Jay B. R. Wokky Ch 15.1 A Visit From a Ghost

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CH 15.1
A ghostly figure appeared at Ezra’s side. “Bit of a rough day, eh?”
Ezra knew all the castle ghosts. This one had been his father’s bodyguard a long time ago. He had been killed during the last troll war, when Ezra’s father, Frances, had been a young boy. “Michaels, was my father always like this?”
The ghost patted him on the shoulder. “He has had his more relaxed moments.”
“I know my father loves me and that he’s afraid for my life, but he’s also disappointed in me. He’s angry that I didn’t turn out like my brothers, who wield their mighty swords to defend the kingdom. Because of this stupid curse, I’ll never be a brave knight like them. So why doesn’t he let me help in other ways? Why can’t he see that I am capable? I could be a big help to him.”
Michaels cleared his throat. “I don’t think he saw the humor in the donkey prank.”
“School is so boring most of the time. I have to do something to liven things up. And can I help it if my royal cousins have the intelligence of cows? They’re cruel too. They deserved what happened.”
Michaels pursed his lips. “Did they? Those donkeys, who used to be your royal cousins, all disappeared from their homes last night. No one knows what happened to them.”
Ezra frowned, uneasy. “Maybe they were so ashamed that they ran away.”
“All of them? All at the same time? I doubt it. I think they were stolen. Your aunts and uncles are frantic with worry.”
“Did any of the ghosts see who took them?”
Michaels cleared his throat. “Sorry. I was with your father all night. His heart is not doing well. I will ask the other ghosts.”
Ezra was immediately concerned. “Has anyone tried Miracle Mix?”
“Unfortunately, the last jar was used up a month ago. Dr. Pill ordered some more, but the shipments keep getting waylaid in the Tulgey Woods.”
“Can’t you go out to the woods and find out what’s going on?”
“Sorry, Sire. I am bound to the castle. No one can see or hear the ghosts except you, and at this moment no one will listen to you.”
Ezra felt uneasy. Why would anyone steal all the male royal cousins, especially when they were in donkey form? What were the fey up to?
He sank down on the window seat and stared out through the iron bars at the gathering darkness. From here he could still see the mountains, and a last sliver of light caught the edge of The Blue Hand – an enormous outcropping of blue stone that looked remarkably similar to an actual hand. One of the fingers was broken off.
“Michaels, what is that blue rock out there, the one that looks like a hand? Do you have any idea?”
Michaels raised a silvery eyebrow. “When was the last time you read the history of your kingdom, Ezra?”
“Er. Not recently.” Like, never. He usually spent history class figuring out ways to torment his cousins. History was boring.
“I suggest you catch up.” Michaels rubbed his arm as if it pained him.
Then Ezra heard voices in the hallway outside his door.
“You have visitors. Good-bye for now.” The ghost vanished.

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Jay B.R. Wokky Ch. 14 Strawberry Jam and a Story

