Chapter 28 The New Guardian of Fievel
Location: Nicodemus' Palace, Rosebush City
Josh entered the royal infirmary, where Timmy lay snug and warm under some blankets. He and his party had returned from their space expedition a week ago with the medicine, and the boy was already making great progress in his recovery. Keeping him on a cocktail of IV drips and powerful antibiotics Josh had salvaged from the REMO, they'd managed to pull him back from the brink of death just in time. Martin, his fractured wrist wrapped in a cast and his head bandaged, sat beside his brother's bed with his mother and siblings, keeping Timmy company.
Elizabeth had literally exploded when she'd heard about her eldest son's little escapade in space, which had almost cost him his life, and had furiously berated Martin for his recklessness. Not surprisingly, Martin, who'd already learned his lesson the hard way, was humble and apologetic, promising his mother he wouldn't do something like that again. Although Elizabeth was a good mother and, sympathising for her son's injuries, had ultimately decided not to punish him, she wouldn't let him out of her sight for one minute after that.
His siblings, although at first shocked to hear he'd almost gotten himself killed (and in Teresa's case, angry, just like their mother), they were all very intrigued to hear what Martin had seen up there, suddenly making their brother the centre of attention. Josh's stories of space travel had intrigued them all and, in a way, they envied Martin for having had the opportunity to experience it first-hand, yet knew better than to say it out loud with their mother nearby. After what had happened, she wouldn't let any of them go into space again anytime soon, even if Josh had consented, which he'd assured Elizabeth he wouldn't.
"...You float just like a feather," Martin was saying, describing what zero gravity felt like, "You can really fly around like a bird. It's so awesome!" His brother and sisters all gasped with awe. Then, they noticed Josh as he walked in.
"Good morning, Josh," said Elizabeth, walking over to kiss him (Martin pulled a face at them behind his mother's back, causing Teresa to slap him over the back of his head). "You look a little tired."
"I know, I've not being getting enough sleep these last couple of days..."
The last week had been a very busy time for Josh. Between caring for Timmy and working on his plans with Nicodemus, he felt he could use a break. With his newfound equipment, he could now undertake more ambitious projects for the King, and Nicodemus didn't miss an opportunity to use him, leaving him extremely limited leisure time.
Now that they had all the necessary pre-supplies waiting at Thorn Valley ahead of schedule, they'd decided to put the Plan on hold until after the winter season, instead focusing on finding the third and final piece of the Stone. Nicodemus' search had finally struck gold, tracing it to the lost tomb of an ancient mouse monarch, dating way back to the earliest Nimh-Beta civilisations. According to some old manuscripts he'd found, the third piece of the Stone was buried there with its original owner. That left them only with the task of figuring out where that tomb was, which could be anywhere on this planet. Then Josh had come up with the idea of using satellite imagery to aid them in their search, by tapping into the old satellite network his crew had set up in orbit around the planet long ago. That would be his task for today.
Checking on Timmy and making sure he'd taken his morning medicine (much to the boy's displeasure), he hurried back to his chambers to collect his gear. He'd unpacked his long-deceased colleagues' equipment from their kits for cataloguing and testing, turning his quarters into a cluttered workshop of 2,000-year-old high-tech equipment. Although thousands of years old, unlike the Temple of the Great Owl, the REMO's cargo had been well preserved by the cold and vacuum of space. Even the batteries for the electronics, left literally frozen in time all these centuries, after thawing, still retained a full charge.
In order to tap into the old satellites, Josh would need to set up a transmitter and parabolic dish. After studying several crude maps of the local terrain Justin had provided him with, he'd decided the highest point was the most suitable spot to set up his transmitter: the peak of the unnamed volcano overlooking the City.
Changing into his flight suit, he collected Wilson's EVA comms and nav kit, which contained all the components for a small field antenna array that linked up to the satellites. He also took Lt Stacy's geology kit, hoping to do a seismic survey of the mountain, and hurried out to the launch pad where his pod was.
Now that he was running regular flying errands for Nicodemus, he'd ordered the construction of a proper landing pad for his pod, extending from one of the palace balconies, overlooking the side of the honeycombed hill where the Rats had built their capital city.
