Martin and the Mask

September 2, 2011

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

“Sorry, Lock,” Foweller groaned.

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isidore ran.

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foweller rested in Noel’s arms.

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Dead Reckoning

August 24, 2011

“Brother Aloysius? I brought some pie.” Foweller set the plate on the bat’s desk and made to leave. The Recorder seemed deep in thought, poring over scraps of paper. The little otter could not imagine anything quite so horribly tedious.

“Wait, wait.” Aloysius took his eyes off his study and scrutinised the kit. He offered a small twitch of a smile. “Thank you.”

“What sort of, er, things are you reading, Brother?” Foweller asked politely.

“Records of times past, times past. The archives tell us of our ancestors of old.”

“Ancestors, huh? Reckon I can find my family in here?” Foweller thumbed the spines of a few of the dusty tomes. “Try under ‘D’, for Dantor.”

“Dantor, Dantor? They show up quite often, as a matter of fact.” Aloysius left his tome in search of another dusty record. “Which Dantor would you like to hear? There was once a story of a gypsy pup named Kaja and a slave named Sandrose, who recovered the ancient Green Stone in a time where it would have surely brought war upon all of Mossflower. You must hear it someday. What else, what else? I believe there was mention of the Dantors in a story of an endemic plague that originated underground…” He was shuffling through sheafs of ledgers and books with no apparent direction. “And then there was Juniper Dantor, who actually…” Aloysius paused. “…was found guilty of murdering the Abbess of Redwall. Now, child, why are you asking of such things?”

“The Abbot’s probably trying to get me as payback,” Foweller muttered under his breath. His snout twitched as his search dislodged puffs of dust from the shelves. “I was actually wondering if you’ve got anything on the Mask.”

“Ah, you mean Riverwyte, Riverwyte! He’s one of our oldest heroes, you know. He lived in a time before this Abbey was even built, when vermin ruled the land from Kotir, a castle that became Redwall’s very foundations. He lacked a tail, but it allowed him to disguise himself as anybeast, anybeast he wanted to be. They called him the Mask.”

“Rigg said he died.” Foweller clasped his paws and adopted the sort of thoughtful pose he imagined scholars used.

The bat sighed. “Indeed. He was killed rescuing other figures in our abbey records, records. Ferdy and Coggs, the baby hedgehog twins, and Gingivere, the wildcat.”

“A wildcat!” Foweller gaped. Aloysius smiled.

“A good wildcat, wildcat. Thanks to Gingivere, Mossflower has forgiven the house of Greeneyes.”

