Cobb wandered the Abbey grounds after leaving Tompkins’ room. He shivered, though from the chill night air or the past few days’ events, he wasn’t sure. The mole looked up at the bell tower, so high above him. He had never been up that high, never seen what the birds did. It just wasn’t natural for a mole to be in the air, they belonged in the earth. Still, Oi moight be able to see moi farm from up there.

The mole entered the graveyard, intending to go back to the house and sleep. Instead, he ambled among the stones, touching each one that belonged to a grave he had helped dig. There were far too many for the little bit of time he had spent with the Coffincreepers.

Cobb thought of his own parents, then, buried in the family plot on their farm. They had died ten seasons ago when an illness of the lungs had swept through Redwall City and the surrounding areas. Cobb had never gotten the illness, but after his parents had died, he wished he had had it too.

He sat down on the ground and cried.

It just be too much. Oi doan’t know down from up anymore.

The mole thought about his neighbor and one-time friend Isidore. Sobs wracked his body as he realized that he was on the opposite side of the conflict. A conflict that really wasn’t Cobb’s at all. What did he care about the Abbey? He had never even been inside of it until he was thrown in the dungeon.

But there be Tamarack. The mole sniffled, trying to regain his composure, but failed at the thought of the young vixen and sobbed some more. She’m be loike a sister. She’m be th’ reason Oi’m doing any of this.

He sniffled again and stifled his tears. Cobb walked into the house and to Tam’s room. He needed to talk things out with her — find out where she stood in all this. Then he’d have a purpose, a reason to fight against Isidore, and the Abbot, and the Society.

But she wasn’t in her bed. Cobb shuffled around the house, hoping to find her reading by the embers. But she wasn’t there either. She hadn’t returned from the tunnels.

Oi’ve even failed to keep Tam safe. Cobb could feel his despair sink even lower in his stomach. He felt sick, and calm all at once.

The mole returned to Tamarack’s bedroom and removed his goggles. He laid them on her pillow and left the house.


Cobb looked down at the ground from the top of the bell tower. His vision swam and he clung to the red-stone next to him. He looked to the east, towards his family farm. He’d never see it again, now. The though brought tears to his eyes once more.

The mole stepped away from the support of the building and continued to search for his farm. At least th’ last thing Oi’ll feel is th’ earth.

Cobb closed his eyes and fell forward to the inviting ground.

Oi be sorry, Tamarack.

Advertisements

Cobb and Noel exited the cellars and emerged onto the sun-bathed grounds of the Abbey.

“Noel, that be a big hole to fill-in in th’ graveyard. Oi’ll need help with th’ supports. Maybe we’m should do that later. Oi can hoide it naow.”

“Sounds good. You and Tam’s family must have plenty to do before the, ah, funeral.”

Cobb nodded and sighed. The deaths of the last few days were starting to take a toll on him. That, and losing so much sleep.

The weasel noticed the weary look his friend wore and changed the subject. “Now, how do we carry on an investigation about a beast we’re not supposed to get near?”

“Oi not be sure,” Cobb said. “But how do we’m know who is in th’ Socoiety? Who can we’m ask about Brother Tompkins?”

Noel thought a moment. “It’d have to be somebeast from outside the Abbey, but still knows the beasts in here….” He let his eyes wander as he thought about the predicament.

“Maybe we’m should talk to Bludd about him. An’ ask Tam what she’m thinks. Oi doan’t think we’m have to do it naow.”

“You’re right. Let’s have a think on it and decide when we close up the tunnel. We have to be careful of who we cross.”

“Roight. Oi’m going to hoide th’ hole naow. Oi’d better be done before tea-toime.” The mole waved a claw at his friend and loped off towards the graveyard.


Cobb wandered toward the back of the graveyard, dragging the woven mat he had found in the storage shed. He glanced around, making sure nobeast was watching him, but with Colm and Emmerich in the workshop preparing for Ripple’s funeral, there was nobeast to worry about.

When he reached the hole, he left the mat sitting at the side of it and descended.

We’m need to put supports here. An’ build a ceiling. The mole sighed. It be easier for Oi to dig a new tunnel. But that be the slower way, too.

Looking at the hole above his head, Cobb saw the simple complex of beams they would make, wood straining to support the weight of freshly-packed dirt. It would take some time, but the three of them could close it up before going to sleep that night.

We’m can use th’ mat for th’ ceiling. Oi’ll just put some slats across for support.

Cobb sat down in the tunnel, feeling the soil beneath him. He savored the sensation as it sank a bit, accommodating his body. The earth moved and sighed around Cobb, filling his nose and mouth with its musky scent. He breathed it deep into his lungs and, regretfully, released it back into the air.

Standing up, Cobb nodded; the moment was over.

He marched back up the ramp and unrolled the mat over the hole after taking a surreptitious glance around to make sure he was still alone. Lining the edges with sod was but the work of the moment, and he began preparing patches to cover the middle. The mole rolled the sod into strips and pushed it over the mat to fill it in. Some dirt and loose grass were all it took to disguise the edges so they weren’t raised above the ground around them.

