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Country of Frozen Time
Prince of the White Tower
Translated from Russian
Jane H. Buckingham
Translation edited by
Shona Brandt and Dmitrii Suslin
©Jane H. Buckingham 2013
Titles in the Series
Prince of the White Tower
©Jane H. Buckingham 2013
THE START OF NEW EVENTS
One day the boy Gene, Prince Eugene, Sovereign and Prince of the White Tower,
was sitting in his throne room and doing nothing. He was unbearably bored.
Gene had been in the Country of Frozen Time all of six months, but he utterly did
not remember how it was before he got here. Never mind! It seemed to him that he had
always been the Sovereign of this land. Other lands simply did not exist. Therefore, he
was bored. What if somewhere there would again be a revolt against his rule? It would
be great! Nevertheless, no one decided to do so after he ruthlessly made short work of
“Sleep perhaps?” he asked himself.
However, for some reason this thought made him ill at ease. A feeling like fear
quickly seized the boy and made him shudder. Gene almost cried. Then he pulled
himself together and pressed his lips tightly together. It helped. The tears dried up and
the boy became the Sovereign again, calm and majestic.
Suddenly, two pigeons sat down on the windowsill. Gene came alive. It was a great
rarity. Few dared to penetrate here at such a height. He decided to eavesdrop on what
they were saying. This was a snap. Pigeons in the Country of Frozen Time speak the
same language as the people. Besides, all the same Gene now understood the language
of all the animals and the birds.
He listened to the conversation of the pigeons and this is what he heard, “Oh, my
beloved king,” the female pigeon cooed affectionately. “How happy I am that we’re
“Vorkulina, my love! Indeed, I also didn’t expect to see you again. If you only knew
what great despair I was in after your disappearance! My subjects searched all the skies
of our country but couldn’t find you. The birds frantically broke their wings because they
couldn’t find their king’s love. What happened to you? Tell me where you were!”
“Oh, it was awful! I was caught in the witch Ruina’s invisible net.”
“That can’t be!”
“Alas, it’s true. I was frolicking too light-heartedly in the air after you said that you’ll
marry me and saw nothing. I wanted to drink and flew down to the forest stream. You
know that I always drink only from this stream. The witch probably saw me and set up
the magic net. I ended up in her terrible cave, where a huge and evil crow called
Esmeralda wanted to eat me all the time.”
“What did she want to do with you?” the pigeon king asked, trembling with anger
and fear for its beloved.
“She needed my innocent blood.”
“How horrible! How dare she?”
“I would certainly have died if my saviour hadn’t entered her cave the next night. It
was quite a young boy. A child!”
“It wasn’t a mere boy. He turned out to be a knight. Yes, yes, a real knight. He killed
the Forest Dragon that lived in the domain of Prince Arinaco. The young hero fought it
right in the sky and defeated it! He came without any fear into the witch ’s den and
demanded that she tell him something. The witch had a magical cauldron, which could
show whatever you wanted if you dropped hot blood in it. Ruina had already touched my
chest with the knife, but the knight offered his own blood to replace mine. The witch, in
amazement, unclenched her hand holding me, and I took advantage of this and flew
“What a noble knight!” the king exclaimed. “I’ll definitely show my gratitude when I
see him. Tell me his name.”
“It’s Knight Caterino!”
“Knight Caterino,” the pigeon cooed thoughtfully. “I’ll memorize this name. Now
let’s fly to my palace. We must celebrate your escape!” The pigeons took off from the
windowsill and soon disappeared in the boundless blue sky.
“Knight Caterino,” the Prince of the White Tower muttered thoughtfully. “This is
interesting. Very interesting and unusual. Something tells me that I should know about
this knight all the same. Does he really threaten my authority?”
Gene walked over to the window facing right in the direction of Arinaco’s
Principality and cast a few spells. “I want to see Knight Caterino!”
The image in the window stopped being blurry. The clouds disappeared and, as on
TV, the boy saw Kate, who was riding up to a little toy-like village. She had on a cloak,
with a sword and a shield, and sat atop a beautiful white steed. Gene’s mouth opened by
itself from surprise. “Katie!” he exclaimed. “But this can’t be!”
Gene remembered everything that happened before and how he became the
Sovereign. He was very delighted at first. Now he can return home! Then quite other
thoughts appeared in his head making it hurt. Why is she coming? To find him! Why? In
order to spoil his life again! And beat him up again. Surely give him a beating. Him, the
Sovereign! She will spank him and strip him of his power!
This will not happen! He must do something so that Kate does not reach him.
Nevertheless, the events taking place with his sister distracted the boy. He watched with
wonder and even admiration as Kate extricated herself from the complicated mess with
the trolls. Gene wanted very much to see what would happen next, but he went to his
room, undressed himself, and lay down in bed. He closed his eyes...
In the morning, at first light, the boy woke up and ran into the throne hall. He
ordered that breakfast be brought right there, then sent all the servants and guards away
and started to watch in solitude what Kate was doing. He saw her sleeping in a small hut
and realized that something had happened to her that night. Thanks to the magic
window, he found out about her flight from the werewolves. A scary movie. Gene was
sweating from fear and disquiet for his sister. Oddly enough, in the most dangerous
moments he for some reason really wanted something terrible to happen. The most
terrible... Yet everything ended happily. Kate was saved by a little magician. A baby troll.
Gene was indignant. How dare this troll interfere in his business, the Sovereign’s
He began to watch more. So it went day after day. The Sovereign did not let slip
anything that was happening to his sister. “Cheat!” he exclaimed each time. “You’re just
lucky! Incredibly lucky! And this idiot Ruina! She’s incapable of anything! These
overrated witches. Why didn’t I grind them into dust? Well, doesn’t matter, darling! I
feel you’ll reach me soon and that’s when the fun begins. Why have you decided that I
want to return to our parents? You fool. I won’t go back, and neither will you! Never!”
Kate was getting closer and closer to the capital. A few more days and she would be
there. The Prince of the White Tower had hopes when the travellers found themselves in
the palace of the Elf King. Again disappointment. What a pity! Now the day came when
Kate and her friend Chris turned up before the gates of the Capital. Gene watched them
from the peak of his eminence and bit his lips in annoyance. “Well,” he said to himself.
“We’ll fight, Knight Caterino. We’ll see whether your luck will protect you anymore.
Summon First Minister Gargulio!” he ordered.
Gargulio appeared immediately before the Prince of the White Tower. There was
nothing in the windows of the throne hall but blue sky and curly clouds. The Sovereign
sat on the throne and looked sternly at Gargulio. The fatso, who frankly had almost
forgotten that someone who could order him existed in the world, bent in a servile bow.
“Listen, Gargulio,” the Prince of the White Tower started. “Reports have come to me
that a new person will appear in my city today. This isn’t an ordinary person but a
knight. He’s only four years older than me but has already accomplished a lot of heroic
deeds. He’s a nice fellow. You must find and receive him appropriately. But the most
important thing I want to warn you about: he’ll maintain that he’s my brother and really
wants to see me.”
Gargulio became round-eyed with surprise.
“Don’t be surprised by this,” the boy continued. “But also don’t cater to his desire.
Don’t let him come to me. I myself will give the sign when I want to meet him. Now, be
Gargulio raced like a bullet out of the room to fulfil the Sovereign’s order. Having
descended to the bottom of the hill and climbed out of the palanquin, he scratched his
head thoughtfully, “Now where do I search for this knight? If he’s also a child, then I
should give orders to the guards at the city gates that they detain all boys who arrive at
the Capital today.”
However, Gargulio was mistaken. Rather, he was a bit late, quite a bit. Kate and
Chris passed through the city gates several minutes before the order of the First Minister
got there. The guards were about to rush after the travellers, but they had already
managed to disappear in a noisy crowd on the lower streets. The city had woken up
some time ago and had been making merry wholeheartedly. The world had turned into a
boisterous fair, and to search for two riders here was already as difficult as finding a
needle in a haystack.
Finding herself in an unfamiliar setting, Kate was at a loss. Something that was
simple and clear before now became unknown and strange. How would they find Gene
here? How were they to reach the White Tower? Who would let them go there if there
were so many guards even here and they all looked suspiciously at Kate and her
companion? To whom could they turn? Who to ask? Nobody was stopping; everyone
was going somewhere in a hurry and rushing past. She was bewildered.
Chris was in a no less difficult situation. It was the first time in his life he had seen
so many people. From a cocky and brave youth of a forest castle, he quickly changed into
a plain provincial teenager who had turned up in a city for the first time. With his mouth
open, he stared in all directions and could not say a word. Kate even became
embarrassed for him once when she caught someone’s quizzical look.
“Chris, it seems it’s time for us to act,” Kate said to the boy. “But I’m at a loss what
we should do.”
“Maybe have a bite somewhere?” the squire proposed. “I don’t remember when we
“You’re probably right. Let’s eat, and later we’ll discuss our plans for the future.”
The friends turned their horses in the direction of the nearest tavern. The fat
innkeeper greeted them with open arms. “Welcome, noble knight,” he invited Kate.
“Everything we have will be at your full disposal.”
“There’s something about him I don’t like,” Kate whispered into Chris’s ear when
the owner of the tavern went off somewhere for a minute.
“Don’t worry,” Chris calmed her. “Most likely you’ll be greeted like this everywhere.
According to our beliefs, if a wandering knight visits your home, luck definitely awaits
both you and your home. Knights bring happiness, Caterino!” Kate sighed with relief but
continued to look at the innkeeper with apprehension all the same.
Chris took her shield, went onto the porch, and hung it near the door. “All must
know that the famous knight stopped here,” he said, seeing the girl’s surprised look.
“Are you sure we should tell everyone who we are?”
“Of course! Then they’ll surely help us. You never know where advice is or where
“Well, you know best!” Kate agreed.
People had already started to gather by the door. They were interested in the feats of
the knight who had arrived. The kids came tearing along first, they always find out
sooner than the adults. They crowded around the knight’s shield and loudly discussed
Caterino’s exploits. The adults were interested in the knight too. They had not had one
in town for a long time. Kate even became awkward that they had attracted so much
attention. Her friend, on the other hand, was happy. “A few hours and you’ll become
famous,” he whispered. “This is also a knight’s glory. Oh, how I dream of it!”
Kate did not want to be the centre of attention at all, but she understood that the
boy was right. They needed friends in this city who would help her get into the White
Tower. Fame could come in handy in this case. However, how and with whom she
needed to get acquainted, Kate had no idea. She chewed the cooked meat and thought.
Not coming up with anything, she decided all the same to turn to the innkeeper. She
rubbed her forehead, trying to remember how to talk with these people, and called him,
“A minute please?”
“I’m all ears!” as if the owner was just waiting to be summoned. “My tavern is
famous not only for its good food. First of all, customers value us because it’s always
possible to find out the latest city news.”
“I don’t need news. I need to know how I can get into the White Tower.”
“The White Tower?” The innkeeper folded his arms across his chest with an air of
importance. “And dare I ask, gentlemen, why do you need to get into the White Tower?
Who do you want to find in it?”
“I need the Sovereign,” Kate said.
The innkeeper stared at her and her companion for a long time. He finally said,
“Twenty years I’ve been the owner of By the Hearth Tavern, and twenty years before
that I worked in it, helping my father from early childhood. But, I swear, nobody has
ever appealed to me with such a request. Still, is it worth wondering anyway? Since a
seven-year-old boy, the same age as my son, became the Sovereign, so many amazing
things have happened that I took for granted when a true knight, who probably isn’t ten
years old yet, showed up in my tavern.”
“I’m eleven!” Kate was offended.
“Not important, it may well be that I was mistaken by a couple of years. But I’ve no
doubt that you’re a true knight. So, honourable knight, I’m listening or my name isn’t
After such an impressive tirade, Kate did not immediately know what to say. Chris
came to her rescue. “You’re right, hospitable Apius. So many events have happened in
our country recently that my head is spinning. Believe me, we’ve passed so many
dangerous and amazing roads that someone else in our place wouldn’t have come out of
these jams alive for anything in the world.”
“Stop bragging and talking nonsense!” Kate hissed. She was sure that after such
boasting no one would talk to them. However, she was mistaken. The innkeeper
continued to look at Chris quite seriously.
Chris continued, “Where haven’t we been and whom haven’t we seen! One can talk
for hours. But, my good man, I think it isn’t worthwhile to do so; just look at my
master’s shield and everything can be easily seen. What are we, humble travellers, to do?
We know absolutely nothing of what has happened in the city in recent months. So tell
us, who can help us?”
“Who can help you?” Apius snorted. “I know who can help you, but I doubt very
much that he’ll want to do so.”
“Who is it?” asked Kate. “And why won’t he want to help us?”
“Only one man in our town can go into the Sovereign’s throne hall. It’s the First
“Gargulio?” Kate shrieked.
“I see that your knight already knows not so little for a traveller who has turned up
in our city for the first time,” the innkeeper remarked to Chris.
“Why won’t Gargulio want to help us?” asked Kate.
“Because after the attempt on the life of the Prince of the White Tower, he doesn’t
trust anyone and doesn’t allow even the most important people in the country to
approach him. Why do you think that he’ll make an exception for you?”
“He’ll have to,” Kate said firmly. There was so much confidence in her voice that
Apius made a helpless gesture in amazement.
“You know, fellows, I like you!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know why, but I almost
believe what you say. Just that I don’t know how to help you here. I have no connections
at court. Neither do my friends. We’re simple people and rarely appear on the upper
streets, and no need to say only for strolls through the Park of the Elf King. Though I do
know a guy who goes to the White Tower. I swear by the dragon!”
“Who is he?” the knight and the squire asked in a single voice.
“Felix the old hunter. He was once a great friend of my father, supplied him with
game. My old man never cheated him. Now I’m also friends with him, he’s a nice fellow.”
“But how can he help us?”
“Very simple. Felix is the only person in town who knows where the blue hare can
be found and how to catch it. Since the Prince of the White Tower became the Sovereign,
the old man delivers this beast to him once every fortnight. Our boy for some reason
can’t do without it.”
“I understand nothing,” Kate was amazed. “What the heck? Why would he need a
“Don’t know, but that’s the custom. All who rule our country eat the meat of the
blue hare. The Prince of the White Tower is no exception. Since kings and dukes have
blue blood, that means they should eat the meat of the blue hare so that their blood
won’t go stale. Felix had an arrangement with the court long ago that if they buy a blue
hare from him, they also buy everything else. They put up a fight but had to agree...
When Prince Eugene wants a blue hare, he gets it.”
“Somehow I don’t remember that my brother was fond of meat. He can’t stand it,”
Kate said to Chris. “Sausages, may even force him to eat chicken, but meat...”
“Are you saying that the Prince of the White Tower is your brother?” Apius asked.
Kate saw how his lively and merry face instantly hardened. The girl realized that she
had blurted out too much. She looked helplessly at Chris and waited for his assistance.
Chris thought intensely how he would lie but nothing came to mind. The innkeeper
watched attentively and sternly. Under his gaze, the kids wanted to get as far away as
possible from this establishment. Their faces were so confused and crestfallen that
Apius, looking at them, gradually started to soften.
“Okay, you don’t have to answer,” he said. “Not my habit to interfere in other
people’s business. But you have to understand me. You have some secrets and you need
my help. Why do you need it? I also don’t know. There are guards and spies around
listening to who says what. So let’s make a deal. You tell me what you need, and if it’s
safe for me, I’ll call Felix. Otherwise you get out.”
“Really, why do you want to help us?” Chris remarked in his turn. “You’re just too
The innkeeper’s face stiffened again. His look became cold and indifferent. Kate
thought that right there he would chase them away from the tavern, but it did not
happen. Apius simply moved away from the pesky visitors and busied himself with his
own affairs. Occasionally, he threw them a sideways glance as if waiting for them to
change their minds or go away.
“What shall we do?” Chris asked Kate. “Can we trust this man?”
“Even I don’t know,” sighed Kate. “I can’t understand what kind of character he is;
first he seems like an honest and kind man, then suddenly he becomes like a robber who
is plotting against you.”
“Yes, there’s something about him. I think it’s better not to tell him anything. We’ll
try to find this Felix ourselves?”
“Well, since we know his name, why not.”
“And you think that he’ll talk to you?” Apius grinned, turning up behind them
heaven knows how.
The children turned to him and were outraged on seeing the smug and rather shifty
facial expression of the innkeeper. Chris even grabbed his sword. “How dare you
eavesdrop on us, scoundrel!”
“Here it’s obvious that you just came to our city,” Apius replied as if nothing had
happened. “Otherwise you’d know that we all do this now. I also don’t see anything to be
ashamed of. Who knows, maybe save your own life with it. So don’t be offended, my
friends, but nothing will work out for you because I alone in the whole city will be able to
come to an agreement with Felix.”
“Fine,” Kate agreed. “My good man, you probably realize that we want to avail
ourselves of your friend and at the same time we wish to keep our secrets. You mustn’t
know anything. Maybe then we’ll try to come to an agreement? You’ll know nothing.
We’ll pay for it. How much would your ignorance cost?”
For the first time, the innkeeper looked at the young knight with respect. He clearly
liked the words uttered. Chris also looked at his friend with admiration. She had found
an excellent way out of the situation.
“Do you have a lot of money?” Apius asked. “Usually knights are poor folk and
beggars. More likely to borrow than to give money.”
“I actually don’t have any money,” Kate said, but when she saw how the innkeeper’s
face hardened again, hastened to add, “I’ll have very soon, but for now, I think, this gold
buckle on my cloak will do quite well.”
Apius looked at the buckle and thoughtfully scratched his head. “These magical
things... Anyway, I agree. Let’s have the buckle!” After the gold had turned up in his
huge pocket, the innkeeper wiped his hands on his apron and went home to change.
After a few minutes, he came back in a clean and passable justaucorps, even with lace
cuffs on it. “Okay,” he said. “If you’ve finished eating and drinking, we can go to Felix.”
At that very minute, an officer of the guards accompanied by two guards entered the
tavern. All three immediately made their way to Apius. No thought was reflected on the
innkeeper’s face. He calmly looked at the approaching soldiers and only managed to say
to Kate, “It seems you won’t need my services. What a pity! And I had already put your
buckle in my trunk.”
