Macaloon Chapter 34

Spreading Freedom

Miranda pulled herself up on the enormous rock.  Endless trees and rock in front and behind and, peering back, she could make out the upper rim of the wolf pit in the distance.  Walen and Willary stood on the top strata of rock, grooming themselves.

“This isn’t a good idea,” Miranda heard Bewley mutter.

“What isn’t?”

“This isn’t.  You can’t go back to the Federation.”

“We’re not going to,” said Malcolm.

“What did you tell Wolfie?”

“I told him we’d help.  It was his suggestion that we go back to the Federation.”

“But you agreed?”

“Yes, I couldn’t stand listening to Walen.”

“If we had said ‘no’,” said Miranda, “what do you suppose they’d have done?”

Bewley stared at her.

“Besides, we haven’t really left Lupis Park.,” continued Miranda.  “We’re taking it with us,” she said, nodding at the two wolves following a short distance behind.

Malcolm snorted.  “We can easily fool them.”

“We also have a wolf pack behind them.”

Malcolm stopped and looked at her.

“I’m getting a strong whiff of wolf on the wind, too strong for just two.  I should imagine that Wolfie isn’t too trusting in these matters.”

“Maybe,” said Malcolm, “Wolfie has other plans for us.”

“What do we do?” asked Bewley.

Theobald’s voice was plaintive.  “If it doesn’t make any difference which way we go, could we go by way of the pond?  There’s more forage there.”

“Theobald, as usual,” smiled Malcolm, “has made an extremely useful suggestion.”

As she watched Malcolm pick his way through the rock, downhill towards the pond, Miranda waited for the wolves to object.

“Hey, where you going?” shouted one of the wolves trailing them.

Miranda stopped and waited for the wolf to approach.  “Why do you ask?”

“The Federation is in that direction.”

“Yes?”

“Well, why are you going in that direction?”

“We are going by way of the pond so that we can get something to eat.  We have no instructions from Wolfie about not eating.”

Miranda noted that the wolf looked confused.  “Do you want to go and ask Wolfie if it’s okay for us eat?  We’ll wait here.  I’m sure he won’t mind the delay.”

The wolf’s eyes darted about, trying to sense, Miranda suspected, whether they were attempting to fool him.  “No,  go ahead.  Just don’t be too long about it.”

Miranda caught up with Malcolm and the others.

“Trouble?” asked Malcolm.

“No, they just wanted to chat.”

A short distance later she looked back and could see only one wolf.  She assumed that they would soon be hearing from Wolfie.

*

Malcolm was weary.  Weary enough not to really care what happened next—no, that wasn’t true, he was tired of the constant excitement, but no longer worried about their safety.  If they were going to die, they would die.  He didn’t want to die, particularly.  He would have liked to have seen Moose Meadow again, just to explain to his brother what a creenhead he was; and to stun him by relating his experiences with many of the creenhead animals he’d met.  Just experiencing the stupidity of the boars and the wolves was beyond any perverse and nonsensical behaviour he’d experienced before.  No doubt, were he here, Melwin would side with the boars and wolves, offering a ‘rational explanation’ for their behavior, and making him—Malcolm—feel stupid.  Yes, he’d like to see his brother again to but they’d be lucky to escape the crushing stupidity of the boars and wolves.

“Malcolm?”

“Hmmh?”  He stopped and looked down.  Manley, on the edge of a rock, was peering up at him.

“Are you troubled?”

“Why?  Did I say something?”

“Nothing I could understand.  You just seem troubled.”

“I’m not troubled.  I’m just not sure how to proceed.”

“Let’s find Bender.”

“Bender?”

“Well, he knows the terrain; and he does know how to persevere.”

“You’re right.”

*

While Malcolm and the others foraged and rested at Bender Point, Manley hurried about, trying to rediscover Bender’s sett.  Racing through the undergrowth, sniffing, he was confronted by two wolf legs.

“What’re you doing?” the lone guard wolf snarled at him.

Manley sniffed the ground.  “Looking for grubs.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?”

From the wolf’s tone, Manley thought that he did sound quite stupid.

“No…”

“Grubs are in the ground.”