He stood back to admire his work. Oi done a good job. Only a mole be able to see it.

“Cobb!”

The mole turned his head to look back at the fox family’s house. Tamarack was striding towards him.

She yelled to the mole again, “Cobb, you missed tea with the family! Grannie saved some back. We’re waiting for you. Where you been?”

He met the vixen half-way. “Oi be with Noel. We’m went to see Foremole. An’, well, Oi covered up th’ hole.”

Tamarack paused, glaring at the ground with a gravedigger’s eye. “Looks right enough!”

The pair linked arms and returned to the house for a late tea.


Althea laid the simple spread out on the table. Helping himself to a scone, Cobb sat down and poured the cream into his tea. He inhaled the scent as he stirred it.

“Now, Cobb,” Althea said, setting her teaspoon down with a precise click, “just what’ve you and my grandbaby been up to? I don’t sleep quite as sound as you two think.”

The mole started and looked up at the old vixen, coherent words explanation wriggling away from him like earthworms. “Oi… we’m… we’m didn’t do nothing wrong!” He looked at Tamarack, who was clutching her teacup like it was the last beaker of water in a desert.

“Reckon sneaking out in the middle of the night means the same thing now as it did when I was young.”

Tamarack’s head snapped up.

“Oi be going with her to keep her out of trouble,” the mole protested. “You used to go investigating evil Abbots, Miz Althea?”

“Cobb!” He narrowly avoided her footpaw as she tried to stamp down beneath the table. “You just…. She thought we were out… you know?” The vixen motioned with her paws. “Grannie, that’s disgusting!”

Realization dawned on Cobb and his eyes widened. “No, Miz Althea, Oi was only troiying to keep Miz Tam safe.”

The old vixen nodded, then pursed her lips at the pair of them. “Now what’s all this nonsense about evil Abbots? Carter ain’t quite right, but evil?”

He felt Tamarack sag beside him. “In for a copper, in for a gold, Mr. Cobb. You let the worm off the hook… you go catch it.”

Cobb took a deep breath and began their story. “See, Miz Tam and Oi be out in th’ graveyard one night and we’m found this pin. We’m didn’t know what it be, so we’m started askin’ about. An’ then Andrew died, but Fowel an’ Bludd say it be Abbot Carter that murdered him. Then Oi found a tunnel in th’ ground under th’ graveyard. We’m followed it an’ it went to a cellar in Redwall City. There be some beasts there that were going to kill us, but instead they’m said they’m trying to get rid of Carter an’ they’m made us spies.”

Tamarack took the cloakpin out of her pocket and showed it to Althea. “I showed it to Colm, first, but he wouldn’t have none of it. Shaking well enough to last out through a blizzard. And the beasts in the cellar – they was led by Julian Case and a marten named Cassius.”

Althea sat back in her chair and held a paw out for the cloakpin. “Colm was right to be scared about that pin. Durian went to his grave asking too many questions about one just like it.”

She gave the pin back to Tamarack and steepled her paws beneath her chin, thinking. “You two idiots’ve run too deep into the swamp for me to pull you out. You step light, Tam. And Cobb, like as not you’ll be thrown in the dungeon again if you’re caught. You know that, right?”

“Oi know it, Miz Althea. But, Oi can’t let Miz Tam go boi herself. Oi have to do this.”

Althea nodded at the mole, then leaned forward in her chair again. “Now you listen here, both of you. If you smell even a whiff of trouble, you run. I can’t abide heroes and fools as don’t know when to let well enough alone. You watch over my grandbaby, Cobb. She got too much of Durian in them bones for her own good.”

Cobb and Tamarack nodded. The admonishment over, Althea took a long sip of tea and grinned a gummy grin at the mole.

“Cobb, I reckon you’ll be taking up a reading primer soon enough. The bunny, Saskia, has them, and we’ll need one to get you onto more than just letters.”

“Yes, Miz Althea. Oi’ll foind her after dinner.”

After finishing their tea, the trio started cleaning up. A knock at the door interrupted just as they were finishing. Tamarack bounded over to open it.

“Hello, Miss Coffincreeper,” Isidore said. “Is Cobb available? An old friend would like to have a word with him.”

She nodded and let the rat into the kitchen. Something about his manner unsettled Cobb.

“Cobb, please come talk with me in the orchard. Don’t worry.” He glanced at Althea. “I’ll keep a good eye on your help.”

The rat escorted Cobb out the door and the two of them made their way toward the drone of bees and the rustle of leaves.

“You mind if I smoke my pipe, dear friend?”

“No, Isidore, Oi koind of loike th’ smell.”

Isidore spent some time tamping the tobacco into the bowl and lighting it. It was a ceremony, one he performed in silence. Cobb simply walked alongside his old neighbor. With a few puffs, blue smoke billowed out of the end; Isidore spoke again.

“The Coffincreeper girl is causing trouble in the Abbey. Did you know that, Cobb?”

