During the following days the children occupied themselves in any ways that they could, grateful for the period of ease. Teresa remained with their mother almost continually, helping the Seer when she was present and sitting on the bedside at other times, mopping their mother’s brow, offering soothing words, and keeping watch over her. The only times she would leave the room were to eat and go outside for some fresh air. During these times the others would ask her how their mother was and if the Seer had said anything more. Teresa would answer similarly each time, that their mother seemed improved in some small way since the last time of asking, and that the Seer was as uninformative as ever.
It was during these times when asking for updates on Mrs. Brisby’s condition that Martin would return to the group. More often than not he remained outside the Seer’s home, wandering in the surrounding area alone. Sometimes he would disappear for short times, wandering father afield, but he would always return and his questions would always be the same. He would ask after their mother. Sometimes he would sit in the main living area of the house, resting against the wall, staring off into space. Timothy approached him once, trying to discern the reason for his strange and withdrawn behaviour. Martin replied that he needed to be alone and disappeared back out into the sleeping quarters, the chamber in which Teresa, Martin and Cynthia had originally woken. The Seer had approached Timothy and said that it would be best not to inquire as to his brother’s state of mind again. She said that when he was ready to talk, he would.
The Seer herself remained kind and helpful but would refuse to answer any questions regarding the Rats of NIMH or her link to them. She would simply ask them to be patient, promising them that their curiosity would not go unfulfilled. Most of her day she would spend in the forest, gathering ingredients. When she returned she would claim that she was ‘busy’ and begin using the ingredients in various ways, or tending to her patient. They would ask to help, Cynthia seeming particularly interested in the Seer’s potions, but were told in a jovial manner that this was a serious business and that they should entertain themselves elsewhere. Occasionally the Seer would ask after Timothy, checking that he was still in good health. He replied that he was, but asked if he would need more medicine. She had told him that the pendant he now wore would have the same effect as the medicine, meaning that the medicine should only be taken now if it was required. Timothy was pleased to hear this but on inquiring how the pendant worked the Seer shuffled off, claiming that she was busy and refusing to talk about the subject again.
Therefore Timothy and Cynthia found that more often than not they were left to their own devices. The area around the Seer’s house was pleasant. It was fairly deep in the woods and unremarkable. The landmarks nearby were unfamiliar; it was impossible to work out where exactly they were in relation to their home or the farm. However the sun suggested that they were somewhere to the north of their home, meaning they were still in the same woods that their home bordered.
The Seer’s house was situated on the bank of a large pond. A little stream fed into it and, according to the Seer, joined up with a larger river further into the forest. The surrounding trees were typical of anywhere else and offered little information about their current whereabouts. Timothy and Cynthia spent some time exploring the immediate surroundings. All they found of interest were a clump of bushes that bore juicy, blue berries. These had become something of a dietary staple to supplement the rather bland selection of seeds that were also available.
Cynthia and Timothy therefore explored the pond, which turned out to be far more interesting. Unlike the brook back home, its waters did not flow allowing for better study of the wildlife therein. But the wildlife beneath the water quickly became secondary, in the eyes of these young mice at least, to the creatures that lived around the pond. Perhaps most impressive were the dragonflies. There were a surprising number of smaller ones and they darted back and forth across the surface of the water, hunting the small midges that dithered in the air. There was also one, much larger than the rest, which caught the attention of the young mice as soon as it appeared. It had a brilliant red carapace and was at least twice the size of the biggest of the others. It also behaved differently. Instead of skittishly darting around it made longer more graceful sweeps of the pond. The insect quickly became the favoured topic of conversation between the two excitement-starved youngsters. They invented stories, elaborate tales about the large dragonfly. They ranged from a just and wise ruler of the pond, to a monstrous scourge, terrorizing the smaller insects.
Once while they talked about it on the bank of the pond the dragonfly came near to them. They both turned to look as it hovered a little distance away swaying back and forth in the air. Timothy and Cynthia leaned out over the water slightly, trying to get a closer look at the magnificent insect. Without warning the dragonfly had flown straight at them. Both mice recoiled, falling backwards, staring as the dragonfly rushed towards them, wings buzzing furiously. Just as they thought it was about to crash into them it stopped and hovered within arms reach. Timothy gazed at its eyes; the many little lenses reflected his face many times over. Cynthia was equally impressed, and whispered an exclamation to that effect. They could both almost feel the hum of the insect’s wings. Then just as quickly as it had approached them the dragonfly retreated, flying back out across the pond, darting back and forth almost playfully. It stopped and swivelled in the air to face them, hovering in its original position, watching them. Timothy and Cynthia stared back perplexed, though they turned at the sound of laughter behind them. The Seer was standing at the entrance to her home, arms full of a typically varied array of plant matter. Her face was creased with amusement.
