copyright Ulla Meyerhof, Kapolei 2010
Snow had fallen last night. Like a thick white
down blanket, the freshly fallen snow had spread over the fields.
Everything was as quiet as a mouse. But wait! Is there something moving
under the snow? Scratch, scritch, scratch. Something is digging and pushing
underground close to the wayside until, with a tiny plop, there is a little
burst of snow, and a curious little mouse face pops up.
“Hey! What’s that? Wow, you gotta see this!”
Where there had been a little mouse face there is
now a little mouse heinie sticking out, and muffled voices can be heard
coming from under the snow.
“Tell me! What did you see?”
“Tell me! Tell me! Is some big bad old tomcat out
“Oh, Athos, you chicken!”
Now a tiny nose wiggles out and sniffs the air. The
whiskers turn like antennas in all directions.
“Come on! The coast is clear. There’s no sign of a
cat anywhere, and it’s still dark. Does anybody want to see some real
But the rest of the family was not curious. It was
just too warm and cozy inside. That is why Aramis, the little mouse-boy, on
second thought went back to sleep. After all, it was still hibernation
But, as soon as the sun had sent its first rays
over the horizon, there was action in the Mausketier bungalow. Aramis, Portos,
and Athos, after much stretching and yawning, finally got off their straw
beds and perked up as they went to the pantry for beechnuts and rye for a
You are not the only one who may think the names
of these three mice are strange. Even other mice thought so at first; at
least they considered them funny. But you should know that these three mice
were proud princes of a book mouse dynasty. Their mother had been living
all her life in the library of the nearby castle, right behind the shelves
where the adventure stories were.
Their father was funny, smart, and
handsome—nevertheless a scalawag. That’s why, just after the birth of the
three boys, he had gone off wandering, which is, by the way, customary
mouse behavior. Everyone in the castle thought that these three little
princes would have stayed forever in the library if—if something awful had not happened last summer.
But that’s another story!
How It All Began
It was the middle of winter. The sparrows had been
telling it from every rooftop: The Mausketiers in the library were
expecting the birth of their offspring! Finally, in the evening a very
proud mouse-dad came out of the book nook and made the grand announcement
to all animals of the castle that three wonderful princes had just been
born! Their names will be Aramis, Portos, and Athos, like the heroes in the
great book, The Three Musketeers,
in the castle library.
“Hee, hee, hee!” squeaked the kitchen mouse as she
nearly tumbled to the floor laughing. “Imagine if I called my kids C-c-crockpot,
There were peals of laughter all around, but the
mouse-dad remained calm, cool, and collected.
“We named them after The Three Musketeers because their mother loves this book and
these characters,” he said unapologetically. “If you wish, you may pay them
a courtesy visit.”
“Ho, ho, ho!” blared the big cellar mouse. “We’re
supposed to pay a courtesy visit to the Highnesses, are we? What a hoot!”
Nevertheless, they were all curious. All—every
one—of the animals of the castle came to admire the little rosy-cheek mouse
babies. Everyone had brought a morsel of food, and so it was that the life
of these three little princes started with a royal feast. And what’s more
is that the old year had just drawn to a close, and people were celebrating
the New Year with a spectacular display of fireworks in the castle garden.
What better way could there be to celebrate the lads’ first birthday?
You should know that the Mausketiers were from a
highly respected book mouse dynasty. Everyone in the castle secretly
admired them for their intelligence. There was talk that these three
princes probably would spend their lives behind books, and the first years
seemed to confirm the gossip.
After mouse-dad had wandered off, mouse-mum
imposed a loving yet strict regimen. The boys were never allowed outside.
Their mother read stories to them from the old books every day, and it
wasn’t long before all three of them could read. There was no time for
silliness or childish pranks under the “eagle eyes” of a strict mum but, as
they didn’t know better, they didn’t miss anything. The big, wide world was
in the books they “ate” devotedly but, the older the boys became, the more
urgent became the questions about the outside world.
“It’s too dangerous,” mouse-mum would answer tight
lipped. “You stay here and nothing will harm you."
Athos, the youngest and smallest of the mouse-boys,
liked that. He was always hiding behind Mum’s skirts, already afraid of the
fantasy characters in the fairytale books.
Portos, in contrast, was a different sort of lad.
He was big, tall, and a real daredevil. ”Just like his dad,” his mother used
to say and roll her eyes when he sometimes did not know what else to do
with his boundless energy.
Aramis, her first born, was her favorite. He was
eager to learn and always wanted to read and learn more. He shared her love
for the book The Three Musketeers.
He had adopted the language and behavior of the courtiers of the time of
the three musketeers. His mum was extremely proud of such an erudite and
“You will be the one responsible to take care of
your brothers, if I am ever not able to do so,” she often told him, and
Aramis had no idea how this could ever happen, yet this is exactly what
But that’s another story!
The Castle Garden
It was one of those hot summer nights when even at
night the thick old walls seemed to still simmer with the heat of the day.
It felt like living in a brick oven. The mouse-kids felt hot and sticky on
all the usual trails, but they did not know how else to get to a cool
place. They tried the cellar briefly, but it too was warm—and dangerous as
well. Mum had strictly forbidden them to play there because the castle cat
was always up to mischief there.
The humans in the castle must have found it very
hot there, too. How else could you explain that, in the big reading room,
there was a window gaping wide open. A delightful night breeze was luring
the little ones outside.
Aramis, the most curious of the three, whispered,
“One should at least have a look!”
“Are you crazy?” protested Athos in horror. “Mum
would never allow this! It’s too dangerous!”
“Fiddle-faddle!” grumbled Portos—after all he was
the biggest and strongest mouse-boy the world had ever seen.
So, in Indian file, as far as possible for three
mice, the brothers crawled out the window, down the wall, and into the
“Remember where we got out,” Athos said to Aramis,
“or we’ll never be able to return home again!”
Aramis was not listening. He was all eyes and ears
for this wonderful night. In the huge canopy of trees, the night wind was
whispering, the silver moonlight was bathing the garden in a fairytale
glow, and the fragrance of the flowers lingered heavily upon the night air.
“Ah-h-h, I could live outside forever! Here I can
really run about!” Immediately he began to run in bigger and bigger
circles, doubling around the rhododendron bushes and landing with a
somersault—in a flowerbed!
“Excu-u-u-use me!” someone ranted from the
flowerbed. “You just stepped on my supper!”
Aramis looked puzzled at a big, fat, naked snail
that had just started to feast on a marigold flower.
“Oh, mercy, Your Highness! I did not mean to
disturb your Majesty.”
“Odd fellow,” thought the snail, yet she was quite
impressed. After all, no one had ever before called her “Highness” or
“Majesty.” But Aramis had wandered on. Near the rose bushes he stood still,
breathing deeply the fragrant air. What a wonderful world it is outside the
castle! He would have to tell his mum about it, but it would be a long time
before he could do so.
But that’s another story!
The Big Tomcat
All of a sudden Aramis heard a desperate squeak
and shrill whistle. He knew this whistle. It was the way Portos warned his
brothers of danger. You must know that mice have their own alarm system.
As Aramis scurried to take cover in the direction
of the flowerbeds, back where he had seen his brothers last, he was grabbed
by the tail and jerked into the bushes. Aramis wanted to scream, but Portos
covered his mouth.
“Be quiet!” Portos whispered into his ear. “I had
no other way to alert you. See what happened?”
Horror-stricken, both brothers saw that a huge
tomcat—in their eyes as big as a tiger—was carrying in his mouth their
little brother Athos!
“What shall we do?” asked Aramis without a clue.
“Let me take care of this,” Portos said.
Courageously he ran toward the tomcat, took a fighting position in front of
him, and roared:
“LET HIM GO! HE—IS—MY—BROTHER!”
Suddenly all was silent—as if the earth stood
still. Something like this had never happened before. All animals knew
that. The big tomcat was baffled. Here was a little pipsqueak of a mouse
that dared to yell at him—the dreaded terror of the neighborhood!
This was so unreal, so bizarre, so funny, that he
could not repress the urge to laugh. He burst out laughing, and in this
very moment little Athos fell right out of his mouth! While he was rolling
in the grass still laughing, Portos grabbed the solemn Athos and puzzled
Aramis, and together they ran out of the park, across the street, and into
the next field.
“Phew, was that ever scary!” said Portos after he
had caught his breath. “I think we had better not show up there again.
Tomcat will never forget this, and I doubt that stunt could ever be
Then the three brothers went to find a suitable
But that’s another story!
Oh, how easy life had been in the castle! Their
home, where they had lived all their life, hidden behind big, thick library
books, was a cozy and safe haven.
Sheer curiosity had led them into the open, and
now they were learning that it was indeed dangerous out there. Even Portos,
the big, strong mouse-boy was in shock. He had never imagined that Mum
could be right and that there was danger lurking around every corner. On
the other hand he couldn’t stop boasting about how he had saved his
brother’s life. Aramis was just happy that little Athos had survived the
adventure. And Athos? He was still shaking and afraid to venture more than
a few steps. What should they do now?
“We need a secure hiding place. What would be best
is a real
mouse-hole where we can stay forever,” said
Aramis, who considered himself the leader of the pack.
Where could they find such a dream home? At dawn
all three of them started searching. Would they find what they were seeking?
But that’s another story!
It was a fortunate coincidence that a frog came
“I’m pleased to meet you, Your Highness,” said
The frog looked around to see whether someone was
behind him—or did that little mouse mean him? Aramis left no doubt. He
bowed deeply, just as his namesake from The
Three Musketeers would have done, and said, “Would Your Highness allow
me to ask a humble question?”
The puzzled frog, not accustomed to such courtesy,
answered, “Croak, yes, what can I
do for you?”
“Do you, perchance, know of a suitable residence
for us—a place where we could live without fear of big cats?”
why yes,” the frog responded delightedly. “I know a fine place, croak, for you lads. Come, follow
They had to hurry because the frog was leaping
ahead, and the mice had difficulty following on their little legs. When
finally they reached a pond, the frog proudly pointed to a huge lily pad
floating in the middle of the pond.
that is a very fine place. I lived there once myself. The location is
wonderful, croak, and you will be
perfectly safe there.”
“Oh, yes,” said little Athos. “I want to live
there. No cat could ever go there.”
“Croak, croak, that’s right,” affirmed the
frog arrogantly with his insider knowledge. “Cats can’t swim.”
“Well,” mumbled Portos, “it’s really nice, and,
well, but tell me, how shall we
reach that place? We can’t swim!”
That was something the frog found hilarious.
cats can’t swim, and now you tell me that, croak, mice can’t swim either! How can any creature survive
without swimming? Well, I just learned something!” he croaked
sarcastically. “Never mind!” he said, as he took a big leap into the pond
The three mouse-brothers were back where they
started, but they were determined to find a good home.
But that’s another story!
It was their lucky day, for here came a crow
wandering down the road on foot. The poor thing had hurt his wing when
fighting with another bird of the “same feather.” Now he had to walk
instead of flying gracefully through the sky. He was muttering as he pecked
angrily through the mud at the side of the road.
“Hello! May we ask you a question?”
“What’s that? Who has a question?” gruffly cawed
“Oh, allow us to introduce ourselves,” said Aramis
with a perfect bow (at least he thought it was a perfect bow). “We are the
three Mausketiers from the castle library. We lived there until yesterday.
An unhappy fate has driven us into the wilds. Our little brother Athos was
almost kidnapped by a big tomcat. We are in urgent need of a safe home.”
“Hmmm,” reflected the crow, now speaking in a
friendly tone because he was flattered that someone needed his advice.
“I could ask the woodpecker. I overheard recently
that he has an opening in the oak tree.”
“Oh, yippee,” cheered Athos, “a tree house! I love
Would they really find their dream home in the
But that’s another story!
They all ran to the big oak tree where the crow
had last seen the woodpecker. Fortunately the woodpecker was at home.
Following warm introductions, the woodpecker listened politely to the story
of the three mouse-brothers.
“Come with me,” he said finally. “I have
something. I’ll show you where it is.”
Aramis, followed by Athos and Portos, climbed the
tree trunk to a tiny hole. Noting that these were well-educated mice, the
woodpecker said “Voilà!” (French for “There you are!”).
Aramis slipped through the entrance. He had to
hold in his tummy to squeeze in. Athos slipped right through but, oh, my,
Portos was in trouble! Whatever he did, he could not fit through the
doorway; and not only that—when he wanted to give up and get out, he could
not move. Like a cork in a bottle, poor Portos was stuck in that
hole. He could move neither forward nor backward.
Something had to be done! Aramis and Athos pushed
from the inside as hard as they could, but Portos did not budge.
“May I?” asked the woodpecker, and grabbled Portos
by the tail and pulled as hard as he could, but this did not work either.
The concerned crow, after observing these
attempts, had an idea.
“You have to join your efforts,” he shouted from
the ground. “I’ll give the command, and at the count of three, you push and
pull at the same time. One, two, three—NOW!
With a loud plop Portos broke free. It happened so
fast that he and the puzzled woodpecker fell on the soft mossy ground.
“Thank you kindly for your help, but unfortunately
this house does not suit our needs,” Portos addressed the woodpecker and
the crow with a courteous bow. The three mice bid farewell and went on
their way. Meanwhile the sun had gone down. If they did not want to sleep
in the open tonight, they would have to continue searching for safe
But that’s another story!
After fruitless attempts to find a suitable
residence, the three mouse-brothers felt quite rather cheerless. Dusk had
fallen when, to their delight, they heard the merry fiddling of a cricket.
What wonderful music, and what a gifted singer you
are!” flattered Aramis. “May I ask a question of thee?”
“Oh, you may ask,” said the singer. She had not
lived in the garden of an opera singer without learning a thing or two. She
knew how to carry on a witty conversation.
“We, the Mausketiers, are looking urgently for
suitable housing. It’s getting dark, and our little brother Athos is
“Um-m-m,” let me think. She scraped on her fiddle
a bit, and then her eyes brightened. “I do know someone! Why don’t we ask
the hazel-mouse queen in the rye field? She has lived there for centuries
and has seen generation after generation of mice come and go. If there is
anyone who can help you, it’s the hazel-mouse queen!”
But that’s another story!
The Hazel-mouse Queen
According to the mouse-calendar, the hazel-mouse
queen was at least 300 years old. She had her mop of hair brushed up,
making it look almost like a crown. To Athos she looked like a real queen
out of a fairytale book.
She looked down her nose at the brothers and
asked, “Have you ever lived outside?”
“No, Your Majesty,” said Aramis, who had elected
himself to speak for this little troop, “but we survived some big
adventures, and our only desire now is to settle down in a safe place.“
“Give me a moment to consider the matter,” said
the hazel-mouse queen, but took forever to do so.
The three mouse-brothers were as quiet as a mouse,
as they knew proper etiquette forbid them from interrupting a superior
After what seemed like an eternity, she said, “I
know a good place for you. The field has not been harvested yet, so expect
some noise later, but overall it is a good burrow. It has an entrance small
enough to keep out intruders.”
Then, with a majestic wiggling heinie, she went
ahead, the three mouse-brothers in tow. When they thought they would never
reach the end of the field, she turned around abruptly and said, “Here!”
“I don’t see anything,” murmured Athos.
“Me either,” muttered Portos.
“Wait and see,” Aramis interrupted the complaints
of his brothers. “The hazel-mouse queen did not bring us here for nothing,
so be patient. She will show it to us.”
