The door opened, revealing a Shrew. She shouted:
- Rat! You’re so impudent, indeed!
Justin mumbled, uneasy:
- Madam, I’m so sorry about that mess, I…
- You can be sorry! After this entire cataclysm, you dare come in front of me! Go away, before I strike your head!
She brandished her cane, menacing to use it, as she saw Mrs. Brisby, unconscious, in the arms of the Rat.
- My Goddess! What have you done to her?! You filthy…
- Calm down, except for her hands, she’s alright, Ages interfered.
The Shrew looked at the white Mouse.
- Ages! I should have known you were part of this conspiracy! An old senile like you, in acquaintance with these good-for-nothing Rats, is not surprising!
Unlike Justin, Ages was not to be daunted by the Shrew.
- Madam, I can understand your irritation, but for now, there are more urgent. I would take care of our friend, who needs aid, and Justin, here, is the only one who can transport her to her bed. So, unless you want let her pass the night outside, I beg you to let us in.
The Shrew didn’t have to think long. She looked up at Justin, who prayed silently her to accept.
- Right. Carry her to the bed, leave the house and don’t come back!
After his terrible confrontation and the panic that followed, Justin was still in shock, and dared not answer. Besides, he would have no desire anyway. He crossed the threshold of the door and followed the Shrew. Going downstairs, he saw at the corner of his eye three Mice children, pressed against each other, who watched with eyes wide in astonishment. They dared not speak loudly, but the Rat heard a few worried murmurs as he passed. He realized that the house was completely upside down. The furniture was overturned, there was mud everywhere. It would take at least a week to clean up. Before him, the Shrew drew a curtain, crossed an opening, and gestured arm the bed of the mother Mouse. Justin placed her as gently as possible and turned back, leaving Ages and the Shrew. This one had already lost interest in him.
The captain of the Rats sighed inwardly. All events of the last thirty minutes came back into his mind. Not only he had lost the friend he most admired, but in addition, he had blood on his hands. Even if he had not given the fatal blow to Jenner, he still had drawn his sword against him.
It was him or Jonathan’s widow… but was this all worth it?
Then his eye fell on the other bed in the room. He saw a small shape huddled under the quilt. It was a very young Mouse, sleeping. Justin understood it was Timmy, the little patient. He walked toward the exit, and saw that the little mouse opened his eyes, and turned the pupils in his direction. Justin stopped and thought:
He really looks like his father!
With a faint smile, he resumed his way. When he reached the stairs, he heard the small voice of a child asking:
- Is it over? There is no more danger?
He paused and murmured without looking back:
- There is no more danger. Everything is finished.
He could not prevent him from mounting a tear to the eye. Then he climbed the steps, and left the house.
Rats had been impressively efficient. In just half an hour, they had disassembled and scattered all the wooden installations they had used to move the Brisby’s block. The captain saw the chubby silhouette of Ages out of the house. Rats were now gathered in a circle round the rosebush. The big Brutus approached.
- All right, we have finished.
- Very well.
- And now? someone ventured.
- Now what?
- Err… what do we do?
- Yes, who will make decisions?
This question confused a bit everyone. Indeed, what orders they were going to fold now? Ages intervened:
- It is only logical the Rat that guides you now is the one who Nicodemus trusted the most, the one who follows his ideals. The most loyal, the bravest, the most faithful to your progressive principles. I named…
He put his hand firmly on the back of Justin.
- Captain Justin!
- What? Me? gasped the person, genuinely surprised.
Other Rats approved.
- Ages is right! Justin, be our leader!
- Yeah, Justin! Guide us!
- Lead us to Thorn Valley!
- Justin to command us!
- Justin, Justin!
This refrain was repeated by the entire assembly. Justin did not know what to think. Not that he feared not to have the makings of a leader, but was it really the most qualified of all to make decisions involving higher stakes than those of his captaincy? Yet the other Rats encouraged more and more passionately. Among those in the front rows, the captain spotted Izzy, the young Rat-girl – this was whispered in the bush – who was madly in love with him, without daring to confess. She entreated him to accept with her look. He gave a little sigh, smiling a bit embarrassed. He raised his hands, asking for silence.
- I'm ... I'm really touched, this confidence flatters me. Okay, I'll try to be worthy of this task. To begin with, I would ... Arthur! Come over here.
A Rat stepped forward. He was bigger than Justin, and as athletic. When he was faced with Justin, it put her hand on his arm.
- Arthur, you're my best friend, the best fighter I know, and you are faithful to our principles. I want you to be the new captain of our guard. I know that Nicodemus would approve.
It was Arthur's turn to be surprised.
- You sure?
- Sure, my brother.
The meeting claimed.
- Yeah, Arthur!
- Go ahead, become our captain!
Watching his friend shrugging, Arthur said:
- Okay. I had a good sword master.
The new leader took advantage of acclamations to lean forward and whisper into the ear of Arthur:
- Arthur, just promise me one thing.
- If I ever become like Jenner, I beg you, do what thou shalt do.
Justin spoke firmly, with hard eyes. Arthur nodded slowly.
- You have my word, although I hope not to have to respect it.
- I will do everything for that, brother.
Finally, the silence returned. The gruff voice of Brutus asked:
- And then, what do we do now... chief?
