The Secret of the Stone

By Procyon Alpha


The Secret of the Stone
Art by Procyon

The woods are full of legends…
Legends of the beings that shaped the world and the power that sustains it.
Legends of the rats that know the secrets of man and can think as they do.
Legends of a mouse who created a stone... and a mouse that unlocked its power...


Greetings.  I am Procyon.

Thanks for the interest in my fan fiction…  I wanted to write a little introduction to the story, hoping to make clear what I intended and also to give some acknowledgements.

First of all, if you cannot guess from the title, this fan fiction follows from the movie and as such facts were matched with this first and the book second, though I’ve tried to match the two up as closely as I can.  Of course some things may have a personal spin.  This world is perhaps more fantastic than that of the book, and has magic, a power that Mrs. Brisby channeled through the stone to save her children in the film.  It is this that is the point of interest in the story (well hopefully).

It’s meant to read a bit like a movie.  If you’re picturing it in your head with the same sort of backgrounds and overall style as the original film you’ll probably be close to what I’m imagining (whether that’s a good thing or not is open to debate). I have also tried to keep to no more than a PG rating (actually I strived not to put in anything worse than in the original film, but things can get out of hand).

This is my first fan fiction (well the first I have actually had posted anywhere) and so may be a bit scrappy in places.  Please forgive this.  I’m hoping to improve with practice.  Because of this there may be changes made to parts of the story that have already been posted in light of developments later.  These will be made known as and when they happen.

Some of the pictures in the fan art gallery tie into this story.  It would sometimes help to look at those as my descriptions are rarely up to scratch (go and look anyway and please give feedback, post comments and make suggestions).

I would like to say a thank you to Simon who kept giving me encouragement, laboriously read the drafts of the story and gave me advice on how to make it better and more readable (and make sure I was not the only person who could understand what was going on).

Ooh.  Almost forgot.  A thanks to all you who read and enjoy the story.  Feedback (good or bad) is really appreciated.

A quick word on feedback… the future is not set (why does that sound familiar?) and only certain points about the ending are fixed.  If there is anything that you would like to see included or ignored within the story incorporate it into any feedback you send and I will more than likely take it on board (well… as long as it doesn’t interfere with what I have planned).  It’s always really interesting to get other’s ideas.

And now I will leave you with sound words from Nicodemus:

“There is a book there…   Read the words.”


P.S.  Pretend this is a book for the purposes of the quote above...  Also here’s just a brief legal note.  This is a derivative work and as such all rights for characters (even those embellished by myself) remain those of their respective owners EXCEPT those original characters created by me.  Please do not use them without permission (that I will be more than likely to give if you want them for a good reason).  Please do not reproduce this fanfiction, in part or in full, without my permission.  This does not affect your statutory rights, blah, blah, blah…  Okay, on with the show...


“It has been 30 days since we moved from the rose bush to escape NIMH.  This is the first time I have been able to bring myself to write a final note in the previously meticulous records that Nicodemus kept.  I have begun a new record of the events at Thorn Valley, but I felt that this book should not go unfinished.

We have suffered a great loss.  Three of our number were killed during an attempt to save the Jonathan Brisby’s home from the plough.  Nicodemus and Sullivan were victims of Jenner’s treachery, and then Jenner himself was killed by Justin in an attempt to protect the Brisby widow.  Continuing without the leadership of Nicodemus will be difficult, but we will honour his memory with our prosperity, under Justin’s guidance.

“We believe that we have been able to deceive NIMH with regard to our location and activities.  Very few now know of our whereabouts.  Only Mr. Ages, a former colleague, the Brisby family, and those of the woods who have aided us in the past know of our existence. We may now at last be able to settle here and create the lives that we have strived for since we left NIMH.  We hope now that the lives of those we touched will also return to normal.


As the quill finished scratching the signature across the page the old rat holding it straightened.  He looked at the page a little longer then closed the tome, placing the quill beside it.  Then he turned, his robes billowing with the movement and left the chamber, extinguishing the light as he did so.

Part 1: The Woods

“Thus far the amulet has remained safely hidden.  But if he should find it…  Heaven help us.” —Nicodemus

Chapter 1: Re-acquaintances

“Mother!” the young voice rang out.  A little mouse ran along the bank of the brook, darting between ferns as the summer light, filtering through the trees, played across his grey fur.  The flowers were all in bloom, splashing colour amongst the tree roots where they grew, and insects lazily flitted from plant to plant.   There was no wind and the grass that grew on the gently sloping bank was unmoving until the tiny creature disturbed it, starting them twitching in the sunlight.  The brook itself flowed swiftly on, and the background murmur of the forest was all to be heard.  Well that and:

“Mother!” came the insistent voice again, now lightly burdened with the tone of insistent impatience used by children everywhere.

Mrs Brisby looked up from her work.

“Yes Timothy!” she called.  She was sitting on top of the hollow log that was the Brisby family’s summer home.  It lay amongst the roots of a tree, on the bank of the brook and moss and vines had grown to cover almost its entire surface.  They had returned to it each year, and each year the log needed some work, mostly clearing out and patching up.  Even now after a few weeks it was still not perfect.  The log was showing its age and Mrs Brisby was using leaves as a means to plug the growing number of cracks in the bark.  She had stopped to reapply the bandages that still covered her hands.

The little mouse bounded up, leapt onto the log and ran up to his mother.  He was small, skinny; a mass of unruly hair on his head fell down in a wild fringe, and he wore a green vest.  Breathing heavily from his run he saw what his mother was doing and looked concerned, for she had told them all how she had received the burns on her hands.   Breathless from running, Timothy spoke between gasps for air.

 “Do they… still hurt?”

Mrs. Brisby smiled and looked sideways at Timothy.

“No.  The bandages have just come loose.  What are you in such a hurry for?”

“Martin said… I couldn’t play unless… I’d had my medicine.”

Mrs. Brisby rolled her eyes and went back to what she had been doing. 

“Well that’s right.”

“Aw, do I have to?” Timothy said gazing out into the golden woods.  A group of other infant mice were playing amongst the roots of a gnarled oak tree.  Mrs. Brisby finished tying the bandage and picked up a piece of red material.  This turned out to be sewn into a tube that she pulled over her hand and forearm as a covering for the bandages.  She quickly did the same for the other arm and then turned, hand on hip, looking at her younger son.  Timothy was still gazing into the distance, lost in his own imagination, but eventually turned back when he realised his mother had not replied.  His eyes met hers, then his gaze dropped to the floor.

“Okay,” he said.  Mrs. Brisby smiled and reached out and ruffled her son’s hair.

“Mum!  Cut it out,” he said, brushing her hand away, a grin on his face.  Mrs Brisby laughed.

“Come on.  We’ll get your medicine and then you can play.”  She leapt down to the ground, Timothy following close behind, and they walked around to the front door.

The entrance led straight into the main living area that was the larger part of the log.  A large circular table in the middle of the room dominated much of the space; pieces of cork and other assorted objects around it acted as chairs.  Around the edges of the room were stored various other items acting as more furniture.  Twigs that would act as fuel for the fire were stacked near to the hearth.  Doorways led to other parts of the house including the larder and the tunnel to the bedrooms that were actually beneath the tree, amongst the roots.  They also saw Teresa.  She had been working on the log’s interior, though at the moment she sat on the floor, a broom in one hand, fast asleep.  Timothy giggled and Mrs. Brisby smiled again.

“Best not disturb her,” she said moving to get the medicine from the storage room.  “She’s had a long day while you’ve been out playing.”  She gave Timothy a quick sidelong glance and a grin as she took out a bowl and placed it on the table along with the various other ingredients ready to prepare the mixture.  Timothy playfully pulled a face in response.  Mrs. Brisby poured some water from a jug into the bowl, adding some powder from an envelope.  Then she went over to the hearth and poured the mixture into the pot that hung over the glowing embers.  The mixture quickly began to simmer and bubble, a broth appearing on its surface.  It was then quickly removed and Mrs. Brisby poured the mixture back into the bowl and straightened up carrying the medicine over to Timothy.

“Drink up.  This is almost the last of this medicine.”

“Really?” asked Timothy, smiling as he began to drink from the bowl.

“Mm-hmm.  I’ll have to go to Mr. Ages and get some more.”

“Aw Mum,” he said handing the empty bowl back to his mother and wiping his mouth with his other hand.

“ ’Fraid so.  You know it’s for your own good.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.  Can I go play now?”

“Yes, you can go play.  Be careful.”  She smiled and Timothy returned a quick grin before heading back outside.

“And if you see your brother tell him there is plenty of work to do back here!” she called as Timothy was already scampering out of the door.

“Yeah Mum.  I will!  Don’t worry!” he called back and was gone.

Mrs. Brisby smiled to herself, still holding the bowl.  What a difference a few weeks makes.  Timothy was still small for his age (both Martin and Teresa were now almost fully grown and Cynthia was bigger than Timothy now), but he showed few other signs of his previous sickness.  When they had arrived here a few weeks before Timothy had been quick to join in and play with the children of the mouse families that lived along the brook.  Mrs. Brisby had grown up in this area, knowing of all the things there were to see and do.  It was a relief that Timothy would be experience these too, after already missing out on so much.

It was not long ago that Timmy had been bed-ridden through sickness.  She still needed to collect medicine from Mr. Ages, which was crucial for Timmy’s continued health, but that was a small price to pay for her youngest son to be able to live normally.  She looked down at the other price she had to pay.  Her hands were still scarred and sore from the Stone’s power, the bandages needing to be reapplied ever few days.  For some reason they did not seem to be healing.  Mrs. Brisby tugged on the red sleeves making sure none of the bandages were showing.  She still had trouble remembering the events from the night when she had received them.  It had all been so fast and confusing.  But she realised that despite the discomfort of having these scars the Rats of NIMH had lost so much more…

She had woken with a start and could remember very little.  The Rats, the house being winched across, the whole thing crashing down, Jenner…

“The children!” she called out.

“It’s alright dear.  Calm down.”  The voice was that of Auntie Shrew.  “They’re all here and quite safe.  Even Timmy’s up and about despite my warnings.  They all wanted to see you.”

Without warning there was a cry from the doorway and the children came streaming in.

“Now wait a moment.  Your mother needs rest.  Shoo!”  The Shrew tried to keep the children back but they were not to be stopped.  They ran to the bed, Cynthia jumping up onto it, and embraced their mother.  Timothy had trailed in last, swathed in the blanket from his bed, and the others parted to allow him to greet Mrs. Brisby too.

“I’m so glad you’re all safe,” she said hugging them tightly.

The Shrew had been standing back but now moved in again.

“All right, give your mother some room.  She has been through an awful lot.”

The children reluctantly stood back and waited beside the bed.  Mrs. Brisby smiled.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Auntie Shrew fell asleep,” said Cynthia giggling.  The Shrew cleared her throat.

“I had a little mishap.  Unfortunately I was not able to see what happened for myself.  When I woke up what was the first thing I should see but Mr. Ages.  He tried to give me one of his damn fool medicines but I was having none of it.  It will take more than a bump on the head to stop me.”

“Are you alright?” asked Mrs. Brisby.

“Never better, thank you.  It is you I am worried about.”

“Well I feel fine, except… ow!” she flexed her hands and noticed the damage for the first time.  They were red and sore, with a pattern of burns on each palm.

“It is best if you do not cover them yet dear.  Let them breathe.  How did you do that?”

“I can’t remember.  It was all so…” she sighed.  “I feel so tried.”

“As I thought,” said the Shrew triumphantly.  “Rest.  It is the best medicine.  Come on children, out you go.”

“We want to stay,” said Martin.  The others began similar protestations when Mrs. Brisby cut in.

“I should be fine now, Auntie Shrew.  Thank you very much for all your help.  I’m not sure I could rest anyway.”

The Shrew sagged slightly but smiled.

“Very well.  I can see when my work is done.  I’ll leave you now then Brisby.”

“I didn’t mean for you to leave…” Mrs. Brisby began.

“No.  It’s quite alright,” interrupted the Shrew still smiling.  “I understand.  You wish to be with your family.  I’ll will come and visit to check up on you dear.  If I may?”

“Please do.”

“Very well.  Good day,” said the Shrew and departed, disappearing through the curtain that hung across the doorway to the main living area.  Mrs. Brisby turned to her children.

“Teresa.  Go and help Auntie Shrew with her shawl.”

Teresa nodded and hurried out of the room.

“And why are you out of bed?” she asked Timothy. 

Timothy looked sheepish.

“I feel much better.  And I wanted to see you,” he said.

Mrs. Brisby smiled.  “Well at least sit.  You don’t want to strain yourself.  You’ve been in bed for a long time.”

“I’m fine,” said Timothy, though he did sit down gratefully on the end of Mrs. Brisby’s bed.

“What happened?” asked Martin.

Mrs. Brisby shook her head.

“I really don’t remember,” she said, truthfully.  She tried to think back.  She remembered the Rats trying to move her house.  It had all gone wrong.  Justin had fought Jenner, then the house had started to sink, and then… there was a blinding light and… she found it very difficult to piece it all together.  It was all so confusing, it had all happened so fast.  She shook her head.

“It’s difficult to explain, too.  I think it best if I start from the beginning.  Where is your sister?”

The other children looked to the door.  Teresa had been gone a long time.

“I’ll go,” said Martin but as he reached the curtain that hung across the doorway it was pushed back to reveal Teresa looking troubled.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mrs. Brisby.

“There’s… someone to see you.  A rat.  He’s says his name is Justin and he’s very nice.  Should I let him in?”

Mrs. Brisby was surprised at this.  She had not expected to see any of the Rats again, let alone so soon.  She nodded at Teresa.

“Yes please do.”

Teresa disappeared again and Martin stayed by the door looking like a diminutive sentry.  Mrs. Brisby was busy trying to make herself presentable.  She looked around and saw her cape hanging nearby.  Reaching out, she grabbed it, but as she drew it towards her something fell from the folds of the material and landed on the bed.  It glowed a dull red in the dim light.  The children had seen it too.

“What’s that?” squeaked Cynthia.

Mrs. Brisby quickly gathered it up hiding it from their view.  The Stone!  She remembered more now.  The Stone appearing, the light, the heat.

“Are you okay?” asked Timothy. 

Mrs. Brisby had begun to breathe quicker.  What should she say?  Maybe she should tell them.  She supposed she could ask Justin.  It was then that a huge shape appeared in the doorway, bent double to fit into the small space.

“Mrs. Brisby,” said Justin, trying to bow by moving his head.  He was still tattered and dirty.  Mud covered most of his brown pelt and he still had a bandage around his arm, and had another on his hand, but Mrs. Brisby didn’t notice this.

“Children, could you please leave? Justin and I need to talk.”

“But I want to stay,” began Martin.  Mrs. Brisby silenced him with a stare.

“Please,” she continued.  “You won’t miss out.  I just need to talk to Justin alone for a moment.”  Mrs. Brisby looked imploringly at her children.  Timothy nodded first.

“Okay Mum,” he said and slipped off the bed.  The others followed suit and left, Justin standing aside to let them past.  Martin hesitated for a moment and then turned and followed his siblings giving Justin a warning look.  Justin responded with an innocent expression and then looked to Mrs. Brisby and grinned.

“You’ve got some good kids,” he said.

“Please come in,” said Mrs. Brisby fiddling with her cape.  “I’m sorry for the state of…” she began but Justin held up a hand.

“Not at all.  I won’t hear of it,” he came inside the bedroom, pulling the curtain back across the doorway.  “It is I who should be sorry for disturbing you.  I just wished to see if you were all right.  Do you mind?” he said pointing at the floor.  Mrs. Brisby shook her head and watched as Justin eased himself down onto the floor with a grateful sigh resting his head against the wall.

“That’s the first chance I’ve had to sit down all night,” he said.  “I also wanted to…” he stopped and looked to the doorway.  Then he looked back to Mrs. Brisby and smiled again.

“I also wanted to…” he continued more slowly, and as he did so he reached across and pulled the curtain aside.  The children here huddled together, standing just outside apparently in the middle of a disagreement about whether they should have been doing what they had just been caught at.  Justin grinned apologetically at them as Mrs. Brisby scolded them.

“Children!  I asked nicely!  Now please go to your rooms.”

They all looked embarrassed and hurried off.  Justin pulled the curtain back across the doorway.

“Sorry,” said Mrs. Brisby.  Justin smiled and shook his head.

“Where was I?  Yes…  I wanted to thank you for your help and also apologise for having you caught in the middle of our infighting.  I never thought Jenner would go so far as to commit murder.”

“I feel I should be thanking you.  You’ve saved Timmy’s life.  But I’m afraid I remember very little.”

Justin nodded and quickly explained all that had happened.  Mrs. Brisby sat and listened not believing, but the memories were restored, becoming clearer.  When Justin had finished she was wide eyed, still trying to understand all he had said.

“What will you do now?” she asked.

“We’ve successfully cleared out the Rosebush.  We’ve blocked off the lowest levels and will go back and finish the job of dismantling the settlement later.  I’m waiting with a team of the Home Guard to try and deceive NIMH into thinking we were just a colony of ordinary rats.  As they are not going to be here until morning I thought I should come and see you.  We couldn’t have done it without you Mrs. Brisby.  Your family has done more for the Rats of NIMH than we are ever likely to be able to fully repay.  We are forever in your debt.  Should you ever need us please do not hesitate to come and find us.  However we will not return to the farm.  That was Nicodemus’ plan and we will try and honour it.”

“Thank you,” replied Mrs. Brisby though it was little more than a whisper.  “What about Mr. Ages?”

“He will stay here.  He knows the way to our settlement though he will not come with us.  His home is here.”

Mrs. Brisby didn’t know what else to say.  She didn’t think there was anything else to say.  Justin seemed to realise this and eased himself up from where he had been sitting.

“Oh, Justin!” Mrs. Brisby called and the rat turned back to her.  She continued, “what about the children?  Can I tell them about you, the Rats I mean?  And NIMH?  About all that has happened?  I so dearly want to tell them about Jonathan…” she trailed off.

Justin nodded with a wan smile.

“They are Jonathan Brisby’s children and have a right to know.  Please make them promise to keep it a secret, but do tell them.  Let them know what a great mouse they had for a father… and for a mother,” he smiled and turned to go again, but once again Mrs. Brisby called him back.

“I have something to give you Justin.”  She retrieved the Stone from her cape and held it out to him.

“Oh no, Mrs. Brisby.  Jonathan created the Stone for you.  I have no right to it.”

“Please take it.  I don’t understand it.  It actually scares me, even though it saved the children.  One day maybe they will want to see it, and maybe they will learn how to use it.  But until then… please… keep it safe for me.”

Justin looked unsure for another moment but then nodded.

“Thank you,” he said taking the jewel and tucking into a pouch at his belt.  “When your children are ready, the Stone will be waiting.”

“Thank you Justin.  Good luck.”

“Good bye, Mrs. Jonathan Brisby.”  Justin seemed about to say more but he smiled and left the room.  Mrs. Brisby sagged.  That would probably be the last time she saw Justin.  The last time she would see any of the Rats.  She also felt apprehensive about them trying to deceive NIMH.  She hoped dearly that whatever the Rats had planned that it would work.

“Has he gone?” came a little voice from the doorway.  Mrs. Brisby looked up to see all four children there.  They must have heard Justin leave.

“Yes. He’s gone.”

“Who was he?” asked Timothy.  Mrs. Brisby smiled.

“To explain that, I will have to tell you a story.”

“A story?” said Cynthia bounding up to the bed again.  The other children gathered around to listen.

“Yes.  A long one.  About the Rats, about a place called NIMH, and about your father…”

Mrs. Brisby smiled at the memory.  She would never forget her children’s faces as she told them about their father and all that he did with the Rats.  They looked so excited and so proud, and asked many questions many of which she couldn’t hope to answer.  She was drawn from her reverie by a voice from the door.

“Mrs. Brisby!  Are you in?”  Another mouse had appeared at the door, another larger mouse stood behind her.  Mrs. Brisby put a finger to her lips and darted outside.

“Sorry Janice.  Teresa is exhausted.  Hello Michael.” 

Janice nodded understandingly her dusty brown pelt shining in the sun, her husband Michael, his fur light grey, smiled.

“How are you, Mrs. Brisby?” he asked.

“Very well, thank you.”

“Is that your Timothy I saw running off?” Janice asked.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Brisby, smiling.  Janice was another mother who lived nearby and a good friend.  She had heard of Timothy’s condition.

“The one with the spider bite?” said Michael.  “He’s made a good recovery.”

“He’s still not right though,” said Mrs. Brisby.  “He can’t seem to put on weight.”

“He’ll be fine,” soothed Janice.  “He’s a late bloomer.  He’ll probably end up like Martin.  Michael was just the same way.  You were skin and bones when you were young,” Janice smiled and looked to her husband who shifted uncomfortably.  Janice turned back to Mrs. Brisby.

“Is now a good time for a visit?” asked Janice smiling.  “We’re looking for Leslie.  He usually plays with Cynthia and Timothy and we were wondering if you’d seen him.”

Mrs. Brisby would have liked to have rested and chatted with her friends but she needed to get Timothy’s medicine.

“I haven’t seen him I’m afraid.  Timothy did say they were all playing together.  I can’t help any more than that I’m afraid.”

“It’s no worry,” replied Janice.  “Our son, always running off without telling us.  Getting into trouble no doubt.” 

Michael noticed Mrs. Brisby’s traveling cape.

“Are you off out somewhere?” he asked.

“I have some errands at the farm.  I’m sorry I can’t stay.”

“Not at all,” said Janice, with a little wave of her hand, “but…  Well, you better get going or else you will never make it back before nightfall.”

“Goodness… yes.  I better be off.  I’ll have to speak to you later.  Sorry.”

“Certainly.  Bye, Mrs. Brisby.”  At this, Janice and Michael wandered off back into the forest, towards their own home.

Mrs. Brisby looked back into the relative darkness of the log and saw Teresa, still sound asleep.  She would have to wake her before she left or else she’d worry.  She walked over to her and, reaching down, gently stroked her hair.  Teresa smiled, stirred, and woke up.  On seeing her mother standing over her she quickly sprang to her feet.

“Mum.  I… er… I was just resting my eyes for a moment.  I…Sorry,” she said, lowering her gaze away from her parent’s eyes.

“No harm done.  You’ve been working really hard.  You’ve done a great job.”

Teresa made a few feeble sweeps at the floor.

“Thanks,” she said, brightening.

“I’m going to go and see Mr. Ages to get some more medicine for Timmy.  If I go now, I should be able to get back before it gets dark.” Mrs. Brisby said, moving to the door.

“Shall I come?” Teresa called, propping the brush against the wall.

“No, you try and finish here.  I shouldn’t be too long.  Remember not to let Timmy get too tired, okay?  I’m leaving you in charge.” 

Teresa smiled.

“Okay Mum.  Take care.”

“I will,” said Mrs. Brisby.  After making sure her old, red cape was secure and tugging on each of the sleeves, she ran out into the sunlight.

Timothy sprang through a patch of long grass into one of the forest glades.  It was brighter here, with a gap in the trees letting the sunlight spill down onto the shorter grass of the clearing.  The tree that had once filled this breach in the canopy lay across one side of the clearing.  This was the place where all the younger mice came to play.

Timothy looked around for his sister.

“Cynthia!” he called and looked around.  He searched the fallen tree where other mice were running and playing amongst its limbs, but could see no sign of her.  Then he heard something behind him.


Timothy turned towards the direction of the noise but could see nothing.  Until, that was, Cynthia poked her head out of the undergrowth.  She was grinning.  Timothy smiled back.

“There you are…” he started, but quickly fell silent at Cynthia’s signal.  She beckoned to him to follow, then disappeared back into the undergrowth.  Timothy was puzzled, but he leapt in amongst the long grass, following a sort of trail until he came upon his sister crouched low and peering out between the blades of grass.

“What are you doing?” asked Timothy, keeping his voice low as he crept up to Cynthia. 

She giggled.

“Martin’s talking to a girl!” she whispered and pointed.  Timothy looked in the direction she had indicated and saw his older brother leaning against a tree.  The load of supplies he was meant to be collecting and taking back home lay on the ground ignored.  He was looking uncharacteristically nervous, grinning awkwardly; beside him was a young female mouse, with dark brown fur.  She was smiling at Martin as they both talked.  Martin scratched the back of his neck as he said something that made them both laugh.

Cynthia giggled again.

“Pretend to chase me,” she said, getting ready to run.

“What?” asked Timothy.

“Just follow me and make a lot of noise.  Or stay here and watch if you want to,” she said.  She gave Timothy a wide, mischievous grin and sprang out from her hiding place.  Timothy moved to where his sister had been and looked out at the ensuing pandemonium.  Cynthia had not been alone: half a dozen young mice were now darting around, running and screaming and being generally disruptive.  In the centre of the mess the dark haired girl mouse was trying to suppress her laughter at the sight of Martin who was managing to look both furious and shocked at the same time.  The children attacked the pile of food that Martin had gathered but left unattended and began to hurl it at each other and into the forest. 

At this, Martin exploded.

“Cynthia!” he roared and pounced at his younger sister.  She let out a burst of laughter and dodged away from his desperate lunge.  Then, as quickly as it had begun, the young mice had disappeared again leaving Martin and the other mouse alone.  Martin still looked angry as he began to pick up the scattered food, though he seemed to calm immediately when the girl mouse started to help him.  Timothy thought that now was as good a time as any, so he walked up to his brother.  Martin saw him coming and scowled.

“I suppose you were in on this?” he said.

“I didn’t mean to be,” replied Timothy.  “I just wanted to say that Mum is wondering where you’ve got to.”

The girl mouse handed the last of the items of food to Martin and obviously thought she was intruding on family business.

“I’ll see you, Martin,” she said with a smile and she departed.  Martin waved after her, a rather dopey expression on his face.  Timothy gave him a nudge.  Martin turned to him, still wearing a dopey smile that quickly changed into a slightly grumpy expression, one that Martin seemed to perpetually sport nowadays.

“I’ve had my medicine.  Can I go play now?”

Martin grinned and hefted the pile of food.

“Yeah, sure.  I’ll get this back to the house.  If you see Cynthia, tell her I’ll get her back for that.”  Martin had a glint in his eye, but Timothy hardly noticed it.  He was running off to join Cynthia and the other children.  He found them nearby.  There were a group of about five of them, laughing and smiling as Cynthia did a bad, but very amusing impression of Martin getting cross.  As Timothy approached they all greeted him.

“Hey everyone.  Where’s Leslie?” he asked.

“He’s not feeling up to coming out today.  Apparently ate some bad berries or something.  What did Martin say?” asked Cynthia looking proud.

“Martin said he’d get his own back later.”

“He’s always saying that.  Anyway it’s his own fault for being so grumpy all the time.  And also for being so funny when he’s angry.”  Everyone gave a laugh at this.  Even Timothy had to smile in agreement.

“Sophie thinks it’s funny too,” said one of the other mice.  His name was Rory, and was the mouse girl’s younger brother, having the same dark brown pelt.

“What shall we do now?” said another called Nancy.  She was a young mouse girl with sandy yellow fur and was slightly younger than the others.

“I could quite happily just lie here all day in the sun and do nothing,” said Rory lying back

“That’s because you’re lazy,” said Cynthia playfully.  She looked thoughtful for a moment and then suddenly brightened.  “Hey!  We could go to the haunted warren!”

Timothy let out a sigh, but the others all seemed interested.

“The what?” asked Rory.  He looked intensely curious.

“Haven’t you heard?” asked Cynthia.  Her expression was one of disbelief.

“Cynthia!” said Timothy wearily.  He gave his sister a pleading look, but she ignored it.

“I have,” said Nancy.  “My older brother said he had heard about it.”

“What’s the haunted warren?” asked Jack, his voice quavering slightly.  He was a slightly podgy, dark grey mouse and seemed perpetually agitated about something.  Cynthia drew herself up.  She loved to tell stories; often she had had the whole group entranced.

“Well, I heard the story from Martin.  He said there was an abandoned rabbit warren near the brook, right around here in fact.  Apparently there used to be an old rabbit that lived there alone.  He was a grumpy old rabbit and whenever he came out to feed he would shoo away any of the smaller creatures that came too close to his patch.  No one even knew his name.”

“That’s right,” confirmed Nancy with a quick nod of the head.

Timothy watched his sister put the others under her spell.  It was true, Martin had told them the tale recently.  Cynthia and Martin’s good natured bickering was itself becoming the stuff of legend amongst the younger mice of the forest.  Cynthia had been aggravating Martin one morning and with an apparent stroke of genius their older brother decided to counter the behaviour with the promise of a story if they were to leave him alone.  Cynthia had agreed at once.  She liked stories, as did all the Brisby children.  Their father had often told them many tales when they were young.  And so it was that the three (for Teresa had quickly joined in the story telling) Brisby children had listened to Martin as he told them the story of the warren.  Timothy had understood it wasn’t real, kept a healthy scepticism about the story, and had forgotten it for the most part until now; but Cynthia had apparently taken it to heart.  He waited for Cynthia to finish relating all that Martin had said, knowing she would be impossible to stop before the end of the story.  So he let Cynthia continue:

“Anyway, one day it was said he just stopped coming out.  Everyone supposed he was dead, as he was quite old, but no one knew for sure as everyone was too afraid to go and check.  At first it was because they were scared of the rabbit, though later it was because people said it was haunted.  Even the other rabbits stayed away and would not use it.”

“Why?  What was there?” asked another young girl mouse.  She was a much lighter shade of grey, with brown flecks, and was called Amanda.  Timothy thought about giving an answer but Cynthia ploughed on.

“I’m coming to that.  Martin had never seen it himself, but he had heard others, his friends, talk about it.  About what they found at the old warren when they went there.  They said that in the evening light, when the rabbits come out to feed, the ghost of the old rabbit that lived in the warren would come out of the warren to scare off intruders…”

“What?” squeaked Jack, his eyes widening with fright.  Cynthia nodded gravely and Timothy rolled his eyes at these theatrics.  Everyone went quiet; a few exchanged nervous glances.  Cynthia let the moment linger and then went on, “Now Martin wouldn’t tell us where it was; he said it was just a story and there was no such thing as a haunted warren.  But the thing is… I found it!”

Even Timothy looked a bit surprised at this.

“You found it?” he asked.  Cynthia nodded gravely, obviously relishing the climax to the story.

“Where is it?” asked Rory.  He seemed fascinated.

“I’ll show you,” said Cynthia.

“Huh?”  This came from Jack.  It looked like he had just choked on something.

“Is it safe?” asked Nancy.

“I don’t know.  I didn’t go close to it,” explained Cynthia.  “That’s what I thought we could do now!  There are a group of us.  It will probably… probably… make it less dangerous.”

This started an exited muttering amongst the group of young mice.

“What if we see the ghost?” gasped Jack. 

Timothy shook his head.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” he said.

“Want to test that?” asked Cynthia.  Despite her solemn expression, Timothy noticed a strange glint in her eye

“Let’s go.”  Everyone turned to the speaker.  The last of the young mice who had so far said nothing was Geraldine.  She rarely spoke at all, so whenever she did the others usually took notice.

“Okay!” said Cynthia, triumphant.  “Anyone else who isn’t scared can come too.”  She looked pointedly at Timothy though it was accompanied with her mischievous grin. 

“Lead on,” he replied.

Cynthia’s grin remained as she turned and scampered off into the woods.  The others followed.  Jack was slow to start off, but seeing he would be left alone he hurried after his friends.

“Hey!  Wait up!” he called as he tried to catch up with them.

Cynthia led them into through the woods for quite some time, but Timothy suspected that she was taking a longer route to add effect to her story.  Rory was the one who voiced the suspicion.

“Do you know where you’re going?” he asked.  Cynthia replied by treating him to a grave stare and a finger pressed to her lips.  Then, very deliberately, she pushed back some leaves to reveal a ragged hole in a bank of earth, almost completely overgrown with grass.

“Wow!” said Rory.

“Big deal,” said Geraldine.  “It’s a hole.”

“Maybe you should go closer then,” suggested Cynthia in a whisper.

“I think we should all go,” said Nancy.  This suggestion was met with another strangled sound from Jack.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” whispered Timothy, though he kept a wary eye on the dark opening in the ground.

“Then why are you whispering?” asked Jack

Just then, there was a moaning from the tunnel entrance: a forlorn cry, though quite faint.

“What was that?” cried Jack.  Rory clapped a hand over his mouth and the whole group stared wide eyed at the patch of darkness.  The wailing came again.  Louder.

“I think we should go,” said Nancy, bouncing nervously on her feet.

“I thought there was nothing to be afraid of?” said Cynthia, though she was looking at Timmy.  He returned the look, slightly nervously.  There was another wail that sounded as if it was coming from just inside the tunnel entrance.  Jack screamed and dove into the undergrowth.  The others stood rooted to the spot.  The sound came again, though this time it changed.  It became the sound of laughter.  The originator of the laughter stepped into the light.

“Leslie!” shouted Rory.  A brown mouse staggered out of the tunnel entrance, nearly doubling up with laughter.  He was joined by Cynthia.  The others in the group couldn’t decide whether to be relieved, angry or embarrassed.  Jack settled for embarrassed as he poked his head out from a clump of grass nearby.

“Very funny, Cynthia.  Well done,” said Timothy.  The comment was sincere, praise for a master at work. Cynthia had fooled them all.

“You should have seen your faces!” said Leslie.

“It was priceless,” added Cynthia.  She was nearly in tears.

“Who dares disturb my home?”

The roar stopped all other sound from the group as they all turned to face the rabbit hole.  The words had come from just inside the entrance.  Cynthia and Leslie exchanged glances and then looked pleadingly at the others.  They looked back, just as baffled.

“Be gone!” the voice boomed again.  As one the young mice squealed and bolted back into the woods, heading for home, leaving the old rabbit hole deserted once again.  When he was sure that they were gone for good, Martin slipped out from his hiding place near to the tunnel and laughed most of the way back home.

Beside the farmhouse, in the northeast field, a breeze was just picking up.  The corn swayed gently: splendid gold in the late afternoon sunlight.  In the middle of the field, rising above the level of the corn, was the old tractor.  It had broken down many years ago and Farmer Fitzgibbon had not bothered to move it.

Mr. Fitzgibbon himself crossed the area between one of the farm buildings and the house.  He ran his hand over his face as he entered through the front door.  As soon as he was out of sight there was a movement at the edge of the field.

Little shapes moved through the corn.  Three shapes, mouse-sized and moving incredibly quickly, shot across the field, darting nimbly between the plant stalks, and into the shadows beneath the old tractor.  Then with amazing agility they began to scale the dead machinery, towards the entrance to Mr. Ages’ home.

Inside, along the dark passages, between the pipes, cables, and cogs of the tractor there shone a dull light.  It came from a door that was slightly ajar: the entrance to Mr. Ages’ workshop.  Within was amassed a vast collection of gadgets, papers, equipment, jars, boxes, and other assorted curiosities.  These were stored on every available surface, piled on the benches, arrayed on shelves or even in some cases left in the corner of the room gathering dust.  The light came from a small burner that was focussed onto a particular bulb near the centre of vast and complex system of tubes.  An old mouse, his fur white with age, was standing on a stool observing the equipment that was before him, watching as liquid circled round looped tubing and filled glass flasks.

Mr. Ages stood with his hands clasped behind his back, and wore a tattered apron with pockets stuffed full of more assorted tools and utensils.  The light reflected in his glasses, flickered, and his whiskers twitched nervously as he stared intensely at something amongst his apparatus.  He picked up a bag and took out a square plate of metal, then placed it into a wide wooden trough and pulled a cork stopper from the end of one of the tubes.  Then, pulling sharply on a cord that dangled above the work area, he picked up a huge lens and leaned over the trough and as the burner flared up with a whoosh of heated air.  Liquid flowed from the tubes and poured into the trough, soaking the little plaque.  Mr. Ages straightened and watched, tense but obviously trying not to show it.  The burner died down again and the room settled back into the gloom.  He waited, unmoving.  The plate itself became cloudy then patches began to darken. As it did so, a smile formed on his old face.  As more patches became darker, slowly a pattern emerged.  Blurry though it was, Mr. Ages could definitely see his own face staring back at him from when he had leaned over the trough a moment before.

“Ha ha!  Got it!” he cried.  Quickly he lifted the plate and placed it back in the little sack.  He reverently carried it over to a shelf and placed it there.  Then, taking out a little piece of paper, wrote in a neat hand:

Experiment one.  Silver nitrate solution prototype.  Successful.

He placed the label on top of the sack and had picked up the glue bottle when he heard a noise.  The door to his workshop had creaked.

“Now who can that be?” he muttered to himself.  Replacing the bottle, he wandered across the room.  He peered around and saw his workbench and his equipment all as he had left them, the door to the workshop was closed.  He shrugged and turned, going back to the shelf.  He stopped suddenly, wondering at what point he had shut the door.  His thoughts were interrupted by a blade being thrust in front of him at neck height.

“Oh my.”  He tried to work saliva into a suddenly dry mouth.  He looked into the gloom and saw a shadow lurking at the blunt end of the blade.  He tried not to look at the sharp end of the blade, but he couldn’t help it.  All he could focus on was the highly polished and brutally curved edge in front of him.  It looked like a wicked, barbed hook.  He felt a movement of air behind him and breath on his neck as another creature spoke into his ear in a rasping whisper.

“The Rats,” was all that was said.  Mr. Ages became aware of a third party playing around with his experiments.

“I say, could you not touch that…” he said automatically though he finished with a strangled sound at a sudden, sharp pressure in the small of his back.

“The Rats, Ages.  Where are they?”  The voice was not raised; it had adopted a lowered tone.

“I d-don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mr. Ages stammered.  His mind was racing.  There was a tone of familiarity in that voice that made him feel uneasy.  He was outnumbered and, by the size of the shadow, could not hope to fight whoever these creatures were.  He began to scan the shelves for something, anything, to cause a distraction, though he felt it unlikely that he could reach any of the devices anyway.   The decision to act turned out not to be his.  The creature holding the blade in front of him retracted the weapon and glided over to him, its long cape billowing with the movement.

“The Rats of NIMH!” it growled, simultaneously bringing its face forward, right up to Mr. Ages’.  The old mouse stared back into its terrible eyes, for a second his own eyes grew very wide at the sudden comprehension.  The shock proved too much for Mr. Ages and he fainted with a muffled groan.  The shadows worked quickly.  One began to manhandle Mr. Ages up and towards the door, while the others began to systematically disassemble the workshop.  Objects on shelves were tossed aside and delicate equipment smashed on the floor.  The curved hook was brought down on one of the work benches and dragged across its surface with a sickening slowness, leaving a deep rent in the wood and clearing it of equipment.  The destruction was not random.  There was a terribly efficient method to the ransacking as areas of the workshop were cleared and searched.  Drawers were opened and their contents emptied onto the floor.  From the chaos, a small envelope was tossed into the air and glided slowly onto the now cluttered floor.  A hand reached down and lightly grasped the envelope between two claws and read the simple label written on the front.


Chapter 2: Friends in High Places

Mrs. Brisby was making good time.  The sun was lower in the sky and clouds had thrown a general shadow across the world, but she still had enough daylight left if she hurried.  She bounded across the field, now ploughed and seeded.  This meant she was able to see the huge stone and her little house that it had shielded from the plough in the distance.  She thought that if she made good time here she would be able to call back in at the winter house and check that nothing important had been left behind.  She may also be able to take some of the seed that had been left on top of the soil, for their larder.  It was while she was thinking about what she could have left in the house that a familiar voice interrupted her thoughts.


Mrs. Brisby ground to a halt mid-stride and struggled briefly to retain her balance.  She then looked around.  A little way away, swathed in a shawl obviously far too long for its occupant and struggling under a bag of seed that was almost as big as herself, was the Shrew.  Mrs. Brisby rolled her eyes.  This meeting would set her back precious minutes.

“Auntie Shrew.  How are...”

“Oh, Brisby.  It is so good to see you.”

“Well it’s nice to see you too...”

“Ever since you left I have been fending off riff-raff from all quarters.”

“Oh no.  Really...?”

“I mean it’s just intolerable, dear, that I should be the only one concerned about standards in this field.”

Mrs. Brisby felt a pang of sympathy for the shrew.  Since her family had left, though she would never admit it, the Shrew was obviously lonely.  The Shrew was, after all, a friend of the family and of Mrs. Brisby in particular, but she just could not spare the time to provide companionship. However explaining this to the Shrew would perhaps take longer than simply listening to her rants.  After a moments thought, she hit upon an idea that may allow her to slip away while still being friendly

“Why don’t you come and visit?” she asked, stopping quickly, half expecting not to even get that far.

“Why thank you dear.  But I couldn’t possibly impose...” The shrew trailed off expectantly.

“It would be no trouble at all.”  Mrs. Brisby said picking up the flow of the conversation.  “I have to pick up medicine for Timmy and...”

“Oh, and how is little Timmy now?  Better, I should hope.” 

“Much better now, thank you.  I have to visit Mr. Ages and then I can meet you at the stone, if that’s all right?”  It was Mrs. Brisby’s turn to look expectant.

“That would be a pleasure, thank you.  But I would be careful when seeing that old flim-flam Ages.  I saw some shady characters around there this afternoon.  Goodness knows what he is doing up there, what sort of undesirables he is consorting with.”  The Shrew’s face suddenly flashed horror.  “You don’t think it could have something to do with the Rats do you?”  She said in a hushed voice.

“I doubt it.  I must be going, but I will meet you at the winter house by the stone.”

“Certainly dear,” she replied, the previous moment forgotten.  “I will go and pack.”

Mrs. Brisby smiled as the little creature shuffled off under its heavy burden, though she didn’t like the sound of ‘go and pack’.  It suggested a protracted stay.  She then raised her eyes to the sky and quickly turned about and headed off towards the next field.

Reaching the border of the field she leapt up onto one of the fence beams and briefly surveyed the surroundings.  The corn, now without the brilliant sunlight, was darker.  She could see no sign of danger however, and she had noticed Dragon, the farmer’s cat, by the farmhouse earlier.  She still hesitated before entering the corn, gazing out into the dark, listening to wind as it was filtered through the long leaves far above her.  She raised her nose and twitched her whiskers.  Nothing.  She hopped down from the beam and entered the cornfield.  The stems towered on either side of her, blocking almost all light.  She found herself on a sort of trail, created by the passage of other small animals, which guided her until her eyes adjusted fully.

As she moved, she became aware of an uneasy feeling of being watched.  Not uncommon with the number of creatures that inhabit the world, but there was a quiet intensity about this place today that disturbed her.  She quickened her pace, but the feeling did not leave.  She soon found herself running and wishing she had asked Martin to come.  She rounded a corner in the run and was promptly knocked off her feet and tumbled head over heels.  She lay still for a second, then slowly opened her eyes and found it was completely dark.  Then she lifted one corner of her cape that had fallen across her face.  Before her was a strut of metal, dug deep into the ground.  Mr. Ages home loomed above her, a colossal structure of rusted metal.  In her haste she had run straight into the metal, not realising how quickly she had been running.

Feeling slightly embarrassed, she got up, leapt onto the metal strut and began to ascend the huge machine.  She could still not shake the feeling of being watched and felt that for once she would really feel at ease once she had reached Mr. Ages workshop.  She reached the summit and then crossed to the broken grill that covered the gaping entrance that would take her into the old machines warren-like innards.  It was even darker inside.  She would never admit it, but Mrs. Brisby had never been especially fond of the dark, especially in the strange and unnatural setting in which she found herself now.  Walking down through the grill, placing her hand on the side of the entrance to help guide her and slipped down a slope that she should have remembered was there.  She grasped at any object or protrusions nearby to try and slow her descent, but only came to a stop when the slope ended.  As once again her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she found herself sitting on the edge of the shaft that lead down to where Mr. Ages had his workshop.

“Mr. Ages?  Are you home?” she called and waited for a reply.  There was none.    She looked down the shaft.  The elevator that he had built to get from here down to the workshop was thankfully not that at the top.  She had never trusted the thing and she preferred to climb down.  Besides, she didn’t understand exactly how to work it, and she didn’t want to pull the wrong string out of the half dozen that disappeared into the blackness above and below her, in case she broke something.  Mr. Ages was very protective of his home and everything in it, one of the few things that Mrs. Brisby actually understood about the old mouse.

It was hard work climbing all the way down.  When she reached the bottom of the shaft she called again to Mr. Ages and again got no reply.  It was most odd as he was usually in.  She moved slowly towards the entrance to his workshop and the warm glow that perpetually filled the doorway.  She knocked when she reached it but again she heard nothing but the creak as the door swung on its hinges.  Looking furtively over her shoulder, she grasped the edge of the door and guided it open and looked around the workshop.  Or what was left of it.  Papers and equipment had been strewn about, on the floor and on desks with no regard for property.  A burner on one of the desks was still burning with a pathetic flame.  She stood in the centre of the mess, hands over her mouth, wondering what had happened to Mr. Ages. This thought was quickly followed by another equally worrying notion.  How was Timmy going to get his medicine now?

Behind her the door slammed closed.  She spun around towards the noise.  Standing in front of the door was a mouse.  His fur was grey, she could tell that much, but his face was in shadow.  He was wearing a long cloak and leather tunic, but more noticeably he was wielding a long and viciously sharp spear.  He lowered this, pointing it at Mrs. Brisby and began to advance; metal guards that he had attached to his feet clicking with each step.  As he moved out into the dim light Mrs. Brisby was able to see his face.  It was unremarkable for the most part, though his eyes were bright even the dim light and he had an unpleasant scar on one side of his nose.  Mrs. Brisby swallowed and backed further into the workshop.  All the while the mouse kept advancing, his eyes locked onto hers.  She was still retreating when she bumped into a table.  Letting out a little cry she glanced back at what was on the workbench.  Watching the mouse advance, getting slowly but inexorably closer, her hand moved over the objects on the table until it found a flask that she gripped and bought around in front of her.  The mouse stopped and grinned, but kept the spear level.  The scars on his nose twisted unpleasantly with the expression.  She tensed, ready to throw the bottle.  Her assailant didn’t move.  She threw the flask with all the force she could muster at the mouse, who swivelled out of its path, cloak swirling up as he moved.  This blocked his sight long enough for Mrs. Brisby to grab a large book and heft that towards him.  That caught him by surprise as it hit him full in the face, causing him to fall back against the wall.  As he struggled to regain his composure, she bolted across the room to the door.  Wrenching the handle around she found it thankfully had not been locked.  Throwing it open she rushed out into the machine’s internal passageways.  Thinking fast, she thought of an escape route.  She dared not take the shaft.  The mouse had looked thin but strong and she was convinced he could out-climb her.  She could not risk using the elevator, so she decided to try and hide.  Turning right, she headed off down a dark and unfamiliar passage.  As she hurtled round the bend she heard a crash as the mouse barged out of the workshop.  It wouldn’t be long until he started to follow.

She flew down the passage as it wound around, changing gradient and direction.  Mr. Ages had installed little gas lights that were extremely widely spaced and dimly lit the little tunnel.  After a while even these became absent.  She had no idea where in this labyrinth she would end up or even if there was a way out.  She could hear the sound of pursuit, fast light footfalls, echoing on hollow metal.  There was light beyond.  As she approached she noticed the floor ahead of her abruptly fell away and as she reached it she leapt into the void beyond.  The chamber she had just entered was large compared to the passage she had just left and it was full of wire, tubes and shafts of metal that criss-crossed the room like some sort of metallic tangle of brambles.  Shafts of light coming from gaps in the ceiling far above lit the room, though the illumination was weak.  She caught onto one of the pipes and swung around it.  Then she dropped onto another piece of tubing directly underneath.  Dust flew up getting into her nose and throat and making her choke and cough.  She wiped tears from her eyes and as she did so she caught movement from across the room.  Her pursuer had reached the entrance.  He leapt swinging the spear in a wide arc.  Mrs. Brisby let go of the piping she was clinging to just as the blade slashed along its surface, sending sparks flying into the murky shadows.  She landed a little heavily and glanced around.  A little way away there was another faint glow of natural light, but rising from the floor.  Looking up she saw the mouse poised ready to jump.  She scampered towards the light as a thud behind her signalled the landing of the other creature.  She ducked and weaved, fighting past bundles of old and perishing wires.  The other mouse, being larger, was having a harder time, though he easily hauled lumps of metal aside.  She sprinted to the hole and shot past it as momentum carried her forward, having to grip the edge of the gap to slow herself.  The mouse was still bearing down on her.  She gazed into the little pool of dim light and saw the ground far below then glancing across at the attacker she dived through headfirst.  The mouse abandoned his spear and suddenly rushed forward with renewed urgency.  Mrs. Brisby wriggled as she tried to get through the hole, expecting at any moment to be hauled back into the darkness.  She braced her arms on the underside edge of the hole and closed her eyes and pushed.  Inside the other mouse leapt at her flailing legs.  With a little gasp she felt herself falling.  The mouse hit the floor next to the hole just too late, his hand clawing the air.

Mrs. Brisby could hardly bear to look at the ground.  She felt strands of grass brush quickly against her, and then leaves.  They grew denser, slowing her.  She still landed with a winding impact.  Lying still, gulping for air, she looked up, trying to focus.  Above her she could see her erstwhile attacker staring down at her.  Then his face vanished.

She sat there a moment longer then realised that it would not be too long before he found a way out.  Breathing heavily, Mrs. Brisby stood and began to hurry away from the machine.  If she could get into the long grass she could probably get far enough away so he could not follow.   She saw movement out of the corner of her eye.  The mouse was charging towards her, cape flying.  She didn’t know how he had managed to get out of the old machine so quickly and didn’t stop to ponder the point.  She simply turned and began to run, and although she was tired, the way was easier now and without obstructions. She picked out one of the trails through the corn and darted towards it.  Glancing back quickly she then put her head down and ran for all she was worth.  It was then she realised that the mouse following her now was not the same one; similar but with different coloured fur and cloak and instead of a spear he carried a sword.

She tore down the trail and became aware of the mouse closing on her.  She pushed harder, desperately trying to escape.  Ahead she saw the fence.  She drew close then leapt.  The mouse just behind her leapt too.  She grabbed the lowest beam as she flew past and was about to push off when the other mouse crashed into her from behind and knocked her sprawling into the ploughed field.  She lay panting, all her strength gone. 

The other mouse stood on the beam looking at her.  She could see he was young, with a very dark grey fur, and he did not have an unpleasant face.  His hair fell down over his eyes.  He stood watching, though his face was impassive, but his eyes betrayed what seemed to Mrs. Brisby like a terrible melancholy.

Behind him the previous mouse appeared and on observing the scene grinned, the scars twisting again.

“Brisby!” he hissed.

She looked at him, horror stricken.  He knew her name.  The scarred mouse’s eyes widened briefly, and his mouth curled into a sneer.  Confirmation of her identity had been given by her reaction.  She shook her head.

“No.”  She pleaded and began to edge away from him.  The scarred mouse nodded slowly.  Then they both advanced.

“No please!” she begged and tried to drag herself away, fearing to turn her back on these two creatures.  She heard the sound of beating wings above that was soon joined by the sound of rushing air.  She did not wish to tear her eyes from her attackers and was surprised to see the one with the scars look around and panic just as a large mass of black feathers bowled him over.  The other leapt backwards, behind the fence beam, while the scarred mouse lay still, stunned.  The bird yawed in the air and came back down.  As it dived it was calling something.

“The string! Quick, grab the string!”

Recognition flooded over her along with relief.  She looked up and saw a length of red string dangling around the bird’s neck.  The mouse that had been hiding, now realising he was about to lose his quarry leapt up, but too late.  She sprang to her feet and leapt up, arms outstretched.  Her fingers found the string; she held it tight as the bird’s feet touched down briefly to push off against the ground.  It beat its wings again, gaining height and soaring away.  She looked back as her attackers dwindled and shrank away into the distance.

“Are you okay Mz. Briz?” said the crow, angling its head to look at her.  She let out a huge sigh and turned round to speak and then saw what they where heading towards.

“Jeremy, look out!”  She called.

“Huh?”  He said and looked up in time to see the bush just before they ploughed into it.

“Whoa!” they cried in unison.  Jeremy had been flying too low, too fast, though luckily the bush was not too dense, being composed of more leaves than twigs.  They came to a halt, Mrs. Brisby dangling from the string around Jeremy’s neck as he himself hung upside down amongst the small leaves and branches.  He spat out some foliage that had caught in his beak.

“Pah!  ‘Scuse me.  Pardon me,” he babbled.  Mrs. Brisby clambered up the string and hugged Jeremy around his beak.

“Thank you Jeremy!  Thank you so much.”

“Oh.  Nu froblum Mff. Brff.”  Jeremy mumbled, unable to open his mouth.  Mrs. Brisby then remembered herself and, releasing Jeremy’s beak, slid onto a nearby branch.  Jeremy struggled for a second then fell to the ground, leaves and twigs falling after him.  Mrs. Brisby nimbly descended the bushes trunk and waited still panting while Jeremy untangled himself from the ungainly lump he now found himself in.

“Need any help?”

“Oh no I’m fine.  Just... there.  Okay, phew.  What was going on back there, Mz. Briz?  Those two looked like they were trying to...” Jeremy raised his eyebrows his mouth moving soundlessly.

“I don’t want to think what they may have done if you hadn’t shown up Jeremy.  How did you know?”

“Oh, well, I was just flying home to the nest when I spotted some great string over by the farm house, but the cat was there so I kept going and saw something happening near the border of the cornfield.  I had a closer look and saw you in trouble...and just...swooped in, you know, and...” Jeremy trailed off as his modesty took hold, leaving him staring into the middle distance still gesturing to words that were not actually being spoken.

“Well, thank you again, Jeremy.”  Letting him know the point was made, Mrs. Brisby smiled.  Family life had done little to alter Jeremy’s little idiosyncrasies.  The smile quickly faded as the relief of escape quickly soured and recent events returned to the forefront of her mind.  She was so affected by these she had to move to a low twig and sit down.  Jeremy bent his head down low so his eyes were almost level with hers.

“Know who they were?”  He asked.

“No.  I had just gone to see Mr. Ages.  When I arrived he was gone and one of them...” she gestured off to the side but retracted her hand quickly to cover her mouth as she realised just how completely helpless she had been.

“Was it that bad?”  Jeremy’s voice was laden with an almost child-like concern as he stared wide-eyed.  It was always hard not to be amused at Jeremy.  His stubborn refusal to let even the gravest situations weigh upon him too much was infectious.

“It could have been.  But what had happened to Mr. Ages?  Do you think they...?” She trailed off and was still a moment as she tried to stop horrible visions from crossing her mind.  Then she turned to the crow, it being her turn to stare wide-eyed.  “Jeremy.  They know my name.”

Jeremy’s jaw dropped, showing he did not really see any significance in this.  Though, she had to admit, his genuine concern was touching.

“What are you going to do?”

“Well...”  She paused.  She had not thought about this.  There had been no time.  There was only one place she could really turn.  “I suppose I will have to see the Rats again.  And after all Mr. Ages was from NIMH.  They may know what to do.”  She looked up at the crow.

“Do you know the way to Thorn Valley, Jeremy?”

“Oh sure,” he said.  “I’ve flown over that way loads of times.  Is that where they went?

“Mmm,” Mrs. Brisby mumbled in the way of a distracted reply.  Something eerie began to creep into her mind.  Remembering the Rats just now had made her realise something.  The mice had reminded her a lot of the Rats, after a fashion.  The way they moved.  There was something unnatural about the Rats, and so it was with these mice.  One Rat in particular descended into her mind like a chilling fog.  Jenner.  Memories not long forgotten resurfaced and added an unwanted and unpleasant depth to the new.  But one thing was certain.  There were similarities between the Rats of NIMH and the mice that had attacked her.  The more she thought about it the more she believed that she should get to the Rats as quickly as possible.  Though for whose sake she did not know.  Awakening from her thoughts she looked around.  Jeremy was still standing there, a look of unease on his face.

“Sorry, I...” she trailed off.  Gazing out from the bush she noticed how dark it was getting.  The clouds were much thicker now, blazing red as the sun bowed out for another day.  “My goodness, it’s getting dark.  I must be getting home.  The children...”

“I can fly you,” Jeremy piped up cheerfully, switching mood at typical breakneck speed.  “You’d be home in no time.”

“No, I couldn’t.”

“Sure you could.  It’s no trouble; we could catch up on the way.”

“But I’m scared of flying.”

“Aren’t you more scared of walking home at this time... in the dark?  I mean who knows what could be out there...” 

“Thank you, Jeremy!”  Mrs. Brisby really didn’t need those sorts of thoughts at the moment.  Though Jeremy did have a point.  “If you’re sure it’s no trouble?”

“Sure it isn’t,” he cried and flopped down onto his belly so she could get onto his back.  “It’ll be just like old times huh?”

“Yes.  Just the same,” she replied wearily.

The fly was not too bad.  The conversation distracted her from the numbing fear of falling, though she never once even slightly loosened her grip on Jeremy’s string.  Jeremy had promptly given her directions for the quickest way to Thorn Valley, and even the likely spots for the Rats’ settlement.  He had even offered to fly Mrs. Brisby there to have a look, but she politely, though quickly, declined.  Conversation then turned to more personal topics.  Jeremy now had a family on the way.  He had a nest, a wife and five eggs, due any day now.  She told him about the move to their home near the brook for the summer and how well the children were, Timmy in particular.

It was then that she remembered the Shrew.  However, there was little she could do about it now, with darkness rapidly approaching, so she would have to apologise later. 

Mrs. Brisby risked a glance downward.  The forest rushed by beneath her, but the river was in sight.  Eventually Mrs. Brisby pointed out a familiar spot and Jeremy landed without major incident.  Mrs. Brisby by now had given some thought to the many of the implications of the strangers’ sudden appearance.  She feared that the children might be in danger.  The mice had known of the Brisby name and therefore possibly of its connections to NIMH and the Rats.  She had to protect the children and go to the Rats, but she couldn’t risk taking them to Thorn Valley.  That would be far too dangerous in case she was waylaid, and she wasn’t sure that Timothy would be able to take the journey.  So, she turned to the only other person she could trust at the moment.

“Jeremy?” she said in gentle tones.  He turned and smiled.

“Yeah, Mz. Briz?”

“I need to ask you a favour.”

“Anything, Mz. Briz.  You can always count on me.”

“I need you to look after the children while I’m away.”

A pained expression flashed across Jeremy’s face.  Then he was smiling again, but with a look tinted with nervousness.

“Sure thing,” he said voice quavering almost imperceptibly and he tried to work moisture into a mouth that had become very dry.  “I love kids.  Kids love me and I love kids...”  He trailed off nervously and looked miserable.  It was hard not to smile at him.

“They’ll behave this time.  I promise.”  Jeremy relaxed, but only a little.

“Okay.  How long?”

“As long as it takes me to see the Rats.  A few days at most.”  There was a new surge of fear in Jeremy.

“A few days?” he strained.

“It would really be a great help.”

Jeremy sagged.  “Anything you want Mz. Briz.  As long as I can help, you know I’ll be there,” he said, his usual vitality back and mixed with an unfamiliar graveness in his tone.

“You’re a good friend Jeremy.” Mrs. Brisby said.  Jeremy smiled and then looked around.

“Well, it’s getting on towards evening.  I better be getting back now.  Emma will probably be wondering where I’ve got to.”  He unfurled his wings, but just as he did so Mrs. Brisby called.

“Wait, Jeremy!”  She turned and ran around the house and returned with a piece of shiny foil.  Jeremy’s eyes lit up.

“A sparkly!” he said bending down to look closely.

“I found it when we moved.  I was saving it for you as a thank you.”  She handed it to the crow who looked as a child would a new toy.

“Thanks a lot, Ms. Briz.”  He tucked the little piece of foil away.  “Well, I really need to go now.” And with a few swift beats of his wings that made Mrs. Brisby shield her eyes, he was in the air.  “See you tomorrow!”

Mrs. Brisby waved and then turned to the house.  The children were standing in the doorway.

“Was that the Turkey?” asked Cynthia almost bouncing with excitement.

“That was Jeremy.  Aren’t you a little old to still be calling him a Turkey?” Mrs. Brisby replied.  “Now, what are you all doing standing around in the cold?  Come on, get inside.”

“Was everything alright?” asked Martin, stepping back out of the entrance.  Timothy looked at his mother’s empty hands.

“Where’s the medicine?” he asked.  Mrs. Brisby sighed.  It had been dark for some time before she had finished explaining the day’s events to them...

Chapter 3: To Protect Them

Martin pushed back the curtain that hung in front of the bedroom entrance.  At the table in the middle of the main living area was his mother, asleep.  She was sitting on one of the corks, hunched over the table, resting her head on her arms.  She had not gone to bed after she had tucked her children in.  He walked around the table and into the larder.  Finding their store of grain, he reached out to fill one of the bowls for his breakfast but knocked over some other items that were stored on the shelves, sending them clattering to the floor.  Mrs. Brisby woke with a start, and looked around.  She was obviously still very tired.  Martin poked his head out from the larder.

“Sorry,” he said.  Mrs. Brisby smiled and settled back onto the stool, resting her head on her hands and closing her eyes.

“What time is it?” she asked.  Martin looked out of the window.

“It’s light outside,” he replied.  Outside the sky was overcast, and almost uniform, stark white.  “I can’t see the sun.  It’s not a nice day.”

“Jeremy will be here soon.  Are you packed?”

“Yes Mum.”  He walked over to the table and sat down looking at her for a moment.  Mrs. Brisby was too tired to notice her son’s unease.  Her sleep had not been peaceful.  Shadowy mice with billowing cloaks and haunted her.  Martin continued to look at his mother, at the lines on her face, the signs of tiredness.

“I want to go with you,” he said quietly.  Mrs. Brisby’s eyes opened again and she was properly awake.  She gazed at her son and was truly aware for the first time that he was no longer a child.  He had grown up without her properly noticing, taking after his father, maturing into a strong young adult.

“You can’t.  You have to go with Jeremy,” she said, not meeting his gaze.

“No.  I want to come with you.  I can help.  I’m old enough now, and strong.  If anyone tries to hurt you again...  I’ll protect you.”  His face remained set.  For a moment she thought about agreeing.  He had Jonathan’s blood.  She knew that NIMH had altered her husband.  It had affected him and the Rats not only in the mind, but had also changed their bodies.  They were more intelligent as well as stronger and slower to age.  It frightened her to think how her children may have been affected by NIMH’s experiments, if indirectly.  It was true that her children had taken longer to grow, and that others of the same age had already grown fully and moved on, but as Martin, her eldest son, sat before her, she saw how strong it had made him.  He acted more like the Rats every day.  She could hardly understand some of the things he spoke about and could not guess at how his mind worked.  But it was, she decided, all for the better.  Her other children would be just the same.  Except Timothy.  Illness at an early age had caused serious damage.  He needed Mr. Ages, medicine or else he would become ill again, and would probably require the treatment for the rest of his life.  It was for Timothy and her other children that she had reached the decision.

“You need to protect the others Martin.  While I’m gone, they’ll have to look up to you.  You’re the oldest and the strongest; I need you to protect them.  That’s why you can’t come with me.”

Martin lowered his head.  When he raised it again his eyes were glazed.

“Okay Mum.  If you say so,” he said.  She was about to reply when there was a little voice from behind her.

“Morning, Mum.”

Mrs. Brisby turned round to see Cynthia standing at the doorway to the bedrooms.  She was rubbing her eyes with a little paw.  Mrs. Brisby smiled and then turned back to Martin, but he was back in the larder.  The smile faded and once again she turned to Cynthia.

Breakfast was rushed, but there was much discussion.  All the children were now awake and were sitting at the table.  Cynthia was playing with her food in a distracted way.

“What will it be like at Thorn Valley?” she asked.

“Yeah.  Did any of the rats mention it?” said Timothy, looking up from his own breakfast.  Mrs. Brisby smiled as she stacked food into four small piles.

“Nicodemus did say something about it when I went to the Rosebush.”

“What did he say?”  Timmy’s eyes were bright as he asked this.

“He said it was a beautiful place.  It was walled in on all sides by rocky hills and the mountains and these were covered in thorny thickets that stopped humans going into the valley.  The valley itself was wide and filled with oak and maple trees.  There were three lakes, a larger one and two smaller ones, ponds he said.  It wasn’t true, but Nicodemus liked to think that they were the first to ever see the valley.”  Mrs. Brisby had a wistful note to her voice as she related the story.

Martin was listening intently, but went back to his food as his mother finished the description.

“It sounds wonderful,” said Teresa finishing her food.

“Why can’t we come with you?” asked Cynthia.  Mrs. Brisby turned round and saw the food on Cynthia’s plate ignored.

“Finish your breakfast,” she said with a nod, continuing once Cynthia started to eat again.  “Because it may be dangerous and I’m not sure of the direction.  I’m just hoping that I will be able to find them.  Justin made it sound easy, said I should just go to the valley, but...”

“You don’t know they way?” asked Martin sounding concerned.

“Well I know the rough direction, and then there should be the landmarks to guide me.”  She noticed Martin’s expression.  “I’ll be fine.”  All the children were looking at her.  “We discussed this last night, you cannot come with me!”  The other children lowered their gazes, but Martin looked unconvinced.  Mrs. Brisby sighed.

“Hurry up and finish your breakfast.  Jeremy will be here soon and you all still need to pack.”

It was about and hour later when Jeremy arrived.  Mrs. Brisby was waiting to meet him.  The children were still inside.

“Okay Mz. Briz.  I’m ready, but I don’t think I’ll be able to carry them all at once.  I should be able to manage two at a time.”  He was looking nervous again, furtive glances to the sides.

“I had thought about that,” replied Mrs. Brisby.  “Thanks again Jeremy.”  Jeremy grinned.

“I even got some extra string to help them hold on.  See.”  He turned showing off a tangle of string that would allow the children to find a good grip.  She smiled.

“You’re a genius, Jeremy.  I don’t know what I’d do without you.  I’ll go and get the children.”  She ducked inside.  A moment later she reappeared, the children in tow.  Mrs. Brisby had given the children little sacks with food and, in Timmy’s case, what remained of their supply of his medicine.

“Hey kids!”  Jeremy called as they filed out of the house.  The children greeted him, Cynthia still referring to him as the ‘turkey’.

They decided that Martin and Timothy should go first, and that Jeremy would come back for Teresa and Cynthia.  There was apparently an abandoned mouse hole at the base of tree that was Jeremy’s home where the children would be comfortable, and not too far away from the summer house.  Martin and Timothy hugged their mother and then clambered onto Jeremy’s back.  Martin held Timothy close when they were in position, in case Timothy lacked the strength to hold on himself, despite his protestations to the contrary.  They called some last goodbyes and then Jeremy was off soaring into the distance, Mrs. Brisby and the remaining children waving after them.

