Once upon a time, in a land very far away, there was a mischief of mice that lived together in a great kingdom under the gnarled roots of an ancient oak tree in the middle of a wild, dense forest.
This fledgling kingdom had been founded under and was ruled by Queen Amelia, who was both generous and fair. She loved her subjects and worked diligently to keep them safe, content and protected. This kingdom was not at all your typical mouse dwelling. Not just a hodgepodge of messy burrows and dank, smelly dens like you might imagine, it was a vast labyrinth of cozy nests and food storage areas that circled a city of sorts, the heart of which was her castle.
The Queens castle was a marvelous structure of wood and glass made in the image of the castles of the day. There were large colorful windows made of scavenged bits of broken glass. There were turrets and a large spiral staircase that lead to a tower balcony where the Queen could overlook her city.
Mice hurried across the city square, scurrying toward their various responsibilities. The marketplace was a bustling riot of color and sound as goods and services were bartered for and traded. A line of young mouselings clapped delighted hands at a puppet show and a line of eager treat seekers snaked from the sweet nut shop all the way down to the tailors. The Queen knew that below the upper levels her gathers were filling the coffers with nuts and grain enough to last the winter and even deeper below that there was a supply of fresh cool ground water.
Not so long ago mice were wild nomads, constantly running from the terrors of the woods but now Queen Amelia stood on the balcony feeling quite wonderful as she surveyed her domain. She was never felt happier than when she was watching her flourishing Kingdom… but our story does not begin with her.
It begins on the far outskirts of the kingdom, in the nest of a gatherer and his wife who were brand new parents. On this day, they were very concerned about their baby.
It was early morning on July 7th and Alderon was just two weeks old. In features and fur he favored his father, he was sleek, soft and lovely a warm dark brown but for the rest he was his mother’s child. He had inherited not only her wide brown eyes and long, graceful paws but also an indefinable aura of gentleness and calm. Yet, his Mother, Tabatha, was not calm on this particular occasion. She was scared and every ounce of worry she was experiencing on this bright summer morning was vibrating through the tips of her whiskers as she hurried toward the doctors.
Alderon was little more than a bit of fluff swaddled in a blue blanket, yet almost everyone in town knew who he was. His Father, Tobias was not just any gatherer, his was a Scavenger. He led a small, elite team of mice far beyond the kingdom walls and collected rare treasures, medicinal plants and occasionally a nice piece of aged cheese. Tabatha, herself, was a valued advisor to the queen and after many childless years of marriage, news of the blessing of their child was called a miracle and his birth was celebrated with wild abandon.
Yet, for Tabatha, the celebration ended prematurely as she became increasingly convinced that there was something the matter with her son. Alderon never looked at her, or showed even the slightest interest in anything going on around him. He would start at loud noises but other than that he was an uncommonly quiet baby. He didn’t cry often, nor did he ever smile.
The neighbors laughingly declared that it if they didn’t know it as a fact they never would have believed that the proud new parents even had a little one at home. Tobias laughed heartily at the lighthearted statement, proud that his son was such an easy baby but Tabatha only managed a weak smile. The neighbor’s words drove her deepest fear closer to home, because, in her heart of hearts she knew something was wrong with her son. She knew it as sure as the knowledge was a monster and she the only one who could see it. It chased after her throughout the day and threatened to devour her at night, but at first no one believed her.
Tobias would smile indulgently when Tabatha voiced her fear. He would stroke a gentle paw down her back and tell her she had the curse of all new mothers: worrying too much. The doctor looked Alderon over from nose to tail tip and proclaimed him a fine specimen of mousehood. As the days progressed, Tabatha became consumed with all manner of terrible thoughts as to what could be wrong with Alderon, each one more horrifying than the next.
It was with those thoughts swirling in her head, and the newfound confirmation from Tobias that he, too, had started suspecting that Alderon wasn’t quite right that Tabatha scurried into the office of Dr. Wilber and cuddled Alderon on her lap as she waited for their turn.
