Nor Shall My Sword Sleep

August 7, 2011

Foweller had found the burnt planks of wood around the back of Isidore’s shed. At first they had meant nothing. Then the drone of bees and crackle of flames reminded him. Finding a strip of charred wood, he had tried marking his own name in black on a slat that had escaped the fire. F…A…O…W…L…A…R, the chunk of wood pronounced. The F was the boldest letter, the otter’s writing growing progressively smaller and more crooked.

B…L…U…D. Where was she? Actually finding the kitten was near impossible, but she always popped up whenever there was fun to be had. Maybe Foweller had driven her away, playing his games with Isidore instead.

“Brother Isidore?” Foweller dropped the slat as Isidore passed him at the door. The rat gave him a tired nod of greeting. “I have the proof. About Merritt.”

Isidore emerged back into the light of the evening, maw closed over his pipe. He puffed for a few tense moments, Foweller shifting his weight. He withdrew the offending pamphlet from his sash and held it out.

“Ah. Yes, I’ll deal with that,” Isidore muttered, stowing the paper away. Duty done, Foweller washed his paws of soot in Isidore’s washing basin. He wondered what Isidore would do. Beautiful images of a blazing cart sprang to mind.

“Did any beast ever… take their own way out. When you served?” Isidore asked. He then frowned and shook himself. “Shouldn’t have… go to Cavern Hole, lad. Your supper will get cold.”

Foweller shuffled to the door, but hesitated. “One,” he replied. “One I knew about.”

“What did he do?”

“Lost Lord Baxter’s colours. The Long Patrol wasn’t too big, so we had the one battle standard. Took a patrol up North across the River Moss,” Foweller related. The words came easily; he could have been recounting a picnic. He folded his arms and leant against the doorframe.

“What happened?”

“Barge overturned. Otters ordered into the water after it. Spent… spent hours in the blackness. Every beast was furious. I was freezing. Must’ve swum a mile. Couldn’t find camp till dawn.”

“Did you get in trouble?”

“No. Had a good laugh after a while,” Foweller cheekily showed off his teeth. Isidore shifted, uncertain.

“Your tail?” He questioned. Foweller gave a bark of laughter.

“Oh, I had my tail. You know how the ensign did himself in?”

“Shooting?”

“And waste His Lordship’s powder? He didn’t dare. He went to look for the flag himself. His kind… isn’t built for swimming. Drowned himself.”

“Noel thought Father Abbot was a murderer,” Isidore muttered. Foweller inhaled the pipe’s smoke and closed his eyes.

“Do you think the Abbot could murder any beast?” Foweller asked carelessly, the comment of an innocent kit. Andrew fell down the steps in his mind, over and over.

“No. Noel was wrong.”

~~~

Foweller felt cramped, though the benches in the Great Hall were roomy enough. Skipper Rigg had taken to sprawling across the bench with his legs splayed, shooting hawkish stares at Uncle Duster when he thought his brother was not looking. Rigg had a trick of soaking his bread in hotroot soup then sucking in like an orange-tinged sponge. Duster was less exuberant. He was perched with his legs crossed at another table, sipping each spoonful in between copious gulps of ale.

“Fowel, me good mate.” Rigg thumped a fish fillet onto Foweller’s plate and snatched at a lemon slice from the middle of the table. “Ye’ve not had much chance to experience the privileges of bein’ on the crew. I was thinkin’, the Abbot won’t mind if we take a trip to the river. We can visit Camp Willow. Somethin’ I want to show ye there. My treat as Skipper.”

“The river’s full of ghosts.”

“I’m scarier than ghosts!” Rigg thumped his rudder. Foweller choked out a laugh. Duster looked up at the joyful noise, but Foweller averted his eyes.

“When do we leave, Skipper?” Foweller asked. Duster’s bowl rattled across the floor as he fled the Hall. Foweller wilted. He had gone too far. Rigg’s eyes narrowed and his paw crushed the lemon juice out onto Foweller’s fish.

~~~

Foweller found Duster in his room. Rigg had told him his brother ought not to be disturbed. That he should mourn without interference.

Rigg did not know everything.

“Uncle Duster?” Foweller peeked around the door. The former Skipper rolled from his bed, presumably where he had been brooding. Foweller sidled in, paws fidgeting behind his back. Then he was bowled over as Duster embraced him.

“Ye’ve been avoiding me, Fowel,” Skipper said, not unkindly. Foweller scrabbled for an excuse. Nothing came to mind.

“I’m sorry, Uncle,” Foweller murmured. Duster patted his back.

“I know why. Ye think I’m angry at ye. Right?” Skipper pulled back to look into Foweller’s eyes. The kit was shocked silent for a moment. Then his confessions spilled out.

“I wasn’t watching Rip, I should’ve known there’d be trouble with the weasel, I didn’t come between them, I wasn’t paying attention, it’s my-…” Foweller was silenced with one claw to his muzzle.

“No. It wasn’t yer fault. No beast can rightly blame ye,” Skipper said haltingly. His eyes cast downwards. “Virrel’s no murderer either. If ye want to point claws, point ‘em at the Abbot’s accursed guns.”

Foweller’s throat seized up. Now it really was just between him and Brother Isidore. Not even Uncle Duster could know that Foweller intended to avenge his son.

~~~

Foweller and Rigg set out that evening. The little otter felt like a bound captive, being lead from the Abbey gates. The tight strap across his chest and the hard weights of the objects pressed against his hips by the sash were his guards. Rigg himself sported one of the new muskets. There were still monsters in the woods, after all.

It was past midnight when Foweller dropped to the grass. Martin took up his night vigil in the crook of the kit’s arm. A heavy sheet tied between two sturdy saplings gave the Skipper his cover. Foweller lay under the stars. He could hear the breeze come and go by the rush of the forest’s foliage. He heard Rigg turn uneasily before crawling out to join the kit.

“Warm night,” Foweller mused.

“Aye. Thought I’d join ye.”

“River’s haunted.”

“Not scared of ghosts are ye?”

A short pause. Rigg shifted. A twig cracked.

“Fowel?”

“Rargh!” Cold, sweaty paws clamped onto Rigg’s neck. Rigg yelped, then laughed at the kit’s antics. The brawny otter wrestled Foweller to the ground. Soon they were both rolling and tussling in the leaves, guffawing like mad beasts.

~~~

Foweller was in love with Camp Willow. In the early morning mist, he hopped from one sandy, dry cave to another. He tapped at the roots of the willow tree that sheltered them and hummed a marching tune. Such a cunning defence! Invisible to even the brightest of vermin.