While Jeremy was gone Mrs. Brisby got Teresa and Cynthia to pick some of the blackberries that were growing nearby.  They also checked for anything that had been left in the house that they would need.  Jeremy returned before too long.  Teresa was helping Cynthia onto his back when they all turned towards a shrill cry from the bushes.

“Brisby!”  It was the Shrew.

“Oh no!” said Jeremy with terror filled eyes.

“Oh, I completely forgot!” said Mrs. Brisby clasping her hands over her mouth.

“Auntie Shrew?” asked a grinning Cynthia.

“Brisby!” came the cry again.  Mrs. Brisby thought fast.  If the Shrew saw what was going on she would insist on looking after the children herself.  She had never approved of Mrs. Brisby’s friendship with Jeremy and had demonstrated this the last time she and the Crow had met.  Although Auntie Shrew had all the best intentions, Mrs. Brisby believed the children would be happier and safer with Jeremy.  She had to get them out of sight before the Shrew found out what was going on.

“Children.  Go round the house and get some more blackberries,” then she added quietly to Teresa, “and stay there until I come and get you.”  Teresa nodded in understanding and then hurried Cynthia along.

“Jeremy.  Can you go and perch somewhere for a second?”  Mrs. Brisby looked round from watching her children go to see Jeremy quivering with fear, looking all around him in terror.

“Jeremy!” she called.

“Hmmm!” came the panicked response, Jeremy’s attention snapping onto Mrs. Brisby.  She gave him a wide-eyed look.

“Hide!” she whispered through her teeth.

“Oh yeah.  Right.”  He madly flapped his wings lifting off the ground and flying straight into the branches of a small shrub nearby.  There the string tangled amongst the leaves and he struggled for a second, stopping after receiving a few frantic gestures from Mrs. Brisby.  He hung there, swinging slowly almost obscured by the leaves.  Just at that moment the Shrew appeared from around a tree.

“Over here, Auntie Shrew!” called Mrs. Brisby.

“Good day,” said the Shrew when she had made her way over.  Her voice was laden with a forced courtesy used only by those wanting to show how hard they are trying to remain civil.

“I’m so sorry I forgot to come back...”

“And so you should be dear, I waited till near darkness.  I was worried sick.  I thought the cat may have got you, and was equally worried it could have got me!  And what about the children?  What would they do if anything happened to you and me?  I wonder if you would be kind enough to furnish me with an explanation?” she stared furiously at Mrs. Brisby.

“I was attacked,” she said simply.  The Shrew’s expression changed instantly to a look of concern.  Her tone had similarly altered.

“How dreadful!  By whom?  If it was those Rats...”

“No, they were mice.”


“Yes.  I think they may have been the ones you noticed earlier.  The ‘shady characters’.  They were waiting for me when I arrived at Mr. Ages’.  There were two of them and...”

“How ever did you escape?” Auntie Shrew interrupted, obviously not wanting the conversation to go any further until she had satisfied her particular curiosity.  Mrs. Brisby was about to speak when she stopped herself.  Over the Shrew’s shoulder she could see Jeremy’s face through a gap in the leaves, shaking his head furiously.

“I managed to lose them in the long grass of the field.  I hid in there until they went away.  But the worst thing was they knew my name.  It was almost as if they wanted me specifically.”  The Shrew’s eyes widened in astonishment.

“That is worrying,” she said.  “What are you doing about it?  What if they find out where you live?  Do you want me to look after the children?”

“The children are already staying with friends.  I was just on my way to see someone who might know who these mice are.  I’m worried what they may have done to Mr. Ages.”

“He is old enough to look after himself, but it is a worry, yes,” said the Shrew, looking slightly on edge herself now.  “I better go then dear.  If you need any help...” She didn’t finish.

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Brisby.  The Shrew turned and left, moving a good deal faster then she had when she was arriving.  Mrs. Brisby let out a sigh of relief and then went to find her children.  They were waiting under the blackberry bush with another small pile of berries.  They carried these back to the house, Mrs. Brisby explaining to Teresa what had happened, and thanking her for playing along when Cynthia piped up.

“Where’s the turkey?”  Then Mrs. Brisby remembered Jeremy.

“Oh, Jeremy!  I’m sorry I forgot.”  She turned back to the shrub and ran under it.  Jeremy was still swinging back and forth and wasn’t looking at his best. 

“Hi Mz. Briz!”  He slurred.  Mrs. Brisby could almost make out a hint of green beneath the feathers.  She scampered up into its branches then with a few quick bites freed Jeremy.  He collapsed onto the ground.

“’Scuse me.  Pardon me,” he said on landing.

“I’m so sorry, Jeremy.”

“No problem.”  He set about tidying his feathers when he stopped suddenly.  “Is she gone?”  He looked towards the direction in which the Shrew had retreated.

“Yes.  Do you still feel up to flying?”  Mrs. Brisby asked.

“Oh sure,” he said and stood up.  Within a few moments Teresa and Cynthia had received goodbye hugs and were clasped to Jeremy’s back.  More farewells were called and then they were off.  Mrs. Brisby waved until they were out of sight.  Then she turned and went back into her house.  She had a long journey ahead of her and she had to pack herself.

Near the edge of the woods a little clump of grass stirred.  Then the Shrew poked her head out and looked around.  What Mrs. Brisby had said about being attacked had frightened her.  Ruffians like those always preyed on the small and weak.  Well, small she may be but if they approached her they would find she was far from weak.  She hopped out of the grass and then under a bush and out into a clearing.  In the centre was an old stump, its surfaces weathered and craggy.  She rounded it and reached the edge of the wood and looked out over the fields with the farmhouse sitting in the centre.  It was then that she felt movement.  Looking around and saw a mouse, with a long cloak and weapon, advancing slowly.  She didn’t hesitate on seeing the stranger, but whirled around, ready to bolt for the fields.  Her stomach sank when she saw two other mice where already there, blocking her escape.  All three kept coming slowly, inexorably towards her.  The Shrew turned back to the first mouse and cowered, wide eyed, shocked into immobility by a cold terror under his terrible gaze.

Mrs. Brisby placed some corn kernels onto the little piece of cloth she had spread on the table.  There were already various seeds and grasses there.  She picked up one of the kernels and popped it into her mouth.  She would have expected to feel sad with the children gone, but she was actually happy, knowing that they were safe and that there was no chance of them being found.  Turning, she went back into her bedroom to check for anything else she might need.  It felt strange in the room, dark as it was.  The house was very quiet and seemed empty without the children.  The bedroom had one window, though at this time of day it was in such shadow that it may as well have been night outside, and with the curtain across the bedroom’s entrance, little light entered from the main chamber.  There was nothing left in the room that she would need so she turned and was about to make her way out when she stopped.  A feeling of unease crept over her.  She peered over the top of the curtain from the shadows.  There was nothing apparently wrong, though she still felt troubled.  She started to move out of the darkness when she immediately recoiled in fear.  As she watched, the door to her home opened slowly to reveal a mouse, one of those she had seen at Mr. Ages’.  She recognised him as the one who had waited outside Mr. Ages’ home, the one with the sword.  This mouse had been followed in by another.  This one was definitely not one of those who had pursued her from Mr. Ages home.    His movements were slower, more purposeful and betrayed a greater power driving them.  He wore a cape, like the others but also a long scarf pulled up over his mouth and nose.  His ears were ragged and torn and he had a scar down the right side of his face that had damaged his eye, for it was clouded, glazed and dead. The creature’s other eye was bright and held the promise of cold murder, and darted back and forth across the room and then settled on the food still laid out on the table.

Mrs. Brisby pressed her hands to her mouth to stifle a cry.  She backed away hurriedly, though she tried desperately not to make a sound.  She noticed that the second mouse did not seem to be carrying a weapon, though of the two he still seemed the more dangerous.  While he sniffed at the food that was still spread on her table, the other darted further into the house, towards the children’s room.  A chill spread through Mrs. Brisby as she realised how near her children had been to being found by these creatures.  The mouse would probably find their beds still warm!  The chill settled and into her stomach and festered, causing her hands to tremble as she racked her mind for a way to escape.  The second mouse was now by her pantry, looking along the shelves with his good eye in a disinterested fashion.  His movements were slow, deliberate and sinister.  She could not go that way, would not go that way, not towards him.

Glancing around quickly, she saw the little window.  Creeping over to it, she looked out, though she also used her nose and whiskers, every sense ready for a warning.  The way seemed clear, and if it wasn’t, the shadow would probably conceal her for enough time to wait for an unhindered path.  She picked up a stool and placed it beneath the window.  Then standing on it she braced herself on the window ledge.  As she shifted her weight trying to get through the little window the stool wobbled and clattered on the floor.  She froze for a split second, listening for any sound.  There was.  Two sets of footsteps were heard.  She dove through the window, as the two mice appeared at the doorway, tearing down the curtain.  She slipped through the little hole and glanced back.  The mouse with the dead eye looked back at her for a split second and then disappeared, possibly leaving through the front door come around the house.  The other made his way to the window.  She turned and ran, crying for help.  The scarred mouse had appeared on top of the log, gazing around.  Seeing Mrs. Brisby sprinting away he plunged a hand into his cloak.  He withdrew a small but wickedly sharp knife.  With a sharp movement he sent it sailing through the air.  It dug deep into the ground just to her left.  She made a quick dart to the right and kept moving.  A third, grey mouse, armed with a spear and his face also marked with a scar, had taken up the chase, and was following her.

As Mrs. Brisby ran, she caught sight of other animals turning to look.  Their gazes shifted to what Mrs. Brisby was running from and many shied away from the strange creature wielding its sharp weapon.  She tried to think.  She could not outrun these mice.  They were faster than her.  She had to try and hide from them.  But where?  They would doggedly pursue her throughout the forest and eventually catch her.  She had to find another way.  A memory from long ago surfaced in her mind.  Something she had encountered during her youth.  Something nearby she may be able to use.  With another burst of speed she darted into the trees, the grey mouse close behind.

He ignored the tugs on his cloak as it caught on twigs and leaves.  Following her scent and the trail of twitching leaves he knew exactly where she was going and knew there was no escape for her.  Seeing an obstruction ahead he raised his spear in both hands and leapt onto a small branch that had fallen then pushed off gliding through the air and landing smoothly.  He looked around the small clearing in which he found himself but could see no sign of Mrs. Brisby.  Before him was the entrance to a tunnel, overgrown with weeds almost to the point of being invisible.  He was in no doubt where Mrs. Brisby had gone.  He drew close to the entrance sniffing the air, almost feeling it with his whiskers.  It took several moments, the mouse becoming still with concentration, but he felt what he was hoping for.  Mrs. Brisby’s scent was strong but the air was dead and stale.  There was no through current, meaning this tunnel had only the one entrance.  She could not get out another way.  He peered into the darkness of the tunnel, catching his breath, waiting.

He turned towards a sound behind him.  The mouse with the dark fur and the sword burst from the undergrowth and stared at his companion.

“Deakon!” he said.  “You’ve lost her again.”  There was no anger in the voice, only weariness.  The grey mouse, addressed as Deakon, grinned.

“So quick to judge, but so slow to follow, as always, Malachi.”  Deakon nodded towards the hole. “She’s down there.”

The other mouse, Malachi, looked to the rabbit hole, and then back to Deakon.

“I’ll wait here.  You go down and get her out!”

“Why me?”

“Because you lost her before, Deakon!  Or should I get Spiro?”

The skin around Deakon’s eyes tightened as he used a look of disdain to try and hide the flash of panic.  It did not work.  The blank stare that Malachi returned was worse than any amount of gloating.

“Just be sure you get her when she bolts,” said Deakon, looking into the hole.  Malachi’s face was completely unmoving as his companion disappeared into the darkness.

Deep in the tunnel Mrs. Brisby crept slowly through the dark.  This place was not unknown to her.  She and Jonathan had once taken refuge here, to shelter from the rain.  They had been walking in the forest when they were caught by the downpour and, finding the abandoned warren, ducked inside, holding each other close for warmth, listening to the rain patter on the leaves outside.  They had searched the warren, creeping through the dark tunnels, Jonathan holding her hand...

She shook the memory from her head.  Strange to dwell on such things at a time like this.  She needed to press on.  Once again, she found herself taking refuge in this warren, but this time from a far greater threat.

She moved very slowly on all fours.  The floor of the tunnel had deteriorated through disuse and was treacherous to those who would try to move quickly.  She navigated the tunnels, remembering the route well.  The tunnel was slightly stuffy and as she hurried along, Mrs. Brisby felt a strange, uneasy feeling, settle into her stomach.  She tried to ignore it as she turned several corners, trying to find the other exit tunnel.  She remembered it had been right about... here.  Mrs. Brisby stopped as her whiskers connected with earth. 

“No.” she breathed.  Had she been wrong?  Was this the wrong route?  She frantically searched the wall in front of her and quickly found her answer.  The sensation in her stomach quickly twisted making her feel nauseous with fear.  The blockade in front of her was a collapsed section of tunnel; the back entrance was blocked.   She had been in such a hurry she had not noticed.  She scrabbled at the earthen barrier, hoping she could make a hole big enough to leave through, but stopped and turned when she heard a noise echo up the tunnel.

Mrs. Brisby pressed herself against the wall of the tunnel.  The surface was cold and uneven, like the floor.  Roots and stones protruded from the surface that would have been smooth if still in use.  The touch of the cold earth against her body made her shudder.  Trying to make her breathing as quiet as possible she listened intently for any sound from the darkness, her whiskers sensitive for any movement in the air, her nose waiting for any scent.  On the very edge of hearing she was sure she could hear something breathing.  She drew in a shaky breath.  There was a sudden movement somewhere in the blackness of the tunnel.

She began to edge sideways, treading carefully over the tangle of roots and other detritus.  There was a crack from somewhere to her right, and a grating sound: metal against earth.  She darted forward, almost tripping over something on the floor.  Landing on all fours she moved forward, finding the opposite wall of the tunnel, flattening herself against it.  The grating abruptly stopped.  Mrs. Brisby held her breath and with the inhalation came the other creature’s scent.  It was definitely a mouse.  There was silence.  Everything was still.  Then there was a sudden flurry of activity.  She felt the movement in the air and dived to her left.  As she did so she heard a gasp then a clatter followed by a dull thud and then a muffled groan.  Now!

Mrs Brisby ran back towards the entrance of the tunnel, memory guiding her path.  She stumbled on various objects littering the tunnel floor, but kept moving on all fours.  The gloom began to brighten; ahead, Mrs. Brisby could see the ragged circle of light.  As she shot out into the forest she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye.  She turned in time to see the mouse with the sword barge into her knocking her to the ground.  Mrs. Brisby lay there panting.

“Now why does this seem so familiar?” Malachi’s voice was flat and emotionless.  Almost a monotone.  Mrs. Brisby raised her head and looked once again into those terribly sad eyes.  He stared back and then turned away looking back to the hole.  “I wonder what you did with Deakon?” he looked back to her and put his hand to his sword, ready to remove it from its scabbard.  However before he could draw it a hand was placed on the hilt.  Malachi looked round to see another woodland mouse looking back at him.

“Michael!” gasped Mrs. Brisby.  Michael grabbed the smaller mouse and pushed him aside, sending him rolling across the ground, using his weight and size advantage.  Michael then faced Mrs. Brisby.  His expression was set.

“Go!  I’ll slow him down,” said Michael.  Mrs. Brisby clambered to her feet.

“Thank you,” she whispered and ran into the trees.

Michael looked at the fallen mouse.

“I’d stay down if I was you lad.  I wouldn’t want to hurt you,” he said squaring his shoulders.  The younger mouse got up and went for his sword again.  Michael strode forward and used the same method to stop him drawing it and was about to hold the mouse to keep him from running off, when the smaller creature, with one hand, managed to push Michael aside.  This caught the larger mouse completely off guard; he would never have expected such strength.  He grunted as he hit the floor, the impact winding him.  Rolling over to try and get up, Michael found himself looking at the sharp tip of a sword.  The other mouse was standing over him looking down with a cold fury.  Michael closed his eyes and waited.  Nothing.  When he opened his eyes again, the mouse was gone...

Mrs. Brisby sprang from tree root to tree root, through a bramble bush and between thick-stalked flowers.  Her whole life had become this sprint.  She had to get away, use the head start that Michael had given her.  She hoped that he would be okay.

The forest run she was following began to become overgrown and she dove through another thick bush, fighting against twigs, and leaves, ignoring grazes as she forced her way onwards.  She closed her eyes against the obstructions and struggled on.   Suddenly the resistance disappeared.  Now she could hear the sound of running water.

“No!” she thought as she took in her surroundings.  She had become disorientated and found her way to the bank of the brook.  Now she had boxed herself in.  She turned back to the woods and found the mouse with the dead eye standing before her, staring at her impassively with his good eye.  She froze, her gaze locked with his.  The skin around his eyes tightened.

Mrs. Brisby shook her head.  She tried to speak, to plead with this creature, but the words would not leave her throat, almost as if they where driven back by his terrible stare.  Mrs. Brisby backed away, but stopped when her tail touched the water.

Without shifting his gaze from Mrs. Brisby, the mouse began to glide forward, one of his hands disappearing into the folds of his cloak.  It reappeared again holding a vicious little weapon, its blade splitting into two narrow prongs like fangs.  Mrs. Brisby looked to the knife, then back into the mouse’s eye.  The only way was into the water.  She began to shift her weight and then looked over her shoulder at the rapidly flowing brook.  There was no choice.  She leapt towards the water, as far out into the stream as she could.

A strange mouse chasing Mrs. Brisby
Art by Procyon

During the split second when her attention was elsewhere, the mouse moved quickly.  Incredibly quickly.  Mrs. Brisby’s eyes grew wide.  She could feel his knife digging into her side.  The forest seemed to fall away around her.  Surprisingly, she felt little pain, though the sensation made her stomach churn with queasiness.  Her legs grew suddenly weak, putting her off balance.  Instead of leaping, she toppled forward into the water.

The shock of the cold liquid replaced the sickening feeling of unreality that had followed the attack.  Mrs. Brisby floated, unmoving for a moment, and then tried to swim.  The brook was running fast and she struggled to keep her head above the surface.  She simply floated with the current for a while; the dull ache in her side became unbearable when she tried any strenuous movement.  At one point she felt something nudge her hand in the water and she grabbed it.  Despite the pain she hauled herself onto the piece of bark that she had drifted close to her.  There was a strange numbness in her side.  She looked down at her wound to see a delicate cloud of dark red visible in the water before it was dispersed by the currents.  There was also an unpleasant feeling of nausea and weakness.  Looking around she saw that the brook was taking her towards the farm.  She remembered it ended up by the old water mill.  Searching the bank she could see no sign of any mice trying to follow her.  Nothing had followed her into the water either.  She glanced down at her side again.  The wound did not seem deep and she should be able to patch herself up.  The journey would be slower but she was sure that she would be able...

Without warning, there was a flash of pain from her side.  Mrs. Brisby closed her eyes tight and then opened them again, shaking her head, trying to clear it.  It took a few seconds for her to be able to think clearly again.  Now she was frightened.  What had just happened?  What had they done to her?  She didn’t have time to contemplate it.  She was reaching the beginning of the fields when her head began to swim and black spots appeared across her vision.  She felt her grip on the bark faltering; her head suddenly felt very heavy.  Her stomach lurched and her vision was thrown out of focus.  She tried to pull herself up further onto the piece of driftwood but with a sickening slowness she slipped slowly away from the bark and below the water.  Her side ached with more intensity now.  It almost burned.  The strange numbness was spreading.  She made tiny movements, trying to get above the water again.  Without being able to see what was happening there was a sudden sickening sensation of tumbling and then of rushing water.  She felt herself being thrown this way and that by currents in the water.  Her wound stung with each lurch of her body.  Then there was finally stillness.

 Mrs. Brisby tried to open her bleary eyes.  She was near the edge of the water, floating amongst the water plants.  Every movement she made sent pain racing through her entire body but she managed to reach solid ground, and pull herself a little way from the water.  She could only concentrate on getting into the cover of the undergrowth, where she could rest.  Her left leg was numb and her arms weak as she used the grass to try and pull herself along.  Each effort sent fire racing up her spine; every tiny distance travelled came at a great price.  Her breathing quickly became ragged and painful, and tears rolled from here eyes and were lost in already damp fur.

Just at that moment the sun broke from behind clouds.  Rays of light shone from between leaves of the nearby trees illuminating the foliage around the little mouse, dappling the grass with an intense brightness.  She could only register this as a blur, could see no detail as vibrant colours of flowers appeared as random clouds in the miasma that surrounded her.  There was a flash of pain in her side, a crippling pressure around the back of her head, and her strength went.  Her body went limp and she collapsed, lying still on the ground.  The pain subsided slightly into a background haze, though every breath felt as if she was breathing fire, and with every pathetic rise and fall of her chest her vision darkened.  Her eyes closed.  Thoughts raced through her head, memories, images, and voices.  Before the darkness, Mrs. Brisby thought of her friends, her children... and of Jonathan.

Chapter 4: The Brisby Children

“Feel free to help at any time!”

When the Brisby children had assembled at Jeremy’s tree and he had shown them the place he had found for them, they had been more than a little dismayed.  At one time it would have been a cosy little home, not quite as large as their own and a bit cramped for four, but pleasant none the less.  That bright period in this mouse hole’s past had long since faded and what was left was a dusty, damp hollow below the tree roots that had fallen into quite an advanced state of disrepair and had filled with general forest detritus during the period of its abandonment.  Not to seem ungrateful, (after all, Jeremy had tried his best and also had a family on the way and it was good of him to look after four young mice who in the past had not made the best first impression) they had thanked the crow who had then left to fetch food for his mate.

The children had stored their supplies of food in an area that was slightly less filthy than any other and were now trying to clean the place they would call home for a few days at least.  Previous occupants, whether they were actually living there or were simply using the dwelling as somewhere to rest, had not been excellent housekeepers.  Teresa and Cynthia were running around, tidying and sweeping, trying to make some order out of the chaos, Teresa giving her younger sister tasks and Cynthia carrying them out with her typical, boundless enthusiasm.  Timmy was trying to help too, though he had the dazed expression that everyone uses when they are having trouble adjusting to the situation they now find themselves in.  He would look in dismay at the piles of rubbish for a few moments before commencing to tidy them and cast an expression of disbelief around the room from time to time.  Martin was sitting off to one side.  He had started off by appearing to help by collecting bundles of sticks, but he soon grew disinterested in cleaning. Now he sat and, choosing a stick at random, he would snap it in half until it was too small to break, and then repeat the process with a new stick.  This had gone uninterrupted for some time until Teresa had shouted at him.  He looked up at his sister.

“There doesn’t seem much that I can help with.”

Teresa dropped the leaves she had been carrying and turned, hands on hips, to face Martin in order that he could receive the full effect of her disapproving scowl.

“What’s the matter with you?  You’ve done nothing but sit and mope since we arrived.”

“Well look at it,” replied Martin gesturing at the house in general.  “It’s hardly pleasant, is it?  I’m not even sure it’s safe.  I wouldn’t want to think about what we could catch living here what with the damp and all this!” he kicked at a pile leaves and other assorted rubbish that had collected against one of the walls.  Teresa bristled, the scowl darkening.

“That is what we are trying to sort out.  None of us are particularly thrilled to be here.  We’re trying to make this place a little more bearable, and we could get it done a bit faster if you would stop feeling sorry for yourself and help.  If you don’t want to help in here, the least you could do would be to go and find something useful that we could use once we have finished tidying.”

“Where would we put anything I find?  It’s filthy in here!”

Teresa looked as if she were about to explode when Jeremy flopped down to the ground, just outside.  He poked his head through the door and grinned.

“Hi kids!  How’s the house?”

“Needs some work,” grumbled Martin.

“Martin!” hissed Teresa.

“Yeah, sorry it’s not in top condition.  I hadn’t realised how long it had been abandoned.”

“It’s fine Jeremy,” said Teresa. “It’s good of you to look after us at all.”

Just then there was a furious fluttering of wings and a sparrow’s head appeared in the doorway, squeezing into the gap underneath Jeremy’s beak.

“What’re you doing Jeremy?  Why you sticking your head into the old abandoned...”  The sparrow, who had been speaking in a very animated fashion to Jeremy’s chin, caught sight of the four mouse children.  “Ooooh!  Visitors.  Friends of yours?  Nice to meet you!”  With each word his head bobbed and weaved and his eyes twinkled.

Jeremy looked slightly on edge as he made introductions.  Martin looked on with a polite disinterest, Timmy still looked lost, Teresa smiled at the newcomer and Cynthia tried to hide her giggles at the little bird’s high pitched twittering voice and agitated mannerisms.

“Kids this is a neighbour of mine, Gary.  Gary, this is Teresa, Martin, Timothy, and Cynthia Brisby.”

Gary’s eyes grew wide as they went from one mouse to the next and back again.  When he spoke again it was almost unintelligible because of the excitement in his voice.

“Brisby!  You said Brisby?  These are Brisby kids?  The Brisby kids?  Children of Jonathan Brisby?  Oh boy!”

“Uh...?”  Jeremy had donned his panicked expression: eyes wide, jaw agape.

Gary continued unabated, his voice actually seeming, whether it was possible or not, to get higher and faster. 

“Wow!  The children of Jonathan Brisby?  I don’t believe it!  I’ve heard stories about your father.  Made a bit of a name for himself in these woods.”

“You’ve heard of our father?” asked Martin.  He suddenly sat up in interest but looked as nervous as Jeremy.

“Yeah!  Loads of folks have!  Well actually not that many.  A few anyway!  Depends how you look at it.  But I have heard all the stories and those who have know he was pretty famous, did all kinds of things!”

“Do you know anything about what our father did?” piped up Timothy.  For the first time since they had arrived he had a bit of enthusiasm about him.

“No, well... kinda, but...  It’s a bit vague, a kind of a legend really.  A lot of folks in the woods have heard tales, but many of them haven’t heard the details or don’t believe he even existed, and no one knows for sure what he did.  Just that it was important, and... something.  I forget.”  As the bird trailed off, Timothy looked downcast, but Gary carried on, apparently oblivious, “But wow!  Wait until I tell the family!  Proof that there is a Jonathan Brisby...!”

Jeremy made a strangled noise as Gary said this.  Martin interjected.

“Our father is dead.”  It wasn’t a comment made out of spite.  He was just informing the little bird.  Such things were inevitable in the lives of woodland creatures and such was the way of life in the forest.  Gary fell silent and sagged.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t know.”

“It’s okay.  It happened about a month ago,” said Teresa and everybody fell silent.  Then Gary once again started up.

“But you are here and that’s proof he did exist.  The Great Jonathan Brisby.  I’ve gotta tell everybody!”

“No Gary!  Wait!” called Jeremy as the sparrow ducked back out of the house. “You can’t say anything.”  Gary’s head reappeared looking confused.

“Huh?  Can’t say nuffink?  Why ever not?  It’s stupendous, magnificent, and a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The famous...”

Jeremy managed to make his interruption stick this time:

“You can’t because no one’s supposed to know they’re here.”

“Huh?” said Gary again, his brow creasing.  “What d’ya mean?  I don’t get it!”

“They’re...  I promised their mother that I would look after them and said I would make sure no one knew they were here.  At least for a few days.”

“Oh...” said Gary.  It was his turn to look a little downcast.

“Promise me you won’t say anything.  Not now at least,” pleaded Jeremy.

“Okay.  Yeah sure!  I get it now!  It has to be a big secret.  Right!  You can count on me keep your secret!  No fear!  Don’t worry about old Gary!  He’ll guard this information with his life!  Wow!  I met the Brisby kids!  Is it okay if I visit again?”

“Sure thing,” said Teresa.  Gary Smiled.

“Thanks!  I have so many things I want to ask, so many things I want to know about you and your father.  Oh, and mum’s the word!”  He winked conspiratorially and disappeared.  The swift beating of wings signalling his departure.

Jeremy had removed his head from the doorway to watch his neighbour go.  The Brisby children came and stood outside too, shielding their eyes from the sun and grateful for the excuse to be out of the mouse hole for a moment.

“Can we count on him?” asked Teresa.  Jeremy swivelled his head to look down at them.

“Oh sure.  Gary is a nice guy.  But a bit light headed if you know what I mean.  Not too bright.  Don’t hold it against him...”  Jeremy lowered his eyes. “I’m sorry I gave away your name.”

“It’s no problem, Jeremy.”  Teresa gave Jeremy a reassuring smile.  “If you say we can trust Gary then that’s good enough for us.”

“There is something you can do to make up for it Jeremy,” said Martin.  Teresa did not like the glint in her brother’s eyes.

“Sure.  What?”

Martin smiled.

“Can you take us to Thorn Valley?”

Jeremy’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened, then just as suddenly he pulled himself together with a quick shake of his head.

“No.  I promised your mother that I would keep you here and look after you.”

“Please?” said Martin, looking overcome with disappointment.  Teresa could almost see the insincerity coming off her brother in waves.

“Martin!” she hissed again through her teeth.

“No,” said Jeremy, thankfully standing his ground.  “I made a promise.  Plus it’s not a safe trip.  The deep forest is no place for young mice.  It’s a wild and dangerous place once you pass that hill...”

“Which hill?” shot Martin.  Teresa wasn’t quick enough to say anything.

“That one over there, see?” said Jeremy, pointing to a distant landmark.  In the distance the level of the trees could be seen to rise up, much higher than the trees would be expected to grow.  Despite their height the distant peaks of the mountains were visible, towering behind them.

“So Thorn Valley is that way!” said Martin, smiling, gazing at the distant mountains.  Teresa’s head slumped against her chest.  Jeremy’s face underwent a similar downward movement as he realised his mistake.

“Uh... no!  I didn’t say that!  I meant...”  He suddenly stopped casting around desperately and then leant over so his head was actually resting on the ground, his wings bought forward in a gesture of pleading.  “Please don’t try to go to Thorn Valley!  I made a promise to your mother!  Don’t make me break it!  Pleeeeese!”

“Don’t worry, Jeremy, we won’t!” said Teresa striding forward and patting Jeremy’s wings whilst simultaneously scowling at her brother again.  Martin returned the look with a smirk.

Teresa was waiting for Martin to make the same assurance but Jeremy straightened up, smiling and apparently placated.

“Thanks kids.  I know how you must feel being sent away and be made to live here, but it is for your own good.”

“We know, Jeremy, and we appreciate it.” Martin’s voice was oily.  He was still smirking and almost swaying on the balls of his feet.  Teresa had to work hard to keep herself from hitting him.

“Great.  If you need anything, just give us a shout okay?”

“Thanks, Jeremy,” said Martin.  Jeremy smiled and took off.  Teresa became incensed as she watched her brother wave, still smiling ever so sweetly.  She was about to let loose a tirade of reprimands when Martin turned away and sauntered into the house.  She hurried after him, followed by Cynthia and Timothy.

“I guess you think you’re pretty smart tricking Jeremy like that?”

“As a matter of fact, yes I do.  Now go and get packed.  We’re leaving!”

Cynthia had made her way back to what she had been doing, but turned at this.

“But you said we weren’t going!” she said.

“I didn’t say any such thing and I don’t care what Teresa said.  Mum is out there somewhere, and she will need our help and we can only do that if we get to Thorn Valley,” he said, collecting the few items that he had taken out of his knapsack and repacking them.  “I was going to suggest it anyway, but now we know the definite direction.  It will be easy going.”

“Easy?  We don’t know where it is!”

“Mum gave us a description, it should be no problem to find the Rats.”

“And what would she say when she found out we’d gone to Thorn Valley and broken our promise?”

“I’ll explain.  She may be angry but she’ll be happier knowing we’re there and safe amongst the Rats.”

“You sound very sure.”

“That’s because I am,” said Martin with one of his infuriating grins.

“Look, we are not going!  It’s not safe out there,” pleaded Teresa.  Both Cynthia and Timothy were standing watching the exchange.  Martin stopped and rounded on his siblings.  He was actually quite intimidating as he was now, standing at his full height and with his face set.  His voice was forceful as he replied:

“It’s not safe here.  You heard what Mum said.  These mice, they knew who Mum was.  They knew the name ‘Brisby’.”

“So did Gary.” Timmy piped up.  He couldn’t match the stare Martin gave him for interrupting but he carried on.  “He said a lot of people in the forest know the name.”

“But most of them think it’s a mythic name.  Some sort of woodland legend.  No more believable than any other story.  Like that one Dad told us once about those rabbits going on a journey, do you remember?  No one believes in them.  But from what Mum said these mice seemed to take it very seriously.  What else might they know about it?  And Mr. Ages!  Mum said they were waiting at his home.  You remember what Mum told us.  She told us Dad and Mr. Ages used to work with the Rats.  Mr. Ages was from NIMH, so was dad!  Perhaps these other mice are from NIMH.  And if they are, they’ll be smart!  And...”

“How could they be from NIMH?  How could they have found their way here?” snapped Teresa, though despite herself she was finding the conversation intriguing, though this did not help her temper.

“I don’t know... the same way the Rats got here, I suppose,” replied Martin with a dismissive gesture.

“But how did they know where to come?” asked Timothy.  He made no secret of the fact that he was interested.

“I don’t know.  That’s why I’m worried.  If I knew who they were, where they are, what they’re up to then we could make a plan!  But all we know for sure is that at the moment they’re looking for anyone with the name of Brisby!  That means us!  That’s why we can’t stay here, and especially not after we met that dumb bird.  If we stay here the birds will blab our names all over the forest.  You know what it’s like every morning.  They all exchange news.  Anyone listening in will know exactly where to find us.  Well, I promised Mum I would protect us, and to do that I can’t let us stay here!”  Martin folded his arms and waited, not focussing on his siblings, but staring into the middle distance.

“Jeremy said we could trust him,” said Cynthia.  Her voice sounded very small in the silence.  Martin was briefly surprised by Cynthia’s use of Jeremy’s name.  Then he shook his head solemnly.

“I know he did, and although Jeremy wants to help, and he made Mum a promise, he is still a little clumsy.  It was him who said our name first wasn’t it?  And you saw how easy it was for me to get him to spill the direction of Thorn Valley.  And Jeremy thinks the other bird is stupid.  I don’t fancy those chances.  Jeremy might mean well, but he might be putting us all in danger.”

“Martin, that’s not fair!” yelled Teresa.  Martin ignored her.

“We should go to the Rats.  They’ll protect us, like they did before.”

“Why would they help us again?  They helped move our house, and looked what happened then.  They probably wouldn’t want to see us ever again.”  Teresa’s voice frayed slightly as she rapidly ran out of ideas to use to dissuade her brother.  It didn’t work.

“Because it wasn’t our fault and both Mum and Dad helped them enough times!  They wouldn’t even have got out of NIMH if it wasn’t for Dad, and Mum warned them about NIMH coming to the farm.  If she hadn’t done that they would all have been caught the next morning.”

“Do you think we can make it?” said Timothy.  Teresa looked stunned at Timothy’s siding with Martin.

“You have your medicine don’t you?” Martin asked grinning.  He could see the result he wanted to this argument coming.

“Yeah!” said Timmy, delving into his bag and holding the small paper packet aloft.  “Though there’s not much left.”

“Another reason to go to the Rats.  There’s bound to be someone there who can make more.  What would happen if we stayed here and we ran out?”

Teresa was about to make a comment but found that Martin actually seemed to have a point on this one.  Most of what he said seemed to make sense, especially about the feeling of security at the idea of being amongst the Rats of NIMH.  Martin hurried on while he seemed to have the advantage.

“And it’s not far from here.  You heard what Jeremy said.  It’s just over the hill.  We could make it there in half a day!”

“He also said that there was something dangerous over there!” said Teresa, Cynthia looked apprehensively out of the door and towards the distant hill.

“Hah!  I’m not scared of anything that could be up there.  I’ll protect you!”

“Even against weasels? What about foxes?  I suppose you’ll wrestle them to the ground and tell them to stop picking on creatures much smaller than them?  Or will you trick them all?  ‘No, we’re not mice.  We’re rocks!  Please don’t eat us.’”  Teresa finished with a surprisingly good impression of her brother.  Martin either had not heard or had ignored it and looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Okay, we’ll wait until tomorrow so we have plenty of time to stick to travelling during the day, okay?  That way it’s no more dangerous than going outside here right?”

“But here we have somewhere to run,” said Teresa, though she looked at the dismal surroundings.

“I wouldn’t trust this place.  Besides, there’s always somewhere to hide in the forest.  We’ll be fine!”  Martin looked at each of his brother and sisters in turn.  They all looked hesitant.

“Come on.  You don’t want to wait here and be caught do you?”

“No!” blurted Cynthia hurriedly.

“And you always wanted to see the Rats, yeah?”

“Yes,” said Timmy grinning.

“And you don’t want Mum to be out there somewhere being chased by those mice?”

“No...” said Teresa, still searching for an argument.

“And none of us want to stay here.”  Martin gestured at the rubbish-strewn room.  Teresa gave him one last plaintive look, but Cynthia and Timothy were now both smiling, excited by the prospect of adventure.  Martin grinned.  He had won.

“Great!  Then we will leave tomorrow!”

The sun was hidden behind the clouds again the next morning, lighting them up a vibrant red.  The sky overhead was clear at the moment, though.  Jeremy had already been out and come back with breakfast for Emma.  Perching at the uppermost point of a tall tree he raised his head to the sky.  There would be rain later, he thought.

He decided that before he went out again he would check on the Brisby children and see if they needed anything.

“Kids.  Hey kids, are you awake?”

Jeremy glided down and landed awkwardly at the base of the tree and waited.  When he didn’t receive a reply he pecked at the door.

“Hello?”  Nothing.  Using his beak to nudge open the door, he poked his head into the little mouse hole.

“Kids?” he called and peered into the gloomy interior.  As his eyes adjusted he could see four lumps nestled beneath a layer of bedding.

“Still asleep?  You’ll miss the best part of the morning.  Come on, rise and shine sleepy heads!”

The little bundles did not stir.

“Er... Excuse me.”  Still no reaction.  Jeremy retracted his head only for it to appear a moment later, a twig in his beak.”

“Ah oo ettin uh or nut?” he said gently prodding the nearest lump.  It moved and fell from the bedding onto the floor.  Jeremy dropped the stick.

“Oh, sorry!  Excuse me, par...  huh?”  He looked again at what had fallen from the bedding.  Instead of one of the mice, it was large bundle of twigs and leaves.

“Oh no!” Jeremy picked up the stick again and attacked the lumps.  All turned out to be some kind of woodland rubbish.

“Oh... but...  Ah!  Emma!” Jeremy tried to raise his head and bumped it one the ceiling before he managed to remove it from the mouse hole.
  “Emma!” he called again as he flapped madly up to his nest.

“Jeremy!  Your feathers!” said Emma looking at her bedraggled mate.  She was sitting in the nest, nestled over the precious clutch of eggs.  “What’s wrong?”

“The Brisby kids have gone!”

“What?  Where?” she said sounding stunned.

“I don’t know!

“Well, go and find them.”

“But what about...”

“I’ll be fine.  Go and find the children.  Hurry!  They might be in trouble!”

“Right!  When you’re right, you’re right.  And you’re right!”  He turned and with another frenzied whirl of his wings he took off and soared above the trees, trying to scan the ground far below for four tiny shapes amongst the undergrowth.

The Brisby children had set out at first light, leaving the house and making their way deeper into the forest.  They tried to keep out of the way of any other animals they saw, and hurried past any that they met.  There was a lot of dew on the ground, and the morning was chilly but fresh.  Light slanted between the trees as it rose above the distant cloud creating patches of warmth on the damp ground.  It was very pleasant travelling in such conditions.  Cynthia skipped merrily to and fro, interested in anything and everything the forest had to offer, and stopping in pools of warm light to let the others catch up.  Timothy was similarly fascinated by these strange surroundings, but was more restrained in his approach, keeping to a fairly straight route, but turning his head this way and that.  Teresa and Martin were walking a little distance back.  Teresa turned to Martin.

“Can I speak to you seriously for a bit.”

“There’s nothing stopping you,” her brother replied.  He had been in the most infuriatingly good mood since he had persuaded them all to follow him to Thorn Valley.  When he was feeling smug like this, it was difficult for him to make sensible comments about anything, but Teresa was going to try anyway.

“Did you mean what you said about trying to protect us, or are you just being impatient and satisfying your curiosity about the Rats?”

Martin looked at his sister and saw her dour expression.  He hated talking with Teresa when she was like his.  She would take everything so seriously.

“Of course I’m trying to protect us, I promised Mum I would.”

“It wasn’t just because you couldn’t stand to be left of the action.”


Martin had replied to that far too quickly.  Teresa decided to plunge on.

“It’s just that it’s a big risk to take all of us along, just so you can feel like you’re being the big hero.”

“I’m not...!” Martin started to yell but stopped himself as Timmy glanced back over his shoulder.  He continued in a more hushed voice.  “I’m not trying to be the big hero.  I didn’t think it was safe there.”

“I agree with you.  I just don’t think we need to go all the way to Thorn Valley.  There would be plenty of other places to go.”  She glanced sideways at her brother.  He looked in less of a good mood now.  At least she was making him think.

“You want to know the real reason why I wanted to go.”

“Yes.” There was something in Martin’s voice that Teresa didn’t like.  Her brother looked at her, then at the forest floor.  After a long moments silence Martin admitted,

“It’s because I’m scared.  Not for myself.  If the mice Mum warned us about find us, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my promise.  That’s why I want to go to Thorn Valley.  Surrounded by the Rats all of whom are looking out for us I don’t think anyone could get near us if they didn’t want them to.  All right, I’m also curious about the Rats, but I think we will be safer there than anywhere else.”

It was Teresa’s turn to be quiet.  Martin didn’t like admitting someone else was right, even if it was only partially, and he never said he was scared of anything.  No matter how she felt about just running off and leaving Jeremy, she agreed that she would feel safer amongst the Rats.

“Okay,” she said.

They continued along the runs of the forest floor, weaving between trees and undergrowth.  They were blissfully unaware of the pair of eyes that watched them from a nearby bush.  Cynthia was pottering back and forth getting nearer and nearer to the particular shrub in question.  Just as she reached it the owner of the eyes leapt out at her.

“Hey.  It’s the Brisby kids!  How are you feeling today?  Settling in okay?  What are you doing out at this time?  It’s early?  And you are a long way from home.  Are you lost?  I can help!”

As one the four Brisby children relaxed.  Gary the sparrow stood before them, his head twitching from side to side, his bright little eyes blinking cheerfully at them.  Cynthia, almost as if it was an automatic reaction, once again started to giggle at the little creature.

“Oh, good morning Gary,” said Teresa.  “You scared us.”

“Sorry.  Didn’t mean to.  Just wanted to say hello.  So whatcha doing out and about?”

This was an awkward situation.  They had not been expecting to bump into anyone they knew.  It was Timothy who broke the silence.

“We’re... we’re on a secret mission.”

Both Martin and Teresa turned to look at Timmy, eyes wide and incredulous.  Timmy just shot them a quick grin.

“A secret mission?” asked Gary.  He looked doubtful for a moment and then brightened.  “Wow!  Hey what is it?”

“We can’t tell you!” said Timothy.  His grin was spreading over his entire face.

“It’s a secret!” said Martin joining in.  Cynthia was nearly doubling up with hysterics.

“But it’s important you don’t tell anyone that you saw us coming this way okay?” said Timmy raising his eyebrows and inclining his head slightly to peer along his nose at the bird.  Gary was so excited he was hopping from foot to foot.

“Right!  I’ll leave you to it.  Don’t worry about a thing.  You can count on me...”  He saluted clumsily and then began to fly away.  As he disappeared into the leaves above he called back:  “Oh!  Good luck with the mission!”

“Good thinking, Timmy,” said Martin patting his little brother on the shoulder.

“Well, I learned form the master,” he said smiling back.

“We should probably get a move on.  I don’t think Gary is really cut out for discretion,” said Teresa.  Helping Cynthia along until the tears had gone from her eyes they continued towards the distant high land.  The forest brightened around them as the sun crept higher into the sky.  It was going to be a good day.

Noon came and went.  They had stopped for a picnic and ate a little of the food they had with them, supplemented with some of the bounties of the forest.  They had made good progress.  The hill was getting closer, though it would still be some time before they reached its summit.  They continued through the gullies and clearings.  At one point they had stopped to look at a family of deer as they bounded across an open area between the trees and then plunged back into the forest.  Since they had never before been this deep into the forest, they never had seen such creatures before, as they would rarely come near the farm.  The group smiled at one another and then continued on their journey.  They were also surprised at how dark it was getting beneath the thick canopy, the shadows thrown into stark contrast with the sunbathed glades that were dotted throughout the woods.  The trees here had stood much longer than the trees on the periphery of the forest, where they lived and where Jeremy’s nest was situated.  They were more established, their roots tangled with each other and spread over the ground. High above the forest floor, the branches from neighbouring trees almost interlocked, creating a roof of leaves.  Squirrels, birds, and other creatures of the heights darted back and forth along the mighty limbs, jumping from tree to tree and going about their business.  And similarly the young mice below continued their journey through the forest unhindered.

Cynthia was the first to broach a subject that was on all their minds.

“Can we stop yet?  I’m beginning to get tired.”

“I could do with a rest too,” agreed Timothy.  Martin stopped walking and looked around.  It had been a while sine their last break.

“Here’s not a great place to stop.  We’ll rest when we next get a chance.”

Teresa pricked up her ears.  Now that they had stopped briefly and without the sound of their progress through the undergrowth she thought she could detect something on the very edge of hearing.

“Can anybody else hear that?” she asked.  They all fell quiet and raised their heads, turning sensitive ears this way and that.

“Yeah, I think...” began Martin, who then leapt onto a nearby root.  It was twisted and rose a fair distance from the ground and made an excellent vantage point for Martin.  He stood at the highest point of the root and turned slowly, his ears twitching, searching for the sound.

“Anything?” asked Teresa.

“Yeah.  I can hear running water that way,” replied Martin pointing off into the forest.

“That’s what I thought,” said Teresa.

“I could really do with a drink,” said Timothy.

Cynthia nodded.

“Me too.  A nice cold drink from a fresh spring.”

“Well, don’t set your hopes too high,” said Martin, “but follow me.  We’ll go and check it out.”

Martin jumped down and led the way through the undergrowth.  After only a short distance, the sound of running water became unmistakeable.  Another thing they noticed was that the vegetation changed subtly.  Different plants were growing here; more lush than those that usually littered the forest floor.

“We’re getting close,” said Martin looking up at the canopy.  There was a gap in the braches up ahead.

“Does anyone else think that it sounds a little odd?” asked Teresa, cocking her head to one side.

“Yeah, it does a bit.  Doesn’t sound like it’s running normally,” said Timothy frowning.

“More like pouring water,” added Cynthia.

“Well let’s find out why.  It should be just through...”  Martin reached out and parted the thickly growing fronds of a large plant.


The other Brisby children made their own gaps in the leaves to look out from and stared wide eyed as they uttered various exclamations of wonderment.

They had come upon a haven in the middle of the forest.  It was indeed not what they had expected.  A large, jagged rock that seemed out of place in these surroundings dominated the area.  Vivid green moss and yellow lichens grew over its surface paying testament to the length of time that it must have rested here.  It rose out of a pool of water that surrounded it like a moat.  The source of this water seemed to come from the rock itself.  Crystal water sprung from a crack in its surface and poured in a gentle waterfall into the pool.  A tiny stream trickled off into the forest from one side of the pool.  All around were the vibrant colours of the verdant water plants.  What added the atmosphere of magic was the gap in the trees above.  With the sun now high overhead light fell on the area, almost making it seem like it was from another world, quite separate from the rest of the forest with its cool and shaded hues.  The light was caught by the gently rippling water and thrown about the area in a beautiful show of natural wonder.

The children could hardly believe their luck.

“Last one in is a stinky beetle!” cried Cynthia running towards the pool.  Teresa and Martin looked blankly at one another and then ran to catch up with younger sibling.  Timmy took another moment to take in the scene.  To think that they might never have seen this, he thought.  The whole journey might be worth this one lucky accident.  He moved forward towards the water where his siblings were already beginning to play.  This is fantastic...

“This is terrible!”

Jeremy was at his wit’s end.  He had no idea where to look for the children; he hadn’t even been able to see most of the ground.  He didn’t want start flying low shouting their names in case someone who shouldn’t be allowed to know such information should overhear.  Besides... he could hardly search the entire forest.

“There, there Jeremy,” said Emma.  Jeremy was sitting on the branch next to the nest covering his head with his wings.  She patted him where she thought his head would be under the feathers.  “You tried your best.  It’s not as if you can search the whole forest.  They’re bright kids.  They’ll be okay.”

“But I promised Mrs. Brisby.  I said I would look after them.” Jeremy’s voice was muffled by his own shining black plumage.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“I shouldn’t be allowed to look after kids.  Now I’ve lost them.  If I can’t look after someone else’s children how can I look after my own?  Maybe starting this family isn’t such a good idea.”  Jeremy was almost wailing.  Emma was about to tell him to pull himself together when a sparrow alighted on the branch just behind Jeremy. 

“Hello!  What’s up?  What’re you doing Jeremy?  What’s the matter?  Is something wrong?  Should I come back later?”

“If you could Gary, this isn’t a great time,” said Emma, still stroking the trembling mound of feathers next to her.

“Oh, okay.  I’ll come back and see you later.  Just that I thought this might possibly be about the Brisby kids...  Eep!”  Gary stopped in mid launch as he said this and slowly turned his head.  Jeremy was now sitting bolt upright and both crows were staring back at him.

“What about the Brisby kids?” Jeremy’s voice sounded strange; it was deeper, but lacked any inflection.

“Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Nope.  You can trust old Gary.  He never lets a secret slip.  Nope.  Uh-uh.”

Jeremy moved quickly and was standing over the much smaller bird in a flurry of feathers.  His eyes were slightly manic and his voice was strained.

“If you know anything about the Brisby children, you need to tell me now Gary!”

“But... but... I promised.”

Jeremy’s face became very, very still except for a small tic below his right eye.  Emma interrupted looking quickly between her mate and the sparrow.

“I think this might be a very important exception Gary.  I would say if you know something.”

Gary looked from Emma to her mate and back again.  His gaze settled on the wide eyes very close to his own face.  In desperation he reached a quick decision and blurted out the words very quickly.

“IsawthemthismorningandtheysaidtheyweregoingonsomesortofsecretmissionandI promisedIwouldn’tsayanythingbutnowIhavepleasedon’thurtme!” he cowered.

“Where did you see them Gary?” asked Emma.  Jeremy was still hardly moving, just looming over Gary.

“That way,” he said pointing.  Jeremy was a blur in the midst of a flurry of action as he whirled around to look in the direction Gary had indicated.

“Oh no!” moaned the crow.

“Thank you Gary.  I think you better go now.  See you again!”

“Bye!” trilled Gary and was gone.  Jeremy slumped onto the branch.

“What’s wrong?” asked Emma.

“It is my fault.  I let it slip that Thorn Valley was in that direction.”

“You don’t think they’re trying to get there do you?”

“What else could they be doing?” said Jeremy miserably.

“But, Jeremy.  They’ll never find it.  Didn’t you tell them?”

“I made them promise not to go.  Why would they go ahead and do it anyway?”

Emma gave him a patient look.

“I’ll think you’ll find that’s kids for you, Jeremy.”

The crow hung his head.  There was so much forest in between here and the distant hill.  A search would be just as fruitless as before; they could be anywhere by this time.    Why had he not realised what they were doing earlier?

An idea struck him suddenly.  There was maybe something he could do to find out where they were.  He turned to Emma who seemed taken aback by this latest burst of energy.

“I’ve got an idea.  I’ll bring back supper.  Love you!” and with that he leapt from the branch and soared into the air.  Emma watched disbelieving as he yawed sharply and set off in a direction that would take him deeper into the forest.  She shook her head.  One thing was for certain.  He was going to be a very devoted father.

Chapter 5: When Darkness Falls

“Watch out below!” called Martin.  He jumped from the top of the stone and plunged deep into the clear water.  Water sprayed upwards from the impact and showered the surrounding area along with the other Brisby children.

Timothy was now sitting in the sun.  He had gone into the deliciously cool water, but had tired quickly and decided to simply bask in sunlight.  Back at home the other children had been wary of venturing into the water.  The Brisby children could not understand their reticence.

Timothy sat and thought it was just another way that they differed from other mice of the woodland.  Something else, like reading and maths, that they understood and no one else could.  Except for the Rats.  Timothy felt another wave of anticipation as he thought about meeting them for the first time.  He thought of the things he could ask them: about NIMH, about their life, about his father.  He had ideas he wanted to share with them, thoughts he wished to discuss, and many things he wished to learn.  His mother had told himself and the others something of the Rats’ home in the rosebush: about the cavernous halls, about the council, about the library.  He hoped their Thorn Valley settlement would equal the last.  They would be lacking any of the benefits that they received from Mr. Fitzgibbon’s farm, but Timmy knew that this wouldn’t matter.  Their new home would be spectacular; he wished he could stand in the huge underground halls now, and wonder at their magnificence.

“Hey Timmy, heads up!”

Cold water startled Timmy out of his daydream.

“Hey!  I was almost dry.”

Martin pulled a face and dived under the surface.  Teresa was sitting in the water nearer the bank, staring off into the forest. Cynthia, who had been partaking in a furious splashing duel with Martin, started sending water flying at the spot where her brother had just disappeared.  She stopped and tried to peer into the water and see where her opponent had gone.  A moment later he erupted from the depths behind her, drenching his little sister.

“Gotcha!” he said grinning.  Cynthia turned and, placing both hands on Martin’s head, pushed him below the water.  He sank below the surface with a gurgle.  Cynthia laughed and tried to retreat to the bank.

“Come here!” cried Martin as he emerged once more and made after Cynthia.

After a series of further drenchings the duel was declared a draw and, once dry, they all decided to finish off the last of their supplies.

“We’ll find plenty of stuff in the forest,” said Martin, popping some seed into his mouth and chewing.  “And besides we’re nearly at the hill.  We’ll probably arrive in time for supper with the Rats.”

“Yeah!” said Cynthia, eyes sparkling.

“Do you think it will look anything like the rosebush?  Like Mother told us?” said Teresa.

“I think it will be better,” said Timothy.  “This is where the Rats are going to live from now on.  They’ll want to make it bigger and better than the rosebush.”  They all nodded in agreement.

“We’ll get to meet the Rats too.  Properly this time,” continued Martin.  Teresa turned to Martin.

“Do you think they’ll all be like Justin?” she caught the other’s looks and added quickly, “Polite, I mean.  Refined.”

“Well, remember what Mum said about Jenner,” replied Martin.  “I don’t think you would use those words to describe him.”

“You don’t think there’ll be any more rats like Jenner, do you?” cried Cynthia.

“Maybe he had family and friends,” said Timothy.  He looked off into the forest with a blank stare.

“Maybe, but they wouldn’t try anything,” said Martin, dismissing the subject.  “The other rats wouldn’t allow it.  After what Jenner did, they’d have a close eye on anyone who may try to take revenge.”

“Do you think mother will already be there?” asked Teresa.

“Probably.  She had a big head start,” soothed Martin.

“I hope she’s alright,” said Teresa

“If only we could be there now,” said Cynthia.

“If we were, we wouldn’t have found this place,” said Martin, looking again at the little forest haven.

“I wonder why no one else plays here?” said Timothy, still gazing off into the trees.

“What was that?” asked Teresa.

“I wonder why we’re the only ones here.  I just realised.  We haven’t even heard anything else nearby, let alone seen anyone.  I wonder why.  You’d think that it would be full creatures enjoying themselves.”

“It’s a very good point,” said Martin looking around.  Only the birds could be heard.  There was no sign of any other forest wildlife anywhere.

“We should probably get moving soon,” suggested Cynthia looking around slightly furtively.

“Yeah,” said Martin.  “I think that’s a good idea.”

They had only just started to get up when there was a rustle from the bushes nearby.  As one the Brisby children looked around at it.  Something large had moved within.

“I hope that’s Gary again,” said Cynthia.

“It was too big to be Gary,” said Timothy.  Martin stood up.

“Hello?” he called.

There was no reply.  The leaves didn’t move.

“Let’s start getting our things together,” said Teresa and started to move what remained of the food into her knapsack.

“Jeremy?” called Martin hopefully.  Still nothing.  He sniffed the air then turned back to his siblings.  “Quick!  Get packed!”

The words had no sooner been said when a mink crept from the foliage, a sleek black shape weaving its way towards them.

“Go!” cried Martin.  The others dropped anything they were holding and all turned and ran, back amongst the trees.  The mink sprang after them, travelling with its strange gait, weaving in between plants while chasing down its quarry.  The four mice darted this way and that, looking for anything that would help them escape.  A crash from behind them called for a few backward glances.  The mink was close.  Very close.  Martin kept back slightly to make sure the group ran together.

“No, not that way!” he shouted at Cynthia as she veered as if to take a slightly different path.  They ducked and weaved between anything that might be an obstacle to their pursuer but at every turn it was behind them.  Slowly, he was wearing them down.

Without warning, it leapt, almost landing on top of Martin, scattering the mice.  They all leapt aside, in any direction that would take them quickly away from the far-too-near claws and teeth of the mink.  Martin looked around to see Teresa and Cynthia running in the same direction.  Timothy and the mink were gone.

“Wait.  Where’s Timmy?” he called.  They stopped and look back.  They heard a distant squeal and Martin’s stomach lurched.

“Teresa!  Find a hiding place.  Take Cynthia.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get Timothy,” he called and charged off into the undergrowth.  The stink of the animal was strong, and he followed it.  He had not gone far when he heard the cry again.  Bursting through the plants in his way he saw Timothy huddled into a hollow at the base of a tree.  The mink was pawing at the trapped mouse, intermittently scratching at the ground, trying to make the opening larger so it could get its claws to the mouse.

Martin’s eyes blazed and he charged forward straight at the mink.  He leapt and sank his teeth into its hind leg, immediately checking and retreating when it let out a hiss.  He turned at another wail from Timothy.  The mink raked a paw across the ground and Martin was sure its claws had found Timothy.

“No!” he shouted and darted back to the mink.  Again he attacked its leg, biting into it.  Hard.  There was another hiss and a lurch.  Martin bolted, spitting downy fur and blood from his mouth as he ran.  There was a crash behind him as the mink followed.  Time to prove you can do this, he thought.  He darted back and forth, springing from root to stone, a complicated selection of movements.  The mink made a series of lunges, each taking it further in the wrong direction, its prey darting away at the last moment.

 Martin risked a backwards glance.  It was while he did this that he saw something that would be useful.  A fallen tree limb, its interior hollowed out like a tunnel. He made his way to it, still keeping up his erratic movements.  Have to lose it soon, he thought, I won’t be able to do this much longer.  The mink was shadowing him now, being more conservative, hoping Martin would tire and it could pounce.  As Martin disappeared into the log it followed, putting on a burst of speed, hoping to catch the mouse in the confined space.  It lunged forward, into the greenery at the other end of the tunnel.  Martin watched from the top of the log.  The mink shot out of the log, ramming its snout into a rock that was conveniently placed at its exit.  Martin, being smaller had easily manoeuvred around it, actually using it to spring up onto the log, allowing him to watch as the mink pitched forward, tumbling over and over.  When it came to rest it threw its head sideways, then the other way.  Finally it lay still, panting.  It was completely disorientated, the impact leaving it senseless.  Martin grinned and leapt down to the ground and ran straight back the way he had come. It may have been stunned but the mink would recover and may hold a grudge.  He reached the tree where Timmy had been trapped and hurried to the hollow.  Timmy was gone.

Martin’s jaw dropped.

“No,” he said and began to look frantically at the surrounding forest.

“Timothy!”  He almost screamed his brother’s name.  There was a rustle from the plants nearby.  Bounding over Martin found Timothy staggering along, blood was dripping from a cut on his forehead.  He took his little brother by the shoulders, turning him about to face him.  Timothy’s lips moved and quiet words came out,


“I’m so sorry,” said Martin.

“It’s not bad,” said Timmy touching his wound.  Martin began to guide him forward.

“Come on, we have to move.”  The two mice hurried in the direction that Teresa and Cynthia had gone.  He was feeling tired now and Timothy did not seem to be too keen on running at full pace.  They reached the spot where Martin had last seen his sisters.  He could see clues for the direction they had gone and, pointing them out to Timmy, they set off again.  All the time Martin was listening for sounds of pursuit.  They came to another clearing in the forest, and area that was relatively uncluttered, though it was dominated by and old tree stump.  It seemed as likely a place as any.  He pushed on, pulling Timothy along too, calling:

“Teresa!  Cynthia!”

Relief washed over him as he saw Teresa’s face appear, filling a hole in the old bark.  He put on another surge of energy and headed for it.  Teresa beckoned them forward, frantically waving her hands at them.

Martin stopped beside the old wooden stump and made sure Timothy managed to scamper up the rough surface and enter safely.  Teresa was helping Timothy into the hole when she noticed something that made her tense with fear.

“Martin!  Quickly!” she cried.  The mink leaped from the undergrowth and bore down on him.  Martin managed to leap most of the distance to the opening in the tree stump, scrabbling the last few inches, his tip of his tail disappearing into the hole just as the mink crashed into the side of the old tree.  It clawed and scratched at the tough of bark but to no avail.  It tried to look into the darkness inside, moving its head back and forth, but gave up this futile pursuit and then skulked off slowly, with a few backward glances.

Inside the refuge, the four Brisby children huddled together.

“Is it gone?” asked Cynthia.

“Maybe,” said Martin, moving slightly closer to the entrance, trying to peer out.  “We better wait here for a bit.  Make sure he gives up and goes away.  Are you okay Timmy?”

“I’m fine,” he replied, wiping his hand across the matted fur.  “Wasn’t even the mink that got me.  I did it hurrying into the bushes.”

Teresa suddenly interrupted:

“Did anyone get the packs?”

“Oh no!  The food!” said Martin, looking more intently into the forest outside.

“My medicine!” cried Timothy.

“You did take some this morning didn’t you?” asked Teresa.

“I kinda forgot.  Sorry,” came the quiet reply.  Teresa looked concerned.

“How often do you need to take it?”

“It should be twice a day but I feel fine.  I thought I outgrew that medicine weeks ago.”

“I just hope you’re right,” said Martin turning away from the hole and sitting down. “Everyone rest.  We can’t move for a little while.  We’ll go back and check for the medicine and the food later.”

Martin emerged whiskers first from the hole, sniffing the air.  He turned back to the others, who were still huddled together.  Only Teresa was awake, Cynthia and Timothy lay sleeping, Teresa with an arm around each of them.

“I can still smell it, but it’s long gone.  Obviously got bored waiting for us.  I’ll go back and check.  He might be waiting back there so I’ll go alone.”

Teresa nodded; the movements were small so as not to disturb her siblings.

“Be careful,” she said.  Martin grinned and disappeared.  Teresa leant her head back against the wood’s surface and closed her eyes.  How did she get talked into this?  It had all seemed like a good idea back at the house.  She looked down at Timmy.  The cut on his head was not bad, it had just bled a lot and was hardly noticeable now.  They were lucky not to have had worse.  She shook her head gently.  How had their mother done it?  She faced Dragon, the Tractor, and even the Great Owl to save them.  And now she was terrified of continuing because Timothy had received one small cut.  She hoped dearly that mother was all right.  That she had made it to Thorn Valley safely.  She could just imagine them going into the main hall and seeing mother standing to greet them, along with Justin and all the other rats.

She must have dozed off because the next thing she knew Martin was gently shaking her shoulder.  She tried to blink the sleep from her eyes.

“Martin!  I must have been more tired than I thought.  How did it go?”  She didn’t really need to ask the question.  Martin’s expression said it all.

“There’s nothing there, but weasel scent.  It probably went back after chasing us.”

“What now, then?”

Martin sighed.

“I guess we press on.  The food is not a problem.  We can always find something.  The medicine is trickier.  The only thing I can think of is to get to Thorn Valley and we can ask the Rats to make some more.”

Teresa nodded.

“Let’s wake them up then.”

Cynthia and Timothy yawned and stretched as Martin told them the news.

“Sorry, Timmy,” he finished.

“I wouldn’t worry.  I feel fine.  I won’t need the medicine any more.”  He was smiling and it seemed to make Martin cheer up.

“I hope you’re right,” he said.  “Come on, we’ll need to hurry a bit now.  We’re a little behind schedule.  The sooner we get to Thorn Valley, the better.”

They carried on swiftly at first, in case the mink was still prowling.  Once they were sure they were well away from its hunting ground, they slowed again, though still moving briskly compared to their former pace.  Before long they found themselves at the base of the hill.  Through the trees they could see the thickets of brambles that were the valley’s namesake.  The grass also thinned in places revealing craggy rocks.

“It looks a lot bigger close up,” said Cynthia.

“That’s hardly surprising, is it,” said Timmy smiling.  Cynthia was about to retort when Martin called out.

“Hey! I’ll race ya!”

“Yeah!” yelled Cynthia and they bolted off up the hill, quickly disappearing in amongst the tangles of thorny stalks.  Teresa was about to follow when she noticed Timmy continuing at his own pace.

Timothy noticed her stare.

“You carry on, I don’t feel like running.  I’ll see you at the top.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine; I just don’t fancy the run that’s all.”

“Okay, but I’ll stay with you.”

Teresa and Timothy ambled up the hill.  The slower pace allowed them to look out through small gaps in the trees and see the top of the canopy of the lower forest.  The tickets also stopped the trees growing so thickly here.  The two mice were relatively unhindered by the brambles; being so small they could move beneath them quite easily.  Whenever there was a break in the brambles, usually punctuated with a large outcropping of rock, they would stop and look around though the view was uninteresting, to say the least.  Tree trunks as far as you could see.  Growing vertically out of the slope, the trees helped indicate how steep the hill that they were climbing was.  Teresa found she was grateful when the brambles thinned, leaving a clearing where ground began to level off.  More so when they saw Cynthia ahead, waiting for them.

“Martin’s gone on ahead.  A tree has gone down on the other side of the hill and he thinks we’ll be able to see the whole valley.”

They carried on in the direction that Cynthia had indicated.  Only a short distance further they saw there was indeed a gap in the canopy.  A little further still and they could see the trunk of the tree that had fallen, then Martin’s silhouette was visible atop the trunk.  The three of them ran over and scampered up the tree.  Martin was looking downcast.