The pod stood gleaming good as new in the sunlight. Now that he had proper tools, Josh had given her a major overhaul, repairing the broken fuel gauges and converting her to run off hydrogen gas, which he could easily extract from water using electrolysis. A pair of guards, posted to watch over the pod around the clock, bowed politely as Josh approached.
Loading his equipment onto the pod, he was about to climb onboard, when he suddenly heard a little squeal coming from a shadowy corner behind a rock pillar. The guards had heard it too and, realising they had a trespasser nosing around the royal property they'd been tasked to guard with their lives, and which would look very bad on their report to Justin, instantly sprang into action. In an instant, they had nabbed the culprit and dragged her, screaming and pleading, in front of Josh. For the second time, Tanya Mousekewitz had been caught red-handed nosing around.
"How dare you, you insolent little mouse wretch! Don't you know this place is off-limits, by order of the King?" growled one of the Rats, forcibly dragging her along with no decency whatsoever, "Maybe a week in the stocks will teach you a lesson...!"
"I was only looking, honest!" pleaded Tanya, feeling like her arms were about to break in their iron grip, "Please, let go! You're hurting me...!" Noticing how unnecessarily rough they were handling her, Josh stepped in.
"That's enough!" he barked, "Unhand her, at once!" Although the Rats loosened their grip, they still didn't release Tanya, holding her in the air by her wrists, facing Josh, so that she wouldn't try and escape (the average Rat was almost twice the height of the average mouse, and Tanya wasn't exactly a tall mouse).
"Sir, this little troublemaker has disobeyed regulations before!" protested the other guard, surprised that Josh hadn't already ordered them to drag her down to the dungeons by the hair and lock her up, "Such behaviour cannot be tolerated...!"
"Be that as it may, no proper gentleman treats a lady like this! Now put her down, that's an order!" Josh chastised them for their own appalling, un-gentlemanly behaviour. In the Royal Air Forces, where he used to serve, such treatment of a girl would certainly not be tolerated, no matter what the offence was! And now that he was a high-ranking official of the court, he had every intention of preserving all proper decency protocols, "Now, get back to your posts! I'll handle this."
The guards reluctantly put Tanya down and returned to their posts as ordered, muttering something along the lines of sparing the rod and spoiling the brat, or in this case, the servant. Josh turned to Tanya, who was massaging her painful wrists, relieved that nothing was broken.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm just fine, thank you, Josh," she muttered, beaming with joy in Josh's presence. After he'd rescued Fievel, she'd become Josh's shadow, following him almost everywhere, albeit from a respectable distance. Unbeknownst to her, Josh had noticed her a few times, but didn't mind and would just pretend he hadn't seen her, as not to embarrass her. But this time, her curiosity had gone a little too far.
"What are doing here?" he asked, although he'd already guessed the answer, "You know nobody is allowed near this thing, and for good reason!" Tanya's face fell, nervously playing with her tail, realising she could be in big trouble now. Surely, surely, Josh wasn't going to punish her?
"I'm sorry, Josh, I was just curious... I mean, I couldn't resist looking...," she stammered, unable to find the right words to explain herself and maybe spare herself some punishment, "Eh... You aren't going to have me locked up in the stocks, are you?"
Like other servants accused of petty offences, Tanya had done time in the stocks before, in that case for supposedly backchatting Jenner during one of her futile appeals to the Council to help her find Fievel. Jenner had approached her and offered to put a good word in for her in exchange for a few 'favours'. Tanya, appalled, had obviously firmly refused, angering Jenner. Although she'd done nothing wrong, she'd been given a week in confinement by the ruthless General, leaving her at the mercy of the jailors, who'd jeer and torment her ruthlessly for two whole days, until Isabella had stepped in and persuaded her grandfather to drop the punishment. She dreaded the prospect of repeating that experience now. But Josh just shook his head.
"That won't be necessary," he said, smiling in amusement at her uneasiness. Tanya could have kissed him in gratitude for letting her off a second time. She sure was building a reputation of sticking her nose where it didn't belong and getting away with it whenever her human friend was around. But then, Josh added, "But I could use a little help setting up all this gear on the mountain. How about joining me for a little ride?"
