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The Case of the Red Walls

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Chapter One

 

            Abbess Tansy was always a very light sleeper, prone to waking at the slightest provocation.  Therefore, it was nothing out of the ordinary when an indistinct sound roused her from her bed hours before dawn one morning in late spring.  After tossing and turning for several minutes, Tansy gave it up as a lost cause and, huffing in irritation, swung her footpaws over the edge of the bed, adjusted her nightgown, and trundled towards the door.

             Despite her annoyance, the young hedgehog enjoyed the rare occasions when she was one of the few creatures awake in the great redstone building.  Since she had been appointed Abbess five seasons ago, she had been constantly awash in tasks that required her attention.  Everything from security of the Abbey to chastising naughty Dibbuns was at some level the concern of the Abbess, and Tansy often found herself besieged on all sides by questions and requests for advice.  The wee hours of the morning afforded her a few moments of peace and quiet that she rarely experienced otherwise.

            Tansy walked quietly down the staircase, one paw on the banister, being careful to make no noise—some of the Dibbuns in the dormitories might be as light of sleep as she.  A pleasant aroma met her nose, wafting from the kitchens downstairs; the first batch of Friar Higgle’s oatmeal scones must have gone into the ovens in preparation for breakfast that morning.  She breathed deep and closed her eyes momentarily; perhaps she would take a leisurely stroll around the grounds, and then drop by the kitchens for a spot of conversation and a few scones fresh from the oven.  Tansy smiled to herself as she let herself out of the Abbey building and closed the door softly behind her.  First crack at Friar Higgle’s scones; being Abbess had its advantages.

            It was a cool, clear night; the stars were starting to give way to the faint light of the coming day.  The air was totally still, and the grass beneath Tansy’s footpaws was wet with dew.   She passed through the orchard, automatically taking note of how many new apples, pears, and strawberries there were since last she had checked.  It was always good to keep an eye on things—Dibbuns had a way of making good fruit disappear.  Well—she chuckled slightly—Dibbuns and Clecky.  The garrulous hare was infamous within the abbey for his endless appetite, and the Dibbuns revered him for it.  Sister Cicely had on six different occasions this season been forced to confine Dibbuns to their room with only nettle broth after they had made themselves sick from overeating.  Really.  She would have to talk to Clecky about it.  She giggled—a very un-Abbess-like thing to do—at the thought of giving the hare a stern lecture about his gluttonous ways.  She could just hear his indignant response: “Me, a glutton?  Slander and villainy, if y’ can pardon my sayin’ so, marm!  A chap needs his scoff, but I’d never take more than my bally share, wot?” She shook her head, still smiling.  One thing she had learned early on after being appointed Abbess was to pick her battles, and trying to tell a hare to curb his appetite would be as futile as trying to talk the sun into rising in the west.  She moved on, past the mist-shrouded pond, towards the towering redstone walls that enclosed the Abbey grounds and building.

            When she reached the tall, oaken west wallgate, Tansy turned right and walked slowly along the wall, trailing one paw absentmindedly along the smooth red stones.  Every inch of this Abbey was familiar to her, and it was always reassuring to her to see that everything was in its place and that nothing was out of the ordinary.  It looked like another clear spring day would be dawning, which would mean the usual hustle and bustle of Abbey life.  Higgle had said he had felt in his spikes that the weather would take a turn for the worse, and Tansy was relieved to see that his predictions had not rung true.  She had not been looking forward to having to deal with the many changes of plan that uncooperative weather could bring (though, naturally, the foul-weather plan was neatly noted below the fair-weather one on a scrap of bark parchment on her writing desk).

            A creaking sound brought Tansy out of her reverie, and she saw with surprise that the small wicker gate in the center of the north wall was hanging slightly open.  Immediately commencing her irritated huffing, she strode over and closed it firmly.  The days of Lask Fridlur and his Monitors may have been long past, but Tansy could not forget the fevered search for the six pearls they demanded, nor the long days spent worrying over Abbot Durral and Viola Bankvole, whom the vermin and lizards had held for ransom.  Tansy would have to have a word with whoever had carelessly left the gate open; Mossflower had been peaceful for seasons, but it was foolhardy to assume that it always would be, and leaving the gate unlocked was not a safe thing to do.  Already mentally composing the admonishment she would have to deliver at breakfast, she turned back towards the Abbey, and had gone three steps when her footpaw hit something solid.

            Tansy stumbled, looked down, and gave a small scream, clapping her paw over her mouth to stifle it. 

            Martin II, Warrior of Redwall, lay on the ground, his face frozen in a grotesque and silent scream of pain or terror.  His eyes stared, bulging and unseeing, at the sky, and one paw still clawed at his throat.  He was unmistakably dead.

            Tansy stared, uncomprehending, for a moment, horror and revulsion welling up in her throat.  Then, as the gravity of the situation descended on her, she took a deep breath, willing herself to keep from vomiting, tore her eyes from the grisly sight, and took off at a run for the gatehouse.

 

            Craklyn, the squirrel Recorder of Redwall as of last season and Tansy’s erstwhile friend, was not nearly as light a sleeper as her Abbess, and did not react well to being woken at such an hour.  But when the pounding on her door refused to abate, she forced herself out of bed and staggered to the door, opening it blearily.

            “Huh—Tansy!  I-I-I-mean Mother Abbess,” she said, through a huge yawn.  “It’s got to be an hour before dawn at least—what’s going on?” Craklyn’s tone changed as she saw her friend’s pale face. 

            “It’s—Craklyn, it’s—“ Tansy swallowed hard.  “It’s Martin.  He’s dead.”

            Craklyn staggered in the doorway, shocked.  “He’s what?  How?”

            “I don’t know,” said Tansy, “but it’s awful.  His face was—“ She shuddered, closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep breath.  “Craklyn, we need to get him moved before the Dibbuns wake up and see him.  We also need to find out how this happened.  I need you to wake up Sister Cicely and Rangapaw—Skipper too, if you can—and get him carried safely away.  I’ll fetch Clecky and Foremole—probably should get Auma as well.  Meet me in Cavern Hole as soon as you can.”

 

            A few torches had been lit in Cavern Hole, and their flickering light illuminated the eight stunned creatures that sat at the table.  Sister Cicely, Craklyn, and the two otters—Skipper, the aging otter chieftain, and his daughter Rangapaw—had just returned ashen-faced from the task of moving Martin’s body.  Clecky and Foremole sat on either side of Tansy, Foremole stony-faced, and Clecky clearly fighting back tears.  Auma, Redwall’s resident badger, sat across the table from them.

            “Well, it’s done,” said Skipper unsteadily, sitting down hard.  “We found him a snug berth just off the infirmary.  He can rest there ‘till we’ve broken the news.”

            “Thank you, Skipper,” said Tansy.  “Sister Cicely, do you have any idea…”

            “I’m afraid not,” said Sister Cicely, wiping her eyes.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.  It doesn’t look like any sickness I’ve ever seen, and he doesn’t look injured in any way—except that he looks horribly in pain.” She shuddered.  “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

            “Of course it makes no flippin’ sense!” burst out Clecky.  A sharp glance from his Abbess reminded him to lower his voice, but it was no less vehement when he continued.  “Gerul and I were on patrols with the chap just a few days back, y’ know, and he was fresh as a daisy!  He could’ve laid out a full garrison or scoffed ‘em under the table.  I don’t know what happened do him, but he wasn’t sick, mark my words!”

            “Clecky’s right,” said Auma.  “Martin was absolutely himself as recently as yesterday, there was nothing off about his behavior.”

            “Hoo urr, ‘eem a gurt missery,” intoned Foremole gravely.

            “I don’t understand it either,” said Craklyn.  “Sister Cicely, you’re sure—“

            “I’m very sure,” said Sister Cicely firmly.  “Whatever happened to him, it wasn’t normal and it’s not any disease or poison I’ve ever seen or heard about.”

            “Poison?” Clecky said, sitting bolt upright.  “Who said anything about poison?”

            “Hold up hard a minute there, matey,” said Rangapaw.  “Maybe we should hear everythin’ afore we go down them roads.  Abbess Tansy, Craklyn said you found him?”

            “Yes,” said Tansy.  “I had woken up early, and set off for a walk around the grounds, when I noticed that the north wicker gate was open.  I shut it, then walked back to the Abbey, and I nearly tripped on him.”

            “Wait,” said Rangapaw.  “You say the north wallgate was open?”

            “I did, yes.”

            “But it can’t’ve been,” said Rangapaw slowly.  “I closed it meself last night, and I’d take me affidavit that nobeast else was thereabouts after me.”

            “Then whut did Marthen open ‘ee gate fur?” asked Foremole.

            “And why,” Craklyn asked, “was he wearing his tunic?  Look at us, we’re all in our night things.  Martin was in his usual clothes—that means he was planning to be outside.”

            “I can’t make head nor tail of it,” said Tansy.  “But we need to find out what happened, and soon.  If it’s a sickness, we must find out what kind before it infects everyone in the Abbey; if it was—“ Tansy could not quite bring herself to say the word murder “—something different, we need to find out how it was done and who is responsible.”

            “And how, pray tell, will we do that?” Sister Cicely said sadly.  “I’ve seen more seasons than most here, and been a healer for almost all of them, and I’m stumped.  I know more about these matters than anyone at Redwall.  If I can’t help, who can?”

            Silence settled gloomily over the table.  Then, Skipper said slowly, “I may have heard tell of a feller can figger this thing out.”

            All heads swiveled towards the old otter, and Clecky burst out, “Well, why didn’t you bloomin’ well say so?”

            “I’ve never met the beast,” said Skipper, holding up his paws.  “Anyhow, I only just remembered.  One of my ottercrew—Rangapaw’s ottercrew, I mean,” he said, nodding to his daughter, “name o’ Glendart, came back from scoutin’ out south Mossflower a few seasons back.  Said there was a strange otter livin’ in a little cottage, out in the middle of the woods.  Apparently this beast looked at him an’ told him everything about him—knew where he came from, what he was up to, even what kind of fish he had for breakfast.”

            “And?” said Tansy impatiently.

            “Well, this feller, he says he knows all these things just by lookin’ at him.  What’d he call it… was it detraction? No, deduction!  An’ apparently that’s all this beast does, just deduces things.  Said he doesn’t like to be bothered ‘less there’s somethin’ nobody else can figger out.”  Skipper paused.  “Glendart, who met this beast, said he seemed strange.  Restless.  Now, I’ll be honest with ye, I don’t know this deducin’ otter from my own grandpa, but if he’s as smart as Glendart says he is—an’ I believe Glendart, he’s a good ole riverdog—he might be able to cipher this situation, if’n we can get him here.”

            “That’s a lot of ifs,” Tansy said slowly, “but it’s worth a try.  Skipper, do you know where to find this otter?”

            “Sure I do,” said Skipper.  “It’s a good half-day’s journey through Mossflower, but I can find him.  I know the place Glendart mentioned—used to fish near there in the old days.”  He stood up.  “Ain’t no sense in wastin’ time.  Rangapaw, go fetch me my javelin.  I’ll head out before dawn hits full, if I can convince this feller to come to Redwall we’ll be back afore nightfall.”

            “You ain’t goin’ alone,” Rangapaw said stoutly.

            “Sure I am,” said Skipper, firmly.  “You got no faith in yore ole dad.  ‘Sides, we don’t know what laid pore Martin down.  If it was foul play, we need a good strong warrior like yourself in Redwall to stop it happenin’ again.”

            “Right.  I’ll fetch yore javelin, old feller.”  Rangapaw stood up as well, and the two otters left the room.

            “Redwall will have more than one,” Clecky said, his voice hard and flat.  “If some blighter’s killed our Martin, he’ll have Cleckstar Lepus Montisle to answer to, an’ he won’t do much blinkin’ talkin’ after that!”

 

Chapter Two

 

            The midday sunlight, dappled from the dense tree branches of Mossflower Wood, poured in through the front window of a homey little cottage.  Inside was a curious display.  A slender male otter was slumped despondently in an overstuffed armchair, a small fiddle hanging loosely from one paw, the bow tossed carelessly onto the floor.  The room in which the otter sat resembled the aftermath of a hurricane.  Cups, books, half-eaten pieces of food, jumbles of seemingly random items, mortars and pestles, jars of powder, and pieces of bark parchment with drawings, lists, and diagrams written on them were scattered thither and yon all about the room.  As a soft breeze whispered through the open window, the otter twitched irritably, repositioned himself in his chair, and picked idly and atonally at the strings of his fiddle.

            A door in the back of the room opened, scraping a few pieces of detritus a few inches across the floor as it did so.  A small but sturdily built hedgehog stood in the door, holding a cup of tea in one hand and wearing an expression of consternation.

            “Sherlock, Ms. Hudson sent you up some tea and—“ his dark eyes surveyed the atrocious state of the room and his spikes furrowed.  “Sherlock.  Have you seen this room?”

            Sherlock Holmes did not look up.  He tapped his rudder on the worn floorboards and hissed, “I’m bored, John.”

            “Surely there’s something—Sherlock, that shrew was here to see you just this morning!”

            “His case was boring, John, Guosim cases always are, it’s always politics—“

            “Well, what did he want to find out?”

            “The usual.  He wanted to know who keeps turning the public opinion against him in the debates.”

            “Oh, no.” John Watson buried his face in his paws.  “Please tell me you didn’t tell him the truth.”

            “What, that he’s completely incompetent and Log a Log Welko doesn’t need to turn the public opinion—he gets shouted down because his ideas are asinine?”

            “You told him, didn’t you.”

            “I didn’t even have to hear these opinions that keep getting shouted down.  Only somebeast with a completely overinflated sense of self-worth would come to me asking who is conspiring against him in shrew arguments.  Really, I feel my comments were accurate, justified, and necessary.”

            “Sherlock, would you please stop making enemies out of creatures that carry swords?”

            “Feh,” was Sherlock’s only response, and he slumped dramatically back in his chair and recommenced his aimless plucking on his instrument.

            “Well, fine,” said John irritably.  “I’ll leave the tea here then.”  As he placed the chipped cup on the few inches of clear space left on the cluttered desk, a knock sounded from the front door down the stairs.  Sherlock did not look up, and John trundled down the stairs to open the door, muttering to himself.

            A few moments later, John’s voice resounded from the front parlor. 

            “Sherlock!  You’re going to want to hear this.”

 

            John showed Skipper into the sitting room, and pointed him towards the only other chair besides the one currently occupied by Sherlock.  The thin otter glanced at Skipper, then back out the window, remaining slumped in his chair.

            “Ahoy,” Skipper began, in his usual ebullient manner.  “It’s good to meet you, matey.  My name is—“

            “Your name is not important, as you prefer to be called Skipper.  You came from Redwall Abbey, where you have lived for some time, before sunrise this morning, and have clearly traveled without any delay.  You took a slight detour through the ruins of St. Ninian’s Church, knowing full well that it would add a small amount of time to your journey.  Naturally the detour was important to you, because you have come in great haste.”

            Skipper opened his mouth, closed it again, pressed his lips together and finally spoke again.  “Well, I—yes.  You’re dead right there, matey.  I went through St. Ninian’s because a sweet mousemaid from the Abbey named Piknim died there five or six seasons back.   I always pay my respects there when I can.  But how in the name o’ seasons did you figure all that?”