THE MEETING WITH GARGULIO
“Hello, friend Apius,” the officer addressed the innkeeper. “I see a knight has
stopped at yours. Is it his shield hanging by your door?”
“I wish you health, Krokus,” the innkeeper answered. “You guessed it. A knight
really ate in my tavern.”
“Where is he?”
“You won’t believe it, but this is an unusual knight... You’ve never seen the like. The
fact is that he’s a child. Will a ten-year-old boy interest you?”
“I willingly believe you,” Krokus snapped roughly. “And I’m even very interested. A
ten-year-old boy! I need him, I swear by the witches! Come on, move!” He went straight
to Kate and Chris because the tavern had no other kids but them. “Come on, confess,
chicks, whose shield is it hanging at the front door?”
“Doesn’t it seem to you that if you don’t change your arrogant tone, there’ll be one
less dummy in the land?” Chris answered him in the same tone.
It felt like a bucket of cold water was poured onto Krokus. “Oh, you puppy!” he got
mad. “How dare you talk to me this way?” He reached for the hilt of his sword.
At that very instant the boy leaned the end of his blade against Krokus’ throat.
“Maybe this will teach you to speak politely?”
The two other guards were also about to grab their swords, but Kate stopped them.
She dealt with them the same way Chris did with Krokus. What was left for her to do? It
was an amazing sight. Two boys disarmed three armed men and interrogated them. The
crowd gathered at the door gasped after seeing this.
“So,” Chris began, “why do young knights interest you so suddenly, Mr. Officer?”
Krokus grimaced with displeasure and said, warily looking askance at Chris’ sword,
“Just that we were given orders to detain the knight Caterino and deliver him to First
Minister Gargulio. His main features are: ten or eleven years old, a boy and not a man,
blue eyes, medium length light brown hair, wearing strange white shoes, says he’s
looking for his younger brother. Accused of... In fact, he’s accused of nothing. But we
were ordered to detain him.” He let out a sob. “Master Knight, maybe I’ll go further to
look for the knights? I also didn’t see you...”
Upon hearing these words, Kate sheathed her sword and ordered her armour-bearer
to do the same. “In that case,” she said, “fulfil your order!”
Krokus almost fell from the chair that they had sat him down on. People at the door
also gasped. Even Chris was surprised and looked perplexedly at Kate.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” the girl impatiently asked.
Krokus timidly got up and apprehensively, fearing to be jeered, twirled his
moustache. “Eh, you,” he muttered quietly. “Hand over the weapons. I’m arresting you.”
Kate obediently took off her sword and gave it to Krokus. “And I’ll ask you to look
after our horses,” she addressed Apius. Then she added in a whisper, “If I need Felix, I'll
let you know.”
Chris also disarmed. He did it with great reluctance. They were then led out onto the
street. Krokus went in front with a proud smile, carrying Kate’s shield and both swords,
the guards with halberds tilted forward following behind. A crowd of onlookers and kids
followed the guards. Everyone wanted to know how this story would end.
The children noticed that the guards were leading them up along the streets and the
people accompanying them started to disperse very soon. Only some kids remained, but
even they ran away after a couple of blocks. A sea of people had only just been raging
around and now the streets were empty and cheerless.
“Will we be there soon?” Kate asked Krokus.
“We’ve already arrived,” Krokus answered and, with a look, indicated the standing
coach. “Please sit down and you’ll be taken to where you have to go.”
Kate and Chris climbed into the coach without saying a word. Groaning and cursing
all knights in the world, Krokus struggled up into the opposite seat. The guards stood on
the footboard at the back and the coach took off. They were silent all the way. Krokus
sulked in his humiliation and the children did not want to chafe his emotional wounds.
The horses stopped, the door opened, and Krokus jumped out. “Out!” his command
Kate and Chris obediently got out. They immediately saw a squad of guards forming
three sides of a rectangle in front of them. The soldiers held their weapons atilt. Chris
looked at Kate as if to say that they had really gotten into a mess this time. Kate nodded
to him in answer that it was too early to sound the alarm. She looked around carefully.
The building in front of them was not quite like a prison. The building with white
columns more resembled a palace belonging to an important person. Gargulio perhaps?
As soon as Kate thought of the First Minister, she immediately saw him importantly
descending the marble stairs to the travellers. The guards in front of them parted and
Gargulio went up to Kate and Chris with open arms.
“Welcome to the Capital! We’re pleased to welcome the brave Knight Caterino to
our city!” the First Minister said, beaming with a smile. He carefully looked the children
over and then addressed Chris, “I hope that the soldiers weren’t too rude, Knight
Krokus blushed like a ripe tomato. Kate smiled and stepped forward. “You’ve made
a mistake, Gargulio,” Kate said mockingly. “I’m Knight Caterino! This is my squire,
Christian Thirteen of the renowned Brave clan. You don’t have to tell me who you are, I
know perfectly well. Just that I can’t understand how you found out about our arrival.”
Kate intuitively understood that she should be less generous with this person and
she guessed right. Gargulio’s eyes flickered uneasily and fear appeared in them. He
started to swallow mouthfuls of air, then came to his senses and tried to pull himself
“It’s my main duty to know everything,” he remarked not without pride. “The tough
life of a First Minister. I’m not complaining; on the contrary, I’m proud that I carry out
the most important task. I hope that I do it well enough since our Sovereign trusts me
with such an important post. This time, he instructed me to meet the valiant Knight
Caterino and his squire and invite them to my home.”
“So this isn’t an arrest?” Kate asked.
“Of course not!”
“Then return our weapons,” the girl ordered. “It doesn’t befit a knight to have
strange hands keeping my arms!”
“Certainly!” Gargulio looked at the unlucky Krokus in such a way that he was ready
to fall through the ground. He hurriedly, as if his hands were scorched, returned the
swords to Chris and Kate and even gave them his own. “It was just a misunderstanding
which happened because someone understood orders incorrectly.”
Kate for some reason started to pity the officer. “I think you shouldn’t be angry at
Krokus,” she said. “The military often understands everything literally and therefore
always gets into a mess.”
She very often heard these words from Papa, who always said this with a sarcastic
mockery. He somehow could not stand the military. Kate copied her father exactly when
she said this phrase and saw that it made an impression on the First Minister. “So, it’s a
friendly meeting, right?”
“Absolutely! A gala dinner is waiting on the table for the guest of honour. I request
your presence in my home.” Gargulio pointed to the palace doors, which were opened
“We’re really not going to the White Tower?” the words escaped Kate.
“The White Tower?” the First Minister was surprised. “Why?”
“Why? I have to see the Sovereign. Didn’t he order you to take me to him?”
“There was the order to meet you.” Gargulio looked thoughtful. “But I didn’t receive
orders to take you to His Majesty.”
Kate was at a loss, “Didn’t receive? This can’t be! Most likely the Sovereign just
forgot to say it.”
“The Sovereign forgets nothing. He’s as powerful as ever. If you think that since he’s
just a boy, a little boy, his power over our country has weakened, then you’re profoundly
mistaken. He ordered me to meet you, but he said nothing about taking you to him.”
“How did he find out about my arrival in your city?”
Gargulio smiled condescendingly, “No one knows how the Sovereign knows
everything going on in his domain and even beyond. Our Sovereign is a great magician.”
He thought to himself, “Now the boy will say that the Prince of the White Tower is his
brother and demand to meet with him.”
“Fine,” Kate agreed. “To know everything is really the business of magicians. But I
need to see the Sovereign. It’s extremely important!”
“I understand everything but maybe we’ll go inside all the same?” the First Minister
proposed. “We’ve been standing too long on the stairs. I don’t think the guards and
soldiers need to hear what we’re talking about. The table is set; we’ll sit down and have a
Kate did not want to eat at all. She and Chris had just eaten quite tolerably, but she
did not start to argue with Gargulio and followed him obediently. Chris straightened his
load and went behind.
A huge table had been set in the decorated white marble dining room. The delicacies
on it were so tempting that at another time Kate would not have to be prevailed upon for
long, but now she did not feel like eating. She realized that she would not get to Gene
easily this way. He knew of her presence but would not let her get near. Ah, nasty boy!
What to do now? All hopes for the time being were on this cunning and fat Gargulio, but
it was necessary to be extremely cautious.
Meanwhile, Gargulio was perplexed at why the knight did not say that he was the
Sovereign’s brother. Why? He must be up to something. But what? It was necessary to
Chris also did not understand. Why could Kate not get to her brother? Why did she
not say that she was looking for her brother? After all, judging by Gargulio’s words, he
knew this perfectly well.
The conversation did not materialize. Gargulio, finding himself at the table,
suddenly got busy with the food and forgot about Kate. He was eating with such appetite
and pleasure that he could infect anybody. The children, however, watched as the First
Minister ate and waited.
Finally, Gargulio noticed that his guests had not touched the food and was very
surprised. He was so surprised that he even stopped eating. “Why aren’t you eating?” he
“Don’t want anything,” Kate replied angrily.
“There may be poison added,” added Chris.
The First Minister choked on a piece of pineapple. “Cursed kids!” he thought. “They
even taunt me.” He even lost his appetite for a moment because of their words.
“Fine,” Gargulio wiped his lips with a fresh white napkin. “What do you want from
“Take me to the Sovereign and I promise that I’ll do everything I can so that he will
reward you royally.”
“What do you know that’s so important to His Majesty?”
“Here’s a scoundrel!” Kate thought and added aloud, “A terrible mortal danger
“The Sovereign?” Gargulio even half rose from curiosity.
“Then tell me. I’ll report to His Majesty and everything will be fine. I’m the First
Minister to protect the Sovereign from any danger!”
“No,” the girl declared decisively. “I won’t tell you anything. Only the Sovereign
personally, because I don’t want you, Gargulio, to risk his life again as it happened once
already. Do you remember the Defence Minister’s plot?” Kate looked maliciously at the
courtier huddled in an armchair. “What if your people hadn’t succeeded? What if the
killer had turned out to be quicker than the guards? Some great idea of yours! But I
won’t let you use my brother for your vile goals anymore.”
“So the Sovereign is your brother?” Gargulio exclaimed with mock surprise. “Why
are you silent, boys?”
Oh, how he wanted at that moment to order his servants to grab them both and give
them a good flogging. From his conversation with the Prince of the White Tower,
Gargulio understood that the Prince was not particularly happy with the appearance of
his older brother and he even seemed to Gargulio to be full of animosity. It could be
possible to be rude to the knight. Possible, everything is possible. Even remove these
strange pants and... If that would not help, could employ something more serious. It
would be possible if... If the knight’s shield were not in the hands of his squire. Indeed,
this is not a toy. So many images were on it that it would be better not to get involved.
Whoever had to deal with the conqueror of the dragon would come to a bad end.
Gargulio was too cowardly and the knight’s most recent words also quite scared
him. After all, only he knew about saving the Sovereign from an assassin’s dagger.
Certainly, he had taken a risk. But is it important? He won and became the first person
in the state. Everything had worked out so well! Now this boy-knight has come and
ruined everything. The Sovereign summoned him and talked to him again as a servant.
Now the greenhorn’s brother has appeared and also treats him like a dog. A tear slid
down Gargulio’s fat cheek. How does he know everything? Perhaps he is also a
magician? These knights... You do not know what to expect from them. What a ferocious
look his squire has! Why did he return the weapons? Gargulio was scared. He squinted
at the servants standing at the door and serving the dishes. They would be of no use if
anyone wished to kill him. Gargulio trembled.
Kate and Chris watched and waited for what Gargulio would say next. They noticed
his fear and were slightly heartened.
“So you’ll take us to the Sovereign?” Kate asked, with a threat in her voice.
“No,” Gargulio answered, wiping sweat off his forehead. “I never received such an
order from the Sovereign.”
“What will happen when the Sovereign discovers that his First Minister refuses to
save him from death?” Kate exclaimed again in despair.
“Tell me what danger threatens His Majesty and I’ll bring it to his attention. I can’t
do anything else.” Gargulio tried to get up from the table, but here Chris came up to him.
The Minister, not knowing why, flopped back down. “Please, I have to go.”
“Where?” Chris asked sullenly.
“The White Tower castle. The courtiers are waiting for me there.”
“Wonderful!” Kate also got up from the table and approached Gargulio from the
other side. “We’ll go with you. Isn’t that so? Christian, give me my sword.”
The knight and his squire so decisively and threateningly put on their weapons that
the fat man, who was a head shorter than Chris and slightly taller than Caterino, had a
coughing fit. He realized that he had fallen into a trap that he himself had set up by
sending the guards away. Now there was nothing left for him to do other than go to the
carriage in the company of Knight Caterino and his squire. The servants gave him
puzzled glances but did not intervene.
“Now this is great!” Kate said contentedly when she and the boy sat in the coach on
both sides of the First Minister.
“What an idiot!” exclaimed the Sovereign, who was watching the whole scene in his
magic window. He nervously walked around the hall, whispering curses and threats
directed at Gargulio, then again began to watch what his sister was up to. “So, she’ll be
here soon! Wow, Katie! I never expected her to make such short work of such a crafty
rascal as Gargulio.”
“We’ve arrived,” the First Minister muttered sullenly.
Kate looked out the window and saw guards standing by the gate leading into the
park surrounding the castle. “Let’s go,” she said. “But remember that my squire will
have a dagger on you at all times. One wrong move and we’ll have to look for the castle’s
main door without you.”
If at that moment the godfather of the Sicilian Mafia saw how deftly Kate
intimidated the poor official, he would be proud of her and appoint her godmother.
Modern children watch so many movies that are just not worthwhile for them to watch!
And the books they read...
Gargulio’s hair stood on end from horror. No one had ever done this to him. He
barely stumbled out of the carriage and approached the gate with difficulty (Kate and
Chris had to support him).
The guards made way for the First Minister without any presentation of a pass and
asked nothing about his companions. In the park, among the cool fountains and
greenery, he came to and begged them to stop waving a knife over him (although
nobody was waving it), otherwise he would have a heart attack.
“Must do it to you, fat barrel!” Kate thought vindictively. “Next time you won’t make
a career out of risking my brother’s life!”
“Be quiet!” she ordered. “Lead us to the White Tower.”
“One can only get there through the castle.”
“Then let’s go through the castle!”
Gargulio obeyed. Along the way, the girl really did not have time to admire the
beauty of the Park of the Elf King, although here was something to see. Suddenly, Kate
saw swans, white swans, exactly those that had kidnapped Gene. “Maybe they’re the
same ones who stole my brother? Look, Chris!” she exclaimed.
Hearing about the swans, Gargulio again shook so much that he almost fell into the
pond where the birds were swimming. Chris noticed his condition and yanked Kate’s
sleeve. “He knows something!” he nodded at the Minister. “Tell us what you know!”
“I know nothing! I know nothing!” he groaned. “I was only following orders!”
“What orders? Speak up, otherwise I’ll...” Kate half-unsheathed her sword and the
sinister blade gleamed in the sun. The First Minister shrieked as if he had already been
killed and fell unconscious right on the sand track. In order not to attract the attention
of the courtiers strolling through the park, the children dragged the poor devil to the
willows by the pond with the swans. Kate ran up to the water, scooped water with the
hat of the fainted, and poured it unceremoniously onto the First Minister’s face.
The fat man groaned and opened his eyes. “I’m still alive?” he murmured.
“Alive and well,” Chris growled. “So small and so heavy! We almost hurt ourselves
“Tell us what you know!” Kate demanded.
“Oh-h-h!” Gargulio groaned. However, he had no choice but to tell his captors
everything he knew. “It was still under the old Sovereign. He summoned me for the first
time in several years and demanded that I go...” He described his meeting with the
“What a villain this old Sovereign of yours was!” the girl exclaimed when Gargulio
finished his story. “Good heavens, he decided to kidnap a child to make him his heir.
What, you don’t have enough children? Why my brother?”
“I don’t know any more,” the First Minister answered. “But the Prince of the White
Tower was not quite an ordinary child. He was a real prince. Before the old Sovereign
died, he gave the Prince all his power and taught him how to cast spells.”
“Cast spells?” Kate screamed. “What nonsense! Gene was a most normal boy. There
was nothing unusual in him! They probably cast a spell on him in your stupid country!
Come on, get up,” she ordered the First Minister. “Lead us to the White Tower. I must
see my brother immediately!”
Putting on a wry expression, Gargulio got up and hobbled to the castle, which was
already visible behind the poplars tall like candles. Kate and Chris followed him on both
sides as before. They did not need anything unexpected now.
When they got to the castle’s main entrance and four guards blocked their way, Kate
whispered into Gargulio’s ear, “We must pass. Remember my squire’s dagger.” There
was nothing left for the fat man to do but to look calm and carefree (he was the chief
courtier after all and therefore a great actor) and present his pass.
“Who are with you?” the head of the guards asked with displeasure.
“My nephews,” Gargulio uttered, trying not to give himself away with the trembling
voice. “I’m going to show them high society.”
The officer looked at the children suspiciously. They were clearly not like children
who aspired to appear before a society of noble lords: dishevelled, unkempt, filthy, and
even hiding something. It seemed there had not been a free moment to fix themselves
up. Weird kids, even armed to the teeth.
“Somehow I don’t remember that you have nephews,” said the officer. “They don’t
“They’re my nephews,” Gargulio started to assure him. “They arrived from the
province only yesterday. From the most distant province.”
“Why do they have weapons?”
“I told you that they’re from the province. In those places, even small children aren’t
seen without weapons.”
“Okay, pass!” The officer waved them through. “Just make sure they disarm when
you’re inside. It’s not Black Principality or Bewitched Forest here.”
“What do you know about the Bewitched Forest?” Chris muttered quietly.
“What?” The officer of the guards frowned menacingly.
“Nothing, nothing!” Gargulio literally pushed the “nephews” inside. “Oh, these
The officer twirled his moustache and looked after them with hostility. He obviously
was not very fond of Gargulio.
