Whisper Words of Wisdom

I'm not the type to keep secrets.

I know that may sounds strange, me being a thief and all. Sure, I'm dishonest on occasion, and I tend to take things that aren't mind. But when it matters, and I should say something, I feel compelled to.

But this... I've told nobeast of this. I don't want to think about the reaction I might get. I'm worried of what they'd say - " Gonff, you were just imagining things. You dream too much. None of it was real." At first I would agree, because sometimes even I can't accept that it happened. But then those feelings would return – the feeling that time had stopped, her warm paw against my face, my heart breaking at her words – and I'd insist " No, it was real. I remember everything."

It happened on that day, years ago, when everything was almost engulfed in darkness, but miraculously worked out for good. I recall in perfect detail, almost unnaturally so, as if the entire event is painted in my mind. The vermin horde of Tsarmina were dragging themselves out onto the rocky beach, fur soaked through and shedding drops of water every time they moved. Skipper took a quick break from scowling menacingly to smile in my direction. " We told them this would happen. Vermin never listen, matey!"

I laughed. " 'Course not, Skip, their ears are too full of water!"

It was then that I heard Bella's voice. " Gonff, you and I will search the water's edge. The rest of you stay here and keep an eye on this lot."

Search for what? Then it hit me. There were two key creatures to this entire battle, and they weren't with us. Tsarmina hadn't surfaced with her crew. Martin had gone wandering off on his own...

Great Seasons... of course Martin had gone to face her! It was the sort of noble thing he'd do, putting himself in danger like that. I immediately joined Bella and Dinny as we walked down along the stretch of shoreline.

We weren't far from the group when Timballisto hurried up to us. " Wait," he called out. " Can't I come too? He's my friend, I'm worried for him."

Bella's eyes had been focused on the lake's center, where Kotir had recently sunk. She remarked offhandedly, " Of course, we'll need all the help we can get if..." She trailed off in mid-sentence, and a dread hung in the place of her missing words.

I turned my head to Tim, expecting to see him as fretful as the rest of us. Instead, he had a short smile on his face, and he struck out before us boldly. " Don't worry about Martin. He was always tough, even as a Dibbun. Besides, I wouldn't let him disappear again!"

Disappear? I thought back to Martin telling me of his past. For some reason, that word didn't sit well with me... but by the time I had thought to ask, the others were already walking away.

We walked for a long distance, until Bella was certain he couldn't have gone any further. As much as I wanted to argue with her, I knew she was right. There wasn't much of a possibility...

But then Dinny called out in his rough speech, " Lookit, thurr!" I looked to where he was pointing, and saw... and raced towards it as fast as I could.

I didn't know what to expect. Martin could have been lying dead, with Tsarmina still living and ready to kill. But I didn't care. Martin was the closest friend I had, and the only thing I could do was run. Towards the sword – that was all I could see, it's faint glimmer. It wasn't until I was a few pawsteps that I saw her, too.

It wasn't Tsarmina, I could be certain of that. She sat with her back to me, cradling something in her arms, head bent low. As I slid to a halt, I heard singing gently drift from where she was.

"'Neath the rowan and alder a vigil I'll keep,

every moment that you are away..."

She was singing. It sounded timeless, more ancient than the stars and more dazzling, seeped in beauty and calm like ripples breaking the still of a river. I wanted to close my eyes, and let the tones of her voice soak into the heart of me, where I would be able to better comprehend the haunting sound...

Before I knew it, I had taken a gasp of air. I was breathless from the run, and shocked by the sight of her.

She stirred, just a slight turn of her head. Then she laid her burden down upon the pebbled beach, taking such care that I though for a moment that she must be handling glass. She rose, turned slowly, and looked me in the eye.

" Gonff, Prince of Mousethieves?"

" I... who...?" Did it matter who she was? She was the most brilliant maiden I had ever seen. Even thoughts of my Columbine dimmed in her beauty. She seemed to glow, a little faint and blurred around the edges, soft and so far away.

" Laterose of Noonvale. Don't be afraid – I've come for him."

My eyes faltered from her grace, looking past her to my friend, who was bundled on the ground. He was scraped, cut, covered in blood... my throat began to burn. " You don't mean... you're not going to..."

Her smile beckoned me to return my gaze to her face. She clasped her paws across her chest. " You're his friend – his best friend, aren't you? That's why you came after him, right?"

" I... should have been there for him..."

She laughed softly. " Oh, please don't be upset. I've been watching you, as I've been watching him, and you haven't faltered. You're so kind to him... thank you. You must understand, Gonff. Sometimes friends leave us, and we blame ourselves. But it's never true." She turned her face away, looking so intently at the water that I was sure she was looking through time itself. " 'I will take far greater care protecting her life than I will my own'... you see, even he couldn't keep him promise."

" Are you... dead?"

My sudden question startled us both. She blinked hard, and seemed to think for some time before answering. " Yes. But Martin... he would have saved me. If he hadn't been so intent on destroying that evil creature, he would have saved me. I'm not angry at him anymore."

" And Martin?" Tears were escaping from my eyes. Taking notice of my distress, she strode up to me, and wiped one away with her paw. " Don't worry. Whatever will be, will be, and I want you to let it be and keep moving forward." Then, with her paw still on my face, she leaned closer, as a Dibbun would when they told a secret. " Besides, I will take far greater care protecting his life than I could have ever done before. I walk beside him always."

There was a subtle flash of light around me, and I fell to my knees, her words cutting into my heart. I didn't notice if she was gone or not. I didn't realize that only now could I hear my friend's pawsteps drawing closer. All I could think about was she could have meant.

Martin was dead. I couldn't help him, and I wasn't there.

That last thought is where this memory turns gray, worn by time and forgetfulness. I was nearly in a daze, full of grief for my friend, so caught up in tears that I didn't even think to tell Bella and Dinny of the maiden until that night. Even then, I kept it to myself, out of fear that I would sound insensitive. Martin was still in danger, and he could still die.

He healed, of course. He got stronger, more full of life, until Amber remarked to me, " I can't even imagine him hurt any longer! What an incredible recovery."

It was true that he had recovered from the fight. As soon as I knew he was safe, I thought to approach him and tell him of what had happened. But fear stopped me every time. I had never heard the name Laterose of Noonvale before... would Martin even know her? Of course he wouldn't... she hadn't been real.

But still, those seconds that had stretched by while we talked... it was as if time had stopped completely. Even now, ten years later, I can't forget.

Perhaps someday, I will gain enough courage to confront him. There's a part of me that wants to know, that needs to know who she was. What she meant to him, where she came from... her touch on my face brought comfort, her song brought calm. Surely Martin would have told me about a maiden like that, if he had known her. He would never keep anything back from me.

And if she was real, then perhaps I'll see her again. For sometimes when I see Martin, I can't stop myself from picturing her beside him. She is smiling gently at him, lovingly, with all the forgiveness she can offer, so ageless and distant yet close to him, as if they were fused together in the core of their souls. And if ever he sheds tears, I know she's there with him, her paw brushing them away, whispering promises of protection that lives beyond death.

How can I tell? Because I believed her when she spoke, and her words are true. She will always walk beside him.

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Author's Notes: Ahhhaha... I hope that wasn't too weird. For one, it's a random idea that I hardly thought through, and two, it's nearly 1:00 am as I'm writing this. So if there's any misspelled words or awkward sentences... yeah, you don't have to point them out, I can guess they're there. Anyways, I wanted to write something sappy, I have accomplished my goal, back to St. Martin's and Bitter Roses...