Blown Buds of Barren Flowers

September 14, 2011

“Fowel?” Tamarack whispered, dabbing at the otter’s bleeding eye with the edge of her shirt. Foweller did not move again, his muzzle slack and eyes fixed on something none of them could see.

She heard Aloysius slump against the door of the cellar, so much like a stack of his scrolls scattering across the archive floor. “Fates, Fates. Oh, dear Fates.”

“Shouldn’t have said anything,” Noel muttered as he sank to one knee, rocking the kit back and forth. “Should’ve run.”

The vixen sat down hard, mindless to the dewy grass that dampened her fur and clothes. He’d saved them, saved Noel. Tears welled up in her eyes even as the beast in her belly began to snarl. What could they do now? Kill Isidore? Fill her graveyard with the bodies of every beast that stood with Carter?

She glanced down to where Foweller’s blood painted a fresh memory on her shirt, something urgent and dark. They needed help. Right now, they needed to stop this before any other kits, printers, diggers, cooks, or recorders died.

“Get up,” the vixen mumbled, pushing herself to her footpaws. “Get up.” She went to Noel and hugged his long neck, licking his cheek until he stopped shaking and his paw met her own. “Get up.” She went to Aloysius and helped the bat to stand, his shuddering echoed by the hitch in her own voice. “We got… we got to go. Isidore’s going to tell the Abbot, and all them guards we knocked out won’t… won’t stay knocked forever.”

“Go where, where?” Aloysius whispered.

“Out to the city,” Noel said, sniffing as he shifted Foweller to a more comfortable place in his paws. “But I…” The weasel looked down at the little otter.

“My family,” Tamarack answered. “We’ll take him to Colm.”

Even weighed down by their burden, sneaking across the lawns proved a simple enough task for only two beasts. Aloysius guided them around those guards who had remained at their posts and into the comforting shade of the graveyard. The scent of earth and flowers wrapped Tamarack up in a blanket she had always loved. Even just the one night in Aloysius’ archives had felt wrong, everything dry and old. That was the smell of decay to her, not here where the earth was fresh and the trees grew tall on the backs of every Abbeybeast that had come before.

They stopped beside the window of Colm and Ida’s room, and Tamarack tapped her claws along the glass.

Tap. Taptaptap. Tap. It was their special rhythm, the one that said it was time to relieve the dead of all the trinkets they would never need.

It took longer than with Papa – Colm still had seasons to learn – but the fox appeared at the window, raising it up to blink blearily at the beasts outside. Tamarack noticed Ida beside him.


“What’s happened?” Ida hissed, her sharp eyes drawn to Noel and Foweller.

The weasel stepped forward and presented the otter. “Isidore killed him,” he said. “We were hoping…”

Colm held up a paw. “Bring him around the back.”

They gathered on the porch, Noel shifting Foweller to Ida’s arms as if he were a sleeping kit. She nodded and disappeared inside, off to Papa’s workshop.

“How’d this happen?” Colm asked, and the trio took it in turns to explain, each picking up when another could no longer speak. The fox was silent at the end of their explanation, then said, “I’m coming with you.”

“No.” Tamarack shook her head, taking her big brother’s paw. “You got to protect Mumma and Papa and Grannie and Ida. I won’t be here for that no more. You got to keep them safe because we’re coming back. And… and it ain’t just going to be us.” She looked to Noel and Aloysius. They hadn’t talked about it, hadn’t planned that far ahead, but what else was there? “We’re going to bring every beast we can, any beast who’ll listen. We’ll tear down the gates and stop Abbot Carter and Mr. Isidore and all the beasts helping them. We got Mr. Merritt out there now, and you… the pamphlets?”

Colm lowered his ears. “We were only able to make three copies. Left them in infirmary and refectory. I don’t know if anybeast read them, Tam. Most ain’t got words past what they was taught as dibbuns.”

“There are enough, enough I think,” Aloysius murmured. “Those who seek the truth will always find it, find it for good or ill.”

“We better go now, afore the Abbot and everybeast else finds the tunnel. You make sure the others are safe. Keep them inside.” She turned away, but this time, Colm held her, not letting go. She looked up at him. He had his teeth bared and his glare fixed on Noel and Aloysius.

“You come back without my little sister, I swear on my family’s name that I will nail each of you in a coffin and bury you alive.”

Aloysius grimaced, but Noel nodded, taking her other paw. “If she doesn’t come back, neither will we.”

Tamarack squeezed her brother’s paw one more time before letting go. “I love you, Colm.”

“Wait!” The older fox hurried inside and return a moment later with their hooded lantern. “Just in case.” She took the lantern and flint that he offered with a faint smile. Colm had always been better about preparation.

The trio did not pause until they reached the doors of the cellar once more. The Fates had been kind enough to delay Isidore’s return as far as they could tell. There, Aloysius held back.

“I will meet you in Redwall City, Redwall City,” he said.

“What? Why?” Tamarack’s brow furrowed.

The bat rubbed a claw across his nose before settling. “I saw the beasts on the lawns moving toward us, toward us before I landed. I do not think we will have the time to reach Julian and his friends before they are upon us.”

“You’re not sacrificing yourself, too, Brother,” Noel growled. “Don’t you even think about it.”

“That was not my intention, Master Noel, though it is a rather grand thought,” Aloysius replied, arching a brow. “I think a distraction would be of more practical value, value when I have more than one means of escape.” He flapped his leathery wings.

“What are you going to do?” Tamarack asked.

“What I must. Please, please, go quickly, my friends.”

“Good luck,” the weasel said.

“Good luck,” Tamarack echoed, hugging the frail historian. “You’ll be all right?”

He smiled, a tired, ragged expression that would have better suited a beast thrice his age. “Of course, of course, my dear. Now go!” They broke apart, the bat taking to wing while the weasel and vixen lit their lantern and descended into the cellar.

They did not speak as they hurried through the tunnel, but Noel’s presence was enough. Feeling the slickness of his paws as they jogged, hearing his measured puffs of breath, she could imagine Aloysius with them, beating his wings high above the earth as they scurried below. The pair finally slowed as they came in sight of the door leading to the rebel base. It was open and jagged strips of light shone through, tearing into the shadows of the tunnel.

“Merritt and the rest must have just arrived,” Noel said, though he’d stopped some distance away.

Tamarack felt the hairs on the nape of her neck rising as she took a step back. “Then why ain’t there no beast talking?”

The weasel had no answer, but motioned for her to hood the lantern so that they could creep closer. “Stay behind me,” he muttered as they drew near enough to peer into the room. “I can’t see…”

The lantern clattered to the floor, its flame extinguished in the rush of oil. Locria lay near the door, neck twisted at an impossible angle, ears ripped off, and pistol in pieces beside her.

Carter had reached them first.

Honesty Is Hardly Ever Heard

September 2, 2011

“Yer loony!” Remy exclaimed striding away even as Tamarack chased her across the lawn.

“Am not!” the vixen barked. “Just listen. Everything at dinner, all that about Mr. Case, it’s a lie. Abbot Carter’s the one who done it, and now he’s–”

She cut herself off as Remy whirled around, cheeks puffed up and webbed paws balled into fists. “Go away! Abbot Carter tol’ the otters ye attacked him an’ poor Brother Isidore. You an’ that…” She trailed off, and Tamarack felt her hackles rise.

