is Our Dell
This is not good duff, thought Manley. Grubs were nowhere to be found, the beetles were tiny and the worms fleshless. The earth was barren, hard clay with little leaf mold. Hearing so many animals crossing the dell, he had hoped the soil would be black. Perhaps it was fertile further down, towards the pond. He started digging and almost immediately ran into rock.
Coming to surface, he bumped into a leg and, turning, hit another leg.
“Watch it,” said a gruff voice.
Manley scented fox. His fox. “Fenwick,” he said.
“Oh, it’s you. Chaps, here’s Manley.”
Manley was surprised to scent the other foxes standing over him and to hear, surrounding them, up to the Rock, the din of other animals. “What’s going on?”
“Not sure really.”
“What’re you doing here? Have you come to dispatch me?” He was no longer fearful of the foxes, especially in the Dell.
“Dispatch you? No, no, no, of course not. Whatever gave you that idea?” asked Fenwick.
“Did I? I can’t imagine what I was thinking, unless it was a bit of joke. Ha, ha.”
“You terrified me.”
“Did I? Awfully sorry. Must have been a mis-understanding. You will forgive me of course.”
“Yes, of course,” said Manley.
“Tell me,” asked Fenwick, “do you know the Yaglimth awfully well?”
Manley sighed. Animal behaviour, on the whole, seemed based on everyone behaving selfishly, at all times. “What’re you doing here?”
“Well, we’re here to ah…? Brother Fleuty, why are we here?”
Brother Fleuty whispered in Fenwick’s ear. “Right. The Peace,” said Fenwick. “We’re here for the Peace. Apparently.”
“You realize it might be dangerous?”
Manley felt Fenwick twitch. “Really? No one said anything about that.”
“Well, it might all work out. How are the ducks?”
“Ducks? Oh yes, I see. Yes, well, we’ve had second thoughts since we spoke last. Some of what you said, while quite insulting, had a bone of truth, so we’re taking a new approach to the whole matter.”
“You’re not ganging up on them?”
“What do you eat now?”
“Ah well, it’s a bit tricky at the moment, but we seem to be managing.” Fenwick leaned over and whispered in Manley’s ear, “any chance of a bit to eat at this do?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it. Can you see the Moose?”
“You mean the chap from the Yaglimth? Yes, he’s just there dead ahead.”
Manley scurried off in the direction Fenwick was pointing.
“Perhaps,” shouted Fenwick after him, “you could ask him to say hello to the Yaglimth for us.”
Manley made his way through the crowd and finally caught scent of Malcolm.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re waiting to see what the wolves and boars do.”
“Do about what?”
“The animals have agreed to stand together.”
Malcolm’s scent seemed new to Manley. “You seem different.”
“Determined. It might safer for you to leave the Dell.”
“Where would I go without you?”
“You could go anywhere.”
“But why would I?”
“To avoid what might be coming.”
Suddenly, Bender’s voice boomed through the dell. “Now that we’re all gathered here, standing together, we can pledge ourselves to a lasting peace.”
“What do we do?” yelled a voice at the back of the crowd.
“Spread out,” said Malcolm loudly. “All the way down to the pond.”
As many animal bodies began to scamble towards the water, Manley scurried under Malcolm to avoid the crush. Through the chatter and confusion, Bender kept calling out, “Easy… slowly… everyone hum.”
“What? Hum? What?” The animals’ voices echoed through the Dell.
Malcolm began to hum, his voice booming down the hillside.
All the animals stopped moving and began to him until it sounded as though a swarm of bees had invaded the Dell.
“Look at Bender smiling,” said Miranda.
As it filled the Dell, the hum elated Manley, lifting his spirits. It gave him hope.
It was quiet. All midovernoon Theobald had tried to block out the humming. At first, he’d been heartened, but then it had gone on and on until he wanted to shout something rude like “your mother’s poo”. He had somehow managed to block the noise. Then, liingerly, the hum had died out and most of the animals had settled and were now napping, sprawled throughout the Dell. A few were awake, grooming themselves, foraging or chatting, but to his relief, the humming had ceased.