“I suppose Bludd’s a good enough wildcat as any,” Foweller said. He looked up, and saw tears in the archivist’s eyes. “What is it, Brother Aloysius?”

~~~

An hour later, Foweller wandered into the Great Hall in a daze. It was midday lunch. Mice, squirrels, otters and the occasional vermin sat in their groups, gossiping and filling their faces. Did no beast remark on the absence of the little wildcat?

“Skipper!” Foweller called. Rigg did not hear, too busy in conversation with Remy. The day’s lunch of pastry rolls and cheeses were snaffled up by greedy otter muzzles, with pitchers of cordial to wash it down. The tables were awash with the candelabra set and neat rows of plates scattered with crumbs. “Skipper Rigg!”

“Aye, sit down, Fowel,” Rigg waved him over. The kit tottered forward, but could not take the seat. His limbs would not even budge at the Skipper’s welcoming paw.

“Where’s Bludd?” Foweller imagined for a moment that saying her name aloud would summon the kitten. She would roll from under the table and yowl at him, the scurvy streamdog that he was. The pit in his stomach suggested otherwise. “Where’s my friend?”

“Er, Bludd? The little kitten?” Rigg scratched his ear thoughtfully. “I haven’t seen her, well, since…”

“Since she died?” Foweller said at an embarrassingly loud volume. The chatter around him promptly faltered.

“What? Died?” Rigg spluttered convincingly.

“You were chasing her. Couple of days ago. Some beast told me where she was found.” Foweller trembled as Rigg stood up, alarm replaced by livid fury.

“Don’t you dare talk to your elders like that, you insolent kit!” Rigg thundered. Foweller hopped back. Rigg’s eyes flickered from side to side as the eyes of the Abbey turned on them, voices dying out and ears perking at the sound of a shouting match. “Out with you! Go off to the rat’s shed where you belong.”

“Why, did you leave another corpse in it? Killed off any other defenceless Redwallers recently?” Foweller screamed back.

“Who’s been filling this little one’s head with ideas? Me, poisoning Redwallers? You have a nerve, you foulmouthed Dibbun,” Rigg growled. Foweller froze. His mind ticked for a second. The body Ripple had found. Brother Raimun!

“I never mentioned poison.” Foweller’s eyes widened. He did not have to shout any more. There was a shocked silence and Rigg’s face betrayed all. “Oh, ‘Gates. You murdered the recorder.”

Rigg strode forward and caught Foweller’s shoulders. Surprised, the pinned kit struggled as Rigg cuffed him over the ear.

“Apologise, you little wretch!” Rigg yelled and struck Foweller again. The blow slammed against his head, making him wince and hiss at the crushing vice clamped over his arm.

“Get your paws off my nephew, you flexing prat,” Duster’s warm tones were laced with icy rage. Foweller’s adoptive uncle had marched from his seat to confront his brother face to face. Rigg sneered at Duster and shoved the kit to the floor.

Duster punched Rigg.

The Great Hall was suddenly in uproar. Woodlanders scattered as the otters exchanged blows and a few vermin were egging the whole thing on, cheering at each thud and crack. Members of the Order moved in to break up the otter brawl, with little success. The crew was soon split between otters that supported Rigg and those that were loyal to Duster.

Foweller choked down a guffaw as he saw Gabriel tackle two otters at once. Sister Redronnet was herding the squealing Dibbuns out of the door, most of whom were throwing themselves at her to be allowed to watch. Rigg had Duster pinned to the table, pitchers rolling over and cascading out their contents. With barely a thought, Foweller jumped on the table, Martin unslung.

Eulalia!” Foweller cried, swinging Martin. Rigg had his paws on a candelabrum. The two pieces of metal connected with a loud clang. One of Rigg’s supporters, Tanbark, grabbed at the kit’s ankles from behind and toppled Foweller onto the table. Crockery shattered under him.

“Norford firsts!” Noel wrestled Tanbark to the ground. Relief flooded through Foweller at the sound of a familiar voice. He leapt up to give Noel a paw. Well, the flat head of the shovel to Tanbark’s stomach. The otter rolled over and groaned, clutching himself.

“Norford firsts? What regiment is that?” Foweller asked, giving the weasel a quizzical grin. Noel grabbed his paw.

“Campball team, actually. Is this your idea of not doing anything rash?” Noel tugged the kit, his eyes on the door. Foweller pulled back.

“We can’t leave Uncle Duster.” Foweller glanced back at the two otters that now danced back and forth across the dining table. Rigg had drawn his sword and was bearing down on Duster’s little knife. The former Skipper was dodging his brother’s bloodwrath of swings and flinging plates at Rigg’s head. Ceramic chunks littered the floor. Badgermum Agnes had an indignant Brother Abel in a headlock and Gabriel was breaking a chair over a foolish otter that had grabbed a musket.

In the midst of the riot Foweller saw Isidore, sat at a table drinking a cup of tea with his little claw sticking out, studiously ignoring the bloody-nosed squirrel and otter strangling each other on the floor beside him.

