“By the way, I think that dog is eating one of the Faramirs.”
"Out back," he said, shrugging.
I tore into the den--Kaisa was beating his wings frantically against the window--and flung the back door open. I reached the deck railing just in time to see a distant Faramir Two booking it down the Asservilles' yard with the Hound in barky pursuit. Down in the brief thicket between the two rows of houses, Elizabeth was dragging Lyra through the pine needles ("NOOO! YOU GOTTA LET ME SEE THE WAR!!") with an armored Iorek, galloping up up the hill like a valiant baked potato, leading the way. A squirrel leaped down to block him--Iorek jumped up (the squirrel was about twice as tall as he was) and slammed it out of the way with a blow from his broad plush paw. Lizzie had to stop to fight off another squirrel with her sword, and I think the one on her left would have grabbed Lyra except that Eowyn rode by just then, on a toy horse, and brained it with her shield. Serafina swooped in on a pine branch and grabbed Lyra--I ducked as she shot straight past me towards the house--but down on the other side of the valley, Faramir Two was still racing down the yard (it takes a long time when your legs are only six inches long). Toothpick arrows were zipping past me with sniper precision--Legolas was shooting three squirrels at a time, but Faramir One was now in a fistfight out on one of the branches. That was when the elven knives came out. I mean, I don't think the blades have real edges, but they're pretty pointy. Down far below, the Hound was gaining on Faramir Two, within spittle's distance of his flying cloak, and there I am standing on the deck in a panic of stupid, not even believing this is happening out behind my house.
What could I do? There's only one gate to the backyard, and it was locked from the outside; I would have had to run back inside, down the stairs, through the garage, out the side door, and around the fenced-in yard, through thick underbrush to the gully behind the house, to the fenced-in yard behind us, and by then my dolls would have been EATEN. And there on the deck, I couldn't even find anything lying around to throw at anyone, much less at the Hound a hundred and fifty feet away, so I made my Hail Mary Pass: I shrieked out the one word I thought a dog would be certain to know.
"TREAT! TREAT! TREAAAAAAT!"
The Hound skidded to a stop and looked around wildly, then began to howl when it couldn't figure out who had the hypothetical treat. Of course, my dogs had been freaking out at the back door, and once they heard The Word there was no holding them back--the rickety back door gave way and they tumbled out onto the deck, barking their heads off (Shelby has a particularly piercing yelp that I am pretty sure counts as a mutant X-power), and the Hound returned audio fire. The squirrels scattered.
And so that was how I, a 5'4" Real Human Big Person, contributed less to the Battle of Beagle Yard than a handful of 12" dolls.
"I hope you left some squirrels for me."
I smacked him upside the hair without remorse.
"Bella! BELLA! WE NEED SOME TEA AND COOKIES, STAT!"
"GAH! OKAY! BUT YOU BETTER NOT EXPECT ANY DESSERT TONIGHT IF YOU'RE GONNA EAT THEM NOW!"
"I can't BELIEVE you started a war without me!"
"ARWEN! BRING THE MIRUVOR!"
"Well, maybe if you'd come outside once in a while instead of--"
Anna shot her a sudden death glare--Lizzie shut her mouth. I was too busy ministering to a shaking Lyra (who's a tough little kid, but not a seasoned warrior like the Middle-earthians) to delve into that at the moment. Poor little Pan was wrapped around Lyra's neck like a trembling scarf; I was pouring a little toothpaste cap full of miruvor for them when I realized--
"Oh my God--where are the Aragorns?"
"Elsewhere," said Faramir One, taking a cup of tea from The Littlest Edward with a solemn nod. "I wish we had had them on the battlefield, but--they are accounted for."
The Littlest Edward, speaking of whom, was weaving busily through the crowd on my desk with a china saucer over his head for a tea tray; you could practically see the worry-wheels turning in his head. Meanwhile, Galadriel and the Arwens (have you heard my new band, Galadriel and the Arwens?) had hurried over to patch everyone up--literally, in the case of Faramir Two's cloak. I wasn't too worried about him, though, because he was getting plenty of attention from Legolas, who started waving a sugar cookie at me:
"OH MAN you shoulda been there, it was TOTALLY KNIFEWORK out there! We were just out there and suddenly THEY were just out there and Faramir was all like TO ARMS and Faramir was all like WE MUST PROTECT THE CHILD and Faramir was all like THE CHILD IS PRETTY BIG, I THINK SHE CAN PROTECT HERSELF and Faramir was like NO WE MUST PROTECT THE CHILD!! and Faramir was like THE HOUND!! THE LADY IS IN DANGER, I HAVE TO GO and Faramir was like WHAT ABOUT THE SQUIRREL AMBUSH and they were all like CHI-CHI-CHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!! and then the ladies and the little bear dude PWNED THEM and Faramir ran up to that dog and just POW RIGHT HOOK IN THE FACE and then Serafina was all like FWOOOOOOOOSH and we were shooting things and it was awesome and then you came out and the Hound was like sh-wha? And it was totally righteous. Those squirrels are maaaaaad now."
"Yeah," I said, fixing Faramir Two in my gaze. "Let's talk about that."
