Copyright © 2016 by Suzanne Roche
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Oak Lei Press
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Book Layout ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.com
Stumbling On A Tale/Suzanne Roche. -- 1st ed.
Wait! Before you start reading this book, you need to know this:
I’ve always thought learning about history is like building a house. The factual information that I read (like events, milestones, documents, etc.) is the foundation. It gives me a place to stand and look around. From there, I get creative and start to build walls, paint, and add furniture. Well, I don’t actually do that with history. What I do is imagine what a place looked like and what conversations there might have been and things like that.
In the story you are about to read, I try to remain true to the facts as I know them. Think of it as trying not to fall off the foundation during construction. But because most of what you’ll see on these pages is my building and decorating, this book is fictional.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?
Peri, Henry, and Max hunt for answers
The Tip of the Tale
In the Thick of It
The Peasant’s Tale
What Would Have Been Helpful for Henry and Max to Hear
What Henry and Max Heard Instead
The woods: the children branch out
The Maiden’s Tale
Not Quite Knight Time
The Page’s Tale
A Wizard Makes the Tale Grow
The Sorcerer’s Tale
Peri and Henry Unravel a Tale
Max Goes Out on a Limb
The castle: the children discover they aren’t out of the woods yet
On the Road to Discovery
Max and Jack Eat It Up
Time to Call It a Knight
A Checkered Tale
Thereby hangs the tale
At the Tale End
Peri and Henry Dig for Answers and Come Up Cold
Imagine you’re at a movie theater. Let’s call it “The Empire.” That way a big, impressive image comes to mind when you think about it. The Empire is the only theater in town, and it has one manager: Roman.
Roman does everything at the theater, and he would be the first to tell you it’s a very big job. In fact, it gets harder every year. The demands of customers, paperwork, the cost of doing business, and countless other responsibilities are proving to be too much for Roman.
Finally, Roman’s had it. Some say he was fired; other people say he quit. Either way, the theater goes downhill without him. People are stealing the concessions and fighting for the best seats. With Roman gone, there’s no one to order new movies, pay the electric bill, or make more popcorn. Don’t forget that without Roman, no one is shoveling the sidewalk or cleaning the restrooms. It’s hard to imagine a happy ending here, right?
But wait… Before long, smaller theaters start opening up around town. They’re different sizes, with different movies and managers and candy at the concession stands. Things seem to be looking up.
World history has been a little like that. From around 30 BC to 500 AD, the westernized world was a “one theater in town” kind of place. And can you believe it—it was called the Roman Empire! What a coincidence! By the way, there were other very impressive empires during this classical period but they all deserve their own stories (hint).
After a great run of more than five hundred years, Rome started having a hard time governing all that land it ruled. It couldn’t keep up with the invasions and the high cost of running an empire. On top of that, good emperors and soldiers were proving hard to come by. In short, the empire was crumbling. Of course, there was a lot more that went into causing its downfall, but that is another story (that’s another hint).
Skip ahead to about the year 1500 and that’s when the period called the “modern age” began. We are still in it now and will be until another age or empire comes along and replaces us.
Think of these two periods, the Roman Empire and the Modern Age, as bookends with about one thousand years between them. Some wise, highly creative person went out on a limb and labeled those years in history the “Middle Ages.” It sounds more impressive when you use the Latin words for “middle” and “age,” medium aevum, or the medieval times.
When the Roman Empire ended around the year 500, so did its laws, the protection of its people, and the defense of its land. Instead, there were different tribes and groups living in smaller territories. Not surprisingly, given the lack of leaders and laws, there were a lot of problems. The biggest problem was that people were invading the lands of other people and no one was safe anymore.
A new system grew that gave people protection in return for their work and loyalty. It was called feudalism. Under this system, everyone had a role, that is to say, a king was in charge and everyone else had jobs to make his kingdom run smoothly. One of the perks of being a king was that he could set up a system designed (not surprisingly) to keep him in power.
When people speak of feudalism, they are speaking of the Middle Ages. The two go hand in hand, and once one ended, so did the other.
The king ruled over the land and allowed people to live there. In return, people supervised, protected, or worked on the land. The only other people were the clergy, who devoted their lives to the Church.
A number of events, inventions, and circumstances brought about the end of feudalism, including the inception of the printing press, the Black Plague, and the growth of cities and towns. Those and other reasons are enough to fill another book (that’s another hint). Together, they changed the world dramatically and ushered in the first period of the modern world: the Renaissance. None of that should come as a surprise though, because whether it’s the theater business or history, the objective is the same—the show must go on!
Figuring this out was going to be hard. Twelve-year-old Henry Hawkins had been telling everyone that for weeks. It turned out that talking about it was way more fun than actually trying to do it.
Whenever he was working on a new Scout badge, Henry knew right away if it was going to be tricky or not. Insect study wasn’t a problem. Coin collecting and bird study were pretty straightforward too. But Henry was trying to earn his chess badge now and figuring out the difference between a Scholar’s Mate and a Fool’s Mate was not coming easily.
All the rules and moves were tripping over each other in his head and he felt like he was running out of space in his brain to fit them. It was for that reason Henry was trying to ignore his older stepsister, Peri.
“Henry, I have a great idea!”
Henry didn’t say anything. Even though Peri hadn’t been his stepsister for long, Henry knew more than a few things about her. Most of those things worried him. In fact, in the ongoing list Henry kept in his head, called “the list of things to worry about,” Peri always managed to secure a spot at the top of it. That’s because she had caused enough trouble already in their short time together, and it didn’t look like she was about to stop anytime soon.
Of course, Henry’s list was pretty long and included things like accidentally swallowing a bug and jumping out of a plane only to discover his parachute had a hole in it. Five words from Peri were also on the list.
“I have a great idea,” were the words.
Henry knew her ideas were never great and they never ended well. He wished Peri would just spit out what she really meant.
“I have a crazy idea that’s probably going to make a mess of things and make you freak out,” was what Peri actually meant.
Those words settled in Henry right now like the cold leftovers his mom had packed him for lunch, which is to say not very comfortably.
Focusing on chess was proving to be impossible. Like most afternoons, they were at Wallingford Antiques & Heirlooms, waiting for Henry’s mom and stepfather to close up the store and drive them home. Usually, Henry sat downstairs in the back room with his eight-year-old brother, Max. Today, though, he was upstairs in the office with Peri because he didn’t want Max bugging him and asking if he could help.
What was he thinking? This was a girl who had an answer to everything, even if she hadn’t been asked a question.
“Don’t you want to know?” Peri asked Henry again.
Be quiet! he wanted to yell. You’re almost fifteen! Aren’t teenagers supposed to want to be alone and not talk to anyone?
“Don’t you?” she said again.
Henry didn’t even bother to look up from the chessboard when he mumbled, “Don’t I what?”
“Don’t you want to know?”
“Don’t you at least want to find out where it came from?”
There was nothing Henry wanted to hear about “it” ever again. If anyone had ever told Henry they could set an antique from the store on Roger’s Encyclopedia of Antiques and Extraordinary Curiosities and be sent back to where the relic first came from, he would never, ever have believed it. But it happened to them a few months ago, and now he wanted to go back in time again about as much as he wanted to slam his finger in a heavy door. No, make that his whole hand.
Peri wiggled the key in the credenza lock for what was probably the sixth or seventh time. It still wasn’t catching. Roger’s Encyclopedia was in there, and she was determined to get it.
“This doesn’t make sense,” she mumbled. “The key used to work.”
Peri’s newest idea was to find out who the publisher was and contact them.
“Maybe they’ve heard from other people who had copies of Roger’s,” she had told Henry. “Maybe someone else has seen its weird, magical powers too and can explain what’s going on.”
“I really don’t think you should be—” Henry started to say now.
“Got it!” Peri slid the credenza door open and took out the encyclopedia.
Henry tried desperately to ignore her as she set the heavy book in her lap and opened the cover. She scanned the first page, then flipped to the next page and the next. No luck.
One leaves the king open for checkmate, Henry said to himself. But so does the other, doesn’t it? That’s the whole point, right? But then why is one called the Scholar’s Mate and the other the Fool’s Mate? Wait, it’s because one uses the queen. Or do both of them? He found himself having a very hard time focusing on chess.
“That’s strange,” Peri said after a moment.
Henry was not going to answer her. He locked his lips closed and refused to look at her. He did not want to hear anything she might have to say. So you use the queen, he said in his head over and over. Or is it the bishop? Is it four moves or—
What did Peri mean by “strange”?
He waited for Peri to tell him, but she didn’t. She was busy turning the pages of the thick book, looking at each page carefully.
“Very strange,” she added.
He couldn’t stand it any longer. “What’s strange?”
She looked up from the book and huffed, as if he had interrupted her instead of it being the other way around. “I thought you didn’t want to know.”
“I don’t, but you might as well tell me since—”
“No, no. I don’t want to bother you,” Peri insisted lightly.
“Just tell me!” Henry regretted it the minute he said it.
With a dramatic sigh, she set the book in the middle of her father’s desk. “There’s no publisher. It only—”
“Wait!” Henry wanted to make sure there was not a single object that might look, feel, or smell like an antique anywhere near the book.
It was as if Peri could read his thoughts. “Max is digging around in the storage room,” she said.
Only then did Henry look at the book on the desk. At least Max wasn’t nearby to set anything on the encyclopedia like he did that first time.
“It only says it was printed in New York City,” Peri went on to say.
“Then how about who wrote it?” Henry suggested. “We can always write to the author.”
Peri read through the front pages again, shaking her head as she went.
“It has to be there somewhere,” Henry insisted. “Someone had to write it.”
She checked the back cover. Nothing. She closed the book to look at the spine. Still nothing.
“When was it printed then?” he tried.
Peri went back through the first few pages and quickly looked up.
“It doesn’t show a date?” Henry guessed.
“No, it does,” she mumbled. “It says May.”
“So who puts a month in the publication date? That’s weird.”
“Okay, so it’s different,” Henry admitted. “But it’s not that weird.”
“No, it’s still weird. It says 2014.”
“So? Why does that matter?”
“It matters because I found it for the first time when I moved here in 2013.”
They were so busy staring at each other in confusion they didn’t see Max come in.
“Look what I found!” he said with a sneeze.
Max had allergies and spent most of his time either wiping his nose or rubbing his eyes. The old storage room he rummaged through only made it worse.
Peri and Henry both heard him at the same time, but neither was quick enough.
“What do you think this is?” he asked.
Henry and Peri looked surprised to see him, but that didn’t stop Max from coming in and setting an antique down on the desk. And he must not have noticed the encyclopedia open there.
Because it happened again…
ARE. YOU. SERIOUS?” Henry looked at Max when he hollered, his hands clenched while he shook them in the air. Anyone watching might have thought Henry was about to pull his hair out.
But they would be wrong. It was more likely that Henry would pull his brother’s hair out.
“You did it again? How could you do this again?” Henry’s heart was pounding so hard he could barely swallow.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” Max insisted weakly.
“How could you not know it would happen?”
“I didn’t see the encyclopedia. It was open so I didn’t see it until it was too late.”
“Why would you even come up to the office with anything in your hand? How many times did we talk about this? How many times did we agree that it was too risky to—”
“Stop yelling at him,” Peri stepped in to say. “I know it’s not the smartest thing Max has ever done—but look at it this way: it’s not the dumbest.”
She put her hand on Max’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay.”
Henry couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Okay? This was not okay. “Okay” was what you said when someone asked to borrow your eraser or the dentist said you needed to brush along your gum line better.
This was not okay. This was a disaster. And it was the worst kind of disaster. It was a repeat, which meant it had happened before, which meant Henry knew what was coming now. None of this was okay.
The first time it had happened was a mistake. Peri had left Roger’s Encyclopedia of Antiques and Extraordinary Curiosities out by accident, and Max knew nothing about its special powers. Of course no normal kid would think an old book could send them back to the year 1900 to meet immigrants in New York City.
Henry was eventually able to forgive Peri and Max for that. But to do it again? No way. Once was a mistake. Twice was just plain dumb. And Henry could not forgive just plain dumb.
“When we get home…if we get home,” Henry said to Max, “you are not allowed in the office ever, ever again.”
Max wisely kept his mouth shut.
“Well?” Henry huffed helplessly as he looked over at Peri. “Any idea where we are this time?”
She did a quick look around. They were alone on well-worn dirt path that snaked its way through thick woodlands that seemed to go on forever. The tangle of branches and leaves above kept out most of the daylight and carried the damp smell of an earlier rain. The only sounds were birds and the rustling of leaves as the breeze worked its way through the trees.
Peri nodded her head with certainty. “We are in a forest.”
“I know that!”
“Then why are you asking me? Why would I know any more than you do?”
“It looks like a big forest,” Max offered.
“We’ll be fine,” Peri promised Henry. “All we have to do is find the object Max brought up to the office to show us.”
Henry nodded halfheartedly. Peri was right. In this whole crazy experience of going back in time, there were at least a few things Henry knew for sure. It wouldn’t be like last time, where they were stuck back in New York City for what seemed like a lifetime. It would be easier now that they knew what to do. They had to find the antique from the store, and they had to let Max touch it. Then they would be sent back home and Henry could go back to working on his Scout badge.
“Um… Max?” Peri asked the top of his head.
He stared at the ground and didn’t seem to be in any hurry to answer. He started to chew on his fingernails. Then he got busy kicking the dirt and leaves around him.
“Max?” Henry eyed his brother suspiciously.
Peri finally lifted Max’s chin to see the look of dread that covered his face.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“I brought the antique thing upstairs to show you,” he finally said.
“Well, I did that because I didn’t know what it was. I was hoping you could tell me.”
Henry closed his eyes and tried to convince himself he didn’t just hear what he thought he had heard.
“You don’t know what the object is?” Peri asked calmly.
“You don’t know what the object is?” Henry shrieked at the same time, about as uncalmly as possible. “How are we going to get home if we don’t know what the object is?”
He looked over at Peri. “How can we find something when we don’t even know what we’re looking for?”
“Okay, Max,” she decided. “This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”
“So what do we do now?” Henry wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.
Peri considered it. After Henry asked her again, she finally answered. “I’m thinking.”
“What have you thought of so far?”
“Nothing,” she admitted.
Of all the times for Peri to have nothing to say! Since when did a lack of information stop her from talking?
“Max, you have to think,” she said. “Where in the store did you find it? Maybe I’ve seen it before.”
“In the back. In one of those boxes against the wall.”
The back room was full of boxes, things Peri’s grandfather sent back from his antique hunts and expeditions around the world. Ethan, Peri’s father, couldn’t keep up with all of it, and most shipments sat around unopened or unpacked for months.
“Can you describe what it looked like?” she asked.
“It was a doll…or some kind of toy…or maybe it was a salt shaker…or a statue.” Max tried to describe it by holding up his hands and showing how tall it was, but he wasn’t clear even about that. “It was…just a little…thing. A toy…yes, I think it was a toy. But maybe not.” He looked questioningly up at his brother. “Do you think it could have been a toy?”
“How would I know?” Henry screamed. “I’ve never seen it!”
“That’s all you remember?” Peri asked.
“I told you already—that’s why I brought it up to show you!”
For a minute, they stood silently and gave each other dirty looks.
“Yep,” Henry decided. “This is a disaster.”
“Max,” Peri tried again. “The only way we can get home is if we find the object. You have to think harder. We need you to tell us something about it so we know where to start.”
“I told you already. It was some kind of toy…I think.” An idea came to him. “Maybe it was a paper-weight!”
“This will be easy,” Henry said finally. “All we have to do is find someone around here who can read Max’s mind.”
“Hello, my name is Henry Hawkins,” he said, pretending to talk to someone. “I’m hoping you can tell us where in the world are we right now. Oh, and do you happen to know what year it is? By the way, have you seen an object around here? It’s the one Max has a picture of in his mind. You can ask him about it. I’m sure you’ll find out all about it since there’s nothing else in that brain of his!”
Max hesitated before he told his brother the bad news. “I don’t think that’s going to work.”
“I’m kidding!” Henry said angrily. “People are going to think we’re crazy if we say that. You know, there were times in history when crazy people were hanged!”
“That is true,” Peri had to agree.
“But don’t worry,” Henry said to Max. “If we can find out where and when we are and avoid getting hanged, we’ll be fine. We can spend the rest of our lives looking for an object that might be a statue or a toy or a doll. But I don’t mind. It’s not like I wanted to do anything else with my life!”
“Look, somehow this will work out,” Peri said. “Just remember we didn’t have a plan that first time.”
“Don’t remind me,” Henry groaned.
There was no way Henry would ever get used to this weirdness. But how could anyone really get used to going back in time? It was like opening a closet door in your house and unexpectedly finding different rooms that weren’t there before.
“Unless one of you has some brilliant idea, we’re stuck here forever,” Henry decided. He looked at Peri to see what she thought of that.
She was too busy looking down at what she was wearing to answer.
“Would you stop worrying about how you look and help me think?” Henry huffed.
“Henry, we have to figure out what year this is and where we are. I thought our clothes might give us some clues.”
Because he usually made it his policy not to let Peri think she was right, Henry rolled his eyes. Only then did he look down at what he was wearing too. He tried to think of the right word to describe their clothes.
“These are pretty nasty,” Max said then.
The long tunics they wore were baggy and hung down to their knees. If it weren’t for the belts and heavy tights they wore, anyone seeing them would probably have thought they were about to go wash a car.
“Didn’t we use things like this in the sack race at camp?” Max asked as he held out his shirt to see how wide it actually was.
“You know what, Max? I think we did.” Peri laughed understandingly, which only annoyed Henry more. They didn’t have time to waste on being understanding.
“I wouldn’t laugh if I were you,” Henry said to her. “You look like Little Red Riding Hood.”
“Except not as pretty,” Max added.
“What do you mean by that?” Peri said, much less understandingly.
“I mean your clothes are all plain. And they’re the color of dirty socks.”
It was true. The frock and cape she had on were made from some kind of rough, gray fabric. They covered her entire body except for the faded brown stockings and leather shoes.
“What is it with these things?” Peri complained. “The entire history of the world is full of itchy wool stockings. Everywhere I go I have them on. Exactly when does someone invent something more comfortable?”
“Can’t you even guess where we are?” Henry pleaded with Peri.
“If we had a dog, I bet we could find our way out of here,” Max said.
It was Max’s answer to everything: a dog. He wanted one more than anything, but no matter how often he mentioned it to his mother, she said not until Max could prove he was responsible enough to take care of it.
His disgusting aquarium at home wasn’t doing Max any favors. The water was always murky, even after the few times he remembered to change it. Max could barely see the one fish that was still alive, and it lived among the coffee-grounds-looking stuff floating everywhere. To make matters worse, Peri told Max it wasn’t coffee grounds.
“Stop worrying about getting a dog, Max, and start worrying about where we are!” Henry looked over nervously at Peri then. “What if we’re in the middle of the Amazon rain forest? What if this forest goes on for hundreds and hundreds of miles?”
So many horrible ideas kept popping up in Henry’s head now, he couldn’t stop. “Or what if it starts to snow? What if it floods—”
“I get it, Henry.” Peri kicked the damp dirt and went to examine the nearby trees. “First of all, this isn’t a rain forest. The air is too cool and there is no swamp around us. And look—there are acorns everywhere.”
Henry agreed, even though all forests looked the same to him.
“Do you think this forest is haunted?” he asked before he could stop himself. It wasn’t that he really thought a forest could be haunted. Still, it would be nice to have Peri say it wasn’t possible.
“I guess it could be,” Peri said instead.
It was not the answer Henry had hoped to hear.
She left him standing there as she went over to the biggest tree near them. “We’ll find out soon enough,” she said as she snapped off a small branch. She held it up for him to see. “And anyway, look at this tree. It doesn’t grow in a rain forest. It looks a lot like the ones we have—”
The children all turned to see a man hurrying toward them. He was stout and shabby, and the burlap tunic he wore didn’t do much to dissuade Max that this man might actually be a walking sack of potatoes. A grubby old hog, tied around the neck with a rope, straggled behind him.
“That is his lordship’s tree, and you best be leaving it be!” the man cried.
Are you mad?” the man shouted as he ran toward them as fast as his short legs and tattered, worn boots could take him. He dropped the wool sack he carried and let go of the rope he had been using to lead his hog. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“Ummm…sorry?” Peri wasn’t sure why she was apologizing, but it seemed like good thing to do. She broke off a nearby twig. “All I did was pull a little branch like this and—”
“Stop! No more. I beg you! Keep your hand off!”
Peri timidly let the branch drop to the ground.
“Dost thou know,” the man huffed, “only fallen wood can be collected?”
“What? Sorry, but I don’t underst—”
“There is to be no hunting or clearing of the land!”
The children glanced hesitantly at one another, their eyes asking who was going to be the first one speak to this distraught conservationist.
“Verily,” the man said solemnly. “It is so.”
The hog pushed its way between them to nose through the nearby leaves and excavate an acorn. At the same time, the man came over and picked up the stick Peri had just dropped.
“Wait! Why do you get to keep it?” Max cried.
“It was on the ground, as it should be.” The man explained and shoved it into his sack.
“That isn’t fair,” Max complained. “It’s only on the ground because you told Peri to drop it.”
The man looked the children up and down as he listened to them.
“From where do ye come?” he asked cautiously. “From far away, are ye?”
Before Peri or Henry had a chance to talk, Max burst out with, “Wallingford!”
You didn’t say that out loud, Peri pleaded in her head. Please, Max, tell me you didn’t. But he did. What was he thinking, telling someone where they were really from?
“You’ve probably never of it,” she added quickly.
“Wallingford?” the man said. “Aye, there be the fine fortress there, I am told.”
A gas station, paint store, and two bakeries, Peri thought to herself. The antique store, of course. But a fortress? No. There was definitely not one of those anywhere in town.
“What be your story?” the man asked. “How did you get all the way here from Wallingford?”
“You don’t want to know,” Henry said under his breath.
Peri glared at him before she turned back to the man with a sweet smile. “We are only traveling through.”
That answer seemed to satisfy the man.
“Would you be able to tell us which direction will take us out of these woods?” she added.
The man wasn’t much help. “It is all woods.”
Henry’s eyes widened. “All of it?”
“Can you share with me where you need to go?” the man asked them.
“We just need a road we can follow,” Peri explained.
“Aye, that would be the Icknield Way.”
Before Peri and the boys could get too hopeful, the man went on.
“That would be too far for you to travel though, and you would get lost anyway.” He waved his arm out at the path before them. “The only other way is what you see here.”
Peri considered the path where she stood. The best parts of it were rocks and dirt, flattened by others before them. A lot of it was still covered with overgrown shrubs and tree roots. It wasn’t exactly the kind of road she was hoping to find.
“How do cars get around on this?” Max asked.
Peri hung her head to hide that she was cringing. A car? This man looked about as likely to have a car as she did to have a spaceship.
“The carts do fine along the path,” the man answered.
“No, a car,” Max corrected him.
From the look on the man’s face, he didn’t know what Max had meant.
“The thing with four wheels?” Max explained. “You sit in it and drive it where you want to go?”
“With a horse?” The man looked very confused.
“No. A person pushes a pedal and it goes.”
The man rubbed his chin while he considered that. “Is it magic?” he finally asked.
“No. Lots of people have them,” Max assured him.
“In Wallingford, do they? I say, what a fine place Wallingford must be.” The man shrugged as he tied his sack closed and adjusted it on his shoulders again. “I fear there is no such thing as that here.”
“No worries!” Peri jumped in to say before Max could screw things up even more. She glared at him with a look that told him to stop talking.
“Anyway,” she said to the man. “If you could show us the best direction to go…”
He shook his head sadly. “You must know this forest is not the place for children to wander alone.”