“Right.  And I’m searching for a tunnel, any tunnel, so I won’t have to dig my own tunnel which would take time.  Unless of course you insist.  But then you’d have to explain to Wolfie what was taking so long.”

“What?  No, no.  That’s fine,” said the Wolf hurriedly. “Go ahead.”

Manley scurried away.  Why couldn’t he locate the sett?  He knew it was here.  Near the pond.  Close.  Where was it?  Ahh..  Now he had it, Bender’s scent.  It must be close, where was the entrance?  Ah, yes, beside the fallen tree.  Would Bender be there, or somewhere else?   Badgers ususally had two or three setts.  Please, let him be there.

“Who is it?” demanded a gruff voice.

*

Miranda watched the old Badger.  He stood by the water, chanting softly, gazing out at the far horizon.  Even though he seemed slightly demented, she liked him—no, more accurately she trusted him.  If he appeared demented, well, who could know?  When she got that old—if she got that old—she might be even be demented.

“Bender,” said Malcolm, when the Badger had finished, “at your suggestion, we did try a peace vigil, and while it was most, ah…  enjoyable, I don’t know that it had that much of an effect.”

For a breath, Bender didn’t respond.  Staring absently across the big pond, he said quietly, “When you put your head into the water, do you know that there is vegetation at the bottom, or are you doing it for enjoyment?”

Malcolm regarded him, then looked at Miranda.

“The chanting will likely confuse them,” she said.

“But what do we gain?”

“We won’t know until we try.”  She thought she saw Bender smile.

The old Badger moved to the water’s edge and gaped across it.  “All animals shall give the gift of peace to others,” he continued softly.  “All animals shall be free; all animals shall enjoy the right to forage everywhere; all animals shall…”

“… respect the habitats of others,” added Malcolm.  “All animals shall be free to cohabit with other animals…”

Miranda watched Malcolm and Bender alternate chants.  She was impressed by Bender’s focus and determination.

“All animals shall be free to associate with other animals; all animals shall be…”

“What,” demanded Wolfie’s voice, loudly,” are you doing?!”

Miranda turned.  Wolfie seemed ready to pounce on something,, his two guard wolves on either side of him.  Miranda understood how he might appear frightening.

“A peace vigil.”

“A what?”

She refrained from smiling.  “You have sent us on a mission to bring peace and freedom to all the animals, have you not?”

Wolfie’s expression was hard.  “And…?”

“A peace vigil should be of some use.”

“Is it?”

“We don’t know yet.”

“How long will it take?”

“Almost done,” she said.  Then in a low chant she threw out, “May the great Yaglimth protect the wolves of Lupis park who are so valiantly trying to bring freedom to all the animals of the Forest.”

She imagined that Wolfie, watching her, was likely wondering if she was mocking him.

Malcolm and Bender had stopped chanting.  Everyone was silent.

“If you’ve finished,” said Wolfie, “perhaps you should continue.”

“You could join us.”

“No.”

“By the way, this is Bender.”

“I know who it is.  Where’s the turtle?”

“Theobald.  In the pond, getting something to eat.”

“Well,” said Wolfie, “shouldn’t you be moving along?”

“Yes, we will, at first light.”

“What do you mean?”

Malcolm looked puzzled.  “We’ll be starting again at first light.”

“What’s wrong with now?”

“By the time we find something to eat, the light will be fading.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to travel in an unfamiliar forest in the dark.  We wouldn’t want an accident, would we?”

“No…”

“You could join us?” said Miranda.  “You know the terrain better than we do.”

“I must get back.”

“As you wish.”

“I hope you’re taking this seriously.”

“We take freedom very seriously.”

Wolfie tried to read her expression, then turned and loped off.  The two guard wolves moved closer, obviously intent on keeping them moving.

Malcolm lowered his head to Miranda.  “There’s something very strange about this.”

“Yes.  How did he get here so quickly.”

“You might be right about a large number of wolves following us.”

Overheading, Bender shuffled closer.  “To what purpose?”

“Suppose, instead of being a messenger for the ‘freedom-loving’ wolves…”

“…we were a decoy,” finished Miranda.

Bender looked at Malcolm then at Miranda, then to where Wolfie had disppeared into the forest.  His expression was so grim, it almost frightened her.  “That would be very, very wicked.”

