Book III in the “King of the Trees” allegorical series by William D. Burt. (Softcover; 288 pages. Illustrated by Terri L. Lahr and Rebecca J. Burt.)
The gallows loom large over Timothy son of Garth and his friends when twelve trumpet blasts awaken sleepy Beechtown. Forced into exile by conniving Thalmosians, the Lucambrian royal family and their faithful companions set out to rescue a kidnapped Princess Meghan and deliver the griffins from a deadly wasting disease. Their journey takes them on a quest to find a fabled golden forest and learn its secrets. To save the sorcs, they must enlist the help of the mysterious Wood Folk, an ancient and noble race inhabiting the perilous forest. In laying down his life for a stranger, Timothy discovers that the true measure of trees and men lies in the hidden treasures of the heart.
The Golden Wood is a gripping adventure tale that will captivate pre-teens, teens and adults.
Excerpt from Chapter 2: King Mardoc
“Make way for the king! Make way! Make way!”
Timothy son of Garth shrank back into the crowds of townspeople gawking at the endless, snakelike procession of mail-clad men-at-arms. Sunlight glinted off their armor, shields and spearheads. After a dreary winter, Timothy had been longing for some excitement, but this was more than he had bargained for.
“Make way, I tell you!” A burly guard jabbed the butt of his spear into Timothy’s ribs, shoving him back into his father.
“There’s no call for—” Garth began, when the soldier expertly reversed his spear and thrust its point against Garth’s chest.
“No call for what, peasant?” sneered the man. When Garth respectfully lowered his head, the guard moved on, poking and prodding his way south along Beechtown’s East River Road.
Timothy groaned and held his sore side. “What did I do to upset that fellow, anyway?” he wondered aloud.
“Thugs don’t need an excuse for throwing their weight around,” his father replied, pulling him away from the cobbled street. “If this is how King Mardoc treats his subjects, he’ll find a chilly reception here! Let’s go home. I’ve seen enough.”
“I haven’t!” Timothy searched his father’s stern, craggy face. A tinker in the winter and a river raftsman the rest of the year, Garth rarely raised his voice—or his hand—in anger. Now his jaw knotted with a simmering fury at the guard’s callous cruelty, but his honest eyes spoke only of fear.
That April morning had begun much like any other until twelve blaring trumpet blasts had rudely awakened the town. People streamed out of their shops and houses to goggle at the grim soldiers marching by. The townsfolk wondered if the clinking, clanking figures were tin inside as well as out.
Timothy tugged on his father’s tunic. “I’ll stay off the main streets, I promise!” he declared. “These men must be bound for the square, and if I take some shortcuts there, I’ll have my pick of the best spots. Don’t you want to find out what’s happening?”
Garth rubbed his stubbly face. “Very well, but keep out of sight! Those soldiers are spoiling for a fight.”
Timothy bobbed his head as he darted down an alley. Ordinarily, he would be in mortal terror of running into Baglot son of Baldwyn, a hulking, shaggy-haired bully with close-set eyes who took great delight in bloodying Timothy’s nose—when he could catch him. Happily, today Baglot had bigger fish to fry; Timothy had spied him picking the pockets of unwary onlookers.
His buttonless tunic flapping in the wind, Timothy veered onto Baker’s Street, arriving at the town square to find it bristling with spear-toting soldiers and curious townspeople. Hoping to have a better view, he shinnied up a maple tree near the gushing yeg fountain in the middle of the square.
Mayor Bigglesworth had erected this garish monstrosity as a memorial to the brief but bloody Battle of Beechtown, when many brave citizens had lost their homes and some their lives. His Excellency the mayor had lost neither. Now he stood hatless in the morning sun as a horse-drawn, red-and-gold carriage clattered up to the fountain. A sword-wielding soldier threw open the carriage door and reedily announced, “His Majesty, King Mardoc!”
Out of the carriage popped a rotund, dazzling figure. Timothy counted three ample chins wobbling beneath the king’s soft mouth. A gleaming gold crown sat on his hoary head, matching his gilded robes.
“Bow before His Majesty, King Mardoc!” snarled one of the men-at-arms, shoving the mayor to his knees.
“Whom are we addressing?” rumbled the king, waving his pudgy hand at the trembling dignitary.
“My name is Bigglesworth. I’m the mayor of this fair city.”
“I’ve seen fairer pig sties,” sniffed the king. His guards elbowed one another and guffawed.
The mayor’s lips tightened. “Why has the king honored Beechtown with his august presence today?”
Mardoc’s fat-rimmed eyes glittered. “We are not obliged to answer our subjects’ impertinent questions. However, since this is our first meeting, we will tell you that the crown is here to collect the tribute due it from your backward hamlet.”
The mayor’s face crumpled. “Tribute? What tribute?”
The king snapped his fingers and a tall, spare servant with a hooked nose and black tunic unfolded from the carriage. Unrolling a parchment, he read through his nose, “In the annals of His Majesty Mardoc, King of Nebo, Knight of the Square Table, Monarch of the Tartellans and of all lands hereabouts, and Sovereign of all he surveys—” Here the reader paused for a breath. “The municipality known as ‘Beechtown’ is in arrears in the amount of seven thousand, three hundred gilders.”
A two-legged fountain erupted in the square as the mayor scrambled to his feet and sputtered, “Seven thousand . . . three hundred . . . gilders! That’s a king’s ransom!”
“Or in this case, a mayor’s,” the king smoothly replied with a meaningful arch of a plucked eyebrow. “The crown has received no tribute from you in more than forty years.”