“We were almost killed!” Gargulio panted when they passed to the next hall after the
front door. “That was Alvansor the Flawless, commander of His Majesty’s personal
guard. He’s responsible for His Majesty’s safety in the castle. He trusts no one, not even
his own father.”
“And rightly so!” Kate approved of Alvansor the Flawless. “You can never trust
anyone really! Here I trust you not at all. Less chat and move your feet more.”
Now we leave the friends behind for a little bit and climb to the top of the White
Tower, where the little Sovereign is.
“Dang!” Gene cursed when he saw his sister and her squire enter the castle.
The fact is that the magic window only showed what happened outside the castle
and the White Tower. It was already not possible to see what was happening inside.
Magic too often has various shortcomings and deficiencies. Now the boy could no longer
monitor his sister’s movements. He had lost his main advantage in this battle – the
possession of information. Gene went to the throne and picked up the little bell from the
table standing nearby. A guard entered on its ring.
“Go to my guests,” the boy said to him. “Don’t detain or bother them, but also don’t
give them any assistance. Report all their movements to me every ten minutes.”
The guard clicked his heels and jingled his spurs, then turned around and left the
THE GREAT JOURNEY UP
Kate, Chris, and their prisoner went past two more halls, in which there was no one
except sleepy guards. The last one was particularly grim. It looked more like an old
abandoned temple. The tall windows were cut so deeply into the walls and were so
narrow that the light from the street did not penetrate in here at all. Even the torches
burning on the walls did not disperse the darkness. Kate stopped and asked Gargulio
what the hall was.
Gargulio looked solemn and mournful and said softly, as if afraid that he would be
heard, “This is the tomb of the great Sovereign. Not our present one but the one who
died. He has lain in this sarcophagus since the day he was buried with honours and
In the center of the room was indeed an enormous stone cube; two halves one lying
on top of the other. Thick and tall candles flickered dimly at the corners of the
“This is the Sovereign’s tomb?” the girl asked again emotionally.
“Cursed,” Kate whispered, turning to the stone coffin, frightened and terrified. “Did
your thing and died. Serves you right! Disgusting wizard and nasty old man. You see, all
the same I came here and will take my brother home. I will definitely do so. But you’ll lie
here. This is just the place for you. No one who steals young children like a gypsy has the
right to rule a country. We’ll be leaving here soon!”
“Oh, great Sovereign,” Gargulio sighed sadly, before the children dragged him after
them again. “Why did you forsake us?”
However, no one was listening; Kate and Chris had already walked on, past the
guards standing motionless. Apparently, the hall with the tomb, the darkness, and the
air reeking of smoke and fume from the torches had affected the children badly.
Finally, the children and Gargulio found themselves in the main hall of the castle.
Here were not so few people. On the contrary, there were a lot. A whole crowd of
courtiers greeted the newcomers with puzzled looks. When the important ladies and
gentlemen recognized the First Minister as one of the three dishevelled beings, they
bowed with respect before the first courtier of the Country of Frozen Time.
“Where do we go?” Kate asked Gargulio in a whisper.
“There beyond the big brass door is the entrance to the White Tower.”
“Then we go there.”
The children dragged the poor First Minister to the desired door. They walked
across the hall and the courtiers parted before them. The courtiers tried to hide their
curiosity but could not. They stared at Gargulio and his companions with a burning
gaze. The First Minister answered them with an amiable smile. They went this way to
the brass door.
A joyful excitement took hold of Kate. Had she indeed achieved what she so desired,
and for the sake of which she had experienced so many of the most incredible and
dangerous adventures? She had found two loyal and faithful friends. One of them she
had lost. Drool had died for her sake so that she could find her brother. Now, it seemed
that she would soon see him, so soon that even her knees were trembling.
Seized by joyful anticipation, the girl already did not notice what was going on
around her. Her head began to spin. Kate almost fell. No, this is no good! To become
limp before the end of the journey, when she is so close to her goal! Soon she would be
with Gene, to make peace with him, he should even ask for forgiveness! No, she would
ask for forgiveness. She was guilty and acknowledges this. For the first time in her life.
Together they will think of how to return home. After all, Gene is the Sovereign! Kate
shook her head and drove away the feeling of weakness taking possession of her. She
was Knight Caterino and not the little girl Kate, who was ready to burst into tears and
faint, like this wimp Gargulio.
Chris opened the copper door with a grinding sound. They went in and found
themselves in the White Tower. What beauty around! Not so in the castle. However,
Kate was not interested. Do not criticize her for it. She had not come for a tour.
“Where to now?” Kate asked impatiently.
“The staircase in front of you leads upstairs. Go up it and you will get to the
“What do you mean ‘you will’?” Chris grumbled. “You mean we’ll all get there.
Indeed, you’re coming with us!”
“But why do you need me now?” Gargulio was indignant.
“You’re right,” replied the boy. “We don’t need you. But here, below, they need you
even less. So don’t resist. You’re coming with us!” Gargulio almost cried, but in the end,
he obediently plodded after the children.
“Listen, Caterino, doesn’t it seem to you that it’ll take us too long to get to the top?”
Chris pointed to the stairs, which disappeared high up so that where it ended was not
visible. It was a spiral staircase, very considerable and wide, with a platform on each
“We’ll get up somehow,” Kate took a deep breath. “Tell me, Gargulio, is there any
hoisting device here, something like an elevator?”
“I don’t know what an elevator is,” Gargulio answered. “There’s no device here. We
all walk.” Gargulio deceived them. He decided not to tell them about the palanquin with
carriers working in shifts. “Let them get there as they want,” he thought.
The children and the First Minister ascended.
“Well, it isn’t so difficult,” said Kate, when they had passed the first four floors. “An
ordinary high rise.”
On the tenth floor, all of them were already panting from tiredness. The floors in the
White Tower were much higher than in the buildings that the girl had in mind. They
passed two more floors.
“That’s it, I can’t go any further!” Gargulio announced and fell exhausted to the
“Do you get up to the Sovereign this way every time?” Chris wondered. “We haven’t
even gone up a third. Looks like you’re cheating!”
“The Sovereign always summons me in advance. Two days early. I take servants and
provisions with me and spend two days going up. I rest every five floors. Plenty of rooms
here; eat, lie down, and gain back strength.”
“No!” Kate even shuddered. “We can’t go so long. Two days! I must see the
Sovereign today. No time to lose! Come on, Chris, get up, Gargulio.”
“Better kill me!” the fat man moaned. “I can’t take another step.”
“You will.” Chris smiled hostilely and stroked the hilt of his sword.
Gargulio leaped up like a ball, and, almost wailing, set off after his tormentors. He
fell down after two flights of stairs and barely panted, “That’s it! I can go no longer. You
can kill me.” He closed his eyes tightly, waiting for the deathblow.
The children were at a loss. “Perhaps we leave him here?” the girl suggested. “After
all, he doesn’t have the strength to go down. Even if he does, they already can’t catch us.
We’re too high up.”
“Then I’ll tie him up,” said Chris. “What do you think?”
“That’s monstrous!” Gargulio cried. “You’ll forget about me and I’ll starve to death
or die in your fetters. Please spare me, please don’t tie me up! Where can I go? I’ll rest
for a couple of hours and go down gradually. I’ll be at the bottom by the evening. You
with your youth and strong healthy legs will be at the Sovereign’s by that time.”
“He’s right.” Kate impatiently brushed away the bangs fallen on her forehead. “No
need to bother with him.”
Having abandoned Gargulio, they began to go further up. The First Minister
listened to their steps and conversations for a long time, smiling triumphantly and
proudly. When he could not hear the children anymore, he ran to the floor below. He
went through a door in the hall to another staircase, much more beautiful and wider. He
and a young Gene once went up it on a palanquin. Gargulio found a silk cord and began
to pull it. Somewhere very high a bell rang. Servants came after a few minutes with a
“Down!” the fat Minister ordered. He smugly rubbed his stomach and sighed
blissfully. The courtiers parted before him when he rolled through the ballroom like a
bun and ran to the exit.
Alvansor the Flawless was in the same place as before. He listened with a grin to the
First Minister’s rambling story. “So, it means these weren’t your nephews?” he asked,
when Gargulio had finished.
“I did say that these were kidnappers! With force and deceit, they made me take
them to the White Tower. If I had refused, they would have killed me. This bloody
knight and his squire!”
“You’ve committed a crime,” Alvansor answered coldly. “Don’t try to find a
justification! By your mercy danger now threatens our Sovereign...”
“The knight doesn’t intend to kill the Sovereign,” Gargulio objected, almost in tears.
“He simply maintains that he’s his brother.”
“Yes. This morning the Sovereign himself told me the same.”
“Enough talk! We must hurry to the Sovereign. Where are these nephews of yours?”
“They’re not my nephews...”
“I deceived them and sent them on foot up the dark staircase.”
“Look,” Alvansor was surprised. “It appears you still have a brain. Then we’ll have
time to catch up with them.”
He gathered a dozen guards and ran with them to where Gargulio had come from.
The confused and simultaneously outraged First Minister hobbled after them. He did
not want such an important matter as the arrest of dangerous criminals to take place
Alvansor walked straight to the hoist, which was meant for supplying foodstuff
upstairs. Very strong men especially recruited for such a difficult task handled this. The
officer ordered to gather them all together from all three shifts. There were fifteen
people. These were real strongmen. Alvansor climbed onto the platform of the hoist,
ordered three guards to get up beside him, and directed all the rest to turn the wheel,
which resulted in the movement of the whole mechanism.
“I’m also coming with you!” Gargulio came running.
“Go to the witches!” Alvansor shouted at him.
The First Minister, however, did not listen to him. He scrambled up onto the
platform and panted, “I’m still the First Minister of the state, and you must obey me!”
“What are we going to do with you? Extra weight. Well, all right. Start turning!” The
strongmen and the guards took the wheel, bulging the muscles on their arms, and the
hoist travelled up.
Our heroes were already very high. They had already overcome two-thirds of the
way. How many floors had they passed? Unknown. They had lost count long ago. It was
impossible to tally up. They all merged into a single terrible, laborious way to the top.
“I can’t go any further!” Kate groaned. She sat down, exhausted, on the next step.
Chris collapsed beside her. Both could barely breathe from fatigue. Their legs ached.
“Yes, we have to rest a little,” Chris agreed.
“When will this bloody staircase end?” Kate put her head on the boy’s shoulder.
“It’ll never end. Look, Caterino, there’s neither window nor lamp here, yet it’s as
bright as day. Walter’s Magic!” Admiration glowed in the squire’s eyes.
“Magic, magic!” Kate became furious. “How tired I am of your magic! Your country!
I’m tired of everything! And this staircase is the worst in it.”
“Don’t get mad,” Chris advised her. “Don’t waste strength in vain. We’ll rest a bit
and climb again.”
“We’ve already rested three times.”
“What else is there to do, we can’t fly. And you, Knight Caterino, you start to lose
your head. In what we’re dealing with, a cool head and a sober mind are the essentials.”
“Chris, I’m just complaining,” Kate justified herself. “Don’t forget, I’m a girl after
“You’re the bravest girl in the world! So much courage in you! I envy you. How
many time even I was frightened.”
“You were frightened?” Kate was surprised. “That’s just what I wouldn’t say. You
never showed fear, even in Vampire Park.”
“Exactly, I didn’t show it. You think it’s easy? In my heart I die from fear every time.
Here you’re really afraid of nothing. All the time got to the most dangerous spots. Did
the dead dragon really give you all this?”
“I don’t know, maybe. Since I came to your country, it always seems to me that what
happens to me takes place in a dream. Circumstances, events change so quickly. Like a
merry-go-round. I’m constantly going, running, galloping somewhere, escaping from
someone, catching up with someone. Really, isn’t it like a dream?”
“Probably. That may be so.”
“Very much so. In a dream, you’re never afraid of anything and you do everything
without a moment’s thought. As if it’ll turn out by itself.”
The children were silent and sat for some time, not talking. Kate closed her eyes.
She terribly wanted to sleep. “Chris,” she whispered. “Don’t let me sleep.”
She said the last word so softly that the boy could barely hear it. He wanted to ask
her about something but saw that Kate was already asleep. He should wake her up, but
he had no strength for movements. He was reluctant to say anything. Let her sleep a
little. Just a little and he would wake her. Knights also have the right to rest.
Chris felt that his eyes were also beginning to feel heavy. “No, not this,” he
muttered. “A little more and I’ll also fall sleep. Kate!” He gently nudged the girl in the
“What?” She started to look around bewildered.
“We must go further.”
“Was I asleep?”
“Just for a few seconds.”
Oh, how hard it was to get up! Very likely, the hardest. Their legs had gone numb
from sitting and every movement caused pain. “Doesn’t matter, it’ll pass quickly.” Chris
helped Kate up. They dragged themselves up the stairs again. It was horrible. Five floors,
“It’s as if someone is sitting on me,” Chris shared his impressions.
Kate did not answer. There was no strength. She was barely crawling and had long
since lagged behind Chris. The boy waited patiently for her. When he saw that she was
close, he held out his hand. Kate grabbed hold of it and nearly pulled him down. She
almost fell. Chris supported her. He dragged her as if in tow for three more floors. Then
they both fell, stumbling over the last step. Fortunately, they did not fall downwards but
onto a platform.
“That’s all!” Kate announced. She wanted to cry but could not. It is good to cry when
there is strength for it, but when there is not, it is better to just keep quiet and relax.
Chris said nothing. He looked up. He looked and smiled. Kate thought that he had
gone mad. She became scared. However, when the girl rolled over with difficulty onto
her back and looked up too, she saw that they were almost there. Two floors and the
“It’s a mirage. It only seems so to us.”
“No,” Chris objected. “It doesn’t only seem so.”
It was not known from where strength came. “I’ll do it!” Kate said to herself and got
up on legs already not bent.
It was more difficult for Chris to do it because he was still lugging Kate’s shield.
“Sometimes it’s possible to regret that you’re a knight and not a simple girl,” he
Kate did not hear him; she had left him behind. Feverish excitement again got hold
of her. As if there was no weariness. With the thought that she would soon see Gene,
wings seemed to have grown behind her back. Chris even had to shout at her so that she
would wait for him. It mattered not what troubles might be ahead.
Unfortunately, he turned out to be right. When Kate had conquered the last flight of
stairs, the most difficult in her life, she immediately rushed to the door leading to the
halls of the tower. Already at the threshold, she saw Alvansor the Flawless, Gargulio,
and three guards coming towards her.
“No!” Kate shouted desperately and rushed back. In fear, she bumped right into
Chris. The boy almost fell.
“What happened?” Chris asked and immediately understood everything. However,
in contrast to Kate, he did not rush to run but pulled out his sword and prepared to meet
danger face-to-face. Where did his strength come from? “Well, come on!”
“Seize them, arrest them!” Gargulio shouted.
The guards drew their sabres and attacked the boy. However, they were much less
experienced swordsmen, because Chris easily repelled their attack. Alvansor watched
with wonder as Chris dealt with his best soldiers.
“You don’t say, this provincial fights very well,” he said to the dumbfounded First
Minister. “He’s the knight?”
“No, the knight is the other one, smaller in stature,” Gargulio answered in
displeasure. “And these are your renowned guards? They can’t even manage two
greenhorns.” At this moment, Chris just beat off a second attack.
“Who would say that?” Alvansor said noncommittally. “Didn’t they force you to lead
them to the White Tower? But how well he fights!”
Kate gradually recovered from the first attack of fear. She decided that it was time
for her to come to the aid of Chris. The girl grasped the hilt of her sword, but here
another tall door decorated in gold opened, a few more armed guards came out, and a
ringing imperious voice, which gave Kate a start, commanded, “Stop immediately! I
order all of you to drop your weapons and remain in your places!”
It was Gene, in person. He walked with a regal gait, and everybody bowed with
respect before him. Everybody, even Chris. The order was carried out immediately.
Kate, mouth open, stared at her brother. She had never seen him like this. Gene
looked at her for a long time and said nothing. Unlike Kate, there was neither wonder,
nor joy, nor anger on his face. Only a sort of disagreeable grin. Among all the splendour
of the White Tower, among the beautiful walls and paintings, and the disciplined
guards, the little boy in fabulous clothes, which so suited him, really looked like a real
prince on the mirrored floor. The Prince of the White Tower. Probably, since the day of
the inauguration of the great structure, there was never such a good-looking ruler.
Kate was stunned by what was happening. Her tongue would not obey her. The girl
wanted to rush to her brother, embrace him, smother him with caresses, but something
held her back. Perhaps this most distasteful grin, which he did not even have when they
fought most fiercely?
Gene seemed to have guessed her thoughts and his grin became even more
provoking. “Bravo! Bravo, bravo!” In the complete silence, he clapped his hands three
times so resonantly that an echo rang through the halls. “This is splendid, Knight
Caterino! Such a surprise! And when? Just when I’m so dreadfully bored. It’s your style,
out of the blue when least expected. All the same, I’m glad to see you, sister!”
Everybody around, except for Chris and Kate, looked at each other in amazement.
Even the imperturbable Alvansor.
“Gene!” the girl answered out of habit and then added, “Gene, little brother, great!
I’ve reached you after all!” For a second it suddenly seemed to her that Gene’s lips
trembled. No, again the same nonchalance and calm. Is this really her brother?
“That’s right,” said Gene. “You’ve reached me, even managed to become a knight.
But wait a little, I need to sort something out with someone here.” He turned to the First
Minister. “Gargulio, didn’t I tell you not to bring Knight Caterino and his squire to the
White Tower without my consent?”
The fat man began to tremble like an autumn leaf and fell to his knees. “It’s not my
fault,” he wailed. “I could do nothing with them, they...”
“Enough!” the stern voice of the boy interrupted the unintelligible speech of the
courtier. “Such a fool as you isn’t fit to occupy such a high post. From today on you’re
released from your duties. You can go to the province, to your nephews.” Gene burst out
laughing merrily and clearly. His laughter flew away together with the echo as soon as
he became quiet. “And don’t forget that the palanquin is not for you now. Go on foot.
