©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.

ru/

White

Tower

Country of Frozen Time

Knight Caterino
Dmitrii Suslin

Translated from Russian by

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by Elizabeth King, Shona Brandt, and Dmitrii Suslin

©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

Titles in the Series

Knight Caterino

©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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PROLOGUE

I In a far away country (I have never managed to find it on any map) is a big and beautiful city. It sits on an enormous hill and is visible from afar. High thick walls surround it on all sides and one can enter or leave the city only through the gates protected by armed guards. There are many houses in the city and life is buzzing on its streets. People come here from all over the country in order to sell or to buy something. Certainly, the city cannot manage without travellers; they want to see, in their opinion, the largest city in the world. We know, though, that in the world there are cities considerably bigger. This, however, is not in question. The people of the city which I am telling you about consider that there is only one country in the world, the one in which they live. A few rebellious principalities on its outskirts are persistently unwilling to become subjects of this great country. The city stands on the hill and its cobble-stoned streets either lead up or run down. Most of the people live below, near the city gates, and the houses are poorly constructed. Here boisterous merriment reigns. It sometimes seems that it is an eternal fair and show here. Even the soldiers here are always happy, talkative, and love to enjoy themselves very much. The merriment, however, begins to quiet down several blocks above. The houses are more solid and luxurious. These citizens slam their heavy doors in an unfriendly way and cast haughty looks at the merriment on the streets below. Prosperous townsfolk live here. They keep many servants and ride in expensive coaches. The more splendid the coach, the more horses harnessed to it, and the richer and more notable its owner. The moneybags love to brag about their status to each other. They do not like to walk, however, and only ride in their coaches, hence all of them are either very fat or very thin. The people on the lower streets, when no police officers are beside them, laugh at the rich on the sly.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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After passing the rich blocks, one can see a beautiful fairy-tale park surrounded by patterned iron railings and watched by guards with halberds. The richest townspeople with special passes enter the park through the gate and stroll along white sandy paths past fountains and ponds where snow-white swans swim. Everywhere grow carefully pruned trees and bushes and very many flowers. The noise of the merriment from the lower streets does not reach here. In the depth of the park looms a gloomy palace, or more precisely, a castle, because it has too few windows for a palace. Here reigns complete despondency. Courtiers and grim guards in iron armours walk along the enormous gloomy halls. No one laughs and everyone talks only in a whisper. A tower stands on the highest part of the hill and one can see almost the whole country from it – dense forests, deep rivers, cities and knightly castles, large villages and lonely cabins, and quite far away, the huge bulk of a mountain with its snowy peaks resting against the sky. Sometimes tiny glimpses of fire are visible there at night when a dragon takes off on a hunt.

Long, long ago the great architect Walter built this tower from blocks of white marble and covered the roof with a thin layer of gold. The beauty of the tower amazes everybody. Walter died and a conflict immediately started around his creation. One prince took possession of the tower. He added his castle to the tower but this made his castle look like a deformed dwarf standing up next to a beautiful princess in a wedding dress. Later the tower and the castle frequently changed owners. Haughty barons and good fairies lived here. Even the elf king took up residence once. He surrounded the castle with a magnificent park. Five hundred years ago, after the elf king’s time, a city began to grow here.
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The Sovereign appeared next. No one knew from where he came. This person turned out to be omnipotent. He subdued the dragons. None of the knights could oppose him and the wars, which had continued for almost a thousand years, ended. The Sovereign established strict laws and began to rule over the entire country. The Sovereign settled in Walter’s tower alone, almost in seclusion. Only several loyal servants and guards were there with him. The courtiers who lived in the castle were rarely allowed into the tower. The Sovereign lived in the highest part of the tower, where he could keep an eye on everything that was happening in his realm. The people gazed at the tower with fear and respect and called it the White Tower. II Once on a bright summer day the Sovereign was sitting regally on the throne in the main hall of the White Tower. He was very old and decrepit. His hands gripped a heavy staff with an eagle carved from dragon bone topping the gold knob. A magnificent crown was resting on the Sovereign’s head. The Sovereign was gloomy and sullen this day; he was usually this way and he never smiled. On this day, the Sovereign was particularly out of sorts. The bright sun in the blue sky among the carefree clouds spoiled the Sovereign’s mood even more: he preferred the dusk and the coolness of rain. In this country, however, it rained very rarely. “Send for my First Minister Gargulio!” ordered the Sovereign. Gargulio, a portly squab with shifty eyes, then appeared before the stern gaze of the Sovereign. Gargulio was extremely uneasy because his lord had not summoned him for three whole years. “What does the great Sovereign want to say to his loyal servant?” Gargulio asked in a trembling voice. The First Minister tried not to show how tired he was when he hurried to appear before his lord. On the contrary, he was all lit up with pride that the Sovereign had remembered him. “Listen, Gargulio,” the Sovereign began gravely, “I’ve become quite old.” “What do you mean you are old?!” exclaimed the First Minister. “Don’t interrupt!” the Sovereign became furious. “I’ll be a thousand soon. That means I must die. For five hundred years I have ruled the country, the people, and other creatures that settled on this land. Now the end for me has come. Yes, the end!” The Sovereign sighed and clutched the staff even firmer with crooked fingers. The First Minister listened to him with bated breath. “But the country will not be left without a ruler!” shouted the Sovereign and, after striking the staff against the floor, had a fit of coughing right then. “I will leave an heir.” “Oh, great Sovereign!” Gargulio yelled, having fallen onto his knees. “Who indeed is the lucky person who will take the place of so great a wizard?” “You don’t know him.” Gargulio was dismayed there and then: in the depth of his soul, he had hoped that the Sovereign would make him the heir. “He’s still not known to anyone,” continued the Sovereign. “Not even to me.” He said the last two words quite quietly, only to himself, then again spoke loudly, “Listen to my order.” Gargulio bent his back in a servile bow. “Exactly at midnight,” the Sovereign’s hoarse voice became quiet and mysterious, “go into the Garden of the Elf King and find the pond in the growth of willows. Go up to the shore and stand next to the mermaid statue. After that you’ll blow this whistle three times.” The Sovereign handed a crystal whistle on a silver chain to the stunned minister
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and concluded, “And say to all who arrive at your call, ‘He who owns your freedom awaits you.’ Memorized?” Gargulio nodded. “Then go.”

That night a frightened Gargulio (he was very afraid of the dark) made his way along the park while lighting the way with a dim lantern. Finally, he found the necessary pond and the mermaid statue. With trembling hands the butterball put the whistle to his chubby lips, and three melodious sounds disturbed the silence of the night. The willows began to shake their branches and the water in the pond was set in motion, as if small fishes in it had started to dance in a ring. Gargulio even sat down in fright.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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Suddenly a soft blue light lit up everything in this pitch darkness. Gargulio saw five beautiful swans, as white as the fresh snow at New Year, gliding along the water directly to him. The swans stopped in their tracks several steps from the man and their leader glanced sternly, solemnly, and a little sadly at Gargulio. On seeing that no one besides the swans had appeared, the man turned to the birds with the words already known to us, “He who owns your freedom awaits you!” Having heard this, the swans anxiously flapped their wings on the water, splashing Gargulio with a fountain of sprays. Only the leader remained calm and majestically proud. It bent its neck elegantly and sighed like a human. The thunderstruck Gargulio saw the birds lifting off after taking a running start. Having stretched out into a wedge and made a smooth circle above the water, they soared upward to the White Tower. They very quickly became barely discernible points. Nevertheless, Gargulio managed to make out the birds flying into the window of the throne hall where, in all likelihood, the Sovereign was waiting for them.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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The First Minister opened his mouth in amazement and looked at the crystal whistle. The magic whistle had disappeared as if it had dissolved in the air. The blue light had also faded and it became dark as in a cellar. After crying out in terror, Gargulio raced as fast as he could to the park exit. The astonished guards watched as he took off from the park as if a fire were lit under him and, whimpering from fear, jumped into the coach which had been waiting for him for a long time. After some time Gargulio came to his senses. It then seemed to him that he saw a flock of birds, bathed in moonlight, flying out of the Sovereign’s window to the east. III A grandpa and his two grandsons were sitting with fishing rods on the shore of the lake and waiting for sunrise. The grandfather was smoking a very big pipe and the boys, not moving, were watching the floats. The sun emerged from below the horizon. It was so bright that the grandpa and the grandsons screwed up their eyes. Then the strangest thing that could possibly happen took place. A strong whirlpool appeared in the lake. The height of the funnel gradually increased and it began to resemble a waterspout. Swans suddenly took off from the exposed bottom in the middle of the lake – real swans, the kind that swim in the ponds of zoos and royal castles in Andersen’s fairy tales. 1 Five white swans shot up into the sky and, after circling above the lake which had returned to its shores, flew in the direction of the sun. When they were out of sight, peace and quiet reigned again. “Ah-h!” escaped simultaneously from the boys and the grandfather. Moreover, the old man let out so much smoke from his pipe that his grandsons coughed.

1

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75), a Danish author well known for his fairy tales and children’s stories. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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IV When the topnotch pilot, Ivan Ivanovich Speechmaker, guided his Fulcrum 2 into the next loop, he saw something that almost blew his mind. His suddenly sweaty hands nearly let go of the controls. In front of him at an altitude of five thousand metres flew a flock of birds similar to large geese. The birds were flapping their wings slowly and smoothly but the pilot Speechmaker in the speediest aircraft in the world could not overtake them. The pilot increased his speed. He broke the sound barrier in a few seconds and caught up with the birds. No matter how he tried, however, the pilot could not outrun the flock of five white swans. “What the devil!” cursed the pilot. Suddenly it dawned on him. “But indeed this can’t be. It can’t be!” What had Speechmaker not seen in the sky in hundreds of flights! He had seen flying saucers, which, after winking slyly, immediately disappeared into outer space, and sluggish airships similar to well-fed piglets. Once he even saw an octopus in a huge glass jar floating across the sky. Speechmaker understood that the sky was not only for aircrafts and always reported his sightings in detail. Each time his chief, General Barrel, exclaimed indignantly, “Listen, Speechmaker, why is it only you see such things? Neither Major Hohum nor Colonel Insipid ever comes across anything in the clouds. But then, Captain Speechmaker has seen everything in the sky except perhaps his own mother!” The General could not be angry with Speechmaker for long because he was the best pilot in his squadron. However, he had not been promoted for a long time because of his eccentricities. Friends laughed at Speechmaker and said, “Well, brother, come on! Such tall tales even Baron Münchhausen3 could not tell. Maybe write a book about you? A suitable title would be: The Wonder Tales of Captain Speechmaker.” Ivan Ivanovich was very offended by this and swore not to tell anything similar in the future. Nevertheless, after several flights he again came across something farfetched in the sky and all began anew. Yet, Speechmaker had never seen anything like today. The spectacle of swans flying at supersonic speed was just too unusual and not only that! The swans began to overtake the pride of Russian aviation – the Fulcrum. Ivan Ivanovich could not stand this. The daring and talented pilot, the hero of the riskiest flights and experiments started to cry. He decided that he probably had gone insane and was seeing hallucinations. The swans calmly pulled ahead without any effort and flew to the east towards the sun.

2

Fulcrum is the NATO code name for the MiG-29, the fourth-generation jet fighter designed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and has since gone through different variants over the years. 3 Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720-97), known as Baron Münchhausen in English, was a German nobleman and raconteur of tall tales. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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Chapter One ALONE AT HOME

“I depend on you,” said Papa, when he and Mama sat down in the car. “Everything will be fine!” Kate assured him. “I won’t take my eyes off him.” This was said about her younger brother, who was standing beside her. In answer the boy stuck his tongue out at his sister but in such a way that their parents would not notice. “Kate, Gene.” Mama looked pleadingly at the children. “Swear that you won’t fight.” “But we already promised!” the girl exclaimed impatiently. “All the same, swear,” insisted Mama. “I’m certain that as soon as we disappear beyond the turn, you’ll instantly start to fight.” “Okay, I swear,” the girl reluctantly agreed. “For some reason I’m sure that they’ll live perfectly in peace and harmony without us,” said Papa. “Really, just two days! Tell me, son, am I right?” “Of course, Papa, I’ll be good. I swear!” Gene had learned to win over almost all adults with his wide smile. Mama sighed. The time had come to say goodbye. Tears appeared in her eyes. This was indeed the first time in her life that she had left the children alone. Papa tried to appear calm but it was obvious that he too was worried. Finally, the farewell ritual was over and the car, after tossing up dust on the road, disappeared beyond the turn. The children sighed with relief. Indeed! What effort they had to put in to convince their parents to leave home and leave them alone! Although Mama and Papa were leaving the children alone for all of a couple of days, they felt like criminals. It was necessary to go, however, because the matter concerned the wellbeing of their family. In the two days, granted by the chief of Papa’s company, Papa had to correct the error, because of which the business turned out to be in a difficult position. The children never got the details but one thing was clear – Papa and
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Mama had to go to some settlement over fifty kilometres from the city and negotiate with someone there. What about? The children clearly did not understand this either. Only one thing made the children uneasy – they had never been parted from their parents (not counting summer camp for Kate), but they assured friends that it would be awfully interesting. This is why the parents’ problems not only did not distress them but also even pleased them slightly. Independence promised so many delights! Papa and Mama, however, were torn between parental and office duties. Mama had to go with Papa because she was his chief assistant. Indeed, many parents leave their children alone for a day or two and nothing happens! Unfortunately, it was not the case in this family. Kate and Gene – sister and brother – did not get along at all. You may say, this cannot be! Alas, it is this way. Kate was eleven and Gene, seven. The difference in age, however, did not prevent them from carrying on a real war between themselves. Certainly, it was a tragedy for the parents but they could do nothing. No matter how often they punished, scolded, tried to persuade and urge the children, nothing helped. The children continued to fight and bicker over every little thing. The children’s screams and tears, bruises and bumps tormented the parents. Now they were being left alone together. When the children had been left alone, they immediately wanted to fight again. “Do up your sandals,” Kate ordered her brother. “Leave me alone!” he waved her off. “I won’t!” Kate had been appointed as the senior and she immediately felt all the charm of authority. “You promised to obey me, so do what I say!” Gene looked at his sister with hatred. He got down on his knees and began to do up the straps slowly. He was waiting for the sister’s patience to run out. It was her way to have patience. Gene could not bear it and groaned, “Help me.” This was a clever manoeuvre, but Kate guessed her brother’s intention. She wanted to give him a good kick but kept herself in control and fastened the ill-fated clasps. This time Gene and Kate did not fight. They did not fight for two more hours. When they got home, both started to be busy with their own things. Kate started to read a book about the adventures of a girl Alice, and Gene scattered his toys all over the room and set up a battle between the beasts and the dolls. He purposely tried to play noisily in order to bother his sister, but she did not pay him any attention because she was captivated by the space adventures of the girl from the future. “Read aloud!” Gene suddenly demanded. The last thing in the world Kate wanted now was to read aloud. “This book is not for you,” she answered, not taking her eyes off the page. “Why?” “You’re still little.” Nothing so upset the boy as these words from his sister. “Fool!” he fired maliciously. “Little and foolish.” Kate decided to tease her little brother. “You want to fight? Let’s! But consider, you started first.” “I need you!” “Then shut up!” “Didn’t ask you!” Suddenly, both were silent because they remembered that they always started a squabble with precisely such words. Kate was older, and all the blame for the quarrel would lie on her. “Okay, Gene,” she said conciliatorily. “Already late; let’s have supper.” “Fine, let’s eat.” Gene rejoiced that he had turned out to be the winner of this skirmish. He understood that his sister did not want to appear as the party at fault, so he decided to bring her to a furious state and then retreat. He also did not want to become the instigator of an argument, or worse, a fight – although he could.
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Do you think these children would respect and obey their parents? No, they were disobedient and now and then drove their unhappy parents almost to heart attacks. This time, however, they had given an oath and they had never done this earlier. From the stories of their parents and from books and movies, they knew that God, fate, or someone else would severely punish whoever broke any oath. Kate and Gene were afraid of becoming oath-breakers; therefore, they tried not to step over the boundary beyond which a quarrel would begin. What happened next? Kate prepared supper. She was an independent girl. Gene tried to make trouble at the table. “Not tasty!” he stated while picking at the food on the plate. Mama in Kate’s place would start to assure the son that everything was very tasty, healthy, and nourishing. Kate, however, quietly said, “You don’t like it, you don’t eat.” There was nothing left for Gene to do but resign himself. Gene silently ate his supper and demanded to have the TV on. Kate had nothing against that; otherwise, why did they so long to be left at home alone? Certainly it was to have fun and do what they were not allowed to normally; for example, watch evening programs on TV. Kate again decided to demonstrate her authority. “First pick up your toys,” she said sternly. “Why?” Gene was sincerely surprised. “You haven’t washed the dishes.” He was right. Kate had forgotten to do this. She bit her lip in annoyance but decided not to give up. “I’ll wash now and you pick up the toys.” “I don’t think so.” “Then I won’t turn on the TV.” “I’ll turn it on myself.” “I won’t let you.” A quarrel was brewing. The children understood this but they were already tired of keeping the peace and they continued the skirmish. “What can you do to me?” There was no stopping Gene. “I’ll send you to bed and watch an interesting movie myself.” “Won’t work!” “Why is that?” “Because!” In the depth of her soul, Kate understood that there was actually nothing she could do in this situation. She decided to take a different approach. “Okay, Gene,” she said in a sly voice. “Do you want me to take you to the zoo tomorrow?” The boy’s eyes sparkled. The proposal was very tempting. “You don’t say!” he exclaimed. “Of course I do!” “Then pick up the toys.” “Okay,” Gene agreed. The first day without their parents ended peacefully. The brother and sister were glued to the TV for almost two hours; Papa and Mama would have gone out of their minds if they had found out about this. Then Gene and Kate brushed their teeth and went to bed.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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Chapter Two THE FIGHT AT THE ZOO

A shout woke Kate early in the morning. It was Gene shouting. “Get up!” he brusquely demanded and pulled the blanket off her. “Time for us to go.” The girl looked at the alarm clock. It was seven in the morning. “You’re out of your mind!” she was annoyed, “Still early; I want to sleep.” “But you promised!” Gene whined. “Let’s nap for at least one more hour, then we’ll go.” “I want to eat,” the boy stated. “Well, get something from the fridge and eat.” Kate was in despair. She knew from personal experience that her brother would not leave her alone until he got his own way. Anger gradually began to take hold of her. When people’s sleep is interrupted, it is easy for them to be driven out of their wits. Kate started getting angry with her brother for not letting her sleep, with herself for thoughtlessly promising him the day before a trip to the zoo, and generally with everyone and everything. “So, you’re not getting up?” Gene asked, squinting. “No!” “Then I’ll go alone.” “Just try,” Kate muttered and turned over to the other side. Kate fell asleep and did not hear Gene puttering in the kitchen preparing breakfast and dropping a plate doing so. He wandered around the apartment for a long time in search of his clothes because he had scattered them all over the place the night before. He banged something in the foyer. It was scary to go out alone but Kate would not get up. Gene was obstinate and this time he was unable to get the better of his own stubbornness. Besides, it would be disgraceful to back off. Gene slammed the door and began to go slowly down the stairs. Kate continued to sleep.
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It was such a bright, sunny morning in the courtyard that Gene instantly forgot the disagreement and headed straight for the zoo. There was some change in his pockets. He bought three lollipops at the kiosk and briskly walked along the street while looking around. Passers-by were moving to and fro. No one paid any attention to the little boy in unbuckled sandals and with a lollipop in his mouth. The question why the boy was alone at this early hour entered no one’s head. Trolley buses rushed past; streetcars dinged from time to time. The city was living its usual active life. Gene walked. He knew the way to the zoo even better than the way to school although the way there was about five times longer. The boy loved animals very much and he was terribly envious of children whose home had a dog, a cat, or any little beast. He and his sister repeatedly asked their parents to let them get something. Nothing helped. Once, the children even promised their parents that they would live in peace and harmony if they could have a dog. Their parents did not believe them. Gene got to the zoo but the gates were still closed. Time was dragging along very slowly. It even seemed to the boy that time had stopped completely. There was nothing left to do but be patient and wait. “Nasty kid!” Kate cursed when she woke up and saw that her brother was not at home. “Ran off.” She was certain that Gene was running in the courtyard and therefore did not begin to worry. Mama and Papa forbade the boy to go out onto the street alone unaccompanied by an adult or his sister. Kate should run and get Gene home but she did not because she thought, “Why did we remain alone? In order not to interfere with each other. If I tell him to come home, he won’t listen. We’ll fight. Better let him play. When he gets hungry, he’ll come running like a good kid.” Two hours passed and Gene did not return. Kate began to worry. She really did not want to go out but there was nothing else to do. She decided to give her brother a good dressing down. The boy, however, was not in the courtyard and Kate became very frightened. She ran along the street while glancing into all the secluded corners in vain. Kate sat on a bench and gave the situation some thought. Did Gene actually run off to the zoo? Apparently so, Kate decided and ran in the direction of the zoo. Passers-by looked at her with surprise. When Kate got to the zoo, she discovered that she did not have any money at all. Would she really have to return home? The girl got even angrier with her brother. Her anger grew with each second. When Kate got angry, she became very obstinate. The girl decided to get into the zoo at any cost. Without thinking, she went along the fence in search of any hole. Is it really possible there can be holes in normal zoo fencing? Of course not, or else all the beasts would scatter. Kate was tired and found nothing. If she were to meet her brother now, without a moment’s hesitation, she would throw him into the lion cage. Poor Gene did not know what clouds were darkening over him! Kate turned the corner and saw boys playing a trading card game right on the asphalt. Trading card games had become most popular among children very recently and resembled adult card games. The rules were different everywhere but one thing was essentially the same – instead of playing cards, they used bubblegum cards. In her class,
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Kate was the champion of this game. She groped in her pocket for her pack of cards and approached the boys. There were four of them and all were a year or two younger.

“Let’s play?” Kate proposed. The boys uttered not a word. “What, afraid?” the girl asked maliciously. “We don’t play with girls,” answered the oldest, who wore a yellow Tshirt. “Why is that?” Kate was indignant. “Because when girls lose, they squeal and howl so you have to give them back their loss. And what game is that?” said another boy.
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“Right, Ted?” The boy in the yellow shirt nodded with an air of importance. Obviously, he was Teddy. “No,” Kate grunted, “You won’t beat me.” Such words greatly offended the boys. “Okay!” they yelled in eager rivalry. “You have to play with something. Probably saved up five cards…” “Like hell!” Kate showed them her wealth. A whole pack of the finest cards flickered before their eyes. “Well?” Kate asked with a challenge. “Will you play?” In fifteen minutes the boys were standing with downcast faces and Kate stuffed her pockets with their cards. She won with ease but this was only half the work. “Do you want to win them back?” Kate asked. She knew perfectly well that they had nothing to bet. The kids kept quiet and watched with melancholy as the girl shoved their wealth into her pockets. She specifically did this slowly and carelessly. The boys’ hearts broke when they saw how their cards with cars, airplanes, supermen, and toys were crushed. “You know where to go!” Teddy muttered sullenly. “Took all away and say: win them back. How will we do that?” “You will redeem them from me and try to win,” proposed Kate. “How’s that?” Teddy did not understand. “Very simple.” Kate mentally divided the price of a ticket to the zoo by the cards won. The ransom was ridiculous. Kate was almost ready to sell the cards for a song. The boys shouted excitedly, expressing their agreement. The transaction took place; a satisfied Kate very quickly counted the money, and her partners retrieved their cards. “Well, shall we play still?” Kate asked this just in case, for clear conscience. “No way!” the boys who had been taught a bitter lesson answered. “Okey-dokey!” Kate agreed with pleasure. “Bye then!” She ran to the zoo entrance. Her mood had improved noticeably. Winners are magnanimous. Her anger had disappeared by itself. The girl even decided not to punish her little brother but merely to chide him slightly. Kate went through the gate with the alluring inscription and ran to the cashier, bought a ticket, and handed it to the old lady with the red band. After a minute, she was by the cages with animals but was not interested in them. Kate searched for Gene. In the zoo it was easier to find a camel or an orangutan than a seven-year-old boy. In fact, signs were hanging in the cages about where certain beasts or birds could be found. There was no sign for where to search for Gene Konstantinov and one cannot make the rounds of the entire zoo in a day. Kate first rushed to the lion cages, then to the monkey cages. Gene was nowhere. The girl rushed about from side to side. She asked visitors whether they had seen a little boy in dark blue shorts and an orange short-sleeved shirt. She heard different answers; some positive, some negative, but no one could say anything specific. Please do not think that Kate did not know that one could go into the broadcasting centre of the zoo and ask them to announce over the PA about a lost boy named Gene. She was just so bewildered that she did not think of doing this. Sometimes even adults are at a loss in difficult situations. Time passed. There were fewer and fewer people; the zoo visitors were moving one after the other to the exit but Kate was still running from one cage to another, from one enclosure to another. “Perhaps Gene isn’t in the zoo?” Kate posed the question to herself once again. Right then she saw her brother. The boy was standing in the pond with waterfowl and watching spellbound as ducklings played. He nearly fell into the water from surprise when his sister’s hand grabbed him by the collar.
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“Gotcha!” Kate announced triumphantly. “Let me go!” the boy desperately struggled to break loose. “Now we’ll go home,” the girl said with threat in her voice. “I’ll have a talk with you there, an appropriate chat.” Then Gene bit his sister’s finger. “Ouch!” Kate yelled and let go of her brother. “There!” Gene bounced to a safe distance and stuck out his tongue at his sister. Kate rushed to him. Gene moved to the side but the girl managed to seize her brother’s hand. She dragged him to the exit. “I still haven’t seen everything!” Gene yelled. “Enough for today.” “No! I want to stay!” “You can manage without,” Kate cut him off. She was barely restraining herself from delivering a good slap to the back of her obstinate brother’s head. To drag a resisting and struggling boy was difficult. To argue with him was even more so. The rare remaining visitors looked over at the children and disapprovingly shook their heads. “You have no right to deprive me of cultural leisure in a public place!” Gene shouted. He knew many clever words and expressions and loved to use them on occasion. “Besides, you promised me!” “Yes, I did,” agreed Kate. “But who let you run away from home? Who? Disgusting boy!” “Not my fault that you sleep like a sick monkey.” He should not have said this. “You’re a monkey!” the girl was angry, downright mad with this comparison. Yes, she had this small fault; she loved lying in bed in the mornings, but she let no one laugh at her, not even her own brother. The boy continued to call her by other offensive nicknames. “Sleepyhead!” he shouted. “I saw this beast today. The spitting image of you! ” “Shut up!” Kate was ready to cry with mortification. There was no stopping Gene. He understood that at long last he had found his sister’s weak spot and decided to make full use of it. “No, you’re more like a sloth. It sleeps even when hanging on a branch. If you hang upside down, you’ll also sleep as if nothing has happened. ” “Is that so?!” Tears escaped Kate because of her resentment. She broke down and, forgetting about everything in the world, encircled her brother with her left arm and turned him around with his back to her so that he could not break away; the immediate surroundings were filled with resounding slaps. Hitting was a forbidden action. Their parents had never lifted a finger to either Kate or Gene in their whole lives; it was just not done. There was a law in their family: capital punishment was forbidden. In a fit of temper, Kate spanked Gene. This happened near the giraffe cage. The animals looked at the children with surprise.
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When the stung boy finally broke loose from his sister’s hold, he leaped to the side, with both hands on the injured place and started to cry loudly. Kate looked stunned at her brother. She understood that she had done something terrible but did not know what she should do now. “Gene…” she muttered, “I didn’t mean…” The insulted child, shaking with sobs, broke into a run. He had not experienced such humiliation for three years since Kate had done the same to him the first time. Then he had had a real fit. Their parents had been barely able to calm their son down and severely punished their daughter. They did not talk to her for a week. Kate vowed never to do this again. Today she broke two oaths at once. She spanked Gene and quarrelled with him. The girl was so at a loss that she did not immediately run after her brother. When she came to her senses, he was nowhere to be seen. The search had to begin anew, only this time her mood was completely different. Kate was dispirited and downcast.

Gene hid in the bushes which grew by the water of one of the canals and cried bitterly. He wept with resentment, humiliation, and guilt. The boy squatted down, hugging his knees with his arms, and, after burying his face in them, quietly howled like an offended wolf cub. Tears fell on the sand and left dark specks on it. Suddenly, through his tears, he heard someone hailing him by his name. The voice was low, deep, and unusual. “Gene. Little boy Gene,” the voice called. Gene raised his head, wiped the tears with his fists, and looked around. There was nobody beside him; however, someone continued to call him non-stop. The boy turned his head in perplexity. Five swans were floating in the water so close to the shore that one could stretch a hand out to them. It could not really be them talking to him! Gene looked more attentively at the birds and unexpectedly realized that it was precisely them addressing him in a human tongue. “Who’s here?” he asked just in case. “Who’s calling
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me?” “We are,” answered the largest and the most beautiful swan. Gene stopped crying and plopped down onto the ground in surprise.

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Chapter Three THEFT

“Did you call me?” Gene asked timidly, addressing the swan. “Yes.” “How do you know my name?” “We know everything in the world.” Gene was at a loss and did not know what to say. The swan continued, “We saw how your relatives treated you and we were very indignant for you, Gene. How can you let a girl hit you?” “She’s my sister.” Gene again recalled how Kate spanked him and his eyelashes began to tremble from anger and resentment. “She always gets me angry.” “Poor boy,” the swan sighed sympathetically. “You probably would be glad to be rid of her?” “Of course! I’m sick of her, as everyone knows! But how can I get away from her?” “How?! Fly with us to the Country of Frozen Time. There will be neither a sister who bugs you nor parents who constantly lecture you, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that!’” “I don’t want to run away from Mama and Papa,” Gene shook his head. “But indeed they’re not home now,” insisted the swan. “How do you know?” the surprised boy asked. “Silly, I told you, we know everything. When you again show up at home, Mama and Papa will still not have time to return. But then, your intolerable sister will grow wiser in this time. Let her worry, cry, run searching for you. When you return, she won’t lay a finger on you anymore. Imagine how scared she’ll be, realizing that you’ve disappeared, and what she’ll get for this from your parents.” “Yes,” sighed Gene, “it would be great.” All the time he still had not decided whether to accept the proposal of the fairy-tale bird, although it sounded so tempting. “Have no fear. However much time you spend in our country, only a little time would pass here,” the swan continued to persuade him. “And we urgently need a boy like you.” “Why?” Gene was on guard. “In order to rule over our country. Our king is very old
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and he needs a successor. Do you want to be a prince?” “I do,” Gene nodded. “But I can’t. I must return home very soon. I can’t stay with you for long.” “No need. You return whenever you want.” “Really?!” “Certainly,” promised the swan. “Then let’s go!” Gene finally agreed. The swan got up onto the shore. Gene took a long time making himself comfortable on the back of the leader. All the time the swan endured submissively and did not move. Finally, the boy settled down.

Kate suddenly appeared. On seeing what was happening, she froze on the spot, unable to utter a word. “Quick!” Gene yelled. “Danger below!” The swan awkwardly tottered to the water. The remaining birds followed and soon they were gliding on the smooth watery surface of the canal. It dawned on Kate that something inconceivable was happening. “Gene!” she shouted mournfully. “Where are you going? Come back!” Gene turned in her direction and shouted also, “Goodbye, Kate! Now I’ll be a prince!” “What prince?” Kate sat right down on the sand. But Gene was no longer looking at her. The swans picked up speed
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and were already far away. Suddenly they broke away from the water and took off. “Where are you going?” the girl could only ask. The birds circled in the sky and again flew towards Kate. She was just about to be glad, thinking that they had decided to return. But no. All the time the swans were flying higher and higher. It was already difficult to make out a little boy among them. A minute later, they had disappeared from sight. Now it was Kate’s turn to wail at the top of her lungs. She had difficulty understanding what had happened. A passer-by stopped beside her. “What happened, girl?” he asked sympathetically. “Did someone treat you badly?” “My brother has disappeared,” Kate howled through her tears, “My little brother.” “So we’ll look for him!” the passer-by proposed. “He flew away.” Kate again burst out sobbing. “How did he fly away?” the man was surprised. “On a goose,” Kate sobbed. “On what goose?” “I don’t know. He sat on it and flew away.” “For shame, girl, spinning such a yarn!” The passer-by shook his head reproachfully and went on his way.

Kate looked at him from behind and thought that it is impossible for children to fly on birds! This only happens in fairy tales. What will she tell her parents when they return? Indeed, this is all her fault. Kate began to cry even more.

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Suddenly something fell next to her. Kate looked at the sand and saw Gene’s sandal. The boy, as always, had not done up his sandals; here one of them fell down from the sky. Kate picked up the sandal, pressed it against her chest, and started thinking. Something improbable had happened. In a modern city, at the beginning of the twentyfirst century, a child was kidnapped in broad daylight. By whom? Swans! Like in a fairy tale or a terrible dream. Pondering non-stop over what had happened, Kate ran to the exit. Well, a child had been abducted. Kate tried to think about this as calmly as possible. What had happened was like madness. It means it would be useless to appeal to the police. No one will believe her, even worse, they will think that she is mocking the law enforcement. Being made fun of is what the police like least of all in the world. The rest of the adults will also behave for sure like that passer-by in the zoo. What could she do? Turn to friends? But who will take her story seriously? They will say, “She let her brother slip away. She lost him. Now she’s making up a cock-and-bull story to justify herself.” How can they even help? Kate needed someone who would actually believe in what happened. Here Kate brightened up. Yes, there is such a person! His name is Nick. He is a student. Kate made his acquaintance a year ago at summer camp. Nick was the leader of Kate’s group. He was the best leader in the camp and the kids of the other groups envied Kate and her friends very much. They went on trips, went fishing, sang songs at campfires, and wrote verses with him. Nick was a tireless inventor and the children never had a boring time with him. How many interesting stories he knew! When the session ended, the children did not want to leave camp. The girls even cried. (They were all secretly in love with Nick.) In September, Kate arrived in school and, to her great amazement and happiness, met her former leader there. Nick, it seemed, studied in
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teachers’ college and came to them for a practicum for a whole two months. Only Nick could help Kate now. The girl ran to get him. If only he is home!

The pilot Speechmaker almost pressed the eject button when a flock of swans again emerged from the nearest cloud. Now they were flying towards him. The Captain quickly calmed down. When you encounter something unusual the second time, it no longer seems as improbable as the first time. On the largest and the most beautiful swan sat a little boy in dark-blue shorts and an orange short-sleeved T-shirt. The main thing that struck the pilot was that the boy only had on one shoe. The birds flew with dignity past the super-fast fighter. The boy sitting on the back of the leader looked at Ivan Ivanovich, smiled, and waved at him. Speechmaker quickly went into a spin. Definitely, there was nothing for Speechmaker to do in the sky once ordinary boys are flying here already. What will the commander say when he hears the report of what is going on in the airspace?!