Cobb looked at the rat, not sure what to say.

Isidore continued, “If you persist in following her around, you’ll find yourself in trouble too.” He paused, and his tone became brighter. “Why don’t you come stay in the orchard here with me? The good Father Abbot has given me permission to train you in the ways of the Abbey Brotherhood. You would be done with all of this. No more digging graves to pay for your crimes.”

“But, Oi loike working with th’ Coffincreepers. Oi get to dig. And Miz Althea be teaching me to read.”

“If you become a Brother, you could work in the gardens here. And I could teach you to read, too. Remember, I told you to come to me with your problems. What are friends for?”

“Thankee, Isidore, but Oi need to work off moi croime th’ honest way. Otherwoise, Oi couldn’t be proud of moiself.”

“You wouldn’t be proud to be a brother of this fine abbey? Well, take some time to think about it. The offer still stands. Just remember, that vixen will only bring you trouble; I’m trying to help you.” With that, the rat took his leave and left Cobb to himself.

The mole stood beneath the flowering trees his thoughts like so many petals swirling in the breeze. Something be different in him. But he still be Oi friend. Cobb shook his head, trying to shake loose the doubts the rat had brought. No. Oi have to look out for Tam.

Cobb led Tamarack through the graveyard to the tunnel entrance. Each carried a satchel filled with bread, a hunk of hard cheese, and a canteen of mint tea. Noel had not yet arrived, so they sat down to wait, the light from their tin lanterns glowing like over-sized fireflies in the darkness.

Tamarack broke the friendly silence first. “What do you reckon we’ll find down there?”

“Oi doan’t know. Oi didn’t go any farther than you’m did, but Oi know it be dug boi moles.”

The vixen’s eyes shone, twin sparkles of excitement. “Maybe Foremole helped dig it… and his crew! Reckon it’s a secret tunnel the Abbot to uses if the Abbey’s attacked?”

Cobb started at that idea and chewed on his digging claw while he thought. “Oi doan’t think so, Miz Tam. Th’ digging is newer closer to th’ Abbey. It be dug from th’ outsoide in. Somebeast dug it to come into th’ Abbey.”

“But then they can’t leave. Why would anybeast want to be stu–”

A figure leapt out of a nearby tree onto the vixen.

“Ooof!”

“Watcher doin’ sittin’ by a hole?” Bludd sat up on Tamarack’s chest and began to clean her paws.

“Get off, Bludd.” She shoved the kitten onto the ground and sat up.

“We’m be waiting.”

“Waitin’ fer wot? Is sommat gonna come out? Ye didn’t bury any treasure down there, did yer, mates?” Bludd bounded to the side and peered into the darkness. “I don’t see nothin’.”

Tamarack looked at Cobb and raised her eyebrows.

“We’m be waiting for th’ King of Spoiders to come out!”

“Yer lyin’!” The kitten’s eyes went wide and she jumped back from the side of the hole.

Tamarack joined in the fun. “Aye. An’ all his spider sons and daughters. They’ll crawl all over you, too!” She crept up behind the kitten and tickled her claws along Bludd’s back and neck.

Bludd turned to the side, her back arched, her tail poofed, and hissed at them.

“Bludd, doan’t get you’m’s hackles up! We’m only be joking with you’m.”

“O-of course ye were, mateys!”  The kitten’s eyes darted. “Well, ye might as well tell me what yer waitin’ for. Cuz I’ll just wait til it comes.” The kitten plopped herself down to wait with them.

Cobb and Tamarack looked at each other. He sighed and nodded.

“We’re waiting for Mr. Noel so we can see where that tunnel leads.”

The weasel walked up to the group, his own satchel in paw. “And now I’m here, so, Bludd, you can scamper off, and we can be on our way.”

“Fft! I’m comin’ along, too. Ya needs a ‘sperienced adventurer ta lead ya!” She marched down the ramp and into the tunnel. “Are you lot comin’ or not?”

The three beasts looked at each other. “She be trouble, Oi ‘spect.”

“Aye, but now she knows, what are we gonna do?” The weasel looked at him and shrugged.

Cobb helped Tamarack down the ramp, and the group set off to see where the tunnel led.


Tamarack suppressed a yawn.

“Do you’m want to go back, Miz Tam? We’m could sleep before morning chores.”

The vixen pawed at her eyes and glanced over at Noel before replying. “Not a chance, Mr. Cobb. Expect this here tunnel’ll end soon as you like.”

Bludd came bounding back from the darkness ahead. “There’s a door up there!”

“A door?” Cobb sniffed and felt around the walls, trying to figure out where they were. “We’m be in Redwall City, Oi believe, but Oi doan’t know where in th’ city. Perhaps we’m shouldn’t go in yet.”

Tamarack sighed. “You’re worse than a little old mousemum crossing a road. What was the point of coming if we ain’t going through. That door might well lead to the truth, Mr. Cobb. About the pins, the Abbot, Mr. Andrew, Brother Raimun… even my gramps.”

