"I think it's a trap," Nemo said.
My master nodded. So did Squibette. And, y'know, I could see it, but no.
"Ummmm..no," I said. My master's head snapped up so fast you'd think his neck hurt. No one ever said no to the 'almighty prophet.'
I had their attention anyway.
"It's a trap," Nemo repeated. "You know, Squibble. A horror movie where no one can hear the music?"
"Even if it is a trap, we gotta go," I said. "We can't just sit here an' let him abuse our people. King Arthur wouldn't have."
That got him. My master pursed his lips and his eyes frowned, but I could tell he knew I was right. "And I suppose you have to go along," he said.
"Dasright," I said. "Maybe he'll ignore the house altogether if we go fight him head on."
"Except that he won't fight fair," Nemo said. "He's a demon."
"I know this cool movie where this guy kept saying that an' he got all busted up by a golfing club," I remarked. "You can bless our weapons," I told the chinchilla.
"I can," he said, "But I am no match for the Dark One."
"You told me all of us could do anything we believed we could do," I said.
"This creature is millions of years old, Squibble. Maybe billions."
"Well, can you do great magics or what!" I said.
"I have my limits," he said. "Everyone does."
"Shyster!" I accused, and shortly thereafter received a sharp nip from my master right on the rump. "Ow!"
"Squibble!" he cried. "Respect!"
"Sorry, master..." I sulked. "But he's got great magic an' he's not using it for us."
"Nemo will use what he's got when the time is right," my master said. "Just as we all will. Only a fool fires all his guns at the beginning of the fight."
I struggled with myself, but I lost. "Who says that's bad, huh? Huh? What if you smite 'em real good in the very beginning, an' then there isn't a fight 'cause....um... cause they're smitten!"
"Worthy tactic," Nemo said. "The Germans used it in World War Two - it's called a blitzkrieg. But it requires the element of surprise, which we have lost."
My master turned to the prophet. "What are we to do, master? We cannot wait and be pecked to death."
Nemo shook his head. "No. I think you're going to go anyway. But knowing it is a trap might help. And something else may as well. I never told you my tale, of my time in the fields."
Everyone was silent, especially me. We all knew the field mice called themselves the tribes of Nemo, but no one knew why.
"Would you hear it now?" he asked. We all nodded our mousey heads.
It was a spring of three years past. I was a young, healthy chinchilla then, come from the ranch where I had escaped by leaping into the long, comforting hair of the kind human who shelters us even to this day. I leapt into his hair and refused to come out, hiding behind his neck. He fell in love with me, and I with him, and he took me home. I was one of only a few sapphire chinchillas at the ranch, and was very expensive. The human was poor, but he worked out a deal with the owner to paint a banner for them to hang at the fairs. The ranch was not cruel. They did not sell animals for fur coats, but it was lonely, and I knew I was destined for better things - much as your master knew it as well.
So I came home with the human. He made me a huge house and held me every day. I spent my evenings with him, and in the morning I was the first thing he would come see. But my cage was by the window. I could see outside. I could see the melting snows, the waving grass, the animals and the sun. I could see the stars and the moon. I could see the hills, the mountains, and the horizon. It was too much, and one day I asked the human if he would let me go. He did not know animals could write then, and he was shocked. It took him a few days and several sessions of communicating to believe that his new pet was sentient, but he finally accepted it. He asked me if freedom was what I truly wanted. He warned me about the predators, the temperatures, the dangers. I was young and foolish then...
(Nemo pointed right at me!)
...and I insisted that I had to go. I had to know what being free was all about. Mice have been domestic for over five thousand years, and such things matter to them little if they are being treated well, but chinchillas have been with men as pets for only a hundred or less! Really only in the last forty. I felt the call of the wild.
The human was heartbroken. And by this, I know how much he truly loves us: he let me go. He felt as if he was sending me to my death, and that was almost the case, but he respected my urgent wishes and released me onto his deck one fine spring day. He told me that he would leave water and food on the deck every day for me, and look for me at dawn and at dusk. He asked me to be careful, and come back if I ever wanted to. He would leave his door open.
So freedom was mine. I frolicked and played, and ran far. Very far. I ate all manner of things, and drank from streams. I hid in the day and came out at night. I shuddered at the cries of owls, and I watched the moon rise and set without glass in the way. Oh, I was cold, and often hot, but it was small price to pay. I loved my freedom, though I missed the human. I knew I was the only chinchilla loose in the fields.
