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The Lay of Tweetle

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“Rage. Sing, goddess, the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles.”

     Homer

 

“When tweetle beetles fight,

it’s called a tweetle beetle battle.”

     Dr. Seuss

 

- * -

 

In the fertile land of Tweetle live the little tweetle beetles.

Down from Tweetle to the ocean flow the swift twin sister rivers,

And these rivers they are gooey, and that goo is always oozey,

And the ooze is always flowing, in the swift twin sister rivers.

Now the swifter is the blue one, but the sweeter is the red one,

And the beetles by the rivers lick the gluey goo to cool them.

If a beetle licks the red goo, he’s a red goo tweetle beetle,

If a beetle licks the blue goo, he’s a blue goo tweetle beetle.

But - there’s a PROBLEM!

The best of all the goos is the goo that’s softly purple,

Which is mingled from the waters of the rivers swiftly flowing.

All the red goo tweetle beetles want the blue goo to make purple.

All the blue goo tweetle beetles want the red goo to make purple.

So the beetles they will pilfer gooey goo from others’ rivers,

And they battle by the rivers for the gooey goo for chewing.

And we call that -

Gooey river battles of the beetles that will chew goo from the highest part of Tweetle to the borders of the oceans, ‘twixt the red goo tweetle beetles and the blue goo tweetle beetles for the goo from sister rivers flowing blue goo, flowing red goo.

 

(Can you say that, Mr. Fox, sir?)

 

- * -

 

And so the armies made their encampments on the banks of the twin rivers. Their campfires on the fertile plains shone like bright stars in the gloomy veils of night, piercing the vast darkness with their spear-sharp rays, and their faint light illuminated the muddy flats in rich hues of sapphire and scarlet. Among the pitched tents, the deep silence was broken only by the soft mutters and clicks of sleep, and the weary shifting of a sentry leaning his head upon his paddle.

 

In the western camp, by the unceasing flow of the blue goo river, deadly Friedl the warrior-maiden moved in silence to the sentries’ outpost, and in silence she relieved the drowsy sentry from the first watch. But as they there among the blue goo beetles returned to stillness, beetles moved among the flickering red-tinged firelight by the river whose goo runs red as blood shed in battle. There the chiefs met in secret war-council, plotting stratagems and devices to shift the balance of the endless battle in their favor.

 

Long the beetles argued, and many words were exchanged there that night, and many a beetle felt his heart stir within him at the hope held forth by one plan or another. But at long last, when all voices were grown tired of debate, and all thoughts turned towards the comforts of home and bed, the beetles grew silent to listen to the voice of old Negal of the silver shell.

 

Many a weary year had Negal fought to prove his worth as a youth, standing in the glorious line of battle laying about him with his paddle, slaying from the rising of the sun to its setting, until the blue goo beetles lay in mountained piles at his feet, their cerulean banners steeped in their own blood. Now, though, grown tired with age, the shell which maidens had once adorned with silver for war-honor turned faded and brittle, Negal contented himself with the first place in council, last always to speak, and first to pass his judgement.

 

“My friends,” Negal began, “fellow beetles, defenders of the eastern reaches, of the sweet waters of the red goo river, long have we fought, we and our fathers before us, to defend the ancestral reaches of our river, and to conquer the blue goo river which justice demands be subjugated to our rule. But for many long years, for many lives of beetles, neither our army nor that of our enemy have been able to gain the upper hand. Tell me, when you played and mewled at your mothers’ knees, was the line of our armies so much as half a shellspan westward from this very encampment? Nor have we fallen back even by the same measure.

 

“Why are our warriors endlessly stymied? Not for lack of courage, nor of valor shown in war, nor can we blame our misfortune on the folly of our leaders. Nay, fate alone can we make the culprit, for Luck has not smiled upon us.”

 

Negal grew silent, and stillness lay over the gathering. Then with a great cry leapt up swift-spoken Daedal, young in years but wise beyond measure from what he had learned walking in the secret places of the world.

 

“Behold!” Daedal exclaimed, and his voice echoed through all the camp, sending the small creatures of the night scuttling into their wonted refuges. “Behold! let us send forth a party of seven brave warriors clad in shining armor, to seek out Luck himself, who dwells at the lake of legend where the waters mingle and the goo runs purple. Let them bring back his Duck to fly over our encampment, over the ranks of our people, and bring us victory and the blessing of fate.

