Blood red sky and dead leaves underfoot. The trees are all of ash; grey and dead. Mrs. Brisby stands amongst them. The sickly yellow sun filters through the tangled canopy high above her. She can hear children playing in the distance. As she walks along she avoids the pools of light that are thrown on the ground. The grass is wilting under the diseased light. She comes across a clearing. There is a yellow haze clinging to the barren ground and there is an unmistakable scent in the air. Death! The yellow mist swirls and billows, catching Mrs. Brisby’s attention. The mouse with the dead eye stalks through the trees towards one in particular. The tree with Jeremy’s nest in it! Her children are there. But they are safe in the tree. The mouse looks to the nest and unfurls his cape. It becomes a pair of ragged wings that carry him upwards towards the nest. Mrs. Brisby cries out but is rooted to the spot. She cannot move. Then she feels a wave of relief as Jeremy swoops down upon the mouse, bearing him to the ground. The mouse opens his mouth and spits a silver dagger and Jeremy crumples to the ground: dead. Again the mouse advances on the tree but before he can reach its trunk there is a something standing in his way. It is Justin, the leader of the Rats of NIMH. He draws a sword and the two lock eyes for a moment and then lunge at each other. The fighting is fierce, but Mrs. Brisby is able to see every feint, every swing, every blow. It is as if time has slowed. Justin raises his sword above his head and that is when the mouse strikes, driving his own blade into Justin’s midriff. The rat’s eyes widen. He crumples and fades, his substance carried away on the breeze and adding to the yellow mist. The mouse is on the move again, scaling the trunk of the tree and reaching the branch with impossible speed. Now he slows, clawing his way along the tree limb, like a shadow lengthening before a dying sun and smothering the light, creeping towards the nest and her children. But another defender joins the mêlée, leaping from branch to branch until he knocks the mouse aside. It is another mouse. His grey fur and darker patches upon his shoulder and leg are unmistakable, and Mrs. Brisby calls out to her husband. She cannot hear her own voice; it is muffled and indistinct. But she knows now her children are safe. Jonathan Brisby holds up a medallion that bears a brilliant blood-red stone. As he does so, it shines with a brilliant radiance and drives the other mouse further back, lifting his cloak in defence, to hide his face from the light. Jonathan begins to advance on his opponent but then the other mouse straightens and turns his dead eye on his assailant. Jonathan gasps and turns to stone. The medallion slips from his immobile fingers and falls down into the yellow fog far below and disappears. The mouse watches it fall and then looks again to his opponent, and strikes the helpless Jonathan Brisby sending him flying from the tree. He falls to the ground and shatters as Mrs. Brisby screams. But again there is no sound...
Mrs. Brisby awoke feeling sick. She sat up and a bowl was thrust in front of her. She didn’t have time to register who had handed it to her.
“There, there dear. Better out than in.”
Her head swirled. She couldn’t see anything and was completely unable to control what she was doing. Raising her head, she tried to peer into the darkness to see who had spoken.
“The children?” she managed.
“Hush now. They’re here. They’re safe. Rest. You need rest.” A cold, clammy hand was placed onto her forehead and eased her back down onto the bedding. In her present state Mrs. Brisby thought it refreshing, and she didn’t have the strength to resist. She closed her eyes and returned to an uneasy sleep.
Nearby, one of her children awoke. She did not know how she had got here and she was frightened. Teresa sat up and turned her head; she didn’t have to wait for her eyes to adjust to light. She could sense her surroundings, like all mice, without reliance on sight. She could hear her siblings sleeping nearby, breathing softly about her, but something was wrong. Teresa listened more intently for a moment, simultaneously sniffing the air. She could smell the familiar scents of her siblings... except...
Teresa realised that only two of them where with her. Moving through the darkness, slowly, finding the others her stomach gave a lurch. Timothy was missing. She found Martin and shook him awake.
“Martin, get up!”
“Wha...” he mumbled.
“Quickly! I can’t find Timothy!”
“Timothy!” he said sitting upright, suddenly wide awake. “Where are we?” he asked.
“I can’t remember, but we need to find Timothy.”
There was a moment of silence then the sound of Martin standing.
“I’ll wake Cynthia. We should stick together.”
