November 3, 2011
“Take this,” said Case.
“No.” Noel pushed the sword back out of his paws. Only when it was safely away from him and cradled awkwardly in Case’s arms did Noel sense the years in the blade. He warmed the dust from the handle between his claws. “Where’d you get that?”
Weapons rained down from the upper windows of the Tremontaine Inn, catching the moonlight and glittering gold and silver on their way to earth. They landed in thuds and clanks on the dusty street outside, where shadows broke free from the crowd to snatch them up close. Of the rebellious element of Redwall City, heroes and lunatics alike, there couldn’t have been more than a hundred beasts assembled outside. Noel was pleasantly surprised.
“Flint came across an armory as he put the finishing touches on our cellar tunnel. I call it ours – it was only our discovery.” Case’s gaze followed the fluttering path of an airborne mace and chain. “They really should be more careful with those.”
“Tim Churchmouse’s reliquary.” Noel glanced at Tam, but in the midst of inspecting their army she had stooped to collect one of the ancient weapons on the floor. “You found it?”
“Surely you of all beasts don’t think us clever enough to have excavated so long a tunnel in such a short time?” Case chuckled away at his self-deprecation. “It was a forgotten room, at the end of a collapsed tunnel that led from somewhere in the cellars. Only Flint’s expertise detected that there had been a construction there at all. Within we found these weapons, many of which -” He laughed again. “You may think it mad, but to me they fit the description of many an ancient weapon of Martin’s chosen warriors, once thought lost in time. In actual fact, we found this in amongst it all.”
Case opened his outstretched paw to reveal a chilling, familiar trinket: the glittering cloakpin symbol of the Society.
“It seems our friends must have lost track of the room in relatively modern times,” Case murmured. “We couldn’t let these treasures fall back into Carter’s paws.”
“And you didn’t think of makin’ this public?” Noel threw out his arms. “Beasts’ll follow a fable anywhere, we could’ve had the whole city behind us!”
“If you could tell me who would have believed they were real,” said Case, closing his paw back over the cloakpin, “maybe I would have considered it.”
His knowing smile soon found itself a reflection on Noel’s muzzle. Even when the truth was clear for all to see, as stark as death at the paws of a tyrant, beasts would rather see a gracious protector and an invisible enemy.
“Hsst! Case!” A shadowy face peered down at them from the upper room. The craggy outline against the light suggested Maggie, the badger whose homely inn had become a war room. “Is that the weasel with you?”
“Yes. Yes, I’ll…send him up.” Case’s body turned back toward Noel, but his nose kept going until it was pointed toward the ground. “There’s somebeast in that room I meant to show you, before Clacher – Fates, lad, Clacher! What happened? Why haven’t you said?”
“He’s dead,” Noel mumbled. “But – the beast in that room. Is he -”
“Dead,” said Case.
* * *
“What was that?” Tam waited for Noel to approach, eyeing Case as he hobbled into the depths of the assembly. “Not another batch of post?”
Noel’s stare was pinned on the dirk in her paws, but it took in none of the ornate styling, the ancient crafting, none of its beauty or its violence. He seemed, as he had done all that first winter that Tam had known him, to be searching the pits and bruises of his own soul.
“They’ve got me brother,” he said. “He was in the street, shot. Sounds like Rigg and Foweller were there. The bailiff was gonna take him away, but Case…he knew I’d come for him.”
“Oh, Mr. Noel.” Tam started and her head tilted back up straight. “But maybe it was Rigg that -”
Noel shook his head and waved the faint hope away.
“Doesn’t matter now. I dunno if it’s on me to forgive what Fowel’s done, but I have, even before…anyway, it don’t matter. When this finishes, I’ll take him home.”
Tam laid a paw on Noel’s ever-shifting shoulder.
“That’s right,” she said. “No matter what anybeast says, he belongs with all our friends – Mr. Andrew, and Bludd, and Ms. Saskia.”
“Tam, I meant – Norford.”
There was a spike in Tam’s start, an extra tremor of alarm as she released his shoulder from her grip. If looking at her was painful for Noel before, it was unbearable now.
A shadow swooped down on them and stifled anything more they might have to say. Fyfe came crawling out of the darkness, a keen blend of kindness and frenzy on his brow.
“Mr. Lingham,” he said. “I believe we have prepared everybeast as well as we are able, able. Are you ready to move?”
Noel gave one last decisive glance at Tam, and in the pursuit of the truth their eyes could still meet.
“Yeah. As good a time as any.”
* * *
“You sure you going in there empty-pawed?” said Tam.
Noel lolled his head at her and laughed. It was a good sound to hear, even if it drew a few nervous glares from their compatriots in the woods. The air was crisp and icy and the moon was lost in the tangled branches of the trees, but the night felt refreshing, like a pint of October ale after a long hot afternoon on the campball pitch.
One rough brown paw snicked down into the undergrowth and, when Noel caught up to Tam a moment later, he was carrying a fallen bough of rotting oak. It was Tam’s turn to laugh as Noel busied himself snapping the twigs off his new club.
“You’re going to face down Brother Isidore with that thing?”
“Oh, aye. Don’t be surprised when he takes off running for his mum.” He nodded at the blade in Tam’s paw. “What’s that you’ve got?”
“Some Long Patrol dirk.” She shrugged. “Case laughed when he saw me with it, said it belonged to another beast named Tam. How’s about that?”
“We call that fate, my dear.” Case had appeared behind them, grin wrinkling his face into a dim shroud of shadows in the moonless woods.
“But Mr. Lingham here thinks he controls his own destiny,” said Case. “Yet you believe in Martin, as well as Redwall.”
