Chapter 1: The Missing Letter

by Scotti Cohn
Copyright Scotti Cohn

copyright Christina Wald


Chapter 1
The Missing Letter
The minute the bells began to chime their morning greeting, Wordsworth jumped out of bed. From his window on the next-to-top level of the castle, he could see the village of Atoz. Farmland stretched to the edge of the forest. In the distance, the tops of the green hills seemed to touch the sky.
Today is going to be a great day! Wordsworth said to himself. Today the king is going to let me ride Starfire, his favorite horse!
Although Wordsworth was only a page, he was in training to be a knight. King Omicron was teaching him to ride and how to use a sword and lance. He could hardly wait until he was big enough and old enough to go out into the kingdom and fight dragons.
"My dear boy," King Omicron had said to him, "there are no dragons in Atoz. There were a few a long time ago. They caused a lot of trouble back in the days of Queen Gamma -- but not any more."
Wordsworth wasn't so sure. He had heard stories about how sneaky dragons could be. What if they were hiding, waiting for a good time to attack? He wanted to be ready.
Suddenly the bells in the castle tower began to ring louder and harder than Wordsworth had ever heard before! His whole body vibrated with the sound, and his heartbeat raced. Was the castle under attack? Had the dragons come out of hiding? He threw on his clothes and ran to the throne room. 
preliminary sketch of Wordsworth / copyright Christina Wald
 Peeking in, he saw King Omicron talking to his chief advisor, Sir Clooney. The king's daughter, Princess Rho, sat beside her father. The princess was about the same age as Wordsworth, and the two of them often spent evenings together playing cards or drawing pictures. Wordsworth always drew dragons, each one more fierce than the last. Princess Rho liked to draw birds flying high in the sky or perched in trees.
"How did this happen?" the king shouted. His face was red. "The Royal Alphabet is guarded night and day!"
"The doors to all four rooms were barred and under guard, as always," said Sir Clooney. "But the bars on one of the windows were bent. The thief must have been very strong."
"Very strong and very tall!" the king exclaimed. "Otherwise, how did he get up to the window? The royal treasury is at the top of the tallest tower!"
Sir Clooney stood straight, his shoulders square. Even his dark gray beard looked stiff, like it was standing at attention, too. "We think the thief must have gone up the outside wall during the night," he said. "He bent the bars and took the letter out through the window."
King Omicron shook his head. "Impossible! The letters of the Royal Alphabet are at least three feet tall and made of the heaviest wood in the kingdom!"
Wordsworth couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had seen the Royal Alphabet a few times, thanks to Princess Rho. She had taken him up into the tower, and the guards had let them look inside the rooms. The letters were so tall and wide and thick, they reminded Wordsworth of furniture. Rho had joked that she would like to tip the letter "E" over on its side to make a table for her room. Wordsworth didn't see how anyone could have lifted something that heavy and carried it away, no matter how he got up to the window.
"Which letter is missing?" asked the king.
"The letter..." Sir Clooney struggled as if something was caught in his throat. He tried once, twice, three times. Finally he blurted, "The third letter, Your Majesty. The third letter has been stolen."
What's wrong with him? wondered Wordsworth. Why doesn't he just say the letter?
"You mean the letter..." Now King Omicron struggled and strained. He failed. "Great Gamma's ghost!" he roared. "This is a disaster! Summon all my knights! We must hunt down the thief!"
"Yes, Your Majesty," said Sir Clooney, bowing as he walked backwards out of the room. "Right away!"
Wordsworth stepped in. "Your Majesty?" he said.
"What? Oh, it's you, lad," said the king. "I suppose you heard everything. This is a terrible day for the Kingdom of Atoz!"
Wordsworth tried to look as tall and serious as possible. He wished that he had a straight, stiff beard like Sir Clooney. "Yes, Your Majesty," he said. "I know I am not a knight yet, but I would like to help Sir Looney--" He stopped.
King Omicron frowned. Wordsworth cleared his throat.
"I would like to help Sir Looney..."
"This is no time to make jokes," said the king. "Sir Looney is the ream of the rop." His hand flew to his mouth. "Great Gamma's ghost!" he exclaimed, his voice muffled by his palm. He jumped up and took his hand away from his mouth. "I am going to speak to the knights myself," he said. "They need to understand that this is a matter of extreme urgeny!"

Copyright Scotti Cohn

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