            “You walk with the bearing of a chieftain, as well as having an anchor tattoo on the back of your left forepaw.  The only otter Chieftains in this region are Skipper and his daughter, and you are obviously not your daughter.  You have clearly grown accustomed to Abbey fare”—Skipper’s paw went self-consciously to his waistline—“and I know that you have traveled without delay because of the two small scratches from brambles on your rudder and your hindpaw, which a creature as accustomed to Mossflower as yourself would not have obtained unless you were in great haste.  As for St. Ninian’s, there is a small smudge of ash on the corner of your jerkin, and St. Ninian’s is the only large patch of ashes between here and Redwall.”  Sherlock paused for a moment to take in the flabbergasted look on Skipper’s face.  “My name is Sherlock Holmes, and it is my business to know things.  Why have you come to me?”

            Skipper drew a deep breath, as if willing himself to remain calm.  Behind him, John closed his eyes tightly for a moment in irritation.  “Sherlock—“

            “Ah,” said Sherlock, “I have forgotten to make introductions.  Skipper, this is John Watson, a talented healer and my close friend and colleague.”

            Skipper turned to John and shook paws with him quickly, then turned impatiently back to Sherlock.  “Well, Glendart was right about you, mate, there’s no question.”

            “Glendart? Oh yes, the trout-eater.”

            Skipper scowled.  “We need your help up at the Abbey, Sherlock.  Martin the Warrior’s been killed, and nobeast knows how, or why, or who done it—or even if anyone did it at all.”

            Sherlock sat bolt upright.  Placing his fiddle carefully on the floor, he leaned forward, his tone suddenly businesslike.  “Tell me everything.”

 

            Skipper related the story in as much detail as he could, describing to the best of his ability the exact characteristics of Martin’s appearance in death and the circumstances surrounding the body’s discovery.  Sherlock listened attentively, and when Skipper had finished his narrative, the thin otter stood up.  To Skipper’s astonishment, he was beginning to smile, his dark eyes glinting.  “Oh, this is quite good,” he said.  “A murder under mysterious circumstances.  It’s about time I had something interesting to work with.”

            “Good?” said Skipper, incensed.  “What’s good about it?  Martin was a goodbeast and a brave warrior!  And—wait up, what makes y’ think it was murder?”

            “I don’t think it was murder, I know it was murder.  Redwall Abbey’s walls are its biggest protection, and if Martin was the Abbey Warrior he was obviously tasked with protecting the Abbey with his life.  He would never have left the wallgate open.  So the question is, who opened it?”  Sherlock sprang up and pulled a long traveling coat from a corner.  “Don’t try and answer that question, I can’t possibly know until I’ve looked at the scene.  I trust you left it exactly as it was found?  Doubtful, Abbeybeasts have more cooking skills than sense, I’ll bet they’ve even moved the body.  Well, we’ll have to make do.  John?”

            The hedgehog had already produced a traveling knapsack, and slung it across his back.  “I’m ready, Sherlock.  To Redwall?”

            “To Redwall,” Sherlock agreed, bounding out of his chair.  Skipper and John followed in his wake as he headed for the door, not sparing the two of them a glance.

            “We’re going to pay a visit to Redwall Abbey, Ms. Hudson,” John yelled as he stepped out the door, hastened by an impatient Skipper behind him.  “I’m not sure when we’ll be back.”

            “Urr, you’m enjoy yurrselves,” came a faint reply.  “Ee’m surpintly goin’ to be quieter ‘round here, n’ cleaner too, hurr.”

 

            Sherlock clearly already knew the way to Redwall Abbey, and had a fair bit of experience in navigating the woodlands.  He set a brisk pace through the underbrush, still not saying a word.  Skipper and John followed a few paces back, Skipper gritting his teeth as he stared ahead at Sherlock’s back.

            “I’m sorry to hear about Martin,” said John quietly to the big otter, after a half-hour’s quick journey.  “He was a good warrior.  We crossed paths a time or two.”

            Skipper nodded, his face grim.  “He was a good friend to me, and there’s nobeast I’d rather have had backin’ me in a fight.  How’d ye meet him?”

            “I spent some time as a Healer, joined up with a branch of the Long Patrol.  We came by the Abbey a time or two when we were far east from Salamandastron.”

            Skipper nodded.  Now that he looked, he could see a bit of a military bearing in the hedgehog.  “’Tis a good place to be, matey.  Thought the Long Patrol was only hares, though.”

            “Huh, so did Lady Cregga Rose Eyes.”

            “So that’s why you’re not with the Patrol no more?”

             “That and a Rapscallion spear in the leg,” John said.  Glancing down, Skipper noticed the fair-sized scar that John carried.

            “So, you’re living the quiet life now, eh, cully?”

            John snorted. “Quiet’s hardly the word for it,” he said, glancing ahead.  “There’s really never a dull moment.”

            Skipper dropped his voice.  “He’s a queer sort, this Sherlock beast.  He seemed pleased when I told him that Martin was dead.”

            “Oh, he’s not pleased that Martin’s dead,” John assured him.  “He’s just… well, he gets restless when he’s not working on a case.   It’s exciting to him when he finds across one where he doesn’t know all the answers immediately.”

            “Y’ mean, like the way he knew where I’d come from?”

            “Yes, exactly like that.  He’s actually quite amazing—“

            “John, Skipper,” Sherlock said from up ahead, not looking back, “please shut up. I am aware that I am amazing, but I am not likely to get amazing results if you two continue to talk over my thinking.”

            “He can also,” John said, simultaneously looking irritated and slightly amused at Skipper’s flabbergasted expression, “be bloody difficult to work with.”

 

 

            As John, Sherlock, and Skipper trod briskly north through Mossflower, Abbess Tansy stood up at the front of Great Hall and called for silence.  As the Abbeybeasts paused in their lunch and fell quiet, Tansy swallowed hard, attempting to force aside the lump in her throat.  She took a deep breath and spoke.

            “Dear friends, I have some sad news, and I fear it will come as a shock to you.  Last night, this Abbey lost its Warrior.  It is my great sorrow to tell you that Martin is dead.”

            There was an immediate uproar.  Everybeast began talking at once; cries of “What?” “How?” “No!” and “Martin!” filled the room.  Auma slammed her paw on the table and raised her stentorian voice.  “Silence!” she roared.  “Listen to your Abbess.”

            “Thank you, Auma,” said Tansy.  “The circumstances that surround Martin’s death are unfortunately still unclear to us.  Skipper is currently abroad in Mossflower, and with luck will be back before the day is out with an acquaintance of his, whom we have been told is the best hope we have of finding out exactly what happened last night.  I must ask that everybeast refrain from bothering our new guest when he arrives, so that he might concentrate on his task with as few distractions as possible.

            “In the meantime, I have decided that Clecky—“ she indicated the hare, who sat up straight, surprised, “shall take over as Warrior of Redwall.  It is necessary to keep Redwall protected, especially in this dark time.  Clecky, are you willing to accept this responsibility?”

            “Me?” Clecky said, clearly startled.  “I—well, yes, of course I will.  Can’t leave the blinkin’ Abbey undefended, wot?”

            “Thank you, Clecky.  As for the rest of you, I ask that nobeast go near the north wallgate until such time as our new visitor has had the opportunity to examine it.  Foremole will mark off the section that will be off-limits.” Tansy took a deep breath.  “I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t devastated and shocked by this loss, just like all of you.  Martin was a brave warrior, a kindhearted mouse, and a true Abbeybeast.  I ask that you not dwell on his death, but celebrate his life.  A ceremony in his honor will take place in the orchard tomorrow.  I would call now for a moment of silence in memory of Martin the Second, Warrior of Redwall and a friend to us all.”

            A hush fell over the great table, broken only by several stifled sobs and sniffs.  When a minute had passed, Tansy spoke once more.  “I know well that Martin loved each of you.  Thank you for your kindness.”  Bowing her spiked head, Tansy sat down, wiping the corner of her eye with her handkerchief.

            “Well done, Tansy,” said Craklyn quietly to her friend.  “I doubt old Abbot Durral could have made a better speech.  I’m curious, though—why did you decide to appoint another Warrior so quickly?”

            “Partly because we still don’t know the circumstances under which we lost Martin,” Tansy replied in an undertone, “and if he was killed, we have to ensure that the killer cannot harm another Redwaller.  Mostly, though, it was for Clecky’s sake.  You saw him last night, he and Martin were old friends; he’s taking it very hard.  The responsibility of being Abbey Warrior will give him something to focus on besides having lost his friend.”

            Craklyn shook her head, impressed.  “You always were an unflappable rock of good sense.”

            “Oh, go on, Craklyn,” Tansy sighed.  “I was shaking in my fur up there, and if I had paused for a second I would have started bawling like a Dibbun.  I hope Skipper gets here soon with this beast he mentioned, whoever he is.  I can’t stand not knowing what happened to Martin, or if it’s going to happen to another creature here.”

            “Nor can I,” Craklyn admitted.  “What really worries me, though, isn’t what happened to him, it’s who did it.”

            Tansy nodded, her face grave.  “If it was murder, then the murderer is still out there.”

 

Chapter Three

 

            The clear spring evening was beginning to slide towards dusk when three knocks came on the south wallgate, and a booming voice called, “Ahoy up there!”

            “Who goes there?”  Clecky, who had taken it upon himself to stand watch on the battlements, called down, squinting into the lengthening shadows.  “Identify y’self!”

            “’Tis Skipper, y’ one-eared grubwalloper!” called the big otter.  “Now open the gates, matey, we’ve been marchin’ all day and we needs some rest and vittles!”

            Clecky’s paw went to his velvet ear, which Viola Bankvole had made him to cover the loss of the original in a long-ago battle.  “I say, old sport, references to a chap’s honorably-lost lug are uncalled for, wot?” he called.  However, he immediately bounded down the red sandstone stairs and threw the latch on the wicker gate.  Skipper and Clecky shook paws, while John and Sherlock surveyed their surroundings, John appreciative and Sherlock unimpressed.

            “Holdin’ up all right, mate?” Skipper said to Clecky. 

            Clecky gave a crooked attempt at his usual cheeky grin.  “Right as the flippin’ rain.  I say, this must be the deductin’ otterfeller y’ talked about last night!  Cleckstar Lepus Montisle, at y’ service.”  He turned around to extend his paw to Sherlock, who looked as impassive as ever, but grasped the paw, shook it and released it quickly.  “Sherlock Holmes,” he introduced himself.  Turning back to Skipper, he said, “Where was the body found?”

            “Steady on there, old chap, you’ve marched half the blinkin’ way through Mossflower.  Y’ need to speak to Abbess Tansy first, an’ have a bite to scoff, before y’ can go pokin’ around at—“

            “Ah yes, Abbess Tansy, who Skipper said found the body early this morning.  Go fetch her, if you would, please.”

            Clecky looked as though he was rendered speechless, or unable to choose between the dozens of things he would like to say, but a glance and shrug from Skipper left him swallowing his pride and turning to bound off towards the Abbey, muttering darkly all the way.  John turned to follow him, but Sherlock stopped him.  “John.  Would you come with me?  I appreciate your input on these matters.”

            Skipper turned to Sherlock.  “Matey, you really ought t’wait for the Abbess afore y’ go pokin’ ‘round.  She’ll want to talk t’you, I’ll be bound.  An’ y’ could’ve been far more pleasant to Clecky back there.”

“If I had been more pleasant to that hare he just would have wasted more of my time, of which I already have precious little before night falls and makes it much harder to see anything useful.  Now, please lead me to the place where Martin’s body was found.”

Skipper glared at Sherlock, but strode off in the direction of the north wallgate.  Sherlock’s eyes lit up when he saw the small pegs pounded into the ground, connected by a long rope, which marked off a large circular area around the wallgate.  “Finally, evidence of intelligent thought,” he muttered, stepping over the rope to survey the scene.

The thin otter described a series of curious actions.  First, he knelt down and examined a patch of grass seemingly like any other, running one forepaw back and forth along it.  Standing, he strode briskly to the gate itself, opened it wide, took a few paces out onto the path outside, looked forward and back, and shut it again.  He opened and shut the gate twice more before he was satisfied.  Next, he walked back to the first spot that he had examined, turned back towards the Abbey, glanced down, and nodded almost imperceptibly at John, who acknowledged the gesture by returning it.

Clecky, still fuming, returned on the scene a moment later with Tansy in tow.  “Here’s the cheeky blighter himself, marm.  Hopefully y’ can talk a few manners into him, wot?”

“You’re hardly setting him an example, Clecky,” said Tansy dryly.  “Good evening,” she said, turning to Sherlock and John.  “Thank you for coming on such short notice.  My name is Tansy, and I am Abbess here at Redwall.” 

“My name is Sherlock Holmes,” said Sherlock, “and this is my friend and associate John Watson.  The pleasure is all ours, I assure you.  I assume that you were the one who ordered this section marked off?”

            “I was, yes,” Tansy said.  “I thought it sensible to try and leave it as unchanged as possible.  May I show you inside?  You must be hungry.  Dinner has already been served, but we have set some aside for your arrival. Also, the other elders and I would like to hear anything that you have to tell us—”

            “When you discovered the body last night, was the gate wide open or simply slightly off its hinges?”

            Tansy, taken aback by the sudden and seemingly random question, looked puzzled for a moment, then said, “Neither.  It was open a few paw-lengths, I remember that it was creaking.”

            “Thank you,” said Sherlock, looking satisfied.  “I believe I have gathered all the information I can from this area.  If you would be so kind as to take me to the body—“

            “Sherlock,” said John sharply, cutting him off.  “Thank you, Mother Abbess, a meal would be very nice.”

           

            “I should be examining Martin,” Sherlock muttered darkly in Cavern Hole a few minutes later, staring vindictively at his untouched mushroom and onion turnover.

            “Oh, give it a rest, Sherlock,” John hissed back.  “He’s not going anywhere.”  He turned back to his spring vegetable soup, and closed his eyes momentarily in ecstasy.  “It’s good.  Quite good,” he said, looking up at Tansy, Auma, Skipper, Rangapaw, Clecky, Craklyn, Foremole, and Sister Cicely, who were sitting around the table, waiting politely for the two to finish eating before asking their questions.

            “Y’ haven’t had Redwall vittles before, have you, old sport?” asked Clecky, who was eyeing Sherlock’s turnover with increasing hopefulness.

            “Not for a long time, no.  I stopped by the Abbey once before, several seasons ago, when I was with the Patrol.”

            Clecky tore his gaze from Sherlock’s plate, surprised.  “Hold on a tick.  If y’ don’t mind my sayin’ so, y’ don’t much look the Long Patrol type, wot?”

            Sherlock did not look up, but he smirked slightly.  John sat up ramrod straight in his chair, and said in a loud, clear voice, “Captain John Watson, healer, Third Fur n’ Foot Patrol, Salamandastron.  State y’ name and rank!”

            Clecky sprang to attention in his seat, throwing off a smart salute.  “Cleckstar Lepus Montisile, Actin’ Warrior an’ official food taster of Redwall Abbey, sah!”  Coming to himself, he lowered his paw and laughed.  “Stripe me if y’ ain’t a proper Long Patroller.  Apologies, sah, no offense meant an’ all that.  But how’d y’ get into the bally Patrol?  I’ve never heard of them takin’ on a hedgehog, always known it as a strictly badger n’ hare outfit, wot?”

