Chapter 20: In Which Night Falls and Fear Grows

The Sort-of Knight rubbed a large bump on the back of his head as he and the Princess walked in silence along the bottom of the valley toward the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains, which didn’t seem to be imaginary anymore. It was still bright, but the shadows were long as the sun fell toward the mountain range, great streaks of grey and blue and black blanketing ten thousand shades of green. Madison had seen the mountains in the sunsets of her childhood, and saw paintings in her home, but never experienced them so close, and so immense.

“That’ll do,” a man’s voice spoke out of the shadows, startling the travelers. Westley drew his sword and jumped in front of the frightened princess.

“We mean no harm,” Westley said carefully and softly, but his eyes were fierce.

The hidden man stepped out of the shadows. He was short, quite short, with a deep red beard and hard crusty skin. His clothing was made of animal skins like the old tribes. His long sword nearly met his length and his belt had several other weapons. He faced them without his weapon drawn, arms casually at his side, but Madison suspected that they were still not safe.

“We mean not to threaten you,” Westley repeated. The stranger nodded.

“Mean’ll know what treading show,” the man responded, looking at the pair of travelers with such intensity that Madison forgot her confusion over his strange words and tightened her grip on Westley’s arm.

But something changed in Westley as the bearded man spoke. When she first put her hand on his arm, she felt like he was tense and ready to jump into battle. But when the bearded man spoke the strange words just now, her protector breathed deeply and seemed to relax. Without lowering his sword, he spoke to the stranger.

“Treading spares where sundown’s friend’s gallop.”

The unknowable words that Westley spoke hung between the two men. There was a long silence, and with each second Madison wondered when the other man would attack. She had always read about adventures, thinking they were a fun and romantic kind of story. But now she was thinking that adventures were filled with danger and she would really prefer not to be in one anymore.

I must say, that as a narrator of many adventures, Princess Madison is quite right to feel this way. I cannot even begin to recall how many stories were never written down because the hero met a dreadful end. One hero made it all the way to the dragon’s lair only to sneeze loudly—a sneeze that echoed through the lair and told every dragon that he was there. Poor fellow. Another hero stepped out of the door of his house to begin his adventure and was immediately run over by stampeding ostriches. Adventures are dangerous things.

But as Madison’s ridiculous hero faced their riddling enemy, this particular adventure began to change. Westley lowered his sword, walked up to the bearded little man, and embraced him with a hearty hug. They began to speak to each other excitedly, babbling in a strange language in un-understandable stories. Madison knew that un-understandable was not a real word, but it seemed like Westley and her stranger only spoke in unreal words.

“What’s going on?” Madison demanded when she had recovered from the surprise. Westley turned to her and smiled.

“Oh, Little One, I am truly sorry. This is Sandar.”

“Ack, lil galloping friend,” Sandar said to Madison. She decided he was saying hello.

“Um, pleased to meet you,” Madison responded with a little curtsey, as she had been taught.

“Fires brill at nutling hill, think ye?”

“Ay,” Westley responded with a nod and a smile. The men began walking further down the valley, leaving Madison behind, her mouth open in puzzlement.

“Westley!” she cried, frustrated. “What’s going on?” If she had not been taught that it was quite rude to stamp her foot when she was angry, the Princess would have done just that.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Princess. I forgot that you don’t speak Mischmasch. Sandar has invited us to supper.”

“Are we safe?” Madison asked. She didn’t care that the strange man was watching their conversation.

“I would bet my life on it,” Sir Westley Cummerbund, III responded seriously. His eyes turned from their light glow to a dark seriousness behind his mask. She knew that he was telling the truth.

The three of them walked down the valley floor toward the mountains: Madison in a dirty pink dress with an old brown travel bag; a red-bearded stranger in animal skins and clanking weapons; and the tall, lanky, be-cloaked Westley. To anyone watching, it seemed a strange trio.

And, indeed, there was someone watching.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Even a little bit ominous: someone actually is watching our young Princess and her brave knight walking down the valley. It is exactly the kind of thing that happens in adventure books and leads to great danger for the heroes.

But, as it turned out, the person watching was not an enemy at all, but a magic bean seller looking for customers. He decided this strange, ragged little group would not have enough money to buy magic beans.

Little did he know, Westley had already bought magic beans that same day.

And little did he know, that Sandar was so rich he could have purchased the entire kingdom if had wanted to. His home, where the trio were heading, was deep within the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains, where dragons keep their lairs and great mysteries await within. Madison would have been truly frightened if she had known that many brave knights had walked down the very path that she was walking down, but they had never returned with the fortune they hoped to find. In fact, they never returned at all.

The mountains were a strange, deadly place. As the sun set and the valley grew dark, Madison felt the fear rise within her. Her stomach twisted in a painful knot. Her heart pounded in her chest. She felt her throat tighten in anxiety. Yet she followed Westley into the dark pass ahead, having no choice but to trust this ridiculous knight she had met just the day before.

 

Advertisements
Published in: on November 19, 2010 at 9:03 am  Comments (3)  

Chapter 19: In Which Westley Falls Down

Once upon a time there was a great philosopher named Lao-Tsu. A philosopher is a person who gets paid to think up cool phrases to put on t-shirts, and this Lao-Tsu guy once said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Actually, he said 千里之行,始于足, but since neither of us speak Chinese, I prefer the English, which means that every great journey begins with a single step.

Lao-Tsu, though, had never met Sir Westley Cummerbund, III.

Westley’s journey out of the woods toward the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains did not begin with a single step. It began with his robe getting caught on some thorn bushes. As he yanked his robe free from the thorns, he tripped on a rock and tumbled head over heels down the long grassy hill into the valley below.

Now, any intelligent reader will point out that all people have their heads over their heels in everyday life—unless, of course, they are actually standing on their heads, which is kind of difficult to do for most people, particularly if they are wearing robes. Madison had often wondered why adults said such a silly thing as “head over heels.” In her short life, Madison had mostly seen people fall by flopping down on the ground or sliding on the grass.

But when she saw Westley fall, his flowing robe flapping around him like ravens wings, his body doubled over as it rolled so that his boots flipped forward so far that his heels were really above his head, she realized that “head over heels” was a good description of someone falling.

She also realized that it was quite painful.

Far below her, Westley, her hero and protector, lay unmoving on the ravine floor.

“Westley!” Madison cried, and ran down the hill, trying not to fall down herself. A couple of times she had to stop running to change angle so she didn’t tumble—either head over heels, or just the normal, embarrassing flopping-sliding grass fall.

“Are you okay Westley?” Madison asked when she reached her fallen friend. She shook him, but he did not wake up. He only groaned and continued to sleep.

Madison stared at him. He was such a ridiculous person: telling a knock-knock joke for a life-or-death riddle, trading his money to buy magic beans, and fainting at the sight of blood. Along the journey Madison had sometimes wondered if he had been any help at all, but now as he lay at the bottom of a great valley, at the base of the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains, with her family gone and the castle in the hands of the magical creatures, she felt she needed Westley. She felt like she couldn’t go on without him.

Madison sat down and began to cry. This was the saddest and most frightened she had ever been in her entire life.

Have you ever noticed that in life it is hard to know sometimes whether something is good or bad? I once leaned down to pick up a quarter only to discover that it transported me for a three-years through a magical gateway to a despicable land where mad-eyed bunny rabbits ruled the world and we ate only carrots and blueberry muffins. The muffins weren’t bad, but ever since I haven’t been able to look at a bunny rabbit without shuddering. I thought the quarter would be a good thing—everybody loves money—but it was a horrible, awful, evil-blueberry-muffin thing.

Another time, I accidentally slipped on some pig-snout and goose-liver soup that a one-eyed thief had spilled on the floor. I sat on the floor, soaked in the juices from dead farm animals, feeling sorry for myself. But what I didn’t realize is that just as I fell, one of my enemies shot a poisonous dart at me. The dart went over my head and lodged in the wall above the soup pot. It was not a deadly dart—my enemy did not hate me too much. But the poison in the dart would have made me sneeze every time I saw the colour red. I love red, so that would have been a terrible, horrifying curse, and slipping in the disgusting soup saved me.

It is very difficult to know, sometimes, whether something bad that happens is really bad, and whether something good that happens is really good.

Something very similar happened to Westley and Madison, though they did not know it. Just as they emerged from the wood, a dragon was circling overhead looking for a nice supper. While dragons don’t prefer eating humans—humans are quite tasty, but very high in fat—this dragon had been storming the castle all night and was quite hungry. Eating humans was like having chips instead of carrot sticks—a nice treat, but you can’t do it every day.

Just as the dragon was about to dive and snatch a nice Madison-and-Westley snack, the two travelers disappeared into the valley—first Westley, and then Madison. The dragon was puzzled, and circled overhead for a few minutes, casting a long early evening shadow across the grassy landscape.

Even though the travelers were quite fortunate that Westley tumbled so quickly into the valley, Madison didn’t feel fortunate. She felt desperate and sad and lonely. What was she going to do? She could not leave Westley, but did not have the courage to stay the night in the open. She did not see the dragon flying overhead, but she saw the strange, long shadows, and decided she had to do something.

She opened her bag and took out the little water she had, popped the cork on the bottle, and splashed it on Westley’s face. He snapped up in surprise, looked around like he was lost, groaned and lay back down, closing his eyes.

“Westley!” Madison cried.

“What? What? What’s going on?” he tried sitting up but fell down again. Madison helped him up, straightening out his cloak, which had become quite wrinkled, torn and tattered.

“You fell down the hill.”

“Is that right?” Westley said, looking at her with a strange look. “Must have been getting a more strategic position, then eh?”

Madison rolled her eyes, but smiled at her silly rescuer, happy he was alive.

“Can you walk?” she asked. “Night is coming and we should find a place to rest.”

“Help me up, then,” he said. Slowly, he got to his feet by leaning on Madison’s head. He was quite heavy to her, and as he hoisted himself up, he squished her face with his elbow and twice stepped on her toes. She winced in pain, but didn’t complain.

“Well,”  he said when he had brushed some of the grass and leaves off his cloak. “Night is coming and I think we should stop wasting our time here in the open and head for cover, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I quite agree,” Madison answered. For the forty-second time in twenty-four hours, Madison rolled her eyes at him.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 18: In Which Madison is Proud

Madison woke up to see Westley lying on his back looking at the sky. The sun had moved out of the clearing, and Madison’s stomach felt like an empty, echoing cave.

“What happened?” she asked.

“You won the duel of wits.”

“Yes, I remember that. But after that.”

“You just sat down and fell asleep. You slept a few hours and I watched the clouds. You must be exhausted.”

Madison nodded. She was exhausted. But as she wiped the sleep from her eyes, she began to feel a kind of courage and pride build inside her. Madison thought about the duel as she accepted some bread and cheese that Westley had offered her. She was so hungry she did not even notice the bread had become a little bit dry. Westley allowed her to eat in silence as he continued to watch the clouds.

When she had eaten her fill, Westley helped her to her feet. They gathered their meager belongings, and began to walk out of the clearing toward the edge of the wood.

Finally, Madison spoke.

“They actually let us go, Westley.”

“Are you surprised?”

“Well, they did set a trap to try and hurt us.”

“That’s very true. But you won the duel of wits.”

“I did,” Madison said, biting her lip.

“Are you proud of yourself?” he asked. She nodded. “Well, you should be very proud. How did you think of such a riddle?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I just kind of thought of it.”

“Well, I think it’s clever,” Westley said. “‘It is full of hope, but has no dreams’ is a great way of describing a journal. But the second part, ‘It tells no truths, but has no lies,’ is really clever. I’m very impressed.

Madison blushed and smiled at the ground.

“But what does the third part mean, ‘You’ve never read it, but you know it well?’”

“That was the hardest part,” Madison explained. “The answer to the riddle is ‘nothing.’ So, none of us have ever read nothing, right? If we aren’t reading, it isn’t like we are reading nothing—we are just not reading. But when we are reading, we are always reading something.”

“Oh, so they never read nothing…” Westley stopped, and repeated the phrase, making sure he got it right. Madison could tell that he still didn’t understand.

“It was actually a joke my Dad used to tell,” she said. “When I was bored, he used to come out of his office and say to me, ‘What are you doing?’ And I would say, ‘Nothing.’ And then he would say, ‘Oh, is that hard to do?’ Then I would laugh, and all his servants would laugh. It was his way of getting me to do something instead of just sitting around bored.

“But what does, ‘you know it well’ mean?” he asked.

“Well, we all know what ‘nothing’ feels like.”

Westley smiled proudly and nodded at the Princess. But then his face turned serious again.

“But you said the book was important and powerful. Isn’t it just a bunch of empty pages? Did you tell the truth?”

“Well, yes and no,” Madison explained. “I was very careful to try to tell the truth. It is just empty pages, but all books we read are powerful, right?” The Knight nodded. “But which books can we trust, and which ones are not trustworthy?”

The Sort-of Knight cocked his head to the side, puzzled.

“We have to read it, and decide for ourselves,” he answered.

“Exactly,” Madison said. “So the power really is in us to decide, not so much in the book. And if that’s true, then a journal where we can put our own ideas is a most powerful book, don’t you think?”

Madison waited as Sir Westley thought about what she said. Finally, a great smile shone through his mask.

“You are brilliant, Little One. Did you know that?”

Madison felt warm inside as they walked along. Soon they forgot about the great danger of the duel of wits, and talked and laughed about the strange witches they had battles. They practiced making the gargled woman’s voice and the screechy man’s voice. The trees began to thin, and the sun turned in the sky, shining golden in the trees as the afternoon disappeared.

It was about an hour before dusk when they broke through edge of the woods. They looked ahead of them. A large mountain loomed at the bottom of a long, steep, grassy hill.