“But, Miz Tam, we’m doan’t know who be behoind that door. What if it be more beasts loike Abbot Carter?”

“Gobby, it’s an adventure! We should duel ‘em!” The kitten mimed brandishing a sword about and hopped around the tunnel.

“Shhh. Bludd, you’m be quiet. What if somebeast hears you’m?”

Noel chimed in, then. “He’s right, Bludd. But, Cobb, we came all this way. We have to find out what’s behind that door. And the only way to do it is to go through. What do you say?”

Cobb was silent a moment. “You’m wait here. Oi’ll dig a tunnel around to th’ soide. Then Oi can peek in an’ see what be behoind th’ door. We’m can decoide what to do after Oi get back.”

Tamarack opened her mouth, but it shut it again before speaking.

“Cobb, I think… well, I think that’s a good plan,” Noel said.

Cobb smiled and nodded as they agreed to his plan. Tamarack sat Bludd down and took out her bread and cheese to share with the kitten.

The mole went a few feet farther down the tunnel and felt the wall. Digging his claws in, he tested a few spots before he started his own, smaller passage. Soon, clods of dirt were flying from his claws in a steady stream, collecting in piles as he burrowed further into the welcoming earth.

The dirt felt delicious. It had been such a long time since Cobb had dug just for the sake of digging. He relished each clawful as he allowed it to slip through onto the floor behind him. He could smell the earth worms and the recent rain that still dampened the soil.

Five minutes passed before he paused, letting the vibrations of the earth move through him. He could feel movement coming from what must be the room behind the door. Somebeast was pacing back and forth. Cobb also felt something bouncing: Somebeast bouncing his leg whoile sitting, maybe? He turned and dug towards it, stopping just short of breaking through into the room. With one claw, Cobb made a cautious hole. He put his eye to it and peered through.

Inside the room, there were three beasts sitting around a table and a pine marten pacing the floor. As Cobb watched, they all stiffened, then the hedgehog yelled at somebeast he couldn’t see. There was movement along the wall where Cobb stood, and he felt more than heard the door being opened. The beasts inside drew their weapons and faced it.

“You there!” Cobb heard somebeast shout from the tunnel.

He turned and ran back towards his friends, no longer taking the time to enjoy the earth encompassing him.

When he reached the main tunnel, he saw Tamarack, Noel, and Bludd on their footpaws, being led into the cellar by a pair of otters, each brandishing a sword.

“You’m sea dogs leave Miz Tam alone!” Cobb threw himself at the nearest otter only to be slammed into the ground.

“Up ye come, hero! Yer goin’ in, too.” The otter plucked the dazed mole off the floor and shoved him forward.

Inside, the group was met by a pine marten, a hedgehog, a young haremaid, and a burly mouse with a bandaged ear.

The haremaid looked at the hedgehog. “Should I kill ‘em, Case?” She raised her pistol and pointed it at Cobb.

The hedgehog gave a small, thin-lipped smile and nodded.

“No!” A voice broke through the tension. “Case, that kitten is the one that saved my life.”

“Selendra!” Bludd hurried over to the mouse, arms open to hug her. Selendra pushed the kitten away, and instead mussed her fur between her ears.

“Very well, Sel,” the hedgehog said. “We’ll hear what they have to say, then we’ll decide. Locria, do lower your pistol.”

The haremaid put her weapon away and sank back into her chair, arms crossed across her chest. Selendra led Bludd to the table and the pair sat down.

Case gestured for Cobb, Tamarack, and Noel to sit as well. Cobb moved towards the table to take his seat.

“Well, Cassius, what do you think of our intruders?” Case turned to the marten.

The marten said nothing, but let his eyes wander over the group. His eyes fell on Noel and stopped, then flitted back to the hedgehog.

Shifting in his seat, Cobb cleared his throat. “Hurr… hurr…” He began, but stopped when he looked around at the stony faces of their captors. The mole lowered his eyes to the table.

“Mr. Cobb, Tamarack!” The young otter scrambled through the sopping graveyard towards the pair. Bludd bounded after him, sacrilegiously leaping on the markers to avoid muddying her paws.

“Brother Andrew… he’s… the Abbot….” Foweller leaned over, paws on his knees, gasping for breath.

“Fowel, what’re you saying?”

Cobb and Tamarack crowded around the newcomers, their clean-up duties forgotten in the intrusion.

The otter caught his breath and continued. “Brother Andrew’s dead. Me and Bludd heard it. We were in the Abbot’s manor. Abbot Carter, he murdered Andrew!”

“You’m be sure about that?” Cobb looked the pair of young beasts over.

“Me ol’ Gob, have ye ever known me t’ be a fibber?” The kitten’s tail switched behind her. She was playing with something inside her blanket, pawing at it nervously.

“There be the toime with th’ spoider, Bludd. But, Foweller, you’m can’t be accusing th’ Abbot of murder without proof. Even if he be a roight creepy beast.”

“Proof?! Andrew’s dead on the Abbot’s front steps and we heard the fight. And I have this pin!” Foweller brandished the silver pin with the red jewel in it’s center. Cobb and Tamarack leaned over to see it up close.