“Why not?” Henry didn’t look like he actually wanted to hear the answer.
The man looked around the forest and back at the children, as if he were trying to decide if he could trust them. There were too many dangers lurking, he told them. With each new warning he gave, Henry’s eyes grew bigger. He looked like he was watching a horror movie.
“The boar are a problem,” the man warned them. “Sometimes the wolves as well. Then the larger creatures are not far from here. There is—”
“Can we walk with you?” Peri cut him off to ask. “That is, until we are out of the forest?”
“Aye, you can.” The man took hold of the hog’s rope again. “Though I must say it is a custom in this part of the woods for each traveler to share a tale to pass the time.”
“What kind of tale?” Henry asked uneasily.
“As you choose.” A shrug of the man’s shoulders showed it didn’t matter to him. “So which of ye will be first to speak?”
None of the children volunteered. In fact, all of them tried very hard to avoid his gaze.
“Here.” The man pulled Peri’s stick back out of his sack and broke it into four parts. He hid the ends of them in his fist. “Pick your piece. He who holds the shortest is the first to speak.”
Barlow is my name,” the man told the children. He didn’t seem bothered when he found himself with the shortest stick.
“My heart wants to tell you of how it once was in these parts. The fond memories are too painful, as this land is all too different now.”
He stopped and looked around the forest. “I suppose I can tell you, as you are from far away in Wallingford.”
“Why are you looking over there?” Henry followed Barlow’s eyes. “Is it a wolf?”
Barlow shook his head. “Checking for the ears of the court.”
Ears of the court? What is this guy talking about? Henry wondered. He looked to Peri, hoping she would be able to tell him. She was too busy listening to Barlow and waved Henry away, as if he were something sticky on her hand she wanted to shake off.
“Every tree, stone, and stream in these woods is for His Grace. Methinks the words we speak are too.”
“Every tree?” Max asked. “Is that why you yelled at us for taking that branch off?”
“Aye.” Barlow looked down solemnly at the hog beside him. “And now Cressida here will be his too.”
“What do you mean?”
“She has been with me since she was a runt. Now I am leading her to Hertfordshire, where I must surrender her. I will never see her again.”
“That’s horrible!” Max cried.
“That is the way it is.” Barlow shrugged. “Many of the finest animals in the county will be handed over by the ides of February. From then on, they will be guarded so no goblin can get to them.”
Wait, wait, wait…goblins? Henry really hoped that wasn’t what Barlow had said. Weren’t goblins only in fairy tales, like Rumpelstiltskin?
A horrible realization suddenly flashed in Henry’s mind. Were they stuck in a fairy tale? Was that even possible?
If there was a way for someone to moan and shudder, that’s what Henry did right now.
“Goblins?” Max repeated. “What are those?”
“Surely you know the goblins!” Barlow said firmly. “For they will steal from right under your nose.”
Henry laughed nervously as he tried to tell himself Barlow must be kidding. Goblins who steal? Hah, that’s really funny.
“Or kill a man for use of his blood,” Barlow added solemnly.
Okay, maybe he’s not kidding. Henry tried to collect his thoughts and think of something smart to say.
“Uh…blood? Like real blood?” was what came out instead. So much for sounding smart.
“Why does someone need so many animals anyway?” Max went on to ask.
Hold on! Back up! Henry wanted to yell. Who said we were done talking about goblins that kill for blood? Shouldn’t they figure out the fairy tale they were in before they wasted their time worrying about a pig? (A pig that had only acorns on the mind, by the way.)
Henry tried to grab Peri’s arm, but she swatted him away.
“Stop it! I want to listen to him,” she snapped.
No! Not again. The last thing Henry wanted was to have this be like last time, when they found themselves in turn-of-the-century New York City. That was when Henry realized he was the only reasonable, practical kid among them.
It’s kind of hard to be reasonable when you’re lost in the middle of fairy tale that has evil goblins.
“—for the dowry,” were the only words he heard Barlow saying now.
“Whose dowry it that?” Peri asked.
“The last daughter of is to marry. The ceremony will be on the new moon next month. All the finest animals are to be brought for the wedding day.”
Max had an idea. “Will anyone really miss one hog? Maybe no one will notice if you don’t bring Cressida.”
Barlow wouldn’t even consider it. “Nay, defy orders I could never do. I would be red handed or put to the horn if anyone found out.” He looked down sadly at Cressida to add, “She will not miss me for long. They will slaughter her soon enough.”
Medieval punishment was varied and often brutal. Being put to the horn (having a horn blower announce a crime to a village) and the pillory (above) were some of the least severe penalties.
“You mean they’re going to eat her? They can’t do that!” Max bent down to pet Cressida. “She’s too friendly to eat.”
The hog nudged Max away so she could get on with poking under a moss-covered log.
“It should be no surprise to you.” Barlow sighed. “It was better back in the old days when the king kept himself busy over in Normandy and let us be. These days…why, the whole country has been turned upside down.”
“What do you mean?” Peri asked.
Barlow began to count on his fingers “First, the king’s father takes the land from their mother. Then their mum decides this new husband of hers is rot, so she takes the boys from him. What a stir they cause! You would hope it would all be settled once the land was divided up. But no! Their father throws the mum in prison then and the sons learn nothing from it. They keep fighting amongst themselves. I say, with a family such as that, why would anyone care about my Cressida here?”
Barlow stopped talking when he noticed the troubled faces of the three children.
“Of course even those in Wallingford have heard this news?” he asked them.
“We don’t hear much news where we live,” Peri said.
“Consider yourself lucky! For here, it is nothing but talk of the king and his brothers. The inheritance is all that matters to them.”
The Crusades were the battles European Christians began in the attempt to take the Holy Land from Muslims. These holy wars lasted almost two hundred years.
Barlow began to mimic whiny voices. “It’s mine!”
“No, that land is for me!”
“Give it back! Father said I could have it!”
“Mother promised it to me!”
Barlow stopped and shook his head in anger. “So decide it they do! And we get our new king—but what does His Grace do? He goes off on a crusade before you can say ‘England’s for sale!’ And wouldn’t you know it, he went missing on his journey home. What a flop that trek proved to be.”
“Where do you think he is?” Peri added.
“Everyone knows where he is. Austria! King Leopold is keeping him, and all the talk is of the ransom to be paid—by poor men like me, of course! The only man who might be able to fix things is his brother, the regent. But his brother is too busy enjoying the crown for himself. He says he does not want the people of this fine land to pay such a ransom. It will cost less to let his brother stay in prison. Of course, he has no problem using my taxes to build another castle. How is that for brotherly love?”
“Well,” Barlow added under his breath. “A king and his family must live somewhere, I suppose.”
“You said the brother is king now?” Peri asked.
“He is only to be regent while the king is away, but you best be not saying that out loud. He has all but crowned himself already. If there was ever a worse king, I swear I have never heard of him.”
I knew it! Henry’s head was spinning. He might not know what antique they were looking for, but he knew for sure they were in a fairy tale. It would be his luck to spend forever in a story that had a horrible king. It probably had a mean stepsister in it too.
“There you have it,” Barlow said to end his story.
“So what is the name of this king in your tale?” Peri asked.
“Who is to say anymore?” He sighed heavily. “Richard? John? You will get a different answer from each person you ask.”
“And you said they are brothers?”
“Aye.” And with that, Barlow loosened Cressida’s rope a little. “Stay here a moment. I best be taking Cressida to drink at the stream while the water runs calm.”
He guided the hog through a break in the trees and around fallen logs that covered the way to the stream.
Before he got too far, he turned around to call out to the children. “Don’t be pulling down things from trees that might bring you trouble, aye?”
The children watched as Barlow went on with Cressida to the water’s edge. Barlow cupped his own hands to take a drink as the hog stayed by his side. He was out of earshot now, and the children spoke quietly.
“If you ever become king and are held prisoner,” Max said to Henry, “I promise I’ll look for you.”
Henry ignored what Max said and jumped in front of Peri. “I know where we are!”
“Me too—” Peri started to say, sounding like she didn’t want to admit it.
“Where?” Max asked.
“But how can we be back here?” Peri looked too confused for Henry’s comfort. “Where do we even start? It’s—”
“Impossible,” Henry interrupted her to say.
“So long ago,” she said at the same time.
Wait. Henry stopped to consider what Peri had just said. So long ago? What was she talking about?
“Where are we?” Max asked again, more impatiently this time.
Peri looked him straight in the eye when she answered. “We’re in medieval times, five hundred years ago.”
That was absolutely, completely, positively, without a doubt not what Henry expected to hear.
“Wait a minute,” she added. “The Middle Ages lasted a while. It could be anywhere from five hundred to nine hundred years ago.”
Anywhere between five and nine hundred years!” Henry was having a hard time getting the words out.
“Be quiet!” Peri glared at him. “Do you want Barlow to hear you?”
“This is the Middle Ages! There are bears and wild boar. And goblins! And kings being captured! We’re never going to get out of here alive.”
“Henry, it might not be that bad—”
“We can’t stand around here doing nothing. We need a plan!”
“What are you talking about? We have one.”
“We do?” Henry didn’t look like he agreed.
“That’s not a plan. That’s not even a sentence!”
“We have to find the antique Max had.” She spoke extra slowly so Henry could hear the frustration in her voice.
“No,” Max told them. “We have to get out of the forest before a boar eats us.”
“That’s true,” Peri agreed before she turned back to Henry. “Then we have to find the antique Max had.”
“But how are we going to do any of that?”
“How would I know?” Peri shrugged.
“That’s what I mean.” Henry snapped. “We need a plan! We can’t stand around doing nothing.”
“We aren’t standing around doing nothing,” Peri corrected him. “We are waiting for Barlow so we don’t risk running into a wolf. Or a boar.”
Henry didn’t look convinced.
“You know,” Peri said seriously, “a wild animal would eat you before it ate me. You’re smaller, so you’d be easier prey.”
A thought came to Henry and he looked over at his younger, smaller brother.
Max crossed his arms and planted his feet firmly in the ground. “No way! I’m not going to be dinner for anyone.”
They all stood there awkwardly, which was the only thing three children who were lost and worried about a wolf attacking them probably could do.
Ugh…I wish I were back in the store reading, Peri thought. I really did not want to go to the Middle Ages today.
She closed her eyes and tried to come up with some ideas but her mind kept going back to the same thing. It would be so nice to be on my sofa right now. Why can’t I be curled up with my book and a bag of—
“So what are we going to do?” Henry interrupted her silence to ask.
Peri didn’t answer.
“Are you ever going to open your eyes?”
“Give me a minute. I’m trying to think,” Peri said. Henry had such an annoying way of asking her the worst question at the worst time. Why was it always up to her to have an answer to everything? It was so much pressure!
“About things my grandfather told me. The Middle Ages…there’s so much that went on, he must have read me a story about it at some point.”
“What did he say?”
She opened her eyes. “That’s what I’m trying to remember.”
“Are we going to see a king and queen?” Max chimed in.
“I don’t know.”
“How about knights and catapults?” he added quickly.
Once again, Peri said she didn’t know.
“Or a dungeon? And maybe a wizard who changes things into gold?” Max gave Peri no chance to answer and went on. “How about one of those horse matches? You know, where knights race at each other with swords?”
“Max,” Peri huffed. “I said he read me a story, not an encyclopedia. And those swords and races have proper names…only I can’t remember what they are right this minute.”
“Okay, but are we going to see them?”
“What part of ‘I DON’T KNOW’ don’t you understand?” Peri snapped. “Give me a minute to think.”
“But what about castles? Do you think we’ll see—”
She didn’t want to brag, but she did know quite a few things about castles. That wasn’t going to help here in the middle of a forest though. She took a deep breath and looked around to get some ideas that might be more useful now.
“Okay…well…it’s feudal. I know that.”
Henry’s face dropped. “Seriously?”
“I’m pretty sure…yes, I’m sure.”
“Then what are we going to do?” Henry stammered. “We’re doomed!”
“Stop overreacting. Geez, you have such a bad attitude.” It really bugged Peri when he got this way.
“You said it was futile!”
“I said feudal. You know, as in a feudal society.”
The look on the boys’ faces said they didn’t know.
“That whole system based on land—who owned it, who protected it, who worked on it,” she rattled off. She was still met with blank looks by Henry and Max.
She threw her hands up in the air and huffed in exasperation. There was no way this was going to work. She didn’t care how helpless and clueless Henry and Max were. Helpless and clueless were not what she needed right now.
Where was her grandfather when she needed him? Why did he have to be away on another one of his trips? He always had a story or answer ready, and she could use that about now.
“Where to start?” he would probably say. “The Middle Ages…”
Then he would press his two hands together, his fingertips poised up to his chin, and stare out the window.
Scribes made books by hand using quills and parchment (the best was vellum, made from calf skin). The work was tedious and tiresome.
“You probably have an idea in your head about the Middle Ages,” he would look back over to say. “But this was a time when not a lot of information was written down, so much of what we know comes from stories that have been passed down and artwork that has survived.”
“The printing press wasn’t invented yet, so books were made by hand, which meant they weren’t something you saw lining the average person’s shelves. They were expensive and treasured and kept by those who knew how to read—and people who could read were almost as rare as the books themselves.
“The stories you’ve heard probably have kings and queens, castles and dungeons, and wizards and horse matches where knights raced toward each other with swords (jousting tournaments, they were called, and the swords were called lances). All of that might make you thinkthe Middle Ages were a mythical time.
The sextant, hourglass and equatorial ring were used to navigate and measure time and distance.
“What you need to remember is that it wasn’t mythical to people who lived then. It’s easy for us to use what we know about science and the world today and turn their ideas upside down.
Astrological signs were thought to control different parts of the body.
“Today we can explain why drinking dirty water makes us sick or that clean surgical instruments save more patients than determining their horoscope. But we forget people haven’t always had the same scientific theories and instruments to help them.
“In medieval times, people relied on alchemy and astrology to explain the world around them. They had tools and information they relied on—which, I daresay, is what we do in today’s world too, and someday people will probably read about us and think a lot of our ideas and conclusions are quite silly.”
Henry and Max didn’t hear that though, because instead of having Peri’s grandfather around to talk to them, they had their stepsister. And even though Peri didn’t want to admit it, she knew she wasn’t going to be as helpful.
The Black Death has not doth past a goodly length in time,” Peri announced.
Max squinted at her, as if he was trying to see what his stepsister was doing. Behind him stood Henry, who had such a look of confusion, it was as if Peri had suddenly sprouted horns on her head.
“Methinks the weight of our journey is hither,” she added.
If there were a way to look perplexed and annoyed at the same time, Henry had mastered it now.
Why can’t she ever be normal? he thought.
“What’s she saying?” Max mumbled to Henry.
“Oh, forget it.” Peri huffed. “Why do I even bother? Don’t you know anything? The Black Death, the plague. I’m trying to tell you that the plague happens in the Middle Ages!”
Now that both Henry and Max understood what she was saying, they spoke at the same time.
“What’s that?” Max asked.
“The plague?” Henry’s stomach sunk at the mentioning of it. He looked around frantically, as if the plague were going to jump out from behind a tree any moment.
“I think so.” Peri nodded.
“When does the plague start?” Henry asked. “I mean, what year?”
“There was more than one time?”Henry shrieked.
“Well, I’m pretty sure it came more than once.”
The plague spread quickly through villages and homes and killed most people within a matter of days.
The only thing Henry could think of then was that he was going to catch the plague. And to think, only a short time ago, he was sitting by himself at a table pondering chess moves and thinking his life couldn’t get trickier. What a fool he had been.
“Are you okay?” Peri finally asked him. “You look a little pale.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Max scratched his nose.
“Stop picking your nose,” Henry said. “This is serious!”
“I’m only itching it.”
Henry was going to disagree with his brother but let it drop. “Fine. Do what you want. But stop asking so many dumb questions!”
He turned back to Peri. In the uncomfortable silence, they both turned to watch Barlow down at the river. It was more to keep from looking at each other than anything else. Barlow was crouched down on the riverbank, drinking water out of his hands.
“I don’t remember all the details,” Peri finally said. “I think I read somewhere the worst time was around 1300.”
She was trying to sound positive, Henry knew. He wasn’t going to fall into that trap again.
“You kind of remember? You can’t kind of remember. You have to remember. The 1300s could be 1300 or 1399. We need to know which it was.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know. All I remember is it happened during the Middle Ages around that time…I mean, this time…maybe.”
“So how are we going to find out if it’s happening right now?”
“Well, that’s easy. It will be very obvious.” Peri sounded very matter of fact. “There will be lots of people covered with pus and sores and their skin will turn black and they’ll be vomiting up blood.”
Henry couldn’t believe their bad luck. When Peri said they had gone back to the Middle Ages, it didn’t seem worse than anything else she had thrown at him before. After all, when your mom marries a guy with an antique shop and you get a stepsister who reads most of the time and takes all the bags of chips and leaves you with bruised apples to snack on, you start to get used to life plodding along at a consistent level of crumminess.
But this was worse. In fact, in his ever-changing list of things Henry never wanted to face, including being on a capsizing boat and having his classmate Lila find out he once said she was pretty, catching the plague was about as high on that list as it could get.
“We need to get home right now!” Henry cried. “I don’t want to catch the plague.”
“Can one of you tell me what you’re talking about? What is it?” Max repeated.
“Seriously?” Henry didn’t know where to start. “The bubonic plague, the Black Death, the most horrible disease ever? The one that is spread by rats and fleas and is really contagious and rots your skin? The one that killed lots of people?”
“Actually, it killed about one-third of the people living in Europe,” Peri stepped in to say. “More than twenty million people died.” She turned to Henry to add, “But FYI, I don’t think people around here call it that. I’m pretty sure someone named it that much later. And besides, there are definitely lots of other awful diseases just as bad as the bubonic plague.”
Once she saw the growing look of horror on Henry’s face, she added, “What? I’m not saying the plague isn’t horrible, but there are other really horrible, disgusting diseases around too.”
“Thanks,” Henry said, but he didn’t mean it.
“Are we going to get the plague?” Max asked.
Peri shook her head. “I doubt it.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“You need to be totally sure,” Henry insisted.
“How can I be totally sure?” Peri sounded annoyed now. “This is new for me too, you know. It’s not like I’ve spent a whole lot of time wandering around the Middle Ages. How can I know—”
Henry didn’t wait for her to finish. “What if one of us gets the plague? Then what will we do?”
“We’ll probably all get it then! There, is that what you want me to say? We’ll all die incredibly painful deaths.”
Henry felt sick to his stomach.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean that in a bad way,” she mumbled.
“Look,” she went on, her voice sounding sweet and cheerful. Henry wasn’t buying it. “We will somehow manage to end up nine hundred years—or however many—from now in Wallingford, Connecticut, with our parents. So it obviously can’t be that awful, can it?”
“But we might get it,” Henry insisted. “Maybe this is it and we die now and never go back to the future and everything is over for us! Or what if we don’t die but get really, really sick and lose our arms and legs?” Henry was even confusing himself now. “And we go back home but without any limbs—”
“Henry, I’m trying to be optimistic. Work with me.”
“Aren’t you worried about it too? We have to find out exactly when it happened.”
Peri gave a deep sigh. “I really wish my grandfather were here.”
“Stop saying that. He isn’t. So you…I mean, we…have to take care of this ourselves.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a forest and there aren’t a whole lot of specific details and information around here.” Peri shrugged. “Besides, if you catch the plague, which I really don’t think you will, there is nothing you can do about it anyway.”
From the look on Henry’s face, he hadn’t thought about that.
“There has to be someone who can help us,” Henry hoped out loud. “Maybe Barlow can tell us if there’s been a plague here or not.”
“Honestly, Henry, what are you going to say to him? Barlow, any chance you have the inside scoop on the Black Death? Because, if not, let me give you a heads-up. It’s nasty, and it’s going to kill most of the people you know. Oh, by the way, there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
From the direction of the river came a voice. “Got yourselves all worried now?”
Barlow led Cressida back up to the path.
“There is no need to fear these woods.” He tapped his pouch he had tied to his belt. “I carry a talisman now, so we are well protected. The goblins will cause no mischief.”
“How about wolves and boar?” Henry managed to ask.
Barlow waved the question off, as if it wasn’t worth considering. “If we talk as loud as we have, they will know not to bother us.”
Talismans were believed to bring good luck to their owners. Amulets were kept for protection. Often, people used the words interchangeably.
Henry might have said something else if it hadn’t been for the piercing scream. It came from farther in the woods, in the direction the path led.
Barlow turned his head to face the girl’s voice that had sounded. When it came again, he began to yell.
“The dragon! It must have someone!”
Dragon? The word hit Henry so abruptly he couldn’t brace himself or collect his thoughts. It was almost like the time he got hit in the back of the head with a basketball because he was tying his shoe and not paying attention to the game.
No one told him about dragons in the Middle Ages. A tiny part of him said it couldn’t be real. If there were dragons, he would have definitely heard about them before now. That seemed to be a detail someone would have mentioned. Then again, this whole experience had been full of unexpected discoveries.
“This is amazing!” Max yelled. “There are goblins and dragons?”
“And the plague,” Henry sighed. “Don’t forget that.”
Henry promised himself he would never again complain about Wallingford being boring. Even if he never made it home, because he died from the plague or was eaten by a dragon, he would always remember Wallingford as a nice, safe place to live.
Barlow dropped Cressida’s rope and started to run as best he could over the uneven ground. He ripped off the largest branch from the nearest tree.
“Follow with Cressida!” he yelled back to the children. “Hurry!”
“Why does he get to break that off, but we don’t?” Max complained.
Barlow didn’t hear that. He was already off into the woods, holding the branch up high and ready to use it to fight off whatever came his way.
Peri grabbed Cressida’s rope and tried to run after Barlow. Cressida had other plans, though, and wouldn’t move. Peri pulled on the rope, but Cressida would only wander forward at her usual slow pace.
“Come on, I need your help,” Peri yelled to Henry and Max. She tried to hold Cressida around the middle and push the hog forward.
Cressida put up a fight and squealed in protest. Peri tried again, but the hog kept wiggling itself out of her grasp.
“We have to pick her up,” Peri huffed. “Come on.”
“Are you crazy?” Henry complained. “We can’t carry that pig, even if all three of us try.”
“We don’t have a choice!” Peri snapped. “Do you want to lose Barlow? Or get eaten by a dragon too?”
It would be faster than dying of the plague, Henry thought.
“Henry, stop working yourself into a tizzy and grab that end. Max, you take the middle, around her stomach.”
Henry didn’t complain much because Peri looked very determined. Whenever that happened, Henry knew it was better just to keep his mouth shut. Still, he made sure he looked very uneager as he took hold of Cressida. Of course Peri would give me the back end, he mumbled to himself.
I heard something and looked that way,” a girl said, choked up and upset. “Through the brambles there. I saw it!”
Barlow was leaning into the overgrown shrubs not far off the path but turned around to listen to the young girl. She was not much older than Peri, with long red hair falling out of the braid that went down her back.
At the sight of Barlow, Cressida wiggled and fought to get free. She twisted and grunted until Peri and the boys let her go. Her tumble to the ground ended with an ungraceful thump. After a quick recovery to stand back up, she bolted toward Barlow and didn’t look back.
“The dragon.” Barlow sighed heavily, sounding like he’d been waiting for this to happen.
“No!” the girl cried. “A spider!”
“A spider?” Max complained. “We carried that pig all the way here for a spider?”
Peri had to agree. A spider? Honestly, they should just have Cressida eat the tiny pest and be done with it.
“You must help me. Please!” The girl’s voice shook as she spoke.
“You want us to catch the spider?” Max asked her. “No, Dringle, my dog.” The girl made it sound like it should be obvious. “He ran away, and I have to find him.”
