After their brief visit with Lowann, Raven took to the air on a northward course and flew with all speed and purpose. Talon had no need to hold back, for Raven was flying with such determination that his cruising speed was slower than her current pace. At the rate she was going, she would no doubt plummet to her death from exhaustion.
But Raven was nonplussed. Her attention was sharp and focused, like the reflection of trees off of a still pond on a sunny day.
Talon had no idea as to where she was heading -- she gave no mention of it to him, and did not waste her breath in flying to give him the information. But wherever she was going, she was in a fine hurry to get there.
Looking out to the horizon sky, Talon could guess her urgency. The sun had already made half the journey from the dawn to the noonday peak. Once the peak was reached, then the whole of elkdom and buffalodom would clash in the most bitter of all wars. If Talon would have known where they were headed, then perhaps he might have pushed the pace even faster -- but then, Lowann did not appoint him the task of stopping the war.
Not far to the east, and surprisingly a little to the south, Talon could see that they had already past the field of the Prime Buck. The last time he had cast eyes upon the place, dozens of elk at a time were filing their way into its confines. From what he could see, it appeared that the field was completely saturated with elk. There was more brown fur to be seen than there was green grass. The rotted stumps and logs that had once been visible were now completely obscured from even Talon’s keen eyes. Never had he seen so many creatures massed together in one space -- even the buffalo were more spread out than they.
“They mean war,” he mumbled to himself, “That can be rest assured.”
Raven did not give the elk a second glance. She knew they were gathered, she knew they meant business -- but that was no longer her concern. Her only concern was stopping them before they destroyed themselves. Onward she stared to the distant north.
Time has a way of passing swiftly for those who are moving swiftly, and so it was not long before Raven slowed her speed and descended. Talon was nearly taken by surprise, for Raven had waited until the last possible moment to slow down. There was a small lake before them, with a stream both feeding and being fed by it. Talon could see that much of the shore had been cleared of vegetation, which seemed to have accumulated in mass on the downstream section of the lake.
From his well-traveled knowledge, he could only assume that this was a beaver’s lake. Somewhere, down there, was a couple of beavers – the manufacturers of the lake.
Raven wasted little time. She landed near the largest mass of twigs and sticks and cried out, “Chuck! Griselda! Are you here?”
“Who are Chuck and Griselda?” Talon whispered.
“They are my friends,” said Raven, “This is their lake. Many animals come to this lake to drink, and Chuck and Griselda know most of them. If anyone could tell us where to find a snake and a rabbit, they would.”
Talon’s attention was abruptly drawn to the water, as he noticed a dark shape forming in the depths. The dark mass broke the still surface, revealing a smooth, furry head. Talon could see the tail behind as it pushed the head along, cutting through the stillness of the lake and leaving a gentle wake behind.
Raven beamed with joy when she saw the creature step out of the lake and up the shore. “Chuck! It’s good to see you!” she cried.
Chuck the beaver was no less enthusiastic. “My goodness! Raven! You don’t know how glad I am to see you, too! I’ve had unhappy dreams for worrying about you! I had pictured you at least a dozen times clenched between Munfra’s jaws.”
“Oh, nonsense!” Raven replied, “Munfra has better things to do than go around chasing birds! He was no threat to me.”
Chuck’s eyes widened in surprise, “Then you did speak with him?”
“Yes I did,” Raven answered him with pride, “And a more distinguished bear I will never meet! He was perfectly gentle with me...”
“Gentle?” Chuck was more than just a little surprised.
“Well... he was a little brusque at times, but once we came to an understanding he was a very polite host.”
“What kind of understanding is this that could make Munfra seem so pleasant?” Chuck questioned, hardly able to conceive of the vicious brute as anything but... a vicious brute!
“He made it clear to me that he didn’t chase birds for food, and I made it clear that I wouldn’t take advantage of the fact,” Raven explained, “He seemed content with my presence when I kept my distance while we talked, so I kept my distance. I think that he becomes annoyed if anyone stands too close to him... it’s like a challenge, you see.”
“Amazing!” Chuck said in response.
Throughout their discussion, Talon sat back patiently and silently. But being that he was of a proud race, he would not go unnoticed the entire conversation. As politely as he could, he cleared his throat, “Ahem.”
“Oh!” Raven cried as if pulled from a stupor, “I forgot to introduce you. Chuck, this is Talon. Talon is my escort on my journey.”
“And you are Chuck, the beaver of this lake,” Talon stepped in to say, “It is a pleasure to meet any friend of Raven’s.”
Although his look was kind, a deeper suspicion was betrayed in Chuck’s expression. He did not hide his feelings from Talon. “You do not look familiar,” he said, “You look like a hawk, but I’ve never seen a hawk as large as you before. Where do you come from Talon?”
“I am the son of Goldenwing, king of the Dark Feathers. I am of a race of eagle from the Vast Lakes,” he explained, “I, myself, am on a journey in search of a new home for my people.”