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Ch 14
Janine knew enough to stay off the main roads, avoid people, and go towards the mountains in the distance – when she could see them. She spent most of her time struggling through the thick, dark woods. She had no idea where she was, or even if she was going in the right direction. Felix seemed to delight in taking her on the hardest ways possible.
She sat down on a fallen tree trunk. From her knapsack she took the last of her bread and cheese, along with a small jar of strawberry jam that she’d been saving, and made a sandwich.
Felix appeared at her feet. “Is that strawberry jam? I haven’t had strawberry anything since… well, for ages. Please may I have some? Please, please, please?” He sniffed the air and licked his lips as he paced back and forth in front of her.
“Sure. I was going to share.” Janine tore the sandwich in thirds and gave a portion to Freddie and one to Felix.
The cat pounced on the food and gulped it down. “Oh, my. That was sooo good. Could I have some more? No, no, forget the bread. Just give me the jar.”
Felix seized the jar and held it between his paws as he proceeded to lick every scrap of jam from the jar. “Mmmm. Mmmm. So good. Mmmm.”
Janine watched in amazement. When Felix was finished, he rolled over on his back and sighed. “That was absolutely the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in a very long time.” He closed his eyes and began to purr.
Janine didn’t know what to think. Felix had never acted like this before. Since he was in a good mood, she decided to try to get some information out of him. “I didn’t know you belonged to Old Bob.”
“Ha. I don’t belong to anyone.”
She was puzzled. “But he commands you, and you obey.”
Felix sniffed. “I do him favors. There’s a big difference.”
“Why are you with him?”
He opened his eyes. “I owe you, so I’ll tell you the truth. When I was just a young fey, I was turned into a cockroach – just because I sampled the Queen’s tarts.”
“Sampled?”
“Oh, very well. I stole the whole tray and ate them all. I never could resist strawberries.”
Janine stopped eating. Usually the cat was so cryptic. It was nice to have him actually conversing with her. “What happened then?”
“I led a miserable life. I had to eat nasty things, and people tried to poison me and step on me. At least I was able to stay hidden most of the time. I wandered over the mountains into Nelsonia. Then, ten years ago, a human boy turned me into a cat.”
“How did he do that?”
“I don’t know. Humans don’t usually have that kind of power. Now I’m in his debt.” The cat put his ears back.
“Then what?”
“I was chased by dogs, shot at by men, and almost lost my life when one of the royal brats tried to drown me in the well – Bernie, I think his name was — and all his friends cheered him on. One of the princes – Ezra — rescued me. Old Bob found me and took me away out of Nelsonia. He sheltered me and taught me until I was grown.”
“But he didn’t change you back into a boy. Or a man.”
“I have discovered that I prefer to be a cat.” Felix sat up and began to wash his face.
Janine thought about all that he had said. “I was supposed to marry Prince Ezra. I guess that won’t be an option now. He’ll probably be relieved.”
Felix glanced at her face. “Hmm. You humans put way too much emphasis on outer appearance.”
They began walking again, and the cat resumed his usual behavior. Janine wished she had more strawberry jam.
After three days, they reached a stone pillar. Ivy had begun to grow up its crumbling gray surface.
“Well, Princess, you’re on your own now.”
“What do you mean?” Janine brushed the dirt from her hands. She’d fallen — again.
“You’ve just crossed the border between Saltonia and Nelsonia. Good luck. Watch out for the bandersnatches.”
“But…”
The cat faded away, leaving only his sharp-toothed smile.
“Thanks for your help.” Janine scowled. “Thanks for nothing.” Old Bob had told her that all magical folk would help her, but the cat’s sarcastic comments and ever changing directions made it clear that he had enjoyed playing with her.
The cat reappeared and hissed. “I beg your pardon. I led you away from a den of wolves and a nest of bandersnatches. Twice you would have met Paul, the axman. I kept you away from giant spiders, a hungry snake, and a band of thieves. And this is the thanks I get? Hmmph.”
Janine swallowed hard. “Thank you, Felix.”
“That’s more like it.” The cat grinned and vanished.
Janine looked around her at the enormous trees. She was cold, dirty, tired, and hungry. Her feet hurt. There were blisters on her heels. Poor Freddie was limping. He had spines in his nose from an encounter with a porcupine. His tail drooped, and his ribs stuck out. Janine had never felt so alone.
She began to walk again.