The hazel-mouse queen turned around and looked
right into Aramis’s eyes and for such a long time that he began to feel
uneasy. Finally she said in a soft voice, “You are a smart one. You will
make your way.”
Then, with an unexpected swing of her broad hips,
she tumbled aside a pile of leaves, and there it was: the entrance to a
mouse-house. How does it look inside? Would they
But that’s another story!
The Mausketier Home
Joyously all three brothers ran into the den, the
hazel-mouse queen following them. Everything was perfect! The main chamber
would serve as the bedroom. Another chamber, where there were still a few
grains on the floor, would be the pantry. Unexpectedly there were two
sections leading to emergency exits.
“What are they for?” Portos wanted to know.
Remembering his treehouse adventure, he was rather concerned that these
holes would be too small for him.
“Is it safe enough so that no one else can get
in?” Athos asked timidly.
“Yes,” said the hazel-mouse queen, “that is the
best part of this homestead. If you are ever in trouble, you have two
escape routes. I hope you’ll never need them, but it is good to have them,
for you never know.”
And before the three brothers could thank her, she
Athos questioned what was meant by “emergency
exits,” but his brothers did not feel that they should explain the details;
he would be only more fearful.
The mouse-boys went out to the field to gather
straw for their beds. They were glad that their mother had educated them
about the habit of outdoor mice to sleep on straw instead of behind thick
books. They carried one straw after the other into the lair until they had
built a nice, cozy nest. Then in the last light of day, they went out to
The hazel-mouse queen had not exaggerated. This
was a splendid site, a great location, the perfect place to stay! Juicy
raspberries were growing alongside the path between two fields, and
delicious rye was growing in the field.
They had a feast and a wonderful time. Soon they
were stretched out on comfortable straw beds, with tummies round and full.
Thus they slept till dawn. Here they were safe, and nothing would disturb
But that’s another story!
It was a picture-perfect summer morning. Larks
were singing in a clear-blue sky, the grain was whispering in the wind, and
a friendly sun was shining over the countryside. But in the next moment,
peace was over. Aramis, Portos, and Athos had just gotten out of bed when
they heard a loud rumble outdoors.
“Help!” screamed Athos, “What is that?” and ran
Aramis blurted, “I’ll check outside!”
“You—are—not—going!” ordered Portos. “I’m much stronger
than you. If there’s something dangerous out there, you won’t be able to
Athos played it safe and hid in the pantry under
some leaves. Portos, somewhat bold yet insecure, crawled to the main
entrance. He slowly moved aside the big leaf camouflaging it. Aramis had
crawled to one of the emergency exits. He had only to push out the safety
cover and then . . . Both brothers did not believe their eyes. What was
But that’s another story!
Portos and Aramis could not believe their eyes!
Here were two huge animals with incredibly long ears. They did not walk on
four legs, as other four-legged creatures do. No, they were standing on
their hind legs as they thoroughly pummeled each other.
Aramis, who had been taught all his life to avoid
violence, shouted, “You cut this out right now, immediately!”
One of the hares, panting and quite out of breath,
shouted back, “Mind your own business! This is a hare contest!”
“Only the strongest and fastest can be the leader
of the hare drove,” gasped the other, as they went on jumping, running, and
punching each other.
“Are you completely out of your mind? Don’t you
see that you’re hurting each other . . .?” Aramis had not finished his
sentence when one of the hares screamed and put his paw up in the air,
whimpering. “What happened?” Aramis asked, worried.
The hare sobbed, “I accidentally hit a rock and
now my paw hurts awfully.”
“Oh my,” said Aramis. “Don’t you think it’s time
you changed the rules, before you get hurt again? How about doing something
worthwhile, like having a race, where the winner is the one that finds
where the best food is? The whole hare family would benefit far more from
that than from your boxing.”
A granddaddy of a hare that had listened to
Aramis’s sermon came closer. “You’re probably right. Every year some
contestants are injured. This way we can turn the contest into a festival.”
The hares were already racing all over the field
and a short time later returned with carrots, kohlrabi, and other
delicacies. “Our new leader will be the one that is the best provider, and
not the one that is the best boxer!”
“Let me tell you something, Aramis,” the new
leader smiled. “As you were the one that offered good advice, in the future
we will leave some of our goodies at your door.”
In courtly tradition, Aramis bowed deeply, but the
hares didn’t even notice as they continued to race for food, so that one
could see only a cloud of dust.
While the hares were leaping forward and
zigzagging toward the rising sun, Aramis turned around and slipped back
into the cozy cottage. “You can come out now, chicken!” he shouted to his
little brother, who was still hiding under the leaves in the pantry. “Those
were only hares doing their morning exercise.”
After a big breakfast of raspberries and rye and
after Aramis had told Athos all about the hare adventure, all was well
again in little Athos’s world.
“What do we do now?” asked Portos.
“I want to go home to my mum,” cheeped Athos.
“That’s impossible for now,” said Portos, trying
to console him. “We cannot go back right away because we would have to pass
the library tomcat. Remember, I am your elder brother, and I will always
Aramis, the most no-nonsense of the three,
suggested, “How about cleaning up this place?”
“Oh, no,” the others replied in unison. They were
not at all inclined to clean house.
“If we don’t keep this place tidy, before long we
won’t be able to move about in here.” Aramis at this moment looked exactly
Portos and Athos looked at each other, and they
both thought that big brother was acting like the big boss. “We’ll do it
later,” they both said in one voice. “We’ll tidy up later, all right?”
Athos disappeared into the pantry, and Portos
plunked down on the straw bed. Athos was playing with acorns he had found
in the pantry, and within two minutes Portos was snoring so loudly that he
might have been heard outside.
Aramis saw that right now there was no chance to
persuade his brothers to reasonable action and left through the main
entrance. The sun had risen a little higher and sent more warming rays on
his fur. Aramis wondered which way to go, and then quickly decided to walk
alongside the path between the fields so that he would find his way home
more easily. He put the big leaf at the entrance as camouflage and walked
out whistling happily.
How was he to know that another adventure was
right around the corner?
But that’s another story!
The Baby Hedgehog
Aramis had not gone far when he heard a plaintive
cry. When he went around the next corner, he saw a tiny prickly creature
that was sitting on a rock weeping pitifully.
“Mama,” it sobbed, “I want my mum, I want my . .
.” but, as soon as the tiny creature saw Aramis, it stopped crying. “Who
are you?” it cheeped.
“Oh,” said Aramis, “may I introduce myself? I’m
one of the
mouse-princes from the castle library. Who are
“I dunno,” stumbled the little one. “I just want
to go to my mum,” and it opened wide its little mouth to go on crying.
“Well, then, let’s see where your mum is. Where
did you see her last?”
“Over there,” said the baby, pointing to a brush
on the other side of the path.”
“All right, I’ll look there for your mum, and you
stay here.” Aramis ran to the brush, and all of a sudden he stood in
front of something round and prickly. What was that? Cautiously he tried to
sniff this funny thing. “Ouch!” he yelped, as he was stung on the nose. As
he wondered what it was, he heard a grim hiss. He tried diplomacy he
thought a real knight would use. “Hello, Your Honor. I’m on a mission of
mercy, trying to find a baby’s mum. Perhaps you can be of assistance.” The
spiky ball did not budge. “Are you a plant or an animal?” Aramis inquired,
remembering he had read in library books that there are some plants with
spikes. He would have found it silly to talk to a cactus. Then suddenly the
ball moved! Before the mouse-boy knew what had happened, there was a huge
mouse with huge spikes on its back standing in front of him. “Who-o or
wha-at are you?” he stuttered in consternation.
The giant prickly mouse looked impishly at Aramis
and said, “Never seen a hedgehog?”
“Ah, now I know,” shouted Aramis, slapping himself
on the forehead. “There is that well-known story about the hare and the
“Yep, you’re right,” answered the hedgehog, quite
impressed that Aramis knew the story. “That was long before my time. My
great-great-great-grandfather, together with his wife tricked the hare. So,
the story is still around,” he chuckled. “You say you found a baby? What
does it look like? Like a tiny mouse with soft spikes on the back?”
“Oh, my!” the hedgehog shouted. “I do hope that is
not my baby.” I had to hide it in the dry leaves before rolling up to avoid
the fox attack.”
“Why don’t you come with me? I’ll show you where
it is. It could be that your baby crawled out of the hiding place.” And
that was exactly what had happened. The hedgehog-mum was overjoyed that her
baby had withstood that ordeal, and Aramis was glad that he had been of
“I’ll never forget this,” the hedgehog-mum said as
they were parting. “If you ever need help, you’ll find us until fall lodged
under the brush over there, and later in fall and winter we’ll be
hibernating under the trees and heaps of leaves. Do remember that we
hibernate and can’t be reached till spring.”
Aramis did not hear the last sentences because he
was already on his way in search of more adventures, but he might need the
hedgehogs’ help one day—maybe or maybe not.
But that’s another story!
What a wonderful morning! The last dewdrops were
glistening on the grass in the sun. When Aramis was hopping out of sheer
joy from one blade of grass to the next, he landed accidentally on the side
of a bird nest.
The startled quail, that had just been daydreaming
while nesting, jumped up and shouted, “Hey, watch out! If you want to know
the force of my beak, then just dare to step again on my nest!” She stood
tall and spread her wings, looking intimidating indeed.
Aramis as well was shocked! He bowed hastily and
tried to calm the bird-mum. “No one is going to harm you, My Lady,” he said
politely. “I just had not counted on a bird nest on the ground.”
Quail-mum had already calmed down. “It’s alright.
I see that a field mouse is no threat to me.”
But that was the wrong thing to say to Aramis!
“Obviously you don’t know who I am!” Aramis blurted haughtily. “Field
mouse!” he snorted. “Bah! We, that is, my two brothers and I, are of the
royal lineage of book mice. Ever heard of them? Well, if someone like you
is just an uneducated country bird, it’s no wonder. I don’t hold it against
you, but we were born, raised, and educated in the castle library. We
received enough education to last for the next ten generations.”
“Oh, yeah,” whined the quail, “because you know so
much, you find yourself at home in the wilds, do you?”
“Well,” replied Aramis, now a little more humble,
“we aren’t really fit for life outside the castle, but we’re learning
Suddenly there was movement in the grass behind
Aramis. “Come quickly under my wings,” the quail urged. “The beaver is
coming to visit. He doesn’t like mice. He mustn’t find you. Hush!”
Aramis slid right next to the quail eggs under her
wing and peeked out cautiously. There was the beaver! Oh, my! He was huge!
Aramis had seen such an animal only in books. His rich black fur glistened
in the morning sun.
“Good morning, My Beauty,” greeted the beaver.
“Have you already been hard at work this morning?”
The quail shrugged because she could hardly
explain to the beaver that her main achievement so far this morning was to
hide a little mouse from the eyes of the beaver.
“I’ve been working today on my wonderful
embankment. It looks like a castle—you’ve got to see it! When you finish
nesting, do come with your little ones to see me.”
“Fine, fine,” said quail-mum reluctantly, hoping
the discussion was over.
“Well, then, I’m on my way, my dear and look
forward to seeing you again,” trumpeted the beaver.
As soon as the beaver was out of sight, Aramis
emerged from his feathered shelter. “I’ll never forget that. Many thanks.
If my brothers or I can ever be of help to you or your chicks, count on
The quail was already fond of this cute little
mouse-boy. She wished he would stay and entertain her longer, but Aramis
wanted to continue exploring the world.
What was at the next bend in the road?
But that’s another story!
The sun now felt very hot, and the air was
shimmering. Bees were humming in the nearby meadow. Aramis had become
awfully thirsty. For a better view, he climbed atop a stone structure,
which he knew from a library book was a kind of traditional stone memorial,
and looked around. On the distant horizon he saw something glittering.
“That must be water,” he concluded. He walked and
walked, but there was no water anywhere. The sunrays had even lapped up the
dewdrops. He began to think about how nice a house would have been on the
water lily pad, but such daydreaming made matters only worse, for he could
think of nothing but water.
Looking around and listening, he heard a sound he
had not heard before. Curiously he approached the source of the murmur.
There before him was a little babbling brook! Yippee, he found water!
He was so hot and thirsty for that cool, clear
water that he laid himself flat on the embankment and attempted to reach
the water. His efforts were in vain. His neck was too short, so he pulled
and stretched, trying to scoop the water with his front paws. Then came the
inevitable: He plummeted right into the brook!
Oh, my! Frightened, he was gulping water,
spluttering, and madly paddling his tiny feet, but the brook just took him
along as it danced over its bed of pebbles. If it hadn’t been for a
floating piece of wood, this would have been the end of the story.
With one final effort he pulled himself onto the
piece of wood and held on for dear life. This was like wild river rafting!
Then when he realized he was no longer in danger of drowning, he began to
like this “boat trip.”
He was perched on the wood that was like a real
boat, whooping for joy and cheering, until at the next bend in the brook
all the cheers got stuck in his throat. The brook widened into a little lake,
and there was—Aramis rubbed his eyes in disbelief—the beaver castle! What
castle? This was a veritable fort! Aramis was hoping desperately that the
beaver would not notice him, but he was already swimming his way.
“What a memorable sight to my shortsighted eyes!”
he exclaimed jovially. “Isn’t this the little mouse the quail tried to hide
from me? And now here you are, just swimming along!”
“Oh, my apologies for the inconvenience, Beaver
King,” replied Aramis as he tried to bow on his little “boat,” nearly
falling overboard, “but I’m here quite by accident.”
“Pish!” grumped the beaver. “Spare me the excuses!
I don’t want to harm you anyway. After all, you were the little hero who
brought the darling baby back to my dear cousin, the hedgehog-mum, right?”
Aramis blushed up to his wee pink ears. “Oh,
that’s nothing. Any living creature with some heart would have done the
“Bah, don’t be so humble,” said the beaver. “To
each saint his candle, but tell me, what are you up to in your little boat?”
“If I only knew,” Aramis sighed, because at this
moment it dawned on him that he had no clue as to how to get back home to
his brothers. “We, my brothers and I, just recently moved into a little
mouse-house in the hazel-mouse kingdom next to the path between two rye
fields. I have no idea how to find my way back. I guess I’m lost.”
“Say, running off is one thing,” the beaver
reflected, “but finding your way back is another. We’ll find your way
home,” he said, patting Aramis on the shoulder. How could he possibly do
But that’s another story!
“Why, of course, I know how to help you!” said the
beaver pompously. With a shrill whistle, as if on command, two ducks
splashed right up to the beaver.
“What is your wish, master?” the fine-looking
drake asked. You must know the drake and his mate were subletting a nice
place from the beaver, and in exchange would gladly do something for him.
“Here’s an order of business for the two of you,”
the beaver huffed. “I need you to take this mousy boy to his brothers in
the rye field.”
Aramis was already beginning to boil at the
insult: “mousy boy!” It was almost too much. After all, he was a royal
library mouse and highly educated, but he swallowed hard and held his tongue.
He could imagine the beaver letting him drift in the little makeshift boat
or the ducks dropping such a snob. At least the lady duck took him
carefully with her beak and placed him on the back of the drake.
“Hold on!” the drake quacked, and before Aramis
sensed what was happening, he was already high in the sky. The drake’s
wings were making a whirring sound, adding to his dizziness when he looked
down on the earth, but then when he was beginning to enjoy the majestic
panorama, the ducks squawked, “We’re coming in for a landing. Here we are!
