Earlier, that morning…

“Erm…Brother Aloysius?”

Noel wasn’t sure what to expect when the bat turned to face him. What he saw was surprise, but there was something tugging at the corners of Aloysius’s mouth – up or down, he couldn’t quite tell – that suggested something deeper.

“All right?” said Noel, faintly.

“Yes. There is a difference in how you appear just now – that is all, that is all.”

“I meant after last night.” Noel edged his way further into the sanctity of the archives, bending his spine to fit stacks of books, pawing in short stubby steps to avoid seasons-old records papering the floor.

“I am well enough, well enough. The occasional adventure does an old body no harm. Apologies for the state of my archives – Saskia and I have just been in search of an old record of mine, of mine.”

As Aloysius inclined his head toward the book open before him, Noel took the opportunity to reach for the tome weighing down his own coat, the one he and Tam had coaxed from Locria’s submissive paws.

“What’s that?” Noel asked. Aloysius obliged to lift the cover and show him. “The Complete Records of Brother Timothy Churchmouse?”

The archivist’s mild expression betrayed a twinge of what Noel suspected was irritation. The volume was lying open at the end, but Aloysius’s claws returned it to the middle.

“An omnibus of mine – although ‘complete’ may be a relative term, relative term.”

“Think this would help?” Noel withdrew the book from his coat and laid it beside Timothy’s chronicles. Aloysius leapt up in his seat, the haze of sleep once clouding over him cleared in an instant as he grasped it like the paw of an old and well-missed friend.

“Noel – this is the Heraldry! Where did you get it, get it?”

“A couple of the lads back at the hideout were kind enough to lend it to me.” Noel only half-winked, interrupted by that expression renewing itself on Aloysius’s face. “What’s the matter?”

“Something has indeed changed about you.” A flicker of worry crept into Aloysius’s eyes. “You remember the story of Blaggut, don’t you, don’t you?”

“Aye, and I remember another about a beast named Romsca.”

Aloysius folded his claws before him.

“Romsca was a brave soul, but a lonely one. In the end she died at violent paws.”

“Okay, well.” When Aloysius looked up again it was to Noel’s grinning teeth. “I don’t plan to follow in her exact pawsteps.”

“How do you plan to proceed, proceed?”

“I want the killing to stop. I’m goin’ to stop the killer.”

“You don’t mean to attack the Abbot – again -”

Noel waved a paw.

“I can handle one otter in a green dress -” He winced, tilting his head at Aloysius’s habit as an apology, and added, “It’s the other beasts on his ticket I’ve got me eye on. Got to make him powerless. I don’t know about you, but one more death and I’ll…oh, for Martin’s sake.”

The sorrow that dimmed the bat’s face at that final remark said everything Noel needed to know. Aloysius reached for his paw.

“My friend, I have more sad news, sad news.”

* * *

Tamarack was waiting outside for him on the lawns, a triumphant grin threatening to burst at her muzzle. Noel hated to rob it from her, but he didn’t have to – it was gone as soon as he came slouching forth into the sunlight.

“Fates,” she whispered. “What is it? Did he tell -”

“No. It’s Bludd.” There were no tears this time. Perhaps they had all been spent on Ripple, or perhaps he had already known. “Aloysius found her in the woods this morning. She’d been dead a while.”

Tamarack gave a sound that Noel couldn’t identify as gasp or sigh, but she covered her mouth all the same. It grieved him that she might have to fake her own horror, but could more death actually shock them now?

“We should’ve believed her,” she whispered, claws reaching up to dig into her forehead. “Say what you like about Cobb, this really is my fault.”

“I’ll say what I like about whatever I like. It’s not and you know it.” Noel glared, seeking the fire in his heart until he struck upon the plan outlined to Aloysius not five minutes before. “Who were the beasts after her again? Tell me for certain.”

“Brother Isidore. Mr. Rigg was with him.”

Noel turned his glare inward. Despite Ripple, despite the impassable void now yawning between them, he failed to conceive an image of that rat capable of such a crime – even knowing the truth, he couldn’t make himself see. Why was that? What stood in his path?

“I’m gonna find ‘em, then.”

“I’m coming with you.”

Noel led their storming way toward the Abbot’s house. With Tam at his right paw he tried to smile, in vain only because of this nameless obstacle still obscuring his sight.

* * *

They never made it to Isidore. Rigg presented a more immediate opportunity near the entrance to Great Hall, holding conference there with a badger Noel loathed to recognize.

Maybe Rigg sensed this supposed change in Noel, too. He motioned Clacher to silence and nodded at their approach, a faint smile playing about his eyes.

“Noel,” he said.

“Rigg.”

“You seen Fowel this mornin’, I guess?”

“You seen Bludd?”

“Aye. Not too long ago.” Rigg’s smile vanished. “Aloysius brought her in from the little wood. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

“We were thinking Brother Isidore might,” said Tamarack.

Rigg crossed his arms and fixed the duo with that haughty slant-eyed suspicion Noel was so familiar with.

“I think Brother Isidore’s seen enough o’ you for a while,” said Rigg. “If you’ve got any sense o’ decency you’ll let well enough alone.”

“Suppose we did see somethin’,” said Noel. It came out sudden, harsh and unnatural. He wondered if this was what wheedling sounded like in his voice. “Maybe we could help.”

“What do you think you saw?” said Rigg. “I’m fair convinced you two must’ve dug yourselves a little cave somewhere for when you’re not busy attackin’ Father Abbot – where do you two get off to?”

Noel swore under his breath and spun toward the Great Hall doors. Tam hung behind him a moment with their still-unfinished business.

“C’mon,” he snapped. “I need a drink.”

The vixen skipped up beside him, bouncing with impatience and confusion.

“I thought we were going to the Abbot’s,” she whispered.

“Quick detour. The cellars,” said Noel. He was breathing fast. “Stay close to me, Tam.”

* * *

The beasts of Redwall Abbey bustled past on their hungry way to Cavern Hole, taking little notice of the grim-faced pair. By contrast with the ground floor halls growing warm with noonday sun, the cellar was cool, calm and empty. It was just the right time of day for heading back through the tunnel. But the plan in Noel’s head was different, and too terrible to convey.