Jay B. R. Wokky Ch. 13.4 Ezra’s Pranks Catch Up To Him

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Ch. 13.4 —
“Hello, everyone,” Ezra said cheerfully as he slid into his seat at the table.
At that moment, Franklin burst into the dining room. His face was bright red with the exertion of running down three flights of stairs and across the great hallway. He scowled at Ezra as he mopped his brow.
“Franklin, what took you so long?” Ezra grinned.
Esther frowned. “Stop teasing him. He can’t help being slower than you.”
“And fatter and stupider,” Ezra muttered under his breath. Esther kicked him in the shins. “Ow. Sorry.”
He looked over at his brothers, who were shoveling in great mouthfuls of mashed potatoes, roast beef, and creamed beans. Their great, tanned arms bulged with muscle, and their shoulders burst out of their vests. They were manly warriors, brave and handsome, all three of them. Ezra looked down at his thin, wiry body and sighed.
His father looked up from his meal. “Ezra, I’ve had six complaints about you today.”
“Only six? I’ll have to do something about that.” He winked at Eli.
King Frances glared at him. “You certainly will. I had twelve complaints about you yesterday.” He squinted at the list that his attendant handed him. “You set all the horses in the stables free into the meadow. It took three hours to recapture them.”
“Father, they needed a holiday. Do you know what it’s like to carry those suits of armor all the time? Brutal.”  His brothers snorted and coughed as they tried not to laugh.
King Frances cleared his throat. “The cleaning staff caught you swinging from the chandelier in the ballroom. The guards said you climbed out your third floor window and scaled down the wall.”
“So? I was checking the latest damage done by the Toves.”
“Yesterday, you left the castle without your bodyguard and dived from the high cliffs into the lake.”
“That was fun.” He and Eli exchanged glances and snickered.
Ezra pointed at Matthew and Mark. “They dared me to do it.”
His brothers began to snort with laugh, but sobered quickly at their father’s scowl.
“The mayor said you stopped a city council meeting and told them how to solve their argument over the Center Street Well. Now, you know I like to let the local people solve as many of their problems as possible.”
Ezra folded his arms and frowned. “I thought you’d be happy about that one.”
“And worst of all, your teacher said you brought cookies to the Royal School, and when the other boys ate them, they turned into donkeys.”
“Really? The potion worked then. That’s fantastic.” Ezra ate a previously sliced piece of pear and smirked. “How does Bernie like being a donkey?”
“He feels right at home,” said Eli.
His brothers all laughed, but one thunderous look from their father silenced them.
“Your mother is very disappointed in you.”
Ezra glanced over at his mother, who was trying very hard to be stern, but her mouth was twitching. His brothers continued to eat ravenously. Esther and her sister-in-law, Ella, were flushed, but ate daintily and pretended to ignore the conversation.
Ezra pushed his bangs out of his eyes. “Father, the Royal School has not turned out to be a good idea. Master Fitzswitch has no idea how to control his students.”
“Now, Ezra, I know the other boys are hard on you…”
“They have been bullying me since my first day of school four years ago. Especially that troll, Bernie.”
“Your cousin is not a troll.”
“You’re right, now he’s a cute little donkey!”
His brothers all burst into howls of laughter. Ezra stood up and bowed to them.
The king’s face went red as he pounded the table and bellowed. “Enough! That’s enough!”
The room was suddenly silent.
“Deep breaths, dear,” said Ezra’s mother. “Remember what Doctor Pill said about your heart.”
The king took a deep, cleansing breath and unclenched his fists. “Because of your prank, my brothers and their families aren’t here for our monthly dinner. They are deeply insulted. Now I will have to ask the Fey to un-enchant your cousins. You’ve put me in a bad position here, both with our family and with the fey.”
Ezra was angry now. “I saved Bernie’s life. He would have been dead meat if I hadn’t seen those two fey carrying him out of the tavern. And did he even thank me? Not once.”
Bernie had been convinced that the fey had meant to honor him with a great banquet, and that Ezra had messed up a great opportunity. However, Ezra could see beneath their glamour, and he had known that they were up to no good.
Ezra ground his teeth together. He should have been thanked. But no. Instead he had been insulted, knocked into the dirt, and called a girl. Turning his cousins into donkeys had been a fitting revenge.
His father glared at him. “Why don’t you grow up?”
Ezra stood up and spread his arms wide. “Grow up? I’d love to! Give me a sword. Let me learn to fight.”
“No.”
“Then let me do something useful. Every time I find anything interesting to do, you forbid it.”
“That’s because everything you want to do is dangerous!” The king pounded on the table. “Blacksmithing? Training horses? Digging in the mines? Hunting bandersnatches? Honestly, Ezra, how do you expect me to protect you?”
“I don’t want to be protected. I want to live!”
The room was silent. Everyone stared at him. Ezra slumped back down in his chair.
King Frances’s face was grim. “I’m sorry, Ezra, but this is for your own good. For the rest of the year, I am confining you to your room, except at mealtimes. You will be under constant surveillance. If I have to tie you to your bed, I will.”
His siblings gasped. Ezra leaped to his feet. “What? You must be joking!”
“I am not joking. I will keep you safe. And you will stop defying me.”
“I won’t, and you can’t make me.”
The king gestured, and two guards seized him. “Take him to his room. He can finish eating there.”
Ezra kicked, punched, and bit the guards, but they tied his arms and legs and carried him all the way down the great hall, up three flights of stairs, and down the long hallway to his room. There he was released. The maid brought in the rest of his dinner on a tray and set it on the table.
As soon as the key turned in the lock, Ezra threw his dinner tray at the door. Then he sat down on the window seat and stared morosely out through the newly installed iron bars at the darkening countryside.

