Should I Wade No More

July 21, 2011


And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it!

Saskia bit into a tea biscuit. The delicacy of lemon and fine sugar were interrupted by a hot blossoming of pain as she caught her tongue between teeth. She swallowed, and the bitter memory of lemon mixed with the filthy black-iron taste of blood in her mouth, the sugar departing entirely.

“Good?”

“Mmmf. Bit my tongue.” Saskia spat red on the ground beside her and swallowed blood again.

Merritt offered her a kerchief, perfect white and fringed with spiderweb-thin lace, but she waved him off. No reason to stain such a fine thing. She sipped at her tea instead, setting the cup back atop the makeshift picnic table they’d fashioned from Merritt’s empty crates.

“I’ve been doing well lately,” Merritt said. “The more seditious flavors of philosophy are selling quite well. Can hardly abide the risk, though.”

“You’re known to be a friend of Selendra and that idjit Gabriel about tried to punch Rigg’s muzzle off. No ‘iding for you, pretending to not take a side.” Saskia frowned. “Not that you’ve taken that to ‘eart, ‘ave you?”

Merritt spread his paws wide. “If Carter or Rigg or anybeast of their party wishes to retain the goodwill of the Abbeybeasts who believe themselves righteous, they’ll have to present evidence in public.”

“Evidence. Like they did for Raimun. Or for Andrew. And Aloysius stands aside and says nothing still, ‘im as righteous as any of ’em.”

Merritt fell silent. He sipped his own tea. Was this to be a council of war, then? Saskia imagined her parents planning for the battles of their glory days, but she couldn’t pry their wisdom from her own memories. Did she fancy Merritt her commander? No. Would she be his, then? Saskia smothered a laugh. He’d never allow it, he’d never let Selendra control him before and wouldn’t let her do it now. This wasn’t a battle anyhow, nothing so dignified. The Abbey lawn was not the field of honor.

No matter how Isidore might delude himself that it was so.

A few beasts walked by as she and Merritt drank and ate in silence, engrossed enough in their own conversations to pay no mind to the picnickers. Among them was Foweller, who slowed his steps, looking a bit too conspicuously nonchalant. Saskia leaned down to refill her cup but kept a careful eye on him, seeing him duck behind their cart.

“Merritt, wot’s the name of that otter chap who was ‘arassing you earlier?” Saskia murmured.

“The kit? Foweller, I think it was. About the right age to start being a proper customer, I half-expect him to come dragging his tail–ah, poor choice of words, innit?–back to me wanting some… more interesting literature.”

“Pornography.”

“Blunt today, aren’t you?”

“Pardon me for a moment.” Saskia rose and quietly stepped over to the cart, giving it a heavy shove. It tilted away from her momentarily but didn’t tip; it slammed back onto the ground where it had been. A yelp came from behind it, and Foweller scampered out, glowering.

“Ah.” Merritt frowned.

“And just wot did you think you were doing back there?”

“I… I… ” Foweller cringed briefly before abandoning his defenses to conduct a counterattack. “I got one of them p–por–nasty pamphlets, the one ya gave Ripple. ‘Filth that must be cleansed.’ Oughta take it to the Abbot.”

Merritt raised his eyes to the heavens, intoning dramatically to nobeast in particular. “And what is it he thinks will happen to me then, this callow youth? The Abbot is not a complete imbecile, he already knows–”

Saskia ignored him.

“And you were there why, again?” She let the question hang in the air. Foweller glared. “Never mind, I know why. I’d not be making trouble, if I were you. Beasts could get ‘urt.”

“Good sapper never let that stop ‘im, marm.”

“If I’d pushed a little ‘arder, you’d be bally well missing a leg, too. Go on.”

Foweller looked as though he intended to say something else, but trudged off instead.

Saskia turned back to Merritt, eyes narrowed. “Wot’re you ‘iding? Should be worried.”

Merritt smiled, beatific, and offered her another biscuit.

“Miz Saskia? Oi be needing to talk to you’m.” Cobb cast a dubious glance over at Merritt. “Alone.”

Merritt snorted, and Saskia led Cobb off on a walk across the lawn–or, more appropriately, a trundle. She nearly tripped over her own feet, taking strides short enough to match his.

“Wot could you be needing, Mister Cobb? Some tracts on vegetable gardening, per’aps?”

Cobb frowned and looked down at the ground. “Hurr… Oi need, well… Miz Althea said Oi need a proimer.”

Saskia felt a flush creep up her ears. “I ‘ave some of those. Can always sell a few to the Abbey, so I bring them.”

Cobb nodded. He stopped walking. “You’m know what Miz Selendra be doing for th’ rebels? Miz Tam said you’m moight.”

Saskia shook her head. “Not past wot Tam’s told me ‘erself. I never spoke to Sel much about them. You’d do better asking Merritt. Er, don’t tell ‘im I said that,” she said.

“Aye. Oi should go ask him, then.”

“Wait.” Saskia held up a paw. “Wot do the rebels ‘ave you doing?”

“We’m be watching Brother Tompkins. We’m be told he be part of th’ Society.”

“Brother Tompkins, yes. I know that from Miss Tamarack. Why?”

Cobb frowned. “He’m moight change soides. If we’m do it roight.”

“Hmm. D’you think we could talk to ‘im?”

“Foremole said we’m shouldn’t. And Oi’ve got to stay out of trouble.”

“You can say it was my idea. It’d even be true.”

“Maybe you’m should just go.” He paused, blushing. “Hurr burr. Me an’ Miz Tam an’ Noel aren’t clever city-beasts loike you’m.”

Saskia bowed her head. “I ‘ope I can do a bit of good.”

Tompkins’ room was neither ascetic nor indulgent: the curtains were neither silk nor burlap, bedclothes neither velvet nor gunny. Everything had an air of worn comfort. He’d polished the surface of his little desk smooth, but still it showed the stains and cracks of age.

He looked at them expectantly, and Saskia realized perhaps too late that she hadn’t quite planned this out to the end. Or the beginning. Still, she knew much of rhetoric; her schooling had taught her that at least, how to turn ears to listen.

“Brother Tompkins, I ‘ope I’m not intruding too badly,” she began.

He smiled a flat and ashen smile. “Not at all.” Tompkins’ paws were folded in his lap, one clenched around something she couldn’t see. “I haven’t had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, miss. Saskia, I believe? The printer?” He extended one paw for her to shake.

“I see my reputation ‘as preceded me,” Saskia said, laughing nervously as she took Brother Tompkins’ paw in her own.

“Aloysius speaks highly of you.”

“Does ‘e? That’s kind of ‘im.”

“What brings you here, miss?”

“I’m not sure. Wot’s ‘appened in recent days, I suppose. The disappearance of Selendra Bon, my dear friend. The deaths, all of them.”

Tompkins’ fist tightened in his lap. “I had hoped not, miss. I had hoped–” He looked down into his lap. “–to speak of more pleasant things.”

Saskia softened her voice. “There seem to be passing few pleasant things lately. Begging your pardon, Brother.”

“Yes. What brings Mister Cobb here?”

