Example Of Revising – Artur and the Forest Guardians – Story Fragment

I set out to revise a chapter I wrote previously here:

Mushroom Hunting

 

I did not like how the first version came out.  I wanted to evoke more mystery and awe with the Forest Guardians.  And yes, I’m pretentious, they are male and female to represent the two aspects that create life, and I tried to play with that in this bit of writing.  So below is a revision of the above chapter.  I paste in from the fight scene onward.  The beginning of the chapter is largely unchanged…

After a couple hours the basket was about half full, and they reached a swamp. Artur sat on a fallen hemlock to relax and let Borussa do his thing. The pig wandered for a bit, and just as Artur felt a nap coming on, there was a crack, a crash, and a loud squeal. In Artur’s mind he could feel Borussa’s broken leg, and he sprung to his feet.

There was another squeal, and Artur homed in on it, and ran as fast as he could over the mushy, rooty ground until he found a hole. Someone had dug a pit and covered it with sticks and leaves, and Borussa was in the bottom some seven feet down. “Father! It’s a trap!”

From the north and the east came the sudden rustle of leaves and the crack of twigs, and then heavy rapid footsteps. Artur drew his sword and looked about, and saw several hairy, apeish, pig faced looking orcs charging through the foliage. They wore animals skins, and had crude spears and clubs. Their elongated yellow canines glinted in the sunlight. Their cries were not unlike pig squeals, but a mockery of pigs.

“Go father.”

“No.”

Artur prepared to meet the oncoming creatures, and quickly counted them. He could see five. He charged the lead orc with a roar, and let his sword fighting instincts take over. It was Artur’s fight to lose, and he didn’t. He slew four with relative ease, and the fifth managed to dodge a decapitating blow, but tumbled headlong into the pit. Borussa sunk his teeth into the creature’s neck. It lost its bowels.

“Father I’m in a pit covered in orc shit.”

“That rhymes.” There was a distant crack, like someone stepped on a thick, dry branch.

“Father?”

“Shh!”

There was another crack. Artur spun about, scanning around the swamp and the forest, and then an arrow whizzed by his head and stuck into a pine tree. Then another arrow from another direction. Then there was a great roar, and from all sides came another dozen orcs, some firing arrows from crude bows, and others twirling their weapons. Some emerged from the trees on the other side of the swamp, slowly slogging their way through, and others from behind distant trees on dry ground.

Five were doable, twelve were not. At least, not if Artur had to maintain defense of the pit. Artur whirled about, trying to pick targets, and dodging arrows all the while. “Father, go now!” urged Borussa from the bottom of the pit. Artur could not bring himself to leave his son, and could not fight all the orcs coming from all directions.

No harm in calling for help when you need it, he thought. So he did. “Help me!” he shouted, and the orcs replied, “Oh we’ll help you to your grave, warrior!”

Suddenly the plants in the swamp grew longer, and entangled the orcs, and pulled them down into the water, drowning them. The trees in the forest bent over and plucked weapons out the orcs hands. Bewildered, they lept and snatched at their spears and bows and clubs, but to no avail. Pines, and hemlocks, and birch trees all ensnared the orcs and choked the life out of them. One screamed, “It was a blood trap! Damn the rats!” All but one were slain, and the last and bolted for his life.

Artur was bewildered but grateful. Never had he seen such a thing. So he looked about at the trees, and said “Thank you?”

There was a sudden ripping sound, like ripping roots from the ground. “You’re welcome.” said a masculine voice. Artur whirled about and saw a man looking creature about his height, with bark-like skin, and long hair and beard like moss. He had antlers like a deer, and was naked. Artur didn’t feel threatened.

There was another rip, and Artur whirled about again, and there was a naked female figure, with a darker, bark-like skin akin to beech, and long hair like curly dried red and orange leaves. She smiled, gently, and her amber eyes met Artur’s.

Borussa called out, “Father! What goes on?”
Artur felt mesmerized for a moment, and then called over his shoulder, “it’s okay. The orcs are gone.”

“Well get me out of this pit then. This orc stinks!”

The male figure said, “Don’t worry Artur. We will help your son.” And he and the female walked over to the pit, and their feet seemed to make no sound at all. The knelt down and whispered to the ground, and the roots from the trees pushed through the sides of the pit and under the pig, who panicked again, thinking he would be crushed by the roots.

“It’s all right sweet pig.” And suddenly Borussa was calm, and the roots lifted him out of the pit, and then he lay atop a bed of entangled roots. Artur ran over to him, dropped his sword, and shoved the dead orc off.

“Oh Borussa, I’m so sorry.” And then Artur looked to the two strange people, and said “Thank you sir, and madam.”

The male and female both chucked. “I haven’t been called sir in ages,” said the male. The female said “You’re welcome, Artur Zootaloot.”

“How do you know my name?”

The female now approached, and put her hand on his shoulder, “We heard the animals speak of you. And we’ve seen you come year after year to collect mushrooms. So…we like you.”

Borussa winced with pain as Artur studied the broken leg. There were two breaks. “Don’t worry, Artur,” said the male, who then scooped up some clay from the ground and molded it into a bowl. He breathed on it, and the clay dried instantly. He then gave the bowl to the female, who squeezed a sap from her breast, and filled it. She then went to pour it into the pig’s mouth.

Artur held a hand out, “Stop. What is that?”

“Come now, Artur,” said the male. “We wouldn’t save your lives just to poison you and your son.” Artur hesitated, but he let the female proceed and she poured the sap into the pig’s mouth. Suddenly the pig convulsed, and he squealed, and then Artur could hear a crack as the leg snapped itself back together.

“Why, that feels better,” said Borussa. “Thank you madam, and sir.”

The male laughed, and his mossy hair seemed to rustle gently. “I’ve been called sir twice in one day. You can call us Moss and Leaf. We’re Guardians. Though I think you figured that out now.”

Indeed Artur had heard rumors of the forest Guardians, but never met one, or known anyone who met one. He stood, and Borussa rolled over and got up on all fours, and grunted contentedly as he walked about the forest floor. “I’m in your debt,” said Artur to the two Guardians.

“Nay,” said Moss. “There is no debt. Let us be friends.” And Moss and Leaf each held out a hand, palm open, and Artur put his hands in theirs.

“Friends.” He withdrew his hands and went to studying the orc bodies. For orcs, they seemed rather unremarkable. They had crude hides, primitive weapons, and necklaces strung with human ears and fingers. Some had short handled spades for digging. “I’m concerned how they got this deep into our land without being noticed.”

Moss and Leaf stood over Artur as the man studied the bodies. “They didn’t come overland,” said Moss. “Yesterday, we were about the forest when we felt a tingle, like the air in a thunderstorm.”

“Only there was no storm, of course,” said Leaf.

“And then Orcs were here,” said Moss. Artur noticed how the two Guardians seemed to continue each other’s thoughts.

Artur dropped the Orc trinkets and stood up, brushing himself off. “And you let them wander here?”

“We were more concerned with how they got here,” said Leaf. The two Guardians then went to each orc body, and they whispered together, and from all about, flies gathered, and the carrion picking beetles came out of the leaf litter, and the earth worms tunneled out of the soil and began sniffing about the bodies, and lastly some crows arrived to pick at the dead flesh. Then a vulture landed nearby and startled the crows, but it went to its own orc to pick and tear. Unseen, the bacteria and fungi of decomposition multiplied far more rapidly than normal, and the bodies of the dead fermented at an increased rate.

