Sleep must have eventfully come for one by one the Brisby mice woke from disturbed dreams. Cynthia was the last to open her eyes. She could remember very few details of the previous night, though otherwise she felt fine. It seemed like a blur, the last tendrils of a nightmare at the back of her mind. Sitting up, she saw by the light of a single lantern that the others had apparently already risen, for she was alone in the room. Wasting no time she clambered from the bedding and prepared to go outside. Rushing from the room, Justin and Mrs. Brisby greeted her.
“We were beginning to worry about you!” the rat said.
“How do you feel, Cynthia?” asked her mother.
“Fine,” she replied, some details coming back to her as she saw Justin’s strained features and the mark on his head. “Are you better now Justin?”
“Much, thank you.” Justin smiled weakly and rubbed his forehead. Memories were quick to return, coming to Cynthia in a jumbled rush.
“Is everything all right now?” she asked.
Justin nodded and explained, though the cheerfulness of yesterday had vanished, “Just about. Hugo is still under lock and key. We’re still deciding how to deal with him, but he won’t be any more trouble. The Mice are still behaving themselves, but I’m not sure whether they are unable or just unwilling to act out,” he sighed. “We’ll just have to wait and stay on guard.”
Cynthia nodded and asked,
“Where is everyone?”
“They’re up and about,” answered Mrs. Brisby. “You’ve missed most of the morning.”
“I have?” asked Cynthia.
“Yes... It’s nearly noon.” Her mother smiled, though Cynthia failed to notice that the expression did not reach her mother’s eyes. “Teresa and Martin are out enjoying the marvellous weather. Timothy is working in the library. Perhaps you should go and suggest to him that he should go outside for a bit. I don’t like the thought of him being stuck inside all day.”
“Yeah, okay!” said Cynthia running for the door.
“Woah, hold on there,” said Justin, rising form his seat. “I’ll take you to the entranceway. Brutus should be waiting around there; he’ll be your guard. After what happened last night we can afford to be a little more obvious about escorts.”
“I’ll wait here,” said Mrs. Brisby.
“Right. I’ll only be a moment,” said Justin, not bothering with his cape.
Cynthia and Justin went to the entranceway where they did indeed find Brutus doing slow laps of the balcony, trying to look useful. After greetings and instructions were exchanged Cynthia was off with her new escort to the library.
She didn’t like the presence of Brutus. The rat himself was fine, if a little over serious, and she realised why she needed the guard. What Cynthia objected to was the restraint the guardian put on her. She was full of energy today, the events of yesterday seeming so far away, and it was hard to cause mischief when you’re being followed by one of the largest rats in the Home Guard.
So it was she began to test how far away from Brutus she could get before he either altered his course, or called after her. For the short trip it was surprising how annoyed he became and how hard he was trying to hide it, much to Cynthia’s amusement. As they were winding through the connecting corridors Cynthia stopped as she passed one of the shadowed tunnels leading to the unfinished chambers. Brutus carried on his steady plod, apparently unaware that Cynthia was doing anything other than still playing. The little mouse herself was aware of something in the darkness of the corridor, a presence that had got her attention in the first place.
“Connie?” she asked. There was no answer. Peering closer she saw a shape lurking in the shadows.
“William?” she tried. However it was not William, or indeed a rat that emerged from the shadows to meet her. She found herself looking into a mismatched set of eyes; one bright and blue, the other clouded white. She shivered but was unable to move. Spiro’s cheeks lifted briefly, flashing his ‘smile’. Cynthia opened her mouth, but her bottom lip would only tremble uncontrollably. Spiro, his face still very close to hers, shifted his gaze, glancing off to his left. Cynthia without thinking followed his gaze. She saw nothing; Brutus had turned a corner and the corridor was deserted. A movement in the air made her turn back quickly. Spiro was gone, vanished back into the shadows.
“Cynthia!” called Brutus, his head reappearing round a corner at the other end of the corridor. Shaking her head Cynthia bounded after Brutus, sticking closer to him from now on. She was unaware of the eyes that followed her up the corridor.
Timothy turned at a knock on the door. Avery looked up as well.
“Come in!” he called.
The door to the library antechamber, though most were referring to it as Timothy’s study by this point, opened to reveal Brutus looming behind Cynthia. The little mouse smiled at her brother.
“Timothy! How’s it going?” she said, sauntering into the room.
“All right,” her brother replied, nodding in a vague manner. “How are you feeling?” he grinned as he asked this. Cynthia looked quizzical, though she turned at Brutus’ voice.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll have a look around the library. Just call if you need me.”
“Thank you, Brutus,” said Avery as the guardsrat closed the door. Timothy looked back to his sister and smiled wider.
“You’re just in time,” he said. “I found some information on the Augur amongst Dad’s things.”
Avery was wringing his hands with barely suppressed excitement, and he cut in, “Your brother thinks he might have found a way to make it work. We’ve been worrying ourselves about breaking it, and Timothy straight away finds out what is wrong.”