“It looks just like the picture,” Madison said.

“What picture?”

“The picture in the stained glass window that you broke through.”

“Ah,” Westley said, slowly rubbing his arm where the glass had cut him.

“These must be the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains,” Madison said.

“I thought they were imaginary,” Westley said.

“So did I,” Madison responded. She took a deep breath, stepped away from the woods, and began walking down into the valley.

Email me at princessmadisonjayne@gmail.com and tell me what you thought of Princess Madison’s riddle and I will put the next chapter on your website!

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 17: In Which the Fate of the Princess is Known

“It all depends,” Madison began. “How well you have been paying attention. You have been following us for hours now, and you found us, so you must be very clever. My question is simple, and you will know the answer if you know me.”

Once again the witches grew excited.

“Oh we know you, little Princess,” the old man-witch screeched, his voice like the sound of a frightened cat being used to play an out of tune violin. “We’ve watched you read on the lawn and walk in the woods and wave at us peasants.” For a moment, his face changed back to that of the pleasant farmer. Madison shuddered as he returned to his true, disgusting form, mucous and maggots dripping from his hollow nose. “Everyone knows the Princess, beloved of peasants and woodfolk alike.”

Madison tried to be brave, and when she couldn’t, she tried to pretend. She gulped, and challenged the witches.

“Well then, you will have no problem. In my bag I have a book. The question is simple: What is written in the book?

After a confused pause, the witches protested.

“That’s not fair! How can we know that?” They cried out much like little children.

“It is fair,” Madison answered firmly. “But because you were generous with me, instead of three guesses I will give you three hints. You only get one guess, but if you guess correctly, I will give you the book.”

“But we can take the book when we magic you,” the old man cried out like an eagle with a horse stuck to his foot.

“No. No you can’t. First, you will not have won the duel. Second, this is a book of great importance, but it is only important if it is given, and not taken.”

Madison chose her words carefully, trying not to lie, but also trying to make the challenge seem more important to the witches. She watched as the old couple whispered to each other, considering the offer. Madison knew it was a difficult question, but she noticed that they were curious. She also noticed that even though they were waiting to do evil things to here, they seemed to want to do the right thing, like they were bound by a code of honour in the duel of wits, and she wanted to win by that code.

Finally, the old man spoke, his voice like the sound of a very tall woman with a bat stuck in her hair.

“We accept. Give us the hints.”

“There are three,” Madison answered, trying hard to smile mischievously.

It is full of hope, but has no dreams.

It tells no truths, but has no lies.

You’ve never read it, but you know it well.

The witches delighted at the challenge and danced their way back toward the cottage—though Madison was not sure if the cottage was real. It had actually faded a little bit, and Madison thought she could see trees through it on the other side. Westley Cummerbund looked down at her, clearly impressed at the riddle.

“What is it?” he whispered in her ear.

“Shh!” she responded sharply, focusing on their opponents. Westley snapped back into place and tried to look intimidating, hoping to frighten the witches.

While Madison tried to look brave and intelligent and Westley tried to look intimidating, the witches were arguing back and forth, trying out different ideas. Madison knew that the longer they took, the better the chance was that she would win the duel of wits. But the longer the old witches gargled and cackled in their harsh whispering tones, the more Madison felt like she was going to throw up. She reached up and held Westley’s hand, who was scowling at the witches, trying to help Madison.

Finally, when Madison could stand it no longer, the witches came back to face the travelers.

“It is a powerful book?” the woman asked, her voice like sound of a frog with a sore tummy.

Madison thought for a moment, and then answered.

“Really, you could say the book has unlimited power.”

The witches’ eyes lit up.

“This old fart,” the woman said with her grumbly voice, pointing at the male witch. “He thinks that book is about cheese.”

“What could be more important?” he screeched. Westley nodded, agreeing with the man. But Madison laughed out loud, and the woman rolled her eyes.

“But I know the secret to your riddle,” the woman said. Westley’s stopped looking intimidating and looked quite frightened. Madison’s stomach churned and quartled—quartled isn’t even a real word, but that’s how frightened she felt. The witch’s eyes gleamed with power and pride.

“The book inside your bag is filled with magic spells. What could be more powerful?”

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Westley cried out. He threw himself upon the ground and began weeping and wailing. “Why?” he cried, and then, “We are doomed! We are doomed! What a world! What a world!”

Westley’s reaction was so surprising that the witches did not even celebrate. The other three people, young Princess Madison Jayne and the two evil tricksters, just stared at the bewildering sight of the frantic hero.

Now, Westley and the witches think at this point that the guess is correct and that the book is really full of magical spells. What they do not know, but what you and I know, is that way back near the beginning of this story Madison was given a book by her father. It was black and tattered, and smelled like pavement just as the rain begins to fall. It was completely empty, except the first note that was written to her that began this adventure, the note written from “a Friend with a Scraggly Beard.”

As the ridiculous Sort-of Knight wailed upon the ground, Madison thought about that note. She knew that the Friend with a Scraggly Beard was her third-favourite uncle, Brentonio Dickvinci. But how did he know that this adventure was going to take place. And how did he know to put a message inside a Princess magazine that told her to duck at the right moment in the chapel. And who was this silly Knight?

Madison was jolted out of her deep thoughts by the screechy challenge of the male witch.

“So, is it a book of spells?”

“Of course it is!” Westley wailed anew. “Doomed. Doomed.” And then he stopped weeping and looked mournfully at the witches. “You won’t turn me into an aardvark who eats cactus for lunch, will you?”

Before the witches could answer, Madison spoke.

“Westley, Westley. Stop crying. No, they did not guess correctly.”

He stared at her incredulously, a big word some adults use to say that he just didn’t believe her.

“They were wrong,” she assured. “It isn’t a book of spells.”

While Westley stared at the Princess incredulously, the witches looked at her in disbelief—though, of course, both words mean the exact same thing. None of the other three could understand that the duel of wits was won by young Madison Jayne.

When it finally dawned on the witches that they had lost and their prey would get away, they threw themselves on the ground and began to weep and wail. Westley got slowly to his feet and wiped his runny nose on the back of his sleeve.

“How embarrassing,” he said, pointing at the witches. “Look at them going on like that.”

Madison rolled her eyes at Westley and waited for their opponents to recover from their disappointment.

“It’s about cheese, idn’t it?” the old man asked, screeching like a bunny trying to swallow a buffalo. Wiping their eyes, he sniffled and she snortled.

“No, it isn’t about cheese.”

“What’s it about, then?” the lady growled, her voice like a grizzly bear trying to scratch that little spot in the middle of his back that he can’t reach.

“You did not win the duel. Why should I tell you?”

“Oh, please,” the old man begged, his voice like the sound of a thousand baby toe nails of a Japanese monkey falling from the sky and landing on a crystal dance floor. “You must tell us.”

“Will you guarantee us safe passage to the edge of the wood?”

They nodded excitedly and rubbed their hands together in excitement, like they were waiting for a great feast.

Madison pulled the old black book from her canvas bag and held it out.

“You can look,” she said. “But you cannot touch.”

Then she opened it up, showing the book to be bare—there were no words in it at all. Madison wondered if the couple would be angry, but she suspected that they would not harm her.

“It’s a journal,” the man said in a hushed tone, for the first time not sounding like anything ridiculously screechy.

Instead of being angry, the couple smiled at each other, winked at Madison, and then disappeared. When they disappeared, the cottage and table faded away. The churned, dark soil of a new garden returned to grass, and leafy trees filled the sky in the clearing. In just a few seconds, Madison and Westley were alone in a natural clearing in the deep wood they had entered. The only trace that the witches had ever been there was a note nailed to one of the trees on the edge of the clearing.

It said only one sentence:

You will reach the edge of the wood safely.

Madison suddenly felt very tired, and very hungry. She sat down and began to cry.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 7:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 16: In Which the Knight Likes Cheese

As the old woman spoke, Madison scrambled to remember the riddle. When the witch finished, she smiled a toothy grin. The pleasant face of an old peasant was replaced by a mouthful of rotten teeth. A gnat burrowed its way into the witch’s gums, gnawing on some rancid meat stuck between her teeth.

Madison pulled her mind away from the revolting dental hygiene of the evil riddler and concentrated on the puzzle.

“I think the answer is ‘cheese,’” Westley said.

“Cheese? Really?” Madison asked. “Why?”

“Well, I like cheese a lot, so I grab as much as I can to fill my pockets with it.”

“Really?”

“Sure, there’s some in my pocket now.”

“Do you dream of it?” Madison asked.

“Some nights,” Westley answered, looking a little embarrassed. Then he added, “Not every night,” trying to cover up the silliness of dreaming of cheese.

“Okay, but does it turn your face green?”

“Not usually, but I once had blue cheese that was a little past its best-before date. I spent the evening in the outhouse, I’m afraid.”

Madison looked at her traveling partner strangely. She wondered to herself how she came to be standing in a wood with a useless hero.

“Does it leave your heart empty?” she asked him.

“Oh, no. I love cheese. It fills my stomach and my heart.”

“Well, that can’t be it then, can it?”

Westley thought long and hard, scratching his masked chin like an invisible beard.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

The Princess crinkled her brow in furious thought. As the minutes ticked by, the witches grew more and more excited, but Madison concentrated on the riddle. Finally she spoke quietly to her partner.

“Westley, I need to talk this through.” It was a phrase she had heard her parents use. Her parents seemed a long way away. She ignored a tear and tried hard to work it out.

“I’m going to ignore the green face thing, for now. This is something that we need, but don’t really need. It talks about dreams, which are usually things we want, rather than things we need, I think. That’s what ‘pretend’ means.”

“Good, good!” he encouraged her on.

“I think the key is the end, ‘your heart is empty, when you hold me dear.’ Whatever it is makes us think we are really happy, but we aren’t. And then…” Madison broke off, trying to put another part of the puzzle together. Then she cried out in frustration.

“I’ll never get this!”

Sir Westley Cummerbund, III had been excitedly nodding while she thought through the puzzle. Madison found it very childlike, and very much like the silly pretend knight that he seemed to be. But when Madison felt like she was about to give up, he grew very serious.

“My dear Princess. You are one of the most intelligent children I have ever met. You will solve the riddle.”

As he spoke the reassuring words, Madison looked up at him hopefully. She caught his serious eyes behind his mask. In this light, the darkening light of a fading magical clearing in the wood, she thought his eyes burned bright blue just then. They seemed warm and fierce at the same time. And unlike his ridiculous bravado, the eyes looked intelligent—almost dangerous. She thought about his eyes for a moment—how they seemed so familiar—but also because she had thought they were green.

Then a thought struck her suddenly.

“Is it envy?” she asked him. “Green with envy?”

Westley’s eyes changed from bright and challenging to soft and proud, the brightness fading away a little.

“Let’s test it,” he said.

“Well, we talk about being ‘green with envy,’ so that fits. And envy is about things we want but don’t get. And I think envy will disappoint.”

“But what about the ‘pockets thick’ thing?”

“That’s the part that is close, but not quite. I think it is like envy, but more than that.” Madison concentrated hard, running ideas through her head.

“What else is green?” Westley asked.

“Well, you said sick green, but is that it?”

“It might be. What else?”

Madison began trying out different ideas as the witches danced and taunted them.

“Grass is green. Vegetables. Trees. Money.”

“Money?” Westley asked, interrupting her.

“Could that be it?” Madison asked. “It’s green, and people’s hands move quickly to it.”

“It fills pockets,” Westley added.

“And it doesn’t satisfy,” Madison said. “I think we have it. But it’s so tough Westley! It could be money, or it could be envy.”

“Or even greed,” he added.

“Well, we have to try,” Madison said, her tummy lurching in hunger and fear and desperation.

“Have you given up yet my darling?” the old man cackled, his voice like an old metal chair being dragged across a stone floor.

“How many guesses do we get?” the Princess asked.

“Oh my, she doesn’t know the answer!” the woman gargled to her partner. They screeched and cackled at one another before answering. “Well my dear, you can have as many guesses as you want.”

Madison breathed out a deep sigh. She hadn’t realized she was holding her breath. She looked up at Westley to smile, but he was not smiling back at her. Then the witch added something.

“But for every guess you take, you must give us one as well.”

Madison became quite frightened and could hardly breathe. She felt dizzy, and thought she was going to fall down in the middle of the clearing, but her Knight put his hand on her shoulder to steady her.

“It’s okay, Little One. You can do this.”

Madison took a deep breath and faced her challengers.

“I think the answer…” she began in a whisper, then took a breath and started again, speaking louder and trying to sound confident. “The answer is ‘money.’”

The old woman’s face turned pale green—even paler and greener than it already was—and she shouted out. The old man began to bang his fist against his head, causing moths to fly frantically from his ears. He screeched in anger, and she gargled in rage.

“You are right,” the woman spoke, her voice laced with seething anger. “But we can answer your riddle and you will not yet have won.”

Despite her fear and uncertainty, Madison smiled proudly and took Westley’s hand.

more is coming soon!

Published in: on September 9, 2010 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 15: In Which Westley Tells a Bad Joke

Princess Madison Jayne was quite frightened. She had proposed a duel of wits to save their lives, but had never, ever, experienced such a thing before. It also scared her that the old witches were so delighted by the idea of a duel. They were beside the cottage, cackling and giggling as they planned their half of the battle.

Meanwhile, Madison and the Sort-of Knight fearfully planned their next move.

“So,” Westley said, getting into the gleeful mood of the old witches. “This sounds fun. How often have you been part of a duel of wits?”

“Never. You?”

“I’ve never heard of it. Should I look in the manual?”

“No,” Madison answered quickly. “There’s no time.”

