THE RAT PACK

Valkyrie the Virgoan Rat

Valkyrie was a young female rat, fast approaching that time when she'd leave the family home and start her own life. The family home was deep in the western woods in the land of Punakiki. They lived in an abandoned stone cottage that had once been a miners cottage. The family had lived there for generations and they had slowly taught themselves to use many of the tools and utilities left by the miner. Among the real treasures was "A Bush-miners Survival Guide" this had extremely good pictures everything from how to light a fire to how to build and operate a small forge.

Odin , Valkyries father, was the artisan of the family and was able to make everything from tools to the beautiful jewelery that Valkyrie wore. The family business supported them well and and they never had forage in the bush as many other families did. The family traded their manufactured goods for food and raw materials and as they were much in demand they lived well. Odin had just received an order for two new gold crowns for the King and Queen of the rats. They lived at the top of the old mill about 2 miles away.

Odin called to Valkyrie and told her to grab her haversack and head for the old quarry to get some more gold for the crowns. It was early in the morning when Valkyrie set out and knowing she would be away for most of the day her mother packed her several wheat cakes and some dried rabbit meat.

The path through the trees was well marked and the walk pleasant with the sounds of birds and wildlife making it a lovely experience. The path was steep however and soon Valkyrie found the need to rest, seeing a fallen log near a stream she sat down and dangle her feet in the cool water. Taking out the cup her mother had thoughtfully packed Valkyrie filled it and drank deeply of the sparkling clear water. Hearing a sound behind her Valkyrie turned to see a large ferret stalking down the log towards wards her. Valkyrie was very afraid, the hypnotic eyes had frozen her to the spot and there was little she could do to save herself Suddenly the was a swish from the trees and an arrow seemed to spring from the creatures neck and it fell from the log dead. Tearing her horrified away from the sight Valkyrie looked around for her rescuer. He appeared suddenly from the shadows, a large black rat with a sword at his side and a quiver of arrows on his back, in his hand was the crossbow that he had fired the arrow from. Valkyrie noticed he had another arrow fitted and he approached the ferret cautiously ready to fire again. There was no need however as the creature lay in a slowly spreading pool of it's own blood.
"Hi" he said, "I'm Thor" as he put his bow down, and taking a knife from behind his back quickly cut the arrow free, then washing it and the knife returned them to their appropriate places.
"You must be Valkyrie , I've never seen you about here before"
" I haven't been this way by myself before, I'm heading for the quarry and thank you for saving me" , she replied breathlessly the words all tumbling out together.
"It was nothing" , he said as he began to skin the animal, then cutting the meat into long strips he wrapped the pieces in leaves and rolled them into the pelt, which he then tied with a vine and slung it across his back.
" Come lass, I'll accompany you on your journey. "
" There's no need, don't put yourself out", she said quickly.
Valkyrie was fascinated by her new friend but knew her was not the sort of friend her parents would approve.
"It's OK I'm heading that way anyway, my home is there".
Not wanting to admit how she felt, even to herself Valkyrie reluctantly agreed to the new arrangements. The walk was much more pleasant with company and she listened enthralled as he told her of his adventures in the forest. It made her wonder what it would be like to live in the forest with him and her own life seemed boring and mundane. All too quickly they reached the quarry and Thor pointed to the path leading around the edge of the quarry to an opening in the high cliff face.
" There's my home", he said,
" Want to come up for a cuppa"
" I don't want to seem ungrateful " she replied, "but I better gather the gold my father wants".
"OK kid " he said and started along the track to his cave.

She watched him wistfully for a while and then turned and headed down into the quarry. The path was quite overgrown and full of boulders but she was able to pick her way through the mess. After what seemed like hours she finally found what she was looking for, a small stream flowing over black sand. Knowing that gold often gathered in these areas she put down her haversack and took out the small shovel her father had provided. Digging into the sand she soon the sand she soon came to the gravel base and there among the stones were several gold nuggets, enough to make both crowns. She gathered them up and then packed the gold and the shovel away and looked around for somewhere to sit and have her meal. Spying a rock overhang that would shield her from the sun she headed towards it. Just as she was about to sit she spotted a sparkling green gem someway into a small cave, thinking "the queen would love that in her crown", she headed towards it. As she neared the opening a large ginger tomcat sprang out at her the light glinting on it's one green eye. While somehow not as menacing as the ferret had been, the bared fangs and the raised hackles made him seem huge. Bending and picking up a rock, Valkyrie prepared to fight for her life. There was a loud cry and Thor landed between Valkyrie and the cat.

" Back off Simba, she's a friend" he growled.
" Oh Thor I was just playing, I wouldn't have hurt her" Simba purred.
" If you had, your pelt would have decorated my wall" Thor snapped.
" We would see" he hissed and ambled off into the shadows his tail raised in contempt.
" You'd better come up to Valhalla and have a rest, then I'll take you home " Thor said.
" Valhalla ? " Valkyrie enquired.
" My cave, I call it that because of my namesake you see "
" Oh ! " said Valkyrie "Let's go then" trying not to sound too eager.
Thor turned and led the way to the path.< way to the path.

"After you" , he said pointing up the path.
Valkyrie started on up and Thor followed casting an admiring glance at the delectable rump preceding him. They soon reached the cave and Valkyrie waited for Thor to unlock the sturdy door and lead the way inside. Valkyrie was expecting a hovel but was pleasantly surprised at what she saw. In the centre of the room was a fireplace with pots and pans on the hearth and a small fire lit, the smoke was heading straight up through a hole in the roof. Off to one corner was a bench with sink and a small hand-pump for water. There was a bookshelf along one wall with such titles as "Edged Weapons Through the Ages" and "Trapping for Food" but there were also many novels including "Wind in the Willows". To the back of the room there was a large bed, obviously homemade but very comfortable looking. The floor was covered with ferret, stoat and weasel skins, so it was obvious that the ferret he shot to save Valkyrie wasn't his first.

" It looks very cosy Thor" Valkyrie said.
" It is but also lonely ", he said with a significant glance.
Valkyrie was thrilled by this but was determined not to seem foreward. Thor busied himself in the kitchen while Valkyrie gazed around the room, quite taken with the place. Putting a pot of delicious looking broth on the fire.
Thor said " Come with me, I have something to show you".
He led the way to a corridor off the mador off the main cave that Valkyrie hadn't spotted. A little way down the passage she could hear running water and the croaking of frogs, fascinated she waited to see what they would find. Turning a corner they came upon a small stream, a waterfall came down from the roof and then along a small channel near the wall and down through a hole in the floor. A pool was situated half-way along the channel. There was a pipe just below the surface, which is where the water for the hand-pump came. The sides were lined with ferns and the water was alive with waterlillies, frogs and tadpoles. Valkyrie was quite impressed and her judgement of Thor went up several notches. Turning to him she said,
" It's really lovely, I'm glad you showed me this place."
" It's where I come to think and read" he said, indicating a small comfortable looking bench seat.
Thor indicated for Valkyrie to sit down and waited for her to do so before sitting down beside her.
" Tell me about your life", "I've been talking about myself ever since we met, comes from not having anyone to talk to, I guess. "
" I'm sure you don't want to hear about me, your life is so much more exciting than mine. "
" Let's just sit and watch the frogs and tadpoles then ", " We may even see a kingfisher"
The ploy worked and Valkyrie was soon telling Thor all about her life and about the wonderful tools and weapons her father made.

CHAPTER 2



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