After a pause, Noel replied, “Yeah.”
“Yet those stories are built on prophecy and fate. To trust in both freedom and fate must take a great deal of balancing skill. I’m envious to learn.”
“It all makes more sense to me without it.” His downcast head sprang up. “What’s that?”
Tam’s paw could be seen tightening around the handle of her dirk.
“How long ago did Fyfe fly ahead?” Noel demanded. “Is he back?”
“Not yet,” said Case. “He’s only been gone quarter of an hour, if that. Why?”
Noel lunged forward.
“I smell smoke.”
* * *
Overground, the gates of Redwall appeared much sooner than did the yellow candlelight at the end of the rebel tunnel, but it was the scene that confronted them that made time stand still. The gates were framed in bright blazoning light, overshadowed by billowing columns of smoke.
“Fire,” Case breathed. “Redwall, my Redwall!”
The gates, or what was left of them, were thrust outward into the night, lest the heat and the flame creep into the depths of the stones and bring them tumbling down to earth. For the first time since he strode into Redwall in the depth of winter, seeking shelter from the storm and respite from his tormentor, Noel saw the gates of the Abbey as they were meant to stand: open.
“Now’s our chance!” Noel lifted his bough high above the heads of their scanty crew, then stormed the ditch as if he might land before Redwall in one leap. “Now!”
In the haze and heat and panic on the other side of the gates it must have seemed like thunder on the wind. From out of the night, their vision stung with smoke and the stabbing blaze of the flames, abbeybeasts Noel and Tam hardly recognized must have thought the nightmare murderers of winter were upon them at last. They dropped their buckets and scattered before the lightning struck.
“Through the gates!” Noel heard his voice crowing with lust and glory. “Through the gates, come on! Redwall’s ours!”
* * *
“Brother Aloysius,” Tam gasped. “He must’ve done it! But -” Her head swiveled over her shoulder as they passed through the smoldering hulk of boards and twisted, mangled rivets that had made Redwall a prison for so many months. Noel drew her close, shielding her from the wave breaking around them.
“What is it?” he said.
“Look – the archives.” The friendly little hut where Aloysius and Martin had lived side by side was crumbling under the tremendous weight of the flames. The fire looked to have bled away from it, spreading from there up to the gates. “Why would he have done that…?” said Tam.
A roar of anguish cut short their fearful thoughts. Finishing the race across the lawns, they found Case empty-pawed, weapons thrown to the floor, fists pummeling helplessly against the solid oaken doors of Great Hall.
“Blast it all, I had him. I had him, he was in my sight!”
Noel passed his claws over the sealed doors, then seized Case’s shoulder and brought them both hurtling backwards at once. A glass jar full of the infirmary’s viscous cure-all solution struck the earth where they had stood, and as Case sat recovering from the near-blow tiny Sister Delores could be seen leaning out of a high dormitory window.
“You murderer!” she shrieked. “Are you behind this? Look what you’ve done to our abbey!”
“Now, now, Sister. That’s hardly in the spirit of our order, is it?”
Case could only manage a squeal of rage as Carter appeared over the ledge. Noel struggled to put himself in the hedgehog’s place, imagined that Mum and the Old Weasel and Lucy and Tam were all snatched from him in one terrible instant. Even with the real losses they had sustained at his paws, he couldn’t fathom the depths of that void in Case’s heart.
“Brother Case,” said the Abbot. “Enough of this, please. You were sentenced with exile so that we might all put the past behind us and live in peace.” Carter’s smooth velvet tones tumbled down on them like a fog, drawing a haze over their own passions. But Noel could sense the darkness in his heart with the scorched edge in his next few words. “I see now that we have taken alarm at a mere pawful of beasts. This cannot end well for you. I pray, turn back now and you may leave Redwall as free beasts.”
Noel’s paw sealed itself over Case’s shoulder once more, warm and heartening this time. He lifted himself up from the ground.
“There’s more than enough of us to keep an eye on every door out of that building, and for as long as we need.”
“I was warned about you.” The dark anger threatened to consume Carter entirely. “There were many who told me not to welcome two ragged weasels into our home. They feared an outsider would be the one to bring destruction to our Abbey.” He lifted his voice, to the many faces now peering from the windows and to the countless abbeybeasts within. “Let it be known to all present that this beast – this creature to whom you entrusted your dibbuns – is a deceiver. He followed a beast named Cassius, a notorious vagabond and murderer in his own right, for many seasons in Mossflower. It is only fitting that he now allies himself with another old enemy of this place.”
“An old enemy?” Noel demanded. “Nobeast up there heard what Case did and thought, no, that can’t be right? Because you knew him, and he was your friend?” Noel offered his paw to Case, along with a faint smile. “Time we heard the truth.”
Case nodded and stood on his own. He brushed the dust and ash from his knees and stepped forward, and in the dawning light of a new day in his abbey – his home – the heartbreak of his scheming and rage fell away. Each and every face lining the windows beheld only a shattered beast, yearning for something that could never be.
“My family – my Arabella, my lads Lucas and Michael, my Betony – they were murdered. That will always be true. But they were taken from me. By that beast there – Carter, the beast you call Abbot!”
Even from the ground, Carter’s face could be seen betraying a flinch. Perhaps he had expected, or hoped, for silence, for more of the stinging catcalls and jeers that echoed down from the heights. The overwhelming sound was one of gasps, of terrified whispers and doubt.
“For years he’s been plotting to destroy me,” said Case, drawing strength from his audience, “ever since he discovered I was next to be abbot. A wayward Long Patrol thug, the taking of Redwall was just another campaign for him. And he’s deceived you all as well. So many of the beasts you’ve lost this last winter, and since, their blood was spilled by his paws!”