“I just read what was in front of me...” Timothy shrugged in reply.
“Now, now, lad,” said Avery chuckling. “Don’t be modest. It sometimes takes a great mind to see a simple solution.”
“Can we see it working then?” asked Cynthia, impatient to see the Augur in working order. Their mother had told them about the wonderful device that showed her pictures of the past; of NIMH; the Rats; their father. The thought of seeing these for herself fascinated and thrilled her.
“Certainly,” said Avery, turning to the little grey mouse. “Timmy?”
“Okay,” he said, picking up a sheet of paper. Looking over her brother’s shoulder she could see diagrams of the Augur, annotations and notes surrounded the picture, crammed onto the page. Timothy pointed to various sections of text and the diagram as he explained. “It says here, I think, about an alternate power source input that can be used. The notes say it should be on a side panel. Maybe around here...”
“You mean it simply wasn’t plugged in?” asked Avery, and Timothy nodded. The rat shook his head, grinning to himself.
“What does it mean Timmy?” asked Cynthia. Timothy grinned, turning to his sister who still lingered behind his shoulder.
“It’s just like Dad used to tell us, remember? Like the lights on the farm house. They need power to work. Electricity? Remember he said about it being like water in tiny little pipes...”
I remember that fine!” the other mouse interrupted. “So we just need to find a pipe to fill it up with water?”
“Something like that,” replied Timothy, his tone noncommittal.
The group approached the Augur, circling it. They peered closely at its frame and stooped, looking about its base. It was constructed from smooth and polished brass, a fine piece of craftsmanship, though its design was quite ornate and no alternate input was immediately obvious. Or so it seemed...
“Here it is!” called Cynthia, pointing to a semicircular niche in the machine’s casing. It seemed quite at odds with the rest of the engraved patterning. “I bet that’s it!” she finished.
Timothy consulted his paper again, squinting closely at the text.
“It would seem like it. Now it also says an alternate power source can go in there.” He looked at the shape and size of the recess.
“Where’re the pipes?” asked Cynthia. Timothy did not reply. Cynthia was right – in a way – there were no wires within the recess, only a glass facet in the centre of the recess. At least it seemed like glass. An idea presented itself in Timothy’s mind. Reaching into his vest he took out the Stone.
“My word!” breathed Avery. “Is that the amulet?”
“Yes,” said Timothy holding it up for the rat to clearly look into the red jewel.
“Nicodemus mentioned it,” Avery whispered, “and I heard about what happened when your house was moved. This is the first time I have seen it. . Do you think it will be able to power the Augur?”
“Let’s see!” said Cynthia, her eyes bright with anticipation. “If it can move our house, it should be able to make this thing move!”
Timothy, with an air of reverence, approached the Augur and carefully lowered the Stone into the casing niche. It settled into the space perfectly. Timothy and the others took a step back and watched. The Augur stood resolutely immobile. Nothing happened.
“Oh,” said Timothy. Cynthia looked disappointed as well, though neither could match Avery’s disconsolation.
“We have broken it!” he groaned. “We should have simply hidden it deep in the Rosebush. It was foolish to try and move it.”
“It may be something else. The Stone might not be a power source. Maybe there’s another way,” said Timothy looking again to the paper. Avery leaned across to read over Timothy’s shoulder. Cynthia wandered up to the Augur, peering at the Stone.
“I wonder if Mum can tell us how Nicodemus made it work?” she said to herself, prodding at the Stone. As she did it glowed, and then there was a spark of life from the Augur. A flash of light shot between points on its circular frame, darting back and forth in the blink if an eye. As quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.
“Did you see that?” she called, turning to the other two.
“Hmmm?” mumbled Timothy. He and Avery were both looking with intense concentration at the pages that Timothy was holding.
“The Augur, it just did something!” she squealed with excitement, almost bouncing with exhilaration. The pair looked up.
“What happened?” asked Timothy.
Cynthia turned, though there was no life in the mechanism now. She lowered her eyes, frustration welling.
“It did do something.” She turned back to her brother and Avery. “You must believe me, the Stone glowed and there was a light in the Augur. It was only for a moment but it was there. Don’t look at me like that!” she said in response to the expressions of incomprehension they had turned on her. However she quickly noticed that they were not looking at her. They were looking past her to the Augur. She turned slowly to see wisps of ethereal light flitting about the Augur’s workings. Its arched frame began to light up as jewels set into the metal glowed, at first quite dull, though then with more intensity. As they became brighter, so did the light in the centre, the wisps becoming more substantial and more numerous. They shot back and forth between specific points on the Augur’s frame, whirling about faster and faster.
“What did you do Cynthia?” asked Timothy. His sister shook her head. Neither mouse removed their gaze from the machine.