Tanya looked at the pod, suddenly feeling really nervous again. Although, like every girl with a crush, accepting a ride on her own dream knight's magic flying chariot was something she'd die for, she wasn't so sure about the flying bit. Watching this thing fly from afar was just fine, but ride in it? Up in the air? She wasn't so sure whether she was keen on that.
"You mean, fly up there?"
"Sure, it's perfectly safe. Come on, you'll enjoy it," Josh urged her, before adding cheekily, "Let's consider it your punishment – you escort me on this errand, unless, of course, you'd rather play locked-in-the-stocks games with Elizabeth's children instead, until I return..." Obviously, he would never do such a mean thing to Tanya, yet couldn't resist taking the mickey out of his young friend.
Although realising Josh was only teasing her, Tanya visibly recoiled; any big sister's worst nightmare was finding herself completely at the mercy of her mischievous little brother. No matter how attached they were, Fievel and his friends would gang up on her in a heartbeat and tickle her in the stocks without end. That quickly seemed to get her over her initial hesitation.
"No, no, no!" she pleaded, "I mean, yes, yes, I'd love to come with you, Josh!" She blushed beetroot red, realising how lovesick she must sound. Josh smiled.
Josh climbed into the cockpit and, reaching down, he took her hand and helped her up. Gently, he sat her down onto his lap, very gentleman-like. Tanya giggled.
"I hope it's no trouble," she said, staring in amazement at the pod's strange interior, with all its banks of blinking dials and instruments, realising just how little sitting space there was in here, "It looks so...cramped in here."
"Sorry for the lack of seating. Nimh didn't design these babies for carrying passengers," said Josh, "Most of the hull is taken up by the machines that make this thing fly and keep us alive out in space. The pilot just gets what's leftover." He punched in the ignition sequence. Tanya jumped at the sound of the oaring boosters firing up, shaking the pod.
"What was that?" she gasped, clinging to Josh, "Is something wrong? Are we in trouble?"
"Just the engines firing at full blast to get us off the ground, that's all," said Josh calmly, focusing on his controls. Realising what he'd just said, Tanya glanced out the window and almost shrieked in fright; they were indeed flying, floating high off the ground, like on a magic carpet. For an instant, she thought they were going to fall; but the pod, of course, continued to fly along smoothly, all her systems in the green.
Quickly getting over the initial shock of flying for the first time, Tanya felt her heart soar. It was like a dream come true; here she was, in the arms of her hero, flying together on his magic chariot of the skies. She felt like one of those mouse heroines from the stories her Papa used to tell her as a little child. She couldn't wait to tell Isabella, who would be green with envy...
Josh set course for the peak of the volcano. As they flew up the mountain, he couldn't help but marvel the stunning view of the green lush in the valley below. Rosebush City was also visible on the old lava plains at the foot of the mountain. Views like these had been rare to non-existent back on Earth when he'd left home. A whole new world was just waiting for him out there.
"Mighty beautiful this world of yours, Tanya," he told his mouse friend, who was too busy swooning on Josh's lap, lost in her own romantic fantasies.
"Nicer since you got here," she said dreamily, batting her eyelashes at Josh. She wanted to take him into her arms, kiss him, profess her love for him, but was mature enough to control herself. Instead, she rested her head on his shoulder, whispering, "You're my hero, Josh."
"I know," said the man calmly, concentrating on his flying, giving her a small smile.
The crater was obscured by clouds of water vapour coming from the depths of the volcano, but otherwise appeared quiet. Unlike the long-extinct volcano he'd visited up on the Dark Mountains, this one definitely still had some heat left in its depths, if not dormant. But, for the moment, it looked safe.
Josh set the pod down on a flat spot on the rim of the crater and then he and Tanya unloaded the equipment. The Mousekewitz girl was utterly fascinated by all this strange hardware, the likes of which she'd never seen before, and kept pestering poor Josh with questions about what everything was and what it did. Humans' power for invention simply completely blew her mind.
Finding a good spot, Josh took out a drill from his toolkit and began making holes in the rock where the bolts for the antenna-mast pedestal would be fitted. With Tanya's help, they assembled the long antenna mast and mounted it on its pedestal, anchoring it to the ground with wire mooring-lines lashed to iron pegs in the ground. Then came the tricky part of mounting the instruments, which included the satellite dish, transmitter, a weather package, relay antenna and the power supply.