“Having fun?” she called and ducked inside without waiting for an answer. Timothy turned back to the dragonfly that performed a few neat turns and then disappeared off into the water plants. Timothy did not know why, but he had the feeling that the Seer had been talking to the dragonfly.
Three days after their arrival Timothy and Cynthia were sitting alone in the Seer’s main living area. Martin was still in bed and Teresa and the Seer were seeing to Mrs. Brisby. It had begun to rain, so they were forced indoors and were becoming increasingly bored. They had instructions not to touch any of the items that were stored in the room and therefore were relying on various games and stories to try and keep themselves entertained. At a lull in their activity Cynthia decided to go to the entrance of the house and watch the rain. Timothy pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them.
“I hate the rain,” he said.
“Hmmm,” mumbled Cynthia, not really listening.
“I said I hate the rain,” repeated Timothy.
“Three, I think,” said Cynthia by way of reply. Timothy rolled his eyes and cradled his head in his arms, resting his jaw on his knees. He caught sight of a small beetle and watched it scuttle across the far wall. It was just trying to negotiate one of the stone pots when the Seer pushed back the curtain that led to Mrs. Brisby’s room.
“How are you today?” she said cheerfully.
“Fine, thank you,” said Timothy. His voice was muffled as he did not raise his head from behind his arms.
“You sound bored,” said the Seer resting her staff against the wall and sitting in her usual spot in the centre of the room.
“I am. It’s the rain. I hate rainy days,” he mumbled.
“Perfect weather, I think,” said the Seer trying to peer past Cynthia.
“Is our mother any better?” he asked.
“Much, though she is still resting. You must be patient.”
“Oh,” he said. It was the same answer as usual. He tried another question. He didn’t hold out much hope for an answer, but anything to relieve the boredom. “Why do they call you the Seer?”
“It is because I see things,” the frog replied.
Timothy closed his eyes. It was actually more than he’d hoped for. He decided to carry on regardless.
“Is that special?”
The Seer seemed thoughtful for a moment. She raised her head, pursed her wide lips and stared off into the middle distance.
“I believe it to be so. I’ll try and explain. Just as your whiskers allow you a sense that I cannot imagine,” she faced Timothy and indicated her own, hairless nose, “so my eyes are able to see things that you cannot.” As she said these last few words Timothy was sure he had seen the Seer’s eyes glow with a golden light. It made him sit up and take notice.
“What kind of things?” asked Timothy, deciding to press on whilst the Seer seemed to be in a mood to divulge information.
“That is more difficult to explain. I am not sure myself.”
Timothy gave her a patient look. She stared down at him grinning.
“You see now why some think me a lunatic and why I am hesitant to give information. What I say makes sense to me but not to others.”
This comment made Timothy think. He looked at the old frog; her huge, kind eyes; that ever present grin creasing her face. She was still staring off at some invisible point beyond the ceiling of her home.
“I think I know what you mean,” said Timothy. The Seer turned her head to face Timothy properly.
“Yes. I think so. Back at home we have friends, my brother and sisters and I. We play and talk, but there are things we can understand that the others cannot.”
“Like what, child?”
“Reading?” The Seer seemed to think hard for a second, then: “You mean books?”
“Yes?” replied Timothy, glad for the conversation and the possibility of finding some common ground. “Can you read?”
“Pah,” exclaimed the Seer, dashing Timmy’s hopes. “There is nothing useful to be learned from books. Nicodemus’ one failing was that he put far too much store in books. Once you have finished with them they are no good. Give me stones any day.”
“Stones? What can you learn from stones? You can learn more from a book than you can from a stone.”
“You are so sure? And here we can go no further. It illustrates my point. What is common for one is unusual for another. Neither of us will ever understand what the other means, but we do at least understand that we do not understand each other.”
Timothy thought about this for a moment and was about to reply, but the Seer looked now to Cynthia, apparently satisfied that the conversation was over. Cynthia herself was still staring out of the front door watching the rain fall.
“What holds your attention, child?” the Seer called. Cynthia did not answer; she only made a vague sound of acknowledgment. The Seer flashed a quick grin at Timothy and spoke once again to Cynthia.
“A word with you, Cynthia.”
This was the first instance that Timothy could recall of the Seer using one of their names. It was usually ‘child’, or ‘dear’, or some other phrase idiosyncratic of the Seer’s strange mode of speech. This apparently was not lost on Cynthia either, for she shook her head and turned to face the frog.
