Morning came to Redwall in a dramatic manner, the light of dawn surmounting the walls and tingeing the sandstone a dusty rose hue. Some of the light found its way onto Andrew’s eyelids, causing him to sit up groggily. He hit his head on a low branch, and decided to lie down a bit longer until he could collect his thoughts.

Let’s see…last night… escaped from the kitchen and visited Aloysius with Tamarack and that mole. Bob, was it? Something like that. We went our separate ways and then… Urgh. Should have thought through the sleeping arrangements better. Which probably explains why I’m lying under a bush right now. I miss my kitchen.

Still, at least it had been a fairly uninterrupted sleep. Andrew felt ready to face the day, at least if it didn’t put up too much of a fight. He crawled out from under the bush and dusted himself off. As he did so, the mouse realized that there were several tears in his habit, as well as a couple of painful-looking scratches on his body. Must be from the glass in that window, he thought. Amazing, I never felt a thing. Should probably stop by the infirmary later to get that bandaged up, though.

Thankfully, the door to the main Abbey building was open. Andrew strolled through, and made it about ten yards before somebeast noticed him.

“Hey! Aren’t you that mouse who locked himself up?” called out a squirrel.

“Yes, that’s me.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“I came out.”

“Oh. Well…good job for that, then.”

“Thank you.” The mouse was already growing tired of this conversation when he remembered the job that the Abbot had entrusted to him. “Oh, and by the way, remember how I said that I was worried that monsters were going to kill us all?”

“Aye?” The squirrel cocked his head. “You finally admitting that you were wrong?”

Andrew laughed. “‘Gates, no! I’m telling you that the only thing keeping those Things from running rampant through the Abbey is the lockdown. So, I suppose it turns out that we’re in slightly less danger, but it’s not really too much comfort.”

“Ah.” The squirrel stood still for a moment, allowing the mouse to widen the distance between them. Then, he seemed to reach a conclusion and ran to catch up with Andrew.

“You sure about that?”

“Positive.” Andrew hesitated before playing his ace, but he suspected his warning would be better received if it had an authority figure attached to it. “The Abbot himself told me.”

The squirrel goggled. “Really?”

“Cross my heart.”

The squirrel was left in a thoughtful frame of mind while Andrew continued walking. His time locked in the kitchen had allowed him sufficient time to forget the layout of Redwall, though, because it took a full ten minutes to remember that the main kitchens were not, technically, in the main building of the Abbey. He hurriedly retraced his steps and made his way across the lawn to his destination.

Redwall’s kitchens! Not that small thing that he had been locked in for days, but the real kitchens that had stood since time immemorial. The atmosphere flowed through Andrew’s senses – the clamor of pots and pans, the smell of food cooking (and burning… beasts tended to become flustered this close to a feast), and the air so thick that if you stuck out your tongue you could almost taste it. He was back.

The mouse sidled through the crowd to his old spot on the counter. Luckily, nobeast had taken it in his absence. Andrew still had the cleaver, and while he wasn’t going to stab anybeast he certainly would have gestured in a very pointed manner. His return had gone unnoticed in the general chaos, although Reynold, the hedgehog next to him, gave a cheery wave. The mouse grinned and did likewise. The kitchen workers were obviously big believers in “forgive and forget,” particularly the latter part.

Andrew settled back into the familiar groove of chopping vegetables, seasoning fish, and kneading dough. While his memory of the Abbey geography had suffered somewhat during his self-inflicted imprisonment, his cooking skills had not. The mouse would never make head cook, but he worked quickly and efficiently, even if he did cause beasts around him to become slightly nervous when he held large knives.

Ah, the Nameday feast. Always Andrew’s favorite feast of the year. He had been quite looking forward to it, and it was a shame that he had missed a good deal of the preparation. Still, it was amazing how much food went uncooked until as late as possible. It was about eight hours before the feast, and there looked to be about seven hours worth of work. Putting off work until the last moment was a revered Abbey tradition, at least in the kitchen.

***

“Oy, Andrew!” barked the lanky otter outside the window.  “Come out for a minute. I’ve got something I want to show you.”

“I can’t,” Andrew replied. He had yet to acquire the haggard look of the constantly vigilant. “The Nameday feast is tomorrow, and Melina said that if we don’t finish this lot of pies before the day is over we have to work all night. And I’m not going to be tired during the feast; the last thing I want is to spend hours preparing this food and then fall asleep in the trifle before I get to eat any.”

“She drives you fellows like slaves. You’ve already got plenty of pies finished. Nobeast’s going to miss you if you duck out for a couple of minutes.”

“Well…” The mouse shrugged. What harm could it be? “All right. I’ll meet you outside the door.”

“Excellent!” The otter beamed, as he took the opportunity to swipe one of the smaller pies before bounding away.

Andrew sighed as he exited the kitchen, but there was no real frustration behind it. Casual food theft was one of the things that you had to put up with if you were friends with Bayard, but for the most part he was an honest soul, if a little over-exuberant.

“Ah, good that you showed up. Come on to the bell tower, I’ll explain as we go along.” With that, the otter bounded off with the mouse trailing behind.

Whatever he’s come up with this time he’s pretty excited about it, thought Andrew, though he had to concede that Bayard never stood still at the best of times.

Andrew mounted the spiral staircase behind Bayard as the otter started to babble.

“I was sorting books for Batty earlier today, and I came across an old recording by Abbot Saxtus about all the things he and his friend Dandin got up to when they were young. Great reading, got a lot of good material from it. Anyway, one thing that I saw in there really caught my interest, and I just had to try it out. So…here we are.”

He handed one of the vine ropes that were slung over his back to Andrew and tied the other to a crenellation. The mouse figured out what was going on after Bayard fastened the other end of the rope around his paw.

“You can’t be serious. You’re not really going to jump out of the bell tower!”

The otter winked. “Why not? Dandin did it, and he came out fine.”

Andrew pushed his headfur back and gazed out across the lawn. The view was amazing, but he was more concentrating on the distance between himself and the ground. He tried to reason with his friend. “That’s the same thing that Nick said when he tried to make the legendary Colossal Flan. He missed one step, and we were cleaning vegetables and dough off the ceiling for weeks. And poor Nick still screams a bit when he sees celery- Hey, what are you doing?”

Bayard had finished securing Andrew’s rope while the mouse was talking. The otter gave him a friendly shove before he had a chance to protest, and then followed the screaming mouse over the edge.

Andrew had to admit that the journey down was exhilarating, though the fact that he was screaming the whole time somewhat detracted from the experience. The whistling of air in his ears and the currents that threatened to steal his hat were not pleasant either. Then an unusually strong gust of wind pushed the mouse over the Abbey pond, and he felt his panic beginning to subside. This was wonderful, just like flying. Why had nobeast tried this-

Suddenly, the rope snapped and Andrew landed in the pond with a loud splash. He surfaced, sputtering, and began to yell at the otter hanging upside down a few yards away.

“You’re crazy! I could have been killed! What in all of Mossflower were you thinking?”

“It was fun, wasn’t it?” Bayard chuckled, paws akimbo.

“Well, yes, but…”

“Then what’s the harm? You survived, just like I said you would.”

The mouse swam ashore and flopped onto land. He lay on his back watching his chest rise and fall as he tried to compose a reply, but he could not come up with one that didn’t feel like lying.

“Is it wrong that I want to do that again?” he asked finally.

“No,” said the otter. “That’s called the spirit of adventure! Great, isn’t it? But before you go jumping off any more bell towers I think you should get back to the kitchen. You do have a feast tomorrow, remember?”

“I completely forgot! See you later, Bayard.”

The mouse fished his hat out of the pond and ran back to the kitchen, leaving his friend still hanging upside down. It would be tomorrow before the otter was discovered, which resulted in a very interesting and entertaining explanation on Bayard’s part.

