Martin and the Mask

September 2, 2011

“Don’t you let this out of your sight, young digger!” Major Shanar tossed the muddied shovel out of the earthworks at the kit’s dozing form. Foweller started awake, his rudder thumping the mud with a wet smack. The shovel had been brand new, the blade sharp and bright.

“Sorry, Lock,” Foweller groaned.

Major, on duty. I think you should find a strap for that, eh, Fowel?” Shanar’s whiskers twitched into a smile.

“I’ve decided my shovel’s called Fowel,” Martin snickered, playfully twirling his own shovel. “So I can stick Fowel’s head into the mud if he starts jawing too loud.”

Foweller gave the stoat a baleful glare then tackled him to the ground. The bigger otter kit soon had his friend pinned.

“Aye, well mine’s called Martin. One day I’ll break it in half, to match your face!” Foweller growled. Martin looked indignant. The both of them started to cackle like little kits.

~~~

Foweller headed out of the tunnel. He was eager for this mission to come to an end. The open tunnel door gave him an uneasy feeling. If the Abbot found it, then they would all be at risk.

“Who goes there? Noel?” Isidore called from the cellar door, a dark silhouette against the moonlight. Foweller cursed and looked back into the tunnel. Merritt’s lantern was a pinprick, flickering and finally disappearing. “I know you’re there, boy.”

Foweller said nothing. He silently hoped Tamarack and Noel had heard this. Perhaps they could surprise the old rat as he came down the stairs.

“Noel, I saw your band of escapees. This is treason.” Isidore warned. Foweller’s face flushed as he tried an old trick from his days in battle. He slumped against one of the wine barrels and let out a sad sigh of surrender.

“Don’t struggle, Noel. If you will not see reason, then perhaps young Tamarack will. She is here also, is she not?” Isidore came down the steps, approaching the figure he had sensed in the shadows. Foweller tensed, his grip tightening around Martin. He pictured in his mind the sharp blow that would keep Isidore down whilst they escaped.

Foweller lunged forward, the shovel raised. In that instant, Isidore struck with the sword had held behind his back.

The sword cleaved the shovel apart with a loud crack and kept going into Foweller’s head. The otter sprawled heavily against the barrel with a sharp cry. The decapitated head of Martin clanged to the cold stone floor in defeat.

“The trouble with old soldier’s tricks, boy, is old soldiers know them,” Isidore growled.

“Aye… ‘member this’un?” Foweller forced the syllables out past his pain-wracked jaw, drew his pistol and fumbled to cock it. Isidore drew back in horror.

“No… No! Idiot boy! I would never… Foweller! My child…” Isidore dropped the sword and reached in the shadows for the otter. By the shaft of moonlight from the door, Foweller could make out sword’s lettering. “It only nicked you! It only nicked you, boy! Come here.”

“Gerroutta my sight…don’ wanna shoot…” Foweller slumped to the ground, the ruined remains of Martin falling from his limp paw. I…AM…THAT… The last word of the blade’s inscription was masked by his blood.

Foweller!” Tamarack screamed from the alcove. Noel gave an animalistic bellow and charged the old rat. Isidore was routed; his only choice was to retreat to his superior officer. Carter.

Isidore ran.

The cut was seeping blood into Foweller’s left eye. He could have sobbed; his body could have shaken with grief. The shovel, that heavy bit of wood and metal had been on his shoulder for four years. He would miss it. The handle could be replaced, but it would not be the same.

Foweller squeezed his eye tightly shut. He could hear Noel’s footfalls slow and hesitate as they neared. A rustle of cloth, Foweller squinted up at the dark face kneeling over him. The weasel’s paw held the back of his head up.

“’s gonna leave a mark,” Foweller muttered between clenched teeth. It did not hurt too much once the shock had worn off. Foweller felt his body going numb. He heard nothing for a while, but he had the light, floating feeling of being carried. They were out of the cellar, the air was cool and free again. The moon lit his face, giving Noel a good look at the damage.

“’S not so bad, Fowel. It’ll… just leave a scar. Might suit you,” Noel choked. Foweller closed his eye and went limp. For a moment he was peaceful, but the weasel shook him back to consciousness. “Foweller? Don’t you go nowhere.”

“Fowel, we need a… a serious talk about avoiding trouble,” Tamarack squeezed his paw. Foweller gave her an apologetic grin. “You stay with us, now.”

~~~

Foweller stirred, his claws weakly stretching to find his shovel. He had been ordered never to lose it, after all. The otter felt quite lost. Had he fallen asleep for a moment?

“Who’s that? Ripple? Martin?” Foweller asked, giving the blurry weasel an unfocused stare. A fox was there too, dabbing blood from his eye. “Where’ve you been… silly stoat…?”

“No, it’s Noel. Tamarack’s here too. We’re your friends, Fowel.” The weasel blinked back tears. Foweller frowned a little in confusion. It wasn’t Martin at all.

“Friends? I only know my brothers… and my sisters,” Foweller slurred, his voice growing drowsy, “Are you my brother?”

“Yes, Fowel,” Noel replied. He gasped, Foweller dimly realised his shivering paw was tight around Noel’s. For a moment he was scared, until he heard Ripple’s comforting voice on the breeze. Foweller gave a short chuckle.

“If a weasel can be my brother… this must be… Dark… Forest…”

Foweller rested in Noel’s arms.

Honesty Is Hardly Ever Heard

September 2, 2011

“Yer loony!” Remy exclaimed striding away even as Tamarack chased her across the lawn.

“Am not!” the vixen barked. “Just listen. Everything at dinner, all that about Mr. Case, it’s a lie. Abbot Carter’s the one who done it, and now he’s–”

She cut herself off as Remy whirled around, cheeks puffed up and webbed paws balled into fists. “Go away! Abbot Carter tol’ the otters ye attacked him an’ poor Brother Isidore. You an’ that…” She trailed off, and Tamarack felt her hackles rise.

“Noel didn’t have nothing to do with Ripple.”

“‘Noel’ is it?” Remy sneered. “Gettin’ familiar with an outsider, eh? Go home. See t’ buryin’ the dead an’ quit tryin’ t’ blame the Abbot fer every ill ye see.” The otter bit her lip and deflated with a sigh. “Plenty o’ ill these days without ye heapin’ it on the one beast tryin’ t’ protect our Abbey. It was that dirty Rigg who’s been killin’ beasts, an’ we’ve got him locked up now. An’ this Case fellow’s bad news. He’s corrupted an’ killed so many beasts at the Abbey already. Ye dug the graves!” Another sigh. “I’m sorry about Ripple an’ Cobb, Tam. I know ye were stuck on ‘em like mussels, but ye have t’ know how daft ye sound. Abbot Carter loves the Abbey… loves us all. He’d never hurt us. An’ yer sayin’ Martin didn’t exist? But I’ve seen his sword! Held it in me own paws, too.”

