he said, and gallantly he kissed her paw. “Go.”

The bats swooped overhead, stirring the already-riotous feast. Isidore’s head pounded with a surfeit of sour white wine as he and Brother Aloysius led the new guests away. He felt trapped in one of those dreams that haunt soldiers years after their tours: running-dreams with arrows, high fires, and breezes that tug and might really be the enemy’s clutching paw.

The otter at the gate heralded their approach. Together they divided the guests into three lines, to take papers. One mousemaid in Isidore’s procession wore garlands of flowers on her neck and on one arm. She laughed when she saw him. “Halloo,” she said, “you’re the beekeeper?”

He squinted at her papers. Berend Beecham of Rillrock. Herbalist and midwife, here by invitation of–

“Selendra tole me all about you.” She beamed. “We met at market, though, you ‘n me. That wax you sold, I use it for salves and I swear there’s naught better.”

“Well, thank you,” he said, and he returned her papers.

He and Aloysius finished their queues. The otter at the gate elbowed Isidore. “You got your paper, ratty?”

“Rigg,” said Aloysius, “don’t tease. Isidore is a Brother, a Brother.”

“Oh, I know– I’m only kiddin’.”

“Aye,” said Isidore. “It isn’t any trouble.”

He joined the festivities. He was happy just to watch the dragon-tongue flickers of gentian blue at the heart of the bonfire; he thought of a night long ago when he had addressed a teeming crowd, like this, just like this, and each of them had held a torch so a field of light like endless stars burned beneath him.

But those were idle dreams: he had yet to apologize to Skipper’s son.

First, though, he found Selendra. She stood at the fireside with a lanky hare and the mousemaid Berend.

They spoke absently, about the food and the sweet night air. “Do you remember,” said the hare, too voluble, “that dreadful thing the schoolmistress recited every evening when she made us tramp about the yard?”

“Fates, do I!” said Sel. “You know, she was the fattest cat I’d ever seen… I always thought she might pounce if I didn’t keep an eye on her.”

“No, that’s the old ferret Merritt did drawings for,” said Berend. “Jack, jill, dib, he’d jump ’em.”

He noticed Berend’s left arm ended in a stump at the elbow. Her garlands stopped him from appraising the napped, worn fabric of her shift.

Isidore found it curious Selendra had befriended someone so obviously deficient, yet it was admirable in its way. He esteemed Selendra for the temper of her soul. Her spirit was of particularly strong, masculine quality; it shone through in her large and knuckled paws, in her hoarse, smoke-parched voice. Best of all she was one of those rare, very rare females who did not take the world for granted, never wearied her beauty with powders or milks even in the smallest quantity, enjoyed the sweat of honest work.

“Oh, don’t talk to me about Merritt.” Selendra massaged her temples. “He made me so angry–”

“What now?” said the hare.

Selendra sighed. “He had one of his dreadful pamphlets.”

“Is he–” Isidore hesitated. “He’s the one that circulates… Aloysius had said. Don’t–”

“Look,” said the hare, “Let’s not talk about ‘im. I’ve told ‘im ‘undreds of times, I stamp my foot and ‘e’s never once listened to me.”

“You’re his partner,” said Isidore.

“I– no!” the hare stammered. “I mean, I know ‘im. But I’d never…”

“Come here,” he said, tugging her away from the fireside. “I must speak to you.” He placed a paw on her shoulder. “There is no room for filth in the Abbey. I won’t tolerate it. And if you– your influence– might corrupt Selendra–”

She snorted, and she brushed his paw away. “Don’t lecture me.”

“If you should like a good friend, or good work, I live here.”

“No,” she said. “I don’t even know you.”

“All right.”

He turned back to the pair of mice. Berend dressed Selendra with garlands, calling the flowers’ names. “Here’s chamomile,” she said, “columbine, and pheasant’s eye. Give one of these to Sebastian, ‘n Flint. This is yarrow. That’s for the Abbot, if he wants it.”

He caught young Ripple on the stairs to the attic. The otter flinched away from him. His bowl of shrimp slopped broth on the floor.

“Let me be. I worked it off now,” he said.

But Isidore gently tapped his back. “I was a fool. I apologize.”

“All right, then,” said Ripple, and shuffled away.

Isidore followed him into the library. “Listen.”

The event of that afternoon had made a profound impression on him and aggravated his nerves; it was perfectly in keeping with his code of ethics and yet had disturbed him utterly. He had not been so cruel in a long, long time. His actions shone like the bright patch on a wall when some object has been taken away and the rest of the surface has dimmed and dirtied. “You see, I regret it. But if you should ever need a friend, then I am here. I would like to teach you.”

“I got friends, sir. I got a teacher. Brother Aloysius.”

“I mean if you would like to build things, or grow them… I am sure you have an able mind, and you should exercise it.”

“I do. It’s all I got.” He waddled to his desk.

“Well. Good night.”

“G’night.”

Isidore’s paw pushed the door open but he turned at the otter’s cry. “Mister Isidore! Mister Isidore! Come quick, there’s–”

“Aye?”

“There’s somebody in the stacks.”

The library’s darkness descended on Isidore, a pitch that pressed on all sides and made his whiskers prickle. A creaking moan split the silence. Isidore rounded one of the shelves. There in the deepest shadow, somebeast lay crumpled like an old, dry beetle belly-up in dust; the figure’s claws scuttled over the spine of a book. Ripple peeped from behind Isidore. “It’s Brother Raimun,” he said.

Isidore knelt beside the mouse. Yellow foam covered his chin. “Please, please,” he croaked, clutching blindly at Isidore’s habit. “Carter…”

“Lad,” Isidore snapped. “Find the Abbot– stop sniveling so. Tell no one.” He patted Raimun’s cheek. “He’ll be here soon, Brother.”

Raimun shuddered, and died soon thereafter. There in the silence, Isidore held the Recorder, stroking the old mouse’s paw.