You forced my beloved sister to do it. By the way, going down, I think, is easier than
Gargulio began to sob. The Sovereign winced as if he felt a toothache. “Now he’ll
bore me with his grievances. Alvansor, take pains he doesn’t bother me.” The officer
gave a sign to his guards and they, seizing the former First Minister by the arms,
dragged him out of the hall.
“That’s all!” the boy said, following him with his gaze. “Now we can continue
Kate looked at her brother and could not recognize him. It seemed to her that Gene
did not know her, though he called her by name. As a boy, Kai did not recognize his
sworn sister Gerda,1 who, having passed through many trials, nevertheless found him.
Gene seemed to her like some elderly uncle, clever and boring. He was not at all like that
child, whom she knew so well. And how he dealt with Gargulio! The old Gene, whom she
knew, would not have done it. He was a good and sweet boy. But this... This is a different
person. Suddenly, it dawned on Kate. Gene is simply putting on airs before her. He is
pretending to be so because he still cannot forgive her for that horrible act she
committed at the zoo. She quickly felt relief with this thought. This is it! Time to make
“Quit fooling around, Gene! Stop being mad at me and don’t sulk. It’s all my fault.
What I did then was terrible and you were absolutely right to be mad at me and even run
away from home. I’m not the least bit angry with you. On the contrary, I understood a
lot. Let’s forget everything and go home.”
It again seemed to her that her brother’s lips quivered. No, it did not seem so; the
boy’s lips were actually trembling. Now it looked like he would burst into tears and there
was something in his eyes as if he was in pain. Kate again wanted to rush to her brother,
Kai and Gerda are the main characters of the fairy tale The Snow Queen (1845) by Danish author and
poet Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75), which centres on the struggle between good and evil.
but she only took a step and he became unapproachable once more as before. The girl,
not knowing why, recoiled.
“What’s with you, Gene?” There were tears in Kate’s voice. “Why are you like this?
What have they done to you?”
“Nothing bad!” the boy answered roughly. “On the contrary, I became the most
important person in this country. You see, all these people,” he nodded at those present,
“are obedient to me. They obey my every word. Isn’t it wonderful?”
“But Mama and Papa are waiting for us at home. Don’t you want to go back to
“Very mu...” Gene shouted. His face became strangely distorted and he immediately
turned away. When he turned around, his eyes were filled with anger. “Get out of here,
all of you! I order you! Alvansor! Show my sister to her room, the one I lived in before.”
After saying these words, Gene ran out of the room so fast that nobody could
Kate was the most shocked of all. When Alvansor came up to her to bring her to the
room of toys, as it was called, she pushed him away and loudly burst into tears. Her
faithful squire Chris ran to her at once and put an arm around her shoulders. The girl
pressed helplessly against him as if seeking protection.
“Where are we going?” Chris asked the officer.
“Follow me,” the officer growled, quickly turned away, and walked down the hall.
“Come on, Kate.” The boy led the crying girl after Alvansor.
“Here,” the officer opened one of the doors, and the children found themselves in a
room with lots of toys, which nobody played with anymore. “If you need anything, ring
this bell.” Chris caught a glimpse of a thick silk cord hidden in the drapery, nodded
assent, and led Kate to the bed.
Alvansor hurried to close the door behind him, sighing with relief and wiping the
sweat off his face. “And I think the knight is the older one,” he said to himself and went
up to check the posts. He decided at the same time to catch up with Gargulio, who was
probably plodding his way somewhere down the stairs, and to make the palanquin
available at his disposal. He felt a little sorry for the fat man, although earlier he could
not stand him for his swaggering and toadying.
He met on the way a young security officer and asked, “Tell me, does Marie, the girl
who was once the maid of Prince Eugene of the White Tower, still live here?”
“Yes,” the young officer answered. “The Sovereign gave her that right because she
helped to uncover the Defence Minister’s plot.”
“Good. Find her and ask her to go to the room of toys. She busied herself with the
boy once before, now let her deal with his sister. What wonders we have happening here
“It will be done.” The officer saluted. “Marie is what the girl needs! It will amuse
Marie, or else she dies from boredom here and yearns for the little Sovereign.”
“What are you talking about, fool?” Alvansor snapped angrily at him. “What do you
mean by little? You, my friend, watch your tongue, or else you’ll quickly find yourself
where Alexandro the Black and the former Defence Minister Leonari sit.”
Kate was crying for a long time, for a very long time. Chris could not calm her down.
He was in despair. “I swear by the witches, Caterino, you’re breaking my heart!” he
finally could not stand it. “How long can you cry?”
The poor girl-knight looked at him and howled even louder. Her friend was ready to
cry himself, but then he noticed the fountain merrily purling right in the middle of the
room. The boy’s face lit up and he dragged Kate to the fountain. Then he bent the girl’s
head straight to the water and started to wash her like a small child. The cold water
acted instantly. Kate started to gurgle, snorted, hiccupped a couple of times, and started
to quiet down a little.
Chris sighed in relief, let go of her, and started to wash also. “Well?” he asked Kate.
“Terrible! As if I was caned and thrown into a well.”
Chris said this in such a mocking voice that the girl could not stand it and smiled.
Unwillingly, but she smiled.
“I thought that everything was over,” Kate sighed. “But it turns out that it has only
begun. You know, Chris, Gene’s really bewitched.”
“Bewitched? Are you sure?” Chris was shocked. “Maybe your brother is doing this to
annoy you? You indeed fought with him all the time. You told me.”
“I thought so too. At first. Almost even got mad at him. But now I remember
everything that happened and realize that something isn’t right.”
“I’ll try.” Kate calmed down some and her voice gained confidence and anger. She
became Knight Caterino again, the conqueror of the Forest Dragon. “You see, Gene’s a
good boy, clever, adults like him a lot. But he too has a shortcoming. He’s a slob. Not
entirely, of course. Slightly. For this I always teased him, called him names, and hurt his
feelings very much. He never even buckled his sandals. Today, we saw him in quite a
different way. Did you see how many buttons were on his suit? Some laces, ribbons,
buckles! He was perfectly dressed. Not a single flaw in his clothing. At home, he never
even wore his shorts correctly. The shirt was always sticking out. Mama just railed at
him for it.”
“Well, maybe the servants dressed him?” Chris proposed.
“Nonsense! I once dressed him for the holidays and there was not a speck of dust on
him. The boy looked like a picture. For the first fifteen minutes. Then again the shirt was
sticking out, shorts all dusty. When did he manage to undo the sandals? Had to
straighten him every ten minutes.”
“Yes,” Chris drawled. “So, you’re suggesting that this isn’t him. Is that so?”
“It’s him. Only bewitched.”
“Who bewitched him?”
“This nasty old man, their Sovereign, or the swans.”
“What do we do now?”
“We must remove the spell,” Kate declared. “Have you any good wizard here?”
“Yes, we have a lot. Just that the spell of the Sovereign, if he cast it, can be removed
by no one but himself.”
“But he’s dead! Who is the most powerful wizard now?”
“Just remembered!” Chris exclaimed. “The Fairy of Eternal Youth! She’s the one you
“The Fairy of Eternal Youth? Where does she live?”
“Very far away. In the West, by the graves of the three founder knights. There on the
hill is her palace protected by the White Dragon.”
“Then everything’s clear!” Kate clenched her fists decidedly. “We’ll abduct Gene
from the Capital, take him to the Fairy of Eternal Youth, and ask her to remove the spell.
Is she a very good witch?”
“Oh, yes! They even say that she’s stronger than the Sovereign.”
“Then,” Kate’s eyes were filled with hope, “maybe she’ll help us get home?”
“Of course, she’ll help!” Chris said nothing to dissuade her.
“Wonderful! I’m devilishly tired after everything that has happened. And you?”
“I’m ready to drop dead!”
“Then let’s sleep. Oh, only one bed here!”
“Nonsense. Even if there was another bed, my place is at the door of the bedroom
where Knight Caterino sleeps.” In confirmation of his words, Chris went to the door and
lay down right on the floor near the door.
“You’re a great guy,” Kate approved of him. “One can expect anything in this haunt.”
When they were almost ready to fall asleep, the door opened, and Marie came in.
She shrieked loudly because Chris was instantly on his feet and waved his sword in front
of her face.
“Who’s this?” Kate muttered sleepily.
“Some girl,” Chris reported, staring suspiciously at Marie. “What do you want?”
“Barbarian.” Marie indignantly lifted her thin eyebrows. “I didn’t come to you at all
but to your mistress, our Sovereign’s sister. Alvansor’s order.”
“Polite people knock before entering!” Chris did not leave it unanswered. He calmed
down and sheathed his sword.
Marie was embarrassed and blushed. “I knocked,” she started to justify herself.
“Only the doors here are so thick that you didn’t respond.”
“Let her in, Chris,” Kate ordered. “This is Marie. The one who saved Gene from the
On hearing these words, Marie was filled with superstitious respect for the
Sovereign’s sister, who also knew everything just as her kingly brother, and curtsied.
Then she approached the bed, in which Kate was lying in her clothes (she’d had no
strength to undress). Chris remained at the door. “I should wait on you, girl Caterino. It
seems that’s your name? I was also Prince Eugene’s maid, that’s why I know.”
“You were my brother’s maid?” Kate was astonished. “Well, that’s just his thing.
He’s ready to turn everybody into his servants.” Certainly, not everything Kate said
about Gene was entirely true. She exaggerated a lot because she was very angry with her
brother, and when one is angry, one always forgets to watch what one says. “Look,
Marie,” she addressed the girl. “I’m not Gene. I don’t need a maid.”
“Why don’t you?” Marie was confused.
“Of course she doesn’t!” Chris interrupted. “Count Caterino is a knight. And knights
don’t need maids. They have squires. Is that clear?” He proudly and derisively looked at
Marie, indicating that there was nothing for her to do here, and added, “Even if the
knight is a girl and not a man.”
“Aha!” Marie answered no less derisively. “Then why didn’t you, brave and faithful
squire, undress your mistress instead of putting her in bed right in her clothes? Besides,
all wrinkled and dirty?”
Chris was so disconcerted that Kate laughed. She no longer even wanted to sleep.
“You know, Marie,” she said, having stopped laughing. “A boy, not Christian, told me
that all knights sleep in their clothes. I followed this rule so strictly that I’ve completely
forgotten that one can sleep another way.”
“But this is terrible!” Marie was shocked.
“I think so too,” Kate agreed.
“Well, let’s get you undressed. Even though you’re a knight, I’ll help you,” Marie
said, and without additional ceremony pushed Chris out the door.
Soon Kate, undressed, luxuriated under the blankets, and felt the difference
between sleeping in jeans and a sweater or in some underwear. She wanted to thank
Marie for the care but did not manage to because Chris burst into the room. The boy’s
eyes were wide open. There was fear in them.
“There’s some kind of smoke in the corridor,” Chris stammered, “Green smoke.
Maybe a fire?”
Now Marie was also alarmed. “It’s not smoke but fog,” she said. “It appears here
every evening. It isn’t thick, everything’s visible. But better not go along the corridor.”
“Because if you breathe in the fog, you’ll instantly fall asleep. It’s a kind of sleeping
fog. It wasn’t like this earlier, but as soon as Prince Eugene became the Sovereign, this
fog began to appear in the White Tower every night. Oh, enough talking, I must go to my
own room, or else I won’t have time and will collapse somewhere in the corridor.”
“Some devilry!” Kate shrugged. “Why does he need this fog?”
“Alvansor says that the old Sovereign left the fog as protection for his successor. No
living creature will be able to get to the Prince of the White Tower at night.”
“Where do the guards go?”
“The guards? They sleep in the guardroom. They have nothing more to do in the
White Tower. Everyone in his own quarter and no one can get out. The fog is the best
protector. If either of you suffers from insomnia, go out into the hallway and wait a bit;
when you return, sleep will come very quickly.”
Having said this, Marie, with Kate’s clothing in hand, jumped out of Knight
“Here I don’t need fog,” Chris said. He bolted the front door, then found a beautiful
skin and spread it near Kate’s bed. He lay down and placed the unsheathed sword next
to himself. “I’ll die if something is going to stop us from sleeping. Turn off the light,
Caterino. Pull that cord above your pillow.”
Kate pulled and all the candles burning in the chandeliers and sconces went out.
There was immediate semidarkness. With all the events of the day, evening had long set
in. They closed the curtains over the high windows with a rustle and it became so dark
that even their own hands were not visible.
“A green fog,” the girl muttered before she fell asleep. “Yet another riddle. Probably
connected with Gene. Witchcraft. Again witchcraft.” And she, too, fell asleep.
Everyone in the palace sunk into dreams. The fog floated along the corridors,
illuminating the space with greenish phosphorescence. It was thick as smoke near the
floor but transparent much higher so that everything was perfectly visible. Only no one
was wandering at night through the corridors and halls of the White Tower.
EVERYTHING BECOMES SO MYSTERIOUS, SECRETIVE, AND
INCOMPREHENSIBLE THAT KNIGHT CATERINO STARTS AN
Morning came. Then the day dragged on. Kate and Chris did not wake up. There
was nothing surprising in this. Since they left Mama Eliza’s castle, this was the first time
they had the opportunity to get a good sleep. Besides, they were so tired after their grand
ascent to the White Tower and the curtains in the room were so thick! Only one thing in
the world was capable of waking our friends. It was hunger. And it woke them. Kate and
Chris woke up almost at the same time. Both immediately felt that they wanted terribly
“Stay here and rest,” Chris said to the girl. “I’ll get food.”
He got up, ran to the fountain, stripped off his shirt, and began to wash. For a start,
he shoved his whole head into the water. Kate even winced when she saw this. Having
washed, the boy got dressed, combed his wet hair with his hand, and went out the door.
He returned after a few minutes. Three kitchen boys with trays came in behind him.
They rolled a table on wheels to the bed, quickly set it, bowed, and ran away. The
children ate leisurely. They ate to their hearts’ content.
“How do you feel?” the boy asked Kate.
“Excellent! You know, Chris, I’ve probably become a real knight. Nothing hurts. I
can again do all those things, which we’re supposed to.”
“Well done! You scared me a little yesterday. You were losing heart so much.”
Kate was offended and instantly pouted, “Big deal! I simply gave in to a bit of nerves
yesterday. What, don’t I have the right to cry?”
“You probably do,” Chris sighed. “You’re just not a simple knight.” Kate giggled.
They both burst out laughing.
“When will they bring my clothes?” The girl stared at the closed door. “I’m already
tired of lying around here. I want to get up. As soon as I get dressed and washed, I’m
going to my brother. Maybe he’ll be different today?”
Gene, however, had not changed. He remained the same as the night before. As
soon as Kate and Chris came to the door of the throne hall, where, as they knew, the boy
was, the halberds of the guards blocked their way.
“I’m Knight Caterino,” the girl announced perplexedly. “Why don’t you let me in to
“No order!” the guards answered in a chorus.
“No order from whom?”
“The Sovereign?” Kate felt how rage began to take hold of her. “You know, Chris, I’ll
soon not stand for this. I so want to drive away those stupid guards, break down the
door, rush in, and pull my little brother by the ears. It seems to me that he’s indeed
making fools of us and mocking us.”
“Just say the word,” the squire shrugged his shoulders. “And these two idiots will
scatter like chickens.”
The guards heard how two young upstarts jeered at them, but they could do
nothing. They stood for hours and did not have the right to move from the place without
a special reason to do so. The boys were only prattling for the time being. When they got
down to business, then...
The girl-knight and the boy wanting to become a knight did not get mixed up with
the guards and sensibly stepped aside. They were not in the least afraid. Kate simply
judged that since Gene did not want to see her and even placed guards at his door, there
would not be normal conversation. Then why waste time in vain? She would wait. She
could look around and clarify the situation in the meantime.
The children began to roam the halls and corridors in the hope of finding out
something useful. The guards no longer stopped them. It meant that they could go
anywhere they wanted as long as the Sovereign was not there.
“Look, there’s the girl who was with us last night,” Chris said, when they passed by
one door. The door was slightly ajar, and Kate immediately looked. There really was
Kate entered the room. “May we come in?” she asked politely.
Marie was very confused. “I don’t even know,” she said. “This is the Sovereign’s
bedroom. Will he like it if he suddenly finds out that strangers came in here?”
“Don’t worry,” Kate answered. “I’m no stranger. I should see how my brother lives.
Listen, you’re probably mistaken. Is this dark room really my brother’s bedroom?”
“You see?” Kate nudged Chris on the side.
The boy nodded. “I wouldn’t sleep here for any money,” he said quietly.
The room in which they found themselves was the least of all places in the world
where a little boy would sleep. Yes, I confess, even adults would unlikely agree to sleep
here. This room more resembled a place in which a funeral service for the dead is
performed. Walls of dark colour, very small lamps, and curtains of such gloomy colours
that even on this sunny and joyous day one wanted to pray and cry here.
“I told you that something’s wrong here,” Kate whispered into the boy’s ear. “At
home, he would never go to sleep if the night light wasn’t on or I wasn’t in the nursery.
Here even an adult can go crazy. The child’s bewitched.” Chris nodded solemnly.
“Tell me, Marie, has the Prince slept in this crypt for long?” Kate asked.
“You hush,” Marie pressed a finger to her lips. She even trembled with fear on
hearing such insolence. “You may be His Majesty’s sister, but be more careful with
words. The Sovereign can be very harsh.”
“That’s for sure.” Kate recalled Gargulio.
“Earlier this was the old Sovereign’s bedroom,” Marie began to narrate. “But when
he died and Prince Eugene became our new Sovereign, he immediately moved in here.”
“Where did he live before that?”
“In the very room where you live now.”
“I see,” Kate said, although she clearly did not. “And all the toys filling our room
belonged to him earlier, right?”
“And he played with them?”
“Yes.” Marie perked up. “He was very fond of playing. What didn’t we play! He was
very fond of toys. Sometimes I even felt sorry that he became the Sovereign. Oh! Just
don’t tell anyone my words, or else...”
“We won’t,” Kate interrupted her. “But now he doesn’t play at all?”
“Not at all.”
“No. From that day he has never even been in the room of toys.”
