The Cat's in the Cradle

August 16, 2011

Aloysius and Saskia parted ways in the cellar, where the gatekeeper began his nightly headcount far too late for his liking. He had missed a few hours from the fire whiskey and assault, but by his best reckoning, it was near dawn, and Abbot Carter would be expecting his report soon.

Clinging to a ceiling beam, Aloysius chirped. In a corner of the cellar, the hedgehogs were stirring, each one of them accounted for. With a mental note and a nod, he left them to rouse on their own. He spared no time for morning greetings and chastisements; he had far too much to do.

In the early hours of the morn, the abbey was already bustling. The friars were preparing breakfast, the otters and squirrels were out on patrol, the infirmary maids were checking on patients, and too many beasts were missing from their beds. Aloysius hung from the outer rafters, watching the sun rise as a golden orb across the forest canopy beyond Redwall City. He had missed his chance—it was impossible to count the heads, now. There was nothing left but to count his loses and deliver his missing report. A fleeting thought came to him of lying. Carter was not a forgiving beast, and the bat feared the repercussions waiting for him. But he was no Dibbun with an excuse to hide behind. Whatever punishment lay in store he deserved, and it did well for his hubris to teach him not to follow silly adventures.

There was a gust of wind, and Aloysius turned his ears at the sound of claws scrabbling for purchase. A warm body hung next to him.

“I hate the sun, the sun,” Fyfe murmured beside him.

“It is not so bad so early in the morning, morning,” Aloysius replied.

“It is too bright, and hot, and my eyes hurt. Did you find your answers?”

“They only brought more questions, more questions that need more answers.” Aloysius looked at the sun, squinting his eyes as he watched it leave the bed of treetops and spill its light over the abbey walls. “I am sorry you came at such a troubling period, Fyfe.”

“As am I, am I. It is not often I get to see my kin, and Abbey Naming Days only come once a season. We will depart at sunset, sunset. Redwall has not been hospitable to us, and neither have you.”

Aloysius nodded. “You told me before to write the history, instead of storing it.”

“I did, I did.”

“The only time I ever tried to mold history with my wings, many beasts died, and a great city lost.”

Fyfe was silent, listening.

“When I left Bat Mountpit to seek the legends of Martin the Warrior, my first stop was the birthplace of his only love, Laterose of Noonvale. There I became their archivist, and later, advisor, when war knocked at their door.”

“You never told me…”

“The ash from those ancient records and stories followed me for miles, miles.”

“But they still remain in your heart, and in every heart you speak of them to. History is never lost, brother, it is just forgotten, forgotten.”

Aloysius closed his eyes. The sun had become too bright.

“Eilonwy loves your stories, your stories. She misses you.”

“How is she?”

“She is searching for her playmate. A little wildcat by the name of Bludd, Bludd.”

“They had better not be near my archives.”

“They are not your archives, brother, Brother.” Aloysius turned his head at the title. “They are everybeast’s. I did your count. There are five-hundred and thirty-four beasts in the abbey. How you can do this every night is a mystery to me, to me.”

“Fyfe, thank you, thank you.”

“We still depart at sundown. If the abbey is not too dangerous for my daughter now, it will be, it will be.” Fyfe laid a wingtip on his brother’s shoulder. “I hope for your sake you find your answers. It is never too dishonorable to run, not you, who hold Redwall’s history in your heart, your heart.” And then Aloysius found himself alone.

Opening his wings, Aloysius dropped from his perch and sought out Carter’s house. He wheeled through the air, letting the wind guide him on a lackadaisical path. It had been a while since Aloysius had ridden the winds for the simple enjoyment of flying, and he supposed he could afford the time to clear his head and ready himself for his report.

There was something in the air though, Aloysius noticed, as he came upon the southern wall. An ugly smell that reminded him of the Coffincreeper household moments before a funeral. Changing his course, Aloysius followed the odor, and as he came closer, determined it did not smell like the undertakers’ dwelling at all. This was more potent, more sinister, with no flowers and embalming fluids to mask the scent of death.