The field mice knew it too. They would stare at me as if I were an alien from another planet. They knew not what to make of me. I would race them, and catch them sometimes, then let them go. Nothing is as fast as a healthy chinchilla. Not even a field mouse. In time, the field mice would play with me. They would show up to race, or chase, or jump upon me unawares. Especially the young ones. They were my friends.
One day I met my first rattlesnake. He was about to strike a terrified field mouse baby. I leapt upon the back of the serpent without thinking, and rode it with my teeth until it stopped moving. The mouse raced away, home to tell its people of my deed. Within a few days I woke to the smells of many field mice surrounding me, though of course I could not see them.
"We need your help," they said.
I was willing to help my new friends, but their problem was a complex one. Their life was a sort of hellish existence. Gather food, be chased, be hunted, run away, build nests, frantically try to produce children, then die in the mouth of some animal, or have it all destroyed by a rainfall or other natural event. I felt for them, these tiny animals. They had been doing this for thousands and thousands of years, and now they pined for something different.
Though I had read very few books at that time, I used only common sense to solve the problem. I told them that if they banded together into tribes - large groups - the predators of the field would not know what to do, and might shy away from them. That way, they could also combine their knowledge of water, food locations, and dangers. They could build nests in places where rain would not destroy them, and break the rules. They could become less like mice and more like humans. Just by acting a tiny bit differently. Dig where field mice would not, build where they normally would not, do things that would confuse their enemies. Defend one another. Unite!
Well, I had no idea how big the very first mouse fad would become. In short order, the entire field was united, building huge nest villages, and calling themselves the tribes of Nemo. It was not just the mice - the bees, the birds, the ants - all wanted in on this new life of success. I had become their leader. They came to me with every problem. The small, and the large. I quickly realized that if I was to really help these poor, simple folks, I needed wisdom. I set out to find the masters of such lore - the owl, the frog, and the raven. Owl I found easily enough, in a great tree at the edge of a small, serene lake. He asked me why he should talk to me when I was really just a huge meal to him, and especially when I was helping his prey. I had no answer, and he asked me to return when I had one. So I left to find the frog, who in turn, asked me why he should talk to me, since warm blooded mammals were none of his affair at all. He told me to come back when I had something to offer him.
I searched and searched for Raven, but could not find him. Then the mice came to me on my journeys and said, "Great prophet, we have found a black bird who was wounded in a battle with the hawk. The bird is asking for your help." So I ran there as fast as I could, and the mice came behind me.
Sure enough, there was Raven, almost dead, barely fending off a giant hawk that had it in mind to devour him for supper. The hawk cursed me, saying, "Damn you, strange mouse! This is all your fault! I was eating mice left and right, but now they have scouts, and now they hide from me everywhere. Now they have order, and some small measure of power - because of you! Because of you I am reduced to eating this pathetic trash-digger!" And with that he rose from the ground to end my life.
Now, time stood still for me for the first time in my life. It was as if it was frozen, and I was the only one that could move. I could think as clearly as a sharp blue sky. I was calm and at peace. Fear did not touch me. But, like you, Squibble, it took great terror and desperation to bring it forward. This beast had the power to destroy me, and he was enraged. But I saw, in that moment of his rising, that he had been wounded by raven. He had a flaw in his tail. He was hurt there.
But more, I saw the futures spreading out before me like a crack growing in ice. I saw the most likely future - my death, if no one did anything to change it. And I saw all the branches of that possible future, and what caused them. I saw years into the future. I saw your master fighting the very same hawk. I saw the very horizon of futures. It was a great and mighty moment of revelation, and changed forever who I was. In the tiny fraction of a second I saw years and years of possibilities, and I saw one end that satisfied me. Only one.
But the way to that end was fraught with pain and suffering for many! It was the least easy of all the roads I could have chosen. And worse, I would be choosing it not only for myself, but for countless others. They could not see the road ahead, and only I had the power to turn off of it and make another, better road. Only I had the power of foresight. All of this did I realize in a single heartbeat.
Then time began to speed up again, and I realized my decision was upon me. I chose the best way I knew how - for the end result, instead of my own safety.
As the hawk grabbed into my flesh with his mighty claws, (I saw my master shiver at the tone in Nemo's voice, and surely at the memory of those very same talons) I screamed above my pain and horror, "Mice! To me! He can be beaten! He can be defeated and you shall know that you are not just food!"
But I already knew what would happen, and most of the rodents ran, giving in to their primal fears - slaves to their instinct. They fled as any mouse would do before a hawk. But I did not say this to save myself. I said it because it had to be said so that other things might happen.
