Sparrows darted through the narrow alley, their dark eyes taking in every dark corner, every bit of refuse, every shining scrap of foil, every crumbling brick. Someone with a quick eye might notice that each clutched a tiny barbed spear in its talons. They flapped from the tops of light fixtures to windowsills to rooftops to the edges of fetid puddles. Dozens of them circled the alley, chirping to one another, until one lapped the alley one last time and out again.
It flapped out onto the grand streets of Barrelbottom. It dodged through the legs of a girafftaur and over the head of a wrinkled dwarf, through a gaggle of giggling geisha and at last to a table at a French café.
It landed lightly on the glass tabletop and bowed. “Mah Lady Sparrowsong, the alleyway is free of mice. We find none of the enemy. The way, it is safe.”
The young woman with the short, dark hair and the dark, dark eyes regarded him. “Sentinel Behri, your service has been noted. Continue surveillance.”
“Yes, mah princess.” The sparrow darted away as quickly as he had come.
Rathair watched him go. “Should we follow? I mean, we don’t want them to think they’re doing something for nothing.”
A smile sprouted on Sparrowsong’s lips. “Come on. This is the first time I’ve been away from my subjects in so long. And this? This coffee thing? It really is nice.” She sipped at her cardboard cup. “It makes me a little tingly.”
“Um.” Rathair blinked at her. “Yeah.” He looked after the sparrow again. “But we should go. I should get back to the throneroom. The rats don’t do good if they’re without leadership for too long.”
“Isn’t that why you sent your servant ahead? Pertwee was his name?”
“No. I mean, yeah, Pertwee, but he isn’t my servant. He’s my subject.”
“Same thing.” Sparrowsong giggled. “Come on. You’re a king now! You can do whatever you want! Relax some!” She reached over and grabbed his hand. “We could have a lot of fun, you know.”
Rathair felt the rat’s tails that grew from his scalp go rigid for a second, and then begin flailing about. He was pretty sure she wasn’t saying what she was saying. Or something.
Were girls always this confusing?
He looked out over the milling throng on the road.
No, girls weren’t always this pretty.
Her hand was still on his. He should do something. Was she waiting for a kiss? She kissed him back in her kingdom. But he shouldn’t kiss her. That couldn’t be what she was waiting for. Was it? No, she was waiting for him to do something fun. Maybe. That’s what she said, right? Wait, wasn’t kissing fun? It was supposed to be fun. He think he liked it when she kissed him. But that was more surprise than fun. But maybe it could be fun. Especially if Pertwee wasn’t gasping in his ear.
She patted his hand. “Fun. What is there to do for fun outside my mother’s castle?”
Rathair shook his head. “Um. Kiss?”
She giggled again, but she didn’t move her hand away. “Hey, king, you be careful there.” The smile didn’t budge, and her eyes were still so pretty and glued on his.
Wait. That meant he should look back into her eyes, right? He looked into them.
Should he blink? Would that ruin this wonderful moment?
Was the moment wonderful enough?
He should make it more wonderful.
This is the longest time no one has never blinked ever.
“What marvelous eyes you have,” a deep voice intoned.
Rathair looked up. “Doc Spearmint!” He smiled and stood. “This is Sparrowsong, Princess of Sparrows.”
“Charmed.” Doc Spearmint bowed. “I see you’re having coffee, but they haven’t brought you any mint. May I?”
Sparrowsong tilted her head. “May you what?”
“Would you like a mint to complete your repast?”
The princess nodded. “I would be delighted.”
The doctor reached into his mouth, wiggled an incisor, and yanked it out. “Here you go.”
Sparrowsong wrinkled her nose. “A tooth?”
“A mint, your highness.”
Rathair smiled. “They’re really good. Doc gives me one every time he has to replace one of my eyes.”
“Oh.” The wrinkles on her nose got deeper.
That was probably a bad sign.
The sparrow came back. “Mah princess, the alley remains secure.”
Rathair nodded. “OK. We should go. Come on, Sparrowsong! I want to show you my kingdom!” He stood and grabbed her hand. “Let me show you!”
Wait, should he just go like that, pulling her along?
What about Doc Spearmint?
No, he was fine. The girl was more important.
Sparrowsong. She isn’t some girl. Get it right.
And he should get her away. She didn’t like Doc Spearmint for some reason.
He pulled her across the street toward the alley. Toward a manhole cover. Toward his kingdom.
The kingdom of the King of Rats.
She should like it there, right? `
This is a Barrelbottom Story.
Rathair and Sparrowsong were last seen in Crowns in Supplication.