A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

July 18, 2007

3. Patch and the Birds

It was not entirely true that Patch knew there was food in the mountains. He had never been to the mountains. No squirrel in all the Center Kingdom, as far as he knew, had ever been to the mountains. For between the kingdom and the mountains, surrounding it on all sides like a moat around a castle, there lay a blasted concrete wasteland, as wide as fifty squirrels laid nose to tail, and horrific death machines roared up and down this wasteland at terrifying speeds, all day and night. What's more, humans and dogs often crossed between the mountains and the kingdoms. And sometimes the dogs were not leashed. A squirrel would have to be very desperate indeed to dare the wastelands.

It was Toro who had told Patch about the food in the mountains. Toro was Patch's friend. And that itself was extraordinary.

Patch had always talked to birds. The drey he had grown up in – Silver's old drey, before she became leader of the Seeker clan – had been only a few branches away from a nest of robins. Once, in early spring when he was still a baby, Patch had crawled out of Silver's drey and into the robin's nest, and had spent a whole day among the chicks before Silver returned home and retrieved him. The robin mother had been unamused by Silver's profound apologies, and even less amused when Patch had returned to her nest the very next day.

Eventually Silver taught Patch to leave the robins alone, but not before he had learned how to speak Bird. Most squirrels of the Center Kingdom could say and understand a few simple things in Bird, but Patch could actually hold conversations. And so, one autumn day when a bluejay swooped past and stole an acorn out of Patch's paws, Patch shouted angrily at the thief in Bird to bring it back; and the thief, intrigued, wheeled around in midair, perched on a branch above Patch, and looked curiously down at the irate squirrel.

"Thieving feather-brained no-nose hawkbait!" Patch shouted up.

"Stupid blind furry groundworm!" the bluejay retorted, and began to peck at the acorn.

"Your mother should have dropped your egg onto a rock!"

"I must say," the bluejay said between bites, "you speak Bird remarkably well, for a thick hairy slug with a mangy tail."

"Thank you, you moldy-feathered sky-rat. Now give me back my acorn!"

The bluejay considered, while he finished eating half of the acorn. And then, rather incredibly, he let the other half drop to the ground.

"To tell you the truth I wasn't very hungry," he said. "I just enjoy taking acorns from squirrels. I didn't know you spoke Bird. What is your name?"

"My name is Patch."

"My name is Toro."

Patch didn't know what to say. He had never been introduced to a bluejay before. Like all squirrels he thought of bluejays, the Center Kingdom's most prolific eaters of nuts, as dire enemies. Patch looked around to see if any other squirrels saw him talking to a bluejay. Fortunately none were nearby.

"If you're looking for acorns," Toro said, "the wind has been strong today on the other side of those rocks, and many there have fallen."

After a moment Patch said, stiffly, "Thank you."

"Any time," the bird said carelessly, before flying away.

That was the beginning of their secret friendship. It had to remain secret, for other squirrels would have been enraged by the thought of Patch befriending Toro, and other bluejays would have looked askance at Toro befriending Patch. But the two had much in common. Both were lone explorers. And when they saw one another in remote corners of the Center Kingdom, as they often did, they stopped to talk. It was during one of those conversations, during the depths of the winter, that Toro told Patch of what his sharp bluejay eyes had seen in the nearby mountains.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Switch to

Go to the home page.

Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

Sign up for Jon's low-frequency mailing list:

Powered by Blogger.