***

Andrew smiled as he remembered that day all those seasons ago. It remained one of his favorite memories, even after he went back later and realized that one of the Things must have cut his rope and it was only a fortunate wind that saved him from an early death at the paws of his unseen enemies.

The mouse looked around him sometime later when he noticed the background noise of the kitchen had changed. A few apprentices were stacking dirty pots and pans for washing. The food had disappeared with most of his companions. The light had changed, too. Afternoon had wandered toward evening, and outside, the mouse could see beasts gathered and dancing. How the time flew when one was not barricading oneself in a small kitchen and standing a constant vigil for the Things.

Andrew stepped out onto the lawn, and wondered idly which table or activity he should pursue first. He’d picked up in the general kitchen chatter that Saskia was visiting the Abbey, perhaps he could see if she had any new pamphlets on guns. On the other paw, the small library on the subject that he had in his room was not approved of by the older Brothers and Sisters, and he was getting tired of the constant, “What’s that you’re reading? Guns? Don’t you know those things are horrible, not becoming of an Abbeybeast, etc, etc,” lecture. He didn’t expect them to understand that these weapons offered him the hope that he could combat the Things, but the mouse did not understand why they were so suspicious of new technology. With any luck, the Abbey would accept guns around the time somebeast invented a way to shoot lightning from their claws.

He glanced over at the haremaid’s cart, but through the carousing revelers, he could see that Saskia had taken her business elsewhere for the moment. He failed to sight the elusive printmaker on a scan of the Abbey lawns, but there were many tall ears to sort out.

The main building would be quiet. He could carefully plot out his next movements from there. The Abbot’s lockdown would protect them, but Andrew knew the Things could be crafty. He would have to remain on guard. Opening the door, the mouse noticed that Tamarack and the Abbot were talking just down the corridor. Perhaps she was telling him about the pin. The Abbot would certainly be a useful ally in their investigation.

“Tamarack?” he called. This precipitated an odd series of events in which an envelope dropped to the floor between the two beasts, Tamarack dove for it, and the otter stomped on her paw. There was some discussion between Abbot and gravedigger, which ended with the vixen picking up the envelope and massaging her paw.

“Brother Andrew, young Tamarack was just speaking of you,” said Carter.

Ah, well that just about confirmed it. Tamarack had told him about the pin and their research into its origins. Andrew mentally congratulated the fox for her display of initiative.

“Have you found out more since last night?” he asked her as he strolled over.

The Abbot proceeded to puzzle Andrew by saying, “What were you and young Tamarack up to last night, Brother Andrew?”

That was strange. If not about the pin, what could they be talking about that involved him? Maybe they were in league with- no, that was a stupid idea. Tamarack had a somewhat suspicious look about her, but the Abbot would never betray Redwall like that. Whatever the reason for this confusion, he decided to clear things up.

“We-”

“Brother Andrew! I just found something out. Come on, we need to ask Brother Raimun about it.” The fox grabbed the mouse’s paw and pulled him back toward the entrance of the building.

What on earth is going on? “Eh? But…”

“Run along, Brother Andrew,” said Carter. “I’ll find out soon enough. Don’t you reckon, Tamarack?”

Tamarack seemed to react badly to that enigmatic statement, practically dragging Andrew down the hall.

“Just what is going on here?” he asked after they had rounded a corner.

“Mr. Merrit asked me to deliver this here package to Brother Raimun,” explained the vixen. “Told me to be discreet about it, too, but the Abbot was getting nosey. Acted downright strange when he saw what was inside.”

“Oh? What is inside, then?” said Andrew, his curiosity piqued.

“I… I just told you, Mr. Merritt told <i>me</i> not to tell nobeast except Brother Raimun.” Tamarack frowned and hugged the envelope tighter to her chest.

“I’m sure he only meant beasts who might take it,” Andrew reasoned. “I’ll give it right back, I promise.”

The vixen balked. “I can’t, Mr. Andrew. But… Well, the Abbot saw it, so… It’s about some fellow named Julian Case. I don’t think it were nothing too flattering, neither. Something what happened to him here at Redwall.”

Not this nonsense again. Would the speculation over the Julian Case incident never cease? Raimun was purchasing some trash demonizing the Abbey? Just ridiculous. If the recorder wanted a factual account of what was secretly going on at the Abbey, all he had to do was ask Andrew. The mouse was always ready to enlighten others about the threat of the Things.

“Listen,” Andrew said, eyeing Tamarack and her envelope, “you go and deliver that rubbish. I’m going to go and talk with the Abbot, who obviously needs to speak with me about something very important.”

With that, he spun around and stalked back down the hall. The nerve of that vixen, trying to keep Father Abbot in the dark about their investigation. He was a very important beast, and deserved to be informed about anything that went on in his Abbey. Besides, Andrew had a feeling that this pin was related to the murders and the Things, and Carter was one of the few beasts who believed him about that.

“Sorry about that, Father,” said the mouse as he drew within hailing distance of the Abbot. “I don’t know what got into Tamarack there.”

“Think nothing of it, Brother. Now, what was it that you and Tamarack did last night? I heard about your flight from the kitchens, and took the liberty of telling the Abbey Council not to apprehend you when you appeared again.”

“Thank you for that, sir,” said the mouse. See? There was proof that the Abbot was on his side. Tamarack was just being paranoid. “Well, I ran into Tamarack and some mole named…Cobb, that was it, on their way to see Brother Aloysius. Apparently she found an interesting cloakpin lying ab-”

“This cloakpin, what did it look like?” asked Carter. Andrew had the dignity to be somewhat annoyed. What was this, Interrupt Andrew Day?

“Well,” he continued, “it was silver, and shaped like the Abbey, except there was a red jewel in place of the gates.”

The Abbot’s face moved, just a fraction, but enough for Andrew to register the fact and catalogue it in his memory as ‘Important.’ Perhaps Carter knew something after all.

“Anyway, we brought it to Aloysius, and he said that he thought he remembered seeing it in some old book, but he couldn’t find it. Then we all went home, except I couldn’t really go back to the kitchen, so I slept under a bush.”

“Thank you, Brother Andrew. This information is very useful to me,” said the Abbot, who turned and slowly walked out the door.

The mouse felt the sweet nectar of pride intoxicate his brain. He had made a useful contribution! He was sure that this was an omen of things to come, of a day when he would be respected by all of Redwall and finally be proven right about the monsters.

Then he heard a loathsome skittering in a darkened corner of the hall, and beat a hasty exit.

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Gilt By Association

June 4, 2011

“Mr. Cobb, are you kicking me?” Tamarack asked as she sat down across from the mole, her plate overflowing with rhubarb pie, pasties, fish, and spring salad. Something had knocked her leg beneath the table, and Colm was already off to fetch his own food.

The mole dropped a forkful of carrot casserole on his lap as his eyes widened. “No, Miz Tam. Oi would never do that.”

“Well, if it ain’t you, then I got a right friendly spider pulling at my belt just now.”

At Cobb’s frown, the vixen grabbed the paw she could see, now groping along the bench, and jerked upward.

Yeowch! Whatcher go an’ do that fer, ye blasted landlubber?” The owner of the paw appeared, wriggling and hissing. She yanked herself free to stem the blood dribbling from her nose.

“Are you all roight, Miz Kitty?” Cobb passed the young wildcat his napkin.

“Why’re you hiding under the table, Bludd?” Tamarack snorted. “Not to mention punching me like I’m some corpsified beast what don’t care no more.”

“I was treasure-huntin’, matey,” the kitten babbled around the white-now-red-spotted napkin. “Saw me a bit o’ treasure an’ ‘ad at it. Jist an ‘onest freebooter plyin’ ‘er trade.”