 

“And to these warriors, if through valor we succeed, let us grant to each three shares of the treasure of the blue goo beetles for the danger they have endured. Let them have from among the fair maidens whose antennae stand tall and proud first choice, to grace their households and spin at their looms. And from the fair fields of Tweedle let each one be granted to his sole rule so much land as the light falls on from the top of the rolling hills, so that they may be ruler of all they survey. But if they fail, if they must slink back ignominiously to camp, as the new moon half-hid by clouds sinks, hiding its face, beneath the hills -- if they return empty-handed, let them have nothing but disgrace, and let the faces of all beetles be turned against them.

 

“For myself, I ask only this: that I may be counted among the seven, that it may be my lot to try my cunning on the long path northward, to see at last that lake of legend where the waters mingle and the goo runs purple. What say you, good my beetles?”

 

But from among the beetles spake never a one.

 

Then said swift-spoken Daedal whose words flow from his lips like silver waters from the cup of sacrifice, “If I must go alone, I go alone. Let the rewards and the glory, then, be counted to my name, and let it be remembered in the days of our children and grandchildren that Daedal and Daedal alone went forth in the day of need to find Luck. But if I return empty-handed, or if I do not return, let my name be nothing and my fame be as the dust of the earth, swept away by a breath of wind.”

 

And all the beetles nodded their assent. So one by one they returned to their dwelling-places and covered themselves in soft furs to lose their thoughts in the sweet mist of sleep; and Daedal the silver-tongued returned to his tent, laying out his brightly polished blue armor and oiling his paddle, waiting for the dawn.

 

The night passed, and with its passing rosy-fingered dawn painted the rolling hills in rich soft hues, and the early morning light fell on heavy-lidded eyes, waking the sleepers and sending weary sentries to their tents.

 

By the banks of the river of the roiling blue goo, the blue goo beetles gathered, their hearts swelling within them with the longing for battle. There mighty Beadle, the chieftain as strong as seven beetles, prepared the oxen for sacrifice. Clad in white, the ululating maidens wove the ancient dances above the twin white mice, sprung unblemished from one womb, and strung flowers about their sturdy necks. When the ritual was fulfilled, Beadle skillfully sacrificed the beasts, and, finding no marks of ill-omen in their entrails, offered up the white fat and the long bones to Luck.

 

“O great Luck!” Beadle cried to the heavens in his sonorous voice, and all the crowd took up the call. “O great Luck, smile upon us who sacrifice to thee, and send to our warriors thy Duck of victory!”

 

And all the warriors repeated, “Send unto us thy Duck!”

 

But Friedl alone went up to the altar and marked her breast and her forehead with the red blood, and swore that she would stand the onslaught and not fall back until she fell lifeless.

 

And the beetles came up around her and brought to her her shining armor, wrought red-gold glinting in the morning sun. And with the coif and the hauberk they girded her, the cuirass and faulds and cowter and spaulder, the pauldron and the gardbrace which had been her father’s and his father’s before him. They placed upon her vambraces and gauntlets, chausses and cuisses and poleyns and greaves, and her brother yet too young to fight knelt to fasten her solleret. And the armor they marked also with the blood, that all who came to try her should know of the vow which she had made.

 

And taking up her paddle Friedl went out among the multitudes. After her followed many a beetle, beetles of the red and of the blue, rushing out onto the batttlefield as the madness of war took hold of them. The warriors leapt into the bottles, ran in them, their armor clanking on their shells, rolling uphill and down, crushing enemy beetles in their tracks. And there was a great crashing, as of a thousand warriors who beat their paddles against their shields in ardor and in righteous indignation - so loud was the noise of the bottles coming together.

 

But as the warriors of the blue goo and of the red goo leapt into the bottles to join battle with their enemies, Friedl sought without ceasing the high ground, and all who opposed her fell back in fear as she crested the rolling hills. And having reached the very summit, there she stood, and raised her paddle in the air, and cried out in a loud voice, “Behold! Let he who calls himself a brave knight, full of valor and knowing not fear, come to challenge me! For I have sworn before the altar of Luck, and marked myself with the blood of a pure and spotless sacrifice, that I shall stand the onslaught of all who come against me, and shall not fall back until I fall in the grips of death!”

 

And like the angry waves of the sea, which first recede and then, roaring, return with a terrible might, the masses of the red goo beetles first cringed in terror, then as a mass rushed up to the hill where Friedl stood. But so skilfully she wielded her paddle that not one of them could touch her, and no wound marked her skin; but three score and thirty she slew as she stood there.