*

In the dark, Malcolm stood quietly over the others.  He had dozed off briefly but was now wide awake; his brain wouldn’t stop questioning.  How were they to survive this?  The more he thought on it, the more he realized that they were being used as decoys.

He heard movement nearby.  “Malcolm?” a voice whispered.  It was Bewley.

“What?”

“I’m leaving.”

“To where?”

“The Federation.”

Malcolm worried that the guard wolves were listening.  “We might be watched.”

“It’s too dark.”

“They might be able to hear us.”

He could almost hear Bewley thinking.  “Yes, of course.  I’m thinking of emulating Theobald.”

What?  Emulating Theobald, Malcolm pondered?  It was obviously code.  Did he mean “swim”?  “Alright,” he replied.  “Turn over and sleep some more on the other side here,” he whispered loudly.

Malcolm listened.  He could hear faint rustling slipping quickly through the undergrowth.  He was surprised.  Bewley seemed to be able to move stealthfully.  Then he heard a slight gurgle.  He had guessed right.  Bewley was on his way back to the Federation by way of the pond.  He felt easier and closed his eyes.  Now he might able to sleep.  Then he caught a whiff of something familiar.  What was it?

He opened his eyes, and sniffed again but the scent had wafted away.

*

“You are being followed by the pack,” Manley heard Bender say.  Trying to wake, he opened his eyes and could make out Malcolm’s shape against the sun.

“How do you know?”

“I saw them.”

“Are there many?”

“At least thirty, possibly more.  I couldn’t risk being seen.”

“So it is a trap?”

“I would say so.”

“How do we avoid it?”

“Alright,” they heard Wolfie ask loudly, “where is he?”

Malcolm peered at him.  His image was blurry, but Malcolm could imagine that his expression wasn’t joyous.  “Who?”

“The pig.”

“Do you mean Bewley?”

“Yes.”

Malcolm looked around.  “I can’t see him, but he must be here somewhere.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know.  Weren’t your wolves guarding him?”

Malcolm could feel Wolfie’s scrutinizing him.  What would he do now?

“Never mind,” said Wolfie, “just get started.”

Malcolm could see his figure loping back through the trees.  “So how,” he said to Bender, “do we avoid whatever Wolfie has planned for us.”

“That will be tricky, but I have a thought or two on the matter.  We can work out something on route.”

“You’re coming along?”

“I don’t see why you should have all the fun.”

*

This is only a sleep thought, thought Theobald.  I’m lying on the bottom of my pond in hiberation having visions of a fearful journey because I ate a rotting fish that didn’t agree with me.  The rats didn’t attack us, and we didn’t cross the Plains of Vastidity, and we didn’t offend the boars of Grattie Brina and we aren’t about to killed by wolves of Lupis Park.  Although, it does seem as though I’m on Malcolm’s back, watching an old badger I barely know talk to two foxes in a strange forest I’ve never seen before.  It must be a sleep thought.

He watched the old badger and the foxes in the thicket, wondering what Bender could possibly be telling them.  Instructions for a peace vigil?  Hadn’t they wasted enough time on two so-called peace vigils?  Shouldn’t they be using the time to escape being eaten by wolves or squashed to death by boars, instead of waiting for this old badger to chat up all the animals they met on the way?  Well, did it matter?  Shouldn’t he just accept that he was about to enter the Shoreless Hibernation.  Shouldn’t he accept it and put his mind at ease?  He didn’t want to be one of those who screamed and kicked and made a fuss.  He wanted to die—if it came to that—quietly.  He hoped he would be remembered as the turtle who died with dignity.

“Theobald?”

“What?”

“I can hear you.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You said something about dying.”

“Did I?’

“Yes.”

“Don’t think so.  I think I was wondering if the wolves were ‘lying’.”

“Oh.  Well, you know what?”

“What?”

“We’re not going to die.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m not going to let us.”

“You may not have much to do with it.”

“Let’s take a lesson from Bender and be positive.  Otherwise fear will paralyse us.”

“I’m pretty positive we’re going to die.”

“Theobald?”

“Yes?”

“Keep it to yourself, would you?”

He could slip, of course, if he wanted to, into the big pond and escape the wolves and the boars, but he knew he couldn’t leave the others.  Just as they would never leave him.  What would he do without them?  Oh, this constant fear.  It had permanently scarred him.  Would he ever feel safe again, anywhere?