“Are you ready?” the old man screeched across the clearing, which was no longer a bright, pleasant farm, but a dark, muddy patch of earth with a decrepit shack at one end.

“Must you hurry to your defeat?” Westley called to them. They laughed at him and continued to chatter. “That was a pretty good line, wasn’t it?” He said to Madison proudly. She rolled her eyes.

“Let’s focus on the task. What riddles do you know?”

“Oh, I’m excellent at riddles,” he answered. “Are you ready?” Madison nodded. He took a big breath and stretched his arms above his head like he was stretching before a game of tennis. “Okay, here we go: Knock, Knock.”

“Westley! That’s not a riddle. That’s a joke.” Madison was frustrated and afraid.

“Are you sure? Let me see.” Westley said the entire joke to himself. “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange ya glad I don’t have a really hard riddle? Ahk! You are right, Princess, I don’t know any riddles at all!”

Madison felt a large tear drop down her left cheek. She brushed it away with the back of her hand and tried to focus on the task. Her mind raced through all of the adventure books she had read. She was certain she had read dozens of riddles. But she usually read so fast that she often forgot some of the exact details, and could not remember a single riddle.

As she was deep in thought, the old woman growled:

“It is time. Come with what you have, and let us duel.”

Madison’s heart lurched. She looked grimly at Westley, knowing they did not have a plan. As they turned to meet the witches in the centre of the clearing, and idea leapt into Madison’s brain. She put her hand in her makeshift travel bag and felt what she was looking for, hoping it would be enough.

“Who goes first?” the old man screeched, sounding like a fire engine’s siren stuck in a bowl of jello.

“Knock, knock,” Westley began.

“Westley!” Madison scolded, then turned to the couple. “You are the hosts, so you may go first.”

They looked at each other, rubbing their hands together and licking their lips.

“I have a riddle,” the old woman said, her voice like the sound of a bag of turnips being dragged across a bed of marbles. “Are you ready?”

The Princess and the Sort-of Knight nodded grimly. Then the witch spoke:

My face is green

My hands move quick

I pretend of need

To pockets thick

I fill your dreams

To find me near

But your heart is empty

When you hold me dear

What am I?

If you think you know the answer to the riddle, then you can find out the next part of the story. Simply type the answer after your website’s name: http://www.princessmadisonjayne.com/_________. For example, if the answer was cheese—and it really  is not, but you can go ahead and try it if you really want to! there are some funny things up there for you to see—you would type, http://www.princessmadisonjayne.com/cheese. The only hint I will give you right now is that the answer is only one word, and no longer than your own name.

Now, if you happen to get stuck trying to solve the riddle—and this one really is much harder—and none of the adults nearby can help you with the riddle, keep on trying. After all, the life of the Princess is at stake! You can find a special clue by typing in http://www.princessmadisonjayne.com/moreclues. Good luck!

Published in: on August 24, 2010 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 14: In Which Madison Proposes a Duel

As Madison moved toward the little table on the patio, now covered with fresh vegetables, nut-flour bread, cured meats, seeds, nuts and cheeses, she was feeling like this was a very bad idea. She was quite hungry, and the old couple’s eyes seemed very inviting to Madison, but she knew that something was very wrong. As the Sort-of Knight complimented the kindly old couple on their beautiful home and the lovely lunch, the Princess decided to concentrate on working out her doubts.

First, it seemed like there was no entrance to the farm—no laneway or break in the hedge. it was almost as if no one ever came or went from the little grove, which Madison knew almost never happened with real homes. The name, “Daffodil Farm”,” was suspicious to Madison—there were no daffodils in the clearing—actually, no flowers of any kind. And Madison knew that daffodils grew back every year, so the old couple’s explanation made no sense at all. She sat down cautiously and decided that Daffodil Farm was a made up name.

As Westley and their hosts chatted amiably before eating, Madison looked at the fresh vegetables on her plate. She decided to test her theory.

“Did you grow these wonderful vegetables?” she asked in her sweetest voice possible.

“Oh, yes dear,” the grumbly-voiced woman answered. “We love gardening. And we love entertaining little girls.” She put her finger on Madison’s cheek and sent a shiver of fear and disgust through her spine.

Because it was late in the spring, and there was nothing growing anywhere in the garden, Madison knew they were lying. Besides, it seemed like things would appear in the clearing without her noticing, like the table and patio, which she did not notice the first time she looked through the hedge at the little cottage. And where did the meat and cheese come from? Neither of them had gone into the house at any point, nor were there any bags or baskets to be seen. No, Madison decided, the food had just appeared.

But who could make food and tables and gardens just appear? It was at that moment that Madison realized where she had heard the voices before—the man’s high-pitched whine and the woman’s throaty croak. They were the witches who were outside the door of the chapel when the castle was under attack.

Madison looked over to Sir Westley, who was about to put a large slice of bread with meat and cheese into his mouth.

“Don’t eat that Westley!” Madison shouted as she jumped up from the table.

Instinctively, the Knight dropped his lunch back onto the table. The sandwich he had made turned into a fistful of maggots crawling over a piece of moldy bread.

“That bread wasn’t gluten-free!” Sir Cummerbund said in horror. Madison rolled her eyes, knowing that the wheat content of the bread was the least of their worries. Before their eyes, the entire meal turned into white, slithering maggots and black, convulsing earwigs. Madison felt her tummy roll with disgust and her chest get tight with fear.

Westley jumped back from the table and pulled his sword, swiftly placing it at the throat of the male witch. It was the first time that she had seen Westley do anything that seemed even the least bit heroic. She would have felt safer with Sir Westley Cummerbund, III, in charge, except that the female witch pulled her wand and pointed it threateningly at the Princess.

And as she drew the wand, before their very eyes the man and woman’s peasant clothing turned into elaborate coloured robes of gold and purple and green and pink—colours that Princess Madison thought did not go well together at all. Not only did their clothing turn into tacky shades, the friendly look faded from their faces and they looked to Madison like truly menacing foes.

“What should I change her into?” the female with said in her gravelly grunt. Madison remembered the pair of witches teasing the soldier in the hallway outside the chapel, and the horrible sound he made when he was cursed by them. As the witch held her wand inches from Madison’s face, she heard in her head the pathetic sound of the transmogrified soldier: “Hisss-farnf, hisss-farnf, cough-tngts, hisss-farnf,” like a giant snake choking on a harmonica.

“If you move a muscle,” Westley said in his most threatening voice. “Your friend will never move again.” Madison could see that her companion was trying hard to be brave. His hand was shaking, and he accidently scratched his victim in the neck, causing him to bleed.

“Sorry about that,” Westley apologized.

“You are apologizing for scratching me while threatening my life?” the old man shrieked in laughter. The woman laughed with him, and they gargled and shrieked in mocking delight.

“I don’t find that funny,” Westley said seriously. It was not a clever line, Madison thought, but as he said it, he pressed the sword closer to the man’s windpipe. The woman grew suddenly serious and began to utter threats of her own.

The sun no longer shone brightly in the clearing. Madison’s heart pounded in her chest as the adults threatened each other, their voices raising and echoing in the glade. She winced each time the witches spoke, wondering if she would be turned into a stuttering, carnivorous squirrel or an awkward teenage platypus with acne.

Finally, Westley suggested a solution.

“I propose a duel,” he said, pretending to be brave.

“You cannot match my wand,” the woman jeered.

“Nor you my steel,” Sir Westley quipped.

“We are at an impasse then,” the male witch said, hoping to add something helpful to the conversation. The sword was poking into his neck, and he was about to cry in the pain.

“How about a duel of wits,” Madison suggested. Even though they were fighting over the life of the Princess, they were surprised when she spoke. “If we win,” she continued. “We get safe passage through the forest and you promise never to harm us again.”

“And if we win?” the pinched-voice man cried out, actually in pain this time.

“If you win,” Madison answered, taking a deep breath. “Then you can do whatever you want to us?”

“Can we turn you into something unnatural?” the woman asked, lowering her wand.

“Yes, anything at all.”

The woman growled out a hacking laugh with great delight. Westley dropped his sword, allowing the man to join the woman. They danced in a circle, cheering and laughing, screeching and gargling in excitement.

Westley moved close to Madison.

“Do you know what you are doing?” he whispered to her.

“No, I don’t. But I had no other choice.”

Suddenly, the old magic couple stopped dancing and cheering. The female witch turned toward the Princess and said in an ominous voice:

“Let the dual of wits begin!”

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 8:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 13: In Which Invitations Seem Uninviting

We left dear Princess Madison Jayne and her be-cloaked Knight as they walked beside a lovely lake in the soft-light of the forest. They were singing and whistling, and laughing at lazy, lumpy frogs as they moved in the direction the map suggested. If you have read even a few adventure stories, you know that this kind of happiness does not last very long in books. It is the nature of stories for bad things to happen, and this story is no exception. It is what we authors call the “little did they know” technique of writing.

Here is an example of what that technique looks like:

Princess Madison Jayne and Sir Westley Cummerbund were enjoying themselves as they walked beside a lovely lake in the soft-light of the forest. They were singing and whistling, and laughing at fat, lazy frogs as they moved in the direction the map suggested. Little did they know, however, they were in grave danger. They were being watched.

That’s basically how the “little did they know” technique works. Now, let us return to the story.

Madison and Westley were innocently walking through the woods, enjoying the soft light and lumpy frogs, but with every step they take, they are moving toward great danger. Little did they know, they were being watched by a pair of dark eyes, hidden deep within a cluster of trees on the other side of the lake.

As they marched along, the light soon shifted and the trees became thicker. The sounds of frogs singing and butterflies flapping their wings was replaced by the quiet hush of leaves moving in a light breeze. As their legs grew more tired from walking, the singing and whistling was replaced by a quiet determination to move forward into the thicker and darker forest ahead of them. When the sounds of the forest and lake fell away, the duo tuned their ears to new mysterious sounds of the woods.

“Westley,” Madison whispered. “What’s that rustling in the bush?”

Westley stopped to listen, but all they heard was the leaves whispering in the wind far above them. The Knight shrugged and they continued on. But soon Madison began to develop the feeling that she was being watched. Several times as they walked along, she looked over her shoulder, or deep into the dark woods to their right, certain that there was something out there.

You probably have had this feeling of being watched before. You may have been playing with toys or reading a book, and you looked up to see your mom or dad standing in the doorway looking at you and smiling. The great scientists of history have studied why we have this feeling, but no one really knows.

For Princess Madison, though, she had the feeling of being watched, and she knew it was not her mom or dad standing in the doorway. And because she had read about adventures, she knew that quite likely she was being watched by someone quite dangerous, someone nefarious even.

And as she grew more and more certain she was being followed, the Princess grew more and more frightened—so frightened, in fact, that she was not even proud of herself for thinking of the word “nefarious” and using it properly to describe something evil and underhanded.
After looking over her shoulder one more time, and seeing nothing there, she caught up with Sir. Westley and took his hand while they walked through the thickening forest. Westley looked down at her, smiled kindly from behind his black mask, but did not speak.

Silently, hand in hand, they travelled on. By the time they broke through the trees into a small clearing, Madison was about to burst into fearful tears.

“Listen,” Westley said, startling her. They stopped and strained their ears ahead. “Do you hear talking? There, beyond the hedge.”

“I do,” Madison said. “What do we do?”

“Let me check the Knight in Shining Armour School of Rescuing manual,” Westley answered. But when he began to pull it out, Madison put one hand on the manual, then another on her lips. Then she crouched down, and began to move forward through the thicket toward the sound. She could feel her heart beating loudly in her chest, but her curiosity was much stronger than her fear—something that was not true for the Princess only a few days before.

As they came to the hedge, they saw a very large clearing. An elderly couple were working in the garden outside a hut that was not much bigger than the one Madison had slept in the previous night. Even though it was quite late in Springtime—late enough that Westley was able to find a farmer’s market with fruit and vegetables—they were turning over the soil in the garden and organizing it into neat little rows. The old man and woman were chatting as they worked in the bright sunshine that filled their clearing with light—so bright than Madison had to squint to see everything properly.

After having a close look, the two adventurers snuck back away from the hedge.

“What do you think?” Westley asked.

“I don’t know. Can we go around?”

“I don’t think so,” he answered, looking at the map. “Not unless we want to go backwards quite a while. I think they look safe, though, don’t you?”

Madison wasn’t sure how to explain how she was feeling. They did look safe: a lovely couple farming next to their quaint cottage. But it was almost as if they looked too safe, too quaint. At Sir Westley’s urging, they decided to introduce themselves to the couple.

They walked back to the hedge around the farm, but were puzzled to find that there was no real laneway into their property. It was as if their house and garden appeared in the middle of the forest, and no one ever came or went. Because they could not find a lane, they struggled through the scraggly bushes and stumbled into the clearing.

When they saw the little girl and her protector, they smiled sweetly and greeted them. They were completely unsurprised, almost as if they were expecting them.

“Welcome to Daffodil Farm,” the woman said. But as she spoke, Madison was surprised to find that she had a very strange voice. She had a soft, kindly face and bright eyes, but her voice was low and grumbly, almost like a loud whisper. The Princess was certain she had heard the voice before, but she just could not remember when.

As she looked at the woman in the face, trying to place her, she felt herself drawn in by the sweet smile and inviting eyes. After a few seconds she had forgotten all about her fear and worry, and felt like she was home at Daffodil Farm. At the thought of the name, Daffodil Farm, though, she snapped out of her trance and asked a question.

“Why is it called Daffodil Farm? There aren’t any daffodils.”

For a brief second, the woman’s eyes clouded over, but then her husband spoke.