 

Daedal, than whom no beetle speaks more sweetly, was borne along with the current of bodies pressed tight as hungry cows when their master pours out the golden grain at feeding-time. One by one, the beetles before him and on either side fell, slain by the strongly-wielded paddle of Friedl. At last he found himself face to face with the warrior maiden, who cast a heavy blow at his head.

 

“Hold!” cried the swift-spoken one, having evaded the blow. “I would speak with you!”

 

Friedl’s face grew dark. “Why should I parley with you? I have heard the tales of your cowardice, you who seek always to hide in shadows and slay with the trickery of the tongue rather than on the honorable field of battle. Nor is there peace between our houses, for in the battle of Derring Deep your father slew my mother, when I was but a babe in arms.”

 

“Then on your mother’s grave I entreat that you hear me,” answered Daedal of the wily words. “I wish only to bring an end to this endless war. Let that be her vengeance, and fields of blood turned to golden grain her memorial.”

 

Then Friedl looked at him long, and at last a cloud passed from her visage. “Speak as swiftly as it is said of you, Silver-Tongue.”

 

“I go,” said Daedal, “to seek out Luck, and to bring back his Duck of victory which he has withheld from all the beetles of Tweetle for so many long years.”

 

At that, Friedl laughed loud and long, and the noise echoed from the hillsides. “Truly, O Daedal whose words waft in the wind like the scent of the blue goo, your courage is as limitless as your ambition! For many are the heroes of old who have ventured such a journey, and have failed, or died, or been turned back. But such valor should not be thwarted by a petty feud; and in the lays which would be sung of such a trial, indeed my name would not be forgotten. Go then, behind our lines, and wear my token, that my brothers-in-arms will lay no hand on you; and I will hold off all enemies until you have left the battlefield.”

 

Thus saying, she bound her vambrace for a token round his foreleg. “Promise me this only,” said Friedl to Daedal, catching his darting eyes with those set beneath her own stern forehead. “When you return, look to the top of the hill where I make my stand. If I yet live, then give me a sign only, and do not release the Duck until the next dawn reddens the sky, that when the setting of the sun ends my vow I may leave this place never to return, and not be sold into slavery with the rest of my people. But if you do not see me on the hill, then I have fallen in the glory of battle, and you may do as you wish, for my peril is ended and no beetle may do harm to me.”

 

Daedal returned his answer, winging it on swift words. “This I swear to you, Friedl Death-Dealer, that if you still live on my return I will not release the Duck to grant my people victory until the next dawn reddens the sky. And if instead you fall in the glory of battle, I shall command it and it shall not go unheard, that what beetle so ever would sing of my glory must also sing of you, that such valor and compassion may not be forgotten. And so we shall be remembered in one voice by all generations.”

 

But Friedl answered him never a word.

 

So Daedal departed, and Friedl looked after him until the rolling hills hid him from view. And no beetle did harm to him, for he bore the token of Friedl, whose paddle is the deadliest of all the beetles of Tweedle.

 

Westward he travelled, until the tents of the blue goo beetles were hidden in the veiling mist still lingering on the horizon, not yet dispelled by the sun still low in the sky. Then Daedal turned his face southward, along the writhing twists of the blue goo river, towards the Lake.

 

Long was the journey, and many a Goo Goose did Daedal slay with his swiftly wielded paddle, before at last he came out from among the rolling hills where the shepherds guard their flocks and into the baked plains whose sand is tinged with purple, and whence (it is said) no warrior returns unless victorious, or until the razor-beaked Goo Geese bear his bleached bones into the hills to fashion nests for their young.

 

There, at the edge of the fiery sands, Daedal stopped and stood, and he lifted his four arms to the skies in supplication. “O Fates!” he cried, “or gods, if gods there be, who hear and answer the prayers of mortal beetles -- if you do not smile upon my enterprise, if in my hubris I take upon myself a quest beyond my stature, meriting only scorn -- speak now, grant me wisdom, that I may turn, and, like a dog having lost its quarry, skulk back to my betters in disgrace. But if you also grow weary of endless war, and seek the sweet sacrifices offered in peace once more, grant me some sign that I may continue boldly in my search for glory!”

 

Then from the skies there descended a Goo Goose, a bird of immense and kingly stature, as great as six ordinary birds, any of which might slay a beetle with one blow. But it came to pass that this goose became still before Daedal, and made no motion either to move or harm him. And perceiving it to be a sign, Daedal leapt astride the Goose, and, crying out loudly, spurred it on with his heels, whereupon the huge bird took flight, bearing Daedal on its back.