“We’ve heard this before!” Sister Ambrosia shoved herself to the front of another window, glancing only briefly at the stubborn shape of her brother on the ground. “Your rumors and your tall tales have got round by now. What reason would the Abbot have to murder his own beasts? Brother Andrew and little Ripple – they were only taken from us once this vermin and his brother came to poison our home!”
“Watch how you use that word, ma’am,” Tam snapped.
“Indeed, Sister,” said Case. “Don’t think us foolish enough to believe your Abbot walks alone. We are aware of the tools he holds, the names of those who follow his every command, even to murder. We know who you are!”
The Society responded to the call-out with silence, cold as marble. Noel searched the ground, the obeisant ranks of his army ringing the building, standing awkward guard at every threshold. Up above, angry and anxious and empty faces stared down, waiting for doomsday to rise with the sun. Through one portal Noel caught a glimpse of the cool, penetrating eyes of a rat before they disappeared again into the red stone walls.
“You say you come here to rescue my own beasts from me,” said Carter at last. “I, who have done all I can to protect them against you – who drew first blood and then cast our beloved dead back at our gates like so much filth. You claim to save this place and everybeast in it, and yet you stand here and let this abbey burn!” A curious expression lit his features, something between resignation and delight. “I will be the one to save this place. I cradle Redwall in my paws. This foolishness will end now.”
* * *
Isidore was waiting for him inside.
“The muskets,” said Carter.
“No!” Emmerich Coffincreeper, still coughing up smoke from the firefight, threw himself at the Abbot’s footpaws. “Please – my Tam’s out there. I don’t know how, and when all this is over I’ll thrash her to the ends of the earth, but Father Abbot -”
Carter deigned to set a paw on his head.
“I am afraid the time for instructive punishment has ended. Our way of life now is threatened. Surely you would not side with one who shames your kind, who earns himself the name of vermin?”
Emmerich offered only a sob in return. Carter released him, sighing.
“We will do what we can to spare your kin,” he said, “but the most I can promise is to protect this abbey. Brother Isidore -”
* * *
Then suddenly, there was light. Light and no sound – and then a terrible roar, rumbling and fire.
“What was that?” Tam said it as they ran, arms thrown over their eyes to deflect the light and the heat searing outward from the far side of the main abbey building. Noel kept pace alongside her, oak branch still held aloft.
Not much more than what they found would have convinced them that doomsday was truly nigh. The rear of the abbey building was almost no more, a smoking hole of charred sandstone belching smoke and flame. The smell brought an image to Noel’s mind of a thousand of his old flintlocks all firing at once.
“What happened here?” Case shook Flint’s stunned prone form where he found it lying several yards away. “Blast you, brother, wake up!”
“Case, get back to the main doors!” Noel snapped. “Don’t let one eye off Carter, you hear me?”
“These were the store rooms. Who did this?” In Tam’s murmur Noel could hear what was beginning to dawn on her, and what had yet to touch him as the outsider: Redwall was burning. Now that its heart was aflame the horror of it became real. The abbey, a landmark of peace for generations – Martin’s home – stood at the brink of destruction.
“Forget what it was, Tam. This is it.” Noel summoned his strength and thrust his club into the yawning breach. “Redwall is ours!”
He unbuttoned his coat and threw the free edge over his muzzle. With a glance for Tam to steel them both against the onslaught, he narrowed his eyes and threw himself forward, dissolving into the flames.
September 22, 2011
Isidore excused himself as many times as grow blossoms on an apple tree, as many times as there swam fish in the ocean, as many times as his heart had beaten in his life. The blood on his blade should have glimmered, should have taunted him. He should have wiped it away.
Yet the night turned it river-deep. He could only fall endlessly into the dark slick, into the thing he had made.
Once when he was very young his brother found a secret, winding maze of stone in the great southern deserts. They wandered it together, leaving pebble-trails behind them, and once or twice they crossed their own paths. Isidore’s brother went further in and further down. Isidore sat, and he tried to keep his torch from going out.
He watched water carve trails in the stone. His paws slithered over the tiny rivers and grooves he thought were once writing; it occurred to him somebeast had lived there. Pawmarks in madder and bone-black still clung to the ceiling. Suddenly, he could not breathe for fright. It felt as though a hundred ghosts crowded him, reached in his chest and clawed at his heart.
Later his brother emerged. He didn’t have his torch.
“How did you do that?” Isidore asked, between sobs. How had he followed their trail without light? How had he not been swallowed entire, by haunts or by the darkness?
“I knew I had to,” said his brother. “So I did.”
Pretend, then, he stayed in that cavern. The ghosts filled his lungs with breath, and he watched firelight dance on old paint until his brother found him. They came to the surface together. That story wrote others: Iphigenia never left. He kept bees, or he farmed. He never scrubbed Foweller’s blood from his sword.
In this story, he fled; everything went the way it went. He never descended and came away whole. He looked at the blood and he fell.
He paused outside Carter’s door. He thought he would say I have done this. This is the blood of a child who might have been my son. I have done this and done it too long. Yet when he saw the Abbot, he bowed, and one word left his lips.
Carter rubbed sleep from sleepless eyes. “What do you mean?”
“I won’t do this any more,” Isidore said. “Foweller is dead.”
“Then I’m sorry for your loss.”
“I did it, fool,” he spat, “I’m the one staved his head in. They’ve got out, all of them– Noel, and the vixen, and the ones that– the ones that–” he shuddered, a little, and the words stung his throat like bile “– I killed him.”
“I am sorry.”
