Justin had taken charge of the situation quickly. The wounded were seen to and then taken to the infirmary. Warren lent a hand with the temporary bandages and supports. Mostly it was simply grazes and bruises, though one of the guards had a broken arm and was unconscious. Mrs. Brisby had returned to the valley with Justin, knowing that her children were still outside. Teresa, Martin and Cynthia had regrouped after the weasel attack and Mrs. Brisby had rushed to meet them, anxious to see to it they were all right. The children explained that Timothy had gone back inside to his study when their mother remarked that he was not present. Then, when told how the weasel had made for Cynthia, Mrs. Brisby insisted that Cynthia go to the infirmary, despite her daughter’s protestations.
“But I feel fine!” Cynthia was saying. The Brisby mice along with Brutus and Justin were making their way back towards the entranceway. The two rats were deep in their own discussion. Those who were injured had been moved long ago, and many had stayed outside. Attacks weren’t uncommon, and so there was nothing special in this case, aside from the ferocity of the weasel.
“Well you’re going to the infirmary,” said Mrs. Brisby. “You still haven’t told me exactly what happened.”
“It was a weasel attack,” said Cynthia.
“I gathered that much,” said Mrs. Brisby. “What happened to Cynthia in particular?”
Teresa and Martin exchanged glances.
“She was saved...” Martin began awkwardly.
“By who?” asked Mrs. Brisby. “I’d like to thank them.”
“Not in this case,” said Teresa, and Mrs. Brisby gave them a confused look.
“What does that mean?”
There was another hesitation, before Martin answered.
“Spiro pulled her out of the water and away from the weasel. He even attacked it.”
It took a few moments for Mrs. Brisby to let this sink in. The change in her manner was quite frightening to her children.
“Spiro... But...” she had no words, for that was incomprehensible to her. The monstrous Spiro, saving one of her children? “No...” she mumbled again, and then continued, “Well that settles it. We’re certainly taking you to the infirmary now.”
Something in her mother’s tone did not predispose Cynthia to argument. She allowed herself to be lead along, Mrs. Brisby’s head filled with thoughts of poison blades and the dead-eyed mouse. “That mouse is evil,” she was saying, though not obviously to any present. “I want the doctor to make sure... He was probably trying to put on a show for the rats. Make them trust him.”
“That reminds me,” said Martin, lowering his voice to whisper to Teresa. “Where were you?”
“How do you mean? Why?” asked Teresa, sounding more guilty than she perhaps felt.
Martin’s concern was genuine when he said, “I saw you arrive on the scene with Warren. What were you doing together? Was he threatening you?”
“Threatening...?” Teresa almost laughed. “No, you’ve got it all wrong. He was painting, I...”
“Be careful of those mice, Teresa,” said her brother, ignoring her explanation. “They can’t be trusted. No matter how they act, they’re all totally malicious. I don’t want you going near him again.”
“Martin, listen! I was trying...” Teresa began to protest angrily, but their mother cut the potential argument short.
“Hurry up children!” called Mrs. Brisby. Martin and Teresa had fallen back as they exchanged hushed words. Together they hurried to catch up with the others.
The infirmary was located below the food storage rooms. It had a wide staircase dedicated solely to the use of infirmary staff and their patients. It was close to the machine shop in case of an emergency there, and also on the lower levels as it was reasoned it was easier to hurry down to the infirmary than up to it. Access was also facilitated by an elevator for those who for one reason or another were unable to take the stairs.
The infirmary itself was long and wide and covered two floors. The upper level was for the critical cases and intensive care, though it was currently empty. This was also where medicine was created and prepared. The lower level was for more minor injuries or recovering patients. The whole complex was surrounded by thick walls and the two entrances had a double set of doors. The reason was two fold. Firstly any noises from patients would not disturb other rats (a duty nurse was on hand should they be needed in the night) and also to create a sealed area should there be an outbreak of infectious disease. Thankfully no such thing had occurred as yet, though the Rats believed in planning ahead. The only occupants of the ward were those injured this afternoon. Medics had seen to them and apparently they were doing fine, more than likely they would be discharged later that day. Less essential examinations were carried out on the lower floor as well. This was where Cynthia and her family were. The Rat’s chief doctor, Clerval, crossed the room.
“She’s fine, Mrs. Brisby. Just a graze. She’ll be right as rain in a day or so.”
“What about poison?” Mrs. Brisby asked. If she weren’t so concerned about her daughter’s welfare she might have noticed that beneath the bandages around her waist, her wounded side was tingling. Clerval shrugged.
“Well I checked that as well and there’s nothing in the blood sample. Weasels don’t carry poison and any infection will be stopped by that bandage and the ointment.”
This allayed Mrs. Brisby’s fears of Cynthia being poisoned by Spiro, even though the doctor didn’t know it.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Can we go now, Mum? I’m bored and I’m fine!” Cynthia waved her injured arm about to prove her point.
The mice left the infirmary and met Brutus and Justin in the hall.
