Chapter 91. This Was a Triumph
"I'm not even angry."
Desmond blinked, and Biara chortled. "I'm really quite being sincere, right now. That's the strange thing."
"I haven't the foggiest what you're on about," Desmond muttered, arching an elegant, if slightly singed, eyebrow.
The marteness sighed and turned her head to get a better look at the squirrel. She was going to have to get used to that.
"If you could go back," she began, "before all this mess, I mean, would you?"
Desmond snorted. "Well, let's see: Home, or being trapped in a castle with a variety of unpleasant, unkind, and generally unattractive beasts who wish me dead in a variety of ways? The decision is just so difficult."
The marteness smiled; that response was so utterly Desmond. He offered her a withering glance.
"I expect you of all creatures would be the one to enjoy such a beastly mess."
"Hmm." Biara's good eye creased as she twitched her whiskers. "Perhaps I did! Although I think I could do without getting my tail crushed or my tea stolen and burned up."
Desmond frowned, paws akimbo. "What about your eye? Or…" he coughed into his paw, "er, lack of one, rather. Don't you feel it at all?"
"Oh, it's absolutely excruciating," Biara said, investigating a perfectly formed snowflake that had landed on the back of her paw. "It feels like red hot barbed hooks burrowing into the socket." The marten might as well have said "I've got a bit of dirt on my cloak."
Desmond rolled his eyes. "Honestly. I don't suppose I'll ever get a straight answer out of you."
Biara turned her head and offered a sort of not-grin. What she had said was the complete truth; it was a terrible pain. And yet, she couldn't help but delight at the feeling of the wind tugging at her cloak and the snow against her fur.
And leading Desmond on was just so enjoyable.
Biara cocked her head. "I saw you talking with Quincy just now," she said, her tone growing slightly more serious. Desmond nodded, and she sighed.
"Bother. Looks like I'm going to have to do the same before I go…" she wasn't particularly looking forward to it, but even she couldn't let herself get away with slinking out of camp without at least saying goodbye.
The squirrel nodded once more. "Yes. You should," he said, curtly.
"Why," Biara said with a grin, "are you trying to get rid of me, Desmond? I'm afraid it won't work that easily." She squinted. "You know, when we first met I never thought there could be anything good about you. I do suppose I was wrong. You're not so utterly useless after all."
A small smile flitted across Desmond's face. "Oh? Well, I suppose I could say the same. After all, I concede it's not your fault that you're an unattractive, ill-bred psychopath."
"Well, I'm glad we've come to understand one another," Biara said with a slight bow. "Now, if you'll excuse me…"
Shouldering the small pack that contained the remainder of her supplies, the marten slunk off in search of Quincy.
Or rather would have, if she hadn't been stopped.
Biara turned, blinking. "Yes?"
"Do you plan on taking an apprentice?" Desmond asked.
"No." The humor had left Biara's face, and her good eye blazed. "Even if it wasn't Helena. I hate teaching and I don't take apprentices."
The squirrel nodded. "Excellent," he said, his expression decidedly smug. "Then, I expect there will be nothing stopping you from traveling from whatever hole you choose to live in to my home whenever I require a healer. Promptly."
Biara's eye widened for but a moment, but she was back to normal in a blink. "Is that so? Well." She performed a low bow. "I'll be sure to bring plenty of maggots, sir Desmond."
Turning on her heel (a trick she had learned from Desmond), she was about to strut off when she once again stopped herself. "You know," she said, although she didn't turn to face the squirrel. "I suppose there really is a small amount of good in you."
Desmond watched the tall marten's receding form. He blinked; was that sadness in her voice? Just what was wrong with that creature?
The day's chores were completed, and the sun began its inexorable descent into the horizon. Quincy retired to his room in the gatehouse, seating himself at his desk. The hare pulled open the uppermost drawer, which groaned in a weary sort of way. A gold paw bracelet sparkled up at him from the shallow bottom. He pulled it out, as he had done every evening, and examined it, his eyes glazed in remembrance.
A knock sounded on his door. "Brother Quincy?"
The hare hurriedly stowed the bracelet in the depths of his wide, green habit sleeve. "Yes? Come in."
Brother Goldleaf sidled in. "How are you, Brother?"
Quincy smiled at the squirrel. "I'm fine, Brother. Surely you didn't come all the way out here just to ask me that?"
"With these old paws? Course not," the squirrel said with a wink. "I've just had a talk with Sister Astoria."
Quincy's gaze fell to his desk, and he tried to appear to be fascinated by the ink stains scattered about its surface. "Oh."
"You know," Goldleaf said, twiddling his paws awkwardly, "she really likes you."
"I'd gathered as much."
"And you should feel lucky; Redwall doesn't get that many hares taking up residence here," the squirrel pressed on doggedly. "You two seem to get on very well together."
"I suppose we do," Quincy said. He knew what was coming next.
"So why," Goldleaf asked, "did she come to me just now, sobbing about how you refused to even take a walk with her this evening? I know it's not my place to impose, but she did seem rather upset..."