“No,” he said.
Carter took his paw. “Let’s find you some tea.”
He stumbled to the kitchen, Carter leading him like he would a lost dibbun. Carter reached for the tea, then for a bottle, and Isidore sat on the floor. The Abbot shoved a cup of brandy in his paws. He did not drink.
“You said ‘got out.’ Where?”
“There are tunnels in the cellar.”
“I don’t know their names. Merritt Stirling. Brother Aloysius. At least a score.”
“You’d let them traipse into Case’s paws.”
“What should I have done?” Isidore said. “Should I have killed them all, whoever I could? Do you think me capable?”
“Yes,” Carter said. “Since you’ve done so much already.”
He was falling, again. Somewhere in the pebble-trails he and his brother had made he saw a path where he kept this course: he listened, and obeyed, and when the Abbot came to trial he did too. There was another path, one where he renounced Carter and went to Julian Case. He would die, of course. He thought he might deserve it.
Carter held Martin’s sword.
Isidore did not reach for it. He watched Carter loom over him, dandling the blade. He lifted his chin and offered his neck, but the otter did not lunge; instead he bent and took Isidore’s paw, daintily. He caressed it like a lover would. “The way I see it, you have nowhere left to go.”
Then the metal kissed his throat. He thrilled at its touch. He watched Carter tense; he wondered how it would feel to bear that silver-crimson, final thrust, and when his killer would do it. But the Abbot relented.
“You have nowhere left,” he said again. “Why would I do that? Take the sword. It is yours.”
Isidore choked back something like a sob. “Father.”
“Will you protest? You can either die, or triumph. And I believe you can choose wisely.”
“I– I–” he stuttered. “I’ll fight.”
That ended it. They drank their brandy, dawdling on the kitchen floor like children. The night was quiet but for spring wind whistling over the Abbey. Isidore could feel a chill creep through the stone and into his joints. He wondered if he might ever feel warmth again.
Something clattered in the hallway. Isidore’s paw leapt to the hilt of his sword, but he hesitated to wield it. The intruder’s paws thumped on the floor; this small noise seemed to shake his bones, to jar something inside him. “Father!” the intruder called– he knew that voice. It was Amery’s. “Father Abbot! There’s a fire!”
September 21, 2011
The ground was damp with dew as Aloysius fluttered to the ground in front of the gathering, Carter at its head.
“My brethren, brethren, stop!” he called.
“Brother Aloysius,” Carter said, raising a paw to halt the crowd. Aloysius could see familiar faces, but some were near unrecognizable, bloodied and swollen as they were from the escapees. “It seems we have received word of where the entrance to the rebel encampment lies. Amery spotted a group of beasts heading down into the cellars, but they have yet to surface.”
The bat straightened, wrapping his wings around himself for comfort, as well as appearances. “Turn back, Carter. They are out of your bounds, now.”
The otters eyes grew wide and his nostrils flared. “I am Abbot, Aloysius, and this is my abbey.”
“They are not abbeybeasts. They are creatures who make their homes outside these walls. They are not under your command, command.”
“You’re aiding them?” He took a step towards the bat. “And Julian?”
Aloysius pinned his ears back as he heard gasps from the crowd. He shuffled on his feet as he averted his gaze. “I am merely providing an exit for those who seek it, seek it.”
“Then you are no Brother of Redwall,” Carter growled from his throat.
“No?” Aloysius felt a singular ire rising within him, one that lent ice to his tone as he raised an eyebrow and cocked his head. “Then I say to you: Since the beginning of this lockdown you have held beasts against their will, their will that decides freely what their heart desires. What kind of leader does that but a tyrant?”
“I am protecting the wellbeing of those within my walls.”
“And yet they wish to be free from these bonds.”
Carter shook his head. “I would have never imagined you of all beasts would turn your back on this abbey, Aloysius.”
“I have not turned my back on this abbey, this abbey,” Aloysius said, shuffling a few paces back. “It is you who have done that, old friend. Redwall was always meant to be a safe haven, a safe haven for those who desired it. Now it has become no more than a place of death and hostility. I want no part of it.”
“Then why return?” Carter demanded. “Do you intend to spread Julian’s lies here, as well?”
Aloysius felt his wings tremble. There was murder in that voice, and he longed to take to the sky, longed to fly back to Fyfe, Saifye, and Eilonwy. He longed to fly away from the abbey, from Saskia’s murder, Foweller’s death, and toward his family, towards home. But Tamarack and Noel needed him to buy this time, to lend wings to their own paws as they raced to save this place and all that it meant. Even without Martin, the stories of Redwall still spoke of heroes.
“Do you remember the otter named Keyla, Keyla? He was once given a chance of freedom, enslaved as he was in Marshank, but he stayed for those too young and too old to escape. Your words have convinced many, but they will need a guiding wing when your own lies surface, surface.”
Carter flashed his teeth. “As you wish, Aloysius. As you wish.” Turning, he faced the throng. “Those that have found passage outside of these walls are not our own. I am no tyrant, my children, though there are those who would accuse me of such things. I care only for you, for the beasts in my protection. Let them be. Let these creatures who may well come back to kill our families and friends be as Aloysius wishes. But I say to you, this—” He turned back to the bat. “—if I find another beast has left or entered these walls during my Lockdown, there will be consequences. I did not think you would turn against our abbey, but I suppose a creature lost in the past cannot hope to understand what we must deal with in the present.” The abbot shook his head and turned, stalking back toward his manor.
The rest of the crowd mingled, until they too, scattered like dandelion seeds on the wind. Aloysius watched them go, then took flight for the gatehouse. He had not expected to convince the group to turn away, but even so, there was another task he had to accomplish tonight.
