Chapter 11 – The palace of the inquisition

Foxglove had spent the last couple of hours fighting off the natural urge to sleep. Not today, not today when she was surrounded by so many hostile people. The sunlight found her arrested and held hopelessly in a cage together with Tammy and Gadget. Escape was impossible, as around them stood an entire battalion of musketeers who kept their eyes on the three prisoners at every moment not only out of duty, but also out of fear.

Fear for the witch among them.

The fact that Gadget had succumbed to her enchanted sleep – not without a fight, one that inspired Foxy to resist as well – did little to appease the nervousness of the troops. Gadget was, after all, the devilish witch of crystal blue eyes who killed many of their comrades in that night of terror when the fields between Saint Pierre and Rouen were set aflame.

On the other side, Foxglove couldn't help but chuckle at the sight of the sleeping Tammy resting her head on the witch's shoulder.

The musketeers' camp was located in the deepest corner of a stable nearby Place Dauphine, the very center of Paris. On that late morning humans and horses had already gone out to do their daily chores, and the building was quite silent. The camp, however, was bustling with activity as Patrick's troops were getting ready for another long march across the city.

Zipper the fly buzzed around his fellow soldiers on his way to deliver a special order to his friend Monterey Jack. The pair of mercenaries had chosen the very edge of the encampment to place their sleeping bags and light a small fire, on the chance they could sneak out back to Les Halles on the early morning. Unfortunately, this plan didn't come to fruition. The sun rose and found Monterey Jack deeply asleep, completely exhausted from the events of the long previous day. And now, Zipper found him barely awake, hunched over and brooding with the eyes fixed on a bowl of soup – cheese soup, as the smell revealed –. Amazingly, the soup was half finished.

As his worried companion landed on the shoulder, Monterey offered him a quick glance and some words in a gloomy tone. "I dreamed of her again, pally. For the life of me I can't remember it but I know I dreamed of her. I have this… fleeting sensation it was a nice dream where we were together and we were happy. I just can't remember it"

Zipper said nothing. He just sat on the shoulder and waited in solemn silence as the big mouse slurped his soup in small bits and big sighs. Once Monterey finished and put the bowl aside, the small fly stood straight and spoke: "Captain Lefevre wants us to escort Foxglove to his tent"

"You could have told me right away…" The mustachioed knight answered with a weak colluding smile.

His friend just crossed arms and shrugged. "Why ruin your breakfast with a reminder of the dastardly task of the day?"

"The first of many, you mean" Monterey shook his head as he stood up. A deep breath and a creaking back stretch later, the knight fastened a greatsword to his back. "This has to end someday" He said growing incensed. "We are supposed to be Scottish heroes! But then again, how should a hero deal with an order to imprison young harmless witches?"

Zipper took a moment to reflect on the mouse's words. "Tammy and Foxglove could be innocent victims in this whole mess, but no doubt that strange girl Gadget is knee-deep into witchcraft"

"Aye, and her love-struck chipmunk won't stop at anything to save her. As lil' lass Tammy said yesterday… he is coming"

Some minutes later, the mercenaries were guiding the small pink bat to the big tent on the opposite side of the camp, as ordered. "Gotta say, I was surprised to find you awake, Foxy" The fly casually observed.

Tired as she was, the rogue still managed to send darting stares at her guides. "It's… Foxglove for you, guys. I can't believe you are still working with these ruffians, after everything we suffered together!"

Monterey scratched the back of his neck finding the right words "Please, lassy! It's not that simple!"

"It sure is! Have you forgotten our battle against Gadget's sister, Lawhinie? Tammy saved you from that murdering spell! Now you keep her behind bars, ready to deliver her to your inquisition bosses!"

"Believe me, I'd gladly take her out of that cage and set her free! But me and Zipper are hired knights! We have to follow orders and fulfill our duty!" I…" Here the big mouse stopped and gulped down. "I can't help you escape. I can't break the contract or the laws, I have to think on myself and…"

"Desiree D'Allure?" The bat offered after reading the heartbeats of her captor.

"Aye" His shoulders slumped. "Desiree D'Allure. My fiancée, my wife, my future. What a cruel test from above, to make me choose between my beloved girlfriend and a girl wrongly accused"

"I… understand. I wouldn't know what to do either if my future with Dale got in jeopardy" Then she looked up to meet Monterey's eyes. "Or rather, I know exactly what would I do"

Both bat and mouse fell in silence for a pair of seconds.

"Let's move on, guys" Zipper finally interjected. "We still have to meet with our captain, remember?"