The grave was marked by a lonely cairn of stones a little way from the tree. The site was secluded by rough mossy boulders, which seemed to deaden the trickling sound of the river. The solemn tomb brought Foweller to his knees.

“His name was Riverwyte, but they all called him the Mask. He was a warrior… till the vermin cut off his tail,” Rigg said. Foweller shivered.

“What happened then?”

“He lived peacefully, until his brother called on him to do his duty… one last time.”

“For Martin?”

“Aye, for Martin,” Rigg agreed. Foweller reached out to brush the pile of rocks with his claws.

“Did he have kits?”

“No. His family lived on though. His kin still swim among us.”

“You know any?” Foweller felt Rigg’s eyes on him. The Skipper knelt beside him and hummed.

“I think I do, mate,” Rigg said.


 In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
 But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four
 Hills and a cloud.

“Selendra,” Case said. “Saskia here is your friend from school, yes?”

“Yes.”

“She is to be our guest this evening–”

“Where’s Aloysius?” Saskia interrupted.

Case bowed his head. “Brother Aloysius is thinking some things over. Selendra will take you to her quarters for what’s left of the night, if that will serve?”

Selendra nodded. “As you like.”

“You know, Selendra, I really don’t feel that way about you.” Saskia grinned.

“Good night, both of you,” Case said.

The room doubtless carried unpleasant odors–sweat from life in close quarters, dirt from the tunnel below–but Saskia perceived only the smoke from Selendra’s pipe. She choked on the smell of burnt books and honeysuckle, ash and leather enveloped by the treacle-thick sweetness of tobacco.

“Fancy seeing you here.”

“Thank the Fates you’re alive. I was so worried; we all were.”

Selendra said nothing for a moment. She took a long puff on her pipe. Then: “‘We all’? You, Berend…”

“Merritt, too.”

“Don’t try to flatter me. He doesn’t care a whit.”

“‘E does, after ‘is own fashion.”

“Merritt doesn’t care about anybeast as won’t either pay him or snog him. Or preferably both.”

“After ‘is own fashion. Any’ow, you’ll be ‘appy to know I’ve done a bit of wot was your old job, before you left. I spoke to Brother Tompkins.”

“Did you? You’re one of us, now, with Foremole setting you on Tompkins? Foolish to bring him along, then.”

Saskia frowned. “Aloysius found the tunnel ‘imself, I ‘ad to bargain with Tamarack to keep ‘im alive so long as I ‘ave. ‘E wanted to talk to Case.”

Selendra gave a low whistle. “What did you have to do?”

“Promised to off ‘im myself if ‘e decided to go to Carter.”

Selendra paused to think, taking a long draw on her pipe, and then continued. “I’m not sure whether to call you a damned fool for making a promise you couldn’t keep, or to admire the ingenuity.”

“I intended to keep it,” Saskia snapped.

“Idiot,” Selendra replied affably. “You’re half-besotted, you could never.”

“Am not.”

“Missus Lannister would have had a few things to say about your rhetoric at the moment. If she didn’t decide to tan your hide with her ruler.”

“Hmph.”

“Anyhow, I’m not particularly tired.” Selendra gestured to the bed, the creases in the sheets looking as though they’d been made by drawing a razor over the fold. “Sleep, if you like.”

“You’ll be locking the door behind you, no doubt?”

“Don’t be silly. Of course. Cassius would shoot me. And it’s clear enough you’re not one of us, whatever you’ve done.”

“I ‘eard somebeast say to me once, it wasn’t right to keep free beasts prisoner. Can’t rightly remember who it was.”

Selendra winced. “It’s unkind of you to act as though I’ve a choice.”

“It’s unkind of you to lock me in a room while your–wotever Case is–does Fates-alone-know-wot to Aloysius!”

“So I’m to believe you’d’ve harmed him to save us?” Saskia said nothing. “Goodnight, Saskia. After all that, I’m still glad to hear you stubborn, you know.”

Selendra left, and the lock clicked shut behind her.

Saskia couldn’t possibly sleep, of course. Not while being held against her will, and not with Aloysius in danger. She paced in the small space of the room, letting the rickety planks of the floor tremble under her step.

Even if she could escape, it would endanger Selendra terribly. On the other paw, Selendra had followed an order to lock her in here, and that without a question or apparent regret. This from beasts who wanted her on their side.

Whose side am I on, then? Not Carter’s, and not theirs either, not if they’re willing to lock Aloysius in the cellar–or worse.

There were steps in the hall, fading as they passed the doorway.

My own side. My own, and Aloysius’, and, damn him, Merritt’s too. Anybeast who doesn’t just want more death. Aloysius and Merritt are my best allies, where have I strayed?

A key clicked in the lock. Somebeast knocked.

“Come in?”

The door creaked open just enough for her to see orange fur in the light.

“Tam?”

“Come on, then.”

Saskia grabbed Selendra’s lantern from off the bedside table. “Had a change of ‘eart?”

“Don’t want either one of you hurt.” Tamarack shifted, clearly uncomfortable. “I’m sorry.”

Aloysius and Merritt and Tamarack, then. Fair enough.

“Go, before you get yourself caught.”

Saskia found her way downstairs, the tunnel an empty and gaping maw that swallowed her lantern-light. The side door was closed and still; that was where they’d left Aloysius, no doubt. She tried the handle–locked, of course.

How to get him out? Saskia couldn’t return to the Abbey for help; there might be a guard by the time she returned, and anyhow who would she trust to come here? No, she’d have to do it herself… and without a key. She looked at the lock. It was new, probably as recent as Case and Cassius had been using the tavern as their headquarters. She stepped back.

The hinges. The hinges were on her side of the door.

Saskia drew her knife. Placing the base of the blade between the pin and the body of the hinge, she snapped her paw down on the handle; the pin jarred loose, and she pulled it free. The upper hinge came out just as easily.

“Hello? Is somebeast there?” Aloysius said. The door was held in place only by the friction of metal against metal.

“Aloysius, stand back.” Saskia reared back and kicked the door at waist height. The hinges whimpered and gave way, sliding apart as the door twisted in its frame.

Aloysius squinted, his eyes adjusting even to the faint glimmer of the lantern. “Saskia, what are you doing, doing?”

“Escaping, obviously.”

“You have changed your mind, your mind?” Aloysius squeezed between the mangled door and its frame.

“‘Ow d’you mean?”

“You mean to side with the Abbey, and not with them, with them.”

Saskia set the lantern on the floor; from there its beams cast stretched, grotesque silhouettes of them both onto the walls. “I don’t mean to speak to Carter, no.”

“Then why did you break down that door?”

“It’s no more right for Case and Cassius to keep you prisoner than it is for Carter to keep me prisoner.”