Saskia nodded to Cobb, who spoke. “I doan’t rightly know. Th’ same’s Miz Saskia.”

“We’re told,” Saskia continued, “you might ‘ave some unique insights.”

“I am old. I’ve watched this Abbey prosper and falter, seen the building of so many new things, changes beyond measure, beyond wisdom. What insight could I offer, anymore?” He closed his eyes.

“You love this place, I can see it, and I can see you’re saddened by it. Anybeast with eyes to see would know.”

He swallowed. “Yes.”

“Some things’re going on that doan’t be right,” Cobb interrupted.

“‘E can smell something foul ‘ere, Brother, same as you can. I’m not of this place, I want to go ‘ome. I can smell it too, feel it go through me like cold in summer. A thing outside its season, strange and terrible to the bone. But I won’t be allowed to go ‘ome, will I?”

Tompkins didn’t reply, nodding into his own lap as though falling asleep, shoulders hunched. “I apologize, Miss Saskia. You have been treated abominably, here, in a place where hospitality was our highest calling since the days of Martin.”

Saskia curtsied. “Thank you, Brother.”

Tompkins moved his clenched paw to the desktop and opened it. With a gentle clink, a glitter of silver spilled out, a ruby set in the middle. He pointed to it. “This was a beautiful thing.”

Saskia’s voice caught in her throat. “Wot is it?”

He paused. “I oughtn’t say. It would be a betrayal–”

“Would it? You say it was a beautiful thing. As a trinket, it is, still.”

“So it is.”

“I’ve ‘eard of something called the Society. Wot is it?”

Tompkins flinched. “Then–then I suppose it couldn’t hurt to tell you this is its symbol, could it?”

“Miz Tam, she’m found one in the graveyard.”

“She might’ve done, true. We’ve all spent far too many of our days there, especially of late. The winter was unkind to us all, most unkind to those who carry these pins.”

Saskia kept her eyes on him, as did Cobb, who’d broken into a sudden frown. “Wot is it, Brother? Something behind all that’s ‘appened, I warrant.”

“Unkind, yet I truly believe there are those who may have relished it,” he muttered. “But I’ve said far too much already.”

“‘Ave you? You’re troubled still.”

“My troubles are not for you to bear, miss. Mister Cobb neither.”

“If you wish to share them yet, I’ve often found Brother Aloysius a willing ear, and ‘onorable. I’m sure you know.”

Tompkins smiled. “You speak as fairly as he does, miss, though with a bit more cunning and a bit less fine diction, if I may say so.”

“We’ve ‘ad different lives, ‘e and I.”

“So have we all. Good evening, Cobb, Saskia. Do visit again, you may find me here often as not.”

Saskia turned to leave.

“Oh!” Tompkins said. “Do send Selendra and the rest my regards, if you happen to see them.” He looked directly into Saskia’s eyes, the restful glow of a warm hearth behind his own, a conscience set at ease. Her own shivered, searched for a quiet corner to weep unnoticed.

She nodded tightly. He’d turned, then? Or not quite? Something had shifted, but the ground beneath her paws felt as damp and treacherous as ever. “I shall.”

Sand-dusted barkcloth scratched at her paws; she’d hoped to find Aloysius at the archives, hoped to scrape clean her fears and write over them in new ink. The work was dusty, tedious, and freeing–it occupied just enough of her mind to blot the worst of her troubles.

Down with the cellarhogs? Aloysius?

Perhaps she’d misjudged the bat, or the news of Ripple’s death had toppled him entirely.

She set the barkcloth note back down and then thought better of this, slipping it into her pocket. Aloysius had meant it for her.

…the clarity and good humour and solace furnished only by one’s dear friends. I leave this so you might know where to find me…

Aloysius intended her to follow him. Saskia set off for the cellars.

It was the dark that saved her, and that the glimmer of upstairs light was at her back. She could see more clearly than they could.

Go, idiot!

Saskia flung herself down the last of the stairs and caught Noel by the midsection, bowling Tamarack over as well. She and the weasel rolled right through the young vixen’s ankles as though they were nothing at all. Saskia shoved Noel off of her and chanced a look back at Aloysius; the bat lay on his back, unmoving.

“Noel, wot in ‘ellgates are you doing?” Saskia snarled. “Decide Ripple wasn’t enough?”

Noel groaned and slumped against the wall. “I didn’t–”

“I can… I can explain,” Tamarack cut in, struggling to get her paws under her in the gloom. Saskia knelt and slipped one paw under the hem of her skirt. Noel froze at the sound of metal. The dagger her parents had convinced her to carry was drawn in anger for the first time.

“I never want to use this. But I’ve been taught ‘ow.” Saskia stood between Noel and Aloysius.

“All right now. Don’t you risk Tam over this,” he said.

Saskia turned to where the light from upstairs outlined Tam’s form. “Would you ‘urt me if I killed ‘im, Tam?” She jerked her head at Noel.

“Yes,” Tamarack snapped.

“Thought so. Point taken?” They all stood motionless, breathing heavily; Aloysius was silent, still, but Saskia thought she saw his chest rising and falling, slow and shallow. “You said you could explain.”

Tam pointed to the wine rack. “The tunnel comes out right here now, ma’am. Brother Aloysius found us coming back through, and saw it. He’ll go to the Abbot, and we’ll all be dead come morning. Like Andrew or Raimun.”

“So you ‘ad to kill ‘im, then?”

“No,” Noel snapped. He was almost panting. “I just couldn’t let him–he can’t see.”

Saskia swallowed. “Why is it you went through that tunnel? Wot ‘appened there?”

“I told you that already.”

“Yes, the bit where the rebels are there, wot-‘ave-you. Fine. Why d’you want to ‘elp them? Beasts wot gave you that welt on your muzzle?”

“Because the Abbot killed our friends, you daft bally hare!” Tamarack’s hissed words echoed off the walls. A hedgehog stirred and rolled over, groaning in her unconscious state.

“So you take to killing mine, then.” Saskia pointed at Tamarack, dagger in paw. Noel shifted along the wall and she pivoted, glaring at him. “And yes, I can see you. Not very well but well enough.”

“I’m not–”

“He’ll get us killed,” Tam said.

Saskia sighed. “‘E won’t, I swear it.”

“How’re you going to stop him?”

“At the moment, ‘e’s in no fit condition to be telling anybeast anything. I’ll take ‘im upstairs, put ‘im to bed, and stay with ‘im. ‘E wakes up, we’ll talk.”

“What if you can’t talk him out of it?”

Saskia gulped, voice suddenly trembling and high. “Then I’ll stop ‘im myself, and straight to ‘ellgates with us all.”

“I don’t believe you,” Tam whispered.

“I swear it,” Saskia replied, swallowing a sob. “Nobeast ought to die ‘elpless.”

“Like Raimun,” Noel put in.

“Or Ripple.” He flinched. “I’ll do wot needs to be done. ‘E oughtn’t die, but neither should you.”

Tam nodded. “Fine.” She looked sick, even in the dim.

Noel shook his head, eyes downcast.

