“Mr. Cobb, Tamarack!” The young otter scrambled through the sopping graveyard towards the pair. Bludd bounded after him, sacrilegiously leaping on the markers to avoid muddying her paws.
“Brother Andrew… he’s… the Abbot….” Foweller leaned over, paws on his knees, gasping for breath.
“Fowel, what’re you saying?”
Cobb and Tamarack crowded around the newcomers, their clean-up duties forgotten in the intrusion.
The otter caught his breath and continued. “Brother Andrew’s dead. Me and Bludd heard it. We were in the Abbot’s manor. Abbot Carter, he murdered Andrew!”
“You’m be sure about that?” Cobb looked the pair of young beasts over.
“Me ol’ Gob, have ye ever known me t’ be a fibber?” The kitten’s tail switched behind her. She was playing with something inside her blanket, pawing at it nervously.
“There be the toime with th’ spoider, Bludd. But, Foweller, you’m can’t be accusing th’ Abbot of murder without proof. Even if he be a roight creepy beast.”
“Proof?! Andrew’s dead on the Abbot’s front steps and we heard the fight. And I have this pin!” Foweller brandished the silver pin with the red jewel in it’s center. Cobb and Tamarack leaned over to see it up close.
“Aye, that’s the same kind of pin we found, Mr. Cobb! Where’d you get it, Fowel?”
“It was in the Abbot’s study, along with a flintlock pistol. We went and told Rip first, but he didn’t believe us.”
“Th’ landlubber told us we must’ve ‘eard wrong! He said that th’ Abbot would never do that.”
“I reckon the Abbot does more than most beasts might expect. Right. Let’s get to the bottom of this.” The vixen strode off towards the gates at the entrance of the graveyard.
“Miz Tam, if Andrew be dead, shouldn’t we’m bring Mr. Colm along with?”
Tamarack stopped and turned back to the others. She screwed up her face for a moment and twitched her whiskers. “No, Colm’ll only tell us we can’t go on account of it being too dangerous. He’ll tell Papa, and we’ll get sat here to mind the yard. And if Mr. Andrew really is dead… Let’s go!”
The group of beasts picked their way around the grave markers and mud and squished their way towards the Abbot’s manor. As they neared it, they could hear the schoolmaster trying to herd the dibbuns back into the school. Kits were sobbing and pointing as the group approached the flower-lined pathway that led to the Abbot’s front steps.
Cobb led the others through the small group of beasts gathered to watch the spectacle. Andrew’s body still lay on the steps, his face twisted into a horrible grimace. Abbot Carter was sitting on the steps, a little ways from the body, being tended by Sister Delores.
As the group approached, Carter eyed them all as he continued to moan about his injured arm. Sister Delores was trying to bandage it, but the Abbot was too engrossed in recounting his tale of what had happened.
“He cut me! I saw something change. Something in his eyes. I should have listened when everybeast said he was mad, but I had to try.”
Skipper arrived with a guard of otters and pushed his way to the front. “What’s going on, Abbot Carter? What happened?”
Carter allowed Sister Delores to finish bandaging his arm before he stood up to speak. “Brother Andrew confessed to me that it was he who murdered Brother Raimun.”
A murmur went through the crowd, and the Abbot allowed it to die down before continuing. “I was holding him in isolation for questioning. When I opened the door to interrogate him, he went mad. His eyes widened and glazed over. He starting shouting about those Things that he always ranted on about. Then, he attacked me and cut my arm. I had to kill him, you see. Brother Andrew tried to kill me.” Carter looked at Cobb and Tamarack and gave them a half smile.
“Miz Tam,” the mole whispered. “Oi doan’t think Andrew could kill nobeast.”
“I reckon you’re right, Mr. Cobb. This was murder.”
“Shouldn’t we’m tell somebeast? Maybe we’m should tell th’ Skipper about it.”
“Who’d believe us with the Abbot sitting there pretty as you like? Let’s just offer to get rid of the body. Papa’ll have a fit that nobeast called him.”
Foweller broke into their conversation in a low hiss. “He’s lying right out! Th’ Abbot’s lying about it all!”
“We believe you, Fowel, but don’t go telling nobeast. The Abbot already threatened me and Mr. Cobb when he found out about us sniffing after the pins.” She looked at the kitten next to him. “That goes double for you, Bludd. Don’t go telling nobeast. If he’s willing to murder Mr. Andrew out in the open like this…”
“Come on, Miz Tam. Th’ Abbot be looking at us funny again.”
The pair mounted the steps and approached Carter. “Father Abbot, zir, we’m wanted to know if you’m wanted us to clear out th’ body.”
“My children, that would be wonderful. Now I won’t have to call your father to do it, Tamarack.”
Cobb grabbed the mouse’s shoulders and Tamarack lifted at his ankles.
“Oh, and Tamarack,” the Abbot paused, “there won’t be a funeral. A traitor to the Abbey doesn’t deserve to be mourned. Or remembered.”
“Aye, sir. I’ll let Papa know.”
Dinner was over and the sun was beginning to set as Cobb and Tamarack dug the grave for Andrew.
“It isn’t right, Mr. Cobb. He should have a proper funeral.”
Cobb grunted as he moved a rock out of the hole. “Oi think so too. Perhaps Zir Colm could say something when we’m bury him. Or you’m could. Th’ Abbot can’t stop us from remembering Andrew.”
“I suppose you’re right. We’ll have to think of something really nice to say.”
Cobb glanced up and saw a lean figure striding through the graveyard toward them. As it came closer, he could see that it was Noel, the campball coach.
“Hello, Tamarack, Cobb.” Noel nodded at each in turn.
The vixen whipped herself around and beamed at the weasel. She quickly brought her paws up to wipe the mud off her face and to straighten her fur. “Hi, Mr. Noel!”
Cobb looked up from the deepening hole. “What be you’m doing here, Noel?”
“I wanted to talk to you more about Cassius.”
“That’s the fellow you said ran a gang?”
“Aye. You see, I used to –”
“Miz Tam, Oi think there be something here you’m need to know.”
The vixen sighed and leaned over to peer into the hole. “What is it?”
“Well, Oi was digging an’ well… you’m know how Oi can feel things in the ground? Well, under this hole isn’t as solid as it should be. Oi think there’s another hole under th’ hole.”
Tamarack pulled a face at the mole. “What do you mean a hole under the hole?”
“Oi mean, there’s something down under this graveyard.”
The trio looked at each other. Noel and Tamarack grabbed shovels and hopped into the hole with Cobb. They all dug as quickly as they could, the mud flying out over them.