“Should I go to the pond?”
“Of course. I’m sorry. I didn’t think of it sooner. You must be very dry.”
“Malcolm? Wolves.” Theobald could see two on the ridge, silhouetted against the blue sky.
“At the top of the dell.”
“Don’t say anything. Just hang on.”
Malcolm started picking his way over the sleeping animals, up the dell. As they approached the ridge, Theobald caught sight of more wolves in the bushes surrounding the dell. Near the top was Wolfie, waiting for them.
Malcolm’s voice had a edge. “What is it you want?”
“You have all the animals rising up against us.”
“Everything was peaceful until you came.”
“Yes, everything was under control.”
“Why do you need ‘everything under your control’?”
Wolfie regarded Malcolm. “To protect ourselves.”
“Whom do you think?” Wolfie’s expression was distinctly wary.
Malcolm laughed, “The boars?”
“There’re many animals who hate wolves.”
“There’re many animals who’d be their friends if they were more accommodating.”
“We’re fighting for freedom.”
“Is that why you want to take me hostage?”
“Once we control these lands there will be peace. A lasting peace, not some badger ja-ja dream.”
How did Wolfie know about the ja-ja? Did the wolves ingest it? Had Wolfie?
“I don’t want you giving these animals silly ideas.”
Malcolm began to hum.
“You should try it,” said Malcolm, “it’s very soothing. It takes away all aggression.”
Suddenly, they heard humming approaching through in the bushes.
Wolfie nodded at the wolf pack and the two wolves near Wolfie rushed into the bushes. A few breaths later, Bewley emerged, wheezing and humming fitfully, prodded by the two wolves.
“It’s hard to hum and walk at the same time,” said Bewley.
“Then stop it,” ordered Wolfie.
Theobald was touched by Bewley’s bravado.
“Have you come to join the peace?” asked Malcolm.
“Yes, and to warn you.”
“Warn him about what?” demanded Wolfie.
“The Federation is on the move.”
“Which way?” said Wolfie, looking about.
“From behind you.”
“That’s not possible.”
“They floated down the pond.”
“Am I?” Bewley started to hum again.
Malcolm joined in. Theobald started to hum.
“Stop that. Stop it!”
“Yes, stop it,” said Boris, who had appeared from behind Wolfie.
Wolfie turned and, hiding his amazement, asked, “What is it you want?”
Boris gazed at him. “What do you want?”
“Where are the others?” asked Wolfie, looking behind Boris, as he trotted towards him.
“I’m here alone.”
“To see if we can come to some agreement.”
“I doubt it.”
“Do you imagine you’ll defeat us?”
“Over time, yes. If you resist, you’ll have much pain.”
“We’ll inflict pain on you as well,” Boris said casually.
“Well,” said Malcolm, “I’m glad we’ve agreed on that.”
Wolfie, glancing at Malcolm witheringly, asked Boris, “What do you suggest?”
“Divide the Forest. You leave us alone. We leave you alone.”
“How can we trust you?”
“You can trust us as much as we can trust you.”
Wolfie regarded Boris quietly. “Where do we place the border?”
“Everything the other side of the Dell would be LupisPark.”
“LupisPark includes the Dell. Take it or leave it.”
“The Dell has always been part of Grattie Brina.”
Theobald felt Malcolm take a tiny step backwards.
“It doesn’t look as though we’ll be able to agree.” Wolfie trotted back to where Malcolm stood. “You will accompany us back to LupisPark.”
“Is that your final word?” Boris called out to him.
“Do you want me to submit your proposal to the Grand Council?”
Wolfie turned back towards to Boris. “You have until the moon is at the top of the sky.”
Theobald felt Malcolm’s muscles ripple beneath him.
