"Nidhi lives near the sea in Gujarat with her husband. She did her schooling from American International School, Kabul, before moving on to Delhi for BA English Honors as well as Cost & Work Accountancy. She has a few published novels and miscellanies on Indian cinema and Sikh Holy Scriptures. Her short work has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, Mulberry Fork Review, tNY.Press, Fabula Argentea, Aerogram, Fiction Magazines, Flash Fiction Press, Asvamegha, etc.”
The Carrot is Mightier than the Sword
A great rustling swept over the treeless tracts as droves of furry hares, kestrel-eyed and keen, lanky-legged and tough, fanned out to munch on sedge and dwarf shrub. They rested and foraged in turns, leaping and lolloping across the heather and the bent, as the cold wind, bemoaning the winter just departed, passed with a sigh over the yellowing grasses and fire thorns crouching low. Some, in spring frenzy chased one another, sparring with their paws. Leverets, with long ears and black markings, rubbed their eyes; sleeking their furs with well-licked paws, they raced the sun with eyes cocked to the sky, where peewits, with their slow wings squeaking, and golden plovers, with reedy whistles piping, circled.
By the pool with grey reeds at its rim, King Carrotta, warm as an oven loaf in his brilliant white coat, surveyed the soggy realm with satisfaction; twirling his whiskers, he drew a straw to suck from a pitcher plant. As he hummed, and slurped in tandem with the concerts of nature, another sound, that didn’t quite agree with the general sunshine, rang in: the slow weeps of a creature, proud, ashamed of his pain.
King Carrotta, with many a winter past him, knew well to mind his own business; the craft of surviving in the bitter, wild white was a tricky one. So he chucked the straw and bounded away in large merry leaps, and found spike rush to whiten his teeth upon. But the cries, like misty wreaths fluttering, wheeling about over the moss and heath, followed him, and he could no longer shut his ears to them. Unhappily he tossed over his shoulder a juicy blue-black bearberry, and contrary to his good sense, bounded across the bog to see what ailed this poor soul.
There, near a frozen tarn, at the mouth of the barren cavern, lay a giant fire-breathing dinosaur, writhing and worrying, grieving and growling, raging and raving, howling and heating, and turning and twisting, around and around, with endless rebound. He could barely spit fire, and smoke wisped out his damp nostrils. He had an arrow ripped through his wing, which he beat weakly. Drenched in tears of shame, but not of his own making, his eyes, big, black, fearful, and staggering, implored for help.
“Whatever happened to you, silly bird,” asked the King, staying a safe distance behind an alder brush – just in case. “Who are you?”
“Doesn’t anyone even know? I am Terex – the fire breather – arch of the alpine forest!” Scooping air into his lungs, he exhaled with force – a tiny cloud of vapor popped out of his face, lingering briefly in the bracing cold, before vanishing. The arch firebomber hung his head in shame.
“What in blazes!” Carrotta scurried a little closer. “What brings you so far up north?”
“I used to feast upon veggie Sauropods that mow the earth like cows. Not long ago, some crazy Nenets, not content with hunting Caribous, shot me down with an arrow when I was only minding my own business – flying low, hugging the treetops, looking for some warm, succulent meat to dig my teeth into. Why, I wasn’t even firing up when these looting, lust-dieted, lowlifes shot me down just for sport – for I have armor on my back, club on my tail, fire in my entrails and dung in my horns – what use are these in any hearth? I flew as far and away as I could, my wing bleeding, till I could no more, and crawled into this hollow to die.”
“Why the howling, the tossing and turning then, mate? Spring doesn’t last here forever – you’re disturbing the peace. Do what you have to, and keep it low, okay?” The King crouched on his powerful hind legs and made to spring off.
“Hey, wait…err…umm…I could do with a little…” mumbled Terex, his dark face blanched with pain and blood loss, all of his six monstrous eyes downcast in humiliation.
“Oh, so the mighty Tyrannosaurus needs help from a humble bonnybunny then?”
“Must you… really speak aloud…” the dinosaur darted glances left and right.
“Right-ho then – keep tight.” The Bonnybunny hopped close to the mauled wing, and hummed and hawed. “ Nothing the sharp cogs of a drove will not set right. Wait here for me,” said he, and leaped across the marsh to marshal his marshals.
Soon, a vast oinking and honking advanced over the mellowing permafrost, and in no time the Bigwigs, the Cottontails, the Flopsies, and the Pookas had chewed through the hardwood shaft and elk sinew of the arrow, and pulled it out.
