The Carrot Is Mightier Than the Sword
by Nidhi Singh
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, one 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 talon 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; they’re 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 hares’ 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 yonder frozen lakes, 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 hares’ 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. “Let continence be thy furnace, and patience thy blacksmith; let understanding be thy anvil, and spiritual wisdom thy tools; with the fear of God as the bellows, austerity thy fire, in the crucible of divine love, melt the nectar of God’s Name. In such a true mint shall His Word be coined.”
“Rawr... meaning what?” asked General March Hare, a firm believer in clarity and sharpness in orders, while shoveling carrots in his mouth. Meditation often brought forth strangely moving utterances from his Monarch; he seemed to be in communion with a higher force, one that both unnerved, and exhilarated.
“Paraphrased, 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,” said the wily Hare Monarch, “our strength is in our 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.”
“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 hearts’ 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.”
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Nidhi Singh