“Nothing I just...” She stopped, though Timothy did not notice. He looked into the light of the Augur. It created a breeze in the little room, the air tugging at their clothes and unsettling nearby papers. With an intense pulse the core of light that had been forming broke up into many different colours and shapes, swirling around in every direction. The jewels of the frame pulsed in a complicated sequence, though the mysterious beams of light in the centre quickly arrested all attention. They danced back and forth, a pattern emerging from the chaos. As Timothy looked on in amazement, an image became visible. It was a fleeting, though perfectly clear for a moment. The image in the Augur’s heart was like a mirror. Timothy could see himself, Cynthia, Avery, the entire room in every detail... His desk, the lanterns, the door at the back of the room behind the ghostly representations of himself and the others. The door he noticed was slightly ajar; filling the gap was a shadow. It was vague, lacking the definition of the figures in the foreground, but it drew his gaze and Timothy recognised it immediately. It was unmistakeable. The little mouse whirled around.
The others turned too, tearing their attention away from the Augur and following Timothy’s gaze towards the door. It was slightly open and in the gap... the library beyond was visible.
“What’s wrong?” asked Avery.
“The Augur,” began Timothy distractedly. “In the light it showed me the room. We were here and that mouse Spiro was by the door.”
“Are you certain of this?” asked Avery, now sounding concerned.
“Absolutely!” said Timothy, nodding his head with vigour.
“He’s right! I saw it too!” squealed Cynthia, looking fretfully at the door.
Avery strode over to the door and poked his head out. He then opened the door and stepped into the library, looking all about. Then with a shrug he faced the young mice.
“I’m afraid it seems that you were mistaken or the Augur was misleading. I must admit, didn’t see anything in the swirl of colour at all.”
“I did see Spiro,” Timothy insisted. However when he looked at the Augur again, the colours were random, there was no image there now. Slowly the lights were fading, the Augur settling to sleep once again.
“I believe you Timothy,” said Cynthia.
“Well, there is no mouse here,” explained Avery as Brutus appeared at the door.
“Is everything all right?” the guard asked.
“Certainly,” said Avery, then on seeing the looks on the Brisby children’s faces he asked, “You didn’t see a mouse at this door a moment ago did you?”
“I did not,” rumbled Brutus and immediately turned and began to search the library, even acquiring aid from Chester, who had been perusing the shelves nearby.
“I was certain...” whispered Timothy, who was still looking at the now dark and immobile Augur.
“Don’t look downcast lad. You got it working at the very least!” Avery was grinning as he placed a hand on the Augur’s frame. He removed the Stone and held it up to the light. “Remarkable,” he said. “To think that this little jewel could power the Augur. There is still much to find out about this artefact.” He handed the Stone back to the Timothy. “You can’t expect to get the Augur to work perfectly straight away. The fact you got it working at all is remarkable. Maybe you could do with a rest.”
“Yeah. Come on, Timmy.” Cynthia tugged on her brother’s arm. “Let’s go outside. You’ve been stuck in here all morning. The fresh air will do you some good. Might even help you think of why the Augur said the wrong thing.”
“I suppose so.” Timothy slumped as he returned the paper to the desk and replaced the Stone about his neck.
“I’ll lock the door,” said Avery, following the two mice out. “I’ll be around, so when you get back, just find me.”
“Thanks, Avery,” said Timothy. The pride at getting the Augur working was overshadowed totally by the disappointment of it being incorrect. Avery was right though. He couldn’t expect it to be that simple. He would have a rest and then return to the Augur later, fully refreshed.
They found Brutus waiting in the library’s lobby, distractedly scanning the rows of shelves as he spoke in a low voice with Chester. As the group approached he explained he could find no trace of any mouse, and none of the others in the library had seen anything. Timothy nodded. He had been expecting such a response. There must be something he’d missed that meant that the Augur had shown him misleading information. Maybe the Stone was not powerful enough. Maybe it was his own imagination. But Cynthia had said she had seen Spiro too. Timothy shook his head as they set off in the big rat’s company to the surface of the valley, leaving Chester and Avery in the library.
Cynthia let her brother think in peace. She was worried by the vision. Had Spiro followed her after scaring her in the corridor? Did the pictures mean something else? Maybe what the Augur showed you was more than it seemed, a cryptic message. She became lost in thought regarding the mouse of NIMH, so the three companions proceeded in silence.
As they left the library they were totally unaware of passing right by a little pool of darkness, occupied as it was by Spiro. Once the corridor was clear he scurried away, keeping to the shadows wherever possible...
“So, how far have you got with the research, Timmy?”
“Not far,” he replied to his sister. “I was sorting the papers and notes and stumbled on some diagrams of the Augur. I went to ask Avery for permission to start tinkering and that’s when you came in.”
“So you haven’t found anything about the Stone?”
“No. It’s mostly ideas of Dad’s. He was working on machines to make electricity, or that’s what it said in the notes. There are loads of designs for machines, even some pictures of those water wheels.”
They were leaving the entranceway now and winding up through the false atrium. Activity in the settlement was slow today, the occasional rat wandered by on their own business, the Home Guard went by on their patrols. The settlement seemed to have adjusted to the presence of the Brisby mice for few except the very young took an active interest in them.
