Chapter Six: Dwarfs and Boodles

        Dwarf Mountain’s population’s twice the size of Elfpark’s – here, a hundred thousand Dwarfs reside, among them fifty thousand men.  The women are a fifth as numerous and almost three times taller than the men; each woman has five husbands, each of whom could physically subdue her on his own if he desired, but their marriages are tender, cuddly, and businesslike, so there’s no need to put this to the test.  The forty thousand children living there chase one another through the passageways with cheerful shrieks when they’re not studying, or, if they haven’t yet begun to walk, peer out of fleshy burrows in the bulk of their vast mothers, clutching at the fat in which they nestle, tugging at its folds.  They all live in apartments underground, connected by a maze of corridors; they work in factories and offices within the mountain, also underground.  Don’t think that Dwarfs despise the daylight though; for half an hour every day they come in scheduled shifts to bless the outside world and walk about upon the terraces along the Mountain’s Realm-ward western slope, and once a week they gather on the Porch (the broad expanse outside the Mountain’s Gate) together, once at dawn and once at dusk, to chant “the Hymn of Holy Awesomeness.”
        Two nights before the fall of Disengar, as Fladnag stood within the little room in Dwarfenberg to which he’d been assigned, attempting to compose his faculties so that he might descend into the trance from which, he hoped, he would emerge abrim with energetic competence, prepared to meet the three High Judges of the place, he found himself increasingly distressed, considering the possibility that Asmuran’s apparent confidence in those no-doubt-impressive Megagirls might be misplaced – suppose they weren’t enough to overcome the Horrid Host and drive it all the way back home to Sinister?  Then Fuzzyville would fall within three months, when dear Michelle’s protective rim dried out and she was forced to lower it again, and she’d be at the mercy of a man who had become a full-on psychopath since Fladnag had last socialized with him a hundred years ago, who called himself “the Mastermind of Horror” – how the fuck could anyone describe himself that way and not crack up?  A warped, sadistic creep!  And now Michelle would be his prisoner, assuming that she wasn’t murdered first.
        The Dusty Wizard grimly told himself:  A Dwarfish army must be on its way to Elfpark soon – within the coming month – or she and all her children may be lost.  I must convince them not to take too long.  I know they’ll want to stay here and prepare for quite a while – that’s the way they are – but I can’t let that happen; when I speak with those High Judges, I must hit those guys with every weapon in my arsenal of logical, persuasive argument, along with an appeal that targets them right where they’re weakest – their identity as servants of the Holy Awesome One who do his bidding even when it hurts.
        Next day at noon, while Disengar endured the Horrid Host’s continuous assault, the Wizard was at last led up to meet with Dwarfenberg’s High Judges.  I’ll describe his conference with them in the present tense.
        The three High Judges, who sit facing him beyond the table, frown attentively as he relays what he heard from the mouth of Snigger, Nausor’s mutant mini-clone, about the Horrid Host from Sinister and its objectives.  He assures the three that Snigger told the truth at Fuzzyville, for his best friend there, who unerringly detects the slightest impulse to deceive, is sure of Snigger’s honesty – the man was both appalled by Nausor’s Horrid plan and hopeful that the Midnight Wizard’s friends might save him from the Horror he now served, returning to him to his original and almost healthy state of mind.  In fact, the latter goal appeared to be the one that Snigger mainly had in view, which was of course completely understandable.  He also tells them of the Megagirls, and of the Rainbow Wizard’s eager hope that these, with Elven help, would smash the Host and send it fleeing back to Sinister.  “But I’m not confident that they’ll succeed,” says Fladnag, “and be sure that if they don’t the Host of Horror will be heading here.  Moreover, even if the Megagirls and Elves can drive the Host back whence it came, another Host is going to emerge a hundred years from now and try again, and this time Nausor certainly will have some kind of answer to these Megagirls.  The only people that can go inside Mount Sinister and really clear it out are you folks, and I’ve gotten guarantees from everyone that if you get this done the place is yours for keeps, a second home or mining colony or anything you want to make of it – Mount Sinister is really going to belong to you, just as your Book of Awesomeness predicts.  I will admit that I was skeptical, but now I realize that this prophecy was accurate.  Mount Sinister will be a second Dwarfenberg, deservedly, if you de-Horrify the place for us.  And so, I urge you – or, if that won’t do, I plead with you – to send as large a force as possible to Elfpark right away.  Your men will either win the battle there and then continue on to Sinister or, if the battle’s already been won, go on to Sinister in any case, and, entering the Mountain, make it yours.”
        The Judges gaze at Fladnag thoughtfully for several seconds after he is done.  The gangly Dusty Wizard’s knees don’t fit beneath the table, so he’s sitting hunched, his forearms on his thighs; his fingers rest upon the tabletop, which is so broad the Judges seem to sit across the room, and although they are looking up at him, he has the feeling that they’re looking down, as though the floor slopes up to where they sit.  He nervously removes his cone-shaped hat and places it upon the tabletop, with one hand fingering its floppy brim, the other rubbing at his cone-shaped brow.
        The High Judge in the center, who’s the one entrusted with political affairs, is Rothin – heavy-browed, with bulging eyes, a broad, flat nose, and very thick, wide lips, his beard and hair splayed out in jagged chops beneath the bowler hat that all Dwarfs wear.  His bulky chest and shoulders indicate a strength extraordinary even here where average males can press five hundred pounds.  He drums his stubby fingers quietly upon the tabletop, and finally speaks:  “So now it seems our friends, the Elves, won’t mind our presence as we travel back and forth between Dwarf Mountain and Mount Sinister when we have made the latter mountain ours.  This interests and somewhat amuses me, considering the way our tanker-crews are greeted by those little groups of Elves who dance around and sing insulting songs and even throw small objects at our guys when they go fetch the Bioslime we need from our facility a mile east of Elfpark, where they never have to go and see our faces if we bother them.  Moreover, Dwarfish chronicles describe a number of small wars in which the Elves drove Dwarfish miners from the area in Elfpark’s center prior to the time when your friend Asmuran built Disengar at this location, and his Mexicans began to operate that mine for us.  You think that sort of thing would not recur?”
        “No, Judge; you won’t be going back and forth through Elfpark; I’ve discussed this with the Prince and Duke and Asmuran, and they agree: we’ll build a highway through the Southern Swamps for you to use when you go back and forth between Mount Sinister and Dwarfenberg, so that there won’t be conflict with the Elves.”
        “I see.  Well, that’s a good solution, yes.  But then I wonder – why the awful rush?  The Elves aren’t really such great friends of ours, so why should we be hastening to help those people?  Let them flee and hide away up in the Highlands; let this Horrid Host take over Elfpark.  We’ll go have a chat with your friend Nausor, and negotiate a mutually beneficial pact – he lets us have our usual supply of Bioslime, and we don’t bother him as long as he stays far away from us.”
        “Judge Rothin, I assure you he intends to conquer and enslave you in the end; whatever treaties you might make with him are going to be broken by the man as soon as he believes that breaking them would most effectively promote the cause of Horror, which he seems to have embraced wholeheartedly.  He’ll break his promises as soon as he can get away with it.”