She could hear Aloysius frown as he spoke. “Well-reasoned, I suppose.”

Saskia bowed her head. “Should I ‘ave let you out? Do you intend to tell Carter now?”

“Of course not, I gave you my word, my word.”

“Come ‘ere, then.” Aloysius shuffled to stand next to her, and Saskia picked up Selendra’s lantern. She threw an arm around Aloysius’ neck, pulling him close. “Lead us back?” she asked, and blew out the light.

His wing wrapped around her as they stumbled along. It felt like living parchment, stretched over a fragile frame to dry–not quite warm as flesh, but not cool either. Every few steps, they stopped for Aloysius to squeak and listen for echoes. Saskia thought several times about interrupting the relative silence with conversation, but the lovely, glib sentiments with which she’d swayed (perhaps) Brother Tompkins had abandoned her entirely.

Do you think we can take sides against them both?

I want the same as you, you know. Peace for the Abbey and beyond, an end to all this–

I should tell you what I had to do to save you from Noel–

I feel–

None of them merited speaking aloud. She’d replaced his judgment with her own, twisted him into promising not to tell Carter, promising that against his own conscience. He would hate her once he realized. Or, at least, he should, though perhaps he was too forgiving even for that…

“Saskia, Saskia? You don’t seem well, seem well.” Blast him. How could he tell in the dark?

“No, I should say I bally well don’t. Don’t feel very well either.” She felt his wing pull away, his slender neck slip out from under her grasp. Vertigo threatened to overtake her; she could see nothing ahead, nothing behind, had no sense of anything but the close dampness of the tunnel and the ground under her footpaws. She slid down to sit against the tunnel wall.

“Saskia?” The scholar’s voice took on a note of panic.

“I need to take a few breaths, is all.”

“Forgive me, but I can’t bear to see you this troubled, this troubled.”

“Can’t do anything about it, can you?” she snapped, and then felt her stomach lurch with immediate regret.

“I’m sorry, sorry, I wish–”

“No, I’m sorry.” Saskia stood as best she could, stumbling a bit before recovering her balance. “I’ve asked too much of you already, so I ‘ave.”

“Not at all.” That wing wrapped itself around her again, smooth and steadying.

Saskia tried to remove any trace of a tremble from her voice, hoping to let a simple question stand on its own: “Wot did Case want with you, any’ow?”

“A bunch of daft things, I’m afraid, I’m afraid. Something about the Mossflower Heraldry and a conspiracy. He wanted me to look in the Abbey records, records.” The pair trudged onward through the dark, until Aloysius announced, “We’re here.” He waited for Saskia to pass into the cellar first.

“Are you going to look?” she whispered.

“It would seem disloyal.” Saskia heard him shift in the darkness, but still his wing lay across her back.

“So would this entire trip, if your loyalty were owed to Carter and not the Abbey.”

“The Abbot is the Abbey, the Abbey.”

“You’ve spoken much of the Woodlanders’ Code. If you’re willing not to tell Carter of this, then your loyalty lies elsewhere than ‘im, doesn’t it? With the Code, per’aps?”

“Julian spoke to me of the Code, too.”

Saskia snorted. “And ‘im locking you in a cellar afterwards.” She sighed. “I’ve pushed you too far. I release you from your word, if you wish it. You may tell Carter.”

“You don’t believe I should, I should.”

“No. I think it would be a disaster for us all. You may tell Carter, if you trust ‘im with my life, and Noel’s, and Tamarack’s. If you could not possibly be wrong.” Aloysius bowed his head; she could barely see it in the gloom. “You won’t.”

“I should look over my records, my records. The Heraldry.”

“Wotever ‘elp you need…”

“I know. Of course you will, you will.”

Aloysius’ other wing wrapped around her, pulling her close.  He had to reach up a bit, but he lay his muzzle in the crook of her neck for just a moment.  He felt as though he were made of paper and quills, light and fragile and, impossibly, stable.

Into the Adder's Den

August 4, 2011

Aloysius woke in much the same way he had fallen asleep: groggy, and fighting it the whole while. He coughed, then hissed as his throat flared up in pain. He struggled to sit up.

“ ‘Ere,” Saskia said, and a warm paw gently pushed him back down. “Lie back. ‘Ow’re you feelin’?”

“Not well, not well,” he murmured, his voice gravely and sore. “I am assuming last night was no mere dream.”

“I’m afraid not.”

A wing brushed over his nose. “He doesn’t have fever, thank the moon, the moon,” Saifye said. “Come, Eilonwy, let’s brew some tea.”

Eilonwy hesitated. “What happened to Uncle Alo, Uncle Alo?”

“Uncle Alo is being punished for not taking his brother drinking, my dear, my dear,” Fyfe said. Aloysius could hear the smile in his voice. “Go on, follow your mother.”

“Fyfe, please,” Aloysius croaked. He needed to clear his throat, but he dared not for fear of the pain it would cause. “Now is certainly not the time to jest, jest.”

“Is that so? For once you take your brother’s advice, and yet fail to extend the invitation. At what point did it come to pass that family came last?”

“There have been … many disturbances in the abbey as of late. You can’t fault me for trying to hold things together as well as I can.”

“By playing spy for an abbot who doesn’t care one lick about the beasts under his care?”

“Carter is a good beast, Fyfe…” he tried to say, but it was betrayed by a harsh cough. Aloysius shut his eyes at the wave of nausea that overcame him. His head was splitting apart.

“And if you say it enough, perhaps it will come true, come true.”

“We have had this conversation before,” Aloysius said, a bit harsher than he intended. He attributed that to his throat. “Beasts are dying, dying. I am doing all I can to keep them alive.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that you may be putting them in harm’s way by following his wishes?”

“Enough, Fyfe!” Aloysius snapped. “I cannot abide you speaking ill of this abbey.”

“You’ll have to forgive my brother, my brother,” Fyfe said to Saskia. “He is an idiot.” And with that, he fluttered away.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Aloyisus said, feeling the blush on his muzzle and hoping it was too dark to see.

“He has a point, you know.” He didn’t have to see Saskia’s face to hear the sincerity in her words.

“And what is that?”

“You said to me once that Carter has our interests at ‘eart. You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“If I said I did, I did?”

“Then I wouldn’t believe you.”

Aloyius sighed, focusing hard to quell the migraine threatening to overcome him. He would not complain. He brought those demons on himself; now he had to face them. But he would not confirm his deepest fears. Instead, he spoke of lighter topics. “It’s plain to me that I’m not in the cellar as I should be, or beneath the earth, either. What happened?”