Closing the door to his archives, Aloysius went to his desk and retrieved Merritt’s diary. He shuddered as he touched it, at the blasphemy contained within its pages. Aloysius had always believed there was good in everybeast, but this book was proof that evil dwelt alongside it. He had to dispose of it, lest it fall into the wrong paws. This book contained secrets, dark secrets, but secrets nonetheless, and Aloysius supposed that everybeast was allowed his vices.
Taking the page that contained Merritt’s code, he placed it in the flickering candlelight and watched as it caught, brilliant red embers spiraling into ash. He set fire to the rest of the diary. With his desk alight, Aloysius took a tome and placed it on the flames. Then another, and another, until the fire was able to sustain itself.
The historian watched as the pages burned. His life, his being, everything that he had stood for had turned to ash. They were nothing more than lies, fiction, made to incriminate a group of beasts that should have had no part in the stories they produced. How many times had the histories been rewritten, tampered with, to create the fear mongering that held woodlanders hostage? Ever since Aloysius had come to the abbey the creed had been the same: Vermin were bad, and needed to be dealt with accordingly. Rats, weasels, ferrets, stoats, wildcats. Even when the abbey had opened their doors to them the prejudice remained.
Aloysius had tried to get them to change. Noel, Virrel, Tamarack, Bludd, Isidore, these were not evil beasts, and deserved not the scorn they received. He had hoped to bring the abbey back to its founding roots, the Woodlander’s Code, an idea that did not depict speciesism, but relied purely on the virtues and morals within. But the stories said otherwise, and until those stories were destroyed, beasts would always come back to them.
It pained his heart to see his work go up in smoke, but they deserved this, any beast who held himself as a true woodlander deserved this. Turning from his archives Aloysius left, the fire—which had started with a single leaflet—blazing behind him. The dry, brittle pages served well as tinder and were quick to ignite. He couldn’t tarry long, lest he be caught in the ensuing inferno.
He put a winged claw on the doorlatch and pulled, but the door did not budge. Furrowing his brow, he pulled harder, straining against the heavy weight but still there was no give. He was locked inside. Growing frantic, Aloysius turned, seeking another way out. Unlike so much of the abbey there was no secret passageway he could rely on for escape, but there were windows.
Taking flight, Aloysius chirped, the room erupting into a brilliant silver sheen, but all it brought back were the clouds of smoke that billowed in the room. He flew in tight circles, chirping desperately for any sort of clearing, but there was nothing. A bookshelf barred his path, and he crashed into it with a terrible thud, his claws scrabbling for purchase as he pulled books from their housing. Once he managed to get to the top, he covered his face in his wing and coughed. His lungs burned with the acrid taste of smoke. Taking a deep, ragging breath, he chirped again, but there was nothing he could hear. The smoke and fine ash scattered his echoes in a million directions.
With a flap of his wings, he cleared the smoke as best he could before taking a deep breath, then launched himself from his perch. He could not hear the windows, but he would find them, he could still find them. He knew where they were—often he had watched the moon pass by, seated at his desk—but he was disoriented and could not tell which face of the wall he was on. Still, he had to try.
Eyes shut tight, he wheeled around, gaining purchase as he climbed higher in the air. The ceiling smacked against his back and he nearly exhaled, but he managed to shake off the shock. If he flew in a single direction, he’d reach the wall, and then it was only a matter of time before he could reach a window.
The sound of a sickening crack filled his ears, and Aloysius’s head exploded in pain. But there had been some give, and the bat realized that somehow he had reached a window. He scrabbled at the pane, and his claws stung as he gripped splintered wood. The glass had cracked, but it was not broken. Throwing his body at his only chance of escape, he failed to break the glass, too weak and exhausted from his efforts. He took a breath, his lungs exploding in pain. The wood slipped from his grip, and he fell to the burning floor like a dropped inkwell.
Fire surrounded him, searing his wings and scorching his fur. In a surge of strength born of desperation, he launched himself from the fire, but there was nowhere he could land that wasn’t aflame. Bludd and Eilonwy had certainly done a job covering the floor with his books.
At some point he found hot stone, collapsing into a fit of hacking. He tried opening his eyes, but they stung too much, just like his lungs, just like his wings and the rest of his body. There was nothing he could do. Nowhere he could fly, nowhere he could hide. Never again would he spend a night drinking with Fyfe, chat with him and Saifye over a candied beetle, or tell Eilonwy a story. He had missed his opportunity, duty bound to the Abbey, unable to spend even a single night with his family. What a fool he had been.
Aloyisus had truly been as blind as a bat, unwilling to see what lay before his very eyes. He curled on the ground, thinking of Tamarack and Noel. At least they knew the truth, and they would spread it to listening ears. The fate of the abbey now rested in their paws; it was the only consolation he had left.
So many beasts had died and gone to Dark Forest. Raimun, Andrew, Ripple, Bludd, Cobb, Saskia, Foweller. Perhaps he would see them again. And maybe, if he waited patiently enough, Fyfe and Saifye and Eilonwy would come to see him.
Yes, he would like that.
September 21, 2011
The devastation in the rebels’ humble subterranean abode stretched beyond the small sad body of a hare on the floor. Chairs had been flung and smashed, and their remnants hung with torn scraps of paper. The table sat collapsed in an unrecognizable heap of shattered boards. The walls were scraped and clawed and smeared with blood.
But Locria was all they saw. Tamarack made the noise that Noel felt inside: a gurgle of sick despair. He imagined that no body she had ever put into the ground at Redwall had looked like this.
