Mrs. Brisby was making good time. The sun was lower in the sky and clouds had thrown a general shadow across the world, but she still had enough daylight left if she hurried. She bounded across the field, now ploughed and seeded. This meant she was able to see the huge stone and her little house that it had shielded from the plough in the distance. She thought that if she made good time here she would be able to call back in at the winter house and check that nothing important had been left behind. She may also be able to take some of the seed that had been left on top of the soil, for their larder. It was while she was thinking about what she could have left in the house that a familiar voice interrupted her thoughts.
Mrs. Brisby ground to a halt mid-stride and struggled briefly to retain her balance. She then looked around. A little way away, swathed in a shawl obviously far too long for its occupant and struggling under a bag of seed that was almost as big as herself, was the Shrew. Mrs. Brisby rolled her eyes. This meeting would set her back precious minutes.
“Auntie Shrew. How are...”
“Oh, Brisby. It is so good to see you.”
“Well it’s nice to see you too...”
“Ever since you left I have been fending off riff-raff from all quarters.”
“Oh no. Really...?”
“I mean it’s just intolerable, dear, that I should be the only one concerned about standards in this field.”
Mrs. Brisby felt a pang of sympathy for the shrew. Since her family had left, though she would never admit it, the Shrew was obviously lonely. The Shrew was, after all, a friend of the family and of Mrs. Brisby in particular, but she just could not spare the time to provide companionship. However explaining this to the Shrew would perhaps take longer than simply listening to her rants. After a moments thought, she hit upon an idea that may allow her to slip away while still being friendly
“Why don’t you come and visit?” she asked, stopping quickly, half expecting not to even get that far.
“Why thank you dear. But I couldn’t possibly impose...” The shrew trailed off expectantly.
“It would be no trouble at all.” Mrs. Brisby said picking up the flow of the conversation. “I have to pick up medicine for Timmy and...”
“Oh, and how is little Timmy now? Better, I should hope.”
“Much better now, thank you. I have to visit Mr. Ages and then I can meet you at the stone, if that’s all right?” It was Mrs. Brisby’s turn to look expectant.
“That would be a pleasure, thank you. But I would be careful when seeing that old flim-flam Ages. I saw some shady characters around there this afternoon. Goodness knows what he is doing up there, what sort of undesirables he is consorting with.” The Shrew’s face suddenly flashed horror. “You don’t think it could have something to do with the Rats do you?” She said in a hushed voice.
“I doubt it. I must be going, but I will meet you at the winter house by the stone.”
“Certainly dear,” she replied, the previous moment forgotten. “I will go and pack.”
Mrs. Brisby smiled as the little creature shuffled off under its heavy burden, though she didn’t like the sound of ‘go and pack’. It suggested a protracted stay. She then raised her eyes to the sky and quickly turned about and headed off towards the next field.
Reaching the border of the field she leapt up onto one of the fence beams and briefly surveyed the surroundings. The corn, now without the brilliant sunlight, was darker. She could see no sign of danger however, and she had noticed Dragon, the farmer’s cat, by the farmhouse earlier. She still hesitated before entering the corn, gazing out into the dark, listening to wind as it was filtered through the long leaves far above her. She raised her nose and twitched her whiskers. Nothing. She hopped down from the beam and entered the cornfield. The stems towered on either side of her, blocking almost all light. She found herself on a sort of trail, created by the passage of other small animals, which guided her until her eyes adjusted fully.
As she moved, she became aware of an uneasy feeling of being watched. Not uncommon with the number of creatures that inhabit the world, but there was a quiet intensity about this place today that disturbed her. She quickened her pace, but the feeling did not leave. She soon found herself running and wishing she had asked Martin to come. She rounded a corner in the run and was promptly knocked off her feet and tumbled head over heels. She lay still for a second, then slowly opened her eyes and found it was completely dark. Then she lifted one corner of her cape that had fallen across her face. Before her was a strut of metal, dug deep into the ground. Mr. Ages home loomed above her, a colossal structure of rusted metal. In her haste she had run straight into the metal, not realising how quickly she had been running.