“Noel tried to kill you. He might have succeeded, too, but you ‘ad left me a note telling me your whereabouts.”

The bat nodded. He had such hopes for the weasel. Pushing those thoughts aside, he smiled. “I was afraid you wouldn’t see it. Did you find my candied beetles, candied beetles?”

“I don’t quite have a penchant for candied beetles, I’m afraid.”

“Ah, more for me then.”

There was a lull in the conversation, before Aloysius extended a wing to grasp the hare’s paw. “Thank you.”

“It was nothing, really.”

“But it was something, something.”

It was at that point the telltale squeak of the attic stairs betrayed the incoming beasts. Fyfe, Saifye, and Eilonwy all fluttered back to Aloyius’s side. “Your tea will be here shortly,” Saifye said.

The five of them sat silent as a beast carrying a tray made their way over to the bed. “It’d be a lot easier if you bats kept regular hours,” Sister Agnes’s familiar voice spoke.

“Thank you, Sister Agnes,” Aloysius said. “You didn’t have to.”

“Oh, but I did, thanks to your niece, here.”

“It is rather hard for a bat to carry a teapot and cups up a flight of stairs, stairs,” Saifye said.

“Yes.” Sister Agnes did not bother to shade the annoyance in her voice. She poured the tea. “Well, if you won’t be needing me, I’ll be back to bed.”

“Lemongrass and honey, honey,” Saifye said as Saskia offered Aloysius the mug. He had quite a time with it—bats were not well accustomed to maneuver when wrapped in bedsheets.

He blew on the mug, the scent enveloping his sense. He sipped at the tea, the citric heat welcome as it soothed the archivist’s throat. “I’ll have to send my compliments to Brother Isidore. A shame what happened to his beehives. He treats his insects as though they were his children, children.”

There was a pause, and then, “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like a word with Saskia.”

Saifye nodded. “Come, Eilonwy, Eilonwy. I bet I can catch more moths than you.”

“But I want to stay with Uncle Alo,” the young bat whined.

“You will,” Aloysius said, sipping his tea. “I’ll have you know I’m the champion moth catcher in all of Mossflower, Mossflower.”

“You better get practicing then,” Saifye said as she ushered her outside.

With a giggle, Eilonwy shot out the window, Saifye in close pursuit.

Fyfe watched his family go. “If it’s no bother, brother,” he said, turning to Aloysius. “It seems as though you almost died tonight, tonight. I’d like to know what my brother has gotten himself into.”

Aloysius shook his head and winced. “It’s an matter for the abbey. The abbey shouldn’t concern you.”

“It’s a family matter, matter. It does concern me.”

The elder bat sighed. “Fair enough, fair enough.” He paused. “Fyfe, you mentioned before there was a resistance forming outside Redwall.”

“I did, I did.”

It annoyed him, how callously he spoke those words. “What do you know of it?”

“Only the rumours that carry on the winds. Not a resistance against Redwall, but Carter.”

“Saskia?” he asked the hare.

“I know about as much as you, ‘m afraid.”

“Does Merritt know more, know more?”

“Mm, can’t say. ‘E doesn’t share many secrets with me.” There was a shortness to her words; he wondered what she was hiding.

“Why do you ask, brother?”

“I believe I’ve discovered their entrypoint into the abbey.”

“How so, how so?”

“I came upon a hole in the cellar wall, hidden behind a wine rack. Noel was there, and young Tamarack, too. I don’t believe they were stopping me from seeking the Founder.” He said that to Saskia.

Silence reigned in the attic. Aloysius chirped. Fyfe was smiling; Saskia’s lip was held in her teeth.

“Then it’s true, it’s true.”

“Wot are you goin’ t’do?”

Aloysius sipped at his tea. It was cooling too quickly. “I suppose the right thing would be to inform Abbot Carter, Carter.”

“An’ will you?”

Aloysius didn’t answer her question. Instead, he asked one of his own. “Tell me Fyfe, have the winds betrayed who’s behind this resistance?”

“A beast named Case, Case.”

“Brother Julian, Brother Julian.” He took a sip, then nodded. “I’d like to see him.”

***

“Wot do you intend, Aloysius?” Saskia demanded as they stood in front of the wine rack. She held the lantern in her paw with malice.

“I intend to speak to an old friend.” He glanced at her. “Friend.”

She drew a quick breath, but before she could protest, Aloysius pulled at the wine rack, curling his ears at the mechanical squeal that ushered forth. The tea had done well to quell the pain in his throat and head, but the grating noise brought it back full force.

“Blow out that light. I will guide us, guide us through.”

Standing full in the tunnel’s entrance, Aloysius squeaked. Darkness answered him, the walls a silver sheen. “Come, come,” he said, after Saskia had closed the gate. He extended a wing, seeking her paw, then led the way.

They were quiet as they traversed the tunnel. No sounds reached his ears—his echoes disappeared into nothingness. As far as the bat was concerned, it was only he and Saskia.

He winced as he stretched his left wing towards the wall of the tunnel, still sore from his encounter with Noel. He could only stretch it so far, but it was far enough. He caressed the silver dirt as he walked, cool and moist to the touch. Memories of the tunnels he used to explore with Fyfe deep in Bat Mountpit flooded his senses, and a wistful feeling of home struck him harder than fire whiskey ever could.

“I read once a group of abbeybeasts discovered in the cellars a door, a door that led to a deep expanse of tunnels,” Aloysius murmured. To himself or Saskia, he was not sure. “There was a mole with them, Foremole Gullub I believe his name was, who discerned they came to pass by an underground stream. If my conjectures are correct, they may have been the tunnels used to sink Kotir before Redwall’s founding. Alas, I have searched for them without success. It seems, it seems, if the records are true, they collapsed long ago. But listen to me prattle on. In any case, these beasts, when exploring those tunnels, encountered a fork in the path. Down one route granted them the Eye of Evil. The other led to certain death.

“Saskia, should we encounter a similar fork in our trail, we’ll have to choose wisely. Down one path will our eyes surely open; the other will close them forever.”

The hare pulled at his wing, halting him in his tracks. He turned to face her. “Aloysius,” she said, her voice soft. “You’re speakin’ as though you’re walkin’ to your death.”

“I might be, might be. There’s a murderer waiting for us at the end of this path. This path that leads … where, I’m not sure. You never should have come, Saskia. I’m sorry I brought you here.”

“I brought myself, remember?”

“And I was a fool, a fool to let you.”

Let me?”

Aloysius extended his other wing, trapping her. He didn’t need sound to see the hare. In the dark, damp, and cool cave, her warmth was enough to place her.