        “No doubt you’re right, but in the interim we’ll be producing war-materials at an enormous rate, and practicing all sorts of combat-skills.  When that time comes we’ll easily defeat the Horrid Host, so why should we be bothered with it now, when Dwarfenberg is not prepared for war?”
        “But, Judge, the willingness of everyone to grant possession of Mount Sinister to your community depends a lot on whether you go promptly to the aid of Elfpark, and I’m sure that if you Dwarfs make any pact with Nausor that allows that city to remain in Horror’s hands for any length of time, however short, your claim to Sinister will not be viewed with very much respect by anyone.”
        “That’s immaterial,” Judge Rothin says.  “We don’t require anyone’s respect; we follow orders that our patriarchs were given by the Holy Awesome One more than eleven thousand years ago.  If Elves or other folk impede our work, we’re experts at removing obstacles.”
        “If that’s your attitude, why haven’t you already gone and taken Sinister?  You could have taken it at any time, but you’ve been waiting here in Dwarfenberg until I came to you with this request.”
        “Ah, yes, dear Wizard; that’s just it, you see.  Our Book of Holy Awesomeness declares that Dwarfdom will possess Mount Sinister when, quote, ‘those who have held you in contempt come begging you to take it in your hands.’  Well, now you’ve come as an ambassador from Elfpark, asking us to head out there and take it for ourselves.  That’s all we need.”
        “No, you are being offered our support in payment for assistance which includes your prompt appearance.  That means no delays for preparation – certainly no deals with Nausor; please don’t even think of it.”
        Judge Nurdi clears his throat.  He runs the courts, and is the ultimate authority on applications of the Dwarfish Law to novel circumstances, when it seems that well-established precedents conflict in ways that render things ambiguous.  Comparatively gaunt, he has a twitch that shuts his eye and jerks his chin aside.  He rubs the angle of his long thin nose with rapid, nervous strokes, and chews his lips, and sucks on tendrils of his oily hair.  He says, “Our Law of Generous Response does not require that we render aid in just the manner that’s desired by the party that’s requesting aid of us.  If we, deliberating carefully, conclude that the requesting party here will not be greatly harmed if we diverge from that specific form in which the aid is asked of us, while we ourselves are saved unnecessary risk, then certainly we may provide assistance in a way deflecting harm from us while helping him, no matter if it’s not the sort of aid that was requested of us at the start.  Now, here I’ve heard it mentioned that the Elves might hide out in the forest while this Host is staying in their city, giving us sufficient time to get ourselves prepared to clean the Horror out of Sinister with far less risk to our own lives and limbs.  It also seems worth noting that the Elves are said to be immortal, unlike us, and that they rapidly recover from what would, for us, be lasting injuries.  Thus, any interval of suffering is, in the total scheme of Elven life a barely noticeable quantity.  This leads me to conclude that if we wait here in our mountain for some span of time while we augment our military might and only then assist our Elven friends, their long-term happiness won’t be reduced significantly; on the other hand, we Dwarfs, by lessening our rate of deaths through preparation, will in consequence diminish the unhappiness of wives and children of the slain, and their close friends, and by ensuring that the incidence of lasting injuries that we receive is lowered, we’ll prevent the psychic pain that maimed and crippled individuals endure throughout their lives, no matter how solicitously they are treated by the rest of us – they’ll always feel impaired.”
        “That’s that, then,” says Judge Rothin with an air of satisfaction, rubbing his thick hands against each other; “We will take our time, and if Midnight Wizard’s Horrid Host defeats the Rainbow Wizard’s Megagirls we’ll sound him out and hopefully arrange a little deal, a temporary one, that will enable us to arm ourselves so thoroughly that when we venture out we won’t have any trouble beating him and making Sinister our property.”
        The Wizard leans his head against his hand and looks at Rothin sideways, with a frown he hopes seems merely thoughtful, but in fact is generated by the rage he feels.  “Judge Rothin, doesn’t your Great Awesome Book of Holy Wisdom say explicitly that Dwarfs are to be models for the world, that all shall imitate the Dwarfish Way in order to become much better men than they had been before they copied you?  Does this indifference to the works of God – for Elves and other folk that I might name are certainly among the greatest works of He you call ‘the Holy Awesome One’ – is this indifference to be copied, then?”
        Judge Nurdi says, “You’re misinterpreting this verse; what it refers to is the way we are to treat the members of our own community – with tenderness and care, and admonition, if required, too.  Then other kinds of people, witnessing the way we treat our own, will tell themselves, ‘We too must lend a guiding hand to those among us who can’t do it on their own.’”
        “All right, then, I give up!” the Wizard shouts, “but you should know that there are other folk besides the Elves who really need your help, and aren’t immortal, and who will be hurt and killed, and might be tortured and transformed in ways too Horrible to talk about by Nausor if he isn’t beaten back within three months!  Have you heard of the Molls and Grumbits, and their Mom at Fuzzyville?  Not one of them has ever said a word that would offend you; they’re just beautiful, nice people, and you’d let them be destroyed!  I have to tell you, I’m ashamed of you, especially considering the fact that you purport to serve the Holy One who made these creatures and presumably would rather they be happy and alive than dead or dismal slaves.  But you don’t care; the orders that you people have received don’t mention Fuzzyville, and so, of course, those people don’t exist at all for you.  But they exist for me!  I’ll find some way to help them, if they won’t get help from you!”
        He rises to his feet and starts to turn, about to storm out of the conference room, when he hears Nurdi saying, “Wizard, please, let’s not be hasty.  Let me think a bit.”  So Fladnag sits back down, his long arms crossed upon his chest, and glares at him and waits.
        “Yes, yes,” says Nurdi.  “Well, you see, my friends, the Wizard is suggesting something new – that if we let these folks in Fuzzyville get killed or taken captive by this Host we’d be dishonoring the Holy One; he thus invokes, without intending to, the Law of Honoring the Holy One, which tells us that we must perform an act if not performing it would foster doubts about the Holy Awesome One’s good will.  The Wizard alternately might be seen as bringing into play another Law, related but entirely distinct, the Law of Honoring Our Holy Work, which tells us that where inactivity would foster doubts regarding our intent to serve the Holy One with all our might we must be active.  Either way, it seems that we must hasten to these people’s aid.”
        Judge Rothin’s eyebrow rises.  “Well, then, Judge, it seems we have a little conflict here.  My legal expertise is less than yours, but, even so, I’m hardly ignorant, and every High School student here is taught the Law of Saving Dwarfish Life and Limb.”
        Judge Imlig calls attention to himself by clapping his plump hands and keeping them joined there in front of him as he says, “Um, if you’ll allow me to address that point?”  He oversees Dwarf Mountain’s industries and its distributive economy.  He’s somewhat fat, with very large, kind eyes.  He pulls his fluffy beard and says, “I think we can equip a thousand men per day.  Ten thousand of our men will constitute a major unit to which we’ll assign a general commander – hmm, what name shall we give these divisions of our force?  Why not ‘divisions’?  We will call them that.  A soon as a division is equipped, let’s send it out, and then another one when that’s one ready, following the first.  In this way we will play an active role in operations countering this Host quite quickly, while we’re building up our strength until we’re ready for the final thrust that makes Mount Sinister our property.  Of course, it will be riskier for us to send our men ten thousand at a time instead of all at once, but I believe that through this course of action we’ll apply the Law of Saving Dwarfish Life and Limb as well as those two Laws of Honoring that Fladnag has unwittingly invoked.”  He smiles at the Wizard in a way that seems to say to him, “See?  You and I can get this done, if we move carefully.”