She told them her name was Emily but didn’t say anything else. She had been walking with her dog and had not even thought to keep him on a rope. He was named Dringle for a reason.
“Most days he does nothing but look for a place in the sun to sleep,” she explained. “He does not even care to bark at strangers. At most he will open an eye, though even that is only for a moment.”
“Aye,” Barlow agreed. “He is dringle for sure.”
“We were fine until he saw something in the bushes,” Emily went on. “In no time, Dringle was in after it.” She looked back into the bushes with dread. “It looked like a hare, but I might be wrong. I tried to follow him, but he ran so fast, and then I saw that horrible spider.”
“No.” Barlow shook his head with certainty. “In this part of the forest, that was no hare. It was the dragon, for certain.”
“I have to find Dringle right away!”
“Which way did he run?” Peri asked.
Emily pointed in the direction they had yet to go. “That way.”
Barlow looked over at the clumps of heavy brush that lined the trail ahead and started to elbow his way through it.
“What does your dog look like?” Max asked.
It was the most interested Max had been all day, Peri decided. If ever she were in a life-threatening situation that required Max’s help, Peri truly hoped she had a dog with her.
“There are no footprints to be seen,” Barlow said when he tramped back out. “That does not mean the dragon was not there.” He paused to consider the dark woods around them. “And it does not mean the dragon is not somewhere near.”
“My Dringle…” Emily’s eyes filled with tears.
Okay, the screaming about a spider was kind of lame. But her dog is missing. Peri suddenly felt sorry for Emily.
“Why don’t you walk with us?” Peri offered. “We’re going that way, and we can help you look for your dog.”
Henry grabbed Peri by the arm and spoke under his breath. “That is not part of our plan! And this is crazy—”
“Stop pulling my arm,” Peri snapped.
“All we’re doing is wandering through a forest meeting strange people,” Henry added, a little too loudly. “We’re never going to find the object here!”
“Have you lost a dog as well?” Emily asked.
“No, not really…” Henry sputtered. “It’s hard to explain.”
Peri shot him a dirty look. No it isn’t! Peri almost yelled. What’s so hard about saying we’re looking for something Max lost? If they had any hope of this hunt being successful and finding the object, they needed to try everything and everyone. Maybe they were meeting Emily for a reason.
“’Tis true,” Barlow told the girl now. “Methinks you best join us. There is no sense in staying here to keep a bug company.”
Henry regained his composure enough to speak.
“Actually, spiders are not bugs. Bugs have six legs. Spiders are arachnids and have eight legs.”
Emily smiled nervously through her flushed face, as if she was rethinking her decision to walk with this group.
“They be from far away, near Wallingford,” Barlow quickly told her, as if that explained Henry’s weirdness.
She raised her eyebrows. “That is quite far for children to travel alone.”
About nine hundred years too far, Peri thought.
“Are you on a pilgrimage?” Emily asked.
“Us?” Peri couldn’t hide her surprise. “No, nothing like that.”
It was a safe guess by Emily, considering how many people were on pilgrimages lately. Everyone who was anyone was venturing out to visit religious shrines and churches or any other place that could offer them forgiveness for their sins or give a little more peace of mind.
“Are you in a nunnery?” Emily asked Peri then.
That got a laugh from Henry.
“No!” Peri couldn’t shake her head fast enough. “We are on our way home… from visiting.”
Emily waited. Apparently, she expected more of an answer.
“It’s a long story,” Henry said.
Max suddenly remembered something. “A story!” he yelled enthusiastically. “Emily has to tell a story.”
Finally! Peri yelled in her head. Max said something useful!
Barlow explained how they were taking turns sharing tales and insisted it would help pass the time. Emily didn’t look all that enthusiastic or convinced.
“I do not know many stories that would please you. I fear anything I could tell you would put you to sleep.”
“Fadoodle!” Barlow huffed. “I have heard more tales than you can imagine. Funny, witty, frightening, dull… If I knew how to, I might even write down all I have heard over the years. What a book that would make! It would become a classic!”
“I suppose I can tell you a tale my mother once told me,” she finally offered.
“Wonderful!” Barlow cried. He tied his rope around Cressida again and began to lead her back onto the path. “Begin as you wish.”
“My story is about a young maiden, Maud.” A look of sadness covered Emily’s face. “She lived in a castle, though she never went outside.”
“Well, she did before.”
“Before she was told she was to marry Frederick the Buglebeard.”
“The buglebeard.” Emily made a face, as if she had just taken a swig of sour milk.
Barlow scratched his head. “Too bristly, is he?”
Emily nodded. “It was rumored his beard is so long and scruffy the bison confuse him as one of their own.”
“Such a buglebeard would not win a maiden’s heart,” Barlow admitted.
“Why did she have to marry him?” Peri asked.
“It was arranged by her parents,” Emily explained. She paused for a moment and turned to Peri. “Surely it is the same in Wallingford?”
“I don’t think so. Why?” Peri said before she could stop herself.
How could I say something so stupid? Of course I should know if I was going to get married soon. Now Emily is going to wonder why I don’t know. Then what do I say?
Emily’s face turned red and she sounded flustered. “I say that only for…” She finally spit it out. “It is the clothes you wear.”
It wasn’t actually the answer Peri was expecting, but she was relieved anyway. My ugly clothes! How could I be so dumb? Emily thinks we’re peasants.
Peri knew she had to keep her mouth shut and act like she didn’t know anything. She really hated doing that.
Nobles and peasants had very different customs about getting married, Emily explained now. Most girls from nobility got married when they were around fourteen or fifteen years old, but they were often betrothed from the time they were born. Marriages were a way for families to secure titles and allegiances with other lands.
“It is very different…” Peri looked back at Emily and tried her hardest to sound sincere. “I mean, for girls like me.”
“Aye,” Emily agreed.
Peasant girls not only chose whom they wanted to marry. They also got married later, usually when they were in their late teens. It took that long for most families to afford a dowry.
“And your number of children is not so great,” Emily added.
Who knew wearing ugly clothes could come in so handy? Peri thought.
“So what happened to Maud?” Max asked impatiently.
“Maud?” Emily paused to remember. “Aye, she hid away in the keep. She told her father she would not marry the prince.”
“Was her father angry?”
“Perhaps, though Maud was his youngest child and he was very fond of her. He knew she had to marry, yet the thought of her leaving and living far away saddened him as well.”
“How about her mother?”
“Her dear mother died not long before this,” Emily mumbled.
The inside of a keep
The words came painfully fast and unexpectedly at Peri. It was definitely not where she thought the story was going.
Her face suddenly felt hot, and she was sure everyone was staring at her. Peri looked away as she struggled to act like nothing was wrong. Was there ever going to be a time when she could hear about a mother dying without it feeling like her insides were being yanked out?
When she looked up, she saw only Henry watching her. Of course. He would be the one to notice.
She didn’t say a word. That alone said a lot. If there was one thing Peri didn’t talk about, it was her own mother’s death. It had been more than two years since she died, but Peri still couldn’t talk about it without having all the horrible feelings and memories swell up inside her. It was easier not to let anyone know how much her mom stayed in her thoughts, all the time and everywhere.
Instead, she gave Henry a quick, flat smile. I’m fine, the look said. I’m completely fine. Never been better. So stop looking at me!
“She passed away in childbirth,” Emily went on. “Then Maud lived with her father and her stepmother, who was with child by now.”
Living alone with her father, having a stepmother, soon to have a new sibling… Peri screamed in her head. No! I’m not even going to go there. I can’t think about this right now. I can’t. I can’t…
“So what did Maud do all day?” Max asked now.
“Needlepoint.” Emily sighed. She made it sound as dull as watching cracks form in the walls.
“That’s it? Did she ever get tired of that?”
“Aye! She thought she was going batty. Even cleaning her teeth became a highlight of her day. All she was allowed to do was needlepoint, which is lovely but, honestly, how many hours can anyone be expected to needlepoint?”
“What happened then?” Henry finally chimed in. “Did she marry that man?”
“Then what did she do?”
“No one knows. She disappeared before—”
A sudden movement in the bushes stopped her. Barlow threw his arms out to stop everyone from walking. He motioned to Emily to be quiet.
They stood frozen as the rustling continued and came to rest inside the dark underbrush.
“It’s in there.” Barlow pointed to where the sound last was.
His voice made whatever was in the bushes move faster to get away from them.
“I saw it!” Emily yelled. “There! It moved that way.”
“Nay, it ran off that way.” Barlow pointed in the other direction.
“Is it the dragon?” Max shouted.
“Nay. It appears too small,” Barlow explained.
He crept over to get a closer look and waved Emily over. Together they tiptoed ahead to get a closer look.
“You know what?” Henry said to Peri.
“Shh!” Peri motioned to him to be quiet.
“Emily said that girl had to get married,” Henry whispered.
“She said the girl was your age.”
“I know. I heard the story too.”
“So if we get stuck here too long, you might have to get married. That’s what girls your age do around here.”
It was a fact not missed by Peri.
“Well, boys your age were sent to monasteries or sent far away from home to work,” Peri said, just to make sure he’d be uneasy about the possibility too.
At that moment, Barlow flew out of the trees and ran back toward the children.
“It’s some wily little creature!” Barlow screamed. “I’ll scare it out of its hiding place!”
The movement came closer. The others jumped and struggled to push their way to the back. Max hid behind Henry, who hid behind Peri. She maneuvered them a few steps back so Cressida would be before them.
“I see it!” Barlow yelled. “Watch yourselves! The bite might be fierce!”
Come out of there this moment!” Emily insisted. She looked down at the bushes in front of her, where the sound had been.
After a long pause, a small voice answered. “No.”
“Who are you?” Emily stood there, looking more annoyed than perplexed.
“No one,” the voice said. “I mean…no one you would know.”
Emily bent down to see where the voice was coming from. After she poked her hand in to get a better look, she turned back to speak to the others.
“It’s a young lad!”
“Go away,” the boy grumbled.
Emily put her hands on her hips and scolded the bush. “Excuse me! I do not care for the way you speak.”
After an awkward moment of everyone watching the bushes, the branches began to part. A young boy worked his way out and stood up to face them, completely embarrassed by what was happening. Even standing among the bushes it was clear he was barely taller than Max. Before he said anything, the boy made an obvious display of holding up his sword in one hand and his bow and arrow in the other.
“I thought you were sent by Sir Harry of Hereford,” the boy admitted to the group. “I fear he will be looking for me by now.”
Emily smirked. “And why would this knight search for you?”
The boy sighed heavily before he answered. “That’s a long story.”
“You’ve come to the right place,” Henry grumbled.
“All of you have scared him away with all your talking!” The boy huffed. “I’ve lost him again!”
“You lost Sir Harry?” Max asked.
“No, the dragon, of course!”
“You saw the dragon?” Peri asked the boy.
“Well, I think it was him. I heard something in the trees here. I don’t know what else it could be.”
“Maybe it was Emily’s dog,” Max said. “He ran this way, and we’re looking for him.”
The boy shook his head. “No. It was no dog. The sound was much too loud.”
As he spoke, he stepped farther out of the bushes, brushing the stray leaves and burs off his clothes.
“Jack is my name.”
“How did you get all the way here?” Emily asked after Jack told them where he lived. “Hereford is more than half a day’s ride from these woods.”
“I have my ways,” he answered proudly. “If I am ever to be a knight, I must learn to travel far from home and fend for myself.”
“You might have your ways, but the forest is no place for a lad your size,” Emily insisted. She paused to take a good look at him. “Just a page for now, are you?”
“It will not be long until I am a squire,” Jack insisted. Then he would be allowed to go with Sir Harry everywhere, from tournaments to hunting trips. He would even be in charge of Sir Harry’s horse and armor. He made it clear that being a page was merely a pit stop on his career path, and a dreary one at that.
“All I do is serve the lord and lady,” he huffed. “I spend more time carrying candles around the manor than I do practicing my archery. Even though I must learn to hunt and fence and care for the horses, they make me learn table manners and how to dance! I ask you: who really cares about manners?”
“I for one would be happy to see knights with better manners,” Emily answered. “A good many of them are deft with their swords but bumbling with their words.”
“With a sword such as this I will never be an expert at anything!” Jack held up his wooden sword again, this time looking less proud of it. “Even my shield is made of wood. What good are they? How am I to fight wild beasts with this?”
Barlow agreed. “Aye. The fire of the dragon would torch that in one breath.”
That was why he needed to hurry his apprenticeship along, Jack explained. Only then would he be allowed to practice with real weapons and a quintain.
Emily didn’t seem very impressed. “No matter who you are, the woods are not for wandering.”
“There are ogres,” Emily said.
Along with Barlow, she began to list all the dangers in the woods.
“Serpents and trolls.”
A quintain was used for target practice and training. A knight would ride toward the post and try to hit it the target with his lance.
The list grew every time someone talked about it, Henry had noticed. Am I the only one who finds this weird? He wanted to scream. Stop worrying about serpents and trolls and start worrying about something really dangerous! You think hemlock is dangerous? Wait until you see what the bubonic plague will do!
“And surely the dragon,” Barlow added as an afterthought.
“That is why I am here!” Jack reminded them. “I must find the dragon!”
Henry couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Enough about the dragon! Do all of you really think dragons and ogres and all those things are in this forest?”
With the blank look on everyone’s face, Henry could tell the answer was yes.
“If you want to be scared,” he said, trying to sound reasonable, “let me tell you about rats. Now they are dangerous.”
It started with Barlow smiling at the thought of that. It grew into loud laughter and then Emily started giggling.
What was so funny? Henry didn’t get it. Here he was sharing some lifesaving information no one else around here knew. If he were one of them, he’d be incredibly grateful. In fact, he’d probably want to name the disease after this wise person.
“It’s true…” Henry gulped. He didn’t sound very convincing.
“And fleas!” Max cried out. “They have the disease…at least I think they do.” He looked over at his brother. “Do they? I forget what you told me.”
“Fleas?” Barlow laughed. “We have so many fleas no man can count them. If it is fleas to worry us, then half of England will be sick!”
Henry couldn’t believe this was happening. They really didn’t want to learn about this? It was basic health and safety information. Anyone with a badge in Public Health could tell them about this.
I give up! He wanted to scream. I am trying to do you a favor and save your lives, but never mind. You don’t have to listen to me. Go on ignoring the rats and spend your time worrying about trolls.
Peri didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to, because when she rolled her eyes and shook her head sadly, Henry knew what that look of hers meant. It had “I told you so” written all over it.
Emily walked over to Henry now. “Poor lad. Are you ill? You look quite weak.” She turned to the others. “Perhaps he is vexed by a fever and is suffering from visions.”
“Or caught an illness by the fleas!” Barlow roared.
Peri finally spoke up. “I am sure he feels fine.” She turned so only Henry could see her angry stare. “I think he is nervous about the dragon and all the other creatures you talked about.”
Barlow put his hand on Henry’s shoulder as his laughing came to an end. “Do not fret, lad. We are only teasing you. It keeps things lively on the journey.”
A man buying powder made from a unicorn horn. Many people believed unicorn horns had magical powers to prevent and cure diseases.
Henry nodded and smiled sheepishly. “I know…it’s this forest, I think. I never thought so many creatures could live in one place.”
“To be sure, they are all chasing after the unicorn,” Barlow said. He wasn’t laughing now.
Barlow, Emily, and Jack nodded in agreement, as if that was something everyone knew well.
“We best keep walking.” Barlow considered the shadows along the path and followed their shape up into the trees. “The sun begins to set. I was hoping to be out of the forest before nightfall.”
Jack wanted nothing of their travel plans. “Go on. I will stay. I cannot leave until I have caught the dragon.”
“Why do you need to catch him so badly?” Max said.
“I overheard Sir Harry speak of the dragon. He and the other knights said whoever can destroy the dragon will be the greatest knight in all the land. That will be me!”
“You will only bring yourself trouble,” Emily told him. “Prithee, go home.”
“I must catch the dragon,” he insisted.
A brave knight encounters an evil dragon.
“I will not leave you alone here,” Emily said. “Night is almost upon us, and I will not be able to go on knowing I left you here to fight off the dragon in the dark of the night.”
“Only two things may come of it,” Barlow said to Jack. “Either you get lost and Sir Harry must come search for you—which will certainly not please him. Or the dragon will find you and rip you into pieces.”
Henry visibly gulped when he heard that.
“How can I be a knight if I never learn to find my way out of a forest or defeat a beast?” Jack complained.
“How about you stay with us just until the morning?” Peri said.
Barlow chimed in to agree. “No knight spends the night alone in the woods if he can do otherwise.”
“That is true,” Emily said. “All the best knights I have ever heard about are brave and protect others.”
Jack paused to consider that. “Why would all of you need protection?”
Barlow looked down affectionately at Cressida. “Well, this is a prize hog.”
If Cressida’s a prize hog, Henry thought, then I’m the king of England.
“Fine!” Jack didn’t sound pleased or excited about it. “But if the dragon comes near, I will be the one to slay him.”
All the others agreed.
“I won’t eat or sleep until I find the dragon!” Jack announced.
Henry went to catch up with Peri, making sure he walked casually enough to look like he wasn’t trying too hard. But if the others saw his face, they would know otherwise. He was bug-eyed and his face was beet red.
“We have to stay here overnight?” He spoke quietly, so no one else could hear him.
“I don’t think we have a choice.”
“Why don’t we let Emily stay with Jack and the rest of us can get out of here?”
“We have to keep them with us. What if one of them has the object we need?”
Why did she always have to be right? Henry groaned to himself.
“Have you ever stayed through a night before? We can’t sleep, right?” he asked after a moment. He wasn’t expecting much of an answer.
After what had happened when they were in New York City, Henry knew it was a long shot to expect Peri to tell him much. Even though she had gone back once before that by herself, to Salem, Massachusetts, she wasn’t much help when it came to remembering details that might help them.
“Back in Salem I did,” Peri said now.
She actually remembered something! Henry couldn’t believe it. She might actually know something that could help them in the forest tonight.
“One night in Boston, I had to rush to find Mary English and tell her they were coming to arrest her. We found a carriage that could get her out of the city and take her to New York. It was so stressful! She got away only minutes before the guys came knocking at the door looking for her.”
“Then what happened?”
She wrinkled her brow while she thought and then shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“Well, I fell asleep. How would I know what happened if I was asleep?”
“Well, that’s not much help,” Henry huffed. “So what do we do now?”
She considered it for a minute. “Well, I guess we have to figure it out soon. It’s getting dark, and wolves are going to be coming out. They’re nocturnal, aren’t they? I mean they come out at night—”
“I know what it means, thank you.”
How did she manage to remember random animal facts but not what happened on a trip back in time?
Max wedged his way in between them now to whisper. “Do you think that dragon is really going to get us tonight?”
Peri waved it off. “Don’t worry about that. I’ll let you in on a little secret: dragons aren’t real.”
“But everyone else said—” Max started to say.
“Max, if dragons were real, don’t you think everyone would have one for a pet? They’re so cool, most people would do anything to keep one. I’ve never heard a single story where someone does though, have you?”
That made sense to Henry. He felt better for a moment until he remembered something else.
“How about serpents?” he asked Peri.
“Same. They’d be kept in aquariums by everyone.”
Henry and Max were quiet while they thought about that.
“Wait…” Henry said in a low voice so only Peri could hear. “Were there even aquariums in the Middle Ages?”
Peri answered quickly before Barlow and the others got too close. “Whatever. You know what I mean.”
“’Tis true,” Barlow was saying to Jack. “The tradition in these woods is that all travelers must share a tale.”
Coins were used as currency long before paper money came around.
“Knights don’t tell tales.” Jack crossed his arms defiantly and stood his ground.
“Of course they do,” Emily insisted.
“Nay, I know of not one knight who stops to tell a tale.”
“Then you do not get out much,” Emily said. “They cannot fight all the time. And they certainly are not spending much time learning good manners.”
Jack frowned, probably because the only thing worse than talking about manners was telling a story. Then an idea came to him.
“I will tell you a tale about Sir Harry! He is the strongest, bravest knight in all of England!”
Emily rolled her eyes. “They all say that. If I had a coin for every time I heard that…”
The room was damp and dark, which you would expect since it was in an empty chapel. Still, a little more candlelight would be a big help, if for no other reason than for the squire, Harry, to see what was making thescurrying sounds. Maybe a hefty torch would offer some warmth too. With all the advances in masonry these days, you would think someone could come up with a better way to heat a room.
A squire prepares for knighthood
Staying up alone all night was all the easy part. Having to do it while kneeling and praying was harder. No doubt, that’s why the squires had their saying.
“If you can’t kneel for the night,” Jack recited now, “you best call it a day.”
It was all part of the experience of being knighted though—staying alone in this chapel and fasting for the night. Then, in the morning, having to bathe and shave.
Falconry and hunting were popular sports for royalty. The bird was trained to sit on the hunter’s glove, its head covered with a hood. When the hood was removed, the falcon would fly and catch whatever prey it spotted. Equally as important, the falcon returned to its owner’s hand!
“I think the bath was to cleanse my sir’s soul. The shaving part…” Jack tried to remember. “I do not know. It is just as well, as his hair was too long and it needed cutting.”
Harry was about to be dubbed a knight, so all of this was worth it. Of course, it was no problem for Harry, Jack explained. If there was ever a squire ready to become a knight, it was he.
“No man can ride a horse faster than he,” Jack boasted. “And when it comes to hawking, even the falconer goes to Sir Harry for guidance. Then there is his sword!”
Jack’s eyes grew large. “His sword is the best in all of Hereford. If you know Hereford, you know how impressive that is.”
“Why must knights brag about their swords all the time?” Emily rolled her eyes.
Jack either disagreed or didn’t hear Emily because he went on with his story without answering her.
After the night in the chapel, the priest came to visit Harry and hear his confession. Then the priest blessed the armor.
Harry promised to be fair and brave in battle, to protect the weak and display good manners to women.
“These days,” Emily complained, “it seems as if most knights treat the vow as suggestion rather than a promise.”
“As I was saying…” Jack frowned at the interruption. “After that, Harry got a red tunic to wear.” The color symbolized the blood he was willing to shed for the king. Around that, he wore a white belt and hat.
Swords and shields were valuable possessions. Because they were so costly to make, only the nobility (such as knights) owned them.
“For the clean life and pure heart he was expected to have,” Emily added.
“Sir Harry was even handed a two-edged sword!”
“So he could protect others as well as himself,” Emily said.
Jack looked like he’d had enough of Emily. “This is to be my story, not yours!” he told her.
“Yes, of course,” Emily blushed. “Do go on.”
For the last part of the ceremony, Harry had to kneel with his head down and place his hands in his lord’s. He vowed to fight for his lord and remain loyal forever. After that, the lord touched Harry’s shoulders with a sword.
“In the name of God, Saint Michael, and Saint George, I dub thee knight.”
The investiture of a knight
“There you have it!” Jack took a deepbreath andsmiled. “And someday that will be me!”
Itwas then Jack noticed no one was near him. At some point either he had begun to walk too slowly or the others decided to walk faster. Whichever it was, the result was that Jack had to run to catch up with the others.
The mist was moving back through the forest now and there wasn’t much light left in the day. Jack joined them before too long.
“It smells like smoke,” he told the others.
The smell grew stronger as they walked farther along the path. Not far ahead, they could see a glow through the trees. Barlow led the others toward it to get a better look. When they got close enough, they spread out to hide behind a grove of trees. From there, they could see the source of the fire.
All six of them stayed behind the cover of the trees. They weren’t the most impressive group, Peri decided—three children from the future, a peasant and his hog, a page on a dragon hunt, and a wandering girl in search of her dog. They looked like a group of trick-or-treaters lost in the woods.
