Advance scouts from each country returned with the news of the others’ existence six cycles past.

Quickly, the two groups force march their armies into newly charted territory. Each goaded into preparation for war by fear that the other was doing the same. Farmers were pulled from their fields. Metalsmiths conscripted from their trade. Cooks and harlots joined the generals and the soldiers to march in defense of their way of life. The parades to battle were glorious, attended by every man, woman and child left behind.

The grandeur of departure pales in the grip of a winter blast which sweeps the valley, on either side of which sit the two forces. The men huddle around smoky fires, lookouts glare at each other across the frozen expanse where nothing moves except the wind.

Both commanders choose the same course of action. Rest and nourishment for their men in preparation for the battle which will surely occur with the coming of spring.

Hunters from both sides routinely meet as they scour the countryside for game to feed their companions. There are nights, far from the valley when they share a fire for warmth. On these occasions they find each other to be people of good humor with no small measure of compassion. Yet, fear and patriotism hold them true to their cause; they know that ultimately they will meet on the field of honor.

Spring comes and the thaw begins.

The valley fills with a rushing torrent of water from the high peaks. For a moment, the two armies are held apart by nature. But with the passage of days, the waters diminish to a river and then a small stream. As the valley becomes a green meadow, the time arrives for men to die.

As both camps awake on the fateful day, a warm weather phenomenon appears. They find themselves inundated with the spring hatching of all the small, crawly parasitic beings common to their world. Both armies slap and scratch their respective ways into formation, as their generals observe each other across the flower studded landscape.

Both leaders are men of romance. The idyllic nature of the setting is not lost upon them. The ruin that battle will bring upon the land is also understood. Both hesitate.

The sun rises higher, the heat intensifies. As it grows warmer the air fills with the sound of pops and curses, from men waiting for the call. The mites are doing their worst to make the wait more and more unbearable. The valley beckons with its green coolness and its icy stream.

This day is well past noon when suddenly a soldier, it doesn't matter whose, breaks rank and runs down the hill screaming like a madman. A moment of amazement passes and the rest of his fellows surge forward. The opposing force, without command, reacts. The battle is underway.

The first man, due to his compulsion, holds quite a lead over the rest of his fellows. They watch as he throws his weapons down to begin tearing at his uniform on the run until, quite naked, he plunges into the stream, emerging with a wide grin of relief on his face. A look which turns to one of terror as he realizes he is now in the middle of two onrushing forces.

Both generals, watching this scenario from their posts, are powerless to restrain their charging troops. Recall is sounded with no effect. Neither wave ripples as it heads for the stream. Within minutes both armies, weaponless and naked are over their heads in the refreshing waters. Not one spear has been cast. Not one sword arched glittering through the air. The people of both nations are soon laughing and splashing together as they assist in the delousing of one another. Afterall, without uniforms, friend and foe appear much the same.

As dusk approaches the two generals meet under a staff of truce. They argue and quarrel together as they sit in the stream. But, finally, as they were both intelligent men, they strike a bargain.

Each will scratch the others' back.

And thus was born pull-a-ticks.

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