“Noel didn’t have nothing to do with Ripple.”

“‘Noel’ is it?” Remy sneered. “Gettin’ familiar with an outsider, eh? Go home. See t’ buryin’ the dead an’ quit tryin’ t’ blame the Abbot fer every ill ye see.” The otter bit her lip and deflated with a sigh. “Plenty o’ ill these days without ye heapin’ it on the one beast tryin’ t’ protect our Abbey. It was that dirty Rigg who’s been killin’ beasts, an’ we’ve got him locked up now. An’ this Case fellow’s bad news. He’s corrupted an’ killed so many beasts at the Abbey already. Ye dug the graves!” Another sigh. “I’m sorry about Ripple an’ Cobb, Tam. I know ye were stuck on ‘em like mussels, but ye have t’ know how daft ye sound. Abbot Carter loves the Abbey… loves us all. He’d never hurt us. An’ yer sayin’ Martin didn’t exist? But I’ve seen his sword! Held it in me own paws, too.”

“It’s not that he didn’t… Brother Timothy’s…” She faltered, then brightened. “Come see Brother Aloysius with me. He can say it pretty-like. Honest, Remy, I ain’t just telling tales this time.”

The otter shook her head. “Go home, Tam,” she repeated before bounding away, making for the pond and water too deep to follow. Tamarack watched her go, ears and tail drooping.

Dreschner, Celia, Betsy Goldhammer, Ada, Willowtail, Edgar and Darcy Lock, Lacey Spackett, Keefe… and Remy made ten. Ten beasts just as certain as she had been a week ago of Abbot Carter’s honest intentions.

Remy didn’t want to believe it, though. The most Tamarack had to count on were Hagia and Harald, creatures who had seen fewer suns that even Bludd.

Tamarack gritted her teeth. There were still more beasts – more sensible, older beasts who wouldn’t believe the Abbot’s lies.

“Lass.” Isidore was not one of these beasts. “What are you doing out here?”

“Telling the truth.” The vixen crossed her arms and raised her snout. “And you, Brother Isidore?”

The rat’s face molded itself into a wry grin as he replied, “Washing.” The smile faded as he hefted the skep in his paws. “My bees have died, tainted by some disease. I thought you might like to know, though, the Abbot and I buried Cobb by the youngest alder at the forest edge. He blessed the spot.”

“The Abbot…?” That didn’t make sense. Why would he be so kind? She pressed a paw to her still-tender ribs, but did not lower her eyes from the rat. “I’m sorry I tried to hurt you on account of thinking you and him killed Mr. Cobb, sir.”

“But you’re not sorry you did it,” he finished.

“No, sir.” The vixen bared her teeth. “It were the right thing to do.”

He held his silence for a long moment, the heavy skep tilting his frame to one side. She nodded and turned to go when he said, “Many have died for beasts doing what is ‘right’ for the wrong reason, lass.”

Tamarack glanced back over her shoulder, but kept walking. He seemed changed somehow, his sweet honey fragrance soured with too much smoke and sulfur. “Many are dead already, sir.”

She laid the snowdrops and asphodel she’d stolen from Abigail’s garden on the mound of fresh earth beneath the alder. If the old vole was going to ignore her warnings and accuse her of being a nuisance, the vixen would earn the title honestly. A light breeze brought the smell of tobacco, earth, and sweat.

“What do you want, scraggtail?” she asked when Colm stood beside her, staring down at the grave and her meager offering.

“It’s time to come back to the graveyard, mudface,” he said, paws clasped behind his back. “Whatever Brother Aloysius has you studying, there’s a reckoning to be had over what happened the other night. And Grannie’s worried half out of her hide, though she ain’t said it.”

Tamarack reached out her paw to him, and he took it. When he started to pull her away, though, she held her ground. “I’m doing this for you. We done it for you from the start.”


“Me and Mr. Cobb,” she explained, eyes fixed on the mole’s grave. “You was so scared of that cloakpin… I had to find out why.” The tears came unbidden, foolish things that she tried to blink away. “But then Brother Raimun, Mr. Andrew, Ripple, Mr. Cobb… Bludd. You know I’m telling the truth. The Abbot’s a murderer. That’s why you were scared. And I don’t know how to protect you or anybeast else because they don’t want to believe it.”

She felt him move closer, taking her muzzle in his other paw and turning it so she faced him. His maw was twisted into a frown.

“Why you got to be an idiot, Tamarack?”

“Don’t it suit me?” She tried to smile, reaching out to embrace him.


They broke apart after a moment, the vixen rubbing her eyes as the elder fox cleared his throat.

“I don’t want you doing this for me,” Colm said, jabbing a claw at her nose. “I don’t want you doing this at all… whatever this is.” Before she could protest, he continued, “But short of tying you up and tossing you in the cellar, I suppose you’ll find a way thanks to that Noel fellow you been running with. You’re making me go gray up to the ears, mudface.” He pinched the bridge of his snout. “What can I do?”

Tamarack beamed. He was going to help them, but what could he do that wouldn’t get him in trouble, as well? Something quiet. Something secret. A thought struck her, and she dug into her pocket, producing the pamphlet Saskia had given her. “Ms. Saskia told me to leave this where beasts could read it. But we need more. Could you copy it? Get it to everybeast you can think of?”

Colm scrunched up his face. “I ain’t a writer, Tam.”

“Ida could do it! Or Grannie. Grannie would do it.”

“You plan on fighting the Abbot with words, then?” he grumbled, taking the pamphlet and shoving it into his own pocket.

The young vixen shook her head. “Naw. He’d win that soon as you like. We’ll fight him with Ms. Saskia’s ideas!”

“Any luck, Tam?” Foweller asked, forcing a cup of tea into her paws as soon as she entered the Archives. Noel sat ensconced among the stacks of scattered fairy tales and cobwebs while Aloysius had draped himself across his desk, snoring gently into Brother Timothy’s secret message.

“I’ve had better luck pulling teeth out of a worm,” the vixen growled as she slinked over to a tray of pasties perched upon a volume thicker than her brush. “Ran into Colm… said he’d try to help, but beasts don’t care. Hear them talk, you’d think bodies popping up in the spring were natural as daisies. Least it ain’t bad for business. How about you two?”

The little otter glared at his tea for a moment. “Sister Delores thinks I’ve gone barmy. Told me I was shouting absolute nonsense and needed a lie down. Huh! If they hadn’t shuffled Uncle Duster off to detention along with Rigg for starting that fight, we’d have given her what for!”

“Sister Saffron and Brother Abel tried to get a couple of the otters to throw me out of the Great Hall,” Noel added. “The beasts I managed to talk to before that just told me I should’ve run off when Virrel did.” His features tightened, and Tamarack looked away. Colm was no hero, but he was a fair sight better at brothering than Virrel had been. At least nobeast wanted him dead… yet. She grabbed another pasty and went to curl up beside the weasel.

“If Major Shanar were here, he’d have everybeast lined up in smart order, ready to march out at dark. Civilians.” Foweller spat the word as he might a curse.

Whether by chance or some innate sense of impropriety in his archives, Aloysius shuddered into consciousness, maneuvering his splayed wings so that he could push himself up and turn to look at them. He blinked, then chirruped, the high-pitched wave making Tamarack flinch. “I see you are returned, returned.” There was a hint of exasperation in his voice. “I pray the Fates brought sense to the beasts with whom you spoke.”

