The Hordes of Lord Squibble
He drove us into the city, to the address I wrote down. He was asked to wait for us there, and to have an open mind on our return. He said he would. He seemed to be deep in thought, and our human was a deep thinker. He had something going on in there. I often wondered, then and still, what it was. I never did ask him.
As we came out of the truck and were put on the ground, I saw his concern. It showed clearly every time he ever had to let any of us go, and now here were his favorite bunch, going back into the city where many of us were so vulnerable. I was out last, and looked back at him. It's okay, dad, I thought. We'll be back this time.
We went to the side of the building in the night, and began our several block walk. There was no one on the road, and mist covered the ground. I saw across the street the alley to Heide's house. I wanted to go confront the bully. I wanted it, but my gut clenched up, my teeth clamped down, and my heart raced. I was still frightened. Damn that bully mouse! He was probably dead by this time anyway. I knew he wasn't, but that's the excuse I used. My master saw my tail rattling and stopped next to me. He looked down that dark alley along my line of sight.
"Something bad Squib?" he asked. His armor was polished and shiny. So was mine. We wore our capes and swords. Our shields had freshly painted crests. We were decked out for a formal visit. His paw was on his blade handle.
I squinted. I took one step toward the alley. My tail beat the ground furiously like a drum. I felt raging adrenaline. I wanted to kill that bully mouse! Kill him!
But chance had me glance at my master, still recovering, pale and thin. His eyes were kind and soft, but his body needed time to heal. Again, it was an excuse, but I saw him trying to defend me against the bully that was trashing me on our reunion. I saw the bully kill my poor master by biting him in the neck while I watched, helpless and scared, like the first time I had been unable to act when they had destroyed my momma's precious honeycomb gift. I saw it like a vision. I shook my head to clear it, stunned by the sharpness of it. It was like my dreams, but I was awake.
That was when two things occurred to me. One, I thought of my master now as weak, and in this journal, I have made him sound that way. It is not so. That is my fear, and nothing more. I always say "my poor master," and such, but he really isn't poor. He always smiles, and he runs on his wheel every day except when he was sick or very sad. For a mouse with a lung problem, he sure doesn't act it. And he can still kick the tail off me with a sword. It was improper to think of him as weak. If other mice thought that way, he would be beaten up and run out of a normal mouse colony. I wasn't respecting him enough. I was seeing life through the filter of my dread, and my imagination (or the enemy) was using that fear to cripple my faith..
Second, I had not had honeycomb since I came back to the safe house. My momma wasn't around anymore to give it to me. I wasn't sure whether honeycomb itself now had a bad vibe in my mind or not. I hoped not. I liked it.
"Squib?" my master asked, sounding concerned.
"It's nothing master," I told him. "A bad experience."
"If you need to go," he said, gripping his sword hilt harder, "we go."
His face was determined. He would go with me into any danger. How he loved me. However, fear driven illusion or not, I was sure he would die horribly, and me with him. That was my excuse anyway. The only truth for sure was that I was scared. Like before.
"No. No, let's...let's keep going with the others. They need me to tell them where to go anyway."
"Okay," he said, and relaxed his grip. Our armor made little clinking sounds as we departed that spooky place.
"Master," I said, "I'm sorry about the war. I know it's wrong."
"Yes, it is," he said, his head low to the ground. "It's bad enough that we have to hide from humans. Now we are forced to fight our own kind because of the tactics of a billion-year-old creature from the beginning of time that can outthink us any day of the year. It doesn't seem fair. This could happen with the humans. One day it might be us against them."
"What!" I exclaimed.
"Don't say you haven't thought it, Squibble," he said as we rejoined the group that had been waiting only ten feet away. Scratchy was heavily perturbed that Percival had held him back from following me on my heels as he always does.
"I have, master," I said, realizing it was true. I thought about it quite often. It was a chilling thought.
"If that happens, and it's pretty much inevitable, Squib, they will take from us all that we have. Every precious thing."
Alarm ran amok through my system. For some reason his words terrified me worse than the thought of confronting the bully had.
"Why, master? Why would they treat us so poorly, once they realized we could think like them?" I asked.
"Because that's what frightened apes do," BJ said. "They destroy what they don't understand."
"Stupid apes," Stompy grumbled.
"Stupid mice," Nemo said. Everyone looked at him. "I've noticed none of you have dusted off the truce flag and dragged it out to discuss matters with the black mouse."
"We don't even have a truce flag," Stompy argued.
Nemo scoffed. "Exactly."
"Would he even listen?" My master asked, interested.
"Who knows what a billion-year-old creature from the beginning of time might do?" Nemo said. "Probably not, but the point is nobody tried. Nobody knows him."