“What’s the weather like, Brutus?” Cynthia asked.
“Meant to be nice today. Perfect spring weather.”
“Any idea what Martin and Teresa are up to?” she asked Timothy.
“I’ll pass on that one. I think Martin might be hanging out with the Home Guard, but I’m not sure.”
Brutus nodded to the rat who waited in the guard alcove as they passed. Then, a few bends later, the group could see a light ahead of them. As they neared the entrance, the creatures had to shield their eyes. Brutus was right. It was a glorious spring day in the valley. The sun was out, golden light splashed upon the greenery. A cool, fresh breeze rustled the leaves, and almost disguised the sounds of play in the distance that mingled with the sound of nearby running water.
“I can’t believe I missed this!” said Cynthia taking a deep breath of the fragrant air. “I didn’t really notice how beautiful the valley was when we first arrived.”
“This way,” Brutus rumbled and plodded off. The two young mice followed him. They were travelling down the slope, towards the lakes. The forest trail was littered with blossom from nearby trees and it quickly began to follow the course of a little stream that trickled down the mountain. It started higher up, drew quite near to the entrance to the rat’s settlement, and then fed into the lake. Brutus, when asked, explained that it was the overflow stream from their reservoir.
It quickly became apparent that the sounds of chatter and laughing were getting closer. It seemed everyone had gathered in one place. It did not take long for confirmation, for they soon came across one of the valley’s smaller lakes.
At the water’s edge were many rats, the majority being families and their children. Obviously the fine weather had stopped lessons for the young rats were playing in the shallows of the lake, or tearing around the nearby plants, playing whatever games were popular in the valley. The parents rested nearby and were content to watch their children play. Other young rats sat together near the shore, some eating fruit gathered from nearby bushes, others just watching the shimmering lake and the hazy mountains beyond. The chatter was not as oppressive as it was in the halls of the valley, but added to the murmur of the forest. The splendour of the trees and plants beneath the azure sky was simply stunning.
The only hint that anything could possibly be amiss in the scene was the cordon of armed guards who kept a close eye on the surrounding forest, though even the usually dour rats of the Home Guard seemed to be enjoying the wonderful weather.
The mice looked up and saw Teresa strolling towards them. She was smiling wide, obviously revelling in the sunshine. “Lovely isn’t it?” she said. “Justin was right about the weather. I could spend all day out here.”
“You didn’t mention anything about playing in the lake when you went outside yesterday,” said Cynthia accusingly.
“We didn’t get to see it,” explained Teresa. “The tour we had went around the valley floor over that way,” she pointed off into the forest. “It wasn’t nice enough for swimming.”
“Is it safe?” asked Timothy, gazing longingly at the lake.
“Totally,” cut in Brutus. It seemed any matter regarding security in the valley would make him volunteer information readily. “The Rat guards are watching the forest. They know what they’re doing. Just be sure to stick to the shallows if you go in.”
“It looks like everyone’s out here,” said Timothy taking in the surroundings.
“Almost everyone is,” Teresa had lowered her voice and nodded as she said, “Look. Over there beneath those trees.”
Cynthia and Timothy turned around. They saw immediately what Teresa was referring to. A group of mice and their rat escort (though they wondered exactly for whose benefit the rat was present) were strolling along the bank. Fraus was there, along with a few of his goons. As they watched, Spiro bounded towards the group and began to glide along behind them. Teresa continued,
“They’re the reason Martin’s bothering the Home Guard. He’s making sure the Mice are watched.”
“What are they doing here?” asked Cynthia glowering at the distant creatures.
“Probably enjoying the sunshine like the rest of us,” said Timothy, shrugging with his eyebrows as his sisters turned to him in response.
“Something seems wrong about that,” replied Teresa, looking back at the Mice.
“Well they’re not gonna spoil my day. It’s not as if they can do anything with all these rats about and it’s a perfect day for a swim,” said Cynthia, skipping towards the water. “I’ll see you guys later!”
Teresa didn’t follow her younger brother or sister into the water. She stayed a little way up the bank and watched the others play. It was simply enough to be out of the tunnels. There was something oppressive about them, something that made her uncomfortable inside the colony. It was something that she had begun to feel soon after arriving and she could not put her finger on the reason.
She occasionally saw Martin when he returned to the area. He was following the various guardsrats around, chatting, cajoling, asking for impromptu lessons on swordplay and generally making a nuisance of himself. He managed to corner the weapon’s expert from the training room the other day, Kate. She had been watching over the area, looking a bit bored, but indulged the young mouse, finding an appropriate length of twig, showing the mouse the rudiments of using a sword. Other young rats nearby became interested in the display, and began to join in and before too long there was a small group gathered, all listening with interest as the guardsrat explained the subtleties of combat with a blade.
Teresa turned her attention back to the others in the valley. Not everyone was out and about for pleasure today. A group of rats with large baskets were picking their way between the surrounding foliage collecting whatever they could find. Their task was made harder by children asking for treats from the supply that the rats had just collected.