"Agreed, pally. Let's just go and see what Patrick and the future hold for all of us"

The commander's tent, with its bright black and white colors, stood at the other end of the camp, propped up with four sticks and weighed down with stakes. A pole with the garrison's banner – A silver mouse carrying a halberd on the shoulder over a red background, loosely based in Rouen's own coat of arms – hung down lazily on that windless morning.

Monterey and his companions found a single musketeer on guard duty at the entrance. "Good morning, Peter" The bulky mouse saluted from the distance.

"Sir!" The alluded musketeer promptly squared up and answered the salute. However, the moment he noticed the pink bat walking at the knight's side a shiver assaulted him from head to toes. A shiver that made him grip his spear tighter. "Uh, that prisoner, the witch's companion…"

"Captain's orders" Zipper made clear. "Let us pass"

A sizzling voice came from inside the tent. "Peter, let them in!"

"Yes, sir!" The guard moved aside as commanded, allowing the trio to come inside, but Foxglove could still feel the stare of mistrust over her – nevermind his racing heartbeats-. That guard was actually expecting her to perform a black magic spell at any given moment, as if bats from the tribes of the wilds didn't have a bad enough reputation.

The inside of the tent was the total opposite of lavish. Some blankets with a backpack as pillow on a side; a feathered hat perched on a hook; A rodent-sized table with maps, bounty notices and breakfast leftovers on top. The place didn't even have carpets on the ground.

"Sir Jack, Sir Zipper…" The blue lizard at the opposite side of the table acknowledged them raising his eyes from the maps.

"Sir!" Both mercenaries stood straight.

"And our lovely prisoner, of course! And you came here on your own feet. Shouldn't you be sleeping at his late hour of the day? I must confess, I was mentally prepared to watch Sir Jack coming in here with you in his arms, like the chivalrous knight he is" He quipped with a mischievous smile.

Both Monterey and Foxglove turned red. "I-I'd never allow that! What would my dear Dale say!" The girl furiously shook her head.

"Ah yes, Dale Oakmont…" Patrick went through the bunch of bounties until the picture of the red-nosed chipmunk popped out. "Haven't met him in person yet, but Eaglewood - your father - told me a lot about him"

In a single second, Foxglove went from blushed red to pale white. "Father? Is… is he here?"

"No, he isn't here"

"Oh, thank goodness!" The bat sighed relieved. "Dad and I… Wait a minute, how did you meet each other?"

"Sir Jack, bring a seat to this girl. Yes, sit down, please. The truth is, we met Eaglewood and his hordes of bats during the siege of Stone Coffer. Apparently, we were both laying waste to that place in the same night for our own reasons"

"That's… how?"

"Isn't it obvious? He was there looking for you! Words of your imprisonment travelled fast to his ears, and so he rallied three entire tribes of bats to rescue you from that nest of thieves and cutthroats. And of course, to bring your kidnapper Dale Oakmont to justice!"

"What, what, what!?" The bat sprang up twice her height out of pure shock. Once she landed again on the seat, she covered her face in shame. "Oh god, dad!"

"Meanwhile, me and Rouen's musketeers went there to rescue a member of the inquisition kept prisoner by that despicable king Capone. We soon found it was most convenient to join forces to siege the castle day and night non-stop. A deal that soon bore fruits"

"I heard that Capone is dead. By his own servants"

"People tend to change allegiances when threatened to be burned alive together with their king…"

"How horrible!"

"It does the trick. Thanks to your father's help the whole business was over in a pair of nights with very few casualties from our side. We were able to ride sooner to Paris in search of you lot. That's why I feel I owe Eaglewood a favor…"

After a pondering pause, Patrick declared. "Foxglove of Duclair cave, consider yourself free"

Monterey, Zipper and Foxglove gasped in unison. "I'm free? Free to go?"

"Correct. Take the next boat home, girl. Make sure you don't get in trouble in the way and send my greetings to your father. Sir Zipper. Escort her out to the street"

"Yes, Sir!"

"No, wait!" Foxglove waved franctically. "What about my friends? What about my boyfriend?"

"You better get new friends, because that pair of witches will never leave the inquisitorial palace alive. Get a new boyfriend too, one approved by your father"

"Never!" She stood up incensed. "I refuse to leave this place without them! Why is everybody always making choices for me?"

The musketeer lidded his eyes menacingly. "Are refusing my generous offer?"