He came down upon a small glade. The sun’s morning light had not yet penetrated the thick canopy of leaves, but a soft blue glow surrounded him on all sides. He wondered for a moment if he had found the moon’s resting place after she had set, but he did not dwell long on such poetic fancies. The smell was overpowering. Aloysius chirped, and the glade erupted in a brilliant silver sheen. He found himself on a rocky outcrop, and little mushroom stems littered the rock and forest floor. Off to the side was a rotting log, covered with moss and small ferns that were beginning to sprout. Next to that was the still body of a small wildcat.

Aloysius’s chest seized up; his throat closed entirely. She was unrecognizable—her head had split, and dried blood formed hideous growths that her bandana could not hide. Stricken with shock and grief, he collapsed to the floor and crawled to her side.

“Oh my dear, sweet child, what have they done to you?” He could barely speak; his breath had not yet returned to him. All he could manage was a hoarse whisper. “What have they done to you?”

He cradled her in his wings, her beautiful, mauled body, and he rocked her, as though he were simply putting her to bed. She was so soft, and stiff, and cold.

“I’m sorry, sorry, for the archives.” He pulled her close, resting his head against her neck. Something crawled on him, and he flicked his ear, and it was gone. “It’s all right. I forgive you, you and Eilonwy both.”

His body shook as he fought the sobs that came unbidden. She was so young, so full of life and energy, and they had taken it away from her, and had not even spared her the decency of a proper burial. She was only a child.

“I never told you of Gingivere Greeneyes,” Aloysius said through his tears. “He was a wildcat, a wildcat who lived in Martin’s time. The son of Verdauga, the ruler of Kotir, and brother to the evil Tsarmina. But he was not like his sister…” He lifted his head, and stroked her broken forehead. Her eyes had not closed, and reflected a milky blue in the phosphorescent light. He brushed his wing over her eyelids, closing them as he would a finished volume.

“He was good, and cared for the baby hedgehogs Ferdy and Coggs when they were sealed in the dungeon next to his cell. When he was freed, he went east, east, and started a bloodline of good wildcats that lasted until Matthias’s time. They lived on a farm. I would have liked to take you there…” He choked. “And Ripple as well.”

Shifting her in his wings, Aloysius struggled to rise. Even though she was a young wildcat, he was a small bat, and she was nothing like the books in his archives.

“Come now, child,” he tried to say, but his heart was broken. “Let me take you back to the abbey. Eilonwy has been looking for you, for you.”

It was a long walk back to the abbey. Aloysius did not often use his feet, even in the great sandstone building, and there was no bag to place Bludd as he would often use for his books. She was heavy, and often he had to pause and shift the weight, but he would not leave her, not when she had been abandoned so callously. As he left the abbey forest, the few beasts that were going about their early morning tasks would stop and stare, but none offered aid to the tear-stained bat with a dead beast in his wings. It was a solemn and lonely progression.

Brother Isidore was waiting for him at Carter’s door. The rat stood as Aloysius approached, tapping the tobacco out of his pipe and placing the pipe in his pocket. He froze when he saw what was in the bat’s wings.

“Brother Aloysius,” Isidore began.

“I must speak with Abbot Carter,” Aloysius cried, stumbling to the ground. He did not drop her, he would never drop her. He hugged her close to his body. “I must speak with Abbot Carter.”

Isidore nodded and entered the house. A moment passed, and Carter was outside, Isidore on his heels.

“Brother Aloysius, what—”

“It’s Bludd, Bludd,” Aloysius wailed, presenting her broken body to the Father Abbot of Redwall Abbey. “Look at what they’ve done to her! She was only a child … a child!”

Carter went to Aloysius’s side, placing a paw on his wing, and another on Bludd’s chest. “Murder has breached our abbey walls. Brother Isidore, take her to the Coffincreeper household. She’ll be in good paws there.”

Brother Isidore stooped to collect the kitten, but Aloysius pulled her away. The rat laid a paw on his other wing, and Aloysius looked up. There was pain in his eyes, a sadness that he could not deny. He offered him the kitten. He could trust him; he was a Brother.

