Title art by René Milot. Click image to visit his studio.
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John Lanchbery “The Mouse Waltz”
As the lion brave ventured forth into the castle grounds, a feeling of absolute calm rushed over him.
All at once, his deep wounds appeared to heal, as though the courtyard was a balm in itself.
He had been led to this place by an excitable mouse, whom he had happened upon many moon cycles passed.
Having sustained tremendous injuries during a lengthy battle to overcome the demons in his own shadow wake, the lion brave had been left in a highly weakened state.
His burnt amber fur, ordinarily lustrous, had faded considerably.
Matted with coagulated blood, sweat and the tears of great sorrow, it sat uncomfortably upon his ivory bones, almost as though detached entirely from a frame now decidedly sunken in stature.
The excitable mouse had rallied around him tirelessly, unperturbed by his long talons or razor sharp incisors.
The battlefield was reportedly no place for such a miniscule creature. However, this was no tame shrew, and neither was she under any misapprehension as to precisely what to do.
In a moment, she scurried from deep within a pile of crisp fallen leaves to his right and took up position by the big cat’s side.
This alone could have been considered a courageous act, but the fact that she transported a hefty wedge of cheese on her back suggested the mighty heart beating in her tiny little chest.
Placing it down before the lion, she found just enough time to polish the prize with her tongue, before playfully squeaking
“catch you later, undertaker”
and heading back to whence she came.
Carnivorous he may have been, but the lion also possessed a hankering for suchlike dairy produce, and the hunk of cheese in question appeared exceedingly well matured and almost certainly heralded from the highlands.
Food was particularly scarce around these parts; the buzzards had made sure of that. Thus, this sweet unselfish gesture and show of solidarity meant the world to the lion. For he was only too aware that rogue pieces of cheese weren’t in the habit of showing up, under one’s snout.
Besides, it really was the most delightful snack, and instantly his grumbling tummy fell silent as he set upon savouring every last morsel.
He would have polished it all off too; had it not been for a new feeling in his belly. One of warmth and gratitude.
The stomach of a sizeable creature such as this was a great number of times more spacious than that of a mouse that would fit snugly inside one’s breast pocket.
Their hearts, on the other hand, were evidently of the very same diameters. Larger than life and brimming with both kindness and brave.
“One kind act deserves another” said the Lion, to which his timid audience peeked back out from beneath the late autumnal brush.
“This really was very tasty indeed. Alas, I fear I may be full up. Would you care to join me little friend?”
One solitary squeak spoke a thousand words as the mouse scampered back into his proximity and tucked into the remaining cheddar.
Filling her pouches until it appeared she may topple over from the excess baggage, she felt none of the fear or trepidation customary when approaching such a towering unknown.
For she knew the lion would forevermore protect her honour. And there happened to be a distinct reason for her calculations.
“Follow me… ” she suggested, mindful of the fact that a single one of the lion’s lengthy strides would equate to a hundred of her own.
“… and try to keep up, slowcoach”
He grinned widely, as did she, and the pair headed off on the long quest back to her homelands.
Each time her little legs grew weary, the lion offered her a spot in his mane. From here, she could play master and commander, steering the vessel away from any potential hazards along the way.
Likewise, when the still wounded lion began to show signs of flagging, she hopped to the same vantage, from where she could reassure him that everything was going to be just fine.
By the time the lion brave arrived at the castle grounds, even the deepest wounds he had dressed were starting to heal over.
The mouse however had reached unheard of levels of anticipation as she knew full well what was awaiting beyond the iron door.
All the cheese a lion can eat? mused the lion. Yet, nothing could prepare him for the sight about to grace his wide eyes.
As the mouse tugged on the rusted latch, with a strength uncharacteristic for one so minute, and a dense beam of light flooded out to greet them, the lion instantly felt full strength returning.
On the other side, approaching from the rear of the entrance hall, was a figure of handsome stature.
Quite clearly a brave, with the very same blue blood circulating his veins, the lion knew in half of a heartbeat that he had returned to a long lost brother in arms.
Many cycles passed, the two had stood side by side upon uneven ground and protected one another’s honour. Indeed, the mouse had been very much present too.
“I would like you to meet Sir Bernie” squeaked mouse.
“… or as I call him, my Bernielion”
It took every ounce of failing composure not to squeak also, such was the lion’s outward glee at being reintroduced to his brethren.
In the second half of said heartbeat, he knew he was home.
Better yet, he was in the company of one who shared the very same primary characteristics.
Gentle. Kind. Proud. Brave. Fiercely protective of his pride. And never more content than when lounging beneath the shade of whichever tree was least faraway at any given moment.
An honourable gentleman.
The pair engaged in a hearty hug, one which felt entirely natural, regardless of the fact that this was the first time they had actually held court together. In the present cycle.
In a second, all embracing heartbeat, the two shared unspoken oath. To protect the tiny mouse until their final breath be expelled, and to do the same for one another.
Needless to say, the mouse was at fever pitch, such was her delight to witness her love and her dear new friend and brother of another skin in rapturous union.
However am I going to find enough cheese? pondered the mouse, smiling wide as she did.
For all three knew instinctively that theirs was a safe place. For always.
They tucked into a fabulous feast that evening, the kind of banquet fit for kings and queens. Shared witty anecdotes, formed a deepest rooted bond, and lounged in the most natural of habitats.
And when it was time for the lion to bid his forever friends and kindred the kindliest adieu, he did so with brave heart overflowing.
“It has truly been an honour. Sir and Madam. Of the finest caliber. I am blessed by the skies on this fine day.”
With that, Bernielion smiled wide, with the warmest of eyes, and the mouse did too, before merrily squeaking
“catch you later, cheese taster… “
For my forever friends, Sharon and Bernie. With love.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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