“Alas, the daffodils died when our children were little ones, but the name stuck.” He also spoke kindly and had eyes that seemed to make Madison feel safe and secure. But his voice was also quite strange, like his throat was pinched closed so that he spoke in a very high, painful voice.

“Have I met you before?” Madison asked, certain that she remember the voices from somewhere.

“No, I don’t think so, dear,” the woman answered in her peculiar voice. “Please now, come, you must be tired. Come have some water, and let’s have a little lunch.” Madison could not help but clear her own throat when the old woman spoke.

As the old couple turned toward the cottage, Madison thought of the advice her uncle had given her just a few days before. He told her to disbelieve everything she heard, and look for evidence before trusting someone. She knew she did not trust this couple, and tugged on Sir Westley Cummerbund’s cloak sleeve.

“I don’t think we should eat with them, Westley.”

“Why not?” he asked. “They seem like wonderful people. So kind.”

“I know, they seem very kind. But there is something wrong. I don’t trust them.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, Princess. They cannot be monsters. Here, let me ask.” The Sort-of Knight called out to the elderly couple. “Now, my dear lady and gentleman, how are we to know that we should trust you?”

The couple looked up from setting the table on the patio beside the cottage—a table that Madison had not noticed before. Instead of looking hurt, they smiled in amusement.

“Oh,” the man said, his voice like the sound a child with her finger caught in a squirrel’s ear. “Of course you can trust us. It isn’t like we are two witches disguiser as elderly farmers so that we can turn you into something unnatural.”

The couple laughed uncomfortably in their strange gargly and screechy voices, and Sir. Westley laughed heartily along with them.

“After all,” the woman added in her harsh croaking. “It is you that have come to our home. How could we have known you were coming? We aren’t monsters!”

“No, no, of course not,” the Knight said in a friendly tone. “Look at the sun shining miraculously in the clearing, and the beautiful cottage in our view. How could a lovely couple like this in such a pastoral setting be the enemy? Absolutely trustworthy. Come, now Madison Jayne, let us sup together.”

Now, dear reader, you, me and Princess Madison all know that trusting this couple is a very bad idea. There are at least six clues in the story that the old couple are not who they say they are. I would like you read the chapter again, list as many clues as you can spot that shows that the old couple are imposters, then below, listing all the reasons they should distrust the couple. When you have done this, another chapter will appear soon enough (though not as soon as you’d like, I’m sure).

Published in: on July 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 12: In Which things Look Brighter and Slimier

Madison’s hand trembled with excitement as she held the map. She looked up at Sir Westley, who was still eating bacon and tilting his head slightly to the right to try to understand the map.

“What’s it do?” Westley asked.

“I don’t know,” the Princess responded. “It leads somewhere, I guess. But where?”
“Well, let’s go,” he said.

“But,” Madison said. “Do we trust the map?”

It was a hard question, and Madison Jayne knew that she was supposed to distrust things that were easy. Her mind was filled with questions: Who put the map there? Did she sleep on it all night without knowing? Would the map lead to somewhere good or somewhere bad? And the question that buzzed continually in the back of her brain: Who really was Sir Westley Cummerbund, III anyway?

Finally, Westley spoke:

“Well, I suppose we should first try to figure out what it says, and then decide what to do.”

Madison nodded, and they looked at the strange map.

“I think this is us, beside this little circle, which would be the lake” Madison suggested, pointing at a sad little drawing of a house.

“Yes, I think so too. And that’s the castle, with the pointy triangles.”

“Is this the woods you walked through?” Madison asked.

“I think so. And here is the road, but I don’t see the bean seller.”

Madison looked up at him in disbelief.

“I don’t think he’ll be on the map,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Because maps don’t usually show people on the side of the road.”

“But it shows the bean buyer,” Westley protested. And indeed it did. Beside the road on the edge of a map was a picture of a man, and in tiny print it said, “Magic Bean Buyer.”

“Fine then,” Madison said, a little perturbed. “So, curvy lines for roads, but what do the dotted lines do?”

There was a dotted line that ran from their shack, beside the lake, through the edge of the woods and toward the mountains, where it stopped at an “X” drawn lightly on the map.

“I think it’s the ‘way,’” Sir Westley answered, his eyes wide open in awe behind his black mask. It suddenly occurred to Madison Jayne to ask him a question.

“Do you always wear that mask?”

“Well, yes, actually.”

“Are you hiding something?”

“No, of course not. I just think they are quite fashionable. I suspect everyone will be wearing them in the future.”

Madison rolled her eyes once again at the silly Knight.

“So, do we trust the map?” Westley asked, clearly uncomfortable by her questions.

“What other option do we have now?” Madison asked.

Sir Cummerbund looked quite puzzled. Three times he tried to give a suggestion, but all that came out was, “But…” or “If…” or “Whatooza”—though the last one didn’t mean anything at all. He was probably sneezing.

“Well, I guess we should go,” Madison decided. “But we must pack well, and use caution. What does your manual say about missions like this, Westley?”

The Sort-of Knight furiously searched his manual.

“It says that we should pack well and use caution,” he said proudly.

Madison laughed and began to pack up the cheese and fruit and bread in the bits of paper the vendor had provided. She took the wooden jewelry box and her empty book, and used a burlap sack that the farmer’s market had given them to make a crude backpack to carry her things. She was discouraged to discover that within a minute she had packed up everything that she owned that was not in the possession of castle attackers.

Westley, too, was ready to go. They walked out of the shack into the morning sunshine to see what was not a beautiful, clear lake, but a slimey, green swamp. They had been so relieved to be out of the tunnel that they had not even noticed the slime the night before.

“I thought your book said things would seem brighter in the morning,” Madison joked, pointing at the swamp.

“Yeah, I’m afraid not even a wonderful breakfast can make that swamp seem any more beautiful.” At that moment, a fat, lazy toad swallowed a butterfly, and rolled into the water. Instead of making a “splash” sound, it made a “ker-plop” sound, and the water gurgled and burped where the frog entered.

Madison shuddered at the disgusting pond, and then turned and looked at their cottage.

“This shack really helped us, Westley.”

“Yes ma’am. It’s time to move.”

They walked beside the lake, careful not to fall in, or step on one of the fat, lazy toads—toads so lazy they didn’t even bother to get out of the way when the duo came walking through.

Westley began to whistle a tune. Madison whistled along, and they sang their way through all the kid’s songs and traditional tunes they knew. They smiled and laughed at the fat, lazy frogs and curious starlings and playful butterflies. As they came to the edge of the woods, the sun shone through the leaves, filtering the light so that it gave a soft, green glow all around them. A slow, bubbling creek trickled past them, and as they walked along they saw a place where beavers had made a dam, creating a large, clear lake. Trout popped out of the lake to eat flies and mosquitoes that danced on the surface the water.

“You know,” Madison said as they set an easy walking pace beside the lake. “Things do look much brighter today.”

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 11: In Which Someone Speaks With His Mouth Full

Madison awoke the next morning quite stiff and a little confused. She had not seen the cottage in the daylight, and it looked like a much less-inviting place without the sound of lake-frogs singing and a fire casting romantic shadows on the walls.

She turned over on her cot to see the Knight, still in his mask, making breakfast.

“Ah, Your Highness. You are awake. Come! Breakfast is served.”

Madison sat down on the tree stump beside the table and looked in amazement. Upon two clean plates Sir Cummerbund had served strawberries, mangoes, fried eggs, slices of green pepper and cheddar cheese, and at least eight or nine slices of crispy bacon. There was a glass of orange juice for each of them, and some of the bread from their supper the evening before.

“Hey … how did you get all this food?” Madison asked incredulously. “You can’t have hidden it in your cloak.”

“Oh dear, no. Of course not. I did have pepper and salt and some other spices, but everything else I bought.

“You bought it? How?”

“From the grocery vendor, of course. Who else?”

Princess Madison Jayne was dumbfounded. They were in the middle of the woods, far from the castle or the sounds of village life.

“How did you find a person selling food?”

“Funny story, actually,” the Sort-of Knight said, sitting down to the table and taking a bite of bacon. He motioned to the Princess to eat, which she quite willingly did.

“You were still sleeping, you sleepy-head, so I decided to go for a walk. After a few minutes I came to a country road, and as I walked down the road I met a strange man who was selling magic beans.”

“Magic beans?” Madison asked. “You didn’t give him our last cow, did you?” Madison chuckled at her own joke about Jack and the Beanstalk, but the Knight did not seem to get it.

“No. Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Besides, we don’t have a cow. Anyway, I decided we could use some magic, so I used all my money and bought some magic beans.”

“And the beans grew into this food?”

“Absolutely … not,” the Knight responded. “You can’t get bacon from beans, even if they are magic. Although, I do love bacon. I think bacon is magical, don’t you think?” Madison smiled at the Sort-of Knight as he continued his story.

“No, I walked along the road a little ways when I came upon a strange man sitting on the edge of the road. It turns out that he was buying magic beans. I had already grown weary of holding them—each one was the size of a coconut; actually, come to think about it, perhaps they were magic coconuts—anyway, then I sold them to the man buying the beans. He actually gave me twice as much for the beans as I had bought them for.”

“But how did you get the food?” Madison asked.

“Ah, well that’s the clever thing. I took the extra money I traded, and I walked up to a farmer’s market, and I bought everything you see here. Everything is gluten-free. And organic. It was a farmer’s market specializing in people with allergies. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Madison nodded with her mouth full, though she doubted the possibility of finding two magic bean vendors and an organic farmers market in the middle of nowhere. But the breakfast was indeed beautiful, and as they ate and chatted about the strange economy of magic beans and magic cocunuts, Madison was able to forget her doubts, and avoid the empty feeling she felt inside her, the one where she had not hugged her mother or father for a very long time.

As they were chatting, Sir Westley Cummerbund, III asked how she slept.

“Well, just okay,” Princess Madison answered. “I found the mattress really uncomfortable.”

“Ah yes,” Westley nodded. “They made us sleep on straw ticks too at the Knight-in-Shining-Armor School of Rescuing. Rough going at first but you soon find it quite a lovely way of sleeping. It’s all I sleep on now. I actually think they will become quite popular in the future.”

Madison shook her head in disbelief, unable to imagine having to sleep every night on such a bad mattress when she had such a beautifully comfortable bed in her room—well, what used to be her room. The Knight noticed her reaction.

“Why were you so uncomfortable?” he asked.

“It’s just that every way I turned I felt like something was poking into the middle of my back. It was like I was sleeping on a little wooden box.”

“Perhaps,” he responded, swallowing a mouthful of berries. “Perhaps it was because of the little wooden box you were sleeping on.” He pointed nonchalantly to the cot and reached for more bacon. “There’s nothing better in the world than bacon,” he added, again.

But Madison wasn’t paying attention to the bacon. Slowly she got up from her seat at the table and walked over to her bed. Right in the middle of her mattress, half-covered by the dusty blanket she had slept on, was a small wooden box, just a little bigger than a deck of cards. Madison picked it up in her hands. There were small spirals carved on the sides, with four red hearts on the lid pointing the direction of each of the four winds: north, east, south and west. It was clearly handmade, and while it had a simple beauty, it was not pretty and perfect like many of the jewelry boxes inside her castle.

Intrigued by the box she had shared her bed with in the little cottage, she brought it to the table.

“What is it?” Sir Westley asked with his mouth full, so that it sounded more like “Vwaf if zitch?” Madison ignored how impolite it was to speak with one’s mouth full, and stared at the little box.

“I don’t know,” Madison said.

“Well, open it,” the Sort-of Knight said after he swallowed.

Madison nodded and cupped the little box inside her hand. Slowly she lifted the lid to find a tightly folded piece of paper inside. Madison’s heart began to beat quickly, and Westley even stopped eating for a moment as she slowly unfolded the paper. Westley scurried to move aside the breakfast dishes so Madison could smooth the paper out on the table.

Unlike the notes and secret messages the Princess had discovered before, this paper had a series of strange squares and dashes. There were strange roundish shapes and sketched square shapes, and a few words jotted here and there.

As Madison soaked in the strange markings before her, she allowed her mind to wander through the hundreds of books she had read in her short life. She had read books about mysteries and adventures and strange animals that wear clothing and act like children. She had read about princesses and chariot races and pirates and lost islands and children that went through time with magic books, and she thought she knew exactly what this little piece of paper was.

It was a map.

Now, dear reader, why don’t you find what is hidden within your own bedroom, and see what’s inside, and where it might lead.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 10: In Which the Night Brings Rest

“Where are we?” she asked, unsure if the Knight would know, or if he would burst into tears in despair.

“I have no earthly idea,” he answered, still staring up at the stars. “But we aren’t in a castle under attack, and we haven’t been turned into something unnatural. Not yet, anyway.” Westley Cummerbund seemed content to lay on the bank and not be in peril—at least for the moment.

“Shouldn’t we, you know, do something?” Madison asked.

“Why are you asking me?”

“Because you are the hero,” Madison answered, exasperated.

“Oh, right. Of course. How silly of me. Let me look in the manual.”

He pulled a small book from a pocket somewhere within his large cloak and began to leaf through it. Madison wondered what kind of hero needed to consult a manual, but was hoping that it at least would be able to help. He read for about a minute, and then, when he discovered he was reading it upside down, turned it around the right way and continued to read in silence, flipping through pages seriously.

Just when Madison felt she would burst in anticipation, the Sort-of Knight finally spoke:

“Okay. We must stand up cautiously, and look around to see what we can see.”

He set the book down and slowly rose to his feet.

“Ah,” he said.

“What?” Madison asked, hopefully.

“It’s nighttime. I can see absolutely nothing. I better consult the manual.”

Madison rolled her eyes as Westley looked studiously at the book by the light of his torch. Finally, he spoke:

“Do we happen to have an empty canoe?”

