The Martyrdom of Saint Bat
September 21, 2011
The ground was damp with dew as Aloysius fluttered to the ground in front of the gathering, Carter at its head.
“My brethren, brethren, stop!” he called.
“Brother Aloysius,” Carter said, raising a paw to halt the crowd. Aloysius could see familiar faces, but some were near unrecognizable, bloodied and swollen as they were from the escapees. “It seems we have received word of where the entrance to the rebel encampment lies. Amery spotted a group of beasts heading down into the cellars, but they have yet to surface.”
The bat straightened, wrapping his wings around himself for comfort, as well as appearances. “Turn back, Carter. They are out of your bounds, now.”
The otters eyes grew wide and his nostrils flared. “I am Abbot, Aloysius, and this is my abbey.”
“They are not abbeybeasts. They are creatures who make their homes outside these walls. They are not under your command, command.”
“You’re aiding them?” He took a step towards the bat. “And Julian?”
Aloysius pinned his ears back as he heard gasps from the crowd. He shuffled on his feet as he averted his gaze. “I am merely providing an exit for those who seek it, seek it.”
“Then you are no Brother of Redwall,” Carter growled from his throat.
“No?” Aloysius felt a singular ire rising within him, one that lent ice to his tone as he raised an eyebrow and cocked his head. “Then I say to you: Since the beginning of this lockdown you have held beasts against their will, their will that decides freely what their heart desires. What kind of leader does that but a tyrant?”
“I am protecting the wellbeing of those within my walls.”
“And yet they wish to be free from these bonds.”
Carter shook his head. “I would have never imagined you of all beasts would turn your back on this abbey, Aloysius.”
“I have not turned my back on this abbey, this abbey,” Aloysius said, shuffling a few paces back. “It is you who have done that, old friend. Redwall was always meant to be a safe haven, a safe haven for those who desired it. Now it has become no more than a place of death and hostility. I want no part of it.”
“Then why return?” Carter demanded. “Do you intend to spread Julian’s lies here, as well?”
Aloysius felt his wings tremble. There was murder in that voice, and he longed to take to the sky, longed to fly back to Fyfe, Saifye, and Eilonwy. He longed to fly away from the abbey, from Saskia’s murder, Foweller’s death, and toward his family, towards home. But Tamarack and Noel needed him to buy this time, to lend wings to their own paws as they raced to save this place and all that it meant. Even without Martin, the stories of Redwall still spoke of heroes.
“Do you remember the otter named Keyla, Keyla? He was once given a chance of freedom, enslaved as he was in Marshank, but he stayed for those too young and too old to escape. Your words have convinced many, but they will need a guiding wing when your own lies surface, surface.”
Carter flashed his teeth. “As you wish, Aloysius. As you wish.” Turning, he faced the throng. “Those that have found passage outside of these walls are not our own. I am no tyrant, my children, though there are those who would accuse me of such things. I care only for you, for the beasts in my protection. Let them be. Let these creatures who may well come back to kill our families and friends be as Aloysius wishes. But I say to you, this—” He turned back to the bat. “—if I find another beast has left or entered these walls during my Lockdown, there will be consequences. I did not think you would turn against our abbey, but I suppose a creature lost in the past cannot hope to understand what we must deal with in the present.” The abbot shook his head and turned, stalking back toward his manor.
The rest of the crowd mingled, until they too, scattered like dandelion seeds on the wind. Aloysius watched them go, then took flight for the gatehouse. He had not expected to convince the group to turn away, but even so, there was another task he had to accomplish tonight.
Closing the door to his archives, Aloysius went to his desk and retrieved Merritt’s diary. He shuddered as he touched it, at the blasphemy contained within its pages. Aloysius had always believed there was good in everybeast, but this book was proof that evil dwelt alongside it. He had to dispose of it, lest it fall into the wrong paws. This book contained secrets, dark secrets, but secrets nonetheless, and Aloysius supposed that everybeast was allowed his vices.
Taking the page that contained Merritt’s code, he placed it in the flickering candlelight and watched as it caught, brilliant red embers spiraling into ash. He set fire to the rest of the diary. With his desk alight, Aloysius took a tome and placed it on the flames. Then another, and another, until the fire was able to sustain itself.