After they finished working, Artur asked them, “How did they get here?”

Moss said, “Wizardry of some kind.”

Artur was disturbed to hear this. He didn’t like the thought of Orcs traveling unchallenged in his country, or in anyone’s country for that matter.

Suddenly Borussa said, “Well Madam, yes! Thank you!” Leaf knelt down and offered a puffball mushroom the size of a football to Borussa, who greedily began chewing away. Artur and the Guardians chuckled, and they waited for the pig to finish his meal.

The day was getting on, and so Artur once again thanked the Guardians for their help, and with Borussa at his side, set off for home. The two Guardians watched the bald warrior and his pig leave. Then they turned to each other, holding hands, and dissolved into the ground. Their essence traveled the roots of plants, the tunnels of ants, the burrows of creatures great and small, the ripples of water in the swamp, and the tangled networks of mycelium in the soil. They fell with every acorn, leaf, chestnut, walnut, and beech nut. They took flight with every gnat that emerged from the swamp mud. They wiggled with every worm, and pushed up slowly with every mushroom, and with every moss they broke up stone at an infinitesimal pace. They were in one place at some times, and another place at some times, and sometimes every place in the forest.

Imagination Sometimes Never Matches the Written Word — Story Fragment

I wrote a scene disconnected from the main story about Artur and Borussa going mushroom hunting together.  The whole point was to have an awe-inspiring encounter with a pair of Dryad type characters — forest spirits — but my first attempt turned out to be a flop.  It’s really hard to put into words exactly what you had in your head.  I want to revise this chapter heavily.

In any case, here’s the chapter about Mushroom hunting…

 

Mushrooms

In the early autumn, Artur wanted to go hunt for truffle mushrooms. One day he got up extra early and took Borussa with him to go search for some. It didn’t take much persuading, as Borussa loved mushrooms even more than Artur. So Arthur slung a basket over his shoulders and belted on a sword, and the two of them set eastward from Zootaloot Farm across about three miles of rolling farm and grassland until they reached a bit of forest. The Maples, Birches and Beeches leaves were turning, and with the rising sun the tips of the treetops were like a fantastic fireworks display of orange, yellow and brown with the orange sun and pink sky above.

The air was crisp and chilly, but the birds still began their morning song with enthusiasm.

Here the comes the sun again

to shine upon the beasts and men

Evil things go into hiding

the morning sun brings happy tidings

The deer are nibbling in the field

the farmers harvest their summer’s yield

the Troll has left, no one to sack

maybe the stray sheep will come back

And here comes Artur and his pig

I suspect they’ll make their bellies big

with berries, roots, shrooms and nuts

those Pigs are quite gluttonous!

Artur was disturbed to hear of a troll so close to home, but trusted the singing birds. He suspected the troll ate the stray sheep and went off for easier pickings. All the same he was glad he had his sword, just in case.

The two entered the forest, and their feet crunched on some dry fallen leaves, and the earthy smell of fallen leaves filled their nostrils. Borussa immediately began snuffling on the ground, and crunched on acorns for a while.

“Son, we’re supposed to be hunting for truffles.”

With a mouthful of crushed acorns, the pig replied, “Oh yes. I’m keeping my nose open. I just need a little breakfast.”

“I thought being hungry would make it easier to find them.” And with that, Borussa got down on the ground, and rustled in the leaves, and sniffed around the bases of maple and birch trees. He had found truffles on his own before, but it was pure luck. The odors at ground level were far too complex for the untrained human nose. It was said that some of the Horse tribe spent their whole lives learning to find mushrooms by scent, but Artur never observed this.

Satisfied with his breakfast, Borussa began snuffling about for mushrooms, and before long he found clusters of puffballs, and oyster mushrooms, and Artur split these with his son, taking half for the basket, and letting the pig eat the other half. He pat the great boar on back, “come on Borussa, Truffles!”

So Borussa snuffled, and wiggled his curly tail, and while he did this, the sun rose higher and the forest lit up with the tint of yellow and orange reflecting off the leaves. They came upon a family of gray squirrels eating acorns on a flat rock, and the squirrels startled, leaving piles of broken shell. In a birch tree above Artur, a Squirrel threw an acorn on him, and began to curse him out.

“Damn humans always disturbing our meals! Pigs stealing our food!”

Artur merely looked up, “I have no problem with you, go back to your meal.”

The squirrel chittered at him a while longer, then leaped from the branch to another tree, and went to find a quieter place to eat. Meanwhile, Borussa was now digging at the base of a maple tree, and the scuffing of his trotter got Artur’s attention.

Artur took out a little spade and began to dig, and there they found not one but two fist sized truffles, and Artur took one, but let his son eat the other.

They went about their morning this way, with Borussa finding truffles and each partner took half for his own use. It was one of Artur’s favorite times of the year, for he got to get out with his porcine son and have fun, and enjoy the fresh air, and escape the monotonous toil of the farm and military training. They didn’t speak much, except when Borussa found more truffles. Artur cherished touching the pig’s mind, and feeling what the pig felt, and appreciating the world from a pig’s point of view. A world of smells and sounds, not unlike a dog, only with more things to eat!

After a couple hours the basket was about half full, and they reached a swamp. Artur sat on a fallen hemlock to relax and let Borussa do his thing. The pig wandered for a bit, and just as Artur felt a nap coming on, there was a crack, a crash, and a loud squeal. In Artur’s mind he could feel Borussa’s broken leg, and he sprung to his feet.

There was another squeal, and Artur homed in on it, and ran as fast as he could over the mushy, rooty ground until he found a hole. Someone had dug a pit and covered it with sticks and leaves, and Borussa was in the bottom some seven feet down. “Father! It’s a trap!”

From the north and the east came the sudden rustle of leaves and the crack of twigs, and then heavy rapid footsteps. Artur drew his sword and looked about, and saw several hairy, apeish, pig faced looking orcs charging through the foliage. They wore animals skins, and had crude spears and clubs. Their elongated yellow canines seemed to glint in the spots of sunlight. Their cries were not unlike pig squeals, but a mockery of pigs.

“Go father.”

“No.”

Artur prepared to meet the oncoming creatures, and quickly counted them. He could see five. He charged the lead orc with a roar, and let his sword fighting instincts take over. It was Artur’s fight to lose, and he didn’t. He slew four with relative ease, and the fifth managed to dodge a decapitating blow, but tumbled headlong into the pit. Borussa sunk his teeth into the creature’s neck. It lost its bowels.

“Father I’m in a pit covered in orc shit.”

“That rhymes.” There was a distant crack, like someone stepped on a thick, dry branch.

“Father?”

“Shh!”

There was another crack. Artur spun about, scanning around the swamp and the forest, and then an arrow whizzed by his head and stuck into a pine tree. Then another arrow from another direction. Then there was a great roar, and from all sides came another dozen orcs, some firing arrows from crude bows, and others twirling their weapons. Some emerged from the trees on the other side of the swamp, slowly slogging their way through, and others from behind distant trees.