“Everything okay?” asked Justin.
“Fine!” said Cynthia testily. She wasn’t too happy about her ordeal.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” explained Mrs. Brisby, and then said to her daughter, “I just had to be sure.”
“I understand,” replied Cynthia, though she still didn’t seem happy about it.
“Those arrows didn’t seem to be doing much good,” commented Martin to Justin. “They barely scratched the weasel.”
“They’re designed that way,” said the Rat. “They’re very light to act as a deterrent. We don’t want to hurt of kill the creatures, just keep them away. It’s more effective if they survive. The word gets around that we’re more trouble than we’re worth. If necessary we could put up a better defence.”
“Really?” asked Martin, eyes glinting. Justin nodded.
“But that display was enough to earn us some accolades. Fraus himself congratulated us on our handling of the situation. Of course I had to respect Spiro’s part in the matter.”
The group fell silent. No one had a reasonable answer to explain that part of the drama, except maybe Spiro himself. However it reminded Teresa of what she had found.
“Justin,” she said, the leader of the Rats turning to her. “I spoke a bit with Warren. He’s the healer for the Mice of NIMH. He told me a little about their colony, how it was back in the city, near the humans. He said that science is the core of their colony. Is this information of any use?”
Justin smiled. “Thank you. Teresa. Unfortunately Fraus has told us much the same thing. As he’s been talking to our scholars he’s been saying about his colony’s technology.”
“Oh,” said Teresa, a little downcast that her effort meant quite little.
“No, no!” said Justin on seeing her expression. “I meant unfortunate in that it’s not new information. It’s still very useful. A discrepancy between what the mice say could be quite telling.”
This cheered Teresa up a bit as she said, “If it’s any help, I’m not sure Warren was telling the whole truth.”
“If I’m honest,” replied Justin, leaning down and whispering, “I’m not sure Fraus was telling all either.”
He stood up straight again, smiling as he said “Keep me informed about anything more you find out, Teresa.”
The mouse nodded, returning the smile. “I will,” she said.
Martin looked about ready to begin speaking when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Down the tunnel Bracken was leaving the infirmary after checking on his wounded guards, one actually stood with the captain, his arm in a sling and his head bandaged. Bracken gently laid a hand on the rat’s shoulder, smiling, obviously congratulating him.
“Bracken was in a meeting at the time and so wasn’t immediately on hand to help,” said Justin as all attention was directed towards the captain. “He’s been quizzing the guards present to find out what happened. He takes it personally when he’s not there personally in situations like that.”
“I’ll just be a moment!” said Martin and turned to run up the tunnel. “Hey Bracken!” he called out.
The big rat turned at the use of his name.
“Martin!” he smiled. “Everything okay?”
“Fine,” said Martin stopping before the Captain of the Guard. “I have a favour to ask.”
“Sure?” said Bracken with a slight shrug. Martin drew himself up.
“I want to be trained to use a sword,” he said.
Bracken’s eyes grew wide and he hesitated before answering.
“You know I would be happy to train you... but we’re short handed now...”
“I’m a fast learner,” interrupted Martin. He would never admit it, but the mouse’s voice was definitely raised almost to pleading. “I only want the basics. Kate even already started showing me some swordplay outside in the valley... And when I’m trained my family won’t need an escort anymore ‘cause I’ll protect them. That means it frees up more of your guards!”
“Martin...” Bracken began reasoning with the mouse, but Martin would not allow it.
“No. Please Bracken. You saw what happened out there. I was powerless. And... Spiro... got involved. That thing actually saved my sister! I couldn’t stand that. I want to protect my family. Please!”
Bracken considered for a moment and then went down on his haunches, addressing Martin face to face.
“What does your mother think about this?”
“I’m old enough to make my own decisions,” said Martin, gazing aside defiantly. In that moment Bracken looked out of the corner of his eye, over Martin’s shoulder, to Mrs. Brisby. She had been listening to the exchange and nodded wearily.
“Okay,” said Bracken straightening up. “Let’s see if we can tag you onto some training sessions.”
“Really? I mean... Thanks,” said Martin, the young mouse beaming.
As the two disappeared around the bend in the tunnel Justin turned to the remaining mice.
“You’re happy about that?” Justin asked Mrs. Brisby. She nodded.
“If it keeps him occupied... Besides,” her shoulders slumped slightly, “he is old enough now to make his own decisions.”
Justin nodded, “Well maybe we can find something else for you to do.”
“Can we get food?” asked Cynthia. Justin grinned and nodded.
“That seems like a fair plan,” he said, leading the mice off. As Cynthia happily recited what she wanted to get form the Rats’ store for lunch, Teresa turned to her mother.
“I wonder how Timmy is getting on?”