The dish was mounted and hooked up to the transmitter, which in turn was wired to its power supply, a small battery pack in a weather-proof box at the base of the antenna. A pair of small solar panels mounted on the mast would keep its battery always charged. Josh powered up the assembly and run a diagnostics check on Wilson's nav computer. A digital 3-D model of Nimh-Beta showed a spreading web of lines interconnecting several scattered dots around the planet. Many of the satellites read non-functional after 2,000 years without maintenance, but enough of them were still operational, allowing him to map most of this globe.
The last task of today's expedition was taking a seismic reading of the mountain. Unpacking Lt Stacy's geology kit, Josh took out the seismometer and all its sensors, for taking seismic, gas and temperature emission readings. Circling the crater, they planted the sensors in key locations, wiring the whole mountain. Any little hiccup that the mountain made from here on would be picked up and recorded.
Taking a test reading, Josh frowned as he noticed his instruments were picking up some faint, but noticeable, activity. The seismograph was rippling between a 1.2 and a 2.1, but the activity seemed a little too shallow even for a dormant volcano. Gas emissions were spiking too, thankfully not dangerously, but enough to worry him. Were these harmonic tremors he was seeing? Could this mountain not be completely asleep after all? Unfortunately, he had neither the knowledge nor the experience in geology or seismology to draw a satisfactory conclusion. The only one qualified for that would have been Lt Stacy and of course that woman was long dead... Likewise, the few Rat scientists on this planet were charlatans at best and could be of no help whatsoever. Putting aside his worrying thoughts for later, he returned to the task at hand.
A few hours later, their task finally complete and with the two Centauri suns setting on the horizon, turning the mountain air freezing cold, the pair of them returned to Josh's pod to make their way back home. On the flight down, Tanya entertained Josh with a little song she'd made up for him.
"...Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight, someone's thinking of me and loving me. Somewhere out there, if love can see us through, then we'll be together..."
"You know, you'd make a great diva with that singing talent of yours," he told Tanya, whose singing had really caught his ear. He was no opera critic, but this sure beat the hell out Dr Stetson's music collection he'd inherited, "You should be making a living on stage..." Although Tanya was touched by Josh's complement, at the same time she felt saddened, as her singing talents unfortunately went unappreciated by the Rats, mostly due to the long-enduring social discriminations.
"My Papa wanted me to be a singer for the Minsk Mouse Opera," she said, "He was going to persuade my Auntie Sophie, whose husband was on the Minsk Royal Council, to use her connections to get me an audition. Then the Great Mouse Revolution broke out and our country fell into the hands of Rat colonialists..." She stifled a sob, remembering her dead parents, who had been arrested and executed by the revolutionists, and all of their land seized or destroyed.
"Tanya, have you ever thought of going back? To Minsk, I mean?" asked Josh. Tanya looked at him.
"What for? Besides me and Fievel, our family's all dead," she said, "But why do you ask?"
Although Josh knew he shouldn't break his oath of secrecy to Nicodemus regarding the Stone, he suddenly had a hunch and, figuring he at least owed Tanya an explanation for inquiring about her parents, he fired away.
"Tanya, if I were to ask you a rather...delicate question, you promise not to tell another soul? Even Isabella and Fievel?" After Tanya had promised him, albeit confused by all this secrecy, Josh asked the big question.
"Did your parents know anything about a certain artefact called the Stone of All Knowledge?" He almost certainly expected her not to even know what he was talking about; instead, to his utmost amazement, Tanya gasped at the mention of a very familiar name.
"Why, of course. The Stone of all Knowledge is an ancient artefact from our forefathers," she said, "It dates back to the original mouse founder of Minsk himself. According to my Papa's stories, it was buried with him, along with a vast fortune in treasures, to keep it safe from the Rats, who wanted it for themselves."
So, she knows, thought Josh. It seemed his hunch was very correct after all. He asked Tanya to resume her story.
"Many mice say it's just a myth, but not my Papa," Tanya continued, "To the day he died, he claimed that the tomb was built on our very lands of all places, waiting for the day when we might discover its secret and rise to equal standing with the Rats... Pure fantasy, of course," she added, feeling very foolish at the thought of it. After all, how could mice ever hope to be the equals of Rats, who'd always been superior to them? But Josh had heard all he needed to know. Now he knew where they should look for the last piece of the Stone.