“Aye, that’s the same kind of pin we found, Mr. Cobb! Where’d you get it, Fowel?”

“It was in the Abbot’s study, along with a flintlock pistol. We went and told Rip first, but he didn’t believe us.”

“Th’ landlubber told us we must’ve ‘eard wrong! He said that th’ Abbot would never do that.”

“I reckon the Abbot does more than most beasts might expect. Right. Let’s get to the bottom of this.” The vixen strode off towards the gates at the entrance of the graveyard.

“Miz Tam, if Andrew be dead, shouldn’t we’m bring Mr. Colm along with?”

Tamarack stopped and turned back to the others. She screwed up her face for a moment and twitched her whiskers. “No, Colm’ll only tell us we can’t go on account of it being too dangerous. He’ll tell Papa, and we’ll get sat here to mind the yard. And if Mr. Andrew really is dead… Let’s go!”

The group of beasts picked their way around the grave markers and mud and squished their way towards the Abbot’s manor. As they neared it, they could hear the schoolmaster trying to herd the dibbuns back into the school. Kits were sobbing and pointing as the group approached the flower-lined pathway that led to the Abbot’s front steps.

Cobb led the others through the small group of beasts gathered to watch the spectacle. Andrew’s body still lay on the steps, his face twisted into a horrible grimace. Abbot Carter was sitting on the steps, a little ways from the body, being tended by Sister Delores.

As the group approached, Carter eyed them all as he continued to moan about his injured arm. Sister Delores was trying to bandage it, but the Abbot was too engrossed in recounting his tale of what had happened.

“He cut me! I saw something change. Something in his eyes. I should have listened when everybeast said he was mad, but I had to try.”

Skipper arrived with a guard of otters and pushed his way to the front. “What’s going on, Abbot Carter? What happened?”

Carter allowed Sister Delores to finish bandaging his arm before he stood up to speak. “Brother Andrew confessed to me that it was he who murdered Brother Raimun.”

A murmur went through the crowd, and the Abbot allowed it to die down before continuing. “I was holding him in isolation for questioning. When I opened the door to interrogate him, he went mad. His eyes widened and glazed over. He starting shouting about those Things that he always ranted on about. Then, he attacked me and cut my arm. I had to kill him, you see. Brother Andrew tried to kill me.” Carter looked at Cobb and Tamarack and gave them a half smile.

“Miz Tam,” the mole whispered. “Oi doan’t think Andrew could kill nobeast.”

“I reckon you’re right, Mr. Cobb. This was murder.”

“Shouldn’t we’m tell somebeast? Maybe we’m should tell th’ Skipper about it.”

“Who’d believe us with the Abbot sitting there pretty as you like? Let’s just offer to get rid of the body. Papa’ll have a fit that nobeast called him.”

Foweller broke into their conversation in a low hiss. “He’s lying right out! Th’ Abbot’s lying about it all!”

“We believe you, Fowel, but don’t go telling nobeast. The Abbot already threatened me and Mr. Cobb when he found out about us sniffing after the pins.” She looked at the kitten next to him. “That goes double for you, Bludd. Don’t go telling nobeast. If he’s willing to murder Mr. Andrew out in the open like this…”

“Come on, Miz Tam. Th’ Abbot be looking at us funny again.”

The pair mounted the steps and approached Carter. “Father Abbot, zir, we’m wanted to know if you’m wanted us to clear out th’ body.”

“My children, that would be wonderful. Now I won’t have to call your father to do it, Tamarack.”

Cobb grabbed the mouse’s shoulders and Tamarack lifted at his ankles.

“Oh, and Tamarack,” the Abbot paused, “there won’t be a funeral. A traitor to the Abbey doesn’t deserve to be mourned. Or remembered.”

“Aye, sir. I’ll let Papa know.”


Dinner was over and the sun was beginning to set as Cobb and Tamarack dug the grave for Andrew.

“It isn’t right, Mr. Cobb. He should have a proper funeral.”

Cobb grunted as he moved a rock out of the hole. “Oi think so too. Perhaps Zir Colm could say something when we’m bury him. Or you’m could. Th’ Abbot can’t stop us from remembering Andrew.”

“I suppose you’re right. We’ll have to think of something really nice to say.”

Cobb glanced up and saw a lean figure striding through the graveyard toward them. As it came closer, he could see that it was Noel, the campball coach.

“Hello, Tamarack, Cobb.” Noel nodded at each in turn.

The vixen whipped herself around and beamed at the weasel. She quickly brought her paws up to wipe the mud off her face and to straighten her fur. “Hi, Mr. Noel!”

Cobb looked up from the deepening hole. “What be you’m doing here, Noel?”

“I wanted to talk to you more about Cassius.”

“That’s the fellow you said ran a gang?”

“Aye. You see, I used to –”

“Miz Tam, Oi think there be something here you’m need to know.”

The vixen sighed and leaned over to peer into the hole. “What is it?”