“What’s wrong?” asked Teresa, though as she took in the view she saw what was the matter.

They could see Thorn Valley.  Or at least they thought it was Thorn Valley.  Their hearts sank when they saw where they now found themselves.  On the downward slope before them was a new band of bramble thickets that continued almost to the valley floor.  The base of the valley they were looking over now was huge, carrying on into the distance until it merged into the mountains, joining with other valleys that may or may not have been the part of one larger one.  The whole area was filled with a mixture of maple and oak trees that obscured most of the valley floor.  Only occasionally were there gaps, leaving small clearings dotted around the valley.  There were indeed two smaller lakes just visible through the thick canopy of trees, light glinting off the standing water.  There was also the large lake that their mother had told them about, but it stretched almost the entire length of the valley, beginning as a stream somewhere in the distant mountain and turning into a river that flowed out into the forest far off on their right.  The Rats could have set up their home at any point on its bank, but there was no indication that there was any sort of settlement amongst the trees.  They had been expecting something easier, some kind of obvious sign... a definite indication that the Rats lived here.

Teresa shook her head, and clenched her fists in frustration.  Thinking about this now, it was stupid of them to think that.  The Rats came here to be left alone.  They would not put up a sign saying exactly where they were.  There would be no towers or buildings as in the world of man, nor carefully cultivated fields where the crops would grow.  There was no sprawling rat metropolis that covered the whole valley.  Everything would be carefully hidden.  There was just forest and the lakes stretching out towards the distant mountains.  Cynthia stood closer to Teresa.

“I don’t like Martin’s plan anymore.  I want to go back to Jeremy!” she said.  Teresa stroked her sister’s head trying to soothe her.

“We can’t,” said Martin.  His face was set. “We have to carry on.  We’ll find them.  Whether or not they want to be noticed, someone will know something about them.  Come on!”

“Can we rest for a bit?” asked Timothy; he was seated nearby, his head lowered.  Martin looked over.

“We need to keep moving.”

“Wait, Martin.  He doesn’t look well,” said Teresa kneeling to look into her little brother’s face.

“I’ll be okay,” said Timothy.  “I just need to rest for a moment.”  He ran a hand through his hair.  Both Teresa and Martin saw it was shaking.

Martin nodded and then began to move off down the slope, disappearing into the thorny undergrowth.  Teresa went and sat next to Timmy, putting her arm around him.

“I wish I had my medicine,” he said quietly.

“We’ll get more.  We’ll find the Rats.”

“When?” asked Cynthia.

“Soon, I hope,” said Teresa and looked out over the valley.

Martin returned after a short time and they set off down the hill towards the valley.  Timothy did not complain but Teresa kept close and watched him.  Every now and again he would seem to stumble on something, but he would quickly continue on as if nothing had happened.  Cynthia no longer darted around, searching their surroundings.  And to make matters worse, the clouds that had been advancing steadily across the sky finally caught the sun and shrouded it.  With the absence of the sun came a chill, and soon after the chill came the drizzle.

“Martin!  Perhaps we should find somewhere to shelter,” called Teresa

“No,” Martin shouted back over his shoulder.  “We have to carry on.  The Rats have to be here somewhere.  We need to find someone to ask.  He stopped and looked around.  “There!” he said pointing and ran off.  The others hurried to catch up, even Timothy seemed to brighten at the prospect of news.  They quickly saw what Martin had spotted.  He had found a squirrel who was searching for buried nuts.  Martin strode up to the creature.

“Excuse me,” he said.  The squirrel jumped and looked up.

“Hmm?” it said, its tail and its head twitching from side to side.

“Do you know about Thorn Valley?” asked Martin.  The squirrel continued to look around and then snapped its head back onto Martin.

“Hmm?” it said again, eyes wide.

“Do you know where Thorn Valley is?” repeated Martin, a trace of impatience now appearing in his voice.

“Maybe.  Why?”  The squirrel reared up onto it hind legs and gave the mice a suspicious look.  It was much larger than them, though Martin reared to his full height anyway.

“We want to go there,” explained Martin.

“Oh, you want to go there, do you?”  The squirrel still had the same suspicious expression.

“Yes please.  Can you help us?” said Teresa.  She could sense that this wasn’t going to be a terribly helpful endeavour.

“I could.  I could.  You’ll be on the right track if you keep on going up that way.”  It pointed off into the forest in roughly the direction they had been travelling.

“Through there?” asked Martin sounding disappointed.  He had been hoping for something more.

“Yep, that’s right.”  The squirrel nodded, either not picking up in on Martin’s tone or ignoring it.

“Do you know anything about any rats?” asked Teresa.

“Rats?” said the squirrel.  “Yeah, I know about rats!”

“You do?” said Martin.  He smiled for the first time in a long while.  A flicker of hope went through the four mice.

“Yeah,” continued the squirrel, “rats come and steal my nuts.  Can’t find half of them and the other half are taken by damn rats.  Can’t stand them.”  As he said this a bird flew overhead.  At the sound of flapping wings the squirrel’s head snapped upwards.

“Gotta go,” he said without looking at them and bolted for the tree.  It scaled the trunk and disappeared into the leaves.

“Er... thanks!” called Martin.

“Do you think he meant our Rats?” asked Cynthia.

“I don’t think so.  I don’t think they would steal nuts,” said Teresa.  Martin lowered his head from where he had been watching the trees.  There were two magpies sitting on the branch looking down at them.

“Let’s go!  We’ll find the Rats,” said Martin as he turned and set off into the forest again.

The drizzle turned into a shower and turned the forest floor into a quagmire.  The dust that had collected after a dry spell quickly turned into a thick sludge.  Teresa lost track of how many muddy slopes they had to clamber up or slide down, how much wet foliage they had to push aside and struggle through.  All the while, drops of water would fall onto them, drenching their clothes and fur.  Teresa concentrated on helping Cynthia and Timothy along.  Timothy was beginning to tremble and he would trip more often.  Teresa actually had to reach out and stop him falling at one point.  Martin spoke less and less as they carried on, staying in front and rarely even looking back except for quick glances.  The forest, already darkened by the disappearance of the sun behind the clouds, began to fall further into shadow as evening approached.  As the sun began to set on another day the clouds changed from yellow, to orange, eventually darkening to a rich crimson.  All the while, they were followed by the sound of birds flitting from tree to tree.  Teresa was gazing up into the boughs of the trees when Timmy gave a gentle tug on the hem of her shirt.

“Teresa.  I really don’t feel very well.”  His voice was small and weak, and he swayed slightly as he spoke.

“How bad is it Timmy?”  Teresa knelt down again, bringing her face level with his.

“Pretty bad.  I need to stop.”  Teresa looked at her little brother and brushed his sodden fringe out of his eyes.  He stared back at her, holding her gaze but she noticed that his legs were shaking.  She glanced over to Cynthia who was staggering along in as if in some sort of trance.  She looked better than Timmy, but not by a lot.  She hugged her little brother close.  He collapsed into her arms without resistance.  Teresa raised her head and called out:

“Martin, we have to stop!”

Martin did not stop.  He continued to trudge on into the darkening woods, apparently not hearing the cry.

“Martin, stop!”

He did this time, but didn’t turn around.  Well that’s a start, thought Teresa.  He’s probably in one of his moods.

“Timmy’s not well, we’ll have to rest.  We need to find some shelter.”

There was still no response from Martin.

“Martin?  Are you okay?”

Martin shook his head slowly and turned around and Teresa bit her lower lip.  His eyes were red, puffed and glazed with tears.

“Oh Martin...” she began as he started to stagger back towards them.

“I’m sorry,” he was saying, “I thought we could do it.  I thought we could get to Thorn Valley and everything would be okay.  I thought I could take us there.” His voice cracked as he let out a violent sob.  “Now we are lost in the woods, at night, with nowhere to go.  It’s my fault.  It’s all my fault.”  As he reached them, he collapsed onto the ground, sitting in a pathetic lump, hanging his head.

“It’s okay, Martin.  We’ll find somewhere to stay,” said Teresa.  She heard Cynthia sniff and felt her own face begin to warm.  Timothy had gone very heavy in her arms.  She thought she had to stop this quickly.

“Martin, buck it up!  We need you to find us some shelter.  We’ll wait out the night and find the Rats in the morning.”  She glanced at Timmy.  She wasn’t sure that was an option but she had to try and get Martin to snap out of this.

“Martin!” she snapped and opened her mouth to continue.  She stopped as she heard a rustling from the trees above.  Looking up she saw what had made the noise and caught her breath.  Staring back down at them were four magpies, their eyes glittered hungrily in the blood red twilight.

“We need to go now!” she said, still holding Timmy with one arm, but reaching out with the other to try and shake Martin.  Cynthia ran up behind Teresa and hugged herself to her older sister’s back, trembling with fear and fatigue.  Teresa herself was still trying to pull Martin up with her one free arm but he was too big, too heavy, and he remained where he was, sobbing.

“We need to go... Oh!”  Teresa was cut short as the birds landed in a loose circle around the four mice.  One particularly dishevelled bird peered at them and grinned.  Instead of standing still he swayed as if about to faint, but his eyes suggested he was in complete control and was thinking sinister little thoughts.  He spoke:

“What is this that wanders into my fiefdom, little ones?  What ever could have made this stray here at such a late hour...?”  The bird’s voice was little more than a hiss.  His beak was damaged, with chips missing, and saliva flew through these gaps whenever he made a sound.  One of the other birds bought his head down, close to Martin who had recovered from his misery only to look around at the birds in despair.

“Mmmm.  You smell fresh.  Young meat!”

Another chipped in:

“One each, but who gets the little one?  It looks the most tender.”

“As long as I have the large one.  It looks like it may struggle so.”

“Quiet, little ones,” hissed the first again.  “First they will die, then we shall feast.”  His constantly shifting stance stopped unexpectedly and he addressed the young mice for the first time bringing his face down, closer to them, “Though we could just stop them running,” he hissed, the grin souring into a sneer.

Three of the Brisby children could only stare back at their tormentors, paralysed by a cold dread. Timothy had his eyes closed, and was very still in his sister’s arms.  Teresa could only look back into the magpie’s terrible face.  There was nothing she could do.  Timmy definitely couldn’t run, Cynthia wouldn’t get far, Martin could probably make it to the undergrowth, but they were going to stay together.  Teresa’s mind raced, fighting every urge to bolt for cover.  She would not leave them!  What to do?

“Look at them quiver!  Ha!  Ha hah!” barked one of the magpies.  Teresa did not close her eyes.  She was afraid to look, but more afraid not to know what was coming.

The magpies fell silent and turned at the distant sound of a high-pitched screech.  Teresa looked too, wondering how this would affect their fate.  As she watched, a shape formed out of the darkness.  As it neared, she saw it was huge, and bore down on the huddle of animals.  Its eyes shone a brilliant gold and it issued another piercing screech as it bowled one of the magpies over.  The others leapt backwards, away from the mice as the newcomer yawed in the air and landed, bellowing as it did so.

“Back, Carion!  Back!”  It beat its huge wings at the magpies.  “You shall not have these little ones!”

One of the magpies hissed but backed away from the gigantic bird.

“Want the morsels for yourself?  Have you become so old you have to steal from us?”  Its eyes glittered unpleasantly.

“Be gone!” bellowed the bird who was now almost standing over the mice.  Its mighty wings were spread in challenge to the others.  The magpie hissed again and took to the air, quickly followed by the others.  Teresa looked up at creature that towered over them, right into the burning, golden eyes.  The Great Owl!

“Quickly!” he called to the mice, and bowed close to the ground.  “Onto my back!  They have been startled but they will recover!”  Teresa simply nodded and guided Cynthia and Martin up to the bird.  The shock of the confrontation had shaken both of them out of their fatigued stupor and they managed to scale the owl’s massive flank.  Timothy was another matter.  Teresa picked up his limp form.

“Martin, help!” she called.

“Make haste!” roared the Great Owl again.  As he said this, one of the magpies swooped down and made a grab at the mice.  The Owl screeched and lurched, nearly throwing all the Brisby children to the ground.  Martin regained his balance and reached down and pulled his little brother up onto the owl’s back.  Then Teresa hopped up too.  The Great Owl didn’t wait for a signal that they were ready.  He merely spread his massive wings and took to the air, soaring between the trees.  Three of the Brisby children sat, clinging desperately to his back.  Timothy’s weight was being supported by both Teresa and Martin.  The Great Owl swerved and rolled, effortlessly dodging branches in their way.  Then with a few immense beats of his wings they broke through the canopy, and into the darkening purple of the evening sky, soaring away over the forest...

Chapter 6: The Seer

Blood red sky and dead leaves underfoot.  The trees are all of ash; grey and dead.  Mrs. Brisby stands amongst them.  The sickly yellow sun filters through the tangled canopy high above her.  She can hear children playing in the distance.  As she walks along she avoids the pools of light that are thrown on the ground.  The grass is wilting under the diseased light.  She comes across a clearing.  There is a yellow haze clinging to the barren ground and there is an unmistakable scent in the air.  Death!  The yellow mist swirls and billows, catching Mrs. Brisby’s attention.  The mouse with the dead eye stalks through the trees towards one in particular.  The tree with Jeremy’s nest in it!  Her children are there.  But they are safe in the tree.  The mouse looks to the nest and unfurls his cape.  It becomes a pair of ragged wings that carry him upwards towards the nest.  Mrs. Brisby cries out but is rooted to the spot.  She cannot move.  Then she feels a wave of relief as Jeremy swoops down upon the mouse, bearing him to the ground.  The mouse opens his mouth and spits a silver dagger and Jeremy crumples to the ground: dead.  Again the mouse advances on the tree but before he can reach its trunk there is a something standing in his way.  It is Justin, the leader of the Rats of NIMH.  He draws a sword and the two lock eyes for a moment and then lunge at each other.  The fighting is fierce, but Mrs. Brisby is able to see every feint, every swing, every blow.  It is as if time has slowed.  Justin raises his sword above his head and that is when the mouse strikes, driving his own blade into Justin’s midriff.  The rat’s eyes widen.  He crumples and fades, his substance carried away on the breeze and adding to the yellow mist.  The mouse is on the move again, scaling the trunk of the tree and reaching the branch with impossible speed.  Now he slows, clawing his way along the tree limb, like a shadow lengthening before a dying sun and smothering the light, creeping towards the nest and her children.  But another defender joins the męlée, leaping from branch to branch until he knocks the mouse aside.  It is another mouse.  His grey fur and darker patches upon his shoulder and leg are unmistakable, and Mrs. Brisby calls out to her husband.  She cannot hear her own voice; it is muffled and indistinct.  But she knows now her children are safe.  Jonathan Brisby holds up a medallion that bears a brilliant blood-red stone.  As he does so, it shines with a brilliant radiance and drives the other mouse further back, lifting his cloak in defence, to hide his face from the light.  Jonathan begins to advance on his opponent but then the other mouse straightens and turns his dead eye on his assailant.  Jonathan gasps and turns to stone.  The medallion slips from his immobile fingers and falls down into the yellow fog far below and disappears.  The mouse watches it fall and then looks again to his opponent, and strikes the helpless Jonathan Brisby sending him flying from the tree.  He falls to the ground and shatters as Mrs. Brisby screams.  But again there is no sound...

Mrs. Brisby awoke feeling sick.  She sat up and a bowl was thrust in front of her.  She didn’t have time to register who had handed it to her.

“There, there dear.  Better out than in.”

Her head swirled.  She couldn’t see anything and was completely unable to control what she was doing.  Raising her head, she tried to peer into the darkness to see who had spoken.

“The children?” she managed.

“Hush now.  They’re here.  They’re safe.  Rest.  You need rest.” A cold, clammy hand was placed onto her forehead and eased her back down onto the bedding.  In her present state Mrs. Brisby thought it refreshing, and she didn’t have the strength to resist.  She closed her eyes and returned to an uneasy sleep.

Nearby, one of her children awoke.  She did not know how she had got here and she was frightened.  Teresa sat up and turned her head; she didn’t have to wait for her eyes to adjust to light.  She could sense her surroundings, like all mice, without reliance on sight.  She could hear her siblings sleeping nearby, breathing softly about her, but something was wrong.  Teresa listened more intently for a moment, simultaneously sniffing the air.  She could smell the familiar scents of her siblings... except...

Teresa realised that only two of them where with her.  Moving through the darkness, slowly, finding the others her stomach gave a lurch.  Timothy was missing.  She found Martin and shook him awake.

“Martin, get up!”

“Wha...” he mumbled.

“Quickly!  I can’t find Timothy!”

“Timothy!” he said sitting upright, suddenly wide awake.  “Where are we?” he asked.

“I can’t remember, but we need to find Timothy.”

There was a moment of silence then the sound of Martin standing.

“Let’s go.”

“I’ll wake Cynthia.  We should stick together.”

Cynthia struggled from sleep and was quickly told what little they knew.  The Brisby children found that the room had one entrance.  Beyond was a winding tunnel, which they followed, running hands along the sides for guidance in the dark.  Very shortly the darkness gave way to a glow that emanated from around a bend in the passage.  Martin looked at his sisters in the dull light and put a finger to his lips.  They both nodded, Cynthia gripping the hem of Teresa’s skirt.  As one the children all peered around the corner into the room beyond.

The light was streaming in through a large hole in one side of the chamber.  The stark white of the morning sun.  The room itself was sparingly filled with various bundles of plants and piles of stones.  A few had been hollowed out and took the form of rough bowls, each filled with a powder of differing colour.  The walls were of bare earth and there was a damp smell in the air.  On the opposite side of the room were two further tunnels; one leading off into darkness, the other blocked by a curtain woven, it seemed, from long leaves and plant stalks.  Yet they dwelled little on these details, as their attention was fixed on a creature that occupied the middle of the room.  It sat with its back to them, so they could not see its face, but the skin on it’s back was smooth and seemed slimy, reflecting the light from the entrance.  A frog.  It was wearing tattered robes consisting of several layers of some kind of rough material, apparently of the same type as the curtain that hung across the door.  A long stick lay on the floor nearby.

The children watched in silence as the creature moved, taking a selection of leaves from one of the piles nearby and placing them onto a flat stone on the floor.  Then, taking up another stone, it began to grind the leaves down.  After a moment it sprinkled some sort of powder onto them and the continued to pulverise the leaves.  The smell that was given off made the three children think of dew covered flowers in the morning sun; luscious and fresh.  Teresa had to shake her head to clear it, focusing on the task in hand.

She looked at her siblings and they stared blankly back.  Obviously none of them had any idea what to do.  The decision was not theirs to make in the end.

  “It may be more comfortable if you come and sit down.”

The frog had spoken without turning.  The voice was old and cracked, though obviously female.  Teresa looked again at the others.  Martin returned the look and then strode forward, towards the frog.  Teresa and Cynthia followed close behind.

“Who are you?  And what have you done with Timothy?” Martin demanded.  Teresa thought it sounded far too aggressive.

“To answer your questions in a different order: patience.  He is safe.  And I have no name, in answer to your first question,” came the reply.  The voice seemed to contain slight traces of amusement.

“Where is he?” growled Martin.  His fists were balled now.

“If you sit down, I’ll explain,” the frog still had not stopped what she was doing or looked around.  In the short silence all they could hear was the grinding of stone on stone.

“We want to know where he is!” Martin was nearly shouting.  The frog placed the stone she had been using on the floor and turned towards the young mice.  Like her voice her face betrayed the frog’s age, though her eyes had a sparkle in them and seemed kindly.  She said nothing as she looked at each of them in turn, and even grinned when she met Martin’s fierce stare.  Teresa noticed her brother bristle at the frog’s expression.  She was about to reach out to try and calm her brother when the frog spoke again.

“Very well.  This way.”

The last words became strained as she took up the stick from the floor and, using it as a staff, laboriously eased herself to her feet.  Small beads and other items that were tied to the top of the staff clicked with each little movement.  Then, her steps marked with the clicking of the beads and the dull tap of the stick on the earth floor, she led them to another tunnel.  It was next to the one that the children had just emerged from, and as such they had not noticed it.  The frog shuffled along, Martin close behind, Teresa following, Cynthia still holding onto her skirt.

“What’s going on?  Where’s Timothy?” asked the little mouse.  Teresa bent and whispered to her sister:

“I don’t know.  Just follow for now.”  She tried to give Cynthia what she hoped was a reassuring grin.

   The tunnel, other than being shorter, was much like the first that they had emerged from.  It opened into another small room, but this one had a small window, actually a hole, through which came enough light to see a pile of bedding and a skinny grey mouse sitting on top of it.  He turned when he heard his visitors.  Timothy grinned.

“Hi there!  I was wondering when you where going to get up.”

The others stood still, surprised.  Timothy seemed completely relaxed, unconcerned with the strange environment.  He had several bowls of various foods arrayed around him on the bed and was munching contentedly on the contents.  The frog watched them out of the corner of her eye, seemingly amused by their expressions for she still had a little grin on her wide mouth.  Teresa was the first to speak.

“Timothy!  Are you okay?”

The little grey mouse nodded energetically.

“Yep.  Never better.”

Cynthia released Teresa’s skirt and ran forward before she could be stopped.

“Timmy!” she called and, jumping up onto the bed, hugged her brother.

“Hey Cynthia!  Get off,” said Timothy grinning.  Cynthia disengaged from the hug, but noticed something as she did so.  Timothy had a little pendant around his neck, a short length of some rough string with a dull, green pebble threaded onto it.  Cynthia looked at it closely.

“What’s that?” she asked.  Martin and Teresa had stepped forward.

“Yeah, Timmy.  What’s happening?  Did she,” —Martin indicated the frog behind him with a nod— “tell you anything?”

Timothy looked down at the pendant, holding it away from his chest so he could see it.

“I woke up about an hour ago.  When I did, she was there.  She gave me something to drink, saying that it would help me recover, and also this pendant.  She said it would stop me getting sick.  I also got all this food.  Would you like some?  There’s more than enough for me.”

Martin turned to give the frog a sceptical look as the others attacked the food hungrily and Timothy continued:

“What happened?  How did we get here?  The last thing I remember was wandering through the forest.”

“We were attacked,” said Teresa after swallowing a mouthful of seed and sitting on the bed beside her younger siblings, “by some magpies.  You were out cold by that time, Timmy.  There was nothing we could do to get away from them.  But then an owl came and saved us.  I think it was the Great Owl.” Timothy’s eyes widened as Teresa continued. “He was just like mother described him.  He flew us away, saving us from the magpies.  After that I can’t remember anything else either.  It all happened so fast, and I were all so tired.”

Martin and Cynthia nodded in agreement unable to add any more information. Then as one, the children all looked to the frog who was still standing quietly by the doorway.  She was grinning broadly, even by the standards of a frog.  Martin shot her a cold look.

“What is going on?” he asked.  Her smile, somehow, managed to get wider as Teresa scolded her brother:

“Martin.  Don’t be so impolite.  She helped us.”

Martin still looked angry as turned away from his sister, scowling at an invisible point on the ceiling, his jaw jutting forward as he chewed his lip.  Teresa turned back to the frog who was staring back expectantly, still with that broad grin.

“You must forgive us.  We have had a very difficult time and we’re very confused.  Who are you?”

“I am many different things to many different people.  To some I am just a frog, others a lunatic.  To you I am a healer, but to most I am the Seer,” said the frog.

“The who?” asked Timothy.

“The Seer,” she repeated.

“I thought you said you had no name,” interrupted Martin.  The Seer turned to the oldest Brisby child.

“I do not, yet I have this title.  They are not the same.  The Seer is what I am called by those who know what I do.”

“And what is it that you do?” asked Teresa as Martin went back to sulking.

“I do many things and, luckily for you, healing is among them.  However that is not important now, as you are all well in body if not in mind.”  She shot a quick glance at Martin and continued.  “Now before I try and help with that, I should ask you your names.”

“I’m sorry.  We forgot to introduce ourselves.  I am Teresa, this is Martin, Cynthia and Timothy.”  Teresa was careful not to say any more than their first names.  The frog looked to each of them in turn.  Seemingly satisfied, she nodded slowly.

“Very well.  So.  You are still confused as to how you arrived here.  Was I correct in hearing that you remember being rescued by the Owl?”

Timothy, Cynthia and Teresa all nodded.  Martin was still standing, arms folded, looking grumpy but it was quite obvious he was listening intently to what was going on.  The Seer also nodded but much more slowly this time.

“Good.  Then I shall tell my part of the tale.  The owl who saved you was indeed the Great Owl himself.”

“I thought it was!” said Teresa.  She quickly went silent under the look that the Seer gave her.  Then the frog continued:

“He brought you straight here after rescuing you.  The magpies that attacked you are renowned for their cruelty.  Their leader, Carion, has set up an area that he rules as his own, in which he and his cronies can cause as much trouble as they want.  You were very fortunate that you have good friends in the forest who are equally swift on the wing.  Apparently the Owl had been told that you might be in danger by a crow...”

“Jeremy!” cried Cynthia suddenly, but went quiet at the patient looks she received from the others.  The frog continued:

“It seems that the crow was right, and you should count yourselves very lucky.  You needed care and attention,” she indicated Timothy, “and the Owl could not give it to you.  I am knowledgeable about such things and agreed to help.  I took you in while you recovered and now you are here and reunited.”

The Brisby children shuffled uncomfortably.  They realised that they were in debt to the Seer, but the answer she had given took many things for granted, leaving just as many unanswered questions.  She seemed to be hiding something.  Martin, with his typical tact, decided to pursue the issue:

“But why would the Great Owl agree to save us?  Surely he has more important things to do than fly around saving young mice?  Owls eat mice.”

“That, I cannot say.  The Owl does many things that would seem strange to others.  He shall keep his own counsel on his own actions.  As far as I am concerned, more pressing at the moment is what exactly should bring a group of young mice so deep into the woods at such a late hour through an area where they have no business being.  I have told you much.  It is time for you to tell me something.  Though you have already given much away.”

“What?  When?” said Martin, his tone far too defensive.  He didn’t like the glint in this frog’s eye.

“When you arrived.  You were all exhausted and almost delirious.  You,” she indicated Teresa.  The other three children all looked to her as the Seer continued, “were babbling.  Talking almost non-stop.  Something about getting to Thorn Valley.  There you said you would be safe.  You also mentioned that you had to see some friends...  Some rats?”

The frog looked expectantly at Teresa, who in turn looked to the others for support, but they all seemed to be looking to her to recover the situation.  She licked her lips.

“I...  We are going to visit a family of rats.  They are friends of ours...  They moved to the valley recently.  We were trying to get there...  To visit them...”

The frog eyed Teresa for a long time, then shuffled about until she was leaning against the wall.  Her head rolled back to rest against the cold earth of the wall and her eyes closed.

“I suspect that might be something considerably less than the truth, child.  Rats and mice, friends?  Not unheard of, but rare, and they must be incredibly good friends for you to have come this far into the woods.  I take it you are not from nearby.  So...  How about giving your imagination a rest?”

Teresa looked at the frog than at the floor.  When she raised her head again she could feel tears welling in her eyes.

“Please.  I shouldn’t have said anything.  Don’t tell anyone I mentioned them and please don’t ask me for any more.  I shouldn’t...  I promised...”

“Oh, I was hoping you could tell me a little more...”  One of the frog’s huge eyes opened, looking sideways to take in the mouse.  “I haven’t seen them in years.”  She smiled impishly.  Teresa stared disbelieving, trying to put it together in her head.

“You know the Rats?”

“Some better than others...  Do you know Nicodemus?”

“I have heard of him but...  He is dead.”

“Ah...” something changed momentarily in the Seers manner, but it passed and she continued, “As I feared.  One hears rumours, one has hope, but there is probably nothing worse than the truth in such instances.”

“How do you know the Rats?”

“I worked with them on several occasions, but that shall come to light in good time.  Right now, I have something to show you that will be of great interest to you.  If you wish, please follow me...”

The Seer eased herself away from the wall and, once again accompanied by the clicking of her staff, disappeared into the tunnel.  The children, left alone, looked at the circle of darkness in the wall where the strange creature had disappeared.  Martin was the first to speak.

“She’s playing with us.”

“If she knows the Rats, how much else do you think she knows?” asked Timothy.

“Well, she knows the Great Owl,” said Teresa.  “so she probably knows a great deal. 

“I’m not sure I trust her,” said Martin, giving the tunnel a disdainful look.  Teresa became tired of Martin’s constant stream of snide remarks.

“Are you still sulking over what happened?” she asked.  Martin answered with an indignant look, but said nothing.  He just lowered his eyes to the floor.

“I think she’s okay,” said Timothy.  “After all, she helped us.  If she meant us harm, she would have acted sooner, while we were still asleep.”

Cynthia broke the ensuing thoughtful silence.

“Well...  Perhaps we should go and look at what she wants to show us. It may be important.”

She hopped down off the bed and scampered to the tunnel and peered around the bend.  There she stopped and turned back to the others.  “Come on!” she called.  Teresa looked to her little brother.

“Are you feeling well enough to get up, Timmy?” asked Teresa.

“Yeah, I feel fine,” he said, jumping out of the bed.  He stood unsteadily for a moment but regained is balance and went to join Cynthia who was waiting at the door, though not very patiently.  Teresa followed close behind and Martin trailed lethargically along at the rear.

They re-entered the main area where the Seer was waiting for them.  She smiled when she saw the children.

“In here is another patient who I think you will like to see,” she indicated the tunnel entrance that was blocked with the curtain.  “When I open it you must be quick.  The warmth must be kept in.  This is very important.”  She moved the curtain aside.  “Quickly!”

At her frantic movements the children dashed forward, past the Seer and into the shadows beyond.  The Seer darted in after them with a little hop, replacing the curtain as she did so.

There was no tunnel this time.  The entrance gave way straight into another chamber, identical to the others.  It was indeed warm in the room, close and quite unpleasant.  This room had no window and the light that managed to filter through the curtain provided only the barest illumination of the room and its occupant.  Though for eyes accustomed to such conditions, it was plenty.

“Mother?” said Cynthia.  The other children stared, stunned into immobility.  Against the far wall, lying atop a pile of bedding, was Mrs. Brisby.  She looked as if she were sleeping, but her breathing was quick and her expression pained.  Every now and again her body twitched and her fur was damp with sweat.  Cynthia took a step forward, tears welling in her eyes.


The Seer looked at the little mouse with an expression of pity and made to speak.  Before she could, Martin whirled around.

“What’s going on?  What’s wrong with her?”  He had drawn himself up to his full height and his eyes blazed.  The Seer looked worried, but apparently not because of the furious young mouse before her.

“Shh!”  She accompanied the noise with frantic gestures.  “Your mother must not be disturbed.  I am caring for her.  It is imperative she is kept warm and rested.”

“Will she wake up and be okay?” asked Cynthia.  The Seer favoured her with a warm smile.

“Yes my dear.  And soon... though not now.  I have given her a draught that will help her sleep, providing there are no further disturbances,” The Seer looked pointedly at Martin.  “She needs rest.”

“How did she get here?” asked Teresa.

“I found her near the old water mill at the farm.  It appears she had reached that point via the brook.  I travel far by the waterways within the woods and was fortunate enough to come across her.”

“Can we go closer?” asked Timothy.  The Seer turned her smile on him.

“Certainly.  I hoped the presence of her family might help speed her recovery.  It is often helpful to have a sympathetic heart nearby.”

The children approached the bed, looking down at their mother curled up.  It was terrible to see her so obviously in pain and to be utterly powerless to help in any way.  It was then that they also noticed a rough bandage around her midriff.  Upon it was the dark stain of blood.  Cynthia sniffed as the tears began.  Teresa spoke again to the Seer.

“What happened to her?”

  “She was terribly badly injured.  The bandage is for a wound she received.  It seems she was attacked.  It is not that bad.  Deep certainly, but easily healed.   More worrying is the poison that accompanied the injury.”

“Poisoned?  By what?”

“That, I cannot say.  The poison had run deep and very quickly.  I believe the effect was lessened by water, washing away the venom.  However I can think of no creature in these woods that could inflict such an injury.  I hoped that you might be able to enlighten me.”

Cynthia was about to speak, but was silenced by a look from Teresa.  The Seer looked at them quizzically, so Teresa decided to answer:

“We have no idea.  We thought she would be waiting for us at Thorn Valley.”

The two held each other’s gaze for a moment.  Again the Seer had a knowing glint in her eye.  She nodded.

“Very well.  I will need to continue caring for your mother.  She is through the worst, but there is still much ahead of her.  You are all welcome to stay here.  My home, for the time being, is your home.”

“Thank you,” said Teresa and turned back to her mother.  She ran a hand on her mother’s forehead and was sure that the faintest hint of a smile appeared on her trembling lips.  The Seer watched, but looked down when she felt a tug on her shawl.  Her wide eyes met with those of Timothy.

“How did you know that this was our mother?” he asked.

“I never said that.  It was your sister who first mentioned it was your mother.”

“You said we would be interested.  Why?  How much do you know?”  Timothy’s voice was persistent but not unkind.  It received yet another wide, knowing smile from the Seer.  When she answered her voice was kind and warm.

“You’re very quick, child.  You listen to what is going on.  So rare, nowadays.”

“You also said you would explain how you knew the Rats.”

“Ah.  Again I said no such thing.”  The Seer noticed at this point that all the children were watching her, listening to the exchange.  When she spoke next she addressed them all.  “It will not be I who tells that story.  All will be revealed in good time.  I promise that your curiosity will not go unfulfilled.  Soon I hope we will all know the answers we seek.”

Chapter 7: The Old Ways of the Woods

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.

“Do you?”

“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?”

“Like reading.”

“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.

Chapter 8: Guests at Thorn Valley

Two more days passed.  They were spent in relative peace, most of the Brisby family apparently trying to comprehend what the Great Owl had said to them, yet they talked about it little.  What could be said?  They resolved to ask Justin when they arrived at Thorn Valley to see if he could shed any further light on what happened in the Rosebush before their father’s death.

The Seer disappeared into the forest for long periods of time, returning nearer evening, loaded down with items and so, for the most part, returned to her laconic behaviour regarding what had been said.  She would still tend to Mrs. Brisby, who grew stronger with each passing day, though she still seemed unsteady on her feet, and the bandages were to remain a little longer, or so it seemed.

On the morning of the third day the Brisby family was sitting in the main chamber finishing off a typically bland breakfast.  Away from the farm the yield of the forest was plentiful but not particularly varied.  Still the newly reunited family did not complain.  On this particular occasion the Seer was sitting in the chamber also, though she worked on the ingredients gathered the previous days, grinding the plants down, mixing.  She was apparently paying little attention to the mice nearby, despite their proximity in the now quite crowded room.  It had not been meant for so many occupants.  However she did not let the excited chatter from the mice disturb her.

“...and then,” Martin was saying, addressing the rest of the family, “the pigeon said: ‘I’m sorry I thought you said you were an otter!’”

Martin grinned as the family laughed at the punch line.

“Where did you hear that, Martin?” asked Teresa, still grinning.

“I came up with it myself.  Glad you like it.”

Timothy let out another burst of laughter, and as he did so the pendant about his neck became untucked from his shirt, though it was Mrs. Brisby who noticed this first.  She did not recall having seen it before.

“What is that around your neck, Timothy?”

Timothy, still grinning, turned to his mother and then lowered his gaze down at his chest.  He began to fidget with the little stone.  None of the mice noticed, but the Seer’s work became a fraction slower.

“A pendant...” he replied.  “The Seer gave it to me.  She said it would keep me well.  I had forgotten I had been wearing it.”

“Does it work?” asked Mrs. Brisby.  Timothy shrugged.

“I feel okay.”

The Seer harrumphed and half turned so that she could regard the family out of the corner of her eye.

“Have you been taking your medicine?” she asked pointedly.

“No,” replied Timothy looking confused.  “I haven’t taken any medicine for almost a week!”

The Seer seemed satisfied that her point was made and went back to her work.  Mrs. Brisby’s eyes grew wide in alarm at the thought that Timothy had been without his precious medicine.  For an entire week as well!  However, before she could voice her sentiments she was interrupted:

“How does it work?” asked Cynthia, gazing at the little stone.

The Seer put down her grinding stones and swivelled around so she was properly facing the mice.  She was grinning again.

“Stones are very useful and precious things.  They all have a power though some have more than others.  Stones can even tell you very interesting things.”

 “You mentioned that before,” said Timothy.  “Is that the same power that the Owl mentioned?”

“Indeed it is, child.”

This was the first time the Seer had seemed willing to comment on the audience with the Owl.  It had the effect of making all the others pay complete attention to her.  It seemed that this was common behaviour for the frog.  A flat refusal to discuss anything, and then a sudden about face had had everyone hanging on her every word.  Timothy wondered if she was doing it deliberately as he asked his next question.

“But...  How can you read a stone?  Surely it can’t tell you much.”

“Yes it can.  Of course it can...  You can find out a lot from stones.  Not just obvious things either.  I’m talking about people!  Stones can tell you a lot about people.  You just have to know how to look.  Just as you know how to read words, like the Rats, so others can read without them.  And the message of a stone, unlike your books, will change.  Like nature it is constantly shifting, never lying still.  Trying to lock things away in books is silly.  As soon as it is done, it may change.”

“But what about things that never change?”

“Why bother writing them in books if they never change.”

Timmy found it difficult to keep up with the Seer’s strange style of argument.  She seemed to see his struggling.

“Perhaps I am not making myself clear.  A demonstration may be useful.  Follow me.”

The Seer rose and moved towards the last of the tunnel entrances.

“Come on,” called the Seer and disappeared into the gloom.

“Have you been down there yet?” asked Martin.

“No,” replied Cynthia.

“Has anyone,” said Mrs. Brisby.

There was a moment of silence as everyone waited for someone else to reply.

“Well,” said Martin rising, “let’s find out.”  He strode into the tunnel followed closely by the rest of the Brisby family.

Just around a bend in the tunnel then Seer was waiting for them.  A thick reed curtain like the one that had hung across the doorway to Mrs. Brisby’s sick room blocked the tunnel.  The frog pulled it back and ushered the mice through into the room beyond.

It was a large chamber, far larger than what they thought of as the main chamber that they had just left.  It had no windows but there was a hole in the ceiling.  It was a large gap but roots and vines had gown across it so only a little daylight managed to get through.  These thin shafts of light fell onto a roughly circular pool filled with water and bordered with rough rocks.  More drops of moisture were falling from between tangle of vegetation overhead, apparently keeping the pool filled.  However what dominated most of the room were stones.  Rough shelves were lined up against the wall and on these were piles of stones, though the collection also spilled out onto the floor.  Most looked identical to one another being just ordinary grey-brown stones, though some were of a vivid colour, a strange texture, or in some other way characteristic.  It was impressive in a way, eerie in quite another.  The hazy light from the skylight gave the room a melancholy, lonely air, contributing to the peculiar atmosphere.

“Wow,” breathed Cynthia.  The rest of the family stood by looking equally impressed.

“This is my collection,” the Seer was saying as she replaced the curtain and shuffled into the room.  “Each of these stones is unique and special in its own way, though the qualities may be very subtle.  As the Owl said, each life uses a power and these stones can show that power.  If you can read them correctly, you can find out a lot about someone.”

“Can you teach us?” asked Cynthia in her typically forward manner.  The Seer smiled at the enthusiastic young mouse.

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know where to start.  I don’t know myself how I do what I do, but the point is I can.  I am hoping that it will be a useful demonstration of what I have been trying to explain.  Actions can often speak louder than words.  Now...” she clapped her hands together, a surprisingly loud noise that echoed around the room.   “Who’s first?”

The mice stood still, wondering exactly what the Seer had in mind and strangely reluctant to volunteer.

“Mrs. Brisby?” she asked hopefully.  Mrs. Brisby returned a beseeching look.  The Seer seemed to understand and quickly looked instead to the children.

“How about you,” she said, pointing to Martin.  “The oldest and bravest no doubt.  Come, there is no need to be shy.”

“I’m not shy,” protested Martin stepping forward with just the tiniest hint of hesitation.  “What do I have to do?”

The Seer had begun to become very animated, her movements becoming more energetic.  She reached out and grabbed Martin’s wrist and thrust it towards the shelves.

“Take your hand and pass it over the stones like this...”

The Seer waved her other webbed hand over the nearest stones releasing Martin as he imitated the movement.

“That’s it?” he asked.  The Seer grinned a very wide grin indeed.

“Hmmm.  If you do that until I tell you to stop.”  She did not say more.

Martin rolled his eyes, shrugging as he did so.  He began to wander along the shelves, holding out his hand towards the various stones stored there.  The Seer gave him one last wide smile and then her expression became blank as she relaxed.  Her eyes were half closed and only seemed to be paying vague attention to what Martin was doing.  This continued for a short while and Martin began to feel a little silly.  He obviously gave some indication that this was the case, as Cynthia giggled.  He immediately shot her a furious look, Mrs. Brisby simultaneously laying a hand on her youngest daughter’s shoulder, though she was grinning herself.  Martin turned back to scowling at the rows of rocks, becoming impatient and beginning to wave his hand widely back and forth.  He was about to give voice to his irritation when the Seer called out.

“Ah, stop!”  Her eyes now wide, her hand outstretched she was looking not at Martin but at the shelves.  Martin froze and the others held their breath, waiting to see what was about to happen.

“Take a step back,” commanded the Seer, her eyes half closed again.  Martin complied, looking over his shoulder at the frog with a confused expression.  Oblivious the Seer continued to mumble.

“Move your hand... a little... stop!” she cried again and darted forward.  Martin began to step aside, out of the Seer’s path but stopped at another outburst.

“Don’t move.  Stay exactly where you are.”

Martin looked to his family but they too could only return the gaze, have similarly no idea what the Seer was going to do.  They had never seen her in this kind of mood.  Meanwhile, the Seer was scouring the shelves, looking at each stone in minute detail.  Finally she let out something that sounded like a sigh.

“Ah.  Here it is.”

She turned to Martin holding a stone aloft.  It was a brilliant blue, though its surface was jagged and had sharp edges.  The Seer had to be careful while holding it, balancing it delicately on her fingertips.  Martin wore his most patient grin as he asked,

“And what is it?”  He was trying to make a joke out of it; though it was obvious the object in the Seer’s hands intrigued him.

“From this stone I will be able to tell a great deal about you,” she said.

Martin let out a quick sigh and then,

“Such as?”

The Seer set her jaw and once again half closed her eyes.  All was quiet and still for a moment.
  “It is sturdy, such as yourself.  Strong...” she paused.

“You needed the stone to tell you that?” asked Martin, standing taller so that his size was more obvious.  The Seer appeared not to have heard him.  She continued to speak the words coming slowly as if she was hearing another speak and was repeating the words.

“...though you can be impetuous.  Unthinking at times...”

“Now hold on.”  Martin said, suddenly feeling affronted.

“You always want to show what you can do.  You worry others will think you are weak, or helpless if you do not act and demonstrate your skills.”

“But...” Martin seemed at a loss and was looking very uncomfortable before the frog who was unrelenting in her assessment.

“And it seems that despite this wish to be here, helping your family, there is someone you dearly wish to return to...”

The Seer opened her eyes slowly, with a self-satisfied grin.  Martin was standing stock still, wide eyed, and looking embarrassed.  The skin of his ears had gone bright red.

“I suppose I was quite close then?” she asked, pursing her lips.  Despite the dim light there was the glint in her wide eyes.  Martin gave a little nod of his head.  The Seer nodded too as is satisfied and turned to the others:

“Who’s next?”

Unbidden everyone glanced at Teresa.  Teresa shook her head a little trying a very similar expression her mother had used.

“Come, come now...” said the Seer darting forward, again with surprising speed, and seizing Teresa’s hand.  The frog seemed to be enjoying herself even if Teresa was unwilling.

“Just do exactly the same.  Hold out your hand and move slowly past the stones.  That’s it.”

Teresa started to move around the shelves very slowly, darting furtive glances at her family.  The Seer had just settled into her meditative state when she called out.

“That’s enough.  Stop!”  Teresa halted, wondering what she had done wrong.  The Seer approached and went straight to a particular stone.  It was grey and looked like any other pebble that could be found in the forest.  “Here,” she breathed.

Teresa looked at the pebble feeling a little disappointed, especially considering the specimen that had apparently applied to Martin.

“It doesn’t look terribly interesting,” she said awkwardly.

“This one is interesting,” reassured the Seer grinning like a mad thing at the stone she as holding.  “It seems ordinary enough on the surface, but hides its secrets deep down.  Not everything is so obvious with the stones.”  She nodded sagely, almost as if she was agreeing with her own statement, and went on.  “Again there is a strength there and bravery also.  Though of course not as ready to show off as your brother.”

Martin folded his arms and scowled at the Seer, though she was paying him no attention whatsoever.  She continued.

“Huh.  You care for others deeply, selfish you are certainly not, and...” The Seer trailed off and fixed Teresa, who seemed very ill at ease, with a look and an almost imperceptible smile.  “And... that is it!” the Seer finished.  “I’m afraid that is all I can get from that one.”  The Seer nodded curtly and replaced the stone back on the shelf, as she did so she leant in close to Teresa and whispered into her ear:

“Don’t worry yourself, dear.  Everything will be fine.”

Teresa wasn’t exactly sure what the Seer was talking about, and wanted to ask but Cynthia was hopping on the spot.

“Me next.  I want to go.”

“Excellent!” cried the Seer, spreading her arms.  “Start at this end, child.  You know what to do?”

“Mm hmm.”  Cynthia skipped to the end of the row of shelves and began to slowly and deliberately move along them, the Seer standing out of the way exactly as she had before, the rest of the family looking on in respectful silence.  Cynthia moved about the room for some time, all the while the Seer seemed to be concentrating harder, her brow creasing.  Several times she called for Cynthia to stop, but then asked her to carry on after a brief pause.  Cynthia grew more and more impatient.  She was on her third sweep of the shelves when the Seer finally stopped her for the final time.

“I’m sorry child.  My collection of stones is large, but by no means complete.  I don’t think I have the stone that I can read for you.  Again you have my apologies.”  The Seer looked genuinely upset, but not as disappointed as Cynthia.  The little mouse nodded.

“It’s okay,” she flashed a smile at the frog and went and stood with her family again, where her mother stroked her hair.  The Seer looked now to the youngest of the Brisby children.

“Timothy?” she asked.  Timothy nodded coolly and began to wander the shelves.  He reached the opposite end of the shelving without interruption from the Seer, though when he turned around she called:

“Keep your hand higher this time.”

Timothy obeyed and raised his hand towards the higher shelves, slowly pacing back along them.

“Stop just there...  Ah!” sighed the Seer gratefully.  She opened her eyes.  They grew wider very quickly, her mouth falling agape.  Timothy had indeed stopped in front of the shelves as asked, but from one of the higher shelves there was a dull red glow.  It pulsed, brighter then weaker, throwing shadows on the wall, and with each throb of luminosity, the glow seemed to get brighter.  All the creatures in the room were standing watching, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

“Oh my,” gasped the Seer, swallowing.  “Timothy, come away please,” she said, trying to keep her voice level though never taking her eyes from the glow.

Timothy did not comply at once.  He could only stare at the strange pulsing glow from the shelf.  He could not see the stone itself from his position, only the strange light it gave off, the strange shadows it threw upon the wall.

“Timothy!” called Mrs. Brisby.  Timmy glanced over his shoulder and then back at the shelf.  He began to back away but as he did so the pulsing became faster and brighter.  The little mouse took several hurried steps back and bumped into the Seer.  She was staring, dumfounded like the rest though placed a clammy hand onto his shoulder.  Timothy, like all the others, watched what happened next with a numb disbelief.  From the shelf the stone began to float, rising from the shelf to hover just above its surface.  It was a rough, irregular stone that was at the centre of the red aura.  It looked like an angular, elongated egg as it hung in the air.  Then it moved gently forwards, towards the lip of the shelf.  It did not stop but instead continued down and across the room, making its way towards the unmoving creatures, bathing them all in the warm red glow.  An arms length away it stopped and hovered in the air before Timmy.

The stone hovering in front of Timothy
Art by Procyon

“Wow!” Cynthia gasped.

Timothy, now that the stone was close enough to inspect, looked carefully, examining it.  The surface of the stone was very irregular, and the cracks seemed to affect the shape of the glow that surrounded it.  Also the stone was not opaque and there was a delicate swirl of detail at its core.  Timothy peered through the strange aura radiating from it and into its crimson depths.  Trying to make out the form at the centre of the miraculous stone.  Unthinking he began to reach out, to touch it.


Mrs. Brisby darted forward and knocked Timothy’s hand down, away from the stone.  Almost at once the stone fell to the ground with a dull click, losing its aura and the marvellous crimson light, returning the room to its original dreary illumination.  It now just lay on the ground, motionless.  Its surface looked like rough black quartz, its depths now hidden from view.  The mice and the frog all stood staring at it not able to move.  All that could be heard was Mrs. Brisby’s panting.  She looked away from the stone, to her own hands that were tightly clenched, and then to Timothy.

“I’m sorry Timothy.  It’s just...” she trailed off, looking again at her hands, opening them and fanning her fingers.  She looked at the burn marks.  Timothy smiled and, placing his own hand on his mother’s, nodded.

“What does it mean?” asked Teresa.  The Seer did not answer immediately.  She was still looking fixedly at the little lump of dark rock.  When he did speak the words came broken and confused.

“I’m... I’m not sure.  This has... never...  Nothing ever like this!” she stopped leaning closer to the rock.

“You said you could read them,” Martin pointed out.  No one missed the slightly gloating tone he used.  The Seer faced him, her stare intense though Martin met it.

“Just as some words are unknown to you so some stones are unwilling to surrender their secrets.”  She looked again at the floor where the stone lay.

“What’s wrong with it?” Timothy asked the Seer, receiving a quick glance from the frog.

“I...  I don’t know.  I’ll... have to think about it.  Please.”  She indicated the door and began to usher the family towards it, holding the curtain aside for them.  Reluctantly they began to file out, the Seer stepping into the tunnel behind them.  Before the Seer allowed the curtain to fall back across the entrance she turned and looked once more at the stone, where it lay on the floor.  It pulsed once more, with a dull red light.  The Seer’s own eyes glowed gold momentarily and then she retracted her head, letting the curtain fall.



The fourth day came and the Brisby family waited, as usual, in the main chamber of the Seer’s home.  The mice had tried enquiring about what had happened in the stone chamber but the Seer had been even more reticent than usual to give them any information.  Discussion between themselves had produced no useful insights and the members of the Brisby family had once again resigned themselves to wait until they reached Thorn Valley before they could find out any more.

They were ready for their journey and were waiting only for the arrival of the birds that the Owl had promised.  Packing had taken no time at all as none of them had any belongings.  The Seer had however provided them with a small parcel of various items.  Mainly they were mixtures of the Seer’s own devising.  Timothy had asked if there was any medicine in there for him, but the Seer had said that the pendant seemed to be working and he should be fine.

“After all,” the frog pointed out, “You have not taken your medicine for some time now and you are suffering no ill effects.”

She had also provided several concoctions for Mrs. Brisby that would work to both speed her recovery and to stop infection.  Mrs. Brisby initially protested saying she had never felt better and that she was fully recovered, but the Seer insisted, pressing the parcel into her arms and leaning in close.

“There is medicine in there for the venom that was used on you.  It may come in useful again.”  The Seer moved in closer, dropping her voice to a whisper.  “It also contains medicine for Timothy in case the pendant stops working,” she lowered her voice even more so that it was barely audible, “not that it ever started working.”

The Seer straightened, gave Mrs. Brisby a subtle wink, and quickly shuffled off before Mrs. Brisby could reply.

It was mid-afternoon, the sun high in the cloudless sky making for a dry heat, when the Seer waddled inside to tell them that their escorts had arrived.  She had been out foraging in the pond when the birds had swooped down.  They had apparently landed in the clearing where the Owl had addressed the mice several days before.  Cynthia was nearly bouncing with excitement as they went out into the sunlight and began to walk around the pond.

“Are we really going to go to Thorn Valley?”

“Yes, dear,” replied Mrs. Brisby.  She no longer needed support but Teresa kept close, walking by her mother’s side.

“And will we get to meet the Rats?”

“Of course,” was her mother’s patient reply.

“All of them?”


“Even Justin?”

“Yes Cynthia!” Martin almost screamed the words.  This was obviously the effect Cynthia had been wanting as she grinned and skipped ahead of the group.

“Now don’t start you two,” warned Mrs. Brisby.

Timothy looked out over the pond as they passed and saw the red dragonfly hovering close to the bank seemingly watching them.  He cocked his head at it and gave a little wave.  In response the insect began to weave back and forth in the air.  Timothy grinned and made to tell Cynthia, however she was still embroiled in her Martin-baiting activities and when he looked back the dragonfly had gone.

The group turned away from the pond and made their way into the woods.  It was shaded under the trees, pleasant away from the direct sunlight but still very warm.  The group looked about, trying to catch a glimpse of the birds that would ferry them to Thorn Valley.

“Do you know where they are, Seer?” asked Teresa.

In response the Seer raised her eyes to the treetops.  Teresa followed the gaze, as did her family, and saw immediately those that they had come to meet.

“Mz. Briz!”

Jeremy wailed Mrs. Brisby’s name as he fluttered down to the ground, closely followed by two wood pigeons.  He flopped down in front of Mrs. Brisby and her family.

“Jeremy!  What ever is the matter?” asked Mrs. Brisby.  She had not expected to see her friend the crow, and had certainly not expected to see him so distraught.  He was gabbling as he tried to explain.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to break my promise, I tried to look after the kids...”

“Jeremy,” said Mrs. Brisby patiently, rolling her eyes at the sudden comprehension.

“I mean... I asked them.  And they even said...” Jeremy carried on, apparently oblivious to anything else.


“And I did go looking... all over the place, and...


The crow broke off at Mrs. Brisby’s exclamation.

“Hmmm,” he whimpered, raising his eyebrows.  Mrs. Brisby gave a weary sigh and then began,

“It’s fine.  It wasn’t your fault. There’s no need to apologise.  It should be the other way around.  In fact...” she glared at the children.  They looked back awkwardly, Martin seemingly angry, but he wilted under the stare from his mother.

“We’re sorry, Jeremy,” they all chorused.  Jeremy smiled nervously, looking apologetically at the young mice who he now felt he had got into trouble.

“Aw, don’t worry about it.  I’m just glad you’re okay.  I was so worried.  I didn’t know where to go.  Then I thought the Great Owl helped you once maybe if I explain...”  As usual Jeremy trailed off as he lost the thread of what he was saying and Mrs. Brisby, as usual, came to his rescue.

“I think we owe you a thanks for that too.”

“It was nothing,” the crow waved it away with a sweep of his wing.  “Say, what are you doing here Mz. Briz?  I thought you’d be in Thorn Valley by now.”

“That’s a long story, Jeremy.  I’ll tell you some other time.  Who’re your friends?”

“Oh!  ‘Scuse me, pardon me!”  Jeremy gestured towards the two wood pigeons who were standing patiently behind him.  “Everyone this is Frederick, and this is Susan.  And this is Mrs. Brisby and her children: Martin, Teresa, Cynthia and Timothy.”

“How do you do,” cooed Susan.

“Delighted!” from Frederick.  “Er.  Dashed rude of me to ask this I know, but when do you want to get going, what?”

Mrs. Brisby looked to the children.  Timothy shrugged.

“No time like the present I suppose.”

Mrs. Brisby, Timothy and Cynthia rode on Jeremy’s back as he was the largest of all the birds.  Teresa and Martin rode the smaller wood pigeons, respectively Frederick and Susan.

“Hold on ma’am,” said Frederick as he spread his wings.  Jeremy was trying a few practice beats of his wings, testing to see if the presence of so many passengers would affect the movements.  He seemed satisfied and winked at the three mice on his back. 

“Be careful.  All of you,” called the Seer.  She seemed uncharacteristically sombre.

“Goodbye,” replied Mrs. Brisby.

“And thank you!” called Teresa.

The Seer nodded in response, as the birds prepared for flight.  She leaned heavily on her staff as she whispered,

“And good luck...”

The three birds beat their wings forcefully making their small passengers hold on tighter.  They took to the air; rising higher; weaving between the branches to come bursting through the canopy into the fresh, cool air and brilliant sunlight.  The mice began to relax until they noticed that the birds did not stop.  They kept climbing until they were quite a distance above the treetops.  Reaching the pinnacle of their ascent they then angled their wings and swooped down again, exchanging height for speed, skimming just above the leaves.  The hard work done the three birds now beat their wings again to gently rise higher as they continued to soar over the forest.

“Woo hoo!” cried Martin, punching his fist towards the azure sky, the breeze whipping his hair about his face and making his shirt billow out behind him.  Teresa was also grinning though seemed to be concentrating on maintaining a good grip instead of enjoying the journey.  On Jeremy’s back Mrs. Brisby sat with her eyes closed, hugging Cynthia who sat in front of her.  Cynthia was gazing all around, trying to see everything all at once.  Timothy was looking resolutely ahead, searching the landscape for any sign of Thorn Valley.  It could not be too far as the first Mountains were getting nearer and nearer.  The mighty peaks disappeared off to the left, and the terrain was so variable Timothy could not see anything that looked even remotely familiar.  He leant forward and shouted to Jeremy, his voice barely audible as the air roared by, snatching the sound away.

“So how long will it take us to get to Thorn Valley?”

“Uh...” Jeremy hesitated, looking thoughtful.  There was a cooing laugh from nearby and Susan began to fly beside Jeremy.

“Dear child. This is Thorn Valley.  We are flying over it now.  We are just trying to find the correct spot to leave you.  The Owl was very specific.”

“Really!” cried Cynthia leaning over to try and see the Valley.

“Cynthia please!” pleaded Mrs. Brisby as she swayed with her daughter’s movement.

“I think that might be it, old gel!” came a voice from the other side.  Frederick had drawn up beside Jeremy too.  “Everybody ready?  Tally ho!”

At that all three birds went into a steep dive.

“Oh my!” cried Mrs Brisby, though all of the children let out shrieks of excitement.  The valley stretched out beneath them, glorious in the sunlight.  The three lakes, a large one flanked on the left by the two small ones, glittered in the sun.  The dives were taking straight towards the end of the largest lake that was furthest from the mountains.  They went low, flying just above the surface of the shimmering water, travelling the length of the valley towards the huge peaks of rock in the distance.  About halfway the birds yawed, heading toward the area of ground in between the larger and one of the smaller lakes.  Here they landed amongst the maples and oaks, in the shadow of an old and particularly twisted tree.  The mice climbed down to the ground, Mrs. Brisby with a grateful sigh.

“That was great!” exclaimed Martin.  Cynthia nodded vigorously in agreement.

“Can we go again?”

“No!”  Mrs. Brisby’s voice was nearly a shout.  Frederick chuckled as he spoke.

“This is where the Owl said to drop you off.  He also said that you would want to be heading north.  What is it you are looking for?”

“Just some friends.”

“Friends?  They must be very good friends for such a journey, what?  Jeremy here said you lived on the southern border of the forest, near the farm.”

Mrs. Brisby’s quick glance at Jeremy revealed a crow looking very sheepish.

“They are very good friends.  Thank you so much for your help,” she replied, hoping it was enough.  Apparently it was.
  “Think nothing of it.  The Owl has helped others enough, and any friend of his has our respect.  Good luck finding your friends.  Come on, Susan old gel.  Better be off.”

“Don’t ‘old gel’ me!” retorted Susan.  “Bye now!” she called to the mice as she and Frederick began to climb towards the branches overhead.

The family waved after them until they were out of sight.  Then Mrs. Brisby turned to Jeremy who was still standing nearby.

“And what about you, Jeremy?”

“I’ll stay here and help you look Mz. Briz.”

Mrs. Brisby shook her head.

“I won’t hear of it Jeremy.  By the sound of it you’ve already done so much.  Please go home.  We’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.  We’ll be fine and Emma will be waiting for you.  Go, please.”

“Okay.  If you insist.  Be careful okay.  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

“Bye Jeremy.”

“Bye bye!” called Cynthia.  The other children all called their various thanks and goodbyes as Jeremy flapped upwards.  He tried to look back one last time and, as he did so, flew into a clump of leaves in his path.  Bursting out of them again he flew off over the forest.  The Brisby family was left alone in the middle of Thorn Valley.  There was birdsong and the rustle of wind in the leaves, as well as the fresh smell of vegetation in the sun.  It was truly a beautiful place.  The family stood for a few moments looking out over lake.

“Well,” said Mrs. Brisby, “we better move on.  North was it?”

They set off, meandering slowly through the forest.  There was an apprehensive air amongst the mice.  They had travelled so far to get to Thorn Valley and they were nearly at their journey’s end.  It was an odd feeling, and for some reason they felt they should not rush.  So they enjoyed the scenery.

To their right was the expanse of the long lake, to their left, one of the smaller ones.  All around them were the magnificent trees of the valley.  Fine specimens by any measure.  The forest floor had many winding trails that weaved between the ferns and occasional bramble bush.  Soon the smaller lake curved away and the ground on their left began to slope upwards.  At one point it appeared as if rain had eroded the slope for it became a steep, dusty escarpment.  The mice were wondering exactly how far they were meant to go in this direction when a harsh call startled them all.


They all looked to the ridge of the escarpment, to the origin of the shout.  There were two large rats glaring down at them.  Each was draped in a dark cloak and one was very conspicuously armed with a spear.  As the Brisbys looked on the rats both leapt down the slope, taking huge bounds down the incline, kicking up little clouds of dust.  As they came close it became easier to notice details.  They both wore rough vests beneath their cloaks and both were armed.  The one holding the spear was the shorter of the two, and looked younger (though they both seemed youthful), his movements quicker, sharper and all together more uneasy.  The other was tall and slim, a sword visible at his belt.  He looked more confident than his fellow.  Both had similar dull brown fur.  They came to a stop in front of the family, glaring down at them.  Mrs. Brisby had unpleasant visions of her first visit to the domain of the rats.

“Who goes there?” the taller one finished.

None of the mice were sure how to answer.  The children could only look at the powerful creatures in front of them with awe and fear, their eyes wide.  There was no doubt that these were rats of NIMH.

The taller rat squinted at the group before him and then his eyes widened, his brow raised.

“Hang on.  You’re Mrs. Brisby aren’t you?”

There was a profound relief on Mrs. Brisby’s part.  She had worried how she would explain to these rats who she and her family were.  However if this rat recognised her, knowing that she was related to Jonathan Brisby, then that should make everything so much easier.

“Yes.  That’s right.”  She nodded.  “And this is my family.  How did you know?”

The rat seemed to ponder this and then its eyes narrowed.

“I was on duty when you arrived at the great hall,” he said, “at the meeting...”

“Ah yes...”  Mrs. Brisby’s eyes went to the floor.  She didn’t really remember him; she could remember little of the huge creatures looming over her.  She was about to reply but stopped as the rat, obviously ignoring her, turned and gave the other rat a look that lasted just slightly too long.  The shorter one nodded slowly and darted off back into the woods.  After watching his comrade go the other rat once again faced the mice.

“You better follow me,” he said curtly and started off without another word.

The mice glanced at one another and then set off at a run to keep up with the rat’s larger strides, his cape billowing with each of his powerful movements.  He was leading them roughly in the direction they had been travelling.  He glanced back every now and again, seemingly to check that they were still with him, but other than that gave no indication he was interested in them.  As they travelled through the sunlit forest Cynthia nudged her mother.

“Mommy.  Are all the rats this grumpy?”  She spoke in a quiet little voice, with quick glances at the rat.

“Yeah,” said Martin appearing on Mrs. Brisby’s other side.  “I wasn’t expecting this sort of greeting.  He almost seems...”

“Silence!” called the rat over his shoulder, though the look was fleeting, and he quickly turned his gaze away again.  “You’ll have plenty to talk about when you see Bracken.”

“Bracken?” asked Mrs. Brisby.  She didn’t remember any Bracken from her last visit.

“Bracken?” the rat repeated in a mocking imitation.  “Yes Bracken!  He’s our leader.  I’m taking you to him.”

Mrs. Brisby was taken aback by the rat’s manner and was slightly fearful of his reaction when Teresa started to say:

“I thought Justin was...”

“Justin!  Hah!” interrupted the rat, almost spitting the words.  He did not turn to face them when he spoke.  “That idiot.  He couldn’t lead frogs to water.  No, Bracken is our leader now.  He’s really knocked this place into shape...”

Teresa turned a worried face to her mother.  Mrs. Brisby returned a similar look.

“What happened to Just...” she began.

“I ordered silence!”

Cynthia hugged herself close to her mother.  Both Martin and Timothy were watching the rat, Timothy with a look of disbelief, Martin with contempt, his fists balled.

They moved on in silence for a short while.  Eventually, and without warning the rat stopped in front of a thorny bush, behind which was a large outcropping of rock.  The family stopped too, waiting to see what happened next.

“Wait here!” commanded the rat as if he were talking to simpletons, pointing to the ground as he did so just to make sure.  He still did not do them the courtesy of facing them while he addressed them.  As they watched he ran forward, along a thin track that disappeared into the bush.

“What’s going on?” said Timothy.  He sounded heartbroken.  “Why doesn’t he seem pleased to see us?  Have we done something wrong?”

Mrs. Brisby stroked her son’s head.

“I don’t know.  Maybe they just don’t like visitors.”

“Don’t they know who we are?” growled Martin.  He was still staring furiously at the point where the rat had disappeared.

“Maybe it’s who we are that’s the problem,” stated Teresa.  She shrugged as the others turned to her questioningly.

“A-hem,” came the ever so polite cough.  The rat had returned and was watching them, the muscles of his face held tense and rigid.

“This way,” he ordered and ducked back into the run.  The mice had no choice.  Martin went first, the others squeezing in behind.  Cynthia did not want to be separated from her mother.

The track was short and took them through the bush to the rocks on the other side.  It was darker here, most of the sunlight blocked by the dense foliage but there was still plenty to make out the details.  There was a deep fissure in the huge rock before them, very wide at the bottom, enough for the five of them to go in at once, shoulder to shoulder if they wanted to.  It tapered as it went up, disappearing before the top of the stone.  The rat was waiting for them just inside, making sure that his impatience showed.

“This way,” he beckoned.  They followed him into the crack in the rock and it quickly turned into a wide tunnel, though not as wide as the entrance, which sloped gently down.  The Brisby family kept close, unsure of their surroundings.  Even Martin began to slow his pace so he could stay close to the others. 

