For those with adventurous hearts, here is the next installment of Chip’s story.
Both Chip and Alfeus froze, frantically thinking what to do.
There was no cover nearby, save for the tall grass next to them, which now housed an ominous silence.
Suddenly, a huge form exploded from the grass, all fire and speed, and Chip bolted without another thought. He traveled fast, for his powerful hind feet could carry him far, but Chip soon noticed in horror that Alfeus was not with him.
He turned sharply about and was stunned to find Alfeus boldly confronting an adolescent fox.
Chip’s thoughts were a scrambled mess. The vicious attack was coming, and how could he stop it? The fox was almost upon his friend.
And then a commanding paw rose high in the air, and Alfeus’ voice rang out. “Wilfred, stop!”
To Chip’s astonishment, the fox reared back, sliding a bit in his attempt to stop.
Alfeus wasted not a moment. “Wilfred Fox, you hasty thing! You might try making certain it’s not a friend you’re about to clamp your jaws onto!”
Wilfred hung his head, managing to look mildly sheepish. “Sorry, Alfy.”
“Hmmph! You most certainly are not. Impetuous young whippersnapper,” Alfeus muttered as he turned sharply about, his fur nearly standing on end from agitation.
“Follow me, Wilfred! You might as well be useful,” Alfeus shouted over his shoulder before stopping in front of Chip, who still hadn’t moved. “Are you going to stand there frozen in stupefaction or are you coming?”
The frazzled chipmunk did not wait for a reply, but rather marched on toward some undisclosed destination.
The fox trotted up beside Chip as they both moved to follow Alfeus. You’ll forgive our rabbit friend for casting an uncertain glance at Wilfred, noticing, in particular, as he did so the glint of his small, sharp teeth.
Wilfred caught the look. “I’m Wilfred,” he said, clearly taking great pride in the declaration.
“Chip,” the rabbit whispered.
Wilfred laughed, much to Chip’s embarrassment. “You’re in no danger now that I know you’re a friend.”
Chip wasn’t altogether sure he was comforted by that reassurance, but they continued on side-by-side all the same.
It was not long before the sound of rushing water met Chip’s ears, and he was soon confronted by a river more vast than any he’d ever before seen. Though a tremor of fear swept through him, his eyes lit up, for he guessed where the next part of their journey must take them.
“We have to cross it, don’t we?” Chip asked.
Alfeus, still smarting from Wilfred’s bit of mischief, offered Chip a less than comforting grin. “We’ll see how eager you are when you learn our mode of transportation.”
Chip frowned, looking at Wilfred, who said, “My jaws,” as nonchalantly as if he were telling Chip the time.
At first, the rabbit’s eyes widened, but Chip forced himself to remain calm. They were expecting him to be frightened, weren’t they? And, after all, he had wanted this adventure. He had best enjoy it, scares and all.
“I’ll do it,” Chip declared in the next breath. “But you could go first, Alfeus,” he added quickly. “Elders and all.”
The chipmunk’s eyes widened as Wilfred choked back a poorly disguised laugh. “Elders, is it? Hmmph! A good dunk would serve you both right,” he muttered before running a ways down the riverbank, in search of something.
A moment later, he found it. “The stepping stones are over here,” Alfeus called. “Let’s get this over with, Wilfred.”
Together, the fox and the rabbit hurried to Alfeus’ side, where Chip realized that what the chipmunk referred to as stepping stones were more like small boulders.
They seemed awfully large, and the gap between them awfully wide for a smallish fox to make it to the river’s opposite side.
Wilfred caught his doubtful expression. “Don’t worry, rabbit,” he said, “I’ve done this loads of times.”
And with that, he gingerly picked Alfeus up in his mouth, and they were off. The sight of the rushing current made Chip feel a little sick as he watched Wilfred perch precariously on each boulder before taking a flying leap to the next. It seemed impossible that he should manage it all so nimbly, but the pair made it to the far shore without incident.
