The Bell Tower

Part II

Fog and More

Thursday morning arrived as did most of the residents to wish them well, again. This time, however, the mood was subdued as everyone knew that this trip was more risky. At precisely seven bongs the eight team members lined up and said goodbye to everyone. They marched off south with Wilde and Wilder in the lead.

They followed the creek as planned and by late afternoon had covered about one-third of the distance. There was no problem in locating a level, comfortable spot to camp. After dinner they pulled out their blankets and bedded down. It got very cool, and the blankets were much appreciated. (You might wonder why they needed blankets since they have either fur or feathers. The animal residents of Ballymore have become accustomed to living in their warm, cozy homes.)

On the second day, the weasels told the team they had to be even more careful and quiet as they were getting closer to where people might be. They still followed the creek but stayed in the woods fairly well hidden. The day passed without difficulty.

Friday evening, they again found a nice location to sleep. The small clearing was a short distance from the creek and was surrounded by birch trees and bushes. The birch tree leaves were just beginning to turn yellow. It was cool again, so everyone wrapped up the best they could in their blankets. They didn’t have a fire because that might have attracted attention.

As he lay in his blanket, Wilder suddenly noticed some lights in the woods about a hundred feet off to his right. Curious!

“Hey, look at those lights over there,” he whispered.

Everyone looked. There were perhaps fifty tiny lights scattered in the trees and not moving.

Sedgewick said, “They’re probably fireflies.”

“But fireflies fly, don’t they?” responded Sofie.

Whatever they were, everyone continued to watch. More lights appeared. They didn’t move into view from deeper in the woods. They simply ‘turned on’. Over a two minute period, hundreds lights had turned on.

Eventually, the lights began to move slowly towards the clearing. When they reached a bush about fifty feet away, they settled there. The bush now looked like a beautiful Christmas tree with a glow around it.

Wilder said, “I’ll find out who they are and what they want.”

He crawled out of his blanket and approached the bush. The lights didn’t move as he neared. From a few feet away, he was able to see that they were fireflies after all. He smiled but thought that their behaviour was rather strange. A few of them left the bush and began to fly around him. Several even landed on him. This is amusing, he thought. It seems they were very curious.

He wasn’t sure if they could understand him, but he decided to try to communicate.

“Good evening, fireflies, it’s nice to meet you. We appreciate your interest, but we’re on an important mission to the hamlet and are trying to remain hidden. I’m afraid your lights might be noticed,” Wilder whispered.

Immediately, all of the lights but one dimmed very low. The one remaining bright light belonged to a large firefly who then left the bush and landed on Wilder’s nose.

Wilder laughed. “You DO understand me. Yeah! Thank you for dimming your lights. You are welcome to join us tonight, if you wish.”

Apparently, the chief firefly decided not to accept his invitation. He (she) rose off of Wilder’s nose, and the others rose off of the bush. As a group, they left and silently disappeared into the woods. It was all very odd.

Wilder returned and said, “They WERE fireflies.”

“What were they doing?” asked Stoddard.

“I don’t know. I think they are curious about us. I was able to kind of talk to them. They dimmed their lights when I asked, and their leader landed on my nose. Well, they aren’t a problem and are gone now. I’m going to sleep. Goodnight, all.”

The minor excitement was over, and after some whispering, everyone fell asleep.

Saturday morning, the group had a quick breakfast and continued the hike towards the hamlet, which they would reach today. In late afternoon Wilde signalled all to stop.

“We’re getting very close now. Let’s do some surveillance,” he whispered. “Branna, please fly ahead, and find out exactly where we are in relation to the church.”

Branna took off and flew south. It was cloudy and humid; it felt like rain. Grenby didn’t say anything about rain, she thought. Of course, Grenby forecasted weather for Ballymore and not the hamlet. She was sure that would be his answer, if anyone asked.

Once in the air, it was easy to spot the hamlet. After a mile or less she approached the northern edge. The church was about one-quarter mile to her left. She flew there and landed on the peak of the bell tower. It was a great observation point.

The hamlet was small. It only had about fifty cottages, the church, and a small mill along the creek. The mill had a waterwheel, which was turning slowly. Most cottages had gardens, and there were several large vegetable gardens to the south. What Branna noticed most were PEOPLE. She had seen very few people in her travels, and she was fascinated. Several were out working in their gardens. She would have liked to continue watching them, but she had an assignment to complete.

