adventure, Carol Nicolas, cover reveal, cozy mystery, fantasy, Irish mythology, magic, mystery, new book, new book cover, ocean, romance, Scottish mythology, sea, Selkie, Selkie King, Selkies, The Sea Child, Urban Fantasy, YA, YA fantasy
adventure, Carol Nicolas, cover reveal, cozy mystery, fantasy, Irish mythology, magic, mystery, new book, new book cover, ocean, romance, Scottish mythology, sea, Selkie, Selkie King, Selkies, The Sea Child, Urban Fantasy, YA, YA fantasy
birdwatching, children's books, eggs, fairy tales, food, hatching, hunger, Jabberwoky, Janine, Jay BR Wokky, Jubjub, jubjub bird, nest, Once upon a Time, singing, songs, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, to read aloud, Tulgey Wood
CH 18.2 — “Get out of my nest,” said the Jubjub bird. “Now you’ve got human stink all over my eggs. It’s bad enough that humans throw rocks and shoot arrows at us all the time, but now you’re creeping around at night and sleeping in our nests too.” She flapped her enormous purple wings and squawked.
The bird was as tall as Janine, and twice as wide, with a sharp yellow beak. Janine thought it best to be very polite. She scrambled up. “I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean any harm.”
Janine backed up until she was against the edge of the twiggy nest. How could she have been so stupid? Six purple speckled eggs sat in the middle of the nest, which was made of branches, lined with feathers, and about the size of a bathtub.
Janine opened her knapsack. “Would you like a lollipop?”
“What’s that?” The bird sniffed suspiciously at the offered treat.
“A lollipop. It’s sweet and delicious, and they come in six flavors. Granny… the witch Connie gave them to me.”
“Connie? Why didn’t you say so?” The Jubjub bird sampled all six flavors, crunching them with her strong bill. “They’re all good, but I like strawberry the best.”
“When I get where I’m headed, I’ll make a bunch and send them back to you.”
“Where are you headed?”
Janine hesitated. “There’s a Tumtum tree near here somewhere, next to a stream.”
“That’s only a few miles to the east, as the Jubjub flies. I’m not sure how long it will take on those puny human legs.”
Just then the six eggs began to rock. Cracks appeared along their glossy surfaces.
“Oh, my. Oh, my,” said the Jubjub bird. “It’s hatching day!”
All the birds in the trees around them took up the chorus. “Hatching day, it’s hatching day! O frabjous joy, callooh callay.”
Janine watched in wonder as each egg cracked open and the baby birds slowly emerged, peeping. They were all purple, with yellow beaks and legs. One had a crest of feathers sticking up on the top of its head.
When they were all out and their down was drying, they began to demand food.
“Oh, my, oh my. You lovely dears, I’ll be right back with breakfast.” The Jubjub bird took off to find some food.
The babies looked at Janine.
“Hungry,” said one. The others took up the chant. “Hungry, hungry.”
Another sniffed at Janine. “Is it food?”
“Let’s eat it now,” said another.
“I’m not food,” Janine said hastily. “I’m a person.”
“It talks, so it must be our sister,” said the one with the crest on its head.
“But it’s a strange color,” said another. “And where are its feathers?”
“No feathers? Poor thing. How will it ever fly?”
“If it can’t fly, maybe we should eat it.”
Janine stood up tall. “You can’t eat me. I’m going to fly someday, you’ll see.”
“Silly,” said the crested one. “She’s a baby like us. She hasn’t grown her wings and feathers yet.”
Janine fished around in her pack. “Here, just the thing while we wait. A snack.”
She broke up the rest of the gingerbread and threw pieces into their open mouths. Then she gave each one a lollipop, which they crunched and swallowed down, stick and all.
“Still hungry,” said one, eyeing her again.
“I know,” said Janine. “We’ll sing songs!” She began an enthusiastic rendition of “Six Little Jubbies that I Once Knew,” sung to the tune of “Six Little Ducks.” Janine added verses and named all the babies. When they grew restless, she changed to “The Corner Grocery Store,” which they found very amusing, and then to “Good Witch Connie had a Farm, E I E I O.”
The birds caught on to the words quickly, and soon all the other birds in the area were singing along too. Janine’s voice was hoarse by the time a shadow glided in overhead.
The mother bird landed with a large white rabbit dangling from her claws. “Come children, time to eat.”
