“But I’m supposed to do it!”
“So, now what?” Belle asked.
It was later that same day and they were sitting up in their leaky tower, although it had now stopped raining, for the foreseeable future. Archimedes had retreated to his house in a huff after Belle had dried him off, but she knew it wouldn’t last long. Now she poured her uncle a cup of tea and one for herself.
“The boy needs to learn about survival instincts,” Merlin replied, smacking his lips as he took a sip of tea.
“Hasn’t he been through enough today?” Belle smiled. “I’m just glad Archimedes was there to rescue him.”
“I did nothing of the sort!” came Archimedes voice from inside his house.
“Have it your own way, Archie!” Belle laughed.
“One near death experience isn’t enough to teach the boy about the moralities of brains over brawn,” Merlin said, leaning back in his best armchair. That was one thing about this place, Belle thought; at least they’d brought their own furnishings with them. The place had been bare when they first came, and what kind of furniture Sir Ector would have given them had they asked just didn’t bear thinking about.
“So he needs another, is that what you’re saying?” Belle joked.
Merlin smiled. “You, Belle, my girl, are getting as cheeky as that sugarbowl!”
They found Arthur, when they had finished their tea, in the kitchen scrubbing a large cooking pt and singing. “To and fro, stop and go, that’s what makes the world go round...”
Merlin tapped the pot with his cane, like it was a gong, and Arthur looked up. “Oh, it’s you, Merlin, sir! And Belle!”
“Hi,” Belle smiled. Arthur always sounded so eager to see them, it was nice.
“Now, boy,” said Merlin, “have you ever considered being a squirrel?”
“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” replied Arthur.
“Now well, there is a tiny creature with enormous problems! How he has survived throughout the ages is one of nature’s big mysteries. His life is hazardous, downright dangerous. Would you care to try it?”
“Oh no, I’d better not,” Arthur said.
“Oh, um, too dangerous for you, eh?” Merlin asked.
“Oh, no, it’s not that. It’s just that I’ve got all this work to do.” Arthur indicated around the kitchen at the piles upon piles of dirty dishes and other pieces of crockery.
“What a mess!” exclaimed Merlin, shaking his head.
“What a mess indeed!” Belle agreed.
“What a medieval muddle!” Merlin said. “We’ll have to modernize it!”
“Uncle Merlin, what are you planning?” asked Belle, with a frown.
Merlin leapt on top of a pot and tapped his stick/wand. “Alright now! One and a two and a three and a four!”
In a jiggling rhythm, the crockery began to wash itself up. Belle and Arthur ducked to avoid being hit by a line of plates. “But I’m supposed to do it!” Arthur exclaimed.
“No one’ll know the difference, so, who cares as long as the work gets done?” was Merlin’s reply. “Rubbity, scrubbity, sweepity, flow. Come on, now, let’s go, let’s go!”
Throwing dubious looks over their shoulders, Belle and Arthur followed him out of the kitchen.
This time, Merlin led them far beyond the castle grounds and to the outskirts of the forest. There he transformed Arthur into a little red squirrel. “Now you next, Belle,” he said to her, after instructing Arthur to scurry up the nearest tree.
Belle closed her eyes and when she opened them she was a golden-coloured squirrel. Finally it was Merlin’s turn and once he was a squirrel, a grey-blue one, he followed them up the tree. “No, Wart, no!”
“Arthur, careful!” Belle exclaimed as Arthur took a leap from one tree to the next. The branch he leapt to broke but he was able to grab the one beneath it.
“Now what did I tell you?” Merlin scolded. “Always look before you leap!”
“Well, I made it, didn’t I?” asked Arthur, slightly indignantly.
“Yes,” Merlin replied, grimly, making his way over to Belle. “You made it but you can’t always trust your luck, boy.”
Arthur righted himself on the branch and Merlin stepped in front of Belle to demonstrate. “Now, the first thing is to start with the short jumps, gauge the distance, carefully, and...” He sprang forwards and almost missed the branch with a yelp.
“Uncle Merlin!” Belle exclaimed as Arthur ran to yank him back into place.
“Now, you see?” Merlin said. “Even then you could miss!”
Belle sprang lightly onto the branch behind him and giggled as her uncle looked somewhat put out at being outclassed by his much younger niece. “So,” he continued, “don’t take gravity too lightly or it’ll catch up with you.”
“What’s gravity?” asked Arthur.
“It’s the elemental force that pulls you downwards when you fall,” Belle explained.
Merlin nodded. “The phenomenon that two material particles or bodies, if free to move, will be accelerated towards each other.”
Arthur hopped along the branch, getting the hand of it, and then, suddenly, up ahead, a red girl squirrel appeared. She chattered, politely, at him. Arthur tried to get past but she didn’t seem to want to let him. “Um, Merlin, how do we get by?” he asked as Merlin and Belle came up.
“Oh?” Merlin saw the problem; there wasn’t enough room for them both to pass. “Oh, I guess we’d better go back to a side track.”
The trio moved back but the girl squirrel followed them. “Go on, go on,” Arthur said to her, irritated, “You’ve got lots of room!”
The girl squirrel’s response was to sniff him. Belle smiled. “I guess she can’t be sidetracked,” Merin chuckled.
