Stand Up Strong

July 3, 2011

Ripple strutted across Skipper’s room in his Long Patrol jacket, the pistol held at a jaunty angle. Commander Eliwood was ready for battle!

“Let’s give those rascals a jolly good drubbin’. Wot wot!” Ripple twirled his whiskers. The best officers always had a great big moustache to frighten the enemy. The otter struck a pose, thinking of Locria. She would appear over the hill, spyglass in paw. Raising it to her eye, she would shake her fist at the tactical genius that had thwarted her battle after battle. And yet their love blossomed over the inferno of war…

There was a knock at the door. “Ripple?”

Ripple was already flinging his jacket under the bed as Uncle Rigg strode in. Of course, this meant he was standing around in his nightwear.

“Um, hullo, Uncle Rigg.” Ripple put his paws behind his back. Rigg grinned broadly.

“No need to hide it, the Abbot told me all about your reward. But what good’s the pistol if you’ve never fired one in your life, eh?” Rigg winked. Ripple shrugged. He knew how to! It was like a bow, surely. Aim and shoot.

“Well, ‘spose I won’t need to just yet,” Ripple suggested. Rigg knelt and produced something from behind his back. He held out a powder horn, lead musket balls and some slips of paper.

“My own personal gift, young Rip. From an uncle that knows how important this day is to you.” Rigg beamed. Ripple’s heart jumped. Real powder? Real shots too! He bet Foweller and Bludd would be impressed.

“Thanks, Uncle Rigg!” Ripple exclaimed and scooped up his prizes. Time for some fun.

~~~

“Half-cock. Pour. Close pan. Pour down the barrel. Ball. Paper. Draw ramrod. Ram it down. Return ramrod. Full-cock. You’re really slow, you know!” Foweller commented. Ripple gritted his teeth. So, Commander Eliwood was more of a strategist than a musketeer. So what?

“I’m gettin’ there, Fowel,” Ripple replied, carefully tipping the powder down the weapon’s muzzle. His paws shook a little, he wanted to rush. Foweller had already finished loading. Rigg and Virrel stood by them on the lawn, waiting. A few Abbey beasts had come to watch the otters shoot, Brother Isidore among them. Ripple felt there was a certain cold attitude amongst some beasts towards the Abbot’s plan, but this was going to be too much fun to worry about that.

“Ye cheated, anyhow. Ye just spat down the barrel and left the little rod thing,” Ripple muttered. Foweller’s replied by firing across the pond into the tree that had been marked for practice. Ripple jumped, dropping his musket ball.

“Oh!” Ripple snarled. That was loud. They definitely had the attention of the onlookers now. Foweller was already loading again, muttering something about the position of the ‘dogfox’. Hah! Now he thought about it, the metal jaws that clamped the flint did rather resemble a fox’s head. He bent over to retrieve his precious shot and poke it neatly into the barrel. Next, the scrap of paper and the rod.

“And Commander Eliwood aims…” Ripple whispered, returning the short ramrod into its groove. He pointed his weapon at the target. That was no tree, it was a vermin Lord, clad in the green uniform of the enemy!

“Yer aim’s off,” Virrel pointed out. Ripple scowled. The moment was ruined.

“I’m doin’ fine.”

“Nah, it’s more t’the left. Here, lemme show…” Ripple hopped back, twisting the pistol away as Virrel tried to snatch it.

“I’m doin’ fine,” he protested, taking aim again. Virrel laughed and pulled the pistol away.

“Virrel, that’s mine!” Ripple fumed. He wrenched at the weapon and started pulling it from Virrel’s claws.

“Steady on, lads!” Rigg called, moving to intervene.

“Give it here, Father Abbot said—”

BANG.

Ripple gasped as the shot rang in his ears. Oh, bother, now all he could hear was whistling…

“Give it… back,” Ripple slurred, wresting the pistol from Virrel’s grasp. He pushed the weasel aside and stumbled down the lawn. Foweller was beside him, waving his arms and shouting something. That was no good, Ripple could not hear anything…

“Aye, hot day!” Ripple shouted back. “Knew the sun was bad.”

“…got to lie down! Get a surgeon!” Foweller bawled in reply. Ripple nodded. Lying down sounded like a good idea. All this traipsing around was not doing his paws any favours. He clutched a paw to his chest. It ached.

“Think I’ll dip my paws in th’ pond again,” Ripple muttered. His lungs felt like they were seizing up. Something hot and sticky dribbled over his paws. He shook his head, baffled and annoyed. Why was everything so uncomfortably warm?

“Fowel? I need…” Ripple waved in the direction of the pond. Foweller’s lip trembled, but he nodded.

“I-I’ll help you, Rip. We’ll get there,” Foweller sounded all choked up. Ripple leant on his friend’s shoulder with his paw. Together, they ambled down the slope. Ripple could feel his breathing growing more ragged.

He collapsed into the shallows and sighed and gazed at the miniature waves that swished across the water’s surface. He had swum the whole length of it today. Skipper sure had been proud. The otter smiled and paddled his paws lazily, watching red ink blossom and flow in spirals and eddies.

“Hey Fowel… I got an idea… I figgered out the problem we had with… the game,” he said. Foweller was tugging at his arm, shouting something at startled onlookers. Ripple noticed Skipper running from the Abbey, screaming.

“Rip, hang on! Just keep breathing, don’t worry! I’ve seen that before… you just need it extracted. It… It’ll all be better. I promise!” Foweller shook him. Ripple giggled. Foweller was such an emotional kit. Was he crying over a card game?

“Lissen. We get a block of wood. ‘cept we cut it up an’ put numbers from one to twenny on each face. Then ye roll it…” Ripple started choking. He knew those celebratory scones had been too much. “It’s random, see? It takes the numbers away… leaves it up to chance…”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it now, Rip! Just keep calm. Somebeast, get me a bandage! Oh hellgates!” Foweller screeched. Ripple watched the younger kit struggle to drag him up. Not more swimming, he hoped.

“Leave it, Fowel,” Ripple muttered. He reached out a paw and stilled his friend with his touch.

“R-Rip?!” Foweller squeaked.

