ABOUT THIS STORY: [This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 12-01-2001 @ 12:30 PM).]
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ABOUT THIS STORY:
[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 12-01-2001 @ 12:30 PM).]
Sir Grinning looked meaningfully at his guards, his cateyes issuing a nonverbal warning: No matter what you see, say nothing. To speak is to die! Then Grinning slipped the lid off the pottery jar and dipped a paw into its content.
He extracted something green and promptly placed the jar and lid on the table. He brought the green, slender shoots of the unnamed plant to his nose and sniffed deeply. Grinning's eyes promptly dilated. His expression changed from measured concentration into silly distraction. Slowly he slipped from the chair and landed on the floor in one smooth slithering heap.
Now on the floor he writhed and rolled on top of, within and under the green plant extracted from the jar. Drool wet his whiskers and dripped to the floor. He made strange noises, sometimes purring, sometimes meowing; sometimes he made no noises at all.
Grinning's tail twitched and knotted in unexpected patterns. He would suddenly shift to all four paws and look ready to pounce on a poor unfortunate something. It would be the green plant he would attack, and the rolling about and drooling would begin anew.
One rat poked the other and whispered. "It's the 'Nip I tell ye. That's what it is."
The other rat's eyes opened wide. "Hush, you fool. You want to die?"
The first rat paid no attention to the warning. "Nay, die? Look at him making a fool of himself. He's nothing to worry about when the 'Nip gets him. Hahaa, hahaha. A 'Nipper, he is. Hahaa, haha."
The laughing rat's eyes suddenly opened as wide as they could possibly open. He looked down at the spear protruding from his chest, a spear that took only seconds to be removed from its stand, to leave Grinning's hand and to find its new home in the chest of the laughing rat.
The rat looked up to see Grinning staring at him, not a single bit of evidence left of the feline knight's bizarre antics of only a moment before. The room darkened before the speared rat's eyes and he toppled over onto the stone floor, dead before he ever hit its surface.
"Anyone else care to comment... or to speak?" Even the silence remained as silent as it could be.
From a crack in the wall between the two rooms, Cleese observed what had just transpired. He backed away shaking his head. One less rat didn't matter to him. It was the ruthlessness of Grinning that caused him his concern.
Cleese motioned to the others. It was time to search out the dungeon. They made their way to the place where the escaped monastery mouse told them would be found the way in. They found it soon enough and quietly entered the dungeon's dark depths.
Halfway down it's grissly depth, Cleese gave a muted squeek. He'd found the side passage the escaped mouse had told him about. He crawled in and his mates followe dhim deeper into the dungeon.
It was dark.
So dark Cleese couldn't even see his paws as he waved them in front of his furry face.
He hated it when it was so dark. His mother had told him stories about grues that hid in the dark and caught those that were unawares.
Suddely there was a glimpse of light. As his eyes adjusted he saw a torch on the wall infront of him, someone had scribbled letters besides it. He squinted:
"X, Y, Z, Z, Y..."
Such strange nonsense...
He heard a tinkling sound and pulled back as a rat guard came pacing past. The old grizzled rat counted softly under his breath, when he'd reached 150 he turned back the other way again.
Cleese slipped down from the crack and followed. Then he heard a voice, slightly broken it repeated over and over:
"Woe is me, woe is me...."
In the bowl was a thin gruel of pulverized nuts and other things squirrels eat. Cleese concluded it was there to frustrate the encaged knight and only as a second thought provided for nourishment: Most likely to keep him from becomming to thin for Grinning's palate.
Cleese squeeked a few instructions to his companions. They scurried as pairs in two directions to keep watch for rat guards. The cell being designed for squirrels and not for mice, it was a simple matter to compress the cartlidge in his body and for Cleese to squeeze between two of the bars. He scampered to the bowl and pushed it to a place within Bushtail's reach.
The squirrel jerked to an upright position startled by the sudden movement of the bowl and the noise it made scraping across the stone. "I say, mouse! Where did you come from?!"
"Shush, knight!" whispered Cleese. "Do you want the guards to hear you?" Bushtail had enough presence of mind under the circumstances to accept the direction from this mere mouse.
"No," he whispered back. "I do not. How came you to be here, mouse?"
"My name is Cleese. I am spying out the castle. We are assembling an army to rid ourselves of Grinning, the mouse eater."
"Ahhh. A noble quest, Cleese. I endorse it. Now, set me free and I shall join you."
Cleese shook his head. "I cannot, Sir Bushtail. I do not know where the keys to your leg manacles are placed; and we dare not roust a guard or we will give away our presence. I think it best you consume this meal and behave as if we never were here. We will return to free you soon enough."
Bushtail's expression changed from renewed optimisim to dejection. "Am I not to be part of the battle?"