The babies began to call out, “Me, me, me!”
Janine gulped. “I’ll just be going now. Goodbye!”
“Bye, sister,” said Cresty, the baby bird who had been friendly to her.
The mother bird threw a round metal object to Janine. “Here. Keepsake. This one won’t ever be late again.”
“Um. Thank you?”
Janine put the object in her pocket. She put on her pack, scrambled over the side, shimmied down the tree, retrieved her dog, and hurried away as fast as she could go.
army ants, Freddie, Gingerbread, hunger, into the woods, Jabberwocky, Jay BR Wokky, Jubjub, jubjub bird, lost, lost in the forest, migrating animals, migration, migration path, mome raths, nest, princess, Princess Janine, scary experiences, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, Tulgey Wood, Wonderland
Ch. 18.1 —
All Janine could see were trees, trees, and more trees. “Where’s that stream? I should have found it ages ago.”
The ground began to shake. Something rumbled in the distance, but it was getting steadily closer. It sounded like a herd of giant animals coming right at her. Janine gathered Freddie up in her arms and ran. She made it behind the trunk of a large tree just as the first of the creatures thundered past her.
“Home, home,” they all chanted as they ran. They sounded lost, afraid, and confused.
“Mome raths.” Janine peeked out from her hiding place and studied them. She had never seen one before, but she had read about them. Raths were green lizards roughly the shape of a pig, with a crest of white bristles along their backbones, and two short, prong-like horns erupting from their sloping foreheads. In size they ranged from suckling pig to adult boar. Their four-toed feet were clawed, and their jaws and teeth resembled those of a shark. People who had heard them said their calls sounded like pigs squealing, snorting, and grunting.
What were raths doing in the Tulgey Woods on this side of the mountains? They never changed their migration path. Yet it seemed they had.
The river of green reptiles seemed endless. As they ran, the raths tore up everything in their path, gobbling trees, plants, insects, mice and other creatures who couldn’t get away in time. They paid no attention to her, but Janine stayed hidden until the last baby rath had trotted past her, squealing, “Home, Home” in its sad little voice.
All was quiet again. Janine stared in wonder at the wide path of bare brown earth they had left behind. It looked as though the land had been ploughed. Janine shuddered. If she had been caught in their way, not even her bones would have remained.
Janine kept walking. When night came, she didn’t dare sleep on the ground, so she carried Freddie up a tree and then stuffed him into an empty owl nest. “Stay here, and don’t fall. Whatever you do, don’t make a sound.”
Janine gave Freddie a piece of gingerbread and then climbed higher in the darkness. She didn’t dare get out her light. Too many animals were calling out their hunger. Her stomach grumbled. She ate a piece of gingerbread and one of the lollipops. It was root beer flavored.
Janine tried to make herself comfortable. She squished herself down between what felt like large, smooth rocks and fell asleep. Sometime in the night a wonderfully warm feather blanket covered her. She snuggled beneath it and sighed happily.
In the morning Janine discovered that she had been sleeping in a Jubjub’s nest.
a forgotten room, bedtime story, boredom, breakfast, brothers, code, dragon, Eli, enemy, exercises, Ezra, fairy tales, family, Franklin, friends, friendship, gnomes, guards, Jay BR Wokky, meal, Miss Pringle, Miss Pringle's Nosey News, moonlight, prison, prisoner, pull ups, purpose in life, pushups, run laps, secret code, secrets, situps, structural damage, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, toves
Ch 17 — Ezra got up, ran a hundred laps around his room, did thirty pushups and then fifty situps. Afterwards, he stared out the window at the sundial hill, which had now crumbled. Ezra was sure he was going to die of boredom. After all, there was only so much time he could spend sleeping or reading or even inventing something. The long day stretched out before him. If only nights were longer, and days were shorter. If only his father…
Franklin brought in a tray containing toast, jam, scrambled eggs, an apple, and a jug of milk. He set it on the table along with three newspapers.
“Your breakfast, Sire. I don’t know why you need to read all three of the kingdom’s newspapers. Especially that Miss Pringle’s Nosey News. Disgusting drivel.”
It was so much fun to torment his bodyguard. Ezra opened the top newspaper to the advertisements. “Franklin, listen to this. Someone named Fritter needs a servant to clean, cook, and take care of the library. ‘Must be hardworking, cheerful and swift to obey.’ The last servant was fired for insubordination. Hmmm. I could do that.”
