The Abbot's Dream
The night had been difficult; I was able to retire only after making a long and hard decision regarding the safety of the abbey. That afternoon a very large group of vermin, mainly foxes, had been sighted approaching the abbey. Though they had no apparent weapons, they moved with the obvious intention of visiting us. At once our battle expert, Ludd the otter, suggested that we take immediate action; arm ourselves and be prepared for an attack, or to attack. At first I was reluctant; how were we to know that their intentions were hostile? But as I mounted the stairs leading up to my bedchamber, I could still hear his argument ringing in my ears. "Father Abbot, listen to me. These are vermin; ruthless, cruel, and unmerciful. They know nothing of peace, they kill for the fun of it, and they spare no beast; not the young, not the old, not the bearing. They are completely heartless. It's best that we prepare, and, if it comes to it, slay the whole lot of them. For the safety of our families and loved ones."
I sighed as I reached my bedchamber and readied myself for bed. Ludd was right of course; as much as I didn't want to believe it, the majority of vermin we had encountered had had cruel intentions. Why, I could not remember a time when any vermin band visiting the abbey hadn't had any bad intentions. As much as I hated to, I had to take those measures, for the sake of the abbey. This thought echoed in my mind as I laid down my head and quietly began to drift into slumber.
My eyes had been closed for less than a minute when I suddenly felt the strangest feeling; it was as if my subconscious was plummeting down a deep dark hole and I was powerless to stop it. Then I must have hit the bottom, because I felt a dreadful THUD, and I gasped and sat up in bed. My bed was still there, but as I looked around me, everything but the floor around me and ahead of me seemed to disappear into a hazy void that seemed to consist of nothing but a rosy golden fog, waving and curling like the scenery in a fever dream. I slowly rose up out of my bed, and as I did, it turned to mist and melted away. Knowing nothing else to do, I began to walk forward, noticing with some interest the mist at my feet parting to reveal more floor for me to walk upon.
After venturing forward for what seemed to be a long time and having encountered nothing, I halted and spoke to the gathering mists. "Is there anybeast here?" My voice seemed to echo for a few seconds, but there was no response. But as I peered into the mist ahead of me, a form began to appear; a shapeless dark blotch at first, then gradually I could make out arms, legs, and a hazy third shape that might have been a tail if it hadn't kept appearing and disappearing as the form drew steadily nearer. Suddenly, the mists parted, and the form stepped forward. I was unable to avert my eyes as I saw it walk slowly up to me until we were nearly nose-to-nose. I saw the eyes; large and literally swimming with thought and meaning. Everything else seemed to be composed of a strange, shimmering blue, ever-changing haze. This haze made any other details a mystery to me, for whenever I looked for a telltale feature, like ears, snout, or tail, it would become too hazy to properly make out, as if it purposely eluded me.
The form itself said nothing until I had given up trying to make out its species, and had once more met its gaze. It was then that words reached my ears, and I distinctly saw a mouth appear on the form as I heard them, spoken in a soft, female voice. "Welcome, Father Abbot." I felt at ease at being addressed so, and I ventured to ask, "Who are you? And where am I?" The form fixed me with her deep penetrating gaze as she answered. "I am a spirit; a spirit that has been deeply disturbed by a crime that is continually being committed in the land of the living. This place we are in is between your world and mine. Both sides have access, but entering is difficult. You only got in at my request."
So you brought me here?"
She suddenly seemed very calm and collected as I heard her reply. "Yes." I was still trying to take it all in; what could possibly be so disturbing that a spirit from Dark Forest would resort to communicating with a living being?
Just as if she had heard my thoughts, she reached out and took my paw in her shimmering, almost shapeless one. It felt like I was grasping cobweb, only it was not at all sticky like cobweb. But the fragility was quite plain as I sought to not crush her paw. She turned her head toward me, fixing me with her ever-penetrating eyes, and said one word. "Come." I felt no reply was necessary, so I just walked along with her, thinking about what was going to happen next, and what this unrestful spirit wished to show me.
