We are proud to present Installment Six of a story most wondrous, where swans of blown glass guard a secret, a necklace of silver and blue holds a memory, and Apricity is discovered in a land of ice and snow.
All manner of adventure is coming, reader, and the fight for wonder promises to grow fierce.
This is the week! The first installment of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel publishes this Friday, December 11th! Here’s a sneak peek to tide you over until then.
Penelope Grace was a remarkable girl.
Of course, that word – remarkable – can mean many different things, depending on whom you ask.
Upon entering the Saris household, you would first be taken to the kitchen for a warm cup of tea to fight off the early winter’s chill. There, Nurse Sasha – who oversaw everything – would happily offer you her opinion. She could hardly find it less than remarkable that a girl of sixteen could behave so like her nine-year-old brother as to be nearly indistinguishable.
Once welcomed and enlightened, you might continue to the living room and find a comfortable chair near Penelope’s mother, Mary, who is patiently mending the latest torn and dirt-stained dress. She would share with you how her daughter is remarkably and admirably unconcerned with what others think of her.
Over the years, her friends marveled to find that Penelope was just as likely to pick up an imaginary sword as an intricate piece of embroidery. Growing serious now, Mary would tell you of the many encouragements she has received to rein her daughter in.
But it is too rare a gift to see a child’s spirit endure into adulthood. As Penelope’s mother, she would ask, how could she do less than safeguard it?
But just then, young George would come bursting in, his great-uncle Alex not far behind, and insist on knowing what your conversation was about.
“Well, George,” Mary would ask with the warmest of smiles, “what do you think makes your sister remarkable?”
He would think hard about it for a minute or two but, his nose crinkling up as he grinned, would soon reply with a firm, “Two things.”
And then, leaning forward as if to share with you a very great secret, George would tell you a story. Just last week, Penelope had, remarkably, succeeded both in assembling an entire regiment of nutcracker soldiers in the foyer and in vanishing from sight before Nurse Sasha could certainly accuse her of having done it.
“And the second,” you would ask, sincerely eager to know.
“She is the only grown-up who isn’t only teasing me when she says she still believes in Father Christmas.”
Equally impressed by both these reasons, you might then turn to great-uncle Alex, whom you would find no less willing to join in the conversation.
He would have to say that Penelope was remarkable for her persistent delight in all things simple, yet extraordinary. Even now she remains as enchanted with his magic tricks as she was on the day he first arrived from Greece to share them with her.
But of all her family, acquaintances and friends, only her father, John – who has been listening by the crackling fire all the while – could tell you with absolute certainty what it was that made Penelope Grace genuinely remarkable:
To read more, subscribe below! For $3.99/month, you’ll receive a new installment each week, along with a special illustration to accompany the story and the chance to win an exciting gift in the coming weeks! See you Friday 🙂
Welcome to the second to last installment of Chip’s adventures! This was one of my favorite installments to write! I hope you enjoy it.
Chip gazed up at the curiously enchanting structure in the oak tree rising above them, finding himself unexpectedly reluctant to move forward now that they had finally arrived. He had been anticipating this moment for so long, and Chip wondered if what came of it would be all he had hoped for.
He longed for a purpose, but what if he didn’t have one?
He craved reassurance that his prayers were heard, but he feared discovering that just the opposite was true.
Perhaps, it was better to leave these stones unturned. After all, if he did, he never need fear disappointment.
He almost turned back.
But then, a sudden breeze blew past him, and Chip found that it was shaking loose all his fearful thoughts, casting them to the ground like so many fallen leaves.
The clearing around them was all deep green and golden splendor, but nothing compared to the oak tree itself. Light shimmered through the bark and across the sprawling branches and trees, as if gold filigree ran through root and limb.
Full of wonder, Chip ventured forward. Though he knew that he was already in a land that was utterly different from his home, this place felt like a world all its own.
Oh, let this be the place where I come closer to You.
The words came unbidden, seemingly of their own accord, yet Chip knew at once that they expressed the truest longing of his heart.
Come closer to me.
As the prayer left him, a golden light, high above in the wooden dwelling that nestled in the oak, caught Chip’s eye.
“I think we’re meant to go there,” Chip said softly.
“I do believe you’re right, Chip,” Alfeus replied.
Chip looked over at the chipmunk and was surprised to find that tears were filling his eyes. But, of course, Alfeus had always longed to see Abaline face to face and had long regretted missing the opportunity to do so with Leah. This moment meant just as much to Alfeus as it did to Chip.
