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Promise of Heaven

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Angry. She had been so angry. The days since the light disappeared seemed numberless. She’d been barely one hundred sun-cycles old, hardly out of the shell, when they came, strange little beings with evil intent, and stole her away from the moon. Her wings were useless, confined in the narrow, stagnant cave. The only thing she could do was hurl the caustic fire of her fury at her captors until she was spent. Oh yes, they had tortured and starved her into submission of a sorts, feeding her just enough moondew to keep her from turning to stone, but the rage never abated. It simmered below the surface, perfuming the endless monotony with the acrid promise of vengeance. Dragons were not known for their patience, but she would wait.

Long after time had lost its meaning, when only unreasoning obduracy still permitted her to hope, it happened. There was that terrible noise - the last time she’d heard it and answered with fire they took an eye, so she retreated to the side and allowed them to pass. Suddenly there was a different sort of noise, one which sounded as sweet as the noisemaker had sounded of pain. The evil ones were screaming. A bright gold light almost like fire swept from one of the doors down the passage, the air shimmering to life around its heat. Her one remaining eye, accustomed only to the dimness of the tunnel, tried to close, but she forced it open as a strange feeling fluttered under her moon-starved scales. Four silhouettes rose from the brilliant mass. One broke away, running toward her with a sword. She pushed back against the rock, but the evil one was not coming for her. No, he ran toward a large group of his fellows who had appeared in the same overwhelming numbers as they had the night she’d lost her freedom, as if he’d had nothing to do with the three emerging from the blinding glow.

Suddenly there were wizards - she despised them only slightly less than the evil ones - making fire from those sticks they always carried. She quailed, but the fire wasn’t meant for her. It was for the three the evil one had left behind. As the wizards fought, one of the evil ones approached her. Here was her chance to get back a little of her own! She drew breath and then exhaled, allowing the fire to roll free for many moments. It made her blood sing to see the little beast reduced to ash, though she knew she’d surely pay for it. But, to her surprise, the massing evil ones did not attack her. Something new was happening, something unexpected, and it made hope rise, almost against her will, for the first time in uncounted ages.

Something thumped against her back. Once, twice, thrice. Now the wizard’s fire was coming her way. She reared, twisting her head and saw them - the three were on her back now. She snarled, ready to hurl them from her like the fleas they were, when one of them did a very peculiar thing. The female raised her stick, but not at her. Instead, the creature pointed that stick at where her chains were stuck fast to the wall, and with a cry of Reducto!, they fell to the floor. It took a moment to register what that meant. Free. She was free! Without a second thought for the creatures clinging to her back, she lurched from her cave and looked up. The tiny pinpoint of light burned her eye, but she knew what it meant. Out. All she had to do was rise, force blood into her atrophied wings and fly and she could go home. But she would take as many of these evil ones into death as she could in payment for her long captivity.

As she stretched and pumped her long disused wings, she hurled plume after plume of fire at the evil ones gathered there, and as soon as she felt they could support her, she lifted herself into the air. She was wobbly at first, and her wings ached as they elevated her heavy-boned frame, but the closer she got to that blessed light, the stronger she felt.

Upward toward that brilliant spot she went, no matter that her eye teared with the pain of it. She was close to the end of the central shaft now, and the fire came easily, softening the place she’d need to break through. Lowering her head and picking up speed, she burst through the flimsy structure and into a bright place that still was not out. Disoriented and dizzy, she thrashed at this new, if brighter, confinement. There were many evil ones here and she could not let them have her again!

The evil ones fled as she pulled down walls and thrashed her tail. Her head hit a large heavy object above her, and then she saw it: the dome of glass. One more lift and she’d be truly free. With a powerful thrust and one last lash of her tail, she rose, shattered the glass and broke through.

