The Great War: Day 1
It was many months after the Great War before I returned home to finish my journal. So, like my pilgrimage, all you are about to read was written after it happened. The change in my illustrations bears the same explanation. After the greatest tribulation in my life, I was not to see the safe house, or anyone I knew, for a very long time.
Percival's journal, March 14th, 2002
We have set up camp across the river from the enemy. His forces have come out from the dark earth, and upon first observation from atop a nearby crest, we must admit that we are, sadly, at a great disadvantage. We had hoped, indeed, that our massive numbers might give us the edge, but we are outnumbered at least three to one, and his forces keep appearing from the deep. In addition, he has monsters. Creatures so unnatural that it might harm my spirit just to describe them. The morale of the soldiers is only held aloft by my father's amazing sword. None have fled. Such good troops. If I perish in this foul war, I shall perish at the side of worthy mice. I am missing the presence of Lord Squibble and the Rat Twins. I would like to think them safe and warm, but I fear this is unlikely. Our enemy is not honorable enough to leave innocents alone.
I woke from a drugged sleep to the sound of warning horns. Left to defend the old and sick, I had stomped back to my house and unwrapped one of the pills I had kept from the pharmacy during my pilgrimage. I knew what they were now, and one of them was Xanax. It's an anti-anxiety drug, and I was having the anxiety attack of my life. Unable to cope with it, I had chewed a tiny piece off the pill, and immediately fallen asleep against my will. I had been sure we would not be attacked. What enemy would be stupid enough to attack us when his camp was being sieged by an army as massive as ours? But on hearing the horns, I knew the answer to that. An enemy with many times our number. An enemy that understood who he had to kill to win in the long run. An enemy with no honor whatsoever.
I sprang up, and fell down. I could barely control my own limbs. I felt like Jello. The horns sounded again. The house was under attack.
Scratchy was at my side in an instant, helping me to my feet.
"Scraaa...." I mumbled, unable to move my mouth correctly. I knew I was in deep poo, but I could not for the life of me care. Xanax was more powerful than I had ever guessed it would be. I had made a terrible mistake.
"SCraaahh," I murmured. "Flooonn...Flonnnt linnne..."
He nodded and dragged me toward the front of the house. He shoved two swords into my belt on the way. I could not walk. I could not stand or talk. We were doomed.
Then Shiva met me halfway.
"Sire!" He cried. "The wall did not even slow them down, and we had to recall all our outside companies inside or they would have perished. They have a thousand against our one. They have siege engines. Rotting animals! What do we... Sire? What's wrong!?"
I looked at him through tranquilized eyes. I tried to answer.
His alarm showed on his face clearly.
"Ratgod on a camel!" He cursed, slammed on his helmet, and whirled around to race for the front door. "Bar the door!" He yelled. "Archers to the roof! Prepare to repel the enemy!"
Scratchy looked into my face with worry. He was thinking he should take me back to my house and hide me. There was no way we were going to win this fight. All we could do was hold them off until our army won in the field, if that happened. It was going to be long and ugly.
I shook my head pathetically. "Nuuuuh!" Hiding me would only earn me a far more terrible death when the enemy took the house.
He shook his scruffy head a little. He didn't want to see me die. I didn't care, and that wasn't all the drugs.
"Nuh!" I spewed out. "Fruuuuh liiiii!" Take me to the front line, you little runt!
He looked to his left and right for anyone who could help him make the paralyzing decision, his eyes wide and frightened. We were alone. All the rodents were in the dining room by the front door.
"Daaaah Yuuuu!" I moaned. "Fruuuuh Liiii!"
His face twisted into sharp anxiety, and the irony didn't escape me. Maybe he had taken all of mine from me in that moment. The universe had a sick, sadistic way of working like that.
But finally, he resumed dragging me toward the front line.
Squibette raced up to us next. I could see only her outline, my normally keen vision was blurry and waving, but I recognized her smell instantly. She was panicked.
"Father!" she cried. "They have too many! What do we do!"
"Hoooomaaah," I moaned.
"The human isn't here!" she shouted, panicking more. "He packed a bag of things and left! The attack came right after! What's wrong, father? What happened to you!?"
"Druuuhs," I said. Her eyes almost popped out of her skull and she raced away. Out front I could hear the beginning of dire combat. I heard the release of many arrows.
The human had vanished again. I didn't blame him for not wanting to watch his loved pets suffer and die, but did he have to leave now?! And why? Without him, all I could see was our demise.
Grimly, Scratchy returned to dragging me towards the battle line. In my state, I wasn't going to last sixty seconds.
One might have expected a parlay, or at least a chivalric discussion before combat. Perhaps a series of insults or harsh words. But this was not to be, and our enemy charged us on the first evening of our arrival, at midnight. It is a full moon, and by that light we could see everything as well as a human might see in daytime. Indeed, we saw too much, as his legions swarmed over the black, blasted landscape of his coming toward the river. The hills flowed with enemy. As far as we could see or smell, they were coming. Our front lines were about to buckle and flee when my father and I rode up to it with the rest of our heavy cavalry.
"Warriors of rodentkind," my father shouted to them, "this day we set the standard for all the days ahead! This day we stand against the first of many challenges to our independence and freedom! Would you remain as mistreated vermin?"
The hordes shouted back "No!"
My father yelled, "Would you be food!?"
"NO!" They screamed.
"Then fight now," he exclaimed, holding the blazing sword aloft, "and earn the fate you wish upon your children!"