Aramis did so, exclaiming, “Thank you a thousand
times over!” As he contemplated an impressive bow, he realized it would be
meaningless to these ducks, uninitiated in courtly gestures.
“Never mind,” they squawked. “Next time don’t
wander so far from home, so that you’ll know your way back, little one.”
Aramis remembered bragging earlier to the quail
about how smart he was and how well he could get along. Now, on his very
first day of travels, he had disobeyed the one and only rule in the wilds.
He had been careless and lost his way. This would never happen again, he
vowed to himself, but good intentions are one matter, and actual deeds
But that’s another story!
The Search for Food
Imagine how happy Portos and Athos were when their
“wisenheimer” brother was back safe and sound! They jumped for joy! Portos
squeezed him with hugs, and Athos begged to hear Aramis’s tales over and
over. Yes, it’s not just a saying but a truism that travelers are full of
stories. After Aramis had related all his adventures, the brothers realized
how hungry they were. Portos, who was always hungry, suggested they go out
for something to eat right away.
“Wait! I want to go along,” squeaked little Athos,
because near strong, brave Portos he felt completely safe.
“Okay, you’re on,” agreed Portos, as they dashed
out the den.
Between yawns Aramis mumbled, “I didn’t know I was
that tired. I’ll catch some winks while they’re out.” Only minutes later
Aramis was snoring.
Portos and Athos ran directly to the raspberry
bush where they had found the juiciest raspberries yesterday, but today
there was nary a raspberry!
“Oh, no, what a disaster!” grumbled Portos. “I had
been looking forward especially to the raspberries.”
“Maybe we’ll find another raspberry bush,” piped
Athos, but as they wandered alongside the woods, they discovered that all
the raspberry bushes had been plundered!
Now quite grumpy, only Portos’s tummy growled
louder than his mouth. Athos was getting worried. What if they couldn’t
find anything to eat?
“Why don’t we look for something else?” he finally
“After all, we have to find food for three of
“Oh, sure, smarty, and just what might ‘something
else’ be? Any ideas?” Sometimes Portos could be a real grouch when things
did not go his way.
Now they were realizing that finding food was no
But that’s another story!
Athos looked around and saw a small auburn furry
creature scurrying through the woods. It ran nimbly up trees, jumped from
one canopy to the next, and returned to the ground where it looked like it
buried something. In the next moment Athos remembered seeing a picture of
this little animal in Mum’s biology book.
“Portos, look over there! I think it’s a squirrel
and that it just buried some food.”
When the squirrel had disappeared in the canopy of
the trees, both mice went to the squirrel’s hiding place, did a little
digging, and were delighted! There were the finest acorns and beechnuts,
even some rye grains and juicy leaves. Portos wanted to eat them all in one
big bite, immediately.
“Hey!” little Athos protested when Portos started
to stuff all those yummies into his wide-open mouth.
“Think of Aramis and me! We also need something to
eat, and we must take some home too.”
“But I’m hungry NOW!” roared Portos, because he
did not have a grain of humor about food or hunger.
Athos found it shameful that Portos wanted all the
good things for himself, without leaving anything for his brothers.
So the quarrel went on and on.
Their quarrel was so loud that all the other
animals in the woods heard it. Even the squirrel high in a tree heard the
argument and what it was about. It raced down the tree trunk and stood
breathless in front of the brothers. “What do you think this is?” the
squirrel demanded—“a supermarket or all-you-can-eat diner?” Portos and
Athos stood there, jittery with embarrassment. This is my stockpile for the
winter and you leave it alone. Did you hear me?“
Two deer, witnesses to the conflict, started
meddling. “Calm down, squirrel!” one of them said. “You gather food all
summer long. Surely you have more squirreled away than you can eat .
Anyway, you have so many “pantries” filled with good food that by tomorrow
you will have lost track and forgotten where they are, so why don’t you
share a little?”
“Bah!” the squirrel sputtered in response to such
a sermon. “So every jolly-do-nothing can come along and help himself to all
my provisions? Are you serious? And by the way,” he added eagerly,
“do you know that my ‘forgotten pantries’ insure that the woods will grow
back? I’m doing something really important for nature. I give back what I
take and supply seeds for the next generation. From every seed I don’t eat
will sprout something good to eat the next year. How is this going to
happen if everyone comes and eats it all?”
The deer and the hares that had come to listen,
and most of all the two Mausketiers, were absolutely gobsmacked! They had
not known that, but little Athos desperately wanted his hungry brother to
have something to eat and everyone to be friends. He racked his brain and
came up with an idea but had to muster the courage to speak up.
“Ahem, may I suggest something?” he asked in a
little quavering voice, as he was truly afraid of the furious squirrel. “If
you leave this cache for us, perhaps in the wintertime we can help you find
the other caches so that no one has to go hungry."
“Hmm,” the squirrel thought, “that was quite an
offer!” After reflecting a moment he found it irresistible, especially when
he remembered last winter when he was hardly able to find one of his own
caches because a white blanket of snow had covered it. How often he had
wished to be a tiny mouse able to walk under the snow to find all the
“It’s a deal!” approved the squirrel
enthusiastically. “I’ll even help you bring the food home. Let’s make it a
contract for the next winter.” All the other animals, expecting to see a
fight, were astonished. What a great idea! It was good for everyone.
“Athos, you are a great mediator,” said one of the
animals with admiration. “In the future, before we start fighting, we’ll
come to you for advice.”
Athos was in a state of perfect bliss. They all
had food, and the prospect of having it year round was more than he could
have dreamed of.
“Athos, I will never forget what you just did for
me.” Portos hugged his little brother. “You saved my life because I would
have dropped dead of starvation the very next minute.”
That, of course, was an exaggeration, but Athos
enjoyed this moment of happiness. He, the little one who always had to be
watched and cared for so that no harm would befall him, helped his big,
strong brother! “I’ve got to tell Aramis,” he said to himself.
But that’s another story!
The squirrel and the two mouse-brothers were
headed for their den. Everyone was carrying as much as he could. To pass
the time the squirrel told the brothers the latest gossip from the woods.
The brothers were slack-jawed! They never even imagined such things went on
in the forest, for they had led a sheltered life in the castle library.
It’s as if they had lived under a cheese cover.
Without warning, in the treetops there arose a
murmur that turned into a roar. The air felt heavy and thick, as if you
could cut it with a knife. In the distance there was a dull thud and growl,
then a dazzling flash of lightning followed by a sharp bang!
“What, for heaven’s sake, is that?” screeched
Athos, and dropped all the beechnuts.
Replied the squirrel calmly, “That’s a
thunderstorm. We need to find shelter.”
“Oh, my! Oh, my!” Athos whined. “What’s
happening?” I’m really scared! What’s a thunderstorm?”
There was no time for explanations. Before the
squirrel could answer, another flash lit the sky and rolling thunder shook
This was too much! “Wah!” Athos howled at the top
of his lungs. “I want to be with my mum! I want to go home! I don’t want
Portos grabbed that little bundle of angst and
shut his eyes and ears with his hands. “Stay calm, little one,” he said
soothingly, although Athos now could not hear. “We’ll make it back safely,
as sure as I am Portos of the royal Mausketiers,” he vowed.
The squirrel yelled, “Stay away from the brook!”
and like greased lightning rushed under a leaning log. Again a flash like
noonday sun illuminated the whole forest. Then even louder thunder made it
seem like the world was coming to an end.
“Ow!” The noise hurt Portos’s ears. He reached to
cover them, and that was the moment when, distracted, he loosened his grip
on Athos. In blind panic his brother ran right into the brush. “Athos,
Athos, come back!” Portos shouted as loudly as he could, but the mighty
thunder and roaring of the wind in the treetops drowned out every other
sound. Trying to catch up with his brother, he stumbled over a beetle
sheltered under a leaf, yet he kept on running as fast as he could, but it was
as if the earth had swallowed little Athos.
And Athos? Panic-stricken and blinded by tears, he
raced directly towards the brook. Meanwhile it started raining—no, not
gently just to keep the earth green—but raining bucketsful as if the sky
had opened all the floodgates. Athos slipped on a mossy stone. “Ouch, ouch,
ouch! My leg!” he hollered. Just what he needed, he thought sarcastically,
out in the woods, unable to walk, but he soon realized that he had been
lucky. Without that stone he would have run straight into the brook. Brook?
This was no longer a brook but a raging river! Athos just wanted to turn
around and look for his brother, when he heard a pitiful cry.
But that’s another story!
When Athos glanced at what had been a babbling
brook but what was now a raging river, he noticed along its banks a big
leaf caught in a swirl of foam. On that leaf was a caterpillar crying
“Please, please, someone help me! I don’t want to
drown! There’s a wonderful life ahead of me. I can’t die here! I want to
become a beautiful butterfly!”
“Hey there, you funny little thing!” greeted
Athos, now brave, having forgotten his own needs. “Why don’t you just jump
to the bank of the brook?”
“Please don’t try to humor me. Really, have you
ever seen a jumping caterpillar?”
“Let me think,” said Athos. “You probably need
solid ground under your feet before you can jump and move forward.”
“Yes, yes!” The caterpillar was shaking from fear.
“Do think fast! I must escape before the brook drags my leaf along, or I’ll
be lost forever!”
An idea popped into Athos’s head when he espied a
twig that would do as a bridge. With all his might he pulled and pushed the
twig, which was three times bigger than he was, to the embankment. Then,
carefully and slowly, he got it as far as the leaf, without pushing the
leaf forward. “Now, little caterpillar, you hold on to this twig, and I’ll
pull you out.”
The tiny caterpillar ran onto the twig as fast as
its little feet would carry it, while Athos tugged and tugged until, with
another hard tug, he had drawn the caterpillar onto firm ground. “I thank
you wholeheartedly,” said the caterpillar, all smiles. “Where would I be
without you? Say, little mouse, when I’m a butterfly, I’ll go and visit
you. Where do you live anyway?”
“My brothers and I live in the hazel-mouse queen’s
territory between the two rye fields. You can’t miss it.”
At this very moment it dawned on Athos that he had
no idea how to find his way back to his brothers, as well as back home. Oh,
how he wished he had not run away from his brother, Portos! Right now he
was bushed, and tomorrow would bring another day, another chance.
But that’s another story!
Athos was exhausted from the thunderstorm
adventure and, with the good feeling of having rescued the little
caterpillar, he fell asleep on the soft green moss. The rain had stopped.
When the sun rose the next morning, it shined down on a clean, green
countryside. He had slept under a bush and, when his eyes turned toward the
sky, he saw dangling from a twig an odd thing like a bag in motion. Then
one side broke open, and something colorful peeked out of the opening. The
opening got bigger, and then, to Athos’s amazement, he saw a beautiful butterfly
emerge from a cocoon.
Athos, impressed by this lovely creature, and
falling into the courtly language with which he was long familiar, asked,
“Who art thou?”
“You do not recognize me now, but it is I, the
caterpillar you rescued yesterday. You gave me the opportunity to become a
It spread its wings, dangled and swayed, then made
its first short flight.
Athos admired his new friend. “It’s awesome that
you can fly! If you fly higher, would you see farther?”
“Why, yes!” said the butterfly, rising on a
“Would you kindly try to see if there’s a big
mouse-boy out there, who’s searching for me?”
“Gladly,” the butterfly replied, and flew even
higher, this way and that. Minutes later it returned. “I believe I saw your
brother. If you walk northeastward, you won’t miss him.”
“Oh, caterpillar, I’m sorry I don’t know what
‘northeastward’ means. How can I ever find my brother then?” Little Athos
was on the verge of tears.
“Don’t worry. I wanted to fly in that direction
anyway. If you follow me, I’ll guide you there.”
The woodland animals were amused to see this funny
team. On the ground was a little mouse-boy stumbling along, with his head
up as he if were counting clouds, and before him in the air was a beautiful
butterfly slowly swaying and anxiously watching that his little follower
keep up with him. At a clearing in the forest, he said suddenly, “Look!
There’s your brother!”
Athos looked straight ahead, and there he was—his
brother, Portos! What a joy this was!
“Oh, Athos, how glad I am to see you! Where, for
goodness sake, have you been?”
Athos was bubbling over with his adventures. “I
was at the brook that had become a river, and I rescued the caterpillar.
The caterpillar became a butterfly overnight and just guided me here.”
“Thank you very much, my dear!” shouted Portos in
the direction of the butterfly, but the butterfly was already dancing over
the meadow of bright flowers and enjoying life. Portos was the first one to
get back to reality. “I’m hungry,” he said. “Let’s get something to eat
from the squirrel’s supplies. I guess Aramis is anxiously waiting for us
and very hungry.”
Had Aramis waited? Oh, yes! Was he hungry? Oh,
yes! The whole night he had paced back and forth in front of the den. He
had to keep assuring himself that it made no sense to venture out in the
dark and rain to look for his lost brothers because then he, too, would be
What joy when Athos and Portos unpacked the food
they had brought! The goodies had been packed in a huge leaf the two had
carried together. When everything had been stacked in their pantry, they
had a king-size breakfast while Athos and Portos told Aramis all about
Aramis listed attentively and, after everything
had been said, he fell into deep thought. They had been lucky so far, but
they had to learn how to find their way home. They had to take precautions
to avoid getting lost again in the woods.
But that’s another story!
“What’s up?” asked Portos when he saw that his
brother was lost in thought. Usually Aramis was the talkative one in the
“I’m just thinking of how we can avoid getting
lost and always find our way in the woods. I suggest that we make only
little excursions for now, until we know the territory better.”
“That’s impossible!” protested Portos. “We
promised the squirrel to watch over his food storage places and to help him
find them in winter. Besides that, we need a share of the squirrel’s food
because somebody gobbled up all the raspberries, not leaving anything for
us in our neighborhood.”
Aramis mumbled, “Then I have to think this over
again.” He leaned against the straw bale, seesawing his feet with his eyes
closed, so that his brothers thought he had fallen asleep.
Athos jumped in, “I know what to do! Do you
remember the story Hansel and Gretel?
They left breadcrumbs on their path so they could find their way home. If
we took rye instead….”
Aramis looked at him in amusement. “If you had
read the story to the very end, you would know it did not work. The birds
flew down and ate the breadcrumbs, and that is what they would do with our
rye grains too.”
“What a shame!” said Athos. “I didn’t know that.”
“Now wait a minute!” shouted Aramis. “The idea
itself is pretty good. Ever heard of the “Ariadne thread?”
“Nope!” retorted the two little ones. “Who needs
to know THAT?”
Aramis rolled his eyes. What ignorance!
He started explaining: “The story of Ariadne is an
old Greek myth. Ariadne had to find her way through a labyrinth and, so as
not to get lost, she used a thread. She was able to leave the labyrinth
without losing her way.”
“What’s a laby-thingy?” Athos asked, now a little
“A labyrinth is a place full of complex
passageways and blind alleys. If you get lost there, you would have a hard
time finding your way out,“ Aramis explained.
“How does a labyrinth relate to our problem?”
Portos wanted to know.
“As I said, we’ll tie one end of a thread to our
place, keep going in search of the squirrel’s hidden food, and later find
our way home easily. How’s that?”
Well, sometimes a good idea is one thing and
reality is another.
