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Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Ten

Writing this installment was one of my greatest joys. I hope you enjoy it!

*

Chip was dreaming.

He was in a dark place, deep within the earth. All the shadows in the world seemed intent on suffocating him. He looked around, anxiously trying to catch sight of Alfeus or Beauregard, but the darkness was all-encompassing.

Chip shivered from the damp and the cold, shivered from how very alone he felt.

But then, a clink sounded behind him, the twinge in his left ear faded away, and Chip turned.

Barely a foot away, a diamond was laying on the cool rock, shimmering as if in defiance of the dark.

Chip huddled close to the jewel, comforted by its cool light, but no sooner had he nestled against it than the light began to fade.

The twinge in his left ear returned in full force as his paws scrambled clumsily to keep hold of the diamond. So frantic were his movements, though, that the now dimly glowing jewel skittered across the rock floor.

Its light much too faint by now to allow the rabbit to find it once again, Chip just sat there, watching the diamond’s radiance succumb to the dark, never thinking to simply ask the light to stay.

*

He woke with a start, unsettled and discouraged by the dream. Chip saw no reason to dampen the others’ spirits, though, so he kept the dream to himself.

They had stopped to rest underground, Chip and Alfeus feeling spent after their many adventures, and Beauregard always agreeable to a nap. The moth rested nearby, but Chip could see its pale wings fluttering softly, as if it were eager for them to be on their way.

Much like the underground path they had visited not long ago, the walls of this tunnel were encrusted with jewels of various kinds, though not as many as he’d found in the fire lizards’ dwelling.

He shuddered, hoping that none of the lizards’ tunnels connected to this one. Ready for adventure as he was, Chip wasn’t sure he could bear another encounter with the fiery creatures.

Shaking loose any lingering thoughts of the lizards, the young rabbit returned to looking around the tunnel, and he wondered again at the presence of the jewels.

What were they doing here?

But a loud snort from the waking Beauregard woke Alfeus with a start, sent the moth flying, and put a stop to all Chip’s wonderings.

Distracted by the excitement of continuing on their way to Abaline, the many jewels became, for the time being, nothing more than brilliant sparks of light in the darkness.

But I believe, and I think you do, too, that they’re something a little bit more.

*

It wasn’t long before matters took an unexpected turn. The further the small group of adventurers travelled, the more they realized that this part of the underground was quite unlike any other.

Near the underground river, it had been abundantly clear that the fire lizards ruled; no other creatures dared to make their homes in those tunnels and caves.

Here, however, just the opposite was true. Small glow worms made their meandering way across the rocks in search of cool earth to sink into. Toads hopped along the slick stone paths, seemingly oblivious to Chip and his companions, before disappearing beneath lily pads that covered the small pools they called home.

Fluttering about Chip’s ears almost playfully were insects with the most intricately designed wings he had ever seen. They moved so swiftly, though, that after only the one clear sight of them, they seemed to disappear, and the only thing that betrayed their graceful flight was the pale luminescence of their wings.

Chip breathed in and out slowly, savoring the richness of the air. Moss and lichen covered the ground until only small patches of bare rock could be seen, and it gave the tunnel an earthy smell that Chip loved.

He looked all around in wonder as countless creatures hopped and flew past jewel-encrusted walls, water softly splashed, and the tunnel filled with the sounds and smells of it all. This felt like a wonderfully secret place, and our small rabbit friend felt entirely content to remain there.

They all remained quiet through this part of their journey, unwilling to interrupt the peacefulness of this place.

That is, of course, until Alfeus’ paw became hopelessly stuck in a thick patch of moss.

“Now, now, Alfy, stay still,” Beauregard said.

The chipmunk gave him a long-suffering look. “There is nothing but mud beneath my foot. If I stay still, Beauregard, I shall sink into the mire and be lost forever.”

Chip chuckled, earning himself a withering stare.