        Judge Nurdi nods emphatically at this, and, looking at Judge Rothin, nods again.  Judge Rothin shrugs, while slightly grimacing, as if to say, “Oh well, what can I do?” and says, “Well, then, Judge Imlig, go ahead.  I’m sure it won’t be difficult for you to get Dwarf Mountain’s industries re-geared for war-production.  Do you have a plan?”
        Judge Imlig says, “Well now, a lot of tools that we already have might be employed as weapons – I mean hammers, axes, picks, and things of this sort, but it seems to me that these will not be optimal for use against the Trolls or Gobbins; with the Trolls, the reach they have would make it difficult to get in close enough to take them down, and with the Gobbins, we would need our hands to pry them off of us and break their necks.  Our men will also need to shield themselves against the Urgish pikes.  So how about we arm two kinds of soldiers – most of them will be the basic type, equipped to fight against the Urgs or Gobbins – either one – but we will also have another sort, and these will be Troll-killing specialists.  Nine thousand of the ordinary sort will be in each division, and the rest, a thousand, will be armed for killing Trolls.  Our Troll-destroyers should be armed with spears; we’ll make those suckers twenty-five feet long.  As for our basic fighting-men, they’ll need equipment that’s adaptable for use against both types of enemies they’ll face, the Urgs and Gobbins, interchangeably.  Perhaps a pair of heavy metal gloves with forearm-guards unfolding into shields as needed?  And let’s put a pop-up spike upon the major knuckle of each glove.  We’ll call them “battle-gloves”.  Envision it – the Urgs advance at us with lowered pikes in close formation, highly disciplined.  No worries.  We convert our forearm-guards to shields, and knock their pikes to either side, and then, as we charge in, collapse our shields and trigger the extension of our spikes, which only takes a second.  Reaching them, we punch them in the face with our spiked gloves.  And now the Gobbins: wild screeching mobs come rushing in upon us, waves of them, and leap upon us, hoping that the weight of several of them on each one of us will bear us down beneath them, where their teeth will tear our flesh away in bloody strips.  This time, we’ll keep our forearm shields collapsed.  We’ll beat down most of them, but some, no doubt, will manage to evade our blows, and then our gloves will be ideal for grabbing them and choking them to death, or hurling them, or shaking them until their backbones snap.  So – twenty-five foot spears and battle-gloves, and every fighting man should also have a heavy helmet and an armored shirt.  We’ll have to have a lot of extras made, since damaged gear will have to be replaced, and we will be producing ration-kits, and getting cargo trucks prepared for these, and then, for use as mobile hospitals, we’ll need some flatbeds.  Also, let’s bring up some of our horizontal drilling-tanks and modify them for our present needs.  They’re going to be slow and ponderous, but quite effective, once they reach the front.”
        The Wizard leans toward Imlig eagerly.  “So in ten days you’ll have ten thousand men equipped, and send them westward right away?”
        “We’ll need a day to get these things designed in detail, and have factories prepared to manufacture these materials, and get the personnel we need for them assigned, and schedule work-shifts for these men.  Production starts the next day after that, and ten days of production brings us to …” (the Judge counts on his fingers, silently, while mouthing numbers) “… April twenty-third. We’ll train our first division through that time, and they’ll share weapons as we turn them out, while using welding-gloves and rebar-shafts as substitutes for training purposes until they’re all equipped.  So they can leave on April twenty-fourth.  Does that sound good?”
        “A whole better than it did before,” says Fladnag.  “Thanks, Judge Imlig.  Thanks, you guys,” he adds for Imlig’s colleagues’ benefit.
        “That’s that, then, gentlemen,” Judge Rothin says.  He shoves his chair back, rising to his feet.  “It’s almost time for our late-morning prayers, and so you must excuse us, Fladnag, sir.”  He hustles briskly through the room’s back door, Judge Nurdi following, but looking back to nod at Fladnag slightly as he leaves.
        Judge Imlig comes around the table, though, his hand held out.  “Come on,” he says, “let’s shake.”   The Wizard stands and takes the proffered hand.  The Dwarf’s head only reaches Fladnag’s chest; his shoulders, though, are nearly twice as broad.  “Nice grip,” says Imlig, patting Fladnag’s arm.
        The Wizard smiles, nodding.  “Likewise, Judge.”  The handshake done, they stand a moment more, the Judge and Wizard looking up and down at one another, as if searching for some indication of a further thought.
        Then Imlig says, “Judge Nurdi’s got a heart, and you appealed to it.  He had to find a legal basis for his sympathy.  Most Dwarfs are like that.  Even Rothin is.  You saw how easily the man gave in once you brought up your friends in Fuzzyville.”
        “I never thought that you were just a hive of soulless bugs completely governed by a super-complicated set of rules,” says Fladnag, “although other people do.”
        “Those other people can go fuck themselves,” says Imlig, grinning.  “No, we do have rules, a lot of them, and they get burdensome, but they’re what keep our culture here alive.  It’s like an organism that can’t live without a skeleton.  Our skeleton is legal.  But, around that skeleton the little cells all have their private thoughts and feelings.  That’s a silly metaphor; it’s strained, I know, but you get what I mean.”
        “That sort of metaphor would certainly alarm the Elves, who, I’m afraid to say, are somewhat paranoid about you folks.  They think you want to dominate the Realm  and turn it into one big Dwarfenberg, with all the non-Dwarfs serving you as slaves.”
        “But why on Earth would anyone think that?”
        “Well, there’s that verse I cited earlier about you being models for the world, and your society is organized on theocratic communistic lines.  The whole economy is supervised by experts such as you, and everything proceeds according to the dictates sent down from your office to the factories.  Since only Dwarfs could manage things this way, it’s obvious that Dwarfs would be in charge, and that’s the reason you want everyone to systematize their own lives this way.  I know, I know; I heard Judge Nurdi say that I was misinterpreting the verse and that it only meant that other folks should take care of their own the way you do.”
        “That’s right, and since, as you yourself just said, the only people who could possibly succeed in living communistically are Dwarfs, we’d never recommend this way of life to any others in the Realm.”
        “I get that, Judge.  The thing is, others don’t and never will; they’ll always tend to think that you are just attempting to deceive them into letting you control the Realm.”
        “And yet they’d let us have Mount Sinister if we assist them now, which indicates that they don’t really think they’ll be enslaved.  They know that if this Horrid Host prevails, they’ll really be enslaved.  They also know that they won’t be our slaves, although I guess they like pretending they believe this crap.  Perhaps this fantasy alleviates their sense of weakness and frivolity by making them feel like embattled kids whose fun is threatened by us grim adults who want to give them boring chores to do.”