Chip breathed a sigh of relief until Wilfred began making his way back, and the rabbit remembered it was his turn.
“Ready, rabbit?” Wilfred asked with a cheeky grin once he returned.
“I’m ready,” Chip replied.
The fox picked Chip up slowly and gently, but Chip still had to fight every instinct he had to struggle and flee and find a sheltered place to hide.
But he knew he must be still if he ever hoped to reach Abaline and find an answer, so he took a deep breath, making sure to keep his eyes wide open as Wilfred leapt for the first boulder.
In that first instant, Chip truly understood the risk that Wilfred was taking by carrying them across. The rocks were slick from the river water and moss.
The fox steadied himself carefully on the first rock, and finding purchase, jumped to the next. So it went for the next few boulders, and Chip felt he could breathe easier now. There were not so many rocks left now. Alfeus was getting closer all the time, and soon –
The water engulfed him, and it was like swimming through ice. He could not think or breathe, and then – smack! – Chip’s small frame collided with cold stone, and his thoughts were all a jumble like the chaotic water.
What of Mama and Papa? What about Abaline? What of all his prayers and longings now?
And then something other than the cold took hold, and he was being pulled from the water, and there was light and grass and the hot sun to warm his slick fur.
He lay on the riverbank panting, unable to speak for the moment. Wilfred was lying beside him, equally bedraggled and battered. Chip looked about for Alfeus from where he lay, but awareness was slow to come back, and it was a few more minutes until he realized that the chipmunk had been frantically hovering and muttering over them all this time.
“Of all the fool things for me to say! ‘A good dunk would serve you right!’ I never meant it! But see here, you fool chipmunk, of what comes of being hasty with your words.”
“Alfeus,” Chip said softly. “It’s all right. I’m all right.” His breath was slowly coming back to him even as the overjoyed chipmunk wrapped him in a tight hug.
Laughing softly, Chip rose gingerly to his feet, Wilfred having sprung up a moment before, the fox’s spirit not at all dampened by their unexpected dive into the frigid river.
Already, the sun was beginning to dry their fur, and Wilfred’s playfulness was fast returning. A magnificently mauve butterfly swooped past the fox’s snout, and Wilfred snapped at it before setting off in chase.
“Fierce as they come, but he gets distracted by a butterfly,” Alfeus said with a shake of his head and a kindly laugh. “You’ll never meet another like him,” the chipmunk concluded, looking at Chip.
But Chip was not paying attention. Instead, he was searching all about him in a frightful panic. “I’ve lost it!” he cried.
“Lost what?” Alfeus replied. “Whatever’s gotten into you?”
“Leah’s satchel, it’s gone! Maybe it got caught on one of the rocks. Wilfred could take me back to look. Wilfred!”
“Now, wait just a minute!” Alfeus commanded, deciding he had had quite enough of that kind of talk. “Crossing the river on his own will be easy enough for Wilfred, but carrying you twice more is far too risky. I won’t have it! If you’re meant to have the satchel, you’ll find it along the way.”
Our young rabbit friend so wanted to argue. Some of Leah’s most interesting finds had been secreted in that satchel. But as Chip looked at Wilfred pouncing about in the sun, he knew he could not risk the well-being of his unlikely friend.
Seeing that his point had been made, Alfeus clapped his paws together decisively. “Let’s carry on then.”
Hopping across the wide stretch of grass, Alfeus and Chip both caught up with Wilfred, who was still caught up in his antics. “You’d best be making your way home, Wilfred.”
“You’re not coming with us?” Chip said, his heart sinking. He’d grown very fond of the fox and all his mischief.
“I can’t. My dad will be mad as it is that I crossed the river alone. I’ve got to make it home before supper.”
“I hope it’s not chipmunk,” Alfeus muttered, crossing his furry arms.
Wilfred nudged Alfeus playfully before bounding around Chip and back towards the river bank, “It was nice meeting you, Chip!” he called over his shoulder. “I never knew rabbits could be so adventurous. See you, Alfy!”
