“Oh Bernard, I have a terrible feeling about Androcles. He should have gotten here days ago.”
“Now, now, Miss Bianca, I’m sure he’s fine. He probably just got tied up with something.”
At the edge of the monsoonal eucalyptus woodlands, Daniel watched the two mice, who seemed all too human, talking about their missing companion, the one who was supposed to stand guard to make sure the King didn’t escape their trap. They also seemed the two most compassionate mice among the group. Mickey showed no interest in what happened to Androcles whatsoever, spending most of his time with Minnie trying on each other’s clothes. The rest of the mice seemed just as distracted and frivolous.
“William.” Daniel called to his kangaroo companion.
“I’ll be right over, Daniel.” The kangaroo was talking to his sister Esmeralda. Something about not putting her son in danger again. She seemed really insistent.
For over a week, Daniel had been living among the local group of “roos,” getting to know all the jacks, jills, and joeys, which meant that William’s nephew Joey (the subject of his friend’s current conversation) was named with a total lack of imagination.
The mice lived among the roos, apparently having some sort of symbiotic relationship, or perhaps the rodents just enjoyed the protection of the large, powerful roos.
William bounded over. “What is it, mate?”
“Bernard and Miss Bianca are still worried about what’s happened to Androcles. I can’t believe the mice left only a single guard, no matter how badly injured the King was.”
“Well, mice don’t always make the best decisions now do they? Want we should go back and have a look?”
Daniel didn’t want to go back. Like the two little mice, he was afraid something terrible had happened to Androcles, and that the King wasn’t vanquished as the rest of the rodents had supposed.
“I guess we should, though I’m not exactly thrilled with the prospect.”
“Why not go anyway, cobber? We’ve been sending messages out to the Owl ever since we arrived and she hasn’t answered yet. Let’s have us a little walkabout and see what we can see.”
Then the kangaroo turned and spoke up. “Bernard. Miss Bianca. How about instead of complaining, we go and see what happened to Androcles ourselves.”
“Well, I don’t know.” Bernard was the timid type, and it seemed that Miss Bianca was the one who continually inspired him to reluctant courage.
“If ol’ Bernie isn’t up to it, I’ll go with you.” It was Jake. The plucky kangaroo mouse had a terrific crush on Miss Bianca, which she seemed completely oblivious to. Bernard however, was all too aware of it.
“I’ll go, I’ll go.” Bernard was more resigned and irritated than eager, but he had a good heart, and in the end, he always did the right thing.
“Then let’s go.”
Daniel, William, and the three mice set off in the direction from which they had recently came. Provisions for the trip were kept in the male kangaroo’s pouch, which shouldn’t exist but, for some strange reason in this unreal realm, did.
Nightfall was coming, but they weren’t far from their destination, so the quintet pushed on.
“Wait!” Jake, who had been leading them as their guide (though in this case, they hardly needed one), stopped the troop. “Something’s wron…”
They were all standing among a group of trees in a tiny clearing when, with a “whoosh”, they were propelled upward.
“It’s a trap,” the kangaroo declared as a net enclosed them and they were carried into the trees. A familiar laugh echoed from the shadows.
“My rats are quite good at weaving, don’t you think? The King, still favoring his left front paw, limped into the light.
“Quick, Bernard. The boy!”
Bernard followed Miss Bianca’s lead and started nibbling at the vines which fashioned their prison, hoping that the large figure of William blocked their efforts from the Lion’s view. Jake, seeing what they were doing, joined in.
Wait! Stop!” The King was startled at the quick action of the mice. “Rats!”
The mice made a hole in the net just big enough for Daniel to go through.
“No, I won’t leave you,” the child protested.
“Too late for that now, mate.” William pushed Daniel out through the hole and the boy fell a short distance to the ground.
“Run, Daniel! Run!” William’s urgent yelling launched the child forward.
The rats chewed through the vines holding the net aloft and it dropped to the ground with a thud. William was dazed, but the mice landed upon the kangaroo, and then attempted to protect their companion from the approaching horde of vermin.
Daniel ran and ran, propelled by fear, and yet all the while, feeling the guilt of a coward. William had explained that only he was able to completely break the spell upon this realm and return it to good order, so he above all others, had to be protected.
This didn’t prevent tears of shame from rolling down his cheeks as he ran on.
Presently, Daniel could hear howling behind him and the sound of running that could only come from canine feet. But instead of being friendly companions like Towser, they were a pack of dingos, one of the King’s many predatory security forces. He’d never outrun them.
He didn’t have to. A huge tree was directly in Daniel’s path. Almost without slowing down, he climbed. The dingos ran around and around the massive tree, some attempting to leap up in a vain attempt to catch the boy.
He went up and up and up, the light of a full moon guiding him from branch to branch. There was something just ahead, then Daniel climbed past it. A nest? Could a nest be that big?
Startled, the ten year old missed the next branch, lost his balance and fell. Fortunately, he was right over the nest and dropped directly into it.
After he recovered his senses, Daniel looked over the edge. Far below, the dingos stood guard in a ring around the tree. They knew he couldn’t stay here forever. Some of them were missing, presumably they left to inform the King of the boy’s whereabouts.
Of course cats can climb trees. Could the large Lion ascend this high?
Daniel turned. Three eggs were in the nest with him, each about the size of the boy.
“What kind of bird could lay eggs this big?”
Above and behind him, Daniel heard the flutter of large wings. In a few moments, he would face the answer to his question.
This concept is loosely based on Iain Kelly’s recent A to Z Challenge 2017 story series. Every day, Iain crafted another puzzle piece to his murder mystery that had me and his other readers spellbound. I doubt I can create the suspense he conjured up, but when my wife got a giant A to Z jigsaw puzzle for our two-year-old granddaughter, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
I don’t have a lot of time, so I think each “letter” will be shorter and I’m not sure I can write one every day, but I’ll do my best.
The previous story is M is for Mouse.
The next story is O is for Owl.
I’m back home now, and I have a little more time to write. I took photos of each of the remaining puzzle pieces, so I should be able to continue writing regularly. My schedule will be interrupted again next Thursday, but hopefully, I’ll have several other chapters published by then. Enjoy.
Oh, someone mentioned the mice characters from the 1977 animated Disney film The Rescuers starring Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. I’ve always preferred the 1990 sequel The Rescuers Down Under, and so added Jake (voiced in that film by Tristan Rogers) to the famous duo of Bernard and Miss Bianca in today’s adventure.