A half an hour later, Tabatha left the doctor’s office. She didn’t know what to feel. Part of her was relieved that most of the horrible things she’d imagined had not come to pass, yet most of her was terrified to think of her son growing up in a world he would never see.
However, in this world –even if you can’t see it- there is seldom darkness without some light.
Tabatha and Tobias sat fireside, that evening, numb with shock from the news, their paws intertwined tightly together holding Alderon between them. They were each overwhelmed by all the things they had to say, but couldn’t say anything at all. They were watching the ever present serious look on their child’s face when out of nowhere, Tabatha began to hum. It was a song every mouse knows and soon her hum turned to song. Tobias joined in by the second verse:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free.
By the end, they were both singing as if the living room were a stage and finished by administering ticklish kisses to whatever baby part was in easiest reach.
The last note they sang seemed to hang in the air and merge with the sound of all those silly kisses. It could have only lasted a moment but that moment changed everything. Tabatha and Tobias glanced briefly at each other and then looked down at their son and saw (for the first time) the metamorphic transformation that came over Alderon’s face when he smiled.
“Mom, are there any other blind mice?”
Tabatha paused in her cleaning and her son never saw the twitch in her whiskers before she responded, “If there are any others I do not know them, my love. However I do not know all the mice that there are, nor do I know all the mice that have ever been. I do know one thing though..”
“What’s that, Mom?”
“That my favorite mouse in the whole wide world happens to be blind.” Tabatha set down her dust mop and scooped Alderon off the floor into a great big hug.”
Alderon had grown into an adorable little mouseling and there was no mistaking his condition now. His eyes had turned milky white. Alderon knew that he was different from the other mice but since he didn’t know anything different than being different it didn’t really bother him all that much.
He was just like all the other mouslings in almost every conceivable way. He was a little slower, and a lot more cautious. He depended more on his ears and his whiskers but because of his cautious nature and excellent listening skills he grew so smart so fast that his parents could hardly believe it.
He shambled rather than scurried and often was a bit lost when it came to activates. As a result of this the other mice seldom wanted to play with him. There were many times at school that he felt very left out. Some of his classmates treated him like a beloved pet, others ignored him and some were downright mean to him, refusing to let him join in games or play with their toys because they assumed he would break them.
Home was a different story all together. His parents made concessions for his lack of sight but never treated him any differently than they would have treated any other child. His father took him out beyond the boarder of the tree and taught him everything he knew about the world. His mother patiently explained the things that couldn’t be easily accessed, and was (almost) always willing to answered his questions.
And, oh my…Alderon asked a lot of questions.
He wanted to know everything about everything. His agile mind absorbed every piece of information it was given and then soaked up more. His memory was incredible and soon Tabatha found that she was relying on her son to help her remember things. He also matured much faster than most little ones and occasionally the questions he asked his mother were hard for her to answer.
One night as Tabatha kissed Alderon good night, he sleepily asked her the most difficult of all, "Mama, why did I have to be born blind?"
Tabatha had to take a silent deep breath as tears formed in her bright eyes. Careful to keep the emotion out of her voice she replied, "Oh, my sweet boy. don't you understand? All my life I wanted to be a mother and I thought for a long time that I never would be. When I found out I was going to have you I knew that I'd been blessed with a miracle. And you know what? When you get a miracle you take it anyway it comes."
"I love you, Mama" Alderon sighed as he turned and snuggled down in bed. One of his mothers tears fell on his fur as she tucked his tail under the blanket. But Alderon didn't feel it. He was already fast asleep.
One day, Alderon and Tobias were wandering around in the forest. It was difficult for Tobias to watch his son stumble through the woods. Alderon usually went slow and turned his whiskers in all directions before he took a step, but occasionally he’d find a clear path and lose himself to overconfidence. With his heart beating an anxious staccato in his chest, Tobias shouted directions and occasionally a frantic, "Stop!" Stressful as it may have been, Alderon was growing up and his Father knew that it was time for him to learn how to navigate his ever widening world.
