Chapter Three: Fuzzyville

        Three days of walking eastward on the Road, and then, as evening nears on April 3rd ,  the renegade so eager to betray the cause of Horror to assist his Dad is at the turnoff where the northward lane to Fuzzyville begins.  Here Snigger takes a left.  For half a mile he walks north through woods, then for an equal distance walks through open meadowland; ahead of him he sees the foliage of Fuzzyville arising like an island in a lake of flower-speckled grass – an island ringed by what appears to be a sort of dike about six feet in height.  He’s unaware that this apparent dike’s the upper curve of an enormous ring of living flesh surrounding Fuzzyville, with somewhat more than two-thirds of it buried underground, nor does he realize that the drooping “trees” spaced evenly around this “dike” are arms whose hands could seize and crush him easily.  The lane leads Snigger to a little bridge enabling pedestrians to cross the rim without much trouble.  There’s a group of Grums and Mollies lounging on the grass together near the bridge, on Snigger’s side – three couples.  They’ve been watching him approach.  They greet him pleasantly and want to know what sort of thing he is and why he’s here.
        “What am I?  Well, I’m not so sure, myself.  A second-hand small Wizard, one might say; they call us ‘Managers’; we were produced from Nausor’s substance in Mount Sinister.  The Wizard Nausor – have you heard of him?  A friend of Fladnag’s.  Fladnag lives here, right?  He does?  I’m glad.  I need to speak with him.  It’s very urgent.  Would you be so kind as to conduct me to him right away?”
        “Sure, buddy.  Did your Mom give you a name, or should we call you ‘Skinny Purple-Face’?”
        “My Mom?  Ha, ha, we only have a Dad, the Wizard Nausor.  He named all of us.  I’m Snigger – not a very charming name, I’m well aware, but Dad thought ugly names would be appropriate, considering how Horrible we obviously were, except for me, perhaps, and, yes, I’ll grant that this exception is debatable.”
        The Fuzzies lead the former Manager across the bridge.  One couple walks in front of Snigger, while another couple walks behind him.  On his left-hand side a Moll trots on all fours, while on his right her Grum employs his long front arms to swing himself along.  He’s not sure whether he’s a guest or prisoner – a bit of both, perhaps.
        The lane resumes beyond the little bridge; it leads you to the Meeting Hall’s front door.  The Hall stands in the center of a yard, and seven other alleys radiate in all directions from this pleasant park to other places where the rim is bridged, so that the grassy area beyond is easily accessible for strolls and lazy gatherings; they often hike across the meadow and explore the woods in Fuzzyville’s vicinity as well – especially the Mollies, who enjoy a hunting-expedition now and then.  Between the village’s periphery and center, there’s a side-lane circling the middle part of Fuzzyvville, from which run tertiary lanes up to the lots where all the couples have their little huts.
        “The Wizard should be in the Meeting Hall,” a Grumbit tells him as they near the door.  It’s likely, since the Wizard often sits above his girlfriend’s burrow while he thinks about ins and outs of this or that political scenario that might arise as Earth’s inhabitants mature.  Yes, there he is in fact; he’s deep in thought, his brow supported by his long thin hand.
        “Hey, Fladnag,” says the Grumbit, “this guy here says he’s a little Wizard; he would like to talk to you.  I think he said his name is ‘Snigger’.  Do I have that right, my man?”
        “That’s right,” said Snigger.  “Do you recognize my face?  I’m your old colleague Nausor’s clone.”
        “Oh, really?  Hmm.  That’s very interesting.  He’s sent you here in order to invite me to a party in Mount Sinister?”
        “Well, no.  I’ve come to warn you of his plan to subjugate and Horrify the Realm.”
        “I see.  Go on, then, Snigger.  I’m all ears.”
        “You want these Molls and Grumbits listening to everything I have to say to you?”
        “Yes; that way they can tell the others here what they have heard, and no one will begin complaining that the facts have been concealed.  Don’t worry.  I don’t think they’ll interrupt.”
        So Snigger tells the Wizard everything, concluding with the news that Nausor’s Host is on its way, and in all likelihood will be near Fuzzyville two days from now.  “So I’d advise these villagers to flee to Elfpark; you should go ahead of them and warn those people, and continue east and warn the Dwarfs as well, and certainly your Wizard-colleagues.  Make them understand that they will have to fight this Horrid Host if they don’t want to serve Horroria with altered minds, becoming little more than twitching tendrils of her maze of flesh as it proliferates across the Realm and in the end encompasses the Earth.  I’m hopeful that if they’re prepared to fight and competently led, and well-advised by you and Asmuran and Dagastar, the peoples of the Realm can beat the Host and save themselves – and also capture Dad and heal him so that he will once again be what he was when you and he were friends.”
        The Dusty Wizard says, “Well, Manager, my thanks must be postponed until we’re sure that you have brought an accurate report.  Tomorrow morning you’ll be introduced to an important Fuzzyvillager and tell her what you’ve just been telling me.  This woman always knows when anyone is lying to her.  If you’re telling us what you believe to be the truth, she’ll know that this is so, and then the villagers will meet together and we’ll figure out how to respond to this Horrendous news.  We’d better make sure that you spend the night in comfort but of course well-supervised; until you’ve had your interview with her, we can’t exactly trust you.  Gentlemen and ladies, would you take this fellow here out to the storage shed?  Provide him with whatever he might need to feel at home and post a guard outside the door all night; we don’t want him to sneak away from us before he’s had a chance to meet your Mom.  You’d better have the Village-Counselors bring him back here tomorrow; they should come down to the burrow with us, to be there while she converses with him and decides if we can trust him; then they’ll be on hand to work a plan out with us afterwards.”