They took it in turns to relate their failed excursions, Foweller in the infirmary, Noel in the main building, and Tamarack around the lawns and smithy. Their midnight plan to spread Timothy’s message, galvanize Redwallers to turn against Carter and break the lockdown, seemed little more than idiocy in the noonday light.

“I talked to every Abbeybeast I could think of,” Tamarack growled, ripping into her second pasty in frustration.

“Me, too,” Foweller echoed.

Noel nodded his agreement.

“It would seem there is a simple solution to our troubles, then,” Aloysius replied. “If the beasts who make their homes here will not listen to madness, madness, perhaps those whose families and friends lie beyond these walls will.”

Tamarack’s jaw dropped. It couldn’t possibly be that easy… could it?

“It wouldn’t matter to them why they’re leaving,” Foweller said. “They’d only care that they had a way out. Oh, I say, that’s brilliant!”

“And it would only take one of them,” Noel continued.

The vixen thrust her pasty in the air, narrowly avoiding the weasel’s head. “Mr. Merritt and Ms. Saskia! They could lead them out, and then they’d be able to tell everybeast in Redwall City what’s going on in the Abbey. Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius could get all the information they want out from there with their print shops. What do you think, Brother Aloysius? Have you seen Ms. Saskia since last night? Would’ve thought she’d be done with Mr. Merritt by now.”

“Ah…” The bat fidgeted, wings rustling as his eyes darted to the books, pamphlets, and paper scattered about his lair. “No, no. I have not seen her. You might find Master Merritt in the Guest Dormitories, though.”

“Right.” Tamarack, Noel, and Foweller stood. “We’ll be back soon, Brother Aloysius. Don’t you worry about nothing.”

“I never worry about nothing, about nothing,” he muttered. She stopped to ask him what he meant, but Foweller shoved her out the door.

“Hst! Mr. Merritt,” Tamarack hissed as they peaked into the peddler’s shared room. The ferret sat reading one of his books while a number of other guests played cards at a table near the far wall. He glanced at her, then went back to his reading with a half-hearted motion to enter. The vixen, weasel, and otter filed in.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Ms. Tamarack?” he wondered, carefully marking his place and setting the tome aside. It seemed strange that he would stop at a question instead of plying his wares, but Tamarack pressed forward as the ferret was casting a leery eye on Foweller.

“We were looking for Ms. Saskia, but you could… What’s the matter?” At the mention of the hare’s name, the ferret had grimaced. “Mr. Merritt?”

“She’s gone.” When they only stared at him, has maw flashed into a sneer, all jagged edges and yellow sheen. “Dead. Deceased. No longer among us. Tipped her cap to old Basil Stag Hare. Shall I go on?”

“No.” It was Cobb all over again, that terrible hatred welling up in her, threatening to split her from snout to tail. Bludd had been bad enough – an innocent kitten with seasons ahead of her. But Saskia was too clever for death, too careful with her words and thoughts. Noel’s paw intertwined with her own, then. She saw the mole’s goggles on her bed. They couldn’t do it again, even if they were sure this time. There was too much at stake now. They had a plan and they had to keep to it.

“Gabe and I,” Merritt began, voice hollow, “we were walking at night and heard something near the orchard. When we went to look, Isidore was shoving her body in a hole.” He bared his teeth again, though he wasn’t looking at them. “I couldn’t speak a bloody word.”

Isidore. He’d killed Saskia, buried her, and had the gall to… Tamarack had apologized to the dirty wormtail not three hours ago. Had he gone to wash Saskia’s blood off his habit, too? Even with the weasel’s comforting presence beside her, she could not help the snarl building in her throat as a portrait of the rat, carefree in the afternoon sunshine, painted itself in her mind.

Foweller seemed taken aback, as well, moving to pat Merritt’s arm. The peddler shook his head, drawing in a deep breath. “I take it from the gossips that you three are trying to expose the conspiracy our mutual friends, Julian and Cassius, have been working at for seasons now? You’ve wracked up quite the body count…” He was silent for a moment, the frost in his words hanging like icicles from the Great Hall eaves. “I’ll give you this, though, you’ve certainly done a fine job at rocking dear Carter’s boat. I’m surprised you’re still alive when better beasts aren’t, really.”

“We’re gettin’ beasts out,” Noel explained, “tonight.”

Merritt eyed them before leaning forward. “And how would you do that. It was bad enough trying to get out with the lockdown, the Skipper and his little exceptions not withstanding. Now Carter’s made his grand stand, there’ll be armed otters and squirrels in every corner of the Abbey come dusk.”

“Numbers!” Foweller declared. “Rally ‘round enough desperate beasts, and you’ve an army in the making.”

“They’ll need weapons.”

“They got claws and teeth, sir,” Tamarack pointed out.

Something like a bark of laughter escaped his lips before his muzzle tightened into a grim smile. “We’ll not fade quietly, eh?”

“Quiet as a firecracker come Summer Solstice,” the vixen retorted. “Abbot Carter don’t got no say in Redwall City. Ms. Sas… You and the others can tell them what’s been happening. And you won’t sound loony like Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius.”

“You’ve noticed that about them, then?”

Tamarack had flitted through the afterdark shadows of Redwall since dibbunhood. She could sniff her way across the lawns and into the forest, the kitchens, the bakery. Each held a scent so particular that the sharp blue paths lit by the moon acted more a hindrance than a help to the senses. Now, as thirty-odd beasts stole toward the cellar with only one hooded lantern between them, those pools of light became sinister, open water where serpents and pike might lurk.

“Stop, stop!” The whisper of Aloysius overhead brought Tamarack and Foweller, the pair leading the line, to a halt. She felt the delicate wash of the bat’s echoes as he listened for the Abbey guards. “Our first obstacle lies ahead, lies ahead,” he hissed, as he swooped down to them. “Tanbark, Naida, and Brother Abel stand guard beneath the belltower.” A quartet of hedgehogs moved forward without a word. “Be gentle, be gentle with them. They are good, honest beasts.”

Merritt had pushed his way to the front. “Just like Abbot Carter and Brother Isidore?”

“Be gentle,” Aloysius repeated one last time, ears going flat as the hedgehogs rounded the tower. Tamarack wanted to tell him they would not hurt the guards badly, but he had lied to them about Saskia, had let them believe she was alive. The vixen could forgive the archivist’s cowardice, but she would not count it as a kindness to be repaid.

They encountered three more groups of guards, leaving each a bloody, unconscious mess in their wake. Tamarack, Foweller, Aloysius, and Noel kept well clear, though Foweller held his gun at the ready, one shot to silence any watcher. There would be debts enough to pay for this without marking themselves for a swift hanging.

One by one, everybeast crept down the stairs of the cellar, Tamarack blocking out the stars as she closed the door on the last of them.

“What in the name of port are you lot doing down here?” The vixen’s ears pricked as a meaty thwack followed Ambrosia’s exclamation.

Noel released the hood on the lantern, drawing out the queer shades that inhabited the cellar. As the weasel walked toward the tunnel, containing their light within one of the alcoves, Tamarack welcomed the darkness – all the better to ignore Ambrosia’s huddled form and smashed muzzle. The Head Cellarhog had always been a jolly creature. She hadn’t deserved that.

“Is this it?” Merritt asked.