        “Yes, I suppose you’re right,” the Wizard says.  “Well, Judge, I’m glad we’ve had this little chat, but please don’t let me keep you from your prayers.”
        “Oh, there are later sessions I can join down in our lower-level factories.  I like to pray down there because those guys are somewhat more relaxed about it all.  It’s like a spiritual deep breath for them and not the tense obsessive ritual that it can be among the guys up here who try so hard to make themselves believe that everything that our Books say is true.”
        “You think that they’re just trying to believe?  They don’t in fact believe that it’s all true?”
        “Well, what’s belief when what’s inside your mind appears to make no difference in the way you deal with stuff around you in the world?  I think it’s really just a sort of game, a totally intense, engaging game that’s played on many levels; and of course it’s what keeps our society alive, so since I really do love Dwarfenberg, I play it, and trying getting into it.  The others?  Well, I guess that most of them just play it without even worrying about how real it is, but those up here, the leadership, they’re more self-conscious guys, so it’s an issue for them, and they try to take it literally, but I think that they’re unable to, which bothers them, and that’s why some of them can be a bit unpleasant to those who don’t know them well – Judge Rothin, for example.  Others, though, just learn to live with it; I think they know that it’s a game, but they can’t just come out and say it is, since this would break the rules.  So then you get these enigmatic types like Nurdi, who appear to some to have a special insight into mysteries concealed behind the curtain of the Law, but really are a little skeptical and try to make the game as interesting as possible, since none of us can quit.”
        “So, talking to me in this open way you’re violating an unspoken rule of your own game?  Why do you do it then?”
        “Because the Dwarfish game’s not everything.  I like you, Wizard, so I take a break to have a conversation with a friend who’s not a player.  But, of course, I’m sure you’ll be discreet – you won’t be citing me as your authority when you impart your insights on the Dwarfish Attitude to others who you think might benefit from these impressions, and be reassured?”
        “No, I won’t violate your confidence, for which I’m grateful.  Thank you very much.”
        “Thank you for listening, and now I too must go and pray.  Enjoy your evening here, and have a pleasant trip when you depart.  Tell Prince Aletheon we’re on our way.”
        The two shake hands again.  Judge Imlig turns and, with a final fist-pump and a grin, he exits through the back.  The Wizard sighs and puts his cone-shaped Wizard’s hat back on.  He strides out through the public entranceway.
        He stands there on the porch and gazes out upon the Cavern of the Courts, now thronged with rushing Dwarfs who join the growing groups that gather loosely here and there, from which arise the sounds of prayerful muttering.  Beyond the multitudes of praying Dwarfs, beneath the Market-Cavern’s entrance-arch, stand several giantesses, looking on. They’re female Dwarfs, twice Fladnag’s height, immense amorphous towers with vast nodding heads, each one with several infants clambering among the mounds and pockets of her flesh and in among the swirls of drapery that wrap around her body several times.  He sees the guide that’s been assigned to him engaged in prayer with several dozen Dwarfs who’ve gathered in a buzzing little crowd not very far away from where he stands.
        He’s curious about the female Dwarfs – he’s never had a chance to speak to one – and sees he has an opportunity to have a little chat with one of them while his attendant prays.  So he descends the stairs and weaves his way among the groups until he makes it to the entrance-arch.  The giantesses tower over him, the nearest babies grabbing for his robe.
        He says, “Excuse me!”  They look down at him impassively, with cow-like staring eyes.  “Hello!  I’m Fladnag!  I’m just curious – what’s life like here in Dwarfenberg for you?  Do they respect you?  Do you have a sense of dignity, or do you feel oppressed?”
        One says (her voice a deep and gentle moo), “We’re not supposed to talk to any men except our husbands or our husbands’ guests when there’s a husband in the room with us.”
        “That just applies to Dwarfs,” the Wizard says.  “At least, I think it just applies to them.  It wouldn’t make much sense if it applied to men you wouldn’t have much interest in and who would not be interested in you – I mean, in a romantic sort of way.”
        “You might be right,” she says, and turns her head to one of her enormous friends.  “He says that it’s okay to talk to him, because he’s not a Dwarf.  Do you think it’s okay?”
        “It might be, Mushki.  Go ahead and see.  If it turns out that it was not okay, just tell your husbands that you didn’t know.”
        “But then they might not give me my dessert!”
        “Oh, they would never do that!  They’re so nice!”
        “They are nice, Bushki!  Thanks for saying so!”  She turns back to the Wizard.  “Go ahead and say something, and then I’ll answer you.”
        “I wondered if you ever felt oppressed.”
        The baby Dwarfs that crawl all over her begin to bounce and giggle, shrieking, “Yay!”  The babies on the other female Dwarfs who stand nearby begin to do the same.
        “Well, when it’s almost time to feed these kids they get so fussy it’s a lot of work to manage them, and sometimes I say, ‘Kids, I wish you’d all just settle down a bit!’”
        “But do your husbands order you around excessively?  Do they control your lives?”
        “We pretty much do anything we want, right Bushki? – take our babies to the park, go shopping, chat together in the Hall, you name it, we can do it.  They don’t mind; in fact, they like it when we’re having fun.”
        “Well, do you get much education here?  Do they give you free access to their books?”
        “Oh, we don’t want to read those boring books.  Of course we read to our small children though, before they’re old enough to go to school – nice, simple books about our history and way of life, and what the Holy One is like, and what He wants from all of us.”
        The prayers are over, and the guide trots up:  “I wondered where you were.  Well, now you’ve met some of our ladies.  Aren’t they wonderful?”
        “So it’s okay for them to talk to me?”
        “It’s probably a violation, but I promise I won’t tell on you.  Come on, I’ll take you down to see our Insect Zoo, and then our Fungal Garden – they’re both great; you’ll really love them.  Then, tonight, you’ll dine at one of our best cafeterias.”
        The Wizard’s on the Road again at dawn, the thirteenth day of April, heading west. If Fladnag were aware that Disengar has been abandoned to the Horrid Host by its defenders, and that Elfpark fell two days ago, he’d walk less cheerfully.

        Two days of walking bring him to the lane that leads to Boodletown; he reaches it as evening comes, and takes the right-hand turn.  The Valiant Remnant’s still a day away as they flee eastward, bound for Dwarfenberg. 
        He walks for half a mile on the lane through quiet woods – on either side of him are aspens, larches, elms, and tulip trees.  (I must confess, I wouldn’t recognize an aspen or a larch, but don’t the names sound perfect for a quiet forest-scene?)  Soon Fladnag’s walking into Boodletown, a scattering of wigwams so well-spaced that from each curtained doorway you can see no more than bits of two or three of them beyond the wildflowers and small trees that fill the intervening areas.  Adjacent to each wigwam are the plots in which the Boodle who resides there grows the vegetables that mainly nourish him.  A maze of cobbled lanes connects these homes.  A wooden “Temple” stands against the woods at Boodletown’s north end, with slanting roof and slender fluted columns, and a porch.  The Boodles regularly visit it to speak with Mooga, who resides within.  (Don’t worry, you’ll know all about him soon.)