After walking far to the North they decided to rest and have a picnic lunch on the outskirts of the forest, in the dappled shade of a wild rosebush that grew on the highest summit of the Northern Mountain. For you - the walk would have been a short one and the mountain little more than a large hill, but for our two mice the journey had been a long one and their lunch was well deserved. After they had eaten, Alrderon burrowed into a patch of velvet soft grass and sighed with contentment. The early autumn breeze carried with it just a trace of crisp north wind so that even at high noon the day was extremely pleasant.
Tobias brought out his pipe and began a ritual the Alderon loved. The pungent, earthy scent of his father’s pipe stuffing that quickly turned into wafts of spicy smoke that tickled his nose. Alderon let Tobias enjoy his pipe in quiet contemplation for a little while (a very little while, if the truth be told) and then he broke the silence with his very favorite question, 'Dad, will you tell me what you see?"
Sometimes this question was exhausting, and Alderon learned early on that sometimes his parent’s were just too tired to describe the world around them and they’d beg off with a case of ‘Sleepy Brain’ but most times they rose valiantly to the task.
Tabatha tended to focus on the beautiful things. The way the colors of the wildflowers complimented each other, how the slender boughs of willows trees danced on the wind and how glittering stars made pictures in the deepening darkness of the night sky, which was like a sea that moon illuminated clouds sailed across until morning. Alderon loved it when his mother painted for him with words, but if the truth must be told, he learned much more from his father.
Tobias saw the world in a much more practical way and when Alderon asked him to describe what he saw, he almost never did. This occasion was no exception. Tobias took a deep puff of his pipe, then put it down and called his son to sit beside him.
“Can you feel the sun on the top of your head, my boy?”
“Of course I can, Dad.”
“That means that the light is falling straight down on us. This is the only time of day there are no shadows. In the morning, when the sun first rises, light comes from the east so it casts long shadows on the right sides of things.”
“What kind of things, Dad?” Alderon asked while gazing sightlessly to the east.
“Why, everything. Trees, flowers, bushes…even the mountain itself casts a shadow on the ground and if you stand still long enough, you’ll find you have one, too. Morning shadows grow shorter until they disappear when the sun is at it’s apex and then they begin to grow again on the left side. As the Sun makes it’s way to the edge of the western horizon shadows grow longer and longer on the left side of the things until they’re swallowed by the night. As long as you remember where the sun is you can never get lost during the day.”
Alderon tried to suppress a shudder at these words. That was the thing he was most afraid of; being lost and alone in the forest. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find a young one who is not a bit afraid of being lost and alone, but for Alderon that fear ran deep in his veins. Sometimes an unknown noise would wake him in the middle of the night and he would quietly creep to the edge of his parent’s bed, just to listen to their twin snores and reassure himself that he wasn’t alone.
“But Dad, what if you got lost at night?”
“For me to answer that one, we’re going to have to walk a little ways. Are you ready to carry on, my boy?”
They gathered up their lunch things and drank some water from the clever little acorn flasks Tabatha made for them to take on their adventures. Alderon followed his father by following the sound he made in the high grass. Occasionally he’d let out a small squeak, because he was very adept at listening to sound waves. They first set out through dense woods and the sound of Alderon’s squeaks came right back to him but as they walked on the sound traveled further away so Alderon knew that the forest was thinning. Before long they came to a great old cypress tree that stood alone in a clearing.
“Getting lost at night is going to be a little more difficult for you than it would be for me, because I can see the stars and you can’t, so overall I wouldn’t recommend it.” Tobias had learned to be very frank when talking about his son’s disability but there was always a tiny hitch in his voice that he hoped his son didn’t notice. “However, if you ever find yourself in that situation you need to find a tree that stands alone, like this one here.”
They were standing in front of the tree now and Tobias told Alderon to run around it and notice something. A run around a tree is no small feat for any mouse, and Alderon was slower than most so by the time he had carefully picked his way around the roots and fallen twigs at the base of the tree he found his Father sitting and once more puffing on his pipe.
