- “Raise thy head, Handmaiden of Orion - thou hast borne thyself well thus far.”
- ―The Green to Ysabelle
Ysabelle was the last crown princess of the Hazel Realm, one of the five royal houses of black squirrels. The only child of Lady Ninnia and Lord Cyllinus, after the Hazel Realm's destruction by the bat army she would become the sole surviving member of its royal family.
Ysabelle was a beautiful black squirrel maiden with large dark eyes and long raven hair. At times it hung loose down her back, but she also coiled it into braids on top of her head.
In her early years, Ysabelle was a carefree, fun-loving princess. She loved taking part in merriment and enjoyed being silly, much to the dismay of her nursemaid Griselda, who feared that her future subjects would never respect her if they saw her acting foolish.
However, during her dark journey on the path to Greenreach, Ysabelle was forced to mature. She became more humble and compassionate. The horrors she witnessed resulted in Ysabelle losing her naiveté and innocence. Due to her experiences with Vespertilio, she put aside her prejudices towards the bats and slowly learned to forgive them for the murderous crimes they committed against her kind in ignorance.
Much like her mother, Ysabelle would force herself to ignore her emotions in order to fulfill her duties. Her head ruled her heart, which prevented her from admitting and giving in to her true feelings.
Ysabelle was born in the Hazel Realm, the daughter of the queen regnant, Ninnia, and her consort, Cyllinus. At the time of her birth, the princess was given a nursemaid to look after her. In her wisdom, the Lady Ninnia chose for this task Griselda, a fieldmouse, rather than the typical choice of a red squirrel.
As her mother's heiress, Ysabelle was being groomed to take her place as queen of the Hazel Realm one day. The learned scholar and prime counselor to Ninnia, Godfrey Gelenos, tutored Ysabelle as she was growing up. From him she learned squirrel history and customs. However, Ysabelle would find herself becoming bored during his lessons, and often invented ways to avoid them.
Role in The Oaken Throne
On the morning of Aldertide, Ysabelle watched from the branches of the Hazel Realm's central oak as preparations were being made for the celebration of the holiday. She danced to a tune the musicians were practicing on the lawns below. Watching from a nearby window, Griselda was filled with worry that Ysabelle might fall and injure herself. Not wanting to upset her nursemaid, the squirrel came inside and with Griselda's help, braided her long hair and coiled it atop her head. Then Ysabelle rushed outside to join the festivities.
This was the year Ysabelle would be joining the alder maids, the young squirrels who performed the important ritual of awakening the trees for spring. When it was over, Ysabelle rushed to her parents and asked how her dancing compared with the other maids. With pride, her father replied that she outshone them all.
Ysabelle was eager to take part in the Aldertide merrymaking. She watched a troupe of vole acrobats with awe, and when they entreated the crowd to attempt their daring feats, she almost raised her paw but was stopped by Griselda. The nursemaid reminded Ysabelle that it would not befit her station as a princess to be seen playing the fool. As an alternative, Griselda suggested that they go see the jester, but soon regretted her decision when she was singled out and forced to take part in a silly, humiliating dance with him. Ysabelle, however, was amused and befriended the jester, named Wendel Maculatum. He told her he meant no harm and to send his apologies to Griselda, which Ysabelle assured him she would do.
A mysterious dark cloud suddenly appears over the Hazel Realm, and it is determined by Lady Ninnia that it is a host of bats flying overhead. As the squirrel guards prepared to fire their arrows at this new threat, Ysabelle was frozen in place, staring upward. As she watched, a shining silver object came tumbling out of the sky. Instinctively she reached out and caught it. It was a silver acorn pendant. She screamed and had to leap out of the way as the bloody corpse of a peregrine falcon soon followed it.
Seeing that a lone squirrel was now holding the object of their mission, the bats swooped down to attack her. Ysabelle was pulled out of the way just in time by Wendel Maculatum, who led her to safety under his cart. The furious bat army began a vicious assault on the cart, not caring about the arrows the squirrels were firing in their direction, their only goal to retrieve the pendant. Eventually the light confounded the bats, and they decided to retreat and return at nightfall.