There were several sharp bends in the tunnel, throwing them into darkness as the all light from outside abandoned them.  However the black out was fleeting.  Ahead of them there was a faint glow and as they drew nearer the tunnel widened slightly.  The light originated from a lantern seen hanging on one of the tunnel walls.  It was a rough thing, a little flame inside a rough wooden frame.  The mice did not notice this; instead they were watching what the light illuminated.  Another rat standing guard, almost hidden in a niche in the tunnel wall opposite the lantern.  They could not make out the details of his expression in the dim light, but he turned his face away from them as he passed.  Martin bristled but kept moving.  The family’s progress past the rat guard was slow and it obviously aggravated their guide as he called back up the tunnel.

“Come on!”  The sound took on a strange echo in the confined space and they hurried on, thrown back into darkness again as the tunnel closed in about them.  They could still hear the first rat moving along just ahead of them as they continued along the dark and winding passage.  The noise of his movements changed and the mice found themselves in a rough chamber, slightly bigger than their home back at the brook.  Three more lanterns provided inadequate illumination; each was hung next to a tunnel that led off into shadow.  The rat was standing in the centre of the room.  He made a lazy gesture, indicating their surroundings.

“This is the atrium, the first room of the settlement proper.”  The five mice looked around.  Mrs. Brisby had known that the settlement was not going to be quite as impressive as the Rats’ home in the Rosebush but she hadn’t thought they’d be reduced to this.  However it was the children that she felt for at the moment.  She could hardly bare the looks of disappointment on their faces as they looked around at the rough walls of the dank atrium.

“You don’t like it?” snapped the rat, obviously noticing their expressions too.  Mrs. Brisby thought quickly for words to placate him.

“It’s very...” she began, but the rat interrupted again, his tone terse.

“We are still developing the settlement and this is the best we have at the moment.  I’m sorry it doesn’t meet your exacting standards.”  The last part of the sentence dripped with sarcasm.

“Oh I didn’t mean...” Mrs. Brisby began, still trying to come to terms with the situation.

“I’ll put you to the detainment centre,” the rat said breezily, ignoring the sudden looks of horror that appeared on the faces of the mice.  “Until Bracken gives you the all clear...”

“Detainment centre?” breathed Martin.  Timothy and Cynthia looked in dismay to their mother.  Mrs. Brisby was at a complete loss.  She really didn’t know what to say.

“Yes.  Can’t be too careful,” continued the rat.  He had turned away from them again.  “Through there...” he finished, pointing to the middle of the three passageways.

The mice started off again, looking more uncomfortable than ever.  Martin led the way again though now he was hardly paying attention to his surroundings or where he was going.  His mind raced with thoughts of running back along the passage and out into the valley.  But what about the rats?  He couldn’t hope to get past them should they decide to try and stop him.  Though where were they all?  And what about his family?  What to do?  What had they got themselves into?

There were several further bends in the tunnel, then it began to get wider.  It ended in an alcove lit on either side by little lanterns.  Before them was a huge set of double doors made from rough, but sturdy looking wood.  Surely this could not be the detention centre, thought Martin.

“Open it!” said the rat, though this time his voice sounded strange.

Curiosity took over and Martin placed his hands on the wood and pushed, throwing his weight behind them.  The doors moved smoothly, Martin almost toppling forward with the unexpected ease.  He straightened up and looked at the new surroundings.  He blinked.  The others had followed him in and now they all stared wide-eyed too.  Cynthia did a double take as she looked around.  As one they turned to their guide who had followed them in and was now looming behind them.  It looked almost like a different rat.  He was beaming from ear to ear and seemed to be quivering with suppressed laughter.

“I’m sorry...”  He broke off as a spurt of laughter escaped his lips.  “You should see your faces!”  He now nearly doubled up, clutching his stomach he was laughing so hard.  The mice turned back to the room that lay in front of them.

It was... magnificent.  A massive underground chamber, larger than any that the mice had known, even Mrs. Brisby who had seen the halls of the Rosebush.  However it was not the size that was impressive, it was the design and layout that astounded.  The floor was missing for the most part.  A landing ran around the edge of the room and was wide enough for several rats, trimmed with a sturdy carved banister.  Through the gap in the centre of the room rose a massive spiralling staircase, extending for another floor upwards, to a mezzanine, and for many floors downwards.  Four gantries extended from the perimeter landings to the spiral staircase, so that the stairs were at the centre of a kind of suspended crossroads.  Huge pillars were scattered at regular intervals throughout the hall and they rose to join the high vaulted ceiling and its complex network of massive wooden crossbeams.  Hanging from these timbers, the pillars and situated on wall sconces were dozens of the little wooden lanterns that, combined, provided a warm illumination.

Along each of the side walls there were at least five doorways leading off, another three on the distant far wall.  There were stairs on either side where the small group were now huddled, leading up onto the mezzanine above.  What little that the mice could see of the floors below suggested that they seemed very similar to this one, a landing running around the side, gantries leading to the staircase, and many little points of light that were the lanterns.  The hall was indeed rougher than those back on the farm, but this was definitely the more impressive.

After the initial wonderment of the architecture came the similar shock at the number of occupants within the room.  Dozens of rats of all shapes, colours, and ages were moving to and fro within the hall, going about their business.  Some regarded the new comers with a distracted interest, some whispered and pointed, though all seemed too busy to take much notice.  There was a tangible buzz of activity.

All the members of the Brisby family could just stand and look about them, trying to take in the scale of the hall.  They could hardly believe it would be possible for such a place to exist, but it did.  Timothy was the first to come out of the trance.

“What’s...” he trailed off but tried again.  He turned back to the rat who had bought them in.  “What’s going on?”  The young mouse’s words were almost pleading.

The rat had calmed down enough now that he was standing straight again, though he was still chuckling, holding his fist to his mouth in an attempt to stifle his sniggering.

”Sorry,” he said, coughing the last of the laughter away.  “I just thought: how often would I get to play that trick?  I could hardly keep a straight face.” he strode forward cape billowing, his hand outstretched.  “I’m Leander.  A member of the Thorn Valley Home Guard and part-time jester.” He shook Timothy’s hand, Timothy seeming slightly reticent, as he continued, “And you are the great Mrs. Jonathan Brisby.”

It wasn’t a question, and there was a touch of awe in his voice.  Mrs. Brisby was still feeling a little numb.

“Was that all a joke?”

“Mm hmm.  Well except the bit where I said I was on guard duty.  That’s how I recognised you.  I thought as you know us you wouldn’t mind...”

“So that other room wasn’t the ‘atrium’?” she asked.

“Nope.  That’s meant to be a mock settlement, made to look like a normal rat’s nest.”

“You wouldn’t happen to be a friend of Justin’s would you.”

“Yes, we’re very good friends.”  Leander looked a little curious.  “Why?”

“Just a guess...” finished Mrs. Brisby with a weary grin.

“Uh, could I have my hand back please?” asked Timothy.  Leander looked down to where he was still gripping the mouse’s hand.

“Oh, sorry.”

“That was a very cruel trick,” Teresa admonished.  Leander looked apologetic, but before he could continue Cynthia had darted forward.

“You big meanie!” she cried and stamped down on the Rat’s foot.  Hard.  Leander yelped, staggering slightly, and Cynthia, perhaps not believing what she had done herself, darted back behind her mother.

“Okay...” said Leander through gritted teeth.  “I suppose I deserved that.  It was a rotten trick...”

Martin snorted in reply, but Leander missed it.  He was glaring at two other large Rats who were passing nearby.  They were sniggering as they saw Leander hopping about after being assaulted by the little mouse.  Leander slowly faced the mice again and finished, “...Especially to when the recipients are the children of the Great Jonathan Brisby.”

“Did you know our father?” asked Martin.  His clipped tone suggested he was not ready to start trusting Leander quite yet, though he was obviously interested in acquiring information.  Leander seemed to pick up on this and seemed willing to try and make up for his practical joke.

“Not personally.  I was born after NIMH, and didn’t know him well, but...  Well almost any of the older rats would know him, and probably be able to tell you something,” he smiled warmly and looked to Cynthia.  She buried her face in Mrs. Brisby’s cloak but shifted her head so she could peer out with one eye.

“Are you still going to put us in the detention centre?” she asked.  Leander visibly sagged.

“No,” he soothed.  Such a different tone to the one he had used outside.  “What a first impression to give you, hey?  You must think I’m a monster.  How about a token of my apologies?”

He reached out towards Cynthia with a huge hand.  She shied away, her face disappearing back into her mother’s cape.  Leander continued to extend his hand till it was next to Cynthia’s exposed ears.  He reached behind one, clicked his fingers and a delicate little flower appeared in it.  He held it out to Cynthia.  Slowly she peeped out from the folds of cloth.  Her eyes fixed on the flower, then onto Leander, and back to the flower.  She reached out for it and took it in her own hand, tiny compared to the rat’s massive paw.

“Thank you,” she said, though she still sounded very timid.  Leander smiled, apparently pleased that he seemed to, in part at least, be forgiven.

“Now...  Let’s see what we have for the other Brisby ladies.”  He began to reach into his cloak but stopped at a shout from nearby.


“Uh oh,” said the rat, his hand freezing, his head turning around.  Striding towards them was a huge rat, one hand running along the polished banister.  He was heavily muscled and had a shiny grey pelt.  His sleeveless maroon vest left his thick arms bare.  Mrs. Brisby thought that this rat might even be bigger than Brutus.  He smiled as he approached.

Bracken, the Captain of the Guard
Art by Procyon

“Hello, what have you got here Leander?” his voice was deep and powerful but not unfriendly.  Leander straightened as he addressed the other rat.

“Captain, this is Mrs. Jonathan Brisby and her family.  And may I present to you,” he now addressed the mice, “Captain Bracken.”

Bracken smiled, “Mrs. Brisby, eh?  It’s an honour to meet you.  All of you.”  The big rat actually bowed.  Mrs. Brisby could feel her ears burning.  She was not used to such attention.  However Martin seemed to enjoy the behaviour of the Rats, his smile turning into a smug grin.

Cynthia poked her head around Mrs. Brisby.

“Are you the leader of the Rats?” she asked.  Bracken looked confused for a moment.

“No.  I’m not...” he stopped and narrowed his eyes at Leander.  The other rat grinned back sheepishly holding his hands up in a placating manner.  “What have you been telling them Leander?” Bracken rumbled.

“I couldn’t help it.  I saw who it was...”

“Get back to your post,” shouted Bracken in a mock roar of fury, taking a playful swipe at his friend.

“Okay, okay,” Leander made for the doors that would take him back up to the surface.  However when he reached them he stopped.

“Should they be presented to the council?” he asked.  Bracken seemed to mull it over.

“Possibly,” he said after the pause.  “I’ll take them, though.  I’m going that way,” he turned to the mice and leaned towards them conspiratorially.  “I’m late for the meeting.”

Leander nodded, saluted, and then hurried into the darkness of the tunnel.

“Strange fellow,” sighed Bracken to himself.  He started and turned to the family.  “Always take everything he says with a pinch of salt.  He’s got a heart of gold, but he can’t help making a joke of everything.  Doesn’t know when to call it a day.”  Bracken straightened, squaring his shoulders.  He was a formidable creature.  “Right then.  If you would all like to follow me.”

He began to lead them around the landing to the opposite side of the room they had entered.  As they followed the Captain the mice continued to marvel at their surroundings.

“How did you build all this so quickly?” wondered Mrs. Brisby aloud.

“Isn’t it dangerous to have fire underground?” asked Timothy, staring at the little lanterns everywhere.

“Under normal circumstances: yes!” Bracken replied with a grin and a wink.  “But we’ve had some tricks up our sleeves before we came here.  We were quite busy for a long time before everyone else moved here.  You’ll get a proper tour later.  Right now we should hurry along.”

“Where is it we are going?” asked Martin.

“To the council chamber.  Those big doors there.  It’s just a quick hello.  Don’t mind do you?”

“No, I suppose not,” said Martin though he didn’t sound sure.  They reached the doors that Bracken had indicated.  Unlike the first door they were intricately carved with patterns of trees and leaves, and seemed slightly out of place in the somewhat rough surroundings.  Bracken was still talking so none of them could ask about them, and they had only the briefest moment to study the carvings.

“Don’t worry,” Bracken assured the mice, simultaneously pulling open the set of large double doors.  Beyond was a small ante-chamber, a pillar in its centre, another set of double doors on the opposite side.  They moved forward as the rat continued.

“It’s just a formality really, but I think you’ll be interested in this meeting...  For a supposedly secret society we are getting a lot of visitors.  We had another group arrive earlier this morning!”

“Who were they?” asked Martin.  There was an edge to his voice.  Bracken grinned, apparently not noticing Martin’s tone, but did not reply.  He pulled open the next set of doors with a flourish, standing aside so that the Brisbys could see into the council chamber.

Beyond the doorway was another hall, rough like the rest of the settlement they had seen, similarly lit with the small lanterns, not as large but if possible even more magnificent than the entrance hall.  This one was filled with rats sitting at benches arrayed on either side of the room that tiered slightly as the receded towards the walls.  The rats chattered and whispered amongst themselves, the sounds of the voices greeted the mice as soon as the door was opened.  Additionally there seemed to be more seating space in a high gallery that ran around the top edge of the room.  All seats seemed to be pointed forward, facing the far end of the room. Here was a clear area of floor, presumably for speakers to address the gathering.  The wall beyond that, opposite the main doors where the Brisby family were standing, was concave.  Set into this wall were several alcoves, each with a lamp hung high over a stately looking chair.  Various dignified looking rats were leafing through papers or waiting patiently in these seats.  Of these chairs one was empty, however it was the occupant of the centre seat that caught Teresa’s attention.

“Look Mum!  It’s Justin!”

When his mother did not reply Teresa glanced sideways.


Then she turned to face her mother properly, her stomach twisting with unease as she saw her mother’s face.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered urgently.

But Mrs. Brisby still did not reply.  Her attention was directed towards a group of mice that were standing near to one side of the speaker’s floor.  It would have been obvious that the creatures were not normal wood mice should Mrs. Brisby noticed them properly.  However it was one mouse in particular that she was staring at in abject terror.  His long and battered cloak, ragged clothes, and tattered ear.  His scared face and that terrible, clouded dead eye.  He was returning Mrs. Brisby’s gaze, the flesh around his eyes taught as if in surprise or tension.  However unseen beneath his cloak, his hand was moving slowly, imperceptibly towards the knife at his side...

Part 2: Thorn Valley

“Jonathan. Your wife I fear is in desperate trouble.” - Nicodemus

Chapter 9: The Rats of Thorn Valley and the Mice of NIMH

“What’s wrong, mother?” Teresa asked again.

This seemed to bring Mrs. Brisby to her senses.  She made a half turn toward Teresa, breathing in as if to speak, but did not remove her gaze from the one-eyed mouse.  So it was she noticed when he shifted his gaze pointedly to the children and then back to Mrs. Brisby.  Her bottom lip trembled.  Just having this creature look at her children made her feel sick.


Mrs. Brisby’s head swivelled around to face Teresa.

“N-nothing...” she said lamely, her eyes still wide with fright.

“It didn’t seem like nothing!  What were you...?”  It was Teresa’s turn to look frightened as she noticed for the first time what her mother had been staring at.  “Are those the mice?” she whispered.

“What?” snapped Martin as he picked up the thread of the conversation.

Mrs. Brisby was about to reply when a voice called from the other end of the hall cutting through all other conversation.

“Bracken!  It’s about time, we have been waiting for you.”

The rat who had spoken was female and seemingly youthful like the majority of the rats.  Her fur was a dark, delicate grey, but Mrs. Brisby was unable to miss the unwavering authority her voice carried.

“Gotta go,” grinned Bracken, not noticing Mrs. Brisby’s discomfort as the he hurried forward towards the speaker’s area.  Justin, watching from where he sat, turned and caught sight of the Brisby family.  His face broke into a wide grin.  It was all Mrs. Brisby could do to return a wan smile.  The rat seemed to notice that something was wrong, for the smile turned into a look of concern, his head cocking to one side.  However both Justin and Mrs. Brisby’s attention was then drawn to the female rat who had spoken before.

“Now that the whole council is present...” she said looking pointedly at Bracken as he slipped into the last vacant alcove and sat in its seat.  “...we can call this council meeting to order.  We have with us some guests.”

Mrs. Brisby watched as Bracken quickly rose again from his seat and, darting across to the female rat, whispered something into her ear.  He then hurriedly returned to his seat, looking sheepish, though immediately beginning a whispered conversation with Justin who leaned across from the next alcove.  The dark grey rat continued, ignoring the others.

“It seems we have more visitors than we first thought.”  Her questing eyes found Mrs. Brisby and her children. The little family of mice shifted uncomfortably as many of the other rats looked in their direction.  Mrs. Brisby fiddled nervously with her cape, rearranging it to better hide the bandages; Martin stared defiantly back at the assembled creatures; Teresa comforted Cynthia who still clung to the hem of her older sister’s skirt; and Timothy was staring wide eyed at everything around him, still amazed at the Rats’ home.  The rats themselves began whispering to neighbours, glancing at the Brisby family as they did so.  Mrs. Brisby noticed some of the mice seemed to try and stifle surprise, some regarded her family coolly, but all the while the ragged mouse stared fixedly at them, almost unmoving, and Mrs. Brisby was now unable to meet his gaze.

“Keep order here!” called another, thin rat who was seated in the gallery above.  Slowly the whispering died down.  The female rat eyed the room before starting to speak again.

“For the benefit of our guests, I am Jocelyn and I will be the spokesrat for the Rats of Thorn Valley during this meeting.  And for the benefit of those present I shall ask our guests to formally introduce themselves to this assembly.” She now addressed the group of strange mice that stood to her left.  “Now... would you come forward, please?”

They moved, slightly hesitantly, into the space before the council.  Mrs. Brisby watched them carefully.  Aside from the mouse with the dead eye, who glided amongst the others, still watching her as if they were the only two in the hall, she recognised two of the others.  The scarred mouse who had wielded a spear and the sword mouse with the sad eyes were both present, though they had discarded their weapons, returning the rats’ looks of interest with a watchful furtiveness.  There were four others that Mrs. Brisby had not seen before, and it was one of those mice who stepped forward now, in front of his fellows.  He had very dark fur.  Any darker than it was and it would have been black.  His garments made him look taller; his cape and long coat giving him a wiry, sleek appearance.  She could not ignore the intensity of the mouse’s gaze as he looked around at the assembled rats, and her family, fixing them in his vision for a moment.  There was a confidence that almost seemed to radiate from him.  He stopped roughly in the middle of the hall’s floor, and waited for the rats to quiet down.  He stood patiently, head held high, arms clasped behind his back, underneath his cape; smirking as if remembering a private joke.   Mrs. Brisby and her children, the rats, every creature in the hall was tense, waiting to hear what this stranger had to say.  Even the ragged mouse turned his attention away from Mrs. Brisby.  Once all was silent he flashed a smile around the room.

“Cousins!” he called, pausing briefly for effect.  “I am Fraus, the leader of this motley band.  Some of you may remember me for I have come... from NIMH.”  He lingered on the last sound as a ripple of activity went around the room.  The rat on the high platform glared at those present, raising a gavel, but the voices died away before he had to use it.  Fraus, still grinning, continued,

“I am one of the mice who tried to escape with you though, as you know, the fates deemed us to follow separate paths.”  He paused again to hang his head before continuing. 

“Now is not the time for our full tale, as I do not wish to labour over details.  I will say that we escaped the ventilation shafts, though not without difficulty.  I will also admit that we have not left NIMH totally in our past.  We initially returned to NIMH to free recaptured comrades, another story entirely, and discovered that there were many more like us on similar experiments.”

His eyes roamed his silent audience, watching them as he went on,

“While in the labs once again we realised that NIMH were working to recover you, the lost Rats of NIMH!  We decided to observe their search efforts, no small irony for as we watched them, they searched for us too, though apparently the fervour of their efforts was concentrated on you, the rats.  We wished almost as much as NIMH to find you, though our goal was alliance, not recapture.  There were many, many reports, many false directions taken.  We had to be very patient, the wait was, as you may fathom, several years.  All proved futile until there was one report from a farmer by the name of Fitzgibbon.  The human scientists were terribly excited over his description of the rats’ behaviour, your behaviour, and quickly readied a truck.  It was the signal we had been waiting for.  My comrades and I stowed away on the vehicle knowing it would bear us here.  The scientists and technicians were intent on your recapture, and we found it easy to conceal ourselves amongst their equipment, and disembark when they reached their destination totally unnoticed.  We found a vantage point nearby and watched as the scientists worked on the rosebush.  They pumped in their foul gas and we hoped that our cousins, so nearly regained, were not to be snatched from us at this final stage.  Then we saw your ploy to fool them, a carefully orchestrated retreat.  It was gratifying to see the NIMH scientists so well deceived.  We tried to go after you, but you proved impossible to follow.  You obviously knew the terrain, and had a head start.  All we could do was wait for NIMH to finish its work.

“Eventually they were satisfied that they would find no trace of their lost test subjects and the scientists left, leaving your home in ruins.  It was then a case of verifying that you were indeed the rats of NIMH.  Once we were sure it was safe and the gas had dispersed we entered the rosebush and searched it more thoroughly than the humans ever could.  We found the evidence we needed.  You were the Rats of NIMH.  It was a great joy, as for several years we had waited for this moment.  Now we were close to completing our objective.  We set about finding your new settlement, and it is this task that occupied much of the past month.  We initially began by searching the surrounding area.  This proved to be a futile pursuit and so we were disposed to asking the local creatures for information, using what few names we knew.  Eventually we hit upon a name that we recognised from our past.  Mr Ages!  We went and talked with him, glad to find our old companion still alive.”

A chill ran down Mrs. Brisby’s spine as Fraus went on,

“Better yet, he knew where to find you.  He pointed us in the correct direction, though declined to join us on our journey saying he had much work to finish.  We travelled to Thorn Valley and of course, you know the ending of this tale.”

Fraus finished with his grin, looking around at the astonished rats, though they were silent.  Martin looked doubtfully at Mrs. Brisby, obviously listening with his unwavering scepticism.

“He’s lying!” he hissed.  Mrs. Brisby could only nod in reply, for Bracken broke the silence.  Rising from his chair he addressed the Mice of NIMH,

“It seems much has happened and I will not ask you to recount your entire tale, but... could you tell us how you located our settlement here in Thorn Valley once you arrived in the general vicinity?  If I remember correctly you presented yourself to the guard on duty at the main entrance.  Without wishing to cause offence or seem like an interrogation, we must be careful that NIMH or indeed any other humans cannot use the same method you used to locate us.  As Captain of the Guard I must always take the safety of the colony as my first priority and secrecy is our main concern here.”

“Entirely understandable,” replied Fraus.  “As I said, NIMH dismantled your old settlement in the rosebush.  Luckily your deception worked well.  Very well.  NIMH had no idea that they had failed to catch the Rats of NIMH, thinking they had just destroyed an admittedly very large colony of feral rats.  I can assure you that they will not return to this area without new evidence.

“As for how we found your settlement here in the valley...  There were so few clues that we had much trouble finding you.  Your methods for keeping your settlement a secret are impressive indeed.  However Spiro,” Fraus rested his right hand on the ragged mouse’s shoulder, “is an excellent tracker.  And that is not to say that you left many tracks... indeed any signs that you lived here at all... but Spiro’s skills can almost be likened to a second sight!”

The skin around Spiro’s eyes wrinkled, the cheeks lifting, as if he were smiling beneath his scarf... or sneering.  Bracken got the full effect and winced slightly, looking straight into the dead eye.

“I bet.” he said quietly, and then louder, “Thank you for your encouraging words.”  He returned to his seat, seemingly satisfied.  An older rat, sitting on the far left of the council alcoves, rose to speak.  When he did so, it was in a deep voice, though it was cracking with age.

“I am Duncan of the council of Thorn Valley, and one of those who escaped from NIMH.  You seem familiar, and I do recall your name, but I’m afraid that I do not recognise your companions, nor the name you just mentioned.  I feel I would remember them had I met them before.”  Mrs. Brisby noticed the old rat shot a quick glance at Spiro.

“Your memory has not faded; all but one of my companions will be strangers to you.  Only I and Stave here,” Fraus was now beside a young, lean mouse, grey in colour, a small, pair of circular glasses settled carefully on his thin nose.  “are members of the original mice who attempted to escape with you that fateful night. The others joined the band afterwards.  Either they were born after the escape from NIMH, such as Deakon,” Fraus indicated the scarred mouse who Mrs. Brisby knew as the spear carrier, “or as with Spiro, joined our band direct from NIMH in a second liberation.”

“A second liberation?” asked Duncan.  There was a general whisper at this.  Fraus grinned.

“Yes!”  Fraus’ voice took on a melancholy air.  “It seems that NIMH’s cruelty extended beyond ourselves.  We have gained many new companions from within their walls in a second breakout.  Again the story of our own settlement will be better told another day.  Now would seem an opportune time!  Allow me to introduce my companions.”

The Brisby family watched as Fraus weaved between his companions, languid gestures of his right hand indicating who he was referring to.  Mrs. Brisby and, though she did not know it at the time, Martin were careful to place a name to each mouse.

“You now know of Deakon,” he patted the mouse with the scarred nose, “and Stave could be thought of as our archivist and researcher for the diversity of his knowledge is second to none.”  Fraus quickly moved on to a mouse with a drab, brown fur, who Mrs. Brisby noticed visibly twitched as Fraus lightly clapped his right hand onto the mouse’s back.  “This is Warren, our healer, a mouse of great skill indeed.”  He now moved to the only female member of the group.  The young mouse girl stood with arms folded, blazing eyes challenging any who dared look in her direction.  Fraus continued his patter, “my own daughter, Foxglove.  She is very proficient with a bow...  This...” Fraus walked to the dark furred mouse whose mournful gaze followed Fraus’ approach, “ the redoubtable Malachi, my second in command.”  Fraus now indicated the tattered creature.  “And last but not least, as I have already mentioned, this is Spiro.”  The skin surrounding his dead eye creased again in a ‘smile’.

Once again there was a pause as the audience assimilated this new information and waited to see if Fraus would continue.  In the silence Mrs. Brisby saw Spiro’s head turn slowly around, his stare falling once again on her and her family.  Nevertheless there was little chance to dwell on this as Bracken took to the floor once again.

“You have told us much, Fraus, and I will only ask this last question.  Why have you come on such an arduous journey?  Surely the time and effort invested in this search.  The risk... what was the reasoning behind it?”

“To reforge links to the past...” Fraus said quickly, his right hand whirling energetically about, left still jammed into the small of his back, his travelling cloak billowing with the movement.  “...To find our lost cousins.  We are kindred spirits, all of us altered by NIMH and unable to return to the simple lives that we once knew.  We believed there would be much to share between our two settlements.  And...” again was the emotional pause in his oration, “We have come with a request.  A request for aid!  We were so few in those dark and early days, and even with those that were liberated later, our lives have been difficult.  Any knowledge of medicine and food production that you could spare would be of invaluable help to us.  It may help save our colony...”

He had punctuated this last part with sweeping gestures of his right hand, and now he kept it extended and turned, as if proffering it to each of the council members.  As one the Brisby mice jumped at a shout from a councilrat.

“Of course,” said Duncan, rising from his seat again, smiling warmly.  “Anything we can do to help; any knowledge that would be of use we will give freely.  From the darkest intentions of NIMH will be born an unbreakable alliance of our settlements!”

There was a round respectful applause for the speech, some of the mice even joining in.  The Brisby family did not applaud, Martin sending a warning glare at Cynthia.  Fraus himself bowed.

“Indeed.  This will be a day long remembered in the histories of our colonies.  I wish to thank the council on behalf of the Mice of NIMH.”

There was another short round of applause.  As it faded Fraus spoke.

“Now if you would permit me...” he did not wait for any answer.  He whirled, his right arm once again joining the left, tucked behind his back, and looked across the hall, right at Mrs. Brisby.  “I notice your other guests are mice!  Might these be relatives of those lucky few who managed to escape NIMH?  Could this be a daughter of Mr. Ages, though he did not mention one?  Or maybe... Jonathan Brisby’s family?”

As Fraus spoke the name it seemed to Mrs. Brisby that the juxtaposition of Jonathan’s name and memory with these murderers was terrible.  Martin seemed riled too, while the rest of the children, previously absorbed by the theatrics of the council chamber, now seemed afraid.  Before any of them could speak Jocelyn rose to answer.

“The latter is correct.” she said to Fraus before holding her head high to address the entire hall, “May I present our next guests: Mrs. Jonathan Brisby and her children.”

The assembled rats saw their chance to continue their chatter regarding the Brisby family, the hall becoming filled with whispers once again.  The Brisby family, unused to such attention, shifted uncomfortably, even Martin’s ears turned red.

“And where is Jonathan?” Fraus’ voice cut effectively through the hubbub.  “We would like to meet our old cell mate.”

Again Mrs. Brisby felt that unpleasant sensation.  She wished, as she had countless time during the month past, that Jonathan were beside her.
  “Unfortunately he is no longer with us!” came Jocelyn’s voice, cutting through the background chatter as well as Fraus’  “He died helping us with the plan to build this settlement.  He was a valuable ally and dear friend, his loss is a great tragedy to all who knew him.”

Never had there been a greater understatement to the knowledge of his family.  Mrs. Brisby felt it was almost too much to bear.  A hand worked its way into hers and squeezed gently.  Looking down, Timothy smiled consolingly up at her.

“That is regrettable.”  Fraus was saying as he turned again to Mrs. Brisby and the children.  “May I extend my sympathies to Jonathan’s wife and heirs...  I knew Jonathan only a short time, though his actions are far reaching indeed.”

There was an awkward silence.  Mrs. Brisby had not the courage or the knowledge of how to address the gathering, and her children seemed equally at a loss.  It was Jocelyn who spoke next.

“Thank you for your kind words of sympathy.  May I reiterate it is fortuitous indeed that we can be of one allegiance once again.”

Fraus bowed once more and then, with the smooth actions of one practiced in such formal situations, herded his band back to sit on benches that were situated just to the side of the speaker’s area.  It was clear to Mrs. Brisby that it was smaller than the Rats’ own furniture that she had seen in the rosebush and had obviously been brought there for the purpose.  Jocelyn seemed about to rise again when a voice interjected from the balcony above.  A thin, dark rat in a robe of office called down into the silence.

“To what do we owe the pleasure of once again welcoming Mrs. Jonathan Brisby to our council?”

The words had a barely concealed second edge and it gave Mrs. Brisby an unpleasant start.  Unnoticed by her, Justin threw a disapproving glance at the young speaker.

“Augustus...” he hissed, glaring upwards.

Mrs. Brisby hesitated.  She looked at the mice again; she couldn’t stop herself.  There was the tiniest movement on the part of Spiro.  A slow shake of the head.

“Is there a difficulty?” barked the rat again.  “Perhaps if we throw it open to the floor?” the rat was grinning widely, though it was not a friendly expression.

Martin saw his chance and leaned towards his mother, ignoring the attention of dozens of rats upon him.

“Go on, Mum.  Tell them,” urged Martin.

“Tell them about the mice,” from Teresa.

The words caught in Mrs. Brisby’s throat.  She had not managed to speak in this situation before, in the rosebush.  Friends had spoken for her there.  There seemed to be only enemies here.  “I...” she began.  A glance across the hall and she saw the dead eye was still on her.  “I... would like to speak... with your leader, Justin.  In private.”

Her voice had seemed tiny and quiet in the huge hall.  There was a sudden burst of muttering that spread throughout the entire assembly.

Mrs. Brisby was trembling.  What had she said? 

Behind her, Martin muttered, “Why didn’t you tell them?”  He was looking straight at the mice, though only Spiro seemed to reciprocate the attention.

“Because...” began Mrs. Brisby, but her words were lost.

“Order!  Keep order here!” called a voice raised above the rest.  Mrs. Brisby recalled the voice chastising Jenner in a similar way the last time she was in the Rats’ council hall.

“You should not feel that there is any subject you may wish to discuss with Justin that you may not also bring before the entire council,” came the same voice that had spoken before. 

“But...” the words refused to leave her throat.

“It is only proper etiquette in the Hall of Thorn Valley,” came a second voice from the stand to the left.

“Aye,” came another in support.  Many rats were nodding their agreement to the sentiments.

Mrs. Brisby, bit her lip.  Why was this happening?  What should she do?  Another voice joined the fray, though this brought with it a profound relief that Mrs. Brisby had not felt since they entered the Council chamber.

“Mrs. Brisby has no obligation to address the council as a whole, nor to answer to you directly, Augustus!”  Justin was standing now, and making his way across the speaker’s floor towards Mrs. Brisby and her children.  Now that he risen the family of mice could see that he was wearing a flowing cape, supposedly in deference to his office.  He also now sported a sword at his side.  He continued, “She owes us nothing and we still owe her much.  Mrs. Brisby has done more than enough for the Rats of Thorn Valley to request a private audience and, as head of the council, I shall grant it to her.”

The first rat that had spoken, Augustus, sneered back, though he didn’t seem to want to argue with Justin.  As the leader of the rats approached Mrs. Brisby he spread his arms wide, trying subtly to remove them from the hall.  He leant in and whispered hurriedly,

“Quickly.  Outside we can talk.”  He then straightened, turned and addressed the hall at large, the Brisby family, not quite understanding, shuffled backwards, through the arched doorway into the antechamber.  They listened as Justin spoke cheerfully.

“I bid our visitors welcome to Thorn Valley.  Our home is your home,” Justin was backing out of the hall as he spoke.  “Jocelyn... you have the floor.”

At this Justin bowed and simultaneously he closed the large wooden doors, Mrs. Brisby and the children crowded behind him, leaving the council starring in disbelief at their leader’s exit.  In the balcony above Augustus turned to the rat next to him and smirked, before turning to stare at Jocelyn expectantly.  There were various surprised murmurings from the assembly, some of non-comprehension.  Fraus sat and watched, a subtle smile on his lips, a glint in his eyes.  Of the council, Bracken put his face in one huge hand and Jocelyn herself shook the wide-eyed disbelief from her and tried to rally the meeting.

“Ahem...  Please forgive Justin’s departure,” she said to the mice, who turned to look at her.  All that is except one.  “You may stay and watch the proceedings of the council meeting if you desire...”

She glared ferociously at the closed doors, cursing Justin for putting her in this embarrassing situation.  Likewise Spiro had never drawn his gaze from the exact point where Mrs. Brisby had been before the great doors had closed.


Justin, the Leader of the Rats
Art by Procyon

Justin had his ear pressed to the outside of the door.  He could hear Jocelyn’s voice clearly through the wood.

“...And so we move on to the issue of electricity production using the ‘stolen’ motors.  Secretary of The Engineering Core Tristan has the floor.”

“Good old Jocelyn...” Justin turned to the huddle of mice who were watching him, waiting for the next move.  “Right, quickly.  Before anyone tries to follow or stop us.”

“Can you just walk out like that?” asked Teresa as Justin hurried then along.

“Not really,” Justin grinned strangely. “That’s why we have to move.  Now...”

There was a suppressed urgency that the mice had no choice but to comply with.  They hurried after Justin as he strode back out onto the entranceway, closing the ornate doors behind the family.  The platforms were almost deserted now, and those that were present had little time to act.  Then, without a word, he started off towards the left, heading for one of the halls’ side doors and the mice trailed after him.  A couple of guards who were nearby nodded knowingly as Justin passed.  The rat quickly made another turn, down a winding stairway.  The family had little time to wonder or chatter. They barely had time to take in their surroundings.  It was all they could do to keep up with their host.

“Why don’t you tell him?  Tell him about the mice!” whispered Martin once they had fallen back a little.  In reply Mrs. Brisby shook her head.

“No.  Not yet...  I...”

“If you don’t tell him I will,” said Martin.  Mrs. Brisby scolded her son,

“You will do no such thing!”  Then her voice softened.  “Please... not yet.  Don’t tell him yet.  Promise me!  I have to...”

“Come on!” called Justin his voice tense, but not unkind.  He was waiting at the next landing, looking up at them.  The family scampered towards him, not able to finish the conversation.

They left the stairs and began to walk along corridors, pleasantly lit with the same lanterns.  There were also rough carpets, contrasting the bare boards of the Entranceway.  Along each wall were doors and occasionally a passageway.  Justin stopped them next to a door that looked very much like the rest and took a key from his tunic.  Opening the door he ushered the mice into the room beyond and then, glancing around the corridor, followed them in, locking the door behind him.  He stood motionless, as if the lock clicking had frozen him.  Then he whirled and leant his back against the door, letting out a long breath.

 “I am sorry,” he said.  “We needed to be away from there before anyone tried to ask questions.  Forgive me.”

The mice were only half listening to Justin.  They were looking around the room they now found themselves in.  Justin saw that they were not paying him much attention and grinned.

“Welcome to my study and quarters.”

It was a large room.  About the size the whole family had used to live in back on the farm.  It was lit, as was the standard now, with three of the little lanterns.  The room had some furniture.  Some simple stools, a desk, a large chest, some shelves on which were stored some books and other items.  There were also the papers.  The room was littered with them, effectively obscuring most of the floor.  Reading them would surrender to the reader information about every aspect of life in the valley, from crop locations, tending rotas and harvest yields, to the output of the Rats’ workshop, what was being taught to the youngsters of the colony, even a list of new medicinal herbs needed for the infirmary.  However the diverse subjects were mixed together and spread everywhere.  There was a clear path from the door, to the desk, and then to another door on the left of the room, supposedly where Justin slept.

Justin hung his cloak by the door and turned, straightening his collar, to see the mice staring in disbelief at the administrative morass that was his study. 

“Sorry about the mess,” he said, feebly rearranging some of the piles of papers in a vain effort to make the surroundings presentable.  “I have to have to keep a record of what goes on.  Comes with being in charge of it all.  As you see I’m not much of an organiser.  If I can’t keep my quarters tidy, what chance do I have of running a colony, eh?”

Cynthia giggled, and Mrs. Brisby tried to speak over it.

“Oh, no.  Really, Justin.  It’s fine,” she began, though she was not really concentrating on what was around her.  She was still stunned from the recent events.  How had the mice got here?  Justin looked on the verge of inquiring into Mrs. Brisby’s unease when the children began to interrogate him instead.  Timothy started.

“Why would you do that?  Wander out of the meeting?  Aren’t you meant to be the leader?”

“Well...” and Justin waved his hands meaninglessly in air, unknowingly imitating Jeremy’s idiosyncrasy very accurately.  “I couldn’t stand the way they were speaking to you. After all you’ve done...”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Brisby, remembering the conclusion of the meeting.  “Thank so much Justin.  I...  I didn’t know what to say...”

“Who was that anyway?” demanded Martin.  His voice was so spiteful made Justin raise an eyebrow.

“That was Augustus.  A contrary individual if there ever was one.  He lives to stir up trouble.”

“I’m not sure I like him,” said Timothy quietly, almost to himself.

“I don’t blame you,” sighed Justin.

“What was his problem, anyway?” continued Martin, same petulant tone.

“He’s part of a new group of younger rats who have got it into their heads that they can run the place better than anyone else.  They think we— and by ‘we’ I mean the original NIMH Rats— are obsessed with NIMH and discovery by the humans.  I think they also resent the loss of the technology we had the Rosebush.  They’re not used to this simple life.  They never knew the hardships of setting up the colony, or even getting there in the first place.  The thing is, it seems their views are quite popular amongst the other young ones, those who supported Jenner’s policies, though not his final actions.  They’re beginning to argue that the technology that we ‘stole’ is their birthright.  It’s not helped as Jenner did a lot more damage than he could ever hope or realise.  What he did, when he murdered Nicodemus and Sullivan, it shook the entire colony.  No one could believe that one of us could plot, betray and kill as he did.  These were human traits, not ours, surely.  The trust that was second nature to all of us has now vanished, and with it some of the faith in our plans for the future...” Justin’s hand went to his face as he tried to rub fatigue away.

“And there’s still the arguments over the old machinery, and whether we can use it.  They’re still worried about our food stores, the harvest and the rations.  And they’re still bickering over the water mill.”  He looked through his fingers at the mice who, although listening, were obviously not fully comprehending.  He smiled, though it wasn’t his usual effortless grin.

“Sorry.  I’m rambling.  It’s just so hard being stuck in the middle trying to please everyone.  Trying to keep the peace.  I don’t know how Nicodemus did it.  Suffice to say although there are trouble makers, they’re not like Jenner.  The worst you’ll get is a snide remark, and if anyone tries even that much, they’ll have to answer to me.”

Teresa gave her mother a fleeting but significant look, while Martin went for a more direct route.

“When did those mice arrive, Justin?”

“This morning.  Why?”  This seemed to jog Justin’s memory, for he became more concerned.  “You seemed very... anxious over them...”

Mrs. Brisby drew an icy stare away from her elder son and replied,

“It was... The shock.  The shock of seeing mice from NIMH.  I suppose it reminded me of Jonathan.”

“But...” started Martin, but again he was silenced by one of Mrs. Brisby’s very potent maternal stares.

“Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?” asked Justin, putting his hands on his hips.  He caught sight of the bandages around Mrs. Brisby’s waist for the first time.  “How did that happen?”

“Oh it’s nothing.  Just a scratch...”  Mrs. Brisby cast around for a change of subject.  Her gaze alighted on the scabbard that hung form Justin’s belt.  “You never used to carry a sword Justin.”

A tight lipped smile from Justin was followed by a slow nod.  He would wait until Mrs. Brisby wanted to talk.  He said,

“I guess I have my own wounds.  Some of the scars Jenner inflicted have not healed as readily as those on my arm.”

The two locked eyes, Mrs. Brisby grateful for the unspoken agreement.  Martin, in typical fashion, broke the silence.

“What now?”

“I suppose I better show you where you are going to be staying,” said Justin, his tone light again.  Cynthia gripped the hem of her mother’s cape.

“I won’t be with those mice will it?” she asked, her voice muffled by the red material.

“No.” said Justin, his voice low, eyes unfocussed.  Then more clearly, “No, I wouldn’t hear of that.  Their quarters will be on the other side of the settlement.  We barely have enough rooms as it is.  You can have my room.”

He crossed the room and pushed open the other door.  The family moved to look inside.  It led to a large and comfortable sleeping chamber.  It was more lightly furnished than the study, the lanterns, another less ornate chest.  Justin had opened this and retrieved extra bedding.  There was enough for the entire family to make themselves very comfortable.  Mrs. Brisby slowly shook her head.

“No.  Thank you Justin, but... Where will you sleep?  We couldn’t...”  She stopped as Justin held up a hand, explaining,

“Mrs. Brisby, please.  I won’t use it.  I couldn’t sleep soundly without knowing that you are safe and comfortable.  And the only place large enough for you and your family is here.  Keep the room.  My quarters will be yours as long as you stay.”  He looked around the littered chambers. “You’ll probably keep it tidier than I did.”  He grinned, “Good night Mrs. Brisby.”

Mrs. Brisby returned the smile, eternally grateful to Justin, who closed the door, leaving them in darkness.

The mice lay down to sleep, though it took its time in coming.  Although physically exhausted their minds were troubled.  As they waited for slumber they listened to door to Justin’s chambers opening and closing several times.  There were various insistent but hushed voices from the other room.  They could not hear what rats were discussing with Justin, but they guessed...

Justin looked across at Jocelyn from where he sat at his desk.  The other rat stood, arms folded, face set.  Her eyes blazed.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed!  And while we had guests!  You couldn’t pick a better time to start playing hero, could you?”  Her voice was lowered, but the annoyance was conveyed clearly.  Justin winced.

“Look Jocelyn.  I’m sorry.  You heard Augustus, I couldn’t let him lay into her like that.”

“Then why not register your objection formally instead of just running off?  Why do you never seem to stick to procedures?”  She waited for a reply with raised eyebrows.

“Neither did Augustus,” said Justin.

“True, and that is why he isn’t more influential than he is.  That is all the more reason to follow the rules of council etiquette to the letter.”

Justin hung his head for a moment and then tried another line of discussion.

“The council was no place for Mrs. Brisby and her family,” he said, “I don’t think Bracken was right to bring them there.”

Jocelyn was silent for a moment, possibly signifying agreement.  Then she went on.

“But what do you think certain parties would say when the leader of the Rats of NIMH departs in such a fashion from a full council meeting?  What impression does that give?”

“I know, I know,” Justin’s hand went to his forehead as he spoke, “It’s just...” he sighed.  “I was never any good at this.  I couldn’t just stand there and wait for formality and procedures...”

“They are your duty now Justin.”

Justin looked into Jocelyn’s eyes.  The fire had gone, but now it was a stony gaze he had to face.

“Jocelyn, you know I’m grateful to you.  You take so much off my shoulders...”

“Stop trying to distract me from the issue with ‘thank yous’ and flattery!  It doesn’t work!”  Jocelyn was becoming exasperated; she often did in such conversation with Justin.  They were not as irregular as she would like.  “The other rats look up to you.  They respect you.  There is no one else in the valley who the others would see at the head of the council and who would also have the best intentions of the colony in mind.  You’ve a good heart Justin, and that must make it difficult, I know... but that is why it is imperative you remain leader.  You will have to realise that you must act the part or else the respect others have for you, as a leader, will vanish and the settlement will be worse off for it.  There are greater things to think about than saving Mrs. Brisby a bit of embarrassment.  I’m sure she would understand.”

Jocelyn turned to leave; Justin did not try to stop her.  She had reached the door as she spoke again, though did not face him.

“Please.  Think about it.”  Then she was gone.  Justin clenched a fist and then relaxed again, staring into space.  Leaning on the desk he put his face in his hands.

“Nicodemus.  Help me...”

As the Brisby family began to fall into troubled sleep, others were not quite so restful.  In the dark places of the valley; those parts of the settlement that were still under construction, patrolled only irregularly, and lit with only the barest of illumination; whispered conversations were taking place.

“I thought you said she was dead!” said the first voice.

“It’s...  It’s impossible!  We saw her.  Spiro drove her into the river.  She was stabbed!  The poison...” gabbled a second voice, though it was cut off supposedly by an unseen gesture.  Then the first said very slowly and deliberately.

“Is this true?”

There was a rustle of fabric but no words.  This seemed to satisfy the first speaker, who continued, still in the deliberate tones of one controlling strong emotion.

“Did you at least try to locate her body?  A confirmation that you’d tied up this... loose end?”

A new voice spoke now.  It was considerably calmer than the other.

“We looked but it was too near the farm.  That damn cat...”

The first voice came again, though temper was now seeping in.

“I set you all a very simple task!  Kill one mouse. That’s all.  She’s even a feral animal!  And yet you all managed to bungle it again!”

The third voice said, with resentment, “I apologise...”

There was no pretence at control now on the part of the first speaker.

“I will require more than mere apologies if my carefully laid plans fail because of this!”

There was heavy breathing, and then the first voice spoke again.  When it did, it was once again in control.

“No...  No, I should not berate you.  You should not apologise.  I took a calculated risk.  It may pay off yet.”

Another new voice entered the discussion, reasoning with the others,

“What can she do?  Like you said she is a lower creature.  She cannot do anything to us.”

“But she can alert the Rats to our intentions,” pointed out the first voice, as if pointing out the obvious to a child.  “I don’t know why she didn’t say anything in front of the council.  I feel you may have had something to do with it, Spiro.  I think she may have found you intimidating.”

There was another rustle, and the first speaker again took this as a satisfactory reply.

“At least the surprise was mutual.  It will be necessary to make sure she continues to be silent about our previous encounters.  I want you all to keep the pressure on her.  We may be able to turn this to our advantage.  After all, those are Jonathan Brisby’s children!”

There was a pause before the speaker managed to shake itself from his reverie and focus once again on the task at hand.  “Be subtle!  It is important that no evidence regarding our activities reach the Rats.  You all have your orders, and you know what to do.  Now go.  Not you...  I have something special in mind.  Follow me...”

Martin crept from the bedchamber, closing the door as softly as possible.  One of the lanterns was still burning above Justin’s desk and in the soft light Martin could see Justin slumped over the desktop, head resting on forearms in uneasy sleep.  The young mouse moved as quickly and quietly as he could, taking care not to disturb anything.

“Justin?” he breathed.

The rat stirred and raised his head.  He turned blinking eyes on Martin and seemed to require conscious effort to focus upon him.

“Martin!”  Justin shook the last remnants of sleep from his head.  “You’re still awake!  Is anything wrong?”

“I wanted to talk.”

Justin sighed, and rubbed a hand over his face.

“By all means...” he said.

“Those mice.  What do you think of them?”

“They seem sincere...” Justin looked straight at Martin.  “This concerns them, does it?”

A nod from Martin.

“Will this leave this room?” asked Justin.

A shake of the head.  “No.”

Justin regarded the young mouse, his lips pressed together.  Then he said,

“I didn’t trust them.  Well, I didn’t like the way that Fraus acted up to the crowd.  He was too polished.  And I can’t think of any creature more threatening in appearance than Spiro.  What was he trying to prove?  Was he trying to intimidate a room full of rats? Some of the others weren’t much better.  Why do you ask?”

Martin checked over his shoulder, looking at the closed door to the sleeping quarters.  Then he said slowly,

“They tried to kill my mother.”

Justin was incredulous, and did not take the simple comment in.

“What?” he managed.

“They attacked her.  That one with the dead eye... Spiro.  He stabbed her.  He used some sort of poison...”

“Are you sure?” asked Justin, his voice toneless with gravity.

“My mother told me all about it.”  Martin would have gone on, but for some reason he didn’t mention the Seer.  He would rationalise later that he had not wanted to cloud the issue.

“Why didn’t she mention it?” Justin asked.

“She is afraid.”

“Of them?”

“Yes.  What they’ll do if they find out.  They tried to kill her.  They were behind the disappearance of Mr. Ages and now they’re in Thorn Valley!”

“Mr. Ages?  Gone?”

“Yes.”  Martin shook his head, then explained.  “I forgot, you didn’t know.  They... the mice... were waiting for her when she went to get Timothy’s medicine from Mr Ages.  They did something with him!”

Justin shook his head.

“I can’t believe it,” he said, looking away.

“It’s true,” said Martin, emphatically.

“Do you have proof?”

“Proof?”  It was Martin’s turn to be incredulous.  “Why do I need proof?  They attacked my mother.  It’s as simple as that!”

“Are you sure she wasn’t mistaken?”

Martin cocked his head to one side. 

“Could you possibly confuse Spiro with any other creature?”

Justin raised his eyebrows and nodded before sighing and placing a hand over his face.

“Well?” said Martin irritably after a moment, “what are you going to do about it?”

There was something in that tone that made Justin’s eyes open wide.  When he spoke again it was in a low snarl.

“What would you have me do?”

Martin stepped back, taken by surprise by Justin’s sudden outburst.  He tried to say something but no words would come out.  Justin continued, gesticulating wildly.

“Should I charge in there and start cutting off heads?  We’re not savages.  I can’t just attack them.”

“Are you calling my mother a liar?”

“No I...” Justin was calm again and obviously regretting his outburst.  “I just need evidence.”

“Why?  Isn’t her word enough?” asked Martin in a high pitch that suggested he couldn’t understand why Justin wasn’t leading a pack of the Home Guard over there right this instant.

“It’s so complicated.”  Justin hung his head.  “I would like to believe your mother.  I do believe her.  But I can’t act upon it without catching them.  They are guests at Thorn Valley.  The political situation in council is such that I can’t do anything without bringing all the other Rats against me.”

“What do they have to do with it?”

“Not all the Rats in Thorn Valley are agreeing at the moment.  It’s the same group I mentioned earlier.  Some aren’t happy with visitors, some don’t want the mice of NIMH here.  Some don’t want you here.  If I acted in deference to you the council would have me dismissed, then the others would try to seize what power they could.  These different groups would tear our settlement apart.  I can’t allow that.  To them, the mice haven’t done anything wrong.  I mean, why did they attack her?  What reason could they have?”

“Those mice attacked my mother,” hissed Martin in an attempt to keep himself from shouting.  “Nothing else matters.  If you don’t do anything I will!”

“I can’t let you do that,” Justin was deadly serious.  “If you were to attack another guest I would have to treat you as I would any others who would upset the peace of Thorn Valley.  Try to see it from another’s point of view!” he tried to reason with the young mouse.

“Damn your politics...”

“Damn your audacity,” said Justin, his temper flaring again.  “You’re just like your father.  He was stubborn.  He would never listen...”

“How dare you!”  Martin was unable or unwilling to control his voice now.  “How dare you talk about my father like that!”  Martin was beyond thought by this point, he merely acted.  His fist connected with the side of Justin’s head.  It caught the rat by surprise and nearly unseated him.  Justin recovered, shaking his head.  He looked into Martin’s furious stare and his own eyes blazed.  He curled a fist, the muscles of his arm tightening, his jaw clenched... but he stopped himself, visibly forcing himself to relax, letting out a long breath, flexing his fingers.  Martin seemed unsure of what he had just done, for he was now staring absently at his own fist.

“I’m sorry, Martin.  It was wrong of me to say that.  I should not have spoken about Jonathan like that.”

He returned his head to his hands, resting them on the desk.  What to do?  If he were to say the mice were untrustworthy, the other councillors would ask for proof.  They wouldn’t agree to simply throwing their long lost cousins from the valley.  However, if he acted the least he could expect is to be thrown from the council without hesitation.  He knew who would gain from the imbalance that would result.  It would doom them all.  But he was sure that Martin would not knowingly lie about such a thing.

“I’m having enough trouble keeping the Rats united,” Justin tried to explain.  “It seems that any new venture or policy that is raised immediately creates new divisions within the settlement without you asking me to cast what civilisation we have to the winds.  I can’t allow it, though I will not allow them to attack your family again.  There will be no bloodshed in Thorn Valley.  Our legacy of violence died with Jenner.”

“How can you just let this go?”  Martin was almost pleading now.

“I’m not.  It’s just...”  Justin now faced Martin properly.  “Do you even know whether Spiro was acting alone?  I don’t trust Fraus, but he doesn’t seem predisposed to violence.  I need more information.”

“Mother was wrong about you,” Martin looked over Justin with contempt in his eyes.  “You’re a coward.”

Martin twirled and stormed back to the sleeping quarters, not worrying about disturbing the papers now.  Sheets flew into the air before the enraged mouse.

“Martin, I’ll place a guard on the mice...” Justin said, but Martin was not listening.  As he had opened the door he had found his mother and siblings waiting for him.  His mother was staring at him accusingly.

“You promised,” she said.

“I had to do something!” he replied.  Mother and son, locked eyes, but in such a conflict there will only ever be one victor.  Martin dropped his gaze to the floor, unable to meet Mrs. Brisby’s stare.

“How long were you there?” asked Justin.

“We heard most of it,” said Mrs. Brisby, suddenly weary.  “I’m sorry we burdened this on you, but I am so relieved now.  I don’t know what to do, Justin.”  Mrs. Brisby’s eyes were glazed as she spoke now.  She gathered her children to her.  “I can’t protect my family from the mice.  I’m scared of what they may do if we leave, but to stay would mean they are always nearby, always in the shadows, around the next corner.  Justin, please...” she did not need to finish.  Her children hugged themselves to their mother.  She had done so much to save them, and now they did not have words to comfort her.

Justin’s jaw was set.

“They did attack you then?”

Mrs. Brisby bit her lower lip and nodded.

“Do you have any idea why?”

Mrs. Brisby hesitated.  She had not thought about it.  In a forest that holds so many dangers it was rarely worth doing so.  Teresa spoke up instead.

“Maybe they were trying to find out how to get here?”

“But you couldn’t have told them,” said Justin, then thought for a second.  “Mr. Ages could have...  And why would they introduce themselves?  Surely that puts them in the open?  He closed his eyes for a moment and the, “They must have wanted to get inside the colony.  But why?”

“What could be here for them?” asked Mrs. Brisby.

“The Stone?” breathed Timothy.  Justin looked up at the young mouse.

“Would they have known about it?” he asked.

“What else do we have that the mice could want?” asked Martin.  He too had clamed down now.

Mrs. Brisby stomach turned as she remembered Spiro in the council hall.  “The children!” she breathed.

“What?” asked Justin.

“Spiro... something he did.  They may be after the children.  They know they’re Jonathan’s children...”

“Are you sure?” asked Justin.

“It could be any one of those,” pointed out Teresa.

“Right.”  Justin seemed to think for a moment before continuing.  “If you would tell me all you know about the mice, I’ll tell you the plan I have.  And don’t worry,” Justin flashed his grin, “I’ll handle it.”

Much later, after descriptions, thoughts and ideas had been shared; after the Brisby family had returned to bed; after Justin had sat and thought his plan through, checking it for possible discovery from the council, he slipped from his quarters and made his way to the guard room.  Bracken was on duty tonight.  There was a long conference between the two friends.  It wasn’t until the early hours of the morning that two trusted rats of the Home Guard were standing in the ‘atrium’.  Both were equipped with packs of medical supplies and travelling capes.  They also had weapons.  Justin and Bracken watched them go, wishing them luck.  It would take them two days, maybe three to carry out their orders.  Mr. Ages home was a fair distance away, and they would have to search the surrounding area.  Justin wasn’t sure what he wanted them to find.

He and Bracken stood in the valley as the sun began to bring light to another day.  It was another crisp, dewy morning.  Justin breathed the fresh, scented air.  How he wished for a simpler life at times.  Eventually he returned to the tunnels of Thorn Valley, Bracken following his leader.  They would soon have to make their excuses to the other council members.

Chapter 10: A New Way of Life

The Brisby family were woken early by the hum of activity within the settlement.  The sleeping area was well insulated from the noise, but the mice were not sleeping well, and so the faint sounds from the distant workshops, meeting halls, and crowded passageways were enough to rouse the family from slumber.  Opening the door to Justin’s study they were not greeted by the leader of the rats, but by a grinning Leander, the sentry who had first shown them into Thorn Valley.  He explained that because of his behaviour yesterday, Justin was letting him give them the tour of the settlement in an effort to make amends and show he wasn’t such a bad individual after all.

Breakfast had been brought to the room for them, and they feasted hungrily.  The food was simple but well prepared.  As they ate and subsequently left Justin’s study, Leander spoke, saying that they had missed breakfast.  Leander had not had the heart to rouse them (the mice got the impression that he knew there had been some discussion late into the night) and unfortunately the communal dining halls were now in use by the educators.

“You see,” Leander was saying as he walked the mice along the tunnels, “we had it all laid out ready when we first moved to the Valley, but as they say: ‘The best laid plans...’ It turned out that the rooms weren’t adequate, and anyway we need the storage space.  Long story short: the educators use the halls between morning and evening meals for the young ones’ lessons.  Lunch is not a communal affair for the time being.”

Leander carried on rambling as the group left the tunnels for an open space.  They were once again in the entranceway, though this time they were a level down.  It looked just as it had the day before, though the rats that wandered through the hall now seemed in less of a hurry.  It must have been a big meeting last night.  A rat was at work with a long hook, taking down lanterns, refilling them from a small cask that he carried, and then replacing them, relighting the little flames as necessary.  The group slowed to a halt in the middle of the landing, their rat guide just reaching the crux of his tale.

“...and they always put these little seeds on the top that I can’t stand and they’re really difficult to pick off...” Leander was saying, miming something to emphasise his words.

“Er... Leander,” said Teresa.  Their rat guide stopped in mid sentence and focussed on them again, grinning from ear to ear.

“Where are we going?” she finished.  The other mice looked at him hopefully, nodding in agreement.  Leander’s grin remained where it was, but his eyes darted around the hall.

“Well...  I was going to suggest...  Where did you want to go?”

“We don’t know.”  Martin shrugged.  “Show us the sights.”

Leander blew out a breath through pursed lips.

“There aren’t too many sights at the moment.  We’re just trying to get everything to link up at the moment.  It’s a bit rough and ready.”  He looked away obviously thinking and after a moment apparently reached some internal decision.  “Well, I could show you around the residential chambers.  That’s back the way we just came and they carry on for about three levels down... and we still need more space.  Above them, next level up, there are a few of the older rat’s chambers, they don’t like the stairs much, and the meeting area.  I personally think that sounds terribly formal, it’s a good place to relax.  Not that any of us have any time to relax around here.”

“Uh huh,” said Martin, clearly riveted.  “So that side is where you live?”

Leander nodded,

“You could say that, yes...”

“So what about the other side?” Martin asked, jerking his head in the indicated direction.

“Well, that’s a little more tricky.  We focussed a lot of the building effort on the residential aspect to begin with.  Then it was food storage.  That side of the settlement,” Leander waved his hand vaguely, “is the one undergoing the most work at the moment.  Thinking about it, it may be easier if I show you...  Follow me.”

He strode off across the walkways beckoning to the mice over his shoulder.  As the mice followed him, they were able to look up to the entranceway’s ceiling, resplendent with its manifold lanterns.  The sight still captivated them and they were still astounded by the sheer size of the hall.  They could not help but become distracted.  Leander seemed to be gently amused at their interest in their surroundings, and waited patiently by a doorway, not wishing to hurry them.  When they eventually reached him, he ushered them through.  It took the mice several moments to take in everything that they saw.

The room beyond was another hall.  It wasn’t as large as the entranceway, but was bigger than the council hall.  They had entered through one of many entrances.  Along the wall behind them alone were several doorways as well as short flights of stairs that led up or down to the corresponding levels of the entranceway.  On the opposite wall were four large archways, wider then the apparent standard of the tunnels seen so far.  Within the room here were half a dozen stout pillars at regular intervals along the room’s length.  As far as furniture went there was row upon row of tables, each having ten or so rat sized stools nearby.  The occupants of these stools were producing the cacophony the filled the room to the rafters of its high ceiling.  Young rats were spread throughout the entire hall, each table involved in its own activity.  Not every table was occupied; in fact many were empty meaning each class had its own space.  Some were reading, others writing with what appeared to be charcoal.  Younger ones were being read to, while older children involved themselves in discussion with neighbours, furiously taking notes and tinkering with equipment that was unfamiliar to the mice.  Some small slates had been propped up using simple frames and adult rats chalked up symbols that the mice recognised as numbers and letters (though Mrs. Brisby would have been able to tell you little else).  There was a definite method to the apparent confusion, though it was hard for the mice to work it out.  Older Rats supervised and moved between the tables, talking to the youngsters, helping, encouraging and occasionally scolding.

“Our industry extends beyond the mechanical,” Leander was saying, his voice easily rising over the din to reach the mice.  “Education is second only to science and engineering within the council.  We have to make sure the knowledge the first generation has is passed on.  I would liken it to a production line, but that wouldn’t do justice to the enthusiasm and devotion of the educators and students.”

The Brisby mice were not sure about Leander’s ‘production line’ analogy, but before they could query it there was a sudden rise in the noise level.  The rat winced slightly as there were shouts and cheers from the far end of the hall, obviously part of a lesson, but it made the din momentarily unbearable.

“Hopefully when they have the classrooms it will calm down a bit.  Come on,” he said.

The group moved off again and, as they picked their way between tables, doing their best to avoid disturbing lessons, various young rats nevertheless spotted the arrivals and started calling out.

“Hey Leander!”

“Leander!  Is it true?  Did you fight an adder on your own?”

“I think you’re the bravest guardsman in the Valley, Leander!”

Leander smiled warmly and faced the mice he was escorting.

“Kids...” he said magnanimously, shrugging his shoulders.  The calls continued, much to the annoyance of the rat educators.

“After Bracken, Brutus and Justin, that is...”

“...and after Kate, Nathan and my big sister!” put in another.

The grin faded from Leander’s face slightly but he kept walking.

“...and your brother!” came another slightly impish voice.

“Is that the mouse that beat you up?”

A muscle twitched beneath Leander’s eye.

“Okay!  Get back to your lessons!” he called sternly to the various speakers, who turned away grinning.

As the various rats regained control of their lessons and the tour group neared the other side of the hall, a high-pitched squeal stopped them in their tracks.

“Unkie Leander!”

“Connie!” called Leander kneeling down as young rat girl bounded up to him and threw her arms around his neck.  Although she was probably younger than either Timothy or Cynthia, she was almost as tall as Martin.  Leander hugged her back, though his ears went red as he heard Martin give a snort of laughter.

Unkie Leander”, he said.  Connie’s scowl of defence was fearsome.

“Unkie Leander was the bravest and bestest Guardsman in the Valley.”

Leander raised an eyebrow and smiled at Martin, who smirked and raised an eyebrow of his own.  Connie went on,

“He told me how he beat off three weasels and a fox all at once. And he said he’s stronger that Brutus and Bracken together, and...”

Leander’s smile vanished and was replaced with alarm.

“Now now, Connie.  Don’t be like that to our guests.  They are very important.  Mrs. Brisby saved the whole colony...”

Connie’s eyes grew wide with disbelief.

“Really?  Are you the magic mouse from the stories?”

It was Mrs. Brisby’s turn to become embarrassed.  She had not expected this and did not accept such attention as well as Cynthia or Martin.  Leander clearly picked up on this, for he easily distracted the youngster for the sake of his guest.

“What is it you’re learning today, Connie?”

Connie’s eyes shone as she revelled in the telling.

 “We’re being told a story!  It’s about animals like us.  They’ve got a big green castle, and...”

“It’s not green, it’s red,” said another young rat from the table nearby.  “And it’s not a castle either it’s...”

“Now children, settle down.”  Although the tones were gentle, they were instantly obeyed.  The teacher was a thin, grey, female rat.  She was smiling at the children’s enthusiasm, though the look darkened slightly when her gaze fell upon Leander.

“You’re a disruptive influence on my lessons, Leander.  I don’t know what Connie sees in you.”

“Oh come on, Isabella,” replied Leander, releasing Connie and standing tall.  The young rat girl returned to the table, “I can’t help it I get on with kids.  It shows I have a sensitive side.  I can’t wait till I’m a daddy.”  He grinned lopsidedly.  Isabella gave a mirthless laugh.

“That’s all we need.  Little versions of you running around the valley.  We wouldn’t cope.  Especially if they share your lack of manners.  You have not introduced me to your guests yet.”

“Oh,” said Leander. Temporarily wrong footed.  “This is the Brisby family.  Isabella here is one of our most talented educators.”

“It is an honour,” said Isabella inclining her head, though not before glancing disapprovingly at Leander.  “Please don’t think me rude, but I must continue in my lesson.  You are welcome to stay, by all means, as long as there are no interruptions.”  The last words were directly solely at Leander.

“We were just leaving,” he soothed. “We need to continue with the tour.  We have a lot to see yet.”

“I want stay!” Cynthia piped up.  “Can I hear the story?  Please, Mum?”

“I don’t think it’s up to me...” Mrs. Brisby looked to Isabella.  “Will she be a nuisance?”

“Not at all...” replied Isabella smiling.