“Ah!” Chuck replied, “I have heard of the Vast Lakes, and of the eagles as well. It is a pleasure to meet you Talon, son of Goldenwing, and an honor as well!”
Talon smiled upon his host, “You are very well spoken, Chuck.”
Chuck simply shrugged this compliment off, “We get all kinds of visitors. It’s only proper to know how to be civil. Welcome to Chuck Lake.”
Raven, again straight to the point, jumped in and said, “Chuck, we need your help.”
The beaver looked as if he knew what she wanted, “Still haven’t located that pack of bears, have you?”
“Pack of bears?” Talon repeated.
“There is no pack of bears,” Raven replied, “At least none that either I or Munfra know about.”
“Really?” Chuck seemed surprised, “Why on earth would the Prime Buck send you in search of what did not exist?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that,” Raven said, “But right now that’s the least of my worries. Chuck, I need to find a snake and a rabbit.”
Chuck stared at her with a blank look pasted on his face for the longest moment. He looked almost incapable of answering.
“Chuck, I need to find a snake and a rabbit...” Raven repeated.
“What in the blazes do you need a snake and a rabbit for?” Chuck cried out, “First, it’s Munfra! And now, if it wasn’t bad enough, you want to find a snake and a rabbit! Are you completely out of your wits, girl?”
“I was able to contend with Munfra, fair enough!” Raven said in her own defense.
“Oh, sure you did,” Chuck replied, “But that’s only because whatever else Munfra may be, he’s a straight forward, intelligent bear. The snake and the rabbit... well, you even speak to one of them and you’ll be chasing after your tail-feathers for a week! They ain’t right in the brain, I tell you!”
“That’s exactly why I need to speak with them,” Raven explained, “You see, the elk and the buffalo have declared war upon each other...”
“They’ve what!” Chuck cried out in disbelief.
“They’ve declared war upon each other,” Raven repeated.
Chuck shook his head, his face was drawn and pale, “You’re... you’re joking of course?”
Talon spoke out, “It’s no joke, friend. The entire population of elk has gathered in the pasture of the Prime Buck.”
His face completely blank, his eyes glazed, the beaver stared at the ground, “The Prime Buck has gone mad...”
“I do not think so, Chuck,” Raven argued, “I think that something else is at work here. And whatever it is, I have a strong suspicion that it is using the wisdom of the snake and the rabbit for its own purposes.”
“You do?” Chuck responded abruptly, “What is it doing? Is it warping the minds of the elk and the buffalo? Do you think that it has made them insane with fury?”
Raven tried to answer, but she couldn’t. She could only reply, “I don’t know Chuck. I don't know because I don’t understand the wisdom of the snake and the rabbit. I had Lowann, the wise owl...”
“Yes, I know Lowann,” Chuck acknowledge.
Raven continued, “I had Lowann try to explain the wisdom to me, but I could not understand it. That is why I need to find a snake and a rabbit. I need to learn their wisdom so that I may understand what sort of strangeness has caused the elk to seek war with the buffalo...”
“And visa-versa,” Talon added.
Raven nodded in agreement, and repeated, “And visa-versa.”
Chuck pondered briefly upon their words. He had no good opinion of snakes and rabbits... none whatsoever. If it had been any other creature, there would be no problem and even less hesitation. Unfortunately, the beaver tended to keep his distance away from the devious snake and wily rabbit.
He had to shake his head sadly and admit, “I’m afraid I don’t know much about either of those creatures.”
“They do come here, don’t they?”
“Well... yes, of course!” he replied, “But I usually stay away from them when they do -- especially from the snakes.”
“What about your wife?” Raven persisted, “Perhaps Griselda might know.”
Chuck looked briefly towards the beaver mound then said, “I suppose she might, at that. She is a bit more of a gossip than I am. I’ll go ask her.”
“Why don’t you bring her out,” Raven suggested, “I’d love to see her again.”
“She’s with the little ones,” the beaver answered her with a smile, “But I’m sure I can pry her away for a little bit.”
As Chuck wandered off to the beaver lodge, Raven silently explained the situation of the lake to Talon.
“They built it together,” she whispered, “But they both think that they each built it without the help of the other. They’re both very stubborn about it -- Chuck likes to call the pond ‘Chuck Lake’, while Griselda will insist on calling it ‘Griselda Lake.”
“What do I call it when both of them are around,” Talon asked.
“Don’t call it anything!” Raven insisted, “Just call it, the lake.”
Just then a shrieking voice called out from the bank, “Raven!”
Raven smiled and walked to the shore, “Hello Griselda, it’s so good to see you again.”
“And so soon as well,” Griselda answered while she walked up the bank with her husband. “I see you have brought a handsome friend with you as well.”
“Griselda, I’d like you to meet Talon of the Dark Feather eagles.”
Talon bowed to the lady, “It’s truly a pleasure.”