Five were doable, twelve were not. Artur whirled about, trying to pick targets, and dodging arrows all the while. “Father, go now!” urged Borussa from the bottom of the pit. Artur could not bring himself to leave his son, and could not fight all the orcs coming from all directions.

No harm in calling for help when you need it, he thought. So he did. “Help me!” he shouted, and the orcs replied, “Oh we’ll help you to your grave, warrior!”

Suddenly the plants in the swamp grew longer, and entangled the orcs, and pulled them down into the water, drowning them. The trees in the forest bent over and plucked weapons out the orcs hands. Bewildered, they lept and snatched at their spears and bows and clubs, but to no avail. Pines, and hemlocks, and birch trees all ensnared the orcs and choked the life out of them. All but one, who remained far away, and bolted for his life.

Artur was bewildered but grateful. Never had he seen such a thing. So he looked about, and said “Thank you?”

There was a sudden ripping sound, like ripping roots from the ground. “You’re welcome.” said a masculine voice. Artur whirled about and saw a man looking creature about his height, with bark-like skin, and long hair and beard like moss. He had antlers like a deer, and was naked. Artur didn’t feel threatened.

There was another rip, and Artur whirled about again, and there was a naked female figure, with a darker, bark-like skin, and long hair like curly dried red and orange leaves. She smiled, gently, and her amber eyes met Artur’s.

Borussa called out, “Father! What goes on?”
Artur felt mesmerized for a moment, and then called over his shoulder, “it’s okay. The orcs are gone.”

“Well get me out of this pit then. This orc stinks!”

The male figure said, “Don’t worry Artur. I will help your son.” And he walked over to the pit, and his feet seemed to make no sound at all. There he got down and began to whisper, and the roots from the trees pushed through the sides of the pit and under the pig, who panicked again.

“It’s all right sweet pig.” And suddenly Borussa was calm, and the roots lifted him out of the pit, and then he lay atop a bed of entangled roots. Artur ran over to him, dropped his sword, and shoved the dead orc off.

“Oh Borussa, I’m so sorry.” And then Artur looked to the man thing, and said “Thank you…sir?”

The male chucked. “I haven’t been called sir in ages. All the same, you’re welcome, Artur Zootaloot.”

“How do you know my name?”

The woman now approached, and put her hand on his shoulder, “We heard the animals speak of you. And we’ve seen you come year after year to collect mushrooms, and you only take what you can eat. So…we like you.”

Borussa winced with pain as Artur studied the broken leg. There were two breaks. “Don’t worry, Artur,” said the man, who then scooped up some clay from the ground and molded it into a bowl. He breathed on it, and the clay dried instantly. He then gave the bowl to the woman, who squeezed a nectar from her breast into it, and then put it to the pig’s lips.

Artur held a hand out, “Stop. What is that?”

“Come now, Artur,” said the man. “We wouldn’t save your lives just to poison you and your son.” Artur hesitated, but he let the woman proceed, and Borussa lapped up the nectar. Suddenly the pig convulsed, and he squealed, and then Artur could hear a crack as the leg snapped itself back together.

“Why, that feels better,” said Borussa. “Thank you madam, and sir.”

The man laughed, and his mossy hair seemed to rustle gently. “I’ve been called sir twice in one day. You can call us Moss and Leaf. We’re Guardians. Though I think you figured that out now.”

Indeed Artur had heard rumors of the forest Guardians, but never met one, or known anyone who met one. He stood, and Borussa rolled over and got up on all fours, and grunted contentedly as he walked about the forest floor. “I’m in your debt,” said Artur to the two Guardians.

“Nay,” said Moss. “There is no debt. Let us be friends.” And Moss held out a woody textured hand, and Artur took it.

Story Fragment – Playing With a Pig

Zootaloot47

This is in reference to my work-in-progress novel Zootaloot.  If you would like to read it, you may click the link above.

I have a lot of little scenes in my head of Tana’s childhood.  And so I have a scene here of she and her cousins playing with Borussa the pig.  As usual, I put my notes in brackets for later reference.  I’m not yet sure what to name one of the characters, Joruun or Ingred.  I think Joruun, because she will end up a major-minor character who loves her horse.

 

Pork Belly

When Tana was five, in early spring, Artur’s sister Boudicca had come to visit from the north, and brought her husband Bjorn, and her two children Jorunn [Ingred – meaning Beautiful Goddess, or Jorunn – meaning lover of horses] and Kustaa [ staff of the gods]. Joruun and Kustaa were fraternal twins only a year younger than Tana. Both had their father’s freckled complexion and red hair, but they smiled like their mother.

It was the first time Tana met her cousins. While the adults relaxed outside around a table playing cards, and drinking tea, and eating biscuits, the children sat in the grass with Borussa. They pet him, and gave him kisses.

“What a big pig,” said Kustaa, who pat the great fighting boar on his hairy back.

“He’s the biggest pig,” said Tana, who kissed the boar on the snout. “And you can give him zoots too.” With that all three tried to blow zoots on him, but he had too much hair.

“Roll over, Borussa,” said Joruun.

“I don’t want to,” said the pig, but the two haired children only heard a grunt. In truth he didn’t mind it, but he wanted to be difficult. Tana saw his eyes light up slightly, and knew he was playing hard to get.

“Let’s push him over,” Said Kustaa, who put both of his little hands on one side, and the other two joined him. The adults saw this and pointed, and chuckled to their selves over three small children trying to roll over such a large beast.

Borussa played along, however, and slowly gave way. “Keep pushing!” shouted Tana, her back to the pig, and straiting her legs. Borussa then rolled over onto his side, and the three children cheered, and the adults all clapped.

“Quick, get his belly!” shouted Tana, and the three got down onto the pigs bare belly, and blew zoots, and the pig squealed, “No, not my fat belly! You mustn’t!” But in reality he liked zoots, and he liked playing with children. So he let them zoot his belly until it tickled beyond his ability to bear it, and rolled away onto his other side.

The three children with grass stained knees all whined “Awww…” and then Tana said, “Hey, I’ll race you to the barn!” And the other two thought this was a good idea, and they all took off running and giggling like innocent children, because they were.

Borussa got back on his feet and trotted after them, happy to keep a watchful eye on the children.

Story Fragment: A side tale

I had writer’s block last week,  I worked a lot of overtime, and didn’t make time to be creative.  Even my weekly D&D adventure was a bit of a joke.  I’m at a point in the novel where I want to wrap up the story, get the Rhinos home, get Artur home, and then move onto other characters.  I also want to write a few short stories about Tana growing up and learning things from her parents.

So today I wrote about Tana going fishing…

 

[Finish this chapter. Send the Rhinos home. Get Artur back to his family. Do a reunion and a epilogue, then move back in time two months to the Cow tribe.]

[I have presently one or more short tales to tell about Tana growing up. I don’t know how to fit them into the book. There are events in different parts of the world that happen out of sequence with the main story and I need to get them in somehow. I do not wish to jump around like the Joyluck Club by Amy Tan, where you’re not certain when the events in the book are taking place until a few pages into a given chapter. Time jumps are fine if done properly.

