The child.

That sat heavily on Isidore, like a stone on his shoulders. He didn’t think of it; he would find her and bring her to the Abbot, and no more than that. Blood stained him already: Berend’s blood, and that of others countless as stars. There lived worse beasts, beasts that plotted and schemed, beasts like the kinslayer Case. He murdered his family, aye, and deceived the young. He tore the throats from innocent beasts and left the dead for ravens and thieves.

Abbot Carter would have his head from Isidore, but none else.

He sang to the poor young flower-maid as she shivered and wept. “Sel,” she cried, “oh, Sel, come to me!”

“She’s gone,” he said, and he wrapped her in a ragged blanket. He had duties.

Foweller he found playing in the orchard, throwing his knife at a withered apple from the stores. He thought of sitting the child on his back so they could tilt at trees. Instead, he nodded at the abbey complex. That day, the Abbot had called the seasonal meeting of the Order, an inquest into the Abbey’s affairs and the matter of the Skipper’s son.

“Let’s be off, lad.” He patted Foweller’s shoulder. “Don’t tell anyone about what you mean to do. That’s between us.”

“Nobeast would argue,” Foweller said. “Except for Noel.”



“Aye, but it’s his brother.”



“And Ripple was mine.”

“Listen,” said Isidore, “you’ll have your justice. I promise it. I’ll help you– but you must trust me. We’re going to play a game today.”

The heat of a hundred bodies filled the Great Hall, more than ever attended any council. They hissed and rustled. Isidore sat at a high table, with Rigg, the Abbot and the Order. Father Carter stood with paws outstretched, and his voice boomed and echoed in the vaulting like a rumbling stormcloud.

“My children!” he said. “I call the council to attention. Let us kneel.” The crowd bent, some hesitantly, and Isidore looked for those he knew. Foweller jostled a footpaw impatiently, and there was Noel watching the Abbot with red-rimmed eyes. He sought Selendra, then remembered and bowed his head.

“Martin guide us,” Carter said. “Your spirit is our rudder. Show us what you will. Rise, Redwall.”

Brother Aloysius extended a wing, quill in claw. “The order of proceedings. Sister Melina, you have leave to speak, speak.”

A portly shrew rose. “My kitchens are short a cook. I nominate Brother Beric.”

“Does anybeast second, second?”

“Oh, I do,” said the Abbot. “Beric’s baking is the finest in Redwall.”

“My thanks, sir,” said a trembling red-gold squirrel.

Aloysius huffed at this interruption. “All those in favor, say aye, aye.” A chorus of approval met him. He nodded. “May you serve long and well, Brother Beric. Sister Redronnet, you have leave to speak, speak.”

“The Belltower ropes need replacing. I’d ask that–”

“What is this?” An otter surged forth from the crowd. “Ropes? My son is dead.”

“If you will wait, wait,” said Aloysius. “The matter of Ripple…”

“I give my consent.” The Abbot nodded. “Duster, come forth.”

Skipper’s brow wrinkled with bullish determination. His paws clenched, opened, clenched again, and finally he spoke. “I want… I want t’ know why Ripple died. I want t’ know why the Abbot let firearms in the Abbey. Seems t’ me this is a place of peace.”

Rigg stood suddenly. The leg of his chair clattered against Isidore’s shin, and the rat winced; he noticed the otter fondling the pommel of Martin’s sword as he spoke. “I object. I object!”

“Rigg, calm yourself,” said the Abbot. “Let your brother speak. Duster?”

“I never asked for ‘em. My crew–”

“They ain’t your crew.”

“Shut up, Rigg!” Duster stamped his foot. “Remember the garrison at Southsward, when their powder went up and half the castle with ‘em? Dragons are danger, we all know it, and my son– my Ripple–”

“We’re Redwall, not Southsward!” said Rigg. “Duster, you got a knife. I’ve seen y’ use it. And that ain’t a danger?”

It’s not the same!”

“Rip woulda died with a blade in his belly, too.”

“Sit, both of you,” the Abbot snapped. “We won’t solve this with bickering. I want our defenses put to a vote. Will anybeast speak?”

“I said my piece,” said Duster. “Aye, and his blood is on your paws.”