The historian watched as the pages burned. His life, his being, everything that he had stood for had turned to ash. They were nothing more than lies, fiction, made to incriminate a group of beasts that should have had no part in the stories they produced. How many times had the histories been rewritten, tampered with, to create the fear mongering that held woodlanders hostage? Ever since Aloysius had come to the abbey the creed had been the same: Vermin were bad, and needed to be dealt with accordingly. Rats, weasels, ferrets, stoats, wildcats. Even when the abbey had opened their doors to them the prejudice remained.
Aloysius had tried to get them to change. Noel, Virrel, Tamarack, Bludd, Isidore, these were not evil beasts, and deserved not the scorn they received. He had hoped to bring the abbey back to its founding roots, the Woodlander’s Code, an idea that did not depict speciesism, but relied purely on the virtues and morals within. But the stories said otherwise, and until those stories were destroyed, beasts would always come back to them.
It pained his heart to see his work go up in smoke, but they deserved this, any beast who held himself as a true woodlander deserved this. Turning from his archives Aloysius left, the fire—which had started with a single leaflet—blazing behind him. The dry, brittle pages served well as tinder and were quick to ignite. He couldn’t tarry long, lest he be caught in the ensuing inferno.
He put a winged claw on the doorlatch and pulled, but the door did not budge. Furrowing his brow, he pulled harder, straining against the heavy weight but still there was no give. He was locked inside. Growing frantic, Aloysius turned, seeking another way out. Unlike so much of the abbey there was no secret passageway he could rely on for escape, but there were windows.
Taking flight, Aloysius chirped, the room erupting into a brilliant silver sheen, but all it brought back were the clouds of smoke that billowed in the room. He flew in tight circles, chirping desperately for any sort of clearing, but there was nothing. A bookshelf barred his path, and he crashed into it with a terrible thud, his claws scrabbling for purchase as he pulled books from their housing. Once he managed to get to the top, he covered his face in his wing and coughed. His lungs burned with the acrid taste of smoke. Taking a deep, ragging breath, he chirped again, but there was nothing he could hear. The smoke and fine ash scattered his echoes in a million directions.
With a flap of his wings, he cleared the smoke as best he could before taking a deep breath, then launched himself from his perch. He could not hear the windows, but he would find them, he could still find them. He knew where they were—often he had watched the moon pass by, seated at his desk—but he was disoriented and could not tell which face of the wall he was on. Still, he had to try.
Eyes shut tight, he wheeled around, gaining purchase as he climbed higher in the air. The ceiling smacked against his back and he nearly exhaled, but he managed to shake off the shock. If he flew in a single direction, he’d reach the wall, and then it was only a matter of time before he could reach a window.
The sound of a sickening crack filled his ears, and Aloysius’s head exploded in pain. But there had been some give, and the bat realized that somehow he had reached a window. He scrabbled at the pane, and his claws stung as he gripped splintered wood. The glass had cracked, but it was not broken. Throwing his body at his only chance of escape, he failed to break the glass, too weak and exhausted from his efforts. He took a breath, his lungs exploding in pain. The wood slipped from his grip, and he fell to the burning floor like a dropped inkwell.
Fire surrounded him, searing his wings and scorching his fur. In a surge of strength born of desperation, he launched himself from the fire, but there was nowhere he could land that wasn’t aflame. Bludd and Eilonwy had certainly done a job covering the floor with his books.
At some point he found hot stone, collapsing into a fit of hacking. He tried opening his eyes, but they stung too much, just like his lungs, just like his wings and the rest of his body. There was nothing he could do. Nowhere he could fly, nowhere he could hide. Never again would he spend a night drinking with Fyfe, chat with him and Saifye over a candied beetle, or tell Eilonwy a story. He had missed his opportunity, duty bound to the Abbey, unable to spend even a single night with his family. What a fool he had been.
Aloyisus had truly been as blind as a bat, unwilling to see what lay before his very eyes. He curled on the ground, thinking of Tamarack and Noel. At least they knew the truth, and they would spread it to listening ears. The fate of the abbey now rested in their paws; it was the only consolation he had left.
So many beasts had died and gone to Dark Forest. Raimun, Andrew, Ripple, Bludd, Cobb, Saskia, Foweller. Perhaps he would see them again. And maybe, if he waited patiently enough, Fyfe and Saifye and Eilonwy would come to see him.
Yes, he would like that.