In any case, this is a chapter about Tana learning about balancing her empathic gift against the human need to eat flesh]

Fishing

In the spring time, when the leaves were just beginning to open on the hardwoods, Artur took his four year old daughter out on Sunflower and they rode southeast over the hilly farmlands. The sun shined bright overhead, and slivers of both moons could be seen on the horizon as they ascended. The tulips and daffodils were up, and the dandelions had sprouted their first flowers. The grasses were green, and the warm, humid air was rich with faint pollen and the odor of dried manure spread on the fields.

The bald Artur looked regal in his crimson tunic and Frostbane strapped to his hip, and his bald daughter Tana wore a little blue dress with a profile of a pink pig sewn to the chest. Tied to the saddle were fishing rods and a small basket, for they headed for the river Hogwash about an hour’s ride away.

They cantered down the dirt road a while, taking in the sights and smells. Artur noticed a smoke plume to the northeast, and took to deliberately steering his horse as the observed it. “What do you smell, Sunflower?”

The horse whinnied. “Meat cooking. Unwashed human stink.”

“Hunters then, perhaps,” said Artur.

“Do we stink?” asked Tana.

Sunflower said, “Yes, but I like your stink.”

Tana leaned forward in the saddle and sniffed Sunflower’s mane. “I like your stink too! We stink! You stink!”

Artur chuckled at this, and after a while they turned south to meet the river. They ascended a small hill and then down a gentle slope to the edge of a mostly coniferous forest through which the river ran. A slight breeze blew a cloud of pollen from the new anthers, filling their nostrils with the scents of new growth.

They slowed to a walk and rode carefully into the forest. The bed of pine needles cushioned Sunflower’s footsteps, and they moved almost silently, with only the distant babble of the river disturbing the quiet. They approached a rocky bank on this wide river and dismounted. The river here was thirty yards across and moved slowly, and downstream a ways it narrowed and sped up around the rocks, making a pleasing tinkle of churning water and foam.

Artur took the gear off Sunflower’s saddle, and told her to forage close. The horse went upstream a little to nibble shoreline grasses and to drink.

“There are some delicious trout here,” said Artur to his daughter. He prepared his fishing pole, and the little girl tried clumsily to mimic her father and string her own pole. She quickly grew frustrated, “I can’t do it.”

Artur smiled. “I’ll do mine again.” He untied the string from his fishing rod and sat down with his daughter, carefully showing her how run the wound twine down the length of the rod. With a bit of effort, she managed to mimic her father’s motions, and installed the spool of twine on the rod, and threw a hollow walnut shell, and tied a hook to the end of the string.

“Well done Tana,” said her father.

“Now I can fish?”

“You need a worm.” Artur took out a little box filled with soil and earthworms, and offered his daughter a worm.

“It’s all slimey!”

“Yes they are.”

“It doesn’t like me holding it.”

“It’s best not to get into their minds, dear. Let it be.”

Artur showed his daughter how to hook a worm, and then, his arms around her, helped her cast the line into the river. “Now pull in the string slowly, so the fish chase the worm.” He worked with his daughter for several minutes, casting and retrieving, until she was comfortable doing it, and then he cast his own baited hook out, and the two waited for fish to strike.

It wasn’t long until Tana’s rod jerked suddenly, and she squealed. “Oh papa I got one!” Artur tossed his rod aside, and rushed to help his daughter as she panicked. “What do I do?”

“Press on the string real hard here. Use your thumb. There I’ll put mine on yours. See it splashing out there? You got a big one!”

Tana’s eyes went from excitement to bewilderment. “It hurts!”

“It does?”

“My mouth. I’m scared.”

Artur recognized this. Like every child with the Gift, she hadn’t learned stay out of the minds of the animals she focused on. “Tana listen to my voice. Sing along with me.”

Fish fillets for breakfast

Fish strew for supper

Fish nuggets for a snack

I’m grateful for fish

They make my belly fat

How about that?

He repeated the simple melody, and Tana sang with him as they pulled the thrashing trout to shore, where it flopped on the rocks for a bit, and then on the dirt, and then it lay still, it’s gills panting.

“Quickly now,” said Artur. “Hold it down so it doesn’t suffer.” Tana sat next to the fish, and pushed on it’s midsection with her little hands. She felt like she could not breathe, she felt terrified, as though she were thrust underwater for too long. Artur drew a long, thin little dagger from his belt, knelt down, and stuck it between the eyes of the fish, and then it stopped panting. Blood trickled around the wound as he withdrew the knife.

Tana stared in wonder. Her lungs ceased to ache. “I can’t hear it anymore. Oh…” and she began to cry. “We killed it.”

Tears welled up in Artur’s eyes as he empathized with his daughter. “Yes. To eat, one thing has to die so another can live.” Tana’s sobbing increased, and her father dropped the knife and put his arms around his little girl and kissed her bald scalp.

“I—I—I’m sorry little fish.”

“I’m sorry too,” said Artur. “Let’s be thankful for the fish. It died so we can eat.” He let go of his daughter, but stayed crouched behind her. Tana sniffled and wiped the tears with the back of her hand, and knelt forward, and kissed the fish. “Tha…Th..Thank you fish.” While Artur considered kissing a fish to be a bit absurd, nonetheless he did not berate his gentle daughter who then and there found her own way of honoring their prey.

He let her sniffle and stare at the fish for a minute, and then said, “Let’s make a fire and eat! Help me gather sticks.”

He set about picking up fallen pine branches, but his daughter did not come. She remained, hands on knees, staring at the dead fish. He considered his daughter’s disobedience, and didn’t correct her on account that she had never caught a fish before. He let his daughter grieve and set up a good pile for cooking, and put dried kindling beneath it. He ignited his tinder, and blew it into a flame, and before long the kindling began to crackle and roar with flame.

Artur then went and picked up the fish, drew out his knife, and began to descale the fish. He ignored his daughter’s grief, and tried to focus on the lesson. “Now the scales are off, we can remove its guts. Cut the belly here, and pull out the guts! Toss those in the water for the other fish. That was easy, wasn’t it?”

Artur took two branches and gave one to his daughter. “Now use your knife, and scrape it like this. There you go! Cut away from yourself like this so you don’t cut yourself.” Tana used a tiny knife and worked at making a skewer. The smell of the fire and work took her grief away, and before long Tana and Artur each had a piece of fish on a skewer, and they cooked it over the fire.

The odor of fresh fish invigorated Artur, and he sighed with contentment. His daughter studied hard, rotating her fish when her father rotated his. It didn’t take long to cook, and the two ate fish on a stick, and they were happy.

As they ate, they both felt an intelligent animal mind downstream, and they looked over and saw a brown bear approaching the water’s edge on the other side. It paid them no mind, and waded into the water a ways, and then scanned the water that spilled from around the rocks.

“Father what is he doing?”

“I think he’s fishing, Tana.”

“With no pole?”

“Oh they don’t need a pole. Watch and see.”

The bear studied the water for a few minutes, and then suddenly lunged in with it’s clawed paw, and pulled a fish up into its mouth, and returned to the shore to eat it. It tore apart the fish, and licked its lips, and then sat down to clean itself.

The fire popped, and the bear looked up in alarm, and stood on its hind legs. But after seeing that the humans were on the other side of the stream, it seemed satisfied there would be no problem, and went back to cleaning itself.

“Can we catch fish without poles?” asked Tana.

