Beatrice and I entered the Micean Council headquarters and shook off the cold.
Next to the guards stood a young mouse with a thimble full of hot apple cider. “Ms. Brownbrow?” She curtsied. I noticed a slight francophone accent. She was pure white with red eyes. Probably had parents who were lab mice.
“You first,” Beatrice gestured to me, still shaking snow from her whiskers.
“Merci.” I sipped the glorious liquid. Then the exhaustion hit me.
“Emilie, please take Councilmouse Pixiedrowner to her room.”
Emilie smiled. “Congratulations on your successful mission.” We were speaking French.
“I’m to be a Councilmouse one day. When I’m old enough.”
She was a beautiful mouse, and a part of me wanted nothing but to keep this perfect little child safe from the world, rather than sending her out to fight monsters. But what I told her was: “I’m sure you’ll be a fine Councilmouse.”
She turned away from me, but I caught her smiling a little.
She led me to a little cubbyhole to sleep in, filled with warm pigeon feathers.
“Bon nuit,” I barely heard before I fell asleep.
It felt like I’d slept about thirty seconds before my shoulder was shaken. With the strength it would have taken me to lift an 8-ball over my head I raised my eyelids. It was wintertime, and my body wanted to do nothing but sleep, sleep, sleep. I just needed a little more—you know, hit the snooze button for just two or three more months… That’s how snooze buttons work, right? I’d only seen them in catalogs.
I saw Emilie’s red eyes blink in front of me. “Eve. Your pigeon leaves in six minutes. I brought you some breakfast. Do you like kettle corn?”
“What’s kettle corn?”
A second later I found out what it was, and that I liked kettle corn very much. Have you tried that stuff? It’s a delicious miracle that reminded me of why we fight to help the humans. Nature provides, yes. But it doesn’t provide kettle corn.
I hadn’t even finished licking the glorious salt and sugar off of my fingers before Emilie was hustling me down a corridor, in step with Gretchen and somebody I didn’t recognize.
“Bye! Good luck!” Emilie said, handing me my belt with Grim’s blade in it.
“This is agent Dichall Smileyes, the new diplomat agent on our team” Gretchen said.
He was a deer mouse, like me, and his fur was a lustrous brown, tapering to white on his belly and on the bottom of his tail. He wore a black silk shirt and strapped to his back was a toothpick with a dog’s tooth tied to it. He turned to me and gave me a crooked smile. Dichall and I shook paws.
“Good morning,” I said, “Why do they call you Smileyes?”
“Because that’s my name. How’s your love life?”
My back stiffened. “Private. How’s yours?”
“Much the same.”
He didn’t even ask my name. This guy was abrupt, but I had to admit he was a fine-looking mouse. I was suddenly very aware that Gretchen, being a house mouse, was of a different species than me and Dichall.
Gretchen looked from me to Dichall, then back again. “The Council prefers to send mice out in groups of three: a warrior, (that’s you, Eve), a shaman, and someone who is a smooth talker. Dichall is our diplomat. So we’re ready to go, ja?”
Smooth talker? Seems a bit rude, to me.
We went out to the pigeon stand. There was a line, as usual. Gretchen led us to the front.
In the line, a tall, black mouse clutched his jacket to his body. “Hey!”
“We have a reservation,” Gretchen said to the pigeon master, but loudly enough so everybody heard. The mice in line grumbled.
“You’re on Benny Falafel.” The pigeon master gestured to a pigeon coming our way.
“Thank you, you’re a miracle worker!” Gretchen gave the pigeon master’s shoulder a brief squeeze, then turned to me. “This will be a much smoother ride than that crow last night.”
A pigeon wearing goggles fluttered down. A feather came loose from a wing, and one lucky mouse caught it and stuffed it in his shirt for added insulation.
Benny lowered a wing and we boarded.
“Goggles?” I asked.
“What of it? He’s got a veilring. Benny’s a long-time Council helper.” Gretchen patted the side of Benny’s neck.
We took off, and Dichall leaned forward toward Benny’s ear. “Bring us to the Jack Purcell off-leash dog park, please. And get flapping! We need to be there by 7:10.”
“Right-o!” Benny did a quick spin to check the time on the giant clock on the Centre Block of Parliament Hill. “Coo! Better hurry…”
I got my first daylight view of Ottawa in the just-breaking dawn. We flew over the Centennial Flame, south over the city. Benny weaved through buildings, exchanging nods with other pigeons we passed on the way. It was freezing, but beautiful.
After about ten blocks Benny perched on the top of a chain link fence that enclosed a dog park. Humans were there, wearing parkas, drinking coffee and chatting while their dogs ran around loose.
Labradors ran with obvious joy, beagles barked, and a pug stood near his mistress, shivering miserably, waiting to go home.
There were no dogs immediately around us, but dogs can move fast. “Are we going to be safe?”
“Don’t worry, Eve. Most dogs respect the Micean Council. In the city, anyway…” Gretchen jumped to the ground, and we followed.
Benny looked down at us with googled eyes, then out to the dogs. “Uh… Good luck!”
Our pigeon fluttered away. I felt very exposed.
“We’re looking for a rat terrier named Lolabelle,” Dichall scanned the park. “I think I see her.”
We walked along the perimeter, avoiding dogs and humans, until we got close to a black-and-white spotted dog. Dichall called out: “Lolabelle?”
The dog turned and her ears perked up.
“Micean Council!” Dichall and Gretchen held up their red beads. I followed a little too late. I was very freaked out, being this close to a dog. I’d stayed far away from them back at the campsite.
“Thank goodness!” Lolabelle barked, spinning around a few times in excitement. I was afraid she was going to come over and try to lick us, but she didn’t look threatening.
“We heard your humans are having problems?” Dichall said.
“It’s the little one. She loves to finger paint. Loves it. But over the last, I don’t know, week? She’s stopped. She’s lost her muse or something. She’s bored now. Uninterested.”
Gretchen rubbed her arms against the cold. “Heard anything about medical problems?”
“No,” Lolabelle sat up, like she was expecting a treat. “My humans took her to the doctor, but they couldn’t find anything.”
“Could be an infestation. We’ll check it out.” Gretchen gestured with her chin at a woman standing a few feet away. “That your human?”
Lolabelle’s tail wagged and she nodded with delight. “Isn’t she wonderful?”
Dichall eyed the large, leather bag the human had on her shoulder. “I think we have our way in.”
Gretchen crouched. “On three!” And when the human wasn’t looking, one, two, three, we leapt up and into the leather bag. We worked our way down, under the all the junk—we didn’t want her getting a handful of mouse when she reached for her keys. That would have been awkward.
I felt immediately warmer in the bag. “We just ride our way into the apartment like this?”
“Warmer than a pigeon…” Dichall smiled. He stretched and got comfortable. It was cozy. I liked this leather bag transportation!
I was very aware of Dichall’s fur up against mine. I silently scolded myself for noticing. Get your mind on the mission, Eve.
I felt Dichall’s eyes on me. “Your elbow is poking into me.”
I tried to move, but we were kind of cramped. “Sorry…”
We heard the muffled barking of Lolabelle through the leather: “Uh, be careful, there’s a cat in the apartment who’s not the biggest fan of the Micean Council.”
We glanced at each other, not quite so comfortable anymore…