“You always did have a touch of the dramatic in you, Alfeus,” the beaver replied with a fond look that was not returned. “Now, stay still and hand me your paw.”

“Do you listen to yourself?” was the exasperated answer. “How one is supposed to stay still and move at the same time, I would very much like to know!”

All the same, Alfeus held out his paw.

It seemed to all that the amusing incident would end right there, until, when Beauregard gave Alfeus’ paw a good tug, the chipmunk did not budge.

A hint of panic crept into Alfeus’ voice. “Put a little more effort into it, Beauregard! I do not wish to become a part of the scenery.”

“I’m sure one more tug ought to do it, Alfy, never you fear.”

Alas, one more tug did not do it, and before Alfeus could protest (as he surely would have), Beauregard wrapped him in a giant bear hug. With a great heave, the beaver tried to free his friend. Just as he did, though, an ominous rumble filled the tunnel, and as all the small creatures nearby scurried away, the ground beneath them crumbled, and Beauregard and Alfeus disappeared from sight.

“Alfeus! Beauregard!” Chip cried, truly frightened now. Quick as he could, he hopped to the edge of the gaping hole his friends had fallen into.

He was just about to jump in after them, heedless of the danger, when the great rumble filled the space once more and the rock shifted back into place. In seconds, the tunnel’s floor was whole once more and the moss was creeping back over the rock, as if the giant hole had never been.

Chip stared in disbelief, unwilling to believe that his friends were gone and the most obvious path back to them was barred. But just then, a deep boom set the tunnel shaking and rocks clattering.

Chip didn’t think.

He just ran, heedless of the direction he took through the branching tunnels and the sudden darkness surrounding him.

When next he stopped, heart racing, body shaking, Chip knew he was lost. Still, he was poised to flee at the slightest sound, and when it came, he bolted.

Down the nearest tunnel he flew, never considering the dank, musty smell stealing away the good, clean air.

Looming shapes rose suddenly all around him. Chip gasped in surprise, veering away from one only to nearly collide with another.

Whichever way he turned, it made no difference. He was hemmed in on all sides, and, at long last, Chip stopped short, heart pounding more powerfully than he had thought it capable of.

Thick darkness still surrounded him. So frightened he could hardly move, Chip curled himself into a ball. He closed his eyes, his whole body aching for fear and the longing to not be alone.

A few moments passed before Chip noticed the light.

Tentatively, he opened his eyes and saw that, though still a good distance off, something was illuminating the tunnel. He rose slowly. Fear still clamored for his attention, but the rabbit felt its hold shaking loose. He could see now the strange, looming forms that had frightened him so.

Countless toadstools of all shapes, sizes, and varieties filled the tunnel. Chip stared up in awe at the tangled forest surrounding him, some of the toadstools rising close to the tunnel’s ceiling, others remaining near to the ground, but all of them impossibly vibrant.

He was as entranced by this underground wonder as he had been by the vivid wildflowers in the forest clearing. This, however, was a sight all its own. Whether it was deepest green, richest purple, or impossibly bold red, color was everywhere, and all the while, the light led him on, lending a brilliance to everything it touched.

Yet, when he reached its source, it wasn’t at all what Chip expected.

A solitary diamond lay on the rock just as it had in his dream, only this time, there was no sign of the light fading. The jewel lay at the entrance of a new tunnel, which branched to the left and down. If it led deeper underground, Chip thought, perhaps he would find Alfeus and Beauregard. He could see specks of light further down the path, and he suspected that they came from more jewels.

With no further hesitation, Chip continued on, no longer afraid, for, though he had not consciously thought it, some piece of him understood that when fear had kept him from speaking, his desperate need had been a prayer, and it had been heard.

*

Until next time,

Alexandria

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Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Nine

It’s been a little while, friends! I’m excited to get back in the swing of things, sharing stories and bookish love with you all.

Without further ado, here is the next installment of our favorite rabbit’s adventures!

*

“I might have known!”

