Read The Deptford Mice 2: The Crystal Prison Online

Authors: Robin Jarvis

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The Deptford Mice 2: The Crystal Prison (19 page)

BOOK: The Deptford Mice 2: The Crystal Prison
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Slowly it dawned on him. Hodge had died of strangulation – someone had murdered him.

Now the corn stems seemed to hem Arthur in and the whole place took on a sinister aspect. His skin began to crawl. He gulped and gazed round fearfully. What if the murderer was still there somewhere, hiding and watching him? What if even now it was coming to get him?

Arthur yelped as panic got the better of him. Never before had he been so frightened. ‘I’ve got to get out!’ he squeaked and ran up the path again, stumbling and falling in his haste.

‘FENNY! FENNY!’ he cried out desperately.

Voices were raised at once in answer to the urgent call Arthur picked himself up from the ground, took no heed of his bleeding knees and ran straight into Jenkin. The fieldmouse stared at Arthur’s terrified face and gasped.

‘What is it?’

Arthur hid his eyes and began to shake all over.

Jenkin shook him urgently. ‘Tell me Arthur, what is it?’

Arthur pointed up the path. ‘Hodge,’ he said thickly, pointing back up the path.

Jenkin dashed to see. ‘Don’t look at him,’ cried Arthur after him. It was too late. Jenkin cried out in horror.

Other sentries came running. Twit was the first. He stopped in surprise when he saw Arthur’s expression.

‘Art?’ he began curiously. ‘What is it? Why, you’re tremblin’ all over.’

A group of sentries gathered round. Arthur would not let them pass. They were all anxious to know why the major alarm had been used.

Eventually Jenkin came staggering back – his face matched Arthur’s and he was weeping. The sentries murmured and looked at one another nervously.

‘It’s Hodge,’ sobbed Jenkin. ‘He’s dead.’

The sentries opened their mouths and shook their heads in disbelief. Twit looked fearfully at Arthur who was trying to say something.

‘No!’ he shouted violently. ‘He’s been murdered!’

A grim, silent group made its way to the Hall of Corn. Mourners lined the corridor and the sound of lamentation was heard everywhere in Fennywolde.

Jenkin, Young Whortle, Todkin and Figgy carried the body of their friend on their shoulders. A white cloth had been placed over Hodge’s face by Jenkin so that no-one would have to look on that grisly horror again.

Grommel and the other guard opened the great doors and let the group In. Word had spread quickly through the field and the grief of Hodge’s parents was terrible to hear and to see.

Elijah came and took Arthur to one side. Twit disappeared into his nest and brought out the flask given to him by Thomas Triton. ‘Here Art,’ he said gently, ‘drink some of this.’

Mr Woodruffe held up his staff of office and cried angrily, ‘What creature has done this? We must not rest till the fiend is captured. Summon everyone into the Hall at once!’

For those who had not already heard the tragic news, Jenkin placed a piece of straw between his thumbs and blew hard. A high screech echoed over Fennywolde and all who heard it clutched their mousebrasses fearfully and ran to the Hall. Isaac Nettle dropped his hammer and abandoned the forge.

Soon everyone was there except Audrey. The Hall was buzzing with grief and anger as the mice held on to their children tightly and called for the murderer to be found.

Isaac learnt from his son what had occurred and turned to the king furiously.

‘See,’ he raged bitterly, ‘now do you see what happens when you turn your back on the Green’s holy laws. He has been swift to show His anger.’

‘Silence, Nettle!’ stormed Mr Woodruffe. ‘I will not have you say such rubbish in front of Hodge’s parents.’

‘Thee must all pray – pray hard and beg the Green’s forgiveness for having allowed the heathen into our midst.’ He whirled round and pointed an accusing finger at Arthur. ‘Where is thy sister – the blasphemer?’

‘Isaac!’ roared the king before Arthur could answer. ‘I will not allow you to turn this into one of your prayer meetings! I have a search party to organise and you could attend to Hodge there.’

Mr Nettle calmed a little and regarded the body grimly. ‘Verily – I shall order the service.’

As Mr Woodruffe despatched fieldmice to search the field, Arthur turned to Twit and said, ‘I wish I knew where Audrey was. This is another thing for Mr Nettle to jump down her throat about. Did you see the faces of some in the crowd? They were agreeing with him!’

‘Here’s Akkikuyu, Arthur,’ Twit warned as the rat strode into the room.