“Oh for sure, but its very hard. We can use spears, or swords, or our bare hands. Alan McDougal- do you remember him – he will sit in a river all day until he catches a fish with his hands.”

The bear finished cleaning itself, and wandered off into the forest. Artur said, “Let’s catch some fish for mother and your brothers, and we’ll take them home.”

The two put fresh worms on their hooks, and cast their lines, and in about an hour they caught three more trout. This time Artur held the fish down, and Tana stick the knife in their brains, and he helped her descale them, and to gut them. Artur cut long poles and put the fish on them, and built up the fire, and,they let the cut up fish cook in the smoke.

They washed up in the river, and Tana disrobed and waded in the water while her father stood guard. Tana found minnows and snails, and she picked up the snailed and studied them. The snails retreated into their shells, and she tried to coax them out. “Come out little snail!” she said. But they snails didn’t want to come out. Sunflower came to the stream to drink, and then waded in and splashed around with Tana for little bit.

After swimming, Tana got dressed and reclined with her father under a fat hemlock tree. Artur played jaunty tunes and then soft lullabies on his flute, and before long Tana grew sleepy and dozed off. The day waned on, but before sunset the fish was cooked, and Artur roused his daughter to finish the lesson. They packed the smoked fish into a sack, and tied the gear back on Sunflower’s saddle, and the two rode home.

Story Fragment, Artur and the Rhinos

I worked a lot of overtime in the past couple of weeks, so finding time to write has been difficult.  When it comes to hobbies, of course, you need to make time for them.  Even if the product isn’t very good, it’s no good passing up opportunities to try.  I took some time to give the chapters names, but I didn’t number them in case I want to insert other chapters.  That will save me from tedious renumbering.

Artur and the Rhinos are returning from their adventure.  I’m preparing to have them part ways so the Rhinos can get home and Artur can be reunited with his family, and be done with this bit of the book.  I want to move on to the adventures of the Cow tribe, and the Poisoners of the city of Anarch, and the horsemen of the north.  And then I want to jump ahead some ten years and get on with Tana’s adventures…

 

The Return

Artur, Oak and Acorn walked hurriedly over the mountains and down onto the main road headed west for Pig country. Invigorated by their victory, the Rhinos felt the summer air seemed fresher, the leaves brighter, and the bird and insect song all the more lovely.

Artur, despite being pleased with the success of their adventure, had a heavy heart. Most of his adventures were morally unambiguous. Meddling in the politics of the Frog people, the witch who cursed her ex husband, the ex husband who tried to kill him repeatedly, and then stealing the latter’s pet. All this to save the Rhinos from a wasting disease.

The Rhinos tried to make conversation, but Artur was lost in thought, and they realized that while his body was with them, his mind was elsewhere. Artur witnessed his deeds upon a mystical scale that weighed the balance of good and evil, and for the first time in a long time, the good didn’t outweigh the evil. And then he remembered all the Rhinos who died from the horrible disease, and how many would be saved from his deeds, and the pan filled with good became heavier. Then he remembered that it’s usually the wicked who cause the moral conflicts to begin with, and the pan filled with evil became lighter. He felt better, but was grieved that it took effort to weigh out the balance of his deeds.

Artur was jolted back to reality when Oak said abruptly, “We’re going to turn South tomorrow.”

“Oh?” said Artur, suddenly on a dirt road amid a grassy plain dotted with little copses of maple and white birch.

“We’re going to make for the Great Sea and hire a ship to take us across. It’s faster than going over the road,” said Oak.

“Very well,” said Artur. “You will come back to visit, I hope.”

“Of course my friend,” said Oak. “When time allows. We’re always escorting wagons and caravans. And since you helped save my people, I think I owe you one now.”

Artur shook his head. “We’re even.”

Acorn interjected, “Then let’s enjoy each other’s company while we’re together today, and not worry about tomorrow. My bagpipes are broken, so let’s have a song or two.”

Oak smiled at this, and said, “Which song?”

Acorn cleared his throat, and began to sing.

One day there was a terrible storm

and the waves crashed onto the village

The buildings were ripped and torn

the water itself did pillage

And then came a thousand rhinos

and waded into the tide

shoulder to shoulder, their shields held firm

and the waves could not break their hides

The ocean broke and retreated before

the might of the rhino dam

the humans returned to their village

and cooked everyone some yams

“Yams?” laughed Artur.

“Holding back the sea is hungry work.” said Acorn, who patted his belly.

“Is that a true story?” asked Artur.

Oak said, “I don’t know. But it’s inspiring. When faced with hideous monsters, or even dragons, we’re reminded that the sea itself was no match for the Rhinos.”

Revised Fable: The Used Car Salesman

I noticed all kinds of verb tense, grammar and punctuation errors from the previous posting of this story.  I cleaned it up tonight after my weekly game of D&D.  Here is a revised version of my fable The Used Car Salesman.

 

CAR_SALES2

 

Consider a car that won’t pass inspection. Vacuum it out, spray some new car smell. Put a coat of paint on it. Add a racing stripe. Reset the Check Engine light. Pre-tune the radio to something with a lot of bass and crank the volume to add to the excitement. The dash board looks pretty with the vinyl polished up. The door handles work. The wheels roll on the axles.

Now sell it.

It won’t just get you here to there but it will get you there in style. It’s sexy. It’s fun! That grinding in the wheel bearing is a feature. It has character and so will you! It’s been around and you can now be around as well! Picture yourself, burning up the highway in this hot, sexy car, the wind in your hair, the stereo blaring. That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust is to let the world know that you’re there! In this car, you are a person to be reckoned with.

And it sells. Time and time again, people buy similar cars, because the sale is so good. That first day driving it, the second day, or maybe the first couple of weeks are fabulous. They feel stylish. They feel sexy. That grinding wheel bearing really is character! That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust let’s the world know that they’re there! In this car, they are a person to be reckoned with.

Then the check engine light comes on, and its too expensive to fix. So they buy another one.

Used car salesmen are ready to sell them another one, because it’s all they have to sell. And people are buying because they’re not buying the car, but the sales pitch itself It becomes the norm…

A man named Fred was curious about selling cars, and had a few decent cars to sell. They cars were not perfect. But he changed the oil every 5,000 miles, and fixed those things he could fix. He even upgraded the fuel systems to make them more efficient, and installed good struts to absorb the shock of traveling, and the wheels were always aligned. The cars had manufacturer defects, and occasionally he neglected to check the tire pressure, because he was not perfect. The basic paint was sufficient, and he saw no need to upgrade the less important features. On the whole, he took good care of the cars, so by any objective measurement they were worth buying. He was acutely aware that the cars had some problems, and he was honest about their flaws, so who would want to buy them?

Nonetheless, with great difficulty, Fred sold a few cars. He thought he was happy to sell his good quality used cars. Then he fell prey to a few scams. Then someone wrote a bad check. They kept bringing the cars in on the pretense of warranty service when the warranty didn’t apply. The finance company downgraded his business’ credit rating. All who bought his cars drove them into the ground. They didn’t change the oil, or failed to shift before red-lining, or aligned the wheels, or repair the struts. They picked the manufacturer’s defects he tried to correct, posted about in all the newspapers, and made it a miserable task for him to sell cars. Each of his customers tried to ruin him, and he despaired of selling cars. Not all customers, said his friends, would try to harm him. But in his experience, they did.

