Peace In Our Time
As pink morning light began to silhouette the pines and aspen, Theobald pulled himself closer to Malcolm’s hoof. The sudden flushing of rain had brought him physical comfort but hadn’t eased his anxiety. He needed to express his misgivings to Malcolm privately. Surely he had more sense than that pompous deer. He waited until Manley and Miranda had moved off to forage.
“It won’t work.”
“And they’ll kill us.”
“You worry too much about dying.”
Theobald frowned. This conversation wasn’t unfolding as he’d imagined. Was he the only one who wanted to avoid death? “It’s very healthy to worry about death. I don’t see the point of letting it sneak up on me.”
“Theo… imagine what it must be like to have wolves ride on your back, telling you where to go, being forced to do whatever they command. Is that how you’d like to live?”
“At least I’d be alive.”
Staring through the trees into the distance, Malcolm exhaled. “I understand your fear. If you want, I’ll carry you down to the pond, and you can swim away.”
“I want us all to leave.”
“There’s nowhere to go.”
“We could all leave. You could swim with Manley and Miranda on your back.” Theobald hoped he didn’t sound too pathetic.
“We don’t know what’s further on, or what other kinds of bizarre animals we might run into. And what about Manley?”
“What about him?”
“He’s committed to helping Bender. We need stand behind him, don’t you think? Miranda,” he added, “thinks we should.”
Theobald gave up. The deer who had appeared to them last night was the mightest of all the ridiculous animals he had met. Why were all the pompous animals big? What this deer had suggested was about as intelligent as biting a rat’s tail, except far more dangerous. They weren’t dealing with rats, they were dealing with wolves. Wolves commanded by an cunning idiot led by an even bigger idiot. Did this silly deer really imagine they’d be able to bluff them? Why had they agreed? What could they possibly be thinking? “Alright, I’ll stay. And die probably.”
Malcolm looked down at him with what Theobald was gratified to note was something like affection. “I knew we could count on you.”
Miranda, on a branch overlooking the Dell, dappled in sunlight which seemed deserted, was wondering what excuse the Boars and Wolves would use to break the peace. Wolves, she knew, were hiding just behind of the ridge back of the Rock of the Dell, but where were the boars? Could a herd of clumpish boars could be close by without revealing their presence? And where was Bender?
A loud whoshing noise, like trees before a storm, entered the Dell from the ravine, but there was no wind. She realized it must be the wheezing of the boars. As the sound drew closer—she heard their gruntling now—small animals cautiously peered out from their burrows to stare into the hollow. How sad for the boars, she thought, that they expended all their energy to frighten other animals when their corpulence made them look ridiculous. How could any animal so obsese—many could barely walk—frighten anyone?
Finally, three boars abreast, grunting, the herd plodded into the Dell, their chests heaving, their bellies wobbling dangerously. Abruptly, they stopped and glared about.
Miranda recognized Bellicose, Bracken and Brooks at the head. The remainder flopped down, gasping. Boris came from behind to confer with the three leaders, then stepped a few paces into the Dell.
“Animals of the Forest of Grattie Brina,” Boris stated loudly. “We have come here today to bring you news of great import. The Honourable Fellows of Grattie Brina, whom you see before you, hereby proclaim that all animals, who have been free in Grattie Brina, remain free. They also proclaim that the peace that Grattie Brina has enjoyed for so long is to be even more peaceful than before, hereby guaranteed by the August Belden, the Greatest Personage of the Realm. Long may freedom and peace reign in Grattie Brina. Three cheers for the Honourable and All-knowing Belden. Onnnk, Onnnk, Onnnk!”
Boris looked back to Bracken for approval, but Bracken, Bellicose and Brooks were staring angrily at the animals who had wandered into the Dell, neither speaking nor moving, but watching the boars in silent amazement. A skunk watched for a few breaths, then turned and went back into the undergrowth. As Miranda observed the animals, a familiar scent on a pond-bound breeze wafted up to her but she couldn’t place it—who was it?
“Very impressive,” said a loud voice from the opposite side of the Dell. It was Wolfie.
Boris and the three lead boars turned to glare at Wolfie, who sat casually on his haunches on the other side of the Rock of the Dell, watching them.
“You are, however, incorrect. The Dell is part of LupisPark and as such has always been free.”
With a renewed bout of heavy wheezing, Bracken Boar plodded forward a few feet. Gasping, he looked at Wolfie with disdain. “It is unbecoming… uhnnh… of an Honourable Fellow… uhnnh… to accuse a fellow animal of falsehoods… uhnnh… so allow me to state… you are mistaken. The Dell and the Rock of the Dell belong to Grattie Brina.”
Wolfie’s voice betrayed no emotion. “I’m sure if we asked the animals of the Dell they’d insist that they live in LupisPark.”
“I don’t know to which animals you might be referring, but the ones I know who live here have always served the interests of Grattie Brina.”
“Oh my friends, my dear friends, what an illustrious day!” Bender’s voice pealed through the Dell. Wolfie and Bracken, momentarily confused, turned to see the old Badger emerging from a burrow and ambling out between them. “Come together now.” He waved his paws, inviting Bracken and Wolfie to step closer. “The Rock of the Dell is part of Lupis park and Grattie Brina. As you know, it’s home to many animals and so must remain a place of peace. And now that both of you have pledged to bring that peace to the Dell, all who live here are joyous.”