But that’s another story!
The three brothers thought it was a great plan. To
their burrow they would tie a thread to guide them right back home from
wherever they went. Where to find such a thread?
“Let’s look around the neighborhood for something
suitable,” suggested Aramis. All three of them plodded along, each one trying
hard to find something that could be used as a thread. Even after some
time, nothing turned up.
All of a sudden it was as if Aramis had hit an
invisible wall. He just could not move. He floundered and struggled, but
the more he did so, the tighter became what seemed like a tangle of
invisible threads. He blew the mouse-warning whistle, and his brothers came
“What happened to you?” Portos and Athos in unison
asked Aramis when they saw him in a miserable position.
“I haven’t the slightest idea what this is,”
Aramis lamented. “All I know is that I can hardly move anymore.”
Portos tried to pull Aramis’s legs, but everything
was sticky. “How did you get yourself into this trouble?” Portos asked.
“Do you really want to know? I can fill you in,”
came a mysterious voice from behind the bushes. The brothers blinked hard
to focus better in the shade, to see who was talking to them.
“May we ask to whom we have the pleasure of
speaking?” asked Aramis.
“Certainly!” With a quick leap a black, eight-legged
creature jumped right in front of them. Athos and Portos froze; Aramis was
already frozen on the spot.
“Well? Have I left you speechless?” the creature
Portos, the first to regain his composure,
stuttered, “O-o-h, no-o-o, Your Highness.”
“It is only that we have never seen such a beauty
as you,” Aramis continued.
Now it was the big spider that was flabbergasted.
She was used to everyone’s running from her in fear, but here was a
mouse-boy and his brother saying that she was beautiful!
She focused her four front eyes on Portos and her
other two pairs of eyes on Aramis and Athos. “You say I’m beautiful?
Really?” She paused, and then continued, “How beautiful am I?” she asked
Quick-witted Aramis added, “You are as beautiful
as a sparkling opal! Your eyes shine like emeralds and, when you spin your
web, the dewdrops on its threads glitter like diamonds in the morning sun.”
He was grateful he had read in one of the library
books about spiders, gems, and diamonds.
“Oh!” The spider was delighted to be considered
beautiful. She crawled up and down in front of Portos and Athos and,
turning graciously, demanded more. “You really think I’m beautiful?”
“Truly, you are a beauty!” all three brothers
chimed in unison, as if they really thought so. This was an exceptionally
“How sweet you are!” Now the spider was dancing
gracefully on the long thread that led to her hiding place and connected
her to the unhappy Aramis in captivity.
“What ‘malheur’ do we have here?” she asked
cockily as she stood before Aramis.
Aramis thought that “malheur” was just a fancy
French way of saying “misery,” but he hoped that he could reason with this
obviously educated species.
“Yes, Your Highness, you see me in a miserable
position. You spun your net so fine that even a sharp-eyed library mouse
like me stumbled blindly into it.”
“Hee, hee, hee!” The spider was flattered. “That’s
right! After all, I make a living weaving these exceptionally fine nets!”
she added with pride.
“Yes, Your Highness.“ Aramis was racking his brain
trying to come up with something to get himself out of this dilemma. “You
created something remarkable, but tell me, since when do spiders catch
“Yeah-h-h, that’s a good question.” The spider
examined him from head to toe. “Now that I think about it, you’re my first
mouse.” She crawled all around him and even took a sample nibble of his
fur. Aramis tried to stay calm while thoughts were racing through his head.
“Don’t you think I could be of better use to you
if I were free? I wouldn’t be a good meal anyway.”
“I don’t mind. It’s your lucky day. I already had
a nice breakfast,” the big spider said airily.
“Would it be asking too much of you to be good
enough to cut me loose? If my brothers would try to detach me, it could
very well be that all three of us end up in your net. We don’t want to
destroy your beautiful web.”
The idea of three mice entangled in her net was
exhilarating to the spider. She roared with laughter! “Three mice at one
strike! Well, it’s your lucky day! For your sweet words to me, I will set
With a few skillful movements, she quickly freed
Aramis from his sticky shackles. Aramis kept shaking his limbs to be sure he
could move again. Then he made a deep bow and said, “Please accept my
sincerest thanks, Your Highness. Whenever we can be of any use to you,
please let us know. We three Mausketiers will always be in your debt.”
“Accepted,” said the spider. “It was my pleasure
talking to you. Maybe we’ll meet another time under circumstances more
favorable for you. Hee, hee, hee!” She quickly repaired the battered net.
Then she climbed on her thread back into the hiding place in the shade of
The Mausketiers wanted to sit down and take a deep
breath. “Whew, that was rough!” Portos said to Aramis. “There are countless
perils to look out for in the wilds.”
“Wait a second!” said Athos, jumping up. “I’ve got
an idea! We’ve been looking for a thread, right?” He looked meaningfully at
the spider swaying contentedly in her hiding place.
“Yes, but we need thread that does not stick as
soon as we touch it,” added Aramis, who now knew this all too well. There
was no objection whatever to his statement. When Aramis was right, there
was no further discussion.
Athos, however, really did not want to give up his
idea so easily. “Tell me, Aramis, in the countless books you’ve read,
didn’t you learn of something natural that can be used as thread?”
Aramis considered the matter a while, yet still
did not come up with anything suitable, so the three brothers trotted home.
After all, they had no desire to get lost again.
At home it was time for an inspection of the
pantry. “We’ll have to get more food soon,” mumbled Portos. “When I don’t
get enough to eat, I faint.”
“What a voracious monster you are,” replied Aramis
light-heartedly, “but we’ll manage to fill you up!” Tomorrow will be
another day. Let’s go to bed.”
At that moment they did not know how exciting the following
night would be.
But that’s another story!
There was a noisy snoring concert in the little
burrow. All the mice were sound asleep. The full moon was spreading its
glittering silver light over the whole forest, and it was perfectly
But in a flash, black zombie-like creatures were
going whoosh, whoosh through the air. From a distance one could hear the
“who-who” of an owl. Portos, awake because he was hungry again, looked
through the front entrance out into the night.
“Sque-e-eak!” A blood-curdling cry pierced the
night! “Hel-l-lp!” heard Portos. He slid silently out of the den and saw
with terror that a huge bird had something black in its talons. The bird
had just landed right in front of the Mausketiers’ home. Portos heard a
desperate voice. “Help, hel-l-lp! Why doesn’t anyone help me?”
“Hold on! I’m coming!” Portos shouted.
He took the leaf on which they had transported the
goodies from the pantry, lickety-split bit two holes for eyes into the
upper part of the leaf, and voilà!—the
most intimidating mask one could imagine! He was aware that it would not
help to yell at the owl (which had worked on the tomcat when he captured
his brother). Here what he needed was tricky bamboozlement. In his deepest
voice he growled at the owl: “What do you think you’re doing here?” He spat
in the direction of the owl, but the owl did not blink. It held the little
black creature in its talons and stared at Portos—that is, Knight Portos.
“It’s now or never!” Portos said aloud, and with an intimidating hiss he
took a big leap toward the owl.
The owl, naturally a little shortsighted, suddenly
was no longer sure whether this funny something could be his enemy, the
lynx. “Better safe than sorry,” the owl was thinking as he dropped the
little creature as soon as it set off into the air. With silent flapping of
wings, the big raptor disappeared into the night. The nightmare was over.
Portos picked up that little black bundle and
looked into the cutest mouse-face the world had ever seen. “Who is this?”
he asked as pleased as could be. “Are you by chance a distant cousin?” The
little bundle got up and, as she was composing herself, Portos noticed her
small wings. He vaguely remembered something about angels in the bedtime
stories his mother had read to Athos, and asked breathlessly, “You are an
angel, aren’t you?”
The little black creature found that very funny.
She laughed so heartily that one might have thought a thousand silver bells
were ringing. Clear and silvery, her giggle sparkled through the night.
“You are so-o-o sweet,” she said in her little voice. “No, I’m not an
angel, but I can fly!” She spread her wings gracefully, and Portos could
not see enough of her.
“What or who are you then?” Now he was a little
regretful for having focused more on eating than on studying, which is why
his level of education was only half of what it could have been, but this
angel-like creature did not mind at all.
“Have you never heard of bats?” she asked Portos.
“Nah,” Portos responded with reluctance. He was
sorry to find out that he had not met an angel.
“We are bats, and we live in the old castle tower
35 degrees south- southeast from here.”
“How can you know that precisely?” Aramis wanted
to know. He was now up because of the turmoil and discussion.
“Well, everybody knows that!” answered the little
bat. She made strange sounds that grated on the ears of Portos and Aramis,
so they held their ears shut.
“I’m sorry. I always forget to switch off my
ultrasonic system when I’m not on my way with the family.” And the little
bat babbled on. “We are a big family in that castle tower. You’ve gotta
come and visit. I have a fancy place where I hang out.”
“A wha-a-a-t?” Athos joined them and the only
thing he understood of concern to him was that someone was “hanging.”
The little visitor rattled on. “You must know that
we bats don’t live in burrows like you. We need a nice, safe, airy place.
When we sleep we hang “head over heels,” so to say, in the beams of an
attic, which is su-u-u-per! We have a full view of everything around us, so
no owl or other predator can get us there.”
“Why did you land here?” Aramis wanted to know.
“Well, I was on navigation training and lost
“Does this happen often—that you get off course?”
asked Aramis with interest. “How do you find your home then?”
Aramis thought he already had a grip on the
solution to their problem. Navigation! That’s it! Never get lost again!
“And how do you manage to find your home?” he wondered.
“Oh, that’s easy. I whistle and, from the sound
that echoes back to me, I calculate where the obstacles are. This allows me
to fly at night, without light. And my sense of direction is, well, how to
put it?—a gift I was born with.”
“Can I learn to navigate as you do?” asked Aramis.
Already he saw himself as the great navigator who would find the way for
his brothers and everyone else.
“I dunno. You would have to ask my instructors.”
Aramis eagerly asked the bat where he could find
“As I said,” uttered the little bat impatiently,
“35 degrees south-southeast. Then you can’t miss the castle tower.” Before
Aramis could get the details, she was quietly moving her wings and taking
off. Out of sheer joy she did some airborne somersaults over the heads of
the three brothers, and then she took off like an arrow. Her “See ya
later!” echoed in the air after she was gone.
Aramis was fascinated: Navigation! That could be
the solution! Portos also was fascinated: that sweet bat-girl! He was
dreaming of seeing her again. Athos did not think of navigation or love: He
was just happy they were all together and living in a wonderful home.
But that’s another story!
Aramis Tries Bat Navigation
“I’ve gotta try that!” thought Aramis. He wished
he were in the library reading more about bats and their navigation system.
This was not possible at the moment, so he decided to try what he had
learned from the little bat-girl. He squeezed his eyes shut, whistled as
loudly as he could, and walked on.
“Kaboom!” He had hit a tree. “Who said it would be
easy?” he asked himself. He squeezed his eyes closed even harder, whistled
twice as loudly, and wandered off. “Kaboom!” Again he hit something and,
before he knew what had happened, he was rolling downhill. He screamed with
fright because he did not know where this roll would take him.
Portos sprinted downhill to help his brother, but
Aramis had already landed safely—directly on Hazel-mouse Queen’s back! She
was on her evening stroll. You can guess that her comments about this
incident were neither courteous nor lofty. Anyway, she scolded Aramis,
asking, for example, what he thought he was doing, jumping at night over
little old ladies. She went on and on. Aramis was red with embarrassment.
“I ask for mercy and forgiveness, Your Majesty,”
he said with a humble voice and deep bow. “My intention was good. I never
would have dared to jump on you deliberately.”
“What business do you have being out at night
anyway? Didn’t I give you a nice burrow where you could be sleeping right
“Normally we would be fast asleep there, dear
queen,” added Portos, “if the little bat had not landed in front of our
home and been captured by the owl.”
“You are kidding me! Are you trying to tell me you
rescued the little bat?” shouted Hazel-mouse Queen unbelievingly.
“Yep,” said Portos in common language, because he
was not used to this kind of attention.
“Tell me what happened,” she demanded, and so
Portos related the whole story. When he came to the point where Aramis
tried to mimic the bat, she burst into laughter.
“You’re really something! No one has ever seen
such a thing!” She rolled in the grass, laughing. “A field mouse that
pretends to be a bat. Ha, ha, ha!”
Instead of correcting her, telling her that he was
a library mouse, Aramis held his breath. He had assumed Hazel-mouse Queen
couldn’t care less about his pedigree. “Well, boys, I need to be on my
way,” she said. “Don’t break your neck, you wannabe bat! See you!”
The night was still young, and Aramis was not in
the mood for more adventures. “Let’s go home for a good night’s rest.
Tomorrow will be another day.”
A short time later at home there was silence.
Everyone was fast asleep. Everyone?
But that’s another story!
Portos’s Night Trip
Portos tried and tried to fall asleep, but the
more he tried the more he laid awake. In his imagination he always saw the
cute face of the little bat-girl. If only he had wings to fly with her!
Just the two of them—they would sail through the night, a night dark and
full of secrets.
After tossing and turning long enough, he decided
to try to see whether 35 degrees south-southeast was the direction where
the cute bat-girl had disappeared. Silently he left the burrow, took
something with him to eat, and kept walking. At first it was easy because
the way was straight ahead, but at the first fork he had doubts. He
wondered which way to take. If only she would come to show him the way, he
thought wistfully, while around him was just the dark, impenetrable forest.
Even the stars had turned off their lights, and
the moon had hidden behind the treetops. Cautiously groping in the dark, he
took the right fork as he whistled a cheerful song to lighten his spirits.
Dawn came slowly. The early birds were waking and
chirping in their nests. Like golden fingers the first sunrays were
reaching everywhere. With daylight Portos felt better. Wistfully he thought
“I am not a bat after all!”
In the distance he saw a tower. He wondered
whether this was the very tower the girl had mentioned. He hurried because
now he wanted to see his new friend, and the sooner the better.
He did not notice the hares again entangled in
their competition, nor did he see the deer-mum with her fawn who had
entered the forest clearing to introduce her baby to the juicy grass of the
Then a shot interrupted the peaceful morning
silence! What was that?
But that’s another story!
The hares took off as quickly as they could in
several directions. Only the deer-mum froze. “My little one cannot run
fast!” she screamed in fear. “I cannot carry it. What can I do?”
She was aware that the hunter’s shot had just
missed her and that he would try again. When Portos realized what was
happening, he raced in the direction of the source of the shot. There was a
ladder, and above it was a hunter’s tree stand, and on it was a man. At
least Portos thought this was of the human species. He hurried up the
ladder. As soon as the hunter aimed the rifle to shoot, Portos slid up
inside the leg of the man’s trousers and bit deeply into his calf.
The human cursed dreadfully! “What IS this?” he
hollered. The rifle fell out of his hand and a shot went off.
Now every forest creature, even the most
unsuspecting, had been alerted. Portos dashed out of the trousers leg and
down the ladder before the hunter could grab him He looked for the
deer-mum. She obviously had escaped. There was no trace of her or the fawn.
Relieved, Portos walked on.
What a morning! He would like to share this story
with his new friend, but you know how it goes when thoughts are travelling
faster than the feet. Something unforeseen happened!
But that’s another story!
Portos stumbled and fell—directly into a big pool
“Who is that who dares step into our mud pool?”
came a sharp voice from nearby.