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Cobb sat a little ways away from the Coffincreeper family finishing his meal. Miz Tam won’t be happy that th’ kitten left. Oi didn’t foind out more about th’ pin. His head sank a little lower.

Where be Miz Tam anyways? She be gone a long toime naow. He looked around; nobeast was watching the unobtrusive mole. Cobb got up from the table and headed in the direction Tamarack had gone. Oi’ll foind her moiself, then.

Cobb found himself wandering towards the abbey’s main building. He passed an unattended cart piled high with pamphlets and books. His eyes caught on one of the books’ spines and widened as he recognized a couple of the letters. “‘A’. And that’s a ‘C’.”

Cobb stood staring at the letters. He could pick out a few more, but the others swam in front of his eyes. The mole shook his head and re-focused on the abbey’s main building. As he was watching, the doors opened and a familiar figure came bounding out. Tamarack was carrying an envelope clutched tight to her chest. She turned her head to look behind and almost ran into him.

“Watch out, Miz Tam.” Cobb caught the vixen as she stumbled to regain her balance.

“Come on, Mr. Cobb. We got to get this to Brother Raimun, now.”

“What be in th’ envelope?”

“Something about Julian Case. I don’t rightly know, but I think it’s important.”

“Miz Tam, you’m be sure we should be doing this?”

“Mr. Cobb, I have to deliver this. You don’t got to come with me. It’s your choice, but there’s something mighty peculiar going on in this Abbey, and I reckon it ain’t just a body and pin.”

The vixen plowed forward, heading towards the gatehouse. She be going boi herself. Oi need to go with Miz Tam just to keep an eye on her. Young ladies loik her shouldn’t be wandering about boi themselves. Cobb plodded along in Tamarack’s wake.

The pair passed the tables set out on the lawn, now about empty while everybeast enjoyed the activities. Cobb almost ran into Aloysius.

“Oi’m gurtly sorry, Brother Aloysius.”

“Oh, it is no problem, problem. I was just returning to the gatehouse for a moment, moment.”

“Brother Aloysius, have you seen Brother Raimun?” Tamarack looked at the bat expectantly.

“Yes, my child. He was just finishing his supper at the table beneath that tree, that tree.”

“Thank you, Brother Aloysius. C’mon Mr. Cobb. We got a job to do.”

Cobb shuffled along behind Tamarack who was trotting towards an elderly mouse sitting at one of the long banquet tables.

“Brother Raimun, Mr. Merritt asked me to give this to you. I’m not rightly sure what it is, but he said it’s real important.” The vixen handed the mouse the envelope. He opened it and looked at the paper inside.

“Thank you, Miss Tamarack. And who is your friend?”

“Oi be Cobb, zir. Oi work for th’ Coffincreepers.” The mole looked at Tamarack. “Miz Tam, Oi think we’m should be returning to your family naow.”

“Just a moment, Mr. Cobb.” Tamarack turned back to the mouse. “Brother Raimun, who’s this Julian Case fellow?”

“Julian Case used to reside here at the abbey, Miss Tamarack,” Raimun replied.

“He did? What happened to him, sir? What was the ‘Unjust, Cruel, and Barbarous Proceedings’? Is that why he don’t live here no more?”

The mouse sighed. “Miss Tamarack, it seems you have been reading something that wasn’t meant for a young beast’s eyes. Don’t trouble yourself with this anymore. Run along now; I won’t say any more about Julian Case.”

“Miz Tam, we’m been gone a long toime. Let’s go an’ leave Brother Raimun to his reading.”

A spark of protest flickered in Tamarack’s eye, but Cobb saw it extinguished a moment later when she turned to look at him. “Aye. You’re right, Mr. Cobb. Mumma’ll send Colm looking for us if we don’t get back soon… and Ms. Saskia’ll be wondering after me. Good night, Brother Raimun.”

“Good night, my children.”

Cobb and Tamarack headed towards the bonfire that was at the center of the night’s activities. Some beasts were dancing, some were playing games, still others were chatting with neighbors from outside the abbey’s walls. But all of them had drawn close to the fire that was lighting the night.

“Cobb, Tamarack,” a voice said from the shadows, “please come closer.”

The duo halted and turned towards the voice in the trees. Tamarack started forward, but Cobb put a claw on her arm. “Miz Tam, you’m think we should follow a voice out there?”

“You worry too much, Mr. Cobb. Could be important. Maybe something about the cloakpin from Ms. Saskia!”

They stepped closer to the trees and the shape of a beast wearing an abbey habit came into view. It turned and went a little further into the trees, beckoning them to follow. They did and started when the Abbot’s kindly face turned back towards them.

“It seems we have a couple of thieves in my abbey.” The otter peered out of his hood at the mole and vixen. “Cobb, you’ve already been imprisoned for stealing from me. And Tamarack, what would your parents think if they knew of your nightly activities?”

The duo stared at the abbot, wide-eyed.

A pike’s smile stretched from ear-to-ear. “We live in a community, my children. One that I have worked so very hard to build. The community keeps us safe. It keeps us loving each other. Which is why I’m so very disappointed that two of my children would seek to undermine that in times when terrible forces threaten us all. Stealing from one of my Order, smuggling the literature of cowards and liars, and lying to your abbot… so boldly.” The otter’s teeth glimmered from the shadows.

“We’m didn’t –”

“We weren’t trying –”

“Have you heard the story of the curious fox, my children?” At their silence, Carter continued. “There once was a little fox named Durian. He was a clever beast, far too clever for his own good. And curious. So very curious. Every night, Durian would wander the Abbey lawns looking for new and interesting treasures, and one night, he came upon a beautiful cloakpin… silver with a red ruby at its heart. He wanted to know more about this pin, though his friends and the Brothers and Sisters of the Order warned him that it might be dangerous, that the pin’s owner might somehow hurt Durian if he persisted. Durian would have none of it, and… well… I believe you know this part of the story, Tamarack? I would hate to have another Coffincreeper turn up dead on the lawns. Durian was curious, just like you, my child. You would do well to remember that curiosity may kill the fox” — his eyes flicked to Cobb — “and her accomplices as well as the cat.”