Maybe Henry was right, she thought. Wandering through a forest…and the people we’re running into are getting weirder and weirder. She couldn’t figure out the point to any of this.
From where they hid, they could see out into a clearing. Fallen logs and tree stumps were arranged around an open space of bare ground. There was even a fire ring with an old iron pot hanging above it by a chain.
Beside the fire stood one of the creepiest old men Peri had ever seen, stirring the pot with a staff.
“Is he for real?” Henry whispered.
“Aye,” Barlow said. “For I see him too.”
“But he looks—”
Before Henry could finish, Max sneezed. Three times.
Their secret hiding place was no longer a secret.
“You are early!” the old man near the fire screamed. “I told you, I need more time!”
No one dared say anything.
The man yelled out again. “Very well! If you are here to see me, stop your waiting and do it.”
Peri was hoping Barlow would go out and say something to the man. But Barlow didn’t look like he was going anywhere anytime soon. Even Jack, the one who couldn’t stop talking about how brave he was up until now, hid behind most of the others so he wouldn’t be seen.
“Show yourself, I tell you!” the man said.
Wood, horn, tin, and pewter were used to make cups, plates, and spoons. Forget about forks though—they weren’t commonly used in the Middle Ages.
He walked over and began to poke in the trees where the travelers stood. “Speak to me if you must. Better yet, go away and come back in the morrow. I will be ready for you then.”
It was Emily who finally did something. She walked past the others and stepped out of the trees into the clearing.
The old man jumped back, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He looked down to the staff in his hand in wonder. It was as if he couldn’t believe what was happening. The woods had awarded him with a beautiful maiden.
“Why do you appear surprised?” she asked.
“Who are you?” His eyes were wide. “I was expecting someone else.”
“I have lost my dog,” she said. “I must find him before the dragon eats him.”
As she spoke, Cressida pushed her way out of the bushes and shuffled forward to sniff around the embers.
“A dog, you say? Are you certain it is not swine you are to find?”
Barlow had no choice but to step out into view. “The swine belongs to me. I am Barlow of Trowley Bottom.”
The old man didn’t look impressed with this peasant appearing out of the trees.
Barlow stood tall as he spoke. “She is my prized hog, Cressida. We are on our way to present ourselves to Lord Fitz Peter.”
“We are?” Emily looked surprised.
“That is a prized hog?” Merlin said at the same time. “Why, I thought she was all but dead. A runt at one time, was she?”
Barlow might have argued but was stopped when Peri, Henry, and Max stepped out to tell the old man their names.
“We’re lost,” Max added. “Actually, we are trying to find our way out of this forest because we’re looking for—”
“We are on our way home but lost our way,” Peri cut him off to repeat. She grabbed Max by the shoulder and pulled him over just as Jack stepped out.
Now that they were out of the brambles, Peri was able to get a better look at the old man. He didn’t look any better close up. Underneath his white beard was a face like an oldprune. When he yelled, Peri could see he was missing a lot of teeth.
Not far beyond the clearing was a hut built into a hill. Peri’s first guess was that it was an abandoned shed that was now used for composting. Then she realized it was a little hovel where someone lived.
The man looked past them and squinted to get a better look into the trees. “How many be there of you?”
“I am the last one,” Jack said. “I am here to protect these travelers from the dragon.”
The old man considered the young boy standing before him. “But ye have no armor.”
Jack pulled his shoulders back to stand taller. “I will lead him out of his lair and chop off his head!”
“But ye have no sword.” The man looked down at what Jack held in his hand. “That stick there will not be much good. Need I remind you that no dragon was ever slain by a splinter?”
Jack didn’t look happy. “I have this bow too!”
“Perhaps you carry ye mum’s knitting needle to use with it?” The old man chuckled.
“Laugh if you must, but I will slay the dragon!”
“Which one would that be?” the man asked lightly.
“There’s more than one dragon?” Henry gulped.
There was no answer right away, as if the old man wanted to make sure he had their rapt attention.
“It’s a big forest.” He opened his arms wide, after which he meandered back to his rusty cauldron with his spartle and began to stir.
Whatever was in there was starting to boil over. As he raised the pot higher on the chain, steam rose over his face. “No! Stop it, I say. Go down or else a whole day’s work will be lost.”
It was as if he had forgotten the others were there. He shook his head and mumbled. Peri couldn’t tell if he was talking to himself or them.
“I’m very busy. Yes, very, very busy. I must continue.”
Jack finally spoke. “I am after Wruenele, the fiercest dragon of all.”
Peri was trying very hard to be quiet and listen politely. It was practically killing her to keep everything inside. The more any of them spoke about the dragon, the more Peri felt like she was going to explode.
Merlin waved his hand, as if he were sweeping away Jack’s idea. “That old dragon? He is not a problem. He stays in his lair most days.”
She couldn’t stand it any longer. What was the point of thinking anything if you couldn’t say it?
“Exactly where does this dragon live?” she blurted.
“Near Knotlow Hill where the river turns to meet the meadows.”
“What does it eat?” she asked.
“Wolves and serpents, of course. Ogres and pixies, if he can catch them. He likes swine now and then, but he has not eaten a child in many moons.”
“Have you ever seen this dragon?” she went on to ask.
“Why would you ask such a thing?” the man huffed. “If ever I were to see the dragon, I would not be standing here before you.”
Peri took that as a no.
“Have I seen the dragon?” The man repeated, clearly insulted. “You speak as if I tell you I might hide a vessel and travel across the sky as fast as the wind… Or that I travel to another land and time.” He made the ideas sound impossibly farfetched. “I might live deep in the forest, but I am not a fool. Of course I have not seen the dragon.”
Emily wrinkled her brow and wondered out loud. “Who are you?”
“What do you mean who am I?” The old man sounded annoyed. “Don’t you know?”
“No, we don’t live around here,” Max answered quickly.
The old man paused before he answered. “Well, if you came from here, you would know of me.”
“I come from Trowley Bottom, and yet I do not know of you,” Barlow told him.
“Nor I,” Emily said.
“I thought only a dragon could live so deep in the woods,” Jack added.
It was clear no one knew who this man was, which wasn’t much of a surprise, considering he lived in the middle of a huge forest. It wasn’t the busiest of neighborhoods.
The old man’s eyebrows rose, as if their answers had piqued his interest. “Merlin is my name.”
Peri swallowed so hard she started coughing. “Merlin?” she finally managed to say. “As in the sorcerer?”
“Some may say that.” Merlin held his head up and smiled proudly. “Others say I am the soothsayer. Or even an alchemist. I suppose it depends on who you ask.”
“You mean like a person who can tell the future?” Henry asked.
“You are not a very good soothsayer.” Max sounded disappointed, as if this strange man had let him down.
“What do you mean?” Merlin snapped.
“You were surprised to see us in the bushes. A good soothsayer would know if we were going to show up at his place.”
“I knew you were coming…only there was to be a fine animal.” Merlin jerked his head toward Cressida. “Then I only see that one—”
“How can you say such a thing?” Barlow was indignant.
“The boy asked,” Merlin said defensively.
“Cressida is a very fine hog! Any man would be honored to have her.”
Minstrels entertained people with everything from playing instruments and dancing to juggling and reciting poetry.
“Maybe to break the fast, but she would be no use for dinner.” Merlin bent down to get a closer look at the hog’s face. “Could you even fit an apple in that mouth? There may be room for a chestnut, but no more.”
“Oh, a minstrel you are too?” Barlow shouted. “Trying to make us laugh? Why, you are no better at that than you are at soothsaying.”
“You appear to be quite busy,” Emily said quickly to Merlin. “We certainly do not want to bother you, so we will be going now.”
“Yes!” Henry agreed enthusiastically.
“No, no, no,” Merlin complained. “You’ll never get anywhere. Night is falling.”
Peri didn’t want to admit it to herself, but Merlin was right. Trees were beginning to cast a darkness over the forest. The cold mist was growing thick.
“Lucky be you to find yourselves here at my home,” Merlin told them.
It’s safe to say none of the travelers looked comforted by this fact.
“It is just as well you stay here until daybreak.” Merlin reminded them of the dangers of the forest.
Barlow sadly agreed and untied Cressida so she could get comfortable.
“Very well,” Emily murmured. “We will leave you to your work though.”
“No, no, no! Sit, sit.” Merlin pointed around the clearing. “Sit down. You best be telling me with whom I am sharing this meal.”
Henry yelped when he sat down on a big log. He wiggled forward in his seat to get comfortable. Even then, he looked as if he were sitting on a bed of nails.
“I promise I will never complain about how dark and weird the antique store is again,” he mumbled to Peri.
Since when was the antique store dark and weird? It was Peri’s absolute favorite place—cozy and secluded and mysterious and never crowded with people. What wasn’t to like?
She couldn’t stop herself from whispering back to Henry, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you walk home after school from now on?”
She didn’t give him a chance to answer and turned to face the other direction to look across the clearing.
Emily was over there, sitting on a large rock. Peri couldn’t help but notice the way Emily sat, with her legs dangling over the side. From below the hem of her dress, Emily’s shoes peeked out. The delicate leather slippers had a design on them, as if they were embroidered. They weren’t like anything Peri had ever seen.
It didn’t take long for Emily to notice Peri’s gaze. As Barlow made his way over to a nearby tree stump and sat down to rest on it, Emily shifted her dress to cover her feet again.
“I must say…” Barlow said to Merlin as he stretched his legs out. “When I saw ye from behind, I was certain you were an ogre.”
“I thought you were a hermit,” Jack told him.
“I never thought you were really a sorcerer,” Max added.
“Max!” Peri scolded him.
“What? I was just going to say he did not look anything like I thought a sorcerer would look. None of the famous sorcerers I have heard about look like him.”
“Bah! Other sorcerers? It is nothing but squiddle, I tell you! Everyone knows Merlin is the greatest in…” He had to stop and think.
“The forest?” Peri finished for him.
Barlow laughed. “There never be more true words. You will be the greatest in all this forest. Though you will be the worst as well, as there is no other than you!”
For once, Max was at a loss for words. He had leaned over to get a better look at the pot bubbling above the fire and his face got lost in the rising steam.
“Is he hypnotized?” Peri whispered to Henry.
“Is this real?” Max murmured to himself.
Merlin stepped in to the cloud of steam near Max.
“Stop your mumbling, boy,” he said. “It is worse to hear so little of your words than to be interrupted by too many. Get it out. What are you saying?”
Max pointed to the pot. “Is this a magic potion?”
“Magic potion?” Merlin cried. “Nonsense! It’s pottage.”
Max didn’t look as interested once he found out it was like soup.
“I thought you were a sorcerer,” Max frowned. “Don’t sorcerers make magic potions?”
“That I do. But even sorcerers must eat.”
He waved Max over excitedly. “If it is magic potions you want, come this way. I will show you magic potions that will knock your braies off.”
Peri grabbed Henry’s arm and ran to follow Merlin. The others stayed around the fire as Merlin scurried over to his hut. He push open the rotted wood door to take them inside. The only furniture in the den was a bench, and boards were stacked as shelves along the walls. On every flat space available, jars and pots were stacked, balanced, and crammed.
Max started poking through them. “Are you trying to make potions in all these?”
“Trying?” Merlin flung his hands out, as if he were swatting the word away. “I do not need to try to make potions. I am a master of potions!”
Merlin started at one end of the shelf and worked his way across, pointing to each jar proudly as he went. One smelled of sage and was for toothaches. Another was for calming the stomach after drinking too much mead.
“I call it ‘what ales you,’” Merlin explained. “It is quite popular with the local knights. Hee hee hee.”
Peri pulled Henry’s arm to bring him closer to her.
“I’ll bet you anything the object we need is in here,” she whispered to him.
“It reminds me of the antique store,” Henry said after a moment.
“You’re not funny, Henry.”
“I’m not trying to be.”
Merlin was almost to the end of one row. “This one can make mountains out of molehills. This can make a man as blind as a bat. Then there was the time I made a dog’s bark worse than its bite with this pot here… Ah, and this one here is a hair dye.”
“And what kind of potion is that?” Max pointed to a small bottle on the bench.
“Finish all that talk in there!” Barlow bellowed from outside.
A look of relief covered Merlin’s face. “My, my… a guest calls! I must not ignore that.” He rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Enough talk of magic potions! Let’s eat!”
Henry tried his best but there was nothing even remotely appetizing about the meal. It had nothing to do with him being hungry or not. It was that the cup of mead Merlin handed him smelled like spicy pepper and the bowl of pottage looked like old dishwater.
“You can have it,” he told the others. “I’m not hungry.”
“If you will not be wanting it, I will have it,” Jack said eagerly.
“’Tis the time for a tale,” Barlow looked up from eating to say. He explained to Merlin the storytelling they’d had up until now.
“So you all have shared your tales?” Merlin asked. “Am I to be the last?”
“Aye,” Barlow agreed with a loud yawn. “For the night at least. Surely any tale of yours will help us fall asleep quickly.”
Merlin didn’t look amused. “No tale of mine will put you to sleep!”
He had his work cut out for him. Jack was peeling bark off an old tree stump, and Emily was fighting to keep her eyes open.
“Not when I share with you this!” Merlin announced dramatically. “Soon I will have a projection elixir that will change the course of our lands.”
“What do you mean?” Emily opened her eyes to ask.
“My magic potion will cast a spell on our kingdom and across the waters.”
“How will it do that?” Peri said.
Merlin smiled. Now he had everyone’s attention. So he sat down and began to tell his story.
Alchemists not only tried to help cure sick people and discover the secret to eternal life. They also paved the way for a field of science still highly regarded today—chemistry.
A short time ago, a knight errant traveled far into this forest in search of a great sorcerer.
“Me,” Merlin added, in case anyone hadn’t made that connection yet.
The knight had an amulet that he wanted Merlin to use to make a philter.
“A philter?” Peri asked. “Isn’t that a love potion?”
“A love potion?” Max scrunched up his face, as if the words smelled bad.
“And what will this philter do?” Emily added.
“I cannot say. To secrecy I have been sworn.”
“You cannot finish what you began to tell?” Barlow complained. “Why waste our time on such a tale?”
He leaned back and adjusted himself to get comfortable. “Good night my friends,” he said as he closed his eyes.
“Fine!” Merlin huffed. “It is to be for a maiden. Though that is all I can say.”
“Well, I do not think I care to hear any more,” Emily frowned. “For all you can tell us is how a maiden will be fooled by a hoax.”
“Do you mean this maiden doesn’t love this knight right now?” Barlow sat back up to ask.
“Aye, for why else must a sorcerer come to the knight’s aid?” Emily answered for him.
“Wait,” Peri said. “So a knight brought you an amulet and you will make a potion and the knight will give it to the maiden?”
“Will it will trick her into thinking she loves him?” Henry said.
“Well…” Merlin had a guilty look on his face. “Trick is not the word I would have chosen—”
“What if she doesn’t drink enough of the potion?” Max asked. “Will she only like the knight then?”
“What happens if the potion wears off?” Peri said.
“Stop!” Merlin cried. “I thought all of you would welcome my tale. What is not to like? It has all the necessary elements of a good story: likeable characters, drama, a happy ending.”
“You call that a happy ending?” Peri snapped.
“And I’m not sure you can call a knight who’s trying to trick a girl likeable,” Henry said.
“I call it witchcraft,” Emily told him.
“It is kind of mean,” Max admitted.
Barlow shrugged. He had probably heard worse.
Emily’s eyes welled up with tears. “Truly, how could you do such a thing?”
Merlin stared at the lot of them in disbelief. “I had no say!” he said helplessly. “When a knight shows up one day on a horse as high as the branches on a chestnut tree, and with a sword tucked to his side, one cannot exactly tell him to take his business elsewhere.”
“Aye, this is true.” Emily frowned. “Still, I should like to see this knight you speak of. No man using such trickery deserves such a title.”
“You’re right. I thought knights were heroic,” Peri said.
“Yeah, I thought they protected people,” Max said.
“Isn’t that what chivalry is all about?” Peri added.
“Jack, why would you want to become like that?”
“Aye,” Emily agreed. “That a man would train for many years, all so one day he may steal from a maiden and rely on falsehoods for love? That is as far from chivalry as the sun is from the earth.”
“Far from chivalry?” Jack couldn’t hide his outrage. “Knights are always chivalrous! That is part of what makes a man a knight. They protect others at all cost.”
“At all costs except to their own vanity.” Emily shook her head. “I see no chivalry in a man who must use magic to keep others near him.”
“Nay,” Jack protested again. “I tell you, others rely on the knight to triumph in battle and protect them!”
Emily rolled her eyes, looking quite annoyed. “Truly, Jack, into how many battles can one knight enter? I have heard there will be more peace brought by the Plantagenets and soon there will be an end to all battles.”
“Then who would the knight fight with?” Max wondered out loud.
“To be sure of having another to fight with?” Barlow answered for himself. “He must get married then, methinks.”
“All the more reason for my magic potion!” Merlin declared.
Henry couldn’t sleep. Branches snapped and creaked, and he couldn’t stop imagining what creatures were causing it. Underneath the crunchy leaves where they laid, there were probably worms and bugs and rotten tree bark and who knew what else.
Around the clearing everyone else lay quietly. After all the mead he drank, Barlow was snoring away with Cressida sprawled out at his side. Emily lay close to the warmth of the fire with her head hidden beneath her hood while Jack curled up beneath a canopy made by a maple tree. Peri and the boys lay not far away, along a flat patch covered with fallen leaves.
Stuck in a forest at night, lying here with pinecones poking his back and cold, soggy leaves sticking to Henry’s arm…how could it possibly get worse than this?
Things more uncomfortable than this bed… Doing a belly flop off the high dive into a pool and biting your tongue were the first two he came up with. Then there was being alone in the car with your mom, on your way to your Boy Scouts induction ceremony, and having her tell you she’s getting remarried.
That last one was a real zinger. Maybe it even deserved a list of its own. “All the horrible things that happened when Mom remarried” he would call it. When Henry had first walked into Wallingford Antiques with his mom a year ago, the last thing he expected was his mom to start dating the owner and end up marrying him. Henry thought his mom was only looking for a bench to put in their backyard.
Suddenly poking pinecones didn’t seem so bad.
Still, it felt like hours had passed since he’d spoken to anyone.
“Peri?” Henry whispered now. He wanted to ask her if she was having trouble falling asleep too.
“Shh!” She sat up and felt the ground around her. “My answer is the same as when you asked me five minutes ago. I can’t fall asleep because you keep talking to me.”
There’s no comfortable spot anywhere. And we have bigger problems right now that finding a place to sleep. Henry was about to tell her that, but she stopped what she was doing and whispered to him.
“And I’m too busy thinking,” she said.
He hesitated a moment. He didn’t want to scare her and was trying to think of the calmest way to say it.
“Me too.” He sat up too and blurted it out. “I think I have the plague.”
His bad news was met with a painful silence.
She’s probably too stunned to speak. Henry couldn’t blame her. Hearing someone has the plague is not something most people want to hear.
The only sounds now were the fire crackling and the creepy sounds of a forest that didn’t sleep. There were probably hundreds of animals awake, roaming and going on with business as usual. How were they to know that a twelve-year-old boy lying among them had just discovered he had the plague?
“You are such a dumbbell,” Peri finally said.
It wasn’t the response Henry was expecting.
“I can’t wait to hear this one,” she mumbled. “So why do you think you have the plague?”
Before he could answer, she grabbed his arm in the dark and pulled him up. She didn’t let go of his arm until they had gone far away from the others.
Only then did he start to explain it to her. “For the record, you shouldn’t pull someone up from where they are lying if they have the plague. They are probably weak and need to rest. And look…I think I have a fever. Feel my forehead. And my face…and this arm. You can’t see it in the dark, but it has a black crusty thing on it now. It was not there today. It came on all of a sudden, just a little while ago.”
He tapped the scablike surface of it near his elbow, but it was so horrifying he had to stop. Besides, he didn’t want it to spread.
“Henry, you are such a spaz. You’re warm because you were lying next to a fire.”
Henry felt her fingers against his arm.
“And this,” she said, poking what he thought was an infected lymph node, “is lichen from the ground over there.”
She plucked it off. “If you had the plague, you would not be standing here talking to me. You’d be rolled up in a little ball all achy and cold. And the scabs don’t come until later. You’d have all the swollen parts all over your body first.”
Well, she sure had a way of making someone feel stupid.
“So why are you still awake?” he asked once he recovered from his embarrassment.
It was a dumb question. Of course she was still awake. It was the middle of the night, in the middle of a strange forest, in the Middle Ages. How would someone from the future even start to fall asleep here?
Peri didn’t say that. “A bunch of stuff doesn’t make sense,” she said instead.
She didn’t have to point to show who she meant. Back in the clearing was the only other person awake. It was Merlin, and he had come out of his den to poke the embers in the fire and add a small log to it.
“He is weird,” Henry agreed.
“But he’s weird in a weird way.”
“Do you think he’s dangerous? Do you think he’s going to cast some kind of spell on us?”
“No,” she answered. It was a “that’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard, and only someone who’s a real loser would suggest it” kind of no.
“He won’t do that,” she added.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. He wouldn’t know a spell if you spelled it out for him. There’s no way he’s a sorcerer.”
“Then who is he?” Henry gulped.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
Henry thought about it for a minute. “I guess you’re right. He makes up a lot of strange spells. I’ve never heard a single story about a sorcerer who comes up with spells like that.”
“Of course we haven’t heard of him. No one in the future is going to write a book or make a movie about a guy who is such a failure.”
“I kind of feel bad for him,” Henry said after a moment.
“How can you feel bad for someone who is trying to make a potion to trick a girl into thinking she is in love?”
“I guess so…” Henry said slowly. “But he gave us some of his food, which he really didn’t have to do, and he’s letting us sleep here so we’re safe. Think of what he would say if he heard us talking about him like this.”
“Don’t worry about that, Henry. He won’t hear us—”
“YES I WILL!” Merlin rustled through the juniper bushes toward them. “For sorcerers never sleep!”
Henry’s knees felt weak, and he could feel the blood rushing from his head. It didn’t matter to him if Merlin was really a great sorcerer of not. All that mattered as the old man stood over them in the dark forest right now was that he looked really creepy with the shadows across his face and robe.
Peri didn’t seem to be as worried. “You aren’t a wizard. Or a sorcerer. Or a soothsayer.”
Merlin took a step back. “Indeed I am.”
“You know nothing about the future, and your magic potions are all collecting dust on your shelves.”
“You saw them in bad light.”
“I think all your magic spells are fake,” Peri said.
“How would you know?” Merlin stomped his feet and hissed. “You are from far away, from Wallingford. Of course you have never heard of me. Wait, though. One day all of your land will know me as the wizard who will live forever!”
Peri considered him for a minute. Merlin stared back at her closely. Henry could only see their eyes glistening in the moonlight, staring at one another.
Peri remembered something. “Wait…you can’t be Merlin.”
“How can you say such a thing?” Merlin sounded hurt.
“I am disappointed in you.” Peri shook her head sadly.
Henry’s mouth hung open. Disappointed? What was she talking about?
“If you really are a soothsayer, you would know Merlin, the wizard, doesn’t live forever.”
Merlin seemed to be struggling to think of what to say.
“Merlin gets wrapped in a web,” Peri told him.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I know the story of Merlin.”
The tales of King Arthur are some of the most famous stories of the Middle Ages. People have gone round for years debating whether King Arthur was real. Most have decided to table the discussion and choose to enjoy the fantastic tales regardless.
Merlin paused to smile. “There are stories about me?”
“And I know Merlin is given a sleeping potion.”
“One of my own potions?”
“I doubt it. I told you, I don’t think any of those potions work. And anyway, Merlin gives all his powers away to Viviane.”