“Ah, never mind, I’m out of here!” Portos wanted
to say, but already he was surrounded by six four-legged, striped animals.
They looked quite funny but very aggressive, so Portos did not dare to
laugh. All six of them backed away when a huge animal with immense tusks
appeared on the scene. Portos thought that this must be a boar, the most
dangerous animal in the forest! “Oh, my!” said Portos to himself. What
would Aramis do in this situation? He racked his brain. Grisly groaning
made his hair stand on end. Never in his life had Portos been so terrified.
“I’ll show you what happens when you trespass
here! I’ll have the youngsters play with you, and then you’ll see what a
bad idea it was to come here uninvited.”
Portos closed his eyes and thought how nice it
would have been if, instead of the boars, he had met the cute little
bat-girl. He almost thought his life was over, when he heard a soft voice.
“Let him go,” said the soft voice.
Cautiously Portos opened one eye and saw the fawn.
When he opened the other eye, he saw the deer-mum, which had positioned
herself between him and the baby boars.
“Give me a good reason!” growled the boar.
“You’re still alive and your kids are still
“Ho, ho, ha, ha,” blared the boar. “Will you make
that a little less dramatic? You say that tiny thing there saved us—US—when
we are strong and invincible?”
The deer-mum was unfazed by his objections. “Did
you hear two rifle shots recently?”
“Yeah,” the boar had to admit.
“Didn’t you cancel your excursion with the kids to
the forest clearing because you realized a hunter was out there to kill
“Well, yes,” said the boar reluctantly, “but what
does ‘His Tinyness’ have to do with it?”
“Simply everything!” the deer-mum said firmly.
“‘His Tinyness’ as you call him, and ‘little hero’ as I call him,
distracted the hunter by biting his leg. That made it possible for me to
flee with my baby to a hiding place from where I was in the line of the
hunter’s fire. Lucky for you, you weren’t even there.”
“Is this true?” asked the boar in disbelieve. The
boar’s kids were looking at Portos with undisguised curiosity. So that’s
what a hero looks like? Well, they had a very different image of a hero.
“If that is true, I have to thank you” said
the boar. The boar picked up Portos cautiously with his tusks and let him
slide in the direction of his snout.
“This is the end!” Portos thought, but then he
heard a big smack, and his whole face was wet. He was enveloped by boar
breath that he thought would make him faint on the spot. After a little
eternity he was put back on the ground.
“So here you are, my little friend. With this boar
kiss you are now a member of our herd. If you ever need help, you have the
strongest allies in the whole forest.”
“That’s wonderful!” Portos was still dizzy from
the rapid change of events. “You are most generous. May I ask a favor of
“Ask what you wish, son,” the boar said
“I need to go to the old castle tower to visit
“Well,” said the boar, “it’s not exactly my
favorite place because it’s hart turf there, and we often get into quarrels
with them. Anyway, just for you I’ll do it.”
He whistled shrilly and immediately the baby boars
cowered in the grass. “You stay there until I get back, understand? Don’t
even move a muscle!”
“Come on, Portos, jump on my back and we’ll be
Portos held on by the boar’s neck hair. Phew, what
a smell! He decided to wash himself regularly and to teach his brothers to
do the same.
Breaking into a gallop they raced through the
What an exciting journey, and it wasn’t over yet!
But that’s another story!
After they had been running through the forest for
quite some time, the boar abruptly took a sharp turn so that Portos almost
fell off his back. Then he stopped cold. “Harts!” he gasped. “I don’t want
to meet them! The last time we had quite a nasty brawl.”
Portos looked over the boar’s head and saw two
huge deer. The larger one was grinding its powerful antlers on the bark of
an old oak tree.
“Oh, no!” the boar sighed. “This is going to take
some time.” He slowly backed out of the thicket where he had taken cover.
“The hart has to get rid of his old antlers so that new and bigger ones can
grow in their place. That takes too long, so let’s take a little detour.”
“Why does the other deer have no antlers?” asked
Portos. “Ha! You silly little thing!” laughed the boar. “That’s the hind,
the female hart. A hind doesn’t have antlers.”
“Ah,” said Portos, “I’ve learned something new,”
but he decided to ask his brother what a “hind” was because he did not want
to appear ignorant. After they had zigzagged through the forest (somehow
deer seemed to be everywhere), they reached a large forest clearing.
In the middle of the clearing was an enormous
tower. A steep wooden staircase led to a panorama platform.
“Could you please wait for me?” Portos asked
shyly. “I’m afraid that otherwise I would never find my way home again.”
“Of course!” said the good-natured boar. He
dropped on his side and minutes later was sound asleep, a deafening snoring
filling the air.
Portos felt quite uneasy. Here he was, where he
had longed so much to be. Now he had second thoughts. What if the cute
little bat-girl was not pleased at all to see him here? What would her
family say when he, a library mouse, came to see them?
But that’s another story!
Portos and the Bats
He took a deep breath, composed himself, and
nimbly climbed the steps. From the platform there was a magnificent
panoramic view across the whole forest into the lovely valley, but Portos
was not paying attention to the beauty of nature. Now he was climbing the
steep and winding wooden stairs inside the tower. It was dusty, and cobwebs
were swaying in the morning breeze. After he reached the top, he stopped
and gasped for air. So, this is her home; this is where she lives.
He whistled in a low tone: no reaction. He
whistled again: still no response. He looked around and could not see any
bats. Where could the little one be? The next moment he heard a faint
“achoo!” Someone had sneezed, and from high above. He bent his head
backwards and looked up into the beams of the attic. In the dark roof truss
he saw shadows. Could they be bat shadows? He decided to whistle one last
time. He gave his warning whistle, as it was the loudest whistle he could
He should not have done that. Like a swarm of
bees, hundreds of bats mobbed poor little Portos. When all had finally
landed, an impressive gigantic bat stepped forward. “Who dares to disturb
us?” he asked harshly.
“I do.” Portos was surprised and timid, and his
voice could hardly be heard. “Your Majesty, please accept my apology. I did
not want to wake up your whole colony.”
The big bat was disdainful and snorted: “What
makes you think you are welcome? How can you dare to rob the whole camp of
our well-deserved sleep? We should tie you up and have you hang for hours
in our company so that you learn to respect the quiet time of other creatures.
How would you like that?”
“Please, no, I pray,” came a silvery-soft voice
from the back. “I’m sure this friendly mouse-boy wanted just to visit. He
had no way of knowing we sleep in the daytime.”
“So?” ranted the huge bat, already a little milder.
“And who would this little mouse-boy want to see?”
“Daddy, he wants to see me, I guess. He saved my
life yesterday when I was captured by the owl. I was already in its talons,
and this boy, Portos, played a trick on the owl and rescued me.”
Like an angel—at least Portos saw it that way—the
little bat-girl was gracefully sailing from the beams.
Her father was very happy to hear that, and there
was a big grin on his face. “So you’re the brave young man who saved my
sweet little daughter’s life? Then I forgive you the untimely visit, but we
must sleep now. Please come back at midnight. We invite you to join us for
Now Portos had to decline. “Thank you for the
invitation,” he said politely and with a perfect bow, “but I’m afraid I
can’t find transportation at night, and it’s too far to walk all the way.
We, that is, my brothers Aramis and Athos, and I, live in a little burrow
in the hazel-mouse queen’s district right between the rye fields.”
“Fine,” said the bat-dad. “I know where that is. We’ll
go to visit you instead. Would midnight be acceptable?”
Portos swallowed hard. He had no idea how to
explain to his brothers this midnight invitation. “Yes,” he said, because
he had to see that cute little girl again. “We look forward to your visit.”
Secretly he was wondering whether his brothers would be as pleased as he
He made a deep bow in front of both the demanding
bat-dad and his lovely daughter and darted down the stairs to the outer
wall of the tower. He felt as if he had grown wings!
He woke the boar, who took him right back home.
Portos wanted to tiptoe inside, but Aramis and Athos were already waiting
for him. The two had waited for him anxiously and looked at him
“Would you be so kind as to explain where you’ve been?”
Aramis demanded. “It’s now the middle of the day, and you’ve been out all
“Yes,” chirped Athos in a timid voice. “You can’t
just disappear like that. I was dying of grief. I was afraid that you had
gotten lost.” The thought of it made him sob again, and big tears were
running down his cheeks.
Portos had not thought of that. He was sincerely
contrite. “I did not want to frighten you guys,” he said, “but I could not
sleep, and so I went to visit the little bat I rescued last night.” He saw the
surprised expression on his brothers’ faces.
“You did WHAT?” asked Athos.
“You were WHERE?” asked Aramis. “How did you get
He told his breathless, attentive brothers about
his nighttime adventures: the hunger, the deer-mum and her fawn, the herd
of boars, what had happened, and how he was admitted into the boar herd.
“And you say the big boar carried you himself?”
Aramis could hardly believe it.
“Yep,” said Portos coolly. “That’s what he did!”
“Wow, you’re something!” said Aramis. “I’m really
proud of you.” Never in his wildest dreams would he have thought that his
younger brother would make it through such a dangerous adventure. “Come on
in!” he said. “Let’s catch some winks to make up for the short night.”
Portos had no objections. Within another minute
all three of them were sound asleep, but the next adventure was already on
But that’s another story!
They had not been asleep very long before the
whole den was rumbling and shaking. The brothers jumped off their straw
beds. What an incredible racket! The noise and rumbling seemed to move back
Athos was shaking, beside himself with fear. He
screamed, “I can’t stand this! It has to stop!”
“I’ll go and look outside,” said Aramis, but that
was easier said than done. The main entrance to their home was buried under
rubble. He raced to the first emergency exit, but there was no exit
anymore. The plug to the third exit was missing, and he could see outside.
When he looked around he stopped breathing. What is this? The rye was gone.
Only short stubs showed where yesterday the grains had been dancing in the
wind. On the other side of the field was a big red monster with big wings.
It was roaring and moving in his direction. With shaking hands he secured
the plug in the exit and ran back to his brothers. Portos held Athos
tightly and kept his eyes and ears shut.
“I don’t know what it is” he yelled over the
noise, “but it looks bad! Outside is a huge, roaring monster running over
the rye field and destroying everything.”
“Don’t tell our little one about it!” Portos
replied. “Otherwise he’ll panic even more. I think it’s best if we stay
here and wait. After all, the beast is too big to come in.”
Aramis thought that Portos had a good point and
wondered why he had not drawn the same conclusion.
After endless hours of rumbling and shaking, the
sun went down and the noise subsided. They heard human voices, and then all
“Come on, let’s go outside for a look!” said
Aramis to Portos, but Athos protested. “No, I’m not staying here by myself.
I’m afraid the noise might come back.”
“Okay, chicken,” sighed Portos, “have it your
They had a lot of work to do to dig the entrance
free. When they finally came to the surface, they were surprised. There
were no stalks of rye where the field had been, just stubble, and a whole
armada of field mice and hazel-mice, led by Hazel-mouse Queen, were picking
up leftover grains.
„“Good evening, Your Majesty.” Aramis greeted her
with a respectful bow, hoping she had forgotten the recent incident.
“Please, can you explain what that noise was?”
Hazel-mouse Queen was puzzled. “You mean you’ve
never heard of harvesting?”
“Um, not really,” Aramis had to admit.
“Well, then, let me tell you: When the rye is
mature, humans come with big machines to harvest the grain. They cut it
with a combine harvester and take it away, but many grains drop in the
process. We glean all the grains left behind so that we have a supply for
wintertime too, but we have to be fast, before the crows come and eat
“Then we must hurry.” Aramis raced back and forth
in and out of the burrow with his brothers and fetched the big leaf they
had used to carry the acorns and beechnuts. They piled the grains on the
leaf, but, alas, when they tried to pull their harvest into the den, they
lost most of it.
In the same moment Portos was struck by an awful
thought. “I’m sorry. I guess it’s my fault this beautiful leaf has two big
holes in it. I wanted to pretend to be a dangerous animal to scare away the
owl, and that’s why I bit two big holes in it for eyes. I’m glad it worked,
that the owl let go of the little one, but I’ll get you another leaf.”
“Well, let’s see where to find another one,” said
Portos was dead tired from that stressful yet
wonderful day, but he understood that it was his task to get a new leaf. He
was lucky that just around the first corner he found acanthus leaves as big
as umbrellas. Quickly he bit through the juicy stem of one leaf, spat out
the bitter juice, and grabbed the biggest one with his teeth and pulled it
to the field. The new leaf was perfect. In no time they transported so many
grains of rye into their pantry that they were well supplied for the
winter. As soon as the work was done, the brothers dropped on their straw
beds and immediately fell asleep. Sleep—deep, wonderful sleep.
Oh, Portos had forgotten to tell his brothers
something really important!
But that’s another story!
Just past midnight there was a roaring sound like
a big storm approaching. Hundreds and hundreds of bats darkened the moonlit
sky. The moon could no longer even be seen. With cheerful chirping and
cheeping, they landed in happy anticipation in front of the Mausketiers’s
home. The chief bat walked up and down in front of the entrance.
“I don’t understand why they don’t come out. We
had made arrangements for a visit,” he reasoned.
“Don’t get upset, Dad. I’ll go into the den and
wake them. I guess they’re sleeping,” said Portos’s little friend.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” said the bat-dad, shaking his
head. “How can a creature sleep on a night like this?”
The little bat pressed her wings tightly against
her body so that she would not get stuck as she slid through the tiny mouse
hole into the burrow. Inside it was pitch dark, but the little bat did not
mind. She could sense everything. She found Portos and gently nudged his
shoulder: Nothing happened. Then she tried harder: Again nothing.
“Okay,” she said to herself, “I’ll wake you up
now!” She squeaked right into his ear with her ultrasound, and it worked!
It worked so well that in a split second a stunned
Portos was standing on his bed. “Who-o-o is there?” he stuttered, because
he had completely forgotten about having visitors tonight, and he could not
see anything. Slowly he found his way out of the burrow. His little friend
In the silvery moonlight he could admire the most
unusual congregation he had ever seen. Hundreds of bats sat nicely in a row
in front of the den. They had a long table filled with everything bats
like. All the bats looked quite formal, with wings pressed to chest and
long necks upright, as if they were wearing tuxedos. Over all a group of
glowworms illuminated the fairytale scene. Portos was overwhelmed. His hand
grasped his friend’s little hand.
“This is fantastic!” he whispered. “It’s
incredible that you’ve all come to see us. Is the party for us?”
“Yes, isn’t that great?” beamed the little
bat-girl. My dad wants to thank you.”
Portos was touched. “I’ll go inside to get my
Aramis and Athos staggered sleepily out of the
den. What they saw was more than they could have ever imagined in their
In row after row the bats waited for their honored
guests to arrive so the party could begin. The cricket came and played her
favorite songs of the last season. The forest animals joined one by one
when they heard that there was a big party going on. They were invited, and
everybody had a ball! This was the party that would be the talk of the
forest for generations.
With the first rays of the sun, the party was
over. The little bat-girl kissed Portos softly on the cheek—at least he
thought it was a kiss, or maybe she had just sniffed him as is mouse
custom. Anyway, Portos was happy.
With the same roar with which they had arrived at
night, the huge bat colony disappeared at dawn.
“Let’s go back to sleep,” suggested Aramis.
“Yes, I’m dead tired,” mumbled Athos, as he curled
up in his cozy nest and fell asleep.
