Isidore excused himself as many times as grow blossoms on an apple tree, as many times as there swam fish in the ocean, as many times as his heart had beaten in his life. The blood on his blade should have glimmered, should have taunted him. He should have wiped it away.

Yet the night turned it river-deep. He could only fall endlessly into the dark slick, into the thing he had made.

Once when he was very young his brother found a secret, winding maze of stone in the great southern deserts. They wandered it together, leaving pebble-trails behind them, and once or twice they crossed their own paths. Isidore’s brother went further in and further down. Isidore sat, and he tried to keep his torch from going out.

He watched water carve trails in the stone. His paws slithered over the tiny rivers and grooves he thought were once writing; it occurred to him somebeast had lived there. Pawmarks in madder and bone-black still clung to the ceiling. Suddenly, he could not breathe for fright. It felt as though a hundred ghosts crowded him, reached in his chest and clawed at his heart.

He ran.

Later his brother emerged. He didn’t have his torch.

“How did you do that?” Isidore asked, between sobs. How had he followed their trail without light? How had he not been swallowed entire, by haunts or by the darkness?

“I knew I had to,” said his brother. “So I did.”

Pretend, then, he stayed in that cavern. The ghosts filled his lungs with breath, and he watched firelight dance on old paint until his brother found him. They came to the surface together. That story wrote others: Iphigenia never left. He kept bees, or he farmed. He never scrubbed Foweller’s blood from his sword.

In this story, he fled; everything went the way it went. He never descended and came away whole. He looked at the blood and he fell.

He paused outside Carter’s door. He thought he would say I have done this. This is the blood of a child who might have been my son. I have done this and done it too long. Yet when he saw the Abbot, he bowed, and one word left his lips.

“No.”

Carter rubbed sleep from sleepless eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I won’t do this any more,” Isidore said. “Foweller is dead.”

“Then I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I did it, fool,” he spat, “I’m the one staved his head in. They’ve got out, all of them– Noel, and the vixen, and the ones that– the ones that–” he shuddered, a little, and the words stung his throat like bile “– I killed him.”

“I am sorry.”

“No,” he said.

Carter took his paw. “Let’s find you some tea.”

He stumbled to the kitchen, Carter leading him like he would a lost dibbun. Carter reached for the tea, then for a bottle, and Isidore sat on the floor. The Abbot shoved a cup of brandy in his paws. He did not drink.

“You said ‘got out.’ Where?”

“There are tunnels in the cellar.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know their names. Merritt Stirling. Brother Aloysius. At least a score.”

“You’d let them traipse into Case’s paws.”

“What should I have done?” Isidore said. “Should I have killed them all, whoever I could? Do you think me capable?”

“Yes,” Carter said. “Since you’ve done so much already.”

He was falling, again. Somewhere in the pebble-trails he and his brother had made he saw a path where he kept this course: he listened, and obeyed, and when the Abbot came to trial he did too. There was another path, one where he renounced Carter and went to Julian Case. He would die, of course. He thought he might deserve it.

Carter held Martin’s sword.

Isidore did not reach for it. He watched Carter loom over him, dandling the blade. He lifted his chin and offered his neck, but the otter did not lunge; instead he bent and took Isidore’s paw, daintily. He caressed it like a lover would. “The way I see it, you have nowhere left to go.”

Then the metal kissed his throat. He thrilled at its touch. He watched Carter tense; he wondered how it would feel to bear that silver-crimson, final thrust, and when his killer would do it. But the Abbot relented.

“You have nowhere left,” he said again. “Why would I do that? Take the sword. It is yours.”

Isidore choked back something like a sob. “Father.”

“Will you protest? You can either die, or triumph. And I believe you can choose wisely.”

“I– I–” he stuttered. “I’ll fight.”

That ended it. They drank their brandy, dawdling on the kitchen floor like children. The night was quiet but for spring wind whistling over the Abbey. Isidore could feel a chill creep through the stone and into his joints. He wondered if he might ever feel warmth again.

Something clattered in the hallway. Isidore’s paw leapt to the hilt of his sword, but he hesitated to wield it. The intruder’s paws thumped on the floor; this small noise seemed to shake his bones, to jar something inside him. “Father!” the intruder called– he knew that voice. It was Amery’s. “Father Abbot! There’s a fire!”

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isidore flinched. “Aloysius.”

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

“I have done only what is just.”

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

“I have done only what was asked.”