“You can sit here!” called Connie waving a hand and pointing to an empty stool, nearby.

“Great!  See you later, Mum.”  Cynthia hugged Mrs. Brisby and hurried over to the table and sat.  Almost immediately she was chattering happily with the other children.  The scene was almost comical to Mrs. Brisby, Cynthia being dwarfed by the other young rats, though that didn’t seem to bother any of them.

Isabella smiled at the child’s enthusiasm. And sat back down, finding her place in the book.

“Will she be okay?” asked Mrs. Brisby, not wanting to let her children out of her sight.  Cynthia seemed happy enough, already she was enthralled with the story.

“She’ll be fine,” Leander assured the mouse.  “Isabella will look after her”.  The educator shot a sideways glance at the mention of her name, though didn’t stall in her story telling.  Leander grinned back, then leaned in close to Mrs. Brisby and whispered, “Justin’s got it all sorted.  He’ll explain later I’m sure.”

He straightened and swept the remainder of the group along, leading them through one of the four wide tunnels on the other wall.

“Down here is where we keep and prepare the food.”  Leander was saying.  The Brisby family found them selves in another cavernous room.  The floor that they were standing on dropped away after a short distance making the main part of the room very tall.  Ramps led down to what was obviously a storage area.  The walls were almost obscured, as food was stacked high along each.  Sacks, boxes and barrels were piled everywhere on gargantuan shelving units, though it wasn’t a random assortment.  A few rats could be seen darting up and down ladders, gathering carefully chosen ingredients and then bearing them to where they needed to go.  To the left and right were rats working at benches, cutting, mixing and preparing the various ingredients.

“Tonight’s dinner,” Leander explained.  “What’s cooking, Andrew?” he called out.  A dark brown rat that had been industriously cutting vegetables with a very large blade, looked up, wiping his hands on his apron.  He was not smiling.

“Nothing, with all these interruptions!” Andrew barked and, without another word, went back to his chopping.  Leander gave the Brisby family a strange look.  “Chefs!  They’re a funny lot.  Temperamental.”

There was a loud chop as a cleaver was buried in the counter top.

“I heard that,” shouted Andrew, and then began to talk to another rat about some matter of food preparation.

“I think we better not hang around.  With the rationing they’re not being given their chance to create!” Leander punctuated the words with flowing gestures of mockery.  “They’re liable to try and use anything to spice up the meals, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for Brisby pie.”

Teresa and Martin exchanged wry grins.

Mrs. Brisby, meanwhile, was watching one of the rats mixing up various woodland spices and grinding them with a pestle and mortar.  She recognised each of the spices and a thought came to her.

“Excuse me?” she said very quietly.  The rat looked at her but did not stop grinding.  Mrs. Brisby continued awkwardly.  “Sorry if you think this rude of me, but... have you put ground wild nutmeg in there?  You’ll find it makes a nice difference.”

The rat stopped what he was doing.

“Of course I haven’t put wild nutmeg in it.”  He shook his head.  “That would...” he stopped and looked thoughtful for a moment.  Then he reached over to a small bag and threw some of the contents into the bowl.  Grinding furiously for a few seconds he stopped, took a pinch and dabbed it onto his tongue.  His eyes grew wide.

“Well I’ll be darned.  How did you know about that?”

“I’m used to using limited ingredients,” smiled Mrs. Brisby.

“Thanks for the tip...  You’re not Mrs. Brisby?”  The rat actually looked at her for the first time.  Mrs. Brisby nodded.

“That’s two I owe you then,” he said smiling warmly and bowing his head.  “Sorry, but I must get on.”

“Of course,” said Mrs. Brisby backing away, ears blushing red.  Leander gave Mrs. Brisby the thumbs up as she returned to the group.

“You’ll have to get used to attention,” he explained.  “You’re something of a legend around here ever since you saved the colony.”

Mrs. Brisby smiled uncomfortably.

“Where to next then?” asked Timothy.  Leander pursed his lips.

“How’s about down a level to the gym?  We’ll see if any of the Home Guard are practicing.  This way.”  Leander led them to a side door.  As the mice filed through the doorway, Leander stuck his head back into the preparation area.

“Hey Andrew!  You’re not doing those things with the little seeds on the top, are you?”

Andrew glared at Leander, putting down the ingredients he was holding.

“I’ll make whatever Patricia says I should make, and you’ll eat it and be grateful for it!  Now get out of my kitchen!”

Leander grinned disappeared into the tunnel.

The tour took the mice down a couple of levels.  All the way the tunnels were lit by the lanterns that were the standard.  Timothy looked at them.

“How do these lanterns work, Leander?  I would have thought open flames underground would be dangerous.”

“Not with these lanterns.”  There was a trace of pride in Leander’s voice.  “Our scientists have been looking at the problem for some time.  We knew that when we moved here we wouldn’t have the luxury of electricity.  We’d have to find a new source of light that was safe to use underground,” Leander stopped as the group parted to let a couple of robed rats pass by in the other direction.  They stared at Mrs. Brisby and her children before remembering themselves and hurrying on.  The rhythm of Leander’s speech was unbroken.  “Well they found one.  A nice clean fuel that we can make ourselves.  I don’t know how it works, but I’m sure Arthur or one of his boys could tell you.”

“Arthur?” asked Teresa.  Mrs. Brisby searched her memory.  Had she met an Arthur?

“He’s head of the engineering and science in the valley,” Leander went on.  “He’s more practical than most, but he’s bound to know who can tell you if he can’t do so himself.  That’ll keep until later.  Right now...”

Leander stopped by a door and pushed it open.

“... this is my neighbourhood.”

Inside was a long low room.  The floor had some kind of woven straw mat.  There were various pieces of wooden furniture, benches of different heights, wooden discs with painted rings, racks of mysterious equipment and the like, as well as several strong, healthy looking rats.

“Leander!” bellowed Bracken, beaming as he advanced on the newcomers.  “And our guests,” he said, turning the smile on the mice.  “There seems to be one missing though.”  Bracken’s face became stern as he looked back to Leander.

“Don’t worry.  I haven’t lost her,” he explained.  “She’s joining in the story telling with the younger class.”  Bracken seemed satisfied,

“Ah.  Okay then.  So what brings you here?”

“I was hoping for a demonstration of Home Guard combat training.”  Leander peered over the other rat’s shoulder.  “And by the looks of it, we’ve just arrived at the right time.  Training up the new recruits?”

“That’s right,” said a light grey female rat holding a wooden staff.  The movement of her lithe body betrayed a strength and power that belied her slight frame.  “I’m Kate, weapons trainer, this is Alan, unarmed combat trainer,” she indicated the short, thickset brown rat who gave a casual salute in greeting.  “We were about to check that these two young hopefuls have been practicing like they should.”  She nodded at the last two rats.  They were obviously younger than the others as they were thinner, their bodies not as well toned as the other Rat Home Guard.  One was a sandy female, the other a dark pelted male.  They both smiled sheepishly.

“I have the utmost faith in Raymond and Stephanie,” said Bracken.

“That’s only because you recommended them,” said Alan.

“Is that Mrs. Brisby?” asked Raymond.

Leander sensed Mrs. Brisby tense and cut in.

“Okay knock that off.  She’s been getting that all morning, and she doesn’t need it from a grunt-in-training like yourself, Raymond.  Concentrate on the test.”

Raymond gave a dismissive gesture.

“Who needs to concentrate?  I’ve got this in the bag,” he said smoothly.

Kate gave a wry smile and swung her staff around to connect lightly with the back of Raymond’s legs.  The confidence was wiped off the trainee’s face as he toppled backwards, but it was then Kate’s smile that disappeared as Raymond then curled up in midair and rolled smoothly back onto his feet.

“Hey that wasn’t...” his words were cut short as Alan pounced, wrapping stout arms around the young rat, holding him firm.

“You cocky little...” Alan’s words were similarly fated as with a deft twist Raymond wriggled free and darted around the bigger rat.  Before Alan could turn, Raymond had given him a push that sent him staggering.  Raymond dropped into a ready stance and grinned.

“Anyone else?” he cocked an eyebrow at the observers, just as a shadow loomed behind him.  A massive arm was wrapped around his waist and the rat was hoisted off the ground and placed in an undignified position over Bracken’s shoulder.  There he was held; the wind knocked out of him.  Bracken grinned at the mice.

“Have to be firm with these youngsters!  They think they know everything but you have to show them what real strength is from time to time.  Isn’t that right?” he asked Raymond as he slapped him on the back.  Raymond spluttered with anger.

“Hey that wasn’t fair!” yelled Raymond regaining his breath and struggling against Bracken’s grip.  “Three against one?  C’mon!”

Bracken’s grin widened.  Raymond was dumped unceremoniously onto his tail.  He yelped.  “It wasn’t fair!” he whined again.

“Weasels don’t play fair,” said Bracken seriously.  “You’re going to have to learn not to be so self-satisfied all the time.  Stop all this showing off.” He looked up again.  “Well.  We promised a demonstration and I suppose that Stephanie might be the one to do it.”

The rat girl pointed to herself, eyebrows raised in disbelief.


“Hey!” said Kate, throwing the staff to Stephanie, who caught it deftly. “Show ‘em how it’s done, kiddo.”

“Give us a few seconds,” said Alan to the guests as the members of the Home Guard darted off, collecting and moving various pieces or equipment.  During this activity Leander leaned into the mice.

“Bracken talks like that but all the Home Guard are show offs.  He boasts more than anyone else in the valley.  Even more than me!  He and Brutus are always down here trying to prove who’s the strongest.  They’re as bad as one another, each encouraging the other one.”

“What going on here?” asked Martin, enthralled as preparations were made.

“Stephanie’s weapon test.  She has to hit all the targets as quickly as possible.  It’s a tough exercise.  Especially with those three judging.”

Stephanie was now standing in the middle of a circle of wooden frames.  Each had a small, and rather battered, metal disc attached to a vertical post at about shoulder height for most rats.  There were eight of these frames in all, and they were spaced at irregular intervals around the perimeter of the circle.  The four other rats stood a little way back and looked on. 

“Ready?” asked Bracken.  Stephanie gave each of the frame’s positions one last look and then nodded.  Alan and Kate both nodded.  Satisfied, Bracken nodded as well.  “Then... Go!”

Stephanie became a blur as she twirled the staff over her head.  Immediately she stepped forward and hit the first frame with the end of the pole.  With a dull thud it toppled over backwards.  Stephanie had not waited to see the frame fall.  With a swift back and forth movement, either end of the staff had struck two further discs, sending them toppling.  The trainers looked on.  Kate was watching every move the young rat made, Alan seemed to be counting under his breath.  Bracken was watching closely too, arms folded, nodding along with Alan’s counting.  Stephanie was oblivious, concentrating totally on her task.  Now the movements became roundhouse sweeps, first to the left then to the right, sending frames flying sideways.  Finally Stephanie hoisted the staff over her head.  The pole rose and fell in a graceful arc to connect with the last frame behind the disc, knocking forward into the circle.  Finally she twirled the staff and brought it to her side, standing to attention as she did so.

“Wow,” breathed Martin.  All the mice were impressed.  It certainly had been an extraordinary demonstration.

“Faster than last time,” said Alan as a matter of fact.  Kate turned to Bracken and smiled.  Bracken stuck out his lower lip and nodded.

“Not bad,” he said.

“Not bad?” said Raymond.  “You’re never pleased with anything!”

“Well I’m not sure about knocking over the frames sideways, and that last one would have needed only a tap because she hit it on the wrong side,” he finished with a raise of his eyebrows.  Kate sagged.

“Come on Bracken.  You saw she hit it just as hard as any other.  That would have been a good hit on an actual opponent.  A short strike to the back of the head...” Kate brought her own fist around as if to strike Bracken.  He caught the arm.

“See!  And I would have stopped,” she said smiling at Bracken who returned the gesture.

“Knowing you, maybe not.”

Kate withdrew her arm and, reaching up, tapped Bracken on the forehead.

“Well I think she did it perfectly, whether you can think so or not.”  She went over to Stephanie and immediately began discussing the exercise, miming the movements, going over each strike.  Bracken turned to the mice again.

“Well there you go.  That’s a little more exciting than we usually get.  Though I suppose we could do one more demonstration.”  Bracken reared up to his full, formidable height and smiled wide.  “How about a spar, Leander?”  The big rats eyes shone and Leander’s ears drooped as each of the mice looked at him expectantly.

“Well, er...  You know I’d normally leap at the chance.  But I have to continue with the tour and if we don’t leave now we won’t see it all before lunch time.  You know how it is.  Come along everyone!” Leander hurried to leave, herding the mice out too, though they all stopped at Martin’s voice.

“I’ll think I’ll hang around here, if that’s okay?”

“Are you sure Martin?” asked Mrs. Brisby.

Bracken put his arm around Martin.  The mouse seemed tiny when next to the vast rat.

“Sure, he’ll have a whale of a time.  As long as you don’t mind Mrs. Brisby?”

Mrs. Brisby was torn.  On the one hand where could be safer from the mice than in the Home Guard’s own barracks.  On the other, she was worried about accidents.  She asked,

“It is safe, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely.”  Bracken straightened.  “I’ll be responsible for him.  He won’t get up to any trouble.”

Mrs. Brisby nodded, at least partly satisfied.  Leander broke in.

“Right-o!  I’ll see you later Bracken!”

Bracken replied with lackadaisical wave and turned to the rest of the room with Martin.

“Okay, this is Martin out newest trainee.  Let’s show him how we do things in the Home Guard.  Alan!  You up for a spar?”

“You’re going down this time big guy!”

Leander shut the door and smiled down at the remaining mice

“And then there were three,” he said to Mrs. Brisby, Teresa and Timothy.  Well there’s not much else below us except the current construction projects.  Damp, dark, nasty, I’ll spare you that.”  Leander jerked a thumb upwards.  “Above us are the council offices, but you might prefer to see the library.”

Timothy’s eyes lit up.  “Can we?”

“Of course,” replied Mrs. Brisby smiling.

“Okay then!  This way...” Leander took off, followed by the mice. 

After a few turns in the corridors the tunnels became quite busy.  The mice caught glimpses of rats they had seen in the council chamber.  None of them paid them too much heed save for the occasional bow of the head or a surprised look.  They all seemed too absorbed in discussion or reading papers that they carried.  Leander was reeling off information again like he had done this before.

“This area is connected with the bureaucratic centre of the colony.  The library is where we keep a lot of documents at the moment.  We’re going to be sorting that out; have a dedicated council document library, but like I said we’re very short of storage at the moment.”

He was weaving through various corridors.  They seemed less bare than the others, more finished.  For one there was a definite flooring, a soft sort of material.  Mrs. Brisby noticed that it was rougher than what she had seen in the rose bush, but it was along the same design.

“Here we are,” announced Leander heading for a large archway.  Beyond was a room that although couldn’t match other’s for size, was the most impressive in terms of intricacy of design.  It spanned three floors, with gigantic shelves built into the very supporting structures of the room.  As well as these the room had many finely built wooden shelving units, each finished in a dark polish.  This matched the banisters and railings that were fixed to each staircase, landing and raised walkway that worked to link the various levels and areas of the library together.  Rats were wandering around, looking along shelves, reading and sorting books, making notes.  Along the library wall were writing desks, at which rats (many in council robes) sat poring over chunky manuscripts.  There was only the faintest whisper of noise.  Timothy was amazed.

“Mum said you had a library, but I never imagined you would have so many books.”

“Where did they all come from?” asked Teresa.  Leander was happy to explain.

“Some were produced from human volumes.  Scribes laboriously copied out every last letter.  Most are our own versions of books, maybe not exact duplicates, but they get the point across, sometimes better than in the originals.”  Leander withdrew his chin and put on a voice.  “‘The humans seem predisposed to waffle’ I remember Victoria saying.  She’s the head scribe.  Think of her as an editor.  She must have read every single book in here.”

“So they’re all based on human books?” said Timothy.

“Oh no.  There’re only a few at the moment, but there are original books written entirely by our own authors.  My brother’s actually working on one.”

“Your brother?” asked Mrs. Brisby.

“Yes, my twin actually.  He’s in the Home Guard as well.  You may remember him.  He was on duty with me that day you were in the council chamber.”

Mrs. Brisby gave a non-committal shrug.  Leander carried on undeterred.

“Well, he’s an author as well.  He’s trying to right an epic poem or story or something about the Rat’s of NIMH’s lives to date.”

“It’s a saga!” came a cry from a nearby book shelf.

“Chester?” said Leander, trying to peer around the obstructing shelf.  From behind it stepped a rat who looked identical to Leander in every way.  The only difference was that where Leander’s face seemed to wear a perpetual grin (when he wasn’t acting out a joke at any rate) the other’s expression was intense and sullen.  He wore a dark shirt and tunic as well, similar to many of the rats.

“Chester, how are you?” smiled Leander.

“I’d be better if you weren’t here.  You’ve no doubt come to try and upset my delicate, creative frame of mind.”  He looked at the mice and said, “He revels in stopping me from working.  He thinks it’s funny!” he finished incredulously.  The rat seemed to be getting quite worked up.

“Don’t worry, Chester.  I’m not here to annoy you.  I’m showing the Brisby family around.”

“Oh, well...” Chester was the first rat that didn’t react to the Brisby name.  He seemed the sort to be perpetually preoccupied with other things.  “You can tell me what you think of this, then.  I wrote it this morning.”  He was rummaging through various scraps of paper that he had tucked into his belt.  Leander glanced quickly at the mice and rolled his eyes.  Chester retrieved a particular note and unravelled it.  Holding it at arms length he scanned it first and then, making sure the group was listening, he read,

“The moonlight jossed without a glimely wobe,

And I dost think, ‘‘tis bregailed wi’ stode!’”

He lowered the paper and looked expectantly at the group.  Leander had obviously been in a similar situation before because without a thought he said,

“That’s very good, Chester.  And that took you all morning?”

“Yes, it’s all I’ve managed to do this week!”  Chester seemed quite agitated as he went on, “Did you think it was moving?”

“Oh yes, very,” affirmed Leander, his expression turning grave to match the solemnity of the reading.

Chester seemed downcast as he said, “Well, it’s meant to be funny.”

“Ah, I meant it was moving in a funny way.  It moved me to laughter!” finished Leander triumphantly, but Chester seemed beyond consolation.

“No.  You’re right.  It’s rubbish.”  He tore at the paper as he ranted.  “I haven’t managed to produce anything worthwhile since we came to the valley.  I need to go and have a lie down!”  Chester strode off without a backwards glance, hand squeezing his temples.  The mice watched him go, not quite understanding what had just happened, though Leander was quite happy to proffer an explanation.

“My brother!” he said grinning and gesturing after the retreating Chester.  “He’s a bit high strung at the moment.  Creative block.  He was doing fine when he was writing in the rosebush, but ever since he’s come here, he’s not been feeling right.  Lovely chap once he settles down.  Now let’s move along...  There’s someone I want to find.”

They moved off again, climbing a flight of stairs to the upper levels of the library.  As they reached the top of the staircase Leander called,

“There’s just the rat I wanted to see!  Avery!  Hey!”

The indicated rat was thin and wore long robes.  As he turned the mice noticed the lines of age on his face, and the tufts of thick hair on his nose that resembled a moustache.  He scowled at Leander, breaking off the conversation he was having with another younger rat.

“Ssshh!  This is a library,” he advanced speaking in a harsh whisper.  However, when he saw the mice he immediately brightened.

“Oh.  Mrs. Jonathan Brisby and... some of her family at least!  What a pleasant surprise.”  He turned back to the other rat to whom he had been speaking.  “You can take care of that now, Harold.  Section E-F, third shelf.”  He nodded and turned back to the mice.  “Nicodemus talked of you often.  He was very good friends with Jonathan.”

“Avery.  I was wondering if you could show the kids the book.”

Avery chewed his bottom lip in thought, causing his moustache to bristle outwards.

“What book was that, old boy?”

“What book could the Brisby children possibly be interested in?”

“Well, there’s a whole host of fascinating works...  Oh!”  Avery’s face brightened with sudden comprehension.  Leander imitated the expression, simultaneously throwing a strained look at mice.  The old rat carried on, bustling off.  “Yes, I know what you’re thinking of.  I saw it only yesterday.”

Leander guided the mice around the shelves, following Avery as he ran his hands along the polished wood, peering closely at the books.  At last he stopped on one.

“Ah, here it is!”  He tugged a battered volume from the shelf and handed it to Timothy.  The young mouse read the cover.


“Energy Transmission, Conversion and Utilisation”


Jonathan Brisby


“Your father’s contribution to our work,” Avery was saying.  “He was a respected scientist.  I’m told the book is apparently very good, though it goes beyond my realm of expertise.”  Timothy and Teresa were only half listening.  Teresa peered over her younger brother’s shoulder as he opened the book and looked at the page.  It was hand written!  Their father’s handwriting was arranged into neat columns.  Avery smiled.

“Come on.  I have something else to show you.”

He led them once again through the library, winding between shelves, down the staircase again to the lowest floor, and then to a quiet corner of the library.  Here was a door.  Avery took a key from his robes and placed it in the lock.  As he opened the door, he unhooked a lantern from the wall nearby, and led the way in.

The mice entered a room was small and low, at least compared with others that they had seen.  Stacks of papers, books and equipment were stored haphazardly in piles, save for a podium at the far end, on which rested a giant tome.

“This has become something of a storage room,” Avery was saying as he lit the room’s lanterns from the one her was holding.  “Eventually it will be used to house the special collection of books.”

As the room was lit, Mrs. Brisby recognised Nicodemus’s record book on the podium, the one she had read from in the rosebush.  She vaguely recognised some of the other items in room, those that had been in Nicodemus’ study.  Then her gaze fell upon the miraculous device that Nicodemus had used to tell her the story of NIMH.  It stood regally amongst the clutter, its ornamental frame gathering dust.  Avery noticed Mrs. Brisby’s fascination and explained.

“Nicodemus’ Augur.  We were certain to make sure it was kept well away from NIMH.  It is a truly marvellous device, and only Nicodemus knew all it secrets.  However, I fear we have damaged it.  It had to be dismantled to bring it here.  We took detailed notes and have meticulously checked every component but to no avail.  It will not speak to us...”

Mrs. Brisby approached the Augur, but there were no visions amongst its workings now, no phenomenal lights.  It looked just as it had, though now it was still and lifeless.

“Is this what you wanted to show us?” asked Timothy.

“Ah, no!” said Avery.  He began to rummage again, the mice and Leander watching him bustle about the room.

“Yes, this is it...” he turned to the mice.  “When we came to the valley we left the rosebush in a bit of a hurry.  Most of the rooms were simply packed up and moved.  Some had to stay behind and be collected later.  I believe a lot of the electrical equipment is still there at the moment, as is a favourite quill of mine.  It must be because I can’t find it anywhere here...  Anyway, the point is a lot of the paperwork and books ended up in here, even though they were not technically ultimately bound for the library.  This,” he put his hand on the stacked crates and patted them energetically, “was the contents of your father’s study.  It was mixed up with Nicodemus’ effects, but we think we managed to untangle them.”

“Why are you telling us?” asked Timothy.

“Well, I thought you might be interested,” explained Avery before continuing slightly awkwardly.  “And I rather hoped you might help in the sorting.  If you want to that is.  We’re stretched thin here as it is, trying to reorder the entire library, and I can think of no better individuals to look through your father’s work than members of his own family.  Please don’t think me rude, but I thought I should ask.  I didn’t want to upset anyone...”

Timothy wandered over to the stack of artefacts.  He took up a paper that was lying on top.  He compared the writing to that in the book.  It was identical, the same neat, ordered writing.  He began to look at other items, though it was such a hopeless tangle that he didn’t get far.  He laughed quietly.

“It’s all Dad’s stuff,” he said quietly, turning to his mother.  His eyes were bright with moisture.  Mrs. Brisby stroked her son’s head. 

Avery looked on, his smile withering.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I obviously didn’t think.”

“No, it’s not anything you’ve done,” said Mrs. Brisby. 

Timothy added, “It’s just we never knew about any of this.  Dad never mentioned it.  All his work, all this, and we never knew.”  He remembered the Owl’s words to him and his family, nodding in silent comprehension.  “I’ll sort through it.  Thank you, Avery.”

“Not at all, lad!” said the rat, brightening considerably as he saw that he had not caused offence.  “You’d be doing me a favour.  You can use this room, if that suits?  Sorry it’s not much space.  I’ll have a desk found for you.”

“Thank you.  Is it okay if I hold onto this as well?”  Timothy held up his father’s book.

“Certainly.  If anyone needs it we’ll know where to find it.  However I think our problems are far more practical at the moment.”

“Are you going to start now, Timothy?” asked Teresa.

“No,” said Timothy placing the papers and the book back on the pile.  “I think it will keep until after lunch.  I could probably do with some help.”

“I’m not sure I would be much help,” said Mrs. Brisby.  Teresa tried to lighten the mood.

“Well I could do with some fresh air.”

“Splendid idea!” exclaimed Leander, making everyone in the room jump.  I’ll show you around the valley exterior.  That will bring us nicely to lunch, and the stroll will hone the appetite.”

Avery showed them to the Library’s main entrance and they said their farewells.  Just as the Brisby family were making to depart two other mice walked out of the library.  They were both members of the mice of NIMH, the one wearing the small spectacles lead the way, the other was non-descript and brown, though seemed quite nervous as he followed his companion.  Mrs. Brisby and her children froze at the sight of them, though Leander slowly and with consummate subtlety edged closer to the mice, putting himself between the two groups.  The even smiled at the other mice.

“Stave.  Warren,” he said nodding at each in turn.

“Good morning,” said Stave, matching Leander’s smile, the lamp light catching his glasses, making them shine.  “Warren and I have just been admiring your library, isn’t that right Warren?”

“It’s very impressive,” said Warren with a fretful grin, though he seemed unable or unwilling to meet anyone’s eyes.

“Splendid, well don’t let us keep you...” said Leander, signalling for the Brisby mice to begin moving.  The groups parted, making their separate ways through the tunnels.

When they had rounded several corners in silence, Leander began to speak.

“I’m sorry, I should have warned you.  We could possibly have met any of the mice today.  Justin has given them the freedom of the colony.  There was no other choice, the rest of the council would have questioned anything else.  They are being watched though.  That’s what Chester was doing there, I think.  He was probably waiting for them somewhere nearby.”

“It’s quite all right,” said Mrs. Brisby quietly.  It had been such a shock to see the mice, but she reminded herself that they were all safe.  The mice were limited to what they could do in the colony with the rats everywhere.  She forced herself to calm down.

“Will they be able to look at my Dad’s things?” asked Timothy.

“I doubt it,” said Leander with a shake of his head.  “Avery locked the door and wouldn’t let them in without good reason.  He’d be watching them anyway.  I’ll check back later too, to make sure,” Leander noticed Mrs. Brisby’s bowed head.  “Don’t worry about a thing,” he finished.

Mrs. Brisby smiled, trying to give the impression that she felt fine.  They were now back in the entranceway.  As they were crossing the landing, towards the central staircase, Mrs. Brisby’s hand went to her side and rubbed the bandages over her wound.  Her body ached; she was still not totally recovered.

“I think I may need to rest,” she said, leaning on the balcony railing.  “I’ll go back to Justin’s quarters.”

“We’ll come with you,” said Teresa.  “Are you all right?”

“No, there’s no need for that.  You go and enjoy the sunshine.”

“What’s the matter, Mum?” asked Timothy.

“It’s just me getting tired,” Mrs. Brisby dismissed it with a gesture.

“I’ll feel better if I come with you,” continued Teresa.

“Stop fussing and go,” smiled Mrs. Brisby.  “I’ll be fine!  You look after your brother,” she said to Teresa, which earned her a glower from Timothy.  “I just need to sit down for a moment.  I know the way back.”

“Are you sure?” asked Leander.

“This passage,” Mrs. Brisby indicated one nearby, “down the stairs; second left passage; third door on the right?”

“Second,” Leander corrected.

“Second, right.”  Don’t worry,” she said to Teresa catching her daughter’s expression. “I’ll be fine.  Enjoy the scenery.”

“Justin should be back by now,” said Leander, though he didn’t seem sure whether he should have said this.

“Be careful, Mum,” said Teresa.

Mrs. Brisby smiled as her children walked off down around the entranceway landing, guided by the towering Leander.  They would be safe with him.  Bracken was right.  He was all right once you got to know him.

The mouse turned and made her way slowly along the corridors.  There was still the nagging feeling that she should be keeping an eye on her children, but she reminded herself that Justin had apparently covered everything.  He had been vague the night before, not revealing exactly what he had in mind, but she trusted his judgement above any other rat in the valley.  Besides, she thought, the children would be enjoying themselves.  The rats would be able to show them everything that they could want, things that she had never been able to give them.  Since Jonathan had died, she felt guilty that although she may be able nurture them physically (something that in itself proved very difficult at times), she could never help them mentally mature as well as Jonathan or the rats could.  Let them play, she thought.  They would be well looked after.

The nagging thoughts did not disappear.

As she left the staircase she found her progress blocked by two rats.  One was a petite female rat.  Her fur was very fair and she wore long robes.  Behind her loomed another rat, a broad shouldered male with dark fur.  There was something in the gaze of the pair that made Mrs. Brisby feel uncomfortable.

“Mrs. Brisby?” asked the female.  Her tones were not hostile, but they were by no means friendly.  “I’m not mistaken am I?  It is Mrs. Brisby, isn’t it?”

“It is,” replied Mrs. Brisby.  How she wished Leander were here now. 

“Well.  Allow me to make introductions.  Mrs. Brisby, I am Christine, and this is my son Hugo.  I believe you may have heard of my late husband.  Jenner.”

Mrs. Brisby’s blood ran cold.  That explained the strange familiarity about the male rat.  Jenner’s son!  She tried in vain to stop her bottom lip trembling.  The male rat seemed to notice, just the faintest hint of a smirk crossed his face.  Christine continued.

 “I believe I have a duty to say how sorry I am for my husband’s actions.  He has bought great shame on our family.”  Her son flinched at this, but no more.  Christine continued, though the words had no inflection, she seemed to have difficulty in forming them.  “Please, accept my apologies on his behalf.  I hope that our families can...”

“What’s going on here?”

Another rat had rounded the spiralling staircase.  He wore the type of dress that typified a member of the Home Guard and carried a short sword.

“Nothing, Richard,” said Hugo in oily tones.  “Just catching up with Mrs. Brisby.  We have some history.”

Christine shot her son an icy look as Richard replied.

“In dark corridors?  I’m sure you can catch up properly at dinner,” said the guardsrat, eyeing the pair suspiciously.  Christine ignored Richard and turned once again to the mouse, though she did not seem to be looking straight at her.

“My words were sincere, Mrs. Brisby.  You have my apologies.  Welcome to Thorn Valley.”

With another withering glare at Richard, Christine and Hugo climbed the staircase out of sight.  Mrs. Brisby let out a deep breath and put her hand to her head.

“Were they bothering you Mrs. Brisby?” he said kindly.

“Oh no...” she trailed off.  She didn’t know quite what to think of the meeting.  Richard continued.

“Justin thinks that it may be a bad idea for you or your children to be alone in the colony at the moment.”

Sudden realisation dawned on Mrs. Brisby.  The rat had been following her.  She looked around at him and nodded.  Richard smiled back.

“Did you want to return to your quarters?” he asked, though there was no time for a reply.  Another rat called out as they approached down the corridor.  She walked with the tentative gait of the aging, and wore a shawl and simple pinafore.

“Richard!  Richard is that you?”

The guardsrat straightened and said warmly,

“Yes Mrs. Avery.  How are you?”

“Fine, thank you dear.  And who’s this?”  Mrs. Avery peered at the mouse.  She had kind, bright eyes.

“This is Mrs. Brisby.”

“Ah, Mrs. Brisby!  How do you do?  I have so wanted to meet you.”

There was something about the way the rat moved and spoke.  Mrs. Brisby decided to voice her feelings.

“Forgive me if it is rude to ask, but... are you from NIMH as well?”

“No, no.  That’s very observant.  I’m just like you, dear.  I lived around the farmyard, or I did until I met Avery.  Have you met my husband?”

“Yes.  Just now.  Leander was just showing us around the library.”

“Ah yes, Leander.”  Mrs. Avery looked to Richard.  “There’s no need for you to stand there, dear.  I’m sure you could be better off guarding elsewhere.  Mrs. Brisby will be quite all right now.”

“I have orders from Justin...” Richard began.

“Oh, I’ll speak to Justin, don’t you worry, dear.  You run along and play soldiers.  I’ll make sure Mrs. Brisby stays out of harms way.”

“Right you are, Mrs. Avery,” smiled Richard and headed off down the corridor.

“Lovely boy, that one.  So polite.  Of course most of them are.  Especially that Leander.  Oh, he makes me laugh.”  She caught sight of Mrs. Brisby’s fixed grin and puzzled expression.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  Look at me nattering on, out here in the corridor.  I remember when I was first shown around the rosebush.  I looked just like that.  I was stunned into silence.”

Mrs. Brisby found that hard to imagine, though she said nothing.  Mrs. Avery continued.

“Would you like some apple juice?  Fresh made from the valley.  We can sit down and have a nice talk.  It will be so good to have someone normal to talk to.  Half the time I don’t know what they’re going on about around here.  Even my Avery sometimes talks gibberish to me.  This way dear, won’t take a minute.”

The old rat guided Mrs. Brisby along, and Mrs. Brisby went happily.  She was so taken with the chatter of the fellow feral, and knowing her family were being watched by the Home Guard, that she forgot her anxiety over the children.  For a time...

Chapter 11: Dark Intents

The family was reunited shortly afterwards in Justin’s quarters.  Mrs. Brisby returned to find her children waiting for her before they started the meal (though Cynthia had sneaked a mouthful, telltale crumbs were evidence of that).  Leander had excused himself, promising Justin would be back soon to see how they were doing.  He had apparently returned with Teresa and Timothy, collected Cynthia and Martin on the way, and then gone via the food stores to collect lunch.  While outside they had found some wild blackberries and exchanged some of these for the more savoury options of the Rat’s store, though the trade was made out of respect, not demanded by the rats.

The meal was accompanied by the children swapping stories of what they had been getting up to all morning.  Cynthia had apparently become the centre of attention in the class, being able to tell stories of her own after Isabella had finished reading from the book.  All the young rats wanted to hear almost anything that the Brisby child had to offer.  Apparently the simple, free life of the woods was as amazing to the Rats as the valley settlement was to the Brisby family.  Mrs. Brisby smiled as Cynthia relished telling the tale, imagining her daughter doing exactly the same just a few hours before.

Martin had observed much of the Home Guard’s training and spoke highly of the Rats’ expertise.  The experience seemed to have awakened feelings of admiration in Martin; something Mrs. Brisby knew was not easily given.  If that was all that his morning with the Rat Guard had achieved, to humble Martin’s somewhat volatile ego even slightly, then it was worthwhile.

Teresa spoke at length about the valley.  They had all seen its splendour when they had arrived, but this was only a small piece of a wonderful tapestry.  Leander had shown them the sparse and cunningly disguised rat crops; the concealed guard posts; the rally points should any members of the colony find themselves unable to return to the safety of the colony proper.  He had also walked the children around the ‘safe area’.  She explained there were predators in the valley, but this area was well protected by Home Guard sentries, effectively creating a cordon.  Within the children from the colony could play with relative safety.  Of course nothing was ever certain in the woods.  The only problem with the stroll was that chill breeze had apparently picked up, spoiling the otherwise perfect day.

It was while Teresa spoke that Mrs. Brisby noticed that Timothy was being rather quiet.  This in itself was not abnormal, Timothy had always been one to let others speak first, but he seemed preoccupied, and Mrs. Brisby wondered what was troubling him.  Teresa’s voice drew Mrs. Brisby out of introspection.

“It’s a beautiful place,” the young mouse enthused.  “We’ll have to show you.”

“I’d like that very much,” replied Mrs. Brisby.

“Can we go now?” asked Cynthia, obviously piqued that she had missed the outdoor excursion.

“Not until you have finished your lunch,” admonished Mrs. Brisby.  Despite Cynthia’s head start she had been so involved in discussion that she had only half eaten what was before her.

“What about after lunch?” continued Cynthia, packing in another mouthful.  A voice from the doorway answered.

“Actually we had something else in mind,” Justin strolled in, beaming and cheerful, much closer to the carefree rat that Mrs. Brisby remembered.  She wondered what had caused the change as Justin went on.  “We have to finish your tour,” he said sitting down at his desk with a bounce and pinching a blackberry from the spread.  “There is still the piece de resistance.”  As he took a bite from the blackberry his eyes widened.  “Mmmm.  That is good.  Anyway, there is one more item.  I’m not forcing you of course,” he grinned, “but it would be a shame to miss it.”

“What is it?” asked Cynthia, spraying crumbs.

“Ah, well, that would be telling,” replied Justin, taking a mouthful of his own.

“Go on,” asked Martin.

“Pleeease...?” from Cynthia.

Justin regarded the children with theatrical reluctance and then,

“Alright, you twisted my arm.  It’s the industrial heart of the colony, our greatest achievement.  It’s our most important step towards regaining out old style of life on the farm, but born from our own initiative.  Without it, little of what you see around you would be possible.”  Justin was bright eyed and smiling wide.

“What?” said Martin, nonplussed by Justin’s little monologue.  Justin, still performing, waved his hands dismissively.

“It will all be clear when I show you.  Hurry up and finish.  And pass me another of those blackberries!”

Cynthia wasted no time finishing lunch after that.  The group made their way once again to the entranceway, taking the stairs this time so that they were another level down.  Leander was waiting on the landing with another rat that Mrs. Brisby recognised, and her children would know by reputation.  Leander looked almost tiny by comparison.  Justin handled introductions.

“Brutus!” he bellowed, striding up, arms thrown wide.  The children muttered to one another.  Their mother had indeed mentioned her first encounter with Brutus.  “I asked Leander to bring a friend, I wasn’t expecting you!” finished Justin with a wide grin.

“Funny,” replied Brutus, his tone dry, but above all terribly weary.  Mrs. Brisby guessed Justin and Leander could have that effect on most people.

“Cheer up, you know I’m joking!” said Justin.

“That, my fellow, is precisely the point!” replied Brutus.

Leander decided to pitch in,

“I wondered that!  Why did you agree to hang around both me and Justin, if you’re always complaining that neither of us take anything seriously?”

“Why, to see the famous Brisby mice of course.”  Brutus turned to the family.

“Mrs. Brisby,” he said inclining his head, the corner of his mouth turning up in a subtle grin.

“Brutus,” she replied.  He had apologised profusely when she was last in the Rats’ company, though she was still intimidated by the enormous creature.

“And this must be Martin...” Brutus continued.

“Yes...” Justin interrupted the potential delay, “and Teresa, Cynthia and Timothy.  Now come on...  Let’s get on with the tour...”

What had happened to Justin? wondered Mrs. Brisby.  The change was astounding.  This was the most energetic and cheerful she could ever remember seeing him.  There would be time to ask later.  Right now they were being led from the entranceway, down one of the side passages.  A few turns later and it had entered a long and very straight tunnel.  Unlike others in the settlement that had definite floors, walls and ceilings this one was almost perfectly circular.  Only a slight imperfection, creating a flat walking surface, spoiled its precision.  At regular intervals there was wooden bracing, each sporting a complex chain and lever arrangement.

“What’re these?” asked Timothy, eyeing each as they passed.

“Safety measures,” responded Justin, not looking around.  “If we ever need to collapse the tunnel.”

“Why would you want to do that?” gasped Mrs. Brisby.  For those creatures that lived below the surface, collapsing a tunnel was perhaps the greatest fear and worst kind of danger.

“In case something goes wrong up ahead,” said Justin by way of explanation.

“What’s there?” asked Martin quickly, trying his old interrogation trick.

“You’ll find out in a moment,” answered Justin, obviously ready for such traps.

“Is this safe?” asked Mrs. Brisby, still not entirely reassured.

“Of course,” answered Justin.  “Wait and see.”

It didn’t take much longer to reach the end of the tunnel.  When they did they saw what Justin was talking about.  The rats had apparently been very busy.  Mrs. Brisby had not seen anything like it in the Rosebush.

The chamber was vast.  As well as being simply the biggest yet it also extended several floors both up and down, maybe the entire depth of the settlement.  Thick pillars supported a roof crammed full of stout rafters arranged in an intricate lattice framework.  The group all stood upon a landing that joined with similar structures on other floors via a complex network of stairs, ramps and platforms.  To their left the platforms on the floors both above and below were wide, creating an artificial floor and led to large doorways with further rooms beyond.  The contents of these rooms were just visible; each seemed to be packed with benches, worktables and of course rats hard at work.  However they spared only a cursory glance at this, their focus instead drawn to what occupied the back wall of the room to their right.  Mrs. Brisby could make neither head nor tail of it, but the Brisby children, after a moment’s study, could see an underlying logic to the tangle of machinery and the elaborate, but no doubt sturdy, wooden scaffold it was mounted upon.  They would never have seen anything like it in the forest, but it reminded them of toys their father had built for them; simple little things made from whatever was to hand, though this was a little more involved.

The system started near the top.  Through square chutes high on the wall, streams of water poured onto water wheels mounted side by side.  Only four of the eight wheels were slowly turning, the other water flues seemingly closed, but the momentum of the machinery was evidently great.  As water fell from the wheels it was funnelled into stout pipes leading down to the lower levels.

The wooden cogs and gearing that the wheels turned became too complex for the children to follow.  All around this vast structure were gantries and ladders that allowed for access to all the machinery.  Rats were using them now, inspecting the workings with critical eyes, some even carrying out on the spot adjustments and maintenance. 

The system of gears that the water wheels powered continued to the floor of the cavern and Cynthia wasted little time in darting forward to peer through the railings at what was underneath their platform.

“Wow!” she breathed, the other children following her.

The room below was littered with rats all labouring at benches or other more specialised equipment.  It mostly seemed to be metalworking, the orange glow of fires illuminating the rats’ work, the sound of ringing metal and industry rising up to meet them.  The brightest glow came from a structure near the centre of the room, a large cauldron, liquid bubbling inside.  It was a strange mix of smoke and pungent odours that hung in the air, making their whiskers twitch.

“What is all this, Justin?” asked Mrs. Brisby, crossing to the railing herself as the children continued to mutter excitedly to one another.  Justin was smiling as he followed.  The surprise seemed to have its desired effect.

“As you know when we came to the valley we vowed to forsake stealing electricity.  We had to find a way to support ourselves.  This,” he gestured to the water wheels, “is our new source of power.  We harness the water’s energy by using the water wheels, and use that to drive other machinery.”

“Where does the water come from?” she asked shaking her head in wonderment.
  “It comes from a mountain stream.  We found an underground spring when we were mining out this place.  We used that to create a hidden reservoir that directly feeds these wheels.  We also diverted some other sources of water into it to support the supply, and they can be used to control it.  We regulate the flow into here with gates, you can see the gearing there.”

Justin pointed to a rat on a high platform straining to turn a small wheel set into the wall.  With a whoosh of flowing water and the creaking of machinery one of the closed gate began to rise, allowing new jet of water to shoot onto the stationary wheels.  Slowly but with certainty, the wheel began to turn.  Apparently satisfied the rat made further adjustments.  One of the open water gates slowly shut, the water dwindling to a trickle and the massive wheel grinding to a halt.  Rats began to crawl over the now motionless wheel, clutching tools and materials that they used to make fast repairs.

Mrs. Brisby saw all this, but did not fully understand the significance.  She turned to look again at the machinery, impressed mostly at the scale of the construction.  In the silence Teresa spoke,

“What are you doing with all this?” she asked, turning away from the railing briefly.

“Follow me and I’ll show you,” said Justin, beckoning.  He led the group, guards and mice alike, down the ramps towards the bottom of the chamber, Cynthia constantly darting ahead, trying to peer over the railings at every opportunity.  The other children showed slightly more restraint, though not much.  Mrs. Brisby walked with bemused awe.  It was all well beyond her comprehension, but it was impressive to think that the rats had done all this.  How long before she even knew of their existence had they been working on this.  A year?  Two?

They stopped on the last platform before reaching the floor of the hall.  It afforded a clear view of the bustle of activity.

“What’s going on?” asked Timothy watching the proceedings with a keen interest.

“Everything.  Almost all you have seen in the valley settlement so far started its existence here.  The paper, the furniture, clothes, furnishings and fittings.  It’s all been created and constructed in this, the ‘machine house’ as we like to call it.  The water reservoir that drives the machinery also supplies the colony with fresh water.”  Justin began to point around the room as he spoke.  “The water wheels work those fans to keep the air circulating.  We’ve got more there... and there to supply the rest of the colony.  As well as that the machinery works those bellows...”

He indicated the large cauldron seen before, though now details could be made out.  The cauldron itself appeared to be made from clay, the surface smooth and glazed.  At its base a set of bellows blew air onto the flames, the bellows being driven by the waterwheel system.  Within the giant receptacle liquid bubbled and simmered.  Piping snaked from the cauldron to nearby structures manned by rats who maintained a close vigil upon the cauldron’s contents.  Justin continued,

“We have to keep that cauldron heated to the necessary temperature that allows us to create the fuel used in our lanterns.  It’s then stored here until needed.  Over here...” he now turned to the intricate mechanisms that had escaped identification before, “we’re even experimenting with mechanical looms for mass producing cloth and I think Arthur managed to persuade the council to let him keep one of the electric motors so he could play with it, though I don’t know where he’s hidden that.”

“Arthur’s the rat in charge?” asked Mrs. Brisby, latching onto something that she knew.

“That’s right.  His official title is Chief Artisan, but I don’t think he likes that much.  In fact,” Justin began to look about the vast hall, searching for the enigmatic Arthur, “he should be explaining all this.  He gets a kick out of it.  Let’s go and find him.”

The search was not long.  Brutus and Leander stayed on the platforms, while Justin led the mice down to the hall floor, weaving between the various benches laden with half finished items, from door bracing, locks and hinges, to blades suitable for either the warrior or the chef.

Instead of the workshops that they had seen on their left as they had entered the chamber many floors above, the bottom two floors before them now were hollowed out, creating a large storage area containing huge racks, on which were stored various lengths and types of timber.  There was also a large gate on the far wall, though what this led to was, for the moment at least, a mystery.

There were several rats working to place some planks that were piled on the floor or the warehouse into the racks.  The wood was thick and heavy, and it took several rats to manoeuvre them into position.  One rat, stocky of build and brown of fur, was not involved in the physical labour and instead standing by with a sheaf of paper, occasionally barking out orders.  The mice were not certain, but they got the feeling that the rat might well be...

“Arthur!” called Justin.  The rat looked up and immediately his shoulders slumped.

“Justin!  Now’s not a good time, lad.  We’re behind with this lot and we’ve got more on the way very soon.  Can’t stand about chatting when there’s work to be done.  Who have you got there?”

“This is Mrs. Jonathan Brisby and her family,” said Justin with appropriate reverence.  Arthur nodded distractedly and rifled through his papers at a furious pace.

“Uh huh.  Welcome to Thorn Valley.  We’re all amazingly busy so don’t think me rude when I say I really must be getting on.”

“Come on Arthur...” continued Justin.  “Surely you can spare a few moments...”

 “I really can’t.  Any minute now those doors will open,” he indicated the large gate behind him, “and several of my lads will bury this place in more materials because we haven’t shifted this lot.”  He indicated the piles of timber strewn about on the floor.  By now the children had taken in their surroundings had and formed questions that Cynthia was the first to voice.

“What’s through there?” asked Cynthia, pointing at the gate that Arthur had just mentioned.

“An elevator to our surface stockpile,” said Arthur automatically.

“An elevator?” she asked.

“Like the one in the Rosebush I told you about,” said Mrs. Brisby.

“How does it work?” asked Timothy.

“Yeah, Arthur?” said Justin.  “Couldn’t you tell these keen young mice how your elevator works?  They’re all very interested.”

“Well, it’s all down to levers and pulleys,” started Arthur.  He began to help the other rats shift the planks onto the shelves, and seemed torn between lending himself solely to that task, and talking about the thing he loved most.  As a compromise he talked distractedly as he worked.  “We have a stockpile underground in the valley where materials can easily be left after collection from the forest and prepared for transport.  It’s very well hidden and all that.  Then we need a way to bring them down here for processing.  So we have the elevator cage...” He broke off as a thud shook the vicinity and all eyes turned to the elevator gates.  The next shipment had arrived.

“Oh...” the next word was incomprehensible as Arthur strained and finished heaving a plank into position by himself.  The gates opened and more rats poured out and began to unload what was predominantly wood, though there were also various other forest materials.  It was quite a random assortment and the mice wondered what on earth some of the items could be used for.  Everything so far had been created from natural materials that could be found in the woods, but some of these items were quite obscure.  What could the rats want with assorted nuts husks and bark peelings?  Before they could ask, Arthur spoke again.

“Look,” Arthur turned to the tour party.  “You’ll have to come back another time.  Or please feel free to wander around as you want, I think Chloe is over by the furnace, she can answer some of your questions.  Right now we’re very bus...”

He stopped at the sound of a crash behind him.

“No, no.  Roland, you oaf!” cried Arthur as he dashed off to help.

Justin looked apologetically to the mice.  “He’s not usually so abrupt.  But he did say we could look around.  Maybe you can talk at dinner, when he’s not so busy.  Let’s go.”

As they wandered back into the machine house proper Teresa said,

“I thought he was all right, even though he was obviously busy.”

“He reminds me of someone though,” said Mrs. Brisby.  Just then Arthur’s voice was heard shouting after them.

“And on no account touch anything.”

“Mr. Ages?” supplied Martin.  As soon as he said that he wished he hadn’t.  It reminded them all of the unpleasant circumstances that had brought them to Thorn Valley.  Justin tried to salvage things.

“So...  Would you like a look around here?”

“Can you tell us how this stuff works?” asked Martin, making the rat look thoughtful.

“I could identify them, maybe, and I can show you round though I’ll probably struggle to tell you exactly how it all works, but... lets see if we can find Chloe.  She’s one of Arthur’s Artisans.”

“Artisans?” asked Mrs. Brisby.

“A senior engineer.  They’re very skilled, but a bit...”

“What?”  Mrs. Brisby was not filled with confidence at Justin’s hesitance to explain.

“Well, Chloe for instance is... excitable.  Still she should be more than happy to help.  Let’s see...  Yes, there!”

The group crossed the machine house floor, making their way towards a little metal working furnace.  As they approached they could feel the heat from its fiery innards.  Working beside it, equipped with protective goggles, a heavy apron and gauntlets also, was a young female rat.  She was holding something in the fire, watching it closely.  Justin’s approach was a cautious one.

“Hey, Chloe!” he called.

The rat looked up and grinned.  She raised a huge glove to wave, calling,

“Justin!  Sorry... I mean... your Leadership.”

As she apologised both her hands went to her mouth.  The tongs she had been using to work the object in the furnace slipped to the floor and a lump of red hot metal landed on the floor, spraying out sparks.  Justin and the mice drew back.

“Oh bother!  Oh goodness!  I’m so sorry!” blurted Chloe, reaching for a hose and removing some string tightly bound about its end.  Water gently spouted forth, dousing the red hot metal, which began hissing and releasing steam.

“I’m so clumsy!” lamented Chloe distractedly.  “So, what can I do you guys for?”

“We were hoping to get a quick talk on what we do here,” said Justin, raising his hands to encompass the whole room.  “Some details of what we’ve come up with in the valley.  We’re giving the Brisby family the tour.  Do you have a moment?”

“For the Brisbys I have ten!  Wow! It’s an honour.  I was a fan of your dad’s work.  His book is great.  Have you read it?”

“I will be,” said Timothy, any mention of his father’s work arresting his interest immediately.

“Great.  It’s gets a bit complex in places but it’s totally logical.  Stick with it.  We used many of the principles in that book in the designs of this...”  She pointed to the water wheels and the accompanying gears.  “I’ll try and tell you all I can about this place.  What would you like to know about?”

“Well...” began Teresa, looking around.  “What sort of things have you got in here?  What’s all this for?”

Justin was now watching the flow of water onto the lump of metal on the floor.  He cocked an eyebrow saying, “Ah... Chloe.”

She didn’t hear him as she began to talk in earnest about the contents of the machine house.

“Well, we’ve got it all here.  Everything we need to run the colony.  Well not everything as we’re still working on some things, but it’s everything we’ve got at the moment.”

“Chloe...” said Justin again.

“I mean we’ve got our paper mill over there,” she began pointing about the room, the hose swaying with her movement, “just behind the fuel fermenting cauldron.  It’s still experimental, but it’s looking good.  Right here we’ve got the metal working furnace, and there’s another smaller one round the side and that’s where we bake any pottery we produce.

“Hey, Chloe.”

 “Over there,” she was oblivious to Justin’s now insistent voice and pointed at a lone, well braced door in the workshop wall, “is where we keep the fuel for the lanterns.  It has to be kept away in its own store.  Apparently it’s quite dangerous until it’s diluted.  The carpentry and fabric workshops are above us...”

“Chloe!” shouted Justin.

“Hmmm?” said the female rat, pausing in her oratory.

“The hose, Chloe,” said the rat nodding.

They all looked down, Cynthia starting to giggle.  The hose Chloe was holding was still disgorging water.  The metal had been cooled; no more steam was being produced.  Now the water was pooling about the Artisan’s feet and spreading across the floor.

“Bother!” she said, retying the hose.  She stepped from the large pool, shaking the water away.  As she did so, an idea struck.

“Hey, would you guys like a demonstration of the undiluted lantern fuel?  It’s good fun!”

The group exchanged worried glances.  This Chloe obviously picked up on as she went on hurriedly.

“Only a little bit of course, but it’s still impressive.  Come on I’ll show you.”  She started towards the little door she had indicated earlier.

“How does this stuff work?” asked Timothy.

“Ah,” said Chloe, removing a key from her apron and opening the door.  “Well, obviously it’s dangerous to have flames below the ground as they use oxygen.  With all the illumination we need there wouldn’t be much left with conventional torches.  Oxygen, that is.  We could afford some normal flames,” she jabbed a thumb towards the furnace behind them and then began rummaging in the storeroom beyond.  It was full of barrels of all shapes and sizes.  She talked as she searched, “but all the lanterns wouldn’t be safe.  Also we can’t use the technology we currently have here to generate electricity to power lighting.  So our scientists have been working on a fuel for several years now, in fact your father was involved in the early theoretical stages.  I don’t know all the nitty-gritty details, but the water used to dilute the fuel and make it safe actually works to help it burn.  If the water is not present it takes oxygen from the air and that’s what gives it its kick.  I’m not a chemist, but it’s something about alternative oxidisers and mixing reactants.  It’s pretty neat but a pain to make.  Still, we’ve had a lot of practice now and we’ve got it down to an art.  Ah, here we go.”

Chloe held a small barrel of lantern fuel aloft.

“And that is...?” began Martin.

“Undiluted fuel.  This way.”  She went to a nearby, unoccupied workbench and placed down the fuel keg.  Then, retrieving a metal bowl, she removed the stopper from the keg and began to pour a little of the fuel into the receptacle.  She started to talk again as she worked,

“I did this yesterday for some of the other mice.  Have you met them?” she did not see the changes in expressions that her comment caused.  “They were very interested in this place.  One was almost laughing.  He must love machinery, and they were all terribly interested in this stuff.  Anyway, let’s see if I can get this right this time.  Okay...”

As she reached for a taper and began to try and light it the others exchanged further worried glances, though at exactly what part of her recent comments worried them more was uncertain.  Chloe held the lighted taper above the bowl.

“Stand back, brace yourself, and watch closely.”  At arms length, she released the taper.  It fell into bowl and...

There was a lot of light and a whoosh of air.  The group of mice and Justin cowered back and they all heard a muffled “Oh my!” from Chloe’s direction.  When the smoke cleared they saw the Artisan covered in soot, eyes watering, her whiskers singed.  Luckily the gauntlets and apron she still wore had saved her from further injury.  Activity in the hall had stopped as the various workers turned towards the noise.  On noticing Chloe’s involvement they all went back to their tasks.

“That happened last time,” she moaned, wincing as she touched her face.

“Better get some of Clerval’s stuff on that,” said Justin.  The group had been far enough away to avoid any ill effects aside from the shock.  Cynthia began to giggle, but stopped at a stern tap on the shoulder from Teresa.

“Yeah, I’ll go see him in the infirmary now,” said Chloe miserably.

“Do you need a hand getting there?” asked Justin.

“Oh no.  I know the way.” She said confidently.  None of the others found this surprising though Justin nodded to the guards who were still waiting on the gantry.

“Brutus or Leander could go with you.”

“No, I can go quicker by myself,” she said trying to shield her face with her hands.  “Sorry.  Bye now!”

She dashed off, weaving quickly between the workbenches and up the gantries, tripping only occasionally.  The group watched the artisan leave through the access tunnel.

“That reminds me,” said Justin, “I must show you where the infirmary is.  It’s quite useful to know.  Just in case,” he added quickly, before breathing deeply.  “Well, what do you think?”

“Looks dangerous,” said Cynthia, eying the little barrel of fuel.  Justin replaced the stopper in the fuel keg and placed it back in the storeroom, locking it with his own key.

“Perhaps we should go before we cause more trouble,” said Mrs. Brisby.

“Do they invent stuff here as well?” asked Timothy.

“Yep,” said Justin beginning to lead them away.  “Top floor of this place.  It’s not as interesting as it sounds.  It’s a lot of rats sitting around tinkering with things and occasionally reporting to the infirmary for minor cuts and burns.” 

“Oh,” said Timothy sounding slightly disappointed.  Justin tried to appease him.

“The problem is political again.  They’ve got all these great ideas, but the council can’t allow them to be implemented.  It would compromise the settlement.  One of the techies was talking about some kind of balloon for flying in.  Great... but everyone for miles around would see a little rat airship.  We can’t allow that.  It’s just another reason why Augustus shouldn’t be allowed power, though that’s why he’s popular with the scientific core.  He is all for scientific advancement at the cost of secrecy.”

“Oh,” repeated Timothy, though the resignation in his voice suggested he understood.

“Buck up,” said Justin.  “I’ll find us something to do until suppertime.  That will be your first big meal in the valley, won’t it?”

The mice nodded.

“Great,” said Justin leading them up the steps to meet Brutus and Leander again.  Together they all returned to one of the entrance tunnels.  Justin was talking all the way his voice echoing along the tunnel.

“One good idea they haven’t perfected yet is a sentry post actually in the tree.  You’ve got an underground tunnel that takes you amongst the roots, and then stairs are bored up through the trunk.  At the top is a perfectly concealed watch post with a very good view of the surrounding area.  Ingenious!  Unfortunately they haven’t worked out a realistic way to do it without killing the tree...”

They left the machine house via another tunnel, lower than the other entrance tunnel.  They were now in the part of the colony still under construction.  Justin had progressed to talking about the plans for this section once it was complete.  They had several hours to kill before dinner, and so their progress back towards the entranceway was unhurried.

Cynthia was dropping towards the back of the group, slipping into a daydream, not really listening to Justin’s explanations.  So it was that no one noticed when a hand reached around a corner, clamping around Cynthia’s mouth, dragging her into the shadows.

“Woah!  Stop struggling Cynthia!  It was just a joke.”

Cynthia was released and she rounded on the speaker, scowling at a young, dark grey rat who, although similar in age, towered over the little mouse.  It was one of the rats she had met in the dining hall during the class.

“That wasn’t funny, William!” Cynthia fumed.  As she recovered, she noticed other children nearby.  Leander’s niece Connie was there, as well as Edward, a studious young rat, and Tessa, actually the younger sister of the teacher Isabella.  Having caught her breath Cynthia continued to berate the smirking William, “What would Brutus say is he knew his son was lingering about in shadowy tunnels assaulting guests?”

William pulled a face, but made no attempt to counter the argument.  Cynthia sought conversation with the others asking, “what are you guys doing here anyway?”

“Schools finished for the day,” explained Connie, “we saw you being shown around the colony and thought we’d invite you to join our own tour.”

“It was a special invitation,” said William, Cynthia now pulling a face in response.

“You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the parts of the colony still being built,” Connie went on.

“Creepy isn’t the word for it,” Tessa put in, Edward nodding in confirmation.

Cynthia stopped a face-pulling contest with William, her interest piqued.  However she felt maybe she should warn the others about where she was.  And with the mice was it safe to go wandering...?

“I think she’s scared,” said William, putting his hands on his hips.  Cynthia’s lips tightened, only making William smile wider.  “I’ve found something really great, but you have to be pretty brave to get near it...” He raised an eyebrow.  “Well?  Are you in?”

The band of young rats and Cynthia picked their way carefully through the shadows, William leading the way, the others following nervously behind.  Cynthia didn’t think this area seemed like a construction site, it seemed completely deserted.  The lanterns were few and far between, meaning they travelled for the most part in darkness.  The mouse’s ears swivelled towards any sound and her whiskers helped guide her.

“Down here!” whispered William, pointing to a rough staircase.  “Not bad, huh?”

The others gave various half-hearted agreements as they descended the stairs.  The walls were clammy; the air damp and cold.  Every now and then, they felt the delicate brush of spider webs on the tips of their ears.

“Where are we going?” asked Tessa from the back with only the slightest waver in her voice.

“There’s something I found.  I want to show you guys,” William replied.  They couldn’t see his smile in the darkness.

They reached a lantern that hung by the central column of the staircase.  It illuminated the barren earth about it with its soft glow.  William, standing on tiptoe, reached up and unhooked it, turning back to the others, his face now under lit with yellow lantern light.

“It’s around this corner... what I found,” he whispered, obviously trying to emphasise the eerie atmosphere.  “And, seeing as Cynthia is our guest, I think she should look first.”

Cynthia felt a tingle of ice up her spine.  William had a reputation for mischief that even Cynthia respected, and she could not imagine what he had in store.  The rat could see her hesitation.

“If little Cynthia is too frightened she can go back to her mummy,” William burbled as if to a baby.  Cynthia bristled, doubly so when Edward snickered in the darkness.

“Don’t be mean,” Connie admonished, “I’ll go first.”

“No!” said Cynthia, stepping forward.  “I’ll go.  It can’t be that bad if William has come back.”  She fixed the grinning William with a glare and descended a few steps before turning back.  “Do I get the lantern?”

“Oh no,” said William, obviously enjoying this immensely.

“Then how...” Cynthia began.

“The glow from here is enough.  Off you go...” William made a little shooing gesture.

Squaring her shoulders Cynthia put her hand on the central pillar and peered around into the gloom.  Unable to see anything she took another few tentative steps.  Unseen behind her the other children were gesticulating wildly, Connie vehemently shaking her head.

Cynthia stopped as the staircase ended, her progress blocked by a scarred wall of rock.  Obviously the rats mining this section had been unable to continue.  She wondered what was so frightening, though quickly realised as she lowered her gaze towards the floor.  In the rock at her feet, was a skeletal form set into the rock’s surface.  Its beak gaped at her, empty eye sockets staring back.  Bony limbs spread as if it were sprawled upon the floor.  Flickering shadows thrown by the lantern gave the fossil the appearance of twitching where it lay.  To Cynthia’s already agitated imagination it was quite a frightening sight, especially when, with a faint giggle, the lantern light disappeared. 

Cynthia stood for a moment in pitch blackness, a violent shudder running through her body.  Listening intently she could hear the faint sounds of retreating footsteps and then only her own ragged breathing.

“Guys?” she whispered.  There was no answer.  Fear took hold and made her sprint up the steps, using all fours to stop herself from stumbling over.  She couldn’t see any light up ahead.  As soon as she reached a landing she darted off the staircase, wanting to get back to tunnels that she knew.

To her dismay, the area she found herself in was unfamiliar to her.  It was still obviously one of the unfinished parts of the colony, because the lanterns were sparse, and evidence of building work littered the floor in the form of tools and equipment.  She crept along, hugging the wall, unable to hear anything at all.  The only indication that it was anything other than a forgotten passageway was a light she could see along the corridor.  It was a thin glow from beneath a door.  Maybe inside was someone that could help her, tell her how to get back to the main colony.  She didn’t want to wander around in the gloom in hope of finding her way out.  Sneaking closer Cynthia listened for any movement.  Still unable to hear anything she put her ear to the door.  All she could hear was a faint rustling beyond.  Touching the door very lightly, she pushed it open the tiniest fraction.  The perfectly constructed rat hinges didn’t produce any noise, so she pushed a little harder until she could see into the room.

Though her view was limited she could see the chamber had several bunk beds.  They were smaller than the Rat’s beds in deference to those who would use them, one of whom was sitting with his back to Cynthia now.  That ragged ear and sandy fur was unmistakeable.  It was Spiro.  His cloak was draped over one end of the bed, and his scarf was down, hanging loosely about his shoulders.  He was hunched over, his head bowed so that she could not see his face.  However she could see that he was replacing the bandages on his arms.  Spread before him on the bed were rolls of cloth and a small cutting blade.  He was holding his right arm before him wrapping a new bandage tightly about his wrist and working slowly and methodically up his arm.  Cynthia grimaced as she became morbidly transfixed by Spiro’s arm.  The flesh was ravaged, with patches of fur growing haphazardly between scar tissue.  The wounds where old, but so numerous and deep they had obviously never been able to heal properly.  It looked like he had been mauled, his arms bitten many times by small, sharp teeth.  She was so engrossed in the mouse’s macabre flesh that it was a moment before she realised he was watching her.  She looked up into Spiro’s bright eye as it stared straight back at her, the mouse peering over his own shoulder.

Cynthia ran.  She didn’t care in what direction, she simply ran.  Bounding along dark corridors she leapt over wooden beams, bundles of rope and other building materials.  She was concentrating so much on these that after a moment she hit something soft, another creature.  Slowly she looked up into the face of what she had collided with.  Intense eyes looked down at her, and with a grin, Fraus said, “Ah.  What a surprise!  Little Cynthia Brisby.”

She backed away slowly.  She could see others in the shadows.  Again she turned and fled.  Back along the corridor, she passed the door that was still ajar, as she had left it.  Spiro had thankfully not emerged.  Cynthia darted back and forth until she was totally unsure of which tunnel she was now in or where she was heading.  As she rounded another corner, Cynthia’s breath caught in her throat as she felt herself being restrained by strong hands.

“No!  Get off!” she squealed trying to struggle free.

“Cynthia!  It’s me.  It’s me!  Calm down!”

Cynthia stopped at the familiar voice and met Leander’s eyes.

“Leander...” she breathed.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, kneeling down, hands on her shoulders.