Dumbfounded, Wolfie and Bracken gaped at him.
Impatiently, Bender gestured to them. “Come closer, closer.”
Bewildered, Bracken and Wolfie hesitated.
Bracken huffed his immensity a foot or two closer, Wolfie cautiously took a small step forward, eying Bracken and Bender warily. Miranda noted that all the animals in the Dell were now watching the two intently.
“I think,” continued Bender, “that we would do well at this very breath to hold a Peace Assurance.”
“What?!” stuttered Bracken, stupefied.
“A Peace assurance… like a peace vigil but more… assured.”
Miranda glimpsed Manley emerging from a copse near the Rock with a cluster of small animals. A raccoon timidly stepped forward and said, “hail to the wolves and boars. We praise their goodness. May they bring peace always and always to the Dell.
Wolfie and Bracken gauped at him, trying to grasp what was happening.
“I suggest,” continued Bender, “that we bring all the remaining boars and wolves up to join us in celebration.”
Wolfie glared at Bender. Bracken had turned and nodded at Boris who quietly moved off to where the other boars waited. As the Dell began filling with the cumbrous herd, Miranda noted Wolfie looking to the ridge. Was he signalling?
“Wolfie?” said Bender. “Call your wolves so we all can join together to laud this remarkable achievement.”
Wolfie hestitated. It seemed to Miranda that he was wrestling to work out an alternate plan. His expression softened. “Let us consult the Yaglimth,” he said, looking at Bender, daring him to object.
“By all means,” said Bender, expansively.
Wolfie bowed, stretching out his front legs until his snout touched the ground, his eyes rolled up skyward. “Oh mighty Yaglimth, give us your guidance, help us seek the right path to your friendship. Bring us a lasting peace in the Dell.”
All the animals, Miranda noticed, were listening intently. Did they think he was actually praying to an animal in the sky?
Wolfie cocked his head as though listening to someone above.
“Yes, O mighty Yaglimth, I remember what you said. It would come to pass that an animal would appear to lead us all on your behalf. An animal who has made sacrifices and who carries a burden who alone is able to hear you. And he will bring tiding of your arrival at the Rock of the Dell to take us all to Macaloon.”
Wolfie glanced at Bender who seemed baffled. “And now,” continued Wolfie, “that animal has appeared. A great leader, our own Walen he-wolf. But we must make the Dell safe for his arrival. And for the arrival of the Yaglimth.”
Bracken Boar snorted.
Staring up at the sky, Wolfie silently listened. “Yes, yes, I hear your wisdom. We must first bring freedom to the Dell and all parts beyond.”
“Freedom in all parts beyond,” said Bracken. “What would that refer to, I wonder?” he asked loudly.
“It refers to everywhere,” came a deep voice from somewhere just in the woods. Wolfie and Bracken looked askance.
As he spoke, Darius Deer slowly stepped forward into the dell. “But the animal who has been empowered by the Yaglimth does not resemble a wolf.”
The look of astonishment on Wolfie’s face quickly evaporated. “Are you,” he said angrily, “mocking the Yaglimth?”
“No, but you are. How dare you suggest that Walen he-wolf is the chosen one?”
Wolfie stepped towards Darius, defiantly looking up at him. “Really? Since you tell us that Walen is not the disciple, perhaps then you’ll tell us who is? I hope you’re not suggesting it is you.”
“I’m surprised you don’t know, having described him so well.”
Wolfie’s smile tightened.
“Did you not say,” explained Darius, “that an animal would appear who has made sacrifices and who carries a burden?”
Wolfie remained silent, wary.
“And did you not say that he alone would be able to hear the Yaglimth?”
Wolfie’s eyes betrayed a slight anxiety.
“That animal travels here among us. He has come a far distance to Lupis park and Grattie Brina at great sacrifice to himself.”
“Well,” demanded Bracken, “who is it? Where is this animal?”
“He is here,” said Darius quietly, gesturing to Malcolm who, with Theobald on his back, appeared slowly from behind a hazel bush.
Wolfie started to laugh, harshly. “That’s the moose. He’s not been sent by the Yaglimth.”
“Are you certain?”
“He’s a moose. What burden does he carry?”
“One of his fellows.”
“What sacrifice has he made?”
“You see he has only one ear?”
“The other one was torn off that he alone might hear the Yaglimth.”
“He is from the Yaglimth,” shouted a fox. Other animals began muttering with awe, “he is from the Yaglimth.”
“He is not…” shouted Wolfie, “…from the Yaglimth. This deer…” he shrieked, “…lies! This is a travesty, ah, ah…” he sputtered, “a mockery. We will not be part of this falsity.”
“Are you now,” asked Bender quickly, “saying that the wolves will not help to bring peace to the Dell?”
“I’m saying that Walen he-wolf is the true leader, the true voice of the Yaglimth. This,” he said vehemently, pointing to Malcolm, “is a mockery of the Yaglimth. How dare you suggest such a thing?!”