Jay B. R. Wokky Ch. 13.3 In The Secret Passageway

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Chapter 13.3 —
Ezra ducked into an alcove, crawled behind the suit of armor, pushed the lever down, and then slipped through the opening in the back into the secret passageway.
“Ezra!” Franklin bellowed as he raced past.
Ezra chuckled. No matter how many times he did this, Franklin always fell for it.
Ezra walked down the dark staircase. He knew where each twist and turn was, and his feet were sure on the old stone steps. He would always be grateful to Eli for showing him this shortcut.
Ezra paused at the second floor landing and nodded to the ghost who stood guard there. “How are you this evening, Sir Reginald?”
Sir Reginald bowed his head slightly and smiled. “Fine, young sire. I see you’re up to your old tricks.”
“Just because I’m ten now doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing everything I enjoy.”
The old knight studied him. “They’re only trying to protect you, you know.”
“Ha.” Ezra waved and continued on. He was almost to the kitchens when he came upon a gnome sneaking down an adjacent passageway with an armload of vegetables. Ezra stopped and put his hands on his hips.
“You know, all you have to do is ask.”
The gnome screeched and jumped, dropping all the food as he did so. He shook his finger at Ezra. “You’re not supposed to be able to see me.”
“Oh, please.” Ezra rolled his eyes.
He pulled a large handkerchief out of his pocket. Then he helped the gnome gather the vegetables and bundle them up into a load that could be easily carried. “You’re new here, aren’t you? Didn’t the other gnomes warn you that I can see you even when you’re using a spell of invisibility?”
The gnome burst into tears. “Forgive me, Sire. I’m newly assigned here. King Winky sent me because I dropped his favorite tea set. The other gnomes who have been here before wouldn’t tell me anything. They said I had to get food from the castle or I’d be tied up and flung into a bandersnatch nest.”
“Hey, don’t cry. What’s your name?”
“Butterfingers.”
Ezra glanced at the gnome. “I guess that makes sense. Was it just a dare, or are the gnomes really short of food?”
“It was a hard winter, Sire. The raths keep changing their migration route. This is the eighth time in ten years. They go right through our fields now, and we can’t grow enough to feed everyone.”
Ezra felt bad. “Take this bundle home. Next time, just go to the kitchen and tell Cook that I said you could have all the food you need, all right?”
“Thank you, Sire. Thank you so much.”
“And Butterfingers? Since you’ve been assigned here anyway, perhaps you could do me a favor.”
Butterfingers bowed. “Anything, Sire.”
“You can report to me if you see anything out of the ordinary in the castle or in the secret passageways. After all, an assassin is supposed to try to kill me in the next six years.”
The gnome beamed at him. “You can count on me, Sire. I’ll get my little brothers and sisters to help. That assassin won’t get past us.”
“Good enough.” Ezra and Butterfingers shook hands, and then they went separate directions. Ezra frowned. For hundreds of years the Raths had never changed their migration route, yet now they did, and frequently too. What was causing it?  Ezra continued on to the Royal Dining Room, where his family waited.

 

