The abbeybeasts chatted nervously, restlessness and hunger mounting. A few of the dibbuns who had managed to pilfer food were congregated underneath one of the tables on the far side of the great hall.
Harack slipped through the outside door. His face was redder than normal, having been scrubbed longer and more thoroughly than ever in his life. Harack had walked to the river to bathe instead of jumping in the abbey pond, out of consideration. Fully half of the chunk of soap Sister Burlspike had given him had been used up. Fur combed to a gleam, he had even gone out of his way to rub himself with pine oil so he would smell nice.
After all the effort, though, Harack looked at his bandage, then at the enormous room filled with the happy gurgle of gossip, and more than ever before, he felt out of place. In the corner he could see a large group of the oldest and wisest beasts in the abbey bent over the table, holding an earnest conversation. Curious abbeybeasts kept straying close to the conversation, only to be shooed away. One of the elders caught notice of him and stared for a moment before offering a weak smile and returning his attention to the argument.
Unable to bring himself to talk to anyone, fearing questions more than answers, Harack turned and fled back outside.
The bread was already cold and the drinks had grown a little warm when the Elders concluded their discussion. Several large pots of steaming soup were finally summoned from the kitchen. Grumm stood and gestured for everyone to quiet down. It took a little longer than normal to obtain order, despite the general mood of impatience for the food to be served.
"Dur frends, oi be surry fur the wait. Oi'll say ee grace so ee ken sturt eating, but please stay quoiet after, becurse oi have sum vury impurtant things to teel ee."
Graditude was expressed, the plates and bowls were passed around. Even though the carrots were completely overcooked, everybeast dug into the delicious stew with overripe enthusiasm, forgetting their worries as they savored the fabulous flavors Redwall was renowned for. Unappealingly bright pink cream puffs dotted with apricot blossoms sat on one table, while sage and basil breadsticks were devoured at another. Peach nectar and spring water with a hint of lemon complimented the whole affair. Even at all the wrong temperatures, the flavors came through, every one unique and delicious. Once the clatter died down a little, Grumm stood again and conversation slowly died.
In the intermittent silence, a dibbun sitting unfortunately close to a tray of garlic and hotroot scones heaved a spectacular sneeze.
After the laughter subsided and order had been restored, the Abbot banged his spoon on the table for attention.
OOC: For the sake of convenience and speed, just pretend the following dialogue is written in mole-speak. Thanks. XD
"Brothers and Sisters, I have a great deal I need to tell you. I would prefer for this to take as little time as possible, so please be patient and wait until the end to ask questions.
Harack sat on the windowsill outside the abbey, with his ear pressed against the uneven glass, listening.
"Harack, one of the youngbeasts in our abbey, was diagnosed today with a sickness called mange that will affect his fur, skin, and overall health. He might die. We don't know how bad his particular case will be. This is very important because the disease is contagious.
“To prevent the disease from spreading, please do not touch Harack until further notice. Avoid all physical contact. Please still be kind and do your best to be his friend and include him in your games and chores. This will be a lonely and hard summer for him, so please be respectful and treat him normally in all other ways. For those of you who do not know who he is," Harack cringed. "Harack is a male squirrel, about 15 seasons old, with grey fur. He is fairly quiet. He is currently wearing a bandage around his shoulder. His rash has not spread very far yet, so he will continue to join us for meals as long as Sister Burlspike feels it is safe.
"Because some of you may have already been infected, immediately after dinner is over, every beast in the abbey will be required to take a thorough bath, including dibbuns…" A cry of dismay met this proposal, and a few spry critters attempted to get a head start on running away. "...before we go to bed. As an extra precaution, since it is now warm enough outside, everybeast will sleep outside on the grass for the night." This suggestion was met with a murmer of surprise, and a few cheers from adventurous youngsters. "We know that this is not ideal for many of you, but we believe it would be a wise thing to do. Tomorrow we will work together to scrub out the dormitories and wash all the habits, sheets, blankets, and towels.
"Harack will no longer be sleeping in the dormitories, but he will continue to live at Redwall. He has been given his own room on the highest floor, where he will have some privacy and likelihood of infection will be minimal."
Burning with embarrassment, Harack forced himself to stay and listen, not wanting to hear everything from someone else, face to face. Abbot Grumm went on to summarize the concerns that had been raised about Harack remaining at Redwall, and why the Elders had decided that Harack should be allowed to remain as long as he wished to stay. "Redwall is a sanctuary. We cannot turn away those who we believe to be in need. However, I also understand that this disease poses a certain risk, and allowing him to stay means Redwall is no longer completely safe for you and your families.
"We have already sent a messenger to Noonvale informing them of our situation. My brother is an elder there, and in the past he has offered Noonvale as a place of refuge, should we need it. I do not feel right sending Harack to Noonvale, since he already has mange, and Noonvale is clean from the disease, while anybeast currently at Redwall has already been exposed to it.
"If you do not wish to remain here, you are welcome to go to Noonvale until the problem here has been resolved. It is not a difficult journey and should only take a few weeks. You will be asked to bathe frequently as you travel, and once you arrive at the borders of Noonvale, if you show no symptoms of mange, you will be welcome inside. However, if you do develop a rash, even if the kind beasts at Noonvale welcome you, we ask that you return to Redwall."
The Abbot took a deep breath and placed his paws on the table to steady his old legs.
“Do ee hav any querstons?”