The Martyrdom of Saint Bat

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.

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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).

The Cat's in the Cradle

August 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I did, I did.”

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

Fyfe was silent, listening.

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

“You never told me…”

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

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

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

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

“How is she?”

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

“They had better not be near my archives.”

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

“Fyfe, thank you, thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Brother Aloysius,” Isidore began.

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

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

“Brother Aloysius, what—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still nibbling at his scone, Aloysius nodded.

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

“Two are missing, missing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who else would it be, my son?”

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

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

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

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

Into the Adder's Den

August 4, 2011

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

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

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

“I’m afraid not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what is that?”

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

“If I said I did, I did?”

“Then I wouldn’t believe you.”

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

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

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

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

“Ah, more for me then.”

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

“It was nothing, really.”

“But it was something, something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I did, I did.”

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

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

“Saskia?” he asked the hare.

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

“Does Merritt know more, know more?”

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

“Why do you ask, brother?”

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

“How so, how so?”

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

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

“Then it’s true, it’s true.”

“Wot are you goin’ t’do?”

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

“An’ will you?”

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

“A beast named Case, Case.”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I brought myself, remember?”

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

Let me?”

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

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

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

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

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

“If it comes to pass, yes. Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is there anybeast there?”

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

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

“Wot is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came the barrage of names.

Noel was first. “Saskia?”

Tamarack was quick to follow. “Saskia!”

“Tam! Noel!” Saskia called to them.

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

Aloysius nodded. “Miss Tamarack, Master Noel.”

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

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

“Miss Selendra,” Aloysius greeted.

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

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

“So he…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Case is…”

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

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

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

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

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

“ ‘E’s not,” Saskia interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you caught them. Who else knows?”

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

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

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

“Shame.”

Cassius fidgeted.

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

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

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

“I suppose, I suppose so…”

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

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

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

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

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

“And those that don’t?”

“Are vermin.”

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

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

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

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

A low growl rumbled in the marten’s throat.

“Neither was Cassius responsible,” Julian answered.

“And I’m to believe that Carter was?”

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

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

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

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

Julian nodded. “I am glad you came.”

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

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

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

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

“I am asking you to betray Carter.”

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

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

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

“I would.”

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

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

The letters fell across the page – thin arcs and dots and crossed t’s – in simple script blotted only occasionally as a memory of Ripple or Raimun invaded Aloysius’ thoughts. They had begun to merge, a mouse-otter who had a horizon of possibilities stretching before his young eyes, yet whispered with a voice strained through the seasons that more days lay behind than ahead. The bat tried to separate them; each memory contained, bound, catalogued, and placed upon the shelves in precise order.

He needed to finish the letter to Saskia.

“You need a drink, brother, brother.”

The bat started, but seasons of care left only his ears to spasm at Fyfe’s sudden intrusion into his Gatehouse.

“That would not be prudent, Fyfe,” Aloysius replied, continuing to write. “I have duties to attend. To attend at the Abbey.”

“Oh? The Abbot makes a fine slavemaster, slavemaster. No time to mourn, Brother Aloysius?”

“We mourn in our own ways. Please leave me. Leave me.” The archivist hunched over his desk, the perfect picture of a diligent scholar. He had not written a word since his brother had entered. His quill itched, and he desired to scratch it.

There was a rustle of wings, but instead of departing, Fyfe’s claw landed on Aloysius’ shoulder. His touch was warm, a bracing thermal. “Don’t file this away like one of your tomes, brother. Those beasts deserve better, better.”

With a hiss, he was gone, back to Eilonwy and Saifye and the attic where Ripple no longer slept. Aloysius glanced down at his letter. A large black spot glared back.

A moment could be spared, perhaps, to count the cellarhogs and inspect their stocks.

Signing his name, Aloysius reviewed his work and frowned. Despite the barkcloth’s state, the archivist sprinkled sand on the glistening ink. He would not start anew—a part of him fancied the way it looked. Saskia deserved better, but he knew that she of all beasts would understand.

***

It was not often Aloysius joined the cellarhogs on their weekly night of brew tasting, but tonight he figured the moon was blue enough, when it hid behind the thin clouds just so, and when he was looking at it through a particular stained glass window.

“Aloysius!” Sister Ambrosia exclaimed as the bat made his cautious way down the stairs. Knowing the gig was up, he fluttered the rest of the way. The cellarhog turned and offered him a smile as she set the keg in her paws upon a rack. “I thought you might come, old friend. I’ll have Sebastian tap a barrel of ale. October, aye? You were always one for the traditional brews.”

“Perhaps, for tonight, something a bit stronger, stronger?”

The hedgehog paused for a moment, considering him as he might consider a particularly faded page. A moment later, she nodded and shouted toward another hedgehog who had just emerged from one of the many subterranean alcoves, “Celia, tell Sebastian to pull a keg of Fire Whiskey from the back.”

“Yes’m!” The cellarmaid trotted off, and Aloysius followed Ambrosia to a nook where several other hogs sat playing a game of dice. The bat had hoped for cards.

“Sorry about Ripple, Brother,” one of the hogs mumbled by way of greeting. The rest followed suit, offering their condolences for a budding pupil.

“Thank you. All of you.” The bat bowed his head, a tiny tremor of guilt fluttering through him at the sympathy.

Ambrosia directed him to a crate as Sebastian entered with the keg. Celia entered a moment later and filled the mugs in her paws before passing them around.

“To Ripple,” Ambrosia declared, raising her mug. “Shame a kit like that dying so young.”

Aloysius reached out, catching her arm before the head cellarhog could raise drink to her lips. “No. Lucky that he lived, he lived to share his life with ours.”

