Welcome back to episode three of my Saga of the Adventurers (working title), sees us back with Talbot, the fox-rabbit we met in January.
Just a reminder, every second Sunday of the month I’m doing a serial with an original illustration from the wonderful Dani English, who also does my book covers. If you missed the previous months, here is January, and here February.
Now read on…
The Reality of Adventuring
Talbot Ponsonby-Booth whimpered in his sleep.
Maybe it was the cold rain, his sore feet, or just some dream born of the dangers of the forest. Nothing had changed. He’d been whimpering before he even fell asleep.
Two days of bounding along the sunlit forest paths had been replaced by a day of walking through dark firs that reached to the sky in serried ranks, leaving no space for light to penetrate. He searched the ground, but there was nothing he could eat below them. His tummy rumbled, and he hushed it, looking around fearfully. There was nowhere to go but onwards, hoping for a stream to wet his lips, some grass at the edge, some nuts fallen from a stray oak.
By the time he reached the trees at the edge of the cliff his hope had disappeared.
On the edge of the precipice, he gazed on the canopy below. Sun glinted on the treetops all the way to the next hill, after which the sky turned misty, wrapping smoke-like traces around spiky sentinels. The sunny part raised his ears an inch. The mist beyond dropped them two. Why was he doing this?
He ached as he thought of his family. He tingled as remembered his friends. And he imagined the scorn of ‘I told you so’. He started down a narrow path that seemed to head to the bottom. Every now and then he caught a scent that made his heart flutter; surely something was tracking him? He caught a movement in the bushes below and froze.
Not far below was a river.
Across the river lay a fallen tree, bridging it almost by design.
And onto the trunk, stepped a paw, and a nose, and two red ears, pointed downwards, away from Talbot.
One of the biggest dangers to his kind.
A full grown fox.
All foxes hated fox-rabbits.
Talbot prayed to the great fox-rabbit in the sky that his distant relative would care too much about the river to look up.
He held his breath, willing his heart to slow. Adrenalin pumping through his veins refused to obey. Could the fox hear him? Could he smell him? No, Talbot could smell the fox; it could not work in both directions at once.
He watched the fox cross the river and continue on his way.
But what if it was a feint? What if the fox was lying in wait for him?
Talbot studied the track ahead of him. It was little used, but enough of a track for someone to wait, if they thought a fox-rabbit was coming down it.
The only alternative he could see was to pick his way along the hillside. Surely that was a tiny track, just a merest trace of a previous traveller, going along that way?
He breathed deep breaths, and left the spot where tension had held him for what seemed like hours. He crept along, placing his feet to not catch the briars or brush the crackly leaves.
Fear was the only thing inside him.
Fear, and loneliness. Just get down here safely, he told himself. Safely—but into the jaws of the fox?
It was only after he’d tripped, fallen about twelve foot into a dogwood bush, twisted his arm, ripped the blanket from the top of his pack, and bumped his nose on a tree trunk, that he started whimpering. There was no sign of the fox.
He retrieved and retied the blanket, rubbed his special ointment on his feet and arm, and started off again. He continued whimpering.
He finally passed through a little gorge that the river had made, creeping into the next valley, and found the mist was as thick as rain. He was grateful to find a small rock with enough space under it for him to crawl into, settle down, and sleep till the rain stopped.
A swishing noise penetrated his dreams of cold demons in the dark. The demons became reality as he started, smothering a cry. He shrank further under the pathetic shelter. Lights bobbed in the gloom. The eyes of a monster! His heart thumped so loudly he was sure the demon would find him. He flattened himself into the skinniest of skinny fox-rabbits, motionless save for the flick of a whisker, desperately seeking information; a smell, a vibration.
A hulking mass appeared from the gloom, orange eyes high on either side, with no discernible head—no, they were on stalks. The monster had eight, no ten feet, and was the size of a house. Oh, why had he ever left his lovely cosy house?
The monster came nearer. The first six legs moved in step sequence, the last four seemed to slide forward. What strange beast could this be?
He shut his eyes. He wasn’t there. The beast would not see him. It would pass…
All movement ceased.
His whiskers quivered.
“Hello, wee thing under the rock.”
Talbot flattened himself further.
“Don’t think I can’t see you, shaking like a leaf in your pathetic hiding place.”
The first two legs detached themselves from the others and came towards him.
© J M Pett 2018
Illustration © Danielle English 2016