“Sorry. I was daydreaming. Everyone says I have my head in the clouds and should pay more attention to what I’m doing.”
At this the Seer recoiled, looking indignant.
“Never have I heard such nonsense,” she scoffed.
“What do you mean?” Cynthia asked, moving away from the doorway and shuffling nearer to Timothy and the Seer.
“You are a dreamer child. Don’t ever let anyone take that gift from you. Keep your dreams, child. Cherish them, for they are precious. And let no one tell you otherwise.”
“Certainly. Without dreams, none of what you see around you would exist. The forest, the animals, nothing.” The Seer shuffled slightly, settling into her position on the floor. Once she was comfortable she continued.
“Let me tell you a story. It begins before the forests existed because there was nowhere for them to exist. There were only the Old Ones. It was they who made everything you can see around you.
“When the Old Ones created the world, it was quite different from how it is now. They used their mighty strength and keen minds to fashion the mother world. No one knows for how many seasons they toiled, for back then the seasons did not exist, nor did night and day. They had not the sun nor the moon, but they didn’t need it, and they needed not rest for their strength was boundless. Yet even the Old Ones soon realised the scale of the undertaking they had set themselves. They worked until their paws bled, until their fur became matted with the sweat and the grime of their labour. They wept from the hardship of the work, but did not shirk from the challenge that they faced. They continued in their craft almost without end, but of course all things must end, and soon the world that they had set out to build was finished. It was a dark and desolate place and no living thing could survive there. But the Old Ones were then young and had neither knowledge nor experience to guide them. They rejoiced in their creation, revelled in their own power for no such thing had ever been attempted before. They could now run upon the endless plains they had fashioned and play upon them and marvel at the wonder of their own ingenuity. It was a most glorious thing that they could now feel the land beneath their feet, for they had never experienced such a sensation before. It may have been barren, a wasteland but it was new to them for they had known not of the rock or the earth until they had formed it. But quickly they became restless again. They felt their task was still not complete. Once again they set to their work, each of them digging, burrowing, piling, scraping, each one moulding the land however they could into a new and glorious shape, giving it form.
“Again they toiled without rest, but once again they came to an end in the labour. They were again satisfied and joyful and again explored their world, its deep valley, its high mountains, all bare faces of rock but again never experienced by the Old Ones, for they were young then and had not seen the vast mountains or deep valleys until they had hewn them with their own teeth and claws. It was a longer rest they took from their craft now, for there was so much more to see.
“Yet these sights were limited in number and the Old Ones continued to make changes to their world, making it more complex, adding to the possible sensations and experiences. They created the sun and moon, positioning them in order that they could see their creation and were able to look upon it with their eyes for the first time. They sighed happily at the wondrous panorama and when they did this, the wind was formed, carrying over the whole world. The Old ones had never felt the wind on their faces, in their fur. They put their noses to the wind and found they could smell, and when they laughed for joy they found they could hear also, their calls being carried on the wind, with the scent of each other. They wept for joy at these sensations; their tears fell upon the world, filling the lowest of the valleys and plains, becoming rivers, and lakes and the mighty sea. They danced and played, astounded at how the world had grown and changed since its foundation.
“But then they stopped in the play, for they knew of nothing else they could do, but they still felt unfulfilled. Despite the lengths they had gone to, all that they had built, they still felt they should go further but they knew not how. The Old Ones also now became tired, for their work had continued without rest for an impossibly long time, longer than either you or I could ever hope to imagine, and even their supposedly endless stamina deserted them. They slept and while this would seem to be a time when little could be done to improve their world, it was perhaps the most important act of the Old Ones so far. While they slept upon the world, they dreamt. They dreamt of such wonderful things, things that made them happy, for they were bright and glorious. Yet at the same time the dreams made them sad, for the dreams were as insubstantial as the time before the creation. However the Old Ones were not like you or I, and while they slept their dreams escaped their heads. The Old Ones’ dreams seeped out into the night where they took a true form. Each Old One had a different dream and each dream took its own unique shape.
