Chapter Two: A Terrible Crime

by Scotti Cohn
Copyright Scotti Cohn

copyright Christina Wald


Chapter 2
A Terrible Crime
Princess Rho stepped down from her throne. If Wordsworth hadn't known she was a princess, he would never had guessed it. She didn't wear a crown. She hated dressing up in fancy clothes with ribbons and jewels. Most of the time she wore a plain blouse and skirt, with her long hair in a simple braid down her back.

preliminary sketch of Princess Rho / copyright 2012 Christina Wald

"Something strange is going on," Wordsworth said. "Nobody is able to say the letter, by itself or as part of any word."
"The Royal Alphabet is mysterious," said Princess Rho. "Remember how it was made?"
Wordsworth nodded. He had heard the story many times. In the beginning, the people of Atoz had not talked to each other with words. They had growled and grunted like animals. Then one night, their king had a dream in which he saw 26 different shapes floating in the air. When he woke up, he began to carve the shapes out of huge blocks of wood. He made each carving as high as his waist and as wide as his shoulders.
After the king had finished several carvings, he noticed something odd: People were making sounds they had not made before. Not only that, they were putting the sounds together to make words. By the time the king was done with all 26 shapes, the people were speaking and writing in sentences. Everyone agreed that the Royal Alphabet was magic, and that it must be locked up and guarded at all times.
"Too bad you don't know how to fly like those birds you're always drawing," said Wordsworth. "From up in the sky you would be able to see more than we see down here."
Princess Rho smiled. "Yes, it's too bad, isn't it?"
"We've got to find the thief and make him return the letter!" declared Wordsworth. "I'm going to get my sword!"
"And I'm going to go find Mama and let her know what's going on," said Princess Rho. "She was taking a bath when the bells started ringing."
The entire palace was in an uproar. Lords and ladies scurried along the corridors as the great iron bells in the tower clanged. Wordsworth ran up the winding stairs to his room and grabbed his wooden practice sword. Out the window he saw knights on prancing warhorses gallop into the courtyard. In his hurry to join them, he crashed into the castle librarian, Lord Reading.
"A terrible rime has been ommitted!" the librarian wailed, waving a large book in the air. "Look at this poem!" He opened the book and turned it so Wordsworth could see.
Wordsworth didn't want to be rude, so he read the verse quickly to himself.
O let us walk beside the reek
My harming lass with rosy heek.
We'll sit beneath a herry tree
And feast on rakers, plums, and tea.
Most of it made sense to Wordsworth, but some of it didn't. He knew the last word in the first line should be creekHarming was supposed to be charming. Lord Reading turned the book back toward himself and read the next verse out loud:
"While hipmunks samper through the dale
We'll linger till the sun grows pale
To hear the hirping rikets praise
The simple harms of summer days."
The words sounded so silly to Wordsworth without the letter "C," he had to press his lips together to keep from laughing. Then he thought of something that wasn't funny at all: If the letter "C" was missing from books, how would he read his favorite stories about knights and dragons? It would take him forever to get through one page!
"Ruined! All ruined!" Lord Reading wailed. He dashed down the hall, waving the book in the air.
Wordsworth raced in the other direction. He was almost at the bottom of the winding stairs when he collided with Crump, the kitchen boy.
"Help me!" Crump cried, shoving a piece of paper under Wordsworth's nose. "I have to go to the market and get everything on this list. Only I don't understand what it says!"
Wordsworth sighed. At this rate, he would never get to the courtyard to join the knights. He stared at Crump's list:
  1. arrots
  2. hikens
  3. elery
  4. orn
  5. heese
  6. brooli
"Well, that first one is, you know, those long orange vegetables that you pull from the ground," he told Crump.
Crump nodded. "Oh, aye, that's what it is. I see now."
Wordsworth described each item on the list as quickly as he could. The last one was the hardest, until he finally realized it must be broccoli.
"Thank you!" the kitchen boy said.
"You're welcome, Rump," said Wordsworth.
Crump gave him a funny look.
"Sorry," Wordsworth mumbled.
He dashed down the remaining steps and out into the courtyard. Sir Clooney was nowhere in sight, and Wordsworth did not see a single knight.
"They've gone to hunt for the thief," said a voice. It was Phrasia, one of the palace maids.
Wordsworth's hopes sank. "I thought maybe one of them would let me ride with him."
"It is an awful thing, the letter being stolen," Phrasia said, leaning on her broom. "We keep trying to say words with that letter in them, but we an't."
Wordsworth laughed in spite of himself. "No," he agreed, "we an't."
"Who do you think took it?" Phrasia asked.
"Well, it would have to be somebody very strong," said Wordsworth, trying to sound important and smart. "And I don’t see how they would get all the way up to..." Suddenly an idea came to him. It was so obvious, he couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it before. "A dragon," he said. "I think a dragon must have done it."
Phrasia's eyebrows went up. "A dragon?"
"Yes," said Wordsworth. "Dragons fly, so it would be easy for them to get up to the window. And a dragon is strong enough to bend the bars. He would take the letter out through the window and arry it away."
"Hmmm," said Phrasia. "You may be right."
Wordsworth was surprised. He had never talked to anyone who believed there were still dragons in Atoz. He waited.
"I live on the edge of the Forest of Spells," Phrasia continued, "and from time to time I see strange traks -- large traks made by an animal with four long toes with sharp laws on the end."
Laws? thought Wordsworth. It took him a second to figure out what she meant.
"Those sound like dragon traks," Wordsworth said. He raised his wooden sword. "I'm in training to be a knight. I know how to fight dragons." 

Phrasia nodded. "I'll show you where I found the traks."

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