For all my faults, I had been paying attention to that exchange. It clicked in my head. Yeah. How much do we really know about the black mouse? I mean, he's absolutely gotta die a horrible death, but we don't really know him. What if I called him out for a talk? In the old times they called it Parlay. It meant meeting on the field of battle to discuss options. If the Parlay went badly, then there was a fight. But sometimes there was not.
Oh! Waitaminute! No! This was a stupid horror movie and I'm thinking 'let's go check out that noise in the dark'!
"Noway!" I chirped. Everyone looked at me. "Black mouse is as dead as my Momma! Dead as all the friends and family we all buried back at the safe house! Dead, you hear! Dead!"
"Amen!" Percival spat. Tails rattled all around in agreement. It was way too late for Parlay.
Nemo just kept looking at me, no expression on his face at all. He knew I got it. Yes, it was too late, but that wasn't the point. The black mouse was a demon, and would never be reasoned with - that wasn't the point either. The point was that mice are every bit as warlike as humans, and any hope we had, they might have too. It went the other way as well. Any hope they had, we might share. That was the point. If we didn't make peace, it was all over. I nodded at the prophet. Mousegod forbid I ever end up that old and wise. Wayy too much pressure.
With that, we all turned and I led our entourage to the new kingdom.
We slipped into the hotel basement and then went down below it. At the main entrance to the kingdom, two sentries in leather armor with spears blocked our way. BJ struck a match then, and the torch lit everything around us.
The mice almost dropped their spears. Their jaws hung open in awe. Before them was not one, but several Mouse Knights, and a chinchilla who could only be...
"The mighty Nemo!" one of them gasped.
The other sank to his knees, then the first one did as well. They fell on their faces, prostrate to a god in their midst. Maybe I had overdone the stories of home.
"Are you paying attention, student?" Nemo said to me, jerking his thumb at his new worshippers. I sneered a smile in response.
I stepped forward. "Attention!" I yelled. They snapped upright as if the devil himself had trained them, which, in fact, they had. Two devils.
"Lord Squibble!" They exclaimed in one voice. I stuck my chest out to the shock of my entire party and commanded them in a powerful voice (my best impression of my master, actually, but don't tell anyone). "Bring me my generals at once. Inform the Hordes to gather in the main hall. Full battledress!"
"At once my lord!" They were gone like yesterday's cheese.
I stepped back and became aware that everyone was gaping at me, even BJ. Scratchy was grinning ear to ear, his eyes huge.
"Ummm..." I said, "Ahh... protocol, you know...." I shuffled around on my feet as none of them said anything, or even moved. "Well, you taught it to me!" I pointed at BJ and my master.
My master looked the same as he did when his children were born. BJ...I couldn't read that expression. The King looked...amazed. Almost...if I didn't know better...proud. Nahhh...
I was saved by the approach of two very big and very noisy rats in full plate armor. Made of red metal. Now it was my turn to gape.
First, they had grown, the rat twins. Impossible, but they had. They were gigantic. And they were decked out like tanks. Their armor looked...forged. Really, truly forged - not put together from anything that could be scavenged. It was art. The pieces of it were separated into chitinous sections, like a centipede, and covered in sharp points and horns. Even their tails were covered in metal. They wore metal gauntlets. They had helms with horns in place of the ears. They looked more formidable than any rodent I had ever seen. Shiva had a pair of twin, thick-bladed scimitars as his waist, and Thor had the biggest hammer I had ever seen short of one for humans. Their weapons were metal! They both carried metal kite shields, both bearing the same crest (so they had settled on a crest at last). It was a picture of a rat fist crushing the earth against a golden background. It was deeply disturbing. The only thing not frightening about them was their faces. They were both smiling like kids.
"Uncle! We knew you'd come back! Wait till you see-" Then they saw everyone else and went straight to their knees in knight's salutes. Weapons up in front of them, heads bowed.
"Whoa...he brought Mount Olympus," I heard Thor whisper to Shiva.
"Zeus heard that," Nemo commented. They looked up quickly and then bowed lower.
Looking around at everyone's faces, it seemed as if they might never come unstuck from the awe and shock. My master inched forward hesitantly and whispered, "Shiva?....Thor?"
"Milord," they both said at once.
His mouth hung open. "Good Mouselord...What happened to you?"
They looked up at him, then to me. I nodded.
"Squibble happened to us, milord. Without him, we and every member of the Hordes would be dead, sire." Shiva answered.
"Hordes?" BJ raised an eyebrow.
"Majesty!" Thor exclaimed, realizing now who BJ was underneath his armor (hey, it was purple, for royalty, but the light in here was dim on our third match).
Squibette, who had never known the twins, stepped forward. "How many are there in these...hordes, mighty generals?"
Again they looked at me. Everyone else looked at me, realizing that these two machines of destruction were asking my leave to do anything but breathe. They'd ask that too, if I told them to. I nodded.
"Fifty thousand plus," Shiva said proudly.