“Aye,” Noel said, setting down the lantern and motioning to a few others. They shoved the wine rack in, revealing the pitch black maw of the tunnel. “Head due north. At the door, rap three times. The password is ‘The bells of St. Ninian’s still chime at midnight.’ Tell them Noel and Tam sent you.”

“Mr. Merritt should lead,” Tamarack piped up. “Ms. Selendra’s there, too. She’ll stop them shooting you. Maybe.”

“You make it so hard to refuse,” Merritt scoffed as beasts shuffled into the tunnel, becoming a sea of eyes that watched and waited for the ferret and the lantern.

“I hope you will hold to your word, your word when you are outside the walls of this abbey, Master Merritt,” Aloysius said. Merritt stopped short. “I know many who would turn away once free, free.”

“I’m a merchant, Brother Aloysius. My word is my bond. And I would ask something of you in return.”

“What do you want?” Noel asked, brow furrowing.

Merritt’s muzzle scrunched up, and he looked away from them. “Gabriel. Tell him I’m coming back for him. I don’t want him to do anything… reckless. You’re all free to, though.”

“We’ll tell him so long as you do your duty,” Foweller assured with a sharp salute.

The ferret returned the motion with a roll of his eyes.

The vixen joined the little otter’s farewell. “Fates guide you, sir.”

Merritt quirked a brow, face illuminated by the fire’s glow as he moved to close the wine rack the rest of the way. “I think a lantern will do well enough, Ms. Tamarack.”

Walk Tall

August 16, 2011

Dawn outside the walls of the Abbey had never seemed quite as vibrant to her. It lacked that rose tint, the sun reflecting off the sandstone, that brought so much warmth. Gathering with the family for breakfast, Tamarack could let her imagination, and the light that crept across their table, transform the gray porridge to Cherry Delight. Papa always looked fitter in the morning, his pale eyes and faded fur bright as any kit born in the meadow. Mumma glowed the orange of a robin’s breast, and Grannie lost seasons in those early hours when her back was not so bent, nor her whiskers so grizzled.

They would all be eating by now, saying their good mornings. Colm would be muttering about picking a spot for Cobb’s grave, and Papa would have the mole’s body in his workshop, ready and waiting in the cold. Perhaps they would lay him next to Ripple. Would the Abbot let them bury Cobb in the graveyard, though? The Fates did not look kindly on beasts who stole away their own time.

Tamarack bared her teeth. This was different. This was Case and Cassius and Carter. She’d done her crying for the mole and the otter, and now there was doing. She and Noel would see to it that none of those beasts could harm another again, or drive a beast to take the most desperate measure.

“Think they made it back safe?” the vixen asked the weasel. He sat in an old chair by the window while she perched on the bed – neither of them had slept since stealing the key to Saskia’s room. The few hours snatched before their departure from the Abbey were enough to keep them restless now.

“Reckon so. We’ll know in a few–”

Bang. Bang. Bang.

“Get out ‘ere you bloody idiots,” Cassius growled through the door.

“That’s a yes, then.” Tamarack smirked and jumped up, then winced as pain stabbed her chest. She’d have to be more careful about attacking a beast like Abbot Carter head-on in the future. The door began to shudder under the pine marten’s renewed assault, and the vixen opened it. “Why, Mr. Cassius, what’s the problem?”

“Cellar. Now.” The marten’s voice was level, but the stench of anger and splay of his ears told them enough.

She knew she was pressing her luck, but there was a point to be made. Tamarack crossed her arms and braced herself against the wall, obstinate. “Me and Noel told you afore, sir: We’ll be the ones calling the orders from here on out.”

“Well, then, yer ladyship, won’t you an’ tall, dark, an’ punchy over there join me in the cellar for brekkers? Would be awfully grateful.”

Noel stood and walked over, resting his paw on her shoulder. “That sounds more like it.”

The march down to the cellar had the comforting familiarity of a funeral procession. They trudged toward their destination, single file, Cassius acting Papa’s part as he led them. Case obliged the fantasy, the tap-tap of his claws upon the table setting the cadence for their final descent.

“Perhaps one of you could tell me,” the hedgehog said, stilling his paw as Tamarack and Noel sat across from him, “why Aloysius is gone this morning, not to mention why I just found Corwin and Irwin locked in the upstairs broom closet… unconscious.”

The vixen exchanged a glance with the weasel. He nodded, and she began.

“We needed Ms. Saskia to have a clear path down to Brother Aloysius.”

Cassius snorted. “You’re tellin’ me a skinny weasel an’ a nosey lit’le brat took out two full-grown otters?”

“That’s enough,” Case snapped. The hedgehog raked a claw through his headspikes. “Cassius, go find Selendra and Locria. I’ll deal with them.” As the marten departed, a sneer marring his face, Case continued, “You’ve done a very foolish thing, Tam.”

She bristled at the familiarity. He had known her a very long time ago, that wasn’t the same as knowing her for a very long time. Noel must have felt her tensing. He leaned forward and bared his teeth.

“We’ve done somethin’ that saved two lives. That’s never foolish.”

“I would not have killed Aloysius.”

“But you would’ve hurt him.”

Silence. Case glared at them across the table. Then, all at once, he was movement, ripping the pistol from his belt and slamming it onto the table. Tamarack and Noel jumped up. The weasel dragged them left as the vixen raised her fists, tail bottle-brushing.

“Put it away right now, old hog.”

“Are you scared of this, lad? Tam? How’s your muzzle, child?” There was something more there than just a threat. He actually sounded concerned, paternal… as one would expect of an abbot of Redwall. “It’s empty. I haven’t reloaded it since the other night because I hate these things. And I hate that we have to use them for anything at all. But you have to understand, we must use the tools we’ve been given. Aloysius holds the keys to the archives, to Brother Timothy’s writing, and the answer to the riddle in his Heraldry that might bring down Carter. Pain is a tool, and I will do what I must to see satisfaction for my family’s murder.”

“Way I reckon it,” she retorted, “you’re about the same as him, sir. You got some truth to you, aye, and Abbot Carter deserves to die after all he’s done, but you ain’t no better.”

“Aloysius didn’t tell Carter,” Noel continued. “He’s on our side. Mine and Tam’s and Saskia’s and Bludd’s.”

“I don’t know what side you’re on, Mr. Case, but I don’t want to be on it no more.”

“Seems t’ me, we don’t need ye, then, love.”

Tamarack swung her head around fast enough to register the gun in Cassius’ paw pointed at her before the sound of the pistol went off.


Dead. She had to be dead now. It occurred to her some two seconds later that she was still intact and that the only screams were coming from Cassius’ direction.

“Knee! My bloody knee! Ye back-stabbin’ spike pit! Argh!” The marten writhed at the bottom of the stairs, clutching his leg as Selendra and Locria sidled around him.

“It was loaded,” the vixen said, gaping at Case. He could have shot them the whole time.

“It’s not any more. Selendra, please help Cassius up to Maggie’s room and have her fetch a healer for him. Old friend,” he added, eyes fixed on Cassius, “we agreed that I would make the decisions on who to kill. Consider that your warning.”

Cassius spat curses as the mousemaid hauled him to his footpaws and began the arduous task of mounting the staircase.

“Be careful,” Selendra called over her shoulder. There was something in her voice, a touch as delicate as a drop of beeswax; the warning had not been meant for Case or Locria.

“Now, why don’t we all just sit down again?” the hedgehog suggested.