The otter pushed his way past the stunned beasts who turned to watch him leave.

Cobb looked at the vixen as Carter padded off through the crowd. “Perhaps we’m shouldn’t tell so many beasts about th’ cloakpin, Miz Tam.”

“A-aye, I think you’re right, Mr. Cobb. We’ll have to step right careful from now on.”

Cobb took the vixen’s paw and led her back towards where they had left the Coffincreeper family. They walked in silence, until the mole spotted some familiar beasts. “Look! There be Zir Colm an’ Miz Ida! Let’s go an’ join them.”

The duo threaded their way through the throng of beasts towards the fox couple, happy to be among friends again. Colm and Ida were seated by the bonfire surrounded by a scared-looking group of dibbuns. “Hah!” Tamarack perked up, and Cobb smiled. “Colm’s telling one of his scary stories. The dibbuns love hearing about ghosts in the graveyard.”

“Miz Tam?” Cobb stopped at the edge of the group of dibbuns. “There really be ghosts in th’ graveyard?”

“You ain’t scared, are you, Mr. Cobb?” The young vixen lilted the question, teasing the mole.

“Just a bit, Miz Tam. Oi doan’t want to meet any ghosts.”

Cobb and Tamarack sat down to enjoy the story. The fire flickered across the faces of everybeast, the shadows becoming masks.

Colm continued his story in hushed whispers. “The ghost of Mattimeo rose, then, all armoured splendor. ‘Halt, vermin,’ he said. ‘Why are you stepping on the sacred ground of Martin?’

“Gramps – my grandpa, Durian Coffincreeper – stood his ground. ‘Revered Mattimeo, times have changed; I live here.’

“‘A vermin living within these walls? It cannot be. I will gut you where you stand, fox!’

“Mattimeo charged at Gramps, his sword drawn –”

A dark, hulking figure stumbled into the edge of the group. Cobb shrieked, joined by a chorus of dibbuns. He felt Tamarack jump at his side.

The figure let out a moan and opened its mouth:
“So when she needs a-scrubbin’
‘Tween ‘er keel an’ ‘er rudder
Be sure it’s not a-scuppin’
From the paw of another

‘caaaaaaaause

Unless you want ‘er poop deck soaked
An’ ‘er aft-castle all a-flooded
Be sure to keep yer draft a-slicked
E’en if it is a-rutted.

So scrub ‘eartie, scrub matey
Keep the barnacles at bay
A swift current, swift stroking
Keeps her sailing every day.”*

Skipper collapsed onto the ground, sobs shaking his body. “I miss Loire. So much, I miss ‘er.”

“There, there, Skipper,” Ida said, patting his back. “Let’s get you inside and to bed.”

She motioned to two nearby otters; each hooked one of Skipper’s arms around his neck and half-dragged him towards the Abbey dormitories.

“Hurr burr, Oi wasn’t scared when th’ Skipper showed up.”

“Nobeast said you were, Mr. Cobb. Sure you weren’t just a bit scared?”

“Burr, Miz Tam, not Oi. Zir Colm, will you’m finish th’ story, please?” Cobb sat down again on the grass, leaning forward in anticipation of the conclusion.

“Shhhh. The abbot’s about to give his speech,” traveled through the crowd in whispers. Cobb stood up and, with everybeast, turned towards the steps where Abbot Carter was standing, his paws held up to quiet the masses. He waited until all eyes were upon him and cleared his throat.

“These times have changed our fair Abbey, my children. Old foes live in peace within our walls, we have sent forth missionaries to aid the sick and wounded wherever they may be, and the wonders of our times allow us to spread the word of peace to everybeast in Mossflower. These are troubled times, though. Lockdown, murder…” His eyes seemed to fix on Cobb, “thievery. And mistrust grows as a tumor within the flesh. It begins small, innocuous, but the disease will spread, destroying what we all hold dear.

“We must cut away these tumors, though it pains us so, before they can lead to worse. We must trust each other, and you must all trust me. We have lost so many friends, young and vibrant, old and well-loved, alike. Until this menace has departed from our woods, you must stay safe in the Abbey. Look to me, look to the Brothers and Sisters of our Order to care for you. Nobeast shall go wanting within these walls. Most of all, though, look to each other. Ensure that we are, all of us, banded together.

“If you know a beast –”

The abbot’s words were cut off by a loud “Skreeeee!”

Cobb could feel the wind from flapping wings as shrieks from the crowd around him joined the chorus of skrees above.

Somebeast shouted, “Move out o’ th’ way,” and the mole felt himself being jostled against Tamarack and Colm, the three of them being shoved back as a group of bats swooped down and landed next to the bonfire. Cobb strained to see them over the beasts in front of him.

There were three bats. One was male; the mole thought it looked like his ear had been chewed by a very large beast. The other two were female.

“Uncle Aloysius,” the smallest bat called out into the night. She was wearing a beret and a striped scarf.

Carter’s eyes flashed as he looked around for the bat in question. They found him as he was joining the other bats by the fire. “Brother Aloysius, since you seem to know these bats, please escort them to the gatehouse so their identifications may be processed. No beast may enter the abbey without it. Brother Isidore, please accompany them and provide assistance.”

“Eilonwy, my little niece, come with me, with me.” Aloysius smiled as he led the three bats through the parting crowd and towards the gates.

Cobb‘s eyes sought out Isidore and found him standing near the fire. The rat nodded at the abbot and followed the bats.

Carter watched the group of beasts disappear into the dark before he turned back to the crowd to continue his speech.

“If you know a beast who has been acting suspicious, let one of the Order know. We can confront this individual, learn what motivates him. And, if he is a spy, if he is one of these vile creatures who has targeted innocent Abbeybeasts, we will deal with him accordingly.

