Here we go on the next installment! I had a blast writing it, and I hope you enjoy it, too!
Speaking of places untold, Chip halted just outside of Romulus’ burrow, faced with the uncomfortable realization that he hadn’t the slightest idea where to begin his search for Abaline. But that couldn’t daunt him for long, and quick as a blink, Chip was across the clearing and sneaking into his home.
Some foodstuffs were hurriedly placed in a satchel gifted to him by Romulus, and then Chip returned to the clearing, lifting his quivering nose to breathe in the crisp night air.
A sudden breeze swept softly around and behind Chip, rustling his fur as it carried on its unhurried way, seeming to beckon Chip to follow.
Naturally, he did, and all that was familiar was left behind to wait for his return.
Moonlight illuminated Chip’s way through the forest, and his heart fluttered a little less for the way it kept the darkness from making monsters appear in familiar places.
He travelled some distance before he caught a whiff of flowers and wandered a little ways from the path to satisfy his curiosity and rumbling stomach. The food in his satchel would keep long enough for him to enjoy this scrumptious treat.
Sure enough, a clump of wildflowers waited for the young rabbit just beyond a towering oak, and Chip sat in the midst of their perfume for several minutes, happily munching away.
Satisfied now, he stayed where he was, enjoying the sheltering feel of tall grass and leafy blooms. There was one gathering of wildflowers that he had refused to munch on. The delicately unfurling petals ranged from richest purple to palest butter yellow.
They seemed to glitter in the starlight, and Chip was too enchanted to spoil the sight by eating them.
It was a much-treasured moment of peace until the shadow passed over him.
His whole body went rigid, poised to bound away to safety if he needed to. The whole forest went quiet and still; even the moonlight seemed to shine a little less brilliantly in suspense.
Chip could see nothing, and the shadow seemed to have passed. He was just feeling brave enough to go in search of better shelter when an immense, winged figure landed in front of him and blocked his escape.
Fear left him frozen, but no sooner had terror gripped him than a familiar voice spoke. “Must you travel so confounded fast, young Chip? Really! And without a word of thanks for putting the notion of Abaline into your head… however incidentally,” Nesbit said with an indignant sniff.
“Oh, Nesbit,” Chip cried in relief, “I’ve never been so happy to see you!”
The owl arched his brow, trying to decide whether he should feel flattered or insulted. “Yes, well, never mind that,” he hastily replied. “I gather that Romulus Took has been spinning his usual tales. If you’d only woken me, I could have spared you all that time.”
“How?” Chip asked, almost before Nesbit was finished speaking.
But the great owl was in a generous mood and said nothing. “Romulus’ stories are all well and good, but he certainly cannot tell you the road to take, whereas I,” he said with a satisfied ruffling of his feathers, “can show you.”
Chip felt a thrill of excitement rush through him, but still, he frowned, thinking back to the story he’d been told. “Romulus said his Aunt Leah found the treasure in a forest a long ways from here. Have you been there?”
Nesbit smiled. “I think you’ll find her meaning was different from what you might expect.”
Chip opened his mouth to speak, but Nesbit, wisely anticipating a barrage of questions, held up a wing to stop the inquisitive little character. “Now, if you can quell your excitement for a time, I’ll take you back to my tree, and we’ll get you on your way.”
“Go back home? But that’s not what Leah said at all! She said –.”
“Yes, so you said. But wonder’s tucked into all sorts of corners in this world, young Chip. Now, will you believe me long enough so that I can show you?”
Uncertain though he was, Chip knew the only thing for it was to follow, so off he went, running beneath Nesbit’s shadow through the night.
It was a short time later when they arrived at the familiar clearing. Chip looked around carefully before passing the last line of trees, making sure that no one was stirring.
Only one person was watching, but Chip failed to see her.
“Come, come, Chip, we haven’t got all blasted night,” Nesbit complained.
Chip fought back a chuckle, knowing that the owl was impatient to get back to sleep.
Soon enough, they both stood at the foot of the tree that Nesbit had claimed for his own many years ago.
“Now what?” Chip asked unceremoniously.