As they fled and the hawk rose, I yelled after them - "Remember! You are not food! You are living, breathing creatures of God! You deserve your chance to become mighty! But you must take it! TAKE IT!"
One single mouse, a mighty warrior and chief of his tribe, defeated his instinct to pounce upon the hawk, and the hawk ignored him as I knew he would. As the mouse prepared to bite into the hawk's flesh, I told him, "Nay - hold your vorpal teeth, friend."
"But master," he said, "You are dying! The hawk will eat you!"
"That may be so," I said, "But you must carry the message to your people that you faced the monster and lived. You must endure, and go back." I stared him right in the eye and said, "You must carry your courage back and infect them all."
So the mouse and I rode the hawk, he on top and I underneath, until we came to a small lake. You know the one, I believe. It was there that I kicked the hawk in his injured tail, causing him to fall from the sky to a low altitude. He panicked, fearing the water greatly, and ever thereafter was deeply afraid of that lake.
"My lord!" my master exclaimed. "Even then you were setting us up to succeed in the far future!"
Yes. Every move was on purpose. Every decision, crucial. Just before we hit the water, I told the young mouse to jump - to jump, and swim to shore. As he did, I cried to him, "You are my messenger! Fly with all speed!"
He did so. I saw him hit the water, swim to shore, and make away with amazing swiftness, even for a field mouse.
"What happened to him!" I squeaked, breathless at the amazing tale. "Did he make it!"
Nemo looked at me and smiled broadly.
Oh yes. Oh yes, Squibble. He made it. And you shall meet his great-great grandson someday. You shall name him a defender of someone most dear, and his name shall be appropriate to his swiftness.
But that mouse thought me dead, for the hawk carried me off. And I thought I was dead too, for perhaps I had pushed things too far. The chances of my escape were slim, and they all depended on a very uncommon role of the dice.
But fate went my way on that day. When we landed, the hawk was about to tear into me with his sharp beak when not one - but three ravens - landed on him and attacked him in savage fury for wounding their king. The hawk retreated, cursing me and swearing revenge (which he took out on you, most noble knight), and was gone. The ravens carried me back to their king, who lay crippled on the ground. He taught me to heal him, and thus use the first of my newfound powers. Then he said that he owed me a lifelong boon, one that he could never repay. I told him of the frog and the owl. He told me that it would not begin to cover his debt, but that he could answer those riddles for me. And so he did, for it turned out that while the owl had wisdom, and the frog knowledge, the raven was the lord of cunning.
So I remained with the raven and his flock for some time, learning from him. When I was healed, it was summer. My young grey coat had turned sapphire, as all my rare breed do. My belly and ears had turned white. I suppose the few mice that may have seen me thought me a ghost.
I departed for the frog in the heat of August, found him buried in the dry earth, and brought much water to revive him. I told him that if he helped me, he could count on a place that was always wet - even in summertime's most wretched heat. He agreed, and I told him about the lake. I took him and his family there. So it was that I studied with the frog, by the lake, for another month and learned much.
When my time was done there, I went to the owl (who had been watching most of my actions all along, for he lived by the lake) and told him that if he taught me wisdom, it would be a long time coming to the field mice at this point. I had already helped them, and nothing could reverse that, but since I had done this thing, there would be ten times as many field mice soon, and surely a creature as great and wise as he would know this meant more to eat for him. Not all field mice could avoid being food. The natural order of things had not changed.
Owl laughed and said I had been talking well to Frog and Raven. "That was all I wanted," he told me. "Was to be your last teacher."
And so he was. I stayed with him, in his tree (the tree above the lake), for the entire remaining summer and fall. As the first snows fell, I returned to the kind human, who saw me coming from the bench he had built on the deck for that very purpose. He had sat there every night for hours, looking for some sign of my survival, thinking that he had sent me to my death. I had been so selfish, and foolish, but see what came of it. Had I not acted thus, you would not be here now. The human embraced me and took me in again. My health has suffered greatly from my journeys, and my wounds. But I have never again left this house in search of freedom.
Silence held us in a death grip after such a magnificent tale. I had not imagined it had been so hard for Nemo, as it had for us. I could begin...just begin...to see now how it was all intertwined. The delicate, tiny threads of destiny that held everything together and decided what happened next. It amazed me. I was speechless. Nemo was the greatest, wisest master anyone could ever have. He had lived it. He had done all that...suffered all that...for us. He was no shyster. I was embarrassed and humiliated that I had said such things to his face. And he had tolerated it with infinite patience. With love.
"Thank you," I whispered in awe.
"You're welcome, mighty hero," he replied.