Brandishing his little needle sword and gesticulating with his free paw, Timondale regaled his audience with his latest adventure. It was an audience of three, but based on Timondale’s performance, you would have never guessed. He released as much energy as if it were a packed amphitheater. It wasn’t that the other forest dwellers didn’t believe him; oh no, it was simply that such wild living didn’t interest them. They had no use for it in their quiet, well-scheduled lives.

And while most were slow to pass judgement, Timondale usually couldn’t get much more out of them than a polite nod and murmur of, “Oh my, isn’t that nice?”

It could rattle a poor little adventurer’s nerves. After all, it was he who was taking it upon himself to uphold the virtue and integrity of the forest, wasn’t it? He who was taking on all the risk and danger, not that he minded. He lived for it, really. It gave him fire in his veins. In truth, those born at midnight under a glowing sickle moon have little chance of avoiding risk and danger. Some things just can’t be avoided.

And no other little brown field mouse embraced this more than Timondale. Nothing cleared his brain or refreshed his lungs more. The three Ashes, as he called them; Dashing, Thrashing, and Crashing; were at the core of purpose and meaning. There was a song to being noble, yet wild. Although, for reasons he would never fully understand, only he seemed to be able to hear it.

That is, he and his three audience members.

There was Galeki, the spotted toad, who didn’t trust hardly anything, not even the ground he hopped on. He wasn’t afraid, necessarily, but constantly being wary of every rustle, crackle, and twig can grow exhausting. Listening to Timondale gave Galeki a sense of imagination; a glimpse into a world where it didn’t matter what was coming up behind you, or from above, or even underneath, because you were more than ready to handle it. Nothing could unravel your day. The adversary, no matter what it was, could be slayed. Maybe easily, maybe not, but it could be done. Assurance. That’s what Timondale had. And, Glory Be, if Galeki wasn’t jealous. He’d have turned green if he wasn’t already sporting a fair bit of the shade already.

Then there was Rutta, the little yellow song bird with a heart that always seemed to beat too fast. Rumors swirled, as much as the humble critters of the forest had it in them to swirl them, that Rutta hadn’t simply tapped her way out of her speckled egg. No, it had exploded with a shower of creamy shell shrapnel that her mother had had to whip out of the nest to avoid. Then, as the rumor went, baby Rutta had thrown her wobbly head back and let loose a tune. It might have been dry and squeaky, but birth is a cause for celebration, and Rutta was already brimming with joy at just being.

Ever since, she had done things in excess. She gobbled down worms that her mother hadn’t swallowed for her yet, tried to flap out of the nest way too early, climbed branches that were disturbingly high, and made friends with just about anyone who slipped into her line of sight. And this was all before she got out on her own.

Once a free matron of the sky, Rutta dove and twirled and danced on her wings. She sang while flying, not knowing why on earth she was so happy, but knowing she sure was. At day break, when the horizon was slashed with red, trees black on the hills, Rutta would spring into the air, throat alive, and not come down until the grasses were dark with twilight. To Rutta, everything seemed like a good idea, and should be done. Right now. Why wait? Waiting held no joy. Now, doing, on the other hand, was a magical thing. Rutta wanted to do. And do. And do some more, until her joints were sore and her feathers stuck up on end. Her only problem was What she should do. Surely there was a long list of exciting and worthy things to do in the world, and she just hadn’t encountered it yet. But she was willing to look. ‘Willing’ being a soft word of choice.

And that is why she listened to Timondale every time he called out for ears to listen to his latest deed or plight. To Rutta, Timondale was a hero, merely because he was a man of action. He didn’t wait around for occurrences. Either he went out and found them, or made them happen himself. Truthfully, Rutta wanted in. She longed for the live style he led. She just didn’t know how to make it happen. And, also truthfully, she lacked the proper tools for it. Exuberance doesn’t really make up for wit, or bravery, or sharp reflexes. But perhaps if she kept listening to his stories, Rutta could learn.

Finally, there was the smallest member of the threesome. He made up the trifecta that was amphibian, bird, and insect. Foursome, really, if you count the mammal that was Timmondale. He, precisely, was a bee. A bee, who, at birth, had been named Deetreesh (bees like their double e’s) but was now, perhaps petulantly, calling himself Argash.

Argash, as he likes to be referred to, never understood why, of all the petite bodies in the forest he could have been born into, whoever decides these things had chosen a bee. He knew he should be grateful, since it could have easily been an ant, or even worse, an earthworm, but this knowledge has never fully kept a seed of resentment from growing inside his heart.

Bees are not known for many glamorous things. Yes, they possess a very fine down coat of yellow and black, a striking pattern that not many creature own, and, yes, there was the honey, but Argash didn’t see it that way. Indeed, to nearly everyone else, honey was a sweet luxury. And, quite so, all the forest animals envied the bees, whom, they thought, could have as much as they wanted, whenever they wanted. Opulence, really, that’s what it was.

But Argash knew better. He could see through the propaganda that surrounded honey and saw it for what it really was: A job.

Not even a job you set out to do for your own sense of fulfillment. No, it was expected of you. Demanded of you, even. Bee was just a fancy name for slave to flowers and pollen and waxen hexagons. You didn’t even get to eat it! Not without permission. All that hard work for something you weren’t even allowed to touch without the go-ahead from some high-ranking bee official. And they even had the audacity to expect you to be cheerful about the whole thing! Bah! Not Argash. He considered himself enlightened, hip to the jive, his third antennae tingling, if you got his drift.

No, Argash was a rebel bee. A bee who wanted more. A bee who felt that, even though he hadn’t done much in his life except fight the system, he deserved more.

Lately, he had taken to sneaking away from the drone overseers that he fought with so often, to go hover near Timondale as he spoke. Argash never said much, leaving that to Rutta, who gasped and cooed every other sentence Timondale said, but he was always thinking. The words he heard wandered around in his brain, bumping up against the sides and leaving behind ideas. Ideas he sorely wanted to try. He wanted them so bad, it made his rapid insect heart ache.

Timondale, in spite of his firm belief that everyone else should have been just as interested, valued his audience of three. It was a meager number, true, but they kept coming back. Every time he had more to tell, they wanted to hear it. He liked the gleam that came over their eyes as he spoke; the way their shoulders relaxed as they got swept away by his words. Appreciation, one of the most delicious things in the world. Timondale savored it every time. Not that he would ever let on that they mattered as much to him as him to them. It wouldn’t do. It would tarnish the image, his hero persona. Oh, he would still be a hero, of course, a fact was a fact. But the balance would be threatened if regular schmoes knew that heroes were just as fleshy and fallible as themselves.

What would be left to believe in? You have to put your faith in things that are greater than you, after all. That was a truth for Timondale. He knew his heart beat differently. It swelled bigger and could contain more, he was certain. And it set him apart. Which he didn’t mind.

Nope, not one little bit.