The hordes lifted their weapons high and sang as one their cheers. My father's sword lit the night like a lighthouse in a storm.
Thus reinforced, we stood with dignity and determination as the first wave of darkness hit us.
I was dizzy from going in circles with my squire. The kitchen and dining room were a long way away. It wasn't his fault, but he was tiny, and both of us were covered in armor. The battle raged in full swing. The scent of blood came to my nose in a massive blast. I had to get up there. I wouldn't last. I had to do something. I couldn't think. Those stupid drugs! Why had I done that!
At last, I could not go on, and it was clear to my squire that I was attempting a poor form of suicide through stupidity. I gave up and he sat down next to me, huffing and puffing. I wondered if Mike was still here. I wondered if he was, would he help?
I had no choice but to wait for the drugs to wear off. It was awful. Was my whole life going to be a miserable failure? Even if so, why did everyone have to know about it at every turn? I turned around with unfocussing eyes and stared at Scratchy. He grinned up at me, trying to cheer me up, I guess. I scoffed and turned back around. Why did he keep trying? What did he ever see in me?
I heard things hitting the front door and kitchen window. At least they weren't inside. There was no chance of that happening. The doors were locked from the inside, always.
Mice scurried by every few minutes. Several stopped to ask if I was dead. I didn't have the strength to answer "I wish," and Scratchy vehemently shook his head at them. They ran onward, carrying news to the front line that I was injured or wounded. One of them told us that Shiva and Thor had the assault under control. I knew I could count on those boys.
The enemy did not even bother with the terrain; he went right over the river, using the bodies of his men to form a bridge of the undead. His true monsters he held back for some more sinister purpose, for some more terrible time to unleash them. Their shadowy forms, looming in the background like giants, waited with a disturbing stillness to come among us and stomp our lives out.
As the first wave hit, we repelled them with the heavy cavalry. Then my father and I broke off in separate directions and harried them from the sides as they came over their unholy bridge with four companies each, leaving the heavy fighters led by knights to defend the center of the column. We unleashed with ballistae, arrows, and catapults. We reloaded many times. Each time they surged forward, we drove them back, using the water and the land to our advantage. They fell into our pits, they impaled themselves on our pikes until no pole showed at all, after which the others simply climbed over on the backs of the fallen. Our traps have taken a great number down already. The walls we built hold, and the enemy perishes trying to scale them.
Speaking of advantages, the dead cannot approach Excalibur. This we discovered when our commander rode through their ranks the first time. They part around him in a wide berth. We have discussed, as we meet in cross-attacks, the thought of using this to kill the black mouse, but he has yet to show his face. Our enemy is a true coward. Striking at our lives in the most underhanded, cruel way, and then hiding behind the twisted faces of the unliving mockery he calls an army. This lends my sword arm strength, knowing I will eventually meet him.
My father is strong. I have not ever in my life seen him so strong. His strength and endurance are a match for mine. He wheezes not. He has not coughed or choked yet, which we both feared. He commands the battle like a pillar of fire to the men. As long as they gaze upon him, they never falter in their morale. We have lost many this first day, but the enemy has lost four times that number.
It is too bad he now outnumbers us ten to one.
I awoke later to the sounds of an engine. The drugs had worn off a little, but not much. Enough that I could barely walk, and see straight, though my reflexes were shot. I tried to make my way to the kitchen with Scratchy's help. I heard Heide gasp. I heard the kind human storm the front door, cursing. Our troops cheered. Later, several mice told me what had happened.
The kind human had grabbed a broom from the side of the house and literally swept the enemy into a pile outside the walls. He had kicked, fought, and used his massive size to protect us, but before he could annihilate them, the attack was called off. In the middle of trying to fight the human and Heide (who both were loathe to hurt any small animal, and were taking many bites and bruises to show for it) the enemy just vanished. Retreated beyond the borders of the house fields. Through cheering and hopping, the humans had come into the house, bleeding from hundreds of small wounds. The kind human looked quite peeved, I was told.
With him, he brought many rolls of aluminum foil, several car batteries, wire, and other small trinkets. He gave the wires and trinkets to the rat twins and said, "You know what to do, boys."
They nodded in delight. Clyde jumped upon one of them and rode like a cowboy to a gunfight as they took off for the kitchen.
The kind human then spend several hours rolling tin foil across the porch and sides of the house while he argued with Heide about the war. Heide seemed to want this just not to happen. She was too gentle, and loved all animals with her pure soul. She was the kinder of the two kind humans. Our kind human, on the other hand, was fed up. He was not going to lose one more of his animals to anyone or anything if he could prevent it. He was through compromising, and through playing victim. He told Heide that if this was a war, then our side was going to have every advantage it could get, including technology. With that, he finished the trap with the help of the rats (including Vulcan), and they rigged it all to go off at the touch of one big, red button. Then the kind human (funny to call him that when he was acting so warlike, but hey - it's his title) went into his room and got his guns. He brought out a shotgun, an old six-gun revolver (like in the Old West shows), strapped it to his hip, and put a lever action rifle against the outer wall of the house. He went back into his room, took out a sword, and thunked it into the deck wood beside the rifle. He dragged a bench against that same wall and sat down. He lit a big cigar and pushed a flat-brimmed hat over his head. The rats and I gazed at him in stunned silence. He took a long toke on his cigar and squinted at us.
In his best Clint voice, he said, "Dyin' ain't much of a livin' boys."
The rat twins went ballistic, jumping and squeaking for joy. The rest of the house called off the red alert, content that we were safe for the time.
Illusions of safety never do quit, do they?