        A Boodle working in his garden-plot stands up to greet him.  “Peace be yours tonight, my Brother,” says the Boodle tranquilly; his voice is very deep and resonant.  He’s tall enough that he looks slightly down to meet the Wizard’s eyes with his calm gaze, although the top of his bald, blocky head does not ascend as high as Fladnag’s cone.  The bulky Boodle’s volume far exceeds the narrow Wizard’s.  He must weigh at least four hundred pounds; the Dusty Wizard weighs about one-eighty – less than half as much.  The man’s an egg-shaped mass of solid fat that’s almost all exposed to public view; an orange loincloth and a pair of clogs are all he wears.  His hairless skin’s light brown, his eyes bright blue, his nose and lips squashed flat.
        “Hello, remember me?  I visited about ten years ago.  I’m Fladnag.  These are very healthy-looking vegetables.  I have to speak with my friend Dagastar.  Is he still living in the Temple’s yard?
        “Yes, Brother, Dagastar’s still living there.”
        “Still studying Boodita with your Dad?”
        “That’s right; our Father Mooga’s teaching him.”
        “He must have gotten pretty good at it by now, considering how long it’s been since he began to practice all those moves.”
        “Yes, almost at the level of a few of our less-disciplined practitioners.”
        “I’ve heard he’s got a girl from Disengar there also, studying along with him.”
        “Yes, Sumiko.  Her father’s there with her.”
        “And how’s her progress?  Is she promising?”
        “Already, Sumiko’s surpassed us all.”
        “Oh, really?  That’s amazing.  Well, I’m glad that Dagastar invited her to come to study with him here, then.   It’s so nice when’s someone’s natural talent is allowed to flourish in the right environment.”
        “Yes, Father Mooga’s very pleased with her.”
        “That’s wonderful.  I’ll bet that Sumiko is just as pleased with him, considering his gentle, patient character.  The man is not just wise, he’s kind, which I believe is an important quality to have when you are dealing with these teenaged girls, who tend to get upset from time to time about small matters that don’t bother us.  I have to speak with him while I’m in town – important things are happening out there, and he should know about them, shouldn’t he?”
        “Perhaps he should; I really couldn’t say.”
        “You guys are so laconic!  Well, alright, I guess I’ll head on to the Temple now.  Don’t worry; I can find my own way there.  ‘All lanes lead to the Temple,’ as you say.”
        The Boodle smiles.  “Yes, that’s what we say.”
        The Wizard wanders down long curving lanes that intersect and branch and loop around secluded groves where groups of Boodles sit in meditation.  Other Boodles work upon their gardens, some just stroll along and hum deep in their throats, with half-closed eyes, and here and there a Boodle sways and turns  above the flowers in a grassy patch and kicks and strikes the air, and sometimes leaps to heights improbable for one so fat.  Small sparks fly from their fingertips and toes when they make extra-rapid flourishes.
        It takes the Wizard quite a lot of time to make his winding way through Boodletown – the curving lanes keep turning him around – but finally Fladnag sees the Temple’s roof beyond the tops of gnarled cherry trees, and then he’s on the lawn.  Off to the side, before a teepee and two small bright tents (one pink, one blue), a Wizard and a girl are practicing Boodita.  Dagastar looks like George Harrison – lean, serious, with straight black hair and beard; his robe is green, and he’s two inches taller than our friend.  The girl’s a little doll-faced teenager in sandals, tank-top, and karate pants.  The green-robed Wizard’s pretty competent – his faster strikes are generating sparks – but Sumiko’s explosive leaps and twists are quite amazing.  Where she kicks the air, bright fire-blossoms large as basketballs explode and send out tendrils that arc down like sizzling cigarette-tips; as she spins, long spiral-streaks surround her, quivering like burning hula-hoops as they descend.  Her shirt’s perhaps a bit too short for her, and tight, and it keeps riding up her ribs; each time she lands, she has to pull it down.
        Four Boodles standing on the Temple’s porch watch Sumiko perform.  Each time she lands, they quietly applaud and nod their heads.
        “Hey, Dagastar, that’s awesome,” Fladnag says as he comes to a stop in front of them.  He nods at Sumiko and gives the girl a thumbs-up sign and smile, and she grins  and waves before she lands and bounces up to turn a flying backward-somersault, while Dagastar nods slightly in response and, straightening a finger, indicates that in a minute they’ll be done, Hold on, while he completes a lunging, spinning kick.  They finally finish, bowing from the waist, their hands pressed palm-to-palm in front of them, and Fladnag claps.  “That’s quite a show,” he says.  “How are you, Dagastar?  Hi, Sumiko.   It’s nice to see another side of you.  But where’s your dad?  I’d hope he’s doing well.”
        “He’s in the woods composing poetry.”  Her voice is like a warbling clarinet.
        “I’m getting ever-closer to the point where unity and multiplicity converge,” says Dagastar, “and Sumiko is ready to begin the final phase of her Boodita-training.  No one here is at the level she’s already reached, and Mooga says that it’s now time for her to start her training for the ultimate degree of Booditastic artistry, the rank of Booditana.  She would start tomorrow morning, but the Festival of Aimless Wandering, which lasts two days, begins at dawn, so she’ll start after that.  Within a month she should achieve her goal.”
        “That’s nice of him,” says Fladnag.  “Well, I guess it’s not as though he’s got much else to do.  To think he used to roam around the Realm so freely, studying and wondering, conversing with the people that he met and sharing his deep insights with them all.  It’s such a pity that the Hag of Har decapitated him before she died, but it’s some consolation, after all, that from his severed body there emerged the race of Boodles, who would care for him and make sure that he doesn’t get too bored immobilized within the crystal jar that somehow manages to keep the man not just alive, but quite intelligent.”
        “I can’t see Mooga ever getting bored,” says Dagastar; “He’s with the Infinite.”
        “Perhaps,” says Fladnag.  “Listen, though, we’ve got a problem, and it’s very serious.”  And Fladnag summarizes the events that have resulted in his journey here; he emphasizes that the Horrid Host is probably assaulting Elfpark now.  “They need your fighting prowess, Dagastar, and Sumiko’s – and I am going in to speak to Mooga – I’ll urge him to send his Boodles west to Elftown, to assist the Elves and Asmuran in its defense.  That’s where Boodita’s really needed now.”
        “I understand your sense of urgency,” says Dagastar, “but please don’t be surprised if it turns out that Mooga’s main concern is helping Sumiko attain the rank of Booditana.  He may want the girl to stay here to complete her training-course, and, if so, I should stay here with her too; sometimes the Boodle-Father’s words are vague and need to be conveyed to her in ways that she can grasp a bit more easily, and I’m not bad at that.  I also think that I provide emotional support that Mooga finds it hard to offer her.”
        “You’d think that Kenji would be giving her emotional support, since he’s her Dad.”
        “Well, teenaged girls are odd; they think their Dads are silly, even though they need their love.  It’s nice for them to have an uncle-type around them, in the background, who can play a competent, authoritative role.”
        “If Elfpark falls, then Boodletown will fall, and you and Sumiko will have to flee, so she’s not going to be training here.  No doubt it will be very nice for her to reach that highest rank she’s aiming for, but at this time of crisis for the Realm, with Horrible catastrophe ahead unless we all respond heroically, her training can be put on hold, I think.”