Franklin sniffed. “You? Hardly. It is beneath the station of a prince to clean and cook.”
Ezra groaned. “You’re so old fashioned. Haven’t you ever shoveled out the stables or curried the horses? No? Well, it’s great fun. The horses are wonderful.” He thought sadly of his pony, who now spent his days grazing in the pasture.
Ezra turned to the front page. “Why hasn’t someone done something about the toves? After all, they aren’t indestructible. Only the front half can chew through stone.”
“It’s the dragon’s job to get rid of the toves.”
“The dragon has been retired for ten years. We need to take care of this problem. What if the toves start chewing into the west wing of the castle? They might let in an assassin. Oh, horrors!”
Franklin didn’t laugh. Ezra sighed. It was really hard to have a bodyguard with no sense of humor.
Just then Eli opened the door and walked in.
Ezra grinned at him. “Eli! Have you come to spring me from jail?”
“Sorry, little bro, just visiting.” said Eli. “Franklin, did you hear? A tove was discovered in your bedroom. It’s eaten through the back of your closet, and it’s started chewing on your best uniform.”
Eli arched an eyebrow. “If I were you, I’d get down there right away.”
“I’m not supposed to leave Prince Ezra alone.”
Eli rolled his eyes. “There are four guards outside the door and another two patrolling below the window. I’m sure we can protect Ezra if any toves get in here.”
“Fine. I will return shortly. Don’t go anywhere.” Franklin ran out the door.
Eli and Ezra slapped hands. Then Eli sat down and helped himself to Ezra’s toast. “So, what are your big plans for the day?”
“Oh, you know, take over the world and all that.”
Eli spread a dollop of strawberry jam on the toast. “I know this is hard for you. But at least you don’t have to get married in two years to a girl you’ve never even met.”
Ezra made a face. “A fate worse than death.”
It was strange how things kept working out. Every time Eli was about to make a trip into Saltonia, something happened, and he ended up at home sick or injured. Or sometimes a landslide or freak blizzard or a terrible rainstorm stopped him.
Zelda had never traveled to Nelsonia to visit Eli either. She always said she was going to come and visit, but at the last minute, a messenger always arrived with the sad news that the princess was ill, or had been detained, or that her latest niece had just been born, and she had to be there for the name day celebration.
Eli looked so gloomy that Ezra punched his arm. “Cheer up. What excuse did she come up with this time? She had to wash her cat? Oh, boo hoo.”
Ezra pretended to wipe his tears away, and Eli chuckled.
Ezra threw the apple at Eli. “At least your betrothed wasn’t chopped into little bits by a madman with an ax. Not that I mind.”
“Really?” Eli gave him a look.
“Hey, I’m not glad that Princess Janine is dead. I’m just glad I don’t have to marry her. Instead, I’m going to either die by the hands of an assassin or fall into an enchanted sleep and be kissed awake and forced to marry a girl who thinks she’s in love with me. Yuk. I’ll take the assassin. That’s if I don’t die of boredom before that.”
“At least you have the tunnels,” said Eli.
“At least there’s that.”
They grinned at each other.
“So,” said Eli. “What have you learned?”
Just two nights ago, Ezra had found a forgotten room at the top of the castle, filled with trunks of old dresses, dusty rocking horses and dolls, and boxes of books. The room had a window that looked out over the kingdom to the north. It was a beautiful view, and some nights he dozed up there while the moon watched over him. He didn’t want to share that with Eli.
Ezra also visited the castle ghosts and caught up on the gossip from Butterfingers and his gnome friends, who helped him with his inventions. Through the newspaper articles and by using the secret code he had devised, Ezra kept up a steady stream of correspondence with the dwarfs, gnomes, and fey who were his trusted friends.
He leaned in, lowering his voice. Then he pointed to the Nosey News. “My contacts all tell me the same thing: something strange is going on in the kingdom. People are missing. Other people’s personalities suddenly change. Shipments of food and supplies disappear in the woods or on the mountain trails. The migration routes of the raths keep changing. More and more beasts keep coming over the mountains from Wonderland.”
“I have found the same,” Eli said. “And Father is too stubborn to see what it all means.”