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

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

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

“No. Leave this place.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pair began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a Black Stone Falling

August 19, 2011

Isidore walked. Dawn clarified the world; he winced at the brightness of leaves, grass, the earth beneath his paws.

He lacked his burden. When he tried to speak to the Coffincreepers, he would have said I didn’t. We didn’t. I couldn’t, but the untruth plugged his throat, and so they took the body. In the forest, he managed. Brother Aloysius found…

Enough, said the old tod. Enough death, enough children. Isidore wished he had coins to put on her eyes.

He stumbled into the orchard. A root caught him and he tripped, landing hard on his burnt paw. A pair of arms wrapped around him; this is my death, he thought, but the arms were warm and small and childish. Foweller helped him to his feet. The otter studied Isidore’s burn, frowning with all the gravity of a senior physician. “You’ll be all right,” he declared. “Take whiskey. Three times a day.”

“They’ll throw me in the Abbey jail.”

“I might’ve said willow-bark tea.”

“Boy,” Isidore said. “Tell me everything you saw.”

He had the whole tale: Camp Willow, the Mask, blood-spattered cobblestone in Redwall City. He chanced to put his paw on Foweller’s shoulder, and he spoke gruffly. “You’re all right?” Foweller withdrew, contemplating this, then leaned into Isidore. “I don’t know,” he said, “but he’s gone. I did it.”

“You did,” said Isidore, thinking of the matted, stinking thing he carried, and whether Foweller could smell it. The young otter felt so certain, so real– Carter could not hurt him too. There must always live someone like Foweller. The whole of Hell could batter at the Abbey gate, at Isidore, but he would lock and bar his soul against it. He would keep this.

The brooch in his pocket pricked his thigh. “Can you tell me something? In confidence.”

Foweller tensed. He knew. “What?”

“I won’t tell. Not even to the Abbot. I swear it.”

“You’re lying.”

“He wants to hurt you. Or he will.” Isidore clutched at Foweller. “You saw him kill Brother Andrew. He knows. I won’t let him touch you–” he pulled the child close “– please.”

“Let me go,” Foweller squeaked. “I didn’t. I don’t know–”

“The vixen. She told me. What happened?”

The otter slouched away, drawing like a snail into its shell. “Andrew said some things about a pin, and a pistol, and his monsters. Bludd ‘n me hid, and then Andrew was dead…” He dug in his pocket. “I brought you something. I would’ve shown you, I was gonna.”

The silver pin seemed older than Isidore’s brooch: worn knotwork vines climbed the Abbey’s walls, cradling the ruby like a flower. At a twitch of Isidore’s paw, Foweller pulled it away, but the rat brought out his own.

“Bury it,” said Isidore. “Throw it in the cess. You shouldn’t know what this is, should never have seen it.”

“Isidore, tell me.”

“We have an understanding now.” Isidore dropped to his knees. “Let me keep you safe.” Foweller looked at his feet, and for an instant Isidore thought he would ask for an apple, some whiskey, some childish treat, but instead he took the bone-handled knife from his sash.

“Take it back.” He buried the blade in the ground. “Nothing happened. I want to rest.”

Carter paced before his fireplace. Isidore didn’t like his silence: he had confessed to his dealing with Foweller, but the Abbot gave him no response. Instead he listened to the tread of Carter’s paws, a patter light as moths’ wings. But it stopped– Carter stood before him, trembling. “Why do you test me? Why now? When I have given you so much?”

What have you given?, he wanted to ask, but then the Abbot knelt before him and took his burnt paw and said, “We are friends. We have that, don’t we?”

“Yes, Father.”

“I didn’t give you leave to speak.”

Abashed, Isidore let him examine the burn. “You’re healing well,” said Carter. “I wonder if you’ll remember what happened. What will I do then? What will I give, to keep you here? And what can I take?”

He squeezed Isidore’s paw, smiled at the pain he caused, and continued. “It hurts me too, remember. When I tell you to do something, you do it. I don’t care if you want it or not.” And then Carter drew his claw over the burn, first light and then deep and fast, carving a ragged path in the flesh. Isidore let him. If he allowed this, what else?

Anything, anything. Penance, the satisfaction of their oaths.

“Take the kit,” said Carter. “And keep him safe. But you must give me someone else.”