Justin cleared his throat.
- We need to evacuate as soon as possible. The day will soon rise, and Humans will be here soon. They know who we are and what we are capable of doing. It is not necessary to erase all our trails. We'll gather the necessary items, the ones we can not do without for our trip to Thorn Valley. We will learn to live without stealing more until our goal.
There was general approval, and everyone went to work. Ages approached Justin.
- You have made the right decision, my boy. I'm proud of you.
- Thanks, Ages. Want to come with us?
- No, I will stay. I'm not a Rat, and you know me, I never get used to your state of mind. And something tells me that I better keep an eye in the corner, especially on the Brisby family. Who knows what Jonathan’s children will be capable of?
- You know you can come whenever you want.
- Yes, if I have the courage, laughed the white Mouse. I have something to ask you.
- I am listening, my friend.
- You will no doubt leave a lot of plant, machinery, and other stuff. It would be a shame to abandon them, when I could enjoy it...? Will you allow me to pick what you leave?
- Take everything you want.
Rats were finishing closing the latest packages. Perched on a rock, on top of a hill, Justin watched his men, and felt the first rays of sunshine warm his face. He descended from his perch, and prepared to join the procession.
Come on, man! It's time.
He cast a last glance towards the Rosebush. The first days were not going to be easy for everyone. Then he felt a presence behind him. He turned, and was surprised to see him before Mrs. Brisby.
- Hello, she whispered shyly.
The Rat knelt to be up to the little Mouse. He noticed the bandages Ages had applied on her hands.
- How do you feel?
- Well ... considering that the last three days, I was nearly drowned, eaten by a cat, shredded in a tractor, devoured by an owl, cut into small pieces by the spear of a Rat, enclosed by the farmer, ripped open by a madman, engulfed in the mud and lost my four children ... I think I can say that I'm doing pretty well.
She had uttered this tirade with a relieved smile. Justin realized this.
- You seem healthy, indeed.
- Timmy woke up. He was able to talk to me, and ate some corn. He will recover, and live. Thanks to you. Thanks to all of you.
- We had a debt to Jonathan. And by paying for it we are now indebted to you.
- Oh, I don’t think so, Justin. My arrival caused many worries... starting with this accident... I mean, this murder.
- Jenner would have betrayed us anyway. You have been an opportunity. Contrariwise, you have allowed us to see through his game, and in our society. While some of us suspected that he would create problems, I did not think he would go so far. It's hard to believe, but when we left the laboratories of NIMH, he was among the first ones to have followed Nicodemus. He was his friend. Over time, unfortunately, he changed. The possibilities that Humans have procured him twisted his mind, and you saw the result.
- I am so sorry for you. He has done much harm.
- It was a necessary evil. I think that's what Nicodemus had hoped: a kick in the anthill. These "concerns" have been beneficial. Jenner was not alone in wanting to abuse the consumer society. Others have fled, and we won’t see them again. May they go to Hell. We can now go, and the Humans of NIMH won’t catch us, never.
- Izzy told me what your kind would become, and what would be your new role. I congratulate you, I'm sure you'll be an excellent leader.
- I hope so, ma'am. I really hope so.
- Justin... could you do something for me?
- Anything you want, ma'am.
Mrs. Brisby fumbled under her cloak, and pulled out the pendant given to her by Nicodemus. She looked at him thoughtfully, and handed it to Justin.
- It's yours. You'll make better use than me.
- Oh no! Jonathan kept it for you, I can not accept it.
Mrs. Brisby fixed his interlocutor in his eyes, and murmured:
- I loved Jonathan. He was a good husband and a wonderful father. But Nicodemus told me who he really was. He had his secrets, especially his true identity, and his durability. I do not even know if he would have suffered so much to see me grow old without him. He could start a new life elsewhere, or stay with you. Now I understand everything. Why these absences, these mysteries, and why his disappearance. This does not matter anymore. Everything is clear, and I can now turn the page. It's time for me and my family to move forward. Now I can devote myself to my children. When they are old enough, I will explain them. In the meantime, I can live my life, they can live theirs, and I know they will be exceptional. This day is a new beginning for you, and my family, too. Really, this jewel will be more useful to you.
Justin looked at the red stone with hesitation, when he saw a reflection in the precious material. Frowning, he thought he recognized the face of Jonathan. He delicately slid the gold chain between his fingers, before passing it around his neck.
- I promise to take the utmost care of it.
- Thanks for everything, Justin.
The mother Mouse had laid her fingers on the shoulders of the Rat. When he realized this, he felt more troubled.
- I gotta go. They... they are waiting for me.
Mrs. Brisby's face was only a breath from Justin’s, and her big blue eyes sparkled. The Rat spluttered:
- I... it's not quite reason...
- I know. I just want...
They closed their eyes in unison, and the Mouse placed a kiss on the cheek of the Rat. Then she stepped back and bowed her head, murmuring:
- Good luck, Justin.
- Good luck to you, Mrs. Brisby.
- Ah… er… Right. Good luck, Elizabeth.
Justin got up, straightened the pendant around the neck of his shirt, smiled one last time, and went down the hill without looking back. Mrs. Brisby saw him move away, sighed, and turned away, returning to her household.