“Treasure?” The only treasure she had was… “Bludd! You’re not allowed to steal that. Not never, you hear?”

Bludd wilted. “C’mon, mate, didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”

That had sounded rather harsh. Bludd was good for a laugh now and again. “Sorry, Bludd. Just getting a bit tetchy. Ain’t had a chance to fill up the belly proper, aye? Oh, and this here fellow’s Mr. Cobb. He’s working for my family.”

“So, they’ve sentenced ye t’ th’ wheel an’ chain, matey? Bad luck after ‘scapin’ a dungeon.”

“You’ve met before, have you?”

“Not properly, Miz Tam. She’m were… excited ’bout moi being locked in th’ Abbey dungeon. Oi thought she’m runned off.”

Bludd placed a paw over her heart. “Asked ‘im t’ join me crew. Almost! But pinchin’ veggibles ain’t part o’ th’ pirate code.”

“Right, well, Mr. Cobb, this is Bludd. She sleeps in the graveyard sometimes.”

“Doan’t it get cold in th’ noight?”

“Dead beasts tell no tales,” the kitten explained, tapping her bloody nose.

“And they got the best sort of loot: the kind as ain’t nobeast using no more.”

“Miz Tam.” Cobb’s mouth flattened into a grimace.

“Mumma says it’ll stick if you make funny faces like that, Mr. Cobb.”

By this time, Bludd’s paw had crept across the table and appropriated a mushroom pasty from Tamarack’s plate. It disappeared beneath the napkin. “Is that where ye got that there silver medallion in yer pocket, matey?”

“Not… quite.” Tamarack exchanged a glance with Cobb as she pulled the cloakpin from her pocket and showed it to Bludd beneath the edge of the table. The vixen was careful to hold on tight. “There’s been some trouble, and we found this around about where it started.”

“Eh? Is Brother Tompkins in trouble?”

“Brother Tompkins?” Tamarack pocketed the cloakpin and slapped Bludd’s paw before the kitten could steal another pasty. “Go get your own. And what do you mean Brother Tompkins?”

“Well,’s like th’ one he’s got, innit? Can’t blame an ‘onest freebooter fer lookin’, can ye? No, says I,” the wildcat grumbled, claws reaching toward Cobb’s plate. The mole slid it to the right, and Bludd scowled at him. For a moment, Tamarack thought he might actually stick his tongue out at the little fiend, but he resisted the temptation and settled for a frown.

“Where did you see it?” the fox asked. “Where exactly?”

“Don’ rightly recall.” Bludd crossed her arms and turned her nose up. “Might do with a bit o’ skilly an’ duff, though.”

“Bludd, I–” Before she could finish, Tamarack caught sight of Merritt’s cart. The ferret was gone. “Cluny take the Long Patrol! Here, Bludd, you can have my plate. All the skilly and duff you can eat. Mr. Cobb, I need you to ask her proper about the other pin while I go take care of something.”

“What? But, Miz Tam… Oi’m not s’posed to be alo–”

“Mumma and Papa and Grannie are just over there. You’ll be fine.” She stood as Bludd’s furry tentacles latched onto her plate and drew it in. Dinner would have to wait.

“But…”

“We’re in this together, Mr. Cobb… ain’t we? I need you to do this for me.”

The mole hung his head. “Oi’ll troi, Miz Tam.”

“Cobb th’ Gob, ‘s what I’ll call ye!” Tamarack heard Bludd announce. She didn’t need to look back to know that the mole was staring after her.

Sorry, Mr. Cobb.


The aroma of scholars and scoundrels mixed with grass, wood smoke, and fish as Tamarack crouched behind Merritt’s cart. A quick walk of her claws along one of the boxes brought her to the edge, but she paused for a moment, chewing her lip. It was just a book. This would bring them one step closer to figuring out the pin and helping Colm, whether he wanted it or not. Cobb would deal with Bludd and the second pin, and they’d be two steps closer to the answer.

Merritt wouldn’t mind her looking. Books didn’t mean anything, not really. Not really at all…

Think of Colm. This is for Colm… and for Ms. Saskia, too. The hare was nice enough for a stuffy sort of beast – a bit like Aloysius. She deserved to know a few of Merritt’s secrets, if only to have something to niggle him with when business was slow. Right.

The vixen pulled herself up and plunged her snout into the box, letting her whiskers drift across the pamphlets, loose papers, and tomes. A bit of digging, switching boxes, and holding likely suspects up to the moonlight revealed the book in question: red with gold gilt… no title. She managed to scan the first page before a paw landed on her shoulder. She’d have to talk to Foweller about living up to one’s lookout duties later, possibly emphasizing with a well-placed shovel to his thick head.

“Tamarack.” Merritt managed the precise cadence Mumma used when she was about to tan Tamarack’s hide.

“Well, hello there, Mr. Merritt. Enjoying the festival?” The vixen turned to face the ferret, the sharp white points of her teeth stitching a crooked grin across her maw.

He smiled back, his claws digging into her flesh before he released and pointed at the book. “What are you doing with that, Ms. Tamarack?”

“Reading.”

“You know that’s mine, yes?” There was the sweetest uptick in his voice at the end, like honey laced with nightshade.

“Aye, sir. I…” She couldn’t tell on Saskia, not when she was trusting the hare to keep her own secrets. “I was looking for more of the pamphlets you sold me today. Right good they were.”

“I see.” One of the ferret’s eyebrows rose a full claw-length.

Her ears fell back, and she curled her tail between her legs. He didn’t sound angry, and that was worse. “I’m awful sorry. Didn’t mean no harm, but… Why do you got the names of a dozen Abbeybeasts in your book, Mr. Merritt? It don’t look like Mumma’s ledger.”

Merritt considered her for a moment. “Why do you and your brother always have spare coin lying about, I wonder, Ms. Tamarack?” When she did not answer, he favored her with a conspiratorial wink. “We, all of us, have our mysteries. In any case,” he continued, snatching the book out of her paws and snapping it shut, “how does this sound? I’ll overlook this incident and Saskia sending out kits to do her meddling if you’ll deliver a package for me.”

“I never said–”

“You never had to, my dear.” Waving his paw for her to follow, the ferret led the vixen to another box, this one locked. In a trice, he had the thing open. Tossing the book in, Merritt pulled out a large brown envelope. “Do you know who Brother Raimun is?”

“Aye.” She took the envelope and opened it before he could tell her not to.

JULIAN CASE:
a
True Relation
of the
Unjust, Cruel
and
Barbarous Proceedings
at
Redwall Abbey.


By a Scrupulous Fieldmouse with Scruples Enough.

It sounded like something Aloysius would write. She furrowed her brow, but held her silence. Merritt was proving to be about as forthcoming as a scholar with a bad case of the riddles; she’d get nothing out of him. Raimun, though…

“I would ask that you be discreet about this delivery, Ms. Tamarack,” the ferret added as he dug through his box once more, pulling out a small woven bag before shutting and locking the lid. Tamarack wrinkled her nose at the pungent odor of walnuts as Merritt swung the strap over his shoulder. “If you’re very good about it, I might even give you a treat.”

“I don’t like walnuts, sir.”

“Hmm? Oh.” A sliver of fang appeared as he glanced down at the bag. “That’s not the sort of treat I was thinking of… Saskia might like that, though. I can never tell.” And with this cryptic pronouncement, the ferret slithered away. Tamarack followed him with her eyes as he snaked around drunken revelers and toward the main Abbey building.

She had only managed a small glimpse of the book. Would it be enough for Saskia? Tamarack narrowed her eyes. ‘Mysteries’ my shovel. He hadn’t said she needed to be quick about the delivery of the package, just ‘discreet’. And what cunning creature like Merritt would mind a lass nosing about where he, himself, was concerned? He had slinked toward the Abbey with the air of a cat left to guard the cream… most unusual.