"Maybe not all that fantastic as you may think, Tanya," he said, "I daresay, mice might actually claim their right as the equals of Rats before you're a woman."
They returned to Rosebush City without incident, where Josh set his pod down on the landing pad and helped Tanya off. As she reached up to kiss him on the cheek, thanking him for a lovely ride, Josh whispered to her.
"Remember, Tanya, our earlier conversation is our little secret. All right?" Tanya wholeheartedly promised on her life and Josh knew he could trust her. One of the important lessons he'd learned in life was that only a true friend could truly be trusted. And Tanya could be trusted to keep the secret – in fact, after everything Josh had just heard, she and Fievel might actually have a big family secret they didn't even know existed.
That evening, Josh told his friends what he'd learned from Tanya. He, Justin, Brutus and Mr Ages had been summoned in for an urgent meeting by Nicodemus. Only Elizabeth was absent, busy tending to the children. The Rats were utterly surprised at this latest revelation, if not exactly pleased with Josh's approach.
"You idiot human!" Brutus chastised him, "You knew the Stone's a forbidden secret and yet you go and openly discuss it with some lowly servant-girl? What were you thinking?"
"He's right," said Mr Ages, "Don't you realise, if someone on the outside realises what she knows, the enemy might target her for information? Our entire operation could be blown!"
"The way I see it, she already knew enough; we just didn't realise it until now," said Josh, defending his actions. He was fairly certain they could trust Tanya not to blab and there was no way some spy might have overheard them up in the air, "We've had our missing lead right under our noses all along!" He turned to a large transparent screen he'd set up in Nicodemus' study.
Over the last couple of days, they'd set up a crude operations centre using the gadgets they'd salvaged from the REMO. Now that the antenna array was finally in place up on the mountain, they had modern communication and surveillance technologies to continue their search for the Stone, enough to envy some of the best intelligence agencies on Earth. The screen showed a crystal-clear, false-colour feedback from a satellite imagery camera, revealing Rosebush City and the surrounding countryside; they could see the city, the volcano and the green valley with the lake where Josh had ditched on his first landing. Although he'd only been living on Nimh-Beta for a month, it seemed almost like a lifetime ago...
Beyond their little vestige of civilization stretched the vast desert terrain that covered most of the planet. Scattered across the surface in various locations were Thorn Valley, the Lee of the Stone, amongst other precious few habitable green regions, where the rodent inhabitants of Nimh-Beta had established their colonies, looking tiny and insignificant. On Justin's directions, using a set of joystick-like controls, Josh tracked through the different grids on his satellite map, zeroing in on a region several hundred miles to the east.
"So that's the Land of Minsk," he said, zooming in on the mice's ancient capital of their own civilisation, now a province to Nicodemus' empire, under Rat colonial rule. Although Josh deeply respected Nicodemus, this was one thing he didn't approve of, which was saying something coming from a staunch English military officer. After all, colonialism used to run through the veins of his ancestors for centuries, before England had finally ceased being an empire.
"And not exactly the most peaceful province, I'm afraid," said Brutus gruffly, "I hear the governor is still having trouble with mouse revolutionists stirring up riots."
"All the more reason for my Quaestor to take up his duties as Imperial Commissioner as soon as possible," said Nicodemus, looking at Josh. As the King's Commissioner to Minsk, sent along to inspect the province, he would have the perfect cover story for him and his party to search for the Stone inconspicuously.
"I shall start making all the necessary preparations for your passage to Minsk at once," Nicodemus continued, "That just leaves us with one final matter left to discuss. If you would like to accompany me someplace private, please..." Leaving Justin, Brutus and Mr Ages to continue going over their maps of the region, Nicodemus led Josh out onto a balcony, adjacent to his study, where they'd have some privacy.
"What's the trouble, Nicodemus?" asked Josh, "Look, if it's about shutting my mouth off to Tanya, I'll accept full responsibility..."
"It's not about Ms Mousekewitz, Josh, it's about her brother," explained Nicodemus, "Now that the world knows he's alive, and with both his parents dead, that young boy needs a guardian."