The girl squirrel giggled and tried to take Arthur’s paws. He wriggled away. “She sure acts funny.”
“Arthur, she likes you,” Belle told him.
“Well, why?” Arthur asked, and the girl squirrel almost knocked him over in her eagerness. Arthur ran behind Merlin, but she followed, and they both began to run circles around him. “Well, I can’t really explain it,” he laughed. “Hey, see here, you’d better leave me out of this!”
“Yeah, me too,” snapped Arthur to the girl squirrel, but she pulled him back by the tail. “Merlin! Belle!”
“You’re on your own, lad,” Merlin said to him. “I’m afraid magic can’t solve this problem.”
“Oh, dear,” Belle smiled, watching Arthur’s attempts to brush the girl squirrel off fail miserably. She made a few soft, chittering noises and then kissed him. “Oh, leave me alone!” Arthur snapped, pushing her away. “Merlin, what do I do? She won’t leave me al-ow!”
The girl squirrel had pushed him back. Belle laughed. “Good for you, girl!”
“Well, I’m afraid you’re stuck, lad,” Merlin told him. “When a girl squirrel chooses her mate, it’s for life.”
“But I won’t be a squirrel tomorrow.”
“She doesn’t know that; all she knows is one simple fact, that you’re a him and she’s a her.”
The girl squirrel giggled and scampered playfully away.”It’s a natural phenomenon,” Belle explained, as Arthur hid behind Merlin’s tail.
“Phenomenon-anon?” Arthur asked, ducking as the girl squirrel came scampering back.
“Well, it’s, er,” Merlin pointed to his tail. The girl squirrel understood and yanked Arthur out again, much to his annoyance. “It’s a state of being, frame of mind, it’s a most befuddling thing. And to every being of every kind it is discobumerting. You’re wasting time resisting, you’ll find the more you do, the more she’ll keep insisting, her him has got to be you!”
“Now leave me alone!” Arthur snapped as she followed him around. “I mean it!”
“It’s a rough game, anyone knows. There are no rules, anything goes. There’s no logical explanation for this discobumeration, it’s a most bemuddling, most befuddling thing!”
“Oof!” exclaimed Archimdes, as Arthur landed on top of him. “Now go on, shoo, get a tree of your own, skedaddle!”
“Uncle Merlin, shouldn’t we help him?” Belle asked.
“What can we do, Belle?” Melrin rolled an acorn down his shoulders. “No sensible explanation for this discobumeration, it’s a most bemuddling, most befuddling thing!”
Merlin broke off, seeing a large, female squirrel was sniffing him, seductively. “Oh-oh!” she coeed, trying to get closer to him.
Merlin pushed her away. “No, see here, miss, I mean Madame, I mean..you’ve made a mistake. Now, um...”The female squirrel grabbed his tail. “Oh, Madame, Madame!” exclaimed Merlin, snatching it back.
The female squirrel chattered. “Now, look here,” Merlin tried, “I’m not a squirrel, I’m an old man. An old HU-man!” he added the squirrel hugged him tightly. He pushed her away but she kissed him. Merlin spluttered and tried to push her away. “Go away, shoo, shoo!”
The squirrel giggled and pushed him back, right into the tree trunk. “Impossible!” muttered Merlin, crossly. “Impossible!”
Belle laughed. “Serves you right! Now you know how Arthur feels!”
She leapt down to the branch Archimedes had been trying to sleep upon. “Hey, Archie. What’s up with you?”
“Squirrelly squirrels!” snapped Archimedes, stuffily. “A bird can’t take a nap! Pinfeathers!”
Belle laughed, and then, to her surprise, Merlin fell out of the tree and into a large bush below. “I’ve had enough of this nonsense!” he snapped, as grouchily as Archimedes.
“Uncle Merlin!” Belle scrambled down the tree. The female squirrel had followed him and was hurrying towards the bush, chortling.
“Alakazam!” shouted Merlin and Belle felt herself transforming back into a human. Merlin was now himself, covered it bits of bracken and leaves.
The female squirrel screamed. “There!” Merlin snapped. “Now you see I’m an ugly, horrible, grouchy old man!”
The squirrel ran up the tree and made a scolding noise. Indignantly, Merlin replied “Ruff ruff!” like a dog and she ran away.
“Merlin, where’s Arthur?” asked Belle, looking around.
Merlin glanced around, and then, bending over a large rock, he chuckled. “So, here we are, then?”
Arthur was being cuddled by the girl squirrel who had taken a fancy to him. “Quick, Merlin, the magic!”
“Snick snack snorum!” Merlin commanded, and Arthur became himself once again, still being cuddled by his newfound companion. He chuckled and she gasped, looking up. “There now, you see, I’m not a squirrel, I’m a boy. I tried to tell you.”
The girl squirrel ran up the nearest tree and into a knot hole, sobbing her heart out. “Oh,” Belle said, sympathetically. “Poor girl.”
“You know,” said Merlin, as they left. “That love is a powerful force, boy.”
“Greater than gravity?” asked Arthur.
“Well, in a way, yes, yes, I’d say it’s the most powerful force on Earth.”
Belle put her arm around Arthur and gave him a hug. “It’s ok, Arthur. She’ll get over you, eventually.”
“Now you next, Belle.”
“Serves you right!"