“Some of the tree bark is soft on top, Dad’
Alderon knew he’d guessed right because he could hear his Father’s proud smile in his voice when he replied: “That’s exactly what I was hoping you’d find. But what you felt is not bark, it’s moss and it prefers to grows on the north side of trees here in our part of the world."
“But then why did we have to walk so far? There were trees back in the woods?”
“Two reasons, Son. Moss likes to grow in the shade, so when the forest is deep and dark you can find it growing anywhere. This tree stands alone, so the moss is only growing on the North side, which gets less light than the south side. If you can find a tree like this and it’s got some moss keeping it company you can bet that the moss is growing on is north side. Now listen very hard and tell me what you hear.”
Alderon closed his eyes, scrunched up is nose and listened as hard as he could. Through layers of familiar sounds, such as leaves rustling in the wind and distant bird song, Alderon heard something else. It was a faint rushing sound that came from far away. He listen closer and heard that the sound wasn’t only rushing, it was also splashing.”
“The river, Dad! I hear the river!”
Tobias was more than a little impressed. Strain as he might with his ears, he couldn’t hear the river from this distance.
“That’s right, Alderon. The river should always be your landmark because it always stays right where it is. And how would that help you find your way home?”
“Because our tree is by the river?”
“Not just any old part of the river, we live by a creek which is a shallow part of the river that sounds very different from the rest. If you can find the river, you can find your way home. Next time we have an adventure we’ll go listen to the river, but we should start making our way home.”
Shadows were growing longer on the left side of things as they started walking home, when Alderon suddenly remembered something. “Hey, Dad! What was the other reason we had to walk so far to this tree?”
His Fathers deep chuckle resonated out of the grass in front of him.
“I want you nice and tired when we get home because I can’t answer anymore questions and I want to have a quiet evening with your Mother.”
Alderon’s first Winter came gently to the forest. Spring, Summer and Autumn were always very busy times for the mice. There was food to be gathered, repairs to be made and new nests to be built for grown mouselings who decided to stay close to home. Winter was much more peaceful. As it gradually grew colder, activities began to center around the tree. The stores were filled to the brim with nuts and seeds and no one ever had to worry where they would find their next meal. The city was filled with mice milling about, indulging in long conversations while the young ones played tag or hide and seek in the city streets.
The children would greet Alderon, but never asked him to play with them. Sometimes they’d toss a quick hello over their shoulders as the scampered past to join the fun, but often they were gone to fast for Alderon to realize who had spoken to him. As the days grew shorter he began to feel more and more left out. But again, there was a bright spot: Tobias no longer had to go away on long trips to the forest and being by his side as he told war stories with the other scavangers almost made up for Alderon’s feeling of isolation from his peers.
The grown mice regarded him quite differently than their children. Having earned the wisdom and compassion that comes with age, they were constantly impressed by how well Alderon could function with no sight. Tobias feinted modesty on behalf of his son, but there wasn’t a prouder papa to be found in the whole kingdom. Spending so much time with adults had given Alderon a keener understanding of the world of grown-ups than most children posses. As a result of this, he was always welcome at the table as they swapped stories and bragged about their adventures, whereas all the other children were sent away to play.
There was one mouse, however who was particularity disturbed by the exclusion of Alderon. Queen Amelia’s heary was heavy as she looked down from her tower. Day after day she watched Alderon’s shoulders slump as he unsuccessfully tried to engage the other mouselings. Some ran off without a backward glance, and even the kinder ones who stopped to say a nice hello would shuffle on their feet and edge away to the fun as fast as they could. Not once did any of those little mice ask Alderon to play.
For a wild moment, the Queen considered issuing a proclamation that all the children must include Alderon in their activities, but quickly realized that that would only cause more problems than it fixed. One of the things that made Amelia such a wonderful Queen was her ability to imagine herself in any situation so she soon realized that no mouse would appreciate being told who they must socialize with ,nor would Alderon appreciate the others playing with him because they were ordered to do so.
The answer to her problem came a few days later when she went to visit Tabatha. Since becoming a mother Tabatha has stepped down from her role as advisor to the Queen, but she had not stepped down from their friendship. The Queen was very busy, but once every two weeks on a Saturday she would have afternoon tea with Tabatha. On this Saturday, Amelia arrived at the her friend's burrow with a basket full of treats and a head full of gossip, almost a half an hour early.