“I’m too tired to go swimmin’. Let’s just relax. Take the afternoon off.” Ripple murmured, closing his eyes. A nap in the sun would not go amiss. Maybe Foweller would save him something from afternoon tea. Then they could go back up to the attic and all would be well. “We’ll work on th’ game more. Chance! It’ll be a whole new game, f’rget four… four point five… it’ll just be five. Can ye imagine it? Takin’ the numbers out…”

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Mr. Batty Twist

June 16, 2011

Ripple dozed in front of the gatehouse, in the shadow of a bush. His habit hood was pulled over his eyes. His tail lay strewn over the grass, tip twitching. He yawned, and then licked his whiskers because his breath had coated them in mussel taste.

The sound of the gatehouse door closing roused him. After a good (cautious) stretch, he rose and knocked.

“Come in, come in.” Ripple opened the door. “Ke ke ke.”

Ripple dragged himself inside and sunk onto a chair without looking around.

“Mornin’, Brother Alooooo – ” the yawn could not be stopped – “ysius.”

“Another late night?”

“Aye, Brother.”

“My apologies, apologies. Were it not for the storm, they would not have been keeping you.”

“Umm… who, Brother?”

“My family? Were they not a bother?”

The scratching, the keening, the shuffling… Ripple blushed a little, feeling foolish for letting his imagination take such hold of his reality. A perfectly logical explanation for everything! It had just been a few more bats than usual. He would have rather preferred Andrew’s Things, but he wouldn’t admit that to Aloysius.

“Oh… oh no, sir! Weren’t at all. I uh, I slept in Skip’s room…”

“Ah. I see.” The bat stopped what he was doing and sat opposite Ripple. Ripple blinked at him. Aloysius looked more weary than usual. Ripple wished he had a beetle in his pocket to cheer him up. “We shall not be doing any lessons today.”

“Oh… alright.” Well, gosh, what had he woken up for, then?

“But I did want to talk to you, so I am glad you came. You left the feast early last night, before I could give you the book you were interested in, interested in.”

After some shuffling about, the bat passed the book to Ripple: Two Treatises of Government. Ripple glanced a few pages in and tried not to sigh. Obviously, he had been on an entirely different page than the one Saskia had been on yesterday. He’d been hoping for something about tactics or strategy. This didn’t look interesting at all. It looked worse than Aloysius’s usual required readings.

It was perfect. Skipper wouldn’t suspect a thing, and Ripple wouldn’t have to figure out how to come clean a second, sober time.

“Thanks!” he said, trying perhaps too hard to inject cheer into his tone. “I’ll be sure to, um, take good care of it.”

“I’m sure you will, as you always do. Ripple, why did you leave the attic? I fear it was not my family’s restlessness at all, at all.”

“Um, they were only half the reason, Brother.” Ripple fidgeted, then hid his paws beside his legs, pinning them to the sides of the chair. “It’s Brother Raimun. He… he died up there, an’ it don’t feel right no more.”

“Mm-hm. Hence your coming to the gatehouse for studies. Well, do not fear, young Ripple. Brother Raimun was a kindly soul, a kindly soul, and I’m sure that will persist wherever he has gone. The Abbey has no history of being haunted, despite the many famous deaths that have occurred. Why, Cluny the Scourge met his end in the bell tower, and there has never been any instance of him possessing somebeast. I like to think Martin’s spirit keeps us all safe, all safe – those living, and those who have gone to rest in an uneasy state. On that note, the funeral will no doubt begin shortly. Will you be attending, be attending?”

Ripple wagged his footpaws, stirring up dust.

“Do I got a choice?”

“I should think so, should think so.”

Last night felt so much like a dream. Had he really seen Tamarack? Was she really alright with him now? She had such startling questions, and he wanted the answers. Could he brave the forbidden graveyard to see her before the funeral?

He could not. Not yet. It was still too early.

“Nuh-uh. I don’t… don’t want to see him again like that…”

Aloysius patted his shoulder with a wing tip.

“I understand. And now I must bid you good morning, for I have a eulogy to see to. Go rest, Ripple, go rest.”

Ripple returned to Skipper’s dormitory. By then it was empty. He placed the book on the bedside table and rolled under the covers again. With any luck, Bludd would not think to check for him here. Maybe she would be busy bothering Foweller. That was a good plan… bothering… yawn… Foweller…

The Attic's a Dungeon!?

June 13, 2011

Ripple sat on his bed, hunched over in the same position the Abbot had left him in, and listened. Their voices were low, and hard to make out over the thick beginning plops of rain.

“Natural causes my rudder, nothin’ natural about this yellow gunk.”

“Sure as hellgates I ain’t touchin’ him.”

“Aye, nor me. Somethin’ awful shrimpy about this, if ye ask me. I’ll be my mum’s aunt before I’d say that’s an allergic reaction. Could be contagious.”

“Right. I’m gonna go fetch the foxes. Nobeast cares a whit if they start droppin’.”

“Ye sure, Rigg? Not sure Skip’d approve o’ that idea, lettin’ them so far inside.”

“It’s us or them, matey. No need to go wakin’ Skip up for this. Back in a tick.”

A flash of blue filled the attic. The thunder was still too far off to be heard. Down on the grounds below, the last of the tables and streamers were being brought in. By now, everybeast would be tucking in to bed, except perhaps the kitchen staff, who would be tucking into leftovers.

Ripple had come to a decision. He slid off the bed and began shuffling about his little corner of the attic, methodically checking over each map pinned along the wall and straightening each card. If a pin was off-center, he’d unstick it and put it in properly. It needed to be done, and if he wasn’t going to be getting any sleep, now was the time to do it. His old toy shelf had been fixed by the otter crew earlier in the evening, and his bed had been cleaned and straightened by Sister Delores. When he was done with his maps, he would re-arrange his desk, and then the entire room would be nice and neat again and it would be so comfortable and cozy, it would be as if nobeast had died just on the other side of the wall of bookshelves.

Halfway through his dazed cleaning frenzy, he became aware of somebeast standing behind him. His neckfur prickled. He turned slowly.

It was Tamarack. In the light of his little candle, it was hard to make out her face. His imagination filled in the shadows.

“It’s not yer fault,” he said.

“You always said that. Never made it true.”

“It’s true this time.”