“Order, order,” said Aloysius. “The Abbot wills it, wills it.”

“No one, then?” Carter tapped the table with his claw.

That was Isidore’s command; he stood, almost trembling as he did it. Again he sought Foweller in the crowd. Let him know, he prayed. Let him know there are other ways of waging war than weapons. Let him know we do it for him. “Father, I ask leave to speak.”

“Do, Brother Isidore.”

“Duster is right. This is a place of peace. We are workers, not warriors– and we shouldn’t bear the dragons any more than we should bear the sword Rigg wears now.”

“That is the Sword of Martin, my son, and Rigg is our Skipper.”

“I know. I traveled before I came here. I’ve seen all the east, even the lands beyond Marshank and the sea, Saltpans and the Crag. I know the evil a beast can do, with blade or shot or fire. I saw New Noonvale fall to the fox Tyrell and his hordes–”

“Aye, and fought for him, most like,” said Rigg. “I know your stupid stories.”

“Redwall is peaceful.” Isidore bowed his head. “That’s all.”

Rigg slammed his fist on the table. “If New Noonvale had cannon they’d be around today. Redwall rules these woods. Are we cowards?” He looked around the room, then slammed his fist again. “Are we cowards?”

“No,” someone in the crowd shouted. Foweller. He waved his sash as if bearing a standard for battle. “No cowards!” Others took up the cry. “Redwall! Redwall!”

“An’ Martin’s sword? Do we cast it off?”

“No, never!” came the response. Foweller screamed loudest.

“Our friends died, and we should too?”

“No cowards!”

“And we let murderers live?” Rigg brandished his sword. “Give us our pistols. I’ll have the head of the beast what killed Rip, and them in the forest too. The Abbey will live, forever.” The cry that met him crashed on Isidore’s ears like the surf.

“Order,” Aloysius squeaked, “order, order.”

“My children,” the abbot said, raising his paws. “Let us vote. Will we arm ourselves, or no?”

Rigg held Martin’s sword aloft. “Aye.”

Then came Sister Melina, Delores, the cellarhogs, a hesitant Brother Tompkins, more of the Order than Isidore could count. He nodded to Rigg. “I was wrong. Skipper, I’ll lend my paw in whatever you do.”

“It is decided,” said the Abbot. He cupped his paws around his mouth. “What say you, Redwall?”

“Redwall lives. No cowards!”

Aloysius called the meeting to an end, and they surged from the hall. Carter linked his arm with Isidore’s, and leaned in. “Remember what I told you, Brother. Be my eyes and ears.”

“A little bird told me,” he began, and he thought of Berend on the floor of the cellar, weeping. “A little bird told me who chased her from the roost. A cat.”

“I think I understand.” He clapped Isidore on the back. “Bring me that cat.”

“Aye, Father.”

They parted. On the way to his shed in the orchard, he met Foweller. The otter danced about him, knife in one paw and sash in the other. “A game! A game! Does this mean I get Virrel?”

“You may as yet. I’ll help.” It’d be enough a price to pay, if the child’s other friend would die. “Have you practiced your tricks today?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Good lad. How about another game? A real one. My brother and I played it.”

“What now?” he said warily. Isidore lunged for him and grabbed him about the waist. After wrestling with him, Foweller sat astride his shoulders. They stumbled about the orchard; the otter shrieked and cackled, stabbing at branches as he would with a lance. “That’s for Andrew. That’s for Rip. And that’s for Martin!”

He left Foweller there, marking his name on the bark of conquered tree, and went to fetch a flagon of wine. He thought of Berend again, and then the cat, the child. Isidore hoped Foweller would remember the afternoon. Isidore hoped he would never know.

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Interlude: Petty Treason

July 16, 2011

The fever burned her. She remembered the same thing happened when she lost her other paw, and then reached for the dirty dish of water— thirsty, so thirsty— but she was a tree without branches, she was a worm crawling forward, she was a mouth and tail and feet. She lapped from the bowl and half-drowned in it. Weak, too weak. She would die.

