The Dorset Squirrels – Sample Chapters

CHAPTER ONE

The year was nineteen sixty-one. Humans symbolised this as 1 9 6 1 but, as all humans know, such symbols are meaningless to lesser creatures.

Rowan the Bold was lost. Not the heart-thumping, stomach-twisting feeling of being lost that hits a dreyling when it first looks around on the ground and cannot see its parents, but the ‘Where, in the name of the Sun, am I now?’ sort of being lost.
It was bad enough to be on the ground amongst all this heather, where he felt vulnerable, but he must get his bearings or he could wander around lost for hours and that would be a poor way to finish his climbabout.
Standing up to his full squirrel height, he could just see over the tops of the heath plants and he looked for a tree, as a shipwrecked sailor on a raft searches for an island and the security that this implies. The only tree that he could see was a stunted birch about the height of a Man, growing out of a bank of whitish-grey clay further along the path. The peaty dust from the parched soil tickled his throat as he hopped towards it, glancing over his shoulder from time to time to make sure that no hungry fox or playful dog was following. ‘Come on.’ he said to himself, ‘don’t be a squimp, remember your tag. You’re Rowan the Bold’.
He scrambled up the bank and climbed the tree, feeling the comfort of being off the ground and the joy of his claws biting into the smooth bark. He climbed until the tree started to sag sideways with his weight, then paused to enjoy a tiny breeze which ruffled his fur and fluffed out the hairs of his tail.
Now, where am I? he wondered, peering around as he clung to the swaying stem. Through the heat-haze he could see a line of pine trees but not in any familiar pattern, and turning his head he could see the ridge of the Purbeck hills. Studying their outline, he knew that he had come too far west. He was about to drop to the ground and head off eastwards onwards home, when he caught the faintest whiff of water-scent on the air.
Rowan turned his head slowly, testing the scent and trying for a direction. It seemed to be floating to him from just beyond the pine trees. His mouth was dry and the idea of a cool drink drove thoughts of home into second place. Dropping on to the clay bank, he headed towards the pines.
The line of trees formed, vanished and re-formed in the haze ahead as he followed a twisting path through the heather, bracken and furze in the shimmering desert of the Great Heath.
Reaching the trees, he was tempted to rush down to the water and slake his thirst, but instinct and training had taught him to proceed more cautiously.

In a strange country,
Be careful. Time spent looking
Is seldom wasted.

He climbed the nearest tree and ran out along a branch to look down on to the pool below. It was not quite as big as the one at home, the Blue Pool, and certainly not as dramatically coloured. This one was a delicate orangey brown, but the water was clear enough from above for him to see the white of the clay bottom, well below the surface. It was surrounded by a low sand-cliff and in one place, where the clay must have been of too poor a quality for the long-dead quarrymen to have bothered with it, an over-grown mound remained, surrounded on all sides by water, and topped by three well-grown trees. Across the pool where the cliff had collapsed in places, the quartz particles in the sand caught the rays of the sun, now quite low in the sky, making them sparkle and gleam.
Air smelling of warm damp moss rose from the water’s edge to mingle deliciously with the resin-scent of bark on the hot pine trunks. Huge pink and white flowers set amongst dark green circular leaves fringed the pool, leaving a large clear area in the centre.
Rowan watched a green dragonfly alight on a lily pad to rest for a moment, curl its tail under the leaf and lay an egg before rising and circling away. There were many damselflies flitting over the water, smaller than the dragons, some flying in mating pairs.
From high above, the pool was the shape of a hunched animal, perhaps a rabbit with his ears down, thought Roman, the hump of land above the water being just where its eye would be. There was no scent nor sense of danger but he went slowly down the trunk head-first, looking about him as he did so.

A watchful squirrel
Survives to breed and father –
More watchful squirrels.

He drank at the water’s edge, glanced at the sun to measure its angle and decided to stay there for the night. He could be home in one or two days at the most. There was plenty of food about, no sign of other squirrels having foraged there, and he ate until comfortably full, then chose a tree to sleep in. It was too warm to think of making even the most rudimentary drey for shelter, so he made himself at home in a fork of one of the tallest of the pines and fell asleep; to dream of the beautiful pool below him, with its sparkling sand, water-flowers, dragonflies and the ‘Eyeland’ at the far end.