"It was an ambush," he told me ("Yes, an ambush, I have gathered that") out in the hall. "I'm not entirely sure who they were after. Lyra--since she started it, after all--"
"Well, I mean, she was defending her sandwich--"
"--or Serafina, so they could get to Lyra, or me, for shooting their leader in the tail." He laughed wearily. "Well, now we're all in trouble."
"But how did it start?"
"Well, Serafina was out in that yard, gathering--whatever it is she gathers. I suppose she'd gotten into something of a routine, because the squirrels had their attack prepared. They threw acorns at the Hound--you know how good an arm those wretched beasts have--until it woke up. Serafina was only a few feet away.I had to run in and punch the Hound in the nose to give her time to--"
"You punched it in the nose?"
"--grab a fallen branch and fly away--she wanted me to come with her but then we heard Eowyn's horn in the valley, and I told her to save Lyra instead." A serious pause. "Their plan was clever and well-laid: the Hound would devour the two of us while the scurry descended upon Lyra. Perhaps they hoped to slay us all. They underestimated the might and valor of our people. But they are a worthy foe. Worthier even than I had feared."
"Okay, you keep talking about the fearsome fears that you fear or whatever. I'm pretty sure now's the time to let me in on this."
He sighed. "They were proven certain today. The acorns they threw at the Hound were about--" And he held out his hands, indicating a size of about an inch, maybe a little more.
"Yeah... acorns. That's what they look like. Kind of like bullets."
"But that's the thing," he said, and then he reached back and pulled something out of the depths of his hood. "These are the acorns that grow on your trees. The only kind of oak in the entire neighborhood."
I remembered the bullet-sized acorns vividly from our old house--when I was a kid, I liked to gather all kinds of leaves and ornamental (probably poisonous) berries and, yes, acorns, and "cook" with them in the sandbox. Having not had any culinary urges since then, I hadn't really paid attention to what we had here at the new house. Believe or not, I had never seen these acorns before. They were tiny--smaller than a Cocoa Puff, and with hardly any weight at all. Definitely not suited for projectiles.
"We are hoping to sow dissension among the squirrels on the other streets," he continued. "What a waste, to collect big juicy acorns just to throw them away! And so on. Legolas has taught the Aragorns enough squirrel to parley with the various drays--"
"--and that's where they've been," I said, frowning. I didn't particularly like the idea of my dolls roaming around the neighborhood, Kings of Gondor or not.
"With any luck, we can start an internal sciurine conflict. They'll kill each other, or at the very least, the rebel squirrels will take the acorns for themselves."
"But--if the bullet--oaks--whatever don't grow around here--where are they getting them from?"
"Legolas has brought us intelligence from many different animals. And, from what they have told him... the squirrels here have dealings with the university raccoons."
"The university--they have--" Well, on second thought, of course they have raccoons--all those caf and dorm trash bins around. My own alma mater was in a slightly urban-residential area, so we mostly had feral cats. But the university in question is situated in (yet more) woods, the back end of which is only two or three streets away from my house. University raccoons. It made sense when you thought about it (not that I wanted to for very long).
"And the university grounds do have the bullet oaks, as you call them. So... we believe... that the squirrels are trading with the raccoons for the larger, more effective acorns."
"But trading what?"
"Foraging rights to the trash cans on your street."
So that's what Scout and Shelby spend half the night barking at--I'd thought it was Scout's longtime foe, the possum. "Okay. Let me get this straight. The squirrels, here, at my house, have made a foreign arms deal with the university raccoons for ammunition."
"Oh my God."
"And I would like to point out," he added, a crisp edge to his voice, "that if your larger vampire was doing his job, the squirrels would not have such strength in numbers."
I sighed. "Look, he's really depressed, okay? Forget eating squirrels--he's not doing much of anything. And you know what heartache is like. He's only seventeen at heart--he can't quite take it like a manpire yet. He's not strong, like you."
(No, I am not above buttering people up when necessary, why do you ask?)
His face softened. "Well... you tell him that if he would like some redemptive glory, a nice binge at the squirrel buffet would help us all out."
And he could afford to be gentle, because his favorite blond was waiting at the door for him with a grin.
But halfway back to the festivities, he paused--Serafina wanted to speak to him, and whatever she said, it ended with a sincere handshake and a bow. Witches have no concept of honor to be righted or wronged, but it seems that they do have a sense of justice, and she was willing to go back on her choice of lover--as irrationally fixed as that usually was--in return for the service he had done her.
"Okay, so if you don't mind, I'd like some answers now."
She looked up from some wistful reverie of her own, surprised: "Answers?"
"What the hell were you doing in the birdbath?"
"The birdbath?" She looked startled; I guess she hadn't realized that any of us had noticed.
"Yeah, THE BIRDBATH. Galadriel said you were brewing something in there? Who were you going to give it to? And what did you want in the Asservilles' yard, anyway?"
"That was for me," she said quietly. "It was a potion... a drink. I needed pansies for it. Heart's-ease."
I didn't have a whole lot to say to that.
But we were saved from an awkward pause by Tonner Edward limping into the room. "I need to... talk to you... for a moment, if... I could," he said between gritted teeth. And then he collapsed.
(To be continued.)
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