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"So there I was, locked in the fiercest struggle of my life, mano a mano as they say in that place which puts all those o's at the end of their words, which makes writing poetry a lot easier, but staying tightlipped a lot more difficult. It was the deepest, darkest, most disreputible spot in Bodea-Lotnikk, the battle was reaching its climax, and it looked like only one of there was going to walk out of there ... with all our options intact."
"Good heavens, Lord Braden! Whatever did you do?"
"Well, naturally, I threw in the towel, sold that blackguard Count Twondle the remaining 4,793 shares in Left Leg? Common Issue at a horrible loss, then got it all back from the side bet I'd made with the Grand Duke that Twondle would never be so common as to hold Common, don'tcha know? Wait until the Count finds himself being escorted to the cheap seats at the next Stockholders Meeting and Grand Assembly Council."
"Remarkable, Lord Braden. And -- um --"
"You have -- that is. I believe there is -- ah -- there is -- something in your breast pocket. Moving, that is?"
"Is there? Ah, yes, my little friend. Come out, Pysco. Yes, there you go, little fellow, now, nod hello to Striffin Saint-Swithin. Striffy, say hello to Pysco."
"Hello -- I say, Lord Braden ... is that actually ..."
"One of the Maligned Molerats of Murandy? Spot on, old sport. Picked it up in Kroon. Actually, found it on my pillow my last night there -- little blighters are thick as aphids there in town. Took a shine to him and brought him home with me."
"I've never heard of a singleton before."
"Rather, they do tend to go in packs, constantly migrating, reproducing on the go, as it were, which is a fine thing since they're pretty much every predator's choice of target of opportunity. Little kids with sling shots, too, cruel blighters."
"It's quite an interesting name they have."
"Quite observant, Striffin old bug. Thereby hangs a tale. Did a bit of readin' up on them in the Three-Quarters Tome of Two-Thirds-Truths, so take it all with a dash and all that. What most people don't realize about these little rodentia is that they have quite beautiful singing voices."
"Yes! Never heard them myself, but the old books are full of them. High pitched, of course, but capable of spanning multiple octaves, and packs of them, countryside or city, could be heard singing amazing close harmonies of four, eight, nine, or thirteen parts. Dashed gorgeous stuff, though it made it a bit hard to sleep in town, don'tcha know. Too much of a good thing, especially when different packs of them would get together and lyrically battle until a single tune was decided upon. Cacophanous. Hence the many bitter complaints that followed about them, whence the first part of their name."
"Remarkable, milord! And the second? I assume it's a reference to Mad Marmot Murandy."
"Quite right, Striffy. Seems Ol' Triple-M created the little critters during his long journey home along the Jugular Way from his exile in Dorniala. Got bored singin' to himself, don'tcha know. So he spent an evening working up this big elaborate ritual -- you know the type, if you ever had to read up on his ceremonials during your Second Year -- and in the morning intoned them over some poor meadow creature, and, hey presto, Molerats that Sing.
"You don't say, Lord Braden."
"I do indeed, Striffin old hatrack. And they were already prolific little buggers. Some stayed behind where their songs kept the roadway from wandering off as it was wont to do in those days, but most followed Mad Marmot. Had a regular Pied Piper flock of them by the time he got back to Kroon, and it's been that way ever since."
"And that would have been --"
"About five years before he came up with some tommy-rot about splitting the fundamental building blocks of nature and blew his tower and the Lower North Side of Lottnick into flinders."
"Well. But what is this about their singing, then? I've certainly never heard it."
"Nor will you ever again, Strifin old cork. Seems the greatest minds of both Bodea and Lottnick got together, out of desparation, and recreated the ceremonial that Mad Marmot Murandy had written. Quite remarkable effort it was."
"And they cast it?"
"They did indeed, and it worked. They would catch one, or two, or twelve, put 'em in a cage, work the ceremony, and zingo, quiet as a modern-day Molerat. So the ritual was mass-copied by several dozen scribes and sent to the four trapezoidal corners of the Grand Duchy and beyond, until all of the critters had been caught, bespelled, and struck dumb.
"Aren't they afraid the spell might wear off?"
"Not at all, Striffy old thruppence. Once apprehended, Molerats always remain silent after being read their Murandy Rites."