"Can't Tanya handle that?" asked Josh, "I mean, she's his closest surviving relative and she's almost of age. Surely, with our support..." Unfortunately, as it always happened in the Rat's bureaucratic, corrupt legal system, Josh soon found it wasn't going to be that simple.
"According to our law, the male heir of any family, if left orphaned before he's of age to claim his inheritance must be placed into the care of a legal guardian approved by the Council, to manage his affairs. The same laws apply for colonial mice, who're under our jurisdiction."
"What about Elizabeth?" suggested Josh, "I'm sure she'd gladly accept another child into her family..."
"Indeed, a most fitting choice for a guardian," agreed Nicodemus, "But, again, she'd need the consent of her husband to apply for guardianship, and unfortunately he's deceased." Josh felt his insides twist up, remembering poor Jonathan, who'd died without ever being reunited with his family. He was regretting his decision not to tell Elizabeth with every passing day... But, right now, he needed to focus on Fievel.
"However, you, being Mrs Brisby's closest...trustee, if you'll pardon my expression," said Nicodemus, trying not to sound offensive, "You could give your consent on this matter."
"So, what you're saying is, I should be the one to take over Fievel's guardianship," said Josh, finally realising where Nicodemus was getting at. He considered hard for a moment. He was an army officer; what did he know about being a guardian? But, on the other hand, he'd grown too attached to that boy to just let a bunch of corrupt, arsehole Councilmen decide on his future. He turned back to Nicodemus.
"I'll have a talk with Elizabeth about this," he said, "I'll let you know in the morning." Nicodemus smiled.
That evening, Josh told Elizabeth about Fievel's plight. She's tucked her children in to bed as usual and the two of them were sitting by the fire in Josh's chambers, drinking mead wine. As Josh had expected, Elizabeth was overwhelmed at the suggestion.
"Of course I'd be delighted to take him in," she said, "He needs a proper family, poor dear..."
"You're sure?" Josh asked, "You do realise this means adding another mouth to feed to your family..."
"Our family," Elizabeth corrected him, "They're your family now too, Josh. You'll find children are the greatest gift in life. Personally, I'd welcome all the children in the world into my family!" No doubt she'd make the perfect stepmother for Fievel, thought Josh.
"Then, it's settled," he said, "I'll tell Nicodemus first thing tomorrow morning and we'll send our application to the Council."
"The children will be so pleased to hear they're going to have another brother!" said Elizabeth happily. Josh moved into the same armchair beside her, pulling her into his embrace for a passionate kiss. Her remark about him being like family to her made him feel real touched indeed. Their family...his new family. One broken family was practically whole again, thanks to him, and pretty soon another one would be too. Little did they know that someone else was also interested in securing guardianship for Fievel Mousekewitz and was determined to get his way at all costs...
Josh might have known Nicodemus hadn't been joking when he'd stressed the importance of finding a suitable guardian for Fievel without delay. One minute, he was having a lovely dream of building a new life for himself and his mouse family, when he was awoken at the crack of dawn by a hysteric Elizabeth. Something bad was up.
"What...what's the matter?"
"It's Fievel!" she cried, "The guards just came and took him away!" Josh was instantly out of bed and on his feet.
"What the hell happened?"
"They said they had orders to bring him to his new guardian – Jenner! Josh, please, you've got to do something...!"
Josh muttered a curse under his breath. What could that insufferable oaf be up to this time? He didn't wait to hear the rest of it; pulling some decent clothes on, he dashed outside, plunging down the stairs three at a time, making his way to Jenner's quarters.
The notorious King's nephew, as it turned out, had his private quarters deep in the bowels of the palace, close to the dungeons. A most fitting choice of accommodation for a brute like him, thought Josh. Outside Jenner's chambers stood a lone guard, apparently there to refuse anyone entry, whom Josh recognised as Sullivan.
He didn't bother announcing her presence with dignity; before Sullivan had even noticed him, he'd grabbed Jenner's chubby aid-de-camp and pinned him to the wall, with an iron grip about his throat.
"Tell me fast, or you're a dead Rat – where is the Mousekewitz boy?"