Aloysius was a heavy burden as she mounted the last of the stairs; he’d woken partially, mumbled something incoherent, and dribbled on her shoulder.

His living space was a perfect portrait of disuse. Ripple’s belongings occupied half of it, scattered and forlorn. Saskia nudged Aloysius over to the narrow, unused bed on his own side and lay him in it as best she could.

When he swallowed in his sleep, he coughed and turned, throat occluded by the damage Noel had done.

Saskia sat on the bed next to him and lay a paw on his chest. His heart continued to beat, deep and sluggish. She felt only the rhythm of blood and the tightness of the knife-sheath, circling her leg like an iron shackle.

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The letters fell across the page – thin arcs and dots and crossed t’s – in simple script blotted only occasionally as a memory of Ripple or Raimun invaded Aloysius’ thoughts. They had begun to merge, a mouse-otter who had a horizon of possibilities stretching before his young eyes, yet whispered with a voice strained through the seasons that more days lay behind than ahead. The bat tried to separate them; each memory contained, bound, catalogued, and placed upon the shelves in precise order.

He needed to finish the letter to Saskia.

“You need a drink, brother, brother.”

The bat started, but seasons of care left only his ears to spasm at Fyfe’s sudden intrusion into his Gatehouse.

“That would not be prudent, Fyfe,” Aloysius replied, continuing to write. “I have duties to attend. To attend at the Abbey.”

“Oh? The Abbot makes a fine slavemaster, slavemaster. No time to mourn, Brother Aloysius?”

“We mourn in our own ways. Please leave me. Leave me.” The archivist hunched over his desk, the perfect picture of a diligent scholar. He had not written a word since his brother had entered. His quill itched, and he desired to scratch it.

There was a rustle of wings, but instead of departing, Fyfe’s claw landed on Aloysius’ shoulder. His touch was warm, a bracing thermal. “Don’t file this away like one of your tomes, brother. Those beasts deserve better, better.”

With a hiss, he was gone, back to Eilonwy and Saifye and the attic where Ripple no longer slept. Aloysius glanced down at his letter. A large black spot glared back.

A moment could be spared, perhaps, to count the cellarhogs and inspect their stocks.

Signing his name, Aloysius reviewed his work and frowned. Despite the barkcloth’s state, the archivist sprinkled sand on the glistening ink. He would not start anew—a part of him fancied the way it looked. Saskia deserved better, but he knew that she of all beasts would understand.

***

It was not often Aloysius joined the cellarhogs on their weekly night of brew tasting, but tonight he figured the moon was blue enough, when it hid behind the thin clouds just so, and when he was looking at it through a particular stained glass window.

“Aloysius!” Sister Ambrosia exclaimed as the bat made his cautious way down the stairs. Knowing the gig was up, he fluttered the rest of the way. The cellarhog turned and offered him a smile as she set the keg in her paws upon a rack. “I thought you might come, old friend. I’ll have Sebastian tap a barrel of ale. October, aye? You were always one for the traditional brews.”

“Perhaps, for tonight, something a bit stronger, stronger?”

The hedgehog paused for a moment, considering him as he might consider a particularly faded page. A moment later, she nodded and shouted toward another hedgehog who had just emerged from one of the many subterranean alcoves, “Celia, tell Sebastian to pull a keg of Fire Whiskey from the back.”

“Yes’m!” The cellarmaid trotted off, and Aloysius followed Ambrosia to a nook where several other hogs sat playing a game of dice. The bat had hoped for cards.

“Sorry about Ripple, Brother,” one of the hogs mumbled by way of greeting. The rest followed suit, offering their condolences for a budding pupil.

“Thank you. All of you.” The bat bowed his head, a tiny tremor of guilt fluttering through him at the sympathy.

Ambrosia directed him to a crate as Sebastian entered with the keg. Celia entered a moment later and filled the mugs in her paws before passing them around.

“To Ripple,” Ambrosia declared, raising her mug. “Shame a kit like that dying so young.”

Aloysius reached out, catching her arm before the head cellarhog could raise drink to her lips. “No. Lucky that he lived, he lived to share his life with ours.”

“To Ripple!” everybeast cried.

The whiskey burned as it went down, a fiery celebration of all that the otter had been, all that Raimun and Andrew and the others had been: friends.

***

Hushed voices and the squeal of metal roused Aloysius from his drunken stupor some time later. The bat blinked, then clicked a wall of sound in the dim cellar. He flared his ears as the echoes returned a crisp, silvery image of hogs sprawled across the floor and each other. He did not want to fathom how they could do it, but he was sure it had something to do with the empty keg.

Skreee.

That sound again. Something unyielding, accompanied by whispers in the dark.

“Ambrosia,” the bat muttered, prodding the hedgehog with a careful wingtip where she lay slumped over Sebastian. The cellarhog snorted, but gave no other indication of life. He pulled his claw back and ran it across his brow. Whatever was making the noise didn’t sound like it belonged in the earthen halls of the cellar. It was too mechanical. “Ambrosia, there is somebeast else down here, down here.” He felt like giggling, though it was difficult to say why. “Ambrosia, I’m going to go look, look.”

Aloysius flopped to the ground, mindful of the living spike balls around him as he proceeded to crawl out of their nook, away from the dim glow of the lantern. He swayed on his limbs, feeling like a kit just finding his wings. A humorous thought struck him of a young baby bankvole and suddenly the song came back to him.

“Seek the Founder in the stones,
I know where the little folk go.”

It was difficult to suppress his mirth, but the sound of scraping did well to sober him up. He sent out clicks, hearing the barrels, kegs, and wine racks as they called back to him.

Fuzzy though his mind was from the whiskey, the bat knew well enough to follow the sounds and echoes. He made a brief attempt at flying, then gave up and skittered on his claws toward one of the alcoves. There was the very faint glow of a flame within, but it was coming from behind the wall. Aloysius blinked several times, then sent out a series of clicks, and saw only the wine rack … moving.

“Cluny’s tail, but it’s making a racket!” Aloysius heard the unmistakable lilt of Tamarack Coffincreeper.

“So are you,” Noel replied. The weasel always had had a fascination for Martin the Warrior. Aloysius wondered if they too were seeking the Founder.

There was another mechanical screech, and the wine rack pivoted at the center, revealing a small crack that the vixen and weasel squeezed through. Noel set the lantern in his paw down and, together, they pushed the wine rack back.

“There, now. Not too … did you hear that?”

The weasel was suddenly alert, tense. Tamarack froze beside him, arm half-stretched toward their lantern. Aloysius shifted, trying to get a better look at the curious wine rack.

“Who’s there? Show yourself!” Noel hissed.

“Master Noel, it’s me, Brother Aloysius, Aloysius,” the bat called out, mindful to be quiet for the sleeping hogs. He pushed himself upright and offered a warm smile. “What are the two of you doing down here? You’re not seeking the Founder like I am, I am?”

“The founder?” Tamarack said.