“It’s not that he didn’t… Brother Timothy’s…” She faltered, then brightened. “Come see Brother Aloysius with me. He can say it pretty-like. Honest, Remy, I ain’t just telling tales this time.”

The otter shook her head. “Go home, Tam,” she repeated before bounding away, making for the pond and water too deep to follow. Tamarack watched her go, ears and tail drooping.

Dreschner, Celia, Betsy Goldhammer, Ada, Willowtail, Edgar and Darcy Lock, Lacey Spackett, Keefe… and Remy made ten. Ten beasts just as certain as she had been a week ago of Abbot Carter’s honest intentions.

Remy didn’t want to believe it, though. The most Tamarack had to count on were Hagia and Harald, creatures who had seen fewer suns that even Bludd.

Tamarack gritted her teeth. There were still more beasts – more sensible, older beasts who wouldn’t believe the Abbot’s lies.

“Lass.” Isidore was not one of these beasts. “What are you doing out here?”

“Telling the truth.” The vixen crossed her arms and raised her snout. “And you, Brother Isidore?”

The rat’s face molded itself into a wry grin as he replied, “Washing.” The smile faded as he hefted the skep in his paws. “My bees have died, tainted by some disease. I thought you might like to know, though, the Abbot and I buried Cobb by the youngest alder at the forest edge. He blessed the spot.”

“The Abbot…?” That didn’t make sense. Why would he be so kind? She pressed a paw to her still-tender ribs, but did not lower her eyes from the rat. “I’m sorry I tried to hurt you on account of thinking you and him killed Mr. Cobb, sir.”

“But you’re not sorry you did it,” he finished.

“No, sir.” The vixen bared her teeth. “It were the right thing to do.”

He held his silence for a long moment, the heavy skep tilting his frame to one side. She nodded and turned to go when he said, “Many have died for beasts doing what is ‘right’ for the wrong reason, lass.”

Tamarack glanced back over her shoulder, but kept walking. He seemed changed somehow, his sweet honey fragrance soured with too much smoke and sulfur. “Many are dead already, sir.”


She laid the snowdrops and asphodel she’d stolen from Abigail’s garden on the mound of fresh earth beneath the alder. If the old vole was going to ignore her warnings and accuse her of being a nuisance, the vixen would earn the title honestly. A light breeze brought the smell of tobacco, earth, and sweat.

“What do you want, scraggtail?” she asked when Colm stood beside her, staring down at the grave and her meager offering.

“It’s time to come back to the graveyard, mudface,” he said, paws clasped behind his back. “Whatever Brother Aloysius has you studying, there’s a reckoning to be had over what happened the other night. And Grannie’s worried half out of her hide, though she ain’t said it.”

Tamarack reached out her paw to him, and he took it. When he started to pull her away, though, she held her ground. “I’m doing this for you. We done it for you from the start.”

“Eh?”

“Me and Mr. Cobb,” she explained, eyes fixed on the mole’s grave. “You was so scared of that cloakpin… I had to find out why.” The tears came unbidden, foolish things that she tried to blink away. “But then Brother Raimun, Mr. Andrew, Ripple, Mr. Cobb… Bludd. You know I’m telling the truth. The Abbot’s a murderer. That’s why you were scared. And I don’t know how to protect you or anybeast else because they don’t want to believe it.”

She felt him move closer, taking her muzzle in his other paw and turning it so she faced him. His maw was twisted into a frown.

“Why you got to be an idiot, Tamarack?”

“Don’t it suit me?” She tried to smile, reaching out to embrace him.

“Aye.”

They broke apart after a moment, the vixen rubbing her eyes as the elder fox cleared his throat.

“I don’t want you doing this for me,” Colm said, jabbing a claw at her nose. “I don’t want you doing this at all… whatever this is.” Before she could protest, he continued, “But short of tying you up and tossing you in the cellar, I suppose you’ll find a way thanks to that Noel fellow you been running with. You’re making me go gray up to the ears, mudface.” He pinched the bridge of his snout. “What can I do?”

Tamarack beamed. He was going to help them, but what could he do that wouldn’t get him in trouble, as well? Something quiet. Something secret. A thought struck her, and she dug into her pocket, producing the pamphlet Saskia had given her. “Ms. Saskia told me to leave this where beasts could read it. But we need more. Could you copy it? Get it to everybeast you can think of?”

Colm scrunched up his face. “I ain’t a writer, Tam.”

“Ida could do it! Or Grannie. Grannie would do it.”

“You plan on fighting the Abbot with words, then?” he grumbled, taking the pamphlet and shoving it into his own pocket.

The young vixen shook her head. “Naw. He’d win that soon as you like. We’ll fight him with Ms. Saskia’s ideas!”


“Any luck, Tam?” Foweller asked, forcing a cup of tea into her paws as soon as she entered the Archives. Noel sat ensconced among the stacks of scattered fairy tales and cobwebs while Aloysius had draped himself across his desk, snoring gently into Brother Timothy’s secret message.

“I’ve had better luck pulling teeth out of a worm,” the vixen growled as she slinked over to a tray of pasties perched upon a volume thicker than her brush. “Ran into Colm… said he’d try to help, but beasts don’t care. Hear them talk, you’d think bodies popping up in the spring were natural as daisies. Least it ain’t bad for business. How about you two?”

The little otter glared at his tea for a moment. “Sister Delores thinks I’ve gone barmy. Told me I was shouting absolute nonsense and needed a lie down. Huh! If they hadn’t shuffled Uncle Duster off to detention along with Rigg for starting that fight, we’d have given her what for!”

“Sister Saffron and Brother Abel tried to get a couple of the otters to throw me out of the Great Hall,” Noel added. “The beasts I managed to talk to before that just told me I should’ve run off when Virrel did.” His features tightened, and Tamarack looked away. Colm was no hero, but he was a fair sight better at brothering than Virrel had been. At least nobeast wanted him dead… yet. She grabbed another pasty and went to curl up beside the weasel.

“If Major Shanar were here, he’d have everybeast lined up in smart order, ready to march out at dark. Civilians.” Foweller spat the word as he might a curse.

Whether by chance or some innate sense of impropriety in his archives, Aloysius shuddered into consciousness, maneuvering his splayed wings so that he could push himself up and turn to look at them. He blinked, then chirruped, the high-pitched wave making Tamarack flinch. “I see you are returned, returned.” There was a hint of exasperation in his voice. “I pray the Fates brought sense to the beasts with whom you spoke.”