Trembling, Sullivan muttered, "They're inside. Jenner's his new guardian now... I must protest, human...I mean sir," Sullivan hastily corrected himself. No matter what Jenner said, insulting the King's Quaestor was a punishable offence, "You're not allowed to enter... Sir!" But Josh roughly shoved Sullivan aside and grabbed the door handle. The door was locked. But that didn't stop him. Taking a step back, he lunged forward, slamming shoulder-first into the door and breaking it in. Before the crashing sound of the popping lock had even subsided, he strode inside.
Jenner's quarters were typical of a Rat of his atrocious, bloodthirsty calibre: black, windowless stone walls, lit by flaming torches, bearing hideous trophies of his past war escapades, including ugly-looking shields, spiky bolases, swords and battle-axes; several chilling tapestries bearing scenes of wild battles; and a library of books bearing sinister titles like The Human Evil; A Triumph of Rat Supremacy, Mice; the Outcasts of a Prosperous Rat Society and A Rat's Guide to Effective Torture Techniques, amongst others. This hideous display painted a pretty grim picture of Jenner's character for Josh.
Jenner was seated at a large wooden desk, carved horribly around the edges like Rat skulls, his grotesque features curled into a hungry smile. A guard and a Council Rat stood before him, the former keeping a tight hold on Fievel, who was struggling to pull free.
"Let me go!" he was screaming, "What do you want with me?" But the guard, cold and emotionless like the surrounding furniture, paid him no heed. The Council Rat likewise was ignoring Fievel, as he read aloud from an official scroll in an emotionless monologue. The jiggling sound of what sounded like gold coins coming from the bulging purse clipped to his belt told Josh that Jenner had apparently resorted to the usual convenient way of bribing the Council to push things along.
"...The Council has henceforth decided that you, Fievel Mousekewitz, mouse subject of the province of Minsk and heir to the Mousekewitz estate, be placed in the legal custody of General Jenner, nephew to his sovereign Majesty King Nicodemus IV of the Rosebush Empire..." Then, they all suddenly noticed Josh enter the room.
"And I say that guardianship be voided at once!" the astronaut barked, striding up to Jenner's desk, without bothering to apologise for his rude entry. The evil Rat General glared at him.
"How dare you barge in here without invitation!" shouted Jenner, "I could have you arrested for breaking and entering...!"
"And I could have you arrested for snatching a child from his bed without a word and dragging him into this latest farce of yours!" retorted Josh. As the King's Quaestor, his power was equal to that of Jenner's, which meant the sinister Rat had no more authority over him, "Now, what is this all about?"
Still being held by the guard, Fievel, one minute faced with the terrible prospect of being placed in the custody of this scary-looking Rat for no apparent reason, felt a great wave of relief sweep over him.
"Josh, please, help me! They want to hand me over to him! Please, don't let them...!" But Jenner had already risen from his desk, blocking Fievel from Josh's view, his arms crossed defiantly.
"You have no say in this, human!" he growled spitefully, "The Mousekewitz boy is in my custody now and no longer your concern. You may keep his sister as a concubine to go alongside your other trashy mouse whore if you wish, but the boy is henceforth off-limits to you and my Uncle!" Josh was appalled, not to mention outraged, at these filthy remarks, but held his temper. He had dealt with scum like Jenner before and he wasn't about to give him the satisfaction by doing something he'd regret. He glared back at his nemesis.
"Not so fast, Jenner. What is your interest in Fievel?" he demanded, "What is this boy to you?"
"That's none of your business...Quaestor," spat Jenner, stressing the word 'Quaestor' with disgust, "Now get out of my chambers!" Josh didn't move. Jenner began to lose his already thin patience. Reaching over, he drew a large sword from its rack on the wall.
"I order you to get out of here now, or I swear to the Great Owl, I will paint these walls in your blood!"
Seeing a physical conflict was imminent, Josh drew his Taser, which he carried everywhere with him for just such an emergency. Jenner narrowed his eyes as the forked tip sparked to life. He had already made a fool of himself once when he'd let this miserable human take him by surprise and knock him out cold with that foul alien weapon of his, the day they'd first met. That was one mistake he wouldn't be making again. Sword in hand, he began to advance.
