The Real Grattie Brina
Through the chinks in the trees, Miranda could see the light fading, and hurriedly searched along the pile of trees for a gap, somewhere for Theobald to slip through. If he could escape, then she might climb the trees, Manley might burrow under the wall and Malcolm might charge at the boars, bound over them and effect his escape, but she could see no opening through which Theobald might slip. Weariness and the Boars’ incomprehensible behaviour were weighing her down.
“Not encouraging,” said Malcolm quietly.
“I’d soon face boars than rats,” said Theobald hopefully.
“There doesn’t appear to be anything for anyone else to eat,” said Manley, “but the ground smells rich, full of duff.”
Miranda looked at Manley’s earnest expression and almost laughed. “Manley, burrow and feed yourself. One of us must eat.”
Manley didn’t wait. Within a few breaths he had disappeared into the earth.
“Have you ever come across boars before?” Malcolm asked.
She shook her head.
“We have no idea what they might do.”
“I’m not worried,” said Theobald. Miranda looked at him. There was a strange gleam in his eyes. “Haven’t you noticed something?”
Malcolm shook his head.
“They are extremely fat,” said Theobald. “They have, in point of fact, as Rollo might say—were he here—a grossitivity beyond anything ever seen by any animal. If we were to bite into one of these mountainous, corpulent, cumbrous beasts, their hides would split and gobs of rolling fat would emerge and we would be covered in their prodigiosity.”
Miranda could hear Malcolm laughing wheeze. “What are you saying?”
“What have we got to be afraid of? Not one of these lumps of flesh could run more than their own length before collapsing. All we have to do is walk away.”
“You’re not afraid of them?”
“No, I do fear that one of these prodigious masses of flab will stumble and fall me. That would be certain death. I fear that more than the rats.”
Miranda felt her anxiety abate. “I think you’re right, the most we have to fear will arrive tomorrow.”
“Belden?” muttered Theobald. “Can you imagine how fat he will be?”
Malcolm settled on his belly, still wheezing. Miranda lay on a fallen tree, pondering the ways in which a band of hideously fat boars might harm them.
The earth was warm and rich. Tired, Manley rested. If he waited, more grubs might fall into his fresh tunnel. He was keen to face the boars on a full belly, so he decided to wait. How far he had come, he wondered, certainly beyond the enclosure. Should he venture above ground to see what was beyond? What was the risk? A predator? Possibly, but it was night and he might get the scent of something that might help them. Was it worth the risk?
He dug upward and within a few breaths the earth fell away. A draft of cool night air flowed past him. He hesitated, listening. What were those droning sounds close by? He heard an owl hooting somewhere distant. He must be wary. He raised his head from the tunnel. It was dark but the moon glimmered in the distance. Slipping out, he turned slowly in all directions to gather all scents. Feeling an openness, he knew he must be in the clearing, the stench of Boar wafting over him with the loud droning sounds. What were they? The stench told him the boars were close. Were they asleep? Then he realized. They were snoring. He crept closer, coming suddenly upon a large fat boar lying in the mud, asleep, making a bellowed snuffle—in, out, in, out—halted by the occasional snort, then resuming.
He also heard a lapping sound. Water? Manley knew he must find out about this for Theobald. And for Malcolm. If the water was large enough, the two could swim away, he could burrow and Miranda, well, Miranda would outfox these fat, corpulent boars by zipping over the tree tops, wherever there were trees.
As he padded cautiously through the mud toward the sound of the water, something bounced by him. He jumped back. Something else bounded past him, and a tiny voice shouted, “Boar cleaaaar!” Then more bodies—small bodies—bounced past going in all directions. Two more voices—throaty voices—shouted, “Boar cleaaaar!” He was frightened until he realized that these bodies didn’t seem to be aware of him. What to do? Should he continue to the water, or make his way back to the others? Who were they?
“Who are you?” said a throaty voice beside him. Manley jumped.
“Don’t be alarmed.”
Manley peered beside him to see a blob-shape silhouetted in the moonlight, sitting on an old fallen tree, while other bodies bounded by them.
“Who are you?” asked Manley, politely.
“I know who I am. Who are you?”
“What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“All this jumping.”
“The Boars are awake during the day.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We prefer to exercise without them.”
“Oh, I see.”
“It’s easier that way. Do you like them?”
“I think we’re agreed. They are dolts, clods.”
Manley glanced anxiously at the boars asleep. “Should you be saying this so loudly?”
“One thing about boars, when they sleep, you can’t wake them. It’s the only thing that makes our lives here tolerable.”
“What do you smell?”
Manley sniffed. He was abruptly aware of another unpleasant smell. Something putrid.
“Yes, what is it?”
The Frog sighed. “The Boars, in their infinite wisdom, have fouled the water.”
“It’s where they relieve themselves.”
Manley was stupified. “They poop in the water?”
“They say it’s cleaner.”
“But then where do they drink?”
“They drink the same water?”
“Well, they don’t seem to think it’s the same. Before I was born,” said Felker, “the trees used to go down to the water’s edge. Then the Boars had them felled.”
“Why?” asked Manley, baffled.
“They like to bask in the mud in the sun and those ‘vexing trees’ blocked the sunlight. To avoid the pooping in the mud, the Boars started relieving themselves in the water. My father told me that when he was young the water was clear and a joy to swim in.”
“All the water is putrid?”
“No, just by the shore.”
“What about the other side?”
“Other side of what?”
“What about it?”
“What’s it like?”
“Can’t see it from here, but I hope there’s no boars there.”
“Why’d they do this?
“What do you mean ‘Why?’? The Yaglimth couldn’t make all animals intelligent so he made boars.”
Manley noticed that a number of frogs had gathered around and were staring at him.
“Who’s this, Felker?” asked one.
“He’s a mole.”
“What’s a mole?” asked a voice from the dark.
“There’s no moles here?” asked Manley, surprised.
“A long time ago, but the Boars chased them away. They didn’t like the way they made little hills in the earth.”
Manley was having difficulty assimilating this bizarre information. No moles, boars pooping in the water they drank?
“Where you from?” asked Felker..
“A place far away.”
“Are there trees?”
“Yes, it’s a Forest.”
“And water? Fresh water?”
“Can we go there?”
“I suppose you could. It’s a long journey.”
Manley noted that Felker was now watching him curiously.
“Why did you leave?”
“The rats in the Forest were… ah…”
Manley thought. “…ah behaving like boars.”
“Felker, I must get back to my friends.”
The old frog narrowed his gaze at him. “Friends?”
“I’m travelling with a turtle, a moose and a fisher marten.”
“Where are they?” asked Felker, suspiciously.
“In something called ‘the Tree Refuge’.”
“The Tree Refuge!?”
“Yes, is that bad?”
“It’s not good. Did they tell you that they had summoned Belden?”
“How did you know?”
Felker sighed. “They used to do this all the time, until they ran out of animals.”
“The animals left. Escaped.”