Fal’ne the mouse maiden stepped lighted-pawed beside her father and elder brother. They were on their way to Graystone! Oh happy day! Her father had two good friends in Graystone, and her mother had another. Her father had promised them for a long time that they would visit Graystone, but only a few weeks ago had they been able to. First they had taken a boat down the Keron River, well guided by a river otter named Kyka. Kyka had been delighted to have an excuse to sail on the Keron, but he had been extremely wary.
“It’s the Keron Mice, you know,” he had explained. “They won’t hurt us, but it never hurts to be careful.”
They had not encountered the wild tribe of the Keron Mice and soon had gone ashore to travel on foot the rest of the way to Graystone.
Her brother, Nathan’el, flicked her with his sack. “Hey, don’t keep on dancing like that, or you’ll have me at it!”
Fal’ne stopped dead and twirled on one paw. Her father stopped too and threw an affectionate paw around her shoulders.
“If your mother could see you now, she’d be laughing so much that even Nathan’el would laugh, too!”
Nathan’el, a sensible, taciturn young mouse, shrugged. “We need to hurry to get to Graystone—or we could set up camp and have dinner!”
Fal’ne let out the breath she had been holding. Not too many weeks before they had set out, her mother had disappeared. Her father never said much anymore, nor did he smile so often. When he did smile, it was always because of Fal’ne or Nathan’el. He never laughed anymore.
“I think that’s a stupendous idea, Nathan’el,” Ol’ver decided. “Let’s find somewhere hidden.”
That was another odd thing that had happened since Ran’ta’s disappearance. Ol’ver always seemed to be looking back over his shoulder, as if he were afraid of being attacked. They ate and camped only in places well-hidden. But Nathan’el tried very hard not to let Fal’ne notice his odd suspicion.
They found a dip in the ground, shielded by fallen logs and huge clumps of salal bushes. Fal’ne dug into her pack and found some cold bread, while Nathan’el built a small fire and Ol’ver handed around wooden utensils. Fal’ne also found some cheese and mild, watered wine, and they had a fine dinner—at least as fine as can be had on the road.
Afterwards, Fal’ne fell asleep, leaning against Nathan’el. Ol’ver, too, fell into oblivion, exhausted from the day of travel. But Nathan’el stayed awake. His mind was, as it had been for weeks, on his mother.
Nathan’el had been watching his father almost unceasingly since Ran’ta’s disappearance, hoping to hear a clue about what had happened to her. After two weeks of searching and not finding her, Ol’ver told his children she’d probably lost her way in the woods and perhaps died of starvation. And yet, he didn’t act like it. He acted as if he knew something else. So far, he’d said nothing more, but Nathan’el thought, It’s just a matter of time.