Feeling slightly embarrassed, she got up, leapt onto the metal strut and began to ascend the huge machine. She could still not shake the feeling of being watched and felt that for once she would really feel at ease once she had reached Mr. Ages workshop. She reached the summit and then crossed to the broken grill that covered the gaping entrance that would take her into the old machines warren-like innards. It was even darker inside. She would never admit it, but Mrs. Brisby had never been especially fond of the dark, especially in the strange and unnatural setting in which she found herself now. Walking down through the grill, placing her hand on the side of the entrance to help guide her and slipped down a slope that she should have remembered was there. She grasped at any object or protrusions nearby to try and slow her descent, but only came to a stop when the slope ended. As once again her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she found herself sitting on the edge of the shaft that lead down to where Mr. Ages had his workshop.
“Mr. Ages? Are you home?” she called and waited for a reply. There was none. She looked down the shaft. The elevator that he had built to get from here down to the workshop was thankfully not that at the top. She had never trusted the thing and she preferred to climb down. Besides, she didn’t understand exactly how to work it, and she didn’t want to pull the wrong string out of the half dozen that disappeared into the blackness above and below her, in case she broke something. Mr. Ages was very protective of his home and everything in it, one of the few things that Mrs. Brisby actually understood about the old mouse.
It was hard work climbing all the way down. When she reached the bottom of the shaft she called again to Mr. Ages and again got no reply. It was most odd as he was usually in. She moved slowly towards the entrance to his workshop and the warm glow that perpetually filled the doorway. She knocked when she reached it but again she heard nothing but the creak as the door swung on its hinges. Looking furtively over her shoulder, she grasped the edge of the door and guided it open and looked around the workshop. Or what was left of it. Papers and equipment had been strewn about, on the floor and on desks with no regard for property. A burner on one of the desks was still burning with a pathetic flame. She stood in the centre of the mess, hands over her mouth, wondering what had happened to Mr. Ages. This thought was quickly followed by another equally worrying notion. How was Timmy going to get his medicine now?
Behind her the door slammed closed. She spun around towards the noise. Standing in front of the door was a mouse. His fur was grey, she could tell that much, but his face was in shadow. He was wearing a long cloak and leather tunic, but more noticeably he was wielding a long and viciously sharp spear. He lowered this, pointing it at Mrs. Brisby and began to advance; metal guards that he had attached to his feet clicking with each step. As he moved out into the dim light Mrs. Brisby was able to see his face. It was unremarkable for the most part, though his eyes were bright even the dim light and he had an unpleasant scar on one side of his nose. Mrs. Brisby swallowed and backed further into the workshop. All the while the mouse kept advancing, his eyes locked onto hers. She was still retreating when she bumped into a table. Letting out a little cry she glanced back at what was on the workbench. Watching the mouse advance, getting slowly but inexorably closer, her hand moved over the objects on the table until it found a flask that she gripped and bought around in front of her. The mouse stopped and grinned, but kept the spear level. The scars on his nose twisted unpleasantly with the expression. She tensed, ready to throw the bottle. Her assailant didn’t move. She threw the flask with all the force she could muster at the mouse, who swivelled out of its path, cloak swirling up as he moved. This blocked his sight long enough for Mrs. Brisby to grab a large book and heft that towards him. That caught him by surprise as it hit him full in the face, causing him to fall back against the wall. As he struggled to regain his composure, she bolted across the room to the door. Wrenching the handle around she found it thankfully had not been locked. Throwing it open she rushed out into the machine’s internal passageways. Thinking fast, she thought of an escape route. She dared not take the shaft. The mouse had looked thin but strong and she was convinced he could out-climb her. She could not risk using the elevator, so she decided to try and hide. Turning right, she headed off down a dark and unfamiliar passage. As she hurtled round the bend she heard a crash as the mouse barged out of the workshop. It wouldn’t be long until he started to follow.