All three together now, they moved forward, noticing for the first time the ladder that led up to Abaline’s home. Instantly, Chip was dismayed. He could never climb such a thing, and Abaline felt suddenly and horribly out of reach.
But then, “Over here, young Chip! Don’t despair.”
It was Beauregard, who had wandered over to the right and discovered a contraption altogether more unusual than the ladder. Alfeus looked on from his perch on the ladder, waiting with admirable patience for his friends to follow.
Chip hopped closer to the beaver, who might have looked the slightest bit pleased with himself for solving Chip’s dilemma. Nestled in the plush grass was a wooden bucket. Looped through its handle and disappearing into the tree’s branches was a thick rope, which Beauregard had already taken hold of.
“Hop in, my friend,” Beauregard said.
Chip did so, but then hurriedly called for the beaver to wait. “What about you, Beauregard?”
“Don’t trouble yourself about me, Chip.”
“But then you won’t meet Abaline!”
Beauregard leaned close. “Who’s to say I haven’t already,” he whispered, and then, with a smile and a wink, he took the rope in his mouth and hauled Chip up to the platform.
The height might have troubled Chip if he hadn’t been so captivated by the glimmering dragonflies and fireflies that swirled all about him, as if they were celebrating along with him that he had reached Abaline at last. Chip had never seen their like. They were the most radiant blues and greens he’d ever seen, and a trailing golden dust fell away beneath their twirling path.
But what waited above was more glorious still.
A sheltering canopy of leaves trailed down, filtering the light of the golden sun and leaving Chip with the sensation of having entered a hidden world.
Tangles of branches and cascading foliage left the structure Chip had seen from far below partially hidden, so that it was difficult to know where the oak ended and Abaline’s home began.
Chip hopped out of the bucket onto a sturdy wooden platform. Alfeus was standing at the open door, and Chip joined him. The chipmunk didn’t seem to register his friend’s arrival (or Beauregard’s absence), so fixed was his attention on the entrance and all that might wait within.
They looked at the entryway a moment more before Chip asked, “Shall we go in?”
The chipmunk nodded, took Chip’s paw in his own, and together, they entered.
There were many rooms within – many more than ought to have fit in a house so small – but they both instinctively knew where they were meant to go. It was a room at the heart of the house, and both Chip and Alfeus understood that inside, all the questions stirred up over the course of their journey would be answered and come to rest.
As they passed beneath the doorway, the pair were drawn in different directions. Alfeus wandered off to the left-hand side of the spacious room, while Chip’s attention was immediately arrested by the tawny owl observing him from her perch directly in front of him.
He knew her for who she was without giving it a moment’s thought.
But she was unlike any tawny owl Chip had ever seen.
She was unassuming in size, though she managed to be imposing nevertheless.
She gazed back at Chip with the most astonishing amber eyes he had ever seen, and he found himself dumbstruck in her presence.
“Hello, Chip.” She spoke, and her voice was smooth and kind.
Her feathers ruffled and flared as she left her perch behind, and Chip gasped as the light caught them. They were beautiful to begin with, with their amber and cream hues, but when the sunlight shimmered across them, their edges glinted brilliantly, as if someone had delicately edged them with gold.
Abaline rested before Chip, and, at last, words returned to him. “You know my name? Did you know I was coming?”
“I am forewarned of all who seek to find me, so that I might know whether to safeguard their coming or defend against it.”
Chip’s brow furrowed. “Why would you need to defend against someone finding you?”
“Many seek to destroy what I guard.”
This didn’t quite make sense to Chip, but he plowed ahead all the same and asked the questions he had stored up inside. “Please, I’ve come such a long way to find you, Abaline. Will you tell me what my purpose is? And if my prayers matter at all?”
She looked at him kindly. “Chip, the answers you’re looking for will never be found in me.”
“But that doesn’t make sense!” Chip cried, instantly distraught that his journey had been for nothing. “Everyone’s told me to come looking for you, and I have, and you just have to tell me what I’ve been wanting to know. You just have…”
But Chip trailed off and desperation brought his head low as he softly cried, “Please, help me.”
“Chip,” Alfeus shouted, fairly jumping up and down at the other end of the room. “Chip, come quickly now!”
Our young rabbit looked first to Abaline, who nodded her encouragement. “Go and see.”
And he did.
Standing before Alfeus was a low, wooden table, and on it, rested the most magnificent book Chip would ever have the pleasure of seeing.
The pages were filled with golden lettering, and the words were startlingly familiar, for they were his own. As both he and Alfeus watched, a rose petal fell – from no place, in particular – and came to rest on the open book.
