Torn and Foxed, Tipped-in

July 3, 2011

Tipping-in — a method for incorporating loose pages – a detached leaf, replacement page, errata sheet, or other insert – into a bound volume.

“I’ve lost my ‘ead entirely, ‘aven’t I?”

Aloysius studied her, the redness blossoming across her muzzle. “If you are troubled, we might be able to speak better back in the attic. Unfortunately, the archive house has fallen to pieces, pieces.”

“I’m not sure it’s something I can speak of.” She glanced up at him.

“Saskia, you have become increasingly anxious since arriving here at the abbey. Is it only, only…” the bat trailed off, and looked about the room, distraught. “It’s these new places. New things. Things.”

“Oh, listen to me!” the hare said, closing the gap between the pair and placing a paw on his shoulder. “Here I am, ready to prattle on and you…”

“And me, and me.” Aloysius’s reply was weary, bobbing like a nodding-off sleeper. “No, the young shouldn’t have to worry about the old, the old. It took time to learn the archives, and this place is just a new language, a new book.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know, I know.”

“Do you need to…”

“No,” Aloysius replied, “not right now. Now, I have here another dear friend, friend. What did you need from me?”

“Do you remember what we were talking about before?” The hare shifted to a nearby chair, siting primly, idly picking at her claws.

Aloysius hopped on to the room’s desk (a sinfully clear surface) and settled into an aloof roost. “You mean about finding your way. Yes?”

“I–” The hare paused, shooting quick glances between Aloysius and the door. “Yes. Yes, that was it. I spoke to some of my — some other beasts. And I’m worried that I’ve been going the wrong way.”

“And the right one, one?”

“I’m not certain, yet.” She took a deep breath, then added, “But I doubt it’s here.”

“Saskia.”

“Aloyisius,” she shot back. “You tell me to trust Carter and I don’t. I’ve ‘eard more rumours, and they’re getting worse.”

Aloysius spat the bittersweet saccharine-anise lie off his tongue. “He only has our interests in heart, Saskia. He loves this place, this place.” Because the alternative isn’t worth speaking of.

The hare’s mouth was a frozen press, the words trapped inside.

“I understand that your duties lie elsewhere, where, but I also have seen you flitter about while your head fills with worry.” The bat whistled a sigh before diving ahead. “Saskia… perhaps you’d like to apply yourself here?”

“I said before, I’m no Sister.”

“No, no!” Aloysius gave a flap of his wings, then settled down. “I meant working here, in the gatehouse, house. Then the Archives.”

Saskia regarded this for a moment. “I’ve already spent my youth on an apprenticeship, Aloysius. I’m not sure I’d like to sell myself to it in perpetuity.”

“Not forever, ever.” The bat hopped off the desk, hoping to catch her gaze at eye level. “Just to help guide you along. Nothing like the written word to set you right, right?”

She screwed up a frown at that, but quickly smoothed her features. “Yes. Of course it is. I don’t think I want to work for–”

“I know you wanted to own a press. I don’t think there can be two gatekeepers, but, at least here, we could be partners, partners. And if it’s all so bad as you fear, then at least you’re next to doors.” The bat tried out a small smile. “There’s no guard here, and you know how I can get distracted, distracted.”

And you’d be safer here, if you are right. And I couldn’t bear…

The hare smiled back, and Aloysius immediately felt a hot rush of relief well up, tinting his wide ears.

“I think I’d like that, Aloysius.”

————-

Aloysius was feeling listless. His archives lay in ruins, and he was unable to tend to them now that Carter had relieved him of his duties. Murder within the abbey had been confirmed, and Aloysius could no longer hide behind the rumours and hearsay that cast their dark shadows over the grounds like a layers of a veil. Even Saskia, the only beast left that Aloysius might consider a friend, was getting more restless and agitated as the days passed.

“The times we live in, old friend, old friend,” Aloysius said, draping a wing over Brother Raimun’s tombstone. “They’ve caught your murderer, though I can’t say I’m not surprised, surprised.” The bat sighed, moving his wing over the smooth marble. It was cold to the touch, but Aloysius did not know why he coerced himself to notice such things. “I never imagined Brother Andrew to be a malignant soul. Despite his … affliction, affliction … he seemed rather innocent.”

His mind flitted back to his archives, when young Tamarack, Cobb, and Brother Andrew had interrupted his work to inquire over the origins of a simple pin. The mouse had been so full of energy, brimming with excitement over a mystery to solve, and though Aloysius was unable to provide the answers they sought, there was no ire or aggravation, no sense of hostility at all. “I pray that you will forgive him, forgive him, once he finds his way to Dark Forest’s gates.”

Leather wings gripped Raimun’s tombstone, supporting the bat as a shudder not brought by wind or cold ran through him. A wingtip wiped at his eyes, as he fumbled at the ground next to him. He laid the thin piece of parchment over the freshly cut rock and dragged a burnt twig across it. The silent graveyard hissed with the echoes of rasp and scratch, from both coal and bat. “For the archives, my friend, my friend. So you’ll always be kept.”