“Yes.” Aloysius giggled, his gait amplified as he approached the two. He put a wing against the wall to steady himself. “Look at you. My books and stories weren’t enough, were they, were they? You had to seek Martin out yourself, like they did all those years ago. But I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Master Noel, Martin doesn’t lie where the little folk go.” He took a step towards them, and they stiffened. Aloysius frowned. “That’s Abbess Germaine. Martin lies elsewhere…” he trailed off, trying to recall the ancient stories of the abbey, but he could grasp none of them. “… though I cannot recall where. Is the abbess there? Behind the wine rack, wine rack? May I see?”

He took another step towards them. Noel intervened. “Nothing’s behind the wine rack, Brother. You must have been seeing things.”

Aloysius furrowed his brow. “Come now, I know there is no wall there. I can hear it, hear it. Don’t be selfish, Noel. Even a scholar like me can have his adventures.” Pushing the weasel aside, Aloysius reached the wine rack and tugged. A mechanical scrape filled his ears as the obstruction gave way.

And then Aloysius found himself on his back, his left wing folded awkwardly beneath him, and a heavy weight on top. He squeaked in protest.

“Noel, what are you doing,” Tamarack said in a vicious whisper.

“I can’t…” Noel cried. “I can’t let him see.”

Aloysius whimpered as a strong paw clasped around his throat and squeezed.

***

“Master Noel, Have I ever told you about the story of Blaggut, Blaggut?” Aloysius said, pulling the weasel away from the tapestry to wander down the halls. “He was a vermin, like yourself.”

“I don’t want to hear about vermin, Brother. I want to hear about Martin.”

“Ah, but Martin is not the only righteous beast who has graced the halls of this abbey, abbey.”

Noel paused to consider this, then nodded. “And who was Blaggut?”

 

“Blaggut was a rat, the boatswain of a ship called the Pearl Queen. He and his captain, Slipp, came to our abbey seeking shelter after their ship had been reclaimed by Finnbar Galedeep. They were the only survivors, survivors. The brothers and sisters of Redwall Abbey took them in, offered them food, shelter, and hospitality, but Slipp wanted more. He wanted treasure, as vermin are wont to do, and when he was fooled by infant playthings, took his revenge in murder, murder.”

“And Blaggut?”

“Poor Blaggut was not a smart rat. Easily persuaded, and easily led astray by his captain, Captain Slipp. But even he knew the difference between right and wrong, and once he enacted justice upon Slipp renounced his vermin ways, living his life by the stream as a true woodlander, one who lives by the creed that built this very abbey. So you see, Master Noel, not all vermin are vermin, vermin. For some can be woodlanders if they desire it.”

“And me?”

 

“I can’t say, can’t say. Only your heart can.”

“It’s all right to cry, Fowel,” Tamarack whispered to the young otter.

They stood before Ripple’s grave with most of Skipper’s crew and a pawful of others. Raimun’s marker had seen dozens upon dozens of beasts, but the very old were easier to bid farewell than the very young.

Tamarack touched Foweller’s paw; he jerked away, rubbing it across his cheek.

“A sapper doesn’t cry when he’s doing his duty.”

The vixen grasped the otter’s paw firmly, and this time she did not let go. “No, but a friend does. And that ain’t a coat you take off at the end of the day.”

Tamarack smiled at him through her own tears, as much grief as exhaustion, and felt Foweller sag. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders for support, but the movement was awkward; they didn’t quite match yet. The handle of his knife dug into her waist, and she shifted away.

Where was Bludd? She should be here. Foweller was more the kitten’s friend, anyway, and she had loved Ripple, too. Hadn’t she? Was Bludd still so afraid Rigg and Isidore would find her? The otter wasn’t even there, though the rat hovered at the edge of the crowd, drawn by the rich perfume of death – more fly than bee. She had heard talk that Carter might have sent him; Duster would have no part of the Abbot of Redwall standing with his old crew for Ripple’s funeral.

The young otter’s tutor was nowhere to be seen either, but Tamarack had let the bat sleep. Aloysius would hate her, but she could not be the one to give him this, too. His heart still echoed a hollow place for Raimun.

As Skipper – Duster, he no longer held that title – went to stand beside Ripple’s coffin, the passing bell began to sound. Just thirteen peals to celebrate Ripple’s life. She had a memory for each of those seasons, though, ones that nobeast could steal away. Tamarack held tight to them and Foweller as Duster’s crew began to sing, a loud, raucous sound that filled the graveyard, sweeping her into that moment with them. Ripple had taught her the words a very long time ago for his mother’s funeral. She joined them:

“Ride ’em high, ride ’em low
Ride the course as the river flows
Hear the heart o’ an otter beat
Filled with joy an’ with defeat.
We lost a sailor here t’day
Guide him Fates as he’s on his way
T’ that forest ‘cross the sea
Where Finnbarr waits fer you an’ me
T’ raise a glass or two or three
In a land where all’s plenty!”

When they finished, she felt Cobb’s paw on her back. She wanted to shrug him off, the weight too much when she was already dead on her paws from their adventure last night and the digging race with Foweller today, but it was a kindness.

“Oi think you’m should be having a loie down, Miz Tam. Zir Colm and Oi can direct beasts to th’ refectory for th’ reception.”

It would have been nice to say yes, to collapse on the porch and forget about everything for a few hours. A pair of tall ears caught her attention, though, then a flash of silvery teeth beneath a masked face.

“That’s a right kind offer,” she replied, stepping back from Foweller as he shuffled over to pet and soothe Duster with the rest of the crew, “but this is my job. Sure as you like, I’ll be doing it. Need to talk to Ms. Saskia, anyway.”

She caught a glint of suspicion behind his tinted goggles. “Woi do you’m need to speak to her?”

“About Ripple.”

“Oh.” He deflated. “Oi’ll just–”

The vixen hugged the mole; he matched right. “I’ll tell you about it once I’ve talked to her.”

A little of his digger’s enthusiasm returned. “Of course. You’m just be careful about what you say.”

“Yes, sir!”


“Ms. Saskia, do you have a minute,” Tamarack called, catching up to the hare and her ferret companion before they could reach the refectory.

“Ms. Tamarack, you’re certainly looking quite austere in that dress,” Merritt exclaimed. “I have a few pamphlets that you might–”

Saskia’s glare could have chiseled the ferret’s epitaph.

“We’ll talk about this later. I think I’ll go check on poor Gabe, shall I?”

The hare sighed. “Sorry about that. Wot do you need?”

“I wanted to… It’s about Ripple.” Tamarack bit down hard on a bark of slightly-hysterical laughter as Saskia’s whiskers and ears curled. “Not that. I wanted to ask if you know how this happened.”

“No more than you, probably,” the hare replied, smoothing out once more like a page in one of her books. “Terrible accident.”

“It was the Abbot’s fault!” the vixen challenged, but she was less sure of that now. In the graveyard, before she’d spoken to the old otter, there had been a sadness there, something more than the veneer he painted on each morning. But it was his fault. It had to be his fault, like Raimun and Andrew.

Saskia glanced toward the refectory where Tamarack could just hear the strains of another shanty beginning.