Timothy was getting a headache. It was becoming harder and harder to read. It was as if the letters kept shifting on the page, blurring in and out of focus as they did so. He straightened up and rubbed his eyes. They ached terribly, and he seemed to get the telltale tingle quicker and quicker. He cast about for something to occupy himself with until the headache went away. However, after a moment Timothy hung his head, his hands massaging his temples as the pulsing ache got momentarily worse. It was getting impossible to concentrate on anything. He tried looking at the page again, but the text on the papers in front of him swam and he could barely read it. He had always had to concentrate hard to read when his father had given them all lessons, but now it was near unbearable. And it was just getting worse.
Straightening in his seat and rubbing his aching eyes again, Timothy tried to read the inscription in his father’s book. It was on the first page.
“To those with the right kind of eyes, any secrets are laid clear.”
He was able to make it out... just, but even that gave his a headache. It seemed that after five minutes of reading he had to give it up. Maybe it was time for a rest. A longer one.
He turned to his Dad’s effects and began playing with some of the items that no one seemed to be able to identify. One appeared to be several concentric metal rings, joined together in such a way that they could each spin and turn almost independently of each other. It reminded him of the Augur though if there was any gain to be drawn from this connection, it was beyond Timothy. Another item had several metal balls strung in a line. Timothy raised one on the end and released it. With a clicking a ball on the other end rose and fell. With another click, the first ball swung up and down. The movement went on, back and forth, until Timothy stopped it. As interesting as all these were he couldn’t see any purpose to them. Maybe he could go down to the machine house with them and see if any of the rats there could make sense of the items.
As he put the objects back on the shelf his hand brushed his father’s cape. He rubbed the material. It was thick and heavy, but not coarse and it certainly wasn’t well worn. It seemed barely used, but that wasn’t surprising, thought Timothy. If his father had wanted to hide this other life while at home, he wouldn’t have brought this cape. On a whim Timothy unhooked the garment and wrapped himself in it. It didn’t help throw light on anything, but somehow comforted him and took his mind away from his throbbing headache.
He began to toy with the magnifying glass. He moved it back and forth across the grain of the wood on the desk, examining it in minute detail. He passed it over some diagrams of the augur and read the annotations. They were clearer with the magnifying glass, but only slightly easier to read. It took Timothy a few more moments to form the idea. It was so obvious he didn’t know why he hadn’t seen it before. Setting the magnifying glass down carefully, he retrieved Jonathan’s glasses case.
Timothy hadn’t known his father needed glasses... Jonathan had never read in front of him or his siblings, whether telling them stories or trying to teach them how to read. He’d simply made things up off the top of his head or worked from memory.
Opening the little box carefully, he looked at his father’s glasses in the illumination of the lantern. The lenses caught the light, reflecting strange patterns upon the ceiling. Gingerly Timothy picked up the glasses and held them in front of his own eyes. Blinking he tried to focus on the pages, moving the glasses back and forth. He noticed the effect immediately and the difference was astounding. Where the words and letters had run together, as if written on soggy paper, now they were clearly defined and easily read. On closer inspection it was not perfect, but the improvement was so great that Timothy actually laughed out loud. He raced through a page of notes. He had to hold the glasses in place as they were too big for his nose but... Fantastic! He forgot himself and carelessly dropped the glasses case onto the shelf. A rattle accompanied the thud of wood on wood. Timothy turned his head, hoping he hadn’t broken the glasses case. The cushioned lining of the case had come away, sticking out from beneath the lid.
“Oh no,” moaned the young mouse, picking up the box. However the regret for his carelessness quickly turned to surprise when on reopening the case he found a second pair of spectacles stored beneath the lining. These were much like the others though each lens was tinted; one blue, the other orange. Timothy raised his eyebrows and exchanged the pairs of glasses.
This new pair were not an improvement. Maybe they magnified slightly, but they were by no means as good as the others. Timmy tried looking about the room. Everything was discoloured with the glasses, turning a murky green, but little else. The lanterns went a strange red colour when viewed through the lenses, but there was no other effect. Timmy was about to return the pair to the box when he noticed something about the first page of his Dad’s book. He looked at it without the glasses, then again with them. With the tinted lenses dark red blobs appeared over the page. They disappeared when the glasses were removed. Interesting, thought Timothy. Leaning in closer Timothy saw something else that was surprising. The blobs were not random; they were in lines across the page. In fact...
Timothy put the other glasses behind the tinted lenses. A groove on the inside of the tinted pair held the other in place. With a growing excitement Timothy looked at the page again. There were the words, but they were different now, written in dark red ink. The original words were no longer visible with these tinted lenses, only a page of text written in... Timothy’s heart leaped. In his father’s handwriting, where there had previously been only the simple inscription, was now a message:
If you are reading this Nicodemus, or maybe one of my children, then you must forgive me for taking these precautions. I fear that others covet what I am trying to achieve, but have a different goal in mind. For this reason I must not keep a detailed record of my activities and am disposed to measures such as these to hide my work.
Also, if you have found this note, then I fear that something has happened that I have not foreseen. However as long as this tome and its secrets are not found by those who would use it for harm, then the worst has been avoided.
