Unexpected Visitors

Part III

The Well

Saturday morning was cloudy and cold, fairly normal for November. There was the definite possibility of rain. That was also normal for the time of year, and the forecast was for more of the same. There was no point in delaying the trip. The weather would only get worse as winter approached. (By the way, this was one of Grenby’s final forecasts before his winter hibernation.)

The team members appeared as if they had gained weight due to the extra clothes they were wearing. The weasels had on their fatigues again, plus warm underwear. They looked very professional, as intended. Somewhat surprisingly, only a few residents were there to wish them well. Perhaps, it was too cold for the amateurs.

Wilde led the small group into the woods. The terrain was somewhat hilly and covered with pine needles. There was mist in the air, and everything felt damp. As the forest surrounded them, each sound created a small echo as if it was bouncing off an invisible wall. Despite the eerie atmosphere, the hike went well. No one was cold, and no one fell in a creek. It took about six hours to reach the campsite. The swans had delivered the tent, rope, blankets, bucket, and more food. It would be dark soon, so Wilde decided it best to set up camp and wait until morning to visit the well. It only took about fifteen minutes to pitch the tent. In another one-half hour, they had a warm fire. They were soon resting and enjoying a nice, warm dinner.

Bartholomew thought it was a good time to mention his newfound family. Everyone was surprised and happy for him. Branna was particularly interested in Oliver because he could be a new flying friend for her. Bartholomew also told them about Jonathan’s plan to teach reading and writing. Branna was interested in that also, but the others probably weren’t.

Bartholomew asked, “What do you think about learning to read and write, Finn?”

He was not expecting a positive response and didn’t get one.

Finn answered, “Hmmm, I’m not sure.”

He was absolutely fascinated with the weasels and their impressive uniforms. Remember, they let him ride on the “ghost boat” and gave him a beret to wear. He wished he could be like them. With their security duties, there was the possibility of an adventure every night. Currently, he wasn’t interested in much else.

A little later, he asked Wilde, “Do you think I could be an apprentice of yours? I would love to learn security work.”

Wilde and Wilder were flattered by the request. One of their goals was to upgrade their image a little. “A little” means they still wanted the option of enjoying Halloween and similar devilish opportunities. Anyway, Finn’s question meant they were on the right track.

Wilde answered, “That’s a possibility, but we’ll have to give it some thought. We’ll discuss it and let you know.”

The frog said, “Oh, thank you. I know I can help out in some way.”

Bartholomew took notice of Finn’s preference for adventure over study with amusement.

It was getting colder, and the animals went to bed early and wrapped up in their warm blankets. They banked the fire so that it would still be hot in the morning.

The next morning, it was still cloudy, cold, and damp. The weasels were up first and made a breakfast of hot cereal, eggs, and tea. When it was ready, they roused the others. Branna commented that she rarely gets her breakfast made and thanked the weasels.

After breakfast they readied for the short walk to the well. Wilde made sure they had ropes, bucket, candles, and matches. A light rain began to fall, making everything even more slippery. When they arrived at the well, the scene was much as Bartholomew had remembered it. The well’s mortar was loose and some stones had fallen. The area was surrounded by pine trees and the ground thickly covered by their brown needles.

The weasels unpacked the ropes and stretched them out. There were two sizes. The heavier one was for lifting and the lighter one for signalling. When Finn was down in the well and wanted to come out, he simply had to tug on the signal rope. Wilder tied the ropes around the closest tree for safety. Finn got into the bucket, and the ropes were made secure to it. Wilder gave Finn a lighted candle and extra matches. The weasels lifted the bucket onto the well rim.

Wilde said, “Now, if you want to stop, tug once. To go lower, tug twice. When you want to come up, tug three times. This first trip down is only to investigate. Don’t land on the bottom. Are you ready?”

Finn said, “Yes, sir. Ready to go.” That was not exactly true. Seeking the excitement of an adventure was one thing, but actually doing it was another. He peered into the darkness and dampness of the well and swallowed. What was he getting into, he thought. That was all the time he had to worry. Wilde began lowering the bucket.

As he slowly descended, he described the lighted stone walls to the animals. He held his candle out over the edge of the bucket but couldn’t see the bottom yet. He was entering a black hole and wasn’t sure what he would find or what would find him. That took courage. As he continued down, his voice became fainter and fainter. When they could hardly hear him, Wilde stopped lowering.

Wilde yelled down, “Can you see the bottom yet?”

“No,” Finn yelled back.

“I’ll continue to lower the bucket. When you can see the bottom clearly, tug once, and we’ll stop.”

“Okay, sir,” Finn yelled.

Wilde was pleased to be called sir and smiled. He resumed lowering the bucket.

For a while Finn saw nothing but the surrounding damp, stone walls. He felt as if they were closing in on him. There was no longer any light from above, either. Then, looking down once more, he thought he saw something. Within a few seconds he knew it was the bottom, and he felt a sense of relief. The floor seemed to be rising up towards him, and eventually, he could see it well. He tugged once on the signal rope, and the bucket stopped immediately. He was suspended about fifteen feet from the floor.

He could see an old box in the dim light but, surprisingly, the lid was open. From that height he couldn’t see inside the box, so he decided to get closer. He tugged twice on the signal rope and dropped closer to the box. At about five feet from the floor, he signaled again to stop. Now, he could see that THE BOX WAS EMPTY! That sight was a shock and disappointment. He wanted to land to investigate further, but that was against orders. The floor of the well was covered with small stones, but nothing else seemed unusual. After a while he decided there was nothing more to be seen and tugged on the rope three times.

It seemed forever before he saw some light from above. He then began yelling that the box was empty. The animals looked at each other in surprise.