“Oh!” Griselda cried, “He’s very charming!” Then she turned to Chuck and said, “Why can’t you be as charming as our guest?”
“Character flaw, my dear,” Chuck answered in good spirits, “I just can help but to be a bore.”
“You could if you tried once in a while,” Griselda persisted.
“I’m trying most of the time...”
“That’s right! You are very trying!”
“Griselda,” Raven quickly said before Chuck could make a retort, “Talon and I are looking for a snake and a rabbit...”
“Good heavens, girl!” Griselda cried out, “Why in the blazes are you looking for either? You certainly have a dangerous way of passing time, I must say! First, gallivanting off to have a chat with Munfra... Munfra! I thought I would never see the day when anyone was ever looking for Munfra! I can’t tell you how sleepless my night has been, thinking of a poor little black bird, torn to little pieces by that horrible beast!
“And now you say that Munfra wasn’t enough for you? Now you wish to try your luck with the snake and the rabbit?”
“It’s very important that we do,” Raven insisted.
Chuck added, “I believe it as well, my dear. I would have told them myself had I known where they might find a couple, but I’m just not as familiar with the going on’s around the area as you are...”
“Oh, you would tell them, wouldn’t you!” Griselda snarled at her husband, “You were all but too eager to send the poor girl on the path of Munfra as well!”
“Now just a minute!” Chuck argued, “I didn’t hear any complaints from you at the time.”
Griselda just shook her head sadly, “I should have known better, then... pack of bears... pack of bears... no one I spoke with has heard anything about a pack of bears! I had my hesitations then, but did I argue? Noooo! I had to listen to you!” she pointed an accusing finger at her husband. “We had to do it your way! We had to send her off to face certain death at the hands of that monster...”
“But I’m fine, Griselda,” Raven pleasantly interjected, “Really I am.”
Griselda smiled upon Raven with warmth and compassion, but there was an underlying sympathetic look to her expression. “I couldn’t be happier that you are, my dear...” she turned sharply on her husband with a fiery stare, “But that doesn’t make up for negligence!”
“Negligence!” Chuck cried in outrage, and he met his wife’s gaze with his own.
“Excuse me,” Talon said gently, but with the force and insistence of royalty, “But I must say that Raven’s mission is one that is most crucial. Her desire to find a snake and a rabbit is not for her own curiosity, but it is for the safety and well-being of countless others.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Chuck growled at his wife.
“Well what about her safety, you buffoon!” she replied solely to her husband.
“If I may say,” Talon again interjected, “I have assured Raven that so long as I am alive, she will be well protected. I have never met a rabbit, but I have encountered a snake once before -- a deadly foe it was, but I slew it clean. Raven will not be harmed while she is in my company.”
Griselda was flustered by Talon’s chivalry -- Raven herself was left speechless. The lady beaver said with the highest esteem, “Oh, you brave and noble creature! Raven is so lucky to have such a protector!”
She turned to Raven in admiration and added, “You are so lucky! Don’t you know?”
“I...uh...” was all Raven could say, the muscles in her face were so swollen with embarrassment. Had she any fewer feathers on her head, she would have glowed as red as a strawberry.
Griselda turned sharply on her husband, “Why can’t you be as noble as the eagle? Why can’t I have a brave defender like Raven?”
Chuck just... chuckled and replied, “I guess I’m just funny that way. Chock it up as another of my many character flaws, my love.”
Before Griselda could respond to her husband, Raven jumped in to say, “Please, Griselda. I’ll be safe as long as Talon is with me. I need to find a snake and a rabbit.”
Griselda met Raven with a serious stare. Her features were wracked with concern and doubt. The beaver was still struggling over the moral dilemma -- she was not one to inflict harm upon her friends... even indirectly.
But under the combined weight of three yearning stares, she caved in. “Very well,” she said, “But if you get yourself hurt, I will never forgive myself!”
“I swear I will be more than cautious,” Raven answered.
“I will protect her,” Talon added, “You have my word.”
Griselda nodded in satisfaction. “You may find a snake northwest of here. There is a barren hill with rocky sides, and at the bottom of the hill is a dusty patch of manzanita and deerbrush. There are many snakes that live in this region. They are a bit sluggish in the morning, but since the sun is shining bright I’m sure you’ll find a few who are about... although I still think you would be better off not finding any.”
“What about the rabbits?” Raven asked.
“Well, my dear,” Griselda cocked her head to one side sympathetically, “You might have a little more trouble finding a rabbit.”
“How far away would they be?”
“That’s just it,” the beaver explained, “They’re never that far. In fact, there’s always more around than you ever think there is.”
Raven shook her head confused, “I don’t understand.”
“Rabbits have a way of keeping hidden. If they know you’re coming, and they don’t wish to be found, then they will vanish without a trace. I’ve heard of wolves following a rabbit’s scent being led to all sorts of strange and dangerous places -- through logs, down cliffs, through dried blackberry patches -- only to lose the rabbit in an open field. Their reputation befits them.”