        “But Mom has never shown herself before to anyone except for us and you; why would she make a new exception now with this guy?  Shouldn’t you go ask her first?”
        “I will, right after you take him away.  I’m sure she’ll want to speak with Snigger, though.  The threat from Sinister that he’s described is just the sort of thing that she has been expecting all these years.  She’s kept herself in hiding here not just because she’s shy, but also, and primarily, because she didn’t want Horroria to know that she had come to keep an eye on her.  Don’t worry; if he’s lying, he won’t leave this place alive.  But in my judgment, which is not infallible, unlike Michelle’s, he’s telling us the truth, so treat him well.  Let’s not assume that he’s an enemy; he’s probably a friend, but we won’t know until she’s had a chance to speak with him.  I’m sorry, Snigger; I hope you don’t mind if we treat you a little cautiously until you’ve met Michelle and passed the test.”
        “I wouldn’t trust me either,” Snigger says, “but why don’t you just take me to her now?  And what gives her this power, anyway, to know when someone’s telling her a lie?”
        “She’s tired in the evenings,” Fladnag says, “and gets a bit depressed.  She needs to be in her most energetic state of mind when she assesses your sincerity or we won’t be completely confident that you’ve been honest with us.  How she knows when someone’s lying – it’s a mystery, but evidently so.  She uses this ability with her six hundred kids, who bring their squabbles and disputes to her; in order to successfully resolve these conflicts, she must have an accurate impression of what people’s motives are.  I’ve also found that she consistently knows when I’m hiding my bad moods from her – my passing small resentments and distastes; best friends don’t like each other constantly.”
        They take the Manager away with them, and Fladnag goes below to see Michelle.  “Michelle, my darling, hi, it’s me again.  I know I usually don’t come down again at this time, when it’s getting late, but there’s a problem you should know about.  A fellow’s come from Sinister.  He says ….”  And Fladnag summarizes Snigger’s news.  “So, either Snigger is an honest man, in which case we had better figure out how to respond, or isn’t, in which case he’s got a motive, and that’s also bad.  I think I’d better bring him down to you tomorrow morning so you two can talk and you can figure out if he’s sincere or trying to deceive us.  You will know; you always do.  You have that special skill.”
        “Yes, bring him down to me.  I’ll speak with him.  Oh, Fladnag, this is very troubling, but I have always known Horroria was up to something; now it seems as though she’s making her Horrific move at last.  I only hope my children make it through this crisis without too much suffering.”
        “I’m sure that it will all turn out okay somehow; we’ll find a way to deal with this.  I think you need a kiss.  There … I’ll be back tomorrow morning with this Manager.”
        Next morning, April 4th, the Counselors arrive with Snigger – there are six of them, three married couples.  They’re accompanied by many other Fuzzies, curious about what’s happening, but these must wait aboveground, while the Wizard and the six bring Snigger downward through the passageway to meet Michelle.  She gently questions him for ninety minutes.  Fladnag stands nearby, the Counsellors a little further back, at first extremely watchful, worrying that Snigger might attempt to injure her or run away, but they grow more relaxed as it becomes apparent that Michelle believes and trusts him.  “Well,” she says, “I’m sure he’s being truthful.  Snigger, let me say this right away in front of everyone – you’ve shown a lot of courage, coming here to warn us of the danger that we’re in.  Not only courage; that’s too limited a label, since you’ve given up your friends, your family, and your home to do what’s right.  You’ve acted admirably.  You deserve our gratitude.  So, thank you very much.”
        “You’re welcome, Ma’am,” replies the Manager.  “My main concern, though, is to save my Dad.  Horroria has warped my father’s mind; she’s got her tentacles inside his head.  (I mean that metaphorically, of course.)  It’s not his fault; it’s all because of her that Dad’s behaving so Horrifically.”
        “Yes, she’s my older sister,” says Michelle. “She’s always been this way; I don’t know why.  Mom sent me here to keep an eye on her, and she was right to do so, wasn’t she.  Well, I am sure that if there’s anything that we can do to extricate your Dad from her control we’ll do it, since I know that Fladnag has fond memories of him, right, Fladnag?  You’ll do everything you can to help this poor man’s father, won’t you, Dear?”
        “Yes, certainly,” the Dusty Wizard says, “although I’m not sure that it’s quite correct to call my recollections of the man ‘fond memories’.  The guy is interesting and talented, so it would be a waste to lose him, and if there is anything that we can do to save him, we will try.”
        “But what can we do to save Fuzzyville?” a Grumbit asks.  “This is our main concern.”
        “You’re right,” says Fladnag.  “Well, you’ve heard the man describe my former colleague’s strategy; the main part of the Horrid Host will pass the village and continue down the Road toward Elfpark, but a twelfth of it will stay to tear down Fuzzyville and make a base.  Michelle, do you think you can keep them out while I go spread the word across the Realm?  I’m hoping that the Elves, with Asmuran, can hold the Host at Elfpark long enough for Dwarfenberg to come to their relief, defeat the Host with them, and then come here.”