Fred got out of the used car business for a while. He ran a plant nursery and bred dogs. These things brought him joy. He could have bred plants and dogs for the rest of his life, but a small part of him missed selling cars.

Then in time Fred made the acquaintance of some used car salesmen. They met at a gentleman’s club every Tuesday to drink Martinis and boast of their sales. He saw the joy they got from selling their cars, and others in buying them. And he talked about how difficult it was for him to sell his cars.

So the used car salesmen checked out Fred’s cars, and they were amazed he wasn’t selling them. They were good, reliable cars. He just needed to make a good sales pitch. After many months of frustration, he realized that its often the case that folks with the least to sell were the best at selling. He was accused by a few of feeling entitled to other people’s money, but he wasn’t. On occasion he figured it would make sense, if he sold quality cars, to be doing better than folks who do not. But life wasn’t fair, and the reality was that people bought the sales pitch and not the cars themselves.

Fred eventually learned the sales pitch. No longer did he give a fair and polite introduction to the cars he had for sale. He learned to speak lies and believe them: It won’t just get you here to there but it will get you there in style. It’s sexy. It’s fun! That grinding in the wheel bearing is a feature. It has character! It’s been around and you can now be around as well! That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust is to let the world know that you’re there! In this car, you are a person to be reckoned with.

Fred sold the good cars. He was sad to find that his customers continued to write bad checks, and drove the cars into the ground, and trashed his reputation with the car finance company, and brought the car back on bogus warranty claims.

In despair, he took the remaining profits from those cars and invested in junk cars that do not pass inspection. He put a coat of paint on them, and sprayed some new car smell, and vacuumed the interior, and reset the Check Engine Light. He stopped maintaining them: no more struts for the bumpy road, to hell with the alignment that keeps the tires from wearing, and it mattered not if the fuel system was efficient. And he sold them.

Since Fred had not sold anything of value, nobody felt the need to sue him or run him down on warranty claims (for there was no warranty). Since what he sold required no credit, his credit was not downgraded. He could just sell more junk cars. Customers would sometimes gripe about his cars, go to another used car salesman, and then come back when he made a sweet sales pitch.

In fact, as long as Fred got a little cash from the sale, he didn’t care much about anything at all. It didn’t matter if he sold cars, or who got hurt driving the bad ones. He got a buzz from the sale. He didn’t really feel that good, and he didn’t really feel bad. Nothing got him up much, but nothing got him down either. In time, to amuse himself, he figured he could sell turd sandwiches, and occasionally he did. His friends he met on Tuesdays snickered when he told them this, because they were selling turd sandwiches with their cars for years.

Fred realized all the hard work and maintenance he put into his used cars in the past was a waste of time, and settled into a life of clever sales pitches. He sold the sale, and not the cars, for there was nothing about the cars worth selling.

One day he sold a junk car and a turd sandwich to someone who had been screwed over one too many times, and that person caved in his skull with the rusty tire iron from the trunk of the car. The other salesmen discussed this over Martinis on Tuesdays, and thought not much of it. Each of them had known fellow used car salesmen who were killed in the same way and for same reason. As nothing really got them up or down, it was just passing news, and they went on discussing the sales they made the previous week.

The End

Story Fragment, Singing to Bees

I mentioned early in the book that Diana knew how to sing to bees, so here’s a singing scene…

 

After all the other humans turned in for the night, Diana walked with Borussa out to the bee hives. The bees too were settled in for the night, but a few milled about at the entrances.  Borussa was wary of this place, for he didn’t much like being stung by bees, and so stood back a little while Diana approached the hives. After all the violence of the week, and missing her husband, she turned to the one thing that brought her peace and serenity.  She took a deep breath, and then began to hum in the back of her throat, a peculiar kind of singing that few in the word had mastered. In this she produced several notes simultaneously, in harmony, and the bees, while deaf, picked up the vibrations in the air.

First they awoke from their rest, and then in twos and threes climbed out of the box hives, and then before long in bunches of ten or twenty, until the surface of the hives were covered with bees. In the moonlight it looked like ripples of water.

She increased and decreased pitch simultaneously, and the tempo of her song increased, and the bees took to flight and orbited about her, until she was like a planet with several rings, all illuminated by the stars and the moon.

The bees danced as she altered pitch, tempo, and rested one note while continuing the other. The rings broke up into semi-circles, and then a ray from each semi-circle to a pyramidal apex some five feet above her, like children wrapping a maypole. Later they swarmed into a ball eclipsing the moon from Diana’s sight, all holding onto each other and flapping their wings furiously.

The bees, in file, all twirled down and swirled about Diana like a tornado of buzzing insects, and then returned to their respective hives.

Borussa startled Diana out of meditation with a snort. The moon was already on its way down. She had lost hours while the bored pig dutifully stayed nearby to watch out for trouble. Diana realized her own fatigue, and went to pet Borussa on the head. “I’m sorry Borussa. You must be sleepy. Come on.”

The two returned to the house, and Kevin there in a long chair smoking a pipe. “I was beginning to wonder where you were off to, mother. Then I heard you singing.” Borussa quietly trotted off to the barn.

Diana walked over and kissed her son on his bald head. “Thank you for coming,” she said.

“What else would I do?”

“Yes I know. Codes of honor. You still made a choice to help.”

“Are you alright, mother?”

Diana yawned, “I just miss your father.”

“He’ll be back soon. No monster, or dragon, or army of orcs could stop him. He doesn’t know how to die. How about a pipe to help you sleep?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“How about a zoot?” He hopped up and embraced his mother, and blew a zoot on her cheek, and she chuckled and tapped her other cheek. “This side’s jealous.”

So Kevin blew a zoot on her other cheek, a high pitched, squeaky zoot, and it tickled terribly so that she pulled back reflexively. “You’ll wake everyone up,” she hissed with a smile.

She hugged her son and went to bed, and he stayed up until some insomniac birds began to sing their premature sun welcoming hymns.

Here comes the sun

It’s a bright new day

No it’s not. Shut up and sleep!

But here comes

Be Quiet!

Oh…

Another PDF Work-in-Progress of my book “Zootaloot”

The Download link is below.

Zootaloot40

I’m posting another update of my work-in-progress because I’ve made the acquaintance of a lovely lady who appreciates literature.  I’m making it available to her to read at her leisure if she feels so inclined.

There’s been only a few pages since my last posting of the work-in-progress, as well as some revisions for sentence structure, spelling and verb tense.  On days when I get a little writers block, I spend time editing for those things.

The aforementioned lady and I got to discussing the challenges of writing, and we exchanged some interesting thoughts.  I’m getting fairly close to wrapping up the introductory segment of the novel, and I’ve debated just cleaning it up and releasing it as Book One.   Partially because I anticipate editing a some 500 page book (if it gets that large) to be a monumental task (but of course it has been done by the great authors of the past).  I figured it might be easier to take the scalpel to a 50-ish page book and tidy it up.

However, once I finish a Book One, the canon is established, and I may find myself wishing I added one thing or another to the beginning of the story.  It’s not like I’m going to post it twice to Lulu.com saying “And here’s version 2.0 of Zootaloot Book One, with extra material.”