Just as petal brushed paper, Chip’s plea, Please, help me, appeared in brilliant gold filigree on pages that seemed ancient and new at the same time.
And Chip knew, in the sudden way that understanding sometimes comes, that, at the same instant, a diamond had fallen in the underground, only to become the most pleasing aroma rising through the air.
Tears of joy flooded Chip’s eyes as he turned around. The room was full of Light, all rose-gold splendor and joy – and Abaline stood in the midst of its radiance, waiting.
“What is this?” Chip asked, and she knew what he meant.
Her brilliant eyes met his. “It is His book of remembrance.”
He looked back at the book one last time, closed his eyes, and whispered, “Thank You.”
A pair of rose leaves fell as the two friends turned away, for Alfeus’ prayer had echoed Chip’s own.
Abaline led them to the entry of her home, and they followed silently, still in awe of what they’d been given to see.
At the threshold, both Chip and Alfeus turned back to Abaline.
“Very few are given the chance to see this with their own eyes,” she said. “Be careful what you do with this gift.”
Both nodded, though they did not yet understand, and then Abaline was gone, returned to the inner room, where a truth worth treasuring lay.
Saying nothing, for silence seemed important just now, Alfeus returned down the ladder and Chip to the bucket. Before he knew it or could quite comprehend all he’d seen, Beauregard was lowering the bucket, and Chip was twirling down through golden light, back to Beauregard, the land of Almea, and home.
Only one installment to go, friends! I can’t wait to share the conclusion of Chip’s adventure with you all.
Welcome to the eleventh installment of Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves. Chip’s journey through the land of Almea is almost at and end. I hope that, just as Chip does, you enjoy every moment you spend there.
He heard the sound of intent muttering and the echo of clinking glass just as he entered the unusual room, but it was the smell that had captivated Chip long before he found it. Never before had he encountered such a pleasing aroma, and he followed it eagerly to its source.
Briefly, Chip wondered if the smell might be like the false scent in the first cavern, which had nearly sent him and Alfeus down an even more dangerous path.
But no. That smell, while pleasant on the surface, had warned of rot beneath. What Chip was joyfully breathing in now was so purely fragrant that he instinctively trusted it would not lead him astray.
He had never supposed, however, that it would bring him to a sight unlike any he had ever seen. If Romulus hadn’t shared so much of the human world with him, Chip would not have had the words for what he was seeing.
An enormous funnel filled the far end of the room, and Chip watched in fascination as diamonds tumbled into it. Strangely, there was no clattering sound of jewel against metal. Chip would have found that odd if he’d had the time, but before he could blink, a fragrant dust poured out from the funnel, swirling into glittering clouds even as it began to shimmer and become liquid, before falling into a large glass bottle.
Just as it reached the bottle’s brim, the smell in the room – already incredible – became something even more wonderful, all fresh-blooming flowers and the warmth of rich spice.
Chip didn’t think he would ever be able to properly describe it, yet knew, in the same instant, that he would never forget it.
It was then that he noticed the other myriad bottles, of all shapes and sizes, covering the cavern floor. Some were empty, others full to the brim, but all reflected the brilliant light of the wonderful perfume they each contained, which seemed to produce a light of its own.
Chip leaned close to the nearest bottle, the curiosity of the liquid inside impossible to ignore. As he watched, the soft swirls of diamond dust rose and fell in the bottle, catching the light and reflecting it back to Chip’s wondering eyes.
After a few moments more of looking into the bottle, Chip turned away, hoping to learn something more by exploring the rest of the room.
He made his way through the many bottles, more than he could ever hope to count. Save for the soft splash of the mysterious perfume falling from the funnel, silence reigned in the room.
It was, of course, just as Chip thought to himself that the silence shouldn’t be disturbed that he bumped into the nearest bottle, sending a mighty clamor echoing through the cavern.
He froze, so still you’d have thought him a statue, and waited for someone – or something – to respond to the ruckus he’d caused.
Not even a whisper of movement reached Chip’s ears.
Nevertheless, he stayed where he was for what felt like the longest minutes of his life.
At last, when it seemed safe to assume that no one was coming, Chip began to weave his way through the maze of bottles once more. He travelled only a short distance before he came across a feather. It lay before him, plain for him to see, yet Chip could not fathom it.
What was a feather doing underground, he wondered.
Another one lay not far off, and Chip hopped towards it with great purpose, determined to solve at least one of the mysteries facing him today.
