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

September 20, 2007

62. Enemy of my Enemy

Patch leapt snarling from his interrupted slumber, ready to kill whatever had attacked. There was a huge dark shape standing on the branch beside him, and Patch launched himself at it, fangs bared - and then something hit him, it was like being struck by a branch, and he fell thudding to the ground below. Fortunately he had slept on a low branch; and he came to his feet bruised and angry but not seriously harmed, his tail erect with rage and fear.

Then he stopped, looked around, and decided this time he really was dreaming, he had to be. Because he had slept on the oak tree that was King Thorn's court, and it and all the trees around it were covered with Ramble and Northern and Treetops squirrels; and every single one of those squirrels, including Sharpclaw and Twitch and the king's guard around him, were frozen in place like carved statues, horrified expressions on their motionless faces; and the crows on the branches were staring in the same frozen manner. All eyes were fixed on a point just behind Patch. He heard a fluttering sound.

Slowly he turned around.

"You have been exceedingly remiss in your mission, Patch son of Silver," Karmerruk said drily. "I imagined you eaten by crows. Why did you not send me word?"

Patch recovered enough from his surprise to say, "How?"

"Your little bluejay friend."

"I haven't seen him."

Karmerruk nodded. "I suppose he too thought you dead in the Ramble. Well, better late-hatched than fallen. Which of these ragged balls of fur is your King Thorn?"

Patch looked up the oak tree. "He'll be at the top."

"Is that so." Karmerruk leaped into the air - then stooped down on Patch, seized him in his agonizing talons, and carried him to the top of King Thorn's court with wingbeats so powerful the oak's branches shivered as if whipped by the winds of a storm. Patch moaned as Karmerruk deposited him on the crown of the oak tree, in the midst of the King's war council, which included Silver and Stardancer. All of them stared speechless at Patch and his avian companion.

"Let that journey be a reminder to you that I do not take kindly to delays," Karmerruk said sharply to Patch. "Now introduce me to your King and tell him I seek the death of his enemy."

Patch took a moment to collect himself, then turned and said, "King Thorn, this is Karmerruk, Prince of the Air. He would like to propose an alliance."

Their situation was desperate, they were all frantic with anxiety and exhaustion, and blood was seeping from Patch's fresh talon-wounds; but he still took a certain satisfaction from the stunned expressions of King Thorn and his council of war.

"It's too late," said Stardancer, the red-furred lord of the Northern tribe. "One hawk, however dangerous, can't save us."

"Yes, he can," Silver said. "He can kill Redeye and Sniffer and Snout, if he can find them. Without them the Meadow army will fall back. Without them they may even recognize the true King. They don't want to fight us. They're being forced."

Thorn looked to Patch. "Is that possible?"

Patch translated.

Karmerruk clucked with dissatisfaction. "I would have devoured on Snout a long time ago if he ever showed himself, but he must know he is hunted, he stays in the night and the underworld. As for squirrels, how am I to tell one of you from another? Perhaps if you can point them out to me. But what I hoped is that you might lure Snout into the open."

"How?" Patch asked.

Karmerruk shrugged imperiously. "I don't pretend to understand the thoughts of crawling groundlings. That's why I have come to you."

Patch translated for the war council.

"Just tell him yes," Silver said, before Thorn could respond. "Tell him we'll do anything he wants. They'll come for us soon, for the last battle. Redeye and Sniffer will be there, at least. If he can get them - any hope is better than no hope. With him at least we have a chance, however small."

Thorn gave her an annoyed look, and opened his mouth as if to object, but Patch was already relaying her acceptance to Karmerruk.

Karmerruk nodded as if the conclusion had been obvious. "Then I shall wait, rather than reveal myself too soon. When the final battle is joined, I shall come and find you, Patch son of Silver, and you shall point your enemies out to me. Remember that if you fail, your King and all his tribes will be utterly destroyed."

He stretched out his colossal wings, ready to fly away.

"Wait!" Patch said.

Karmerruk sighed and refurled his wings. "What is it?"

"Last time I saw you, you said something about the Queen of All Cats."

The hawk twitched. "What of her?"

"Do you know where she is?"

Karmerruk paused before responding, and when he did speak, his voice sounded strange and whistling; and Patch found himself wondering if the Prince of the Air might actually be nervous.

"Even if I do, what is it to you?" Karmerruk demanded.

Patch chose his words carefully before speaking. "I know she is an enemy of Lord Snout, and she knows the night and the underworld. She might be able to find him and drive him into your claws."

Karmerruk frowned and considered for what felt like a very long time. The squirrels of King Thorn's war council listened silently; none of them spoke any Bird, but it seemed almost as if they knew that this question and its answer were of the greatest importance.

"The enemy of my enemy," Kamerruk muttered. "Yes, I know where she is. I have seen her standing on the steel branches of her palace, undefended, looking down the Great Avenue ... I could have ... but the prophecy ... nothing that walks or flies or swims -"

"Where is she?" Patch asked.

"She has left the mountains," Karmerruk said. "She is in the Center Kingdom as we speak, with her guards. I saw them in the Ramble earlier today. What are they doing here, Patch son of Silver? What do you know of her?"

Patch's heart leapt. "She's in the Ramble?"

"Why would she and her entourage leave the mountains?" Karmerruk demanded. "Do you know?"

Patch said, slowly and wonderingly, "She might be looking for me."

Karmerruk glared down at him. "Very funny, little squirrel. I shall be back for the final battle. I shall expect you to treat my questions more seriously then."

He leapt from the oak tree and soared into the air. The squirrels of King Thorn's war council stared at Patch. He considered telling them about Zelina - but they probably wouldn't believe him, and even if they did, there was no sense in giving them hope that might prove false.

"He'll come for the final battle," Patch said.

After a pause Stardancer said, grimly, "He won't have to wait long."


Anonymous Rakie said...

i love karmerruk, he's my favourite. And YAY for zelina coming back!! she's awesome, i want to see her and the other cats to unleash furry death on the rodents. :D Ooh, so what's this prophecy that Mr Hawk is hinting at? Gah, more questions. :D

awesome chapter, as always. :D

September 21, 2007 at 1:41 AM  
Anonymous briangc said...

Terrific stuff, as always.

September 21, 2007 at 7:17 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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