“Feel free to help at any time!”
When the Brisby children had assembled at Jeremy’s tree and he had shown them the place he had found for them, they had been more than a little dismayed. At one time it would have been a cosy little home, not quite as large as their own and a bit cramped for four, but pleasant none the less. That bright period in this mouse hole’s past had long since faded and what was left was a dusty, damp hollow below the tree roots that had fallen into quite an advanced state of disrepair and had filled with general forest detritus during the period of its abandonment. Not to seem ungrateful, (after all, Jeremy had tried his best and also had a family on the way and it was good of him to look after four young mice who in the past had not made the best first impression) they had thanked the crow who had then left to fetch food for his mate.
The children had stored their supplies of food in an area that was slightly less filthy than any other and were now trying to clean the place they would call home for a few days at least. Previous occupants, whether they were actually living there or were simply using the dwelling as somewhere to rest, had not been excellent housekeepers. Teresa and Cynthia were running around, tidying and sweeping, trying to make some order out of the chaos, Teresa giving her younger sister tasks and Cynthia carrying them out with her typical, boundless enthusiasm. Timmy was trying to help too, though he had the dazed expression that everyone uses when they are having trouble adjusting to the situation they now find themselves in. He would look in dismay at the piles of rubbish for a few moments before commencing to tidy them and cast an expression of disbelief around the room from time to time. Martin was sitting off to one side. He had started off by appearing to help by collecting bundles of sticks, but he soon grew disinterested in cleaning. Now he sat and, choosing a stick at random, he would snap it in half until it was too small to break, and then repeat the process with a new stick. This had gone uninterrupted for some time until Teresa had shouted at him. He looked up at his sister.
“There doesn’t seem much that I can help with.”
Teresa dropped the leaves she had been carrying and turned, hands on hips, to face Martin in order that he could receive the full effect of her disapproving scowl.
“What’s the matter with you? You’ve done nothing but sit and mope since we arrived.”
“Well look at it,” replied Martin gesturing at the house in general. “It’s hardly pleasant, is it? I’m not even sure it’s safe. I wouldn’t want to think about what we could catch living here what with the damp and all this!” he kicked at a pile leaves and other assorted rubbish that had collected against one of the walls. Teresa bristled, the scowl darkening.
“That is what we are trying to sort out. None of us are particularly thrilled to be here. We’re trying to make this place a little more bearable, and we could get it done a bit faster if you would stop feeling sorry for yourself and help. If you don’t want to help in here, the least you could do would be to go and find something useful that we could use once we have finished tidying.”
“Where would we put anything I find? It’s filthy in here!”
Teresa looked as if she were about to explode when Jeremy flopped down to the ground, just outside. He poked his head through the door and grinned.
“Hi kids! How’s the house?”
“Needs some work,” grumbled Martin.
“Martin!” hissed Teresa.
“Yeah, sorry it’s not in top condition. I hadn’t realised how long it had been abandoned.”
“It’s fine Jeremy,” said Teresa. “It’s good of you to look after us at all.”
Just then there was a furious fluttering of wings and a sparrow’s head appeared in the doorway, squeezing into the gap underneath Jeremy’s beak.
“What’re you doing Jeremy? Why you sticking your head into the old abandoned...” The sparrow, who had been speaking in a very animated fashion to Jeremy’s chin, caught sight of the four mouse children. “Ooooh! Visitors. Friends of yours? Nice to meet you!” With each word his head bobbed and weaved and his eyes twinkled.
Jeremy looked slightly on edge as he made introductions. Martin looked on with a polite disinterest, Timmy still looked lost, Teresa smiled at the newcomer and Cynthia tried to hide her giggles at the little bird’s high pitched twittering voice and agitated mannerisms.
“Kids this is a neighbour of mine, Gary. Gary, this is Teresa, Martin, Timothy, and Cynthia Brisby.”