There was a village beneath the abbey, all shadows coming and going in the dark and through her fiery dreams, like the house in Redwall City before Selendra came for her. Selendra wasn’t like them. Selendra didn’t hurt her and tumble coin in her lap for the joy she took. After she’d taken the knife in her arm the old madam brought her to the school. The bitch ransomed her body for the last time. She learned how to make teas and ointment and purge instead, and how to touch someone with an innocent blind paw.

“Is she alive?” Selendra lived. Let her live longer. “So you left.” Yes, packed skirts and stays that smelled of her lover’s pale, sawdusty fur.

“Who told you? Who told you to go?”

“Please,” she said. Her world was red and wet. “Everything I know…”

“Who was it?”

“Help me… help me.”

“Who?”

The kitten. Bless her, save her, but she said it. They stopped hurting her. The old rat stitched her wounds. Rigg cradled her the way the beasts in the brothel did. They washed her with wine; they fed her; once somebeast mopped the sweat from her brow. Berend wept and burned in the dark.

Cobb and Noel exited the cellars and emerged onto the sun-bathed grounds of the Abbey.

“Noel, that be a big hole to fill-in in th’ graveyard. Oi’ll need help with th’ supports. Maybe we’m should do that later. Oi can hoide it naow.”

“Sounds good. You and Tam’s family must have plenty to do before the, ah, funeral.”

Cobb nodded and sighed. The deaths of the last few days were starting to take a toll on him. That, and losing so much sleep.

The weasel noticed the weary look his friend wore and changed the subject. “Now, how do we carry on an investigation about a beast we’re not supposed to get near?”

“Oi not be sure,” Cobb said. “But how do we’m know who is in th’ Socoiety? Who can we’m ask about Brother Tompkins?”

Noel thought a moment. “It’d have to be somebeast from outside the Abbey, but still knows the beasts in here….” He let his eyes wander as he thought about the predicament.

“Maybe we’m should talk to Bludd about him. An’ ask Tam what she’m thinks. Oi doan’t think we’m have to do it naow.”

“You’re right. Let’s have a think on it and decide when we close up the tunnel. We have to be careful of who we cross.”

“Roight. Oi’m going to hoide th’ hole naow. Oi’d better be done before tea-toime.” The mole waved a claw at his friend and loped off towards the graveyard.


Cobb wandered toward the back of the graveyard, dragging the woven mat he had found in the storage shed. He glanced around, making sure nobeast was watching him, but with Colm and Emmerich in the workshop preparing for Ripple’s funeral, there was nobeast to worry about.

When he reached the hole, he left the mat sitting at the side of it and descended.

We’m need to put supports here. An’ build a ceiling. The mole sighed. It be easier for Oi to dig a new tunnel. But that be the slower way, too.

Looking at the hole above his head, Cobb saw the simple complex of beams they would make, wood straining to support the weight of freshly-packed dirt. It would take some time, but the three of them could close it up before going to sleep that night.

We’m can use th’ mat for th’ ceiling. Oi’ll just put some slats across for support.

Cobb sat down in the tunnel, feeling the soil beneath him. He savored the sensation as it sank a bit, accommodating his body. The earth moved and sighed around Cobb, filling his nose and mouth with its musky scent. He breathed it deep into his lungs and, regretfully, released it back into the air.

Standing up, Cobb nodded; the moment was over.

He marched back up the ramp and unrolled the mat over the hole after taking a surreptitious glance around to make sure he was still alone. Lining the edges with sod was but the work of the moment, and he began preparing patches to cover the middle. The mole rolled the sod into strips and pushed it over the mat to fill it in. Some dirt and loose grass were all it took to disguise the edges so they weren’t raised above the ground around them.

He stood back to admire his work. Oi done a good job. Only a mole be able to see it.

“Cobb!”

The mole turned his head to look back at the fox family’s house. Tamarack was striding towards him.

She yelled to the mole again, “Cobb, you missed tea with the family! Grannie saved some back. We’re waiting for you. Where you been?”

He met the vixen half-way. “Oi be with Noel. We’m went to see Foremole. An’, well, Oi covered up th’ hole.”

Tamarack paused, glaring at the ground with a gravedigger’s eye. “Looks right enough!”

The pair linked arms and returned to the house for a late tea.


Althea laid the simple spread out on the table. Helping himself to a scone, Cobb sat down and poured the cream into his tea. He inhaled the scent as he stirred it.