“Enticed him with toys,” Chris made his conclusion. “And then bewitched him. See?
Such a baby and doesn’t play with toys!”
“What are you doing here?” Kate asked Marie.
“I tidy up here. Make the bed. Then have to sweep the floor and dust.”
“You’re such a noble girl, you shouldn’t have to do such things.”
“Not in the least! The Sovereign is a hundred times nobler than the noblest man in
our country. Therefore, I can only be a maid to him. I even had to go through a
“Is that so?” Kate was surprised. “Well, if you’re not ashamed to do this, then God
also ordered me, a simple count and knight. Let us help you.”
Marie wanted to resist but Kate would not let her. “Don’t worry. You can trust me.
Indeed, I’m his own sister. Would I really do something bad to the Sovereign?”
Knight Caterino started to dust the furniture with a special broom. This occupation
allowed her to examine the whole room carefully. However, there was nothing strange
or suspicious. No matter how much Kate searched, she found nothing. This, though, did
not discourage her. She and Chris memorised everything that could be useful to them in
the future. The bed with a dark-brown canopy stood in the centre. It was so high that
three wooden steps led up to it. Kate just photographed this place in her memory. She
found a lot of different places where one could hide in the future, when she and Chris
would start an operation to kidnap Gene.
It seemed that she was lucky. Kate noticed a key on the little table in front of the
mirror. She guessed at once that it was for this very bedroom. A burning desire to filch
the key took possession of her. However, she decided not to hurry. She needed to
observe it first. She did correctly because the key, as it turned out, belonged to Marie.
The girl, when she had finished cleaning up, locked the room and put the key in her
“This is your key?” Kate asked casually.
“Yes. Only three people have such a key.”
“Who are they?”
“The Sovereign, Alvansor, and me.”
“Of course. Do you carry it all the time?”
“Of course not. I’m so absent-minded, I’d be sure to lose it. I hang it on a hook in my
room. When I go to clean up, I take it.”
“Very good,” the girl was glad. “You know, we’re already so well acquainted but I
still haven’t visited you. Please show us where you live.”
“With pleasure!” Marie was very happy. She would not mind at all to be closer
acquainted with the knight Caterino and the handsome squire. Where would be the
place to do this? Certainly in a comfortable setting. Where can one find a cozy setting
here? Only at her place. “Please drop by any time.”
“This girl is simply a godsend,” Kate thought with the joy of an experienced spy.
“She’s chatty, knows a lot, and no one takes her seriously. Unfairly though. Indeed, she
uncovered the Defence Minister’s conspiracy. We’ll treat her very earnestly. Perhaps
she’s the only person who can really tell us something useful.”
She shared her thoughts with Chris. The squire listened to her and nodded
agreement, “I also think that she might be useful.”
Kate decided to continue the conversation and try secretly to get out of Marie
everything she had seen and heard recently. She decided to start with the Defence
Minister’s conspiracy. “May I ask a personal question?” she asked, when they were in
the nice and neat room with two sofas and four armchairs.
“Ask.” Marie became animated. She had had no one to talk to for so long, especially
about personal things. “I’m so fond of talking about intimate things. You probably want
to know whether I have a boyfriend.”
Kate even blinked in surprise. “No,” she hastily objected, as she saw that Marie in
fact was going to start talking about her suitor. “I want to ask you about a very delicate
matter. Are you ready?”
“Is the Defence Minister, who wanted to kill my brother, your uncle?” Marie, of
course, did not expect such a serious issue. She was lost but still nodded in the
“Now I’ll ask an even more sensitive question. Why did you, on finding out about
the terrible designs of your own uncle, tell Gargulio everything? How could you betray
your own relative?”
Pain and despair were added to the confusion in Marie’s eyes. Her hands began to
tremble and tears escaped her eyes. Chris hurried to the table, on which stood a pitcher
of water. He filled a glass and brought it to Marie.
Kate saw that Marie was going to cry and implored in her turn, “Understand, it’s
crucial for me to know this. Were you manipulated by magic? Who did it, my brother?
Or someone else?”
“No, no one manipulated me.” Marie drank the water and calmed down a bit. Such a
slightly frivolous girl as she could do this quickly. “I didn’t want the Prince to be killed.
He’s so good and sweet. Sometimes it seemed to me that he’s my own brother. But my
uncle... I’ve never loved him! Neither does he love me.”
The story became more entangled once and for all. It was not possible to understand
anything. However, Kate would unravel the tangle whatever the cost. She would
investigate everything and find out why Gene did not want to or could not return home.
Hence, the girl caught every word in Marie’s story.
“My uncle,” Marie continued to narrate, “is my closest relative, because I have
neither father nor mother. Only an uncle on my father’s side. After my father’s death,
which happened three years ago, he began to hope for my death also, as he wanted to
take in his hands the wealth my parents left behind. I knew it and was afraid all the time
that I’d be poisoned or captured by people bribed and sent by him. All those years my
life was like a nightmare. Do you know how horrible it is to expect death all the time?”
“We do!” the children sighed in answer.
“So, when a competition was announced among girls of nobility for the position of
maid to the prince who was about to appear, I immediately applied. It was difficult. My
uncle tried to dissuade me in every possible way, even threatened me, but I ignored him
and won. I was brought to the White Tower and settled here. I was out of danger. My
uncle couldn’t reach me here. Then Prince Eugene appeared, a charming boy. We very
quickly became friends. How merrily we passed the time! He was full of the most
interesting ideas and knew so many games! The whole city had a good time. Then he
began to pine for home.”
“Pine for home?!” Kate could not stand it. She simply trembled from what she was
hearing. How she wanted to hear this!
“Yes, he started to say that it’s time for him to go home. I was very sorry to part with
him. No one wanted him to fly back to where he had come from. But the old Sovereign
for some reason didn’t let him. He tried to persuade him to stay for a year. The Prince
didn’t want to. They even argued many times over this. The boy came back all in tears
and complained to me about the Sovereign. He said that they had deceived and stolen
him. I comforted him as best I could. But he became gloomier and sadder with each
passing day. He often cried, stopped playing with toys, didn’t go anywhere, and didn’t go
“Then the Sovereign suddenly died unexpectedly and left a will, which stated that
Prince Eugene was his successor. The Prince became the Sovereign and immediately
changed. He became the way he is now.”
Here Kate could not control herself. “Aha!” she exclaimed. “I also thought that Gene
changed after the death of this old man. Tell me, did this happen immediately the next
“No, it went unnoticed. Therefore, different villains immediately started to weave
plots and organize coups and uprisings. No one expected such a young one as Gene, as
you call him, would be able to resist them. And no one was afraid of Gargulio.”
“When the Sovereign died, was my brother there?”
“Yes, precisely with him as he died.”
“How with him?” Kate and Chris asked in one voice.
“He, as always, was in the throne hall and talking with the Sovereign...”
“As always?” Kate was surprised. “He was always talking with the Sovereign?”
“Of course. Once a day the Sovereign summoned the boy to him and talked with him
“No one knows. No one had the right to be in the throne hall at this hour. Not even
the guards. He was probably teaching his heir and future successor witchcraft. So, Gene
was with the Sovereign that day. Suddenly he shouted and began to call the guards.
When the people ran in at the shout, they saw the Sovereign lying dead on the floor.
Gene cried. I quickly led him away. But in an hour Gargulio came and led him to the
ceremony dedicated to the funeral. I never spoke with him again. He simply stopped
noticing me. Imagine how hurt I was. I indeed became very fond of the little Prince
“Yes,” Chris said noncommittally. “A sad story!” Kate said nothing. She only sobbed
spastically and swallowed the lump in her throat.
“Then he left the Capital altogether to suppress the rebellion of Alexandro the Black.
It became so boring and lonely in the White Tower that I asked Gargulio about going
home. He willingly let me go. I met my uncle at home. He was very polite and friendly
with me for some reason. He had never treated me this way before. He asked me about
the new Sovereign all the time. I didn’t know that he was plotting something against
him, so it never came to my mind to hide anything from him. I told him everything I
knew. But you must admit that I knew very little. One night, I heard a coach stopping
near our house. Who would come so late? After some time another coach stopped. That
got my attention. When another two carriages and one rider arrived, I decided to get
dressed and go out to see who was visiting our home. Lighting my way with a candle, I
went to the front stairs. There was no longer anyone there, not even the servants. I went
back. Along the way, the wind blew the candle out and I had to get around by touch.
Suddenly, I saw the door of my father’s former study ajar and a strip of light in the
room. I could not overcome my curiosity and decided to see what was going on. How
surprised I was when I discovered that there were a lot of strangers. My uncle was
saying something to them. Words reached me, from which I guessed that they were
talking about the new Sovereign, about the Prince of the White Tower, my friend. My
hair stood on end when I heard about the intent to kill him! I heard all of their horrible
conversation. I don’t remember how I ran out of there. I didn’t hesitate for long. I hated
my uncle, but after learning that he wanted to kill not only me but also a boy who had
done nothing bad, I had nothing left for him. So I told Gargulio everything without any
“You did a very noble thing,” Kate exclaimed. “My brother and I will always
“I know. When the Sovereign found out that I helped uncover this plot, he returned
me to the White Tower. Only he still wasn’t the same. Not the way he was before.”
All three were silent. Despondency consumed Kate and Marie. Chris could think of
nothing either. “Perhaps, if your brother doesn’t want to see you in the day time, we’ll
try at night?” he finally proposed.
Kate’s eyes sparkled. She nudged Chris’ shoulder so that he would not say another
word and then turned to Marie. “Tell me, Marie, do you have gauze or a bandage? In
fights and battles, Christian and I got so many wounds and scratches that we didn’t
bother to dress them.”
“Do you really hurt?” Chris was about to ask but immediately understood from
Kate’s look that she was up to something, about which it would be better not to speak
“Of course, I have everything,” Marie answered and ran to the cabinet.
“And cotton wool?”
“That too. You need a lot? Perhaps, send below for a doctor?”
“To hell with a doctor!” Kate indignantly rejected this proposal. “I hate doctors. We
wandering knights always manage without healers. And our wounds aren’t so dangerous
to run to the doctors.”
Already in the corridor, when Chris pestered her with the question why she needed
everything, she said that she intended to make masks.
“What kind of masks?” Chris did not understand.
“When you said that we should try to meet Gene at night, I realized that it was a
brilliant idea, but then I remembered about this green fog.”
“Yes, it’s magic, against which we’re powerless,” the boy sighed.
“Nonsense! This fog is just some heavy gas with sleep effect. Since it’s a gas, all we
need are gas masks. And where in your backward country can we find gas masks?” Chris
shrugged his shoulders. He did not understand what she was talking about.
“Nowhere!” Kate answered her own question. “But you’re safe with me. We’ll make
gas masks ourselves. I think that normal gauze bandage is quite enough. Someone who’s
a friend of the wizard Nick knows everything in the world! Tonight we’ll wander along
these hallways like ghosts. And no one will bother us. Look what I have.” With an air of
triumph, Kate showed her friend the key to the Sovereign’s room, which she had pulled
off nevertheless when Marie left the room. “Tomorrow morning we’ll put it back. If, of
course, nothing hinders us.”
THE GHOST OF THE WHITE TOWER
Night came to the Country of Frozen Time. It did not come quickly. First, the sky
darkened. The sun, having shone all day, dipped below the horizon and sent its last rays
from there. The moon had replaced it. The moon rolled out like an orange from behind
the line of clouds and reigned in the sky. As always in this country, it was full and round,
moreover, so near and huge that even the lunar mountains were visible. Here, in the
Country of Frozen Time, established according to the wish of the great enchantress the
Fairy of Eternal Youth, it played an important and responsible role. It was destined to be
the eternal helper of all those endowed with magical powers.
Only in this country could wizards, warlocks, and magicians do their own thing
continuously without being interrupted. Once it was this way, but the laws issued by the
Sovereign forbad magicians and wizards from casting spells more than once a week.
These laws, however, did not apply to the whole country but only to the Capital and its
surroundings. That was the reason that in the city, where Kate Konstantinova and her
best friend Christian Thirteen were, there was not a single wizard except the Sovereign.
Again, I digress. Certainly, one would like to say something about the moon, but,
perhaps, it is not worth it. Suffice to say that night in the land, about which I am
describing, comes unlike everywhere. You know very well that our night comes from the
east. The sun sets in the west and darkness overtakes it from the east, filling the entire
sky. Here it is a little different: the sun actually sets in the east. However, it does not
become dark immediately after this. For some reason, when it sets over the horizon, the
horizon lights up everywhere, from all sides, as if a golden sea has formed in the sky. It
swashes, plays, and sparkles. It is very difficult to understand where the sun is. It seems
that it is everywhere. Now this sea begins to dim, slowly and inexorably. It dims first at
the ground, the horizon; when it fades completely, there remains only the blue sky,
which also continues to glow, very nicely. When the moon emerges to the centre of the
sky, it is as if it begins to absorb the light, and starting from the edge of the horizon as
well. The horizon begins to darken first and from all sides without fail. Hence, it seems
that darkness comes from everywhere. It draws nearer to the moon. The closer darkness
approaches the moon, the brighter the moon becomes. Finally, the moment comes when
only the moon alone shines in the sky. And, it goes without saying, the stars. Darkness
brings them, like scattering silver coins.
That is how night comes to the Country of Frozen Time. Here I should be more
specific. The fact is that everything written above can only be seen in the centre of the
Country of Frozen Time. The Capital is right in the centre. Hence, Kate and Chris saw
for the first time this great sight, which the residents of the Capital can watch every
night. Of course, it is unnecessary to say that the children liked it ineffably, as they
watched it from the highest point in the country – from the windows of the top floor of
the White Tower.
When it was quite dark, the lights below began to dim. The city began to fall asleep.
At first it was the lazy upper streets, after them quarter after quarter in the direction of
the city walls. Only the streetlights and the torches of the guards, who were walking
around patrolling the night city, remained lit.
“It’s time!” Kate gave the word. They snuffed out the candles and left the room.
Nobody! Not a living being. Only the moon. It looked into the window of the White
Tower and illuminated its mysterious and frightening halls with light. A green fog, like a
magic river flowing along the parquet floors of the corridors, had long since chased all
the people here to their rooms. Silence and peace, emptiness and eternity completely
Like two shadows, Knight Caterino and her squire began to sneak along the dark
succession of corridors, not afraid of the subversive effects of the green fog. Kate was
right: ordinary gauze bandage turned out to be quite enough to keep them from falling
asleep after inhaling the green fog. As you have probably already guessed, Kate’s senior
fellow student, Nick, taught her how to make masks. The girl made them out of a double
layer of gauze, placed cotton wool inside, and soaked them with water before they left
their room. When it was time, the children put the masks on their faces and went out to
hunt. They resembled doctors who found themselves in a cholera infected place or
robbers seeking lonely passers-by in the night.
They stepped slowly and carefully, trying not to make a sound. How would it seem
to those in the rooms for guards and servants if they should hear something from the
corridor where no one was supposed to be? Would it matter? They would get panicky.
Kate took the flashlight, but it turned out to be unnecessary because visibility was
excellent. Yet, despite that the green fog drove away the darkness with its dim light, the
space around was dark and ominous. What was clear and simple during the day now
turned into something unknown and dangerous. Statues, paintings, and mirrors
harboured in themselves so many horrible things! They looked down, as if alive, on the
children with either a threat or a warning about danger.
The children felt like uninvited guests. The green fog was so sinister and varying,
creating fanciful figures so that, though our heroes were brave, they felt shivers running
down their spines and their knees trembled slightly. Chris suddenly discovered in his
hand the girl’s hot and moist palm, met her frightened gaze, and squeezed her hand in
support. They walked on hand in hand.
Very soon, Kate and Chris suddenly discovered that they could not find the room
they needed. There were so many halls, rooms, and corridors that they simply lost their
way in the dark and did not even remember now in what direction they should go in
order to get back to their own room at least.
“Tell me,” Kate whispered, “on the outside the tower wasn’t quite as wide as to have
enough room for so much here inside? What is it, magic again?”
“Of course,” Chris replied, also quietly. “Have you really forgotten that besides
Walter, the king of the underground gnomes also built this tower? It was he who
bewitched everything here this way. Outside you may think that there are only five or six
rooms on each floor, but in fact there are thirty or even fifty.”
“And the Sovereign always lived here alone?” the girl gasped.
“What a greedy man!”
“Be quiet! How can you say that about the greatest of all magicians?!”
“They’re all the greatest,” Kate said noncommittally. “Then they steal little boys and
make them princes. Where do we go?”
“There, I think.”
“Ok, let’s go there.”
However, they found nothing there, only stumbled into an empty hall with no exit.
They were already about to turn back, but Chris suddenly saw something and stopped.
“Look, Caterino, we’re in the throne hall!” Indeed, the magnificent chair could not be
anything other than the throne.
“Yes, and no green fog here!” Kate decided to study this place attentively. She
carefully closed the doors, so tall that their top was not even visible in the darkness, and
took off her mask. Chris did the same.
When they looked around, they saw another miracle. There were windows
everywhere. They looked out to all four directions. Kate and Chris came up to one of
them and stopped dead in surprise. They saw the whole Country of Frozen Time as on
their palms. The boy even saw his own castle. It seemed like a little toy house from here.
“Maybe I’ll be able to see my brothers?” he asked himself, staring intently into the
“It’s night now, you won’t find them,” Kate replied. “We have to go. Maybe next
time, Chris, we’ll look for your brothers, but now let’s go look for the Sovereign’s
Chris sighed and reluctantly followed Kate. Suddenly, his eyes caught something.
He pulled her arm and pointed to a picture on the wall, “Maybe this will interest you.
This is the Sovereign’s portrait.”
Kate looked at the picture and saw a very old man in a massive sumptuous frame.
He looked at the girl sternly and menacingly. However, Kate did not turn her eyes away.
On the contrary, she studied the Sovereign’s image very carefully. She was interested in
the one who had done such harm but then also died. She would remember this character
“Okay, let’s get out of here,” Kate put the mask back on and took the other by the
hand. “We’ve too much to do to look at the different portraits.”
