In M. I. McAllister’s fantasy Urchin of the Riding Stars, Urchin’s world is the island of Mistmantle, eternally surrounded by fog no islander can cross and return, unless they return by another way. Visitors are few, but welcome.
In the peaceful and industrious island kingdom of Mistmantle, Urchin yearns to be a tower squirrel, to work near the king and his family. At last he is chosen, but then the king’s son is killed, and the traitor threatens the peace of Mistmantle, the safety of every loyal animal, and the love of the Heartstone that binds the king and the kingdom together.
Urchin didn’t often use tunnels. Trying to remember what Padra had taught him about them he found an entrance in a corner of the wall. The frightened hedgehog voice was closer, and so was cruel laughter, and then, to his horror, the rasp of a sword being drawn. Urchin tore toward it.
The tunnel opened out so suddenly that Urchin wasn’t ready for what he saw, and had to pull himself together. He was in some sort of guard room, where a platter lay on a small table, a lamp glowed on a wall, and two moles, who neither looked nor sounded like Mistmantle moles, had their backs to him. They were pointing their swords toward a hedgehog so small, so scruffy, and so brave in its terror that fury fired Urchin.
“I’ll fight you . . .” the hedgehog was saying, though his voice was thin and his mouth trembled. “I’ll fight you. One at a time. But you’ll have to lend me a sword, or it’s not fair.”
Soundlessly, Urchin sprang onto the table and picked up the platter for a shield. If the hedgehog had seen him, it was wise enough to keep quiet. The entrance was free, so the moles would probably escape rather than fight.
“Captain Padra will be very cross,” Said the hedgehog, trying very hard not to cry.
“Aah! Poor ickle hedgehog!” Said a mole.
“Aah!” said the other, and was turning away as Urchin sprang from the table. “Aaaarh!”
There was no need to fight. The moles had seen, not a young squirrel, but a raging armed warrior. The first fled, and the other followed as the flat of Urchin’s sword skimmed across his flank.
–Urchin of the Riding Stars, pg. 263, by M. I. McAllister
Urchin was young at heart but not small at heart. To become a true creature, be he a captain, a prince, a king, or merely a squirrel like no other, one must learn many things.
Bravery alone can sometimes defeat an enemy. At other times it takes perseverance and hard fighting. And the thing worth fighting for, kept clear in our mind’s eye, is vital to winning the battle. Hold high before your heart the shield of faith in the goodness of the one who made the world, wield your sword for the downtrodden you defend, and in the end right will be done.
If we do not know what we risk our lives for, giving up seems a logical option when the fight grows long. For family, for friends, for law and order, for the apple pie on the table—in a word—we fight for the freedom of goodness. For justice, for love, for mercy, for knowledge and for truth itself.
And how does a young squirrel learn to do these things? By serving first among the lowest ranks, growing in knowledge and skill, and rescuing those he loves. As Urchin moves upward in sword-wielding and people-watching, he comes to know what he needs by feeling it, touching it, doing it. Making mistakes, of course, but fewer and fewer.
Until at last the time comes and a young squirrel and a king are ready. They contend for merry feasts of gathering under the oaks, for the right of an otter to swim in the sea about a tower, for a disturber of the peace to be brought to justice, and for a king to come into his own, one who cares for all creatures under the Creator’s uplifting hand. Urchin sees a true king who is the first to go hungry when necessary, the first into a just fight, the last to retreat from enemies, and the last to sit down at a feast of plenty.
Here is an adventure of a lifetime, filled with triumph, tears, and trust. We journey with wise words gained from the pages of those who have traveled the sea of life before us, who watch us with unseen eyes full of glad expectation.
And how to join this journey to such places where heart-knowledge is written, with more revealed every day?
Cracking on full sail, speed across the waves, the wind fresh in our face, and dream of lasting change, terrific inventions, fantastic beasts, and killer adventure on the ocean of fantasy. Dream of true greatness young at heart but great in spirit, while your deeds send ripples ahead of you.