Another rat was nearby, using a very small curved blade to collect tiny plants and fungi. Upon removing an item he would scrutinize it closely before either discarding it or putting it into a small collection bag at his hip.
Down towards the lake a young couple were playing hide and seek with their toddler. Teresa smiled as the little rat stumbled up to its parents whenever it found them. Slowly her gaze crept towards the horizon, bordered as it was by the white clouds and distant trees upon the mountains. Everyone seemed so happy here.
Teresa looked up at Timothy, who sat down next to her. His fur was still damp from the swim. He smiled.
“You looked like you were far away,” he said. “Anything wrong?”
“Just lost in the mountains.” Timothy’s eyes flicked to the distant peaks and then back to Teresa. She shook herself out of the daydream. “How was the water?” she asked.
“Great. Are you not going in?”
“Not today,” she said mildly, looking off into the distance again. “What are you doing now?”
“I’m thinking of going back to the study.”
“Not staying to enjoy the weather?” Teresa still sounded wistful. Timothy wondered what was wrong, though he didn’t ask.
“It was nice to have the rest, but I want to get on. There’s so much to get through, and I’ve already made one lucky find. Don’t tell Cynthia I’ve gone back inside or she’ll come and get me again.”
“Not much chance of that.” Teresa said and nodded towards the lake.
Down in the shallows a group of young rats had acquired a new diminutive commander in their water fight. Cynthia was a veteran of such aquatic combat and marshalled her troops well. Connie, a faithful lieutenant was by her side, William stood at the head of an opposing force. They were terrorizing each other as well as innocent bystanders with their game until guards and parents had to step in. However they too got a prompt drenching. Timothy chuckled.
“Well, now seems like as good a time as any to slip away while she’s distracted. I need to go and find Brutus to get me an escort.”
“He’s down there too,” said Teresa.
Timothy squinted at the rats down by the lake, and sure enough there was Brutus, standing in the shallows, head and shoulders above everyone and dripping wet as he tried to bring some order to the situation. Timothy laughed.
“Well I better go down there. You heard what Justin said. We can’t afford to wander about without an escort. Last night left him shaken.”
“Wouldn’t you be? I think it was worse because it was one of the rats. Justin took it as a personal failure that one of his rats was up to no good,” said Teresa.
“At least they caught him,” Timothy countered.
Teresa nodded and the pair were silent for a moment before Timothy eased himself back to his feet.
“Well, I’ll see you later, sis. Cheer up, okay?”
“Bye, Timothy,” said Teresa as Timothy retreated towards the cordon of guards. She turned back to the panorama of nature before her, resting her elbows on her knees. Last night seemed almost like a dream. It had shaken them all, but the capture of the culprit made it easier to try and forget about it. You had to in the woods. Even venturing outside your home was potentially dangerous; dwelling on matters like that did you no good. Now there was just the ever-present worry of the NIMH mice. However the guards were watching them. They were as safe as they could be. Teresa sighed and wondered what her mother was doing at the moment.
Just then she felt a drop of water. The sun did not leave, but rain joined it. As the drops of water hit the surface of the lake they caught the sunlight. Bright beads of light played across the water’s surface. It was as if the lake had acquired a shimmering layer of diamonds. However many did not stay to look, they were too busy packing up any belongings they might have with them and hurrying for the shelter of the trees. The children playing in the lake did not move. As they were already wet they stayed to enjoy the light shower.
Another drop of rain landed on Teresa’s forehead and she resigned herself to finding some better shelter too as the shower reached her. She ran up a slope to the undergrowth nearby, picking her way amongst the dense foliage, listening to the gentle patter of the rain high above. She reached a barrier of tall grass and parted it. In the dappled shade beyond sat a mouse. He was one of the Mice of NIMH, though Teresa couldn’t remember his name. Their mother had been careful to explain which of the mice had attacked her, and they had then carefully applied names to these offenders along with Justin, so this mouse was not one of the aggressors. Of course that didn’t necessarily mean this one was not a threat.
His fur was brown, and a shock of hair fell over his brow. Paper was laid out on a board that in turn rested on his knees. There was a small pot beside him, into which he was dipping a brush. Placing it on the board he was using blue ink to build up an accurate picture of the lake and the surrounding scenery.
As Teresa watched him a plan formed. Maybe she could use this opportunity to find out what the mice of NIMH were doing. Just talk to him and see if he let anything slip about what the mice wanted. Even if this mouse was an unpleasant as the others she could always cry for help. There were enough guards around to make sure nothing would happen to her. Even the mouse with the dead eye had not stepped out of line thus far. Despite these very rational thoughts, Teresa still hesitated in approaching.
Overhead a drop of water slipped from a branch and landed on the pad of paper. The mouse raised his head to the canopy above and as he did, he noticed Teresa. He closed the pad up quickly.
Great start! Teresa thought to herself. She’d already been caught spying. At least that made the decision for her, though this was not how she had wanted to begin things.