The shock of it made her stop as she scrambled onto the roof. Gratefully, she gulped in the chill air, the first free air she had tasted in so very long, great hitching breaths that filled her with joy and longing. Home. She could go home at last. But as she went to push off, she could not raise her back right leg. It hung down into the hole she’d made, a heavy weight pulling at it, not letting her go. She roared her frustration and fear. She had not made it so far only to fail now. As she pulled and pulled again, she heard voices. Those wizards who had loosed her back in the cave still clung to her back. They seemed to have figured out the problem, for the female raised her stick again and the weight fell away. Quickly, she heaved herself aloft again, flying into the space which stretched on and gloriously on. The air stank with activity of the humans below, but instinctively she turned north and went up high enough that they would be unable to see her and where their pollution did not burn her lungs.

She flew for several hours until she spied the mountain-ringed water through the clouds. Lower and lower she dropped, until she was almost touching it, reveling in its beauty and in the odor which called her memories of home, so carefully hoarded in her misery, to the front of her brain. Three splashes sounded and she glanced behind as she flew on. The wizards had either fallen or jumped from her back into the water, and she spared a moment to wish them the same freedom they’d granted her before winging her way onward to the valley she’d been stolen from, eager to see her kin.


This was the place, she was certain. So why did it look so very wrong? Where once there had been a deep valley, there was now a lake; manmade, if the strange structures at the end of it were any guide. The caves which had been there, the one where she had been born, were nowhere to be seen, flooded by greenish water below. She landed on a rock outcrop, and looked around dismayed. Where was everyone? Had they all been stolen away? Was she the only one left?

“What happened to you?” said a small voice just below the rock where she had set down. She leaned over and a small furry face popped up nearly right in front of her nose. A brownie! It had been ages since she’d seen one. She had loved Myrtle, her mother’s brownie, who had always sung her to sleep when she was young. She pulled back a little so that she could see it more clearly.

“It’s a long story,” she answered, her voice creaky from long disuse. “Where did everyone go?” The brownie shrugged and settled down to gnaw on the mushroom it had in its paw.

“Left a long time ago, right before that,’ it said, pointing to the lake. “I’m Burdock, by the way. It’s been years since I’ve seen a dragon around here. I didn’t think I’d ever see one again. What’s your name?”

Her jaw dropped as a horrible feeling crept over her insides. She had a name once, long ago, but she could no longer remember it. In all the years she’d spent pining for this place, for her mother and her kin, she had lost track of herself and what she had been called. She closed her good eye, thought back to her early years, and tried to remember, tried to hear her mother’s voice calling her name, but it was no use. She flung herself down on the rocks and hung her head in shame.

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

“Hey! None of that!” The brownie scrabbled after the mushroom he had dropped in his surprise at the impact of her body on the ground. “You almost made me lose that, and it took all morning to find it!”

She didn’t care. Everyone was gone, she didn’t even know her own name, she didn’t know what to do. The sky got darker and the rain began falling in fat drops. She hadn’t felt rain in so long. She should be rejoicing, but instead she felt lost. The brownie climbed up over the rocks and sat beside her. Tentatively, he reached out and stroked her snout, running his soft fingers over the old wounds.

“Your skin is in terrible shape, all blanched and peeling, and you’ve been cut up something awful, haven’t you? Did the humans catch you?”

She shook her head sadly. “No, worse. They look something like humans, but very small, with sharp teeth and sharp swords. They took me from here when I was very young. All I’ve ever dreamed about since then is coming back here and now there is nothing left.” She turned her face up into the rain, and it rolled down her snout, splashing down on the brownie’s head like tears. He shook off the big drops and patted her neck, nodding his little head.

“Goblins, those are,” said he as he shivered. “Mama and Papa disappeared the last time those things came through here many moons back. I never saw them again.”

“What ever they are called, they are evil and I will never allow myself to be taken by them again. I killed as many as I could before I escaped, maybe enough that they’ll never come back here.”

“Oh they’ll be back soon enough if they hear tell of a dragon living in these parts again. And there are too many humans around. They’ll be sure to see you. It’s not safe for you to stay here.”

“And where else can I go?”

She laid her head back down on her forearm. She hated the desperation she could hear in her voice. Of all the things she thought she’d find if she ever got free, this had never been a possibility she’d considered. Disappointment burned through her. She hadn’t really expected to see her mother again, but she never thought she’d be the only one left. Let her turn to stone right here.