“Viviane?” Merlin clearly didn’t recognize the name. He looked around, as if someone named Viviane might be wandering their way now.
“I…um…I take them back,” he insisted, not very convincingly.
“No, you don’t.”
“Stop this!” Merlin was practically spitting he was so upset. “How can you know so many stories?”
“Because I am from Camelot,” Peri explained. “And in Camelot we hear everything that is going on around here. King Arthur makes sure of that.”
Camelot? What is she talking about? And when did she get so good at lying?
“So I know you are making all of it up, and I know you are not Merlin!” Peri explained, with a lot more confidence than Henry would have been able to muster.
“Are you a witch?” Merlin gasped. “You must be!”
“No. My name is Peregrine, and I am a normal girl. But I know you lied to us!”
Henry and Peri both stared at him, not sure what was happening. Merlin agonized over what to say.
Please don’t start arguing, Henry pleaded in his head. Because if you two argue, you’re going to wake everyone up and they’ll want to get away from all the noise. And I’ll have to go with them, of course. But I don’t want to go with them. Sleeping in a dark forest is bad enough; walking around in a dark forest sounds worse.
Camelot was the castle in the tales of King Arthur.
Merlin slumped his shoulders instead and sighed. “Can you blame me? A gallant knight appears and tells me he needs my help. My help. This was my one chance at fame and fortune.”
“You were hoping you would become famous?” Peri said. She didn’t sound very sympathetic when she said it.
“Well, a little recognition would be appreciated. Do you know how tough it is being a sorcerer these days? It is not as easy as it used to be, back in the old days. It seems like every lair in England has someone setting up a magic potion shop. The competition is fierce, I tell you. Why, there is even an alchemist in a bog half a day away who claims he can turn plain metal into gold!”
Peri let Merlin go on blabbering about his job prospects for a few more minutes before she cut him off.
“Listen to me,” she told him. “It sounds to me like we can help each other. You suffer from a serious lack of credibility—which I can’t say is all that surprising. Still, we’ll support this alchemy gig you’ve got going. In return, you have to help us.”
Merlin leaned in eagerly to ask, “What help is it you need? Perhaps a potion?”
“No! Honestly, enough with the potions. We are on a special quest, and I think you might be able to show us where to go.”
“A quest?” Merlin sounded interested. “What kind of quest would that be?”
“That does not matter right now.” She was clearly done with this conversation. “We need to get some sleep. We can talk in the morning.”
Henry waited until Merlin was back in his hut before he said anything.
“You’re actually going to tell him what we’re doing?” he said to Peri then.
“Of course not. I was just trying to get rid of him.” She pulled something out of her pocket. “Look what I have.”
“What is it?” Henry could only see the outline of the object in the dark.
“I think it might be the piece we’re looking for.”
“How do you know that?”
“I can feel it. Don’t you ever get that way, when you just feel something is right?”
“Where’d you get it?” Henry asked instead of answering.
“In Merlin’s cottage earlier, when he took us in there to show us his potions.”
“You stole it?”
“No, I’m borrowing it.”
“You stole it,” he repeated.
“Look, do you want to get home or not? I’m going to give it to Max. You’ll see. Everything’s going to work out fine. I bet we’ll be home before the sun is up!”
Those words made Henry’s stomach jump. He could hardly believe his good luck. Home before the sun was up! This was almost too good to be true. He followed Peri through the dark to find Max and tell him their big news.
There was just enough moonlight around the clearing to see. Peri jolted to a stop and clutched Henry’s arm. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to.
This was not even close to being too good to be true. This was too awful to be true. At least that’s what Henry hoped. Instead, it was awful and true. The spot where they had been lying was empty.
Both of them realized it at the same time—they weren’t the only ones not asleep there. Max wasn’t either, and he was nowhere to be seen.
Peri and Henry shoved the wobbly planks of the door to Merlin’s hut open and didn’t bother to see if they were interrupting him.
“Where is he?” Peri screamed at Merlin, as if he had something to do with Max’s disappearance.
“Who?” Merlin sounded drowsy and puzzled.
Her brother? Henry thought. Excuse me, but Max is my brother. He is your stepbrother. Henry didn’t say that though. For some reason, the words wouldn’t come out.
Merlin looked at Peri and then over at Henry standing beside her.
“My other brother!”
Since when am I not a stepbrother either?
Maybe it was because Peri looked as upset as Henry did. Or maybe because he knew he couldn’t get out of this place without her. For whatever reason, Henry decided he was okay with what she said.
Merlin shrugged. “How do I know?” He pointed out the door to the clearing where the others were sleeping.
“He’s not out there,” Henry said.
“Did someone take him?” Peri asked angrily.
Merlin was still at a loss. “I know nothing of this!”
“Where could he be?”
“Anywhere!” Merlin told them.
“But…” Henry tried to imagine what might be out there in the forest with Max, or wherever he was. Henry didn’t even know where to start or what to think. Who knew what Max might be facing right now?
“We have to go find him,” he said to Peri.
Peri nodded frantically, not bothering to say anything. Together, they ran out of Merlin’s cottage.
“Stop!” Merlin ran out after them.
By now, their screaming had awakened the others, who watched the frenzy by the low firelight that remained.
“You cannot go out into the woods now,” Merlin insisted.
“We have to.”
“There is too much danger!”
“Max is somewhere out there,” Peri reminded him.
“You will be lost in no time. Then we will have three lost children.”
“Make that four,” a voice said.
Peri, Henry, and Merlin looked over to see Emily walking toward them.
“Jack is gone as well,” she told them.
All at once, the quarreling and confusion began. No one could decide what to do next.
Henry closed his eyes and tried to stay calm. It didn’t help. Ordinarily, he didn’t think he was the kind of person who dwelled on the negative. There were times he had no choice though. For example, right now.
If I were at home right now, I’d be playing chess. I’d be wondering what we were going to have for dinner. I’d be a normal kid with a normal life.
Suddenly, everyone decided Peri and Henry would be allowed to go search for the boys. Barlow handed them some of the extra rope he carried to tie up Cressida. He kept the other piece to use himself.
“Only walk as far as it goes,” he said. He offered to check the path in the other direction. “Pull on it if you find yourself in trouble.”
Peri took hold of it and left with Henry. They continued along the path that had taken them to Merlin earlier that day.
It was darker than anyplace Henry had ever seen. They called Max’s name as they continued slowly into the dark of the night. No answer came back.
How could things have gotten so horrible so quickly? Henry thought. He tried but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly when all this trouble actually started. Of course, it came with getting a stepsister. That was a given. But so many strange things came with knowing her it was hard to keep track of them.
She said this would all work out, Henry thought. That’s what everybody always says, and I am sick of hearing it. It’s what his dad and mom said when they told him they were getting divorced, and his mom said it when she told them she was marrying Ethan and they were moving to Wallingford and it wouldn’t be much farther from his dad’s house. Then Peri said it the last time they had a crazy trip like this. But the truth was it never actually all worked out. It just ended up that Henry got used to whatever lousy news was thrown at him.
He got used to visiting his dad every other weekend and alternating holidays. He got used to Ethan’s big old house that had radiators that hissed at you. And he got used to a bedroom with windows that stuck and let all the cold air in. He even got used to the new emergency plan he designed for Ethan’s house, to use in case of a fire or power outage. At least he could count on things like his Fire Safety Scout badge to help him. Sometimes it felt like his badges were the only things he could count on to help him out.
He suddenly wished desperately for his life to go back to normal.
Who am I kidding? There’s nothing normal about my life anymore.
It was this way Henry decided their current situation was all Peri’s fault right now. If it wasn’t for her coming into his life, none of this would be happening.
“Henry,” Peri said sadly now. “We’re at the end of the rope.”
It was exactly what Henry didn’t want to hear.
“I think we’re going to have to wait for daylight,” she went on to say.
In general, Henry didn’t like to admit Peri she was right. This time, though, Henry really, really, really didn’t want to admit it.
So, let’s see…we can either continue on in the dark and risk getting lost or wait until morning and risk not finding Max in time. Henry hated when he was given the choice of bad and worse.
“We can’t just go to sleep while Max is missing,” he decided.
Her answer that came was exactly what Henry was already saying to himself in his head.
“But, Henry, it’s so dark we can’t see anything. I don’t want to wait until morning either, but if we go any farther, we’ll probably get lost too. Then who’s going to look for Max?”
Henry mumbled in agreement but stood there, delaying what they were about to do. By turning around and heading back to the lair, he couldn’t help but feel like he had lost his little brother forever.
“Come on, Henry.”
“I know!” he snapped.
He still didn’t move, so Peri walked off slowly without him.
“So what surprise are you going to throw at me now?” he called out to her.
She turned her head around to look at him. “What do you mean?”
“Well, the last time this happened you told me you hated my mother—”
That stopped Peri in her tracks.
Henry hadn’t planned on bringing that up, but it had jumped out of his mouth before he could stop himself. She had said it to him a while ago, the time they were stuck in New York City. At the time, Peri had insisted it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. It wasn’t his mother she hated; it was whatever woman was marrying her father. That’s at least what she had told him.
What bugged Henry was not only what Peri had said but that she was treating his mom like some random woman. This was his mom she was talking about! Peri should be happy her father was marrying his mother.
A while after that, Henry had started to forgive her. That was the result of him realizing he didn’t like her father at first either, and for the very same reason. Of course, Henry never admitted that to Peri. “I don’t hate her!” Peri said now. “Don’t you remember anything I said?”
Yes, Henry did, but that didn’t matter to him right now. What mattered was that Max was missing, Henry was upset and scared, and he wanted to make sure Peri was too.
“What I told you was that I hated that my dad didn’t seem to care my mom had died, and he was acting like it never—”
Henry didn’t want to listen, so he interrupted her. “So what is it this time? Are you going to tell me you’ve secretly hated Max all along?”
Peri was at a loss for words.
Good, Henry thought as he watched her. It serves you right.
“Are you mad at Max for moving into that old house that was all yours? Or for bugging you at the store when you’re reading?” Henry said. “Did you take us back in time so you could get him lost in the woods in…wherever it is we are?”
“How can you say that?” Peri’s voice quavered. When Henry didn’t answer, she shook her head at him and turned to walk away. “You can be a real jerk sometimes.”
They didn’t speak to each other even when they got back to the clearing. That was fine with Henry. He didn’t want to think about her anymore anyway. He had enough to worry about. And he wanted to be alone. The last thing he wanted to see was the spot where Max should have been sleeping.
Instead, Henry leaned against one of the chestnut trees on the other side. From there, he could see and hear everything going on around him. Maybe something he saw or heard would be his little brother returning.
He tried to come up with a list of things that were as bad as losing his little brother, but he couldn’t think of anything as bad as that.
Suddenly, he missed Max terribly. Even though his little brother always followed him around and said annoying things and picked his nose too much, now Henry was willing to trade anything to get him back. Besides, what was he going to tell their mom if he came home without Max?
“Sorry, Mom. Max is in a medieval forest, and I’m not sure how he’ll get home. So what’s for dinner?”
Henry didn’t think that would go over well.
He tried his hardest not to fall asleep. He sat up straight, away from the tree, and pinched his arm. It worked for a while. When that didn’t help, he decided to close his eyes for five seconds. He was just going to rest them for that little bit and then open them again. That’s what he planned at least.
The horrible night turned into a beautiful morning. The sky was bright and clear, and the air a little chilly. For Peri, it was one of the most horrible days of her life.
The nerve of Henry! Peri got mad every time she thought of what he had said to her. She didn’t hate his mother or Max. And how did Henry always manage to mix up what she said? It was as if he grabbed all the words racing around her head and crunched them into a ball and lit them on fire.
And now…to make it worse, she actually felt sorry for Henry. He does not deserve my sympathy. I wish I could leave him here alone to figure this out. Then he would think twice before being so nasty.
But she would never leave him, Peri knew.
After her mother died, Peri got used to looking after herself. It happened unexpectedly, almost naturally. It wasn’t that her father wasn’t around; it was more that he was so distracted that he didn’t notice that Peri was growing up. So Peri started to take care of a lot of things she’d never had to before. And when Henry and Max came along, the same thing happened again unexpectedly. Peri took care of herself and knew she would have to do the same for her stepbrothers. That’s just the way it was.
Now, though… Well, she had really done it now. She was sure older sisters in charge did not make a habit of losing their little brothers in medieval forests.
Okay, she told herself now. This is a huge mess we’re in, but that doesn’t mean I’m not mad at Henry for what he said to me last night.
She tried to collect her thoughts. She had to concentrate and figure out what to do to fix this mess.
She couldn’t think of a single thing.
For some reason, she didn’t only miss Max; she missed Henry too. It was nice having him hanging over her shoulder, waiting to hear what she had to say. Now all he offered was a dirty look every so often.
She forced herself not to look in his direction. In fact, she wanted to see him about as much as she wanted to see another bowl of pottage, which was to say never again if she could help it. There were more important things to worry about than a mean stepbrother.
“There be no doubt the boys are lost,” Merlin was saying to the others. “Very, very lost.”
Everyone was awake now, although no one had actually gotten much sleep after hearing that Max and Jack were missing. Together, they tried to decide the best way to go about finding the boys.
“Should we all go together?”
“Perhaps we should split up.”
“Where will ye start?”
“If only we could see which direction they went.”
“Do you think they happened upon…” Barlow started to ask everyone. It was probably the look of dread on everyone’s faces that warned him to stop before he said the rest.
No one wanted to consider the possibility that some hungry creature had found the boys.
Emily wept quietly to herself and when she couldn’t be quiet about it anymore, she stood up and wandered into the brambles beyond Merlin’s hut.
Henry was sitting slumped over, hiding his head in his arms.
Barlow shook his head regretfully. “First the dog, now the boys.”
“If we go together, we’ll be safe,” Peri offered.
“Where should we even start?” Barlow looked around them at the dense forest that offered no clues.
Merlin finally spoke. “If we were to go…” He made the if sound like a very remote possibility. “It would only make sense to head toward the dragon’s lair first.”
Henry’s head shot up with a look of panic.
“I’m only putting it out there,” Merlin said defensively. “I mean…it was merely an idea. I have dozens of them every day, some good, some bad.” He considered the faces around him. “Perchance this is one of my bad ones for the day?”
No one moved.
Enough already! Peri wanted to scream. What a bunch of slugs, thinking the day away. What was the point in slumping against a tree stump or standing in the blackberry bushes and crying? What a waste of time!
She didn’t need them. Peri knew she could do this herself.
“I’m going to look for them,” she announced. “I can’t sit around here wondering what we should do.”
Chain mail was made of thousands of small iron rings connected together.
She yanked the lowest branch off a nearby tree, looking at the others defiantly as she did it. “You can come with me if you want. Or stay here, I don’t care.”
She didn’t wait to see if anyone would join her.
Her first steps were met with the sound of a horn in the distance. Her head shot around to look back at the others. Had they heard that? Merlin nodded just as the horn sounded again. Barlow and Henry got to their feet now too. A thunderous trampling shook the ground.
With the horn came the heavy rumble of horses’ hooves tearing through the forest and into the clearing. Peri had to jump off the path to make way for the horses shooting past her.
Merlin hadn’t been kidding when he said horses were as high as the branches on the chestnut tree.
The horses were reined in to a stop in the clearing near Merlin.
“We had no choice!” Barlow started to ramble. “’Twas too dark to finish our journey, and we needed a small fire for the night. Barely any branches did we take!”
Peri tried to jump back and catch her breath but was frozen. All she could see was chain mail amassed on top of horses twice her height. Why hadn’t knights looked this scary in pictures she’d seen before? It was like facing a live bear after only having seen a stuffed animal of one. Peri dropped the branch she had been holding, mostly because her arm had gone limp now.
The largest knight got off his horse and surveyed the people around him before he turned to speak to Barlow.
“Why should we trust you? You are nothing but a swine farmer, and methinks you stole that swine anyway.” He looked down at Cressida and commanded Barlow. “Hand her over.”
“My Cressida?” Barlow gulped. “She is being taken to our lord’s castle for the wedding.”
“Why would I believe such a thing when ye sits around this campfire with your fellow travelers, wasting the day away?”
The knight gave up waiting for Cressida to be brought to him and went to untie the pig’s rope himself. He took off one of his gloves to pull at the knot around the tree. At the same time, a hiss came through the air, moving so quickly across the clearing that no one could actually see it. Then it stopped with a thwack. It was an arrow and it pierced the knight’s glove. The glove was now pinned to the tree, not more than an inch or two above the knight’s hand.
Pixies were believed to play tricks on people and lead them astray
The knight tumbled backward so quickly he fell over and crashed to the ground. Once he caught his breath and realized he still had his hand attached to his arm and unharmed, he began to bellow. The birds scattered, and everyone in the clearing jumped and looked ready to run and hide too.
The other knights would probably have come to his aid if they weren’t laughing so hard.
“It must be a pixie!” one of them roared.
A voice came from out of the trees. “I am no pixie.”
The knights and the others all twisted around to see who was speaking.
“It is I,” Emily said as she stepped out of the bushes. In her hand was Jack’s bow.
“I know of no knights from our hamlet apt to steal a poor man’s swine, and you wear no coat of arms. Tell me then,” she demanded. “From where do you come?”
None of the men answered. Instead, they scrambled to pull off their helmets and fall to their knees to bow.
Peri had never seen so many knights fall so fast and so ungracefully. The largest knight, the pig thief, turned to glare at another knight.
“Take your helmet off!” he hissed.
Heraldry (including the coat of arms) was a way for knights to distinguish themselves from others. They painted colors and symbols on flags and shields so others would be able to identify them.
“I try to…” the other man struggled to say. “It is stuck.”
Amid the noise of their clanging and thumping, Emily walked over to them. With both hands, she gripped the uncooperative helmet and yanked it as hard as she could. The man tried to contain his cries, but Emily ignored them anyway.
“None of these travelers is causing any trouble.” She stepped back to face the men.
“They are with me.”
“We beg your pardon, Lady Maud,” one of the knights said. “We did not know.”
“Lady Maud?” Barlow gasped at the same time.
“You are Lady Maud?” Merlin added.
Merlin and Barlow joined the knights on the dirt clearing now and bowed down on their knees.
“My lady, I had no idea!” Barlow insisted.
“I knew it!” Peri blurted out. That’s why her shoes looked so nice. Emily was royalty!
“So wait,” Henry mumbled, mostly to himself. “Emily isn’t really Emily? Her name is Maud?”
“You may stand.” Emily frowned at the sight of the knights before her. She crossed her arms and looked down angrily at the largest knight, the pig thief.
“Pray tell, for what reason are you so deep in the woods?” Emily asked.
The three knights exchanged a confused look.
“Has my father sent you to find me?”
The pig thief cleared his throat. “Lady Maud, we pray we find you safe and well.”
“My lady, we were told you were lost,” another one said. “Still, we did not know you would be so far from home.”
“Um…excuse me. Emily?” Henry asked.
It was as if she hadn’t heard him.
“Emily?” he said again and waited.
She finally noticed him. “Prithee, call me by my true name.”
She sounded a little regretful when she spoke. “’Tis true. I am Maud, the one in my tale. And my father is Lord Fitz Peter.”
She turned back to speak to the knights. “I suppose my father expects you to escort me home?”
“We would be honored to do so,” one of the knights said, not really answering her question.
He looked over at the rest of the group, moving from Henry and Peri to rest on Merlin and Barlow. “It is best your friends come as well.”
“No!” Henry looked pleadingly at Maud. “We have to find Max and Jack.”
“Two boys are missing,” Maud explained to the knights. “And Dringle. I will not go anywhere until they are found.”
She turned away from them, done with the discussion. Only Peri watched the three knights as they argued among themselves with baffled looks and shrugs.
A sudden thought came to her as she watched these three guys who had stormed in from who-knew-where. She and Henry weren’t meeting these knights for a reason, were they?
She wasn’t going to let herself think about that. It didn’t matter who else was here in the forest with them. The only thing that mattered was she had the object in her pocket. Now if only they had Max.
She tried to remember everything from last night when Max was still with them. There was Merlin’s tale and everyone falling asleep. Everyone except Henry and her, that is. But Henry was awake because he thought he had the plague. And she couldn’t sleep knowing a fake sorcerer was nearby and at any moment he might notice the object was missing from his den. It had already dropped out of her pocket twice when she was trying to fall asleep and—
Another thought came to her suddenly and she really wished it hadn’t.
What if Max had seen the object when it fell out of her pocket where they were laying? What if he picked it up in the dark? And what if he was back home at the antique store right now? If that happened, she and Henry would have to rely on Max figuring out how to get back here to the forest and rescue them.
Well, that’s just about the worst thought I’ve had in a while.
“My lady,” one of the knights said to Maud now. “It is with great sadness and deep regret that we tell you the king is missing.”
Maud raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Does my father know?”
“Aye, my lady.”
Maud stared angrily at the knights. “I was told he would be safe where he was kept,” she finally said.
Her words were met with blank stares. “How is this possible?” she demanded. “How can anyone be so cruel as to take such a treasure?”
“His Grace says the ceremony cannot go on until his return.”
The knight hesitated, as if he didn’t want to say something.
“My lady,” he said after a moment. “We humbly request that you join us forthwith.”
The look on Maud’s face said it all. She did not want to go, but she knew she had no choice. “I see now I must return with you. My friends need me here, however.”
The others watched Maud to see what she would say next.
“Peri? Henry?” Maud walked over to speak to them. She sounded apologetic. “I daresay these men are right. We must join them. Given the news, I must speak to my father. He will surely aid us in our search as well.”
“I can’t leave the forest.” Henry could barely get his words out now. “My brother is lost.”
Across the clearing, Merlin sounded scattered as he mumbled to himself. “For such a journey…” He scurried into his den to begin collecting things. “Must not forget…need to have them with me.”
The look on Maud’s face said she understood. “Henry, these knights will help us.” She turned to look at the three men. “One of you will escort us back to the castle. The others will search the forest. The two lads and my dog must be found.”
“I want to stay and help them search,” Henry said.
“You will only slow them down.” Maud looked disappointed, as if she didn’t want to say that. “These men have their horses and can search more ground.”
Henry wasn’t convinced.
“You want to go home,” she said. “That I understand.”
“You do?” Henry asked uneasily.
“The Duke of Wallingford will be at my wedding,” Maud offered. “I will make certain you return back safely with him.” She quickly remembered some-thing. “And your brother, as we will surely find him before then.”
We’re going to find Max, Peri wanted to promise Henry. Then she remembered she still wasn’t speaking to Henry, so she kept it to herself.
“When we arrive at the castle, my father will send more men out to search with you,” Maud said to the knights before she turned to speak to Henry.
“If you want to join the search then, you may. We will have a horse for you.”
Henry didn’t look very enthusiastic about her plan.
“I won’t let the lads remain unfound,” she said to him. “On this you have my word.”
As they left the forest and started to cross the fields, the fog lightened. Before long, the stone tower ahead of them became clear. The castle didn’t even look real at first, covered in a low, wandering mist since it sat at the bottom of the valley.
Peri had never been so close to a castle before. A real one, that is, not one that was at an amusement park or miniature golf. And now here she was, looking at a working castle for the first time in her life.
Max was missing though, and that fact clouded the entire day and everything that was happening. Without Max here, none of it mattered.
No one said anything until they were almost to the gate. Then Peri spoke, mostly to break the silence.
“Why is it at the bottom of the valley?”
“For the springs,” Maud said. “They feed the moats.”
A reconstruction of Berkhamsted Castle
As the got closer, Peri saw what Maud meant. Outside the high castle walls was not one drawbridge and gatehouse, but two.
She was about to tell Henry what she knew about castles, but she stopped herself.
If only Max were here. If Max ever gets here—of course he will—when Max gets here, I’m going to talk his ear off. I’m going to tell him everything I know about castles. Henry will just have to lump it.