Tamarack stamped her footpaw.

“Cluny take you, Rip! I’m trying to apologize!”

Ripple turned back to his desk. He arranged the snapped lines of his model ship so they were like whiskers in his dibbunhood paintings, each the perfect distance from the other. So unlike real whiskers.

“Took ye long enough.”

Tamarack sighed.

“I am awful sorry, Rip. I tried to come see you after, but they wouldn’t…”

He fiddled with his cards, unsure what to say. Seasons of anger welled up in his throat. He wanted to spit it all out and gargle salt water, just get it over with!

I thought ye were a coward –

I thought ye hated me –

Thought I hated ye back –

Mostly hated myself, though –

D’ye like cards, ‘cos –

None of it felt right. Not the kind of right he knew was right.

“I forgive ye,” he said, and surprised himself when he realized he meant it. “I… I’m sorry I never came to visit either. When I could.”

“Well, that’s… that’s… I’ve missed you so much, Rip!”

Tamarack darted at him, her arms outstretched. There was no time to dodge. He teetered backwards as she slammed into him, but was saved by her arms around his back. Ripple tentatively raised a paw and patted her shoulder once or twice in return. Her fur and clothing were soaked through.

“I got so much to tell you about. Colm and Ida got married, and I been reading some right fancy pamphlets from Mr. Merritt, and Mr. Noel’s got this game called campball. I think you’d like it. I could show you how to play… after, uh… after we take care of Brother Raimun.”

She glanced back to where they could both hear the rustles of the other foxes moving the old mouse’s body. Ripple took the moment to disengage from her embrace.

“Rip, have you noticed anything strange going on in the Abbey? I don’t mean the murders, not the outside ones, least ways. I gave… I gave Brother Raimun something right afore he died. It was a pamphlet. Did you see anything like that? In a big brown envelope?”

“Um…” He blinked, reeling away to sit again on his bed. “I don’t remember… I think so, but the Abbot – ”

“Tam? Tam, come along, we’re going now.”

Colm poked his head around the dividing bookshelf. Ripple and Tamarack both jumped, as if caught in some act of treason. Even as Ripple’s shoulders relaxed, he could see the sheepish grin worm its way across Tamarack’s muzzle.

“We’ll talk more later, aye? Don’t worry. All you got to do is come outside. I’ll be waiting for you!”

“Bye…”

“So that was Ripple I saw… grown, hasn’t he?”

“Aye, and I think…”

After a trio of creaks, their voices faded down the stairs.

All was quiet for a few minutes. Ripple reached over and blindly plucked a shrimp from his snack bowl. He nibbled on it, not quite in the mood anymore.

Murders outside the abbey? As opposed to murders inside the abbey?

Just what in Hellgates was going on?


The abbey was entirely too quiet. The usual restless noises of parents chiding their offspring in distant dormitories were replaced by a chill silence. So deep within the walls, there was no rain or wind, only the snaps and snarls of muzzled thunder. Without windows to shine the heralding blue light, each one had Ripple jolting and twitching in the darkness, as if struck himself.

It was a miracle he didn’t drop his shrimp bowl before he could deliver it to the kitchen.

He did drop it after delivering it to the kitchen. He hadn’t been expecting anybeast to still be up, and the sight of the disturbed mouse scrubbing away at the feast’s crusty plates gave him a start. At the clattering sound, Andrew reached over the basin and grabbed a large, wicked knife, spun around, and shouted “Ha! … Ripple.”

“S-sorry! I was tryin’ to save ’em…”

“Save who?”

“The, um, the shrimp…”

They looked at the pink-orange curls scattered across the floor. Ripple began to get down on all fours. Andrew, paw trembling, put his knife down and helped.

“It’s alright. We’ll put them in the compost. Or the bait jar.”

Ripple blanched. The last time he’d put old food into the bait jar, he’d sworn off seafood for a month. It had lasted two days.

“Such a shame about poor Brother Raimun,” Andrew mumbled. “You found him, I heard?”

“I, um, I heard him… Mr… Brother Isidore found him first.”

Ripple dropped the shrimp he’d scooped up as Andrew’s paw gripped his wrist.

“What did he look like?”

“Wh…what?”

“Brother Raimun. When he died. Was there anything… unusual?”

“N-no? Father Abbot said it was natural. Allergies to eatin’ somethin’…”

“No scars? No… bite marks?”

Ripple relaxed. It was just this again.

“No, sir. Me an’ Brother Aloysius have been keepin’ the attic clear. Haven’t seen any Things since last time.”

Last time had been a season ago when Ripple, in a fit of disobedience, made a bet with himself that he could stay up all night while Aloysius was visiting his cousin, and had been pleasantly surprised to find Andrew more than willing to help. Believing that Ripple was going to need all the energy he could in order to hunt down one of the Things, he lent a large bowl of candied chestnuts and a cup of sugar to the cause, along with a firkin of strawberry fizz.

The resulting wild night had done nothing but to confirm to Andrew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Things existed, especially when Ripple tottered down in the morning, looking as though he’d been to Hellgates and back, and covered in their unholy blood… which had actually just been some ink he’d spilled on himself. He’d been all too happy to let Andrew keep the blackened hide of the slain beast as well. There had been absolute hellgates to pay when Aloysius had found where his roll of vellum had vanished to. Ripple had let Andrew pay it. It was one of the young otter’s few crimes he still couldn’t come clean about to this day, even if it had made the mouse look an absolute fool in front of the entire abbey.

Some beasts just took their games so seriously.

“They’re in here, you know. The Abbot’s locked them in with us. Oh, what fools! All those guests for the feast! The gates were opened too long! They must have slipped in. And now everyone is trapped…”

“Uh, well, they’ll be leavin’ tomorrow, won’t they? We’ll just make sure the Things leave as well.”

Andrew shook his head.

“That’s just the thing, Ripple! The Abbot, he came and gathered the guests and the elders, and I overheard it all. It’s not just us abbeybeasts being kept in now, it’s everyone! All the guests…”

Ripple rested the top of his head on the ground for a moment. When he raised it again, his face was set resolutely. He dropped his pawful of floorshrimp back into the bowl and listened with half an ear as Andrew went on about the Abbot’s new ruling.