‘What goes on?’ she asked. ‘Who make all the noise and hullabaloo? They wake Akkikuyu.’ Then she saw Hodge’s body and tutted sadly. ‘Poor mouselet – he beyond Akkikuyu’s help.’

‘He was strangled,’ said Mr Woodruffe gently.

‘Who did so?’ she asked in astonishment. ‘I give
them
a throttling.’

‘We are about to try and find out,’ said the king gravely.

‘Poor, poor mouselet,’ she sighed. ‘No more cheeses for you.’

‘Arthur,’ ventured Twit, looking at the fortune-teller, ‘you don’t think . . . ?’

‘What . . . Akkikuyu?’ said Arthur. ‘No, she was too shocked when she saw Hodge just then. I don’t think it was her . . . good grief, no, it couldn’t possibly have been.’

Alison Sedge watched everything in horror. She could not take her eyes off the body. That lifeless thing had once been a boy she had flirted with and lured into the meadow. Now the thought of it made her ill.

The painful wails of Hodge’s parents were unbearable to her. She stumbled to her nest and bit her nails nervously. A dreadful thought had come to her. She recalled Audrey’s words at the still pool: ‘I’d choke it with my bare paws just for the fun of it.’

Alison was scared – should she tell someone or would the town mouse punish her? She wondered what Hodge had done to warrant his horrid reward.

The ceremony was held that afternoon in a shady area kept tidy for such purposes. As the body was lowered into the ground Mr Nettle intoned, ‘Receive this innocent soul Almighty. He is beyond our care now. Take him to Thy bosom and cherish this small servant of Yours. Mould to mould, body to Green.’

Arthur’s head felt thick and fuzzy. The search parties had found nothing unusual – only Audrey asleep by the pool. Now she stood looking down into the grave next to him.

Hodge’s’ parents cast a hawthorn leaf and his favourite flower into the grave. Then Mr Woodruffe led them away in silence.

‘We’ll have to double the sentries,’ said Jenkin as they walked away. ‘If some maniac is still out there we don’t want him to strike again. And don’t you go off on your own again miss,’ he said to Audrey.

‘I shan’t,’ she answered. It had been a nasty shock to wake to a different Fennywolde, one full of grief, anger and fear. She could feel the whole atmosphere of the place had changed.

Gladwin Scuttle linked her arm in Elijah’s and went home. No-one felt like celebrating the Eve of Midsummer now and the rose petals that had been gathered were left to rot.

Madame Akkikuyu looked back to where Isaac was filling in the grave. Night was drawing closer and she rubbed her ear thoughtfully.

10. Midsummer’s Eve
 

Audrey stared out of her nest and up into the gathering dusk. Everyone in Fennywolde had gone to bed early, trying to blot out the tragic day with sleep. Even so, Audrey could hear the sound of weeping. She lay back on her moss bed and reflected on the death of Hodge and its implications. Was it now dangerous to walk alone in the field? Was the murderer of Hodge still at large out there? And what manner of creature was it anyway? Some of the fieldmice had come to the conclusion that the beast had been a wandering rogue whom Hodge had surprised. But after all the searching the general feeling was that whoever had done this atrocious deed had undoubtedly escaped and was now far away.

‘Ain’t been nowt like it since that old owl was around,’ Old Todmore had observed gravely.

The mood of the fieldmice was one of unease. Audrey had noticed that now – more so than before – the simple country mice shied away from her and looked quickly at the ground if she smiled at them. It was almost as if they thought that she had brought this tragedy down on them. She wondered if they pointed at her in secret and muttered nonsense about jinxes and the like. It was certainly good fuel for Isaac Nettle’s sermons on the importance of prayer to the Green Mouse. Audrey found all this too tiresome and worrying to dwell on, so she turned her thoughts to other things.

Was Piccadilly safe in the city? She wished he was here; he’d give Mr Nettle something to make him sit up and scowl at. She almost laughed as she tried to imagine what Piccadilly would have said, but the smile faded on her lips with the thought that the grey mouse must surely think badly of her. She had been too horrible to him for him to think anything else.

Audrey shifted uncomfortably and tried to redirect her thoughts. An image of Jenkin sailed brightly before her eyes. It was hard to believe that he was the son of sour-faced Mr Nettle. What a fine young mouse Jenkin was! In some ways he reminded her of Piccadilly. Audrey fell asleep with the two mice filling her thoughts.

The night stars wheeled over Fennywolde. Silvery moths flew up and rode the secret breezes. The hedgehog waddled out of a leaf pile and roamed along the ditch searching for more mouth-watering delicacies. The moon rose full and bright and somewhere in a patch of deep shade Nicodemus muttered to Madame Akkikuyu of potions and spells and their mysterious ingredients.