Tamarack intertwined her paw with Noel’s and squeezed. “I think we’ll stand,” he growled. “We should be off anyway.”

“You’ve barely had time to sort through your mail, lad. As you saw, I intend to keep you alive.”

“For now,” the vixen and weasel replied in unison.

The hedgehog’s quills rustled as he snorted and shook his head. “When have you seen me kill a beast? Name one. I’m no Veil Sixclaw. My paws are clean of Abbey blood.”

The idea had been gnawing at her mind since they’d first stepped through the door just two days ago, but she’d set it aside, too many deaths this season to consider it. “Them monsters in the woods this past winter, sir… I reckon it weren’t just bandits filling my graveyard with bodies. You said you been at this how long?”

His eyes flicked to Locria and the hare bowed her head in shame. “We’ve had a few small mistakes, Tam. I had no part in that, and Cassius and I stopped it just as soon as we found out what was happening. In any case, four beasts do not fill a graveyard.”

“Four?” Noel asked, blinking.

The vixen felt her hackles rise. She could see every name, had read each a hundred times or more as she and Colm dug the shallowest graves, packing the bodies in snow until the frozen earth had opened some small place for them. “Ruslen, 16, ‘Forever young.’ Chamomile, 16, ‘Fondly remembered.’ Sister Thistledown, 64, ‘Always with us.’ Mr. Moonclaw, 27, ‘A life cut short.’ Ellen, 12, ‘Martin guide her.’ Baily, 10, ‘Our little pebble.’ Sister Sarah, 30, ‘Chasing the lark in Dark Forest.’ Brother Xander, 42, ‘Never forgotten.’ Pikey, 7, ‘Blessed and blessing.’ Mr. Gurtpaw, 34, ‘Together always.’ Mrs. Gurtpaw, 32, ‘Together always.’ Brother–”

“Wot in Mossflower are you on about?”

“Everybeast that’s died since last winter. It’s the inscription on the gravemarkers,” Noel explained. Tamarack noticed that he had taken a step away from her. Their paws were still linked, but she was holding onto him.

“Don’t you dare tell me you ain’t got blood on your paws…” She trailed off. The hedgehog had collapsed onto the bench at the table, his head held in his paws.

“That’s… Sarah and Xander? But we… Locria.”

Tamarack felt herself flinch away from the hedgehog’s quiet hiss. Noel tightened his grip on her paw and moved to close the small distance between them once more.

“I didn’t. I wouldn’t, sah!” the hare protested. “We stopped. You can ask Maggie! I would never…”

“Stay here. All of you,” Case commanded as he stood up and strode toward the stairs. “Selendra never said… why wouldn’t she say?” He disappeared, still muttering.

“We’re leaving,” Noel told Locria.

“He said–”

The vixen couldn’t help rolling her eyes. “You really want Noel to knock you out again?”

Her eyes shone white as she hop-skipped backward a pace. “We’re trying to stop Carter.”

“That’s the difference between us, then,” Noel growled, “we’re actually going to do it.”

“Not without the Heraldry, you bally well aren’t,” she snapped, then lowered her ears. “I mean, I can help you… but you have to promise me something. Tit for tat, wot?”

Tamarack glanced at Noel, and he shrugged. Better to be quick about it with Case preoccupied and a willing accomplice. “What?”

“I – I need you to give this letter to Commander Eliwood.” She withdrew a neatly-addressed envelope from her coat pocket even as the vixen felt her insides freeze up. “Tell him I’ve been trying to write, but with helping Julian and Cassius plan our strategy, there hasn’t been an opportunity to get something to him. Anyway, I just wanted him to know… I say! Take it or I’m not helping you.” The maid waved the letter under Tamarack’s snout. “Do you know him? Commander Eliwood. Tallish hare chap making his home at your Abbey for the lockdown. Dashed hard to miss, I’d wager.”

The weasel shook his head. “Haven’t heard of him. Tam?”

“Arr, Captain Eliwood, you’ll never take me crew or me ship!” Tamarack growled, jabbing her stick at Ripple. “Queen of the Pirates, Lady Chopsnout, owns these waters.”

“Hahaa!” The younger otter brandished his own stick, puffing up his chest as they faced each other in the Shallows of Honor. “I’ll have yer treasure yet, Lady Chopsnout! No pirate, queen or commoner, is safe from me silver blade and flintlock pistol. Avast!”

Locria was just like her: a kit. A kit playing at war and trying to reach out to a friend who could never reply.

“Show us, please,” Tamarack said, snatching the letter as a small part of her cried out in revulsion. They couldn’t tell Locria that Ripple was dead, though, not if they wanted her help. Ripple, Commander Eliwood, would have understood. It wasn’t quite a lie. “We’ll take it to him just as soon as we can.”

“All right.” The hare clapped her paws. “Er… all right. You there, Noel, was it? You’re tall enough, I think.”

Shall We Not Revenge?

July 26, 2011

She hadn’t thought Saskia would be able to carry a full-grown bat up a flight of stairs; she hadn’t thought Saskia would be able to do a lot of things. A light frame seemed to balance out the heavy heart contained within the winged scholar, though, as the hare dragged him up and out of the cellar. Tamarack waited for the lurching silhouette to disappear before skittering over to Noel.

“Just a few scrapes.” The weasel preempted the question on her lips. “I’ll be fine. I… We need to get out of here.”

“Aye.” She held out her paw to him, and they departed, fireflies stealing through the aisles of ale and port.

The moon watched them through her hooded gaze as Noel and Tamarack paused just outside the cellar door.

“Noel, we almost…”

“I know.”

“What’re we going to do? What if he’s hurt bad?” This wasn’t how spying was supposed to be. Aloysius was supposed to stay away, safe, locked in his archives where the worst he had to worry over was a paper cut. She’d turned to him for help at the start, but how could they trust a beast in the Abbot’s thrall?

Noel tugged at her paw and they began to walk. The night paid no mind to the events in the cellar. The rustle of leaves and reeds filled their ears with a low roar while the staccato chirrup of crickets repeated in every direction. A cool breeze brought the scent of flowers and dewed grass – fresh, clean smells.

“I’m sorry, Tam,” Noel said once the chirrups had given way to the steady lap of the pond against the shore. She glanced up at his face, but he was looking away, out over the water. “I panicked. Fates, I didn’t think I would…”

“You did what you had to.” She wanted to believe that as his jagged claws and well-worn pads brushed against her paw. “Ms. Saskia’ll take care of him, make sure he’s all right.” Neither added the millstone that would weigh down those words: ‘until he wakes up.’

“We can trust her.” It was more question than statement.

Tamarack thought of the fierceness in the hare’s eyes and the words as sharp as her blade. Saskia was a good beast. She wouldn’t let them get caught… would she? “We have t–Ack!”

It was only the weasel’s campballer reflexes that saved the vixen from plunging snout-first into the lawn. Once they’d both caught their balance, Noel, pointed their lantern at the spot she had tripped.

A bloody digging claw reached toward the circle of light.

“Don’t,” Tamarack whispered, even as the weasel raised the lantern higher.

There could be no mistaking the jacket, though the body lay twisted, and jagged white shone through the velvety black fur. What she’d taken as a puddle was something darker, thicker.

“Tam, that’s not… is it?”