Tucking the envelope beneath her arm, the vixen struck out toward her next minor mystery. Saskia would need good information on Merritt before she would help, no doubt, and Raimun might be in the main building.

Getting there was half the battle, though. Tamarack entered the obstacle course of the festival grounds in just five paces. She dodged past staggering dancers, shrugged off the taunts of lesser beasts who wouldn’t know a how to run a race if the instructions were painted along their legs, and traversed the belly of a badger who had passed out in front of the pathway. At last, her goal came into sight: the door to the main building. She stopped a fox-length short, attention drawn to a skinny otter hunched by the doorway.

Ripple.

He hadn’t heard her, his gaze fixed on a group of hares taking it in turns to show off their jumping prowess by the desserts table.

His legs… The otter’s eyes were bright as he watched the hares, but she could see he was leaning heavily on the wall, almost using his rudder as a prop.

“Rip?”

He turned, and when he saw her, his maw split into that lopsided grin he always wore – the one that made him look like Skipper. “Tam! Where have ye been? I been lookin’ for ye the whole festival. Remy’s been thumbin’ her snout at me all night. We got to show her how a pair of mateys really win a race!” The otter stood straight and loped over to her, his gait easy and familiar as he stopped to slap her on the back. “Hah! I’ll be aimin’ for the gold of course, but yer welcome to try for silver. Or ought I to say, ‘Slowver’?”

Before he could scamper away, Tamarack dropped Merritt’s envelope and wrapped her arms around Ripple’s neck. “I’m sorry, Rip! I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry.”

“What’re ye goin’ all weepy for, Tam?” Ripple laughed. “Only but an accident. Right as ye like now. C’mon, or we’ll miss the start of–”

“Uh…”

Tamarack blinked. The Ripple giggling beside her dissolved into a Ripple goggling at her from the side of the building. He worked his jaw up and down twice, then snapped it shut.

“How you doing, Rip?” She offered a small smile and started to wave.

The otter was already hobbling away, though; every stumble and awkward hop stung like a hornet. Tamarack hurried into the main building, slamming the door shut behind her.

He had seen her. She had finally seen him. And he hadn’t yelled at her, hadn’t screamed. There had been so much screaming that day. Ripple, her, Rigg, Skip…

But he didn’t look mad. The vixen felt the tightness in her chest loosen. He didn’t shout none, or call for Skipper. He’d simply gaped like a landed fish. Coming to think on it, he’d always had a bit of trout about the maw. A smile tugged at her whiskers as Tamarack began marching along the corridor toward the Great Hall. Ripple had just been busy. He wasn’t running away. He wouldn’t run away from her. Couldn’t run away anymore…

Merritt. She needed to focus on Merritt now. But where had he gone? The vixen scratched her ear as she looked around. Two seasons was a long time to go without stepping paw in a building. In the dormitories?

“Tamarack, child, what are you doing here?”

Tamarack whirled about, clutching Merritt’s envelope to her chest as she watched the Abbot pad forward. His sandals hissed softly along the floor.

“I was looking for… for Brother Raimun, Father.”

“Who let you in, child?” There was no accusation in his voice, no challenge, but she could feel the rebuke all the same.

“I’m sorry, Father. Mist-er… Brother Aloysius and Brother Andrew asked me to deliver this here package to him.” She nearly bit her tongue as she tried to clamp down on the lie. Of all the beasts she could name… the bookworm and the mouse who jumped at his own shadow?

The Abbot looked about as incredulous as she felt. “And what would Brothers Aloysius and Andrew wish to deliver to Brother Raimun?”

In for a copper, in for a gold. “A… recipe. Aye! A recipe. Brother Andrew’s a cook, and Brother Aloysius is… It’s an historical recipe, Father. Brother Aloysius found it in his archives and knew… knew Brother Raimun would want to see it right away because… he likes food.”

“I like food,” the otter said, a smile sharper than broken glass cut across his muzzle. “Come, child, let me see this recipe.” He advanced, and Tamarack retreated, matching his stride.

“It’s a secret, Father.”

“There are no secrets in my Abbey.”

“I mean it’s a surprise, sir! For… for after the festival.” She’d run out of room to back up, her tail brushing the wall. “Wouldn’t want to spoil a surprise.”

He still wore the smile, but it was no longer so dangerous. It had been a trick of the light, an odd reflection off the windows. “Ah, a surprise. It would be so very unfortunate to spoil a surprise.”

“That’s right, Father. That’s right.” The guard hairs along the nape of her neck lowered. The Abbot was a kind beast. He was only curious, like her. “You’ll find out soon enough, I reckon.”

“Could you not give me a hint, though, child? A small sampling? I must confess that, while I enjoy them, the ‘surprise’ of these terrible murders have rather dulled my taste for the unexpected.”

As she watched, it seemed to Tamarack that the horrors of the past season began to etch themselves into every line upon the the Abbot’s brow. The otter slumped before her, his shoulders carrying a great, invisible weight. His whiskers drooped, and his eyes fell. Such sad eyes. For all his seasons, he looked to Tamarack like a kit, lost and alone.

“I’m sorry, Father, I–”

“Tamarack?”

The vixen and otter both started, the envelope dropping between them with a light smack.

She dove for it, but before she could do more than place her paw on the brown paper, the Abbot’s sandal had pinned her in place.

“A very interesting recipe, then, this ‘Julian Case’?” Tamarack looked down. Part of the cover page for the pamphlet was peeking out.

“Y-yes, sir.” All of the care had vanished from his face as she struggled to retract her paw. “You’re hurting me, Father. Sir. Please!”

“Ah.” He removed his sandal, and the vixen scooped up the envelope, wincing as she licked her crushed claws. “Brother Andrew, young Tamarack was just speaking of you.”

Hellgates.

Tamarack watched the mouse’s tail twitch as he scurried toward them, his bloodshot eyes fixed on her. “Have you found out more since last night?”

“What were you and young Tamarack up to last night, Brother Andrew?”

“We–”

“Brother Andrew!” Tamarack reached out and grasped his paw, tugging him back toward the entrance of the building. “I just found something out. Come on, we need to ask Brother Raimun about it.”

“Eh? But…”

“Run along, Brother Andrew,” the Abbot advised. “I’ll find out soon enough. Don’t you reckon, Tamarack?”

The vixen fled with the mouse in tow, the Abbot’s kindly chuckle chasing them down the corridor.

I Shovel Well

June 4, 2011

Foweller scurried from the attic, his chest heaving. Betrayal, in his keep!

“Hitting me over a silly picture. Wasn’t even worth the ink they printed it on, wot!” Foweller grumbled out loud. If Ripple was so interested, all he had to do was see the train of maids that followed your average battalion…

Still, Uncle Skip had been fair on Foweller. Perhaps he would forgive his friend. Ripple was a good beast after all. Yes! It had all been in fun, he was sure. He ambled through the hallway, rubbing his jaw. Ripple admittedly punched like a very angry weasel.

“Oi!” A harsh voice rang out across the hard stones. Foweller skidded to a halt. There was a young weasel staring at him from the door of one of the dormitories. Foweller nodded his head at the vermin.

“Virrel,” he muttered curtly. The larger beast loped over to the kit, checking that nobeast was coming. Virrel’s grinning teeth seemed very prominent to Foweller.

“Been having fun with me brother?” Virrel asked. A smirk passed across Foweller’s features.

“Always a jolly pleasure showing a weasel his place. Same goes for you, squire,” Foweller remarked. Virrel looked hurt, placing a paw to his heart.

“You say the cruelest things, mate. We’re not all bad, us weasels. I been the very soul of kindness to you and Rip,” Virrel said, slinking back into his room. Foweller followed, casting his eye curiously at the book laid open on the weasel’s bed.