“When the Old Ones awoke from their slumber they were afraid. They had not known sleep before and it scared them. Then they saw how their world had changed. Now it was green. Trees, grass, bushes, flowers, all manner of plants had taken up position all over the world. And not just plants. Creatures ran, and played, and lived amongst them, even reaching the top of the mountains and the depths beneath the seas. It must have been a truly marvellous thing to behold. The Old Ones have keen minds that work in ways we could never hope to understand and they quickly reasoned how this change had come about. They were finally content for they saw now their work was complete. They walked among the plethora of life that now surrounded them. For a time they were happy, but they noticed that slowly the creatures disappeared. They had been aware of the cycle of death and birth, of renewal, had seen it all around them as they walked among these newly formed creatures. This was something different. The creatures that played in the fields, the woods, the seas, were simply fading and disappearing. Even the green of the plants began to thin and fade, not grow old and die leading to rebirth through other forms of life, as they should. Slowly their wondrous world was receding into its former state.
“The Old Ones mourned for they could see no reason for this. They pondered endlessly, ignoring the spectacle of nature in order to devise a solution to this terrible problem. The answer came eventually when their world was almost devoid of life. The Old Ones realised that they must dream again. They must sleep and dream forever so that life would henceforth cover their world. They were saddened by this revelation for they would not be able to see their creations, but they were also joyful, for they knew that this would complete their greatest work. The Old Ones rested their heads and slept. They dreamed and their dreams replenished the world, rejuvenating it, filling it once again with life. The Old Ones sleep still. And they still dream. It is their dreams that keep the world around us alive...
“So you see...” said the Seer to Cynthia, trying simultaneously to stretch her back, “you are a dreamer like the Old Ones. That is why dreams are important. It is in dreams that things are created anew.”
“Wow!” breathed Cynthia. She was staring wide eyed at the Seer. “Is that story true?”
“Of course not,” said Timothy authoritatively. “It’s a story. A myth.”
The old frog looked at the young mouse for a moment and then began to chuckle, her face creasing with laughter.
“What is so funny?” asked Timothy, now sounding offended.
“What you say may have more truth than you hope. It is a story certainly, and we cannot say exactly what the Old Ones were or did. But...” the Seer chuckled again. “It is strange that it is exactly the same thing your father said when I told him that story. And if he didn’t say it exactly as you did! You really are Jonathan’s children.”
Both Timothy and Cynthia stared wide-eyed at the Seer.
“You met our father?” said Cynthia astonished. The Seer abruptly stopped laughing, her mouth going very thin, her huge eyes filling with panic.
“No, I didn’t,” she muttered, staring straight ahead, not looking at either of the two young mice.
“Yes you did!” cried a frowning Cynthia. “You said that you told that story to Jonathan. Our father was Jonathan! You said we were Jonathan’s children!”
“How did you know he was our father?” asked Timothy, eyeing the Seer suspiciously. The frog glanced at them out of the corner of her eye and jumped up, grabbing her stick and beginning to shuffle nervously about the room.
“I didn’t. It was my mistake. Please keep your voices down!”
“Tell us what you meant!” shouted Cynthia. Both she and Timothy were also on their feet now.
The Seer was frantically casting her eyes around the room and she was in the middle of making frantic gestures for them to be quiet when she suddenly stopped moving and lowered her hands.
“Ah,” sighed the Seer, seeming to relax. “I think it best if that story wait for another time...”
“Why?” chorused Timothy and Cynthia in unison, indignant.
The Seer smiled wide and gazed past them, inclining her head in the same direction. Timothy and Cynthia both turned and saw Teresa holding open the reed curtain, and their mother standing in the doorway, watching them, smiling too. Teresa also had one arm around her, supporting Mrs. Brisby, though careful not to disturb the bandage still wrapped around her mother's waist.
“Mother!” the two younger children called in tandem. Timothy spared a moment to flash a knowing grin at the Seer. She returned it with a look that was almost apologetic. Timothy and Cynthia both ran to their mother, arms outstretched.
“Be careful! She may still be delicate!” called the Seer genuinely concerned for her patient. As the two young mice hugged Mrs. Brisby she let out a gasp, but embraced them in return.
“It’s so good to see you. Thank goodness you’re safe.”
The doorway to the sleeping quarters was then filled by Martin. He still looked haggard but his face broke into a smile, his first since they arrived, and he moved forward also to greet his mother. Mrs. Brisby gathered each of her children into her arms, wincing with each movement but retaining the smile.
“What are you doing out of bed?” asked the Seer, though the tone was good natured. Mrs. Brisby looked to the frog.
“I’m feeling much better now. Weak, certainly, but the only cure for that is to be up and about...”
“She just woke up,” put in Teresa. “I couldn’t stop her.” She smiled at her mother. Mrs. Brisby continued addressing the frog:
“Are you the one who cared for me?”
“Indeed,” replied the Seer.
“Thank you. Teresa told me that you saved my life. I don’t know how to repay you.”
“There is no need.”
“I have many questions.”