She couldn’t scream. Death didn’t hear screams. It was deaf, dumb, and blind, but it certainly touched everybeast – had no choice in the matter. Murderers, though…

“He ain’t wearing his goggles,” the vixen noted, sticking her paws into her pockets and tracing the cloakpin. She’d bullied him that first night into helping her, needling just right to get him to come. The other pocket held the pamphlet Saskia had given her the day she’d dug Andrew’s grave: Policraticus, on the Right to Revolt.

Noel shone the light where the mole’s kindly features had been. A mess of blood and bone greeted them; she heard the weasel gag.

“Do you got a knife or something, Mr. Noel?”


“I’m going to go kill Abbot Carter.”


The tone of disbelief sparked something inside of her. Ice melted away as fire infused every hair on her body. Her paws snapped up to grasp the weasel’s coat and jerk him down so they were snout-to-snout. “That murdering son of a harlot did this! Can’t you see that? Look at Mr. Cobb. Look what that… that plank-tailed scum-sucker did to him!” She didn’t have seasons of memories for Cobb. Two months? Not even that. They burned away, each of his distant smiles and chuckles fueling the flames.

Noel’s dark eyes lit with understanding, and she felt a heat to match her own growing within him. “They must have heard him talkin’ to Saskia. Rigg. I bet he helped drag Cobb up there.” He jerked his muzzle toward the bell tower.

“He ain’t getting away with this. Not this one.” Tamarack bared her teeth as tears blurred her vision. “I don’t care no more. Beasts is got to know!”

The weasel’s rough paw closed over one of her own. “Let’s go. Right now. Before he has a chance to lie, to cover it up.”

They didn’t have swords or pistols, nor even a dagger between the pair of them as they ran toward the Abbot’s house. Teeth and claws would do well enough for a monster, the likes of which not even Andrew’s imagination could conjure from the depths of Hellgates.

The upstairs window glowed, a brooding orange eye in the night. Tamarack might have paused by the Abbot’s flowerbeds, at the unspoken line dividing what was his from what was theirs, but there was no time to plan, no time think. They had to do this, for Raimun, Andrew, Ripple, Cobb, and all the beasts dead by the old otter’s paws.

She reached the doorway first and twisted the handle. Locked.

Our doors are always open.

Noel nudged her aside and kicked it in.

Their first sight was of Isidore, one paw holding a candle and the other wrapped around a pipe. Tamarack could taste the sweet tobacco wafting toward them – summer nights on the porch with Papa and Colm… but not Cobb. “What is the meaning of this, Noel?”

“Where is he, Isidore?”

When the rat did not answer immediately, but stood considering them, Tamarack barked, “Where’s Abbot Carter?”

Isidore descended the rest of the steps, entering into the foyer. “The Abbot is where any beast save those with invitation should be at this hour: in his own room.”

Tamarack started toward the stairwell, but the rat moved to intercept. “Get out of the way, Mr. Isidore.”

“I don’t know what fire is in your belly, lass, but you’d do well to quench it,” the rat said, puffing on his pipe. “I’ll ask you to leave only once.”

“He murdered Mr. Cobb.”

“Cobb?” He frowned. “No. That’s complete nonsense.”

“Just move!” She swung out at the rat. He simply stepped to the side and let her twirl in the stairwell. It was good enough. Tamarack shot forward and up, but the rat’s claws clamping down on her tail halted the charge.

“I will not let you–”

Noel made no sound as he moved to attack, but the foyer was suddenly plunged into shadows as the rat dropped the candle. Tamarack heard a grunt and then felt a sharp yank on her tail. The dark spaces stretched out for a moment as she flailed through the air, connecting with what had to be Noel. They collapsed in a tangle of limbs.

“You helped Abbot Carter! You’re only fighting because you helped him!”

“Helped me what, my child?”

All three beasts froze as the Abbot appeared, releasing the hood on his lantern so that light flooded the stairwell and foyer.

Noel was the first to regain his voice. “Helped you murder Cobb, Father.”

“What are you talking about, child?” For a moment, Tamarack might have believed he was honestly confused. From the furrow of his graying brow to the nightcap atop his head, he looked the picture of an elderly beast preparing to retire after a drink with a friend. It was only a moment, though.

She didn’t bother to answer, just launched herself up the stairs once more. This time, Isidore was not fast enough, and from the growling at her back, Noel had risen to challenge him once more.

The vixen bounded up the stairs on all fours, leaping at the Abbot with claws out-stretched. She would scratch and tear and bite, gouge out his eyes and rip off his ears so that he could never hurt anybeast again.

Abbot Carter kicked her in the chest before she could even land the first blow. Tamarack crashed back down, hitting the hard wood with a crack. The air whooshed out of her lungs in one great rush, and she rolled the last few steps to level ground. The otter descend at a more sedate pace, eyes narrowed to slits. Noel’s paws were around her in an instant, pulling her close as she struggled to breathe.

“She’s just a kit,” the weasel spat.

“Kit or full-grown,” the otter replied, “I do not take well to beasts breaking into my home and attacking me and my companions, my child.”

“Stop…” Tamarack managed. “Stop calling us… that.”

“I think, perhaps, we shall need to escort young Tamarack back to her home, Brother Isidore.”

“You lay a paw on her, I swear to Martin I’ll rip it off.”

“You are more than welcome to accompany us, my child.” The otter smiled, all teeth. “I think, perhaps, that would be for the best.”

It was a much longer walk than usual to reach the graveyard. It felt like at least a half-dozen of her ribs were broken, and the thought that the Abbot would just shrug off Cobb’s murder made her blood boil. She wouldn’t let him.

Isidore banged on the front door, and Papa answered almost immediately – no hour was too unreasonable for an undertaker. He blinked several times at the beasts before him.

“Abbot, sir?”

“Good evening, Emmerich, I’ve come to return young Tamarack,” the otter said. “She and Noel felt it necessary to break into my house some few minutes ago.”


“He murdered Mr. Cobb,” Tamarack challenged, bristling. “Me and Noel found his body by the bell tower. He killed Cobb just like he killed Brother Raimun and everybeast else!”

“What’s going on?” Mumma’s voice came, thick with sleep.

“Wake up the boy, Larch,” Papa called. “Cobb’s dead.”

“He’s not just dead, Mr. Coffincreeper,” Noel interjected, “he’s murdered.”

“And you saw the Abbot, here, do him in, did you, lad?”

“I know he done it, Papa,” Tamarack said. “Fowel and Bludd saw him kill Mr. Andrew.”

“A terrible thing to see, to be certain,” the Abbot bowed his head as Papa, Mumma, Ida, and Colm filed out onto the front porch. “I wish I had been able to stop Brother Andrew without harming him, but when he came at me with his knives and guns…”

“He’s lying! He’s–”


Tamarack cringed away from Mumma’s blow, her paw landing perfectly on the still-healing welt that Locria had left.

“You will be silent, girl.”

“But he–” The older vixen wrenched Tamarack’s ear, dragging her over to Colm.

“Put her in her room,” Mumma commanded. “Now.”

“I’m awful sorry, Father,” Papa sniveled while Colm marched her inside. “And to you, Brother Isidore. That lass gets some fool notions in her head.”

“You would do well to keep your children under closer watch, Mr. Coffincreeper,” Isidore advised.

“She wasn’t lying!”

Tamarack lost the rest of Noel’s protest as the door closed behind them.