“There’s one cave left that’s not flooded, near the east end of the lake. There aren’t any humans back there right now. Why don’t I take you there? You can rest and heal and then you can decide.” The brownie’s voice was kind, but she didn’t see the point. She lifted her head just enough to shake it and laid it back down again.

“Great mouldering morels!” he cried, leaping up and looking at her with fiery little eyes. “Do you want to get caught again? Right behind here the humans are cutting down the forest. When they come again in the morning they will find you, and then you’ll get sent off to some zoo or circus! Or back to where you escaped from!” The brownie looked at the stem of the mushroom in his paw and threw it to the ground in disgust. “Dragons. Not a lick of sense in the lot of you!”

A sigh rumbled through her. As unhappy as she was right now, she did not want to be taken back to her underground prison, or anywhere else where she would have to see any human or goblin faces, ever again. She might not ever get the iron rings around her legs off, but never again would there be chains attached to them. She made up her mind.

“Show me where this cave is,” she said with a sigh, and the brownie clambered onto her back.

She felt so weary as she stood once more and unfolded her great wings. The wind was coming from the west and she thrust herself over the rock ledge allowing the wind to lift her glide. The brownie on her back gave a great whoop.

“Oh, how I’ve missed this!” he cried. She said nothing, but suddenly there was a small spark of happiness amidst the gloom.

“Which way now?” she called back over her shoulder.

“Due east, all the way at the end of the lake, halfway down from the top. The hole is small, but you’ll fit through it, and it’s much bigger inside.”

For a moment, her chest constricted. She was not certain at all about being in an enclosed space after she just broke free, but the brownie was right. She needed safe shelter and time to think. She would just have to live with the feeling of confinement; she’d just have to tell herself it wasn’t real, not anymore.

It didn’t take long to get there, and just as the brownie said, the cave entrance was halfway up the mountainside with an low and wide opening she’d have no trouble getting through even in her present, debilitated state. She managed the small ledge outside the entry by coming in parallel to the rock face, but she still scraped her inside wing painfully when she landed. The brownie scrambled down, landing with a bounce beside her.

“It will get easier, you’ll see. Now, come inside. We’ll make a fire and - ”. The brownie bit his lip and looked at the ground.

“And what?” she asked.

“Well, if you want me to, I could sing.”

That small happy spark grew a tiny bit brighter at the brownie’s smile when she nodded her consent. Yes, that would be very nice indeed. So she lowered her head and went inside.

As her eye adjusted, she could tell at once that this had been a dragon’s cave. It had been a long time since anyone had lived there, but it still smelled like home. And in spite of its long disuse, it looked as if the owner had just gone out for a flight in the moonlight. Wood was stacked in the firepit, waiting only a breath. Water trickled down the wall into a small rock basin, there were rushes against the other wall which made a soft brownie’s bed. She wondered whose cave it had been, and what had happened to them. Those sad and lonely feelings were back and she flopped down into the well-worn space in the center of the cave, turning her head to breathe gently onto the logs before the brownie could start grumbling.


It hadn’t worked.

“You might warn a person so that they don’t get singed!”

She just turned her head and settled in.

“Hmmph. Well. I guess you want me to sing now,” said the brownie.

“If you wouldn’t mind,” she said softly.

There was great deal of harrumphing and muttering, and something about it being clear he’d need roses before he finally settled down to start his song, one about a magical home in far off lands, very like to the one Myrtle used to sing. Exhaustion and sorrow overwhelmed her, but the brownie’s song soothed her into dreams of blue and white and moonlight on the lake.


She seldom left the cave over the next several days, going out only when the nights were clear to bask her injured body in the healing light of the moon. The brownie - Burdock - had proved to be a boon companion, even if he fussed rather a lot. Secretly, after all of that time alone and mistreated, it had felt rather nice to be fussed over and cared for. And always he sang her to sleep, that same song as the first night, as though he knew it would please her. But today he had been distracted, half an ear cocked toward the cave entrance, his bushy tail twitching at the slightest noise. After she inquired and was assured that it had nothing to do with humans or goblins, he soothed her to sleep in his usual way.