Cynthia struggled from sleep and was quickly told what little they knew. The Brisby children found that the room had one entrance. Beyond was a winding tunnel, which they followed, running hands along the sides for guidance in the dark. Very shortly the darkness gave way to a glow that emanated from around a bend in the passage. Martin looked at his sisters in the dull light and put a finger to his lips. They both nodded, Cynthia gripping the hem of Teresa’s skirt. As one the children all peered around the corner into the room beyond.
The light was streaming in through a large hole in one side of the chamber. The stark white of the morning sun. The room itself was sparingly filled with various bundles of plants and piles of stones. A few had been hollowed out and took the form of rough bowls, each filled with a powder of differing colour. The walls were of bare earth and there was a damp smell in the air. On the opposite side of the room were two further tunnels; one leading off into darkness, the other blocked by a curtain woven, it seemed, from long leaves and plant stalks. Yet they dwelled little on these details, as their attention was fixed on a creature that occupied the middle of the room. It sat with its back to them, so they could not see its face, but the skin on it’s back was smooth and seemed slimy, reflecting the light from the entrance. A frog. It was wearing tattered robes consisting of several layers of some kind of rough material, apparently of the same type as the curtain that hung across the door. A long stick lay on the floor nearby.
The children watched in silence as the creature moved, taking a selection of leaves from one of the piles nearby and placing them onto a flat stone on the floor. Then, taking up another stone, it began to grind the leaves down. After a moment it sprinkled some sort of powder onto them and the continued to pulverise the leaves. The smell that was given off made the three children think of dew covered flowers in the morning sun; luscious and fresh. Teresa had to shake her head to clear it, focusing on the task in hand.
She looked at her siblings and they stared blankly back. Obviously none of them had any idea what to do. The decision was not theirs to make in the end.
“It may be more comfortable if you come and sit down.”
The frog had spoken without turning. The voice was old and cracked, though obviously female. Teresa looked again at the others. Martin returned the look and then strode forward, towards the frog. Teresa and Cynthia followed close behind.
“Who are you? And what have you done with Timothy?” Martin demanded. Teresa thought it sounded far too aggressive.
“To answer your questions in a different order: patience. He is safe. And I have no name, in answer to your first question,” came the reply. The voice seemed to contain slight traces of amusement.
“Where is he?” growled Martin. His fists were balled now.
“If you sit down, I’ll explain,” the frog still had not stopped what she was doing or looked around. In the short silence all they could hear was the grinding of stone on stone.
“We want to know where he is!” Martin was nearly shouting. The frog placed the stone she had been using on the floor and turned towards the young mice. Like her voice her face betrayed the frog’s age, though her eyes had a sparkle in them and seemed kindly. She said nothing as she looked at each of them in turn, and even grinned when she met Martin’s fierce stare. Teresa noticed her brother bristle at the frog’s expression. She was about to reach out to try and calm her brother when the frog spoke again.
“Very well. This way.”
The last words became strained as she took up the stick from the floor and, using it as a staff, laboriously eased herself to her feet. Small beads and other items that were tied to the top of the staff clicked with each little movement. Then, her steps marked with the clicking of the beads and the dull tap of the stick on the earth floor, she led them to another tunnel. It was next to the one that the children had just emerged from, and as such they had not noticed it. The frog shuffled along, Martin close behind, Teresa following, Cynthia still holding onto her skirt.
“What’s going on? Where’s Timothy?” asked the little mouse. Teresa bent and whispered to her sister:
“I don’t know. Just follow for now.” She tried to give Cynthia what she hoped was a reassuring grin.
The tunnel, other than being shorter, was much like the first that they had emerged from. It opened into another small room, but this one had a small window, actually a hole, through which came enough light to see a pile of bedding and a skinny grey mouse sitting on top of it. He turned when he heard his visitors. Timothy grinned.
“Hi there! I was wondering when you where going to get up.”
The others stood still, surprised. Timothy seemed completely relaxed, unconcerned with the strange environment. He had several bowls of various foods arrayed around him on the bed and was munching contentedly on the contents. The frog watched them out of the corner of her eye, seemingly amused by their expressions for she still had a little grin on her wide mouth. Teresa was the first to speak.