“We have been through much, but this is just a test, my children. This past winter has been hard, but it is spring now. A time for birth and growth. But with these new beginnings comes the bittersweet sting of remembrance. And so, this spring shall be known as The Spring of Remembering Lost Friends.”

A murmur went through the gathered beasts. “The Spring of Remembering Lost Friends.” Everybeast mulled it over, seeing how it tasted in their mouths.

Next to Cobb, somebeast whispered, “I didn’t think he’d name it for the murdered beasts.”

Cobb turned to Tamarack, his mouth open in surprise. The vixen’s own face mirrored his. “Mr. Cobb, why is he naming this spring for them? It’ll make everybeast sad when they think of it.”

“Miz Tam, Oi think that’s whoi he did it. Oi think he wants us to remember them.”

 

*A “Thank you” goes out to Tibsy for writing Skipper’s Song for me. Everyone knows he’s the bird to go to for poetry!

The Worth of a Book

June 9, 2011

Aloysius flew high overhead. It was a starless night, the moon bright and full, following the bat as he traversed an open field, books scattered hither and thither, no rhyme or reason. His eyes scanned the covers, sharp vision unquestioned as he searched for the one lost to him. A flash of color caught his attention, and he veered his path to land next to the jewel encrusted book. The Mossflower Heraldry was finally in his claws. Relief flooded him, then drained to nothingness as he found no text contained within the pages. He slammed the book closed with a growl and took off. There, to his right, but this one contained no text either. Three more books he left behind, his heart hollow and empty as he realized the fool’s errand he had undertaken. One more book, and he would end his search for good. He opened the gemstoned cover and grinned at the ink-filled pages. He had found it at last.

Slam!

The abbey historian awoke with a start, his dream fading away like ripples on the abbey pond. He cast a stone, clutching at the memory before it was lost to him entirely. The Mossflower Heraldry had returned to him. Where had it been? A field, it was somewhere lying in a field.

“Oh, sorry, Brother.”

“Ripple, Ripple?” Aloysius said, cold reality seeping into his senses. His face was moist. Looking down, he found the pages of his ledger damp and translucent. Without sparing a thought to what he was doing, he wiped at the drool with a wing, unaware of the words and letters smeared. Turning to the otter, he blinked. Ripple’s shape refused to dissolve into focus. “How may I help you, child?”

“I was just … looking for an escape … from the festivities.”

“Ah, there is no need to be ashamed. It is rather commendable to turn to your studies in times of such temptations, temptations.” Rising from the floor, the bat lifted his ledger and placed it on his writing table, the only space available. He grimaced when he realized what he had done. “If you would like,” he said, gathering his quill and ink pot, “you may aid my search for the Mossflower Heraldry. It seems to have been misplaced, misplaced. You haven’t taken it, or know where it might be?”

“What? No! I would never take a book without askin’.”

Aloysius folded his wings and smiled. “Yes, I had assumed so. You are a good lad, young Ripple, always polite and courteous to others.”

“Actually, Brother. I was wonderin’ if I could borrow a book.”

“Oh?”

“Aye. Miss Saskia mentioned she gave ye one that I was rather interested in.”

Aloysius face lit up like a full moon. “Ah! You mean the Two Treatises on Government. An excellent historical debate on the philosophy of vermin government, vermin government.”

The gatehouse door slammed open, causing the bat to cringe at the resulting noise. Silhouetted against the abbey lawns was a diminutive figure, its shape unrecognizable to the bat. “Ke ke ke,” Aloysius squeaked, and the figure’s form appeared to the bat as a young female wildcat.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, child. May I ask your name, and why you felt it necessary to shake the walls of my archives with such a grandiose entrance?”

“’M Bludd. Who’re you?”

Aloysius blinked at the young wildcat. “I am Brother Aloysius, the historian of Redwall Abbey, Redwall Abbey.”

“I’m-a call you Ysius, because it sounds like vicious!”

“Brother Aloysius if you please, if you please, or Aloysius if you must. I am not one for nicknames, I’m afraid.”

But Bludd was already marching around the bat, her voice loud and dissonant as she composed a quick ditty. Aloysius curled his ears at the volume.

“Ysius, Ysius, he’s so vicious,
‘Cause he is a bat.
He thinks all beasts are quite delicious
‘Cept, of course, the cats!”

“He does not,” Ripple retorted, but it sounded hollow and doubtful.

“Please, please,” Aloysius said, extending a wing to collect Bludd as one would a wayward dibbun. “Perhaps we can continue this conversation in a less precarious location, location.”

He ushered the pair outside, away from his spired archives.

“Oy, I thought ye said ye knew him,” Ripple hissed.

“I do,” Bludd hissed back.

“Then why’d ye ask who he was?”

“Cause he asked first!”

Aloysius breathed a sigh of relief as he closed the door behind them. “As much as I enjoy your company, company, there is a feast going on, and it might be better for young ones to play than stay cooped up inside.”

“But Brother Aloysius,” Ripple started.

“Now, now. Don’t forget I was once a Dibbun myself, myself. Perhaps one day I may relate the mischief that seemed to follow me wherever I went.”

Ripple’s mouth snapped shut after a moment of gaping.

Aloysius shook his head. “It will be good for you, good for you. There will be time for studies later.”

“But Brother, please! I won’t spill shrimp on anythin’, honest! Let me stay!”

“I’ll be good!” Bludd joined in. Aloysius wished the night would settle faster. It was getting rather hot.

“Unfortunately, with the work I must do, I am incapable of supervising a pair of young ones. Besides, we are in the midst of a feast, and I have come to the startling conclusion that I have had nothing to eat all day, all day.”

“Ye don’t have to supervise! We’ll sit outside, ye won’t even hear us! I promise!”

“No, Ripple. Please, entertain your friend, your friend.”

The otter huffed. “What about the book?”