She flew down the passage as it wound around, changing gradient and direction. Mr. Ages had installed little gas lights that were extremely widely spaced and dimly lit the little tunnel. After a while even these became absent. She had no idea where in this labyrinth she would end up or even if there was a way out. She could hear the sound of pursuit, fast light footfalls, echoing on hollow metal. There was light beyond. As she approached she noticed the floor ahead of her abruptly fell away and as she reached it she leapt into the void beyond. The chamber she had just entered was large compared to the passage she had just left and it was full of wire, tubes and shafts of metal that criss-crossed the room like some sort of metallic tangle of brambles. Shafts of light coming from gaps in the ceiling far above lit the room, though the illumination was weak. She caught onto one of the pipes and swung around it. Then she dropped onto another piece of tubing directly underneath. Dust flew up getting into her nose and throat and making her choke and cough. She wiped tears from her eyes and as she did so she caught movement from across the room. Her pursuer had reached the entrance. He leapt swinging the spear in a wide arc. Mrs. Brisby let go of the piping she was clinging to just as the blade slashed along its surface, sending sparks flying into the murky shadows. She landed a little heavily and glanced around. A little way away there was another faint glow of natural light, but rising from the floor. Looking up she saw the mouse poised ready to jump. She scampered towards the light as a thud behind her signalled the landing of the other creature. She ducked and weaved, fighting past bundles of old and perishing wires. The other mouse, being larger, was having a harder time, though he easily hauled lumps of metal aside. She sprinted to the hole and shot past it as momentum carried her forward, having to grip the edge of the gap to slow herself. The mouse was still bearing down on her. She gazed into the little pool of dim light and saw the ground far below then glancing across at the attacker she dived through headfirst. The mouse abandoned his spear and suddenly rushed forward with renewed urgency. Mrs. Brisby wriggled as she tried to get through the hole, expecting at any moment to be hauled back into the darkness. She braced her arms on the underside edge of the hole and closed her eyes and pushed. Inside the other mouse leapt at her flailing legs. With a little gasp she felt herself falling. The mouse hit the floor next to the hole just too late, his hand clawing the air.
Mrs. Brisby could hardly bear to look at the ground. She felt strands of grass brush quickly against her, and then leaves. They grew denser, slowing her. She still landed with a winding impact. Lying still, gulping for air, she looked up, trying to focus. Above her she could see her erstwhile attacker staring down at her. Then his face vanished.
She sat there a moment longer then realised that it would not be too long before he found a way out. Breathing heavily, Mrs. Brisby stood and began to hurry away from the machine. If she could get into the long grass she could probably get far enough away so he could not follow. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye. The mouse was charging towards her, cape flying. She didn’t know how he had managed to get out of the old machine so quickly and didn’t stop to ponder the point. She simply turned and began to run, and although she was tired, the way was easier now and without obstructions. She picked out one of the trails through the corn and darted towards it. Glancing back quickly she then put her head down and ran for all she was worth. It was then she realised that the mouse following her now was not the same one; similar but with different coloured fur and cloak and instead of a spear he carried a sword.
She tore down the trail and became aware of the mouse closing on her. She pushed harder, desperately trying to escape. Ahead she saw the fence. She drew close then leapt. The mouse just behind her leapt too. She grabbed the lowest beam as she flew past and was about to push off when the other mouse crashed into her from behind and knocked her sprawling into the ploughed field. She lay panting, all her strength gone.
The other mouse stood on the beam looking at her. She could see he was young, with a very dark grey fur, and he did not have an unpleasant face. His hair fell down over his eyes. He stood watching, though his face was impassive, but his eyes betrayed what seemed to Mrs. Brisby like a terrible melancholy.
Behind him the previous mouse appeared and on observing the scene grinned, the scars twisting again.
“Brisby!” he hissed.
She looked at him, horror stricken. He knew her name. The scarred mouse’s eyes widened briefly, and his mouth curled into a sneer. Confirmation of her identity had been given by her reaction. She shook her head.
“No.” She pleaded and began to edge away from him. The scarred mouse nodded slowly. Then they both advanced.
“No please!” she begged and tried to drag herself away, fearing to turn her back on these two creatures. She heard the sound of beating wings above that was soon joined by the sound of rushing air. She did not wish to tear her eyes from her attackers and was surprised to see the one with the scars look around and panic just as a large mass of black feathers bowled him over. The other leapt backwards, behind the fence beam, while the scarred mouse lay still, stunned. The bird yawed in the air and came back down. As it dived it was calling something.
“The string! Quick, grab the string!”
Recognition flooded over her along with relief. She looked up and saw a length of red string dangling around the bird’s neck. The mouse that had been hiding, now realising he was about to lose his quarry leapt up, but too late. She sprang to her feet and leapt up, arms outstretched. Her fingers found the string; she held it tight as the bird’s feet touched down briefly to push off against the ground. It beat its wings again, gaining height and soaring away. She looked back as her attackers dwindled and shrank away into the distance.