“What happened?” Tam moaned. “Who did this?”
“You know who it was.” Case answered them from the inner doorway, his voice faded and lost. What Noel could see of his eyes were glazed and white and pinned on him.
“Clacher,” Noel murmured.
“This is your doing, weasel.” The hedgehog betrayed the full weight of his many years, hardships, and sacrifices as he staggered toward them. The gray ends of his spiketips seemed to stretch their blanched claws up to his brain. “Only a madbeast would send a badger through that tunnel. You’ve destroyed us.”
Noel bit back images of Foweller, fought back with hollow anger.
“He was wounded,” he said. “He should’ve been put somewhere safe.”
“He was.” Case’s accusations, already weak and weary, died away. “He was…allowed to escape. A fault of ours with which you are already familiar.”
“Who let him go?” Tam cried.
Case waved a paw.
“It matters little now. The beasts you sent through told me about your escape. It may not have been your paws that attacked those on guard, but you surely cannot return to Redwall now.”
“Wrong,” said Noel. “We’re going back tonight.”
“Fool!” Case was alive again now that outrage flared to stir him. “Are you after an early death? You want to march now, now that you’ve burdened us with your refugees, and when my Lieutenant – when this poor lass is dead!”
“More’s gone on than what they told you. And -” Noel forced his gaze onto the dead hare, drinking in the image of a bedazzled young leveret and drowning out the beast whose pistol had pointed at him one too many times. If he squinted he could just make out that the gun’s flintlock was still cocked. “Like you say, I haven’t got any clues on how to raise the dead. No, it was Cassius who said that. Where’s he?”
Case’s face glazed over, as distant as it had been when they found him. He hobbled toward the inner door.
* * *
Cassius was sweating, writhing, moaning in turbid sleep. He lay prone on a table in the center of the empty Tremontaine Inn, the building atop the rebel hideaway. As Noel gazed down at him in his pestilent slumber, even the sweet cool air of freedom turned murky and sour.
Case hesitated only a moment, as if seeking somebeast’s permission, before lifting the blanket. Beneath it there stood exposed the oozing mess that had conquered Cassius’s leg, the one Case had shot.
“I did that to him,” said Case. “Cassius, my brother -”
“Why haven’t you got him to a doctor?” Noel snapped.
“Locria was looking after him.” Case lowered the blanket and mumbled the rest of his half-reply. “Now that she’s gone….”
“Who’s left?” said Noel.
“Myself. Flint and Sebastian. Corwin and Irwin watch the door from outside.”
“Don’t forget the rear guard.” Two skeptical eyes stabbed at them from the kitchen door. Merritt sauntered out, followed by the stares of other faces that had become familiar to them in their flight through the tunnel.
Tam crossed her arms, flashing a smug grin as the ferret approached.
“I thought you weren’t gonna do anything reckless.”
“It’s always in my interest to avoid idiocy. I’ve developed a finely tuned sense for it, and, miracle of miracles, I somehow find you two here. Why are you back?” He jerked a claw toward the door – which, as Noel peered at it, betrayed slivers of moonlight between warped hinges. “Your friend left that-a-way.”
“Never mind all the beasts you socked, we’ve been found out,” said Noel. “Isidore knows.”
Merritt’s face plunged into something dark and beyond, for once, the power of his words. Everybeast else had the pleasure of witnessing helpless confusion swamp Case’s expression.
“The beekeeper?” he said.
“More like enforcer, nowadays,” said Tam.
“Well, that won’t do at all,” said Merritt, at last. “I dare say that’s who Selendra’s gone after.”
Noel swiveled on Case, who only looked sideways before answering.
“She disappeared when Clacher broke free.”
“You don’t think she let him -” said Tam, but Merritt cut short the thought almost before it began.
“She has more reason than anybeast here to see him dead,” said Merritt. “What you’d better bother yourself worrying about is why he had us all playing hide-and-seek up here instead of going back to Redwall the way he came.”
“He might’ve heard us coming,” said Noel. “Or he might have sniffed out a real mess starting and turned tail.”
“Mossflower might give him more chance for the kind of stuff he gets up to,” Tam muttered.
“We’ve still got to find him.” Noel felt the eyes in the room turning on him and Tam, and for once he didn’t feel the stares of reproach and ridicule sap his strength. They empowered him. “Merritt, you and the others sound the alarm. Get as many beasts from the city as you can to be at Redwall by morning. I’ll find Clacher.”
“What makes you think I’ll take another pawstep in this trail of destruction you’ve so lovingly crafted?” Merritt demanded. “And what makes you think anybeast will roll out of bed not two hours after midnight just because they’re needed at the red stone shack on the hill?”
“Because if they don’t, it’ll just be us.” As Merritt conceded with gesture of defeat, Noel’s attention caught Flint and Sebastian tread haltingly downstairs. After a quick nod to them, he settled once more on Case. “You get your own self together, and any weapons you’ve got. You started this rot, you’ll bloody be there when it ends.”
“Wait,” said Case. “Take a weapon for the badger before you go.”
Noel waved him off and plowed his way to the front door.
“I won’t need it.”
“Even Martin took he up the sword,” said Flint.
“Well I’m not him, am I?” Noel’s jaw slanted earthward. Flint, Sebastian, Case – they all stared back at him in dull delusion. None of them knew the truth. Only a glimpse into Tam’s clever eyes dragged him back to what had become their awful reality.
“Before you say what I know you’re thinking,” she said, “I’m coming with you.”
“He’ll want that tail of yours.” It was a half-hearted attempt to frighten her and doomed to fail. Tam just grinned back.