“I will bring it to you at the close of the festival. Now run along, run along.”

The two wandered away, Bludd swiping at Ripple’s bowl, which he held high above her reach. “Ke ke.” Bludd was in the air. “Ke ke.” Their paws connected, and Ripple’s bowl was falling. “Ke ke.” The two were staring at the ground. “Ke ke.” Bludd was running to the abbey lawn, Ripple in hot, well, lukewarm pursuit.

Aloysius hesitated, then locked the door to the archives.

Once in flight, it was not long before Aloyius’s nose led him to the feast, and with a few squeaks, located Brother Raimun sitting amongst their brethren at a table. The bat landed softly, clambering next to him on the bench. Raimun did not bother hiding his surprise.

“Brother Aloysius! You’ve joined us!”

“Yes, well, the Abbey has always been known for its feasts. It is a shame that I have failed to attend one until now, until now.”

“Try the black currant tart. It’s some of Andrew’s best.”

“Perhaps. I am not one for sweets.”

“Ah, perhaps you’d like some of the October Ale, then. Ambrosia’s quite proud of her barrels. Said she’d been saving some for a special occasion.”

“Ah, yes, thank you, thank you. I’ve always had a soft spot for the cellarhog’s recipes.” He grasped the mug Raimun presented him in both claws and leaned in for a draught.

“Ha, that’s you. Always one for tradition. In that case, try some of the moles’ famous Turnip’n’Tater’n’Beetroot pie. Still sweet, but there’s enough bitterness to cut it.”

Before Aloysius could protest, Raimun had a plate in front of him. Relieving himself of his mug, the bat picked up a fork, fumbling with the handle. “Pardon me, pardon me,” he said as his wing brushed Raimun’s side.

“You’re looking a touch more blotchy than usual. Rough day in the archives?”

“Yes. I’ve been searching for the Mossflower Heraldry, which seems to have gone missing from my shelves.” Aloysius sighed as a piece of pie fell from his fork.

“Just hold it as you would a quill.” Raimun demonstrated. “It’s not so different.”

“It is quite different, quite different. It is much easier to dine mid-flight.” The bat returned to his drink.

“Speaking of the Mossflower Heraldry, Foremole was asking about that the other day. He’s a trustworthy soul, so I let him borrow it.”

Aloysius turned from his drink to cast a disapproving look in the mouse’s direction. “Brother Raimun, the ledger is there for a reason, for a reason.”

“Aye, sorry about that. Slip of the mind. I didn’t think you’d be needing it.”

“You’d be surprised at the things that go bump in the night, in the night. Still, I am pleased to hear it is in safe paws. Foremole, though? I never would have imagined him to show an interest in such a tome, such a tome.”

“Who knew? Didn’t say much about it, only that he was ‘gurtly ‘appy’ and that he’d have it back as soon as he could.”

“Is he around? I would like to know what it was that interested him so, him so.”

“He’s off putting the younger Dibbuns to bed.”

“Ah, I will catch him on the morrow, then.” Aloysius made to rise.

“Come now, you aren’t leaving so soon? Let me pour you another mug; you’ve barely touched your pie!”

“Thank you, but I’m afraid I’ll have to decline, decline. I have soiled the ledger, you see, and I must make note of Foremole’s sanction.”

“Well, hurry back! Abbot Carter’s set to deliver his Nameday Speech at any moment.”

“I will, Brother Raimun. Thank you, thank you.”

As the beasts of Redwall Abbey laughed and danced under the burgeoning twilight, Noel lurched his way through the crowd and, when nobeast else was looking, clutched a paw to his belly. So much food. He’d been picking at it all afternoon – pasties and cakes, cheeses and ales. He’d be at it still if not for his current quest.

“Foweller? Foweller! Where are you -?”

It was a haremaid who responded, waving from a gap amidst the throng. Noel slipped his stomach-bracing paw back to his side and cocked his head as he drew near.

“‘e’s just been through ‘ere,” she explained. “Bounded off to get a table not three seconds ago.”

“Cheers – eh.” Noel slowed to a stop. “Feel like I know you from somewhere.”

She shrugged, a casual smile easing its way over her teeth.

“I think I’ve seen the back of your ‘ead before. I deliver the books.”

“Ah yeah. The print shop.” Noel flicked his claws at his right temple, as if to twiddle his memory. “Been in there once or twice.”

“Really?” She gave a laugh, a worried one if Noel’s ear caught it right. “I wouldn’t’ve guessed. You’re into literature with a lesson, are you?”

“Couldn’t stand the stuff. There’s no answers in it – no offense. Name’s Noel, by the way.”

“Saskia. And I just set the type, so none taken.” She jerked a thumb off to one side. When her eyes followed they took on a troubled slant. “You were looking for somebeast, though…does that look right to you?”

It didn’t. Not ten paces away Foweller stood more like a marionette than an otter. Ripple hovered nearby, as if afraid to get tangled in his invisible strings.

“Oi, Foweller!” Noel nodded to Saskia and forgot Ripple, who at the sight of Mossflower’s most zealous campballer merged back into the crowd like a shade. Only by touching Foweller at the shoulder could Noel bring him back to spastic life. “Where’ve you been all day? Didn’t you see the roster?”

Maybe it was the pseudo-military jargon that caught his attention. Foweller was at once back in tune, his reply more challenge than echo.

“Roster?”

At ease now, Noel chuckled and fished a scrap of paper out of his coat pocket. Food as good as Redwall’s could make a beast forgetful. There wasn’t anything like this in Norford – even his mother’s prawn and ale pie, once his paragon of culinary perfection, had sunk well to the bottom of his estimation.

Foweller blinked at the list that was offered him.

“So this one can read,” he mumbled.

Noel seemed to suck in his lower jaw, the closest he could come to a pout.

“Enough to see us down here, anyway.” His claw tapped at where Brother Raimun had diligently copied out their two names, under the heading “Lawn Games”.

