Nostradormouse, стр. 8

Chapter Six

Eight horns herald the new world’s arrival;

As insults are hurled twixt sky and earth

The wise swimmer returns to his birthplace

And sacred waters are summoned to the well.

A t the foot of the ancient tree, a coiled root stirred, then two eyes looked out upon the early morning. The creature’s head turned from left to right, as if trying to pinpoint something it had sensed. It settled on one direction, then another, then another. There was definitely something on the way, it thought. Maybe several things: Things with limbs, things that could run. 

High up in the topmost branches, a golden-feathered bird lifted its head from its breast, and fastened its two beady eyes on the woods below. It, too, sensed something approaching.

A head popped out from a hollow in the trunk of the tree, nervously looking this way and that. The reddish-brown creature scurried out onto a branch and looked around.

‘Itsss ssstarting!’ said a voice from below it.

The creature scampered back into its hollow in fright. When nothing followed, she emerged cautiously from the safety of her hiding place.

‘Who said that?’ she asked.

‘I have no name asss yet, nervousss one, but I live down here!’ came the reply.

She followed the sound of the voice and was amazed to see one of the roots of the tree talking to her. 

‘Come clossser, bushy-tail,’ it continued, ‘I won’t harm you.’

Suddenly, from high above, came a shriek and the beating of powerful wings. The two creatures looked up, startled. Neither were aware that anything else was living in their tree. The creature with the wings cried out something that neither of them could quite hear.

‘What did it sssay?’ asked the root-dweller.

‘I don’t know,’ replied bushy-tail. ‘Hold on a moment, and I’ll find out!’

She quickly scurried up the trunk towards the higher branches. As she neared the top, she gazed in awe at the sight of the enormous golden-feathered bird sitting on the top branch.

It looked at her and said, ‘Don’t trust that slithering creature. I’ve been watching it down there since I arrived, and I don’t like what I see.’

‘It seems harmless,’ she replied. ‘How do I know that you are more worthy of my trust than it is?’

The bird flapped its enormous wings again and looked hard at her. ‘Do you have a name, nervous one?’ it asked.

‘No, I’ve never needed one,’ came the reply.

‘Then I shall call you Ratatosk,’ said the bird, ‘for in the language of my kind, it means ‘she who scurries’.’

‘Thank-you,’ she said, ‘…I think.’

‘You can tell that root creature, that ‘Nidhog’, that I have my all-seeing eyes on it. But don’t get too close. It will have you for its supper. Consider that your one and only warning.’

Ratatosk scurried back down the tree trunk and delivered the message immediately. There was something about the way in which the enormous bird spoke, which filled her with respect and awe. Following his advice, she made sure she didn’t get too close to the creature, which was just as well, because it took the message badly.

‘How dare he criticissse me?’ it raged. ‘I don’t know what a Nidhog isss, but I know an insssult when I hear one! Well, if thatsss the way he wantsss it, then thatsss the way itsss going to be!’

But before it could say anything more, there came a loud rumbling from the undergrowth and four deer came striding out of the woods from four different directions. They stopped in unison when they saw the tree and looked at each other; they seemed to be communicating without speaking a word. Then, again in unison, they walked towards the four enormous branches that trailed along the ground. When they reached them, they bowed their antlers and began to strike them against the wood. The sound echoed through the clearing, gaining momentum with every strike, until it sounded like a battle was raging. 

Every creature in The Great Woods paused for a moment, listening to something in the distance, something that seemed to draw them towards the centre of their world. 

The root-dweller, the Nidhog, was right.

It was starting.

It was late one evening when the salmon arrived at the lake. It had swum up-stream for many days, returning to its birth-place one final time, and it was exhausted.

The mouse was scampering about on the ground, collecting hazel nuts that had fallen from the tree in a storm the previous night. They weren’t at their best, as he much preferred them green and juicy, straight from the branch, but food was food.

His wife called out from the branch above him. ‘Look, dear! Look who it is!’

The mouse watched as the salmon wearily swam past him into the pool, where it could rest at last. The mouse dropped the nuts it had gathered and raced up the trunk of the tree and into the hollow, where his wife was already preparing to leave. As he entered, she turned to him and said, ‘This is so exciting! We’re going to see our son!’

‘We can’t go yet,’ he said, ‘it’s not time.’

‘It isn’t?’ she replied, looking crestfallen.

‘No,’ said the mouse, ‘not yet.’

‘But I want to see our son!’ she exclaimed.

‘I know. I do, too.’

They came out of the hollow to watch the sun set behind the canopy of trees that framed their home. They stood there, together, arm in arm, as the daylight faded. As they glanced down at the pool beneath them, they saw the salmon circling its birthplace, swimming faster and faster. Soon, it had created a whirlpool, and the waters churned excitedly. Then, the salmon leapt up from the centre of the vortex, and the waters followed it. The mice watched in amazement as the salmon landed on the ground, and the waters flowed over him, following a dip in the earth that they were sure had not been there before.

They looked at each other and laughed with joy.

‘Now can we go?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘ Nowwe can go.’

Without bothering to take anything, they scampered down the trunk of their home and began to follow the waters as it made its way relentlessly towards the centre of The Great Woods.

Chapter Seven

A great migration gathers pace beside new banks;

During this journey a new partnership is made,

Comforting words are overheard 

And four seeds come close to full term.

Have you seen it?’ cried the badger, ‘have you heard it?’ asked the mole. ‘Have you tasted it?’ said the beaver, ‘have you swum in it?’ asked the vole.

These were just some of the questions that the growing crowd of pilgrims asked each other as they followed the waters of the lake towards the centre of the forest.

Word of the extraordinary phenomenon had spread quickly. Soon, others joined the two mice. A family of shrews were the first, and they were soon accompanied by two raccoons. By the next day, a party of natterjack toads were swimming in the stream; the young ones were carried along by the current, and two old terrapins swum lugubriously alongside them.

Just out of sight of the main party, a pack of wolves followed at a safe distance, and, at their own pace, three young lynx kittens tried to stay a few steps ahead of their parents.

Many species of birds joined the caravan of creatures. In the tops of the trees, all manner of creatures scampered and scurried, and in the evening the frantic fluttering of many bats could be heard. A pair of peregrine falcons flew ahead of the main party and returned excitedly to report what they had seen. It appeared that this was not the only stream to snake its way towards the heart of The Great Woods; no less than four new streams were flowing towards a single source. Nothing quite like this had ever happened before, and the other streams had gathered their own pilgrims.