“You need somebeast to make sure you do the job right this time.” Her paw closed around his, and with half a smile between them the pair stepped out into Redwall City.
* * *
“It’s late,” said a voice from above, “and if I am not mistaken, mistaken, not where my brother expects you to be.”
In a silent street on the outskirts of Redwall City, the most Noel expected was a paw to come crushing into him from out of the night, or a scream from Tam’s lips as Clacher stole his terrible prize. What they encountered not long after leaving the borders of Redwall and rebellion behind was a gentle flutter of wings, and a dimunitive huddled shadow that came to rest on the road.
Noel nearly uttered the name of the Historian himself, but Tam broke out in a grateful grin.
“You’re Aloysius’s brother,” she said. “I thought you all left.”
“I am Fyfe. And no, we’ve not quite gone, not quite gone. Aloysius has seen fit to make Redwall his home. In a way, it becomes ours as well, as well.” The bat shuffled in place. Noel flicked his gaze at Tam before directing it downward once more.
“We’re looking for a beast,” said Noel.
“I suspect you’re looking for many beasts, many beasts.” Pointed pearlescent teeth winked up at them in the moonlight. “We’re aware of what goes on in that establishment – yes, in the Abbey as well as that inn, that inn. We’ve been hoping to aid and abet it.”
“Have you -” Tam lowered her voice from a delighted cry to a whisper. “Have you found beasts who’ll listen?”
“Some,” said Fyfe, “with memories of simpler times, and with love for something they see dying before them, before them. But you’re not expecting their assistance tonight, are you?”
“We are.” Noel nearly stammered. “But – not us, not right now. We – the badger -”
“It is dark, and his stride is long.” Again, something about the way the light bent around his face suggested Fyfe was smiling. “I doubt a beast like yourself could find him, find him.”
“What about a beast like you?”
* * *
Unlike his fellow sinner Cassius, Clacher had not earned forgiveness enough for the treatment of his wounds. The place in his body where Noel had striven to rend muscle from bone had grown bloated and pungent. No amount of dock leaves, pressed to the site in the safety of the woods where Fyfe’s pitchless shrieks detected him, would save his mutilated arm.
But Noel remembered his own wounds: the bones still creaking in his chest, the blood that had tinged his spittle for a night and a day. As Fyfe led them through the dark, his body’s secret complaints brought him forward, into the open and the dim glow of the clearing.
Clacher froze. Tam did the same, steady but tense in the brush behind Noel, who after announcing his presence stepped forth with clenched fists.
“Stay where you are,” he said. “Stay there and I won’t hurt you.”
Clacher stood up. He held out his paws, as if to express what fear pain had to offer him. Noel saw that he held nothing in them.
Yet they came toward him like pawfuls of knives, claws swiping at air first by lack of speed, then lack of luck. Noel stumbled backward over a downed ash tree, and as he landed every old bruise and tear bore back in on him at once. They pressed him into the dirt and begged him to give up his foolishness, that if he would not discharge the monster he could at least accept a speedy death of his own.
He felt two paws drag him clear of the downward blow that would have killed him. From out of the mud and the leaves they pressed a stone into his hand. He flung it, and blood spewed from Clacher’s nose.
And then the blood flowed from his skull, and from his ears, and it did not stop. Tam’s paws clenched around Noel’s shoulders now in terror. They could only watch, bound together and to the earth as Clacher’s head imploded before them.
Fyfe’s blinding screech brought stillness back to the clearing. Once the insides of Noel’s head stopped rebounding against the sound, he lurched upright and collapsed again on top of the ghost that had appeared to wreak its vengeance on Clacher. The club that killed him finally dropped from Selendra’s grip.
“What’ve you done?” Noel gurgled. “Look what you’ve done.”
“Berend.” Selendra squeaked and writhed underneath him. She felt like a heart beating its last, and Noel leapt back up to tear free of her. “Berend, Berend.”
Fyfe dropped to the ground, brushing against Tam until she too had recovered. Selendra wept, cocooning herself in loam and dust, until finally something called her to stumble upright once more. Noel’s footpaw landed on her club just as she reached for it.
“Enough,” he said. “No more – I said no more!” Selendra tore the club free, and received a goal-scoring belt to the chest for her trouble. The pain didn’t register or didn’t last, only saw her scramble to her paws and stagger choking into the darkness.
Tam didn’t seem to want to look at Noel’s kicking paw either, as embarrassed by his reaction as he was.
“Should we follow her?” asked Tam.
“Let’s get back,” Noel muttered. “We’ll see her again before long.”
September 14, 2011
“Fowel?” Tamarack whispered, dabbing at the otter’s bleeding eye with the edge of her shirt. Foweller did not move again, his muzzle slack and eyes fixed on something none of them could see.
She heard Aloysius slump against the door of the cellar, so much like a stack of his scrolls scattering across the archive floor. “Fates, Fates. Oh, dear Fates.”
“Shouldn’t have said anything,” Noel muttered as he sank to one knee, rocking the kit back and forth. “Should’ve run.”
The vixen sat down hard, mindless to the dewy grass that dampened her fur and clothes. He’d saved them, saved Noel. Tears welled up in her eyes even as the beast in her belly began to snarl. What could they do now? Kill Isidore? Fill her graveyard with the bodies of every beast that stood with Carter?
She glanced down to where Foweller’s blood painted a fresh memory on her shirt, something urgent and dark. They needed help. Right now, they needed to stop this before any other kits, printers, diggers, cooks, or recorders died.
