Science Fiction

A little later, their daughter Cushy-coo led the man-kin cub into the Big Room, where the Kingtree’s mighty roots thrust down, here and there and yonder, and made a high, tight roof overhead.

Other, hollow, roots here let down the fading sunset light and air and noise, from holes in the Kingtree’s trunk.

Dapple-gray went to the man-kin and hesitantly sniffed. Her scent was of a female creature, too young to breed, in good health but tired and not well-fed. He sat up and looked at her, his head almost touching the roof.

She sat up too, sighing in relief; her head was higher than his. She had a long black mane on her head and very wide shoulders so that it must have been difficult to get through the burrows.

“Phew!” she said, her voice high piping. But her words came out more clearly than their own did from behind their big chisel teeth. “I found your hole in the knick of time, Gardiners. That cat almost got me. My name is Dolly.”

Dapple-gray looked at her in perplexity. He understood her words, but her Utterances lacked Executants, so he could not know which was a question, which a declaration, or whatever. It was their instinct to ignore incomplete sentences, lest their cubs grow up speaking incoherently.

Sounding impatient, she said, “You are who, eh?”

They all looked at each other. Hesitantly Dapple-gray said, “You mean to ask us whom we may be, eh, Mistress Dolly?”

“Oh, dear, this is too bad, to have Gardiners correct one’s speech, ha! I might as well be at school directly. Next, I suppose the creatures will take to ordering me about, ha! You don�t know that we man-kin have ruled the Prime Mondeign for sixty million years, eh? Hmmp! Yes, heh, I politely asked your names; it’s considered quite the thing where I was bred to exchange names upon meeting.”

Again they found her speech hard to follow, but Curly-locks hesitantly said, “My name is Curly-locks, huh.”

“And mine is Dapple-gray, huh.”

“Mine is Cushy-coo, ha!” cried their offspring, snapping her teeth exuberantly.

“And mine is Dame Trot, and this is my mate, Cross-Patch, huh.”

“Mistress Dolly, I am Thumbkin, ha!”

“Henny-Penny is my name, ha!”

“Daffy-down-dilly, Jack-a-Dandy, Bo-Peep, Sukey–” The offspring were naming themselves off excitedly, but she stopped them.

“Enough, ho! I shall never remember so many silly names, ha!”

Instantly they all fell silent. Dapple-gray felt as if he had crashed into a tree; he could not speak, for her command. None of them had ever been ho‘d by a man-kin before, and waited breathlessly for the next command.

“Give her me back, ho!” roared Cruelmouth down one of the hollow roots, startling them all. She must have heard their voices and smelled Mistress Dolly, while prowling about the Plantation. “Give her me back, ho! She is mine, ha! Mine, ha! Mine, mine, mine, ha!”

With a frightened glance upward, shrinking away from the roof, Mistress Dolly cried, “You shan’t, ho! You are only Gardiners, beasts, you must do as I tell you, ha. You shan�t give me back to her, ho!”

“We shall not give you back, oh,” said Dapple-gray, and using the Executant of response to a command for the first time to a man-kin filled him with holy joy.

We shan’t, we shan’t, oh,” they all murmured rapturously.