Chapter Seven: The Royal Army

        The Boodles weave their way among the trees with steady strides; they’re breathing rhythmically, and as they walk they sway from side to side.  The Boodle-Father’s carried up ahead, and Sumiko walks with him, listening to his instructions.  He says things like this:  “Pay close attention to the energy within each body-part.  Hear what it says.  Is it rebellious or obedient?  Does it need to be chastised or consoled?”
        “Well, Sooka,” Fladnag says, “I’d like to hear that Tale of Valorix, if you don’t mind.”
        “Then I will tell it to you,” Sooka says.  He pauses for a second, then begins his smooth narration.  (Now, you may observe that he communicates expansively as he presents the story, not at all laconically, and this may bother you, for Boodles have been represented here as verbally austere, but keep in mind that Boodles always speak quite differently when they recount events that seem to them to flow together in a meaningful, coherent way, and their loquaciousness in such narrations is the complement, the flipside, of the dignified reserve that ordinarily distinguishes their utterances from the friendly chat that emanates like steam from most of us.)   “One day, a roving gang of Bearman-youths dropped by to raise some hell in Boodletown.  Those youngsters thought that they were pretty tough and figured they could smash some of our homes, catch some of us alone and knock us out, and defecate upon the Temple-porch, and then escape into the woods unscathed before enough of us were on the scene to cut them off and mete out punishment.  Well, they were done, and running out of town with fifteen of our boys pursuing them, all mad as anything, including me, when their enormous leader, Valorix, who was in fact behind the rest of them because he’d taken time to use a rock to smear his shit across the Temple-walls, rose up and turned, still lumbering away on his hind feet, the way they sometimes do, half-backwards, not quite seeing where he went, and bellowed horrible obscenities about our father, Mooga, which, of course, enraged us even further, but he tripped and toppled backwards, and he smashed his head against a rock and was a little stunned, and we caught up to him as he reeled off, and all of us began to beat him up. 
        “I think we would have killed poor Valorix had I not for some reason caught a glimpse of Mooga’s face, imagining him frown and say, ‘this isn’t what I taught you boys.’  I stopped myself mid-stomp; then I began to pull the others back away from him, reminding them of what our Father says – that even righteous rage must be suppressed, and empathy must blossom in its place.  Why further harm this hapless Primitive when he’d been punished very thoroughly and would no doubt reflect on what he’d done and do his hardest to improve himself?  Well, I succeeded, and they all stood back, and I bent over Valorix and said, ‘My friend, it’s time to go; get out of here.’  He groaned and tried to rise, but toppled down back to the ground before he’d gained his feet, and it was obvious he couldn’t leave.  ‘Just kill me now,’ he rumbled; ‘If you don’t, I’ll starve to death, or else be torn apart by scavengers, since I’m too weak to fight.’  ‘But won’t your gang return for you?’ I asked.  ‘No, they will not be back,’ said Valorix;  ‘A leader who has failed the way I have has got the flatulence of Urigrune, the Dog of Death, mixed with his body’s blood, and it will seep into his followers if they have anything to do with him, so they’ll abandon me, and I am doomed.  Please kill me now, and get it over with.’ 
        “Of course, I wasn’t going to comply.  I had them build a shelter over him, and I attended him for several months and nursed him back to health, and, as I did, I taught him Mooga’s Seven Principles and how to concentrate his mind on them.  When he was strong again, he pled with me to let him stay with us in Boodletown, but I said no, he had a mission now – become the Alpha of a Bearman-band and spread a moralizing influence among his race, as much as possible, and as an emblem of his blood’s good health (lest he be shunned by those he’d have to lead) I gave him my left arm to wave around in front of them – a trophy they’d respect.  He bit it off apologetically.  (Of course, I grew a new one in three weeks.)  Before he left, he had a little talk with Father Mooga, just the two of them – I don’t what our Father said to him but no doubt it impressed him very much.  I didn’t see him then for many years – until, last summer, Valorix returned with seven males accompanying him, and fourteen females – all of these, he said, were just a fraction of his present band, which had become so large and powerful, that all the other bands deferred to it and frequently sent representatives to ask him for advice, and to sort out the small disputes that constantly arose between them, over which band could hunt where or use a certain stream, that sort of thing.  He and his delegation toured our town respectfully, and watched a little show that we put on for them to demonstrate the beauty of Boodita; they were pleased, and asked us many questions afterwards.  He met with Father Mooga once again  on that occasion; this time they conversed for several hours, and, when he emerged, the man seemed positively radiant.  We all were gathered on the temple grounds to send him and his entourage away with fond farewells, and he announced to us that Father Mooga had received from him his solemn promise, as a Bearman-boss, that if we ever needed any help we’d find him and his band up by the Lake.  That’s why we’re heading up there to him now.”
        That evening, when they find a place to camp and settle down to eat the vegetables and tubers they’ve brought with them in their bags, the Boodle-Father teaches Sumiko the stance and gestures and the breathing-mode that will enable her to find the groove of what he calls “the Super-Nothing-Self”, within which she’ll be able to perform “the Action of Non-Action,” gathering undifferentiated Energy in its raw, primal state (the Energy from which Joy emanates and Horror seeps) by spiritual osmosis from “the Sea of Raging Stillness that envelops us;” she’ll learn to channel it, conducting it “in patterns of elaborate innocence” through all her major nerves, and in this way become invisible, and walk through walls and on the air, and move with super-speed.  She keeps on practicing while everyone around her falls asleep or (in the case of our two Wizard-friends) stands in a trance.  The Boodle-Father, in his crystal jar, placed carefully upon a nearby rock, corrects her softly now and then.  At last he tells the girl to sleep.  Next morning, though, before they all set off, she trains again.
        Two times that day they pass a Bearman-gang; the youngsters lounge intimidatingly against the trees a few yards to the side and snicker at each other’s rude remarks, but don’t molest the Boodles or their friends.
        That evening, while they’re making camp again, with one more day of trudging through the woods in front of them before they reach the Lake, the Host led by Lord Gothrom settles down to spend the night camped out along the Road across the lane that leads to Boodletown; ten thousand Gobbins have a little fun destroying every wigwam in the place and smashing up the Temple, and they shit all over everything before they leave.  Lord Gothrom doesn’t care about the base that Nausor wanted to establish there; he’s anxious to get on to Dwarfenberg and wipe out all of its inhabitants – where, even now, the Valiant Remnant climbs the mountain’s flank, ascending to the Porch and filing across it to the Gate.  But I’ll be focusing on what occurs at Dwarfenberg in Chapter Eight; right now I’m only dealing with significant events occurring in the northern woods.
        At last, late on the nineteenth, they arrive:  East Lake spreads out before them, mirroring the deep-blue sky within a tree-green rim, the sun descending past the western fringe of treetops, with its yellow deepening toward orange; its dense glow illuminates the sides of several well-defined long clouds that float like ancient hypertrophied fish within inverted waters overhead, a sea turned upside-down and laid across the pool below, face touching liquid face.  A trio of enormous Bearmen comes; as they approach they rise and walk erect, ten feet in height.  They’re shaggy, short-limbed men, with forward-thrusting, bearlike mouths and jaws, but human brows, and human hands and feet.  The middle one, the biggest of them, booms, “I’m Busterax, the Boss’s right-hand man.  You’re Mooga, right?  The Boss says you’re his friend, and he’s sent me to take you to his Den so he can speak with you.  If Sooka’s here, he should come too, and anybody else who is especially significant, but all the other Boodles should stay here.  Don’t worry, no one at the Lake of Peace will hassle anyone from Boodletown.  The Boss has spread the word that all of you are under his protection, so you’re safe.”
        So Mooga, with four Boodles bearing him – these litter-bearers shall be nameless here – along with Sooka, Fladnag, Dagastar, and Sumiko, her Dad attending her, is led by Busterax to Valorix – his Den is on a cliff above the Lake, halfway between the bottom and the top, upon a ledge behind a waterfall, with several caves behind it – sleeping rooms.  They climb a narrow path to get to it.  There must be thirty Bearmen lounging there. 
        “I don’t see any women,” Fladnag says.
        “That’s right,” says Busterax; “the Den’s reserved for strictly masculine activities.  We keep our women busy foraging and tending to our children.  Anyway, our band’s too big to let the women in.  We’ve got three-hundred-fifty of them here; we’d have to pick and choose which ones come in and that would hurt the feelings of the rest.”