Dr. Jack Quack, the local on-call GP, boiled some carrots in a geyser and rubbed the mashed taproot on the wound. “You’ll be good to go in no time,” he said, stepping back to admire his handiwork.
“What’s that,” the monster wailed, all his six eyebrows shooting up, when the does brought before him a sumptuous spread of liverworts, carrots, lichens, and caribou mosses. “ Where is the meat?”
“Eat your veggies; it’s low fat and won’t clog your arteries,” the doctor firmly declared. “The carrots might even help you see in the dark.”
“Only wabbits eat carrots,” the proud predator moaned.
“Watching too much television, has our sickly boy been? It’s not your Bugs Bunny show Mr. Raptor – eat ‘em.”
And so the raptor soon recovered; a dark flush once again suffused his handsome fiendish looks, and he was able to flap his wings without wincing. When he could take short flights over the bog and take his pickings from the Caribou and Musk Ox, the lapins knew it was time to let the visitor head back to his forests down south. The brief spring was already waning and the coldhearted dusk was beginning to close in like a slow trap of ice.
So one morning, by the long creek, on mist-blurred grass, Carrotta shook his visitor’s claw, and bid him adieu. “Can’t say I’m sorry to see you go, though – you know, with bunnies – they get a little hot under the collar with all those blazes and flames. They got better tricks to keep the old gal hot. “ He winked as the raptor flapped his mighty wings, and soared away in a wake of soot and ash.
As early as the next winter, on a dark frozen night, Terex was back in the rabbit kingdom. This time, he had company – more winged, taloned, horned and fire spitting beasts following him – each more desperate than the other. Word skids fast on the frozen swampland, and the hares were on the ready with a reception.
“What brings you back?” King Carrotta slammed a parsnip-tipped spear against his iron breastplate, and signaled the uninvited guests, creatures that left a bloody and blazing brume in their wake, to halt at the gates of his realm.
“A massive rock has hit the earth. Almost the entire population of our non-avians has been wiped out. I liked what I saw here the last time. We come in peace, brother –– to take over new territories and advance our race. We were friends once; remember me – you hosted me last spring as well?” Terex flapped his wings, large as the sails of a galleon, and hovered over the king and his assembled guard, his nostrils seething and smoking.
“You come in peace, yet you slash and burn our lands?”
“That’s what fire breathing dinosaurs do, brother – breathe fire.”
“Well, it doesn’t suit us. It thaws the permafrost, and burns the food on the table, not to mention the greenhouse gases that discharge because of all the warming. I ask that you spend the night here, and return to your Taiga in the morning. When you were sick, we took you in, and now that you’ve returned to your previous fiery splendor, we don’t want your dark blood-gouts of flame and phlegm scaring the kits.”
“I mean no harm to the cupcakes – see, we don’t eat no wabbits. Who wants to be coughing up fur for days afterwards?”
“We are no cupcakes or bunnies to you Mister Terminator – we are Hares.” Carrotta drew up to his full fuzzy height and raised his lance aloft.
“So, are you going to stop us with a handful of pink carrots and doll faces,” asked a smirking dragon minion. Sweeping his spiked tail, he sent the hare’s entire front line scrambling into disarray.
Worthy King Carrotta, having proved himself in many a battle with marauding weasels, ripping white foxes and squawking harlequin ducks, on seeing his battle formation in a state of near-rout at the very first feint enemy maneuver, turned to his soldiers, and lifting his big voice, shouted, “Hooold! Rrready for battle!”
On cue, his guard brought up its banners, and sounded the giant bugle. In a flash, as the dinosaurs blinked, an army of hundred thousand assembled in battle formation on the vast fields of tufted saxifrages and foliose lichens. The front lines were made of several 32-hare-deep phalanxes that locked their shields together and thrust their spears; behind them, were yeoman archers and stalwart redcoats at the ready; on the flanks, infantrybucks, with shakos raised on muskets; lastly, chariots of toboggans pulled by grays and piloted by martial lemmings brought up the fighting rear.
Well-armed with both bucklers and steel, the gathered army felled the affront of the air, as a growing tempest vexed the skies. “Dex Aie,” “Out out;” war cries pierced the air; impatient steeds of war stamped their angry hooves on the trembling land; and such a blasting and noise with their horns and drums, and flapping of pennons and screeching of Saracens, and stomping of hobnailed boots they made that it seemed all the great devils of hell had descended there.
