Learn about European Naturopathic Healing Methods







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 there?”


“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 snow?”


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 time.


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 yummy breakfast.


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,

F-f-fryingpan, or Ha-ha-hamburger!”


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 noble mouse-son.


“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 happened.


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 park.


“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:




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 repeated.”


Then the three brothers went to find a suitable hiding place.


But that’s another story!




House Hunting


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!




The Frog


It was a fortunate coincidence that a frog came hopping along.


“I’m pleased to meet you, Your Highness,” said Aramis.


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?”


“Oh, croak, why yes,” the frog responded delightedly. “I know a fine place, croak, for you lads. Come, follow me.”


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.


“There, croak, 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.


Croak, 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 and disappeared.


The three mouse-brothers were back where they started, but they were determined to find a good home.


But that’s another story!




The Crow


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 the crow.


“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 it!”


Would they really find their dream home in the woodpecker’s tree?


But that’s another story!




The Woodpecker


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 lodging.


But that’s another story!




The Cricket


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 terribly frightened.”


“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 while thinking.


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 real

mouse-house. How does it look inside? Would they like it?


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 was gone!


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 find food.


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 them.




But that’s another story!




Summer Morning


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 for cover.


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 defend us!”


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 THAT?


But that’s another story!




The Hares


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 protect you.”


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 like Mum.


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 you?”


“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 hedgehog.”


“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?”


Aramis nodded.


“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 help.


“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!




The Quail


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 fast!”


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 us!”


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 Beaver


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 same.”


“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 that?


But that’s another story!




The Ducks


“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! Jump off!”


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 another.


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 asked diffidently.

“After all, we have to find food for three of us—and soon!”


“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 easy task.


But that’s another story!




The Squirrel


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 hidden food!


“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 Thunderstorm


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 the earth.


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 this thunderstorm!”


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!




The Caterpillar


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 bitterly.


“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!




The Butterfly


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 beautiful butterfly.”


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 breeze.


“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 lost.


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 their adventures.


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!




Three Pathfinders


“What’s up?” asked Portos when he saw that his brother was lost in thought. Usually Aramis was the talkative one in the family.


“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 more curious.


“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 Spider


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 running.


“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 asked sarcastically.


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 pointedly.


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 beautiful spider!


“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 mice?”


“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 you free.”


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 bush.


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!





The Bat


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 peaceful.


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 track.”


“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 these “instructors.”


“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 now?”


“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 meadow.


Then a shot interrupted the peaceful morning silence! What was that?


But that’s another story!




The Hunter


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!




The Boars


Portos stumbled and fell—directly into a big pool of mud.

“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 alive!”


“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 you?”


“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 you?”


“Ask what you wish, son,”  the boar said jovially.


“I need to go to the old castle tower to visit someone.”


“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 faster.”


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 forest.


What an exciting journey, and it wasn’t over yet!


But that’s another story!




The Deer


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 make.


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 supper.”


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 was.


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 reproachfully.


“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 night.”


“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 there?”


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 their doorsteps.


But that’s another story!




The Harvest


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 and forth.


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 was silent.


“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 way.”


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 them.”


“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 Aramis.


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!




Midnight Visitors


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 followed him.


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 brothers.”


Aramis and Athos staggered sleepily out of the den. What they saw was more than they could have ever imagined in their wildest dreams.


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!




The Rain



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 panic.


“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!




The Earthworm


“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 ground.


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 bowed deeply.


“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!




The Ants


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 impressed.


“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 sleeping chambers.”


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 construction manager.


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 construction?”


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 agree.



“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!




The Snail


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 disappeared!


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 seen anything.


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 door again.”


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 gone again.


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 asked.


“You’ve got it, my friend. You’re a smarty,” the snail answered.


“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.




New Neighbors


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,” said Aramis.


“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 tricks.


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 warmly.


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 Fox


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 lowest nook.


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 of us!”


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 house.


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 greatest appreciation.


“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 court life.


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 pantry.


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, 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 no-nonsense fellow.


“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 him.


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 way.


“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 in mind.


But that’s another story!




The Fog


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 before!”


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, do you?”


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 prancing along.


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 spider’s web.


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!




The Brants


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 night.


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 whining.


“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 made her

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 all puzzled.


“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 imagination.


But that’s another story!




The Storm


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!




The Rat


“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 he?”


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 asleep.


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!




The Father


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!




The Mother


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 snappishly.


“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!




Daily Routines


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 live!


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 snow!


“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 fun.


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 ever seen.


“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, magical light.


“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 it!


“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 heart?”


“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 true.”


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.




The End