Howard and Stomp saw a large prickle of armoured porcupines before them as they exited the office.
“Stand at your pike,” a heavily armored porcupine shouted at them as they stepped out into the open yard. “Hurry! We don’t have all day.”
“Yes, sir, Lieutenant Colonel Green, sir!” Stomp said as he sprinted towards the half-formed square filled with porcupines in the center of the yard.
Howard ran as well, and stood beside Stomp.
They were evenly spaced out from one another, as they were every weekend in this very yard.
“Hey again,” a familiar voice said to his left.
He looked over and found the top of a helm.
“Down here,” he said.
Howard looked down to find the small porcupine that threw up in front of the sheriff’s office.
“How’s it going?”
“We might be able to win, we always win right?” Howard asked Stomp.
“What do you think, Stomp?” the small one asked. “You like our odds this time, buddy ol’ pal?”
Stomp was silent as he stared at the pike on the ground with squinted eyes.
“Stomp?” Howard said.
“Oh, hey!” Stomp said. “Yeah, porc?”
“He asked if we were going to win,” Howard said.
“Win?!” Stomp asked.
“The battle,” Hissy said. “Against the rats.”
“It’s bad luck to discuss such matters before combat,” Stomp said and went back to staring at the pike with concern.
“He knows,” Hissy said. “C’mon, Stomp. Say what’s on your mind. You got a bad feeling about this one, am I right?”
Stomp was quiet.
“You see, I may not be as experienced as Stomp, but I’m pretty good at guessing dimensions of things so, if you were to ask me, we’re a whole foot longer than usual.”
“But the heavier the pike, the more tired the porcs will get, won’t they, Stomp?”
“What’s your point?”
“The trick to a good pike is to use the right wood,” the small one said. “Now, the Erethians like to use the lighter ash wood, as would we had we ash trees in our neck of the woods…”
The small one stared ominously at the pike on the ground before him.
“Instead, we rely on the heavier pine,” he continued with a sigh. “It’s… well, it’s not ash, that’s for sure. And it does the job of being a pointy stick and all. But it’s just heavier, unfortunately.”
Stomp stared at the pike nervously.
“Us Hysterians aren’t built quite the same as the Erethians, are we, Stomp?” the small one pressed on. “You see in the last war, even though the Erethians weren’t using their new shooty toys and their fancy formations, they used pikes at four feet long exactly.”
“How’s that one feel?” he asked Howard.
Howard shrugged his shoulder and felt the weight.
“It’s a little long,” Stomp said as he looked up at the pointed, metal tip of the pike.
Stomp was right. Eyeballing it, Howard estimated that it looked to be just four-and-a-quarter foot long. Howard himself stood at just under one-and-a-half feet tall.
“Longer than usual, right?” the small one.
“Regiment! Handle your pike!” Green shouted.
The Quills broke at their hips and reached down to pick up the pikes from the ground.
“I guess we’ll know for sure once we’ve picked it up ourselves,” Hissy said as he reached down and picked his up. “Drats.”
Stomp bent over and picked it up too, and a worried look grew over his face.
Now, all the armoured porcupines around Howard had reached down and picked up their long pikes that were laying on the ground.
“Hurry up and pick it up or the cap’s going to kick your ass, porc,” Howard heard the small one say on his left.
“You better hurry, he’s almost here,” Stomp warned on his right.
Howard looked up to discover that a heavily armed porcupine was marching their way carrying a ceremonial quillón dagger was headed in his direction.
“You there!” Green shouted. “Handle your piping pike!”
Howard’s buckling knees nearly gave way as he reached down to grab his thick and heavy pine pike. He winced as he is instantly met with a splinter and sticky, clear resin.
Green huffed air into Howard’s face through his gigantic, wiry nostrils.
“Advance your pike!” Green continued.
Howard executed the drill order, lifting the pike up and leaning it back against his right shoulder to rest against it, and sitting atop their open right paws. He peeked at the bloodied splinter in a pad on his left paw and frowned.
“Drats,” he cursed.
“Listen close, greens,” Green said loudly. “I want one thing, and that one thing is discipline. Whether it’s mental or physical. Complete domination over the lizard, you got that?”
“Yes, sir!” the Quills replied.
“You don’t let it buck you off, buck,” Green said. “Just hang on for dear life and after four weeks of hard training, you’ll understand. You’ll see.”
And for four whole, grueling weeks, train they did. They did so in the hot sun. They trekked north for some training in a colder climate. They even crossed the Ring River to the White Sands desert to train. And did a few forced marches at near double time. They learned to work cohesively, effectively, and efficiently as a regiment of pike troops. They drilled their motions rigourously, and was a formidable force in both leading, and defending against, charges. And these were charges of all kinds—mounted and unmounted—with their long, pointed polearms. And they also practised how to defend themselves with the shorter standard-issue quillón daggers sheathed on their hips with a scaly leather guige. For when their pikes should fail them, or should they have to abandon said pikes.