Gary’s eyes grew wide as they went from one mouse to the next and back again. When he spoke again it was almost unintelligible because of the excitement in his voice.
“Brisby! You said Brisby? These are Brisby kids? The Brisby kids? Children of Jonathan Brisby? Oh boy!”
“Uh...?” Jeremy had donned his panicked expression: eyes wide, jaw agape.
Gary continued unabated, his voice actually seeming, whether it was possible or not, to get higher and faster.
“Wow! The children of Jonathan Brisby? I don’t believe it! I’ve heard stories about your father. Made a bit of a name for himself in these woods.”
“You’ve heard of our father?” asked Martin. He suddenly sat up in interest but looked as nervous as Jeremy.
“Yeah! Loads of folks have! Well actually not that many. A few anyway! Depends how you look at it. But I have heard all the stories and those who have know he was pretty famous, did all kinds of things!”
“Do you know anything about what our father did?” piped up Timothy. For the first time since they had arrived he had a bit of enthusiasm about him.
“No, well... kinda, but... It’s a bit vague, a kind of a legend really. A lot of folks in the woods have heard tales, but many of them haven’t heard the details or don’t believe he even existed, and no one knows for sure what he did. Just that it was important, and... something. I forget.” As the bird trailed off, Timothy looked downcast, but Gary carried on, apparently oblivious, “But wow! Wait until I tell the family! Proof that there is a Jonathan Brisby...!”
Jeremy made a strangled noise as Gary said this. Martin interjected.
“Our father is dead.” It wasn’t a comment made out of spite. He was just informing the little bird. Such things were inevitable in the lives of woodland creatures and such was the way of life in the forest. Gary fell silent and sagged.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay. It happened about a month ago,” said Teresa and everybody fell silent. Then Gary once again started up.
“But you are here and that’s proof he did exist. The Great Jonathan Brisby. I’ve gotta tell everybody!”
“No Gary! Wait!” called Jeremy as the sparrow ducked back out of the house. “You can’t say anything.” Gary’s head reappeared looking confused.
“Huh? Can’t say nuffink? Why ever not? It’s stupendous, magnificent, and a once in a lifetime opportunity. The famous...”
Jeremy managed to make his interruption stick this time:
“You can’t because no one’s supposed to know they’re here.”
“Huh?” said Gary again, his brow creasing. “What d’ya mean? I don’t get it!”
“They’re... I promised their mother that I would look after them and said I would make sure no one knew they were here. At least for a few days.”
“Oh...” said Gary. It was his turn to look a little downcast.
“Promise me you won’t say anything. Not now at least,” pleaded Jeremy.
“Okay. Yeah sure! I get it now! It has to be a big secret. Right! You can count on me keep your secret! No fear! Don’t worry about old Gary! He’ll guard this information with his life! Wow! I met the Brisby kids! Is it okay if I visit again?”
“Sure thing,” said Teresa. Gary Smiled.
“Thanks! I have so many things I want to ask, so many things I want to know about you and your father. Oh, and mum’s the word!” He winked conspiratorially and disappeared. The swift beating of wings signalling his departure.
Jeremy had removed his head from the doorway to watch his neighbour go. The Brisby children came and stood outside too, shielding their eyes from the sun and grateful for the excuse to be out of the mouse hole for a moment.
“Can we count on him?” asked Teresa. Jeremy swivelled his head to look down at them.
“Oh sure. Gary is a nice guy. But a bit light headed if you know what I mean. Not too bright. Don’t hold it against him...” Jeremy lowered his eyes. “I’m sorry I gave away your name.”
“It’s no problem, Jeremy.” Teresa gave Jeremy a reassuring smile. “If you say we can trust Gary then that’s good enough for us.”
“There is something you can do to make up for it Jeremy,” said Martin. Teresa did not like the glint in her brother’s eyes.
“Can you take us to Thorn Valley?”
Jeremy’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened, then just as suddenly he pulled himself together with a quick shake of his head.