Marble sat on top of the World. Actually it was a fence-post with slack strands of rusting wire joining his post to those on either side of him, on one of which his companion and acolyte, Gabbro, was sitting, tearing the limbs off a fledgling with his sharp yellow teeth.
The World around them was Dorset, in the south of England, or New America as his kind liked to call it.
A male grey squirrel in the prime of life, Marble licked the blood from his lips and looked out across the Great Heath to the hills of Purbeck beyond. Out there was Adventure, Advancement and Achievement!
He flicked his tail at the blackbirds, the parents of the babies he and Gabbro had just taken from their nests in a hawthorn bush and killed, annoyed at the way they flew at his head in protest, shouting ‘Chit, chit, chit. Chit, chit, chit.’
‘Chit to you too,’ he shouted back and Gabbro, sworn to silence for the journey, grinned over at him.
Marble had invented the ‘Vow of Silence’ on the second day out as noisy, inquisitive youngsters learned more if they kept their mouths shut and their ears and eyes open.
‘Tomorrow we probe Purbeck,’ Marble called across, proud to be an Explorer, Missionary and Disturber of the Peace.

There had been patches of snow on the ground under the trees when Marble and Gabbro had left Home-Base at Woburn Park, moons before. Having received his instructions from the Great Lord Silver, he had wasted no time in leaving; better to be out adventuring than hanging about in idleness with the plotters and hangers-on.
He had chosen a promising youngster with the name of Gabbro to be his acolyte and, when they had set out together, he had only glanced back once at the cluster of dreys forming the New America Base. These dreys were almost completely hidden amongst the branches, each round, woven mass of twigs and leaves the retreat of one of the senior governing families. Each so high and well concealed that human Visitors passing underneath seldom noticed them.
Ever since the first grey squirrels from America had been released there, in what the humans called the eighteen nineties, Woburn had been the centre of their operations.
The toughest, meanest Grey in that first batch had taken charge and called himself Lord Silver. It had seemed to him that grey was a drab sort of colour and it was true that in certain conditions, the light-coloured guard-hairs projecting through the squirrels’ fur made them look silvery. Anyway, he was chief and could call himself by any name he wished.
Lord Silver had soon become Great Lord Silver and there had been a Great Lord Silver at Woburn ever since. When one died, others fought for his rank and position. The winner, if he survived his wounds, would then impose his ideas and prejudices on the others.
Marble had been glad to be away. He hated the intrigue and the plotting of the Oval Drey, and the current occupant was far too permissive in many ways for Marble’s taste. Maybe, when he, Marble, had made a real name for himself he might … No – get on with the job in hand! Purbeck was a real challenge. Somewhere where he could prove himself.
His training had finished with his return from that trip to the west, keeping north of the Great River and penetrating as far as the Ford of the Oxen, though the name of the place, once given to it by the native red squirrels, seemed inappropriate.
It was an honour now to have been given the chance to explore and soften up this place the natives called Purbeck. Very little was known of it and he and Gabbro would be the first Silvers to probe there.
On that first day out he had hopped along, Gabbro chattering excitedly at his side.
‘No – I don’t know why it’s called Purbeck! Yes – it is a long way. No – I haven’t been there before.’ An acolyte was all very well, they could be useful at times, and every ambitious youngster had to learn, but…
Marble had scented an acorn under the leaf litter, probably buried by a fellow squirrel, or perhaps a jay, the previous autumn. He had dug it up and eaten it rapidly while Gabbro had searched around until he too had found one. Marble then moved on, Gabbro following, awkwardly holding the acorn in his teeth, snatching a bite whenever Marble stopped to choose a route. Gabbro clearly had a mass of questions he wanted to ask but, with an acorn in his mouth, he had been forced to keep them until later.
Spring had come and passed as the pair made steady progress towards the west and south. They had passed through Silver country all the way, meeting no native red squirrels. Marble had thought how satisfying it was to see the success his kind had at exploiting the countryside, and with the population pressure behind him building up inexorably, more land was needed. What was the term that the Great Lord Silver had used? ‘Leaping-room!’ That had summed it up precisely.
He, Marble, had been chosen personally for this mission. He might not agree with all that Woburn stood for now, but if the chief had sent him, it was up to him as a loyal Silver to do his very best.
There were Reds still holding out in parts of southern New America and there were reputed to be Reds still skulking in this place they called Purbeck, who might never have heard of the Silver Tide sweeping irresistibly their way. They were not dangerous, more of a nuisance really, but they did cling on so to what they called their Guardianship. Such primitive ideas! How could they be so naïve? And the sun business that he had heard tell of – well!
They had lingered a little in what the colonists called the New Forest, though it was obviously very old. Had he not had a mission, Marble might have been tempted to stay on and fight for a territory there. Even he had been moved by the beauty of the place when the sunlight, striking through the new green leaves of the gnarled oak trees, had lit up the forest floor and shone on the dappled coats of the fallow deer that passed below.
It was here that he had shown Gabbro the Stone force.
Each night, before finding a suitable sleeping place, Marble had instructed his now silent acolyte to collect stones and lay them out in the square patterns, and how to activate the force of his body power.
Marble enjoyed watching the concentration and concern showing on Gabbro’s face as he had squares with four stones each side and then when Marble told him to, reached out apprehensively to place his paw on one of the corner stones. The invisible Earth force could be whisker-sensed as it was drawn from the ground and diverted upwards to treetop height in the shape of a toadstool. Any creature getting too near was paralysed, although, as Marble himself had learned in his training, a certain degree of immunity could be acquired.
Gabbro had quickly become adept at laying out the Power Squares and bracing himself for the drain on his body energy as he started the force going. Marble knew that the energy to start a four by four square would be restored by a night’s sleep but, even so, he preferred Gabbro to be the one to supply it. He had expended enough of his energy during his training.
Between the New Forest and Purbeck they overtook colonising groups also pressing south and west, each group dealing with the few remaining Reds in whatever way they chose, harassing them until they moved on, leaving the best woods to be taken over and settled by the Greys.
Now Marble and Gabbro had come to the edge of the heathland which was as far as the earlier explorers had penetrated. They had not reported how hot it would be here, but maybe this heat was exceptional. New America was noted for the vagaries of its weather!
Somewhere across the heather, beyond the birches and the pines, was Purbeck – his challenge!
Gabbro had finished eating his fledgling, so Marble flicked the ‘follow me’ signal with his tail and leapt to the ground.
The youngster followed, and the blackbirds, still scolding, flew to the fence-posts and perched there, calling after the two strange creatures as they hopped away along the dusty path through the heather stems.
Marble ignored their calls. He knew that the birds could not harm him and there were other real dangers to watch for. But most of all, he was alert for signs of native Reds. Their presence would mean good squirrel country – country suitable for colonisation!

CHAPTER TWO

Old Burdock, the Tagger Squirrel, sitting in a tree above a lake of sapphire blue water, watched the dreylings at play, the bright early morning sunlight glowing on their ruddy brown fur. Soon it would be her job to give them a tag which would stay with them for their lifetime. Unless, that is, they earned another, better tag through some outstanding act or impressive behaviour. Then a special Council Meeting would consider her recommendation for a change.
Ambitious squirrels were always hoping and working for an up-tag. This was good for the community. Not so pleasant was when she had to propose a down-tag for unsquirrel-like behaviour or worse.
She must always remember the code by which she worked, taught in the pattern of words used for all the symbolic and cultural traditions of her race.

Tagging a squirrel
As reward or punishment
Is a weighty task.

This arrangement of sounds, five, then seven, then five again, had a special authority and all squirrel lore was embodied in Kernels like this.
Only recently the Council had had to downgrade Juniper and Bluebell, the Guardians of Humanside, for scrounging food from the Visitors who came to the Blue Pool and who ate at the stone Man-dreys in that Guardianship. Since then Juniper and Bluebell, now tagged the Scavengers, had kept to their own side of the pool, lowering their tails in shame when they saw other squirrels, but there was no evidence yet of them mending their ways. Burdock knew how powerful the effect of a bad tag could be. A squirrel carrying the burden of a denigratory tag would have low self-esteem and be unable to mate, thus ensuring that only squirrels conforming to acceptable standards of squirrel behaviour would produce and raise youngsters. It was Old Burdock’s burdensome task, as Tagger, to keep an eye on the behaviour of the whole community, and to allocate ‘True Tags’ without favouritism.
On the winding Man-paths below her, human Visitors would soon be strolling, admiring the views glimpsed between the trees, most not giving any thought to the possibility of their being watched by squirrels from above.
These Visitors would come all through the summer, arriving in cars and coaches to park in the field which was part of the Humanside Guardianship. They would wander under the pines, their cameras clicking in an attempt to capture the beauty and the ‘blueness’ of the famous pool.
The size of a small field, this pool, like Rowan’s, had once been a clay quarry, providing high quality blue ball-clay to make tobacco pipes and Wedgwood pottery and for use in refining sugar as it was made into sugarloaves, those cone-shaped blocks after which so many mountains have been named all across the world. Now, nearly a century after the workings had been abandoned, some unique combination of suspended clay particles and concentrated minerals in the rainwater trapped there gave it the name by which it was known. The Blue Pool was not on the itinerary of all Visitors to Purbeck.
Burdock looked out over the water, then resumed her watch on the dreylings. One, her own granddaughter, was outstanding, – Marguerite, the only dreying this year of Oak the Cautious and Burdock’s daughter, Fern the Fussy, who were the current Guardians of Steepbank on the opposite side of the pool to Humanside. Oak combined this role of Guardianship with that of Council Leader and was inordinately fond of Marguerite.
Intelligent, active and charismatic, definitely a youngster to watch. Could be Council Leader herself one day, thought Burdock. Not common to have a female for leader but there is no taboo. If not Leader, then she may take over my job when I am Sun-gone. A mixed batch the rest, though.
Soon it would be time for Rowan the Bold, Marguerite’s brother from the previous year, to be home from his climbabout. She was looking forward to hearing about his exploits. Sharing the active experiences of the youngsters seemed a fair repayment for the time she had spent in passing on the lessons her years had taught her.
Some of them, knowing that she was watching, showed off, leaping from branch to branch and demonstrating their developing prowess in any way they thought would impress.

Earning a good tag
Is each squirrel’s ambition
Then to retain it.

She envied them their youthful energy and remembered with a sigh just how it felt to test oneself by leaping greater and greater distances and the excitement and relief of landing safely in the branches beyond. Now, even a small jump across a modest gap tired her and she often found it easier to go down one tree trunk and up another. She felt she was too old to risk a fall.
Burdock cocked her head, listening. Across the pool came the sound of the metal gates at Humanside being unlocked, the signal for the squirrels to retreat into the upper branches and lie out on the resinous bark, enjoying the sunshine and any light breezes filtering through the treetops. They were safe there from foxes and the dogs of human Visitors, and no hawks big enough to be dangerous had been seen for many years. The one dreaded pine marten was now only an ancestral memory and a bogey to frighten unruly youngsters with marten-dread. Burdock recalled the old kernel:

Pine marten’s sharp teeth
Bite off the ears and the tails
Of naughty dreylings.

She moved to the highest branch of the tallest tree on Steepbank above where the sand-cliff dropped almost sheer to the water’s edge. Not only was there the best chance of catching any breezes, but from there she had the finest view, and it was her job to watch and report on any unusual happenings. She looked across towards Humanside and the Man-dreys. The Red-Haired Girl was there. No danger from her – never has been – almost one of us, she thought.
Nothing was moving at Deepend to her right paw side: the guardians there would already be resting and no Visitors had arrived so far. She looked at Beachend to her left, all quiet there too, the sandy beach gleaming in the sun, curving round beyond the blue of the water. Sun, how she loved this place! Burdock stretched out and closed her eyes, reflecting on the part she had taken in building this happy community.
There was now a clear recognition of the place the Sun played in all their lives. She had gradually got rid of that old concept of worship. Respect was a much better term. The Sun could surely not want worshipping, it was far too all-wise for that.
The selection of Leaders and the establishment of the Council for the Demesne had largely been her idea. After a disastrous run of First-borns taking automatic control, regardless of their abilities, she had at last been able to get the demoralised squirrels to give her ideas a try. The worst that any squirrel could complain of now was boredom.
Old Burdock drifted off to sleep as the first pair of humans strolled along the path round the deep end of the pool, the male fanning his face with his summer straw hat.

At two o’clock, the Red-Haired Girl who was the waitress at the Tea Rooms was clearing the tables, the lunchtime rush over.
That pair of squirrels was hanging around again waiting for any scraps to be thrown to them. She had noticed that one seemed particularly fond of salted peanuts and she idly wondered what it thought of the unusual taste, and was about to fetch a packet from the display of snacks when a visitor called to her, asking for another cup of coffee.
The squirrels were forgotten.
CHAPTER THREE

Precisely at five o’clock, Tom, the caretaker, swung the big metal gates shut, collected his litter-bag and walked away to pick up the cigarette packets and ice-cream wrappers that somehow had not found their way into the waste-bins.
Burdock stretched one leg after another and looked down on to the network of paths. The Visitors had all gone, the Human Who Picked Things Up, now down at Beachend, was a part of the landscape and quite harmless, so it was safe to come down and forage for pine cones and early fungi. Halfway down the tree she stopped and stared.
Two creatures were coming along the path. They moved like squirrels but were much bigger than any squirrel she had ever seen – and grey!
Burdock watched from the tree trunk as the unfamiliar animals advanced. They progressed in a series of short dashes, pausing between each to look round. The leading one saw Burdock, stopped and sat up.
‘What place is this?’
‘You are in the Guardianship of Oak the Cautious, in the Blue Pool Demesne. I am Burdock the Tagger.’
‘Greetings, Burdock,’ said they Grey. ‘I am called Marble. This is my companion, Gabbro. We bring salutations from the Great Lord Silver, to whom we all owe allegiance.’ He held his right paw diagonally across his chest.
‘Are you squirrels? Asked Burdock.
‘We are. Squirrels of the Silver Kind. Our ancestors came from the Great Lands far away over the water beyond the sunset, but we are now bringing enlightenment to this land.’ He raised his tail proudly.
Burdock considered his action unmannerly. It was not proper to raise your tail until you had been greeted by the local guardian.

Stranger, show respect
You are the alien here.
Teach us to trust you.

‘What is your business?’ asked Burdock, her voice sharp.
‘Are you the Senior Squirrel in this precinct?’ asked Marble coldly.
The word was new to Burdock but she understood its meaning. ‘No, I’m the Tagger, Oak the Cautious is the Council Leader.’
‘Take us to his drey,’ commanded Marble.
‘As you wish,’ said Burdock and, holding her tail as high as possible, she set off in the direction of Oak’s drey in the Council Tree.
Other squirrels had watched the confrontation and followed Burdock, Gabbro and Marble along the path. Burdock suddenly climbed a tree to see if the strangers could climb. They could. She forced herself to race along a branch as fast as she could and then leap to another tree. The Greys followed effortlessly. They were squirrels!
By the time they reached Oak’s drey there were half a dozen more squirrels following them. Oak heard the movements in the branches before he could see the cause and moved higher for a better view. He was surprised as Old Burdock had been to see the grey creatures which now approached, their tails low. ‘Greetings, strangers,’ said Oak, looking at Burdock for an explanation.
‘Greetings, Oak the Cautious, said Burdock. ‘These strangers of the Silver Kind have come with ‘salutations’ from their Leader.’ She paused uncomfortably, still resenting the ill manners of the Greys and the high-handed way Marble had spoken to her. Taggers were second only to Council Leaders and should be treated with respect.
Oak looked with interest at the two Greys. They were larger than any of the Reds, more heavily built, and their ears were round without any trace of tufts on them. Their eyes were different too, seeming not to look straight at him. He did not feel he could trust them.
‘So, you can speak our tongue,’ said Oak.
‘After a fashion, Cautious Oak, said Marble. ‘We bring salutations from the Great Lord Silver and, as you are the local chief, seek your permission to teach the power of numbers to your subjects.’
‘I have no subjects, Marble the Stranger, these are all Respecters of the Sun, Guardians of the Land. I am just their chosen Leader. What are these numbers of which you speak?’
‘In due course, in due course,’ replied Marble dismissively, looking round to see if the other squirrels were listening. They were. ‘First I wish to learn of your local customs and then to rest from my journey.’ He held his tail low in a gesture of deference, during which display no reasonable request can be refused.

A submissive stance
And a request, presumes help –
Give it if you can

‘What do you wish to know, Marble the Stranger?’ asked Oak.
‘I suppose you consider the Sun to be the provider of everything, like the other natives who once inhabited the Middle Lands?’ said Marble.
Oak nodded assent. Could there be any doubt about that? This he had been taught by his Tagger when he was a dreyling and the evidence was to be seen everywhere. Plants started to grow when warmed by the Sun. The squirrel dreylings were born after the warmth of the spring Sun had aroused their parents to courtship. It was obviously the Sun that ripened the nuts and pine cones in the autumn to provide their winter food stocks.

The life-giving Sun
Provides all we need. Father
Of all the squirrels

‘Yes, said Oak positively, ‘that is our belief.’
His mate, Fern the Fussy, was only half listening. An obstinate blob of resin was sticking to the hairs of her tail. She combed it with her claws, then tried to lick off the residue. In the end she had to bite away a few hairs. She combed again over the gap. After all she was the Council Leader’s life-mate and would be expected to look her best, especially when there were important visitors. She nipped off a twig which was sticking out of a branch at an untidy angle.
‘What number comes after eight?’ asked Marble.
‘There is no number after eight,’ replied Oak. ‘We only have eight front claws to count on. After that there are lots.’
‘Great Lord Silver,’ Marble said quietly, glancing at the silent Gabbro and fighting to keep his tail from rising with superiority. ‘It seems you still practise guardianship instead of possession?’
‘The word – possession – is unknown to me,’ said Oak.
‘Possession, ownership, what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours, for as long as you can keep it. The only civilised way to behave; everybody knows where they are. Surely you can understand that?’
Oak tried, but the concept was beyond him. It was like trying to think about how far the land stretched away from the Blue Pool. Beyond it was the heath, or fields or woods, and beyond them, more. What was beyond those? They must stop somewhere, but where? He had heard about the Sea but had never seen it. What was beyond the Sea? He had often puzzled over this enigma but had had to give up, unsatisfied, and other duties had prevented him ever having gone climbabout as some of the more adventurous squirrels did when they were young.
This concept of ownership was the same. A squirrel couldn’t ‘own’ a tree or a path or a glade! The idea didn’t make sense. Guardianship was clear. From the treetops, squirrels could watch out for anything that might be harmful or unnatural. Not that they could always do anything about it, he thought ruefully. At least some of the humans must feel the same. One of then, the Human Who Picked Things Up, did keep the whole of the demesne free of other humans’ litter.
‘Any special customs or rituals?’ asked Marble.
By now virtually all the squirrels of the community were listening. News of the strangers’ arrival had quickly spread through the demesne.
‘Nothing that comes to mind’ said Oak after a pause, ‘unless you mean the Sun-tithe, where we dig up and eat only seven out of every eight nuts we hide. We’ve always done that.’

One out of eight nuts
Must be left to germinate.
Here grows our future.

Marble was disappointed; he had learned about native behaviour from his mentor the previous year, and there appeared to be nothing dramatically different here. No natives ever understood the importance of ownership. ‘Just another lot of thick Reds,’ he would have to report to Woburn. It was all so boring. They all seemed obsessed by the Sun idea, as if the sun would care about any of them! Take and hold was the only way. The sun’s there, always has been, always will be, and that’s that, he thought superciliously. But the area is good, plenty of food and the surroundings are attractive.
If the Great Lord Silver was pleased with him he might put in a claim for this precinct for himself when he reported back.
‘We will rest now,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow I’ll teach you something about the power of numbers, and indeed Stone force. With your permission,’ he added, looking at Oak and keeping his tail lowered with difficulty. These natives were so naïve!
Oak looked round, saw his daughter, Marguerite, and said ‘Please escort our guests to the Strangers’ Drey, Daughter, and see that they have food.’
The dreyling skipped about. ‘I am Marguerite the Bright One. Please follow me, Marble the Stranger, Gabbro the Companion.’
She led them to the drey kept for squirrels passing through and checked that the supply of nuts and other delicacies was adequate.
‘Is there anything else you would like? she asked innocently.
‘Marble looked her over. Only a first-year chit. Anyway he was tired and didn’t really approve of the way some of his kind used the red females. ‘No,’ he said, and went into the drey, followed by a disappointed Gabbro. In fact, he was not happy about the way most of the younger squirrels of his kind behaved nowadays. Since the change of leadership back at Woburn, all the old moral standards seemed to have been thrown out of the trees. Okay he’d been a bit of a lad in his time, maybe even sired a litter or two, but now – now anyone mated with anyone, at any time and in any place! He shuddered.
He shelled and ate a nut and thought of the natives they had just met. He knew what would happen now. They would hold a Council Meeting. First there would be a discussion on who these strangers were and where they came from, then demands from some that they be sent on their way.
Others, however, would want to hear what he had to say and finally there would be a decision to hear him out and, if they didn’t like what he said, they would ask the two of them to leave the area. But by then he would have sown the demoralising seeds, and when the Silver Tide reached Purbeck the Reds would be swept away easily.

And so it was. Old Burdock the Tagger, still upset at what she considered to have been shabby treatment, was all for sending them on at once. But the phrase that Marble had used, ‘the other natives who once inhabited the Middle Lands,’ had stuck in her mind and she felt she needed to know more. Also she had to agree that, as hospitality had been offered, it could not now be withdrawn.

All passing strangers
Must be accommodated
At whatever cost

Most of the demesne, especially the younger ones, were intrigued by the talk of ‘numbers’ and ‘Stone force’ and wanted to hear more. The decision reached was exactly as Marble had predicted. He was already asleep.

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