“And they will be answered, but not now. Very soon all mysteries will be cleared up.”
Mrs. Brisby looked dissatisfied as Timothy turned to her.
“That’s what she has been telling us for the past few days.”
“Few days!” breathed Mrs. Brisby astonished.
“What happened, Mother?” asked Timothy.
Mrs. Brisby looked thoughtful and when she answered it was in grave tones.
“It was the mice I told you about. The ones that attacked me at Mr. Ages home. They came into the house just after you left. One managed to stab me as I dived for the brook to escape.”
“Stab you?” said Teresa. Martin struck the wall of dwelling, fire suddenly in his eyes. Mrs. Brisby gave him a patient look, taking up his hand and rubbing his knuckles. This seemed to calm Martin, but only a little.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’m okay now, but what are you doing here?”
Cynthia blurted out words so fast that the entire group was concentrating on her trying to keep up.
“We got to Jeremy’s but it wasn’t very nice, the house not Jeremy, so we decided to try and get to Thorn Valley. It was very nice at first but then we got into trouble and were rescued by the Great Owl and he bought us here.”
Mrs. Brisby gave Cynthia a severe look.
“It was Martin’s idea,” she pleaded, pointing at her older brother. Mrs. Brisby now faced Martin. He hung his head.
“I’m sorry. I thought we could get to Thorn Valley and be safer there. I wanted to help you too,” his shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry, Mum.”
Mrs. Brisby continued to look stern.
“Well, I am disappointed. It was a very silly thing to do just to try and help me. But I can’t say that I’m not pleased to see you...”
Martin raised his head and saw his mother smiling. He returned it.
“Now,” Mrs. Brisby went on. “I will want you all to tell me everything that’s gone on. But first I...” Mrs. Brisby looked around the room. The Seer was no longer there.
“Where did she go?” asked Cynthia.
The Seer had decided to leave the reunited family. She had work to do. It was still raining outside and the drops of water pattered on her face and shawl as she raised her face to the sky. Evening was approaching. She did not have a great deal of time.
Carefully storing her staff amongst the water grass she hopped into the pond and swam out into the dark water until she saw what she needed. The large and brilliant red dragonfly. Changing direction the frog headed back to the bank and, perching there, waited. Eventually the dragonfly came and hovered near to her.
“I need you to deliver the message, my friend,” said the Seer holding out her hand, palm upwards. The Dragonfly hovered above it and lowered itself so that its legs gently touched the frog’s long fingers. Almost as soon as the contact was made the Seer retracted her hand. “Go!” she whispered.
The dragonfly swooped around the area briefly, performing swoops, loops and dives, then shot off into the woods. The Seer watched it go and then waited.
She looked to the skies, trying to see through the thick blanket of cloud. When it proved a fruitless task she turned her attention westwards, watching as the clouds in the distance changed colour in deference to the setting sun. All the while she could hear the faint and distant sounds of excited chatter from her home. She smiled.
Occasionally a bird would fly overhead, flying from tree to tree. At each sound of beating wings the Seer raised her head, but lowered it again quickly. It was some time before she recognised the sound she had been waiting for. The rain had calmed to a light drizzle as she raised herself up from where she sat, retrieving her staff from the plants. She stood motionless. Waiting.
There was still the haze in the west signalling the recent departure of the sun. Out of the darkness of the trees came a large bird. An owl. It soared low over the ground and landed nearby. The Seer did not move immediately. She still waited, looking at the forest about her until it seemed that the appropriate length of time had passed. With her staff clicking the Seer strolled out from her sanctuary between the reeds and other pond weeds making her way into the forest. She came very quickly upon the owl. It was perched on a fallen log nearby and was finishing its meal. The Seer’s mouth went very thin, but she kept moving forward. As she came close the owl raised its head to face her. His eyes glowed golden as he looked down at the little creature before him. The Frog Seer raised her head to meet the Great Owl’s gaze and as she did so her eyes glowed too, an identical warm gold. The two stood like this for a moment then the light faded from the Seer’s eyes.
“Are you well my friend?” asked the frog.
“As well as can be expected,” came the Owl’s deep-throated reply. “I find myself of late fearing that the old ways are dying in these woods.”
“I can’t imagine you fearing anything”
“This I do. There is no defence against the passing of the seasons. And events seem to have taken a turn for the worse. Is it true? Is Nicodemus gone?”
The Seer’s grin faded and she lowered her eyes momentarily.
“It is so,” she admitted. The Owl took a deep breath. When he spoke now, the words came slower.