Portos was too excited to sleep. He said, “I’ll
stay outside a while. It’s such a beautiful morning.” Besides that he
wanted to find a way to see the cute girl again. With all his daydreaming
he fell into a sound and deep sleep, until he was very rudely awakened.
But that’s another story!
Suddenly he was hit by a big raindrop, then
another, another, and another. Like a torrent now, the water was pouring
from the gray sky. Portos crawled into the den and pulled the big leaf,
camouflage and front door in one, over the mouse hole and dropped on his
bed. Then he fell right to sleep.
Aramis was dreaming. He dreamed that the beaver
was trying to teach him to swim. He swallowed water and puffed and blew as
hard as he could, until he was wide awake the next moment and noticed that
this was real. There was water everywhere.
“Athos, Portos,” he yelled, “we’ve got to get out
of here! There’s water all over!”
Never had the brothers gotten up as fast. They
were stemming against the water that made a little torrent into their home.
They reached the entrance. The entrance leaf was gone!
“You forgot to put the leaf on the hole!” Aramis
confronted Portos furiously.
This was unfair. He fought back. “No!” he yelled.
“I did put the leaf on the hole. I’m absolutely positive.”
“Well, then, the wind probably took it,” shrugged
Aramis, but he could not believe it.
This was a full-blown rainstorm indeed. Water was
splashing into their faces, and their fur was soaking wet. Athos started to
“Wah, I want my mum! I can’t stand this!” bawled
Athos at the top of his lungs.
His brothers grabbed him on either side and got a
big leaf and held it as an umbrella over him. He calmed down at last.
“What do we do now?” asked Aramis, and Portos
said, “I wish this rain would just stop.”
But that’s another story!
“You’re kidding,” said a fine voice just in front
of them. In the moss sat a little creature looking up at the three
soaking-wet brothers. “I wait all the time for it to rain so that it will
be easier for me to work through the soil.”
Surprised, the brothers looked at this funny rosy
creature coiling and sliding in the mud and obviously crawling above and below
Athos was fascinated. “Who are you, and what are
you doing here?” he asked with curiosity.
The little earthworm was talkative. “I create
fertile soil,” he boasted, “and my name is earthworm because I live in the earth. In other places I am
called rainworm because I love
the rain. Call me what you want.”
“Do you know how long it’s going to rain?” Aramis
asked. “Our den has some serious water damage and, if this goes on and on,
we’re going to lose our home.”
“Oh, this rain can go on for a while. If your
place is getting wet, then you must close it better. Wait! I’m going to do
something. Is that the entrance?” In an abrupt motion he spat a load of
soil next to the entrance. Put a new leaf on the hole, and put the fresh
dirt on top of it. Then the leaf can’t fly off in the storm. I’ll make more
good soil. Then the entrance will be closed securely.”
Said. Done. Like a little shovel excavator, the
earthworm brought load after load. When there was finally a little mound of
soil on the hole, the earthworm said proudly, “Finished!” Indeed the water
had found a way around the mound and did not run into the burrow anymore.
“How can we thank you, dear earthworm?” Aramis
“Oh, never mind. It’s always good to make friends.
We’ll see each other and, who knows, maybe I’ll need your help one day.”
After saying this he dived directly into the ground, wiggled his heinie,
and was gone.
The brothers sat under a big toadstool and tried
to figure out how to secure their home against the forces of Mother Nature.
The rain had stopped, and every breath of wind sent some big drops down
from the treetops. Slowly the sun was rising over the horizon.
“Let’s see what other animals are doing,” said Aramis,
and Portos cheered because he was getting bored just sitting there.
They went on their way alongside the forest,
chatting and giggling, which was better than waiting for the rain to stop.
They had already been gone a while (they were actually playing out the
scene of the hare and the groundhog), when Portos was stopped abruptly as
he ran over a little hill. “Please! Not another adventure“, he pledged...
But that’s another story!
In the next moment more than a thousand creatures
were crawling all over him.
“You get out of here! Or do you want to be served
as breakfast to our queen?”
“No! Hel-l-lp!” yelled Portos, because the little
attackers had started to spit acid.
Portos jumped to his feet and tried to shake
off the little armada of ant soldiers. Meanwhile Athos and Aramis came to
see why Portos was screaming.
“Oh, I have to apologize for the clumsiness of my
younger brother,” Aramis said in his most amiable voice. He had just
remembered that he had read in his mother’s book about ants that they were
exceptionally brave soldiers. He did not want any argument with them. “We
have come to ask whether if would be possible to have an audience with your
queen. Would you be able to arrange that for us?”
“Are you dreaming?” objected the ant colonel. “You
can’t just stop by and talk to our queen!”
The queen overheard the exchange. As she was still
a young and inexperienced queen, she held curiosity higher than dignity.
She could not help but climb out of the ant fort to see these interesting
intruders. The colonel was snorting in disgust because his queen’s behavior
was not befitting her royal status, but his power was limited.
Aramis and Athos bowed deeply, just as they had
seen in the books about royalty, but the ant-queen was more amused than
“I apologize that I cannot invite you in, as my
thousand children are asleep inside,” she said in a friendly tone.
“I ask for your apology,” stuttered Portos,
thoroughly embarrassed about his fall on the anthill.
“Bah, that can be fixed. I have personnel for
that,” she said airily, “but, tell me, what is your reason for coming?”
Aramis stepped forward, made a deep bow, and said,
“Would you be so kind as to tell me, Your Majesty, how you protect your
people and yourself from the rain?”
“Well,” said the ant-queen, a bit disappointed
because she had expected questions on substantial political issues. “My
workmen do that. Right now they are inside repairing the pantry and
With a gracious movement of her filigree front
legs, she gave the sign to her colonel to send for some workmen. “How do we
make our fort weatherproof?” she demanded to know.
The workman raced off for the construction
manager. This one was very flattered that His Highness, the queen, wanted
to discuss such a mundane thing as weatherproof construction with him.
“Well, basically,” he started and rattled on and on about which exits and
entrances had to be constructed in a certain way, and so on, and so forth.
When the construction manager had to gasp for air,
Aramis interrupted him. “Thank you very much,” he said, impressed. “You are
most knowledgeable in construction. Could you please take a look at our
entrance? Water is getting into our home when it rains.”
“Hmmm,” the construction manager said, rubbing his
chin. “I’ve got to see it before I give any advice. If you take me along….”
“Of course,” said Portos, because he was the one
in charge of transporting passengers, be they as little as this
So they said goodbye to the ant-queen and ran
home. The construction manager had made himself comfortable on Portos’s
coat. Would this helper be able to fix the problem?
But that’s another story!
The Ant Construction Manager
As soon as they arrived, the brothers told the ant
construction manager about the problem with the rain and about how the
little earthworm had given them emergency assistance. The manager crawled
around the little mound of dirt the earthworm had piled up over the
entrance’s leaf cover.
“So this is how he tried to fix it? This is really
different.” Then he turned to Aramis: “Are you the one responsible for
Aramis was surprised. “We decide and do everything
together,” he answered. They had never even considered who would be
responsible for what.
“Ha! How can you find a good solution if there is
no expert in charge?”
Aramis had never seen it that way. “We’re capable
of the same things,” he objected, but the ant construction manager did not
“How can anyone live without a defined mission?
Well, you must know yourself.” Then he started to drill a tiny hole in the
mound over the entrance leaf and slipped inside.
The brothers were baffled.
“Boy, he’s quite a snob. Hopefully he’s as good as
he pretends to be,” said Portos skeptically.
After a while he came back. “It’s as bad as I
thought it would be after I heard your story,” he said sternly. “You have
to move out. The pantry got wet, so all your supplies will rot. Your sleeping
areas are soaking wet, and so are the straw beds. You can use the emergency
exits only when the weather is nice.”
Aramis, Portos, and Athos were shocked that it was
so bad! “Can’t we dry out the place and weatherproof it?” implored Aramis.
“It’s such a perfect location.”
“Well, nothing is impossible,” said the ant
construction manager. “It will be a lot of hard work. Actually there are
two possible solutions, one short term and one long term. First, you’ll
have to make everything rainproof and dry out the burrow. You can achieve
that by digging several small exits to create a steady airflow. To shelter
it against the rain, you’ll have to put a really big leaf on the entrance.
To secure it maybe you could ask the earthworm a second time for his help,
but I’m not convinced yet that this is a good idea because it’s best to
have an easy entrance and exit.”
The brothers saw immediately that he was right.
Portos no longer fit easily through the narrowed hole at the main entrance
since the earthworm waterproofed it.
“What’s the second option?” Aramis asked full of
hope, because digging several exits was not exactly his favorite pastime.
“I need to discuss this with our Her Majesty, but
if you again grow plants with big leaves around your home, you would have
shelter from the rain, plus no one would see you. If the queen agrees, I
think we could provide you with seeds. All you would need then to keep the
water out and to keep you safe is a small retainer wall.”
“This is helping us a lot!” said Aramis,
impressed. “We’re going to try part one immediately, to dry out the burrow
and to prevent more water from getting in. Part two will take at least a
year, I guess, because it takes time for seeds to grow.”
“You’re right on that one!” The ant construction
manager was really impressed. He was convinced he was dealing with a highly
competent and educated mouse. “Astonishing,” he thought. They have no
community structure at all, but they are very smart. “Could I please have a
ride back?” he asked politely. “I have to see that everything is all right
in my home district.”
Portos, accompanied by his brothers, carried the
construction manager home. After dropping him off at the entrance to the
anthill, they thanked him and assured him that they would always be
grateful. The manager promised he would talk immediately to the queen about
the seeds and, if she agreed, they could count on a delivery soon.
Now came the hard part for the three brothers.
They did what the construction manager had suggested. There were several
really stressful days filled with backbreaking work: digging new holes for
air circulation, putting the supplies in the sun to dry and putting them
back in the pantry, and getting fresh straw for their beds. Then the work
was finished and the Mausketier home like new. Everything was perfect,
until one fine day there was new trouble.
But that’s another story!
It was already close to midday when Aramis was
tickled by sunrays reaching into the den. This was unusual because, with
the new door (pardon me, the leaf) on the entrance, this is exactly what
should not happen. Usually the leaf would keep the sun out. Aramis ran to
the main entrance, but to his surprise the big leaf that was supposed to
shelter the entrance was gone!
Bright sunshine was illuminating the peaceful
countryside. Everybody was minding his own business: The bees were humming,
the cricket was rehearsing a new piece of music, the larks were jubilantly
flying high in the sky. Everything was fine, except that the leaf had
Aramis ran into the burrow and woke Portos.
“That’s impossible!” he groaned, when Aramis told
him what had happened.
All this woke up Athos. Hearing that the
protection for the entrance had disappeared made him afraid. “What if the
big, bad tomcat snatched the leaf because he’s out to get us?” he asked,
shaking and with teeth chattering.
“Don’t you worry!” Portos reassured his little
brother as he hugged him. “He can’t get in here and, if he comes close, I’ll
chase him off, I promise!”
They were going over and over how and why this
could have happened, but they had no clue.
“Let’s get a new leaf. With luck we can find a new
one on the forest path.” Aramis was always the one with practical sense.
That is how the three brothers got a new door.
The next morning Aramis did not believe his eyes.
The door was gone again! He was furious! “Who would do such a thing?” he
ranted. He asked all the other animals in the neighborhood, but no one had
Again the brothers went out and got a new door,
and again it was gone the following morning! Now they were at their wits’
end. Portos said, “I’ll keep watch tonight, and I’ll catch the thief!
Whoever he is, he’ll be sorry!” he threatened.
The brothers found yet another leaf door, and when
night came Portos was hiding right next to it. The night was pleasant: The
wind was still warm from the daytime; the fog moved in; and the nightingale
sang her enchanting songs. Portos started daydreaming about how good they
had it here, and before long he was sound asleep.
“You’re a brave watchman!” Aramis shouted into his
ear. Portos rubbed his eyes and in the bright daylight he could not believe
what he saw. In front of him was his brother, quite upset.
“You were in charge of seeing that the door would
not be stolen, but obviously you slept through it when someone stole the
Portos was quite embarrassed. “I’ll get a new door
by myself,” he said, hoping to calm his brother.
“I’ll be the guard tonight,” Aramis said in his
big-brother tone that overruled any objections. That night he sat down next
to the leaf, but we know how it is sometimes with good intentions. Even
before the end of the nightingale’s song, he was sleeping like a log.
Next morning - believe it or not – the dorr was
Aramis threw a fit! “What else can we do not to
lose a door every night?” he shouted, but no one had any ideas.
Athos went out to play, then came running in all
excited. “You’ve gotta come and look!” he yelled. “I saw something
strange.” In the sunlight they saw a wide, slimy track glittering in the
morning sun. It led directly from the burrow to the forest. They followed
the track, which ended directly at a funny, round thing. “What is that
thing?” asked Athos, as he hid with fear behind Portos.
That “thing” was at least as big as Athos. Portos
took a stick and knocked lightly on the object. There was a gruff moan from
inside, and a little head with eyes seemingly at the end of little antennas
peeked through the entrance of the “thing.”
“Who dares to disturb my sleep?”
The brothers were puzzled.
“Yikes! What is it?” screamed Athos, when the
thing slowly but surely started creeping in his direction.
“You must excuse me. My eyesight isn’t the best
anymore,” the entity excused herself, and came closer.
Portos, the brave knight, stepped into the path of
the creature. “Who are you?” he demanded to know in a harsh voice, but the
thing just crept on. If Athos had not jumped aside at the last second, it
would have crept over him. Aramis racked his brain. Somewhere he must have
read about this creature. What was it? Then he had an idea.
“You’re not a snail with a house, are you?” Aramis
“You’ve got it, my friend. You’re a smarty,” the snail
“Your species is found normally in vineyards. How
is it that Your Highness is here in the forest?”
“That’s a long story, my boy,” the snail sighed.
“I’ve survived many adventures, and I won’t complain. I’m in paradise now.
Since I fled to this place, I’ve been finding my table laid every day.”
“O-o-oh?” Aramis said slowly. Something began to
dawn on him. “What kind of food does Your Highness prefer?”
One of the antenna eyes was turning to the edge of
the forest. “Can you see those big plants over there? The leaves are good
for me. I am old and cannot climb much anymore, so I had to wait until one
of the leaves fell so that I could eat it, but since I moved here I find a
leaf served directly in front of me every morning.
Now the mystery was solved. The brothers looked at
each other. This was a delicate situation. How should they explain to a
little old lady that she was eating their very door each night? What should
they do about it?
Athos was the first who tried to help. “Maybe we
can help you,” he said in an unusually firm voice.
“I’m listening,” said the snail. She seemed to
enjoy this unexpected conversation.
“You’re probably not aware that you’re eating our
front door every night, leaving us without protection when it rains. I
suggest that we provide you with one of the nice acanthus leaves. Then you
don’t have to take our door. When we bite through the stem, the plant
falls, and you can feast on it the whole day.”
The snail was not at all embarrassed that she had
been eating their entrance door night after night, but she liked even
better the idea of having the leaves served to her. She could even skip the
stressful way to the mouse burrow. The brothers cut down one of the
acanthus leaves, got one as a door for themselves (hopefully for the last
time), and carried it home.