“Forward!” commanded their leader, and the army began to march in step, slowly gathering pace, and momentum. “Halt!” the King shouted, as his frontlines advanced within thrust and parry range of the enemy. The lines turned a quarter right, and muskets were brought to the ready.
The ardor of the monsters seemed to abate a bit; the sounds weighed heavily on their spirits, and they became chary of being put furiously to the slaughter. A knave and a cad quivering in the rear did make a lame attempt at spitting a flame, but such an accurate volley of carrot-tipped arrows descended that it seemed thunderbolts were falling from the heavens.
Clutching a bleeding eye, seeing his rank and file descending into disorderly rout already, Terex, the arch talon of the woods, made a wise decision to stay alive for battle on another day. “O mighty King,” he said, “ you’re taking this a tad too seriously. We are inclined to accept your generous offer of staying the night, and returning peaceful and vacant possession of your lands at the first break of light. Peace, brother!” Spreading his giant armor-plated flanks, he slowly took a step back.
“Return then, beyond frozen lakes yonder, and do not bother to say goodbye in the morn,” King Carrotta raised a paw, and pointed their way out. The visitors flapped their leathery wings, and meekly retreated to lick their wounds, and count their losses.
In the hare’s camp the elders gathered in council, some heady with victory of the day, some drunk on carrot wine, most waiting for a sign from their meditating King to disperse to their warm forms and waiting does – for spring was waning, spent, and the desire rousing, unspent.
“Hark ye all,” spoke the monarch at long last, after much reflection. “I don’t expect the raptors leaving us so easily in peace. Master Hedwit, the wise owl, brings word that the Pangaea is indeed breaking up, and a massive rock has crashed into our world, snuffing out entire species. These are dark times indeed, when we must keep the faith. Let us do our bit to preserve this biome, home to our ancestors, and legacy to our children. We must rally the white bear and the gray fox – even the flapping swamp geese, and the hardline hawk to save this planet, and if…”
“What if, if,” asked of him Roger R. Rector, head priest and chief savant.
“If only man was on our side – rapacious, ravenous, ruthless, ruinous man. Or if he became the enemy of our enemy, the battle would be easily won.”
“Look around you sire, we are a million strong, and growing; what devil may not we easily vanquish,” asked General March.
“True – our strength in numbers – but as the first beams of sunlight glance across the fenlands, he will return, in greater numbers, better organized. Today we took him by surprise, tomorrow, we need another trick up our sleeve,” said the wily Hare Monarch.
“What do you suggest we do,” asked his general.
“I want you to take four divisions of our finest infantry, battle scarred and war worthy, and steal the carrots from man’s farms.”
“Carrots, me lord? Only bugs bunnies eat them on television,” reminded the sage.
“It’s not for eating, O wise one. We have enough food – for now. When the village finds its carrots plucked, vamoosed from its fields, barren, like the pleasures the rake seeks, it will fetch its hounds, and after us. At that moment, I expect to be joined in battle with the raptors unrepentant, and once man arrives on the bent, his badgers and fleabags on the scent, his kettledrums and whistles in a torment, and his temper and thrill on ascent, we shall beat a hasty, well organized retreat, and let one felon deal with another, to their heart’s malcontent.”
“A wonderful idea, me Regent!”
“To the village then, my Braves; hasten, before the night’s dark veil lifts on our fortunes and intent.”
On the morrow, as Carrotta had predicted, the Godzillas returned, perched on the willow, ready to heap burning coals upon their heads. His armies too, out in full heraldry and badges, shouldering muskets and pikes, had assembled ready for the sparring. Pavisiers and cross-bowers oiled their wares and cracked their knuckles, and gunners winched down catapult beams, carrying bushels loaded with carrots, slate, and magma. The cavalry commanders, wearing orange surcoats and blue helmets with coronets, their mounts in caparisons decorated with the national vegetable, the carrot, hoisted the colors. The Tribunes, ever and anon, blew their olifants to summon retribution; and solemn the misery pipes wailed. The hares took defenses behind a long line of iron ties joining blocks of stones together, and once the paeans had been sung, the frontlines began to march unwaveringly into combat. The monsters hissed and seethed, and battle was joined.