Jay B. R. Wokky Ch. 13.2 Janine Makes a Discovery

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Ch. 13.2
Unfortunately, Janine did not have a good sense of direction. She tried to keep up with the cat, but he had an annoying habit of disappearing for stretches of time. All she could do was hope they were headed out of Saltonia.
All that day and far into the evening, she crept through the trees. Freddie followed at her heels. His tail drooped, and he kept sniffing the air and looking around them. “I don’t like this place.”
“I don’t either, Freddie dear. Stay close.”
Darkness descended upon the forest, and she took out the ball. “Light,” she told it. The ball began to glow softly.
“Keep up,” said the cat.
Even with the ball, the way was hard. After several more hours of tripping on vines and struggling through thick branches, Janine came out of the trees and saw a tall stone wall.
Freddie growled. The hair on his back stood up. “Bad. Very bad.”
The cat sat down and began to wash himself.
The moonlight illuminated the white walls with an eerie glow. Along the top of the wall hung a gleaming string of silver bells. A faint scent of lilies drifted to her.
At that moment Janine realized that somehow she’d traveled almost in a circle and ended up behind Zelda’s private garden.
Janine glared at the cat. “You were supposed to get me out of Saltonia.”
“The poet Daballi once said, ‘Learning something today may keep you alive tomorrow.’”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Freddie growled low. “Shh. Listen.”
From inside the garden came the sound of some kind of animal crunching on bones. All the hair on her arms stood up. As Janine tiptoed along beside the stone wall, the bells began to ring. The crunching stopped. Janine shivered and held still. The bells stopped ringing, and the crunching resumed.
What was it about this garden? Janine had peeked in through the front gate once. The garden was a place of beauty, but something about it was very disturbing. Zelda never let any of the servants inside to tend her strange plants and flowers. She spent long hours working in there, and she lined the beds and walkways with round stones and sea shells from the beach. Animals wouldn’t go inside — not a mouse, not even a beetle. Janine had never seen even a bird fly over the garden.
The cat said, “Zelda Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and sea shells, and pretty maids all in a row.”
“What does that mean?” Janine whispered.
Felix faded out. A few seconds later, he reappeared. “There are ten graves in a row. The farthest one is ten years old, the next nine years old, the next eight, and so on. Beside the grave from last year is a freshly dug hole. I won’t describe the corpse except to say it’s human.”
Janine was filled with horror. She turned and fled back into the forest, with Freddie beside her and the cat bounding ahead. The chiming of the silver bells seemed to follow behind. It wasn’t until she came out onto the main road that she realized that there had been no wind that night.

Jay B. R. Wokky Ch. 13 Meanwhile, Back at the Castle

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Ch. 13.1 — Ezra looked down from his window and watched his brothers sword fighting in the practice yard. He sighed. His brothers were all strong, brave, and valiant — experts with the sword and all other weapons of war. He, on the other hand, was not even allowed near a butter knife. It was so unfair!
“Come away from that window, Sire,” said his bodyguard. Franklin’s black suit was impeccable. His crisp white shirt had been properly starched. Not a hair on his balding head was out of place.
“Bother. Do you really think I’m going to jump to my death or something? Come on, Franklin. I’m bored. I’m never allowed to do anything fun.”
“You’re ten years old now, Sire. Attempts on your life might begin to increase this year. We must be extra vigilant.”
Ezra rolled his eyes. “Oh, please.”
“There have been rumors of a mad ax-man running around in the Tulgey woods. You wouldn’t want to meet him, would you?”
“Better than dying of boredom.”
Ezra faced his bodyguard. “Father is going overboard. How will an assassin even get into the castle, let alone the kingdom? Meanwhile, what am I supposed to do?”
He began to pace back and forth.
Ezra’s siblings were all busy. Matthew worked daily with Father, preparing to be the next king. He had married a girl whose foot had fit into a glass slipper – the lovely Ella (who had turned out to have royal blood on her mother’s side). Mark had heard of a beautiful princess with long golden hair who was being held captive in a witch’s tower. He suspected that it was his own betrothed, who had been stolen away as a baby. Mark was now preparing for a journey to Lake Land in order to rescue her. Ezra’s sister, Esther, was sewing her own dress for her upcoming wedding to Prince Jeremiah, one of the Elf King’s sons. Eli was…
Ezra paused. He would miss Eli most of all. Eli was his best friend, his comrade in all kinds of mischief and trouble. Eli was now sixteen, and he was preparing for a journey to Saltonia to meet his betrothed, the Princess Zelda Mary. She was reported to be as beautiful as the sun and moon.
Ezra thought it strange that she’d never come to Nelsonia before. Matthew’s betrothed had visited them quite often from her kingdom in the north. That was before she’d been eaten by a bear.
Ezra wondered if he could hire someone to eat his betrothed. He’d heard that the Princess Janine was extremely ugly. On second thought, his mother would be very unhappy with him if he actually tried something like that. Oh, well. It would have made life interesting — for a while.
Anyway, After Eli met Princess Zelda, he would spend all his free time with her. Ezra hated her just for taking Eli away from him.
Ezra stopped pacing and yelled at Franklin. “And what do I get to do? I’m told to stay out of trouble, that’s what. I never get to do anything with my brothers.”
“You see them at mealtimes.”
Ezra snorted. “They’re all so busy filling their faces that they don’t talk to me.”
“Princess Esther would be glad of your company.”
Ezra grimaced. His sister was kind, but from the time she’d been a small girl, she had been forcing him to play dolls with her, or paint, or sew, or read her stories. He was sick of it.
“I’m ten years old now. I want to do something manly.”
Just then the gong went off.
Ezra leaped to his feet. “Dinner!” He raced past Franklin and down the long hallway.
“Wait! Your Highness, wait for me.”
Ezra ignored him.

