Pikebeak flew slowly over the marsh, looking for Mudbank. She checked two of his favored fishing spots before spying him sitting cross-legged beside a channel in the high marsh. His fishing line was dangling in the water, and beside him was a basket about half full of eels.
The Egret angled down and landed in the water, and Mudbank turned his head, nodding. “Evening, Pikebeak,” he said.
“Evening, Mudbank.” It would never do to wish a Marsh-wiggle a good evening, even in good times, which these were not.
“What have you found out?” Mudbank asked.
“Nothing good,” said Pikebeak.
“Not surprised. What is it? Magician’s curse? Invasion by Frost Giants? Wrath of the Emperor Over Sea?”
“Invasion, but not by Frost Giants.”
Mudbank nodded. “Well, I suppose we ought to have expected it. Good times never last.”
Pikebeak refrained from pointing out that as far as Marsh-wiggles were concerned, there were no “good times,” only times that people naively thought were good until everything went to hell. “Don’t you want to know what’s happened?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said. “Tell me the worst.”
“The Tree is down,” she said.
Even Mudbank wasn’t prepared for that. For the first time, Pikebeak saw what a Wiggle looked like when his normally glum expression turned to shock and horror.
“What? But…by the Lion, this is worse than…worse than…” Mudbank stuttered to a stop, then took a breath and began again. “How did it happen?”
“Treason,” said the Egret. “Renegades in the pay of the Enemy chopped it down, then rooted out the stump and burned everything, including a lot of Dryads that tried to stop them. Nobody knows how they got past all the safeguards.”
“But who were the renegades?”
“The leaders were Men, but there were Dwarfs and Beasts as well. We don’t know who all of them were. They couldn’t have done it without a few Wood Spirits among them. In any case, the Apple Tree no longer protects Narnia, and you know what that means.”
“Jadis,” Mudbank said.
“Yes. She’s moved in, lock, stock, and barrel.”
“King Harrild dead?”
“Turned to stone, him and the whole royal family, and then crushed to bits with mallets, so I’m told.”
Mudbank shook his head sorrowfully. “A terrible business...."
"And this cold weather is her doing?”
“Yes. It's winter all over Narnia now. The pass to Archenland is completely snowed in. Birds have been scouting through the land, and it seems like we’ve gotten off lightly up here.”
“So far,” said the Wiggle.
“So far. I wonder why.”
The two gazed over the marsh. The ground was frosty, but there was no snow, and the pools and streams of the marsh were icy, but open. It might have passed for an unseasonable cold snap, were it not for the deep drifts of snow just visible to the south of the marsh.
“Winter’s hard up here, even if the marsh doesn’t freeze over, which it generally does,” said Mudbank.
“In a normal winter we all get along fine here, and you know it. But this is different. Some of us lost nests in the freeze, and that means some of the dumb birds must have as well. Will they lay again? Will they go nest somewhere else? Will they come back here when the chicks are grown? Will the fish come up here to spawn? Will anything grow normally?”
Mudbank took out his pipe and tobacco. As he lit the pipe, which took a lot of coaxing, he looked across the marsh toward the Ettinsmoor, where it was still early summer. Then he stood up. “We’ll have to call a Wiggle Moot,” he said.
“A gathering of Wiggles. Doesn’t happen often. The last time was, oh 40 years ago or more, when I was just a lad. We had that trouble with the Muskrats, had to work out a new agreement with them about bulrush foraging rights. I suppose it was before you were hatched. But these are desperate times. We’ve a lot to discuss.”
Pikebeak had never in her life heard of a gathering of more than four Wiggles at a time, and even that was rare. Desperate times, indeed.
“On second thought,” continued Mudbank, “we’ll have to make it a Marsh Moot. Invite the Birds and Beasts in as well. I’ll need your help. Do you think we could get the word out before tomorrow night?”
“I think so. There aren’t that many of us.”
“Then we meet at the Great Sandbank. Tomorrow, sunset.”
Pikebeak flew off to spread the word.