“Teaching yourself to read, eh squire?” he asked. Virrel’s face twitched. He almost threw himself backwards on the bed, sitting firmly on the book.

“Yeah, very funny, mate,” Virrel’s whiskers drooped, his ears flicked as he heard the badgermum’s calls from outside through the window, “I know they don’t like me here. But if there ever was a blackhearted vermin to stroll right in here, it’s me brother! He frames me for everything, always has, y’know what I mean? ‘course you do, you see right through him, don’t you?” Foweller nodded slowly.

“Proved meself though, didn’t I? That first night you came I brought your food up and everything,” Virrel reminded Foweller, his eyes staring into the kit’s. Foweller smiled. Martin had told him to put Virrel to rest with his blade, the night Skipper had found him and brought him to these red stone walls. Foweller’s stomach had won the argument; the weasel had been on kitchen duty. The embarrassment of being nursed to health by a weasel was not lost on him.

“I don’t forget my debts, squire. I’ve got my eye on Noel,” Foweller replied, holding out his paw. Virrel shook it with a wink.


“It’s been quite an adventure today, Martin. Razed a fortress, defeated that big weasel,” Foweller crooned to the shovel. He slung the strap into the familiar groove on his shoulder, the comfortable weight once more on his back. It would be unfair to leave Martin cooped up in the infirmary all day. Foweller bounced down the stairs, scraping his claws against the curving wall.

“Lad!” Foweller cocked his head as he spotted the rat at the foot of the staircase. Isidore’s face creased as he recognised the otter kit. Seeing his look, Foweller’s paw drifted to the shovel’s handle behind him.

“Don’t you give me that look lad. Are Skipper and Ripple upstairs?” Isidore asked with a frown. Foweller sneered. His eyes glinted with malice.

“Why, sir, I expect he’s recovering,” he hissed. Isidore started forward, his paw raised. Foweller skipped up the stairs backward, tripped and slumped against the wall. Martin sounded a metallic clatter. Both beasts hesitated, before Isidore’s paw dropped.

“Watch your step, little one,” Isidore muttered as he passed by the kit. Foweller was mad, but he was not blind. The paw raised to the light had been slashed with white searing burn marks. Foweller waited for the old vermin to disappear before bounding down the steps, nearly falling over himself in his carelessness.

“Vermin, trying to scare me! Huh!” Foweller followed the wall, navigating around the Great Hall until he reached the large arched doorway. He could hear loud voices as the Nameday Feast preparations got underway. Foweller sidled out of the Abbey and along the rough stone walls, watching Rigg lumber past him, a chair under each beefy arm.

Foweller ducked behind some bushes, avoiding work. That was the trick, go missing for a little bit while jobs were being handed out. Then if anybeast did see you, dither about looking like you’re helping lift something heavy. Foweller’s neck fur prickled.

Some beast hauled him out of the bushes by his shovel. The little otter hissed and swinging his fists uselessly. He heard a snicker. Foweller fell to the soft grass, slipping out of his strap.

“Leave Martin alone!” Foweller fizzled between his clenched teeth, taking a swipe at the vermin who held his friend aloft. The fox dodged him and smiled, not unkindly.

“Foweller, isn’t it? I heard you was in the business of war. What’re you doing hauling around this piece of driftwood?” Tamarack examined the rough digging tool.

“Miss Tamarack, you’ll creep your last if you don’t…” Foweller was silenced by one fox paw over his muzzle.

“I got a mission for you, Fowel. Do you know who Mister Merritt is?” Foweller nodded, his eyes focused on Martin. Tamarack winked and dropped her paw from his mouth.

“I need you to give me a shout if you see him near the cart.” Tamarack glanced over at the ferret. Merritt had become distracted by the emergence of the famed Redwall October Ale from the cellars. The ferret was taking little steps towards the Great Hall, inquisitive and eager to sample some.

“Martin?” Foweller pined. Tamarack lowered the prized shovel into the kit’s grabbing clutches. Foweller straightened up and combed his whiskers. “I accept. Code word of the day is “Gildalily” and if he catches you it’s your bally lookout, fox.”


Foweller fidgeted, hopping from one footpaw to the other. He did not dare move from his guard post at the door to the Great Hall. He watched Ripple talking with a hare down on the lawn, their arms loaded with jubilant streamers. Oh, how he wanted to go down and meet them! He had not crossed paths with a hare since he last stood beside the dwindling beasts of the Long Patrol. Yet the Mission came first…

Foweller eyed the shadows of the trees moving as the pale yellow light came closer. Two vermin, the stupid creatures never seeing him in the dark. The light flashed in his face and he bared his teeth, thinking himself caught. He swung at the dark shape holding the lantern. There was a pained cry, the light dropped into the mud. The shovel blade hissed as Foweller swung it down. He heard the vermin’s head drop…

“I didn’t know ye danced, Fowel,” Ripple said. Foweller blinked at the otter. He had hop-skipped from the door all the way across the lawn. Everybeast had taken it for joyful frolicking. He grinned, feeling blood rush to his cheeks. Not that anybody would notice. He would bet his fur on it.

“I… I love a jolly good feast, wot!” Foweller exclaimed. There was something he was sure he was supposed to be doing, but his mind could not focus.

“Where do you ‘ail from, young… Fowel?” the hare beside Ripple asked. Foweller resisted the urge to salute, but at least stood to attention.

“Mossflower Country, marm. Though I’m just as bally well a Redwaller as any other beast, don’tcha know?” Foweller effused, his hare-like speech thickening in the presence of the maid.

“As you like. I’m Saskia, I work at the print shop,” Saskia explained, Foweller giving Ripple a knowing glance, “I say though, oughtn’t you ‘ave more an otter’s way with words?”

“Whatever a streamdog such as myself has to say is an otter’s way with words, wot!” Foweller retorted, making the haremaid laugh. Ripple coughed awkwardly and opened his mouth…

Foweller opened his maw and bit the vermin’s face. The creature howled, dropping Foweller. In the dark, Foweller more sensed his prey than saw him. He thrusted Martin into the softer midsection of the vermin; where no bones would get in his way. The foebeast gurgled and dropped. Foweller examined his handiwork by the lantern’s weak flame. A headless rat and… a stoat. Foweller knelt by the noble corpse and stroked its head, gazing into its lifeless eyes. He had no right to leave such elegance to rot away in the open. He would bury it with Martin’s help. Foweller began to sob…

“- really hope we can still be friends. So, um… do ye forgive me, then?” Ripple finished. Foweller had been staring past him, his mouth hanging open. Realising he looked a bit foolish in front of Saskia, he shut it. What was Ripple talking about?

“Forgive… oh!” Foweller jumped forward and embraced his friend, “Nothing to forgive, Rip!” Ripple squirmed away, abashed as he noticed Skipper had seen that from the table.

“Come on, let’s get our seats!” Foweller ordered, skipping ahead. He stopped dead in his tracks as he spied a ferret waltz across the Abbey grounds to the cart.

“Oh… Oh! Gildalily! Gildalily! Gild… ah…” Foweller winced, his whiskers drooping. Merritt had gotten through. His had failed his mission.

Guilt By Association

June 1, 2011

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Saskia did not particularly like feasts; the clamor and bustle offended some fragment of her tradesbeast’s conscience, as they served to produce no concrete result. She wondered whether Aloysius would approve of the feast as an end in itself, as innocent celebration. Was that an acceptable excess or would the bat stay shuttered in his own chambers, ascetic and disapproving? The honest effort of preparation, she supposed, might appeal to him, though maybe not as much as the new books she’d delivered.

