The Natives Appear Restless
Theobald decided he wouldn’t panic. It was not unusual for a moose to trot. Nor was it unusual for a moose to float in water. It was, however, unusual for a moose to trot and float at the same time with a water lily on its nose. Theobald, concealed in the reeds, watching Malcolm, was hoping that he would start acting like his old self again; that he wouldn’t eat any more ja-ja; and that Benlow wouldn’t return until Malcolm had recovered. Theobald had not been aware that plants could cause erratic behaviour. He had no intent of ingesting the ja-ja himself, and was certainly going to prevent Malcolm from doing so. Perhaps he could convince him to leave, but go where?
Had he not heard him? The moose was now quite still, gazing at something in the water.
“Malcolm? Can you come here?”
To his relief, Theobald saw him lift his head and look at him.
“We need to discuss something.”
Malcolm swam over, grinning. “It’s never occurred to me to cool my nose with a water-lily, Theo-beo. You should try it.”
“No, I don’t think so.” Theobald knew he was being curt but he was fed up.
Malcolm smiled. “Well, my fine-shelled friend, what is it?”
“Shouldn’t we be trying to find the others?” Theobald noted that Malcolm had lowered his head and was peering closely at his back. “What is it?”
“I’ve never really noticed the patterns on your shell before. They’re quite remarkable, did you know that?”
“Yes, thank you, but shouldn’t we be looking for Manley and Miranda?”
Malcolm’s expression changed from curious to grim. “You’re absolutely right. What have we been doing?”
“Well, hmhm, eating ja-ja.”
Malcolm grinned again. “Of course, well, I guess we can always come back. Did you try some, Theo, it’s quite invigorating.”
“You must. It has an unusual effect. It gives one remarkable… clarity… and a sense of … knowledge, no, not knowledge… achievement possibly.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Now, where should we look for Manley and Miranda?”
“I suggest,” said Malcolm, glancing around, looking thoughtful, “that we look up there. If we don’t find them, we’ll have an excellent vantage point from which to survey our surroundings. Do you not agree?”
Malcolm was staring up the side of the hill above the bower where they had just met Benlow. Malcolm’s reasoning seemed so obvious that Theobald was impressed that the moose had thought of it, considering he was still under the influence of the ja-ja.
“And, if we don’t see anyone,” continued Malcolm, “we can just roll back down the hill into the pond. Hee, hee, hee.”
“I need to get up on your back.”
“Oh, of course Theo. Hee, hee.”
Miranda had left the clearing, entered the trees again, and lost the view of the pond, she didn’t sense that she was lost but that she was close. She was relieved that that they were travelling downhill as Bewley was breathing heavily and pausing to rest every few breaths. Thirsty, she was happy to find a small stream. Bewley had just joined her, when when a voice boomed behind them.
“What are you doing there?”
She turned around to see a group of foxes staring at her.
“What do you mean?”
“What I said. What are you doing there?”
“May I point out that you’re drinking from our stream.”
` “Why would you say that?”
“This land is ours.”
“Doesn’t it belong to everyone?”
“No… it’s ours. Ah, you are…?”
Miranda glanced at Bewley. He was hanging back, probably fearful. She wasn’t fearful, but there was no advantage in irritating a pack of foxes. Possibly they could be outwitted. “Doesn’t all this belong to the Federation?” she whispered to Bewley.
“According to the Federation,” he whispered, “everything belongs to the Federation.”
“I am Miranda Fisher Marten. And you are?”
“Fenwick Fanion Fox.”
“Allow me to inform you,” she said firmly, “that this stream is under the jurisdiction of the Federation.”
“The what?” said Fenwick.
“The Federation. This,” she announced, “is Brother Bewley, Boar of the Bold, Watcher and Protector of the Boundaries of the Federation of All the Animals of Grattie Brina.”
She noticed that Fenwick seemed to hesitate, as if he were trying to calculate the risk involved in possibly offending something possibly bigger than he. Had he heard of the Federation? He glanced at Bewley. “Is this correct?”
“The whole stream?”
Bewley nodded again.
“Damn, damn, double damn.” Fenwick paused, and Miranda suspected he was trying to think of a solution allowing him to save face. “Is there any…”
“That our mole is!” boomed a commanding voice from below. Mole? Miranda saw a posse of weasels striding up through the trees towards them. Just then Manley darted from behind the foxes, bounded through the stream, and scurried to her.
“Manley,” she whispered, putting herself between him and the foxes.
Fenwick shouted, “Give us back our mole!”
“Our mole that is!” stated Wetley Weasel, even louder.
“This mole is under the protection of the Federation,” she proclaimed.
“What?” sputtered Fenwick.
“Brother Bewley, Boar of the Bold, Watcher and Protector of the Boundaries of the Federation of All the Animals of Grattie Brina has informed me that any attempt to steal this mole, or water from the stream, will result in the most grievous punishment the Federation can administer.”
Fenwick hesitated again, glancing apprehensively at the weasels who had now taken up a third position, equi-distant from Miranda and himself. He looked at Bewley again. “Is that true?”