"I do!" The bat puffed her chest out. "Thanks but no, thanks! Just put me again in the cage with Tammy and Gadget! Tell my father I'm fine and well alongside my beloved Dale"

"Foxglove, please!" Monterey stepped forward. "You don't even know where your lad is! For all we know, he could be dead, killed by the humans at the harbor or by…" The mouse bit his lips and lowered his gaze, as the words of the pirate rats echoed in his mind again.

"You are wrong, mister knight!" The female bat glanced at him over the shoulder. "My bard is brave and strong and smart. He was the one who defeated Lawhinie, remember? Chip couldn't hold a candle to him. On top of that, he's the luckiest rodent in Earth. Dale will save me from all of you, as sure as rain!"

"Oh, enough of this nonsense" Patrick slammed his fist on the table. "Knights, take this prisoner back to the cage! I'll let the inquisitors decide her fate"

"Aye, sir!"

"And get ready to march to the inquisitorial palace. We've lost enough time here"

On their way back, Foxglove was beaming a smile from ear to ear. When asked why, she dreamily declared: "Isn't obvious? the stage for my cutie to perform on is all set. The villain, the thugs, the damsel in danger… everything is ready for him to enter scene like the hero he is. A hero coming back to me"

The bells of Notre Dame that called for mass at that breezy afternoon were heard by all living beings in Paris, except for Dale Oakmont, who had spent the las pair of minutes frozen in time and space victim of the truth bomb his friend had dropped on him.

"My lute… my mom's lute, is six hundred years old?"

"Yes, that's what the ravens just said" Chip spoke from above the bard's head. "A relic blessed by the god of poetry himself. Braggi was his name? Nevermind, are you going to climb the tree or not?"

"How come you aren't as shocked as I am by this revelation?"

"Oh, I'm shocked! Aghast! Dismayed!" Chip gestured over-dramatically while clinging from the tree's bark, then returned to his old serious self. "YouHappy now?"

"You are a bad actor"

"But then again, a magical viking lute explains a lot about you and your antics"

"Har-har, how funny"

The bard shook his head twice and then followed his friend up a young elm tree whose canopy bloomed well above the walls of their destination: The inquisitorial palace of Paris.

A place of violence, of zealotry. A token of the worse side of humanity and a reminder of the lengths the smallfolk were willing to go in order to mimic the human world. Human inquisition, rodent inquisition. Both of them religious fanatics, both of them under the same roof.

This palace was laid out in a cuboid shape two stories high, with a flat roof surrounded by a balustrade. Every floor had five tall windows. The south façade – the main entrance – also displayed a terrace and four majestic Corinthian columns. Sets of small windows at the foundations of the building indicated the existence of a large basement. Flags of the inquisition and the catholic church hung down from the roof and fluttered quietly with the breeze.

However, the most prominent feature was on the east side of the palace. The whole façade was tainted black as consequence of a fire which, judging by the color, decay and state of the grass around it, should have occurred more than one month ago. Chip and Dale's fears became reality. "So this is it. This is the place" The red-nosed chipmunk's voice broke as he stood on the very edge of his branch. "Gerald and Elizabeth died here, just like the evil witch said"

"They got killed here" Chip corrected holding back the tears and the anger. "By a beast from hell, a trader of souls in the shape of a cat!"

"The master of Gadget and Lawhinie…"

Chip scowled back at his friend.

"Well, it's the truth!"

The ranger crossed his arms, sighed and returned to his old cold self. "That's why I am here. That's why I made a deal with the god Odin. I'll kill that cat for him, and he will help me save Gadget and Lawhinie"

"Easy as pie?"

"Easy as pie" He reached for the pommels of his swords, then gave Dale a cocky grin. "Everything I need to fulfill the heroic deed is right here"

As soon as Chip said these words otherworldy voices resounded again in his mind, unwanted and unwelcomed. "Very well said, hero!" Huggin praised him. "Gadget Hackwrench is as good as yours, as long as you send the fiend back to the pits of hell!".

"Kill the cat, save the girl! Easy as pie!" Munnin added excited.

"Easy as pie! Caw caw caw!"

Dale watched bewildered as his friend shook his head and ran a paw down his face. "Are you all right? Are these magical ravens bothering you again?"

"Relax, everything is under control" The black-nosed chipmunk put his hood on. "Let's take a closer look. There is something off about this place"

The ranger was right. The closer they got to the palace, the gloomier the surrounding environment became. Grass in the forsaken gardens, for example, seemed to wither away bit by bit with every step they took towards the blackened facade. The air smelled faintly of something Chip couldn't quite right identify, something out of place, something… dangerous. An uncertainty what made his fur stand on edge the moment he and Dale arrived at a small clearing at the base of the palace's outer stairs and were welcomed by the sight of… a petrified mouse.