            “No offense taken, it’s not a common thing,” said John.  “I joined up with a branch of the Patrol that was out on a field campaign, during a mutual disagreement they and I had with a band of weasels.  They were just planning on letting me travel with them for half a season, but the campaign went two seasons, and by the time we got back to Salamandastron, Major Perigord was willing to talk Lady Cregga into inducting me officially.”

            “How did you end up in Mossflower?” Auma asked.  “And don’t believe Clecky when he says he’s official food taster, he made that rank up.  Appointed himself, too.”

            “Well, I ended up back at Salamandastron after I was injured in a battle up north.  Lady Cregga had tolerated having me while I was on patrol, but when it looked like I’d be lame she decided my recovery would be better spent somewhere else.  I was bound for Southsward when I encountered Sherlock, who had a room available.  It seemed a quiet, peaceful place to live.” He gave a sardonic smile.  “Of course, within half a season I was dealing with murders, thefts, and running for my life.  Sherlock’s trade has a way of attracting trouble.”

            “Well, it’s certainly found some here,” said Craklyn.  “Sherlock, how much do you know about how Martin was found?”

            “Well, I tole him as much as any of us know,” said Skipper.  “Other’n that, I can’t figger what else there is to know at this point.”

            “Oh, nothing else,” said Sherlock, his voice caustic with sarcasm.  “Nothing at all, except that Martin thrashed around considerably when he died, that there were two creatures present last night besides Martin—one pacing outside the gates, clearly agitated, one coming up inside—and one of those two opened the gate but wanted it to appear to have been left open accidentally.”

            There was a stunned pause, then Rangapaw said, “An’ how in the name o’ seasons do ye know that?”

            “Isn’t it obvious?”

            “No, it flippin’ well isn’t!” Clecky ejaculated.

            “Hoo urr, he’m treatin’ us loike a roight bunch o’ puddenheads,” Foremole grumbled to Auma.

            “Hush!” said Tansy.  “Sherlock, at my instructions, no Abbeybeast, including anyone at this table, has come near the scene where Martin was found.  We did this to leave the place untouched for your scrutiny.  You are the first to have observed it in the light of day.  Naturally, we are anxious to find out what happened.  Please tell us how you know these things.”

            “The grass—slightly flattened, in a spot much wider than the body size of your average mouse.  That means that Martin was flailing when he hit the ground.  The ground in front of the gate—freshly scuffed, and there was a significant amount of disturbance in a small area. That means somebeast was pacing there, from the size of the scuff marks I would guess a big weasel or stoat, maybe a fox.  So that’s the creature outside the gates.  How do I know there was a creature inside?  Martin fell with his back to the gate, obvious from the way the grass was crushed.  What kind of creature was Martin?  He was a Redwall warrior, he wouldn’t turn his back on a big stoat, even if there was a closed gate between them, unless there was somebeast behind him.  As for the gate, surely you must have noticed by now that if it has any momentum behind it when it closes, it slams shut.  What does that mean?  It means that if it was slightly ajar, like Tansy says, it was left that way on purpose, meaning that whoever killed Martin wanted us to find an open gate.  Now you know everything I know, so can we please,” Sherlock finished sharply, “stop wasting time, and allow me a look at the body so that I can see what else you’ve missed?”

            “Watch it,” snarled Auma, her hackles raised.  “While you are a guest in our Abbey, you will not speak that way to our Abbess.  Understood?”

            Sherlock opened his mouth, showing every sign of retorting, but John elbowed him hard in the side.  “Sherlock,” he said quietly but firmly, glaring at his friend.  He looked at Auma.  “He understands,” he said, with a trace of a shrug.

            Tansy sighed.  “All the same, Mr. Holmes does have a point—we’re getting nothing done sitting around this table.  Sister Cicely, if you would lead the way to the infirmary?”

            “Certainly,” said Sister Cicely frostily, shooting a withering look at Sherlock.  She bustled away up the stairs.  The rest followed, Sherlock in the lead.

            “Your friend isn’t too keen on manners, John,” said Craklyn, who was bringing up the rear with John and Tansy.   “Doesn’t think much of other people’s abilities, does he?”

“He doesn’t mean to be rude,” John replied.  “I mean, he is quite rude, but… well, yes.” The hedgehog sighed.  “Sherlock is the best friend I’ve ever had, and I would trust anything he says without question, but he functions on, well, a different level than the rest of us.  He doesn’t have much patience for normal creatures.”

“Except you,” pointed out Tansy.

“I—well, yes.”

The group reached the infirmary, which was empty except for Brother Dormal, the herbalist, a good-natured, middle-aged mouse.  “Hello, Sister Cicely, Mother Abbess, Auma—great seasons, there’s a lot of you.  I assume you’re here to see poor Martin?”

“Yes, we are,” said Sister Cicely hastily, clearly fearing another pithy remark from Sherlock.

“Well, he’s in that room,” said Dormal, gesturing to a small wood-paneled door in the far corner of the infirmary.  “Good luck, friends.  I hope you’re able to make some headway, we’re stumped.”

“Yes, thank you,” said Sherlock, walking past Dormal to open the door.  Inside, the body of Martin lay stiff on a neatly-made bed.  Sherlock walked twice around this bed, his eyes darting to and from Martin’s features, which still bore traces of the pained expression Tansy had described, to his paws, one of which was still loosely held in the clawing position it had described on the previous night. 

“John,” he said finally.  “You’re a healer, look him over and tell me what you think.”

“I inspected him quite thoroughly—“ Sister Cicely began.

“I’m sure you did,” said Sherlock.  “John?”

With an apologetic glance at Sister Cicely, John walked forward and bent over the corpse.  He pressed his paw to Martin’s wrist, parted the fur on his neck, and sniffed delicately at Martin’s open mouth.  Finally he stood up straight.  “He’s been dead since yesterday—if I had to guess, I would say he died at least a few hours before Abbess Tansy found him.  It doesn’t seem to be any poison that I know of, except…”

“Except what?”

“Well, there’s a small swelling on his neck, which, when you factor in the flailing that you believe—“

“I don’t believe, I know, John—”

“Fine, then, that you know happened, it’s consistent with the symptoms of adder venom.”

A muffled gasp went ‘round the room, and Foremole shuddered.  “Burr, oi’m gurtly afeard o’ surrpints.  Wurr he bit, John?”

“That’s where it’s become quite strange, I’m afraid,” said John.  “There’s no fang wound—the swelling on his neck is surrounding a cut that is so small that I couldn’t say with perfect certainty that it is there at all.  If it was adder venom that killed Martin, I don’t think that it came from an adder—at least not directly.”

“There’s no record of an adder in Mossflower since the death of Asmodeus, back in Martin’s grandsire’s day,” said Craklyn.  “Of course, we haven’t gone seeking them out, but you’d think we’d have heard tell of it—woodlanders tend to stop by Redwall eventually.”

“Well, of course it wasn’t an adder,” said Sherlock.  “It was a creature that did this—either the one out in front of the gate or the one behind.  It’s not difficult to get adder venom onto a pin or small knife; once you’ve done that, even a nick could bring down a full-grown badger.  I’ve seen it done.”  Sherlock stretched his large, slender paws.  “Now it’s just a matter of finding out who those two creatures were, why they were there last night, where they obtained the venom, and why one of them killed Martin.”  To the shock of most there, he smiled triumphantly.  “All of which I intend to find out tomorrow.  I trust you are burying him then?” he asked Tansy.

“We are putting Martin to rest tomorrow at noon, yes,” said Tansy, clearly somewhat affronted by Sherlock’s blunt words. 

“And you have alerted Mossflower to this?”

“Yes,” Tansy replied.  “I’ve sent Arven out to spread the word.  Everybeast who possibly could have known Martin will be here to pay their respects.”

“Excellent.  Thank you, that will be all.”  Sherlock turned to go.

“No, that flippin’ well won’t be all!” Clecky snapped.  Tansy shot him a glance, but a general nod of assent went around the small room. 

“Clecky’s right, matey,” Skipper said, his voice far from pleasant.  “I can tell y’ know more’n you’re lettin’ on.”

“Martin was our friend,” said Auma icily.  “This might be a game to you, Sherlock, but it’s not one to us.”

Sherlock did not bat an eye.  “I’ve told you everything I’ve found out.  I prefer not to share my theories with the world until they are confirmed, or at least supported.”

“Urr, but if’n you’m tell us’ns what you’m thinken, usn’s could help ee, mayhap,” pointed out Foremole.

“I assure you I do not need nine extra minds to help me figure out a problem.  I doubt that one of you would have anything useful to say.  I work alone.  Normal creatures slow me down.”

“Except John, obviously,” said Sister Cicely, clearly insulted by Sherlock’s general dismissal.  “You don’t seem to mind that he’s not as smart as you.”

“Wait a minute—“ said John, who looked as though he had been wondering when his name would be dragged into the argument.

“That’s right, I don’t,” said Sherlock, “because he knows how to ask the right questions, and has the decency to look impressed when I answer them.”  John opened his mouth, shut it again, and furrowed his spikes in consternation.   “If I thought that telling you everything I suspect would help this investigation, I would have already told you.”

“Lissen, we ain’t a bunch o’ ninnies—“ started Rangapaw.

Stop it!” snapped Tansy, stamping her footpaw down angrily.  Silence fell.  “Must you all argue like Dibbuns?  Over the body of our Warrior, no less!”

“But—“

“No buts.  If you have something to say, you can say it outside, or to me.” Tansy took a deep breath, willing herself to stay calm.  “Mr. Holmes, your attitude leaves much to be desired, but I trust your judgment.  If you say that it is not prudent to tell us more, we will not press you to do so. ” 

“Ooh, she’s angry,” Craklyn whispered to John.  “Tansy only speaks that formally when somebeast’s seriously ruffled her spikes.”

“Good,” said Sherlock.   “Now the most pressing question is why somebeast wanted Martin dead.  Show me Martin’s room.  It is not necessary that everybeast come with me, you all think too loudly and it distracts me.  Abbess Tansy, if you would lead me there?  John, if you would come along as well.”

“Yes.  Right,” said John, clearly uncomfortable with the mounting animosity in the room. 

Tansy’s headspikes were beginning to quiver slightly in frustration, but when she spoke, her voice was even.  “Yes, Mr. Holmes, I can take you there.” She turned to the others.  “I’m sorry to dismiss you, friends, but I must respect Mr. Holmes’ wishes—he is, after all, the expert on these matters.  I promise you that I will share with you all the information that I am given.”  The creatures assembled around the bed looked crestfallen, but none of them moved to question their Abbess.  Tansy turned back.  “Mr. Holmes, John, if you would follow me.”

She turned and left the infirmary, Sherlock and John following in her wake.

 

Chapter Four

 

Martin had lived in a small room on the upper floor of the Abbey, several floors up from the infirmary.  Tansy had hardly walked out into the hallway when Sherlock matched pace with her. 

            “What is it?” she said, a trifle frostily.

            “I have a few questions about Martin, before we visit his room.”

            “And what might these questions be?”

            “What kind of creature was Martin?  And don’t,” he added, as Tansy opened her mouth, “start by saying he was a goodbeast or a brave warrior.  That doesn’t interest me.”

            “Why are you asking me?” Tansy responded, nonplussed.  “Skipper and Clecky knew him better than I did, as I’m sure you already know.”

            “Which means they’re far less likely to be honest.  If Martin had any habits or characteristics that were less than savory, or if he was acting oddly or suspiciously or doing anything out of character, I would expect you to tell me.  I would expect his old friends to tell me nothing except that he was good and kind and brave, which I have already been told and which does not help me.”

            “If you’re asking me to speak ill of Martin, Mr. Holmes—“

            “Good or ill is not my concern.  I am interested in facts.”

            Tansy gritted her teeth momentarily.  “Martin was one of my best advisors when I was new to being Abbess.  He was a sensible mouse, and intelligent—he was good at knowing what should be done and how to do it.  He was capable—obviously—and always willing to lend a paw when work needed to be done.”

            “Too general.  I need specifics.  Think.”

            “Er….” Tansy shut her eyes for a moment.  “He was popular at the Abbey, but only had a few very close friends: myself, Skipper, Auma, Log-A-Log, and a few others.  He was wholly devoted to the Abbey, I know for a fact that if he thought something would have an effect on his home he would let me know immediately.  He would sometimes go off alone on patrols through Mossflower—sometimes to collect rare herbs for Brother Dormal or Sister Cicely, other times just to be sure that all was well.  I think he liked the peace and quiet of it—matters at the Abbey often demanded much of his time and attention.”

            “And did these patrols become more frequent leading up to his death?”

            “No, not that I remember.  Maybe a little.  Of course, Martin was out frequently as it was.”

            “How frequently?”

            “Every few days, it seemed, at least when the weather permitted.”

            “Thank you.  Ah, this must be his room.”

            Tansy had stopped in front of a nondescript wooden door, the knob of which she turned.  Sherlock stepped over the threshold and stopped, his dark eyes darting over the small accommodations.  There was a bed in one corner, still unmade from the last time it had been slept in, a large armchair, and a cluttered writing desk, upon which lay a few scraps of parchment with sloppy writing upon them.  The fabled sword of the first Martin the Warrior, the namesake of the deceased, hung in its scabbard on the wall.  A pair of worn boots and a similarly well-used knapsack lay in the corner, still encrusted with mud.

            Sherlock entered the room and walked slowly around it once.  He lifted the bedcovers, looked beneath the pillow, felt around the cushion of the armchair, opened the knapsack, and pulled out every drawer of the desk.  One piece of bark parchment, however, seemed to catch his attention more than the rest—a small scrap on the corner of the desk.  Finally, he looked up at Tansy and John and beckoned the hedgehogs inside.  “Abbess Tansy,” he said, “what does the name ‘Redsnout’ mean to you?”

            “Nothing,” said Tansy, perplexed.  “It sounds like a vermin name.  There’s certainly no creature here with that name.  Why do you ask?”

            “These notes—most of them are reminders.  Evidently Martin was in the habit of leaving himself notes.  ‘Meet with Tansy re. Dibbun safety’, ‘patrol with Clecky at noon’, ‘Dormal needs wintergreen,’ the like.”

            “But this one?” said John.

            “This one says, ‘meet Redsnout at midnight’.  But that’s not the interesting part.”

            “What is it, then?” Tansy asked.

            “This room has clearly been broken into,” said Sherlock, “and the intruder was particularly interested in this note.”

            “How do you—“

            “Martin, for all his noble qualities, was not a tidy creature. This note was placed carefully on the desk.  The others were all tossed carelessly. This one was placed with great care to look like it was tossed carelessly, and it sticks out like a red flag.”  Sherlock gave a tight-lipped grin.  “Some creatures can’t help being tidy, and they’re especially obvious when they’re trying not to be.”

            “So this Redsnout…” Tansy asked.  “Are you saying that he’s the one who broke into the room?”

            “Of course not,” said Sherlock.  “Redsnout was outside the gates, pacing.  The creature who broke into this room was the Abbeybeast who Martin was looking at when he died.”

            Tansy stared.  “Are you implying, Mr. Holmes, that someone within this Abbey was responsible for killing our Warrior?”