“Don’t,” she said, her ears burning. She clambered through the grass and apologised as she approached. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to spy. It was very good. The picture I mean...”
“Thank you,” said the mouse. Was there the faintest hint of a smile? Now she was up close she saw he was quite young in the way that most of the rats seemed young, his eyes bright, but weary. At least he didn’t seem annoyed at the intrusion.
“I’m Teresa,” she said brightly, trying to be as friendly as possible and to move the conversation along, farther away from her indiscretion.
“Warren,” he replied, “pleased to meet you.” That was it! thought Teresa. The healer! Surely a healer, one dedicated to saving lives would never take them. He couldn’t possibly be all bad. However if that were the case, why did he travel with the others? Still, Teresa found that she now felt slightly easier about being in his company.
“Why aren’t you with your companions?” she asked sitting down.
“I prefer to stay away from them,” he replied and then added, maybe a touch hurriedly, “That way I can take in the surroundings more easily. I can concentrate better when alone.”
“Oh, I’m sorry...” Teresa began to get up. Maybe she had blown her chance to find out anything.
“No, I...” he stumbled on his words. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that...”
Maybe not, Teresa thought as she settled down again. There was a moment of awkward silence, Teresa casting around for any topic.
“Might I see the picture again?” Teresa asked after a moment.
Warren paused before he opened the pad again. Now that Teresa was closer she could see that using the ink he had even captured reflections in the water, the clouds overhead framing the picture.
“You are an artist as well as a healer,” she said, grinning.
“Thank you, but...” Warren faced the lake again, “it’s easy to become inspired by the valley. I want to remember this place when I return to the city.”
“City?” Teresa asked earnestly. “I’m sorry; I know the word but not its meaning.”
“Where I come from, we live near to a human colony. They call them cities. There’re few trees and plants there. Only great grey buildings of stone.”
“That sounds...” Teresa hesitated, her brow furrowing, “interesting.”
“I suppose it is, however it can be a depressing place,” Warren’s head sank lower as he said this, his eyes unfocussed as if troubled by a memory.
Teresa wasn’t exactly sure how to reply so she settled for the neutral,
“The woods should be a welcome change, then?” Her question seemed to shake Warren from his daze.
“It is indeed a wonderful place. The Rats were lucky to find the valley. It’s just... funny. It’s not what I expected at all,” he said shaking his head.
“No?” Teresa cocked her head quizzically. “What did you expect to see?”
“I... I was led to believe the valley would be quite different. It is... interesting. It is quite different from home...”
“In the city?” Teresa asked, still trying to steer conversation towards anything from the mouse’s background.
Warren nodded in reply. Teresa saw an opening to find out some possibly important information and decided to take it.
“What is your colony like?” she asked. After a moment’s hesitation Warren answered.
“It’s similar in many ways to this one I suppose. We are all creatures who exhibit the increased intelligence that NIMH gave to those first few and we have stuck together. We thought there would be safety in numbers, though we have tried to keep the colony much smaller than the Rats’. Living so close to the humans we cannot afford to let our colony grow too large.”
“Then why live so close to the humans?” asked Teresa. However she began to form an answer herself based on what she knew from the Rats’ past.
“Our society is still very much dependent on the humans’ technology,” continued Warren. “The humans provide us with resources and even shelter. Unknowingly of course. We ourselves have progressed in our own sciences and use technology to try and make up for any shortcomings, such as for the colony’s size. It’s what we use to try and...” He stopped suddenly and looked out of the corner of his eye and Teresa. “Sorry. I’m rambling. I’m probably boring you.”
“Not at all,” said Teresa, hoping the mouse would continue. However he stared out across the lake, not volunteering any more information. Teresa got the feeling from the tone of voice that his reluctance to say more was not to avoid boring her.
“So why did you come here?” asked Teresa, hoping the change of subject would make her seem less interrogative. It seemed to work, though Warren did not seem pleased at the new topic.
“We are here on a diplomatic mission. The NIMH mouse culture is quite technocratic. Science is the core of our society. Fraus hoped to be able to pool ideas with the rats, share our expertise and knowledge.”
Teresa noticed something odd about the way Warren had spoken just then. It was lacking any inflection, as if he had been rehearsing the words, or had been selecting them carefully.
“Fraus doesn’t seem like a scholar,” Teresa said, using a term the rats applied to any of their number who were particularly knowledgeable. She decided to take a chance with her next remark. “Many of your colleagues don’t seem like scholars in fact. Spiro for instance...”
Warren laughed weakly. It was not a very cheerful sound.
“He is certainly no scientist. Spiro is...” Warren hesitated. “He is necessary. There are dangers in the world and Spiro is adept at dealing with them for a creature of our size. There are many times when the seven of us would have died had it not been for him. Back at the colony he and Fraus have repeatedly averted disasters and other mishaps.
Teresa found it difficult to apply those words to the mental picture she had of the maniac that was Spiro. It began to dawn on her that maybe the situation was much more complicated than she thought. Meanwhile Warren continued.