“Malcolm?”

“Yes?”

“I just want you to know that when we die I will be proud to die with you.”

“Theobald?”

“Yes.”

“Be quiet.  Please?”

*

Resting on a fallen tree, Miranda watched Bender and Manley scurry through the undergrowth, peering into tunnels.  What was Bender planning?  He was being cagey and hadn’t confided in them.  Once they reached the Federation’s territory, they would be caught between two belligerent and dangerous species.  The Wolves were observing their movements through the forest, but where were the boars?   At some point, no doubt the Boars would be aware of their impending arrival.  What would happen then?  “Malcolm?”

“What?”

“We should plan an escape.”

“Sure.”

“Theobald?”

“I thought Bender had something in mind.”

“He might have,” said Miranda, “but he hasn’t told us.”

“Well,” said Malcolm, grimly, “that’s useful.  Let’s hope it works whatever it is.”

“We should have an alternative, just in case.”

“It occurred to me,” said Malcolm, “that Theobald and I, that is with you and Manley on my back, could swim along the shore if we had to.”

“Can you swim far?”

“Far enough to avoid trouble, but I suspect that the wolves might try to revenge themselves.”

“It’s possible.”

“What do you think they’re looking for?”

“The wolves?”

“No, Bender and Manley.”

“I don’t know.”

“They keep popping into tunnels along the way.”

“I noticed that.”

Malcolm squinted ahead.  “How close do you think we are?”

“I can’t tell, I think we might be… oh, oh.”

“What?”

“In the distance, Boars, can you see them?”

“Is that the dell?”

“It must be.”

“Those large lumpen shapes beyond must be boars then.”

Theobald’s voice cracked the silence.  “What do we do now?”

“Do what we said we were coming to do.  Bring words of peace from the wolves.”

*

Manley felt Bender nudge him.  “What?”

“Just ahead,” whispered the Badger.

Manley squinted.  He could see light—a clearing?—but the shapes were confusing.  “Boars?”

“Right.”

“What do we do?”

“Wait for the others.”

Manley wondered why he wasn’t frightened.  Possibly he was growing accustomed to the threat of violence.  Why various animals choose to create fear, wasting their lives on threatening or fighting when they could be searching for grubs or other forage or digging or playing or reading a bark…?  A bark.  He hadn’t thought of barks in days.  Oh, to be back with Bernard.

“What do you think?” he heard Miranda ask.

“It’s hard to tell,” said Bender, “I would think they’re prepared for some sort of confrontation.”

“Well,” said Malcolm, “we won’t find out here,” and lumbered forward with Manley trying to keep pace just behind his hooves.

*

As Malcolm came into the Dell, three Boars came into focus, not moving, watching him, waiting.  Through trees to his right, he could glimpse the reflection of the sun on the pond.  If he bolted suddenly, he would be able to reach the shoreline before the boars caught him.  “Miranda?”

“Yes?”

“If I bolt suddenly, you and Manley follow.  We can try to swim our way out.”

“Alright.”

He could feel his heart thumping.  He liked it.  He was proud of his heart.  When it thumped, it warned him of danger.  Was he beginning to like danger?  Would Melwin know this sensation?  Did his heart ever thump?  He doubted it.  Melwin never strained himself, never took chances.  No, not Melwin.

As he drew close to the Boars, he could distinguish their features.  He recognized the hugely fat, and stern, Bracken Boar, and on one side Boris Boar, and Bewley on the other.

He stopped a short distance away and watched them.  They, in turn, watched him.

“Greetings,” he said at last.

None of the boars spoke.  He looked at Bewley who seemed oddly subdued.

He felt himself getting angry.  “I said,” he repeated, “greetings.”

“Considering the mission you are on, ‘greetings’ is hardly an appropriate salutation,” said Bracken Boar.

“What mission is it that you think we’re on?”

“You come to do us mischief.”

“Are you suggesting that a moose, a marten, a turtle and a mole.  Oh, and a badger could create mischief against an entire herd of boars?  Rather large boars, I might add.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Nothing, but you are rather large boars, are you not?”

