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

September 19, 2007

61. Besieged

Sometimes in the desperate days that followed it seemed to Patch that time itself had shattered like glass, splintered into sharp and disconnected fragments. On the rare occasions he had the opportunity to sleep, he woke as if propelled into a strange new world, unsure for long moments whether he had escaped his dreams or fallen deeper into their senseless, dizzying currents. That vicious skirmish fresh in his mind, their battle against Meadow squirrels on a tangled sky-road across the Ravine, Longtail's dying screams, their desperate escape across the river - had those things happened before or after he slept? Had he really stood beside Nighteye atop that tall cypress, spying on Redeye's army as they passed beneath them, knowing that the slightest sound or motion would mean their deaths - and if so, had he really seen his moon-sworn brother Tuft pass between them? Had he just now been woken by the distant screams of pain and cries of battle, or only by the dim echoes of such memories?

By day, King Thorn sent out his squirrels, trying to push the enemy back; by night, rats scrabbled at the edges of the King's territory, looking for unguarded shadows, sleeping sentries, any chance to skulk past the armies of the true King and prey on the old and young and weak. Patch and his war-clan fought skirmishes every day and night. The enemy, although usually superior in number, rarely stayed long enough to kill or be killed. Instead of fighting a pitched battle they gnawed slowly and grimly away at King Thorn's armies and territories, murdering a squirrel here and a squirrel there, occasionally surrounding and slaughtering an entire war-clan, and driving back Thorn's hungry and exhausted defenders one tree at a time.

In the first two days of the war for the North, Patch was sent with Nighteye's war-clan across the Northern River, to carry the fight to the enemy. On the second night, they were withdrawn back to Thorn's court by night, in order to protect both it and themselves; on the third day, they ventured across the river, and fought a running sky-road battle against two dozen Meadow squirrels, in which Longtail died bravely. From that night on they did not venture across the river. Instead they were sent to help wherever Redeye was attacking. Sometimes he seemed to be attacking everywhere at once. King Thorn's territories grew daily smaller, and his armies fewer in number; their food grew scant, and their nights sleepless.

The crows came to roost in King Thorn's territories and began to roost in his trees. his subjects had grown too hungry and exhausted to drive them off. Soon even the King's oak-tree court was occupied by drooping, black-winged crows, watching with blank eyes, waiting for their inevitable spoils of war. Even humans began to notice that something strange was happening in this corner of the Center Kingdom. Not many came through these regions, but those who did often stopped and stared at the crows massed on the trees, and the dead bodies of rats and squirrels, and sometimes they watched two howling, writhing squads of the enemy armies tear at one another with fang and claw.

When Patch had any excuse, he returned to the King's court and sought out Twitch and Silver. When they met, they sat together without words. There were no words left worth speaking. Everyone knew that there was no escape, and no apparent hope. The annihilation of the Center Kingdom was only a matter of time.

And then, early one desperate morning, Patch was awakened from a rare moment of sleep by a sharp pain at the tip of his tail.


Anonymous Rakie said...

i had a little panic there, i thought i'd skipped a chapter. :D Ek, poor Longtail! This is all getting quite bloody and brutal. I'll never be able to look at a squirrel the same way again. :D

*throws shoe for cliffhanger*
well, it's been a while since the last one. :D

September 20, 2007 at 2:59 AM  
Anonymous briangc said...

At least Longtail redeemed himself a little in the end since he "died bravely."

September 20, 2007 at 6:15 AM  

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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.

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