The church was on the northeast side of the hamlet, very close to the woods. That was good. The animals could hide in the woods and wait for the right time to go up in the bell tower. There was a caretaker’s cottage next to the church, and the entrance to the bell tower faced it. That was potentially bad. They certainly didn’t want to wake the caretaker. When she thought she had gathered enough information, she flew back to the group.

After receiving her report, Wilde said, “I would like to be in the woods near the church in early evening. We’ll wait there until 1 bong, and if everything is okay, enter the bell tower. I remind you that total silence is necessary.”

It took them a couple of hours to reach the edge of the woods near the church. It would soon be dark. They sat down, snacked quietly, and waited.

The weasels decided to look things over. They crept through the woods and hid behind a tree near the church. There was a light on in the church. There were no services occurring, but someone was doing something. After observing for a while, they returned to the group.

Wilde spoke. “Let’s review the plans. A bell ringer comes to the church each hour. It takes less than a minute to ring the bell and then he leaves. Assuming that the church is empty, we’ll enter the bell tower just after 1 bong. Only Wilder, Bartholomew, and I will go up. We’ll dig out the box as fast and as quietly as we can.

“Stoddard, you’ll be at the base of the bell tower on the north side. When we get the box, Bartholomew will bring it down to you, and you’ll fly it back to Ballymore. If it’s too heavy, you’ll only fly the contents back. That would be similar to the cave trip.

“Burton, you’ll be the lookout at the bell tower entrance, and watch the caretaker’s cottage. Warn us by flapping your tail if you see anything unusual. After you warn us, return here.

“Sedgewick, Sofie, and Branna, position yourselves in high trees and also serve as lookouts. If you have to warn us, do so and then return here. Also, when you see us leave the bell tower, return here.

“Does everybody understand?”

All shook their heads, yes.

Bartholomew said, “I think we have a very good plan. Let’s remain calm, and everything will go smoothly.”

Wilder went back to watch the church. The others waited impatiently as time passed slowly. Eventually, Wilder returned to say that the caretaker had left the church and gone to his cottage. The lights were out. The hamlet was quiet. The weather had not changed for better or worse. It was 11 bongs.

At midnight, Wilde asked Branna to do one more quick surveillance. She left and was back in ten minutes.

“The hamlet is still dark and quiet, but there’s some fog moving in from the south. I’m not sure if or when it will reach the hamlet,” she said.

Fog was not good. Wilde thought about it.

Eventually, he said, “If the fog has not reached the church by 1 bong, we’ll proceed.”

“What if it has?” asked Sofie.

“We’ll deal with that if it happens,” was his response. He didn’t have a better answer to the question.

Time went by in silence. Finally, the silence was broken by a single loud bong from the church bell. There was no fog, yet.

“This is it! If everybody is ready, let’s go,” directed Wilde.

The eight animals crept silently through the woods to the church. All was quiet. The bell ringer was already gone. They looked up at the bell tower, which was almost hidden in the murky weather.

“Branna, fly up and see where the fog is now,” whispered Wilde.

As soon as she was above the treetops, she saw that the fog had reached the south end of the hamlet. Despite hearing that disappointing news, Wilde said, “We have come a long way. Let’s do it.”

Stoddard moved to the foot of the bell tower. Sedgewick, Sofie, and Branna positioned themselves in the trees as directed.

Wilde, Wilder, Burton, and Bartholomew crept to the bell tower entrance. All remained quiet. They wished each other luck. The weasels and Bartholomew climbed the steps to the top. Upon arriving, Bartholomew lighted a small candle. The candle provided enough light for them to see but could not be seen outside. Using his compass, Bartholomew found the south stone.

“This should be the one,” he whispered.

The weasels brought chisels and a long pry bar with them. They began digging. The mortar holding the stone was hard, and progress was slow. After fifteen minutes it seemed that the stone was loosening. They used the pry bar and edged the stone out. Bartholomew reached in, and his talons felt a wooden box. He pulled it out, and they stared at it. This was the reason they had come so far. He opened the lid and saw an old envelope and some pieces of wood.