“Then we shall have to come upon them without them knowing about it,” Talon declared, “We will fall from the sky and pounce upon them before they even know we’re there -- give them no chance to escape!”
“If anyone could surprise a rabbit, I’m sure you could, you magnificent bird,” Griselda said with fawning admiration.
Her husband rolled his eyes to the back of his head and mumbled, “Oh, great fire from heaven Griselda! Give the poor bird a little air!”
“Don’t be so jealous, my sweet,” Griselda demurely replied, “I’m sure you could sneak up on a rabbit, too -- but I doubt it!”
“Listen here, my love. Whether or not I can stalk a rabbit is not the issue! The issue is you making a complete...”
“Please!” Raven implored the two beavers, “We don’t have much time!”
Chuck bowed his head in shame. “You’re right, my dear. Griselda?”
She immediately said to Raven, “To the northeast of here is a patch of old oak trees. They are not far from the border to the plains, nestled in the crevices of a rolling hill. At the base of these trees are dug many burrows. Although I’m not positive, I was told that these burrows belonged to a drove of rabbits.
“I do know that there are rabbits in the area. I have heard many complaints from the other animals about them. The nasty little beasts have a way of scouring an area of food and swamping it with their numbers until the land is overcrowded with them.
“Then, they just up and disappear when the food’s all gone -- leaving the former occupants to deal with the shortages.”
“Where do they go?” Raven asked.
“I haven’t a clue,” Griselda answered, “Perhaps you will find out when you speak with them. Perhaps you won’t.”
“Rabbits are cryptic things at best,” Chuck agreed.
“It might take you half a day to find a rabbit, but I would consider it much safer to deal with than a snake,” Griselda said, “I would recommend that you leave the snakes alone, and try and corner a rabbit. The most a rabbit can do to you is confuse you, a snake will kill you.”
“We don’t have much time to spare, Griselda,” Raven explained, “If a snake is easier to track down, we may have to find one first.”
This did not please Griselda, but she didn’t argue Raven’s decision. “Very well, but if you decide to change your mind, head east from the snake pits and that will take you directly to the rabbit burrows.”
“Thankyou, Griselda,” Raven said to her gratefully, “I am sorry we can’t stay long...”
“Oh pooh! You’ve got business to attend to! Something so important as to have you talking with snakes and rabbits, is more important than keeping a couple of homebodies like us company!”
Chuck added, “Don’t fret about us, young lady. We’re going to be fretting enough about you -- I’m enjoying the idea of you getting friendly with snakes and rabbits just as little as my wife.”
“I don’t much like it myself,” Raven assured them, “But it has to be done.” She turned and looked to Talon for approval, but his face was drawn and hard as stone. She knew that he didn’t approve of the idea, either, but had come to realize that she had a tighter grasp on the situation than he. By lot of ignorance as well as chivalry, he was forced to comply with her wishes.
“We had better go,” she said.
Griselda burst into sudden tears. “Oh, do be careful!”
“I’ll take good care of her,” Talon said in reassurance. His were the last words uttered as the two birds spread their wings and took to the sky.
The beaver couple watched them as they flew off to the northwest. Slowly, they became like black specks that disappeared over the treetops.
“They’re heading for the den of snakes,” Griselda said softly.
Chuck sought for a reply. He struggled to find the words that would console his wife. He wished to think of some thing that would lift her spirits and convince her that everything would be all right -- that the two birds would have an easy time, and would both return laughing over their adventure.
But the words never came -- there was no consolation to be spoken. Instead, he simply nodded his head sadly and trotted back to the lake.
* * *
“I don’t like it, I tell you,” Griselda grumbled to her husband. She lay nestled amongst her young beavers, patiently attending to their nursing in the security of their buried lodge. “I don’t like it one bit!”
“What’s to like?” Chuck answered, “I don’t see anything enjoyable about a visit with a snake or a rabbit. I’m sure they’re not looking forward to it either...”
“Then why are they even bothering?” she hastily replied, “If you ask me, those two should keep their beaks out of trouble, and away from the likes of serpents and bunnies! It just isn’t natural to go looking for trouble like that!”
“Now dear,” Chuck said to her consolingly, “I’m sure they have their reasons. That Raven is a pretty sharp bird.”
“Did they tell you their reasons?” she asked sharply. Chuck quickly looked away, hoping that she couldn’t read his face, but she wasn’t even paying attention. “They didn’t give me any reasons? Why would they not do that... unless of course there was no reason to it?”
“Perhaps they didn’t want you to upset you?” Chuck suggested.
“Oh, nonsense... Oops!” she said as she turned to one of her offspring. Her passionate love of arguing had caused her to jar one of the pups loose from its suckling. It cried out softly for mother and her warm milk. “Now you’ve done it! You’ve made me stir up little Corky! I’ll never get him quiet now!”
“Bah! Just shove him back in with the rest of the lot!” he growled back at her, “He’ll quit whining once his mouth is full!”