But the trail seemed to end at the second feather, which was in front of a very large bottle. Chip looked about from where he stood, but could catch no sight of a third.
Disappointed, he sighed, turned his attention to the bottle’s contents, and was horrified to find one enormous eye staring back at him.
With a great shout, Chip scrambled back, falling into a group of empty bottles and sending them clattering all over the cavern floor.
Over the noise, he heard a flustered voice cry, “Now, do be careful! You’re bound to break something!”
But Chip was so startled, he could not listen. Before he could comprehend what was happening or how to escape this new menace, he raced away, only to collide with the owner of the great eye. He looked up dazedly as two fresh feathers fell to the ground.
A large bird – a magpie, he believed – stood before Chip. After the disturbance he’d caused, he expected to find a gruff and decidedly disgruntled figure standing before him.
Instead, Chip was surprised to find nothing but tenderness, and, perhaps, a touch of sympathy, in the bird’s black eyes. Relief swept through him, and he stood up, though still a little tentatively.
“I’m afraid I gave you quite a fright,” said the bird. “As a Guardian, I can never be too careful. We get all sorts through the underground, and not all sorts are friendly. Now, for some proper introductions,” he continued. “I am called Oleander. What is your name, young one?”
“Chip,” he answered quietly, a bit in awe of the impressive figure before him.
“Quite right,” Oleander answered with a smile, gently brushing a wing tip against Chip’s left ear.
Without another word, Oleander began to lead the way through the cavern, and Chip followed expectantly, hoping that this new friend could help him on his way, and maybe even help him find his friends.
As they walked, Chip surreptitiously observed the large bird. Now that he looked more closely, he could see that the bird’s feathers were not only black and white, but were also covered in many shimmering shades of blue, which reflected the light in the cavern beautifully.
Briefly, Chip thought with a touch of trepidation that he was in the presence of a magpie, a bird that he had always been warned might attack him. It seemed unlikely that a bird of prey could be a gentle Guardian. But Chip supposed that it also seemed unlikely that a small creature like himself could take on a journey so great.
All things considered, Chip believed that Oleander was trustworthy, and so, he continued to follow him through the cavern.
But not, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, without asking a few questions.
“What are you doing underground, Oleander?”
“Whatever do you mean?” the magpie answered, looking quite confused.
“Well,” said Chip, wondering how best to phrase this, “you’re a bird. Shouldn’t you be living up above?”
Oleander gave him an appraising look, and then, apparently deciding that Chip was worthy of his confidence, continued. “Quite right. That is the usual way of things. But I was chosen for this Guardianship, and so, I call the underground my home. I do venture out from time to time, but there are no sights above that seem so fair to my eyes as these glittering caverns. More brilliant than stars,” he murmured, half to himself.
Still, Chip was confused. “But what exactly do you guard?”
Oleander only smiled and continued on. “What brings you here, Chip?”
Momentarily distracted by the question, Chip launched into his tale. “I lost my friends, Alfeus and Beauregard. A moth was leading us through the tunnels, but Alfeus got stuck, and when Beauregard tried to help him get loose, a great hole opened up and they fell. I was going to follow them, but the hole closed before I could, and everything went dark, and… I’m lost.”
Chip paused for a moment. “Have you seen them?” he asked hopefully.
A kindly smile warmed Oleander’s black eyes. “Never you mind about that. Alfeus and Beauregard will be along soon enough.”
“Then you know where they are? Can you take me to them?”
“One thing at a time, my friend,” Oleander said, chuckling. “You still haven’t answered my question. What brings you here?”
Chip frowned. “But I’ve just told you. I’m looking for my friends.”
At this, Oleander stopped and looked closely at Chip. “You and I both know that you’re looking for a great deal more than that.”
Realization dawned. “Oh. Yes. Abaline. You see –“
“Ah, ah,” Oleander interrupted. “I understand.”
He looked as if he meant to say something more, but then thought better of it.
They were at the opposite end of the cavern now, just past the last of the sparkling bottles. Chip could still smell the wondrous perfume. He was just opening his mouth to ask about the diamonds that seemed to produce it when a familiar sound reached his ears. It drifted towards Chip and Oleander from the tunnel just in front of them.
“It is decided, Beauregard! You are the most exasperating creature I will ever have the misfortune of knowing. ‘Follow your nose,’ indeed! How is that supposed to get us any closer to Chip?”
At that moment, the disgruntled chipmunk and his cheerful companion emerged from the tunnel.
Alfeus stopped short. “Chip!” he cried in shock.