“The mice... Spiro!  They’re back there.  They’re trying to get me!”

“Get you?” he asked.  “What were you doing down there?  That’s the way to their quarters...” he broke off at the sound of footsteps.  Fraus appeared, Malachi in tow.

“Is the child alright?” he asked, apparently genuinely concerned.  “She seemed frightened.  I wondered if she were lost.”

“She’s fine now, thank you,” replied Leander, guiding Cynthia around until she was hidden behind him.  The little mouse went willingly, clutching onto the rat’s cloak.  “I’ll return her to her family,” he finished.

“Very well,” said Fraus.  “While it is good to see a keen interest in exploration it may not be wise for her to wander off alone.”  He still sounded sincere, but there was something in his manner that Leander didn’t like, though he couldn’t put a finger on it.

“Quite,” he said by way of reply.  “Come on, Cynthia.  This way.  Sorry if she disturbed you, Fraus.”  Leander and Cynthia retreated down the corridor.  Fraus watched them go.

“Not at all,” he said very quietly and then turned to grin at his colleague.

“But they were doing something...  They looked, well... dodgy!” insisted Cynthia.

“You want me to incarcerate all the Mice because you think they looked... dodgy?” Leander replied.  The pair were moving quickly down one of the corridors.  Cynthia was being herded in front of Leander, the rat glancing over his shoulder at every turn.

Cynthia nodded her head in an adamant manner.

“I have to point out... you were in fact snooping around their quarters,” Leander said.

“But...” Cynthia began.

“What did they do exactly?” Leander asked.

“Well they...”  Leander raised an eyebrow as Cynthia was unable to complete the sentence.

“I mean...” she stumbled on, “they were going to get me...  If you hadn’t showed up.”

Leander’s eyebrow climbed higher up his forehead and was joined by its counterpart.  Cynthia, realising she was not in a winning position, pouted.  “All right.  They didn’t actually do anything...  But I’m glad I ran into you...” 

They rounded a corner and saw Connie, Edward, Tessa and William all standing, shuffling uncomfortably.

“Cynthia!” Connie smiled.   Cynthia did not return the gesture.

“Thanks guys,” she mumbled.

“It was his idea,” said Edward, nodding towards William, who promptly put on a display of innocent shock.  Connie tried to soothe the mouse.

“I didn’t know what he was going to do.  When they told me I tried to stop him, but they all...”

“Enough!” commanded Leander.  “I don’t care what was going on, but none of you are to go down to the construction sites.  Especially...” Leander stopped himself as he realised he was touching on a subject that was still not be made common knowledge.  “It is very dangerous down there.  I can’t believe you’d abandon Cynthia like that.”

“It was just a joke...” mumbled William.  Leander had to remind himself the young rat could not have known all the implications of his actions.

“I will of course be speaking to all your parents,” the guard said.  There were various moans form the young rats, but Leander was not yet finished, “Now go and stay out of trouble.  I’ve got better things to be doing than keeping you lot out of mischief.”

The four rats trudged off, Cynthia watching them go.

“Serves them right for doing that,” she said, satisfied that justice was done. 

That is until Leander said, “I’ll have to tell your mother too.”

The door to Justin’s quarters opened; Justin, Brutus, Mrs. Brisby and three of her children turning anxiously to face the new arrivals.

“Cynthia!” Mrs. Brisby dashed forward to embrace her daughter.

“Mummy!”  Cynthia returned the hug.

“Don’t ever run off like that again,” Mrs. Brisby scolded her daughter.

“I promise,” she mumbled, tugging on her mother’s red cape.

“She was down by the Mice of NIMH’s quarters,” said Leander, obviously uncertain about revealing the information.  Mrs. Brisby was horrified, her jaw dropping, eyes growing wide.  She stared in disbelief at her daughter, Leaner holding up a placating hand and speaking quickly.  “There were no problems, they didn’t do anything.  If anyone was up to mischief it was Cynthia and her friends.”

“I was not,” pouted Cynthia.  “I saw the Mice!  That scary one, the one that...”

“Hush Cynthia!”  Mrs. Brisby looked around at the other rats present.  Justin understood and explained.  His voice was lowered as he knelt next to Mrs. Brisby, even though they apparently out of public view.

“There’s no need to worry about your secret Mrs. Brisby.  Both Leander and Brutus can be trusted without question.  I took the liberty of telling them what we know of the mice.  There’s a core of rats that I can trust completely, most in the Home Guard.  They are aware of the situation and have sworn to protect your family as they would their own.”

Mrs. Brisby nodded, looking at each of the rats with grateful eyes.  It fell once again to Justin to lighten the mood, not wanting to dwell on such matters.

“Well,” he said straightening up.  “There’s still the matter of what to do now.  I’m afraid I’ll have to return to council duties soon, but these two will look after you.”

“Shall we see the outside now?” asked Cynthia.

Brutus breathed in through his teeth.

“It’s not nice out there.  It’s clouded over and quite cold,” the big rat shrugged.  “Spring weather.  It will keep ‘til tomorrow I’m sure.”

Justin nodded and pondered for a moment.  “How about the meeting room?  Get a chance to introduce you to some of the other rats.”

Mrs. Brisby didn’t know if she had the energy to meet any new faces.  Timothy too appeared to have other plans.

“I think I’ll make a start on Dad’s things,” he said.

“If you like,” said Justin.

“I’ll need all your help,” the young mouse said to his family.  They all nodded, and Teresa spoke for them.

“Fine by us.”

“I want to make a start on that book,” Timothy continued, “I’m wondering if it contains any information on Dad’s work.  Maybe it will help explain what the Stone is...  How it works.”

Justin smiled and nodded.  That was easier than he had thought.  This next thing might not be so easy though.  He said out loud,

“If you’re going to be looking into your father’s work, I think there is something you should have.”  He turned to Leander and Brutus.  “Could you wait outside, please?”

“Sure thing, Justin,” said Brutus understandingly, crossing to the door.

“There’s something I’ve got to mention to you about William,” Leander began saying to the other guard as the door shut.

Once the door was locked Justin went to his desk and retrieved a key from behind a hidden panel.  Then he turned his attention to the large chest nearby.  He unlocked it and removed some items, placing them to one side.  Then he drew out a smaller box.  It was simple, but sturdy, a gilded ‘N’ emblazoned on the front.  He lowered it reverently onto the desk and turned to face Mrs. Brisby.
  “I was only holding it for you.  It is yours to pass on to your children.”  He gestured to the box and retreated to a respectful distance.

Mrs. Brisby looked at the jewel box, though it was the size of a small chest to her.  She knew what it was.  She had seen the box before.  Inside was the Stone, the amulet that had been responsible for the miraculous events that saved her home and family.  Many thought she had been responsible, but the Stone had guided her, enabled her to move her family’s house with its power.  It scared her, and she had second thoughts about allowing her children to possess it.  What might it do?  Was it dangerous?

“Mrs. Brisby?” asked Justin, concerned.

“I’m fine...” she said with a weak smile.  No it couldn’t be dangerous.  It was their birthright and it had saved them once before.  Jonathan had made it, and he could create nothing that would harm their children.  Mrs. Brisby, in a world where so much was beyond her control and understanding, could be certain of that if nothing else.

She clambered onto Justin’s stool and, reaching out, opened the little box.  Nestled amongst soft material the Stone shone red, as it had when Nicodemus had first presented it to her.  Its crimson depths swirled with patterns.  A trick of the light?  Or something else?  She reached out and picked up the gem.  Her reflection stared up at her as it had when Nicodemus had proffered the Stone to her before.  Justin was right.  It was indeed time.

“Children,” she said.  Martin, Teresa, Cynthia and Timothy gathered close, Mrs. Brisby turning to face them.  “Your father made this.  Nicodemus kept it until he could give it to me.  Justin kept it until I could give it to you.  It is the Stone.  The Stone that moved our house and saved us all.”  She held it out, gripping it by the delicate chain.  Mrs. Brisby felt her eyes warm at the memories of those few days and what she had discovered about her dear Jonathan.  Her hand trembled and the jewel caught the light again and seemed to glow red.  The children looked upon it in wonderment.  They had heard so much about the Stone, but had never seen it.

“It’s marvellous,” said Teresa.

“It’s pretty,” from Cynthia.

“The Stone!” breathed Timothy.  Martin reached up to touch it, butterflies springing up in his stomach as his fingertips neared the amulet.

“So this is Dad’s magic Stone.”

Mrs. Brisby released her grip on the chain letting the Stone fall into her eldest son’s hands.  The other children touched its golden mounting looking down at the crimson jewel. 

“Who’ll look after it?” asked Justin.

The children all exchanged vacant expressions.  Who indeed would carry the Stone?

“I think Timmy should have it,” said Cynthia, taking her brother by the arm.  Teresa thought for a second, and then nodded in agreement.  Martin looked doubtful for a moment, but then nodded too.  “Yeah, Timothy should have it,” he said, smiling and extending the Stone out to Timothy.

The little grey mouse was stunned.  “Me?  Why me?”

“Because you’re the one who’s really interested in Dad’s work.  You can’t wait to get down to the library and begin looking through all those books.  You kinda...  I dunno...” Martin hesitated obviously having trouble.  Teresa decided to help him.

“I think he means, you’re going to need it when you start looking through Dad’s work.  You’ll find something out that all the rest of us would miss, and you’ll need the Stone.  Remember what the Owl said?”

Martin was obviously bothered at the interruption, but did not question the statement.  Timothy still looked unsure.  He held out his hand, his fingers hovering just beneath the Stone.  It seemed to pulse with light as Martin lowered it into his brother’s hands.  Bringing it close to him, Timothy looked at the gemstone.  Teresa looped the chain over her brother’s head and Cynthia leant on Timothy’s shoulder.

“You’re the keeper of the Stone now, Timmy.”  She grinned.

“Thank you,” was all Timothy could manage.

Mrs. Brisby and Justin looked on, the silence lingering a moment longer as the mouse smiled weakly, looking at her children holding the Stone.  Timothy tucked the Stone into his vest and Martin spoke up,

“Right.  We better help you sort out your room in the library.  It should take us nicely to dinner time.”  He smiled.

“Yeah!” cried Cynthia.

The family of mice went to the library, accompanied all the way by the ever watchful Brutus.  Leander had other duties that he had to fill, but said he would see the Brisby family at the evening meal.  Then, with a puerile joke about the condition of Brutus’ fur, he scampered off.  Justin had apologised for his friend’s immature behaviour, saying he had council matters to deal with.  He stayed in his study, making an even more childish remark as the others left, receiving a weary glare from Brutus.

At the library Avery greeted them again.  He had obviously guessed why they were here, for he led them straight to the little room where Jonathan Brisby’s belongings were stored.  Cynthia and Martin had been given descriptions of the library, but were still amazed at its design.

Once in the library’s antechamber, with Brutus on the door and Avery bustling off to attend to other matters, the mice began work on the mound of artefacts from the rosebush.  Avery had been good to his word.  An alcove in the room had been emptied of clutter and furnished with a small desk and chair (suitable for a young rat, or a mouse; appropriated from the store rooms of the education board), as well as lantern.  There was even a small shelving unit and drawer.  All in all, and considering the speed of its assembly, it was a well-appointed little study for Timothy.

The first task was to divide the randomly assorted pile into its constituent parts.  It was done with an air of solemnity at first; though they all thought it was better they do it than anyone else.  The Rats must have been in a great hurry for the various items had been packed with little care and some objects had not survived the journey unscathed.  The majority seemed to be paper and notebooks that were piled of stacked on the shelf.  Flicking through them, designs and diagrams as well as formulae and tables could be seen, but there was little time to begin an in depth analysis.  There were occasional treasures to be found amongst the other more mundane items.  A magnifying glass, a small case in which were stored a pair of what must have been Jonathan’s glasses, bottles of ink and quills, and a travelling cape cut for a mouse by its length were just some of the items they discovered.  As the process went on it became obvious that Jonathan had everything necessary for life in the colony, even having clothes that resembled the type the rats wore, very different from the simple articles they had all seen him wear at home.  He had worked hard to keep all this a secret.

By now Timothy’s workspace was taking shape.  Papers and notebooks were awaiting inspection, anything that was thought to be immediately useful were near at hand on the desk top, while anything else was lined up on the shelves.  The cape and other clothes were either folded neatly or hung on a spare lantern hook nearby.  At last only a few broken or useless items (that may have been parts of a larger object) remained in the rough crates when Avery poked his head around the door.

“My,” he said, pushing the door open completely.  Brutus was hovering just behind, looming in the doorway.  “You have been busy.  Looks much better, though if you aren’t in a state!”

The mice looked at one another for the first time noticing that they were all totally covered in dust.  They all smiled, Cynthia giggling.

“Is it time to eat already?” asked Mrs. Brisby.  They had all been so engrossed in their work that they had lost track of time, though it was difficult if not impossible to do so being underground all the time.  Mrs. Brisby wondered how the Rats knew when it was time for meals and the like.

“Mm hmm,” Avery nodded.  “And you better get cleaned up quick.  The way some of these rats eat, anything will be gone as soon as it’s set upon the table!”

It was quite a different room that the mice entered when they arrived at the dining hall.  The slates, papers, books, quills, all the education equipment had been removed.  There were still tables packed with young rats, but this was only a small fraction.  Every table was crowded with rats of all ages, every one tucking into platters of food that were laid out on the centre of each table.  More food was being brought from the preparation areas; rats emerging from two of the four wide archways bearing heaped trays of food and drink.  After setting these on the tables, these rats retreated, returning to the storerooms via the other two archways.  It was a smooth system that kept food and drink plentiful for the meal.  As they ate, the rats talked and laughed, the sound was quite different from the din of the morning school class, but a great deal louder.  Avery had followed the mice and he now leant in towards them.

“I think someone is trying to get your attention.”

The Brisby mice followed the rat’s gaze.  Across the hall Justin was standing at his table waving to them, trying to draw their eyes.  Cynthia bobbed up and down as she waved back and the others acknowledged him in a more restrained fashion.

“I think you should go over there,” said Avery.

“Where will you sit?” Mrs. Brisby asked the rat.

“No doubt my wife has saved a seat for me,” he said.  “Enjoy your meal.”

Farewells were said and the mice made for Justin’s table trying to ignore the glances and whispers that occurred in their wake.  Reaching the table, Justin beamed at them.

“I saved you all a seat!  I managed to persuade the council out of a formal celebratory meal.  The Mice of NIMH didn’t want it, and I thought you would rather not have the attention.”

Mrs. Brisby nodded and of the children, only Cynthia looked a little disappointed.

“I did, however, manage to persuade them to use a few extra rations for the meal.  The chefs cheered up no end when they realised they could add a bit of flair to the meals tonight.”

This seemed to immediately brighten Cynthia’s mood, especially as the family sat down and were told to help themselves.  At the table were seated many members of the Home Guard, mostly apparently friends of Justin.  The little mouse, dwarfed as she was next to Bracken, began to match the big rat bit for bite.  Bowls were laid out to accept scraps, of which there were very few.  Like everything in the colony, even the food was as efficient as it could possibly be.  The Rats despised waste, though Cynthia made sure that there was none.

“That’s quite an appetite she has!” said Bracken, impressed and not a little amused.  Justin smiled and then turned in his seat to face Mrs. Brisby and Timothy who sat next to her.

“So...  Was it a successful afternoon?”

“Yes, very,” replied Timothy, being a little more civilised with his food.  “I’m ready to start looking through my Dad’s notes.”

“Rather you than me!” said Justin, between mouthfuls.  “I’m told Jonathan was looking into some pretty deep matters and he was quite secretive about it.  He annoyed a lot of the scientific core by doing that, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Nicodemus was the only one he talked with in depth about his research.  He wasn’t one for speaking with the scientists much either.  Good luck with it.”

“Thanks,” said Timothy, toying with his food distractedly.

Justin now turned his attention to Teresa and Martin.

“So what do you think of the Valley so far?”

“It’s beautiful!” gushed Teresa, pausing in her meal.  “I can see exactly why Nicodemus wanted to come here.  It must be a wonderful sight in the summer!”

“Certainly impressive,” was Martin’s laconic summary.  There was a pause for consumption during which Leander, who was picking disconsolately at a piece of food that was before him, spoke.

“It’s those little seed things,” he explained glumly to anyone who would listen.  “You can’t get rid of them.”

“Do you want that then?” asked another rat next to him.  Leander stared at the roll before passing it across to the neighbour, who dug in heartily.  Timothy stood on his seat to reach across the table.  As he did so something caught his older brother’s eye.

“Timothy!” hissed Martin nodding at his younger brother’s chest.  Timothy looked down and saw that the Stone hung from his shirt.  He quickly tucked it back, hoping no one had seen it.  Luckily it seemed no one had.

“Heh, the Brisby children are putting us to shame!” said a laughing guardsrat.  Others chuckled as they followed his gaze.  Cynthia was demolishing mounds of food and bowl after bowl of apple juice.

“How’s the meal?” Justin asked her.

“Greaf!” mumbled Cynthia, trying to answer with her mouth full.

“Cynthia!” her mother admonished, though everyone around the table laughed.

“So are all the rats here?” asked Teresa, looking around at the assembled crowd. 

“I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the whole colony had turned out,” agreed Mrs. Brisby, craning her neck to try and peer over the surrounding diners.  Almost at once she caught sight of a familiar, but not necessarily welcome, face.

One family seemed to be eating alone.  Mrs. Brisby recognised Christine and Hugo from earlier, Jenner’s wife and son.  There were two other rats with them on the table, two young girls though one was obviously little more than an infant.  They ate quietly, talking amongst themselves, though no other rats seemed to try and engage them in conversation.  For a brief moment, Mrs. Brisby felt a pang of sympathy for them.  It passed as Hugo caught her eye and she looked away quickly, sitting down and resuming her meal.

“I wonder where the Mice of NIMH have got to?” asked Martin, turning back to his food and beginning to take a bite.  However Justin’s reply stopped his hand mid way to his mouth.

They’re sitting over there,” he said, his voice lowered.

Mrs. Brisby looked in the indicated direction.  The seven mice were all there, and were even accompanied by a couple of rats who were talking animatedly with the mouse’s leader.  Fraus himself picked at food with his right hand as he talked, the others ate more hungrily and so added to the conversation only irregularly.  Spiro sat, arms folded, watching the others talk and feed.  Does the creature not eat? Mrs. Brisby wondered.  As if hearing her thoughts, she watched Spiro’s head turn slowly to face her.  The mouse’s cheeks lifted.  Was he smiling at her?  She dropped the morsel she had been eating and sat back down, holding her head.  However she looked up again at a groan from Cynthia.  The little mouse was staring unfocussed about her.

“I feel funny,” she mumbled.

“What’s wrong Cynthia?” asked Mrs. Brisby urgently.  Her mind went to Spiro.  Her stomach twisted at possible meanings for his ‘smile’.  Had he poisoned the food?  Was that why he wasn’t eating it?

“Indigestion?” asked Leander lightly.

“Cynthia!” asked Mrs. Brisby urgently, leaving her seat to go to her child.

“Ah!” said Justin, sniffing at Cynthia’s drinking bowl.

“What is it?” asked Martin, looking a little concerned.  Justin smiled awkwardly as he explained.

“It seems that instead of helping herself to the juice, Cynthia has been drinking the Valley Ale!”  In support, Cynthia gave a loud hiccup.  Mrs. Brisby let out a long sigh of relief at the simple explanation.

“Oh dear,” she said, stroking Cynthia’s head.

“Can I try some?” asked Timothy.

“No!” said Mrs. Brisby forcefully.  Cynthia grinned lopsidedly and hiccupped again.

“Blimey!” said Leander.  “She was drinking enough of that to put me under the table!”

“So she can out-drink you as well as out-brawl you, eh Leander?” called Bracken.

Amongst the laughs that followed another voice put in,

“Maybe we should have her for the Home Guard as well.”

“Funny, Brutus.  Did Arthur fit that new sense of humour for you?” was all Leander could say in reply.

Conversation broke off as Cynthia, with a contented sigh, swayed and toppled backwards off her chair.  Bracken caught her just before she hit the ground.  He laughed.

“She’ll be right as rain come morning.  The ale is good stuff, she’ll just need to sleep it off.”

“We’ll take her back to the room,” said Mrs. Brisby shaking her head.

“Aw, Mum!” said Martin, still pushing food into his mouth.  “Can’t we stay a bit longer?”

“No.” she said, looking briefly at the other table of mice.  “We’ll go.  Thank you Justin.”

“I’ll come,” said Bracken, carrying the now gently snoring Cynthia.

“No, I’ll do it,” said Justin.  “I haven’t had a proper rest in days, but right now I feel as if I could go to sleep on my nose.”  Carefully Cynthia was transferred to his waiting arms.

“I wouldn’t want to be a bother,” said Mrs. Brisby.

“It’s no bother at all.  Honestly,” Justin assured her with a grin.

As Mrs. Brisby and her children left with Justin, eyes watched them go.  Someone had noticed the Stone at the meal, and someone hatched a plan.

On returning to the quarters the mice quickly realised they had been ready for sleep.  The rat’s rations had been quite a feast to them.  They collapsed gratefully onto their bedding, Cynthia being carefully set down by Justin, who then bid them goodnight and shut the door.  Martin extinguished the lantern and with their bellies full they soon fell fast asleep.  That is, until much later.

Timothy woke into darkness.  He still lay amongst the bedding in his family’s room.  It was warm and comfortable surrounded by the sound and smell of his sleeping family.  He wondered what had woken him.  He curled himself tighter, the warmth of the bedding enveloping him.  Then there was a sound.  A faint metallic click.  Timothy’s eyes snapped open and he tried to orientate himself in the dark.  The sound came again... from the door.  His mind raced.  The only parts of the door that were metal were the hinges and the lock.  Was Justin entering to check on them or...?  Someone was tampering with the lock!  There was a metallic rasping and a deeper, but not louder, click and Timothy became aware of the well-oiled hinges of the door coming into use.  The door was opening.  He clasped his hands around the Stone that he still wore around his neck.  What should he do?  Should he reach out for the lantern, try to light it?  Would taking action prompt the intruder to do the same?  He realised he was holding his breath, terrified of making even the smallest sound.  Timothy used his whiskers, he definitely felt movement in the air, though could still only smell the comfortable, warm scent of his sleeping family.  The juxtaposition of something safe and good with the raw terror he was feeling made his stomach turn with nausea.

Something alerted him to the fact there was a light source, the faintest of illumination showing through the partially open door.  He caught movement out of the corner of his eye, only a fleeting shadow but enough to draw his attention.  Something was in the room.

Timothy realised his actions in the next few seconds would dictate the fate of himself and his family.  Teresa had fallen asleep nearest the door.  The interloper would find her first.  What did they intend?

As if in answer, the Stone around Timothy’s neck glowed, flashing briefly in the darkness.  The weak light caught something, outlining its shape in the dark.  It was metallic, long and shiny.  A blade!  Timothy had caught its undulating edge in the darkness.  Whoever was in the room was planning murder!  There was another movement.  The silence and darkness was oppressive, pressing in on Timothy, making him unable to think.  Then he caught it.  A ragged intake of breath, drawn out to try and quieten it.  Timothy did the one thing he could, an animal reaction, though it was his only course.  He screamed.  It was an uncontrolled sound of terror in the darkness.  There was a crash from across the room, quickly followed by a slam of the door.  Then there was another cry, from the other room where Justin slept.  Timothy could feel his family waking around him.  Their confused voices came to him from the morass.

“What the...?”

“Timothy?  Timothy!?  Where are you?”

“Where’s the light?”

There was the sound of flint being struck and a taper being lit.  The room slowly faded into sight along with the warm illumination of the lantern.

“Who screamed?” asked Martin, shaking the taper to extinguish it.

“Timothy, what’s wrong?” said Mrs. Brisby, clambering nearer to her child.

“There was someone here, just now.”  Timothy was staring in fear at the door, mumbling his words.  “They had a sword.  But...  Justin!  I heard a cry from the other room.  Something might have happened to Justin!”

Martin grabbed the lantern and crossed to the door and flung it open.  In the gloom of the next chamber they saw a shape lying on the floor.  Martin raised the lantern and he clearly saw a rat was sprawled amongst the papers on the study floor.

“It is Justin!” cried Martin and rushed forward.  The others followed too.  Teresa blinked disbelievingly at the fallen Justin.

“Is he...?”
  In answer there was a long groan from the rat.  Martin tried to roll Justin onto his back, but needed the help of the others.  Mrs. Brisby then tried to raise his head, but Justin yelped.


“Justin?  Are you okay?” asked Mrs. Brisby.

“No,” he grunted and tried to move.  “Ah, my head.”

“What happened?” asked Teresa.  Justin spoke through gritted teeth.

“I heard a cry and that woke me up.  But as soon as I was standing something hit me.  Winded me.  As I fell I caught my head on the bench.”  His eyes widened looking around at the mice.  “Are you all okay?  Is anyone hurt?  Who screamed?”

“It was me,” said Timothy.  “Someone was in our room.  They had a blade.”

“Who?” asked Justin rising to his elbows, now ignoring the pain.
  “I didn’t see them,” mumbled the young mouse.

“I have a feeling...” the last words were lost as Justin heaved himself up to his feet.  He braced himself against the desk, his hand going to his head.  “Stay here; lock the door.”

He handed Teresa a key and then made his way to the study’s exit, noticeably unsteady.  When he was through the door Teresa locked it.

“What do you think he’ll do to the mice?” asked Cynthia.  No one responded.

Justin staggered through the darkened corridors.  Lanterns were extinguished at night to conserve their supply of fuel, though a few still burned.  His mind raced as he half stumbled, half ran, though with each step his head cleared.  How dare the mice try something like this!  How dare they!  Right under the noses of the rats, in the heart of their home.  He didn’t care which one it was, but at least one of them was going to pay dearly for the infringement.  He pictured one or two of the more likely suspects.

Down stairs, along more murky corridors.  He neared the council-offices-to-be that were the Mice of NIMH’s quarters.  He slowed his pace, expecting...


“Richard!”  Justin replied to the sentry.  He had made sure someone patrolled this particular area, the only exit, very closely at night.  During the day the mice could wander freely; there were enough rats around, but at night he afforded them special attention.  Justin did not waste time.  “Did you see any of those mice come into, or out of that room?”

“Nothing Justin,” responded Richard.  “No one’s moved!”

“You sure you saw no one?”

“And you are sure they were all in there come evening?”

“Absolutely.  All seven accounted for.”

Justin was still unconvinced.  He almost leapt forward, pushing himself off tunnel walls in his haste to get to the Mice of NIMH’s quarters.  Halting before the door he began pounding ferociously on the wood.

“Come in,” came the voice from the room beyond, though Justin had barely waited for the reply.  Wasting no time on subtlety he burst into the room where Fraus was waiting, fully dressed, ready to greet him.  The mouse stood, as always, grinning, both arms clasped behind his back.

“Justin.  Good evening.  How can I help you?” he said.

Justin ignored the question, instead looking around the room.  There were the bunks that the rats had installed for their visitors.  A pile of equipment and discarded rags in the corner.  The various members of the band were looking at him quizzically obviously disturbed from sleep.  The mouse named Stave was sitting at a bench at the far end of the room, he appeared to have been reading from a book.  Justin counted the mice.  Six!  He took in their faces.  There was one very distinct face missing.

“Is something wrong?” asked Fraus, his expression one of concern.  Justin dragged his attention back to the mouse.

“Where’s Spiro?” growled Justin.

Fraus said nothing, though Justin caught a movement out of the corner of his eye.  Turning he saw that the rags were watching him.  A dead eye was on him, a bright pinprick of light also, from the shadowed side of Spiro’s face.  He also noticed that the mouse, as he sat almost unmoving in the dark corner of the room, was playing with a vicious knife.  Its long, straight blade caught the light as it moved this way and that.  Justin gritted his teeth, though he’s not sure whether it’s to suppress a sneerof contempt or ice along his spine.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” smiled Fraus.  Justin was about to reply when Brutus charged into the room, pausing to catch his breath.

“Justin!” he said.  “We caught him!”

Hugo knelt in the centre of the small and otherwise empty chamber.  It was a hastily cleared room in the unfinished lower levels of the colony.  Although not meant for the purpose it was quite an adequate cell.  The lantern highlighted his dark pelt, so much like Jenner’s... his father’s.  His head rested on his chest, his arms held limp at his sides.  As the door opened he raised his head.  Justin and Brutus entered, their faces grim.  Hugo dropped his gaze to the floor once again.

“I hope you can explain yourself, Hugo,” said Justin.

Hugo said nothing, did nothing.  Justin continued to look down at the young rat with blazing eyes, the silence stretching on.

“We found this on him,” said Brutus, offering a blade to Justin.  The leader of the rats looked at it.  It was Jenner’s blade.  Its undulating cutting edge was all too familiar.

“Your father’s sword,” said Justin, taking the weapon and hefting it.  “Where did you get it?” asked Justin. Any sympathy he may have had for the boy was gone now.  Hugo raised his head.

“I’ll never tell you...  You killed him.”

Everything that had happened had taken its toll of the Leader of the Rat’s patience.  Something inside Justin snapped.

“This is the blade that killed Sullivan!  This is the blade that was responsible for the death of Nicodemus!  Your father was responsible for two deaths that night!  Now you were going to add to that total!”

“No!” cried Hugo, looking up defiantly at Justin.  “No.  I wasn’t planning murder.  I’m not a killer!”

“Then what were you doing?”  Such was Justin’s tone Brutus tensed ready to restrain his former captain if need be.  Hugo struggled with the words.

“I... I wanted the Stone.  My father talked of it often.  I thought...” Hugo trailed off but locked eyes with Justin.

At that moment there was an excited chatter from outside.  Brutus left, throwing a quick look at Justin.  After a brief discussion, he returned.

“Justin.  It’s Christine.  She says she wants to speak to her son.”

Justin nodded and breathed deeply.  As he turned to leave he said in calmer tones,

“You are under arrest and confined to this room, Hugo.  I don’t know what will happen to you.  That is for the entire council to decide.”  He left, followed by Brutus.  A moment later, Christine entered the cell.  The young rat smiled up at his mother.  Her face remained set.  She waited for the door to be closed before she made her way over to her son.

“Mother...  Please.  Make them listen...” he began.  His words were cut short as she landed a stinging slap on his face.  He nearly toppled over sideways.  When he looked up again his eyes were watering.

“But... I...” he mumbled in confusion. 

“You’ve been a fool!  What were you trying to do?”

“I...” This was totally unexpected.  He didn’t know what to say.  He started again, “I wanted vengeance.  Father died because of them, because of the Stone.  You remember how he spoke of it!  It was their fault!  The Stone must be destroyed.  I thought you’d want this!”

“Want this?” she replied incredulously.  “Want this!?  Have you heard nothing of what I told you?  Didn’t you think what your actions would lead to?  What did you hope for?”  She stopped briefly.  When Christine addressed her son again, she too had tears in her eyes.

“Why didn’t you stop to think before acting...?  There is not a day that passes by that I don’t wish for your father to hold me once again in his arms, but Jenner is gone, and with him went our standing in the colony.  They all say we are forgiven, but even you can’t have missed their cold stares, the hushed words.  We’re outcasts in our own home.  We...” she broke off, her hand flying to her mouth to stifle the distress.  Hugo’s stomach tightened as he watched his mother, usually so calm and so patient, break down like this.  Even without her words he understood.

“I’ve let you down,” his voice was broken with emotion.  He didn’t know what else to say.  He winced as his mother explained, each word feeling like a blow to his chest.

“No.  I had no chance of regaining acceptance within the colony.  I stood by Jenner to the last and have resigned myself to my fate.  I thought if I were to bear their anger, their spite, then my family would be spared.  You have not only let me down!  You’ve doomed you and your sisters to the same hell!”  She was screaming now, all composure gone.  “You can’t bring him back.  You have only me and your sisters.  When Jenner died, he left you to take care of us.  I needed you to be responsible for them...”  In a whisper, “Now you’ve failed them.”

Christine whirled around and knocked on the door.  After a moment the guard outside began to ease it open, but with a hand she held it shut, changing her mind about leaving.  She whispered for another moment in the cell and the door shut again.  Dabbing her eyes with her wrist she turned around.

“What have I done?”  Hugo mumbled to himself, full realisation flooding his mind.  How could he have been so foolish?  His stomach lurched again as he thought of the consequences his actions would have for his family.


At his mother’s gentle voice Hugo raised burning eyes to meet Christine’s.  She put the ball of her hand to each of her eyes and was composed again, her words calm, almost without emotion.  In a way it was more terrible than her unbridled rage.

“I am still your mother and you are still my son.  I will do what I can for you.”  She kissed her son’s forehead and then left quickly, without any hesitation.  Hugo watched her go, his heart aching to be held by his mother.  What had he done?  He fell sideways...  Thoughts of his father, his family, the shame.  His body was wracked with silent sobs.  What had he done?

Justin eventually returned to his quarters where the Brisby mice were waiting.  He explained what had happened and that everything was now under control.  Now that the one responsible had been caught it made returning to sleep easier.  Time passed and slowly the colony settled back down into what remained of the night.  However some would not feel the embrace of slumber for some time yet...

“I hear you were bothering the mice in the night!”

The voice made the Mrs. Brisby sit up as she was drifting between sleep and waking.  Her children, exhausted by anxiety, had fallen back to sleep again quickly, and they stirred but did not seem to wake.  She sat up silently, still partly in the throes of slumber, to listen to the words from the next room.

“Keep your voice down,” Justin hissed.  “We have guests.”

“Explain yourself!” demanded the other, their voice only lowered slightly.  Mrs. Brisby recognised it.  It was the rat from the council chamber, Augustus.

“I wanted to check...” Justin started.

“...To see if they were unharmed, or to see if they were responsible?” cut in the other’s voice.

“If you would let me finish...?” asked Justin, followed by a silence.  “I was checking that they had not had a similar experience.  Some of our number may have reason to attack the mice.”

“What drivel!” sneered Augustus.  “You were as good as accusing them.  Good old Justin, as soon as there’s trouble you leapt straight to the wrong conclusion.”

“It could have been anyone who ran in there.”

“But you should not have been that individual.  What did you think you were doing?  What is the Home Guard there for?  This cavalier attitude of yours will get us into serious trouble, Justin.  Remember the colony succeeds or fails depending on your decisions. There are many who would support me in a vote of no confidence should I wish to tell them about your charging about the valley, threatening our guests.”

There was a pause before Justin said,

“You know it wasn’t like that.”

Augustus’ voice took on a conspiratorial whisper.

“Quite... but don’t think I am ignorant about how protective of that other mouse you are.  Others have noticed it too.  You think we owe her something.”

“She saved us from NIMH.  We all owe her our lives!”

“That may be so, but now she is jeopardising our existence here by clouding your judgement, making you act like a feral.  Look at you.  Have you slept at all in the last few days?”

Justin said nothing as Augustus continued.

“You are a mess.  You’re office is in disarray, and I know it was like this before Hugo was ever near here.  He probably tidied.  It is no way for our leader to act.  Nicodemus would be appalled; the council is appalled; I am appalled.  I will raise this at the next council meeting.  Good night, Justin.”

There was the sound of footsteps and then the door closing.  Then all was quiet.

In the darkness of the next room Mrs. Brisby hugged her knees, biting her lower lip.  Now it seemed even the rats were against her.  Slowly, she lowered her head so that it rested on her knees.

“Jonathan...” she whispered to herself.

Chapter 12: The Augur & the Valley

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.

“Cynthia!  Timothy!”

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.

“Anybody home?”

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?”

 “But, I’ve...”

 “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.

“I’m fine.”

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.

“My shoulder.”

“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.

Chapter 13: The Eternal Night of the Tunnels

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.

Jonathan Brisby.


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.

“Who’s that?”

“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.

“How exactly?”

Warren averted his eyes, gazing into the darkened woodland, letting the silence linger.

“Please, Warren.”

“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?”

Warren hesitated.

“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.

“Fraus!  I...”

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...

Chapter 14: The Secret of the Stone

Back in Timothy’s study the lantern was burning low.  Timothy had read a large portion of his father’s notes, though there were still many pages to go.  Snacks that he had brought with him were long gone.  His head rested on his arms and he dozed.  His mind was crammed with information gleaned from his father’s book.  Slowly he slipped into a deep sleep.  Unseen against his chest, the Stone glowed...

A grey mouse wandered down the tunnel.  He wore a close fitting shirt and tunic in dark green.  It didn’t hide a dark patch of fur on his left leg.  His gait was confident, but it would have been obvious to any watchers that he was not totally at ease.  The walls around him were lit by little electric lights and the floor beneath his feet was carpeted.

“Jonathan!”  The voice rumbled from the shadows of the tunnel as its owner approached the mouse.  The little creature, dwarfed by the hulking rat, nevertheless stared back defiantly.

“Jenner.  What do you want?”

The rat, Jenner, his dark pelt shimmering in the soft electric light continued in oily tones.  All the while he grinned, eyes twinkling beneath thick eyebrows.

“Now, now.  Is that any way to talk to an old comrade?”

“Get on with it,” barked Jonathan, obviously not content to play the other’s game.  Jenner twisted his face into a mockery of hurt.

“I just wanted to ask how your research is going, my little friend?”

“None the better for your concern, Jenner,” retorted Jonathan, trying to hurry along.  Jenner stopped him, placing a thick arm across the tunnel.

“I was wondering if I could offer my services and that of the secretariat.  We should help each other out.  After all, we are one big happy family!”  He put his other arm around Jonathan as he laboured over the last four words, savouring them.

“Get your claws away from me!” snarled Jonathan, pushing Jenner’s huge paw away from him with visible effort.  “My research was not welcomed by the scientific council at its conception, and so it will not be shared now, not until it is completed.  You and your lackeys can go hungry for information on this occasion.”

Ducking below Jenner’s arm the mouse stormed off into the Rosebush’s labyrinthine corridors leaving the rat alone.  In the twilight of the tunnels Jenner bared his teeth, grinning from ear to ear.

“As you wish...”

Jonathan rebuffing Jenner's offer
Art by Procyon

Arthur looked up from his work as someone entered his workshop.

“Jonathan!” he called whilst turning back to his work.

“How are you, Arthur?” Jonathan asked, stepping around the clutter of the workshop.

“Fine, fine,” Arthur’s head bobbed up and down as he worked.  “How’s the wife?”

“Very well, thanks.”

“And those children of yours?”

Jonathan laughed as he replied.

“They’re both so big now!  They grow so fast.  We’ve got more on the way too.”

“Grand!  Hold on...” said Arthur turning around.  He was holding a door hinge assembly with a pair of metal tongs.  They were glowing bright orange.  With a squeal of steam he dipped them into a nearby water bucket.  Then he placed the metal hinge on a nearby desk that was already laden with a partially dismantled electric motor.  He pulled off his gauntlets, setting those down too.  “There now.  I suppose you’ve come for your commission.”

“I have,” replied Jonathan. “Is it ready?”

“Oh yes.  Patrick had great fun.  It required him to do everything he’s good at but much smaller, it was quite challenging in its way.”  Arthur crossed to a rack of blades at took up one that looked very small in his hands.  “How’s that?” he said, holding it out to Jonathan.  The mouse took the weapon and swung it experimentally.  The perfectly balanced blade sang as air rushed passed its fine cutting edge. 

“Perfect!” Jonathan said as he examined the shining metal.

“There’s a scabbard too of course.”  Arthur retrieved it and threw it to the mouse as well.  Jonathan caught it with his free hand as Arthur went on.  “It’s carved beech wood, lacquer finish.  Chestnut skin lining inside, same thing’s on the handle of the sword.  It’ll last you.”

“Great,” said Jonathan. 

“Your wanting that sword wouldn’t have anything to do with Jenner, would it?  Everyone ahs been talking about his behaviour in the council.”

Jonathan slipped the sword into its scabbard.  The metal blade glided into place with a click.

“It might,” the mouse replied and changed the subject.  “Did you manage to do that other thing for me?”

Certainly.  Arthur retrieved a soft cloth bag and handed it to Jonathan.  The mouse peered inside and grinned.

“A present for your wife?” Arthur asked.

“You could say that I suppose,” said Jonathan, tying up the bag. 

“It’s about time you got here!”

Jonathan shrugged at Mr. Ages as he placed his travelling cloak on a hook near the door.  He had changed his clothes and now wore a simple loose fitting shirt with short sleeves.  Grinning Jonathan explained,

“Sorry.  I had to pick up some of the final pieces.”

“Right, right,” replied Mrs Ages bustling about his laboratory.  “What have you done to your hand, my boy?”

Jonathan flexed his left hand that was tightly bound in a bandage.

“Just slipped, that’s all.  It’s nothing serious.”

“Hmmm,” mumbled Mr. Ages, accepting the explanation.  “Well everything’s finally ready here.  However wouldn’t it have been a great deal simpler to have used the Rosebush kilns?”

“Easier maybe.”  Jonathan strode forward carrying a small, but apparently heavy, sack.  “But not safer.  This will take time, and I can’t afford to leave this lying around the Rosebush,” he lifted the sack slightly.  “So that leaves your workshop, especially as a rat would have trouble getting in here.”

“You’re getting paranoid, boy,” admonished Mr. Ages.  He opened a door that led from his lab.  On pressing a switch, dim bulbs flickered into life.

“Paranoia doesn’t suffice around Jenner.  I simply can’t afford any complications now.”

Ages laughed mirthlessly as the pair wound through the ancient threshing machine.  The electric lights were situated throughout the entire corridor, dim as they were.  Outside it was dark so no sunlight could filter into the machine’s depths and light their way.  They came upon another door that Mr. Ages opened.

“This took me a great deal of time so...”

“Don’t touch anything...” they said in unison, and then Jonathan continued, “right.  Not until you’ve told me what it all does.  You’re forgetting I designed it.”

“But I built it!  After the rats had dug the hole and left all the delicate bits were down to me and I’ll dance in the council chamber before I let you go ignorantly fiddling with anything in here,” he ducked inside and Jonathan followed.

They were in a spacious room lit by further, brighter, electric lights.  It was smaller than Jonathan’s house, though taller.  There were no windows for now they would be beneath the threshing machine, underground.  It was a circular chamber, the walls braced with strong wooden beams.  In the centre was a complex assortment of tubes and pipes, all built into a raised cylinder, a yellow glow emanating from the top.  Tendrils of smoke snaked upwards through a vent set in the ceiling.  Some of the tubes coiled across the floor and led to a wall-mounted box that sported various levers.  Beside was a shelf that had stacks of various items.  Jonathan crossed to this, emptying the bag on its top surface.  He took another soft cloth bag from his belt and put that to one side and then began to sort the items from the first sack.  They were small lumps of rock, all different textures, colours and formations.  He gathered up a small pile or select pieces.  Meanwhile Ages had crossed to the item in the centre and peered into the top, lifting his glasses to do so.

“The mould is all ready.  We can start when you want,” he said, shuffling back to the control box.

“Hmmm,” mumbled Jonathan inspecting a piece of what appeared to be quartz very closely.  Mr. Ages shook his head and examined the levers.  Pulling out a delicate tool from his work belt he began making final adjustments.

“What are you sorting there, lad?” he asked Jonathan as they both worked.

“Ingredients.  Herkimer, Rutile, Flourite, a bit of Adventurine...”

Mr. Ages waved a hand dismissively as the list continued.

“What’s that nonsense?  Talk in chemicals, for goodness sake.”

“Can’t.  I haven’t chosen them for their chemical properties,” said Jonathan, not looking up from his sorting.  “I wanted to avoid thinking like that in this instance.”

“You mean you’re going to put random stones into the mould,” Mr. Ages sounded horrified and turned to stare at the other mouse.  Jonathan shook his head.

“No, they’ve been carefully selected.”

“Not according to that pseudo-mystical claptrap, surely?”

Jonathan did not reply.  Mr. Ages shook his head again, though more vigorously to match his disbelief.  He couldn’t understand Jonathan at times, the lad made some very odd decisions in his work.  The pair settled into silence, getting on with their respective tasks.

Eventually Jonathan was satisfied and gathered up the select few stones.  He walked over to the central device, the mould as Mr. Ages had called it.  Then, one at a time, he began to drop the pebbles he had chosen into the yellow glow.  After a few of the stones had gone in, the yellow glow changed to green.  A few more and it seemed purple.  As the last of the pieces went in the glow became deep blue.

Jonathan glanced surreptitiously over his shoulder at Mr. Ages who was still busying himself adjusting the equipment.  Without turning away, Jonathan reached into his shirt and pulled out a small vial.  He removed the top and poured the viscous contents into the mould.  As he tucked the now empty vial back into his shirt he turned back to peer into the mould.  It was now a deep red glow that eminated form the depths.  The mouse stood for a moment and nodded before he crossed to Mr. Ages.

“Let it begin,” Jonathan said with a grin, and Mr. Ages glowered.

“That lever,” said Mr. Ages, indicating one on the far right, “begins the process.  Throw that lever if you’re sure.  These apply the pressure to the cast and must be used in a particular order.  Wait for my signal to throw them.  These will start the end phases and this one... aborts the moulding.”

“Let’s hope we don’t need it,” said Jonathan taking the first lever in his hand.  “Ready?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

Jonathan threw the first lever down.  There was a hum and the lights flickered and dimmed as electricity was diverted away.  The mould in the centre of the room gave off more smoke.  It was from here that the hum was originating.  The glow became fiercer, burning with an intensity of colour it did not have before.

“Those are the coils heating up,” explained Mr. Ages.  “When the system is at the correct internal temperature there will be a release of pressure.  This is both a precaution and a signal.  When you see the vents open up pull that lever.  I will pull this one.”

The mice looked on.  Smoke was pouring from the top of the mould now.  Jonathan looked at Mr. Ages but the old mouse shook his head.  They waited again.  A rattling began and then small vent around the base of the structure started to disgorge steam, a high pitched hiss was audible.

“Now!” cried Mr. Ages though Jonathan was already beginning to throw the lever.  A moment later as a second vent opened Mr. Ages threw his lever.  The rattling became louder for an instant, and there was the squeal of machinery under strain.

“That noise is the pressure chamber engaging,” Mr. Ages shouted over the din.  “The next phase is the application of the casts.”

“There’s no need for the running commentary,” Jonathan called back with a grin.  Mr. Ages grumbled something under his breath as he turned back to the machine.  The rattling had stopped and the vents still dribbled moisture.

“On three, pull those two,” said Ages, not taking his eyes from the mould.  “One...  Two...  Three!”

Four levers went down simultaneously.  There was a whirring from the mould and a grinding groan of metal on metal...  and then it went quiet. There was only the soft hiss of the vents.  Mr. Ages slumped.

“All right.  That’s it.  Leave it there as long as you want.  Begin the final phase and you can retrieve it.”

“Shouldn’t I leave it for some time...?  I mean it has to cool surely?” asked Jonathan, though Ages shook his head.

“It’s not necessary.  If the notes you sent me are anything to go by, setting will take no time at all.  There’s a cooling mechanism as well.  You shouldn’t even need gloves.”

Jonathan nodded and pulled the switch that Mr. Ages had indicated at the start.  There were more sounds from the mould.

“Thank you,” said Jonathan.

“Yes, yes.”  Mr. Ages waved his hand dismissively.  “Hurry up! I want to see if this has worked.”

Jonathan crossed to the mould and peered in.  He couldn’t see anything.  He turned to Ages with his mouth open, but old mouse interrupted him.

“Just wait.”

Jonathan turned back.  There was certainly activity somewhere below him.  Just then the steam vents began to fire randomly.  There was a click and whirr from the machine and a seal opened in its depths.  An orange glow illuminated Jonathan’s face, a dry heat making him wince.  Slowly the cast was rising from the depths, borne through the cylinder up towards him.  Reaching the top it clicked into position, filling the opening at the top of the cylinder, blocking the soft orange light.  The electric lights were still dimmed.  Carefully he brought his hands near to the dark metal.  It was warm but not unbearably so.  Gingerly he put his fingers into grooves on their sides and lifted.

What was inside the cast glowed red.  Placing the top half aside Jonathan looked at the fruit of his work.  Nestled in the remaining half of the cast was a smooth red stone.  It was giving off the strange light and in its depths was a delicate swirl of colour.  As he watched the light faded and the swirl disappeared.

“It sleeps!” breathed Jonathan reaching to take the Stone from the mould.  It was warm to the touch and slipped from the mould with ease.  He examined it closely, turning it over and over in his hands... but it was perfect.

“It worked!” he said distractedly to Ages.  The old mouse grinned.

“Splendid.”  Mr. Ages turned and flipped one last switch.  The lights sprang back on and the mould fell into silence.  Meanwhile Jonathan had taken the Stone over to the shelf.  He opened up the small cloth bag and removed a plain golden medallion.  One side was indented as if something should be set there.

“We’ll use my conventional kiln for that, I think,” said Ages peering around Jonathan.

“Thanks,” said the other mouse, still staring into the crimson depths of the Stone.  “Do you have a means to engrave as well?”

“Certainly,” replied Ages, collecting together any tools he had used and returning them to the pockets of his overall.

“Is it all right if I leave it here for a day or so?  I’m not going straight back to the Rosebush.”

“Yes, yes.  That’s fine.  Come on...” Mr Ages began to lead the way back out of the room.  Jonathan followed slowly, carrying the Stone with great care.

“You are sure you want this all dismantled now?” Mr. Ages asked the younger mouse as they walked.

“Yes, quite sure.  The risk of leaving it functioning is too great.  It must be destroyed in case others should find it.”

“As you say.  But what if that one is no good?”  Mr. Ages waved a finger at the red jewel in Jonathan’s hands.  Jonathan slowly shook his head.  He still seemed far away.

“If this didn’t work then it will be some time before I attempt another, if at all.  All my research hinges on this stone.”

“You still have not told me exactly what it does.”

Jonathan grinned.

“It opens the door...”

“How is that young son of yours?  Thomas?”

“Timothy,” corrected Jonathan.  He worried about Mr. Ages.  These mistakes, the little slips of mind, were becoming more frequent and far more obvious.

“Timothy, yes,” Mr. Ages hand went to his forehead.  “Is he over that spider bite?”

“I believe so, your medicine was very effective.  Though he’s been under the weather again.  I just hope it’s not serious.”

The pair were walking through the cavernous halls of the Rosebush.  Mr. Ages wore his usual work apron, while Jonathan wore a cloak.

“And your younger daughter?  How is she these days?” asked Mr. Ages.

“Cynthia is fine as well...” replied Jonathan.

“Her recovery was nothing short of miraculous give the circumstances, wouldn’t you say?”  Mr. Ages cocked an eyebrow at Jonathan, though the other mouse made no reply.

“How about your research?” asked the older mouse.

“The end is in sight.  There’s much I do not know, but before much longer I’ll be able to bring my findings before the council.”

Mr. Ages nodded, but did not enquire further.

As they reached the large doors to the council chamber Jonathan threw back his cloak and adjusted something attached to his belt.

“You’re not taking that into the council chamber?” asked Mr. Ages, seeing what Jonathan was toying with.

Jonathan looked down at his sword.

“Is Jenner attending the meeting?” he asked.

“You’re not expecting to have to use it, surely?” asked Mr. Ages.

“You never know with Jenner,” said Jonathan in all seriousness.

Mr. Ages raised his eyebrows, looking away in resignation.

“Don’t worry.  I have a modicum of self control.  It’s him I’m worried about,” finished Jonathan.

“I doubt Nicodemus would approve,” Mr. Ages muttered.  They pushed at the great doors and entered the council chamber of the Rosebush.

The entire council and many of the other rats had turned out.  It was reaching a critical stage in the plan and it was important to keep everyone informed of developments.  A rat in flowing council robes was stalking back and forth across the speaker’s floor.  As he walked, he addressed those present.

“In a few days, a large majority of the food supplies will be taken to Thorn Valley.  This will of course require the farmer’s cat to be drugged.  Jonathan, will you undertake this task.”

Jonathan rose.  He always would agree, and now was no exception.  The plan must succeed and this was part of his role in it.  Being asked whether he would help now was simply a formality.

“I will,” he said, the speaker nodding in acknowledgement.  The rat now turned to face another of those present as Jonathan sat down again.

“Justin, have you chosen an escort for the convoy?”

“The Home Guard is standing by,” said the Captain from where he was leaning against a wall at the side of the chamber.

“Why do we waste supplies and resources on this futile endeavour?  The Plan will surely fail!”  This voice had come from the far end of the hall, though its owner was making his way to the centre of the floor.  His cape billowed with every stride he took.  The first speaker stopped and turned to the new arrival,

“Your feelings on this matter are well known, Jenner, and oft lamented.  We are inextricably committed to the Plan.”

There was a titter from a few of those present and Jenner ground his teeth before barking out more words.

“All I ask is that we take out time to think this through before the final stages are under way; before we embark irrevocably on this errant venture.”

“So much has already been done,” replied the other rat, “but delays now, with these supplies, would mean crops are not ready.  We will miss the season and the move to Thorn Valley will be delayed for another year...”

“We cannot afford such delays,” rasped Nicodemus.  The rat, eyes glowing above a flowing white beard, sat hunched in a chair at the end of the council chamber, presiding over the meeting.  His staff rested nearby.  Jenner meanwhile listened intently, then bellowed,

“What is the hurry?  We have everything we need here.  A delay of another year will do no harm.”

“You cannot be sure of that,” admonished Nicodemus.  “What of NIMH...?”

“What of them?” Jenner rounded on the frail leader, stabbing the air with his finger.  “They are far in our past and should not be of any concern to us.”

“You miss the point of the plan, Jenner,” Nicodemus shook his head slightly, taking a deep breath in preparation for speaking.  The hall had gone deathly silent to listen to the revered rat.  “It is not to escape NIMH, or any humans, that we must move to Thorn Valley.  It is to escape our old way of life.  We must not subsist off the back of humans like parasites.  It is necessary to completely remove all vestiges of our former and present existence.  We must create a new future born entirely of our own ingenuity!”

“How will we survive in the wilderness without much of what we see around you?” Jenner countered.

“We did so in the past, we shall learn to do so again,” replied Nicodemus simply. 

Jenner sneered, though quickly hid the expression. “Before we didn’t have the knowledge we do.  We didn’t have the use of electricity and motors.”

“That is why we must move,” Nicodemus sounded insistent now.  “There will be no electricity in the valley save for what we produce ourselves.  And the motors will have to be destroyed, as will this settlement.”

“No!” roared Jenner, spinning about, appealing to the others present.  “Madness!  We should at least leave the Rosebush intact in case we need to return here.  What if the new settlement is a failure?”

“If the Rosebush remains as it is we will always be tempted to return,” said Nicodemus, still addressing only Jenner.  “We would be better off without such temptation.  If we cannot support ourselves, use our own initiative, maybe we should fail.”

This drew a murmur from the council.

“You will doom us all,” spat Jenner over his shoulder.  Jonathan decided to speak up in defence of his old friend.

“Not all of us are afraid to survive outside the pampered existence here, Jenner.”

Jenner turned to the mouse and grinned, narrowing his eyes, advancing on Jonathan.

“You’re no doubt referring to your little feral family?  A brood of lower creatures living in a hole is exactly what I am trying to avoid!”

“Jenner!” called the chair-rat, though it was too late.  Jonathan’s hand crept towards the hilt of his sword.  He gripped the handle, staring into Jenner’s eyes.  The rat was very close to Jonathan now, close enough to notice what Jonathan was doing, and he grinned back, almost whispering as he said, “Strike me then!  It will be a tale for your half-blood children!”

There was a glint of metal as Jonathan began to draw his sword.


Jenner turned to the voice with another sneer.  Nicodemus made his way onto the speaker’s floor.  He clung to his staff for support, limping towards Jonathan and Jenner.  His eyes were shimmering with gold light as he said, “There will be no bloodshed in the Court of the Rosebush!  Conflict of this kind is a human trait and something that is below us.”

Justin ran up to the mouse, putting hands on his shoulders.  “Jonathan, calm down,” he hissed into Jonathan’s ear.  Few other rats had been close enough to hear or see clearly much of what had just transpired.

“This bickering is wasting our time,” began Nicodemus again, “let us move on to other...”

Nicodemus’s shoulders shook as he stifled coughing.  Jenner grinned and bowed, backing away from his leader with arms spread, leaving Justin and Jonathan to aid Nicodemus.  Eventually the rat managed to compose himself.

“Help me back to my seat,” he whispered, his voice sounding raw.

They complied and returned Nicodemus to his place at the centre of the council.  He took no further part in the meeting, sitting and listening to discussion but not saying anything.  Jenner was also very quiet as he watched the meeting continue.  His gaze shifted often between Nicodemus and Jonathan Brisby.

“I worry about Jenner.  He’s becoming more vehement in his attacks of the plan,” Jonathan was saying as he and Justin helped Nicodemus back to the library and his study.  They were passing through the various halls and corridors of the Rosebush.  There were few rats here, most of them staying in the council chamber to discuss the morning’s meeting.

“His concern is not unfounded, the Plan has its risks,” Nicodemus said.  He paused for breath often as he spoke.  “He was a good friend of mine before NIMH... He will see the benefits soon enough.”

Jonathan scowled but was careful to hide it from the rats as he spoke,

“I think you need to be harder with him.  He’s taking liberties and being allowed to get away with them unopposed.  You must stand firm against him.”

“He will come around to popular opinion of his own accord.  Remember I allow you a certain degree of freedom too, Jonathan.”

Little else was said until they reached the library and Nicodemus’ study.  The frail rat gratefully lowered himself into his chair.  Justin excused himself, saying he had to begin organising the Home Guard for the upcoming mission.  Jonathan waited for the door to close before approaching Nicodemus, talking quietly near to the rat’s head.

“Nicodemus... can you look after something for me?”

“Certainly,” Nicodemus rasped.

“Jonathan untucked something from his tunic.  It was an amulet, a bright red stone attached to a golden chain.

“The Stone of Jonathan Brisby!” said Nicodemus with a hint of surprise.  “Why do you want me to look after it?”

“I fear it is not safe with me,” Jonathan explained.  “I will collect it in a few days, but for now, I won’t be able to guard it as I should.”

“I will keep it until you wish it returned,” whispered Nicodemus.  Jonathan lowered the gem into the rat’s outstretched hands.  Almost at once Nicodemus’ face changed.

“You have used it?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Jonathan.  “For my research.”

“No...” said Nicodemus, shaking his head and peering closely at the Stone.  “You have released much power.”

Jonathan hesitated before saying,

“I had to.”

“Had to, Jonathan?” asked Nicodemus.  His stare was penetrating, and Jonathan knew he had little choice.  He closed his eyes as he spoke.

“My youngest daughter...  I needed it to save her.”  He opened his eyes and met Nicodemus’ gaze.  “I couldn’t let her die!  There was no other way...”

There was something in the mouse’s eyes and voice that meant Nicodemus did not require further explanation about the circumstances.  That was not his concern.  However he did have to make sure Jonathan fully comprehended the situation.

“What has been done has been done for the best.  However what other, unexpected effects have there been?”  Nicodemus’ gaze was keen, inspecting Jonathan very closely as he answered.

“None that I can fathom.”  Jonathan returned the gaze, and Nicodemus seemed satisfied. Nearby a small box lifted from a desk and floated through the air towards the rat.  With care, Nicodemus opened the hovering casket and lowered the Stone onto the cushioned interior.  Unbidden the box then floated away, settling back onto the desk.  Nicodemus spoke,

“Well, I shall say no more.  It is your research and your family.  I shall not give counsel unless you ask for it.  I will however offer this warning.”  The mouse half turned, as if to signal his disproval, but Nicodemus continued regardless.  “Jonathan, be careful.  I still do not believe you fully appreciate what you are researching.  You have a unique mind, but I fear you still do not possess the respect you should have for the Stone and the energy it allows you to wield.”

“What do you mean?” asked Jonathan wearily.  He had nothing but admiration for Nicodemus, but sometimes he grew impatient with him.  Nicodemus smiled briefly.

“Surely you must realise that it is no small irony a hard scientist such as yourself is embroiled in research that many would label as sorcery or magic.”

“I am not a believer in magic!” Jonathan nearly shouted, but quickly composed himself.  “Any process or object that is poorly understood is easily labelled as magic,” he said with a dismissive wave.  “What I seek are facts.”

“Have you considered that what you are studying does not lend itself well to facts?”  Nicodemus raised an eyebrow.  “That it may not wish to be described as a series of facts?”

“You speak as if the Stone were alive,” on seeing Nicodemus’ expression Jonathan then added, “...and it is not.”

“It is not the Stone that I speak of... it is what the Stone taps.  I think it could possibly be the very essence of life, Jonathan.  I believe it may be the case that it cannot be understood as understanding it will irrevocably change its very nature.”

“You’re getting very close to speaking in riddles, my friend,” grinned Jonathan, but Nicodemus was still solemn.

“I merely wish no harm to come to you or those you cherish.  You have told me little, but it is enough and what you are dabbling in is potentially dangerous and incredibly powerful.  Your work could be beneficial, though the power is blind.  Good and evil do not exist except in the views and interpretations of creatures.  The fox does not hunt out of spite, but to its prey it is an evil against which there is little defence.  I realised this too late.  I thought I could discover the most profound of the power’s secrets, and look what it did to me!”

“You know what I thought about that!” said Jonathan turning away again, arms folded.

“The Great Owl, and the others were against it from the beginning.  It was not their fault.  I demanded it, and it bought me physical ruin!  I was careless, foolish, don’t let the same happen to you.”

Jonathan sighed and faced Nicodemus.  He never knew how to handle the Leader of the Rats when he was in one of these moods.

“Nicodemus, I value your counsel more than anybody’s...” the mouse trailed off, but Nicodemus had more to say, 

“I want desperately for your research to succeed.  Your legacy... it gives us hope.  But hope is a frail thing, Jonathan.  Grasp it with fervour and it may very well turn to dust in your hand.”

Jonathan nodded again, saying,

“Thank you my friend.  I will be careful.”  The rat smiled and Jonathan turned to go, pausing briefly to say, “Thank you for looking after the Stone, Nicodemus.”

As he reached the door, Jonathan turned at further words from the rat.

“I would make haste in informing your wife, Jonathan.  I fear that if you do not do so soon there will be regret.  And that regret may not be solely your own...”

Jonathan looked at the ruins of his study.  Someone had emptied every drawer, cleared every shelf.  Papers were littered everywhere, books and equipment were strewn about the floor.  He was not shocked.  He had expected as much.  Slowly he began to tidy the mess.  He found his glasses case and thankfully they were unbroken... unused.  He stacked books back on shelves except for one that he placed on his desk.  He did the best he could with what remained, anything that was beyond repair he placed to one side in a rough sack. The rats were careful about anything that was regarded as waste.

Seating himself at a desk Jonathan took looked at the book that he had kept aside and read the title.  ‘Energy Transmission, Conversion and Utilisation’.  Opening it towards the end revealed pages full of text.  Now opening his glasses case the mouse removed two pairs of glasses and clipped them together.  Perching them on his nose he returned to the pages of the book.  To him they now appeared quite blank.  Taking up a quill and a bottle of ink he began to write on these pages.  To any observing without the aid of the glasses the words seemed to glow golden for a moment as the quill passed over the page, the iridescence totally obliterating the original script.  Then slowly they faded into invisibility, leaving only the original letters on the page...


Just as a dynamo turns kinetic energy into electric energy so I hope the Stone will work in a similar fashion.  But with what resource of energy I am not sure.

There is a diffuse power or energy that permeates the world we know.  As is the fancy of a novice first dabbling in his chosen field I christened it the ‘Dream Ether’, however this somewhat romantic title has been popular with those I have spoken to.  Ironically, though the name was entirely whimsical, it may be closer to the truth than I could have ever imagined.

Although this energy store is encountered by all things on a daily basis, the only manifestation of the interaction for many seems to be through the medium of dreams.  It is this that has led me to hypothesise that maybe this energy reserve is linked to our own world, that the store is created in sympathy to events and actions in this world, a store of energy echoes if you will.  However the exact nature of the energy, its origin and purpose are unknown to me.

There are some in the forest that can knowingly tap this reserve.  They seem to resonate with the world around them, and are able to channel this energy to a particular ends.  This resonating effect is not solely a phenomenon of living organisms.  Any item can feasibly channel the energy.  Even certain minerals.  This has led me to create an artefact capable of accessing the reserve of energy.  The Stone.

Made from a combination of various minerals known to be active with this energy it allows a user to wield the unknown power.

The Stone has no power or will of its own just as there is no innate good or evil in nature.  Destruction can be beneficial, and creation can lead to harm.  It uses only what it is given.  Balance is critical.  It is the key to the door and so can only open it when used correctly.  What is found within is up to the one who wields the Stone.  The will to open the door must be strong and felt from the heart.  Without this the Stone will not draw any power.  However possession of one quality will not suffice.  Power without control is nothing.  Similarly the ability to control nothing is equally useless.  Both must be present together.  Commitment must be total and without question then, and only then, will the Stone unlock the power of the heart and be controlled by the one who wields it.  If this were not so, the effect could be potentially fatal.

This testing of will is exhausting for the user of the artefact and potentially dangerous, as it has been shown.  A period of lethargy or sickness following an unleashing of the energy should not be uncommon.  An extremely powerful release of energy could be lethal.  The darkness of the soul often leads to its own destruction


Jonathan looked up at a sound from the door.  Making sure the book was hidden and the glasses concealed he turned to the door.

“Come in!” he called.  Brutus opened the door, nodding in greeting.

“Jonathan.  It is time!” he rumbled.  Jonathan gave a slow nod of acknowledgement and Brutus shut the door.  Reseating his spectacles, Jonathan turned back to his book for a final time.


Just as the body returns to the soil, so the mind returns from whence it came.  Such is the cycle that has continued since the beginning.

But the humans have disrupted that natural order.  The forests of man, with their towers of stone, are nothing but cages of death.  Nothing is created there.  Life is sucked in then destroyed.  There is no cycle; there can be no true life there.  I hope that one day, my work may change that.


He removed the glasses, watching the last of the golden letters fade away.  The glasses were returned to the separate compartments of the glasses box; he then replaced the book back on the shelf.  It looked just like any of the others; there was nothing to mark it as special in any way.  As he readied to leave he reached for his travelling cloak.  His hand stopped before he reached it.  Not today; he wouldn’t take it today.

Locking the door behind him he followed Brutus along the tunnels of the Rosebush.

The pair reached the outer door to the colony.  Brutus pushed it open, and they ducked between the twisted throng of thorns.  There was a rustling from the depths of the bush, though nothing else.

“Here’s where I must leave you Jonathan,” said Brutus.  “We intend to move a large amount tonight.  All the guards that can be spared will be required to guard the convoy.”