“No. I promised your mother that I would keep you here and look after you.”
“Please?” said Martin, looking overcome with disappointment. Teresa could almost see the insincerity coming off her brother in waves.
“Martin!” she hissed again through her teeth.
“No,” said Jeremy, thankfully standing his ground. “I made a promise. Plus it’s not a safe trip. The deep forest is no place for young mice. It’s a wild and dangerous place once you pass that hill...”
“Which hill?” shot Martin. Teresa wasn’t quick enough to say anything.
“That one over there, see?” said Jeremy, pointing to a distant landmark. In the distance the level of the trees could be seen to rise up, much higher than the trees would be expected to grow. Despite their height the distant peaks of the mountains were visible, towering behind them.
“So Thorn Valley is that way!” said Martin, smiling, gazing at the distant mountains. Teresa’s head slumped against her chest. Jeremy’s face underwent a similar downward movement as he realised his mistake.
“Uh... no! I didn’t say that! I meant...” He suddenly stopped casting around desperately and then leant over so his head was actually resting on the ground, his wings bought forward in a gesture of pleading. “Please don’t try to go to Thorn Valley! I made a promise to your mother! Don’t make me break it! Pleeeeese!”
“Don’t worry, Jeremy, we won’t!” said Teresa striding forward and patting Jeremy’s wings whilst simultaneously scowling at her brother again. Martin returned the look with a smirk.
Teresa was waiting for Martin to make the same assurance but Jeremy straightened up, smiling and apparently placated.
“Thanks kids. I know how you must feel being sent away and be made to live here, but it is for your own good.”
“We know, Jeremy, and we appreciate it.” Martin’s voice was oily. He was still smirking and almost swaying on the balls of his feet. Teresa had to work hard to keep herself from hitting him.
“Great. If you need anything, just give us a shout okay?”
“Thanks, Jeremy,” said Martin. Jeremy smiled and took off. Teresa became incensed as she watched her brother wave, still smiling ever so sweetly. She was about to let loose a tirade of reprimands when Martin turned away and sauntered into the house. She hurried after him, followed by Cynthia and Timothy.
“I guess you think you’re pretty smart tricking Jeremy like that?”
“As a matter of fact, yes I do. Now go and get packed. We’re leaving!”
Cynthia had made her way back to what she had been doing, but turned at this.
“But you said we weren’t going!” she said.
“I didn’t say any such thing and I don’t care what Teresa said. Mum is out there somewhere, and she will need our help and we can only do that if we get to Thorn Valley,” he said, collecting the few items that he had taken out of his knapsack and repacking them. “I was going to suggest it anyway, but now we know the definite direction. It will be easy going.”
“Easy? We don’t know where it is!”
“Mum gave us a description, it should be no problem to find the Rats.”
“And what would she say when she found out we’d gone to Thorn Valley and broken our promise?”
“I’ll explain. She may be angry but she’ll be happier knowing we’re there and safe amongst the Rats.”
“You sound very sure.”
“That’s because I am,” said Martin with one of his infuriating grins.
“Look, we are not going! It’s not safe out there,” pleaded Teresa. Both Cynthia and Timothy were standing watching the exchange. Martin stopped and rounded on his siblings. He was actually quite intimidating as he was now, standing at his full height and with his face set. His voice was forceful as he replied:
“It’s not safe here. You heard what Mum said. These mice, they knew who Mum was. They knew the name ‘Brisby’.”
“So did Gary.” Timmy piped up. He couldn’t match the stare Martin gave him for interrupting but he carried on. “He said a lot of people in the forest know the name.”
“But most of them think it’s a mythic name. Some sort of woodland legend. No more believable than any other story. Like that one Dad told us once about those rabbits going on a journey, do you remember? No one believes in them. But from what Mum said these mice seemed to take it very seriously. What else might they know about it? And Mr. Ages! Mum said they were waiting at his home. You remember what Mum told us. She told us Dad and Mr. Ages used to work with the Rats. Mr. Ages was from NIMH, so was dad! Perhaps these other mice are from NIMH. And if they are, they’ll be smart! And...”