They hadn’t dug far when Cobb’s claws broke through the dirt into open space. He stopped the others before the floor under them collapsed. It took a bit of creative digging, but they managed to create a crude ramp down into a long, open space.
“Mr. Cobb, can you tell how far it goes?” Tamarack squinted into the darkness, trying to see the end.
“Oi can’t feel an end. This must be a tunnel of sorts.”
“Wait here. I’ll get the lantern.” Noel went back up the ramp and returned a moment later, his face lit up by the flame. “It’s not much, but we should be able to see around us.”
“Oi’m not sure we’m should be exploring this. That way,” Cobb pointed in one direction, “be closer in towards th’ Abbey.”
“Then we’ll go the other way!” Tamarack set out down the tunnel, the two males forced to follow her into the darkness.
The tunnel twisted and turned but never branched off. They followed it until Cobb held up a claw to stop the other two. He stood still and felt the walls of the tunnel for a bit. He sniffed the dirt and nodded.
Tamarack sighed impatiently. “What was that all about?”
“Roight above us be th’ Abbey walls. Th’ south walls.”
“Could these tunnels lead to Redwall City?” Noel looked as far ahead as the small light allowed him to.
“Oi can’t tell how far they’m go. Perhaps we’m should go back naow.”
Tamarack frowned at the mole. “But we need to know where they go.”
“Miz Tam, your parents will wonder where we’m be if we’re not insoide for bed.”
The weasel spoke up. “We could go back, get some better lanterns, maybe some bread and cheese to bring with and come back. Tam’s right, we need to know where these tunnels are goin’.”
“Aye!” The vixen smiled at Noel. “Mama and Papa won’t know if we come back after they’re asleep.”
Cobb sighed. He knew he’d already lost the battle.
June 19, 2011
“Yes, Father Abbot?”
“What are you doing in my house?”
The otter’s tone was almost emotionless, but his narrowed eyes and clenched paws were enough of a warning to set Andrew’s hackles rising. The mouse scratched his head with the flintlock pistol as he thought of a reply.
“Well, sir… that otter, Foweller, said that you had confiscated his pistol, and I find guns to be very interesting, so I thought that I might come in and take a look. But you weren’t around, so…I let myself in.”
The Abbot crossed his arms, but still said nothing.
“Then I had a look around your study for Foweller’s pistol, but instead I found this gun here and one of those pins like Tamarack found. Very odd that you would have the pin, because-”
“You did come here alone?” interrupted Carter.
Andrew was careful not to steal a glance back at the dining room table as he nodded. The Abbot was obviously not very happy with him at all, and he wouldn’t want the kits to have to face the otter’s displeasure as well. Something about the way Carter was looking at him was reminiscent of how Friar Melina looked at a burned pie.
“Oh, and s-sir,” said the mouse, striving to fill the ominous silence, “If I may be so bold as to ask, is this your pistol?” When the Abbot did not reply, Andrew persisted, “Because it’s a very nice gun, sir. A Heckler and Cough Model 13. One of the most powerful pistols on the market.”
The mouse visibly started as Carter began to move, but he only walked over to the window. Then the otter said, “Andrew, you know that I think of nothing but the well-being of Redwall Abbey, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes sir.”
“Brother Andrew, you have to realize that things now are not as they were in the times of Martin the Warrior. The world is changing, and the Abbey can no longer afford to simply be a static observer. We must adapt, or fade into obsolescence.” The Abbot took a pipe from his pocket, lit it, and put it in his mouth. After a pause, he went on, “So yes, Brother Andrew, that is my pistol. I have been working with the Council to get these new weapons issued to the guards of Redwall, but they refuse to comply. They seem to think that if they bury their heads in the old lore and rules, they can ignore centuries of progress. You and I both know that the world cannot be changed simply by wishing it so.”
“Me, Father?” asked the mouse, furrowing his brow. All this about the world changing… why had the Abbot not mentioned it in public before? Also, why had he not reprimanded Andrew for breaking into his house?
“Yes, Andrew,” said Carter. “You decided to do something about these monsters of yours, instead of just staying in the kitchen and shouting at beasts. It’s really quite inspiring, in a way.”
“Thank you…” said Andrew. He wasn’t sure where this conversation was going, but instincts buried deep in his brain were kicking at his urge to flee. He began to edge towards the door. However, his natural curiosity drove him to ask:
“And what about that pin, sir?”
“Ah, yes. The pin. Do not trouble yourself about the pin, Brother. It is nothing of significance.”
Well. Andrew wasn’t so stupid that he couldn’t notice a blatant lie when he heard one. Carter was chewing on his pipe and wringing his paws as he spoke- he had to be nervous about the pin.
“Father, I- I don’t believe you. I think that you know something about the pin that you’re not telling me. If you are trying to stop beasts panicking, remember that a hidden lie is worse than a naked truth, sir. No matter how horrible it is.”
The Abbot turned around and stared at Andrew. His stare was extremely unnerving. The mouse was debating whether it would be best to wait for Carter’s response or just make a break for the door. Then, he heard a terrible sound, the sound that had tormented him throughout the lonely nights in the kitchen.
One of the Things was in the house.
Andrew drew his knife and spun on his heel, searching for a sign of the monsters amidst the opulence of the Abbot’s mansion. Was that movement in the curtains? He moved in for a closer look.
“Father, please stay back. The Abbey can’t risk losing you, and I know how to deal with these things.”
Which was not entirely true, but it was what a competent, selfless warrior would say to his leader. After a few second of poking through the folds of cloth, he realized that the Abbot had yet to respond.
Wait, what was that sound? Andrew jerked around, slashing wildly with his knife. There was a grunt of pain from and unseen beast, and the mouse saw the light gleam off something sharp to his left. A sharp pain blossomed in his neck, and he felt blood dripping onto his habit. It was one of the Things- its sickle-shaped claws rending his flesh and fur. What was going on? Where was Carter?
Andrew summoned all his strength and shook his attacker off. He gave the unknown beast a sharp whack with the butt of the pistol that sent it sprawling and then stumbled for the door. It was unlocked but heavy, and he resorted to his shoulder in order to open it.
The mouse’s mind was growing hazy, his vision blurred to streaks of color. The bright light- he was on the Abbey lawns. Where was everybeast? Teatime. It was still afternoon tea. Andrew’s legs surrendered the battle to keep him upright, and he fell down the mansion’s front steps. The mouse tried to get back up, and found he couldn’t move. Well, at least he could finally see the one of the Things that had tormented him for so long. He could hear its footsteps now.
They must have got Carter while his back was turned, the mouse thought with remorse. Strange that they could have taken the otter down so quickly; Andrew had heard that he had been a Skipper in his youth. Andrew knew that he had failed in his duty to protect the Abbot, and it was just as well that he was dying. He wouldn’t have been able to live with the shame of it all.