He had to give the imaginative mouse credit: Andrew knew how to keep an audience. The dishes were all washed by the time Andrew decided to call it a night, leaving Ripple to totter alone back up to the attic, his head crawling with new, dark thoughts.

He climbed into his bed and stared at the star chart pinned to the ceiling. All around him, the scratching and keening of the Things echoed around the attic. He imagined them crawling over the stacks, mouths foaming with their venomous yellow saliva, or congealing in the rafters – blackness dripping down to slowly form complete bodies that cricked their joints as they stretched their claws for the first time. He imagined Brother Raimun caught in the corner, fending them off with nothing but a book, frozen by their wretched harbinger wails.

Whoo-whooooooo

He wished he had Foweller’s shovel.


“Skip… Dad.”

Ripple stood in the doorway in his pajamas, his blanket bunched up in his paw and dragging along behind him through the hallway, and a stuffed satchel over his shoulder. It wasn’t everything he wanted to save from the attic, but it was everything that he absolutely didn’t want to fall into anyone else’s paws in his absence.

“I can’t sleep…”

He fumbled in the dark until the lantern by the door flicked to life. The window flashed blue and rattled, but instead of feeling sharp and cold, now it simply added to the small room’s cozy charm.

He crept up to the bed and gave Skipper a shove, but this only resulted in a grunt and a waft of ale smell. Ripple took this as permission and climbed over onto the other side, dragging his blanket and satchel over Skipper’s stomach.

He set himself up, tucking the satchel against the wall and poking his tail through to the other side of his blanket. He gave his toes an experimental wriggle, stretching the webbing out to breathe. Then he rubbed his head into the spare pillow until he was lost in a valley of eiderdown and a deep, thrumming river ran under his sight.

This was not enough to wash away the horrors that now plagued his imagination. And his bee stings were prickling too much still.

Ripple sat up.

He stared at the window, trying to see through the globs of rain at the reflection beyond. All those little niggling feelings were coming up now, like little worms escaping the flooding grounds. The twisted, distorted room in the window felt more real than the abbey he’d been living in this past season.

“Dad… are ye still asleep?” Skipper was. Good. “Dad, I’m sorry. I lied earlier. About the book, an’… an’ Fowel never said anythin’ about mum. Don’t be mad at him. Please. I really like Fowel. I just wish ye could be as nice to my other friends as ye are to him. I know ye think Bludd an’ Virrel are bad influences on me, like Tam was, but… ye never stop to think, maybe I’m a good influence on them.

“An’… an’ I wish ye’d try harder. I know ye can do it. Ye don’t need Martin. Yer the Skipper. I don’t know what yer waitin’ for. But… I’ll help, aye? We’ll find Ruslen an’ the others together, maybe. I don’t know what good I’ll do, but I’m gonna try. I’m not a dibbun anymore.”

The only reply was a rattle of thunder, or Skipper’s snoring. Ripple sometimes couldn’t tell the difference.

He tried once more to sleep.


What felt like hours later, Ripple began rifling through Locria’s letters, still too restless. He’d poured through their last campaign, and was nearing the end.

“Was that your plan, Commander, or did your nosewipes of soldiers actually have a stray thought pass through their noggins while you were hiding behind the lines?”

Sergeant Locria put her paws on her hips and grinned at Eliwood.

“Well, you’ve caught me again… trapped like a rat in a hole. I’ve got nobeast left. I surrender.”

Ripple folded the letter away, smiling as he re-constructed his reply from memory. Eliwood stepping up to her, sword drawn, tip at her throat before slowly lowering, pausing at her belt, before he finally drops it and kneels in front of her, begging forgiveness for the lives lost.

‘And yet,’ his speech concluded – Ripple mouthed it to himself while he sought out the next letter in sequence – ‘I would march through a thousand more armies to reach the ground before your footpaws. I would shed the blood of kings to reach the borders of your country. And if I could commandeer the sea itself, I would tell it to part, that I may glimpse through the fog the distant shores of the land I know you to call home.’

Ripple spread out the next letter on his lap. His claw traced past the details of their casual correspondence, her suggestion of the next map to play, the barest details of her week abroad, to find their story.

Locria took Eliwood by the shoulders and lifted him back up to his full, regal height. Her eyes seared into his, looking for any trace of untruth. Sensing none, she smiled and beeped his nose with her own.

“Oh, Eliwood. If you want my paw in marriage, you simply had to ask.”

Locria hugged him tight and wept onto his shoulder, knowing his response.

Ripple put the letters back into the satchel and lay back on the bed.

‘But I can’t,’ he said to the darkened room. ‘I can’t, my dear, I can’t. Lord Granbelos marches against your father’s estate even as I speak. To turn on him now, abandon our cause – ‘

At that moment, Skipper chose to roll over and splay an arm across Ripple’s face, completely breaking his concentration. Ripple sighed and turned onto his side, shoving his father’s arm off. Skipper snorted and mumbled. Ripple closed his eyes and did his very best to dream of things he loved.

Isn't It a Utopia?

May 31, 2011

“Rip?”

“Mmhm?”

“Got any paints?”

“Aye. In that drawer… no, the one below. That one.”

Ripple pointed with his quill and went back to the problem at paw. If a ditch protected, but high ground was desirable for accuracy…

“So ye never get hit in a ditch?”

“Oh no, not never. Sometimes you do. It’s sort of random. What’s this under the paints?”

“Random…” Rip started. “Huh? What’s what…”

Foweller turned, displaying Merritt’s “gift” for Ripple to see. “It was sticking out of the papers.”

“Uhhhh…” His mind was blanking. He couldn’t breathe.

“Haha, it’s so gross. Lookit that.”

“That’s not mine,” Ripple said. His head swam. He felt like throwing up.

Foweller turned the picture upside-down, grimacing in amusement at it. He looked up as somebeast creaked across the attic floor.

“Rip? What’s not yers?”

Ripple couldn’t remember moving so fast in his entire life. He went from lying flat on the floor to lying flat over Foweller in just four seconds flat. He batted the picture out of the younger otter’s paws and shoved it as far under the desk as he could reach.

Skipper rounded the bookshelf an instant later and quirked his head at them sprawled out together.