        “Your band’s ten times the size of normal ones,” says Fladnag; “Valorix must really have a knack for leadership.  That must be him!”
        A Bearman almost Busterax’s size, his gaze engaging and intelligent, has made his way across the crowded space between the shaggy bulks that lounge about upon the rocky floor.  He stands erect.  “My friends,” he rumbles like an idling truck, “it’s good to see you here; my home is yours.”  Soon, all are seated, drinking horns of mead – a Boodle tips it into Mooga’s jar, so that a stream of it goes pouring down and into Mooga’s upturned, open mouth, emerging from the base of Mooga’s neck and pooling at the bottom, where it swirls and sizzles, interacting with his nerves.
        “A grand, heroic beverage,” Mooga says.
        “I’ve always liked it,” Valorix replies.
        “Well, friends, what brings you up here to the Lake?”
        “We flee the Host of Horror,” Mooga says, “an army that emerged from Sinister and captured Elfpark and will certainly press on past Boodletown toward Dwarfenberg.  We couldn’t stay there; they wish to enslave all races of the Realm, including us.  We would appreciate it, Valorix, if you’d allow us to reside with you in safety here beside your Lake of Peace for several days, or maybe several weeks.”
        “You’re welcome to remain here for as long as necessary, but I want to know a little more about this Host that’s come from Sinister – how was this Host produced inside the Mountain?  Who is leading it?  What kinds of warriors does it include?”
        The Dusty Wizard once again relays the information brought to Fuzzyville by Snigger – a description now confirmed by what the Valiant Remnant’s leadership told him and several other people here not many days ago, when they camped out beside the Road just south of Boodletown: the Elves and Disengarians had fought the Host and had been overwhelmed, and fled.
        “It’s going to be very difficult,” says Valorix, “for Nausor to subdue the folks at Dwarfenberg.  Those guys are tough.  Some gangs of Bearmen try from time to time to raid their convoys, and get beaten down.”
        “Yes, and in fact the Dwarfs may well defeat the Host outside their gate, assisted by that Valiant Remnant I was speaking of, and that assistance won’t be trivial.  The Elves have much to offer, with their speed, agility, and fast recovery from wounds, and they apparently fought well at Elfpark, but the Disengarians have seven giant humanoid machines called “Megas” – they’re extremely powerful when piloted by sexy human girls who somehow merge with them so that the two, the pilot and her vehicle, become a single entity – a “Megagirl.”  I saw them practicing at Disengar – and we were told that in the fight back there those things killed several hundred of the Trolls that Nausor brought with him from Sinister.”
        “Hold on,” says Valorix; “What’s Disengar?”
        “The walled-off area in Elfpark’s midst  where Asmuran has his facilities; he does his research there, and makes his stuff.  A lot of Mexicans work for him there – tough, friendly little people, not too bright, but sometimes thoughtful in a simple way – their home was in the Highlands west of here before they all moved into Disengar – and he’s assisted by a little team of Japanese; in fact this pretty girl that we’ve got with us – say hi, Sumiko – is part of that contingent, more or less.  Perhaps you’ve seen the gleaming tower there – it’s very tall; it must be visible from hilltops all the way out to your Lake.”
        “That’s right,” says Valorix.  “I’ve noticed it.  And some of our most sacred songs recount the raids of our heroic ancestors against a fearsome race of enemies called ‘Mexicans’ – I always wondered what had happened to them; now I guess I know.  So all these refugees have joined the Dwarfs?”
        “Yes, and the contribution they can make to Dwarfish victory is certainly significant.  But Dwarfish victory is not assured.  The Host is powerful.  I was surprised to find that Asmuran’s enormous Megagirls did not succeed in their attempt to stop it.  Possibly the Dwarfs and Elves and Disengarians will not be able to defeat the Host outside the Gate, and they will be besieged for many months.  It’s possible the Host will even force its way in through the Gate.  However, it seems likeliest to me that Dwarfenberg will hold out and prevail, and in the long run, once its factories have generated a sufficient stock of war-material, a Dwarf-led force will beat the Host of Horror at the Gate and force it to return along the Road the way it came – eventually back to Sinister, if everything goes well.  The Dwarfs intend to take, de-Horrify, and totally transform Mount Sinister – I mean, internally; it will become a second Dwarfish mountain in the west.  They’ll build a Highway through the Southern Swamps that they can use for traveling between these mountains without bothering the Elves.”
        “They told you this themselves?” asks Valorix.
        “Yes, I was there about a week ago to warn the Judges.  After meeting them I went to warn the Boodle-Father here.  The evening of my second day in town, the Valiant Remnant camped out on the Road beside the lane, and we conversed with them.  And now I’m with the biggest Bearman-Boss here at the Lake of Peace!  I need some rest, but I’m afraid that won’t be possible for quite some time, with all that’s happening.”
        “You really get around.  I like you, man; you’ve got the energy to get things done.  Look, why don’t I round up a lot of guys and we’ll all hike together through the woods to Dwarfenberg and help those little shits  and all your other friends take care of this.  I’ll bet these Horribles from Sinister forgot about us Bearman when they made their clever plans; the slimeballs didn’t know who they were fucking with.  Too bad for them; they’ll learn too late.  ‘Oh, shit!’  ‘You got that right, you slimeball-fucker; time for you to die.’  We’ll kill more Horribles than all the Dwarfs and Elves and everybody else combined.  I’m being hyperbolic, just for fun, but, seriously, you don’t mess with us now that we getting ourselves organized and learning self-control.  Right, Busterax?  If you want power, you get civilized; that’s what I learned from Master Mooga here, along with other more important things.  I have to tell you, I’m not fond of Dwarf.  They’re too much like a colony of ants for my taste, but I’ll work with them for now; the Horribles are obviously worse.”
        “But even if you join the Dwarfs out there,” says Fladnag, “it might take you people weeks or even months to drive the Horrid Host back west to Elfpark, where a lot of them might hold out for who knows how many weeks inside of Disengar, while you besiege the compound, which you can’t leave in their hands if you wish to proceed to Sinister, since it commands the Road.  You really want to get involved in this protracted sort of operation?  If I might suggest another option that appears to me to suit your rough-and-ready character more fittingly, consider this: I know that at this very moment, as we speak, a second, smaller force of Horribles (as you’ve appropriately labeled them) is currently besieging Fuzzyville, the lovely little place where I reside, halfway from Elfpark to Mount Sinister, above the Road.  If no one helps them soon, my friends there will be captured and enslaved.  Why not head that way, west instead of east, across the Highlands, leading your own force made up of Bearmen and these refugees from Boodletown?  The Elven Princess said that lots of Elves are in the Highlands now, and many of them might decide to join your army; they’ll be eager for a chance to strike a major blow against the Host, and I’ll bet they’d be willing to accept your leadership once they’ve been reassured that you’re a warlord, not a ruffian.  Then you will lead a force that’s powerful enough to swoop down on the Horribles at Fuzzyville and slaughter all of them, an image that I’m sure appeals to you, but more importantly you will have saved the Fuzzyvillagers from slavery and death.  You will have earned the gratitude that they’ll bestow upon you; they’re not shy, and you’ll receive a lot of thanks from them.  Moreover, lots of them will volunteer to go along with you to Sinister if you decide to take your army there.  You’ll lead four different kinds of people then – your Bearmen, and the Boodles, and the Elves who’ve joined you and accept your leadership, and now these Fuzzyvillagers as well.  You’ll be a major person in the Realm, an alpha everywhere, not just up here.”
        “Hah, you’re attempting to manipulate me, aren’t you Wizard, playing on my thirst for status, which all Bearmen always crave, including those who’ve been in some small way enlightened by the Master, as I think I may have been.  Well, Mooga, did you hear what this guy has proposed – that I assume command of your own children?   Funny, hunh?  A Bearman leading Boodles – that seems strange to me, at least.  Does it seem strange to you?”
        “The Wizard has suggested it to me already, and it’s not impossible.  I would of course continue to provide my children with the guidance that they need in deeper matters, while you’re leading them politically and militarily.”
        “A bold suggestion … is it prudent, though?  I’m just a Bearman-chieftain, after all.  You might be asking me to reach beyond my limits, and to lead my people past their limits also.  How can I be sure that this would not destroy them in the end, or seriously damage them, at least?”
        The Dusty Wizard says, “Chief Valorix, the natural force of personality that’s taken you this far in your career among the Bearmen of the Northeast Woods is of the sort that tends at times like this, when everything’s unstable and upset, to push its way, or rather to be pulled by others’ need, out of obscurity.  The peoples of the Realm need leadership ….”