The mouse managed to point the pistol at the figure walking toward him. If he was going down, he was going to take one of Them with him. He squinted, trying to get a look at one of the Things that had tormented him for so long.
Andrew’s claw tightened on the trigger at the same moment as the beast drew into view. The pistol was unfortunately unloaded, and the flint hitting the pan only produced a brief shower of sparks that stung Andrew’s face. The mouse didn’t notice.
Through his fading vision, he had seen the face of his killer.
Andrew died with an expression of bewildered horror on his face.
Carter realized that the mouse was dead, and put away his knife. He took the pistol from Andrew’s limp paws and stowed it in his pocket. The otter then searched the body, but was unable to find the pin. He eventually gave up. Perhaps that mouse had not taken it after all, but had only seen it. He would have to carefully search his study later on.
“You know, it’s a shame,” said the Abbot, addressing the corpse. “You had so much potential, Andrew. But you wasted it all, going on your blasted pin-hunt. Why couldn’t you and that vixen have just minded your own business?”
He made his way up the steps, nursing the cut on his arm, but before he went back inside he turned to the recumbent Andrew.
“You know, it’s rather ironic, in a way. Everybeast will think that those things you thought up in your head finally got you in the end. They’ll finally believe they were real to you, just like you always wanted.”
Chuckling to himself, Carter closed the door.
June 19, 2011
Foweller lolloped up the stairs, bouncing from wall to wall through the narrow passage. It was easier to go on all four paws, even if Badgermum Agnes had made him wash them before lunch. What really troubled him was that Ripple had slept through a funeral.
“Rip! They’ve gone and buried your dead body!” Foweller called up the attic. Obviously, since Ripple had found Brother Raimun, it was his claim. Without Ripple to talk to, Foweller had pointedly tried to avoid eye contact with Tamarack the whole morning. He did not much fancy being put on the fizzer, though he certainly deserved it.
“Rip?” Instead of Rip’s smiling face as he expected, he saw an alarmed mouse. It was that cook Foweller liked. The one that was always too distracted to ever notice him sneaking another round of ale.
“Who goes there?” Andrew quavered. Foweller waited for him to come down, wondering why the adult was so nervous in the dark.
“Foweller goes there. And here. Is Rip up there?”
“Rip? Oh, no, nobeast’s up there,” Andrew replied. Foweller trotted to keep up with the cook, tugging at the mouse’s habit to keep balance. Luckily for him, Andrew seemed more interested in getting away from the attic. “I was just searching.”
“Searching for what, squire?”
“Andrew. Brother Andrew, to you. Just… Things.”
“Right you are, squire. I’ve seen things too!” The door ahead of them swung open and a familiar otter’s head popped out.
“Fowel? Don’t tell Brother Andrew that!” Ripple jested half-heartedly. Something about Ripple’s face told Foweller that he was being serious.
“Aw, I was just being friendly, like!” Foweller stuck out his paw to shake Andrew’s. The mouse’s eyes lingered over the burns on the otter’s rough pads, before shaking it gently.
“Some marks you’ve got,” Andrew commented. Foweller smiled and fired an invisible gun in explanation.
“Burning powder. Musketeers get that the worst though, burns their whiskers right off!” Foweller chuckled haltingly at his joke. He stopped when he noticed Ripple giving him an uneasy look.
“You have a musket?” Andrew asked, his platelike ears perking. Foweller blinked. What did Andrew care?
“Er, no, squire. I had a pistol, lovely little thing. The Abbot’s looking after it though. Shall I ask him to show you?”
“He’ll carve out yer gizzard afore he would do that, me hearty!”
Foweller sighed as Bludd tumbled from under a pile of dirty linen left in the dormitory hall, swishing her tail upright in greeting. The otter kit put his paws on his hips, giving the kitten a withering look that could make even the vilest weasel hesitate. Andrew jerked back and gave the laundry an accusing glare.
“Little vermin nearly gave me a heart attack!” Andrew spluttered.
“Bludd’s no vermin, she’s too little! She’s just a spy,” Foweller grumbled. Bludd ignored him, flashing her teeth merrily at Ripple. “Besides, no decent commander would deny his beasts their rightful prize. Even a humble sapper gets a mark or two for his next mug of ale!” It was just good common sense, after all.
“Ye drink ale? How do ye stand the stuff. Blegh.” Ripple wrinkled his snout.
“How do you stand drinking fizz for babes?” Foweller shot back. His disdain for dibbun drinks like strawberry fizz had caused more than a little shock for some beasts. His preference for ale had delighted Skipper, even under the badgermum’s stern disapproval. Another reason why Skip deserved his affection.
“That greedyguts Abbot stole me booty, I tells yer! He’s keepin’ it locked up in ‘is fancy ‘ouse and won’t even let me ‘ave a ruddy peek!” Bludd interjected, throwing her paws wide for emphasis.
Foweller was stunned. His precious belongings were confiscated? Scandal! No beast had business coming between an honest otter and his prizes. Not if he could help it! He clapped his paws together and strode into Uncle Skip’s room. Why had Rip slept in here? The attic was much better.
“Right! We’ll see about that! A debt is a debt. If the Abbot withholds our loot, then we must loot the Abbot.” He frowned as Ripple stuck up his paw.
“Fowel, um, that sounds… well, barmy. The Abbot wouldn’t steal nothin’ from us. I’m sure he’s got reasons for keepin’ it all in his house. Have ye tried askin’ for it back? That’s the best way. Always ask first! It’s not like… ha… not like ye have to try somethin’ nutters like breakin’ in.” Ripple gave a squeaking laugh. Foweller’s cheeky grin soon quietened his big brother.
“You’re right on the ball, Rip! Here’s our strategy…”
“The Abbot should be having afternoon tea by now. Code of the day is ‘Gildalily’, Commander.”
“I’m not shoutin’ that,” Ripple replied, fidgeting with his habit sleeves. Foweller pouted. This was no fun if Rip refused to play along. “What do ye even need a pistol for, Brother, sir?”
“Oh, academic interest, Ripple. It can’t hurt to have a little look!” Andrew breezed, as he eyed the Great Hall’s windows opposite the Abbot’s house. The band of four loitered outside the Abbot’s manor, trying to look nonchalant. At least, Foweller was. Bludd, he noted, was too easily distracted by butterflies.
“You do want to help us, don’tcha Commander?” Foweller wheedled. Always use the officer’s rank. Flattery never does any harm.