“Now, Alfy,” Beauregard said, sidling as close as he dared to the chipmunk, “don’t be like that. You know I never meant to lose your hazelnuts, and I certainly never meant for you to be near drowned in an underground river. Why, I didn’t even know you’d be there!”

Of course, you already know, reader, that the only word Alfeus really heard was hazelnuts.

“Of course not!” he cried. “You never mean anything, and yet it happens! Chaos ensues! Whole stores of hazelnuts lost! All because of those rascally, conniving, miscreant rabbits of yours! And you, Beauregard Beaver, do nothing but encourage them!”

“Now, Alfy,” Beauregard protested once more. “Conniving seems a bit severe. Mischievous, perhaps. And as for that particular mishap, it was awfully funny,” the beaver concluded with a barely concealed laugh.

Alfeus’ paws clenched tightly at his sides as if he were willing the steam to stay firmly between his ears.

Chip, unable to help himself, giggled and asked, “What happened, Beauregard?”

The beaver had hoped a certain inquisitive rabbit might ask, and swift as a river, he launched into the tale. “Well, you see, it was like this –“

“Not another word, Beauregard!” Alfeus declared.

Beauregard smiled, giving Chip a conspiratorial wink. “If you insist, Alfeus. But looky here! I see I’m not the only one who’s taken up with rabbits.”

Alfeus huffed. “Chip is nothing like those ruffians, thank you!”

 Chip interjected before more bickering could ensue. “I’m on a quest,” he blurted, feeling just a bit silly for how grand he made it sound.

But Beauregard didn’t blink an eye. “A quest!” he boomed. “Tell me more, Chip!”

“Well,” Chip continued, feeling suddenly shy, “I prayed for something a while ago, and now I keep wondering if the questions we ask and the prayers we say really matter to Him at all.”

Beauregard’s eyes fairly sparkled at Chip’s words. “You’re looking for Abaline, I take it?”

“Yes!” Chip cried, wondering how Beauregard had known. “Alfeus said we must go behind the waterfall and through the cavern, but when we tried, well… I mean no offense, but your friends brought a dragon –“

“The Cerulean Drake, no less!” Alfeus pointed out.

“Yes,” Chip continued, “and her fire woke the most enormous lizard I’ve ever seen, and you rescued us, and, well… we lost our way.”

As he shared this, Chip couldn’t help but feel discouraged by the unexpected, albeit adventurous, turn of events, but Beauregard only chuckled.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, my boy, but you never found your way to begin with!”

“Never found it? What do you mean?”

“Well, if you ever hope to find Abaline, you have to take the back entrance, of course.”

“The back entrance?” Alfeus sputtered in disbelief. “Do explain yourself, you exasperating creature!”

Beauregard’s eyes twinkled in such a way that made Chip quite certain that teasing Alfeus was one of the beaver’s greatest delights. Still, he did agree to explain himself. “Try as you might, careful as you are, if you go in the front entrance, you’re bound to disturb the lizards. Whereas the back entrance avoids them altogether!”

Beauregard beamed at his flabbergasted companions. “Shall I show you the way?”

Shocked and silent, both Chip and Alfeus followed the beaver as he moseyed down the riverbank, each of them trying equally hard not to think about the underwater debacle they could have avoided if only they’d known. Alfeus was, perhaps, a bit more prickly about the whole affair, seeing as he had been so utterly confident of the way to Abaline.

Beauregard’s cheerful conversation soon distracted them from all their bemoaning and befuddlement, however, and they began to really enjoy the sunshine and breeze, and yes, even the rushing of the river to their left.

“You see,” the beaver was saying, “living by the water gives me plenty of opportunity to become acquainted with all manner of adventurers and the like. More often than not, those in search of Abaline know no better than to take the waterfall path, and they soon end up in the same state as you.

“So, I’ve taken to making my way up and down the river – a bit like a proper Guardian, you might say – so I can help any unfortunates who end up on the unfriendly side of the Obsidian Lizard. When I heard what the young rabbits were up to plotting, I decided it might be the perfect time to be close by.