“Are you okay Mz. Briz?” said the crow, angling its head to look at her. She let out a huge sigh and turned round to speak and then saw what they where heading towards.
“Jeremy, look out!” She called.
“Huh?” He said and looked up in time to see the bush just before they ploughed into it.
“Whoa!” they cried in unison. Jeremy had been flying too low, too fast, though luckily the bush was not too dense, being composed of more leaves than twigs. They came to a halt, Mrs. Brisby dangling from the string around Jeremy’s neck as he himself hung upside down amongst the small leaves and branches. He spat out some foliage that had caught in his beak.
“Pah! ‘Scuse me. Pardon me,” he babbled. Mrs. Brisby clambered up the string and hugged Jeremy around his beak.
“Thank you Jeremy! Thank you so much.”
“Oh. Nu froblum Mff. Brff.” Jeremy mumbled, unable to open his mouth. Mrs. Brisby then remembered herself and, releasing Jeremy’s beak, slid onto a nearby branch. Jeremy struggled for a second then fell to the ground, leaves and twigs falling after him. Mrs. Brisby nimbly descended the bushes trunk and waited still panting while Jeremy untangled himself from the ungainly lump he now found himself in.
“Need any help?”
“Oh no I’m fine. Just... there. Okay, phew. What was going on back there, Mz. Briz? Those two looked like they were trying to...” Jeremy raised his eyebrows his mouth moving soundlessly.
“I don’t want to think what they may have done if you hadn’t shown up Jeremy. How did you know?”
“Oh, well, I was just flying home to the nest when I spotted some great string over by the farm house, but the cat was there so I kept going and saw something happening near the border of the cornfield. I had a closer look and saw you in trouble...and just...swooped in, you know, and...” Jeremy trailed off as his modesty took hold, leaving him staring into the middle distance still gesturing to words that were not actually being spoken.
“Well, thank you again, Jeremy.” Letting him know the point was made, Mrs. Brisby smiled. Family life had done little to alter Jeremy’s little idiosyncrasies. The smile quickly faded as the relief of escape quickly soured and recent events returned to the forefront of her mind. She was so affected by these she had to move to a low twig and sit down. Jeremy bent his head down low so his eyes were almost level with hers.
“Know who they were?” He asked.
“No. I had just gone to see Mr. Ages. When I arrived he was gone and one of them...” she gestured off to the side but retracted her hand quickly to cover her mouth as she realised just how completely helpless she had been.
“Was it that bad?” Jeremy’s voice was laden with an almost child-like concern as he stared wide-eyed. It was always hard not to be amused at Jeremy. His stubborn refusal to let even the gravest situations weigh upon him too much was infectious.
“It could have been. But what had happened to Mr. Ages? Do you think they...?” She trailed off and was still a moment as she tried to stop horrible visions from crossing her mind. Then she turned to the crow, it being her turn to stare wide-eyed. “Jeremy. They know my name.”
Jeremy’s jaw dropped, showing he did not really see any significance in this. Though, she had to admit, his genuine concern was touching.
“What are you going to do?”
“Well...” She paused. She had not thought about this. There had been no time. There was only one place she could really turn. “I suppose I will have to see the Rats again. And after all Mr. Ages was from NIMH. They may know what to do.” She looked up at the crow.
“Do you know the way to Thorn Valley, Jeremy?”
“Oh sure,” he said. “I’ve flown over that way loads of times. Is that where they went?
“Mmm,” Mrs. Brisby mumbled in the way of a distracted reply. Something eerie began to creep into her mind. Remembering the Rats just now had made her realise something. The mice had reminded her a lot of the Rats, after a fashion. The way they moved. There was something unnatural about the Rats, and so it was with these mice. One Rat in particular descended into her mind like a chilling fog. Jenner. Memories not long forgotten resurfaced and added an unwanted and unpleasant depth to the new. But one thing was certain. There were similarities between the Rats of NIMH and the mice that had attacked her. The more she thought about it the more she believed that she should get to the Rats as quickly as possible. Though for whose sake she did not know. Awakening from her thoughts she looked around. Jeremy was still standing there, a look of unease on his face.
“Sorry, I...” she trailed off. Gazing out from the bush she noticed how dark it was getting. The clouds were much thicker now, blazing red as the sun bowed out for another day. “My goodness, it’s getting dark. I must be getting home. The children...”