“I don’t know about that. Jolly irresponsible for ‘im to paw off a pair of pistols to some kits, but the way I ‘eard it, that Virrel chap’s more the scoundrel. I feel bad for Noel, really.” Her smile was as faint as the music. “Can’t choose your family, though.”

The vixen crossed her arms and hunched her shoulders in her best imitation of the campballing weasel. “The Abbot’s the one what gave them the guns in the first place. He should’ve known better than to let Ripple aim a stick, let alone a pistol.”

“That doesn’t mean ‘e killed ‘im.”

“A beast’s got to pull the trigger, is it?” Tamarack only realized she’d growled that bit when she noticed Saskia’s raised eyebrows and the thin line of her mouth. The vixen quickly retreated, covering her bared teeth and forcing her hackles to a more neutral position. “I just don’t want Noel – Mr. Noel to feel…”

“Right.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Saskia.” Tamarack cringed, gaze fixed on the grass below the hare’s footpaws. “I been up all night and all day. It’s catching up to me.”

“That ‘all night’ where you earned that lump on your snout?”

The vixen’s paw leapt to her muzzle. “It was an accident.”

“Does that excuse ever work?” Saskia snorted and scrunched up her nose.

“With Papa sometimes.”

“Forgive me for saying, but in that case, your father’s about as thick as an Aulkner novel.”

The hare smirked and the vixen couldn’t help grinning back. It hurt a bit, but the good kind. “He one of them ‘moral’ fellows?”

“Moral enough that Merritt keeps well clear. ‘Is works provide excellent ‘iding places. But you’re cleverly avoiding my question. What makes a gel grow lumps in the night?”

“I…” She stopped herself short. Case had told them to speak to nobeast about this. She’d already broken that promise with Grannie. “I can’t tell you.”

“Wouldn’t ‘ave to do with that tunnel Noel found?” the hare pried.

“Noel told you about the tunnel?” Tamarack demanded. How many beasts knew? Cobb had done his best to hide it, but without filling it properly, there was always the risk that somebeast less friendly than Saskia might find or find out about it.

“Aye. I played a bit of lookout for ‘im. What did you find?”

Lying wouldn’t help anything at this point. Saskia knew more about the beasts than she did, at least. “Julian Case. And Cassius.”

“Wot?” The hare’s eyes widened.

“Ms. Selendra was with them. And a pair of otters, and a haremaid. That’s where I got this.” She motioned to the welt. “Right tetchy about her bosses being called murderers.”

“Well… who wouldn’t be?” Saskia sounded like she was about to throw up. Tamarack took a precautionary sidestep.

“You all right, Ms. Saskia?”

“I’ll be fine. I just… wot in all of Mossflower is going on?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” The vixen shook her head, weariness returning – a mosquito that nagged her with its tinny whine. “There’s the Society of Martin, Ms. Selendra sniffing around Brother Tompkins, and then Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius being set up by Abbot Carter for the murders. I don’t even know what they’re expecting us to do for them.”

That caught Saskia’s attention. “Do for them? You’re a kit. You shouldn’t be doing anything for them!”

Tamarack bristled. “I buy Mr. Merritt’s pamphlet’s; I ain’t a kit no more.”

“Tamarack, Merritt’s a bloody git. ‘E’d sell those pamphlets to a beast ‘alf your age if ‘e thought ‘e’d get a return customer.”

“But…” The vixen wilted. “I’m still helping. I’m treading light, but I won’t stick my head in a grave and let the seasons turn around me. What would you do? The Abbey ain’t going to believe me without proof. And Mr. Cassius said this Society’s running Redwall anyway.”

“I don’t know.” The hare pinched the bridge of her snout. “Bloody blast it to ‘Ellgates! I don’t know. You need to be careful. That’s what you need to do. I wouldn’t trust Carter, or Cassius and Case.”

“No, ma’am,” Tamarack assured. “I don’t trust them, but I got to believe something. You weren’t there. I ain’t never seen two beasts more determined. And at least they’re the sort who’d tell you afore sticking a sword in your back.”

Saskia just shook her head.


Sunsets always reminded Tamarack of the soil after a rain, the red, orange and yellow light running down the tree trunks and buildings in rivulets of color to pool amongst the shadows. They smelled thick, heavy, even in the winter, like the whole of Mossflower had breathed out at once.

“What do you want, lad?” Papa’s growl cut through the younger vixen’s musing.

“Asylum?” Noel replied. The weasel was leaning against the graveyard fence, nonchalant defiance in the face of suspicion.

They’d only just seen Duster and his crew out of the refectory and into their beds to sleep off Ripple’s wake. Papa had let her dance with Foweller, linking arms with the younger otter and twirling with him while Duster’s crew hollered out ‘Let Martin Lead a Lad’. She’d wished it had been Noel, but Duster wouldn’t have him at the funeral any more than the Abbot.

“You’d best be finding that in the Abbey proper,” Papa rumbled, plowing forward. Noel stepped aside without complaint, and the fox paused. “What’re you really up to?”

“He’s here to help me and Mr. Cobb, Papa,” Tamarack interjected. “Thought we’d need… a bit of muscle moving… moving…”

“The shed,” Grannie supplied. Noel, Cobb, Tamarack and the rest of the Coffincreepers turned to look at the old vixen. “I asked the lad to help them pulling down that rickety old thing.”

Papa’s face furrowed into a map of hard-cut ravines and daredevil peaks. “Mum, we been working all day. That shed–”

“That shed will come down tonight, Emmerich Coffincreeper,” Grannie snapped, ears tilting forward as she drew herself up to match the dogfox snout-to-snout.

“It’s all right, Papa, I’ll help, t–”

“No!” Colm might have staggered at the force of four voices hitting him all at once had Ida not been there to support him.

“We’m told Miz Althea we’m would take care of it…”

“Yesterday! Ain’t that right, Mr. Noel?”

“Expect so.” The weasel scratched his chin.

Mumma sighed and flapped her paws at Papa. “Leave it Emmerich. I’m tired. Let the kits run themselves ragged. You’ll be up with sun, though, Tam, or it’ll be old Slagar moving my paw across your tail come the light.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The younger vixen winced, paw moving to cover her rump. Another late night would be some trouble, but better asleep on her footpaws than awake over Mumma’s knee.


“Naow just hold it there,” Cobb commanded, voice muffled by the slats and mat above Tamarack and Noel’s heads. They each pressed up, extra support as the mole filled the hole in the graveyard. “You’m holding?”

Tamarack and Noel exchanged a glance. The mole had been second guessing them ever since he’d crawled back up to the surface.

“Aye, Mr. Cobb.”

“All roight. Oi be fillin’ it in naow. Hurr… but you’m think Saskia really be a good beast to ask about Brother Tompkins, Miz Tam?”

“Already told her about Mr. Cassius and Mr. Case. Reckon she’s our best bet unless Bludd can think of somebeast… once she quits playing at hide-and-seek with Mr. Rigg and Brother Isidore.”

“Maybe. Oi’ll ask her when we’m finish here.”

“Best we finish, then,” Noel piped up. “Me back’s starting to hurt, Cobb.”