But her sleep must have been light, because a short time later, she woke to the sound of Burdock’s furry feet stamping the stone floor. A high pitched voice answered, sounding as annoyed as Burdock’s feet. Was it another brownie? She slitted open her eye but did not move her head. Not another brownie. A woodrat from the looks of it. It shook its bewhiskered head vigorously.

“I told you, Great Auntie Rosa is too old to come all of this way anymore. She’d never make it down the hill by our burrow, let alone down this mountain face. She’d end up drowned in the lake for sure! And if you would use that furry head of yours for something besides stuffing mushrooms into your belly, you’d have known that. She’s thirty years old!” the rat’s chest puffed out a little here, obviously proud of the great age attained by his kin.

“I heard you the first time Torquil, but I really, really need her. She’s the one they left the information with, it was her cousin who made the map and she’ll know what it means. And I need to have it all in hand soon, if what you are telling me is true.”

“Of course it’s true,” the woodrat scoffed, looking affronted that the brownie would dare question his information. “You know what the humans are like! Greedier than bears and just as careless! Curse them and their machines! They ruined a perfectly good winter cache last week for no reason other than that they couldn’t be bothered to go around. No, if they say they’re going to start building things up here, as ridiculous as that may be, they will.”

Burdock glanced in her direction with an odd look on his face.

“She’s not ready,” he sighed. “I had really hoped we’d have more time before we had to go. It’s a long journey as I’ve heard it told, and I’m afraid that she’s not healed enough to make the trip.”

“Well, come over the mountain and talk to Rosa yourself. Surely the dragon’s well enough to leave for half a day.” The woodrat looked Burdock up and down. “You look positively gaunt for a brownie. Have you even been out to forage since she came?”

She was appalled when he shook his head.

“There were plenty of dried ceps in the cave,” he said with a stubborn glint in his eye.

“You’ll be no good to her if you starve to death, you furry-pated fool. Listen: there’s a lovely patch of wood blewitts near our burrow. You could take your fill and there will still be plenty. And then you can talk to Great Auntie Rosa about this map you’re looking for.”

Burdock perked up immediately at the mention of mushrooms, looking so covetous that she would have laughed had she not been pretending to be asleep.

“All right. But I’ll have to wake her to let her know where I’m going.”

Burdock walked over to her and climbed on to her neck, inching up the scales toward her small ears. When he got there, he stroked her head and whispered to her.

“Opalskin! Opalskin, wake up!” He had taken to calling her that, because he’d been fascinated at the way that shining silver mingled with pink in her healing skin and because he ‘wasn’t going to go around calling her hey you.’ It wasn’t what she’d been called before, but it was strangely endearing. She opened her eye and blinked sleepily at the sound. “I am going to go over the mountain to fetch some mushrooms with my friend Torquil and pay a call on his Great Auntie Rosa. I’ll be back before moonrise, I promise.”

She yawned wide, shaking her head a little and listening to him grumble at the sudden movement. “If you must,” she said.

Burdock glared at the woodrat. “It seems so,” said he. “I’ll be back soon.” He patted her head and slid down, and she laid her head back down as she listened to the brownie searching for a suitable bag for his prizes and then the quiet as the two companions left the cave, thinking about what she had overheard.

When he came back, just before dusk, he was not alone. The woodrat had come back with him, hauling an explosively stuffed bag of blue-capped mushrooms into the cave with a groan, and Burdock had upon his back another rat, about half of Torquil’s size, wizened and white with age.

“Gently, gently, you furry-fingered mushroom thief! I haven’t much flesh left on these old bones and there will be bruises tomorrow, you mark my words!”

“I was invited to take those, as you well know. And if it wouldn’t have cost me half the fur on my back, I’d have stuck you to me with brownie spit and been done with it. I might have been worth it at that, not to have heard you grumbling in my ear the whole way here, you old crone.”

The words were harsh, but the tone was affectionate, and the brownie set his passenger down with great care in front of her. The aged rat peered up at her and tutted softly.

“Where are your manners, Burdock?”