My mouth fell open. BJ sucked air in. Stompy sat down hard. My master's eyes bugged out. Scratchy went on grinning like a jack-o-lantern. His master was a god, and he'd known it all along.
My generals had been busy.
"Ummm...Not including the rats," said Thor.
Silence reigned for a minute solid. The Mouse Knights looked at each other in stunned awe. Finally, Stompy balled up a fist and said, "Yesss! That motherless piece of trash is gonna eat it now!"
BJ stepped forward, looking from me to the rats and back. "Fifty.... thousand?" he asked, taking off his helm and rotating his ears forward.
"Plus," Thor grinned. "And about two thousand rats in the Swords of Michael, your Highness."
"Swords of Michael?" My master breathed.
"That's so cool," I told them. "Well done, boys." I recovered first, always being a fast mouse, and made introductions while everyone was still stunned. When I introduced Squibette as my daughter, the rats looked at her wide-eyed, then at me, then sprang forward to kiss her paws.
"An honor to meet you, my lady!"
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, to be sure!"
BJ looked at me. "Manners, even."
"I didn't teach them that," I confessed. "They've been reading!"
Stompy was oogling their gauntlets. Shiva took one off and gave it to her. The fact that she could even lift it was impressive by itself, but she asked for the other one. When she had both, she grinned wickedly like Scratchy, from ear to ear, and looked up at Shiva like a hungry dog.
"You'll have them tomorrow," Shiva answered her pleading gaze. Her tail spasmed in delight. She handed the gauntlets back.
"What are your orders, my lord?' They asked me, kneeling.
I made the "no don't" gesture at them with my finger across the throat, but they didn't' see it in time. I cleared my throat and kicked one of them in the foot. It hurt. Those were armored too. When Shiva looked up, and moved my nose in the direction of the King.
"Oh!" He exclaimed. "Forgive us, your Majesty! We're used to..."
"To Squibble giving orders," he said, astonished and without doubt proud. "To Squibble...giving...orders..." he repeated (as if convincing himself), pacing around me. "And commanding a great legion of rodents!" He looked at the rest of them. He gestured towards me with his open hand. "Our Squibble. A mighty lord!"
"Why didn't you tell anyone, Squib!" my master asked, astonished.
I shuffled again. Most un-lord like. "Ummm..I was ...umm...afraid you'd be mad."
"But this is the most incredible thing anyone has ever done," my master said. "It's absolutely fantastic!"
"And it had saved the safe house," BJ said.
I sat there, blushing.
"Would you like to meet the troops, Majesty?" Shiva bowed and gestured through the archway entrance.
"With your permission, Lord Squibble?" he asked me.
I put my paw on my chest. "M...me?"
"Oh yes," he said. "This...Horde...is yours, Sir Knight, and although I command you, I do not presume to command them. They are yours to command. And if we had ranks like Duke and such, I think perhaps I would have to promote you."
"You just did, majesty," my master said. "Lord of the Hordes of Squibble. Master and commander of the armies of the safe house."
I bowed low. "Thank you, my liege!"
"Lead on," he said.
"Lead on," I told the boys. And they did.
They led us through tunnels long and deep, with many alcoves chiseled into them with guards in each one. The guards fell into rank behind us and before us at Shiva's glance. By the time we reached the main hall, two small armies marched before us and after. They marched in time. They carried their weapons in formation. By rank they organized. My boys had done well indeed. These were crack fighting troops. Each one armed and armored in soldier's armor. I wondered if the city had a single plastic sword or spear left in it.
We reached the entrance to the main hall and paused. Thor motioned for us to remain there. He went out with Shiva into the hall. Fanfare played loudly. I wondered where they had gotten the trumpets, much less how they'd learned to play them. Beyond our vision was the rumble of thousands of rodent voices. At the appearance of Shiva and Thor, it quieted instantly.
"Hordes!" Shiva yelled out in a booming voice. A return salute of weapons on shields and against other weapons rang out.
"Swords of Michael!" Thor called. Another salute, this time shaking the ground, crashed forth.
"Those of you who have not met the legendary Squibble in person are about to - for he has returned!" Shiva cried. The answering cheers were deafening to our ears, and nourishment to our souls. I could not wait to behold the army behind it.
"But more!" Shiva went on. The crowd quieted. "You have all passed the myths and legends of our lords down through the generations many times!" Murmurs of approval like a small earthquake flowed out. "You have heard of the Great ones! Nemo! King BJ! And....Squibble's master! The very first of the Mouse Knights!" One could hear a pin drop in the enormous room now. I thought in my head, make them wait...make them wait... and Shiva did. Paused for dramatic effect, the room teetered on the edge of their seats.
Finally, "They have come!" Shiva bellowed.