“Well, Oi was digging an’ well… you’m know how Oi can feel things in the ground? Well, under this hole isn’t as solid as it should be. Oi think there’s another hole under th’ hole.”

Tamarack pulled a face at the mole. “What do you mean a hole under the hole?”

“Oi mean, there’s something down under this graveyard.”

The trio looked at each other. Noel and Tamarack grabbed shovels and hopped into the hole with Cobb. They all dug as quickly as they could, the mud flying out over them.

They hadn’t dug far when Cobb’s claws broke through the dirt into open space. He stopped the others before the floor under them collapsed. It took a bit of creative digging, but they managed to create a crude ramp down into a long, open space.

“Mr. Cobb, can you tell how far it goes?” Tamarack squinted into the darkness, trying to see the end.

“Oi can’t feel an end. This must be a tunnel of sorts.”

“Wait here. I’ll get the lantern.” Noel went back up the ramp and returned a moment later, his face lit up by the flame. “It’s not much, but we should be able to see around us.”

“Oi’m not sure we’m should be exploring this. That way,” Cobb pointed in one direction, “be closer in towards th’ Abbey.”

“Then we’ll go the other way!” Tamarack set out down the tunnel, the two males forced to follow her into the darkness.

The tunnel twisted and turned but never branched off. They followed it until Cobb held up a claw to stop the other two. He stood still and felt the walls of the tunnel for a bit. He sniffed the dirt and nodded.

Tamarack sighed impatiently. “What was that all about?”

“Roight above us be th’ Abbey walls. Th’ south walls.”

“Could these tunnels lead to Redwall City?” Noel looked as far ahead as the small light allowed him to.

“Oi can’t tell how far they’m go. Perhaps we’m should go back naow.”

Tamarack frowned at the mole. “But we need to know where they go.”

“Miz Tam, your parents will wonder where we’m be if we’re not insoide for bed.”

The weasel spoke up. “We could go back, get some better lanterns, maybe some bread and cheese to bring with and come back. Tam’s right, we need to know where these tunnels are goin’.”

“Aye!” The vixen smiled at Noel. “Mama and Papa won’t know if we come back after they’re asleep.”

Cobb sighed. He knew he’d already lost the battle.

Cobb sat a little ways away from the Coffincreeper family finishing his meal. Miz Tam won’t be happy that th’ kitten left. Oi didn’t foind out more about th’ pin. His head sank a little lower.

Where be Miz Tam anyways? She be gone a long toime naow. He looked around; nobeast was watching the unobtrusive mole. Cobb got up from the table and headed in the direction Tamarack had gone. Oi’ll foind her moiself, then.

Cobb found himself wandering towards the abbey’s main building. He passed an unattended cart piled high with pamphlets and books. His eyes caught on one of the books’ spines and widened as he recognized a couple of the letters. “‘A’. And that’s a ‘C’.”

Cobb stood staring at the letters. He could pick out a few more, but the others swam in front of his eyes. The mole shook his head and re-focused on the abbey’s main building. As he was watching, the doors opened and a familiar figure came bounding out. Tamarack was carrying an envelope clutched tight to her chest. She turned her head to look behind and almost ran into him.

“Watch out, Miz Tam.” Cobb caught the vixen as she stumbled to regain her balance.

“Come on, Mr. Cobb. We got to get this to Brother Raimun, now.”

“What be in th’ envelope?”

“Something about Julian Case. I don’t rightly know, but I think it’s important.”

“Miz Tam, you’m be sure we should be doing this?”

“Mr. Cobb, I have to deliver this. You don’t got to come with me. It’s your choice, but there’s something mighty peculiar going on in this Abbey, and I reckon it ain’t just a body and pin.”

The vixen plowed forward, heading towards the gatehouse. She be going boi herself. Oi need to go with Miz Tam just to keep an eye on her. Young ladies loik her shouldn’t be wandering about boi themselves. Cobb plodded along in Tamarack’s wake.

The pair passed the tables set out on the lawn, now about empty while everybeast enjoyed the activities. Cobb almost ran into Aloysius.

“Oi’m gurtly sorry, Brother Aloysius.”

“Oh, it is no problem, problem. I was just returning to the gatehouse for a moment, moment.”

“Brother Aloysius, have you seen Brother Raimun?” Tamarack looked at the bat expectantly.

“Yes, my child. He was just finishing his supper at the table beneath that tree, that tree.”

“Thank you, Brother Aloysius. C’mon Mr. Cobb. We got a job to do.”

Cobb shuffled along behind Tamarack who was trotting towards an elderly mouse sitting at one of the long banquet tables.

“Brother Raimun, Mr. Merritt asked me to give this to you. I’m not rightly sure what it is, but he said it’s real important.” The vixen handed the mouse the envelope. He opened it and looked at the paper inside.

“Thank you, Miss Tamarack. And who is your friend?”

“Oi be Cobb, zir. Oi work for th’ Coffincreepers.” The mole looked at Tamarack. “Miz Tam, Oi think we’m should be returning to your family naow.”