The brownie rolled his eyes. “Rosa, this is my friend Opalskin. Opalskin, I’d like you to meet Torquil’s Great Auntie Rosa Greytail. She was here when the last dragons left this valley. She knows where they have gone and how to get there.”

The same feeling came over her as when she had realized she was no longer chained.

“You do? Oh, please tell me! Tell me where they’ve gone so that I can leave this place and be with my kin once more!” She leapt up in her excitement and joy, ready to start that minute if she could.

“It’s not that simple, young miss,” said the rat, and she waved her paws at the dragon she seemed to think was some callow youngling to sit, even though the dragon was the older by centuries. “It’s no easy thing to get to the Rim of Heaven.”

And at that she did sit. “The Rim of Heaven? But that place is a myth, just some story old Slatebeard used to tell us to keep us quiet, telling us hatchlings that if we didn’t behave, the Golden One would get us. You can’t possibly mean to tell me -”.

“Oh, but I do. Burdock, you might offer a guest some refreshment while I tell your impatient dragon the whole story. Some mint tea might be nice.”

And while a grumbling Burdock fetched mint tea and blueberries, Rosa told the most amazing tale she’d ever heard, about a dragon named Firedrake, and how, with the help of her cousin Gilbert’s maps and his brownie Sorrell and a human boy named Ben, he found the Rim of Heaven, defeated the Golden One and awakened the dragons there who had starved themselves of moonlight and turned to stone rather than venture out and be killed. One of them had come back with Firedrake and his brownie when he returned to fetch the others, not a moment too soon, for the humans had already begun to flood the valley. The new dragon, Maia, had a strange many-armed brownie with her, the likes of which no one in these parts had ever seen. It was the appearance of this creature as much as Firedrake’s return which persuaded the other dragons that the Rim of Heaven was real, and they all left, as quickly as they could manage it. But before they had gone, they left behind a map, with the route which had been safest twenty years ago, to aid any dragon who might wish to follow them.

“In all of that time, you are the only dragon who has returned here,” said Burdock sadly. He shook his head. “I wonder where the others have gone.”

Rosa snorted delicately. “The humans, the ones that have magic, they rounded them all up and put them in something called ‘reserves’ thinking they were protecting them. Ha! Dumber’n posts, humans. When I heard about you, I thought that perhaps you had escaped from there, but our Burdock says it was much worse than a ‘reserve’. I can see that you have been done grave injuries, Opalskin. The trip is strenuous and should not be taken unless you are in better condition than you seem to be. The Golden One was not the only peril. You will have to fly over many dangerous areas, including ones densely populated by humans, to get there, and it will take a solid month of flying. If you’d like to get there at all, think carefully child about when it would be best for you to leave.”

“As I understand it,” she said, looking between Burdock and Torquil, “I’m not going to have much time left here.”

Burdock started and looked a little guilty. “I hadn’t realized you were awake,” he said.

“I know,” she answered, with gentle reproof in her voice.

“I was going to tell you when it became necessary,” he said defensively. “Right now, this is the safest place to be, and we should stay here as long as we can.”


“Well, you didn’t think I was going to let you go to this Rim of Heaven place without me, did you?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Dragons don’t have sense enough to come in out of the rain without being told to. Who would keep you out of trouble and away from humans on a trip halfway around the world, hmm? How would you find your way to this place you’ve never been without someone to read the map and tell you where to go and where the dangers lie? Who would find you safe places to rest during the daylight? You need me, Opalskin.”

She looked down at the brownie, who looked fearful and troubled in spite of his dismissive tones, and felt a knot in her chest she didn’t even realize was there dissolve.

“Yes, Burdock,” she said softly, “I believe I do.”

He sat down abruptly at that, as if his legs would no longer support him, and sighed.

“So, Rosa,” said he, “Where is this map?”

“The original was only borrowed from my cousin Gilbert, you understand, and was returned to him.” She held up a paw to stop the dismayed sound that had come from the brownie. “But they made a copy on the wall of this cave, so that there would be a permanent record. The moon should be up and high by this time. Torquil, be a dear and go up top and remove that moss-covered stone that sits just above the north wall of the cave. There’s a good boy.”