“Tam.” It was the first thing Noel had said since his abrupt turn back inside the abbey, uttered once they were deep down an aisle of cellarhog ale kegs. “When he comes down the stairs I need you to go, run. Find Flint or Sebastian, whoever we know on our side who’s got a spare bit o’ muscle between his shoulders.”

“Noel, for Martin’s sake, what’s going on?”

“Clacher’s coming.”

“How do you -”

“I think he was the one who…did it to Bludd. When I fed ‘em that line just now, it wasn’t Rigg who looked like he wanted to wring me neck.” Noel almost grasped at his own collar. Cassius was wrong, in a way – he could feel the noose tightening, but as if it were snaking around his soul. “Tam, what should I do?”

Tamarack’s confusion had failed to lift. Her gaze was one of upturned eyebrows and worried eyes.

“If he killed her,” she said, “and if he’s one of these beasts we’re talking about who’s doing Carter’s dirty work…we have to get rid of him.”

“He has to die.”

Tamarack nodded, but it was slow – and worse, doubtful.

Heavy pawsteps rang out like belltolls dampened by rust, cutting short any further protest, obscured only briefly by the slamming of the cellar door and the sound of something dense being set to in front of it. Tam tightened her grip on Noel’s paw.

“I won’t let him hurt you, Tam,” he whispered. “I’ll distract him and you run.”

“Two dead weasels in a day – a fine day.” It wasn’t a voice they heard often, but it broke like distant thunder. “Only a shame they didn’t bring me the brother’s tail to match.”

“I won’t let him hurt you,” said Noel. Tears began streaming at once down either side of his face. “I won’t let him, I won’t let him -”

“Noel – oh, Fates -”

The thing blocking his sight, the mystery feeling that wouldn’t let him see Isidore as a killer, that for years stayed his fist from his brother’s face, that breathed in that open letter from the post still sitting in his coat pocket – it sparked and burned and took shape in the light. It stabbed him over and over again somewhere he couldn’t defend. Like he could sense love now, he had always been able to sense the truth: that somebeast who had been part of him was dead, and that in a few moments he would be, too.

“Tam, go. Go now!”

She burst forth from their hiding place, tearing across the darkened cellar like a rust-colored comet. Clacher swung his club, but too late, striking a shelf support in her wake. A full keg dropped a yard to the earth, contents running out like watery blood across the floor. Noel leapt forward, taking up one of the shattered staves in his paw.

Something like gunfire exploded into his side and burst in diamond sprays before his eyes. He felt himself flying, only for a moment, until a jutted-out keg tap connected with one of his kidneys. The pitch of his scream was too high to carry sound, but he heard the crunch as he landed and the heavy pawsteps coming for him, fast.

Noel hadn’t a chance, he knew. It was Virrel who’d been the brawler. If only he had a gun – he could nick a dry leaf in the breeze – but bullets exploded and mushroomed and killed. And if Virrel was dead, there was nobeast left whom he had ever desired to destroy. He was free.

The club came down just as he rolled out of the way, and it didn’t lift fast enough to evade the jagged stave Noel drove sideways into cords of muscle. Clacher made no sound as Noel kicked it deeper into his arm. He would have twisted it to ensure the badger would never lift a club again, but that club was coming for him in the other paw.

Blood was burbling from his gullet like strawberry fizz, but still he darted, still he climbed, finding purchase in the shelves against the wall. They were desperately near the rack hiding the secret doorway from view, and he could suddenly remember the way Aloysius’s delicate throat had felt in his claws. It must have been similar to how his ankle felt in Clacher’s, now that he had caught him up halfway up his ascent. Noel dug his claws into the back of the shelving, felt his knuckles bury themselves against the wall as from the other end Clacher tried to stretch his long weak body to nothing.

And then he could feel his mind start to spin as up became down and time became infinite and the whole rack came toppling down upon them both.

* * *

Tam was only gone a few moments. Sebastian himself was already on the other side, straining to force the door, witness to their silent pursuit but too late to intervene. When Tam had levered the mighty keg of October Ale free of the door, they paused only long enough to watch it fly down the steps, rolling to a long sad stop against the far wall.

It was there that they found a choking, bloodied weasel pacing in broken steps above a badger, stunned and half-crushed by a demolished rack of shelving, a halo of shattered jars smashed to pieces against his skull.

“What am I gonna do with you?” Noel shrieked. “What am I gonna do?”

Tam rushed toward him, just quick enough to catch him as he slumped into her arms.

Sebastian held back only a moment to assure himself that the beast stumbling into the cellar after them was Flint. When the hedgehog returned to the crisis before him, his rigid face swelled with an unexpected pity.

“You’ve made a right ruddy mess, haven’t you?” he mumbled. Sorting through the heap of tools and glass from the fallen shelves, he produced a bung hammer and shuffled toward the prone form of the badger on the floor.

“Stop.” Noel’s head emerged from Tam’s embrace, a paw wiping the blood from his muzzle. “Open the tunnel. We’ll clean up. You and Flint take him through, if you can manage him safe. Tell Locria to find a better place for him than where they stuck Aloysius.”

Sebastian shook his head, but question overrided argument.

“What are you goin’ to do – chuck every undesirable out into Redwall City like it’s your own personal dustbin? And what makes you think they won’t come back?”

“They never did,” said Noel, pausing to wheeze, “when Martin sent them away.”

The hedgehog opened his mouth only to shut it again. He repeated the process twice more before cursing aloud and gesturing for Flint to help him move the rack and expose the tunnel. Tamarack helped Noel move a few yards away, the pair of them feeling his bones crack as if they belonged to one another.

“Mr. Noel,” she murmured. “Are you sure that part of the stories was true? They never said if the…vermin ever came back or not.”

He could have pontificated about Martin like he did to Isidore in happier days, or to Virrel when he would listen, but he wasn’t sure how to tell her that Clacher’s life would continue because Noel was a slave to something else besides truth.

In an instant, Tamarack recognized the letter Noel took forth from his pocket.

“Is that from your home?” she asked.

He just handed it to her. This is what it said:

Noel,

You and I are through, if you think I am going to wait one more day for you to get the idiot out of jail you are gravly mistaken, where have you been? Dad says Redwall is closed but if thats your excuse for not saying nothing to me in 3 months then you can just get stuffed all rite!!

P.S. I hate your stupid flowers, they have all dried out and Mum is on me to get rid of them

L
xoxo

At Tamarack’s questioning look, Noel lowered his eyes to the ground.

“That’s Lucy,” he mumbled.

“She don’t sound real fond of you at the minute.” Tam offered the letter back to him, her voice painfully distant. Noel waved the paper away.

“She’s not here right now. You are, though, Tam, and – I need you.” He buried his face back in her arms and made no sound.

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Balance

August 19, 2011

“Qui plume a, guerre a.”

-1-

Brother Aloysius,
Once I found a story of Redwall long past, a lonely battle long forgotten, born of desperate greed and slain in fire. Its historical provenance is far from certain, but I think you would do well to read it, Brother. Maybe I shall have you printed a copy after this all has ended. If, indeed, either of us survives.

Its chronicler wrote: “Never have I ended a tale with more misgiving.”

This shan’t be the end of our tale, you and I, but I find myself approaching the end of this book’s pages, and those words are fitting enough as I wet the last of this paper with ink and tears. I write with misgiving. I will convey you this letter and this book only with misgiving, you who should know my guilt far better than any of your Brothers. I did nothing.

What ought we to have done? What will become of us?

The records of my business herein, I entrust to you for safekeeping. If you wish to keep all your friends innocent in your thoughts, I entreat you not read them. For that reason alone, they are of inestimable practical value. The records of my days, idle thoughts… those you may find somewhat less distressing.

Yours,
MS

-2-

Saskia considered the best method of searching; Timothy’s records did not appear in their newly-written ledgers. Therefore, if it were someplace that she or Aloysius had access to it, it would be among the manuscripts they hadn’t yet archived. Unfortunately, they had spent only a few days together working through the largely-chaotic Abbey library, and the rest was–as far as she could tell from Aloysius’ apologetic descriptions–irretrievably muddled.

“Account of the Winter of Deepest Snow.” Saskia tossed the book aside; Aloysius shot her a stern look and she muttered an apology, stacking it in a corner. “The Spring of the Thrice-Bedamned Tulips,” she grumbled, and added another book to the stack.

For his part, Aloysius was not examining any books, contenting himself with swooping about, piling manuscripts in neat towers, and casting long glances over shelves. Apparently he expected to remember what the records in question looked like, perhaps, or hoped for it to leap forth into waiting wings.

“Is it here?” Aloysius asked nobeast in particular. His voice was raspy, as though the night of drinking still lingered in his throat.

“Summer of the Bally Frogs,” Saskia sighed. “I’ve no idea, Aloysius, you would know better than I.”

“True. There must be a copy somewhere, somewhere.”

Saskia watched Aloysius as he worked; by appearance alone he was much unlike any otherbeast there, wings like living paper stretched around a brittle frame. Despite this fragility, Aloysius held the same enduring quality as his archives–his thoughts and words were proof against any influence.

There was a sudden rapping at the door; three stately knocks resounded in the little room.

“Come in, come in! Ah, Brother Isidore, what brings you here, here?”

The rat pursed his lips. He wandered over to an end-table and ran a scabbed paw over the one sliver of its surface that wasn’t covered in age-crinkled paper.

-3-

Isidore walked with a bit of a hunch, paws clasped behind him.

“Fine day for a walk, Brother, but there is much to be done back at the archives. Per’aps if you’ve anything to say, it would be best done quickly?”

Isidore barked what could have been a sour laugh and stopped; they stood now in front of the beehives. “Then let it be done quickly. I hadn’t thought it possible you were the one who corrupted Miss Selendra.”

Saskia rolled her eyes. “Oh, not this nonsense again, surely. There are better uses of my time.” She turned to leave, but shortly found an iron-strong grip around her wrist; iron-strong and faintly sticky. Isidore’s paw was burned, scabbed. “Let go.”

“You will listen, lass.”

Run. Run. Harm him as best you can, and run…

“Wot is it I’m accused of then, in the specifics?”

“You brought dear Selendra over to Case, to the blight that blackens this Abbey.”

“Brought ‘dear Selendra’ over, did I? ‘Ave you ever spoken with ‘er, then? Spoken with ‘er to listen to ‘er, I mean. Nobeast could convince ‘er of anything–”

His grip tightened around her wrist.

“And it seems the only point on which we’re in agreement is that there’s something dreadfully wrong ‘ere.”

“A traitor’s lies,” Isidore snorted.

“Not a traitor, surely, if this isn’t my ‘ome? In every account I’ve read of it, every gardening manual I’ve set into type, there is one point on which everybeast seems to be in agreement. Blight comes from the inside, outward. If you get my meaning, sah.”

“Lies, all the same, lass.”

“‘Ow’d you burn your paw?”

“Not important.” He tightened his grip again. Saskia fancied she could hear the small bones in her wrist grind together, but wouldn’t cry out. “You and that ferret, you never should have been brought into this place.”

Saskia tried not to flinch. Merritt next… have to try to help him.

“Oh, Merritt ‘asn’t ‘ad anything to do with much of anything, really.”

“I know what sort of filth he sells,” Isidore growled.

“Besides that, I mean.”

“So you are one of Case’s minions, then. If you claim the ferret isn’t guilty.”

I’m trapped.

“No, but you won’t believe it.”

Isidore dragged her roughly toward a hive. Buzzing filled her ears, a maddening hum. She swallowed. Isidore’s tools lay next to the hive, a box full of steel, blunt and sharp alike. He hefted a trowel.

“No, I won’t believe it. Not when I heard from Brother Tompkins.”

Oh, no. No, no, no…

Saskia’s heart thundered in her chest.

I’m sorry Aloysius, I’m sorry Merritt, I want nothing but for you to live–

She took a deep breath.

“You’re going to kill me, then.” It wasn’t a question.

Can I reach my dagger? No.

Isidore didn’t answer it. He frowned. A flicker of what could have been regret was stillborn in his expression. The bees buzzed on, oblivious.

Even if I escape for now, he–they–can find me…

“Then I’ll tell you something true, something I believe with all my soul.” She sighed. “If the rebels ‘eld in their ‘earts the evil you accuse them of, your Abbot would already be dead.”

Isidore shook his head. Saskia stared into his eyes.

Don’t cry.

“You know they could ‘ave done it, by now.”