“Now, Cobb,” Althea said, setting her teaspoon down with a precise click, “just what’ve you and my grandbaby been up to? I don’t sleep quite as sound as you two think.”

The mole started and looked up at the old vixen, coherent words explanation wriggling away from him like earthworms. “Oi… we’m… we’m didn’t do nothing wrong!” He looked at Tamarack, who was clutching her teacup like it was the last beaker of water in a desert.

“Reckon sneaking out in the middle of the night means the same thing now as it did when I was young.”

Tamarack’s head snapped up.

“Oi be going with her to keep her out of trouble,” the mole protested. “You used to go investigating evil Abbots, Miz Althea?”

“Cobb!” He narrowly avoided her footpaw as she tried to stamp down beneath the table. “You just…. She thought we were out… you know?” The vixen motioned with her paws. “Grannie, that’s disgusting!”

Realization dawned on Cobb and his eyes widened. “No, Miz Althea, Oi was only troiying to keep Miz Tam safe.”

The old vixen nodded, then pursed her lips at the pair of them. “Now what’s all this nonsense about evil Abbots? Carter ain’t quite right, but evil?”

He felt Tamarack sag beside him. “In for a copper, in for a gold, Mr. Cobb. You let the worm off the hook… you go catch it.”

Cobb took a deep breath and began their story. “See, Miz Tam and Oi be out in th’ graveyard one night and we’m found this pin. We’m didn’t know what it be, so we’m started askin’ about. An’ then Andrew died, but Fowel an’ Bludd say it be Abbot Carter that murdered him. Then Oi found a tunnel in th’ ground under th’ graveyard. We’m followed it an’ it went to a cellar in Redwall City. There be some beasts there that were going to kill us, but instead they’m said they’m trying to get rid of Carter an’ they’m made us spies.”

Tamarack took the cloakpin out of her pocket and showed it to Althea. “I showed it to Colm, first, but he wouldn’t have none of it. Shaking well enough to last out through a blizzard. And the beasts in the cellar – they was led by Julian Case and a marten named Cassius.”

Althea sat back in her chair and held a paw out for the cloakpin. “Colm was right to be scared about that pin. Durian went to his grave asking too many questions about one just like it.”

She gave the pin back to Tamarack and steepled her paws beneath her chin, thinking. “You two idiots’ve run too deep into the swamp for me to pull you out. You step light, Tam. And Cobb, like as not you’ll be thrown in the dungeon again if you’re caught. You know that, right?”

“Oi know it, Miz Althea. But, Oi can’t let Miz Tam go boi herself. Oi have to do this.”

Althea nodded at the mole, then leaned forward in her chair again. “Now you listen here, both of you. If you smell even a whiff of trouble, you run. I can’t abide heroes and fools as don’t know when to let well enough alone. You watch over my grandbaby, Cobb. She got too much of Durian in them bones for her own good.”

Cobb and Tamarack nodded. The admonishment over, Althea took a long sip of tea and grinned a gummy grin at the mole.

“Cobb, I reckon you’ll be taking up a reading primer soon enough. The bunny, Saskia, has them, and we’ll need one to get you onto more than just letters.”

“Yes, Miz Althea. Oi’ll foind her after dinner.”

After finishing their tea, the trio started cleaning up. A knock at the door interrupted just as they were finishing. Tamarack bounded over to open it.

“Hello, Miss Coffincreeper,” Isidore said. “Is Cobb available? An old friend would like to have a word with him.”

She nodded and let the rat into the kitchen. Something about his manner unsettled Cobb.

“Cobb, please come talk with me in the orchard. Don’t worry.” He glanced at Althea. “I’ll keep a good eye on your help.”

The rat escorted Cobb out the door and the two of them made their way toward the drone of bees and the rustle of leaves.

“You mind if I smoke my pipe, dear friend?”

“No, Isidore, Oi koind of loike th’ smell.”

Isidore spent some time tamping the tobacco into the bowl and lighting it. It was a ceremony, one he performed in silence. Cobb simply walked alongside his old neighbor. With a few puffs, blue smoke billowed out of the end; Isidore spoke again.