“Wow, great job, Athos!” Portos praised his little
brother. “You not only detected who stole our door, but you also made the
old snail very happy. I couldn’t have done it any better.”
“Me either,” added Aramis, impressed, and put his
hand on Athos’s shoulder. “What would we have done without you? We would
have been lost.”
Athos was glowing with pride. He had just received
a real knight’s accolades.
One late Indian summer day, there was scratching
and rumbling at the outer wall of their burrow, but when Aramis, Portos, or
Athos looked outside, there was no one there. “Funny,” mumbled Portos. “I
was sure there was something out there."
Another night there was a sharp scratching noise
right on their bedroom wall. When Athos put his ear to the wall to hear
better what was going on, there was a big boom, and the wall toppled
directly beside him. He shrieked and looked aghast at a little furry
something that was standing there with paws up. It looked a little like a
mouse and a little like a tiny hare.
“Who-o-o a-a-are y-y-you?” enquired Athos,
shaking, but the intruder quickly turned around and disappeared. That made
the three brothers curious indeed. This little animal looked not at all
frightening, so they stepped through the hole in the wall, which led into a
big room. “It’s funny that we never noticed this place right next to ours,”
“You could not have noticed it before because we
just built it.” There was a voice coming from the floor below: “We just
finished construction,” he explained. “We’re expecting babies in a few
days. We’re rabbits. Rabbits are hunted by all the predators in the forest,
so we need a safe place well under ground. Athos understood that. He
remembered his encounter with the big library tomcat.
“Do you plan on staying here?” Aramis asked.
“We’ll stay just long enough to raise our litter.
Then we’ll move on.”
“Are you relatives of the hares that used to box
every morning?” asked Portos, because he was burning to know some of their
The rabbit responded, “No, they’re a little too
rough for us. We would rather have peace and quiet.”
“Well, then let’s be good neighbors,” Aramis said
The brothers marched back into their burrow and
decided to leave the hole in the bedroom wall open. They would see how good
the neighborhood would be with the rabbits. It could be that this was a
practical solution for all of them.
In the days that followed, one by one, the baby
rabbits arrived. Seven cute little “worms” they were, being fed and
nurtured by their loving mom. Some days later when they developed fur, they
began to look like miniature rabbits. After a week they could see.
The passing days and weeks were wonderful for all
of them. The little ones from the rabbit family were the best playmates
they ever had. Aramis, Portos, and Athos could not remember one day when
they were not frisky, playful, and full of pranks.
Then there came the day that seemed to prove just
how nice this neighborhood really was.
But that’s another story!
The three Mausketiers and the seven rabbits had
just invented a game. They called it “hide-and-seek.” One player, with eyes
closed until the other players had hidden themselves, was then to try to
find the hidden players. It was loads of fun! The whole morning they
rambunctiously chased each other along all the underground paths. The
rabbit parents were at their wits’ end trying to calm this rowdy bunch,
which is why they had not noticed the danger lurking outside. Suddenly
earth began to fall from the ceiling, and the whole den shook.
Puzzled and fearful, the rabbit kids stopped in
their tracks. “What is that?” they screamed, and ran to their mum in the
Mum shouted for Dad. “It must be the fox,” he
lamented. “That’s what he always does. He wants to chase us out.”
Aramis had overheard rabbit-dad and wanted to know
the details. As fast as he could, he ran to the farthest emergency exit.
What he saw made his hair stand up straight: the fox! The fox jumped high
into the air with all four legs and landed hard over and over. Now Aramis
understood why the whole burrow was shaking. If that was not enough, the
fox began to dig methodically.
“I must warn the rabbits at once,” he thought. He
raced to the rabbits’ lowest sleeping area and, panting and breathless,
said, “You’ve got to get out of here! The fox is digging right above you!”
The sound of digging came closer.
“We have no place to go!” cried the rabbit-mum
desperately. “As soon as we leave the den, the fox will have at least one
Athos, whose heart went out to this frightened
family, had an idea. “If we all dig together fast, we can make it into our
place and close the hole between us.”
The fox was really puzzled to find no rabbit
family when he reached the bottom. He did not see the little mouse hole
covered with the acanthus leaf. The rabbits were all curled up in the mouse
It took until long after the fox had disappeared
before they dared to leave the mouse den and go back to their home that had
been destroyed. The rabbit-mum was tenderly touching the noses of her
neighbors with her rosy nose. This is among rabbits the sign of the
“I’m most grateful,” she whispered, with tears in
her eyes. “Without your neighborliness, we never would have made it.”
Aramis, Portos, and Athos, who had already fallen
in love with this wonderful family, said humbly, “We think it makes good
sense to help each other, and this is knightly behavior.” They told the
astonished rabbit family everything they knew about knights and knightly
Then everyone helped repair the rabbit lodging.
All were happy to have survived this dangerous adventure. As they were
looking forward to a life of peace, life again would take a different turn.
But that’s another story!
Portos Builds An Exit
After the rabbit family had repaired their home,
Portos had what he thought would be a smart idea: a side exit just for
himself where he won’t get stuck, where he can get in and out in a flash.
Without talking to his brothers, he started digging. He thought he had done
an excellent job but, when he wanted to present his latest project to his
brothers, they were anything but pleased. It was not an exit anymore, just
a huge hole in the ceiling, leaving an open view for anyone into their
Aramis put his hands on his hips, a sign that he
was furious, and scolded, “Are you nuts, brother? That’s an invitation to
every intruder to take advantage of our food supply. If you want such a big
place, then why don’t you sleep outside?”
Portos was stunned! That was the reward for his
efforts? He tried to calm his brother and promised to make the huge hole in
the ceiling smaller. Aramis was still grumbling. “I’ll check on it tonight.
Then it will be closed. You did it. You fix it. Okay?”
Portos started right away, but it is one thing to
dig a hole in the ceiling and quite another to close it. Whatever he tried,
dirt always fell into the pantry. He got an extra large acanthus leaf,
covered his construction site, and went for help.
His first comment was to Hazel-mouse Queen. Boy,
did he have reason to regret telling her what he had done! “What were you
thinking?” This was the mildest phrase she used on him but, when she saw
how sad this little big boy was, she felt sorry for him and said, “Wait a
second! I know someone. If there is anyone who can help, he’s the one, but
he’ll be hard to find.”
With a big sigh she disappeared into the forest.
Portos sat down in the grass in front of her place and waited, and waited,
Just when he wanted to go home, Hazel-mouse Queen
returned. “It took quite some time to find him, but here he is! If there’s
anyone who can close holes in this forest, it’s Mr. Eurasian Nuthatch!”
From the nearby treetop there sailed a small,
elegant bird with gray top and red tummy feathers. He seemed to be a
“Well, let’s get right to it!” he said pleasantly.
Portos ran back home. What was that? He could no
longer see the big acanthus leaf that had covered his extra large entrance.
“The camouflage was too good,” Portos mumbled. He sniffed here and there,
but there was no sign of the leaf. He stumbled over a toppled Giant
puffball mushroom. “I don’t need this!” he said when the mushroom was
leaving yellow spores all over him.
The Eurasian nuthatch was quite amused. “Where’s
the big hole in your roof?” he enquired. “I’ve got to get back to my nest
to secure it for the winter. My wife is waiting.”
Portos was angry with himself. He kicked the
puffball, stumbled, fell, and disappeared, as if the earth had swallowed
The Eurasian nuthatch flew up, terrified. “Hey,
where are you?” Then he eyed the big hole. There sat a very unhappy Portos,
covered from ears to tail with yellowish spores.
From inside the burrow his brothers came running,
alarmed by the loud noise. “How did you get in here?” they asked, but
Portos was too furious to answer. Then he tried to climb out of the hole
but could not get a grip to pull himself up. When he thought he would just
walk through the burrow and through the main entrance, Aramis stood in his
“Stop right here!” he said sternly. You’re not
going in our house that dirty. You clean up first!” Portos had no choice.
He hastily cleaned himself as well as he could and went outside.
The Eurasian nuthatch, being in a hurry, had already
started working. He was flying back and forth. One time he had clay.
Another time he had twigs. Sometimes he had bark in his beak. Portos
watched in amazement. In no time the Eurasian nuthatch had made a small
entrance out of the big hole. He even put a little ladder into the hole.
“Do you like it?” he asked proudly. Portos
responded enthusiastically, “Yes, it’s wonderful, dear Mr. Eurasian
Nuthatch! You’ve been a great help! I’ll never forget it!”
“It’s nothing,” tweeted the little bird as he vaulted
into the skies and was gone.
“Wow, that was quite a job!” Portos said to
himself. “I deserve some time off.” He would get it but not the way he had
But that’s another story!
So much activity and work makes one hungry.
Naturally it was Portos who announced that the pantry was nearly empty.
Early the next morning the brothers decided to go to the squirrel’s food
storage place, but when Portos peeked out from the entrance, he did not
believe his eyes! It was not dark anymore, but it was not real daylight
either. A milky white veil covered everything. There were patches so thick
that one could not see the trees just feet away.
Portos ran back inside and woke Aramis, but even
Aramis had no clue what this was. Portos had no choice. If he did not want
to get lost in that thick whatever-it-was, he had to stay at home until it
disappeared, so he turned around with a grumbling stomach, hungry.
Finally daylight prevailed, but pale gray light
was still creating a fairytale atmosphere. The cabbage fields on the
horizon looked like hares cowering on the ground, and the trees and bushes
looked like monsters. It was pretty spooky. Portos could hardly see his own
paw in front of him. Now he earnestly wished that he had a built-in radar
system like bats, but he was a book-mouse after all.
He had just passed the ant hill at the edge of the
forest when he saw that everything was in a big uproar.
But that’s another story!
The Ant-Queen Is Missing
All the ant soldiers were outside dashing
hectically back and forth. The colonel, the marshal—all were searching.
When the colonel recognized Portos, he came running and, all excited,
asked, “Have you seen our queen? She’s been missing since yesterday evening.
The whole court is upset. Something like this has never, ever happened
Portos shook his head. “Maybe she just went for a
walk and got lost,” he suggested cautiously, but obviously that was the
wrong thing to say.
The colonel spat acid as a sign that he was very,
very upset. It was a good thing that Portos stepped aside before the stream
of acid could hit him. Then there was an avalanche of scoldings: “Who do
you think you are? How dare you suggest that our queen would do something
as unworthy as to run away! You know nothing about the duties of a queen,
Portos did not want to quarrel with this creature
that spit when angry, so he moved on. Suddenly he was struck by an awful
hunch. He remembered the place where Aramis had been caught by the spider.
When Portos got closer to the spot, he too almost got caught in the
spider’s web. Then he saw the ant-queen wrapped tightly, hanging beside the
spider’s net. He knew from the last time that the spider would be sitting
in the bushes. If he wanted to rescue the ant-queen, he would have to
distract the spider.
Portos climbed into another bush and from there to
a branch above the cobweb. He quickly bit off a little twig and threw it
into the web, then another one, and another one! Finally the spider came
Portos knew instinctively that this time no
flattery or bribery would make the spider free her prey, so he waited until
the spider was scolding and busily reweaving her web to repair it and throw
out the twigs.
This was the moment! Portos climbed nimbly to the
ant-queen, bit the thread on which she was dangling, took her carefully
between his teeth, and ran!
He raced as fast as he could to the anthill with
his precious cargo! The whole court was very happy to have their queen
back! In no time the strong pincers of the worker ants had cut open the
The ant-queen shook her delicate wings and bowed
graciously in front of Portos. “You have proven to be the noblest of all
knights,” she said in her sweet voice. “Without your action, Sir, I would
have been lost. As a sign of my appreciation, I now appoint you my honorary
palace officer.” She touched his shoulder. “I promise that, if you ever
need our help, just whistle, and we will be at your service.”
Portos hugged the young queen and could not wait
to get home to tell his brothers about his latest adventure. They would be
surprised at his being a real knight now. He was proud indeed!
Now everything was as it was meant to be. They had
food and shelter and got along quite well with everyone. Nothing could mar
this, or could it?
But that’s another story!
Slowly the colors of the leaves were changing to
bright gold and fiery red. The nights and mornings were quite cold. Autumn
had arrived! Aramis, Portos, and Athos were surprised that their fur was
becoming thicker so that they would not be cold when they were out at
When they were on their way to one of the
squirrel’s food caches on the bayside of the little lake, they heard honks
and cackles in the air. Looking up, they saw a V-shaped formation of huge
birds high in the sky. They were fascinated as they watched one after the
other dive and land gracefully with spread wings. Portos immediately
thought of his cute bat-girlfriend. She, too, probably would have enjoyed
watching this spectacle. While he was daydreaming he saw that one of the
birds was not well after landing clumsily. She was standing on one leg and
“What’s the matter?” Portos asked in curiosity.
“Is something wrong?” The big bird only hissed at him.
Aramis sensed that the bird must be in pain, so he
tried a different approach. “May I help you, Your Highness ?” he asked
politely and bowed deeply. There was no answer.
Athos looked more closely at the bird and noticed
that she was standing on only one leg and staggering. “Is your leg hurting
badly?” he asked with sympathy.
“How does this look? How can a broken leg heal
when you’re flying all the way to Africa? I’m hurting, hungry, and cold!
That’s the size of it!”
Here was a challenge indeed. Aramis remembered
having read a book in the library, a manual for doctors, that this
condition could be remedied by tying a little support with a blade of grass
to the broken leg to keep it in position.
“I might be able to help you,” Aramis told the
desperate bird. “I could tie a stick with a blade of grass to your leg to
keep it in proper position to heal. This would take time, but later you
could continue your journey.”
“Oh, dear, oh, dear,” lamented the bird. “Brants
always fly together. I must ask our leader if this will be possible.” She
cackled loudly, and in the next moment, a big, handsome wild goose landed
right in front of the surprised boys.
After Aramis explained his plan of treatment to the
very impressed leader, who promised to wait for his injured companion, the
Mausketiers went to work. Aramis was grateful that he had had the
opportunity to be educated and that he had learned as much as he did.
In no time at all, the leg was well supported. The
brant looked a bit odd with one leg stretched out, but at least she was
able to pick some food from the moss nearby. She decided to stay that night
near the resting place of her helpers.
Here was a wonderful opportunity for these
knowledge-hungry boys to learn more about such interesting birds. They
asked the brant about everything, such as how it looked from high above,
what countries the geese had already visited, whether there were mice like
them in Africa, if Africa was really very hot, and so on, and so on.
Portos had become very close to the proud bird.
His favorite place was sitting beneath her wings in the back, hidden in all
the feathers. He wanted to know everything about flying. He had not given
up the idea of flying with his girlfriend through the night.
After some days the leg had healed, and the brant
first attempts to fly. Portos was allowed to go
along and, like his brother with the ducks, Portos was enjoying the feeling
of boundless freedom sailing through the sky! Probably this explains what
happened after this flight
But that’s another story!
Portos Is Gone
The first snow of the year had fallen during the
night. Although the snowflakes had been licked off by the first sunrays of
the morning, the leader of the brants had become impatient.
“We’ve got to get moving!” he ranted. “If we wait,
we risk not making it across the mountains!”
Portos did not hear a word. He had fallen asleep
on his new friend’s back, cozily embedded in feathers. He did not wake up
when Aramis removed the stick from the goose’s leg or when the goose
forcefully flapped her wings and took off. He even slept through the first
hours of the flight when the wild goose was flying in formation. He woke up
only when the geese landed near a mountain lake.