I must have thought too deeply because I failed to realize we were beginning to fly upward until we were a good twenty feet above the floor we had just been walking on. I let out a gasp and nearly let go of the spirit's paw. My form teetered dangerously, adding to my anxiety. The spirit turned to look at me and said, "Hold on." I nodded and tried to swallow my fear as we rose higher, until we were shrouded in such thick, rose-colored mist that not being able to see how high we were, my fear slowly diminished. Then, abruptly, the mist beneath us vanished, and I saw brilliant hues of blue and green far below. I turned my head once to look at the apparition beside me. Her gentle eyes, still the only tangible part of her, were fixed on the area below, which upon looking again I perceived to be land and sea; the land of the living, as my companion had called it. It surely was glorious at this height; the birds were flying a ways below us, their warbling cries distant. The sun shone on the brilliant waxy leaves of the countless trees, and as we flew closer, I swore by Martin's sword that I saw a blotch of red that was unmistakably my own Redwall Abbey, looking as cheery as it always did. As we drew nearer, I could make out the towers, the battlements, the beautiful fields and orchards. And as we flew closer still, I could make out the scores of small moving shapes below us. I thought at once what an odd pair we must look; or rather, I looked, for spirits can hide themselves as they wish, while a Father Abbot in his nightshirt has no such power. Again she must have read my thoughts, for she turned to me and said, "Do not be afraid, for these creatures cannot see or hear you." I saw no reason to fear, for now I could see the creatures plainly, and I recognized many of them.
We alighted on the grass in the very center of the field, where we just stood and took it all in. There couldn't have been a more serene scene; there was a large group of dibbuns playing tag, their squeals and laughter brightening the whole scene. Underneath the trees, adults could be seen, idly chatting and chuckling at the antics of their young. I watched as a beautiful mousemaid emerged from the path to the kitchen, carrying a tray full of hot, freshly baked scones. The children cheered as the stopped their game to run over and grab one. The scene was so peaceful and happy it brought tears of joy to my eyes. My abbey, on a typical day when all is well.
Then the spirit put forth her arm and waved it in a wide motion toward the scene. The red sandstone walls began to melt away, replaced by tall, towering redwood trees. The towers slowly became an immensely tall tree, hollowed and with windows cleverly carved into it at the base. The children and the adults froze in place, and I watched in horror and fascination as they too began to transform. The little mice grew pointy ears, their snouts lengthened, and their tails shortened and sprouted fur. The others, even the grown beasts likewise had changed. When the transforming was done with, and the figures resumed their activities, I was struck dumb with wonder. All the actions were the same; the dibbuns playing tag, the adults lounging, the cheery scenery, but instead of mice, otters, and hares, there were foxes, ferrets, and rats. I watched as the scene repeated itself, only the lovely mousemaid was an elderly stoat, and the scones were not as fine looking as the abbey's. And yet, the same air of peace and innocence was evident. The spirit turned to me and said simply, "Vermin as well as goodbeasts know peace." At that moment, when I looked for differences to prove her wrong, I found nothing.
We then ascended until we were once more high in the air. My mind was still reeling from what I had seen. The words Ludd had said, "They know nothing of peace," now seemed quite untrue. He smiled a little as he recalled one rather touching scene; a baby fox, no more than three seasons old, laughing gaily as he rode on the shoulders of a large, brawny male fox, crying, "Fasta daddy, fasta!", waving a tiny green forest hat with a bright red feather.
My thoughts were interrupted by sounds coming from below us...I chewed my lip as the sounds became more distinct; they were the sounds that I hope will never be heard anywhere near my peaceful abbey. They were the grueling sounds of battle; steel clashing, shouts and curses ringing out, the piercing cries of beasts in their death throes. I almost brought my paw up to my eyes so not to see, but I found I could not lift my paw nor shut my eyes to the horrifying scene I was beholding as we landed. It was clearly a battle between an army of goodbeasts and a horde of vermin; both it seemed were quite evenly matched. Suddenly I saw in horror two small mousemaids passing us by, sobbing and gasping. I reached out to one, but my paw seemed to go into her, or rather she ran into my paw and passed without any indication that she had been touched. I remembered then what the spirit said and I realized that here I was little more than a specter myself.
As I continued to watch, a group of about ten assorted vermin appeared, obviously pursuing the frightened mousemaids. I saw rapidly, too rapidly, the gap between them closing. I saw the vermin gather around the maidens in a grinning circle, their weapons aimed at the cowering forms. I heard one beg for mercy, and she received none. The remaining mouse was fiercer, probably furious at the death of her friend. But she was sorely outnumbered and it was not long before she lay beside her friend, her hate-filled eyes slowly clouding over. The vermin sneered and returned to the battlefield, not once looking back on the two pitiful corpses. I felt as if I couldn't breathe, so horrified was I. Tears sprang to my eyes and ran down my face as I thought of how those two will never again see a sunny day, or the parents who loved them.