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Chapter Four ON THE WAY

With a sinking heart, Kate pressed the doorbell. There was silence behind the door. The girl had already made up her mind to leave when she heard footsteps. “Kate?” Nick was very surprised to see the girl at so late an hour. “Come in; don’t stand at the door. What happened?” Kate entered and burst into tears instead of answering. Nick stood and waited for the girl to calm down and recount the gist of the matter. Finally, Kate stopped crying and began to tell her story… Nick listened very attentively and never interrupted her. “Indeed, like a fairy tale,” he said when Kate finished her sad story. The girl stood and sobbed. There was neither disbelief nor mockery in Nick’s eyes. This soothed her. “You never said that you have a brother,” Nick remarked while attentively examining Kate, who until now had been pressing Gene’s shoe against her chest. “And what is this?” “It’s his sandal,” Kate sobbed loudly. “He never does up his shoes; now he has lost one.” “Well, let’s have a look.” Nick thought hard. Using the fact that Nick was not paying her any attention, Kate sat down on the couch and closed her eyes. A minute passed and Kate fell asleep. Nick, however, did not let her sleep. “Kate!” His hand shook the girl mercilessly. She did not immediately understand what was happening. At first Kate thought that she was dreaming all the time – the zoo, the fight with her brother, and the goose-swans – but no, she returned quickly to reality. “Now’s not the time to sleep,” said Nick. His eyes sparkled triumphantly. “Great deeds await you.” “Great deeds?” a half-awake Kate repeated like an echo. “Well, not great, but important,” Nick corrected himself. “Very important! I found something while
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you were sleeping. And I don’t need a violin at all like Sherlock Holmes for this. Even this great detective couldn’t solve your case. Must admit I’m also completely powerless here.” Kate was at a loss, “But who, then?” “You.” “Me?” “Only you alone will be able to find your little brother.” “But how?” Kate questioned in desperation. “Perhaps I know where to search for him now?” “No, you don’t. Neither do I. No one knows. But I discovered something while you were sleeping. See what I found in your brother’s sandal.” He handed Kate the ill-fated shoe. The girl took a good close look but saw nothing except a bird feather stuck between the leather strips of the shoe. “There’s nothing here,” she said, looking wonderingly at Nick. “What do you mean nothing? What do you think this is?” “A feather,” Kate said hesitantly. “A feather!” Nick mimicked her. “Perhaps it’s a simple feather? No, not a simple one. But what?” “What?” Kate did not understand what he wanted from her. “This is a feather from one of the birds that abducted your brother. This is proof that it happened. You didn’t dream it; it didn’t just seem so to you; you didn’t make it up in a moment of despair. Everything happened for real. Understand?” “I understand. But how will the feather help us find Gene?” “The whole point is that it will help!” Nick rubbed the bridge of his nose. He always did this when he was troubled. “You fell asleep, but I was busy examining this godsend. At first glance there’s nothing unusual. A feather is a feather. But as soon as I put it on the table and turned on the lamp, it immediately flew to the window. Good that I managed to close the window in time. The feather, as if alive, hit against the window trying to overcome the obstacle. I switched off the lamp and it obediently fell to the floor.” Kate listened spellbound to the student’s story. Nick continued, “I again switched on the lamp. The feather again slowly rose and flew to the window. I caught it. The feather, like a small bird, began to break away from my palm, weakly at first, then stronger and stronger so I even began to hold it with difficulty. Then I covered it with a half of a globe, which is sufficiently heavy. The half globe stayed in place for a while, then began to tremble, slowly rose up in the air, and flew to the window. I was afraid that the globe would smash the glass and the feather would fly away. I put the half globe back onto the table and weighed it down with a pile of books. Imagine, this contraption also took off and moved to the window. I don’t know how to explain this. Fantastic! Be that as it may, but then I was finally convinced of the truthfulness of your words.” Kate smiled for the first time that day. “I started to experiment. How many kilos can this unusual feather carry? It seems it can lift into the air a weight up to fifty kilos! This both pleased and distressed me.” “Why?” “Because you have only one magic feather.” “But what is it about the feather?” Kate did not understand. “Most likely, the feather is seeking its owner. The swan,” explained Nick. “And we need this. We must catch the swans, take the abducted child away from them, and make the kidnappers answerable. Do you agree with me?” “Yes,” nodded Kate. “So you, Kate, have to set off in pursuit. I’m very sorry but you will fly alone. I won’t be able to come with you.” “Why?” Kate was scared. “The fact is that I weigh sixty-three kilos. Likely not so much, but the feather won’t be able to lift me up. But you, I think weigh no more than forty.” “Thirty-five,” Kate clarified. “There, you see,” Nick sighed
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sadly, “It means only you can save your brother.” “How only me?” “The feather can only transfer you to where Gene is in all probability.” “What if the feather won’t take me to where I have to be?” Kate began to worry. “Completely possible,” agreed Nick. “But all depends only on you. You, of course, can refuse. I won’t reproach you. But this is the only way to save Gene. If you don’t use it, then you’ll lose your brother forever. Your parents will remain without a son. True, they still have you. Again, I must warn you that if you decide to set off for the search, it isn’t known whether you’ll return. The choice is yours. But in any case, I won’t say a word whatever your decision.” Nick stopped talking. Kate looked at him and thought about what she should do. One thing she knew for certain: she would not be able to greet her parents with the news that Gene had disappeared. Neither would she be able to look them in the eye after this. It meant there could only be one solution. Since she felt guilty that the boy had disappeared, she would search for him wherever he might be. “I’m flying,” the girl announced firmly. “Afraid?” Nick looked closely at her. “Yes,” acknowledged Kate. “Very much.” “You have to overcome your fears. Otherwise nothing will turn out.” “When should I fly?” asked the girl. “In the morning, at dawn as soon as the sun rises. But you must get ready. Prepare for the journey thoroughly as if for the hardest trip.” Nick looked Kate over critically. She was dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a white Tshirt with bunnies. “Well, not bad,” he remarked, “But somewhat light. Wait!” He rushed to the wardrobe, buried his head in it, and started searching for something. Finally, he came out of there. “Here, hold this.” He handed Kate an old but warm coarsely-knit sweater and a vest with rabbit fur on the inside and Mickey Mouse on it. Kate tried them on. The sweater turned out to be almost her size and the vest a little big. Nick pulled out his own kiddie knapsack and started to fill it with necessary things. At first, he was explaining to Kate the purpose of each thing but, after noticing that the girl was yawning frequently, gave the order, “Well, quick to supper and off to bed!” He fed her macaroni and cheese and sent her to sleep in his absent grandmother’s room. Kate fell asleep as soon her head hit the pillow. Nick woke Kate up early in the morning. It was still totally dark beyond the window. “It’s time,” he said quietly. “Quickly wash and have breakfast.” Kate wanted to do neither, but she meandered into the bathroom and quickly tidied herself. Nick waited for her in the kitchen. An omelette with sausages was steaming on the table. Kate started to eat but without any appetite. “Don’t have to rush,” Nick cheered her up. “Still half an hour to sunrise.” After half an hour Kate and Nick were standing on the roof waiting for the sun to appear on the horizon. The girl was like Robin Hood in her vest and sweater because Nick had told her to put on her waist a wide leather belt, attached to which was his hunting knife in a sheath of highly durable plastic. Nick remembered the knife at the very last moment before leaving. “I don’t think that you will be able to resist robbers,” he warned, “but it may come in handy.” There was one more object next to Kate – a chair, a most ordinary chair. Nick had taken it from his room and had Scotch-taped the magic feather under the seat. This flight vehicle, according to Nick’s calculations, should deliver Kate to where the goose©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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swans had taken her little brother. In order that she would not fall from the chair during flight, Nick had put together a whole system of safety belts. On the roof of Nick’s home, he and Kate immediately got busy with preparations for the flight. Nick placed the chair on a flat place, then set Kate down on it and tinkered with the belts for a long time. “Ready!” he finally declared. “The first chairnaut girl in the world is ready for flight. Now the most important thing: you will fly whether the sun appears or not.” Kate shrugged her shoulders. “Doesn’t matter,” Nick calmed her. “The main thing is, don’t worry.” But it was obvious that he was also very worried. “I think everything will be fine.” Kate decided to cheer up the older fellow. Nick looked at her and smiled. Kate actually presented an amusing spectacle. She was sitting on the chair back to front, holding the back of the chair with her hands. An orange knapsack hung like a parachute behind her shoulders. Her light-brown hair was prudently gathered into a ponytail. Over blue eyes were attractive bangs. When Nick looked at the ponytail, he slapped his forehead and shouted, “Ah, I’m a blockhead! Forgot a cap and mittens. Indeed, it’s minus six in the sky.” Kate shuddered. To her, the things already on her were quite sufficient. A cap and mittens would just be enough to look like a complete scarecrow. She wanted to tell Nick this but did not have time. He had already run to the garret window. “I’ll bring everything now!” he shouted and dived in through the garret window like a sailor into a submarine. Kate remained on the roof alone. She looked with melancholy at the sea of roofs spread in front of her and thought about how unlucky and unhappy she was after all. She was always getting into foolish stories and adventures. For some reason she was always making a mess of something for which she had to face the consequences. She recalled Gene’s last words and sighed bitterly. He flew away to become a prince but she remained here. On top of that she must fly to heaven knows where after him. “A prince!” Kate smiled, imagining Gene in fairy-tale finery and sitting on a golden throne. Once, Kate and Gene had gone together with their parents to visit friends. The friends had a girl slightly younger than Gene. The little girl immediately made friends with the boy and played with him all evening. Kate, it goes without saying, rejected their company with disdain, sat alone the whole evening, and was in a huff at goodness knows who. Certainly, she also wanted to play but just the day before she had had a big fight with her brother. The little ones were managing very well without her and were playing to their hearts’ content. When the time came to leave, the girl did not want to let go of Gene for anything. She hugged him tightly and kissed him, compelling him to blush to the roots of his hair. “You have such a boy, such a boy…” she gushed with enthusiasm. “He’s so pretty, so pretty… Well, just like… like a prince!” Gene was actually a good-looking boy and adults were constantly saying so. Gene was embarrassed and upset when he heard this. He persistently considered that only girls could be pretty and he was not in the least like a girl. Now, when he was called a prince, this comparison suited him just fine. Kate, on hearing this, wanted to beat up her little brother. She herself was not a fright, quite the opposite; she was the most attractive girl in her grade. Next to her brother, however, people always stopped noticing her; no one called her a princess either. That same day at bedtime she got into a grand-scale confrontation with Gene. It came to tears. Both went to bed snivelling.
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Now Kate thought that she had hurt Gene’s feelings then for nothing. Where is he now? What is happening to him? Such thoughts came to the girl’s mind for the first time. Earlier she had thought only about herself and never about Gene. If he was bad sometimes, Kate was only glad and teased him. Now, for the first time, she called him “Eugene” and not Gene. What had happened to Kate? While she was pondering this, the sun slowly began to appear from beyond the horizon. Kate did not even notice this because she was so occupied with her thoughts. She did not notice her chair breaking away very smoothly from the roof and hanging in the air. Then it slowly floated to the edge of the roof. “Kate!” Nick shouted, sticking his head out of the garret window, but it was already too late. Kate, on the flying chair, was already beyond the edge of the roof. The girl was frozen with fear. What both were waiting for had happened. It is, however, one thing to hear about a miracle or to see it from a distance, but another to participate in it. The chair began to pick up speed. A minute passed and Nick already had difficulty distinguishing the flying girl. Soon Kate became a small point in the blue sky and then completely disappeared. Nick stood on the roof for a long time looking in the direction in which Kate had flown away. At that minute, he dreamed most of all in the world to be in Kate’s place.

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The next person after Nick to see Kate in the sky was, of course, Ivan Ivanovich Speechmaker, who was soaring in the sky and making loops and barrels as always. When he saw a girl flying on a chair, he tried not to be surprised but it did not work out. The pilot felt that today he had flown his last flight. However, as soon as Speechmaker got back on the ground, he would calm down, think for a while, and decide to fly further. There were indeed so many interesting things in the sky. Is it really possible to live without the sky?

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Chapter Five PRINCE EUGENE

The swans, together with Gene, landed in the throne hall of the White Tower. Everything was like a fairy tale: the flight on the amazing birds, the overtaking of the jet plane, the magic country, so beautiful and mysterious like a country from a cartoon, and the city above which they flew. The main attraction, however, was the white tower! Gene had never seen the like – even on TV. He flew on top of a swan right in through the window of this tower. Gene jumped down onto the marble floor and looked attentively all around. There was nothing terrible – only an old man, tall and thin with a sullen face, who sat on the throne. Gene did not look at him for long. The old man did not stir and Gene thought that he was sleeping. The swans hurriedly made their way to the old man and, stretching out their necks, began to bow and cackle. “Silence!” the old man raised his voice. Gene approached timidly and carefully. “Let someone speak alone.” “We’ve carried out your order,” said the leader of the swans. “We will fly away, but remember that after carrying out one more order of yours, we will be free. Your authority over us will end!” The old man answered nothing. “Goodbye, Sovereign.” The swan gave its comrades a signal to fly away and noisily spread out its wings. “We will only see you once more.” The birds flew away. Gene’s eyes followed them with a perplexed look. He did not expect to part with his new friends so soon. What would he do now alone? The same old man whom the swans called the Sovereign approached him, “How do you do, Gene.” “How do you do, grandpa.” The boy calmed down a little because old men in all fairy tales are usually good. “And I have waited for you.” Here it dawned on Gene, “Ah-h, so
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you’re that king who needs a prince?” “Yes, it’s I,” the Sovereign tried to smile but it turned out poorly. “Only you must call me ‘Your Majesty’.” “Okay, Your Majesty,” Gene agreed. He did not look at the old man, because his wide-open eyes were looking around at the splendour of the hall. He even opened his mouth with surprise and delight. The old man remained satisfied. “I see my servants carried out my order well,” he muttered. “The boy completely suits my plan.” “What did you say, Your Majesty?” Gene liked uttering this form of address. All the time he still did not look at the old man and listened to him with only half an ear. “I want to say, boy, that I’m very glad of your appearance here,” the Sovereign spoke solemnly. “And I’m not the only one. The whole country rejoices in regard to this. Look here.” The old man brought the boy to the window. Gene was very surprised that things happening on the city streets were perfectly visible from this high tower. There was a real carnival. People were having a good time and rejoicing, singing and dancing. Music thundered; they beat drums; soldiers in ancient uniforms marched in a stately manner; mounted knights in shining armours galloped. Gene was spellbound by this spectacle. It was all in his honour! “This is all because of me?” Gene asked and for the first time looked attentively at the Sovereign. “Yes. All this is for you. From this day on you rule over all the people in our country.” “Is this true?” Gene was staggered. “You don’t believe me?” The Sovereign shrugged his shoulders and clapped his hands. The door of the hall opened. The hall was so high that the person who appeared in it seemed to Gene like a Lilliputian. This was Gargulio. He looked with fear and adoration at the Sovereign. “Approach, Gargulio. Meet my heir,” his lord commanded. Gargulio hurriedly minced along to the boy and, a few steps from him, bent over before him in a deep bow. Gene smiled; the First Minister was so funny. Gargulio in turn smiled with a false and sugary smile, “My name is Gargulio, Your Highness.” “And I’m Gene!” “No. Gene doesn’t work. It’s too simple,” the Sovereign objected. “Tell me, do you have another name, more sonorous and longer?” “In fact my full name is Eugene,” the boy cheerfully informed him. “Wonderful! Eugene is a most suitable name for a prince,” the Sovereign summed up with satisfaction. “Prince Eugene, this is magnificent!” Gargulio carried on while clapping with delight. All three brightened up. Gargulio was in shock. For the first time in his life he saw a smile on the Sovereign’s face. “Let’s return to business, Gargulio.” the Sovereign unexpectedly cut short the laughter. “Our prince has come from a distance. He’s tired and hungry. Take care of it. In the evening I’ll show our future ruler the people and the city which he’ll govern. The people will look at their new monarch.” The old man was no longer smiling. He was again sullen as before. Gargulio, as if on command, also stopped smiling. “Please come with me, Your Highness,” he turned to the boy. One must obey kings. Gene knew this and therefore obediently trudged after Gargulio. He stopped at the doors and, having turned to the Sovereign, rewarded him with his outstanding smile, “See you later, Your Majesty.” “See you later, my young prince!” The Sovereign waited until the door was closed behind the boy and Gargulio, then rubbed his hands with satisfaction. “This child is simply a miracle!” he said to himself. “With him I’ll again be able to begin everything afresh. And what a smile he has! It’ll disarm whomever he wants, even a dragon. Those dragons! The Fairy of Eternal Youth
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will melt when the new Sovereign, young and beautiful, smiles at her.” For the first time in three hundred years, the Sovereign was happy that the sun was shining in the sky. Gene, accompanied by Gargulio, walked along the halls of the White Tower and marvelled at how many halls there were. In front of each door was a guard with a terrible and forbidding halberd. Every time Gene approached one, the guard would salute, click his heels loudly, and jingle the spurs at the same time. “And here’s your room, Prince,” Gargulio opened the next door. Gene entered and opened his mouth in amazement. He had never seen the like even in the movies. Together with the pictures and the ancient furniture, there was a real pond with a fountain which was bubbling merrily and flowing with rainbow colours in the sun. In addition, there were many different toys, big ones, a quantity with horses, and small ones like June bugs. Although he was very tired, Gene’s eyes sparkled with rapture. Gene carefully entered his room, not knowing what he was to do. Gargulio went to the curtain and pulled an invisible cord. The ringing of a little bell was heard next. A door opened and an attractive girl in a beautiful dress came in. On seeing Gene, she curtsied and bowed deeply, at which the boy was confused and looked questioningly at Gargulio. “This is your maid,” Gargulio explained. “Maid?” For all his seven years, Gene did not completely know what this was. “Yes indeed,” said Gargulio. “She’ll carry out all your orders. She’ll feed, dress, undress, wash, put you to bed… Her name is Marie.” “Will she play with me?” “Play?” Gargulio faltered. “Why yes! I can’t play alone.” “Certainly, certainly!” Gargulio hurried to calm the boy. “But first, Prince, you must rest. Marie, take the Prince into the dining room. Maybe not, the Prince is too tired. Feed him right here and then put him to bed. I’ll come for him in the evening.” Gargulio bowed to Gene and left. The boy’s eyes followed him with a happy look. He must admit that he was rather tired of Gargulio.
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“Food is served, Your Highness,” Marie again bowed to the boy. Gene did not want to eat at all, but he felt a frightful hunger when he saw the goodies on the table. He attacked the delicacies with greediness. Marie was constantly adding to it: pastries, pieces of pineapple, drinks... She did all this without saying a word. “Why are you quiet all the time?” the boy finally asked. “You don’t know how to talk?” “I do.” The girl was embarrassed and blushed. “I simply can’t talk with the Prince, the heir of the Sovereign. But in general I can talk. My friends even call me a chatterbox.” “I allow you to talk with me.” With such tasty food, Gene wanted to be nice and magnanimous. The girl was pleased and began to chatter non-stop about how the entire city was only talking about the appearance of a prince. “When my friends find out that I was the first after Gargulio to see the Prince and even to talk to him, they will die with envy.” Marie then noticed that the boy was ready to fall off the chair from fatigue. “Ah, the poor dear!” she exclaimed and started to prepare the child for bed. Gene did not remember that Marie carried him to bed, undressed and put a nightshirt on him, and put him into bed. Gene slept until the evening and the fairy tale began anew when he woke up. Gene saw new clothing in Marie’s hands. His shirt and shorts had disappeared without a trace. When the girl dressed him and put him in front of the mirror, Gene could not recognize himself. In the mirror was not a seven-year-old boy from the usual contemporary family but a little prince from a bright and beautiful book about fairies, kings, princesses, and dragons. Even Marie was lost in admiration. The door creaked. It was Gargulio. He feigned elation and ecstasy on seeing Gene. (All courtiers know how to do this to perfection.) Gargulio was the first courtier of the kingdom and knew best of all how to pretend. This time, however, he was not conniving. He was really delighted with Gene and it showed. “Good evening, Your Highness!” he chanted. “How did you sleep, Prince, and what dreams were seen by your eminence?” “I slept very well, Gargulio.” Gene could not tear himself away from his reflection in the mirror. “This is a real prince,” thought Gargulio and added aloud, “Then, if it pleases Your Highness, it’s time to show the populace the prince.” “Show whom?” Gene did not understand. “The populace.” Gargulio bowed. “That is, the people, your subjects.” “Ah, the people!” Gene looked with an air of importance at his own shoes, the
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buckles on which were made of pure gold. “But why?” “They must see who will rule them.” “Rule?” “Yes, rule. Give orders and punish the delinquent and the rebellious.” “Okay. Let the people see me.” “Oh, Your Highness, they will be so happy!” The door was opened and Gene, accompanied by Gargulio and Marie, left the room. Four people with sedan chairs were waiting for him. “What’s this?” asked the boy. “This is a palanquin,” the minister bowed. “It’ll convey you below. I ordered to have it made especially for you, Prince.” “Very well, but why below?” “The subjects are waiting for us below, in the castle.” “Why don’t they come up to us; why must we go below?” “A real prince,” Gargulio again thought and answered aloud, “Only those who can speak to the Sovereign have the right to enter the White Tower. In our entire country only I and a few other men can speak to him. Well, in addition to, it goes without saying, the guards. They are chosen from the sons of the most respected and… (‘rich,’ Gargulio wanted to say) honoured townspeople. But even they cannot enter the hall where the Sovereign sits.” “Can Marie go to the Sovereign?” “No, she’s only your maid,” answered Gargulio. “But don’t be disturbed, Your Highness, she’s not a common girl but the niece of Defence Minister Leonari. I assure you she’s from a very decent family. She was chosen from a hundred girls.” “A hundred?” Gene was surprised. “Yes, a hundred. It was a very difficult competition. Marie won.” The prince and the minister, not interrupting the conversation, sat down in the palanquins, and the servants carried them down the long and steep stairs of the tower. All the beauty, which the great genius Walter had created, appeared before them. Some halls glittered with pink marble, others emerald-green malachite, a third, golden amber… After half an hour of the excursion, during which time servants were changed three times and Gene had almost fallen asleep, the palanquins were lowered on a special hoist and carried into the castle. Before the prince’s eyes appeared a completely different spectacle. The walls of the hall were made of gloomy grey stones. Fairly shabby old tapestries with pictures darkened by time hung on the walls and there were no elegant statues as in Walter’s tower, but formidable knightly armours with full armament stood between the high narrow windows with opaque glass. When Gene, following Gargulio, climbed out of the palanquin, he met a storm of applause. The boy saw a whole crowd of well-dressed people smiling and welcoming him. They were all looking at Gene. “His Highness, Prince Eugene!” First Minister declared loudly. “Eugene, Eugene,” the walls of the castle echoed in answer, “Gene, Gene!” “Eugene, Eugene!” swept along the ranks of enthusiastic courtiers. Even the stern guardsmen also seemed to be repeating this name. Gene looked grandly, as befits a prince, at his subjects. He liked their delight and joy related to his arrival. Gene decided to reward those present with his outstanding smile. Applause switched over to an ovation. One of the ladies fainted and two guardsmen carried her away. Her husband, also a courtier, did not even notice this. There followed a party and sumptuous feast. Gene sat in a fancy armchair with a high back and watched the performance in his honour. He was happy and enjoyed himself. Of course! No one drove him to bed although it was already very late. No one lectured or railed at him. There was no need to be constantly on alert in expectation of Kate’s pranks. Indeed, the war with her was far away in another world! Here everybody caught each of his words and looks. Not so at home, where he could force neither Mama
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nor Papa to pay attention for at least an hour or so. Here adult uncles and aunts were prepared to do anything for him. Gene taught the courtiers to play hide-and-seek. The old grey General, when it was his turn to play, toppled a knight and then caught one fat damsel who turned out to be very ticklish. She squealed so, that the Prince nearly choked with laughter. He gave the order on the spot to give medals to both the General and the plump damsel, and he personally presented them to loud applause from the courtiers. Headed by the Prince, everybody went out for a stroll in the Garden of the Elf King, where the festivities ended with immense fireworks. When Gene woke the next day, he recalled with difficulty all that had happened to him. He did not even have time for breakfast before he was again carried down into the castle. Here the Prince received his subjects for almost two hours. Among them were barons and princes, counts and knights, chief magistrates of cities and deputies of provinces. At first, this mixed crowd amused Gene, but then he became bored and began to fidget impatiently on the throne. Gargulio noticed the boy yawning and right away gave the order to end the audience and move it to the next day. After a splendid and lavish meal, the Prince, in a gilded coach, drove out into the city. A huge exultant crowd of inhabitants of the city and its outskirts met him. The guardsmen barely held back the pressing crowd who wanted to behold the Prince. The respectable upper streets, along which passed Prince Eugene’s retinue, had never seen so many people. From each window, well-dressed townspeople greeted the Prince and threw flowers into his open carriage. So, in the Country of Frozen Time appeared a new ruler with whom everyone immediately fell in love. Although he was a little boy, he was always in full view of his subjects. As for the great Sovereign who sat in seclusion in the White Tower, the subjects began to forget him gradually. Indeed, not even one inhabitant of the country had ever seen him whereas everyone knew Prince Eugene now. Prince Eugene and his court led a life full of festivities, parties, and fun. Now it was as cheerful and noisy on the upper streets of the city as on the lower ones. No one knew that everything would change in a few weeks. Prince Eugene would suddenly become sad and pensive. A little more time would pass and the noisy festivities and parties would stop. The courtiers would again wander around the castle despondently. Then the Sovereign would die. His funeral would be grandiose and majestic. The courtiers would bury the body of the Sovereign in the Tomb of Kings, which was located in the castle. Prince Eugene would be present at the funeral. There he would give a speech in memory of the deceased and afterwards would declare himself the Sovereign of the Country of Frozen Time. He, like his predecessor, would withdraw into the White Tower and live there with dozens of courtiers. In memory of the dear boy, people would call him not Sovereign but Prince of the White Tower and sigh sadly at the same time.

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Chapter Six THE COUNTRY OF FROZEN TIME

In ancient times, knights rode around the world and accomplished feats in the name of the damsels of their hearts. With time, there were fewer and fewer great knights. There were many ordinary knights, and over time there were more and more of them, but great knights who whole-heartedly honoured and observed the code of honour began to die out. They perished in duels, in crusades, and from the treachery of kings. The most important and famous among them were Count Gottfeld, descendant of Lancelot4 himself; Duke Artois – fearless, descendant of Charlemagne; 5 and Baron Siegfried, whose ancestors were Nibelungen.6 Their love for the beautiful Fairy of Eternal Youth linked them together. For fifty years, the three knights were always fighting all the tournaments and duels in her honour. In all this time, the Fairy had not changed at all. She remained young and beautiful but she could not marry, otherwise she would lose the godly gift of youth and immediately become a normal woman. She lived in France, and people came from all over the world only to look at her. Once a year the knights Gottfeld, Artois, and Siegfried met in her castle and fought each other. Not once did one of them gain the upper hand over the others. After the tournament all three went to the feast given by the Fairy of Eternal Youth.
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Sir Lancelot du Lac was one of the Knights of the Round Table in the legend of King Arthur. Charlemagne (c. 742-814), also known as Charles the Great, was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 – 814. 6 According to Germanic and Norse mythology, Nibelung is the name of the royal family of the Burgundians, an East Germanic tribe possibly of Scandinavian origin and supposedly vastly wealthy. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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Years went by. Nothing changed until King Louis the Cunning appeared in France. He also fell in love with the Fairy of Eternal Youth and wanted to make her his wife. Certainly, the Fairy refused the King and he, his feelings hurt, swore to take brutal vengeance upon the proud girl. He found scoundrels who began to accuse the Fairy of witchcraft. One after the other they came to the Bishop, who was called the Great Witch Hunter, and reported that the Fairy had ties with the Devil and engaged in witchcraft. These accusations were not surprising because the Fairy had already lived for sixty years but looked like a thirteen-year-old girl. The Great Witch Hunter believed the malicious slander and ordered the arrest of the girl. Rumours spread around the entire country that the Fairy of Eternal Youth was going to be burned on the stake.

The three knights found out about this. They rushed to the Fairy to save her, but she was already locked up in the Bishop’s impregnable castle, moreover, guarded by the King’s soldiers. Together with the knights Gottfeld, Artois, and Siegfried came five
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hundred more fighters – the knights’ vassals. They began the assault of the castle where the Fairy was languishing, and took it. They found the unhappy Fairy in the gloomiest dungeon and freed her. The Bishop cursed all four for this and excommunicated them. The three knights and the beautiful Fairy became exiles. The Great Witch Hunter’s people and King Louis’ army pursued them. The knights urged all who were still true to the code of knighthood to their side, but only fifteen knights from the whole of Europe came to their aid. When it became impossible for the Fairy and her followers to resist and the exiles had lost more than half of their people, the Fairy said that she could not endure it that people were dying because of her. “I must leave the land,” she decided. “Merlin, 7 my great ancestor, left a spell with which I can freeze time.” “We’ll go with you,” said the three knights, “and take all our people with us.” So they did. Europe, however, was too populated to freeze time on its land; therefore the exiles went to the east, and then to the north. After several months on their sojourn, during which a number of loyal people perished, the exiles reached the mountains where dragons still flew and gnomes, vampires, and wizards lived, as well as elves, mermaids, and giants. The people that lived here were peaceful and industrious. In this land, still almost untouched by Christianity, the Fairy of Eternal Youth decided to freeze time. Before the people on their knees, she cast Merlin’s spell. The sky turned black and the sun and the moon were hidden. Earth and its inhabitants continued to live their lives and did not notice how an enormous space, populated by people, beasts, birds, and magic creatures, had ceased to exist; but then the Country of Frozen Time was invisible to them. When time had frozen for the knights and the Fairy, they discovered that there was no one else around them. Beyond the mountains which they had crossed over was emptiness – nothing, only a dense grey fog. Directly in front of them, however, spread a valley in bloom. On seeing the valley from the highest mountain, the knights and the Fairy made their way to it. When they had gone almost half way, something happened that separated the knights from the Fairy. During a halt at night, the Fairy of Eternal Youth saw Merlin in her dream. The great wizard said that she would stop here and not go any further. When the Fairy awoke, she saw that a white dragon with blue eyes had blocked the road. The three knights rushed to the new enemy. They indeed had defeated quite a few dragons in their time, but they could not even get within a hundred steps of the white dragon. The Fairy ordered them to leave the beautiful beast in peace. She went to it herself. When the Fairy got close to the dragon, it placed its head on her shoulder and with its long tail fenced off the girl from the people. Thus, the white dragon became the most devoted guard of the Fairy of Eternal Youth. At the mountain peak in the cave in which the dragon dwelled, a castle was built for the Fairy.

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Merlin is the legendary wizard in the legend of King Arthur. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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Three months went past; the knights and their people left this place because the Fairy of Eternal Youth so directed. They reached the plain in a week. Here they went their separate ways; each with his own people in his own direction. Count Gottfeld went forward; Duke Artois to the right; and Baron Siegfried to the left. The Country of Frozen Time turned out to be large and populated by different nations. The knights had to wage war from time to time to subdue the inhabitants, but the forest where fairies, gnomes, and goblins lived still remained inaccessible to them. The three knights created three
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kingdoms. They all married girls from the conquered tribes in order to continue their lineage but continued to worship the Fairy of Eternal Youth. Time passed and the time came for all three to meet their hour of death. They set off again for the mountains to the castle of the Fairy of Eternal Youth. There, a thousand steps from the cave of the dragon, the knights died. The people erected in memory of them three burial mounds at the foot of the mountain of the Fairy and the white dragon. At night the spirits of the three knights, in armour with weapons and on horses, came out of the graves and patrolled the surroundings. Does any danger threaten the lady of their hearts? The history of the Country of Frozen Time only began with these events. The sons of the three knights, after their fathers’ deaths, started right away to divide the kings’ fortunes. They created twelve small kingdoms out of the three large ones. Some had more, some had less, but all twelve new kings, having forgotten the paternal last wishes for them to live in peace and harmony, began to wage war among themselves. Tribes of wild people living in the forest, the swamps, and the mountains took advantage of this. They meddled in the wars in order to get a share of the wealth. There began a golden time for the dregs of society. The gnomes sided with one king; the goblins another. Only the forest elves supported no one and were only for themselves. Then a coven of witches flew in on brooms and in mortars. The knights Gottfeld, Artois, and Siegfried had lived for three hundred years, and the country did not know war or strife for three hundred years. Now, after the epoch of prosperity, peace, and calm came the time of wars, barbarity, and suppression of knowledge. The spirits of the dead kings were outraged. They left the graves and went around the country, threateningly brandishing spears. People were frightened and the strife ended, but only temporarily. As soon as the spirits left, war resumed. One of the warring sides prevailed for a short while and a long-awaited peace began. Then a new enemy appeared and war broke out with new vigour. The situation changed when on the outskirts of the country in the opposite direction from where the knight-founders came, an enormous city appeared from nowhere. It was teeming with people and surrounded by high walls. Its inhabitants had guns and muskets. The city subdued all the kings but it also grew poorer. There was no one with whom to trade. This city had a very interesting and tragic history. The city was beautiful and rich. Once, when enemies attacked the country, this city was the only one that did not send soldiers to the common conflict. The townspeople apparently assumed that the enemy would not reach their land, which was hidden among the forests and swamps, but they were seriously mistaken. The enemy attacked precisely their city and in spite of all obstacles surrounded it from all sides. A long, exhausting siege began. It was not surprising that despite all requests and entreaties, none of the other cities came to the aid of their compatriots, who had fallen on hard times. All remembered how arrogantly the citizens of this besieged city had refused to work together with everybody. Now, while it was fighting alone with hordes of enemies, the rest of the cities gathered strength and prepared for war. When the townspeople understood that they could not defend their hometown, they decided on a last resort. The famous wizard Agaiya lived long ago. One time, he quarrelled with a powerful prince who ordered that Agaiya be caught and burned on the stake near his castle. The wizard managed to hide but forgot in his hurry to take the witchcraft books with him. Without them he became as helpless as a child. The Prince’s soldiers delivered these
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magic volumes to their lord. The Prince, no matter how he tried, was unable to read them and in the end angrily ordered that Agaiya’s books be burned. Soon he found out that the wizard was in that same besieged city. The Prince sent his army there to pick up the wizard, but the townspeople refused to turn in Agaiya because he had taught them how to make artificial silk. Regardless of how much the Prince threatened, regardless of how much he tried to break into the city by force, he did not succeed. He then surrounded the city. The siege went on for three months and only ended when Agaiya died. The Prince went home and the city settled down to its previous life.

The story does not end here. Before his death Agaiya had gathered the city officials and solemnly announced, “I thank you, noble citizens, for not turning me over to my worst enemy. Now, old and weak, I have no strength to do anything for you except one thing: I can move your city to the Country of Frozen Time. And then it will forever remain as it is now. It won’t become poorer but neither will it acquire wealth. Please decide for yourselves how to proceed. But whatever you decide, my magic will remain in power for three hundred years. You just have to come to my grave and utter the incantation, ‘Word of Agaiya, make it so!’ and everything will be carried out. Only please remember: the city officials can make this decision only with the agreement of the majority of the townspeople, and there must not be fewer than twenty people invoking the incantation, otherwise any joker can take advantage of it. Goodbye!” The wizard
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Agaiya died with these words. The inhabitants of the city were puzzled. Why freeze time for them? Indeed, so much good could be waiting in their future. Take the artificial silk at least. Gold will fall into the treasury and fill the townspeople’s purses from all over the land. A hundred years passed. Now, when a cruel and merciless enemy threatened destruction to the entire city, the people recalled Agaiya’s words. There was no need to choose in this fatal hour. Not half, but almost all the inhabitants decided to leave for the Country of Frozen Time. A huge crowd headed by the officials and the mayor set off for the city cemetery. To their horror, however, the townspeople discovered that no one remembered where Agaiya’s grave was located. In a hundred years, inscriptions on old stone slabs had been rubbed away. The people cried out with grief and desperation. At this time the enemies began the last and fiercest assault. They had decided to take the city at any cost or die. The inhabitants of the city thought that their last hour had come, but suddenly one of the graves, the most unpretentious and modest in look, lit up with a bright white light. Everyone understood that this was Agaiya’s grave. They shouted in unison, “Word of Agaiya, make it so!” and a miracle happened. Before the eyes of the dumbfounded enemy, the city began to sink slowly into the ground. The enemies rejoiced at first. They thought that it would be easier for them to take the city this way because its walls had become lower. Then it dawned on them that witchcraft was at work here and they began to step back in panic. Those who tarried fell into a deep abyss which was formed on the spot of a former ditch. Those who did not manage to climb down from the walls which flared up like torches were instantly burned like dry autumn leaves. The city continued to sink into the ground. Its high walls disappeared, then the fortress towers. Later went the roofs of the highest houses, church domes, and crosses on belfries. Finally, the town hall, the highest building of the city, was hidden from sight. A blue flag with the emblem of a bear working on a loom sadly waved its sharp ends. Only a huge deep pit remained on the spot of the city. There was a heavy downpour. It poured until the water filled the rim of the foundation pit. Now on that place lay a beautiful lake surrounded by dense forests on all sides. That was the way the unknown city came to be in the Country of Frozen Time. There lived in this city a master who built houses and palaces. His name was Walter and he was a very skilful architect. Moreover, he was also an artist. He erected the White Tower. Like all talented and brilliant people, Walter had enviers and ill-wishers. The most well known and influential among them was the builder Patchery, a friend of the mayor and the deputy of the city. He managed to convince them that Walter spent for his own needs the money given to him by the city for construction of the new town hall. Part of the money, Patchery assured them, Walter had hidden in his own house. They went to check and found that the famous architect had a bag of gold. (Of course, Patchery had placed it there.) Walter tried to convince his fellow citizens that he was not guilty, but they sentenced him to death. Only at the last minute, when the executioner was ready to chop off Walter’s head, was the death sentence commuted to exile.

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Chapter Seven THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF WALTER

Walter left his hometown with melancholy and a heavy heart. He walked out of the gates with his vast family – his wife, fourteen sons, eight daughters, twenty-eight grandsons and granddaughters – and fifty apprentices following in carriages behind him. All of them made their way for an unknown land. Many townspeople saw them off with sympathetic looks, but not a single person stood up for the wrongfully-convicted Walter because all, knowing the vindictiveness and insidiousness of the mayor and the deputy, feared them. The whole summer Walter and his companions wandered around the country. What adventures and experiences he had. Several times greedy knights attacked his caravan. Only pistols and muskets helped to beat them off. Evil goblins tried to steal the women. Grenades with gunpowder saved them. A gigantic eagle carried off Walter’s youngest and favourite son, a ten-year-old boy… Walter pursued the predatory bird for three days. When his horse dropped, he ran after the eagle. He pursued the kidnapper until the eagle reached its nest and delivered the loot to the nestlings. The little ones by all appearances were full. Fortunately, the hen eagle had recently fed them so they did not tear the boy to pieces but made him their playmate. Walter sat on a rock and started to think how to save his son. He sat for a long time but could not come up with anything. The nest was on the top of the highest tree and either the eagle or the hen eagle was constantly in it. Chance, however, decided everything. A dragon was hunting nearby and the eagle, being carried away in pursuit of a wild horse, flew into its territory. The dragon was outraged that a stranger had encroached upon its grounds and attacked the eagle. The two giants were locked in a terrible battle. For a long time neither one of them could gain the upper hand. The hen eagle came flying to the aid of its mate but it was too late. The mortally wounded eagle fell down like a rock and smashed against the ground. The
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hen eagle shrieked so bitterly and loudly that all the beasts and birds many thousand steps away heard it. The hen eagle rushed at the dragon in order to avenge its mate. Although it was weaker than the dragon, it courageously fought it. Walter started to pity the proud and beautiful bird. He recalled that it would not let its mate kill his son, since the nestlings had fallen in love with the boy after playing a little with him. Walter decided to help the hen eagle. Yet how could a simple person interfere in the battle of the titans? He reached for his bow and smeared the arrow with the deadly poison of a snake. He waited for the enemies to get close to the ground and shot the dragon right in the eye. The snake poison acted instantly. The dragon fell to the ground and rolled around for a long time until it let out a last breath. Then the hen eagle also fell at the feet of the man. It had suffered a serious wound in battle. Walter began to nurse it because he could in no way climb by himself up the tree with the eagle nest. He treated the bird for three days before it could move its wings. Finally, the hen eagle asked him, “Who are you and why do you help me?” Walter told it. The bird hushed for a little and answered, “You’re a noble person and I’m beholden to you. Sit on me; I’ll carry you to your son. I told my mate many times not to steal people and their young. He did not listen and fate punished him. Forgive me, Man, but grief may wait for you in my nest. Three days have passed. My nestlings are probably so famished that perhaps, good Walter, they’ve eaten your son.” Walter began to cry bitterly. He loved his young son very much, much more so than the remaining sons and daughters, but he said all the same, “Even if the worst has happened, I want to look at the remains of my boy, to gather and bury him as people are supposed to do. Please carry me to the nest. I must carry out this ordeal.” The hen eagle fulfilled his request. How happy and amazed Walter was when he found his son alive and unharmed in the nest. The hen eagle was also surprised to see the sated eaglets. The boy hugged his father, who was weeping with joy and related how everything went. When the nestlings did not see their parents, they began to cry bitterly and entreat the boy to feed them. What could a child do? He also cried and tried to persuade the eaglets to be patient. “We can’t,” shouted the nestlings. “If we don’t eat in a day, we’ll die from hunger.” Then the boy promised to give them his foot if nothing changed. The eaglets quieted down and began to wait for evening. The boy also waited in fear for the evening. He got so tired with uncertainty and expectation that he did not notice himself falling asleep. It was already evening when he awoke. Suddenly the boy heard some suspicious noises in the tree branches. He looked and saw that a bear was clambering along the tree trunk. Obviously, it had found out that the eagles were not at home and decided to feast on the nestlings. What could he do? The boy hurriedly looked in search of a way out. He found a large bone. It was sharp like a spear at one end. The boy gripped it and with all his might struck the bear in the eye at exactly the moment the robber got into the nest. The hit was so precise and strong that it slew the bear outright. The bear meat was enough to feed the eaglets for exactly two days. After listening to the boy’s story, the hen eagle exclaimed, “Oh, Walter, you’re a great person! Both you and your son! For your son saving my nestlings and your returning me my life, I swear to you that my children and I will forever serve and help you in every way.” From this day it began to be much easier for Walter and his
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companions to continue their wanderings in search of a better fate; they immediately had four strong defenders – the hen eagle and its three rapidly-growing young, gigantic eagles.