“Promise me,” he said. “Promise me, that you won’t do a fool thing and put yourself in harm’s way. As far as you or I am concerned, you’re nothing more than my guide.”

“You can still turn back, y’know. Take your family and fly away from here. You have a means of travel nobeast can follow.”

“I can’t do that, do that. I need questions answered.”

“An’ when you get your answers, wot will you do? Go to Carter?”

“If it comes to pass, yes. Yes.”

There was a disturbance in the air. She was shaking her head. “Don’t go to Carter. He’ll kill them. Tam, Noel, Selendra. He’ll kill them all. Your foe is Case, and Case alone.”

“Turn around, Saskia. This isn’t your battle, your battle to fight.”

“Neither is it yours!” Her voice was low, but harsh.

“You still have a press to own, my friend, my friend. Don’t waste your life for an old historian condemned to live his life in the past.”

She moved towards him, he stiffened his wings. What he did not expect were the arms that wrapped around his neck, holding him tight. Their muzzles brushed, and the warmth that overcame him was not from her body heat alone. “I’ll not leave you, Alo.”

He hesitated, then returned the hug, wrapping his wings around her in a comforting embrace. A shudder passed between them. “For you, for you, I’ll not go to Carter. Should I survive, I’ll decide what to do.”

He released her, and gripping her paw, led the rest of the way. It was a good while before the bat’s echoes returned something of substance: a silver dot that grew in size but not shape. He slowed to a halt when it dissolved into form.

“We’re nearing the end, the end of the tunnel,” he whispered.

“Is there anybeast there?”

Aloysius chirped. “No, but stay quiet. I must listen.”

He heard nothing as they traversed the last hundred paces with tentative pawsteps, until at last they reached the door. Aloysius put his ear to the wood, but still heard nothing.

“Wot is it?”

“I don’t know, don’t know.” What to do. Open the door and barge right in? If the wrong beast was behind that door, then their lives were forfeit, and the whole point wasted. Aloysius chirped, and found his answer. “Follow me.”

He pulled her to the side. There was another passageway, one that might lead them to a safer entrance. He stepped over clods of dirt, Saskia stumbling behind him. This passage was smaller, with the scent of fresh dirt in his nose. He was no mole, but it was plain to him that this had been made mere days ago. A small light shone on the wall.

Crouching down, Aloysius peered through the peephole, scanning the room that presented itself before him. Noel sat at a table reading, while young Tamarack paced beside him. In front, a hare laid curled in a fetal position, her breathing labored. He moved aside so Saskia could see.

There was sound of a door opening and closing, and a rush of air greeted them. Aloysius could smell cooking.

“What happened to her?” A familiar voice called. It belonged to a mousemaid.

“She pointed that gun where it shouldn’t have been pointed,” Noel answered, his voice cool as the dirt that surrounded them.

“It’s Selendra!” Saskia breathed. “It’s safe. She won’t hurt us.”

“Saskia, wait! Fool hare!” Aloysius cursed, but she had already departed. Stumbling through the tunnel, Aloysius followed her right into the adder’s den.

“Selendra!” Saskia said, capturing her friend in a tight hug.

“Saskia?” Shock accosted the mouse before she could think to return the embrace.

Then came the barrage of names.

Noel was first. “Saskia?”

Tamarack was quick to follow. “Saskia!”

“Tam! Noel!” Saskia called to them.

Aloysius?” Tamarack said, catching sight of the bat.

Aloysius nodded. “Miss Tamarack, Master Noel.”

“Brother Aloysius.” Noel’s voice was meek, but heartfelt.

“Aloysius?” Selendra asked, looking over the hare’s shoulder.

“Miss Selendra,” Aloysius greeted.

“Carter?” Tamarack asked, hesitation in her voice.

“I’m afraid our father abbot won’t be visiting,” Aloysius answered, stepping fully into the room, then closed the door behind him.

“So he…”

“No,” Saskia said. “Carter doesn’t know.”

Tamarack smiled, but that did not make Aloysius feel any better. There was still the matter of Julian, and at least one beast in this room had made an attempt on his life. He worried that number would climb, and quickly at that.

“Brother Aloysius,” Noel started, rising from the desk. “I’m … I’m sorry.”

“Are you now?” He cleared his throat, though it may not have been necessary. “I am glad, glad you no longer feel threatened by my presence.” Noel blushed.

“He didn’t mean it, honest,” Tamarack said, then dropped her voice to a meeker level. “We were afraid you would tattle.”

“And I very well might have, if Saskia did not convince me otherwise. But that is a matter for another time. Time is short. It is nearing dawn, and I have not yet checked the gatehouse records. Abbot Carter likes his reports to be punctual. I was hoping to speak with Julian, if he is available, available to talk.”

“Case is…”

The cellar door opened, and an old acquaintance of Aloysius came bounding down the stairs—an old acquaintance he had hoped not to see. “All right, boss,” Cassius sneered the word. “You got your wish, but Case wants t’ hear it ‘imself.” The marten hesitated halfway to the floor. “In ‘ellgates is goin’ on!”

“Relax,” Noel said. “They’re not here to cause trouble.”

“A hare and a bat.” Cassius ambled the rest of the way, drawing a pistol. Aloysius’s heart skipped a beat. “ ‘Ow many other beasts did you tell?”

“Relax,” Noel said again, this time firmer.

“I’m not relaxin’. I know this beast, ‘ere.” He pointed the gun at Aloysius. “One o’ Carter’s ilk,” he spat.

“ ‘E’s not,” Saskia interrupted.

“An’ who are you? Not a little bunny who’s lost her way.”

“Cassius,” Aloysius said, trying hard to keep his voice from trembling. “I’d like to speak with Julian, if I may.”

“Oh, you may, you may indeed.” He cast a wicked grin, baring his teeth threateningly. “ ‘E’ll be down in a few.”

They waited in tense silence, until at long last the old hedgehog made his appearance. “Brother Aloysius,” he said, his look of surprised quickly traded for a warm smile. Aloysius did not return it. “It’s been a long time.”

“It has, it has been a long time. Julian, might I have a word alone?”

“Alone? No, you may not. But you may have a word.”

He opened a side door, motioning for Aloysius to enter. The bat threw one last glance towards each beast in the room, his eyes lingering on Saskia. Cassius followed him as Julian retrieved a lantern, then shut the door behind them.

It was an old storage cellar, but the room had been stripped bare. No boxes, barrels, or wine racks, just cold hard stone that made up the walls and floor. Overhead, the wooden ceiling creaked.

“Come, sit,” Julian said, motioning with the lantern. “It’s not much, but I hope it will do for you.”