“No,” Madison answered.

“What about a rubber duck?”

“Of course not!” Madison responded, frustrated.

“Well, what about thirteen horseshoes?”

“No!”

“Okay, no need to shout. The book says that if we have neither a canoe nor a rubber duck nor thirteen horseshoes, we should camp overnight in a safe place.”

“That’s it?”Madison asked. She felt like she could have figured that out herself, without hero training or the use of a manual.

“No, it also says, ‘Things will look better in daylight.’”

“Oh, okay,” Madison answered, a little unsure what to say. Apart from the ducks and horseshoes, the advice actually made sense. And she did hope she would feel better in the morning. She had begun to discover that darkness made her feel frightened—much more frightened than when her bedroom was dark at nighttime—and being frightened made it difficult to make good decisions.

“I guess this place looks as safe as any,” Sir Cummerbund said, pointing to a little shack. They walked across the grass to see a long-abandoned hut, boarded up and completely empty.

“What if there’s something inside?” the Knight asked, fearfully. He seemed like two people to Madison sometimes: one minute he was a bumbling, frightened mess, and the next he was full of bravado and ill-guided courage. Madison could see that the shack looked safe, and she was quite cold in her wet clothes, so she decided to be the brave one.

“I’m freezing, Wesley….”

“Westley, with a “t”,” he corrected, and then made a series of “t” sounds, looking very much like an angry, black-masked racoon.

“Sorry, Westley. Let’s check inside.” Then she patted his arm. “It will be okay.”

He nodded, then took a deep breath to collect his courage, and pulled first one board off the door, then another. He held his breath as he peeked inside the door, and breathed out deeply when it seemed to be entirely empty.

The duo walked inside the hut, and the Knight lit an old lamp with his own torch, and then set it in a wall torch holder. The dingy cabin lit up cheerily with the firelight, and they were able to see their home for the night. There were two crude beds made of straw, an old table with tree stumps for chairs, and a small black stove with dry wood piled next to it.

“This is pretty good,” Madison said approvingly. While she really was glad to have a place to stay that was dry and safe, the straw cots were pathetic when compared with her beautiful four-poster bed, and there was no food anywhere to be seen. A thin layer of dust settled over the entire room, and there didn’t seem to be anywhere to go to the bathroom.

“Well, I best make a fire,” Sir Cummerbund offered. Madison nodded, and then to her astonishment, he took out his manual.

“You don’t know how to make a fire?” Madison asked, accusingly.

“Well, of course I do,” he answered, indignantly. “I am just double checking. For safety.”

Madison rolled her eyes again and began to clean the cottage up a little. She found a rag on the floor and dipped it in a pool of water outside the shack. She wiped down the table, then shook the dust out of the bed sheets. Each sheet filled the evening air with dust and made her sneeze. Princess Madison had allergies to dust, and she knew that she would be sneezing all night long.

Adventures like these did not go well with allergies.

After some concentrated effort on the part of Sir Westley Cummerbund, a fire was lit, and the cottage was soon warm and bright. The Princess and her valiant Knight sat down at the clean but empty table and looked around the cabin quietly.

Madison’s stomach began to rumble. It was a long time since lunch, and she was starting to get quite hungry. She began to dream of premium ice cream with chocolate and strawberries, and the Knight began to yearn for hundreds and thousands of jelly beans. The two of them the stood quietly in the shack, dreaming of food they did not have as the fire in the stove struggled to find life. Finally, Madison broke the hungry silence.

“I wish we had brought something to eat,” she said. “All I have is this book.”

“And there isn’t even any words in it!” Westley added, smiling at Madison. Madison then laughed with him, feeling relaxed and comfortable for the first time in a long time.

“Would this work?” Westley asked, pulling a loaf of bread out of a pocket in the top part of his cloak, somewhere near where he kept the giant quill pen. “It’s gluten-free,” he added.

“Really?” Madison said gleefully, wondering how someone who had to consult a manual to start a fire know enough to bring her just the right kind of food.

“Sure,” the Knight said. “You can’t rescue the Princess without rations. I also have some goat cheese.”

The two companions supped on bread and cheese to the sound of the crackling fire and the crickets outside. Far away from the castle and all the worries of the night, Madison Jayne soon found herself quite warm and quite sleepy. She tucked herself into the straw tick, while Sir Cummerbund tried made himself as comfortable as possible on his.

They lay in silence for a moment, as Madison marveled at the night sounds. She heard the hoot of an owl, and the call of a loon. She heard the scurrying of little forest animals, and sound of a creek entering the lake. Madison decided the trickling water sounded like a harp.

“Westley?” Madison broke the silence.

“Yes?” he answered, yawning.

“Thank you for saving me.”

“It is my distinct pleasure, Little One.”

There was something familiar about the way the Knight called her “Little One.”

“What did you call me?” she asked.

“Zebra slippers,” he responded, clearly falling asleep. Within seconds her brave Knight was snoring, while hard straw sticks poked into Madison’s back no matter which direction she turned. But despite the strange night sounds outside, and a near-stranger snoring on the other side of the room, and the smell of the old blankets, and the uncomfortable mattress, the Princess soon forgot about her circumstances and drifted off into a land of dreams and make believe.

What do you think she dreamed about, lying in that dark, abandoned cabin? I would like you to write a big story about one of Princess Madison Jayne’s dreams and email it to princessmadisonjayne@gmail.com so you can get the next chapter in the story.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 9: In Which They Finally Escape, I Hope

Choices are always difficult to make; usually you will never know whether you have made the right choice. Even when things go really well, you often wonder what things might have been like if you chose differently.

Fortunately, this is a story, and I, the author, happen to know what would have happened if Madison Jayne and the Sort-of Knight had gone down other passageways. For example, if Madison and her hero had returned down the tunnel under the light purple arch—the way they had come—they would have been captured by two witches: the man with the high-pitched pained-finger-in-a-mousetrap voice, and the woman with the low, grumbly gravelly voice. The Princess would have been turned into a giant glutinous tree slug with a hankering for blueglass music, and the Knight would have been turned into an elephant-sized walking pepperoni and broccoli pizza. I know, it is quite a frightening reality—I would hate to be turned into something broccoli-like. Makes me shudder to even think of it.

Likewise, if you had chosen to follow the emerald green tunnel, Madison Jayne and the Knight would have traveled in the darkness for several minutes before falling into a pit of disembodied fingers. Being disembodied means the fingers are wandering lonely through the world without a body, so they were anxious to do all the things fingers like to do: poke, pry, pinch, pick and tickle. If you had chosen this tunnel, the Princess and the Sort-of Knight would have died a horrible tickling and poking death, and the story would end here.

Or, if you had chosen the dark red archway, they would have crawled through a wandering, serpentine passageway until they entered a large banquet hall filled with all the most delicious treats in the world. The richest ice creams and most delectable chocolates and juiciest strawberries would have caught Princess Madison’s eye, and she would take a seat near the table. The Knight would sit himself down to eating jelly beans of nearly every flavour imaginable.

They would eat and eat and eat, until Madison finally rolled off her chair and laid on the stone floor breathing heavily until she fell asleep. The Knight would eat his 14,521st jelly bean and collapse into a bed of gummi worms. While this sounds like the best of all possible choices, it turns out that the dessert table in the tunnel you did not choose would have been, if it really existed, enchanted. Their sleep would not be the innocent over-stuffed sleep of Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, but an eternal sleep, only to be interrupted when the sleeper was awakened by a single kiss.

Years later, long after the story was complete, Madison would be awakened by the kiss of a frog-man, and spend the rest of her life married to the frog-man, taking care of frog-children, and eating flies. The Knight, however, would be awakened by the kiss of a fair maiden and live happily ever after, which is all very nice for him.

You, however, did not choose any of those passageways, so none of those other choices ever really happened, which is good for our characters, the Princess Madison Jayne and her ridiculously unhelpful hero, the unnamed-Knight. In the real story, Madison considered each of the options before her, and finally chose the golden tunnel—for no reason except that she thought the colour was pretty, which was as good of a reason as any under the circumstances. The Knight congratulated her on her choice and together they scurried into the little tunnel leading away from the painted cavern.

They crouched through the golden tunnel, and soon found that it was actually getting bigger, rather than smaller. The walls were cut from rock, and were bumpy and jagged as Madison ran her hand along the side of the tunnel to keep her bearings.

“Look,” the Sort-of Knight said. “There’s a strange reflection ahead.”

“What is it?” Madison asked. Her companion shrugged in the dim light and they kept moving forward. Light danced off the ceiling and walls, and on the floor ahead. They walked another minute or two until Madison was shocked to find that her feet were cold and wet—it was water that was making the light strange in the tunnel.

“The tunnel is flooded!” she cried. “Is that bad or good?”

“It could mean we will run out of tunnel and drown in watery agony,” the Knight answered, always ready to point out the worst possibility.

Madison rolled her eyes and forged ahead. Their choice was made, for if they chose to return to the cavern they would be caught, and another tunnel might be worse than this one—which, in fact, we all know to be true.

Gradually, the water rose to Madison’s knees, and then to her waist. After ten minutes of walking, water was almost up to her neck and she was holding her book high above her head. Even the Knight was struggling through the water-filled tunnel, even though it was only to his waist. His black robes were heavy with water, and he was holding his sword high on his shoulder so that it did not get wet.

Madison felt the tunnel-darkness close in on her mind again. But she knew that there was something at the end of this tunnel: why else would people carve a tunnel if not to either enter or escape the castle. She decided to focus on escaping, rather than the bad feelings inside her. So she thought she’d talk to the Knight to distract herself from the dark and the fear. As she was about to talk about who might have carved this tunnel she realized that she still did not know the Knight’s name.

“What’s your name?”

“Oh dear,” the Knight responded, shocked. “I haven’t properly introduced myself. I am Sir Westley Cummerbund the Third, at your service.” The Knight bowed seriously.

Princess Madison did not mean to giggle. She seldom ever meant to giggle when she knew it was not appropriate. But it was often during the worst possible times that she found herself wanting to giggle, like during church or when her father, the King, was giving his long boring speeches. And this, the solemn introduction of her rescuer, was precisely the wrong time to giggle.

But she did giggle. It began in her stomach, and rumbled up through her shoulders, and then onto her face, and finally out her mouth as a laugh. It overwhelmed her like a flood of water in a little creek. She tried to stop laughing, but her shoulders shook and tears squeaked out of the corners of her eyes, and if she wasn’t holding a book high up in the air above the waterline, she would have held her tummy and laughed out loud.

“What?” Sir Cummerbund asked, looking offended. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Madison chortled. How do you explain to someone that their name is just plain silly. It’s like trying to point out to someone that there is chocolate on their face when it is really a third eyebrow: you just shouldn’t do it.

The Knight looked quite hurt through his mask, so Madison felt she had to explain.

“It’s just…it’s just that my father wears a cummerbund to parties, that’s all. It’s a piece of cloth that hides his tummy.” Madison looked seriously at Westley, but could not hold it in. She began to laugh again as her rescuer stood crestfallen in front of her.

“I know,” he said mournfully. “All the other heroes-in-training at the Knight-in-Shining-Armor School of Rescuing made fun of me because of my name. They all had very manly names like Peter and Liam and Robert and Bradley. How pathetic: Westley Cummerbund the Third! I might as well just give up on being a hero right now.”

“Now, now, don’t be silly,” Madison said, remembering her royal manners and composing herself. “A title is nothing compared to the man who holds it.” It was something she heard her father say once, and was proud to repeat such an adult-sounding phrase. “You are here saving me, aren’t you? Where are all those other heroes in training? The only one who came for me was you, isn’t that right?”

Sir Westley Cummerbund nodded, sniveling through tears and dejection.

“So let’s forget about names and finish our escape.”

The Knight nodded, and they began to trudge on through the water trench they were in. Occasionally Madison heard a sniffle from Sir Cummerbund, but he seemed to have perked up a little at her words. And their escape really was more pressing than whether or not his name was manly.

They pressed on, and just as the water was starting to splash on Madison’s face, and she was about to panic, the air seemed to change.

“I smell fresh air, Your Highness.”

“I do too, Sir Knight. And I think I see stars up ahead.” Madison was greatly relieved and quickened her pace toward the entryway.

It was true. They had come to the end of the tunnel, and it opened into a forest marsh, with the sky clear and starry above them. Madison half-hopped, half-swam to the bank of the marsh at the entrance to the tunnel and pulled herself up on its grassy bank.

The Sort-of Knight joined her, and they rested for a moment, breathing heavily while lying on their backs on a bed of sweet grass, looking up at the night sky. It seemed to Madison like forever since she last saw the stars—only 24 hours earlier—and in the tunnel she had wondered at points if she would ever see them again. But the air was clear of rain and dragons and fire and despair, and she was safe on the … well, where was she, exactly?

It occurred to Madison that maybe she wasn’t safe at all.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 8: In Which Walls Come Close

Princess Madison and the Sort-of Knight squeezed through the secret entry in the fireplace into the passageway behind. They were surprised to discover that it was quite spacious, though entirely without light. After they entered, slowly the stone door began to close. They could hear the shouts of the attacking magical creatures, and Madison wondered if the door would ever close. They both held their breath, wondering if they would be caught. Just as the last crack of light was slimming between the passageway and the chapel, a witch shouted and a stream of light hit the door.

By the light of the Knight’s torch, Madison checked her body. She did not seem to be transformed into something, though the gray stone door became covered with pictures of daisies.

The daisies on the door were actually an improvement, but it meant that their attackers knew exactly where they were, and it would only be a matter of time before they too solved the riddle and opened the stone door.

They had to move.

“What do we do now?” the Sort-of Knight asked.

“I don’t know, really. We’ve got to crawl away, I think.”