Ninnia and Cyllinus rushed forward, frightened for their daughter's safety, but were relieved to find that Ysabelle was all right. Grateful to Wendel for saving her life, Cyllinus offered him anything he wished, but he replied that as a fool he wouldn't know what to do with such a reward. Meanwhile, Ninnia noticed the silver acorn in Ysabelle's paw and her heart sank. She knew that it was the amulet of the Starwife, and could only mean one thing; the land of Greenreach had fallen.
One of the bats, named Heglyr, had been taken as a prisoner. He verified the fall of Greenreach and the death of the Starwife, and said that others of his kind would soon return that night and attack the Hazel Realm. But before the squirrels could get any more information out of him, the bat killed himself by running into one of the guards' blades.
Left with no other choice, the Lady Ninnia decided to send Ysabelle to Greenreach, accompanied by the squirrel guards of the realm. As Ysabelle caught the silver acorn, it was clear that destiny had placed her in the role of the new Starwife. Ysabelle, however, did not want to be the Starwife and couldn't understand why her mother was sending her away. Ninnia and her husband Cyllinus knew that they and many of the squirrels had to stay in the Hazel Realm as a diversion and face certain death. They said their painful goodbyes, knowing that they would never see Ysabelle again.
As they made their way through the forest, Ysabelle's entourage came across Vespertilio, who had run away to join the battle at Greenreach but fell under the weight of the heavy armour he was wearing and broke his wing. He was taken to Ysabelle so she could interrogate him, but he insulted her and she ordered her guards to kill him. Godfrey suggested that instead he be used as a guide as Heglyr was to have been. Reluctantly, Ysabelle agreed.
In the night, the group was attacked by Hobbers and imprisoned. During the scuffle, Ysabelle was knocked unconscious and awakened hours later, chained in a dark room. Everyone was then led out to a ring of stones where the cult of Hobb was gathering for a celebration and they were to be live sacrifices. The high priest had stolen the Silver Acorn and used it in a blood ritual to summon the rat god Hobb into the world in several days' time. Three squirrels were skinned alive before Godfrey devised an escape plan. He managed to wrestle the Silver Acorn from the high priest and give it to Ysabelle, though he died in the effort. She and Vesper raced away into the dark forest.
The high priest found and confronted them, but as they were in one of the Green's sacred streams, he could not reach them. Angered by this, the high priest laid curses upon them. Vesper, he said, would die surrounded by the sound of bells. He also put a curse on the Silver Acorn, explaining that when Hobb arrived from the Pit he would destroy Ysabelle. After saying this, the high priest disappeared into the forest.
Vesper was disheartened by his grim prophesy, but Ysabelle didn't care and wanted to continue her journey to Greenreach with him as her guide. Picking up the high priest's discarded knife, Ysabelle used it to threaten Vesper and make him do as she wished. He grudgingly agreed to help her, despite the fact that he secretly didn't really know the way to Greenreach himself.
Eventually, Ysabelle came across a large bramble bush in which she and Vesper could spend the night. After binding him with ivy as she did not trust him, the squirrel maiden fell asleep clutching the knife for protection. Later Ysabelle awoke to find both Vesper and the knife gone. Surprised that he left her alive, she emerged from the bush to look for the bat, only to find him lying prostrate before her and terrified. He explained that he heard bells nearby and was convinced it was his doom. As it turned out, however, the sound was coming from bells on the lead of a shrew who from this was attached to a mole. Hearing the unusual pair make a friendly offer of sharing their food, Vesper went to meet them, but Ysabelle called after to warn him that the bell was the warning sign of a leper.
The mole was indeed leprous, but he and his shrew friend proved to be kindly. The two introduced themselves as Tysle Symkyn and Giraldus. They explained that they were on a pilgrimage to Greenreach, hoping that they would be cured of their ailments when they arrived. Ysabelle realised that the two could accompany her on her journey since they were bound for the same place. Vesper was a bit hesitant at first, and Giraldus understood, knowing that it was because of his leprosy. Ysabelle didn't care however, and insisted that they come with her. She offered Vesper his freedom as she had two new guides, but he was frightened to travel the woods alone and decided to stay with them.