“Get up,” the vixen mumbled, pushing herself to her footpaws. “Get up.” She went to Noel and hugged his long neck, licking his cheek until he stopped shaking and his paw met her own. “Get up.” She went to Aloysius and helped the bat to stand, his shuddering echoed by the hitch in her own voice. “We got… we got to go. Isidore’s going to tell the Abbot, and all them guards we knocked out won’t… won’t stay knocked forever.”
“Go where, where?” Aloysius whispered.
“Out to the city,” Noel said, sniffing as he shifted Foweller to a more comfortable place in his paws. “But I…” The weasel looked down at the little otter.
“My family,” Tamarack answered. “We’ll take him to Colm.”
Even weighed down by their burden, sneaking across the lawns proved a simple enough task for only two beasts. Aloysius guided them around those guards who had remained at their posts and into the comforting shade of the graveyard. The scent of earth and flowers wrapped Tamarack up in a blanket she had always loved. Even just the one night in Aloysius’ archives had felt wrong, everything dry and old. That was the smell of decay to her, not here where the earth was fresh and the trees grew tall on the backs of every Abbeybeast that had come before.
They stopped beside the window of Colm and Ida’s room, and Tamarack tapped her claws along the glass.
Tap. Taptaptap. Tap. It was their special rhythm, the one that said it was time to relieve the dead of all the trinkets they would never need.
It took longer than with Papa – Colm still had seasons to learn – but the fox appeared at the window, raising it up to blink blearily at the beasts outside. Tamarack noticed Ida beside him.
“What’s happened?” Ida hissed, her sharp eyes drawn to Noel and Foweller.
The weasel stepped forward and presented the otter. “Isidore killed him,” he said. “We were hoping…”
Colm held up a paw. “Bring him around the back.”
They gathered on the porch, Noel shifting Foweller to Ida’s arms as if he were a sleeping kit. She nodded and disappeared inside, off to Papa’s workshop.
“How’d this happen?” Colm asked, and the trio took it in turns to explain, each picking up when another could no longer speak. The fox was silent at the end of their explanation, then said, “I’m coming with you.”
“No.” Tamarack shook her head, taking her big brother’s paw. “You got to protect Mumma and Papa and Grannie and Ida. I won’t be here for that no more. You got to keep them safe because we’re coming back. And… and it ain’t just going to be us.” She looked to Noel and Aloysius. They hadn’t talked about it, hadn’t planned that far ahead, but what else was there? “We’re going to bring every beast we can, any beast who’ll listen. We’ll tear down the gates and stop Abbot Carter and Mr. Isidore and all the beasts helping them. We got Mr. Merritt out there now, and you… the pamphlets?”
Colm lowered his ears. “We were only able to make three copies. Left them in infirmary and refectory. I don’t know if anybeast read them, Tam. Most ain’t got words past what they was taught as dibbuns.”
“There are enough, enough I think,” Aloysius murmured. “Those who seek the truth will always find it, find it for good or ill.”
“We better go now, afore the Abbot and everybeast else finds the tunnel. You make sure the others are safe. Keep them inside.” She turned away, but this time, Colm held her, not letting go. She looked up at him. He had his teeth bared and his glare fixed on Noel and Aloysius.
“You come back without my little sister, I swear on my family’s name that I will nail each of you in a coffin and bury you alive.”
Aloysius grimaced, but Noel nodded, taking her other paw. “If she doesn’t come back, neither will we.”
Tamarack squeezed her brother’s paw one more time before letting go. “I love you, Colm.”
“Wait!” The older fox hurried inside and return a moment later with their hooded lantern. “Just in case.” She took the lantern and flint that he offered with a faint smile. Colm had always been better about preparation.
The trio did not pause until they reached the doors of the cellar once more. The Fates had been kind enough to delay Isidore’s return as far as they could tell. There, Aloysius held back.
“I will meet you in Redwall City, Redwall City,” he said.
“What? Why?” Tamarack’s brow furrowed.
The bat rubbed a claw across his nose before settling. “I saw the beasts on the lawns moving toward us, toward us before I landed. I do not think we will have the time to reach Julian and his friends before they are upon us.”
“You’re not sacrificing yourself, too, Brother,” Noel growled. “Don’t you even think about it.”
“That was not my intention, Master Noel, though it is a rather grand thought,” Aloysius replied, arching a brow. “I think a distraction would be of more practical value, value when I have more than one means of escape.” He flapped his leathery wings.
“What are you going to do?” Tamarack asked.
“What I must. Please, please, go quickly, my friends.”
“Good luck,” the weasel said.
“Good luck,” Tamarack echoed, hugging the frail historian. “You’ll be all right?”
He smiled, a tired, ragged expression that would have better suited a beast thrice his age. “Of course, of course, my dear. Now go!” They broke apart, the bat taking to wing while the weasel and vixen lit their lantern and descended into the cellar.
They did not speak as they hurried through the tunnel, but Noel’s presence was enough. Feeling the slickness of his paws as they jogged, hearing his measured puffs of breath, she could imagine Aloysius with them, beating his wings high above the earth as they scurried below. The pair finally slowed as they came in sight of the door leading to the rebel base. It was open and jagged strips of light shone through, tearing into the shadows of the tunnel.
“Merritt and the rest must have just arrived,” Noel said, though he’d stopped some distance away.
Tamarack felt the hairs on the nape of her neck rising as she took a step back. “Then why ain’t there no beast talking?”
The weasel had no answer, but motioned for her to hood the lantern so that they could creep closer. “Stay behind me,” he muttered as they drew near enough to peer into the room. “I can’t see…”
The lantern clattered to the floor, its flame extinguished in the rush of oil. Locria lay near the door, neck twisted at an impossible angle, ears ripped off, and pistol in pieces beside her.
Carter had reached them first.