“I was never much for furniture, furniture that was not my desk,” Aloysius said. He waited until Julian and Cassius plopped themselves down on the floor, then sat in front of them. The marten laid the pistol between them, and Julian placed his lantern beside it.

“Can’t say I ever expected to see you here, old friend. What brings you? Noel and Tam, no doubt.”

“I encountered them in the cellars, moving an old forgotten wine rack.”

“So you caught them. Who else knows?”

“Saskia,” he hesitated. “And Fyfe, Fyfe.”

“Ah, Fyfe! He was a good lad. How’s his snout?”

“The same. Never quite healed properly, I’m afraid.”

“Shame.”

Cassius fidgeted.

“Settle down, old friend,” Julian said, breaking the gaze on Aloysius to turn to the marten. “It’s been a long time since we last spoke.”

“A long time indeed,” Aloysius agreed. “I see you still find yourself in the company of vermin, vermin.”

“Aloysius, you always had a unique outlook on what made a vermin. One that didn’t hold to species standards.”

“I suppose, I suppose so…”

“Then I could say the same thing to you.”

Cassius laughed, a sound that made Aloysius curl his ears.

“You believe our Father Abbot a vermin?” Aloysius said.

“Your father abbot, friend, not mine. Remind me, the Woodlander’s Code.”

Aloysius didn’t miss a beat. “ ‘All honest and true woodlanders are pledged to help each other and never to harm a living creature, living creature.’ ”

“And those that don’t?”

“Are vermin.”

“Then surely, by your logic, Carter is a vermin.”

Aloysius shook his head. “He is only doing what is best for the abbey, the abbey.”

“Then you truly are as blind as a bat. Do you believe I murdered my own family?”

He paused, his eyes flickering to Cassius. “No,” he said at last. “No.” Firmer.

A low growl rumbled in the marten’s throat.

“Neither was Cassius responsible,” Julian answered.

“And I’m to believe that Carter was?”

“Think about it. Who else was standing in his way to becoming the next Father Abbot?”

Aloysius took a deep breath. His wings were trembling. “There’s no proof.” He shook his head. “No proof.”

“Only our words. But we were Brothers once.” Julian’s eyes were sincere. What was he to believe? “Tell me, why did you come down here?”

“My brother once told me that instead of storing history, I should write it instead. The last time I tried that, many beasts were hurt. But now, I can’t stand idly by, idly by with a new threat facing the abbey. Just because it is not in the form of a vermin horde does not make it any less real.”

Julian nodded. “I am glad you came.”

“What do you know of the Society of Martin?” Cassius demanded. It was the first time he had spoken.

Aloysius hesitated, taken aback by the marten and his harsh tone of voice. “Not much, not much, I’m afraid,” he mused. “There were brief mentions of it in Brother Timothy’s A Mossflower Heraldry, but beyond that, there is very little else.”

“We believe there’s a secret code hidden deep in the Heraldry,” Julian said. “Foremole was kind enough to lend us the book, after you were kind enough to lend to him. Unfortunately, we can’t make head nor tail of it. Timothy mentions a key in his Author’s Note, locked away in one of his two hundred and twenty-two Abbey Records. We need those records, Aloysius, if we want to expose the evils of Martin’s Society, and depose Carter as Father Abbot.”

Aloysius couldn’t believe his ears. “You are asking me to betray the abbey?”

“I am asking you to betray Carter.”

“To betray the Father is to betray the abbey,” he said with a frown. “Julian, don’t ask me to do this.”

“Then we’ll tell you instead,” Cassius said with a sneer, retrieving the pistol. “You know too much now, anyway. We can’t let you go if we thought you might snitch t’ Carter. I wonder, if you hold that creed as close to your ‘eart as you say you do … would it make you a vermin if not cooperatin’ brought harm t’ one of your friends? Noel, or Tam, maybe? You looked at that hare as though you might never see her again. Maybe you won’t.”

Aloysius’s eyes grew wide. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would.”

“We won’t harm the lass,” Julian said. “Not tonight. Think on it, old friend.” The hedgehog stood, lantern in paw. Cassius rose with him. “You have a lot to consider. Thankfully, there aren’t many distractions in here.”

They left Aloysius alone as he buried his head in his wings. Then the door closed, enveloping him in darkness.

Noel: his pupil, almost his child. He had a name like a bell, wholesome and round. Noel could have tended the golden queendom of hives after Brotherhood and finally a home. They would have planted aster, blackberry, dandelion all in neat districts. They’d reap bitter chestnut honey and thyme that tasted a forest deep.

Isidore watched the weasel go.

He had nothing to say, or he could express nothing. Noel left him. He left any hope for the boy there to wither in the graveyard.

Isidore plodded home. Noel walked with him only a few days before, just like this. A sudden spasm of pain knifed through his shoulder, and his muscles clenched — they writhed like snakes.

Hellgates,” he hissed. Had all the weight he shouldered finally crushed him? Dying of a failed heart would mean dishonor. But the seizure passed– he shuffled on to the orchard.

Foweller swung in a hammock between two pear trees. He swatted a gnat, lazily regarded its brothers, swatted again. “Hullo, Brother Isidore.”

“Boy.” He sniffed the pear-blossoms. “I can’t stand these.”

“They’re not so bad,” said Foweller, but he grimaced. “I don’t want to be in the dormitory.”

“Like me. Do you want any whiskey?”

Foweller gawked. “Can I?”

Isidore fetched the flask. The little otter took a swig; amber dribbled down his chin. “I like,” he said, “I like beer better.”

“Try again.”

He lulled the kit to sleep that way. “You know,” he said, “you’d make a good beekeeper. They have armies, bees do. Kingdoms, too, and things you could never imagine. Bees know how to dance, even. You know how soldiers live, so you’d be…”

“D’n wanna,” said Foweller. “Not that.”

“All right, boy.” Isidore stroked Foweller’s head. He could have wept. “All right.”

Isidore stood beneath the belltower. Cobb lay there crumpled and broken, cold to his touch. Once he bought a wilted, dwarfish cabbage from the mole just to brush his claw and say hello when so many at market did not. His sachet of tobacco went in Cobb’s pocket. He wrapped the body in a blanket.

“Do you need help, Brother?”

Carter. He had brought Clacher with him. The badger hunched over Cobb like a tumbling stone, tipping, tipping, but he miraculously bore the corpse aloft. Isidore began to speak, yet the words felt forced as stones through a sieve. “Father, you didn’t–”

“I didn’t. Not that.” The otter’s voice creased like old, worn paper. “None of us did.”

“How?”

“Could’ve been the rebels,” he said. “Plenty of them here, I can feel it. But I don’t know.”

“I trust you, Father.”