Beauregard, to the chipmunk’s immediate annoyance, did not look the least bit surprised.
“You are an unapologetic show off,” Alfeus declared. Then, after a pause, “I’m sorry I doubted you.”
There was then much embracing as the friends celebrated being reunited. After a few minutes, though, Alfeus looked across the expansive cavern in wonder. “What on earth is this place?”
They all turned to Oleander, who only gestured to a tunnel that lay to their right. “There is no time to waste, my friends. Abaline is waiting.”
Without another word, the magpie led them partway down the tunnel before stopping. “Continue to follow this tunnel, and you will shortly be aboveground. No further surprises shall trouble you.”
Chip wanted to stall and keep talking to Oleander, but Alfeus and Beauregard were already moving, all too eager to leave the underground.
Oleander, seeing Chip’s hesitation, smiled and urged him on. “Farewell, young one. Safe travels on the end of your journey.”
And with that, he was gone, back to his bottles and diamonds and all the mystery they contained. Chip stood there for a moment, wondering.
There was so much he didn’t understand about the cavern below and all he had seen there. Briefly, he felt all his usual restless curiosity stir up. But then, all of a sudden, that sweetest of perfumes wafted over him, and he felt all his wonderings, for a time, rest.
There really was so much he didn’t understand.
Perhaps, he wasn’t meant to just yet.
Installment Twelve will be available next week, friends!
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.
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.
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.
This week, Chip and Alfeus brave a hidden cavern that’s beautiful, but not altogether safe…
They rested for a time there, near the entrance to the cavern. Chip took a long drink of cool, clear water from the small spring that trickled down into the cavern’s depths. Feeling refreshed now, he balanced carefully on his hind legs as he sniffed the air.
It was pleasantly cool, just what you might expect from a mysterious, hidden place like this one.
There was something unusual about the smell the longer Chip sniffed, but he couldn’t quite place it. Something almost smoky.
“Whatever is your nose quivering about now?” Alfeus asked, and Chip frowned, for his friend almost sounded nervous.
“What’s wrong, Alfeus?”
The chipmunk, rubbing his snout in distracted agitation, answered briskly, “I’m not altogether fond of some of the underground residents, if you must know.”
“Why? Who lives here?”
“Fire lizards,” Alfeus said. “They’re changeable creatures, by all accounts, and were no great help when the forest stood at odds.”
“So, they’re dangerous?”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call them enemies,” the chipmunk offered, shifting uncertainly. “I wouldn’t exactly call them friends, either.”
“And you’re certain that the cavern is the only way to reach Abaline?” Chip asked, feeling the warning twinge of danger, which made his left ear start twitching, as he spoke.
“Yes. If you try to go past the waterfall and stay aboveground, Abaline is nowhere to be found. You go through, or you go nowhere at all.”
He knew Alfeus was right. Still, Chip felt compelled to point out, “You might have mentioned the fire lizards earlier.”
“I’m hoping they keep to themselves,” the chipmunk said, choosing to ignore the pointed comment. “They only venture out at high noon to soak up what heat they can before returning to the Obsidian Lizard.”
Chip, who had just begun to hop further into the cavern, stopped short. “Obsidian Lizard?”
“Yes, yes, that’s what I said! There’s no reason to get your fur ruffled about it. He only leaves the underground during the peak of summer, and that’s a ways off yet. Until then, his fellow lizards soak up heat to warm him. Somehow, it keeps the fire within him aflame.”
At this, Chip muttered something about the chipmunk’s words being less than reassuring.
“Better informed with a little healthy fear than ignorant and foolhardy because of it. Besides, only heat draws them out, and we won’t have any flame to attract them. I’m certain we’ll make it through without incident.”
“So, you managed it safely with Leah?”
“Well, no…” Alfeus confessed, his voice trailing off. “I only went as far as the cavern’s mouth. She insisted that it was something she must do alone. But I’ve always regretted not going with her all the way to Abaline.”
Chip offered an encouraging smile, for he could sense Alfeus’ discomfort, and he was truly grateful to have a friend along on this journey. “Well then, it’s a good thing you have another chance now.”
With that, they began to make their way through the luminous underground. Both Chip and Alfeus stared above and around them at the glittering walls, mouths agape.
Thousands upon thousands of gems and crystals were encrusted in the dark gray stone, but it seemed more than happenstance to Chip, as if someone had lovingly chosen just the spot from which each gem could best send out its own radiant glow.
He could not help but continue to stare in wonder; in fact, so enraptured was he that he nearly stumbled into the widening stream.