Torquil grumbled under his breath, but went out the cave door. Rosa turned to Burdock.

“You’ve let the fire die down but, in this case, that’s a good thing. Opalskin, if you’d just shield the north wall from the fire with your body. There! That’s got it! Now all we have to do is wait.”

After a few minutes, there was a scraping noise, and a voice called down to them, sounding very distant.

“I’ve moved it, Auntie.”

“Yes, yes, we’re all very impressed,” Rosa called back up to her nephew. “But we’d be even more impressed if you’d stop blocking the hole with your big head and get back down here.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry!”

It took a few minutes more, but by the time Torquil had rejoined them, there was enough moonlight coming through the hole to see the faint silvery lines of a map glimmering on the cavern wall. In a few minutes more, the whole thing was visible, with a clear route marked and many notations.

“This was done by that many-armed brownie, Burr-something. He made it with an ink that came from some flower that distills moonlight.”

“Moondew,” the dragon whispered. “I never knew where the goblins got it. Look, Burdock. There’s a place marked on the map where there’s a whole field of it.”

“So how do we use this map, Rosa? We can’t exactly take it down from the cave wall and take it with us,” said Burdock, looking at the old rat with more than a little doubt.

“You’ll have to copy it, silly boy. Somewhere in this cave, there are parchments and self-inking quills that were put here with the map.”

“But that is going to take an awfully long time,” said the dragon with a sigh.

“All the more time for you to heal, Opalskin,” Burdock said firmly while he rummaged around in the things in the back of the cave. “Aha! Here they are. You heard what Rosa said.”

“The building isn’t supposed to start for a month,” said Torquil. “That’s plenty of time to copy that map and study it well so that fuzzy-headed brownie doesn’t lead you astray. Which he will, if there are any mushroom patches shown on that map.”

“Hmmph!” said Burdock, glaring at the woodrat. “Maybe you’d like to carry your Great Auntie back home alone in the dark.”

“Nonsense, boy!” Rosa said in her quavering little bark of a voice. “It’s far too late to be climbing down the mountain now. Torquil and I will just stay here for the night.” The old rat turned her eyes to her and shook her head. “You should have had the good sense to find yourself a brownie with some manners, Opalskin. Then he would have known to offer us accommodations for the night without being prodded.”

She looked at Burdock, fussing and fuming as he pulled Torquil out of the cave to collect some of the soft, sweet grass which grew up top to make beds for their guests and muttering about not sharing his blewitts at breakfast, and felt truly happy for the first time in many an age.

“We found each other, Rosa,” she said softly, “and manners or no, he’s more than I could have ever wished for.”

Rosa nodded. “Our Burdock has been awfully lonely since his parents disappeared when he was just a lad. There aren’t many brownies around anymore since the dragons left. We rats have been keeping an eye on him, but he needs more than we could give him. I am glad you found each other. Now I can die in peace.”

“We’ll look after each other from now on,” she said. “Thank you for coming and telling us about the map.”

“You are welcome, my dear. And I want you to know that this information will not die with me. Now Torquil knows it, and his children will know it, and ever onward. So if any more unfortunate escapees from the goblins or the wizards ever come to this valley, they’ll be shown the way to the Rim of Heaven as well.”

“Thank you, Rosa Greytail. That is a kindness we dragons could never hope to repay.”

“Getting yourself and Burdock safely to the Rim of Heaven will be payment enough for this old rat. Now, where are those boys?” Rosa glared at the cavern entrance as if she could will Burdock and Torquil to appear there. “My aching bones have been resting for far too long on this cold stone floor. I won’t be able to move them by morning if I don’t have something soft and warm under them soon.” She shuffled slowly closer to the entrance. “Stop dawdling, you two,” she called. “I’m never going to get my beauty sleep at the rate the two of you are going!”