The guard at the nearest watchtower blew a horn as he saw them approach. The first drawbridge came down and the portcullis went up to let them through.
They went through the first gate and barbican. Once the knights surrendered their weapons, they were allowed through the second gate. It led into the inner courtyard, the ward.
Dozens of people around them carried on with their busy day. Over all the activity suddenly came the sound of another trumpet.
Straight ahead past the wellandbehind the gardens and fishpond loomedthe keep. A staircase ran along the outside of the keep and led to the door on the second floor.
There, on the landing, the trumpeter played to announce the arrival of Lord Fitz Peter. Maud bit her lip nervously as she watched.
The trumpet player moved to allow Lord Fitz Peter to step out. He was dressed in a crimson robe, looking very dignified and royal as he surveyed the inner ward and the visitors below.
“Mitzy!” he cried out as he hurried down the steps toward them.
Before he got any closer, Barlow and Merlin pulled their hats off and kneeled. Henry, watching awkwardly, clearly decided he needed to be part of this too. He dropped to the ground on both knees, then changed his mind and switched to one knee. After a frantic look over at Barlow and Merlin, he switched to his other knee. He was starting to look like someone following dance moves they didn’t know (and had no real hope of learning).
Peri shook her head at the sight. Could he be more awkward? She doubted it.
Of course, she had no idea what to do either. That didn’t stop her from looking like she did though. Her mom had told her the same thing many, many times: good manners might not get you noticed, but bad manners always will.
Peri kept her head lowered, hoping to hedge her bets. She had no idea if girls were expected to bow so she started to lower her head and bend down. She managed to get something between a bow and curtsy in before Maud’s father got to them.
It actually looked quite graceful, she thought afterwards. Certainly better than what Henry was trying to pull off.
Lord Fitz Peter went directly to Maud and grabbed her by the shoulders. The tears in his eyes ran into the huge smile covering his face.
“My child! You are safe!”
“I am sorry I worried you, Father.”
“We are blessed to have you home.” Lord Fitz Peter held her in his arms.
He was so happy to see his daughter that he wouldn’t stop talking. Maud tried to get some words in but only managed a few.
“…sorry to cause you such worry…I know my fate is not your wish either…Dringle is lost…the two lads remain somewhere…”
Her father heard none of it.
“Tonight there shall be a feast!” he was saying.
“Father, I pray you.” Maud stepped back out of his grasp and took his hands in hers. “Listen to me. There is a more important concern now, and I ask your help.”
She looked over at Peri and the others.
“These brave people have protected me and kept me safe. They are my friends.”
“Good morrow, fine men! Thy bravery will not go unrewarded.” Lord Fitz Peter declared.
Now that they had been spoken to, Barlow and Merlin couldn’t talk fast enough.
“My lord, God give you a good day!”
“Greetings, my lord,” Merlin said at the same time.
“Tis most splendid to have—” Lord Fitz Peter started to say.
“Father, I beseech you! Listen to me.”
When she had her father’s attention, Maud went on. “Two young boys remain lost in the forest. I fear they have come upon the dragon.”
As Maud went on to explain to her father all that had happened, Peri had a chance to get a better look at the castle.
The stables ran along the left side of the curtain wall, along with the barn. To the right, a blacksmith was in a shed at his forge. Throughout the courtyard, everyone had gone back to their work. There was water and firewood to deliver, animals to groom and feed, bread to bake, fires to tend to, and more than Peri could follow.
“My house is a lot like this,” Barlow sighed.
Small cottages were made of thatched roofs, dirt floors, and walls of wattle and daub.
Peri looked over to see him standing beside her. Henry hovered nearby too, listening but trying to look like he wasn’t.
“Is it with this much stone?” Peri asked.
“Nay. Wattle and daub we have.”
There was no wattle and daub here that Peri could see.
“Do you have such a tall staircase like that?”
“Nay, no staircase there be.”
“Are there iron bars on your windows? Oh, look at those up there. Do you have stained glass too?”
“Such a window is a treasure. I have fine shutters though.”
“Barlow, you said your house was like this.”
“Aye, I mean the one over there.”
He pointed to the barracks on the other side.
Barlow’s words were met with a look of complete terror on Henry’s face.
What’s up with him? Peri took one look at Henry and thought. They weren’t the nicest homes she’d ever seen, but this was the Middle Ages after all. What did he expect?
Then she realized Henry was bug-eyed and not even blinking. She followed his gaze across the ward.
There it was. Near the stables, a cat had managed to kill a rat. The cat was poking at it now and trying to roll it over. The rat looked a little like a deflated football and it was not a pretty site.
He probably thinks he’s minutes away from catching the plague.
“Peri! Henry!” Maud hurried toward them to say. “My father has summoned his knights. They will leave soon to search for the boys.”
She had to talk over the rattling and clanging of the portcullis as it was being raised. The horses were ready to shoot out and start their ride across the meadow.
The portcullis is an iron gate that can be raised and lowered to protect a castle entrance
“Henry.” Maud looked at him solemnly. “I know you wish to go with them, but my father believes it would be best for you to stay here.”
Henry started to protest. Then he saw the last horse waiting for a rider. It was taller than Henry, and the page was struggling to keep the animal still.
Peri couldn’t help it—she felt bad for him. Ugh! It would be so much easier to be mad at Henry if he wasn’t freaked out about dying from a disgusting bacterial infection.
Maybe I should say something to cheer him up, she thought. He really wanted to go back into the forest with these men. She did too. But she, being the older, level-headed one, knew they wouldn’t be much help out there. I’ll just explain that to him. I can be supportive and sympathetic when I need to be.
“Honestly, Henry,” she huffed. “You don’t even know how to ride a horse.”
It didn’t sound as sympathetic as she had planned. It worked though, and Henry reluctantly agreed. He told Maud he would stay at the castle.
“I promise we will find the boys,” Maud said. “I trust these men and know they will not stop until Max and Jack are returned to us.”
She led him over to the band of waiting knights.
“Sir Geoffrey,” she called to one of them. “We are very worried about the two young boys and will not rest until they are found. Prithee, have your squire return to us this evening with news of your search.”
Henry stood there, in the middle of the bailey, and didn’t even blink as the knights disappeared through the gate. Something inside Peri, either her stomach or her heart, sank as she watched him.
This is my dowry,” Maud told Peri and Henry. She spoke with about as much excitement as someone counting sheep.
They were in a small chamber beside the Great Hall. The long trestle table there was piled high with bolts of cloth and crates. Trunks were stacked on the floor. After one look at it, Maud changed her mind and led Peri and Henry in the other direction.
“It is to be sent to my new home after the wedding.” Maud frowned. “That is, when the king is found.”
Peri didn’t know what to say. Max was missing. Jack was missing. Dringle, the dog, and even the King were nowhere to be found. Maud was leaving soon too. Then what?
The worry must have shown on her face, because Maud reached out her hand to console Peri.
“I regret our castle is not as beautiful as yours in Wallingford.” Maud sounded apologetic.
Was she kidding? Peri wondered. She wanted to tell Maud the only castle she and Henry knew of in Wallingford was a burger place.
“Not at all. It’s wonderful,” Peri insisted. “And I’ve never seen a chamber like this.”
The great hall was the busiest place in the castle. It was a living room, dining room, office, and often a bedroom, all in one.
The Great Hall was exactly what Peri had always imagined. It was the size of her school gym back in Wallingford. But instead of basketball hoops and a scoreboard and portable bleachers, this room had an enormous stone fireplace. Tapestries and huge torches covered the walls and a banner hung from the high ceiling. It was the same one that had been on the watchtower near the drawbridge.
“Then why do you appear so sad?”
Peri spit out the first thing that came to mind. “I only wish Max and Jack could see it.”
“Aye. Before the sun sets we will hear how the search has fared. Then my father can—” Maud jumped back in surprise before she could finish her thought. “Marie!”
“My lady.” A young girl curtsied in front of Maud. She had padded over so quietly they hadn’t noticed her until she stood right behind them.
Marie was too young to be a lady-in-waiting but old enough to do all the legwork for the other ladies. She was bringing a message to Maud now.
“Your bath is ready, my lady. You are asked to come to your chamber and prepare yourself for the feast.”
Maud explained didn’t want to leave Peri and Henry alone.
“Honestly,” Peri assured her. “We are fine on our own.”
It was clear what Maud was thinking when she looked them over.
“Perhaps you would like to refresh as well?” she suggested.
“We did not bring our better clothes,” Peri lied (quite convincingly, she thought). “We were not expecting to visit such a fine castle on our travels.”
It was finally agreed that Peri and Henry would at least wash up before the meal. Then they could go explore the castle.
Henry looked less than enthusiastic about the arrangement. At least he waited until Maud was gone to say anything.
“For the record, I think it’s a dumb waste of time to clean our clothes when these aren’t even our clothes to begin with,” he complained.
He has a point, Peri thought. But she would rather wear fifty pounds of armor right now than admit to Henry he was right.
“I am actually quite looking forward to it,” she lied.
After a night in the forest, getting washed up and having her hair brushed should be a welcome experience. With Max and Jack still missing though, it wasn’t. Peri couldn’t help but agree with Henry that the whole thing was a waste of time. She sat quietly before the chambermaid saying the same thing over and over in her head.
There has to be something better I can do than have my hair braided by this woman. Where is a brilliant idea when I need one?
She hated to admit it but the only person who would understand that right now was Henry.
For a brief moment Peri wondered if she should stop the silent treatment and just forgive him. Henry had been scared and worried in the forest and probably didn’t even mean what he’d said. And how could they figure out what to do about Max if they weren’t speaking?
The moment was very, very brief.
He needs to grow up and realize his feelings don’t give him the right to act like a jerk, she decided.
To make matters worse, if that were even possible, Peri was dying to tell Henry everything she knew about castles. There was so much she could teach him!
Why can’t he just listen to me and act the way I want him to? Why it that so hard?
The woman fixing her hair now was pulling and twisting it so hard Peri couldn’t tell if she was going back and forth in her head about Henry or if her head was actually being yanked back and forth. Henry probably wasn’t feeling anything close to this.
He’s probably having his shoes brushed or his fingernails shined. Someone is probably feeding him gingerbread and playing the lute while he relaxes.
Peri had to stop herself. She was getting so angry she almost stomped off to find him and break up the Henry-palooza she was sure was going on in another room.
Musical instruments such as the lute, harpsichord, and mandolin were popular in the Middle Ages.
Once her hair was done and Peri was out in the passageway waiting for Henry, she ran straight over to the door nearby to listen. It didn’t sound like there was a lute in there. Or harp. It didn’t even sound like people were in there.
Where is Henry anyway? And why is he taking so long? How much can one boy—
Before she could finish the argument in her head, there came a shriek from inside the room. The door swung open and Henry jumped out.
“What happened to you?” Peri asked after she got a look at him.
His hair was some weird combination of sticking out in all directions but flat. It looked like a bird’s nest.
Henry pointed back into the room from where he’d just escaped. “He wants to check me for fleas! That guy in there made me scrub my hair and just now he said he would pick through it—”
Peri waved it off. “Oh, that. Everyone worries about things like fleas and lice around here.”
“They wanted to do it to you too?” Henry paused long enough to ask.
“Sure, but I told them I’d already done it this morning.”
Wait, I’m not supposed to be talking to him. I’m still mad at him.
Henry must have been thinking the same thing. At the same time, they stepped back as if they needed to get a better look at the other. It looked a little like a medieval boxing match about to begin.
Peri had on a gown that once belonged to Maud. It was blue with embroidery along the hem and collar. It actually looked pretty nice. It was definitely better than the brown and gray clothes she’d been stuck with earlier.
Henry had not been as lucky. Peri wasn’t sure where the servant dug up the clothes Henry wore now. He had on a new tunic that went far past his knees and heavier stockings and a cap, all the same color.
The look on his face warned her not to say anything.
“Green?” she said anyway, making it clear she didn’t think it had been a wise fashion choice.
“I know. I look like a lame Robin Hood,” he said glumly.
“No, you look like a pickle.”
Another servant hurried by suddenly, carrying thresh for the floors.
“I guess we can go this way,” Peri finally mumbled once they were alone again.
Straw and thresh, mixed with herbs and flower petals, were often spread on floors.
The passageways were dark except for the iron torches on the walls. The air was thick with the smell of fire and herbs. None of it bothered Peri, but it was all too much for Henry. His face was green.
At least it matches his clothes, Peri thought.
“I’m sorry,” he said suddenly.
“Pardon?” Peri asked in her fakest, most pleasant voice.
“I said I’m sorry.”
“Henry, stop mumbling. I can’t hear you.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” he yelled.
Honestly? That was the best he could do?
“Don’t do me any favors, Henry. If you are going to say it like that, I’d rather you not say it at all.”
“What else do you want me to say?” he cried.
“I don’t want you to say anything. That is for you to decide.”
Henry pouted for a moment before he spoke. “I am very sorry for what I said. I didn’t mean it.”
Peri was quiet for a minute to make it look like she was thinking about what he said.
“Henry, the reason I was upset is because I don’t think of this as my fault or Max’s fault or anyone else’s. I think we are in this together and that’s all that matters.”
Stairs ascended clockwise. The tight inside curve gave an attacker no room to wield his sword.
Peri was pretty sure she heard him mumble in agreement. It was good enough for her.
“They’re going to find Max. Trust me,” she insisted.
Henry looked like he was trying hard to agree with her. All he could muster was a small nod.
“Okay,” she said suddenly and grabbed his arm. “Now come on!”
Everything she had been holding in and wanting to tell him came rushing out.
“This castle isn’t like anyplace I’ve ever read about! We’re in a valley and did you see the two moats? How cool is that?”
Most castles were built near water or on the highest hills to make it harder for enemies to attack
“And do you see these stairs? They were clockwise so attackers would have a hard time usingtheir swords when they ran up them—well, I guess it wouldn’t be a problem if you were left-handed. And, check this out. These skinny openings are arrow slits. Big enough to fire an arrow out, but almost impossible for someone to fire one in.”
It was only because Peri had stopped to take a breath that Henry was able to say anything.
“Do you think they have a dungeon here?” he asked.
She answered with complete authority. “Definitely. This was way before people thought of refinishing basements and putting Ping-Pong tables down there.”
Henry pulled to a stop to blurt out, “Do you think we’re going to get home this time?”
Peri tried hard to come up with the best answer for that. She’d been so busy thinking about Max that she’d forgotten what else was happening.
“For a while I thought so, but now I’m not so sure,” she admitted.
The look on Henry’s face made her think that was not the answer he wanted.
“Well, Henry, think about it. I found the object but it’s not going to do much good unless we find Max. Sure everyone is out looking for him but we have no idea where he actually is. You have to admit it’s not exactly a recipe for success.”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t say that.”
“Well, you’re the one who asked.”
“But I didn’t think you’d agree with me.”
“Henry,ifyou don’t want to know what someone thinks then don’t ask them what they’re thinking.”
Garderobes were nothing but holes over chutes. Everything fell down to the ground (where it would be cleaned out by a gong farmer) or into a moat.
“So what are we going to do when that duke wants to take us home after the wedding?” he asked then. “He’s going to know we aren’t from Wallingford…well, his Wallingford at least.”
“I think we have to believe that what happens to us around here happens for a reason,” Peri insisted.
Henry waited, as if he was waiting for her to say what that reason might be.
“Check this out!” she said instead. “It’s the garderobe. It’s where they go to the bathroom.”
She stepped closer to get a better look. She’d never seen an actual garderobe.
“We’re looking at a toilet?” Henry took one look at it and backed away. “That is not a toilet.”
“Well, it’s what toilets are like in the Middle Ages. The good ones, at least. And get this, I read somewhere that servants used to sit on them to warm the stone for…”
She didn’t finish her sentence.
“What?” Henry finally asked.
Peri froze in place. “Shh! Did you hear that?”
Henry shook his head.
After a moment, she leaned into the garderobe and hung her head over the hole.
“Come here and listen,” she said.
“I am not putting my face anywhere near that.”
“You don’t have to look in it. And hold your breath, if you want. But listen.”
Henry didn’t look like he was going to do it anytime soon.
“Don’t you hear the trumpet?” Peri cried. “It’s them! I just know it!”
Without waiting, she turned and started to run back the way they had come.
By the time Peri and Henry got outside, a crowd had formed to watch Jack and Max arrive.
From the looks of the two boys it was hard to believe they’d been lost in a forest overnight. Both were smiling as they walked into the bailey with Dringle not far behind. Nearby, the knights were dismounting and joining in the fanfare as they took their helmets and gloves off.
“Wow!” Max shouted as he looked around. “A real castle!”
Peri couldn’t help herself and started to cry.
Henry took one look at her and huffed, “Not that again.”
“I’m happy! Aren’t you?”
“Sure I am, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to cry about it.”
“They have been found!” Maud ran out of the keep to the boys. “And Dringle! You found Dringle.”
She burst into tears, too, as she bent down to greet her dog. Nearby, Merlin and Barlow watched, teary-eyed. Even one of the knights took off his helmet to wipe his wet eye. Finally, Henry caved in and went over to nudge his brother in the arm.
“Hey, there. Welcome back.”
“Why are you at this castle?” Max asked him.
“We had to come with Maud. But the more important question is: where were you?”
“I had to find Emily’s dog!” Max made it sound like it should have been obvious.
It was about this time that he got a better look at his brother.
“I know,” Henry said. “I look like a pickle.”
“I think you look like Robin Hood! But who’s Maud?”
“We’ll explain all of that later,” Peri said.
This was it. Now that all three of them were finally back together, she could give Max the object. It was almost over!
“Henry, are you ready?” she asked.
Should I say goodbye—I mean farewell—to everyone? she thought as she fumbled for the pocket on her dress. I’d hate to leave without saying goodbye…it really was cool meeting these people.
Her hand was where the pocket was supposed to be, where it had been, only it wasn’t there now.
“Definitely!” Henry said. “Hurry up so we can—”
“Oh, no!” Peri looked down to see she had no pockets.
“What’s the matter?” Henry asked.
“I don’t have it.”
“Have what? What’s going on?” Max said.
“Peri found the antique,” Henry told him.
“But it’s in my dress upstairs,” Peri cried. “I left it in the pocket of my dress when I changed into this gown.”
Henry remembered something and groaned. “But they told me a laundress was taking all our clothes.”
Together they looked around the courtyard frantically.
“Now what do we do?” Henry said.
“We have to find the laundress and get my dress.” There was no chance.
“I am so pleased to see you are safe.” Maud came over to say to Max right then. “How can I ever thank you?”
Get us our old clothes back, Peri wanted to say. She kept her mouth shut though and tried to ignore Henry’s angry stare.
Trust me, she wanted to cry. I don’t need you glaring at me to tell me how careless and stupid I was for leaving the object upstairs. I already know.
She knew they were no closer to being home than they were when they first found themselves in the forest. They might even be further from it now and Peri knew it was entirely her fault.
“And you found my dog,” Maud went on to say.
“We didn’t just find Dringle!” Jack yelled from across the courtyard. “We saved the dog and we killed the dragon!”
There’s no real dragon and there’s no antique,” Henry said glumly. “This is going really well.”
“I don’t think you’re very funny,” Peri snapped.
“Who said I’m trying to be funny?”
They were in the Great Hall waiting for the feast to begin. The people and noise filling the huge room was enough to drown out most of what Henry might have to say.
“There’s no way Max and Jack really killed a dragon.” Henry sounded certain about it.
“Could they?” he added with less certainty.
“Henry, I can’t think about that right now.”
Peri stared out at the crowded room but paid no attention to anything happening. Pages and servants kept running by to prepare for the meal.
Maud had seated them at the head table. It was the only one set higher than the others, with cushions on the benches and a bright tapestry above them. It was where the Fitz Peter family sat with their special guests.
“We can’t just sit here and not say anything,” Henry insisted.
“About the laundry?” Peri asked.
“About the dragon! What’s going to happen when all these people realize Jack and Max have no idea what they’re talking about? What if someone asks for proof that this dragon was killed? What if they get thrown in the dungeon for making the whole thing up?”
“As soon as this meal is over,” Peri decided out loud to Henry, “I’m going to find my dress. It has to be hanging somewhere to dry by now. We’ll have the object and be out of here before anyone can even say the word ‘dungeon.’”
“Why don’t you sneak out now before dinner starts?”
Peri shook her head as she stood up from the bench. “I don’t want to let Max out of my sight. And he can’t exactly sneak out right now since this banquet is in his honor.”
She looked down at the bench where Henry still sat and pulled him up by the elbow. Over the sound of a trumpet she said, “And get up! Why are you still sitting?”
With everyone else in the Great Hall, they turned to face the doorway.
“Why didn’t you just tell me I had to stand?” Henry said quietly.
“I didn’t know I needed to tell you. I thought you already knew.”
They both stopped when they heard someone nearby. It was Maud clearing her throat, politely but loud enough to get Peri’s and Henry’s attention.
She had changed into a velvet dress, trimmed with fur. In her hair, flowers were woven.
“Do you two always bicker?” Maud asked them in their silence.
“Yes,” Henry said quickly.
“No,” Peri answered just as quickly.
Honestly! Peri jerked her head back in Henry’s direction to huff. Why would he say that? They never bickered. She and Henry might discuss things at great length, but that didn’t mean they bickered.
“Of course we do,” Henry said to Peri.
“No we don’t,” Peri insisted as the horn blower stepped into the doorway.
He blew his trumpet again and, all at once, people began to kneel and bow in honor of Lord Fitz Peter’s arrival.
Peri quickly turned to Henry to say one last thing. “You only think we bicker. That shows how much you know!”
As Lord Fitz Peter entered and walked up to the dais, Peri stepped back.
“Since you probably don’t know this either, we have to wait for Maud’s father to sit down,” she explained under her breath.
“How do you know all this stuff we have to do?”
Rules of etiquette
“Because I read a lot of books and I saw a documentary on King Arthur. And besides, I’m watching Maud to see what she does.”
Once Lord Fitz Peter was in his chair at the dais, the others sat down on their benches.
Right away, Maud reached over and wiped something off her father’s robe. It was such a little thing and probably went unnoticed by everyone else, but Peri saw it. She did it too, with her own father.
After her mom died, Peri had found herself helping her father the same way. It was unplanned little things, like when she told him he had ketchup on his chin or that writing messages in all capitals on the computer was the equivalent of yelling. Nothing all that important. They were just the kind of things that her father would never notice on his own.
It had come to a stop though once Julia, her stepmother, was around. A lot between Peri and her father had changed then. Peri no longer being the first to notice if her father had ketchup on his chin was the least of it.
Peri shook the whole thing out of her head now. She didn’t want to think about any of it. Besides, the young servant, Dripper, was in front of her. He had just poured their ale, and Peri had to move so he could wipe up the spill he’d made.
“I trust you have your knives?” Maud looked over to ask.
It was met with a blank look from both Peri and Henry.
“Perchance you lost them in the forest?”
After another long pause, Peri suddenly remembered.
Yes, I almost forgot. People bring their own knives to meals.
“Yes,” she said in answer to that realization. Then she looked at Maud. “I mean no.”
“Yes, I know we are to bring our knives,” Peri explained. “But no, we do not have them.”
As Peri spoke, Maud raised her eyebrows in confusion.
“I left it in my dress earlier by mistake,” Peri said, without any more explanation. It was the best lie she had come up with in a while.
“I shall request two on your behalf,” Maud smiled. “I do not wish you to kiss the hare’s foot!”
Peri tried hard to smile back even though she had no idea what Maud meant by that.
Henry waited until Maud turned away to whisper to Peri. “Maybe in the Middle Ages ‘kiss the hare’s foot’ means ‘go check for your laundry and we’ll save you some food’.”