Flying arrows carpeted the sky; the silver sun blacked out completely; mounts leaped and scurried, and flames in the winds of death shivered incessantly. The armies marched, the fires blazed; the armies fell, the lusters died. Again the glows returned, the lands burned, and down the red-hot valleys the armies marching went. Embers blinked and lives crumbled in hell’s furnaces; bodies shone and dusked in fitful glows; red tongues darted and snaked in the smoky air, fields and hills lay black – one could taste the burning grass. Next season’s bud was roasted, her larvae toasted, the lichen cooked brown, soot on its stem, writhing half-dead.
In the pandemonium the leftmost flank began to sound their bugle, and Carrotta knew, the enemy of his enemy had arrived. Upon his order to the guards, a trusty messenger streaked through the battle order, barking his king’s command to the captains and commanders. The rearguard turned about, hoisted its colors, and began to march in orderly retreat. Slowly, the flanks opened up, letting hollering man and feisty dog into the heart of battle, till only the frontlines in contact remained to face certain death.
Along with them, many a man, taken aback with the violence and mayhem, perished, but not before many a enemy had been shot to the blazing ground. Valiant Carrotta, himself wounded badly, made away with most of his army, while the monsters, lost most of theirs.
The men would return, he knew, with many more, for retribution, and that would be the end of the invaders. Many lives had to be lost, but land would be restored to its pristine glory.
In the Hare’s camp the war council, joined by the bear, the gray, the goose, the owl, and the weasel, and many more, had gathered again, huddled in dialogue. The silent King lay in agony, his end near.
“What is to be done next, King dear,” asked General March.
“You did well today, my general. I leave a proud man.” He beckoned the general with a painful paw, bandaged in moss and carrot mash. The general walked over to his bed, and held his hand to his wrenching heart; tears welled up in every eye.
“I leave this kingdom in your able charge, General March; lead our brethren, every living soul that walks the earth, or swims in its waters, or flies in its skies, every blade of grass and leaf and fruit that sustains life, unto everlasting peace; this I command, nay implore you, will be your holy grail, the reason for you to prevail.”
“No, my king, come morning, and you will be upon your paws, proud and doughty, showing us the way,” the General cried.
“Promise me this,” the King clasped his General’s hand, and implored him with dimming eyes, ” promise me now!”
“ I promise, my Lord.”
The curtains of the royal tent flapped and a messenger stepped in. “Hail the king! My Lord, a most unlikely visitor has appeared at the gates – we have him detained at the tower. He asks your audience.”
“And who might this intruder be – an informant…a spy…a laggard…an envoy – who dares to vex when we are in council,” asked the head priest.
“It is he – T-T-Terex – in p-person!” the messenger bowed.
“It’s a trick!”
“A double-dealing treachery!” The assembly roared. “Dispatch him at the gates – finish the lying villain.”
“Wait,” the King rasped. “Take me to him.” he waved aside the protests and howls and bade his guards to carry his palanquin to the tower.
Terex, his feet chained to a turret, sat crestfallen on the ground, his shoulders hunched, his wide plume spiritless and flagged.
“How do you want me to treat you,” asked Carrotta.
“The way one king treats another,” said Terex.
“Free him at once,” Carrotta commanded. “What is it – what trickery assails your manner now,” he asked when the raptor had risen on his feet.
“ I know I’m not worthy of your trust, mighty Hare, but like you, I was only saving my kind. Alas, that strange insertion of man and his wily ways into the fracas did us in. As I look back, I see friend and foe, family and fellowship, perished. I repent mocking you – what valor, what sacrifice, what discipline your ranks showed today – I salute you and this land. I am at a crossroads, my troops have no more stomach for battle, I know man will return tomorrow and annihilate us with his devices – tell me, O king, what must I do,” he wailed, his giant frame wracked with sobs.
“Return to your forest, raptor, save the last living of your kind. Shrink, sprout wings, change into a bird, or something, adapt, learn patience, and you will be fine.”
The raptor nodded, he knew change was upon them and they had to learn. “Hail! Take care, good friend,” he said, and fluttered away.
“What should we do now, my lord,” asked General March.
“Return to the old ways. What man or hound could ever catch a fast hare,” he winked. “Man has a short memory – he will never have any dearth of hunt and sport as long as this land lives. Till then, good runnings, my friend.”
His general nodded in agreement, and gazed up at the skies, the freezing stars had begun to twinkle again, as the smoke and haze of battle started to clear. It was quite some time before he realized his king’s hand had gone cold, and lifeless in his grasp.