Walter was finally lucky. His caravan turned up at the foot of a large hill. The hill caught the fancy of the architect and he decided to settle on it. He began to build a house at the peak. He had many assistants. The house came out excellently well – big and
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bright. It had enough space for all. But Walter did not know that he had built his house where the king of the underground gnomes lived. The gnome king was terribly angry at the people and decided to punish them for their lawlessness. At night when Walter was sleeping, the gnome king sneaked into the house and started to cast spells. He wanted to change all the people into marble slabs. Fortunately, Walter’s wife, Lutetia, woke up. She saw the king but in the dark took him for a rat. She grabbed her husband’s heavy boot and launched it at the gnome. The king fell down from the stool on which he was standing and, after hurting his head, began to howl from pain. There was such a commotion that the glass in the windows began to jingle. Everyone ran around in search of the gnome, but no matter how much they searched, they could not find him. Then, having calmed down somewhat, people again went to their rooms. Lucy, Walter’s five-year-old granddaughter, his favourite, also went to her bed. She had a separate bed in the children’s room. Lucy had barely climbed under the blanket, which she did later than all the children because she had lost a doll in the confusion, when she discovered the frightened gnome king under her pillow. “Ah, so here’s why there was such a noise!” exclaimed the girl. “Must tell Grandpa about you.” “Don’t do this, my dear girl!” the gnome begged. From shock he had forgotten all the spells and now was completely helpless, even before a child. “Why did you come to us?” Lucy began to question him. “I live here.” “Not true, we live here!” “No, girl. You live above and we gnomes deep underground. You make such noise during the day that we have no peace from you. Now a woman almost hurt me with a boot. How I’m still alive, I don’t understand.”

Lucy was sorry for the gnome and told no one about him. Is it really possible to hide a gnome under the pillow in a room where not fewer than thirty children live? Certainly not! One of the boys woke up, heard Lucy talking with the gnome, took him away from the sister, and instantly showed everybody. The children nearly tortured the gnome king
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to death, forcing him to run, jump, and perform different tricks. On seeing how her gnome was panting and hardly breathing from fatigue, Lucy tried to end the cruel fun. The other children would not listen to her though, and even threatened to beat her if she interfered with them. The toddler ran in tears to complain to Grandpa. Walter calmed his granddaughter down and went with her to the children’s room. He made it just in time – a little more handling and the gnome would have died of fatigue. Walter picked him up, apologized for his kids, and carried him into his workshop. The gnome king told the man that he had not only saved him but also Walter himself. “If I had perished,” he said, “then towards morning my subjects would have come and destroyed all of you.” Walter shuddered from the thought of the danger which had threatened them all. When Walter found out that he and his family had destroyed the peace of the underground kingdom of gnomes, he was very upset and began to think how he could correct the situation. The king advised Walter to build one more floor. “Then you’ll live higher and we won’t hear you.” “That’s right!” Walter was pleased. What was said was done. Work was in full swing. Soon all the inhabitants of the house moved to the second floor. They asked the gnomes whether they were still bothering them now. The confused gnomes said that nothing had changed. Walter erected the third and fourth floors. But the gnomes were dissatisfied as before. They even undertook to help the people in the construction. They turned out to be very good assistants. The house became increasingly higher and higher. Walter was not only a builder and an architect but also a true artist, a brilliant artist. A true artist cannot live if he does not realize an idea once it has visited him. The thought of building a high, high tower suddenly came into Walter’s head. He saw it in his imagination during dinner. He was so amazed that his hand with a spoon froze in the air and his mouth even remained open. Walter immediately sat down to sketch. He did not leave the workshop for two weeks. When the concept was captured on paper, he quickly ordered the work to begin. Work moved into full swing. Walter first of all directed his apprentices to find the most expensive and most valuable materials for the building. Great help in this was rendered to him by the king of the underground gnomes himself. Indeed, gnomes know about everything hidden underground. The gnome showed the architect the deposit of white marble in the deep mountain gorge. However, it was beyond the people’s power to drag the enormous marble blocks over to the construction site. Walter was on the brink of desperation but recalled the gigantic eagles. The birds which had vowed to forever serve Walter and his family accomplished this task with ease. When the gnome king saw that eagles had joined the operation, he removed his crown, put on his working cap, and picked up tools in his hands. His subjects did not want to lag behind their king and also ran to the great project.

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The tower began to grow not in days but in hours. It rose higher and higher all the time and with each new floor became all the more beautiful. One day Walter saw some people approaching the hill. His former fellow citizens, who also could not stand the persecutions of the mayor, had left the city and arrived here. Walter did not bear a grudge, forgave them for their former betrayal, and welcomed all into his family. The construction went still more rapidly. Regardless of how well and efficiently the builders worked, the tower took twenty-five years to be constructed. “Now it’s okay to die!” Walter exclaimed when he saw his creation finished. He was already old and after these words he lived for only one more year. Before his death, however, one more thing happened which plunged the people into sorrow. The fact was that the gnomes could no longer live in the depths of the land. The reason was the tower. It was so enormous and heavy that the gnomes began to suffocate. How could they drive away the people who turned out to be such good and loyal friends? Moreover, the gnomes could not destroy the tower which they had constructed with their own hands. Not a single gnome would lift a hand against this beauty; therefore, the gnomes themselves decided to leave to live in another place. The farewell with the people was bitter and sad. The king of the underground gnomes, with a heavy heart, left the homeland where many generations of his ancestors had lived. Walter was sad because he felt guilty for the fate to which he condemned a whole nation which he liked so well. Walter died, never feeling happy again. Is it really possible to be happy when you know that, thanks to you, someone suffers and wanders around the world? All the same, fate spared the great architect. He was never to know that the main creation of his life would bring people many misfortunes and troubles.

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Chapter Eight THE ADVENTURES BEGIN

Kate had already flown for two hours but she felt neither cold nor the strong scorching wind that Nick had feared. Land spread out below. The chair soared at the height of a bird’s flight and everything that was drifting below was excellently visible. Holding firmly onto the back of the chair, Kate enjoyed the flight. Once the chair rose so high above the clouds that it seemed to Kate as if she were flying over a snowy valley. There she met the Fulcrum with the pilot Speechmaker at the controls. The chair, after circling a little around the aircraft, again dived down. Kate began to squeal in fear because the drop was so fast and unexpected; fortunately, the chair soon slowed down. Kate took a look down and saw that a forest stretched out as far as the eye could see. The girl recalled her brother and her parents and became so sad that she was ready to start crying. Here Kate spied under her the smooth surface of a lake in the forest. The chair suddenly flipped over so Kate found herself upside down and falling like a bullet. The water was approaching with enormous speed. Kate was seriously frightened. Now she and the chair would crash and turn into a flat cake. The air whistled in her ears. It became difficult to breathe. Kate wanted to scream with horror but could not even open her mouth. Now she would ram into the water. The girl closed her eyes tightly. “MAMA!!!” sneaked into her head. The impact with the water did not happen. Kate waited for a minute then opened her eyes. Were they really already under water? She did not feel water. The chair continued to fly but no longer with such breakneck speed. Kate looked around. She
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could not understand what had happened. It seemed to her that she was flying through a fog. She became ill at ease, as if she had found herself in an underpass without light. Kate pressed into the chair and held her breath. She was afraid that any minute now some monster, like in horror movies, would jump out of the fog and swallow her together with the chair. Kate did not know how much time had passed – maybe a few minutes or maybe hours. Kate heard strange sounds similar to the flapping of gigantic wings, children crying, or the hysterical laughter of an old man. Finally, Kate flew out into pure transparent air and she sighed with relief. The chair sighed also. Yes, yes, this was precisely what happened. In exceptional circumstances, chairs can also sigh. A magnificent valley lit by a bright sun appeared before Kate. On the horizon, mountains with snow-covered peaks turned blue. It had cooled down. The girl shivered and hid her hands in the pockets of the vest. Soon she found herself above the mountains. Gorges and bottomless chasms flickered below. What if she had to search for Gene somewhere in these mountains? Would she be able to stay alive in this snowy silence? The girl became ill at ease. Fortunately, the chair did not stop. Finally, the mountains began to thin. Kate’s mood improved. More time passed; Kate and the chair had left the mountains behind long ago, and suddenly the girl saw in front of her a small point flying towards her. The point was swiftly approaching. Kate strained to examine the sky. What was this? A bird? No. It did not look like a bird. This turned out to be a dragon. Yes! It was a real dragon with a scaly body and membranous wings. Everything was as it should be. True, it was not big; one could even say small – no bigger than a car. On the whole, the usual flying serpent was about three metres in length with a head like a crocodile’s, only two times larger. It was not a dragon but a dragonlet. Kate was frightened. It was one thing to see a dragon in a movie but quite another to meet one face to face. She opened her eyes wide with horror, squealed with fear, and hung on to the back of the chair tightly with her hands. “Dear chair,” she shouted and even began to urge it on like a horse, “I’m scared! Fly quickly from here! Oh, Mama!” If a chair could pant, then this chair would be panting with diligence. Either it was tired or it simply could not fly fast in this country, or the magic feather had begun to lose its power, but the distance between the chair and the dragon was shrinking quickly. Kate clearly saw the small red eyes of the monster, and there was nothing in them except greediness and spite. Kate closed her eyes tightly. Collision with the terrible reptile seemed inevitable, but the chair cleverly dodged. The dragon did not manage to brake and flew by. Kate hoped that the danger had passed but not so. Not wanting to let go of the booty, the dragon again went into pursuit. This time it needed much more time to catch up with the fugitives. As always with dragons, the first impulse was strong and energetic. If something does not turn out well, however, they instantly become lazy and careful. Very likely, if the dragon were not hungry, it would wave goodbye to its possible meal and fly home. The chair was rushing madly, but after some time the dragon again began to catch up. It had already opened its mouth in anticipation of victory and, with a whistle cutting the air, attacked Kate. The chair, however, leapt down so swiftly that the dragon again missed the mark. Kate had time to notice its puzzled look. The dragon hissed with fury
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and snapped its teeth rapidly. It was good that it was not yet breathing fire. The chair rushed about from side to side like a little bird trying to slip away from a hawk.

Suddenly the dragon’s jaws closed down on a foot… No, fortunately, not on a foot but on a leg! The dragon’s teeth seized a chair leg. Kate screamed and started to beat the dragon on the snout. Sometimes people in fear are very daring, but the dragon was not thinking of weakening its grip. Crack! The leg broke off. The dragon began to gnaw it zealously but quickly realized that it was cheated again. The leg turned out to be unsavoury, even disgusting! It spat it out and again went into pursuit.
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Kate gathered her wits and understood that now she would definitely be eaten like some sausage if she could not come up with something this very minute. She began to dig spastically in her knapsack, because she recalled that Nick had instructed her not to lose it under any circumstances. One can certainly pour hot tea from the thermos onto the dragon and then deal a blow with the pot on the head… No, she was not an ace to engage in a battle in the sky. Then Kate’s eyes fell on the survival kit or, as Nick called it, “civilized survival kit.” In it were a knife, fork, spoon, corkscrew, can opener, and two little plastic mushrooms in which were salt and pepper. It suddenly dawned on Kate. She grabbed the one with pepper just in time. The dragon was already very close. Kate opened the peppershaker with shaking hands and poured all the contents out onto her palm. When the dragon was ready to attack, she unclenched her fingers and blew the pepper away right into the monster’s snout. The dragon quickly blinked, rolled up into a ball, and then uncoiled, unable to understand what had happened to it. It shot up like a candle into the clouds. There was a bang in the sky like that from a cannon and immediately a machine gun started firing. This was the dragon starting to sneeze and cough. For some time the dragon had no time for Kate. The girl gained respite and looked around. Under her was again the infinite carpet of green forest. What luck! Here was where one could hide from the monster. Kate mentally directed the chair downward and, miraculously, it obediently flew in the direction indicated. Kate tried to use the back for steering. It worked. The chair changed direction and soon Kate’s feet almost touched tree branches. She went down even lower, looked around, and discovered with horror that the dragon was again after her. It sneezed, perked up, and rushed in pursuit with even more excitement. It simply did not want to part with its prize. Kate abruptly directed the chair into the first gap that came into view. The dragon was after her. The flight continued now right in the forest under the crowns of trees. The chair shot past between the trunks. Now the speed with which it flew was especially noticeable. Everything flickered so before Kate’s eyes that her head was just spinning. She almost cut into a tree and barely managed to turn to the side. She had to concentrate in order to avoid further collision. It was very scary but Kate could not stop. Indeed, the dragon had almost caught her. Its wings were audibly flapping behind her back. It orientated itself wonderfully in the forest and accomplished complicated manoeuvres with ease. Even when Kate risked her life to fly between two birch trunks forming a bear spear, the dragon managed to turn its body and not injure its wings. She had so hoped that it would either be held up or break its bones. Kate was unbelievably lucky then in the next instant. She noticed in front of her the fragment of a trunk sticking out of the ground. The fragment was protruding at an angle and its end was sharp like a pencil, as if someone had especially sharpened it. Not particularly sure of what to do, Kate rushed to it. The monster followed her. Right before the very point the girl turned sharply to the side and the dragon, almost having caught up with her, flew into the stake and plunged into it with its entire mass. The stake pierced the thorax, passed right through the body of the monster, and was painted with dark-brown blood gushing out of its back right at the place where a wing grew. The serpent roared with pain, began to twitch, grabbed the trunk with its paws, wound its
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tail around it, pulled at it, and tried to extract it from the ground. Strength had already left the dragon and it began to fade away. Kate saw none of this. She continued to bolt and kept on changing direction to muddle up her tracks. She would have flown this way for even longer but suddenly felt how the chair had lost speed and height. Kate lost her head and looked around in fear. There was no one behind her. The dragon was no longer after her. Her heart, though, was still beating wildly. It throbbed even more when Kate discovered that the chair had one less leg. When did it break off? In the heat of the pursuit the girl had noticed nothing. The chair touched down after flying a little longer; at the same time it broke one more leg and landed on one side. Kate hardly had time to jump from it. She stood and for a long time could not recover her breath, as if she had run a hundred-metre sprint. It seemed to her that the dragon would now appear again and pounce on her. However, everything was quiet and the girl began to calm down but then she saw that the magic feather had separated from the overturned chair. It hung in the air for an instant, then weakly lowered to the ground and disappeared. Kate understood that her magic flight had ended. Her earlier fear instantly changed into a feeling of annoyance. Cursed dragon! What the devil! She would have to go on foot now. With a sigh Kate threw the knapsack onto her back and walked through the forest. Finally, she decided that this country could be considered to be in a fairy tale. Nothing bad happens to heroes in fairy tales.

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Chapter Nine A CITY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FOREST

Kate strolled pensively through the unknown land for quite a long time. An unknown forest surrounded her on all sides. It was mute with neither a rustle nor bird songs. The girl was ill at ease; therefore, she also went in silence and only occasionally looked at the compass in her right hand. The blue needle pointed in the same direction which the chair had flown before meeting the dragon. The watch in her left hand had stopped moving completely. Kate discovered this as soon as she found herself on the ground. She was very scared and upset. Had it really been broken? Kate did not know that she was in the Country of Frozen Time. Suddenly Kate saw a stump. She was pleased because she was tired of walking and dreamed about resting. Once sitting, she suddenly surmised that as there was a stump, there would be people living hereabout. Indeed someone had sawed it down! It meant the forest was not as uninhabited as it had seemed at first glance. Kate looked closely and attentively into the depths of the forest and not so much saw as felt that she was being observed from the bushes. The girl flinched and drew herself up. “Who’s there? Well, come out!” The forest instantly came alive. From behind the trees people in ancient clothing, predominantly green and yellow, appeared. They walked right to Kate. These were men, all rather short and armed with swords and bows. There were about forty men. The soldiers stopped ten steps from Kate and began to look at her in amazement. Judging by the expression on their faces, the forest people did not have bad intentions. Kate did not know what to do. She looked at the soldiers and kept silent. The silence did not continue for long. The staccato of horse hooves was suddenly heard. The sound came nearer. It compelled the inhabitants of the forest to part. Several riders came out of the bushes. “Prince Arinako, Prince Arinako!” a whisper buzzed among the foot soldiers as they bowed their heads in deference to the arrivals.
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The riders dismounted. The oldest, tallest, and most broad-shouldered of them handed his rein to the soldier running up and approached Kate. His clothing and footwear were distinguished by workmanship and richness. He looked at the girl with interest. A boy about ten walked behind him. Kate, not removing her eyes from the Prince, noticed his enthusiastic look.

Prince Arinako bowed before Kate and said, “I welcome you, young stranger, to our land. I, Prince Arinako, ruler of the Green Forest, and my people will help you in every way in appreciation of your freeing our land from the terrible forest dragon. Not one of my soldiers could handle this monster. I myself am no longer young and not as quick as before, and my son,” he nodded to the boy, “is too young. He hasn’t yet reached the age when boys put on men’s pants and become soldiers.”
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The Prince’s son was robed in a beautiful blue tunic girded at the waist and reaching down to his knees. His legs, ending in short soft boots, were naked. He looked at Kate’s jeans with awe. Kate thought frantically. Why do they call her “stranger”? Why this respect for her? Were these people really watching her encounter with the dragon? Perhaps she killed it? Moreover, they are taking her for a boy. Probably this was due to her wearing pants. Better not dissuade them from this. Kate decided to play the role which circumstances recommended. “I flew…” Kate stammered, “flew here in search of my younger brother. He was kidnapped. I must…must find and save him.” “You are not only a noble knight conqueror of the dragon but also endowed with magical powers,” continued Arinako. “None of the people can fly in the air like a bird.” “I cannot fly. Simply said, the great magician Nick created a flying horse and I flew on it to your country. However, my horse perished in the battle with the dragon. And I’m faced with a long journey if I don’t find my brother with you.” Wild imagination and no small amount of reading adventure and fantasy books had helped Kate to compose so plausibly. “We cannot get you a new flying horse but, of course, we will give the usual to so great a soldier. By the way, please give your name, knight.” Kate was lost. “My name is…” she thought frantically, “my name is… Count Caterino.” “A horse for the knight Caterino!” ordered the Prince. Immediately they brought the girl a beautiful white jumper. Kate took the reins with fear. “I must say,” she uttered hesitantly, “that in the country where I came from there are no such animals.” “Please don’t worry, this is a quiet horse.” Two servants helped Kate climb into the saddle and stood on each side, holding the jumper by the bridle. The Prince waved his hand, and the cavalcade set out. This was the first time in her life Kate was sitting on a horse. She was very unaccustomed to riding and found it inconvenient. It was perhaps better to fly on a chair. In any case, a chair was not jolty and stiff. The trip was not long, fortunately. Very soon Kate saw a rather unusual city. It was hanging in the forest. It was hanging because the houses were built directly at the crowns of the trees and more resembled bird nests – giant nests. The Prince rode up to a gigantic oak with the biggest dwelling located on its branches. Kate guessed that this was Prince Arinako’s house. The Prince proposed that she be the first to enter the house along a rope staircase which looked so unreliable that the girl was at a loss. She was undecided for so long that there was an awkward pause. Prince Arinako frowned. Kate was ready to start crying, but the Prince’s son saved the day. “Father,” he turned to the Prince, “the knight Caterino doesn’t know our customs and may be unable to enter our palace according to the rules. Please allow me to show him how this is done.” The Prince nodded. A smile returned to his face. The boy jumped from his horse and, quick as a lizard, climbed along the stairs into the opening of the nest. Kate followed him. She made a vow to herself that henceforth she would try not to be afraid. Her indecision had almost robbed her of Prince Arinako’s favour. Real rooms and corridors turned out to be inside the princely dwelling. Everything was made of wood and decorated with skilful ornamental designs. The floor, covered with soft skins and carpets, trembled slightly underfoot.
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The Prince appeared behind the girl’s back and invited her into one of the rooms. “Here you will be able to rest,” he said. “They will now bring you food and drink. Then, after you have had a good sleep, we’ll wait for you in the main clearing. Arian, my son, will take you there. You won’t object if he serves as your page?” “Not at all. I am grateful to you with all my heart, Prince Arinako. But may I ask a question?” “I’m listening.” “What will be in the main clearing?” “A feast in honour of Count Caterino, the flying knight and conqueror of the forest dragon.”
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“One more question?” Kate took a chance. “Why don’t you require any proof from me that I’m a Count and a knight? Has no one ever cheated you?” The Prince smiled, “We don’t fear fraud since one cannot cheat without harming oneself. One who lies cheats himself first and last. In our land, whoever overcomes the dragon is considered a knight from that second no matter what he was. And my people saw how you sent the dragon to the aspen stake.” “So the dragon is really dead?” Kate was surprised. “Yes. It perished in the fatal struggle with you, young knight. Our blacksmiths are already forging for you a sword and a shield with the image of the fallen monster, and the women are weaving a cloak necessary for a true soldier. You are in for a long journey, Caterino. Without a loyal friend, a good horse, and a good weapon you won’t manage outside the boundaries of my domain. We will give you a horse and weapon. You will find the friend yourself. But sleep now. Our main conversation with you is yet to come.” And Prince Arinako left without saying another word. Kate, without undressing, lay down on the high and wide bed with a canopy and instantly fell asleep. The amazing events of the day had completely tired her out. When she woke up, she saw Arian sitting by the bed. “You’re awake at last, Knight Caterino!” he was pleased. “The feast in your honour will begin any minute now. The fires are already burning and meat is cooking. Father has ordered the uncorking of a barrel of the best wine.” For several seconds Kate could not understand who he was and what she was doing here, but she jumped from the bed when she recalled. The boy got up from the bench and handed her a large wooden bowl with water. “Water from the cleanest stream,” he reported. “You can wash well with it. It isn’t poisoned.” Kate thrust a finger into the icy water. Brr-r! How cold! Right away she no longer wanted to wash. Then she recalled that boys should not fear washing with cold water. It meant she was also obligated to do this, not carefully like a girl, but like a boy – like a knight. Indeed, she was a knight now. The girl took a deep breath and, after scooping water with her hands, plunged her face in after them. On straightening and snorting, she was convinced that her actions had produced an impression on the Prince’s son. He handed Kate a towel embroidered with forest birds. “Your name seems to be Arian?” she asked, drying herself. “Yes. Father told me that I’ll be your page while you’re in our land.” “Excellent! It means you’ll tell me everything.” “What do you want to find out from me?” “I want you to tell me about your country, about what events happened here recently. Everything is interesting to me.” “Of course, I’ll tell you everything you want. How long have you been wearing long pants? Indeed, we’re almost no different in height.” Arian tried to stand beside Kate to compare her height with his. He sighed with disappointment; he was half a head shorter. “This is already my fourth pair of jeans.” The boy became round-eyed. But then a servant entered and said that everything was ready. “Let’s go,” Arian despondently proposed. “Only this time you must go out first.” “OK.” “Gosh,” the page exclaimed in conclusion. “You even slept like a real knight.” “How so?” the girl was astonished. “In your clothes.” It was not far to the main clearing. There were long tables and dozens of campfires burning, and exuberant merriment had already begun. Kate and Arian hurried to the festive table. The first thing the girl saw at the feast, and which made her flinch and shudder with fear, was the dragon that she had vanquished. It was illuminated by the
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flame of the fires, or rather its effigy was. The forest people had brought it here as a valuable trophy. When they saw Kate arriving, they broke out into joyful and welcoming shouts and applause. Prince Arinako personally led the girl to her place next to his throne. Arian followed behind Kate like a loyal bodyguard. The feast began. Kate was given an enormous platter with large pieces of cooked meat. Kate loved meat and with greediness attacked the most appetizing piece. Then she came to her senses and looked around. Everyone was probably looking at her and she was eating so unbecomingly. Nothing came even close. All who were sitting at the tables were eating with greediness and grabbing food with their hands. No one paid Kate any attention. All the same, she began to watch her manners. Then Prince Arinako got up and proposed to pay tribute to the honoured guest. Kate was given a goblet. She looked around at Arian, “What’s this?” “Wine,” the question seemed to surprise the boy. “And I have to drink it?” “Of course.” The newly made Count could in no way do this. “Listen, if I don’t drink this, will I really insult your father?” “He won’t forgive you. He just announced a health resort in your honour.” “What am I to do?” Kate thought. “Listen, Arian, don’t you want to drink this for me? Your father won’t know anything. He’s looking at the jester.” Arian gave it some thought. The temptation was great. He had not been given wine, but he so wanted to perceive himself as an adult. “Let’s!” The boy handed her his cup which had held a beverage from forest berries. Kate quickly poured out the contents of her goblet into Arian’s cup. The boy instantly pressed it to his lips, and she pretended that she had drunk her wine. Just then Arinako turned to her again. “Now comes the time to answer your questions, Count Caterino,” he said solemnly. “What do you want to find out?” “White swans kidnapped my brother.” Kate had waited for this conversation for a long time. “Did they fly over your land?” “I knew that you would ask about the swans.” “Why?” The girl felt how hard her heart was beating in her chest. “It was predicted to my people that the dragon would perish after swans with a small boy on the back of one of them flew by in the sky. The swans and the boy had flown past. Then you appeared and killed the dragon. This was a terrible monster. It is not as huge as the rest of its fellows but agile and fast. It knew how to fly between trees in the forest and hunted my subjects like an owl hunting mice. And there was no escape from it. We cannot leave the forest. There is the Sovereign’s domain. He ordered the killing of each of our tribe because once he could not defeat my ancestor Prince Aristan. Since then, the Green Principality has been declared as rebellious and my people as rebels.” “How long ago did this happen?” “What, the mutiny?” “No, the swans with the boy, my brother!” From agitation, Kate even had tears in her eyes. “Already half a year.” “Half a year?!!” The news shook her. “Yes.” The answer simply disconcerted the girl. Was she really mistaken? Were these really other swans?

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Prince Arinako noticed the change in Kate’s face. “Why has this surprised you so?” “But indeed they kidnapped him only yesterday!” “Which means one day if you came from another country. Did you perhaps fly over the mountains?” “Yes,” Kate absent-mindedly nodded. “I thought so. You pass a day there; it’s a year or two for us. A year for us is a century there beyond the void. Your time has no meaning for us. We have our own time. Frozen time. But it’s also time.” These words encouraged Kate. Maybe it was Gene. “And whose swans were they?” “They are the Sovereign’s servants.” “The Sovereign?” “Yes, they served him.” “But why ‘served’?” The Prince looked wonderingly at Kate and said, “Because he died. Of course, you couldn’t have known this.” Kate drooped completely. Now she understood nothing at all. “Where am I to search for Gene?” she asked herself. “Is that the boy who was with the swans?” “Yes!” “I don’t know. We live in too remote a place and news reaches us with great delay.” “What am I to do?” “There is a way, but I don’t know if you have enough courage to use it.” “What is it?” Kate exclaimed. “I am ready… ready for everything. Please tell me!” “At the edge of the forest lives the witch Ruina. She has a magic cauldron. In it she can see everything that happens in our country and the Sovereign’s domain.” “I must go to her! Right now!” “You’re a daring knight,” Prince Arinako smiled encouragingly and clapped. Two servants immediately ran up to them. One carried a bundle in his hands; the other led a horse by the rein, the same horse that Kate had been riding. “The horse you already know,” said Arinako. “Its name is Mirko. Please also accept the weapons made by our blacksmiths – a shield and a sword to match your height. Here is a cloak with a gold buckle, woven and sewn by our women. Please put them on and sit in the saddle. My son will show you the way.” Arian was already sitting on his horse and holding it back with difficulty. Kate did not have time to recover as they put the cloak and the sword on her and sat her down on Mirko. The shield was suspended from the saddle. “Goodbye, knight,” light melancholy was heard in Arinako’s voice. “We’ll probably never see each other again.” “Thank you,” Kate only had time to shout. She and Arian were already rushing through the forest into the night.

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Chapter Ten RUINA

The way to the witch turned out to be long. Late evening changed into deep night and Kate and Arian were still on the road. No matter how strange, the second time on a horse was considerably easier. The thought that it was her own horse, and even with such a pretty name, helped the girl. “This witch is a terrible old woman,” Arian related. “She doesn’t harm us because she fears my father. But he says never to trust her completely. She only waits for the day when she can play a mean trick on us. So I won’t go into her cave with you but will wait at the entrance. Tell me, do normal people live in caves perhaps?” “No.” “Of course not. All normal people live on trees.” This made Kate laugh. “Not all,” she objected. “All around the world people live in houses which stand on the ground.” “In fact I’ve heard this.” Arian scratched his head. “But I never believed it.” “It’s the truth.” “Tell me, Caterino, are you planning on going to the Sovereign’s domain?” “Yes.” “Take me with you! I’ll be your armour-bearer and accompany you everywhere.” “We’ll talk about this after the conversation with Ruina. What if my brother is in this forest?” “Unlikely. We would have known this.” It seemed to Kate that the boy was not quite steady in the saddle. “What’s with you?” “Don’t know, somehow my head is spinning and everything is swimming before my eyes. I’m shaking so badly on the road.” Kate burst out laughing. “Arian, you’re drunk!” “Drunk?” “Yes, my wine, which you drank – it’s acting on you.” The boy answered nothing. He simply fell down from the horse. “Who-a, Mirko!” Kate also stopped. To climb from the horse independently was not simple. The girl began to slide down and, in the end, fell down like a sack next to Arian. “Arian!” she began to shake his shoulder. “How much further to go? The forest has almost come to an end.” The page looked at her with lacklustre eyes. He had difficulty understanding what the discussion was about. “There to the right of the goat path,” he finally mumbled, “go along it and you’ll reach the cave. Ruina’s in it. Wait, I’ll take you.” He tried to get up by grabbing Kate’s shoulder. The girl nearly fell while he was getting
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up. “Some loyal page,” she muttered. “Should have drunk that cursed wine yourself. You’re the knight, not me. And it’s for you the wine was poured as for an adult soldier.” Kate immediately became silent. Kate found the path which Arian talked about and went on foot. She did not want to clamber up onto the horse again. The “page” dragged himself behind her. After about fifty steps he mumbled something and fell down as if dead on the ground. Kate was frightened and ran up to him. However, everything was fine with him. The boy had simply fallen asleep and was now snoring loudly. Kate went further alone. There were fewer trees and they were all whimsical and homely. There were fewer leaves on them but more wobbly twigs and long branches like the legs of a heron. The dwelling of the witch was beside it. Kate became uneasy – almost terrified. Here was a grey cliff with a dark crack at the base, which was the entrance into the cave. Did she really have to go in there? Kate took a little bug flashlight out of the knapsack and turned it on. The flashlight hummed and a timid ray, hardly enough to dispel the darkness, penetrated the cave. Kate took heart and entered the sorceress’ den. “Anybody here?” Kate asked loudly as soon as she had taken a few hesitant steps. In answer was silence. She heard only incomprehensible, barely audible rustles. Kate continued to pick her way carefully among the enormous bottles and jugs, boxes and baskets.

“I’m looking for the witch Ruina!” Kate again loudly declared. A gurgling and raspy voice answered her, “And you aren’t afraid that you’ll be turned into a toad or a crocodile here?” Kate shrieked and dropped the flashlight. It instantly became as dark as in a cellar. The girl in panic squatted and began to fumble with her hands on the floor in
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search of the flashlight. Something small ran past her palm. It was probably a mouse. Kate leaped and squealed so loudly that every living thing in the cave almost went deaf. “Now stop!” the same voice ordered. Kate finally found the flashlight, which fortunately turned out to be by her feet, and switched it on. No one! “Who are you?” the voice again asked. “I’m Count Caterino,” Kate mumbled, tongue-tied, “a knight.” “A knight?!” the voice was filled with indignation. “You’re a knight? A boy with pants on and you think you’re a knight!” “I… I killed the forest dragon!” “Killed the forest dragon?” Kate was tired of talking to someone unknown. “Perhaps you will come out after all?” she proposed. “Well, if you so want!” Out of a basket climbed a crow as big as a chicken. “Ca-aw,” it croaked, “knight, tell me what you want!” Kate sat down. “Are you Ruina?” The crow looked around. “In fact, there is only one Ruina,” it cawed pensively. “She’s certainly not a bad witch but she doesn’t have the ability to replicate herself.” Kate understood that the crow was confused that she addressed it like a person. “And I’m not Ruina.” The crow coquettishly preened its feathers with its beak. “I am her beloved assistant. You know that each witch must have either a black cat or a crow.” “Yes, I’ve heard this. But where is Ruina, then?” “She’s sleeping.” “Sleeping?” “Yes! Ca-aw-ca-aw, she’s sleeping because,” the crow bobbed up and down, “because she intends to set off for battle with the dragon! But then you have already killed it?” “Yes.” “These knights, forever interfering in others’ affairs. I think Ruina won’t like this. She’ll probably eat you.” “Let her try!” Kate was indignant and just in case grabbed the sword. “Stop talking nonsense, Esmeralda!” suddenly another voice was heard. “And you, knight, don’t get excited.” Kate looked around. A woman was standing behind her. She was dressed as richly as Prince Arinako, only her cloak was so long that it was dragging on the ground. “Are you Ruina?” “Yes. Why have you come to me?” “Prince Arinako sent me. He said that only you know where to find the boy the swans were carrying.” “Prince Arinako, a boy, swans,” Ruina said in a drawn-out style. “You want to find this out, knight, and how will you pay? Do you have gold?” “Gold?” Kate was confused. “No. Would you like me to give you the flashlight?” “What would I do with it?” “To have light at night.” The crow Esmeralda was laughing so hard that it fell down into the basket of acorns. Ruina smiled. Her eyes sparkled and at the same instant all the torches which were attached to the cave walls flared up. There was light. “And you think I need your pitiful lamp?” smiled the witch. Kate kept silent.
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“But you were not alone when you came here,” not waiting for an answer, Ruina continued. “Where is your companion?” “He remains outside. He led me here and remained. Why do I need him here?” “Actually,” unexpectedly the witch was happy, “why do you need him now? Let’s concur. I’ll show you everything you ask and you’ll give me Arian.” “Arian?!” Kate was staggered. “Why do you want him?” “None of your business!” “No, I don’t agree.” “Then off with you,” Ruina answered quietly. “Off, ca-aw, ca-aw!” Esmeralda carried on joyfully. Kate understood that she had lost her last chance. If she would not agree to the witch’s terms, she would not learn where to search for Gene. But what was to be done about Arian? Could she betray him and his father? Could she really be so despicable? “Ah, to heck with it!” Kate decided to herself. “I’ll pretend to agree and then think of something.” “Fine,” she said aloud, “let it be as you wish.” “Come.” Ruina headed for the furthest corner of the cave. Kate followed her. Esmeralda was hopping last. “Here it is,” Ruina announced with pride. Kate saw a cauldron above the hearth. Some brown broth was gurgling in it. A wicker cage hung beside it. A pigeon sat inside. Ruina took it out of the cage and lifted a knife above it. “Oh, what are you doing?!” exclaimed Kate. “Don’t!” She was very afraid for the bird. “Foolish boy,” grumbled Ruina, “I need five drops of blood. Where should I get them, in your opinion? From me? Or are you suggesting I carve up Esmeralda? This is a very old cauldron. Formerly in the big world it belonged to the Druids. And it will show nothing without blood.” “Better to take my blood!” Kate implored and held out her hand. “And let the bird go, please.” “Hmm, why not let it be your blood.” Ruina released the pigeon and it flew to the cave exit. Esmeralda wanted to pursue it but curiosity won and it remained on the spot. The crow, however, could not restrain itself and swore with annoyance, “Ca-aw, darn all knights!” Kate bit her lip when Ruina’s knife went over her palm. Blood dropped into the cauldron. The girl turned away. “A knight shouldn’t fear the sight of blood,” the witch said instructively. “What should it show you?” “My brother.” “Look.” Kate and Ruina looked into the cauldron. Nothing was visible at first. Then the gurgling liquid smoothed out and an image began to appear on its surface. They saw swans flying in the sky. A boy sat on one of them. “It’s him!” Kate shouted. She recognized Gene and was very happy. “Quiet or you’ll spoil everything!” Gene was already conversing with the Sovereign. Kate and Ruina could not hear about what. “This old man is the Sovereign,” Ruina said with respect. “He’s a great magician. Interesting, why did he need this child?” Kate did not answer. She would give up everything to get an answer to this question. The cauldron continued to show Gene riding in a coach around the rejoicing city. He had on fairy-tale clothing. “So he really became a prince!” the girl sighed. The cauldron of the Druids showed the White Tower, the throne hall, and the boy sitting in an armchair. He was sad and pensive. “Are you sure this is your brother?” The witch, like Kate, could not tear herself away from the image. “Yes. I’m his…” the word “sister” almost escaped Kate, “I’m his brother.” “You don’t say; it means the Prince of the White Tower is your brother. The Sovereign died and made your brother his heir. Now the Prince of the White Tower is the Sovereign. He has power, authority, and might. The old Sovereign, before his death, passed on almost all the magical power that he had.” Kate listened with an open mouth.
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“No one expected the little boy to become the powerful ruler of the enormous country. Many were pleased when they found out about the Sovereign’s death. They remembered the freedom of the past when each could be king. Unrest began. Several provinces revolted and two rebellious principalities declared war on the Prince of the White Tower. But the young ruler turned out to be a great general. He gathered an army in two days and attacked the castle of Prince Alexandro the Black, the main nest of the mutiny. The rebels defended themselves desperately and were certain of a victory. Did they really think that a little boy in his first battle would crush their army and lay siege
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to the castle on the second day? Prince Alexandro now sits in the castle prison of the White Tower, and his principality was annexed to the Sovereign’s domain. The same fate would also befall any principality deciding to match strength with the Sovereign. The remaining provinces have already resigned themselves.” Thanks to the magic cauldron, Kate saw her little brother in the different situations. He was riding a horse as head of the troops, then in command of the assault on the castle. Adults listened unquestioningly to the orders of a seven-year-old little one. People in chains bowed before Gene; these were the prisoners. The boy looked sternly at them. He said something and they took away the prisoners. Kate looked at Gene and could not understand whether she was seeing her brother or someone else. Something had happened to the boy’s appearance. Childishness and light-heartedness had disappeared from his face. This was Gene but at the same time not him. Ruina continued to narrate, “And in the capital against Prince Eugene…” “Eugene?” exclaimed Kate. “So, it’s him after all!” “Don’t interrupt. There emerged a plot against the Prince.” “A plot?” “Yes. A group of courtiers headed by Defence Minister Leonari decided to kill the boy on the day he entered the city. Chance saved the Prince. Marie, Leonari’s niece and former maid of the Prince related this to First Minister Gargulio. It was worth her great effort to reach this high official. Gargulio waited until the Prince began to enter the city. His people were at every turn, and when the killer attacked the Prince with the knife, Gargulio’s people took him. Gargulio ordered that this be done at the very second the knife was raised. He risked a great deal, but the risk was justified. They saved the Prince and arrested all the participants in the plot. The killer and Leonari were jailed and are awaiting trial.” Kate felt very sorry for her brother. In her heart emerged a hatred for the people to whom the boy had come. They made him a prince and wanted to kill him at once! What for? Poor little brother! What a terrible story he has found himself in! She must reach him at all costs and return home. The determination to act appeared together with the hatred. Kate could barely hold herself in check. “Listen to how it all ended.” Ruina began to laugh loudly. “Gargulio has become the head honcho in the country. The Sovereign, more accurately the Prince of the White Tower, entrusted him to look after everything and locked himself in solitude in the Tower. Ha-ha-ha, foolish boy! He wanted to be a prince. Rookie! They cheated him. Everyone cheated him! Ha-ha-ha! The swans, the Sovereign, and Gargulio! But you don’t know the most important…” “Stop!” Kate shouted, almost in tears. “Now be quiet!” The girl saw Gargulio’s contented and smirking face in the cauldron and could not control herself. She kicked the magic cauldron. “Oh, what are you doing?” Ruina yelled in a voice unlike hers and rushed to save the cauldron. It was already too late, however. The cauldron swayed and toppled right into the fire. Sparks poured down. Something crackled and the cauldron collapsed into small pieces. The witch and the girl hardly had time to jump to the side to avoid being scalded. “My cauldron!” Ruina tore at her own hair. “What have you done, cursed boy?!” “Oh, it was an accident!” “And now I’ll turn you into worm and feed you to the crow!” Ruina began to swing her arms. “Ca-aw, ca-aw, what a disaster!” Esmeralda hopped around the people. “Quick, Ruina! Quickly turn him into a worm. Ca-aw-ca-aw!”
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In her rage the shocked witch had forgotten all the spells and rushed at Kate with her fists. The girl snatched out her sword and, holding it with both hands, was ready to meet the enemy. “Only try to come near, you blasted witch. I’ll chop off your head!” she threatened. “You’ll be bitterly sorry for this, Knight Caterino!” the witch began to threaten. “You haven’t found out the most important thing about your brother. Danger threatens him. He’ll soon die. But you’ll find out nothing. Sooner or later I’ll get you.” Kate was uneasy about the broken cauldron but nothing could be done any longer. “I’ll manage without you!” she shouted and ran out of the cave. “Oh, woe is me, woe!” Ruina continued to keen. “Nasty boy! Let the earth swallow all the knights!” “Ca-aw, right away I didn’t like him,” Esmeralda carried on. Ruina saw the crow and grabbed it by the neck. Her eyes were burning malevolently. The crow was even frightened. “Oh, oh! Don’t look at me that way, mistress, or else I’ll faint. Ca-aw! I’m so ner-vous!” “Listen to me, idiot!” Ruina shook the bird. “You know that I can’t leave this forest. So you’ll have to take vengeance for me! Understand?” “Understand. Esmeralda is a clever bird.” “You’ll have to harm him as soon as you can, and he must not reach the Capital or his brother. Kill the boy, kill the knight Caterino. You do this and I’ll reward you royally. Fly!” She released the crow and it flapped its wings, brushing them against the cave walls as it rushed to the exit.

