The Animals of Aysgarth Falls: Adventure into Asygarth
It was a crisp and frosty morning in Aysgarth. The willowy blades of grass, padded out with dark green fern, lined the river, twinkling in their frosty coats in the late winter sun. The familiar flow of the water quietly broke the silence of the woodland, with the distant racing waterfalls downstream rushing in the background. High on a spindly branch of a towering silver birch tree perched Kip, a magnificent kingfisher. His orange flamed chest glowed through the shadows cast by the jagged heart shaped leaves, as they rustled in the gentle breeze. From his watch post, he surveyed the dusty green dales, as far as the eye could see, watching animals and humans alike come and go about their business, day in, day out. Kip saw everything and everyone worth seeing, from high in his tree.
Down in the muddy hedgerow, something was stirring. Kip’s attention was drawn towards a fidgeting pile of earthy leaves, heaped in a bundle at the very edge of the bushes. The jostling pile lay just where the hedge branches met with the swinging wooden gate the humans used to pass onto the footpath. After a couple of moments of scuffling, short, golden, barley tufts sprouted from the leafy mound. Kip watched on, curiously. Two little eyes, as dark as midnight and round as currants emerged, followed by two chubby little arms, impatiently struggling to pat down the fauna to get a better view. Henry the harvest mouse heaved himself up from his snug resting place, squinting in the cool light, his head now fully emerged. He sat merrily, hands on his knees, his round belly resting on his little legs. The whole bundle of his body, no bigger than a well ripened plum.
‘Good morning, Mr Kip!’ the chubby little mouse bellowed up to the tree with a cheery wave.
‘Good morning, young Henry’ returned Kip, his voice calm and controlled, as always.
‘I say Mr Kip, what a lovely morning it is, very lovely morning indeed...’ Henry’s words were mumbled through a mouthful of moss he’d been saving in his back pocket as a pre-breakfast snack.
‘Very much so, Henry’ Kip agreed. ‘Though I must say, the sunshine in spring is kinder to our little riverbank. Its rays are much warmer, and it brings with it a great abundance of life: berries, nuts, seeds, flora, fauna, warmer waters...’ his list continued.
Henry’s tummy started to rumble.
‘Oh Kip’ he looked forlorn.
‘I don’t think I can wait another month for the berries to return, I’ve had just about all I can stomach of soggy green moss, and chewy shreds of bark’.
Henry was so consumed in pangs of hunger, as he resentfully gulped down his last mouthful of moss, he didn’t see the dripping brown creature emerge from the shallows of the river, settling on its hind legs where the water met the land. The figure gave a brisk shake, which ran from the tip of his nose, to the very end of his yarn-like tail. The water spattered around and startled Henry, breaking him from his greedy daydream.
‘Walter!’ He happily exclaimed.
Walter - a water vole – was much larger than Henry, with deep brown fur, and a long barrel shaped body. He and Henry had been friends since they were pinkies (babies, to you and me).
‘Hi there, Henry! Lovely weather we’re having’ Walter was preoccupied as he spoke. He’d
acquired a small piece of driftwood that had washed ashore onto the riverbank. With remarkable ease, he chewed a cherry sized hole in one corner, before carefully threading the bent stem of a bull rush through, tying it in a knot at the underside, and in doing so, mooring his driftwood to the land, creating a makeshift vessel on which to float.
‘You know Henry; I’ve heard a rumour...’ Walter’s eyes sparkled with delight, Kip still cautiously watching on from afar.
‘Oh?’ Henry’s interest was piqued, his little nose twitching with curiosity.
‘I hear that down in the village, every Sunday, the humans set out great big dens in the cobbled square. Only their dens aren’t made from leaves, and branches, and fur like ours. They are huge and striped blue and white, with a wide open front!’
It seemed very strange to Henry that the humans would leave their dens open for anyone to enter as they pleased. He mused as Walter continued to excitedly narrate his tale.
‘And inside the dens...’ Walter paused for dramatic effect.
‘Yes, go on’ Henry prompted impatiently, as Kip rolled his eyes overhead.
‘Inside the dens, the humans keep row upon row of goodies! Ruby red berries, jet back currants, juicy green apples, even bunches of flowers!’ Walter had whipped himself up into a euphoric frenzy, jumping and twirling on his wobbling raft as he delivered his news.
Henry stood almost hypnotised by the tale, his mouth gaping as a little droplet of dribble fell down onto his rotund belly. He quickly wiped it away, blushing slightly with embarrassment.
Any hesitance he earlier felt about Walter’s story had faded to nothingness.
‘That does sound delightful’ Henry murmured, still distracted as the thought of fresh berries bounced around his imagination like juicy edible ponies on a merry-go-round.
‘And...I know how to get us there’ Walter concluded.
At this point Kip thought it necessary to intervene.
‘Young, Walter’ he swooped effortlessly down from his high branch, to a low hanging bulrush. He allowed its bobbing to slowly halt before he continued, to delivery his warning to full effect.
‘I do hope you aren’t leading young Henry astray, you know it’s dangerous to venture too far from the river, especially into the village. The humans don’t like to share their fruits and flowers. You’ve heard of that horrid Farmer Grimble and his pitchfork!’
Walter and Henry had indeed heard of Farmer Grimble and his pitchfork. He used it to chase animals off his land, clonking and plonking it down with great force. Sometimes he would even use it to jab his cattle in the behind when they lazily moved between fields, not quickly enough for his liking. He was a wicked man. Henry shuddered at the thought, but Walter was not so perturbed.
‘Yes, yes, Kip, we all know about Farmer Grimble’ he dismissed. ‘But he can only clonk you with his pitchfork if he catches you! And anyway, the berries were ours first, they stole them, from our bushes’ Walter protested indignantly.
Henry’s gaze shifted left, to right and left again as he watched the exchange between Kip and his friend, chewing on a blade of grass he’d tugged from a soft ground below him.
‘I propose we take back what is rightfully ours, what do you say Henry?!’
Henry spluttered on his mouthful.
‘umm, uhh, well... the thing is...’ he hesitated.
‘Henry wouldn’t be so foolish, would you Henry?’ Kip interrupted.
‘Think about it Henry, juicy, red berries, and jet black currents...’ Walter tempted. ‘You’re not scared are you?!’ he continued to goad.
‘Certainly not!’ Henry retorted in defiance of the cowardly accusation.
‘That’s settled then, we leave in half an hour!’ and with that, Walter plopped back into the water and swam upstream to his burrow to gather the necessary equipment.
Henry was left staring at the abandoned raft, slightly confused as to how he had just agreed to this adventure. He looked to Kip for reassurance, who was already in flight returning to his high tree branch, shaking his head as he flew.
To be continued...