Quincy shrugged. "Better for her to be upset now than to be unhappy with me for the rest of her life."
"Brother," Goldleaf pled, spreading his paws wide placatingly, "she knows about what happened. She knows all about the horrors that occurred in that castle all those seasons ago. She knows about Jolice and how you felt toward her."
"Then she knows I could never love another creature as much as I loved Jolice. Thus, she would be unhappy," Quincy snapped. He was rapidly growing tired of this circular argument.
Brother Goldleaf sighed. "Quincy, she knows. She knows everything. Most of all, she knows how unhappy you are, how lonely you've been."
"That isn't true!" Quincy snapped. "I've got Ruth, and Jolara, and they keep me company. I'm not lonely."
"Brother, you know what I mean," Goldleaf said with a knowing smirk. "Sister Astoria just wants you to be happy. Can't you go on one measly walk with her?"
It was Quincy's turn to sigh. The hare clenched his paw tightly around the concealed bracelet. "All right, fine, I'll go on a walk with her."
"Well, that's certainly a good start." Goldleaf winked again, then turned for the door. "I'll be off to the kitchens now for my usual late night snack. Hopefully I won't run into Friar Nettle again. For some reason he thwapped me round the head with a ladle just for nicking some scones. Dreadfully touchy, that mouse. Ah, hello Ms. Ruth, and young Miss Jolara!"
An energetic young haremaid had just burst into the gatehouse, followed by a rather harassed looking weasel. The former grinned at the squirrel. "Hello, Bruvver Goldy! Nunca Quincy!"
Goldleaf exited as Jolara darted forward and hugged the hare about his waist. Quincy smiled down at her, quickly pocketing the bracelet. "Behaving yourself, missy?"
"Hah!" Ruth laughed. "When she's not being a right old terror. Or splashing Mother Tanna with bathwater."
"Well," Jolara sniffed indignantly, "she got baffwater on me!"
"About time someone did," Quincy teased, tweaking the young hare's ears gently. "Ruth, do you mind if I have a word alone with Jolara?"
"Certainly," the weaselmaid said. "If you need me, I'll be helping Mother Tanna get the other Dibbuns to bed."
With that, she left. Quincy knelt down before Jolara, grasping the young hare's shoulders and looking her straight in the eyes. "Listen, Jolara, you know I'm going to be going on a little trip tomorrow."
The haremaid nodded. "Uh huh, you tol' me you're gonna see Rara and Desmo."
"That's 'Biara' and 'Desmond,'" Quincy said with a fond smile, "but yes."
"Why can't I go, Nunca Quincy? You tol' me all about them. I wanna meet them too!"
I didn't tell you all about them, my dear, and I probably never will. "Because...it can be dangerous out in the woods, and you'll be safer here."
"But I'm not scared of what's inna woods!" Jolara squeaked, jutting her jaw out defiantly.
Quincy chuckled. "You're so brave, just like your sister was. I tell you what, m'gel; next year I'll take you to meet them, but only if you promise to do your chores and grow up nice and big."
"Oh I promises!" Jolara grinned, nodding furiously.
"And I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but you need to be a good little maid while I'm away. Don't pester the elders too much, and I'd better not hear any horror stories from Ruth."
Jolara sniffed. "Oh, fine. I'll be good."
"Right, now get in your nightgown, wash your face and get to bed," Quincy said, standing up and shooing her to her room. Jolara scuttled away, leaving Quincy alone in the main room of the gatehouse. The hare took the bracelet from his pocket and laid it flat in the palm of his paw. He gazed at it for a while, and eventually set it back in its place in the top drawer before walking out into the abbey lawn. Twilight had set in, bathing the grounds in its silky glow. Quincy didn't notice the haremaid walking toward him until she was about twenty paces away.
"Hello, Quincy," she said.
Her smile was warm and her hazel eyes glistened in the fading light.
Quincy found himself smiling in spite of himself. He and Sister Astoria had always been friends, ever since his arrival at the abbey. Somewhere, some part of him cared deeply for her, though he had never been able to determine how big of a part that truly was. Even when he looked at her, he couldn't help but think of Jolice, and the guilt and shame clawed at him until it became maddening.
But she knew it, and still she stood here before him, her paw extended in his direction and that smile still fixed easily on her lips. She did look very pretty, he couldn't deny it. Perhaps Brother Goldleaf was right; perhaps she did just want him to be happy.
After a moment's hesitation, Quincy reached out and grasped her paw in his own. It felt warm and soft, and yet her grip was comfortingly firm.
"Er, shall we?" he gulped.
Sister Astoria's smile grew broader. "Oh yes. Let's."
The two hares meandered through the orchard, talking and joking until the sun peeped over the treetops once more. That night, Quincy knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he'd made the right decision.
Desmond took a step into the tavern and sniffed. Why he had ever agreed for this place as the meeting area he didn't know. The amount of dust and grime was nearly palpable. At the very least, vermin were in short supply.
