Chapter 8: Muddletongues

Wordsworth got up. He felt a little woozy, but he wasn't about to let it show. "I'm fine!" he said gruffly. "I'm just weak from hunger. I haven't had anything to eat lately."

The falcon flew to a low branch on a nearby tree.

"So, how did you learn to do this?" Wordsworth asked her.

"I used a spell I found in a book," she answered. "I've tried it out a few times. I was going to tell you..."

"Okay." Wordsworth's feelings were hurt for a moment, but then he realized that the princess had taken a great risk to come and find him. He had known she was smart and that she liked birds, but this was beyond anything he could have imagined. Too bad there wasn't time right now to talk to her about it.

"I'm glad you're here," he said. "You may be able to help me find the stolen letter."

"I already know where it is," she said. "It's in the muddletongue queen's hut, that one over there."

"I want to see it," Wordsworth said. "Let's go!" Without thinking, he held up his arm the way he had seen the king's falconers do. Then, just as quickly, he lowered it. When the falconers worked with their birds, they wore a special, extra-thick glove. Without it, he knew Princess Rho's talons would tear his skin to pieces. She was able to perch on Klause because of the blanket Phrasia had thrown over the cavabok's back.

The princess flew to the queen's hut, with Wordsworth and Klause following close behind. Using the same approach he had used before, Wordsworth flattened himself against the wall of the hut and peered sideways through the window. This room wasn't really much different from the others, except maybe a little larger. A few woven baskets sat near the doorway.

Then, over in a corner, he saw something that seemed very much out of place. It looked sort of like a wooden bench, with two legs and a curved top. He barely suppressed a loud gasp. That's it!

The muddletongues shouted angrily again. Wordsworth scurried back into the woods, where Klause and Princess Rho waited.

"I saw it!" he said. "They've tipped the letter on its side and made a bench out of it! We've got to go home and tell the king. He'll send the knights."

"Papa has already--" Princess Rho started.

But before she could finish, a scream cut through the night. Klause's ears pointed straight at the clearing. Wordsworth felt goose bumps up and down his body. Princess Rho pushed off from her branch and flew over the top of the queen's hut. In a minute or two she was back.

"It's horrible," she said. "The muddletongues have trapped a woman. I think they're going to kill her!"

Moving as quickly and quietly as possible, Klause and Wordsworth crept along the edge of the clearing to the other side. Now they could see what Princess Rho was talking about. A muddletongue stood beside a big wooden cage, holding a torch. His yellow-toothed grin and red eyes made Wordsworth shrivel up inside. He could feel Klause trembling beside him. He patted the cavabok's neck.

"Phrasia," whispered Klause. "Phrasia in trap."

Up until that moment, Wordsworth had not really looked at the woman in the cage. Now he saw that Klause was right: It was Phrasia! She crouched in a corner, trying to stay as far away as possible from the muddletongue.

The muddletongue was making horrible noises in his throat and waving his flaming torch in the air. Other muddletongues stood around the cage, growling and grunting. Some were very big and others were not so big, but they all had the same strong-looking arms and long, tangled hair. They were dressed in animal skins.

"We've got to save her," Wordsworth whispered to Klause. He glanced around to see if Princess Rho was nearby.

"Lady fly away," Klause said glumly.

Wordsworth wondered why Princess Rho had left, but he couldn't worry about that now. The muddletongue lifted his torch and turned toward the cage where Phrasia cowered in fear.

"We have to do something," Wordsworth said. "Harge the muddletongue, Klause. Stab him with your horns. Try to knok him down. I'll try to saw through one of the bars with my sword and get Phrasia out."

Klause nodded and lowered his head. With an enraged "Wheeeeaaaaa!" he dashed straight at the muddletongue who was holding the torch. The muddletongue staggered backward with a yell. Wordsworth rushed out of his hiding place and began chopping at the cage with his sword. He heard a muddletongue howl in pain and knew Klause must have jabbed or bitten him.

"Arghhhhhhhhh!" said a gravelly voice behind Wordsworth.

Big hands grasped him around the waist and lifted him into the air. Strong arms started shaking him. Wordsworth dropped his sword. He kicked his legs and swung his arms.

"Put me down!" he yelled.

He looked frantically for Klause. The cavabok was lying on the ground near the cage. A red-eyed muddletongue sat on top of him, grinning an ugly grin. The muddletongue with the torch was laughing. It was an awful sound. He stomped up to Wordsworth, who was still being dangled in the air like a toy.

Cocking his head to one side in a curious way, the muddletongue reached toward the boy with long, gnarled fingers. Wordsworth held his breath and squeezed his eyes shut. Whatever was going to happen, he didn't want to see it.  Suddenly, the muddletongue snatched the little bag from around Wordsworth's neck.

"Ow!" yelled Wordsworth as the cord cut into his skin. His eyes popped open.

Illustrations for Chapter One!

Christina has finished the main chapter illustration and a spot illustration for Chapter One: The Missing Letter.

Here we see Sir Clooney telling King Omicron that the letter C is missing, as Wordsworth peers into the throne room:

copyright Christina Wald

The spot illustration below gives you an idea of how large the letters of the Royal Alphabet are -- "at least three feet tall and made of the heaviest wood in the kingdom":

copyright Christina Wald

Discussion Questions - Chapter 7

copyright Christina Wald

Have you read _CHAPTER 7: "I Am Bird and Bird Is Me"?_ No? Well, I'm pretty sure you need to do that before trying to answer these questions...

(1) Were you surprised by what Princess Rho did with the falcon? Do you remember Wordsworth saying that Rho liked to draw birds?

(2) How do we know that Princess Rho has done this before?

(3) How does Wordsworth know he is getting close to the muddletongue camp?

(4) What do you think the muddletongues sound like when they're singing?

(5) Why does Wordsworth feel a little bit sorry for the muddletongues?