The welcoming weight of the dirt on their shoulders was the mole’s reply.

“You doin’ all right?” Noel asked once the only things they could smell were the earthen walls and each other.

“Reckon I could lift anything you can,” Tamarack proclaimed, supporting herself on one paw and grinning. She watched the shadows around the weasel’s eyes deepen in the lantern light as he smiled.

“I don’t doubt it. I meant about everything that’s happened.”

She’d hoped he would let it go, let the joke carry them on to campball and the tricky pawwork she’d been meaning to beg him to show her. “Right as a beast can be. I’m more worried about Bludd. She didn’t show up for Rip’s funeral. I ain’t saying he’d cry over it, but it ain’t him I’m worrying about.”

Noel grunted, and for the first time, she noticed that the weasel’s claws had gored the soil around his paws. Virrel had been the one to pull the trigger, the one Saskia blamed.

“Will you be all right?”

Noel started and stared at her, his brow furrowed. Then, he laughed. It wasn’t hollow, just resigned. “Yeah… yeah, I think so.”

Tamarack knew better than to press. He’d let her be ‘all right’, she’d let him.

“Anyway, you think he’s finished yet?” Noel jerked a claw upward.

The vixen craned her head around, forcing her cheek flush with the mat and letting her whiskers sweep across it. She was no mole, but enough seasons digging graves, and a beast was bound to learn a thing or three. “Nothing coming down no more.” The vixen smirked. “You ready to see if this here contraption we built holds up?”

“Drop on the count of three?” the weasel suggested.

“Sounds right enough. Been nice knowing you if this lot falls and suffocates us, sir.”

“Nah, we’d get stabbed by the slats an’ bleed to death first.”

“Well, ain’t that a comfort?” She stuck her tongue out at him, and he winked.

“One. Two. Three!”

Tamarack and Noel flattened themselves against the slope of the ramp. Nothing happened. A small part of her was disappointed. No heroic rescue, grasping the weasel’s paw and dragging him to safety as the tunnel groaned and collapsed around them. Merritt’s pamphlets were terrible lies.

“Huh,” Noel articulated as he rolled over and sat up. “Cobb’s a fine mole.”

“The best.” Tamarack nodded.

“Well, then, seeing as we’re not dead… Head for the cellar?” He offered her his paw, leaning down to pick up the lantern with the other.

“Aye.” The vixen beamed as friendly shadows danced around them.

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten
the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

Bludd meandered past a wild thicket, a nice and quiet one she played in often when she was bored. White patches of bishop’s lace met her before the unfurling expanse of the abbey causeway ahead. The corsair could smell salt in that air as the flowers fluttered in place before her, a fine captain with a heart so bold that lightning would crack at the straightening of her cravat.

It was strange to see the path so empty for midday. To the left, the kitten glanced furtively at the high walls of the abbey archives. Maybe she could get some kind of reaction out of Brother Aloysius? Loping forward, she peeked between the mullions of a tracery window, stretching her haunches for a better look. The books she had scattered with Eilonwy were still in shambles.

A sad mewl escaped her gullet. She hoped her new friend wouldn’t get in trouble because of her, like Ripple had with those silly bees. The kitten sighed and waggled her paw; her ring gave off a comforting twinkle in the sunlight. She decided she’d be back to apologize later. All she wanted to do now was give Ripple a hug and be on her way. Foweller too after what he had done for her in Carter’s-

The kitten blinked for a few seconds.

She scrambled toward the Abbot’s house, her tunic flapping in the wind as the thorns of the rose beds magnified in size before her like the needle ends of some domestic comb. Bludd stopped short when she saw two shades standing before her under the grasping trunks of the curling hazel trees. One of them spoke.

“Lass.” She recognized the rat Isidore’s voice, the same one whose hive she had melted. “Come to me.” His voice was calm, like smoldering brimstone.

“What fer?” the kitten said, shifting a bit. “Where’s Abbot Carter? ‘M s’posed ter be seeing ‘im.”

“What’s she talkin’ about?” Rigg demanded. He was sitting on a bucket, picking at his teeth with a claw.

“Me… my training,” Bludd said, lost. “Abbot Carter. He promised he’d be teaching me a few things.”

Isidore shook his gray head. “If still you have respect for the Abbey, then you’ll come with us. There are responsibilities you owe.”

Stepping back further, Bludd flashed the rat a toothy grin. “The only responsibility a Cap’n’s got is to ‘er crew.” The dirt below the kitten’s footpaw felt soft; it was the consistency of sand.

“Enough of that, lass,” Rigg commanded. “Yer not a cap’n, not a corsair, not even a swimmer. Have ye even seen the ocean?”

With a kick, the kitten tried to blind the otter with soft earth, but it missed. She darted in the opposite direction, hearing the bucket swivel as he rose. The southern wind wailed from behind, as if granting haste to the legs which scampered beneath her billowing tunic.

She flew past the second cellar and the infirmary, confident in her own agility. From the sound of the steps behind her, she could tell that she was out-running them- or was it one? She dared not turn back to see, but she couldn’t help a snigger. If it was the riverdog chasing her, he sure wasn’t as good at running as he claimed to be at swimming.

Bludd dashed toward the Abbey graveyard, sliding under a loose bar in the iron fencing. Bounding past, over, and on wooden gravemarkers and slate sepulchres. A large marble statue of Gonff and Martin stood prominent in the site’s center. The kitten hid behind the base, its cool slab pressed against her cheek as she peeked around a corner for her pursuer.

Rigg huffed and puffed toward her from the distance. She could feel the eyes of the frozen warriors looking down at her. Were they angry?

“Cluny’s shaft!” Rigg cursed as she watched him struggle to hop over the fence. His slacks had caught on the wicked metal tips.

A pair of voices rising together in laughter caught her attention. She should warn Foweller and Tamarack while she had the chance… and the gravemarkers begged for her paws. The brownish waves lapping all around would never take her alive.

— —

“Fowel! Tam!” Bludd cried, hopping from gravemarker-to-gravemarker. Her eyes shone, her head was held high. She looked every bit the usual kitten. Foweller hated her, suddenly, fiercely. The bullet of emotion ripped through him in an instant, leaving a hole he packed tight with regret. She was so blithe, so very much like he wished he could be right now.

Foweller felt Tamarack’s hot breath as she snorted. “Don’t jump on the markers, you stripy-faced terror. Papa’ll yell at me.”

“But I’ll fall int’ the sea,” Bludd whined, motioning to the half-dug grave the otter and vixen stood in.

“Worse things than the sea to fall into, Bluddy.”

She cocked her head to the side, considering this, then nodded. “Veggible salad’s the worst, aye.” The kitten glanced back in the direction she’d come from. “Lissen, Rigg the Pigg an’ Dizzy Isi are after me. I’m gonna be hidin’ fer awhile. Don’t tell ‘em ye saw me. Cap’n’s orders!”

Foweller raised his paw to salute on reflex, but Bludd was already racing away, ignoring Tamarack’s plea for respect toward the gravemarkers as her claws scraped stone and marble.