To my children and dearest wife, I am sorry. This is not how I would have wished it.
Read the words... I just hope they are enough.
The words swam out of focus again, though this time it was for the tears in Timothy’s eyes. His father had left them a note. He knew that something might happen and made plans. Why had he not told them?
Drying his eyes, Timothy turned the page. There was text, but it was different to what had been there before, it was more like a notebook than a planned volume, reams of words and diagrams spilled onto the page seemingly as they came to mind. Pulling the cape tightly around himself, holding the glasses to his eyes, Timothy followed his father’s instructions and read the words...
Only one lantern burned in the room; shadows dancing on rough, unfinished walls. The majority of the Mice of NIMH were elsewhere in the valley, passing the time as they saw fit, but two were sitting in the gloom. Spiro was slumped in one corner of the chamber, his head tilted back, resting against the walls. Spiro didn’t sleep as other creatures do. His body became inactive, that was true, but he always remained on watch, his good eye never closed. He knew what happened when you weren’t on watch. He had seen the costs and could not afford to sleep.
As he sat, Spiro watched Fraus. Fraus hardly slept either, though that was for different reasons. The Mouse of NIMH was sitting in an under-sized chair, staring off into the middle distance, focussing on something distant and unseen to Spiro. His cape was draped over his left arm; his right hand stroked the fur of his cheek, gently running over the same spot again and again. All the while Fraus muttered to himself, quietly under his breath. Sometimes Spiro listened to the disjointed whispers. They were becoming more frequent of late, and far more incoherent. He listened now all the while Fraus’ face never moved; his expression never changed; his eyes never focussed.
“Everything’s ready... yes...? So the culmination of our plans is near at hand... That was uncalled for what he did in the valley.... what about the others...? We could take them back... they would help our cause... half feral...? What does that matter? They are still NIMH-born... NIMH blood... You don’t...! Very well... and what of the Stone...? A little information has reached us... what of it...? It is something we had not bargained for... it will be advantageous to us I’m sure... she will know what to do with it... of course... are we prepared...? I will check!”
Fraus levered himself from his chair and went to the packs of equipment stored in the corner of the room. Flicking a cover up he plunged his right hand into the muddle and withdrew a cloth wrapped item from the pack. Standing with left arm beneath his cloak he placed it on the desk and unwrapped it slowly with his right. He stood over the item now resting his right hand on the table, supporting himself. Something glittered in the lantern light, reflected in Fraus’ eyes. His body began to shudder.
Spiro had seen this before. He silently got to his feet and, as he did so, he brused something from his clothes. On the floor before him were the ravaged and dismembered remains of a spider. Pieces of it’s brittle limbs fell amongst the other remains. Reaching down Spiro retrieved a long, thin blade that was driven down through the arachnid’s split carapace and into the floor. He tucked the knife into the bandolier beneath his cape and slipped from the room, the door sliding on its hinges without sound. Waiting in the shadows for a moment Spiro watched and listened. All he could hear was Fraus in the other room, the rasping, broken, breathing. Leaving the sounds of strangled misery behind him, Spiro slipped away into the dark tunnels. He was careful not to be noticed by the rat who had been watching the area. Spiro had known about him since he had first appeared yesterday morning. Spiro knew how to get past him...
Martin swung the carved wooden stick, striking the target and then, with a deft flick of the wrist, brought it down and under, striking the target again. He continued the flowing movements, one after the other, the ‘sword’ whistling through the air.
The door to the barracks opened and Bracken stuck his head inside. He quickly caught sight of Martin running through the sword exercises. Stepping into the room properly, Bracken watched the mouse swing the sword in complex arcs. As Martin finished the set of exercises, Bracken advanced, clapping.
“That’s good Martin. Very good! You are a fast learner,” Bracken praised. Martin felt his ears burning and decided to try and disguise this with bravado.
“My little sister could do this. How about a go with a real sword?”
“A real sword?” Bracken laughed as he said this. “I’m not sure...”
“C’mon. How about that one?” said Martin pointing to a rat short sword that lay in a rack nearby. It was a blunted training blade, but closer to the genuine article than the wooden thing he was using now.
Picking up the sword, Bracken hefted it and held the handle out to Martin. Although it was only a short sword to a rat, it was still a long blade to the mouse. Martin took the thick handle in both hands. The Captain of the Guard smiled and released the weapon. Martin made a valiant effort. He shut his eyes and gritted his teeth, the muscles on his arms strained against the weight of the sword, but it was too great and it went clattering to the floor.
“Hmmm. Probably a little too heavy for you.” Bracken actually thought Martin would manage to lift the sword in response to that comment. There was a sudden fire in the mouse’s eyes. It was just as Bracken worried, though maybe there was another way around Martin’s stubbornness and quick temper.
“Okay, okay,” Bracken held up his hands in an effort to placate the mouse. “I have an idea. Follow me.”