In his years alone he learned to read the script of Mossflower. He’d traded for an old book, the Legend of Great Beasts; he thought it was a history, but it was a kind of compendium. It said this: Of all creatures, bees alone were created for the sake of others. They are loved for their virtue, for in all things they are diligent. They collect honey from the air and purify it, build their basilicas of wax, and keep and tend their brothers under the guidance of a king. They have one kind and dwell together until their deaths. One working and flight and flower is common to them all.

Later, Isidore learned this was wrong.

Bees kept a fat queen, and they had never issued from dead flesh or strained honey from a summer breeze. But they flew with their queen in swarming. When her wings failed, the company carried her. Those that did not, those that would not work or fight for common cause, doomed themselves to die by their fellow soldiers’ stings.

Carter had the Legend in his library. Isidore stroked the thick linen pages, watching Tompkins watching him over the top of his lorgnette. He uncovered knowledge like finding sweet apples in worm-picked windfall. They live in fixed places, are diligent in producing honey, build their houses with great skill, gather honey from various flowers, weave wax to fill their homes with many offspring, have kings and armies with which they wage war, flee from smoke, and are irritated by noise…

The door creaked open and Carter entered. “Brothers!”

“Father,” said Tompkins, and he nodded. Isidore did not answer. He resumed reading. And bees choose to their king him that is most worthy and noble in highness and fairness, and most clear in mildness, for that is chief virtue in a king…

“Brother Isidore, will you get the tea?”

He stirred from his rest. “Yes, Father.”

He went to the kitchen. Carter had left out a canister of tea redolent with lavender. Isidore ran his claws through the leaf, inhaled the sweet, earthy scent. The kettle was so hot it still squealed when he took it off the fire; in the pot, flower and field mingled with cast iron. It hurt his paw to carry it, even with a rag wrapped around the handle.

“I will make this one thing clear,” he heard Tompkins say. “It’s unconscionable. I resign.”

“The kit could not be helped, Brother.”

“And every other beast?”

“Oh, tea, at last.” Carter beamed at Isidore.

The Abbot had brought out a service of cups glazed with humble nut-brown. Isidore poured for him first. Carter savored the brew, cradling his cup like it held the finest mead.

“No poison,” Tompkins said. “Aren’t I blessed.”

“No, no poison,” Carter said. Isidore felt blood beading on his paw again. Carter’s claw tapped against the side of his cup, once, twice, grazed porcelain with the faintest clink, like a distant bell. Isidore unstoppered the kettle, and a gout of steam burst forth.

He threw the tea on Tompkins.

The squirrel toppled from his chair, writhing and squealing, and Isidore could see him flush crimson under his fur. Tompkins scrabbled at the floor. Isidore straddled him and pulled a knife from his sash: his brother’s knife, Foweller’s gift. The blood had gone from Tompkins– his skin was yellow-white as the knife’s bone handle.

The squirrel’s flesh peeled under Isidore’s touch like a mushroom gone soft. Tompkins groaned, and a horrible chortling word escaped him: “No-ooo.”

“You made mockery of us,” Isidore said.

“I just wanted– I just wanted– Ruslen,” Tompkins whimpered, “and Chamomile.” He fixed his gaze on the Abbot, but his eyes were blind, soft marbles. “He made me hold the knife, with Thistledown. That’s what he does. Please don’t kill me, please.”

“Where is Julian Case?” Isidore asked. “Who are his agents?”

“I don’t know. Don’t let me die. Hyssop and lavender. Please.”

“Quiet, Brother. Names.”

“The printer. Saskia.”

Isidore considered this, and then he slit the squirrel’s throat.

“I had to. I had to keep them in, like so many ants in an anthill. You don’t leave if there’s wolves in the wood.” Carter slumped into him. The otter was sweating, and his eyes rolled so a sliver of white showed at the edges. “Yes. Yes. Keep them where Case couldn’t– you did it,” he said. “You did it. My friend. My champion.”

Noel: his pupil, almost his child. He had a name like a bell, wholesome and round. Noel could have tended the golden queendom of hives after Brotherhood and finally a home. They would have planted aster, blackberry, dandelion all in neat districts. They’d reap bitter chestnut honey and thyme that tasted a forest deep.

Isidore watched the weasel go.

He had nothing to say, or he could express nothing. Noel left him. He left any hope for the boy there to wither in the graveyard.

Isidore plodded home. Noel walked with him only a few days before, just like this. A sudden spasm of pain knifed through his shoulder, and his muscles clenched — they writhed like snakes.