Ezra nodded. “We have an unknown enemy.”
bedtime story, children's books, Connie, fairy tales, fantasy, Freddie, Gingerbread, Gingerbread House, Gingerbread Witch, good deeds, helping others, Janine, Jay BR Wokky, lost in the woods, Once upon a Time, Paul, Princess Janine, the ax man, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, to read aloud, Tulgey Woods, witch
Ch. 16.1 — After days of trudging through the trees, Janine was relieved to come upon a clearing in the woods. A couple of goats grazed on the emerald grass that spread out before a cute little cottage. Chickens cackled as they pecked in the dirt and among the flowers under the window. Inside a low picket fence, neat rows of vegetables grew in a garden free of weeds.
A delicious aroma came from the walls of the house, which were smooth and brown, decorated with colorful objects, and trimmed in white house. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Mmmm. Janine’s stomach grumbled.
She crept closer. With a start, Janine realized what she was looking at: a gingerbread house, decorated with candy and white icing. Oh, it smelled so good. She walked towards it, unable to resist.
Her mouth watered. She longed to break off just a tiny triangle of gingerbread. She was so hungry. But then she remembered a story she’d read about a witch who lured children to her gingerbread house in order to eat them. Yet there didn’t seem to be anyone about. The garden was empty. Birds sang in the trees. She reached out her hand towards the edge of the roof.
Janine snatched back her hand. “What is it?” she whispered.
“Someone’s here.” He trotted around back of the house.
A gray-haired woman lay on the ground, moaning. She had a swollen, purple lump on her forehead, and blood dripped from a gash above her eye. Her brown dress and white apron were stained with blood, and she held her arm close to her chest. She smelled like cinnamon.
Freddie trotted back and forth with his nose to the ground, sniffing and growling. “The bad man was here.”
Janine rushed over and knelt beside the woman. “What happened?”
The woman moaned again. “My arm.”
Janine ran her fingers along the woman’s arm. She had helped Old Bob when one of the hounds had broken a leg, so she knew what to do. “Lie still. I’ll be right back.”
She went into the cottage and began to hunt through the drawers in the kitchen.
Freddie, who had followed her inside, pointed his nose to a jar on the counter. “That smells like the medicine Old Bob puts on cuts.”
Janine put the jar in her pocket. She poured water into a basin and grabbed some clean dish towels, which she ripped into strips. Outside, after cleaning the woman’s wounds, she applied the ointment from the jar and bound her forehead with cloth. Then she splinted the woman’s arm, using two sticks and more strips of cloth. The woman hissed in pain but didn’t cry out. At last Janine finished.
“Thank you, dear.”
“Who did this to you?”
“A tall man with an ax. He demanded to know if I’d seen a little girl with a dog wandering in the forest. When I wouldn’t tell him anything, he took a swing at me. Broke my arm and knocked me out.”
“That’s Paul. He used to be the Royal Kennel Master of Saltonia. Now…”
“Now he’s after you.”
“He’s a bad man,” growled Freddie.
The woman sat up and groaned. “He’s a day ahead of you, heading east. You’ll have to be careful. I’m Connie, by the way, but you can call me Granny, like everyone else does. I’ve lived out here in the Tulgey Woods for fifty years, and I thought I’d seen it all. Obviously, I was mistaken.”
Janine helped Connie to stand and then to walk into the cottage and sit on a chair. She then made tea.
Connie dabbed at her eyes and nose with an orange handkerchief. “You’ve been very kind. What’s your name, child?”
“You look hungry. Pour another cupful and slice some bread. Sausages and cheese are in the pantry. Warm gingerbread is on the stove.”
“Thank you, Granny.” Janine obeyed. She gave Freddie the sausages but devoured the rest. All the while, she watched the woman for signs of evil. But Connie seemed to be a good person.
After lunch, Connie took off the bandage around her head. Her wound was gone.
Janine stared in amazement. “Are you a witch?”
“Yes, but my talents lie more in cooking than in regular magic.”
“Did you heal yourself with magic?”
Connie pushed the jar of ointment towards her. “Miracle Mix. Invented by the wizard Colin. He used it to save the lives of the two youngest children of King Francis and Queen Natalie. For his troubles, he was thrown in prison.”
Connie shook her head. “That’s why I live in the Tulgey Woods. For all its strangeness, it’s safer than living among regular people.”
Janine scooped out some fragrant ointment from the jar and rubbed it on poor Freddie’s face. The quills dissolved, and the swelling went down.
“Ah, that’s better,” said Freddie. After a moment, he curled up at her feet and went to sleep.
Connie’s bright blue eyes studied Janine, as if she could see down into her soul and dig out her deepest secrets.
Janine squirmed in her chair. “I didn’t eat your house.”
“I know that, dear. Thank you.”
“Are you going to eat me?”
Connie frowned. “I don’t eat children. That was my great Aunt Tammera. She gave all of us Gingerbread Witches such a bad name.”
Janine sighed in relief.
“However, it wouldn’t be safe for you to stay here either. I get a lot of visitors, and you’d be discovered. Once Zelda finds out you’re still alive, she’ll send more people after you.”
“How did you know?”
“It’s not hard to put two and two together.”
Connie sipped her tea. “Your best bet is to change your name and go further into the Tulgey Woods, even over the mountains into Wonderland. I’m sure a nice girl like you could find work — the Queen of Hearts is always looking for new servants. She’s fond of chopping off their heads, you know. The White Queen’s last kitchen maid went up a rabbit hole.”
“Don’t you mean down?”
“Things in Wonderland don’t always work the same as here.”
Janine considered her options. “Isn’t there someone on this side of the mountains who needs help?”
“What do you know how to do?”
Janine thought about Old Bob’s warning. “Well, not much yet. I’m only ten years old, but I can read well. I’ll work hard and learn to do whatever they need.”
“Hmmm.” Connie brightened. “Fritter was just telling me the other day that his master had fired yet another servant. Now that’s one young gnome that could use some help.”
Connie frowned as she tapped her fingernails on the table. “No, it wouldn’t do to send you up there. You’d be eaten by Bandersnatches before you even got to the mailbox.” She scratched her chin. “You could try my neighbors – Col and Bee. They moved here about ten years ago. They live up the valley a ways.”
“Just follow the stream until you come to the Tumtum tree. Next to it is a cute yellow house with white shutters.”
“Thank you, Granny.”
Connie stood up and brushed off her apron. “Now, old Mr. Dumfries should be along any moment with the mail, and you don’t want to be seen. That man never could keep a secret. Come back and visit me anytime, Janine. And here, before you go.”
She opened her cupboard and pulled out another jar of Miracle Mix and a handful of lollipops. Then she wrapped some large chunks of gingerbread in a napkin. “Keep the ointment for emergencies and give the lollipops to Bee. She just loves my new recipe. The gingerbread is for you when you get hungry.”
Connie bustled Janine out the door and waved merrily. “Goodbye, dear. Stay safe.”
Janine intended to follow the stream, but she couldn’t find it. She was soon lost again.
audience with the king, bedtime story, castle, clock, Ezra, fairy tales, family, Franklin, Jay BR Wokky, kings, Once upon a Time, Prince Ezra, priorities, Queen, Squire Duncan, sundial, telling time, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, to read aloud
Ch. 15.4 —
A noisy crowd of people stood outside the throne room waiting for their audience with the king, but when they saw the queen and the prince come in, they quieted. They moved aside and bowed as Ezra and his party made their way toward the large double doors. Ezra felt very nervous. “Thank you,” he told them.
The guards opened the door, and Ezra and his mother walked across the huge room to the foot of the throne. Two guards stood at attention on either side of the throne, and a round, short man wearing a fur coat stood a little to the side, his head bowed. He did not look happy.
The king frowned at Ezra. “What are you doing in here?”
“I have invented something, Father.”
King Frances peered down at the intricate machine in Ezra’s hands. “What is it?”
“It’s a machine that tells time. See, the pendulum swings back and forth, and at the hour, the little rooster comes out of the door and crows. I’m calling it a clock. Because of the sound it makes when the gears inside move. You know, like, click, clock.”
The king wasn’t smiling. Ezra stopped talking.
The king rubbed his forehead. “Who would want to be reminded of the passing of time every hour? Especially at night. We have sundials. That’s good enough. Now Ezra, I know you’re trying to help, but I’m really busy. Go away and… and read something. Natalie, get him out of here. Next!”
Ezra turned around and walked across the enormous room, and then through the crowd of people outside. He kept his eyes down until he’d made it back into the hallway.
Ezra sank down against the wall, tired and discouraged. His guards took up positions around him.
He knew his father was busy with running the kingdom, keeping the fey, werewolves, and giants happy with the treaties, and preparing for Esther’s upcoming wedding, but the king hadn’t even given him a chance.
“I’m sorry, Ezra,” the queen said. Then in a frostier voice she said, “Franklin, please make sure he gets back to his room. There is something I must take care of right now.”
After a moment, someone cleared his throat. Ezra looked up to see the short, round man who had been in the throne room. “Your Highness, if you don’t mind, I’d like to buy that contraption. Did you say it was called a clock? I can see a great need for something like this.”
“Who are you?” Franklin growled.
Ezra sat up and waved his bodyguard away. “Oh, Franklin, let him speak. He’s obviously harmless.”
The man bowed. “Squire Duncan, at your service. I run an inn at the edge of the city, on High Street. My workers are always late for their shifts, especially on cloudy days. This invention could really help.”
Ezra smiled up at the man, and soon the two were bent over the clock as Ezra explained how it worked, how to wind it up every day, and who to contact among the gnomes to teach him how to make more clocks. They worked out a deal where the gnomes would get twenty-five percent of the profits and Ezra ten percent, leaving Squire Duncan with the rest. They shook hands and departed as good friends.
approval, bedtime story, castle, creativity, discipline, fairy tale, fatherhood, gnomes, helping others, hidden doors, invention, Jay BR Wokky, Love, Mother, Nelsonia, Once upon a Time, parenting, Prince Ezra, prisoner, Queen Natalie, tapestry, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky
CH. 15.3 — Ezra stared out the window at the green, leafy maze on the south side of the gardens. On a grassy hill in the center of the maze was a giant sundial, built by his great-grandfather.
Ezra shook his head. The slithy toves had just about eaten all the limestone beneath the sundial. In spite of all the efforts to get rid of the toves, they still continued eating everything made of stone. Pretty soon the hill would crumble and fall, and then how would anyone in the castle know the time?
Ezra gasped and sat up straight. “That’s it!” He ran to his desk and began to draw. That night he snuck out and consulted with his gnome friends, who grew very excited over his idea. The next morning, he called through the door to Franklin. “I need some materials. Could you get them for me?”
Franklin peered cautiously into the room. “What’s the trick?”
“No tricks, I promise. Since I’ve been unjustly imprisoned here for a year, I’ve decided to become an inventor.”
Franklin scratched his head. “An inventor? But what will your father say?”
“He didn’t say I couldn’t work in my room. Now go and get these materials for me.” He handed Franklin a long list.
After his bodyguard left, Queen Natalie came in the room.
Ezra hugged her. “Good morning, Mama.”
She looked worried. “How are you, dear?”
She studied him with concern. “I wish I could do something for you. Your father is being completely unreasonable.”
Ezra smiled bravely. “I deserved it. No, really, stop worrying. I’ll be fine.” At that moment, he couldn’t have been happier – unless he was being set free, of course. But even his mother couldn’t do that.
The queen studied the room. “It’s so dull in here. Perhaps I could redecorate. Brighten the place up for you. That old tapestry has been here for three hundred years. I could commission a new one.”
Ezra kissed her cheek. “No, I love that tapestry. Don’t ever change it. It’s my favorite thing about this room.”
She gave him a puzzled look. “Very well, then. Would you like some books?”
“As a matter of fact…”
Many days later, with the daily help of his mother, who brought books from the library and often stayed to talk or assist him, and the nightly help of several trusted gnomes (including Butterfingers, who turned out to be rather good at mechanical things when not flustered), Ezra finished his first invention.
The next morning, accompanied by his mother, four guards, and Franklin (who was wringing his hands), Ezra carried his invention to the throne room.
Ezra’s heart raced. He couldn’t stop smiling. His father would be so glad to see how responsible Ezra was now. Father would praise Ezra and realize he’d been too hasty, and that Ezra had learned his lesson. Then the king would set him free.
Ch. 15.2 —
“Come on, Franklin, I just want to talk to him,” said Eli. “See, no weapons. No rope to escape with. It isn’t as if he can do anything stuck in that room. Are you really going to deny him company for a whole year?”
“Your reputation proceeds you, Sire.”
Eli laughed quietly. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Now, please, open the door.”
“Very well. But I expect you to be a good influence on your brother.”
“Franklin, I’m hurt. I’ve always been the very best influence on my brother. I’ve been looking out for his interests since he was a baby.”
“Forgive me for saying so, Sire, but it seems as though most of the scrapes he gets into are from your instigation.” There was a pause. “Oh, very well.”
A key turned in the lock.
Ezra leaped to his feet and crossed the room. Franklin had a sour expression on his face as he opened the door and let Eli into the room.
Franklin looked at Ezra. “No tricks, Sire.”
“You have one hour.”
“I’ll knock when I’m done visiting,” said Eli.
Franklin locked them in. For a moment they just stood there grinning at each other. Then Ezra ran to his brother and hugged him.
“Get me out of here, Eli. Use one of your wishes.”
Eli shook his head. “I can’t. I’ve only got two left. I wasted the first one turning a cockroach into a cat. If I’d been thinking clearer, I could have thought of something else. I need to save the remaining two wishes for a life or death situation.”
“This is life or death. If I have to deal with Franklin much longer, I’m going to murder him.”
Eli laughed. “He is a stuffed shirt, isn’t he?”
Then Eli sobered. He crouched down, looked Ezra in the eyes, and spoke in a low voice that wouldn’t carry past the door. “Ezra, I can’t stand the thought of you being a prisoner for a year – or longer. Father will find a way to make it permanent. He’s so paranoid that someone is going to kill you. But you and I both know that a person can’t thrive in captivity. So I’m going to show you a great secret.”
Ezra bounced up and down. “Great!”
Eli held up a warning hand. “You can’t tell anyone about this. You can’t show anyone. And you certainly can’t abuse it. A secret doesn’t remain a secret very long in this castle unless you keep your wits about you.”
Ezra put his hand over his heart. “I promise. Now what is it?”
Eli stood and put his hands on Ezra’s shoulders, then turned him around. “What do you see?”
“I see the tapestry.”
“Come on, use that magic eye of yours. What else do you see?”
Ezra stared at the large tapestry –a worn, embroidered work from some long-forgotten lady who had lived in this room. The colors were so faded it was hard to tell what the original subject had been. Some kind of building. A barn, perhaps, with trees behind it, and a human figure in the foreground. The tapestry hung from loops that ran through a wooden pole attached to the stone wall near the ceiling, and fell to the floor. The more he looked at it, the more he was sure that there was something strange about the picture. The outline of the barn seemed to take on three dimensional qualities.
Ezra gasped. He ran forward and pulled the tapestry away from the wall and looked behind it.
There was a door in the wall. He pushed on the smooth hard wood. It opened quietly, and a rush of stale, dusty air washed past him.
“Awesome!” Ezra tried to go through, but Eli held him in place.
“It connects with the other secret passages in the castle, including the one I showed you.”
Ezra looked up at his brother, dizzy with hope. “You mean there’s more?”
“How else do you think I’ve been guarding you all these years? Now that I’m leaving, you’re going to have to ask the ghosts to help you and give you warning.”
“How did you know…”
“Sometimes the servants see you talking to the air. You’re going to have to be more careful. Some of them are quite sharp. Not Franklin, obviously. That’s why I encouraged Father to assign him as your bodyguard.”
“Oh.” That was just one more reason to be grateful to his brother.
“You’ll find your way around the castle soon enough, but remember the time. You have to be in your room when Franklin opens the door to let you out in the morning. Since he falls asleep on his chair outside the door fairly soon after sitting down, he shouldn’t be a problem. But keep the hinges oiled.”
Ezra wanted to dance and sing at the top of his lungs. “Thank you so much. Now let’s go!”
When Franklin came in a half hour later to fetch Eli, he and his brother were both sitting at the table, with their hands folded and looking properly mournful.
bedtime stories, bodyguard, castle, cousins, cruelty, darkness, donkeys, Ezra, fairy tales, ghosts, history, imprisoned, Jay BR Wokky, magic, Michaels, Once upon a Time, pranks, Prince Ezra, punishment, royal family, The Blue Hand, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, transformation
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.
bedtime story, cats, children's books, cockroaches, Ding Dong Dell, Ezra, fairy tale, Felix, Freddie, Jay BR Wokky, lost in the woods, magic, Nelsonia, Old Bob, Once upon a Time, Prince Ezra, Princess Janine, Pussy's in the well, queen of hearts, Saltonia, strawberries, strawberry jam, The Queen of Hearts, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, to read aloud, Tulgey Woods, Wonderland
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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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