“Fowel, wait!” Foweller could hear Noel’s pawsteps pounding after him. Strong paws, good for… kicking.

“Noel, drop kick!” Foweller snatched up a melon from the next table and hurled it at the weasel. He could see Noel’s instincts conquer his mind as he flawlessly booted the fruit down the hall. The delicious projectile exploded like a shell over Rigg’s face.

“Goal!” Foweller and Noel crowed, jubilantly punching the air. The heavy beast crashed onto the table with a satisfying thump and the tinkle of cracked plates. When Rigg cleared his vision of juicy mush, he found Duster’s knife tickling his throat. Gabriel whooped and Noel gave Foweller an embarrassed chuckle.

What is going on here?” Carter asked softly. The remainder of the brawl quickly halted at the sight of the Abbot at the far end of the hall. Carter took in the ruined plates, the food scattered across the floor, the bleeding members of his Order and the two brawny otters on the dining table. Isidore coughed and stood, placing down his teacup.

“The Skipper has been charged with two murders, Father.”

“To say the least,” Noel commented drily.

“So, Duster, you saw fit to destroy the hall and terrorise my Order?” Carter hissed. The Abbot seemed in no rush to go near any of them. Foweller’s tunic was damp against his chest with spilt cordial and Duster was drawing blood from his brother’s chin. Tanbark was still moaning.

“He laid paws on my kit and he hasn’t denied the accusations yet,” Duster growled, “Now let him deny it!”

Rigg was silent. His face went through a myriad of contortions before settling on intense hatred. Duster spat in his face.

Foweller slowly started to back his way to the side door to the dormitories, nodding his head at Noel. The two of them edged through the door, out of Carter’s line of sight. Grasping each other’s paw, the two friends trotted frantically down the hallway. The raised voice of the Abbot echoed after them as they broke into a run. Foweller and Noel burst out of the Abbey into midday sunshine and galumphed as far from the scene of their crime as possible.

“Did you hear him? I’m Duster’s kit!” Foweller gave a victorious cheer. Then, he began to laugh.

Shoot, Don't Talk

August 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BANG.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ye can make it to Redwall?”

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

Psst!

No such luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nor Shall My Sword Sleep

August 7, 2011

Foweller had found the burnt planks of wood around the back of Isidore’s shed. At first they had meant nothing. Then the drone of bees and crackle of flames reminded him. Finding a strip of charred wood, he had tried marking his own name in black on a slat that had escaped the fire. F…A…O…W…L…A…R, the chunk of wood pronounced. The F was the boldest letter, the otter’s writing growing progressively smaller and more crooked.

B…L…U…D. Where was she? Actually finding the kitten was near impossible, but she always popped up whenever there was fun to be had. Maybe Foweller had driven her away, playing his games with Isidore instead.

“Brother Isidore?” Foweller dropped the slat as Isidore passed him at the door. The rat gave him a tired nod of greeting. “I have the proof. About Merritt.”

Isidore emerged back into the light of the evening, maw closed over his pipe. He puffed for a few tense moments, Foweller shifting his weight. He withdrew the offending pamphlet from his sash and held it out.

“Ah. Yes, I’ll deal with that,” Isidore muttered, stowing the paper away. Duty done, Foweller washed his paws of soot in Isidore’s washing basin. He wondered what Isidore would do. Beautiful images of a blazing cart sprang to mind.

“Did any beast ever… take their own way out. When you served?” Isidore asked. He then frowned and shook himself. “Shouldn’t have… go to Cavern Hole, lad. Your supper will get cold.”

Foweller shuffled to the door, but hesitated. “One,” he replied. “One I knew about.”

“What did he do?”

“Lost Lord Baxter’s colours. The Long Patrol wasn’t too big, so we had the one battle standard. Took a patrol up North across the River Moss,” Foweller related. The words came easily; he could have been recounting a picnic. He folded his arms and leant against the doorframe.

“What happened?”

“Barge overturned. Otters ordered into the water after it. Spent… spent hours in the blackness. Every beast was furious. I was freezing. Must’ve swum a mile. Couldn’t find camp till dawn.”

“Did you get in trouble?”

“No. Had a good laugh after a while,” Foweller cheekily showed off his teeth. Isidore shifted, uncertain.

“Your tail?” He questioned. Foweller gave a bark of laughter.

“Oh, I had my tail. You know how the ensign did himself in?”

“Shooting?”

“And waste His Lordship’s powder? He didn’t dare. He went to look for the flag himself. His kind… isn’t built for swimming. Drowned himself.”

“Noel thought Father Abbot was a murderer,” Isidore muttered. Foweller inhaled the pipe’s smoke and closed his eyes.

“Do you think the Abbot could murder any beast?” Foweller asked carelessly, the comment of an innocent kit. Andrew fell down the steps in his mind, over and over.

“No. Noel was wrong.”