        “The thing is, Fladdy,” she replies to him, “although it’s just a twelfth part of the Host, still, twenty thousand of these nasty things, these Gobbin-creatures that he has described, together with ten thousand of those Urgs and then a hundred Trolls – that’s quite a lot.  I don’t think I’d be able to repel that many of them with my arms alone.  I’d have to pull my rim out of the ditch in which it’s currently deposited, and roll it over on the inner bank so that my roots extend across the gulf and I can whip our enemies with them.  My arms would basically stick upward then, but I could bend them out – my elbow-joints are bi-directional – and use my hands to sweep the other side, beyond the ditch.  So with my arms and roots combined, I think that I can keep them out of Fuzzyville, but here’s the problem.  Since it takes a day for me to disengage the roots that feed my rim, I’d have to stay above the ditch throughout the siege; if I replanted them within the soil for a little meal the village would be open to attack.  I’ll get some nourishment out of the roots beneath my spokes and under me in here, but that won’t be enough; within three months I’d be too tired, hungry, and dried-out to keep it up.  My arms and roots would droop and Fuzzyville would fall.  So do your best to bring us help before we reach that point.”
        “I promise you that I will find some way to bring you help by then, or, if I can’t, I’ll come back here myself to die with you.”
        “No, I don’t want that, Fladdy; you will try to get me help, I know, but if you find that it’s impossible, just stay away.  Why should you die with me when you can live?”
        “Well, we’d be dying with you, anyway,” a Grumbit says, “but hopefully we’ll live.”
        “Yeah, but the enemy is gonna die!” his wife declares, while clawing at the air.
        Another Grumbit, Urman, says, “You know, the Treefolk will be threatened if the Host succeeds in taking Fuzzyville; you’ve heard that Nausor wants to make this place a base of operations to the north, which means attacks against the Treefolk.  He intends to capture them or, if not, kill them all.  Right, Snigger?  So, look, maybe I should go with Lula up to Trev’s and Treena’s place and warn them; they can round the Treefolk up and help us here; it’s in their interest to.”
        The Treefolk-couple he’s referring to lives only ten miles north of Fuzzyville; one gets there easily by walking up along the narrow stream that runs beside the meadow in which Trev and Treena live; it passes through a culvert hollowed out beneath the Road just west of Fuzzyville. The Fuzzies are familiar with this pair; it’s standard practice for the newlyweds of Fuzzyville to hike upstream and spend the night there in the meadow.  They are seen as matrimonial authorities whose hospitality invigorates a Fuzzy-couple’s marriage from the start – a reasonable view, considering they’ve been together for a thousand years.  But Urm and his wife Lula go up there to visit Trev and Treena every year, regarding them as friends, and they in turn are thought of in a very friendly way by Trevor and his wife, who much enjoy their yearly visits.  Trevor gets a chance to share his thoughts with Urman; Treena likes the girly chats that she and Lula have.”
        “Yes, that’s a great idea,” Fladnag says.
        “But then you won’t be able to come back until this is all over,” says Michelle.  “We’ll be surrounded by the enemy; you won’t be able to get through them all.”
        “We’ll go with Trev and Treena, then, to warn the Treefolk; maybe having us with them will make the threat a bit more credible, and also help convince them all to come down here to Fuzzyville and fight the Host.”
        “They shouldn’t try to do it all themselves,” says Fladnag, “but it would certainly would help if they joined forces with the Elves and Dwarfs that I hope will be coming from the east.  Tomorrow morning, then, when I head east to tell the Elves and Dwarfs about this mess, you and your wife will head up through the woods to warn the Treemen.  Meanwhile, you folks here will ready yourselves for a lengthy siege.  Does everyone approve?  Okay, Michelle?  Well, Honey, I’ll come down and visit you first thing tomorrow morning, just before I leave at dawn.  I’m sure you’d like to spend the afternoon conversing with your kids, who must be worried, and presumably would like to have some time alone with you.”
        On April 5th, an hour before dawn, emerging from his Energizing trance, the Dusty Wizard goes to see Michelle.  She never sleeps; she only spaces out.
        “Hi, Mushie, Honey; time to say goodbye, but only temporarily,” he says.
        “Yes, Fladdy.  I’ve been feeling kind of sad.”
        “Don’t worry, Mushie; I’ll be coming back.  My home is here with you in Fuzzyville.”
        “I know that, Dear.  I know you’re coming back,  and I’ll be looking forward to that time throughout the lonely, stressful days ahead.”
        “Not lonely – all your children will be here.”
        “Except for Urm and Lula.  Yes, I know, but they’re my children, Fladdy.  They can’t reach that special place inside me that you touch.”
        “Sometimes, my love, you even seem alone when I’m down here with you as I am now.”
        “Yes, there’s some truth to that.  It makes me sad to think that we will never truly be together like a Grumbit and his Moll; we’re just such different sizes, and our shapes don’t fit together; you can’t cuddle me.”
        The Wizard goes up to Michelle’s huge head and wraps one arm around it from behind, and with the other hand he strokes her cheek.  Two of her hands reach up to stroke his sides; two others pat his feet, and one his knee.  “Of course I can,” he says; “I’m cuddling you right now, Michelle; we cuddle every day.”