“Yes, but what does that have to do with the situation?”

Malcolm sighed.  He was weary of animals incapable of rational thought, and continually hostile.  “You are large.  We are not as large, therefore we would be extremely foolish to attempt any, as you put it, ‘mischief’.”

“I don’t think you need to use that tone with me.”

“What tone?”

“You know very well what tone.  That tone.”

“I am a moose.  I do not eat animals.  I eat vegetation.  However, I think that if certain boars do not make more of an attempt to be civil, I might bite their snouts off.”

“You see, that tone.  I refuse to have this discussion any longer.”

“Suit yourself, but I suspect you haven’t come all this way to insult me.  Perhaps you had some other purpose in mind?”  Malcolm was pleased to note that both Bewley and Boris were now whispering in the large boar’s ear.

“Again, let me ask you,” Bracken said, after a breath of deliberation, “what is your mission?”

Malcolm remembered that there might be wolves nearby listening.  “We come, O honourable Bracken Boar, to bring words of peace from the wolves of Lupis park.”

Bracken Boar snorted.  “Words of peace from wolves, ha! “

“Do you doubt us?”

“I doubt everything.  Perhaps you don’t know that wolves are not to be trusted.”

“Wolves are just as trustworthy as boars, or any other animal, for that matter,” muttered Malcolm quietly.

“What?”

“Well, we think, ah… that is… we are, ah…”

“Yes, what is it you think?” came Wolfie’s voice from somewhere behind him.

Malcolm didn’t move.  He didn’t look around.  For a moment, he considered bolting for the pond, but then it occurred to him that Wolfie might have stationed wolves between them and the pond.  Slowly, he turned to where he had heard the voice.  There, a tree length away, out from a thicket, stood Wolfie and three wolves.  Malcolm suspected that many more wolves were hidden close by.  He glanced at Miranda who for some inexplicable reason, smiled at him.

“As long as you’re here,” said Malcolm, “perhaps you should deliver your words of peace.”

Wolfie sauntered forward.  Standing next to Malcolm, he addressed Bracken directly.  “The Wolves of Lupis park under their leader, the great Walen he-wolf, wish to bring freedom to all the animals of the Forest.”

Bracken regarded Wolfie carefully.  “I’m sure that all of Grattie Brina will be overjoyed to hear this.  Wouldn’t you agree, Boris?”

Boris glanced timidly at Bracken then back at Wolfie.  “It’s what we’ve longed for,” he said quietly.

Although Malcolm was sure that he had detected a tone of sarcasm from both Bracken and Boris, Wolfie seemed unaware of it.

“We intend,” said Wolfie, “to bring freedom to all animals, even at the cost of our own lives.”

“Or other lives perhaps,” suggested Bracken.

Wolfie ignored the remark.  “Will you work with us to bring this about?”

“Of course.  We’re boarish on freedom.  In fact, we’ve always had freedom here in Grattie Brina.”

“You have?”

“Of course, didn’t you know that?”

“No, it was our understanding that…”

“…that what?”

“That there wasn’t freedom here.  That’s why we’ve come.  To declare freedom for all animals.”

“Have you declared it in Lupis park?”

“Of course, that was the first place.”

“Well, then, I see no reason why you cannot declare freedom here in Grattie Brina.”

“We can?”

“Of course.  Go ahead.”

“We now,” said Wolfie, “declare freedom to exist here in Grattie Brina.”

“For all animals?”  Miranda’s voice seemed to float above the group.

“Of course,” insisted Bracken, “for all animals.  As I said, all animals in Grattie Brina have always had freedom.  We boars are proud of our freedom.  There is no more bigger supporter of freedom than a boar.”

“Wolves too have always fought for freedom,” stated Wolfie.

“That’s good.”

Malcolm didn’t feel any reassurance from these declarations, as Bracken continued to regard Wolfie warily and Wolfie continued to watch him in silence.

“This is simply excellent,” boomed a voice Malcolm recognized as Bender’s from somewhere close by.  “Now that we have achieved freedom for all animals, all animals can unite here in front of the Rock of the Dell with the Wolves and Boars to pray to the Yaglimth for a lasting peace.”

Malcolm noted that both Bracken and Wolfe, startled, were now warily regarding Bender as he waddled out into the open ground between them.

