On our way out of Council headquarters Dichall led us to the food pantry. “If we’re going to get a bird to take us all the way to the hospital, we’re going to need to give them something.”
We were procuring a small sackful of breadcrumbs, harvested by mice from the Parliament cafeteria floor, when that beautiful mouse, Evelyn Farseer, came in, her little bumblebee buzzing on her shoulder.
“Councilmouse Dichall!” Her voice was nector-sweet. “My team has been hearing great things about you. Sounds like you’re an excellent diplomat.”
Dichall smiled at her with his eyes. “Nice of you to say, Evelyn.”
I wanted to get between them but could not think of an excuse to.
“Unfortunately, our team’s diplomat perished last week. Perhaps you’d be willing to accompany us on a mission sometime?” She smiled and gazed into Dichall’s eyes, hers half shut.
“I’ve got a team of my own.” Dichall gestured to me and Gretchen.
“Of course.” She gave me a tight smile. “We would never take him away from you. We’d only have you on a temporary basis, of course, and with permission from the rest of your team. Eve, is it?”
“Yes, Eve Pixiedrowner.” I tried to sound assured. In truth, jealousy was raging in my head. I could barely follow the conversation. “Of course you can borrow him sometime. Whatever’s best for the Council.”
Dichall glanced at me and gave me a wry smile. “It’s time to go. Nice to see you, Councilmouse Farseer.” Her perfect eyes watched us walk outside. I twitched my whiskers and focused on the mission. We had to find a bird.
But a squirrel, nose twitching, found us first. “Whatcha got there?”
I scanned the snowy hill for rides. “None of your business.”
“Mm. Smells like bread.” The squirrel was getting quite close, now.
“Back off, Melissa.” Dichall held up his bead. “We’re on Council business!”
Not that she would care. Squirrels cared about squirrels. Full stop.
The squirrel’s tail twitched and she got closer. “Who’s the bread for?”
“Probably a gull.” I advanced on Melissa before she got any closer. Her body was thin. She was probably very hungry. But even weak squirrels could be tough fighters. We didn’t want an altercation, so I tried to intimidate her. Gretchen was behind me with the breadcrumbs, and I pulled my cloak back to reveal my hand on Grassblade’s hilt.
Her face twisted in furry frustration. “Give me a few crumbs and I’ll find you a gull!”
I looked around the snowy hill, and didn’t see any birds immediately around me. The squirrel could very well find one before we could, and we were freezing our tails off.
Gretchen nodded. “Fine. Bring us a gull and we’ll pay you then.”
Melissa bounded away in that graceful way squirrels did, and the three of us huddled together for warmth against the wall of the building, surrounded by the mist created by our breath.
A gull landed near us, and the squirrel arrived a few seconds later. “Need a ride?” the gull asked, in that high-pitched call that gulls have.
I climbed aboard her wing. “Ottawa General Hospital.”
Gretchen left three crumbs, plus a one crumb tip for the squirrel, then she and Dichall boarded too.
“Roger that!” The gull gobbled the crumbs. She spread her wings and ran a few steps, then flapped into the air. We held on tight. It was a long ride—the hospital was about seven kilometers away, as the gull flies.
When we landed on the roof we gave half of the remaining crumbs to the bird, who thanked us with a full beak. We would need the other half to get back. Gretchen led us to the roof’s mouse entrance and inside the hospital walls.
“We have to be careful in here.” Gretchen shook snowflakes from her ears. “With all the sadness and pain eating faeries in the world, hospitals are places where they like to congregate.”
The Micean Council had a tenuous relationship with pain eaters, Gretchen explained to me as we looked for Musk Muskmusk: “After they eat, their victims have less pain, which is a good thing, for the most part.”
I tried to wrap my head around this. “So pain eaters reduce pain. So they’re…good?”
“Not quite. It becomes a problem if it ends up masking pain that would be useful for diagnosis, or, worse, if faeries start causing pain so they can eat it. We try to direct them to patients with untreatable, chronic pain. To a pain eater, those patients are like cornucopias.”
We went inside the hospital’s walls, and walking were Councilmice, faeries, and whatever other strangeness walking the halls together. My mouth went dry, and I gripped my belt so I wouldn’t pull out my sword.