Welcome to a brand new adventure. =)
Tails of PaTail
The air smells of raspberries and peaches, cinnamon and nutmeg and, beneath the sweet spice of the jam vendor’s stall, there’s the scent of rain on cobblestone. This early in the morning few people actually wander the market and the few who do are quiet, their bartering kept low so as not to break the peace of the sunrise.
You pass the jam vendor a few coins and accept a small jar of raspberry in exchange. It’s a rare treat but, for your little sister’s birthday, it’s worth the cost.
Turning away from the stall, you almost catch the tail of a well-fed rat before he scurries down a sewer grate.
“Clumsy human!” he hisses over his shoulder.
You hiss back at him before moving along. Ugly rats act as the dog guard’s eyes and ears of the city. It’s the only reason they’re allowed to infest the under city.
But today, of all days, you’re not going to let a rat ruin your fun.
You weave your way out of the market and head toward the merchant’s housing quarter. In your mind, you picture your sister waking to the smell of warm pancakes cooked in fresh butter. The surprise on her narrow face when she sees the ruby jar will make waking at dawn a small inconvenience for the joy in her gray eyes.
As you draw nearer to your home, the quiet of the morning disappears under the angry shriek of an old woman. Her raspy voice carries on the chill air like that of a disturbed crow.
“You’ve got the wrong house!” she insists. “There’re no cats here.” Her voice is familiar. You hurry your steps until you round the corner to find Nan confronting two guards from the dog watch.
“We smell it,” one guard, a dark colored shepherd mix, insists.
“If your nose is so good,” Nan counters, “then why didn’t you find it when you searched the house?”
It’s then you see the beginning signs of a search. A shirt lies at Nan’s feet in the doorway. Tucked underneath it looks to be one of Nan’s underthings. No wonder she’s so fired up. The dogs dragged half her wardrobe into the street.
“A cat?” you ask as you approach, “here?” You keep your tone light, almost laughing.
“I saw it,” says a new hissing voice. “It tried to eat me.”
From the sewer grate beside the house appears a whiskered nose. You’re almost certain it’s the rat from the market.
“Then where is it now?!” Nan stoops and grabs a pebble from the doorstep. In seconds, it’s flying toward the grate.
The rat disappears and the pebble follows it into the sewers. There’s a yelp a moment later.
You almost pity the rodent. Nan’s aim is impeccable. You’ve experienced it many times, usually with the slap of a thrown shoe.
“Now, now,” says the second guard, a hound with such droopy ears that he’s almost standing on them. “No call for that.”
“He’s accusing me of harboring a cat!” Nan shoots back. “That’s call enough for me.”
“We’ll leave you to your breakfast.” the hound nudges his companion with his shoulder. “But as you know, we’ll have to follow up on this accusation later today.”
Nan huffs and watches the two dogs wander away with her hands on her hips. As soon as they disappear, she spins on a heel and marches inside. “Grab my cloths, will you,” she hollers over her shoulder. It’s not a question.
You gather her garments as you follow her inside.
She slams the door closed behind you and you jump, not realizing she was standing right there. When you look at her with a raised brow, she mouths your sister!
Oh no. You realize what must have happened. Lila has an incurable soft spot for baby animals. And somehow, she finds them all the time. A mouse, a badger, an owl, she even tried a porcupine once but Nan drew the line on that one.
But a cat! In the dog run city of PaTail. It spells disaster for sure. Time in the dungeons with the sewer rats or possibly a sentence on the chow lines feeding the military dogs.
Just then, Lily peeks her head into the kitchen. The rest of her body stays hidden in the hallway. Those gray eyes are pleading as they look at you.
“Can we have an adventure today?” she asks. It’s her way of begging you to help her smuggle the cat out of the city. You can’t deny those pleading eyes.
Usually, you’d use the sewers for such a task but obviously, the sewer rat will be watching. You might be able to enter the sewers a street or two away and avoid him but it’s risky with how alert he’ll be.
Or the orchards might give you a tree high enough to go over the wall tonight. You’d have to hide in the trees for the day though because the dog guards will be back by noon.
You and Lily have a code for each place. You’re looking for treasures in the deeps for the sewers or picking up dessert for Nan for the orchards.
Do you tell her…
Treasures in the Deeps?
Picking up Dessert?
Tails of PaTail-Picking up Dessert
“Think Nan would like some dessert tonight?” you ask Lila.