        “Ah, but, you see, when Sumiko attains the rank of Booditana, this will be a cosmically significant event that makes political occurrences of any magnitude here in the Realm appear comparatively trivial.  Boodita is ‘the Dance of Energies’ – its practice keeps the many worlds aligned, according to our Master, who declares that when this girl is fully trained, she’ll be the greatest harmonizer of the worlds who ever lived, superior to him – I mean, to him as he was in the past, before he lost his body and became a head preserved inside a crystal jar.”
        The Dusty Wizard turns to Sumiko.  “Well, what’s your own opinion, Sumiko?  Your friends and Mom are in some danger now, and might want you to go and help them out, but on the other hand perhaps he’s right and it would be advisable to wait and finish up your education here.”
        “Perhaps I should go now, Dag, I don’t know,” she says to Dagastar uncertainly.
        “Don’t let this guy manipulate you, dear,” says Dagastar.  “He’s always focusing on his large-scale political concerns, unable to see people as themselves, as individuals with private needs – your mother, for example, who, I’m sure would very much prefer that you stay safe as long as possible, and far away from any fighting.  You’re her little girl; she wouldn’t want you risking injury, and she’d feel very guilty if you went for her sake there to Elfpark and got hurt.”
        “Okay, okay,” says Fladnag.  “Still, I think it wouldn’t be so inappropriate if I attempted to persuade the man to send his people, or a lot of them, to Elfpark right away, since, as I’ve said, if Elfpark falls, then Boodletown is next.  Self-interest dictates that the Boodles go and help the Elves withstand the Horrid Host.”
        He climbs the Temple’s steps up to the porch.  The Boodles standing there nod, smiling.  He says, “Hello, there, fellows; having fun?”
        “Yes, we enjoy observing Sumiko,” says one of them.  The others nod their heads.
        “I’m sure you do; she’s got amazing skills.  Now, tell me, do you have to drive off gangs of Bearmen coming here to raid the place quite frequently, or only now and then?”
        “It’s been awhile since they’ve bothered us.”
        “Oh, really?  Do you think they’ve changed their ways?”
        “Not likely.  They’re just scared of Sumiko.”
        “Because she generates those fireballs?”
        “Yes, when she makes the fireballs, they run.”
        “So they still come here, but they run away as soon as Sumiko makes fireballs?”
        “No Bearmen-gangs have come for fifteen days.”
        “Ha – rumors of her power must have spread throughout the forest.  Well, I guess your job is only ceremonial these days.  Nice chatting with you.  I’m on my way in to speak with Mooga, if you boys don’t mind.”
        They smile, nodding.  He steps through the door and walks across the dim interior, advancing toward the platform where the jar containing Mooga stands – its eerie glow is all that lights the space, but for the cracks between the wooden planking of the walls, through which the twilight seeps, as night draws near.
        The head within the jar is twice the size of ordinary Boodle-heads (which are already larger than your head or mine), but otherwise it much resembles them – a block-shaped hairless head with bright blue eyes and flattened nose and lips.  Or should I say that all those ordinary Boodle-heads resemble this one?  Probably I should, since ordinary Boodles were produced by sporogenesis from him, and so are really smaller replicas of him as he once was, when there was more of him below the neck.  The blue eyes have been closed, but open as the Wizard’s drawing near, observing him; the wide, flat lips expand – a friendly smile.  “Welcome,” Mooga says.
        “Good evening, Master Mooga,” Fladnag says, intending that his tone communicate a sense of his own equal dignity.  In this, the Wizard doesn’t quite succeed; his tone in fact says, “Yes, I am aware that I’m a bit inferior to you but that’s irrelevant, and I don’t care.”  Again he tells his tale of imminent catastrophe, and urges that there be a quick response.  “They need your help!  Please send most of your Boodles, if not all of them, to Elftown right away, and Sumiko, so she can use those fireballs of hers against the Host of Horror.  Dagastar will go with her if she returns, of course, and they can really use his counsel there … well, not his counsel in a verbal sense, but he’s so inspirational – I mean, his presence would be good for their morale.”
        “Ah,” Mooga says, “I see.  You’re telling me that we must help the Goood to overcome the Eevil.  Hmm.  Yes, this is very true.”  (Perhaps you’re wondering – he has no lungs or larynx, since he’s just a severed head, so how’s it possible for him to speak?  Well, all I know is that his speech depends, as does his life itself, upon the jar in which he is contained.  But now you’ll ask how this jar could already have been made and ready for him when the Hag of Har decapitated him before she died – did he anticipate what would occur and manufacture it well in advance?  If so, who put his separated head – all that was left of him – inside the jar?  He couldn’t have accomplished this himself, deprived as he now was of arms and hands, which are required for inserting things – including heads – inside of other things!  You’ll find the answers to these inquiries in the eleventh chapter of this book; it’s all explained by Gnarl Barkenfist, an awesome character who won’t appear for quite a while.  When he does, I’m sure you will agree that he was worth the wait.  His girlfriend Rifka’s kind of awesome too.)
        “Well, I’m not sure I’d want to use those words exactly, with that sort of emphasis,” says Fladnag, who feels that he’s being mocked, “but I guess, yes, that’s more or less correct.”
        “They’re splendid little words, especially when you pronounce them in the way I do.  Don’t just say ‘good’ and ‘evil’; no, say ‘goood’ and ‘eevill’; that gives them an extra punch.”
        “Of course, nobody’s quite sure what they mean,” says Fladnag, with a knowing little smirk that he hopes will assure the talking Head that he is not a naive simpleton.  “Perhaps they don’t mean anything at all – we might use value-words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ much as we use ‘yum!’, ‘yuck!’, ‘hurrah!’ and ‘boo!’ – to show that we approve or disapprove, accept or push away this thing or that.”
        “Oh, no, you’re wrong!  The Goood is everywhere; it’s all around us.  We’re aware of it.  And so’s the Eevill – hovering in sheets and pooling here and there in sticky globs.”
        “You might be right,” says Fladnag.  “Anyway, would you consider sending Elfpark help?  If Elfpark falls, then Boodletown is next, so doing this would not just be an act of charity; self-interest dictates it.”
        “When charitable impulses align with prudence, it’s not very difficult to deal with matters altruistically.  What normal human being wouldn’t seize upon an opportunity like this – a chance to do a thing that helps his friends and simultaneously help himself?  It’s pleasant in itself to help one’s friends and even people that one hardly knows; their gratitude’s a secondary source of pleasure.  But the possibility of helping oneself in a concrete way while also helping others – wonderful!”
        “I take it, then, that you’ll assist the Elves?”
        “Yes.  Not immediately, though.  You see, the festival of Aimless Wandering begins tomorrow, and it lasts two days.  Three days from now, then, on the seventeenth, I’ll send a hundred of my children west to Elfpark, where they will assist the Goood, but Sumiko must stay in Boodletown in order to complete her final month of training, at the end of which she’ll be a Booditana, and your Wizard-friend will stay here with her, since he has a knack for reassuring her when she’s upset, and I must keep most of my children here in order to preserve the atmosphere that she requires if she’s to succeed.”
