Chapter 1 - Sleepwalking
Episode 1: The witch, the priest and the cooking book
Chapter 1 – Sleepwalking.
Province of Normandy, France. At the end of the XVII century…
"No… this isn't right" Chip said to himself taking a look at his map. "The forest exit is east from here, not northeast… gosh! If I just didn't feel so sleepy!
With a big yawn, the black-nosed chipmunk stored the map in his backpack, put his hood on and gave a last look into the horizon from the top of the tree where he was standing. The forest of Maulevrier stretched itself majestic and picturesque in all directions around, like a sea of trees full of life fed by the ancient river Seine in its wavering path through Normandy. In these last days of summer, gentle and soothing sea breeze was blowing from the west, from the famous port of Le Havre, passing over Maulevrier, and reaching the city of Rouen. Chip liked to imagine that the wind could reach even more faraway lands like Belgium and Germany.
This splendid and peaceful landscape, along with the rustle of the trees as they were swayed by the wind made Chip to sink in his thoughts, which had a recent tendency to melancholy. Eight years ago, Chip had entered this forest for the first time. Fame, fortune and seafood allergy had driven him to leave his parents and brothers at the port. Shamefully, just a few days later he found himself completely lost. But... how could he have met Dale otherwise? The happy-go-lucky chipmunk was just as lost as him, but instead of worrying about food and shelter, he was just laying on a branch playing his lute. Dale's music was what caught Chip's attention on the first place, and they were both so happy for having found someone to talk to, that they didn't care walking in circles anymore on the following days, while telling each other the story of their lives. It turned out that Dale was also looking for fame and fortune, but by entering the show business. His lute was a cherished gift from his mother, part of a troupe of traveling artists, a memento from the day she reluctantly let him go seek his fortune.
While Chip lost in his thoughts was staring at the woods but at the same time he wasn't, a carrier pigeon landed to rest for a moment on the opposite branch of the same tree. This pigeon was just starting to enjoy the beautiful sight of the forest when a loud, loud yawn from Chip startled her and almost makes her fall from the branch. Turning quickly towards the source of the ill-mannered sound, she struggled to distinguish Chip from the foliage, as the chipmunk was dressed with his green cloak and hood. Actually, she only managed to discover him due to a second yawn that Chip tried to cover with his paw.
"Chip Maplewood? Is that you?" asked the female pigeon.
"Agnes?" Chip asked coming back to reality. "How long have you been here? I didn't notice you!"
"I didn't notice you either! That green cloak of yours makes you almost invisible here!"
"Well, that's the point of it, I guess… It's the official ranger uniform."
"Then let me tell you Mr. ranger, your loud yawns betrayed you! Did you have a bad night?"
"More like a bat night, I'd say… Actually, I spent three nights at the bat cave near Duclair."
Agnes couldn't help to smile awkwardly. "The bat cave of Duclair? And you had to live with them three nights? Ohh that explains the stench, hehehe."
"The stench?" Chip immediately smelled his cloak. "It is very noticeable? I… I don't smell anything anymore… I suppose I got used to it…"
Agnes covered his beak to avoid smelling anymore. "You bet! What were you doing in that cave? Did you meet Eaglewood?"
"That's right" Said Chip while rubbing his tired eyes. "I was ordered to convince him and his pack to stop raiding St. Pierre, but they were so stubborn! It took me all these three nights to get to an agreement with them. At the end I did it! No more nocturnal raids!"
"Wonderful! So… where are you heading now? Back to St. Pierre? The pigeon pointed her wing in the direction of a small walled town located at the edge of the forest.
"Yep" answered Chip. "Reporting back to the mayor. But I needed to get my bearings first; I must get to the town before nightfall."
"Before nightfall?" Agnes looked at the sky, it was already past noon. "I'm afraid you are not gonna make it..."
"I know that." Was the blunt response from Chip.
"You know that?"
"Yeah… But I'll figure out something… anyway, I guess I should leave now… It was nice to see you, Agnes, take care!" With a quick jump, Chip started to climb down the tree.
Agnes laughed inwardly. "Typical Chip" she thought, "Mr. I-can-do-it-alone… I wonder if that attitude was a requirement to get his job. Well, I haven't done my good deed of the day, so…"
"Yeah?" The voice of Chip came from somewhere beneath the leaves of the tree.
"I was thinking…" Said Agnes to the leaves. "I'm on my way to Rouen, but I can make a quick deviation to St. Pierre… Do you want a ride?"