They left the throne hall and again found themselves in the river of green fog. “In
which direction should we go?” Kate asked.
“Let’s go at random,” Chris proposed.
They suddenly heard a strange sound, as if someone sighed softly. The friends
stopped in their tracks and even forgot to breathe. Following the sigh, they heard a hiss.
“What’s that?” Kate instinctively moved closer to the other.
“Don’t know.” The boy’s forehead was white and his eyes wide open.
The hiss, in the meantime, was coming nearer, right at them. Now it became clear
that it originated from the fog, as if a giant snake was crawling along the floor. The
children turned back, but instead of the doors of the throne hall, they discovered only a
blank wall. The hiss was getting closer and closer. The children pressed against the wall
and waited for what would come next. A column of bright green smoke jumped with a
bang out of the fog in front of them, took the outline of some creature like an octopus,
and dissolved in the air.
“Phew!” Kate breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s just gas. It probably thickened too much,
therefore it hissed. But now it won’t hiss anymore.” The hiss had indeed stopped. The
children carefully turned into the first corridor they came across.
“Where did the throne hall disappear to?” "Chris was perplexed. “Did you see how it
“I did. Well, what of it? If the tower inside can stretch and look bigger than it
actually is, then it’s no surprise that rooms can also be first here, then there.”
“True. Sheer magic.”
Suddenly, Chris again stopped in his tracks and grabbed Kate by the arm. “Look, do
you see it?”
“What?” Kate turned her head. “What did you see again?”
“It seemed to me that someone went past there.”
“Silly. Who but us can walk here?”
“Don’t know. Maybe it just seemed so to me, but I saw a figure in that hallway.”
“It only seemed so to you.” Kate said to reassure herself. “Perhaps we should go
there and check?”
“Somehow I don’t really want to,” Chris muttered uncertainly.
“Then we won’t go,” Kate announced in relief. She also did not quite want to test
They spoke very quietly, so that they had to whisper into each other’s ear, and
looked into the corridor where Chris had allegedly seen the unknown. They decided not
to go there and hurried off in the opposite direction. Again, they heard behind them the
same sigh. Fear gave them strength, and the children turned into the first corridor.
What they saw paralysed them.
From the opposite end, a human figure was slowly moving straight at them. Kate
had never met ghosts or apparitions in her life, only read about them in books and saw
them in movies, but she soon realized that before her was a real ghost. The ghost was
transparent, bright blue in colour, and was glowing in the dark. It shone brighter than
the green fog, so bright that beside it, the fog was not green but blue. This ghost was
heading towards them.
For a moment, Kate felt completely like a little girl. Perhaps it would be better to
scream and scare the ghost with a shout? How long time has passed! No, time has not
passed at all. Indeed, this is the Country of Frozen Time! All the same, she will scream
now. Kate took a deep breath, and Chris’ hand covered her mouth at that moment. Kate
immediately felt relief, remembered that she was not alone, and did not resist at all
when the boy dragged her into a nook, of which there were a great many here.
“Keep quiet!” he whispered into her ear. “It seems not to have noticed us. Maybe it’ll
pass by; the main thing, don’t move and don’t say anything.” Kate nodded in fright and
pressed tighter against Chris. She was so afraid of the ghost that she would not agree to
look at it again for any money. Therefore, she decided to turn away and not watch as it
went past. However, she was too late, because when the ghost became clearly visible in
the opening, she was already not able to look away and only clutched convulsively at
The ghost was walking very slowly. Its legs sank into the fog, so it seemed that it was
not walking but floating in the air. However, ghosts probably walk this way. This was a
man. Rather, a very old man. Very old. It walked with its eyes closed. Its thin, long, and
predatory nose seemingly pulled its head forward. It was probably not easy to carry such
a long nose. However, it was most likely just staring at the floor. Suddenly, it stopped
and raised its head.
Kate’s heart, only just hopping like a hare in her chest, was suddenly filled with
anger and rage. Fear had vanished to an unknown destination. Kate had recognized the
ghost. It was the Sovereign. The old Sovereign. The one that had stolen Kate’s brother
and then bewitched him. No, she will not fear it! Neither alive nor dead. Good that she
had had time to look at the portrait in the throne hall. How good that they had been
The ghost moved from its spot and walked on.
“You knew it?” Chris whispered.
“I would’ve recognized it anywhere. Why is it roaming here?”
“Maybe it’s suffering from kidnapping your brother? Nagging conscience. Not
allowed into paradise.”
“Let’s find out where it came from,” Kate proposed. “Faster, or else it’ll disappear
somewhere. We’ll have to look for it then.” She slipped out of hiding and began to sneak
up quietly behind the ghost. Chris followed her.
Following the ghost turned out to be easy. It plodded its way slowly, and when it
stopped and raised its head, our friends instantly hid behind either a statue or a vase.
There were many places here for hiding.
In this way, they reached the stairs leading down. The ghost stopped, then suddenly
flew up and hung over the flight of stairs, which went down like an abyss. It spread out
its broad cloak using its arms, opening it like a parachute, and flew down.
The children ran to the stairs and looked down. They saw how the Sovereign, or his
spirit, not important which, vanished below.
"We let it slip away,” Kate said in despair. “What to do now? It even flies!”
“Have to run after it.”
“What’s with you? We’ll be running all night and still not catch it.”
“Then let’s use the hoist for food. Alvansor and Gargulio caught up with us using it.”
Chris had found out about this from Marie during the conversation in the afternoon.
Kate’s eyes sparkled. “Let’s run there!”
“If only it’s here and not at the bottom,” Chris thought aloud, when he and the girl
rushed to the hoist.
The hoist was in place. The children jumped onto its platform, hung on tightly (as
they knew that it flew with the speed of an arrow), and Chris tugged at the starting lever.
In a second, the floor was gone from beneath their feet and then they were pressed hard
against it. It was a great flight into the abyss. Kate still did not understand how she had
managed not to scream. The fall continued for a minute, during which time the children
could change their minds about a lot of things.
“A roller coaster is a downright trifle compared to this!” Kate decided to share her
“Yes, it’s great!” Chris corroborated.
The hoist landed gently. The mechanism clicked and the platform froze in place.
“You wait here and I’ll go check on our ghost.” Chris was eager to continue the
He climbed out of the hoist and ran to the stairs. As soon as he raised his head up,
he immediately saw the Sovereign coming down right onto him. The boy barely had time
to jump back as the ghost made a soft landing on the marble floor. Chris pressed against
the wall and the Sovereign’s spirit went past, almost touching him. It walked over to the
tall door, which led from the White Tower to the castle, went through the door, and
disappeared out of sight.
Chris rushed to Kate. “Quick! For some reason, it went to the castle.”
The children ran to the door and opened it with difficulty. Fortunately, there was no
green fog here; otherwise, having cast off their masks long ago, they would have fallen
asleep immediately. They saw the ghost again in the castle. The children sneaked behind
it past guards soundly asleep and could not believe their eyes. The ghost, which had
recently not been less than two metres in height, suddenly began to shrink.
“It’s melting!” Kate stretched a hand forward. “It’s going to disappear!”
The stalkers continued to sneak with bated breath behind the ghost. They had to be
very careful. The Sovereign’s spirit became smaller and smaller with each hall. Now it
had already become the size of a five-year-old. They still managed somehow to get used
to a large ghost, if, of course, one can get used to such a creation, but a small ghost, it
turned out, could be even more terrible.
“I think I’m beginning to understand where it’s going,” Kate said, when they entered
the next hall.
“But I don’t.”
“It’s going, going...” Kate heard how her voice began to tremble more and more.
“There, it seems, will now be its coffin!”
“What coffin?” Chris did not understand. And suddenly it also dawned on him. The
Sovereign’s spirit had come to his own tomb, where the Sovereign’s body lay.
“I’m not going there,” the girl muttered quietly, but could not help herself and so
Chris was right behind her. To say that they were scared means saying nothing.
They were terribly afraid! Still, Kate and Chris entered the Sovereign’s tomb after his
ghost and saw a huge coffin. There were a few columns near the walls. The children
hurried to dive behind one of them.
The ghost walked three times around the sarcophagus, then slowly began to climb
inside the tomb through a narrow gap between two plates. Even a piece of paper would
not fit there, but it soon disappeared inside with ease and without hindrance. When it
disappeared, the sarcophagus shuddered. A rumble spread along the crypt. The walls
also shuddered suddenly, and the flame of the candles standing on the corners of the
sarcophagus began to toss in a mad dance.
Covering her mouth in order not to scream, Kate and her friend rushed out of the
hall. They did not even notice how they got back by the hoist to the White Tower. Only
here could they take a breath.
“Look at me carefully, please,” the girl gasped and turned to her friend. “Tell me,
have I turned grey?”
“No, likely your hair is the same as before. Though can’t make out anything in the
dark. Very likely we’ll see in the morning that our hair is white, like old people’s.
Imagine, at thirteen I’ll be like my old man-servant Ian!”
Kate was shaking. “Now I won’t be able to sleep,” she babbled, teeth chattering.
Chris had already calmed down and even cheered up a little. “Nonsense,” he said. “It
was no worse than the flocks of witches in Bewitched Forest and much more harmless
than the vampires. If Drool were with us, we would’ve thought of something and be far
from here.” The children sighed. They remembered their dead friend and grew sad.
“I wonder how long we ran after this apparition. It’s probably already morning
soon?” Kate said. It turned out that very little time had passed since the moment they
began following the spirit. The night was in full swing. Outside the windows, it was so
dark that even the stars and the moon could not dispel the darkness.
“How are we going to get back, Chris? Do we really have to climb again?”
“Well, no. I swear by the witches, we won’t do that. We’ll spend the night in the
hoist, and in the morning we’ll be taken upstairs together with the produce.” That was
what they did. They lay down on the platform of the hoist and instantly fell asleep, as
though they had not met a ghost. Fatigue had done its work.
At dawn, Chris woke Kate. Oh, how she wanted to sleep! You do remember how
hard it is for her to get up. However, Chris shook her even with some rudeness and,
taking her by the arm, shook her hard a few times.
“What, morning already?” Kate asked sleepily.
“Look over there!” Chris whispered.
Kate looked into the darkness with sleepy eyes and did not see the ghost right away.
Now it was going back to where it had come from the day before.
“Dawn soon,” Chris said. “It returns.”
The ghost reached the flights of stairs, took off slowly from the floor, and flew up.
The children waited a little and ran to the place where the Sovereign’s spirit had recently
been. They raised their heads and saw how the blue ghost slowly vanished into the
“Cursed! Another mystery!” Kate exclaimed. “How tired I am of all this. We’d better
get back to sleep. I think very slowly when all kinds of ghosts interrupt my sleep.”
A DREADFUL ANSWER, AFTER WHICH ONE MUST TAKE FLIGHT
When the morning came and the noise of many steps was heard, the girl and the boy
woke up and rushed to hide in the shaft, along which the hoist had to go up. They waited
while the strongmen loaded the platform with produce and other things, then took the
wheel, and the hoist travelled up. Chris and Kate carefully stepped onto the platform
when it came near them. No one below noticed.
“Have to travel for a long time,” Chris judged.
“Quite enough for us to discuss things.” Kate, as always, was only interested in her
problems. “What do you think of all this?”
“I understand nothing. This ghost is some kind of vampire the other way around.”
“What do you mean by ‘vampire the other way around’?”
“Well, a real vampire lies in a coffin during the day and comes out at night to hunt.
But this one that we saw lies in the coffin at night. Maybe it came to us by chance last
night? What do you think?”
“I don’t know. But I’m sure that it’s somehow connected with my brother. It has
probably gone to the White Tower to cast a spell on Gene.”
“And it’s somewhere there now,” Chris uttered thoughtfully.
“That’s right.” Kate caught him by the arm. “It means it’s there now. Where is it
hiding? Perhaps, in a picture? I read somewhere that spirits can live in pictures.”
“Probably. Precisely, indeed the Sovereign’s portrait hangs in the throne hall. Why
wouldn’t he, or rather his spirit, hide in his portrait?”
“You’re right. It lives in the portrait and bewitches Gene and sets off to rest in his
coffin at night.”
“Then we must drag it out of there!”
“The fact of the matter is that you don’t know. This proves that we must steal the
child as soon as possible and take him far away from here. This cursed ghost won’t be
able to have an effect on him there. We’ll go right away to the Fairy of Eternal Youth.
We’ll do this tonight if nothing prevents us.”
They so decided. When the hoist started to get near the last floor, the children
jumped off a little earlier and already arrived at the top of the stairs. For starters, Kate
visited Marie’s room, for appearance’s sake chatted a little with her, and unnoticeably
put back the boy’s bedroom key, having decided to walk off with it another time.
When she came into the room of toys, where Chris was already waiting for her, a
guard came up behind her and announced, “His Majesty the Sovereign of the Country of
Frozen Time wishes to see Knight Caterino!”
The girl gave a start on hearing this. She had somehow quite forgotten that she
could be summoned somewhere. Now, when she already knew something, this was
rather dangerous. “Where has the Sovereign summoned me to?” she asked the guard.
“The throne hall.”
“Good, we’re coming.” She made a sign to Chris to follow her and they went to the
appointment with the one they were going to kidnap that same night. “The main thing is
that no one must know that we know about the ghost,” Kate managed to whisper to her
Gene was already waiting for them. “You dallied, why?” he asked in a voice barely
restraining anger. “Already the second time I summoned you.”
“The second time?” Kate was taken aback.
“Yes, the second time. Where were you? I was told that you weren’t in your room.”
Kate carefully glanced sideways at the Sovereign’s portrait. It seemed to her that the
old man was suspiciously looking directly into her eyes. She hurriedly looked away from
the portrait and answered, “I was in the gallery. Looking at paintings covering the
history of the Country of Frozen Time.” The art gallery was right on the floor below, so
Kate was not afraid of lying. Any guard, if asked whether she had come out of the art
gallery, would answer in the affirmative.
“You always were very curious.” Gene climbed onto the throne and started twisting
a golden pin on his finger. “Which painting do you like the most?”
“The one depicting how they put the Sovereign’s crown on you.” Kate was not sure
that such a painting existed, but it bothered her little. She could always say that she had
made a mistake and muddled up everything.
“No such painting,” the boy answered. “You were simply at Marie’s, and before that,
you were in the armoury with your friend.”
“What?” the older sister was astonished. She decided not to argue about the
armoury. It seemed that they had also gone there. “Really, no such painting was done?
What a pity! Perhaps there are no good artists here? Then we’ll go home, we’re sure to
find them there.”
She decided to tease her brother, but he did not even move a muscle. He continued
to twist the pin with an air of indifference. “How do you think of returning home?” he
Kate was happy and already wanted to answer that they must appeal to the Fairy of
Eternal Youth, but she again saw the portrait of the old Sovereign and bit her tongue in
time. “I’m thinking that since you’re Sovereign and can now work magic, it won’t be
hard for you to get us back home.”
“Forget about home.” Gene sighed. “Once and for all. It’s impossible to go back.”
“Why impossible?” Kate was staggered.
“Impossible and that’s all. It’s not simple magic, which your friend Sweet Tooth
managed. I think you called him that?”
“How do you know about him?” Kate was surprised.
“By the way, why don’t you call me ‘Your Majesty’?” Gene asked. The girl bit her lip
but said nothing.
Gene jumped down from the throne and ran to her. “I know all about you,” he
smiled slyly. “Tell me, how did you find me?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
“It’s always this way!” her younger brother was indignant. “All my life you say ‘later’
to me! Later, later, later, after, after, after, somehow some other time! You indeed
promised to take me to the zoo, but in the morning said, ‘later’! Huh? Isn’t that so?”
Kate could not deny the truth of his words. She guiltily lowered her head and
mumbled, “Fine, I’ll tell you. Do you remember Nick, my counsellor from camp?” Gene,
who had never seen Nick but had heard much about him, nodded.
“Well, when you flew away...” Kate told her brother how she flew on a chair to the
Country of Frozen Time, defeated the dragon, and became a knight.
“I somehow could not assume that someone would tag after the swans,” the boy
uttered, when Kate described her visit to Ruina. “You don’t have to tell me anymore, I
“How? Or can you really and truly work magic?”
“I still can’t work magic, but this isn’t even magic. Playthings of the old Sovereign.
This window here.” Gene led Kate to the widest window. “It’s magical, and if you cast the
right spell, it’ll show everything that ever was and is in our country. Be careful! Don’t
touch it with your hands. It’s a very thin glass. No use to show it to you.”
“So you were spying on me?”
“What do you mean spying? I was watching. Watching your feats and admiring what
a brave sister I have. You really are a very brave girl. Tell me, did you do all this to find
“So, you love me?”
“Yes!” Kate was almost in tears. She saw Gene’s mocking face and did not
understand why he did not believe her.
“Nonsense!” Gene really did not believe her. “You’re just afraid of our parents. What
will you tell them when they ask, ‘Where is your brother?’”
“Okay, you can say whatever you want,” resentment swept over Kate. “Let me be so
bad. Let me do all these things so that Mama and Papa won’t scold me. Let it be so!
Then tell me, since you saw everything that happened to me, why didn’t you help me
even once? Why? I could have died so many times! My friends also risked their lives too
many times, and Drool even died saving Chris and me! He died!” Kate had not noticed
how she had moved to shouting, she was so angry. “You, Sovereign of this land, the great
and mighty, whom everyone talks of as a great warrior, you didn’t come to my aid.”
Gene listened to what she was saying, but his face remained calm and amused. Kate
wanted to hit him.
“I’ll explain why I didn’t rush to help you,” the boy replied. “I considered everything
that happened to you as just revenge for your action at the zoo. Don’t think of me as
cruel. Besides, I was curious. You’ve always managed to get nicely out of the most
difficult jams. In the end, you reached me yourself without any problem. If I had helped
you, how many adventures you would have missed! And you became a knight somehow.
According to our laws, no one has the right to help knights in the time of their feats.
Except trolls and squires they acquire, of course.”
“I don’t want to talk with you any more.” Kate turned her back to her brother and
walked out of the room. Chris followed her.