“To Ripple!” everybeast cried.

The whiskey burned as it went down, a fiery celebration of all that the otter had been, all that Raimun and Andrew and the others had been: friends.

***

Hushed voices and the squeal of metal roused Aloysius from his drunken stupor some time later. The bat blinked, then clicked a wall of sound in the dim cellar. He flared his ears as the echoes returned a crisp, silvery image of hogs sprawled across the floor and each other. He did not want to fathom how they could do it, but he was sure it had something to do with the empty keg.

Skreee.

That sound again. Something unyielding, accompanied by whispers in the dark.

“Ambrosia,” the bat muttered, prodding the hedgehog with a careful wingtip where she lay slumped over Sebastian. The cellarhog snorted, but gave no other indication of life. He pulled his claw back and ran it across his brow. Whatever was making the noise didn’t sound like it belonged in the earthen halls of the cellar. It was too mechanical. “Ambrosia, there is somebeast else down here, down here.” He felt like giggling, though it was difficult to say why. “Ambrosia, I’m going to go look, look.”

Aloysius flopped to the ground, mindful of the living spike balls around him as he proceeded to crawl out of their nook, away from the dim glow of the lantern. He swayed on his limbs, feeling like a kit just finding his wings. A humorous thought struck him of a young baby bankvole and suddenly the song came back to him.

“Seek the Founder in the stones,
I know where the little folk go.”

It was difficult to suppress his mirth, but the sound of scraping did well to sober him up. He sent out clicks, hearing the barrels, kegs, and wine racks as they called back to him.

Fuzzy though his mind was from the whiskey, the bat knew well enough to follow the sounds and echoes. He made a brief attempt at flying, then gave up and skittered on his claws toward one of the alcoves. There was the very faint glow of a flame within, but it was coming from behind the wall. Aloysius blinked several times, then sent out a series of clicks, and saw only the wine rack … moving.

“Cluny’s tail, but it’s making a racket!” Aloysius heard the unmistakable lilt of Tamarack Coffincreeper.

“So are you,” Noel replied. The weasel always had had a fascination for Martin the Warrior. Aloysius wondered if they too were seeking the Founder.

There was another mechanical screech, and the wine rack pivoted at the center, revealing a small crack that the vixen and weasel squeezed through. Noel set the lantern in his paw down and, together, they pushed the wine rack back.

“There, now. Not too … did you hear that?”

The weasel was suddenly alert, tense. Tamarack froze beside him, arm half-stretched toward their lantern. Aloysius shifted, trying to get a better look at the curious wine rack.

“Who’s there? Show yourself!” Noel hissed.

“Master Noel, it’s me, Brother Aloysius, Aloysius,” the bat called out, mindful to be quiet for the sleeping hogs. He pushed himself upright and offered a warm smile. “What are the two of you doing down here? You’re not seeking the Founder like I am, I am?”

“The founder?” Tamarack said.

“Yes.” Aloysius giggled, his gait amplified as he approached the two. He put a wing against the wall to steady himself. “Look at you. My books and stories weren’t enough, were they, were they? You had to seek Martin out yourself, like they did all those years ago. But I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Master Noel, Martin doesn’t lie where the little folk go.” He took a step towards them, and they stiffened. Aloysius frowned. “That’s Abbess Germaine. Martin lies elsewhere…” he trailed off, trying to recall the ancient stories of the abbey, but he could grasp none of them. “… though I cannot recall where. Is the abbess there? Behind the wine rack, wine rack? May I see?”

He took another step towards them. Noel intervened. “Nothing’s behind the wine rack, Brother. You must have been seeing things.”

Aloysius furrowed his brow. “Come now, I know there is no wall there. I can hear it, hear it. Don’t be selfish, Noel. Even a scholar like me can have his adventures.” Pushing the weasel aside, Aloysius reached the wine rack and tugged. A mechanical scrape filled his ears as the obstruction gave way.

And then Aloysius found himself on his back, his left wing folded awkwardly beneath him, and a heavy weight on top. He squeaked in protest.

“Noel, what are you doing,” Tamarack said in a vicious whisper.

“I can’t…” Noel cried. “I can’t let him see.”

Aloysius whimpered as a strong paw clasped around his throat and squeezed.

***

“Master Noel, Have I ever told you about the story of Blaggut, Blaggut?” Aloysius said, pulling the weasel away from the tapestry to wander down the halls. “He was a vermin, like yourself.”

“I don’t want to hear about vermin, Brother. I want to hear about Martin.”

“Ah, but Martin is not the only righteous beast who has graced the halls of this abbey, abbey.”

Noel paused to consider this, then nodded. “And who was Blaggut?”

 

“Blaggut was a rat, the boatswain of a ship called the Pearl Queen. He and his captain, Slipp, came to our abbey seeking shelter after their ship had been reclaimed by Finnbar Galedeep. They were the only survivors, survivors. The brothers and sisters of Redwall Abbey took them in, offered them food, shelter, and hospitality, but Slipp wanted more. He wanted treasure, as vermin are wont to do, and when he was fooled by infant playthings, took his revenge in murder, murder.”

“And Blaggut?”

“Poor Blaggut was not a smart rat. Easily persuaded, and easily led astray by his captain, Captain Slipp. But even he knew the difference between right and wrong, and once he enacted justice upon Slipp renounced his vermin ways, living his life by the stream as a true woodlander, one who lives by the creed that built this very abbey. So you see, Master Noel, not all vermin are vermin, vermin. For some can be woodlanders if they desire it.”

“And me?”

 

“I can’t say, can’t say. Only your heart can.”