“Come inside, Aloysius,” Abbot Carter said as Isidore left with Bludd in his paws. “I’ll brew you some tea.”

They entered the dwelling and Carter led him to the kitchen, where he lit the small stove and put a kettle on to boil. Aloysius staggered. He felt so light without the young wildcat’s weight pulling him down. He clambered onto a chair by the table and laid his head in his wings, but a warm smell distracted his grief. Looking up, Carter was proffering blueberry scones. The bat reached out to accept one, but there was blood on his wingtip, and he refrained.

“My apologies,” Carter said softly. “Let me get you something.”

In a trice he was gone, then back with a moist cloth.

“Where did you find her?” the abbot asked.

Aloysius did not respond immediately. Instead, he wiped at his claws until the stale blood was gone, then at his wing where her head had rested. Carter waited patiently.

“She was in the forest, the forest by the southeast corner of the abbey,” Aloysius said, and took a deep breath. “It was a small glade, where the mushrooms glowed like the moon, the moon.”

“Was there anybeast else there? Any tracks, or evidence?”

Aloysius shook his head. “Her body was so cold. Oh Father, who could do such a thing?”

“A cruel beast, to be sure. Eat, my son; you look rather haggard.”

Aloysius took a scone, but he was not hungry. Still, he played with it and nibbled at the corner as an act of politeness.

“No doubt you have heard the rumours of a small uprising against this abbey,” Carter said softly. “Your brother Fyfe brought them, didn’t he?”

Still nibbling at his scone, Aloysius nodded.

“I’m afraid they may have found a way inside. Did you check the gatehouse records?”

“Two are missing, missing.”

“And that accounts for two deaths in the abbey. One by murder, the other, by his own paw.”

Aloysius lifted his head. “No,” he breathed.

Carter nodded. “Our friend Cobb took his life earlier this evening.”

The scone fell to the table. Aloysius felt like he was going to sick up.

“These are dark times we live in, my son,” Carter said. “Tell me, did Fyfe bring word of the kinslayer’s accomplice?”

Aloysius opened his mouth but before he could speak, the tea kettle screamed. Carter did not move. The bat’s eyes went to the kettle, watching the steam as it spewed forth. He didn’t know what to do. Betray Saskia, Tamarack, and Noel? If he could not possibly be wrong, that was what Saskia said. Duty was a mountain, and Aloysius found himself at the bottom of its chasm.

The otter grunted and went to retrieve the pot. The screaming stopped, and Aloysius was left to his own thoughts. Carter believed Bludd to have been murdered by the rebels, but something was missing, like a torn page from an ancient record. Why had Bludd been left to rot in the abbey forest, where she could not be found by a passing abbey beast? It was messy, too, and there had been no attempts to hide the body or make it seem like it was an accident. It was nothing like the firsts deaths, that had been dumped unceremoniously at the abbey gates. She at least would have been presented as a warning.

A steaming mug was placed before him. It smelled of chamomile. “Perhaps it will comfort your weariness,” Carter said, sitting back down. “By your clock, you should be readying for bed.”

“Thank you, Father,” Aloysius whispered, blowing on the steam and taking a sip. “Tell me, do you believe these traitors killed Bludd, Bludd?”

“Who else would it be, my son?”

Aloysius nodded; he had his answer. “Fyfe brought wind of a treacherous beast. The birds have left their roost, for there’s a hunter in the trees.”

Carter’s eyes grew wide. “Cassius…” He reached out and grasped the bat’s wing. “Thank you, my friend.”

The rest of their tea was spent over conversations of times gone past, of Raimun, and Ripple, and Bludd, too, for even the Abbot had not been spared her reckless behavior. They spoke of all the deaths, of Andrew and Cobb and Chamomile and Ruslen. Of Sister Sarah and Brother Xander, and Sister Thistledown, and everyone else, too.

And when they parted ways, it was in laughter and tears brought from sadness and good times. Aloysius did not return to the attic. His archivist’s mind had an itch, and he desired to scratch it.

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