“Of course, I was only expecting them, but that Frederick made sure to tell me more were on the way. I shudder to think what might have happened if a certain beaver hadn’t been there to pull two forlorn, fellow creatures out of the river,” Beauregard said wistfully, casting a sidelong glance at Alfeus, who did not fail to notice.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure we’re very grateful!”

“I’m very glad to hear that, Alfy. And what with all this gratitude we’re all feeling, it only seems right that you might forgive me for all those lost hazelnuts.”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake. Yes, Beauregard, all is forgiven. Are we nearly there?”

“Not much farther now,” the beaver answered, looking decidedly chipper.

“Well, before we get there, I’d like to know more about those four rabbits and that dragon,” Chip said.

“Ah, yes, the Cerulean Drake,” Beauregard said in very sage tones. “She’s usually much friendlier, but she’s just laid her eggs, you see, and she’s fiercely protective of her babes, especially at this early stage.”

“Don’t tell me they went near the grotto!” Alfeus fairly squeaked.

Even Beauregard, supportive as he was of the rabbits’ mischief, looked a bit abashed at this. “I’m afraid so.”

Seeing Chip’s look of admiring wonderment, though, the beaver instantly brightened. “They meant the babies no harm, you understand! They only wanted a look at the eggs. Sightings of a Cerulean Drake’s eggs are precious and rare. Only the very brave and determined can find them, and if there’s anything that those four rabbits are – Roger, Roderick, Eloise, and Fred are their names – it’s brave and determined.”

“Wow,” was all Chip could manage, and though the rabbits’ adventure had certainly affected his own, he couldn’t help but be a bit in awe of them.

Alfeus caught the look and pleaded, “Now, please, Chip, don’t go getting any ideas.”

“Seeing as he’s gotten this far, Alfy, I’d guess that our friend Chip has already had plenty of ideas. And he’ll need a few more if he’s to make it to Abaline. And speaking of!”

At this, the beaver gestured forward where a dark tunnel entrance could just barely be seen beneath a mass of trailing vines and leaves, some a rich green, some deepest purple. And resting ever so gently on these leafy tangles were perhaps two dozen moths, all nectar and peach and beige in hue.

As the companions came closer, the moths all began to stir and flutter about.

In moments, one moth in particular was flying carefully before each of them.

“Now, no sudden movements, mind,” Beauregard said. “This moth will lead us on our way, but they only help the very gentle at heart. Don’t trouble yourself too much, Alfy,” the beaver continued as the moth came to rest on the chipmunk’s nose. “I’m sure they’ll make an exception just this once.”

It was all Alfeus could do to keep still while the moth judged his merit.

You’ll be proud to know that he chose to ignore that particular comment.

Apparently satisfied, the small, winged creature flew towards the tunnel entrance, slipping behind the vines. Quickly now, before they lost their guide, Chip, Alfeus, and Beauregard followed, braving the underground once more.

*

Any guesses on what waits in the underground?

And if you’d like to read past installments, just click here.

Until next time,

Alexandria

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Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Eight

Here you’ll find adventures, not for the faint of heart.

*

“Perhaps it was nothing,” Alfeus suggested hopefully, but his voice was shaking.

Another bellowing roar sent countless pebbles and shards of rock skittering across the cavern floor.

“Alfeus…” Chip whispered.

Before the chipmunk could utter a word, the opposite end of the cavern exploded in flame and the rush of powerful wings. The heat was immediate and intense, but it was nothing compared to Chip’s first glimpse of the dragon clawing its way into the cavern, its blue scales alight with the fire’s reflection.

Yet, even as Chip took in the sight of the enormous, and frighteningly angry, creature, he was distracted by an altogether unexpected noise. He almost missed it, so loud was the crackling of the dragon’s flame, but there it was again – laughter, louder now as four small figures shot across the cavern towards the flabbergasted Chip and Alfeus.