Jay B.R. Wokky Ch. 12.4 Janine’s Name Day Gifts

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Ch 12.4
Janine opened the old leather-bound book. It held the family records: births, marriages, deaths, and most importantly, the pronouncement of gifts given by their magical allies. She ran a finger down the lists of names.
Old Bob looked over her shoulder. “You know, these gifts always seem like such a wonderful thing on the name day, but later they usually go wrong. Your brother, for example. Derrick was promised that he would marry a woman with a beautiful singing voice. No one could have foreseen that Ariel would turn out to be a mermaid or that the evil sea witch would attempt to take over the kingdom.”
“Well, they’re happily married now.”
Janine found her name and read her list of gifts aloud. “From Queen Timora of the Fey — the gift of Beauty.” Janine rolled her eyes. She had been a beautiful baby. For a few months.
“From Perrin of the centaurs – She will be fast.”
Janine and Old Bob looked at each other. She had been able to outrun Paul tonight. Just barely.
“From Marin of the elves — wisdom.” The elves liked to give wisdom. It kept the surrounding kingdoms from doing stupid things like attacking them.
“From Winky, king of the gnomes — Intelligence.” Janine felt an unexpected warmth toward the gnomes. She had begun to read at age three and hadn’t stopped learning since.
“From MaQuire of the Werewolves — She will be Kind.” Princesses weren’t often given kindness. It made them too soft-hearted when it came to ruling. But she didn’t have to worry about that happening.
“Hmm,” said Old Bob. “That’s an unusual gift for a werewolf to give.”
“From Brimhold the dwarf – She will be strong and hard working. Hmmph.” The dwarves expected their wives to be strong and helpful.
“From the mermaid queen – she will have a happy marriage to one who will love her. Ha! Like that will ever happen.”
Next was a gift from the giants. “She will judge fairly. Well, that will come in handy if I ever become a judge.”
Janine shook her head. “From Bernice of the witch guild – the ability to communicate with animals.”
Old Bob nodded his approval. “She outdid herself there.”
Janine agreed. She loved being able to talk to the animals. The only bad thing was that it forced her to become a vegetarian – after all, she couldn’t eat someone she could talk to. Just another thing for her family to make fun of her about.
The list ended there. There should have been at least one more gift. Janine was, of course, familiar with the oft-repeated story of what had happened when Wizard Colin had sneezed on her.
Janine sat for a moment thinking, her fingers ruffling the dog’s ears. She closed the book and set it on the table.
Felix laid his ears back again. “I suppose you want me to take it back tonight?”
“No,” said Old Bob. “I think I’ll do a little browsing first. I want you to accompany Janine until she is safely beyond the borders of this land.”
Felix sighed. “Oh, very well. If you insist.” He jumped off the table and sauntered to the door.
Janine wrapped the coat around her, buttoned it, and then shouldered the knapsack. Freddie stood and stretched, and then went to stand beside Felix. He looked back at her and wagged his tail.
Janine felt lonely and scared. After all, she was a little girl, and it was the middle of the night. Not to mention the fact that a man with an ax was still out there hunting her. She took a deep breath and went to the door. “Which way to the Tulgey Woods?”
Old Bob knelt and gave her a hug. “You are the bravest lass I’ve ever known. I never got to give my gift to you on your name day.” He kissed her forehead. “May all magical folk protect you and help you wherever you go on your journeys.”
Janine hadn’t realized that Old Bob was anything but a man who cared for and trained the dogs. Now she noticed that he had pointed ears. With tears in her eyes, she hugged him back. “You’ve always been a true friend.”