~~~

Foweller felt cramped, though the benches in the Great Hall were roomy enough. Skipper Rigg had taken to sprawling across the bench with his legs splayed, shooting hawkish stares at Uncle Duster when he thought his brother was not looking. Rigg had a trick of soaking his bread in hotroot soup then sucking in like an orange-tinged sponge. Duster was less exuberant. He was perched with his legs crossed at another table, sipping each spoonful in between copious gulps of ale.

“Fowel, me good mate.” Rigg thumped a fish fillet onto Foweller’s plate and snatched at a lemon slice from the middle of the table. “Ye’ve not had much chance to experience the privileges of bein’ on the crew. I was thinkin’, the Abbot won’t mind if we take a trip to the river. We can visit Camp Willow. Somethin’ I want to show ye there. My treat as Skipper.”

“The river’s full of ghosts.”

“I’m scarier than ghosts!” Rigg thumped his rudder. Foweller choked out a laugh. Duster looked up at the joyful noise, but Foweller averted his eyes.

“When do we leave, Skipper?” Foweller asked. Duster’s bowl rattled across the floor as he fled the Hall. Foweller wilted. He had gone too far. Rigg’s eyes narrowed and his paw crushed the lemon juice out onto Foweller’s fish.

~~~

Foweller found Duster in his room. Rigg had told him his brother ought not to be disturbed. That he should mourn without interference.

Rigg did not know everything.

“Uncle Duster?” Foweller peeked around the door. The former Skipper rolled from his bed, presumably where he had been brooding. Foweller sidled in, paws fidgeting behind his back. Then he was bowled over as Duster embraced him.

“Ye’ve been avoiding me, Fowel,” Skipper said, not unkindly. Foweller scrabbled for an excuse. Nothing came to mind.

“I’m sorry, Uncle,” Foweller murmured. Duster patted his back.

“I know why. Ye think I’m angry at ye. Right?” Skipper pulled back to look into Foweller’s eyes. The kit was shocked silent for a moment. Then his confessions spilled out.

“I wasn’t watching Rip, I should’ve known there’d be trouble with the weasel, I didn’t come between them, I wasn’t paying attention, it’s my-…” Foweller was silenced with one claw to his muzzle.

“No. It wasn’t yer fault. No beast can rightly blame ye,” Skipper said haltingly. His eyes cast downwards. “Virrel’s no murderer either. If ye want to point claws, point ‘em at the Abbot’s accursed guns.”

Foweller’s throat seized up. Now it really was just between him and Brother Isidore. Not even Uncle Duster could know that Foweller intended to avenge his son.

~~~

Foweller and Rigg set out that evening. The little otter felt like a bound captive, being lead from the Abbey gates. The tight strap across his chest and the hard weights of the objects pressed against his hips by the sash were his guards. Rigg himself sported one of the new muskets. There were still monsters in the woods, after all.

It was past midnight when Foweller dropped to the grass. Martin took up his night vigil in the crook of the kit’s arm. A heavy sheet tied between two sturdy saplings gave the Skipper his cover. Foweller lay under the stars. He could hear the breeze come and go by the rush of the forest’s foliage. He heard Rigg turn uneasily before crawling out to join the kit.

“Warm night,” Foweller mused.

“Aye. Thought I’d join ye.”

“River’s haunted.”

“Not scared of ghosts are ye?”

A short pause. Rigg shifted. A twig cracked.

“Fowel?”