“Timothy! Are you okay?”
The little grey mouse nodded energetically.
“Yep. Never better.”
Cynthia released Teresa’s skirt and ran forward before she could be stopped.
“Timmy!” she called and, jumping up onto the bed, hugged her brother.
“Hey Cynthia! Get off,” said Timothy grinning. Cynthia disengaged from the hug, but noticed something as she did so. Timothy had a little pendant around his neck, a short length of some rough string with a dull, green pebble threaded onto it. Cynthia looked at it closely.
“What’s that?” she asked. Martin and Teresa had stepped forward.
“Yeah, Timmy. What’s happening? Did she,” —Martin indicated the frog behind him with a nod— “tell you anything?”
Timothy looked down at the pendant, holding it away from his chest so he could see it.
“I woke up about an hour ago. When I did, she was there. She gave me something to drink, saying that it would help me recover, and also this pendant. She said it would stop me getting sick. I also got all this food. Would you like some? There’s more than enough for me.”
Martin turned to give the frog a sceptical look as the others attacked the food hungrily and Timothy continued:
“What happened? How did we get here? The last thing I remember was wandering through the forest.”
“We were attacked,” said Teresa after swallowing a mouthful of seed and sitting on the bed beside her younger siblings, “by some magpies. You were out cold by that time, Timmy. There was nothing we could do to get away from them. But then an owl came and saved us. I think it was the Great Owl.” Timothy’s eyes widened as Teresa continued. “He was just like mother described him. He flew us away, saving us from the magpies. After that I can’t remember anything else either. It all happened so fast, and I were all so tired.”
Martin and Cynthia nodded in agreement unable to add any more information. Then as one, the children all looked to the frog who was still standing quietly by the doorway. She was grinning broadly, even by the standards of a frog. Martin shot her a cold look.
“What is going on?” he asked. Her smile, somehow, managed to get wider as Teresa scolded her brother:
“Martin. Don’t be so impolite. She helped us.”
Martin still looked angry as turned away from his sister, scowling at an invisible point on the ceiling, his jaw jutting forward as he chewed his lip. Teresa turned back to the frog who was staring back expectantly, still with that broad grin.
“You must forgive us. We have had a very difficult time and we’re very confused. Who are you?”
“I am many different things to many different people. To some I am just a frog, others a lunatic. To you I am a healer, but to most I am the Seer,” said the frog.
“The who?” asked Timothy.
“The Seer,” she repeated.
“I thought you said you had no name,” interrupted Martin. The Seer turned to the oldest Brisby child.
“I do not, yet I have this title. They are not the same. The Seer is what I am called by those who know what I do.”
“And what is it that you do?” asked Teresa as Martin went back to sulking.
“I do many things and, luckily for you, healing is among them. However that is not important now, as you are all well in body if not in mind.” She shot a quick glance at Martin and continued. “Now before I try and help with that, I should ask you your names.”
“I’m sorry. We forgot to introduce ourselves. I am Teresa, this is Martin, Cynthia and Timothy.” Teresa was careful not to say any more than their first names. The frog looked to each of them in turn. Seemingly satisfied, she nodded slowly.
“Very well. So. You are still confused as to how you arrived here. Was I correct in hearing that you remember being rescued by the Owl?”
Timothy, Cynthia and Teresa all nodded. Martin was still standing, arms folded, looking grumpy but it was quite obvious he was listening intently to what was going on. The Seer also nodded but much more slowly this time.
“Good. Then I shall tell my part of the tale. The owl who saved you was indeed the Great Owl himself.”
“I thought it was!” said Teresa. She quickly went silent under the look that the Seer gave her. Then the frog continued:
“He brought you straight here after rescuing you. The magpies that attacked you are renowned for their cruelty. Their leader, Carion, has set up an area that he rules as his own, in which he and his cronies can cause as much trouble as they want. You were very fortunate that you have good friends in the forest who are equally swift on the wing. Apparently the Owl had been told that you might be in danger by a crow...”
“Jeremy!” cried Cynthia suddenly, but went quiet at the patient looks she received from the others. The frog continued:
“It seems that the crow was right, and you should count yourselves very lucky. You needed care and attention,” she indicated Timothy, “and the Owl could not give it to you. I am knowledgeable about such things and agreed to help. I took you in while you recovered and now you are here and reunited.”
