Balance

August 19, 2011

“Qui plume a, guerre a.”

-1-

Brother Aloysius,
Once I found a story of Redwall long past, a lonely battle long forgotten, born of desperate greed and slain in fire. Its historical provenance is far from certain, but I think you would do well to read it, Brother. Maybe I shall have you printed a copy after this all has ended. If, indeed, either of us survives.

Its chronicler wrote: “Never have I ended a tale with more misgiving.”

This shan’t be the end of our tale, you and I, but I find myself approaching the end of this book’s pages, and those words are fitting enough as I wet the last of this paper with ink and tears. I write with misgiving. I will convey you this letter and this book only with misgiving, you who should know my guilt far better than any of your Brothers. I did nothing.

What ought we to have done? What will become of us?

The records of my business herein, I entrust to you for safekeeping. If you wish to keep all your friends innocent in your thoughts, I entreat you not read them. For that reason alone, they are of inestimable practical value. The records of my days, idle thoughts… those you may find somewhat less distressing.

Yours,
MS

-2-

Saskia considered the best method of searching; Timothy’s records did not appear in their newly-written ledgers. Therefore, if it were someplace that she or Aloysius had access to it, it would be among the manuscripts they hadn’t yet archived. Unfortunately, they had spent only a few days together working through the largely-chaotic Abbey library, and the rest was–as far as she could tell from Aloysius’ apologetic descriptions–irretrievably muddled.

“Account of the Winter of Deepest Snow.” Saskia tossed the book aside; Aloysius shot her a stern look and she muttered an apology, stacking it in a corner. “The Spring of the Thrice-Bedamned Tulips,” she grumbled, and added another book to the stack.

For his part, Aloysius was not examining any books, contenting himself with swooping about, piling manuscripts in neat towers, and casting long glances over shelves. Apparently he expected to remember what the records in question looked like, perhaps, or hoped for it to leap forth into waiting wings.

“Is it here?” Aloysius asked nobeast in particular. His voice was raspy, as though the night of drinking still lingered in his throat.

“Summer of the Bally Frogs,” Saskia sighed. “I’ve no idea, Aloysius, you would know better than I.”

“True. There must be a copy somewhere, somewhere.”

Saskia watched Aloysius as he worked; by appearance alone he was much unlike any otherbeast there, wings like living paper stretched around a brittle frame. Despite this fragility, Aloysius held the same enduring quality as his archives–his thoughts and words were proof against any influence.

There was a sudden rapping at the door; three stately knocks resounded in the little room.

“Come in, come in! Ah, Brother Isidore, what brings you here, here?”

The rat pursed his lips. He wandered over to an end-table and ran a scabbed paw over the one sliver of its surface that wasn’t covered in age-crinkled paper.

-3-

Isidore walked with a bit of a hunch, paws clasped behind him.

“Fine day for a walk, Brother, but there is much to be done back at the archives. Per’aps if you’ve anything to say, it would be best done quickly?”

Isidore barked what could have been a sour laugh and stopped; they stood now in front of the beehives. “Then let it be done quickly. I hadn’t thought it possible you were the one who corrupted Miss Selendra.”

Saskia rolled her eyes. “Oh, not this nonsense again, surely. There are better uses of my time.” She turned to leave, but shortly found an iron-strong grip around her wrist; iron-strong and faintly sticky. Isidore’s paw was burned, scabbed. “Let go.”

“You will listen, lass.”

Run. Run. Harm him as best you can, and run…

“Wot is it I’m accused of then, in the specifics?”

“You brought dear Selendra over to Case, to the blight that blackens this Abbey.”

“Brought ‘dear Selendra’ over, did I? ‘Ave you ever spoken with ‘er, then? Spoken with ‘er to listen to ‘er, I mean. Nobeast could convince ‘er of anything–”

His grip tightened around her wrist.

“And it seems the only point on which we’re in agreement is that there’s something dreadfully wrong ‘ere.”

“A traitor’s lies,” Isidore snorted.

“Not a traitor, surely, if this isn’t my ‘ome? In every account I’ve read of it, every gardening manual I’ve set into type, there is one point on which everybeast seems to be in agreement. Blight comes from the inside, outward. If you get my meaning, sah.”

“Lies, all the same, lass.”

“‘Ow’d you burn your paw?”

“Not important.” He tightened his grip again. Saskia fancied she could hear the small bones in her wrist grind together, but wouldn’t cry out. “You and that ferret, you never should have been brought into this place.”

Saskia tried not to flinch. Merritt next… have to try to help him.

“Oh, Merritt ‘asn’t ‘ad anything to do with much of anything, really.”

“I know what sort of filth he sells,” Isidore growled.

“Besides that, I mean.”

“So you are one of Case’s minions, then. If you claim the ferret isn’t guilty.”

I’m trapped.

“No, but you won’t believe it.”

Isidore dragged her roughly toward a hive. Buzzing filled her ears, a maddening hum. She swallowed. Isidore’s tools lay next to the hive, a box full of steel, blunt and sharp alike. He hefted a trowel.

“No, I won’t believe it. Not when I heard from Brother Tompkins.”

Oh, no. No, no, no…

Saskia’s heart thundered in her chest.

I’m sorry Aloysius, I’m sorry Merritt, I want nothing but for you to live–

She took a deep breath.

“You’re going to kill me, then.” It wasn’t a question.

Can I reach my dagger? No.

Isidore didn’t answer it. He frowned. A flicker of what could have been regret was stillborn in his expression. The bees buzzed on, oblivious.

Even if I escape for now, he–they–can find me…

“Then I’ll tell you something true, something I believe with all my soul.” She sighed. “If the rebels ‘eld in their ‘earts the evil you accuse them of, your Abbot would already be dead.”

Isidore shook his head. Saskia stared into his eyes.

Don’t cry.

“You know they could ‘ave done it, by now.”

Saskia closed her eyes. The bees–abruptly–were silent.

-4-

Later…

Night had fallen; the stars aligned in familiar constellations, blissful in their ignorance of happenings on the terrestrial sphere. Aloysius couldn’t decide whether he ought to take comfort in their steadiness or vent bitter fury, that the stars did not know what he’d lost, the news he’d been given. The Abbey lawn was quiet. Somebeast padded through the dark.

Aloysius stood, wings wrapped protectively around himself. He felt as though he’d been thrown down stairs, disoriented and tender.

“I told her she’d come to no good… end,” Merritt said, his voice at first like the crunch of an icicle against a stone path, but rising uncontrollably at the end to a chirp of strangled birdsong. He sat down hard on the grass, paws over his eyes. “Perhaps she had the right of it after all. Perhaps I’ve been foolish.”

Aloysius stood, mouth open. “It seems she may be right, be right.”

“Have been.”

“Y-yes. Have been,” Aloysius whispered.

Merritt stood and uncovered his eyes. His mask was unmarked by tears, but he seemed to Aloysius to be looking past him or through him.

“I have a gift for you, or I shall soon enough. A book.” He paused. “If you would take me as an ally, or at least the lesser of two evils. I care not for this paltry, filthy little war. But I shan’t see a friend go unavenged. Whatever you think of me, I’ve never brought pain or death into this Abbey.” Merritt’s voice grew sharper. “I know you cared for her. Help me.”

Aloysius swallowed, and bowed his head.

“I–“

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