“Rargh!” Cold, sweaty paws clamped onto Rigg’s neck. Rigg yelped, then laughed at the kit’s antics. The brawny otter wrestled Foweller to the ground. Soon they were both rolling and tussling in the leaves, guffawing like mad beasts.

~~~

Foweller was in love with Camp Willow. In the early morning mist, he hopped from one sandy, dry cave to another. He tapped at the roots of the willow tree that sheltered them and hummed a marching tune. Such a cunning defence! Invisible to even the brightest of vermin.

The grave was marked by a lonely cairn of stones a little way from the tree. The site was secluded by rough mossy boulders, which seemed to deaden the trickling sound of the river. The solemn tomb brought Foweller to his knees.

“His name was Riverwyte, but they all called him the Mask. He was a warrior… till the vermin cut off his tail,” Rigg said. Foweller shivered.

“What happened then?”

“He lived peacefully, until his brother called on him to do his duty… one last time.”

“For Martin?”

“Aye, for Martin,” Rigg agreed. Foweller reached out to brush the pile of rocks with his claws.

“Did he have kits?”

“No. His family lived on though. His kin still swim among us.”

“You know any?” Foweller felt Rigg’s eyes on him. The Skipper knelt beside him and hummed.

“I think I do, mate,” Rigg said.

Cutting the Weeds

July 17, 2011

Twirl. Twirl. Catch it! Foweller’s claws scrabbled for the knife. It was a simple flick, yet the more he tried to do it, the more haphazard his attempts became. However, he had learnt the trick to catching vermin. Watch their habits. Mister Merritt, for instance, spent his afternoons sipping tea, stuffing his face with some cook’s hard work and playing cards.

“Fancy bumping into you!” Merritt thumped a paw on Foweller’s shoulder as he came sauntering out of the Great Hall. The otter was steered down the steps in the direction of Merritt’s cart, the ferret’s black, spidery paw holding him uncomfortably close.

“Why, jolly good afternoon, Mister Merritt,” Foweller responded, almost as if he had not been deliberately loitering at the doors and sneaking glances at the day’s spread of strawberries and cream.

“Now, my young friend,” Merritt gave Foweller a winning smile as the ferret drew to the kit’s eye level, “You seem a likely sort of lad that’d be interested in my range of wares. I don’t think I’ve formally introduced you to the wonderful world of print!”

“You have anything on the natural history of stoats, squire?” Foweller asked, his eyes darting across the boxes as if one of the beasts in the flesh would leap out at him. His lip curled at the stumped look behind that robber’s mask. The vermin rapidly changed his tune into another greedy sales pitch.

“Aha, quite the wit, lad! It’s not all boring essays and pamphlets in here, no sir! Why, you wouldn’t happen to be into cards, would you? Must’ve sold almost every pack since coming here, but I’m sure I can find something special for you.”

“Is that all? I’ve rather lost the taste for card games. My fellow players are…” Dead, or soon to be be. Foweller wrinkled his nose. No moping. Not on a mission! His eyes dulled and studied the ground, exuding disinterest. He had taken Merritt’s hook, now he needed the ferret to reel him in. Isidore had told him about the weed’s tricks, how he talked the marks straight out of a goodbeast’s purse.

“Ah, depends what you’re after, young sir. There’s always something for a lad that can keep a secret,” Merritt winked. Foweller’s fangs were in full display as he smiled.

“I’m not so little no more, Mister Merritt,” he quipped. Merritt gave him a sly look. The ferret reached for another box and withdrew a pamphlet with great care. Foweller frowned at the title. The…School…for…

“I’m sure a beast your age tires of dry histories they teach in that Abbey school. This material has a bit more… creative flair, you’ll find. And if you get tired of it, there’s always more where that came from. Special price, only twenty pence for that one.”

Foweller floundered. That had been disgustingly easy. He had not even gotten to lying about his age, yet here was the evidence, just as Brother Isidore had suspected. Amazing how the vermin had smuggled his wares under the Abbot’s nose for this long.

“Oh, great! Er, right then.” He could not buy it. He had no money of his own any more. It was strictly off-limits to the point of sacrilege to plunder from Ripple and he did not much fancy begging Uncle Skip… Uncle Duster for pennies.

“Do you want this or not?” Merritt asked, nose flaring as if he could scent his fee. Foweller cracked; his cunning infiltration at an end.

“No time to count out coins. I’ll be late for work. Tarra, squire!” Foweller gave a short bow. Merritt raised an eyebrow.

“Late for work?” He repeated. Foweller paused, no longer listening. The pamphlet, the secret dealings, Ripple’s picture. It all fit into place.

“Uhhhh…”

“Haha, it’s so gross. Lookit that.”

“That’s not mine…”

“The pamphlet,” Foweller breathed. Then he was running. Merritt must have sold Ripple that pamphlet. That’s why he’d hidden it from Skipper. It must still be in the attic! All the evidence Foweller needed… that Brother Isidore needed. Ripple had already shown him the answer.

Foweller all but dived through the doors of the Great Hall. His luck ran out before he even reached the stairs. Foweller’s vision tipped and Martin the Warrior stood over him, gazing coldly down as if he had come to life and shoved the otter to the floor himself. Foweller pulled himself up and winced. He had grazed both his paws as he had tumbled down.

There was nothing under Ripple’s desk. Nothing in the drawers. Foweller contained his strangled cry of frustration and headed for Uncle… Duster’s room.

“Help me, Rip,” Foweller muttered as his sweaty, grazed paws scrambled through Rip’s satchel. He felt a loose leaf of paper and froze. Drawing it out, he set his teeth, incensed yet satisfied. There it was. Exactly the sort of thing Brother Isidore had to know about. Who would actually want to buy this anyway? It was shameful and worse, it looked stupid.

Foweller tucked the offending filth surreptitiously into his sash. The thick red cloth around his middle was quickly becoming a very useful carrier for concealed items.