“If we can bring about peace here in Grattie Brina and in Lupis park,” Bender continued, loudly addressing both Wolfie and Bracken, “we will have achieved the ultimate freedom.  Freedom from fear.’

“We already have peace in Lupis park,” said Wolfie, coldly.

“We have had peace in Grattie Brina even longer,” insisted Bracken.

“Of course you have,” said Bender, enthusiastically, “and now, we will have both the Wolves of Lupis park and the Boars of Grattie Brina guaranteeing peace, and freedom, here in the Dell.  This is an auspicious moment for all animals.

Bender glanced at Wolfie and Bracken with a huge smile.  “I hadn’t dared to hope, but as I suspected that you great leaders might attempt this, I took the liberty of inviting all the other animals to join us and lend their support.  This calls for a celebration.  Please assemble all,” he shouted.

Malcolm was surprised to see Manley, followed by two squirrels and a weasel emerge from the trees into the dell.  Walking slowly, apprehensively, they crossed to Bender.  Wolfie seemed perplexed.

“Let’s have all animals join us, please,” Bender shouted again.

Two foxes, another badger, some field mice, and about ten frogs wandered cautiously into the dell, carefully joining the others.

“Come, come, all gather now please.”

Animals suddenly appeared from behind the trees and bushes.  Skunks, squirrels, raccoons, two voles, more frogs, more weasels, six raccoons, three woodchuks, and another fox ambled into the dell until it seemed as though not another animal would fit.   A flock of crows and a raven hovered overhead, finally lighting in an oak.  Bracken and Wolfie, Malcolm noted, watched dumbly as the animals gathered.

“These two brave leaders,” declaimed Bender, indicating Bracken and Wolfie, “have guided us to this most momentous moment, the beginning of a lasting peace in the Dell.  In addition, the brave wolves of Lupis park and the honourable Boars of Grattie Brina, pledge their efforts to ensure that all animals who have been free under their benevolent guidance become even freer.  So, with all animals we celebrate this unique achievement.  For a few breaths, let us all quietly reflect on what this will mean to our lives and the lives of our offspring.”

All the animals grew silent.  Bender had his head bowed but Malcolm imagined that behind his solemn expression, he was gleeful.  He had out-manoeuvred both the wolves and the boars.  There was no doubt that Bracken and Wolfie had been ready to attack each other at the first opportunity but Bender had now rendered any justifications lame.  He admired the old Badger tremendously, and felt that he had seen something more precious than anything yet on this strange journey.

*

Miranda watched the dell.  There was no movement in the darkness but from the animals asleep there for the night, she could hear the sound of snoring, restless turning and the breaking of wind.  Malcolm stood over her, Theobald lay nearby.

“What do you think?”  Malcolm’s voice was low, almost a whisper.

“You can’t sleep?”

“No.”  His voice sounded resigned.

“It will be slightly harder for one of them to motivate a slaughter, but not much.  The only question is which one will be first.”

“I think it’ll be Wolfie.  He is not be stopped.”

“Bender will be saddened.  He seemed so happy today.”

“I doubt it.”  Bender’s voice surprised her.  “I’m not as naive as some might think.”  Miranda turned around but couldn’t see him.  Then she noticed him halfway out of a hole in the ground, his head resting in his paws.  “They are determined to subjugate other animals.  This won’t stop them.  One will break the peace and blame the other.  It won’t take long for them to find an excuse.”

“Then why do it?”

“Because it’s better than not doing it.  And, of course, there is always the chance that it will work, a peace might even last a few days.  Better than no peace at all.”

“It would have been better not to make the animals hopeful.”  Theobald’s voice was harsh.  He stirred slightly beside Malcolm’s hoof.  “Now more of them will expect peace and get killed when the wolves and boars start killing again.”

Bender’s voice was harsher.  “All animals who think as you do deserve the treatment they get.  When a turtle crawls along the ground, how does it move?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, how do you move forward.”

“I pull myself along with my legs.”

“One leg at a time?”

“Yes.”

“If you didn’t put your leg out, you wouldn’t get anywhere, would you?”

“No,” muttered Theobald.

“That’s the way of everything,” said Bender, “a little bit at a time.  Everytime you put out a thought or an idea, there is always the chance it will stick.”

