Dichall, Gretchen and I leapt down from the high tower, safely landing in the snow. We found a gull picking through a discarded food container.
Dichall held out his red bead necklace. “Hello there.”
The gull pulled her head out of the box with a French fry in her bill. She pointed her head up and swallowed it. She jerked her head to us and took us in. “Micean Council? Looking for a ride, I suppose?”
“Afraid so.” Dichall pointed north with his thumb. “Trying to get to a residence in Quebec.”
The gull started pecking again at the box. Her voice came from within: “What’s in it for me?”
Dichall laughed. “We were hoping you’d be rewarded by your own feeling of doing something good.”
The gull pulled her head out again, and after a moment burst into laughter—a cackling gull squawk. “Hah! I suppose this can be my good deed for the month. Hop on.”
We pointed her in the right direction. As we flew over the river, she gestured with her beak a rocky island in the Ottawa river, covered with gulls. “That’s my colony down there.”
I held tight and leaned over. There must have been two hundred gulls down there. “Impressive!” I had to yell over the frigid wind.
She looked down and her proud smile left her face. “That son of a –” The bird tucked in her wings and dove.
The descent nearly blew us off. I don’t know how my freezing fingers managed to hold on. “Slow down!”
A few feet above the island she spread her wings and landed, sending a few nearby gulls hopping out of the way. She strutted to one in particular. “Eric Conestealer!”
Eric turned his head in surprise from the comely female he was chatting up. “Oh, Annabelle! How good to see you!” His smile hid an underlying expression of panic.
Annabelle turned to the female. “Take wing, if you know what’s good for you!” The female, apparently shocked as Eric, disappeared into the colony.
“Annabelle, I was just talking to ah, ah, well, I can’t remember her name, but I was thinking she could babysit for us sometime. You know, so we can have a date night once in a while. Just you and me.”
Annabelle stamped her feet and pointed a wing tip in Eric’s face. “Babysitter my tailfeathers! That old story again? If I catch you running around on me again I’ll sell your spirit to a faerie!”
Gretchen patted Annabelle’s shoulder. “You probably don’t want to say things like that around Councilmice, dear.”
Annabelle turned her head almost all the way around and looked at us. She blinked. I guessed she’d forgotten we were on her back.
Eric looked, too. “You’re transporting Councilmice? You always had such a good heart.”
Annabelle snorted. “Sweettalker… Tell you what, Eric, how about you deliver the mice and I’ll have a chat with the ‘babysitter.’ Does that sound fair?”
Eric blinked and stared at her. Then: “Of course, my dear! That’s a great idea! I’ll take them wherever they need to go. You ah…” He looked into the colony for the other bird. “You can probably find her.”
I looked at Gretchen and Dichall and shrugged. We dismounted Annabelle and got to Eric.
He watched Annabelle trot into the colony, looking for the female.
I pointed toward Quebec. “We’re going to a suburb in Quebec. Sorry about that…”
Eric Constealer sighed and we flew off.
About twenty minutes later, we landed outside of Waffles’s house and thanked Eric.
“Oh, no,” Eric smiled down at us. “I want to thank you mice for giving me an out back there. Annabelle can be a little jealous.”
We went to the dog door and peered inside. The coast was clear, and we felt the glorious warmth of the heated air inside seeping through the cracks. We could smell Waffles and the human Kilby family. The three of us heaved the dog door up and slipped into the kitchen. We hid behind the garbage can, a place where we could see the dog food and water bowls and waited for him to smell us.
In a few minutes the dog came in the kitchen for a drink. His nose twitched as he sniffed the air.
I poked my head out from behind the garbage can. “Over here!”
He padded over to us, tail wagging excitedly. “Do you have what you need?”
“I’m sorry, there wasn’t any scranch dust. The Council’s been attacked. Waffles, lie down!” I gestured with my paw. “If you show too much interest, you’ll attract your humans.”
Waffles glanced into the living room, from which we could hear a television (and somebody crying), then lay down as though he were going to nap. He spoke out of the side of his mouth. “So what do we do?”
I stepped close to his ear. “We have a plan, and we need your help. There is a pair of magical glasses. If we can get them to Vivian, she can see what Magnitrude really is and, we hope, then she’ll want to leave. Same plan, but instead of scranch dust we use these glasses.”
“Did you bring the glasses?”
“No, we have to get them. They’re in another city. Stoneprior.”
Waffles’s ears drooped. “Stoneprior? How are you supposed to get all the way there?”
“We have to go. We need you to carry the glasses back.”
He stood up then, barking at us. “You want me to go to Stoneprior?!”
“Shhh!” Gretchen held a finger to her lips. “Don’t attract attention!”
Waffles lay back down, but he was twitchy. I didn’t blame him. The plan was convoluted and so much could go wrong. I stifled a yawn. How long have I been up? “Don’t worry. We came up with a plan on the way over. We’re going to stow away on a truck tomorrow. Get some rest.”
After some grumbling Waffles went away to sleep.
We climbed into the soft earth of a potted plant to get some rest, too. After Gretchen and Emerson were breathing deeply, Dichall nuzzled up to me and put his ear to my belly, listening.
I stroked the fur on his neck. “Can you hear them?”
Dichall squinted and pursed his lips, making a show of concentrating. “Yes, it sounds like they are making big plans for the future… Or maybe it’s only your digestive system.”
I slapped the top of his head playfully. I closed my eyes, and visions of the Coucil, overrun with faeries, flashed in my mind. “Do you ever regret this life you chose for yourself?”
“What? Signing on with the Micean Council?”
I put my arms behind my head and looked at the ceiling. “Yeah.”
“I came from a campsite. I had to hide from campers, hope for scraps. It was pretty lonely, really. The only other fixture there was a squirrel named Agatha.”
Dichall laughed. “That’s all the answer I need! This life or a squirrel as a permanent camp-mate?”
I smiled and leaned back. “I guess you’re right. My experience of the world was looking at catalogs humans left behind. This life is dangerous but living in the wild was no picnic either. There was this fox who lived in the area. Montgomery, his name was. I had a few narrow escapes. Sometimes he would shout from above my den and taunt me, saying ‘I’ll get you one day,’ stuff like that.”
“We should go back there sometime and flash our bead.”
I laughed again. “The look on his face would be priceless.”
I felt Dichall’s head move and I looked down at him. “I’m glad you’re here to stay. I am, too.”
We looked into each other’s eyes. He reached up and stroked my whiskers. “We’ll see it through together. I love you.”
I felt warm all over at his touch and his words. I thought about the litter we would soon have, pictured him romping around with them. “I love you right back. Let’s get some sleep.”
What was happening back at Council headquarters had me worried, but my exhaustion and the warmth of the house put me to sleep almost immediately.
We woke before dawn to a wet nose sniffing at us. I opened my crusty eyes to see Waffles’s huge face looming over us.
He dropped a crust of pizza from his mouth to the kitchen floor. “Come on, get up!”