        “But you can’t cuddle all of me,” she says.
        “But I can touch you softly, just like this, and talk can be a kind of cuddling.”
        “I know, but somehow it’s just not enough; I guess I’m selfish; I need more from you – more than it’s possible for you to give.”
        “I give you everything I can, my love.”
        “I know you do.  You’re always sweet to me.”  A plum-sized tear emerges from her eye and trembles on the eyelid’s shelf below.  The Wizard is about to dab the tear with his gray sleeve; she smiles and says, “No, don’t do that, Fladdy, you will drench your sleeve, and you don’t want it to be wet all day.  I’ll wipe it off myself.  I always do.”
        She lifts a hand to wipe the tear away – the hand is disproportionately small, but still much bigger than your hand or mine; it’s soft and pliant, like a baby’s hand.  He holds it for a moment in his own, and says, “Well, let me have a little bit of that nice tear, since it’s come out for me.”  He presses down the corner of his sleeve against the moisture that’s still glistening along her cheek, beneath her huge wet eye.  “Goodbye, my love,” he says.  “You’re my best friend.”
        “And you are mine,” she says, “and more than that.”
        He leaves her and heads east along the Road.
        An hour later, Urman and his wife begin their northward hike along the stream toward Trev’s and Treena’s meadow.  Lula sings as they proceed.  All Mollies love to sing, and Lula improvises clever songs and sings them very sweetly. “There’s a mouse!” she says and rushes off to capture it, returning with a grin and bloody lips.  Her husband, who is not carnivorous, eats fruit and nuts he finds along the way.  (The woods throughout the Realm, unlike our own, feed hikers easily; you never need to bring supplies with you in heavy bags, unless your appetites are Horrible, as is the case with the inhabitants of Sinister, who need a baggage-train conveying carcasses of giant Bugs for them to feed upon; without this meat, they’d have to eat each other, or all starve.)
        At midday they arrive.  “Hey, guys!” Urm cries.  Across the meadow, Trev and Treena wave and start advancing with the swaying strides of Treefolk, covering a lot more ground than do the Fuzzies in the bit of time that it takes for the couples to converge.
        The eighteen-foot-tall Treeman, from whose head grow branches adding yet another yard of height beyond those six, has arms so long that when he lowers them with half-curled hands his middle-knuckles rest upon the ground, but he prefers to keep his forearms raised in front of him, bent-wristed, fingers splayed like branches two yards long from yard-long palms.  His feet are two yards long, with half this length his gnarled root-like toes, from which a mass of slender rootlets bristles toward the ground.  The longest branches growing from his head are those extending downward from his jaw – one branch on either side, and two in front, dividing twice like antlers in a beard of branches covering the Treeman’s chest.  Small twigs grow from his limbs and abdomen like body-hair, and longer, denser brush conceals his groin and anal cavity.  The branches growing out of Trevor’s head are flexible enough to bend aside, so that his Ladytree can perch behind her husband’s neck, her legs to either side, and ride upon his shoulders, which she does for fun sometimes.  She likes to look at things from way up there, her head above his own.
        His wife is twelve tall, two-thirds his height.  Green yard-long stems grow upward from her head; these end in bright pink blossoms, clustering around the apricot-sized peach-like fruit that Trevor delicately twists away and pops into his mouth from time to time.  Where fruit is plucked, the naked tips secrete a drop of fluid that consolidates and quickly grows into another fruit.  The blossoms growing on the yard-high stems extending from her head reach Trevor’s chin.  The top of Treena’s head, below these stems, is level with the middle of his chest.  Her hands and feet are each a yard in length, her fingers two feet long, her toes one-half the length of her slim feet, like slender roots.  Extending her arms downward, she can touch her ankles, but cannot quite reach the ground.  Like Trevor, Treena usually holds her forearms outwards, with her fingers splayed.  Her soft, moist mossy skin is brownish-green, while Trevor’s skin is bark-like, ridged and rough.  A large pink blossom covers Treena’s groin; its petals curl around a plum-like fruit that Trevor gently twists away and eats each evening just before the two of them drift down into the dreamlike trance in which they spend the night together, side by side.  This blossom’s fernlike outgrowths hide the cleft between her buttocks.  Out of Treena’s breasts grow fruitless blossoms, covering the zones where modern women have their aureoles.  When she conceives a child, grape-like fruit will start to grow there; after giving birth, she’ll feed her baby with its spurting juice.
        “You’re back so soon!” says Trevor.  “Well, I’m glad; it’s always nice to see the two of you.”
        “Yes,” Urman says; “There’s an emergency that you should be aware of ….”  He describes the situation.  “Maybe you should go and round your Treefolk-buddies up to go attack the Host at Fuzzyville; that way you’ll catch them by surprise before they build the base they’re planning to construct down there.  You guys are next, once they’ve defeated us.”
        “Why haven’t all your fellow Fuzzies fled?  You may be tough, but I just don’t see how six hundred little people like yourselves can possibly withstand this enemy.”