So with a little anxiety, I’m going to try to finish the whole thing and then publish it.  If Tolkien can revise The Lord of the Rings through several drafts, then my work which pales in comparison can be done in the same way.

We also discussed how you sometimes learn things about characters as you create them.  I didn’t anticipate the witch in the Foggy Swamp to be a petite pretty Ogre.  At first I pictured her as a stereotypical withered hag.  Nor did I anticipate her sticking her nose into the affairs of the world aside from brewing the cure to the Horn Rot.  Now I had her using her powers to smite the rat who gave the the disease to the Rhino Men.

I didn’t anticipate Troy and Martin McDougal being friends.  When I first thought of Martin, I imagined him as a try-hard outsider that would do anything to fit in, and so clung too much to Troy.  I’m glad that changed.  He’s a bit clumsy and eats a little too much, but otherwise he’s kind and sincere and loving, and I like that a lot better.

I Wrote a Fable, The Used Car Salesman

I was inspired to write a fable.  Make of it what you will.  You of course may disagree with the premise.  That’s great, because the world would be boring if we all thought alike.

The Used Car Salesman

Consider a car that won’t pass inspection. Vacuum it out, spray some new car smell. Put a coat of paint on it. Add a racing stripe. Reset the Check Engine light. Pre-tune the radio to something with a lot of bass and crank the volume to add to the excitement. The dash board looks pretty with the vinyl polished up. The door handles work. The wheels roll on the axles.

Now sell it.

It won’t just get you here to there but it will get you there in style. It’s sexy. It’s fun! That grinding in the wheel bearing is a feature. It has character and so will you! It’s been around and you can now be around as well! Picture yourself, burning up the highway in this hot, sexy car, the wind in your hair, the stereo blaring. That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust is to let the world know that you’re there! In this car, you are a person to be reckoned with.

And it sells. Time and time again, people buy similar cars, because the sale is so good. That first day driving it, the second day, maybe the first couple of weeks, fabulous. They feel stylish. They feel sexy. That grinding wheel bearing really is character! That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust let’s the world know that they’re there! In this car, they are a person to be reckoned with.

Then the check engine light comes on, and its too expensive to fix. So they buy another one.

Used car salesmen are ready to sell them another one, because it’s all they have to sell. And people are buying because they’re not buying the car, but the sales pitch itself. It becomes the norm…

A man named Fred was curious about selling cars, and had a few decent cars to sell. They cars were not perfect. But he changed the oil every 5,000 miles, and fixed those things he could fix. He even upgraded the fuel systems to make them more efficient, and installed good struts to absorb the shock of traveling, and the wheels were always aligned. The cars had manufacturer defects, and occasionally he neglected to check the tire pressure, because he’s not perfect. The basic paint was sufficient, and he saw no need to upgrade the less important features. On the whole, he took good care of the cars, so by any objective measurement they were worth buying. He was acutely aware that the cars had some problems, and he was honest about their flaws, so who would want to buy them?

Nonetheless, with great difficulty, Fred sold a few cars. He thought he was happy to sell his good quality used cars. Then he fell prey to a few scams. Then someone wrote a bad check. They kept bringing the cars in on the pretense of warranty service, even when it didn’t apply. The finance company downgraded his business. All who bought his cars would drove them into the ground. They wouldn’t change the oil, or failed to shift before red-lining, or aligned the wheels, or repair the struts. They picked the manufacturer’s defects he tried to correct, posted about in all the newspapers, and made it a miserable task for him to sell cars. Each of his customers tried to ruin him, and he despaired of selling cars. Not all customers, said his friends, would try to harm him. But in his experience, they did.

Fred got out of the used car business for a while. He ran a plant nursery and bred dogs. These things brought him joy. He could have bred plants and dogs for the rest of his life, but a small part of him missed selling cars.

Then in time Fred made the acquaintance of some used car salesmen. They met at a gentleman’s club every Tuesday to drink Martinis and boast of their sales. He saw the joy they got from selling their cars, and others in buying them. And he talked about how difficult it was for him to sell his cars.

So the used car salesmen check out Fred’s cars, and they’re amazed he’s not selling them. They’re good, reliable cars. He just needs to make a good sales pitch. After many months of frustration, he realized that its often the case that folks with the least to sell were the best at selling. He was accused by a few of feeling entitled to other people’s money, but he wasn’t. On occasion he figured it would make sense, if he sold quality cars, to be doing better than folks who do not. But life isn’t fair, and the reality was that people bought the sales pitch and not the cars themselves.

Fred eventually learned the sales pitch. No longer did he give a fair and polite introduction to the cars he had for sale. He learned to speak lies and believe them: It won’t just get you here to there but it will get you there in style. It’s sexy. It’s fun! That grinding in the wheel bearing is a feature. It has character! It’s been around and you can now be around as well! That blast of oily smoke from the exhaust is to let the world know that you’re there! In this car, you are a person to be reckoned with.

Fred sold the good cars. But he was sad to find that his customers continued to write bad checks, and drove the cars into the ground, and trashed his reputation with the car finance company, and bring the car back on bogus warranty claims.

In despair, he took the remaining profits from those cars and invested in junk cars that do not pass inspection. He put a coat of paint on them, and sprayed some new car smell, and vacuumed the interior, and reset the Check Engine Light. He stopped maintaining them: no more struts for the bumpy road, to hell with the alignment that keeps the tires from wearing, and it mattered not if the fuel system was efficient. And he sold them.

Since Fred had not sold anything of value, nobody felt the need to sue him, or run him down on warranty claims (for there was no warranty), and since what he sold required no credit, his credit was not downgraded. He could just sell more junk cars. Customers would sometimes gripe about his cars, go to another used car salesman, and then come back when he made a sweet sales pitch.

In fact, as long as Fred got a little cash from the sale, he didn’t care much about anything at all. It didn’t matter if he sold cars, or who got hurt driving the bad ones. He got a buzz from the sale. He didn’t really feel that good, and he didn’t really feel bad. Nothing got him up much, but nothing got him down either. In time, to amuse himself, he figured he could sell turd sandwiches, and occasionally he did. His friends he met on Tuesdays snickered when he told them this, because they were selling turd sandwiches with their cars for years.

Fred realized all the hard work and maintenance he put into his used cars in the past was a waste of time, and settled into a life of clever sales pitches. He sold the sale, and not the cars, for there was nothing about the cars worth selling.

One day he sold a junk car and a turd sandwich to someone who had been screwed over one too many times, and that person caved in his skull with the rusty tire iron from the trunk of the car. The other salesmen discussed this over Martinis on Tuesdays, and thought not much of it. Each of them had known fellow used car salesmen who were killed in the same way and for same reason. As nothing really got them up or down, it was just passing news, and they went on discussing the sales they made the previous week.

The End

Story Fragment: The rats defeated, for now.

Here is more from my book in progress, “Zootaloot”. 