“How dare you,” shouted Bracken, “have the effrontery to suggest that your mangy leader is from the Yaglimth?!”
Suddenly, a shriek pierced the dell. Everyone looked at Bender who was glaring at Wolfie and Bracken. “It does not matter,” said Bender, slowly and emphatically, “who is from or is not from the Yaglimth. Or whether the Yaglimth has sent one or two, or many animals to guide us. Everyone here has come today to pledge ourselves to peace.”
“How can I pledge my pack to peace in the company of such treachery?” Wolfie frothed with outrage.
“We are dishonest now?!” Bracken’s snout was almost touching Wolfie’s.
“Quiiiiiiiieeeeeetttttttt!” Bender caught his breath and sighed. “We are not here to discuss what we don’t agree on. We are here to discuss what we do agree on.”
“I cannot agree to…”
“Do you,” Bender asked loudly and emphatically, “or do you not want peace here in the Dell?”
Wolfie glared at him. “You know the answer.”
“You will need to say it.”
“Yes,” said Wolfie through his teeth.
“Do you,” said Bender, turning to Bracken, “want peace in the Dell?”
“Of course. The boars have always…”
“Good. Now we are agreed. We all want peace in the Dell. Now maybe we can find common ground.”
Wolfie glowered at Bender.
“If any animal breaks the peace they are to be banished from the Dell. Agreed?” Bender looked from Bracken to Wolfie.
“Define breaking the peace,” demanded Wolfie.
“That is self-evident.”
“No. Anyone might be accused of breaking the peace. The boars, for example.”
“Good point,” said Bracken. “The wolves, who are not to be trusted, might attack smaller animals and blame it on us.”
Swiftly, Bender reached out and put one paw on Wolfie’s snout and one on Bracken’s. Both looked dumbfounded. “We know how untrustworthy the wolves and the boars are,” said Bender. “ The wolves and the boars tell us all the time. What we don’t know—and the reason that we’ve all gathered here today—is to find out if any wolves or boars can be trusted. All these animals believe that you have come together to ensure peace, therefore they’re not expecting you to snarl at one another. Any questions?” he asked, slowly releasing their snouts.
Wolfie glared at Bender, and Bracken.
“Good. Now I suggest we celebrate. Three cheers for the wolves and the boars.”
Wolfie and Bracken, seething, watched as Bender walked among the animals who were howling loudly three times.
Miranda marvelled at Bender’s wisdom, and wondered how long the peace would last.
Malcolm had been astonished at the line of animals waiting, stretching up to the Rock of the Dell, and staring up at him with looks of… what? Respect? Awe? Contriteness? He was exhausted. All morning he had spoken to each animal in turn and each had asked him to speak to the Yaglimth for them. He hadn’t known what to say in reply, but realized that it didn’t matter. As long as he said something, relief would flood their faces, and they would wander off, gratified. That they thought he was from the Yaglimth was astonishing. Why would animals believe in something they couldn’t see? It made no sense. He wondered if Melwin had ever encountered this. What would he think? More interestingly, what would his brother have done in Bender’s place? Nothing nearly so effective as what the old Badger had accomplished. Nothing, in fact. And no doubt, Melwin would have dismissed Bender and his actions as frivolous.
The wolves had not stayed. As soon as Bender had begun moving about, Wolfie had loudly declared that, as the wolves had now accomplished bringing peace to the Grattie Brina, they would return to LupisPark. Bracken Boar had made a show of staying on but, within a short time, it was clear that he found the animals of the Dell irritating. Malcolm overheard him instruct Boris to thank Bender for helping the boars bring peace to LupisPark then led the herd away.
When the wolves and boars had left, and the other animals went back to their burrows, or foraged about, Bender stepped up close to him.
“That was some accomplishment,” said Malcolm.
“It won’t last,” Bender said.
“I doubt it.”
“Have you no faith in the Yaglimth?”
Bender was silent.
“I wouldn’t give up yet,” said Miranda.
“The Yaglimth is a powerful creature,” said Malcolm, waggishly.
Bender didn’t smile. “What you did didn’t help.” He looked at Malcolm in such a hard, strange way that Malcolm understood that Bender was irked.
Malcolm was surprised. “No?”
“It was risky and needlessly foolish. You saw how difficult Wolfie was.”
“Once he’s able to show that you’re not from the Yaglimth, he’ll be able to break the peace easily.”
“How’s he going to prove I’m not what Darius said I was?”
“Don’t you understand? You’ve called Wolfie a liar in front of his wolves. He’s not going to participate in making peace.”
“Would he have anyway? And besides, he said he would in front of everyone.”
“Yes, to save face, but he has no intention of working with other animals.”
Malcolm realized he hadn’t consulted Bender. “I’m sorry.” He wanted to tell him that it had been Darius Deer’s idea but knew that that would sound small.
“Perhaps it would be best if you were to disappear for a few days.”
“Not with the boars. That would give Wolfie an excuse to break the peace. And obviously, you can’t go back to LupisPark, or sit in the pond, so you might as well try the other side of the ridge.”
“Owls that screech.”
“Oh. What will you be doing?”
“Working to ensure the peace.”