They took it in turns to relate their failed excursions, Foweller in the infirmary, Noel in the main building, and Tamarack around the lawns and smithy. Their midnight plan to spread Timothy’s message, galvanize Redwallers to turn against Carter and break the lockdown, seemed little more than idiocy in the noonday light.

“I talked to every Abbeybeast I could think of,” Tamarack growled, ripping into her second pasty in frustration.

“Me, too,” Foweller echoed.

Noel nodded his agreement.

“It would seem there is a simple solution to our troubles, then,” Aloysius replied. “If the beasts who make their homes here will not listen to madness, madness, perhaps those whose families and friends lie beyond these walls will.”

Tamarack’s jaw dropped. It couldn’t possibly be that easy… could it?

“It wouldn’t matter to them why they’re leaving,” Foweller said. “They’d only care that they had a way out. Oh, I say, that’s brilliant!”

“And it would only take one of them,” Noel continued.

The vixen thrust her pasty in the air, narrowly avoiding the weasel’s head. “Mr. Merritt and Ms. Saskia! They could lead them out, and then they’d be able to tell everybeast in Redwall City what’s going on in the Abbey. Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius could get all the information they want out from there with their print shops. What do you think, Brother Aloysius? Have you seen Ms. Saskia since last night? Would’ve thought she’d be done with Mr. Merritt by now.”

“Ah…” The bat fidgeted, wings rustling as his eyes darted to the books, pamphlets, and paper scattered about his lair. “No, no. I have not seen her. You might find Master Merritt in the Guest Dormitories, though.”

“Right.” Tamarack, Noel, and Foweller stood. “We’ll be back soon, Brother Aloysius. Don’t you worry about nothing.”

“I never worry about nothing, about nothing,” he muttered. She stopped to ask him what he meant, but Foweller shoved her out the door.


“Hst! Mr. Merritt,” Tamarack hissed as they peaked into the peddler’s shared room. The ferret sat reading one of his books while a number of other guests played cards at a table near the far wall. He glanced at her, then went back to his reading with a half-hearted motion to enter. The vixen, weasel, and otter filed in.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Ms. Tamarack?” he wondered, carefully marking his place and setting the tome aside. It seemed strange that he would stop at a question instead of plying his wares, but Tamarack pressed forward as the ferret was casting a leery eye on Foweller.

“We were looking for Ms. Saskia, but you could… What’s the matter?” At the mention of the hare’s name, the ferret had grimaced. “Mr. Merritt?”

“She’s gone.” When they only stared at him, has maw flashed into a sneer, all jagged edges and yellow sheen. “Dead. Deceased. No longer among us. Tipped her cap to old Basil Stag Hare. Shall I go on?”

“No.” It was Cobb all over again, that terrible hatred welling up in her, threatening to split her from snout to tail. Bludd had been bad enough – an innocent kitten with seasons ahead of her. But Saskia was too clever for death, too careful with her words and thoughts. Noel’s paw intertwined with her own, then. She saw the mole’s goggles on her bed. They couldn’t do it again, even if they were sure this time. There was too much at stake now. They had a plan and they had to keep to it.

“Gabe and I,” Merritt began, voice hollow, “we were walking at night and heard something near the orchard. When we went to look, Isidore was shoving her body in a hole.” He bared his teeth again, though he wasn’t looking at them. “I couldn’t speak a bloody word.”

Isidore. He’d killed Saskia, buried her, and had the gall to… Tamarack had apologized to the dirty wormtail not three hours ago. Had he gone to wash Saskia’s blood off his habit, too? Even with the weasel’s comforting presence beside her, she could not help the snarl building in her throat as a portrait of the rat, carefree in the afternoon sunshine, painted itself in her mind.

Foweller seemed taken aback, as well, moving to pat Merritt’s arm. The peddler shook his head, drawing in a deep breath. “I take it from the gossips that you three are trying to expose the conspiracy our mutual friends, Julian and Cassius, have been working at for seasons now? You’ve wracked up quite the body count…” He was silent for a moment, the frost in his words hanging like icicles from the Great Hall eaves. “I’ll give you this, though, you’ve certainly done a fine job at rocking dear Carter’s boat. I’m surprised you’re still alive when better beasts aren’t, really.”

“We’re gettin’ beasts out,” Noel explained, “tonight.”

Merritt eyed them before leaning forward. “And how would you do that. It was bad enough trying to get out with the lockdown, the Skipper and his little exceptions not withstanding. Now Carter’s made his grand stand, there’ll be armed otters and squirrels in every corner of the Abbey come dusk.”

“Numbers!” Foweller declared. “Rally ‘round enough desperate beasts, and you’ve an army in the making.”

“They’ll need weapons.”

“They got claws and teeth, sir,” Tamarack pointed out.

Something like a bark of laughter escaped his lips before his muzzle tightened into a grim smile. “We’ll not fade quietly, eh?”

“Quiet as a firecracker come Summer Solstice,” the vixen retorted. “Abbot Carter don’t got no say in Redwall City. Ms. Sas… You and the others can tell them what’s been happening. And you won’t sound loony like Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius.”

“You’ve noticed that about them, then?”


Tamarack had flitted through the afterdark shadows of Redwall since dibbunhood. She could sniff her way across the lawns and into the forest, the kitchens, the bakery. Each held a scent so particular that the sharp blue paths lit by the moon acted more a hindrance than a help to the senses. Now, as thirty-odd beasts stole toward the cellar with only one hooded lantern between them, those pools of light became sinister, open water where serpents and pike might lurk.

“Stop, stop!” The whisper of Aloysius overhead brought Tamarack and Foweller, the pair leading the line, to a halt. She felt the delicate wash of the bat’s echoes as he listened for the Abbey guards. “Our first obstacle lies ahead, lies ahead,” he hissed, as he swooped down to them. “Tanbark, Naida, and Brother Abel stand guard beneath the belltower.” A quartet of hedgehogs moved forward without a word. “Be gentle, be gentle with them. They are good, honest beasts.”

Merritt had pushed his way to the front. “Just like Abbot Carter and Brother Isidore?”

“Be gentle,” Aloysius repeated one last time, ears going flat as the hedgehogs rounded the tower. Tamarack wanted to tell him they would not hurt the guards badly, but he had lied to them about Saskia, had let them believe she was alive. The vixen could forgive the archivist’s cowardice, but she would not count it as a kindness to be repaid.

They encountered three more groups of guards, leaving each a bloody, unconscious mess in their wake. Tamarack, Foweller, Aloysius, and Noel kept well clear, though Foweller held his gun at the ready, one shot to silence any watcher. There would be debts enough to pay for this without marking themselves for a swift hanging.