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Chapter Eleven THE ENCHANTED VILLAGE AND THE TROLL CASTLE

Kate flew like a bullet out of the cave. What if they had actually transformed her into something unknown? Her main thought, however, was about Gene. What she had learned shocked the girl. Just think; he had really become a prince. What danger threatens him? She must hurry. The girl ran and suddenly stumbled over something and fell. It was Arian. He was lying right in the middle of the path. It was only then that Kate remembered about the boy. She must immediately get him out of here and as far away from Ruina as possible. Arian, however, was sleeping, and no matter how Kate shook his shoulder, he did not wake up. She had to drag him along with herself. It was terrible – dragging a knapsack and a drunken boy. On top of that, the sword was really hindering her. Thank goodness she had arrived at the horses. Lifting Arian onto the saddle, however, turned out to be many times harder than expected. The girl was ready to start crying, but Arian came to and climbed up onto the horse by himself. “Don’t forget, I’m going with you, Caterino,” he reminded her. “Aha. I just don’t get enough of you.” “What direction are we going?” Arian almost fell from the horse again. “I need to go where the Sovereign lives.” “So, to the Capital.” Kate thought for a bit. “Listen, Arian. You can’t go with me,” she said firmly. “Why?” the boy had difficulty understanding. “The Sovereign’s people will kill you like a rebel or take you prisoner; then they will demand the principality from your father as ransom.” “No. I’ll go with you all the same,” the boy obstinately objected. “Who will find out that I’m from the forest principality?” “Any fool, after seeing your hair. Indeed, it has a greenish tinge.” “No concern of yours, knight!” Kate was tired of arguing. She climbed onto Mirko and went ahead. Arian followed her.

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Ruina’s cave remained far behind and the sky overhead had already begun to brighten when Kate stopped. “Tell me, which way do I go?” she turned to Arian. “There.” The boy pointed. Kate looked at the compass. The needle indicated the same direction. “Listen, give me your belt.” “Why?” “I want to test you.” Arian removed his belt and handed it to Kate. “Put your hands behind your back.” Arian also did this. In a second, Kate tied his hands with a double knot. Nick had taught her this as well as many other things. “Now try to free yourself. If you manage, you will go with me. If not, I’ll send your horse home. I think it’ll find the way.” Arian understood that he had been taken in. He jerkily began to break loose from the fetters but to no avail. Tears glistened in the boy’s eyes. “You tricked me!” “When you put on long pants then I’ll take you with me. But now goodbye and forgive me. I don’t want to risk you. One boy for me is already bad enough. Home!” With these words, Kate slapped Arian’s horse on the rump. The horse set off trotting back home. “I hope he won’t fall down,” Kate muttered, following him with a look. She then checked the compass and also set off on her way. When Kate was hidden from view, the leaves on the oak branch rustled and Esmeralda appeared; her beady eyes sparkled. “Well, well!” the crow muttered. “Have to be on guard with this knight. Deceit doesn’t work with him!” The crow flapped its wings and flew after Kate. Kate continued her way in solitude. The sky brightened, stars grew dim, and before long from behind the horizon appeared an edge of the solar disk which flooded the ground with the first golden rays. Morning had arrived in the Country of Frozen Time and the knight Caterino could barely keep her eyes open. A sleepless night was letting itself be known. All the time on the road she met neither beast nor person. Kate started to become exhausted although she had already gotten used to the saddle no matter how strange it seemed and she did not feel any special inconvenience. Finally, she stopped
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the horse and dismounted. Mirko began to nibble the grass which grew all around in abundance. Kate spread the cloak on the ground, lay down on it, placed the knapsack under her head, and fell asleep. Esmeralda dropped like a stone as soon as it saw that the girl was sleeping. “Caw-w, what luck! The hero sleeps not suspecting that trouble follows!” The crow began to sneak up to Kate. “First I’ll steal his sword, then take away the horse, then…and what if I peck out his eyes? Good idea. But the trouble is that he’s not a corpse. What if he suddenly wakes up? He’ll pull out my tail; he definitely will. And break the wings – boys, they’re like that. What will I, an or-phan, be fit for then? Well, to heck with this knight! Better I take away the horse.” The crow began to sneak up to Mirko. “Now I’ll grab the bridle and lead it away. I know a place. Wolves live there. The wolves will eat it and I’ll get the offal.” Esmeralda was already very close. Mirko did not pay the bird any attention. “What if it kicks me?” Esmeralda was suddenly afraid. “Like giving me a hoof. Who knows this horse! It’s so strong. If it gives me a hoof in the chest, there’ll be no more Esmeralda. Better I deal with them next time.” The crow flew away. Kate woke up after several hours. She ate what was left in her knapsack and again set off on her way. This time, rested, she went much faster. The sun shone brightly; birds were singing, and her soul became merrier. Kate began to hope that as she went further, the road would be without special adventures. A small village appeared in front of her. It was necessary to ask for food for the journey and feed for the horse. The closer the hamlet came, the more unusual was its look. The tallest house in this village was up to Kate’s shoulder. In order not to break anything, she tied Mirko to an apple tree which was scarcely taller than she herself, and entered the village on foot. Coming to meet her was a group of tiny people similar to dolls from a store and in the same bright and motley clothing. A venerable old man with a white beard headed the procession. “Are you gnomes?” Kate rested her hands on her knees to examine the Lilliputians better. “No, we aren’t,” answered the old man. “We’re normal people. And you, judging by the clothing and the horse, are probably a wandering knight?” “Yes, I’m going to the Capital. I need the Prince of the White Tower.” Kate noticed how the people brightened up when they realized that a knight was before them. “We’re very glad that you dropped in on us,” the old man lifted up both hands, “Because we need help. Why did the sky create wandering knights? So that you would help those in trouble. What’s your name?” “Caterino.” “What? Are you that same knight Caterino, who defeated the forest dragon and cheated the sorceress Ruina?” “Yes, that’s me. But how did you find out about this?” “Birds. The birds told us everything. We know that you saved the pigeon king’s friend Vorkulina from death. That is all they are talking about in the sky. And now we need your help, Knight Caterino.” Kate listened with her mouth open. Some fine mess she has gotten into! She had just had two adventures, now the next one already loomed ahead. “And what happened to you?” “A terrible plight,” the old man lifted his hands with grief. “Trolls.” “Pardon?” “Trolls. The trolls who live in the castle beyond the hill have cast a spell on our village.” “In the castle beyond the hill?” “Yes. We’ve lived with the trolls in peace for many years. But several days ago the children in our village began to disappear. Small children – quite small. Can you imagine our grief? Every night two or three disappeared. And the
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same thing happened a second week. Fear has settled in our homes.” A chill also ran down Kate’s back.

“For a long time we could not understand what the matter was,” continued the old man, “and thought that vampires had appeared nearby. If this had turned out to be the case, then not one living person would remain in our village. But the night before last our baker saw a troll run out of his house with a sack on his back. He grabbed a bow and shot after the troll and even slightly wounded him in the neck. The troll ran away nevertheless, but the baker discovered that his daughter had disappeared. A five-year©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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old girl. We followed the bloody trail which led us to the castle beyond the hill and demanded that the castle inhabitants return our children or we would destroy their dwelling and burn them. The trolls only laughed in answer and cursed us. We ran home to arm with axes and pitchforks and to lay in a supply of torches, but with each step we became increasingly smaller and smaller. When we reached the village, we became so small that we could only grieve and wait for outside help. Good at least that our village also shrunk; otherwise what would we do in our homes?” Kate looked all around and felt like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. Not only did the houses and people shrink but also the animals, the birds, and everything else. “How can I help you?” “Go and fight the trolls. Free our children and make them remove the spell.” “And if they also cast a spell on me?” “Then we’ll wait for another knight and you’ll remain with us.” “Nice deal!” Kate was indignant. “I have my own important business; I can’t take a risk. What if I don’t agree? ” “What are you saying!” The old man waved his hands. His companions were also clearly surprised and indignant. “You’re a knight and mustn’t refuse anyone; otherwise, you’ll stop being a knight and deserve people’s scorn to the end of your life. There is no sorrier sight than a man who was once a knight.” Kate thought for a bit. “So, I can’t refuse?” “Under no circumstance.” “Fine.” There was nothing else for Kate to do but agree. “Only first feed me and my horse.” The little fellows instantly carried out her request. They even filled Kate’s knapsack with provisions for a week. “Only don’t forget to pray before the feat,” the old man warned her. “All knights do so.” “And how is this done?” Kate asked. “Very simple. You stick your sword into the ground, get on your knees before it, and ask your saint to help you win a victory.” “Okay, I’ll do this!” Kate shouted and, after jumping deftly into the saddle, kicked Mirko’s sides with her heels. Kate saw the troll castle as soon as she arrived at the top of the hill. The compass needle pointed straight at it. “What will be, will be,” Kate sighed and rode up to the castle. It was a gloomy structure more resembling a barrel than a castle, the kind drawn in books and shown in movies. Around it was a ditch filled with water. There was no bridge at all. “Hey, Mirko, I hope they won’t turn us into rabbits here,” Kate was downcast. The horse neighed in answer and struck a hoof against the ground as if encouraging its rider. “You think everything will work out?” The girl gratefully patted the horse on the neck. Mirko began to nod affirmatively with its snout then, not waiting for a command, trotted to the castle. When Kate found herself in front of the gloomy dwelling of the trolls, she got down from the horse, drove her sword into the ground, knelt down, put her hands together for prayer (she had seen in the movies how this was done), and implored while looking at the most likable cloud, “Oh, St. Catherine, please help me defeat the trolls!” The castle was approximately the height of a three-storey building. Kate noticed that a thick branch of one of the trees reached directly to the fortress wall. Not thinking for long, Kate climbed the tree. This was not difficult. More difficult was climbing along the branch into the castle. Carefully, like a ropewalker, Kate went along the wobbling and squeaking branch. Once she almost fell down into the ditch but managed to keep her balance. When she had jumped onto a ledge of the castle wall and gone in, she then exclaimed, “And I had to become a knight! Now what shall I do next?” She started searching for the inhabitants of the castle by roaming around the rooms, the corridors,
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and the halls but found no one. If the girl had been more attentive, she would have noticed that the crow Esmeralda was constantly behind her. The sly bird hid every time Kate looked around. Corners, protrusions, nooks, and crannies were quite sufficient for hiding. Finally, Kate entered the main hall of the castle. Five sleeping trolls lay in different poses, four on the floor, one in an armchair; each snored loudly. Kate froze on the spot. The trolls were slightly shorter than Kate; they had a terrible appearance and even some kind of blue-green colour. Their faces were so evil even in sleep that Kate immediately wanted to have nothing to do with them; she turned around and carefully walked away. At the exit the girl almost stepped on one more troll. This was not even an adult but a baby troll. Small, chubby and rotund (all the rest were very thin), and pink not green. He did not snort like the rest but snuffled quietly, sometimes squealing like a puppy. His twitching ears were as big as a piglet’s. Kate ran out into the courtyard and caught her breath. She wanted very much to leave the castle and dash away from it as fast as possible. The thought was tempting but Kate saw one more door in the wall. The girl decided that since the trolls were sleeping she had to check what was there behind it. This turned out to be the entrance to the dungeon. As soon as Kate began to go down along the stone steps, she heard children’s voices praying for rescue. Kate hurried down. At the same time Esmeralda, spying where Kate was running, instantly flew into the hall where the trolls were sleeping. It sat down on the back of the armchair in which the chief troll was sleeping. “Sleeping, my friends!” Esmeralda indignantly croaked. “Come on, enough sleep! An enemy has gotten in and wants to take away all your goodies!” The chief troll opened one eye. “Who has gotten in, did you say?” he asked. “Count Caterino, caw-w, caw-w, the most daring knight in the world!” “A knight-errant?” “Who?” “This knight of yours!” “You bet, caw-w, caw-w, would an ordinary one push his way through to you? And he’s already in the dungeon while you’re sleeping here. Disgrace-ce-ce!” The crow flew away with these words. It is better not to get close to an angry troll. “Alarm!” the chief troll yelled. “Get up!” The trolls began to toss and turn reluctantly. “What’s this!” they got angry. “Day’s still young outside. Won’t let us sleep.” “Quiet!” the chief yelled. “Intruders want to rob us!” Kate found the children stolen from the village as soon as she went down into the dungeon. The kids, the oldest was seven–eight years old, were locked up in a long cell like beasts in the zoo. They were all in nightgowns and barefoot; they had been stolen at
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night right from their beds. Many were already sick from the cold and the dampness. They were sniffling, sneezing, and coughing. “What a nightmare!” Kate could not find words. The kids saw her, began to stretch their arms out through the grid, and shouted, “Mama, Papa, get me out of here! Save me!” Kate rushed to the cell, moved back the heavy bolt, unwound and removed the chain from the door grid, opened the door, and let out the prisoners. The children instantly crowded around her like chickens around a hen. Suddenly, the children began to squeal and tried to go back into the cell again. Kate looked around and saw the trolls. They were getting closer to her all the time. The children in panic ran back behind the grid. “Back!” Kate ordered and snatched her sword out of the scabbard. The trolls stopped and began to confer among themselves. Kate watched them attentively. The children were again in the cell. “So-o-o!” The tallest troll shook his head. “So, you wanted to rob us? Take away our goodies? Do you know what happens for this?” “Nonsense!” Kate boldly answered. “It’s you who stole these children and put them in such terrible conditions. Aren’t you ashamed? Almost all of them have gotten sick. You will now let the children go free and remove the spell from their parents!” The trolls laughed. “And if we don’t do this but cast a spell on you too, what then?” “Then…” Kate thought for a bit. “Then I’ll fight you. What’s a few trolls to me if Ruina herself couldn’t swindle me? Let’s see if you can cope with the conqueror of the forest dragon.” Kate decided to frighten the trolls. She was mortally afraid of them and would never dare to talk to them this way if she did not have a sword in her hand. The trolls again began to hold a conference. “Okay, we’ll let you go,” they finally proposed. “We pardon you. You can leave.” “No, I will leave here only together with the children and with the spell lifted.” “We don’t agree!” Negotiations clearly took longer than planned. Suddenly the trolls began to advance on Kate. She did not expect this and stepped back. The girl did not notice that a small ball rolled by the wall, went around her, and froze behind her by her feet. That was the smallest troll. Kate stumbled against him, screamed, and fell. The most terrible thing was that she dropped the sword because of surprise. The trolls heard the blade ringing and with triumphant howls rushed to the girl. “Release me!” Kate felt the vile creatures seize her and tie her with cords; she was terribly repulsed. “Gotcha! Gotcha!” the trolls rejoiced. Having tied up the knight and stuffed a rag in his mouth, the trolls dragged Caterino upstairs and brought him to the main hall of the castle. They threw him into a corner and scattered to their own spots. “You and you,” the chief pointed a finger at two trolls,
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“will guard the prisoner. When we wake up, we’ll have an outstanding supper. We have never eaten a knight. We’ll see how he tastes. True, he’s painfully small and skinny.” Two trolls reluctantly sat down near Kate. The rest tumbled down to sleep. “What should we do?” asked the troll that was shorter than his lanky comrade. “Perhaps we eat this while everyone sleeps?” the other nodded at Kate in reply. “Look how he twitches.” Kate’s hair stood up on her head with these words. “No, can’t. The chief will have our heads,” answered the first troll. “Better, let’s play.” “Let’s. But who will guard the prisoner?” “Drool. Let’s make him. Why should he sleep for nothing?” The trolls brusquely pushed the small pink troll and dragged him to where the prisoner was lying. “Guard him and don’t let him out of your sight!” they ordered Drool strictly. “And we’ll play.” They reached for the bones and began to play. Several minutes went by and the trolls forgot about everything in the world. Kate with melancholy watched them and tried to break the ropes. She rolled along the floor and wriggled like a snake. The fetters loosened a little. “Sit quietly,” Drool asked her. Kate looked with such hatred at the little troll that he kept quiet. All that Kate managed to do was spit the disgusting rag out of her mouth. She sat dejectedly by the wall. Drool sat down beside her. He did not take his eyes off the girl – exactly as ordered. Meanwhile the players got seriously noisy. Everyone knows that trolls are the most reckless beings in the world. They shouted so loudly that they roused all the others. The awakened trolls were angry at first but when they saw what the commotion was about, they instantly joined the game. Kate had a headache. She understood that if Drool were not beside her, she would very simply be done with this and have bolted from here. Nothing mattered to the trolls except the game. Suddenly Kate had a brilliant idea. What if she played with the trolls? She listened. What were the trolls playing for? Money? No. The trolls were playing for the children, the ones they had locked up in the basement. This is why the trolls needed them – in order to play for them. “Well, I’ll show them now!” Kate thought and shouted, “Hey, trolls, what’s this boring game you’re playing?” The trolls became silent right away and looked dumbfounded at the prisoner. They were so amazed that they even stopped playing. “Disgusting knight,” the chief troll was outraged, to approving nods, “You call the noble game of bones boring?” “Of course, boring! And confusing too!” Kate looked boldly at the trolls. “Now I know a game… You’ll never win over me.” “Ha, you lie all the time! One trader gave us the game of bones as a gift. More accurately, he redeemed his life from us. We know all the games in the world! Cards, dominoes, lotto, even chess. Bones! Now this is the best game! At first we played for money, but we’re tired of that. We stole human kids. Now we play for them. This is great! So keep quiet, knight, and wait while we play to our hearts’ content. Then we’ll turn you into a suckling-pig, roast, and eat you.” “Ah, frightening!” Kate announced with satisfaction. “I’ll say! You’ll never win over me in ‘shells’. I’ll bet anything!” The trolls’ ears moved with curiosity and excitement. “Perhaps a really good game?” They started talking together. “Now then, Drool, untie him. Let him show us. We always have time to eat him.” “I need three half-nutshells and a pea,” said Kate, when she was untied. The trolls ran in search of shells and a pea. “Here! Show us!” They placed before Kate what she had requested. Kate sat down, crossed her legs in the Turkish style, and
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rubbed her hands, “We may begin. You must guess where the little ball is. You guess it, you win.” Kate began to dupe the trolls. One boy taught her this trick of market and railway station swindlers in exchange for a computer game. The main idea of the trick is to cheat with the help of sleight of hand by the player. If everything is done correctly, which shell the pea is under cannot be guessed by the player at all. First Kate won back the sword, then the cloak with the gold buckle. The trolls clamoured and argued so much that they became quite heedless and it was a great pleasure to beat them. They actually turned out to be very reckless. Several movements of the hands and the trolls lost all the money they had. “Well?” Kate squinted slyly. “Are we playing anymore?” “Of course!” the trolls stated all at once. “And what do you bet?” “Everything, anything! Come on, let’s play!” The trolls made noise, banged their caps on the floor, and cursed among themselves. Kate quietly observed them. She understood that now she could do what she must. “I bet all the money I have!” she said. “But what will you bet?” “Everything you want. Do you want our wonderful forest?” “Why do I need it?” “What do you mean, ‘why’? Firewood for winter.” “No need. My home is warm without firewood.” “Then we bet our castle.” “I don’t need your castle. What will I do with it? I’m indeed a wandering knight.” The trolls started to get angry. They became huffy and began to turn black with rage. Suddenly the chief troll grabbed Drool by the shoulder and put him in front of Kate. “Then we’ll bet him! You don’t have the right to refuse a troll.” Kate decided not to anger the trolls and quickly won Drool. The trolls squealed with malice and offence. But what could they do? They again bet the forest. Kate lost the horse for show. The game was revived; the trolls began to make bets with renewed passion. Now they no longer seemed so terrible and, even on the contrary, amused the girl a little with their naiveté. “That’s it!” Kate suddenly stopped the game. “Enough. I’m leaving!” “Why’s this?” “You’ve already lost everything. Even Drool. Why play with you?” “No, you haven’t yet won everything from us. You indeed needed the children that sit in the basement. Let’s play for them.” Kate was very pleased but pretended that she was completely indifferent. “Hmm, okay, if you have nothing else.” Two hours passed and as the result of a tight game, Kate won all the children one after the other from the trolls. “Now the last bet,” she declared after all thirty-four little ones were brought up from the dungeon. “I bet all of them on lifting the spell. Agreed?” The trolls really did not like lifting spells; therefore, they conferred for a very long time and argued among themselves. Finally, passion won over and they agreed. Certainly, they lost. Finally, Kate won a promise from them never to harm either her or other people. It was already evening when Kate and the children left the troll castle. Kate sat the smallest on Mirko, took the horse by the bridle, and went on foot herself. When they were approaching the village, Kate looked around and saw that behind everyone trudged the baby troll Drool. “Where are you going? Get away from here!” “I can’t. I’m with you, knight. You won me. Now I’m yours and will be with you.” “What joy!” Kate muttered in annoyance. The baby troll embarrassingly covered his eyes with his ears but did not drop behind.

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Chapter Twelve THE TERRIBLE PURSUIT

“Caw-w, Caw-w!” Esmeralda flew into Ruina’s cave. “I did it! Mistress, wake up! The knight Caterino is in the hands of the evil trolls. I lured him into the trap! Me! Caw-w, Caw-w! He won’t get away from them alive.” It breathlessly began to tell the sorceress the story of its exploit and what miracles of heroism, ingenuity, and resourcefulness it had to show. “You saw his corpse?” Ruina interrupted its enthusiastic story. “I saw how the trolls seized him, tied him up, and took him away into the feast hall. Caw-w! They ate him and didn’t even leave any bones.” The crow could not acknowledge that as soon as it saw Caterino being captured, it had immediately flown to brag with triumph. It did not see what happened further. At this time, however, an alive and unharmed knight Caterino was already on the way to meet new adventures and feats. Kate’s soul was warm and merry. She could be proud of herself. How the parents of the stolen children met her! There were both laughter and tears of joy. The children laughed; the adults cried and also laughed. Everyone praised Count Caterino – the knight who defeated the forest dragon and the evil trolls. True, there was a moment that frightened Kate somewhat. When the people, now all of them normal size, saw that Drool was hobbling behind Kate, they rushed at him with their fists. The poor little troll nearly perished. He did not even defend himself but simply covered his face with his enormous ears and tried to stoop down. “Please stop!” Kate yelled. She started to pity the young one. “This is my prisoner.” The infuriated parents instantly stopped beating up the baby troll and obediently parted. “Leave here!” Kate went to Drool. “I release you. I give you your freedom. Go.” “Yes, yes!” the inhabitants of the village picked it up. “Go away, vile monster! Otherwise, we’ll let out the dogs. And they’ll tear you to pieces!” Drool looked with very sad eyes first at Kate,
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then at his persecutors. Then he suddenly disappeared. The parents immediately forgot about him. The inhabitants of the village had too much happiness. Kate rejoiced together with everybody. She saw how tenderly the fathers hugged the daughters and the mothers the sons. She envied them a little. Yes, the children were rescued and returned to their parents, but when would she be able to hug and kiss her little brother? Kate recalled Gene and immediately rushed off. No requests to stay and live for at least a week in the village would stop her. First the village then both the forest and the troll castle remained behind. Mirko covered metre after metre with its hooves. The journey to the Capital was only beginning. Night again found Kate on the road. There was no human dwelling around at all. The girl was even sorry that she did not stay the night in the village, but it was already too late. A sad and drawn-out howl was heard somewhere afar. Was it wolves? Kate began to worry. She had to light a fire quickly. The howl became louder and closer. Darkness intensified. Kate became terrified. Mirko trotted faster, then felt something and moved to a gallop. Kate looked around and almost fell with fear from the saddle. She saw four pairs of burning flames. They were following her. Wolves? No, these were not wolves; worse, these were werewolves – half wolf, half man, terrible, black and hairy. They ran on all four legs but sometimes got up on their hind legs. Wolves do not know how to do this. Kate wrapped both arms around Mirko’s neck as it tore along at a mad gallop. No matter how fast Mirko went, the werewolves did not lag behind. Even when the dragon had pursued Kate, she had not been as terrified. Then it had been a sunny day and not a hellish night like now. The mad gallop continued for a long time. Mirko gradually slowed down its run. The werewolves sensed that the prey was tiring and they howled in triumph. They were also tired but the thirst for blood drove them on and on. Kate began to cry. She decided that her end had arrived. Tears began to drip onto Mirko’s neck. As if this gave strength to the noble animal, the horse reared, neighed loudly as if calling for help, then raced forward in such a way that the werewolves immediately fell behind almost a hundred paces. The hearts of the fugitives were filled with hope. Both the horse and the girl peered hard into the darkness, searching for salvation. There seemed to be a slight bright strip in front of them. A river! Here it was – salvation! Mirko rushed into the water. Fortunately, it was not cold. The horse kicked and struck out for the life-saving opposite shore. In order to help it, Kate got down from the saddle and swam beside it. Water filled her mouth, nose, and ears, but the girl hung firmly onto the horse’s mane and worked her legs hard. The shore approached rapidly. The fugitives heard the werewolves howling angrily on the shore they had left behind. They did not immediately decide to enter the water. This delay gave Kate and Mirko precious minutes for salvation. The river, however, had taken their last strength. Finding herself on dry land, the girl could no longer climb into the saddle. Mirko knelt with difficulty, but when the girl sat down on it, the horse could not get up. “Mirko, my dear,” Kate entreated, “Please, get up! They are catching up with us!” Mirko nodded smartly, sighed loudly like a person, got up with difficulty, and began to hobble further. The werewolves saw that the tasty prey was getting away, cried out wildly, and rushed into the water. They swam slowly, in canine manner while breathing heavily, but
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they were approaching steadily. Kate was already lying in the saddle. Water flowed from her in streams. The girl and the horse were shaking with fear, fatigue, and cold. They did not move too far from the shore this way.

Suddenly Kate saw close by in front of her a cabin, built half from logs, half from stones. The girl literally fell from the saddle, reached the door, and began to bang her fists on it. “Please open!” she begged. “Please, open. Help! Save us!” No one answered. The shutters on the windows were tightly closed. Behind the door there was neither a sound nor a rustle. Kate began to cry loudly. “Mean, nasty people! Why don’t you want to open the door?” Again, silence. Only Mirko sighed and snorted behind her back. The howls of the werewolves were heard once more. They had already climbed onto the shore and would be close to her any minute now. Kate again banged on the door. Suddenly it was opened. It was dark and terrifying inside but there was no choice. The werewolves were already turning up beside them. Their burning eyes forced Kate to act. She flew into the house, dragged Mirko in after her, and closed the door. As soon as she had found the bolt and moved it with shaking hands, the door shuddered under impact. Kate no longer reacted to these sounds. She fell exhausted onto the floor and did not even have the strength to light a fire. Behind the door the werewolves howled, squealed, scratched, and tried to break it, but the door was thick and strong. The monsters could not get inside. They roamed all around and howled miserably because they could not reach the tasty morsel. Kate did not pay them any attention. She got up on her feet with difficulty and started to search her knapsack. Everything in it was wet right through, but the flashlight turned on. Kate lit up the dwelling and with relief saw a bed. It was even made up for spending the night. It was fresh and inviting but most important, it was dry. The girl threw her wet clothes directly down onto the floor, dived under the blanket, and dropped off into a deep sleep. When Kate woke up, the sun was shining brightly. There were no werewolves. There was no house in which Kate and Mirko had found salvation. There was a bed standing
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right on the grass. Not far away the river was gilded in the rays of the sun. It was not narrow and the girl wondered how they could have swum across it. Mirko, as if nothing was the matter, was grazing in the tall grass and did not even look in Kate’s direction. Where was the house? Where did it go? Kate’s whole body was aching after the night gallop and the passage across the river. She was unwilling even to move a finger, but the bed began to shake and rock as if it were telling her to leave. It was necessary to get up. Her clothes were stiff like cardboard and smelled of dampness. She so wanted to take a shower or, even better, a bath. Certainly, it was possible to bathe in the river, but she had no strength for this. Kate even screwed up her face from this thought. It was so warm that she shoved the cloak and the vest into the knapsack, and when she put on her sneakers, she heard a slight rustling behind her back. She turned around and saw that the bed had melted in air as in a fairy tale. “A miracle!” Kate was surprised. “It’s no miracle,” a familiar voice was heard behind her back, “only a little magic.” Kate looked around. Drool was standing in the tall grass and looking at her with big eyes quite unlike a troll’s. “What are you doing here?” Kate was amazed. “Now, nothing,” Drool made a helpless gesture. “I had to work for a while at night. Do you think it’s easy to make a house from nothing? Indeed, I still know so little.” “So it was you who made the house?” “Yes.” The baby troll was embarrassed. “I saw that the werewolves were after you… I can easily hide from anyone.” “Dear Drool, what a nice person you are!” Kate choked with appreciation. “If not for you, I don’t know what would have happened to us. A huge thanks to you!” Drool was embarrassed and even covered his face with his ears. Two pale blue tears rolled from his eyes. “What’s with you?” the girl was surprised. “Are you crying?” “I don’t know. There had never been anything like this for me.” “What, no one ever said ‘thanks’ to you?” “Never,” Drool let out a sob. “No one ever praised me. Only berated and hit me all the time.” “You poor dear!” Kate felt sincerely sorry for the little one. “No one felt sorry.” The troll burst loudly into tears. Kate began to calm him, “No need to cry. You are indeed a real hero. If not for you, I would have died. You saved my life. Both my horse Mirko and me.” “Really?” One of Drool’s funny ears shuddered and lifted slightly. “Certainly!” “And you won’t berate me?” “Berate you? For what?” “That I prevented you from completing a glorious feat?” “Of course not!” Kate patted Drool on the head. “You won’t hit me either?” “No way!” Drool began to calm down. “You’re a strange knight,” he sighed. “Why’s that?” “You don’t fight, don’t brag at every turn, don’t booze with anyone, and you’re nice. Perhaps there are such knights?” “I don’t know.” Kate shrugged her shoulders. She was pleased that she had been praised. “Indeed I am.” “Probably it’s because you’re a young knight. How old are you?” “Eleven.” “Very young. I have yet to see one younger. I’ve seen a lot of knights! But you’re the best. I’m
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even glad that I fell to your lot. I was so bored in the castle. The big trolls were so mean and don’t like sweets at all. I love candies so, but they don’t let me get them. ‘Eat up,’ they say, ‘the same as we do – spiders, frogs, lizards.’ But I love pastries much more!” “Yes,” sighed Kate, “I also love pastries, especially éclairs.” They both sighed. Suddenly Kate remembered something, “Listen! There must be candies in my knapsack. They gave them to me in the village where you carried off the children.” She rummaged in the knapsack and actually found candies. True, they had stuck together in the water but had not lost their sweetness. “Here!” She gave a handful of candies to Drool. Mirko came up to them and poked its snout into Kate’s back. It also wanted candy. “Take some, Mirko.” Kate stretched out her palm with the delicacies. “You also tried, Mirko. Both of you are great guys!” In an hour the three of them continued their way together. Drool sat on the horse behind Kate and screwed up his eyes with pleasure. He had never ridden on a horse. Mirko was not particularly delighted with the new rider. It nervously shook its ears and looked askance at the strange creature which rather scared it. “Tell me, Knight Caterino, where are we going?” Drool asked. “We’re going to the city where the Sovereign lives. Now the Prince of White Tower rules. I need him.” “Why?” “He’s my little brother. I must take him home to Mama and Papa.” Kate then told Drool her story about how the enchanted swans stole Gene; how the magician Nick helped set off for the pursuit; how she defeated the terrible forest dragon and became a knight. “You know, Drool,” Kate finally whispered. “I’m indeed not a real knight. Only this is my secret and you mustn’t give it away.” “It can’t be so!” the troll did not agree. “You indeed defeated the dragon, and according to the rules anyone who overcomes a dragon…” “I know, I know. But it doesn’t count. Swear that you will never tell anyone.” “I swear. Trolls very seldom swear.” “I’m not a knight because I…” Kate hesitated, “because I’m not a boy.” “Not a boy?” “No, I’m not a boy. I’m a girl. And my real name is Kate, Kate Konstantinova; I’m not Count Caterino at all. Only this is a secret and you swore not to give it away.” The troll hushed for a bit then asked, “All the rest is true?” “What do you mean by all the rest?” “You did defeat the dragon?” “I did.” “Then everything else is unimportant. You are a knight. A girl-knight.” “There’s indeed no such thing.” “Everything must begin with something,” Drool remarked philosophically. “Only we won’t tell this to anyone. Why confuse people, trolls, and the rest. The mockery will be unbelievable.” Kate agreed with him. “You, Drool, are not like a troll – not terrible at all, even likable,” Kate remarked. “Really?” Drool was pleased. “You really think so?” “Definitely.” “Then let’s not tell anyone that I’m a troll or else no one will like us. Why would we want extra troubles?” “Let’s not,” agreed the girl. “We’ll consider that we’re travelling incognito.” “What, what? What…gnito?” “Incognito; that is, under an assumed name. We don’t want to be recognized; therefore, we travel incognito.” “Cool!” Drool bobbed up and down. Mirko nearly bit him because the horse did not like his bobbing up and down on it. A horse is not a sofa!

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“What names will we go by?” asked the troll. “I, by the name of Count Caterino and you, by the name of Drool.” “But it’s my real name.” “And we won’t change your name. It’s so good, but now you’re not a troll.” “Then what?” “You… you…” Kate remembered the troll’s love for candies. “You’re a Sweet Tooth, that’s what.” “A Sweet Tooth?” “Yes.”
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Kate continued to let her imagination run. “There is such a tribe beyond the mountains. There we became friends and you have travelled with me.” “Do you say that we became friends?” Drool timidly pressed against Kate’s back. “It’s true?” “How’s this? Perhaps you’re not my friend?” “Friends,” agreed the troll, more precisely, the Sweet Tooth. “I’m your friend.” He again said this word, “Friend.” So Kate found her first friend.