A literal petrified mouse, a priest frozen forever in a crawling stance, or perhaps he fell to the ground a second before being turned to stone? In any case, one could say his last breath was spent reaching out for help, the arm stretched out upwards and his face contorted in pain.

The chipmunks knew only one being with the power and the cruelty to do that to an innocent life. Dale whispered her name with fearful anticipation. "Lawhinie?"

Chip's increased swallowing was enough answer.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God!" The bard freaked out. "Is Lawhinie in Paris? You think she is nearby? Perhaps… is she inside?"

"Inside?" The black-nosed chipmunk looked at where his companion pointed out, to a pair of doors concealed by foliage on a corner where the wall meet the staircase. "Oh, you found the entrance!"

"They are opened, nobody is guarding them. Not a good sign, correct?"

Chip walked ahead and gave the wooden doors a closer inspection. "Look at these claw marks" He run his finger on them up down slowly.

"Lawhinie did that?" Dale ventured.

"Not… likely. There are pawprints of different sizes here. Also, only the inner side of the door is damaged"

The bard's knees shivered at these words. "What? What does that mean?"

"Lawhinie turned into a werewolf" Chip said out flatly.


"Just joking!" Chip grinned amused. "I have no clue yet, so I guess I'll have to look for them inside this place"

"You going in there?" Dale grabbed his friend by the cloak "What if the witch is there? What about me? I refuse to enter in and you can't leave me here alone!"

"Sure I can! I need you to wait here and call me if anything happens. Worry not, If Lawhinie is really around, she should be sleeping at this hour of the day, just like Gadget uses to"

"Umh, I guess you are right"

The ranger gave his friend a last smug nod and stepped into the darkened folley. "Shout my name if something happens. I'll come back to you on the double"

"Make it on the triple" The red-nosed murmured as his friend seemed to melt with the shadows of the corridor. "Ugh, and so he exits stage left"

The place was as silent as a tomb, and just as dark. The first ten or so minutes Chip slipped from one shadow to another carefully and stealthily, but soon it became apparent there was nobody around. Not guards, not priests, not torturers or executioners. And so he decided to light a torch. The ranger would spend the next full two hours exploring every basement of the place - even the maligned torture chambers - always in the search of clues and later on, survivors. A search that resulted in nothing.

What he found instead was an opulent palace reduced to ruins by a storm of violence and savagery, one which didn't leave any dead or living rodent in its wake, only dried blood, destruction and claw markings all over the floors and walls. Even the invaluable paintings, religious ornaments and jewelry had been destroyed in a most violent way. The palace reeked of death, but there were no remains on top of the pools of blood he found in the sleeping quarters. It was as if the corpses had simply banished leaving behind the stench.

Chip entered yet another room, one with lines of bookshelves and a desk right at the opposite wall. This room in particular was littered with papers and shattered books. Also, a scorched spot in the middle. Quite confused, the chipmunk raised his voice for the first time in a while. "Huggin, Munnin? What just happened here? The palace is totally wrecked and stained with blood, but there are no corpses, not even the faint smell of death or decay. Where are the priests and soldiers who lived here? What does this black spot means?"

"What makes you think we have the answer, chipmunk?" One of his raven-swords asked back.

"Aren't you the spies of Odin in Earth? I'd assumed you saw what happened here. It was quite recent, just some days ago, judging by the fresh blood and thin layers of dust"

"We are Odin's spies, not Chip Maplewood's spies" The same raven countered. "We are not obliged to answer your questions. Much less one as dumb as the one you just spoke"

"Dumb question? Wait, so you will only help me murder people, that's what you are trying to say?"

"We will help you get to your fated destination, and right now you are standing exactly where you were supposed to stand"

"Stand, you say?" The ranger looked down at his feet, as he was stepping at that moment over a parchment of yellow paper.

A bounty notice with his own face on it.

The indignant rage the chipmunk felt was multiplied by the cackling laughter of the otherworldly birds. "Really funny!" He tore the paper apart, heat flushing from his body. It was then that he found the bounties of his friends laying around as well, and a pile of papers on the desk. Undoubtedly, he had arrived at the very room that printed bounties to be later distributed all over the country.