“Not really! Yer gonna all get in trouble! An’ me, again!” Foweller slumped his shoulders and gave Ripple a pleading look. Bludd took the less subtle approach of mewling like a milk-starved kitten. Foweller held Rip’s eyes in his gaze as he watched the otter sag. “Only ‘cos yer my friends. I’ll, uh, do a sparrow trill, how about?”
“Oh! Bird calls. Brilliant.” Foweller was back in his element, hopping in anticipation. Bludd looked uncomfortable.
“There’s not gonna be any real birds, right?”
“No,” Foweller said. “That shouldn’t be a problem. Unless the Abbot has all the sparrows locked up!”
It was Ripple’s turn to look consternating. “Don’t even joke about that. Bludd, yer not scared of birds, are ye?”
“Scared?! No! But don’t blame me if one starts peepin’ an’ cheepin’ an’ I come outta there wid feathers all in me mouth! I can’t ‘elp it!”
The otters rolled their eyes. Foweller checked nobeast was watching and gave his little platoon a webbed thumbs-up. Bludd skittered around the corner to the north side whilst Andrew hurried to the front door. The master planner himself felt along the Abbot’s south walls to the dining room window.
The Abbot’s home was a tidy stone manor with flowerbeds arranged in a neat parade. Vines had scaled the Great Hall’s masonry, but the master of the Abbey had such unwanted growths promptly routed from his property. The house had no fences, yet Foweller had always felt there was some invisible line around the garden that was understood to be the Abbot’s private territory.
Foweller slid the window frame up and waited. He did not dare even peek over the windowsill. He was coiled on his haunches, ready to spring. His fur prickled in the breeze as he gazed up at the unmoving, heavy curtains which guarded against any intrusion into the Abbot’s domain.
A sparrow’s trill fluttered across the noise of the dibbuns squabbling in the Abbey School. Foweller leapt up through the window. This was the moment where he felt just like a pure-blooded fighting stoat. He tumbled across the kitchen table, rumpling the pristine white tablecloth. No foebeast could catch him! He swiftly rolled off, knocking down a high-backed chair with a loud clatter. It was the only chair in the room. The Abbot did not have guests. In fact, there were very few signs anybeast lived here at all. The walls were undecorated apart from the candle holders, which had been scraped free of wax.
“Now, squire!” Foweller growled as deep and officer like as he could. His eyes roved the dining room, noting the collection of pokers at the fireplace. Andrew burst in gallantly through the front door and slammed it behind him, causing the candles to topple to the floor. A tearing noise and a bump informed Foweller that Bludd had successfully commandeered the Abbot’s curtains on her entry through the sitting room window. He bent his knees low and crept to the hallway where Andrew stood looking lost.
“Jolly good. I don’t think quite everybeast heard us,” Foweller said drily at his intrepid team. Bludd flopped through the sitting room doorway, wriggling free of the curtains.
“You’ll make the Long Patrol yet, Bludd!” Foweller grinned.
“Why d’you always talk so weird, Fowel?” Bludd asked with a chortle. Foweller’s mess of whiskers drooped.
“I… sorry,” he mumbled.
“You were in the Long Patrol?” Andrew asked, his eyes shining in wonder.
“Psh, no! I was in a militia company attached to a Patrol battalion…” Foweller’s reminiscent overtures died out at Andrew’s look of non-comprehension. “Er, not important. Let’s go.”
The trio stole up the stairs as stealthy as thunder. Foweller hesitated in the semi-darkness, his paw resting on the door at the top. He silently counted down with his claws before dashing through, executing a messy forward roll. Bludd followed suit, brandishing an invisible cutlass. Andrew plodded in after them. Foweller recognised the Abbot’s study from his first visit, its atmosphere even more stifling with only the window to illuminate it.
“He must keep it in here,” he whispered. Though the Abbot was not in, the desk emanated Carter’s austere presence. Worse, the Abbot’s portrait stared at them from the back wall above the fireplace. The artist had given Carter a soft smile of benevolence, welcoming travellers to his abbey. Yet something about the positioning of his arms reminded Foweller of a weasel holding a dagger behind his back. The otter kit crawled around the immaculately varnished desk and began shuffling through drawers with practiced ease. Andrew fretted over him, wincing at each scrape of wood against wood. Out of the corner of his eye, Foweller could see that Bludd’s quest for her loot was sending papers raining from the neat piles stacked on the desk.
“Here! No…” Foweller faltered. The weapon he pulled from the bottom drawer was not his own. It was a heavy flintlock pistol, unloaded and bereft of adornment. He held it up to the window’s light in confusion. For a moment, even Bludd was stilled.
“This isn’t right,” Foweller mumbled, at a total loss. Bludd resumed her destructive search.
“Aha!” Bludd cried in triumph, holding up some shined object. She hissed in disappointment when she realised what it was. Foweller barely noticed; his snout was pressed to the flintlock’s pan, smelling for powder. Andrew’s reaction was a little more explosive.
“Hey! Let me see that!” he exclaimed, forgetting all manner of stealth. Foweller’s ears twitched and he tugged Andrew’s arm. Another sparrow trill! He trembled as the Abbot’s voice floated through the open window downstairs. Andrew froze. Foweller exchanged a worried look with him.
“Ripple? Were you looking for me?” Carter’s voice sent a chill through the frightened kit. Escape! But there was no escape now.
“Aye! I was practicin’ my sparrow calls while I waited for ye, Father. I, uh, I got a problem. I think I got sold somethin’ I didn’t pay for yesterday, an’ I don’t know who to ask… I can show ye, it’s in the attic…” Ripple’s reply came. Foweller silently punched the air, his muzzle silently mouthing yes yes yes! Rip really was the bravest otter he knew.
“My dear son, must you make an old beast traipse all the way to the attic?” Carter sounded more impatient than concerned. Foweller pulled at the hem of Andrew’s habit and pointed down. Andrew’s eyes were transfixed on Bludd’s treasure.
“The pin…” he breathed. Foweller tilted his head and examined the pin. It was a little silver version of the abbey, with a red jewel encrusted within it.
“Tamarack found one just like it. When I told the Abbot, he seemed to think it was important,” Andrew explained.
“Int’restin’!” Bludd chirped, although she elaborated no further. She handed Foweller the pin and held aloft the real treasure; her precious silver ring. Foweller glanced down at the pistol in his other paw.
“This one’s been fired. Seems nobeast bothered to scour it properly afterwards.”
”Ma’aps the Abbot killed somebeast! Shot ‘im right in th’ face!” Bludd theorised, her eyes widening in excitement. Foweller could have sworn the cat seemed happy about it.
“That’s foolish, Bludd! The Abbot would never.” Andrew rebuked, taking the pistol for his own inspection.