The owl looked indignant as he tapped a claw against the grassy earth. “Now what?” Nesbit let out a long-suffering sigh before the muttering began. “Why, thank you, Nesbit. How lucky I am, Nesbit, to live in the particular clearing where only a certain owl knows the one way to the treasure I’m seeking. Now what, indeed!” he snapped, and then his eyes flashed dangerously. “This is what!”
And before Chip could even utter a cry, he’d been swept up (carefully) in the owl’s claws, and the ground was a long ways away indeed.
In a mercifully short time, Chip was placed on Nesbit’s usual perch, and the owl settled in beside him. Chip curled up as tightly as he could, certain that if he relaxed for even the slightest moment, he was sure to fall.
Nesbit let out a hearty laugh. “A little less eager now, are we?” Then, more kindly, “Nothing to fear here, Chip, despite appearances. I will not let you fall.”
Chip barely managed a nod. “What are we doing all the way up here, Nesbit?” Our young rabbit cast a sidelong glance at his friend. “And when can we go back down?”
Chuckling softly, Nesbit replied, “You’ll be off this branch soon enough, lad. But you must hop along into the hollow. There, I promise you, you’ll see a sight fit to cure the worst of fears.”
Chip took a deep breath, forcing his eyes to stay open as he crept along the branch, his little body still shaking. Though the bravery of a moment felt like a lifetime, Chip did, indeed, make it to the opening in the tree, and he hopped inside at Nesbit’s encouragement.
The inside was warm and dark, but Chip failed to notice anything spectacular. “It’s just dark, Nesbit.”
“Give the light a moment, if you please.”
Without any further explanation, Nesbit blocked the entryway with his wings, so that not even the moonlight could illuminate this secret space.
Nothing happened at first, and Chip was just about to ask what he should be looking for, but then a slight shimmer appeared on the far wall of the hollow.
He moved forward carefully, looking back at Nesbit only once. The owl gestured for him to keep watching.
The glow grew in intensity, amber in color, almost like a reflection of Nesbit’s eyes. The closer Chip came, the more brilliant and far-reaching the light became, until Chip had no choice but to close his eyes.
When once he opened them, a sight greeted him unlike any he’d ever seen.
Another opening had appeared on the other side of the tree, and beyond it, hills rolled away like a green sea to a forested expanse, while just beneath, a river busily flowed. The whole land was golden with the rising sun.
The little rabbit was awed, but the feeling could only keep him still for a moment.
Eagerly, Chip allowed Nesbit to carry him to the ground, and after a brief farewell, Chip started on his way. He had a longing in his heart, and if there was a treasure that could satisfy it, he would find it.
Not long after Chip left the clearing, a bent figure left the cover of the trees and made her way to Romulus’ burrow. She was old for a badger, and her steps were slow, but still, she managed to navigate the twists and turns until she came upon Romulus seated comfortably amidst his candlelight and trinkets.
“Aunt Leah!” Romulus cried, delighted to see a long-missed member of his family. “What are you doing here?”
“Here to stay, Romulus, if you’ll have me,” Aunt Leah replied with a worn smile. “I’m afraid my days of adventuring are behind me, whether I like it or not.”
“You’re welcome here, always,” Romulus assured, holding tightly to her frail, trembling paws.
Suddenly, Leah let out a raspy laugh. “That young rabbit ruffles old Nesbit’s feathers like I’ve never seen!”
“You have no idea, Aunt Leah,” Romulus said, joining in her laughter.
She smiled, but then her look turned shrewd. “Was that my old satchel I saw round that rabbit’s neck?”
“Did he take it?” Romulus asked. “I was hoping he would. I thought it might earn him a few friends along the way.”
“And enemies,” Aunt Leah replied, and her words were a whisper.
Until next time,
P.S. The watercolor painting of the rabbit is courtesy of Dana Fox’s wonderful book, Watercolor With Me: In the Forest. If you’ve ever wanted to give watercolor painting a try, I really recommend this book. I’ve been enjoying learning to paint so much, and it’s been such a stress reliever in this hectic time.