A grin splits her face just as two tiny, fury ears peek around the corner next to her chin. Their orange tips tickle her skin and she giggles.
Nan huffs. “Nan doesn’t need more sweets. Nan needs peace and quiet.” She nabs her clothing from your hands and shoves you toward Lila. “Get outa here.”
By the time you leave the house, the streets bustle with people. Over your arm, you carry a lidded basket with a handle for ‘collecting’ cherries from the orchard. Before you even get to the end of your street, you spy the whiskered nose of a rat peeking out of a sewer grate, watching.
The basket gives a soft hiss and you thump the lid with a warning knuckle.
“Think we can fill this for Nan?” you raise your voice to cover the kitten’s soft hiss.
Lila chuckles. “Nan’ll be making pie for a week if we do.”
You’re almost to the orchards when you spy another whiskered nose watching from a nearby gutter. This one wears an eye patch and squints its one beady eye as you pass.
“Did Paws truly try to eat a rat?” you ask from the side of your mouth.
The kitten, a solid orange ball of fluff, can’t be bigger than the rat you saw this morning in the market. If it tried to eat such a vile creature, it must have spunk bigger than its body.
Lila nods. “Had the rat’s tail in its claws when I found it. Just the tail. No rat attached.”
You wince. No wonder the rat’s so determined…but then, it couldn’t be the rat you saw in the market because that one still had its tail. How many, then, are watching you?
The buildings on the street give way to low stone walls and beautiful trees. Throughout the growing season these trees harbor cherries, apples, plums, even pears. Lower to the ground grow vines with blackberries and raspberries. The place smells earthy, a mixture of damp earth and foliage.
After hopping the low wall, you set the basket at the base of a tree and begin picking cherries. Lila joins you, staying close to the basket’s location as she collects handfuls and drops them inside.
“Now what?” she murmurs, shooting a glance back toward the street where you can just make out the twitching nose of another rat peeking over the orchard’s wall. If you climb a tree to lift the kitten over the wall, the rodents are sure to see.
“Think the whole nest is watching us,” you mutter back.
Lila holds out the bottom of her shirt and you drop your collection of cherries into the scoop of fabric she’s made. She turns to put them into the basket and shrieks. The cherries she’s holding fall to the ground as she drops her hem and races to the whicker basket.
The bushy tail of some creature sticks out of the lid.
“Hey!” Lila grasps the exposed hindquarters and pulls a plump rabbit into her arms. “What do you think you’re doing?”
The rabbit shrieks in turn and then slumps in relief. “Well I’ll be, Miss Lila,” it says. “You scared the fur off me.”
“It’s Maya Rabbit,” Lila tells you while rubbing the rabbit’s ear in greeting.
The lid of the basket lifts ever so slightly. Two large green eyes glitter in the gap, not afraid but glaring at the rabbit Lila just pulled from the kitten’s hiding place.
“Miss Lila,” the rabbit says. “Some of your cherries look like they might be bad as they’ve got fur on them.” Maya winks with the eye away from the road. She hops from Lila’s arms and thumps the basket with one long hind leg. The lid falls shut with a soft hiss.
Maya saw the kitten, and she knows the rats are watching. She’s one of the many creatures Lila helped as a baby. She’s not likely to turn you in.
“I figured we’d pitch the bad ones over the wall before we leave,” Lila tells the rabbit.
“Hmm,” Maya considers and hops in a full circle around the basket before shaking her head. “Probably not the best option. The guards on the wall might not take kindly if you hit them with bad cherries. Maybe you can burry them instead.”
Burry them? What is Maya Rabbit suggesting? Lila looks as confused as you are but then she shudders.
“The moles might not take kindly to that either,” she replies but looks at you for your thoughts.
Oh! Maya Rabbit’s offering to make a deal with the mole’s who guard under the wall. They’re strict creatures but they only care about keeping things out of the city, they don’t really care about keeping things in. There’s a chance they’ll let you pass with the kitten and say nothing to the dog guard above. Usually the rats avoid the moles but now that they’re so determined, there’s a chance they’ll risk the mole’s ire to catch you.
Or do you still try to climb a tree? Perhaps you can ask Maya Rabbit for a distraction instead of a deal. The orchards are full of rabbits. They could help draw the rat’s attention away just long enough to get Paws out of the city.
Do you ask for…
A Mole Deal?
A Rabbit Distraction?
Tails of PaTail-A Mole Deal
“I like your idea,” you say to Maya Rabbit.