“How could they be from NIMH? How could they have found their way here?” snapped Teresa, though despite herself she was finding the conversation intriguing, though this did not help her temper.
“I don’t know... the same way the Rats got here, I suppose,” replied Martin with a dismissive gesture.
“But how did they know where to come?” asked Timothy. He made no secret of the fact that he was interested.
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m worried. If I knew who they were, where they are, what they’re up to then we could make a plan! But all we know for sure is that at the moment they’re looking for anyone with the name of Brisby! That means us! That’s why we can’t stay here, and especially not after we met that dumb bird. If we stay here the birds will blab our names all over the forest. You know what it’s like every morning. They all exchange news. Anyone listening in will know exactly where to find us. Well, I promised Mum I would protect us, and to do that I can’t let us stay here!” Martin folded his arms and waited, not focussing on his siblings, but staring into the middle distance.
“Jeremy said we could trust him,” said Cynthia. Her voice sounded very small in the silence. Martin was briefly surprised by Cynthia’s use of Jeremy’s name. Then he shook his head solemnly.
“I know he did, and although Jeremy wants to help, and he made Mum a promise, he is still a little clumsy. It was him who said our name first wasn’t it? And you saw how easy it was for me to get him to spill the direction of Thorn Valley. And Jeremy thinks the other bird is stupid. I don’t fancy those chances. Jeremy might mean well, but he might be putting us all in danger.”
“Martin, that’s not fair!” yelled Teresa. Martin ignored her.
“We should go to the Rats. They’ll protect us, like they did before.”
“Why would they help us again? They helped move our house, and looked what happened then. They probably wouldn’t want to see us ever again.” Teresa’s voice frayed slightly as she rapidly ran out of ideas to use to dissuade her brother. It didn’t work.
“Because it wasn’t our fault and both Mum and Dad helped them enough times! They wouldn’t even have got out of NIMH if it wasn’t for Dad, and Mum warned them about NIMH coming to the farm. If she hadn’t done that they would all have been caught the next morning.”
“Do you think we can make it?” said Timothy. Teresa looked stunned at Timothy’s siding with Martin.
“You have your medicine don’t you?” Martin asked grinning. He could see the result he wanted to this argument coming.
“Yeah!” said Timmy, delving into his bag and holding the small paper packet aloft. “Though there’s not much left.”
“Another reason to go to the Rats. There’s bound to be someone there who can make more. What would happen if we stayed here and we ran out?”
Teresa was about to make a comment but found that Martin actually seemed to have a point on this one. Most of what he said seemed to make sense, especially about the feeling of security at the idea of being amongst the Rats of NIMH. Martin hurried on while he seemed to have the advantage.
“And it’s not far from here. You heard what Jeremy said. It’s just over the hill. We could make it there in half a day!”
“He also said that there was something dangerous over there!” said Teresa, Cynthia looked apprehensively out of the door and towards the distant hill.
“Hah! I’m not scared of anything that could be up there. I’ll protect you!”
“Even against weasels? What about foxes? I suppose you’ll wrestle them to the ground and tell them to stop picking on creatures much smaller than them? Or will you trick them all? ‘No, we’re not mice. We’re rocks! Please don’t eat us.’” Teresa finished with a surprisingly good impression of her brother. Martin either had not heard or had ignored it and looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Okay, we’ll wait until tomorrow so we have plenty of time to stick to travelling during the day, okay? That way it’s no more dangerous than going outside here right?”
“But here we have somewhere to run,” said Teresa, though she looked at the dismal surroundings.
“I wouldn’t trust this place. Besides, there’s always somewhere to hide in the forest. We’ll be fine!” Martin looked at each of his brother and sisters in turn. They all looked hesitant.