“You do?” He regarded Isidore as if appraising cloth at market. “There are so few.”

He held out his burned paw. “We had vows.”

“We had vows.”

Clacher followed them to the wood in the south-east corner of the lawn. South-east. He seemed to always list south-east, like the needle in a broken compass, pointing past the Abbey and the forest, the inland sea and Southsward, the tallest tree and the deepest gorge… past the graves of countless others he had known.

They chose an alder for Cobb’s tombstone. Isidore did not think the Abbot wanted to see the graveyard again.

“Any words, Brother?”

“For Cobb, who needed guidance. Would that I could help you now.”

“Yes. For Cobb, would that I could trust him– and him me.” He scattered dirt over the grave, then smiled at Isidore. “Gone to sunny slopes and quiet streams. Old Loamhedge words.”

“I know.”

“Is it beautiful there?”

“Very.”

His heart flew ever homeward. But he’d lived too long away; all that waited for him there were more sons he’d never raise, more maids he’d never love, more friends he’d never know.

“I know all the stories about Bragoon and Saro.” Carter looked almost childlike when he spoke. “They were my favorites. They weren’t real, but I always wanted them to be. Like Gonff and Basil and Sunflash.”

Isidore had never heard those names.

“Maybe Martin. I find I doubt so much,” the Abbot said. “Come. I have something to give you.”

At the top of a stairwell, they paused. Carter offered him something wrapped in silk, simply, casually, a bundle no larger than his fist. He unwrapped it: a niello broach depicting the abbey, its center set with an uncut balas ruby. That stone came from lands beyond the Bell and Badger rocks, from wide desert valleys. Maybe his ancestor had touched the same spinel.

“Do you know what this is?”

Isidore shook his head.

“It was Abbot Arven’s, once. Warrior Arven, before that. We are old, so very old, you know. This’ll be your sign, outside the Abbey.” He pinned it to Isidore’s tunic. “I trust you, Isidore. You are my friend; my every secret is yours.”

“I cannot think,” said Isidore, “I don’t know what to say–”

“Then be quiet. There is time enough to talk.”

He opened the door. Isidore could not have guessed who sat at that table, in that room, not before he saw them: the head cook Sister Melina, Tompkins, Delores, the cellarkeeper Ambrosia, her assistant Sebastian, the vole who rung the bells, Sister Redronnet, Foremole, a half-dozen members of the Order, the Badgermum, even a bird with coal-dark plumage and a circlet on his brow. All of them pinned the Abbey at their breast.

The Abbot held out his paw. “To attention, please.”

Tompkins rose from his seat and took a ragged book from his pocket. He held it forth and read. “Tonight I am Mattimeo, our founder, the order in the order. Tonight I bring you our charter, the true charter, that which we hold eternally: we are true to our Abbey, the sovereign of Mossflower.

“Our watch ends only at death.

“The enemy is without; they whisper and wait; they are fox and ferret.” He faltered. “Rat and cat. Marten, stoat, and weasel. And any that doubt our claim on the woods, and all the lands of Mossflower.

“We are a sword in the darkness, and we hold the walls for ever.

“Whispers will not breach them, nor sword or arrow, fire or snow, famine or gluttony.

“Abbot Carter leads us, as did Abbot Simon before him, Abbot Titus, Abbot Copperjean, Abbess Casimira, Abbess Dittany, Abbot Ludo, Abbot Cloverleaf… ” The list went on. “And first and forever, the Blessed Germaine.

“We are the Society of Martin. Rise.”

He’d done it for the truth.

That was what Noel told himself, hanging in Tamarack’s wake and savoring these fresh proud bruises layered over Rigg’s barrage from the afternoon. They throbbed like hammer blows on a new-forged blade, each one struck home with brutal precision – and yet those claws had lifted the most fragile of honeybees onto the breeze.

There was no silence in which to ponder – that was only an illusion. The world went on rumbling around him, impatient for him to catch up.

“Father Abbot,” said Emmerich, “begging your pardon, but if you could take this weasel off my doorstep we’d like to deal with Tam in our own way.”

Carter nodded and bowed his head, still crowned by his nightcap.

“Of course. Young Tamarack has nothing but my forgiveness. Grief strikes our hearts in different places, and the young most deeply…but I must admit, my son, that I am deeply disappointed in you.” Carter turned toward Noel but averted his eyes, glancing over his head at Isidore behind him. “I fear I was mistaken – you do not yet appear ready to join our order.”

Carter hobbled ahead of them out of the graveyard, leaving the once-pupil, once-master trailing him in what was now true silence. It didn’t last. Isidore’s paw sought Noel in the darkness, tightening about his arm, possessive and unkind.

“You’ve done a fool thing this night, lad.”

Noel yanked himself free, stumbled backwards into the light still burning dim in the Coffincreepers’ window.

“I won’t let him hide the truth.”

“Don’t enslave yourself to ideals you don’t understand.” Isidore’s claws remained outstretched for a moment, then closed on themselves in a fist. “Last chance, boy. If you turn your back on this place now -”

But like a petulant kit, that was just what Noel did.

* * *

Noel huddled in the empty corner of the dormitory where Virrel had once sealed himself away from the good beasts of Redwall Abbey. In his paws he cradled his brother’s secret: a book. Pages here and there had been marked off with a selection of Merritt’s saucier leaflets – Noel, red-eared, recognized a particularly wrinkled image pilfered from his own drawer at home – but it was clear from the underlined syllables in Martin the Warrior: A Dibbun’s History what Virrel had really been up to.

Outside the window it was still dark. Most of Noel’s night had been spent storing up precious sleep, interrupted only by a midnight trip to the larders to fill the gaping hole in his belly. The satchel of cold oatcakes and dried fish sitting beside him, meanwhile, was reserved for another’s stomach.

Noel scooped it up off the floor and crept down the stairs, taking a long and darkened path toward the graveyard around the foot of the belltower. Some dutiful soul, perhaps Isidore himself, had been there since: only a slick patch of flattened grass remained to mark the scene.

Cobb was only one step away from Tamarack, and now that he was standing outside a back window of the Coffincreeper home, so was Noel.

“Tam?” The answer to his soft taps came swift and sleepless, a shadowy face betraying tears still fresh enough to catch the moonlight. Tamarack appeared at the back porch moments later, shutting the door behind her.

“Oh, Mr. Noel, we’ve made a terrible mistake – it wasn’t him.”

“What -” The pair of goggles she offered him only scored deeper lines of confusion into his weary features. He turned Cobb’s eyepieces over in his paws. “What’s this mean?”