They were rabbits like him, Chip realized, who were apparently rather amused by the fire-breathing behemoth pursuing them with a vengeance.

The four raced past them, making for the center tunnel where the river flowed, shouting over their shoulders as they passed by.

“I wouldn’t linger!”

“Not unless you want your whiskers singed!”

“And just ask Roderick,” said the third with an impish grin, and the last bunny – who possessed decidedly short whiskers – agreed, “It’s simply not worth it, lads!”

“Why, why you –!” Alfeus began, and then Chip had him by the paw, pushing him into the tunnel’s confines where the dragon could not reach them.

Chip was right, of course. The dragon could not.

But his flames could.

Alfeus thought of this only just in time, and he pulled his frantic friend below the river’s surface, thanking God for the water as they looked up to find the tunnel above bathed in flame.

Ever so slowly, the flames disappeared, and the gems encrusted in the wall flared brightly, almost as if they had absorbed the heat and grown all the more brilliant because of it.

As soon as the fire cleared, both Chip and Alfeus rose, breathing in great gulps of air as they broke the water’s surface. The current of the underground river was growing stronger, but there was no dry ground available to them, and the pair was forced to let the river carry them where it would.

All around them, sound bounced and echoed. First, the gathering rush of water as the river speedily carried on its way, then the delighted whoops and cries of the four young rabbits, followed by the enraged roar of a fierce dragon, who was, for once, quite aggravated by her awesome size, for it kept her from pursuing those very rabbits who had been the source of her trouble from the start.

Yet, underneath it all, Chip could hear something more, a skittering sound, unobtrusive at first, but undeniably growing.

“Alfeus,” Chip called, “do you hear that?”

The chipmunk gazed down the tunnel, listening. “Claws on stone,” he whispered, more to himself than to Chip.

“What?” the rabbit cried.

But Alfeus didn’t seem to be listening. “The dragon’s fire.” With those words, the chipmunk jerked back to attention. “Chip, the heat from the dragon’s flames, it will –“

But it was much too late for warnings.

The danger was upon them now!

Sound engulfed them, and Chip suddenly understood Alfeus’ whisper.

Claws on stone.

Untold numbers of them.

The very walls of the tunnel seemed alive as the fire lizards swarmed down the tunnel walls, covering them with the chaotic, shimmering movement of their fiery red forms. The river continued to carry Chip and Alfeus in a now frenzied rush.

There was nothing they could do but watch in fascination as the fire lizards’ rough crimson skin began to glow while they greedily absorbed the heat from the dragon’s flames.

The tunnel began to feel uncomfortably warm as steam began to rise from the water, dampening Chip’s and Alfeus’ fur.

The fire lizards were moving closer to the river, and the water was growing warmer in response, but it wasn’t until a terrifically deep boom sounded that Alfeus felt truly afraid.

He swam as best he could towards Chip, and when he spoke, his voice was low, but urgent. “Steady now, my friend.”

They watched as, one by one, the fire lizards dropped into the water, filling the tunnel – now so enormous that it was practically a cavern in its own right – with great plumes of steam.

All the while, the deep booms were growing louder, until the tunnel walls began to thrum with the force of them.

Nearly all of the fire lizards were in the water now, and Chip began to squirm at the sudden heat.

“Alfeus, what are they doing?” Chip shouted, really frantic now.

The answer was immediate. “They’re warming the water.”

And before Chip could question why, he looked up to find two immense eyes, red like coals, staring into his own with an intensity that burned.

The Obsidian Lizard, wakened by the dragon’s flames and the intrusion of so many into his underground home, crashed down into the river.

For the briefest moment, Chip caught a glimpse of the creature’s hide, smooth like black glass, except for where meandering veins of red made the lizard look like he was burning from within.

In the next instant, a wave of water and steam, triggered by the Obsidian Lizard’s bulk, covered Chip and Alfeus, leaving them with nothing by heat and the need to escape it.