Chuck grinned to himself as he awaited his wife’s inevitable comeback -- she was always good at the swift comeback. But Griselda was as still and silent as an oak tree in winter. When he looked up at her, he was stunned to see that she was frozen in place, her ears perked, and her front paw draped over her children. She was staring at the wall of their lodge.
“Shhh!” she urgently replied. Her face was wracked with concern. “There’s something outside.”
Griselda had always had better ears than he. Sometimes she would brag about it. Sometimes he would argue about it, but Chuck never doubted his wife’s superior hearing. He might not hear a noise, but if she heard it then it was definitely out there.
“I’ll go take a look,” he whispered as he slipped down the watery doorway.
“It’s probably just Raven and Talon come back,” he mumbled as he dove underwater. Of course he didn’t think for a moment that it could have been the two birds -- they flew in with cries and loud greetings. They had no reason to be so quiet.
Chuck swam deep, across the bottom towards the center of the lake. If they were wandering the bank, he would be safest away from shore. Odds were that whatever was out there would never even see him.
When he was far enough out to water, he popped the top of his head out above the surface. He saw the culprits almost immediately, before the water had even cleared out of his eyes. His body shivered at the sight.
Three wolves -- two who looked almost identical and one who was a third larger than either of the other two. They walked with the care and swiftness of a stalking animal, their noses close to the ground and their eyes and ears searching. They were circling and growling in one place in particular – the spot where he talked earlier with Raven and Talon.
“This is it!” one of the twins growled.
“It has to be!” the other one said.
The large wolf had piercing eyes and a hard voice. “Are you certain?” he asked.
“Two birds were here!” the first wolf replied, “One with familiar smells, and one that is altogether strange.”
“Yet they both carry the scent of the plains upon them -- I even get a hint of those prairie beasts in the track!” the second twin added.
“They had to have been here!” The big wolf snarled. He lifted his nose to the air and sniffed the wind -- it was to no avail. “The question, then is which way did they go?”
“A better question is why did they come here?” the first wolf said as he lifted his head from the ground.
“There has to be some reason why they stopped and landed on the ground,” said the second of the pair.
The twins sniffed in circles some more as the leader (for Chuck could only assume that the largest of the three was the leader) offered suggestions. “Do you think that they might have stopped to feed?”
The first wolf shook his head, “In the very least, I would have smelled at least a hint of fresh blood. There’s been no killing here in a while...”
“Wait a minute!” the second cried. His nose was planted firmly in the ground upon which Griselda had stood. “There’s a third scent here... maybe even a fourth!”
“Let me smell!” the leader commanded as he poked his head into the spot. He sniffed a few times casually, then frowned. He sniffed the spot again, this time with a more serious look to his face. Around in circles where Chuck and Griselda had sat the wolf sniffed. Chuck knew that the wolf had caught both their scents.
“I recognize the smell... it’s familiar... I’ve hunted this before...” the wolf mumbled. All of a sudden, he lifted his head with a jolt and cried out, “Of course! It’s beaver!”
Three pairs of wolfish eyes turned at once to the lake. Chuck immediately submerged and flapped frantically, swimming back to the lodge. At first he had hoped they might not have seen him, but as he heard the echoes of thrashing in the water, he knew that they were already on the chase.
Yet never a wolf there was that could run through waist deep water faster than a beaver could swim, and with all of his strength Chuck raced to the safety of his home. He cleared the underwater entrance without harm and his head broke the surface inside his lodge.
Griselda’s eyes, were the first thing he saw -- they were glazed with fear and panic. He could hear the growls and oaths of the wolves outside his den as they tore away at the wall of mud and stick. Just beneath the sound of wolf growls were the cries of his children -- stricken like their mother with fear, but unlike their mother not understanding why they trembled so.
“I know you’re in there beaver!” a wolf snarled through the wall. Chuck recognized the voice as the leader. “Don’t think that I won’t dig you out of there! I know your secrets!”
“Leave us alone!” Chuck cried out in fury. He was surprised at how little room there was for fear in his heart -- it was all at once too filled with anger.
Griselda’s voice shrieked in terror, “Please, Chuck! Don’t make them angry! Maybe they’ll just go away!”
“Yeah, Chuck!” a wolf said mockingly, “Maybe we’ll just go away!”
“Sure!” a second wolf with a similar voice agreed, “Let’s all just go away! Ha ha ha!” Both wolves paused to laugh, but then immediately started digging at the side of the lodge at a furious pace.
The scratching on the walls was coming from three directions -- one on each side along the shore, and one from straight above. The sides to the lake were clear, the side to the doorway to the lake was clear. Perhaps the wolves would not follow them into the deeper water.
“Griselda,” he whispered, “You have to leave...”
Her reply was neither hesitant nor suppressed, “I’m not leaving my babies!”
“I will try and protect them, but you have to go!” Chuck spoke firmly, but still in a whisper.