Aside from Aloysius’ order, she had sold a few pamphlets of sticky-sweet romantic poetry to a young mouse fellow, a brewer’s book to one of the cellar-keeper hedgehogs, and so forth. Worthy purchases all, but Saskia had little to do that morning but tend to the occasional browser and watch Merritt’s ridiculous posturing as he, at least, had steady business.

A young squirrel in a Redwall habit stood across from the ferret, three pamphlets and a small cloth-bound book clutched to his chest. Merritt shook his head mournfully.

“…yes, well, if you’re a half-mark short I’m not certain I can manage that, young sir.”

Saskia pondered the damnable lightness of her own coin purse.

“But–I s’pose you’re right. Just the two, then?” the squirrel chirped.

“For seventy, I can give you all three pamphlets, if you like. Consider it a gift for a good customer.”

The squirrel fumbled for his money. “Thank you!”

The book the squirrel hadn’t bought disappeared under the table before Saskia could get a look at the title. She imagined a few, along the same lines as what she’d printed for him: The School For Girls, Memoirs of a Fine Ladybeast

The squirrel paid and left, and finally Merritt didn’t have a customer.

“Goodness, Merritt, I’d think that fellow was old enough to know better. If not to do better, clearly.”

“I was selling him philosophy,” Merritt said, annoyance peering through his usual veil of good humor. “And none of that nonsense Sheridan has you printing, neither.”

“As though you’d know about it,” Saskia snapped back.

“In males, we various ruling passions find,
In females two almost divide the kind;
Those, only fixed, they first and last obey,
The love of pleasure, and the love of sway,”
Merritt recited, giving the whole thing an air of a schoolyard taunt, rhymes exaggerated and stretched to the point of breaking. “I do read these things, you know. And I always did wonder which it was with you, pleasure or sway. Seeing as you aren’t pleased to inform me what it is you do with your saved wealth.” He flashed Saskia a placid smile.

“You ‘ad best be accustomed to wondering, wot? An’ last I ‘eard about it, you were a male… but nobeast ‘as to ask about your ‘ruling passion,’ do they?”

“Hm.” Merritt jingled the coins in his pocket. “‘Least I can afford mine on my salary. And speaking of otherbeasts’ passions and my salary, do you mind horribly if we stay the night? I have some business yet to be done that, well, might best be done after nightfall.”

Saskia sighed. “Not as though you’re asking. I’d wager those otter fellows wot you ‘ired to pull the cart won’t be back until tomorrow morning?”

“I’m sure you can find something to occupy you. Maybe ask Aloysius to read you some poetry. ‘Males, some to business, some to pleasure take–‘ ”

“But every female is at ‘eart a rake,” she cut in, rolling her eyes.

“What do you mean by rake?” a young but scratchy voice asked.

“Oh, Miss Tamarack, I hadn’t seen you there!” Nor had Saskia, absorbed in fending off Merritt’s–Merritt’s–whatever that bally ferret had on his mind.

The vixen had the look of a dibbun with a mouthful of stolen pie. “I saved up like you said I ought to, Mr. Merritt.”

Saskia buried her face in her paws. She teetered on the narrow precipice between moral outrage and sheer nausea.

“I see you have! Well now. That would be about enough for two of these.”

Saskia heard the rustling of papers inside one of Merritt’s boxes. Even without looking, she knew she’d printed them; not because her paws were stained with the ink of all Merritt’s wares–he printed plenty himself–but because the bally perversity of the universe wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What happened to her?” Tamarack asked.

“She talks to Brother Aloysius too much. See anything you like?”

“Let’s see… this one… and this? Aye.”

Control yourself. It’s not as though she’s buying anything you haven’t read. Saskia took a deep breath and uncovered her face. Tamarack tucked two pamphlets into her pocket.

“A pleasure, miss.”

Tamarack grinned, and then suddenly frowned. “Miss Saskia, I was wondering if I could talk to you for just a minute.”

Saskia nodded and stood, wobbling a bit as a sudden spell of lightheadedness came and went. Haven’t eaten, have I? She wasn’t hungry.

The hare looked around for a place within view of the table they could speak without Merritt overhearing. She took two full steps toward the side of the gatehouse before she reconsidered and led Tamarack toward the Abbey proper.

“Wot is it, Tamarack? Never ‘ad you concerned with any of my books.”

“Boring old things. I was thinking maybe you could help with this,” she said, and a paw dove into the pocket that didn’t hold Merritt’s pamphlets, retrieving a cloakpin. “I found it, and I want to know what it is.” A little red gem glittered in the centre of it–Saskia thought it looked remarkably similar to the chip of ruby in her mother’s ring.

“Looks like a Redwall thing, doesn’t it? You could ask Brother Aloysius.”

Tamarack squirmed. “Aye, could do. But everybeast says you have books on all kinds of things. The best books,” she added.

“Flattery won’t work, I’m a bit old to fall for that bally trick,” Saskia muttered. “Also you just called ’em ‘boring’.” She peered at the pin up close.

“Still, can you help?”

Who knows where she got this thing, but I’m supposed safe to ask because… because I come here with Merritt. She tried not to think about it, or about what Aloysius, or her parents, or the Abbot would think. But she’s a little sneak, this one…

“Yes, but only for pay.” The words tumbled out, flat and heavy enough that she half-expected to hear them splat upon hitting the ground.

Tamarack’s head drooped, and she gestured toward the paper in her pocket. “But I spent–”

“I know, but I ‘ave an idea. You can do me a favor.”

“What kind?”

“Well, Mister Merritt ‘as a book ‘idden back in one of those boxes. And if anybeast puts a paw on it, ‘e looks like there are ants down the back of ‘is trousers.”

The vixen’s eyes lit up. “And you want me to go nosing ’round the spine.”

“If you can. It’s a fancy one, red with little bits of gold in the cover. You try to get a good look inside that, and I’ll try to find out about your pin.”

Tamarack stuck out a paw, eyes glittering with mischief. Saskia felt the ground sway beneath her as she shook on the deal. Dipped your paws right in the muck, now, haven’t you?

Merritt stared at Saskia as she returned to their cart.

“No, I won’t tell you.” She paused as a realization dawned far later than necessary. “And why in the name of ‘ellgates would you be quoting that nonsense at me. ‘Ruling passions’ in-bally-deed. You don’t believe any of that.”

He smirked. “No, I don’t find anybeast limited to just the one passion, at the very least. But I think you believe ‘that nonsense.’ That’s why it took you so long to remember I didn’t.”

“I do not!”

“As you please…”

“Oh, you–” Saskia huffed. “Just watch the cart, would you? I’ll be back.” She stomped off in the direction of the Great Hall. Battling Merritt was just like sport in her school days: She hated losing.

Inside the Great Hall, the preparations for the feast had bubbled up and boiled over. All around, beasts scurried from one door to another with ingredients or decorations or prepared food. A gang of Skipper’s otters was moving furniture; Saskia spotted Gabriel among them, who she’d witnessed escaping Merritt unsullied. He caught her eye and favored her with a bright and honest smile; a nod substituted for a wave, since his paws were occupied supporting one of the broad oaken altars that served as banquet tables.

Saskia noticed Ripple slowly navigating the hall, his double-armful of streamers dangling behind him, unduly bright plumage for a beast who mostly preferred to disappear. He looked as though he’d rather be elsewhere, having a few quiet moments with his cards and watercolors.

“Can I ‘elp you?”

Ripple scowled for a second but then reconsidered, nodding gratefully.  Saskia scooped up half the streamers.

“So, um,” the otter began, “what’s yer mum like, anyway?  They gave her awful crummy numbers.”

Saskia laughed.  “I never ‘eard much about wot she did with the Long Patrol, I was still young when she left, she and my pa.”