The spirit, who had watched the entire thing with me, shed no tears, although I saw the unspeakable sorrow in her eyes. Without turning to look at me, she quietly said, "Do not cry all of your tears just yet, Father Abbot." I looked at her quizzically, about to ask her what she meant, when I heard another sound; a sound I never would have expected to hear on a battlefield. It was unmistakeably the wailing of an infant. I turned to my left and saw one figure fleeing toward the woods, in the opposite direction of the two mousemaids. I saw as it drew nearer that it was a female fox, adult, but still quite young. In her arms she carried a small bundle, from which the sounds of the babe contained within it issued. She was running hard, her baby making it difficult for her to run fast. I could hear her painful gasping for breath, not unlike that of the mousemaids', as she neared the woods. I somehow knew from what direction the pursuers would come, but I was still quite thoroughly surprised when they finally came into view. There were four of them; a young badger, a squirrel, and two shrews. Once again I saw the gap close. The vixen halted, shifted her young cub until she held it tightly with one paw, and she raised the other, claws extended. Before she could move any further, she fell; out of her chest stuck a well-aimed arrow, shot by the squirrel. They were turning to leave when the babe, unhurt by her mother falling, let out a piteous cry. One of the shrews halted and looked back. He walked over and found the babe, not far from her mother's corpse. I saw him gnash his teeth, I heard him say, "Vermin spawn," and I saw him raise his short sword. I turned my head away, not bearing to watch, but tears sprung into my eyes as I heard the babe's cry stop short. The spirit beside me fixed me with eyes full of pain and sorrow as she said shortly, "Goodbeasts can also slay for no reason, sparing not the old, the young, or the bearing." I could only nod; all of the grief at what I had just seen allowed me to do little else.
The spirit and I once again ascended until we were far away from that dismal battlefield. I was still shocked at what I had seen. I prayed that such a scene would never be seen near my abbey. Suddenly, a thought struck me; if things do not go well with the horde approaching my abbey, there will be such scenes there. A strange sort of weariness overwhelmed me, as I said, "Where to now, spirit?" She did not reply, but I felt us descending once more. I was filled with distress as I looked down and again saw a scene of battle. I turned to the spirit, nearly letting go of her paw in my distress. "Please spirit, not again. The other scene was hard enough. What else could you possibly have to show me in a battlefield that you haven't already?" She did not answer, nor did she even so much as glance at me as we alighted on the ground. The moment I looked about me I realized this scene was to be worse than the last. For this was a battlefield, after the actual battle. All around us corpses were scattered like autumn leaves, their lifeblood seeping out of their increasingly cold bodies. Weapons protruded from them like strange growths, and many had their eyes wide open, glossy and lifeless, their faces frozen masks of terror, shock, anger, and hate. A few beasts on that field were alive still; these bled from numerous wounds and dangled broken limbs. Those that could walk slowly plodded about, their faces blank and pale in shock as they absentmindedly looked down at the dead littering the field, showing no emotion. Others who weren't in shock were present; some searching for a comrade or a loved one, others finding them and sobbing over their bodies. I felt the tears wet my eyes once more as I viewed the painfully sorrowful scene.
The spirit began to walk forward, and I followed, not wanting to be left behind in this valley full of death. I saw goodbeasts and vermin alike; dead, dying, and in shock, not showing any sign of remorse or anger as they passed each other. I watched it all with a measure of terror; was this to be the outcome if the abbey should battle the horde? It was awful picturing the creatures he dearly cared for lying wounded and dead in a scene such as this.
Ahead of him the spirit had stopped, and as I joined her, I saw a sight surpassing all the others in sadness. Directly in front of us sat two creatures; a female fox and a female mouse. They were side by side, yet they didn't even seem to notice, as they were sobbing brokenheartedly over the bodies of their mates, who from their positions in death had died fighting each other. I watched as the fox threw herself on her mate's cold body, her tears running down her face and beading on the fur of his damp chest. The mousemaid took her mate's limp paw and held it between hers, as if trying to bring the warmth back into it. Only once did the two creatures acknowledge each other's presence; they turned their heads and looked at each other, tears standing in their eyes. For that split second, it seemed like a mirror, despite the difference in species; the looks of total grief were exactly the same. Then they simply turned back to mourning for their dead; the vixen half-hysterically trying to staunch the blood flowing hopelessly out of her mate's chest, the mouse hugging the cold form of hers and whispering, "Come back, please come back." At that moment I felt that I could stand it no longer, and I broke away from the spirit and ran. I ran past the bodies scattered there, never to rise again. I passed the wounded and shocked beasts, crying out in pain or just standing there wide-eyed. I passed the females, sobbing over the bodies of their mates and their sons, and the warriors beating their chests in sorrow at the discovery of a comrade's death. I had yet to know where I was running to; I only knew what I was running from; all the pain and sorrow and grief that only a battle can distribute, among the good, and yes, the vermin as well. I replayed in my head the scene of the two mourners, and I felt unspeakable sadness, for the mouse, and yes, for the fox as well. NONE should lose their loved ones in such a cruel, helpless way. Was that the rumored peace that can only be found on the other side of war? Death?