“Do you think I care whether I live or die, my love?” her words were spoken bravely, but she could not keep from shaking, “I stay with the children... if you’re in such a hurry to escape, then you leave!”
“What’s all this I hear of someone leaving?” the lead wolf spoke from up above, “If I see anyone try to escape, I’ll jump on their back as they swim...”
“I’ll rip your belly open if you try, you stinking cur!” Chuck screamed with rage.
As if in one voice, the wolves howled in wicked amusement. So mocking and demeaning was their cry that the beaver pups squealed in terror. This only caused the wolves to issue even more cruel laughter -- so great was their pleasure from frightening defenseless children. Griselda wept for her young and laid her head upon them.
But Chuck... Chuck neither wept nor shook with fear. His terror had all but vanished. There was but little room for it within in his heart before -- now there was none. His face twisted into a burning snarl. His lips parted like a hungry bear’s. His smooth coat of fur ruffled like the hackles of a wildcat, and he darted back and forth across the floor of his lodge like an angry hornet.
Chuck was beyond fear, beyond even anger. He had been completely transformed into a quivering ball of utter contempt and fury. This was his lake! He built it... he and Griselda! They had raised the water for the sake of raising their home... his home! It was the place he had worked all of his life to secure -- a place where he and Griselda could raise their family in peace.
But now, out of nowhere, a miserable trio of wolves appears to threaten not only his life, but also the lives of his family and everything that he had worked for.
Chuck swore under his breath that he would teach them a lesson about the sanctity of the home! It was not only his house, it was his castle and his fortress. They would not take it from him without a bloody siege!
“Filthy beasts!” he growled, “You’ll not take my family!”
“Filthy beasts?” one of the wolves repeated.
“Grrrr... You’ll not take my family!” the other of the same voice added in a mocking tone, “Ooooh! I think he’s getting mad!”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk!” the leader mocked him from above, “Are we upsetting you Chuck? I hate to see a poor beaver suffer...”
“Yeah!” the first wolf agreed, “Better just to rip out their throats and be done with them!”
“That way they don’t suffer so much!” the second wolf agreed.
“I’ll kill you, I swear!” Chuck growled, low and menacing.
Griselda’s eyes widened in shock. With a harsh whisper, she said, “Chuck! What on earth has gotten in to you? Have you gone completely mad?”
“If any one of those cretins comes near the children,” he answered her without looking, “you chew his face off!”
“Good gracious, you are mad!”
Chuck barely heard the oaths of his wife. His attention was fixated on the rustling twigs and the dust falling from the side wall. Chuck could picture in his mind the wolf scratching away on the outside, the drool flowing from his lips, his mind bent on a meal of beaver. The very thought made Chuck tremble with rage.
All of a sudden, a ray of sunlight broke through the wall. A small hole had been ripped open. Chuck growled and shivered like a boulder tottering on the ledge a cliff -- any second he would plummet.
Outside, the wolves let out a howling cheer. The first hole had been breached -- victory was at hand.
The wolf at the hole stuffed his muzzle through the hole and laughed, “We’ve got you now beaver!”
The last bit of reason trickled from Chuck’s brain and the fury of this outrage on his home and family completely overtook him.
“GRRRRAAAWRRR!” he cried as he flew upon the unprotected muzzle of the wolf. Like a storming beehive he shook as he slashed at the wolf with his chisel teeth.
Griselda screamed in terror as the entire den shook with the melee. Chuck was tearing at the wall to get at the wolf, who just so happened to have second thoughts about sticking his muzzle into the beaver den.
Chuck continued to tear at the wolf as it fought to retreat. “Get off me!” it cried, “Ow! Let go! Blasted, cursed rodent!” The wolf was tearing at the sides of the den, only this time trying to get away.
“Ko’lar!” the leader cried, “What’s wrong?”
The wolf Ko’lar leaped from the den and rubbed his muzzle against the grass on the shore -- it left a trail of blood across the blades. As Chuck looked through the hole, he could see the astonishment on the wolf’s face.
“What the...” the other wolf on the side said, “Why’d you let him bite you?”
Ko’lar turned back to the den with a look of humiliation and outrage. He snarled through the hole at Chuck and swore, “I’m going to kill that filthy beast!”
With a bounding leap and a wolfish cry, Ko’lar jumped for the hole. With an ungainly flop and a puppy yelp, he leaped back again. Chuck poked his snout through the hole, bared his bloody teeth at the wolf and snarled.
“What’s wrong now!” the leader snarled in accusation.
Ko’lar was limping, and blood trickled from the middle toe of his left paw. He stared at the leader with a sad, pouting face and declared, “Nasty little rodent has got teeth as big as Munfra!”
“I don’t care if he is Munfra!” the leader growled, “Get back to that hole and dig!”