Before any blows could be exchanged however, the door opened again and Nicodemus entered, followed by Elizabeth. It seemed word of Jenner's latest agenda hadn't taken long to reach the King's ears. Then, Josh noticed he was carrying another official scroll. What was this?
"There's no need for such violence," he said, looking disapprovingly at his nephew, "It so happens, there's been a misunderstanding; Captain Anderson is already the new legal guardian of Fievel Mousekewitz, by order of the Council." He handed the Council official the scroll to confirm. The Council Rat was stunned.
"My sincere apologies, your Majesty. I had no knowledge that Quaestor Anderson had already applied for the child's guardianship..."
"I do apologize for the inconvenience," said Nicodemus, "I imagine one of your clerks was a little behind his time..." The Council Rat made a mental note to have a stiff word with whatever fool had forgotten to file this order in good time and making him look so unprofessional. He didn't realise the King had simply been pulling a few strings of his own and gotten some of his closest, trustworthy friends on the Council to prepare this scroll on a moment's notice. He turned back to Jenner.
"My apologies, General, but I'm afraid your application cannot be passed. Quaestor Anderson is henceforth the legal guardian of Fievel Mousekewitz and executive of the Mousekewitz estate." He turned to Fievel, "Child, go with your new guardian."
The guard released Fievel, who ran up to Josh and hugged him tight and then did the same to Elizabeth. For the second time, his human friend had come to his rescue in the nick of time. And the best part of it was, now he was to be his guardian! After losing everything once, now he finally had the closest thing to a family again! And between Josh and Mrs Brisby and her children, he couldn't think of a better foster family. No doubt his sister would also be included in this too. Jenner was furious.
"I will not stand for a minor to be placed in the custody of this savage, human beast!" he shouted with an almost insane rage that made everyone jump. Josh rolled his eyes; how hypocritical that he should be calling him a savage beast, he thought, given that Jenner fit that description perfectly. But Jenner wasn't about to accept another defeat at Josh's expense. He advanced on Fievel, who shrunk in Elizabeth's embrace in fear.
"You come right back here, boy, or I'm coming there to break every bone in your scrawny body!" Fievel whimpered.
"You leave the child alone!" screamed Elizabeth, looking more furious than Josh had ever seen her before. Her maternal instinct to protect this child from harm was her greatest strength, "You're scaring him!"
"Out of my way, you little mouse whore!" Jenner snapped, looking about to strike Elizabeth, to get to Fievel. But that pretty much tore it and Josh, always the gentleman defending his girlfriend's honour, angrily stepped in and socked Jenner right in the mouth, sending him staggering back with a bloody nose. Losing it completely, Jenner grabbed his sword, about to hack Josh apart, but the man was faster and drove the tip of his Taser right up Jenner's already-bleeding nostrils, his finger poised on the button.
"You ever dare lay a hand on my family again and I'll taser you and won't stop until your eyeballs sizzle!" he growled menacingly at Jenner, who, realising he couldn't win this, dropped the sword. Ushering Elizabeth and Fievel out, he turned to look at Jenner one last time.
"Oh, and I almost forgot," he said coldly, "What did you call Tanya previously?"
He didn't wait for an answer; without warning, he suddenly kneed Jenner hard in the groin. The ferocious Rat sank to the floor, howling and cursing hysterically. Giving him a mocking 'you have a good day too' look, he turned and walked out, nursing his sore knuckles. It sure felt good, finally getting back at that insufferable scumbag!
"Way to go, Josh!" Martin and his siblings applauded him, after hearing what had happened down in Jenner's quarters, "You sure gave that douche-bag Rat what for!"
"Martin, please watch your language!" his mother scolded him. She'd called her children over, to tell them the good news, "Children, as of this day, you have another brother. Fievel is now part of our family!" The children all cheered excitedly, smothering poor Fievel with hugs and kisses, making him feel so embarrassed.
Josh pulled Elizabeth close for a hug, as they admired their family together. Someday soon, he thought, he had to get over his act and propose to her proper. Only then, he could truly call this happy family his own. Then the future he was trying so hard to build for himself would finally be complete.
Unfortunately, little did he realise that he was unknowingly dragging them all into a vendetta waged against him by a certain vindictive Rat, out to destroy him and everyone associated with him...