        “I’m not convinced of that,” says Valorix.  “The Elves have their own Princess, am I right?  The Boodles have their Father – this guy here.  The Dwarfs are never going to be led by anyone who isn’t one of them.  In fact, if anybody leads the Realm, it probably will be whoever leads the Dwarfs, since they’re so fucking powerful.”
        The Dusty Wizard has a sudden thought; he speaks impulsively.  “But that’s the point!  The Realm needs leadership that balances the power of the Dwarfs.  Objectively considered, you’re the perfect candidate.”
        “So everybody other than the Dwarfs is going to accept my leadership?”
        “Yes, once they look beyond the present war and see what’s coming -- then we’ll have the Dwarfs at both ends of the Realm, and governing a swathe of territory that extends from end to end across the Southern Swamps as well, since they will have to dominate the area through which their Highway runs.  Most people won’t be feeling quite at ease with Dwarfish mountains on both sides of them and Dwarfish traffic to the south of them, but I think they’ll feel better knowing that they’re spoken for by someone like yourself.  If you defeat the Host at Fuzzyville with your own multi-ethnic fighting-force, and then the Fuzzyvillagers sign up – and, by the way, now that I think of it, it’s possible that you may have the help of Treemen also, if we’re fortunate enough to meet some while we’re passing through their zone – then when you finally meet the man who’s going to direct the westward drive from Dwarfenberg, in order to confer with him about this conflict’s final stage and who’ll do what, and what comes afterward, your status in the Realm will equal his, and this will reassure the Realm’s non-Dwarfs.  They’re going to accept the post-war state of things more gracefully if they believe that they’re well-represented by a man like you, who’s not afraid to stand his ground but also knows how to negotiate.”
        “I know how to negotiate?  Okay – perhaps I do; I’ll take your word for it.  But who’s this guy that’s going to command the forces heading west from Dwarfenberg?  You’ve met this person, right?  Is he okay, or he just a crafty little skunk?”
        “Judge Imlig.  Yes, I had a talk with him.  A friendly man.  I liked him.  Smart and tough.”
        “‘Judge Imlig’, huh?  His title’s ‘Judge’?  That means you’re talking to ‘Judge Valorix’, I guess.  I mean, if I decide to take this on.”
        The Dusty Wizard speaks impulsively again.  He says, “The peoples of the Realm, without exception, have preserved old tales of an extremely distant period of history, ten thousand years ago, or maybe several hundred thousand years before the present – no one really knows – before the Bioslime seeped upward from the center of the Earth, when everyone looked more or less the same, and all were ruled by someone called a “Monarch”, who, if male, was called their “King”, and if this person was a woman (which was very, very rare), they’d call their ruler “Queen”.  They’d go to him for resolution of disputes, and for defense against their common enemies – the savage hordes and monstrous entities that lived outside the Realm and often tried to enter it, to feast upon its wealth.”
        “Yes, we have our own stories about kings and queens,” says Valorix.  “You think the Realm is ready to be governed by a king again, as it was in that distant past, and I’m the best of all the candidates?”
        “Well, not the whole Realm – not the Southern Swamps, through which the Dwarfish Highway will extend, and not the two extremes – not Dwarfenberg and Sinister, inhabited by Dwarfs.  But you can call yourself the ‘Northern King’, or ‘Monarch of the Northern Realm’.  I think these titles would be quite appropriate.”
        “So I’d be governing the Northern Realm?  I like that – from a rude barbarian to ruler of the North!  Now, that’s success!”
        “But understand what sort of governance and rule I have in mind – it will consist in representing those you’re governing, not bullying and bossing them around.  I’m sure that’s how it was here in the Realm in that extremely distant period when monarchs governed a homogenous society – they represented it.”
        “I’m not sure what you mean.  It sounds as though these kings were pictured as conglomerates of all their people, packed into the shape of that one person, so that when he spoke they all would say the words collectively.”
        “That’s not too far from what I have in mind.  I basically just want to emphasize that it’s not arbitrary dominance that you’d be aiming for – your monarchy would not be felt as an oppressive weight by those you rule, nor would they feel penned in.  You’d let the peoples of your kingdom live in their own way, just as they always have.  Your monarchy would mainly symbolize the harmonizing of their differences, and you would be the final arbiter of their disputes, if any should arise.”
        “Oh, sure – I get that.  All I really need is ultimate respect; it’s not my thing to be a dick and bully everyone.  My southern border, then, would be the Swamps?  Good – Elfpark’s in my kingdom.  That makes sense.  Of course, we’d need the Dwarfs’ consent to this if they’ll be pushing west along the Road to Sinister, since they’ll be in control of everything along that thoroughfare unless they give it up or we decide to take it from them, which would not be fun, considering how powerful they are.”
        “Oh, I’m quite sure the Dwarfs would give it up.  They don’t want conflict with the Elves; the Road leads right through Elfpark; once their Highway’s built, they won’t be forced to travel on the Road.
        “Okay, but what about the Elves you say are with the Dwarfs right now?  They’ll leave the Dwarfs and go back home to Elfpark and accept my monarchy once their campaign is done?”
        “Yes, I believe so; this alliance is a temporary thing, and it will end as soon as victory has been achieved.  The Elves led by the Princess and the Duke no doubt dislike the Dwarfs, although perhaps they’ll grow to trust them more than was the case before they had so much to do with them.”  I think they’ll realign themselves with you once they have been assured that they’ll still live in Elfpark just as freely as before and won’t be bullied by you in the least.”
        “Of course, as long as they acknowledge me as King.  But what about the Northwest Woods?  The Treemen there are libertarians.  They’re isolated individuals who only have their wives for company.  They’re anti-social; they won’t be inclined to recognize my status as their king.”
        “I think they will, if it’s made clear to them that you won’t bother them in any way while on the other hand you’ll guarantee that no one else intrudes upon their Woods and starts to build and dig there, as the Host of Horror would, if it were to succeed.  Now that this dreadful precedent’s been set they’ll have it on their minds.  They’ll be relieved that someone will be looking out for them to keep this sort of thing from happening.  And since the Dwarfs in superficial ways resemble Horribles – they live within a mountain and are technological – they’ll be especially concerned about the possibility the Dwarfs will move into their Woods.  They will appreciate your claim to represent a counter-weight against the Dwarfish presence that will soon become apparent at Mount Sinister, not very distant from the western Lake that is the center of their little world.”
        The Bearman cocks his massive, hairy head and angles up his eyes, and strokes his jaw as he pretends to think.  “Okay,” he says, “You’ve got a brilliant vision, Wizard.  Yes, I really could enjoy the role of king, and, fortunately for you all, I’m not a full-fledged power-craving psychopath.  You’re right, the Realm would be much better off, once we defeat this Host from Sinister, if there were a convincing second force to balance Dwarfish power, and this force will be established most effectively as you propose, by making me the King of everything above the Southern Swamps between Mount Sinister and Dwarfenberg.”
        “I must say I’m surprised,” says Dagastar, “that you’d propose this, Fladnag.  Isn’t this at odds with your idea of a Realm in which all kinds of people unify as one community, while they preserve their colorful, enriching differences in modes of ritual and poetry, interior design, and arts and crafts, and architecture, costumes, and cuisine?  Instead, we’ll have a Realm that’s split in two between the Dwarfs and everybody else.
        “No, Dagastar, I see this as a step toward the achievement of that final goal.  The northern Realm is going to proceed in that direction under Valorix, with Bearmen, Boodles, Fuzzies, Elves, and, yes, the Treemen also to a small extent, becoming unified in just that way.  True, this community will not include the Dwarfs, and we will have to work on that, but still, this represents a giant step toward the harmonious and yet diverse, inclusive, colorful society, including all of Earth’s intelligent inhabitants, that has to be achieved before the Federation of the Stars will offer them a junior-membership.  In any case, I just can’t stress enough that this new order certainly need not and must not be an oppositional division of the Realm, a state of war, at least implicit – ‘cold’ war, if you will – between the Dwarfs and everybody else.  No, it’s a balance that I have in mind and not an opposition – not at all.”
        “What’s wrong with opposition?” Mooga asks.  “Don’t opposites confront each other and contend creatively throughout the folds of cosmic Being, everywhere we look?  Consider male and female entities – we see their opposition and the way this opposition generates new life.”
        “That’s right,” says Valorix; “Just ask my wives; they’re always mad at me, but when I smack their butts and mount them, then they’re satisfied and start producing little cubs for me.”