Miranda glanced at Bewley who had not taken his eyes from Fenwick. “Is it?” Bewley whispered to her.
“Yes,” whispered Miranda.
“Of course it is,” said Bewley, loudly but without conviction.
Miranda could see that Fenwick was still hesitating.
“I Wetley Weasel am, and that mole to us belongs. We the yawlers are,” he announced. To Miranda, he seemed hopelessly pompous. She had met them all her life. Arrogant male leaders, with no hope ever of having an imaginative idea. And how can you fool someone who has no imagination?
“In fact, you can take the mole,” said Miranda casually, “but if you do,” glancing at Manley and winking, “it would, most likely, give members of the Federation an opportunity to visit this part of the Forest.”
“Please don’t bother,” said Fenwick, quickly. “We’ve obviously made a mistake. I see now that this mole is nothing like our mole. I know this because one of our members, Brother Fleuty had noted the… ah, description of our mole and it would appear to be much different. Wouldn’t you say so, Brother Fleuty?”
Miranda noted a small, innocuous fox step forward, and stare at Manley for a few breaths. “There are similarities,” said Brother Fleuty, “but on the whole it would seem that there are differences as well.”
“Well said, Brother Fleuty. So there you are,” continued Fenwick, “we’ll have to keep looking. Sorry to have inconvenienced you, cheery-bye.”
Fenwick turned and trotted off back down the stream as quickly as he could, followed by the others.
“Now, let us our mole have, if you please.” The head weasel stared at Miranda defiantly.
“Allow me to state again,” said Miranda, “that Brother Bewley has put this mole under the protection of the Federation. Any attempt to interfere will result in the Federation issuing punitive actions, such as the removal of territority or other remedies.”
“That of no concern to us is. We the Yawlers of Grattie Brina are and that our mole is.”
“This might be awkward.” Brother Bewley whispered, his snout close to her ear. “These weasels make all the rules and specifications for Bracken and Belden.”
“What rule gives you this mole?” Miranda asked Wetley.
“The rule of ‘I it first saw’.”
“That that rule has been superceded.”
“The rule now in force is ‘Each Animal is sovereign unto themself’.”
“We the only species,” said Wetley, showing uncertainty, “to make yawls allowed are. We the yawlers are, no one else is.”
“I am at liberty to inform you that a single member of a new species has arrived, and that that animal, being wise beyond his years, has been given the task of revising and registering in proper order all rules.”
“And yawls,” whispered Bewley.
“And yawls. I must warn you that any attempt to interfere with these new rules will be dealt with most severely by the Federation. Is that not correct, Brother Bewley?”
“What? Ah, yes, it is most correct. Severe. Yes.”
“And who this animal would be?”
“The All-sagacious Malcolm Moose.”
Relieved to see confusion in Wetley’s expression, Miranda noted the other weasels quietly, urgently questioning him. He seemed at a loss for answers.
“You will be notified,” she continued, “on the future role you might play in the affairs of the Federation. Until that time, remain near your burrow for further instructions. Good day.” Miranda turned to Manley.
Wetley hesitated. Miranda glanced back at him. “Do not make me repeat myself.”
She turned, continuing downhill, followed by Manley and Bewley.
“You realize,” Bewley whispered, wheezing nervously, “once they find out we’ve lied to them, they and the Federation will be after us.”
“We’ll cross that weasel when we come to it.”
Theobald spotted the boar first and was alarmed. “Malcolm,” he whispered.
“Just there. Coming through the trees.”
“Should we hide?”
“It might be hard to get all of you behind a tree.”
“Maybe we can fool him.”
“I doubt it.” Exhausted from the constant tension, Theobald yearned to be floating peacefully somewhere.
“Hello,” said Malcolm loudly.
The old boar stopped and looked at them, then glanced behind. What was he looking for? Other boars?
“We find ourselves a bit lost,” continued Malcolm, pleasantly.
The boar looked back at them, silently.
“We’re looking for our friends,” Malcolm added, politely. “We think they might be here somewhere.”
The boar spoke. Theobald, anticipating a cry for help, was astonished to hear, “Miranda?”
“What?” said Malcolm.
“Miranda!” said the boar again loudly.
“Don’t you remember Bewley?” Theobald heard her say, and turned with Malcolm to see her and Manley on a fallen tree nearby, watching them.
“They didn’t recognize me,” said Bewley.
There was a buzzing sound in Malcolm’s ear. He had determined that it wasn’t an insect, but what was it? Did it have something to do with having eaten the ja-ja? His clarity of mind had left him; he felt sluggish, and was looking forward to cooling off in the pond. The sun was setting over the water. Maybe a good night’s sleep would refresh him. Ahead, Miranda had almost reached the pond. They would sleep there tonight and move on in the morning. But to where? Miranda and Manley’s tales of the animals they had encountered made him wary of remaining in this forest. The pond was an advantage, so maybe further along the shore, they might find habitat with friendier, more sensible animals. No one he had met so far in this strange place had proven amenable, or even intelligent, except for Benlow who was at least friendly, or demented.