With a swish of his bushy tail and a few leaps and bounds, Wilfred was across the river and out of sight.
I’m afraid it will be a long while until we see him again.
Without a further word, Alfeus began leading the way upriver.
Now that the excitement had died down, Chip’s mind was overflowing with questions. “Alfeus, where are we heading now? I’m thankful that scare in the river turned out all right. But I’ve been thinking. Those boulders are awfully big to be called stepping stones. Why are they called that? Were they always there? Who –“
Alfeus, astonished – as all who meet Chip are – by the racing current of his curiosity, managed to get a word (or several) in. “The stones were Leah’s doing, if you can believe it,” he said.
“Oh, I can,” Chip declared, thinking back on all the stories Romulus had told him about his aunt and all her many escapades.
“This forest used to be horribly divided, and it seemed nothing could bring the two sides together. But that Leah, she was an unexpected instrument of healing for this place, and with her help, there was reconciliation long after the inhabitants of Almea had lost hope for it.
“Afterwards, the great bears of the North rolled these boulders down to the river to create safe passage.” Here Alfeus paused, glancing sidelong at Chip with a grin. “Or, at least, relatively safe passage.
“All the same, the rocks are meant to honor the healing of The Great Divide, as we call it, and to help us remember that no matter the disagreements that might come, hoping for peace is never a childish thing.”
Chip was silent for a moment, warmth spreading all through him. “I like this place, Alfeus.”
Smiling, the chipmunk replied, “Almea’s got a certain something of her own, hasn’t she?”
Chip couldn’t have agreed more wholeheartedly, and I think that by the end, dear reader, you will, too.
It was not long after when they reached the base of a roaring waterfall, and Alfeus gestured grandly in its direction. “Here we are, Chip! Just beyond this waterfall lies the rest of our path.”
“Not more water,” Chip groaned.
Alfeus began tapping his foot. “It will only last a moment. Do you want to find Abaline or not?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, then through the waterfall and into the cavern we go,” Alfeus retorted and turned to do just that.
“A cavern?” Chip asked, his ears perking up.
“Yes, a cavern,” Alfeus answered, but he refused to explain further.
Suddenly, Chip wrinkled up his nose in consternation. “But wait. If the cavern is behind the waterfall, why did we have to cross the river in the first place? Couldn’t we have just gone in on the other side?”
Alfeus turned to face him in utter exasperation. “You are an altogether incurably curious creature, has anyone ever told you that? Don’t bother, I already know the answer!” On a roll now, the chipmunk continued. “Do you expect me to know all the inner workings of this place? All I know is that if you try to go in on the right side, there is no cavern to be seen. So yes, we most certainly did have to cross the river. Though why I had to lose every last one of my beautiful hazelnuts in the bargain, I’ll never know,” he concluded with a longing sigh.
Chip was silent then, feeling guilty, for in the aftermath of the river, he had quite forgotten that Alfeus had stored his hazelnuts in his satchel. Chip hoped that before their adventure was done, he could make it up to Alfeus.
For now, though, he had to focus on following the chipmunk, who was already through the curtain of water. Chip hurriedly followed suit, ready to apologize as soon as he rejoined the chipmunk, but the words were forgotten as soon as he shook off the water and looked around.
The whole cavern was alight with the brilliant glow from a thousand glittering gems and stones, which were encrusted in the walls. It was a place of wonders such as Chip had never seen.
After a moment of silent wonderment, Chip returned to himself. “I’m sorry about your hazelnuts, Alfeus.”
“Never you mind about that, Chip. There are more where those came from.”
He seemed about to continue forward, but then he paused and looked at the rabbit. “You told me that you asked Him something and haven’t heard back. What were you wanting to know?”
Chip seemed a little bashful, but he confided in Alfeus nevertheless. “I asked Him what my purpose is.”
The chipmunk nodded in kindly approval. “Not a bad question at all, Chip,” he said quietly. “Not a bad question at all.”
But my question for you, reader, is can you guess what it is?