The river first pushed, then pulled, sending Chip spiraling down to its depths before sending him tantalizingly close to the surface and air. He could see nothing, do nothing, could only feel as the heat bit and choked and consciousness slipped –

But then there was a brief glimmer of light and something took hold, and suddenly, Chip knew clean air and cool breeze and dry ground.

He rested and he breathed, and soon enough, let out a half-choked laugh of relief as Alfeus’ familiar, indignant tone reached his ears, grateful beyond measure that his friend was alive and well.

Gratitude, however, was quite the last thing on Alfeus’ mind. In fact, the best the bedraggled chipmunk could manage was an utterly dismayed cry of, “Oh no, not you,” as he looked into the endearingly cheerful face of their rescuer, Beauregard Beaver.

*

Until next time, reader.

And be on the lookout for some exciting news about 21:25 Books! You won’t want to miss it.

Alexandria

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Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Six

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?

*

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Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Three

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.

*

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Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Two

I decided to do an illustration for each installment of my new story. I hope you enjoy them and the next part of Chip’s adventures!

A late-night snack brought Chip to the clearing the next evening, though perhaps, in his heart, he was wishing that an answer might come to him if he listened very closely as the wind went whistling though the trees.

As it happens, listening closely led to something that Chip did not expect.

He was just hopping closer to a patch of grass, softly illuminated by starlight, when a loud grunt sounded from above, nearly sending our young rabbit scampering for home.

But some mumbled words soon followed, and when Chip moved back a ways, he saw that it was only Nesbit, asleep on his nightly watch (though the owl, of course, would never admit it).

Chip shook his head with a small smile, wondering to himself how often the owl called for perseverance in his dreams.

“Hmm… Chip, my lad,” Nesbit mumbled, and the rabbit turned.

“Yes, Nesbit?” he asked, but found that the owl hadn’t actually stirred.

Still, he was speaking, and Chip hopped forward quickly, the better to hear him.

“Waiting… waiting, Chip.. must persevere…” – this punctuated by a loud snore – “… Abaline.”

Abaline! Chip was instantly intrigued. What was the owl saying? What was Abaline?

“Nesbit?” he called.

No answer, but surely, you know as well as I that a young rabbit never gives up so quickly.

He bounded to the tree and began thumping his strong hind feet against its trunk, hoping to jar the owl from sleep.

Back he ran to gaze up at Nesbit’s perch and measure his success.

Minimal.

“Nesbit,” Chip cried out more loudly, earning himself several agitated chirps from a nearby swallow’s nest. He ignored them, determined that he would have an answer. “Nesbit, what is Abaline?”

“You’ll never wake him, my lad,” came a familiar, quavering voice.

Out of a burrow, which Chip knew to be the largest in Everleaf Forest, emerged Romulus Took, the badger. He was very close to ancient, though no one knew his exact age or dared to offend the distinguished old badger by asking.

“Could you try, Mr. Took?” Chip asked hopefully.

“I can do you one better,” the badger answered, raising his bushy eyebrows. “I can tell you who Abaline is myself.”

Chip barely remembered to breathe he was so astounded by this turn of events.

Romulus let out a deep, rumbling chuckle. “Follow me, my lad. Stories like this one are best told by candlelight.” He turned and lumbered back toward his burrow entrance, Chip following eagerly behind.

It was widely accepted that Romulus Took was an odd sort of badger, though a well-loved one. He was notorious for collecting all sorts of trinkets from the human world; the badger was fascinated by them all, but it was candles that he loved best.

Chip’s father often related the day, quite some time ago, when Romulus Took had brought the first candles to Everleaf.

The skeptical and the enchanted alike had accepted Romulus’ gift with curiosity, which quickly turned to delight as, candle by candle, a small corner of Everleaf Forest was illuminated by dozens of flickering lights.