Map

The Belltower


Shortly thereafter, the fog rolled in. The fog surprised Wilder and he stood up quickly. In doing so, the pry bar he was holding accidentally hit the bell.

BONG!

The noise sounded like a cannon to them.

“Let’s hurry,” said Wilde.

They closed the box without examining the contents. Bartholomew blew out his candle. Then, they heard a noise they were afraid they would hear, the flapping of Burton’s tail. Bartholomew looked over the edge. The fog was getting thicker, and he saw that a light had come on in the caretaker’s cottage.

“We’ve run out of time. He’s coming.”

Bartholomew picked up the box, jumped onto the ledge and flew down to the waiting Stoddard. He put it on Stoddard’s back and secured it to the harness. In seconds Stoddard lifted off and disappeared into the fog. He had predetermined his flight path and flew “blind” until he was above the fog. He then turned north and headed for Ballymore.

Bartholomew flew back up to the weasels who were picking up the tools. Now, they heard a door open and close and steps approaching. They pushed the stone back into place. There was no time to replace the mortar. The caretaker was now coming up the steps.

“We can’t get out,” said Wilder.

“We’ll have to climb down the outside of the wall,” said Wilde.

The weasels hopped up onto the ledge and began to climb down the outside of the bell tower as the caretaker was coming up the inside. The old stone wall was rough, so they were able to get a good grip. However, in their rush, the weasels had left the pry bar. Bartholomew grabbed it and flew to the woods. Just as the weasels reached the ground, the caretaker reached the top. He looked over the ledge but saw only fog. Wilde and Wilder were able to scurry to the safety of the woods. They had escaped by their whiskers.

The caretaker looked around the bell tower but didn’t see anything unusual. He failed to notice the loose mortar. After a minute or so he decided that some bird had accidentally hit the bell and returned to his cottage.

Everyone made it safely back to the rendezvous point. Because of the fog, the lookouts had to leave their observation points early. Wilde told them that the box had been retrieved, and it was now on its way to Ballymore. He also told them about their close escape and how the fog had helped.

“What was in the box?” asked Burton.

Bartholomew answered, “We didn’t have time to examine it, but there was another note and some pieces of wood. It looked very similar to the first box.”

The fog had helped the weasels escape, but it now had the team trapped. Visibility remained very poor. Worse, in the excitement of the getaway, Bartholomew had lost his compass somewhere.

Bartholomew advised, “We are tired now, so let’s get some rest. Hopefully, the fog will be gone in the morning.”

The bell bonged twice.

Unfortunately, in the morning, the fog was still with them. It was a serious problem. The animals arose and had a light breakfast.

Wilde stared out into the fog and said, “Well, we can stay here until the fog clears, but we don’t know how long that will be. Also, the longer we stay, the greater the chance of being spotted. Although, we’re pretty well hidden by the fog.”

As they pondered their situation, the fireflies appeared again. Because of the fog, it seemed they came out of nowhere. Wilder saw them first and was elated. They all had their lights on bright. The chief firefly came forward and landed on Wilder’s nose. The others then lowered their lights.

Wilder said, “Hello! It’s very good to see you again. Our mission was successful, but we are now trapped by the fog. We need to return to Ballymore. Can you help us?”

They certainly could help and did. Within minutes the animals were hiking north, guided by the light from the fireflies. Even though the fog eventually cleared, the fireflies stayed with them for the whole return journey. Everyone was most grateful. They got back to Ballymore in the late afternoon of the 15th and immediately went to Bartholomew’s home. They were welcomed and followed by most of the residents. Stoddard brought the box from his cottage.

Although tired, Bartholomew presided over the opening of the box. Everyone crowded around as he unlatched its lid for the second time. Inside were the instructions for the next puzzle location and seven pieces of wood. They were as beautifully polished as the first pieces.

When the pieces were connected, the new line of coded message was:

MVVEZ QUV AJSE

The yellowed envelope was, again, addressed to:

The Residents of Ballymore


He opened and read it.

“Well, we are making great progress. I want to thank everybody for their efforts, especially Wilde and Wilder Weasel,” said Bartholomew. “The next puzzle trip will be closer to home, and I will start planning it soon. Now, I am quite tired from the trip. Everybody, please excuse me.”

He put everything in his shoulder bag. The animals applauded as he climbed the steps and headed for bed.