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Chapter Thirteen THE RIVER

The river was wide, deep, and with a swift current; not easy for one to swim or wade across. The perplexed Kate, Drool, and Mirko stood on the shore. Beside them there was neither boat nor raft nor ferry. “Sweet Tooth, you can’t conjure up a skiff or a raft?” Kate asked the troll. He shook his head sadly, “Unfortunately, no. I can’t do any magic for a whole week. I can’t work with magic often.” “Pity!” Kate sighed. “Pity!” Drool sighed. Mirko snorted and hit a hoof against the sandy shore. “There’s no bridge across this river,” Kate remarked. “How do other travellers get to the Capital? Do you know how to go there, Drool?” “Travellers never go straight to the Capital,” Drool began to explain. “It’s difficult and dangerous. They go down along the river to the city of Merry Fishermen. From there they board ships and sail down stream to the Big Lake, cross it, and find the place where flows another great river of our country. Travellers have to go up along this river until it becomes a stream. From the city of Stern Blacksmiths they must pass the mountains and the bottom of Unicorn Canyon, then along the main road right to the Capital gates.” “And how long does it take?” “Not long. You’ll get there after half a year. What a journey it is!” “Well, indeed no!” Kate frowned obstinately. “We go straight!” “Of course,” agreed Drool. “That’s the way for knights. Can one really avoid dangers?” “What, will there be dangers?” the girl asked uneasily. “What else?” Drool calmed her. “Those earlier were flowers in comparison.” “You know how to calm,” Kate again sighed. “Just tell us what to do. We need to reach that shore at any cost.” “Perhaps we’ll try on the horse?” Drool proposed. Mirko clearly did not like this proposal. It neighed indignantly and tried to bite the troll, who squealed. “Stop fighting!” Kate was exasperated. “So what should I do?” “You know,” Drool moved his ears anxiously, “indeed, we must get over to that shore before nightfall.” “Why?” “Werewolves.” Kate shuddered. “What, they can return?” “Yes, as soon as the sun sets, they’ll wake up and…” This was just too much. The girl was
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ready to howl with despair. They had already gone along the shore for half an hour and still not met one living being. “Listen, would someone in the river help us?” Drool thought for a while. “Perhaps only the mermaids,” he turned it over in his mind. “But they’re as crafty and dangerous as the werewolves. They would tickle and carry you off to the bottom and force you to farm algae for them. Do you want to become their slave?” “No,” Kate even shuddered from this prospect. “I don’t. But since the slaves of the mermaids live on the bottom and even farm algae for them, it means one can go along it to that shore. Sweet Tooth, can you find the entrance into the river?” “It’s very dangerous to walk along the bottom of the river.” “Can you find the entrance?” Kate obstinately repeated. She had already become accustomed to risk. An encounter with werewolves at night seemed much more unpleasant than a rendezvous with the mermaids. “Any troll knows this.” There was nothing left for Drool to do but tell everything he knew. “Have to throw stones into the water. Where there is no ripple effect is the entrance into the river. The water sprites use it when they want to entice children into the water.” Kate got down from the horse and began to throw stones into the river. Drool did the same. He found the spot needed. Kate took him by the hand, the horse by the bridle, and all three entered the river. The girl was very surprised when she saw a multitude of air corridors on the bottom of the river. These were dark and gloomy tunnels with aqueous walls. She checked against the compass and picked the corridor which led forward. The friends walked quietly and carefully, trying not to produce any sound. The bottom was soft and this worked well for them. The plantations of river algae were not far off. Kate saw that there were people working in them. Behind the people were small evillooking fellows with fish heads. They rode on top of sturgeons and gave a painful poke with the tridents to those people who appeared to be working poorly. “What horror!” whispered Kate. “Yes, a gloomy place,” agreed Drool. “They’ll capture us, drag us away into the water, and force us to work. And indeed it’s wet there. Brr-rr!” The group quietly continued on their way and had already passed almost halfway when they noticed a little green fellow with a fish head. He was sleeping on pebbles, from which a strap stretched into the water. A sturgeon was swimming in the water, peacefully chewing algae and deftly catching small fry swimming past. Probably, the water sprite shirked from its work of overseer. Its trident lay nearby. The friends passed by carefully. Drool went last and did not notice that he caught the strap to which the sturgeon was attached. The sturgeon thrashed anxiously in the water and gurgled indignantly. The water sprite instantly woke up. “What’s this? What’s
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the matter?” it exclaimed and seized the trident. On seeing the uninvited guests, it quickly pulled a large shell out of its belt and began to trumpet loudly. An alarm signal was heard and Kate and her companions were detected. Suddenly from nowhere appeared a stout mermaid with evil eyes and sharp shark teeth. “Round them up,” she commanded, “Faster! Faster, slouch! Ah, clumsy creatures!” She herself swam swiftly in the water but did not get into the air corridor. Kate and Drool did not have time to look around as they were surrounded by nearly two dozen water sprites. It was useless to resist. Kate, Drool, and Mirko tightly pressed against each other and waited for their fate. The mermaid finally stuck her head out of the water and asked, “What are you? Spies?” “We’re not spies,” Drool began to justify them. “We’re travellers. We’re simply going to the other shore. Will you please let us pass? We’ll disturb no one.” “You’ll disturb no one?” The mermaid burst out laughing. “Quickly go where they show you, foolish creatures, and don’t try to run or else we’ll promptly drown all three of you!” They had to obey. The uninvited guests were led along the corridors in an entirely opposite direction from the shore they needed. “What do you think they’ll do with us?” Kate asked the Sweet Tooth. “Silence! Stop!” the mermaid ordered. “Here under water we don’t like noise.” The prisoners went silently. Soon they were led to a strange structure with the ground floor in air and the second and third floors in water. The inhabitants of the underwater dwelling could swim in the water and crawl on the dry land. The gates were opened and Kate, Drool, and the horse were pushed inside. There in a pool sat twelve beautiful mermaids. The most beautiful among them, who had a crown on her head, sat on a throne in the centre of the pool. Her tail was splashing in the water but her body was raised above the surface. “On your knees before the tsarina of the river!” the mermaid who had led them here yelled at Kate and Drool. The water sprites poked them forward with the tridents. “On your knees!” they repeated like an echo. There was nothing left to do but obey. The girl and the former troll clumsily fell down onto their knees. Mirko pretended that he did not understand the order. The water sprites looked at its hooves and did not insist. “Who are you?” The river tsarina yawned lazily as she took a bunch of algae from a gold dish and dispatched it into her mouth. Kate tried to get up, but immediately two tridents came down on her shoulders. She again fell to her knees. “We are travellers. I am the wandering knight Count Caterino, and this is my friend the Sweet Tooth Drool, and my horse Mirko. We crossed the river and got here. Please let us continue on our way, and we will interfere with no one.”
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“Knight? Very interesting!” The tsarina reached for a mussel from the plate, cracked it with a fork, and with a long tongue licked off the contents of the shell. “Then tell me, why didn’t you cross the river like all earthly beings on the water?” For the first time in her life Kate saw a gluttonous tsarina, though she also saw mermaids for the first time. “There was neither boat nor raft on the shore,” she explained. “So we decided to go along the bottom of the river.” “But do you know, knight, that according to our laws, whoever gets into the river remains in it forever?” Now Kate was truly frightened. “But, Your Majesty, we simply can’t remain with you. We have extremely important business in the Capital with the Sovereign himself!” she said in despair. “Who’s this Sovereign?” The tsarina turned her gaze to the pool. “He’s on the ground,” one of the mermaids disdainfully waved her hand. “Seems to be a sorcerer and a petty monarch. Rules over the people.” “On the ground? Then this has no significance!” “What will you order us to do with them, tsarina?” asked the stout evil mermaid. “I’ll take the boy for myself,” the tsarina began to ponder. “He’ll comb my hair in the morning.” She shook her tangled mane. “We’ll harness the horse to my coach, but send this squab to the plantation.” “That’s unfair!” Drool was outraged. “Why to the plantation for me?” The tsarina, however, heard nothing. They had just brought her a tray of fried fish and she hurried to feast on them. “Quick to the slave premises!” the evil mermaid gave the order. “Tomorrow morning you’ll put on the gills and get to work.” “If we don’t manage to flee from here before morning, we’ll remain here forever. We won’t be able to live on the ground with gills,” the girl managed to whisper to Drool. “Time for the sword,” muttered Kate. “All three of us together can deal with this gang.” “Don’t take escaping into your head! They wield the tridents very well. They will drive us into the water and we’ll simply drown. Ouch!” Proving the truth of the words of the Sweet Tooth, one of the water sprites poked him hard in the leg with the long and sharp instrument. “No talking!” it bellowed. Kate looked with melancholy at the compass. Its hand was not exactly pointing where they were going. Had her journey really come to an end? It was so vexing to acknowledge this. She had to promptly think of something. Perhaps they had to try all the same to drive away these little fellows? She was a knight after all. “Knight!” Kate smiled bitterly and looked at the powerful hands of the evil mermaid. Not only could she but even Mirko would not be able to break away from such hands. This meant they had to eliminate the evil mermaid first of all. How should this be done? Kate shared this thought with Drool. “Exactly!” he approved, “But how shall we do this?” “The mermaid is afraid to get into the corridor. For sure if she turns up on dry land she won’t be able to move. You notice her tail is always in the water. It means we must drag her from there to here and run.” “But she’s so huge.” “Mirko will do this. The main thing is to drag her onto the sand.” Drool looked doubtfully at Mirko, then seized it by the bridle and began to yell, “Where are you running? Stand still. Hey, mistress mermaid, it’s running away, you hold it.” The mermaid rushed like lightning to Mirko and grabbed the bridle. She got so deeply into the air corridor that only the tip of her tail remained in the water. “Mirko, forward!” Kate gave the order and slapped the horse on the rump.
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Mirko dashed off just in time. The mermaid turned up on dry land and sprawled on the ground. She was so lost that she let go of the bridle. Mirko found itself free. Kate hurled Drool onto the horse, pulled out the sword, and rushed at the water sprites. Not expecting such a turn of events, the water sprites ran in circles. They sounded the alarm shell. “Help!” sobbed the frightened mermaid. The water sprites crowded around her, but they were too small and could not drag her back into the water. Kate managed to seize one water sprite by the shoulder. She put the blade to its neck and ordered severely, “Well now, vile frog, lead us to that shore.” “Oh, I’ll do anything, only please don’t kill me!” the water sprite began to squeal. “Show the way fast!” “There, there!” The water sprite nodded at one of the corridors. “Faster!” Kate ordered. The fugitives ran. Kate was in front and she held the water sprite by a paw. Next trotted Mirko with Drool on its back. Several water sprites were already rushing after them, but they feared to approach the fugitives and only shouted, cursed, and blew the shells. All the time there were more and more of them. “No,” Kate decided. “We’ll be caught soon this way.” She sat down on the horse and dragged the water sprite into the saddle. That one nearly died of fear. Three sitting together on the horse was very uncomfortable, but it was no time to choose. Mirko launched into a gallop and quickly left the pursuit behind. “There!” The water sprite continued to point the way. In front of the running prisoners was the narrowest corridor along the sides of which swayed an especially thick growth of algae. “You’re not lying?” The girl, as a warning, shook the water sprite hard. “It’s the shortest way!” The sprite started to whimper. Kate looked at the compass. The water sprite spoke the truth. “Forward!” she waved. Mirko carefully entered the corridor. Algae touched Kate’s face and Drool’s face. It was unpleasantly like the touch of a frog. The bottom became quite wet and Mirko moved its legs with difficulty – its hooves stuck in the sand. The corridor became narrower and lower. The girl had to bend down to the horse’s mane. “Faster, faster!” Drool and Kate were uneasy. Mirko tried with all his might but was moving so slowly that the sounds of pursuit were heard again. Suddenly water started to murmur under their feet. It instantly flooded the sandy bottom of the tunnel. Very soon the water reached Mirko’s knees. “What’s this? Why water?” Kate gave the prisoner a painful pinch. “It’s a submerged corridor!” The water sprite yelped. “Still far from shore?” “Very close!” But the water was coming quicker. It already covered both the horse’s legs and Kate’s legs. Mirko neighed in alarm. Kate turned around. From behind, with a very loud noise, an enormous wave was catching up with them. It threatened to run them down and drown them any minute now. The slippery water sprite made use of Kate’s confusion and quickly slipped down from Mirko’s back. The girl grasped at it but was too late. The water sprite was hidden in the pitch dark water. “We’re lost!” Kate breathed out, feeling doomed. “All is not lost!” yelled Drool. “We can still have time!” He jumped from the horse and swam forward, grabbing Mirko by the bridle and carrying it along with himself. Kate saw how Drool began to increase in size as if someone had blown him up. Next he transformed into a sphere the size of Mirko. The girl was scared. Suddenly, Drool let air out abruptly and flew forward while Kate on the horse flew after him. Drool again became small but instantly started to fan again. Precisely at this moment the corridor ended.
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“A blind alley – the water sprite tricked us!” yelled Kate. “All in vain!” Drool looked at her with a vacant stare. His eyes were already the size of a plate. He fiercely swallowed air and grew and grew. Water came down on them noisily. Kate barely managed to take a gulp of air before she was covered up to her head. Mirko tried to surface and furiously worked its legs. Drool did not swallow air in vain. Now he swiftly flew up and would have been on the surface of the river sooner if he had not had to drag Mirko and Kate with him. Kate felt that she would break apart. She was short of air and her head and ears ached terribly. Her eyes were open but saw nothing. Kate lost consciousness. “What will be, will be. I’ll probably drown now,” she thought finally. Precisely at that moment when Kate opened her mouth, Drool pushed her to the surface. Not less than a minute was needed before Kate and Mirko came to consciousness. They saw the desired shore and sped to it. Drool, decreasing in size, swam beside them. It was already night over the river and the moon shone brightly in the sky. “Here they are! Catch them!” Voices were heard nearby. Water sprites with shouts floated on sturgeons around the fugitives and shook their tridents. Here Kate discovered that she was still squeezing the sword in her right hand. She had not lost it! This is why the water sprites were afraid to approach. The girl thanked fate that the water sprites were so cowardly, because she felt that not only could she not wave the sword but also could not even raise it. Kate, Drool, and Mirko reached the shore accompanied by this wild and absurd retinue. On land one water sprite rushed at the runaways in a desperate attempt, but received such a kick from a horse hoof that it, with a wild cry, flew almost to the middle of the river. On seeing this, the remaining water sprites hurried to hide. The fugitives went onto the ground. Drool let out the last remaining air and again became the previous Sweet Tooth. Mirko limped to the nearest tree and fell onto its knees. Kate, in exhaustion, fell down to the ground and slipped into oblivion.

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Chapter Fourteen CHRIS

After opening her eyes, Kate saw the worried Drool and Mirko. The former troll and the white horse looked anxiously at the girl. The friends smiled happily when they saw that she was awake. That is, only Drool smiled, Mirko neighed joyfully. “Drool, Mirko,” Kate uttered with difficulty, “you saved me again. Even I don’t know how I’ll be able to show you my gratitude.” The ones to whom these words were directed were confused. Do friends really wait for gratitude for something they should do? Did they themselves perhaps not undergo deathly danger together with Kate? “You should have a nap and gain strength,” said Drool. “I would make a bed but now I can’t do magic at all.” “Why not?” “I violated the rule of a young troll.” “What rule?” “To make magic not more than once a week. Now I’m not a troll at all.” Drool smiled sadly. “Why do you need me now?” “Not true.” Kate could barely move her tongue from fatigue. “I need you as never before, and Mirko too.” “Really?” Drool was pleased. “Then I’ll start a fire or else you’ll catch a cold.” The former troll ran off to search for firewood. When Drool returned with an armful of branches, Kate was already sleeping soundly. Soon a campfire merrily crackled next to her. Drool built such a big fire that the eagle owl living on the tree was outraged. “Uh-huh! Why the disgrace?” it hollered. “Who set up a steam room at night and wouldn’t let an old man digest an eaten mouse in peace?” “Don’t be angry, Mr. Eagle Owl,” answered Drool. “We didn’t know that someone lives here. I’m a Sweet Tooth, and this is the knight Caterino and his horse.” “The knight Caterino?” the eagle owl hooted more amicably. “Is this the same wandering knight who killed the forest dragon?” “Yes.” “And saved from death the friend of the pigeon king?”
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“Yes.” “And then rescued the human children from the troll castle?” “Yes. The same.” “And the werewolves didn’t eat him?” “No. But how does Mr. Eagle Owl know all this?” “The birds. All they talk about is the knight Caterino. So this is him? How young and puny; altogether a nestling but already so famous. But how did you get here? Indeed, the knight was on the other side. No one waited for him here. Does he know how to fly?” “No, we went along the bottom of the river.” “Along the bottom of the river? Through the kingdom of the river mermaids?” “Yes.” “But this is impossible!” “The knight Caterino did this.” “Uh-huh! He’s a great hero! The birds don’t talk about him for nothing. I’ll fly off and tell them the latest piece of news about the knight Caterino.” After bellowing again, the eagle owl flew off into the darkness of the night. The eagle owl returned in the morning bearing a dead hare in its claws. “Hey, friend!” it hollered to Drool. “My hunt was successful today. Here, take this. Let your knight build up his strength when he wakes up. He’s so awfully thin.” “Thanks, wise bird,” the Sweet Tooth called to it. “Caterino will be grateful to you, we indeed have nothing for food. Everything got wet or remained in the water.” “It’s not worth any thanks.” The eagle owl was very satisfied that it was called a wise bird. “We eagle owls always have a weakness for wandering knights.” With these words the eagle owl crawled into a hollow and, yawning blissfully, fell asleep. Kate woke when the sun was already high. Drool was sleeping next to her. Mirko was nibbling grass not far away. The campfire had gone out a long time ago and the girl shivered from the morning coolness. She tried to get up but could not even move. Her whole body was hurting and aching, including both her arms and legs and even her neck. She recalled the events of the night before. “Drool,” called Kate. “Are you sleeping?” The Sweet Tooth woke up and instantly jumped onto his feet. He looked neither exhausted nor tired. Kate even envied him. “How do you feel?” Drool asked first of all. “Terrible!” the girl groaned. “I’ll die now. I can’t move either my arms or my legs.” “Nonsense! Now we’ll get you back in shape.” The Sweet Tooth casually went into Kate’s knapsack and pulled out a pot. Right away Kate felt that she was dying from hunger. “What do you want to do?” she was surprised. “We have nothing, you know.” “At night I made the acquaintance of an eagle owl. When he found out that you’re the knight Caterino, he was very pleased and presented a hare to us. I’ve already skinned and dressed it, and now I’ll cook it. We’ll have meat and an invigorating broth. You’ll quickly get back on your feet.” After two hours Kate was lying under the tree sated and contented. She wrapped herself in her cloak and flatly refused to continue on the way. “I need to gain strength,” declared the girl. “And I still want very much to sleep.” “You know best,” Drool agreed with her. “Sleep, I’ll take a stroll and look around. At the same time I’ll check out the road ahead.” “Right, Sweet Tooth!” Kate closed her eyes and fell into a sweet drowsiness. She had already managed to be sick of all these adventures, pursuits, flights, and battles. She was an eleven-year-old girl and not a rascal boy. After all, does she not have the right to a rest? Certainly, she does. Kate fell asleep with such thoughts. Kate dreamed of Gene. He sat on a throne and was sad and depressed. Then Kate saw Ruina’s cave, the cauldron of the Druids, and the witch standing next to it and laughing. She pointed at the cauldron, in the magic reflection of which the boy was visible, and muttered, “He will die, die. If you don’t save him, he will perish, perish, perish! Ha-ha-ha!” “No!” Kate shouted and woke up.
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Kate was trembling with fear and covered with a cold sweat. All around everything was quiet and the girl began to calm down. Birds were singing peacefully and tree leaves were making noise. Even the river, which had delivered Kate so much trouble the day before, was flowing with moving waves under bright rays of the sun. The dream, however, did not leave her head. Kate recalled that Ruina actually spoke of some danger which allegedly threatened her brother. What this danger was, Ruina did not have time to tell her. Kate did break her magic cauldron, so there was no time to lose. In spite of fatigue and her whole body aching, Kate began to prepare for the road. Not even ten minutes had passed and she was again in the saddle. “Drool! Where are you?” Kate’s shout cut the silence. The Sweet Tooth did not answer. Obviously, he had gone quite far. The girl looked at the compass and, after kicking Mirko in the sides with her heels, directed it to where the blue arrow was pointing. Kate decided that she would find Drool along the way. A forest followed the road. It seemed neither dense nor dark; on the contrary, it was lively and hospitable. Kate entered it without fear. The forest was filled with birds singing. Somewhere a woodpecker was pecking, a magpie was squawking, squirrels jumped from branch to branch, and badgers and hares darted about in the bushes. The girl saw a beautiful deer with luxurious branching horns. It proudly ran past the rider, not even looking in her direction. A fox gazed at Kate with small wondering eyes. This was the land of fearless birds and beasts. Oh, if only Gene were here! He so loves animals. Kate had been in the wonderful forest for half an hour but still had not met Drool. Perhaps she had to turn around? “Drool!” called the girl. The forest answered with silence. “Oy!” Kate sighed regretfully. “Have to turn around.” She turned the horse and froze together with Mirko. A boy stood before Kate. He was not quite an ordinary boy. He held in his hands a stretched bow with an arrow looking right at the girl’s chest. He was clearly older than Kate. The face of the forest archer was stern and grim. A sword hung from his belt. Kate did not like this at all. “Who are you and what do you want in my forest?” the forest archer asked loudly. He did not relax the bow. Kate was struck dumb by surprise. The gaze of the young Robin Hood fell on Kate’s shield which hung on the side of the saddle. “You’re what, a knight?” Kate heard respect in his voice. She nodded affirmatively. “You’re what, a deafmute knight?” the boy continued to ask. “No, I’m not a deaf-mute.” “Then get down from the horse and fight if you don’t want my arrow to plunge into your eye!” In the boy’s voice sounded such confidence that Kate could not understand how this could be. The boy instantly threw down the bow and snatched the sword out from his belt. “On guard!” he shouted and struck a blow. Kate barely managed to dodge. “Lunatic!” she yelled. “What are you doing? You could kill me!” “Pull out your sword, blockhead, and fight.” “I’ll not fight you!” Kate really did not intend to fight. “You’re sick!” “No, I’m not. And now you’ll die if you won’t protect yourself. What kind of knight are you if you don’t want to fight?” All this time Kate and the boy were circling each other. The patience in the young warrior began to wear thin. “So, will you pull out your sword or not?” “No!” Kate nearly cried from resentment. “Who are you and why are you attacking me?” “Because you’re a
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knight and I’m not. But I want to become one, so I fight you, clear?” “No.” “You’re not a knight but a blockhead.” “You yourself are a blockhead!”

The boy was finally tired of arguing with such a muddle-headed opponent. “Then I’ll beat you up without any weapon.” In confirmation of his words he dropped the sword and pounced on Kate with his fist. His first strike, aimed at Kate’s ear, hit the target and the girl toppled over on the ground.
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Kate could no longer stand this. To experience so many adventures, run away from so many mortal dangers, and, in the end, be beaten up by a boy who was a whole head taller! No, this was too much. Kate began to howl at the top of her lungs; tears spurted out like a stream from her eyes; the surroundings resounded with bitter weeping. Kate cried from pain and resentment. The boy expected anything but this. “What’s with you?” he muttered, overcoming awkwardness. “Why burst out in tears? Why, then, dressed up as a knight? No need to travel alone in a strange forest.” “Happy now?” Kate had turned on the waterworks. “Hero!” Her shoulders were shaking with the sobbing. The boy was completely at a loss, not knowing how to comfort her. “Stop crying!” he almost begged. “You wail just like a girl.” Kate was angry, “And you probably think that you defeated a boy, huh? Sticking your chest well out like a rooster. Phooey!” “I understand nothing.” The boy really did not understand what was happening and looked at Kate with great bewilderment. “Why do you say that?” “Here’s why!” Kate screamed, continuing to be in a flood of tears. “I’m not a knight at all, not a hero, and not a conqueror of dragons! I’m simply the girl Kate, and I’m all of eleven years old. Do you understand, great warrior?” “You’re a girl?” “Yes!” “Then why all this?” The boy nodded at the shield, the sword, and the horse. “None of your business!” “Why do you wear men’s clothing?” “Leave me alone!” “I won’t.” The boy fell on his knees before Kate. “I won’t until I get complete forgiveness, daring girl. Forgive me, please, for the unbecoming behaviour! Do you want me to kiss your feet?” “Indeed no!” Kate scurried away from the boy like from the plague. “Are you nuts?” She was so surprised that she stopped crying. The boy continued to entreat for forgiveness, “If you don’t forgive me, I’ll stab myself with the sword on the spot right now or go and drown in the river!” Kate wiped the tears off her face and smiled. She often fought with boys and rarely won; however, no one ever asked her forgiveness. But this boy did and even so passionately and pleadingly. This was pleasant. She sobbed for the last time, swallowed the rest of the tears, and said peacefully, “No need to drown yourself in the river and stab yourself with the sword. I forgive you.” The boy caught her hand and, before Kate had time to utter a word, kissed it, “Thank you!” “Wow!” Kate was thunderstruck. “You’re a downright true knight.” “No. I’m not a knight. But I simply dream of becoming one.” The boy helped Kate up and even shook off grass and dry leaves from her clothing. “How did you turn up here, Kate? My whole life I’ve met not one person from outside this land.” “I’ll tell you everything,” promised Kate. “What’s your name?” “Oh, I
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forgot!” The boy began to laugh. “Indeed, I haven’t presented myself.” He tidied his beautiful hair, too long for a boy, and said, “I’m Chris.” And he was immediately embarrassed. “More precisely, Christian. Mother calls me Chris. Christian Thirteen.” “A strange name.” “Not at all! I’m simply the thirteenth son of my parents: Richard the Brave and Eliza the Unapproachable.” “And I was called Count Caterino until meeting you.” “Also a good name. I’ll call you that too, Count Caterino. Indeed I’ll no longer leave you.” “Why?” Kate was surprised. “You’ll find out later. For the time being I invite you to visit my castle.” “You have a castle?” “Why yes, the goblin take me!” Chris helped Kate climb up onto the horse. “Are you walking?” asked the girl. “Why?” Chris was surprised. He whistled loudly. A graceful black horse appeared from behind the trees. It stopped before Chris as if grounded. The boy deftly jumped into the saddle and gave the order, “Let’s go!” Along the way, Kate told Chris her story in detail. “Never heard anything like it in my life,” he exclaimed. “I envy you. You’re younger than me by two years; on top of that a girl, but already you have managed to experience so much. And even became a knight. A girlknight. At long last the prophecy has come true.” “What prophecy?” “You’ll find this out in the castle. For the time being I can tell you only one thing – you are in reality a knight, though a girl. And it’s not important whether you want this or not. But from the moment I was introduced to you…” “Some introduction!” Kate touched her ear, which was still red. “You forgave me!” Chris exclaimed, hurt. “Now you recall it again.” “Pardon me, Chris, I won’t anymore. Word of honour!” Kate hurried to fix the blame. “Now,” Chris continued, “from the moment we became acquainted, I am at your full disposal as a squire. You won’t refuse me, will you? My life depends on this.” The boy spoke very sincerely. “Of course not. You will accompany me on my journey?” “Yes. Until you find your brother and go home to your country. I will complete many feats in your service and go humbly before the first person of royal blood so that I can become a knight. Besides, I have one more important task I must carry out even if I die.” “What task?” “You’ll find out in the castle, Knight Caterino.” Kate dared not demand explanations. The girl was glad that she found one more friend. Suddenly Kate remembered, “Oh, I’ve indeed completely forgotten about Drool!” “Drool, this is your captive troll?” “He’s not a captive at all. He’s good. And not a troll now but a Sweet Tooth. He has twice saved my life. He’s my friend.” “But indeed you won him from the trolls?” “Yes, I did,” Kate answered with a challenge, “so?” “Okay, why did you get so angry? We’ll find your Drool or what’s-his-name.” Chris seemed a little offended.
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All of a sudden, some unknown force tore Chris off the saddle and raised him into the air. He was frightened and yelled. “Oh, what’s this with me? Kate, help!” Kate herself was also frightened. Chris was hanging in the air upside down and helplessly waving his arms. The girl noticed that from Chris’ feet a rope stretched up to the trees. She looked at the other end and saw Drool’s satisfied face among the branches and leaves. Drool, smiling happily, waved at her. He came down in a second. “You’re free, Knight Caterino!” he declared. Then he looked into Kate’s eyes, searching for approval, and asked, “Great that I took him out?” “Sweet Tooth!” Kate groaned. “Why did you do this? Now lower the boy down to the ground.” Drool was very surprised. “Didn’t this person really take you prisoner after beating you fiercely and disarming you?” “Who told you that?” “The birds.” Drool was clearly dispirited. “As soon as I heard them, I immediately rushed to your aid.” “No, Drool, this isn’t an enemy,” Kate calmed him. “This is our new friend that you so rudely hung up.” “I thought that he was an enemy,” Drool justified himself as he untied the rope from the tree. “But he’s a friend. Well, now I’ve spoiled everything.” The Sweet Tooth became completely red with shame and covered his whole face with his ears. Chris tumbled down onto the ground and stared wonderingly at Drool. “Well, some friend you have, Caterino!” he said, outraged. “Don’t be mad at him please, Christian!” Kate begged. “He’s very nice. No one loves him, only me. Don’t be mad at him.” She stroked Drool on the head. The baby troll was ready to fall into the ground from shame. “Okay!” Suddenly Chris began to laugh. “I’m not angry at all. This was simply so unexpected that I was frightened.” “I saw that you were frightened,” Kate laughed and mimicked the boy, “Kate, help, Kate, help!” All three laughed. The little adventure sprouted true friendship in the young people’s hearts. In front, the road again waited for them.

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Chapter Fifteen MAMA ELIZA AND HER SAD STORY

The friends travelled for a long time. It was already high noon, but the forest still did not end. “In order to reach its outskirts you have to travel for two weeks,” Chris informed his new friends. “So, your castle is in the forest?” Kate was surprised. “Of course not. It’s in a clearing by Green Stream. Here it is.” The trees suddenly parted and the riders came to a large clearing in the middle of which flowed a wide stream. Near the stream on a low hill, surrounded by a ditch filled with water, was a picturesque castle with charming turrets. “How beautiful!” Kate and Drool were simultaneously captivated. “Yes, it’s beautiful,” agreed Christian. “Only a little neglected.” “Why?” “Because only four of us live in it – Mother, Joanna, my wet nurse, Ian, my father’s old servant who brought me up from the cradle, and me.” Kate looked with surprise at the boy. “And your father? Your brothers and sisters?” “My father was killed when I was about to be born.” Chris said this with great sadness. “And my twelve brothers… I also never saw them. They were knights. One day they set off together for a distant campaign and didn’t return.” “Killed?” gasped Kate. “No one knows,” Chris lowered his head with a sigh. The travellers did not have time to continue the conversation as they rode up to the drawbridge which was over the ditch and led to the gates of the castle. Chris reached for a horn and trumpeted all around. The gates began to creak and opened. A proud, tall old man with hair white as snow appeared. “Hello, Ian,” Chris shouted, as he rode through the gates and threw him the reins. “We have guests!” In the castle courtyard Chris jumped from the saddle and ran up to Kate to help her dismount. He already began to fulfill the responsibilities of a squire. Two women came down the steps towards them. One was tall and beautiful in a rich dress, the other
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plump, with a kind smiling face and in a simple dress with an apron. “What a charming boy!” she exclaimed, on seeing Kate. “Where did you meet him, Chris?”

Meanwhile, Kate, with Chris’ help, got down from Mirko and the boy brought her to the tall woman. “Here’s my friend, Mama,” he presented the girl. “This is Kate.” “And I’m Mama Eliza,” the woman smiled and looked affectionately at the girl. “I welcome you to my land, Kate.” “Very happy to meet you.”
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“Where did you come from, daring boy? Our forest is so big and you’re still so young to travel alone!” Mama Eliza immediately began to ask. “I’m not alone,” answered Kate. “Not alone?” The woman’s eyebrows lifted up in surprise, but here Chris intervened, “Mama, Kate isn’t a boy. She’s a girl and moreover a knight because she defeated a dragon. The knight Caterino.” At these words, the woman shuddered. Uneasiness flickered in her eyes, but she collected herself in time and a kind smile again played on her face. “And this is Drool,” Christian continued the introduction. “He travels together with the knight Caterino. They’ve already managed to perform more than one feat!” “Welcome to our home,” said Mama Eliza. The youngsters entered the castle and found themselves in the main hall. Here it was clean and comfortable. It had been otherwise in the troll castle. “Chris,” the mistress of the castle turned to her son, “Take Drool to your room and I’ll give Kate the room for guests. Joanna,” her voice became imperative, “Prepare a hot bath for Kate. She can barely keep on her feet.” Indeed, after these words, Kate felt that she was mortally tired. Besides, both she herself and her clothing were so filthy and messy after all the ordeals that the girl was even ashamed to look into Mama Eliza’s eyes. When Kate entered the room set aside for her, she had not had time to recover her wits when a tremendous wooden washtub filled with hot water turned up. The servant frothed up the water with large strong hands. Then she deftly and swiftly freed Kate of her clothing, picked her up as if she were a baby, and slipped the embarrassed girl into the water. The hot water took the girl into its embrace and filled her entire body with bliss. For the first time in recent days Kate felt happy and calm. At long last, at least temporarily, it was possible to forget about the adventures, the pursuits, and the battles. There was no need to accomplish any feat or save anyone but simply lie in the hot water, be warm, and play with the soapsuds. “I’ll bathe Kate myself,” said Mama Eliza to Joanna. “You wash and iron her clothes.” The wet nurse was surprised but did not start to argue and quickly took off. Kate looked wonderingly at her from behind then shifted her gaze to Chris’ mother. “Don’t be surprised by my desire,” answered Mama Eliza as she soaped the sponge with a fragrant pink soap. “I simply never had a daughter. I so prayed to the heaven that it would give me a girl, but I only gave birth to sons. Can you imagine thirteen boys?” “Yes, it’s amazing!” agreed Kate. “I so wanted to have one daughter though,” sighed Mama Eliza. Her hands carefully and affectionately disentangled and combed Kate’s hair. Washing the child, it seemed, gave her great pleasure. Kate also became very comfortable and was ready to purr with bliss like a kitten. When the bath was finished, Mama Eliza wrapped the girl in a warm snowy sheet and carried her to bed. Kate was worn out but it was still too early in the day. Therefore, she said that she would simply lie down and rest. “Then tell me your story,” the woman asked and sat down beside her. Kate’s story was detailed and long. Several times the girl nearly burst into tears but the woman’s kind hands calmed her with maternal tenderness. “My poor dear,” Mama Eliza said and tenderly hugged the girl, “how much you had to go through, and how much still awaits you. No matter what, you must save your brother. You at least know where he is and that he’s alive.” Several tears rolled from her eyes and fell onto Kate’s face. The girl recalled that this woman also lost her sons at
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some point and asked, “But where are Chris’ brothers? Indeed, you have thirteen sons?” “If I only knew where they were,” the woman sighed sadly. “Your appearance in our castle is not accidental. We knew that it would happen; therefore, we have waited for you all these years.” Kate stared at her in amazement. “Listen now to my story,” said the mistress of the castle. It began to grow dark beyond the windows. Joanna appeared at the doors. She brought in Kate’s clothing, cleaned and ironed. “Dinner is on the table,” she declared. “To the banquet hall, please.” Kate, together with Mama Eliza, went down to the biggest hall of the castle. Here Drool and Chris were already waiting for them at the long table by the blazing fire in the enormous fireplace. When everybody had sat down at the table and Joanna had handed out the first course, Kate reminded Mama Eliza that she had promised to tell her own story. All instantly fixed their gaze on the mistress of the castle. The woman sighed and began her story, “Twenty years ago this castle did not look as cheerless as now. Besides my husband Richard the Brave and me, our twelve sons lived in it. Imagine what noise was always here – constant games, laughter, and sometimes even fights. It’s always so with boys. They were all either twins or triplets. It’s only Christian who was a single birth.”

Mama Eliza began to name all her sons: triplets Richard, Anthony, and Julius; two pairs of twins – Emilio and Enolio, Hans and Michael; again triplets Heinrich, Francois, and Johann; and twins Juan and Carlos. Kate instantly forgot who was who and what he was called. “We adored them,” the woman continued. “Everyone loved them, even the servants.” Ian and Joanna nodded sadly. The plump woman even whisked away the tears from her eyes. “Year after year passed happily and unnoticeably and the sons grew up. As soon as they reached sixteen, as befit the sons of a knight, they left home. First Richard, Anthony, and Julius sat on their horses and left. In half a year, we learned that they had become knights and had performed numerous feats. The remaining boys lost peace and sleep. The next year Emilio and Enolio set off after the oldest; then, immediately the day after their birthday, Hans and Michael left. Time dashed so swiftly that when we looked around, the castle was deserted. All the boys had left. “It became so dreary for us that no words could express our sadness. It was sad even on that great day when all twelve of our sons, having become knights, dropped in on the
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castle. The children gathered in order to brag about their feats before each other. We knew that they had returned only to leave us again. They were home for only three days, then all set off together to wander. “In a year the brothers returned and again visited us, each describing in turn his feats and adventures. And again came the day when it was necessary to say goodbye. As the first time, it was their birthday. They were all born on the same date and left us the next morning after celebrating their sixteenth birthday. They came also a third time. This was my last meeting with my sons. They haven’t returned since. And even rumours of them ceased to reach us. Grief settled in our home. Years passed. Devoted servants grew old and passed away. But my children still had not returned. Each year Richard the Brave walked a long way to meet them but always returned alone. Four of us remained in the castle. My husband started to be sick a lot. He began to grow old. “One day an old beggar appeared at the castle. She said that she came from that bank of the Great River and asked to spend the night. When she learned of our unhappiness she pulled out a large ripe apple from her bag. ‘I want to thank you for the hospitality,’ she said. ‘Eat this at dawn.’ “At dawn all four of us gathered in this hall and, after dividing the apple into four parts, ate it. Nothing happened. But during the day we all felt somewhat unusual. There was an ease in the body, old and customary ailments disappeared. How surprised we were when in the evening we looked at each other and discovered that each had become twenty years younger. The apple turned out to be magic. “In a month I discovered that I was with child. Imagine my happiness and that of my husband! With happiness we were ready to forget about everything in the world. Richard, who intended to set off in search of our sons – indeed, now he was agile and strong – put off his trip and decided to wait for the birth of the child. Oh, how he waited on me! Like a most devoted servant, he hastened to carry out any whim, any desire. “Finally came the time when a child’s cry should be heard in the walls of our castle. Everything was ready for the birth of the baby. Suddenly Richard the Brave recalled that precisely on this day each year he walked a long way to meet our heroic boys. The rain poured beyond the windows and it was unbelievably dark. I begged Richard to stay, but he said that he was afriad to anger the heavens. If he broke the promise he had given years ago, fate might punish him and he would never see our boys at all. ‘I’ll return
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quickly. You won’t even have time to miss me. And our little one, as soon as he’s born, will immediately turn up in the loving hands of his father,’ he calmed me. ‘I’ll be back soon!’ And he left. He hurried so that he even forgot to take any weapon with him. “Right after he left a terrible storm began outside the window. Peals of thunder rumbled, lightning flashed. The rain turned into a downpour. The wind broke trees in the forest. Their cracks and groans reached my bedroom. I cried from fear for Richard and for the yet unborn child. The gravest presentiments tormented my soul. And they were justified. “The day ended but the storm didn’t. Joanna could not calm me. I was beside myself with grief. The terrible night came; I was full of fear and worries. Richard did not come. Then I sent Ian to search for him. He returned only in the evening. Richard was with him. But as soon as I saw what state he was in, I fainted. “A terrible thing had happened. A bear sow, which had recently been roaming the surroundings of our castle and frightening all living things, attacked my husband. It hunted people! Once hunters had killed her cubs. The unhappy beast began to take vengeance on man. Evil fate led it onto our land and it attacked my husband, Christian’s father. The struggle was unequal. Richard was agile and very strong, but without any weapon in the struggle, he was mortally injured. He managed to kill the terrible beast and freed the land from this evil, but he was also slowly dying. Ian found him and brought him back to the castle. “We nursed him as best we could but nothing helped. He died in the morning. And Chris was born in the evening. He was born without either father or brothers. But I thanked the heaven that it did not deprive me of this happiness – the happiness of having one more son. Christian was born on the day of his father’s death and the birthday of all his brothers. “This was exactly thirteen years ago. Today is that day. The day of your birth, Chris, a day we never celebrate.” Mama Eliza became silent. They all looked at Christian. The boy sat motionless. When he felt that they were looking at him, he lowered his head even more. He did not want anyone to see the tears on his face. “And later?” Kate timidly asked. “After exactly a year, that same beggar knocked on the gates of the castle. Of course, we let her in and invited her to the table. Wine was poured for her and she was asked to drink to the health of the boy who sat with us. He was exactly a year old that day. The beggar thanked us for the wine but drank only half a goblet. She splashed the rest onto the fire in this same fireplace. The fire flared up and burned for a long time with white unnatural light. All this time the woman looked attentively into it. “‘Do you want me to predict the future of your son?’ she asked. I froze with fear but agreed nevertheless. And the witch, this woman was clearly a witch, began to foretell, ‘A glorious fate awaits this boy. No less glorious than his brothers’.’ ‘She knows everything,’ I thought. The witch continued, ‘But before this, he will serve as squire to a famous knight. Only then will he himself be able to receive this honourable title. Not sooner. And only in this service will Christian be able to find his brothers.’

