Book I in the “King of the Trees” allegorical series by William D. Burt. (Softcover; 233 pages. Illustrated by Terri Lahr and Rebecca Burt.)
What do an old wooden box, a jeweled pendant and some mysterious, green-garbed strangers share in common? When Rolin son of Gannon sets out to solve this riddle, his adventures take him worlds beyond the walls of his little log cabin in the mountains. With the help of some grumpy griffins and a long-lost prophecy, Rolin and his friends battle a fiendish foe and his underworld army; deadly snake-trees; dragons, and other mythological creatures. On their perilous quest for the fabled Isle of Luralin and the Tree of Life, they must trust the King with their very lives. In the end, they learn that “The greatest help oft comes in harm’s disguise to those with trusting hearts and open eyes.”
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Market Day
“Snitch boy, snitch boy, hair-as-red-as-pitch boy! Bee in his bonnet, bee in his bonnet, bees in the hive and Rolin’s sat on it!”
Rolin jerked awake, tore off his quilts and rushed to the window. He
saw no one outside except a few blue jays warming up for the day’s
chatter. An early morning mist still swirled among the firs and pines in the foothills of the rugged Tartellan Mountains, where Rolin’s father, Gannon, had built their cozy cabin.
Rolin groaned and flopped back on the bed. He always had bad dreams just before market days, when he and his father went down to bustling Beechtown to sell their wares. Was it his fault he had red hair (though it was really chestnut) or that his father kept bees? And who could blame him for reporting the cobbler’s sons to the constable for stealing chickens? As if that were not enough, “the Crazy Toadstool Woman” had been his grandmother.
Had been. Rolin screwed his eyes shut, squeezing out the tears. Several years earlier, first his grandmother, Adelka, then his mother, Janna, had died under mysterious circumstances, leaving Rolin and his father to mourn their losses in lonely bewilderment.
“Ho, Rolin! Sun’s up and it’s market day,” boomed a voice into the
log-walled bedroom. Rolin yawned, stretched and hopped out of bed. Market day! Already he could see the crowds of traders and vendors hawking wooden trinkets, and the food stalls set up in the square, with their mounds of candied fruits, toasted beechnuts, smoked fish, and box upon box of luscious winter pears. And he could hear the children’s cruel taunts.
“Up with you now, sleepyhead,” Gannon called again from the next
room, interrupting Rolin’s daydream. “It’s oatcakes if you come now and nothing if you don’t! We must leave soon or we’ll miss the best of the market.” Rolin knew his father’s blackberry-blossom honey would command the highest prices in the morning, when buyers were wanting their breakfasts.
That did it. “Coming, Father!” he answered. After hurriedly dressing,
Rolin opened his door. There in the kitchen stood his father, a tall, red-bearded man with a jaunty wool cap, stirring a crock full of oatcake batter with a wooden spoon. Beside him, a griddle smoked on the roaring wood stove. Rolin’s mouth watered at the delicious wood smoke-and-hot griddle scent filling the room.
“So, you finally decided to get up after all,” Gannon observed. “Your
hair looks a fright, you know.”
Rolin grinned at the good-natured gibe. His hair always seemed to
stick out every which way, especially in the morning before he could tame it. “So does your beard,” he shot back.
Gannon self-consciously combed batter-caked fingers through his
tangled, unruly beard. “Don’t just stand there,” he said. “The first batch is getting cold on the table.” Gannon waved the spoon as he spoke, flinging bits of batter onto the floor and walls.
Rolin pulled up a chair and poured golden honey over a heaping
plateful of oatcakes. “Do you think we’ll do well at market today?” he
asked his father between mouthfuls.
“The best ever,” Gannon replied. “With the heavy honey flow we’ve
had this spring and last year’s bumper potato crop, we should fare very nicely. After I have bought supplies, there might even be enough money left over for that gadget you’ve been wanting.”
Rolin’s heart leapt. “Oh, I hope so!” he said. Market days always
attracted clever peddlers and magicians with their intriguing tales,
astonishing tricks and marvelous inventions. At the last fall market, a wizened little man had been selling the most extraordinary devices: long, wooden tubes with round pieces of glass set in their ends. “Starglasses,” he had called them. Rolin had peered through one of the tubes at a sparrow perched in a distant tree. To his delight, the bird appeared life sized. The old peddler had told him the moon and stars themselves would leap down from the sky, so large would they loom through the eyepiece.