She thumps the ground with both hind paws in excitement. “I know just the place,” she says, “follow me.”
As you pick up the basket, a soft voice whispers from the whicker. “You’re trusting a rabbit? What’s the world coming to?”
The entrance to the Mole guard’s tunnels isn’t a door or even a cave, but a simple hole in the ground near the city wall. You’re still in the orchards, so the earth is damp and soft.
Maya Rabbit disappears down the hole to find the guard on duty at the entrance. You eye the opening.
“I’m not sure we’ll fit,” you whisper to Lila.
Before she can answer, a small pink nose appears from the hole. “Ay um,” the mole’s face emerges with his nose twitching, “Miss Maya says—” he stops speaking with his head tilted. “Not on my watch, not a chance.” He disappears.
Moments later, the ground to your left sinks in a whoosh, large claws reach out and grasp the tail of a rat hiding behind the closest tree.
The rat shrieks as it’s sucked into the hole with the mole.
There’s a soft rumbling and then, farther back in the orchard, another hole appears. The rat flies from the hole, still shrieking, and disappears over the far orchard wall.
“And stay there!” shouts the grumbly voice of the mole from under the ground.
While you’re still staring at where the rat vanished, the mole pops up from the tunnel entrance at your feet again.
“Now,” he starts again, “ay um, Miss Maya says some strange things.”
The mole fully emerges from his hole and sniffs at your legs, then at Lila’s legs and, lastly, at the basket. He stands up on his hind legs and grasps the whicker in those same large claws that sent the rat flying.
You grasp the handle firmly but your hands sweat as the mole continues to inspect with his sensitive nose.
“I see, I see,” he mutters. “Furry cherries indeed. You want out?”
“Yes,” Lila says for both of you.
“Hmmm, ay, don’t see any harm in out, ay suppose. Follow.” And he vanishes.
“Umm,” you sink to your knees next to the hole, “Mister Mole, we’re too big for this hole.”
There’s a ‘harrumph’ from below and you feel the ground shudder beneath you. Before you can scramble away, there’s a whoosh and the orchard floor disappears from under you.
You, Lila and a screaming basket tumble into the tunnels below.
Although the entrance was tiny, the tunnels are not. You stand and find you can walk, a bit hunched, into the tunnel system.
“Fill it in, boys,” the mole hollers to several pink noses watching from the tunnel behind you.
“Ay, ay, ay,” they respond and start filling in the giant hole they just opened for you to fall through.
“Follow,” the lead mole says again, and this time you have no problem walking behind him as his giant claws leave gouges out of the tunnel walls.
With him turned away, you peek into the basket to make sure Paws faired the fall without any injuries.
The kitten’s green eyes glare from the depths. He licks at his very ruffled orange fur but otherwise seems unhurt.
“Where’s Maya Rabbit?” Lila asks the mole.
“Ay? Oh, says she and the family gonna play game with rats. Somethin’ about rat ball. Never heard of it.” The mole continues to grumble and you catch a couple words about never being included in the fun.
“Can you get a message back to her?” you ask, thinking that Nan will worry if you don’t get a message to her.
“Message?” the mole looks back over his shoulder. You can’t really tell if he’s looking at you or just scenting the air. “Sure.”
You give him a message for Maya to pass to Nan and, not long after, he stops at another hole in the ground. Late day sunlight streams through it.
“Here, human,” Mister Mole digs his claws into the ceiling around the hole. With a heave of his heavy shoulders, he opens the hole wide enough for you to squeeze out of the tunnels.
“Thank you,” you say to him after you’re out. “What’s your name by chance?”
“Ay um, me?” the surprise in his low voice is obvious. “Morese.” And then, like he’s embarrassed, he dives back below to repair his tunnel entrance.
“I like him,” Lila says.
“You like them all,” you respond.
“Not the rats,” she grins.
You give her that.
The mole guard brought you up just outside the city wall. You head for the tree line before setting the basket on the ground to release Paws.
“Think it’s safe here?” Lila asks, wringing her hands in the hem of her shirt.
“Nothing’s safe outside the city,” you say. “But it’s better than the dogs catching him.”
“Ick,” Paws says as he cautiously peeks his head from the basket, “dogs.”
“Maybe you can stay with the Beaver family for a bit,” Lila suggests. “They live up the river there.” She points to the river.
“It’s wet,” Paws complains.
“Anything make you happy?” you ask the feline.