Hellgates,” he hissed. Had all the weight he shouldered finally crushed him? Dying of a failed heart would mean dishonor. But the seizure passed– he shuffled on to the orchard.

Foweller swung in a hammock between two pear trees. He swatted a gnat, lazily regarded its brothers, swatted again. “Hullo, Brother Isidore.”

“Boy.” He sniffed the pear-blossoms. “I can’t stand these.”

“They’re not so bad,” said Foweller, but he grimaced. “I don’t want to be in the dormitory.”

“Like me. Do you want any whiskey?”

Foweller gawked. “Can I?”

Isidore fetched the flask. The little otter took a swig; amber dribbled down his chin. “I like,” he said, “I like beer better.”

“Try again.”

He lulled the kit to sleep that way. “You know,” he said, “you’d make a good beekeeper. They have armies, bees do. Kingdoms, too, and things you could never imagine. Bees know how to dance, even. You know how soldiers live, so you’d be…”

“D’n wanna,” said Foweller. “Not that.”

“All right, boy.” Isidore stroked Foweller’s head. He could have wept. “All right.”

Isidore stood beneath the belltower. Cobb lay there crumpled and broken, cold to his touch. Once he bought a wilted, dwarfish cabbage from the mole just to brush his claw and say hello when so many at market did not. His sachet of tobacco went in Cobb’s pocket. He wrapped the body in a blanket.

“Do you need help, Brother?”

Carter. He had brought Clacher with him. The badger hunched over Cobb like a tumbling stone, tipping, tipping, but he miraculously bore the corpse aloft. Isidore began to speak, yet the words felt forced as stones through a sieve. “Father, you didn’t–”

“I didn’t. Not that.” The otter’s voice creased like old, worn paper. “None of us did.”

“How?”

“Could’ve been the rebels,” he said. “Plenty of them here, I can feel it. But I don’t know.”

“I trust you, Father.”

“You do?” He regarded Isidore as if appraising cloth at market. “There are so few.”

He held out his burned paw. “We had vows.”

“We had vows.”

Clacher followed them to the wood in the south-east corner of the lawn. South-east. He seemed to always list south-east, like the needle in a broken compass, pointing past the Abbey and the forest, the inland sea and Southsward, the tallest tree and the deepest gorge… past the graves of countless others he had known.

They chose an alder for Cobb’s tombstone. Isidore did not think the Abbot wanted to see the graveyard again.

“Any words, Brother?”

“For Cobb, who needed guidance. Would that I could help you now.”

“Yes. For Cobb, would that I could trust him– and him me.” He scattered dirt over the grave, then smiled at Isidore. “Gone to sunny slopes and quiet streams. Old Loamhedge words.”

“I know.”

“Is it beautiful there?”

“Very.”

His heart flew ever homeward. But he’d lived too long away; all that waited for him there were more sons he’d never raise, more maids he’d never love, more friends he’d never know.

“I know all the stories about Bragoon and Saro.” Carter looked almost childlike when he spoke. “They were my favorites. They weren’t real, but I always wanted them to be. Like Gonff and Basil and Sunflash.”

Isidore had never heard those names.

“Maybe Martin. I find I doubt so much,” the Abbot said. “Come. I have something to give you.”

At the top of a stairwell, they paused. Carter offered him something wrapped in silk, simply, casually, a bundle no larger than his fist. He unwrapped it: a niello broach depicting the abbey, its center set with an uncut balas ruby. That stone came from lands beyond the Bell and Badger rocks, from wide desert valleys. Maybe his ancestor had touched the same spinel.

“Do you know what this is?”

Isidore shook his head.

“It was Abbot Arven’s, once. Warrior Arven, before that. We are old, so very old, you know. This’ll be your sign, outside the Abbey.” He pinned it to Isidore’s tunic. “I trust you, Isidore. You are my friend; my every secret is yours.”

“I cannot think,” said Isidore, “I don’t know what to say–”

“Then be quiet. There is time enough to talk.”

He opened the door. Isidore could not have guessed who sat at that table, in that room, not before he saw them: the head cook Sister Melina, Tompkins, Delores, the cellarkeeper Ambrosia, her assistant Sebastian, the vole who rung the bells, Sister Redronnet, Foremole, a half-dozen members of the Order, the Badgermum, even a bird with coal-dark plumage and a circlet on his brow. All of them pinned the Abbey at their breast.

The Abbot held out his paw. “To attention, please.”

