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Running With The Pack: Peace

By Sam Starrett

Red and Luna rode through the woods, their prisoners, Mingan and Mobius, tied to their horses and walking along surprisingly quietly. Red resisted the temptation to light into Mingan, the wolf who had made himself Red’s and Luna’s enemy from their first meeting and had sunk to the lowest levels of treachery to get back at them.

Red turned to Luna. “Are you sure we’re traveling in the right direction?” “Yes, I’m sure,” said Luna. “How do you think I got here?” “You were lost,” said Red, “remember?” “Oh, shut up,” said Luna.

“Perhaps you could both follow that advice,” suggested Mingan. Luna jerked the rope about his neck. “No one asked you, scum.” She must be in a bad mood today, thought Red. Well, Mingan deserves it, after what he did. Red still couldn’t believe that an Eastern Wolf–hailing from one of the proudest of the ancient wolf tribes–would sink to the level of attacking innocent dogs and violating the most ancient and sacred laws of his people.

As for Mobius, well, he was a mercenary, willing to ally with Mingan for a little silver. And to top it all off, Mingan had even tried to have the alpha of his own Canid Confederacy assassinated to stop peace negotiations between dogs and cats.

Red only hoped he had not succeeded.

*******

Gunter sat at the campfire, the other officers and the diplomats spread out nearby, sitting on logs or lounging on the grass. Camilla sat next to Gunter, pressing herself against him. He wrapped his arm around her distractedly, and addressed the rest of the group.

“Listen,” he said, “we have six days to find out who is responsible for the attack on Aeradde. We also have to bring him to justice, and demonstrate to Aeradde that he is safe. Now for that, we’re going to need the aid of the other delegation’s soldiers.”

“My men are at your disposal,” said Makalo. “Good,” said Gunter. “My fastest messenger would take three days to get from here to Hebrosh and back. How about you?”

Scipio, the cheetah, spoke up at this point and asked, “Why do we need to send a messenger back to Hebrosh?”

“We need more troops,” said Gunter. “If we’re going to find Mobius, and find him quickly, we need an army.” “With all due respect,” said Makalo, “there is no way you will convince Brutus to provide us with an army.”

“We have to try,” said Gunter. “Maybe not,” said Scipio. “What do you mean?”, asked Gunter. “I have some connections with the Hebrosh Mechanists’ Guild. Perhaps we can get them to lend us a copter or two and search from the air.”

“A good idea,” said Gunter. “A very good idea. But, we still need someone who can get there.” “I can help,” said Makalo. “I have the fastest rider in the Army of Hebrosh under my command.”

“Really?”, asked Gunter. “The fastest?” “Indeed,” replied Makalo. “The fastest.” “You have Siegfried Marksson under your command?” “All right, all right,” said Makalo. “The second-fastest.”

*******

“It’s getting late,” said Luna. “I know,” said Red. “We’ll have to make camp soon.” “True,” said Luna. “What will we do with them?” She gestured toward the prisoners.

“Tie them up. One of us will keep watch over them while the other sleeps, and then we’ll switch. What’s so hard about that?” “Nothing,” said Luna. “Nothing at all.”

“Wait a minute,” said Mingan. “You mean I’ll be sleeping out in the open? What if it rains?” “Then,” said Red, “perhaps you’ll be staying awake out in the open.”

“Great,” muttered Mingan.” “There’s a clearing over here,” said Red, pointing to the left. “Let’s make camp.” Red turned his horse in that direction, and pulled in front of Luna, leading Mobius beside him. Luna started to follow, but came more slowly, jerking Mingan’s rope every few seconds.

Red turned back to see what was keeping his friend. “You need some help encouraging him to move?”, he asked. “No,” Luna replied. “I think I’ve got him.”

A moment later, Luna pulled into the clearing. Red looked over at his prisoner, then dismounted. Keeping a close eye on Mobius, he stepped backward and began to lead the lion toward Luna and Mingan.

Suddenly, Mobius charged forward, attempting to slam his body against Red. But our hero dived to the right, yanking the rope about Mobius’ neck. The lion fell to the ground, and Red quickly drew his sword and placed it at the throat of the rebel cat.

“Now,” he said, “are you going to try to make any more trouble?” “I guess not,” said Mobius. Red kicked him. “You guess?” “I won’t, I won’t!”, said Mobius. “Good,” replied Red. “Now get up.”

*******

Makalo sat in his tent, awaiting Scipio’s response to his summons. He reached over to his right and pulled a glass of ale off the small table sitting there. Downing the entire thing in one gulp, the lion reclined backward.

A shadow fell over the door of the tent. “Who’s there?”, Makalo asked. “It is I,” replied Scipio. “Enter,” said Makalo. Scipio entered. “You said at the fireside that you have connections with the Mechanists’ Guild.”

Scipio nodded. “That is true, sir.” “I want you to take the fastest horse we have and a small contingent of your most trusted troops. Get down there, and get as many copters as you can. Fly back. Leave the horses at my stable. You know where I live, correct?”

“I do, sir,” said Scipio, “but I am not sure your servants will allow me to use the stables. They do not know me.” “Tell them that you come in my name. Tell them also, that the password is lithensmitten. They will know what it means.”

“Yes, sir!”

*******

“Red!” At the sound of his name, our hero awoke. “What is it, Luna? Is everything all right?” “Yes,” said Luna, “everything’s fine. But it’s your watch.” “Oh,” said Red. “Very well, then.”

He rose, opened the door of his tent, grabbed his sword from his left, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and sat down next to Luna. Then he rose up again. “One moment,” he said, laying down his sword and jogging back to his tent. He reached inside and pulled out a small flask of water, which he poured over the front of his face.

As he ran back to the log, he shook himself just dry enough not to look like a fool and sat down. “All right,” he said, picking up his sword, “you can go.”

Luna rose and walked slowly back to her own tent, opening the flap, and slipping in with catlike silence. How appropriate, thought Red. Mingan and Mobius had somehow managed to get to sleep, so Red figured that he didn’t need to keep them at swordpoint. He laid down his weapon and walked over to the campfire for a moment, stoking it before returning to his watch.

********

It had been two days since Makalo had assigned Scipio to go down to Hebrosh, and thanks to his fast riding, he was nearly there. The sun was low in the sky, however, and if he was to get to the Mechanists’ Guildhouse before it closed, he and his troops would have to move.

“Come on,” he said, “it’s getting late, and we need to get there as soon as possible.” His troops picked up the pace, and the three approached the gate of the city of Hebrosh.

The two guards, both massive black panthers, who stood in front of the gate turned to the inside and stepped forward. They were about to signal the operator to close the gate, but Scipio spurred his horse onward and rode up just in time.

“Wait!”, he cried, “wait!” The guard on his left turned toward him, then toward the other guard. Silently and together, they nodded. “Thank you,” said Scipio.

“Come,” the officer called to his troops, and they followed him rapidly through the gate, their hoofbeats creating a resounding clop-clop-clop as they cantered into the city.

Scipio held up his hand and the soldiers behind him slowed to a halt. He turned his horse around and addressed them. “Thank you all for your help. You have done well. Your services will undoubtedly be required more on the morrow, but for now, you’ve earned your rest.”

He reached into one of his saddlebags and withdrew a large gilt medallion, which he tossed to the senior of his men. “You’ll notice, Giovanni,” he said, “that it is emblazoned with the seal of Brutus. I am trusting you to have it returned to me when I meet you later, and not to abuse it in any way.”

“Is this what I think it is, sir?”, asked the Neapolitan Mastiff named Giovanni. “That depends,” said Scipio. “If you think it is my very own royally endorsed expense waiver, it is what you think it is.”

Giovanni stared at his commanding officer in shock. “I don’t know what to say.” Scipio rolled his eyes. “Say you’ll only use it to buy food and lodging at the usual hotel for yourself and the rest of the men, and that you’ll return it to me when I come to the hotel in a few hours.”

“Yes, sir.”

*******

Gunter paced nervously around his campsite. I hope they get back here in time, he thought. Even with copters, this won’t be an easy task. Pacing back and forth, he turned to his left, and saw a House Cat approaching from the distance, running at top speed toward him.

He stared at the cat for a moment, and then the cat waved to him. He waved back, and signaled for the cat to come to him. After about three seconds, the cat came close enough for Gunter to see him more clearly, and as he slowed down, Gunter could make out the scroll under his arm and gold medallion that marked him as a messenger.

Within a few seconds of this, the cat ran up to Gunter and said, “A message.” Gunter rolled his eyes. What now?, he thought, but all he said was “Proceed.”

“A message,” repeated the messenger, “from the coalition of the Felid Kingdoms. They require your presence immediately. They want to know what you’re doing to track down the would-be assassin and clear their names.”

Gunter held his fist tight for a moment, then looked up and howled at the moon. “In the first place,” he snapped, “the coalition has no authority to require my presence under any circumstances. In the second place, the coalition is by no means the highest priority on my list at the moment. Aeradde has threatened to leave if I don’t prove the coalition wasn’t involved and that he’s safe.”

“With all due respect, sir,” said the messenger, “I only deliver the messages.” “I’m sorry,” said Gunter. “You’re right. You do carry the messages. So carry back this message. I will appear before the coalition in my own time. Right now, I have other priorities.”

The messenger muttered something under his breath, then nodded and turned around. He took off at a run for the camp of the cats.

*******

Scipio walked toward the door of the Hebrosh Mechanists’ Guildhouse. He chuckled to himself, noticing the deceptive size and unassuming appearance of the place. If it hadn’t been for the sign over the door that said, in gilt cursive letters, Mechanists’ Guild, Scipio would have passed it over as yet another run-down dwelling in a rather low-rent section of the city.

He opened the door and walked inside. The place looked like a museum. Glass cases filled the room with barely enough space in between for Scipio to squeeze through. There was one larger aisle down the middle of the room, barely large enough for two to walk abreast.

After just a few paces, Scipio was greeted by a large Black Labrador. Large here having the meaning of both somewhat tall and rather big around, mostly in the stomach.

The Labrador addressed the cheetah. “Hello.” “Hello,” replied Scipio. “Are you a Mechanist?”, asked the dog. “You don’t look like one, not with that sword at your belt and no grease in your fur.”

“No.” said Scipio. “I’m not a Mechanist. I am, however, a good friend of a local Mechanist named Heimlich Abelhurst.” The Labrador appeared pensive for a moment. “Oh yes,” he said, “Heimlich. He knows everyone, doesn’t he?”

“Does he really?”, asked Scipio. “Oh, sure,” said the Labrador. “Why, just yesterday, I…” “That’s all right,” said Scipio. “Just take me to him, if you can.” “Certainly, certainly…”, said the dog.

He turned and led Scipio to the right. They then turned left and before him Scipio saw a pair of wooden doors. At the right of the doors was a keyhole with a large, ornate golden key placed inside it.

The Labrador turned the key and the doors opened. Before stepping in, Scipio turned to his host. “I noticed a change.” he said. “In the past, the Workbenches were out here. Now it looks like a museum, nice and tidy and all.”

The dog stepped into the elevator, and Scipio followed. “Well,” he said, “actually, that area was never the main home of our 35 Mechanists’ Workbenches. It is true, however, that a few used to be out here. But with people coming in and out more–” he reached out to push the button that said “-2”–”it got too distracting. So, we expanded this room slightly and moved all our Workbenches down here. It was a big change, but well worth it.”

Scipio nodded. “I see. But why have more people been coming in than before?” “I don’t rightly know,” said the Labrador as the button for their floor lit up. “Seems more and more young men want an apprenticeship as a Mechanist nowadays. Anyway, here’s your stop. I have to get back upstairs.”

Scipio walked out the door and turned around. “Thank you for your help,” he said. “Oh, it’s no problem,” said the Lab. Then, half to himself, he added, “I do wish they’d get a real full-time receptionist though. So undignified–” But Scipio did not hear the end of the last sentence, for the doors closed, and the familiar beep indicated that the elevator was going up.

Scipio looked out over the large room that spread before him. At one of these workbenches Heimlich was probably working on some new invention. But his bench used to be upstairs, so Scipio didn’t even know where to start.

He took a few steps left, over to the nearest Mechanist, a fluffy white poodle who seemed to be putting together some kind of vegetable chopper. “Excuse me,” he said, “but could you tell me where Heimlich Abelhurst is?”

The poodle looked back in confusion. “Who are you?”, he asked. “I am Scipio,” replied the cheetah. “Just tell me where Heimlich is. It’s most urgent.” The poodle rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Heimlich’s over there.” He pointed toward the middle of the right side of the room. “I wouldn’t bother him, though. He seems busy with that top-secret project of his.”

“Top-secret project?” “Yeah. I don’t know what it is, though, so don’t ask.” ”All right,” said Scipio. “I guess I’ll just go over there and talk to him.” “As you wish.” said the poodle. “Your funeral.”

Scipio took a few steps down the hall, trying to be as quiet as possible. He walked over and stood next to Heimlich, tapping him on the shoulder.

The Dachshund started, and his hair stood on end for a moment. Then he muttered, “Go away, Olaf. I’m busy!” Scipio rolled his eyes. “I’m not Olaf, and this is urgent.”

Heimlich turned and looked up at Scipio, his eyes half-glazed over from working too long. “Scipio? What are you doing here?” “I’ll tell you on the way.”, replied Scipio.

“On the way? On the way where?” “To wherever you keep your copters. I need as many as you can give me, and fast.”

“This is most irregular, you know,” said Heimlich. “I can’t just give away copters, and certainly not in large numbers.” “I’m sorry,” said Scipio, “I should have been more clear. I’ll be returning them. It’s only a loan.”

“Well,” said Heimlich, rising to his feet, “seeing as you are a sworn officer of our military, I may–may, mind you–be able to help you out a bit.”

*******

Luna awoke sharply as soon as the first rays of sunlight filtered over the horizon. She opened up her tent and stepped out, then sat down and began her meditations. “Good morning, Red,” she said.

Red yawned. “Good morning, Luna.” Luna grinned at him. “Ready to face another day?” “Blecch,” replied Red. Luna smiled ever-broader. “You know,” she said, “you really should try morning meditation. It’s worked wonders for me.”

Red shook his head. “I never got that. I think it’s a cat thing.” “It’s not a cat thing.” said Luna calmly. “Anyone can do it. You know who’s even better at it than me, believe it or not?”

“No.” said Red. “I couldn’t begin to guess. He reached up and rubbed his forehead while Luna breathed in deeply.

“Cider.”, she said. “Cider?”, asked Red. “Cider of Dramstad? My girlfriend?” “The very same,” replied Luna, stretching out her legs to take full advantage of her loosened muscles.

“I don’t believe it,” said Red. “It’s true,” said Luna. “I’m about to go deeper into meditation,” she added, “so we’ll have to stop talking now.” “All right,” said Red.”

Luna dropped into a trancelike state of half-dreamed visions. Mingan, Mobius, Mother, mother-of-pearl, oysters, pearls, diamonds, sapphires, gold, rings, concentric rings, the rings of the underworld. And so on and on it went for a few minutes before she awoke.

When she did, she saw that Red had started up the campfire again and was making some more coffee. “I must say,” said Luna, “you do seem to be addicted to that stuff. How can you drink so much of it? When we were heading south and Andreas had some, you told me it was expensive and rare, and that Andreas must be very rich to have any.”

“Ah,” said Red. “Well, Andreas’ coffee was of an entirely different kind. You see, there are two kinds of coffee beans in the world, of which I am aware.” Red sipped his mug. “There is true coffee, the kind Andreas had, and there is also another form of coffee. It’s not really coffee in the most technical sense, but rather a plant called sildikal, also known as ‘fool’s coffee’ or ‘poor man’s coffee’. In any case, it is not nearly as good as true coffee, but it does wake one up much the same.”

Luna nodded. “Ah. It all makes sense now.” “I’m glad I could clear that up for you,” said Red, “but we really should be going. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and time is running out.” “Right you are, my friend,” replied Luna. She turned to the prisoners, Mingan and Mobius. “Get up, you louts! We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

*******

“So, Heimlich, can you give us some copters–sorry, lend us some copters for a little while or not?” “Well, to be honest, Scipio, that’s really not my department. Now, I can talk to our treasurer for you, and I can use my influence to speed up the process, but I can’t simply authorize–”

Scipio raised a hand and interrupted Heimlich. “Heimlich,” he said, “do you realize that I need these copters for a military emergency at the peace conference, and that I need them right now?” “Scipio,” said Gunter, “I don’t think you understand. I simply don’t have the authority to do what you’re asking.”

“Well, who does?”, thundered Scipio, turning around. “There’s no need to be rude.”, said Heimlich. Scipio said nothing for a moment, then, “You’re right, I’m sorry. I guess I’m just a little impatient with all this red tape.” “I feel the same way sometimes,” said Heimlich.

“Our treasurer is right down the hall. I can take you there if you like.” Scipio nodded. “Please.” Heimlich led the way down a long hall. “You know what you might try,” he said. “What?”, asked Scipio. “You could just take them.”

“Just take them? I can’t just take them. They’re the property of the Mechanist’s Guild, which, if I am not mistaken, has full corporate citizenship.” “True,” said Heimlich, “but you can take private property in a legitimate military emergency, if the owners are duly compensated.”

“True,” said Scipio, “but–” Heimlich turned to the right. “Here we are,” he said. There was an uncharacteristically ordinary wooden door on the right side of the hall, which Heimlich rapped three times sharply with his paw.

The door opened a crack and a striped silver cat poked his head out. He had a large, fat head, and wide, yellow eyes that seemed perfectly adapted for the dark. When he spoke, his heavy jowls flapped up and down with his lips, and his voice carried a thick accent. “May I help you?”

Scipio began to step forward, but Heimlich raised his hand and shot him the “let me handle this” look. Scipio glared back but finally relented. “Karl,” said Heimlich. “Heimlich, for the last time, you will address me as Treasurer while you are seeking my approval for matters of Guild finance.”

Karl,” Heimlich repeated slowly, rolling his tongue within his cheeks and placing special emphasis on the word, “do you know what my title is?” “Yes,” replied Karl. “We are all aware that you are of a once-noble family, Heimlich. Nevertheless, even you must show the proper respect.”

“Karl, there is no such thing as a once-noble family. We are still on the Council of the Houses.” “True, technically,” replied Karl, “but when was the last time an Abelhurst was–”

Scipio tapped Heimlich on the shoulder. “Can we speed this up a little bit? It doesn’t seem like you’re making any friends here.”

Heimlich rolled his eyes. “You can’t make friends with Karl. You’ve got to throw your weight around. But, you’re right, this is going slowly.” He turned back to the cat. “Where are my manners, Karl?” The cat muttered something that sounded to Scipio like “my question exactly”, but Heimlich continued without taking notice.

“I’ve failed,” he said, “to introduce you to our guest. Karl, this is Captain Scipio Marconius of our esteemed military. He requires the use of several copters in an important military emergency.”

“Come in,” said Karl reluctantly. He turned and walked into the room without opening the door. Heimlich pushed through and opened it himself, then held it for Scipio and shot Karl a dirty look. The treasurer, sitting behind a large mahogany desk, showed no reaction.

There were two chairs in front of the desk, but Karl did not invite his guests to sit down. Undaunted, Heimlich planted himself firmly in the chair to the right, and gestured for Scipio to do the same in the other, which he did.

Karl ignored the slight and turned to face Scipio. “Captain,” he said, “I noticed that you have thus far been almost entirely silent. Is what Heimlich says true? Do you require the use of our copters?”

“Indeed I do, Treasurer,” replied Scipio, adopting a decidedly more courteous tack than Heimlich. Karl nodded slowly and knowingly, then leaned back. “Tell me then,” he said, “for what do you require these copters?”

As Karl reclined, he pushed his chair back slightly, and his body became visible for the first time. I was under the impression that “fat cat” was a metaphor, thought Scipio. For fat cat he was. His body rippled disgustingly as layers of skin folded over each other.

“Well,” said Scipio, “as you, Treasurer, are no doubt aware, the nations of dogs and cats to the north have been engaged in a fruitless war for generations.” “Not entirely fruitless,” noted Karl. “It did, after all, produce the Refuge, and all the fine culture contained herein.”

“True, but far better that that culture be lost,” said Scipio, “than that the terrible suffering caused by this war should be allowed to happen. And anyway, think, perhaps, of the cultural advances that the northern nations would have made without the war. And we would have been among them, for as you rightly pointed out, there would be no Refuge if there were no war.”

“You are an eloquent cat, Captain,” said Karl. “And I have no wish to debate this matter with you. Pray, continue on.” “As you no doubt also know, the leaders of the two nations have agreed to meet to attempt to settle their differences and end this conflict.”

“Go on, but could you speed it up? I haven’t all day.”, said Karl. “Certainly. I was near the end anyway.”, said Scipio. “There was an assassination attempt, and the negotiations nearly fell apart. I need to find the assassin and take care of him. I also need to make sure both sides believe they are safe. And I don’t have much time.”

“I see.”, said Karl. “Well, you know, this Guild is in business. And frankly, it isn’t our problem what goes on in the north.”

Scipio leaned across the table. “The Oligarch has made it his problem. And furthermore, he has made it mine. This is a military emergency. Now, you and I can negotiate, and come to a mutually satisfactory agreement, or I can simply take the copters and you will receive whatever compensation His Highness Brutus sees fit to give you.”

Karl leaned back and laughed. “I like you.”, he said. “You’re not afraid to strongarm even the Treasurer of the Mechanists’ Guild. And yet, I doubt that Brutus will treat us too harshly. We provide great economic benefits for his city. Benefits we could easily withdraw.”

“That is between you and Brutus. I am saying that if you refuse to negotiate, I can simply take the copters.” “You’ll be subject to strict scrutiny.” “Yes, I will.”, said Scipio. “After the fact.”

Karl sighed. “Point taken. I will authorize your use of this Guild’s copters for a reasonable fee, provided they are all returned in one piece.” “What would you consider to be a ‘reasonable’ fee?”, asked Scipio.

Karl shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, I don’t know. How about three hundred silver bones a day a copter, plus a thousand each for any that come back damaged?”

“I’ll give you one hundred and fifty a day.” “Two-seventy-five.” “Two hundred, and eleven hundred apiece if they come back damaged.” “Done,” said Karl.

*******

Red and Luna rode their horses down the woodland path, their two prisoners in two. “I can see the plains not far ahead of us,” said Red, “and we’re making all right time, given the fact that we have two prisoners who have to travel on foot.”

“True,” said Luna, “but who knows what kind of chaos might have come out of that assassination attempt? We need to get there as soon as possible. Tell me, can you sleep in the saddle?”

“Never tried,” replied Red. “Hmm.”, said Luna. “Now wouldn’t be a bad time to learn.” Red could think of no suitable response, and so the two rode on in silence for another half an hour or so, until they reached the plains.

There they rode on for little ways before Red noticed something on the horizon, in the sky. He looked at it for a moment, then dismissed it as nothing. They rode on a little farther, and it seemed to get larger. He stared at it for another few moments. It’s too big to be a bird, or even a flock of birds.

“What are you staring at?”, asked Luna. “I don’t know.”, said Red. “Do you see that in the sky?”]jp He pointed toward the odd and fast-approaching black spot in the sky.

Luna looked. “Yes,” she said, “yes, I do.” “Can you tell what it is?”, asked Red. “Not for sure,” said Luna, “though I have a feeling we’ll find out soon enough.”

For the next five minutes or so, the pair rode at a slower pace, watching with great interest the shapes on the horizon until it became clear what they were. Red turned to Luna. “Are those copters?” “I think they are.”, said Luna.

In another thirty seconds, there was no longer any possibility for doubt about what they were. They were much larger than the copter Red and Luna had seen in Hebrosh, and there were five of them, but they were undeniably copters.

Aside from being larger, there was one key difference between these copters and the copter on display at the guildhouse. They had closed tops. That is, they were a little like two large boats, one placed upside down on top of the other. Below the lower half of the hull were skids, and as the copters slowed down and the lead one pulled in for a landing, Red and Luna could see that they had doors set into the center on the right side.

The lead copter, or at least, what Red assumed to be the lead copter, for it flew at the head of the V formation, settled down to the ground and the rotors came to a stop. It had positioned itself perpendicular to Red’s and Luna’s direction of motion so that the right side of the copter(and the door) faced them.

There was a loud pop when the door started to open, and then it slowly folded down until it had taken on the shape of a ramp. At that point, Luna could see the leopard who was at the controls. “Scipio!”, she shouted. “Is that you?”

“So it is, ma’am!”, replied Scipio. “At ease,” said Luna, “you are no longer under my command. But what brings you here, and why the copters.”

“Well, you see,”, said Scipio, “there was an assassination attempt against Aeradde. We suspect a renegade feline general by the name of–” Here Luna interrupted. “Mobius?”

Scipio raised an eyebrow. “Why, yes. How did you know?” Only then did he look more closely at the prisoners Red and Luna had in tow. “Is that him?”, demanded Scipio suddenly. “Have you captured Mobius?”

Luna smiled. “Indeed, and a collaborator of his named Mingan, too. He’s the one we were originally going after.” “Why, if I may ask?”, said Scipio. “It’s a long story,” said Luna, “and I’ll be happy to tell it to you later. But you still haven’t told me why you’re here. Were you looking for Mobius.”

“Yes,” said Scipio. “Yes, we were. There is another group under the command of Gunter that is still searching for him. You see, Aeradde broke of negotiations when he thought that the coalition had arranged for the assassination attempt, which failed, by the way, in case you were wondering, and it took all of Gunter’s persuasive power–”

“Wait,” interrupted Luna, cocking her head suspiciously. “Gunter’s persuasive power? Weren’t there any diplomats available?” “Yes, there were,” replied Scipio, “but Gunter apparently did not see fit to enlist their help. Perhaps he thought this was his job as the head of the search for the shooter. In any case, it took all Gunter’s persuasive power to get Aeradde to give us a week to find the shooter and prove to him that it wasn’t the coalition’s doing and that he was safe to continue negotiations. We only have three days left now, and even by copter, it’s a good day’s flight back, so we really should get moving.”

“What about Gunter’s copters?”, asked Luna. “How will they know to stop looking, now that you’ve found Mobius?” “We rendezvous every night. When we don’t meet them, they’ll assume we’ve found Mobius and proceed back to camp. Now hurry! We should get going as soon as possible.”

Red and Luna dismounted from their horses. Scipio pressed a button on his control panel. A rocket streaked into the air, and another copter landed to pick up our heroes’ mounts. Then they started up the ramp to the copter. “What should we do with the prisoners?”, asked Luna.

Scipio reached over to the panel again and launched another rocket. Another, smaller copter landed. “We figured that when we found Mobius, we’d need somewhere to keep him. However, we didn’t plan for two prisoners, so it might get a little cramped in there, boys.” The leopard winked at Mingan and Mobius.

The wolf cursed fluently under his breath. Red and Luna ignored him and proceeded into the copter. It was comfortable, but surprisingly small inside. There were couches on the walls with belts to keep the passengers in place, two chairs with a pilot and copilot at the front, and a few tables in the middle with board games Red recognized from his time in the Refuge.

He looked them over, then decided he wasn’t in the mood for games and sat down on one of the couches. Luna sat opposite him, and Scipio switched places with his copilot, then turned around. “Now, my friends,” he said, “I want to hear all about how you captured our two fugitives. And leave nothing out.”

Luna sighed. “Nothing? Leave nothing out? That might take a while.” “We’ve got time.”, said Scipio. “Spill it.”

Luna started at the beginning. “Well,” she said, “As you know, Red took, or rather, was planning to take, a break while our leaders negotiated a peace treaty. But before he got home, his town, Dramstad, was attacked by Mobius, who was trying to lure Red into fighting him.”

“However,” Luna continued, “I was never far away. Mobius probably hadn’t bargained for dealing with two of us. Apparently he was working for Mingan, who mainly wanted revenge directly against Red, while Mobius’s own troops made one desperate attempt to stop the peace treaty, which, from what you told me almost succeeded.”

“Anyway, Red and I tracked down Mingan and Mobius and struck when they were unprepared…”

It was at about this point that Red began to tune Luna out. He kept her words playing in the back of his mind, so that he could jump in occasionally when she wasn’t sure of something or made a mistake, but for the most part, he let her tell the story.

While he was listening, he began to examine his surroundings and noticed that under the couch he was sitting on, there was a short but wide drawer. He reached down and tried to pull it out, but it bumped against his leg. Stupid design, he thought, then pulled his legs far to the left and opened the drawer again.

Much to his delight, as Luna regaled Scipio with detailed descriptions of her prowess at stealth, Red discovered a large collection of books. He picked one up and began to read.

It was quite an interesting tale, one of the great epics of the Jungle. It dealt with a young cat who founded the first of the extraseptal cities. It was a long and complicated tale in an archaic form of Common, and it was written in typical epic poetic style, so Red took a long time to get through it.

The better part of the day passed by with Luna telling Scipio their story and Red wading through the difficult but certainly worthwhile epic poem telling the tale of how a young House cat conquered wild beasts and savage native tribes(Red wondered how much of this was fanciful imagination, as the savages were said to be neither cat nor dog, but descendants of the unnatural spawn of demons), to build the great city of Lenord.

Though it took all day, it didn’t seem like that long to Red, who devoured the volume. As the copter pulled to a landing, Red turned to Scipio and asked if he could borrow the book for a while.

“You’re asking to borrow that book? Don’t insult my hospitality. You can keep it. You’ve earned more than that.” Red shrugged. “I didn’t do it alone. But I thank you.”

“However,” said Scipio, “you won’t have much time for reading today. We need to bring Mingan and Mobius before the coalition and the alphas, to show them both who was really behind this. And we’ll need your help to fill in the story.”

“I figured as much.”, Red replied.

*******

A few hours later, everyone had assembled. And I do mean everyone. It was quite a sight. At the center, on the stone bridge, sat the coalition of the Sambar Rock Pride of lions and the alphas of Graywolf pack, both staring at each other almost sullenly.

Behind them stood their troops, and mingled among these were various Refuge soldiers placed there to keep the peace as best they could. One could see that the scattered Refuge troops were quite nervous, fidgeting and looking around to make sure they were safe.

Behind this mixed assortment, there were four small contingents of Refuge troops, two on each side of the bridge, each commanded by one of the officers, with Gunter and Conrad on the west side, and Scipio and Makalo on the east. It was a big show. Red approached from his home side, the west, where they had landed, but Luna went over to the eastern bank of the river in a small boat before the negotiations started, partly in order to approach from her people’s side of the river, and partly in order to be able to meet her officers and diplomats along the route to the bridge.

As Red walked past the Southern soldiers in the far back, his two diplomats joined him from out of the crowd, first Camilla, who smiled briefly at him, in a “just-friends” sort of way, then locked her eyes forward, and then Clarice, who was in an uncharacteristically cheery and outgoing mood. That is to say, she looked Red in the eye rather than the top of his head, shook his forepaw firmly rather than tapping it with hers and then pulling away as if infected, and then walked forward smiling an occasionally glancing at others, rather than with her snout held high and ignoring everyone she wasn’t contractually obligated to ingratiate herself with. Perhaps she’s making herself more likable for this important diplomatic event, thought Red. Whatever the reason for Clarice’s change of demeanor, the threesome pulled quickly up to the barrier between the main line of Refuge troops and the Canid-dominated mixed group.

From the very front of the line of Refuge-only troops, Red was joined by his officers, the Doberman Gunter and the young Husky Conrad. Out of the corner of his eye, Red could see Luna picking up her diplomats and officers in a similar way.

Then they passed nervously through the throng of on-edge Canid troops. Red saw both his officers with their hands on their swordhilts, and Camilla seemed to almost cling to Gunter, who looked around with the trained eye of a seasoned military officer.

Luna and Red moved through their respective crowds at about the same speed, and looked at each other briefly before taking the seats to which they were shown by two of the servants who were hanging around the bridge.

Their officers and diplomats sat around them, and Red noticed that Camilla went out of her way to sit next to Gunter, who smiled and put his arm around her. What’s going on between them?, Red wondered. But he had little time to think about it. Mingan and Mobius were brought up from the western side in chains and surrounded by armed guards.

Red noticed that they had dispensed with the nicety of having the prisoners approach from their own sides of the river, in favor of keeping them together to minimize the number of guards required.

In a few moments, they arrived, and were led to a small raised platform in the center of the bridge so that they could be clearly seen. It wasn’t too high, just raised a few inches above the bridge, and Red was confident that it had not been there the last time he was, but in any case, they were placed on it, their chains attached to spikes that had been driven into holes that must have been drilled into the floor fairly recently.

Probably yet another example of advanced Refuge technology., thought Red.

Aeradde rose, and Jabari followed suit. “Let us begin,” said the wolf. “Very well,” replied the lion. “Gunter, what have you discovered?” The Doberman rose and stepped to the center, careful to keep his distance from the prisoners.

He turned back and forth for a moment, unsure whether to face the alpha or the coalition. He glanced at Camilla, who shot him a gesture, and he stepped back to look directly between them.

*******

Well, thought Gunter, this is certainly awkward. Careful to avoid letting his gaze slip toward one set of leaders or the other, he began to tell the story. “Your Majesties,” he said, “I do not know the whole story, and I am sure that others will be able to fill in where I leave a gap. Forgive me if I cannot answer all your questions. I have not had time to compare notes with Red or Luna.”

“Proceed, Gunter,” said Aeradde, sounding as though he had deliberately adopted the most imperious possible tone. “After the assassination attempt on the Honorable Alpha Aeradde of Goldpaw, I spoke with the coalition of the Pride of Sambar Rock. They predictably denied any involvement, but I was unsure if they were telling the truth. They said that they suspected a renegade general by the name of Mobius.”

“When I investigated the matter, I found that the shooter had left his crossbow in the room. Sure enough, it was emblazoned with a symbol that the coalition identified as that of Mobius. Of course, it was in their interest to identify it as such, but it was an M, which made me think they might be telling the truth. So, I decided to search for him. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time. Aeradde gave us only a week before he would give up on the negotiations. I think it would serve the purposes of our story best if my good friend Makalo would pick it up from here.”

Jabari turned toward Gunter, who, after a short pause to remember the proper protocol, made eye contact with him. The lion gestured indifferently. “You may sit down, Gunter.” Gunter turned back to the center, bowed in no particular person’s direction, then resumed his seat, again being careful as he walked by to keep his distance from the prisoners.

Jabari began to speak, but Aeradde pre-empted him. “Rise, Makalo.” Makalo shrugged and rose, walking to the center and occupying the position that Gunter had just vacated.

“I think,” he began, “that my comrade Gunter has made a slight error. I have almost no part in this story. I simply arranged for my junior officer Scipio to acquire the fleet of copters that was used to search for Mobius, and he did.”

“You are certain,” said Aeradde, “that you have nothing more to add?” “No,” answered Makalo, “I am nothing of the kind. However, nothing presents itself as obvious.”

“Who should we call up next?”, asked Aeradde. Jabari snorted. “Preferably someone with something to add to the story.”

At this point, Red saw that he would not be needed any time soon, and decided to get up and take a walk. He strolled to the end of the bridge and walked a little ways to the south, where he got down on all fours and lapped up the water.

I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was, he thought. He drank and drank, until his thirst was quenched. He turned around, and all of a sudden, saw a familiar face before him.

“Cider?”, he asked. “What are you doing here?” She shook her head. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” “How come you didn’t say something to me before?” “You seemed rather busy, getting to the trial and all.” “I’m never too busy for you,” replied Red.

Cider cocked her head and raised her eyebrows briefly. “Well,” she said, “I’d love to stay and chat, but I was asked to come and get you. Your testimony is required.”

Red stepped a little closer to Cider. “Can’t they hear Luna speak and leave us alone?” Cider shook her head. “No, they can’t. And there’ll be plenty of time for us to be alone in Dramstad. For now, you’re needed. This is important.”

“True,” said Red. “I’ll go. See you around.” “I won’t be far,” said Cider, and blew him a kiss as she took off ahead of him. Oh brother, thought Red. More meetings, more testifying, more talking, tell the story again. He trudged toward the bridge for a moment or two, then his conscience interrupted his sulking. They’re waiting for you.

True, responded Red. You really need to get going.,said his conscience. Yes, I probably do, Red thought back. But they can wait a little, can’t they?

No, they can’t., said his conscience. This is important. Red rolled his eyes and sighed, as he knew that his conscience was right, and he was annoyed by it. He picked up the pace and ran to the bridge.

*******

Jabari stood, looking from side to side. Finally, he turned to Aeradde. “Where is he?” Aeradde snorted. “How am I to know?” “He’s your subject.” “If I could control him, Jabari, we would never have met, unless on the field of battle. He’ll come when he comes, and I hope it’s soon. I’m no more pleased by the delay than you are.”

Jabari sighed. “I guess I’d better make myself comfortable, then.” He returned to his throne. I should have known, he thought. No sooner had he gotten comfortable again, after standing in the heat of the Southern afternoon for an hour(he had foolishly decided to stand through much of the trial, even after the rest of the coalition had long sat down), than Red arrived, strolling in as leisurely as can be.

“Glad you could finally make it,” said Jabari, feeling no particular inclination to stand in greeting, though Aeradde and his mate did, along with the other members of the coalition.

*******

Red stared in shock as he arrived at the bridge, panting after running at top speed almost all the way to the bridge, with only a short pause to approach at a sane speed, and Jabari did not rise to greet him.

Everyone else had the courtesy to rise. I’m not exactly a nobody. What does that son of a jackal think he’s proving?

Again, Red’s conscience popped in. Well, you did keep him waiting. Red ignored his conscience, but bit back the insults his mind was already forming for Jabari due to the counsel of reason. It would be less than helpful to your cause to anger the elder lion of the coalition.

True, Red acknowledged, though he couldn’t resist bowing first to Aeradde, then to his mate, then to each other member of the coalition, then to Jabari. It was a small insult, but satisfying, and since no protocol had been explicitly established for citizens of the Canid Confederacy(Gunter hailed from the Jungle Refuge), he could get away with it.

Jabari seemed to ignore the slight, and pre-empted Aeradde’s attempt to speak with the command “Tell us your story, Red. Pick up from the point where you began to track down Mobius.”

********

Luna walked away from the bridge after the first day of the trials, shaking her head in disgust. Maybe we moved too quickly, she thought. Our illustrious leaders clearly are not ready for this. All they can do is squabble to get the last word and sound like they’re in charge and not the “other side.” Where are my diplomats? We need to work something out here.

She walked down to the camp on the cat side of the river where she had pitched her tent, hoping to find Ancelin or Razo. We need to work out a protocol or something for these meetings.

She walked off to the right, where she found Ancelin’s tent pitched not far from the path that ran through the center of the field. Well, it wasn’t exactly a path, but the grass in the area was tall, and in the center it had been walked on enough to be pressed down into something like a path.

Luna looked around, but she couldn’t find Ancelin. She did see a few cats lounging around a nearby campfire and drinking ale. It may be worth asking them if they have seen Ancelin., she thought.

Luna walked over to the campfire and sat down. One particularly inebriated tiger was sitting on the other side of the fire from her. “And who might you be, cutie?”, he called, his words slurred and his voice rising up and falling down almost rhythmically.

Luna rolled her eyes. “I am called Luna.” “Luna, eh? Pretty name. Don’t you think, fellas?”, he said, his voice sagging as if he were about to fall asleep. No one responded. Luna shook her head. “Have any of you cats seen a short, wispy-looking House Cat by the name of Razo?”

A cheetah to Luna’s right opened up with a line of rapid jabber. “Razoeh? Aboutsohighwhitefurlongwispywhiskers?” Luna nodded. “IthinkhesoveronthedogsideoftherivertalkingtosomeDobermannamed…uh…Gomerorsomething.”

Luna paused for a moment and scratched her head, mentally replaying what he said and trying to determine what he meant. After a few seconds, she asked “Gunter?” “YesIthinkthatwasitwhydoyouaskanyway?”, replied the cheetah.

“No reason,” said Luna. “I just want to talk to him.” “OkaythengladIcouldhelpyou.AreyoutheLunaLunaofSambarRock?Bigimportantantiwartiger?”

Luna knew that if she revealed who she really was, they would begin pestering her with all sorts of questions, and Razo might well return to her before she found him, so she muttered something unintelligible under her breath, followed with a clearer “Gotta go,” then took off for the bridge.

By the time she got there, the royals had already left and the only people still on the bridge were a few cat and dog soldiers, talking among themselves and eyeing each other standoffishly. The dogs were drinking ale and the cats were smoking cigarettes. A/N: Cigars?

But Luna had little time to notice the soldiers as she blasted past. She barely noticed one of the male tigers calling after her “Why the rush, sweetheart?” She waved her pinky and thumb at him. It was a rude gesture among cats meaning something to the effect of “I’m not interested.” Retrospectively, she later thought that might not have been wise. Nothing that put these soldiers on edge, especially while they were so close to a group of armed dogs, was probably wise.

But she had little time to think of it. She made for Gunter’s tent like there was no tomorrow, then slowed down. Why am I in such a hurry?, she thought. They won’t be meeting again until tomorrow. As she could not answer the question, she slowed down and walked to Gunter’s tent.

There she found Gunter and Razo, sitting outside Gunter’s tent, deep in conversation. There was a fire a couple dozen yards beyond them, and five or six tents pitched in the immediate vicinity.

Luna walked up behind Razo and tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up. “Oh,” he said, “it’s you.” “Who were you expecting?”, asked Luna. “No one. Never mind.”

Luna rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Am I interrupting something important?” “No,” said Razo. “Gunter and I go way back. We were just swapping stories. It’s getting pretty boring around here lately, no empires to thwart, no wolves to fight, nothing, so we’ve just been telling tales.”

“I hate to interrupt, I really do,” said Luna, “but I need to talk to you, and to Ancelin, if I can find him.” “What about?”, asked Razo. “I need you diplomats to help establish a protocol for these meetings that will satisfy both the alphas and the coalition, and keep them from fighting for control of the meeting. The current system is inefficient to say the least, and is not exactly fostering an atmosphere of cooperation.”

Razo nodded. “Have you talked to Red’s diplomats? It may well take all four of us to craft a protocol that will satisfy both sides. That is a tall order if ever I heard one.”

“No,” said Luna. “I haven’t spoken to Red’s diplomats. It may not really be my place to give them orders, you know?” “You don’t have to give any orders.”, replied Razo. “But it would have saved some time if you had at least talked to them. It hardly matters now, though. Ancelin and I will get in touch with them.”

“So you think you can do it?” Razo shrugged. “I’m confident we can work something out, between the four of us. But not too confident. Those alphas and the coalition aren’t exactly a reasonable bunch of fellows.”

Luna nodded gravely. “True, true. Well, do what you can, will you? And if there’s anything I can help you with, let me know. I’ll be happy to do it.” Razo smiled. “Consider it done.”

*******

It was late, eleven-thirty or so, to judge by the position of the moon. The fire crackled faintly outside the pavilion where the diplomats had gathered. Camilla and Clarice sat on one side of the wide rectangular wooden table in the center of the large tent. Ancelin and Razo sat on the other, and Razo fingered the decorative engravings around the edge.

“So what do we have so far? Not that there’s much hope of satisfying them?”, asked Camilla, running her forepaw through the hair atop her head. Razo looked up into her bleary red eyes. She’s not the only tired one., he thought. I hope we can get this done soon. He looked at the sheet of paper where he had written his hasty notes. Why I was picked to keep notes for this meeting, I never will know, unless it was that I was the only one who didn’t immediately refuse.

“It looks,” he said, “as if this is what we have so far. Only the alpha male and the senior coalition member will preside. They will alternate each day, with the first to be decided by a coin toss. Any member of either party can speak or ask questions, after being represented by the presiding authority, who must give at least equal time to the other side.”

“As far as bowing is concerned, each will bow to the leaders of his own race first. Dogs will bow first to the alphas, cats to the coalition. Then everyone will face the presiding authority.”

“Sounds like it’s worth a try,” said Camilla. “In any case, I can’t think any more tonight. Let’s call it a day and see if they approve it tomorrow.”

“Works for me,” said Razo. The other two diplomats nodded. “Finally,” muttered Camilla, and the four of them filed out the door of the pavilion and off to their tents.

*******

Camilla sat down behind Aeradde and his mate and buried her head in her forepaws. I can’t believe I have to watch this. I just want to go back home and sleep for a week.

Beside her sat Gunter, who looked over at her and smiled. She grinned weakly in response. “Did you get them to agree to your protocol?”, he asked. She made the smallest noticeable nod, then shook her head back and forth. “It wasn’t easy, though.” “No?”, he asked. “No,” replied Camilla, slightly louder this time. “That coalition is a bunch of thickheads, especially Jabari.”

“How diplomatic of you to say that.” “Well, I’m a dog. I’m sitting behind Aeradde. They can’t hear me.” Gunter laughed. “I guess you don’t believe in avoiding bad habits.” “I’m not in the habit of calling people thickheads,” replied Camilla, “but if you knew Jabari…”

“I do know Jabari,” replied Gunter, “and I agree with you.” “Anyway,” said Camilla, “it took a good half hour just to get it to the point where he could understand it. After that I had to convince him that we weren’t favoring the dogs by allowing equal time to both sides even though they didn’t have the same number of individuals. It was a nightmare. But it’ll be worth it now.”

“Oh?”, asked Gunter. “Who is presiding today?” “Aeradde,” replied Camilla. “He won the coin toss, which didn’t put Jabari in the best of moods, but, hey, what are you going to do?”

“Nothing, I guess,” said Gunter. “Oh,” said Camilla. “They’re starting. Finally.”

Aeradde picked up his golden gavel and twirled it around in his hand a few times, then pounded on the table repeatedly. “Tenshun!”, he cried, which drew a few quizzical looks from the cats. He struck the table a few more times, then cleared his throat and enunciated more clearly: “At-ten-shun! Today there are several items on the agenda. First of all, the coalition has deliberated on the judgment of Mobius, who is under their jurisdiction as a cat of the Felid Kingdoms. He will be sent back to the Kingdoms to be held as a prisoner at Sambar Rock Castle until such time as they can decide on an appropriate sentence.”

Aeradde was at this point interrupted by scattered applause. He cleared his throat. “Secondly,” he said, “The Crown of the Canid Confederacy has convicted Mingan of Bergebi of conspiracy to attack a Confederacy town. However, it is not our responsibility to pass sentence. That is the job of his own pack first, and this Crown only if they fail to do so properly. Therefore, Mingan is to be returned to his own pack. By the way,” added Aeradde, “as a personal note, Mingan, your pack is not likely to be pleased when they learn of your defiance of the Law of the Challenge. No doubt that will factor into your sentence.” Mingan paled, and all the dogs laughed. The coalition remained grave.

Gunter shook his head. “They don’t get it.” Camilla giggled.

“And now,” said Aeradde, “yo our most important order of business. As you all no doubt know, we are on the verge of the first peace either of our peoples has known in a thousand years. It is a historic moment. We have overcome much, and we owe it all to the group both sides have long persecuted.”

“These tireless warriors of peace have fought against this destructive conflict, and now, have nearly finished the great task taken up by their founders at ending it. Yes, I speak of the secret resistance that has grown dramatically of late.”

“I speak of the Underground. And, as I’m sure you will also agree, two members of that esteemed group deserve special recognition. Please rise, Red of Dramstad and Luna of Sambar Rock.” Red and Luna stood, and all the dogs and cats around them began to clap loudly.

As the applause started to fade, Aeradde gestured with his forepaws for it to stop. Most ignored him, and kept on clapping for some time. Red rather enjoyed it for a few seconds, but then his eagerness to hear what Aeradde would say next overcame his love of the spotlight, and he joined Aeradde in pressing his palms downward to stop the clapping. Luna had already been so gesturing for some time, and finally, the crowd got the message.

The clapping died out, and Aeradde continued. “Of course, however, they could not have accomplished what they did without the aid of the diplomats and officers who accompanied them and helped them on their journey, as well as in the preliminary negotiations that led to this meeting. Please rise, Makalo. Please rise, Ancelin. Please rise, Scipio, Razo, Camilla, Gunter, Conrad, Clarice.”

Red heard Clarice mutter “That was entirely the wrong order” under her breath as she rose, and rolled his eyes. Everyone clapped again, and again it took a while for everyone to settle down. “Finally,” said Aeradde, “none of this would be possible without the help of those who have long labored behind the scenes, and have suffered at the hands of those like…well, like me. I am sorry to say that more than one Underground member was executed at my command.”

“I’m sure that brother Jabari can say the same.” For the first time in his life, Red saw Jabari nod. He did so slowly and gravely, and silence fell upon the crowd for a moment. “But,” continued Aeradde, “those times are behind us.”

Red saw Cider shoot him an incredulous look. He returned it, mouthing the words “now say sorry.” She laughed audibly, and tried to hide it behind a cough. Aeradde took no notice, not that it was ever likely he would.

“Yes, the coalition and I are on the verge of ending this destructive war forever. A few details remain to be worked out, to be sure, and it will take time to reintegrate our societies. No doubt hard feelings remain between the two peoples.”

“But, nevertheless, we are taking a great step today. I have sent messengers to every corner of my realm, and no doubt hundreds of dogs will soon be pouring into this area.”

Jabari rose, and Aeradde nodded. “The chair recognizes Jabari of the Coalition of Sambar Rock.” “Thank you, Aeradde.”, replied Jabari. Aeradde’s face took on an angry shadow for a moment, then returned to its previous cheerful mood.

“I feel it appropriate to add, as you all should know, but there is no way that brother Aeradde could, that I too have sent messengers to the four corners of my realm. No doubt many cats will be arriving here soon as well.”

“Thank you, brother Jabari,” said Aeradde. Gunter turned to Camilla. “What is with this ‘brother’ thing all of a sudden?”, he whispered. “Is that part of your protocol?” “No,” said Camilla, “and it seems rather affected to me. At first Aeradde didn’t want to proceed with the protocol. Personally, I think he was looking for an excuse to start up the war again.”

“No. Really? After all we’ve done?” “Yes,” said Camilla gravely. “It nearly came to that. But I told him just a little bit of the economic prosperity we’ve enjoyed in the South, and I mentioned our level of technological advancement.”

“Oh?”, asked Gunter. “And that convinced him?” “Well, of course, I had to prove it,” she said. “But as it happens, I had something in my bags that did the trick.” “What was it?” “It was one of those goofy novelties that you can get all around the Cities. This one was a sculpture of a scene from The Epic of Shlagaghim Anthroton, but it folded into a locket. And if you wind it up, the characters will act out the scene, and even say their lines. They don’t sound like real dogs and cats, but it’s a fun novelty, and it amazed Aeradde.”

“And after that he was willing to seek for peace?” “Yes,” said Camilla, “and not only that, he started up with this “brother” garbage all of a sudden. Like I said, I think it’s affected, and I’m sure he’s not doing it out of high-minded peace-loving motivations, but I don’t care. It gets the job done.”

Gunter nodded, and returned his attention to Aeradde, much of whose speech the two of them had missed by then. He rambled on for some time, and Gunter only picked up random buzzwords. “universal brotherhood…ancient war…final peace.”

After an hour or so, Aeradde finally stopped talking and called for the diplomats to aid the alphas and the coalition in debating and deciding the terms of the treaty. Gunter saw that this would get long and boring, and after a few moments, slipped out of the crowd and back toward his tent to get some rest.

*******

Over the next several days, dogs and cats poured in from all across the Great Western Continent. Red was on and off of the bridge all the time, but he felt like a bit of a fifth wheel. Things were really out of his hands at this point. He could do little to aid in the minor diplomatic squabblings that were slowing down negotiations.

It was petty nonsense, really. Little fights about how long it would take to remove all the Confederacy troops from the Felid Kingdoms, whether the armies that were just recently returning from campaigns far in the South where they had not received word of the negotiations should return the spoils of war, whether the two sides should each cede to the others their small colonies on the other side of the river, and other minor garbage.

Well, Red thought it was garbage. Apparently the legions of and cats pouring in from all directions disagreed. Their numbers had swelled so great that it was getting difficult to maneuver from his tent to the bridge. Some of them were not sympathetic to the cause, and several fights had broken out, putting the Refuge troops, who were tasked with primary police duties since they were thought to be mostly impartial, quite on edge.

On the third day of this, much progress seeming to have been made, but with a long ways to go, as Red was informed by Camilla(he had difficulty seeing in his own observations that any progress was being made, but this was not his area of expertise), Red was sitting around a campfire at the edge of the camp with some friends from the Underground back in Dramstad.

One of them was quite an excellent cook, and while Red, like any dog, could live on raw meat if forced to it, and had recently been doing so, he certainly preferred a well-cooked meal when he could get it.

As he sat there enjoying his meat and looking out across the road, he saw a familiar face. There, walking down the road toward him, sitting on the same old tired pony that had served him so well so long, was the scholar Andreas, from Red’s hometown of Dramstad.

Red stood up and waved to him. “Andreas!”, he called. “Andreas!” The short Pekingese looked around, seeking the source of the voice that called for him, then saw Red. He turned his tired old pony toward the Retriever and spurred him on. Andreas’ pony was not the swiftest steed in the Confederacy, and it took some time to get there. Nevertheless, when he arrived, he found himself welcomed, for many of the Dramstad Underground were his friends.

“Red!”, he said. “Red of Dramstad! I am amazed by what you have done here.” Red smiled. “Save your praise, Andreas,” he said, “for it is not done yet.” “And you are modest, too,” said the scholar, “but it is no use. You know as well as I that this is as good as done. I am impressed.”

“Well,” said Red, “perhaps you can compose a song about it. You always were putting together those fun little verses for the people of the village.” “True, true. I was the talk of the town.” He laughed. “But now you will be.”

“Well,” said Red, “now that you’re here, I am ready for them to sign that treaty. You’re the last one to arrive who really deserves to see it. All the key actors have long been here. And I wish they’d hurry up. I could use to get back home and get some rest.”

“Oh,” said Andreas, “Somehow I doubt you’ll have much rest in the near future.”

*******

Four days later, the treaty was signed. Everyone was there to watch it. Andreas and Cider gathered together with the diplomats and officers, and of course with Red and Luna to watch Aeradde and the coalition put their signatures to it.

The terms of the treaty stated that hostilities were to cease immediately. Messengers were to be sent to the corners of the Confederacy and the Felid Kingdoms, to recall armies and convert mere truces to true peace.

When the pens were put to the paper, and Aeradde and Jabari shook paws, for the first time in a thousand years, the two sides of the Great Western Continent were at peace. Red sat back in his chair.

“Well,” he said to Luna, who was sitting next to him. “my job’s finally done. I’m looking forward to a little peace and quiet back in Dramstad.”

Jabari, who was presiding that day, began to speak when the treaty had been signed. He waxed eloquent for some time, and Red paid little attention. He seemed to be trying to top Aeradde’s speech of the previous day.

Then, Jabari said something that caught Red’s attention. “Aeradde and I have both decided to add a new branch to our government. This branch would be in charge of reconstruction, and reintegrating our societies. It would oversee trade and generally work to keep up good relations between our nations. Of course, my department would work closely with their opposite numbers in the Confederacy. And because I need someone dedicated to the cause of peace and good relations, and with a solid knowledge of canine culture, I would like to ask Red of Dramstad to be the head of this department.”

Jabari paused for a moment while Red’s jaw dropped. He rose. “I am honored, great one. But I am tired, and I will need time to think it over.” “Of course,” said Jabari. “Take a rest, go back home, think about it. But not for too long, Red. Not for too long. I will need your services, or someone else’s, soon.”

Red nodded. “Thank you, sir.” At this point, Aeradde broke in. “I am creating a parallel ministry, and I need someone equally dedicated to whom Jabari needs, and also one who knows cat culture.”

“Therefore, I am asking Luna of Sambar Rock to consider heading up my new Foreign Ministry.” Luna rose, not quite as surprised as Red had been after seeing that he was offered a position. “Thank you, Your Excellence,” she said. “But I too am tired. I need to return home, to rest, and to consider, as Red does.”

“I expected that,” said Aeradde. “And like Jabari, I will allow you some time to think about it. But not unlimited time, Luna. If you won’t do it, I will have to find someone else.” “Of course,” said Luna.

*******

After two more days of packing up and two more nights of merrymaking, the coalition and the alphas were returning to their capitals, and the camp was almost empty. Red and Luna spurred their horses to the edge of the camp, where their diplomats and officers waited, also mounted.

Red spoke first. “Clarice, Camilla, Gunter, and Conrad.”, he said. “Well met. Never forget what you have been a part of. You will return to the Jungle, and I to Dramstad. Likely we will never see each other again. But if you do happen to be in the neighborhood, don’t hesitate to stop by.”

Gunter laughed. “Now don’t get all sentimental on me, Red.” he said. “I never could stand goodbyes.

Luna turned to her officers and her diplomats. “Ancelin, Razo, Makalo, Scipio. Thank you. I hope we’ll meet again someday, if not in this life, then across the ocean Thanaton, where heroes reunite.”

Makalo smiled. “Well met, Luna. You’ve done a great thing, you and your friend.” “We couldn’t have done it without your help.” “I think you would have found a way,” said Makalo.

The old lion lowered his head, then began to sing in a low, crooning voice.

Farewell, oh my friend, farewell.

Dark days are behind thee, bright horizons ahead,

Farewell, oh my friend, farewell.

The other Southerners slowly joined in as he demonstrated his voice’s surprising range with the second verse.

Though ne’er again we may meet on this side,

In my mem’ry fore’er shalt stay,

Thy heroic deeds we’ll never forget,

not I nor my children, nay.

Farewell, oh my friend,

Farewell, noble one.

May the world ne’er forget the things you have done,

and though our next meeting be on the fair shores,

Know thou that my people

remember thy lore.

Farewell, oh my friend, farewell.

Dark days are behind thee, bright horizons ahead,

Farewell, oh my friend, farewell.

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