"Tammy, Gadget, Dale, myself" The torch shed light over the pictures of the disgraced rodents. Suddenly, a bounty that had been placed apart at the edge of the desk came into sight. "Enzo Moretti, Wizard? Who is he?"

The voice of the raven turned serious. "Don't worry about him"

"One hundred gold nuggets. Even Dale's bounty is bigger. Is this guy some kind of street magician?"

Silence followed his question.

"Right, then…" The vexed ranger put the parchment away and walked out from that room. Once he got to the corridor again, an idea crossed his mind: to put the whole archive in fire if only to get rid of these pestering bounties. However, that wouldn't solve anything, as he soon concluded. Dozens of these papers were already out in the city and beyond. Perhaps they had reached Le Havre by now.

Chip grimaced at the thought of his parents discovering his picture posted on walls on their way to church, but there was nothing he could do about it at the moment.

The next room was occupied by a printing press and crates half-filled with paper, ink and different tools. "Well, this room isn't as messed up as the others. So, this is where they print the bounty notices? They really are quick"

"Perhaps we shouldn't tell him" Huggin's voice sounded in the back of the chipmunk's mind. "Time is running out"

"It's another piece of the puzzle" Munnin argued. "Insignificant, but he needs it to put his mind at ease"

That was one talk which didn't amuse Chip at all. "What are you squeaking about?"

"You wonder how did the Paris inquisition made your pictures so accurate and detailed, no? How did they were able to send the bounties far and away in such short time after the battle against Julien Montblanc"

"Is not polite to read other's mind"

"Well, open that door at the end of the corridor, the answer you seek is inside"

Indeed, at the end of the corridor stood a door. The only undamaged door in the whole building, apparently. It was made of heavy wood and, small metal cleats embedded in a vertical line adorned it. The ranger put his paw on the knob, hesitated for a pair for seconds, filled his lungs, and turned it counterclockwise. The door opened with a loud creaking sound, followed by a chill wind that made the torch flicker and project dancing shadows around its wielder.

Curiosity alone made Chip step into the room, which was a pair of degrees colder than the neighboring quarters. It was not a particularly large area, a room without windows, more akin to a cell. It contained only a small collection of cloth-covered furniture, nothing more and nothing less.

Confusion ran through the ranger's face a moment before realizing there was a single object uncovered at the very center of the room. A full body mirror in a silvery engraved frame. The fact that its surface had no layer of dust on top made the inquisitive chipmunk raise his brow with uncertainty. "How… interesting" He whispered as the scratched the fur of his grizzled face. He could barely recognize himself. Certainly, it has been a while since he last stood in front of a mirror like that to groom himself.

The ranger cocked his head right and suddenly frowned. Something was off. The reflection was… slower than normal. As if it struggled to follow the motion of the reflected person. To say it was unsettling was an understatement.

The image blurred away. Chip had just sucked his breath in at this realization when another, different person took the place of the chipmunk's reflection. A pretty female mouse of pale white skin and tousled blonde hair, dressed in a tattered black silk robe fastened with a purple waist sash. It was none other than Gadget Hackwrench, the girl that stole his heart on that graveyard in what felt already like many years ago. The mirror showed her in some sort of cage, sleeping like the dead and surrounded by marching musketeers in Rouen's uniforms. "Gadget…"

The ranger reached out and touched the surface of the mirror. As he did so, a hollow, disembodied voice was heard across the room. "Gadget Hackwrench! Witch, witch, witch!"

"What the hell?" Chip jumped back with his fur on edge. As he did, the image faded away and only the chipmunk's reflection remained.

"Calm down, this magic mirror works the same as a crystal ball" Huggin explained hastily. "It lets you know about people and events occurring many leagues away"

"So that's how the inquisitors found out about us, even down to Dale's big red nose?"

"Exactly! A very useful gift from Mephisto to these corrupt priests. However, we have no idea why did he gave them a tool to hunt down the people he made deals with"

"Devils are by nature double-crossers" The ranger declared.

"Whatever the reason, you'd do well in destroy this enchanted mirror right here and right now" Munnin advised.

"Consider it done!" The ranger unsheathed the feathered swords and raised them ready to destroy the mirror, which was reflecting the chipmunk's features at that moment. However, just as he was about to land a double blow on the surface, another image came into sight. One that froze Chip in his place.

It was a cat - a cat as black as the deepest of darkness - sitting down on his hind legs and looking at the horizon with his back towards the ranger's point of view. His tail whipped back and forth in a peculiar way, as if expecting something to happen sooner than later. The room, meanwhile, filled with echoes of a single lament. "Master!"