The pilgrimage of Giraldus and Tysle included stopping at several ancient shrines to the Green. One of these was the Orchard of Duir. There they slept in the branches of an ancient oak tree. Ysabelle awoke during the night to find herself face to face with the large eyes of the spirit of the Green, who gave her courage to continue on. He also warned her that one of her friends would betray her, but did not give any further details.
After a terrifying ordeal of being chased by Hobbers through the woods, Ysabelle, Vesper, Tysle, and Giraldus came across Wendel. He at first believed Ysabelle was dead and a ghost. She assured him she was not, and he told them he spent several nights frightened and lost in the forest. He said that in that time he heard of a group of woodlanders who were resisting the Hobb cult. He didn't know exactly where they were, however, but he did know they were somewhere near a lake.
Upon following a stream, the group reached a lake, but its water was dark and polluted, and there were no signs of the woodlanders anywhere. Nevertheless, they decided to camp there. While walking along the edge of the lake, Ysabelle heard Hobb bellowing beneath the ground, and the blood stains on her amulet swirled around dizzyingly. Frightened, she asked Vesper if he heard the same thing but he didn't know what she was talking about.
Later in the night, the ghosts of animals who had drowned in the lake rose up and tried to drag the travellers down with them. The group managed to escape, and soon they found their way to a meadow filled with daffodils. It was here that they were captured by the very woodlanders they were searching for. These woodlanders were led by a mouse captain named Fenlyn Purfote. At first he acted friendly toward the five travellers, taking them to the woodlanders' headquarters, but his mood changed when he suddenly locked them up because he believed them to be Hobbers. Although they tried to tell him that they weren't, Fenny would hear none of it.
However, Fenny soon received a message from a mysterious figure called The Ancient, who wished to speak with Ysabelle and Vesper. Finally convinced that they were not Hobbers, Fenny led them both down a dark passageway deep underground, where they came upon The Ancient-- who was the messenger of the moon goddess. He told the bat and squirrel that the only way to prevent doom befalling the world was to convince their kinds to join together to battle the Hobbers. To Vesper's shock, The Ancient revealed that it was not the Starwife who took away the bats' power to see into the future, but their very own Warden of the Great Book, Hrethel. He also told Ysabelle that because the high priest dipped the silver acorn into the blood of the squirrels that were sacrificed, Hobb was summoned back into the world, and that even then he was rising from the Pit. In three days time he would appear to claim Ysabelle. What the squirrel maiden didn't know, however, was that that very night was the third day.
Fenny led Ysabelle and Vesper to the top of the mound, where they saw the land of Greenreach before them. Realising that the end of her journey was near, Ysabelle was both relieved and overwhelmed. She knew that she would be taking up the Starwifeship and so she and Vesper would have to go their separate ways. She also knew that Hobb was on his way up from the underworld to destroy her. Ysabelle broke down in tears. Though initially at a loss as to how he could help her, Vesper soon took Ysabelle's paw and brought her close to him. The bat and squirrel then kissed.
Later that evening, the woodlanders held a celebration for their five guests to make up for the way they previously had treated them. Ysabelle and Vesper danced together, and began to realise that they were falling in love. The unexpected and violent murder of Tysle brought an end to the festivities, and as he was peeled it became clear that a member of the Hobb cult was somewhere in the mound. Giraldus was mad with grief, and Ysabelle tried her best to comfort him. A guard rushed to tell Fenny that the Hobbers were on the move, heading toward their stronghold.
Ysabelle and Vesper escaped through a tunnel, though not before Wendel revealed that he was the high priest of Hobb and the murderer of Tysle. The enraged Giraldus started choking the stoat, but Wendel managed to free himself and strangle him. But before he died, the mole started a cave-in and Ysabelle and Vesper could only watch as the entire tunnel collapsed on Giraldus, Wendel, and the Hobbers.