“Father Abbot has entrusted to me the role of gatekeeper, gatekeeper,” Aloysius continued, once he had collected himself. The bat folded his wings and straightened, the rubbing set to one side. “I am not pleased by this turn of events, though you would disagree with me. I’d imagine you’d be pleased that I cannot ‘hide away’ as you would often jest. Still, I did not come to this abbey to count beasts. And with the state my archives have found themselves in…” He trailed off, unable to continue. “Saskia has agreed to aid me while I am encumbered with this new task, new task.” A smile graced his muzzle as he thought of the hare. “She is a good beast, and I daresay she was pleased at my offer.”

A sharp peal came from the belltower, jarring the Gatekeeper from his reverie. When the vesper bells call out, all beasts are to be inside, Brother Aloysius. See to it. It was curfew, and Aloysius knew that in a few hours he would have to start checking the beds. He shivered at the task, what it meant to check on his Brothers and Sisters and friends while they slept. He had just enough time to go to his room and have a quick meal.

He picked up the rubbing and looked it over. “Too light.” He tore it down the middle, then into tiny strips. “I suppose I’ll have to come back soon to do the job over, Raimun. Raimun.”

He paused before taking off; his eyes caught sight of an errant weed – an interloper. “And I’ll have those Coffincreeper’s hides if you’re not properly looked after. After. Or you, Andrew.”

————–

His rounds were easy enough. Carter had ordered every window left unlocked, so all the bat had to do was open the window, peek in, and give a chirp. When he heard how many shapes were abed, he would listen for the soft breaths of sleep, to belie any pillow-stuffing trickery. Then, he would move onto the next.

It was late, but normally this was a time of simmering stock and rising dough. It was a time of caught moths for the abbey birds and still-dipping beeswax. Aloysius had never felt this before, the oppressive quiet of a building forced into submission, into silence.

He reached the slats of the attic’s window and paused, his conscience tugging at him. Bats weren’t exactly private beasts, but this…

“Finally found your way out of a book?”

Aloysius squeaked and clung to the window — the voice had come from behind a downspout, out of sight and sense. “Fyfe?”

“Brother Aloysius.” Fyfe’s emphasis caused Aloysius to blush. “Can I help you?”

“Just doing a nightly census,” Aloysius replied with a nervous chuckle, “as it were, were.”

“He has you spying for him, Alo? Did you have to read us on it first, first? ‘Great Commentaries on Sneaking and Slinking’.”

“No, it’s nothing like that. I just have to make sure the gatehouse counted right, right.” Aloysius gripped the gutter and swung to a comfortable upside-down. “Nothing so sinister.”

“Alo, you know who’s sleeping in there, right? The brood you should be sharing.”

“I know, I know.”

“Why do you need to check up on us, then?”

“It’s just my duty, duty.” Aloysius shifted uncomfortably. “You know how that is, now. Now.”

“I always have, Alo,” Fyfe replied.

“That’s not what I meant!” The archivist could feel the shift in conversation begin, an old current threatening to pull him off. “I meant with how bad things have gotten here. It’s more important than ever to follow as diligently as one can.”

“So I hear, hear. I also hear things might get worse, brother.” A clearly informal title, this time.

Aloysius shifted again. “I’m not sure I want to hear, Fyfe. We always said that it was trouble that smashed flat your snout, snout.”

“It’s not a laughing matter this time, Alo. There’s a resistance forming outside, a group who won’t live under Carter, under Carter.”

“Under Carter?” Aloysius echoed, incredulous, “This is Redwall! He’s the Abbot, but it’s still the same place.”

“They think it’s changed, Alo. And they talk about taking it back.”

“It is nonsense, Fyfe. Whispers can sound louder than the little beasts that utter them, you know, know.”

“I don’t think it’s little, Alo,” he replied.

“Well don’t let me hear you saying them again!” Alo’s voice rose to disused volumes. “You could get in trouble for spreading rumours like that, like that, and rumours about Carter. And what about little Eilonwy? What if she should hear it, too?”

“I know how to look after my own, Brother. Own brother.” The emphasis was back.

“I didn’t mean–”

“You did.” Alo’s kin sighed. “And that’s the worst part; I can’t even fault you that, that.”

“I’m sorry, sorry.”

“It’s fine, Alo,” Fyfe said, “but you need to stop that. Stop thinking of the past. Things are different, now.”

When Aloysius didn’t respond, Fyfe continued.

“I’m going back inside. You should think about it, too. Checking up on friends and neighbors and families?”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s an old trick, Alo. I’m sure your histories taught you that much. There’s a change coming. You should give it a try. Maybe write the history instead of just reading it and storing it.”

Fyfe ducked inside the window, letting out a puff of warm attic air. It pulled at Alo like a string about his wingtip, reminding him of an old obligation.

But Aloysius took off into the night. Of course I had to. Duty and order are stronger currents. Oaths and codes are thermals holding me aloft.

It was a sickening descent as he ended his rounds on the walltop above his new lodgings. Five missing. Two Coffincreepers – but he hadn’t heard Colm and Tam at work with a late task, one from the male visitor’s dorm, and two from the female.

He worked his wings again and again, but the beasts never returned from their night walk or visit or…

My first night and something goes bad. It’s like there’s a book out of place. I can feel the lack. I can feel something’s wrong and no matter how many times I look, it’s never back in place.

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