“Come on. You don’t want to wait here and be caught do you?”
“No!” blurted Cynthia hurriedly.
“And you always wanted to see the Rats, yeah?”
“Yes,” said Timmy grinning.
“And you don’t want Mum to be out there somewhere being chased by those mice?”
“No...” said Teresa, still searching for an argument.
“And none of us want to stay here.” Martin gestured at the rubbish-strewn room. Teresa gave him one last plaintive look, but Cynthia and Timothy were now both smiling, excited by the prospect of adventure. Martin grinned. He had won.
“Great! Then we will leave tomorrow!”
The sun was hidden behind the clouds again the next morning, lighting them up a vibrant red. The sky overhead was clear at the moment, though. Jeremy had already been out and come back with breakfast for Emma. Perching at the uppermost point of a tall tree he raised his head to the sky. There would be rain later, he thought.
He decided that before he went out again he would check on the Brisby children and see if they needed anything.
“Kids. Hey kids, are you awake?”
Jeremy glided down and landed awkwardly at the base of the tree and waited. When he didn’t receive a reply he pecked at the door.
“Hello?” Nothing. Using his beak to nudge open the door, he poked his head into the little mouse hole.
“Kids?” he called and peered into the gloomy interior. As his eyes adjusted he could see four lumps nestled beneath a layer of bedding.
“Still asleep? You’ll miss the best part of the morning. Come on, rise and shine sleepy heads!”
The little bundles did not stir.
“Er... Excuse me.” Still no reaction. Jeremy retracted his head only for it to appear a moment later, a twig in his beak.”
“Ah oo ettin uh or nut?” he said gently prodding the nearest lump. It moved and fell from the bedding onto the floor. Jeremy dropped the stick.
“Oh, sorry! Excuse me, par... huh?” He looked again at what had fallen from the bedding. Instead of one of the mice, it was large bundle of twigs and leaves.
“Oh no!” Jeremy picked up the stick again and attacked the lumps. All turned out to be some kind of woodland rubbish.
“Oh... but... Ah! Emma!” Jeremy
tried to raise his head and bumped it one the ceiling before he managed to
remove it from the mouse hole.
“Jeremy! Your feathers!” said Emma looking at her bedraggled mate. She was sitting in the nest, nestled over the precious clutch of eggs. “What’s wrong?”
“The Brisby kids have gone!”
“What? Where?” she said sounding stunned.
“I don’t know!
“Well, go and find them.”
“But what about...”
“I’ll be fine. Go and find the children. Hurry! They might be in trouble!”
“Right! When you’re right, you’re right. And you’re right!” He turned and with another frenzied whirl of his wings he took off and soared above the trees, trying to scan the ground far below for four tiny shapes amongst the undergrowth.
The Brisby children had set out at first light, leaving the house and making their way deeper into the forest. They tried to keep out of the way of any other animals they saw, and hurried past any that they met. There was a lot of dew on the ground, and the morning was chilly but fresh. Light slanted between the trees as it rose above the distant cloud creating patches of warmth on the damp ground. It was very pleasant travelling in such conditions. Cynthia skipped merrily to and fro, interested in anything and everything the forest had to offer, and stopping in pools of warm light to let the others catch up. Timothy was similarly fascinated by these strange surroundings, but was more restrained in his approach, keeping to a fairly straight route, but turning his head this way and that. Teresa and Martin were walking a little distance back. Teresa turned to Martin.
“Can I speak to you seriously for a bit.”
“There’s nothing stopping you,” her brother replied. He had been in the most infuriatingly good mood since he had persuaded them all to follow him to Thorn Valley. When he was feeling smug like this, it was difficult for him to make sensible comments about anything, but Teresa was going to try anyway.
“Did you mean what you said about trying to protect us, or are you just being impatient and satisfying your curiosity about the Rats?”