            “Now do you see why I refused to tell half the Abbey what I thought?”

            Tansy nodded.  “Do you have any idea—“

            “Not yet, but I will.  All the Abbey and half the woodlands will turn out to pay their respects tomorrow, the murderer will be there.”  Sherlock paused.  “I’m not sure beyond doubt that the killer was an Abbeybeast, but we know for a fact that one was involved. “

            “And what do we do?” Tansy asked.

            “Nothing, yet,” said Sherlock.  “We wait and see.”

            “Wait and see?  You’re saying there’s a killer in the Abbey, Mr. Holmes—“

            “And the best way to make a killer reckless is to threaten them.  The safest thing you could possibly do is suggest that we’re stumped and that we suspect Mossflower vermin.”

            “Which still could be a correct suspicion?” John asked.

            “An unlikely one, but yes.  It depends on what Martin was up to.  Meeting a vermin secretly in the middle of the night, not typical Abbey warrior behavior.  Most likely he set up the meeting while on one of his patrols, which he so conveniently happened to be alone for—“

            “Just what are you implying about Martin, Mr. Holmes?” said Tansy sharply.

            “His behavior suggests that he was keeping a secret from his fellow Abbeybeasts.  And I’m guessing it wasn’t a surprise party if it ended with a dead body,” said Sherlock, a trifle snidely.  “I intend to find out what he was doing.  I’m sure I’ll find out when Redsnout turns up tomorrow.”

            “Wait a minute, Sherlock.  What makes you think this Redsnout will turn up?”

            “He’s a vermin, and the Abbey has quite a reputation.  He’ll know that if he doesn’t turn up, he’ll likely be dead before sunset.”

            Tansy’s spikes stood on end and her temper, already worn thin, burst forth.  “Do not insult my Abbey!  Redwall is known throughout the land as a place of sanctuary and kindness!  We live in peace, and only fight when it is necessary to defend ourselves.  We are not killers, Mr. Holmes!”

            “Really?” said Sherlock, not raising his voice.  “In that case, why don’t you go downstairs and tell Clecky and Skipper that we have clear evidence that Martin was meeting a vermin named Redsnout the night he was killed?  I’m sure they’ll react very kindly and peaceably.”

            Tansy stood speechless with indignation.  John stepped in.  “That’s enough, Sherlock,” he said shortly.  “Abbess Tansy, sorry, but we have dealt with many vermin over the seasons, and Redwall does have a reputation among them for being a place of death.  We know that the Abbey doesn’t seek trouble, but there’s no denying that many vermin have met their ends here.”  He shrugged apologetically.  “Sherlock, what else do you have?  Surely Redsnout isn’t the only thing you’ve got.”

            “Swamp mud on the boots—the closest swamp is to the northeast, not far from the old quarry.  Spots of mud high up on them—therefore he was traveling fast.   So we know where he was going and that he was in a hurry—but why?” Sherlock’s brow furrowed, and he began talking faster and less distinctly, as if to himself.  “What was he doing, if he was keeping it secret from the Abbey?  Something that somebeast decided he needed to die for.  But where did they get the venom?”  He began pacing.  “Redwall would never keep adder venom, I took the liberty of examining Dormal’s herb room—“

            “Examine it?” said John.  “We passed it.  The door was half closed!”

            “Three-quarters closed would have been sufficient, I could see that he keeps all the poisons—nightshade, belladonna, death caps—in a locked glass cabinet on the top shelf, to keep it out of reach of the Dibbuns, no doubt, and there was nothing that could have been adder venom there.  So it’s not a case of just pinching it from the infirmaries.  Somebeast had to go out and find the stuff.  That rules out a crime of passion—whoever did this had been planning it long enough to track down a source, get the venom, come back and kill Martin with it.”  Sherlock began pacing.  “I need more data.  When Redsnout comes tomorrow, I’ll have it.  In the meantime, go away. I need to think.  Does the kitchen have any hotroot?”

 

            Fifteen minutes later, John and Tansy had left Sherlock alone in his room.  Tansy had gone from frustrated to bewildered when, as she and John left, Sherlock had begun chewing reflectively upon an entire root of a hotroot plant that the Abbess had graciously had fetched from the kitchen.

            “How does he do that, John?  I can’t even handle a bowl of hotroot soup, and that’s just made with hotroot powder.  I doubt even Skipper could manage to chew on a root.”

            “He just does, I suppose,” John said.  “He says it helps him think.  He actually defines cases by how many roots he goes through—‘three-root problems’ he’ll call them.”

            Tansy sighed.  “I know he’s your friend, and he’s brilliant, but—“

            “You want to hit him.” John raised his eyebrows slightly, and chuckled at the embarrassed look on Tansy’s face.  “You really want to hit him.”

            “I certainly don’t,” Tansy replied stiffly.  At John’s skeptical look, she caved. “All right, I do, a bit.  I will not, though,” she said with dignity.  “This Abbey is a place of peace, and anyway, he’s done remarkable work for us thus far.  The amount he’s been able to piece together, especially this early in his investigation.”

            “He was showing off a bit,” said John.  “He’s right, though.  I haven’t seen one of his observations turn out wrong yet.”

            “How many cases have you helped him solve?”

            “Quite a few, at this point.  We’ve been living together for three seasons now.  You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff we’ve seen.”

            “I’m sure I would,” said Tansy.  “I once had to figure out riddles penned by a long-dead squirrel to find six pearls hidden in the Abbey to ransom our Abbot from giant lizards.  In addition to finding out on a daily basis what new excuses Dibbuns can give for their mischief.  I can believe quite a number of things, Healer Watson.”

            “I once found a rat head in our kitchen,” said John, conversationally.

            Tansy sputtered.  “A rat head?  That’s awful!  Why on earth—“

            “Sherlock borrowed it—a local tribe of rats had seen a few mysterious deaths, and asked him for help.  I’m not entirely sure what he did with that head, but it worked, he figured out who it was within two and a half days.”

            “I hope he can be that successful here.”

            “He might well be.” John shrugged.  “He’s certainly got more than he usually has to go on.  By the way, he appreciated you marking the space off—keeping it untouched.”

            “Huh,” Tansy huffed.  “How can you tell?”

            “Just got to know him, I guess.”

            Tansy nodded.  “Yes, I suppose you do.  Well, he has my permission to use whatever methods he needs to use to find the killer and keep this Abbey safe.  Although I personally hope his solution does not involve rat heads.”

            “It won’t,” said John.  “It probably won’t,” he amended, as Tansy raised her eyebrows.  “I hope it won’t.”

            “As do I, John.”

            The two hedgehogs reached the bottom of the staircase.  Tansy turned to John.  “I’m going to have a word or two with the other elders.  Huh, ‘other elders’, I’m scarcely old enough to be called a grown beast.  Don’t worry,” she added dryly, as John opened his mouth, “I know what I can and can’t tell them.  If you want to get some rest, your room is two doors down the hall from Mr. Holmes’.”

            “Thank you, Abbess Tansy,” John said, inclining his head slightly.

            “Just Tansy, thanks.” She paused.  “Actually, after I’ve attended to my Abbess duties, perhaps you’d like to have a cup of mint tea in the kitchens with me?  I’ll say this, John Watson, you are far easier to talk to than your friend.”

            “Yes.  Good.  I mean, thanks,” said John.

            “Why don’t you take a stroll around the orchard?” Tansy suggested.  “I’ll find you when I’m done talking to the others.”

 

            “So, how was tea with the Abbess?” Sherlock inquired, opening his door as he heard his friend’s footsteps pass it much later that evening.

            “It was—wait, how did you—never mind, I don’t want to know.”

            “Context, observation, a small spot of mint—“

            “It was quite nice, Sherlock.  Good conversation.”

            “Conversation,” Sherlock repeated dryly.

            “Yes, conversation, Sherlock.  It’s when two creatures communicate by talking civilly.”

            “I know what a conversation is, John.  I talk to you.”

            “Whether or not I’m in the room.”

            “That’s hardly my problem, is it?”

            John ignored this, walked across the room and sat down on the end of the bed.  “So, any great epiphanies?  I notice you only went through half a root.”

            Sherlock began pacing.  “Nothing, John.  There’s something I’m missing.  It keeps coming back to why an Abbeybeast would kill Martin.  Redwall decided he was a hero—“

            “He was a hero to them, Sherlock.  He sailed to Sampetra to rescue their Abbot, for seasons’ sake.”

            “Heroes don’t exist, John, I keep telling you that.  And if he was such a hero, then why would somebeast kill him?”  Sherlock ground his teeth.  “But his record is spotless, and if Abbess Tansy is to be believed—“

            “She is—“

            “—then he did nothing suspicious, had no row with anybeast, and generally did nothing worthy of murder.  The room had only one thing of value in it, the sword—and a mouse that only owned a sword, boots, and a haversack would not have anything worth stealing, so it wasn’t for gain.  No, this all comes down to what he was doing out in Mossflower, by the swamp.”  He paused, glared at the wall, and continued his pacing.  “And we won’t know what he was doing there until we go out tomorrow, right after we’ve found out who Redsnout is and met some other suspects.”

            “And you’re completely sure that Redsnout will show up, are you?”

            “Almost completely.  Mossflower vermin are paranoid by nature— those that aren’t are dead, between the Guosim, ottercrews, roving squirrels, and Redwall.  He’ll assume his name is known at Redwall, and if he knows Martin’s dead, he knows the best way to save his own skin is to turn himself in.”

            “Unless he killed Martin.”

            “Of course he didn’t kill Martin.”

            “Yes, but assume he did—“

            “If he did he would try to get as far away from the Abbey as he could, but he didn’t, so it’s not important.  What did you say about Sampetra?”

            “I—what?” said John, taken somewhat aback by the sudden change of subject.

            “Sampetra.  You said something about Martin sailing to Sampetra.”

            “It’s a story Tansy told me.  It’s from a while ago.”

            “First-name terms,” muttered Sherlock.

            “I—what?”

            “Nothing.  Continue.”

            “All right.  Evidently when Tansy was young, she found a skeleton in the rocks not far from here, which somehow led to her having to follow some dead squirrel’s riddles to find six pearls that were hidden within Redwall.  Apparently they’d been stolen from some Emperor pine marten—he sent a crew of corsairs and of his own guards to kidnap Durral, the Abbot at the time, to ransom for the pearls.  Tansy found the pearls, but Martin—I think she said he was with Clecky and some others?—had to sail over the ocean to Sampetra, which is some island I’ve never heard of—to rescue Durral.  She said they had about half a dozen creatures to fight several corsair crews and the Emperor’s guards, but they somehow managed it.”  John stopped; Sherlock had stopped dead in his tracks and was looking hard at him.  “What is it?”

            “Did she say how long ago this was?”

            “About five seasons, I think.”

            “The corsairs—what kind of creatures were they?”

            “The usual—searats, ferrets, stoats, weasels.”

            “And the Emperor’s guards?”

            “She said they were big lizards.  Definitely bigger than any we’ve come across.”

            “And I imagine they treated Durral poorly?”

            John scrunched up his face momentarily, trying to remember.  “Yes.  Durral was kept bound and in chains.  The corsair captain was decent to him, but she was killed on the journey to Sampetra.”

            Sherlock stood still for a few moments longer, then smiled.  “Oh, this is excellent.”

            “Are you saying it means something?” said John, bewildered.

            “A five-season-old kidnapping that most creatures here know nothing about?” said Sherlock.  “Of course it means something!”

            “What, then?”

            “No idea.  I need to think about it.”

            “Ah.  Mind holt again?”

            “Yes.  You should go away now.  We have many things to do tomorrow.  Oh, and John?”

            “Yes?”

            “When we go out into Mossflower tomorrow?”

            “Yes?”

            “Make sure you bring your sling.”

 

Chapter Five

 

            The next morning dawned bright, clear, and hot for late spring.  John, always a light sleeper since his Long Patrol days, rose with the dawn and walked briskly down the stairs in search of breakfast and a cup of tea.  An appealing scent met his nose as he reached the ground floor.  John sniffed appreciatively and turned left, setting his course for the aroma’s source.  He often was compelled to investigate such things, another habit picked up from his seasons with the Long Patrol.

            John’s Salamandastron training had not been in vain, and his course to the kitchens was straight and true.  He curiously poked his snout around the jamb of the door, which hung slightly ajar and through which poured tantalizing odors and a few raised voices.

            “Oi, watch them redcurrant muffins there, Teasel!  They’re startin’ t’ burn!”

            “Oh, watch y’self, Higgle, y’ great spiky lump.  I know my way ‘round my own muffins.  Great seasons, y’ think there’s enough apples in that porridge?”

            “I likes lots of apples in my porridge.  Pass me some o’ that cinnamon, too.”

            “Hmm.  I think it’s time the hazelnut bread went in yon oven.  Is it good n’ hot?”

            “Not quite hot enough for bread, I reckon.  Give it another minute.  We’ve got greensap milk, right, Tease?”

            “Higgle, I’ve told y’ a thosand times, I’d never serve hazelnut toast without greensap milk.  The Dibbuns’d revolt, it’d be mayhem.”

            “Righto, then.  Oi!  Who’s this?”

            John jumped as a big, friendly-looking hedgehog wearing a flour-dusted apron flung the door wide.  “I never seen y’ here before,” the big hedgehog said.  “Who might y’ be, and what brings us the pleasure o’ your company at this hour?”

            “John Watson,” said John.  “My friend Sherlock and I arrived last night—“

            “Ah, so you’d be one of the creatures Skipper brought in to find out about pore Martin.” The big cook inclined his headspikes at John, who returned the gesture.  “Name’s Higgle, I’m Redwall’s Friar.  This is m’ goodwife Teasel.”

            “Pleased t’ meet you, John,” said Teasel, a plump, kind-faced hedgehog. “I imagine y’ followed your nose here?  Young creatures like you never could resist the smell o’ breakfast.”

            “Well, I…. yes.”

            “Well, you ain’t gettin’ none, not yet, leastaways,” said Higgle, patting John on the back and laughing good-naturedly at the crestfallen look on the younger hedgehog’s face.  “We’re settin’ out brekkist in about an hour’s time.  If’n you want to help, y’ might get first crack at one o’ Teasel’s muffins when they come out o’ the oven.”

            Teasel rummaged in a drawer, procured a spare apron and tossed it to John.  “C’mon.  There’s not much left to do.  Help me put these loaves in the oven.  We’ve got a pot of blackberry tea a-boilin if y’ want some.”

            “Right. Thanks.”  John awkwardly donned the apron.  Taking pity on him, Teasel helped part his headspikes to better accomadate the apron strings.  Together they began transferring the baking sheets bearing the big loaves of hazelnut bread dough into the ovens, John clumsily, Teasel with practiced ease.  When the sheets—ten in all, each bearing three big loaves—had been loaded into the ovens, Teasel immediately opened an adjacent oven and began removing the muffin trays, laying them neatly on an adjacent countertop to cool.  She then produced a large mug from a cupboard and ladled steaming blackberry tea into it.  She handed it to John, then turned to her husband.  “Higgle, anythin’ else that needs doin?”

            “Not overmuch, Tease.  We’ve got the porridge, the muffins, the bread’s a-bakin’.  Should be enough for a decent brekkist.  We should get some butter out in a little while, so it’s good n’ soft by the time the bread’s served.  Oh, an’ we ought t’ get out some blackcurrant jam.  Y’ like jam, John?”

            “I like jam, yes,” said John. 

            “Well, good, ‘cause we’ve a fair bit of it.  Best y’ drink yore tea for now, an’ maybe try one o’ Teasel’s muffins when they’ve cooled enough.  Best muffins in all o’ Mossflower.”

            “Oh, go on, Higgle, y’ great flatterer,” said Teasel, flicking Higgle with her dishcloth.

            The door to the kitchen opened and Craklyn, the squirrel Recorder, bounded in.  “Morning, Higgle,” she said cheerfully.  “Morning, Teasel.  Oh, morning, John!  Didn’t expect to see you here this early.  Ooh, redcurrant muffins!” Winking cheekily at Teasel’s reproving look, she darted past the hogwife, snagged a muffin from the tray, and bit into it.  “Mmmf, hot!”

            “They ain’t had time to cool yet, young ‘un,” said Higgle.  “An’ what’re you doin’ up at this hour?  Usually Foremole an’ half his crew couldn’t drag y’ out of bed afore noon.”

            “Couldn’t sleep,” Craklyn said with a shrug, her cheery manner fading somewhat.  “It’s going to be hard putting Martin to rest today.”

            “Can’t disagree with that,” said Higgle.  “I don’t know what the Abbey’ll do without him.”

            “Go on as best we can, I s’pose,” said Teasel, patting her husband’s shoulder.  “An’ try and catch whoever did it,” she added with a quick glance at John, who nodded and attempted a reassuring smile.

            “Life does go on,” said Craklyn, taking another bite of her muffin and closing her eyes momentarily as she savored it.  “And Tansy told me last night that Sherlock has some definite leads with the investigation, although he’s not telling what they are.”

            “Ain’t he, now?” said Higgle, raising his eyebrows.  “Wonder why that is.” He looked inquisitively at John.

            “Probably thinks it would slow things down,” said John.  “He also likes to tell his clients as little as he can until things are settled.”

            “Maybe you can tell us something, John,” said Craklyn.  “I’ll bet you have some idea…”

            John shook his head.  “I’m afraid I can’t,” he said.  “It’s generally not safe to give out all the facts of the case before it’s been closed.  Sorry.”

            “I understand,” said Craklyn, though she looked disappointed.  “Hope it’s soon, though, this not knowing has the Abbey pretty scared.”

            “It’ll be soon,” said Higgle confidently.  “An’ there ain’t much danger now, not with Skipper an’ Clecky an’ Rangapaw patrollin’ the Abbey at all hours o’ the day.   Best thing to do is get Great Hall set for brekkist.  C’mon, lend a paw, let’s get them tables set afore everybeast an’ their grandma turns up.”

           

            Breakfast was a slightly subdued affair in the Great Hall that morning.  However, not even the painful news of Martin’s death could quell the Redwallers’ appetites, and the meal was as good as ever; loaves upon loaves of hazelnut bread, fresh from the ovens, Higgle’s apple-and-cinnamon porridge with honey, redcurrant muffins, pots of hot mint tea, and bowls of fresh strawberries from the orchards.  Conversation was quieter and less merry than usual, but still flowed in a murmuring hum along and between the long tables.  Nearly everybeast was talking of Martin, and wild speculation about the circumstances of his death abounded between bites of food.  Sherlock had sat down next to John, and was eating silently, clearly not enjoying the company of so many other creatures.   His dark eyes were never still, darting between the various mice, squirrels, moles, otters, hedgehogs, and other creatures that filled the room.  No sooner was his meal finished than he leapt up and stalked out of Great Hall.

            John followed a few minutes later and found him on the battlements, looking northward.  At his friend’s approach, Sherlock did not look up, but spoke in a low voice.  “So, John, we have just got our first look at our potential suspects.  What do you think?”

            “Friar Higgle and Teasel seem all right,” John replied.  “I wouldn’t suspect them of something requiring that much secrecy.”

            “Of course not,” said Sherlock dismissively.  “We’re looking for somebeast intelligent, which narrows our search here considerably.”

            “Who do you suspect, then?”

            “Nobeast, yet.  But I have a feeling things will become much more interesting fairly soon.  Perhaps…. Now.”

            No sooner had Sherlock spoken than a great pounding came upon the oaken wallgates, and a cry came up from outside.  “Logalogalogalogalogalogalogalooooog!”

            The wallgates were opened in a trice, and into the Abbey marched a column of shrews in bright headbands and kilts.  They carried short rapiers thrust through their belts.  Abbess Tansy came out to greet them, shaking paws with the shrew that led them, a big, spiky-furred fellow.

            “Log-a-log Welko.  It’s good to see you again.  I’m sorry you had to come at such a sad time.”

            “Wouldn’t have dreamed o’ not comin’,” said Welko gravely.  “Pore feller. ’Twasn’t his time yet.  My Guosim loved ‘im, an’ so did I.”

            Tansy placed a comforting paw on the shrew’s shoulder.  “Thank you for coming.  He’d have wanted you here, I’m sure.”

            Sherlock, from his place on the wall, watched the Guosim come through the courtyard and disperse through the Abbey.  Log-a-log Welko, and his brother, Plogg, went with the Abbess, while the other shrews, many of whom had been frequent visitors to the Abbey, reconnected with old friends or meandered down to Great Hall to see if any breakfast remained.  Sherlock showed little interest in the shrews, nor in the subsequent arrival of the ottercrew, roving squirrels, and other woodlanders that Martin had known over his long and adventurous life.  The thin otter’s ears pricked up, however, when a loud, clear call came up from the north wall, where Clecky was standing watch as the new arrivals came in.

            “Vermin!  Vermin at the gate!”

 

            Several things happened at once. 

            There was a massive simultaneous motion as the Guosim drew their rapiers as one, and slings emerged from around the waists of the ottercrew.  Sherlock dashed with incredible agility to a point where he could see the creatures at the gate, John puffing in his wake.  Tansy, too, made a beeline for the stairs and bolted up to where she could see.  There was a sudden roar of confused babble as the Abbeybeasts processed this new information.

            Clecky stared imperiously down from the wall at the small band of weasels, ferrets, rats, stoats, and a single fox that stood on the path in front of the north wallgate.  They were an unkempt bunch, numbering eleven in all, and were clad in jerkins and tunics in varying shades of disarray.  They stared up at the wall, shading their eyes against the sun, which was now almost directly overhead.  Tansy, Clecky, and John stared back down at them; but Sherlock, after giving them a quick, cursory glance, was peering intently down at the creatures in the Abbey below.

            “All right, y’ scruffy lot!” yelled Clecky down at the group on the path below.  “What do y’ want here!  Speak y’ piece now and be off with ye!”

            “We were friends of Martin’s,” the fox yelled back.  “Let us in!  We’ve come for the same reason as anybeast.”

            Clecky nearly inflated with indignation.  “Friends o’ Martin?” he said incredulously.  “Martin, warrior of Redwall, defender of the flippin’ free peoples of Mossflower, chummy with the likes o’ ye? Request denied, sah!  What are you playin’ at, eh?”

            “We ain’t playin’ at anything, rabbit!” snarled a big stoat.  “We’ve come to see our friend buried, not to bandy words with ye!”

            “We mean you no harm,” said the fox.  “We’re here for Martin, not any of you.”

            “Wait,” said Tansy.  “They’re not armed, we don’t have any guarantee they aren’t telling the truth, and it’s not right to close the gates of Redwall to anybeast unless they mean us harm.”  When Clecky looked mutinous, she sighed.  “There’s barely more than half a score of them, Clecky, and we have a full complement of Guosim, otters, and our own Abbey Warrior.  We can certainly deal with them if they cause trouble.  I’m not sure I believe them, either, but I don’t think we can refuse them entry.”

            Tansy walked down the stairs from the battlements and addressed the assembled creatures that stood together on the green.  “The creatures at the gate will be let in,” she said.  “They are not to be harmed without good reason.”

            “The only good vermin’s a dead vermin,” said a Guosim shrew harshly, to a murmur of assent from his fellows.

            “It’s an insult to Martin to allow vermin at his funeral,” another agreed.

            “They say they were his friends,” said Tansy.  She held up a paw to forestall another uproar; the murmurs quieted but did not stop.  “I don’t know if they’re telling the truth, but they’ve given us no reason to doubt them.  They’re eleven unarmed creatures, and half of you are seasoned, armed warriors.  Redwall is a place of peace and welcome, and Martin fought all his life to keep it so.  I refuse to let it become otherwise in his death.”  She took a deep breath.  “Open the gate.”

            With a creaking of wicker, the north wallgate opened, and the eleven creatures walked into Redwall.  They kept close together, acutely aware of the staring, mistrustful eyes that watched them and the way that Guosim paws never left the hilts of their short rapiers.  Tansy walked forward to greet them; Clecky, who had left the walltop, followed close behind, with his paw on the hilt of his scimitar.

            Tansy held out her paw and shook that of the fox who seemed to lead the group.  “Good day to you,” she said, her voice courteous, if a trifle cooler than usual.  “My name is Tansy, Abbess of Redwall.  Welcome.”

            “Much obliged,” said the fox, a grey-furred older creature.  “My name’s Greytooth.  I’m a trader in northeast Mossflower.  These are—“

            “Trader, my eye!”  An elderly shrew stepped forward, quivering with anger.  “I remember you, Greytooth.  You ran with a robber band once, aye, an’ you an’ your ilk killed many a good shrew.  ‘Twas Martin himself helped us rid Mossflower o’ you scum.  An’ now you come—why?  To spit on ‘is grave?  Well, we told y’ what we’d do to ye if y’ came back!”  The old shrew drew his rapier.

            At a quick glance from Tansy, Clecky’s scimitar was out, and with a clang of steel he stopped the shrew’s blade.  “Sorry, lad, but no more killin’ is to be done in the Abbey today.  Leastaways, not without the Abbess’s say-so, wot?”  He glanced at the fox, dislike etched in his face.  “You’d better start talkin’ fast, m’ laddo.”

            The fox nodded.  “The shrew is speaking the truth.  I was in a robber band, seasons ago, an’ we was routed an’ driven out of Mossflower by Martin and the Guosim.  The Guosim wanted to kill us all on the spot when we surrendered, but Martin ‘ad us banished instead.”

            “M’ heart is breakin’ for you,” said Clecky dryly, his face impassive.  “If y’ were banished, why’d y’ come back?”

            “Martin gave us a choice,” said Greytooth.  “Ol’ Log-a-log said we were banished forever under pain of death, but Martin told us we could come back after four seasons if we was willing to try our hands at honest living an’ swore never to harm another creature.  Most of us either couldn’t or wouldn’t try an honest living, or were scared of Guosim steel.  I’ve been on the straight path for six or seven seasons now, though, runnin’ a trading post in northeast Mossflower.”

            “An’ Martin comes in where?”

            “Martin,” said Greytooth shortly, “told me to go straight, an’ I owe him for that.  He was as good as his word, too.  When he came by the post, he did right by me.  Didn’t slay me, or send the Guosim after me.”  He stared Clecky dead in the eye.  “I’ve been an honest creature for long seasons, hare, an’ I’ve got as much right as any to be here.”

            Tansy placed her paw on the crossed swords and pushed their points towards the ground.  “You do have a right to be here, Greytooth.  I apologize for the actions of our guest,” she continued, glancing reprovingly at the shrew, who was scowling and thrusting his rapier back into his belt.  “Would you be so kind as to introduce your companions?”

            “As you please,” the fox responded.  “This is Ragga—“ the big stoat inclined his head— “Salteye, Beyla, an’ Crabtail—“ three tattooed rats raised their paws nervously—“Grantug an’ his mate, Ennas—“ a pair of old ferrets looked up from examining their footpaws— “An’ Foramm, Cranna, an’ their young ‘uns, Keemo an’ Cayro.” Four weasels, two older and two younger, shrank slightly closer together.

            “Welcome to Redwall, all of you,” said Tansy, ignoring the murmur that continued behind her.  Slowly the group moved forward, the Redwallers and woodlanders parting to give them a wide berth.

            “No Redsnout,” muttered John to Sherlock.  Sherlock furrowed his brow and gritted his teeth.

           

            The noon bells tolled over the Abbey grounds.  In the orchard were gathered a multitude of creatures—Abbeybeasts, woodlanders, Guosim shrews, the ottercrew, and the eleven newcomers, all standing with their heads bowed.  Greytooth and his small group stood together, a little way apart from the rest of the crowd, many of whom could not entirely hide their suspicious glances. 

            Martin was laid on a small table, borrowed from the kitchens, in front of a deep hole that had been dug by Foremole and several of his crew.  It was strewn with flowers, picked by the Dibbuns and young ones.  The bright spring sun poured down on the dead mouse’s features, from which Sister Cicely’s best efforts had not quite managed to remove the look of horror.

            Tansy stood up in front of the silent crowd, and intoned in a clear voice:

 

            “Redwall has a warrior lost,

            A goodbeast, stout and brave,

            Who fought all through his seasons

            For to keep us free and safe.

            We come to bid a last farewell

            To Martin of Redwall,

            Who quarter none showed evil ones

            And kindness gave to all.

            This Abbey that he loved so well

            Shall be where he will sleep;

            Throughout the seasons, may he still

            A watchful vigil keep.

            His spirit in these stones will live,

            Inside of all his friends,

            And Martin ne’er shall be forgot

            Till seasons reach their end.”

 

            Tansy bowed her head.  There was a low murmur of respectful assent, punctuated by a few audible sniffs.   Auma, the great badger mother, picked up Martin’s body and gently lowered it into the grave.  Foremole and his crew moved forward as one and, heads bowed, began filling in the hole with fresh earth.  When they had finished, a group of Dibbuns solemnly stepped to the grave and, tears streaming from their faces, showered it with freshly picked flowers.

            The Abbess swallowed hard and spoke.  “There will be a feast tomorrow night to honor Martin’s memory; our guests, of course, are welcome to stay for as long as they desire.  I now, however, invite all of you to speak.  Martin was a friend to all of us, and all of us should have a chance to honor him.”

            Tansy sat down, and creatures began stepping forward to share their memories of Martin.  In true Redwall fashion, nobeast was excluded; Dibbuns, their little voices halting and straining to be heard, would recount tales of Martin reaching an apple for them “as tall as th’ tallest tree inna orchard!”  Skipper told a story of a battle Martin and he had had with a half dozen big rats, which, despite the solemnity of the occasion, had many of the creatures present breaking out in guffaws.

            “So then Martin, he says to ‘em, ‘this ain’t fair!  Y’ got six o’ your crew agin just two Redwallers!’ An’ then he just grinned, in that way ‘e had when ‘is blood was up, an’ he says, ‘Y’ better go an’ git some more rats!’”.  Skipper smiled in spite of himself.  “An’ I tell ye, we gave them rats blood n’ vinegar.  Don’t think they’ve stopped runnin’ to this day!”

            “He was a perilous beast,” said Clecky.  “When Abbess Tansy was just a young ‘un, he led us on a sea voyage in a bally longboat!  He sailed the flippin’ thing all the way to Sampetra, took on corsairs n’ lizards, killed Ublaz Mad Eyes ‘imself, an’ rescued ole Abbot Durral.  Almost did it single-pawed too!”

            Viola Bankvole stood up, smoothing her many petticoats.  “Martin was not just a fighter,” she said, her voice stiff and somewhat constrained.  “He stood for all good and peaceful beasts, and he was very kind to all.  He would stand for no unfair treatment of anybeast, anywhere.”

            Brother Dormal put a comforting paw on Viola’s shoulder.  “Martin was always very helpful to me,” he said.  “He was always kind enough to bring herbs to Cicely and me when we needed them.  He had such a good eye for ‘em, too—even though he was never trained as an herbalist, he always found the one I asked him to.  Seldom even needed a picture to guide him.”

            “Aye, herbs an’ medicines,” said the big stoat, Ragga.  Immediately, silence fell.  Ragga stopped talking, clearly intimidated by the openly hostile stares he was receiving from the Redwallers and Mossflower creatures.  The old shrew’s paw had drifted to his rapier hilt again.

            “Go on,” said Auma, nodding her large striped head at the stoat and giving a warning glare to the old shrew.

            Ragga cleared his throat uncomfortably.  “Well, my brother, ‘e fell ill.  Martin happened by, the way ‘e had…” He glanced at Greytooth and the others, who nodded.  “Martin’d just come by, see.  Mebbe once or twice a season, ‘ed check to make sure Mossflower was doin’ all right.  Well, ‘e saw my brother, an’ ‘e said he would put ‘im right.  He did, too.  Found ‘im some herbs an’ broke ‘is fever.  Came by to make sure ‘e was on the mend, even.”

            “Martin wasn’t a healer,” said Sister Cicely, her brow furrowing.

            “He was an old campaigner,” pointed out Clecky.  “Remember when y’ got torn up by that blinkin’ lizard, Skip?”

            “Aye, I do.  Martin patched me up all right.  He knew a thing or two ‘bout otterfixin’.  Bet he’d know how to break a fever.”

            “Well, ‘e put Redsnout right, that’s for sure,” said Ragga.  “Course, I ain’t seen ‘im since, but Red’s just a rovin’ type.”

            Sherlock started visibly.  The thin otter had been listening with barely concealed disinterest to the stories Martin’s friends had been telling, but at the mention of the name he stood up ramrod straight and stared hard at Ragga.  “When?” he said sharply.

            The big stoat blinked and met Sherlock’s searching eyes.  “Er, must have been just a fortnight ago that ‘e came by, an’ a day or two later that ‘e came back with the herbs.  Red was still in fever five days back.”

            “Thank you,” said Sherlock, and spoke no more.  Ragga seemed to have lost his train of thought, but the three rats, seemingly emboldened, immediately launched into a story of how Martin had occasionally taken the ferry they operated across the River Moss and had once smoothed over a conflict they’d had with a nearby water vole community.  The weasel family, it turned out, had been led by Martin to the place in Mossflower where they had settled and raised their children; the ferrets, Grantug and Ennas, had served him dinner and traded news with him once in a while for the last six seasons.

            Sherlock continued listening, but as more Mossflower denizens and Redwallers began offering their stories, his interest began to wane.  As the afternoon wore on, the crowd became less tightly packed, as groups splintered off to reminisce or talk separately. Tansy insinuated herself next to Sherlock and John.  “I heard that stoat mention Red—“

            “Quiet,” Sherlock muttered.  “Best not to mention it publically.”  He set off at a brisk trot for the north wallgate, the two hedgehogs hurrying in his wake.  “Tansy, I will need to leave the Abbey when Greytooth and Ragga leave.  Before that, I will need you to tell me everything you can about whatever Redwallers were old enough to know what was going on when Abbot Durral was kidnapped.”

            “When Abbot Durral was—but that was seasons ago!”

            “Best get remembering then, I will need every detail.  Give me all the names, but I need the most information on anybeast who knew Abbot Durral well.”  The trio reached the wallgate, and Sherlock held up a paw for silence.  “Stop here,” he said, and walked out onto the path outside.  He walked slowly across the dusty path, staring hard at the ground.  “Prints and scuffs, a few days old now.  Stupid!” The thin otter’s eyes narrowed as he glared into the woods across the path. 

            “What is it, Sherlock?” said John, his voice tense.

            “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” hissed Sherlock.  “Too preoccupied with Martin, I shouldn’t missed it the first time.  Redsnout was pacing, but here—“ Sherlock pointed a paw at a scuff mark seemingly no different than any other at the edge of the treeline—“he stumbled.  And that means—“

            Sherlock dashed into the trees, Tansy and John on his heels.  “Yes,” he breathed.  “He wasn’t walking anymore, he was being dragged—no more little scuffs, you can still see the scrapes where his footpaws disturbed the earth, somebeast’s tried to cover it up, but—ah.  Here we are.”

            Tansy gave a small, involuntary squeak.  Beneath a large fern was a stoat: big, sinewy, and unmistakably dead.

 

            “John?” said Sherlock, unnecessarily.  John was already kneeling by the body, wrinkling his nose as he inspected the dead stoat.

            “Dead some days now, I’d hazard a guess that he died the same night as Martin.  It’s adder venom again, Sherlock.  Same symptoms, right down to the look on his face.”

            “So somebeast’s killed two innocent creatures,” said Tansy, her face pale but her jaw set.  “By my spikes, whoever it is will pay for this.”  She shuddered.  “Sherlock, how much longer do you need here?”

            Sherlock took a long look at the closely-spaced trees and the dense fern undergrowth around him.  “There’s nothing else to be found here,” he said.  “Somebeast was in the forest, jabbed Redsnout with the venom from behind, dragged him into the woods, and came back to murder Martin.  He didn’t dally on the way except to cover his tracks on the way back.”

            “Should we get Ragga?” said John.  “Make sure it’s Redsnout?”

            “Of course it’s Redsnout, don’t be daft, John—“

            “All the same, he deserves to know what happened to his brother,” said Tansy.  “I’ll get him.  Sherlock, I may not be able to go through everybeast who was at the Abbey in Durral’s time until after the feast—“

            “Not everybeast, Abbess Tansy, I just need the names and descriptions of the mice, voles, squirrels, and shrews.  And I’ll need them soon.”

            Tansy nodded, accepting this new development without questioning it.  “I can give you that information after we’ve dealt with Ragga.  I take it you’ll want to question him?”

            “Yes.  And no, it can’t wait until later.”

            “As you wish,” said Tansy, although it was clear that the idea of letting Sherlock question Ragga over his brother’s body was repellent to her.  “Wait here.  I will break the news to him.” With a hopeless shrug, she set off back towards the Abbey.

            “Just the mice, voles, shrews, and squirrels, Sherlock?” said John, when Tansy had vanished from view.

            “Think about it, John,” said Sherlock.  “A big otter, hare, or badger wouldn’t have had to drag Redsnout, they’d have carried him.  And a mole would have covered his tracks better.”

            “So…” John’s spikes furrowed.  “So we know that the killer was a friend of Martin, somehow obtained this adder venom, and killed Redsnout as well.  But why did they hide Redsnout’s body and not Martin’s?  And why do you think it has something to do with old Abbot Durral?”

            “The killer didn’t hide Martin’s body because he wanted Redwall to suspect vermin.  A dead stoat, killed the same way?  Redwallers always suspect the vermin given the choice, but they aren’t stupid, they’d see something was up.”

            “And Durral?”

            “It’s the motive, John.  It was the one big gaping hole—why would somebeast kill Martin?  It was obvious that everybeast with an obvious reason to kill him would have had a job doing it, Martin was nobeast’s fool.  Nothing made sense until you told me that story about Sampetra.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Think, John!  Somebeast thought Martin had to be killed, somebeast who knew him.  What do we know about Martin?  Nothing that could be upsetting to anybeast, other than the fact that he was friendly with vermin.” Sherlock loaded the last word with contempt.  “Who would have cared about that enough to kill?  Nobeast from Redwall has had any reason to hate vermin more than the usual Redwall amount except those who were there when Abbot Durral was kidnapped.”

            “He was friendly with those ver—those creatures for seasons, though,” said John.  “Why now?  Unless—“

            “Unless he had to tell somebeast.”

            “To get the herbs for Redsnout.”

            “Exactly.  If one of the infirmary keepers is on Tansy’s list…”

           

            Tansy returned with Ragga and Skipper in tow, the big otter had balked at the idea of leaving his Abbess alone with the stoat.  Ragga did not spare a glance in Skipper’s direction; he followed close on Tansy’s heels until the two reached the spot where Sherlock and John stood.  Ragga knelt by the corpse and gently turned its face to him.  The rough features of the big stoat registered dumb shock for a moment, and then crumpled as sobs racked his tall frame.  To everybeast’s surprise, Skipper sat down beside Ragga and placed a paw around his shoulders.

            “It don’t make no sense!” Ragga managed through his tears.  “Red never hurt nobeast, why would anybeast want to kill ‘im?”

            “I dunno, mate,” said Skipper.  “What was ‘e even doin’ here?”

            “Probably wanted to talk to Martin,” said Sherlock.  “If—“

            “No.”  Tansy had insinuated herself next to Sherlock, and spoke in a quiet, icy whisper.  “That creature has just lost his brother, you are not going to interrogate him now.”

            “I ‘eard that, missus Abbess,” said Ragga darkly.  He fixed his dark, streaming eyes upon Sherlock.  “Yer the one who’s figurin’ out who killed Martin, ain’t you?”

            Sherlock nodded.

            “Ask me anythin’.  I want the scum who killed my brother found.”  Ragga’s voice cracked on the last word.

            “I have one question,” said Sherlock.  “You said that Martin came to visit Redsnout to see if he was recovering.  Your brother talked to Martin?”

            “Aye.  ‘E was still weak, but ‘e talked to ‘im.”

            “What about?”

            “I dunno, didn’t hear it.  Red was still ‘aving trouble speakin’.”

            “And when did this conversation take place?”

            “Three days back.  Martin come by, see, to see how Red was doin’.”

            “Thank you, that will be all,” Sherlock said briskly.  He turned to Tansy.  “I will need that list of Redwallers immediately, Abbess Tansy.  Within the hour at the outset.  I will be in my room.  Thank you.”  He spun on his heel and disappeared in the direction of the Abbey, leaving Tansy seething.  She took a deep, quivering breath, and turned to the stoat.  “I’m very sorry for your loss, Ragga.  Skipper and I can help carry Redsnout to the Abbey, and we can lay him in a peaceful place for the time being.”

            “We can manage him, Mother Abbess,” said Skipper.  “You go on an’ talk to Sherlock.  The sooner y’ do that, the sooner this’ll be over.”

 

            Tansy burst into Sherlock’s room a few minutes later, flushed nearly to her spikes and clearly at her wits’ end.  John followed, warily keeping a few paces back from the perturbed Abbess.  Sherlock was already present, pacing in a small circle in front of the cold fireplace.

            “I’m here, Mr. Holmes,” Tansy said, her voice even but curt.  “What do you need?”

            “I told you,” said Sherlock, not looking up, but matching her impatient tone.  “I need the names and descriptions of every mouse, squirrel, shrew, or vole who is still at the Abbey who was present and during the abduction of Abbot Durral by corsairs, and any connection they had to either.”

            “What does that have to do with Martin?”

            “Everything.  Proceed, and do so quickly.

            “Why do you need to know so soon?”           

            “Because,” Sherlock snapped, looking up and locking eyes with her, “I need to trail Greytooth when he leaves the Abbey, and he could do so any minute.  If you want me to find out who killed Martin and Redsnout, then stop wasting my time and give me a list of suspects!”

            “Right,” said Tansy.  Her spikes were standing on end with indignation, but with a great effort she bit back a retort and began.  “There aren’t many creatures who are still around—at least not many mice or shrews or voles.  Many of the ottercrew’s still around, and so’s Clecky and some of the moles.  Durral’s gone, so is Rollo Bankvole and many of the others.  But let’s see… there’s me, Craklyn, Arven—but he was just a Dibbun at the time—Sister Cicely, Brother Dormal…. oh yes, and Viola Bankvole.  I believe they’re the only creatures who are still at the Abbey who were there when Durral was kindnapped.”

            “Any who you have evidence can’t have done it?”

            “Craklyn was asleep in the gatehouse when I found Martin—she was the first creature I was able to find.  I know when she’s lying, we’ve known each other since we were very young.  It wasn’t her.”

            Sherlock looked on the verge of arguing, then shrugged.  “Carry on, then.”

            “Arven’s a squirrel, still in his young seasons, not full-grown yet.  He’s still full of energy, but he hasn’t got much sense yet.  Spends most of his days fooling around with the otters.  He was a mischief-maker as a Dibbun—hasn’t changed much.  I don’t think he could pull off something this complicated.”

            “And the infirmary keepers?”

            “Sister Cicely is in her middle seasons, she’s been at the Abbey since before I was born.  She patched up Martin, Clecky, and Skipper when they got into scraps, and I know old Abbot Durral liked her—he even defended her use of warm nettle broth.  She’s a very talented healer, and a pleasant mouse, though a bit stricter than some.  Er, what else?  She tends to be keep herself to herself, isn’t the most social of creatures.”

            “Extraneous details.  I need to know her thoughts on vermin.”

            “On vermin?” Tansy shrugged. “I don’t think she liked them much.  Not many Abbeydwellers do, though.”

            “Very well.  Dormal?”

            “Brother Dormal is a gifted herbalist.  He’s a friendly sort, always been good for a tongue twister or a song at feasts.  He knows plants better than even Sister Cicely, and she knows them very well.  He was good friends with Abbott Durral—they spent most of their time together when Durral was in his later seasons.  He’s never been much of a fighter that I know of—he’s quite clumsy, honestly.  I’ve never heard him say an ill word about anybeast, including vermin.”

            “And Viola?”

            “Viola is the apprentice infirmary keeper.  Very fussy—insists on wearing petticoats instead of the Redwall habit.  She has a temper and doesn’t like being contradicted.  She’s very intelligent, though, and is becoming quite skilled at healing.  She’s also quite practical… in my experience, she solves problems as well as anybeast.  As for connection to the kidnapping, she’s likely more connected than anybeast else.”

            “How so?”

            “She was kidnapped herself, along with Abbot Durral.  Martin and his friends rescued her, and she joined them on the expedition to rescue the Abbot, which I believe you have heard about.  And now,” said Tansy, “I have many duties to attend to, so if that will be all, I will be off.”

            “As will we,” said Sherlock, standing up.  “Thank you for that, Abbess Tansy, it was most informative.  We should be back before midnight.”

            “After midnight—“ Tansy drew a breath.  “Right.  Well, work quickly, Mr. Holmes.  I would rather not have a murderer in my Abbey without you two to keep an eye out, but if it’s necessary, at least try to be back soon.  Good luck, John.”  The Abbess nodded at the pair, and left the room, closing the door rather more sharply than need be.

            “She seemed pleased,” said John, raising his eyebrows.  “Mind you, she has a point about having a killer in the Abbey, doesn’t she?”

            “Of course she doesn’t, John,” said Sherlock, not looking up as he doublechecked the contents of John’s small knapsack.  “The last thing the killer wants to do now is draw attention.  Let’s go, we’re losing time.  Greytooth already has a good start on us.”