The Brisby children shuffled uncomfortably. They realised that they were in debt to the Seer, but the answer she had given took many things for granted, leaving just as many unanswered questions. She seemed to be hiding something. Martin, with his typical tact, decided to pursue the issue:
“But why would the Great Owl agree to save us? Surely he has more important things to do than fly around saving young mice? Owls eat mice.”
“That, I cannot say. The Owl does many things that would seem strange to others. He shall keep his own counsel on his own actions. As far as I am concerned, more pressing at the moment is what exactly should bring a group of young mice so deep into the woods at such a late hour through an area where they have no business being. I have told you much. It is time for you to tell me something. Though you have already given much away.”
“What? When?” said Martin, his tone far too defensive. He didn’t like the glint in this frog’s eye.
“When you arrived. You were all exhausted and almost delirious. You,” she indicated Teresa. The other three children all looked to her as the Seer continued, “were babbling. Talking almost non-stop. Something about getting to Thorn Valley. There you said you would be safe. You also mentioned that you had to see some friends... Some rats?”
The frog looked expectantly at Teresa, who in turn looked to the others for support, but they all seemed to be looking to her to recover the situation. She licked her lips.
“I... We are going to visit a family of rats. They are friends of ours... They moved to the valley recently. We were trying to get there... To visit them...”
The frog eyed Teresa for a long time, then shuffled about until she was leaning against the wall. Her head rolled back to rest against the cold earth of the wall and her eyes closed.
“I suspect that might be something considerably less than the truth, child. Rats and mice, friends? Not unheard of, but rare, and they must be incredibly good friends for you to have come this far into the woods. I take it you are not from nearby. So... How about giving your imagination a rest?”
Teresa looked at the frog than at the floor. When she raised her head again she could feel tears welling in her eyes.
“Please. I shouldn’t have said anything. Don’t tell anyone I mentioned them and please don’t ask me for any more. I shouldn’t... I promised...”
“Oh, I was hoping you could tell me a little more...” One of the frog’s huge eyes opened, looking sideways to take in the mouse. “I haven’t seen them in years.” She smiled impishly. Teresa stared disbelieving, trying to put it together in her head.
“You know the Rats?”
“Some better than others... Do you know Nicodemus?”
“I have heard of him but... He is dead.”
“Ah...” something changed momentarily in the Seers manner, but it passed and she continued, “As I feared. One hears rumours, one has hope, but there is probably nothing worse than the truth in such instances.”
“How do you know the Rats?”
“I worked with them on several occasions, but that shall come to light in good time. Right now, I have something to show you that will be of great interest to you. If you wish, please follow me...”
The Seer eased herself away from the wall and, once again accompanied by the clicking of her staff, disappeared into the tunnel. The children, left alone, looked at the circle of darkness in the wall where the strange creature had disappeared. Martin was the first to speak.
“She’s playing with us.”
“If she knows the Rats, how much else do you think she knows?” asked Timothy.
“Well, she knows the Great Owl,” said Teresa. “so she probably knows a great deal.
“I’m not sure I trust her,” said Martin, giving the tunnel a disdainful look. Teresa became tired of Martin’s constant stream of snide remarks.
“Are you still sulking over what happened?” she asked. Martin answered with an indignant look, but said nothing. He just lowered his eyes to the floor.
“I think she’s okay,” said Timothy. “After all, she helped us. If she meant us harm, she would have acted sooner, while we were still asleep.”
Cynthia broke the ensuing thoughtful silence.
“Well... Perhaps we should go and look at what she wants to show us. It may be important.”
She hopped down off the bed and scampered to the tunnel and peered around the bend. There she stopped and turned back to the others. “Come on!” she called. Teresa looked to her little brother.
“Are you feeling well enough to get up, Timmy?” asked Teresa.
“Yeah, I feel fine,” he said, jumping out of the bed. He stood unsteadily for a moment but regained is balance and went to join Cynthia who was waiting at the door, though not very patiently. Teresa followed close behind and Martin trailed lethargically along at the rear.
They re-entered the main area where the Seer was waiting for them. She smiled when she saw the children.