“I can fly you,” Jeremy piped up cheerfully, switching mood at typical breakneck speed. “You’d be home in no time.”
“No, I couldn’t.”
“Sure you could. It’s no trouble; we could catch up on the way.”
“But I’m scared of flying.”
“Aren’t you more scared of walking home at this time... in the dark? I mean who knows what could be out there...”
“Thank you, Jeremy!” Mrs. Brisby really didn’t need those sorts of thoughts at the moment. Though Jeremy did have a point. “If you’re sure it’s no trouble?”
“Sure it isn’t,” he cried and flopped down onto his belly so she could get onto his back. “It’ll be just like old times huh?”
“Yes. Just the same,” she replied wearily.
The fly was not too bad. The conversation distracted her from the numbing fear of falling, though she never once even slightly loosened her grip on Jeremy’s string. Jeremy had promptly given her directions for the quickest way to Thorn Valley, and even the likely spots for the Rats’ settlement. He had even offered to fly Mrs. Brisby there to have a look, but she politely, though quickly, declined. Conversation then turned to more personal topics. Jeremy now had a family on the way. He had a nest, a wife and five eggs, due any day now. She told him about the move to their home near the brook for the summer and how well the children were, Timmy in particular.
It was then that she remembered the Shrew. However, there was little she could do about it now, with darkness rapidly approaching, so she would have to apologise later.
Mrs. Brisby risked a glance downward. The forest rushed by beneath her, but the river was in sight. Eventually Mrs. Brisby pointed out a familiar spot and Jeremy landed without major incident. Mrs. Brisby by now had given some thought to the many of the implications of the strangers’ sudden appearance. She feared that the children might be in danger. The mice had known of the Brisby name and therefore possibly of its connections to NIMH and the Rats. She had to protect the children and go to the Rats, but she couldn’t risk taking them to Thorn Valley. That would be far too dangerous in case she was waylaid, and she wasn’t sure that Timothy would be able to take the journey. So, she turned to the only other person she could trust at the moment.
“Jeremy?” she said in gentle tones. He turned and smiled.
“Yeah, Mz. Briz?”
“I need to ask you a favour.”
“Anything, Mz. Briz. You can always count on me.”
“I need you to look after the children while I’m away.”
A pained expression flashed across Jeremy’s face. Then he was smiling again, but with a look tinted with nervousness.
“Sure thing,” he said voice quavering almost imperceptibly and he tried to work moisture into a mouth that had become very dry. “I love kids. Kids love me and I love kids...” He trailed off nervously and looked miserable. It was hard not to smile at him.
“They’ll behave this time. I promise.” Jeremy relaxed, but only a little.
“Okay. How long?”
“As long as it takes me to see the Rats. A few days at most.” There was a new surge of fear in Jeremy.
“A few days?” he strained.
“It would really be a great help.”
Jeremy sagged. “Anything you want Mz. Briz. As long as I can help, you know I’ll be there,” he said, his usual vitality back and mixed with an unfamiliar graveness in his tone.
“You’re a good friend Jeremy.” Mrs. Brisby said. Jeremy smiled and then looked around.
“Well, it’s getting on towards evening. I better be getting back now. Emma will probably be wondering where I’ve got to.” He unfurled his wings, but just as he did so Mrs. Brisby called.
“Wait, Jeremy!” She turned and ran around the house and returned with a piece of shiny foil. Jeremy’s eyes lit up.
“A sparkly!” he said bending down to look closely.
“I found it when we moved. I was saving it for you as a thank you.” She handed it to the crow who looked as a child would a new toy.
“Thanks a lot, Ms. Briz.” He tucked the little piece of foil away. “Well, I really need to go now.” And with a few swift beats of his wings that made Mrs. Brisby shield her eyes, he was in the air. “See you tomorrow!”
Mrs. Brisby waved and then turned to the house. The children were standing in the doorway.
“Was that the Turkey?” asked Cynthia almost bouncing with excitement.
“That was Jeremy. Aren’t you a little old to still be calling him a Turkey?” Mrs. Brisby replied. “Now, what are you all doing standing around in the cold? Come on, get inside.”
“Was everything alright?” asked Martin, stepping back out of the entrance. Timothy looked at his mother’s empty hands.
“Where’s the medicine?” he asked. Mrs. Brisby sighed. It had been dark for some time before she had finished explaining the day’s events to them...