The Knight nodded grimly, and turned toward the darkness. The passageway was wide enough for both of them side by side, but was not tall enough to stand up. They crawled away from the daisy-covered stone door, and only looked back when they heard someone pounding on the door, trying to break through.

They quickened their pace, scraping their knees along the dust covered floor. The passageway was dry, so that Madison felt the dust sit in the back of her mouth, and she was suddenly thirsty. The air smelled old, like a closet full of clothes that have not been worn in some time.

The further they crawled into the darkness, the further they were from the people trying to catch them. But the more they crawled, the further they wandered into the great unknown before them. Madison was frightened of mice and rats, and didn’t like bugs that she couldn’t see, but she was really frightened of this dark.

Even on the darkest night, there is always a little light. There are always a few stars, or a candle lit somewhere, or the glow of a television from a living room in the house across the street. But there are places in the world that are truly, incredibly dark. This passageway was one of them. At moments when the Knight was crawling ahead of her and blocked the light of the torch, Madison was not able to see her own hand in front of her face.

She felt the darkness crowd in around her, and the mystery of the unknown press against her chest. She began to worry, which was something that Princess Madison Jayne was quite good at, generally speaking. But now she had real reasons to worry: Where was her mom and dad? Was her little brother safe? What would the attackers do to her room? Did this passageway lead somewhere safe, or did it lead to more danger? Who was this strange, silly masked stranger leading her through the darkness?

As Madison crawled on, she began to cry, tears quietly falling down her face. She wanted her mom to hold her, or her dad to put his arm around her. She wanted her bedroom, her glorious pink bedroom and her four-poster bed and all her toys and books and teddy bears. She just wanted to go back to waking up this morning, to the boring everyday life in the castle. She even wanted to go back to those awful hand waving classes. Anything but crawling in the dark in the midst of great peril.

Madison was so lost in her own sadness that she did not notice that the passageway had gotten bigger. She found that she was able to stand up and walk crouching instead of crawling along the ground. By the time she caught up with the Knight, she was able to stand straight up, and he too could crouch instead of crawl.

Soon the tunnel widened and expanded to a large room. The Knight lifted his torch to reveal that the cavern walls were covered with intricate paintings. The stood in awe of the beautiful colours, greens and blues and reds and browns and yellows, large murals of sweeping scenes, each one beginning and ending at the entrances to four tunnels that ran directly from the large room they were in. One of the arches above a tunnel was painted a golden colour; another was deep red. A third was an emerald green, like the scales of a dragon; a fourth—the tunnel from which they had come—was painted a light purple colour, much like the glass in the window of the chapel.

They stood silent for a few moments, drinking in the rich beauty of the cavernous art. Finally, Madison broke the silence.

“It’s the history of our kingdom. Here’s the magical forests and the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains, then the faerie wars, then the rise of the human kings.”
“It’s incredible,” the Knight said.

Madison nodded in agreement, wiping her wet eyes on her sleeve. She had momentarily forgotten her sorrowful feelings, and in the light and colour of the mural room, she felt hopeful.

“It is. But which way do we go now?”

“We can’t go back that way,” the Knight pointed fearfully at the tunnel from which they had come. They were not sure if they imagined it or if it was real, but it sounded like people were crawling through the tunnel to find them.

“No, we can’t,” Madison said resolutely. “We must go ahead.”

It was time to choose, and Madison looked at each archway for some hint or clue as to the direction they should go. The Sort-of Knight drew his sword, hand shaking as he tried to protect them from whatever might emerge from the tunnel underneath the purple coloured arch. To Madison, they each looked as frightening, with none being more inviting than the others. Each tunnel was small, dark, and could contain great peril or miraculous escape.

What should Madison choose? Seriously, what tunnel do you think they should choose? You get to choose the next part of the adventure. Simply go to http://www.princessmadisonjayne.com/choose and vote for which direction you think the Princess and the Knight should choose.

When you make the choice, the next chapter will appear mysteriously at your door within 76.4 hours.

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm  Comments (4)  

Chapter 7: In Which the Escape May or May Not Happen

When the Knight finished the translation of the ancient runes, Madison thought hard about the curious riddle. She rolled ideas around in her brain, but nothing came.

“Try talking through the problem,” the Knight suggested when it looked like Madison was becoming frustrated.

“Okay,” Madison said resolutely. “‘Men look up at me, clouds look down at me.’ Something high up, I guess, like a mountain or a tower….”

“Or a bird?” the Sort-of Knight asked.

“Yes, a bird flies, but what does it have to do with soldiers? And soldiers don’t look back at towers, they look toward them, don’t they?”

The Knight nodded.

“Yes, of course. When soldiers attack, they always look toward the tower. These soldiers are running away. Can’t be a tower,” he concluded.

“So it can’t be a tower, what about a mountain?” Madison asked. “But what does ‘if you get too close, you’ll look inside me’ mean?”

“Sounds more like a trap,” the Knight suggested. “Like a big hole.”
“The trap sounds right,” Madison reasoned. “But the big hole sounds wrong. Ugh! It’s just too hard!” Madison cried out in frustration.

In this situation, you and I both know that the Knight, the only adult, should take charge and figure the riddle out himself. Adults are supposed to be the responsible ones in tight situations. But Madison had already figured out that her hero was far from helpful. She didn’t even think to look to him for help.

You should know right now that this kind of situation often happens in books: the adults are off doing adultish things, leaving children with the difficult task of saving the world. It seems unfair, but that’s just the way fiction is sometimes.

But our feeble hero did do something helpful in this particular situation. He was not able to solve the riddle for Madison, but he did something very important: He encouraged the Princess.

“You can do this, Your Highness,” the Sort-of Knight urged. “You are very smart, and very brave…far braver than I,” he added sadly. “I know you can solve this riddle—just go on to the next section.”

Madison Jayne took a deep breath and looked at the riddle again.

“Okay, we have something high that frightens soldiers and might be a trap….”

“Or a hole,” the Knight added helpfully.

“Or a hole,” Madison said doubtfully. “What’s the next section?”

The Knight read the next part of the riddle.

“‘I have scales, but no music, fire, but no match, gold for my bed, full of magic and dread.’”

“Okay, let’s start at the end. It is a scary thing, but we know that already because the soldiers are running away.”

“And it seems to be a magical creature,” the Knight added.

“Precisely, or a magical object that makes people afraid. But I think it is actually a creature. See here: ‘Gold for my bed,’ it says. What sleeps on a golden bed?”

“A king or queen?” the Knight asked.

“Don’t be silly,” the Princess answered. “Royals sleep on normal beds made of straw and feathers and linen. What sleeps on a bed of gold?”

Madison stopped talking for a minute and ran through all the clues in her mind. The sky had turned to dusk outside, and there was a fire burning somewhere in the early night. Soldiers were shouting orders and the witches outside the door were still teasing the frightened soldiers. Madison looked up at the hole in the stained glass window, to the place where her rescuer had burst through.

“I’ve got it!” Madison cried. “Do you see the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains in the window there?”

“Ugh, no.”

“That’s because you broke the picture. But before you broke it there was a picture of a magical mountain. And in the deepest caves of the Nocturnal Mountain live the dragons, in their lairs, sleeping….”

“…on beds of gold,” the Knight interrupted.

“Exactly,” Madison said proudly. “A dragon flies, so clouds look down on it and we look up. Soldiers will certainly run away in dread from a flying dragon, and if you get to close, guess what happens?”

“It eats me,” the Knight said with dread.

“So you’ll look inside the dragon, then, won’t you?” The Knight nodded, and Madison imagined his face turned white with fear, though the mask hid everything.

“But what are the music-less scales,” he asked.

“That’s the clever part, I think. It is the hard, emerald scales on a dragon’s back and tail. All reptiles have them. And dragons breath fire, so everything fits.”

“It all fits,” the Knight said proudly, slapping the Princess on the back. She smiled shyly, then looked at the floor.

“Okay, the riddle is solved, now what.”

The Knight read another line:

when the riddle is solved

spell the dial for freedom

They returned to their knees, and the Knight places his hands on the marble carving. He pushed hard, resisting an æon of age. Finally, the picture moved.

“It turns like a dial,” he said. “And there are ancient letters at the edge of the circle to point at.”

“I think the tip of the tower is what you point at the letters,” Madison said. “Let’s try it; spell out ‘dragon.’”

The Knight nodded solemnly, and one by one spelled out the letters, D R A G…. He did it meticulously—careful not to make a mistake—and Madison was impatient. Outside the magic attackers had stopped teasing the soldier, and in a flash of light through the cracks in the door, the soldier was turned into something unnatural. Madison did not know what it was, but it made a sound like a snake choking on a harmonica. With each breath, the poor soldier made a noise like, “Hisss-farnf, hisss-farnf, cough-tngts, hisss-farnf.”

“Hurry up,” Madison urged.

“This is a difficult task,” the Knight responded resolutely. “You must be patient, Your Highness.” Two more turns. “There, the ‘N’.”

At first nothing happened. Madison and her witless rescuer stood in silence, staring at the floor, as the attackers pounded on the chapel door. Then, just when Madison was ready to burst out crying herself, the stone back wall of the fireplace began to move. Slowly, it slid to the right, revealing a dark corridor behind it. Spiders scurried away at their exposure to the firelit chapel, and it seemed exactly the last place Madison wanted to explore.

In a single chop, an axe cut through the chapel door. Madison decided that the pitch-black, secret passageway was actually the second-last place she wanted to be—the chapel was dead last. Just as the attackers burst through the chapel doors, the Princess grabbed her book, and the Knight took his sword in one hand and grabbed a torch from the wall in the other. Then they threw themselves through the narrow opening into the dark unknown beyond.

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 1:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 6: In Which the Sort-of Knight is Mostly Helpless, but the Princess is Quite Useful

When the Knight finally awoke from his fainting spell, Madison Jayne had torn a strip of his cloak and used it to carefully remove the broken glass from her not-so-brave Knight’s arm. The cut was not deep, and she used another piece of cloth to make a kind of crude bandage to stop the bleeding.

“Oh, what happened?” the Knight asked as he was waking up. He rubbed his head as if he had been asleep all night instead of just a few minutes.

“You fainted,” Madison said simply, tying the bandage.

“Oh, how embarrassing,” the Sort-of Knight said. “What would all the other heroes say?”

He looked up mournfully at Madison through his mask, then covered his face with his hands and began to weep. Madison rolled her eyes, and patted him gently on the non-injured arm, saying “there, there,” the way her mother, the Queen, would console the Prince when he had a slight injury. She wasn’t sure if this was exactly the same situation, but she thought it might work.

Meanwhile, shouts of soldiers continued outside the castle, and Madison became worried they would be trapped. She needed to move things along, and the only way to get going was to encourage her Knight to stop crying and spring into action. She was starting to feel like being saved was a lot of work on her part.

“It’s okay,” she said compassionately. “I won’t tell anyone.”

The Knight patted her hand in thanks, but still continued to cry. Madison tried a different approach.

“Well, I do need saving now, don’t I?”

For the first time, the Knight perked up a little and began to dab his eyes. He then blew his nose loudly on Madison’s sleeve. Madison thought this was disgusting, but the shouting outside the window was getting much louder, and she knew she needed to keep going.

“And it sounds like things are really dangerous outside. I thought you were my Knight in Shining Armor?”

The Knight perked up at the idea of a complete catastrophe that needed a hero.

“Yes!” he shouted jumping up and brandishing his sword again. “We must away.”

“Yes, the away thing,” Madison said, picking herself up chapel floor.

“Grab your things, Princess.”

Madison looked around. She had nothing but a princess book which was filled with circled letters, and the empty book, the strange journal where she found the first secret message. She shrugged, picked up the book with no words, and took the Knight’s offered hand.

Just as they turned to run, there was shouting in the hall, the only entrance to the chapel.

“You will never take the castle!” they heard a brave soldier shout with more confidence than he really had. Madison knew that this soldier was protecting her from the attacking hordes, but also closing off her only way of escape.

“Let’s turn him into something,” Madison heard another voice say, a high-pitched man’s voice, like someone whose finger was always caught in a mouse trap.

“What kind of thing?” a woman answered with a growly, grumbly voice.

“I dunno,” the first one said.

“Please,” the soldier begged. “Nothing embarrassing. My friends would never let me live it down if you turned me into something … girly.”

The two attackers, obviously some kind of witches or magicians, laughed out loud, the man in his pinched, pained yelp, and the woman in her gravelly hiss. Madison was curious about the fate of the soldier, in part because she had never seen magic before, and wasn’t sure it really existed. But the Knight brought her attention to the moment.

“Princess!” he whispered loudly. “Is there any way out of this room?”

Madison looked around. She had only been in the room once, for the wedding of one of her distant cousins.

“No, I’m afraid not,” Madison said glumly.

“Oh, no!” the Knight cried.

And again he began to weep. Madison rolled her eyes and looked around the chapel. They could hide, but a careful search would reveal their hiding place quickly, and she didn’t want to be found and magically turned into something unnatural. There was a fireplace, but it was quite small, and only a pixie or imp or Halfling child would fit inside.

The windows were a way out, but as she looked up into the open hole the Knight has made in the stained glass window, Princess Madison saw a red-bellied dragon fly overhead with a half-eaten soldier hanging from its mouth. She marveled at the sight of its deep emerald scales, and thought about the bed of gold it slept in every night. But with a dragon circling overhead, going up was not a solution.

They were stuck.

The Knight seemed to understand the dire nature of their circumstances clearly and threw himself against the fireplace, weeping and banging his fist against the stone.