“Visit the art gallery, nevertheless!” Gene shouted after her. “There’s no painting of
them putting a crown on me, but there’s a wonderful golden copy of the statue standing
in the main square of the city. It’s called Boy Riding a Swan. But you’ve given me a good
idea about a painting!”
However, his sister had already left and closed the door behind her. The little
Sovereign sniffed and went to the magic window. He asked what was happening in his
country and then began to survey the city. When he came to the main city gate, his eyes
opened wide, and a satisfied smile beamed on his face.
He saw a tattered old woman covered in mud enter the gate. The guards whom she
went past stepped aside with displeasure and distaste, as if afraid to be contaminated by
her. In fact, the old woman was so ugly that even the children playing at the gate ran off
in horror and with screams, leaving their toys. The old woman looked at them from
behind with malice in her inflamed eyes. Even the guards could not stand her terrible
piercing look. They would be happy not to let her into the city, but the law allowed all to
enter it without exception. The bewildered guards saw how the old woman’s left hand,
which she had hidden all the time, stretched out from under the rags. The hand was cut
off almost at the elbow. The nasty stump was somehow wrapped in rags. Ruina! Gene
immediately recognized the witch and the main enemy of his sister. He noticed with
pleasure that Ruina’s hatred for Count Caterino had not lessened, but on the contrary,
under the influence of the magic poison of the giant scorpion, had grown many times. It
was exactly what he needed...
“Boy riding a swan!” Kate shouted with fury when she was in her own room. “I
swear by the goblin, when we get back, I’ll spank him again! Be him at least thrice
“Exactly,” Chris supported her. “I wanted so much to cuff him that I barely
restrained myself. However, when we kidnap him, I for sure will rough up his ears!”
“What’s with you?” Kate was upset. “I won’t let you. He’s just a kid.”
Chris laughed, “I said it on purpose. In order to cool your heels a little. Never fly
into a passion before an important matter. You know what we’re doing tonight.”
“Yes, you’re right. Have to make new masks.”
“Right. Make three of them.”
“The third one is for whom?”
They waited with difficulty for night. It is always this way. When you wait for
something important, then it seems that it will never come. However, night nevertheless
came, as beautiful as the day before. To the friends, it was not for the beauty. Kate
hastily got the masks ready and once again checked her jeans pocket, in which lay the
key to the room where Gene slept. She had made off with it again from Marie’s. In the
evening, she ran to Marie, to help clean up the Sovereign’s bedroom, and then, once
again, after exploring the surroundings, stole the key.
They did not intend to return here anymore. Chris cleaned and made the weapons
ready. He carried Kate’s shield himself and handed the sword to the girl. “You haven’t
forgotten how to use it?” he asked.
“Let’s hope that we won’t have to fight,” Kate replied. “Fights and skirmishes are the
serious flaw in our dangerous work.”
“Yes, the main thing, it’s time to cut and run. As soon as the boy is in our hands, we
go down. I already checked the hoist; luckily for us, it’s in place. So there shouldn’t be
any surprises. Afterwards we get out of the castle, run to the innkeeper Apius, take our
horses, and leave the Capital. And then... What will happen next, it’s not worth talking
about for the time being.”
The children turned off the lights, wished each other good luck, put on the masks,
and opened the door. They were met by the green fog, so mysterious and dense at the
floor and transparent above.
The friends quickly moved along the deserted corridors and halls. This time Kate
very quickly found the necessary room. Kate and Chris stood near the door for a few
seconds, listening intently to what was happening behind it. Not hearing anything, Kate
carefully, holding her breath, inserted the key and slowly turned it three times.
Something clicked in the lock. The children flinched and backed away from the door. It
was simply the lock responding. The door opened slowly and quietly. Kate immediately
slipped through the gap. Chris looked around several times to check if there was any
danger behind, and followed the girl.
They wanted to remove their masks, but how surprised they were when they
discovered that the green fog was also here. The gloomy room was lit by the fog’s dim
light, and now its similarity to a crypt was emphasized even more than in the afternoon.
A boy was lying in the centre on a high bed. It was Gene. When Kate saw him, she
was scared. He was lying on his back and was so pale that for a moment it seemed to the
girl that her brother was dead. With her heart frantically pounding from fear and
trembling all over, she rushed to Gene and sighed with relief when she heard the steady
breathing of the boy.
“It seemed to me that he had died,” she said to Chris when he also walked over to
the bed. Kate looked at her brother and all of her ached with pity for him. The child
seemed to be lying on an operating table. There was clearly something wrong going on
with the boy. But what? The older sister tried to understand it but could not.
“Perhaps wake him up?” Chris asked.
“How can you wake him when this fog is here? We’ll have to carry him by hand.
Don’t worry, he’s light.”
Suddenly, something knocked. Kate and Chris shrunk back from the bed in fear, but
realized that the door, which they had forgotten to close behind them, had just
slammed. They again approached the sleeping one but suddenly stopped, feeling that
the air in front of them had suddenly become elastic and, like an invisible wall, would
not let them continue. The green fog under foot started to ripple and move in waves. In
some places, it lit up with bright flashes and shot up wreaths and clouds.
“I’m scared, what is it?” Kate exclaimed lamentably. She wanted to go to her brother
but could not. She became unbearably miserable and scared because of it. She thought
that some terrible danger was threatening Gene, but she could not help him.
Chris rushed to the girl, grabbed her, and dragged her off to the side. “It’s magic,
Kate!” he assured her. “Don’t stand in its way. The Sovereign’s spirit is probably
somewhere near and isn’t letting us go to him. Let’s hide and wait for what happens
next. What if the ghost will come here now? Maybe it’s even already here.”
As if in confirmation of his words, they again heard the same heavy sigh or groan,
which they had heard the night before. Only now, it was much louder and closer. Kate
was paralyzed with fear. She could not move from the spot, but Chris dragged her away
to a corner concealed by a wooden figure of a giant monkey with nuts in its paws. A
quite suitable place to hide from the ghost if it appeared.
The room where they were continued to change. The green fog was not lying in
place now but going in circles like a giant whirlpool. It stopped being silent, and hissing
and gurgling were heard from its depths. It started to change colour gradually. First it
yellowed, then turned pale and began to be loaded with bright yellow, orange, and red
spots. Kate suddenly remembered that she had seen something similar in the magic
cauldron in the witch Ruina’s cave. She could not tear herself away from looking at her
brother. She wanted to dash to him but could not and cursed herself for it. Tears were
flowing down her face, but Kate did not notice them. She should be beside Gene!
However, the barrier was insurmountable. It seemed to advance to the intruders
and became wider and wider all the time, pressing Kate and Chris into the corner. Now
it would crush them. Kate already could not breathe and just moaned. Chris tried to
stand between her and the invisible wall to shield her from danger. The terrible force,
however, also carried him along to the wall. It was as if the children were given to
understand that they could not make their way to where a mere mortal should not poke
his nose. Magic does not tolerate someone else’s intervention.
“We’ve lost,” Kate barely uttered. “Goodbye, Chris!”
“Maybe it’ll be over,” the boy wheezed in reply. “It seems it has eased up a little and
the fog is settling down.”
The fog in fact had begun to assume its previous form. A new groan rang out, and
the invisible wall lessened its pressure and backed off slightly.
“This ghost is simply not letting us get to him,” Christian made the assumption. “It’ll
come here now. You’ll see. We managed to hide in time. Only where will it come from?”
He watched the door closely, fully confident that the ghost would appear there, and as
before still screening the girl and holding her hand. She continued to look where her
younger brother was lying. Chris looked at her, then at him, and again stared at the
When he looked at Kate next, he saw such horror in her eyes that he shuddered
involuntarily. He followed her gaze and saw something that made the hair on his neck
Gene was glowing, with a bright blue light. He was still lying, not moving, and
Chris felt a sharp pain. Kate had dug her nails into his palm so deeply they drew
blood. Such emotions were in the girl’s glassy eyes that it was impossible to make them
out anymore. The boy thought that people who had gone mad probably had such a look.
Here something had gone mad. Gene was glowing so brightly that it started to blind
them. Kate was to rush to him, but Chris held her back with difficulty. She wanted to
scream but he, like the night before, pressed a hand over her mouth. Something told
him that they should be as far away as possible from what was happening on the bed.
Gene continued to glow, but not as evenly as before. His legs began to dim, but his
shoulders and head were blazing so that it seemed that the sheets under the boy were
just about to blaze up. Suddenly, a beam of blue light began to stream from his eyes; the
ray came right out of the closed eyelids. At first it was the size of a child’s hand, then
grew and became like a small vase.
The children watched all of this from their hiding place, and their faces were lit by
the blue light. The ray suddenly transformed into a wondrous beauty of a blossom on a
thin stalk growing right out of the closed eyelids of the sleeping boy. When it became
large enough, it separated from the child, who immediately stopped glowing; only drops
of light by inertia rushed after the blue flower. The flower floated to the middle of the
room and began to open. It opened, and a blue rod the size of a pencil flew out of its
core. The blossom crumbled immediately after this and the light from it vanished into
thin air. The rod began to grow until it reached the size of an armchair. It began to take
the outline of a human figure. It slowly but unyieldingly turned into a person. The
agonizing wait was over. It had transformed into...
...the old Sovereign, the same ghost that had roamed the White Tower the night
before. Continuing to grow, it walked to the door. The spirit’s eyes were closed, and its
face expressed such an effort, as if it had just pulled itself up by the hair out of a swamp.
The spirit sighed one last time and disappeared behind the door, passing through it. The
green fog flew out after it with lightning speed through the crack between the door and
“Did you see that?” Chris exclaimed. “It turns out this ghost was living in your
brother! Not in the portrait at all but in a living person. So, it means all this time you
weren’t dealing with your brother but with a spirit! This is awful! It’s a crime when
somebody’s soul lives in someone else’s body!” He turned to Kate to express his dismay
and saw that the girl was sitting on the floor, hugging her knees, crying bitterly and
silently. He rushed to Kate.
“I hate it!” the girl uttered through her sobs when Chris’ hand touched her shoulder.
“I hate myself that it’s all because of me...” She continued to cry.
“No time for tears.” Chris kept his presence of mind. “We’ve discovered the
Sovereign’s secret. His spirit sleeps in his sarcophagus at night and migrates into the
boy in the day. If we take your brother away from here, then it’ll have nowhere to live
and will have to return to his coffin forever. Your Gene will be free from it only as far
away as possible from the White Tower! So let’s cut and run from here!”
ESCAPE FROM THE CITY
Chris’ words sobered the girl up and she rushed headlong to Gene. This time
nothing prevented her, and in a second she was already holding her sleeping brother in
an embrace and kissing him on his pale and hot face. Gene began to toss about and
groaned. Tears splashed on his cheek, but the boy never woke up.
Chris had already run off to check how far the Sovereign had gone. When he
returned, he found the little prince’s clothes and tossed them to Kate. “Dress him while I
prepare a gift for the Sovereign,” he said and ran over to the wooden monkey.
While he was removing the statue from the pedestal and dragging it to the bed, Kate
pulled Gene out of bed and began to dress him. This did not turn out to be so easy,
because first she had to remove the child’s nightshirt, and then put on him, sleeping, a
mass of ancient things completely unknown to Kate. She was nervous and got confused
several times, then cast aside the duds, the purpose of which it was impossible to guess,
and dressed the boy in pants, a shirt, and a jacket. The last was similar to a guard’s dress
uniform, stylish and in velvet. Kate put shoes right on his bare feet because the stockings
were so long that there was no time to unravel and pull them on.
Chris put the monkey on the bed, in which the Sovereign had recently been
sleeping, carefully covered it with a blanket, and then ran to the brother and sister.
“Take your shield and give me the prince,” with these words he took Gene in his arms.
The child instinctively put his arms around his neck. Kate helped to put a mask on him,
put one on herself, and the children abandoned the sinister and gloomy place.
When they passed the stairs to the throne hall, which was higher than the rest of the
halls on this floor, Chris stopped. “I think it’s worthwhile for us to drop in here.”
“Why?” Kate was surprised.
However, Chris did not answer, and only when they got inside did he walk over to
the magic window and say to Kate, “Smash this cursed glass; my hands are otherwise
Kate understood him perfectly. Why had she not thought of it? She pulled out her
sword; from her attack small fragments of glass were scattered in all directions, a lot of
them flew loudly from a dizzying height into the abyss. “Take that!” Kate said with
hatred to the Sovereign’s portrait, and our heroes jumped out of the throne hall.
They had to experience once again flight on the hoist for food, but now it was
already not so terrible. The children turned up at the bottom. They removed their
masks, already becoming hateful, and with Gene in hand fled in search of an exit. Yet,
when they finally found the necessary door, a deep breath of disappointment escaped
both of them. Officers and guards guarded the exit. The children concealed themselves
and, breathing heavily, began to think of what to do next.
“If they catch us, they’ll instantly put us in jail for attempted kidnapping,” Chris
whispered, not letting go of his heavy burden. “Then they’ll send your brother back and
he’ll once again...” His tongue would not turn to say what would happen if they failed to
get out of here.
Kate looked with hope and entreaty at her friend and waited for a decisive action
from him. She had lost all ability to think or do anything. Chris understood this and
“Perhaps, a sudden attack and force our way through?” he was thinking aloud. “No,
it’s impossible. All the guards from the castle and the park will run here because of the
noise and capture us. So, we must find another way out. Somewhere I noticed a window.
I just remembered! Run!”
Wrapping her arms around the shield, which she did not think of hanging behind
her back, Kate ran after Chris. They turned up in a narrow corridor. On the right side of
a dimly glowing torch was in fact a small window. Chris had not been mistaken. His
power of observation had rendered them a great service. A grown man would never be
able to climb through the window, but it was quite appropriate for the children to leave
Chris found a bench trimmed with crimson velvet, set it upright, climbed up on the
wall, opened the window, lifted up Gene, whom he had transferred to Kate, and then
pulled her up too. It was not easy, but he managed. There was silence. Chris jumped to
the ground, somersaulted once because it was high, and stood on his feet.
“Throw the boy down!” Kate dropped Gene to him. Chris caught him nicely and
then also caught Kate.
The girl remembered poorly how they made their way through the park, hiding from
the guards, then dragged themselves along the railing and searched for a loophole,
found it, and got out into the city.
When they had passed a few dark and empty streets, Gene began to move and sigh
in Chris’ arms. “You know, I think he’s waking up.”
Kate paused for a moment, then took the boy from Chris’ arms and sat down with
him on the ground. Gene was really waking up. He opened his eyes and then closed
them. The girl patiently waited to see what would happen next. The child, not opening
his eyes, started to rub them hard with his fists. Then he stretched widely and opened
his eyes. For a few seconds he stared at Kate, who could not take her eyes off him, and
then began to look around. On the boy’s face appeared horror, which was soon replaced
by joy. “Kate, is it you?” he said in confusion.
“Yes, little one, it’s me! I’m with you! I’ve taken you out of there. We’re going home.”
Kate did not notice how tears were flowing down her face.
Gene’s lips trembled, he screwed up his face. He started crying and hugged his older
sister tightly. “I thought that you wouldn’t save me, boohoo!” he said through howling.
“I was stupid! I won’t be anymore. It’s all my fault, please forgive me! I love you!”
“I love you too, little brother. If you like, we’ll go to the zoo every day!”
So, hugging each other, they wept together for a long time and did not say any more
words. Sister and brother. Only then did they understand how they needed each other.
When the children had stopped crying, they looked at the sky dotted with stars and
sighed blissfully as if all dangers and adventures were behind them.
However, Chris, who had been waiting patiently all this time, hastened to
disappoint them. “We must go,” he said. “We haven’t reached our horses yet.”
Kate remembered that everything was just beginning and got up from the ground.
Gene immediately took his sister’s hand, ready to go anywhere with her. The boy looked
happy. He sniffled joyfully and wiped the tears off his smudged face.
The fugitives went down the street and, on meeting a night watchman with a
wooden mallet, apparently guarding the mansion they were walking past, asked him
how to get to By the Hearth Tavern, the owner of which was Mr. Apius. The watchman
looked at them suspiciously but pointed out the road all the same. Not an hour had
passed and they were there.
When the innkeeper opened the door, his eyes widened in surprise. In a long
nightshirt and cap with a tassel and holding a candle in his hand, he looked rather
“We came for our horses, Apius,” Chris explained their night visit.
“Of course, you have the right to pick them up as you please,” the innkeeper agreed
quietly. “But why so late? In the middle of the night?”
He led them into the tavern and stopped dead when he saw Gene by the light of the
candle. “Your Majesty!” he muttered, dumbfounded. “I don’t believe my eyes!”
“His Majesty wanted very much to take a stroll with me,” Kate intervened. She
finally pulled herself together and again became the former, active girl, who was not just
a girl but a knight.
“I understand. I understand.” Apius was flustered. “Only first please pay for the
horses. I fed them and looked after them carefully. And then, sir knight, I must admit,
the thing that you gave me the last time clearly doesn’t want to be in my house.”
“What thing?” the girl was surprised.
“The golden buckle from your cloak. It started to get warm and glow that same night
and almost set fire to my house. Won’t you please redeem it?”
“But I have no money! Not a penny!”
Apius was disconcerted. “Can such noble guys like you collect your horses and the
buckle and not pay anything? It’s against knightly honour. But even so, old Apius won’t
stand in your way because of a few insignificant coins.”
Kate and Chris listened ruefully to his words. However, what could they do?
Suddenly, the girl felt her hand being pulled. She turned. It was Gene. “I do,” he said.
The boy smiled and turned to Apius, “Take the buttons from my jacket. They’re of
pure gold and, besides, with my portrait. You’ll get a lot of money for them. How many
do you need to pay for the debt?”
A startled Apius looked at Gene, then at the buttons of his jacket, and said quietly, “I
think, for the care of the horses and the buckle, three will be quite enough.”
Gene pulled off three buttons and handed them to the innkeeper. “There, and know
that Prince Eugene and his friends always pay for themselves.” Apius bowed deeply to
the little prince.
