Nostradormouse, стр. 9
By now, all had heard of Nostradormouse and his healing prowess, not to mention his prophetic abilities. Many tales about him rapidly grew in stature and length in their retelling. Many claimed to have met him, and not a few professed to have been cured by him, but none could say where he was. A family of rabbits insisted that he had saved them from a pack of hungry wolves; this had provoked disbelief in many, and ridicule by the rest. The father rabbit was adamant that Nostradormouse had walked with them for a while, but (conveniently, some said) he had not stayed for long. It was as if he had vanished into the night, content to let his reputation take his place on the journey.
Of course, there were many times when various parties stopped and set up temporary camps beside the stream, in order to rest and gain strength for the next leg of their journey. You could always find at least one group asleep whilst others continued on. A great camaraderie was created between the cosmopolitan creatures; even the predators presented no physical threat to their prey. When questioned, they chose to remain silent on the matter, but the word was out; they were fasting for the foreseeable future.
It was on one such occasion, when a party of nocturnal animals had bedded down in a vacant rabbit warren, that Nostradormouse’s parents had a chance meeting. They had just settled down together when they overheard a vole boisterously trying to impress a young female of his kind with a tale about their son. Now this had happened many times before, and they had always dismissed the stories as, at best, invented and, at worst, absurd in the extreme. But this particular tale had more than a ring of truth to it.
‘…and he says to me, he says, “What can I do for you, Arvic?” Just like that. And I didn’t even have a name until that point! I knew then that he was something special.’
The two mice peered cautiously over the mound of earth that separated them from the two voles, and listened intently to their conversation.
‘So I ask him how he knew my name, and he says, “I know many things, Arvic. I know, for instance, that you will meet a lovely young vole called Clethrion, fall madly in love and have a large family.”’
The two mice saw the expression on the young female change from bemused to surprised and then quickly to embarrassment.
‘But, Arvic, that’s my name!’ she said.
Arvic froze in mid-flow, his tiny eyes widening at the realisation of who he was talking to. He laughed nervously, suddenly becoming very bashful.
‘Oh, my!’ he said, ‘And I didn’t even introduce myself properly! What must you think of me?’
‘I think you’re perfectly lovely!’ said Clethrion, ‘and you simply must finish your story. What else did Nostradormouse say?’
‘Well now, let me see,’ said Arvic, having quite lost the rhythm of his tale, ‘where was I?’
‘Meeting me and falling madly in love,’ declared Clethrion, smiling coyly at her new acquaintance.
‘Oh, yes!’ said Arvic, hands shaking, ‘So I was! Well, now. Em. Yes. So he says, “you will soon need the help of your cousin, Pitamus, and that your debt to him will entail you travelling a long way. I know, also, that this will not be our last meeting.”’
Clethrion was clearly impressed by this last statement. ‘You mean that you’re going to meet him again?’ she asked.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Arvic, casually, ‘I have to. You see, I need to give him this,’ and he picked up the staff that Pitamus had made for Nostradormouse and proudly showed it to Clethrion.
‘That’s beautiful!’ she said, ‘I’m sure he’ll be very pleased with it.’
‘I hope so,’ said Arvic, thoughtfully, ‘it took Pitamus ages!’
The two mice exchanged happy glances and then laid themselves back down on their bed of soft earth, content that their son would have such a reward for his kindness.
Arvic and Clethrion chatted long into the day, gazing into each other’s eyes. Both quickly became entranced by the other, and thereafter became inseparable.
And the legend of Nostradormouse grew ever stronger.
Ratatosk was beginning to tire of the constant stream of insults being traded between the Nidhog and the golden-feathered bird at the top of the ancient tree. It wasn’t that she was particularly bothered whether they liked each other or not; it was just that she had become their sole means of communication. Between racing up and down the trunk carrying insult after insult, and the wearisome noise of the stags’ antlers striking the four branches, there wasn’t time to rest, eat, or sleep.
Also, she had noticed a change in the shape of the trunk, just above the base. It seemed to be bulging, and reminded her of her mother when she was carrying her sister.
It was almost as if the tree was about to give birth…
From North, South, East and West they come;
The dormant one quenches an ageless thirst
A generous gift proves most fortuitous
And the end of eternity arrives, bathed in light.
After many days and many nights, journey’s end approached the weary but excited travellers. From all four corners of The Great Woods they came, following their respective streams. As they grew nearer and nearer to the centre of the woods, and the rhythmic striking of the stags’ great antlers grew ever louder, an eager yet oddly reverent hush overtook even the noisiest of creatures.
As the first animals arrived at the edge of the clearing where the ancient tree stood, the stags raised their heads and let out a great, triumphant cry. Then, with one last, mighty sweep of their heads, they struck their branch one last time, shattering their antlers to a thousand pieces. The sound echoed round the clearing for what seemed like an eternity, then a silence, deeper than any silence before or since, descended over those gathered.
The waters from each stream continued their journey towards the tree, passing beside the four branches, until they reached the roots. The tree drank greedily as the water sank into the earth around it.
As the minutes passed into hours, more and more creatures of all shapes and sizes gathered at the edge of the clearing, and all waited without uttering a word.
Ratatosk peered out from her hollow every now and again, and quickly withdrew into the darkness of her home on seeing the crowd. The Nidhog kept absolutely still, pretending to be a root. The golden-feathered bird sat motionless, proud and regal upon his tree-top perch. The four stags stood with heads bowed, the fragments of their broken antlers all around their hooves.
After several minutes, a low rumble came from deep within the ancient tree. It grew steadily louder, and the ground began to shake. The rumble turned into a roar which was accompanied by a thick, heady scent, and each creature felt as if their skull would split.
Abruptly, the sound ceased, and all was silent once more. No animal dared to move. Then, a small mouse wearing a cloak and hood stepped forward into the clearing and walked slowly towards the tree. An excited murmur passed over the crowd. A wolf gave a low growl, and his pack echoed him. Nearby, a small family of rabbits nervously edged away from them, but couldn’t quite hide their excitement at seeing their friend again.
The rodent made its way to the foot of the enormous trunk and then stopped. Slowly, he removed his hood, and each creature gathered at the edge of the clearing knew that it was Nostradormouse himself who stood before them.
It had been exhausting these past few days, and Nostradormouse was ready to drop. All his limbs ached, and his feet were sore from walking. He so desperately wanted to rest, but Find whispered in his head, keep going, my friend. This is it now. This is your time.