“Just a moment, Mr. Cobb.” Tamarack turned back to the mouse. “Brother Raimun, who’s this Julian Case fellow?”

“Julian Case used to reside here at the abbey, Miss Tamarack,” Raimun replied.

“He did? What happened to him, sir? What was the ‘Unjust, Cruel, and Barbarous Proceedings’? Is that why he don’t live here no more?”

The mouse sighed. “Miss Tamarack, it seems you have been reading something that wasn’t meant for a young beast’s eyes. Don’t trouble yourself with this anymore. Run along now; I won’t say any more about Julian Case.”

“Miz Tam, we’m been gone a long toime. Let’s go an’ leave Brother Raimun to his reading.”

A spark of protest flickered in Tamarack’s eye, but Cobb saw it extinguished a moment later when she turned to look at him. “Aye. You’re right, Mr. Cobb. Mumma’ll send Colm looking for us if we don’t get back soon… and Ms. Saskia’ll be wondering after me. Good night, Brother Raimun.”

“Good night, my children.”

Cobb and Tamarack headed towards the bonfire that was at the center of the night’s activities. Some beasts were dancing, some were playing games, still others were chatting with neighbors from outside the abbey’s walls. But all of them had drawn close to the fire that was lighting the night.

“Cobb, Tamarack,” a voice said from the shadows, “please come closer.”

The duo halted and turned towards the voice in the trees. Tamarack started forward, but Cobb put a claw on her arm. “Miz Tam, you’m think we should follow a voice out there?”

“You worry too much, Mr. Cobb. Could be important. Maybe something about the cloakpin from Ms. Saskia!”

They stepped closer to the trees and the shape of a beast wearing an abbey habit came into view. It turned and went a little further into the trees, beckoning them to follow. They did and started when the Abbot’s kindly face turned back towards them.

“It seems we have a couple of thieves in my abbey.” The otter peered out of his hood at the mole and vixen. “Cobb, you’ve already been imprisoned for stealing from me. And Tamarack, what would your parents think if they knew of your nightly activities?”

The duo stared at the abbot, wide-eyed.

A pike’s smile stretched from ear-to-ear. “We live in a community, my children. One that I have worked so very hard to build. The community keeps us safe. It keeps us loving each other. Which is why I’m so very disappointed that two of my children would seek to undermine that in times when terrible forces threaten us all. Stealing from one of my Order, smuggling the literature of cowards and liars, and lying to your abbot… so boldly.” The otter’s teeth glimmered from the shadows.

“We’m didn’t –”

“We weren’t trying –”

“Have you heard the story of the curious fox, my children?” At their silence, Carter continued. “There once was a little fox named Durian. He was a clever beast, far too clever for his own good. And curious. So very curious. Every night, Durian would wander the Abbey lawns looking for new and interesting treasures, and one night, he came upon a beautiful cloakpin… silver with a red ruby at its heart. He wanted to know more about this pin, though his friends and the Brothers and Sisters of the Order warned him that it might be dangerous, that the pin’s owner might somehow hurt Durian if he persisted. Durian would have none of it, and… well… I believe you know this part of the story, Tamarack? I would hate to have another Coffincreeper turn up dead on the lawns. Durian was curious, just like you, my child. You would do well to remember that curiosity may kill the fox” — his eyes flicked to Cobb — “and her accomplices as well as the cat.”

The otter pushed his way past the stunned beasts who turned to watch him leave.

Cobb looked at the vixen as Carter padded off through the crowd. “Perhaps we’m shouldn’t tell so many beasts about th’ cloakpin, Miz Tam.”

“A-aye, I think you’re right, Mr. Cobb. We’ll have to step right careful from now on.”

Cobb took the vixen’s paw and led her back towards where they had left the Coffincreeper family. They walked in silence, until the mole spotted some familiar beasts. “Look! There be Zir Colm an’ Miz Ida! Let’s go an’ join them.”

The duo threaded their way through the throng of beasts towards the fox couple, happy to be among friends again. Colm and Ida were seated by the bonfire surrounded by a scared-looking group of dibbuns. “Hah!” Tamarack perked up, and Cobb smiled. “Colm’s telling one of his scary stories. The dibbuns love hearing about ghosts in the graveyard.”

“Miz Tam?” Cobb stopped at the edge of the group of dibbuns. “There really be ghosts in th’ graveyard?”

“You ain’t scared, are you, Mr. Cobb?” The young vixen lilted the question, teasing the mole.

“Just a bit, Miz Tam. Oi doan’t want to meet any ghosts.”

Cobb and Tamarack sat down to enjoy the story. The fire flickered across the faces of everybeast, the shadows becoming masks.

Colm continued his story in hushed whispers. “The ghost of Mattimeo rose, then, all armoured splendor. ‘Halt, vermin,’ he said. ‘Why are you stepping on the sacred ground of Martin?’

“Gramps – my grandpa, Durian Coffincreeper – stood his ground. ‘Revered Mattimeo, times have changed; I live here.’