“That kitten’s battier than a belfry.” He heard the vixen sigh, but when he turned to look at her, she was smiling, a soft expression for her wiry features. “Nice she can still play, though.”

“Aye.” He rested a paw on the hilt of Isidore’s knife. “Somebeast should after what’s been happening.”

“Though the way I hear it, if she’s made Mr. Isidore mad, she’s not long for this world.” Another smile, this one thinner. Foweller knew that sort of smile well. He plastered a grin on his own face and punched her arm lightly.

“I expect she’ll go out with her boots on, when the time comes, that one! Anyway, they’ll have to catch her first.”

“Oy, ye two!” They both started and turned to see Rigg running along the side of the graveyard fence. “Ye seen that kitten, Bludd?”

“Aye, sir,” Tamarack called.

“She went that way.” Foweller aimed his claw west to the infirmary while Tamarack pointed east into the orchard.

Rigg slowed to a jog, his impressive brow furrowing. “Right, then… which way, kits?”

“Headed for the kitchens, sir.”

“Toward the pond.”

The furrow deepened, splitting the older otter’s forehead like a great ravine. He muttered curses Foweller might reserve for a jammed pistol and sped up again. The younger otter and vixen stood in silence for a moment, staring after Rigg. Then, Tamarack snorted and started giggling. Foweller couldn’t help joining in; somebeast had to after what had been happening.

— —

Bludd navigated the roots of ancient hollies and alder trees, stringy moss tickling her crown as she ran deep into the Abbey woods. There was an old whitebeam there whose limbs she knew well. It waited for her, loyally as a ship does in port. She climbed it, easy as the ratlines of a foremast and felt the bark beneath her claws.

“Come off it, lass!” She heard Rigg’s voice close behind her from the base of the tree.

She had been chased before, but nobeast had ever come this far into the forest, not into her hideaway. Once she had tried to bring Ripple here, but he whined about the idea of treacherous tree snappers and magic pollen so he went back to his card game like he usually did. At least he had promised to take her sailing one day. He said he’d let her have his toy ship so she could build a real one of her own. He said-

Rigg’s burly paw closed around her footpaw. The kitten screamed. She kicked her protracted claws into the otter’s paw on impulse. Rigg let out a bark of pain but she could still fell his tight grip as her legs wiggled and she thrashed her tail.

“Hold still ye bloody brat- nothin’ t’ be worryin’ about if ye just behave!” Bludd could hear more footsteps below, and she swiped down from the left, the nails of her right paw still sunk desperately into the pulpy bark of the whitebeam. Going for the smallest digit of the otter’s paw, she curled around the crevice of his grip and pulled quick, satisfied at the sickly crack that answered. He recoiled, bawling in pain as the kitten climbed to the highest bough.

She crouched, then leaped, plummeting as she inhaled ocean air for a few sweet seconds before being caught by the yews’ tangled arms. Through the canopies of leaf, sun splattered the branches like paint, marigold and gray, and the kitten lifted herself and skittered into the recession of the parting light.

— —

Rigg believed in fate. He felt that it twisted like the graceful spine of some coy lady, undulating in and out of his grasp, to be his own at the right opportunity. He had tangled with it before, had anticipated the flamboyant fancies of its whim, no stranger to victory at the brush of a well-aimed stratagem.

But this time he had grabbed too soon.

Spitting a slew of curses, he descended the base of the whitebeam and anchored his bottom on its jutting roots.

Brother Isidore tramped up to him. “Are you hurt?”

“Mattimeo’s stinkin’ mug, she broke one of me claws!”

“Let’s see it then.” Isidore took his paw. “It’s out of the joint.”

“And nothin’ else?” His fur bristled.

“It may be broken too. I’ve not the eyes to tell. The infirmary would be the best place for you now, my friend.”

Rigg cursed again. “Though tell me ’bout that nasty little witch in the wood, what’re we goin’ t’ do about that?” He pulled his paw away from the rat and yelped.

“I brought Brother Clacher.”

Rigg looked past the rat into the tunneling wood and saw nothing. He heard nothing too, just the wind’s whistle through the reeds, the rocks and the logs stained with lichen. Clacher. He remembered well what the badger kept in his house, not just in the open but in his pantries, and the cellar.

“’s he at?” The otter asked at last.

Isidore tapped a claw on his nose and smiled.

— —

Twilight had descended, and the woods were bathed in a crimson light, and she heard the bell ringing – more rings than the hour warrented. Skittering down the downcast branches of an elm, the kitten landed with grace, a soft crunch on the forest floor. She wiped off some of the nettles and sap that clung to her and patted her tunic. One of her pretty buttons were missing. She mewled just a bit before holding back.

Calming herself, she held up a paw to her forehead. A few strings of light were penetrating the forest from the west but that was all. She had found her secret spot, a rocky outcrop of mica where the mushrooms glowed and lit up the stone with a blue aura. There was a great big moldy log that sat beside it, too. Bludd really liked this log, but she was scared because she knew it would last for very much longer. The bark had long ago chipped away, its body cracking, its insides rotting into dust, things she wouldn’t be able to ignore for very much longer.

“Cor,” she chirped. She couldn’t hear the usual chorus of green leggy jumpers or whizzing silk bugs, just the creaking of wood and the usual shifting of leaves. It was odd. Her ears perked; a twig had snapped some distance behind her.

“Tam?” she called out, turning to look. A thicket occluded her view, but she could hear light steps from behind, rustling for an entrance. “That you, Fowels, matey?”

No answer. But who else could have known about here? The only beast she’d ever told about-

“Ripple?” she cried, all smiles. “You finally came!”

She waited for a bit but heard nothing. A sob was welling up in her throat but she suppressed it, then she continued.

“It’s so shiny here, Ripple! I just wanted you to see for yourself. See, the mushrooms shine like your cards. Isn’t that great?”

Still no answer. The light steps went away.

“Wait! I wanted to say I’m sorry!”

Silence.

“I’m sorry for the bees, and being bad, and making messes. I don’t think I want to be a captain anymore! I don’t care about pins and paw dragons and maniac adults, I just want to play. I want to play while we still can.

She curled her arms around her knees and rested her head there.

“I might not be able to stay here anymore, Ripple. I-” There was a cracking noise.

Warm blood trickled down her face, but it wasn’t from a nosebleed.

The club fell on her again, and again until she couldn’t feel anything anymore. She couldn’t tell if her face was covered in blood or tears or both, but all she knew was that she was disappointed in herself. Ripple wouldn’t have lost like this, he never-

*Written and posted by Bludd’s sub.

Cutting the Weeds

July 17, 2011

Twirl. Twirl. Catch it! Foweller’s claws scrabbled for the knife. It was a simple flick, yet the more he tried to do it, the more haphazard his attempts became. However, he had learnt the trick to catching vermin. Watch their habits. Mister Merritt, for instance, spent his afternoons sipping tea, stuffing his face with some cook’s hard work and playing cards.

“Fancy bumping into you!” Merritt thumped a paw on Foweller’s shoulder as he came sauntering out of the Great Hall. The otter was steered down the steps in the direction of Merritt’s cart, the ferret’s black, spidery paw holding him uncomfortably close.