“Oh no!” he yelled. “My first mission as a hero and we are about to be turned into three-legged purple-spotted lizards by those two witches outside the door. And they aren’t even nice witches! Nooooooo!” He continued to wail and pound the stone. His tears fell mournfully to the stone floor at the base of the fireplace.

Madison watched the tears fall, curious at how they exploded when they hit the ground. As she looked down, she noticed something on the floor she had never seen before.

“Hey…,” Madison spoke, unsure what to call her weeping protector. They had never been formally introduced. She decided to be formal. “Sir Knight.”

“Yes dear,” he said, wiping his eyes with the back of his flowing, black sleeve. “Do you have something to say as your last words before being turned into a southern Nigerian frog that sings out of tune?

“Well, maybe. But I’ve found something on the floor.”

The Knight was curious. They both knelt down on the cold stone floor, and Madison brushed away bits of dirt and ash and tears from a single, ornate piece of stone. You might have something ornate in your house, like a special plate with small, beautiful pictures painted on it, or a piece of jewelry with many expensive jewels, or a silverware set with small designs carefully carved into the handles.

Princess Madison’s house was filled with ornate things, but she knew immediately that this stone was from another time in history, long, long ago. It was beautifully carved, but the carving was not perfect. In the simple and crude marble carving was a miniature scene of a castle, much like Madison’s castle today. And the castle was being attacked by giants and faeries and dragons, much like Madison’s castle was under attack at that very minute.

“There’s some kind of drawings around the picture, like a pattern,” Madison said. “Is it writing?”

“Yes,” the Knight said, under his breath. “It is ancient rune.”

“What does it say?” Madison asked. Her brother, because he was a boy in the court, would study runes. She, however, had only studied smiling and waving. She knew if her strange friend could read runes, he was connected somehow to the royal family.

“Well, my runes class was some time ago, but I think I can understand it. Give me your book there. Perhaps there is a spare page.”

“There are plenty of spare pages,” Madison said, handing it to him.

He looked at the book, then leafed through it.

“What kind of book has no words?” he asked.

Madison shrugged, so the Knight pulled a dramatic plume feather pen from his cloak and began to scratch inside the book. Madison waited impatiently as the witches outside the door bargained over what they should change the fearful soldier into a one-eyed dog that chases his tails all day or a giant fuzzy caterpillar with an itchy back. They argued back and forth, and Madison could imagine the poor soldier quivering in fear.

Finally, the Sort-of Knight spoke out his translation of the inscription:

men look up at me

clouds look down at me

soldiers look back to me

if you get too close, you’ll look inside me

I have scales, but no music

fire, but no match

gold for my bed

full of magic and dread

Who am I?

If you think you know the answer to the riddle, then you can find out the next part of the story. Simply type the answer after your website’s name: http://www.princessmadisonjayne.com/_________. For example, if the answer was lettuce—and it really  is not, but you can go ahead and try it if you really want to!—you would type, http://www.princessmadisonjayne.com/lettuce. The only hint I will give you know is that the answer is only one word, and no longer than your own name.

Now, if you happen to get stuck trying to solve the riddle, and none of the adults nearby can help you with the riddle, you can find a special clue by typing in http://www.princessmadisonjayne.com/clue. Good luck!

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 5: In Which We Meet the Sort-of Knight

Well done. You have found the next chapter of the story. I do apologize for the long wait. I was unfortunately delayed at the Iberian border control, and was tortured by imps for fourteen days before being accidentally set free when pixies stormed the border on their way to a Hannah Montana concert. Needless to say, it was an adventure, and I will never try to smuggle penguins across the border again.

But I suppose you are more interested in the story about Princess Madison Jayne than my unfortunate imprisonment.

Well, if you remember, Princess Madison Jayne had found a secret letter in a hidden book within her own room. She thrilled at the letter she held in her hands, and immediately snuck through the castle to find a secret message hidden within a princess book given to her by her music tutor—Lady Cathy, who has been summoned to a faraway land to provide organic foods and medicines to the people of that country. The princess book was in a large, abandoned room that was once a chapel, which was filled with ancient stained glass windows telling the stories of ancient legends.

And when she finally found the book and read the message, she followed its instructions, but it was not anything she could have expected. When she opened up the princess book, she began writing down letters that she noticed were circled, but the message was quite strange.

First, she found these four letters:

D U C K

Princess Madison tilted her head doubtfully, and kept hunting for the clue. When she was done, she looked at her notebook:

DUCK. YES, REALLY, DUCK NOW. SERIOUSLY! DUCK!

Sometimes when you are concentrating on one thing, like reading, or deciphering a secret code in an abandoned room of your family’s castle, you can still hear other things going on. And just when she realized the message meant that she should really duck down and get out of the way, she heard a tinkling sound that she knew was breaking glass.

Madison ducked.

As threw herself to the floor, a cloaked figure burst through a marvelous stained-glass window picture of the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains at Sunset—window art that was nearly a thousand years old, and valued as highly as the entire castle. He swung on a rope directly toward Madison. She felt the tails of his cloak rustle in the wind just above her head, and if she had not ducked, she would have gone flying herself, but not in a good way.

The cloaked stranger jumped off his swinging rope a few feet away from Madison, clumsily drew his sword, and shouted “En garde!”

Madison looked around the room. Except for the window-breaking swordsman in front of her, she was entirely alone. She waited an awkward moment as the masked man pointed his sword in random directions.

“Who are you talking to?” she asked him.

The man’s mask was turned sideways, so that his right ear was peeking out one of his eye holes. Awkwardly holding the sword in one hand, he struggled to straighten his mask so his eyes lined up with the eye holes.

“Ah, Princess. I am glad to see you are safe. Come, we must away.”

Princess Madison crinkled up her eyes and nose in doubt and confusion. Who was this stranger who arrived suddenly, wearing a bad mask, breaking a priceless window, and who used phrased like “Come, we must away” instead of a simple and beautiful phrase like “Let’s go”?

“Who are you?” Madison asked.

“I am your knight in shining armor who has come to rescue you,” the man said proudly, puffing up his chest and looking meaningfully into the middle distance.

“But you aren’t wearing armor,” the Princess pointed out. She was good at pointing these kinds of things out.

“Well, not exactly…,” the stranger began.

“And I do not seem to be in any danger,” Madison added.

“Well, you see…,” he stuttered.

“And are you a real knight? I know almost all of the courtiers, and I don’t think I’ve ever met you before.” Madison had her hands on her hips and pressed the stranger for an answer. When Princess Madison Jayne was looking for the truth, she was not someone to be trifled with.

“Okay, okay,” he answered when he finally got a chance. “I’m not an official knight, and I’m not wearing armor. It was a saying—you, know, “Knight in Shining Armor—that’s all.” The stranger seemed to pout a little bit, and his chest was no longer puffed up in pride. Madison felt quite sorry for him.

“That’s okay,” she said compassionately. “You are sort-of a knight, then. That was really quite a knightly entrance.” He seemed to become more proud again at her compliment.

“However,” she added. “That window was one of a kind. It was quite precious.”

“Ah,” the Knight shouted, jumping into action again. “But you are in grave danger. We must fly immediately.”

“Woah, wait a minute,” Madison protested. “What danger?”

“Haven’t you heard?” the Knight continued. “The magical creatures have begun an attack on the humans of the land. Apparently all the giant-catching got them quite upset, and all of the forest people and sprites and faeries and dwarfs and giants—well, mostly the giant teenagers; the adults are quite lazy—anyway, they are all planning an attack on the castle. It has been entirely evacuated—your tutors having been looking for you all afternoon.”

“Oh,” Madison responded. She wasn’t sure what else to say. She was hiding from her tutors, after all, so perhaps it was true. And the castle did seem abnormally quiet. The Knight did not wait for her to think through all of the questions inside her head.

“We must away,” he said, scurrying about in urgency. When Madison Jayne failed to move, he resorted giving up his fancy way of speaking and said, “Let’s go!”

“I’m not sure I trust you,” she said, finally.

The Knight stopped his hurried activities and looked straight at her. She thought he might be offended, and though it is difficult to tell from behind a poorly-constructed mask, he looked more impressed than offended. At least for a split second, before he continued his pleading.

“You must trust me, and know that you will be quite safe if you come right now. The castle will soon be in the hands of the magical creatures. I am a brave protector of the innocent and long defender of the King and Queen. I pledge all of my courage and obedience to protect thee with mine own life, Your Highness.”

Madison looked at him, determined to doubt him, but getting the increasing feeling that he may be right. As she was deciding, she heard the shout of the tower guard, and an explosion shook the castle. She had only read about explosions, and actually experiencing one was quite frightening. It was time to move, and the Knight was her only chance.

“Okay,” she said finally. The Sort-of Knight breathed a sigh of relief. “But we can’t go anywhere until we deal with that wound.” She pointed to the Knight’s left arm. A piece of purple glass was sticking out, and blood was soaking his black sleeve.

“What? A wound? Where?” The Knight looked frantically at his arm, and when he saw the blood, the brave Knight, protector of the Princess, fell straight to the ground in a dead faint.

Published in: on June 24, 2010 at 8:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 1: In Which Things Begin, as is Fitting for a First Chapter

Once upon a time, in a land farther away than I’d like, but not as far away as you might imagine, there lived a Princess. The Princess’s name was Madison Jayne, and she lived in a very fine split-level castle at the top of a grand avenue in the most important town of that kingdom.

Madison’s father, the King, was a very important man. After all, he was the King. People would travel from far and wide to hear him talk for long, long times about boring things that adults like to go on and on about. He was also an expert in cheeses, but that has very little to do with the story.

The  Queen’s  job  was  to  run  the  palace.  She  would  give  all  the servants their jobs and order all of the palace supplies. She was a wonderful host, and made magnificent feasts of wheat-free foods for all the important wheat-allergic  visitors  of  the  land.  Despite  all  of  the  queenly  things Madison’s mother had to do, her most important job was reading stories to Madison and her little brother, the Prince.

If Madison was the Prince, instead of her little brother, she would be learning how to be King. She would be taking lessons in sword-fighting and giant-catching and giving long boring speeches to very important people of the kingdom. Most importantly, if Madison were the Prince, she would be learning how to eat all the best cheeses of the land. But Madison was not the Prince because Princes were almost  always boys, so she would never be King. And at that time, no one had ever thought of a queendom.

Madison never felt badly that she wouldn’t be King. She had no interest in sword-fighting, and chasing giants seemed like a very silly thing to do. She could never understand why they just  didn’t leave the giants alone. Besides, eating some of the royal cheeses made her tummy rumble and her elbows itch. No, Madison was quite happy not to be the Prince.

But  being  a  Princess  wasn’t  much  fun  either.  In  her  kingdom,  a Princess had three main jobs: to look pretty, to smile brightly, and to wave daintily at peasants. It was true that Madison was the most beautiful second- grader in the land, and she did have a very bright smile. However, Madison was never very good at waving. She liked the peasants she was supposed to be waving at, and loved sitting in a parade in a pink dress, but the waving would make her wrists hurt. For several hours each day  Madison would attend waving school, but she so often frustrated her tutors when she failed to form her fingers in a perfect princessly position.

“You must poise your wrist!” her teacher would scold her. But when her teacher said “poise,” her lips puckered up and the “p!” popped out like she was spitting. And when she said “wrist” she rolled her “r” and waved her right hand dramatically in the air. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she sounded like she was saying “wrrrrrrrist!” rather than “wrist.” “You must p!oise your wrrrrrrrist!” her teacher repeated. Young Madison did everything she could not to giggle.

“I  p!romise  to  p!oise  my  wrrrrrrrist  more  p!errrrrrrfectly  in  the future,” Madison Jayne said p!olitely. Her teacher squinted her eyes at the young Princess with a doubtful look.

And her tutors had reason to doubt her, for whenever she had the chance, Madison would sneak away to do the thing she really loved: read. The Princess loved to read, and read almost everything she could find. The palace library was huge, so she had her pick of almost any book in the kingdom. Madison would take a book from a shelf and spend the whole afternoon reading in a fluffy chair in the sun.

Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 4: In Which The Next Clue is Found

If you are reading this chapter, it means two things. First, it means that you can read. Well done.

Second, it means that you found the secret that was left for you. As it turns out, Princess Madison Jayne, was also successful in finding the secret book. After reading the mysterious note in the  strange, empty book  her father had irresponsibly given her, the Princess made her way through the gigantic castle to her bedroom. She got lost only two times, and one of those times was because she stopped to watch a spider capture a mite, and quite forgot what she was doing. But she found her way back to her room.

Madison’s room was glorious, and was painted in every shade of pink known to the palace  decorator, the Honoured Lady Martha Stewart. The decorator had traveled to all the continents of the  world looking for new shades of pink, and Madison was quite pleased. She had pink carpet, pink walls,  pink curtains and giant four-poster with flowing pink lace. On the wall next to her closet filled  with pink and purple clothing was a single, white bookcase. She gently pulled back her books until she found the hidden book.

It was brown, with a reddish hue. It was called Duchess Hotspur, and it was written by Rosamond Marshall. Now, Madison did not know that Rosamond Marshall lived on the West Coast and  raised French miniature silver poodles while writing books, and she did not know what a “Hotspur” was (a “hothead,” or someone with a fiery temper). But neither of those things mattered because Madison was immediately struck by the fact that the book  was strangely  light.  It  seemed  to  weigh  almost  nothing.  She  had already encountered a book that was not really a book that day, so she was quite  prepared  when  she  opened  the  novel,  pushed  forward  to  the  first chapter, and found that the middle of the book was quite cut out.

In place of most of the words of the novel was a plastic bag. The Princess removed the  plastic  bag from the book-that-was-not-a-book, and opened it carefully. Inside the bag was three pieces  of paper, folded over until they fit snuggly into the hole. Madison opened the paper, and this is what it read:

Dear Princess Madison,

Well done. You have successfully discovered the next part of the adventure. I had no doubt that you would.