Ripple’s thoughts went something like this: The stair didn’t squeak. Skipper saw the picture. Owowowow, my legs, never doing that again. I don’t have a book. This looks really bad, don’t it. Punch Foweller.

He punched Foweller.

“Oi there, Rip, what’s that all about! Gerroff, ye terror, what’s gotten into ye? First Isidore’s hives…”

Foweller was not one to let a swing go unrequited, and Skipper had a time of getting them apart. He held them aloft by the scruffs of their necks. Paralyzed, they twisted gently in his grip, weather vanes on a lazy day, glaring daggers at each other.

Skipper let Foweller down first.

“What is this fightin’ all about, Foweller?”

“Dunno, Uncle Skip! Rip started it.”

Uncle? Ripple mouthed.

“We was playin’ at our game!” Foweller indicated the massive spread of glued-together paper and the various designs and crafting tools littering the floor. “Then he trounced me.”

“Ye hurt any?”

“No, Uncle Skip. Rip hits like a weasel.”

“That so. Very well,” said Skipper. “Foweller, ye may go. I’d like to speak with my son in private.”

“Okeedoke, Uncle Skip!” Foweller smiled so sweetly it was a wonder his teeth didn’t fall out of his mouth in dusty little shards.

Ripple writhed. Skipper bapped him. He let Ripple down when Foweller had gone. The little otter’s chin sunk to his chest. He clasped his paws behind his back, lest they fidget and betray his feelings.

“What am I goin’ to do with ye, Rip?” he sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “What’s gotten into ye? Look at this mess! What in hellgates happened to the shelf here?”

“Uh… wood rot?”

“Wood rot an’ what? When did it happen?”

“Bludd, sir. This mornin’…”

Skipper sighed again.

“Why today, Rip? Spring Nameday celebration’s tonight. Ye’ve been actin’ like a ruddy fool, an’ if it keeps up yer goin’ to get more than a switchin’, I’ll see to that myself.” Skipper reached over and pulled Ripple closer. Clasping his head with both paws, Skipper rubbed his thumb claw against the dried white goo that had been administered to Ripple’s myriad bee stings. “Still hurts?”

“Aye, sir.”

“An’ yer rudder?” Skipper tipped him over a knee to check the bandage Sister Agnes had applied around the base of Ripple’s tail. It was still off-white, with no red spots bleeding through. Ripple’s pajamas had spared his legs, but would need stitching.

“Aye, sir.”

“Rip. I want ye to come down tonight. Help out with settin’ up the feast. Father Abbot’s orders, ye know. I was gonna get ye off the hook, let ye rest, but…” He helped Ripple upright again. “I’ll send some crew to clean up the shelvin’ mess. Ye got five minutes to get ready an’ head downstairs.”

Ripple nodded. He shifted his paws behind his back again and stepped closer to the desk. He bumped his chair by accident.

“An’ no more playin’ with Virrel.”

“But -”

“No! That’s final. That weasel’s a bad influence on ye, I know it. He’s a bad apple, that one, an’ yer not to be alone with him no more, got it?”

“But he’s -”

Rip.”

Ripple bowed his head again. “Aye, sir.”

“Right. Now, mind tellin’ me why ye were tryin’ to pop Foweller’s ears off?”

When Ripple raised his head, he’d managed to get his eyes moist. It was easy. “He found… he was makin’ fun of… of mum’s picture.”

Skipper hugged him. Ripple waited it out as stoically as possible. Things started to get awkward around the two-minute mark when he realized Skipper was sobbing.

He wondered if he had gone too far.


There really wasn’t any reason to have a Spring Nameday celebration feast outside, except to punish youngsters by forcing them to do pointless manual labor. Ripple didn’t know why they couldn’t just eat in the Great Hall and glance out a window once in a while. The days were fine and warm, but the nights still nipped.

Evening began to flow over the walls, washing out the dregs of sunlight from the corners of the abbey.

Ripple paused along the edge of the shadow. The blades of grass caught in the crossfire of light and dark looked sharp, serrated like the tip of a shrimp knife. He stepped over them, then immediately felt foolish.

He dragged a dining chair along behind him.

“No, no! Yer muckin’ up the chair,” shouted Rigg, bounding past. The burly otter had a chair slung over either shoulder. “Carry ’em like this!”

Ripple tilted his chair to the side and blinked at the grass stains on the curly-carved feet. He resumed dragging it.

At least he didn’t have to help with the tables.

“Psst.”

A decorative bush rattled. Ripple ignored it.

“Psssssst. Fft. Fft. Oi!”

“I’m busy,” he told the bush, and it grew large triangle ears in response. Then a muzzle and two little eyes.

“Whatcher gonna do to dat chair, then?”

Ripple pointed towards where the tables and other chairs were being set up. Various abbeybeast bustled with tablecloths, cutlery and dishes. Bludd looked between the set-up and the main abbey building.

“So… how’re ye gonna move all the walls after?”

Ripple’s brain just couldn’t cope with that. Across the lawn, a young vixen spotted him. She began to wave, standing on tip-paws, then stopped and drooped, changed directions. Ripple stared after.

“Um. Sorry?” he said.

“What fer?” Bludd cartwheeled in front of him.

“I mean, I don’t understand what yer askin’.”

The vixen glanced over at them again. Her nose pointed determinedly, but then her stride faltered and her ears went back, and she once again busied herself with something else. Ripple continued to stare at her, until he lost her in the crowd.

“That’s nothin’ to apologize about. Why’ve ye got dots all over? I gots dots on my belly. Are ye turnin’ into a wildcat? Ye should start wid stripes. Or bigger ears. Those are really tiny ones ye got!”

This continued until Ripple had brought his chair to the nearest table. Rigg was waiting for him, and slapped him on the back, knocking him over.

“There ye go! That’s two chairs, well done matey! Hyup an’ at ’em.” Rigg hauled him up again and brushed dirt from his habit front. “I’d tell ye to fetch another, but we’re all finished up now. I’ll go ask what ye need to do next, provided Skip’s still sober enough to say.”

“Oh… Alright, Uncle Rigg. Oh!”

“Eh?”