It was not difficult, therefore, to spot Biara. The pine marten was seated alone at a table by the fire, engrossed in a hardbound book. If she had noticed the pointed glances she received from the various woodlanders, she was doing an excellent job of ignoring them. Oddly enough, a pair of spectacles was perched atop the healer's muzzle, even though her missing eye was covered with a leather patch.
"You look utterly ridiculous," he pointed out once he was close enough to be heard.
Biara's ears twitched and she grinned, although her gaze didn't waver from the book. "Oh, my. My very delicate feelings."
"Have you seen Quincy?" Desmond asked, brushing off the top of the chair adjacent to Biara's as best he could before taking a seat.
The marten nodded, this time looking up. "Yes. He went to get something to eat; I expect he'll be bringing the entire kitchen back with him."
"I heard that."
Quincy, a plate of salad clutched in both paws, glared at Biara. As soon as he set down his food, however, His expression lightened, and nobeast was more surprised than Biara when she was suddenly enveloped in a great big badger hug.
"M-my!" The marten said, flustered. "What's this?"
The hare grinned. "I figured that's the only thing I could bally do to make you uneasy." His eyes gleamed. "Your expression was well worth it."
Biara tittered into her napkin, blushing slightly beneath her fur. Her ribs were just a little sore. Perhaps these beasts had learned a bit too much from her.
Desmond offered a courteous nod, tipping his hat politely. "I trust you've been well at that… Redwall… place?"
The squirrel twitched his whiskers distastefully; Quincy had already begun his attack on the meal before he had even finished the question. This did not stop the hare from responding, however.
"Yeshmph! Wonderful place, really; top hole. Much better than that awful mountain." He paused just enough to gulp. "I'm recorder. It's very nice, even if the gatehouse is a bit out of the way. I just hope that I can make Saveaux proud..." The hare's ears drooped a little, and his voice took on a more solemn tone.
"I'm sure you have." Biara nodded sagely.
Quincy went on, smiling. "You chaps are more than welcome to come and visit, y'know. Even you, Desmond. They've got the best food I've ever had, and the kindest beasts..." he turned to Biara. "And I'm sure you would get along swimmingly with the abbey infirmary keeper."
Desmond was not entirely impressed, but he resisted the temptation to study his reflection in his mug.
Biara grinned in kind, nodding briefly. "And what about little Jolara?"
Quincy's face lit up at the mention of his niece. "She's growing to be a fine lass. Top marks in the abbey school, y'know. She wanted ever so much to meet the two of you."
The marten's ears quirked toward one another. "Oh? Gracious. I hope you haven't been telling her any horror stories…"
"You should jolly well be glad that I'm not." Quincy's tone, although jovial, was just pointed enough to let Biara know that she was treading on shaky ground, and she conceded with a slight nod.
"Hmph." Desmond put on a scowl; it seemed he had been practicing. "Speaking of horror stories, you should have seen the letter I got from Helena's school. Apparently, the little wretch has just been accused of sliding hot acorns down the tunics of several young males."
Biara chortled. "My, but she does take after you." Desmond snorted.
"And what about you, Biara?" Quincy asked after inhaling a tart.
The marten shrugged. "What of me? I'm afraid there's nothing at all to say about my life. Unlike you homebodies, I'm only staying around the area briefly. I believe I have a bit more wandering in my future before I settle down. Plenty of beasts in need of a healer, you know. I like to do my best to be helpful."
Desmond cleared his throat rather innocuously.
"Besides," she said, adjusting her glasses. "I'd better get as much done as I can now. I'm not exactly as spry as I used to be."
Quincy blinked. "Speaking of which, don't you think those are a tad… er, excessive?"
The healer practically beamed. "Not at all!" She smoothed out her bib, eyeing the hare over the top of her glasses. "I think they make me look rather dashing, don't you?" She leaned back in her chair, tail swishing against her legs. "I had considered a monocle, but it's not at all my type."
All three survivors turned to face the owner of the meek voice. An elderly vole nodded to them.
"I'm afraid there aren't any free tables, and I noticed an empty chair here…" He fidgeted with his walking stick. "Would you mind if I—?"
"Of course not, chap!" Quincy gestured to the empty seat, which the vole took gratefully, easing himself down. A curious expression graced Biara's face, and Desmond furrowed his brow at the sight of the vole.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything, but…" his eyes twinkled. "I must say, it's quite remarkable to see woodlanders and vermin getting along so nicely! I never hoped to see anything like this in all my years, and I've seen a good many beasts in my life."
Quincy coughed. "Well, I guess you could say we've got a bit of a bally history together."
The vole nodded. "If you don't mind, I'd love to hear about it." He chuckled. "But, my apologies! I get so curious that I forget my manners. My name is Obadiah."
Quincy spluttered. Biara and Desmond glanced at one another.
The marteness shrugged.
"We would just love to tell you all about it. But first," she said with a small grin, "could I interest you in some tea?"
end of official story.