And after four weeks, they were ready.
“You are ready,” said Green. ”Today, Colonel Chirps will command our regiment to join with the army of the Kingdom of Mus, and together, we will march as one, Quills and Musoldats, to reclaim the Windham—I mean, Mont Mus Mines!”
The Quills cheered.
“Regiment!” screamed at the top of his lungs. “At attention!”
The Quills stood at attention.
“Regiment!” continued to scream. “Handle your pike!”
The Quills executed the drill order, lifting their pikes up and leaning them back on their right shoulders on top of their open right paws.
They began marching forward between two gigantic stone statues of armored porcupines wielding pikes twice their height into a street lined with cheering porcupines.
A big band was blasting an upbeat tune as confetti rained down from the rooftops.
Howard could hardly hear himself think over the roar of the crowd and the loud music.
Howard watched as women, and children, and old people waved goodbye to them as they marched towards the Eastern gates of Hysteria.
“Port your pike!” Green shouted as they approached the gates.
“Port them?” Howard repeated in confusion.
Up ahead, the Quills lowered their pikes at an angle so as to avoid striking the top of the gates as they exited.
Despite their best efforts, the metal tips at the end of the lowered pikes still managed to scrape the underside of the wooden top jamb.
One of the Quills’s pikes got stuck in the underside as it trailed under and refused to move forward. The Quill tried to hold on the pike’s shaft desperately but was pushed by the Quills behind him. He was pushed along so far that he had to release his grip. The pike swung backwards and the handle struck the porcupine behind him, sending him falling down onto the ground. The Quill behind the fallen porcupine tried to stop but was pushed forward and tripped over the fallen porcupine. Soon, there was a small pile-up of porcupines at the gate.
A porcupine riding a slender wood skink arrived at the pile-up.
“Regiment, halt!” he cried out with rage at the prickle of already halted men. He grabbed the pike that was hanging from the wooden jamb and yanked it loose, then threw it down onto the ground angrily.
“Lieutenant Colonel Green!” he cried out. “What is the meaning of this?”
“I can explain, sir. It’s the pikes, sir,” Green began. “They’re longer and unweil-”
“Up-pub-bub-bub,” Colonel Chirps interrupted. “Don’t you recall the new protocol we discussed earlier this morning?”
“That’s right,” Chirps said. “The new protocol that mandates shouldering our pikes when passing under the gate.”
“That’s news to me,” Green admitted. “I thought we always ported our pikes when passing under the gate to give them the appearance of superior length, sir.”
“Just have the Quills shoulder their damn pikes, Lieutenant Colonel!” Colonel Chirps exploded.
“Right away, sir!” Green replied with a salute as he spun towards the Quills. “Shoulder your pike!”
The Quills obeyed and lowered their pikes onto their shoulders, balancing them carefully.
The more conscious Quills remove the less conscious Quills who were laying motionless under the gates. With the passageway now clear, the regiment continued marching onward out of the city.
“What a poop show,” the small one said. “I’m Hissy Up, by the by.”
“Hey, Hissy,” Howard said. “I’m Howard. You were saying, about the pikes?”
“Right, where was I?” Hissy said. “Our King’s military advisors believe that the arms race is evolving. So, since we know that Erethian pikes are were around about four feet long the last time we saw them on the field, we needed to make sure ours were longer this time around.”
“Why?” Howard asked.
Hissy and Stomp exchanged looks.
“Well, simply put,” Hissy said, clearing his throat. “We’ve got to keep up with the arms race. If the Erethians have increased the length of their pikes and we haven’t, we lose our competitive edge.”
Howard nodded, but he did not understand at all.
“And! And! Consider this! If they’ve lengthened their pikes and we didn’t, and say we come face-to-face with the Erethians themselves, then we’d be charging them with our four foot long pikes while they’re charging at us with their four-and-a-quarter foot long pikes.”
“That’s no good,” Howard said, after having done the math in his head.
“Correct,” Hissy said. “Not at all.”
Stomp gritted his teeth as he listened, marching on together.
“Now had we the light ash wood to build our pikes from, we wouldn’t have an issue. And had we perfect collarbones like our Erethian cousins, then this would be less of an issue. But we have neither of those things,” this he continued. “Which will only mean…”
“Our Quills aren’t going to be able to keep their pikes up,” Howard said.
“Correct,” he said. “If the battle drags on for too long, they’re going to be exhausted from just handling their pikes. They’re heavy objects, and arms get noodly after holding them up for so long.”