        “I guess it’s time for us to tell the truth about our Mom.  She’s really, really big.  She rings our village with a wall of flesh that she’s been keeping hidden underground, and she has giant arms disguised as trees.  So, she can fend them off a long, long time, but not forever, with her roots pulled out; eventually, Mom will starve to death and Fuzzyville will fall, and everyone – the folks who’ve come and visited you here as newlyweds – I know you’ve met them all – who isn’t killed in very painful ways is going to be captured and enslaved.  And even if you don’t care all that much about the villagers and Mom, just think about the fact that once the Host has built its base at Fuzzyville, you guys are next.  Your most effective move is to attack the Host at Fuzzyville before it falls and it becomes their base to use against you Treefolk.  Sure, you guys can run away and hide for years, but in the end you know they’ll finally kill or capture all of you.  Move now; you’ve got to nip this in the bud.”
        “Hmm,” Trevor says.  “Well I would like to have a chance to talk to Treena privately about this matter before I decide.  Right, Sweetie?  But we’ll wait until tonight for that discussion and we’ll let you know tomorrow morning what we want to do.  Let’s spend the afternoon the normal way, the way we always do when you two come to visit us: we men will take a walk and thoughtfully discuss important things while they remain behind and stroll around among the flowers, sharing points of view on smaller matters – all those little facts that women always need to focus on, examining them for our benefit from many angles, meanwhile making sure that our attention isn’t wandering as theirs does when we in the same way share our thoughts about the things that interest us.”
        The men walk off together, as they do whenever Urm and Lula visit here – a walk that lasts two hours, maximum, since if the Treeman spends a longer time away from Lula, who provides the fruit that gives him life-sustaining Energy, he’ll sicken inwardly and feel as though he’s rotting, and decline into a mood of dismal listlessness and morbid gloom.  The ladies stay behind, meandering among the flower-clumps and blossoming peculiar bushes and small sprawling trees, well-spaced, which give the meadow character without diminishing its openness – they wander through an undivided space surrounded by protective forest-walls.
        The Treeman starts his standard monologue, which Urman, even though he’s used to it, enjoys, as always.  Trevor says such things as this, as he and Urman start to climb a nearby hill, the same one they ascend whenever Urman comes from Fuzzyville with Lula, and the men go for a walk: “Don’t trees appear to stand in attitudes expressing definite deep states of mind that we could never verbally describe?  But are these trees, poised so theatrically, in fact self-conscious individuals that feel the passions they express this way?  Well, maybe Elfpark’s Trees are sentient; I’ve heard they are.  But still, their states of mind are basic, like a sleeping animal’s, and I assume that most trees aren’t like that, not individually sentient.  But these emotions that you see expressed by every tree around you in the woods, an infinite variety of moods  that seem to have some thought in back of them – the being that would feel what they express would have to be the God that makes the world, who’s feeling all of these things as we speak.  And what about the ripples in a stream, and waves of motion as a breath of wind moves through a meadow and it agitates the reeds and flowers, stirring up the grass, or, in the woods, makes branches move about, and all the foliage starts rustling and billowing up energetically?  This also makes us feel that someone’s there, presenting himself, showing us his moods, but who?  It’s not the spirit of the wind, unless this spirit also is the soul communicating with us through the trees – again, the God who generates this all.  The sky above us; those substantial clouds that hover overhead like grazing beasts – he holds us all within his inward gaze and ponders us; his huge ideas pass across our lives; we almost understand his thinking, but can’t put it into words.”
        And Urman makes the same sorts of replies and interjections that he always makes: “That tree there’s dying; that one’s lost a limb; look, that one’s trunk is bulging everywhere with tumors – oh no, swarming gypsy moths have covered up those branches with their tents of filth.  Poor God; he must be suffering.  The stream’s a little agitated there where it’s blocked by those stones.  Is God upset?  The thought expressed by that vague, shapeless cloud must not be terribly significant.”  And yet the Grumbit’s friendly, teasing tone and easy smile makes it evident that he enjoys the Treeman’s attitude.  Although he sees things somewhat differently, he might in fact be willing to concede that Trevor’s way of looking at the world is not entirely erroneous.
        Back in the meadow, there’s the usual expression of engaging sentiments.  “Wow,” Lula says; “you’re really beautiful!”
        “Oh … thank you,” Treena says.  “That’s nice of you.  You’re really sweet … you’re such a sweetie-pie.  Hey … sing a song!  I love it when you sing.”  They stroll around the meadow; Lula sings and Treena praises Lula’s singing-voice enthusiastically, while now and then she points her finger at some growing thing, exclaiming “Look at that one!  Oh, how cute!  I love this little bush!  This flower’s neat!”
        “Yes, everything is so delightful here,” says Lula, “and the most delightful thing about this meadow is the Ladytree who lives in it with her enormous man!”
        “Right now, the most delightful thing around is you!” says Treena, not to be outdone.  “I love your singing!  Wow, your singing’s so … so beautiful! You’re very talented!”
        “Thanks, Treena; everybody tells me so at Fuzzyville, but compliments from you mean more to me that all the praise I get from everyone at Fuzzyville combined, except for Mom … I wish that you and Mom could meet each other; I know both of you would like each other.  You’d be such great friends!  On second thought, I have to take that back … you’re my friend; I won’t share you with my Mom.”  The Mollie’s forward motion terminates as she completes this thought, and Treena stops and turns to face her.  Lula’s looking up at Treena, who is looking down at her.  “Hey, Treena, there’s that rainbow-colored light I’ve seen before, that flutters like a veil next to your skin, the Energy that flows in through the mossy stuff that covers you.  The Wizard Fladnag, down in Fuzzyville, is also nourished by an Energy that flows into his head – he’s told us this, and Mom confirms it; she’s watched it occur on more than one occasion, I believe, but no one else has seen it happening.  It doesn’t seem appropriate for him; it seems to me that rainbow-colored light should only enter those as beautiful as you – it’s like pure beauty, isn’t it?”
