Nostradormouse, стр. 10

He extended his left hand outwards, as if to ask for something. He turned his head slowly in the same direction and his gaze fell upon two voles, one of whom held a staff in his right hand.

Arvic suddenly felt all eyes upon him and looked at Clethrion nervously. She let go of his hand and said softly, ‘I think he needs his staff. You’d better go and give it to him.’

‘Oh! Yes, of course,’ murmured Arvic. ‘His staff. Yes.’

Warily, Arvic made his way over to Nostradormouse, who smiled at him warmly.

‘Good to see you again, Arvic,’ he said. ‘I hope Clethrion is well.’

‘Oh yes,’ replied the vole, ‘She’s lovely. Thank-you.’

The two stood there for a few moments, Arvic’s awkward smile fading fast. Then, he realised that he still held the staff.

‘Oh! The staff!’ he exclaimed, and passed it to Nostradormouse. ‘It’s from-’

‘Pitamus and Piney,’ said Nostradormouse. ‘Yes, I know. You must give them my eternal thanks. Without this staff to aid me, I would not be able to do this.’

He walked boldly up to the roots of the tree and tapped one root with the end of the staff. Immediately, the root sprang to life. Arvic backed away when he realised it wasn’t a root at all, but a serpent. The Nidhog’s forked tongue flicked in and out of its mouth, but it didn’t strike the rodent. It simply bowed its head so Nostradormouse could climb on top. Then, its head rose several feet in the air and turned towards the trunk.

Nostradormouse raised the staff in both hands and struck the trunk at the centre of the bulge. It split open, and a bright, white light emanated from within. The Nidhog lowered his head to the ground and Nostradormouse stepped off, backing slowly away from the tree…

Chapter Nine

Four directions has The Great Woods; 

Four Branches has the ancient tree,

Four seasons burst upon the earth

And bring an end to eternity.

The tree creaked and groaned, as if it was trying to talk to the gathered animals. The fissure in the trunk grew larger, and light continued to flood from its heart.

‘I can see movement in there!’ exclaimed Clethrion, clasping her hands to her mouth.

‘Oh, yes!’ said Arvic, ‘can you make out what it is?’

‘Arvic, I’m scared. Hold me!’

Arvic put his arms round Clethrion and held her to him. It felt good to protect her. It felt natural.

There was a fluttering of feathers, and a young hawk surged out of the fissure and alighted on the large branch to the east of the tree. A gasp of wonder rippled across those gathered.

Nostradormouse stepped forward and said, ‘Tell us who you are, friend! Why have you come to The Great Woods?’

The Hawk replied, ‘My name is Spring! I bring you new life! Look to the tree and see what I have wrought!’

Another gasp came from those nearest the four branches, and every creature turned to see what the commotion was. Small flower buds were growing on them, which quickly opened into thick bunches of purple ash flowers. The hawk flapped his great wings, creating a wind which whipped up the pollen from the flowers, scattering it over everything. After the wind had died down, the hawk gave a cry and flew off into the east. When those assembled looked back at the branches, they saw the purple flowers wither and fall off, revealing beneath them feather-like green leaves, hanging from long stalks.

‘Look!’ said an excited pine marten, who was pointing to the main trunk, ‘there’s something else moving inside!’

As the assembled throng gazed in fascination, a stag leapt from the fissure and landed gracefully on the ground in front of the tree. It let out a triumphant cry, and the four stags gathered at each branch cried in unison. This stag was larger and more majestic than the others, and they bowed their heads to it in awe and respect as it moved to the southern branch.

‘My name is Summer!’ it said, ‘And I bring you the heat of the sun and the ripening of the earth! Look to the tree and see what I have wrought!’

Again, all eyes fell on the branches as black leaf buds sprouted from the wood. They quickly and gracefully opened up into beautiful, feathery light green pairs of leaflets with toothed edges. As they grew larger, they deepened in colour and grew stronger with each passing moment, until each leaf was revealed in all its glory. All those present felt warmer. The sun’s rays, filtering through the branches of the trees in the great wood, became more intense.

The stag gave another cry and galloped off into the south. Every creature listened to the sound of its hooves fading into the distance and felt a great longing for its return.

All eyes immediately returned to the fissure in the trunk, waiting for whatever would emerge next. For a while, nothing happened. Then, the light emanating from the cleft began to change in hue, growing dimmer and darker. As if in answer to this change from within, the air around the gathered creatures began to grow colder and fresher.

Once again, silence descended upon the clearing, and with it came a feeling of unease. Many creatures became agitated. Nostradormouse stepped forward into the clearing, yawning quietly to himself.

‘Do not fear,’ he said, ‘the waters of the four streams have stopped flowing, but it won’t last for long.’

Even as he spoke these words, the water began to flow again. A sigh of relief was felt all round the clearing, then a chorus of excited voices cried, ‘Its flowing the other way! The streams have changed direction!’

Then, with a blur of movement, something flipped out of the fissure and somersaulted through the air, landing with a splash in the stream that flowed past the western-most branch of the ancient tree. A head bobbed to the surface, and all could see that it was a salmon.

‘My name is Autumn!’ said the salmon, ‘and I bring you the harvest, and the approaching darkness. With me come shorter days and cold winds. Look at the tree and see what I have wrought!’

The circle of creatures looked to the branches and watched the leaves turn from dark green to yellow, then drop silently to the ground. The air grew colder, and for the first time, those gathered could see their own breath.

The salmon leapt up into the air and came down with a splash, then swam away to the west. Nostradormouse felt drained of energy and began to move back towards the crowd, but he never reached them. Instead, he sat down suddenly, and crawled up into a ball, falling into a deep sleep. Many other creatures followed his example.

Another rumble emanated from deep within the tree; it was a throaty growl, and those who had not succumbed to sleep’s comforting embrace watched as a great bear leapt from the fissure and landed on all fours in front of the tree. He paced across the clearing until he reached the northern-most branch, then stood on his hind legs and let out a roar. Every creature took a step back, fear in their hearts. Some scampered behind larger creatures, some hid their faces. All were in awe of the mighty mammal.

‘My name is Winter!’ said the great bear, ‘And I bring death and sleep, but also the promise of days to come! Look upon the land in my time and see what I have wrought!’

As he finished speaking, the sun disappeared behind the trees, leaving the clearing in darkness. Then, soft white flakes of snow fell from the sky in flurries. The awe-struck creatures of The Great Woods had never seen such a thing before and it filled them with wonder. The great bear let out another roar, and then something truly amazing happened. He simply burst into a shower of stars which flew in all directions, making shadows dance amongst the crowd. Then, they flew up into the blackness and became one with the night.

The tree groaned and creaked once again, and a glow radiated from the fissure, rapidly growing in intensity. Then, there was a flash of brilliance and the sun appeared once again in the sky, melting the snow and thawing the frozen heart of the earth.