They left the barracks and turned right down the corridor. A short distance later they stood outside a very heavily braced door. Bracken took out a key and placed it into the sturdy lock.
“This is the armoury. Ever since the incident with Jenner we ask those not on duty to leave their weapons in here.”
The door swung open to reveal a room filled with racks of swords, spears, shields, bows and some other varied martial equipment that Martin could not recognise.
“Wow! Do you really need all this?”
“Never all at one time,” said Bracken, winking. He moved along the racks of weapons, apparently looking for something. “But experience has taught us to keep some spares handy... Ah! This is what I was looking for.”
Bracken had been looking at a selection of swords and now pulled out a short blade in its scabbard. It looked like a knife in the rat’s hands but the handle was far too small for him to have gripped it properly.
“Try that,” he said tossing the blade to Martin. The young mouse caught it, hefted it, and then began to examine the weapon in its scabbard. It was uninteresting and worn, as was the handle, but the whole thing was very light, he had no trouble holding it in one hand. Taking the handle Martin unsheathed the sword, for it was thus to a creature his size. The blade shone in the light from the lanterns, keen and faultless.
“It was your father’s,” said Bracken as he watched Martin. “He had left it behind when he had the... accident. It was made for someone of your size. None of us can use it, and Mr. Ages had no wish to own a sword,” there was a pause. “It’s yours if you want it.”
Martin continued to look at the blade. The wear on the scabbard and handle showed that his father must have carried it, and even held it, but the blade was too perfect. He had never fought with it. He smiled, gripping the handle tightly knowing his father had once done the same. Nodding he replaced the sword into its scabbard.
Bracken wore a wan grin, saying,
“I didn’t know your father that well. I was too young really, and he was spending more and more time away from the rosebush or locked in his study towards the end. I was in the Home Guard and he was a scientist, so we had little in common to talk about, however he was seen around the colony often enough. I never once saw him use that sword. I don’t know why he asked for one, though I have a feeling it was something to do with Jenner. I don’t believe he would ever draw it in anger, though apparently he came close once.”
“When was that?” asked Martin.
“You know of Jenner, don’t you?”
“Of course.” A shadow had fallen across Martin’s face. Their mother had not left Jenner out of the tale.
“There was no love loss between him and your father,” Bracken explained, “and there was little secrecy about how much they hated one another. I remember there was quite a commotion about it at the time. It was one day in the commons and Jenner was goading your father. Someone said they’re sure Jenner had made some comment about your mother.
“Jonathan’s hand flew to the hilt of that sword, Jenner grinning like a maniac. Nicodemus intervened immediately, of course. He would not have violence in the Court of the Rosebush. Your father was quite hot headed at times. That’s why I’m worried about giving you the sword. You’re very much like him.”
Martin was riled at having his father described like this, but when he saw Bracken’s eyes he noticed the Rat watching him very closely. The red fog cleared and he saw the Rat’s position... for once. He nodded.
“It’s fine. I’ll look after it.”
Bracken smiled very wide.
“Okay. Good! Want to try the exercise again?” said Bracken walking back out into the tunnel. Martin followed him.
“No. It’s okay. Maybe another day. Thanks anyway.”
Bracken nodded again, relief evident in the gesture.
“I know how you feel, Martin. I feel the same way about the whole colony. You want to protect your family. Your father, I’m sure, would have been proud of you for that. Just remember that you could hurt many others by simply taking the quickest, easiest course and rushing in.”
Just then another rat came hurtling around the corner. On seeing Bracken he halted, panting for breath.
“Bracken! You’re needed! Come quickly!”
Teresa had felt like a stroll after the meal wanting some fresh air. Cynthia had met some friends, and their mother said she wasn’t in the mood for a walk. It was apparently a lovely evening and so Teresa decided to go to the surface. She and Brutus were making their way there now. She was beginning to find the tunnels of the colony stifling and she often longed for their home back by the brook.
They passed through the atrium and continued up the winding passage. A harsh whisper interrupted their progress.
“Leander?” asked Brutus.
“Hey!” replied the other, stepping into the light. He grinned and asked, “What you doing, then?”
“Out for a stroll,” replied Teresa. Then Brutus added,
“Why are you standing around in the dark?”
“The lantern is out of fuel. They’ve been getting slapdash recently; I’ll have to have a word with Arthur.
Brutus nodded as Leander continued, “Be careful. There’s a NIMH mouse out there.”
“Which one?” asked Brutus.
“Can’t remember the name,” said Leander, frowning as he tried to recall details. “It’s not that really iffy one or his friend. It’s the small one...”
Brutus and Teresa exchanged shrugs.
“Thanks for the warning anyway,” said the mouse as they left Leander to his guard duty.
A few more turns and the pair were outside. They turned left at the entrance walking along the slope, the sounds of the stream’s running water receding. It was indeed a wonderful cool evening. The purple sky faded to a wonderful gold at the horizon, the clouds adding detail to the sunset. Ahead they were approaching a large tree that grew from the shallow slope at a strange angle. One of its crooked branches had fallen and a mouse was sitting atop it, looking out over the twilit valley.