“Why, jolly good afternoon, Mister Merritt,” Foweller responded, almost as if he had not been deliberately loitering at the doors and sneaking glances at the day’s spread of strawberries and cream.

“Now, my young friend,” Merritt gave Foweller a winning smile as the ferret drew to the kit’s eye level, “You seem a likely sort of lad that’d be interested in my range of wares. I don’t think I’ve formally introduced you to the wonderful world of print!”

“You have anything on the natural history of stoats, squire?” Foweller asked, his eyes darting across the boxes as if one of the beasts in the flesh would leap out at him. His lip curled at the stumped look behind that robber’s mask. The vermin rapidly changed his tune into another greedy sales pitch.

“Aha, quite the wit, lad! It’s not all boring essays and pamphlets in here, no sir! Why, you wouldn’t happen to be into cards, would you? Must’ve sold almost every pack since coming here, but I’m sure I can find something special for you.”

“Is that all? I’ve rather lost the taste for card games. My fellow players are…” Dead, or soon to be be. Foweller wrinkled his nose. No moping. Not on a mission! His eyes dulled and studied the ground, exuding disinterest. He had taken Merritt’s hook, now he needed the ferret to reel him in. Isidore had told him about the weed’s tricks, how he talked the marks straight out of a goodbeast’s purse.

“Ah, depends what you’re after, young sir. There’s always something for a lad that can keep a secret,” Merritt winked. Foweller’s fangs were in full display as he smiled.

“I’m not so little no more, Mister Merritt,” he quipped. Merritt gave him a sly look. The ferret reached for another box and withdrew a pamphlet with great care. Foweller frowned at the title. The…School…for…

“I’m sure a beast your age tires of dry histories they teach in that Abbey school. This material has a bit more… creative flair, you’ll find. And if you get tired of it, there’s always more where that came from. Special price, only twenty pence for that one.”

Foweller floundered. That had been disgustingly easy. He had not even gotten to lying about his age, yet here was the evidence, just as Brother Isidore had suspected. Amazing how the vermin had smuggled his wares under the Abbot’s nose for this long.

“Oh, great! Er, right then.” He could not buy it. He had no money of his own any more. It was strictly off-limits to the point of sacrilege to plunder from Ripple and he did not much fancy begging Uncle Skip… Uncle Duster for pennies.

“Do you want this or not?” Merritt asked, nose flaring as if he could scent his fee. Foweller cracked; his cunning infiltration at an end.

“No time to count out coins. I’ll be late for work. Tarra, squire!” Foweller gave a short bow. Merritt raised an eyebrow.

“Late for work?” He repeated. Foweller paused, no longer listening. The pamphlet, the secret dealings, Ripple’s picture. It all fit into place.

“Uhhhh…”

“Haha, it’s so gross. Lookit that.”

“That’s not mine…”

“The pamphlet,” Foweller breathed. Then he was running. Merritt must have sold Ripple that pamphlet. That’s why he’d hidden it from Skipper. It must still be in the attic! All the evidence Foweller needed… that Brother Isidore needed. Ripple had already shown him the answer.

Foweller all but dived through the doors of the Great Hall. His luck ran out before he even reached the stairs. Foweller’s vision tipped and Martin the Warrior stood over him, gazing coldly down as if he had come to life and shoved the otter to the floor himself. Foweller pulled himself up and winced. He had grazed both his paws as he had tumbled down.

There was nothing under Ripple’s desk. Nothing in the drawers. Foweller contained his strangled cry of frustration and headed for Uncle… Duster’s room.

“Help me, Rip,” Foweller muttered as his sweaty, grazed paws scrambled through Rip’s satchel. He felt a loose leaf of paper and froze. Drawing it out, he set his teeth, incensed yet satisfied. There it was. Exactly the sort of thing Brother Isidore had to know about. Who would actually want to buy this anyway? It was shameful and worse, it looked stupid.

Foweller tucked the offending filth surreptitiously into his sash. The thick red cloth around his middle was quickly becoming a very useful carrier for concealed items.

~~~

“My son,” Carter intoned, “will you walk with me?”

“I… Isidore… yes, sir.” Foweller had only darted into the infirmary for a second to get Martin back over his shoulder where he belonged. He had closed his eyes and stuck his claws in his ears, then rushed past the figure concealed by the white sheet. Of course Carter would be lurking around for him like a vulture.

“I think it would do you and young Tamarack good to come to terms with what has happened.”

The two otters waddled sombrely to the graveyard. Foweller was helped along by the Abbot, his small paw lost in Carter’s heavy grip. It occurred to Foweller, with a sick lurch in his stomach, some beast had planned for the graveyard to sit by the infirmary. Not such a pleasant view for the members of the fishmonger’s bill, he mused.

“Tamarack!” Foweller bounced forward to greet his campball rival. He hesitated at the thought of embracing her, stopping with a short bow of the head.

“Fowel! Oh… Father Abbot.” Tamarack hoisted her shovel. “I was looking for the right place. For the burial.”

“Not overly keen on burying. But I’ll help you dig,” Foweller mumbled. Carter rested a warm, comforting paw on his shoulder.

“I think you should let the Coffincreepers go about their business. It’s the only reason they stay in Redwall, all things considered.”

“Actually, sir,” Tamarack interrupted, “I wouldn’t mind an extra pair of paws. It’s no trouble.”

Foweller chanced a look up at the Abbot. The older otter’s eyes seemed to flicker for a moment.

“I’ll let you two decide on the place,” Carter excused himself and departed, leaving the two alone. Foweller looked at Tamarack and she him.

“Thought it could go near the treeline. It’s shaded there.” The vixen pointed to the row of graves. Foweller unslung Martin and squinched his eyes at the designated area. A good enough distance to avoid the tree’s roots.

“Jolly good. I’m not putting you out of work, am I?” Foweller jerked his head at the distant figure of the Abbot’s back as it was swallowed into the Great Hall.

“You sure are, Fowel. Me and my family are going to starve,” Tamarack answered with a frown. Foweller looked mortified. Tamarack bared her teeth and playfully dinged her shovel against Martin. He could not help but split his maw in return.

“Come on. Can’t let Papa catch us slacking!”

Foweller tapped the ground with Martin, his face wrinkled in thought. He marked out where he thought the boundaries ought to be. Tamarack corrected the more wayward marks so the patch of earth would be neatly aligned with the rows of graves. Foweller began with his webbed footpaw splayed on Martin’s head, driving the blade into the grassy roots. Lever it out, now he had a neat wedge of earth to cast aside.

“If we could dig a little faster?” Tamarack asked. Foweller gave her an askew glance.

“I didn’t want to embarrass you,” he replied, with a twitch of his muzzle.

“Famous last words?”

Foweller glared. Tamarack’s tail gave a jaunty swish. Then the race was on. He was not sure exactly what the rules were, but he would not be the first to stop and wipe his brow. Twin arcs of brown sprayed across the rapidly growing mound of earth as the two diggers spurred each other on.