The bat and squirrel finally arrived at Greenreach, but Vesper was wounded by Hobber crows who had pursued them there. A squirrel named Morwenna approached Ysabelle, and told her that she wanted to help her bring the silver acorn to the Starglass. The squirrel maiden was reluctant to leave the side of the unconscious Vesper, but finally agreed and covered him with leaves to keep him hidden. Ysabelle followed Morwenna down below the Hallowed Oak, into a dark chamber. As the two talked, Ysabelle began to piece everything together and figured out that Morwenna was the one who betrayed the Greenreach squirrels. Morwenna confirmed this and revealed that she was the priestess of Mabb, the rat goddess consort of Hobb. She took the acorn from Ysabelle and locked her in the chamber where her pet toads waited to devour the squirrel maiden.
Vesper, having awoken, heard Ysabelle's screams and rescued her just in time. The two of them rushed out of the oak and saw the bats and squirrels fighting. Vesper decided that this was his chance to use the herbs that The Ancient gave him, and tossed them into a fire, sending up a beacon which distracted all of the bats, as well as the squirrels. As they gathered around, the bats questioned what had drawn them there, and upon seeing Ysabelle they rushed to kill her. However, Vesper leaped in front of her. The other bats were furious and questioned why he would defend a squirrel. Vesper kissed Ysabelle, much to the shock of the gathered bat and squirrel armies. Now with their full attention, Vesper and Ysabelle told the story of the horrors and sorrows they had experienced on the road to Greenreach, as well as what they had learned from the Ancient.
At that moment, the Hobbers arrived, surging up the hill towards them. Now the bats and squirrels were allied together, fighting their true enemy. Ysabelle raced up the Hallowed Oak to face Morwenna, who still had the silver acorn. But as she approached her, the amulet around Morwenna's neck became extremely hot, burning her fur. It was then that Ysabelle realised that Hobb had begun to break through the ground. Ysabelle stared in horror while Morwenna was jubilant-- that is, until she saw the claws of the rat god reaching for her. The high priest merely cursed the wearer of the silver acorn, not Ysabelle in particular. Hobb blew fire onto Morwenna and she was killed.
Vesper swooped down and grabbed Ysabelle, just as Hobb kicked the Hallowed Oak and it toppled to the ground. Ysabelle told Vesper to take her down to the ground, where she snatched the silver acorn which had fallen. Then she hurried to the Starglass, now lying on the grass, and held the pendant over it. A white light welled up and travelled through her body; the powers channeled through her, and this meant that the Starwifeship was truly hers.
Now she was faced with the task of defeating Hobb. She called out to the rat god and he turned his attention to her. She said that since the acorn drew him back into the world, he would now have that which lured him. Using the forces within the amulet, she imprisoned Hobb within an acorn. Ysabelle told Vesper that the acorn must be planted, and from it an oak tree would grow and flourish for over a thousand years. While any part of it remained and a squirrel sat upon the oaken throne, Hobb would be unable to return. Ysabelle then fainted, exhausted.
Several weeks later, the wreckage of the Hallowed Oak had been removed, and the hill was cleaned up. On the day of Ysabelle's inauguration as the Starwife, Vesper arrived and asked to speak with her. When she approached, he proclaimed his love for her and asked her to relinquish her office and to run away with him. She refused, believing her duty to be more important, and left him alone.
As Griselda led her down to the newly prepared chamber of the Starwife, Ysabelle started to feel guilty for the way she treated Vesper, and realised that she did truly love him. She sat down mechanically on the oaken throne, her thoughts elsewhere. The prince of the Ivy House approached and went to place the silver acorn about Ysabelle's neck, but she pushed it aside and refused to accept it. She ran outside, eager to apologise to Vesper and profess her love for him, but was heartbroken to find the young bat lying dead, surrounded by bluebells. Left with no other choice, Ysabelle took up the Starwifeship and reigned for nearly three hundred years.
Ysabelle is an Italian form of Isabel. It means "consecrated to God".
- While it is easy to assume that Ysabelle is the Starwife who appears in The Deptford Mice trilogy (despite the latter's given name being revealed as Audrey), Robin Jarvis has stated that this is in fact not the case. There have been a few Starwives since Ysabelle's reign.