Foweller peered up at Noel for the first time, eyes heavy with weariness.

“Let me guess: campball?”

“No.” The pout did not subside. “The Abbot said we needed ‘variety’. I’ve got some sack races that need seeing to, think you could help me with that?”

Foweller grinned. If Noel had studied his face a moment longer, he might have called it a smirk.

“If you can’t manage a few dibbuns with skinned knees – very well.”

“That’s the spirit, eh!” He clapped a paw to Foweller’s back, at which the otter stumbled forward and then took off running for the playing fields. Noel loped after him, his enthusiasm flagging. Getting an otter to play games shouldn’t feel like pulling teeth, even if those games didn’t include the One True Sport.

There were already a dozen dibbuns at the touchline, burrowing in and out of the granary sacks as they waited for the signal to begin. Noel frowned. Where was Tam, or her brother, or anybeast with a sense of humor advanced beyond bogey jokes? Foweller was right – they had skinned knees and yoinked tails to look forward too, and all the bratty yowling that would ensue.

“Having second thoughts, weasel?” Foweller was getting stuck in, shifting the tottering dibbuns upright and pointing them in the right direction. A simple enough job when they were all delirious with excitement, perhaps.

“Nah, I love this stuff.” Noel grinned over his own sarcasm. “Just wondered where Tam and her lot were.”

Foweller’s expression fairly curdled over. Before Noel could ask, the otter muttered something to himself and then cried out for the race to begin.

Bobbing like hares to the dinner table, the tiny creatures hopped and flopped all over the lawn with the chirrups of cheers and giggles singing in their wake. While Foweller crossed his arms and continued to look lost, Noel waved his paws over his head like a madbeast.

“No, no, don’t stop there! You got to come back this way, come back – that’s it! It’s on now, Foweller, look at them two, the squirrel twins. Nobeast else has come close.”

“Quite a brotherly relationship they’ve got,” said Foweller. “Too bad Virrel can’t say the same.”

Most things Noel could laugh off, and many more things he could pretend away, but the topic of his brother wasn’t one of them. He pretended, for the moment, that Foweller wasn’t wearing a look of triumph now that he had discovered this.

“You can say a lot of things about Virrel,” Noel mumbled.

“I don’t know. For a weasel he’s almost worth his own breath.”

Noel rocked side to side, twitched as if about to burst out of his fur. An experienced beast might have leapt forward to intervene, finding in it the same kind of alarm motion preceding a fist to the muzzle. The only danger Noel presented, though, was a voice almost too low to hear.

“Listen, Foweller,” he said. “Be careful around him, all right?”

Foweller’s eyes narrowed to slits.

“I think I can manage on my own.”

“I mean, you do what you like. But if you like your neck the way it is you’ll stand clear of him.”

“If I like my eye the way it is, who should I stand clear of?”

Noel whirled on him, changed completely, all fangs and diamond eyes and bristling fur. Never before had he looked more verminous and vulnerable all at once, a new and different species born of anxiety and fear.

“Oi! I bloody mean it -”

“Excuse me – Noel?”

The two beasts swung around as one. Behind them there stood a stocky young mousemaid, paws held before her as she decided whether or not the interruption was a welcome one. Noel’s penitent smile gave her the answer.

“Selendra…right?”

“You know me,” she said, beaming with surprise. “I understand you and Isidore have gotten very close since you both came to Redwall.”

Noel turned to face her, happy to let the weight of the sack-bound dibbuns and the agony of Foweller fall behind him.

“Knew him before that, actually. Used to pass him by once in a while on me walks. He gave me honey.”

“Those must have been long walks.”

“They didn’t feel that way.”

“Well,” said Selendra, “I could do with a short one now if you don’t mind talking to me for a few minutes.”

“All right, Foweller?” Noel’s face was doubly apologetic, but he wasn’t sure Foweller caught either meaning. He was watching the squirrel twins bounce across the finish line, together.

“I told you I can manage on my own.”

Noel sighed and began to walk, shuffled a bit when he realized he didn’t know where they were going, and started the conversation instead.

“How long’ve you known Isidore?” he asked.

“Not too much longer than you, I expect. He keeps himself to himself.”

“He’s clever, isn’t he? He’s – he’s kinda like me. Got up to some funny stuff when he was younger, but now I think he’s got his life pretty well figured out.”

Selendra led them away from the festivities, toward the orchard. For a moment she squinted ahead, behind the trees, then leapt across Noel in the direction of the pond.

“You are similar, aren’t you?” Her voice had dropped, the sound barely carrying the few inches to Noel’s ears. “You know Isidore calls you his ‘pupil’ sometimes. What kind of funny stuff do you mean, though?”

This was sounding familiar. Noel tried to shake off the coincidence. Best to get it over with at once, he supposed.

“Everything,” he said. “Scrumping, boozing, opium. Followed round a gang for a while after I left Norford.”

“Norford – that’s the village just across the ford on the River Moss? Near that cave formation, what’s it called?”

“Lingl-Dubbo Cave. Hence me name.” At her questioning gaze, he added, “Lingham. Me family name.”

“I see. This gang you were in – was that near here, then? Do you remember who led it?”

“Yeah, bit south of here, and west. Nothing major we did, really, just hustled a few travelers and the smaller villages, and rival gangs o’ course. Least, nothing major that I did. Couldn’t really get into it.”

“What did the chief have to say about that?”

“Not much. It was a big gang, don’t think he really noticed me.”

“No? What was he called, again?”

They were nearly at the southern wall. Selendra glanced up to the walltops, changed direction again. Noel was losing patience. It didn’t matter who the chief was, just another powerful beast glutted on fear taking advantage of the lost and lowly. He had explained his feelings to Isidore once, but it hadn’t come out right. Now he didn’t even try.

“I dunno,” he snapped. “Pine marten. Cassius, he was called. Probably wasn’t even his real name. He wasn’t anybeast important anyway.”