“Do you have a son, Uncle Rigg?”

“Nope! Ye’ll never find me tied down to one female all me life.” Rigg flexed. “Wouldn’t be fair to the rest.”

Ripple sat down to wait. He wriggled to and fro, but it didn’t move closer to the table. He almost snapped at Bludd to stop holding the wheels before he remembered where he was.

Speaking of Bludd, she was being awfully quiet… Ripple did a quick check around. Oh. She was gone.

“You there… Ripple, ain’t it?”

He craned his back head around until he found the source, sitting across from him: a male fox. Not the old one, but the younger one. Still seasons beyond Ripple’s own age. Beside him was the mole, Cobb.

“No,” said Ripple. “Ye’ve got me confused with another otter.”

The mole leaned forward. His goggles were hitched up, now the sun was over the wall. “You’m be th’ beast that brought Oi food in th’ dungeon. Oi remember you’m.”

“But you ain’t Ripple?” the fox said. Ripple shook his head. He glanced at the abbey. So far away! Escape would be difficult. Why was there a blueberry scone on his lap?

“Oi’m certain he -”

Suddenly, the table lurched. The cloth parted beside Ripple, and Bludd crawled out onto an empty chair. She slammed her elbows down and ogled at Cobb.

“A dungeon? Wodjer do, pillage a whole village?”

“Oh, no! Oi… Oi troied to steal some food… from th’ Abbey garden…” Cobb fiddled with his claws and bowed his head.

“Oh.” The kitten sulked. “I was gonna ask ye t’ join my rovin’ crew o’ scallywags… but if ye never done nothin’ dangerous afore… Like fight off a whole army o’ bees! Wanna see my bites?”

“They’re stings,” said Ripple, distantly.

“I knows buzzy bees sting,” said Bludd. “I was talkin’ about my bites.” She chomped her jaws at him and grinned.

The fox was still giving him a very odd look, so Ripple mumbled a vague apology, pointed at something no one could quite see, and slipped away, leaving Bludd and Cobb to discuss career options for the recently paroled. Or whatever it was Bludd had in mind.

Ripple examined his scone as he settled down at another table. It seemed clean enough… It was probably her way of apologizing. And, well, he did like blueberries. It was the kind that had jam inside. His favorite!

He bit into it, and then yelped, crumbs spraying through his whiskers. A heavy paw had landed on his shoulder. Ripple twisted in his seat, and began to choke at the sight of the dark, cowled figure. The figure’s other paw drew the hood back, revealing the Abbot’s kindly-enough half-smile.

“There seems to be a young creature in my abbey who is not altogether aware of our rules of conduct and the respect we are to show to other beasts and their property.”

“Um, I’m sorry, Father, I -”

“I of course speak of our mutual friend, Bludd.” The Abbot scrunched his face at the name the wild kitten had chosen for herself. He sat down as well.

“Oh,” said Ripple. He swallowed what little scone remained, and licked his whiskers clean.

Behind the Abbot, he saw the vixen again, and followed her movements with his eyes. He scootched up to the edge of his chair.

“It was not you who knocked Isidore’s hive into the fire, was it? Come now, my son, don’t be so hesitant. I know you well, and you are a careful, caring soul. It was no accident, but nor was it an act of aggression, was it?”

“N-no, Father…”

She almost saw him, but he ducked his head and scratched his ear just in time, hiding his face behind his arm.

“It was Bludd, wasn’t it?”

“My dad says not to lie.”

“And so?”

Ripple’s muzzle flattened in finality. The Abbot almost smiled.

“Why do you protect her, who has done you wrong, my son? On so many occasions,” he added.

“She’s my friend, Father.”

The vixen was seated now, talking to Cobb and Bludd.

“Yes. I suppose so. But why choose her, over all the others who could be your friend?”

“Well… ‘cos… she’s… fun.”

The Abbot glanced in the direction Ripple was looking, and nodded.

“Tell me, my son. Do you think Bludd should be held accountable for today’s incident?”

“I done the punishment already, Father.”

“And so should she not be punished doubly, for letting the blame fall on you in the first place?”

“I’ve forgiven her already, Father.”

The Abbot leaned back and breathed his pipe.

“And when did you ever plan on telling Tamarack?” he said.

Ripple hunkered down in his habit, blushing.

The Abbot stood up and patted Ripple’s shoulder.

“The night is young, and so are you. There is time yet to heal. You’ve done your share of that, these past few seasons, but there is always more to do, and every once in a while you must air out your bandages and expose the wound again. Find the time to talk to her tonight, my son. It may sting at first, but it is better in the long run than to let it fester. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to sample some of the cellarhog’s fine ale before I can think up another metaphor for the next life lesson I’ll need to impart before the night is over. An Abbot’s work is never over…”

Ripple did his best to straighten his posture as the older otter moved by him.

“Oh, and Ripple…”

“Aye, Father?”

“Any ideas for the name?”

“Umm… name of what, Father?”

The Abbot stared for some time, his face caught somewhere between amusement and stern disapproval.

“Do try to get out a bit more, there’s a good dibbun.”

Ripple glared down at the tablecloth and his clenching paws.

“‘m not a dibbun… Oops.”

There was jam on his habit collar.

“Oi, Rip! Over here!” Rigg shouted, waving at him from the abbey. “Found another job for ye!”

Mischievous Blues

May 25, 2011

Ripple frowned at his pennies. Not enough? How could there not be enough! He had… that was a five… and a ten… so… He had twenty-six pennies! How could that not be enough!

His eyes raised up, misery sparkling and dripping down his cheeks, as he beheld his hero in all his colored glory. This was the one. Everyone he knew had one. But it was either a Sunflash, or the Fourth Edition species set… and he needed weapons for those, if he got them…

“What’ll it be?” said Merritt.

Ripple’s lower jaw jutted out.

“I’ll be right back, sir!”

He hobbled off, his pace varying until he found a comfortable stride. Not too fast, not too fast! The grass felt slippery, mushy and warm. He felt much better back inside the coolness of the abbey.

