The chimeric kingdom: barby rat

Apologies, but we haven't got round to adding a detailed description of this species to the website. Please bear with us as we continue to develop this page.

Literary extracts

The following extracts have been taken from my (currently unpublished) novel The Gods in the Jungle.

From Chapter 17: Delesse introduces Loken to the barby rats
"God's teeth! You've got barby rats up here!" "Don't go too far," Delesse shouted back. "They're dangerous!" Turning around, he could see that the crown of the hill formed a massive Y shape, with the city below nestled between its outstretched arms. Northwards, the slope of the hill was much gentler. The ground was a flattened swirl of rusts and greys, littered with rocks and boulders, but little in the way of vegetation. Nearby to his right a stone hut had been built - he could see two guards sitting in the shade of its over-large roof while a third sat on top. All three were watching him; he waved a greeting to them and felt a touch of relief when they raised their hands to acknowledge him. None of them seemed to be carrying weapons. The only vegetation of note was the barby rat trees. They were huge - the largest reaching almost five metres from the ground. He'd seen such trees before: barby rats were quite common, even in Stal, but few grew above man-height. "Magnificent, aren't they?" Delesse had reached the top of the hill and was walking towards him. "The Governor before my Father had a barby rat tree growing in the Reception Courtyard, but it was cut down after my sister was born." "Why?" She gave him a quizzical look. "No, I mean why did he have it cut down?" "These aren't normal barby rats. They're venomous - even the trees carry the venom." "Can we get closer?" She pointed over to a smaller tree growing near to the stone hut. "We can have a look at that one, if you like. I think the guards have developed an understanding with its queen. Are you coming, Maeduul?" The shrunken woman had sat down on a small rock as soon as she had reached the top. On hearing the question she turned round to look at them, shielding her eyes from the sun's glare with a flat hand. "No, no, little kitten; I've seen the little gods before. Do you think the guards will have some water?"
From Chapter 17: Delesse introduces Loken to the barby rats
They stopped about 10 metres from the branches of the tree. Looking, he could see the four roots - or legs - at the base, and just above their junction what looked like a large, half-lidded eye set within the bark-skin. The main bole stretched up, the backbone clearly visible on either side as it helixed around the trunk from which emerged the great, black, pinnate leaves stemmed in their pairs to fan across the sky in search of the sun. "Why did your Servant call them 'little gods'?" asked Loken. "I don't know - it's just a local name. They are the most impressive beasts in this part of the jungle, I've heard. Maybe that's why." "So where's the - queen?" She shaded her eyes with her hand, scanning the tree. "There!" she pointed. "She's sitting right on top of the growing arch." He copied her actions, but could see no sign of the creature. Then it moved. It was much, much bigger than a normal barby rat. Rather than the sparse rust-coloured fur he was expecting, this queen had a luxurious pelt: alternate stripes of black and dark charcoal running slantwise across its flank. Two eyes, forward on its head, above a shortened snout and beak gave it a curious, human quality. He could see no ears; a row of stubby spines running the length of its back, coloured red, were visible, as were the claws terminating each of its paws. It was sitting as if relaxed on its throne, yet its black eyes were trained on the two humans like a dare for him to move closer. "It's beautiful!" His voice was a whisper. "She's beautiful," Delesse corrected him. "How do you know its a female?" "The queens are the big ones - each tree has its own queen. The princes are much smaller - no bigger than a common barby rat." He continued to stare at the creature. "One of my tutors once compared the Empire to the barby rat: the tree was the land; the leader was the emperor; I was a guardian in this story. He said that when the leader died, one of the guardians would have to become the new leader, for without a leader the tree would die." "And you believed him?" "Oh yes, for a while. I was only seven at the time." "I remember the tree that grew in the Reception Courtyard had no queen nor princes. I also remember it screamed horribly when it was cut down." "These trees have voices?" "Oh, yes. And eyes and blood. Can you see the eyes?" He nodded. "Velledue - he was my tutor - told me that these barby rats were created specially by God to test us. He called them prison trees because they have eyes to watch our every blasphemy. I used to have nightmares that the trees would see all my sins and send their queens to hunt me down and poison me." "He wasn't a very nice person, this Velledue." She caught his hand in hers: "Oh, he has his little peculiarities."
From Chapter 27: Julyeis sings to the barby rat tree
Up close, the barby rat tree looked very intimidating: its eyes, low down on the trunk just above its four stumps, as wide open as its nostril cavities. She kept her approach slow - no loud movements - trusting the breeze not to change direction. She had been right to study the song before attempting this task. These barby rats sang a subtly different melody to those that lived on Bassak Hill. She had woken before sunrise and worked her way downwind to listen to the chatter of the little princes, each trying to coax the tree to feed them. The sequence of sounds seemed the same, but the intonation was higher, more jagged. It took her a good half hour of sub-vocal practice before she felt the cadences click into her sore throat, by which time the sky had started bleaching. She repeated the song, edged a little closer. The queens were still out foraging, leaving just the one at the far end, nearest to the intended grave, on guard duty. Most of the princes were now playing over the edge of the cliff, joining their voices to the dawn chorus. Another step, another verse. She was almost within touching distance of the enormous beast crouching in its hole. She felt the sun rise more than saw it: the air warmed as the first rays touched the wisps of cloud slowly processing southwards, coppering their diffuse shapes. The arrival of daylight seemed to distract the tree - she watched as it shivered its muscles along the length of its tall, helixed trunk, loosening the leaves currently wound around its core in a defensive column. Another verse, another step closer. Slowly, gently, she reached her hand out, palm up, in an imitation of the princes' supplication. Still they eye closest to her watched her, unblinking in its gaze. But it didn't scream a warning. It couldn't smell her: all it could hear was the song; all it could see was a small queen come looking for gifts. She touched it with a finger, stroked the barky skin slowly, crooning the song over and over again, faster now. And it responded to her! A crack at the base of the trunk where the stumps split away opened, showing the deep red flush of flesh. She eased her stroking finger towards the crack, let it rub the length of the moist sides before penetrating into the cavity beyond. And then she felt the prize. It wiggled as she touched it, but she was quicker. She'd learned this trick as a child, learned how to whip the slug from the crevice with just the nail of her finger. When it came free, she caught hold of it in her palm, squeezing just tightly enough to prevent it squirming away. The danger wasn't over. A new song came from her throat - similar to the first, but lower in tone, with different inflections at the end. A song of thanks, a song to say: you have fed me, now close yourself and spread your great leaves to the heat in the sky. The tree responded with a blink, closed the crack so the bark once again seemed seamless. Slowly, slowly she repeated the song, backing away, backing away until she was out of reach of the spines on the basal leaves. And then she turned and scrambled away. She had to be quick now, because the other queens were somewhere in the jungle beyond the cliff. As she walked at a crouch she used her thumb nail to slit the bright red slug from top to tail, searched for the sac she needed. "There you are," she murmured as she bought the gritty blue tube from the entrails. She snapped it at one end and squeezed the pasty substance it contained into the palm of her hand. Using her finger she dabbed just a little of it across her forehead, along her arms and shoulders, across her belly, her thighs and legs.

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