Selendra didn’t respond, and almost lost him. The urge to fly off back to smiling faces, even if they were loud dibbun ones, was overwhelming in the face of her quiet interrogation.

“What kind of a beast was he?” She sounded farther away now, as if her thoughts weren’t really with Cassius or Noel or anybeast.

“A sad one. Harped on for ages about how vermin aren’t oppressed in other parts of the world like they are in Mossflower.” His voice finally faded from a snarl to a sigh. “He only wanted what every other old vermin wants – a fight and a free ride off somebeast else’s back.”

“But you don’t.”

“Yeah. No. I don’t know. That’s the problem.” Noel laughed and halted where he was, spreading his arms wide. “Me brother’s fine. He knows what he wants and he’s happy to steal it out from under you. He’s not like the rest of ‘em back home. You know Norford – full o’ vermin who’ve figured out it’s no good fighting anymore. Thing is, when you take the fight out o’ vermin who’ve lived on it for generations, they’ve got nothin’ left. But I’m not like them, either. Nothin’s not good enough for me.”

Where they had stopped was nearly back at the feast, the warm scent of stews and pastries wafting with the acrid crisp of lit torches on the breeze. The playing fields were in view also, empty.

“I’d like to talk to you again soon, Noel,” said Selendra. “For right now, though, I need to ask you a favor. Will you leave your past buried for a little while? Especially this Cassius – he’s in your past now, isn’t he?”

“Fine. That’s no problem to me.”

Selendra looked down at her footpaws, struggling for the right words.

“I’m…worried for you, you see. You mentioned your brother Virrel. He seemed to be coping here at first, but in the last half-season we’ve had him carrying off parts of the harvest, spoiling the larders – and then there was the incident with the gravestones. The Abbot nearly had a riot on his paws when he refused to send Virrel away for that. If he found out you were in a proper gang yourself, I’m not sure he’d be able to protect you, either.”

Noel felt a tremor throttle him from the inside out. The Abbot knew already. What did that mean? Would he send them both away, would they take him away from Martin? He could just kill Virrel if that happened, make his neck gape and weep scarlet like those frozen faces at the Abbey gates –

He blinked the idea away. It wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t. Still, his voice was no less harsh to Selendra before he turned his back on her.

“I said it’s fine and I meant it. It’s only ever other beasts who bring up what I used to be. I’m only interested in me future.”

As it happened, his immediate future heralded a kitten. This Noel learned only after performing a vaulting forward somersault over something huddled in his darkened path. Soundless with surprise, he sat up massaging first his head, then his stomach.

“Ah ‘Gates,” he moaned. “If those pasties taste as good comin’ up as they did goin’ down – oi, Bludd! You all right?”

Bludd sat crouched on the ground without an answer, looking as though she’d been caught with all four paws in an especially large biscuit jar.

“Noel,” she said, words bursting forth as if they leapt from a sinking ship, “lissen. Matey. I ‘eard – I thinks I ‘eard somethin’ as you might be wantin’ t’ ‘ear. ‘Twas some beasts ‘as been sayin’ things about – about you.”

“Bludd?” Noel leaned forward, and in between the wrenching pain of his overfull gut and the lingering images of his brother, of Selendra, of the Abbot, he realized he couldn’t even manage half the smile he reserved for the little pirate cat. “Who was it?”

Bludd blinked at nothing a few yards behind him, squirmed away from the imaginary sight, and darted away as suddenly as she had appeared.

“I’ll tell ya’s later!” Shadows chased her across the lawn back towards the feast. Noel glanced in the same direction she had before running away, but Selendra was gone.

Dancing on the Edge

June 8, 2011

“Where’d yer get those funny specs, Cobby me ol’ Gob?  Can I try ’em on?”  Bludd swiped at the mole’s goggles, less out of curiosity than the fun of watching him squirm.  He was jumpy as a riled up pike!

“Um… Oi’d appreciate you’m stopping that, Bludd. Besoides, you’m would be bloind as a bat wearing these, burr hurr!”

“Oh.” Bludd’s ears straightened as though an electric current had run through them.  “Aloysius is blind?!”

“No, no!  Oi mean… er…” Cobb cleared his throat.  “Oh, forget Oi said anything.”

The wildcat giggled, licking the scraps from her whiskers.   “Yer a canny one, Cobby.” Her eyes shifted to the mole’s plate. “Ahoy, gonna finish yer vittles, mate?”

“Not so fast.” Cobb guarded his food against a testing swat with his claw. “Oi’ll even get you’m some of that fresh custard if you’m tell Oi more about th’ cloakpin.”

Bludd leaned back so that her chair reared up and balanced on its hind legs.  “Pins is pins. Aintcher already got one of yer own?”

Cobb fiddled with his claws. “Aye. We’m do, Miz.”

“‘s rotten swag,” the wildcat murmered, slouching forward.  “Too runty t’swipe. Why’re you lubbers so keen on it, anyway?”

“Hurr, we’m not be looking to take it from him! We’m just be coorious.”

Bludd’s only response was a long, level stare. Cobb nearly shrank from the sudden silence, but pushed on.  …”Were Brother Tompkins wearing th’ cloakpin? Did you’m see it recently?”

The kitten blinked. “See wot?  Y’mean that monster longy-leg spider wot just crawled on your noggin?”

To her surprise, the mole grinned widely.  “It’ll be on your’s soon if you’m doan’t tell Oi more about th’ pin!” He reached up to feel for the arachnid. There was nothing there.

And then neither was Bludd.

“Creepy ‘ol git!” The wildcat gasped for air as she scurried away under the tables as fast as her paws could take her. Reaching the end, she considering making a break for it across the courtyard when voices reached her.

“Hey, Rip, let’s sit over here.”

Bludd crouched perfectly still, recognizing the voice as Foweller’s.  Her tail wiggled like mad as she leaned back on her haunches.  Ripple would never see it coming!