Martin looked at his sister and saw her dour expression. He hated talking with Teresa when she was like his. She would take everything so seriously.
“Of course I’m trying to protect us, I promised Mum I would.”
“It wasn’t just because you couldn’t stand to be left of the action.”
Martin had replied to that far too quickly. Teresa decided to plunge on.
“It’s just that it’s a big risk to take all of us along, just so you can feel like you’re being the big hero.”
“I’m not...!” Martin started to yell but stopped himself as Timmy glanced back over his shoulder. He continued in a more hushed voice. “I’m not trying to be the big hero. I didn’t think it was safe there.”
“I agree with you. I just don’t think we need to go all the way to Thorn Valley. There would be plenty of other places to go.” She glanced sideways at her brother. He looked in less of a good mood now. At least she was making him think.
“You want to know the real reason why I wanted to go.”
“Yes.” There was something in Martin’s voice that Teresa didn’t like. Her brother looked at her, then at the forest floor. After a long moments silence Martin admitted,
“It’s because I’m scared. Not for myself. If the mice Mum warned us about find us, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my promise. That’s why I want to go to Thorn Valley. Surrounded by the Rats all of whom are looking out for us I don’t think anyone could get near us if they didn’t want them to. All right, I’m also curious about the Rats, but I think we will be safer there than anywhere else.”
It was Teresa’s turn to be quiet. Martin didn’t like admitting someone else was right, even if it was only partially, and he never said he was scared of anything. No matter how she felt about just running off and leaving Jeremy, she agreed that she would feel safer amongst the Rats.
“Okay,” she said.
They continued along the runs of the forest floor, weaving between trees and undergrowth. They were blissfully unaware of the pair of eyes that watched them from a nearby bush. Cynthia was pottering back and forth getting nearer and nearer to the particular shrub in question. Just as she reached it the owner of the eyes leapt out at her.
“Hey. It’s the Brisby kids! How are you feeling today? Settling in okay? What are you doing out at this time? It’s early? And you are a long way from home. Are you lost? I can help!”
As one the four Brisby children relaxed. Gary the sparrow stood before them, his head twitching from side to side, his bright little eyes blinking cheerfully at them. Cynthia, almost as if it was an automatic reaction, once again started to giggle at the little creature.
“Oh, good morning Gary,” said Teresa. “You scared us.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to. Just wanted to say hello. So whatcha doing out and about?”
This was an awkward situation. They had not been expecting to bump into anyone they knew. It was Timothy who broke the silence.
“We’re... we’re on a secret mission.”
Both Martin and Teresa turned to look at Timmy, eyes wide and incredulous. Timmy just shot them a quick grin.
“A secret mission?” asked Gary. He looked doubtful for a moment and then brightened. “Wow! Hey what is it?”
“We can’t tell you!” said Timothy. His grin was spreading over his entire face.
“It’s a secret!” said Martin joining in. Cynthia was nearly doubling up with hysterics.
“But it’s important you don’t tell anyone that you saw us coming this way okay?” said Timmy raising his eyebrows and inclining his head slightly to peer along his nose at the bird. Gary was so excited he was hopping from foot to foot.
“Right! I’ll leave you to it. Don’t worry about a thing. You can count on me...” He saluted clumsily and then began to fly away. As he disappeared into the leaves above he called back: “Oh! Good luck with the mission!”
“Good thinking, Timmy,” said Martin patting his little brother on the shoulder.
“Well, I learned form the master,” he said smiling back.
“We should probably get a move on. I don’t think Gary is really cut out for discretion,” said Teresa. Helping Cynthia along until the tears had gone from her eyes they continued towards the distant high land. The forest brightened around them as the sun crept higher into the sky. It was going to be a good day.
