Ramus shook himself vigorously and then raised his head to sniff the air before plodding on along the side of the narrow winding lane running through the vineyard district of Kathikas. Making a quick stop by a eucalyptus tree, he shook himself a second time before moving forward with a more urgent trot. There was a new kind of coldness in the air – the kind he knew well. Winter had arrived. A subtle backdrop painted in deep shades of orange and mauve from a setting sun bathed the land in a gentle glow as the bright rays shone between dark clouds hanging low in the early evening autumnal sky.
Tiny snowflakes, invisible to the eye, began to fall, covering Ramus’s fur coat with a fine film of water. As he stopped once more, a small lizard caught his attention, scurrying across the lane and into the tall grass and rocks in front of him.
“Is that you, Henry?” said Ramus. “Going to the meeting? – I hope you know winter has arrived?”
Henry’s nose appeared from beneath a rock, twitching gently as he spoke. “Of course, I know it's winter. It’s been winter since I got up this morning. What’s the meeting about?”
“The quest to find a new home for us all in the valley,” explained Ramus. “It’s the hunting season and Coco and Brutus are especially worried. It’s no place for rabbits up here during the hunting season – nor for Cecil the Falcon and his family. They’re too frightened to fly.”
Ramus growled. The hunters appeared every year, setting fires to make the animals run into danger.
“In that case, I’d better come along too,” said Henry.
Ramus flicked his ears and sniffed loudly. “We’re meeting in the Andreos Stables."
Acacia and Alexzander, the two donkeys, stood patiently at the entrance to the stable while the rest of the animals sat in a circle nodding in agreement as Ramus spoke.
“We need to mount an expedition to find a new home. I say let's move quickly before the snow comes or we will be living in danger.”
There was a chorus of approval.
“But how will we get there?” asked Coco. “I’m so small and Henry is even smaller than me.”
“You and Brutus can go with Acacia and Henry can sit on my back.”
A distant rumble of thunder warned of impending rain. Outside, the wind began to blow, knocking a bucket over and sending it clattering into the orange grove. A window at the back of the stable banged open and gusts of wind caught the scattered straw and sent it spiraling into the air.
“We will start out in the morning,” said Ramus authoritively. “We’ll take the path down through the olive grove until we get to the crystal stream and cross it by the slippery stepping stones. On the other side is our rest for the night – the enchanted fruit orchard, and you must make a wish before you enter.”
Writing order: Ray Stone (Cyprus), Sumanda Maritz (S. Africa), Anna Zhigareva (Scotland), Donna McTavish (NZ), Gabrielle Burt (NZ), Rosemary Wakelin (Aus), Therese Quinlan (Aust), Hemali Ajmera (India), Suraya Dewing (NZ), Rivan (S. Africa)