        “But Elfpark needs all of your children now, and it needs especially needs Sumiko and those amazing fireballs she makes.  Why can’t her training just be put on hold?”
        “The Festival of Aimless Wandering can’t be neglected.  As for Sumiko, the interwoven ways of things revolve around her educational ascent.  I can’t repudiate this cosmic fact; I have to bow before it and accept its implications, which include the need for many of my children to remain in Boodletown while she completes her rise.”
        “Well, I won’t argue with you,” Fladnag says.
        “Yes, there’s no point in arguing with me.  You’ll stay here with us through the Festival?  I sense that you would benefit from it.”
        “I couldn’t possibly!  I must get back to Elfpark and do everything I can to help them in their fight against the Host!”
        “Come now, I wouldn’t have my Boodles walk to Elfpark without Fladnag leading them! No, that would never happen.  You must stay and Wander Aimlessly in Boodletown tomorrow and the next day; then you’ll go and you will have a hundred of my kids accompanying you.  Won’t that be nice?”
        Half-satisfied, half-fuming, Fladnag thanks the Boodle-Father, and goes out again.  The Wizard looks down from the Temple-porch at Dagastar and Sumiko, who stand in standing-meditation-poses now, feet spread, knees slightly bent, with tilted heads their arms held in a rocking-cradle pose.  A man comes from the woods, approaching them with slowed-down steps, as though he’s in a trance.  It must be Kenji.  Yes, in fact it is.  The girl turns toward him, straightening, and says, “Hi, Dad!  Did you make up another poem?”  She taps the green-robed Wizard on the arm, and Dagastar turns also, and he waves.  The Japanese man stops and bows to them.  The three of them apparently confer as Fladnag moves to join them.  Sumiko says, “Dad, look, Fladnag’s come to visit us!”
        “Hello, sir,” Kenji says; “I’m very pleased and gratified.  Another Wizard here! I honor Wizards, and I always say the more of them there are, the merrier.”
        “Well, thanks, that’s very nice of you to say.  And I have always liked the Japanese.”
        “Let’s listen to my Dad’s new poem, okay?” says Sumiko to Fladnag, hopefully.
        “I’d be delighted to,” the Wizard says.
        The Japanese man shuts his eyes, breathes in, exhales, and says, “It’s called ‘Dear Master Bug.”  He pauses, then, with eyes still shut, goes on: “You know … what is … beneath … a grain … of dirt, … wise bug; … teach me … to look … beneath … such things.”  He opens his eyes wide and beams at them.
        “That’s marvelous, Kenji.  Quite profound, I think,” says Dagastar.  “Great, Dad!” says Sumiko.  They look at Fladnag very pointedly.  He says, “Terrific!  Wow!  I love it! Whoa!  That really makes me see the little things in an entirely new sort of way, as though they kind of matter after all.”
        “Yes,” Kenji says, “that’s what I try to do.  I see you understand.  Not everyone gets what I’m doing.  No, my poetry is not for average people, but a few are able to appreciate my enterprise, and I’m glad that you’re one of them, my friend.”
        “The pleasure’s mine,” says Fladnag; “It’s a treat to meet a poet; poets are so rare – I mean true poets, who have things to say, real things that matter – insights to express that we non-poets can’t articulate as well as they can.  We are in your debt.  Well, friends, it’s getting late, and I’m worn out; it’s time for me to go into my trance so that I will be fresh and vigorous tomorrow morning, for your Festival, which Mooga is insisting I endure before he sends me off accompanied by just a hundred Boodles, which is less than I had hoped for, but is certainly much better than not sending anyone at all to Elfpark with me.  Dagastar, you guessed correctly; Mooga wants to keep the three of you in Boodletown with him until this training-course of Sumiko’s is finished.  This means you’ll be staying here?  There’s nothing I can say to change your mind?”
        “That’s right.  Her training’s our priority.  Don’t look so grumpy, Fladnag.  Everything will be okay; I feel it.  Just relax and let events unfold in their own way.”
        “You know I’ve never been that kind of guy.  And now I have to wait in Boodletown for two whole days, just for this Festival?”
        “You’ll love the Festival,” says Dagastar.  “Well, maybe you won’t love it, but you’ll learn and benefit from it – I think you need some Aimless Wandering.  Come, stand with me inside my teepee; it’s a perfect place for trances – it’s like standing in a hat while wearing one – it doubles the effect.”
        Inside the teepee, they stand side by side and sink into their trances.  Sumiko and Kenji go to sleep inside their tents.
        Next morning, as the Wizards both emerge from their deep trances, they can hear the sounds of senseless murmurings and babblings move past their teepee – sounds the Boodles make as they enjoy their Aimless Wandering; four Boodles bear the litter that supports that crystal jar containing Mooga’s head, or rather Mooga (for the head is him); they’re carrying it down the Temple-stairs.  All day the Boodles will be taking turns as Mooga’s litter-bearers; in this way their Father will be Wandering with them.
        “Good morning Fladnag,” his companion says; shall we go Wander Aimlessly with them?”
        “I guess,” says Fladnag, following his friend out through the teepee’s opening to stand beside him the yard.  They watch the flow of Wanderers.  “Since everybody else is doing it, I’d better do it too or people might think I’m contemptuous and get offended, but I just don’t see the point of wandering around and babbling for two whole days.  To me, it looks a lot like wasting time.  I’m wrong?  Okay, explain what this activity accomplishes.”
        “The Aimless Wandering enables us to be encentered in the presentness of Being, thus reversing our long leap of self-disclosure, which has tragically but necessarily self-othered us.”
        “That isn’t very helpful, Dagastar.  Your talk of ‘Being’ and its ‘presentness’ and ‘self-disclosure’ which ‘self-others’ us suggests a lot of different images, all fairly vague, and I don’t know which ones you have in mind.  However, I suspect that you use these strange phrases to express a broadly pantheistic view of things; you use your unfamiliar formulae because you think that overuse has drained the ancient words of their significance.  When you say ‘Being”, don’t you have in mind what ordinary people would call ‘God’?  You hold that everything is just a mode of God’s self-consciousness – am I correct?”
        The Mossy Wizard stares up at the sky, then at a tree, and then meets Fladnag’s eyes.  “Well, not exactly,” he at last replies.  “However, you’re not absolutely wrong.  If I were to explain it in a way that ordinary people would accept as making sense, in words they like to use, I might begin by asking them to note how things are hovering in endless space, like wisps of cloud that float within a sky extending limitlessly everywhere.  We literally float inside of God, and God is literally everywhere.  The Holy One of Dwarfenberg is space – alive, emotional, intelligent.”
        “That’s crazy, Dag,” the Dusty Wizard says.
        “Well, I’ll explain my thinking if you want, but there’s a lot of ground to cover here, so if you want me to continue, then I’d better speak in Ultra-Rapid-Tongue.”
        “Go on; I’m activating Speed-Receive.”
        So Dagastar begins to speak; to us his words would sound like squawks and chitterings, but Fladnag finds them comprehensible.  But since the conversation they now have might be more interesting to me than you, I will omit it from this narrative.