 

Swiftly it bore him, beyond the speed of wind or water, and the desert sands passed beneath them, fragments of greenery appearing and disappearing like wisps of cloud on a summer’s day. In one hour it bore him as far as a beetle might walk in a day and a night, and ere the sun had reached its zenith the godly bird had granted him safe passage even to the very ends of Tweetle, where the rivers meet and mingle in the purple lake of legend.

 

There the bird landed, where the desert sands met the tangled overgrowth bounding the lake about. From the slopes of its feathered back Daedal slipped down, landing like the weary mariner, who, worn and buffeted by the sea, achieves victorious a far and fertile land, yet sways even in his joy from the very strangeness of the still earth; even so Daedal made his landing.

 

Through the bracken and the bushes Daedal proceeded, passing silently as he might. At last he came to the very brink of the lake, where he stood and looked out over the purple waters and the roiling goo.

 

Then a voice spake from behind him, saying, “Hey, dude, whazzup?”

 

And turning where he stood, Daedal beheld Luke Luck himself, who had come up behind the beetle. Tall he was, even as a god, and clad all in black, and as a helm he wore a strange garment sewn of felt and of stuff, black as the midnight sky. Upon his shoulder perched a duck, the very hue and color of gold as it runs molten from the furnace, and it looked upon Daedal and quoth, “Quack!”

 

Daedal was stricken silent with awe, and, sinking to one knee, bowed his head that he might not be blinded by the glory of Luck. Then, summoning all his courage, he entreated him, saying, “O Luck, great and glorious, do not strike me down for that I have trespassed in your abode; but rather grant mercy to the excessive ardors of thy servant.”

 

And Luke Luck returned unto him, “Dude, it’s cool. Whaddya want?”

 

(Quoth the duck, “Quack!”)

 

Prostrating himself in gratitude, Daedal told all his tale in a great spilling forth of words, recounting his history and that of his people, and how it was that he had come there, and what adventures had befallen him.

 

Whereupon, with great ardor and emotion, Luke cried out, saying, “Yeah, yeah, I get the idea. Get to the point, huh?”

 

Abashed at his own presumption, Daedal would have fallen silent, had he spoken only for his own sake. But for the sake of the people he loved more than life he pressed on, not daring to meet the eyes of the legend. “Grant me this, O Luck,” he begged, “that I may bear your Duck unto my encampment, and there release it, that, flying over our army, it may grant us victory and an end to war.”

 

Answered Luck, “Sure, whatevs.”

 

Therefore Daedal with reverent hands received the golden Duck. Just as a mother, who, taking up her newborn babe for the first time, will wrap the infant around and about with swaddling bands, her tender loving hands tying the finely woven fabrics -- even so Daedal bound the Duck, and cast the bird over his shoulder, and so he departed.

 

(Quoth the duck, “Quack.”)

 

Ere the circle of the copper-colored sun fell beneath the hills, Daedal returned to his long-loved homeland, borne by the Goo-Goose, bearing the bird of destiny. From its feathered back he descended, and from there it was no more than a league’s journey before he found himself once more at the edges of the fray. Shading his eyes with his hand, the swift-spoken one looked out among the long shadows, and his gaze searched above and below for the one whom he sought, deadly Friedl, slayer of dragons. Long he stood, and many a beetle looked upon him in wonder, for that he was become as a statue or as a man fallen into a waking sleep; but never did he see the wide shell of Friedl, nor was her war cry to be heard from the hill where she made her stand.

 

And as he stood there, between the two armies, a great rage came over Daedal, and tearing his hair he mourned for her who had been the mightiest of all the warriors of Tweetle. And he cried out in a loud voice saying, “O ye hills, repeat it, and ye endless waters stand witness! For in this day the only thing fair in the circles of the earth has passed out of them, and that courage has been shewn before which all other courage must call itself cowardice. But she shall not be forgotten!”

 

And speaking as a madman, or one who walks in a daze, he said once again, “O, she shall not be forgotten, not so long as beetles walk the earth.” And thereupon Daedal loosed the Duck, standing as he did between the two armies which looked on in wonderment, and with words he bade it that it not fly over one nor the other, but to mark forth a line straight as the furrow in the black earth plowed by a skilled plowman, that as it returned to Luck it might bless equally the armies of the red and the blue goo.

 

Forth the Duck flew, as the beetles looked upon it with wondering faces turned to the sky, and the fowl winged its way in a line straight as the furrow in the black earth. And its left wing stretched over the encampment of the red goo beetles, their armies and their tents and their rushing river; but its right wing stretched over the encampment of the blue goo beetles, their river and their tents and their endless armies. And as it flew, it cried out in a voice which echoed throughout the land and from the darkening dome of the sky, “Quack!”