“Don’t set your hopes too high,” Rolin’s father advised him as he
spooned more batter onto the griddle. “You can’t buy peddlers’ wares with promises—and one of those toys will cost you dearly.”
“I know,” replied Rolin with a sly glance at his father. “You can’t
hawk honey with batter in your beard, either!” With that, he rushed out of the cabin, just as a well aimed spoonful of batter splattered against the door behind him.
Outside, Gannon’s bees were flitting in and out of their conical clay
hives, which were steaming in a warm spring sun. Rolin savored the rain-washed mountain air, spicy with the pungent scent of fir needles and cottonwood balm. Already, the sponge mushrooms would be sprouting among the poplars.
He scooped up an armload of firewood and brought it into the house, where another tall stack of oatcakes awaited him at the rough oak table. His father soon joined him with an even taller stack. Before you could say “oatcakes and honey,” they had gobbled up everything in sight. Rolin twirled his last bite of oatcake in a pool of honey, popped it into his mouth and sighed.
“Fetch me the money box and some punkwood, will you, my boy?”
Gannon asked him, licking the honey from his plate. (I fear table manners in the cabin—indeed, all manners—had suffered since Gannon and his son had been left to themselves.)
Opening the money box was an event reserved for special occasions—chiefly the spring and fall markets. Rolin hopped down from his chair and threw back a tattered rug lying beside the table. Pulling up on a small handle recessed into the floor, he opened a groaning trapdoor to a musty-smelling cellar.
Clambering down a flight of creaking stairs, Rolin felt his way in the
darkness to a tall cupboard. Its shelves sagged under the weight of
potatoes, carrots, flour, honey and beans. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, Rolin spotted a pile of the half-rotted, dried wood whose thick, sweet smoke had such a calming effect on angry bees. After stuffing a few pieces of the wood in his pocket, he searched for the money box. It was nowhere to be seen.
He groped about on the shelves, raising a cloud of dust that sent him
into a sneezing fit. Still, no box. Standing tiptoe on a wooden crate, he peered over the top shelf, seeing only some broken tools and pottery, a few yellowed scraps of parchment—and a box. What is it doing up here? he wondered. He seized the box and jumped down, nearly tipping over the cupboard.
After blowing dust off the lid, Rolin realized he had the wrong box.
This one was wooden, not metal, and its lid was adorned with intricate engravings of trees and mythical-looking winged creatures. Spidery lettering ran around the sides.
“Rolin!” Gannon’s voice echoed into the cellar. “There’s no need to
look for the money box; it was here in the kitchen all along.” Rolin
scrambled back up the stairs with the punkwood and his new find, closing the trapdoor behind him. Gannon was standing at the table, holding a plain-looking box with rust around its edges.
“Father, look at this!” Rolin exclaimed. “What is it?”
“Why, it’s your grandmother’s old box,” said Gannon. “I had forgotten all about it.” Gannon’s fingers caressed the carved lid. “It must be very old. You don’t see such fine workmanship these days.”
“Do you suppose there’s anything inside?” Rolin asked.
“I doubt it—at least nothing valuable, like gold or silver,” Gannon
replied. “Your grandmother might have kept some spices in it, but they’ve probably turned to dust by now. Heavy, though, isn’t it. Let’s see what’s on the bottom.” As Gannon turned the box over, a distinct rattle came from within, as of rocks knocking together.
“I knew it!” said Rolin. “There is something inside!”
“That’s odd,” Gannon remarked, feeling around the corners. “I can’t
find any hinge or latch.” Shaking his head, he put the box down. “We’d better be going now. I’ll try to open this after we return home.”
Gannon tucked the money box under his arm and strode out the door. Rolin lingered, brushing his fingers across the carvings on the wooden box. As he touched the tree design in the center, Pop!—the top flew open. Inside lay a coin-shaped, silvery pendant cushioned on a bed of dried, faded flowers.