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“‘His brothers!’ I gasped. ‘So they’re alive?’ ‘Don’t interrupt me.’ ‘Who is he, this knight? Who?’ I begged. ‘Tell me!’ ‘This is a stranger from a distant land beyond the reach of the Sovereign. The conqueror of the dragon and a great warrior.’ ‘Who is he? What’s his name?’ ‘I can't tell you his name. But I’ll say that this is not a he.’ ‘What do you mean, not a he?’ ‘It’s a she!’ ‘A she?’ ‘Yes! This is an outstanding maiden in man’s clothing with the title of a knight and on a white jumper. She will appear from the bank of the Great River and her name will begin with the same letter as that of your son. The boy will offend her but then will become her squire.’
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“‘When will this happen? In how many years?’ ‘How many years will pass is not known to me. But this will happen on the day of his birth. You will let your son go with the knight and he will save his brothers. He will have to overcome many obstacles. But his best feat will be lifting the curse from your sons.’ ‘Curse? So they are bewitched?’ I shrieked. Everything darkened for a moment before my eyes and I swayed. Ian and Joanna rushed to my help. Little Christian began to cry loudly. This brought me to my senses. After we calmed down, we saw that the witch had disappeared. We rushed in search of her but didn’t find her. “Twelve years went by. And here came this day for which we have waited with fear and impatience. The prediction has come true. The maiden-knight has appeared. And tomorrow, Chris, you will go with her.” Mama Eliza finished her story with these words. This sad story shook everyone, especially Kate and Drool. The girl was staggered that she played such an important role in it. She looked at Chris. The boy waited for her to speak. “I thought that such things only happen in fairy tales,” she finally breathed out. “What will you say to this, Drool?” The Sweet Tooth moved his ears and said, “Never defy predictions. We must do everything as the witch said.” “So, tomorrow we hit the road!” Kate said firmly. “From this day, Christian, you are my squire. True, I don’t have so many weapons for you to bear.” “Great!” Chris exclaimed. “At long last my turn has come to set out in search of adventures. Now you’ll see, Mama, I’ll become a great knight.” Mama Eliza smiled sadly. “All your brothers also said exactly the same.” At this very moment far from the castle in the forest, Ruina flew on a broom into her own cave. She rushed into the darkest corner and dragged a sleeping Esmeralda out of the basket. “You rat!” the witch shouted in a voice unlike her own. “You tricked me? Get ready for death!” “Caw-w, Caw-w! Hel-lp!” cawed Esmeralda. “Ruina, what happened? For what?” With the last two words the crow was already wheezing because Ruina was squeezing its throat with might. “You tricked me. The knight Caterino is alive and well. He cheated the trolls and performed many other great deeds. The entire forest only talks about this.” The crow also knew this from the birds. It had been afraid to tell its mistress the truth. Now she had found out everything herself. “Spare me!” the crow hissed. “This Caterino is so crafty. I was certain that he was dead. He tricked me too.” The sly bird dissolved into tears. The first outbursts of fury passed and the witch let go of the crow, which hurried to a safe place. “Well, now I’ll have to break all the rules and leave my cave,” Ruina said pensively. “You can’t appear in the Sovereign’s domain!” Esmeralda croaked from its corner. “I know! But I can’t live with the thought that the cursed boy, after insulting and humbling me, is now fearlessly loose in the world. And I sit here unavenged. Get ready for a trip, Esmeralda. I’ll show him yet!”

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All night Ruina read her witchcraft books and learned spells by heart. She went out of the cave before dawn and smeared herself with magic ointments for a long time. Before the eyes of an amazed Esmeralda she became younger and more beautiful. “This isn’t all yet,” she smiled mysteriously as she looked into a mirror which appeared right out of the air. “It’s only the beginning.” Soon Ruina was flying on a broom across the morning sky, where stars began to dim one after another. The crow followed its mistress.

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Chapter Sixteen THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE

The next morning Kate, Chris, and Drool set out on their journey. The remaining inhabitants of the castle came out to see them off. The servant Ian restrained himself from crying, but the wet nurse Joanna was wailing away at the top of her lungs and was not shy before anyone. Only Mama Eliza said goodbye to her son and his new friends as if she were only expecting a pleasant walk for them lasting no more than several hours. However, Kate saw that her beautiful eyes were filled with deep grief. Kate was so sorry for Mama Eliza that she was ready to burst into tears whole-heartedly. Finally, all the words were said and the ensuing silence only tormented the heart more with the bitterness of the forthcoming separation. Seeing that Kate could not bring herself to give the command to set out, Chris put spurs to his horse first and there was nothing left for Kate to do but follow. Drool went last on an undersized thickset pony. He was fidgeting so ridiculously in the saddle that he resembled a large pink ball. Kate began to laugh involuntarily. “Drool,” she shouted, “are you sure you can handle your horse?” “Certainly!” The Sweet Tooth sat in the saddle with such an important air that he made Kate laugh even more. The inhabitants of the castle waved goodbye to the travellers and Kate felt that Mama Eliza’s eyes and heart were filled not only with grief but also with hope. After several minutes the castle in which Christian Thirteen was born was hidden from view. Melancholy and grief disappeared together with it. How could it be otherwise? The morning was unusually sunny and friendly, the forest was filled with bird songs, and even the trees rustled their leaves as if shivering from the chilly morning wind.
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Kate spurred Mirko on and overtook Chris. A triumphant smile played on his face, as if he were the knight and Kate his squire and feats and glory were waiting ahead precisely for him. So strong was his yearning for adventures that he never even looked around at the walls of his home. Kate even envied him but then recalled that Chris, like her, was also going on a quest. Only, in contrast to Kate who had to save only Gene, Chris dreamed of finding twelve brothers. “Listen,” Kate addressed Chris, “do you know the way to the Capital well?” “I don’t know it at all,” Chris carelessly brushed it off. “I’ve never gone further than three days from home, and it takes almost a month to reach the Capital.” “Almost a month?” Kate gasped. “What do you think? Our country is enormous, and you should be glad that you’re already so close to the Capital.” “Yes indeed, devilishly glad!” Kate sighed. Here Drool caught up with them. The girl turned to him. “Sweet Tooth, do you know if there is a shorter way to the Capital than what Chris proposes?” “Of course I do. If you look at the magic thingy you have in your hand, you’ll see it.” Kate looked at the compass and discovered that Chris was not going where the arrow pointed but about twenty degrees more to the right. “Stop!” she began to fret. “Where’s this we’re going?” “To the Capital,” answered Chris. “But my compass shows that the Capital is the other direction.” “I don’t know what your thing shows, but I’m leading you along the most reliable road. After all, I must protect you, Knight Caterino.” “But I have to be at the Capital as soon as possible and your way doesn’t suit me. It’s too long. We’ll go straight.” Chris even stopped his horse. “You’re out of your mind!” he exclaimed. “If we go where you indicate, in two days we’ll reach Bewitched Forest, in which live some robbers, witches, goblins, and elves. On top of that there are swamps and rocks at every turn. Not a person has yet returned alive from there. Do you also want to disappear there?” “Listen,” Kate was indignant, “are you a squire or not? Why do you then insist on accompanying me at all? In order to give good advice like avoiding danger?” Kate’s words insulted boy to the depth of his soul. “I’m not a coward at all! You can’t call me that! I simply want you to get to the Capital to your brother, the Prince of the White Tower, and not die because of some silly rush.” “Well, let it be! Let me die! Only you know what, dear Christian, in a month it’ll all be the same to my brother whether I find him or not. Mortal danger threatens him, why don’t you understand this?” The boy gave up. “As you wish. After all, I’m only a squire and can’t make decisions, but I’m obligated to warn you.” Drool, who had kept quiet all this time, stepped into the conversation, “You, Christian, even forgot to describe the field with gigantic scorpions and Vampire Park. We must pass through all these. Only then will there be a completely safe way directly to the gates of the Capital.” The youngsters listened attentively to Drool. They became ill at ease with his words. “What’s this about a vampire park?” asked Kate. “It’s a wretched place,” Christian muttered gloomily. “I read about it in a book. People once lived there. There were villages and castles but now there are only ruins.” Kate became terrified. She knew perfectly well what vampires were. Nevertheless, she obstinately shook her head. “Doesn’t matter, my loyal squire, somehow we’ll pull through.” She spurred the horse on. Mirko neighed and dashed forward. “Did you hear that?” Chris turned to Drool. “‘My loyal squire!’ Where did she manage to pick up this
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knightly arrogance?” “Knights are like that,” Sweet Tooth supported him. “You wait, she’ll even start fighting.” Both galloped along to catch up with their girl friend. The group travelled the whole day. Toward the evening they were mightily tired and starving. After halting, Kate ordered Chris to bring firewood and Drool to prepare supper. She herself sat on a large boulder overgrown with moss pretending that she was thinking. In reality, some nonsense had gotten into her head. “Why are you sitting like a prince on holiday?” Chris finally could not control himself and asked. “You could at least help, maiden on a white jumper!” Kate was embarrassed when she was a called a “maiden” and wanted to answer the squire sharply, but recalled in time where similar verbal skirmishes had led. “Okay, okay, don’t get upset. I’ll help now.” She also went off after fuel for the campfire. It was amazing that she had never been able to yield to Gene in anything. Kate became sad on recalling her brother. When did their war begin? As far back as she could remember Gene and herself, this war between them had gone on. It had been terrible and uncompromising. Even when Gene had been quite little, crawling on the floor and babbling incomprehensible words, and Kate had not yet started school, they would not yield to each other in anything – nothing! Kate had already taken a dislike to him. No, earlier still. Papa and Mama completely forgot about Kate when Gene had just appeared; only Gene occupied all their thoughts. How long ago that had been! Kate had known that she would have brothers and sisters and had waited with impatience for an addition to the family, but suddenly Mama was driven away to the hospital for a whole month. Kate had gone with Papa to visit her. It had been terrible. They had not been allowed to go to Mama but only saw her through a small window for all of ten minutes. Kate had been in a flood of tears and had entreated Mama to let her stay. Mama had only sadly persuaded Kate to suffer a little more. How Kate had not wanted to go back to the empty home where there was no Mama! Papa was always busy and there had been absolutely no time for him to play with his daughter. The girl had sat under the table with her toys, teddy bears, and dolls, cried occasionally, and promised her friends that she would never leave them alone whatever happened. Later, Mama had finally returned. More precisely, Papa brought her home. Kate had remained at home alone because there had been no place in the car and had barely waited. It had been with happiness that Kate heard the door opening and she had rushed to Mama. Mama was not alone, however. She had in her arms a bundle which she pressed with great care against her chest. She
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did not hug Kate because she did not let go of this bundle. The girl had experienced a feeling of resentment for the first time then. The second time Kate had experienced resentment was on the same day, when Mama and Papa had come into the bedroom and, after unwrapping the baby, began to examine him enthusiastically. Kate also timidly approached her little brother. She did not like him. He was small, all wrinkled and red – not pretty at all. On the contrary, he was even disgusting. Had Kate suffered so long because of him? “He’s wonderful, right?” Mama had asked in a voice with tender emotions. “Yes,” Kate lied. “May I hold him?” “No, probably still early.” Mama was confused. “Of course, let her hold him,” Papa had stepped in. Mama, with obvious unwillingness, had let Kate hold the little one. The girl carefully took Gene in her arms. He had been so frail and light even for four-year-old Kate. He had sniffed in a funny way and nuzzled Kate’s face with his lips. The girl had laughed and for a moment felt happy. “That’s enough!” Mama had said impatiently and with concern. Happiness had ended. Kate, with regret, had returned the baby. Mama seized him and immediately started to wrap him up again in a diaper. “Will he be sleeping in my room?” asked Kate. “Of course not. He’ll sleep with us, in our room.” “And me?” Kate nearly burst into tears. “In your own room.” The parents forgot about Kate. Little Gene caused them so much trouble that they rushed around as if possessed and were always searching for something. Kate again sat under the table and told her friends the fairy tale about the brother Ivanushka and sister Alenushka8 and waited for her parents to remember their daughter, who also wanted to care for the little one. They did not, however, and when she tried to get their attention, they had said right away, “Katie, don’t bother us! Be a good girl!” This was so offensive, but she was a “good girl” and no longer wanted to see her younger brother, who had deprived her of her parents. The children grew and the hostility towards her brother grew within Kate. Little Gene at first had reached out for his sister. He crawled near her and made baby sounds with the obvious intention to play. He usually did not secure any reaction in response and crawled away resentfully to Mama and played with her. Kate got even angrier but could not do anything to stop herself. Mama tried to reconcile Kate with her brother but did not succeed. Kate had pretended that she agreed with Mama but continued in her heart to hate Gene. Kate’s feeling was communicated to the boy when he grew older. Gene also began to hate her, and he had told her this as soon as he learned to talk. That had been when this war started. Now the war has ended. Kate and Gene are in a strange country far from each other. Danger, even death, threatens both of them. If they meet, it is unknown whether they will be able to return home. These thoughts ran around in Kate’s head while she gathered dry branches and twigs. “But then I have such good friends,” she thought as she approached the burning campfire. The youngsters went to sleep right after supper because they needed to set off on their way as early as possible. Chris volunteered to take the first watch for the first half
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Sister Alenushka and Brother Ivanushka is a Russian folktale about a pretty girl Alenushka and her little brother Ivanushka, who did not listen to her and drank water together with a herd of grazing sheep, thus turning into a sheep himself. The tale continues with a king who married the girl and a witch who tried to take the girl’s place. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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of the night. Kate and Drool pressed tightly against each other and instantly fell asleep. Kate slept so soundly that she did not see Chris wake the Sweet Tooth at midnight and lay down on his spot.

Drool woke them up at six in the morning. The group met dawn when they were already on the road. They again travelled the whole day and stopped only once. After resting and having a bite, they again set off. They travelled in a single file – Chris, Kate
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after him, and Drool bringing up the rear. Sometimes, when the road was wider, they travelled beside each other and talked. Chris and Drool told Kate about the Country of Frozen Time, about its history and geography. Kate found out about the Capital, the White Tower, and the Sovereign. Chris and the Sweet Tooth, however, did not know about the latest events. Kate, in turn, described her native land. Kate had listened to the stories of Chris and Drool as a most magical and most improbable fairy tale; they, in turn, believed almost not one of her words at all. The most ordinary things of Kate’s life seemed like a fantasy to them. “Listen!” Drool was fascinated. “Your native land is the most magical country. Now I understand why the knight Caterino defeats all so easily.” “You’re wrong. We have nothing magical. Everything’s the most ordinary.” “Don’t say stupid things. This thing, what do you call it, a ther-mos? Who has ever heard of such a thing! We filled it with hot water in the evening and it hasn’t cooled at all in the morning!” “Well, don’t you understand? It’s a thermos, you know…” Kate wanted to explain the properties of a thermos from a scientific point of view but could not. She was still young and did not know everything. Moreover, she also had never given a thought about how the thermos, the TV, and the phone worked. Kate put an end, therefore, to her attempts at explaining all the wonders of her country. After all of Kate’s stories, her friends were certain that their companion was a real fairy from a country of the greatest wizards. Kate stopped talking them out of it. It was even pleasant for her that her friends valued her so highly. The main thing was that she was not alone. Suddenly the forest ended. A valley appeared before the travellers. In comparison to the beautiful forest which they had left, the new land was a sad sight. Shrivelled grass, low bushes with inconceivably curved branches, and large boulders of black and grey were all that made up its landscape. The travellers’ good mood immediately evaporated. They travelled for two hours along a narrow trail stretching along the centre of the valley until a blue strip appeared in the horizon. “It’s Bewitched Forest,” Chris remarked gloomily. “In an hour we’ll be in it.” Kate shuddered with fear but said nothing. “Don’t worry,” Drool said, as if guessing the girl’s thoughts. “According to all signs and predictions, everything will be fine. And then, we will always be together.” “Kate,” Chris turned to the girl, “May I ask you a very unpleasant question?” “Go ahead!” Kate sighed. “The first time we met, you didn’t want to duel with me. Why? Don’t you know how to use a sword?” “Of course not. Where do you think I could have learned it? In the fight with the mermaids?” “Don’t be offended. Just that where we’re going is very dangerous. Perhaps we’ll call a halt and enter the forest tomorrow morning? Its inhabitants always sleep towards the morning after spending a wild night.” “He’s right,” Drool supported Chris. “We’ll make good use of the remaining time,” continued Chris. “I’ll train you and Drool on how to use a sword. You must know at least the fundamentals.” “Okay,” Kate reluctantly agreed. Having dismounted quickly, the friends built a fire, fed the horses, and placed on the fire a pot with water in order to make supper. “Now prepare for battle, Knight Caterino!” Chris shouted and quickly pulled out his sword. Kate also took her sword out of the scabbard and got up before the boy. “Eh, Knight, you haven’t yet learned how to hold a sword correctly!” Chris mockingly exclaimed. “However, it didn’t stop me from killing the dragon, silly boy!” Kate could not leave it unanswered. “Don’t be offended, I understand that in your country swords aren’t used. Right?”
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Chris began to teach Kate how to hold the sword, parry strikes, and deliver them. Kate mastered the lessons surprisingly quickly. In an hour she not only managed to defend herself against her squire but also even successfully attacked him several times. Chris wielded his weapon to perfection. “Great job!” in the end the squire praised the student when they were thoroughly tired. “The rest next time. You already know a lot. You have an outstanding sword. Light as a feather. It can probably cut through anything. Where did you get it?” “The people from the Green Forest gave it to me. It’s a gift from Prince Arinako. But you’re a very good teacher.” “It’s you who’s a good student,” Chris summed up. “What Ian once taught me in a month you learned in an hour.” “It’s actually strange,” agreed Kate. Here the Sweet Tooth, who had been busy with the preparation of supper all this time, stepped into the conversation. “Nothing strange here,” slowly stirring the kasha in the pot, he began to explain. “First, Kate’s from a magic country.” “Golly!” Kate was surprised. “I was certain that I’m now in a magic country.” “Secondly, as soon as she killed the dragon, its strength and courage were transferred to her. But the main thing that people take from a dragon when they kill it is this magical ability for training and perfection. No matter what you start to learn, you’ll achieve incredible successes everywhere.” “Wow!” Kate and Chris exclaimed in one voice. Before going to sleep, Kate and Chris were again busy with fencing. At first Kate fought with her sword, then she proposed to change. Christian’s sword was so heavy that Kate could not even hold it in one hand, let alone swing it. The boy handled the heavy sword as if it were a light rapier. It was necessary to change again. They went to sleep tired but contented. The night was dark. There was not a single star in the sky. Drool was on duty by the campfire like a loyal and devoted friend. He sat and savoured candy which Kate found in one of the pockets of the knapsack. From pleasure and bliss, the Sweet Tooth screwed up his eyes like a puppy warming by a fireplace and, therefore, did not notice two shadows slowly flying in the pitch-black sky in the direction of Bewitched Forest. One was large, the other small. The shadows froze in the air on seeing the travellers, then made three rounds above them and flew further. It was the witch Ruina and the crow Esmeralda.

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Chapter Seventeen BEWITCHED FOREST

When Ruina and Esmeralda caught up with the knight Caterino, they discovered to their horror that he was not alone. They were careful not to get mixed up with Caterino alone, and here were two more enemies. The witch and the crow flew in the direction of Bewitched Forest and soon reached its first crooked and deformed trees. Another hour of flight passed and Ruina began to descend over a high mountain on the peak of which burned numerous fires. The crow followed her. Sinister shadows loomed by the campfires. The witch easily recognized in them her sisters of the witchcraft trade. This was Bald Mountain, on which witches regularly gathered for the Sabbath. Ruina landed at the base of the mountain and started to climb on foot to the peak. The witches saw her and shouted gleefully. Their glee, however, was so hostile that Ruina and Esmeralda began to tremble with horror. “I did say that it’s not worthwhile to fly here!” the crow croaked to its mistress. “Silence!” she ordered and continued on her way. The witches chased after her and shouted, “Ruina, how dare you appear here? You really aren’t afraid of severe punishment for stealing the sacred cauldron?” They were all absolutely terrible and disgusting; Ruina was simply a beauty in comparison. The higher she climbed, the uglier and more terrible the witches looked. Finally, Ruina reached the peak where, in front of a large campfire, sat the chief witch Areatanuta, the most powerful witch of the Country of Frozen Time. Of course, she was the most hideous of the witches. The old woman looked at Ruina and the crow with such hatred that both of them froze. “Why did you come here?” Areatanuta asked in a thunderous voice from which all the remaining witches began to tremble and Esmeralda fainted. “You indeed know that terrible punishment awaits you. You broke the rule of our tribe, stopped flying to the Sabbath, and stole the sacred cauldron of the Druids, without which our authority above people became an empty sound.” The witches shouted and angrily waved at Ruina.
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“You’re the youngest among us,” continued the chief witch. “Perhaps you hoped that we would take your youth into consideration and forgive you?”

“No, I didn’t,” Ruina sighed quietly and bowed her head submissively. “I came to ask for the protection of my tribe and vengeance for inflicted insult.” From surprise, Areatanuta’s ugly eyebrows, which were completely covered with warts, crawled upward. Her friends and subordinates were also stunned by such cheekiness. All was quiet for a while, then the witches raised such a racket that Bewitched Forest shuddered from fear, as it had not seen the like before. The witches made a racket for a long time.
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The crow came to then fainted again – or pretended that it did. No one, however, paid it any attention. “Witches, silence!” Areatanuta’s voice cut off all the noise like a gunshot cutting off the ruckus of a flock of crows. The witches hushed. “Continue,” the chief witch turned to Ruina. “But know that you cannot escape punishment.” “Punish me, witches!” Ruina sobbed. “Punish me! I can’t bear to live with the thought that the tribe has been cheated and robbed, belittled and trampled on.” The witches began to grumble. All the time they are only occupied with robbing and cheating, killing and degrading someone. This is normal when they do this to someone, but quite another thing when it is done to them. Witches cannot stand this; they weaken and quietly die if they cannot take vengeance on the offender. Ruina continued to shout, “But this offence not only concerns me. It hits all of us. Our sacred cauldron of the Druids no longer exists. It is broken. And a vile boy, a knight who killed the forest dragon, broke it. His name is Caterino.” The witches wailed at the top of their lungs and began to tear their own hair. Even Areatanuta also lost composure and rolled on the ground together with everyone. The witches wailed and cried for a whole hour and could not calm down. Ruina then described to them in detail the story of the loss of the cauldron. On hearing that the brother of the Prince of White Tower kicked the sacred cauldron and broke it into smithereens, the witches again wailed for a long time. “And the last thing that I will say, witches,” Ruina added, “our offender and sworn enemy, the knight Caterino, conqueror of the forest dragon, is making his way here, to Bewitched Forest. He is not alone. With him are two more scoundrels who also must die!” After the next clamour, Ruina was sent below to the foot of the mountain, and the most honourable and oldest witches, headed by Areatanuta, sat around the main fire for high council. Before dawn they summoned all the witches and Ruina to the peak of Bald Mountain. The chief witch said this, “The high council of witches has decreed that the knight Caterino must die after long and terrible tortures, and all his blood to the last drop must flow into our Main Fire here on Bald Mountain. Today Bewitched Forest learns what vengeance of witches is. Day turns to night and not one witch will return home while the knight Caterino is alive. And the full moon will help us!” The moon, huge, bright, and round, at this moment came out from behind a cloud and, to the happiness of all those present, illuminated the meeting of the witches. “This isn’t all yet! According to our laws, Ruina, having betrayed us and stolen the sacred cauldron, must bear punishment. Her main guilt consists of the destruction of the cauldron in which for centuries we prepared magic ointments, drinks, and drugs from the fat, blood, and bones of innocent babies. Ruina does not even justify that she did not accomplish good deeds. Then we would sentence her to a terrible death. For the present she is sentenced only to the severance of her left hand, without which she will no longer be able to cast spells on anyone no matter what, and to the pouring of a jug of her blood into the Main Fire in atonement for her crime.”

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The punishment was very severe. A few witches even sympathized with Ruina, and the culprit herself screamed from fear and grief. She also sobbed when the sentence was carried out. The chief witch personally cut off her left hand, then the strongest witches held Ruina, who was squealing from the pain, and thrust the stump of her arm directly into the fire so the criminal blood would flow in there. Ruina cried and swore that for each drop of her blood the knight Caterino would pay with ten times more tortures. Kate and her friends, not suspecting what terrible troubles threatened them, got up early in the morning and set off on their journey. Soon they reached Bewitched Forest and huge grey trees stood before them like an impenetrable wall. “Forward!” Kate gave the order and was the first to enter the forest. They travelled silently while nervously spurring on the horses. The horses themselves hurried, feeling that a place such as this needed to be passed faster. The first to feel uneasy and break the silence was Drool, “Caterino, are you sure we’re going the right way?” “Of course, I always look at the compass.” Kate glanced at her hand and gasped. The compass needle was spinning like crazy. “I don’t understand. What happened to it?” She tapped on the compass but this did not help. “It’s Bewitched Forest,” Chris sullenly muttered when he found out what the matter was. “Don’t worry; as soon as we leave it, your compass will instantly work normally. The main thing is to get out of here fast.” “Yes, but how will we find the way?” “Very simple,” Drool pointed to the ground. “See the death caps growing around here? They always turn their caps in the direction of the Capital.” Kate and Chris sighed with relief and looked at Drool with appreciation. How nice that he is well versed in witchcraft intricacies. They would quickly perish without him.
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The travellers went further and did not see that as soon as they moved a considerable distance away from the death caps, the mean fungi, which obviously conspired with the witches, immediately turned their caps in the other direction and nodded joyfully to each other. After some time it became difficult for the travellers to force their way through the overgrown bushes and trees. Drool was first to suspect something was wrong. He began to watch the death caps attentively then suddenly asked Chris for a knife and quickly jumped down from his horse. The friends looked perplexedly at the Sweet Tooth. He ran back. “Aha!” he soon shouted. “I knew it!” The children also jumped from the saddles and joined him. Drool stood near a company of death caps and swung the knife above them. “They tricked us!” Drool announced. “The death caps show the wrong direction as if they’re luring us into a trap.” “What will we do now?” Kate and Chris asked at once. “We must go back.” They turned back but very soon realized that again they were not going where they should. “Let go of the reins!” ordered Drool. “The horses themselves will find the necessary way.” He was right; as soon as the animals felt freedom, they very quickly forced the way through the brushwood. “Have to be careful.” Drool looked around attentively. “Can’t trust anyone here.” In response to these words, Bewitched Forest resounded with vile laughter. The horses anxiously turned on the spot. The children barely stayed in the saddles. Chris rapidly pulled out his combat bow, put an arrow in it, stretched the bowstring, and began to look out for the one laughing. No one was visible, however. Suddenly the laughter stopped. “Who is it?” Kate asked, startled. “I see no one,” whispered Drool. “We must leave here.” Kate glanced at the compass and saw that its needle stopped for a moment. “There!” Kate pointed and spurred Mirko on. The travellers tore through Bewitched Forest at a fast trot. No more sounds pursued them; however, the unpleasant feeling that someone was following them did not leave the riders for a minute. They halted at noon. From fatigue, the travellers could barely stand on their feet. Kate simply collapsed onto the ground. Drool and Chris found strength in themselves to take care of the horses. Only after the animals were wiped dry and fed did Kate’s companions squat down beside her. “What’s that?” Chris suddenly straightened and looked up. “It seems someone flew across the sky. Likely a person.” “What are you saying?” Kate tiredly raised herself on her elbow. “Who can fly here?” “Don’t know.” Chris shrugged his shoulders. “I noticed someone.” “Perhaps a witch flew by?” Drool surmised. “Only they can fly in the air.” “Yes, likely.” “Do you think that she noticed us?” “Don’t know. Maybe not. She flew by too fast.” “A chance witch.” Drool calmed down a little. “Many of them here.” The conversation ended on this. Everyone tried to rest and soon forgot about the witch. No one noticed as a crow sat down on the tree under which the travellers were resting. This was Esmeralda. It was keeping an eye on them and simply did not look away from Kate. “Something’s not quite right here,” muttered the crow. “The boys, of course, are quite ordinary, especially the second. Where did this cursed Caterino dig him up? I don’t like his face. Too open and daring. He’s probably also a knight. Look how many of them there are! But who’s this third one? I’ve seen him somewhere. Just don’t remember where.”
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Having done its secret service, the sly bird intended to fly away. It hooked a wing on one of the branches of a neighbouring tree, however, and made a lot of noise. Together with that it croaked loudly, “He-l-p!” The travellers jumped up and saw it. “I know it!” Kate shouted. “It’s Esmeralda. Catch it!” Chris grabbed his bow and instantly shot an arrow but missed. The crow finally freed its wing and flew away. His second arrow also did not catch up with it. But then Drool turned out to be more agile. He threw a stone at the crow, which, like a plane being shot down, turned over and fell to the ground. “Hurray!” Kate shouted and, catching up with the crow, seized its wings. “Oh, it hurts!” Esmeralda screamed. “Quiet, nasty spy, or I’ll rip your tail off!” Kate threatened. “Who’s this?” Drool and Chris asked in one voice. “This is the witch Ruina’s crow,” Kate explained willingly and violently shook the frightened bird. “Well, talk, nasty, what are you doing here?” “I was flying past, so I thought that I’d see who’s here…” Esmeralda tried to free itself. “Don’t lie!” Kate shook the bird again. “Beat me, cut me, I’ll say nothing!” “Cut, you say? That is a good idea.” Chris took a dagger out of his belt. “Caww, caw-w, they’re killing me!” the crow was alarmed. “I’ll tell everything, only don’t touch me!” The story of the crow depressed the friends. They were certainly prepared for dangers in Bewitched Forest but did not expect what Esmeralda told them. It was necessary to get far away from here faster. “Drool, tie it up so that it can’t fly away,” Kate ordered the Sweet Tooth, then she turned to Esmeralda, “You’ll show us the way, and don’t take it into your head to trick us! If you try to lure us into a trap, then not even a feather will remain of you. Understand?” “Indeed, what’s not to understand here? Caww,” muttered the crow that was tied up by Drool and strapped to Kate’s saddle. The friends again sat on their horses and galloped in the direction the crow showed them. First, as always, went Chris, after him Kate and the Sweet Tooth. “Where are you leading us?” Kate sternly asked Esmeralda. “I’m leading you to the castle of Two-headed Simon. It’s the only safe way.” “Two-headed Simon? And who’s he?” “He’s the leader of a gang of robbers; a terr-rible person. How many people he has wasted!” “And you’re leading us to him?” Kate was outraged. “And you think you have a choice?” the crow stated insolently. “He’s the only being in this forest that the witches fear. If you manage to reach his territory, you’re saved. The witches will never poke their noses into Two-headed Simon’s property.” “I don’t even know which is worse.” Kate was in confusion. “I think the crow is right,” Drool corroborated. “We have a chance. If we manage to reach the robbers before nightfall, then they won’t notice us. All robbers sleep very soundly during the day.” “Then let’s spur the horses on!” proposed Kate. “We can tire them out this way,” the Sweet Tooth challenged her. A whistle rang out suddenly. Everybody looked up and from surprise nearly fell from the saddles. Three witches were flying in the sky like predatory birds. They sat on brooms and waved their arms threateningly. At first glance this spectacle seemed even somewhat amusing to Kate. When Kate saw their ugly and evil features, however, her mirth vanished as if by magic. The witches were totally unlike harmless pensioners who decided to go for a ride on brooms. It became even scarier when one of the old women dived right at Kate in order to catch her with incredibly long arms. Mirko jumped to the side and the witch shot past, but a second one, even more terrible, was already following

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her. Kate screamed with fear; Baba Yaga9 was flying right at her. Drool barely had time to shield Kate with his own horse. In order not to cut into him, the witch soared up and showered the troll with terrible profanities. Kate recovered her wits and pulled out her sword. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Chris aim the bow at one of the witches. His arrow hit the villain in the foot and she flew away with a furious howl. Two other witches came at Kate from different directions. Esmeralda hid in its fetters. “Just don’t touch me!” it cawed. “I’ve nothing to do with anything here. Not at all! It’s me – one of you!” The witches advanced swiftly. Another instant and they would ram into Kate, but the girl bent down low onto the saddle and drove Mirko forward. The manoeuvre succeeded: she swept past between the witches, while they rammed into each other and flew off in different directions. A crash resounded. One plopped against a tree, the other fell into a thick growth of prickly bushes. How they cursed! “Let’s leave here quickly! Now all the witches will swoop down here!” Chris said with agitation as he examined the tops of trees and the sky. “This is probably their vanguard!” The travellers instantly whipped the horses and dashed away from the place. Soon they heard a familiar whistle behind their backs. Had the witches really caught up with them? Indeed the travellers had tried to go under trees in order to be invisible from above! Fortunately, the whistle and cries of the witches went in the other direction. Carried away by the mad gallop, Kate stopped keeping an eye on Esmeralda. The crow, not losing time, tried to break the ropes with its strong beak. Violent shaking weakened the fetters. With a triumphant shout, the crow darted away from captivity and took off above the trees. “Caww, caw-w! Help, witches!” it cawed. “Everybody here! To me! Here they are! Here! Got you, my friends!” The coven of witches noticed the crow right away. They, like the mythical harpies, dove down with furious howls. There were five of them this time. The scream and howl of the witches did not produce any strong impression on the travellers. An attack did not take place because the witches feared Chris’ arrows and Kate’s sword. The witches began to prepare a spell. “It’s the end for us now,” Chris sighed hopelessly. “Now they’ll change us into rats or frogs and our merry days will end.” “No,”
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Baba Yaga is a Slavic folkloric character, an aged crone and witch, who lives in the forest in a hut that moves on chicken legs. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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Drool calmed him. “They can’t change us into anything. Kate’s a knight and we’re her friends. They’re planning something else.” Drool turned out to be right. A loud crack sounded and a tree collapsed behind them. Chris shouted furiously and shot several arrows at the witches. He missed because the witches hid in the thick foliage. Kate’s detachment again plunged into flight. The witches no longer pursued them. In order to take off again on the brooms, they needed to cast long and difficult spells. They were not particularly mournful, because on Esmeralda’s shouts not fewer than ten new witches gathered. They immediately rushed in pursuit of Kate and her friends. The new witches were old, experienced ones. They flew faster and they could cast spells without stopping flight. Very soon the old women caught up with the three riders and began to shoot lightning bolts at them using their crooked index fingers (for filthy and vile purposes witches always use only the index finger of the left hand). Trees and bushes began to flare up one after another. The crash and noise were unbelievable. Kate drove and drove Mirko forward, if only to be further from this nightmare. She screamed in horror when she felt that someone’s nasty and disgusting hands grabbed her under her arms from both sides and tried to drag her from the saddle. Mirko bucked and neighed. If it had not done this, the two witches would easily have dragged Kate off with them. Chris pulled out his heavy sword and brought it down on the head of one of the witches. Drool, as if grown from the ground, seized the other witch with both hands and threw her under the horses’ hooves. Both witches screamed in pain and malice. The friends, as before, were ready to give their lives for Kate! The jacket on the boy was burning. The witches flying among the forest trees mercilessly showered the fugitives with fire. Drool was also injured. A stream of blood flowed from his ear. The witches squealed and attempted to seize the horses’ hooves. Chris threw the burning jacket at one of the witches that was flying towards him and fanned off the other with his sword. “Stop attacking one by one!” one of the witches finally yelled. “Now, all together! Form a line and prepare to attack!” She behaved as a true commander. The witches stepped back for the new attack. The friends saw that the forest behind them was also burning. “Good that they’re such bad shooters!” the boy laughed. “Where can we run now?” “Forward!” the girl gave the order, spurred Mirko on, and galloped right into the burning forest. “Where are you going?” the squire and the Sweet Tooth yelled in one voice. “You’ll burn!” Kate did not hear them. There was nothing left for the friends to do but follow her. Fire and unbearable heat met Kate, Drool, and Chris. The horses neighed from pain and rushed in a mad gallop through the fire and the scorching heat. It scorched the face, and it was difficult and painful to breathe. Kate had already decided that now she would fall from the horse and burn in this hell, but at that very second Mirko jumped out of the strip of fire. It immediately became easier and safer, except that Kate wanted terribly to drink. Drool and Chris galloped beside her. The Sweet Tooth was grey from cinder and smoke and Chris’ hair was slightly burnt. “We’re heroes, you know!” Chris exclaimed joyfully. “This is my first feat!” “He found something to be happy about,” muttered Kate. “We must skip out of here quickly before these batty old women appear again. Darn! Now I understand why they burned witches on the stake in olden days! Drool, you poor
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dear, you’re completely covered in blood. Let me bandage you.” “No time for such trifles!” Drool objected. “Must get away from here!” “But what direction?” “See, the death caps are running away from the fire. We must go that way too.”

Kate and Chris looked near the horses’ hooves and saw that the death caps were actually rushing along the ground. They grew legs from some unknown place and, escaping from the fire, ran as if they were beasts. From horror, these fungal creations were squeaking and jumping over each other. The forest fire spread over to the trees under which the travellers had sat. “It seems we now have another enemy, the terrible witches,” Drool began to worry. “Quick, after the death caps! They’re very sly beings and will definitely lead us to a safe place.” “Forward!” Kate shouted. “After the death caps!” They galloped after the fungi. The fire persistently followed them, as if the witches had given it the task to overtake and destroy the knight Caterino and his companions. This was the most tiring of the gallops. They had not escaped alone. Kate saw that besides them and the fungi ran some other strange creatures which resembled both hares and frogs simultaneously. There was a whole flock of them. The creatures passed the death caps, which moved faster than the horses and disappeared in front. Then directly before their noses flew a colony of bats so large that during flight the branch of trees swayed with a whistle from their wings. If not for the extreme situation, Kate might have died of fright when she saw them.