Ko’lar limped slowly to the hole, not so enthusiastic as before. Chuck was still mad as a caged hornet, and he buzzed and snarled and snipped like a rabid beast. Ko’lar stopped at the hole and sat down before it -- his face turned as pale as a cloud as he watched Chuck spin, kick and bite in dumbfounded fascination.
“Dig!” the wolf leader commanded.
Ko’lar looked up the wolf leader and shook his head. “I don’t think so...”
The second wolf along the side wall had quit digging as well. He stepped up behind his twin, for he was identical in both voice and appearance, and looked into the hole. Chuck redoubled his efforts and his rage as the opponents before him doubled.
“Eew!” the second wolf said with a sour face, “Den’fan, come down and take a look at this thing! It’s hideous!”
“I told you two to dig!” Den’fan growled. Chuck could tell by the wolf leader’s voice that it was nearly as enraged as he.
“I really, really don’t think that’s a good idea,” Ko’lar mumbled.
“I think I’ll just sit this one out,” the second wolf agreed.
“This isn’t a vote!” Den’fan barked. He was fuming mad, “I’m not asking you to dig! I’m telling you to dig! If I don’t see dirt under your claws in five seconds, I’m coming down there and tearing both your throats out!”
The fear in the two brother’s eyes was unmistakable. However hesitantly, they obeyed Den’fan’s command. The second wolf walked slowly, with his tail between his legs, back to his original spot, and Ko’lar lifted his paw up to scratch away at the hole.
Ko’lar took a few swipes at the hole, and Chuck tried to make him pay for every particle of dirt he scratch. In less than a minute, Ko’lar had to switch paws -- the first was too sore from bites and near misses to be of much use.
From above, Chuck could hear Den’fan digging frantically at the top. He was hardly concerned, though. The top was fortified with heavy branches and sticks -- even a badger would have a tough time digging from the top down.
The third wolf, it seemed, was making as little progress as it could. Chuck could hear the half-hearted attempts at the wolf through the wall. “Skrrrt... skrrt... skrrrt.” It would be dark before that one would break through.
Above the sound of Griselda and his children crying, Ko’lar whimpering, and the other wolf’s “Skrrrt...skrrrt,” Chuck heard the unmistakable voice of the leader, Den’fan, sighing in frustration.
“Alright!” he growled, “Ko’lar! Sho’lar! Get back!” The two brothers were all but eager to comply. Den’fan leaped down from the top of the den and stood before the hole.
Once more, Chuck doubled his fury and snarled in contempt and rage at the wolf before him, but Den’fan was undaunted. He sat patiently at the hole and looked impassively at the beavers inside.
“When you have calmed down,” he said in a cold, wolfish voice, “Then I will speak with you.”
It took the greatest amount of restraint he ever had to employ for Chuck to ease out of his temper. His heart was still beating like the wings of a hummingbird, and his breath was short and heavy, but he was of enough composure to speak.
“Go away and leave my family alone!”
“We have no desire to harm your family... at least, no pressing desire,” the wolf explained.
“Then why are you destroying my home?”
Den’fan shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Partly for amusement, but we can forgo that if you’d like?”
“I would very much like!” Chuck spat with contempt.
“Fine, then tell us where we can find Raven and we will have no further need to attack you.”
“You heard me, Chuck!” Den’fan snarled, “Don’t play stupid! I know that you talked with Raven! Over there by the pointed stumps! She was with that other bird, the big foreigner – an eagle. We saw them flying this way.”
“You were with that other beaver when you spoke with them... your wife I presume. I can smell her sitting behind you! She’s with her pups! I could smell both your scents... they were as clear and as fresh as the two birds. Now just tell me where they went flying off to and my friends and I will leave you be!”
Chuck growled menacingly at the wolf, “I know what you’re after! You’re trying to stop her! You’re the ones behind the elk and the buffalo! She told me about you!”
Den’fan was unmoved, “Where is Raven!”
“Why should I tell you?” Chuck boasted in challenge, “If you try to break through, I’ll cut you apart piece by piece! I cripple every one of you, and tear your throats out as you lay helpless!”
Den’fan laughed in amusement. “Oh, well spoken my friend! Well spoken! Unfortunately, the truth is less optimistic. Oh, yes! You will bloody our feet and our noses with your thrashing about -- and we will be sore pressed to dig a hole. But we will dig a hole. You’re in the best position you’re going to get, my friend. It’s going to get much worse for you from here on out.
“I told you,” Den’fan continued, “We have no desire to kill you -- we have bigger game waiting elsewhere! All we want is to know where Raven flew off to... that’s all! Tell us, and we will go...
“Don’t tell us...” Den’fan’s face curled into the grimmest and most wicked snarl possible for a living wolf, “and I swear I will personally crush the life out of every beaver child in that lodge with my own teeth!”
Griselda cried out in panic, “They went to the snake and the rabbit! To learn their wisdom!”
“Griselda!” Chuck hollered at his wife in outrage.
“Where?” Den’fan barked over Chuck’s voice.
