Tag(s):"salmon of wisdom" Fantasy animal children anthropomorphic magic celtic norse myth mouse dormouse
First published in 2009 by Histrionic Downs
Text and illustrations copyright © Chris Tinniswood 2009
The moral right of Chris Tinniswood to be identified as the author of this work
has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons (or animals!),
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means,
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without the prior permission in writing of both the copyright owner
and the above publisher of this book, nor be otherwise circulated
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and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Designed by Chris Tinniswood
Portrait of Author by Sally Tennant
The hooded mouse treads a solitary path;
The pack-mind catches the scent of prey.
The largest shall bow to the smallest’s will,
And the youngest will identify the prophet .
Wrapping his hooded cloak tightly about him, the dormouse pressed on through the darkened forest. The wind was blowing hard against him, but his will was fierce and so, undaunted, he continued his way towards the centre of The Great Woods.
The moon appeared briefly through a gap in the trees. It should have been a welcome relief for him, but instead it brought fear; for although it lit his way, it also revealed shapes in the bushes; shapes which he had glimpsed before. They barely made a sound, even when the wind was not howling through the branches and whispering nightmares into his ears. They were his constant companions these past few hours; if they were friends, why did they not reveal themselves? If they were enemies, why did they not strike?
The dormouse paused for breath against the roots of a silver birch. Its bark was smooth to the touch, and he could smell the earth beneath his feet. It gave him some small comfort, which he craved. He sighed heavily, and sat down to rest, grateful for the shelter against the wind. He had come a long way these past few moons, but he knew that he still had far to go. He wished that he was safely back at home with his parents, but knew that it could never be. If only he hadn’t eaten that nut. But he had, and that one meal had changed his life forever.
A shriek pierced the night, and the dormouse sprang up onto the root, his head darting back and forth, his whiskers twitching as he strained his ears to detect the source of the sound.
There it was again! He paused, suddenly aware that whatever danger was out there, he was just one solitary mouse. What could he do? His instinct told him to run and hide, and yet he felt a compelling urge to help. He knew he could make a difference. And so, despite the fear he felt and the knots in his stomach, he sprang off the root and ran towards the source of the shrieks. He was someone’s only hope.
Just ahead of the dormouse was a small clearing. The trees cast long shadows across it, and leaves whispered in the wind like soft applause. In the centre of the clearing was a family of rabbits. They huddled close together; not against the cold, but in fear of their lives. Surrounding them, and closing in, were a pack of hungry wolves. Their mouths slavered with the anticipation of the meal to come. Again, the rabbits shrieked, and the wolves snarled viciously in reply.
The dormouse did not hesitate; if he had, things may well have turned out very differently. He ran straight under the wolves and skidded to a halt in front of the rabbits. Gasping for breath, he smiled timidly at the astonished animals, and then turned slowly to face the common enemy.
The wolves stopped; their hackles rose, and the tone of their snarls changed. The leader of the pack sniffed the air; he detected the smell of fear, and the dirt, and the rabbits. These smells he welcomed, but the smell of this rodent was something he couldn’t quite grasp. It was not that of just any mouse; it was a smell he’d been tracking for some days. He looked down at the dormouse and a look of amusement grew on his face. He watched his tiny chest rise and fall. The wolf chuckled, and his chuckle turned to laughter; it rippled across the others in his pack as if they were sharing an unspoken joke. This was, in fact, exactly what they were doing; these hunters had a unique bond which they called the pack-mind; it allowed them to speak to each other in complete privacy by thought alone.
The mouse thinks himself a hero! thought the leader, but I reckon he’ll make a tasty starter! Again the wolves laughed.
The dormouse cleared his throat, and said, ‘Don’t come any closer, or I’ll…’
‘You’ll what?’ replied the wolf, lowering his head towards the dormouse, ‘Squeak at us?’
The pack leader could see the fear in the dormouse’s eyes. This will be too easy, he thought. Then, something shifted, and the wolf saw the terror disappear, to be replaced by something else; something that terrified him. This tiny, cloaked creature was no longer afraid. Indeed, he was now looking at him as if he was an equal. This he could not tolerate. The pack-mind met in silent conference; What are you waiting for? Attack! Kill them! The other wolves couldn’t understand the delay. They were hungry and impatient. This insolent mouse thinks he’s as good as us!
The leader took a step forward, even though the fear he now felt was painful. The wolf took another faltering step and then stopped. He could go no further. He looked into the eyes of this strange mouse, and saw at once all the selfish and evil things he had ever done reflected back at him. If the wolf had possessed an ounce of conscience, it would have sent him mad. Then the dormouse spoke these words, and his voice was heard in the hearts and minds of all hunters everywhere:
‘All pilgrims on this path may pass without hindrance;
From the smallest to the largest, their way shall not be barred;
For those whose hunger ends the life of another, know this;
Until their journey is done, they shall not eat of flesh.’
Something changed within the wolves at this moment; the craving in their bellies ceased, and a calmness silenced their growls. The hunting instinct left them, and their pack-mind agreed that the importance of the journey overcame whatever selfish desires they had. Reluctantly, they backed away from their prey, their gaze never leaving the dormouse for a second. The pack leader saw him blink twice, and knew that whatever it was that spoke through him had left as suddenly as it had arrived. The dormouse looked as surprised as he was that they weren’t attacking.
Silently, the wolves trotted away, but their pack-mind was feverish with thoughts: What’s going on? Does this mean we’ve got to go vegetarian?
Just before the forest consumed them, the leader turned back to face the dormouse.
‘You have made an enemy of the wolves,’ he growled. ‘The next time we meet you will not be so lucky.’
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