        They talk for quite a while.  Dagastar says, “Well, then, Fladnag, are you ready now?”  The Dusty Wizard nods, half-smiling and slightly shrugging to communicate his lingering reluctance to commit himself to this two-day-long waste of time.  They join the Boodles in their Wandering along the winding lanes of Boodletown in Aimless circuits, weaving in and out and murmuring and babbling senselessly.  At first the Dusty Wizard finds it hard to lose himself in this activity, and he’s a bit resentful too; he feels that it’s an imposition to expect that he should try to lose himself in it.  But gradually, his frenetic mind begins to blur, and he just drifts along among the Boodles, Wandering around in almost perfect Aimlessness, although he now and then remembers who he is and thinks, “I can’t wait to get out of here!”  He passes Dagastar or Sumiko or Kenji now and then; they vaguely wave, and Flagnag waves as vaguely back at them.
        When evening comes, they all are gathering around the Temple, chanting nonsense-words, when someone runs in shouting – it’s an Elf:  “Our city’s fallen to the Horrid Host, and so has Disengar!  They’ll be here soon!  Abandon Boodletown!  Flee north or join the Valiant Remnant bound for Dwarfenberg!”
        The Valiant Remnant’s stopping for the night along the Road near where the lane turns north to Boodletown.  The Wizards go to speak with Asmuran, and Mooga goes with them upon his litter, in his crystal jar, four of his children bearing him along, and Sumiko and Kenji go as well to say hello to Miyu and the kids.  “You’d better come with us to Dwarfenberg,” says Asmuran; “I’ve got a very good professional relationship with them, and I’m convinced they’ll shelter all of us while they build up their military might.  When they head west to fight the Horrid Host, we’ll head west with them and retake our homes as members of a single fighting force, a Grand Alliance that combines the strengths of Dwarfs and Elves and Disengarians, including Mexicans and Japanese, with Megagirls, and now you Boodles too!  A glorious event: just think of it!  The Joyous peoples of the Realm unite to fight the Horrid Host from Sinister!”
        “But what about my friends in Fuzzyville?” says Fladnag.  “They can’t wait that long!  They’ll die!”
        “Dwarf Mountain’s not the right environment,” says Mooga, “for my student, Sumiko, to train in.  If we can’t stay in our town, then we’ll flee to the forest north of here.”
        “But won’t the Bearmen give you trouble there?” says Asmuran.  “You’re really better off accompanying us to Dwarfenberg.”
        “We’ll face whatever trouble we must face,” says Mooga; “it is crucial that the girl complete her training.  That’s what matters here.”
        “The girl” is hugging Miyu and the kids, who’ve all descended from their Megas – which decoupled from their pilots, are just that, mere Megas, only semi-competent but friendly and obedient – to spend the night in sleeping-bags upon the ground.  “Why don’t you come with us?” her mother says.  “I’m sure that you can come back here again and start your training right where you left off as soon we’ve destroyed the Horrid Host. I want to have you with me, just to know that you’re okay; I must keep track of you.”
        “Oh, Mom!” says Sumiko.  “I’ll be okay.  I have to go on studying with him; it’s totally the most important thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.”
        “How are you, Honey?” Kenji asks his wife.
        Her hug is brief; she pecks him on the cheek.  “I’m fine, dear.  How are you?  Um, Kenji, I … Look, Sumi, why don’t you go greet the kids and have a chat with them?  They’ve missed you so!  I need to have a private talk with him.  Yes, Kenji, well, there’s something you should know.  I don’t know how to tell you.  Don’t be mad.  It’s just that … well … since you left Disengar, I’ve gotten very close to Asmuran, and we’re … well, we’re together now, okay?  It’s not that I don’t love you any more, it’s just that I feel so incredible when he’s around, and it’s made everything completely new for me … you understand?”
        “Not really,” Kenji says.  “I’m going back to Boodletown to Wander Aimlessly a little more before I go to bed.”  He Wanders off.  A tear is trembling in Miyu’s eye – then she sees Asmuran; he’s winking at her, beckoning.  It seems that he and those with whom he’s been engaged in conversation have made up their minds regarding something, and she goes to him to find out what decision has been made – and also for the calming influence that emanates from him, for she’s in need of reassurance after having gone through that emotionally draining talk with her ex-husband, who appears to be unable to appreciate her needs.
        Let me jump back; while this was going on, right after Mooga said that Sumiko must finish training, “that’s what matters here” (this warranting a flight into the woods, a better place for her than Dwarfenberg, despite the threat from roving Bearman-gangs), one of his litter-bearers said to him, “I think that Valorix will let us stay with his contingent at the Lake of Peace.”  Now I’ll employ the present-tense again.
        “You’re right!” says Mooga.  “I believe he will!  And that’s a beautiful environment for Sumiko to train in – and for all the rest of you as well as her, of course, but, as you know, right now I’m principally concerned with Sumiko’s development since she’s so close to Booditana-hood.  Proximity to such a broad expanse of tranquil, shining water in the woods will simultaneously concentrate and vaporize her mind.  That’s what we want.  Of course, we must complete our second day of Aimless Wandering before we go, so we can’t leave tomorrow, but at dawn the next day we’ll evacuate our town and make our way up to the Lake of Peace.”
        “Is Valorix a Bearman?” Fladnag asks.  “What makes him friendly to you, when the rest have been completely hostile all this time?”
        “The tale of Valorix is interesting,” says Mooga, “and my child Sooka here is in a way the hero of this tale, so he should tell it to you, but I think that this is not the time, since we must sleep before tomorrow’s Aimless Wandering.  If you come with us on our northward trip perhaps you’ll hear the tale of Valorix from Sooka as we’re heading toward the Lake.”
        “I will indeed come with you,” Fladnag says.  “If there’s a Bearman-leader who’s your friend, then he might be persuaded to send help across the Highlands to assist the folks at Fuzzyville, who must be desperate now.  If Sumiko can train along the way, your Boodles and his Bearmen might combine to form a single army strong enough to save the residents of Fuzzyville.”
        The Princess (who’s been present this whole time) says, “when you cross the Highlands, you might meet the Elves of Agathar or Areton, and possibly they’ll join you, in which case you’ll really have the army that you need.”
        “Wow, that would be fantastic!” Fladnag says.  “Right, Mooga?  Wouldn’t that be really great?”
        “I see that True Love moves you,” Mooga says, “and so I won’t say ‘no’.  It all depends on how effectively the girl can train up at the Lake and while we’re on the move.”
        “Thanks, Mooga; that’s extremely nice of you, and I appreciate it very much.”
        The conference ends; the parties separate.  Next day, at dawn, the Valiant Remnant moves on toward its destination, Dwarfenberg.  The Boodles start their Wandering again, and Wander Aimlessly throughout the day.  Then dawn again – and on the Temple grounds the Boodles gather, readying themselves to head up through the forest to the Lake.  The Wizards, Sumiko, and Kenji stand near Mooga’s litter, waiting to move out.  The Boodle-Father says, “Let’s go, then, kids,” and everyone sets off into the woods.