Audrey stirred in her sleep and gradually became aware of a faint sound pulling her awake. A distant lilting music caught her ears, and, despite its faintness, her heart yearned to follow it.

She opened her eyes and rubbed her brow drowsily. It was an achingly beautiful melody hovering just on the edge of hearing. Audrey tilted her head and wondered where it was coming from. It haunted and enchanted her, beckoning with sweet invisible fingers.

Audrey quickly determined to find the source of the music. She slipped out of bed and turned to look for her dress. She paused and blinked: from her bag of clean clothes and personal treasures a dim light was shining.

Apprehensively, Audrey pulled open the neck of the bag and peered inside. A creamy glow at once illuminated her face and she gasped in wonderment and surprise. She put in her paw and drew out the sprig of hawthorn blossom that Oswald had given to her, back in Deptford. Tonight it was a thing of magic. The petals of the blossom, which for many weeks now had been so dry and yellowed with decay, were as fresh as the day they had been picked – only now they shone with a clear and supernatural light of their own.

Audrey could only stare at it in amazement. Yet it seemed to be the most natural thing in the world for tonight was the Eve of Midsummer and almost anything was possible. A thrill of expectation ran through her body as, holding the blossom before her, she left the nest and clambered down the ladder.

In the Hall of Corn nothing stirred. The nests which lined its long walls were dark and their entrances gazed at her blindly. The moonlight cast weird shadows all around her, and the breeze moved them so that the black shapes waved mysteriously in the gloom.

The thought of poor Hodge and his unknown assassin crossed Audrey’s mind but she managed to suppress her fear. She just had to follow the strange music. It seemed to tug her along and she noticed that the light of the hawthorn blossom grew brighter if she went in a certain direction. Using this as a sort of magical compass Audrey passed out of the Hall and into the wild tangle of corn stems. Through the field it led Audrey and along the ditch, a will other than her own driving her feet towards the source of the music.

She crossed the ditch and made for the still pool. It seemed that the tune was coming from there, and as she looked a twinkle of light glimmered from behind the surrounding hawthorn bushes.

She hesitated, breathing softly. This was it – the source of the wonderful sound. The light of the blossom in her paw welled up suddenly like a star fallen from heaven. Audrey felt a pang of fear; now she was there she wondered what lay beyond the hawthorn bushes. What would she see when she drew back the branches?

Audrey bit her lip and for a moment wanted desperately to run back to her nest, but it was too late for that now. Slowly, she pulled the branches to one side.

There in the hawthorn grotto were all the mice of Fennywolde. They were arranged in a semi-circle around Mr Woodruffe and all were silent and bowed. Audrey glanced up and saw why they were all so hushed and reverent. She fell to her knees and cried out in surprise.

Floating above Mr Woodruffe, like a dense cloud of growing things, was the Green Mouse.

He was at the height of his midsummer power and mightier than when Audrey had seen him in the spring. His fur was lush and green as grass, and on his brow he wore the crown of wheat. Here and there, fiery mousebrasses blazed out from his coat of leaves. Indeed, Audrey could not tell where his coat ended and the hawthorn thicket took over for little green lamps had been hung all around and they increased the wondrous quality of the place.

The Green Mouse was smiling kindly at his subjects, his long olive-green hair cascading down like a lion’s mane, and sparkling mousebrasses kindling a green fire in his noble eyes.

Audrey bowed her head. When she dared to look up she found that the Green Mouse was looking straight at her.

Those eyes which she had never forgotten now shone on her once more. Slowly, the Green Mouse beckoned to her and timidly Audrey moved towards him. He held out his great paw and she kissed it.

‘We are pleased with you little one,’ came the huge voice. Audrey flushed and hung her head. ‘There are still dangers you must face,’ the Green Mouse told her. ‘Be brave, my brassless one. I shall take care of you while I can, for spring and summer are mine to command. Remember that the green fails in autumn and is dead for the winter.’ He furrowed his immense brow and shook his great head. ‘Let us hope my protection will not be needed in the bleak months to come, and the summer will end as we pray it will.’ The Green Mouse smiled and it seemed as if it was daytime. The lamps blazed back at him and Audrey realised that they were not lamps at all but shining leaves. The more he smiled the brighter they became, and the more others began to shine. Soon the entire grotto was filled with a blinding glare of green.

BOOK: The Deptford Mice 2: The Crystal Prison
5.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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