"mmh… I suppose I could use the ride…" Said Chip's voice. "But only because I really need to get to the town before dusk… thanks Agnes… ok, first let me climb back up there…"
Agnes rose in the air with Chip on her back. The sun was right above them. In the distance they were able to see flocks of birds heading for the beach, the river and other places to spend the summer day. Chip looked at them thoughtfully trying to tell their species: ducks, geese, swallows sparrows... no ravens in sight...
Agnes turned her head to see her passenger who was very silent. Chip didn't notice… he continued to stare at the neighbor birds that were flying near. Agnes could guess very well the reason for his friend's pondering. After all, she was with him the day when his trauma was born ... almost two years ago.
"So... what's the word from your inner voices, Chip?" She asked teasingly.
"Hey!" replied Chip as fast as he could. "I don't know what you are talking about! I'm sane!"
"Yeah right…" answered the pigeon with a grin. "But you're still looking for that pair of magical ravens, aren't you?"
"That's not true!" Replied Chip with a blush. "I was just… gazing at the horizon, that's all…"
"haha ok ranger… don't get 'mad'. You know that your terrible secret is safe with me… but that doesn't mean I can't taunt you from time to time… hahaha"
"How funny…" was the dry reply from Chip.
The pair spent the rest of the flight talking about trivial unimportant matters. One hour later, Agnes began to descend to her destination, the peaceful town of Saint Pierre-de-Varengeville.
Saint Pierre, in the time this story occurred, was a quiet town with roughly two hundred human inhabitants. Following traditions, the houses, market, city hall and a pair of workshops were all built around the main square and the church. The town itself was defended by an ancient wall with gates located at the east and west sides. As usual, the cemetery was built outside of the town. Some miles away, at the side of the road to Rouen, stood the ruins of a castle where a now forgotten family of landlords used to live and rule centuries ago.
The humans who live in Saint Pierre are dedicated to woodcutting. Bit by bit and year by year, the forest of Maulevrier is cut down and its wood is sent to the many ports alongside the English Channel. This of course means that the wild, small animals of the forest are left without homes, but they have found a passive aggressive way of payback: to move to Saint Pierre. There are so many rodents living there that a guard had to be created to maintain peace and a mayor had to be elected. Soon they found that the humans were very superstitious, and the wild animals of Saint Pierre exploited that weakness to create such fear on their furless neighbors that no human dares to walk out at night through the streets. Lamps are extinguished, voices are heard, socks disappear, horses, cats and dogs refuse to work. The town belongs to animals from dusk to dawn.
To avoid being seen by humans, the wild beings created their own gate on the north side of the wall, next to the cemetery. They even went so far as to fake some dancing lights on the gravestones to make sure no human get close to that gate at night. The humans were so scared that even the cemetery chapel is abandoned at night and nobody wants to work as grave keeper anymore...
And so, Agnes finally arrived to Saint Pierre. She chose to land behind the abandoned chapel of the cemetery to avoid being seen by the local carrier pigeons. Saying goodbye to Chip, she rose again in the air to continue her own mission.
"Bye Chip, take care! Please don't tell anyone I deviated from my route!"
"Don't worry about it, Agnes!" said Chip waving his paw. "Thanks for the ride!"
At the north gate, a pair of rat guards were spending their day checking on the travelers that wanted to enter the town.
"Hey Claude" Said one of the rats. "Look who is coming"
"Well well… none other than our favorite vagabond! Hey Chip, long time no see!"
Chip uncovered his face and answered the guard's greeting with a fake smile. "It was only three days, Claude… I assume you missed me?"
"hahaha of course! Actually, we can't imagine how might this town survive without you, right, Montaron?" Claude gave Montaron a quick wink, and the fellow guard nodded his head, trying to contain the laughter.
"So, Chip" Claude continued. "I heard you went to talk to the bats of Duclair. Oh boy, three days there and you return stinking just like them!"
"Yeah, well… it was worth it" answered Chip. "The bat clan accepted the truce, they promised to not raid again our markets. So be happy, thanks to me, you can continue to sleep on your post at night without worries!"
Claude's face turned red. "What! We… we don't sleep on our posts, you little…"
"Yes you do! Everybody knows that!" Replied Chip with a sardonic smile.
"We... I… " Claude decided to change the topic. "I want to know… How in blazes did you convince these nocturnal raiders to stop stealing our food?"
"Oh it was easy…" Chip answered shrugging. "They will keep coming to town… not as burglars, but as our brand new night watch. They will help you the guards to vigil Saint Pierre at night, in exchange for food and shelter. It is a wonderful deal, isn't it?"
Claude and Montaron stood speechless for a moment. "We… will work… with those bats?"
"They will arrive tonight, so be ready to greet them" Chip declared triumphant. "Now, if you excuse me…"
Leaving the gate guards perplexed, Chip finally entered the town of Saint Pierre.