He’d seen Skipper earlier, talking to that over-eager weasel, Noel. The sight of them conniving had made his lip curl in disgust. If he could just get Skipper away for a minute…

He found Skipper walking down the rear hall, to the backside entrance of the main abbey building. He was involved in a boisterous conversation with two other otters, all of them yammering and chortling over something. The weasel was nowhere in sight. Ripple tried to get within hearing range.

“Skip… Skipper! Skip!” Exasperated, Ripple put on a fresh burst of speed. One of his knees popped, and he tumbled. Grimacing and grinding his teeth, he grabbed a door handle and lifted himself back up, managing a few more limping hops. “Skip! Skiiiippeeeeer! Dad!

This succeeded in getting the Skipper’s attention. Seeing Ripple panting and leaning heavily against the wall, he jogged back down the corridor.

“Wot is it? Somethin’ wrong?”

It took Ripple a moment or two to catch his breath.

“Um, no sir. There’s merchants come.” Ripple held up his sweaty paw, displaying his pitiful pennies. “I’m a mark short… Could I have my allowance today, instead?”

“Seems an awful lot there already. Wot’re ye buyin’?”

Ripple frittered, pretending to re-count his pennies as he arranged his appeal. “There’s a new map, sir, it’s got a river. An’ there’s a new deck out as well. But Brother Aloysius tole me to get this rare ole book. For study. An’ if I buy that, I don’t got enough… I been doin’ my chores,” he added.

“Aye, that ye have.” Skipper fumbled in his pocket. “There ye are. Need any help?”

“No!” Oops. Too hasty! “I can carry it all up myself, sir.” Skipper nodded. Ripple admired his new coin. Skipper coughed. Ripple blinked up at him. “Um… thanks…” He deflated a little upon having to say it.

“Get along then,” said Skipper, giving him a pat on the back.

Ripple scurried with great care. As he reached the end of the corridor, Skipper called out. “Oi, Rip!” He turned around, squinting at Skipper’s fuzzy shape. “I’d shore like to read that book when yer done!”

Ripple waited until he was around the corner before uttering a meek “Eep.”


“So that’s five for the weapons pack, fifteen for all of the new starter species, three for the river map, and that includes two bridges; sixty, sorry, fifty for the watercolors… and twenty for Sunflash the Mace second edition. Ninety-seven in all.”

Ripple held aloft his blessed mark. Merritt plucked it out of the air. In that moment, the fur on his nape stood on end: transaction successful! The ferret packaged it all neatly in Ripple’s bag, folding the map with almost over-exaggerated caution. Sunflash the Mace was put directly in Ripple’s paw. He felt light-headed. He blamed it on the lack of shade.

“And here’s your seven pennies…” Merritt’s paw hovered, clenched tight. “Unless there’s something else I can interest you in?”

Ripple quizzed the display again, after glancing at the hare, who shook her head silently.

“I don’t got enough for another character pack, sir,” he said.

“Oh, there’s more than cards here.” Merritt began to open a crate that that Ripple hadn’t even noticed was there. The hare reached over and slapped it shut. Merritt only just pulled his claws out in time.

“Merritt! Just give the lad ‘is pennies.”

They tumbled into his non-Sunflash-filled fist.

“Gee! Thanks, sir, marm.”

Ripple headed back to the doors, only half listening to their ensuing banter.

“Merritt… the bag…”

“Well now, what’ve we got here…”

“What are you doin’? Give it back to ‘im… ‘ere, I’ll do it.”

Inside again, Ripple could have sworn that Sunflash’s stripe glittered as he passed under a window’s honey-fog stream. He could practically hear the creak of the badger lord’s armour, feel the draft of air from the swinging mace…

A touch on his shoulder caused him to jump. Saskia held out his bag.

“You forgot this.”

“Oh… sorry…”

“It’s alright. Just keep your ‘ead on your shoulders next time, wot?”

Ripple blushed and slipped his pennies into the bag. He puttered on in a hurry back to the stairway and began edging his way carefully upwards, sliding the folds of the bag along the banister underpaw. Once in the dormitory hallway, he allowed himself to review his prize again.

There were twelve spikes on Sunflash’s mace. Ripple stuck his tongue out at it. “Daaahh…” Oh, well. Twelve was just as good as eleven, right? It was still the same card in the end.

He flipped it over. Ooh, and they’d added a Skarlath command! No wonder Locria had boasted about it.

Using his trusty friend Skarlath, Sunflash does not have to be beside a chest to equip items from it. However, this can be used only once per turn, for Skarlath needs to rest between –

“Watch where you’re going!”

“Oh, um, sorry.”

Ripple pressed himself against the wall, letting the weasel past.

“Um, hey, Virrel, look…” He held up Sunflash. Virrel craned his head in closer. Realization dawned.

“Ah.”

“It’s Sunflash the Mace! Second edition. All colored in!”

“Ah. Right.”

“Ye goin’ to buy yer own packs? They got the new species in. We could start a new game.”

“Maybe. Maybe. Later.”

“Oh. Alright. Bye…

Ripple pondered after the weasel. It was hard to say, but it had seemed like Virrel hadn’t even been impressed.


The eleventh stair from the top creaked. Ripple avoided it, and his leg muscles had no qualms in voicing their annoyance with him for the longer stretch. He was already worn out from chasing after Skipper.

The attic welcomed him. Or at least, he felt welcome here. It had been a library, dusty and somber, always empty, and therefore a perfect place for a sulk in his dibbunhood. After the accident, its charm was even more alluring. No stares, no whispers, no bloody sympathy tuts… Just him, the stacks, the dust, the rafters, the aviary up above… and Brother Aloysius.

Well, even Dark Forest had its toadstools.

It had been easy to convince Skipper to move a bed and some other furniture up. A window in the slanted roof to study the stars, Ripple had pointed out. A long way up from the Great Hall would surely help his recovery, strengthen his legs again. And since it was unfair for him to go all the way down to the gate house for lessons, he could continue his private tutoring under Aloysius right here, without the bat having to flit through the dormitories to find him. It was perfect!

Ripple shuffled through the stacks to his corner and placed the bag on his desk. Privacy was no concern, for the bookshelves separated the entire attic into quadrants. Aloysius would have to make a great deal of noise, flapping over them through the rafters, or else tapping along the ground with his strange crawling gait. Right now the bat was probably asleep, and the aviary was locked down, and so he had the attic very much to himself.

First things first. Ripple reached over his battlefield of a bed and dragged his pillow off, shook the sawdust onto the floor, then placed Sunflash the Mace down with alarming reverence on top. He gave the side a tap so it was centered perfectly.

Then he opened the bag and slid out the map. It was a simple affair, little more than a ten-by-ten grid filled with words: “Grass” filled most of the boxes, with “Wall” arranged strategically throughout. This one was different, with a line of boxes marked “River” running through the middle. Ripple hoped he had enough blue to fill it out. He set about pinning it up on the wall, alongside the rest of them. There was hardly a blank space left. The maps on the walls were forested with pins, each one tipped with a dried bean of a specific color.

With that accomplished, he tugged his habit off, balled it up and tossed it on the floor, and sat himself down in his old wheelchair. He let his body relax for a moment, releasing the stress of his trip downstairs, and rubbed his knees through his pajama bottoms. When he was quite comfortable again, he rolled himself up to the desk.

He pulled open a drawer and took out the folded uniform jacket, all blue and gold in grand Long Patrol tradition. One of Locria’s letters clung to a cuff and fluttered out. Ripple put it back and tucked them deeper inside the drawer. Leaning forward, he slipped the jacket on, tugged it tight down his back, and went to work clearing the mortuary that was his workspace.

He brushed cat fur off the sails of his model sailing ship, re-assessed the snapped foremast and tangled lines, and, with a sigh, scooted it to the far corner. He organized and stacked the star charts and sailing books. The spyglass he dusted off, removing the stains of disuse, and after some consideration tossed it gently onto his bed, aiming for a spot not filled with chunks of wall and shelving. When all that was out of the way, he emptied the bag, setting the cards to one side and tucking the watercolor set in the still-open drawer for later. Which left…

He stared for some time at the item he most certainly had not purchased. His heart quickened, and he glanced around behind him before turning the picture over. After a few minutes he lifted an edge and peeked under it. It was still the same picture. He leaned back.

He couldn’t return it. It was simply not feasible in any manner. Throw it out the window? But then someone might see him, or trace its flight path, make the connections… He settled for sifting it in with Locria’s letters. It was his private drawer, the one Skipper knew was off-limits. It should be safe until he figured out how to destroy it.

If he even wanted to.

Then Ripple’s calm, calculating coolness burst like a dam. A manic grin sent his whiskers splaying and he rubbed his paws together in a positively unsettling manner.

“Time to review the troops! Wot. Wot.”

He tore into the light twine binding his new packs, ripping the knots with his teeth. He bounced in his seat as he arranged them in rows alongside his older cards. His rudder swished merrily. The room surrendered to his imagination, walls falling to reveal smoking plains dotted with snapping standards, the bookshelves behind him a crowd of eager soldiers, frozen in salute as they awaited Commander Eliwood’s verdict.

Someone screeched in the distance, breaking his concentration.

The soldiers assembled into arrays of bleak tomes. The valley’s horizon folded up again, smoke curls hardening back into grains and knots. Ripple grunted in annoyance and pushed away from the desk. He wheeled himself to the window, grabbing his spyglass from the bed as he passed by.

“Wot in ‘ellgates is goin’ on…”

He stood, nosing under the curtain, and tilted his eye against the spyglass to better see the commotion.

Far below on the Abbey’s lawn, some sort of fight was brewing. And then breaking apart. And then brewing again. It was like watching a miniature flock of starlings. Moles ambled in the midst, squirrels skittered, otters galumphed buoyantly. Out of the confusion, a ball shot out, sailing between two chairs that had been placed on the grass. The hedgehog standing between them flung himself in the opposite direction a good second or two after the ball had already passed by. Badgermum Agnes blew a whistle. Someone screeched again. Someone else screeched back. A weasel bounded after the ball. Skipper hoisted a mouse onto his shoulders and paraded him around as half the congregation sulked.

Ripple shook his head. He thumped the window with a fist and growled.

Playing! Skipper was playing! The antics of dibbunhood! Not out looking for Ruslen and the others, not protecting the Abbey…

Something fishy was going on. Everybeast was on edge and, as always, Ripple was left alone in the dark. They knew something he didn’t, and they wouldn’t tell him what it was, not even the dibbuns who always came up to bother him with their pointless news.

They’d given up the search. If he could only do something… If he could ask Locria, if he could get her patrol’s help! Just find word, that would be enough. Had Ruslen and Chamomile survived the winter? Had they run off for adventures? If so, why hadn’t they told him? He wasn’t that much of a tattletale… was he?

But no, there was nothing he could do but wait. He was no more than a dibbun himself. His only power over his world, his immediate access to the postal sparrows in the aviary above, had been shut off from him. All he could do was wait the seasons out and hope the Abbot would change his mind before his friends forgot about him. Maybe they would get the news somehow, and understand his silence.

Maybe they would think he died.

There was no use worrying. It was out of his paws.

He swiveled the chair back to his desk and resumed comparing the new species to his old hare collection.

“Boo,” said a voice behind him, and then it laughed as he jolted out of his chair, cards cascading like snowflakes around him. Ripple shrugged out of his Long Patrol jacket as fast as possible and shoved it under the bed, falling into habit before his brain could catch up and realize he’d already been caught.

“That’s never a good hidin’ spot, y’know. First place anybeast’ll look fer loots.”

Ripple glared up at the little wildcat.

“Yer not allowed in here!” He hissed, keeping his voice low for Aloysius’s sake. He began to collect his cards from the ground. Oh, if any of them got dented! “‘specially without jumpin’ on the creaky step like I tole ye to!”

“Said I was sorry, din’ I?” Bludd looked up at the wall above his bed, as if admiring a job well-done. “‘s not so bad. Wall’s still there. Rubbish place to put things that are gonna fall, though.”

“They’re not s’posed to fall… Or be slept on.”

Bludd snorted and pawed at her nose. She wiped it off on the edge of his desk. Ripple tried not to look.

“Oh,” she said, jigging a little. “I remember now! There’s something I want to show ye!”

“I already know ye can stand on yer head…”

“No, this is much better.” Bludd preened. “Much.”