The next morning found the warlord’s staff moving around with warm drinks and warm pastries. Everyone had their share; the children had enough to be over-full, and they all found themselves awake and aware as they stepped into the Warlord’s audience chamber, ready for the first tale of the morning.
The chamber was tall, as tall as five or six men on each other’s shoulders, and at one point the ceiling had been painted magnificently. The paint had chipped and peeled, but you could still, if you peered, see the scenes that had outlasted the end of the world.
In the center front, a large and comfortable chair held the Warlord, a tall man with a mighty beard. An axe sat to his left; a sword sat to his right. Behind him stood two mighty guards, men who looked like they could lift the entire building onto their shoulders and barely grunt. In front of him, just off of the dais, two women, who looked like they could be twins, stood, each holding a spear taller than the were. And to the left of all of this sat an old man at a table, noting names and calling off numbers.
He called a number as soon as the crowd had settled in, and a young woman stepped forward. She was tall, and straight, her honey-brown hair long and straight as she was tall.
She bowed deeply to the Lord and the shallowly to his scribe. “I am Taegen of the coast, and I bring to my Lord a small cask of gold-chased wood, made into the semblance of a room inside. The chair is of chocolate; the rug is coffee beans, and the bedstead is made of cinnamon bark. All this I bring to my Lord from far lands, along with my tale.”
The Lord was sipping his drink and munching on some bread. He gestured at her, his mouth full, indicating that she might continue.
She bowed again, deeper this time, and set the little chest down. And then she straightened and spread her legs, getting into a posture like she might attack, or like she might simply sing to him.
“I’m here to tell you the story of a place I found, deep in the forests on the borders between Penn’s Land and its neighbor to the north, a place that has made me question many of the things I know to be true. If my Lord permits?”
“Your Lord is interested.” He didn’t look interested, but from the stories, he rarely did.
“If you’re looking,” she began, “you can find books of rabbits in waistcoats and Piglets in sweaters. But the strangest thing is not these talking animals that our ancestors dreamt up, no, oh no.”
The Animals Story
The strangest thing is to come across what appears to be a perfectly normal animal – except of a sort you’ve never seen before. Something that might be a crossbreed of a fox and a cat except that they have orange tiger stripes. A creature the size of a coyote, only with ears that you could swear belong to a rabbit. That sort of thing. I’m sure, by now, many of you have seen these things. They wander the mountains, away from the humans, more clever than those who made them by half. A wolf that walks on two legs but growls and snarls like an animal. The fish with legs
And stranger than those, even, is when you find a place where they’ve made a home together, and then you truly begin to wonder.
I’m not talking about a den, although I’ve seen a few of those. No, what I’m talking about –
-Well, let’s start at the beginning.
And for us, that beginning is going to be when I was travelling in the mountains, up just on the border and beyond. And there I was, minding my own business, picking some mushrooms and the like, when I walked up to a little house in the middle of the woods.
Now, this happens. Either the woods grew up around a house that wasn’t originally quite so isolated, or someone decided they didn’t want to deal with people and built their house out in the middle of nowhere.
But when I say this house was little – it was short. The door was a barn door, kind of wide. The tallest person that could fit through there would be a child, but it was a long and comfy-sized house, and there was smoke coming from the chimney.
I didn’t knock. It’s not always a safe thing to do, knocking on stranger’s doors, especially strange doors. But I was curious – perhaps a little more curious than is, speaking of such matters, safe – and so I hid myself away in the woods and I waited and I watched.
The first thing I saw was a wolf walk up to the door. At least, I thought it might be a wolf. Its fur was so perfectly silver that I thought it might be metal. Its eyes were like the frozen ice of the far north. But it walked on all fours and it looked, more or less, like a wolf ought to.
And then it took the door-handle in its mouth and it turned it, carefully, pushing the door open.
That was strange enough, but stranger still was when it wiped its paws, stepped into the house, and closed the door behind it.
All right, thought I to myself, people can train dogs, why not wolves? Short people; such exist, yes?
Yes, they do. But I did not move from my place. Something about the solution seemed too pat. Training a wolf like a dog to let themselves in and out, okay. Somehow I could see that. But –
But then a rabbit hopped up, carrying envelopes in its mouth. It was a big Rabbit. Bigger than some dogs I have seen. It was not, as one might think it would be, wearing a waistcoat. It was not wearing clothing at all. But it walked up to a patch of ground and it dug several little holes, kicking with its back feet, and then with some care, it shook the envelope over these holes and then covered up the holes, again with its back feet, before heading for the door to the house
My friends, my Lord, I have to admit, I expected to hear a rabbit-scream and a wolf-growl and a small fight. I heard nothing of the sort. Nothing but quiet.
When the Fox came home some time later I was still watching. Again, I feared the worst. But-”
“Does this story go anywhere except ‘I found talking animals and they didn’t kill each other?’”