"You have a gentle heart, but you do not understand…"

June 15, 2011

“Selendra,” said Isidore. “May we speak?” At any other time, Isidore might have left Selendra alone. He knew rot killed hives, withered gardens, festered wounds. He knew she would protest.

“This is a private conversation,” she said.

“I insist,” said Isidore. He nodded to the ferret. “You offended her greatly last night. I know you for a swindler, and I know you spread filth. I charge you with obscenity, in the name of Abbot Carter.”

“Well, fates below,” said Merritt. “This isn’t the first time. I’ll see your charge; you won’t bring it through.”

“Sel, you said he’d shown you something filthy,” said Isidore. “You’re young. His influence– the honorable thing to do is to cut the weed before it grows and strangles everything around it.”

“A weed! I’m a weed,” said Merritt.

“He isn’t good, for you or for anyone,” said Isidore.

“This is patently ridiculous,” she said. She had taken a kerchief from her pocket and twisted it in her paws. Part of her was feminine, then: some natural delicacy caused her to recoil from his charges as she would from a spider. “I don’t know what idiot ideas you’ve got, but you seem to think you’re my husband. I’ll warn you now: once you lose my good opinion it’s lost forever.”

Isidore tugged Selendra closer, held her by the shoulders. “I’ll charge him or I’ll ask the Abbot to turn him away.”

“The Abbot!” she said. “Is that it? He’s a liar and a cheat. What do you think happened to Raimun?”

“That borders on treason. Do you understand?”

Merritt fluttered his paws at somebeast; the lanky haremaid Isidore had met the night before strode toward them. She jabbed her paw between him and Selendra, pulling the mousemaid away.

“Sas,” said Selendra, and she buried her face in the hare’s shoulder.

Isidore smiled at the pair. He seemed to stand in some momentary vacuum. All his strength and stoicism and endurance rushed inside. He was quiet; he mingled with the grass and stone; he uttered nothing. Duty reigned him in. She cut him deeply. Very well, since no part of him ached at the loss.

She was young and she could learn.

Isidore left. He crossed the lawn and went arout the Abbey complexes: past the silent dormitory which seemed to sweat the smell of wine; the mill, kiln, and smithy which peppered his nose with dust and then smelting; the grain storehouse and its earthy, round odor promising bread and mould.

His orchard brimmed with sweet air. Slowly swinging his shoulders, Isidore willed himself to its calm, the shadows of leaves dappling his fur. He bent to scoop water from the bucket he now kept by the hives and splashed it over his brow. At last, his strange spasm released him; he felt shaky, knocked over the bucket with his footpaw and cursed.

A shadow shifted, behind the hives and in the depths of the orchard. Isidore’s paw was at his hip, grasping for the sword that did not hang there, had not hung there. But the shade was only Noel stirred from rest. The young weasel emerged from a tangle of honeysuckle, belching smoke and tapping the ashes of his pipe in the mud.

“Child,” said Isidore. “I haven’t disturbed you…?”

“No.”

“Is there something you’d share with me?”

“No.”

“All right.” Isidore bent to check the entrance of a hive. A cluster of dead bees lay on the plinth. Varroa? Fungus? He spat a curse. “Look. How’d that happen?”

“Did you check the– the thing at the top, the feeder?” Noel waggled his paw at the hive.

Isidore pulled out the slat, gently as he could. Inside, a hundred feeble bees wriggled in a pond of sugar syrup. He cursed again.

Noel twitched his whiskers. “You all right?”

“No.” Isidore slogged out of the muddy orchard. Noel paced beside him, mincing over puddles and patches of grass. He turned at the granary, to the left and the gardener’s house. They passed the entrance of the graveyard, heard the wet shuck of Coffincreeper shovels. Isidore ran his paw over the gate. “Raimun?”

“Aye.”

“It wasn’t right. Had bile all down his front.”

Noel was silent. He joined Isidore in peering through the gate. The grave lay somewhere beyond the mausoleum housing the relics of Martin and other heroes.

“Poison?” the weasel said, finally.

“Aye,” said Isidore. “I’ve seen enough in my day. And some said the Abbot did it. I don’t like disloyalty, boy.”

“What if it were the Abbot, though? Let’s just say. Wouldn’t stayin’ loyal to him be disloyal to the truth?”

“You aren’t that sort, are you, Noel?” This brooked no response. Isidore brushed the gate with his paw, and a slick of grey, greasy mill-scale came off on his fur. The hinges had begun to rust after the night’s rain. “You can’t understand a Brother’s duty to his home.”

“So… so you think this is the right path, then? Bein’ a proper Brother. Redwall, and Martin- is that the best way to follow him? Is that the only way there is, d’you think?”

For some time, Isidore did not speak. He looked to the sky: an indistinct bird floated on high, swept once, twice over the north walls, left. The world felt empty, like a great dark expanse of water, and he was gliding deeper and darker than he ever cared to. At last he turned to face Noel. “I’d seen thousands of beasts fight and die. I told them to do it. And I spent years out there in those woods, thinking about it; there isn’t a better thing in this world than this Abbey. Not in Southsward, or any of those cities, or even a few steps beyond those walls.”

“And nothin’ could go wrong, you think? Martin… I mean, he still talks to beasts, but he’s gone, isn’t he? He’s a lot to live up to. I guess that’s what I worry about. I dunno that I could do that.”

“This is about– about honor, and duty. You mightn’t understand them yet,” said Isidore. They went around the apse of Great Hall, then rambled back to the graveyard. “But if you follow them, then you do what you can for this place and it’ll come through. The traitor who hurt Raimun will be punished. We’ll be happy.”

“And then the Abbot- he’ll do right by Raimun. Like Martin’d do.”

“Aye.” Isidore looked again to the grey and unforgiving sky. The image of his bees struggling in their wet, sugar-sticky grave vexed him. “I had best clean out the hives.”

Noel brushed the arm of his habit, let go, shrugged. “I want to be happy here, Isidore.”

“I hope you are.”

In his grove, he scraped dead bees from the feeder-troughs, wielding his trowel like a knife. He addressed a prayer to whatever spirit might listen that this new life would be pure and sweet; another was for Noel. His last was for whatever wayward beasts had come to Redwall: that they find satisfaction, in Abbey rule or the Dark Forest.

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