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Chapter Eighteen BEWITCHED FOREST (Continuation)

The fire continued to advance rapidly. The sky darkened from the smoke, and the air was so saturated with cinder that it became intolerable to breathe. Our heroes forgot about the witches. Now there remained only one desire in them – to be as far away as possible from the fire. The horses were already dead tired. Their sides heaved heavily and they began to be covered with foam. Chris travelled next to Kate and supported her with his arms around her back. “Thanks, Chris.” The girl looked gratefully at the squire. “I can no longer support myself. This is probably the end.” “Don’t talk nonsense! We’re with you. Drool will definitely think of something. The death caps will save us.” The fungi continued to run although not as quickly as at first. The smallest and the weakest of them lagged behind and the pitiless flame devoured them. The fugitives heard their weeping and groaning and briefly surged forward. After several minutes, they got tired, slowed down the run, and the fire again breathed on their backs. A burning pine tree fell before them. The fire had outrun them. Was it really trying to surround them? Everyone yelled with horror, even the always calm Drool. Despair seized the ones on the run. “Goodbye, Chris!” Kate started to cry. “Forgive me that I dragged you into this mess. It’s all my fault!” Chris was so sorry for the girl-knight that he was ready to give up his life for her. The fire, however, needed not his life but the life of all, without exception. It already howled and droned in anticipation of victory, and its sharp teeth snapped, grinding tall trees in its enormous mouth. It seemed that it was laughing with joy and excitement and even paused slightly in order to prolong the pleasure. Kate, Drool, and Chris huddled together. Huddling up to them were death caps, big and small, red and white, papas, mamas, and their young. In the middle of this horror a foolish thought flickered in Kate that she had never yet seen how fungi cry.
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Chris lifted his head in order to look at Kate one last time. Suddenly he saw behind her back something that cheered up his gaze. Kate looked around. “Drool, look!” There among the trees a bit of water was barely discernable. Yes, yes, real water! It was either a lake or a swamp. Does it matter? All rushed there and in a few seconds a small lake, clean and transparent, actually turned up in front of them. Shouting joyfully, the friends in misery rushed into the water. Now the fire droned from fury and disappointment that the prey had gotten away and roared with even larger force. The lake, in which Kate hid with her friends and the
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death caps, was quite small and shallow. The shore was entirely piled with stones and boulders. Immediately behind them was a wall of the forest. The fire pounced on the lake from all sides. The trees growing on the shore flared up like straw and the flame from them dashed into the sky. In order to escape from the unbearable heat, all living beings had to get far into the very middle of the lake. The young people got down from the horses and, holding them by the bridles, stood in the water. Drool set the death caps, the children and the elderly first of all, on their backs. The rest floated all around like sponges in a bathtub and sighed blissfully. Now it was necessary to wait until the fire ended. It could not burn forever! An hour passed and a second one after that, but the fire was blazing with the same force and power as at first. All were tired of splashing around in the water. Its salvational effect was no longer as before. Vapour, which made it difficult to breathe, began to rise from the water surface. It was necessary to dip the head constantly otherwise the hair got so warm that it could ignite by itself. “Listen,” Kate turned to her friends when she emerged the next time, “doesn’t it seem to you that the water has become much warmer than when we dived into it?” “Yes, considerably warmer,” Drool and Chris agreed. “Is it really heating up?” “Of course!” Chris dived and emerged. “Is it really possible? Trees can’t burn this way for long. The fire must end.” “Don’t forget,” Drool poured water out from his ear, “this is Bewitched Forest. Here anything can happen.” “What are we to do?” Chris exclaimed in despair. “Are we really going to stick out of this puddle and dive like ducks?” “Probably not for long,” Drool answered quietly and sadly. “Look at the stones on the shore.” The boy and the girl looked at the shore and gasped in consternation. The boulders on the shore had turned red. The fire did its job in good faith. The water on the shore simmered with the red-hot stones. Another hour and the entire lake would boil. Then what would happen to them? No one, however, ventured to answer. “We’ll become soup!” Chris finally sighed. “Mushroom soup with meat. Horse and human! No escape for us!” “Better if we’d burned in the fire!” Kate no longer had either strength or tears. “Well, it’s never too late,” Chris grinned. “Can do it right now. Why wait? I’m already tired of this warm bath.” “Perhaps we’ll try breaking through again?” proposed Kate. “We’re sufficiently wet. What do you say, Drool?” “We’ve already cheated the fire twice. It won’t let us cheat it a third time. You really don’t understand why it’s alive? Like everything in this cursed forest!” Bewitched Forest burned. Not all of it of course; it was too big. A very large territory turned out to be in the authority of the fire. Beasts and birds and other living beings which had never before been seen or even heard of fled from the fire running, flying, crawling, or jumping. Some escaped; others perished in the flames. The witches flying above the forest howled with joy. Suddenly, directly from the thick smoke the black spirit of Bewitched Forest was seen rising into the sky. It glanced at the witches with an infuriated look and addressed them with a formidable speech, “What have you done to my forest? Why set fire to it? Vile creatures! This is how you thank me for giving you shelter on my land?”
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Now the witches were scared that they had gone too far. Four witches had perished in the fire, and the fire was moving increasingly closer to Bald Mountain. This way the witches’ lair could also perish! Ah, the cursed knight Caterino! How much trouble because of him! Areatanuta herself headed the firefighting. The witches chanted spells all together. In normal places any witch can do anything alone, but here, in Bewitched Forest, witches can make magic only by working all together. Much magic energy is needed for this. Clouds soon began to gather, and now the sky was already completely overcast with leaden clouds. The densest and darkest cloud was hanging right above the fire. Its sides were shining with an abundance of icy water. Another cloud almost as big hung not far away. The witches flew up to it, hovered in the air, and began to puff up like soap bubbles, each the size of a balloon. Only Areatanuta did not swell up. She shouted with her thunderous voice and the two most swollen witches began to blow on the cloud with the force of a hurricane. When they had let out all their air, three more witches did the same. After them, the rest began to blow and the huge black thing floated towards the first cloud. Areatanuta flew to where the clouds should collide. She sparked with her finger a lightning bolt ten times more powerful than that with which the witches had attacked the knight Caterino and hurled it between the clouds. The clouds collided. A deafening crash resounded. Lightning flared up and spread along the entire sky to the horizon. The witches were blinded for a long time by its light. Only the chief witch managed to turn away from its destructive influence. Icy water flowed as if a million buckets had fallen from the sky. The water attacked the fire, which answered the attack with a furious roar. There was still a lot of power in the fire. The battle began. Water and flame fought. Water made noise and roared, the fire droned and hissed indignantly. Water won. The sky was on the water’s side; the fire, however, did not have the support of the ground. On the contrary, the ground hated the fire which had ruined it. The fire began to retreat. First it stopped droning and whistling, then when it no longer had sufficient power to devour trees and bushes, the crackling stopped. There remained only the poisonous hissing of a viper from which the forked tongue had been pulled out. Still thick clouds of smoke and steam crawled to the sky. The rain became stronger and stronger. Soon there remained not even a little spark from the fire. Streams were already flowing through Bewitched Forest, but the flow of water was falling all the time from the sky, as if the sky were infuriated and decided to flood the ground. Streams began to change into full-flowing rivers. A new misfortune had arrived at Bewitched Forest – flood. The witches, weakened by the battle with the fire, were unable to stop the new calamity. “This Caterino be cursed!” they grumbled and flew with difficulty to their refuges – burrows and caves, huts on chicken legs, gingerbread houses, and covered wagons on wheels.10 “For sure he burned in the fire; serves him right.” “Home, witches!” Areatanuta ordered. “The knight could not have escaped in this scorching heat. We’ve done our job. True, not as we wanted, but we’ve taken vengeance
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Huts on chicken legs refer to Baba Yaga, a witch in Slavic folktale; gingerbread houses refer to Hansel and Gretel, a fairy tale of German origin recorded by the Brothers Grimm; and covered wagons on wheels refer to the Gypsies. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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on him.” The laughter of the chief witch flew above the ground and muffled the noise of the rain. “However, you will gather on Bald Mountain on my first call. If the knight is suddenly alive, I will light up two more moons in the sky. It will be my sign, but it’s unlikely that this will happen. Ha-ha-ha!” “Ha-ha-ha!” The witches echoed her and flew homeward. Only Ruina did not believe that the knight Caterino was dead. Tattered and worn out, she also had almost burned in the fire. “Come, Esmeralda!” she summoned in a voice trembling with cold. The crow immediately sat down on the blackened stump of Ruina’s left hand, which was wrapped with dirty rags. It presented an even sorrier spectacle than its mistress. Wet, freezing, with charred wings and beak, badly scratched feet and broken feathers, it shrivelled under the downpour and looked sorrowfully at its mistress. “Perhaps we’ll go home?” it tried to tempt the witch but instantly hushed meekly under her terrible and decisive gaze. “Fly and find the remains of the knight Caterino,” ordered Ruina. “I won’t rest until I see his corpse. What if he’s alive and we again let him slip? No, this mustn’t happen! Fly, Esmeralda, fly. And may the gods of evil be with you.” The crow took off. True, before flying it thought, “Why don’t I belong to some quiet old astrologer? I would now be living peacefully and quietly. Would be eating mice and cockroaches. No, I was drawn to higher circles. Sta-tus-seek-ker! Phooey!” Ruina followed the crow with her evil eyes, which still reflected lightning that continued flashing in the sky. If Kate saw her now, she would not recognize the witch who had changed so from her thirst of vengeance and hatred. She had become ugly and misshapen although she was the youngest on Bald Mountain. “Something tells me that it’s still too early to celebrate victory,” she muttered as she looked at the rain beating down and the witches flying away to their lairs. “The knight Caterino, this hateful boy, is too cunning to perish in a fire. I have a feeling that he’s still alive!” The witch was right. Kate and her friends did not die the terrible death which the witches and the fire had prepared for them. They did not cook in the boiling lake. When the water heated up and everyone had been ready for an inevitable death, Drool turned to his comrades. “Wipe your tears, Kate and Chris,” he said. “I won’t let you die.” The children stared at him with surprise. “What do you want to do?” “Though I’ve broken all the rules and laws of trolls, I still have one magic in reserve. I’ll use it if worst comes to worst.” “So use it, what are you waiting for? We’ll die, you know!” exclaimed Chris. “Wait!” Kate stopped the boy. Drool’s sad sighs alerted her. “But you can’t use magic. Isn’t it dangerous for you to break the law again?” “Of course not.” “Don’t lie, please!” Kate did not believe Drool. “Tell the truth, Sweet Tooth. We’re friends! And friends don’t trick each other!” “Nothing dangerous,” objected Drool. “I’ll simply dissolve in the air. Melt away. But this isn’t terrible.” “That means you’ll die?” the girl summed up rigidly. Chris kept quiet, shocked and dispirited. “No, I can’t allow this!” Kate shouted. “No one must die because of me!” “Indeed, it’s better if you remain alive than we all die,” the Sweet Tooth attempted to object. “No!” Kate began to hit the water with her hands. “Chris, tell him that we can’t agree to his death. Huh? Why do you keep quiet? Chris?” “True,” the boy squeezed it out of himself
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and suddenly felt a strong relief because he had said it. “Of course it’s so! We’re indeed knights! Even though I’m not a knight, it’s true!” Kate smiled for the first time during these terrible hours and stretched her hand out to the squire. “You’re a real knight, Christian. It’s not scary for me to die with you.” Chris firmly shook the hand of the knight. Kate burst into tears. “Why did it happen?” she uttered through her sobbing. “All the same, Drool, we won’t let you use magic! Die, we will die all together!” Still, far in the depths of their hearts, the boy and the girl knew that at that moment when the water was boiling around them, they wanted Drool to save them, even with the price of his own life. They would deal with that desire later; now it would be awful and shameful even to think about it. Could death really be soon? Yes, it was just about to happen – a few minutes and… Suddenly, through the crackling of the fire and the unbearable heat, the first warm drops of rain fell onto the faces of the unlucky crowd – not warm rain but hot because the water was heated by the fire until it fell. After the first drops, however, the rain was already only warm. So much rain fell! Now it was even cold. Ah, what bliss! The lake frothed up from the crowded jets of rain. The fire hissed and started to shrink. The flame which had raged and roared like a great god of destruction died down. This all happened in a quarter of an hour. The youngsters climbed onto the shore and collapsed on the ground in exhaustion. The horses got up next to them. The death caps came on shore and began to thank the travellers loudly for the rescue. As a reward they promised to point the way to the swamp. The caps would not be able to go further. Kate, Drool, and Chris were glad for this. The group did not rest for long. Very soon the rain, which poured as from a bucket, chased them onto the road. The death caps, as promised, showed the way. All the time it was becoming harder with each step. It was cold. The water currents knocked them off their feet. Moreover, they still had to watch the horses so they would not break their legs. Because of the clouds it became as dark as night. Only lightning illuminated the trees. “This is some curse! First fire, then rain which never ends!” grumbled Chris. “For me this is better than burning in the fire or cooking in the lake,” Kate answered him in the same tone. “True,” agreed the boy, “but man is such being that he’s always dissatisfied with what he has.” The travellers went along until the water was almost to their waists. Each minute the rain intensified and ever larger streams of water fell on the shivering travellers, who were soaked to the bone. Now the road went downward and it became even harder to move because the water current became so powerful and fast that it even knocked Kate off her feet and dragged her along. Chris dropped the rein and rushed to help the girl. When he was very near, a tall wave covered him. After emerging the boy saw neither Kate nor horses nor Drool. “Hey!” yelled Chris. “Where did you go?” In answer he heard only the noise of the downpour and water currents. “What new disaster!” the boy muttered and yelled at the top of his voice, “Caterino, where are you? Drool! Answer me!” Chris called this way for a very long time and finally heard some sound resembling a horse’s neigh. The squire began to make his way in the direction of the sound. He
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shouted again and now clearly heard horses neighing and the footfall of hooves. This time the sounds were very near. The boy rushed forward and jumped out onto a clearing which was on an elevation with almost no water on it. Chris saw riders and ran towards them but stopped after several steps. These were people completely unknown to Chris. From their hairy and savage faces the boy understood that robbers were in front of him. The robbers also saw Christian. The squire rushed back to the water, but two hefty young men armed with daggers and bludgeons barred his path. He snatched out his sword and rushed into battle. The robbers could not stand their ground against the sword and very soon stepped back. The rest, who were on horses, however, overtook the courageous squire of the knight Caterino and threw a net over him. A few wrong movements and the victim was tangled like a fish in the ropes. The robbers cheered and in a flash threw a bag over Chris, who was squirming like a lizard. Things went better for Kate. She could not feel ground under her feet when she emerged from the water. “Swim over here!” She heard Drool’s shout and saw him. The swim to him was a matter of minutes. “The death caps said that a safe place isn’t far.” The Sweet Tooth helped the girl climb onto Mirko’s back. “Where’s Chris?” Kate asked while looking in all directions. “He was just here.” “Where did he go, perhaps he is also floundering in the water?” They began to shout to the entire forest but the boy did not answer. Now they had to worry. “Has he really sunk?” Kate nearly cried. “Don’t worry, he swims like a fish.” “Then what happened?” “Don’t know. First let’s reach the place the death caps talked about. We’ll ask them to look for Chris.” “Do you think they’ll find him?” “Of course, they will!” Kate was forced to agree with Drool. Five death caps showed them the way and soon led the children out onto an open place. “You see, almost no water here,” Drool was pleased. “Even the rain seems to have stopped.” In fact it was not pouring from the sky as before. Lightning stopped flashing, a last thunderclap crashed, and purple clouds started to break up here and there, exposing pieces of clear sky dotted with stars. It seemed that it was already nightfall. Kate was shivering and her teeth chattering from the cold. “What do we do now and where do we search for Chris?” “Even I don’t know.” Drool shrugged his shoulders. “Night now. You’ll see nothing in this darkness. We even can’t light a fire, which would be so to the point.” “Oh, that’s an idea!” exclaimed Kate. “I have a flashlight! Well done!” She started to dig in her knapsack feverishly. The flashlight was lying on the very bottom and she did not find it immediately. Finally she lit Drool up with the flashlight. Then a bright ray ran among the trees. “Chris!!!” they again started calling the boy. But there was no answer. “What’s this?” Kate suddenly asked. She noticed that something flashed on the ground. “Please hold Mirko, Drool. I’ll look.” She jumped to the ground and, trying not to fall on the slippery grass, took several steps. Suddenly she gasped with surprise. Christian’s sword was lying there.

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Drool left the horses and ran up to Kate. He immediately understood that the matter was very serious and turned to the many death caps. “What happened here?” he asked. The fungi began vying with each other to describe how the robbers, after stumbling upon Chris, had taken him into custody. “Where did they go?” “There!” The death caps nodded with their caps in the direction the robbers had gone. “Will you lead us there?”
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“We will, we will!” The death caps were ready to carry out any of their requests. “Then forward!” Kate, who was already dead tired, ordered. Kate and Drool again sat down on the horses and set off on their way. The rain had completely stopped. The sky was quickly becoming free from clouds. The moon, round and yellow as cheese, drifted out. It illuminated everything all around. Forest began to thin and soon it ended. “What, Bewitched Forest is behind us?” Kate asked, hardly moving her tongue. “No, this is simply a huge clearing in the forest. It lies right in the middle.” Kate sighed disappointedly and embraced Mirko’s neck. She almost fell from the saddle. Someone flew next to them. “What was that?” Drool was alarmed. “Did you notice?” “No. Probably a bird,” the girl answered, half-asleep. “I don’t like this.” Kate did not answer. Drool’s sharp eyes searched the darkness. Suddenly, directly in the circle of the moon, the Sweet Tooth saw a flying dot. It was too far, and try as he might, he could not make it out. Only for a fraction of a second it seemed that it was the silhouette of a crow but perhaps not. “Probably just a bird,” muttered Drool. Not only were the riders tired. The horses were also tired and hardly moving their legs. Mirko went first, followed by Chris’ horse. Behind, as always, Drool’s filly clattered its hooves. The Sweet Tooth’s words woke Kate, “Stop, Kate! Mirko, stop!” The horse stood still. The girl finally woke up from the jolt, rubbed her eyes, and stared at Drool. “Perhaps we’ll wait till morning?” he asked. “You’ll rest and have a good sleep.” Kate was pleased with this proposal but immediately recalled everything that had happened to them and obstinately shook her head. “No. Just go forward. We must rescue Chris.” “Then we’re at the place.” Drool stretched his arm forward. Kate saw an enormous foundation pit on the bottom of which was a castle – more accurately, the ruins of a castle. “This is the dwelling of Two-headed Simon,” whispered Drool. Leading to the robbers’ den was a narrow path which dwindled among black stones and grass as tall as a person. The death caps ran downward. So Kate and Drool would not lose sight of them, the sly fungi caught fireflies and set them on their caps. Quite a few agonizing minutes passed before the travellers found themselves at the foot of the first tower. Not a single fire was burning in the ruins. Not a sound reached from behind the crumbled walls. “Now we have to find the entrance,” Drool looked around at Kate. “I think that it’s better to leave the horses here.” Kate nodded agreement. The clatter of the hooves or an occasional snort or neigh could betray them. The two went further together. Kate got down from the saddle and took the shield with her, for which she was sorry very soon. It was uncomfortable to carry by hand. She wanted to drop it, but the Sweet Tooth advised her to hang it behind her back. Drool armed himself with Chris’ sword. It suddenly became brighter as if a lamp had been switched on somewhere. Kate looked around, looked down near her feet, then at the sky, then again down and again at the sky. “Look!” whispered the girl. The Sweet Tooth lifted his head and did not immediately understand what surprised Kate so. Then it dawned on him what the matter was. There were three moons in the sky.

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Chapter Nineteen BEWITCHED FOREST (Conclusion)

“What miracle isn’t in your country!” Kate admired quietly when she and Drool sneaked along the fortress wall in search of an entrance. The search was crowned with success. The death caps declared that they would go no further since the robbers treated the fungi with hostility because of their friendship with the witches. “You’re indeed quite nice guys. Why do you get mixed up with the witches?” the girl addressed the fungi. “Where can we go?” the death cap with the largest and the most beautiful cap sighed bitterly. “They very much love poisonous fungi and use poison for witchcraft and the preparation of potions. In order to survive we formed an alliance with them. Now after how they have almost ruined us all, we’ll start a war with the witches!” The death caps escaped the scene with these words. “It means witches and robbers don’t have much love for each other,” Drool said with satisfaction. “We’ll keep that in mind. Here’s the first robber. It’s the sentry but he’s sleeping. It’s known to all that robbers are slackers.” The girl and her friend carefully walked past the snoring guard. He was armed with an enormous sabre and halberd. “Where to now?” asked Kate when they turned up inside the fortress. “I don’t even know. If Chris is in their captivity, then he’s probably in a cave or in the tower.” “Will you really find something here in this darkness? Perhaps light a lamp?” “Don’t even think about it! They’ll immediately seize us.” Kate and Drool sneaked along the courtyard of the robbers’ castle until a massive door appeared before them. A narrow strip of light was visible under it. Suddenly the door opened and Kate and Drool saw a tall, broad-shouldered woman. She stared at the children dumbstruck in amazement. She finally asked roughly, “What are you doing here at this late hour? Perhaps this is a place for children to stroll?” “We, we…” Kate stammered, not finding the necessary answer. “Get the heck away from here!” continued
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the robber. “Otherwise my husband Two-headed Simon will awake, and then you won’t live.”

“It’s precisely him we have to talk to,” the Sweet Tooth politely joined in the conversation. “You see, my good woman, we heard a rumour that our friend is here. We’ve come for him. We’ll be very grateful if you let the boy go. We’re in a hurry and mustn’t stay too long.” “So this insolent boy is with you?” the woman was surprised. “I should have guessed right away. You and he are like two drops of water. So dirty, wet, and worn out. Boys, you run away from here as fast as possible. My husband has ordered to give your friend a good flogging in the morning and sell him to the goblins for his too impertinent tongue. If you don’t want the same for you, run.” “Really!” Kate was indignant. She was simply boiling with anger. “How do they dare to offend my squire? I’ll let no one insult Count Caterino, a knight who defeated a dragon. Let me pass! I’ll have a talk myself with Two-headed Simon.” To be more convincing, she pulled out her sword. The robber woman lost her gift of speech at such impudence and submissively stepped aside. Kate and Drool found themselves in a spacious room illuminated by three dim torches. Here robbers were lying right on the floor and benches, on rugs, hides, and cushions. They awoke from the noise and stirred. Dissatisfied voices were heard. “Which of you is Two-headed Simon?” Kate’s voice, from nervousness and fear, became high and resonant. “The knight Caterino wants to talk to him!” “Knight?” an indignant voice resounded. “Oh, what a nuisance! One more shrill puppy to visit us. Hey, guys, more light!” The robbers started to grab their weapons and light torches. Kate saw their malicious features and became ill at ease. Drool even feared for her. What could she do with these terrible people? The largest robber came out from the crowd of bandits and stood before Kate. On seeing him the girl recoiled, frightened. The robber had two heads – terrible faces, shaggy heads of hair, mouths smirking, and nostrils flaring. Four eyes attentively examined the girl and the troll. His gaze stopped at Kate. “You, perhaps, are the knight?” Two-headed Simon smiled. “That’s me!” “You will talk with me this way with a sword in your hand?” Kate was embarrassed and put the sword into the scabbard. “I hope that
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your thugs will not attack the unarmed?” She loved to read books about pirates and thought that it was necessary to talk to similar people precisely this way.

Simon obviously liked her courage, because the robber burst out laughing. Then he remarked contentedly, “Why, this one is cooler than the first greenhorn. Where did they spring from in order to fall on our heads? Listen, friend, of course not a hair will fall from your head since you yourself came to my home. But, indeed, you can barely stand on your feet from fatigue… I propose to put off the conversation till morning. For the time being you’ll spend the night, rest, gain strength. And don’t argue with me!” All four eyes of the robber chief sparkled threateningly. “Or else…” It was necessary to obey. Simon’s wife, whose name was Clotilia, led Kate and Drool into a room, shut the door behind them, and bolted it on the outside. “Now we’re
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prisoners,” Drool sighed. “It’s okay!” Kate brushed that aside and dropped down onto one of the two beds roughly knocked together. “We’ll figure this out tomorrow.” Drool was also dying from fatigue and wanted to lie down, but he looked attentively around the room before this. Was there anything strange or dangerous in it? Nothing suspicious was discovered so he also lay down and fell asleep. The friends slept for a long time and when they woke up they discovered with surprise that it was already the middle of the day. “Darn!” Kate cursed. “We’ve been detained again!” She began to bang the handle of her sword on the thick door with a grated window. “Open!” Heavy shuffling steps were heard but not at once. Clotilia’s disgruntled face appeared in the window. “What do you want? Why did you get so noisy?” “I must talk to Two-headed Simon.” Kate said agitatedly. “He promised me!” “Everyone’s out on business. They’ll return at night, then you’ll talk!” “What?” Kate was taken aback. “All out? And Chris? Did they bring him too to sell to the goblins?” “That boy?” Clotilia grunted. “No. Why take him on the road? Will only be in the way. We have Dive and Creeper on watch. They’ll do everything necessary.” “They won’t dare!” the girl and the Sweet Tooth exclaimed in one voice. “You bet they will! Better take the food here.” Clotilia pushed a bowl with boiled meat through the window. “Darn!” Kate crashed the bowl onto the floor after the robber left. “We’re in a trap! They treat us like little kids!” The squeak of wheels was heard beyond the window. Drool and Kate rushed to the window and saw two robbers taking a wagon with a cage on it out of the courtyard. In the cage sat Chris in chains, showering the robbers with swearing and threats. Those two only laughed merrily. They left the gates and were out of sight. “We must get out of here!” Kate stated. “The door won’t break,” Drool shook his head. “But here the stones around the window are barely holding.” They started to loosen the masonry with their swords and hands. When the thick rods were pulled out of the window, Drool climbed down. The wall down which he climbed was uneven and all covered with cracks. Drool managed to hang on and quickly landed on the ground. He gave a sign to Kate to follow his example. The girl was already about to throw a leg over but instantly shrank back into the chamber. Fortunately, two witches flying past the window did not notice her. They landed in the courtyard and ran off in different directions. The girl threw a glance at where they had arrived from and gasped. The remaining witches, like a flock of gigantic predatory birds, were already coming down from the sky. Her heart was pounding in her chest. Kate climbed out and hurriedly, risking a fall to the ground or being noticed, began to go down the wall. Drool had already managed to open the gates on the other side of the courtyard and now made desperate signs to her. Kate jumped onto the ground and wanted to run to Drool. At that very second, however, the witches began to land in the courtyard. Kate saw a door in the wall and, not hesitating, ran in through it. She was in complete darkness. She shut the door, groped for the latch, and began to move it. There was a crack in the door. Kate looked through it and saw out there that Drool had jumped behind the gates. It seemed the witches did not notice him either. The girl remained alone in the robbers’ castle while it teemed with witches. Clotilia jumped out into the courtyard and, on discovering a whole coven of witches, yelled, “What are you doing here, witches? How dare you trespass the boundary of our
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property?” “Don’t make noise, Clotilia,” the oldest and ugliest witch, whose appearance greatly affected Kate, addressed her. “We’ll fly away now, but you must give us what belongs to us rightfully.” “Ah, it’s you, Areatanuta! What do you want, if you even broke the law and stepped on the grounds of our gang?” “The knight Caterino, that’s whom we need. He must die for insulting the witch tribe and defiling our sacred thing by breaking the cauldron of the Druids. Give our offender to us. The Main Fire demands his blood!” Kate’s legs gave way when she heard these words. Clinging to the door handle with shaking hands, she continued to watch what was happening outside. “I don’t give a hoot for your Main Fire!” shouted the wife of the robber chief. She ran inside then jumped back out. Now she had a huge club in one hand and a long curved sabre in the other. “It’s our loot and we won’t share with anyone. Go away, foolish old women.” No amount of coaxing or warning helped the witches. The robber stood her ground. Busy with Clotilia, the witches did not notice that a two-headed youngster was carefully sneaking behind their backs. Kate gasped but immediately guessed that this was the son of Simon. He made his way to the gates and started to clamber up onto one of the horses by the oat trough. Then the witches noticed him and rushed to catch him but they were too late. The boy managed to sit on a horse, hit its sides with his heels, and galloped away. “Quicker, little one!” his mother shouted from behind. “You must bring father and his people. Our home is in danger.” “What are you looking at?” Areatanuta roared. “Seize this lunatic and find the boy.” The witches rushed to Clotilia. There were so many of them that their cries and screeches plugged Kate’s ears. The fight began. Clotilia was hitting with the fury of a mad lioness. The witches scattered from her fury like hens from a hawk. Not fewer than a dozen witches were left lying on the ground. Some had broken arms, some ribs, some legs, and one even had a damaged head. The witches had run into a serious enemy. They began to rain fire on Clotilia, but she deftly deflected the lightning with the club. The witches strengthened the attack. The fight became much harder for the robber, but she had no intention of surrendering. On the contrary, several times she dispersed the witches around the courtyard. They nevertheless managed to shoot fire at the robber, causing her to shout wildly. Kate noticed that the witches were crowding her towards the fortress wall with a loophole beside which a merlon was about to collapse. Clotilia soon guessed their intention, but it was too late. She was already standing under the merlon and furiously defending herself. All this time Areatanuta was whispering something and spitting in the direction of the wall. When she saw that Clotilia was cornered, Areatanuta raised both hands and sent a jet of fire directly into the crack between the merlon and the wall. A deafening crash was heard. The merlon shattered and collapsed with a dusty cloud onto Clotilia. The witches shouted triumphantly. The enemy was defeated. In spite of her powerful strength and huge stature, Clotilia was lying covered with stones. “Now find the boy! Find the knight Caterino!” ordered Areatanuta. On hearing these words, Kate ran from the door and found herself in a narrow semi-dark corridor into which she rushed not even imagining where it would lead to.

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The witches scattered throughout the entire robbers’ castle in search of the knight Caterino and his friends. They poked their noses into all the rooms, corners, and nooks. They made an incredible amount of noise. Areatanuta was busy shooting fireballs into those places that seemed suspicious to her. One such ball flew into the window of the room where Kate and Drool had spent the night and exploded there with a crash. Soon the witches began to return to the courtyard. “There’s no one here!” “Search!” Areatanuta shouted at the top of her lungs. “Quickly!” Ruina ran up to her. “No one searched here,” she said and pointed at the door behind which Kate had hidden. The door instantly shattered and several witches rushed
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into the passageway. They got stuck in the opening at once and huddled up. “Fools!” cursed Areatanuta. “Make way. I’ll go first! And you after me one by one!” But just then a troop of robbers on horses burst through the gates, attacked the witches, and drove them from the door. Areatanuta uttered a battle cry, the robbers whistled, and they began a fight not for life but to the death. The robbers had decided to return when they noticed the coven of witches. The chief’s son jumped out onto the path leading to the foundation pit and told them what was happening. Two-headed Simon fell into a rage when he saw what had been done to his home and found his wife covered with stones. Immediately upon understanding from his wife’s shouts and moans that the knight Caterino was to blame for everything, he simply lost both his heads. “So here’s the main culprit!” he began to roar. “Kill every single one of these old women! And I’ll take care of the kid.” One of his eyes caught a movement by the wall leading to the main tower. The robber shouted in triumph and ran to that very entrance for which the witches had been searching. The robbers fought furiously and fiercely. Areatanuta, who personally burned and turned two robbers into dust, saw how one after another her companions-in-arms perished. Even at this moment, however, she thought only about how to find Caterino and punish him. After that, one drop of his blood was enough to revive all the witches and restore their former might. In the heat of battle, her sharp eye noticed on the main tower a small figure with a sword. This was the knight Caterino. Swinging a sabre, Twoheaded Simon crowded him to the very edge of the observation platform. No, Areatanuta would yield to no one the life of the knight – even for all the blessings in the world. The witch took a deep breath, concentrated, and uttered the necessary words. Filling the sky with a triumphant howl, she rushed with the swiftness of a cannon ball to the knight Caterino, who was standing on the tower… When Drool had jumped from the robbers’ castle, he first found the tracks of the wagon on which the robbers had taken Christian away. After getting out of the foundation pit, Drool discovered that the road led down an incline. The Sweet Tooth was pleased. He tucked in his arms and legs and became a dirty-pink ball. He rolled along the barely visible tracks. Only a troll in childhood can move this way and reach the speed of a modern automobile at that. Drool again turned up in the forest after several minutes of the mad race. It became harder to roll among the trees. Speed immediately dropped. The Sweet Tooth got onto his feet and ran. The soil under his feet started to squelch. The swamp had begun. Drool stopped and immediately saw the robbers, their horses, and the wagon with the cage. Chris, however, was no longer in it.

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The boy was being held like a kitten in the paws of a gigantic goblin with ears like an elephant’s. He examined Chris attentively and argued about something with the robbers. Evidently, one goblin was bargaining. Next to him stood two more goblins. They were slightly smaller in stature and listening attentively to what the older one was saying. The older one asked for a reduction of the price for such a small person who was, furthermore, even dirty and emaciated. Drool sighed with relief on seeing all this and went directly to the goblins. The goblins noticed him and stood still. The robbers also stared at him perplexedly and then started to guffaw. “And here comes one more from the same company!” They slapped each other on the shoulder. “So don’t bargain and you get this one as well!” Drool went up to the older goblin and, without paying the robbers the least attention, ordered him, “Let go of my friend now!” The robbers’ jaws dropped from such impudence. They were even more surprised when they saw the goblin obediently let go of Chris and place him carefully on the ground. “And these,” Drool pointed at the bandits, “tie them up and put them in the wagon!” This order was executed in the blink of an eye. “How are we doing?” Chris shook off the rope and began to massage the numbed wrists and hands. “I was certain that you would rescue me.” “Get on a horse quickly and we’ll ride to Two-headed Simon’s castle! And you,” the Sweet Tooth turned to the goblins, “follow us.” “What happened?” Chris became anxious. “And where’s Kate?” “Mortal danger threatens Kate.” Not saying another word, Chris and Drool sat on the horses which they had unharnessed from the wagon and sped off to the robbers’ den. The goblins, more like gigantic green monkeys and two-legged elephants than anything else, ran after them. Chris could not maintain silence and asked, “How do you manage to command them?” “We, trolls, are the only beings on the land that can command goblins. Any goblin will listen to the orders of a troll like a dog listens to a man.”
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Drool told Chris what happened to them from the moment they lost him. Because of the conversation, they did not even notice that they had turned up in front of the robbers’ foundation pit. What they saw shook them. The robbers’ castle was burning and smoking. A noise like that from the crater of a volcano reached them. Drool and Chris drove the horses to the gates of the castle. Kate was on the edge of destruction. The girl ran along the corridor after leaving her refuge but could not find a place where she could hide. The corridor went up and changed into stairs with wide steps. Kate flew up along them and saw a wide opening. This was an exit to the wall. The girl looked down and saw the witches fighting with the robbers. This pleased her. She reached the main tower along the narrow fortress wall. She passed through a small door to go inside and took a breath. Now she had to shut the door behind her. Horror! There was neither bolt nor lock on it. The girl almost cried from disappointment. Right by the door was a large log. She had to try to prop it up. Making an effort, Kate began to push the log. In that second when she succeeded in leaning one end against the door, someone began to force it open. “Open, nasty knight! Your death has come!” The girl recognized Two-headed Simon’s voice. She completely froze and watched as the boards broke with a crack under the robber’s attack. His mad revolving eyes showed in the opening. Strong hands tore off the oak boards one after another. He burst in with a savage cry. Kate ran away with a shrill screech. The two-headed monster rushed after her. It was tight inside the tower. It was easier for a small girl than a huge and clumsy robber to move around here. Kate deftly dodged Simon’s blows. He was merely destroying everything that fell under his hand. Suddenly Kate stumbled on something and fell. The robber started to laugh, and in a second the girl was fluttering in his hands like a bird in the noose of a fowler. She bit the hand of the giant who, roaring from the pain, let go of the caught victim. Kate crawled away to the furthest corner of the tower and stared with despair at the robber. He licked his bitten hand and looked at Kate. “Get up and fight if you’re a knight!” Two-headed Simon took out from his belt a sabre almost the size of Kate. The girl also pulled out her sword. Would she really have enough courage to enter a real duel? This was not a game with Chris! The robber yelled and delivered the first blow with such might to cut the enemy into two. By some miracle Kate dodged the blow, dropped onto the floor, and rolled behind the back of the robber. She then jumped onto her feet. Here she saw one more door that she had not noticed earlier. This was the exit to the observation platform. Kate ran outside, the robber after her. He had almost caught up with Kate but she turned and abruptly waved the sword. Simon recoiled back then delivered two blows which Kate, not understanding how herself, was able to ward off. The robber was at a loss; the girl stopped. Now there was nowhere to step back. Both of them were at the very top of the tower. Kate was in a trap. She again tried to trick the enemy and crawl behind his back, but she was unable to. She barely started rolling when Simon delivered such a blow to her that, if he had not miraculously missed, the story would have ended. The sabre shattered into smithereens. Kate jumped onto her feet and ran off backwards. She froze at the very edge of the platform. Another step and she would fly down. One comfort: Kate had a sword in hand, while the robber was
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unarmed. He dared not attack but was waiting for the moment when it would be possible to do so. Kate held the weapon before her and prepared to beat back an attack. Suddenly she heard a terrible cry. It approached her so rapidly that the girl could not control herself and turned in the direction from where it came. She did not have time to understand anything; she only noticed that something similar to both a huge bird and a person was flying to her. The girl recognized the chief witch Areatanuta only when her hand caught hold of Kate. The girl began to squeal. In answer the witch started to hiss like a snake. A mouth, sharp-toothed like that of a tiger, opened. The eyes of the old woman were filled with horror and hatred. Suddenly her hand slackened; her grasp unclenched and the witch tumbled down. She writhed in convulsions as she fell and held her stomach on which gaped a fatal wound. When Kate turned, she had mechanically advanced the sword before herself. The witch flew into it like a butterfly into a needle. Now black blood dripped from the blade. The most powerful witch of the Country of Frozen Time had been killed. Two-headed Simon saw the end of Areatanuta, but this did not stop him. He rushed like a mad bull at the knight Caterino in order to kill him. He had not made two steps when the powerful paw of a goblin seized him and the robber was stuck, unable to resist such a great strength as possessed by a goblin. When Kate turned around and saw the robber in the paws of another monster, she almost fell down after Areatanuta. She held her ground because she noticed an exultant Drool on the head of the goblin. The girl sighed with relief and her legs gave way. Chris, having run up, managed to support her. “Everything’s fine now, Caterino!” he calmed the girl. “No more danger.” Chris helped Kate get down from the tower and reach a shady spot. After sitting down right on the ground, Kate watched indifferently as two goblins, under the command of Drool, extracted a moaning Clotilia from under the stones. Her two-headed son ran beside and tried with all his might to help. Kate shut her eyes and did not see that the robbers left alive were piling up the dead witches. The witches hissed and melted like fat on a frying pan. The robbers, only five of whom remained, looked at the knight Caterino with surprise and admiration. “Good lord, what a knight!” one of them said. “Killing the chief witch! No one had previously managed this.”