Saskia closed her eyes. The bees–abruptly–were silent.

-4-

Later…

Night had fallen; the stars aligned in familiar constellations, blissful in their ignorance of happenings on the terrestrial sphere. Aloysius couldn’t decide whether he ought to take comfort in their steadiness or vent bitter fury, that the stars did not know what he’d lost, the news he’d been given. The Abbey lawn was quiet. Somebeast padded through the dark.

Aloysius stood, wings wrapped protectively around himself. He felt as though he’d been thrown down stairs, disoriented and tender.

“I told her she’d come to no good… end,” Merritt said, his voice at first like the crunch of an icicle against a stone path, but rising uncontrollably at the end to a chirp of strangled birdsong. He sat down hard on the grass, paws over his eyes. “Perhaps she had the right of it after all. Perhaps I’ve been foolish.”

Aloysius stood, mouth open. “It seems she may be right, be right.”

“Have been.”

“Y-yes. Have been,” Aloysius whispered.

Merritt stood and uncovered his eyes. His mask was unmarked by tears, but he seemed to Aloysius to be looking past him or through him.

“I have a gift for you, or I shall soon enough. A book.” He paused. “If you would take me as an ally, or at least the lesser of two evils. I care not for this paltry, filthy little war. But I shan’t see a friend go unavenged. Whatever you think of me, I’ve never brought pain or death into this Abbey.” Merritt’s voice grew sharper. “I know you cared for her. Help me.”

Aloysius swallowed, and bowed his head.

“I–“

Like a Black Stone Falling

August 19, 2011

Isidore walked. Dawn clarified the world; he winced at the brightness of leaves, grass, the earth beneath his paws.

He lacked his burden. When he tried to speak to the Coffincreepers, he would have said I didn’t. We didn’t. I couldn’t, but the untruth plugged his throat, and so they took the body. In the forest, he managed. Brother Aloysius found…

Enough, said the old tod. Enough death, enough children. Isidore wished he had coins to put on her eyes.

He stumbled into the orchard. A root caught him and he tripped, landing hard on his burnt paw. A pair of arms wrapped around him; this is my death, he thought, but the arms were warm and small and childish. Foweller helped him to his feet. The otter studied Isidore’s burn, frowning with all the gravity of a senior physician. “You’ll be all right,” he declared. “Take whiskey. Three times a day.”

“They’ll throw me in the Abbey jail.”

“I might’ve said willow-bark tea.”

“Boy,” Isidore said. “Tell me everything you saw.”

He had the whole tale: Camp Willow, the Mask, blood-spattered cobblestone in Redwall City. He chanced to put his paw on Foweller’s shoulder, and he spoke gruffly. “You’re all right?” Foweller withdrew, contemplating this, then leaned into Isidore. “I don’t know,” he said, “but he’s gone. I did it.”

“You did,” said Isidore, thinking of the matted, stinking thing he carried, and whether Foweller could smell it. The young otter felt so certain, so real– Carter could not hurt him too. There must always live someone like Foweller. The whole of Hell could batter at the Abbey gate, at Isidore, but he would lock and bar his soul against it. He would keep this.

The brooch in his pocket pricked his thigh. “Can you tell me something? In confidence.”

Foweller tensed. He knew. “What?”

“I won’t tell. Not even to the Abbot. I swear it.”

“You’re lying.”

“He wants to hurt you. Or he will.” Isidore clutched at Foweller. “You saw him kill Brother Andrew. He knows. I won’t let him touch you–” he pulled the child close “– please.”

“Let me go,” Foweller squeaked. “I didn’t. I don’t know–”

“The vixen. She told me. What happened?”

The otter slouched away, drawing like a snail into its shell. “Andrew said some things about a pin, and a pistol, and his monsters. Bludd ‘n me hid, and then Andrew was dead…” He dug in his pocket. “I brought you something. I would’ve shown you, I was gonna.”

The silver pin seemed older than Isidore’s brooch: worn knotwork vines climbed the Abbey’s walls, cradling the ruby like a flower. At a twitch of Isidore’s paw, Foweller pulled it away, but the rat brought out his own.

“Bury it,” said Isidore. “Throw it in the cess. You shouldn’t know what this is, should never have seen it.”

“Isidore, tell me.”

“We have an understanding now.” Isidore dropped to his knees. “Let me keep you safe.” Foweller looked at his feet, and for an instant Isidore thought he would ask for an apple, some whiskey, some childish treat, but instead he took the bone-handled knife from his sash.

“Take it back.” He buried the blade in the ground. “Nothing happened. I want to rest.”

Carter paced before his fireplace. Isidore didn’t like his silence: he had confessed to his dealing with Foweller, but the Abbot gave him no response. Instead he listened to the tread of Carter’s paws, a patter light as moths’ wings. But it stopped– Carter stood before him, trembling. “Why do you test me? Why now? When I have given you so much?”

What have you given?, he wanted to ask, but then the Abbot knelt before him and took his burnt paw and said, “We are friends. We have that, don’t we?”

“Yes, Father.”

“I didn’t give you leave to speak.”

Abashed, Isidore let him examine the burn. “You’re healing well,” said Carter. “I wonder if you’ll remember what happened. What will I do then? What will I give, to keep you here? And what can I take?”

He squeezed Isidore’s paw, smiled at the pain he caused, and continued. “It hurts me too, remember. When I tell you to do something, you do it. I don’t care if you want it or not.” And then Carter drew his claw over the burn, first light and then deep and fast, carving a ragged path in the flesh. Isidore let him. If he allowed this, what else?

Anything, anything. Penance, the satisfaction of their oaths.

“Take the kit,” said Carter. “And keep him safe. But you must give me someone else.”

In his years alone he learned to read the script of Mossflower. He’d traded for an old book, the Legend of Great Beasts; he thought it was a history, but it was a kind of compendium. It said this: Of all creatures, bees alone were created for the sake of others. They are loved for their virtue, for in all things they are diligent. They collect honey from the air and purify it, build their basilicas of wax, and keep and tend their brothers under the guidance of a king. They have one kind and dwell together until their deaths. One working and flight and flower is common to them all.

Later, Isidore learned this was wrong.