        “Perhaps the Wizard’s beautiful inside, or maybe he gets waves of Energy that aren’t exactly like the ones I get.  We all ingest some sort of Energy in some way, some directly like myself, and others indirectly, like my man – that’s Trevor’s theory, and I think he’s right.”
        “But don’t you also take in nourishment through those thin rootlets growing from your toes?”
        “Yes, I guess that’s the raw material; the Energy just organizes it.”
        “The Wizard just survives on Energy.  I’ve seen his toes; they don’t have any roots.”
        “That’s weird; I wonder how the man survives.”
        “Hey, when you finally have your Babytree, you’ll have two people getting Energy out of the fruit you’re growing just for them – your husband, feeding on the fruit that grows upon the stems extending from your head, and baby, feeding on the fruit that grows out of those blossoms covering your breasts.”
        “Yes … just for several years, though.  After that, we plant them and we leave them in the care of rooted Elders at the Lake we call ‘the Sacred Waters’, where we all were born.  That’s where I’ll give birth to my Babytree, and maybe, several centuries afterwards, another one, if I’m still in the mood.  We’ll live beside the Lake while it’s a shrub too small and weak to keep itself erect; I’ll have to carry it around with me, and hold it in the right position here, like this, so it can nibble on my fruit.  They say that you can never put them down; the instant that you do, they start to whine and you feel bad, and pick them up again.  But soon its back-stem will be strong enough for planting.  Then we’ll dig a hole for it and tuck its roots in and pat down the earth around its ankles, and we’ll kiss its cheeks and tickle it behind the ears and say, ‘Goodbye, and have a pleasant childhood!’  The Sacred Waters, entering its roots, will nourish it; they’re full of Energy.”
        “Won’t it get restless, standing in one place for decades by the Lake while it grows up?”
        “They sleep a lot at first.  As they mature, they start to pull their roots up every day for several hours, and they run around until they’re tired and re-root themselves.  The Elder Trees say, ‘Okay, time to rest!’ and if they’ve rested more than long enough and need some exercise, the Elders say, ‘Let’s go kids; time for you to run around!’”
        “I’ll bet the adolescents flirt a lot!”
        “You bet correctly.  When the fruit begins to grow upon the head-stems of the girls, they start discussing who will marry whom. They pick their boys, and they go off with them and find a meadow where they’ll want to live for many centuries, just as we have here.  Eleven hundred years!  I think that soon I’m going to be ready to conceive and we’ll go to the Lake.  That will be fun.”
        “But that won’t happen if this Horrid Host enslaves or kills you all and wrecks the woods and turns the Lake to poison.  This is why when you and Trevor talk tonight I hope that you decide to do what we advise, and round up all the Treefolk to attack the portion of the Host at Fuzzyville before they capture it and build their base.”
        “Don’t worry; Trevor’s certainly aware of your concern.  He thinks of everything.  Look there he is with Urman.  Oh, what fun!  The four of us can hang out as a group until the evening comes.  Come on, let’s go and greet them; let’s not just stand here and wait!”
        They spend the last few hours of the day relaxing, spacing out in their own ways, just close enough that you would have to say they’re hanging out together, even though they don’t make any effort to maintain a constant conversational exchange.  The Fuzzies bounce and roll around a bit from time to time; the Treefolk stand and sway.  They all enjoy each other’s company.  The Grumbit tells a story now and then, the Treeman shares a thought, the Mollie sings, and Treena points out flowers, butterflies, and clouds.  The evening comes; they separate.  The meadow now divides them physically, although each couple feels the other there across the darkened space – each pair emits a friendly presence that the other feels, or seems to.  Urm and Lula copulate, and Trev and Treena have their quiet talk about the crisis, then together slip down into waking, overlapping dreams, or should I say slip sideways into them, or backwards?  Phantoms populate the world and glide around them, as they stand there, still, his arm around her as she leans on him.  The Fuzzies curl together on their sides, Urm spooning Lula, and they fall asleep.

        Throughout the day, ten miles to the south, at Fuzzyville, Michelle has been at work.  About the time that Urm and Lula left, quite early in the morning, she began to disengage the multitude of roots that fixed her outer rim within the ditch encircling the village – quite a chore, not only tiring but tedious, yet motivated by an urgent sense of grim necessity; she sometimes felt a little panicky, but did her best to calm herself and focus on the task.  Her mossy-hided rim began to rise until its top was twenty feet or more above the lawn surrounding Fuzzyville and she was standing upright in the ditch in which she’d lain, upon her straightened roots, which held her up like caterpillar-legs.  She stretched her radiating tree-like arms and twisted them about; their branching ends clutched at the air convulsively, like hands, which was, in fact, exactly what they were. 