He tilts his ears toward Lila. “A good scratch behind the ears,” he says as Lila follows suit on his nonverbal suggestion.
A low purr rumbles from his throat.
“The Beaver’s will take care of that,” she assures him.
“Show me the way?” he asks, only now a slight uncertainty entering his usually confident expression.
You start to protest, it’s late in the day, but Lila gives you a look and you know it’s pointless.
It’s her birthday. Guess you can deal for a while longer.
You debate the wisdom of your choice later, however, because by the time you head back to the city, it’s almost dark. Long tree shadows stretch like fingers from the forest toward the city walls.
A long, low howl comes from behind you. It’s not close but, seconds later, a second howl answers it.
The dogs close the gates at sunset. As you told Lila, it’s not safe outside the city, especially at night. You glance back as you quicken your steps.
You safely left Paws with the Beaver family but now you’re worried about you and Lila.
If you head to the gate, the rats might convince the dog guard that you’re suspicious and they’ll close the gates on you.
If you head back to the mole tunnels, you’ll have to negotiate with them to let you back in. Without their help, you probably can’t even get back into the tunnels.
Do you go to…
The Dog’s Gate?
The Mole’s Tunnel?
Tails of PaTail- Mole Tunnels
Long shadows hide the ground around the base of the wall as you search for the mole’s entrance.
Finally, you find the small hole. The area around it is freshly disturbed but secure underfoot.
“Hello!” Lila hollers down.
Moments later, a small, pink nose emerges.
“What?” asks the mole. His voice is deep, like the rumble of a base drum. This isn’t Morese.
“We were hoping you could help us get back into the orchards,” Lila says.
“Hmmm, what?” the mole grumbles. “You want into the city?”
“Hmmm. No.” And the mole disappears.
“But you helped us out earlier,” Lila calls down.
“We keep things out!” the mole’s voice responds. “Stay out!”
“Is Morese there?” you ask instead.
“When will he be?”
You sit back on your heels.
It’s too late to go through the gates. The dogs will have closed them by now.
There’s another howl from back in the woods. A deep throated call that echoes off the city wall. Another howl answers moments later from another place in the woods.
Lila shudders and flops onto her backside. “The Beavers?” she suggests, trying to hide the fear in her voice.
You shake your head. “Too far and those wolves are between us now.”
Lila pats her pockets but then slumps. “I’ve nothing to barter with.”
“Most animals have a sweet tooth,” Lila says. “I’m not sure about moles but—” she shrugs.
You search your own pockets and come out with the jar of raspberry jam from that morning.
“It was your birthday present,” you explain.
Lila nabs it from your hand and kneels with her face close to the mole’s hole. “Mr. Mole,” she calls, “Mr. Mole!”
“Errr, what?” the pink nose pops out of the hole again, large claws framing it on the ground. Lila stumbles backward to avoid being caught by one.
“For some raspberry jam, might we have passage back into the city?”
“Ummm, say now, what?”
“Raspberry jam, in exchange for passage back into the city,” you repeat.
The mole smacks his tongue against the top of his mouth for several moments.
A fresh howl sings out of the woods. Closer this time. Much closer. You almost think there’s a “Foooooooood” in the middle of the sound.
A new idea hits you. “You and Morese can join our game of rat ball tomorrow.”
The mole’s mouth falls open in an ‘Ohhh’. He pulls himself completely out of the hole and stands up on his hind legs like he’s looking at you but, like with Morese, you’re not actually sure he can see you.
“Rat ball? You’d include us in this Rat ball game?” He grasps Lila’s leg with both large clawed hands.
“Of course!” Lila promises with a squeak of surprise.
“Hmmm.” He sniffs Lila’s hand that’s holding the jam. With a motion faster than you’d think possible for a mole, he nabs it.
She gasps but doesn’t protest as he twists the lid free. A flick of his tongue and he’s tasting the jam with a deep ‘hmmm’ of appreciation.
“Deal. Follow.” And he disappears.
As before, the ground shudders and you fall into the tunnels below moments later.
Rat ball becomes one of the mole’s favorite games. It’s no wonder then, that the rats start avoiding the orchards altogether after the first week of the game. This turns out to be fortuitous for you when, only a month later, Lila shows up with a solid black kitten hidden in the pocket of her sweater.
You shake your head and ask her what kind of pie Nan wants to make that night.
Thank you for joining this adventure!
Until next time, blessings,