Jay B.R. Wokky Ch. 12.3 Felix Helps Out

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Ch. 12.3 —
Janine looked up at Old Bob’s kind face. “I need a few things from the castle. Will you keep Freddie here until I come for him?”
“You can’t go back up there. It’s too dangerous.”
Janine shook her head. “No one will see me. I’ll take the servants’ staircases. Everyone is at the ball.”
“She’ll have ordered the guards and servants to capture you if they see you. And don’t forget Paul, who is hunting you.”
Janine bit her lip. How was she going to run away without supplies — clothing and food? And what about her books?
Old Bob opened a cupboard, took out a knapsack, and began to fill it with bread, cheese, apples, and a leather bag full of water. He slid out a drawer and then handed her a pair of trousers, a boy’s shirt, and a gray hat. “Step into the bedroom and change. Put your hair up under the hat.”
Janine took the clothing and went into the small bedroom. An enormous black and brown tabby cat sat on the bed. He began to purr.
“How interesting,” said the cat. “A princess. The youngest one, I’d say.”
Janine ignored the cat and began to peel out of her torn, dirty dress.
“Are you running away?”
“Yes.”
The cat licked a paw. “You should go to the Tulgey Woods.”
“Will I be safe there?”
The cat laughed. “No one is safe in the Tulgey Woods. But you’ll be safer there than here.”
Janine groaned. “You’re probably right.”
“If you decide to go on o Wonderland, I have a cousin there who will help you. Ask for Chessy.”
Janine changed into the boy’s clothing and re-braided her hair, then tucked it under the hat. When she looked back at the cat, he had faded away. Only his smile remained.
Janine went back out to the main room of the cottage. Old Bob gave her an old buttoned coat and sturdy boots. He stuffed a toothbrush into the knapsack.
“Will you go with me?” Janine asked. Old Bob had always treated her with kindness. He had been her friend since the first time she had toddled into the stable yard.
“I cannot.” His eyes told her he wished he could. She didn’t ask why. He tucked a small glowing ball into the front pocket of the knapsack. “This will help you see the way. Just tell it what to do, and it will obey.” He studied her for a moment. “Is there anything specific you wanted from the castle?”
Janine bit her lip and shook her head. She thought sadly of the castle library, with its book-lined walls, old comfortable chairs, and thick, soft rugs that always seemed to be sprinkled with dog hair. The books within had been her friends. If there was a way to bring them all with her, she would. She would also miss the kennels, the stables, and the barns with their four-footed inhabitants. She would even miss her family, in spite of how horrid they’d been to her.
Old Bob studied her. “Before you go, you need to know what your name day gifts were.”
“The family record book is locked in a special drawer in the library, and only Father has the key.”
Old Bob smiled. “That won’t be a problem.” He snapped his fingers. “Felix.”
The tabby cat appeared on the big oak table. Curled with one leg stretched out, he seemed to be in the middle of his bath. He yawned widely. “You rang?”
“Get the book of records from the castle and bring it back here.”
The cat put his ears back and lashed his tail. “I seem to recall dogs with big teeth, guards with knives and swords at every corner, and an irate cook with a rolling pin.”
Old Bob looked sorrowful. “Too true. And the book is locked in the Royal Library. Scads of people are up there at the castle, all dancing and partying and carrying on. The kitchen’s frantic with preparing all that delicious food. No place for a cat who has lost his nerve.”
“Lost his –?” Felix hissed. “Ha.”
The cat vanished.
Old Bob winked.
Janine looked at Old Bob with interest. “I didn’t know you could talk to animals the same way I can.”
“It’s best to keep some of the stranger gifts to yourself, if you know what I mean.”
Felix reappeared with a large book in his mouth, which he spat out onto the table. “There. Nasty taste. Probably hasn’t been dusted in the last ten years.”
Old Bob scratched behind Felix’s ears. “You wonderful, smart, brave cat. How did I get so lucky to have your friendship?”
Felix sniffed. “Ha.”
“Thank you, Felix,” said Janine. The cat began to purr.