“The Coffincreeper girl is causing trouble in the Abbey. Did you know that, Cobb?”

Cobb looked at the rat, not sure what to say.

Isidore continued, “If you persist in following her around, you’ll find yourself in trouble too.” He paused, and his tone became brighter. “Why don’t you come stay in the orchard here with me? The good Father Abbot has given me permission to train you in the ways of the Abbey Brotherhood. You would be done with all of this. No more digging graves to pay for your crimes.”

“But, Oi loike working with th’ Coffincreepers. Oi get to dig. And Miz Althea be teaching me to read.”

“If you become a Brother, you could work in the gardens here. And I could teach you to read, too. Remember, I told you to come to me with your problems. What are friends for?”

“Thankee, Isidore, but Oi need to work off moi croime th’ honest way. Otherwoise, Oi couldn’t be proud of moiself.”

“You wouldn’t be proud to be a brother of this fine abbey? Well, take some time to think about it. The offer still stands. Just remember, that vixen will only bring you trouble; I’m trying to help you.” With that, the rat took his leave and left Cobb to himself.

The mole stood beneath the flowering trees his thoughts like so many petals swirling in the breeze. Something be different in him. But he still be Oi friend. Cobb shook his head, trying to shake loose the doubts the rat had brought. No. Oi have to look out for Tam.

Noel heard the gun fire in his dreams. There had only been one shot then, not three – the past in his mind was a kaleidoscope of light and leaves, trees drawing their lazy afternoon shadows across the forest floor. Noel tramped along the path, footpaws sinking into the soft loam with the weight of stolen goods. What was left of the trade caravan had dispersed and the carts were nothing but cold ashes left crumbling into the earth. It was quiet.

Shurrer caught up with him, muzzle full of his sharp stoaty smirk.

“All right, Noel?”

“Will be when I unload this mess.” Noel shifted the half-crate of fruit in his arms. It released a fragrance of faraway lands, promising flavors of which he had never dreamed – exotic delicacies that beasts like the Boss lived on as a matter of privilege. The smell made him sick.

Shurrer gave him a not unfriendly jab in the ribs.

“Did I ever tell ye I’m gettin’ tired o’ cleanin’ up after yore mess?” he said.

“What d’you mean?”

“That mouse from the caravan – you didn’t finish ‘im off.”

“So what?” Noel shifted the crate again. The scent was choking him now.

“So you can’t leave witnesses be’ind. Puts us all in danger.”

“We’re in danger anyways, raidin’ caravans in broad daylight.”

“Boss’s orders. Same as hushin’ up anybeast old enough and male enough to make a fuss.” Shurrer cleaned his claws on his rough smock. “You want t’ last in this crew much longer, you do yore own dirty work from now on.”

Noel stopped short. Shurrer had to hop-skip up to his side to keep from bumbling into him.

“You killed him?” Noel breathed. “Just now?”

“Just now.”

“But he ran. I saw him run.”

“I caught up with ‘im.”

The crate hit the ground, sweet strange orbs tinged of twilight bursting upon the earth, bleeding yellow and orange and red. Before Shurrer could scurry back into the safety of the woods Noel had crushed him against the wide trunk of an oak, seething and spitting, claws sunk deep into his arms.

“How many others? How many have you killed?”

“What in Hellgates – ah! Noel, that ‘urts – ah! Just ‘im, all right, and like two before ‘im. F’r pity’s sake let me go -!”

“Oi, you louts, quit brawlin’!” Jirrock the ferret burst from the trees, dark eyes sparkling with dimwitted mirth. “Come an’ see this! There’s an otter from Redwall over yonder, says ‘e wants t’ fight the Boss.”

* * *

Eight years later, Noel tumbled out of bed and onto the bone-cracking wood floor of the dormitory at Redwall Abbey.

“Where is he?” It was Rigg, somewhere up above him. Noel began to suspect he had slept late – afternoon sunlight cut through the window and blinded the otter from view.  “Where’s he gone?”

Noel blinked sleep from his eyes, still clinging to the hope he had been clumsy enough to roll out of his dream, had not been yanked from it into this nightmare. But the bedsheets were hanging from Rigg’s claws and his footpaw was on Noel’s chest.