But can you blame him, reader?
After all, of the many things that Chip might have anticipated encountering, he had never expected to come face to face with a radiance such as this beneath the earth where no familiar rays of light might reach them.
What is this place? Chip silently pondered as they continued to follow the water’s meandering path.
“Where is the light coming from, I wonder?” said Alfeus in a whisper, which seemed only right in a place like this.
Once the question was voiced aloud, Chip naturally felt that he must investigate further. He hopped over to the wall on their left, placing a paw against the stone before jerking it back just as quickly when it proved to be quite warm.
When he mentioned this to Alfeus, the chipmunk did not look terribly surprised. “That’ll be the fire lizards. There are so many of them, they’re bound to heat the very walls themselves.”
Chip heard Alfeus, but did not reply. He had caught sight of movement in a nearby gem. Oh, how he wished Romulus were there to teach him their names, for he was sure to know them all.
There it was again!
Something darted to the right past a jewel, carnation pink in color, and Chip was sure the movement came from the other side of the wall, rather than from the reflection of the gem’s smooth surface.
“Alfeus, did you see that? I think there’s a passage on the other side of this wall!”
“Well, if there is, it’s the fire lizards who use it, and I’m not inclined to wait and see,” Alfeus said before marching resolutely forward.
Reluctantly, the young rabbit followed. Much as he might long to uncover the mysteries of the fire lizards’ dwelling, he knew Abaline was more important. They followed the flowing stream to their right, Chip admiring the way the stone shimmered beneath the perfectly clear water. He had expected to feel tense and afraid after learning of the fire lizards, but there was something altogether pure and comforting about this underground haven, and the rabbit found that he felt free to explore every crevice and nook, much to Alfeus’ consternation.
At last, they reached the back of the cavern. Before them, looking as if they had been there since time began, were three gaping tunnel entrances. The stream flowed merrily down the middle path, and Chip was tempted to simply follow it, but instead looked at Alfeus expectantly. “Which one do we take to Abaline?”
The chipmunk was silent, staring fixedly from one tunnel to the next.
“Alfeus?” Chip prompted.
He jumped a bit before replying, “Well, I can’t say that I know, Chip. I imagine that’s something that each seeker of Abaline’s treasure has to uncover for themselves.”
At the end of this lofty pronouncement, Alfeus looked away rather sheepishly, for after all, he truly did want to be useful and was bothered when he felt he was not.
“That’s all right, Alfeus,” Chip said, noticing his friend’s embarrassment. “We’ll figure it out.”
He hopped forward to the tunnel on the left and sniffed, immediately scrunching up his nose in distaste. It smelled damp and unfriendly, and something in the heavy staleness of it warned Chip against taking that path.
“Alfeus, what does the tunnel on the right smell like to you?”
Hurriedly, the chipmunk scampered over, taking a good and proper whiff before sighing with delight at the scent that greeted him. “Hazelnuts, Chip,” he breathed. “Mountains and mountains of them!”
Alfeus was several feet past the entrance before Chip managed to stop him. But then, all of a sudden, the headiest sensation swept over him, enveloping him in the scent of lilac, just as if he were back in his grandmother’s burrow beneath the grandest lilac bush that Everleaf Forest had ever seen.
Alfeus continued to mutter about hazelnuts as Chip turned to stare down the tunnel, breathing in his favorite smell. He was just about to make his way closer to it when his left ear twitched violently.
For one pivotal moment, Chip’s mind cleared, and he was struck by the pungent wave of rot rising up from the tunnel’s depths. He pushed the hazelnut-crazed chipmunk out of the tunnel until they were far back enough for the smells to fade.
Though Alfeus had, at first, been overtaken by indignant hysterics, only a few minutes passed before he returned to his own, rather persnickety self. “Confound it all! What sort of depraved mind makes false promises of hazelnuts?”
“At least you didn’t get a whiff of what was really coming from that tunnel,” Chip choked out, still nearly gagging from the unrelenting stench of it. Still, he managed a smile at Alfeus’ dramatics.
The chipmunk was yet to be appeased. “I refuse to tolerate such deceitfulness! Such foul play! One nice, wholesome adventure is all a chipmunk asks for in life, and if anyone else comes to muck it up, it’s me they’ll have to answer to!”
It was then that a roar sounded, so terrible and deep that it made the very walls around them tremble.
Chip looked at Alfeus. “You were saying?”
Any guesses on where (or who) the roar is coming from? Share your ideas using #bookofroseleaves
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?