"Who's…" A frightened Chip started to say, when the black cat's ears perked up. The feline glanced back over his shoulder and then, after an initial frown of disbelief, his feline eyes ignited in a white blaze and his mouth opened baring fangs too large and sharp for any common cat. The growl he uttered as he turned around and got ready to pounce sent the ranger into a state of fear that made him drop his swords and fall back to his knees. "Oh God!"

The mirror then shattered in a thousand shards.

"Just… just… What was that?" The shivering chipmunk spoke incoherently. It took him many seconds just to gather the will to stand up again and when he did, he found his legs could barely support him and was sweating cold. He crumpled to the ground again amid rasping breaths. In his whole life, Chip had never experienced a wave of terror as strong as the one he was running through him in that lonely, barely lit room.

"Damn, this was unexpected" The raven of thought declared. "Hey hero, pull yourself together! The horror you feel will dissipate soon"

"I said, what was that!?" Chip demanded to know.

"That, my friend, was Mephisto, the dealer of souls. The devil you swore to slay, in the shape of a mortal cat"

Chip shook his head angrily. "That wasn't a mortal cat! Didn't you see his flaming eyes?"

"Yeah, yeah" The raven of memory conceded. "Perhaps the lock spell cast upon him is wearing out?"

"That's highly likely, brother. Chipmunk, you better hurry up and kill him before he completes reverting back to his original, supernatural form"

The aghast ranger tried to stand up again, trembling as he was from head to toes. "To kill him… is that even possible?"

"Relax, we can still shred him to pieces, if you have the courage to take us close enough to him, of course"

Sensing hints of doubt in their host, the ravens played another card. A memory of the blonde witch danced in the chipmunk's mind: the moment she kissed him in the brink of death. Chip could almost feel the soft dulcet lips pressing against his again. Her warmth, her fragrance…

"Yes, that fair girl of gentle heart and dreamy disposition" Huggin whispered in a highly suggestive tone. "You love her, don't you? More than love, you desire her… You want her for yourself"

Chip bit his lips. If anything, the image of Gadget and her toothy smile helped soothe his mind and heart.

"She's not yours, though" The raven stung him. "She already has a master, one who will drag her to hell the moment she perishes in this world. Once that happens, you'll never see her again, not in this life or the next".

That hurt the black-nosed chipmunk as bad as a stab wound.

"The witch already told you the big secret of this world" Munnin added to the injury. "One doesn't stay dead for long. Our souls reborn time after time, as long as we don't give them up in a witchcraft trade like your pretty mouse did"

The ranger slammed his fist on the wall, out of frustration. "I know that! Do you think I don't know that?" Holding tears, he then went and picked up the swords from the ground. "If you say that thing can be slain, then I'll slay it, goddamit all!"

"That's the spirit, chipmunk!" It felt as if both ravens stirred and fluttered. "Onward to your fated encounter!"

"Fated, huh?" The still upset Chip took a last look at his reflection on the many glass shards that now covered the floor of the room. Indeed, he could barely recognize himself anymore.

The black-nosed chipmunk was halfway to the main entrance doors when he first heard the alarmed voice of his bard friend. "...iip! Chiiip!"

"Hold on, I'm on my way!"

"Hurry! They are coming!"

Dale, who was shouting at the dark corridor from the safety of the threshold, got the scare of his life the moment Chip suddenly emerged from the shadows. "Gah! Oh, it's you!" Then he pushed his friend's shoulder. "Don't startle me like that!"

The already stressed Chip gladly returned the gesture. "Don't push me like that!"

"You started it!"

"You did!"

"Ok stop!" The ranger waved his paws energetically. "What's the alarm? Who's coming?"

"Musketeers, Chip! A whole battalion of them! I was up there at the top of the stairs watching around when I noticed banners advancing in the gardens over there!"

"Musketeers? Let's see…" Fast as lightning, the black-nosed chipmunk climbed the steps of the human-sized stairs and peered into the distance. A wide grin of excitement adorned his face the moment he spotted the silver mouse and halberd in the banners of the approaching army, followed by racing heartbeats as a wagon with a cage came into view at the center of the marching column.

Dale, bouncing on his toes, shouted up at his companion. "Is it them, the musketeers from Rouen? Do you see Foxglove there?"

"Oh, it's them, all right!" Chip informed as he made his way back to the excited bard. "Come on, we got to hide!"

A few minutes later, a battalion of fifty musketeers arrived at the doors of the palace and somehow, the earth below them growled with hunger.