Wilder exclaimed, “How can that be?”

There was no immediate answer because no one knew.

Bartholomew said, “Someone has gotten here before us. Who? Finn should go all of the way to the floor next.”

Finn was pulled up, and he told them everything he had seen. He offered to return and go to the floor. The weasels were impressed by his spunk, and everyone agreed that Finn would land on the bottom on the second trip.

Wilde instructed, “Try to find any clues you can about the empty box.”

“Yes, sir. Ready, sir,” replied Finn. This time, he felt a little less scared.

Wilde lowered Finn down the well again. When he was five feet from the floor, he signalled a stop. Everything looked the same as before. He tugged twice and was lowered the rest of the way. He landed next to the box, climbed out of the bucket, and began to look around. The box was completely empty, and there appeared to be some claw marks on its lid. As he swung his candle around, he spotted two holes in the wall near the floor, one on each side of the well. Who made them? Where do they lead? He moved over to one of them and shined the candle inside. There was only darkness.

“Who are you, and what are you doing in our home?” a threatening voice yelled from behind. Finn was so shocked that he jumped and bumped his head on a stone. When he turned around, there was a large mouse standing before him. Obviously, the mouse had come from the other hole. Two more pairs of eyes stared from that darkness.

He was in trouble. Fear returned, and he got very nervous.

“I ah,” he stammered. “We, ah. We only came to search for some puzzle pieces that were left for us. They were supposed to be in that box, but it’s empty.” He was shaking.

“So, you came here uninvited, broke into our home, and you want to steal our belongings,” the mouse said angrily.

The two other mice had now come out of the hole and were approaching him. It was a good time to leave. He raced to the bucket and jumped in. The mice tried to follow him, but the bucket was a little too tall and a little too slippery for them. He yanked on the signal rope three times, and the bucket began to rise slowly.

He yelled, “No! You don’t understand! We.…”.

The mouse cut him off and yelled, “I understand completely. We have caught a thief. Let’s get him!”

The three mice began to climb the wall to try to reach Finn. He was now a short distance from the floor. One mouse jumped at the bucket and just missed. He yanked on the signal rope furiously.

Above, Wilde said, “Something must be wrong. We need to get him out, now!”

He pulled the bucket up as fast as he could. It was faster than before but still not that fast. The mice continued to climb the wall and chase after Finn. The bucket was rising at the same speed as the mice were climbing. In other words, the mice were right behind the frog.

When he saw some light above him, he yelled, “I am being chased by giant rats! Help! Help!”

Map

'Rats' Chase Finn Up The Well


Wilder quickly grabbed some nuts from his canvas bag. He waited. It didn’t take long for Finn to appear, closely followed by the ‘rats’. He took aim and threw a nut. The first one hit Finn on his back, but he was too scared to even notice. The second nut hit the closest mouse (rat) on the top of his head. He immediately stopped climbing as did the others, but they were mad.

“Get out of our home, and never come back,” he yelled.

Wilder pulled a shaken Finn from the bucket and set him on the ground. Everyone caught their breath, especially Finn. That was about all the adventure he could take for one day. After he calmed down, he told them what had happened, with some exaggeration thrown in for effect.

Wilde said, “We need to go back and discuss our options.” He was trying to think of a plan to chase the “rats” out of the well.

They gathered everything and returned to their camp. Wilde made some tea, and the group sat down around the fire.

Wilde said, “Apparently, we have a family of rats who have taken the puzzle pieces. The pieces are probably in the tunnels somewhere. It’s likely that the tunnels have an outlet in the side of a hill, and we need to find it. Then, we can build a fire at its entrance and smoke them out. After they leave, Finn can go in and find the pieces and the note.”

Wilder shook his head in agreement.

After a short while Bartholomew said, “NO!”

Everyone looked at him. It had seemed like a good plan.

He said, “Those rats live there. It is their home. They are absolutely right that we entered without their permission. They found the puzzle pieces first and own them now.”

He looked at Wilde and said, “How would you like it if someone entered your home without permission and tried to take something? What would you do if they tried to smoke you out?”

Wilde looked down. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I was only thinking about accomplishing the mission.”

“We need to have a different approach,” said Bartholomew. “I think we need to make contact with them and talk.”

“I don’t think they are in a talking mood right now,” said Finn.

“No, they’re not,” said the owl. “We need a good ambassador, and I think Branna is our best hope.”

Everyone looked at her.

“I am?” she exclaimed, as surprised as anyone.

“Yes,” said Bartholomew. “You are non-threatening and smart, and you will be our chief negotiator. As Wilde suggested, we need to find the hillside entrance to their tunnels. Then, you can wait by it until one of them comes along.

“As gently as you can, introduce yourself, and explain the situation. Apologise for our rudeness. The first rat you meet will probably not be their leader. Ask if you could please talk to him or her. Hopefully, their leader will agree to meet with you. If that happens, explain everything again and apologise again. If you can establish a good relationship with them, ask if they would be willing to meet with our whole group.

“We don’t need to take anything from them. We just need the information from the wood pieces and the note. The rest of us will be in the woods nearby if anything goes wrong.”

Everyone agreed it was a good plan but not without risk.

Bartholomew also asked Branna to fly back to Ballymore and tell Stoddard about the situation. Their return to Ballymore would be delayed. Branna left and returned within the hour. Stoddard had thanked her for the update and wished them all well.

Branna was used to many different kinds of assignments, but being a negotiator seemed difficult to her. However, after she had some time to think about it, she believed she could do it. After all, she was simply going to talk to someone and tell them the truth. If they chose to start trouble, she could easily fly to a tree.