Tompkins rose from his seat and took a ragged book from his pocket. He held it forth and read. “Tonight I am Mattimeo, our founder, the order in the order. Tonight I bring you our charter, the true charter, that which we hold eternally: we are true to our Abbey, the sovereign of Mossflower.

“Our watch ends only at death.

“The enemy is without; they whisper and wait; they are fox and ferret.” He faltered. “Rat and cat. Marten, stoat, and weasel. And any that doubt our claim on the woods, and all the lands of Mossflower.

“We are a sword in the darkness, and we hold the walls for ever.

“Whispers will not breach them, nor sword or arrow, fire or snow, famine or gluttony.

“Abbot Carter leads us, as did Abbot Simon before him, Abbot Titus, Abbot Copperjean, Abbess Casimira, Abbess Dittany, Abbot Ludo, Abbot Cloverleaf… ” The list went on. “And first and forever, the Blessed Germaine.

“We are the Society of Martin. Rise.”

The child.

That sat heavily on Isidore, like a stone on his shoulders. He didn’t think of it; he would find her and bring her to the Abbot, and no more than that. Blood stained him already: Berend’s blood, and that of others countless as stars. There lived worse beasts, beasts that plotted and schemed, beasts like the kinslayer Case. He murdered his family, aye, and deceived the young. He tore the throats from innocent beasts and left the dead for ravens and thieves.

Abbot Carter would have his head from Isidore, but none else.

He sang to the poor young flower-maid as she shivered and wept. “Sel,” she cried, “oh, Sel, come to me!”

“She’s gone,” he said, and he wrapped her in a ragged blanket. He had duties.

Foweller he found playing in the orchard, throwing his knife at a withered apple from the stores. He thought of sitting the child on his back so they could tilt at trees. Instead, he nodded at the abbey complex. That day, the Abbot had called the seasonal meeting of the Order, an inquest into the Abbey’s affairs and the matter of the Skipper’s son.

“Let’s be off, lad.” He patted Foweller’s shoulder. “Don’t tell anyone about what you mean to do. That’s between us.”

“Nobeast would argue,” Foweller said. “Except for Noel.”



“Aye, but it’s his brother.”



“And Ripple was mine.”

“Listen,” said Isidore, “you’ll have your justice. I promise it. I’ll help you– but you must trust me. We’re going to play a game today.”

The heat of a hundred bodies filled the Great Hall, more than ever attended any council. They hissed and rustled. Isidore sat at a high table, with Rigg, the Abbot and the Order. Father Carter stood with paws outstretched, and his voice boomed and echoed in the vaulting like a rumbling stormcloud.

“My children!” he said. “I call the council to attention. Let us kneel.” The crowd bent, some hesitantly, and Isidore looked for those he knew. Foweller jostled a footpaw impatiently, and there was Noel watching the Abbot with red-rimmed eyes. He sought Selendra, then remembered and bowed his head.

“Martin guide us,” Carter said. “Your spirit is our rudder. Show us what you will. Rise, Redwall.”

Brother Aloysius extended a wing, quill in claw. “The order of proceedings. Sister Melina, you have leave to speak, speak.”

A portly shrew rose. “My kitchens are short a cook. I nominate Brother Beric.”

“Does anybeast second, second?”

“Oh, I do,” said the Abbot. “Beric’s baking is the finest in Redwall.”

“My thanks, sir,” said a trembling red-gold squirrel.

Aloysius huffed at this interruption. “All those in favor, say aye, aye.” A chorus of approval met him. He nodded. “May you serve long and well, Brother Beric. Sister Redronnet, you have leave to speak, speak.”

“The Belltower ropes need replacing. I’d ask that–”

“What is this?” An otter surged forth from the crowd. “Ropes? My son is dead.”

“If you will wait, wait,” said Aloysius. “The matter of Ripple…”

“I give my consent.” The Abbot nodded. “Duster, come forth.”

Skipper’s brow wrinkled with bullish determination. His paws clenched, opened, clenched again, and finally he spoke. “I want… I want t’ know why Ripple died. I want t’ know why the Abbot let firearms in the Abbey. Seems t’ me this is a place of peace.”

Rigg stood suddenly. The leg of his chair clattered against Isidore’s shin, and the rat winced; he noticed the otter fondling the pommel of Martin’s sword as he spoke. “I object. I object!”

“Rigg, calm yourself,” said the Abbot. “Let your brother speak. Duster?”