“‘A vermin living within these walls? It cannot be. I will gut you where you stand, fox!’

“Mattimeo charged at Gramps, his sword drawn –”

A dark, hulking figure stumbled into the edge of the group. Cobb shrieked, joined by a chorus of dibbuns. He felt Tamarack jump at his side.

The figure let out a moan and opened its mouth:
“So when she needs a-scrubbin’
‘Tween ‘er keel an’ ‘er rudder
Be sure it’s not a-scuppin’
From the paw of another

‘caaaaaaaause

Unless you want ‘er poop deck soaked
An’ ‘er aft-castle all a-flooded
Be sure to keep yer draft a-slicked
E’en if it is a-rutted.

So scrub ‘eartie, scrub matey
Keep the barnacles at bay
A swift current, swift stroking
Keeps her sailing every day.”*

Skipper collapsed onto the ground, sobs shaking his body. “I miss Loire. So much, I miss ‘er.”

“There, there, Skipper,” Ida said, patting his back. “Let’s get you inside and to bed.”

She motioned to two nearby otters; each hooked one of Skipper’s arms around his neck and half-dragged him towards the Abbey dormitories.

“Hurr burr, Oi wasn’t scared when th’ Skipper showed up.”

“Nobeast said you were, Mr. Cobb. Sure you weren’t just a bit scared?”

“Burr, Miz Tam, not Oi. Zir Colm, will you’m finish th’ story, please?” Cobb sat down again on the grass, leaning forward in anticipation of the conclusion.

“Shhhh. The abbot’s about to give his speech,” traveled through the crowd in whispers. Cobb stood up and, with everybeast, turned towards the steps where Abbot Carter was standing, his paws held up to quiet the masses. He waited until all eyes were upon him and cleared his throat.

“These times have changed our fair Abbey, my children. Old foes live in peace within our walls, we have sent forth missionaries to aid the sick and wounded wherever they may be, and the wonders of our times allow us to spread the word of peace to everybeast in Mossflower. These are troubled times, though. Lockdown, murder…” His eyes seemed to fix on Cobb, “thievery. And mistrust grows as a tumor within the flesh. It begins small, innocuous, but the disease will spread, destroying what we all hold dear.

“We must cut away these tumors, though it pains us so, before they can lead to worse. We must trust each other, and you must all trust me. We have lost so many friends, young and vibrant, old and well-loved, alike. Until this menace has departed from our woods, you must stay safe in the Abbey. Look to me, look to the Brothers and Sisters of our Order to care for you. Nobeast shall go wanting within these walls. Most of all, though, look to each other. Ensure that we are, all of us, banded together.

“If you know a beast –”

The abbot’s words were cut off by a loud “Skreeeee!”

Cobb could feel the wind from flapping wings as shrieks from the crowd around him joined the chorus of skrees above.

Somebeast shouted, “Move out o’ th’ way,” and the mole felt himself being jostled against Tamarack and Colm, the three of them being shoved back as a group of bats swooped down and landed next to the bonfire. Cobb strained to see them over the beasts in front of him.

There were three bats. One was male; the mole thought it looked like his ear had been chewed by a very large beast. The other two were female.

“Uncle Aloysius,” the smallest bat called out into the night. She was wearing a beret and a striped scarf.

Carter’s eyes flashed as he looked around for the bat in question. They found him as he was joining the other bats by the fire. “Brother Aloysius, since you seem to know these bats, please escort them to the gatehouse so their identifications may be processed. No beast may enter the abbey without it. Brother Isidore, please accompany them and provide assistance.”

“Eilonwy, my little niece, come with me, with me.” Aloysius smiled as he led the three bats through the parting crowd and towards the gates.

Cobb‘s eyes sought out Isidore and found him standing near the fire. The rat nodded at the abbot and followed the bats.

Carter watched the group of beasts disappear into the dark before he turned back to the crowd to continue his speech.

“If you know a beast who has been acting suspicious, let one of the Order know. We can confront this individual, learn what motivates him. And, if he is a spy, if he is one of these vile creatures who has targeted innocent Abbeybeasts, we will deal with him accordingly.

“We have been through much, but this is just a test, my children. This past winter has been hard, but it is spring now. A time for birth and growth. But with these new beginnings comes the bittersweet sting of remembrance. And so, this spring shall be known as The Spring of Remembering Lost Friends.”

A murmur went through the gathered beasts. “The Spring of Remembering Lost Friends.” Everybeast mulled it over, seeing how it tasted in their mouths.

Next to Cobb, somebeast whispered, “I didn’t think he’d name it for the murdered beasts.”

Cobb turned to Tamarack, his mouth open in surprise. The vixen’s own face mirrored his. “Mr. Cobb, why is he naming this spring for them? It’ll make everybeast sad when they think of it.”

“Miz Tam, Oi think that’s whoi he did it. Oi think he wants us to remember them.”

 

*A “Thank you” goes out to Tibsy for writing Skipper’s Song for me. Everyone knows he’s the bird to go to for poetry!