“What if it doesn”t?”

“Then it doesn’t.  Does that mean we shouldn’t try?”

“No, but if it doesn’t work, the animals will be in danger.”

“The animals are in danger anyway, but what’s the purpose of sitting in our burrows… or ponds, fearing danger?”

“I was happy at the bottom of my pond.”

“Obviously then, I am wrong,” Bender said mordantly.

“No,” said Manley, quietly but firmly, coming out from Bender’s temporary sett.  “We know that you’re not wrong because that’s why we left our home, isn’t it, Theobald.”

In the silence, Miranda wondered what Theobald was feeling.

“I was happy at the bottom of my pond,” he said again, less forcefully.

“You might give some thought,” suggested Bender, “as to what to do when Wolfie and Bracken start squabbling again.  Let me know what you come up with.”  His head turned and he disappeared back into the hole.

“Let’s all get some sleep,” said Malcolm.  “I suspect it will be a long day.”

*

As Bender snored beside him, Manley tried to nod off.  He couldn’t.  His pride in Bender, and his joy in what they had achieved, made sleep impossible.  Perhaps a bit of tunnelling would tire him and perhaps he might find some white grubs.  He felt lucky.  He had known two remarkable animals—Bernard and now Bender—whose sagacity left him almost breathless, although it was Bender’s courage that impressed him most.  The old Badger wasn’t even remotely intimidated by the boars or the wolves.  He also knew how to unite animals.  If Bender wasn’t the smartest animal alive, then such a creature didn’t exist.

The soil grew thin and rocky and Manley decided to surface, coming up almost immediately into a night now dark and windy on the edge of the Dell.  He could hear the rustle of the trees in the wind.  A storm was about to break. Although he feared the thunder and lightning, and his fear clutched at him, he imagined Bender facing a storm and knew he couldn’t be afraid.  Except that, at that moment, Manley scented wolves, many wolves, just beyond where he had surfaced, there was a crack of thunder and a flash, and the blurred silhouette of a line of wolves trotted past, disappearing into the undergrowth.  The pack seemed large, frighteningly so.  Where were they going?

Manley scurried back down the tunnel, grabbing up the few worms that had fallen into it, and hurried back to where Bender was asleep.  He nudged him but the badger didn’t wake.

“Bender?”

“Hmmh?”

“Bender, are you awake?”

“No.”

“Bender, wolves.”

“Hmmh… good.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

“Hmmm.  You said wolves.”

“Aren’t you concerned?”

“No…  let me sleep.”

His eyes hadn’t opened, and now he was snoring again.

“Bender?”

The badger made no response.  Agitated, Manley wondered what to do next.  Malcolm.  Of course.

He hurried up out of the burrow into the night, the storm now lashing down rain.  The thunder cracked nearer and louder, and a lighting flash illuminated Malcolm beside the oak tree with Miranda and Theobald under him.

“Malcolm?”

Malcolm’s eyes didn’t open.

Manley tried to whisper a little louder.  “Malcolm, are you asleep?”

“What is it?”

“I’ve just seen wolves.”

Malcolm opened his eyes.  “Where?”

“At the edge of the Dell.”

Malcolm peered into the dark.  “Are you sure?”

“They were very close.”

“Where were they going?”

“I don’t know.  Into the bushes.”

“They’re taking up positions to surround the dell,” said a voice close by.

Manley didn’t move.  The voice hadn’t sounded unfriendly but then what was an animal doing sneaking up on them like that?  “Who are you?”

“Darius.”

There was another flash of lighting and there, just below them, half hidden by a      Blackthorn bush, stood a deer with an enormous set of antlers.

“A deer?”  exclaimed Manley, stunned by the sight of this huge animal towering over him.

“Good guess.”

“You spoke to us at Lupis Park.” said Miranda.

“Yes.”

“What do you want?”

“The same thing you want.  A life without violence and stupidity.”

“So?”

“We can leave Lupis Park any time we want, but we’d like to be able to do it without any difficulties.  And for that we need more intelligent leaders.  As you may have observed, Walen he-wolf isn’t the smartest branch on the tree.”

“How will you go about it?”

“What you mean to say is ‘how will we go about it?”Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail