The elder Twittermund was a wise king, and he had an accord with the mousefolk of the vale: so long as they did not steal those acorns already gathered and buried, they were free to seek what they would at the base of Twittermund’s trees.

His son, however, was impetuous and fiery. Called Stubbletail by his enemies, thanks to a tail that had been reamed and hacked by a cat in his youth, Twittermund II railed against the mousefolk, branding them thieves and enemies. When his father died, caught in the claws of a hawk, the younger squirrel declared that the forest floor was now off-limits to any but his own kind. These Bushtail Edicts declared that any mouse found by a squirrel stood to forfeit its food, and possibly its life.

The Squirrel Corps, once mere lookouts to warn of approaching predators, were reformed into a militant group that began raiding the mousefolk about Twittermund II’s domain. Claiming to be “returning” stolen acorns to their rightful owners, they in fact enriched Stubbletail’s court with ill-gotten gains.

Furious, the mousefolk of the vale gathered to pool their resources and lay a trap for the tyrant. Over the course of two months they drilled their once-disparate militias into a unified fighting force, one that outnumbered the larger squirrels 10 to 1. Then they carefully laid a trap for Twittermund II, sending a raiding party to his tree.

Stubbletail took the bait. Enraged, he led his Squirrel Corps personally into battle, and pursued the mice to a copse of juniper bushes. There, where the close quarters negated his troops’ size and speed, the mice fell upon Twittermund with a vengeance. Twittermund II himself fell in battle, and the Squirrel Corps was thoroughly routed and broken forever. The next four squirrels in line for the throne died that day, and the victorious mice bore Twittermund’s personal acorns back as trophies.

This was the greatest victory won by the mousefolk since the long-ago Cottontail Raids had silenced the rabbit slavers. It also proved once and for all to the vale’s mousefolk that an organized force was needed to defend their rights. Thus were the Acorn Knights born, their aegis taken from the spoils Twittermund II had failed to protect.

The squirrels themselves were shattered after the Battle of the Bushes, never again to hold power in the vale. Their next ruler, Twittermund II’s third cousin, was so weak that he was forced to hire the Acorn Knights–the very mice that had slain his predecessor–to protect his people from the Cottontails.

Followers of the Valefaith say that the Battle of the Bushes proved once and for all time that mousefolk were the favored children of the wood. But the newer Cyclers insist that it was a warning to all with hatred in their hearts, as it was no doubt a spiteful and self-loathing mouse that had been reincarnated as Stubbletail.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!
Advertisements