“As we feared. Nicodemus was a good friend.” The Seer nodded in sympathy as the Owl continued. “First Jonathan was killed. Now Nicodemus. Our order is dwindling quickly my friend. Especially as my own time grows short.”
The Seer’s eyes flicked downwards briefly before she answered.
“Jonathan was never truly one of us, but as you say both deserved more.” The Seer took a quick breath. “However that is the past and we must now look to the present and plan for the future.”
“Indeed. How fare the Brisby children?”
“They are well. The better for being reunited with their mother.”
“Ah yes, Mrs. Brisby.” The Owl raised his head in recollection. He had to blink against the tiny drops of rain that were still falling. “Has she fully recovered?”
“Almost. I didn’t expect her recovery and certainly not so quickly. She is very strong.”
“Mmm,” rumbled the Owl and hesitated before he replied. “I thought her special when I met her last. I feel that she may amaze us further yet. She has qualities rare amongst her kind.”
The Seer nodded again.
“They are all full of questions,” she said. “I hope you have answers.”
“I believe it is time I fulfil the duties that Nicodemus is now regrettably unable to complete. Please ask them to come outside.”
“Do you think I should go and look for her?” asked Martin.
Mrs. Brisby and her family were all seated on the floor in the main chamber of the Seer’s home. They had fetched some of the bedding from the sleeping quarters so that Mrs. Brisby could make herself comfortable on the floor.
“I wouldn’t worry,” said Mrs. Brisby. “Who is she exactly? I did not even get a chance to find her name.”
“We don’t know it either. She calls herself the Seer but she refuses to tell us anything else,” said Teresa.
“She knows more than she’s letting on,” said Timothy. “She let slip she knows Dad.”
“Jonathan?” said Mrs. Brisby.
Timothy was nodding in response when there was a cough from the entrance to the Seer’s home. As one the mice turned and saw the Seer standing in the entrance, silhouetted against the dull twilight.
“I realise that you all have many questions,” she said, her voice grave, “and that I have been reluctant to give you anything except the promise of answers, but now is the time to fulfil those promises. Mrs. Brisby, if you are strong enough, you and your family are asked to come outside. The Great Owl would speak with you.”
“The Great Owl?” Mrs. Brisby breathed in reply. The Seer nodded gravely.
“He is waiting in the woods. He has much to tell you.”
Mrs. Brisby nodded.
“Timothy. Could you fetch my cape please,” she asked. Timothy scampered off as Teresa and Martin helped their mother to her feet. Timothy returned with the tattered red cloth and Mrs. Brisby wrapped it around herself, fastening it about her neck. Now that she was ready, the family began to proceed slowly to the doorway, following the Seer outside. All the way Martin kept an arm around his mother, steadying her.
A light rain was still falling. The daylight was failing fast and the twilight gave the surrounding woods an eerie and foreboding appearance. Nevertheless, the mice and the frog continued out around the pond. At one point the Seer turned sharply and began to lead them into the woods. The leaves overhead managed to catch most of the rain, but still some moisture managed to break through catching the evening light as it drifted to the ground. The sound of heavier drops pattering amongst the undergrowth was all to be heard.
They stopped as the Seer herself halted. She turned slightly towards them and gave them a wan smile.
“The Brisby family,” she announced. It was not immediately obvious to the mice who she was addressing. That was until two huge pools of golden light appeared in the darkness. They quickly managed to discern the massive shape of the Great Owl as he stepped towards them, towering over the group of smaller creatures. The mice could not help but draw back slightly, the children looking up at the creature in fear.
“Mrs. Brisby,” the Owl seemed to nod slightly as it addressed the mouse. “And your family,” he regarded the children as he went on. “I trust my advice was useful.”
“V-very useful. Thank you,” stammered Mrs. Brisby. “And we all owe you our thanks for saving the children. How did you know?” Despite the Owl’s courteous air, she could not help but once again be awed by the presence of such a creature.
“The Seer has told you about how I came to be involved?”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Brisby, her voice still quavering, “she said that the crow Jeremy came to inform you. But how were you able to find the children?”
“The Seer has her ways,” he rumbled by way of an answer.
“Ah, I see,” Mrs. Brisby’s voice was little more than a terrified whisper. She did not dare ask more. “But what of me? How did I end up here? The children have been able to give me only the barest details.”
The Owl, and then the others, looked to the Seer.
“It was I who bought you here,” she stated simply. Mrs. Brisby had hoped to know more.
“I do not wish to sound ungrateful,” she continued, “but... why did you help me? Surely you do not travel the forest helping every creature you come across.”