"You will be the first we seek to free. There will be battle enough for you then."
Bushtail's demeaner perked up again. "Then I guess I should consume my supper to keep my strength up."
"Precisely, Sir Bushtail, I..." But Cleese was interrupted by a disturbance coming from one of the passages. One of the pair of mice sent that way was running towards him as if in fear of his life. Rat voices could be heard in the distance.
"Hurry, Cleese! They found Clip. We must leave!" Cleese didn't have to ask the fate of Clip: Rat stew or Cat roast.
Cleese turned to Bushtail. "Be prepared!" he whispered forcefully, and then hurried in the direction where the other pair of mice had gone and away from the rats who seemed to be much closer now.
The mice were gone when the rats burst into the cell area. They saw that Bushtail had eaten his gruel and wondered how he had managed to get his paws on it. That's the end of their fun for the day, they realized. Mice? Maybe. No time right now to find out.
The rats hurried in the direction taken by Cleese. Bushtail gestured towards the rats and burped as loudly as the thin gruel he consumed would permit.
Those very same mouse babes streaked across the meadows to the rodent camp. They were welcomed with food, hot drink and then tucked into bed. "We'll get their report in the morning right now they need rest" the mousemaid declared.
The tribe leaders gather around the fire to start planning Grinning's downfall. The otters and moles would launch two parts of the attack plan when the time came. The otters would get into the moat then into the drains that came up in the gatehouse while the moles would tunnel under the walls in a number of places where there was no moat.
The other, older mice gathered about the mouse maid after she returned from seeing the younger mice to their nests. Clip's name was mentioned and the mice fell into immediate, respectful silence. "A brave lad," said the elders among the mice. The mouse maid struggled with the thought that her message about Grinning led in some way to Clip's passing. She added a tear of her own to the others.
Yet, the campaign had to continue; so thoughts now turned to what they must do next. The role of the moles and the otters was decided. The hares' role was simple: carry as many into battle as possible, especially when the gates to Grinning's castle opened. Rabbits were to hop about and create confusion. Quails, like Kia, were to be the signalers; their distinctive call to be sounded when each phase of the campaign passed and a new phase should begin.
Lastly, the mice were to engage the rats and overwhelm them with their multitude, clearing the way to Bushtail's cell where hopefully, the knight would already be freed by Cleese and his mates.
One loose end was left, pointed out mouse. "What of Sir Scurry?" The elders looked at her.
"Yes, mouse maid? What of him? We don't know where he is or if he is willing to help."
"He must be found and brought into the battle knowing what we are about!" said mouse, emphatically.
"We have little time to chase after him," emphasized Cleese's elder. "The more we delay, the greater the possibility our plan will be discovered. Then Grinning will turn his rats loose on us in our own burrows."
This was something mouse understood was heavy on their minds. "Then one of us will have to go find him... and his squire." The second part she added, feeling guilty, as an afterthought, head down, while she scraped the ground with her hind paw. The mouse maid looked up to see all of the mice in the council staring in her direction. The first thought to cross her mind was simple enough so she expressed it. "So you want me to go and find him, don't you?"
The answer was obvious before it was even spoken.
[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 02-11-2002 @ 03:30 PM).]
"Kia! What "Oh dear... We shouldn't be out and about like this. I mean... There are weasels and rats and hawks and more rats and that cat and we are alone, so very alone and there are noises and more rats and noises... Oh dear... Oh dear..." Mouse stamped one of her hind paws. Rory jumped a little higher not prepared for the light but unexpected blow. "Mouse!" he said in protest. Mouse winced at the realization of what she had just done; but the act had the desired effect. Rory's unexpectedly high leap startled Kia into halting her lament and getting her attention refocused on mouse. "Now stop that Kia!" chastised mouse. "There are no rats and no noises. I should know, I'm a mouse and Rory should know; just look at his ears. They're big enough to hear anything." Rory wasn't sure he liked the reference to big. "Now mouse, my ears are not a subject for conversation here," he protested. Kia glanced at Rory's ear nearest to the side she occupied. "Hmmm... Yes, as you say, mouse. Rory would know very quickly if there were a bad noise. In fact, he would know if anyone within a kilometer uttered a noise." Kia started to giggle. Rory twitched his nose in irritation and began to mumble something about irritable fowls. Mouse settled back onto her perch on Rory's back. Good, she thought, that will distract Kia for awhile. Then she turned her thoughts to their assignment. She believed they had travelled far enough. Grinning's castle wasn't very far from this spot, but far enough to provide safety from all but the most deliberate rat forays. Sir Scurry must be here somewhere. One thing mouse knew for sure was the existence of a creek near the path. She tapped Rory on the back gently so as not to frighten him into a high leap. "Rory? You're not mad at us anymore are you?" she said in the sweetest mouse voice she could muster. "No." "Good, because I know a place nearby where water is cool and refreshing and the grass is sweet." "You do? Can we stop there for a moment? A snack would be wonderful!" "Of course. It's there, just to the left of this path. See the creek?" "Yes," said Rory. "I do now. Hold on both of you." Kia and mouse grasped a bit of rabbit fur as Rory changed direction, hopping towards the creek. He with his passengers exploded from the vegetation at the edge of the creek only to startle a young mouse on the other side of the water. "Squeeeeek!" exclaimed Crispin as he scooted backwards from the waters edge. "Who... Who are you?" The mouse on the back of the rabbit spoke for all three. "Rory Rabbit, Kia Quail and I am mouse, Squire to Sir Scurry." "I am Crispin, squire to Sir Scurry as well." Mouse was relieved to know she had found the knight at last; but this was the [This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 02-22-2002 @ 03:51 PM).]