“In here is another patient who I think you will like to see,” she indicated the tunnel entrance that was blocked with the curtain. “When I open it you must be quick. The warmth must be kept in. This is very important.” She moved the curtain aside. “Quickly!”
At her frantic movements the children dashed forward, past the Seer and into the shadows beyond. The Seer darted in after them with a little hop, replacing the curtain as she did so.
There was no tunnel this time. The entrance gave way straight into another chamber, identical to the others. It was indeed warm in the room, close and quite unpleasant. This room had no window and the light that managed to filter through the curtain provided only the barest illumination of the room and its occupant. Though for eyes accustomed to such conditions, it was plenty.
“Mother?” said Cynthia. The other children stared, stunned into immobility. Against the far wall, lying atop a pile of bedding, was Mrs. Brisby. She looked as if she were sleeping, but her breathing was quick and her expression pained. Every now and again her body twitched and her fur was damp with sweat. Cynthia took a step forward, tears welling in her eyes.
The Seer looked at the little mouse with an expression of pity and made to speak. Before she could, Martin whirled around.
“What’s going on? What’s wrong with her?” He had drawn himself up to his full height and his eyes blazed. The Seer looked worried, but apparently not because of the furious young mouse before her.
“Shh!” She accompanied the noise with frantic gestures. “Your mother must not be disturbed. I am caring for her. It is imperative she is kept warm and rested.”
“Will she wake up and be okay?” asked Cynthia. The Seer favoured her with a warm smile.
“Yes my dear. And soon... though not now. I have given her a draught that will help her sleep, providing there are no further disturbances,” The Seer looked pointedly at Martin. “She needs rest.”
“How did she get here?” asked Teresa.
“I found her near the old water mill at the farm. It appears she had reached that point via the brook. I travel far by the waterways within the woods and was fortunate enough to come across her.”
“Can we go closer?” asked Timothy. The Seer turned her smile on him.
“Certainly. I hoped the presence of her family might help speed her recovery. It is often helpful to have a sympathetic heart nearby.”
The children approached the bed, looking down at their mother curled up. It was terrible to see her so obviously in pain and to be utterly powerless to help in any way. It was then that they also noticed a rough bandage around her midriff. Upon it was the dark stain of blood. Cynthia sniffed as the tears began. Teresa spoke again to the Seer.
“What happened to her?”
“She was terribly badly injured. The bandage is for a wound she received. It seems she was attacked. It is not that bad. Deep certainly, but easily healed. More worrying is the poison that accompanied the injury.”
“Poisoned? By what?”
“That, I cannot say. The poison had run deep and very quickly. I believe the effect was lessened by water, washing away the venom. However I can think of no creature in these woods that could inflict such an injury. I hoped that you might be able to enlighten me.”
Cynthia was about to speak, but was silenced by a look from Teresa. The Seer looked at them quizzically, so Teresa decided to answer:
“We have no idea. We thought she would be waiting for us at Thorn Valley.”
The two held each other’s gaze for a moment. Again the Seer had a knowing glint in her eye. She nodded.
“Very well. I will need to continue caring for your mother. She is through the worst, but there is still much ahead of her. You are all welcome to stay here. My home, for the time being, is your home.”
“Thank you,” said Teresa and turned back to her mother. She ran a hand on her mother’s forehead and was sure that the faintest hint of a smile appeared on her trembling lips. The Seer watched, but looked down when she felt a tug on her shawl. Her wide eyes met with those of Timothy.
“How did you know that this was our mother?” he asked.
“I never said that. It was your sister who first mentioned it was your mother.”
“You said we would be interested. Why? How much do you know?” Timothy’s voice was persistent but not unkind. It received yet another wide, knowing smile from the Seer. When she answered her voice was kind and warm.
“You’re very quick, child. You listen to what is going on. So rare, nowadays.”
“You also said you would explain how you knew the Rats.”
“Ah. Again I said no such thing.” The Seer noticed at this point that all the children were watching her, listening to the exchange. When she spoke next she addressed them all. “It will not be I who tells that story. All will be revealed in good time. I promise that your curiosity will not go unfulfilled. Soon I hope we will all know the answers we seek.”