The Seer nodded slowly, as if resigning herself to answer more fully.
“True, such a task would be near impossible. The wood has its own laws and I would not attempt to stand in its way. There were two reasons I helped you. Firstly your wounds were not natural. No creature I have ever seen would have made such a wound, not with that venom, yet you were still alive when I found you. Secondly, and perhaps the greater reason, are the marks on your hands. To those with the right eyes it is obvious where they originated.”
Mrs. Brisby seemed about to ask further questions but Martin interceded obviously seeing an opportunity to voice what was on his mind.
“Do you know who attacked my mother? We think there are mice in the woods, at least three, who are looking for us. Do you know what they want? Where they are from?” As he demanded the information, standing tall, but still a tiny shape before the Great Owl, the Seer narrowed here eyes and looked thoughtful at this new information. She did not say anything, for the Great Owl gazed at Martin before replying, and Martin returned the look levelly.
“I regret that I do not. This is the first I have heard of them. However, they are not my concern. Mice and other creatures can come and go in these woods as they please. I am here regarding a different matter,” said the Owl changing the direction of the conversation without subtlety. “You all know what became of Nicodemus?”
“There was an accident,” replied Mrs. Brisby. “Nicodemus...” She broke off.
“Yes,” said the Owl, a trace of regret in his voice. “It is a terrible loss. It is because of that misfortune that I must speak with you now. What I have to say should have been told to you by Jonathan,” he addressed the children, “your father. When he died the task fell to Nicodemus, and had he the chance he would have explained it himself. Now the task has fallen to me...”
The Seer was standing aside, patiently waiting. She faced the family, her eyes glowing golden for a moment.
“Nicodemus already explained to you how the Rats came to know your husband. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” whispered Mrs. Brisby. “He told me how Jonathan helped them escape from NIMH.”
“And your children? How much have they been told?” asked the Owl.
“I told them everything I know...” began Mrs. Brisby.
“Did Nicodemus tell you about Jonathan’s work? About the Rats’ links to the forest?”
“No, I mean I don’t think so. I’m not sure I understand.”
The Owl drew himself up, letting out a long breath. The cobwebs upon his plumage were caught by the wind, swaying with the breeze. The Owl looked like some sort of spectre in the twilight. He blinked and spoke again.
“Very well. I shall start from the beginning...
“After the Rats had travelled far they eventually came to the farm. They set up a temporary accommodation below the old water mill. Do you know of it? This had been their way for some time, travelling from place to place, staying there for a short while and then moving on again. They were not as reclusive back then. Many travelled about the farm, exploring the surrounding area. That was when Nicodemus entered these woods.
“Nicodemus was fond of the woods. He was often to be found wandering in them. It was there that I first met him. It was obvious immediately that he was no ordinary creature. He saw a similar trait in me also.” At that moment the Owl’s golden eyes glowed more brightly for a moment before he continued. “We talked long for we each had much to tell. His mind was now grounded in science, altered by mankind’s experiments. I, in turn, could tell him much about the forest and its ways... its laws. He told me that he was travelling with a band of rats and that they were trying to find somewhere they could be alone. To live out their strange lives in peace. I suggested some possible locations for a colony... a colony that had some ‘unique requirements’. So it was I came to know the Rats of NIMH.
“I did not expect to meet with Nicodemus again, though I was very much mistaken. Nicodemus returned to the woods. He would often seek my counsel. Again I reciprocated. I told him the beliefs held by those in the woods. Those like myself. We are the keepers of the Old Ways of the Woods. The details are not important now. The information died with Nicodemus.
“It seems that he shared this information with his colleagues. It was at this time that I first heard the name Jonathan Brisby. Nicodemus brought many of his questions before me. I told Nicodemus that The Seer could answer Jonathan’s questions. She is gifted in ways that I am not. Your husband kept council with Nicodemus. I In turn was kept informed of Jonathan Brisby’s work. He never came before me himself, though I knew what he was trying to create...”
“The Stone?” whispered Mrs. Brisby as the Owl broke off.
“The Stone... Yes.” The owl nodded and for the first time looked old and tired. “There is a power greater than science in the woods. Although it varies from creature to creature, every living thing uses it. Some can control it to a degree. Except maybe man. Maybe they may have forgotten. I have never seen any human use it, though I hear tales that some show traces of this ancient gift.” The Owl looked wistful and his eyes dimmed slightly. Then just as suddenly he seemed to pull himself out of his reverie.