Noon came and went. They had stopped for a picnic and ate a little of the food they had with them, supplemented with some of the bounties of the forest. They had made good progress. The hill was getting closer, though it would still be some time before they reached its summit. They continued through the gullies and clearings. At one point they had stopped to look at a family of deer as they bounded across an open area between the trees and then plunged back into the forest. Since they had never before been this deep into the forest, they never had seen such creatures before, as they would rarely come near the farm. The group smiled at one another and then continued on their journey. They were also surprised at how dark it was getting beneath the thick canopy, the shadows thrown into stark contrast with the sunbathed glades that were dotted throughout the woods. The trees here had stood much longer than the trees on the periphery of the forest, where they lived and where Jeremy’s nest was situated. They were more established, their roots tangled with each other and spread over the ground. High above the forest floor, the branches from neighbouring trees almost interlocked, creating a roof of leaves. Squirrels, birds, and other creatures of the heights darted back and forth along the mighty limbs, jumping from tree to tree and going about their business. And similarly the young mice below continued their journey through the forest unhindered.
Cynthia was the first to broach a subject that was on all their minds.
“Can we stop yet? I’m beginning to get tired.”
“I could do with a rest too,” agreed Timothy. Martin stopped walking and looked around. It had been a while sine their last break.
“Here’s not a great place to stop. We’ll rest when we next get a chance.”
Teresa pricked up her ears. Now that they had stopped briefly and without the sound of their progress through the undergrowth she thought she could detect something on the very edge of hearing.
“Can anybody else hear that?” she asked. They all fell quiet and raised their heads, turning sensitive ears this way and that.
“Yeah, I think...” began Martin, who then leapt onto a nearby root. It was twisted and rose a fair distance from the ground and made an excellent vantage point for Martin. He stood at the highest point of the root and turned slowly, his ears twitching, searching for the sound.
“Anything?” asked Teresa.
“Yeah. I can hear running water that way,” replied Martin pointing off into the forest.
“That’s what I thought,” said Teresa.
“I could really do with a drink,” said Timothy.
“Me too. A nice cold drink from a fresh spring.”
“Well, don’t set your hopes too high,” said Martin, “but follow me. We’ll go and check it out.”
Martin jumped down and led the way through the undergrowth. After only a short distance, the sound of running water became unmistakeable. Another thing they noticed was that the vegetation changed subtly. Different plants were growing here; more lush than those that usually littered the forest floor.
“We’re getting close,” said Martin looking up at the canopy. There was a gap in the braches up ahead.
“Does anyone else think that it sounds a little odd?” asked Teresa, cocking her head to one side.
“Yeah, it does a bit. Doesn’t sound like it’s running normally,” said Timothy frowning.
“More like pouring water,” added Cynthia.
“Well let’s find out why. It should be just through...” Martin reached out and parted the thickly growing fronds of a large plant.
The other Brisby children made their own gaps in the leaves to look out from and stared wide eyed as they uttered various exclamations of wonderment.
They had come upon a haven in the middle of the forest. It was indeed not what they had expected. A large, jagged rock that seemed out of place in these surroundings dominated the area. Vivid green moss and yellow lichens grew over its surface paying testament to the length of time that it must have rested here. It rose out of a pool of water that surrounded it like a moat. The source of this water seemed to come from the rock itself. Crystal water sprung from a crack in its surface and poured in a gentle waterfall into the pool. A tiny stream trickled off into the forest from one side of the pool. All around were the vibrant colours of the verdant water plants. What added the atmosphere of magic was the gap in the trees above. With the sun now high overhead light fell on the area, almost making it seem like it was from another world, quite separate from the rest of the forest with its cool and shaded hues. The light was caught by the gently rippling water and thrown about the area in a beautiful show of natural wonder.
The children could hardly believe their luck.
“Last one in is a stinky beetle!” cried Cynthia running towards the pool. Teresa and Martin looked blankly at one another and then ran to catch up with younger sibling. Timmy took another moment to take in the scene. To think that they might never have seen this, he thought. The whole journey might be worth this one lucky accident. He moved forward towards the water where his siblings were already beginning to play. This is fantastic...