“We can talk later. Let’s get out while the Abbot is busy!” Foweller darted for the stairs, almost dragging Bludd out. Andrew thumped after him, making the otter grind his teeth in frustration. They clattered down into the hallway, Foweller racking his brains for an exit strategy that would be both rapid and suitably heroic. The window again? The sparrows were getting quite loud outside. Wait…
His eyes caught the door handle turning. Before his mind could even catch up he had taken a rapid dive to his right, through the dining room doorway. Ignoring Bludd’s yowl of protest, he clamped his paw over her muzzle and crawled to cover, under the cloth on the dining room table.
Foweller heard the Abbot stride in. A pause, as he imagined Andrew and the Abbot seeing each other. The mouse was silent. Something was hurting Foweller. He realised he was still clutching the pin, his stomach threatening to meet his throat as a wave of hot blood cascaded through him. Being on the verge of discovery was unbearable.
“Brother Andrew?” The Abbot’s voice was quiet and betrayed no hint of surprise. The slight hint of fury in the otter’s tones made Foweller shudder. The kit’s face was stony as he released Bludd. Two beasts under his protection captured in as many days? He deserved a belting for that. Foweller’s heart jumped as Andrew spoke.
June 19, 2011
Under Ripple’s desk. Behind the bottom step in Great Hall. Inside the keg of strawberry cordial in the cellar. In her napping spot by the abbey pond. In the abbey pond.
Bludd emerged from the water, slipping onto shore like a seal. Her ears flicked back savagely, scattering droplets, and she uttered a high, worried trill. Just where did she put that blasted ring?
The wildcat owned little; nothing to match the elaborate cloak pin that Brother Tompkins carried, or even half of the treasure trove of cards and maps that belonged to Ripple. A roving adventurer couldn’t be weighed down by anything more than what was strictly necessary. Like her blanket!
The gaudy yellow cloth lay flat like a downed kite in the grass and Bludd hurled herself atop it, rolling over onto her back. She inhaled it’s scent, comforted by the warm sting of blood, and gazed up at the ragged clouds, black sails unfurled to catch the wind.
The only other thing that truly belong to her, aside from her trusty freebootin’ bandana, was her special treasure: a tarnished silver ring. Normally it would be tucked away in a pouch she’d cut from her blanket, but she had checked all over and it was gone, disappeared like the White Ghost. The kitten’s claws slid in and out of her pads; she wasn’t even sure how long it had been missing.
The wildcat closed her eyes and tried to think. Going back a ways in her memory, she recalled a pair of dusky wings pushing her outside. Oh! It could have fallen out there.
In a trice, she was on her footpaws. The blanket draped over her shoulders, she raced the wind, her arms held out stiffly as if she were a mighty albatross on the hunt. Spotting her prey, she let out a warbling screech. Bludd lunged against the unsuspecting gatehouse door with her claws splayed.
“Hahar, ye scurvy dog! I’ve come ter-” Bludd blinked. Aloysius looked a lot smaller all of a sudden.
“Oh! Who are you, are you?” the bat perched atop Aloysius’ writing desk asked. Bludd’s ears quirked apart from one another – And he also sounded like a female!
Obviously, a proper introduction was necessary. Bludd’s lips curled into a smile that was mostly fang. “Yer a brave ‘un to ax a corsair’s name so freely.” It was moments like these that she wished she had a cutlass or scimitar to brandish, but she made do with swiping at the air with a thistle-clawed paw. “Ye may call me Bludd, Captain of the Blistered Gullet!”
The bat stared for a whisker-twitch, and then erupted into a fit of clicking giggles. “Kekekeke! That’s the silliest name for a ship I’ve ever heard, ever heard!”
“Oi!” Bludd’s tail switched in irritation and she crossed her arms. “What makes yer th’ expert ship name master, then? Don’t tell me ye gots a ship wot ye thinks is named better?”
“Of course not! I don’t need a ship.” The bat spread her wings, grinning cheekily. “But I’ve seen scads of ’em.” She tilted her head so high that Bludd could nearly see up her nostrils. “I’ve been all over, all over!”
The wildcat’s eyes narrowed. “‘ave ye, now? Ever been to Sampetra?”
“Of course! The island is so beautiful, but the creatures there are nasty, nasty! All sorts of mean pirates and crusty vermin. A beast like you would be right at home, at home. We went to a few taverns; they all smelled like dead fish. There were so many fights! I saw a rat try to nab a pawful of coins right out of a weasel’s pocket. He got his tail chopped right off, right off!” She made a slicing motion with one wing.
The more she heard, the more skepticism disappeared from Bludd’s eyes. “Cor! Are there still monitor lizards crawlin’ about there?”
“Uhh…” The bat faltered for a moment. “I… didn’t see any. Lizards are tricky, tricky.”
“Oh.” Bludd had heard all she needed to know the bat was a fibber, so there was no use in talking to her anymore. “Well, ‘ave yer seen Ycious about?”
It took the bat a moment to understand. “Oh, I don’t know where he is. I was sure there would be something great in here ‘cos he keeps telling me to stay away, but it’s just old books, old books!” She let out a gusty sigh. “It’s like Uncle Alo knows they’re too dull and was trying to spare me from being bored by them. But adults aren’t nice enough to think like that, think like that.”
Bludd grew deathly still and stared at the bat with eyes that were suddenly filled with a complete and total understanding. Yes. That’s true. And then her tail flicked and the moment was gone.
“Ye ‘aven’t seen a ring, ‘ave ye?”
“A ring?” The bat made a clicking sound with her fangs and fanned her ears out. She looked disappointed. “If Uncle Alo found it, he probably would have stashed it away by now. Crazy old moth-chaser!”
“Hmmm…” Bludd paced from one side of the gatehouse to the other, 5 steps each way. There was a stuffiness in the air and the lemon-sour scent of ancient ink and wizened pages wafted over the wildcat like an invitation to break things. “‘ow spittin’ ticked d’yer think Ycious would get if we searched the place ourselves?”
The bat’s eyes lit up. “Oh, he’d be furious, furious!” She opened a drawer, but then looked up right after. The smile on her face made her muzzle positively vulpine. “By the way, my name’s Eilonwy.”
The two youngsters swept over the neatly-ordered confines of the gatehouse like a hurricane. Books were tossed, parchment pages scattered, scrolls unraveled themselves and tumbled earthward in serpentine dances. But where was that ring?
The door opened. Bludd and Eilonwy froze, the former peering down from her tenuous perch atop a bookshelf. Aloysius’ voice was eerily soft and controlled. “…Get… get out. Get out. Now.”
They scampered, each one sprinting off in a different direction.