He never would say where he found the candles or the countless other oddments that filled his cozy home. No matter how many times Chip asked – and the badger had long ago lost track – all Romulus Took ever offered was a smile and wink, and perhaps, a self-satisfied, “Oh, Elsewhere.”

Chip did not know why Mr. Took was choosing to so freely share what he knew about Abaline, but he certainly wasn’t going to question the decision and risk the old badger changing his mind.

They were far into the tunnels now and Chip could see the wavering shadows of several candles’ flames dancing on the earthen walls. Soon enough, they emerged into a cozy, hollowed-out space where all of Romulus Took’s favorite trinkets were kept.

Immediately, Chip hopped onto one of the cushiest things he had ever had the pleasure of sitting on; Romulus told him they were called “chairs.” Whatever they were, Chip loved nestling in them while Mr. Took told one of his many well-known stories.

Tonight, the young rabbit was filled with more anticipation than usual, for he guessed (rightly) that tonight’s tale would be unlike any he had heard before.

What’s that?

You’re not quite sharing Chip’s anticipation? That is a problem.

Hmm?

…Well, perhaps you’re right. Until next time then.

*

Alexandria

P.S. If you’re enjoying the story, please share with family and friends! Thank you!

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Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment One

A little over a week ago, God gave me a story that I wasn’t expecting to write, a story about a rabbit named Chip.

I knew nothing else about the story until a few days ago when I wrote the first installment of this whimsical little children’s story (though, the more I think about it, the more I believe adults need this story just as much, if not more, than kiddos).

So, here is my offering: a new installment of this story every week, in the hopes that it helps you ask some honest questions and gives you a glimpse into the heart of the Father during a time when I think that’s what we’re learning to treasure most.

Here we go…

Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves

Not so very long ago, on a spring day much like this one, a young rabbit named Chip was waiting for something.

I’d tell you what it was now, but I wouldn’t want to spoil things.

The forest of Everleaf was Chip’s home, and oh, was it the grandest of forests, full of old, strong oaks covered in rich green moss. Rutted paths, nearly overgrown now, carved their way through the land, though it seemed only the animals travelled them.

Everleaf was one of those forests that set the imagination ablaze; the longer you spend walking beneath its boughs, the less surprised you would be to find a fairy flying for cover behind feathery ferns or a group of elves disappearing from view just around the next bend.

And yet, surrounded as he was by the wondrous, Chip was still waiting for just one thing, and it seemed it would never come.

He waited and waited until the sun sank below the treetops and the animals returned to their burrows and nests. The great owl, Nesbit, emerged from the grandest oak in the clearing, and even still, Chip was there.

Blinking his wide, amber eyes several times, Nesbit looked down at the young rabbit. “Still waiting, are we?” he asked with a rustle of his feathers as he settled on his nighttime perch.

“Yes,” Chip replied, not a little disappointed that all his diligence had gotten him precisely nowhere.

“Hmm. Perseverance is what’s needed here, young Chip. Perseverance!” Nesbit proclaimed, startling several disgruntled birds from their dreams.

“Yes, Nesbit. Thank you,” Chip replied, trying very hard to sound grateful. He and Nesbit had the same conversation every night, and the owl’s commanding declaration of “Perseverance!” had yet to make him feel better.

Thankfully, his mother’s clear voice rang out from the entrance of their home at just that moment. After offering Nesbit a quick, “Good night,” Chip bounded away to their cozy burrow, eager for supper after yet another long day spent waiting.

He had only just entered and laid eyes on the feast Mama had prepared when a voice loudly intoned, “Perseverance, my lad! Perseverance!” and Chip nearly jumped out of his skin.

His father appeared, waving a stick in the air with great authority, almost dropping it as he shook with amusement at his own joke.

“Not you, too!” Chip reprimanded, though his laughter soon echoed his father’s.

“Another inspiring speech tonight, I take it?” Joshua teased.

“He means well,” Chip’s mother chided.

“I know, Bess,” Joshua replied with a grin, “but it was worth it for the way this one’s fur bristled in fright when he heard the dreaded cry of, “Perseverance!”

He waved the stick in the air once more, chasing a laughing Chip around the small log table, nearly crashing into it as his son dashed out of reach.

“Now, see here, Joshua Raddish!” Bess cried, though Chip knew she wasn’t really angry. “We spent all day gathering this supper, and I’ll not have you send it flying with your shenanigans!”

A practiced expression immediately transformed Joshua’s face as he and Chip obediently froze. “Of course, Bess, dear. Absolutely no shenanigans here,” he said, carefully setting the stick down on the floor, a look of mischief barely concealed by his mock seriousness.

Bess fixed him with a look that made it clear she was not at all fooled, then turned to their son. “I hope you didn’t fill up on that sweet meadow grass today. Your papa and I have a special treat for your birthday.”

She gestured to the center of the low table, and Chip’s eyes grew wide. Nestled amidst the usual grass and leafy greens was the largest clump of clover he had ever seen and several choice flowers, enough for them to each enjoy two.

“Where did you go to find these?” Chip breathed in awe.

“A fair distance,” his father replied vaguely.

They sat down, all of them eager to enjoy this special meal. Chip rubbed his paw against his left ear as he always did when he was excited or nervous.

Unusual though it may seem, it was Chip’s left ear that had given him his name. On the night he’d been born, Mama always said, he was instantly revealed to be perfect in all ways to them, and that included the chip missing from his left ear.

No one could say why he had been born with it, but it made the young rabbit uniquely Chip, and his parents had immediately known what his name ought to be.

The anticipation now too great for them to wait any longer, Joshua looked up and said a simple prayer. “Without You, we wouldn’t have such a lovely spread before us or,” he continued with a good-natured wink at Bess, “such a warm, shenanigan-free home. We offer You our thanks. Amen.”

“Amen,” Bess and Chip echoed, and they all began to eat, enjoying each delicious flower petal and savory clover leaf.

But prayer had been on the young rabbit’s mind for weeks now, and he couldn’t keep quiet about it any longer.

“Have you ever waited for an answer to a prayer?” he asked in that direct way that only children ever seem to have.

Joshua and Bess were quiet for a moment, exchanging the type of look that only parents ever seem to share.

“Many, many times,” Mama answered, and Papa agreed.

“Well, did you get an answer?” Chip pressed. “Did you get what you asked for?”

“In answer to your first question, yes, in time,” Joshua replied. “As for the second, not always, Chip. But I believe that’s because we don’t always ask for what’s best.”

Chip looked down, thinking hard about what his papa had said.

Joshua chuckled. “Not quite satisfied with that, are you?”

Chip shook his head sheepishly, though he knew Mama and Papa were never angry with him for asking questions.

Joshua ruffled the soft fur between Chip’s ears. “That’s all right, Chip,” he said, his eyes gentle and kind. “You just have yourself an honest conversation with Him before you go to sleep, and things will be getting clearer all the time.”

Chip nodded, kissed his parents good night, and scampered off to bed.

At first, he didn’t take his papa’s advice; he was, after all, an endearingly stubborn little rabbit, and what he really wanted most of all was an answer to the prayer he had whispered weeks ago.

Days and days he had waited, and he just couldn’t seem to let it go. So, Chip tossed and turned and waited and fretted, wondering if the answer he wanted would ever come.

But the longer Chip fretted and the longer he wondered, the more brightly a different question began to burn like fire in his mind, until, at last, Chip sat up and spoke aloud something I imagine we all have thought from time to time.

“I’m changing my question. I’ve waited ages for an answer, and now, all I’m wondering is this:

“Do my words – do my prayers – really matter to You at all?”

Before an answer could arrive, Chip had drifted off to sleep.

*

Chip’s adventures will continue in Installment Two next week.

Until then,

Alexandria

P.S. If you enjoyed the first installment of Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves, please consider sharing this post with friends and family! Thank you!