Long after their friends had been tucked into their beds by the dying fire, Opalskin the dragon nudged the sleepy brownie sitting by her front legs with his parchments and quills spread before them. He had managed to copy a small part of the map, but she had a feeling that by the time the month was over, she was going to have stared it into memory. She couldn’t stop looking at it and marvelling. So the old legends were true. They were true and she would be going there herself! Not bad for a captive dragon who only a few weeks before had feared that her only release from suffering would be death. She felt a surge of affection for the bushy-tailed friend whose head had drooped over the piles of parchments on the board in his lap. Without him, she would have died here alone.

“Burdock,” she whispered, “go to bed. We’ve got all month.”

The brownie yawned and stretched, then sleepily tidied the parchments together onto the board and tucked it against the wall beneath the map.

“Shall I sing to you?”

Burdock yawned again as he asked, and she shook her head with amusement.

“Just rest. You’ll have to train yourself to be awake nights with me soon enough, but we have guests to attend to tomorrow morning.”

“Guests who will be wanting blewitt omelets for breakfast, no doubt,” grouched Burdock. Then he looked up at her and smiled. “Good night, Opalskin.”

“Sleep well, my friend.”

The sleepy affection in his eyes made her heart want to burst with happiness as he staggered to his bed, almost asleep before he touched it. She gave a last glance at Burdock, and then the map, before taking herself outside the cave and gliding down toward the water to the jutting rock which had become her perch on nights like this. There she landed and spread her wings like some over-sized cormorant, soaking up the sustenance of the moon through her skin. Every night when the moon shone, for as long as she was able, she would do this, so that when the time came, she would be strong enough to carry them both, all the way to the Rim of Heaven, all of the way home.


Three Months Later:

Torquil Greytail looked up from tending his mushrooms at the strange buzzing sound that had suddenly filed the air. It sounded as if a horde of wasps was about to descend on his little burrow, but he couldn’t see any. The humans were busy at the far end of the lake, and hadn’t been seen near his home for months, so he was completely puzzled as the noise grew so loud that he had to cover his ears. A moment later there was a loud whoosh over his right shoulder and he threw himself to the ground as what felt like a large dragonfly skimmed so close to his head it nearly touched him. The noise sputtered and stopped, and he raised his head, astonished at what he saw.

It was an aeroplane. A perfect minature of one of those human contraptions which flew overhead far too often for his liking. And out of its cockpit hopped a pale grey rat, wearing a leather helmet and goggles. Suddenly, memories of the tales his Great Auntie told him came to mind and he hopped up.

“Lola Greytail?” he called.

She turned around and saw him and smiled, then strode toward him, extending a paw.

“It seemed like this was the right place from the directions, but I wasn’t sure. I’m Piper. Lola’s my grandmother.”

He shook her paw, in a rather dazed fashion, and shook his head. Well, well, a family legend come to life! But what was she doing here?

“I’ve got news,” she said, as if answering his unspoken question. “And you are?”

“Oh! Sorry! I’m Torquil Greytail.”

“Greetings, cousin!” she said with a grin. “I’m looking for another of our cousins. I’ve a message for Miss Rosa Greytail from Burdock and his friend Opalskin.”

Torquil nearly twitched out of his skin in his excitement and relief. It had been two months since he and Rosa had watch the pair fly off into a full July moon, and though they had spoken of it only once or twice, they had been worrying about them constantly ever since.

“They made it?” he asked with delight. “They are at the Rim of Heaven?”

“Yes, indeed they are, and I have quite the tale to tell. It was an eventful journey.”

Suddenly a querulous voice sounded from just inside the entrance to his burrow.

“Torquil? Torquil? What was that infernal noise? What’s going on out there?”

“We have a visitor, Auntie,” he answered, “A visitor with very good news here to see you.”

“Well, what has happened to your manners, boy? You’ve had that brownie’s bad habits rub off on you. Don’t just stand there like a lump - invite our visitor in!”

The two rats grinned at each other. Torquil proffered his arm. “May I have the honor to escort you inside to meet my Great Auntie Rosa and have some refreshments?”

Piper linked her arm with his. “I’d be delighted, but we’d better hurry before she blows a gasket!”

“Yes, indeed, we’d better,” said Torquil with a grin, and he lead his cousin inside.