But, as I warned you, you have begun the path of adventure and imagination. You will have a chance when you are older to forget about magic and stories and beautiful ideas of the mind. Most adults do. Most people, when they become young adults, trouble themselves with all the really important things of life, like having nice things and pleasing many friends and knowing how to

wave and smile.

But for now, for now, there is a world of worlds inside your imagination, and the doors to this world are always very near. Dangerous and troubling, and you may regret it for life, but the doors are open to you.

Now, I have one more test as you begin the journey. From your music tutor you received a Princess Magazine. Inside the magazine is a code. The code is quite simple—I don’t have to tell you that what you should do is write out all the letters that have been circled and see if you can figure out the message, and make sure you get through the whole book—and when you have deciphered the code, an adult will help you with the next step.

Great blessings and safety are wished for you on your journey. I hope to see you soon.

Yours in Curiosity

Your Third-Favourite Uncle

Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chapter 3: In Which the Adventure Begins, or Doesn’t, it All Depends on You

Since that walk, Madison hadn’t stopped thinking about the things her uncle  had  said. And  although  Madison  knew  that  her  uncle  would  not approve of her disregarding her studies, she knew  she must escape. Her wrists were sore, and the sun was shining, and there were so many things to do that were more exciting than parade tutorials. So, after a light lunch on the palace lawn, Madison fled from  her tutors. Her heart pounded as she slipped silently into a rarely used palace door and down the hall away from her teachers.

(Now, as we all know, a young girl reading this story would never do such a thing. But, I would hope, a young girl reading this story would not be forced to attend a school where all she learned was how to smile and wave. So I feel quite comfortable telling the remainder of this story, knowing that any reader will not get grave and frightening ideas in her head.)

The  Princess  successfully  escaped  her  caretakers,  but  she  soon discovered they were looking everywhere for her. When she arrived at the library to get a book, they were already there,  their  foreheads wrinkled in worry and anger as they searched under every desk and in every corner. Madison knew she couldn’t hide away in there today.

Madison snuck away from the library and decided to take a walk in the valley. But as she peeked hopefully out a palace window, the sky turned dark and menacing. Within seconds, it began to rain. It was far too wet for a walk, and knowing that this is the kind of story where it can be sunny and fine for lunch on the lawn one minute, then stormy and gloomy the next, we both  know  that  it  will  be   wet  for  some  time.  Madison  was  quite disappointed, and had forgotten entirely that she was a fugitive from justice, a phrase which means here that she was supposed to be hiding from dull adults, and exercising her imagination without getting caught.

Bookless and bored, Madison Jayne went to see her father in his office, deep inside the  maze of the castle, a maze which she knew very well—fortunately, even better than her teachers.

“Daddy,” she said as she entered the room. The King looked up from his work and replaced the quill pen back in the ink pot. Four servants were lined along one wall, waiting for the King to command something. He loved commanding  things,  and  they  spent  all  day  waiting  for  one  of  those commands. Sir Sting, the court musician, was plucking away at his lyre, a kind of stringed instrument like a guitar. A lyre is also rather like a zither, but almost no one plays a zither, so there is no point even mentioning it.

Everybody  stopped  what  they  were  doing,  or  waiting  to  do,  and looked at Madison Jayne.

“How’s my princess?” The king said, smiling—not his kingly smile, but his fatherly smile. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

“Well, I couldn’t be here in your office if I was in school, could I?” Madison answered. Now, you and I will recognize this answer as a kind of lie—not a real lie, exactly, but a “kinda, sorta lie” that was pretty far from the truth—not the kind of thing either of us would ever say. But for Madison Jayne, she felt like it was a clever answer. If her father was not too busy, he would question her further, and she would probably get in trouble. But if he was distracted with work, he would smile fondly at her and give her a kiss on the forehead.

The king smiled fondly at his daughter, and got off his throne to give her a kiss on the forehead. Madison smiled to herself and looked around the room. The servants gave her a wink; they were quite bored, but very glad she had escaped her own boring fate. Sir Sting did not wink, but smiled mischievously and began to play very mysterious music that made her feel funny in her stomach, and a little bit frightened.

“What can I do for the greatest Princess of all the land?” the King asked. Madison was the only Princess in the land, but she always felt special when her father said things like that. Her father loved her, and would indulge her almost anything. The word “indulge” means…well, if you have a parent sitting  down with you reading this story when there are dishes to do and floors to sweep and a little brother to take care of, you know what the word “indulge” means.

“I’m bored Daddy,” she said. “And the library is….” Madison almost told her father what was  going on, but realized that would end her entire adventure.  She  corrected  herself.  “They  must  be  fixing  the  library  or something. Do you have any good books?”

“Books, eh?” the King responded, scratching his head, accidentally knocking his big crown to the ground. Four servants jumped to catch it, and fell over one another. Madison giggled at the sight.

“Well,” he continued, after his crown had been properly placed upon his kingly head. “I don’t usually have any books in the office, but I do have this old book here. I have never read it, and I don’t really know where it came  from,  but  I’m  sure  it’s  fine  for  you  to  read.”  Instead  of  books, Madison’s father preferred  musical theatre where adults dance around in tight paints and bright costumes. He handed her the tattered black book. The title was worn off, and it smelled like pavement just as the rain begins to fall. Madison, shrugged her shoulders, thanked her father, winked at the servants, and headed to an empty room to read.

Fortunately, castles are filled with empty rooms, and Madison pulled a dusty blanket off of an old  couch in a room that must have once been a bedroom. She sat down, placed the book on the couch and opened it, ready for a long afternoon of reading.

There was nothing written on the first page, which is often the case. So she turned the page. Where the title of a book and the author is usually written, the page was blank. She turned another page, and then another. It seemed all of the pages were blank. Madison, quite frustrated, rolled her eyes and picked up the book in both hands. She bent the pages and scrolled through them.

The book was entirely blank.

What kind of book doesn’t have words? Madison thought to herself. She sat and stared at the empty book, as the rain fell on the window outside. A beautiful afternoon of reading was ruined.

On a whim, Madison picked up the book and leafed through it again. Although the pages were blank, something caught her eye. She went through the book once again, slowly, looking for what she  might have seen. Just

when she was about to give up, she found what she was looking for.

On a single page, about halfway through the book, there was written a single paragraph:

Dear Princess Madison,

If you are reading this note, it means you have found this book. Otherwise, you would have no idea this note existed, and I would be writing to no one in particular, which would be very disappointing, don’t you think?

The world you live in is full of ideas and imagination. The life before you can be one of adventure and wonder, or one of hand waving and sweet smiles. If you would like the life of adventure and imagination, I would encourage you to look inside a book that has been secretly hidden behind your books, on your white bookshelf, within your bedroom. It is a brown book about a Duchess, which is like a Duke, but a girl.

I have two words of serious warning. The first warning is that the book about the Duchess is terrifically boring and unimaginative, and if you fall into the temptation of trying to read it, your brain may melt entirely. I have no scientific proof of this, but I give you the warning nonetheless. You should, however, look inside the book.

The second warning is that if you do choose to look inside the book, your life may change forever. Changes may be good, but every adventure in search of gold has its dragons or giants, so there may be difficulties ahead.

So, Little One, what will you choose?

Yours Truly and Mysteriously

A Friend With a Scraggly Beard

Well, what are you waiting for? Go look in the bookshelf. Seriously. Go. Find the book.

Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm  Comments (3)  

Chapter 2: In Which Madison Discovers a Great Truth, Which May not be True at All

Now,  on  the  day  when  we  enter  the  story—today,  obviously—it would have been like any day in their kingdom. But, it was not like any day. There are two reasons this day was special.

The first reason is that people seldom write books about normal days, days like any other day. That would be a very boring, though very kingly, book.

The second reason is that Madison had just had a visit from her third- favourite uncle, Brentonio  Dickvinci, the Duke of Southwestern Iberia, an unimportant  land  located  somewhere  near  the  Great  Sea.  Now,  while Madison’s kingdom was an entirely normal place, with only a few mystical beings like  giants, dragons and the woodfolk, Uncle Brentonio’s land was filled with all manner of faerie creatures  and magical persons. And while Madison enjoyed hearing stories from her Uncle’s land, which he told with bright blue eyes, often scratching his long, scraggly beard, he was only her third-favourite uncle  because she was never entirely certain whether the stories were true. She would giggle, and roll her eyes at his tales, suspecting the whole time they were just  part of a book  inside Uncle Brentonio’s strange head.

But something her uncle said the last time he visited had changed not only her view of her Iberian Uncle, but also her view of what her life was

supposed to be like in the castle.

They had a conversation while going on a walk. If you have ever had a conversation on a walk, you know that it is often a difficult thing to do. But in stories like this, these long, quiet walks on  gravel paths are quite common. Brentonio had just finished a tale about three moon faeries who played tricks on some clumsy soldiers, when his eyes turned serious.

“Miss Madison, how is you training going?” Instead of scratching his beard or waving his  hands  at some  distant, imaginary world, he looked intently—a word which here means seriously and  with great mystery and meaning—at her.

“You mean school? It’s fine, I guess.” Madison found Brentonio’s gaze difficult to match, almost heavy, and kicked a stone along the path to avoid looking at him.

“Ah, my dear niece,” her uncle responded, eyes sparkling again. “I don’t think you are telling the whole truth.”

“Well,” Madison began, flushing a little. “I don’t really like school.” “No,” Brentonio answered firmly. “Of course you don’t. Your training is absolutely ridiculous, and your tutors are far too serious about something profoundly silly, don’t you think?”

The Princess was shocked. She had never heard an adult speak so frankly about something everyone else thought was important. But Madison felt she could trust her uncle.

“Yes, I do think it’s pretty silly, actually,” she said, smiling shyly.

“I’m glad you do, little one. I’ve always thought you were far brighter than your teachers. I  hope  you are spending your free time doing truly important things. What do you like to do?”

“Well, I like to play with dolls,” Madison began.

“Of course,” Brentonio responded seriously. “Playing is absolutely essential.”

“And I like to walk through the woods and hills, looking for bugs and flowers  and  interesting  rocks,”  Madison  continued,  feeling a  little  more confident.

“Excellent. A knowledge of the natural world is essential for an active mind. But there is something more, isn’t there?”

“Well…” Madison hesitated, hoping her uncle wouldn’t laugh at her. “My absolute favourite thing to do is read.”

At this, her uncle Brentonio stopped walking, and crouched down to look at Madison in the eye.

“Brilliant,” he said, almost under his breath. “I had hoped you would say this.”

Madison Jayne flushed with pride.

“Now,” he continued. “I have something of utmost importance to tell you. Do you know what that means?”

Madison nodded, trying to match his gaze. She knew the phrase “of utmost importance” meant that what her uncle would tell her was something she should really listen to. It was a phrase her mother and father used with the servants from time to time.

“The things you have chosen to love—or maybe books and ideas have chosen you, who knows?—these things are going to be your great joy and delight in life. But, Miss Madison Jayne, you must disbelieve everything you hear.”

“What?” Madison exclaimed, shocked at the suggestion. Her tutors had  drilled  into  her  since  the  moment  she  was  born  the  importance  of obedience. Her parents were allowed to think for themselves, but everyone else in the castle waited for someone else to do their thinking for them.

“Absolutely,” Brentonio said, nodding. He stood up straight and took her by the hand. They walked along for a minute in silence while Madison thought about what her uncle said.

“What about my teachers?” she asked.

“Little one,” he responded kindly. “Do you believe that waving and smiling is the most important job you have?” “No,” she laughed.

“So you already disbelieve them, don’t you.”

It was true. Without knowing it, Madison had decided that most of what her tutors said was complete nonsense.

“School is important Madison, but you are going to have to work hard to learn more than you are actually being taught.”

“What about my books?” she asked.

“Of course you should doubt them,” he answered. “A book is not for giving information, but is a path to great ideas.”

“Well, what about my parents?” Madison asked.

“Madison, let me tell you something. It is something you will figure out on your own later on,  but you might as well know right now. Adults have no idea what they are talking about. Your parents are beautiful, brilliant people, and they are just doing their best—better than most parents in the whole wide world. But they are just making it up as they go along. They know most things, and you should be polite and helpful and loving, but always look for evidence.”

They walked along for a little while as Madison thought about what her uncle was suggesting. The idea rumbled around in her brain, like little rubber  bouncing  balls  boiling  in  carrot  soup,  though  I’m not  sure  why anyone would make that kind of meal. As she was thinking hard about these things, a beautiful, almost delicious idea came to her. To any other adult she would not have said it, but she trusted her uncle.

“So, if I’m supposed to doubt everything people tell me,” Madison said. “That means I’m  supposed to doubt what you are saying right now, isn’t it? It means I’m supposed to disbelieve that I should disbelieve, right?”

Madison  was  quite  proud  of  herself,  but  a  little  shy.  It  was,  she thought, the most adult thing she ever said, and she often practiced saying adult things. But she wasn’t entirely sure if she was right, or how her uncle would respond. He stopped, and looked at her with a crooked smile.

“Miss  Madison,”  he  said  in  a  way  that  sounded  much  more  like admiration than anger. “You have discovered the key to all things. You must absolutely, and in all cases, disbelieve me.”

He leaned over, kissed her on the forehead, then began to tell her a story about a Castle Imp  who kept putting itching powder in the perfume dishes, making all the ladies scratch throughout an  entire evening of the long, boring, adult speeches. They laughed and enjoyed the rest of the walk, and the Princess began to wonder if Uncle Brentonio Dickvinci was really her first-favourite uncle after all.

Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment