Which Kindles Honor (Part 2)

June 15, 2011

“Lo maggior don che Dio per sua larghezza
Fesse creando, e a la sua bontate
Più conformato, e quel ch’e’ più apprezza,
Fu de la volontà la libertate;
Di che le creature intelligenti,
E tutte e sole, fuore e son dotate.”

A long silence hung in the air, marred only by the edges of Saskia’s panting breaths, torn ragged by anger. Isidore had gone, and Merritt too.

“It’s much too foul a morning to ‘andle ‘is nonsense.” She waited. Selendra said nothing. “…I’ve missed you.”

“It’s been too long.” The words shivered, naked and cold.

” ‘ave you been well?”

“I don’t understand him. He really does think he needs to protect me from something.”

“From Merritt.”

Selendra waved a dismissive paw. “From whatever he’s taken it into his head to protect me from on a particular day.”

“You might… you might be more tolerant, I suppose. ‘E does seem to mean well, and ‘e may be right about Merritt.”

She snorted. “Fates below, Saskia, I’ve never been the first to speak in Merritt’s defense but that’s a bit much. He’s harmless and exceptionally useful. He can be turned to a just cause, since he’s always thinking with either his wallet or his–”

“I ‘ad noticed.”

“Anyhow, weren’t you working for him?”

Saskia cringed. “Yes but–if I want to open my own shop someday, I need the money. Sheridan pays enough to live on but little more.”

Selendra looked at her. “I won’t tell you what to do. But you don’t look very happy.”

“Thank you for the commentary,” Saskia snapped. “It would make an excellent footnote in my memoirs. ‘But she wasn’t ‘appy.'”

“You’re damned stubborn, and always were. If you believed it was wrong, you wouldn’t be doing it.”

“There’s a vixen ‘ere, school-aged I’d reckon, and yesterday I watched Merritt sell ‘er… sell ‘er ‘is things, things I’d printed for ‘im, and I stood there and watched it. All I could think was my mother would be positively ill at the prospect and Aloysius would never forgive me. I shouldn’t ‘elp Merritt, no right-thinking beast ever would, and I felt nothing about it but sick. I’ve a duty to stand against ‘im.”

“There’s an argument to be made that if she’s old enough to want it, she’s old enough–” Selendra held up a paw to forestall an outraged response. “But I don’t mean to speak of that. You never struck me as a beast to substitute another’s judgment for your own, and here you are sounding just like Faraday.”

Saskia recoiled as though Selendra had reached out and cuffed her across the jaw. “I can’t believe you’d dare–”

“I speak,” Selendra said, “as I find. Another beast tells you what your duty is, and you’d carve out your own heart in service, as he would. As he did. The only duty you’re bound to take on is to follow your own conscience–the only duty you have any right to take on.”

Saskia took a deep breath. “Are we talking about Merritt, or about Abbot Carter?”

“Either. Both. You know Carter’s poison, he’s lying through his teeth.”

“Merritt ‘as something to ‘ide too, you know. ‘E’s got a book which fates alone know wot’s in it, but ‘e’s not keen to let me ‘ave a look.”

“Sometimes you have to trust.”

“Like you trust the Abbot?”

“Saskia, Carter has done worse on this day than I ever have known Merritt to do. I don’t know what Carter’s intentions are, nor Merritt’s, and I don’t know either of their secrets. But Merritt isn’t the one keeping us prisoner here.”

“I know that.” She sighed. “And I do trust ‘im, ‘e’s given me a chance to earn wot I most want and I ought to be grateful. I just wish…”

Selendra nodded. “And Carter?”

“The Abbot, whatever else ‘e might do or say, ‘as no right to keep us ‘ere,” she conceded.

“If you believe that, truly, you’re one of us.” Selendra extended a paw to shake.

Saskia looked at it. “No. I can’t, I need… I need to think. And I want to talk to Aloysius.”

Selendra grimaced. “Brother Aloysius is Isidore with dear Faraday’s manners. The latter, I grant, are charming, and perhaps all the more so to you, but–”

“Enough. I’m not lusting after ‘im, if that’s what you mean to imply. But if you mean me to make up my own mind then let me do it.”

Selendra smiled and nodded. “It heartens me to see you stubborn again.”

Saskia stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the solid mousemaid. “Thank you.” She walked away, leaving Selendra standing alone in the Abbey lawn.

Aloysius had been at breakfast and she hadn’t yet seen him head for the gatehouse. Distracted, Saskia wandered into the Abbey with intentions of finding Aloysius in the attic.

She wouldn’t let anybeast write her thoughts, but the least she could do was to truly become a palimpsest, the words that had been inked in carelessness scraped away to be replaced. She could become a tray of type, the metallic nibs of her letters sorted and orderly and unset, an engraving plate unpainted.

And Saskia could speak to Aloysius, and listen to the bat’s calm words and kindness, and decide for herself who to follow.

Saskia found herself soon enough on the stairwell where she’d spoken to Ripple. The previous evening seemed like years ago now, with all the time between smeared to a blur. He’d limped up the stairs, she’d helped with the decorations. She’d wanted to feel useful, a part of the Abbey’s celebration.

It had been a frivolous desire. Hadn’t it?

Saskia climbed the stairs like a gallows. Here she’d embarrassed herself, here she’d made an attempt at redemption, here Ripple had asked her whether she’d thought the lockdown was right. She had evaded the question. That was… close to what had happened?

His words, and hers, clattered away into a vague jumbling of feelings. It had been uncomfortable, and she hadn’t known what to say–

“Saskia, you seem quite lost, quite lost.” Aloysius half-stepped, half-fluttered down the stairs to her.

She jumped, startled.

“Oh goodness, I’m sorry to scare you, scare you.”

“I’m not lost, Brother, at least not anymore. I was looking for you.”

“Whatever for?” He smiled, beatific.

“I want–I need to talk to you.”

“Then to the gatehouse, I think? Young Ripple is still upstairs, and,” he considered her expression, “I warrant that whatever you must say would best be said undisturbed, undisturbed.”

When they emerged from the Abbey back into the vacant gray daylight, Selendra had moved on; the cart stood unattended. Aloysius led the way to the gatehouse in reverent silence.

They entered. He closed the door behind them.

“I’m troubled.” Saskia leaned heavily against the paper-laden desk while Aloysius idly looked over his bookshelves.

“I see. What troubles you?”

Saskia thought. That was a complicated question. She opted for the simplest route. “That the Abbot of Redwall ‘olds us all prisoner.”

Aloysius’ expression changed, Saskia thought, from cheerfully neutral to firmly neutral. It was difficult to tell.

“You’re much smarter than me, and good. You know the Abbot isn’t telling the truth. That if ‘e believes Raimun died naturally, there’s no reason for me to be confined ‘ere.”

Aloysius frowned, and nodded gravely. “Yet I am certain that our Abbot is acting for the best, for the best.”

“I’m not.”

He was dumbstruck. Saskia pressed her advantage. “Look at it from my place. ‘E’s keeping me ‘ere against my will and lying about why.”

“Sometimes we must take it upon ourselves to trust the wisdom of our betters, our betters.” Aloysius folded his wings about himself.

“I’m not a Sister of Redwall, Aloysius. ‘E isn’t my better and ‘e hasn’t the right.”

Aloysius turned his back to her and unfurled his wings, stirring the papers on his desk, which he then straightened once more. “Be that as it may, you have always been a beast who knows her duty, her duty.”

“I find myself uncertain.”

“You are well-read enough to find your own way, your own way, and follow the wisdom of those who have spoken before.”

“I don’t know what is past wisdom to be treasured, and what is past folly to be discarded. Not anymore.”

He smiled, a bit sadly. “You shall find your way again, I have faith, have faith. Commitment to duty, to the path on which we find ourselves… these things bind us, keep us far from… from our impulses, impulses.” His words died away at the end, a cold, dry, faraway wind in barren treetops.

“I…” She found herself wishing and unwilling to confess. I am what you despise, I am Merritt’s cohort, I have stained my paws in black ink and with them painted over others’ hearts. Please…

“Yes?”

“I… thank you, Brother, for your words and your kindness.”

“If ever you wish to consult me again, please do not hesitate, do not hesitate. I do always find our conversations illuminating.” He bowed his head to her and opened the door.

Saskia let go of the desk, swayed, and righted herself. She stepped outside.

The click of the door behind her brought with it the revelation that her parchment was still blank, that nothing had been written at all, she knew nothing, thought nothing…

Or, rather…

The Abbot’s actions of this day were a gross injustice. At least there was that, which she did believe with all her ill-tempered heart. If that is all, then I should, I must resolve to do whatever I can to escape this place, and see that we all are free again.

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