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Chapter Twenty ELVES AND VAMPIRES

Only in the evening of the following day could Kate, Drool, and Chris continue their journey. They set off escorted by three goblins. Two-headed Simon, Clotilia, their son, and even five robbers led the friends to the exit from the foundation pit in which the remains of the castle were still smoking. The robbers had also decided to leave Bewitched Forest to settle among people and do honest work. Their way lay in the other direction. Kate waved farewell to Two-headed Simon. He shouted after them, “You’re the greatest knight, Count Caterino! May the sky give you success! I swear on the life of my son, I will bring no more harm to people and I will atone for my sins with honest labour. If my help is needed, let me know!” In confirmation of his words, the former robber picked up the two-headed boy and raised him high above himself. The child also waved cheerfully. His two smiles shone on his dirty faces and the four eyes, one pair blue and one pair brown, shone with delight. Clotilia and the other robbers also waved to the travellers. “Lucky you,” Chris sighed with envy when the robbers were out of sight. “You just accomplished a feat which only one out of twenty knights has the power to do.” “What feat is this?” Kate was surprised. “You changed a villain of villains into a good soul. I envy you and am happy that I serve you!” “I didn’t think about that,” Kate shrugged her shoulders. “I simply felt sorry for him. He was so sad and depressed all the time.” “But, indeed, he nearly killed you!” “Yes, but he thought that his wife had perished because of me and he loved her so. Do you remember how he rejoiced when he found out that she was alive? By the way, she’s also very good because she refused to give us to the witches. And what a wonderful little one they have! All of them saved us from the witches.” Kate recalled Areatanuta and shivered with fear and aversion. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten that Simon cancelled his order to flog you. It means that even then he was no longer so bad.” “You reason with the generosity of a true knight, Caterino. Sometimes I even forget that you’re a girl.” “I also forget about it. If only you knew, Chris, how terrible it was for me to set out for your country!” “Overcoming fear, not its absence, is true bravery. So what is your main task now?” “To find my brother and save him. Then also all the rest.”
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“What is the rest?” “Well, then we’ll have to find a way to return home; I don’t think about that for now.” “Right! Your motto: ‘Search and Rescue!’” “Motto?” “Of course! Every knight has his motto.” “Exactly like the Young Pioneers,”11 smiled Kate. “Now all that remains is to write it on the shield.” “No need to write anything. Look, everything is already there.” Until now, Kate had never examined her shield. A shield was a shield – flat, shiny, smooth. Now, however, it was not smooth. Pictures and inscriptions hammered with remarkable craftsmanship were clearly discernable on the metal, which was polished like a mirror. The shield had a beautiful teardrop shape with semicircular grooves on the upper edges. An ornate inscription “Search and Rescue!” already adorned its centre. Above the inscription was an image of Kate’s first feat – the victory over the forest dragon. Small pictures in the lower part of the shield depicted all the remaining adventures of the knight Caterino. One picture showed him saving the pigeon Vorkulina; another, the children being led out of the troll castle; others, the escape from the werewolves, meeting Drool, the mermaids, and Chris. The knight Caterino was shown fighting Two-headed Simon and finally, killing the witch Areatanuta. “And this, see, is your latest feat!” Chris pointed to the picture where a group of people waved at a departing Caterino. “Villains become good.” “Wow!” Kate did not know what to say. “Miracles!” “Miracles!” muttered the enormous goblin passing by at that second. The knight and the squire broke out laughing. The travellers halted in the evening. All three slept because Drool put the goblins on watch, and though they also fell asleep, they snored so loudly that no one dared approach the campfire. The group continued on its way in the morning and came to a swamp at noon. The swamp was ominous, mysterious, and stretched to the horizon. Drool started to give instructions to the goblins. It was very funny to see how this little one commanded such giants. Although the goblins were huge, they surprised the youngsters with their sluggishness. They were plodders. For a very long time they listened attentively to Drool while standing on short legs with long arms to the ground, rocking from side to side and driving off gnats with their ears. What Drool wanted them to do reached them. “Get down from the horses and climb up onto the goblins,” the Sweet Tooth ordered. “There, beyond the swamps, is Elf Kingdom. Bewitched Forest has ended. We’ll go through the swamp on goblins. It’s the only way.” In a minute Kate and Chris were sitting on a goblin’s humpback and dying of laughter while watching as the two remaining monsters caught the horses and loaded them onto their shoulders. The largest of the goblins, the one who had saved Kate from Two-headed Simon, took the horses of Chris and Drool under his arms and the other loaded Mirko on himself. The horses had not been pleased earlier at the proximity of the goblins and cautiously looked sideways at them all the way. Now they simply went crazy with fear and discomfort, neighing and kicking their legs. The goblins did not pay any attention to their protests. Drool climbed up to Kate and Chris and pulled the goblin’s ear. “Forward!” he gave the order. The goblin went into the swamp. Like an elephant, slowly but relentlessly, he moved forward. The two remaining goblins went behind him. The horses gradually calmed down.
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The Young Pioneers is an organization operated by a communist party for pre-adolescent children. It is similar to the Scouts but includes the teaching of communist principles. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

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The trip was the most amazing. The goblins did not fear the swamp at all and walked calmly through it. Their very wide soles were as if created for walking on quagmire and their rock-hard muscles made it possible to avoid getting stuck in the most insidious and terrible swamps. The monsters did not stop for a second. One time the goblin walking in front, because of his sluggishness, was immersed in the deep almost to his chest. He managed to struggle out with difficulty and continued on the way. The travellers nearly died of fright. Drool violently tweaked the goblin’s ear as punishment. The giant even began to cry. Two tears, each the size of a soccer ball, fell into the swamp. Kate felt sorry for him. “Don’t hurt him, Drool!” she begged. “Not his fault and he won’t do it any more. You won’t, right?” she asked the goblin. “Won’t!” the goblin muttered and looked gratefully at the girl. “Soon even goblins will love you!” Chris smiled. Kate was embarrassed. They turned up on a rocky island towards the evening. It was most welcome. When they reached the island, it was completely dark. Both the goblins and the children were so tired that they spent the night without building a fire. There were a huge numbers of gnats on the island, but they all rushed fleeing since they could not stand the goblins, which smelled strongly of frogs. In the morning, after eating berries which grew in abundance among the rocks, the friends again moved through the swamp. It was teeming with different creatures. Kate several times saw gigantic tortoises slowly crawling in the distance. On their shells lived birds and animals which ran easily along the swamp and caught insects, frogs, and snakes. On the small islands floating on the marshy slush lived strange creatures similar to octopi. They caught with their tentacles creatures carelessly showing up nearby. Most surprising were three green old women covered with algae, slime, and snails. They sat directly in the quagmire and played cards, at the same time swearing and arguing loudly. They did not pay any attention to the children and the goblins passing beside them. “They’re reckless like the trolls,” Kate remarked. “What are they?” “Sprites!” Drool brushed them off scornfully. “Vile creatures!” Almost near the end of the trip they met a group of goblins with clubs of whole trees. “What are they doing here?” Kate and Chris asked. “Hunting gigantic tortoises,” explained Drool. The goblins saw the Sweet Tooth on the head of their fellow goblin and cautiously went around on the side of the entire company. “Goblins greatly fear being under the rule of trolls,” Drool proudly imparted. “See how they flee?” Breathing heavily, the goblins climbed out onto dry land. The journey through the quagmire was completed satisfactorily. “If not for your goblins, Drool, we wouldn’t have crossed the swamp,” Kate praised the Sweet Tooth. Drool blushed with pleasure and in order to distract attention from himself announced loudly to the goblins, “You’re free to go!” The goblins, not believing their luck and muttering words of thanks, rushed into the swamp and hurried back to Bewitched Forest. “Why did you let them go?” muttered Chris. “They would come in handy on the road. With such giants nothing is scary.” “Goblins can’t live far from their dwelling for one reason!” answered Drool. “And two, we’re in Elf Kingdom and elves hate goblins most of all in the world. They would hardly be pleased if we dragged them along with us.” The friends entered the forest, the trees of which were dozens of times bigger than those that grow in our world. They were even sufficiently unusual for the Country of
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Frozen Time. A huge number of unknown animals and birds were found here. The travellers looked at all these wonders and felt like Lilliputians in a country of giants. Two hours had already passed and the travellers still came across no one. Kate and Chris asked their friend what he thought about this. He did not have time to answer when the friends heard familiar sounds, but nothing was visible because of the trees. “Those are bells,” Kate was animated. “Probably cows are grazing somewhere.” The children turned the horses in the direction of the ringing and soon came to a clearing where gigantic burdocks grew. They saw neither cows nor goats nor other horned animals. Ladybugs, the size of coffee tables, were flying from burdock to burdock. They wore bells like real cows. Some of them even mooed like cows. There was even a shepherd, more precisely, a shepherd boy. A boy of about nine years lay tanning on a soft velvety leaf. Kate could not believe her eyes; the boy had wings – big, transparent wings like those of a dragonfly. They projected from his tanned back. The boy was very darling and attractive. He had golden hair and bright blue eyes. He was dressed only in shorts of the same blue colour. He was a fairy-tale being indeed. Kate understood that this was an elf – a small elf, an elf-child. Elves have children! The elf stared with wonder at the travellers. “Listen, little one,” Chris addressed him. “We travellers want to know where we are and how soon this magic forest will end.” The elf began to laugh a ringing, rippling laughter and suddenly soared up. This happened so unexpectedly that the horses reared almost dropping the riders. The elf laughed even louder and yelled, “You’re quite close to the palace of the king of elves. I’m driving the royal herd there right now. You can follow us! How very interesting! There haven’t been travellers in our forest for a long time! What are your names?” “We’re bound for the Capital. This is the knight Caterino. I’m Christian Thirteen, his squire, and this is Drool, our best friend. He’s a Sweet Tooth.” “The knight Caterino, his squire, and a Sweet Tooth? How remarkable!” the elf laughed. “We’ve been waiting for you for a long time!” The boy flew to drive the ladybugs back to the herd. He was flying so swiftly that it was impossible to follow him with the eyes. Not half a minute had passed and the herd was gathered and the elf drove it into the forest. Kate, Drool, and Chris went after him. Very soon the forest parted and the children saw a tall, beautiful palace with sharp roofs completely twined with greens and flowers. Before it grew gigantic roses above which elves fluttered like butterflies. There were adults and children. The children were all very similar to the ladybug shepherd except the girls had on rather short dresses instead of shorts. Grown-up elves were dressed in short tunics or gowns which were also blue in colour – the colour of elfin eyes. The elf-shepherd flew to his fellow countrymen while shouting that he brought marvellous news. When the elves found out what the matter was, they also laughed joyfully and flew to meet the travellers. A pair of elves with gold crowns flew in front of everyone. These were the king and queen. The rest, showing deference, flew behind them. When the elves flew up to the travellers, they landed on the grass. The elves turned out to be tall and slender beings. Some were armed with long bows or thin spears. They stood closer to the king and queen than the rest; they were royal guards. “We welcome you, friends, to our land!” the king of elves said solemnly.
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“We have heard much about your great deeds!” They led the guests into the palace and arranged an immense feast. The king and queen treated Kate and her friends favourably. They were accepted as very welcome guests. Sweet wine flowed like a river. The elves knew how to have a good time and how to amuse. They entertained the guests with dances and games, songs and music. The day ended that way. The next day everything began anew. The revelry did not stop for a minute. Ball followed ball, one merry feast did not have time to finish when another immediately began. In this whirl of merrymaking the travellers completely forgot about the purpose of their journey. The elves possessed a magic gift; they knew how to make anyone forget
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anything they wanted and only remember pleasure. The second day for Kate and her friends at the palace of the elves passed in a similar way. The third one also flew past. On the fourth day the king of elves invited the guests on a hunt. The elves hunted flying deer. The children sat in a carriage pulled by grey cranes and the royal hunt began. At the height of the hunt when a flying deer was driven into a trap, the grey cranes of Kate’s carriage suddenly dropped behind a flock of wild swans. The further they moved away from the elves, the more uneasy Kate’s heart became. Then she recalled everything. Chris and Drool remembered too. All three were ashamed to look into each other’s eyes. “How long have we been here?” Kate asked with anguish. “Three days,” Chris announced gloomily. “A nightmare!” the girl exclaimed. “Back to the palace quickly, get on the horses and hit the road!” “In three days we would have gone around the Vampire Park and come out onto the road to the Capital,” Drool remarked. “Now we again have to go straight.” The dumbfounded guard-elves watched as the welcome guests ran into the palace and demanded their horses. They categorically refused to wait for the king and queen. The knight Caterino asked them to apologize for such an impolite act. The travellers jumped on their horses and dashed away. Fortunately, there was no one to stop them. Towards the evening when they had left the forest of Elf Kingdom behind, the friends sighed with relief. In the distance there seemed to be hamlets and three small castles at identical distances from each other. “This is Vampire Park,” Drool said quietly and stopped his horse. “We should have time before dark.” He jumped onto the ground and began to untie a large bag from the saddle. Kate and Chris also dismounted and began to help him. “What do you have there?” “Now you’ll see.” The Sweet Tooth untied the bag and, to the great amazement of those present, poured out a pile of white bulbs. “What’s this?” “Garlic,” answered Drool. “Garlic?!!” Chris repeated. “Ah!” Kate guessed. “I remember. This is to ward off the vampires, right?” “Yes,” confirmed the Sweet Tooth. Then he made the girl and the boy clean all the garlic. What work it was! Towards sunset there were two piles before them – one of garlic bulbs, the other of the skin. Drool took out a mortar and together with Chris began to press the juice out of the bulbs. This also was not easy. With this juice he rubbed the children from head to toe and thoroughly soaked their clothing. The remainder of the juice he put on himself. “Ew,” Kate screwed up her face. “What a terrible smell!” “We smell like peasants,” added the boy. “Don’t talk!” Drool cut them off. “Better take the garlic pulp and rub our horses with it.” Drool was busy with a strange matter; he gathered the garlic skin, started to fill several rags with it to make twelve torches, and soaked everything with oil. Then he put together three crosses from dry aspen twigs. After sharpening the lower end of each like a pencil, he hung them on the necks of the children and on himself. “Now it seems we’re ready,” he said, satisfied. “Now we can enter the park.” The travellers sat on the horses and went on their way. Vampire Park was surrounded on all sides by a wide field of garlic with stems multiple metres high. It was necessary to go through this brushwood. Kate and Chris giggled and exchanged words between themselves, attempting to control their mounting fear with chatter. Drool was
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taciturn and serious. He attentively looked in front and along the sides, listening keenly to the surrounding sounds. The sun set, and when the travellers came out of the brushwood, it had become entirely dark. Not a single flame flickered in the windows of the dwellings in front of them. The yellow moon emerged from behind a cloud. It was round like a pancake and full like an apple. It became brighter but more cheerless. The three friends rode up to a long-extinguished and broken lamp. It began to creak in the wind which had started unexpectedly and stopped just as unexpectedly. The lamp continued to swing and squeak even without the wind. This sound seemed so ominous and gloomy in the silence that Kate and Chris understood the meaning of the expression, “It freezes the blood in the veins.” Their blood actually began to freeze in their veins and their skin was covered with goose pimples. The travellers approached the first hamlet. “Perhaps we turn off the road and try to go around the side?” Kate could not control herself. “Not on your life,” Drool answered quietly. “Whatever happens we must not get off the road. Vampires don’t like the road and fear it almost as much as garlic.” A drawn-out howl was heard somewhere in the distance. Kate and Chris shuddered and stopped for a second. “Don’t stop!” the Sweet Tooth shouted to them. “Forward and only forward. No need to hurry; otherwise we can fall into a trap.” The howl repeated. Now it came from several places, from different directions, and merged into a united chorus. “It’s them screaming,” whispered Chris. “Why are there no goblins with us?” “Oh Lord! I’m scared!” Kate grabbed the boy’s hand. Drool went in front. The girl looked around and it seemed to her that someone quickly crossed the road. She hung onto Chris even tighter. The time came when the travellers found themselves before the village. It was not possible to stop and the children went along the central street. Houses, in response to this, began to creak and slammed doors and shutters. The wind again made noise. A wild desire to dash ahead from this place took hold of Kate. From the boy’s eyes she understood that he was also very uneasy. The Sweet Tooth smiled encouragingly and tugged at his ear as if nothing terrible was happening. No matter how strange it was, this motion helped. Kate and Chris felt reassured. Then the travellers shuddered with surprise because they saw a person. Kate noticed that it was a girl – a beautiful girl. She had flowing hair, wore a dirty, torn dress, and was barefoot. Standing several steps from the road, she also looked at the travellers. When they caught up with her, Kate saw her face. It was beautiful but too pale, almost white with very bright lips – cherry red lips. This was evident even in the gloom. Moving past, Kate could not take her eyes off the girl. There was something in her that beckoned and attracted one to her. Her eyes were pleading, asking something. For a second Kate forgot where she was. She saw only these eyes and turned Mirko in order to get off the road. Chris pushed her to the side in time and blocked her way. The friends went further. Kate came to and pressed down firmly into the saddle. “Don’t look back,” Chris whispered to her. “She almost lured you in. But what a beauty!” The girl saw that the riders went past, ran after them, and soon caught up. She did not get onto the road but ran along the curb. “Why didn’t you stop?” she addressed them on the run in a tender, affectionate voice. “Stop; get down from the horses.” She pointed at Kate. “Come to me, girl! I love you!” They paid her no attention, but the girl continued
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to run and urge Kate. She approached the road and jumped slightly as if it burned her foot. It was obvious that it was hard on her. The girl, overcoming pain, tried to approach the riders. Now, after jumping onto the road, the stranger was directly before them and stretched her arms forward. Suddenly her eyes opened wide and her mouth opened wide too. Kate saw fangs – two, like in a cobra. The vampire hissed. Saliva began to pour from the mouth. The eyes suddenly changed from blue to bright red. It was horrible! When Kate was in grade two, a homeless Siamese of incredible size had settled in the entrance of her building. Kate feared it like fire. It was beautiful with eyes blue like those of a doll. Nevertheless, there was something sinister and evil emitting from it. Kate felt this. It was torture to pass it each time. The cat immediately saw that the girl feared it and therefore behaved insolently. It got up in the middle of the stairs and Kate could not pass. Often she had to wait until some adult appeared. One dark winter morning Kate set off for school. For some reason there was not one lamp burning at the entrance. Kate took several steps and saw the cat. It recognized her and screamed maliciously and disgustingly. Then the beast arched its back and hissed like a snake. Kate froze with fear. The cat seemed like a monster to her. What happened next forced her to run home screaming and crying. The cat’s blue eyes suddenly turned a bloody colour. It was horrible. Now the girl-vampire looked at Kate the same way and hissed. There was nowhere to run! Kate felt that her heart would now burst from fear. Suddenly the vampire recoiled and backed away cursing. The garlic smell had hit it. The riders only spurred the horses on and went further. Along the road several more figures were plodding on their way – two men, three women, and a child of about seven with long hair and in a short nightgown. It was not discernable whether it was a girl or a boy. It, like the rest, stretched its arms out to the travellers and shouted, “I want to drink! I want to drink!” “Is this little one really also a vampire?” Kate thought, looking with pity at the naked feet of the child and the body seen through the numerous holes of the nightgown. The skin of the child was white as chalk, almost blue-white. The once-white nightgown seemed grey now. Here the child carelessly jumped onto the road and, on burning itself, hissed and whined. Small fangs like that of a cat flashed in the darkness. Kate hurried to turn away. Finally, the village ended. The vampires slowly, falling behind with each step, dragged themselves after them. The moon illuminated their figures. Soon they were left far behind. “I nearly died of fright,” Kate shared her impressions. “Yes, I also had never been so scared,” acknowledged Chris. “Once they were normal people and this locality was a flourishing land,” Drool began to tell them the story. “Then children started disappearing for no rhyme or reason. People began to be afraid and carefully protected their dwellings and children. Later, the perfectly healthy and strong people started dying – men and woman, the young and the old. The land became deserted. Both the inhabitants of wealthy castles and the residents of the poorest cabins were dying. They surmised that this was the work of vampires. Where did they come from? This no one ever found out. They began to hunt for vampires but it was already too late. They were everywhere. They bred with incredible speed. Recently dead people suddenly began to climb out of the graves and attack their relatives. Some attempted to leave these places but it was already too late.
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The elves on one side and the people on the other surrounded this locality with a field of garlic and killed those who attempted to leave here. Then people moved to other lands altogether, far from here. The vampires who remained here killed each other in their thirst for blood. They destroyed all living things, all the beasts and birds, all that had blood. We saw only the vampires left – a few of them.” “Nice few!” Kate was indignant. “They nearly swallowed us together with the horses.” The road led the travellers to a new experience. They approached the first castle. A group of vampires with eyes burning with impatience were waiting for them by the gates. Standing in front, arms across its chest, was an important-looking gentleman with a noble face. “Welcome to my castle, young gentlemen!” it invited hospitably. No one answered it and the riders silently passed by. A roar of indignation and curses followed them. The gentleman angrily flashed a glance and gave a sign to the servants who grabbed its hands and dashed after the travellers. The vampires rapidly passed the riders and boldly came out onto the road. On riding up closer, the friends realized what the matter was. The road in front was broken and covered with sand. “What to do now?” Chris asked Drool. “Time to light the torches.” Trying not to hurry and not to lose their presence of mind, the travellers lit the torches. They burned poorly but then they emitted a great deal of unpleasant garlic fumes. Kate was also given a burning torch. The vampires felt ill and began to fret. The thirst for blood, however, took precedence and they did not scatter. Then Chris rode closer and began to wave the torch before them. The vampires shrank back as if they had been plastered with a rain of fire. One of them tarried and Chris thrust the flame directly into its face. It yelled, grabbed its throat, and began to cough wildly. Slowly, like a mask, its face slipped down and the skull was exposed. Kate almost threw up at this. The vampire collapsed dead onto the ground. The rest hissed maliciously but neither approached nor got off the road. “Seize them!” the vampire leader yelled. “We’ll drink their blood. They’re alive! We’re not! Let them also die!” On hearing these words, Kate and Drool rushed to the aid of Chris. All three together quickly drove off the pack of vampires. The vampire chief, however, would not stop. Like a cat, it rushed to the boy’s horse and clung to its neck. Terrible white fangs flashed in the moonlight. The vampire, overcoming its aversion to the garlic, searched for a place where it could conveniently plunge its fangs. The horse neighed in horror and reared. Chris, not expecting this, could not remain in the saddle and tumbled down onto the ground. Kate was frightened for him and shouted. The boy jumped up and rushed to save his horse. The vampire drank the blood of the unlucky and frightened animal and puffed up before their eyes. The horse already began to stagger and pawed the ground unsteadily. Chris poked the torch into the vampire, which broke away from its victim and hissed maliciously while baring its teeth. Drops of blood dripped from its fangs; its eyes burned with a bright yellow flame. Chris started back for a second then again attacked the vampire. It yelled from the pain and began to shrivel like a rubber toy from which air has been let out. Suddenly it burst like a mosquito completely filled with blood. Instead of a vampire, a bat took off from the neck of the horse. It circled in the moonlight and dived for Kate. The girl squealed and barely managed to brush it off with the torch. The bat screeched, began to cough, and fell onto the ground. Mirko instantly crushed it with a hoof.
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The remaining vampires stood at some distance and looked with greediness at the people. “They’re waiting for the smell of the garlic to weaken,” Drool explained their behaviour. “This was the strongest of them.” “Count Dracula, right?” Kate nodded with understanding. “Who knows!” As soon as Chris had calmed his horse down and jumped into the saddle, the travellers again hit the road. Along the way they stumbled upon one more castle and two
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hamlets. Each time the same scenario as in the first village was repeated. The travellers passed through them without paying attention to the infrequent groups of vampires on the streets. No one at all was in the castle which stood as the last obstacle on the way. It was uninhabited. Only the rusty gates, which the wind attempted to move out of place, loudly squeaked. Once, by all appearances, the castle had been beautiful and wealthy. When the castle was behind the travellers, they found themselves in a cemetery. Half of its grave monuments and crosses had been destroyed. Two human figures, heads bowed sadly, stood by one of the graves – a man and a woman. They were dressed in very expensive, fine clothing and gold crowns topped both of the grey heads. They were probably once the masters of the castle that the youngsters had just passed. Perhaps they were even the king and queen of this land. The king and queen looked sadly and mournfully at the travellers when they passed by. The young travellers thought about what a terrible tragedy had been played out here previously. Finally, Vampire Park ended and the friends again turned up in front of a garlic field. Drool took the crosses off Chris and Kate and inserted them by their sharp ends into the ground at the edge of Vampire Park. After getting out of the garlic bush and passing not less than a kilometre, the friends sighed with relief. Another half an hour passed before they started a lively conversation on the events that had taken place. No one wanted to halt. Everyone hurried to get far away from the terrible place.

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Chapter Twenty-one SCORPION POISON

Only in the morning when the travellers were deadly tired did Kate call a halt. No one had any strength left to build a fire and, even forgetting to post a guard, the friends unsaddled the horses and fell asleep side by side right on the cold ground. They did not see, as the sun rose, Esmeralda appearing in the sky. The crow made wide circles above the place where the travellers slept. They also did not see the witch with one hand attentively following their camp. She hid in the distance and feared to approach. The witch was afraid that the horses, which were peacefully nibbling grass and bathing in the morning dew, would raise an alarm. Ruina had not perished in the mêlée with the robbers and her corpse had not melted in the fire. She had not fought then because the robbers interested her least of all. She only needed the knight Caterino who had mortally insulted her. Ruina had managed to run in through the door after Two-headed Simon. She had seen how the duel between the leader of the robber gang and Caterino ended. Nearly crying from vexation, the witch had hidden in the tower of the castle until everyone, both the knight Caterino with her companions and Two-headed Simon with his family and accomplices, had left the castle. Fatigued by captivity and weakened by hunger, Ruina had searched for food in Clotilia’s pantries and granaries. Esmeralda, which had also decided to get hold of edibles, had been the first to fall into Ruina’s hands. The nasty bird nearly choked on old dry cheese when it saw its mistress. This time, however, the witch had not cursed it for treachery. Esmeralda had thought that Ruina would set off for home, but she was not thinking of retreat. “While the knight Caterino is still alive, I won’t live in peace!” she groaned. The magic ointment was working at half strength and the witch decided not to waste it in vain. She had set out on foot like a wolf tracking prey. This was not difficult because the goblins had left large and well-marked tracks. Ruina had to make use of the action of the magic ointment when the swamp became an insurmountable obstacle on the way. She cast a spell and flew on top of a broom only one-and-a-half metres off the ground. She sank in the most insidious places, where the quagmires champed loudly with greedy mouths and the terrible marshy creatures tried
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to seize the witch’s feet to drag her away with them. Ruina reached dry land with great difficulty. Here she had discovered that she could no longer fly. The action of the ointment had been completely depleted. The rest of it had gone for overcoming the swamp. Vengeance had driven Ruina on. She reached Elf Kingdom and it was only by a miracle that she had passed it unnoticed. If they had seen her, they would have killed her for sure. Elves cannot stand rivals in witchcraft. They consider that magic is their privilege. Ruina had entered Vampire Park at the same time the travellers, having passed the garlic field, turned up in front of the first village. On seeing them, Ruina had been terribly pleased. She did not know that the hospitable elves had detained the friends, therefore she did not hope to catch up with them so soon. Having rested a little and waited for the coming of full gloom, Ruina had fearlessly approached the garlic field. When she had reached the first hamlet after two hours, none of the vampires wandering there had been interested in her. Not one inhabitant of Vampire Park had hankered after her black, bitter blood poisoned by witchcraft. In the second field, Ruina again had seen her sworn enemies and kept a low profile. She must not be noticed. Only then would Ruina be able to deliver the fatal blow… Now the moment had arrived! Ruina jumped up from the ground and ran up to the field dotted with many enormous light-grey rocks. She picked up an old dried stump and began to bang on a rock loudly. Then she ran up to the next boulder and began to do the same. Finally, from under one rock crawled out a huge scorpion the size of a big sheepdog. It held its long sting up high. It cracked with its tail where the sting was and rushed towards Ruina. The witch, escaping from it, stumbled upon two more such scorpions. A tail shot up swiftly, the long sting sparkled with the lustre of steel, and the witch began to moan from the pain. The blow fell right on her neck. The witch staggered; nevertheless, she ran in the direction of the travellers. The scorpions were behind Ruina. They left her alone at first; but the witch had lost strength with each step. She could run no longer and soon fell and crawled along the ground. Three scorpions caught up with her and, after clicking their tails, stung her in the back. On her last gasp, Ruina saw that the poisonous insects were swiftly approaching the site of the travellers… Kate woke up with uneasiness but, after opening her eyes, discovered that all around was quiet. It was not worthwhile to be nervous. She no longer wanted to sleep. The air was pure and fresh. Kate recalled that she saw a small brook a few steps away and ran off to wash. She decided not to wake Chris and Drool. Kate was interested in knowing whether her last adventure was depicted on the magic shield. Not losing time, she picked up the shield, the sword, and her cloak and began to examine them. A picture with the trip through Vampire Park had actually appeared on the shield. Kate was amazed when she saw the same pictures on the scabbard of the sword. They were also embroidered on the hem of the cloak. Kate blushed with pleasure and hurried to put the cloak over her shoulders and the shield on her left arm. She bared the sword. The blade sparkled in the sun. The girl imagined that she was the heroine of a popular movie. One can give oneself airs somewhat when friends are sleeping and cannot see her. So what? Furthermore, one can
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look into the shield as into a mirror. Kate stuck her tongue out at herself then winked, nodded, and smiled. She was pleased with herself, although tattered, dirty, and slightly frightened. Suddenly she heard strange sounds, looked around, and saw how two gigantic scorpions overtook and finished off Ruina. Kate froze, unable to move from the spot. She came to when the scorpions were very close and understood in time that if she now turned her back to the monsters and ran, they would catch up with her and kill her the same way as the witch. One way out remained – meet the enemy face to face. How nice to have a weapon with her. “Help! Chris! Drool!” Kate shouted and chopped off the tail and sting of the first scorpion which had stabbed into the middle of her shield.

Chris and Drool leaped up. The boy was first to run up to Kate, and in the next second he saw one of the scorpions striking her right in the chest. Kate screamed from the pain and reeled. Chris managed to shield the girl from the next blow. Kate lost consciousness and hung limply on his arm. The scorpions were too quick and adroit. Chris had success killing one, but when Drool ran up, the boy also got a terrible sting in his shoulder. All this took place within a few seconds. Drool quickly made short work of the remaining scorpion but saw a sad spectacle when he looked around at his friends. Kate was lying on the ground with closed eyes, Chris was on his knees near her. The boy barely overcame the pain in his shoulder. Consciousness was fast leaving him. The last words which he said were, “The main thing is to save Kate, Drool! Don’t mind me!” He then fell face down next to the girl. Drool was numb with grief on seeing how his friends were slowly dying from scorpion poison. This was so absurd – to have passed so many tests and so foolishly fall into a trap. Why had they stopped here? They should have gone further! It was all his fault! How could he have forgotten about the gigantic scorpions? Tears, one after another, began to drip from the eyes of the Sweet Tooth. He was thinking about something of his own. Finally, Drool’s gaze brightened and he dragged the friends to the stream. When Kate and Chris had been placed in the water, Drool studied their wounds. After seeing the terrible black spots on the children’s bodies, Drool understood that the wounds were fatal and only a miracle would help here. Only he could create the miracle.
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The Sweet Tooth took from Chris’ travel bag a goblet, which Chris had grabbed in memory of home, and went to the dead scorpions. After chopping off their heads and stings, he began to fill the goblet with scorpion poison. When the goblet was more than half-full, Drool returned to the children. Each second was precious. Drool took a knife and made cuts on their hands. Kate’s blood had begun to coagulate, and with difficulty Drool squeezed a few drops into the goblet. He then poured in Chris’ blood and started to cast a spell while he slowly stirred with a knife the contents of the goblet. The contents foamed and seethed. Drool again cast a spell but said the words back to front. The beverage cleared up and turned from black to golden. The Sweet Tooth carefully dripped the magic liquid onto Kate’s wound. The wound began to change from black to red, then turned pink, and finally disappeared. Kate’s eyelids shuddered and the girl opened her eyes. She saw nothing. Then Drool gave her several sips of his potion. Next, he busied himself with Chris’ revival. After several minutes a happy Drool was looking at his living and unharmed friends. When the terrible pain had passed and Kate and Chris understood that they had been saved, with happy cries they threw their arms around Drool’s neck. “Drool, dear!” Kate hugged him. “You’re the best!” “If not for you,” Chris slapped him on the shoulder and continued, “we would have died!” Drool only blushed with embarrassment, kept quiet, and pulled his ears. Their happiness was so great that Kate and Chris did not pay attention to Drool’s sad mood and continued to have a good time. Indeed! There was nothing terrible and dangerous anymore in front of them. In two days they would turn up before the gates of the Capital for sure. Drool only went behind them and always looked at the friends as if he could not see enough of them. When they invited him to participate in the general merriment, the Sweet Tooth politely smiled and continued to keep silent. Noon came. The sun was at its highest and everything all around was bright and beautiful. A luxurious carpet of flowers covered the emerald-green grass. Snowy clouds sailed on the turquoise sky. Kate decided to call a halt and looked around in order to consult with Drool. Now she noticed that her friend had changed. No, of course, Drool had remained the same as before. He was the dear, lovable Sweet Tooth with enormous sad eyes and ridiculous ears. Now for some reason he was not pink like a new toy in the store.

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“What’s with you, Drool?” Kate became very concerned. “Are you sick?” “No, Kate, I’m not sick,” Drool answered so sadly that his friends stopped their horses at once. “But we have to part.” “Why?” the young people exclaimed in unison. “I can’t tell why. Simply… it has turned out this way.” Kate was the first to guess. She was scared, hurt, and her eyes began to sting. “Did you cast a spell? Tell us, did you cast a spell when you saved us from the scorpions?” “Yes.” “Why?” “It was necessary.” “And now,” with the terrible conjecture everything
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darkened before Kate’s eyes, “you’ll fade away?” “Yes.” The children were shocked and could not believe Drool’s words. “Please help me get down to the ground. I must be next to the grass, to the flowers,” the Sweet Tooth requested. “And don’t worry so! It’s not painful at all. I feel nothing.” Chris and Kate rushed to carry out his request. When they touched their comrade, they understood that he spoke the truth. Drool was unnaturally soft and for some reason very light. Kate began to cry when they had placed him on the ground. Chris also felt tears rolling down his face. “Can nothing really be done?” Kate shouted in despair. “You did wrong! There was no need to save us! Why did you do it? You tricked us!” Drool looked at her and at Chris. He had already stopped pulling his ears. He closed his eyes and did not open them for a long time. Finally he did. “Friends mustn’t trick each other,” he said with difficulty. “I probably couldn’t become a real friend. Indeed friends always sacrifice what is dearest. At the moment I cast the spell, I simply forgot that I mustn’t do it. If I had remembered, then I probably couldn’t have done it. So what kind of friend would I be after that?” Poor little Drool! Even at the moment of his death he remained honest and noble. “Why did I take you with me?” Kate leaned down and kissed the Sweet Tooth. Her tears dripped onto Drool and were instantly absorbed in him as in a sponge. The small magician was dying in a magical way. “But then, I’m loved,” he sighed happily. “No one ever loved a troll. If I hadn’t gone with you, I’d also become a troll. Goodbye, Kate.” Drool could no longer open his eyes. He became entirely transparent and his arms and legs were no more, only a white-pink fog curled in their place. Kate did not want to look anymore. She jumped up, ran to Chris, and hid her face in his chest. She howled quietly with grief and resentment. Chris hugged Kate tightly. He could do no more to comfort her. “Gone?” Kate asked when she already had no more strength to cry. “He’s no more?” “He’s no more.” “Let’s get away from here fast! I don’t want to remain here anymore!” Kate and Chris sat on the horses and dashed away with all their might. Drool’s horse was galloping after them, but it soon fell behind and went out of sight. Kate drove and drove Mirko forward. Trees, bushes, even houses swept past. The girl did not pay them any attention and rushed on. She was rushing to where the blue compass needle again indicated. In the evening, the two young people stopped at a roadside tavern which they encountered on the way. They dropped in only because rain was pouring. The children supped and went to bed. Kate lay on the bed in the room. Chris, as all squires were supposed to do, slept on the floor by the door. He guarded the knight Caterino. The rain made noise beyond the window. A fire cracked in the hearth. It was an excellent atmosphere for conversation, but there was no desire to talk because they were so miserable. Only the rain was talking beyond the window. It rained in the Country of Frozen Time. It rained also in Scorpion Valley. The witch Ruina opened her eyes and saw that she was lying in a muddy puddle. She got up with the greatest difficulty, not believing that she was still alive. Even the fatal poison of gigantic scorpions could not kill her, so poisonous and black was her blood. And perhaps, the thirst for vengeance would not let her die? Who knows? The witch got up and went to where she expected to see the corpses of her enemies. On seeing only dead scorpions, she screamed with anger and spite. There was no crow Esmeralda. It had
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deserted its own mistress. The witch again set off on the trail of her enemies. She had become even uglier than she had been. Now there was even scorpion poison in her veins. Kate and Chris travelled further in the morning. They travelled the whole day and night. Before them now was not the deserted earth on which roamed only magic creatures but a blooming land densely populated by people. The hooves of their horses beat on a real road paved with stone. Towards evening they were extremely tired. It became pitch black. The children got off the road and broke camp for an overnight stay. The horses were let out to graze. Kate and Chris fell asleep after they ate the rest of the provisions which they had brought with them from the tavern. It was already light when they awoke. The knight Caterino and the squire Christian continued on their way, but for a long time they saw nothing in front of them except the road because of the morning fog. When the fog lifted, a splendid city appeared before the amazed eyes of the travellers. The children excitedly made their way to it. Kate seized Chris’ hand. Her heart was beating madly. Her excitement was also transmitted to the boy. The city lay on an enormous hill, and from its peak the White Tower soared like an arrow to the sky.

***

©Jane H. Buckingham 2013 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/

Fans of Knight Caterino will be able to follow the exciting adventures of their heroes in the

Dmitrii Suslin

Prince of the White Tower
The son of a noble knight, Chris helps Kate save the soul of her younger brother from the evil spell. However, that is only half of the battle. They still have to find a way home.

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