“The snakes are northwest! The rabbit’s are due east from the snakes! Please, Den’fan, don’t hurt my babies!”
Den’fan grinned with victory. “As I said, I have no desire to hurt you or your children. We’ve gotten all that we needed.
“Chuck,” the wolf said with a bow of the head, “I bid you and your family good day!” The wolves wasted no time in their departure -- bounding and splashing across the water towards the northwest.
“I hope you choke on a bone and die you mangy mutt!” Chuck growled through the hole, but he doubted the wolves could hear him.
The wolves were gone -- off to do their worst to Raven and Talon. Chuck couldn’t believe that his own wife had betrayed their friends! She just gave up, with hardly a semblance of a fight. Never had he seen her abandon a cause so quickly before -- it was unlike her! He turned on her with a scowl...
His words of reproach fluttered away as he looked upon her, hovered over the children. She held them all at once, her arms stroking each of their heads. The pups were still shaken, and still crying, and Griselda’s tears mixed with theirs.
“There, there...” she whispered, “There, there...”
Chuck could only stand and watch as she slowly calmed the little ones down. They nestled against her breast, and tucked their heads away from the light from the hole. Griselda purred and hummed and lulled them into sleep... and slowly, one by one, they passed away from the danger and into their childish slumber -- far away from snapping jaws and piercing howls.
Only when they were all asleep did Griselda lift her eyes to meet her husbands. He could see that they were indeed filled to the brim with tears of shame -- but there was a sad pride within them as well. Griselda would have done anything to protect her children -- sacrificed her own life, and even her husband’s. What were the lives of Raven and Talon compared to the pups? Chuck knew that if she were left with the same choice to do over, she wouldn’t change what she had done...but she was not without regret.
Griselda was saddened beyond reason that her total commitment to her children had endangered her friends. “Chuck...” she whispered, “what are we going to do?”
“You mean, about Raven and Talon?”
“I’m so sorry!” she wept, “I couldn’t let Den’fan take my babies...”
“I know, my love...”
“He was...” Griselda fumbled over her own tears, “... and you! I thought... I thought... I couldn’t stand to see my babies taken... you had them so angry! We’ve got to do something! I don’t want it to end this way!”
Chuck nodded somberly, and then he searched his mind for some possible solution. Some form of penance for their lack of dedication to their friends -- as Chuck considered himself just as guilty as Griselda.
Deep in his heart, Chuck was relieved that Griselda had betrayed the birds. It was quick, rational thinking, and it saved not only the pups, but the lodge and the lake and his wife as well (for himself, Chuck had as little concern for his own life as Griselda had for hers compared to his family).
Griselda’s guilt was shared by both of them, and they both had to make up for it.
“I want you to stay here and fix the hole,” he said to his wife, “Little good chasing off wolves will be if we let a snake into our home by accident.”
“What will you do?” she asked, her eyes still swollen with tears.
“I’m going to see what I can do to help our feathered friends,” Chuck replied, “They’re going to need more than just strong wings to deal with those three wolves we sent chasing after them.”
“No!” Griselda cried out, “You can’t be thinking of fighting those wolves! They’ll tear you to pieces out in the open! You’re just a beaver!”
Chuck nodded sadly, “I know... but I can get help. I just hope he’s close by.” Chuck’s attention turned inward. His face turned pale as the thought of what had to be done coursed through his mind, and his hairs went standing on end.
He shambled to the watery doorway like a sick porcupine, afraid of poking himself -- every step was mechanical... forced. It was as if his imagination frightened him much more powerfully than any wolf ever could.
Griselda was baffled and frightened by her husband’s sudden change. “Who’s close by? Who can help?”
But Chuck was no longer listening. He slipped through the doorway and swam off without a word.
Griselda was not the type to be left holding a question -- especially not from her husband. She bounded over to the hole in the wall and peeked outside, searching for Chuck. She heard him trundle up on shore to the left.
Through the splashing she heard him mumble to himself in a dispassionate voice, “...she said he was perfectly gentle...”
“Who?” Griselda cried, “Who said? Who was gentle?”
“Fix the hole!” he tersely commanded, “I’ll take care of the rest!”
Before she could say another word, Chuck waddled down the bank out of earshot -- at least far enough to feign being out of earshot.
He was right, though, Griselda thought to herself. She had to get the hole patched by nightfall. Let her husband deal with whatever lay downstream -- he could handle it well enough on his own. “He would have handled those wolves fair enough,” she mused aloud. Griselda couldn’t help but grin at the thought of her husband tearing away at the wolf’s muzzle -- it would be a story she could be proud to tell visitors...
Still, she did worry about him...
“Bah!” she said to herself, “He’ll be fine! There’s nothing down that river but bears anyway, and that beaver’s always had sense enough to... keep... clear...”
The realization struck Griselda like white fire from the sky. She could feel the hair on her back turn white. Her eyes glistened with teardrops
“Oh dear, he has gone mad!”