Bees kept a fat queen, and they had never issued from dead flesh or strained honey from a summer breeze. But they flew with their queen in swarming. When her wings failed, the company carried her. Those that did not, those that would not work or fight for common cause, doomed themselves to die by their fellow soldiers’ stings.

Carter had the Legend in his library. Isidore stroked the thick linen pages, watching Tompkins watching him over the top of his lorgnette. He uncovered knowledge like finding sweet apples in worm-picked windfall. They live in fixed places, are diligent in producing honey, build their houses with great skill, gather honey from various flowers, weave wax to fill their homes with many offspring, have kings and armies with which they wage war, flee from smoke, and are irritated by noise…

The door creaked open and Carter entered. “Brothers!”

“Father,” said Tompkins, and he nodded. Isidore did not answer. He resumed reading. And bees choose to their king him that is most worthy and noble in highness and fairness, and most clear in mildness, for that is chief virtue in a king…

“Brother Isidore, will you get the tea?”

He stirred from his rest. “Yes, Father.”

He went to the kitchen. Carter had left out a canister of tea redolent with lavender. Isidore ran his claws through the leaf, inhaled the sweet, earthy scent. The kettle was so hot it still squealed when he took it off the fire; in the pot, flower and field mingled with cast iron. It hurt his paw to carry it, even with a rag wrapped around the handle.

“I will make this one thing clear,” he heard Tompkins say. “It’s unconscionable. I resign.”

“The kit could not be helped, Brother.”

“And every other beast?”

“Oh, tea, at last.” Carter beamed at Isidore.

The Abbot had brought out a service of cups glazed with humble nut-brown. Isidore poured for him first. Carter savored the brew, cradling his cup like it held the finest mead.

“No poison,” Tompkins said. “Aren’t I blessed.”

“No, no poison,” Carter said. Isidore felt blood beading on his paw again. Carter’s claw tapped against the side of his cup, once, twice, grazed porcelain with the faintest clink, like a distant bell. Isidore unstoppered the kettle, and a gout of steam burst forth.

He threw the tea on Tompkins.

The squirrel toppled from his chair, writhing and squealing, and Isidore could see him flush crimson under his fur. Tompkins scrabbled at the floor. Isidore straddled him and pulled a knife from his sash: his brother’s knife, Foweller’s gift. The blood had gone from Tompkins– his skin was yellow-white as the knife’s bone handle.

The squirrel’s flesh peeled under Isidore’s touch like a mushroom gone soft. Tompkins groaned, and a horrible chortling word escaped him: “No-ooo.”

“You made mockery of us,” Isidore said.

“I just wanted– I just wanted– Ruslen,” Tompkins whimpered, “and Chamomile.” He fixed his gaze on the Abbot, but his eyes were blind, soft marbles. “He made me hold the knife, with Thistledown. That’s what he does. Please don’t kill me, please.”

“Where is Julian Case?” Isidore asked. “Who are his agents?”

“I don’t know. Don’t let me die. Hyssop and lavender. Please.”

“Quiet, Brother. Names.”

“The printer. Saskia.”

Isidore considered this, and then he slit the squirrel’s throat.

“I had to. I had to keep them in, like so many ants in an anthill. You don’t leave if there’s wolves in the wood.” Carter slumped into him. The otter was sweating, and his eyes rolled so a sliver of white showed at the edges. “Yes. Yes. Keep them where Case couldn’t– you did it,” he said. “You did it. My friend. My champion.”

Shoot, Don't Talk

August 16, 2011

The sky was dim and heavy, the horizon glowing red in anticipation of the morning. The dusty track bit at Foweller’s cold paws as he trudged on, back hunched over from Martin’s weight. The loaded pistol and knife in his sash were rubbing him raw. He had formed a picture of the Mask in his head. The otter he saw was strong and courageous. He was reminiscent of Ripple and Duster, especially when he smiled.

Redwall City was a grand name for a humble town. Old facades from past seasons, faded signs and dusty windows greeted the two otters. The centre of town was near deserted at dawn, every beast indoors and in bed. Save one.

Foweller stopped short at the sight of a lean figure passed out in the gutter of an inn at the crossroads. The Tremontaine Inn, the plaque proclaimed. Foweller clicked his teeth; Rigg just frowned. It was Virrel.

“Good morning,” Foweller announced, the words hissing between his sharp little rows of teeth. Virrel squinted open an eyelid. Foweller waved jovially, as if they were old drinking partners. The weasel looked crumpled and beaten, the smell of burnt wood and sweat making Foweller wrinkle his snout.

“Don’t you move!” Rigg kicked Virrel down as he tried to scarper. The weasel gave them a hideous look, his eyes lingering across Foweller.

“Come for my blood, huh?” Virrel spat. He looked angry at himself, his gaze darting from window to window, seeking a saviour. Or perhaps checking no beast would be audience to his lamentable state.

“I should demand satisfaction of ye, if I thought ye had the honour,” Rigg growled, keeping his otherwise voluminous voice down. Foweller shook his head.

“No. Duelling’s for important beasts. It’s for the officers and the grown-ups. Diggers ‘n weasels don’t duel.”

“I’m not duellin’ or lettin’ you anywhere near me!” Virrel shrieked. He struggled to his paws, his paws fidgeting and dusting himself off. Foweller smelled beer on his stale breath. “It was never my fault, Ripple shouldn’t have been grabbin-…”

“Don’t talk about him!” Foweller’s voice tore into a ragged snarl. Virrel rudely turned his back on them and marched off. Dawn was breaking and the orange sun was rising over the road to the east.

“Running again?” Foweller spat. He spat well and proper like the hare corporal taught him on his eleventh birthday. The gobbet of saliva met its mark. Virrel stopped, his paw caressing something in his jacket. Foweller’s eyes narrowed.

“Foweller, watch it!” Rigg shouted. Virrel whirled around.

BANG.

Foweller blinked and sniffed. The smell of smoke was a sweet relief. In the Abbey it had just felt wrong, but out here it was the proper place and time. Rigg’s voice had died down into a stunned mumble. Foweller wondered if his hearing had gone.

“You alright?” Foweller blurted. He felt dizzy with emotion. The ground tilted under him and he collapsed with a groan. Curse the day he had lost his tail. He could picture it now, a simple otter’s rudder with a dash of black ink across its tip; the fur markings that made him feel unique.

After a few minutes, Foweller struggled into sitting cross legged on the road. Woodlanders and vermin alike had been startled by the noise, peeking out of windows and hiding their little ones from seeing. A maid screamed at the sight of blood. Rigg kneeled by Foweller’s side.

“Ye… ye can stand, can’t ye, Fowel?” Rigg quavered. Foweller smiled. He was blissfully warm in this sunlight, his little reward for their early, cold start. He should have like to have stayed there and rested. But it was time to move on.

“Just needed… a moment to take it in,” he muttered and grasped Rigg’s paw. The big Skipper heaved his young charge upright, “We should go, Uncle Rigg.”

“Ye can make it to Redwall?”

“Got to get home, Uncle Rigg! Before anybeast tries to stop us. Sister Melina will have our breakfast ready… I have to see Brother Isidore. Maybe play with Tamarack and Bludd too.”

“What about Virrel?” Foweller could have sworn Rigg’s eyes were going moist.

“Leave him.” Foweller cast one more glance at the weasel. Virrel was spread-eagled on the road, glazed eyes staring blankly at the sun. A loaded flintlock pistol was still clenched in his paw.

“Ye’re fast, for a kit.” Rigg said, a trace of admiration in his deep tones.

“Not that fast. But he had a hangover,” Foweller replied. Rigg’s friendly grasp in one paw and the smoking wheel-lock in the other, Foweller suddenly felt much lighter. Neither otter looked back as they made their way back home.

~~~

The walls shone red in the morning light, the forest pressing the Abbey in on all sides. Foweller imagined the spiky fronds of the bushes were vermin spears in old times. To complete the illusion of a siege, he spotted the glint of a musket barrel peeking over the crenellations of the gatehouse.

“Ahoy! Not asleep at the gate, are ye?” Rigg boomed. An otter’s face jerked over the stonework, examining the travellers with sleep-ridden eyes. Foweller saluted politely. The guard disappeared from the wall and soon the heavy wooden door creaked open. Rigg yawned. “Mornin’, Remy.”

“Sister Melina has made some excellent cherry pies this morning,” Remy exclaimed, wiping the crumbs from her tunic. Foweller screwed up his face into an expression of childish revulsion.

“Cherries are gross,” he pointed out. Rigg chuckled and tried to muss the otter’s fur. Finding it a little too short, he patted the kit on the head instead.

“Aye, well if yer not plannin’ on much eatin’, maybe ye could take some vittles out for Brother Aloysius. It’s been a little too long since last time he collapsed from over-readin’,” Rigg suggested.

“Brother Aloysius is weird,” Foweller retorted, but Rigg did not let him off the hook.

“I think ye best run along an’ do him a kind service,” Rigg commanded. Foweller accepted the order with good grace, though his stomach voiced its own complaints.

~~~

Foweller was exhausted, though he told himself otherwise. His paws ached, his mind still echoing with the report of the shot he had fired on the lonely crossroads at dawn. He needed breakfast; lots of it. Then he could clamber into that hammock in the orchard and doze through the morning.

Psst!

No such luck.

Fowel!” Two arms wrapped about his waist and hauled him unceremoniously into the Abbey school. This early in the morning, the Dibbuns would be safely tucked in bed.

“I’m not sure you’ve got the hang of hide and seek, Tam,” Foweller joked. The vixen responded by swatting his nose and giving the windows a thorough check. Noel appeared, leaning in the doorframe to stand guard over the meeting. Foweller guiltily avoided eye contact.

“The Abbot might’ve seen you!” Tamarack exclaimed. Foweller’s eyes adjusted to their new hiding spot. Dimly lit and abandoned, with little dibbun-sized seats, stacked tablets of slate and a chalkboard.

“I’m not scared of him,” Foweller replied, tilting his head to examine yesterday’s lesson. It was some sort of battle plan. He could already see the teacher had got it wrong. He took the chalk and scribbled out the ballista. In its place came a stout, short-barrelled cannon. There. A mortar would be far more effective. And instead of flooding the castle’s foundations, the sappers should lay barrels of explosive powder.

“Fowel, you’ve got to stay clear of him. I… I might’ve let slip something. About you seeing him murder Mr. Andrew.” Tamarack winced as the chalk clattered and broke on the floor.

“That’s… a complication.” Foweller stared at the drawing he had corrected, seeking inspiration. “This cat in the tower. Who is it?”

“I don’t know, Fowel, don’t you understand? The Abbot could try and kill you next!”

“You know what this cat’s problem is?” Foweller tapped the little stick figure stoats on the castle’s battlements. “No forward offensive strategy. These stoats have fixed their bayonets, they need to close the distance and capture the artillery. They can’t hesitate now, or they’ve lost.”

“Foweller, will you shut up about the stupid picture for one minute?” Tamarack’s voice cracked. It was then Foweller noticed the shadow around her reddened eyes, the droop of her tail.

“You need rest. What have you being doing?” Foweller asked. Tamarack waved him off, blinking with weary exasperation.

“It’s complicated. Where’ve you been, anyway?”

“It’s complicated. Tam, we need to mobilise fast, or we’re going to end up like this cat in the tower. Maybe… I should show Isidore the pin. He’ll understand, if I explain what happened. I need him on my side. I’ll get Bludd too, any beast that we can trust. What forces can you muster?”

“Muster? Oh, we can trust Mr. Noel. You can’t be serious about Brother Isidore! He’s the Abbot’s beast through and through!” Tamarack balled her fists as if the Abbot were there with them. Foweller drooped.

“I have to try. If he’d rather kill me than help me… well, at least I’ll know where he stands.” Foweller clicked his claws, another friendly face coming to mind. “What about Uncle Duster?”

“This ain’t a war! You got to keep your head down. I don’t want to lose nobeast else.” Tamarack gritted her teeth. Foweller bared his fangs in return.

“Oh, isn’t it? So I should just skulk about until he finds me? I’ll be trapped like this poor sod!’ The chalk-drawn cat received a sharp tap from the otter’s paw. Tamarack ran her claws across the fur on her head, closing her eyes in surrender. “If I do nothing, I’ll have no friends left. Then no beast will stand up to Carter. Divide and conquer. He’ll kill me like he did Andrew.”

“Fine, fine! But for Martin’s sake, Fowel, don’t start nothing. We’ve got to… use stealth tactics.” Tamarack looked surprised at the military jargon that had slipped over her tongue. The words seemed to touch Foweller, his eyes shining and alert. He chuckled. Tamarack stifled a giggle and they were just kits again, playing hide and seek.

“I promise I won’t do anything rash.” Foweller held out his paw. Tamarack shook it firmly and slapped a paw on her fellow digger’s shoulder. Noel grinned. Foweller shifted his weight from one paw to another and grinned wryly back.

The Cat's in the Cradle

August 16, 2011

Aloysius and Saskia parted ways in the cellar, where the gatekeeper began his nightly headcount far too late for his liking. He had missed a few hours from the fire whiskey and assault, but by his best reckoning, it was near dawn, and Abbot Carter would be expecting his report soon.

Clinging to a ceiling beam, Aloysius chirped. In a corner of the cellar, the hedgehogs were stirring, each one of them accounted for. With a mental note and a nod, he left them to rouse on their own. He spared no time for morning greetings and chastisements; he had far too much to do.

In the early hours of the morn, the abbey was already bustling. The friars were preparing breakfast, the otters and squirrels were out on patrol, the infirmary maids were checking on patients, and too many beasts were missing from their beds. Aloysius hung from the outer rafters, watching the sun rise as a golden orb across the forest canopy beyond Redwall City. He had missed his chance—it was impossible to count the heads, now. There was nothing left but to count his loses and deliver his missing report. A fleeting thought came to him of lying. Carter was not a forgiving beast, and the bat feared the repercussions waiting for him. But he was no Dibbun with an excuse to hide behind. Whatever punishment lay in store he deserved, and it did well for his hubris to teach him not to follow silly adventures.

There was a gust of wind, and Aloysius turned his ears at the sound of claws scrabbling for purchase. A warm body hung next to him.

“I hate the sun, the sun,” Fyfe murmured beside him.

“It is not so bad so early in the morning, morning,” Aloysius replied.

“It is too bright, and hot, and my eyes hurt. Did you find your answers?”

“They only brought more questions, more questions that need more answers.” Aloysius looked at the sun, squinting his eyes as he watched it leave the bed of treetops and spill its light over the abbey walls. “I am sorry you came at such a troubling period, Fyfe.”

“As am I, am I. It is not often I get to see my kin, and Abbey Naming Days only come once a season. We will depart at sunset, sunset. Redwall has not been hospitable to us, and neither have you.”

Aloysius nodded. “You told me before to write the history, instead of storing it.”

“I did, I did.”

“The only time I ever tried to mold history with my wings, many beasts died, and a great city lost.”

Fyfe was silent, listening.

“When I left Bat Mountpit to seek the legends of Martin the Warrior, my first stop was the birthplace of his only love, Laterose of Noonvale. There I became their archivist, and later, advisor, when war knocked at their door.”

“You never told me…”

“The ash from those ancient records and stories followed me for miles, miles.”

“But they still remain in your heart, and in every heart you speak of them to. History is never lost, brother, it is just forgotten, forgotten.”

Aloysius closed his eyes. The sun had become too bright.

“Eilonwy loves your stories, your stories. She misses you.”

“How is she?”

“She is searching for her playmate. A little wildcat by the name of Bludd, Bludd.”

“They had better not be near my archives.”

“They are not your archives, brother, Brother.” Aloysius turned his head at the title. “They are everybeast’s. I did your count. There are five-hundred and thirty-four beasts in the abbey. How you can do this every night is a mystery to me, to me.”

“Fyfe, thank you, thank you.”

“We still depart at sundown. If the abbey is not too dangerous for my daughter now, it will be, it will be.” Fyfe laid a wingtip on his brother’s shoulder. “I hope for your sake you find your answers. It is never too dishonorable to run, not you, who hold Redwall’s history in your heart, your heart.” And then Aloysius found himself alone.

Opening his wings, Aloysius dropped from his perch and sought out Carter’s house. He wheeled through the air, letting the wind guide him on a lackadaisical path. It had been a while since Aloysius had ridden the winds for the simple enjoyment of flying, and he supposed he could afford the time to clear his head and ready himself for his report.

There was something in the air though, Aloysius noticed, as he came upon the southern wall. An ugly smell that reminded him of the Coffincreeper household moments before a funeral. Changing his course, Aloysius followed the odor, and as he came closer, determined it did not smell like the undertakers’ dwelling at all. This was more potent, more sinister, with no flowers and embalming fluids to mask the scent of death.

He came down upon a small glade. The sun’s morning light had not yet penetrated the thick canopy of leaves, but a soft blue glow surrounded him on all sides. He wondered for a moment if he had found the moon’s resting place after she had set, but he did not dwell long on such poetic fancies. The smell was overpowering. Aloysius chirped, and the glade erupted in a brilliant silver sheen. He found himself on a rocky outcrop, and little mushroom stems littered the rock and forest floor. Off to the side was a rotting log, covered with moss and small ferns that were beginning to sprout. Next to that was the still body of a small wildcat.

Aloysius’s chest seized up; his throat closed entirely. She was unrecognizable—her head had split, and dried blood formed hideous growths that her bandana could not hide. Stricken with shock and grief, he collapsed to the floor and crawled to her side.

“Oh my dear, sweet child, what have they done to you?” He could barely speak; his breath had not yet returned to him. All he could manage was a hoarse whisper. “What have they done to you?”

He cradled her in his wings, her beautiful, mauled body, and he rocked her, as though he were simply putting her to bed. She was so soft, and stiff, and cold.

“I’m sorry, sorry, for the archives.” He pulled her close, resting his head against her neck. Something crawled on him, and he flicked his ear, and it was gone. “It’s all right. I forgive you, you and Eilonwy both.”

His body shook as he fought the sobs that came unbidden. She was so young, so full of life and energy, and they had taken it away from her, and had not even spared her the decency of a proper burial. She was only a child.

“I never told you of Gingivere Greeneyes,” Aloysius said through his tears. “He was a wildcat, a wildcat who lived in Martin’s time. The son of Verdauga, the ruler of Kotir, and brother to the evil Tsarmina. But he was not like his sister…” He lifted his head, and stroked her broken forehead. Her eyes had not closed, and reflected a milky blue in the phosphorescent light. He brushed his wing over her eyelids, closing them as he would a finished volume.