She paused outside the door with her paw raised to knock because an enchanting sound had caught her ear. It was Alderon, singing his mother’s favorite song as Tabatha bustled around the table setting the tea things.
Alderon’s voice rang out clear and true and made Amelia recall all manner of wonderful moments from her life. She completely forgot her manners and opened the door without knocking to better hear the end of the song. When it’s final note faded, with joyful tears in her eyes she ran across the room (in a very undignified fashion) scooped Alderon of the floor and held him tightly in her arms.
“You’ve come early today!” Alderon squeaked by way of a greeting, instantly recognizing the scent of his beloved “Auntie Queen”.
“I have, my lovely little fluff ball! I missed you and your mama so much that I couldn’t stay away a moment longer.” Amelia reluctantly put Alderon back down and turned to hug Tabatha. “I’ve brought your favorite cookies and a very special request, come let’s sit down and talk.”
Later that afternoon, the tree was abuzz with excited chattering, because the Queen had called for a gathering that night an hour after dark. All the mice were wondering what was happening and left the dinner table early to rush home and clean themselves up so they could get a good spot in the Queen’s courtyard.
Excited voices instantly hushed as she stepped out onto her balcony and look out into the sea of faces below her.
“Good evening, my mice!” she cried. “I am so happy to see you all gathered here on such a lovely evening. I have decided that we should have entertainment in the evenings for all those who wish to be entertained. For those who wish to provide the entertainment there will be an audition committee meeting once a week in the town square. We shall be looking for storytellers, comedians, dancers and musicians. Sadly however, as we live in a tree, there is no need for flaming matchstick twirling and yes, I’m looking at you Jackson.”
The crowd laughed and the few closest to him gently ribbed a deep black mouse who was well known for his frightening love for uncontained fire.
“Tonight, it is my great honor to present the first of our entertainers. He is young, but I think in the end you’ll agree that there was no better choice. Alderon, if you will..”
Alderon was standing just behind her and at the sound of his name he stepped forward. There was some quizzical murmuring from below and he began to feel very nervous as he thought of all the mice below but Amelia took his paw, gently squeezed it and whispered in his ear, “Show them, my fluffy love. Show then who you really are.”
She gave him an encouraging pat on the back and pushed him forward to the balcony’s rail.
When he came into view the crowd fell silent again, but Alderon only nervously cleared his throat. He was suddenly afraid and wanted to run away and hide. But then from the shadows heard his Mother’s voice - the one he trusted like no other - whisper: “Forget about them, my darling. Pretend it’s just you and me.”
Alderon took a deep breath and began to sing.
As he sang, Alderon truly did forget about all the mice listening to him. He sang for his mother and for the simple joy of making something beautiful out of nothing but himself.
When the last note of the last verse faded away, the courtyard was quiet as a snow covered graveyard. And then it wasn’t. Tumultuous applause and cheering rattled the windows of the palace itself. The rest of the evening passed in a blur for Alderon, as mice gathered around him to compliment him or asked him to sing again.
Amelia watched all of this with a secret smile on her face because her plan had worked better than she’d hoped. Alderon’s life didn’t change drastically after that evening, but it did change for the better. While he wasn’t included in the children’s games anymore than he had been before, they no longer ran past him as fast as they could. They would stop and greet him, and talk about their favorite songs. Shy little mouse girls would sometimes ask if he wanted to go for a walk and offer their paws to guide him.
The evening entertainment became an instant success and made the long winter nights fly by. Soon an amphitheatre of sorts was built in the middle of the courtyard and night after night, bold mice would take center stage to show off their various (but never fire throwing) talents. However, no entertainer was more sought out than Alderon. At least once a week, someone lead Alderon on stage and he filled the respectful hush that followed with songs that touched the hearts of every mouse that heard them. They finally knew who Alderon was.
To be continued.... (this decade. we can hope.)