NaNoWriMo is Here!

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It’s November, and you know what that means.  It’s NaNoWriMo!  National Novel Writing Month is the time when people abandon sane schedules, spouses, entertainment, sleep, and sometimes even food in favor of writing like crazy for an entire month.  And the reward is… the satisfaction of having reached your goal of 50,000 words (and a cool t-shirt). The typical type A personality cannot understand why anyone would do something like this. You mean, they say, there’s no money prize at the end? No fame and fortune? No! Just a lot of zany people all over the country typing like mad. NaNoWriMo is a chance to immerse yourself completely in the book you’ve always dreamed of writing. Don’t stop and go back. Don’t stew over whether this or that word is exactly right. There will be time for that later. Hang a sign on your door that says ‘Back In December’ and just write, write, write.  Above all, have fun!
If you are writing, Good Luck. Let me know how you are doing. We can even be writing buddies (look for cnicolas). I’ll be posting my word count. I can hardly wait to get started.
To sign up on the official site, go to this link: https://nanowrimo.org/

 

Jay B.R. Wokky Ch. 12.2 Old Bob

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Ch. 12.2 Old Bob —
Someone hauled her to her feet. Janine looked up into the face of Old Bob.
Janine began to pound him with her fists. “I hate you. I hate you.” Tears ran from her eyes.
Old Bob grabbed her wrists. “Hold on there, Missy. You’re like a treed cat tonight. Stop screeching and scratching, and listen to me for just a minute.”
Janine kept struggling.
“I didn’t kill your dog.”
Janine stopped fighting and stared at him.
“Your little Freddie’s fine, but you’re in danger.”
Janine looked behind her. She gasped. The crashing was getting louder, coming closer and closer. Paul was almost there.
Old Bob put a finger to his lips and then drew her behind a tree. He made a gesture with his hand. They stood as still as posts as Paul ran by with his axe.
“He’s under a spell,” whispered Old Bob. “He can’t help what he’s doing. Come on, I’ll help you get away.”
“Freddie’s really alive?” She felt weak with relief.
“Yes. Now, be as quiet as you can.” Old Bob took her hand in his large, gnarled one and hurried her through the trees towards his home. When they got to the little cottage, they went inside. Old Bob bolted the sturdy wooden door and muttered a few words.
There by the fire on an old blanket, was Freddie. He looked up at Janine with a forlorn expression. “Zelda said you didn’t want me anymore. She said you ordered Paul to kill me.”
Janine rushed to him, fell to her knees, and hugged the little hound. “She lied. I would never hurt you, Freddie dear.”
The dog licked her face and began to wag his tail.
“Will Paul find us here?” Janine asked.
Old Bob shook his head. “I’ve placed runes of protection around my home. He won’t even see it.”
The fire snapped and crackled as it spread a warm, golden glow throughout the little room. Old Bob set out the teapot and two mugs. He poured her a cup and added a little honey and cream. Janine drank gratefully. She took the bread and bowl of vegetable stew he offered. Freddie gobbled down his bowl of food as if he hadn’t been fed for days.
Old Bob sat down across from her. “I overheard Zelda talking to Paul earlier. She said, “You’ll tell everyone she came here in search of her dog and got in the way of Old Bob’s axe. Such a tragedy. You’re heartbroken. Old Bob will be executed, of course.” And then Paul said, “Yes, your Highness.”
Old Bob shook his head. “What a shame. Such a good man, with a gift for training dogs. And your sister… she’s changed. Not too many years ago, she wouldn’t have harmed any living creature. Now she’s enchanting the dogs’ water and ordering your death. Your parents have become vain and proud. After Prince Derrick married Ariel, I thought things would settle down, but it’s only grown worse. The whole kingdom’s gone mad.”
Janine agreed. Zelda Mary had been a sweet, loving girl up until four years ago. They used to play together all the time. Zelda had defended Janine from the other’s children’s teasing. She had never seemed to mind her sister’s warty face. Then overnight, Zelda had changed.
Janine set her spoon down. Sadness filled her. “Why does she want me dead? I’m no threat to her.”
The food began to take effect, and Janine’s mind stopped whirling. “I’m going to have to run away, aren’t I?”