“I doubt that will be enough time.”
“It will, if you’re sincere.”
“How can you…?”
“Hey,” shouted Wolfie.
Malcolm had turned and was now trotting back down into the Dell, loudly singing. “Everybody hum. Hum, hum hum. Everybody hum. Hum, hum, hum. Everybody huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.”
Abruptly, Bender was up, scuttling through the Dell, rousing the animals, urging all to stand and hum, Quickly, the animals jumped up, humming, and it spread everywhere, louder than before. As the wolves stealithily slouched down into the dell, led by Wolfie, they all formed a cluster in front of Malcolm and Bender. Boris had disappeared.
“Stop it,” shouted Wolfie.
The humming went on.
“I won’t tell you again.”
“Good,” said Bender, “see that you don’t. More humming please.”
The hum grew louder.
Wolfie barked and five wolves made a rush for Malcolm. Malcolm reared, sending Theobald falling off his back. As he fell, Theobald glimpsed Malcolm stabbing at the attacking wolves with his rack. The hum grew even louder. Lying on the ground, Theobald couldn’t see beyond the thicket of animal legs around him which now surged forward. Suddenly, Miranda was at his side.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. What’s happening?”
“I’m not sure. Wait here.”
Confused, but urgently feeling the need to contribute, Theobald began humming as loudly as he could. Beyond, he could hear snarling, yelling, and cries of pain. What? Who?
Manley stood next to a skunk who suddenly bolted forward into the crowd when the humming grew louder. He couldn’t see beyond those in front of him as he pressed ahead to where he heard Malcolm, surrounded by all the animals, humming. They were all standing tight against each other, all humming.
All at once, he heard Wolfie cry out, “stop.”
Malcolm’s hum died out.
One by one, the animals stopped humming. Pushing through the throng to Malcolm, Manley noticed that they all stepped back, letting him pass. As he reached Malcolm’s rear legs, he could hear Wolfie say quietly to Malcolm, “what do you want to go away?’”
Manley suddenly found himself saying, “What do you want to go away?” He propelled himself past the few animals—a woodchuk and Bender—under Malcolm’s front legs until he was facing Wolfie. “Take me,” he said angrily. “Leave the rest and take me.”
He moved closer, staring up until he could make out Wolfie’s head. Wolfie eyed him warily.
“Rip my body if you need to. I don’t why you would, but your behaviour has been so ridiculous since we met you, so do it… go ahead.”
Wolfie sat back on his hunches.
Manley stepped close until his snout almost touched Wolfie’s. He could see Wolfie’s eyes. “Why did you kill Darius?”
“He betrayed us.”
“He wasn’t free.”
“He was free.”
“Free to be ridden.”
“He liked it.”
“Animals don’t like to be ridden. Would you like me to ride you every day?”
“This is our forest.”
“It seems to be everyone’s forest. Except mine.”
“I’m not going to discuss this with a mole.” said Wolfie, rising and looking up at Malcolm. “Tell all the animals to go back to their burrows. This area is now part of LupisPark.”
Malcolm started to hum again. All the animals joined in. The hum grew louder.
Suddenly, there was a loud bleating sound from the bushes in the ravine near the pond. The hum stopped.
Bracken Boar appeared, followed by five younger boars. “In order to secure the Dell for peace,” Bracken loudly proclaimed, “it is now under the protection of the Federation of Grattie Brina.”
Malcolm started to hum again. Immediately, the animals joined in with, it seemed to Manley, even more determination.
“Stop and desist in the name of the Federation.”
The humming continued.
“I tell you to stop.”
“They won’t stop,” said Wolfie to Bracken, “until you leave.”
“What about you?”
“We’re here to protect them.”
“Well, you for a start.”
“You would dare to suggest that?”
Manley ambled out, putting himself between Wolfie and Bracken. “Isn’t it obvious?”
Malcolm stopped humming. All the animals stopped.