“The others are mostly warriors. The journey here was expected to be fraught with danger. Only Stave, Fraus and myself are here for discussion with the Rats’ scholars.”
“And Fraus is your leader?” asked Teresa, hoping to find out more about the one supposedly behind the Mice of NIMH’s appearance.
“Yes. He is a superb politician and diplomat. He also helped the first members of the colony from the air shafts... You’ve heard what happened in NIMH?”
“Yes, I’ve been told the Rats’ part of the story by my mother,” Teresa nodded as she spoke. “My father was involved in the Rats’ escape.”
“I have only heard what I was told as a child. I was born several years after the... escape from NIMH. From what I heard Fraus was... is a great leader. He guided the survivors of the...” he paused again, as he had done frequently in the last sentence. It was obvious to Teresa he was trying to select his words carefully, though she felt it was too early to pry. Warren continued. “He guided the survivors out of NIMH and led the colony through those dark early days. Now it prospers. However he wishes to unite the two colonies. He hopes for a new era of cooperation and success.
There was that tone again. Warren had quickly slipped back into the dead emotionless voice...
“You don’t seem happy about the arrangement, if you don’t mind me saying.” She leant forward trying to see Warren’s expression. Warren was silent for a long moment looking out over the lake. Then slowly he turned to face Teresa. He looked troubled as he said,
“Unfortunately we cannot choose our past.”
Teresa was about to ask what he meant, but a distant shout stopped discussion. As one both mice turned towards the direction of the cry.
Mrs. Brisby and Leander wandered through the mottled shade by the lake, trying to stay under cover while the last of the light rain passed. Justin had duties to attend to, and so Mrs. Brisby had decided to walk outside hoping to find what her children were up to. Leander walked alongside her, chattering away as was his habit, and she listened in polite bemusement.
“...and you see we’ve never had a problem with that raccoon since. He’s not actually a threat. It’s just annoying, but we’ve got to keep him away from the crops. How Arthur got the idea for the thing I’ll never know.”
Leander glanced up and a smile began to spread over his face as he straightened up to face the approaching figure.
“Hello. What have we here?” he finished. Mrs. Brisby covered he own grin with a hand.
A thoroughly discontented Brutus was squelching up towards them in an irritated manner. Leander’s grin was very wide indeed.
“Out for a swim Brutus? How’s the water?”
Brutus ignored the comment pointing a finger at Leander.
“I’m beginning to see what you meant about that young Cynthia Bris...” he began, but cut himself short when he noticed Mrs. Brisby.
“Ah, that is to say the children get a little over excited in this weather,” Brutus finished, turning his full attention to straightening his damp tunic. Mrs. Brisby smiled kindly.
“I hope Cynthia hasn’t been making a nuisance of herself.”
Brutus gave a non committal grunt by way of reply, wringing out a corner of his cape.
“Are the other children behaving?” she asked.
“Aye, I believe so. Teresa is about somewhere and Martin has been systematically asking each of the Home Guard to teach him armed combat. Timothy has gone back into the colony with that young guard James. That reminds me,” he said turning to Leander, “James said he will be late for duty. Leander, you’re not rostered for duty tonight; would you mind covering his sentry duty for a short time?”
“Good chap, Leander! I new I could count on you.”
“James will thank you I’m sure.”
Mrs. Brisby looked out over the lake as she only half listened to Leander’s pleas falling on Brutus’ deaf ears. She tried to find her children amongst the rats on the shore, but could not spot them amongst the crowds. She turned to the lake where the children were still playing and thought she saw Cynthia’s cream fur amongst the fray. However something further along the bank caught her eye. As it drew her full attention her blood ran cold.
“No,” she gasped.
Both Brutus and Leander stopped their discussion and turned. Mrs. Brisby pointed to the distant spot, unable to speak as fear strangled her voice. The guards saw what she was pointing at. Brutus spoke immediately.
“Mrs. Brisby! Go back into the colony! Find Justin, Bracken, anybody in charge. Leander, you too. Go, now!”
“Come on Mrs. B!” said Leander pushing Mrs. Brisby along, trying to draw her out of her frozen panic. Meanwhile Brutus charged off down towards the banks of the lake. Roaring as he did so.
“To the rally points!”
Children were hurrying from the water, older rats helping, dragging smaller ones from the shores and into the forest. On the shore two of the Home Guard had swords drawn and were facing down a huge weasel. The creature’s brown pelt was slick and greasy with water as it crept slowly along the bank, watching the two rats closely. Every time the rats tried to stand their ground the weasel darted forward, its claws arcing through the air, jaws snapping with a clack. One such lunge sent a guardsrat sprawling. In response the other rat attacked, trying to distract the weasel from his vulnerable comrade. It worked, though the rat received a vicious blow, sending him staggering and tumbling away. The weasel eyed the prone rat, placing a paw on its victim. It bared its slavering fangs and was lowering its head when, with a roar, another rat joined the fray. Brutus threw himself bodily at the creature, sending it into a roll. The weasel righted itself and took in the new assailants, for other rats had joined Brutus. They stood with various weapons, Brutus at the fore, eyes ablaze, halberd at the ready. The weasel hissed but made no move. Out of the corner of its eye it caught sight of easier quarry. The children were still struggling from the water. With a lunge at the rats that caused them adopt defensive stances, the weasel then rounded and headed for the children. Brutus and the others, wrong footed, were unable to follow immediately, and lost precious moments in chasing the weasel. Especially as its size and strange gate allowed it to run more quickly through the shallows. The Rats had to take a more circuitous route, the weasel gaining further ground.