“I understand,” said Jonathan.

“Will you be okay alone?”

“Of course,” replied Jonathan, checking the drug pouch for leaks, though it was sealed tight.  “Don’t worry Brutus, I’ve done this before, I’ll be fine.”

Brutus nodded and hurried across the farmyard, being careful to keep a lookout for Dragon.  The cat was still prowling about at this time, and would be near the farmhouse, ready to be fed by the farmer.  The rat made his way towards the back entrance of the colony, where the band of rats that would transport food and other supplies to Thorn Valley were waiting.  Jonathan watched him go and then went the other way, towards the farmhouse.  The sky was clouded, blotting out the moon and stars, so there was little to guide him.  Only the angular pools of light cast from the house’s windows allowed Jonathan to navigate.

He made his way along the wall, making for the west side and the hole in the foundations that would allow him access to the kitchen.  He ran over the layout in his mind.  It was true he had done this often enough before, though it was still a very dangerous task.

Jonathan was concentrating so hard on this that he failed to notice a large shadow follow him along the line of the wall.  As the mouse disappeared into the dark beneath the farmhouse, so it was a moment later that another creature crept after him.

Jonathan left his shirt beneath the kitchen.  It constricted movement and might get caught.  Better not to take the chance.  Clutching the envelope of sleeping draught to him he slowly climbed through the hole in the floor, into the kitchen.  Waiting below the dresser he watched the farmer place the cat food on the floor and turn away, strange as the farmer rarely dealt with feeding the cat.  It didn’t matter; a moment later he saw his chance and darted out onto the slick floor tiles.  He kept his footing and, on reaching the food bowl tore open the drug packet and scattered it into the food.  Not wasting a moment he scrambled back onto the floor, making headlong for the cabinet.  There was a cry from the farmer.

“A mouse!  Quick, get that cat in here!”

Jonathan cursed.  He had been too slow.  The click of the door catch being released was unmistakable.  Jonathan leapt onwards; he could hear the cat’s rasping hiss and the click of its claws on the tiles.  With a last great bound he was below the dresser and safe again, for the moment.  However he was not unassailable in the crawl space.  He looked around to see Dragon peering beneath the dresser, pawing at the gap in an attempt to reach him.  Mismatched eyes stared at him hungrily.  Jonathan scampered to the hole in the floor, gripping the edge and peering down.  His heart skipped a beat as he looked into the hole and saw mad yellow eyes staring back at him from the darkness, vicious fangs bared in an evil grin.


“Where is it?”  Reaching up Jenner grabbed the startled mouse by the throat.

“Stop!” Jonathan tried to bite Jenner’s hand, but the rat squeezed, crushing his throat and the mouse could do nothing but grit his teeth.

“Where is the Stone?” bellowed Jenner, tightening his grip again.  Jonathan looked into the rat’s eyes.  There was inevitability there and, as the breath was choked out of him, Jonathan made a decision.

“You’ll never get it, you filthy vermin.”  Jonathan actually managed a grin.

Jenner grimaced with rage and tugged Jonathan down, the mouse’s head hitting the edge of the hole with a crack.  Then with an effort, the rat heaved Jonathan around, flinging him outwards.  Jonathan, his head bleeding from the recent impact, rolled limply towards the open kitchen floor, sliding across the slick tiles.

Jenner’s wide shoulders did not allow him to put his head through the hole.  Instead he jumped down, staring at the gaps in the flooring; thin, pale beams of light played across his face.  He had his sword drawn and hefted it as he darted about.  Above he heard the cat hissing, the scrape of its claws on tiles.  He heard a faint scrabbling and worried for a moment that Jonathan was making his way back to the hole.  He scurried back and forth following the sounds until finally he heard the high-pitched squeal or a rodent in pain.  Jenner stopped to listen intently, his face raised towards the pinpricks of light above him.  There was a dull thud and the scream ended abruptly.

Jenner grinned in the darkness, baring his fangs to the shadows.  He waited a little longer, listening with keen interest to the little wet noises that followed...

Timothy jerked awake.  His forehead was covered in a cold sweat and he was shivering.  His father’s cloak had fallen to the floor. Had that been a dream?  It had been so vivid, so... real.  But it must have been. He felt the warmth of the Stone against his chest.  His hand rested on his shirt, clutching the amulet.

There was a knock from the door.

“Timothy!  Are you okay?”  It was Justin’s voice.

Shakily, Timothy crossed the room and opened the door.  Justin was standing there, breathing deeply, looking troubled.  The rat did not wait for a greeting.

“Timothy!  Come quickly, you are needed!”

“Why?  What’s the matter?” he asked, all thoughts of the dream temporarily cast aside.  Justin gulped down air.

“It’s Mr. Ages.  He’s alive!”

Chapter 15: The NIMH-born

“Mr. Ages?  How do you know?” asked Timothy.  Justin spoke quickly.  He looked shaken.

“He was found earlier in the night by the Home Guard scouts, barely conscious.  Bracken helped to bring him in.  He’s asking to speak to you and your family.  Please come quickly, there... there may not be much time.”

Timothy did not know what to say.  He was glad that Mr. Ages had been found, but Justin’s words and manner chilled him.  Although the old mouse had helped to save his life, Timothy had never properly met with Mr. Ages.  He had been too young or too sick and he could think of nothing Mr. Ages would want to say to him, either specifically or together with his brothers and sisters.  Maybe it was something concerning his mother.  Or his father!

Clutching the Stone tight to his chest, Timothy slid from the seat and hurried out into the library.  Justin led the way quickly moving out through the gloomy tunnels.  As usual for night time fewer lamps were lit, and Timothy wondered for how long he had slept.

Nothing was said as the two wove through the corridors.  There was nothing to say.  As Timothy was led along his mind wandered back to his dream.  It was likely that he had immersed himself so much in his father’s writings that his sleep had been disturbed, but were the images he had seen been a product of his imagination or...?  He looked down at the amulet he held in his paw.  The Stone reflected his face back at him, nothing more.

They met no other rats or guards in the tunnels and soon reached the infirmary.  Justin pushed open the inner door, letting Timothy in first.  The rest of his family were there, Cynthia looking tearful, his mother holding her.  Cynthia and Martin stood apart looking grim.  Bracken and a female rat of the Home Guard waited nearby.  The surgeon, Clerval, was bent over one of the benches and on this bench was...  Mr. Ages?  Timothy could barely believe the sodden, filthy lump of fur and rags was the mouse scientist from the farm.  The shape trembled with shallow, ragged breathing.  Beneath the grime Mr. Ages’ face was held tense, as if in constant pain.  Aside from those gathered around the bench the ward was empty.  All except Clerval turned to look at the new arrivals.

“Timothy!” said Mrs. Brisby.  Timothy ran forward and embraced her, though was careful not to disturb the bandages round her waist.  Clerval half turned and said in a low voice, “He just keeps asking to see Mrs. Brisby and her children.”  The doctor concentrated once again on his patient, speaking softly near to old mouse’s ear.  “They’re here now, Mr. Ages.  You can speak with them.”

Mr. Ages shook his head very gently, as if even a small movement such as that cost him dearly.  He gave no indication of having understood what had been said to him.

Clerval straightened and addressed the others.

“I’ve cleaned and dressed his wounds as best I can, bound his arm and set his leg.  Again.  There’s not much else I can do, not until he is stronger.  He’s been through a lot and is totally exhausted.  What he really needs rest, but refuses to sleep until he’s spoken with all of you.”

Timothy and his family stared uncomprehending at Clerval and then at Mr. Ages.  Timothy, still hugging his mother, felt her tremble.

“Thank you, Clerval,” said Justin, placing his hand on the other rat’s shoulder.  “You’ve done all you can.  Get some sleep.  If there’s a problem, we’ll call you at once.  I’ll watch over Mr. Ages until morning.  There’s no need to wake anyone else.”

Clerval nodded and then left, closing the door behind him.  Timothy waited, not knowing what to do.  Even his mother was uncertain, arm around himself and Cynthia, looking in silence and the injured mouse.  They watched as Justin leant over Mr. Ages and whispered, “Everyone is hear now, Mr. Ages.  Mrs. Brisby and her children.”

Mr. Ages stirred again but did not open his eyes.  He took a deep, strained breath and spoke,

“Are we... alone?”  His voice was raw, and he grimaced as he spoke.

“There’s no one else in the infirmary, no other patients,” Justin explained.

“What about... the guards?” croaked Mr. Ages.  Justin nodded and turned to Bracken and his companion who were hovering nearby.

“Wait outside, please.  I’ll call you soon.”

Bracken nodded as did the young rat with him, the captain muttering, “At your command, Justin.”

As the other rats were leaving, Justin spoke soflty to Mr. Ages again.

“Shall I go as well?”

Mr. Ages spoke in small fragments, pausing for breath often.

“No... stay...  This concerns you... too, now that Nicodemus is... gone.” 

“What happened, Mr. Ages?” asked Mrs, Brisby reaching out hesitantly to lay a hand on the old mouse’s arm.  Timothy also heard a quaver in his mother’s voice, though she hid it well.

“The Mice...” he grated.  “The Mice of NIMH are back...”  His speech was breaking up badly with the effort.  He was certainly suffering.

“We know,” said Justin.  “They are staying here, but under guard!”

Timothy heard Mr. Ages groan deep in his throat.

“I feared... as much.  They are... evil, Justin.  Their leader... Fraus... is mad!  He wants revenge... for being abandoned in NIMH...  He wants to kill... you...  Murder you all...”

Mr. Ages stopped to take huge gulps of air.  It was terrible to see him like this.  Because of his dream, Timothy felt as if he had seen Mr. Ages only recently.  His stomach tightened.

 While Mr. Ages recovered Justin looked to the other mice and then went to the door.  Timothy saw him beckon to the guardsrats, and was able to make out what was being said.

“Bracken, take Katherine and go to the Mice of NIMH’s quarters and hold them there,” said the Leader of the Rats.  Katherine looked puzzled at the command, but Bracken listened intently as Justin continued, “make sure none of them get out.  You should find Richard on sentry duty there, he’ll help you.  Be subtle.  I don’t want violence, but clearly stand guard on that door!  None of them are to get out.  I will talk with them myself soon.”

“As you wish, Justin,” replied Bracken.  “Come on, Katherine.”  The two rats set off into the colony at a sprint and Justin closed the door again.

“Justin!”  Mrs. Brisby cried, making Timothy jerk his attention back to the bench.  Mr. Ages was panting heavily, a shaking hand feebly tugging at the collar of his shirt.  Mrs. Brisby helped loosen the garment hopefully helping him to breath.  Justin knelt beside the bench watching in dismay.

“Oh no...” he said softly.  “I’ll get Clerval!”

Mr Ages hand shot out and held the rat by the wrist.  The grip was by no means strong enough to hold the rat, but Justin stopped and turned back.  Mr Ages’ eyes were open wide now and staring.

“No.  You must stay.  Beware the mice... but it is also important...” he turned his head slowly to face Mrs. Brisby and her family.  Timothy found, disconcertingly he was staring straight at Cynthia and himself, who were huddled at the fore of the group.

“You must... know...  Your father... used the Stone...”  Mr. Ages eyes widened, again as he choked on the words.  “Find your father’s book!  He tries to... explain everything...  His legacy...  what he did...  The links to the old ways...”

Mr. Ages grip on Justin’s arm loosened and his hand slumped back onto the bed.  His eyes were unfocussed now as his last words trailed off.

“You mustn’t... blame him...  She was so small... so small.”  Slowly his eyes closed.  Timothy shuddered, not able to take his eyes from Mr. Ages’ face, his own eyes began to warm with tears.  Around him his family stood in silence for a moment, looking at the old mouse as he lay still.  Then, behind him, Timothy felt Mrs. Brisby’s whole body begin to shake with sorrow.

“Halt!” the voice came in a whisper from the shadow of the tunnel.  Bracken stopped, putting out his arm in front of the young guardsrat who was following him, and peered into the gloom of the tunnel.

“Richard?” he asked

“Aye... Is that you Bracken?” asked the first voice, its owner stepping into the dim light.

“And Katherine,” explained Bracken, nodding in acknowledgement.  We are here to put the Mice of NIMH under arrest.”  He said this with the merest hint of uncertainty.  It was more evident in Richard’s reply.


“Mr. Ages is alive,” explained Bracken.  “We bought him into the valley just after sundown.”  He nodded towards the door.  “They tortured him by the looks of it.”

Richard looked simultaneously horrified and disbelieving.

Tortured...?  I don’t believe it!” he said, looking down the corridor in the direction of the Mice of NIMH’s quarters.

“Justin will be down here soon,” Bracken continued.  “We just have to keep them here until he arrives.”

Richard nodded, though still seemed ill at ease.  The three guards walked carefully to the nearby door.  Beyond they heard rustling.

“I think we’ve disturbed them,” stated Katherine in quiet tones, her whiskers twitching.  She sprang back as the door swung outwards.  Fraus and Spiro stood before them, Spiro’s head jerked back and forth to each of the rats’ faces, Fraus glared at them levelly.

“Is there something wrong?” asked Fraus.

“You’re being placed under arrest,” said Bracken who found himself at the fore of the group.  He tried to keep civil tone, but he wasn’t overly concerned when it didn’t work.  “Justin will be here in moments.  Please stay in your quarters.”

“Why?  Whatever is the meaning of this?” asked Fraus, incredulous.

As Bracken was about to reply he saw another mouse creep by in the room beyond.  She glanced at the guards and then ducked into a hole in the wall.  It immediately became clear to him.  These two were stalling!

“Hey!” shouted Bracken, pushing forward, Fraus and Spiro making way for him.  He arrived in time to see a tail disappear through the small cavity, big enough for a mouse, not nearly enough so for him.  Thrusting his arm into the hole he only clutched at thin air.  As he did so he saw Fraus and Spiro exchanged a glance and the Captain’s eyes widened as he realised he would be a powerless spectator to what happened next.

“No...” he breathed.

Fraus ducked low, dodging between the two remaining guards.  Spiro leapt forward as well, though he held a knife in each hand, retrieved with a practiced swiftness from the folds of his cloak.  As he surged forward he drove each blade into the two remaining rats and, with one flowing movement, he withdrew the weapons and was into the corridor.  The guardsrats cried out, Richard staggering forward and toppling onto the floor, Katherine, clutching at her wound, turned to try and grab the mouse who had attacked them.  As she did so she saw the rest of the mice had gathered just outside the door.  Spiro stepped forward and slammed the pommel of his blade into the wound at her side.  Katherine doubled over and received another vicious blow just below her eye, sending her toppling over backwards.  With all three rats in the room, the mice slammed the door, Foxglove twisting the lock into place.  Malachi, Deakon, Stave and Spiro brought forward a short wooden beam taken from the construction project further down the hall.  Working together with tremendous efficiency and speed the mice managed to wedge it between the door and the wall of the corridor just as the rats began pounding on the other side.  It would be quite impossible to open from the inside now.  Not unless they destroyed the entire door.

“You were quite correct Spiro,” said Fraus and then to the entire group, “Well done.  This is first step towards our goal.  The end of our journey, the culmination of our plans, is near!  I have faith that you all know what it is that must be done.  Our actions will soon be the stuff of legend in these woods!  However before we begin our great work... there is a loose end that must be tied.”

Without another word Fraus whirled about, his eyes glittering even in the dim light.  The other six mice, all carrying weapons, followed him as Fraus led them off down the corridor, his cape billowing with every energetic stride.

“Is he...?”  Mrs. Brisby could not finish the sentence.  Timothy squeezed her hand.  He and his family could only look at Mr. Ages’ ravaged face as Justin leaned over the bench.

“No.”  Justin was looking closely at the mouse.  His chest was rising and falling, though barely.  The rat checked for a pulse.  “He’s passed out.  He’s so weak I’d worry about disturbing him in any way.  I would let him rest.”

“What happened to him?” asked Teresa.

“Two guards, Rebecca and Ian, were sent to the farm to find him.  They didn’t reach it.  They picked up tracks in the woods and found Mr. Ages in this state.  Rebecca stayed with him as Ian came back for Bracken.  You didn’t meet those two,” said Justin in response to the quizzical looks he was receiving.  “They needed rest themselves, so I ordered them to return to their chambers.  However they did give a report before they retired.  Apparently magpies were attacking Mr. Ages.  That’s where he received these fresh injuries.  The others, the older wounds... we have to assume were given to him by the Mice.”

“You mean they...” began Martin, swallowing the rest of his words.  Justin didn’t answer.  He was staring into the middle distance, his lips tight, eyes unfocussed yet burning.  Timothy felt his mother’s hand, which had rested on his shoulder, tighten briefly.

“Why?  Why would they do this?” asked Mrs. Brisby shaking her head, actually drawing back, away from Mr. Ages.

“To find Thorn Valley?  To find you?  Sheer cruelty?”  With each word Justin seemed to be becoming more furious, though he kept it under control.  Barely.  Timothy heard the knuckles of the rats paw crack as he clenched a fist.

“What was he saying?  At the end?” asked Martin, “something about our father.”

“I don’t know...” said Justin abruptly, still staring.

“He mentioned the Stone,” said Timothy as he retrieved the medallion and held it in front of him.  There was no light in the miraculous gem now.  It didn’t even seem to catch the light.

“Any idea what he meant, Timothy?  Anything in Dad’s notes?” asked Teresa.

“Well...  Yes!” Timothy began.  “There’s something I need to show you all!”  Again he wasn’t sure what he could be certain he had read, and what was possibly just his imagination.  “It’s... complicated, but I think it’s what Mr. Ages meant.  I’ll have to check.”  Timothy didn’t want to raise any hopes, but despite the situation, he felt a little excitement that certain pieces were falling into place.  He wanted to get back to the book, show his family what he had found, finish reading his father’s words.  Together maybe they could make sense of some of it.

“What happens now?” asked Martin, turning back to Justin.

“Ages said we must keep an eye on the Mice...” said Justin.  There was now a cold fury in his eyes as he looked upon the ravaged old mouse.  “So I will do that.  If they did this to him...” the rat straightened and went to the inner door.  Opening it he turned back to face them.  “Stay here, I’ll send Clerval back with guards.  They don’t know you’re here, but there’s no point in taking any risks.  Right now I have some questions for the Mice of NIMH.”

“Then why don’t you ask us?”

Justin turned towards the door in time to receive a blow to his jaw.  Caught totally by surprise he reeled and collapsed against a medical cabinet.  Deakon, who had struck Justin with the butt of his spear, now darted forward to hold the point very close to Justin’s nose.  Spiro leapt up onto the rat’s chest and held the dual pronged blade up to Justin’s face, each point a hair’s breadth away from his eyes.  Spiro cocked his head to look along the length of the weapon with his good eye.

Timothy and Cynthia sprang behind Mr. Ages’ bed, Teresa following them, forcing them lower and further behind the bench, leaning over to shield the younger children.  Mrs. Brisby made a desperate grasp at Martin, trying to stop him as he himself leapt forward, but she was not fast enough.  Martin charged, his fists balled, aiming straight for Fraus.  The dark haired mouse grinned as Martin’s hand, a hair’s breath from his face, was intercepted by Spiro.  Leaping away from Justin the mouse grabbed and held Martin’s arm tight, twisting it, forcing it up between the Brisby child’s shoulder blades.  Martin yelped and gritted his teeth; Mrs. Brisby bared hers, though she stayed where she was between the Mice and the rest of her children.  The rest of the NIMH-born had crowded in.  She and her family were truly trapped.

Timothy realised he was still clutching the Stone.  He was not sure what compelled him to do it, but he forced the amulet into Teresa’s paw.  She took it without fully noticing.  She had torn her attention away from Martin to look at Warren.  Her gaze was almost pleading, though the other mouse would not meet her eye, keeping his head turned away.  Warren made sure Teresa could not see the swollen and bruised cut just below his left eye.

Concentration had to be switched to the other Mice.  While Stave inexpertly held a thin sword towards Justin, Deakon bound the still dazed rat.  Malachi and Foxglove advanced on Mrs. Brisby and her family.  Fraus stood and observed, shutting the door behind the last of his lackeys.

 “No screaming, no struggling, or I’ll take the children apart...”  Fraus said, gesturing to the captive Martin.  “That goes for you too, Mr. Ages,” he finished with an indulgent chuckle.  He was grinning from ear to ear, standing, as always, with arms tucked into the small of his back, cape billowing, the paragon of gloating arrogance.

“Tie them up and gag them.  We’ll come back for them,” he ordered.

Timothy backed further behind Teresa at Foxglove’s approach, but stopped when he heard Cynthia screech as Malachi made to grab her.  Mrs. Brisby snarled, placing herself between the dark grey mouse and her children.

“Don’t touch her.  Don’t touch any of them!”

Malachi hesitated, turning sorrowful eyes on Fraus.  There was an animal ferocity in Mrs. Brisby’s glare that appeared only when a mother was protecting her children.  Fraus’ eyes however glinted with a malevolent delight.  He inclined his head towards Spiro, who still held Martin, but did not take his eyes from Mrs. Brisby.

“Spiro, when I say so, cut the maggot’s ear off.”

There was a swish of metal hurtling through air and Spiro held a knife with a wide, triangular blade and placed it next to Martin’s head.  Had Mr. Ages been conscious he would have recognised the weapon as a human’s battered scalpel blade.  Martin himself looked terrified.

“If you hurt him...” began Mrs. Brisby, almost hissing the words.

“What could you possibly do to us?” scoffed Fraus.  “If we had wanted to hurt your children, they would already be scattered across the room by now in ragged, wet strips.”

A low, muffled laugh was briefly heard from Spiro before silence settled on the room.  Timothy held his breath as the moment of hesitation stretched on.  He could feel his sisters do the same.  Fraus’, his patience obviously exhausted, gave a small nod and, with a deft movement, Spiro nicked Martin’s ear with the blade.  Mrs. Brisby’s eyes shone with tears at the yelp of pain from her son.

“Stop it!” she cried.

“Understand this is for your own safety.  You can’t stop us, now don’t do anything foolish,” explained Fraus.  The two mice locked eyes for a moment before Mrs. Brisby sagged, defeated.

Timothy couldn’t draw his gaze away from Fraus.  The mouse was grinning again as Timothy and his captive family were pushed, dragged or led towards the pillars that supported the medical bay.  There was no resistance now, each fearful for the safety of the others, as they were all bound with lengths of strong cord.  Timothy craned his neck to look at his family.  Cynthia sobbed all the while; Mrs. Brisby’s eyes welled with tears of frustration; Teresa and Martin looked upon their tormentors with disdain and fear.  Only Justin found a voice...

“You vermin!  They’re just children!  Why are you doing this?” he snarled.  A rope was looped around his neck and tightened, strangling the last words.  Being a rat, the Mice were affording him extra restraints.

“Revenge!” Fraus stated simply and watched as all the creatures were bound together, totally helpless.  Once completed Fraus approached Justin, leaning close to his face as Spiro and Deakon bound him tightly...

“Your kin will escape the very personal punishment that I intend to inflict on you.  It seems to me to be a great injustice that they’ll all die in their beds, surrounded by family and loved ones.  I would relish every hour spent in the process of visiting upon each and every one of them the pain I myself have felt since you abandoned us.”

“What are you rambling about?” hissed Justin.  There was contempt in his eyes and voice, though this was only a meagre substitute for the rage he wanted to vent.  However there was fear as well.  A cold dread about what Fraus had planned for the colony.  The mouse continued as if Justin had said nothing.

“If only Nicodemus was alive.  I don’t think he suffered enough.  But you...  I’m going to take my time with you!  And I will need this...”

Reaching out he retrieved a key from Justin’s belt.  It was Justin’s master key, and the mouse grinned at it.

“Now I have work to do.  I shall return and fetch you all when I am ready.”

Fraus started towards the door but stopped as the Birsby children caught his eyes.  He cocked his head and smiled as he looked upon the helpless, young mice.

“Ah yes.  Jonathan’s legacy to the world.  That reminds me...” He approached Timothy, the youngest Brisby child glaring back defiantly trying to hide the terror he felt.

“Search that one!” said Fraus.

“What for?” asked Malachi.

“The Stone!  It should be on a chain around his neck.”

Timothy felt another stab of extreme anxiety.

“Why do you want it?  It’s just a...”

“There’s no use pretending,” Fraus interrupted.  “That sycophantic fool Augustus told me all about it and Spiro saw what you used it for in the library...  Now I want it!”

Malachi checked Timothy’s neck and yanked free what he found.  It was a simple string cord with a small dull, green pebble threaded onto it.

“What is that?” asked Fraus, glaring disdainfully at the trinket.

“It’s all he has,” replied Malachi, discarding the item.

“Where is the Stone?”  Fraus flew into a sudden rage.  He seethed for a moment before calming and leaning in close to Timothy.  “You were the one always seen with the amulet... What have you done with it?”  His voice was infinitely patient... and terrifying.

Timothy hesitated as he thought how to answer.  The delay was not lost on Fraus.

“Lie to me boy and I’ll hurt your mother and then each of your siblings very badly!”

Fear twisted in Timothy’s gut at the cold hearted simplicity of Fraus’ threat, he made his decision.  Anything to get Fraus and the others away from here.

“It’s in the library.  I left it there.”

“You seemed always to carry it with you,” said Fraus, his stare penetrating.  Timothy fought a strong urge to look in a different direction.

“I was in a hurry,” he stared Fraus in the eye, nearly shouting, “just take it and leave my family alone.”

A grin spread slowly over Fraus’ face and he turned to Malachi.

“Untie him.  We’ll take the boy with us.  He can show us where the Stone is!”  Fraus fixed Timothy with bright little eyes.  “And he’ll be close by in case he’s been lying to me.”

Malachi began to untie Timothy, and Mrs. Brisby began to struggle again in response.  Foxglove actually had to tighten the cords binding her.

“Leave him alone!”

“Silence feral!” growled Fraus, striking Mrs. Brisby with the back of his right hand.  “The boy will not be hurt if he gives us the Stone!  Your other children will not be hurt if you hold your tongue.”

“Mrs Brisby and the children were not at NIMH,” Justin began, trying intentionally to draw all attention his way.  Unseen, whilst Timothy’s hands were being unbound, the young mouse shook his head fractionally as Teresa caught her brother’s eye.

“They have done you no wrong.  Release them,” finished Justin.

“You are in no position to command me!”  Fraus strode over to the rat, incredulous mirth evident in his voice.  “And they will not be released... yet.  She,” he indicated Mrs. Brisby with a sweep of his right hand, “is not one of us.  She is a lesser creature and of no more importance to us than your miserable hide!  But her children are NIMH-born, as are we!  We cannot allow this... feral vermin to poison them any further.  They will come back with us to our settlement in lieu of Jonathan Brisby himself along with Mr. Ages.  The late Jonathan will be no great loss...”  Fraus looked at Martin out of the corner of his eye as he spoke now.  “He never struck me as any more than a dreamer and a fool anyway...”

Martin’s control broke and his temper flared to life at Fraus’ words.

“You can’t talk about my parents like that!” he all but shouted, straining against the bonds.

“Martin no...” said Mrs. Brisby, worried of Fraus’ sadistic wrath, but her son continued unabated.  “They are smart and brave, and better than you!”

“If that were true... why is he dead and she unable to save you now?” snarled Fraus.  His eyes moved upwards and Martin followed the gaze.  Spiro was playing with his knife very close to Cynthia’s head.  Martin could do nothing but hate Fraus with every fibre of his being, and lie still.  However patience was wearing thin elsewhere.

“You’re mad!” spat Justin, still struggling.  He was no longer trying to keep his anger in check.  “How can you talk of the children like that?  You are nothing but a monster!”

“Enough!” cried Fraus, eyes wild.  He whirled around and jabbed a finger at Justin as he began to rant.  There was an obvious change in the mouse’s face.  His expression was no longer gloating, but one of barely suppressed fury.  His voice was cracking.  Justin could now see Fraus was barely in control.  He was mad, totally insane.  The mouse’s voice was higher now; he was ranting.

“I am what you made me!  You left us to die in those shafts.  Everything after is a product of your callousness.”

“Fraus, we tried to find you,” Justin was trying to reason with the mouse, anything to try and dissuade him, delay him...  “If we had known that you were still alive we would have come to help you...”

“NO!  No, those are all lies.  More lies!  You didn’t want us as a burden, so you let us die.  I heard what was said to Jonathan in NIMH!  ‘They’ll slow us down’, ‘You’re on your own’.  You never intended to help us at all.  You were only too happy to draw us in, keep those of us you might find useful, discard the others into the shafts!  It was probably planned all along.  Now I have plans!  You’ll understand.  You know nothing of what was taken from me that night and what was lost in the aftermath.  Everything that was dear to me...  My love, my joy... and also my paw!”

Timothy and the others looked on as, for the first time in their memory, Fraus withdrew his left arm from behind his back.  Over his arm was wrapped a length of cloth.  It extended a lot further than his hand normally would.

“The embodiment of vengeance!” Fraus muttered, certainly not speaking to anyone present in the infirmary.

He took up the end of the cloth and tugged it.  As the material fell to the floor, those in the room could see exactly what Fraus embodied his vengeance as.

His arm ended above the wrist.  His shirt hung loosely about a metal cap that covered the stump of his limb.  From this extended a brutal, crooked blade.  There was a second prong that twisted into a barbed hook, and both inner and outer surfaces were sharpened, glinting in the lantern light.  Fraus brought the hook up, examining its surface.  Then he fixed Justin with his intense, little eyes.

“My loss, my pain; I’ll make it yours!  You took everything from me!  Everything!”  He glanced at the children.  “Now, I intend to take everything you have.  Adults... Children...” he was now speaking through gritted teeth.  “I’m going to kill them all, every living thing in the valley if I have to, until I feel satisfied!  And then, once you have witnessed their destruction, I will take you apart!”

His chest heaved as he took ferocious breaths.  Justin took a moment to rally his thoughts.  He couldn’t believe what Fraus had just said.  He almost gabbled the words when he spoke.

“Fraus... If you must destroy something... someone, take me...  I was at NIMH, I was the one unable to find you.  I personally failed to go far enough into the shafts.  Take out all your rage on me.  The creatures here, most never even saw NIMH.  They are innocent.”

Fraus seemed to hesitate for a moment, his eyes focussing on something unseen in the distance.  But it was fleeting.  He raised his head and held his shoulders back, his eyes showing he was once again in control.  When he spoke it was in his composed tones and his mouth was twisted into an unpleasant little grin.

“No one is innocent,” he said quietly, and then louder, “Your prattling is becoming tiresome, I suggest you desist before I remove your tongue!  Consider their destruction,” he waved his hook in a sweeping gesture towards the door, “as part of your atonement.  Now we shall go.”

Fraus swept away, the others following, Malachi dragging Timothy along.  Justin tried one last time, hoping at least that his cries would be heard as the doors were opened.

“Fraus!  Fraus, WAIT!”  Justin’s cry was cut short as Fraus closed the door.  All his mice, his NIMH-born, were gathered and waiting.  Malachi held Timothy by the scruff of his neck as Fraus leant in so they faced each other.

“You understand you have to be very quiet now or I’m going to go back and hurt your family, don’t you?” said Fraus in a very hushed voice.  Timothy nodded quickly.  Grinning, Fraus straightened and at a gesture the party set off.  Stave bustled along quickly to speak into Fraus’ ear without Timothy overhearing.

“We should have killed the mother.  She’s going to be trouble.”

Fraus waved his hand dismissively and answered in a whisper.

“We’ll need her if the children are going to be forced to cooperate.”

“What was that about taking the children, Fraus?” asked Warren.

“Keep you’re voice down, Warren!  Unless you want me to go back there and fetch that Brisby girl you’ll be silent!”

He lengthened his stride making Warren hurry after him.

“It wasn’t part of the plan, Fraus,” Warren said in a whisper.  “Are you... are you taking them back for him?  As trophies?”

Fraus did not look at Warren as he answered.

“They are Children of the Nine, and will come with us.  It is their right as NIMH-born.  They will learn to appreciate our ways.  You have your orders, Warren.  Now is not the time for questions.”


Fraus whirled, bring the point of his hook to Warren’s nose.  The words came in a mad rush, Fraus’ eyes blazing.

“It is not your place to answer back.  You will carry out your orders, Warren, or the consequences will be dire.  Far more than another mere beating from Deakon.  Do you understand?”

Warren’s resolve melted away, leaving only the accustomed sting of fear in his gut; fear of the mouse before him.

“Yes, Fraus,” came the discontented reply, Warren lowering his gaze.

Fraus started off again, the other NIMH-born followed.  Deakon barged past the still dazed Warren with a derisive snort, nudging him against the wall.  Regaining his wits Warren hurried to catch his companions.  At the back of the group Timothy had observed all this but not overheard any of what was said before the outburst.  Even so he felt a terrible sense of foreboding weigh down upon him as he was led into the gloom of the colony.

The Valley slept.  The nights were peaceful and there was rarely any cause for concern.  Those guarding the entrance had to remain on watch, but they were relieved regularly.  The sentries within the settlement plodded about their designated routes, usually in and around the entranceway.  There was little to harm them from within the colony, most of the danger was believed to be in the valley below.  There was no particular cause for alarm this evening.  Hugo was still locked in his cell and those that knew of the Mice of NIMH, knew of their actions on the farm, also believed them to be under very close watch.  No one save the rats who had seen him knew of Mr. Ages’ arrival and so there was little other activity.  The days contained enough for everyone to do and so the nights were a restful respite.  No one wanted to be out and about, save for one or two individuals.  So it was that there was no one who might hear the rat shouting himself hoarse in one of the rooms deep within the colony or the other voices calling for help from the infirmary.  The walls of Thorn Valley are thick and no body would hear their pleas.

There was still some work being done elsewhere.  In the machine house a rat was teasing a delicate spring mechanism into place.  She applied a little more pressure, but instead of snapping into place the tightly wound spring buckled and shot outwards hitting Chloe on the forehead.

“Ow!” she whispered, rubbing the graze.  “A bump of knowledge I suppose,” she said to herself, sighing.  “Time to call it a night I think.

Gathering up her tools and the pieces she had been working on and placing them into the correct piles, she readied herself to leave.  Once rested, she would make time to finish it tomorrow.  Blowing out the lantern by which she had been working Chloe waited in darkness for a moment before heading towards the door.  She began to walk softly around the landing when movement in the main chamber below made her stop.  It was rare for guards, or anyone else for that matter, to come into the machine house at night.  Only a guardsrat named James would frequently check on the machine house.  She grinned to herself.  If he knew she was here, that is.  She crept to the edge of the landing and peered down.  Her chest tightened.  It wasn’t James, or any of the guards.  They weren’t even rats.  A group of mice had entered, moving amongst the items on the floor of the main chamber, illuminated by the soft glow of the ever burning furnaces.  There was a determination in the movements that Chloe found most curious.  Ducking low she began to creep along the edge of the landing.  If she could get closer she may be able to hear what they were talking about, what they were doing here.  At the moment she could only hear the slow grind of the water wheels on the far side of the chamber.  With great care she edged around the raised landing, trying to get closer to the mice.  She saw they were now working on one of the doors in the chamber wall.  She was close enough now.  Lying on the platform she listened, and as she did, her heart sank.

The door to the fuel storage swung outwards, the lock jangling softly.  Stave had appropriated a lantern and held it up, allowing them all to see what was inside.  Fraus grinned at the stacks of casks.

“Perfect.”  He turned to the others.  “Right, start getting those barrels out!  I’ll watch the whelp.”

Fraus put his barbed hook very close to Timothy’s face.  “Don’t try anything foolish boy.”

Timothy did not reply.  With difficulty he took his eyes from the gleaming point beside him and watched the other mice.  They started to remove the casks of fuel from the storage room with great care.  It took two to carry the larger barrels, through the smaller ones could be moved by a single individual.  Slowly they were being stacked around the intricate scaffold that supported the water wheel mechanism.  The mice, using ramps, ladders and even the pulleys, began to raise the barrels to the top of the structure, near to the water gates.  Fraus watched with quiet intensity, though spoke when Stave approached.

“You’re sure the smaller barrels will be enough for the main entrance?”

“Quiet sure, Fraus.  Even the small samples I stole from the lanterns proved surprisingly effective.  The larger casks have to be used here to break through that wall and destroy the barriers that hold back the water, but the smaller ones are quite sufficient for tunnel supports.”  The mouse sneered unpleasantly.

Timothy listened and slowly understanding dawned.

“You’re going to destroy the valley!” he cried, his voice shrill.  “You’re going to try and drown them!  Start the water flowing and then block them in!”

“You’re a smart boy,” grinned Fraus, though the blade was unmoving.  “There is a certain justice is turning the Rats’ own technology against them, especially when they flaunt its design with such arrogance.  Stave has been very busy in the library where the rats kept all the plans for this water wheel mechanism and the chamber!  There are some alarming vulnerabilities in the structure all noted down perfectly in their books.”

“You are mad!” cried Timothy.

“Completely,” agreed Fraus with a manic smile, his gaze fixed on the water gates and wheels high above.

Conversation stopped when there was a metallic clatter from nearby, just audible of the hiss of water.  As one the mice stopped and looked up at one of the landings. Searching for what had made the noise.

“Bother!” cursed Chloe beneath her breath, though it was too late now.  As she had tried to sneak away and alert the Home Guard, she had knocked into a laden equipment rack, spilling the tools onto the floor.  There was nothing for it now.  She’d have to go straight through.  She leapt from the landing onto the floor and began to sprint across the room.

“A rat!”

“What’s she doing here?”

“Stop her!  She must not get away!” roared Fraus, brandishing his brutal hook high, its polished edge glinted in the light from the furnaces.  He pushed Timothy aside, towards the others, and advanced on the intruder.

Chloe did not stop to look.  She headed straight for the exit, which meant several of the mice were directly between it and her.  They were smaller though, and she only had to be quick to get passed them.  The others on the water wheel scaffold began to clamber down, except one who began to take aim with a bow.  From her left a mouse leapt from a workbench wielding two blades.  She dodged out of the way, ducking low.  There was the sensation of metal biting into her haunch, but she carried on, now limping slightly.  A bloodied arrow clattered to the floor in her wake.  She could hear the mouse coming after her, jumping from table to table, scattering equipment.  Seeing a newly finished door brace lying nearby she picked it up and whirled around, flinging the metal at the advancing mouse, making him dart sideways.  She turned back towards the exit again and surged on, though when she he faced front she saw another mouse in her path.  Too late to change direction, she charged.

Fraus’ tensed as he felt the hook sink into flesh, Chloe’s features twisting with pain.  Her eyes widened and her legs buckled, both she and the mouse where carried onward by momentum.  She was sent spinning away to crash into a workbench.  Items spilled onto the floor as she threw her arms across the surface, trying too support herself, but slowly she slipped to the ground and there she lay still.

Fraus looked at the blood on his blade from where he had come to rest.  Slowly a smile split his face and he surged to his feet.

“You see?” he mumbled, and then louder, “you see!  It’s not that hard!  They are flesh and blood!  They bleed; they die!”  He looked about wildly.  “Where’s the boy?” he growled.

Stave and Deakon stood and looked this way and that.  Behind them Spiro slowly shook his head.  No one had been watching Timothy, instead focussing on the intruder’s attempted flight.

“Useless!” screeched Fraus, balling a fist.  “Well?  What are you waiting for?  Get back to work!”

“Fraus,” began Stave. 

“Keep going!  Don’t worry about the child,” Fraus was calming down slowly, though Stave still feared about approaching his leader,

“He might get alert the Home Guard!  He might rescue the others.  Spoil everything...”

Fraus favoured Stave with a leer.

“Timmy to the rescue?” he snorted in contempt. “Pah!  What rubbish...  Spiro!”

The ragged mouse turned his head slowly to face Fraus.

“Find him,” Fraus ordered.  “Take him to the infirmary.  Make sure he and his family regret his rash decision.  I will join you there!”

Spiro was gone in an instant, bounding up stairs and disappearing through the access tunnel.

Stave hunched slightly as he addressed the other mouse cautiously.

 “Fraus.  As we are underway here, and the others know what to do, maybe we should be making our way to the infirmary now?”

“Hmmm,” Fraus nodded and looked up at the water wheel gantry.  “Malachi!” he barked.  “Can you handle things here?”

“As per your plan,” the other mouse shouted down.  Fraus nodded and faced Stave.

“Let’s go.”

Fraus turned and headed for the access tunnel; Stave in tow.  Behind them, the remaining mice continued to pile the kegs of fuel around the water wheels.

Timmy was running; running blindly through tunnels.  He had to get away.  On seeing his chance he had taken it.  He just hoped that the other rat had made good on her escape as well.  The mice had not noticed as he left the machine house floor, but he would be missed soon.  That is why he was now running for his life.  They woudn’t let him just slip away.  He had to find some of the Home Guard and tell them what was happening.

Behind him, further down the tunnel, though gaining all the time, Spiro was bounding along almost without noise.

Warren set down his burden placing it upon the gantry floor.  Foxglove immediately began to apply some cloth tapers to the small barrel as Warren caught his breath.  Deakon rested his own encumbrance, but did not need rest.  He flexed his chest; his back cracking loudly.  He grinned, but stopped when he realised no one had heard it.  Nearby Malachi was piling the smaller kegs strategically.  He had been told these would act as detonators for the larger barrels.  In a way, he was quite looking forward to the product of this effort, if only for its technical brilliance.

Warren found himself desperately trying not to think of the destructive power of the fuel he had just helped put into position.  He closed his eyes, his mind racing.

Deakon watched the other mouse with an unpleasant grin.  He hefted his spear and then swung it lazily, striking Warren across the stomach with the shaft.  Without time to brace himself Warren yelped and wheezed.

“What’s wrong with you, Warren?  You look ill,” jeered Deakon.

“Stop it,” said Foxglove distractedly, but did nothing more.  Warren fell to his knees, winded while Deakon laughing oafishly.

“Perhaps we should just leave him, Foxglove.  It looks like Warren’s lost his bottle!”

“Get on with it, Deakon,” she replied without interest.

Deakon bared his teeth at the back of Foxglove’s head.  Turning back to Warren he began to vent his frustration at being reprimanded.  Taking Warren by the collar Deakon dragged him to the edge of the gantry, letting his head hang out over the void.  Warren closed his eyes, resigned to his tormentor’s whim.  Deakon snarled the words at his victim.

“The only thing Warren is interested in is the Brisby girl!  Tell me I’m wrong! Try!

“Fraus was right.  You’re pathetic!  Well not pulling your weight now isn’t going to save her, Warren.  When we get back Fraus is going to hand the all the children over to Jericho, including that scrawny girl who’s been following you around.  You may get what’s left of her once he’s finished with it, but you probably wouldn’t want it!  And unless you want to end up in those cages with her I suggest you get up of your tail and get to work!  Quickly!” 

Deakon lifted Warren and threw him roughly down onto the wooden floor.  Despite the pain Warren’s eyes flicked open.  Absorbing what Deakon had just said.  Without knowing it, and maybe for the first time in his life, Deakon had said something almost profound.  Warren had to do something.  He had to stop the Brisby children being taken back to the colony and he had to stop this scheme.  A plan formed in Warren’s mind, a little grin appearing as he began picking himself up.  Deakon was now intently watching Foxglove and did not notice the smile, for normally it wound have warranted another application of his spear shaft.

“Stow it, Deakon!” Foxglove was saying.  “Get on with moving those barrels.  Warren, can you walk?”

“Yes, Foxglove,” he said, standing.

Had Deakon not been re-encumbering himself with another barrel, he would have taken in Warren’s odd demeanour.  As it was, it went unchallenged.

“Come on then,” Foxglove ordered and set off back towards the storage room.

Warren followed the other three down the scaffold, though at the bottom, making sure the other mice were preoccupied, he turned and slipped away through the access tunnel.

Stave and Fraus were walking quickly through the valley’s tunnels.  They had taken note of the patrol routes of the guards and were well aware that here they would be quite safe.  Stave looked at Fraus as the grey mouse glowered into the distance.  Stave felt he had to voice his concerns and this may be the last chance he got before they became moot.  Cautiously he whispered,

“Fraus, are you actually taking the Brisby children back?

“Of course,” the other replied simply, seeming distracted.

“What about their mother?  Surely she cannot go back.”

“They will come more quietly if we promise that we will not hurt their mother should they comply!  For the all intents and purposes, the entire Brisby family will be returning with us.”

Stave slowed his pace, taking up a position a little behind Fraus.  He was running through certain key points.  Back at their own colony he would have followed any command Fraus gave, but had balked when his leader had put forward his plan in its entirety.  Despite that it now seemed to be possible that this might work.  There had been close calls along the way.  Mrs. Brisby escaping, Mr. Ages showing up in Thorn Valley.  How had he escaped? thought Stave.   It didn’t really matter now.  The problem was contained and it had actually turned out to be beneficial.  Even though Fraus had been becoming increasing erratic recently, with Justin captured, awaiting Fraus’ personal attention, Fraus had become supremely focussed.  The fact that Jonathan Brisby’s children were also under lock and key was an added bonus.  Stave had not relished the thought of having to take the children from their beds.  That oldest child would not be led away easily.  Stave had been wondering how Fraus would react if one or two of the children were lost in the process.  Thankfully that didn’t seem to matter any longer.  However there were still nagging doubts in Stave’s mind.  Most of these doubts were about Fraus’ control over his own emotions.

They were cutting through the library now.  It was the quickest route away from any potential rat patrols.  Fraus had been exacting about staying well away from any of the guards until the latest possible moment.  Only Spiro would relish combat with a rat.  Stave was looking distractedly about the room when something caught his eye and made him stop in his tracks.  It was a small room with the lantern burning low in its holder.

“Fraus, wait!”

Fraus stopped and turned, glaring from beneath a knitted brow as Stave pointed.

“That’s where the Brisby boy kept going to work.  Every time I have been in here that door has been locked.”

“So?” asked Fraus staring indifferently at the doorway.

“He said he left the amulet in the library.  Maybe that is where the Stone is!” exclaimed Stave.

“I doubt it’s here,” replied Fraus.  “I feel he will have been lying through his teeth.  As soon as we get to the infirmary I’ll find out what he’s really done with it!  Fear, Stave.  I’ve always impressed its importance on you.”

Stave nodded but still looked longingly at the little room.

“We should still surely check!”

Fraus seemed annoyed at the hold up, but followed Stave nevertheless to the small chamber.  Inside were piles of items mostly rubbish by the looks of it, though in the corner was the Augur that they had heard about.  Fraus approached this, inspecting the item while Stave was preoccupied with something else.  To one side, where the lanterns burned, was a small desk.  On the desk were piles of books and papers.  Creeping forwards, Stave read some of what was written.

“Energy transmission,” he mumbled, turning the pages.  As he did a pair of tinted glasses slipped from where they had been discarded upon the page.  He saw something strange about the text beneath the lenses.  Picking up the tinted spectacles, they split into two separate pairs in his hands.  He held the tinted pair up to his own glasses, placing the other pair aside, and gasped as he looked at the text again.  He turned the pages, checking with and without the tinted lenses, but there was no mistake.  There were two texts in the book.  As he read from an early page his heart leaped.

“Fraus...  This book contains a hidden text!  It’s...”

He breathed the words silently as he read them, his mouth moving as he scanned the pages.  The mystery of the Stone!  It was here, laid bare so casually.  Ever since the Stone had first come to their attention at the dinner Stave had been intrigued.  Augustus had been only too happy to tell the mice about the rats move to Thorn Valley, about how they came to know the Brisby widow.  The tale had seemed ludicrous, yet the rat had sworn to its authenticity, piquing Fraus and Stave’s interest; doubly so when records in the library said nothing on the subject, yet Spiro reported actually seeing it.  But now, flicking through these pages, maybe it was all true.  He faced Fraus, saying,

“Fraus, it’s here!  The secret of the Stone...!”

Fraus wasn’t listening.  He was standing over a large book mounted on a lectern, reading intensely.  He was also smiling his evil little smile.

“Stave!  A quill, if you please,” he said quietly.

Stave handed Fraus a quill from the desk, wondering what his leader had found.  As he read over Fraus’ shoulder he saw it was a type of journal, though obviously unfinished for there were many pages left blank.  Amongst the last entries there was one about... Jonathan Brisby!  Interesting though Stave.  Below the last words Fraus was writing a message.


‘Beneath cold earth and dark water, forever buried are the traitors of NIMH.  Victims of a final and eternal justice...’


Fraus signed it and then whirled, his cape billowing.

“Come on, Stave.”

Stave followed, though his mind raced about what he had found and how he could use the information.  He clutched the mysterious double book to his chest, the tinted glasses in his pocket.  He was sure it would prove most useful in the future.

“What’s going to happen, mummy?”  Cynthia sniffed. She, like the others, was bound hand and foot to one of the pillars in the infirmary.

“Everything will be fine,” said Mrs. Brisby without real feeling.

“What are they going to do with Timothy?” asked Teresa.

“What was that about taking us?” asked Cynthia with a sniff.

Mrs. Brisby’s stomach lurched.  Her daughter looked so frightened and she was unable to comfort her.  She had to stop this somehow.  Struggling seemed useless, the cord was burning Mrs. Brisby where she was straining against it, but what else could she do?

There was a sound from the door and slowly it opened.  All eyes turned as Warren entered the infirmary.  He seemed quite on edge, though Martin did not notice or care.

“What is it now?” he snarled.  “Has Fraus sent you to keep an eye on us?”

Martin quickly stopped as Warren drew a sword from his belt.  Then to the surprise of everyone Warren went to Justin and cut the ropes that held him.  In response to Justin’s puzzled expression Warren spoke, and as he did so he went to Teresa.

“I’m sorry.  I couldn’t do anything while Fraus was here.  You’ve got to stop him.”

“It’s another trick,” cried Martin.  “This is how they are going to get us to come with them!”

Teresa stood as Warren helped her shrug off the severed rope, Justin helping Mrs. Brisby.

“No!  Fraus must be stopped!  Trust me...  I can help.”

As Warren cut the last of the cord away from Martin’s wrists the mouse lunged, wrapping hands around Warren’s throat.

“Filthy NIMH-born vermin!”

“Martin, no!” cried Teresa, running over.

“We won’t listen to your lies!”  Martin was speaking through gritted teeth, trying to wring Warren’s neck.  It took Justin to separate the mice.  Warren sagged, rubbing throat; Martin fumed under Justin’s watchful eye.

“Can’t you see?” Martin was saying.  “It’s just another trick!”

“Use your brain Martin!” Teresa pleaded.  “Warren has freed us!”

“Stop this!” shouted Mrs. Brisby.  She went up to Warren and placed her hands on his shoulders.  “Warren, where have they taken Timothy?”

“The machine house... But he got away.”  He hesitated.  “Spiro is after him.”

Mrs. Brisby’s jaw trembled in terror at those words as Warren continued.  “You must go!  Fraus is planning to flood the colony!  Get to the machine house.  Quickly!”  Warren’s voice was raspy.  Martin’s grip had been very tight.

“By the Valley!” breathed Justin.  “Come on!” he strode to Mr. Ages and delicately began to pick the old mouse up

“What...?” began Martin, pointing at Mr. Ages.

“I’m not leaving him here,” explained Justin.  “Fraus said he’d be back and when he is he won’t be happy to find that we didn’t wait for him.  We can’t leave Mr. Ages.”

As Mr. Ages was lifted from the bed, something fell from his torn clothes.  As it landed it spun and, with a red glint, lay still.

“The Stone?” said Justin.

“But... how?” Mrs. Brisby asked.

Teresa bent and picked the amulet up.

“I slipped it into Mr. Ages’ apron,” she explained.  “When the mice broke in Timothy gave it to me.  I was going to tell them but Timothy...  He stopped me.  I didn’t know what to do...”

“Right,” said Justin.  “We must hurry.  We’ll find the guards who are on duty and stop this.  Don’t worry Mrs. Brisby.  We’ll get Timothy back.  Come on!  Warren, explain on the way.  We’ll head to the entranceway.”

As they left Warren hung back to speak to Teresa.

“I’m sorry,” he said simply.

She looked at him in the dim light and properly noticed for the first time the welt upon his eye.  She reached out as if to touch it, but stopped herself.  Teresa nodded and smiled weakly.

“Thank you.”

Timothy rounded another corner and slowed to a fast walk.  His lungs burned, but he tried to force himself onwards.  From further up the corridor came a sound.  Peering around a bend in the tunnel Timothy saw a rat, armed with a spear, plodding along.

“Leander!” he called.

“Timothy!” the guard had started to smile, but that quickly vanished when he saw how distraught the young mouse was.  “What’s wrong?”

Timothy ran up to Leander, tugging on the rat’s sleeve.

“Spiro!  Spiro’s after me.”

“What?” was the disbelieving reply.

In confirmation Spiro rounded the corner and hesitated when he saw the rat.  Timothy backed around behind Leander, the rat gripping his spear tightly in both hands.  Spiro himself dropped into a battle stance, blade in hand, eye rolling and glaring in its socket.

“Go!” said Leander to Timothy, pushing the mouse away.  The little mouse didn’t need telling twice.  He turned and ran, deeper into the colony.  Spiro made to follow but was stopped.

 “Oh no you don’t!”

Leander stepped into Spiro’s path levelling his spear.  The mouse seemed resolved to stand and fight, making some experimental jabs with a knife.  He tapped the shaft of Leander’s spear which the rat had held in defence.  Then Leander made an attack, thrusting the spear towards the smaller rodent.  Spiro dodged and crouched, swinging his blade very low, Leander having to drop to one knee to counter it.  The attack was a feint, Spiro immediately leaping upwards.  He rose over the rat, reaching the low ceiling of the tunnel.  Twisting in midair, Spiro pushed off from the roof trying to impel himself over guardsrat.  However Leander was quick to realise Spiro was still trying to follow Timothy.  He spun around, rising from his crouch as he did so, whirling the spear around.  With a crunch Spiro was wrapped around the shaft of the weapon.  He hurtled backwards, his blade skittering away.  The mouse hit a wall and bounced, crumpling into a heap upon the floor, where he lay still.  Leander approached slowly, his spear levelled at the creature’s head.

“Sorry.  I’m not falling for that one,” he said, grinning.

In reply Spiro opened an eye to fix the rat with a cold stare.

“Don’t move,” cautioned Leander.  The spear point was very close to the mouse now and Leander would have no qualms about using it.  He doubted Spiro was one for showing mercy.  In response the mouse began to raise himself from the floor and Leander thrust downward with the weapon.  It hit the floor as Spiro rolled away from the cutting edge, but reaching out, the mouse seized the shaft of Leander’s spear.

“Hah!  No chance!” cried the rat, and heaved on the spear, meaning to tug it from Spiro’s grasp.  But Spiro maintained his grip and was lifted from the ground, towards Leander, bourn closer by the rat’s own strength.   Leander was thrown by this manoeuvre, unable to act as Spiro scrabbled up level his head and raked brutal claws down his face.  Leander cried out and staggered, clutching at his bleeding face, trying to clear his eyes.  Spiro dropped to the ground and, pulling another long thin knife from his belt, lunged.  Leander’s breath left him as he looked down.  Spiro’s fist was against his midriff, the knife buried up to the hilt.  Spiro twisted the blade and then pulled it free, watching as Leander groaned and collapsed, his spear clattering to the floor.  With a casual grace Spiro scooped up his two pronged weapon from where it had fallen earlier.  He then stood over the fallen Leander.

“Go on!” spat Leander, looking up into mismatched eyes.  Spiro’s cheeks lifted but then his head jerked sideways and a moment later was gone.  Leander quickly realised why as another rat rounded the corner.

“Leander!” the guard cried, kneeling by his wounded comrade.

“It was Spiro.  He went that way,” said Leander between gritted teeth, nodding as best he could in the appropriate direction.  The wounds on his face were bleeding into his eyes and he couldn’t see who he was talking to.

“But you’re hurt,” said the guard, looking at Leander’s ravaged face.  “We must...”

“It looks worse than it is.  Follow him!” interrupted Leander, aware that every second would make Spiro harder to find.  “He’s too dangerous.  He’s after the Brisby kid!”

“But,” the guard began again.  Leander couldn’t even begin to focus on the rat’s face as he spoke.

“No buts.  Go!”  Leander tried to raise himself.  The other hesitated, watching Leander obviously suffer because of the movement.  “Go!” Leander shouted again.

With a final glance the guard started out in pursuit of Spiro.  Making sure he was definitely gone Leander slumped back down to the ground.  He winced with pain and clutched at his stomach.

“It’s too deep,” he groaned, checking his hands.  He couldn’t see clearly, but he knew that they were covered in dark, warm fluid.  He could feel it soaking into his fur.  He tried to curl himself into a ball.

“Too deep...”

The door swung open and Fraus peered into the now empty infirmary.  Even Ages was gone.  The cords that had held his prisoners lay on the floor.

Standing nearby Stave could see the fire in Fraus’ eyes.  If the captives were loose then Fraus’ revenge was in serious jeopardy.  It might already be too late.  They couldn’t fight the entire colony.  Even one guard could potentially be too much to handle.  Fraus seemed to understand this and reached the same decision.  With a roar, he turned and dashed off, nearly raking his blade across Stave’s chest.  Fraus was bellowing as he went, no pretence at stealth anymore.

“Not now!  We’re not leaving till they’re all dead!  You hear me?  DEAD!”

The other mouse stared after his leader, then at the book that he still held.  Stave and the others owed Fraus a lot, but now he would be putting them all at risk.  If he followed down that corridor he doubted it would be Fraus leading the way.  Not the same Fraus that led them from the ventilation shafts in NIMH.  Stave hadn’t escaped those tunnels to die in these.  He made his decision, and set off in the other direction heading towards the main exit hoping he could slip passed the guard.

Brutus leant his halberd against a wall of the central staircase in the entranceway and rubbed his face.  It was time for the three other guards on duty to report.  Shaun, James and Leander.  The guard on the main entrance didn’t report, he had to maintain his position until relieved.  It should have been more, but with injuries, two guards off to find Ages and another watching over the mice, they were now short of numbers.  Extra rats were ready in the guard house, resting only lightly in case they were needed, but Brutus had an uneasy feeling.  There was something in the air tonight.

Brutus peered over the balcony, resting heavily on the hand rail.  The other guards were late.  Granted there wouldn’t be that much to report.  He had looked in on Hugo, but the rat was sleeping.  No one had heard a peep out of him all day.  He doubted there would be anything else.  With a grunt he stepped away from the railings, but turned at the sounds of running.  He was taken aback to see Justin running towards him.  He had others with him.  The Brisby family and... one of the Mice of NIMH!

“What’s going on?  Is that Mr. Ages?” Brutus asked in surprise as the others neared.  Their expression did little to lessen Brutus’ anxiety.

Justin halted before the big rat.  “The mice are trying to destroy the valley!  They took Timothy.  I met James on the way here.  He’s gathering as many guards as he can find.”

Brutus assimilated this information and was about to reply when something interrupted him.  Another rat was running up to the group, a little grey mouse in tow.

“Timothy!” said Cynthia, hugging her brother as he arrived.

“Are you all right?” asked Mrs. Brisby, kneeling next to her son.

“Fine,” said Timothy.  “Do you have the Stone?”

“Right here!” said Teresa, handing the red jewel back to Timothy.

Timothy looked at it gratefully, glad to have the Stone back in his possession.

“Are you okay holding onto that, Timothy?” asked Justin.  Timothy nodded and then, glancing up, he did a double take when he noticed Warren for the first time.

“What’s...” he began.

“He freed us, Timothy,” explained Cynthia.  “He’s on our side.”

Martin seemed riled at this, but said nothing.  His attention was elsewhere.  The rats weren’t listening.  Justin was speaking to the one who had brought Timothy.

“Where did you find him, Shaun?”

 “Making his way to the infirmary.  There wasn’t anyone there, so we came up here.  He says the Mice of NIMH are trying to kill everyone one.  Justin, along the way I found Leander.  He’s hurt.  Badly.”

Justin ground his teeth, thinking for moment.

“We need more rats!  Brutus, take the Brisby family to my quarters.  Keep the door locked and stay with them.  If you see any other guards, tell them to get up here now.  Shaun, go to the Mice of NIMH’s quarters.  There may be some rats in trouble there.”

“There are...” said Warren and everyone turned to him.  The mouse continued nervously.  “The rats you sent to our quarters.  Fraus was ready for them.  Two of them are hurt and they’re trapped. I can help them...” he added as he saw Brutus’ expression.

Justin looked at the mouse.

“You’re a healer?” he asked.

Warren nodded.

“Then go with Shaun.  Shaun, stay with him, if some of the other guards see a strange mouse hovering over wounded guards they may take exception to it.  Show him to Leander and any other rats that need assistance.  You’ll find Bracken down there, send him up here immediately.”

“Aye, Justin,” said Shaun.

Four more rats entered the entranceway.  Three showed all the evidence of having dressed in a hurry.  The Brisby children recognised the new arrivals.  They were Kate, and Raymond from the barracks, and Clerval the medic.  The fourth was obviously James.

“Alan’s on his way now, Justin,” explained Kate.  “He’s bringing more guards and medics.”

“Right.  James, with me!  Kate, you too!  Raymond.  Go to the guards on the entrances to the colony.  Let them know the situation!”  Then to all, “If you see any guards, tell them to get the machine house as quickly as possible.  Clerval, you’re with Shaun.  Off you go!”

The rats sped off; Justin, Kate and James hurried to the machine house access tunnels.  Brutus led the Brisby family away.

As Timothy left the entranceway, a thought struck him that shook him to his core.  He had left Dad’s book in his study.  At that moment it seemed the only thing of any importance and he had to get it!

“I need to go to the library,” he said turning back to the entranceway.

“Timothy?” said Brutus.

“Timothy!  Wait!”  Martin started after his brother, but Timothy had bolted off with amazing speed.

“No, come back!” cried Mrs. Brisby, distraught.

Timothy did not listen.  He had to make sure his father’s book was safe.  To him, it was now a higher priority than being safe.  It was his father’s legacy and must be secure.  He was so preoccupied with these thoughts and so relieved that the rats were now aware of what was going on that he had even forgotten about Spiro still being loose in the colony.

“Where is he?”

Malachi was storming up and down a gantry.  His voice was low, yet his expression was like always and unless you knew him you would not realise he was seething with anger.

“I’m more worried about Warren,” said Foxglove.  All work had stopped as the three mice saw their leader’s scheme fraying.  Barrels had only been piled against around half of the water wheel flues.  “He’s not following the plan.  You know how he felt about it.  I think we’ve lost him.”

Deakon chuckled at this, Foxglove throwing him a disdainful glare.

“Maybe I should go and look,” Deakon put in awkwardly.

“No...” said Malachi, ceasing in his pacing.  “Something has happened.  Spiro hasn’t returned either.  Nor has Stave for that matter.  We must have been discovered.  Let us start the deconstruction now!”

Foxglove balked at this suggestion, her calm leaving her momentarily.

“We can’t abandon the others!  We have to wait!”

“Don’t pretend to be overcome with a daughter’s love now, Foxglove,” Malachi still retained his emotionless composure.  “We know how you feel about your father.  It’s amazing you followed Fraus here at all.”

Foxglove had not in fact been talking about Fraus.  Her thoughts had in fact been with another mouse...  What if he had been captured...?  What if he were already dead?  She shivered trying to cast all such thoughts from her mind.  She was brought out of her introspection by a series of loud clicks from overhead.  Malachi was now winding in the water gates, turning all the water wheel chutes onto full.

“Malachi!” she cried.  “Wait!”

“Don’t move!”

The shout had come from the access tunnels.  Three rats stood there, weapons at the ready.

“I knew it!” cried Malachi over the roar of running water.  Foxglove’s stomach sank as she saw the rats.  The others were lost.  She only hoped that if they were still alive they would make their way back to the rally point.  One thought brought her some comfort her.  If any of them could make it out of the valley now, it would be Spiro.

The rats darted forward towards the gantry.  Malachi acted too.  With the water wheels behind him turning rapidly the whole scaffold was beginning to tremble.  He grabbed a lantern from the wall and started work on the fuel barrel tapers.

“Leave them, Malachi!  Come on!” shouted Foxglove, jumping down the scaffold.  She descended quickly using the supports to control her fall.  The rats were climbing nearer and would be on them in a matter of moments.  Seeing this Deakon threw down his spear and joined Foxglove in climbing hurriedly down the scaffold to the machine house floor.  One of the rats tried to intercept them as he sprinted up the ramps, but another cried out.

“Leave them!  The other one is lighting the fuel casks!”

Foxglove and Deakon reached the floor, sparing a swift glance up the scaffold to see the rats ascending towards Malachi.  There was nothing they could do for him now.  The two mice headed for the timber storage at the far end of the chamber.  They knew about the lift that would take them to the surface.  Deakon called forward to Foxglove as they made their way through the machine house.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Malachi?  In case he escapes.” asked Deakon.

“He was foolish enough to try and see my father’s plan through; he can deal with the consequences.  Besides...”  Foxglove glancing back over her shoulder at the stacked up fuel barrels, “I’m not going back for anything, now.”

Atop the water wheel scaffold Malachi had lit all the tapers.  In the dim light he could see them all glowing, little flames in the dark.  The smell of burning made his whiskers twitch.  He could also hear the rats approach, swivelling his ears towards the sound to try and pick out the subtle noises over the rushing water.  Opening the lantern he was holding Malachi flung it in amongst the barrels.  Its remaining fuel scattered burned amongst wooden supports and barrels alike.  Turning back to the sound of approaching guards he drew his sword, waiting for the right moment amongst the rising flames.  The first rat appeared on the gantry stairs, halberd in hand, obviously ready for combat.  Malachi obliged, he leapt, but was caught in midair with the butt of a halberd.  He hit the ground, winded.  Struggling up he received another blow across the face.  Malachi lay unconscious as the rat stood over him.
  “Murdering scum!” snarled James.  He had seen Chloe’s body on the machine house floor far below.  He was about to run the mouse through, but Kate, stopped him by grabbing his shoulder roughly.

“No!  Not like that!” she said.  James sneered at the fallen mouse.  Behind them a third rat appeared on the ramp.

“Get him out of here!” cried Justin over the din, indicating the mouse.  He began trying to direct some of the water that was pouring from the chutes onto the flames.  He was only successful in singing his clothes and fur.  “Both of you get off the scaffold.  Get out!”

“Come on Justin, you can’t stop it,” called Kate.  The fire had taken hold and she could not even get near to the barrels.  There were so many!  James gripped Malachi by the collar of his jerkin, dragging him down the ramps.  In the distance he caught the other mice climb into the timber lift out of the corner of his eye.