“Eh?” Noel mumbled. “Who?”

Rigg unleashed a sound halfway between a roar and scream. First he threw the wadded-up sheets into Noel’s face, then his fist. Noel’s reaction was automatic and outdated, a relic of Virrel’s time: he curled up into a ball, hiding in vain from the blows as they pelted down.

“Rigg – Rigg, enough!” This voice was one Noel never thought he would be grateful to hear. When the punching ceased and he dared to peek, Carter was there heaving his whole weight against Rigg in the other direction. “My son! It won’t bring him back.”

The attack forgotten, Noel uncoiled and crawled forward, aching, onto his knees.

“What happened?” he demanded. “Who’s missing?”

Rigg wiped spittle from his mouth.

“Your bloody brother, that’s who.”

“Virrel – is he all right?” What was this poison flooding his chest, pushing out against his ribs until they might snap? Not fear of Virrel – that was dead now, deposed by fear of the otter in the drowsy green habit now standing before him. Noel recalled his dream, the mouse that Shurrer had left decaying in a lonely corner of Mossflower Wood. There was another fear – a fear! – that Virrel had joined him.

Rigg failed to see the irony, but still he laughed before storming out into the corridor. Carter was left gazing down at Noel with eyes not unlike a skeleton’s boring into those of its murderer. Noel could not explain, then, the steady even finality of his own voice.

“Where is my brother?”

“He is all right, but there has been a terrible accident,” said Carter. “Virrel has been careless, and now our friend Ripple is dead.”

All his afternoons with Isidore, all his one-sided conversations with Martin – they had done nothing to prepare him for the feelings that collapsed on him now. He even failed to detect the break in Carter’s voice as the name of dead otter passed his lips. Horror – outrage – fear – pride – injured pride, for himself and for his brother, the brother he had sworn not only to watch over but to protect. What had Virrel done? How did it feel to have taken a life in his paws?

“Careless my tail rudder,” Rigg snarled from outside. “Skip told us all he was no good, he warned Rip to stay away from him. Look where it got him!”

“How?” said Noel at last. “How did it happen?”

“He shot him! He ruddy well shot him!” Rigg made his terrible return, striking Noel in the back of the head, sending his face into the floor before Carter could flail another attempt at restraint. “Did he know how to use a gun? Did he?”

“I don’t know.” Noel pushed himself back up on all fours, felt himself cough. Something burbled in his chest and he coughed again. He was crying. “I don’t know.”

“You can’t get out of it that easy,” Rigg cried. “By Hellgates I’ll have you and him both for this -”

“Rigg!” Noel didn’t see Carter send him from the room, but when he looked up again the big otter was gone and the Abbot was kneeling by his side. “Forgive him, my son. Three deaths in as many days is too much for any beast, especially when it was one of his own. Ripple made our Abbey proud this morning – the very prize he earned for it was what killed him.”

Noel collapsed onto his elbows, sobbing like a kit. The words tore from his mouth unchecked, but Martin was in his heart and his brother’s life on his mind.

“Forgive him, please. Forgive me – Father!”

Carter’s paw was light on his shoulder, his voice nearly pleased from behind the curtain of grief.

“It was an accident, my son, but you speak rightly – it still must be atoned for. I urge you to speak to the bereaved, but your path does not end there. Once again, I would have you follow in the pawsteps of our Brother Isidore and join our order. There your soul may find true rest.”

* * *

Word spread like darkness, and the Abbey fell under a shroud of despair. Pawsteps rang hollow, and strange echoes seemed to call down from the battlements. Carter had returned with Rigg to the Abbot’s house, which left Noel feeling more starkly than ever that he was alone.

Though his mind sought her out, Tam was nowhere to be found. With a vague memory that she had been close to Ripple – who would never join her now on the campball pitch, not ever – it seemed wiser to let her be. In his sojourn across the lawns, however, he came across another shade like himself, eyes ringed with the same kind of empty sleep from which Noel had just been torn.

“Foweller – Foweller! Where’s Ripple?” The otter jerked his head toward him and paused for a moment before secreting something away in his belt. Noel winced, reached out a paw that didn’t quite cross the distance between them. “Foweller, please, for Martin’s sake.”