One word deserves another.
"Oh dear... We shouldn't be out and about like this. I mean... There are weasels and rats and hawks and more rats and that cat and we are alone, so very alone and there are noises and more rats and noises... Oh dear... Oh dear..."
Mouse stamped one of her hind paws. Rory jumped a little higher not prepared for the light but unexpected blow. "Mouse!" he said in protest. Mouse winced at the realization of what she had just done; but the act had the desired effect. Rory's unexpectedly high leap startled Kia into halting her lament and getting her attention refocused on mouse.
"Now stop that Kia!" chastised mouse. "There are no rats and no noises. I should know, I'm a mouse and Rory should know; just look at his ears. They're big enough to hear anything."
Rory wasn't sure he liked the reference to big. "Now mouse, my ears are not a subject for conversation here," he protested. Kia glanced at Rory's ear nearest to the side she occupied. "Hmmm... Yes, as you say, mouse. Rory would know very quickly if there were a bad noise. In fact, he would know if anyone within a kilometer uttered a noise." Kia started to giggle. Rory twitched his nose in irritation and began to mumble something about irritable fowls.
Mouse settled back onto her perch on Rory's back. Good, she thought, that will distract Kia for awhile. Then she turned her thoughts to their assignment. She believed they had travelled far enough. Grinning's castle wasn't very far from this spot, but far enough to provide safety from all but the most deliberate rat forays. Sir Scurry must be here somewhere.
One thing mouse knew for sure was the existence of a creek near the path. She tapped Rory on the back gently so as not to frighten him into a high leap. "Rory? You're not mad at us anymore are you?" she said in the sweetest mouse voice she could muster.
"Good, because I know a place nearby where water is cool and refreshing and the grass is sweet."
"You do? Can we stop there for a moment? A snack would be wonderful!"
"Of course. It's there, just to the left of this path. See the creek?"
"Yes," said Rory. "I do now. Hold on both of you." Kia and mouse grasped a bit of rabbit fur as Rory changed direction, hopping towards the creek. He with his passengers exploded from the vegetation at the edge of the creek only to startle a young mouse on the other side of the water.
"Squeeeeek!" exclaimed Crispin as he scooted backwards from the waters edge. "Who... Who are you?"
The mouse on the back of the rabbit spoke for all three. "Rory Rabbit, Kia Quail and I am mouse, Squire to Sir Scurry."
"I am Crispin, squire to Sir Scurry as well." Mouse was relieved to know she had found the knight at last; but this was the [This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 02-22-2002 @ 03:51 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Lancer (edited 02-22-2002 @ 03:51 PM).]
"Friends? Friends, you say? Who, Squire?"
"You will know them, Sir Scurry." Crispin waived towards a tall stand of bushy vegetation and Rory emerged, mouse and Kia on his back.
Scurry's eyes swept from rabbit to quail and then to mouse. "Mouse!" he shouted. "Squire mouse! Yes, friend indeed. How wonderful to find you again! I had thought it would take an age; but here you are, Squire!" Each time Scurry said 'squire' Crispin winced a little.
Mouse slipped off Rory's back and hurried to stand before Sir Scurry. She had the presence of mind to bow to her master just before he gathered her in his arms for a brief hug. This surprised mouse for it was unheard of for a knight do such a thing, but she was pleased with the brief show of affection. Afterall, she was a lady squire, something very unusual in these times; and lady squires were... well, different. So being treated differently like this was quite okay with her. Crispin turned away from the reunion to do some chores. He wasn't needed there, he realized. Sir Scurry's true squire had returned.