“Alan!” Brutus cried.
One of the rats helping the children from the water looked up. He saw the weasel bearing down, though not on him. It had singled out stragglers in the water. One in particular... a little light furred mouse. One of the Brisby children!
“No!” Alan cried and pushing the children along, away from the water, waded into the shallows towards the charging weasel. He drew his sword but didn’t get a chance to use it; the weasel swatted him aside, and continued before he could recover. It knew now not to take on the big rats. It carried on towards the lone mouse, jaws agape, black eyes locked onto the little creature.
Cynthia struggled on. Her frantic swimming had been slower than that of the other rats, and being shorter she had not been able to set a foot down until much closer to shore. When she eventually did the mud was soft and she sank in. She struggled nearer and nearer the bank, managing to leave the water, but became mired in the soft ground. She tried to call out, but fear stifled her cry. She noticed the weasel descending upon her. She struggled on; wet, muddy fur weighing her down. She saw a rat try to help, though the weasel brushed him aside and continued charging. Terror churned in her belly. There were no other rats nearby, no one else to help. She closed her eyes.
In the final moments before the weasel lunged, Cynthia was lifted from the mud. With one powerful leap Cynthia was ferried to firmer ground and away from the weasel. Spiro set the young mouse down, Cynthia looking up at him in abject terror. He half turned, looking back over his shoulder at the confused weasel. With another bound Cynthia was placed near to approaching guardsrats. As they reached her Spiro darted away again, back towards the weasel. Cynthia ignored the rats’ questions and attention, watching the other mouse. He took a blade from his belt and, gripping it by the tip, brought it back behind his head. The weasel saw him and turned. To its mind one mouse was as good as another, though it hesitated when it saw the state of this one. Before it gathered its wits Spiro whipped his arm around, sending the blade hurtling at the creature’s head. It embedded itself in the soft flesh of the weasel’s nose. Such a roar of anguish went up that many who had been fleeing turned to look back. Spiro had darted away again as several guards had moved in with spears. They crept closer as the weasel thrashed in the shallows, shaking its head, scratching its snout, trying to dislodge the blade. With a ferocious snort the knife landed in the muddy bank nearby. Then, seeing a new line of prey, the weasel arched its back, ready to spring at the rats.
Cynthia raised her head as arrows flew through the air. Some landed in the water, most found their mark. The weasel barely had time to notice the projectiles before they rained down upon its flank and back.
Cynthia turned. Behind her, up towards the line of the trees, Justin was standing with several rat archers. They reloaded their bows and drew back.
“Fire!” Justin called again. Cynthia watched as another hail of arrows fell upon the beleaguered weasel. Faced with a line of armed rodents, attacked by sharp little sticks, and tasting its own blood, the weasel decided it was time to retreat. Splashing along the shallows it made for the deep forest, not looking back even once. A cheer went up from the guards as they advanced, securing the area from further attack.
“Are you all right, Cynthia?”
The little mouse turned to the one who had spoken. A rat was kneeling next to her, more were milling nearby. Cynthia nodded.
The rat sighed and turned, speaking to one of it companions.
“Okay Clerval, see to the others.”
As the other rat ran off and some of the others went to see if they would help elsewhere, Cynthia tried to raise herself and yelped.
“What’s wrong?” asked the guard.
“Shall I get Clerval back?”
“No, no,” said Cynthia, rubbing her arm, “it’s just a bruise. Where is he?”
The rat made as if to ask whom Cynthia was referring to, but quickly realised what she meant. He shifted his position so Cynthia could get a better view.
Spiro was kneeling near the boggy shoreline. He retrieved his dagger from the mud and dipped it into the waters. He then began to wipe it upon the grass, inspecting its cutting edge.
“He saved me...” mumbled Cynthia.
“Doesn’t look the heroic sort does he?”
“But why? Why did he save me? He tried...” Cynthia stopped as she realised that this rat may not have been told the truth regarding the Mice of NIMH. The rat was looking questioningly back at Cynthia.
“I meant you’re right,” she said distractedly. “He doesn’t look very brave.”
Spiro finished cleaning the blade and flicked it into the air. Cynthia’s eyes followed it as, at the pinnacle of its flight, it caught the sun, glinting like a star. It descended; falling into Spiro’s waiting hand. He caught it by the handle as he retreated, slipping it into his belt, his cape billowing behind him.