Wolfie glanced at the animals curiously, then at Manley, “Isn’t what obvious?”
“You’re both arguing about who is the most peaceful. No one here thinks either one of you is. Does anyone here,” he yelled, “think the wolves and boars are peaceful?”
“They think you’re lying. If you’re peaceful, prove it.”
“Lying? How dare you?”
That’s ridiculous. How,” asked Bracken, “would we do that?”
Manley heard Bender’s voice from behind him. “Join the peaceathon.”
“The opposite to what you’ve been doing.”
“And what have we been doing?”
“Threatening the peace.”
“Were not,” said Bracken.
“Were so,” said Wolfie.
“Darius is dead,” said Manley.
“That had nothing to do with us,” said Wolfie, glancing about nervously.
“Some animals saw you.”
“If I told you, you would kill them as well.”
“I’m not going to discuss this.”
“I suggest again,” said Bender, “a peacethon.”
Wolfie looked at Bracken. “The boars won’t want to.”
Bracken smiled. “Neither will the wolves.”
Malcolm started humming again. All the animals joined in.
Manley noted that Bracken as well as Wolfie seemed uncertain of how to proceed. “Alright,” Bracken said finally, “the boars will participate.”
“So will the wolves,” said Wolfie. “If you stop humming.”
Malcolm and all the animals stopped. The Dell was silent.
Manley was astonished at this sudden response, when he caught a familiar scent. What? Who?
Miranda’s regard for Bender was shoreless. She had watched as he bounded about the Dell, spurring on all the animals to lie on their backs. It had taken him some time, especially with the wolves and boars, but now both packs had their legs in the air. He had stopped and was proudly, and with some astonishment, staring at the gathering lying on their backs. Wolfie and Bracken stood nearby, watching warily.
“Now, you two,” said Bender, glancing at them.
“What?” said Wolfie.
“On your backs.”
Bracken looked mortified. “I’m an honourable fellow. I can’t…”
“You’re the most important, as is Wolfie.”
Bracken bristled. “I have no need…”
“Including me,” said Manley, crossing to the wolves to lie on his back.
Miranda watched Wolfie cautiously observing Bracken who had reluctantly laid down and then with great effort rolled over onto his back, nudged into position by two of the younger boars. Wolfie hesitated then quickly lay on the ground and rolled onto his back. “This is ridiculous,” he muttered.
She understood now why Bender was doing this. It was a ridiculous position, calculated to humble the animal lying on their back. Once an animal was humbled, some burden of pretiousness would lift and it would be easier to persuade them to modify their behaviour. It was not a position that encouraged aggression.
Miranda ambled to where Wolfie lay, and was about to lie beside him when she spotted movement along the ridge, something disappearing behind the Rock of the Dell. It looked like… no it couldn’t be.
“You too,” said Wolfie, grudgingly.
Miranda, still gazing at the Rock of the Dell, rolled onto her back.
Bender laid down beside Miranda. He put his feet into the air and sighed deeply. He closed his eyes, was silent for a breath and then, quite softly, began to hum. His hum was not a single hum but various pieces of hums, hummed together and, amazing enough, soothing to listen to. Everyone else was silent, listening. Even the wolves and boars. Miranda, her eyes on the Rock, began to hum along with Bender. Gradually, all the animals of the Dell joined in; then like novices, the wolves and the boars. Miranda was humming unconsciously and watching the Rock. She felt lifted by the humming. It was oddly peaceful, lifting, humming, gazing up through the trees at the sky glinting through the leaves.
In the stillness, listening to the hum, she turned her head, and saw Wode Dog bound up onto the Rock and, facing the Dell, bark excitedly.
The humming stopped as all the animals gaped at Wode Dog. Miranda, wonderstruck at the absurdity of what was happening, laughed when she heard one of the animals yell out, “It’s the Yaglimth!”
END OF BOOK 1
Vlad & Step
A Twentieth Century Love Story