One by one, everybeast crept down the stairs of the cellar, Tamarack blocking out the stars as she closed the door on the last of them.

“What in the name of port are you lot doing down here?” The vixen’s ears pricked as a meaty thwack followed Ambrosia’s exclamation.

Noel released the hood on the lantern, drawing out the queer shades that inhabited the cellar. As the weasel walked toward the tunnel, containing their light within one of the alcoves, Tamarack welcomed the darkness – all the better to ignore Ambrosia’s huddled form and smashed muzzle. The Head Cellarhog had always been a jolly creature. She hadn’t deserved that.

“Is this it?” Merritt asked.

“Aye,” Noel said, setting down the lantern and motioning to a few others. They shoved the wine rack in, revealing the pitch black maw of the tunnel. “Head due north. At the door, rap three times. The password is ‘The bells of St. Ninian’s still chime at midnight.’ Tell them Noel and Tam sent you.”

“Mr. Merritt should lead,” Tamarack piped up. “Ms. Selendra’s there, too. She’ll stop them shooting you. Maybe.”

“You make it so hard to refuse,” Merritt scoffed as beasts shuffled into the tunnel, becoming a sea of eyes that watched and waited for the ferret and the lantern.

“I hope you will hold to your word, your word when you are outside the walls of this abbey, Master Merritt,” Aloysius said. Merritt stopped short. “I know many who would turn away once free, free.”

“I’m a merchant, Brother Aloysius. My word is my bond. And I would ask something of you in return.”

“What do you want?” Noel asked, brow furrowing.

Merritt’s muzzle scrunched up, and he looked away from them. “Gabriel. Tell him I’m coming back for him. I don’t want him to do anything… reckless. You’re all free to, though.”

“We’ll tell him so long as you do your duty,” Foweller assured with a sharp salute.

The ferret returned the motion with a roll of his eyes.

The vixen joined the little otter’s farewell. “Fates guide you, sir.”

Merritt quirked a brow, face illuminated by the fire’s glow as he moved to close the wine rack the rest of the way. “I think a lantern will do well enough, Ms. Tamarack.”

Tell a Sacred Story

September 2, 2011

“He’s not going to like this,” said Noel, but his voice creaked with excitement. Even the sour taste that dinner had left in his mouth couldn’t stifle the revelations jumping on his tongue. The lawn between Great Hall and the main doors of Redwall Abbey, where the archive nestled snug opposite the Gatehouse, had never felt wider than at that moment.

“Oh, go on,” said Tam. “It’s a proper riddle, Brother Alo’ll love it. And now we’ve solved it, all we need is for Martin to make one of his famous appearances.”

“What’s that?” Foweller nudged the spade of his shovel with an idle fist.

“You know the old stories – Martin’s spirit appears to brave beasts when Redwall’s in trouble. Fates know it’s about time he showed up.” Tamarack leaned in front of the door just as they arrived, her broad grin barring the way. “You haven’t had any dreams lately, have you, Mr. Noel?”

“Wish I could say so.” Noel chewed his lip and pushed open the door.

Aloysius, upside-down and wrapped tight in sleep, could only be roused after an effort. Two misty, red-rimmed eyes did not hide their disapproval at the onslaught.

“Master Noel,” he croaked, and, after a petite harrumph, “Foweller, Miss Tamarack. Would it surprise you to learn you have even invaded my dreams, my dreams?”

“Must have been a good one, then,” said Noel.

“We think we’ve solved the riddle,” said Foweller.

Tamarack’s prediction came true. Alo swooped from his perch down onto the floor, scuttling along the tiles to his desk. As he went, the Heraldry appeared from where it had been pressed against his heart.

“Well?” he demanded. “Tell me, tell me!”

“We thought about what we decided before we went off to dinner.” Tamarack recounted the points of discussion on her claws. “The page, the line, and the word have got to be talking about the actual pages, lines, and words of the Heraldry, right? So there must be a code hidden in the book itself.”

“Yes, but the sequence – impossible to tell from such gibberish, gibberish.” Aloysius cut short his own sigh and darted his gaze over the trio, searching for an answer.

“We think it’s a number trick,” said Noel. “‘I am that is’, we know that’s Matthias. In a lot of the bum poetry they print on the outside they call him Martin’s second coming.”

“And ‘churchmice’ sounded like it meant Timothy himself,” said Tamarack. “And you said that Tess was his twin sister. Two churchmice!”

“That just leaves the grandson.” Noel crossed his arms and slumped down into his coat. “And that’s the part we can’t figure out.”

But Aloysius threw himself out of his seat, sending an eruption of books and balled-up paper flying across the room.

“Martin!” he squealed. “By Martin, it’s Martin! You see – you see, you see – after Matthias there was Mattimeo. He married Timothy’s sister Tess, and Matthias became a grandfather when they had a son – a son they named Martin the Second.” At the blank stares of his pupils-turned-riddlers, Aloysius could only bumble with ecstasy. “Twos! They are all twos, twos! Just like the record itself, two hundred and twenty-two. How blind we have all been!”

“So what do you think?” said Noel. “Page two, line two, word two?”

“Likely it is more than that, Master Noel. The Heraldry is quite a book – I expect Timothy hid quite a message there for us, for us.” Only Aloysius’s voice was still with them. He had returned to his desk headfirst, digging out quill, ink, and paper. When he reemerged his face was that of a bat far younger than Noel remembered. “Now – let us begin.”

Aloysius opened the book to its second crinkled, withering page, and traced one dainty claw along the second line to its second word.

“Well, what is it?” cried Tamarack.

“Very promising, promising. ‘The’.” Aloysius squinted up at his companions, across a distance of only a few inches where their heads had packed together over his shoulder. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but this is a task best left to one dedicated historian, historian. Do not be so downcast! It will not take long. You may return within the hour.”

* * *

Noel could remember a time when the walls whispered his name. They breathed with the spirit of the peaceful warrior, the wanderer whose journey had come to an end. In the first few weeks of his extended stay at Redwall, a lockdown had seemed a pleasure.

Today the walls stared down at him, stern and lifeless. The red sandstone had turned murky brown in the twilight. They encroached on his soul.

Dawdling in the grass outside Aloysius’s study, Tamarack and Foweller were a welcome comfort. Most of their hushed and fervent chatter was spent daring one another to suggest what secrets the message would unveil.

“Maybe it is a prophecy.” Noel traced a dream-cloud in the dust between his footpaws. “It might even mention us.”

“I bet it says Carter is actually half-weasel,” said Foweller.

“Nah. He’s far too ugly for that.”

“How long ago did Brother Timothy live, Mr. Noel?” asked Tamarack.

Noel shrugged.

“Sorry. Most of what I know’s about Martin. I didn’t even remember there was a second one.” He sneaked a grin at Foweller’s shovel. “Or a third.”

“They’re all the same at the end of the day.” Foweller beamed. “Ridding the world of vermin, one dirty murderous weasel at a time.”

If they had not followed that with a pause, if somebeast had thought of something else to say, Noel might not have made the connection. Tamarack looked away, as if she had heard his heart go silent.

“Foweller,” he breathed. “Virrel – was it you that….”

The little otter seemed to perceive for once that this weasel had a heart. Apprehension tarried on his face only an instant before disgust shoved its way past.

“A beast with half a brain ‘twixt his ears would be glad. Rigg said that when you found out about Ripple, you -” Foweller made as if to get up and leave, but just turned the other way in his rudderless seat.

“I’m not sorry he’s gone.” It didn’t surprise Noel to admit it, but it shamed him. “I wish I could be, but all I feel’s…relief. I feel free. I….” He lowered his head. “I just wanted him to be me brother. But he never was that.”

Foweller reached into the dust and grasped Noel’s paw. When Noel looked into his face he saw it had changed like a turning tide, full of grin and mayhem once more.

“Soldiers are brothers,” he said. “They’re bound in blood and fire. There’s nothin’ stronger.”

Noel squeezed his paw in return. Tamarack stood over them, nodding back toward the archives.

“C’mon,” she said. “Curfew’ll start soon. May as well pester Brother Aloysius while we still can.”

* * *

The archive had not changed since they left, still untidy and raging with dustclouds – yet there was something newly broken in the atmosphere. Noel and Tam exchanged a glance. Foweller bolted forward.

When they reached Aloysius’s desk they found only the bat, still alone and still alive. He cringed and trembled and did not acknowledge them.

“It was nothing, wasn’t it?” Tamarack mumbled. “Just gibberish, like you said.”

“Worse than that. Lies, lies. Callous lies.” Aloysius strangled the paper in his claws. “It says – it dares to suggest – our Martin, our guiding spirit -”

Noel reached out a paw.

“Let me see.”

“It is absurdity.” Aloysius yielded his notes without argument, eager to give them up. “A dead end, dead end. Brother Timothy must have been no more than a charlatan.”

“No.” Before Noel’s eyes had finished tumbling down the page, he too was shaking. Just like love, he recalled, he could sense the truth.

The letters grew scrawling and weak as Aloysius had watched his faith crumble away. Noel’s voice did the same as he read aloud:

The Society of Martin formed soon after his death. He was not buried in secret, but with fanfare at Redwall’s heart. Those who remained swore to follow the ways of Martin and the Woodlander’s Code.

Time passed. War and famine challenged Redwall. Hope failed.

Fables of Martin told in Mossflower became truth to many. Visitors came telling of miracles and visitations. Inspired, Saxus enshrined legends in recorded history. It was accepted, then taught, that he came to heroes in dreams. Prophecies were concocted. All forgeries and fiction. But faith in Martin revived.

Falsehoods were discovered many times by scholars. Those who found the truth had to choose: die or join. History was rewritten to eliminate these incidents from the record. Soon only beasts selected by the order were allowed to hold positions of leadership, to minimize exposure.

Treaties with vermin tribes made Redwall neutral ground. War came only when the order thought to frighten abbeybeasts into submission. Salamandastron ensured damage was not excessive. Wars did not break out, they were organized. The rat general and fox slaver broke the agreements.

This writer’s brother makes demands: vermin must never enter Redwall, must be destroyed when possible. Much disagreement resulted. Society, among which this scribe is shamefully counted, nearly split. Compromise that vermin will be called enemies of Redwall, but when abbeybeasts grow too content vermin are summoned to carry out what has been made their ancestral duty.

This one knows not if Martin truly lived, but reliquary holds treasures of fondest heroes, alongside names of those who defied the order. The sword remains. This Recorder gives you what truth is known. He begs who reads this to learn the rest.

If the walls of Redwall had been tightening around Noel before, they were collapsing on him now.

There were no questions in him anymore. He sensed there were still answers left to be found, but they were faraway hopes, stylized ideals, only silhouettes of reality. In the absence of his continual dogged assault on the truth, only Foweller’s innocent query made it up to the goal line.

“I thought there were only two churchmice,” he said. “If Timothy had a brother, too, then the words must be wrong.”

“Mattimeo was Timothy’s brother-in-law,” said Aloysius. “The rat and the fox are Cluny the Scourge and Slagar the Cruel. It appears the effects of the war and his enslavement as a Dibbun drew vengeance from his heart, his heart. Before then, this Society appears to have had genuine intentions.”

“They lied.” Noel’s throat was raw, as if the message had poisoned him on its way out. The others were still crowded round him, their eyes fixed on him and on the sheaf in his paws. He felt like a clown and a broken creature. “Martin’s dead. He always has been. Maybe he never even -”

There was a terrible resolve in the way Noel’s pawsteps took him toward the door. He didn’t know where he was going.

“Stop, Master Noel.” Aloysius’s voice reached him as if from a great distance, but on the verge of the doorway Noel lingered to obey. “Martin did exist. I do not know to what reliquary Brother Timothy refers, but he is right. The Warrior’s paws still held that sword that has seen so much bloodshed. This…this may redefine our faith, but it does not destroy it, destroy it.

“We do not,” Aloysius gulped back tears, “we do not need dreams. Even the early Society knew this. They lived by the Code, the Code. As must we all.”

Noel turned back to face him, leaning against the doorframe for support.

“Nobeast will believe this,” he said.

“Perhaps not, but Brother Timothy has made a request. I…I think it only polite to honor it, honor it.”

“To learn the truth.” Noel still struggled to hold himself upright, but his smile shone bright and strong. “I can do that.”

There once lived a rat called Iphigenia. She was not good or kind, like some children, and she was not especially pretty. But Iphigenia was clever and knew to wear practical shoes, and sometimes her uncle let her ride on his shoulders, so life was finer than lace or sweet cake or the stars at night.

Iphigenia loved her uncle. She knew he was the sort of beast to tell stories about, and to be certain there were more stories of him than grains of sand on the southern plateau. In the fashion of a tale he was brave and gallant, and in the fashion of a tale his brother was not.

Iphigenia’s uncle led a horde, and he divided the spoils with this brother. Iphigenia’s uncle ruled fairly, and his brother gambled and drank. Iphigenia’s uncle was handsome and sweet, and his brother was brawny and boorish. And while the brother’s winnings kept her in fine silks and cozy blankets, she could never truly love him; he was not the one to teach her to navigate, or to sing her songs.

As any child of the Abbey knows, the horde will never win. This is a true thing, true as bees buzzing and apple-cores and your own secret heart.

Iphigenia’s uncle died. On that night, when fire and shouting and arrows rent the quiet of her dreams, the brother came to her. “Daughter,” he said, “you must be swift and silent. This is not our night to die. We are going as far north as north may go, where no beast will know our names.”

Iphigenia took her father’s paw, for what else could she have done?

Blood in the orchard, blood on his claws, blood wherever he looked no matter how he scrubbed it from his fur. It had been easy to bury Saskia in the cess; it had been easy to let Foweller and Noel run; it had been satisfying to lock Rigg away. But to sit now and watch the clouds made his gut ache.

Carter had given him something after the skirmish with Duster. The Abbot had raged and almost wept, but he could not draw even with Isidore. He had Tompkins’ death, and then the printer’s; Isidore upheld their bargain. Foweller walked free. Carter turned conciliatory, stroking Isidore’s burnt paw and calling him friend, and finally he presented his gift.

In the orchard, Isidore drew it from its wrappings. The sword did not look the way it had in Carter’s cellar. Now, by the harsh light of morning, he saw it was very old and battered where it had met the enemy’s blade. His stomach twisted. What had he done, to have this?

“Brother, brother,” the wind whispered. “Tell me your troubles.”

Isidore flinched. “Aloysius.”

The bat hung in Foweller’s pear tree. His wings unfurled like a sail. Isidore’s paw went to the sword, but Aloysius bore no weapon– he only landed before Isidore and bowed. “Will you not say? Will you unburden yourself, brother, brother? Tell me of Saskia.”

“I have done only what is just.”

“Justice, justice? Then dust and ashes as I am, allow me to speak before your mercy, mercy.”

“I have done only what was asked.”

“Then I ask, I ask your mercy and not the beast that scorns me, brother, brother– why have you done these things?”

Isidore trembled; Isidore choked on the stone in his throat. “I have the duty to rid the Abbey of corruption. I have no answers for you. You cannot understand me,” he said. “You cannot understand what I’ve seen or what I’ve done.”

Alo ducked his head in deference. “I am only a historian. There is much I do not understand. Shall we speak of history?”

“No. Leave this place.”

“Then I shall.” He spread his wings. “But brother, brother, when Veil Sixclaw poisoned Sister Myrtle– did the Order take vengeance upon him, or simply cast him away from this place of peace?”

“Poison of the mind is different from poison of the body.”

“Then, brother, brother, it’s good to know you’re willing to bear that weight.”

Before Isidore could do anything, before he could even step towards Aloysius, the bat had winged away. Isidore clutched the hilt of Martin’s sword. He swept an arc in the air, once, twice, then buried the blade in the earth.

So it was that Iphigenia and her father came to the northern coasts. Once a great fortress ruled there; then an ailing family of ferrets; then a princedom of merchants. Of these, the fox Tyrell was the greatest.

Her father joined his service. After seasons running from Painted Ones and toads and what had happened on the plateau, he dressed her in purple and red and gold. He served her tea in cups delicate as brittle leaves. He shod her with silk slippers, though she had always worn practical shoes and wept to surrender her last pair.

He did not speak with her, much; children and fathers have little in common, for there is always a river of age between them and not all beasts know how to ford it.

Her father was content to let her be, and this is his story now. For Tyrell, he did all that he had done in his brother’s service: gambled, drank, and fought.

Every beast in a tale desires something. As children desire freedom and crones desire beauty, Tyrell desired New Noonvale.

The thought of dinner sickened Isidore, but he attended. The smell of pottage and fish clung to him like a cloud of perfume. He took his seat at Carter’s side, and searched the hall for Foweller: there, yes, the otter strutted defiantly, and Noel and the Coffincreeper kit walked with him. He could forgive this. Foweller was safe enough to devour a chunk of almond-crusted trout without waiting for grace.

The schoolmistress waved at Carter for attention. “Father,” Redronnet said, “Father, some of my students tell me they have a song to sing. Will you allow it?”

“A song?” Carter clapped his paws. “Well, my children, by all means. I should love to hear it.”

A stoat and a gawky young squirrel leapt to attention. The squirrel had barely grown out of dibbunhood; his voice was half a squeal. “It’s my song, not Hagia’s. I wrote it and learnt it myself. I just want you to know. All right?”

“Harald, I never!” the stoat said. She tugged his sleeve. “I done it too, Father Abbot. If anything I’m the one learnt it to him. He ain’t had a thing to do with any of it.”

“Of course, of course,” Carter said. “But sing it and we shall credit you both.”

The pair began.

Cat in the cradle and mole in the ground,
Brothers of Redwall are dutifully bound,
By oath and by sword, by habit, by deed
By Abbot, by Martin, by rule and by creed
Cat in the cradle and mole in the ground,
Brothers of Redwall are dutifully bound
To make peace and keep it, sow peace and reap,
At morn upon waking til eve upon sleep
Govern and make graves, tend orchard and tomb–

Sister Redronnet interrupted. She yanked Hagia’s ear, and the stoat shrieked. “You stop this immediately.”

“I done it, I done it,” Hagia cried. “For Abbess Vodola and Daithi– ow!

Carter rose. “Let go of her. Now, Sister. To order, all of you.” He could not quiet the crowd, and so he shouted. “Order!”

He exhaled raggedly. “I had hoped never to say this.

“But it is clear we harbor a rebel element in the Abbey. For some time I have known of a plot by the murderer Julian Case, a plot to seize the Abbey by force. Children, he would use even children!

“Quiet. Order! It pains me to say it, but lockdown is not enough. I must enforce a curfew. And I would encourage you all to report suspicious behavior to me, directly. If anyone has tried to leave, or reach the outside, if anyone is somewhere they should not be– tell me.

“Quiet. Please. I want peace in this Abbey. Those who break the rule shall be dealt with accordingly. Sister Redronnet, I trust you can attend to young Hagia.”

Through all of this, Isidore stood by the Abbot. He kept his paws clenched tight, wringing the skirt of his habit, and he watched Foweller. The kit glared, though whether at him or Carter Isidore did not know. At dinner’s end, he reeled homewards as though drunk and finally, finally wept.

New Noonvale burned and the brother watched. He stood in the old archives, listening to paper crumble into ash. Jeweled covers lay at his feet like stones in a ruined foundation. He only nudged them aside.

Iphigenia was gone, fled on the eve of battle for reasons he could not know. She left a doll-shaped space in his life, this beautiful, delicate creature– left all that he had given her, or she had been stolen away, or she had disappeared to punish him.

He followed a strange set of tracks in the ash: ones that appeared, disappeared, appeared again as if their maker had leapt yards at a time. They led from the archives into an orchard; there the brother found papers, broken branches, and finally a sobbing, heaving little body draped over a pile of books.

“Please,” the bat said, “spare me. I am only a historian, my brother, brother; I ask your mercy. If I can I will repay it tenfold, tenfold.”

He let the bat go. He even gathered the books, though he could not read them. He walked by apple trees, through thickets of blackberry, past little gardens and the streamlets that fed them.

He came to rest in a grove full of hives, and there he thought what to do next.

A Loose Seam

August 31, 2011

The door to the archives burst forth with an unexpected clatter. Aloysius jumped from his perch with a squeak, spilling his inkpot over the tome he was studying before he could react. In haste, he removed the pot and dabbed at the page with his habit, but half the well had emptied, and the page was ruined.

Taking care first to place protective sheafs astride the ruined page, he turned in fury towards Noel and Foweller. The pair were whooping and hollering as if they had just won a campball match, with those wide grins on their faces and rubbing their bodies against one another in typical male fashion. Aloysius never cared for sports, and now he had another reason.

“Foweller! Master Noel!” Aloysius hissed, fluttering their way before landing hard on the ground, his wings spread before them.

Their grins vanished as soon as they saw the bat’s livid face.

“Brother Aloysius,” Noel began.

“Knock first, Master Noel, as any courteous beast would do, would do before disturbing a beast at his work.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“Well I didn’t mean to spill ink on Brother Timothy’s compendium, but it seems we’re all filled with surprises, surprises.” The words were out of his mouth before he had meant to speak them, and regret filled him as Noel’s face fell. Foweller grasped the back of his neck and looked away. Aloysius sighed. “My apologies. It seems these past few days has taken quite a toll on me.”

“You haven’t slept yet, have you?”

Aloysius stood, curling his wings around himself. His habit was damp with ink, but he tried not to think about it. “I have not, have not. But then, it seems neither has she.” He nodded to Tamarack, curled up as she was beside his desk. She had stirred with the commotion, but aside from a whimper, she wasn’t bothered too deeply.

“Tam’s been keeping you company?”

“Indeed. I requested her leave from grave duties on account of recent,” he faltered, “events.”

“I’m surprised Larch allowed it.” Noel had a questioning look, but he didn’t press, for which Aloysius was thankful.

“On the contrary, contrary,” the bat said, keeping the conversation on Tamarack, lest Noel become more intrigued. “Larch was delighted Young Tamarack was turning to her studies.”

Somewhere during their chat, Foweller had escaped the bat’s field of vision. Aloysius squeaked in a few directions until he spied the otter tossing a capped inkwell in the air. His hackles rose on pure instinct. “Foweller,” Aloysius called, “be careful, please. I can’t have that breaking.”

“I’m just playing!” Foweller said, tossing the small pot in the air at a new height. He had to stumble over a few scattered books to catch it.

Aloysius felt as if he was going to sick up. On the next toss, the bat took off in the air, snatching the pot at the peak of its throw. He landed at his desk, where the inkwell went promptly into a drawer. “That is not yours to play with, play with! Now if you please, and you have nothing better to do, do kindly take your leave.”

Foweller gave a goofy grin, which only irritated him more.

“Come on, Foweller, I’ll catch up with you later,” Noel said. The otter saluted and bolted for the exit, and Aloysius had quite a time turning a blind eye as he bounded over scattered books and papers.

“Thank you Noel. I don’t have quite the knack with young ones as you do, you do.”

“It’ll get worse with age and studies. Have you found anything?”

“I’m afraid not, not,” Aloysius said as he sat down properly at his desk. “There are clues, clues to the secret that lies within the Heraldry, but I’m afraid we are at an impasse.”

“In what way?”

“Brother Timothy mentions writing two hundred and twenty-two entries as abbey recorder, but my compendium only lists two hundred and twenty-one.”

“Could you have missed one?”

“Impossible,” Aloysius scoffed. “The official abbey records was my first big project as historian. I scoured these archives for every one, every one I painstakingly transcribed into this very volume. No, Noel, if Brother Timothy had a two hundred and twenty-second record, I’d have it, have it.”

The archivist didn’t need to see Noel to hear the intake of breath that would soon become an argument. “And even if I had,” the bat said before Noel could speak, “it would be impossible to find with the archives in their current state. It is useless, useless!” He slammed the compendium closed, wincing as he remembered the spilt ink, still damp and bleeding.

Noel was silent, but Tamarack was not. The young vixen stirred from her slumber, stretching her limbs and giving a wide yawn as she recalled where she was.

“Noel?” She blinked at the weasel.

“Mornin’, sunshine.” Noel grinned.

Tamarack stretched a second time before she stood, peering over Aloysius’s shoulder at the closed volume on the desk. “What’s going on?”

“Old Brother Case has us chasing doomwytes,” Aloysius said. His tone would have made any dibbun scrunch their face.

“Brother Alo’s mad because there’s only two hundred and twenty-one entries in his compendium, instead of two hundred and twenty-two.”

Tamarack yawned once more, digging her paw pads into her eyes. “And why’s that a bother?”

“We are missing the last entry, entry,” Aloysius said.

“Well, we only need the two hundred and twenty-second, right?” Tamarack’s voice was hopeful. “What’s to say there ain’t one missing in the middle?”

“The last entry in this compendium tells nothing of a secret in the Heraldry, Heraldry.”

“What’s it say again?” Noel asked.

Aloysius took a laborious effort to open the book to the last page. “Extract from the diary of Brother Timothy Churchmouse, Recorder of Redwall Abbey,” he began.

“It has been many a season since I first brought quill to parchment as the Recorder of Redwall Abbey, and I fear I am at the end of my days. Worry not, for I am quite well, as are we all, those who are still healthy enough to lay by the abbey pond and bask in the sun’s warm gleam, the water lapping at our paws.

“A great silverfish was caught by Cheek Stag Otter, not quite as big as the one Matthias pulled from the pond all those seasons ago. Or at least, so the elders tell me; I was but a Dibbun during that time, and can hardly remember such epic events in our history. No, most of my memories lie beyond the great sandstone walls, when Mattimeo and his wife, my sister Tess, were captured along with me by the evil Slagar the Cruel and sold into slavery to the wicked polecat Malkariss.

“I have lived through the time of two great Abbots, Mordalfus and Durral. He’s still our Abbot, Durral, you know, and more spry and energetic than any Dibbun I’ve seen. He’s got quite a few seasons left—he may even outlive Constance!

“Yet, while we live in such peaceful times, I cannot help but reminisce about the past, when war threatened our peaceful abbey time and again. The abbey has changed, I’m afraid to say, and for better or worse depends on who you are asking. I envy the young, those who are naïve and ignorant of the blood that’s stained these abbey walls. Sometimes I wonder how much of our walls are still tinted red with the sandstone that built them, or if it’s been replaced by the blood of our fallen.

“And so I pass my quill to Rollo Bankvole, lest my disposition taint these hallowed walls. He has grown much since General Ironbeak laid siege on our abbey, when he was still just a kit. He’s quite learned, and skilled with a quill. I’ve no doubt he will make a fine recorder of our abbey, one that’s still innocent to our bloodied past.

“I will still be writing, don’t get me wrong. My greatest achievement and gift to this Abbey has yet to come, but I cannot be bogged down with the duties of a simple recorder. A Mossflower Heraldry, I’ll call it, on the Order of Redwall Abbey and the Orders that inhabit our fair woodlands. I’m afraid, though, it will be quite some time before it’s finished. Once it’s complete, I’ll spend the remainder of my days in the Gatehouse, ready to welcome any beast that knocks on our door.”

“Seems rather cryptic,” Noel breathed.

“I’m afraid Brother Timothy has lived through troubling periods, periods of our history that he did not bother to record,” Aloysius said.

“It’s in the Heraldry, then,” Tamarack said, triumphant.

“Yes, but there’s no secret to unveil. If there is another entry, it would be impossible to find in this mess. This is nothing more than a fool’s errand, errand.”

“Well…” Tamarack leaned over Aloysius, peering at the entry. “He says he’ll spend the rest of his days in the Gatehouse. Perhaps we could look there.”

Aloysius exchanged a look with Noel.

The weasel shrugged. “I don’t see any reason why not!”

And so the three of them found themselves in the Gatehouse, though what they were looking for, none had any idea. Aloysius yawned and rubbed his eyes. He could not fathom how these beasts could keep the hours they kept, working all day and playing vigilante by night.

“And you think there is a hidden tomb somewhere in these walls, walls?” Aloysius asked.

“Don’t see why not,” Tamarack stated. “After all, weren’t it Abbess Germaine what was buried beneath the cellar? And Boar the Fighter had his own tomb in Salamandastron.”

Aloysius opened his mouth to object, but his admiration of the kit stopped him. “Well, I suppose you are right. As a matter of fact, each Recorder does have their own little tomb here in the Gatehouse. Look at the bricks built against the ramparts, ramparts.”

“There’s names here,” Noel said, brushing a paw against the small inscriptions.

“Every recorder of Redwall has had the privilege of carving his name in a Gatehouse stone.”

“Does Brother Raimun have a stone?” Tamarack asked.

“He does, he does, at the far north corner.”

“Will you have a stone, Brother?” The kit grinned at him.

Aloysius could do naught but smile back. “Alas, historian and Gatekeeper do not qualify as Recorder.”

“But we need a recorder. Perhaps when this is all done, you can take the position.”

“Perhaps, my child, perhaps.”

“Here it is!” Noel called out. “Right between John Churchmouse and Rollo Bankvole.”

In a trice Aloysius and Tamarack were at Noel’s side. The vixen pushed the block, as if she expected to activate a lever. She sighed.

“Maybe it’s loose,” Noel suggested, taking Tamarack’s place and rubbing his paw against the stone. “No, it’s wedged in there, all right,” he said, disappointed.

Tamarack crossed her arms. “Hmm, well, it can’t be anything else.”

The three of them stood there silent, contemplating. Then Aloysius chirped.

A silver lining washed over the wall before him, emphasizing every inscription, every bump and flaw, including the tiny crack that lay in the mortar between the bricks. Without a word Aloysius withdrew a spare quill, placed the metal nib in the crack, and pulled. The stone shifted a fraction.

“It moved, did you see that?” Noel said, failing to hide the excitement in his voice. Aloysius continued to wiggle the stone, freeing it enough until Noel had the leverage to remove it entirely from its placement. Dropping the stone to the floor with less care than Aloysius would have wanted, the weasel reached inside the hole, a full arm’s length and beyond. Then he screamed.

Aloysius jumped back in a panic; Tamarack scurried across the room.

“I got something!” Noel said cheekily.

“You’re a buffoon!” Tamarack yelled. Noel giggled in response.

Despite his mood, Aloysius could not stop the curling of his muzzle into a faint grin. “Well? What is it, is it?”

Noel pulled his paw free. He held a rolled up parchment.

Tamarack was jumping with excitement. “What’s it say? What’s it say?”

The weasel tossed the scroll in the air, then paused when he caught it. He turned to Aloysius, a look of sincerity in his eyes. “I think you should do the honors, Brother.”

“Thank you, Noel,” Aloysius whispered. He extended a claw, and his wing shook as he took the ancient record. It was aged, there was no doubt about that. Despite the dried and brittle cloth, he could feel the weight of a thousand seasons grasped in his wing. He pulled at the string that bound it together and unraveled the parchment.

“Wait!” Tamarack yelled.

Aloysius paused mid-breath.

“Where’s Ms. Saskia? She should be here for this!”

The bat’s heart sank. Any elation of finding a lost record dissipated like smoke on the wind.

“Yes, where is Saskia?” Noel asked, turning his head towards the door as if expecting she had been there the whole time.

“Saskia…” Aloysius drew a shuddering breath, turning his gaze to the page to hide his face. He could not tell them, not now, when their spirits were so high. Saskia would not have wanted it, or perhaps it was just him. “Saskia had duties to attend, to attend with Merritt.”

Tamarack frowned. “Just like that ferret to steal her away when we need her like this.”

“Well, it can’t be so important she can’t take a break. I’ll go get her,” Noel said. He turned to leave.

Aloysius bit his lip hard; focusing on the physical pain and the taste of blood that washed over him.

“This is too important to wait! We’ll show her later. She’d understand,” Tamarack said. Her tail twitched with anticipation.

Noel looked again at the door, then at the parchment in Aloysius’s claws. “Oh, all right.”

Holding the record before him, Aloysius trembled. The words jumped around the page; he couldn’t possibly read it now.

A strong paw patted his back. “I know,” Noel said. “I’m excited, too.”

He didn’t know how, but the weasel’s touch was calming enough to keep the page steady. Aloysius dabbed at his eyes with a wing as quick as he could manage, then cleared his throat.

“Ex—Extract … from the Diary of Timothy … Timothy Churchmouse, Recorder of Redwall Abbey…” he began.

In the pages of A Mossflower Heraldry lies Mossflower’s greatest secret. To those that wish to know the truth of Redwall Abbey and all that it stands for, I present thee this riddle:

I – am that is the page
The grandson is the line
The churchmice are the word

Tim Churchmouse (Recorder of Redwall Abbey
in Mossflower country).