            “Should we have told Tansy that he was already gone?” John asked, adjusting the knapsack across his shoulders and winding his sling about his wrist. 

            “What good would that have done?  It would just provide an opportunity for more tedious questions.”  Sherlock opened the door, and the pair walked briskly down the stairwell, through the almost-deserted Great Hall, and over the grounds towards the north wallgate.  Several creatures cast questioning glances at Sherlock and John, and one particularly rough-looking squirrel muttered a none too kind remark under his breath as the pair went past.

            “Seems we’re none too popular,” John remarked.

            “Oh, him?” Sherlock said, glancing at the squirrel for a moment and not troubling to keep his voice down.  “Lost favor in his tribe, was next in line for chief, I’m guessing, but he’s been living outside the tribe for some time now.  A dispute over a female, judging by how well groomed he’s tried to keep himself for a beast who’s roughing it.  Probably just bitter.”  The pair passed the wallgate and closed it, Sherlock noting the shocked and angry expression on the face of the squirrel with some satisfaction.  “Ah!” he continued.  “Fresh fox tracks, headed northeast, probably twenty minutes ago judging by the plant brusing.  He’s going fast, we’ll have to match him.  The game is on, John!”  Sherlock took off into the forest, John following close behind.

 

           

Chapter Six

 

            When two hours had gone by, Sherlock was finding Greytooth’s path harder to trace.  As the fox had put more distance between himself and Redwall, he had begun to put more effort into covering his tracks.  John and Sherlock were often forced to stop in their tracks as the otter scanned the underbrush intently for signs of travel.

            “Incidentally,” said John during one particularly long pause, “how did you know that Greytooth was going to make a break for it?”

            “Think about it, John.  What connection, apart from Martin, did all the creatures that Greytooth brought with him have?”

            John’s spikes furrowed.  “I can’t think of any.”

            “Exactly.  I can’t either.  But somehow Greytooth knew them all, and was able to collect them all on such short notice.  There must be a connection.  There’s something he wasn’t telling, and I knew that as soon as the blades came out he wouldn’t be inclined to stay and say it.  An ex-robber fox that runs a trading post in remote Mossflower?  Greytooth knows how to look after his own skin.”  Sherlock’s eyes gleamed as he picked up a solitary hair from a bramble.  “Pity he can’t look after his fur quite as well.”  He dashed ahead, sniffing the air curiously.  “He’s tacked west, he may know he’s being followed.  There may be little time.”  Sherlock turned on his footpaw and set off at a fast clip through the woods.  John noticed, as he followed, that the soil under his footpaws was growing damper.

            “So, Sherlock,” said John, with a tight smile that did not entirely reach his eyes, “have we reached the marsh?”

            “Nearly,” said Sherlock, not looking behind him.  After a moment or so, he paused.  “Go on, then, John.  Ask your question.”

            “Well, we have three infirmary keepers…”

            “Yes, we do.  Go on.”

            “Which do you think is most likely?”

            “What do you think?”

            John thought for a moment.  “Viola seems like she has the most reason to hate vermin, but there’s no clear evidence that Dormal or Cicely didn’t do it.  All Tansy really told us was that any of the three could have killed Martin.”

            “Yes.  I was hoping for something a little more useful.”  Sherlock gritted his teeth and paused, scanning the underbrush.  “We need more information.  I believe that Greytooth has it, but until we find him, there is no concrete way of knowing which of the three killed Martin and Redsnout.”

            John squinted through through the gloomy forest.  “Trampled nettles, down by the roots of that elm.”

            Sherlock gave a thin smile and walked towards the elm.  The canopy was growing denser; the late afternoon light was growing thinner, and the forest was plunged into gloom.  Sherlock and John increased their pace, mindful of the increasingly watery soil below their footpaws.  Fortunately, Greytooth’s tracks were growing far clearer in the soft, marshy ground, and the pair were able to move faster despite the dying light.  The two had nearly reached the edge of the swamp when a rustling noise sounded behind them.  They spun around on their footpaws to find themselves face to face with a fully-grown male adder that had crept out of the woods behind them.

            “Who are you, and why are you following Greytooth?  Speak quickly if you value your livessss!”

 

            There was a very tense silence as Sherlock and John froze, eyes locked on the massive reptile that had coiled itself not twenty paces away.  The adder had the front third of his body off the ground, his neck cocked into a tight S-shaped curve.  His pointed tail vibrated, rustling the dead leaves on the forest floor.

            John’s paw had immediately gone to his sling; he loaded a pebble cautiously, not taking his gaze from the snake.  Sherlock, however, raised his paws and walked forward.  “Sherlock Holmes.  This is my friend and colleague, John Watson.  We’ve come from Redw—“

            The snake’s lidless eyes darkened, and a malevolent hiss escaped its mouth.  “I see.  Greytooth told me there might be visitorsss from the Abbey.  Sssssomething about a dead warrior and a handy sssscapegoat.”

            Sherlock ignored this, and continued walking towards the snake.  “An adder who’s friends with a fox,” he mused.  “Not a very common pairing, you’d think news would travel around Mossflower.”  The adder’s tongue flicked rapidly.  “You obviously know him well, but you’re keeping it quiet—well, he is, more likely, a trader has more secrets than an adder—“

            The snake struck, its coiled body moving like chain lightning.  John’s heart leapt into his throat, but Sherlock merely dodged aside, the snake’s head missing his side by a hairsbreadth, and rolled his eyes.  “Please don’t be tedious, if you wanted to kill us you would have already.  Your fangs weren’t even out when you struck.  We know Greytooth didn’t kill Martin.”

            “Then why are you following him?”

            “Because he can help me find out who did kill Martin, obviously.”

            “Leave,” snapped the adder. 

            “No,” said Sherlock calmly.

            “I don’t suppose,” said John resignedly, “that we could discuss this calmly?”

            “There issss nothing to discussssss!”

            “Nothing?” said Sherlock casually.  “Not even, say, Greytooth’s trading post being broken into?”

            The adder froze, his tongue stopping mid-flick.  “How could you posssssssibly—

            “Take me to Greytooth’s trading post and I’ll do more than tell you how I know who robbed you.  I’ll tell you who did it.”

            There was a half a minute’s tense silence.  The big adder fixed its huge yellow eyes upon Sherlock, who stared back with complete calm.  John fidgeted nervously with his sling, gazing apprehensively from his friend to the snake and back again.  Finally, the snake uncoiled his sinuous, muscular body, and let loose a long, exasperated sigh.

            “Fine,” he hissed.  “Fine.  I’ll take you there.  My name issss Naedre.  And one more thing—the only reason I’m bringing you there issss that I know you two are alone.  And if you try to hurt Greytooth, I will kill both of you.  Am I clear?”

            “Yes, yes,” said Sherlock impatiently. Naedre turned around and, with remarkable agility for a creature his size, disappeared into the undergrowth.  Sherlock and John followed, walking quickly to avoid losing him.

            “Pleasant fellow,” said John.  “Very protective.”

            “Please shut up, John,” said Sherlock mildly, not taking his eyes off Naedre’s retreating tail.  “I’m trying to think.”

 

            Greytooth’s trading post turned out to be a big, hollow cypress tree on the very edge of the swamp.  The old fox was standing outside his door, leaning on a gnarled oak staff.  He showed no sign of surprise at the approach of Naedre, and barely looked up when Sherlock and John emerged from the shadowed woods.  Night had fallen in earnest, and it was only by the light of the stars and a few firefly lanterns hanging by the door carved into the tree that Greytooth’s face could be seen.  Naedre stopped at the edge of the circle of lanternlight.  For a long moment, nobeast spoke.

            “I see ye brought company, Naedre,” the fox said finally.

            “Travellerssss, from the Abbey,” said Naedre.

            “From the Abbey,” said Greytooth.  “Didn’t take ye long, did it?”

            “We—“ John began, but the fox cut him off.

            “I see they didn’t send the regular batch o’ heroes.  Must not have thought I’d put up much of a fight.  I’ve been expectin’ ye since I left this afternoon.  All I can say is that if yer lookin’ for Martin’s killer, it ain’t me.  ‘Course, I know Redwall.  ‘The only good vermin’s a dead ‘un’, an’ all that.  I hope ye know that if ye try to raise a paw to me, Naedre’ll stop ye.”

            “That’s not why we’re here,” said Sherlock. 

            “Really,” said Greytooth dryly.  “Ain’t you the one who’s investigatin’ the murder?”

            “I am,” said Sherlock, “and if you were guilty I’d already know, and you’d already be answering for it.  I need to know what you sell, who you sell it to, and anything that’s happened here over the last week or so.”

            Greytooth stared hard at Sherlock, his eyes narrowed.  Finally he shrugged.  “Fine.  I’ll tell ye.  Follow me in here, it’s gettin’ cold out ‘ere an’ I ain’t as young as I used to be.”  The fox opened the door; it swung forward on carefully crafted wooden hinges, and Sherlock, John, and Naedre followed Greytooth into the hollow tree.  Warm firelight greeted them inside; Greytooth stumped over to an old armchair by the fire and sank into it, leaning his staff against the wall.  Naedre coiled himself on the threadbare hearthrug and rested his head in Greytooth’s lap.

            John and Sherlock introduced themselves and took stock of the surroundings.  The interior of the tree was incredibly cluttered.  The walls and shelves were covered in bottles, feathers, bones, dead beetles in neat heaps, and small packages wrapped in barkcloth.  Dozens of bundles of dried herbs hung from the ceiling.  A small table off to the side was heaped with small gems and stones.  A collection of rusty old swords leaned against the far wall. 

            Sherlock nodded at the swords.  “Searat cutlasses.  You trade with searats?”

            “Haven’t for long seasons.  Got those swords from a ferret, rovin’ type.”

            “Are most of your customers travelers?”

            “Not most of ‘em, no.  Mostly Mossflower creatures.”

            “That’s how you knew the rest of Martin’s friends.”

            “Aye,” said Greytooth.  “Martin told me about ‘em, or I told ‘em about Martin.  We know each other, they come by every so often.”

            John put in, “And Naedre doesn’t….”

            “Eat them?  Sssscare them away?” said the snake sardonically.  “I prefer eating frogs, thanksssss. And I tend to ssstay away when Greytooth’s doing businessss.  Only show myssself when somebeassst thinks it’s a clever idea to try pulling sssssteel on Greytooth.”  Naedre laughed, a strange, sibilant sound.  “It isn’t.”

            “You said at Redwall that you knew Martin from your robber band days, Greytooth,” said Sherlock.  “He came by?”

            “Every season or so,” said the fox.  “Saw how I was doin’, bought a trinket or two.  ‘E was even polite to Naedre, when I introduced ‘im.  Not many mice who I can say that of.”

            “So what do you sell, apart from trinkets?”

            “Herbs mostly.  My mother was a healer vixen, she taught me a bit about plants.  I’ve got plants can cure ye and plants can kill ye.  Got some fortune tellin’ bones an’ things like that, an’ then whatever anybeast brings in that looks like it can turn a profit.”

            “Do you trade with anybeast from the Abbey?”

            “Just Martin.  Don’t trust Abbeybeasts; if I hear there’s ottercrews or Guosim in the area, I kill the lanterns an’ tamp down the fire.”

            Sherlock nodded.  “I see.  So, the break-in.  How much venom was taken?”

            Greytooth jumped slightly; Naedre let out an irritated half-hiss at the jolt and Greytooth stroked his scaly head apologetically.  “How do ye—“

            “Does it matter?” said Sherlock impatiently.  He huffed as a blank silence greeted his words.  “Fine.  Adder venom isn’t easy to get ahold of, no trader worth his salt would let that opportunity go by.  Martin was killed with adder venom, but not by snakebite.  I don’t think it’s likely that the killer got it anywhere else, and if they didn’t buy it, they stole it.”

            “Martin was killed with adder venom?” said Greytooth, sitting up straighter, his eyes widening. 

            “Yes.  And I’m certain that it was an Abbeybeast who did it, which rules out an honest sale.  Now, the break-in, Greytooth.  Tell me what happened.”

            “It’s a strange business, but not much to tell. It was about a week ago, sometime in the evenin’.  Naedre an’ I was sitting by the fire, like we are now, an’ we fell asleep.  When we woke up, the door was open, an’ somebeast had been pawin’ through the goods here.  One o’ the vials o’ venom had gone missin’.  That’s all I know.  Naedre might ‘ave somethin’ else.”

            The adder raised his head from Greytooth’s lap.  “I don’t think it was as simple as jusssst falling asssleep, Grey,” he said.  “It wassss early in the evening, remember?  I told you it was sssstrange—we were talking, like usual, and the next thing I remember, we were waking up and the venom was gone.”

            The old fox’s brow furrowed.  “You’re right, Naedre.  It’s almost like somebeast knocked us out—“

            Sherlock’s eyes gleamed.  “Smell!  Did you smell anything before you fell unconscious?”

            Greytooth shook his head, but Naedra nodded slowly, and flicked his long forked tongue.  “I remember now, before we went under, I sssssmelled something.  It was…. sssssweet, I think.”

            “Flitchaye!” Sherlock gave a tight smile.  “Oh, this is good, it’s all coming together.”  He turned.  “I think we have what we need.  John, are you ready to head back?  We do have a midnight curfew, after all.”

            “We can make it, I think,” said John.  He turned to the fox and the snake.  “Thanks for the information.  We won’t impose any longer.”

            “Wait,” said Greytooth, and stood up.  He faced Sherlock, straight-backed and defiant.  “Afore you go, I want you to give me your word that you won’t tell the Abbey about Naedre.”

            “But Naedre’s no threat to them—“ began John.

            “Think they care?  Anything they think about vermin goes double for snakes.  If word gets out that my Naedre’s venom killed their Martin, they’ll hunt ‘im down anyway.”  The old fox put a protective paw around the neck of the big snake, who nuzzled him.  “Naedre an’ I, we’ve been together a long time.  I ain’t losing him, not for anythin’.  Anythin’, you hear me?”

            Sherlock stared inscrutably at them for a moment, then nodded.  “Fine.  I won’t tell them.  John, let’s go.”

            “Your word, Mr. Holmes.”

            There was silence for a moment. Sherlock’s jaw twitched.  “All right.  I give you my word,” he said finally, gritting his teeth slightly.

            The fox relaxed visibly.  “You’re a goodbeast, Mr. Holmes,” he said.  “Thankee.  Now I think you two had best be on yer way.  It sounds like you have a lot to do when ye get back to Redwall.”

 

            Sherlock and John tramped through the woods, John struggling to keep up with Sherlock’s pace.  The thin otter occasionally glanced up at the stars when an open patch of sky appeared through the thick leaves above them, keeping on a straight course back to the Abbey.  The darkness was nearly absolute, with very little light penetrating the forest, but John and Sherlock were both capable woodlanders, and had little difficulty finding their way even with the limited visibility.

            “I’m not,” said Sherlock eventually, after a solid hour and a half of silent tramping.

            “Not what, sorry?” said John.

            “A goodbeast.  I would have turned in that adder without a thought if it would have made any difference.”

            “You mean, if you thought it would solve the case.”

            “I’ve already solved the case, John.”

            They walked in silence..

            “I don’t think you would,” said John, after a few minutes had gone by.

            “Of course I would.  It just doesn’t make sense to do it now.”