“Abbot Carter had nothing to do with – with Mr. Cobb. He – oh, Fates, it’s all my fault. If only I hadn’t pushed him so hard. He must’ve been so scared up there!”

The picture was a hazy one, but Cobb alone on the belltower could only paint one portrait in the end: that of a beast in utter despair. Noel seized Tamarack in his paws, desperate that she not cast herself under the same shadow.

“You listen to me. It’s not your fault, all right? If anybeast deserves the blame, it’s me.” His paws slid from her shoulders, his gaze to the field of graves stretching away from them into the night. “I shouldn’t’ve let us go after the Abbot like that. I put us right in the open.”

“He already knew about me.” Tam shook her head, as fierce as Noel had been a moment before. “He has almost since the beginning. I’m not in any more danger now than I was afore you got dragged into this.”

“Things have changed.” He didn’t say so, but Isidore was right: he had been overwhelmed by something he didn’t comprehend. But the real crime was that his lust for truth had put Tam in the line of fire. “I think we should go.”

Tamarack looked down at the satchel in his paw, and there was alarm in her eyes when they snapped back up to Noel.

“For how long?” she demanded.

“I don’t know. We need to get you out of their way.”

“We can’t up and leave now,” said Tam. “And where’ll we go – to those bloodthirsty beasts in that tunnel, who won’t even tell us a thing? Mr. Noel, I can’t.”

Noel’s claws tightened around the satchel as he searched the indistinct heights of the battlements for an answer. It was there that he found Isidore was wrong: Noel hadn’t turned his back on this place. He never would.

“You’re right,” he said. “Let’s just pop by for a chat.”

* * *

“The bells of St. Ninian’s,” Noel whispered, “still chime at midnight.”

The sealed door at the pitch-dark end of the tunnel swung open, inviting the flickering light of Noel’s torch to illuminate the sneer of their most unfriendly ally.

“Wot are you two doin’ back here?” Locria lifted her pistol from her side, allowing the barrel to slide past Noel to the darker shape at his side. “Don’t tell me you’ve buggered us already -”

“Don’t you ever point that at her again!” Noel bowled into her, a cannonball of muscle and claws, sending them both to the floor in a mottled, thrashing heap. Tamarack’s cry was matched by another from within the cavernous meeting place.

“Enough. Enough, lad, you’ll kill ‘er!” Cassius’s words had an effect, one that tore Noel from Locria’s prone form as swiftly and violently as he had collided with it. The pine marten creaked down on his knees beside his Lieutenant, only standing again upon satisfaction that she still lived. But his frame remained bent. “Are you a madbeast? What’s ‘appened, where’s Flint?”

“Flint’s fine.” After this first foray into speech, Tamarack’s voice retreated into quiet. “But…Cobb’s dead.”

“You remember him, don’t you, Cassius?” Noel retrieved his torch from the floor outside and shut the door, punctuating his query with a slam. “Or is he like me – not worth the memory ‘til he’s of use to you?”

Cassius did something then that even Noel wasn’t expecting: he backed away. The room had been his and Locria’s alone, with only a guttering candle and a disheveled heap of papers on the table in their company.

“Let’s not get hasty, lad. O’ course I remember ‘im – and the fourth beast, too.” He allowed himself half a wicked grin. “Or ‘ave you forgotten her?”

“She’s missing.” A stillness came over Noel and Tamarack both. In the tunnels he had described his visit to the bush where he had last uncovered Bludd in time of need, and the particularly violent kick he had dealt it this very evening. There had been no cackle, no shriek, no answer. “That’s why we’re here.”

“Well, you won’t find her ‘ere.” Cassius spread his paws wide, displaying nothing. “And I ain’t got no ideas on raisin’ the dead. I’m sorry for yer friend, but they’ll pay ten times his weight in blood.”

“Somebeast will, but not them,” said Noel. “Of all the beasts you’ve killed, was Carter in among ‘em?”

Cassius’s arms sank back to his sides, taking his smile with it.

“We only done what needed doin’, lad. You think you could do better?”

“Yeah. I do.” Noel spun away from him to set his torch in a crumbling wall bracket. “Face it: you lot have no idea what’s really goin’ on in there. You don’t know what you’re doin’ – nor you nor Case and especially not that beast there, if she’d point a gun at your best hope for putting Redwall back in the right paws.”

“You want a bloodless revolution, eh? What would you suggest we do, then? Reason with the nutters? You must be jokin’.”

“You keep raising your forces.” Tam recited the skeletal plan she and Noel had crafted together during their aching journey through the darkness. “We report to you directly, no middle beasts, and you make the moves we tell you to make.”

Cassius laughed long and loud, crossing his arms as if to hold his sides.

“Well, miss – well, miss! You are jokin’. We’ve got beasts in Redwall closer to the thick o’ this thing than you’ll ever be, and they’ve been that way longer’n you’ve been alive.”

“Aye, they’re close,” said Noel. “Too close. They’re bloody entrenched. They can’t even get at this Tompkins, the one raw link in the chain, without riskin’ the house of cards you lot’ve built. Carter may have it out for us but at least we don’t have a game to spoil.”

Cassius stood still, but only for a moment. When he uncrossed his arms they reached for the far door, the one that spilled forth sweet free air from the city above.

“Fine. You want to play games? I’ll ‘ave a word with Case. Keep in mind you’ve only found one bloody pin on yore own, and that was by accident!”

Noel grinned, and Tam only reflected his triumph.

“You have a chat, then. We’ll be here.”

Cassius growled, jabbing a paw at Locria beginning to wheeze on the floor.

“You clean that up! And ‘ere, ‘ave some light readin’ while you wait.” He plunged his fist into the pile of papers, trawling from its depths a slim bound packet of opened letters. Cassius shoved them into Noel’s paws without ceremony. “Post. For you. Been backed up for ages in Redwall City, seein’ as they ain’t been lettin’ through so much as an ant’s note home to its mum. Thought we’d pick it up for you since you joined, expected you’d be grateful, but you’re damn cocky for a beast who can’t even feel the noose round his own neck!”

Noel snorted and sliced a claw through the twine around the bundle. Ridiculous, was he, or realistic? Unlike Cobb or Ripple, who did he have that would weep if he died – his unassuming parents? Virrel, probably back to harassing passers-by in Mossflower Wood? There was only –

He froze at the sight of the topmost letter. Like the rest it was open, scanned by the keen eyes of the resistance, but before Noel could glare in protest a double-take drew his eyes back down to the signature at the end of the page.

“Oh,” he said.

Tam tilted her head at him, brows furrowed.

“What is it?”

“Nothing, just….” He gave a sigh, a little cough that might have been of all things a laugh. “I was just now thinking of this beast.”