 

Thereupon a strange air passed over all the beetles standing there, and many of them shook as though taken with the palsy, and a great weeping and wailing rose up from the ranks, and the multitudes bestirred themselves.

 

But from the commotion and tumult and between the press of bodies there opened a path, and there came Negal, leaning on his paddle and pulling his weary body along with the last of his strength. Many a wound there was upon him, and the red blood flowed from him like water from a spring, unceasing. In the high and trembling voice of an old man he cried out, and the troops took up his call, “Let the leader of the blue goo beetles come forth! Send forth Beadle, mighty in battle!”

 

Then from among the blue goo beetles Beadle made his way to where Negal stood, unarmed and holding open his hands as a sign of peace. And many of the beetles marveled at his courage, for Negal had grown old and grey through his wiles in battle, and had alone survived many a battle when his comrades lay dead at his feet.

 

And speaking in a loud voice that all might hear, Negal said thusly:

 

“O Beadle! captain of the blue goo beetles, you who guard the reaches of the blue goo river, and make sacrifice on its hallowed shores, spilling out the blood of spotless mice and yearling rats. Long have our peoples fought, and many times have we met in battle, we and our fathers before us. See! here on my shell I bear the dint of your paddle, and lo! in your crooked leg may be seen the mark of mine.

 

“Seven sons I had with the dawning of this day, each one mighty in height and broad in shell-span, proud fighters and the joy of my old age. All have fallen now, dead on the field of battle, and their souls go winging up to the high heavens to claim a warrior’s honor. I alone live, and am left to that which no man should endure, to bury his children. Shall I avenge their deaths, O Beadle? Shall I send out my daughters, seven in number, in the full bloom of womanhood, and each taught in the art of the paddle as well as my sons? Shall they extract the blood-debt from your weanling son, and tear your nursling daughter from her mother’s breast?

 

“I do not sue for mercy, Beadle, but I offer peace. For behold our forces stretch on even as the endless plains, and your ranks are as deep as the fathomless sea. And if they meet, and a thousand thousand fall in battle, what shall it avail us? Even so the red goo shall be ours to chew, and the blue goo yours, and which of us shall taste the purple goo of which the legends speak?

 

“Let us lay down our weapons, and let us go forth to count our dead. Let the women weep and tear their hair, and let graves be dug, here on this very place where last we saw the Duck of Luck, that all generations may not forget those who died through our pride and foolishness. And let those who have strength still left in them bear forth in buckets and bottles the goo, blue and red, and let them be mingled before the eyes of all, and let the goo flow like water among the beetles.”

 

And all the beetles assented as with one voice.

 

Thereupon all standing there laid down their paddles, and went forth to count their dead, and bear them back to the tents, to be washed and anointed with oil and laid out for the days of mourning. And the women wept and tore their hair, and those who had strength still left in them bore forth in buckets and bottles the goo, blue and red, and mingled it, and it flowed like water among all the beetles of Tweetle.

 

And Daedal sought among all the fallen for Friedl, warrior maiden, that the due honors might be paid to her, that she might be washed and anointed with oil and that he with his own hand might place upon her tongue the silver coin. Long wandered he weeping, long time sought he among all the bodies of all the dead, as many as the sands of the sea and lying one on another as high as the hills of Tweetle.

 

At long last he came to the top of the hill where last he had spoken to Friedl, and there he saw her, still and unmarked as one sleeping, only she bled from a great wound in her side. And kneeling down Daedal wept, crying out in a loud voice, and tore his hair, saying, “Among all the beetles of Tweetle here lies the only fair.”

 

But then he looked upon her again, and saw that the blood still ran from her wound, and with hope in his heart he held the vambrace she had bound upon him before her lips. And there lay on it a little mist.

 

And crying out with all his might he gathered her up, that he might bear her to the healing tents, and there they might minister unto her.


But stirring, Friedl awoke, and speaking as one fevered, said to him, “Take me not from my place, for the sun has not set, and I will not be called coward nor oathbreaker, though I die for it.”

 

But to her Daedal said, “You shall not die, not on this day nor while I draw breath.” And with all the strength that was in him he ran for the healers.


And the healers came and bound up the wounds of the warrior-maiden, and the water-bearers brought to Friedl and Daedal the purple goo, and they chewed it together. And in that day and those days which came after, the triumph of Friedl and Daedal was sung often, by bards and by the keepers of tales, and their names were named always in one breath.