by Scotti Cohn
Copyright Scotti Cohn
|copyright Christina Wald|
Outside the meeting hall a noisy crowd had gathered. One of the village elders stood on the front steps, motioning for people to quiet down. "My fellow Atozians!" he shouted. "I assure you that we are doing our best to apture the riminal who ommitted this unspeakable rime!"
The confusion and worried looks on the townspeople's faces made Wordsworth even more determined to find the letter and return it to the royal treasury. Phrasia led him past houses and shops, across a field and over a stream. Finally they reached her cottage at the edge of the Forest of Spells.
The woods looked deep and dark. Wordsworth had never met anyone who had dared to enter the Forest of Spells. However, he had heard plenty of stories about people who went in and disappeared forever. Princess Rho had told him the forest got its name because a wizard had used magic spells to create it way back in the days of King Zeta.
"The traks always go that way," Phrasia said, pointing into the woods. There are lots of aves farther up in the hills, you know. Plenty of them are big enough to hold a dragon."
Wordsworth stared at a narrow path that led through the tall, thick trees and tangled brush. Suddenly he felt very small and not terribly brave. He felt Phrasia looking at him and turned toward her.
"I am glad to see you doing so well, Wordsworth," she said. "Your parents must be proud of you."
Wordsworth's mother and father lived on a farm many miles from the castle. He didn't see them often. He missed them, but he tried not to think about that too much. The king kept him busy, and the royal family treated him well.
"My parents are pleased that I am serving the king," he said.
"I'm sure they are," Phrasia said. "Now, as you are a knight, you will need a beast to ride upon."
"Well, I'm not quite a knight yet," Wordsworth said, "and I don't have a horse, so I guess I won't be able to--"
"I have something for you to ride," Phrasia said. "Although it is not as grand as you might wish."
She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled. To Wordsworth's surprise, a cavabok trotted around the corner of the cottage. Wordsworth had seen wild cavaboks a few times. He knew there weren't many in the kingdom.
"His name is Klause," Phrasia said.
Wordsworth approached carefully to get a closer look. Klause was about the size of a pony. His head looked a bit like a horse's head, except his ears were larger and farther apart. Between his ears were two short, spiraled horns. His coat was rough and speckled brown and gray.
|preliminary sketch copyright Christina Wald|
"Are you sure you want to send him with me?" Wordsworth said. He had hoped Phrasia would tell him to go back home when he said he didn't have a horse. "Fighting dragons is dangerous. Klause might get hurt."
"I'm not worried. I know you won't let anything harm him. Now wait a minute while I pak some things for you to take along."
Phrasia put bread, cheese, a flask of water, candles, and matches in a knapsack. Last of all, she added a small white jar. "This is healing ointment," she said. "It's good for stings or bites or any kind of injury."
Wordsworth didn't think ointment would help him if a dragon attacked him. Maybe I should go bak to the astle and get one of the knights, he thought. But he knew that wouldn't work. The knights would laugh at him if he said he wanted to hunt for a dragon.
Phrasia helped Wordsworth slip his arms into the straps of the knapsack. She placed a folded blanket over Klause's back and helped Wordsworth climb aboard. Wordsworth was not at all sure he should be doing this. Still, Phrasia seemed to have faith in him, and he was determined not to let the dragon get away with stealing part of the Royal Alphabet.
I'll turn around and get out if I have to, he told himself. But I must try. Knights are always brave in times of danger.
Klause snorted and flipped his bushy tail back and forth. Then he made a sound that Wordsworth could only describe as something between a horse neighing and a goat bleating:
Wordsworth nudged the cavabok's sides with his heels, waved good-bye to Phrasia, and rode into the forest. In one hand he clutched his wooden sword, in the other, Klause's short, bristly mane.
Back in the village, chaos reigned. A man who wanted his wife to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies requested instead a "bath of hoolate hip ookies." At the courthouse, a judge ordered a witness to "state the fats."
By the end of the day Sir Clooney and the knights were no closer to finding the thief. King Omicron had begun to wonder what he would do if the third letter of the alphabet could not be recovered. All the books and laws and signs would have to be rewritten. It would take forever to change them all!
"We fear a guard may be involved," Sir Clooney told him. "One of them seems to have disappeared."
"What?" gasped the king. "What a terrible sandal to befall our kingdom! It is unthinkable! Who is this guard?"
"A man named Rottenbeer. .. er... well, no, that isn't exactly his name... You see, his name begins with..."
The king groaned.
Sir Clooney sighed. "Anyway," he continued, "I hope we are wrong about that, Your Majesty. We will keep looking."
"See that you do!" the king said. "And speaking of missing people, have you seen my page, Wordsworth?"
"Not lately," Sir Clooney replied.