“I never asked for ‘em. My crew–”

“They ain’t your crew.”

“Shut up, Rigg!” Duster stamped his foot. “Remember the garrison at Southsward, when their powder went up and half the castle with ‘em? Dragons are danger, we all know it, and my son– my Ripple–”

“We’re Redwall, not Southsward!” said Rigg. “Duster, you got a knife. I’ve seen y’ use it. And that ain’t a danger?”

It’s not the same!”

“Rip woulda died with a blade in his belly, too.”

“Sit, both of you,” the Abbot snapped. “We won’t solve this with bickering. I want our defenses put to a vote. Will anybeast speak?”

“I said my piece,” said Duster. “Aye, and his blood is on your paws.”

“Order, order,” said Aloysius. “The Abbot wills it, wills it.”

“No one, then?” Carter tapped the table with his claw.

That was Isidore’s command; he stood, almost trembling as he did it. Again he sought Foweller in the crowd. Let him know, he prayed. Let him know there are other ways of waging war than weapons. Let him know we do it for him. “Father, I ask leave to speak.”

“Do, Brother Isidore.”

“Duster is right. This is a place of peace. We are workers, not warriors– and we shouldn’t bear the dragons any more than we should bear the sword Rigg wears now.”

“That is the Sword of Martin, my son, and Rigg is our Skipper.”

“I know. I traveled before I came here. I’ve seen all the east, even the lands beyond Marshank and the sea, Saltpans and the Crag. I know the evil a beast can do, with blade or shot or fire. I saw New Noonvale fall to the fox Tyrell and his hordes–”

“Aye, and fought for him, most like,” said Rigg. “I know your stupid stories.”

“Redwall is peaceful.” Isidore bowed his head. “That’s all.”

Rigg slammed his fist on the table. “If New Noonvale had cannon they’d be around today. Redwall rules these woods. Are we cowards?” He looked around the room, then slammed his fist again. “Are we cowards?”

“No,” someone in the crowd shouted. Foweller. He waved his sash as if bearing a standard for battle. “No cowards!” Others took up the cry. “Redwall! Redwall!”

“An’ Martin’s sword? Do we cast it off?”

“No, never!” came the response. Foweller screamed loudest.

“Our friends died, and we should too?”

“No cowards!”

“And we let murderers live?” Rigg brandished his sword. “Give us our pistols. I’ll have the head of the beast what killed Rip, and them in the forest too. The Abbey will live, forever.” The cry that met him crashed on Isidore’s ears like the surf.

“Order,” Aloysius squeaked, “order, order.”

“My children,” the abbot said, raising his paws. “Let us vote. Will we arm ourselves, or no?”

Rigg held Martin’s sword aloft. “Aye.”

Then came Sister Melina, Delores, the cellarhogs, a hesitant Brother Tompkins, more of the Order than Isidore could count. He nodded to Rigg. “I was wrong. Skipper, I’ll lend my paw in whatever you do.”

“It is decided,” said the Abbot. He cupped his paws around his mouth. “What say you, Redwall?”

“Redwall lives. No cowards!”

Aloysius called the meeting to an end, and they surged from the hall. Carter linked his arm with Isidore’s, and leaned in. “Remember what I told you, Brother. Be my eyes and ears.”

“A little bird told me,” he began, and he thought of Berend on the floor of the cellar, weeping. “A little bird told me who chased her from the roost. A cat.”

“I think I understand.” He clapped Isidore on the back. “Bring me that cat.”

“Aye, Father.”

They parted. On the way to his shed in the orchard, he met Foweller. The otter danced about him, knife in one paw and sash in the other. “A game! A game! Does this mean I get Virrel?”

“You may as yet. I’ll help.” It’d be enough a price to pay, if the child’s other friend would die. “Have you practiced your tricks today?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Good lad. How about another game? A real one. My brother and I played it.”

“What now?” he said warily. Isidore lunged for him and grabbed him about the waist. After wrestling with him, Foweller sat astride his shoulders. They stumbled about the orchard; the otter shrieked and cackled, stabbing at branches as he would with a lance. “That’s for Andrew. That’s for Rip. And that’s for Martin!”

He left Foweller there, marking his name on the bark of conquered tree, and went to fetch a flagon of wine. He thought of Berend again, and then the cat, the child. Isidore hoped Foweller would remember the afternoon. Isidore hoped he would never know.