~~~

“My son,” Carter intoned, “will you walk with me?”

“I… Isidore… yes, sir.” Foweller had only darted into the infirmary for a second to get Martin back over his shoulder where he belonged. He had closed his eyes and stuck his claws in his ears, then rushed past the figure concealed by the white sheet. Of course Carter would be lurking around for him like a vulture.

“I think it would do you and young Tamarack good to come to terms with what has happened.”

The two otters waddled sombrely to the graveyard. Foweller was helped along by the Abbot, his small paw lost in Carter’s heavy grip. It occurred to Foweller, with a sick lurch in his stomach, some beast had planned for the graveyard to sit by the infirmary. Not such a pleasant view for the members of the fishmonger’s bill, he mused.

“Tamarack!” Foweller bounced forward to greet his campball rival. He hesitated at the thought of embracing her, stopping with a short bow of the head.

“Fowel! Oh… Father Abbot.” Tamarack hoisted her shovel. “I was looking for the right place. For the burial.”

“Not overly keen on burying. But I’ll help you dig,” Foweller mumbled. Carter rested a warm, comforting paw on his shoulder.

“I think you should let the Coffincreepers go about their business. It’s the only reason they stay in Redwall, all things considered.”

“Actually, sir,” Tamarack interrupted, “I wouldn’t mind an extra pair of paws. It’s no trouble.”

Foweller chanced a look up at the Abbot. The older otter’s eyes seemed to flicker for a moment.

“I’ll let you two decide on the place,” Carter excused himself and departed, leaving the two alone. Foweller looked at Tamarack and she him.

“Thought it could go near the treeline. It’s shaded there.” The vixen pointed to the row of graves. Foweller unslung Martin and squinched his eyes at the designated area. A good enough distance to avoid the tree’s roots.

“Jolly good. I’m not putting you out of work, am I?” Foweller jerked his head at the distant figure of the Abbot’s back as it was swallowed into the Great Hall.

“You sure are, Fowel. Me and my family are going to starve,” Tamarack answered with a frown. Foweller looked mortified. Tamarack bared her teeth and playfully dinged her shovel against Martin. He could not help but split his maw in return.

“Come on. Can’t let Papa catch us slacking!”

Foweller tapped the ground with Martin, his face wrinkled in thought. He marked out where he thought the boundaries ought to be. Tamarack corrected the more wayward marks so the patch of earth would be neatly aligned with the rows of graves. Foweller began with his webbed footpaw splayed on Martin’s head, driving the blade into the grassy roots. Lever it out, now he had a neat wedge of earth to cast aside.

“If we could dig a little faster?” Tamarack asked. Foweller gave her an askew glance.

“I didn’t want to embarrass you,” he replied, with a twitch of his muzzle.

“Famous last words?”

Foweller glared. Tamarack’s tail gave a jaunty swish. Then the race was on. He was not sure exactly what the rules were, but he would not be the first to stop and wipe his brow. Twin arcs of brown sprayed across the rapidly growing mound of earth as the two diggers spurred each other on.