Introductions of Rory and Kia followed while Crispin saw to his own meager personal belongings. Then mouse told the story, to the best she remembered, of how she became separated from Scurry. Meanwhile, Crispin placed his belongings into his knapsack and sealed it shut with a knot. Following the story of her separation from Sir Scurry, mouse told how she, Rory and Kia escaped from the wolf pack, their adventures in the field and how they came to be among those who sought to end Grinning's tyranny. It was sometime before mouse finished her story that Crispin, unnoticed, placed the knapsack over his shoulder and walked away from the clearing and into the brush.
Her story finished she looked around to see where Crispin might be sitting, but mouse found he was nowhere to be seen. "Sir Scurry, where is Squire Crispin?"
"Why mouse, I don't know. It's not like him to disappear like that. I wonder where he has gone? Either of you two seen him lately?" Rory and Kia shook their heads. "How strange," observed Scurry. "I wonder what made him leave us like that." Mouse wasn't sure, but she suspected she might know the answer.
Crispin continued to walk into the forest in the vicinity of Sir Grinning's castle so lost in thought that he had no idea four pairs of red-rimmed, bloodshot ratty eyes were watching his every step...
Kai took to the air to search the woods and Rory took off sniffing the ground to see if he could find a trail of the young squire.
Kai flew back into the clearing crying "oh woe is me. oh woe is me" Rory hurried back with the bad news. " Young Crispin is being stalked by Sir Grinning's troops and a pack wolves."
"Kai please stop crying and tell us what you saw too" mouse said being quite firm with the young quail.
"They have him trapped and he doesn't seem to know it" she sobbed. "We've got to save him"
"He's been a good squire though needing a few lessons" mumbled Sir Scurry.
"Bet he was a great squire if he could deal with Sir Scurry whose a difficult master" mumbled mouse.
At first he couldn't translate what the ugly grey color was that seemed to fill the spaces between the brown and green stems of the vegetation. Then he saw the telltale smoothly contoured but hairless tail the careless rat allowed to extend beyond the base of the plant that was its hiding place. There was no doubt in Crispin's mind it was a rat, but how many, he wondered.
He tuned his ears even as he quickened his pace. One for sure. No, two. There's a third. Hmmm, maybe four. Well, rats are big, but they aren't too bright; nor are they as fast, centimeter for centimeter, as a mouse. Crispin rounded a bend in the path and just as he did, he broke into the fastest run his feet could muster.
There was a cry from the bush and a rat leaped out at him, tried to grab Crispin, missed and slid nose first into the base of a thorned bush. Crispin was still running even as the rat's cry of pain and anger echoed up the path. The mouse could hear more rat paws behind him. He was still being chased!
The path suddenly curved at the edge of deep crevass. Crispin tried his best to stop his run before he ran off the edge of the path and into the crevass. He stopped barely in time, then turned to see three rats chasing him at their fastest run. Crispin thought quickly and formulated a plan. He started to shake making believe he was petrified into a motionless stance all the while blocking the rats view of the deep crevass.
Onwards came the rats, now laughing to themselves at the plight of the mouse. "Dinner for Grinning!" one of them yelled, just before... at the last moment... Crispin leaped sideways and the three rats found themselves sailing over the edge of the crevass and into the depths below. CRUMP! One rat hit bottom. CRUMP! The second rat hit bottom. Then silence.
Two? Where was the third? Crispin carefully approached the edge of the crevass and peaked over the side. Red-rimmed eyes stared up at him from the muzzle of the third rat improbably clinging to a dirt outcropping that held firm. The rat shifted position and swung its body propelling itself up and back onto the flat edge of the path near Crispin. Infuriated, the rat stepped towards Crispin. This time there was no escaping the rat, and Crispin knew it. He prepared to defend himself the best he could against this creature two, almost three times his size.
Suddenly the space around the rat was filled with airborne stones cast by a nestfull of field mice. The surprised rat staggered to the side, his right foot missing the edge of the path and finding nothing but the air of the crevass. The rat squealed in fear waving its upper paws in a desperate attempt to regain his balance and footing. Unsuccesfull, the rat toppled over the edge and into the crevass, with no outcropping this time to grasp. CRUMP! Moments later the third rat joined his fellows at the bottom of the deep, inescapable crevass.
Crispin turned towards the four mice who had supplied the barrage of stones. "Thank you," he said. "I am Crispin, Squire to..." Crispin interrupted his thanks with the realization that he was not a squire at all, not anymore. "Again, I say thank you. I am Crispin, a traveller. Who are you?"
The four mice approached him. One mouse in particular spoke for the others. "Brief introductions only. We must leave this place before more rats arrive. Well met, Crispin. I am Cleese. We combat Sir Grinning. Hurry in that direction (Cleese pointed to the path ahead) it is safe. We just came that way."
"You combat Sir Grinning? I am late the squire of Sir Scurry. May I join you?"