“The natural world is full of it. It is in the forests, the mountains, the air and the water that things are born. Life is created. The cycle goes on. But remember, life can be destructive as well. It is this balance that has nurtured the world since its beginnings. The power maintains the balance between life and death. It is what drives the plants to grow and the creatures to live. We believe Jonathan focussed his efforts into unravelling the mysteries of this ancient power. Regardless, it took a special kind of mind to at least harness that power. It was Jonathan who found a way. Nicodemus may have immersed himself in our ways, but it was your husband who combined it with a more practical approach. Using the intelligence that NIMH gave him, a human intelligence, one anchored in science, he created the Stone. He imbued it with the ability to unlock this power’s full potential. Or so we believe.”
Mrs. Brisby clasped her hands tightly, looking down at the half gloves she wore, knowing what the scars looked like beneath. Her lips tightened at the half memory she had of the Stone’s power.
“Your hands...” said the owl, the words sounding like a melancholy sigh, “They will never properly heal. You received those scars saving your children. They will never truly fade. The power of a parent’s bond to their child is a powerful one. Unleashing that power through the stone marked you. They are badges, Mrs. Brisby! And should be carried as such. With honour.”
“So what exactly is the Stone?” she asked.
“I do not know the details. As I said, I never met your husband... and Nicodemus was either unable or unwilling to share every detail. I suppose it would have made little difference. Despite our talents creatures such as the Seer and myself cannot understand the ways of the Rats. Regardless I still admired your husband’s intentions. I respected him for his vision, though I felt it would either not work, or that it would be turned to a different... darker purpose.”
Timothy looked quizzically at the huge bird. Something nagged at him, as if the Owl was withholding something. It was something in the tone of his words. Before he could voice his suspicions Martin had begun to speak to the Frog Seer.
“It was mentioned you were involved. You did meet our father!”
“I only helped him choose the stone,” the Seer replied curtly. “I found him the right stone, he takes it away and what he does with it is his business.”
“That was it?” came Martin’s reply. The Seer seemed taken aback.
“I told him the stories too I suppose, the ones I began telling you,” she said to Timothy and Cynthia. “He wanted to know all of them, every last detail. He listened well too, though I believe he took only the ideas with him back to the rosebush. He was a very intelligent individual.”
The Owl began to speak again.
“Jonathan was very secretive about his work. We cannot but guess what his ultimate goals were for the Stone and its powers. Jonathan’s methods and ideas were mostly unknown to us. I believe they were also unknown to most of the Rats. However Nicodemus spoke very highly of the work. He said it would lead to many changes.
“But this was not a task for one lifetime. Even for one such as Jonathan. That his work was cut short much sooner is a terrible waste. It is this that I wished to be the focus of our meeting tonight. To inform you, as Jonathan’s children, that he would wish you to continue in his work. I cannot tell you any more. I have stated I do not know the details. Now that Nicodemus is gone your task will be all the harder. But you must try. It may be the secret of the Stone is of the most crucial importance. There are others who would pervert your father’s good work if they came to know of it. You must make sure it continues on the right path or... ensure that it can never be used to the wrong ends. I hope that any answers you seek will be found within Thorn Valley. The choice and the responsibility are yours. My work in this is now done.”
The Owl took a deep breath as if in relief, but began to speak again.
“I apologise again that I cannot be of more help. However there is one last thing I can do. Four days hence I shall send some birds of the forest. I shall dispatch them at noon. Expect them some time after that. They will carry you to Thorn Valley. The journey is long and not entirely pleasant via the forest. By the air, it will take only a short while. I only wish I could do more...”
At that moment the moon broke from behind the clouds, throwing the clearing that the creatures stood in into its silvery light. The Owl raised his head and beat his massive wings twice, readying himself for flight.
“There is still much for me to do this night,” the Owl spoke in faraway tones, then addressed the Brisby family specifically. “Farewell. The woods will watch your progress. Honour your father’s efforts... Rest for now. I fear your hardships are not over.”
With those cryptic words and several far more powerful beats, so strong that the creatures had to shield their faces as fragments of debris were blown into the air, the Owl rose quickly disappearing behind the leaves overhead. The group stood motionless for a moment, the Seer eventually breaking the silence.
“Goodbye my friend.” Then as she began to shuffle back towards the pond: “Come. Let us take his advice. We must all rest.”
Slowly she made her way back between the dark trees. One by one the mice began to follow her. Cynthia was the last to turn away from the sky, her face lit by the pale light. She searched the skies looking at the stars that were visible through the clouds, the points of light reflected in her eyes. She finally lowered her gaze from the heavens and ran to catch up with the others who had stopped to wait for her. Together they all returned to the Seer’s home, walking slowly and in silence.