        “Yes,” she thought grimly to herself, “they work quite well enough to crush a Troll or two, or knock back three or four of them at once.”  Then she contracted her great fleshy rim and rolled it inward, settling it down upon its side above the empty gulch in which had been nested for so long.  Her roots, which had been buried under her, were now projecting horizontally out of a living fortress-wall of flesh that overhung the empty moat below.  She flexed her roots; she made them writhe and lash like massive anacondas.  Now her arms rose vertically out of her upturned sides.  She tested them again – yes, flexible enough for her to reach across the ditch quite easily, or downward into it.  The afternoon was almost gone by now; the Host would soon be nearing Fuzzyville.  She rolled her rim back down into the ditch, her roots, still disengaged, curled under her, so that she was again concealed from those who didn’t know what they were looking for.  The Host’s commanders wouldn’t see the change, and so, as planned, the main part of the Host would move on eastward while a fraction stayed, and she’d be able to defend her kids from this small portion of it that remained.
        The villagers made preparations too.  They weren’t concerned about their food-supply; the Grumbits eat the nuts and fruit that grow on every bush or tree that spreads its limbs beside their houses, and the Mollies eat the butterfly-like birds that flutter there.  They mainly heaped up thousands of small rocks along the village’s periphery, within Michelle’s surrounding wall of flesh, to hurl at enemies who made it through – especially the Gobbins, who were thought most likely to succeed at climbing up the moat-wall, and between the whipping roots that would account for almost all of them.  The long-armed Grumbits would be throwing these; the Molls would charge in packs and use their teeth.
        As night falls on the fifth, the Host encamps along the Road just south of Fuzzyville.  Tomorrow, while eleven-twelfths of it continues eastward, the remaining twelfth, the Western Corps, will peel away and move along the lane to its intended base.
        The Wizard Fladnag, having walked all day at his extremely rapid Wizard’s pace, is halfway to the city of the Elves.  He steps off of the Road and finds a spot against the tree-line; here he stands and waits for his re-Energizing nightly trance to come upon him, as it always does, no matter how unsettled he may be.  Tonight, the Wizard’s normal state of stress is amplified threefold, intensified by his perception that it’s rational to feel this way right now, considering what’s really happening.  He holds himself as motionless as possible, and waits, but anxious thoughts keep swerving through his mind – Michelle must be so frightened … she will fight courageously, of course … she won’t be hurt … suppose she’s injured, though? … the Dwarfs will come … the Dwarfs will have to come … they’ll want to come … they will come, won’t they? … Yes, of course they will ….  At last the man’s entranced.  He will emerge at dawn, and walk on eastward; he will reach his goal before another night arrives. 

        The morning of the sixth, the Treeman comes with Treena to the Fuzzies, still asleep, and wakes them with a rumbling “Ahem.”  Once they’re alert and ready to attend, the Treeman says, “We’re going to the Lake to tell Aunt Tricia, and we’ll recommend that everyone be summoned.  It will take three weeks or so for everyone to come, and then we’ll meet and work out what to do.  I hope you two can come with us; that way, Aunt Tricia can hear everything from you first-hand, and so can everybody else.”
        “We heard it from that guy, the Manager who fled from Sinister,” the Grumbit says, “so, technically, it’s second-hand from us, but that’s okay; Mom’s verified the news.  We know it’s true.  Yes, certainly we’ll go.  We can’t go back to Fuzzyville; the place is under siege, surrounded by the Host.  But who’s Aunt Tricia?  And this summoning, how does it happen?  Are there messengers?”
        “Aunt Tricia?  She’s the Grand Old Ladytree.  She’s rooted by the Lake.  She summons us by sending out a wave of pheromones.  Let’s go; we’ll answer questions on the way.”
        The four of them walk north along the stream, which Trevor says will take them to the Lake, where it originates.  “Is she your aunt?” asks Lula, “or do you just call her that?”
        “Oh, she’s my aunt,” says Trevor.  “No one else calls her ‘Aunt Tricia.’  They all call her ‘Ma’am.’
        “Of all the Elders planted by the Lake,” says Treena, “who are still entirely awake and able to converse with us, Aunt Tricia is the biggest, oldest one.  A lot of Elders younger than herself, including Trevor’s Mom, have slipped away into the Endless Dream of Everything.  Aunt Tricia supervises all the kids and teaches them the things they have to know.”
        “Do you guys go up there to visit her?”
        “We haven’t been there for a hundred years.  We only go there when a Treeman dies and it’s time for his wife to plant herself; that’s when Aunt Tricia summons all of us and we all gather for the ritual.  She always has wise things to say to us.”
        “I’ll bet she misses you.  Well, now she’ll have a chance to see her nephew and his wife.”
        “Yes, but she’s not entirely cut off from everything.  She sends out pheromones of greeting and support four times a year, and that’s how I know that she’s still in charge.”
        “Too bad you can’t say ‘hello’ back to her!”
        “Oh, we do send our own weak greetings back.  Aunt Tricia’s sensitive enough to pick them up.”
        “Do you converse, or is it just ‘hello’?”
        “It’s just a hello-feeling, nothing more.”
        “Hey, Trevor, do you talk to her as well, or do you let your wife do all the work?”
        “Oh, Treemen can’t send out those pheromones or feel them coming.  It’s the Ladytrees who handle all the social-messaging.  A Ladytree says, ‘Honey, I’ve received a message from the Grand Old Ladytree; she wants us all to come and gather there beside the Sacred Waters,’ and her man says, ‘Let me think about it.  Hmm … okay, we’re going to the Sacred Waters then.’  We husbands have to be in charge, of course, but generally we do what they want, right, Treena?  Anyway, that’s how it works, and that’s how it will work this time around once we’ve convinced Aunt Tricia that she needs to summon everybody to the Lake so that we all can meet there and, I hope, agree to work together to defeat this Horrifying enemy that wants to wreck the forest and enslave us all.”