“This is terrible!”
Jeremy was at his wit’s end. He had no idea where to look for the children; he hadn’t even been able to see most of the ground. He didn’t want start flying low shouting their names in case someone who shouldn’t be allowed to know such information should overhear. Besides... he could hardly search the entire forest.
“There, there Jeremy,” said Emma. Jeremy was sitting on the branch next to the nest covering his head with his wings. She patted him where she thought his head would be under the feathers. “You tried your best. It’s not as if you can search the whole forest. They’re bright kids. They’ll be okay.”
“But I promised Mrs. Brisby. I said I would look after them.” Jeremy’s voice was muffled by his own shining black plumage.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I shouldn’t be allowed to look after kids. Now I’ve lost them. If I can’t look after someone else’s children how can I look after my own? Maybe starting this family isn’t such a good idea.” Jeremy was almost wailing. Emma was about to tell him to pull himself together when a sparrow alighted on the branch just behind Jeremy.
“Hello! What’s up? What’re you doing Jeremy? What’s the matter? Is something wrong? Should I come back later?”
“If you could Gary, this isn’t a great time,” said Emma, still stroking the trembling mound of feathers next to her.
“Oh, okay. I’ll come back and see you later. Just that I thought this might possibly be about the Brisby kids... Eep!” Gary stopped in mid launch as he said this and slowly turned his head. Jeremy was now sitting bolt upright and both crows were staring back at him.
“What about the Brisby kids?” Jeremy’s voice sounded strange; it was deeper, but lacked any inflection.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Nope. You can trust old Gary. He never lets a secret slip. Nope. Uh-uh.”
Jeremy moved quickly and was standing over the much smaller bird in a flurry of feathers. His eyes were slightly manic and his voice was strained.
“If you know anything about the Brisby children, you need to tell me now Gary!”
“But... but... I promised.”
Jeremy’s face became very, very still except for a small tic below his right eye. Emma interrupted looking quickly between her mate and the sparrow.
“I think this might be a very important exception Gary. I would say if you know something.”
Gary looked from Emma to her mate and back again. His gaze settled on the wide eyes very close to his own face. In desperation he reached a quick decision and blurted out the words very quickly.
“IsawthemthismorningandtheysaidtheyweregoingonsomesortofsecretmissionandI promisedIwouldn’tsayanythingbutnowIhavepleasedon’thurtme!” he cowered.
“Where did you see them Gary?” asked Emma. Jeremy was still hardly moving, just looming over Gary.
“That way,” he said pointing. Jeremy was a blur in the midst of a flurry of action as he whirled around to look in the direction Gary had indicated.
“Oh no!” moaned the crow.
“Thank you Gary. I think you better go now. See you again!”
“Bye!” trilled Gary and was gone. Jeremy slumped onto the branch.
“What’s wrong?” asked Emma.
“It is my fault. I let it slip that Thorn Valley was in that direction.”
“You don’t think they’re trying to get there do you?”
“What else could they be doing?” said Jeremy miserably.
“But, Jeremy. They’ll never find it. Didn’t you tell them?”
“I made them promise not to go. Why would they go ahead and do it anyway?”
Emma gave him a patient look.
“I’ll think you’ll find that’s kids for you, Jeremy.”
The crow hung his head. There was so much forest in between here and the distant hill. A search would be just as fruitless as before; they could be anywhere by this time. Why had he not realised what they were doing earlier?
An idea struck him suddenly. There was maybe something he could do to find out where they were. He turned to Emma who seemed taken aback by this latest burst of energy.
“I’ve got an idea. I’ll bring back supper. Love you!” and with that he leapt from the branch and soared into the air. Emma watched disbelieving as he yawed sharply and set off in a direction that would take him deeper into the forest. She shook her head. One thing was for certain. He was going to be a very devoted father.