“He was good, and cared for the baby hedgehogs Ferdy and Coggs when they were sealed in the dungeon next to his cell. When he was freed, he went east, east, and started a bloodline of good wildcats that lasted until Matthias’s time. They lived on a farm. I would have liked to take you there…” He choked. “And Ripple as well.”

Shifting her in his wings, Aloysius struggled to rise. Even though she was a young wildcat, he was a small bat, and she was nothing like the books in his archives.

“Come now, child,” he tried to say, but his heart was broken. “Let me take you back to the abbey. Eilonwy has been looking for you, for you.”

It was a long walk back to the abbey. Aloysius did not often use his feet, even in the great sandstone building, and there was no bag to place Bludd as he would often use for his books. She was heavy, and often he had to pause and shift the weight, but he would not leave her, not when she had been abandoned so callously. As he left the abbey forest, the few beasts that were going about their early morning tasks would stop and stare, but none offered aid to the tear-stained bat with a dead beast in his wings. It was a solemn and lonely progression.

Brother Isidore was waiting for him at Carter’s door. The rat stood as Aloysius approached, tapping the tobacco out of his pipe and placing the pipe in his pocket. He froze when he saw what was in the bat’s wings.

“Brother Aloysius,” Isidore began.

“I must speak with Abbot Carter,” Aloysius cried, stumbling to the ground. He did not drop her, he would never drop her. He hugged her close to his body. “I must speak with Abbot Carter.”

Isidore nodded and entered the house. A moment passed, and Carter was outside, Isidore on his heels.

“Brother Aloysius, what—”

“It’s Bludd, Bludd,” Aloysius wailed, presenting her broken body to the Father Abbot of Redwall Abbey. “Look at what they’ve done to her! She was only a child … a child!”

Carter went to Aloysius’s side, placing a paw on his wing, and another on Bludd’s chest. “Murder has breached our abbey walls. Brother Isidore, take her to the Coffincreeper household. She’ll be in good paws there.”

Brother Isidore stooped to collect the kitten, but Aloysius pulled her away. The rat laid a paw on his other wing, and Aloysius looked up. There was pain in his eyes, a sadness that he could not deny. He offered him the kitten. He could trust him; he was a Brother.

“Come inside, Aloysius,” Abbot Carter said as Isidore left with Bludd in his paws. “I’ll brew you some tea.”

They entered the dwelling and Carter led him to the kitchen, where he lit the small stove and put a kettle on to boil. Aloysius staggered. He felt so light without the young wildcat’s weight pulling him down. He clambered onto a chair by the table and laid his head in his wings, but a warm smell distracted his grief. Looking up, Carter was proffering blueberry scones. The bat reached out to accept one, but there was blood on his wingtip, and he refrained.

“My apologies,” Carter said softly. “Let me get you something.”

In a trice he was gone, then back with a moist cloth.

“Where did you find her?” the abbot asked.

Aloysius did not respond immediately. Instead, he wiped at his claws until the stale blood was gone, then at his wing where her head had rested. Carter waited patiently.

“She was in the forest, the forest by the southeast corner of the abbey,” Aloysius said, and took a deep breath. “It was a small glade, where the mushrooms glowed like the moon, the moon.”

“Was there anybeast else there? Any tracks, or evidence?”

Aloysius shook his head. “Her body was so cold. Oh Father, who could do such a thing?”

“A cruel beast, to be sure. Eat, my son; you look rather haggard.”

Aloysius took a scone, but he was not hungry. Still, he played with it and nibbled at the corner as an act of politeness.

“No doubt you have heard the rumours of a small uprising against this abbey,” Carter said softly. “Your brother Fyfe brought them, didn’t he?”

Still nibbling at his scone, Aloysius nodded.

“I’m afraid they may have found a way inside. Did you check the gatehouse records?”

“Two are missing, missing.”

“And that accounts for two deaths in the abbey. One by murder, the other, by his own paw.”

Aloysius lifted his head. “No,” he breathed.

Carter nodded. “Our friend Cobb took his life earlier this evening.”

The scone fell to the table. Aloysius felt like he was going to sick up.

“These are dark times we live in, my son,” Carter said. “Tell me, did Fyfe bring word of the kinslayer’s accomplice?”

Aloysius opened his mouth but before he could speak, the tea kettle screamed. Carter did not move. The bat’s eyes went to the kettle, watching the steam as it spewed forth. He didn’t know what to do. Betray Saskia, Tamarack, and Noel? If he could not possibly be wrong, that was what Saskia said. Duty was a mountain, and Aloysius found himself at the bottom of its chasm.

The otter grunted and went to retrieve the pot. The screaming stopped, and Aloysius was left to his own thoughts. Carter believed Bludd to have been murdered by the rebels, but something was missing, like a torn page from an ancient record. Why had Bludd been left to rot in the abbey forest, where she could not be found by a passing abbey beast? It was messy, too, and there had been no attempts to hide the body or make it seem like it was an accident. It was nothing like the firsts deaths, that had been dumped unceremoniously at the abbey gates. She at least would have been presented as a warning.

A steaming mug was placed before him. It smelled of chamomile. “Perhaps it will comfort your weariness,” Carter said, sitting back down. “By your clock, you should be readying for bed.”

“Thank you, Father,” Aloysius whispered, blowing on the steam and taking a sip. “Tell me, do you believe these traitors killed Bludd, Bludd?”

“Who else would it be, my son?”

Aloysius nodded; he had his answer. “Fyfe brought wind of a treacherous beast. The birds have left their roost, for there’s a hunter in the trees.”

Carter’s eyes grew wide. “Cassius…” He reached out and grasped the bat’s wing. “Thank you, my friend.”

The rest of their tea was spent over conversations of times gone past, of Raimun, and Ripple, and Bludd, too, for even the Abbot had not been spared her reckless behavior. They spoke of all the deaths, of Andrew and Cobb and Chamomile and Ruslen. Of Sister Sarah and Brother Xander, and Sister Thistledown, and everyone else, too.

And when they parted ways, it was in laughter and tears brought from sadness and good times. Aloysius did not return to the attic. His archivist’s mind had an itch, and he desired to scratch it.