Cleese looked Crispin over. "Lately a squire to a knight, is it? You seem agile enough to eliminate two rats and nearly a third."
"Four actually. There was one more back there on the path."
Cleese laughed. "Four indeed! As I said, agile enough." Cleese studied Crispin even more closely. "You will do what I tell you to do, exactly when I tell you to do it. This you must swear."
"I swear it!" said Crispin enthusiastically.
"Then you may join us in place of our lost comrade."
"Yes, I'll tell you about it along the way," said Cleese. "Hopefully, you won't regret your vow when you hear what happened to him."
Yes, hopefully, thought Crispin. He shifted his knapsack to his other shoulder and prepared to follow Cleese in whatever direction the mouse chose to go.
"We'll mark the path so you can follow and maybe pick up some help along the way" mouse promised the knight. "Kia fly quickly to the meadow see if you can muster some troops to help" The little quail took to air still sobbing quietly.
Kia soon arrived at the now huge military camp of rodents and other forest creatures. "Help oh please help mouse sent me. Poor Crispin is in terrible danger. Please follow me."
"I say Kia" asked one of the otters "did you say Crispin was in trouble. The one that's squire to Sir Scurry"
"Yes oh yes" sobbed Kai.
"Dry your tears little quail he's safe enough for now. Some of our young field mice are with him. Tough little fellow he is too took on 4 rats and escaped."
"Ohhhhh thank you sir but I must go and let the others know."
Rory and mouse by then had seen the first rat when they heard Kai singing happily. Now what thought mouse first she won't stop crying, now she's letting everybody know she's happy. When I get my paws on her I might wring her feather brained neck.
Kai landed on a tree limb above their heads to tell them the good news. "He's safe, he's safe with some field mouse babes. He got away from 4 rats all by himself. He's a hero."
"Oh that's wonderful but you silly quail get down here before every rat knows where we are" mouse was happy about Crispin but not very happy with Kai.
Rory hopped hurriedly back to let Sir Scurry that all was well. They met the knight riding on the back of a very sturdy young badger. Sir Scurry was delighted at the news. "Knew he had the right stuff. Taught him everything he knows about fighting" bragged the knight in a loud voice.
[This message has been edited by mouse (edited 02-25-2002 @ 10:09 PM).]
Clint, the mouse named supreme leader of the war against Sir Grinning, paced back and forth. "How many did we lose this time?"
"Nine," said the messenger mouse. "Eight ambushed by rats and the ninth abducted from a nest."
Clint continued to pace back and forth. "Is Cleese on his way to the castle?"
"Yes. He was delayed temporarily by an encounter with some rats. A new mouse in the area... Crispin, I think was his name... has joined them. It was Crispin who dispatched the rats, rather cleverly too I am told."
Clint grunted. "Well, the time is now. Cleese is in place and our mice are ready. Give the order to the commanders. We march on Grinning!"
Hawks and eagles and other denizens of the sky were surprised by the sudden appearance of thousands of mice and other small creatures all seemingly heading in the same general direction. Soon they tired of the game of swoop, grasp and flee. It was too easy. There were too many. The novelty and the need to hunt faded among the birds of prey with each creature taken. Before long the mice were free to advance on the castle of Sir Grinning. Their numbers were less than before, but still plentiful... and their determination was undiminished.
"Down here, Crispin," whispered Cleese. "This is the way into the castle. HUSH!" Cleese closed a paw on Crispin's muzzle to quiet the former squire. Two rats talking to each other were heard passing by on the tall walls above. They were gone soon enough. Silently, Cleese removed his paw from Crispin's muzzle and motioned to the other three mice to follow him.
Cleese compressed his body and squeezed into the hole, traversing its length in a crawl. He then emerged on the other side just behind the Granary. Cleese waited patiently, all senses on alert, as Crispin and the other mice crawled through the hole and joined him where he stood.
Sir Scurry finished putting on the rest of his armor, gathered up his weapons and mounted his warhare. Mouse assisted him expertly and then joined Kia on the back of Rory. "So, Squire mouse, you say Crispin was last seen near the castle of Sir Grinning."
"That's what Kia reported, Master."
"Then it is time we pay Sir Grinning a visit, don't you think."
"Yes, Sir Scurry, it is time." But before anything more was said the area erupted with a rush of mice, as if the creek itself were running brown with them and had overflowed.
"What's all this?!" exclaimed Sir Scurry as he struggled to control his startled warhare.
Mouse looked around as hundreds of mice passed in an orderly column. "I dare say, Sir Scurry, that the assault on the castle of Grinning has begun."
"Then we shall join them, forthwith!" shouted Scurry. The squirrel knight put spur to hare's side and his warhare leaped forward in the direction of the feline's castle.