“Warren,” said Teresa under her breath, recognising the mouse instantly. Ever since the Weasel attack she had been waiting for another chance to talk with Warren. She wanted to help the Rats and to do that she needed to find out as much as she could about the Mice. She turned to Brutus. “Can you wait by the entrance?”
“My orders are to watch over you....” Began the rat, looking towards the tree and the other mouse.
“Please Brutus,” interrupted Teresa. “I’ll be fine.”
The big rat looked back at his young charge, and then again at Warren.
“As you wish. Call if you need me, I will be ready. Be careful.”
“Thanks,” said Teresa and waited until the rat was out of sight and then padded across the grass to the branch. Turning towards the sound of movement Warren started at her approach.
“Teresa! You made me jump.”
“May I sit down?” she asked.
“Sure. Please do,” replied Warren, seemingly surprised at the company, but not necessarily disliking it. It made Teresa feel a little guilty that she was trying to get information out of him.
“Thank you.” Teresa sat, adjusting her skirt.
“Is your sister all right now?” Warren asked.
“Fine, it was only a scratch.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear it.”
“The Rats you helped this morning are recovering well. I heard they’re all out of the infirmary.”
“That’s good to hear too. I hadn’t been told.”
For a moment the two looked out over the valley, though Warren’s gaze climbed to the dark sky above.
“The stars are beautiful when they are just appearing. You can rarely see them in the city.”
“Why is that?” Teresa asked.
“It’s because of the human buildings. The humans have their electric lights. They dull the stars.” Warren turned his face to the sky. “Not here though. It is a shame that we will probably be leaving before long.”
“Leaving?” asked Teresa, slightly surprised. “So soon? You only just arrived.”
“We must return to our own colony. We found the Rats’ colony, that was our goal and we were successful. We will take back whatever shared knowledge we can and prepare a proper scientific and diplomatic envoy. I just wanted to see the valley one last time before we left.” Then he added, “The next days promise to be busy.”
Teresa was only half listening. She had not counted on time being so limited. Would the mice simply leave the valley in a few days and return to their own colony? If their mission was that simple why had Spiro attacked their mother? And what about Mr. Ages? She was positive there was far more to their arrival than merely finding the Rats and reporting back. But how much more did Warren know?
Teresa looked sideways and realised that Warren was looking at her now. She felt her ears warm.
“Teresa,” said Warren, his tone now soft, “how would your family feel about returning to the city with us?”
“What?” said Teresa, quite astonished at the question. “No. The woods are our home. We could never leave.”
“Yes. I... I understand,” said Warren turning away. “I thought as much, but wondered if you would be interested in seeing the mouse colony.”
“No I wouldn’t. The life here is simple, but it is free. I could never leave it to live around so many humans.” Teresa shook her head then asked, “Why do you ask?”
Warren looked off at the setting sun. It was growing quite dark now as the twilight faded into night. He seemed quite preoccupied as he said, “I thought that would be your answer. Back at the city we are not free. We have to stay hidden at all times. If the humans find us, their retribution will be swift. Leaving the colony without permission is forbidden, and the penalties for disobeying the colony rules are severe. It is very different from the valley.”
“It doesn’t seem like a pleasant existence, and you sound unhappy about it. Why do you not leave? Go to the country... live there...”
“Because the colony is all I have,” Warren’s tone was incredulous. “How could I possibly live the life of a normal creature? I do not even know how a normal creature should live. Yes there are sacrifices in the colony, but in the forests I would be alone.”
Teresa thought about this comment for a moment. Warren’s words had struck a chord with her. It was something she often felt. The Rats were altered by NIMH, but they had each other; their colony. What about her family? She had seen the effects of NIMH on her own body as friends, other young mice, had grown and matured as she remained an infant. She knew this would always be the case; others would age as she remained young, and she feared it. Her heart echoed Warren’s sentiments. She and her siblings were alone in the forest.
Warren glanced at Teresa and saw her deep in thought. “It’s funny... Fraus said that I should not talk to anyone about this.”
Teresa put her thoughts from her mind for the time being and replied, “Why would he say that?”
“I do not know. Maybe it is because the more I hear about life here in the valley, the more I wish to stay here.”
Teresa was angered by this news. How could Fraus order his companions in such a way? Her voice was raised slightly as she said. “Is that so bad? If you wish to stay in the valley then why don’t you?”
Was that a little flutter of excitement Teresa felt? She ignored it for now.
In reply, Warren slowly shook his head.
“I can’t,” he replied.
“Why not?” demanded Teresa.
“Fraus has said...” Warren began, but Teresa cut him off.
“But what do you think? Surely Fraus cannot tell you what to think.” She felt she was nearing important information; something pivotal in this mess and wished to find out if she was right.
“I...” Warren seemed almost to choke as he tried to speak.