Another set of footpaws approached.  “Oh, hi Foweller.  Can I see you for a moment?” Bludd gave her whiskers a little twitch in recognition of Noel’s voice.

“All right.  Be back in a tic, Rip.”

The two males wandered off and Bludd nearly cackled with glee; her target was isolated.  Now was the time to strike!

Ripple let out a bark of surprise as a furry cannonball struck him square in the chest.  His chair wobbled perilously, but didn’t fall back.   “Oi!  What have I tole ye about doin’ that?”

“Don’t.”  She batted him on the nose.  “But yer looked so down!  So I thinks to myself, me ol’ second mate could use a bit of a pick me up!”

Bludd wriggled away to the unoccupied chair next to Ripple.  He glowered. “Ye know, I wouldn’t be lookin’ so down if somebeast would behave an’ stop gettin’ other beasts in trouble… an’ lyin’ about there bein’ hares.”

“There wuz a hare sellin’ stuff! I saw ‘er earlier today.”

Ripple gave the kitten the stink eye, and she curled her tail around her shins. “Cor, mate, I’m sorry…”

“I know ye are, but sometimes just sayin’ ‘sorry’ ain’t enough!”

Bludd’s ears drooped and she mewled pitifully.  Ripple’s own expression softened.

“Look, if ye want to be my friend, ye gotta learn how friends ought to treat each other.”

The otter leaned back, on account of the cat’s face suddenly close to his.  “How do I learn that?!”

“Um, I don’t really know how to explain it right now.” He pushed her away.  “I’d have to ask Brother Aloysius. He’s got a chant for it an’ everythin’.”

Bludd wiped her nose with a paw.  “Sounds great, mate! But first, Cap’n Bludd’s gonna liberate a few tankards of sweet cordial.”  She swiped at the air with a paw, sporting a grin that would have made a shark jealous.  “Yer wanna come with me?”

“Um…” Ripple looked around.  “I would, but I’m still s’posed to be doin’ chores. I gotta ask Skip when I can be done…”

Bludd’s face fell.  “Oh.  Well, later then?”

“Aye, maybe.”

The wildcat scurried off, her tail at half-mast.  She had wanted to tell Ripple about Aloysius being blind, but didn’t much feel like it anymore.

Bludd sighed, flopping over the side of an open keg of strawberry cordial like a bandy rag.  It wasn’t quite seaweed grog, but the rosy liquid did have its perks.  She licked her lips – fizzy!  Just the right tonic to heal a wounded corsair’s spirits.

The kitten craned her neck at the other barrels and the truth unfolded before her.  It was so obvious:

Hidden inside the deepest depths of the Castle lay the wooden vessel holding the fabled and miraculous Ale of Wonder. The evil, greedy King Carter wanted to keep it for himself, but Captain Bludd would be the one to liberate-

What was that?

Bludd’s ears perked – voices. With an otter’s grace, she slipped out of the cordial and crouched beside the barrel, hidden in its shadow.

“You checked the doors?” That was a female’s voice, but unfamiliar.

“Of course.” This one was male, and Bludd saw the speaker in her mind even before the hedgehog stepped into her line of vision. Brother Sebastian was always nice to her, letting her taste the cordials when she came down to play about the cool stones of the cellar

“Mm.” The other beast revealed herself as a mouse.  “Tell me,” she whispered.  “What do you make of the young weasel?”

“Virrel?”

“No, his brother.  Noel.”

Sebastian nodded. “Oh, aye.  I’ve seen ol’ Carter’s taken an interest in him as well.”

The mouse’s eyes slit to the smallest of half-moons.  “I think he might have seen the incident with Cassius’ lot.  It would certainly explain our abbot’s newfound interest in him.”

“If that’s the case, we might need to protect him, Selendra.” The hedgehog’s silhouette flickered, and he toyed with something unseen.  “Just this morning, I caught the tail end of a conversation betwixt Brother Tompkins and Sister Delores.  They were talkin’ about Noel.  Apparently, he gets into scrapes an awful lot… I imagine it wouldn’t be difficult to do away with him and make it look like an accident.”

Bludd’s ears grew hot; she nearly spit her anger at the two beasts.
Poor Brother Tompkins had been her very first friend at the abbey. It seemed everybeast and his brother was picking on him when he wasn’t even around to defend himself!

It wasn’t right.

And now all this nonsense about pins.  Bludd wasn’t sure what make of it all.

It took a moment for the wildcat to realize that silence that had once again washed over the cellar walls.  She peeked over the barrel only to see familiar shadows and nothing else.  She leaned back against the barrel to think.

Should she tell somebeast?  Her ears perked.  Of course!  I’ll tell Ripple.  May’ap e’ll know wot ter do.

The kitten was already galloping up the stairs when Ripple’s disinterested face swam into view, and she felt her paws deaden even as she stepped outside into the cool air.  He probably wouldn’t care about what she had to say.

“Hello there, Miss Bludd.”

She let out a startled hiss, but let her fur fall flat when she realized it was only Abbot Carter approaching her.  He chuckled.

“No need to be alarmed; I won’t be keeping you for long.  Just one thing…”

“Yessir?”

“Do you consider young Ripple a friend?”

Bludd looked fixedly at her pawpads.  “Aye, sir. I tole ‘im I wuz sorry fer gettin’ ‘im in trouble like I did, but-”

A strong paw ruffled the fur on her head, and she held back the urge to give it a good slash  “That’s a good lass,” Carter said.  “And I know you didn’t mean anything by it – dibbuns will be dibbuns after all.  But all the same… do try and keep out of trouble.”

Despite his kind words, there was a very clear Or else lingering in the otter’s gaze.  Bludd was used to picking that out.

His piece finished, Carter smiled and walked off.  Bludd stood for a moment, her blanket cape rustling faintly. An idea struck her and she bolted, in pursuit of Noel.  He might be interested in what she’d heard…