Nostradormouse, стр. 5

The dormouse was so surprised, he fell onto the leaves.

‘Ouch!’ he squealed. ‘Ooh!’

Pitamus scampered over to him and helped him up. The dormouse danced around in pain, rubbing at his arms and legs, his whiskers twitching madly.

‘Sorry!’ said Pitamus, trying not to laugh. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you!’

The dormouse bit his lip to stop himself from squealing.

‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ asked the vole, between giggles.

‘Yes, thank-you!’ said the dormouse, even though he didn’t. Listen to that voice,he thought to himself, it’s the only way.He went back to the plant, and heard Pitamus suck in his breath. Then the voice spoke to him and he knew what to do.

‘You’re a nettle, aren’t you?’ he said, and the plant shook its leaves in reply. ‘Would you spare me a few of your leaves, please?’

The nettle shook itself, and several leaves broke free and floated to the ground. Carefully, the dormouse gathered them up by the stem, being careful not to touch the fine hairs on the underside of the leaves.

The dormouse looked at Pitamus, who was staring with his tiny eyes wide open in astonishment. The dormouse winked at him, and Pitamus scurried back into the tunnel entrance.

When the dormouse had finished gathering the plants he needed, he brought them back into the burrow and arranged them neatly in piles on the table.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Pitamus.

‘I am going to make a nostrum for your family,’ replied the dormouse. ‘It will cure them of their illness in no time.’

The dormouse picked up a tall, slender plant with a deep green stem and bright yellow flowers. He picked some of the larger leaves from it. He glanced at Pitamus, who was watching him intensely, and said, ‘Would you like to help?’

Pitamus answered, ‘Me? Help? Oh, I… Well, of course…’

The dormouse instructed him to collect some water and boil it in a pan. Pitamus frowned, his confusion deepening, but did as he was asked. He collected a copper pan and scurried off down a tunnel.  He came out beside a river bank and quickly dipped the pan into the water. As he brought it back out, he heard a splash to his left and dropped the pan in fright. A large head came towards him, bobbing up and down in the river.

‘Who goes there?’ it said.

‘Cousin?’ exclaimed the vole, ‘Is that you?’

‘Why, hello!’ came the reply. ‘Of course it’s me! I live here!’

Pitamus’s cousin climbed out of the water onto the bank. He towered over his smaller relative, but Pitamus was no longer afraid. His cousin was a stout friend, and would do him no harm.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked.

Pitamus quickly explained his predicament.

‘I see,’ said the larger vole, ‘and you say this stranger is the mouse prophet we’ve all been hearing about?’

‘I think so,’ said Pitamus, picking up the now empty pan and re-filling it with water. ‘At least, he seems to know what he’s doing, and my family are so ill.’

‘Hmmm,’ said Pitamus’s cousin, ‘so he’s making you a… what?’

‘A nostrum,’ said Pitamus, turning to make his way back. ‘I’m not sure what it means, but that’s what he’s making.’

With a swish of his tail, Pitamus Vole disappeared back into his tunnel.

‘Always in a rush,’ mused his cousin, slipping back into the water.

In the centre of The Great Woods, there was a slithering in the undergrowth. A long, slim, brown creature came out of the grass at the edge of a clearing. She had round eyes and wriggled along the ground (for she had no limbs with which to walk). She looked at the large, dead tree in the centre of the clearing, and smiled wearily. At last, her long journey was over and she could rest. She slithered over to the base of the tree and wound herself amongst the roots. 

She lay there, still and silent. If any creature had passed by, they would not have known she was there, for her skin had the texture of bark. But the clearing was deserted, and she was grateful for the brief peace it gave her. 

An owl hooted. One eye blinked open, looked around, and then closed again. She was resting, but never off-duty. The first of the guardians had taken up their post.

When Pitamus Vole arrived back in his Burrow, he discovered that the stranger had been very busy in his absence. All the plants he’d collected were now chopped, ground and neatly arranged in small heaps.

The dormouse was beside the bed, checking his patients. He looked up when Pitamus came in, and smiled warmly. ‘Ah, you’re back,’ he whispered, ‘and you’ve got the water. Splendid! Now make sure it’s heated in double quick time.’

Pitamus looked at his wife and children, and for a moment feared that it was already too late, but the dormouse reassured him.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘they are in a deep, restful sleep. They will remain like this until such time as the nostrum is ready.’

‘How do you know this?’ asked Pitamus. ‘Have you cast a spell over them? Are you a cunning mouse?’

The dormouse realised that Pitamus needed reassuring. So, even though he needed some reassurance himself, he knew that he had to appear to be confident.

‘I do not make magic,’ he said. ‘Everything I do is purely natural. Look.’

He beckoned Pitamus to come forward, and lifted a corner of one of the pillows. Beneath them lay several of the long, slender plants from which he had earlier been picking the leaves.  Pitamus looked up at him, surprised, and for the first time saw his eyes. They seemed to change. At first, they were kind and quite young. Then, they shifted, and somehow gained wisdom.

The dormouse let go of the pillow and said;

‘If this plant is laid beneath the patients’ troubled head,

They shall fall into a sleep as if they all were dead;

They shall not open either eye; they will not stir or waken,

Until from underneath their heads, this slumber plant is taken.’

Pitamus seemed satisfied by this explanation, as if the rhyme somehow made things make some sort of sense. He busied himself at the stove, boiling the pan of water. The young dormouse watched him, waiting patiently until the water was of a sufficient temperature to add his herbs.

Presently, Pitamus proclaimed that the water was boiling, and the dormouse asked him to remove it from the heat. He then brought the herbs over to the pan and placed them into the water.

‘Would you fetch something to stir this with, please, Pitamus?’ he asked.

Pitamus scurried away quickly, and hurried back with a spoon. The stranger asked Pitamus to blend the mixture, and so the vole stirred until the dormouse put a hand on his arm and said, ‘Rest now, Pitamus. You’ve earned a break!’

Pitamus sat down at the foot of the bed and almost immediately fell asleep. The dormouse smiled, as if he had known Pitamus would do so all along.

Chapter Four

A golden crown alights the arbour-king;

The giver of Nostrums, in silent gratitude, 

Receives his title from an unexpected quarter

And resumes the path that destiny has chosen.

T he sun rose at the edge of The Great Woods. An enormous golden-feathered bird soared on the breeze. Its majestic wings gave one powerful beat every now and again, just to keep its altitude. It gazed down at the woods below him with beady eyes.

It had been searching for some time now, and soon it would be forced to rest, for even birds as strong as he have to sleep occasionally. It had flown for many moons, pausing only to catch a quick meal, and then soaring upwards to view the wooded landscape once more, ever probing, ever piercing the terrain beneath him.  

Then he caught sight of something which stirred feelings of longing in his breast. With a triumphant cry he swooped down towards the tree-tops, alighting on the top-most branches of an ancient leaf-less tree.