Teresa realised this wasn’t going anywhere and decided to change her strategy.
“This morning,” she said. “You said that you had expected the valley to be different.”
“I did, yes.” Warren seemed relieved that there was a change of subject.
Warren averted his eyes, gazing into the darkened woodland, letting the silence linger.
“I was told it would be different.” This admission seemed to demand a lot of the mouse. His hand began to rub his temple.
“Who told you that?”
“Was it Fraus?” asked Teresa.
Still Warren said nothing, though he visibly shuddered.
“Warren... What is wrong?”
“Nothing...” he replied with a grimace.
“It’s not ‘nothing’ though is it? It’s obvious; I can see it in every move you make; hear it in every word. It’s like you’re rehearsing every answer.”
“Can’t you be honest with me?”
“I’m not supposed to...” he grated, still with the pained expression.
“‘Not supposed’? Who can tell you what you’re meant to do?”
“Fraus is our leader! We cannot go against his word!”
There was that flat emotionless tone again, thought Teresa.
“What has Fraus done?” she asked. “What put him in a position to demand such loyalty from you?”
“He led the colony in the early days. The Mice of NIMH would not exist without him. We all owe him our lives. But...”
“Fraus told us what to expect. He told us that the rats were...” Warren still looked as if he were in some discomfort, but his half closed eyes shone in the fading light. “...were callous, selfish creatures. He told us not to trust them. Yet everything I have seen suggests the opposite. They look after their own kind. They even help others like yourself and your family. Fraus told us not to trust anyone in the valley...” he turned to face her. “But I trust you.”
Almost immediately Warren leapt to his feet, his hands clutching at his head as if in great pain.
“I cannot allow myself to think like this! I cannot. The penalties will be severe!” He drew air through gritted teeth, his eyes forced shut. Teresa was at a loss to know what to do. What could be causing Warren so much pain, so much fear, that he was not allowing himself to think and speak freely?
“Why not?” she said distractedly. Then, when she realised Warren would not hear, she stood and, holding Warren’s wrists, forced his hands to his side. “Warren what’s the matter? Why can’t you think this?”
Warren slowly opened his eyes and, with a weak voice, said, “We are not supposed to...”
Teresa released his hands and stepped back. She was becoming increasingly impatient with Warren’s repeated use of phrases such as ‘I can’t’ or ‘it is forbidden’.
“Is that you speaking? Is that what you believe? You’ve seen how the rats live, you’ve received their hospitality. Is Fraus really worthy of such devotion after lying so often?”
Warren looked horrified as he replied “Fraus’ words are beyond contestation, they are the ideals by which the colony was founded...”
“But do you agree with his ideals?” interrupted Teresa. “Are they what you hold close to your heart?”
He seemed to choke on the words as he spoke them. There was a visible effort on his part as he tried to force the words out.
“I don’t... always agree with them... but...”
Teresa was tired of the game. She decided that it was all or nothing now.
“Did you agree with Spiro attacking my mother?”
“Fraus said he wouldn’t...!” cried Warren before he could stop himself, any trace of anguish gone to be replaced with anger. However immediately the mouse looked like he had been winded. There was genuine terror in his eyes as the realisation of what he had said filled his mind. It frightened Teresa, to see a creature in such anguish and it stopped her speaking.
After a moment Warren took a deep breath, composing himself. In his mind the consequence of saying those few words had been dire, yet in his eyes there was something. A glimmer of hope; of freedom.
“Everything Fraus has said has been untrue,” he said, an awkward smile spreading over his face. “Everything! It’s all lies! He lied to us about everything...!”
“Warren?” asked Teresa. His sudden display of near-manic glee was quite disturbing. Warren did not look at her, yet his voice was much quieter when he next spoke next, his face raised to the sky.
“Fraus has lied from the beginning! Every single breath was used to draw a veil of righteousness over his deceit! And we all believed him! Teresa...”
He turned to face her, though he no longer smiled.
“Teresa! You are in grave danger. Take your family and go! Leave the valley! Now!”
“Warren, what do you mean?” Teresa pleaded. Something in his manner terrified her. His haunted sincerity made her stomach twist. “What has Fraus been saying? What is the danger? What is going to happen?”
Warren babbled on, seemingly unable to hear Teresa’s question.
“You are children of NIMH and it is not safe while he is here. While he knows you are here. I shall... I shall tell the rats! Immediately! I must...”
An almost instantaneous change came over Warren. All the energy left his voice and movements. Again he looked terrified, glancing in every direction peering fretfully into the gloom.
“What have I said?” he mumbled. “He’s listening, he’s always listening!”
“Warren calm down,” said Teresa. “Listen to me!”
The other mouse continued to cower, trying to peer into every shadow at once. Teresa, frustrated and confused by Warren’s behaviour, him by the shoulders, starting directly into his eyes. Slowly she took his hands in hers, imploring him to calm himself and listen to her.
“Warren! Please tell me... who is listening?”