Justin using whatever wood he could lay his hands on was trying to create a makeshift flue for the water.  It trickled onto one barrel, diluting the fluid.  The flames sputtered and dimmed, but it wasn’t enough!  In desperation he grabbed one of the smaller barrels, ignoring the burning pain in his hands, and flung it into the stream of water.  The flames were extinguished and the little barrel tumbled down, clattering off the water wheel and into the funnel below that.

“Justin!” Kate nearly screamed from a lower platform.  The leader of the rats, looking down at his scarred hands, knew there was nothing he could do now.  He darted away, jumping from the water wheel gantry onto one of the pulleys that dangled form the roof.  Shifting his weight he swung around towards the wall and a nearby landing.  Not bothering with the stairs he swung over the railings and jumped down, towards the middle levels, using the wooden supports to guide his fall.  The others were now away from the scaffold, having made it onto the landings at the side of the tall chamber themslevs, about halfway down.  It was then that the first of the barrels blew up.

The sound shook the entire floor and all the platforms vibrated.  The first explosion was quickly joined by a succession of others, each lending their destructive power to demolishing the water wheels.  Rope and timber were showered out into the machine house with the blinding light as the top of the water wheel gantry and many of the upper landings disintegrated.

Justin had been in mid leap when the explosion had occurred.  He tumbled in midair, falling towards the floor beneath when something grabbed his outstretched hand.  His fall turned into a swing and he bumped against a wooden railing with a grunt.  There he hung, Kate grinning down at him.  With their combined effort Justin was brought safely onto the platform.

Behind him one of the water wheels, torn from its mountings by the force of the explosion, flew across the chamber.  It rolled as it hit the floor destroying workbenches and equipment as it ploughed into the fuel fermenting cauldron.  In a shower of debris both shattered with the force of the impact.  Then came the water.  It flew forth from the ruptured wall, crashing into the floor with a tremendous splash, brining parts of the ruined scaffold with it.  The furnaces hissed as the water flooded into the burning pits, steam shooting up briefly here and there.  Within moments the floor of the machine house had become a roiling, foamy morass.

The rats looked at the ruins of the machine house.  Parts of the scaffold still burned, wherever the water didn’t touch, but an incredible amount of liquid was pouring into the chamber.  The various items on the floor of room already floated on the water’s surface.  With a terrible inevitability, the water was slowly rising up the walls.  By now it was already shooting down the lower access tunnel into the colony itself.  Justin hung his head.

“Oh no!”

Chapter 16: You can unlock any door

Shaun and Warren reached the door that was still wedged shut with the stout wooden beam. There was the repeated thudding of heavy impacts and the door was quivering with each sound. Shaun rushed forward, pushing the rafter aside. As soon as the door was unobstructed it burst open. Bracken, face a mask of anger, fists bloodied, was standing in the tunnel, his chest heaving. Behind him, Shaun and Warren could see two further rats lying on the floor in obvious trouble. Shaun hesitated a moment before reporting to his captain.

"Bracken, the Mice are trying to destroy the colony. Justin wants you in the machine house now."

Bracken's eyes fixed on Warren.

"He's helping us now," Shaun hastened to add.

With a snarl, Bracken charged up the corridor in the direction of the machine house. Left alone, Shaun and Warren hurried into the room to help however they could.

Timothy entered the dimly lit library. He could still see a dying lantern in his study. Bounding through the door he looked as his desk. His heart sank when he saw the book was gone. The tinted glasses too, though the other set of normal spectacles were there. Automatically, not thinking, he returned them to the case. He was too late, he thought. Too late. He closed the glasses case bitterly. If only he had stopped for moment to think, to hide the book. The regret quickly turned to fear. He now had to hurry back to his family, and the tunnels may still be dangerous despite the Home Guard. If he could just get back to the entranceway, there would be rats there. Then he would be safe.

He scurried back out into the corridor, wondering whether he should go to the entranceway, or Justin's quarters. His thoughts were interrupted as a hand seized his face.

The little mouse struggled and tried to cry out but to no avail. He was held firm and his cries muffled.

"Sssssshhhhhh!" Fraus hissed into his ear. "No shouting now. There's a good boy!" Timothy felt the point of a blade on his cheek.

"Ah, what's this?" Fraus had noticed the chain about Timothy's neck. Timothy could feel Fraus tugging on the chain, and the Stone. Whilst distracted, Timothy seized an opportunity. He stopped struggling and instead bit into the hand over his face. Fraus snarled and released his grip. Timothy darted away, closely followed by Fraus. Timothy did not know where he was heading; he just had to try and get away from the mouse behind him.

Bracken arrived on a scene of mayhem. He had used the middle access tunnel that was around halfway down the colony's depth. On the way had encountered a group of guardsrats who were heading to the machine house, as well as James heading in the other direction carrying an unconscious mouse out of the tunnel. After a quick exchange of information Brakcen had hurried on, but it had not prepared him for this. The damage that had been done was unbelievable. He heard similar gasps from the rats behind him.

Bracken could also see the water was rising. There was little time to waste and he rounded on his companions.

"You two, get back to the living quarters and begin evacuating the colony, the lowest levels first. Chester, get Hugo out of his cell, he'll be underwater soon. You two with me... The rest of you, check all the lowest levels, make sure there's no one down there."

The various rats ran back along the tunnel towards the entranceway, still shaken by the sight of the wrecked machine house.

"What are we going to do, Captain?" asked a young guard.

"We are going to do what we can," replied Bracken.

They hurried down the still intact gantries, towards the bottom of the colony. The water was rising quickly. They saw Kate on the last platform not yet submerged. She was looking anxiously at the lowest access tunnel, a thick rope tied to a nearby supporting beam led into the tunnel, pulled taught. Kate looked up at Bracken's approach.

"Justin's in there. He's trying to throw the lever to collapse the access tunnel, to stop the flow of water to the colony. But the water! It's nearly flooded the tunnel!"

"How long has been in there?" asked Bracken, though before Kate could reply there was a distorted voice from the tunnel.

"Not long enough!"

Justin appeared from the shadows, hauling himself along with the rope, half wading, half swimming against the strong flow of water into the tunnel.

"It's jammed solid! We'll have to evacuate the colony!" Justin was panting, trying to get his breath back as Bracken hauled him from the water. The leader of the rats sat on the edge of the platform and began to alter the length of the rope that was tied about his waist.

"It's already underway, Justin," Bracken assured him. Justin, in response nodded.

"Take care of the situation, will you?" he said. Bracken didn't like the grim tone of Justin's voice.

"Why...? Justin...!"

But Justin had ducked back into the tunnel, wading into the water without another word. With the water's flow helping him on his way, he was gone in an instant. Bracken straightened up. He had been given an order and he had to follow it.

"Come on! Let's see what else we can do. Kate, stay here as long as you can, in case he comes back! If he does, I want to know. Don't go down that tunnel for any reason!"

Kate nodded. The others started off back up the ladders. Bracken's mind raced. They would likely have to collapse the two other access tunnels. It would mean the loss of the machine house, but it would stop the water flooding any more of the colony. They could do without the machine house, but they couldn't do without their homes. But could they do anything else here?

Bracken was relieved to be greeted by Arthur's voice as he neared the middle access tunnel's entrance. The short brown rat was leaning over the railing, watching Bracken's approach.

"Bracken! Get up here!" shouted the engineer.

Bracken leaped up the last steps and saw Arthur standing amongst a couple of guardsrats. There was also Chester, holding a sword against Hugo's back.

"What's he doing here?" the Captain asked.

"I didn't know where else to take him. Better somewhere we can keep an eye on him, I'd say."

"All right..." began Bracken, then all rats turned.

There was a groan from the other side of the machine house. The wall where the water wheels had once been cracked and with a mighty rush of water the another water flue gave way. Parts of the wall hurtled down to splash into the water below, more fluid pouring forth form the ruined chute. A lot more. Bracken's mind went to Justin, muttering,

"We could use another miracle from that Stone about now!"

Justin held the rope tightly as it went taught, just a little further on from the lever than would have been comfortable. Reaching out he grabbed the handle and pulled at it. It wouldn't budge. He wrenched at it, even bracing himself against the wall as he heaved, teeth gritted, using all his might to throw the switch. It began to move, suddenly giving slightly, making Justin slip into the water. With the help of the rope he righted himself, shaking his head to clear his eyes of water.

"Arthur!" he said, taking hold of the lever and pulling himself closer. "There are going to be changes in priority of routine maintenance checks!"

There was a roar from down the tunnel and Justin became aware of a breeze. There was something ominous about the noise. He gripped the lever in both hands, feeling that this was a sensible option. The water about his chest swelled with a wave that reached his neck. Looking down the tunnel, the skin about his eyes tightening, he took a deep breath. Then the second wave hit him. Water poured into the tunnel, roaring along, engulfing the rat. Justin held onto the lever for all he was worth, the rope digging into the flesh of his sides. He couldn't allow himself to be carried away, not without collapsing the tunnel first. He felt the rope go slack and a sudden pain in his arms meant he they were now bearing all the strain. The flow of water pulled at him, trying to drag him away, but Justin tightened his grip. A moment later the lever lurched again, just a bit. Justin's lungs burned, his shoulders ached, but he held on. I must throw it completely, I must...

The lever gave again, and the angle was such that Justin couldn't hold on any longer. He was swept away, being carried with the flow of water into the lowest levels of the colony. Behind him, the tunnel collapsed in on itself.

Mrs Brisby looked back and forth across the throng of creatures in the entranceway. She searched the crowds, looking for Brutus and Timothy. She felt panic welling in her stomach as time passed and there was no sign of the guardsrat or her son.

Meanwhile the rest of the Brisby family had observed that the other guards had not been idle. The order to begin evacuating the colony had filtered through the ranks of the Home Guard and slowly the inhabitants of Thorn Valley were being brought up to the top floors of the colony. Groups of rats were huddled about, the various landings of the entranceway. Guards were standing around looking watchful, trying to control the situation. Young children cried and distraught parents tried to comfort them. The rat named Raymond was in conversation with another guard nearby. As the other rat darted off, Raymond turned and explained the situation to the Brisby family.

"We were ordered to evacuate the lower levels, though it seems the water has stopped flowing into the colony for the moment, therefore we're keeping everyone here. It would be better if we don't have to go to the surface after dark. It's too dangerous we couldn't protect everyone."

"What's happening in the machine house?" asked Martin.

"I don't know. Apparently Justin and Bracken are in there."

"Can any of these guards be spared to look for Timothy?" asked Mrs. Brisby. Raymond wore a look of genuine regret as he said, "I will go and see, Mrs. Brisby. I will make sure that..."

He broke off. All chatter stopped, the entranceway falling silent as a tremor shook the ground beneath their feet.

Fraus entered the council chamber, shutting the side door behind him. There were a few lanterns dotted about the hall providing dim illumination. It was enough. He had seen Timothy scurry in here, and he would find him.

"Timothy!" he grated, peering into the gloom of the council chamber.

Timothy rested in his hiding place clutching his chest. He could not run any further, not without a rest. Trying to breathe silently he listened as Fraus crept around the council chamber. He was checking the other doors, kicking at chairs, being very thorough. Timothy looked down at the Stone. It gave off no light now. Gulping down more air he realised he couldn't stay here. He had to try and get away.

A tremor shook the entire hall. It caught Timothy by surprise and in his exhausted state he tumbled out from behind one of the council chairs with a gasp.

Fraus was at the side door, hand braced against it to steady himself. However he heard timothy's cry and their eyes locked.

Timothy's mind raced. If he was fast enough he would make for the main entrance and be through the door before Fraus could stop him. If he could reach a guard, hiding wouldn't matter.

Timothy took a deep breath and scrabbled to his feet, and began a mad dash for the door. He heard a snarl and Fraus was behind him bounding along, hook held ready. Timothy slid to a halt as he reached the main doors and pulled the handle with all his might. Slowly it began to open. A moment later his hope of escape fled as Fraus barged into the door, closing it again. He looked down at Timothy and Timothy stared back into hungry, insane eyes. The little mouse backed away, falling over in his haste while Fraus advanced slowly, but not as if to attack.

"Timothy! Wait..."

Fraus stopped and lowered the blade, pointing it off into the empty chamber. Timothy just watched the other mouse, trying to raise himself from the floor, but his arms were weak and his body drained of energy.

"Please, Timothy," Fraus went on. "Help me. I do not covet the Stone. It is yours, and I do not wish to take it from you. I want what it can do. I want to use it to try and return something very dear to me. Much as your father was taken from you before his time, so my beloved was snatched away. I'm asking you Timothy, no begging you. As a fellow NIMH-born... Please.  Help me..."

Timothy hesitated for a moment. He could almost believe Fraus. He would never be able to trust this mouse but he thought that for once, Fraus was telling the truth. It was during this hesitation that Fraus struck. The lunge was so sudden, the movements so quick, almost frenzied, that Timothy had no chance to run. He tried but Fraus was on him, hand around the chain, actually lifting Timmy off the ground. The dark furred mouse's eyes had changed again. Now they were filled with a madness unleashed, a wild gaze locked onto the crimson Stone. Timothy struggled, kicking out and striking his assailant, but could not do anything to stop the older, larger mouse. The chain on the amulet broke and Timothy fell to the ground, sprawling onto the cold tiles though he quickly raised his head to look up at the other mouse. Fraus was holding the Stone aloft, gazing at it grinning like a maniac. He turned it this was and that, looking into its crimson depths.

"Beautiful," he said.

"Give it back!" cried Timmy, springing to his feet and pouncing at Fraus and the Stone that he held. Fraus looked to Timothy, having apparently forgotten about him, and with a smooth movement sent Timothy crashing into the wall. Timothy squealed and fell, wincing, clutching his shoulder, tears forming not only from the pain, but from the frustration. Fraus looked down with mock benevolence.

"Patience, boy. You don't want to miss this," he grinned, and hefted the Stone again. He gripped it tightly then thrust it out in front of him. Timothy looked on helpless, wondering what would happen. Fraus blinked.  He squeezed the Stone, straining with the effort. The Stone remained inanimate.

"Why isn't anything happening?" said Fraus, his voice a disbelieving whisper. The grin had faded. Timothy thought the mouse looked like a child who had just lost a favourite toy. This changed as Fraus once again turned on Timothy. His words came as a roar and spit flew from his mouth with each word:

"How do you make it work!? Tell me boy, or I promise that your family will be made to suffer terribly!"

As Fraus said these words he felt a pulse of warmth from his hand. He turned his attention back to the Stone and in reply it pulsed with a deep, red light. Fraus' face twisted into a rictus of unhinged glee. As he watched the glow became stronger, swirling into a corona around the amulet and then this too grew and expanded. Fraus twisted looking down at his body as the ethereal light engulfed him. Timothy had forgotten about the pain in his arm. He did not even think to run. He was captivated by the sight in front of him; both amazed and terrified by it. Fraus' whole body was now smothered in a blood red aura. Fraus looked once again to Timothy, and the little mouse stared back into the dreadful eyes, bright, burning crimson now, like further versions of the Stone, glowing in the gloom. How could his father do this? Why would he create the Stone knowing there was the possibility of a creature such as this, one so completely consumed with hate, using its powers to destroy? Why give the Stone the power to unbind the evil within a heart as well as the good? Then Timmy realised his father had not meant it to fall into the clutches of evil, had actually strived to keep it safe from the likes of Jenner and Fraus. Timmy had allowed that. He had been selfish, wishing to hold onto the amulet when it would have been safer with any of the others. He could have asked Martin or Justin to look after it, but he hadn't. He'd wanted to keep it. It had been his decision and his alone. He wished bitterly he had made a different choice, but such wishes are always made in vain. Now it was too late.  His father had known the Stone's power, though potent, was blind. Now it was in the clutches of a creature consumed by hate, and it would doom them all.

He was bought out of his laments by a sound. It was coarse, and grating. He quickly realised Fraus was laughing, though the word hardly seemed applicable to such an atrocious sound. It stopped suddenly and Fraus looked about the hall as if seeing the room for the first time. As he did the unlit lanterns in the room pulsed. Fraus laughed again, sweeping his hands around. As he did so Lanterns sprang to life, burning with such an intensity that Timothy had to look away. Fraus balled a fist and blood red flames sprang up around it. Still grinning the mouse spoke, though his voice had changed. The words came with sinister sub-harmonics:

"Fear me, for now I am the embodiment of retribution! A dark angel of reckoning..."  He gazed at the Stone and began to laugh again his head thrown back, his whole body shaking.

Then there was a subtle variation in the atmosphere. The lanterns pulsed again, flickering slightly and turning red. Fraus' malevolent rictus had not changed but the eyes that were once intense and menacing were now glazed and panicked. Then the tone of the laugh changed. It was gloating no longer. Fraus was screaming!

He dropped the stone but the crimson aura did not leave him. Instead it swirled around him with a renewed vigour, the red of the lanterns surging forth, joining with Fraus' aura, lending their own power, coalescing into a black mass that engulfed Fraus' core, seeming to sink into his chest and shroud his black heart in its darkness. Fraus clutched at his chest, tore at his own body. All the while Timothy watched, still rooted to the spot in horror. He looked on as Fraus staggered and fell, no air left in his lungs to scream. He still pawed at his chest, back arched away from the floor, bloodshot eyes wide, frothing at the mouth. Then there was a sound, so deep and loud it was felt, not heard; yet Timothy's hands shot to his ears and he began to curl into as small a shape as he could manage. Fraus had gone very still and in another burst of golden incandescent light everything became silent and was motionless once again.

Timothy had covered his eyes against the last of the Stone's radiance and when he looked again all the lanterns were now dead and the room was in darkness, except for a small pool of red light around the Stone. Timothy could still hear ragged breath in the room and the soft rustle of movement. There was also the stench of burnt fur. Timothy slowly, with infinite caution, crept forward and reached out towards the Stone, thinking he would just grab it and run.

His hand neared the amulet and he looped his fingers around the broken chain, just as another hand shot from the darkness and grabbed his wrist.  He did not hesitate to think, but simply clawed the hand that held him, wrenching his own had away. There was a whimpered cry and Timothy was released almost immediately. As Timothy scrabbled at the main doors, clutching the Stone close to his chest, he tried to work saliva into his mouth. His hands, fingers and his wrist where he had been held were slick with blood and the little mouse was also followed into the antechamber by that same pungent, burnt smell. He was however not in the slightest bit curious as to what he had left in the darkness and threw open the outer door to the entranceway. There, blinded by the light, he squirmed as hands held his arms.

"Timothy! Calm down it's me..."

"Brutus?" Timothy whispered and said no more as he fell unconscious.

"Is there anything we can do?" Bracken asked the chief engineer. Arthur spoke quickly, but he was collected, keeping his calm.

"I've sent a crew up to the dam system. They'll see if they can divert the water flow. It may take a while though. Anything we can do here to help would be a real bonus."

"Should we destroy the other access tunnels? Save the rest of the colony?"

"Not yet..." Arthur was deep in thought. He had felt the lower access tunnel collapse, and knew it had bought them some time. During the silence Bracken was acutely aware of the water level rising alarmingly. However he held his tongue, letting the engineer think. Eventually Arthur spoke.

"Not all the water flues seem to be damaged. It looks like the scaffold and water wheel assemblies took the brunt of the blast. If someone can get to the gate controls we may be able to slow the water flow. It may be enough for the others to stop the water coming in from the outside through the wrecked chutes."

Bracken looked at the wheels that worked the flue gates. They were mounted high on the wall, surrounded by the remnants of the ruined gantry and the water wheel gearing.

"But how do we get up there?" he asked.

He became aware of movement, and Hugo dived past him. Chester cried out.

"He's escaping!"

Hugo stopped at the platform railing, and leapt, grabbing a piece of the scaffold that was still intact. Carefully, though with haste, he began to climb the broken beams and timbers of the gantry. Bracken made to follow the other rat but Arthur stopped him, placing an arm across Bracken's wide chest.

"Look at the scaffold! It'll barely support him alone. If you go as well, it will probably bring the whole lot down!"

Bracken clenched his fists, watching Hugo climb higher and higher.

"What's he doing?" asked Chester.

"He's going for the gate controls," said Bracken shaking his head.

Hugo gripped a beam tightly as everything he stood on shook alarmingly. He looked up at his goal. The gate controls had a damaged platform just below them. If he could reach that, he was sure he would be able to work any of the controls. He swung and hopped from one beam to the next. A burning support gave way at one point, making him slip. As he fell he grabbed the beam, hugging it, steadying his nerve. With a visible effort he pulled himself back up on top of the beam. Checking his path, he climbed on. He couldn't back out now. He remembered his mother's words. He would redeem himself and his family even if it cost him his life. To go back would mean punishment by the council and alienation of his family. Compared to that, death lost its sting.

He landed on a still intact platform and jogged to the other end. There was one more gap to cross. A stream of water shot close by, the spray drenching him. Blinking water from his eyes he analysed the situation. Half the bridge from where he was to the control platform was missing. It was a large, but not impossible jump. He took a slow step back, his foot resting on the very edge of the landing. Crouching slightly he tensed... then ran. There was space for only two steps, but he gained a lot of speed and leapt, pushing off on the edge of the gantry. He sailed through the air, stretching out his arms as he watched the other platform loom up before him. As the energy of the leap dissipated he began to descend, landing on the shattered bridge. With a sickening slowness and tearing of wooden fibres it began to break away. As the bridge swung slowly towards the vertical Hugo scrabbled towards the control platform, trying to get off the bridge before it fell. He was pulling himself up using the edge of the platform when what remained of the bridge disappeared from beneath him. Grimacing, he made the last effort to haul himself up to the relative safety of the platform. He rolled onto the firm surface, lying for a moment, panting.

"He's done it!" said Arthur with an air of awe. Bracken nodded. It was an impressive climb. They watched as the distant Hugo stood and began to inspect the control wheels, trying to work out which way to turn them to shut the water off. He gripped the wheel and wrenched it around. Once done with that one he moved to the next. Slowly, one by one the flow of water from the chutes slackened.

By the time Hugo had finished five of the flues stopped disgorging water entirely. Two seemed partially blocked, but the flow was greatly reduced. There was no effect eighth heavily damaged one.

"It's still coming," said Bracken sounding crestfallen.

"But it's a lot less now," pointed out Arthur. "I think he's done enough. I'll get another crew together and we can start trying to plug the gaps, make it safe to clean up this mess."

At that moment Kate came bounding up the stairs, dripping wet.

"Bracken, the bottom tunnel has collapsed. Justin managed to throw the lever, but... I can't find him."

Bracken clenched his jaw, and was about to reply when there was another rumble that shook the valley...

With a crash of collapsing stone another section of the wall gave way. One of the partially blocked flues opened up, and with the pieces of wall went some of the remaining scaffold. Hugo could see what was going to happen and leapt away as the beam he had been standing on plummeted into the swirling waters below. He landed and held onto a new support, his legs flailing, desperately trying to find purchase. There was a wrenching sound, a splintering of wood, and Hugo's heart sank. A nearby beam, flames still licking its surface, swung down, striking him on the face and chest and shattering the weakened support he clung to. He cried out in agony, seeming to hang in the air for a moment, before plummeting downwards. Another piece of gantry slowed his decent and he slammed into it, his shoulder breaking in the sickening impact. He did not cry out that time as he plunged into the water. A moment later Bracken dived in after him.

Spiro found himself in the gallery of the council chamber. His movements had been very peculiar in an effort to avoid rats. It was very dark in the council chamber, all lanterns having been extinguished. Just how he liked it.

Vaulting over the railings he dropped down to the speaker's floor below. He landed in a crouch, his cape settling about him. He stayed bowed low, listening. There was something else in the room with him to his right. The only illumination was a thin strip of light showing through the slightly open main doors, but that was not enough to make out what it was that occupied the hall's floor.

Creeping slowly along the wall he reached the main doors of the council chamber. Spiro could smell something now as well. It was a raw, burnt smell. A rasping whisper made him stop stock still.


In the gloom and up close, Spiro saw what had spoken. Fraus' hook was the only indication that it was once his leader, and even this was scorched and warped as if from a great heat. Spiro was incapable of revulsion or shock, but he could still acknowledge that whatever happened to Fraus was quite appalling. He was about to move away when another whisper stopped him.

"Spiro! Don't leave me... like this!"

The voice was cracked and raw; Spiro could see the thing holding out a twisted claw in plea. He looked down at what had once been Fraus. Spiro was also incapable of pity, but nevertheless he arrived at a decision. Reaching into his cloak, Spiro drew out a blade.

Timothy slowly came around and through bleary vision he could make out the ceiling of the entranceway.  The sounds of nervous chatter were all around him. Moving his head and blinking, he looked up into the faces of his family. His mother smiled down at him.

"Hi, Mum," he mumbled.

"Oh, Timothy!" Mrs. Brisby hugged him, and he hugged her back. As he did his hand squeezed the Stone. He still had it. It was safe.

"What happened?" Mrs. Brisby asked, her voice muffled as she pressed her head onto her son's shoulder. Timothy pulled away slightly to explain.

"The Stone... it saved me. It did something to Fraus."

"Where is he?" asked Brutus who was looming nearby. He paused in his conversation with two other guards.

"Back in the council chamber," said Timothy with a nod, then added, "What's left of him."

Brutus turned to his companions, one of whom arched an eyebrow. The two set off at a jog towards the great doors at the far end of the entranceway. Timothy watched them go then asked,

"What about the rest of the mice?"

"We don't know," said Martin. "We haven't heard much, but everyone seems to think they might have got away. Apart from one that is."

The family turned and Timothy looked too. Nearby on the landing, tied up and under guard, was Malachi. His head was downcast and he stared resolutely at the floor. There was no fear in his eyes, only the signature melancholy.

Their attention was drawn by a commotion from the machine house access tunnel. Bracken limped from the shadows of the passage, an unpleasant wound in his leg, his fur dripping wet. Hugo was supported between himself and Chester. Carefully they set the young rat down, a medic immediately getting to work on him. Another asked to see to Bracken's leg, but he waved it away, instead the big rat beginning to talk with guards nearby. Brutus immediately jogged over to his captain, but presently returned to the Brisby family with the news. He looked grave.

"Apparently the situation is under control. Hugo managed to shut off most of the water flow, but was injured. Bracken rescued him from of the water, but we don't know how he is yet. Justin managed to collapse the lower access tunnel so the rest of the colony is all right, but... we can't find any trace of him."

"He's all right," said a voice form the central stairway.

The mice, with barely enough time to assimilate Brutus' words, noticed a battered, cut and dripping wet Justin with torn shirt, emerge from the central staircase. They smiled as the rat leant against the wall, his shoulders heaving. He managed a weary grin.

"Justin!" called Brutus grinning, clapping the leader on the back and making Justin wince. "What happened?"

"I... it doesn't matter," Justin replied, waving a hand. "Is the flood under control?"

At the sound of Justin's name a small crowd were gathering about. Arthur was amongst them.

"Certainly is. The water flow has been stopped. Well... as good as. My crew can handle it from now on. It's going to be a state, but it's not going to get worse."

"And there's no more danger to the colony?"

Arthur scoffed at Justin's question.

"I designed this place to last. It will take more than that to bring it down!"

Justin nodded and continued with his questioning.

"What about the mice?"

Another guard waiting nearby spoke up.

"There's one in the antechamber to the council hall. It's Fraus. He's dead. Really dead!"

Justin looked quizzical but did not request other information; the guard did not seem as though they wanted to volunteer it. Instead he asked, "And the others?"

By now Bracken had made his way over, and grinned despite his obvious discomfort.

"We caught one, he's under guard. We know two escaped. We've got rats out tracking them now. Those not accounted for seem to have slipped away. We haven't seen anything of them."

Justin pursed his lips in thought. However he and everyone nearby went quiet as a keening wail cut through the general commotion. Christine had pushed her way through the throng of rats towards her son.

"No! Hugo... Hugo... My child what's happened to you...?"  Her voice trailed into sobs as he buried her face in her son's damp and tattered clothes. Justin looked on with a fallen expression.

"What about casualties?" he asked Bracken, not taking his eyes off Christine and Hugo.

The big rat breathed deeply before replying to this.

"Clerval is doing all he can for Hugo. Leander and Katherine are wounded, Leander quite badly. He's already in the infirmary. Richard is in a real state, the medics are doing what they can, but..." Bracken shook his head. "...and Chloe, one of the Artisan's, is dead. We've just recovered her body from the machine house."

Justin sagged at this and slid into a sitting position, resting against a wall. Two more dead. The colony was expanding quickly and was very large now, but it was still small enough that every death was still a very personal tragedy to everyone else. They would be missed. Bracken put a hand on Justin's shoulder.

"It could have been much worse Justin."

"Get back! Stay away from him!"

The group stopped dead in their discussion at the sound of the enraged scream. Christine was still crouched over Hugo, however her face had changed. Replacing the grief was a mask of fury. She held her arms protectively above Hugo and was snarling at Clerval. The doctor held his hands up placating.

"Christine, please. You must step back. I need the light..."

Christine didn't wait to hear Clerval out. She shouted again, all composure gone.

"You all want him to die! You all hate him! But, he isn't Jenner! He didn't deserve this. He did nothing!"

"Christine..." said Clerval, trying to take her hands.

"I said stay back!" she said, lashing out at Clerval. The doctor fell backwards, sprawling onto the floor, his face bleeding.

"Christine!" said Bracken, hobbling over. "You must stop this..."

Christine turned her hateful eyes on the guard captain and snarled, "You're responsible! He was in you charge!"

"He did this himself. He acted for the benefit of the colony. Now let the doctors work."

This seemed to momentarily non-plus Christine. There was a pause before she said, "I want to treat him! I'll care for my boy."

"He's too badly hurt, Christine," Clerval interjected. "Leave it to us."

"I'll not leave him in your hands! I'll not let you all take my boy again."

"Do you want him to die?" said Bracken harshly. The wound in his leg throbbed and he was acutely aware of the mess the colony was still in.

"No..." replied Christine, narrowing her eyes. "But you do..."

"What?" gasped Clerval.

"You all want him dead," Christine continued.

"What are you talking about?" said Bracken irritably.

Christine stroked her son's damp fur. "First Jenner, now you are taking my son!"

"Christine...!" Bracken began.

"You'll leave him in the mud and rain. Just like Jenner. Leave him dying. You want to destroy my whole family," said Christine, sounding far away.

"Don't talk nonsense," barked Bracken dismissively and signalled to some guards. "If you won't let Clerval attend Hugo you are forcing my hand."

"No!" screeched Christine, wild eyed, as two guards approached her.

"This is for Hugo's sake Christine!" said Bracken.

Christine began to screech as the gauds tried to pry her away form Hugo's unconscious body.  "You're going to kill him! My boy! Murderers! Murderers!"

"She's hysterical," warned Clerval as he tried to get near Hugo again. Bracken became aware the disturbance was beginning to spread panic amongst the rats and families nearby.

"Hold her," he ordered.

The guards struggled briefly with Christine, but with a frenzied twist she was free of them. With a hiss Christine produced a dagger from her robes, her gaze locked on the Captain of the guard. Before Bracken had even taken in what was happening she had pushed the blade deep into his chest. With a sigh Bracken crumpled backwards, lying brokenly on the floor. The guards stood and stared, dumbfounded.

"No, Christine!" shouted Justin, running forward, signalling Brutus to stay with the Brisby family. Other guardsrats moved in, trying to restrain Christine as she set furious eyes on the mice, locking Mrs. Brisby's gaze.

"Watch out for Hugo! Get him out of here!" shouted Clerval, trying to shield his patient from the melee.

"Murderers!" she screeched. She leapt, knife outstretched. A rat deftly parried the mad lunge of Christine's blade, wrapping powerful limbs about her arm. Christine bit and struggled as the guards tried to hold her back.

"Noooo!" wailed Christine as she saw Hugo being taken up by other rats. She redoubled her efforts to escape the guards' clutches.

"Bracken..." said Justin looking down in disbelief. "Clerval! Get over here!"

No sooner had the words been said before there was another scream and a movement further along the landing. Guards tried to push their way through the crowd as others tried to retreat away from something in their midst.

"What now?" asked Justin, getting to his feet. Brutus shook his head, straining to see over the crowd. It quickly became obvious.

As the groups of rats parted for the guards a small shape could be seen darting between the larger creatures. It was a mouse with a ragged cloak, a dagger in hand, and a clouded dead eye. Spiro glowered back and forth at the assembled families, making occasional lunges at any rat to come too near.

"Stop him! He mustn't get away!" shouted Brutus. Any nearby gurdsrats who weren't occupied with Christine advanced, though were hindered by the movement of others on the crowded walkway. As the guards tightened their formation Spiro leapt, using the natural agility of all mice, augmented by abnormal strength. The rats could not swing weapons for fear of hitting one another and others standing nearby. Spiro landed and ducked beneath a wild lunge from Brutus. Justin, leaping forward, managed to get a hand to Spiro, but the mouse, with a casual efficiency, jabbed a blade through Justin's forearm. As the rat reeled Spiro advanced towards Mrs. Brisby and her family. He stood before Martin, who stared back at the ragged mouse, stunned into inaction. Spiro's cheeks lifted as he gripped Martin's face and pushed young mouse backwards. Martin toppled over, rolling along the ground. Spiro spun and set his eyes on Cynthia. The little mouse was transfixed by the dead eye, and could only stand and tremble. Mrs. Brisby stepped forward but Spiro landed a quick blow to her bandaged midriff, making her double up in pain. The mouse's movements were so fast that none could have hoped to have done more.

As Spiro reached out, his claws nearing Cynthia's throat, Teresa stopped him, grabbing Spiro's arm, wrenching it away. Spiro twisted and before Teresa could react he was holding her tight, an arm wrapped around her neck, a knife pressed against her side.

"No!" screamed Mrs. Brisby, her cry rising above all the other's in the entranceway, even Christine's continued struggles. It was shrill and panicked; fear for her daughter shaking her to her core as she tried to look up through tear filled eyes. The guards stopped where they were, fearful to approach as Spiro looked back and forth, menacing Teresa with the knife. Brutus had picked himself up and Justin looked on, clutching his bleeding arm, both watching Spiro closely. Very slowly, dragging Teresa with him, Spiro began to edge towards the exit to the surface. Rats hefted weapons.

"We can't let you go, Spiro!" someone snarled.

"Release her at once," demanded another.

Spiro's eyes flicked back and forth and then fixed on Teresa. He twirled the Brisby daughter around, making her lose her balance and sending her spinning to the floor, though he held onto her hand. Before anyone could stop him he slowly and deliberately ran his blade along her outstretched arm, drawing blood and a squeal of pain from the young mouse.

"Damn you!" screamed Mrs. Brisby, trying to lunge at Spiro, but Brutus held her back.

"No Mrs. Brisby! Your daughter! If you approached he would do worse."

Mrs. Brisby clutched the thick arm that was around her and watched her daughter's face twist in pain. Tears welled once again in her eyes.

"Monster!" she screamed at the tormentor.

Spiro, his point made, gathered up the whimpering mouse, the knife now held ready to be driven beneath her ribcage. He cocked a scarred eyebrow at the rats.

"Let him pass!" grated Justin, clutching his arm. The guards parted, giving Spiro a clear path to the exit. The mouse took it, now moving swiftly despite his burden. Teresa threw a terrified glance at her mother.

"Justin!" breathed Mrs. Brisby her hands going to her mouth.

"We can't let him go!" said Brutus. Justin groaned as a medic worked on his wounded arm.

"If we try and stop him he'll cut Teresa to shreds..." he stopped, gasping with pain as the medic worked. "He has the upper hand..."

Brutus saw that he had to take over this situation. His leader was in no state to deal with this.

 "Let him get into the open," rumbled Brutus under his breath.  His eyes followed Spiro's progress as he muttered instruction to his guards. "If he thinks he's free he may release her. We don't need more casualties. In the open I may be able to do more. Down here it's too cramped."

"We'll come too," whispered a young guardsrat. Several others stood ready behind him.

"No. As Justin said, if too many of us go we might provoke him," said Brutus. "See what all of you can do here."

"But..." the young rat began.

"See to the families!"

At Brutus' command the other rats left.

"I hope you're right about this, Brutus," breathed Justin.

"So do I," the guard replied.

Spiro backed out through the entrance tunnel and Brutus followed. The Brisby mice went too. Slowly the standoff was moved to the surface.

Warren climbed the steps, Shaun a few paces behind him. He had done all he could at the infirmary. He got the feeling his presence was resented, and besides, he couldn't work with the rat scaled tools. Therefore he decided to return to the entranceway.

The pair arrived to agitated confusion. Families were still loitering, though the panic seemed to have subsided. Guardsrats seemed to be on top of the situation. The atmosphere was still far from amiable however. Shaun asked a nearby guard what was happening. Meanwhile Warren watched as a struggling rat, her fur damp with tears, was removed forcibly from the entrance hall. Another limp shape was being carried out with a degree of reverence by several other rats. He wondered what had been happening here. Shaun, with a quick glance at Warren, summed up part of what had transpired.

"One of the Mice is escaping. He has one of the Brisby children with him. Brutus and the rest of the family are on the surface. Apparently there has been a lot of trouble."

Fear seeped into Warren's mind. Who was still here? Fraus? Spiro? Whoever it was they had one of the Brisby children. Warren's stomach twisted and he started to run.

"Warren, wait!" shouted Shaun following the mouse, but Warren didn't slow down. He tore around the entranceway landings, dodging between loitering rats, through the doors and sprinted up the tunnel to the surface ignoring shouts of protest from any he passed. As he emerged from the bush that hid the entrance to the colony he felt rain. In the distance was the red and golden glow of dawn, shrouded as it was in clouds. A fine drizzle gave everything a greasy sheen. Warren saw there were fresh prints in the wet ground. He followed the trail up the slope and east, towards the stream that fed into the lake below.

He moved as fast as he could through sodden undergrowth. Silhouettes became visible further up the slope. Hurrying forward Warren found the Brisby family huddled together behind Brutus. The Rat of the Home Guard stood with halberd ready, moving slowly through vegetation towards a nearby shape. Ascending the slope, almost at a rocky outcropping that formed a plateau in the incline, was Spiro and in his arms...

"Teresa..." breathed Warren. As he neared he could see Teresa's face was contorted with pain and terror. He approached the Brisby family. Cynthia was crying, clinging to her mother as was Timothy, Martin stood resolute but visibly shaking with anger, while Mrs. Brisby looked on in numb disbelief. Warren, not taking his eyes from Spiro and Teresa, asked,

"What happened?"

"He jumped us!" said Martin, sparing a disapproving glance for the Mouse of NIMH. "He's taken Teresa. There's nothing the rats can do!"

"What about Fraus?" Warren asked.

"Fraus?" shouted Martin, not entirely understating the pertinence of the question. "It doesn't matter! He's dead!"

"Dead..." whispered Warren. His mind raced as he looked up at the dread form of Spiro. There was only one course of action. Warren turned to Mr. Brisby.

"I'm sorry. If Spiro is alive..."  The mouse had reached the outcropping, outlined against the murky sky.

"Who has the Stone?" asked Warren, eyes still averted, gazing up the slope.

"I do..." murmured Timothy.

"Can I have it please, Timothy?"

"Why? What will you...?"

"It's important! Please, Timothy quickly! I might be able to help."

Timothy untucked the Stone from a pocket in his shirt, its broken chain hanging loose. He stared at it a moment, but Warren snatched it away.

"I'm sorry, Timothy," he said. The young mouse stared at Warren, empty hand still outstretched.

"Warren!?" cried Mrs. Brisby turning wide eyes on the mouse.

Instead of answering Warren started up the slope, the Brisby family watching him go.

"Get back here!" roared Martin.

"He can't give the Stone to Spiro... Even if..." Timothy trailed off, his eyes glazed.

Mrs. Brisby shook her head. She wished for nothing more than for Teresa to be back safe amongst her other children, but to hand the Stone over... Anguish, fear and anger, all fought for possession of her body and mind.

"Warren... Wait!" she shouted.

"Warren, you miserable cur!" shouted Martin.

Warren shot a glance over his shoulder. Mrs. Brisby caught nothing in the look, as it was fleeting, but she had a terrible foreboding. Surely Warren would not betray them and take the Stone to Spiro. He may be able to rescue Teresa, but would he doom them all to something worse if Spiro should get the Stone? Brutus was already restraining Martin, stopping the mouse charging up the slope.

"Martin. Stay here!"

"Let me go!" shouted the young mouse.

"No!" shouted Brutus. "Protect your family! Let me handle this."

Martin stared back at the guardsrat, but the authority with which Brutus had spoken was undeniable. Martin nodded. Immediately Brutus began to creep up the slope obviously trying to keep his distance. Within a few moments he had disappeared into the shadowed vegetation.


The ground beneath Warren was slick with moisture, rocks dislodging as he put his weight on them. After scrabbling on hands and knees over the pebbled, muddy ground, Warren was near to Spiro and his captive atop the slope. The rocky plateau ended a little further along, dipping again before commencing the rise up the side of the mountain. There was a spur of rock to the east that hung over the edge of a sheer drop. Beneath Warren could hear the stream, swollen by the rain and waters diverted from the reservoir, thunder by.

Spiro had stopped in the centre of the raised ground, obviously trying to work out what to do next. Warren approached slowly obviously cautious not to make any sudden moves. Teresa looked back at Warren, her eyes wide with fear. Spiro himself was looking all around him. His eye darted back and forth, searching every shadow for any possible threat before it finally settled on Warren. Spiro did not seem to be hostile to Warren's presence, but he did not loosen his grip on Teresa. Looking back into Spiro's eye, Warren became aware of something that he hadn't thought possible. Behind the anger, the raw callousness that was a constant for Spiro, Warren could see the mouse was afraid.

"I've got a deal, Spiro. The girl for the Stone," as Warren said this he took another step closer. Spiro's grip tightened, Teresa letting out a soft whimper.

"You've seen the Stone's power, Spiro. You know what it can do. Take it to the rally point. Meet the others and you can use it..."

Spiro still seemed indecisive. His eye roamed the surroundings again. Importantly his hold on Teresa slackened.

"Take it!" ordered Warren, simultaneously flinging the Stone into the air. Spiro's eye focused on it, his gaze following the amulet's ascent.

You're not a true NIMH-born, are you? thought Warren. He took the opportunity that the simple trick had created and acted quickly. He took a quick step forwards, pulled Spiro's arm aside, dragging Teresa away. Simultaneously he slammed the rock he had picked up during the mad scramble up the slope into Spiro's forehead, right above the dead eye. Nearby the Stone landed with a wet noise in the mud.

As Spiro crumpled onto the ground with a guttural sigh, Warren, without taking his eyes of the fallen mouse, muttered to Teresa, "I'm sorry," and then pushed her down the incline, towards her family. She staggered at first but then managed to regain enough balance to leap down the last of the slope, into waiting arms.

Warren had spared a quick glance to see that Teresa was safe, but then he jumped back as Spiro got to his feet simultaneously making a wild upward slash with his knife. Warren drew his sword and waited, extending its point towards the other mouse. Spiro glared back, blood dripping from his brow. Warren's blow had reopened the scar across his left eye.

The two stood for a moment, watching each other. Then, reaching up, Spiro pulled the scarf away from his mouth. Warren stared at the other mouse's ravaged face. Spiro's lips were horribly scarred with many cuts as if he had been biting wire. A long scar led from the right corner of his mouth and ended at his throat. His face was contorted and twisted with fury, the expression made grotesque by the injuries. His teeth were bared; ruined lips pulled away from yellowed fangs. One of the front incisors was chipped and became a brutal point. The blood dripping from his forehead ran down his nose, onto his teeth and finally dripped off the end of the fang. For a moment Warren was helpless, bound to the spot by the horrific countenance before him. He stared in disbelief and said, almost in a whisper, "NIMH take me... What happened to you?"

Spiro issued a challenge to Warren, a sound that was somewhere between a snarl and a hiss, and drew a second knife, the poisoned blade with the two prongs, from the folds of his cape. Warren tensed, flicking his sword trying desperately not to show that he was too terrified to make the first move. Brutus was now bounding up the slope, halberd ready and levelled at Spiro. The ragged mouse shifted his stance to try and keep all his opponents in sight, his ears swivelling back and forth.

"Give yourself up Spiro," Brutus called as he charged. "We don't want to hurt you, but we cannot let you escape!"

Spiro was still for a second and then, with a knife in each hand, made a frenzied dash at Warren. The other mouse countered as best he could. He knew that Spiro's pronged blade bore the loathsome poison. In his effort to keep that particular blade away, the scalpel blade found its mark. Warren yelped; an open wound on his shoulder. He would have to kill Spiro if he was to survive. He thrust with his blade, driving it towards the trunk of Spiro's body. It sailed wide as Spiro dodged, spinning around and closing on Warren. With another hiss Spiro sunk his teeth into Warren's outstretched sword arm and buried both knives into his chest. Warren screamed, dropping his sword into the mud. With another movement Spiro sent Warren tumbling down the slope towards the other mice. He watched Warren tumble and then readied himself to receive Brutus' onslaught. The rat was approaching too fast. There was no escape.

Brutus leapt over the brow of the slope, brandishing his formidable weapon and commenced an attack immediately. Without the risk of hitting Warren or any other innocent creature Brutus now showed no restraint in his assault. Spiro leapt back as a halberd dug into the earth where he had been standing, another swing made Spiro duck and roll away. His retreat continued as the Brutus forced him out onto the spur of stone; the stream flowing by rapidly below. Although fighting the small and mobile Spiro, Brutus' wielded his halberd with ease, each strike precise and swift. However the weapon seemed only able to tear a fresh rent into Spiro's already tattered cloak. Only once did a weapon find Spiro's flesh, opening a long, thin wound on his leg. Every now and again Spiro would counterattack, usually simply to open a gap for further retreat. He was biding his time. Each warrior was seeing who would tire first, who would make the first mistake.

Brutus lunged forward, but the big rat lost his footing on the slick ground. He faltered, taking precious moments in regaining his balance. Spiro readied himself to charge, but whirled at a new sound.

From the shadows of the undergrowth came another attacker. Martin, having climbed the slope while Spiro's attention was elsewhere, sprung forward, swinging Warren's salvaged sword around with all his might. Spiro blocked with his poisoned blade, but Martin's attack was strong. The prongs of Spiro's weapon were sheared off, spinning away, and Martin's blade cut the other mouse's arm, a deep wound. Spiro dropped the ruined weapon and leapt backwards, taking another knife, long, thin and deadly, from his belt. There was a tense moment of stillness, the three combatants regarding one another. Above the sky was growing increasingly brighter, but dull yellow clouds muted the dawn's light. The drizzle continued, its constant patter the percussion to the battle

"This is useless," growled Brutus. "You're wounded, Spiro, and outnumbered. You can't win."

"Let me fight him," rumbled Martin, his eyes locked on Spiro.

"No. You stay back. Get between him and the rest of your family." Brutus hefted his spear and stepped forward. "I'll deal with him."

Martin was sure he saw Spiro's face twist into a sneer. Was he actually enjoying this? the young mouse thought.

Brutus straightened his back, standing tall against the rain, glaring back at the tattered mouse. Spiro too stooped slightly, holding his knives near to the ground but pointing up at Brutus. The rat's weapon twitched and the fight began again.

Spiro darted back and forth, Brutus swivelling, halberd brought up ready to defend. As the mouse struck Brutus countered the blow, however Spiro moved with the rat's swing, spinning around behind the larger creature, using an agility that the rat couldn't match. Brutus swung the butt of the halberd, but it moved through air and Spiro had an opening to lash out at Brutus. With a grunt the rat went down onto one knee as Spiro's blade tore into his leg. Deftly twirling a knife around Spiro plunged a knife into Brutus' shoulder. The rat roared, dropping his halberd completely, using his good arm to stop himself falling to the ground. Spiro was moving too quickly for anyone to notice but there was an unpleasant glint in Spiro's eye. His dead eye. With his opponent now without a weapon he twisted the knife in Brutus' shoulder. With another cry of rage Brutus reared up and grabbed Spiro, taking up a handful of scarf. With all his strength Brutus threw Spiro to the ground with a crunching impact, one knife left protruding from the rat's shoulder, the other sailing away into the gloomy vegetation. Spiro rolled away, but controlled the movement, finishing in a crouch, ready for the next assault. The blood from his forehead was matting the fur on his face, his leg was a similar dark mess. His shoulders heaved with each heavy breath. The rat did not know it, but Spiro remained in his crouch because it was possible he would not be able to stand. The mouse drew his last knife, a short, straight blade.

Brutus stood uneasily and winced as he pulled the knife from his shoulder. He hurled it at the rocky ground, shattering it. The rat moved forward, blocking Spiro into the outcrop of rock. Martin ran forward again and stood beside Brutus, hefting the borrowed sword.

"What now?" asked Martin. "Should I go and get some more help?"

"No we've got him now," Brutus hissed back. "I felt that little demon break!"

Spiro hissed in reply. At that moment, behind him, the sun rose over the horizon, lighting the clouded skies in brilliant copper. It dazzled Brutus and Martin who hurried to cover their eyes. Spiro saw an opening, maybe the last, and took it.

Out of the golden halo of sunlight came the black shape, cloak billowing like tattered wings. Spiro bared his teeth, blade in hand, bearing down on Martin and Brutus, a last frenzied attack. Martin himself tried to pull away from Spiro's mad lunge. Brutus decided to make his own attack and... time seemed to freeze.

The moment stretched on. Martin had drawn his sword up close to his chest and managed to get it between himself and Spiro's blade in sheer desperation. Brutus was charging forward full tilt, his arm extended in a punch that had landed like a hammer. His fist was driving into Spiro's gut. Spiro himself hung in the air. His body was doubled up; bent around Brutus' fist, his blade was leaving his hand, bouncing off Martin's defence. His mouth was gaping wide and his in his eye there was only surprise.

Time trickled back. Spiro's blade skittered away across the ground. Martin fell backwards behind Brutus who followed through with his battering ram punch, throwing Spiro backwards and into the air. The mouse flew, hit the ground and bounced. He landed again, and rolled, his limbs flailing. Finally he slid the last short distance across wet, slimy rock and slipped over the ledge of the spur, tumbling down out of sight hitting the churning water below with a distant splash.

Martin sprang up and stood next to Brutus, the pair searching the area below for any sign of movement, but it was still too gloomy to make out any details.



Below Spiro was tossed about by the turbid little stream. He flailed his arms wildly, slowly making his way to the bank. Once there he heaved himself from the water, and once clear, collapsed onto the muddy bank, exhausted, wounded, and consumed with a bitter rage. He lay there for a short while, in the cool shade thrown by the highland. After a few moments he levered himself up, his whole body wracked with pain. Reaching up with one arm he detached the empty belt that would have held his knives. He adjusted the bandages as best he could, tightened his scarf about his face and drew his sodden cape about his shoulders. Then he looked about, taking in the dark forest that surrounded him. The sun had not yet reached it and beneath the canopy it might as well have been night. It had been a long time since Spiro was alone and unarmed in the forest. Slowly he made his way into the shadows beneath the trees, limping, and hugging one arm to him, blood still trickling into his fur.

As Spiro passed a large tree there was a glint, pinpricks of light in the shadows. From the undergrowth a pair of hungry eyes watched the little creature struggle on. A beak, wet with salivation, opened and a voice hissed,

"What is this, little ones...?"

Above Brutus slumped down to sit on the ground, his chest heaving, looking out into the golden dawn. Mrs. Brisby, Cynthia in tow, ran to Martin. She hugged her son close, Martin putting a hand on his mother's arm. Timothy peered at the muddy ground, searching for his father's Stone. Teresa knelt beside the fallen Warren, holding his head in her own wounded and bloodied arms.

"I'm sorry..." was all Warren could manage, his voice a gurgling rasp.

"For what?" asked Teresa, brushing Warren's soaking hair away from his eyes.

"I'm sorry... I had to... do that.... But I had to..."

"It's okay. It's fine," said Teresa, shaking with sobs.

"I wanted to make sure... I explained before..."

"There is no ‘before'! Nothing is going to happen. You're not going anywhere."


"No!" Teresa's voice was almost pleading.

A weak smile appeared briefly on Warren's lips, and then faded as his mouth went slack and his eyes closed. His ravaged chest rose and fell weakly. Teresa shook her head, tears rolled down her cheeks.

"No!" she moaned quietly, resting her head on the mouse's shoulder.

Timothy, spying a dull red glow on the ground, dragged the Stone from the mud. Wiping it clean he joined his family where they stood around Teresa and Warren. Timothy quickly turned away when he saw Warren. His gaze shifted to the amulet. He gazed into its red depths. He turned it over and read the inscription again.


"You can unlock any door if you only have the key."


Something clicked in his mind. Any door? Was his father exaggerating? He turned it back around and stared at his own reflection in the amulet. He knelt down.

Teresa was still cradling Warren. Mrs. Brisby had crouched down beside her eldest daughter and was trying to console her.

"I can help," said Timothy quietly.

"Timothy..." began Mrs. Brisby.

"I'm sure the Stone can help. I'm sure of it," the young mouse insisted.

Teresa raised her head and looked at the medallion through puffy red eyes.

"The Stone," she whispered. "If it can raise our old house maybe in can help." Warren, still with closed eyes, was trying to control his breathing as Timmy knelt down beside him. The young mouse placed the jewel on Warren's chest. All present looked at the Stone.

"How does it work?" Timothy asked. "Mum, what did you do before?"

"Nothing it... happened so fast. I just took it and..."

"Why isn't it doing anything?" asked Cynthia.

"Come on work!" called Timothy. He raised his head to the sky, blinking the rain from his eyes he said, "Dad... How do you make it work?"

Then Warren opened his eyes and gasped for breath, his whole body tensing. They all drew away, unsure of what was happening, yet looked on expectantly. The inhalation stopped and Warren lay there still, mouth and eyes open wide. Then slowly the breath left him again, his eyes closed and his body became limp.

"No," said Teresa, shaking her head in disbelief. She reached out and grasping Warren's tunic shook him gently. "No!" This came as a scream as she realised that Warren would not respond to her. She lowered her head again, weeping. Mrs. Brisby put her arm around her daughter. Martin looked on, reciprocating his sister's feelings, regardless of how he felt about Warren. Cynthia stood in the rain and cried. Brutus looked over his shoulder at the sorry group. He swiftly averted his eyes, his head hanging against his chest.

Timothy was heartbroken. He had been sure that the Stone created by his father, the Stone that had miraculously saved them all from death by drowning and him in particular from Fraus, would help in this moment of dire need. But it had now forsaken them. It still lay on Warren's chest. Unmoving.

Timothy felt tears in his eyes shut them tight. He could almost feel his sister's sorrow. The frustration. He wished bitterly that he could do something, could save the mouse without whose help, they might all be dead or possibly worse.

He felt his face warm and put his hands in front of it. He was surprised that the sensation of warmth was now upon his hands. He lowered them from his face and opened his eyes. His breath caught. He saw that once again the Stone had surprised him. The medallion glowed, a deep red. One by one his family noticed the Stone's activity and turned to look as Timothy reached out and touched its surface. Energy made the air crackle as the Stone unleashed its power; Timmy winced as his hand glowed with the energy. The light formed itself into an aura. It crept along his arm, spreading over his entire body, engulfing him, filling him with its energy. He became aware of a roaring around him, like he was caught in a high wind. The Stone pulsed again and its influence began to spread into the fallen mouse, covering Warren in the same radiant glow. His body tensed and almost seemed to rise off the ground.

Timothy holding the glowing Amulet
Art by Procyon

Timmy closed his eyes from the sudden blinding light...


When he opened them again he found he was no longer in the valley.

It was a barren wasteland. Gaunt shrubs littered the cracked dust plain. The vegetation rotted slowly beneath a dying red sun. Timothy looked around and saw an unkempt mass of emaciated trees. There was also a pool near to that, and around that pool there was activity. Timothy jogged, hopping over the dry, sun baked stones in his way. As he drew near he saw what he had thought to be a stagnant pool was actually composed of a viscous tar. Near the edge of this pool lay Warren; face down, his legs trailed into the black ichor. He wasn't moving.

Timothy hurried towards the other mouse. As he neared, slowly, Warren began to slide backwards, as if being drawn into the black liquid by some unseen creature. The movement was gradual and unnerving. The young mouse sprinted now, he didn't know what was happening, but it was obvious haste was needed. Warren disappearing into the back ooze could only be bad. He was only a few bounds away when a voice stopped him dead.


It was gentle and deep, a voice Timothy remembered well and thought he would never hear again.

"Over here, Timothy," it said again. The voice was coming from the copse of dead trees. Timothy almost didn't have the nerve to turn around.

"Dad?" he asked.

"That's right," the tone was light and happy. "Don't be afraid. Turn around."

Timothy turned and in the shadows of the trees he could see a mouse. He couldn't make out any details, but it was certainly very familiar.

Just then Warren lurched further into the dark waters. At the movement Timothy turned his head. The liquid was now lapping about Warren's shoulders.

"Come Timothy," said the voice. Timothy faced the mouse again.

"How can you be here?" the little mouse asked.

"If it is answers you seek," the mouse raised its left hand into the light. It was the same shade as his father's fur, "you need only take my hand."

"Timothy..." A new voice spoke this. It was cracked and hoarse. Timothy looked again to Warren. The other mouse had raised his head to look with bloodshot eyes at him. "Help me!" he whispered.

"Come to me, my son," said the mouse in the shadows. At that moment Warren gave a yelp as with another lurch, he slipped further into the tar pit, the black fluid lapped about the mouse's neck. Something did not sit well with Timothy.

 "I have to help Warren first," he called out to the silhouette, and made to dash to Warren's aid. He stopped again.

"Timothy! Come to me! Now!"

The little grey mouse turned his head slowly. More of the mouse was visible now. His eyes glowed golden.

"But..." Timothy began.

"No buts," said the voice, a little more insistently. "It is important you come to me now. Answers await you Timmy, I feel you have many questions. I can help you. You must trust me."

Warren gave another yelp. His head was barely above the water.

"Timothy!" the other voice called. The golden eyes moved back and forth slowly, the mouse's head shaking.

Then another light source appeared. From out of the giant red sun came a radiant white light. It grew, quickly descending upon the scene. So bright was the light, Timothy could not look at it. The rays cast by this new apparition illuminated the copse of skeleton trees. The mouse that stood amongst them retreated, scurrying behind one of the thin trunks, red eyes disappearing into shadows. In this new light, Timothy saw something that made his blood run cold. The hand that had been proffered changed in the illumination. Ragged, scorched flesh stopped at the wrist. Where the hand had been, was a brutal, barbed hook.

Timothy backed away. He did not understand what was happening and was frightened. He felt warmth on his hand as something took it and gently he was turned to face the glorious white light. He closed his eyes, but a new voice made him open them again.

"Timmy..." it said.

The grey mouse looked into the light. Somehow, two eyes were visible in the radiant depths. Those golden eyes regarded him.

"It's a test, Timmy. Let me help... Go there!" it said. Timothy looked around. He was in time to see Warren disappear below the black morass. He darted forward, to the edge of the quagmire and plunged his hands into the dark sludge searching urgently for Warren. His questing hands found nothing.

He looked about the slick surface for any sign of life or movement. There was none. Suddenly a hand burst forth from the depths to claw desperately at the air. Timmy lunged forward stretching out his own hand. Their fingers touched...


"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

Cynthia retracted her hand from where it had rested on Timothy's.

The influence of the Stone was gone, along with its light. Timothy let out a ragged gasp. He swayed and collapsed onto the ground. Mrs. Brisby went over and made to pick up her youngest son, but he raised himself from the muddy ground and looked at Warren. Warren was blinking his eyes against the rain. He swallowed and gulped down a lungful of fresh air. Teresa was still crying, but the tears were now of a profound relief. Reaching out she hugged Warren. Timothy smiled and tried to turn his head to face his mother, but as he did so his vision swam and he fainted; his mother stopping him from falling back into the mud. Mrs. Brisby gathered his unconscious form into her arms, brushing his hair from his face. Brutus stood nearby, looking on at the result of the Stone's power and at the little mouse who had unleashed it.


Timothy drifted in and out of consciousness.  He caught flashes of familiar faces.  When he eventually woke fully he sat bolt upright with a cry.  He felt a hand on his forehead.  It eased him back onto the pillow.

"Shhh," soothed Mrs. Brisby.  "Everything's all right."

"What happened?" he asked, still panting.  His mother's smile was infinitely reassuring as she smoothed his hair.

"You've been sleeping for nearly two days.  It's all over; it's all right."

Timothy searched the haze of his memory.  What had happened in those final moments?

"Warren...  Is he...?"

"He's fine.  You saved him, Timothy.  You used the Stone and you saved him."  Mrs. Brisby's face brightened as she smiled.

Timothy's mind went to the visions that had accompanied the use of the Stone.  The wasteland; the hook; the shining, ethereal being.  His mother continued, misinterpreting his unease. "The rats couldn't find any of the other mice.  They found some tracks but the trail petered out.  They couldn't find Spiro either, though his tracks simply stopped at a point.  They did recover his cloak.  It was in tatters and soaked in blood.  They don't think we'll hear from him again, though they'll keep watch in case any of the mice return.  They've begun to repair the colony now that the water has drained away.  Even the wounded are recovering."

"I'll say!" said a familiar voice from the next bed.  Timothy looked over and saw Leander sitting up and smiling.

"Hey Timothy!" he said with a wink.

"You're okay," Timothy said, beginning to laugh as he did so.

"Just dandy!"  Leander's grin very wide indeed.  "Being a wounded hero has its perks.  I've just finished off a present from some admirers.  Tasty blackberries."  He held one up.  "Saved one for you though," he said tossing it across to the mouse.  Timothy looked down at the fruit and then back at his mother.

"Did we win then?" asked Timothy.

"Yes, we did."  Mrs. Brisby smiled.

"Good," replied Timothy and sunk back onto the pillow.

Timothy stared into the clear waters of the brook.  They had been back at their summer house for only a day now.  Nothing had changed here.  It was as if they had never left.  Even though Jeremy had only dropped them off yesterday evening, everything now felt so ordinary again.  The young mouse went over all that had happened to him, almost to reassure himself it hadn't all been just a bad dream.

Malachi, who Justin was careful to see was not mistreated whilst he remained the Rats' captive, had readily revealed a lot about Fraus and his plan.  Warren too had given the Rats' much information and between the two of them they were building up a picture of Fraus' insanity.

Both mice were born after the escape from NIMH, so they could tell only a little about that, what they themselves had been told.  Fraus had been instrumental in getting the survivors out of NIMH and setting up a colony.  In those dark, early days he had been a hero, respected by all.  He had even led a rescue party to free more creatures from NIMH's clutches.  However despite all his good deeds, his mind was permanently tainted by the conviction that they had all been abandoned by the Rats.  However it wasn't until a series of personal disasters that Fraus had really lost his grip on reality.  Apparently he had lost his family due to his obsession with finding the rats, and he blamed the entire rat colony for his loss.  So it was he descended into madness, simultaneously losing his position of respect in the colony.  When he discovered NIMH had located the errant Rats he gathered whoever he could to him, using what little authority he had left.  Those who wouldn't come willingly were intimidated, Warren's still bruised eye testament to Fraus' methods.  The plan was apparently simply to murder just the original rats, Fraus feeling that this was the best he could hope to achieve.  However, when he saw the chance to destroy the entire colony, he took it.  It was his downfall.

He had also lied about the Mice of NIMH's settlement.  It was apparently a burgeoning colony, still situated much nearer to NIMH than the Rats would have been comfortable with.  Being mice they found it easier to lose themselves in the surrounding area.  Fraus was seen as an extremist by the authority there, and they did not support his actions.  As soon as they heard this the Rats began to plan a diplomatic mission to go to the colony of Mice.

As for the Rats' colony, it was settling back in some way to normality.  They had lost two rats to Fraus' revenge.  Chloe's body had been recovered and Richard the guard had died soon after Spiro was cast down.  Bracken had also been beyond help.  There were many injuries, some quite serious.  Hugo was still unconscious, and his future in the colony was uncertain, though his actions toward saving the colony were to be taken into account.  Christine's actions, although the product of great stress, could not be overlooked and she too awaited the judgement of her peers.  Justin hoped that soon this episode in the colony's history would soon simply be a bad memory.  That is, as soon as the Rats' machine house was fully functional again.

Mr. Ages was also slowly recovering.  His wounds were many and he still could not leave his bed.  Clerval had said he wasn't sure if Mr. Ages would ever be able to leave the Rats' colony and return to his home again.  The old mouse would not speak of what the mice had done to him, and was rather laconic about the whole affair.  Such was his way and the rats did not pressure him.  Many thought he was ashamed at having revealed the location of the valley.  He did say that he had been captured and held prisoner in his own home, the Mice setting up a base of operations there.  He also said that he was set free by the Shrew.  She had apparently been accosted by the mice and on seeing that the Brisby house had been ransacked had gone to Ages instead.  She had found him and helped him recover enough that he had tried to make it to Thorn Valley.

Timothy's own family had been greatly affected by recent events as well.  Teresa and Martin had left the valley early.  The Rats' council recognised Warren's part in the plan was forced, though they still worried for his safety.  Therefore he had gone into hiding, away from the colony, in case any parties attempted retribution.  Teresa had opted to go with him.  Mrs. Brisby had been uncomfortable with the arrangement, but Martin had been out-and-out furious.  He did not trust Warren, claiming he was still a NIMH-born murderer.  When he was denied his sister's and Warren's whereabouts he had flown into a rage and stormed from the valley saying he would make his own way home.  Even the guards had been unable to stop him.  Once Timothy and the rest of his family got home they had seen Martin briefly as he was leaving their summer house, though he did not say a word to them.  Their mother was searching for him now, trying to talk some sense into her wayward son.

"Timothy!" a young voice cut in.  Timothy turned and waved as he saw Cynthia and his other friends approach.

"Hi guys!" he called back.

"Where have you been?" asked Leslie, the young brown mouse approached, looking quizzically at the group before saying, "there's so much you missed!"

"I told them that we have a much better story!" said Cynthia slyly.

"I hardly think so," Leslie retorted.

"'Fraid so," said Cynthia shrugging.  "Nothing can beat the story we have, right Timmy?"

"Yeah, well let's hear it," demanded the other.

"Okay!  C'mon, Timmy!"  Cynthia grabbed her brother's arm as she started off, saying, "I'll need your help on this one."

The children scampered into the woods.  There was still plenty of light in the summer evening and there was much to tell.  They may not be able to talk about exactly what happened but Timothy and Cynthia would have a lot of fun turning it into the best story they had ever told.