Safe once more under a mantle of clouds, Bludd felt the slightest pang of guilt; it was one thing when grown beasts yelled and threw a fit. Aloysius looked as though he was seconds away from meeting Vulpuz. She hadn’t meant to upset him that much…
She turned around, her jaw set. She would apologize this time. Aloysius wasn’t like Isidore, she told herself. He’d be the kind of grownbeast who would listen. She gulped; hopefully.
“Ah, Bludd. Come here, my child.” Bludd kept the growl inside her chest as she turned to wave to Abbot Carter. The otter’s eyes crinkled. “Come with me, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
She opened her mouth, but then closed it again and allowed the otter to lead her toward the abbey. She glanced back at the gatehouse with longing, her tail curling nervously. Well… maybe he’ll be feeling better later, anyway. She didn’t want to make the Abbot cross with her again by admitting that she’d wrecked Aloysius’ study.
They walked in peaceful silence, through the door and into the entrance hall. At length, the abbot cleared his throat. “Now, Bludd. Have you given any thought to the possibility of staying here?”
Bludd stopped pretending to skewer the otter’s head between her clawtips and put on a smile as he turned to face her. “Cor, sir, ain’t I stuck ‘ere anyway? I mean, not that I don’t loves it, but-”
Carter’s chuckling cut her off. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. Have you given any thought to becoming an Abbey Sister?” He spread his paws. “Our gates are open to anybeast who wishes, and I know that Ripple would be delighted if you chose to stay.”
Any objections Bludd might have had fizzled and popped like the bubbles in strawberry fizz at the mention of Ripple, and she couldn’t bring herself to look at the Abbot. The very idea of being trapped in any one place forever – She trilled anxiously, staring at the armored mouse on the tapestry in front of her.
“Don’t worry, my child. You don’t have to make up your mind right now. And if you do choose to continue your travels, nobeast will hold it against you. I promise.” He paused. “But… there was actually something else I needed to tell you. Bludd, you know about Martin the Warrior, correct?”
The cat was all smiles. “Sure do! e’s a champion fighter, an expert swordsbeast an’ slayer!” The wildcat jabbed out, impaling imaginary foes on the invisible blade of Martin.
“Well, now, keep in mind that Martin was a wise and kindhearted leader. There was – is – much more to him than fighting. But yet…” Carter’s brow knit, as if he wasn’t quite sure how to continue. “I had a dream just recently. Martin showed me a vision of the future, and of the beast who he wished to become our warrior. This creature fought with all the grace of a seasoned veteran, with a skill so fantastic that she could pierce the foebeast’s very shadow.” He stared directly at Bludd. “It was a fully-grown wildcat, Bludd. There is no doubt in my mind that it was you.”
Bludd’s eyes shone like full moons and could have measured twice as big around. “Yer serious?!” If it was true, not even Gabool himself would be as feared! She would rule the seas!
Carter nodded gravely, setting his jaw. “It’s true… although certainly not anything to be happy about. But yet with times as they are, I would have you begin combat training immediately. And I will be the one to teach you.”
“You know ‘ow ter use Martin’s sword?” Bludd asked, wonder in even her whiskers. The Abbot shook his head.
“A simple sword will not be enough, I’m afraid. Even the Sword of Martin. Come with me.”
All the while they were traveling, Bludd’s mind raced like a pike in search of blood. What sort of weapon could it be? A massive javelin as tall as the Skipper? A bone-white scythe, even sharper and more gristly than the one Vulpuz carried? An enormous obsidian cutlass hung with the skulls of Redwall’s enemies? The kitten jigged behind Carter as he lead her into his study and went about searching for something in his desk.
“Ah, here we are.” Finally, he lifted something up and out. Bludd peered closer. “This,” Carter said, “is what Martin wished for you to wield.” He showed the cat the heavy flintlock pistol. “Somebeasts call it a pawheld dragon. With this, you can use the very power of lightning and fire as your weapon.”
Bludd reached for the pistol, but Carter scooped it up and returned it to the safety of its drawer-home. “Before we begin… I have a task for you.” He began rummaging through another drawer. Bludd imagined that it was Aloysius’, still pristine and untouched, and a fresh wave of guilt pounded into. Her tail curled and uncurled. She hoped she could escape soon.
“Take this.” The Abbot handed over a tiny vial of clear liquid. “Mix it into a drink, any drink, but mind you don’t have any yourself.”
Bludd’s ears quirked apart. “Poison?!”
Carter held up his paw. “Not entirely. My child… can I trust you wish a secret?”
Blood mewed, leaning forward in a plea for more information. Carter nodded.
“Somebeasts in the abbey have been causing trouble. Spreading lies… about me. I don’t know what they want. I fear that they are spies, working for whatever creature is killing our brothers and sisters on the outside. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard them. One, I know for certain: A mousemaid.”
Bludd pictured the very same creature, embraced by the cellar’s shadows. She nodded, but said nothing. The Abbot continued. “Her name is Selendra. I know she at least has been speaking about me, perhaps even trying to get others to think I’m bad or untrustworthy. How unfair it is. If only they would talk to me in person in stead of going behind my back.”
The wildcat gasped, her tail standing straight up. “So, yer gonna poison ‘er, then slit ‘er gizzard?”
“This,” the Abbot said, gesturing to the vial, “is not poison. For a while, she will feel ill and be forced to rest. It won’t last long, just enough for me to come to the bottom of what exactly is going on.”
“Oh.” Wildness danced in Bludd’s eyes. “And then yer gonna slit ‘er gizzard?!”
The abbot forced a smile. “There will be no slit gizzards in my abbey. I will make quite sure of that. Now, run along and do as I say. Do not worry; the damage won’t be permanent. If she is not alone, then wait until she is. And not a word to anybeast.” His eyes flashed. “I have to know I can trust you.”
The wildcat stared at the vial for a moment but before she could even ask, Carter spoke for her. “I know what you’re thinking. Why am I asking such an important task from you? Remember.” He winked. “You are going to be my champion. I believe you can do this, Bludd. Selendra will not have any doubts about accepting a drink from you. Now go. Return to me when you’re done.”
The otter shooed Bludd out and shut the door behind her. The wildcat stared at the bottle in her paw and a grin crept across her face. Captain Bludd, Queen of all sea-born assassins would get the job done, come hellgates or high water!
Oh, I fergot! Her eyes widened, and she shot off in the direction of the kitchen. Friar made apple pie!
Bludd crouched, sliding through the grass on the abbey lawn like a sneaky serpent. The wildcat suspected that that most serpents didn’t actually need a canteen of spiked cider to poison their prey, but that just made her even more deadly. She was more unpredictable than the wiliest viper!
She saw Rigg and Skipper discussing something by the pond, and sneaked by Sister Amery administering a bandage to a young squirrel.
“This is why you come to me,” the Sister said, “when you get a splinter. It would be that much worse if it got infected.”
But all the same, no Selendra. The kitten was just beginning to suspect that the mouse knew somehow and was hiding just to make her angry, but she was too angry to think straight at the moment.
Oh, but there she was! A fair distance, nestled by a cluster of juniper bushes as if she was one herself, Selendra whittled away at a branch with a small knife. Little flecks of wood fell to the ground like autumn leaves in the wake of winter. The mousemaid hummed softly to herself, and the sound was harmonious with the wind in the pines.
And then her paw slipped and she cursed, and once again she was only a mouse and the only colors were earthen. Selendra looked up, and there was something in her face, some sort of unspeakable sadness that reached out to where the wildcat was hiding.
Bludd was familiar with sadness.
She’d nuzzled it and inhaled its rancid scent. She’d felt the sting of broken bones. She’d heard the screams of the dying.
She remembered each one. Selendra must too. And that’s what it meant to be an adult; It was either get hurt or hurt others. Like Carter. He’s probably put real poison in here, after all.
She looked at the liquid in her paws and for the first time felt real hatred turn her blood to molten lava in her veins. She wouldn’t stand for it.
Bludd kicked the canteen. Selendra snapped up at the noise, but let the knife fall to her side when she saw the kitten running to her. “What’s the matter?” Selendra asked, and the innocent question broke Bludd’s heart.
“Run.” Bludd’s voice was free of all inflections. “Y-you need to get out of here or you’ll die.” Tears sprung to her eyes. “I don’t want you to die!
“Quiet, now.” Selendra’s eyes flashed to the canteen, and she gathered the kitten closer. “It’s all right, nobeast’s going to die.” Her muzzle close to Bludd’s ear, she whispered. “Was it the Abbot?”
Bludd nodded, pulling away from the mousemaid’s grip. She forced herself to calm down. “Do you have anyplace to go? I… think I can get closer to him, but you need to be gone.”
Selendra was quite still for a moment, but she nodded. Bludd continued. “I can show you the way I got in when I first arrived here. Come with me!”
Bludd tugged on her paw, but the mouse resisted. “Before I go,” she said, “promise me that you’ll tell Berend where I’ve gone.” Bludd nodded and Selendra allowed herself to be half-lead, half-dragged to the south wall. A few paces away, the mousemaid stopped in her tracks.
“…He’ll probably want to see the body,” she said.
They stood, dappled in the afternoon light, and puzzled. Bludd’s ears perked in realization, and she whispered something to Selendra. The mouse stared for a moment, but then drew her knife and cut a notch from one of her ears.
The odd transaction complete, they continued on. Bludd tested the wall until she found the stones near the bottom that she had pried loose a few weeks ago, pleased to see that no other beast had tampered with them. It would be a tight squeeze, but Selendra could just manage to fit through with a little scraping and wiggling.
Before the mousemaid could truly disappear, Bludd grabbed her paw. “Don’t become like them.”
“Mm.” Not perfect understanding, but good enough. “Be careful around the Abbot… and thank you.”
And it was as though Selendra never existed in the walls of Redwall Abbey.
Bludd stood on her side of the wall and suddenly found herself staring across a glassy field, a spectral mist covering everything. She could see Selendra running, and she even saw herself standing watch, but… different. Taller. She clenched a mighty sword in one chain mail-clad paw. A knight? Nearby, she caught the eye of a mouse, smiling at her with paternal care in his eyes.
She took a step toward the vision.
And then a butterfly fluttered in front of her face and she chased it back home, dancing and skipping under the clouds.
A corsair, free and bold.
“Hahar! I did it!”
Abbot Carter looked up from his reading to see Bludd parading about his room. He inhaled sharply. “You… did?”
“Sure as I’ve got stripes on m’tail!”
The otter’s eyes narrowed. “Where is she now?”
Bludd presented to the abbot the bit of Selendra’s ear. Noting Carter’s vexed expression, she explained. “I chopped ‘er up into fishbait.” She brandished the knife. “I used ‘er own knife ter do it!”
Carter’s eyes bugged. “What.” He collected himself just as quickly. “What about the poison, Bludd?”
“Oh.” The cat’s ears quirked vainly toward one another. “Din’t work.” She picked her teeth with the knife. “I ‘ad to impervise. ‘id the rest of the body, I did.”
“Did you now.” The uncertainty that flickered across Carter’s face was sweeter than fresh-baked tarts. “Hm. Well.” He shrugged. “A promise is a promise, I suppose. Your training will begin tomorrow.”
June 18, 2011
Noel spat, tightened his paw around his pipe, and hurled it across the Abbey pond.
He regretted it even before it had left his claws. It landed somewhere in a clump of reeds with no satisfying splash, no image of it sinking to the bottom where it could never be smoked in the company of Isidore or Raimun or any other beast again. Anger did nothing to change minds or to call souls back from the dead, yet he felt himself swallowed up by it, a minnow in the jaws of a pike.
In the water his reflection had bisected, split and divided. Of the two Noels in front of him he recognized one from today, lost and confused. The other he recognized from the days that Selendra and Carter recalled him to: lost and confused and desperately unhappy.
A third Noel, short and swinging from side to side with the weight of the worry on his shoulders, glided across the water like a ghost.
The little otter deigned only to pause and shift the weight of the shovel on his back. Noel’s gaze followed his tapping footpaw after the meandering tendrils of mourners passing them by, winding indoors for warm tea and biscuits to remind them of life still left to be lived.
“Sorry,” said Noel. “Have you seen Bludd?”
“Dunno. Not lately. Have you seen Virrel?”
Noel replied with another shrug and returned to the solace of the pond. In the gentle ripples of the breeze he could almost see his brother’s face in place of his own. He had not been at the funeral.
Virrel was probably in the dormitories, where they had caught silent sight of one another more than once since the previous night. His brother crouched behind his bed, obscuring his latest mischief from view. Noel had nearly forgotten it, interested only in the kitten who might hold his fate in her paws.
* * *
“Bludd! Bludd, you in here?”
A thump, and then a cry. Noel caught the nearest doorjamb in his claws and rounded it into the empty dormitory, like a flintlock snapping to in its flashpan.
“Uh…fell out, I guess.” The otter peered up at him from the floor, a puddle of sheets and pillows and rudder. Noel bit back a laugh and glanced back over his shoulder before padding into the room.
“You all right?”
“Um, yeah…I thought you were going to the funeral?”
“Just came back from it.”
“Oh.” A put-on grimace of embarrassment lasted only a moment, fooling neither of them. “Must’ve slept through it.”
Noel waved it away. Ripple was young, and he’d already lost a parent, and even worse he had been there in the attic – he didn’t need any further exposure to death’s chilling favors.
“Rip,” said Noel, “look. If you’re not busy – I really need your help.”
Ripple’s next expression was instant, honest, and suspicious. Noel had asked that before, begged for it in those same words, to make him the eleventh beast on a needy campball side. Ever so cunning, as if he were laying down one of the cards from his game, Ripple had defused his pleas every time.
“Um,” he said. “What for?”
Noel scratched at the back of his head with one paw, fiddled in his empty pocket with the other.
“I need to find Bludd. Haven’t seen her, have you? Kind of tags along with you sometimes, thought you might give me some ideas where she goes.”
“Yeah, but…I don’t know. She could be up with the sparrows or something. She’s weird.”
“It’s really important. Please.”
It might have been the voice that broke him. It wasn’t the same one that lauded him, goaded him, sought every weak and proud point in his spirit to lure Ripple into the game that Noel knew was destined to set the world aflame. That voice was heavy now, close to its own collapse. Ripple couldn’t have known that it was choked with an endless reel of terrors: the Abbot storming down the corridor with Virrel, leave my abbey at once, vagabond, thief, murderer.
Ripple dragged himself up off the ground. Noel did not dare to offer him a paw, and before he could reconsider the otter was already dusting off his stripey trousers.
“O-okay. I’ll try.”
* * *
It was dim and gloomy on the lawn. Even with the sun high overhead, Noel found his eyes tracing shadows on the ground, the rings of shade beneath the trees. Bludd might be taking refuge in them, but he felt drawn to them, too – dark places like those in his mind where thoughts of Carter and Cassius survived.
Ripple appeared from behind the rosebushes, his shuffling downcast gait a welcome sight thirty minutes into their fruitless search.
“Anything?” asked Noel.
He shook his head, trundling alongside as they skimmed the grounds from the southern wall to the orchards. The hanging, snatching branches sparked a memory in Noel’s jumbled mind.
“Listen, Ripple,” he said. “I know you’ve probably heard enough o’ this from everybeast and their brother, but yesterday, with Isidore – he didn’t have the right to do that to you. He knows what he’s on about with the bees but, you know, you’re a lad, aren’t you? You’ve got your dignity.”
“He apologized. It’s all right.”
Noel did not nearly jump, or almost jump, he did jump. Ripple actually skipped out of a stumble in his alarm.
“Um…yeah. Last night. Before….”
Raimun could not have been further from Noel’s mind. Isidore was saved – was already saved. If unswerving, unquestioning loyalty could bend, could it break, too? His spirit was roused, now. He couldn’t resist.
“Lissen,” said Noel. “When everything’s back to normal, before we have to go back home, you really got to give campball a go.”
“That’s more Skipper’s thing. And Foweller’s.”
Noel had to resist the temptation of a double-take. Surely Redwall wasn’t so different from the outside that its dibbuns didn’t call their fathers “dad”. Maybe it was a nickname – he grinned to himself at the thought of his own Old Weasel.
“It could be your thing too if you wanted,” he said.
“I dunno. Maybe someday.”
Noel half-nodded, kicking at a shrub now that the trees were thinning out again back onto the lawn. It took him a moment to realize Ripple had stopped short behind him.
“Hey, Noel. You know, uh, Virrel…is he really a bad influence?”
Noel screwed his face up, not least at the strange choice of words.
“Nobeast’s all bad. But you’ve got choices, haven’t you, and if you don’t try to make up for the bad ones – the really bad ones – then other beasts’ve got a right to put you straight, d’you know what I mean?”
“I think so.”
“There’s not a whole lot I’ve found to rely on in life so far.” He smiled. “You’re lucky, though. Here at Redwall, you’ve got Martin to count on.”
Ripple looked at the ground, then back up at the high windows of the dormitories.
“Um…I think I’m gonna head back in, if you don’t mind.”
“Yeah. Thanks for givin’ me a paw.”
Bobbing his head, the otter wandered off out of the trees. Noel sighed and gave his shrub another kick – a proper campball strike this time, ka-boom –
“Oi! Watcher footpaw there!”
A bundle of fur and claws burst from the leaves and out onto the lawn, tittering as it rolled end over end and at last picked up running.
“Bludd,” said Noel. He froze only long enough for his legs to get the message that they should follow suit. “Oi, Bludd! Get back here, you little -”
He shot ahead, arms outstretched, grasping at anything they might purchase. His paws found her ankles, his stomach hit the ground, and in one raucous fuzzy mess they tumbled onto the grass, Bludd’s crowing pirate giggle followed by Noel’s snuffling chortles.
“Bludd, come on now, gotta ask you this. Stop, stop. It’s important, I mean it!”
“Aye?” Bludd finally ceased kicking one of her pinned legs at his face. “It’ll cost ye.”
Noel scratched his chin, buying time to catch his breath.
“All right,” he said. “Next match, you can be captain of a side.”
“Proper captain, eh! ‘bout time ye saw me potential. Well, what is it then?”
“You said there was somebeast talkin’ behind me back last night. Who was it? You can tell your old shipmate, can’t you?”
Bludd wrinkled her nose, and Noel had to suppress another chuckle. She was above such derisive dibbun-coaxing nonsense. She had a secret to spill, though, and now they were alone and the whole world had changed overnight there was nothing to stop her.
“It was that big mouse lady, and Brother Sebastian. They said you seen a Cassius. What’d you see him do? Did he gut somebeast, make him walk the plank?”
In the silence that followed Bludd freed herself to give Noel a not ungentle pat on the head. His frown had forced its way to the surface against his will.
“All right, shipmate?”
“Yeah…thanks a million, Bludd. Mind if I ask you keeping that information below decks, if you know what I mean?”
“I already forgotten it.”
Noel smiled, pressed his paws to the earth, and sat up.
“Y’know, we’re really stuck here now. I wasn’t doin’ this place any favors keepin’ Virrel about but now I don’t got any choice. What about you, Bludd – are you happy here?”
Her mouth was a pearl-white line of grinning fangs.
“It’s a pirate’s paradise, innit? As long as they keep the vittles comin’, I got nothin’ to complain about!”
* * *
Not long afterward, Noel fished his pipe from where it hung in the reeds, the bowl dipping half-in, half-out of a puddle of algae. Grimacing, he scooped it out with a grimy claw and replaced it in his pocket.
There might be time for a smoke later, but it was enough to know he had the option again. For now, there was work yet to be done.