He made no reply. He jaw trembled violently as his eyes stared unfocused beyond her head.
The shout shattered the intensity of the moment. The two mice looked around and saw Martin coming straight towards them. His face a mask of anger. Behind him Brutus could be seen, though he was hanging back.
“Get away from him!” Martin snarled.
Warren backed away from Teresa,
remaining hunched over, cowering before the enraged Martin.
“I’m sorry... I...” he stammered.
”Martin!” Teresa couldn’t believe her brother’s nerve and she stared at him open mouthed. “What were you...? How dare you spy on me!”
“It’s not safe to be alone with these... mice. They can’t be trusted,” he said as he shot a withering glare at Warren, waving a hand in the mouse’s general direction. Teresa felt a swell of anger herself and fought to control it.
“Please, keep your voices down!” Warren was pleading with the quarrelling siblings, though he was glancing all around, searching the surroundings.
“What’s wrong? Don’t want to alert the Rats?” Martin sneered at the mouse, then turned to Teresa, “He’s evil!”
“Martin, will you try to understand!” Teresa had never felt so angry at her brother. “If you weren’t always charging in, assuming the worst you might actually start thinking about what you’re doing.” She pointed back towards the colony. “Just go, now!”
“Please!” whimpered Warren actually scampering around the feuding pair. “They might hear you.” If either Brisby child had paid Warren enough attention, they would have seen that he was terrified.
“Don’t so much as speak...” Martin started, thrusting a finger at Warren’s nose. Teresa grabbed her brother’s arm, pushing it aside.
“Don’t you dare talk to him like that! If you would listen for one moment instead of ranting and raving! Get it into your thick head, Warren is not like the others, he...” she stopped as she looked around and noticed that Warren had vanished. Looking around she caught a glimpse of a mouse disappearing back into the undergrowth. She turned back to her brother trying to suppress the urge to scream at him.
“Thanks Martin!” she said.
“I am trying to protect you. Those mice are up to no good. Can’t you see he’s just a bundle of lies and deception?”
“No...” This came out in calm tones. Teresa was still weighing up the possibilities as she said, “I don’t think so. He’s not anything like the others.”
“Hah. Why? What was it he did to convince you? Was it just because he drags you out under the stars and whispers sweet nothings into your ear...?”
Teresa’s lips tightened and she slapped her brother before he could finish. Martin could only watch in disbelief as she ran back towards the settlement entrance. He had done what was right, he was sure of that. The Mice of NIMH were evil, how could they be anything else.
He waited a few moments, waiting for his cheek to stop stinging and for the water in his eye to clear. Raising his nose he began smelling the cool night air. There would be rain tonight, he was sure of it.
As he approached Brutus the Rat said that Teresa had stormed off ahead. He didn’t regret what he had said. She needed to realise that it was not safe to be near the Mice of NIMH and he intended to make sure of that by any means necessary.
As he and Brutus neared the entrance to the colony, they nearly collided with a group of three rats, led by Bracken, charging out into the night. Before either Brutus or Martin could ask what the rush was about the three guards had vanished into the shadowed woodland.
Warren had pelted down the entrance tunnel, around the entranceway, and had not stopped running until he was a level down, tucked into a shadowy alcove. Had he done the right thing? Of course he had, but had that been the right time? Would she listen?
“Out for a stroll, Warren?”
Warren’s heart stopped for a moment, the tightening of his chest almost unbearable. His voice was a squeal as he addressed the speaker.
Everyone thought Spiro was the one with the dread eyes, but that was before you saw the subtleties of Fraus’ stare. There were no secrets before eyes like that.
“How is the oldest Brisby daughter?”
“Teresa?” breathed Warren. His unthinking reply made his chest tighten again. He had been caught!
“That’s it! Pretty little thing isn’t she? Just remember where your loyalties lie, Warren.”
Fraus’ leer added more nuances to Warren’s misery as his stomach churned. His throat was dry as he struggled with words.
“Always Fraus. Of course...”
“You wouldn’t be in need of a reminder...? A test of your fidelity to our cause?”
Fraus’ stare had gone terrifyingly blank.
“No!” squealed Warren, then more calmly, “No, Fraus. I will follow orders without question...”
“Hmmm...” Fraus cut in, examining the claws of his right hand with disinterest. “We’re making final arrangements for my little scheme. It’s going to be tonight!”
“Tonight?” Warren’s heart sank. That wasn’t enough time. It was too soon.
“Yes.” Fraus grinned, a predatory grin. Behind him Deakon stepped out of the shadows, grinning unpleasantly as Warren cringed. “Something has come up. We are getting the final meeting underway.” Fraus’ gaze flicked towards Deakon and then back to Warren. “Come with me.”
Deakon grabbed Warren by the scruff of his neck and hauled him down the corridor after Fraus. Behind them a shadow detached itself from a nearby pool of darkness. It followed them at a small distance, always keeping to the shadows. Its one working eye was on Warren, as it had been for most of the evening...