The rats are defeated in a one-sided anti-climactic battle.  More interesting than the battle  is how the humans and animals work together. I’m also interested in the mystery left behind, and how it affects the protagonists of the story.  I honestly don’t know what remains down in the rats’ fort.  What did the sorcerer leave behind?  How long with the rat skeletons stand there: decades, centuries?   I also take joy in showing how the peoples of the Pig tribe celebrate victory, even as they struggle to not scratch at their poison ivy…

The Captain of the rat guard, in dismay, tossed his weapons, unbuckled the straps to his breast plate, and returned to running on all fours. He bolted for the deepest chamber, which was the Rat Sorcerer’s room. Up the dark tunnel behind him he could hear the screams and squeals of battle, and the reek of ferret wafted down the tunnel. The captain pounded on the door, “Master! Master! We’re beaten! Open the door! Master!” He then put his shoulder to the door, and popped in, and shut it behind him, trying to catch his breath. Here he found a nearly empty chamber with a carpet, the stones arranged in a portal, and the skeleton guards who immediately moved on him. He didn’t have a chance to squeal.

The few rats hiding in the cursed trees gave up the fight when their home was overrun with ferrets, and carefully slunk away. Now all the humans walked about the rock pile, examining the constructions of the rats, and their armors and weapons, and found it all very curious and sad. Kevin went about, listening for the suffering of still living rats, and found a few badly injured ones. He put them out of their misery, all except one who limped along with a broken leg and arm. For this one, he put on thick leather gloves and picked him up, and spoke with him.

“I can take away you pain.”

“Go spit, Hew Man!”

“What kind of talk is that?” With this he took out a vial of poppy oil, and fed the rat a drop.

The rat seemed to relax after a few seconds, and he questioned the creature further. “Who set this place up?”

“The sorcerer.”

“Which sorcerer?” Kevin set the rat down on some dry leaves, and it began to unbuckle its breastplate with its good arm. Kevin took off his gloves, and helped with the other side, impressed with the handiwork of rats.

“Ours,” said the rat.

“Where is he?”

“In his chamber no doubt, working spells while we all die.”

Tana stood nearby and listened to this exchange. Then amid the milling about of the other people, and the pigs eating dead rat, and the ferrets licking their wounds and lounging, she wandered over to the main entrance, and peered down into the darkness. The hole was large enough for her to crawl in on all fours, if she wanted to.

Diana happened to glance in Tana’s direction, and realized what Tana was considering. “Tana don’t go down there,” she said, and came up next to her. “What are you doing?”

“The rat sorcerer is down there. Kevin learned it from a hurt rat.”

Looking up at the moldy, accursed trees about the place, Diana didn’t like the thought of a sorcerer down in the rat den. “Then we’ll smoke him out.” With that she asked Carberry,  Ferguson and the McDougals to fetch some deadwood and leaves. Troy heard this conversation and went to the entrance, and got on his knees next to Tana, looking into the entrance. He summoned a mild, glowing orb, and sent it down the tunnel.

They were impressed to see a well crafted passage, squarely cut, with shoring beams every so often, and this twisted away out of sight. They had a glimpse of a door on the outer bend of the passage. “More like men than rats, in some ways.”

“Did they make the trees go bad?” asked Tana.

“Yes, it seems that way,” said Troy as he combed the dirt in the entrance with his fingertips. There were no rat droppings. “Look Tana, there’s no poop.”

“Maybe they’re clean rats,” said Tana, also combing the dirt.

At this Martin McDougal, covered in dirt and scratches, plumped his fat self down next to Troy and slapped him gently on the back. He saw them studying the dirt, and said, “Maybe they eat their poop.”

“Who eats poop?” cried Ferguson with a laugh, who with Carberry, carried faggots of kindling over and plumped them down next to Troy.

“Since you’re down there,” said Carberry, “How about shoving this down the hole?”

Troy looked up at his abrasive brother and smiled. “Since you’re up there, how about you fetch me some supper and a mug of ale?” Tana kept staring into the passage as Troy pushed the wood and leaves inside. She wanted to know what other things the rats in their fort, but was obedient to her mother, and did not go down there.

Before long, the entrance was stopped with wood and dry leaves, and Carberry set it afire with his flint and steel. It wasn’t long until there fire became good and hot, and then they all helped fill the entryway with rocks and dirt to trap the smoke, and they stood around the rock pile and waited.

It wasn’t long until smoke began to come out of crevices in the rock pile, and the ferrets waited anxiously for rats to emerge. Nothing came but a few moths and beetles. All the rats were dead or fled after the battle. The the rat skeletons stood in the abandoned chamber surrounded in smoke: silent, breathless, waiting to execute the last order given to them.

* * * * *

The humans and their animals stood guard on the smoking rat fort for about hour, and the sun began to set. No stray rat shot quills at them, and the accursed, moldy trees gave up dropping branches, and seemed to slump over in undeath. The grabbing vines ceased to grab, and aside from the faint crackle of fire, there was an eerie silence.

Diana was satisfied that their menace was defeated, and called for a return home. All made ready, to leave. Kevin took the wounded rat and put it in a sling around his neck, and it slept peacefully. The O’Reillys called all their goats by name, and lead the parade out. The McDougals summoned all their ferrets, and after a difficult head count of the scrambling creatures, followed the O’Reillys. The Zootaloots made ready to go, but Tana lingered by smoking rat den with Borussa on one side and Nelly on the other.

“Come along Tana,” said Diana at the edge of the thorny ivy.

“We should go,” said Borussa. “It is finished.”

“And I want a bath,” said Nelly, who was exhausted from chasing rats up and down the rocks.

Tana had a nagging feeling like they missed something, but couldn’t express it in words. But she made a mental note to come back to this spot, and figure it out.

The party got home by dusk, and they were weary, and itchy. All the humans doffed their armor and their soiled clothes and jumped in the pond to wash the grime and itchy oils from their skin. They were naked, and not ashamed.

The animals were all happy to be back on the farm. “Mother,” said Borussa as Diana splashed in the pond, “unbuckle my armor.” But she didn’t understand. “Mother?” He made as to wade into the pond, and Diana noticed him. “Borussa, don’t come in, you’ll rust your armor!”

Carberry heard him, however, and swam to the shore, and unbuckled Borussa’s armor.  Nelly, who lounged under the willow tree, then said, “Oh! Me too!” and trotted over. Carberry unbuckled her armor as well, and the two big fighting pigs splashed into the pond and swam with everyone else. It looked like a giant pool party of humans, pigs, goats, ferrets, and a six armed orangutan. The cows wandered over in curiosity and because they were thirsty.  Upon seeing the merry gathering decided to wait until it was quieter before venturing down.

The humans broke out in rashes all over their bodies, except Martin and Donalda, who did not have the allergy, and Tana who carefully avoided touching the thorny poison ivy. They helped Kevin prepare salves to sooth their rashes, and also fetched water to drink, and food to eat, while everyone else tried not to scratch.

The elder generations of McDougals, and Cale O’Reilly, sat naked in the lamplight around a stump playing a raucous game of cards and swilled a good amount of ale and mead, and did their best to ignore their rashes. Alan McDougal alternated between his pipe, his ale, and a root he had a habit of chewing for its sedative properties. “Alan, dear” said Aine, who among them all seemed to bear her rashes with a little more dignity, “put one of those down, I can see your cards.”

“Now I know I really am old,” replied Alan, who spat the root away, “when I’m here naked, and all you can notice is my cards!” Everyone burst out in laughter, a great belly laugh, and it helped them forget their discomfort.