The hall erupted into squeaks, chirps, applause, weapons crashing, shields clanging, and feet stomping. We came out, walking in a line with me first, then BJ, and fell into formation. Shiva and Thor were already bowing. The entire hall, more than thirty feet long, was filled. Filled!
After a shocked moment of realization that their gods were finally before them in the flesh, the mighty Hordes and Swords all went down onto knees. Weapons held up before them in salute, the great room was one single mass of pure, undying loyalty and homage. I could feel my master's head trying to turn against his will to gape at me some more. It didn't. Among us all, his will is the strongest.
Finally, BJ slowly looked over at me and nosed his head at the crowd. Oh. It was my job.
I stepped forward.
"Hail!" I cried out to them.
"HAIL!" the return cry came, shaking the stage we stood upon.
"You have done well, my legions!" I drew my sword and held it high. "I have come at the command of my master and my King!" They cheered again. After an endless time, if fell silent again. I held the sword high. "You have not trained for nothing! Do you know of our enemy!?"
They raised weapons and cried out for blood. So loud! I guess that was a yes. I looked over to find Shiva and Thor grinning widely.
I turned forward and held up my other hand. They were silent again.
"Would you follow me?" I shouted. They cheered.
"Would you follow your King!" I shouted. They hopped and cheered and stomped. One more hand. Silence.
"Would you follow us to WAR!!?" I screamed. They would have burst forth from that room and destroyed everything in their path, had they known but which direction the enemy was. The hall could not contain their noise. Dust fell from the ceiling. High ranking soldiers ran and mounted armored rats. Thousands of mice picked up their gear and slung it across their backs. Shields were buckled on. Spears raised. Gleaming sword tips sparked across the entire floor like a star field. I looked over at BJ. He nodded to me in return. A new nod. One I had never seen before from him.
A nod of true, earned respect.
It took an hour to mobilize the troops. That was amazing, considering how many there were. Shiva had gotten my letter. They had been ready.
I went back to my private room and gathered my things. Stompy, Squibette and Scratchy came and helped me.
"These are beautiful drawings, father," Squibette said, rolling up my stacks of practice work.
"I've gotten better since then," I said. "I wasn't much good at the time. Just liked drawing."
"It shows," she said, smiling at me. That smile was like my master's. It never failed to melt my heart.
Stompy gathered up my heavy things while I looked down at a stack of letters. They were the letters I had written to my momma, oblivious to the fact that she was dying of cancer at the time. I had written her almost every day. There were many weeks of letters there. Never delivered. Unread. Knowing I would likely never return, I left them. I turned to other things. I could not cry in front of my troops.
When I came out, they were loading everyone and everything into the truck. The kind human was sitting on the curb, holding my master and wearing an expression of astounded surprise. Surely he had never seen so many rodents in his life. We were gonna need several more trips to the pet store for food.
The officers of Michael's Swords were loading some massive, heavy equipment into the truck with winches and pulleys. There was a rat in scorched tatters directing them. Shiva and Thor introduced me to Vulcan, a rat knight who had trained under them. He was one of only a few rats to be knighted by the twins. He had been named for his expertise in forging metal weapons and armor. He had learned every nuance to the art. He was a grand master now, and forged day and night for the Hordes and the Swords. Vulcan fixed a steady gaze on me and bowed.
"An honor to meet you, my liege," he said in a voice like stone.
I bowed back. "Fine work you make."
He cracked a smile. "I was hoping to fit you for some," he said.
"I don't know if I have the strength to carry it!" I laughed. "But I would be honored to try." He smiled along with us as we all boarded the truck.
We left behind a small company of mice, about five hundred, to run the new kingdom. BJ appointed one mouse, named Theodore, a squire whose knight had died back at the safe house, as the new commander until our return. If we returned. Theo was given all my notes and I had briefed him for about an hour on what to do and when. Especially the books. He had to keep the books and records straight. Theo could read and write quite well, and he was a good squire. He had nothing but commendations to his credit, and everyone spoke well of him. Looking at him, I recognized the mouse. He was Fred's son - the big mouse who had wrestled me longer than the others in the city. He had made it this far in his quest to be a knight. I felt sad for him that he had lost his knight, who had been one of my master's brothers. Brother to Scratchy, my master, and several others all made of the same stuff. Theo had not recovered from losing his sire. He felt he had failed as a squire, for a squire's job is to protect his master at all costs. His face was tough, but sad. I knew how he felt, thinking of my momma. The promotion did not cheer him, but I knew he'd do a good job. I suggested to BJ that the squire be knighted. He thought it an excellent idea.
Once all were aboard and the new truck's shocks put severely to the test, the kind human turned to the high council that sat upon the dashboard and said, "I hope you all know what you're doing."
My master went forward to him and nodded slowly.
The human put out his hand and picked up my master, put him to his lips, and kissed him. Returning him, he said, "I trust you."
And we were moving. Back to the safe house, and rapidly into the maw of our destiny.