“By all the Warriors of Redwall, Tam,” Colm muttered, “what’s in your head? You don’t go accusing the Abbot of murder.”

“He is a murderer. And you know it, you yellow-bellied Chickenhound.”

Colm boxed her ears before shoving her into her room and slamming the door shut. It clicked a finality she had not known in seasons. “Better a coward than kill us all, you damned fool. I told you not to stick your nose in it!”

The vixen pounded her fists against the unyielding wood before stomping over to light her lantern. A gleam of something on the bed caught her eye, and she went to pick it up.

Cobb’s tinted goggles. Why would he leave them in her room, unless…?

It hadn’t been the Abbot. Tamarack collapsed on the bed, curling into a ball around the goggles. She let the tears come as every bit of the fire inside went out. Just this once, it hadn’t been him.

“It’s all right to cry, Fowel,” Tamarack whispered to the young otter.

They stood before Ripple’s grave with most of Skipper’s crew and a pawful of others. Raimun’s marker had seen dozens upon dozens of beasts, but the very old were easier to bid farewell than the very young.

Tamarack touched Foweller’s paw; he jerked away, rubbing it across his cheek.

“A sapper doesn’t cry when he’s doing his duty.”

The vixen grasped the otter’s paw firmly, and this time she did not let go. “No, but a friend does. And that ain’t a coat you take off at the end of the day.”

Tamarack smiled at him through her own tears, as much grief as exhaustion, and felt Foweller sag. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders for support, but the movement was awkward; they didn’t quite match yet. The handle of his knife dug into her waist, and she shifted away.

Where was Bludd? She should be here. Foweller was more the kitten’s friend, anyway, and she had loved Ripple, too. Hadn’t she? Was Bludd still so afraid Rigg and Isidore would find her? The otter wasn’t even there, though the rat hovered at the edge of the crowd, drawn by the rich perfume of death – more fly than bee. She had heard talk that Carter might have sent him; Duster would have no part of the Abbot of Redwall standing with his old crew for Ripple’s funeral.

The young otter’s tutor was nowhere to be seen either, but Tamarack had let the bat sleep. Aloysius would hate her, but she could not be the one to give him this, too. His heart still echoed a hollow place for Raimun.

As Skipper – Duster, he no longer held that title – went to stand beside Ripple’s coffin, the passing bell began to sound. Just thirteen peals to celebrate Ripple’s life. She had a memory for each of those seasons, though, ones that nobeast could steal away. Tamarack held tight to them and Foweller as Duster’s crew began to sing, a loud, raucous sound that filled the graveyard, sweeping her into that moment with them. Ripple had taught her the words a very long time ago for his mother’s funeral. She joined them:

“Ride ’em high, ride ’em low
Ride the course as the river flows
Hear the heart o’ an otter beat
Filled with joy an’ with defeat.
We lost a sailor here t’day
Guide him Fates as he’s on his way
T’ that forest ‘cross the sea
Where Finnbarr waits fer you an’ me
T’ raise a glass or two or three
In a land where all’s plenty!”

When they finished, she felt Cobb’s paw on her back. She wanted to shrug him off, the weight too much when she was already dead on her paws from their adventure last night and the digging race with Foweller today, but it was a kindness.

“Oi think you’m should be having a loie down, Miz Tam. Zir Colm and Oi can direct beasts to th’ refectory for th’ reception.”

It would have been nice to say yes, to collapse on the porch and forget about everything for a few hours. A pair of tall ears caught her attention, though, then a flash of silvery teeth beneath a masked face.

“That’s a right kind offer,” she replied, stepping back from Foweller as he shuffled over to pet and soothe Duster with the rest of the crew, “but this is my job. Sure as you like, I’ll be doing it. Need to talk to Ms. Saskia, anyway.”

She caught a glint of suspicion behind his tinted goggles. “Woi do you’m need to speak to her?”

“About Ripple.”

“Oh.” He deflated. “Oi’ll just–”

The vixen hugged the mole; he matched right. “I’ll tell you about it once I’ve talked to her.”

A little of his digger’s enthusiasm returned. “Of course. You’m just be careful about what you say.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Ms. Saskia, do you have a minute,” Tamarack called, catching up to the hare and her ferret companion before they could reach the refectory.

“Ms. Tamarack, you’re certainly looking quite austere in that dress,” Merritt exclaimed. “I have a few pamphlets that you might–”

Saskia’s glare could have chiseled the ferret’s epitaph.

“We’ll talk about this later. I think I’ll go check on poor Gabe, shall I?”

The hare sighed. “Sorry about that. Wot do you need?”

“I wanted to… It’s about Ripple.” Tamarack bit down hard on a bark of slightly-hysterical laughter as Saskia’s whiskers and ears curled. “Not that. I wanted to ask if you know how this happened.”

“No more than you, probably,” the hare replied, smoothing out once more like a page in one of her books. “Terrible accident.”

“It was the Abbot’s fault!” the vixen challenged, but she was less sure of that now. In the graveyard, before she’d spoken to the old otter, there had been a sadness there, something more than the veneer he painted on each morning. But it was his fault. It had to be his fault, like Raimun and Andrew.

Saskia glanced toward the refectory where Tamarack could just hear the strains of another shanty beginning.

“I don’t know about that. Jolly irresponsible for ‘im to paw off a pair of pistols to some kits, but the way I ‘eard it, that Virrel chap’s more the scoundrel. I feel bad for Noel, really.” Her smile was as faint as the music. “Can’t choose your family, though.”

The vixen crossed her arms and hunched her shoulders in her best imitation of the campballing weasel. “The Abbot’s the one what gave them the guns in the first place. He should’ve known better than to let Ripple aim a stick, let alone a pistol.”

“That doesn’t mean ‘e killed ‘im.”

“A beast’s got to pull the trigger, is it?” Tamarack only realized she’d growled that bit when she noticed Saskia’s raised eyebrows and the thin line of her mouth. The vixen quickly retreated, covering her bared teeth and forcing her hackles to a more neutral position. “I just don’t want Noel – Mr. Noel to feel…”


“I’m sorry, Ms. Saskia.” Tamarack cringed, gaze fixed on the grass below the hare’s footpaws. “I been up all night and all day. It’s catching up to me.”

“That ‘all night’ where you earned that lump on your snout?”

The vixen’s paw leapt to her muzzle. “It was an accident.”

“Does that excuse ever work?” Saskia snorted and scrunched up her nose.

“With Papa sometimes.”

“Forgive me for saying, but in that case, your father’s about as thick as an Aulkner novel.”

The hare smirked and the vixen couldn’t help grinning back. It hurt a bit, but the good kind. “He one of them ‘moral’ fellows?”

“Moral enough that Merritt keeps well clear. ‘Is works provide excellent ‘iding places. But you’re cleverly avoiding my question. What makes a gel grow lumps in the night?”

“I…” She stopped herself short. Case had told them to speak to nobeast about this. She’d already broken that promise with Grannie. “I can’t tell you.”

“Wouldn’t ‘ave to do with that tunnel Noel found?” the hare pried.

“Noel told you about the tunnel?” Tamarack demanded. How many beasts knew? Cobb had done his best to hide it, but without filling it properly, there was always the risk that somebeast less friendly than Saskia might find or find out about it.

“Aye. I played a bit of lookout for ‘im. What did you find?”