They both dropped their loads of streamers next to a hedgehog and a squirrel maid, who giggled and gossiped as they tied bows and hung them over doors.  Ripple led Saskia back toward a stairwell.

“Mums are all the same though, bet yours is mostly the same as mine.”

Ripple paused on the bottom step.  “Um.  Sure.  Maybe.”  He took the steps carefully, one at a time and Saskia followed behind him.

“Oh.”  She frowned at his back.  “Something ‘appened.”   

He shrugged.  “She, um, died when I was little.  I’m fine now.  Skipper’s still–”  He waved a paw expressively.

“Were they close, then?”

“Well, yeah…  Oh.  Sorry.  Skipper’s my dad.”

“Ah.  That explains…” …rather a lot, actually… “…why ‘e’d still be upset.”

“I guess.  Um.  I don’t know who to ask.  I found someth–” He paused.  “I guess it’s not important.”  Ripple stumbled over a step and Saskia moved to catch him, but he righted himself and leaned against the wall.  “Say, yer from the outside.  I been wonderin’, do beasts out there know about the lockdown?”

“Somebeasts do.  It’s–it’s like a rumor, is wot it is.  Everybeast saying something or other and ‘alf of them don’t ‘ave their stories the right way ’round.”

Ripple kept climbing.  He limped more heavily, and fidgeted with the collar of his habit.   “Ah.”

“I don’t…” Saskia cringed.  Something was wrong, and she’d done it.  “I’m.  I’m sorry about your mum,” she mumbled.   

“Uh, it’s fine, really… Do they know there’s no letters goin’ out?”

“Huh?  Er, I’m not sure.”

Ripple frowned, and turned down a hallway, Saskia still trailing behind him like a lightning-struck kite.

Saskia decided to fill the silence as Ripple opened a closet door.  “Somebeasts don’t like it much, ‘ow the Abbot decided ‘e could keep all of you in ‘ere.”

“Aye.  An’ I’m one of ’em.” He paused. “Well, I don’t mind the stayin’ in part.  But not sendin’ letters is stupid. I don’t mean no disrespect, but I can’t even play my game.  Only beast interested is Virrel, an’ I’m not allowed near him anymore…  an’ Foweller, an’ he probably hates me now…”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”  Saskia laid a paw on the otter’s shoulder.  He glared ineffectually at a shelf of streamers above his head.  “I’ll get those.”  As she reached up, she noticed a stain on Ripple’s collar, just where her paw had been.  No, nothing on my paw.

As they descended, she pondered his words.  Couldn’t hurt.  “If you’re serious about that whole… ‘not liking the Abbot keeping you inside’ bit, ask Brother Aloysius for the book I gave ‘im.  Not Moral Essays, the other one.  That beast is one of the ones who’s wondering what’s going on ‘ere.”

Ripple nodded, whether in agreement or dismissal she couldn’t tell.

“And I’ll try to keep Merritt from… bothering you too much, if you like?”   

“Botherin’? He, uh… only sold me cards… that’s not a bother at all.”

“Good.”

Isn't It a Utopia?

May 31, 2011

“Rip?”

“Mmhm?”

“Got any paints?”

“Aye. In that drawer… no, the one below. That one.”

Ripple pointed with his quill and went back to the problem at paw. If a ditch protected, but high ground was desirable for accuracy…

“So ye never get hit in a ditch?”

“Oh no, not never. Sometimes you do. It’s sort of random. What’s this under the paints?”

“Random…” Rip started. “Huh? What’s what…”

Foweller turned, displaying Merritt’s “gift” for Ripple to see. “It was sticking out of the papers.”

“Uhhhh…” His mind was blanking. He couldn’t breathe.

“Haha, it’s so gross. Lookit that.”

“That’s not mine,” Ripple said. His head swam. He felt like throwing up.

Foweller turned the picture upside-down, grimacing in amusement at it. He looked up as somebeast creaked across the attic floor.

“Rip? What’s not yers?”

Ripple couldn’t remember moving so fast in his entire life. He went from lying flat on the floor to lying flat over Foweller in just four seconds flat. He batted the picture out of the younger otter’s paws and shoved it as far under the desk as he could reach.

Skipper rounded the bookshelf an instant later and quirked his head at them sprawled out together.

Ripple’s thoughts went something like this: The stair didn’t squeak. Skipper saw the picture. Owowowow, my legs, never doing that again. I don’t have a book. This looks really bad, don’t it. Punch Foweller.

He punched Foweller.

“Oi there, Rip, what’s that all about! Gerroff, ye terror, what’s gotten into ye? First Isidore’s hives…”

Foweller was not one to let a swing go unrequited, and Skipper had a time of getting them apart. He held them aloft by the scruffs of their necks. Paralyzed, they twisted gently in his grip, weather vanes on a lazy day, glaring daggers at each other.

Skipper let Foweller down first.

“What is this fightin’ all about, Foweller?”

“Dunno, Uncle Skip! Rip started it.”

Uncle? Ripple mouthed.

“We was playin’ at our game!” Foweller indicated the massive spread of glued-together paper and the various designs and crafting tools littering the floor. “Then he trounced me.”

“Ye hurt any?”

“No, Uncle Skip. Rip hits like a weasel.”

“That so. Very well,” said Skipper. “Foweller, ye may go. I’d like to speak with my son in private.”

“Okeedoke, Uncle Skip!” Foweller smiled so sweetly it was a wonder his teeth didn’t fall out of his mouth in dusty little shards.

Ripple writhed. Skipper bapped him. He let Ripple down when Foweller had gone. The little otter’s chin sunk to his chest. He clasped his paws behind his back, lest they fidget and betray his feelings.

“What am I goin’ to do with ye, Rip?” he sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “What’s gotten into ye? Look at this mess! What in hellgates happened to the shelf here?”

“Uh… wood rot?”

“Wood rot an’ what? When did it happen?”

“Bludd, sir. This mornin’…”

Skipper sighed again.

“Why today, Rip? Spring Nameday celebration’s tonight. Ye’ve been actin’ like a ruddy fool, an’ if it keeps up yer goin’ to get more than a switchin’, I’ll see to that myself.” Skipper reached over and pulled Ripple closer. Clasping his head with both paws, Skipper rubbed his thumb claw against the dried white goo that had been administered to Ripple’s myriad bee stings. “Still hurts?”

“Aye, sir.”

“An’ yer rudder?” Skipper tipped him over a knee to check the bandage Sister Agnes had applied around the base of Ripple’s tail. It was still off-white, with no red spots bleeding through. Ripple’s pajamas had spared his legs, but would need stitching.

“Aye, sir.”

“Rip. I want ye to come down tonight. Help out with settin’ up the feast. Father Abbot’s orders, ye know. I was gonna get ye off the hook, let ye rest, but…” He helped Ripple upright again. “I’ll send some crew to clean up the shelvin’ mess. Ye got five minutes to get ready an’ head downstairs.”

Ripple nodded. He shifted his paws behind his back again and stepped closer to the desk. He bumped his chair by accident.

“An’ no more playin’ with Virrel.”

“But -”

“No! That’s final. That weasel’s a bad influence on ye, I know it. He’s a bad apple, that one, an’ yer not to be alone with him no more, got it?”

“But he’s -”

Rip.”

Ripple bowed his head again. “Aye, sir.”

“Right. Now, mind tellin’ me why ye were tryin’ to pop Foweller’s ears off?”

When Ripple raised his head, he’d managed to get his eyes moist. It was easy. “He found… he was makin’ fun of… of mum’s picture.”

Skipper hugged him. Ripple waited it out as stoically as possible. Things started to get awkward around the two-minute mark when he realized Skipper was sobbing.

He wondered if he had gone too far.


