Yet Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves

September 22, 2011

Isidore excused himself as many times as grow blossoms on an apple tree, as many times as there swam fish in the ocean, as many times as his heart had beaten in his life. The blood on his blade should have glimmered, should have taunted him. He should have wiped it away.

Yet the night turned it river-deep. He could only fall endlessly into the dark slick, into the thing he had made.

Once when he was very young his brother found a secret, winding maze of stone in the great southern deserts. They wandered it together, leaving pebble-trails behind them, and once or twice they crossed their own paths. Isidore’s brother went further in and further down. Isidore sat, and he tried to keep his torch from going out.

He watched water carve trails in the stone. His paws slithered over the tiny rivers and grooves he thought were once writing; it occurred to him somebeast had lived there. Pawmarks in madder and bone-black still clung to the ceiling. Suddenly, he could not breathe for fright. It felt as though a hundred ghosts crowded him, reached in his chest and clawed at his heart.

He ran.

Later his brother emerged. He didn’t have his torch.

“How did you do that?” Isidore asked, between sobs. How had he followed their trail without light? How had he not been swallowed entire, by haunts or by the darkness?

“I knew I had to,” said his brother. “So I did.”

Pretend, then, he stayed in that cavern. The ghosts filled his lungs with breath, and he watched firelight dance on old paint until his brother found him. They came to the surface together. That story wrote others: Iphigenia never left. He kept bees, or he farmed. He never scrubbed Foweller’s blood from his sword.

In this story, he fled; everything went the way it went. He never descended and came away whole. He looked at the blood and he fell.

He paused outside Carter’s door. He thought he would say I have done this. This is the blood of a child who might have been my son. I have done this and done it too long. Yet when he saw the Abbot, he bowed, and one word left his lips.

“No.”

Carter rubbed sleep from sleepless eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I won’t do this any more,” Isidore said. “Foweller is dead.”

“Then I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I did it, fool,” he spat, “I’m the one staved his head in. They’ve got out, all of them– Noel, and the vixen, and the ones that– the ones that–” he shuddered, a little, and the words stung his throat like bile “– I killed him.”

“I am sorry.”

“No,” he said.

Carter took his paw. “Let’s find you some tea.”

He stumbled to the kitchen, Carter leading him like he would a lost dibbun. Carter reached for the tea, then for a bottle, and Isidore sat on the floor. The Abbot shoved a cup of brandy in his paws. He did not drink.

“You said ‘got out.’ Where?”

“There are tunnels in the cellar.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know their names. Merritt Stirling. Brother Aloysius. At least a score.”

“You’d let them traipse into Case’s paws.”

“What should I have done?” Isidore said. “Should I have killed them all, whoever I could? Do you think me capable?”

“Yes,” Carter said. “Since you’ve done so much already.”

He was falling, again. Somewhere in the pebble-trails he and his brother had made he saw a path where he kept this course: he listened, and obeyed, and when the Abbot came to trial he did too. There was another path, one where he renounced Carter and went to Julian Case. He would die, of course. He thought he might deserve it.

Carter held Martin’s sword.

Isidore did not reach for it. He watched Carter loom over him, dandling the blade. He lifted his chin and offered his neck, but the otter did not lunge; instead he bent and took Isidore’s paw, daintily. He caressed it like a lover would. “The way I see it, you have nowhere left to go.”

Then the metal kissed his throat. He thrilled at its touch. He watched Carter tense; he wondered how it would feel to bear that silver-crimson, final thrust, and when his killer would do it. But the Abbot relented.

“You have nowhere left,” he said again. “Why would I do that? Take the sword. It is yours.”

Isidore choked back something like a sob. “Father.”

“Will you protest? You can either die, or triumph. And I believe you can choose wisely.”

“I– I–” he stuttered. “I’ll fight.”

That ended it. They drank their brandy, dawdling on the kitchen floor like children. The night was quiet but for spring wind whistling over the Abbey. Isidore could feel a chill creep through the stone and into his joints. He wondered if he might ever feel warmth again.

Something clattered in the hallway. Isidore’s paw leapt to the hilt of his sword, but he hesitated to wield it. The intruder’s paws thumped on the floor; this small noise seemed to shake his bones, to jar something inside him. “Father!” the intruder called– he knew that voice. It was Amery’s. “Father Abbot! There’s a fire!”

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