“First of all,” Peri whispered back. “It’s called Middle English and I seriously doubt any words have changed their meaning over time to mean ‘go look for your laundry’.”
They both looked up to face the two servants standing before them now. With a water pitcher and bowl, the two young boys had Peri and Henry wash their hands. After the priest said grace, a servant set a piece of stale bread in front of them to use as a plate. Then the parade of food began.
Peri had never seen so many people serve so much food.
Lord Fitz Peter stood up in the middle of the endless bustling. At once, everyone stopped what they were doing.
“Where are the lads who claim they destroyed the greatest enemy in the land?” he demanded.
Maud answered. “Jack of Hilfield and Max of Wallingford, father.”
“Come hither, lads,” Lord Fitz Peter insisted. “Pray tell us of your marvelous feat!”
The idea came to us when we found ourselves at night in the sorcerer’s den,” Jack explained. “It was thither we heard of the lady’s lost dog. We knew the dragon lived somewhere deeper in the forest, and we feared for Dringle’s safety.”
All eyes were on the two boys now. Max caught Henry’s eye and smiled.
“Once the others were asleep and Merlin was tending to his fire, Max here talked me into leaving the clearing to look for the dog. I knew we had to go the way of the dragon’s lair. With the moonlight, we searched until we found the deep cave.”
“That would be the cave at Knotlow Hill,” someone cried.
“Aye, it was not far from where the river rushes through the rocks.”
“We had some food with us,” Max added.
Jack shook his head, remembering. “The pottage from supper no one wanted. We mixed it with the magic potion and set it outside the lair and waited. Then we waited most of the night.”
The looks on everyone’s faces said it all. They were captivated and waited eagerly for the boys’ next words. The only sound was the torches flickering. Henry could barely hide his uneasiness. A huge, crowded room with wood beams, one doorway, and huge flaming torches. In the long list of fire hazards Henry knew, this place absolutely topped the list.
“What is this magic potion you speak of?” Lord Fitz Peter called out then.
“I found it,” Max answered. “I snuck into Merlin’s cave and took the blue pot in the corner.”
From the far end of the room came a cry.
“No!” Merlin cried. “That can’t be—” he started to say but stopped himself. He sat back down quickly, as if that might hide what he’d just said.
“Stand up, my friend.” Lord Fitz Peter waited to go on until Merlin was up and in view. “Who are you?”
“My lord, I am Merlin of the forest.”
“A wizard, are ye?”
“Perchance my lord has heard of me?” Merlin sounded pleased.
“Go on with what you spoke of.”
“That was to be…the potion was not yet complete.” Merlin was not enjoying this. “It could not be as the boys say. A full moon had yet to appear and age it.”
With that, Merlin slunk back down onto the bench.
“We heard strange sounds in the night,” Jack went on. “Lady Maud’s dog was a prisoner in the lair, we knew.”
Maud gasped at that. Dringle did not look traumatized by his overnight adventure though. He was happily below the dais, eating the scraps that fell from the table.
“Late in the night the animal came out to eat the food. So as not to startle the creature, we kept still to appear asleep.”
“It ate everything,” Max remembered.
“In no time at all, the food made the animal mad! We heard it—so much growling in the darkness, we were afraid the others we left at the clearing would hear it too.”
“Prithee, what happened then?” Lord Fitz Peter asked.
“For certain, my lord, the beast changed shape. The head went first and then the body, until only its tail was left to weigh down the creature and prevent its escape.”
Everyone in the hall nodded knowingly, as if that was to be expected.
“But escape it did! The beast twisted and tumbled as the tail withered like a rose meeting the first frost.”
Henry peeked over at Peri now. Both of them raised their eyebrows and shared a look that was a mixture of surprise and disbelief.
“In its new shape, it fled,” Jack announced. “By the morrow, we saw signs only of its struggle.”
“And Dringle was lying near us outside the cave,” Max said.
The room had the air of stunned amazement. Lord Fitz Peter finally spoke up.
“And the knights? Which of you men found these two boys?”
Several knights stood up from a nearby table.
“Sir Geoffrey, tell us what you saw,” Lord Fitz Peter said.
“’Tis true, my lord. We ventured into the lair to see for ourselves. As the lads claim, it was empty. Methinks they speak the truth. The potion made the dragon take on a new shape. For we saw no giant footprints for which the dragon is known.”
Lord Fitz Peter beckoned Merlin again. “Why be ye so timid? It appears your potion worked. It killed the dragon!”
Merlin didn’t look so sure.
“Pray tell us,” Lord Fitz Peter addressed Jack and Max again. “Where are you from?”
“I live with Sir Harry of Hereford,” Jack stepped forward to say. “The finest knight in all of England… other than all of you fine knights, that is.”
He looked relieved when most of the men laughed.
Lord Fitz Peter spoke over the laughter to speak to Max. “And you, my lad?”
“I am from the future.”
If Henry had any food in his mouth, he would have spit it out about now. Did Max really just say what Henry thought he did? This was worse than the bizarre dragon story Max told. This was worse than Peri losing the antique in the laundry. This was even worse than when Henry was forced to dance at his mom’s and Ethan’s wedding.
There was an awkward pause as men throughout the Great Hall stopped chuckling to consider what they had just heard. Then a slow rumble began. Soon a wave of laughter filled the room.
“Pray tell us of life in the future,” Lord Fitz Peter said to Max.
Max thought for a moment. “It is very different.”
“First, we have all kinds of machines you don’t have. Some have wheels and take you wherever you want to go, and there is one that lets you talk to people thousands of miles away. And we have one that takes people through the sky.”
“You are able to move a man to another part of the world through witchcraft?”
“No, I think we mostly use electricity and gasoline. I’m not sure what submarines—those are like boats that move deep underwater—use. Maybe nuclear power or something like that.”
“What?” Lord Fitz Peter asked, pretending to sound surprised. “Is there not some way to let a man appear in a new place without such travel?”
“I guess we can, if you count the machines that let you talk or facetime with other people around the world.”
Everyone found the thought of that hilarious, and a booming laughter filled the entire hall.
“That was a good one!” someone shrieked.
“The boy speaks a language of his own. He had me going for a while!”
Amid the noise, a young page ran in and knelt before Maud’s father at the dais.
“I bring you great news, my lord. It is said by—” was all Henry could hear because someone yelled out at the same time.
“The lad is a dragon slayer and a minstrel!”
“Tell us, boy, can you juggle?”
“Prithee, share with us a riddle!”
The uproar died down when Lord Fitz Peter stood and looked out at the room before him.
“I must bid you farewell, everyone,” he announced. “I am needed elsewhere in haste.” He looked at Jack and Max to add, “We have two fine lads before us who will one day make great knights. After the wedding festivities, let us have a tournament right away to honor them!”
He couldn’t have said anything worse, or at least that’s what Maud’s face said. Even Henry noticed it, and he wasn’t the kind of person who spent a lot of time watching people’s faces.
“Um…Peri?” Henry hoped she might have some idea what to say or do for Maud. With his eyes, he directed her to look at Maud. Together they watched as tears dripped down onto Maud’s gown from her hidden face.
Peri slid across the bench to get closer. “Maud, I’m so sorry. Is it the wedding?”
The wedding? Henry wondered. Where did Peri come up with that?
Before he could finish his thought, Maud nodded, burst into tears, and ran out of the room.
If there was ever a way to dampen the mood at a feast, that did it. Henry never knew a silence could feel so horrible. No one laughed or joked. It felt like a long time before anyone made any sound. When it finally happened, it was only someone clearing his throat.
People barely noticed when the baker walked in with the final dish in his hands. He carried it up to the dais to present it to…
Well, he wasn’t quite sure. He stood before the long table, his brow crinkled as he considered the empty seats. The look on his face made it clear he didn’t think any of the remaining guests was worthy of his dessert.
“Yes, all the important people are gone,” Henry wanted to tell him.
With a shrug, the baker set the pie down in front of Henry and stood there waiting. Henry felt his face turn red and shot a look over at Peri.
“Cut it open,” she mouthed. She handed him the knife they’d been using.
“Stop!” The baker shrieked when saw Henry poised to stab the pie. “The middle. Break open the middle. That is all that is needed.”
Henry had not planned on being part of the entertainment tonight but that didn’t matter. Everyone was watching him anyway. And if there was a way to screw it up and make a mess of it, Henry knew he was about to do it. He tried to take extra care when he picked into the crust.
That didn’t go too well. Within seconds, he was sprawled on the floor behind the bench where he’d been sitting.
All he had done was cut the pie crust open like the servant told him to do. What the baker hadn’t mentioned was that there were blackbirds underneath the crust ready to burst out.
High above him, little blackbirds flitted nervously toward the rafters of the great hall. As they made their way up to safety, one confused bird seemed unsure which direction to go.
Henry knew their chirp and quick fluttering right away. Bird Study hadn’t been the best Scout badge he’d ever worked on, but he did manage to learn a thing or two. The most important thing he learned was not to sit under—
It circled over Henry, flying up and then down again. In the brief moment it hovered in one place, the bird pooped and managed to have it land right on Henry.
Laughter finally returned to the room. Henry was the only one not amused.
I still don’t get it…Emily lives here?” Max asked as he tried to keep up with Peri and Henry.
He was outside with them in the bailey now. The feast was over, and the guests leaving. For Peri and Henry, that meant it was time to find where the laundry was hanging to dry.
“Her real name is Maud. Lord Fitz Peter is her father,” Peri went on to explain as she kept walking.
“But if Maud has this whole castle, why did she have to go out to the forest to walk her dog?”
“She didn’t.” Henry looked back at his brother to huff. “She was running away, you birdbrain.”
Thump. Henry had turned the corner without looking.
“I am pleased to find you,” Barlow said to them, untroubled by his bump with Henry.
Henry, on the other hand, rubbed his sore shoulder and stopped to feel his chin and jaw for injuries.
“I fear I may miss my chance to bid Lady Maud farewell,” Barlow said. He was going over to the barn now. “My time with Cressida grows short, and I will spend it as best I can at her side.”
“You mean anon,” Peri corrected him.
“Nay. It must be farewell. By the morrow I will be gone.” Barlow was leaving early in the morning. “The pruning in the fields awaits me.”
Peasants were responsible for farming the land.
“’Twas a pleasure to share the road with you. The next time we meet it will be your tale we hear!” Barlow put his hand over his heart as he added, “May you find the best of luck on your journey home to Wallingford.”
Ugh… I don’t want to leave Barlow this way but we really have to get looking for my dress before it’s too dark. Peri hated to be rude to someone who had been so kind to them. I’m sure he’ll get over it, she decided.
It was at the same time Peri was debating this in her head that Barlow remembered something. He started to dig through his pouch. “Max, my boy, when I took Cressida to drink not long after I met you, I discovered this sitting at the bottom of the stream.”
Barlow found what he was looking for and set it in Max’s hand. “Methinks you have a journey still ahead of you. May this talisman keep you safe and remind you of our travels together.”
And with that, Barlow turned and wandered off to find Cressida.
“I’m going to miss him,” Peri said. “I really am… but if we’re going to find my dress tonight we have to get—”
“This is it,” Max said after a minute.
“I don’t know.” Peri sighed sadly. “It depends on if my dress is anywhere around here and the antique piece is still in there.”
“No, I mean this.” Max held up his fist. “This is it. The antique I had. Barlow had it!”
“What?” Peri cried. “That’s impossible!”
What is he talking about? He can’t have the object.
“I have it,” she insisted. “It’s up in the keep. I found it in Merlin’s—”
“How dare you!” A thundering voice came across the courtyard.
It was the pig thief, and he did not look happy with Max. “What are you doing with that piece?”
Max froze in place and struggled for something to say.
“You stole it!” the man charged.
“I did not,” Max finally answered.
“Then tell me,” the knight went on to holler. “How is it you possess it?”
“He…” Max pointed across the lawn. In the dark, he could only barely make out Barlow’s figure walking away.
The pig thief summoned Barlow back over to yell at him too.
“You stole it!”
“I did not,” Barlow said.
“Then tell me,” the pig thief said again, even more angry this time. “How is it you possess this?”
“I found it, I tell you!” Barlow yelled back. “In the forest. As Cressida was taking her drink, the figure showed itself to me at the water’s edge.” “Impossible!”
“I swear it to be true!”
The pig thief clenched his teeth while he considered what to do next. He started yelling out across the courtyard since he had run out of people to yell at nearby.
“Sir Quinn! Sir Simon!”
There was no answer, but the pig thief didn’t let that stop him. Instead, he stomped across the bailey, shoving every door open to call the men’s names.
Finally, two knights popped their heads out of the barracks, not very eagerly.
“Find that sorcerer and bring him to me!” the pig thief commanded them.
This can’t be right, Peri thought. If that really is the object, then what was that thing I was carrying around all this time? It looked so important! She didn’t want to admit Henry might have been right and it was nothing but a piece of junk.
Wait… She watched Max more closely now. Why wasn’t anything happening? Max said he was holding the right object but nothing was happening! They should be home. Wasn’t that the way it worked? They had to find the object at its original home. Then, whoever put it on Roger’s Encyclopedia back at the store had to hold it again. That’s what Max was doing right now. So why weren’t they home?
It wasn’t a piece of junk! I did find the real object. I knew it.
“Why isn’t anything happening?” Henry said quietly to her.
“Because it isn’t the real object,” Peri whispered back, making it sound like he should already know that. “Because I was right and the real one is still in my dress pocket.”
The two knights and Merlin came out into the bailey now, the pig thief paced back and forth, stopping only to glare at them.
“Pray tell,” he demanded. “How has the boy come to hold this piece?”
He pointed his finger in the sorcerer’s face. “Did you give it to someone?”
“Nay!” Merlin cried. “I tell you, I have not seen the piece before this moment.”
“How dare you speak such a falsehood? It was used in your philter.”
“That is not the amulet I saw!” Merlin insisted. “Your fellow knights gave me another charm.”
The pig thief stared angrily at the other knights, waiting for them to speak.
Quinn and Simon exchanged a look of helplessness with each other. Neither seemed to be in any hurry to answer.
Sir Quinn bowed his head to speak finally. “Aye, ‘tis true what the sorcerer speaks.”
He went on to tell how he and Simon were on their way to deliver the amulet to Merlin. Sometime between when they left the castle and got to the sorcerer’s den, they lost it.
Merlin looked more and more relieved as Sir Quinn went on.
“We knew nowhere it could be,” the knight admitted. “For we rode through much of the forest and followed near the river for the horses to drink.”
Neither of the knights thought losing the amulet was a big deal.
“We feared not, for we believed this sorcerer to be a quack,” Sir Simon admitted.
Merlin started to protest, but the knight spoke over him.
“In its place we gave him another charm, for we did not think it would matter.”
“What be that?” The pig thief asked.
“My medal.” Sir Simon did not look happy about having to admit this. “My charm of Saint George.”
“The saint of knights?” Peri blurted out. “The dragon slayer?”
Sir Simon shook his head regretfully. “The very same.”
The pig thief sneered at his fellow knights and shook his head with disgust.
“And you!” he snapped at Merlin. “You took the Saint George’s medal to make the philter for Lady Maud to fall in love with Prince Frederick?”
“How was I to know? A lady’s dowry is not something I see every day. Who am I to say a Saint George medal is not in a fine dowry these days? Trends change, you know. It is hard to keep up with them.”
“Is there is no way to tell what potion you make? What madness is that! What would become of such a potion if these men brought you a blackbird pie? Or my braies?”
“Sir, once it was sealed in the blue pot, there was no way to see how it ages.”
“The blue pot?” Max chimed in. “That was the potion we stole!”
Peri couldn’t hide her look of surprise. Were Jack and Max telling the truth after all? Did they actually find a dragon and give it—
“Aye, my potion!” Merlin cried out. He was suddenly the happiest person there. “With the Saint George medal! The potion killed the dragon. My potion worked!” He sounded excited but quite surprised too.
“Then this thing…” Max held up his fist. “What Barlow gave me actually belongs to Maud?”
“Aye, ‘tis part of the lady’s dowry,” Sir Quinn admitted.
“Wait a minute!” Peri stepped in the middle of their talk. “Let me get this straight. You stole something from Maud?”
The knight nodded. “It was to be a wedding gift from Lord Fitz Peter to his daughter. The prince came to us to ask for our help with—”
A trumpet call suddenly blared without warning, and no one could hear what else the knight said. The noise echoed through the bailey and castle and was followed by someone shouting Maud’s name.
All at once, servants and pages began to call out for Maud. There was a lot of stomping and clattering as they ran throughout the inner and outer wards in search of her. A page ran past, yelling her name in the orchard and garden but with no luck.
“What’s going on?” Henry asked the others.
Before anyone could answer, a high-pitched scream came from inside the keep. It was Maud.
“She has been found!” someone hollered.
Peri and the boys ran with the others through the keep, trying to find the source of the scream.
Even in the dim candlelight, Peri recognized her.
It was Maud, clearly upset and alone in the chamber that held her dowry and gifts.
“Oh, Maud. I feel so bad for you.”
Would it be bad time to ask her where the laundry racks were? Peri wondered.
One more look in the candlelight told her it was. Maud needed their help, Peri knew. She and the boys couldn’t go home until they did everything they could to help Maud.
Maybe it would have been better if the knights got that philter after all. It wasn’t that Peri liked the idea of tricking Maud into falling in love with Frederick. It would have been better than what Maud faced now though—having to marry the prince knowing full well the guy was creepy.
Before she could stop herself, Peri started babbling about how horrible all of it was. Maud stared as Peri rambled on about the knights errant whom the prince had hired to steal from her dowry and order the magic potion he had planned to use on Maud. By the time Peri got to part where Merlin used the Saint George medal by mistake, Maud held up her hand to stop Peri talking.
“My outburst ruined the feast, and for that I am sorry,” Maud explained. “Though I know not of what you speak.”
How can she be so calm about this? It’s not even happening to me and I’m still a complete wreck about it.
“While my betrothal may cause me sorrow,” Maud explained, “I know now the great need for it and will agree to it.”
“You will? But…” For a rare moment, Peri was at a loss for words.
Just then, Henry stepped forward to stand near Peri and finish her sentence. “We thought you didn’t want to marry that prince.”
“You don’t even know what he looks like,” Peri managed to get out.
Henry nodded his head in agreement. “In the tale you told, you said you have never even seen him.”
“Aye,” Maud agreed sadly. “Though I marry him not for his looks; I marry him for my king.”
“But we heard you scream just now,” Peri said.
“Aye, it was a spider I saw along the table.”
Not this again! Peri wanted to scream. I’m sticking around the Middle Ages to help a maiden not have to marry some strange guy she’s never met and all she can think about is a spider dangling on a table?
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Peri blurted out. “But if that’s all you’re worried about would you mind showing me where you dry the—”
“My dear!” a booming voice interrupted her.
Lord Fitz Peter charged in to grab hold of his daughter.
“He is coming home!” He beamed. “King Richard has been freed and is coming home! Our king is returning to his throne!”
Maud was too stunned to speak.
“What’s he talking about?” Max whispered to Henry.
“Shh.” Peri swatted him on the shoulder.
“Jeremy,” Lord Fitz Peter called out to the servant.
“Come light the chamber so I may see my dear daughter’s face as I speak.”
He waited until Jeremy lit the candles to say any more.
“Her Grace, Eleanor of Aquitaine, has paid the ransom for King Richard’s release,” he said then.
“Aye?” Maud didn’t seem to understand where her father was going with this.
“An allegiance cannot be formed until the remaining hostages are returned to England.”
It turned out that King Leopold’s son, Frederick, wasn’t the most honorable prince. He was doing such a bad job handling Austria’s prisoners and keeping track of ransom money that he gave up and decided to go on a crusade. At least there he could ask for forgiveness.
Maud cut to the chase. “Father, does that mean what I think it means?”
“Aye, my dear,” her father answered. “You will not marry the buglebeard.”
King Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart
The tears that Maud had been holding back came now as tears of joy.
Even Peri’s eyes welled up. For a minute, even she was too wrapped up in the news to forget about leaving.
“Not this again,” Henry muttered.
“Do you have to give all these things back?” Max asked suddenly.
“It will be a pleasure!” Maud smiled.
“Does that mean Barlow can keep Cressida?” Max asked.
“Aye,” Maud said. “’Tis better that way. The hog would not have made much of a meal. The runt is only good for collecting acorns.”
She realized something then and looked around at the excess of her dowry. “Father, I am pleased to part with all of this. Though the gift you gave me…perchance you will allow me to have that still?”
“Aye, my dear.” He nodded.
Maud took a candle over to the table beneath the window. Only then was everyone able to see the chessboard that lay there. Maud spoke as if she knew what her father was thinking.
“Aye, a piece remains missing,” she said. “Sir Simon warned me of that when he came upon us in the forest.”
“Wait!” Max said. He opened his fist to show the talisman Barlow had given him. “Do you mean this?”
“Are you serious, Max?” Henry took one look at it and yelled. “That is what you’ve been talking about? That isn’t a thing. That is a chess piece, you dope!”
“It is?” Peri asked. It didn’t look like any chess piece she had ever seen. It also didn’t look anything like the piece of junk she’d found at Merlin’s.
“It is?” Max asked too.
“Aye, you found it!” Maud smiled.
“Wait a minute!” Peri turned to Maud. “Do you mean when the knights found us in the forest and said the king was missing, they were talking about…” She pointed to the table. It seemed hard to believe. “…a chessboard?”
“All this time it was a chess piece,” Henry hung his head and moaned.
“I don’t understand,” Peri said. “Why would you care if the knights said the king was missing from a chessboard?”
“It belonged to my mother. She wanted me to have it when I was married.”
“Why didn’t you tell us it was the king on a chessboard?” Henry said to his brother.
The game of chess was brought to Europe from the East and became very popular in the Middle Ages.
“I told you already. I didn’t know what it was.” Max wasted no time now pushing past the others to set it on the chessboard. “Here you go.”
“Grammarcy, though that is not where it goes.” Maud went over to show him. “The white king goes in the same square across the board from the other king.”
She held up a candle to illuminate the board for Max to see.
“What is important to know—remember this when you play—is this king has the advantage at the beginning of the game,” she went on to explain. “For if you are not careful in the first few moves and leave your king open for attack,” she said as she placed the king on the square where he belonged, “you will have what is called—”
A fool’s mate,” Henry said to himself. Finally!
“I figured it out! I know what a fool’s mate is!” he screamed out. It was only when he looked over at Peri and Max that he realized something was different.
They were home, back at the antique store.
He stood frozen in place for a moment and studied the room around them. He wanted to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
“Yep,” Peri said, as if she could read his mind. “We’re home.”
“No fair!” Max did not sound as pleased about it. “Now we’re going to miss the tournament. And it was supposed to be for me and Jack.”
Henry took a deep breath as a look of relief covered his face. Tournament or no tournament, he was happy to be home. The antique store was the last thing he ever thought he’d be happy to see. The doors got stuck in the summer and couldn’t close all the way in the winter. There was a skunk currently living under the back porch and the bathroom was the size of a phone booth and had an old pink toilet. Still, he couldn’t remember the last time he had been this relieved to see any place.
The warm, happy feeling didn’t last long. He looked over at his brother and the familiar feeling of annoyance came back at once.
“If you had told us it was a chess piece,” Henry said, “we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble!”
“If you ever let me help you with your Scout badges, I probably would have been able to tell it was a chess piece!” Max answered.
“For the record, the one and only time I let you help on one of my badges you—”
“Guys, stop it.” Peri looked over from the where she stood. She had been scanning the bookcase, looking for a particular book. “Do you two do anything but bicker?”