        “And that’s exactly how we’ll treat the Dwarfs!” roars Busterax, who has been listening intently, furrowing his heavy brows and chewing on his lip as he attempts to understand the discourse flying by a bit beyond his short-range mental grasp.
        “No, dummy,” Valorix replies to him, “we’ll let them do their thing as long as they let us do theirs, just as we’ll let the Elves and everybody in our kingdom live in their own way, as long as everyone is leaving everybody else alone.”
        “But you will be their ruler, Valorix, and that means they do everything you want!”
        “And what will that be?  My desire is that they live peacefully, in their own way.”
        “When wise men rule, then rulers shall be wise,” says Mooga, nodding sagely in his jar.  (The head, suspended in some sort of field of sparkling dots where there’s no gravity, tips forward and then rights itself again.)  “You are our King already, Valorix.”
        “Thanks, Master Mooga,” says King Valorix. “Well, I had better send out messengers to summon all the bands that recognize my leadership here to the Lake of Peace.  Five hundred Bearmen will be gathered here within two weeks.  Then we’ll be on our way.”
        “The other bands will have to recognize your leadership as well,” says Busterax, “when this is over, or we’ll crush their heads.”
        “Yes, we might have to crush some Bearman-heads,” says Valorix; “You’ll be in charge of that.”
        “Good; combat is a basic human need.”
        The Boodle-Father says, “Two weeks won’t be sufficient to enable Sumiko to reach her final goal; she’ll need more time than that to lose her personality in Boodit-consciousness.  But since she made swift progress as we came from Boodletown, I don’t see why she can’t keep practicing as we move westward.  By the time we reach the Dusty Wizard’s village, Sumiko will in all likelihood be very close to Booditana-hood.  That’s if her Dad agrees to let her come.  It’s up to him; the Way of Things shows us that fatherhood implies authority, especially where teenaged daughters’ choices are concerned.  If he says no, then she will stay with him here at East Lake among the Ladybears (who will be longing for the safe return of their brave, absent husbands) while I lead my children westward with King Valorix.  So, Kenji, will you let her come with us despite the many dangers she may face?”
        “Please, Dad,” says Sumiko; “I want to go; it really, really means a lot to me.”
        “Why not,” says Kenji.  “As the currents flow, I move, and as they turn I turn with them.”
        “You are these currents, Kenji,” Mooga says.  “You must allow yourself to fade away, and thus become the flux of You-Not-You.”
        King Valorix addresses Dagastar: “It must be an intense experience to spend a lot of time day after day with Mooga; he’s an awesome character, and even though I only spoke with him on two occasions down in Boodletown I really think I learned a lot from him – that’s in addition to the Principles that Sooka taught me, and the atmosphere that permeates the place.  That atmosphere is generated by the basic type of personality you find down there – they have this mellow, open attitude; they’re not at war with their environment.  I mean, those guys can fight; don’t get me wrong.  In fact, a bunch of them were getting close to killing me when Sooka intervened, but looking back on it, I’d have to say that those guys even have a mellow way of beating people up.  In Sooka, though, that personality was purified; I’d like to think that it rubbed off on me in some small way while I was staying there.  I mean, I’m not that kind of guy myself; I’m Alpha-Bearman all the way, my friend, but, still, the Boodle way of seeing things and living and just being, all of that, which comes from Mooga and expresses him as though he’s saying, ‘Hey, Man, here I am!’ – it’s really had a big effect on me.  If not for my experience down there, I wouldn’t have become so powerful and had this civilizing influence upon these rude barbarians up here, who all this time were waiting to be ruled by someone who would know how to restrain their passions and direct their energies, although they didn’t know they wanted this.”
        “He’s taught me to unfold within myself,” says Dagastar, “and branch out in the space that’s truly me and in a higher sense no one at all.  He’s very generous with all his students, and I sometimes think that he might like to have a bit more time to meditate in silence by himself.”
        “No, I’m a natural teacher,” Mooga says.  “I’m only doing what I have to do.”
        “You’re never thinking, when I visit you, ‘I wish this Wizard didn’t feel the need to speak with me so much; I wish he’d go and practice his Boodita by himself and let me have a little quiet-time’?”
        “Dear Wizard,” Mooga says, “please don’t pretend that I’d be willing to deprive myself of your insightful, challenging remarks, which frequently have led me to revise my thoughts on topics I discuss with you.”
        “I’m glad you feel that way,” says Dagastar.  “Sometimes I fear that I’m annoying you with my concern for formulating things in words that help me to get at the Truth – the Truth toward which your Spirit always tends the way a plant turns sunward as it grows.  This tendency of yours inspires me and helps me as I struggle toward that Truth.  You have a vision of Reality beyond the shadows and appearances through which we wander, dazed, or dash about, a frantic scurrying, perplexed, afraid that we’ll be swallowed up by Emptiness if we stop for a moment, look around, and try to figure out what’s going on – but you, you’re planted, still, right where you are, your eyes upon that grand Reality, and I guess I’m just grateful I can share in your experience a little bit, so thank you, Mooga.  Thank you very much.”
        King Valorix’s second-in-command guffaws and shouts, “Of course he’s planted there!  He doesn’t have a choice!  He’s just a head!”
        “Be quiet, Busterax,” says Valorix.  “Don’t comment on what you don’t understand.  Before he lost his body in a fight the Boodle-Father could have beaten you unconscious in a minute and a half, so think before you run off at the mouth.  Excuse him, Mooga; he’s an idiot.  I swear I’ll knock some sense into these brutes.  It’s hard to civilize the bastards, though.”
        “That’s quite alright,” says Mooga.  “I can tell that he’s in fact a fairly decent guy – courageous, loyal, and not quite devoid of sympathy as well, the sort of man you can rely on when the going’s tough.  Well, thank you for your hospitality and I’ve enjoyed this conference very much, but now it’s time for Sumiko to train.  Is there a quiet place where we can go to practice several things I have in mind?  If you or Busterax or someone else would take us there, that would be very nice.”
        “I have the perfect place for you in mind,” says Valorix, “but would it be okay if several of us watched?  I’m curious, and I think it would be enlightening for Busterax, and others like himself, to see that brute strength isn’t everything.”
        “Your presence wouldn’t bother me at all,” says Mooga.  “Sumiko, would you object to being watched by Bearmen as you train?”  (She shakes her head while smiling, amused that Mooga’s even bothering to ask.)  “No, that’s just what I thought – in fact, I’m sure that she would like to have an audience.  She always does; she’s very generous in that respect; she shares herself with us.” 
        King Valorix’s messengers go out next morning, summoning the allied bands.  Throughout the next two weeks these bands arrive until five thousand Bearfolk (ten percent of whom are adult males) are at the Lake.  The kids and females will be staying here.  (The women are much smaller than the men.  The shoulders of a Bearman as he walks on hands and feet, palms pressed against the ground, are four feet high, and when he stands erect with forward-thrusting head he’s ten feet tall.  A female’s height is just three-fourths of this; the males have more than twice the body-mass of females – cube three-quarters and you get the fraction twenty-seven/sixty-fourths.  The Bearmen’s fur hangs down in matted locks that almost reach the ground; the females’ fur is shorter and a lot more orderly.  Among the kids, the adolescent males are hard to manage; in the recent past, before the process of reform began, they would have been assembling in small gangs and going out on raids, with the intent of setting up their own bands, gathering young females from established social groups by any means – seduction, tricks, or force, and therefore fighting very frequently with the established bands’ controlling males and with each other.  Only at this Lake would all the deadly squabbling have stopped.)  All recognize his kingship, and begin to call the force that he’ll be leading west “the Royal Army” – Fladnag thought this name would elevate its warriors’ morale, and everyone agreed, especially the King himself, who liked the name so much that he would now and then repeat the words in quietly authoritative tones while thrusting forward his impressive jaw and glaring fiercely past his furrowed brow.
        Then, on May fifth, the Royal Army leaves the Lake, bound for the Highlands, where, it’s hoped, the Barons’ Elves, who are in hiding there, will pledge allegiance to King Valorix and join him, to deliver Fuzzyville from its besiegers, and thus strike a blow at Horror’s rear that, like a well-aimed kick at an assailant’s knees, may topple it.

        But let’s go back in time about a month and travel westward, to the Sacred Lake, where Trevor, Treena, Urman, and his mate arrive on April seventh, as the day fades into evening.  Here the Treekids grow, well-cared for by the planted Ladytrees who, following their husbands’ deaths, came here to root themselves and oversee the young.  The oldest of those who remain awake is Trevor’s aunt, the Grand Old Ladytree.  Her husband died a thousand years ago; since then, she has continuously grown beside the Lake.  Her trunk-like abdomen is thicker than a Treeman’s, and her crown of flowering but fruitless stems has grown out higher than a Treeman’s highest stalks; they bend down from that height back toward the ground, surrounding Tricia like a willow’s skirt, their tips surrounding her long rooted feet.  She’s not the slender woman she once was; her shape (I mean that of her human core) is like that of a strong and vigorous but overweight old woman of the sort you might see gardening behind her house in western Pennsylvania, who stands up to greet you heartily as you pass by. 
        “Hello, Aunt Tricia,” Trevor says to her.  “We’ve brought some friends from Fuzzyville with us.  They’re very nice; we both like them a lot.  This fellow’s Urman; Lula is his wife.  I know that we’ve come unexpectedly, but there’s a reason for that; you should hear what Urman has to say.  Urm, tell my Aunt what you told us about this Horrid Host.” 
        The Grumbit (who is seated comfortably upon the Treeman’s elevated hand with Lula sitting next to him, her head against his shoulder) once again transmits the information brought to Fuzzyville by Snigger, emphasizing that Michelle, the mother of them all, who can discern the merest hint of insincerity at once, was certain that the Manager spoke honestly, “from which we can conclude that what he said was true, unless the guy was crazy, but he didn’t seem to be.”
        “That’s why we’ve come to you,” the Treeman says.  “I think you’d better summon everyone so we can let them know what’s going on and hopefully convince them to respond decisively as soon as possible.  We have to nip this business in the bud.  I say we strike the portion of the Host that’s probably already laying siege to Fuzzyville.  I’m recommending this not just because the Fuzzyvillagers are such nice people and require help but also, and primarily, because the Host intends to build a base down there from which they’ll launch phase two of their campaign on this side of Realm, which, as you’ve heard will target us and ultimately aim at our enslavement.  They’ll obliterate our forest and the Treefolk-Way-of-Life forever, if we don’t confront them now.”
        “What Horrid people they must be, to want to ruin everything we know and love,” Aunt Tricia says.  “Perhaps you’re right, my dear, although the course of action that you urge sounds very dangerous.  Maybe, if we think about it very carefully, we can come up with some alternative, although I don’t see what that safer course might be right now.  In any case, I quite agree that everyone should come here to the Lake to talk about it, so I’ll certainly send out the strongest wave of pheromones that I can manage, summoning them all.  I’ll do it when the sun comes up; I’ll need to spend the hours of the night entranced or else it won’t possible for me to concentrate my hormones in the right proportions, and release them properly.
        The Treefolk start to gather at the Lake on April tenth, but it takes twenty days for all of them to get there – pheromones waft slowly through the air, and couples live throughout the Northwest Forest, some far off.  The Ladytrees, who sense the summoning, inform their mates, “The Grand Old Ladytree is calling us.  We have to go to her.”  Since she would not be calling everyone if there were not some great emergency requiring that they go to the Lake as quickly as they can, especially if they reside in meadows far away, the Ladytrees are carried by their mates; they sit upon their shoulders, bending down the fruited branches growing from their heads, positioning the fruit so that the men can twist it off and pop in their mouths and swallow it mid-stride as they walk on and don’t require rest, except at night when, stopping, they put down their Ladytrees, and stand behind them, and encircle them with their huge hands, which rest upon the ground, and so, throughout the night, these couples stand together, slipping in and out of dreams, and when the morning comes, the Ladytrees remount their mates, who stride off rapidly.
        By April thirtieth they’ve all arrived and in the evening gather in a crowd around the Grand Old Ladytree (you’d think a little forest had been planted there).  She has been telling them as they’ve arrived why she has called them here, and now she says, “It’s time for all of you to figure out what should be done about the threat we face from Sinister.  My nephew, Trevor, here, has got some thoughts he’d like to share with you about the course of action he prefers.” 
        And Trevor speaks.  He feels the gravity of the event.  His voice expresses this – a rumbling like the sound made by a train that’s passing underground when you reside in an apartment building on the line: “Well, brothers, sisters, friends, and relatives, I think that there are two things we can do, and we must choose, since we can’t do them both.  We run or fight.  Now, if we run away we’ll have to leave the Realm entirely, and who knows what will happen to us then or if conditions in the outside world are suitable for Treefolk-life at all.  Is there another Lake like this out there that’s rich enough in Bioslime to feed our juveniles when we’ve planted them?  Who knows?  Well, maybe Gnarl Barkenfist could tell us, but he’s somewhere far away; we can’t consult him.  How I wish that man were here with us right now; his fighting-strength would come in handy.  But we’re strong enough to do some fighting on our own, I think, and, certainly, if we don’t leave the Realm we’ll have to fight at some point, since this Host will hunt us down until they’ve caught us all.  So why not fight right now, before the Host of Horror is established at the base that it intends to build at Fuzzyville, from which this couple, Urm and Lula, came to warn us of the Horrid threat we face.  Yes, let’s fight now!  Let’s go to Fuzzyville and fight the Horror there, without delay.”
        A rumble and a murmur of assent (the former noise emerging from the males, the latter from the females) is enough to show that a decision has been made.  “Well, then,” says Trevor, “we’ll be heading south tomorrow morning.  Now let’s all applaud Aunt Tricia for assembling us here.  We Treefolk owe our Grand Old Ladytree a debt of gratitude, don’t you agree?” 
        The Treemen’s limb-like fingers crash and boom; the branch-like fingers of the Ladytrees strike one another at a higher pitch.  The Grand Old Ladytree bows modestly and says, “I wish that I could go with you, but, as you know, I’m deeply rooted here, so I can’t go, but I’ll be sending out encouraging, supportive pheromones which all you girls are going to receive, and maybe this will keep your spirits up when you would otherwise begin to feel a little grim, and wish that you were back in your own meadows with your mates again, and start complaining, and distract these men from their important job of fighting those who want to make things Horrible for us.”
        Next morning, on May first, they all set off, the Ladytrees again conveyed upon their husbands’ shoulders.  Urman swings along on his long arms (the Grumbit’s using them as we use crutches), Lula scampering right next to him, both well off to the side of this procession, lest the Treemen’s feet come down upon them accidentally.  It’s hard, though, for the Fuzzyvillagers to keep up with their eighteen-foot-tall friends, so now and then, when they require rest, they’re borne along for lengthy intervals by Trevor, sitting where his long arms bend in front of him to keep his hands aloft.  The Molly teaches everyone a song that she’s composed; its lyrics go like this: “We are the Treemen, and we’re off to war!  We shall destroy the Horror we abhor!  When we arrive, we shall annihilate the Horrifying enemies we hate!”  While, in the background, all the Ladytrees sing softly, harmonizing with their mates: “Our guys are awesome; they are super-strong, and Horrid people won’t survive for long if they try fighting our amazing men; they’ll be smashed down, and then smashed down again!”
        By nightfall they are halfway to their goal, and resting in a meadow large enough to hold them all.  At dawn they move on south, and by the time the evening comes, the troop has reached the neighborhood of Fuzzyville.  They halt about two miles north of it, and several scouts go on to take a look, reporting back that there are many Trolls spaced out along the Host’s periphery, close to the woods, while past them, further in, the Urgs are camped, and then the milling mob of Gobbins, just beyond Michelle’s long reach.  “Tomorrow morning,” Trevor says, “we’ll go and kill those Trolls.  Sweet dreaming, everyone.”
        When daylight’s filtering in through the leaves he first confers with Urm and Lula; then his plan fixed firmly in his mind, he says, “Okay, now, men, it’s time for us to move.  We’re going to leave all the ladies here to wait for us.  We’ll really want their fruit when we get back, but we should be okay for several hours – we won’t starve to death.  Form three-man teams.  We’re going to spread out and move into the clearing from all sides.  The teams who move in from the other side of Fuzzyville will have the longest walk before they’re in position.  When those teams are in position, they’ll roar out “Let’s go!” as they advance into the open space.  The call will be repeated down the line,  and we’ll attack them in a rolling wave; within two minutes, we’ll all be engaged.  As soon as you have taken down the Trolls you see in front of you, get out of there.  Don’t hang around; you’ll need to eat your fruit, and we don’t want to have to carry you back to your Ladytree for nourishment.  We’ll hit the Urgs and Gobbins later on; for now, just let them be, and concentrate on Trolls.  Okay, now, when I point to you, getting moving; those I point to first will go the farthest, then the next two teams will stop about two hundred feet this side of them along the curve – the grassy area’s about four miles in circumference, and we have got a hundred three-man teams, so if my math’s correct, two hundred feet should get us evenly distributed. He starts to point.  “Let’s go, men; move on out!”
        The Treemen soon surround the area; they’re lurking in the woods, just yards away.  Each three-man team is targeting a Troll or group of Trolls.  The Grumbit and his wife ride Trevor’s upper back; small branches there support them and their heads extend above the Treeman’s shoulders so that they can see where Trevor’s going and what’s happening.  They both emphatically refused to stay with Treena and the other Ladytrees, two miles from the battle and the risk of injury or death, deep in the woods.  “Our people are besieged,” the Grumbit said.  “We have to be involved in saving them, and, yeah, of course we know we might get hurt or killed; the choice is ours, it’s totally on us, so don’t feel bad if that occurs.  Okay, I know, we’ll weigh you down a bit, but not too much, my man, and anyway perhaps we’ll come in handy; both of us are full of fighting-spirit, aren’t we, Love?”
        “That’s right,” said Lula.  “Fuzzyvillagers don’t just lie back and let you fuck with them; they’ll rip your throat out if you piss them off.”
        At Trevor’s prompt, the Treemen near the lane roar out, “Let’s go!” and they rush from the woods into the clearing at the startled Trolls.  The Trolls are pounded.  Two Trolls might perhaps ward off a single Treeman, but right now each Troll has three attacking him at once.  No more than half are able to escape by barreling their way straight through the Urgs and in among the Gobbins, while the rest are rapidly becoming bloody pulp. 
        Commander Creepus sees what’s happening and quickly has the Gobbin-mob surge out along the lanes cut through the Urgish camp.  The Gobbins rush the Treemen, climbing them; they claw and bite, and tear away the shoots that grow like body-hair out of the bark that covers Treemen like brown, calloused skin.  They try to break the Treemen’s branches off, and they succeed in snapping off some twigs.  Now Urm and Lula really do become quite useful as the two of them contend with Gobbins climbing Trevor’s abdomen and trying to get higher than his chest and upper back to places where they might inflict more serious and lasting wounds.  They scramble here and there, from branch to branch to beat (in Urman’s case) and bite (in hers) the snarling assailants, keeping them from getting any further, and their friend fares better than some other Treemen do, for Gobbins who are able to ascend up to the Treemen’s heads claw at their eyes.  The pain of having leafy tendrils torn out of their bodies and their twigs snapped off has all the Treemen roaring, rearing up, and staggering away.  They disappear into the forest, hurling Gobbins down; they pluck them from their faces one by one as they retreat, until they have regained the meadow where the Ladytrees await the outcome of the battle, which at first appears to have gone terribly awry, and yet in fact this isn’t really so: although eleven Treemen have lost eyes and all are suffering from little wounds where tendrils have been plucked, or twigs snapped off, they’ve killed a quarter of the hundred Trolls, and twenty-five more Trolls are badly hurt.  Moreover, when the other fifty Trolls escaped, stampeding through the Urgish camp, they killed or injured several hundred Urgs and twice as many Gobbins, more of whom died while assaulting Treemen – all in all, a thousand Gobbins killed within the space of fifteen minutes.  Maybe Horror won, but it was quite a costly victory.
        “We’ll stay right here,” says Trevor; “I don’t think they’ll try to find us, but in case they do, we’ll be out there patrolling, taking turns to make sure our environment is free of enemies; we’ll walk around in teams, the same ones we were fighting in before.  This evening, we’ll decide what we should do.  You men who’ve lost an eye – your sacrifice is for a worthy cause, and in the end will not have been in vain.  You’ll grow new eyes within a century, so don’t be depressed.  You ladies – we will need a lot of fruit tonight, so don’t be stingy with it, please.”
        The Treeman-leader once again confers with Urm and Lula, Treena listening but not contributing suggestions, since this sort of thing is not what she’s about.  (And, to be honest, Lula’s offerings, despite their vigor, don’t contribute more to the development of strategy than Treena’s gentle, silent presence does; her savage exclamations, which are meant to demonstrate indomitable will and irrepressible ferocity, aren’t very useful from a practical perspective, although they have the effect of elevating Trevor’s and her mate’s depressed morale.  This was the case as well when Trevor spoke with them at dawn to plan the battle that they failed to win, although at that time their morale had been quite high without the Mollie’s help; as then, so now it’s really Urm and Trevor who confer, while Lula offers her emotional support, as Treena does in her own way.)
        The plan that they resolve upon is this: the Treemen will maintain a constant guard at ever-changing points along the Road both west and east of Fuzzyville, and so not only isolate the Western Corps but also keep the main part of the Host (presumably at Elfpark or beyond) from being resupplied, and make it hard, if not entirely impossible, for messengers to travel back and forth between the Mastermind and Sinister; they’ll have to detour through the Southern Swamps – a slow and dangerous route.  This will assist the Dwarfish army’s progress (it will come; it must come; Fladnag speaks persuasively) and weaken the besiegers here enough so that, if no help comes here from the east despite the Wizard’s efforts, Trevor’s men might manage to succeed all by themselves.  A series of quick raids out of the woods much like the one launched earlier today, but now against a weakened enemy, might be enough to rid the area of Sinisterians, so that Michelle won’t find it necessary to re-root the wall of flesh encircling Fuzzyville before the siege is lifted, if she wants to go on living.   If the Dwarfs have not arrived within a month, the rapid strikes begin, repeated several times per week until the Sinisterians are gone.
        On three successive days the Centipedes conveying gear and food from Sinister are smashed to pulp and scattered bits of shell, their Urgish guards and drivers stomped and killed or put to flight.  The mounted Managers accompanying them, or riding fast, unguarded, with important messages, are mostly killed, but some are quick enough to flee back home or zip evasively among the Treemen’s legs and so get through to Elfpark and inform the Mastermind about the problem that’s arisen here in the vicinity of Fuzzyville.  (The Treemen try to capture Managers, but any Managers that they pick up immediately bite down on the pills of biotoxin fastened to their gums and die in seconds, smirking Horribly.)  The convoys stop attempting to get through; the Road’s been closed, the Western Corps sealed off.

        King Valorix’s Royal Army climbs the Highlands’ eastern folds.  As they progress, each ridge is higher than the one before, each valley’s bottom higher than the last.  They’re halfway to the Highlands’ central belt when Elven voices call down from a tree that Valorix is just about to pass – male voices calling out the Wizards’ names, and female voices calling, “Sumiko!”  Two Elven couples drop down to the ground before the Royal Army’s leadership.
        “It’s Barons Agathar and Areton, and Baronesses Sophrosunia and Nomia!” says Fladnag.  “This is great!  We want to talk to you.  This fellow here is Valorix.  King Valorix.  He leads the Royal Army we’re a part of now.”
        “King Valorix?  Impressive,” Agathar says affably; “I’ve never met a king.”
        While Agathar and Sophrosunia are open-faced and rosy-pale, soft-edged, the other two have somewhat sharper-edged and darker visages, less welcoming but not at all unpleasant or unkind.
        “There hasn’t been a king” says Valorix, “for ages, but we thought that it was time to bring the ancient institution back, and I’m the one best suited for the role.”
        “You do look rather royal, Valorix,” says Areton.  “And is this bulky man your Grand Vizier or Privy Chamberlain?”
        Arising, Busterax roars, “Call him ‘King’!  I’m his enforcer, if you need to know!”
        The King, who has until this point retained his quadrupedal posture, stands erect beside his huge lieutenant, pulls his ear, and says, “Back on all fours.  I’ll handle this.”
        The Baronesses, who’ve been giving hugs to Sumiko and winking at her Dad, pretend to look aghast at Busterax, and Nomia says, “I’m not feeling safe!”
        “Don’t worry, ladies,” says King Valorix; “he won’t attack unless I tell him to, and I would never do that.  You’re too cute.”
        “Plus I’d destroy the dude,” says Sumiko.
        “Yeah, right,” says Busterax, “with all those tricks that tricky little weaklings have to use instead of fighting like an animal.”
        “Boodita-consciousness dissolves itself within the space of do-no-injury,” says Mooga in a disapproving tone.
        “Was that for me or her?” says Busterax.
        “For her,” says Mooga.  “I will not refuse to take you as my student if you wish, but we don’t yet have that relationship.”
        “That’s Mooga, Master Mooga, isn’t it!”  says Sophrosunia excitedly.  “I’ve dreamed of meeting you for years and years!”
        “You’ve literally dreamed of meeting him?” asks Dagastar.  “That’s very mystical.”
        “Well, no, not literally, but I think I dreamed about a disembodied head on one occasion.  It was watching me while I had sex with Prince Aletheon.  It didn’t look like Master Mooga, though.  In fact, it looked a lot like Agathar.”
        “Thanks, Honey,” says her husband.  “It’s so sweet of you to share a dream like that with us.”
        “So, Barons, Baronessses,” Fladnag says, “I’m happy to inform the four of you that Princess Kalia, Duke Timonar, and thousands of their Red and Blue Berets are probably at Dwarfenberg right now; I spoke to Kalia and Timonar, along with Asmuran, near Boodletown where they were camping out along the Road.  The Wizard had his Megagirls with him, of course, along with lots of Mexicans.  They seemed okay – not too depressed, I guess.  They call themselves ‘the Valiant Remnant’ now.”
        “Yes,” Baron Areton says, smiling, “the Princess used that phrase when we last spoke with her late in the afternoon that day, before we took our people out of there.  Well, good to know that those guys are okay.  You didn’t mention Duchess Rhythmia ….”
        “Unfortunately, Rhythmia is gone.”
        “Aletheon and Rhythmia.  Oh, well.”
        “Yes, tragic, but they’ll be reborn, of course.  You knew about the fall of Disengar?”
        “We hit a vestige of the Horrid Host down there about two weeks ago.  The place was occupied by Horrids at that time.”
        “Ha, ‘Horrids’!  Nice!” says Valorix.  “We call them ‘Horribles’.  Well, either label fits.”
        “You only hit a vestige?” Fladnag says.  “So you think most of them are somewhere else?”
        “Yes, most of them were gone,” says Areton.  “When we swooped down on them we only found a fraction of forces that attacked and drove us from our city earlier – the only Horrids we saw there were Urgs and even those weren’t very numerous.  We killed a lot of them as we swept in toward Disengar; we didn’t give them time to get themselves defensively aligned.  I mean, the only Horrid warriors that we saw there were Urgs; we also saw a few of those small black-robed Managers when we were looking into Disengar from our positions in the nearby Trees – they scurried here and there across the yard between the tower and the wall; I guess they had a lot of managing to do.  We thought we heard some Trollish bellowing inside the compound – roars of agony, it seemed to us.  The sound was indistinct, as though it came from somewhere underground.  We figured everybody else had left  for Dwarfenberg – it must be their turn now.”
        “Yes, that seems very likely,” Fladnag says, “but here you are again.  Did you conclude that you would take too many casualties assaulting Disengar to make it worth your while?  Still, you could have stayed down there, safe in your Trees, besieging Disengar.  Why didn’t you?  Of course, I don’t presume to criticize; I only want to see the situation from your point of view.”
        “We’d be in Elfpark now,” says Agathar, “instead of here, if that were possible.  But there was something in the atmosphere that bothered us, and it got more intense as we approached the compound – it was like a foul fog that seeped from Disengar, where it was thickest.  It was Horrible.”
        “It truly was,” says Sophrosunia, her face contorted to express disgust, and Nomia nods vigorously, with a firm “Mm-hm!” for extra emphasis. 
        “He’s not exaggerating,” Areton says mildly; he slightly shakes his head as he recalls what they experienced.
        “We couldn’t stick around besieging them,” says Agathar, “or even stay within two miles of that place for very long; we had to leave.  We didn’t have a choice.  The stench was absolutely sickening.”
        “It wasn’t just a stench,” says Nomia.
        “Yes, ‘stench’ is way too weak a word to use,” says Sophrosunia.  “We felt it reach into our bodies like a slithering organic entity; it entered us and spread its branching slimy tentacles in all directions.  It was palpable, a living thing.”  She raises up her hands, and, wriggling her fingers, demonstrates.
        “Ah,” Fladnag says.  “It seems the Mastermind of Horror, as he designates himself, is purifying Horror-Energy inside of Disengar for purposes that none of us are going to enJoy.  There must be lots of Molemen hard at work around the place; you didn’t see them there?”
        “No, just those little Managers, and Urgs.  And, come to think of it, we’ve never seen these Molemen; they were in the rear, I guess, behind the other Horrids when they came a month ago and drove us from our homes.”
        “Yes,” Fladnag says, “I’m pretty sure they were, and now they must be working out of sight below the basement-levels, burrowing new passages and secret corridors.”  (The Dusty Wizard’s guess is accurate.)
        “I hope their digging doesn’t start to reach the rootlets of our Trees outside the walls.  If Nausor’s Molemen start to violate our Trees, which mean so much to all of us, then … well, the very possibility is so outrageous I can barely speak.”
        “Don’t think about it, Baron.  Kalia and Asmuran are going to return with lots of Dwarfs.  You’ll get your city back.  When I ran into them near Boodletown I had already been to Dwarfenberg and spoken to the three High Judges there.  They liked the plan you might have heard about – they send an army, help you beat the Host, go on to Sinister and clear it out, and get to claim that mountain as their own.”
        “And build a Highway through the Southern Swamps.  Aletheon informed us.  Troubling, but maybe necessary.  You believe that they’ll assist us even though we failed to keep the Horrid Host from passing through our city and dispersing us like this?”
        “Yes, they’re committed.  Dwarfish promises are never broken.  Maybe bent a bit, but never broken.  We can count on them.”
        “I wish we didn’t have to count on them,” says Baron Agathar.  “I’d rather be more self-reliant.  We depend on them and they end up controlling everything.
        “Well, that’s where I come in,” says Valorix.  “The Realm’s non-Dwarfs accept me as their king and I provide them with the leadership you need to counterbalance Dwarfenberg.”
        “You’re serious about this kingship-thing?” says Baron Areton.  “I had assumed that it was just some kind of game for you.”
        “Oh no, my man.  We’re very serious.  The Dwarfs will dominate you guys unless you get yourselves together.  Unity requires leadership, and leadership is in my blood.  That’s what I’m all about.”
        “Well, arguably Princess Kalia or Master Mooga here could play that role as well as you, so why should it be you who gets the job of non-Dwarf leadership?”
        “Come off it.  Look at me.  It’s obvious that I’m the one who ought to lead you all.  It’s my blood.  It’s what I’m meant to do.  Our natures drive us; I’m a natural king.  I’ve always felt compelled to fight my way up to the top, and that’s exactly what I did among my people, where mistakes can get you killed.  The wilderness back there is unforgiving.  You can’t mess around if you’re ambitious.  No one’s giving you a second chance to prove that you’re the best.  I also had to conquer my own moods and urges, and I learned to rule myself in Boodletown while I recovered from some injuries that might have done me in if my friend Sooka hadn’t given me his kind attention.  That’s him over there; an awesome guy – I owe that man a lot.  He taught me Mooga’s Seven Principles, which showed me how to redirect my rage and self-disgust down channels that can take you to a better place.  Then, when I met the Master in the Temple, I was sure that I possessed an awesome destiny.”
        “I won’t deny that you’re monarchical,” says Baron Areton, “but are you sane?  That’s my concern.  Does Mooga vouch for you?”
        “His nerves are cords of Being,” Mooga says.  “Becoming flashes in this person’s eyes.”
        “I’m totally impressed,” says Agathar, who isn’t kidding.  Sophrosunia nods, wide-eyed, staring up at Valorix, but Nomia looks somewhat skeptical.
        “Okay, you’re vouched-for,” Areton says.  “Still, your being sane and kingly’s not enough to qualify you for the leadership that you aspire to.  Our Kalia is sane and Princess-y, and Mooga here is also fairly sane and Masterful, so if we need a leader to unite the Realm’s non-Dwarfs, why shouldn’t we select the Princess or the Master here instead?”
        “Your leader must be an aggressive man,” says Valorix; “his personality must be dynamic in a dangerous way, if you want Dwarfenberg’s respect.  That’s me.  I’m not as cute as Princess Kalia; I’m not as wise as Mooga, but I’m tough.”
        “He may be right,” says Baron Agathar.  “A man like him won’t let the Dwarfs push in where they’re not wanted.  They won’t even try to take advantage of him; they’ll back off.”
        “His character is certainly a plus,” says Fladnag, “but it’s not the only thing that speaks in favor of his leadership.  Outsider-status adds to his appeal.  It has its own distinct advantages.  Your previous relationships remain intact, while this guy hovers overhead without disturbing them in any way.  You’ll go on living as you did before, except that when you’re dealing with the Dwarfs you’ll have a common representative, and if you need someone to mediate disputes that might arise among yourselves he’ll also be available for that.”
        “Okay,” says Areton, “that’s plausible.  But why should we be calling him our ‘king’?  That sounds so pompous and theatrical.  Just call him ‘leader’ if that’s what he is.”
        The Dusty Wizard answers, “Titles have a sort of magic to them; pompous ones tend to restrain the people bearing them while titles such as ‘leader’ have been borne by slaughterers of millions.  Yes, it’s true; I studied history on Wizardworld, and I assure you that this is the case.”
        “He’s right,” says Dagastar.  “I took that class.”
        “This whole discussion’s pointless anyway,” says Areton, “while Princess Kalia and Timonar are elsewhere; we can’t choose to make this man our king all by ourselves.  We Barons and the Princess and the Duke would have to all agree on it, and that would only be the first step; afterwards there’d be a referendum, and we’d need a huge majority to make it stick.”
        “But he can function as a sort of king in practice for us, unofficially, at least for now,” says Baron Agathar.  “Then he would have a chance to demonstrate his awesome leadership-abilities.”
        “That’s not a bad idea, Agathar,” says Areton.  The Baronesses nod.  “Okay, then,” he continues, “let’s pretend that you’re already king.  What practical direction can you give to us right now? “
        “I thought you’d never ask,” says Valorix.  “You join my Royal Army.  Come with us.  We’re on our way to rescue Fuzzyville; the village is besieged by Horribles.  We’ll take them by surprise and wipe them out.”
        “Well, that sounds interesting, but I don’t know – we’re Elves, so maybe we should stay as close to Elfpark and its Trees as possible, to back the Princess up when she arrives so that the Dwarfs don’t dominate the place.”
        “But, Baron,” Fladnag says, “you’ve told us that a major portion of the Horrid Host, in fact the great majority of it, was probably in motion toward Mount Dwarf when you were here, and we should not assume that this vast force will be defeated soon. Perhaps the Dwarfs have chosen to augment their weaponry before engaging it outside the Gate.  It may be sitting there upon the Porch for weeks.  It’s possible that it may even force its way inside, and Gobbin-corpses and Urg-body-parts will cover tunnel-floors before the Dwarfs and Valiant Remnant drive it out again.  I’m sure our friends will win, but who can say how quickly that will happen?  Even if they manage to annihilate the Host out on the Porch as soon as it arrives, I guarantee you that the Dwarfs will want to get themselves prepared before they move in this direction.  You’d be wasting time if you stayed in the Highlands, waiting for the Dwarfs and Valiant Remnant to arrive.  Why not join up with us and come along to strike a blow against the Horribles where I’ll bet they are least expecting it?”
        “You’re being inconsistent.  First you say I shouldn’t worry, that the Dwarfs will come and liberate my city soon, and now you’re saying that we shouldn’t hang around and wait for them, since they might not arrive for who knows how long.  Get your story straight.”
        “Did I say ‘soon’?  I’m not sure that I did.  I think that they’ll arrive within a year – but maybe they’ll arrive within a month.  As you just said, who knows?  Not me, not you.  Look, Baron, I’m from Fuzzyville, okay?  My home is there, so these are friends of mine whose lives and freedom are at stake right now.  So, yes, I’m being selfish, but perhaps you’ll be affected by a personal appeal, so I’ll try that, because I care about these Fuzzies.  I know all of them – their habits, interests, and their favorite songs.  Please help us save them, Baron Areton.”
        “We can’t say no to that,” says Agathar.  “I can,” says Areton.  “I’m staying here.  But you can take your Green Berets with you if that’s the way you feel.  You’ve always been a sympathetic guy, and I can tell that you’re disposed to follow Valorix in any case.  Plus, Sophrosunia would probably enjoy the trip a lot.”
        “You’ve got that right,” says Sophrosunia.   “I’ve never seen a Fuzzyvillager before; this will be so enlightening!”
        “Okay,” says Agathar.  “You’ll stay, we’ll go, and we’ll return as quickly as we can.  Will you come back here with us, Valorix?”
        “No,” says the King; “we’ll be establishing an independent presence in the west, at Fuzzyville or even further on toward Sinister.  We want to show the Dwarfs that we’re a force they have to reckon with.  And you should stay there with us; otherwise my Royal Army won’t amount to much.  Your Elves will give it credibility in Dwarfish eyes.  If you’re not there with us, then we can kiss non-Dwarfish unity goodbye; it will have been an empty phrase and nothing more.  The Dwarfs will laugh at us.  Come on, man; you can make this whole thing real.  It’s up to you.  Don’t leave me in the lurch.”
        “I see your point,” says Baron Agathar, “and I’m inclined to stick with you out there, but it’s too early for me to commit my Elves to anything beyond the fight at Fuzzyville.  They have to have a chance to get to know you first.  My wife and I are going to converse with lots of them along the way, and once we have a sense that they’re developing an attitude toward you and this non-Dwarfish-unity and kingship thing that’s mainly positive or negative, we’ll choose accordingly.  Is that acceptable … King Valorix?”
        “That’s fair,” says Valorix.  “We’ll go with it.  You haven’t yet accepted me as King in an official sense, I understand, but I appreciate your having used the title in addressing me just now, and would appreciate it even more if you continued using it, and urged your followers to call me ‘King” as well.  My Bearmen will expect them to employ the title; they’ll resent it if I’m just addressed by my first name, right, Busterax?”
        “It feels a little weird to call you ‘King’,” says Agathar, “but we’ll get used to it.  I know it’s not supposed to be a game, but that’s the way it seems.  It’s kind of fun.”
        The Dusty Wizard says, “Of course it’s fun.  It’s just a playful, friendly gesture now, but that’s how most important things begin, and formal titles are important things; they tend to reinforce relationships, and in this way sustain societies.”
        “Yes, certainly,” says Baron Agathar.  “Well, Valorix – I mean King Valorix – shall we conduct you and your followers up to a pleasant meadow big enough to hold them all, where you guys can relax while Sophrosunia and I round up our Green Berets?  We’ll have them gather there this evening.  In the morning we’ll depart for Fuzzyville together.  Come – this way.”  They lead the Royal Army up the hill along a new trajectory that leads its soldiers to a meadow by a stream where brilliant wildflowers throng the grass around a few gigantic sycamores that stretch and spread their limbs majestically.  The Barons and the Baronesses leave.
        The Boodle-Father teaches Sumiko to levitate herself above the ground by spinning rapidly with outspread arms.  The Boodles practice lower-level moves in standard patterns – this relaxes them.  The Bearmen lounge or wrestle.  Busterax would like to have a friendly wrestling match with several Boodles, but his challenges are pleasantly refused – “Oh, Busterax, you know you’d win; that’s not how Boodles fight.”
        “I know; you Boodles punch and kick and chop and leap away like little buzzing flies.”
        “Like little buzzing flies?” laughs Dagastar.  “These guys are twice my size, and I’m not small.”
        “Well, they’re just tiny mice compared to us” says Busterax; his hand sweeps through the air dismissively, as though he’s waving off a cloud of winged mice, or mouse-sized flies.  “They’re lucky they can generate those sparks, or we would barely feel their feeble blows.”
        “I’m glad that you’ve promoted us from flies to mice,” a Boodle says.  “Thanks, Busterax.”
        “The fly swims on … A current of … The air …,” says Kenji carefully, his fingertips against his eyelids, rocking rhythmically.  “The mouse escapes … through tunnels in … the earth ….  But I stand motionless … upon a rock … projecting from … a sea of purposes.”
        “Your poetry is getting more abstract,” says Fladnag.  “Soon I won’t be smart enough to understand it, so don’t go too far in that direction; you don’t want to lose your audience – or maybe you don’t care; your genius takes you where it wants to go.”
        “I’m looking for the natural passageways between concrete particularity and those abstractions we aspire to.”
        “Oh, really?  Fascinating!  Well, I hope that you succeed.  Hey, look – I think the Elves are gathering around us, in the trees.  That’s good; the sun is setting.  They’re prepared to leave with us tomorrow morning, then.  There’s Agathar and Sophrosunia; I guess they’ve come to wish us all good night.”