        The Western Corps turns northward up the lane, dividing from the main Host heading on toward Elfpark.  In the lead are Gobbin-swarms that spread out through the grassy open ground around the village, thus surrounding it in order to prevent the villagers from fleeing through the woods; when they’ve deployed, the Urgs will march straight into Fuzzyville.  Michelle has not yet risen into view.  The foremost Urgs are starting to ascend the ramp that leads across Michelle’s wide rim, which humps up from the soil like a dike of spongey turf encircling the place, and this is what they still assume it is until the “dike” convulses under them.  They find themselves hurled backward through the air as she extends the roots below her rim and heaves it upward, shaking them away.  Her flesh-wall towers high above the lawn; her tree-like arms sweep back advancing Urgs.  As she’d done yesterday, she once again contracts her rim; she rolls it on its side within the circle of the empty ditch, across which many whipping roots extend and over which her tree-like arms bend down, prepared to swoop and sweep away, or smash, or grab and hurl, as needed, anyone who tries to get across and over her.
        Commander Creepus tells an underling to have the Gobbins move in from all sides and swarm the rampart of forbidding flesh in an unstopping and unstoppable (he thinks) collective wave of snapping fangs and slashing needle-claws; if ten percent survive the onslaught, that will be enough to get the job done; they’re expendable.
        The twenty thousand Gobbins now converge – a screeching, scrambling, thrashing, boiling mob.  Michelle’s long, treelike, many-fingered arms, extending easily across the ditch, sweep hundreds down before they get to it,  but in between the windshield-wiper sweeps a lot of Gobbins reach the empty gulch; they scramble down its outer bank, but then as they attempt to climb the inner bank are battered by the whipping tentacles that curve down from the wall of flesh above.  A fraction of them reach this wall of flesh.  Few reach the top, and almost all of those who reach it are at once struck down by rocks hurled by the Grumbits standing on the ground within the rim; they topple with crushed skulls and smashed-in faces.  If these Gobbins fall within the village and remain alive despite the injuries that they’ve received, they don’t survive for long; they’re finished off immediately by ferocious Molls.  No more than thirty individuals succeed in dropping to the ground unhurt, and packs of Mollies rush these lucky ones, tear them apart, and spit out gobs of flesh with nauseated looks, discovering that they don’t like the texture or the taste of Gobbin-meat – the stuff is Horrible.
        Commander Creepus pulls the Gobbins back in half an hour – anyone can see that their attack’s not going to succeed.  A quarter of his Gobbins have been killed, including many who were swarmed and killed and partially devoured by the rest as soon as they were seriously hurt – flung backwards by Michelle’s long sweeping arms and whipping roots, and dashed against the ground, they found themselves assaulted by their kin.  They shrieked as fellow-Gobbins feasted on their dying bodies, but they had no right to make a fuss; they would have done the same.
        A Manager named Slyme, who is the chief of Creepus’s administrative staff, suggests that Creepus send his hundred Trolls against a single narrow area of this ferocious, living fortress-wall.  “No,” Creepus says, “they’ll get stuck in the ditch, with those roots whipping downward at their heads, and any of those arms that’s near enough will just bend down and grab them one by one.  We’re better off besieging Fuzzyville.  I’m guessing that the thing defending it is nourished through those whipping tentacles when they’re inserted in the dirt below, so presently it isn’t being fed, and if we wait outside here long enough it’s going to become too weak to fight.  We’ll also have our Molemen tunnel in beneath this obstacle, and have them build some ramps that can be carried by our Trolls and leaned against the top of it from here.  We’ll try attacking Fuzzyville again when we’ve got several passageways dug out, and ramps prepared, about a month from now.”
        Beyond the ditch, the Host sets up its camp.  The Urgs set up their tents of Beetle-hide around the village; they’re the closest in.  The Managers have their pavilions raised beside the lane that leads up from the Road.  Beyond the belt of Urgs, the Molemen dig the hive in which they’ll dwell throughout the siege; the trampled lawn is pimpled with the humps that roof the burrows they’ve dug out below.  The wagons filled with all of the supplies that will sustain the Corps throughout the siege are parked around the outskirts of this hive.  (As they are emptied, they will trundle back to Sinister for more, and then return.)  The fifteen thousand Gobbins who remain will live unsheltered on the lawn beyond (or, rather, on what used to be the lawn, for all the grass is soon reduced to filth, a mud composed of dirt and Gobbin-piss); they writhe about there, wrestling in heaps and eating one another now and then.  The Trolls loom at the open space’s edge, near where the forest starts.  They sit and rock, stare at the ground and mumble to themselves.
        The villagers begin to celebrate the victory that they have won today.  The Grumbits drink dark beer, the Molls red wine.  Beneath the Hall, their mother also drinks: Michelle enjoys fermented Bioslime, her children coming down to chat with her in little groups.  They’re feeling pretty good, but there’s an anxious undercurrent too; they know that things are going to be tough for many weeks, while Fuzzyville’s besieged.