At first he thought he was dreaming, so he pinched
his nose. “Ouch!” No, he was not dreaming! In front of them was a lake
shimmering like silver in the moonlight. They were surrounded by large
rocks mirrored in the water.
It was a scene of perfect beauty, but Portos did
not have eyes for it. He took a big leap from the back of his puzzled
friend and yelled as loudly as he could over the din of cackling geese:
“For goodness sake, where are we?”
The brants had not expected to see him. They were
“What are we going to do with you now?” his friend
asked in a concerned tone. She felt awfully sorry. “We can’t take you along
because you won’t live long without food, and we can’t leave you here
because you’ll freeze, starve, or both.”
Starve! He was going to starve? That was
frightfully bad news for Portos! He became desperate and asked in a little
voice, “Could you please ask your leader how I can return home?”
At first the leader was upset that this little
mouse was a stowaway passenger but, when the goose whose broken leg had
healed told him what Portos and his brothers had done for her, he became
calm and tried to find help.
“I’ll go to see the eagle,” he said. “He’s the
only one who knows if there is any chance of flying back.”
The eagle was not amused hearing of the problems
of this “little pipsqueak,” as he put it, but when he learned of the mice’s
good deeds, he said that he had a solution. He knew some cranes that had
not come by yet. He whistled shrilly—a sound that went directly into
Portos’s bones—and an hour or so later, the first crane landed.
“Could you take along the little runaway?” he
asked. “Here he would have no chance of survival.”
The crane looked half amused at the humble mouse-boy
and said patronizingly, “Get on, little runaway, and let me take you home.”
Soon Portos was on his way back, but then
something happened that he would not have occurred to him in his wildest
But that’s another story!
Portos and the crane were on their way through the
skies for quite a while when the flight became rough and bumpy. All the
while wind gusts were first pushing the crane and his passenger high in the
air, and then steeply down. Portos became concerned. He held on as tightly
as he could to the crane’s feathers and cuddled deeply into them. Finally
the crane had to yield to the severe storm and pouring rain. The crane
managed to land smoothly nearby at an old barn on an open field. The heavy
wind had pried open the wide gate, and it was flapping in the wind.
“Let’s go in there, seek shelter, and try to dry
off, until this bad weather subsides,” suggested the crane. “I’ll find
something to eat.”
There were some grains of rye on the floor. Portos
felt very hungry, so he ate as much as he could grab with both hands.
“M-m-m, that was good.” The first hunger pangs were gone. Happily he closed
his eyes, believing he could rest a while.Yet he was wrong..
But that’s another story!
“What do you think you’re doing here?” Portos was
pushed really hard back into reality. He opened his eyes and saw a huge,
angry rat standing in front of him.
He remembered that his mother, as part of his
education, had always talked about their distant relatives. More than once
she had said, “Never get into a fight with rats! Do you hear me? They can
be really tricky and dangerous.” Portos was not out for a fight—not at all!
That is why he tried his most courteous behavior,
made a deep (but slightly clumsy) bow, and stuttered: “Y-y-your Honor, I’m
Portos of the t-t-tribe of the Mausketiers, if y-y-you don’t mind.”
“Well, well,” said the rat, smoothing out his
beard spikes. “And how is it that ‘His Highness’ finds himself in this
barn?” he asked sarcastically.
“W-w-well, I landed here b-b-because the w-w-wind
was s-s-so strong that w-w-we could not f-f-fly anymore.”
“Ha! A flying mouse!” The rat grabbed the assumed
liar by one ear and started shaking him, when the crane overheard the
conversation and recognized his little passenger was in trouble.
“Leave him alone, rat!” he insisted, interrupting
the punishment. “He has flown with me. Besides, he did not offend you, did
The rat did not let go easily. “Oh, so it’s okay
for him to eat all my food, is it?” he yelled.
The crane never ruffled even one feather. “Portos
picked up some grains from the floor. You still have enough to eat, so hold
your breath! There’s enough food for all of us.”
Now the rat had no more arguments.
“Let’s get some rest,” the crane suggested. “We
still have a long way to fly.” He did not have to say that again. Portos
fell onto the nearby bundle of straw, and a minute later he was sound
The next morning, when the sun was sending its
earliest rays through the cracks in the wooden walls of the barn, Portos
woke up. He felt fresh, rested, and ready for new adventures.
The crane, standing on one leg and with his head
tucked graciously under one wing, was obviously still sleeping.
“What a funny way for a creature to sleep,” Portos
thought, and went outside. The air was cool and crisp, but the rising sun
was already warming the earth. Portos went wandering, nowhere in
particular, hoping he would find something edible. He had no desire to
discuss food with the rat again! He would not guess in his wildest dreams
what happened next.
But that’s another story!
He had just found oat grains on a recently
harvested field and started munching on them happily, when someone gently
prodded his back. He turned around and looked into a mouse face that looked
extremely familiar. This mouse looked like, somehow like…. He was thinking,
“If I had just a clue.”
“Hello, Son,” said the stranger. “What are you
doing here? You must be Portos. Your mother really misses you.”
Portos became dizzy with excitement! This had to
be his dad—the big, strong mouse-hero about whom Mum had told stories of
his foolhardy pranks!
“Daddy!” he exulted. “Why are you here? And
where’s Mum?” Suddenly he became aware of how sad his mother must be. “Are
you going to see Mum anytime soon?”
“Yes, soon,” his dad said with a boyish grin. He
whistled a little tune, and within a minute there was his mum!
What joy! Portos’s parents filled him in on what
had happened in his absence.
When mouse-dad came by in fall to visit, he found
his companion of many years devastated. Her children had disappeared! The
library tomcat must have been involved! Since the day they vanished, the
cat had not been the least communicative, which is why the mouse-parents
started to look for their boys outside the park.
“Where are Aramis and Athos?” mouse-mum was
anxious to know.
“I guess they’re at home. We live in Hazel-mouse
Queen’s territory. The crane was about to take me there, but we had to make
an emergency landing.”
“Tsk, tsk,” his father hissed in disbelief. “In my
youth one went by foot,” he frowned. “Flying!” he mocked. “I may laugh, may
I? If mice were supposed to fly, wouldn’t they have grown wings? You stay
on the ground, son! Do you hear me?”
Portos did not like that at all. He already wanted
to object, to say that, indeed, he knew a mouse with wings!
The crane came stalking across the field on his
long legs. “Excuse me Sir,” he interrupted politely and laid his head on
his neck in a sign of utmost respect. “I overheard your conversation. Are
you aware, Sir, that you have met your son here only because I brought him
here?” With that there was no further objection. The crane continued, “If
you like, I could take all three of you along, tiny as you are.”
Well, “tiny” was exactly the word the mouse-dad
did not want to hear. He exploded at the stunned crane, yelling at
the top of his lungs: “Don’t you dare to call us “tiny.” Who do you think
you are, just because you have long legs and wings? Get out of here with
your patronizing attitude!”
Mouse-Mum had listened silently to mouse-Dad’s
foolishness, but enough was enough. “Calm down,” she said softly, putting a
paw on her companion’s back. “The crane is right. We must be grateful that
we found our son this way, and when he invites us to fly along, we should
accept gladly instead of being insulting.”
The self-proclaimed mouse-chief was mortified, but
he had no arguments to counter that, so he turned and said to her and his
son: “You fly. I walk.” And that was that, or was it?
But that’s another story!
After Portos disappeared Aramis and Athos held
vigils outside so as not to miss their brother in case he came home. They
could not know about their brother’s adventures, so one morning they were
greatly surprised when a beautiful crane circled elegantly for a while
above them and then landed in front of them.
The next moment a cheerful Portos jumped out of
the crane’s feathers and onto the ground. “Hello, brothers!” he shouted and
jumped for joy. “You won’t guess who….”
In the next moment mouse-Mum slid out from the
feathers, and the crane took her carefully with his long beak and put her
gently on he ground.
“Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!” Athos was beside himself
with joy! He squeezed his mother and danced in bigger and bigger circles.
Watching this scene, Aramis found it unreal. His
mother, the one who had always told them never ever to be out in the open,
was here, in the middle of the woods! He made a perfect bow. “Mother, how
are you? How is it that you are here in this forest?”
His mother gave him a long hug. “Guess why,
smarty!” she said tenderly and gently put her snout on his. “Who wants to
live in an empty library? That’s why I went with your father to look for
you. I’m extremely happy that I have you back!”
“And where’s Dad?” enquired Aramis. “Bah, that one
had his own opinion on modes of travel!” his mother said a little
“Well, folks, it’s time for me to be going,” said
the crane. He was happy that he had safely delivered his precious cargo.
Before the mice had a chance to really thank him, some strong flaps of his
wings had taken him up into the sky. Moments later he was just a little dot
in the big, blue sky.
“Come on in, Mother!” Athos was all excited. “I’ve
gotta show you our place and have you meet our neighbors. They are so-o-o
nice!” Then one could hear only the muffled voice of Athos telling his
version of their story.
Aramis and Portos sat together outside. Portos had
to tell them all about the flight with first the brant and then the crane.
Later they compared those experiences with Aramis’s experience of flying
with the ducks. They considered themselves well-traveled mice! After all,
what other mouse could say that it had flown?
But that’s another story!
Now that there were four of them again, Mum
resumed her strict regimen. As she had read so many unhappy endings to
stories of life in the wilds, she would not let her youngsters go out
anymore. Of course the boys were not pleased, but they were lucky. The
rabbit-mum came to their aid. She told the worried mouse-mum how well her
brave sons had met any challenge.
Now she was glowing with pride! Each of her sons
had developed a special talent. Aramis was capable of transforming
theoretical knowledge he had found in books into practical knowledge.
Portos was able to do all the hard tasks (such as rescuing the boars).
Athos had proven to be an outstanding mediator and lawyer. Truly, these
were exceptional mice—her children!
In the shortest time, she had assigned everyone a
chore. Mother was managing everything perfectly. She became acquainted with
the hazel-mouse queen and soon they were dear friends. They were both a
little on the round side. As the hazel-mouse queen used to say, “What you
have on your ribs no one is going to take from you.” When winter is coming
you’ve got to have a layer of bodyfat so that you don’t freeze or starve.
That was Portos’s diet alright! He ate even more
than before, and he became so round that he could hardly fit through the
entrance anymore. He was lucky that the Eurasian nuthatch had left some
leeway. Otherwise Portos would have been forced to find another place to
During the next moon the mouse-dad suddenly
appeared on the scene, so finally the family was together again, and very
happy! Life was good, but would it stay that way?
But that’s another story!
The Beginning of Winter
Winter had just arrived from the north. The first
snowstorm was blowing over the fields, and the next morning everything was
white. Like a down blanket, the fresh snow had spread over the fields.
Everything was “as quiet as a mouse.” But listen!
Is there movement under the snow? Scratch, scritch, scratch. It’s digging
and pushing under the surface of the field close to the wayside until, with
a tiny “plop,” there is a little fountain of snow and a curious little
mouse face pops up.
“Hey, come on out! You gotta see this! It must be
“Let me see!°
Next it was mouse-Mum’s turn to see this new
scene. Indeed, everything was white, and pretty cold, too. Now the rest of
the family was popping out. Snow! Mouse-Dad was already familiar with it
and could tell them how to handle it. The mother and boys knew about snow
only in theory from books, so Dad taught them that snow was really a lot of
They were making snowballs and throwing them at
each other, making an impression of an angel in fresh snow, digging paths
under the snow, and popping up in unexpected places. Their hide-and-seek
game became even more interesting. The rabbit kids happily joined them.
No one wanted to think of hibernation, but when
the hazel-mouse queen was on the last round for the year in her territory,
she admonished every single one of them to stay inside. It was the quiet
time now, she told everyone, and they just had to wait till spring.
The Mausketiers withdrew into their burrow and
were telling each other about past little and big adventures, when after a
short time one could hear distant snoring in every pitch.
Then the unthinkable happened! Outside dark gray
and black clouds had piled up. From the south a warm weather front was
crashing into black, cold clouds laden with snow. The result was a severe
winter thunderstorm. It was growling and thundering, and the earth shook!
A bit of dirt fell from the ceiling and woke
Athos. He jumped up and in panic raced outside! At that moment a bright
flash of lightning illuminated the scene. The snow was gleaming, and the
sky was fiery. Athos was out of his mind with fear!
He ran. He ran as fast as he could, screaming and
yelling. He ran until he lost his strength, and then fainted. Could he ever
make it back home?
But that’s another story!
The Magic Forest
When he woke up after quite a while, he looked
around and had no idea where he was. He was paralyzed with fear.
Suddenly something that he had taken for a mossy
stone moved. He turned around and looked into the most loving eyes he had
“Who are you?” asked a friendly voice.
Before Athos was able to answer, a brilliant flash
flared up and deep, roaring thunder interrupted the beginning of a
conversation. Athos screamed!
“Can I help you?” the friendly voice asked.
“I’m Athos, and no one can help me,” he sobbed.
“Last summer I ran away with my brothers from the library in the castle,
and now it’s winter. I’m lost and have no idea where to find Mum, Dad, and
my brothers. Wa-a-ah!”
“Poor little one. Get under my mushroom umbrella
and tell me everything, won’t you?” said the toad.
By the time Athos had finished, the thunderstorm
had subsided. Suddenly everything was bathed in beautiful, colorful,
“Wow! What kind of a wonderful glow is that?”
Athos asked breathlessly. Such a beautiful thing he had never seen in all
his life and not even in all the fancy library books.
“That’s a rainbow,” smiled the toad. “It’s your
lucky day. You’re sitting at the end of a rainbow, and that means you can
make a wish.”
Athos was dizzy with excitement. “W-w-what
sh-sh-should I ask for?” He wrinkled his forehead and thought about it.
At first he wanted to wish that there would be no
more thunderstorms but decided that was silly.
Then he thought that a magic carpet would be
something nice to have. After all, his brothers had already experienced
flying. He was the only one who had missed out. Then he thought that a
flying carpet without his brothers would be no fun. His brothers! That was
“I want my brothers here,” he said.
“Be careful of what you wish for,” said the toad.
“If you bring them here, it might very well be that you will never find
your way out of the magic forest.”
“I’m in the magic forest?” Athos asked in disbelief.
He wondered how he got here.
“You were so afraid and unhappy. You had fainted.
That’s why I picked you up and brought you here. Don’t be afraid. I’ll see
that you are well here, but now, what do you really want with all your
“I want to be with my brothers and I also want to
be with my mum and dad.” The thought that he might be forced to decide to
be either with his parents or with his brothers made him cry.
“Why should you not be able to make that wish?”
asked the toad. She in fact was a good fairy. Just say three times,
‘I want to be with my parents and my brothers.’ Then this wish will come
Athos took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and
said with deep feeling:
“I want to be with my parents and brothers.
I want to be with my parents and brothers
I want to be with my parents and brothers.”
Before he could thank the toad, everything around
him was dark. The air was filled with the smell of old books. He felt his
brothers on either side. They were sound asleep. When he cautiously opened
one eye, he saw that both parents were at his side.
“Athos, little one,” his mother said in a soft
voice. “You must have had very exciting dreams. I think it’s because you
read too many adventure stories.”
“Oh, Mum,” whispered Athos, “if you only knew.”
Then he turned over and a minute later was sleeping blissfully.