I stopped running at the edge of a bed of boulders, where I leaned against the largest and let my tears flow freely. I did not realize that the spirit had rejoined me until I once more heard her quiet, patient, and melancholy voice. "Both the goodbeasts and the vermin are visited by death. Death knows nothing of good or bad; to it, a life is a life." She turned to look at me just as I turned to look at her. "Tell me, Father Abbot, now that you have seen these things, and have seen that goodbeasts and vermin can be seen in each, can you see any real differences between them? Any at all?" I looked at her with a start. She stared back, her eyes reflecting the seriousness of the question. Of course, my mind brought forth many thoughts, and I tried to voice them. But they all seemed false and hollow in my mind after seeing in my mind's eye the few seconds where the two mourners, side by side, looked like the sides of a mirror. "Well, they don't know...wait, yes they do, at times. But they kill and spare no...no, wait a minute, I guess a few of us do that also. They don't care about...but they do." I tried all of them, but they all paled before those three scenes.
Finally, I looked at the spirit, who was waiting patiently for my answer. I steeled myself for what may come and I shortly said one word. "No." I hung my head; I suddenly felt a wave of shame engulf me. I looked up again just in time to see the spirit wave her arm once more. The scene surrounding us suddenly began to melt like morning fog giving way to the sun's first rays. The bodies vanished, the cries of the mourners faded, and the ground beneath my very feet swirled its colors like disturbed water, until I saw once again the hazy void from which my subconscious journey had started. I looked about in amazement, so fast was the change, until I once again met the deep shining eyes of the spirit before me. We were nearly nose-to-nose once more as she asked, "Tell me, Father Abbot. Has my reason been made clear to you?" I knew what she meant the moment the words fell on my ears, and the three scenes filled my mind as I answered, "Yes, I think so. The crime that you spoke of was that of discrimination; good beasts and vermin really have little difference. We both can know peace and tranquility among family and friends, we both fight and shed blood for our causes, and we both die and likewise mourn for our dead. So really, when you think about it, not all goodbeasts are worthy of being called good, and not all vermin are worthy of being called vermin." I fixed the spirit with my own gaze as I finished, "Is that right?" The spirit said nothing at first, but a smile more radiant than sunrise in spring shone on her face, and for a split second, it was if I could see her entire face lifted from the haziness that shrouded all but her eyes. All the years afterward, I never forgot that smile, nor what was going to be said next.
"Truly you are among the wisest creatures I have seen, and having been like this for hundreds upon hundreds of seasons, I have seen quite a few. Yes, you were right, but there is still more. You see, having seen that there is no line between goodbeast and vermin, such childish species sorting and comparing must be eliminated. Only when a beast has done wrong has he earned the name vermin. And if no wrong is done, why, he is good regardless of species. Good is good, and bad is bad; species plays no part." I listened to this with wonder and amazement. Suddenly, the mists surrounding us began to billow and curl, as if something had angered it. I looked at this and then back to the spirit, who to my surprise had begun to rise in the air. I gazed up at her, and she looked down at me, that beautiful smile still on her face. Her voice drifted down to me. "Remember this, Father Abbot. It has been written that sun shines on both good and evil, as does the rain, falling from the skies. And stop the practice of superiority to those races, for it has also been written: if you love others that love you, how are you different? For even the ones you call vermin do likewise, although not so openly. And if you are friendly to your own friends and your own kind, again how are you different? For even the vermin do so. How are you different? You are not, so do not act it." I could see her rising even more rapidly now, her form becoming lost in the maddening tendrils of the mist. "Put this to an end, Father Abbot, and not only will you be known by many of the goodbeasts, but by the vermin as well. Many on both sides shall be saved, and those battle scenes will be fewer and fewer, until they simply fade away..."