Lying wouldn’t help anything at this point. Saskia knew more about the beasts than she did, at least. “Julian Case. And Cassius.”

“Wot?” The hare’s eyes widened.

“Ms. Selendra was with them. And a pair of otters, and a haremaid. That’s where I got this.” She motioned to the welt. “Right tetchy about her bosses being called murderers.”

“Well… who wouldn’t be?” Saskia sounded like she was about to throw up. Tamarack took a precautionary sidestep.

“You all right, Ms. Saskia?”

“I’ll be fine. I just… wot in all of Mossflower is going on?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” The vixen shook her head, weariness returning – a mosquito that nagged her with its tinny whine. “There’s the Society of Martin, Ms. Selendra sniffing around Brother Tompkins, and then Mr. Case and Mr. Cassius being set up by Abbot Carter for the murders. I don’t even know what they’re expecting us to do for them.”

That caught Saskia’s attention. “Do for them? You’re a kit. You shouldn’t be doing anything for them!”

Tamarack bristled. “I buy Mr. Merritt’s pamphlet’s; I ain’t a kit no more.”

“Tamarack, Merritt’s a bloody git. ‘E’d sell those pamphlets to a beast ‘alf your age if ‘e thought ‘e’d get a return customer.”

“But…” The vixen wilted. “I’m still helping. I’m treading light, but I won’t stick my head in a grave and let the seasons turn around me. What would you do? The Abbey ain’t going to believe me without proof. And Mr. Cassius said this Society’s running Redwall anyway.”

“I don’t know.” The hare pinched the bridge of her snout. “Bloody blast it to ‘Ellgates! I don’t know. You need to be careful. That’s what you need to do. I wouldn’t trust Carter, or Cassius and Case.”

“No, ma’am,” Tamarack assured. “I don’t trust them, but I got to believe something. You weren’t there. I ain’t never seen two beasts more determined. And at least they’re the sort who’d tell you afore sticking a sword in your back.”

Saskia just shook her head.

Sunsets always reminded Tamarack of the soil after a rain, the red, orange and yellow light running down the tree trunks and buildings in rivulets of color to pool amongst the shadows. They smelled thick, heavy, even in the winter, like the whole of Mossflower had breathed out at once.

“What do you want, lad?” Papa’s growl cut through the younger vixen’s musing.

“Asylum?” Noel replied. The weasel was leaning against the graveyard fence, nonchalant defiance in the face of suspicion.

They’d only just seen Duster and his crew out of the refectory and into their beds to sleep off Ripple’s wake. Papa had let her dance with Foweller, linking arms with the younger otter and twirling with him while Duster’s crew hollered out ‘Let Martin Lead a Lad’. She’d wished it had been Noel, but Duster wouldn’t have him at the funeral any more than the Abbot.

“You’d best be finding that in the Abbey proper,” Papa rumbled, plowing forward. Noel stepped aside without complaint, and the fox paused. “What’re you really up to?”

“He’s here to help me and Mr. Cobb, Papa,” Tamarack interjected. “Thought we’d need… a bit of muscle moving… moving…”

“The shed,” Grannie supplied. Noel, Cobb, Tamarack and the rest of the Coffincreepers turned to look at the old vixen. “I asked the lad to help them pulling down that rickety old thing.”

Papa’s face furrowed into a map of hard-cut ravines and daredevil peaks. “Mum, we been working all day. That shed–”

“That shed will come down tonight, Emmerich Coffincreeper,” Grannie snapped, ears tilting forward as she drew herself up to match the dogfox snout-to-snout.

“It’s all right, Papa, I’ll help, t–”

“No!” Colm might have staggered at the force of four voices hitting him all at once had Ida not been there to support him.

“We’m told Miz Althea we’m would take care of it…”

“Yesterday! Ain’t that right, Mr. Noel?”

“Expect so.” The weasel scratched his chin.

Mumma sighed and flapped her paws at Papa. “Leave it Emmerich. I’m tired. Let the kits run themselves ragged. You’ll be up with sun, though, Tam, or it’ll be old Slagar moving my paw across your tail come the light.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The younger vixen winced, paw moving to cover her rump. Another late night would be some trouble, but better asleep on her footpaws than awake over Mumma’s knee.

“Naow just hold it there,” Cobb commanded, voice muffled by the slats and mat above Tamarack and Noel’s heads. They each pressed up, extra support as the mole filled the hole in the graveyard. “You’m holding?”

Tamarack and Noel exchanged a glance. The mole had been second guessing them ever since he’d crawled back up to the surface.

“Aye, Mr. Cobb.”

“All roight. Oi be fillin’ it in naow. Hurr… but you’m think Saskia really be a good beast to ask about Brother Tompkins, Miz Tam?”

“Already told her about Mr. Cassius and Mr. Case. Reckon she’s our best bet unless Bludd can think of somebeast… once she quits playing at hide-and-seek with Mr. Rigg and Brother Isidore.”

“Maybe. Oi’ll ask her when we’m finish here.”

“Best we finish, then,” Noel piped up. “Me back’s starting to hurt, Cobb.”

The welcoming weight of the dirt on their shoulders was the mole’s reply.

“You doin’ all right?” Noel asked once the only things they could smell were the earthen walls and each other.

“Reckon I could lift anything you can,” Tamarack proclaimed, supporting herself on one paw and grinning. She watched the shadows around the weasel’s eyes deepen in the lantern light as he smiled.

“I don’t doubt it. I meant about everything that’s happened.”

She’d hoped he would let it go, let the joke carry them on to campball and the tricky pawwork she’d been meaning to beg him to show her. “Right as a beast can be. I’m more worried about Bludd. She didn’t show up for Rip’s funeral. I ain’t saying he’d cry over it, but it ain’t him I’m worrying about.”

Noel grunted, and for the first time, she noticed that the weasel’s claws had gored the soil around his paws. Virrel had been the one to pull the trigger, the one Saskia blamed.

“Will you be all right?”

Noel started and stared at her, his brow furrowed. Then, he laughed. It wasn’t hollow, just resigned. “Yeah… yeah, I think so.”

Tamarack knew better than to press. He’d let her be ‘all right’, she’d let him.

“Anyway, you think he’s finished yet?” Noel jerked a claw upward.

The vixen craned her head around, forcing her cheek flush with the mat and letting her whiskers sweep across it. She was no mole, but enough seasons digging graves, and a beast was bound to learn a thing or three. “Nothing coming down no more.” The vixen smirked. “You ready to see if this here contraption we built holds up?”

“Drop on the count of three?” the weasel suggested.

“Sounds right enough. Been nice knowing you if this lot falls and suffocates us, sir.”

“Nah, we’d get stabbed by the slats an’ bleed to death first.”

“Well, ain’t that a comfort?” She stuck her tongue out at him, and he winked.

“One. Two. Three!”

Tamarack and Noel flattened themselves against the slope of the ramp. Nothing happened. A small part of her was disappointed. No heroic rescue, grasping the weasel’s paw and dragging him to safety as the tunnel groaned and collapsed around them. Merritt’s pamphlets were terrible lies.

“Huh,” Noel articulated as he rolled over and sat up. “Cobb’s a fine mole.”

“The best.” Tamarack nodded.

“Well, then, seeing as we’re not dead… Head for the cellar?” He offered her his paw, leaning down to pick up the lantern with the other.

“Aye.” The vixen beamed as friendly shadows danced around them.