“They won’t let me see him.” Foweller would not look directly at him, only around and below and through him. “Uncle Skip’s still in there.”

“I’m sorry,” said Noel. The words stood as they were: words and nothing more. But the thought hung before him that if he had just taken Virrel away…but then the rebels might have had both of them. They might have Virrel now….

“I’ll be doing us both a favor.” The grin on Foweller’s muzzle was manic. “Next time I see that filthy murderer, he’s dead.”

Noel staggered backward. It was not a joke or one of those delusions the young otter seemed to play host to from time to time. In that moment, at least, Noel could see his brother – the creature he loathed, had feared the last four years of his life – die at this beast’s paw. The thought wrenched his guts like one of Virrel’s punches never could.

Noel mumbled a reply unintelligible even to himself and disappeared, plunging his paws into his coat pocket in search of answers. His claws brushed a thin sheet of crinkled paper.

* * *

“Psst, Cobb, goin’ to see Foremole now. Want to come?”

The mole sat perched on a stone memory seat a few yards outside the Coffincreeper home, eyes obscured behind the amber tint of his goggles. The alarm in the rest of his features was plain enough.

“But Noel, haven’t you’m heard -”

“Yeah.” The weasel turned his eyes to the ground, then back up to his partner in crime – if that was indeed what they were up to. “I’m gonna find him. I have to, before somebeast else does. That’s why I need your help right now.”

“What do you’m think Oi can do?”

Noel slipped Case’s coded message from his coat pocket, lowering his voice beneath the breeze.

“We got to get this to Foremole, remember? The sooner they think they can trust us the sooner I get a chance at that tunnel and figure out where Virrel’s gone.”

Cobb nodded and lumbered to his footpaws.

“Oi’ll do what Oi can. You’m think Oi can go along without an escort?”

“Nobeast’ll be suspicious with you ‘round Foremole, d’you think?”

Cobb’s sigh was gruff and, Noel though, a touch remorseful – or nervous.

“He arrested Oi for stealing, if you’m remember.”

“Yeah.” Noel frowned, recalling also his occasional visits during the end of Cobb’s incarceration. Even then something had struck him amiss about an Abbey with a dungeon. “We got to show him our faces soon, though. I’d get Tam, if not for….”

They trailed their way back into the Abbey building, toward the cellars where Cobb suggested the moles might congregate with the cellarhogs. Sure enough Foremole could be found among them, keeping Cobb under the suspicion of his beady black eyes until he had taken the note from Noel. After a moment’s contemplation he crumpled it up in his claws and beckoned them back upstairs.

* * *

In an empty corner of the kitchens Foremole Flint tossed the wadded-up paper into a gently burning oven, and spoke for the first time.

“Where be the other two, then?”

Cobb and Noel exchanged a glance before the weasel dared to offer their names.

“Tamarack, and Bludd, the kitten.”

Flint hurr-hurred to himself behind a grimace, a gesture evidently meant to attract less attention than dragging a claw down his own face.

“Young Tam,” he muttered, “and an orphan dibbun. Oi wouldn’t’ve believed it. Best I be speakin’ to you gentlebeasts first, then. Especially you’m.” His velvety face contorted into a glare meant solely for Noel. “Your brother and young Ripple – were that really an accident?”

“Yeah.” Noel said it after a pause. “He wouldn’t – he has nothin’ to do with the Abbot. If you lot find him wandering around out there -”

Flint raised a claw.

“Leave that to Oi. For now you just stick to me and Brother Sebastian. We two be keepin’ an eye on Brother Tompkins, and if you do the same you’m’ll make some use of yourselves. You stay clear of him, he’s part of their Society, but he moight make a change if we give him the chance.”

“Flint,” said Noel, barely above a whisper, “just what is the Society?”

Flint tapped the side of his own snout with a digging claw, the mole version of a wink.

“That be another thing you can leave to me. Oi’ve got some very interestin’ reading on the subject. For now, you have a bigger job than that to do for Oi.”

Cobb and Noel glanced at one another again, more tremulously this time.

“What be that?”

“You’m four made a hole in moi tunnel,” said Flint, crossing his arms. “You’m need to plug it up.”