            “Suit yourself,” said John, rolling his eyes, despite the futility of the gesture in a pitch-dark forest.

            “John?”

            “Yes?”

            “Stop rolling your eyes at me.  It’s annoying.”

 

            The Abbey bells were just tolling midnight when Sherlock and John cleared the shadow of the trees.  Redwall loomed tall before them.  John began walking forward, but Sherlock stopped him with a paw on his shoulder.

            “I take it you have a plan, then?”

            “I do.  When we get inside, I will unexpectedly become very ill.  I will need you to get me to the infirmary, and then collect Tansy and one or two of the big Redwallers—Skipper and Auma, preferably.  You will wait outside the door with them, listen, and wait for my signal, as quietly as possible.”

            John nodded.   “Anything else?”

            Sherlock shook his head.  “That is all I need.  Our guilty party will give us the rest.”

            “Right.” John pursed his lips.  “And I don’t suppose there’s any point in asking you exactly what you’re planning?”

            “No.”

            “Right, then,” said John.  “I suppose we should get started.”

            “Yes, we should.  We’ve wasted far too much time already.”

            The pair reached the gates, and John raised a paw to knock, and stumbled; Sherlock appeared to have lost his balance and was grabbing John’s shoulder for support.  The thin otter was shaking uncontrollably, and his legs seemed ready to give way at any moment.  Foam was beginning to form on his lips, and his eyes rolled back in his head.  John could not help feeling a little impressed at his friend’s acting talents; Sherlock looked so obviously sick that John half believed the charade himself.  Putting a paw around Sherlock’s shoulders to help his friend stand, John knocked three times hard at the wallgate.

            He was answered almost immediately as Clecky’s mismatched ears appeared over the parapet.  “Who goes there? Identify y’self!”

            “John and Sherlock,” called John.  “Be quick about it—Sherlock’s very sick, he needs to get to the infirmary.”

            “Oh, don’t lay it on so thick,” hissed Sherlock through his mouthful of foam.  “They’ll see soon enough.”

            “Shut up,” said John under his breath, not changing his expression.

            The wallgate creaked open, and Clecky appeared in the gap.  “Good to see you back, chaps!  How was…” Clecky’s unflappable manner faltered as he got a good look at Sherlock.  “Fur ‘n thunder, old scout, y’ain’t lookin’ at all well.  C’mon, let’s get you into the Abbey.”  The hare put Sherlock’s free paw around his lanky shoulders, and together he and John half-walked, half-carried Sherlock to the great redstone building.  The otter was shaking harder now, and had somehow managed to get himself to break out into a sweat. 

            Tansy met them in the Great Hall, where she had clearly been up pacing.  “John!  Sherlock!  What—“ Her questions died on her lips when she caught sight of Sherlock’s condition.  “He needs medicine.  Take him up to the infirmary.  I’ll lead the way and get the infirmary keepers if they aren’t awake.  Do you know what happened to him?”

            “Ate…. Something….” Sherlock gasped, barely audible.

            Tansy’s spikes furrowed, and she cast a searching glance over Sherlock and John.  John tried to look innocent and bewildered, but Tansy’s eyes narrowed, and she gave John a hard, inquisitive glare.  John nodded imperceptibly, hoping that she would get the point and play along.  Tansy’s distrustful expression did not leave her face, but she did not speak or slow her pace as they carried Sherlock up the red sandstone staircase.  Within a few minutes (Sherlock managed to keep his footing just enough to not slow them down very much) they reached the Infirmary door, at which Tansy knocked hard.  A sleepy-looking Brother Dormal opened it, followed by Viola Bankvole.

            “What brings you here, Mother Abbess?” Dormal said, rubbing his eyes.  “We were just finishing up with our duties and—great seasons.”  Dormal had noticed Sherlock.  “He’s very sick.  Quick, get him in here.”

            Dormal and Viola walked Sherlock to the nearest sickbed, and laid him down, where he trembled on the clean linen sheets.  His eyes were wide and glassy, his brow damp with sweat; his mouth was foaming worse than ever, and his shaking was making the bed rattle.  Viola and Clecky stared at him, aghast.  Dormal spoke grimly.

            “It looks bad.  I don’t know what it is, but the shaking’s consistent with nightshade poisoning.”  Dormal laid a paw on Sherlock’s forehead and shuddered.  “The fever’s bad too, could be Dryditch.”

            Viola and Tansy took involuntary steps back.  Dryditch Fever was a name that few Redwallers remembered but Recorders and infirmary keepers; it would never be forgotten that many seasons ago, an outbreak of the deadly disease had swept through the Abbey, killing many Redwallers.  The only known cure—Flowers of Icetor, from the Northern mountains—had not been seen in anybeast’s living memory. 

            “Dryditch?” squeaked Viola.  “Are you sure?”

            “I’m not sure,” said Dormal, “but I want everybeast out of this infirmary, now.  If this otter has Dryditch fever, I can’t risk any of you getting infected, especially you, Mother Abbess.”  Dormal looked furiously around at Clecky, John, Viola, and Tansy.  “Out!” he snapped.  “You’ve been near him far too long already.  I need you to stay far away from the infirmary until I know whether it’s safe to get near him.  Out!”

            “Yes.  Right.  Good.”  John nodded and opened the infirmary door.  Tansy, Viola, and Clecky followed him out, and the door slammed shut.  John walked to the end of the hallway, the other three on his heels.  Tansy looked ready to burst.

            “What’s going on in there?” she hissed vehemently under her breath.  “Sherlock, ‘eating something’ by mistake and getting sick?  I don’t think that’s likely, do you?  And now it’s Dryditch Fever? What are you two planning?”

            “Abbess Tansy, please,” whispered John pleadingly.  “We’ll explain later.  Right now, you, Clecky, and I have to get back to that door.”

            “But—“

            “Dryditch fever—“

            “Now!”

            Tansy motioned for Viola to stay where she was (the young bankvole looked simply furious, but obeyed) and followed John on tip-paw to the infirmary door.  Clecky came silently behind, and the three stood there, listening hard and hardly daring to breathe.  At first, no sound except the shuffling of footpaws could be heard.  Then Dormal spoke.

            “Mr. Holmes.  Sherlock.  Can you hear me?”

            A weak groan came in response.

            “I know it’s difficult, but I need you to tell me.  Were you hurt?  Injured?  Did you eat anything?”

            Sherlock murmured indistinctly.

            “Hmmm.  That’s interesting.”  Dormal’s voice dropped to barely more than a whisper; John and Tansy had to press their ears to the door to hear.  “Although what I find most interesting, Mr. Holmes, is that your fever is making you sweat, but you don’t have a temperature.

            Silence.

            “So it’s not nightshade.  It’s not Dryditch,” continued Dormal. “If I’m right, it’s not anything.  So that would mean…”

            “That would mean, Brother Dormal, that you can put down that needle.  You won’t be needing it.”

 

            There was a gasp and the sound of something small falling on the floor.  “What?”

            “Flitchaye herbs in your medicine cabinet, Dormal.”

            “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean,” said Dormal coldly.

            “Don’t you?” said Sherlock.  “I’m afraid you do.”

            “Yes, well—“

            “Stop lying, you’re terrible at it.  Martin didn’t know enough about herbs to heal that stoat, so he had to take some.  You caught him at it. You made him explain himself.”

            “And what of it?”

            “Vermin,” spat Sherlock.  “He told you he was friends with vermin.” Pawsteps sounded from within the room; John could almost see Sherlock pacing around Dormal.  “You wouldn’t stand for that, would you, not after your old friend Abbot Durral’s adventure with the corsairs.”

            “I… I don’t…. what are you implying, Mr. Holmes….”

            “He told you about Greytooth’s trading post, didn’t he?”

            “I don’t know—“

            “Yes, you do.  Not too difficult for an herbalist to find the right herbs to knock out an old fox.”

            “I…” Dormal’s voice trembled. “I don’t know what you’re saying, but I haven’t done anything.”

            “Haven’t you,” said Sherlock dryly.  “I don’t have Dryditch fever, Dormal, and my symptoms didn’t match Dryditch either.  You knew I wasn’t sick.  Why did you send everybeast away? Don’t bother answering.  I saw the needle.”

            “I wasn’t going to—“

            “Kill me?” said Sherlock languidly.  “Of course you weren’t.  But why did you kill Martin?”

            “I didn’t—“

            “Dormal.

            There was a long silence.  Finally Dormal broke it.  “He wanted to bring vermin into Redwall.  After Sampetra, after Durral, after everything, he still wanted to be friends with the scum.  He was a traitor.”  Dormal’s voice shook.  “I was.... protecting Redwall Abbey.  Defending my home.”

            “Thank you, Dormal, that will do.”  John could hear the triumph in Sherlock’s voice.  “Abbess Tansy, have you heard enough?”

           

            Tansy burst into the room, Clecky and John hard on her heels.  She whirled on Dormal, or where Dormal had last been standing; but the herbalist was no longer on his footpaws.  The mouse was on the infirmary floor, thrashing, his face contorted in agony.

            “What have you done to him, Sherlock?” Tansy said, aghast.

            “I’ve done nothing,” said Sherlock impassively.  “When he realized the game was up, he pricked himself with his own needle.”

            Tansy turned away, looking ill.  Clecky, however, strode over to Dormal, and kicked him roughly onto his back.  “Look at me, laddie buck,” he growled, one lanky footpaw on the thrashing mouse’s chest.  “When ye get to Hellgates, I want you to tell them one thing: that you died like you lived, and like you killed: like a blinkin’ coward to the last.”

            Dormal gave one final spasm and lay still.  Sherlock, meanwhile, was opening various drawers of Dormal’s medicine cabinet.  At last, he fished out a small crystal bottle, and tossed it wordlessly to John, who handed it to Tansy.  “Adder venom.  More proof if proof were needed.”

            Tansy shuddered and handed the bottle back to John.  “Destroy it,” she said.  “I want it gone, and I want this… this creature,” she said, gesturing to Dormal’s body, “out of my Abbey.”  She turned and faced the room; hot tears gushed down her cheeks, but her voice was strong and hard.  “Clecky, I want you to go and tell the others what has happened.  Tell Auma, Skipper, Craklyn, and Cicely, but don’t mention it to anyone else.  Oh, and tell Viola that everything’s all right and that she can go to bed, the poor thing’s probably still standing out there.”

            “Right ho, marm,” said Clecky.  “Any particular reason that y’ don’t want anybeast findin’ out so soon?”

            “I will tell them in the morning.  I don’t want versions of it filtering out before then.  I want the chance to tell the Abbey properly, so it doesn’t spoil Martin’s feast.”

            Clecky’s jaw dropped, but his ears raised hopefully.  “Y’ mean you ain’t callin’ off the feast?”

            Tansy gave a tired smile.  “Of course not.  Martin loved Redwall and Redwallers.  He loved the welcome we’re supposed to give to everybeast.  He died trying to make everybeast welcome here.  It’d be an insult to his memory if we called off the feast and sent them all home.”

            A smile spread slowly over Clecky’s face.  “Right you are, marm,” he said.  “Couldn’t have said it better myself!”

 

           

Epilogue

 

            The feast was no small affair.

The announcement of Martin’s killer had been a shock to everybeast, but the shock of Dormal’s confession and death was well outweighed by the overwhelming sense of relief at the murderer having been found.  In true Redwall fashion, rather than dwelling on the murder, the Abbey came together to celebrate the life of their fallen Warrior by making the feast one that, in the words of Foremole, “Marthen’d gurtly loik.”

            Determined to honor Martin’s memory, Friar Higgle and an enthusiastic mob of assistants and volunteers had thrown their hearts into producing a spread that rivaled any that had been seen before at the Abbey.  The tables groaned under a massive deeper n’ ever pie (Foremole said it was the largest he had ever seen), hundreds of mushroom-and-onion pasties piled high on a vast platter, woodland trifles, pear and apple tart, berries and meadowcream, leek and carrot soup, plum pudding, barley with wild garlic, and pies and flans of a hundred varieties.  Furlo Stump had likewise brought up virtually everything the cellars had to offer; cups overflowed with October Ale, strawberry fizz, dandelion and burdock cordial, and elderberry wine. 

             The weasels, ferrets, rats, and stoats who had arrived the day before with Greytooth had never seen a Redwall feast before, and were stunned at the amount and quality of the food.  Egged on by Abbeydwellers (many of whom had grown much more comfortable with the newcomers since the feast began), they tucked in with a will.  The rats, Salteye, Beyla, and Crabtail, were getting on well with the otters, who seemed to enjoy their nautical speech.

            “’Ey, Salteye, gimme some o’ that crusty bread!”

            “Get it y’self, lubber, I’m busy with this—what d’ye call it?”

            “’Tis hotroot soup, matey.  Do ye like it?”

            “Never thought I’d find nothin’ burned as hot as seaweed grog.  Mind ye, this grog is the best I ever ‘ad.”

            “That ain’t grog, mate, it’s damson cordial.”

            “Is it now!  That’s a right pretty name.”

            “Oi, Beyla, ain’t ye goin’ a bit fast with that trifle?”

            “I’m afeared I’m goin’ too slow, lads!  Hahaharr!”

            “Belay there, mates, Keemo’s just fallen into the meadowcream.  Hi there, you young rip, what’re you doin’ in there!”

            “It’s good, good!  Hehehehehehehehe!”

            Clecky fished the young weasel out of the cream.  “Careful now, young ‘un, manners y’know.  Chew ten times an’ swallow slowly, wot wot!”  Tipping Keemo a huge wink, Clecky applied himself to his monstrous plate of apple crumble at an alarming rate.  Keemo watched in wide-eyed admiration.

            Sherlock watched the merrymaking with some impatience and marked distaste.  John, who had been around Sherlock long enough to not care, simply focused on his food, which proved to be a more than sufficient distraction. 

            The feast lasted until well past midnight, when Auma picked up the Dibbuns who had fallen asleep where they sat (the little weasels, Keemo and Cayro, among them) and carted them off to bed.  As the rest of the Abbeybeasts and woodlanders began to leave the Great Hall as well, Tansy came and sat down next to Sherlock and John.

            “Thank you,” she said simply.  “You have done Redwall a great service, you two, and I don’t know if I—if we—can ever repay you.”

            “Yes,” said Sherlock.

            “It was really nothing,” said John with a smile.  “Anytime.”

            “I suppose you’ll be heading back tomorrow?”

            “At first light,” said John.

            Tansy nodded.  “Then I wish you a safe journey.  Take care of yourself, and take care of your friend.”  She hugged John hard.  “And Sherlock…  you’re very good at what you do.”

            “Yes, I know.  I mean…” John elbowed him, none too gently.  “Thank you, Abbess Tansy,” he said, not without effort.

            “You’re quite welcome,” said Tansy.  She stood up and brushed a stray crumb off her habit.  “I think it’s bedtime for everyone.  I’m off to get my first full night’s rest since this dreadful business began.  Goodnight, John.  Goodnight, Sherlock.  And if I don’t see you in the morning, know that you will always be welcome at Redwall Abbey.”  She rose, curtsied, and departed in the direction of the stairs.

            “All this mindless cheerfulness.  How do you stand it?” muttered Sherlock.

            “Oh, shut up, Sherlock,” said John, not unkindly, and put an amicable paw around his friend’s shoulders.  Together, the two set off towards their rooms.