There really wasn’t any reason to have a Spring Nameday celebration feast outside, except to punish youngsters by forcing them to do pointless manual labor. Ripple didn’t know why they couldn’t just eat in the Great Hall and glance out a window once in a while. The days were fine and warm, but the nights still nipped.

Evening began to flow over the walls, washing out the dregs of sunlight from the corners of the abbey.

Ripple paused along the edge of the shadow. The blades of grass caught in the crossfire of light and dark looked sharp, serrated like the tip of a shrimp knife. He stepped over them, then immediately felt foolish.

He dragged a dining chair along behind him.

“No, no! Yer muckin’ up the chair,” shouted Rigg, bounding past. The burly otter had a chair slung over either shoulder. “Carry ’em like this!”

Ripple tilted his chair to the side and blinked at the grass stains on the curly-carved feet. He resumed dragging it.

At least he didn’t have to help with the tables.

“Psst.”

A decorative bush rattled. Ripple ignored it.

“Psssssst. Fft. Fft. Oi!”

“I’m busy,” he told the bush, and it grew large triangle ears in response. Then a muzzle and two little eyes.

“Whatcher gonna do to dat chair, then?”

Ripple pointed towards where the tables and other chairs were being set up. Various abbeybeast bustled with tablecloths, cutlery and dishes. Bludd looked between the set-up and the main abbey building.

“So… how’re ye gonna move all the walls after?”

Ripple’s brain just couldn’t cope with that. Across the lawn, a young vixen spotted him. She began to wave, standing on tip-paws, then stopped and drooped, changed directions. Ripple stared after.

“Um. Sorry?” he said.

“What fer?” Bludd cartwheeled in front of him.

“I mean, I don’t understand what yer askin’.”

The vixen glanced over at them again. Her nose pointed determinedly, but then her stride faltered and her ears went back, and she once again busied herself with something else. Ripple continued to stare at her, until he lost her in the crowd.

“That’s nothin’ to apologize about. Why’ve ye got dots all over? I gots dots on my belly. Are ye turnin’ into a wildcat? Ye should start wid stripes. Or bigger ears. Those are really tiny ones ye got!”

This continued until Ripple had brought his chair to the nearest table. Rigg was waiting for him, and slapped him on the back, knocking him over.

“There ye go! That’s two chairs, well done matey! Hyup an’ at ’em.” Rigg hauled him up again and brushed dirt from his habit front. “I’d tell ye to fetch another, but we’re all finished up now. I’ll go ask what ye need to do next, provided Skip’s still sober enough to say.”

“Oh… Alright, Uncle Rigg. Oh!”

“Eh?”

“Do you have a son, Uncle Rigg?”

“Nope! Ye’ll never find me tied down to one female all me life.” Rigg flexed. “Wouldn’t be fair to the rest.”

Ripple sat down to wait. He wriggled to and fro, but it didn’t move closer to the table. He almost snapped at Bludd to stop holding the wheels before he remembered where he was.

Speaking of Bludd, she was being awfully quiet… Ripple did a quick check around. Oh. She was gone.

“You there… Ripple, ain’t it?”

He craned his back head around until he found the source, sitting across from him: a male fox. Not the old one, but the younger one. Still seasons beyond Ripple’s own age. Beside him was the mole, Cobb.

“No,” said Ripple. “Ye’ve got me confused with another otter.”

The mole leaned forward. His goggles were hitched up, now the sun was over the wall. “You’m be th’ beast that brought Oi food in th’ dungeon. Oi remember you’m.”

“But you ain’t Ripple?” the fox said. Ripple shook his head. He glanced at the abbey. So far away! Escape would be difficult. Why was there a blueberry scone on his lap?

“Oi’m certain he -”

Suddenly, the table lurched. The cloth parted beside Ripple, and Bludd crawled out onto an empty chair. She slammed her elbows down and ogled at Cobb.

“A dungeon? Wodjer do, pillage a whole village?”

“Oh, no! Oi… Oi troied to steal some food… from th’ Abbey garden…” Cobb fiddled with his claws and bowed his head.

“Oh.” The kitten sulked. “I was gonna ask ye t’ join my rovin’ crew o’ scallywags… but if ye never done nothin’ dangerous afore… Like fight off a whole army o’ bees! Wanna see my bites?”

“They’re stings,” said Ripple, distantly.

“I knows buzzy bees sting,” said Bludd. “I was talkin’ about my bites.” She chomped her jaws at him and grinned.

The fox was still giving him a very odd look, so Ripple mumbled a vague apology, pointed at something no one could quite see, and slipped away, leaving Bludd and Cobb to discuss career options for the recently paroled. Or whatever it was Bludd had in mind.

Ripple examined his scone as he settled down at another table. It seemed clean enough… It was probably her way of apologizing. And, well, he did like blueberries. It was the kind that had jam inside. His favorite!

He bit into it, and then yelped, crumbs spraying through his whiskers. A heavy paw had landed on his shoulder. Ripple twisted in his seat, and began to choke at the sight of the dark, cowled figure. The figure’s other paw drew the hood back, revealing the Abbot’s kindly-enough half-smile.

“There seems to be a young creature in my abbey who is not altogether aware of our rules of conduct and the respect we are to show to other beasts and their property.”

“Um, I’m sorry, Father, I -”

“I of course speak of our mutual friend, Bludd.” The Abbot scrunched his face at the name the wild kitten had chosen for herself. He sat down as well.

“Oh,” said Ripple. He swallowed what little scone remained, and licked his whiskers clean.

Behind the Abbot, he saw the vixen again, and followed her movements with his eyes. He scootched up to the edge of his chair.

“It was not you who knocked Isidore’s hive into the fire, was it? Come now, my son, don’t be so hesitant. I know you well, and you are a careful, caring soul. It was no accident, but nor was it an act of aggression, was it?”

“N-no, Father…”

She almost saw him, but he ducked his head and scratched his ear just in time, hiding his face behind his arm.

“It was Bludd, wasn’t it?”

“My dad says not to lie.”

“And so?”

Ripple’s muzzle flattened in finality. The Abbot almost smiled.

“Why do you protect her, who has done you wrong, my son? On so many occasions,” he added.

“She’s my friend, Father.”

The vixen was seated now, talking to Cobb and Bludd.

“Yes. I suppose so. But why choose her, over all the others who could be your friend?”

“Well… ‘cos… she’s… fun.”

The Abbot glanced in the direction Ripple was looking, and nodded.

“Tell me, my son. Do you think Bludd should be held accountable for today’s incident?”

“I done the punishment already, Father.”

“And so should she not be punished doubly, for letting the blame fall on you in the first place?”

“I’ve forgiven her already, Father.”

The Abbot leaned back and breathed his pipe.

“And when did you ever plan on telling Tamarack?” he said.

Ripple hunkered down in his habit, blushing.

The Abbot stood up and patted Ripple’s shoulder.

“The night is young, and so are you. There is time yet to heal. You’ve done your share of that, these past few seasons, but there is always more to do, and every once in a while you must air out your bandages and expose the wound again. Find the time to talk to her tonight, my son. It may sting at first, but it is better in the long run than to let it fester. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to sample some of the cellarhog’s fine ale before I can think up another metaphor for the next life lesson I’ll need to impart before the night is over. An Abbot’s work is never over…”

Ripple did his best to straighten his posture as the older otter moved by him.

“Oh, and Ripple…”

“Aye, Father?”

“Any ideas for the name?”

“Umm… name of what, Father?”

The Abbot stared for some time, his face caught somewhere between amusement and stern disapproval.

“Do try to get out a bit more, there’s a good dibbun.”

Ripple glared down at the tablecloth and his clenching paws.

“‘m not a dibbun… Oops.”

There was jam on his habit collar.

“Oi, Rip! Over here!” Rigg shouted, waving at him from the abbey. “Found another job for ye!”