The last two words seemed to echo, and as they reached my ears, I saw the form disappear. And as I continued to stare at the space where I last saw her, a gentle whisper sounded. "Farewell, Father Abbot." I was about to reply when I heard the last two words again, echoing, but getting louder instead of quieter. "Father Abbot...Father Abbot...Father Abbot!...FATHER ABBOT!" The last was very loud, and as I put my paws over my ears I saw everything suddenly turn black, and I was falling...falling down...slowly at first, then faster...and faster...I tilted until I was lying on air...looking up into nothingness...then suddenly my back thudded against something; not hard, but forceful enough to jar me and make me squeeze my eyes shut. Upon opening them again, I was surprised to see Ludd, looking down upon me with a worried expression on his face. I looked about me; I was back in my own bedchamber, with the morning sunlight streaming in through my window, and I was lying in bed, as cozy as if I had slept the entire night undisturbed. As I sat up, I heard Ludd speaking to me. "I tried to wake you Father, but you were in such a deep sleep...I...I was afraid you were..." I smiled at him and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "No, my son, I am quite all right. I had an interesting dream though-"
Suddenly, it hit me like a stone from our foundation; the ver- er, beasts approaching the abbey! I leaped out of bed and quickly dressed in my simple habit. "Ludd, how far away is the horde from out abbey?" Ludd looked uncomfortable. "Erm, that's why I tried to wake you. They are on the move, and should be at the gate any minute." I wasted no more time; I hurried out of my bedchamber, down the stairs, past the Great Hall, outside past the orchards, flower patches and gardens, all the way up to the battlements, where I joined the group Ludd had assembled; at least a dozen beasts besides myself, armed to the teeth. The one nearest to me had only time to nod a greeting when the lookout beast on the far side gave a shout. All raised their weapons as the horde was sighted approaching the abbey gates. I saw rats, ferrets, foxes, weasels, stoats, and various others, but not once did the glitter of weapons catch my eye. Before the gates, the large group halted. The beast next to me shouted down, "What do you want here, vermin?" I flinched at the word, but I looked down anxiously, waiting to see whether or not the beasts would take insult.
The crowd of them parted, and a large fox stepped forward. He was dressed in red, green, and gold, but his expression was much more humble than his attire. "We mean ye no 'arm, yer honor. We jus' want t' know the way ta Mossflo'r River. See, we been sep'rated from out craft; s'posed to take us 'ome to the North. But we're lost. Do yer honors know th' way to th' River? We'd be very much 'bliged if ye could point it out." The beasts on the battlements looked at each other; the way to the river; that's all they want? I nodded to the beast beside me and he answered, "It's just that way; keep bearing to the direction I'm pointin' and you should come to it in no time." The fox's expression was that of sheer relief and gratitude. "Thank ye, yer 'onor! We're ever grateful to ye! 'T least we know now there be some beasts out there what really are good'uns!" He pulled off his gold-lined green hat and tipped it to us. "Now, with yer leave, we'll be off, to darken yer doorstep no more." He disappeared into the crowd, which was now rapidly moving in the direction pointed out for them.
The beasts on the battlements, including Ludd, lowered their weapons in disbelief as they watched them go. "That's it?" Ludd said, "That's all they wanted? The way to the river?" I turned to look at him severely. "Would you rather they had wanted to start a war!" Ludd looked startled. "N-no, Father, it isn't that..." I immediately felt ashamed at my outburst, and I put a paw on his shoulder. I was about to speak when down below, a tiny splash of red caught my eye. I turned my head to see among the last of the receding horde, a small fox, no more than three seasons old, looking up at the abbey with awe, tilting his head up so far that his little hat fell off and landed behind him. "Come along, Crevan!" a motherly voice called, and I watched as the child picked up his hat, forest green with a bright red feather sewn onto it, and ran to join his mother. The vision of that same little fox filled my mind, as well as the other sights; the playing ferret and rat dibbuns, the steaming hot scones, the flashing of swords in the dying sunlight, the tears of the mourners running down the fur on their faces, and above all that, the sad, pained, desperate and inquisitive eyes of the spirit. And I heard her voice; a long-lost echo in the back of my mind, "Father...tell them...what you've learned...help them to understand..." As my mind cleared, I turned back to Ludd. "Let us both pray that it never comes to that." Ludd only nodded as I led the small procession of goodbeasts down from the battlements and back to the abbeygrounds. I faced Ludd with a good-natured smile. "Now then, about that dream I had..."