Mouse had a nagging feeling that all was not well, but didn't know why. Try as she might, she couldn't shake the feeling as their mounts brought them closer and closer to Grinning's fortress.
The mice milled about mouse waiting to here what she had to say. "We can't win by a headlong frontal attacked, we are best at sneaking but our numbers can carry the day. We'll have to follow at night the path the mouse babes used to get into the castle. Plus we'll have to call on our friends the bats as they can help with a night time attack."
The troops settled down into a camp and started cooking lunch, to rest and mourn those lost to the hawks/eagles.
Sir Scurry had listened carefully very impressed at his squire's control of the troops.
Yet that didn't prevent him from ordering the round up of any rats to be found outside of the castle hunting for mice. One rat in particular caught his ire when the loudmouthed fool of a rat bragged about how Grinning would turn them all into mouse cakes.
The rat was immediately surrounded by hundreds of mice with dark intentions visible in their small, staring eyes. The rat's eyes opened twice as wide as normal as Clint approached him with a sharply pointed sword as long as the rat was thick. "Go ahead," said Clint through clenched teeth. "Just give me an excuse." The rat's mouth closed and he was silent thereafter unless spoken to directly.
Meanwhile, Cleese and company were busy stealthily seeking access to the heart of Grinning's castle.
"Yes sir" whispered Crispin. Maybe I can make Sir Scurry proud of me he thought as he scurried after Cleese. These mouse babes sure are brave and this is really dangerous wonder why their parents allow them to take these risks. Whoops I'de better keep my mind on the job at hand since we have to get this information back to the army. Sure hope mouse is happy with the way I kept Sir Scurry's armor maybe she can help me be squire to another knight.
[This message has been edited by mouse (edited 02-26-2002 @ 11:32 PM).]
They scurried noiselessly down the interior walls, through crevices and holes in the wall, until they at last were in the dark hallways of the dungeon. Here they stopped to listen for any noise... None to be heard.
Only one rat occupied the cell area where Bushtail was jailed. One minute the rat was sound asleep, the next minute the rat was soundlessly unconscious, a lump rising on his head. "I liked that," whispered one of the mice to Cleese.
"Hush!" whispered Cleese, smiling all the while. He liked the effect as well but knew the less noise created, the better for them all.
Cleese handed the shackle and cell keys to Crispin. "Free Bushtail," he whispered to Crispin. "See that he is quiet."
Crispin climbed on top of the back of two of his companions and inserted the key. The turning of the lock woke up Sir Bushtail.
"I say! What goes on here!" exclaimed Bushtail. Cleese dashed into the cell. "Hush, Sir Bushtail. We are here to free you," said Cleese. Meanwhile, Crispin applied successive keys to Bushtail's shackles until finally the tell tale click occurred that indicated the lock was open. Bushtail immediately reached down and removed the shackles.
"Well done, mouse," he whispered. "You are new. What is your name?"
"Crispin, Sir Knight, squire to Sir Scur..." Crispin reminded himself that wasn't true any longer. "Formerly a squire, Sir Knight."
Bushtail stiffly rose to his feet. "Not a squire? Who was your former master?"
"Sir Scurry, Sir," replied Crispin.
"Hmmm, when I meet him at joust, I shall have a word with him... that is, before I unmount him from his hare with my lance. Methinks you are unrecognized for your abilities; or your replacement is a better mouseman than you."
"Sir Scurry's squire is not a mouseman at all, Sir Bushtail," began Crispin, only to be interrupted by Cleese's alarmed whisper. "Hush, there's no time for this. Someone's coming this way."
"Give me the gaoler's sword," ordered Sir Bushtail. Moments later two rats turned the corner and entered the cell area. The mice jumped them freezing the rats in surprise, and Bushtail's sword dispatched them to the place all rats should go.
"We know a way out of this place. You might be able to fit as well. Willing to take a chance?" asked Cleese.
"Lead on, mouse. I shall follow," replied Bushtail.
"Oh, one thing more. The drawbridge must be dropped at the right moment. Two of you must stay in the castle and wait for the key words. When you hear the key words, strike the rope that holds the raised drawbridge."
Two mice raised their paws. Both said they would do what Cleese asked. One was Clep. The other was Crispin.
Bushtail looked closely at Crispin. "Indeed, I am more sure than ever that Scurry is a befuddled knight." Crispin ignored him. Scurry was not befuddled, he knew; but he didn't want to argue with the knight at that moment.
"What are the key words, Cleese?" asked Crispin.
"Lower the drawbridge when you hear the leader say, 'The time is now, Grinning'. That's when we will swarm the castle."
"I understand," said Crispin.
"Good. Let's leave this place then," said Cleese as he motioned to them to follow his lead.
"Ahhh mouse what is to be my assignment" asked Sir Scurry very humbly for him. Amazing he thought what this mousemaid is doing must be all that battle knowledge I taught her.
"Crispin why did you stay behind to help with the drawbridge" asked Clep "you have to know it's very dangerous. Think Sir Bushtail might be looking at you for his squire."
"Oh it's what I can do to help since my sworn Lord doesn't need me anymore" mumbled Crispin "Don't Sir Bushtail would want a dismissed squire that served Sir Scurry."
The two young mice snuggled in close the ropes to let down the drawbridge. They hoped they wouldn't have to wait too long since the scent of rat and cat were almost overpowering.
Sir Scurry gulped. "Me, by myself? I should think you would know that a feline knight has abilities no knighted squirrel alone could overcome. It is one thing to take on a body of knighted rats. It is another to engage a feline knight."
"You have taught me well, Sir Scurry," reassured mouse. "I know you would not back away from a challenge to Sir Grinning for lack of courage. That is why we plan for you to have help. We shall free Sir Bushtail. Two knighted squirrels against one knighted cat should be equal don't you think."
"Hmmm, Sir Bushtail is it? I don't think you know that Sir Bushtail and I are not exactly allies. I aided him awhile ago and though he didn't know who it was who aided him, I don't think finding out it was me will endear me to him before or after."
"No, I didn't know," said mouse, a frown creasing her face. "But the plan is already in motion. I am told Crispin is with those attempting to free Sir Bushtail."
"A brave young mouse. I have been blessed with two such squires and only realized it just now." Mouse blinked and the corners of her mouth curled into a smile. That was the first time Sir Scurry ever truly complemented her. Then a little corner of her conscience developed an itch. Poor Crispin. He doesn't know in what high regard he is held. He thinks he is unwanted... And mouse knew she couldn't tell him otherwise in time. She hoped he survived what lay ahead. There is much she wanted to share with him.
"Clep," whispered Crispin.
"What," answered Clep.
"It's time to start knawing. There's nobody nearby to hear."
"Yes, now. Begin there, on that rope. I'll begin here."
Barely discernable knawing sounds carried a short distance, but as Crispin observed, nobody was nearby to hear.
Bushtail followed Cleese through the dark passageways, nooks, crannies and holes that led to the yard and finally to the wall behind the granary. Cleese's two mouse comrades entered the hole and emerged on the other side. Then Bushtail made his attempt.
"Compress your body, stretch it out, Sir Bushtail," whispered Cleese. "Pull with your front paws and push with your back paws. You can make it through!"
Bushtail did as he was told (a remarkable developement for him) but midway through the hole, his elongated body became stuck. Bushtail couldn't go forward or backwards. His head and forepaws were on the outside of the wall and his back paws and posterior were on the inside. "I'm stuck, I say. Do something!" said Bushtail to the two mice staring at him, their dark eyes opened as wide as they could be.
Cleese knew what had happened the second he saw Bushtail cease his forward motion. Just then he heard two rats making their rounds and heading directly for the granary.
"Whew" Cleese breathed a a silent thanks "ok chums quick we've got to get Sir Bushtail free, those of you outside pull and we'll push" After much grunting of mice and the groaning of a very skinned up knight and Sir Bushtail was free.
"I say chaps not to put too fine a point on it but I don't think I can handle Sir Grinning by myself" mumbled the knight. "Oh don't worry about that we have another knight that will be working with you, you might know him" Cleese whispered back to Sir Bushtail.
"Who what knight, he must be as brave as a lion or I won't stand with him" Sir Bushtail wasn't mumbling now but was puffing himself up.
" Oh I think Sir Scurry is up to the task" Cleese didn't need to whipser anymore since they were close to clearing where the army had assembled.
"Sir Scurry Sir Scurry" the knight was almost screaming with outrage "that buffoon never, I will never stand with him"
"Well what do you expect me to do when you tell me that for the most important combat of my life I'm paired with... with... Sir Scurry... Of all the possible choices, why did it have to be such an arrogant, empty headed, self-serving, egotistical bafooooooooon!" It was at this moment that the two mice on the outside of the wall pulled on Bushtail's front paws and Cleese pushed on the squirrel's plump derriere. Like a sausage through a pipe, Bushtail squirted out of the hole and onto the ground outside of the wall. Cleese hurried through the hole when he realized the passage was clear.
"Ah, Sir Bushtail," said Cleese. "That Sir Scurry must be one of kind, wouldn't you agree?"
"Absolutely, he..." Bushtail paused when the sarcasm intertwined in Cleese's comment finally struck home. "Now see here, young mouse..." But he wasn't permitted to finish. Rat voices were heard again on the wall above the hole. Cleese signaled quiet and they all fled into the bushes beyond the castle walls.
The two mice continued to gnaw on the gate ropes whenever no one was in earshot of their work.
"I say old boy is one of the mice young Crispin the squire" called Sir Scurry "really have to tell that boy how proud I am of him".
Mouse chuckled to herself quietly, never do to have Sir Scurry think she was laughing at him.
"Don't think so Sir looks like young Cleese and some of his nestmates and a really battered looking knight" called the lookout.
Cleese finally broke through the brush with Sir Bushytail in tow. "Oh please could we have a bite to eat and a bath before we tell our tale" call Sir Bushytail. Hot water with fresh towels was put close to the fire and some hot food was gathered for the adventurers. The entire camp not on watch gathered to hear the story. Though Sir Scurry could be heard to mumble "the nerve to that ragtag knight to demand such comforts when poor Crispin is out there in the night".
It was a good thing that the overconfident Sir Grinning never thought it necessary to install an iron gate, trusting on the drawbridge to seal the entrance. So far he had been right, but that was about to end very soon.
The two mice made their way down the rope from the upper wheels that served to guide the drawbridge ropes. Quietly they hurried towards the granary and the hole used earlier to enter the castle grounds. The granary loomed before them. They hurried as quickly and as quietly as they could, rounding the far edge of the granary just in time to run right into four rats on perimeter patrol...
The cell door slammed on the two mice as the rat gaoler laughed to himself over some kind of unspoken joke. "What are you going to do with us!" yelled Crispin, defiance putting an edge on his voice.
"Why we're going to find a large iron pot, light a fire and boil you for our master's dinner tomorrow at noon; or maybe serve you for supper some hours after that. We simply haven't decided yet. Hahaha haha haha!" The gaoler punctuated his statement with mirthful laughter and added. "We'll simply have to see what Cook decides, you plump, young, tender things you." The gaoler left the area still laughing to himself.
"Crispin," said Clep.
"What?" responded Crispin.
Clep's voice trembled. "I'm scared, are you?"
"Yes, Clep. I'm scared too," answered Crispin.
Meanwhile back at the camp in the forest, The slightly battered knight was once more clean, warm and well fed. His normal personality was back now that he was no longer to be Sir Grinning's next meal. Cleese and his nest mates were curled up in a warm nest grabbing a much needed nap. The young mice were snatching those few minutes of safety and peace before being required to report.
A squirrelish voice called out. "Permission to approach the Knight's encampment." This was a formal greeting and a courteous request to both alert the encampment and to reassure peaceful intentions.
"Approach," responded Bushtail. A knight the same age as Bushtail's, but slightly taller and ever so slightly thinner stood before him wearing the Sign of the Elm on his breastplate armor. "Sir Scurry, I surmise," said Bushtail.
"I am Sir Scurry."
"Then Sir Scurry was taken aback and very near speechless. His eyes opened wide and his grip on his sword tightened measurably. Then he paused. At the briefest of moments something in the way of understanding flashed before his eyes. Would he, Sir Scurry, have reacted differently than Bushtail if an unknown knight suddenly did to him what he had done to Bushtail? And what is more, they could not be enemies today. The enemy was in the castle and had the whiskers of a cat. Sir Scurry struggled within himself, but finally found words to speak. He hoped Bushtail would listen. "Sir Bushtail, I made a hasty decision to render aid where none was needed. It was for a good cause that I came to your aid, but it was an unnecessary action. I offer my apologies for the insult you might have received. It was not intended so." Sir Scurry turned his hands palm up and bowed his head in a gesture of humbleness. "I seek your company on this campaign against Sir Grinning, the Elm and the Oak to unite against the feline." Well... That's better, thought Bushtail. He considered what answer he would give. Three factors wrestled in his mind: his pride, the campaign and the joust.
One word deserves another.
Sir Scurry was taken aback and very near speechless. His eyes opened wide and his grip on his sword tightened measurably. Then he paused. At the briefest of moments something in the way of understanding flashed before his eyes. Would he, Sir Scurry, have reacted differently than Bushtail if an unknown knight suddenly did to him what he had done to Bushtail? And what is more, they could not be enemies today. The enemy was in the castle and had the whiskers of a cat.
Sir Scurry struggled within himself, but finally found words to speak. He hoped Bushtail would listen. "Sir Bushtail, I made a hasty decision to render aid where none was needed. It was for a good cause that I came to your aid, but it was an unnecessary action. I offer my apologies for the insult you might have received. It was not intended so." Sir Scurry turned his hands palm up and bowed his head in a gesture of humbleness. "I seek your company on this campaign against Sir Grinning, the Elm and the Oak to unite against the feline."
Well... That's better, thought Bushtail. He considered what answer he would give. Three factors wrestled in his mind: his pride, the campaign and the joust.
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