She looked straight at Henry when she added, “Sound familiar? And you, might I add, are what is called the common denominator.”
Henry started to disagree but stopped himself. He took the apple Peri had left on the desk. It was bruised and mushy but he didn’t care. He was starving.
“So, listen to this.” Peri had a book out now and flipped between pages as she read parts out loud.
“King Richard returned to England for only a short time. Before long, he was off battling in Normandy to regain control over land his family had lost. Then, in 1199 a young boy shot Richard in the shoulder with his crossbow and Richard died.”
Peri turned the page and read in silence.
“Get this,” she said after a moment. “Lady Maud married someone named Henry de Bohun.”
“Was he the one who shot King Richard?”
“No, Henry de Bohun was the First Earl of Hereford.”
“So?” Henry said.
“It says here he was called Harry when he was younger.”
Henry still didn’t get it.
“Harry?” Peri repeated slowly. “Hereford? Before an earl comes a knight…as in Sir?”
Henry stared at her blankly.
“You can be so dense sometimes!” Peri sighed.
“Sir Harry?” Max yelled. “Jack’s knight, Sir Harry!”
“Yes!” Peri cried and began to read more. “Henry (as he was called when he got older) and Maud met at a tournament, got married, and went on to have three children.”
“I bet it’s the tournament Lord Fitz Peter was about to have,” she added. “Since it was honoring Jack, it would make sense that Sir Harry would be there.”
“How do you know so much?” Max asked.
“When you read as much as I do,” she explained, “you start to absorb a lot of information and learn to deduce things. It’s only to be expected.”
Henry rolled his eyes.
“You know,” Peri decided suddenly, “if we really lived back in the Middle Ages, I’d probably be considered a genius.”
“No, you’d be married with ten kids,” Henry said.
Peri ignored him and closed the book. “Max, so what really happened when you and Jack ran away?”
“What do you mean?”
“With the dragon? Did you really kill it?”
“I don’t know,” Max shrugged.
“Well, did you see it?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How can you not be sure?” Henry asked.
“How about the cave? Did you get a look inside?”
“No, it was late by the time we found it. It was too dark out.”
“So what did you do then?”
“Well,” Max remembered. “Jack fell asleep right away. I didn’t fall asleep as fast, so I got to see Dringle.”
“Where was that?”
“He wandered up from the river and went into the cave, but some other animal—I think it was a fox— must’ve been living there because they started fighting.”
Peri nodded for him to go on.
“That’s it.” Max said. “I guess Dringle scared that other animal away because whatever it was came running and took off. Then Dringle finally came back out and I guess he was hungry because he ate all the pottage and magic potion—”
“You let him drink it?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Was he okay after he drank it?”
“I don’t think he liked it very much. He ran back down to the stream to drink the water there. He came back, though, and fell asleep next to us.”
What a letdown this new version was. The dragon drinking a magic potion and changing shape was way more interesting, Henry thought.
“What about the next day? And the knights who found you?” Peri said.
“They showed up and once they knew we were okay they went to look in the cave. They found some blood and fur, which must have come from Dringle’s fight, and then they saw the animal prints heading down to the river. And then they brought us to the castle.”
“Why didn’t you tell them what you had seen?”
“I tried to, but they didn’t believe me. Then I figured it was better to keep my mouth shut because I didn’t want to say something wrong and have you get mad and yell at me.”
“I would never get mad and yell at you,” Peri assured him.
Henry almost choked on his apple when she said that. He managed to stop himself though and coughed instead.
He shook his head and laughed. “So everyone there really believed two kids killed a dragon, but it was only a lost dog going after a fox?”
“Henry,” Peri said, in a you-don’t-know-anything-do-you tone. “Don’t act so high and mighty. Who’s to say a thousand years from now people don’t think we’re simple-minded because we actually thought an old encyclopedia could take us back in time?”
Henry almost let it drop. He knew he should keep his mouth shut. Then Peri would think she got the last word in and that would be the end of it.
“Well,” he said anyway. “It makes more sense than stealing an object from some old guy’s hut because you just feel it’s the real one that everyone’s been looking for and it will take you home to the future.”
Henry waited. Any moment Peri would snap back at him and defend herself and find a way to blame it on him or Max.
Yep, he thought. Any moment.
Peri only looked at him in silence. It seemed like she did it for a really long time and Henry started to get uncomfortable because of it.
“Henry,” she finally said. “I was dumb to think that and I shouldn’t have dragged you along and made you think it was the real object just because I had some weird premonition it was. I was wrong and I’m sorry.”
She said she was dumb? And wrong? And sorry? Henry froze until he was sure he’d heard what he thought he’d just heard. It almost made him choke on his apple again.
“I won’t do it again,” she promised. “Next time I’ll be more careful.”
Henry could barely swallow the last bite of his apple now and started coughing hard. Did she really just what I thought she said?
TWENTY – ONE
There was something Henry still didn’t understand. They had been home from the Middle Ages for a while now, but no matter how many times he went over it in his head, it didn’t make sense.
It wasn’t until he was outside shoveling snow with Peri one day that Henry even mentioned the trip again. It was their turn to clear the sidewalk in front of the store, but Peri had stopped when she saw the mailman coming.
She’ll do anything to get out of shoveling, Henry thought. He was done with his half, and Peri hadn’t even managed to clear a path to the curb on her side.
“There’s something I don’t get,” Henry said to her when she headed back over with the day’s mail.
“Hmm?” she mumbled, flipping through the envelopes and catalogs in her hand.
The whole time they were stuck back in the Middle Ages, Henry figured the way they were going to get home was to find the antique and have Max hold it. When that didn’t turn out the way he planned, Henry wondered if maybe there was something they were supposed to say—the world seemed to be full of magic words and incantations that people believed caused weird and unbelievable things to happen.
He’d been getting ready to test for his next Scout badge though, and if there was one thing all the chess playing lately had taught Henry, it was not to assume his first idea was the best idea (or the right one). After all, some of his best chess moves came after he paused and studied the situation and went over the options in his head.
He’d been trying to do the same thing when he thought about their trip back in time, but he was still stuck on some of it.
“Remember what you said when we were at the castle?” he asked Peri now.
“Henry, I said a lot of things.” Peri huffed, not because she was annoyed, but because she was back on the sidewalk and looking at the shoveling she still had left to do.
“You said we would go to Wallingford with the duke if we were meant to go with him.”
Peri shoved most of the mail in her coat pocket. “Yeah, so what?”
“So are you saying you think there was a reason— or a purpose—for everything that happened to us there?” Henry stood up to lean on his shovel while he explained things. “I mean, it all must have been meant to happen because it’s over and it’s part of history and it got us back here, where we are now.”
“I guess so.” She opened the one envelope still in her hand while she answered.
“That means everything went right. I mean, the way it was supposed to. Because if something went wrong, we wouldn’t have made it home.”
Was that an I-am-completely-sure-of-that “okay” or an I-don’t-really-know-what-I’m-talking-about “okay”?
“But why did some of those things have to happen?” he went on. “Why did Max have to run away with Jack and get lost? It didn’t help us find the chess piece Barlow had, did it?”
She was too busy reading now to do anything but shake her head.
“In fact,” Henry said. “When Max ran off with Jack it actually took him farther away from the object. So what was the point of that?”
She glanced over with a shrug but Henry could tell she was only pretending to listen.
“I don’t think there was a reason for it to happen,” he said. “Nothing important came out of that whole mess in the woods…other than they kind of killed a dragon.”
He rolled his eyes in disbelief and had a look that said “if you can believe that one.”
“All that we are sure of is Max and Jack found Maud’s dog and all those knights had to go out and search for them.” Henry played that over in his head again before he added, “Do you remember what you said to us when we were on the Brooklyn Bridge that time in New York City?”
Peri stopped reading to look up. “Stop asking me if I remember what I said! That’s impossible. I talk too much to remember all of it.”
Peri talked too much? You can say that again. Henry decided it would be better to keep that thought to himself right now.
“You said we helped a lot of people there,” he reminded her.
“We did.” She hadn’t even finished talking before she went back to reading.
“But I’m beginning to wonder if we don’t just have to find the antique, but we also have to help the person who has it.”
Peri thought about it before she shook her head. “No, I don’t think you’re right.”
“Why not?” Henry tried not to sound annoyed.
“Well, you might be a little right.” She looked up at Henry for a very brief moment. “I do think we have to find the antique and help whoever has it. But you said it yourself, that still wouldn’t explain why Max ran off with Jack in the forest.”
Peri disappeared back into her letter. What is it with you and reading? Henry wanted to scream at her. She was the same way when she was inside on that ugly sofa in the office. She would lose herself in a book and it would take turning off the lights in the room to get her to notice you.
“Or why we were in wandering through the forest in the first place,” Henry said. He was practically talking to himself now.
If they had to spend a lot of time in one place, he would have preferred it to be at the castle. That would have been nice—exploring all the passageways and chambers.
But we probably would’ve missed out on meeting Jack, Henry thought. Or Merlin. Or maybe even—
That’s it! It was so obvious! How could he not have thought of it before? It was as obvious as playing chess, where a player needed to control the center squares on the board. It let you get important pieces into play and gave you more options.
“Of course we had to be in the forest!” Henry cried.
Peri didn’t even bother to lift her head up while Henry spoke to her.
“Walking through there let us meet everyone,” he said. “And it let all the others meet each other. And it was where Barlow and Maud were and so was the object. And we helped Barlow keep Cressida and Maud find her dog.”
Peri looked up at him now with a frown. She didn’t seem as pleased by his insight as he’d hoped.
“What?” he stopped rambling to ask. “You should be happy. We finally know what’s going on.”
“No we don’t.” Peri sighed heavily and held up the note in her gloved hand. “This person…”
“What?” he asked in her silence.
“Someone knows we have the book.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean this letter is from someone who wants to know if we have a copy of Roger’s Encyclopedia of Antiques and Extraordinary Curiosities. They want it back.”
What came next were words Henry never wanted to hear.
“Henry, I have a feeling we have no idea what’s really going on. But don’t worry. I have a great idea.”
We are a small printing press and have recently been acquired by an international publishing concern,” Peri read.
Henry lost count of how many times she’d been over the letter. The only difference this time was she was reading it out loud and had the book in question, Roger’s Encyclopedia of Antiques and Extraordinary Curiosities, in front of her.
She read the letter slowly, as if that might help them understand it better. But at this rate, Henry figured he could translate it into Chinese before she was done. That included the time it would take him to learn Chinese.
“Prior to the culmination of this merger, we are attempting to secure the original, most treasured works produced in our remarkable history spanning almost half a millennium. Together, these volumes will make up a special collection at the Museum of—”
“You know, what I don’t get is how does anyone even know we have a copy of it?” Henry cut her off to ask. “Who could know that?”
“I wish I could read the signature.” She sighed. “It’s so sloppy though.”
As many times as Peri had read the letter, she had complained about this. “Why can’t people try a little harder with their handwriting?”
He figured she didn’t really expect him to answer that. They had a lot more to worry about than messy handwriting.
Ever since their trip back to the Middle Ages, there was one thing Henry didn’t understand—why was all of this happening to them?
Now though…ever since Peri opened that letter someone had mailed them, Henry was beginning to think he’d need to start a new list. It would be called “The many things I don’t understand about the encyclopedia.” The top two questions would be “who could possibly know we have the old encyclopedia?” and “why would anyone care?”
“We ask that you notify us immediately if you still have this work in your possession,” Peri continued with the letter. “Following your acknowledgment of this, we will send you instructions on how to proceed with its shipment to our headquarters in Paris—”
Henry pulled the letter away from her face.
“Why’d you do that?” she complained.
“Did you hear what you just said?”
“Of course I did.”
He paused, to give her a chance to admit she actually did not hear what she just said.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” was all she asked.
“Paris” He pulled the book across the desk toward him. “Don’t you remember?”
He started to open the encyclopedia to show Peri something. Before he got to the right page, it hit her.
“New York City,” she remembered.
Henry nodded at the same time Peri added, “The book was published in New York City.”
They had seen it months ago when they were trying to find the author of the book. The author wasn’t listed anywhere, but the city of its publication was.
Henry turned to the front page they had looked at so many times. It took a moment for him to say anything because he froze.
“That’s impossible!” he finally managed to spit out. He pointed to the page open in the book now.
“New York City” was printed nowhere on it. In its place was something else now.
“England?” Henry gulped.
“Since when was this book printed in England?”
His look of astonishment was met by Peri’s firm nod and look of understanding. Henry was pretty sure neither was an attempt by his stepsister to make him feel better.
Peri was the first to break their silence.
“You want to know my idea?” she asked.
“Yes, you do.”
“No, actually I don’t.”
“Well I’m going to tell you anyway.”
“Henry, you and I both know what we need to do now.”
“Oh, do you mean lock the book away forever?” Henry thought it was a brilliant idea. “And then we can throw the letter in the garbage and no one will know if we ever saw it.”
“No,” Peri answered. “We have to go to Paris next.”
“Next?” It was exactly what Henry did not want to hear. “Are you saying you think we should go back to the past again?”
“Of course! We can’t stop now. We have too much to figure out.”
“But…we can’t do that!” Henry raced to think of a reason why they shouldn’t do what Peri said. “There’s no point in going back in time to learn about a letter someone wrote us only a few days ago.”
“Henry.” She sighed, something that carried with it the unsaid words I really feel sorry for you. It must be hard to be so clueless.
“We already have seen that this encyclopedia changes the year it was printed. Now it looks like it changes the place where it was printed. Who knows what else is going on with this book? We need to find the people who printed this book and speak to them.”
Henry wasn’t convinced.
“It says so right here.” Peri held the letter up. “This book is one of their original, most treasured works. That means it’s one of their oldest books. That means it was printed when the press first started. That means it might be close to five hundred years old.”
That means we’re going to Paris. Henry groaned.
If you want to experience some of what you have read about in this story, try some of these games, projects, and recipes (be sure to ask an adult for help in the kitchen).
Can you guess which of these statements are true or false?
1. Shields were made in kite shape to protect a knight’s legs.
2. Red/white poles in front of barbershops once signified a place where bloodletting took place.
3. Europe was the most advanced civilization during the Middle Ages.
4. King John died from eating a bad peach.
5. Bloodletting^*^ was against the law for everyone except royalty.
6. Rats were put on trial for eating food that didn’t belong to them.
7. This children’s nursery rhyme was about the plague:
Ring-a-round the rosie,
_A pocket full of posies, _
We all fall down!
8. People who wanted a last name had to request one from the king.
9. Soccer was outlawed.
^*^Bloodletting was the practice of cutting open a vein to let blood out.
Ginger is originally from Asia and was brought to Europe during the spice trade in the Middle Ages.
You’ll probably notice the amount of the spices listed here are imprecise. We have noted the maximum amount of each but use less if you don’t want your gingerbread to have a very strong flavor. You can even omit the ginger and cloves if you want. The word “gingerbread” originally meant anything that had preserved ginger in it though, so we find it weird to skip the ginger in this recipe. But since you are the one who’s going to eat this, you decide!
Grease a cookie sheet or pan (you can also line it with parchment paper). Set aside.
Boil the honey in a saucepan. Be sure to ask an adult to help you at the stove.
Reduce to low heat and add the spices. Mix well.
If you want it to be a deep red color, add the food coloring and/or saffron.
Slowly add the breadcrumbs and stir until it’s well mixed. It will be very thick.
Pour the mixture onto the cookie sheet. Spread it out until it’s even and not more than an inch thick.
Cover the gingerbread with wax paper and [+carefully +]turn in over onto a cutting board or other flat surface.
Let it cool and then you can cut it into pieces to eat.
Be sure to check out the video of this on our YouTube channel!
This game has been around for over three thousand years but really caught on and became popular in the Middle Ages.
To play the game, two players use their nine pieces (“men”) and a board like this:
Players can put their men on any of the 24 points (the circles in the picture above) on the board. The goal is to get three of your men lined up, vertically or horizontally. This is called a “mill.”
Take turns placing one of your men on any open point. If one of you forms a mill, you get to remove a man from the board that belongs to the other player. That piece is no longer in the game.
If possible, you have to remove a man that is not part of any of your opponent’s mills.
Once all the men are on the board, you take turns moving your pieces. You are allowed to move a man to any adjoining point that is not occupied. Again, if you form a mill you get to remove one of your opponent’s men.
Hint: a good strategy once you have a mill is to break it (by moving one of your men out) and either form another mill or return it to the first mill on your next turn. This way, you can remove one of your opponent’s men. We’ve done it repeatedly with just one mill and won entire games this way!
When one player is left with only two men or cannot move, the other person wins.
Can you guess what this riddle is about?
This soup includes a lot of vegetables, even though people in the Middle Ages did not think vegetables were healthy food! What this soup does not have is much flavor. Spices were rare and expensive at the time and peasants did not use them.
Bring the stock to a boil and add the vegetables.
Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through and then add the herbs. Start with one teaspoon and add more to taste.
Often, a spoonful of oats was added to thicken the soup. If you use root vegetables, you will probably find they do the job just as well.
Can you match words from the Middle Ages to their modern day equivalents?
b. an early kind of underpants
c. thank you
d. useless talk
e. a wandering knight in search of adventure
f. to be late for a meal and to have only leftovers to eat
h. a shaggy beard
i. the family that controlled the British throne from 1154-1485
L. a wooden stick used to stir
Need a hint? Here are the words used throughout the story.
With the new use of beeswax in the Middle Ages, the smell of progress was, literally, in the air. Until then, people used tallow (animal fat) to make candles, which smelled bad and made a lot of smoke as it burned.
For this project you’ll need:
String to use as a wick.
Something like a washer to use as a weight on the bottom of the string.
Two old cans – one can for the wax and the other can for water.
Optional – a third can or container. It should be larger so that the can of wax can fit inside it.
Be sure to check out this video too on our YouTube channel!
Along with ale and wine, mead was a very popular drink in the Middle Ages. Authentic mead is made by fermenting the honey (which takes several weeks). This recipe will give you faster results.
Boil the water and honey. Skim the mixture to remove the foam on top. Add the spices and lemon and stir well. Strain it and let it cool before you drink it.
An copy of a mead recipe from the Middle Ages.
Do you recognize these modern-day phrases?
Can you figure out which of these practices gave way to each phrase above?
A. It was common to dip a thief’s hand in a berry dye that would soak into the skin and stain the hand for several weeks. It served as an act of public humiliation of being convicted. All who saw this person knew he was a thief and a criminal.
B. The name of an Anglo-Saxon scribe who copied Norman and Saxon history by hand into English, Latin, French, and German.
C. Nobles rode a taller breed of horse to signify their status and authority. Often commoners would say this to someone who was acting more authoritative and arrogant than he had a right to.
D. The term was first used when William of Normandy promised to reward every independent, weapon-carrying man who joined him in his conquest of England.
E. Knights wore the symbol of their family crest or heraldry on their sleeves when they went into battle. The symbol showed the love and devotion that encouraged the knight to defend his family’s honor. It became popular for knights to wear the crest in tournaments and symbols were gradually adapted to denote a lover, rank, accomplishment.
F. Nobles were often faced the problem of getting rid of unwanted guests at feasts and gatherings. To give these guests the hint that he or she had over-stayed their welcome, they were served a cold, unappetizing portion of the roast.
G. Bakers would often cheat a customer by wrapping a dozen of an item but in truth providing less than twelve. By the time a customer noticed, it was too late to prove the baker had cheated them. The problem became so bad that strict laws were passed for unethical bakers. The penalties were so harsh that instead of the standard twelve in a dozen, bakers began inserting thirteen of an item to ensure they were within the law.
HARD TO BELIEVE?
1. true; 2) true. The red represented the blood; the white the bandages; 3) false. There was a lot going on in other civilizations around the world. For example, groups in North and South America had more advanced agricultural and farming techniques. In China, people lived in one of the most advanced cultures that introduced paper (and therefore paper money and more books), the lunar calendar, gunpowder, mechanical clocks, and even math fractions to the world. To learn more about the rest of the world at this time go to .; 4) maybe. This wasn’t meant to be a trick question. It’s just an interesting bit of trivia that’s hard to confirm. Yes, historians generally agree King John ate a peach and died. Some say he was poisoned, others say he was already sick and the unripe peaches were, literally, the bitter end; 5) false. Bloodletting was considered good medical procedure. It wasn’t until the 1800s that people realized it was hurting many, many more people than it was helping; 6) true. In fact, a lot of animals were put on trial for various offences. Donkeys, sheep, pigs, and many other creatures had their day in court (and usually lost); 7) false… but for a long time people were certain it was true and we think it deserves a solid “maybe.” Supposedly, the words signified various stages of the plague: the rosie was the rash that formed; the posies were the flowers and herbs people carried to ward off the disease and cover the smell of the disease raging through their villages; ashes were from the dead bodies burned because there were too many to bury; and, falling down (death) was what happened to anyone who caught the plague; 8) False. Most people didn’t have or need last names. There weren’t enough people around to warrant them. Over time, though, people began to take surnames based on such things as their characteristics, the town where they lived, their occupation, or their father’s name. Now you know where last names like Long, White, North, Marshal, and Ericson came from! 9) true. It was considered too violent, which it was. Games went on for days and often resulted in serious, and even fatal, injuries. The first law came in the 14th century but was not widely observed.
10TH CENTURY RIDDLE: the answer is vellum!
1) g; 2) b; 3) I; 4) l; 5) a; 6) j; 7) k; 8) c; 9) e; 10) f; 11) h; 12) d
YOU HAVE TO START SOMEPLACE
1) D; 2) E; 3) C; 4) F; 5) G; 6) A; 7) B
The author gratefully acknowledges the following people and institutions for providing artwork, photographs, and their expertise for this book.
Historic England/Historic Building and Monuments Commission 62, 134
3, 16, 21, 32, 78, 79, 82, 83, 94, 112, 124, 139, 145, 147, 148, 158, 159, 180, 210
Library of Congress
4, 41, 149
Look and Learn Ltd.
33, 42, 45, 69, 71, 80, 95, 106, 126, 127, 142, 150, 155, 171, 177, 187
Reynolds-Finley Historical Library/University of Alabama
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
2, 42, 50, 72, 76, 77, 88, 105, 138, 182, 204
Once again, special thanks go to Jill Amack and Sue Toth for their copyediting and proofreading. For the wonderful illustrations, I owe a huge thank you to Alessandro Vene.
Suzanne Roche is a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her initial lifetime plan was to marry Tarzan, but she moved on to consider becoming a tap dancer, a baseball player, or joining the Foreign Service. These aspirations came entirely from reading about them rather than from any remarkable training or talent. As each of these career plans withered away, it was the constant love of history, reading, and writing that grew. Besides studying Russian History and English Literature at Wells College, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, she studied Polish at Jagiellonian University and attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.
It turns out that trips back in time haven’t ended for Peri, Henry, and Max. In the second book in the TIME TO TIME Series, the children find themselves right in the middle—the Middle Ages, that is. And this time they’re lost in a forest, where they stumble upon a group of travelers who seem to be long on medieval tales but short on helpful information. Peri and her stepbrothers are sure they know what they have to do to get home, though, so there won’t be any problems this time. End of story. Okay, maybe not. It turns out everything Peri and the boys know is wrong and nothing is how they expect it to be. So when none of their ideas work, they have to rely on a peasant chaperoning his pig, a maiden searching for her dog, a dragon-hunting page, and an unappreciated sorcerer to find the answers. Only everyone seems to be better at losing things than finding them. Now if only someone knew exactly when that pesky bubonic plague was going to start. Don’t forget that at the end of the book, you can get your hands on history! Try the nine puzzles, activities, and games based on the story. Make medieval gingerbread, learn to play Nine Man’s Morris, and solve a riddle from the 10th century, plus more!