I’m sorry for the long delay in sharing the next installment of the story. I hope you and your family will continue to enjoy Chip’s adventures as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about them!
“Long ago,” Romulus began, “when I was but a small, wide-eyed thing, I listened in on a whispered tale not meant for my young ears.
“My mother’s sister had always been the adventurous sort, full of fire and curiosity, not like your run-of-the-mill badger at all. Still, Mother listened to her tales with admiration and a kind of longing, a longing that I secretly shared.
“On this particular night, Mother tucked me in, saying it was time for the grown-ups to chat, but I knew that meant that a story of wild adventure was bound to be told, and I was determined not to miss it.
“Quietly, I padded down the tunnel, feeling quite certain, though I couldn’t have explained why, that a very different sort of story was about to be told.
“I nestled in the shadows, just shy of the firelight’s touch, and waited.
“Aunt Leah’s voice was smooth and buttery as she told her tale, and it began like this:
‘Once upon a time, a legend was told of a treasure hidden deep in a tangled forest far from here. T’wasn’t silver or gold, but something far better, if the stories of travelers are to be believed. Many have made the attempt, but few have ever laid eyes on it, for strength of will and bravery alone can only take you so far, and not near far enough to lay eyes on what Abaline guards.’
‘Abaline?’ my mother breathed.
‘Ah, yes. Abaline,’ Aunt Leah replied, smiling mysteriously. ‘Abaline, the great owl, is tasked with protecting this most precious of things, though it isn’t her alone who guards the way. Many protectors lie waiting along the perilous path to the owl’s haven, and I encountered many of them before I saw for myself the greatest of treasures.’
‘You mean you found it, Leah? Truly?’
‘That I did, Rose, and oh, was it worth every towering tree that I passed beneath on the long, winding road.’
Silence fell then, thick with curiosity.
Before long, my mother could not stand a moment more of it. ‘Well?’ she burst out at last. ‘For Heaven’s sake, Leah, what is it?’
‘I cannot tell you that, Rose,’ Leah replied softly, and she was instantly met with indignant cries of protest from Rose and Bartholomew.
‘Whyever did you tell us the story then?’ they demanded, nearly in unison.
‘Can’t you even give us one clue?’ Bartholomew asked.
Leah’s answer was quiet when it came. ‘All I can tell you is this, Barty. It’s a treasure fit to heal all the longing stored up in every heart that ever beat. There’s nothing else like it in all this world.’
Romulus’ burrow grew very quiet as the story came to an end. It had not been the tale of adventure Chip had been expecting, but one of mystery, and he and the badger were equally lost in thought .
After a moment, Romulus rose and began searching for something among his trinkets. “As you can imagine, Chip, my parents were less than satisfied with her answer. I suspect you feel the same. But here,” he said, raising his voice above the clatter of tumbling knick-knacks, “here is something that might be of great use to you.”
He turned around, but Chip was gone. Romulus chuckled, tossing the compass back onto its pile. After all, a bright, persistent rabbit like Chip was likely to find his way just as well without it.
Quick as he could, the badger returned to the entrance of his burrow, and he was just in time to see Chip quietly exit his own home before racing for the border of the clearing.
Romulus smiled as he watched the young rabbit, knowing as he did how the right story can set your heart a-racing and your paws a-running to places untold.