“May I ask you something, dear Apius?” Chris turned to him. When he nodded,
Chris continued, “We want to set off with His Majesty on a journey for a few days. It’s
his whim. Do you understand? Great people always have whims. We want to do this
without being noticed. How would you advise us?”
“I understand everything. You need to get out of the city so that no one knows,
“Exactly. And as soon as possible. Before dawn.”
“Very well. Then you’re in luck. You see, a band of gypsies has been sent packing out
of the city today. They’ve done something, it seems that they stole something, and the
city council decided to banish them from the city. They must leave the city tonight. Just
before dawn. The First Minister has already put his signature on the decree and now
they have to go.”
“Who’s the First Minister now?” Kate was interested.
“I appointed Alvansor,” Gene replied and was embarrassed.
“If you manage, you can fully come to an agreement with the gypsies to claim you as
their own,” Apius finished. “So, do hurry. The band passed here recently. The main city
gate is in that direction.”
“Thank you!” Kate and Chris shouted to him at parting, put Gene on Mirko, and
rushed to where the innkeeper had directed them. They rushed with all their strength
and soon the last gypsy wagon, creaking and waddling from side to side, showed them
“Give me two of your buttons,” Chris turned to Kate’s brother. Gene tore two
buttons off without a word and handed them to Chris, then put his arms around Mirko’s
neck and gently began stroking its snout.
“Don’t get too near to them for the time being but also don’t lag behind,” Chris gave
instructions to Kate. “I’ll go and make arrangements with their leader.”
He jumped into the saddle and galloped off to the lead wagon of the band. The
gypsies did not pay him any attention, and when the boy asked where the leader was, a
very tall and strong man with a black beard and thick, luxuriant moustache was pointed
“What do you want, young man?” the gypsy leader asked Chris.
“I want to make an arrangement with you on a matter.”
When Chris disappeared into the darkness, Kate also sat on Mirko behind Gene.
“Cool that you have a horse,” her younger brother shared his impressions with her.
Kate embraced Gene and pressed him to herself as if she was afraid that he would
disappear again. “When we get out of the city, I’ll teach you to ride,” she promised.
“Really?” Gene rejoiced.
“Word of the knight Caterino,” Kate swore.
Gene turned to her and looked his sister in the eye, “We won’t fight anymore?
Never?” Kate smiled at him as gently as she had never done before. The boy understood
and did not ask anymore.
Chris returned. “Everything’s arranged,” he reported. “We’ve come to an agreement
with these people. We’ll tie the horses to the last wagon, sit inside, and not show
ourselves until we’re out of danger.”
They so acted. The wagon where they hid was full of sleeping children. The friends
climbed to the farthest corner, wrapped themselves in their cloaks, and stayed still in
After a while the band stopped. It had reached the gate. The guards shouted
displeasure that they had been disturbed at this late hour. The gypsies yelled in their
own language and tried to convince the guards that they were leaving the hospitable city
against their own will. Order was finally restored. The commander came and began to
read the piece of paper, which the gypsy leader shoved at him. He read slowly because it
was dark, and with the light of the torch, which a rather short soldier was holding, it was
difficult to make out the letters.
Chris cautiously looked out and immediately dived back. “There’s Krokus,” he
whispered. “If he recognizes us, it’s the end for us!”
After a moment, Krokus looked into the wagon. He was checking if there were any
stolen goods. On seeing a bunch of sleeping children, he moved on. Chris and Kate
breathed a sigh of relief.
Finally, all the formalities were over, and the band with people shouting and horses
neighing moved to the gate. Wagon after wagon passed the last post and rolled out onto
the road. The wagon with our friends was the last, and the children had to experience
several trying minutes filled with nervousness and fear. Then, they also breathed a sigh
of relief. The city had been left behind. It drew away hour after hour and soon
completely disappeared in the darkness.
The children breathed in the cool night air and looked at the starry sky. The full
moon looked into the wagon and seemed to wink slyly, as if congratulating them for a
deed successfully executed. Yes, the night really was incredibly difficult. How much they
had lived through, seen, and found out! Night, or rather the already pre-dawn
exhilarating freshness, also lured them to sleep. Only now, Kate and her friend realized
how very tired they were. Gene had long been sleeping a healthy child’s sleep, in which
there was no witchcraft. Looking at him, the older children also began to nod. Kate fell
asleep first, and after her, no matter how he restrained himself, Chris also dropped his
The band of gypsies continued on its way. The wagons went one after another on the
road. Sleepy drivers lazily urged the horses on, and, as after any wagon train, the dogs,
with tails tucked in, dragged themselves along. They cautiously circled the wagon,
behind which, waddling on four legs, the hairy bear, the eternal gypsy prisoner, was
running. A long chain would not let it escape.
The sky began to lighten. Morning started to assert its rights. Night was unable to
dispute the truth of its demands and began to retreat. Kate, Gene, and Chris were
sleeping and did not see how the White Tower began to grow out of the fog behind them.
They still had not driven off so far as to not see it. The gypsy leader, whose name was
Raspiro, turned back and took a last look at the Capital.
He and his people had never been treated this way. To drive them out of the city,
even without proving it was really their fault! Cursed officials! They are the same in all
cities. As long as you give them money, they allow you to live and make a living in their
cities, but, as soon as you are no longer able to pay for their ever-growing demands, they
immediately start persecuting you. Wicked men! Why can his people not find a haven
for themselves anywhere? Why did the gods treat the gypsies so unjustly? However,
gypsies have no gods. Only spirits. Good and evil. They drive these people from place to
place because they do not like monotony. Raspiro was able to talk to them sometimes
and even did a little bit of magic. But not much good came of this. All he was capable of
was turning the inside of a chicken egg into a copper coin or something of the sort. Even
then, everyone claimed that this was not magic but just a trick.
The gypsy looked at the White Tower for the last time and wished that it would
collapse and crush with its weight the greedy and selfish upper class on the upper
streets. Suddenly, his coal-black eyes froze in surprise. Raspiro saw his desire being
fulfilled. True, the tower did not collapse but was burning with a blue flame. For a few
moments, it resembled a Bengal light. 2 Giant blue sparks rained down in all directions.
Raspiro was almost blinded and barely managed to close his eyes. When he opened
them again, everything was as before. The tower was standing whole and intact. Its top,
recently with the shiny lights, was doomed for an eternity to pierce the sky with a spire
thin like a needle. Just that in the blue sky directly above the White Tower hung a black
cloud, such a great rarity in these parts, where storms almost never happened, but only
cheerful summer rains.
“Did I really do all this with my spell?” Raspiro asked himself in surprise.
He did not know that it was the spirit of the old Sovereign not finding a boy but the
statue of a disgusting monkey in the bed. It had to return with lightning speed to his
coffin and his relics, otherwise his maleficent soul would cease to exist and break up into
A Bengal light is a flare that burns with a steady bright blue light, formerly used for signalling.
A DEAD MAN COMES BACK TO LIFE
Early in the morning, Alvansor the Flawless woke up with an unpleasant feeling.
Alarm settled in his heart. He glanced out the window and saw the same thing the gypsy
Raspiro beheld at that very moment. The newly appointed First Minister and
commander of the Sovereign’s personal guards did not quite feel himself. He was very
worried, for the little Sovereign first of all and for all those together with him in the
White Tower. He felt a little better when he saw that the White Tower remained the
same as before, but unease did not leave Alvansor. He told his servants to saddle a horse
for him quickly.
It was early. The city was still asleep, only the first passers-by began to appear on
the lower streets; these were traders rushing and wanting to occupy the more
advantageous places in the market.
Alvansor set spurs to his horse and galloped up to the castle and the White Tower.
When he got to the park, he met alarmed guards. “Something strange is happening in
the castle,” one of them reported.
“We’ll take a look,” Alvansor dropped on the way. “Put all the people on alert.”
The trumpet started playing immediately. “Toot-toot, toot-toot, toot-toot-toot-toottoot-toot!” the trumpeter blew the signal for the battle alarm.
Alvansor ran into the castle. “Upstairs!” he ordered and, like last time, demanded to
be raised on the hoist. “I swear by the witches, it was never like this, one alarm after
When he got up, he immediately found out why he was so anxious in his heart. He
was informed that the Sovereign was gone. “When did you discover that the boy was
gone?” he asked sternly.
“As soon as we heard the terrible thunder, we immediately jumped out of the sentry.
There was no green fog. We ran to the Sovereign at once and found the bed empty. His
Majesty was nowhere.”
“What do you mean an empty bed? Did you search well? Was the bedroom door
open or closed?” Alvansor asked question after question.
“Open. The bed was not quite empty...” The guard, having said that, hesitated.
Alvansor noticed this and his eyebrows went up. “Why are you silent? Speak!”
“A monkey was lying in His Majesty’s bed.”
“What monkey, what nonsense are you talking about?”
“Or rather, the statue of a monkey.”
“Ah, the statue. You checked all the rooms?”
“Yes, all but one, the one where Knight Caterino lives.”
“Why the devil did you not check this room?”
Alvansor went to look at the Sovereign’s bedroom. An alarmed and frightened Marie
met him on the way. The First Minister took the girl with him and interrogated her
along the way. He learned from her all that she had done and what dealings she had
with the girl-knight and her squire. When he was already in the bedroom, they informed
him that nobody was in the room.
“I thought so. They’ve kidnapped him. It was written on the girl’s face that she
intended to steal the Prince of the White Tower,” Alvansor began to reflect. “But then
what was the flash? Something’s not right.”
He carefully examined the whole top floor of the White Tower, then another four
floors below. He gave the order to search five more floors and told all the people who
served in the Sovereign’s chamber to go down and stay home until their Sovereign
returned. The White Tower was empty.
Alvansor went below and started an investigation. First of all he gave the order to
find out who exited the city in the night, and when he learned that there was only a band
of gypsies, gave another order to outfit for pursuit after them. The afternoon was far
advanced and quite a lot of time had passed.
“Gypsies steal babies,” Alvansor pondered. “Who knows, maybe they stole our boy?
Although this is highly unlikely. They wouldn’t dare. Find out where this young knight
and his squire left their horses... Question where they stopped.”
Only in the evening was a frightened Apius brought to Alvansor. He described
everything he knew. When Alvansor heard that the Sovereign had allegedly left of his
own will, he calmed down a little and ordered them to release the innkeeper. “So, went
for a stroll?” he sighed. “Then our task is easier.”
The guards who had gone after the gypsies came tearing along. They reported that
there were really three children with the gypsies, but they sat on their horses and left the
band at the Great Crossing.
“Which way did they go?
“To the West, in the direction of Unicorn Canyon, Valley of Stone Knights, and
“Oh, damnation!” Alvansor could not control himself. “What the goblin do they
“The gypsies had these.” Two gold buttons turned up on Alvansor’s palm. He
rotated them and saw on them the image of the Prince of the White Tower.
“His Majesty is free to do whatever he wants. We’ll catch up with him. If he’s really
been kidnapped, we’ll beat them off and free His Majesty. If he’s taking a stroll, we’ll
escort him. Oh, these children! Bloody greenhorns! Prepare a detachment.”
Alvansor the Flawless, at the head of a two-hundred cavalry detachment left the
Capital after an hour. He did not know that on the same day that he was searching for
the Sovereign, new events began to take place in the city, important and sinister events.
He also did not know that the former First Minister Gargulio was not being idle either
but had begun to act. The fat man decided to take revenge on the little ungrateful boy as
he had been humiliated and insulted, and most importantly, deprived of power.
Gargulio valued this most of all in the world.
Since he had been removed from the post of First Minister, Gargulio sat in his
palace and grieved. With pain and bitterness he looked out his window at the White
Tower and thought: will he really never rule this city and this country? The former First
Minister became so miserable with such a thought that he did not even want to live.
Gargulio lost his appetite, which had never happened before, he stopped sleeping, and
was thinking and thinking all the time. Finally, he came to the idea that he must regain
power. He saw only one way to do this – overthrow the present ruler and take his
However, a cowardly man such as Gargulio was not able to accomplish such a
grandiose measure as a coup d’état alone. He needed help. After long reflection, the
disgraced minister decided to use for his own despicable purpose the old enemies of the
Sovereign: Prince Alexandro the Black and former Defence Minister Leonari. They were
in prison. Gargulio would get them out of there and demand for this that they help him
take the throne.
Absorbed in his own problems, Gargulio did not know about the latest
developments in the White Tower. He ordered a carriage be harnessed for him and
drove off to the castle. He was thinking about what he would say to Alvansor when asked
what he wanted in the castle and could come up with nothing sensible. Hence, he did
not notice that all the city inhabitants were looking anxiously at the sky.
The fact was that the little black cloud, which had appeared at dawn right on top of
the spire of the White Tower, had begun to grow. It became bigger and bigger all the
time, almost clouded over the city by noon, and still continued to grow. The city had
become so unusually dark and gloomy because of it that even the residents of the lower
streets ceased their endless merrymaking. The hearts of the townsfolk were filled with
alarm and misgiving.
Gargulio did not notice any of this. True, at the wicket gate leading to the Park of the
Elf King, he paid attention to the sky turning black and the sun not shining. Gargulio did
not like it, but when he came to the castle and did not find Alvansor in it, he was
unspeakably happy and immediately forgot about everything in the world except his
own dark and dangerous intentions. He went with feigned indifference into the castle,
walked past the crowd of courtiers who looked at him now without the former respect,
and reached the Black Tower.
The corner tower of the castle was called the Black Tower. It was not black and was
called this because it was a prison for state criminals. Alexandro the Black, Defence
Minister Leonari, and about a dozen of their accomplices were locked up in separate
dark, windowless cells in the Black Tower. All of them were guarded carefully and
continually. Special guards were here. Those who served here received the highest
salaries and were on duty for a week without leaving. Therefore, they still did not know
about Gargulio’s dismissal from the post of First Minister and let him through without
The fat man, when he showed up in the wet and cold dungeon, suddenly took fright.
What if nothing turns out? Is he a madman if he tries to defeat the most powerful person
in the kingdom? If failure awaits him, then in the best case, he would take up residence
forever in one of the cells of this tower and thereby receive a life rotting in the Black
Tower instead of the anticipated grandeur on the throne. In the worst case, they would
chop off his head at the city’s main square, where there is a silver statue of a boy riding a
Gargulio mastered himself with great difficulty and entered the cell where
Alexandro the Black was. A decisive step had been taken; there was nowhere to step
back. He ordered the guards to withdraw and leave him alone with the prisoner.
Prince Alexandro gravely looked from under thick, black eyebrows at Gargulio and
asked, “What do you want?”
“Do you still hate the Sovereign as before?” Gargulio asked him.
“Yes. You can execute me for these words, but it’s so. This hatred came to me from
my father and him from his father. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
“If I help you get out of here, will you help me overcome the Sovereign?”
“What do you expect from this?”
“First Minister for life.”
“Ah, so you’ve been tossed out?” the rebellious Prince chuckled. “That’s what it
means to serve some boy. He toys with you and when he gets bored, he drops you like an
old toy. Okay, if you don’t manage to crack. What do I get for this?”
“You’ll get independence for your principality and all the surrounding land.”
“Then take this,” said Gargulio, handing the Prince the key which opened the locks
of the chains and the doors. “Tonight I’ll wait for all of you in my palace. Everything
must be done quickly before Alvansor returns. Lucky for us, he left the city for some
reason. You come to an agreement with Leonari yourself.” Alexandro nodded in accord
and Gargulio left his cell.
“Did you hear everything?” the Prince asked the Defence Minister, who was in the
next cell and in his months of captivity had managed to drill a small hole in the wall.
During this time, long imprisonment and loneliness had turned the two criminals into
comrades in misfortune.
“Yes,” Leonari replied. “If we succeed, then we’ll rule in turn. Half a year, you, and
half a year, me.”
They so decided. However, each was thinking to himself that when he came to
power, he would instantly kill the rival. They worked together now because each needed
the help of the other. The Defence Minister needed Alexandro to escape from prison,
and the Prince needed Leonari because he knew the city and had lots of friends there
who would take the side of the rebels. They decided to make the escape that same night.
A few minutes before Gargulio entered the Black Tower, incredible things began to
happen in the castle. The guard who served in the old Sovereign’s tomb suddenly
disturbed the courtiers strolling along the main halls. Wide-eyed with fear, he ran into
the ballroom and shouted, “Something strange is happening to the sarcophagus there in
“What is it? What’s happening?” the courtiers began to shower him with questions.
“It, it’s shaking!”
However, the guard did not answer; he turned and ran back to the tomb. The
courtiers consumed by curiosity ran after him. When they turned up in the gloomiest
room of the castle, they saw that the sarcophagus was indeed shaking. The huge stone
cube was trembling like a glass on the innkeeper’s table when a heavy clunker loaded to
the top with heavy wine barrels drove past nearby.
“What is this?” those present whispered to each other in fear. “Perhaps an
earthquake has started?”
One of the candles fell with a resounding thud to the floor and went out. It
frightened everybody. A nervous damsel even fainted. Pages running up lifted her up
and carried her away. The sarcophagus continued to tremble.
“I can’t look at this!” another pretty damsel exclaimed. She covered her face with
her fan and hurried away also. Some, mostly women, followed her example. Curiosity
kept the rest on site.
Suddenly there was a roar. Like a clap of thunder boomed nearby. The stunned and
amazed courtiers saw how the upper half of the sarcophagus began to rise slowly. Fear
froze the heart and soul of everyone. Everything around was shaking as if there was
really an earthquake. Plaster rained down from the ceiling. People screamed in fear and
started to run out of the room. A jam piled up in the doorway.
The top half rose higher and higher as if by the will of some invisible force. Now it
was a metre above the lower half and with a deafening crack split into two parts. Both
fragments flew far to the side, and it was a miracle no one was killed. A silver coffin with
a massive lid was revealed inside the sarcophagus. On seeing it, the courtiers and the
guards simply lost theirs heads. They fought for the right to get out the narrow door and
with this only delayed their flight.
The lid began to rise. Two skinny bony hands came out of the coffin and began to lift
it higher. A man appeared. He looked with crazed eyes at the citizens close to madness
and, after raising the lid slightly above his head, stood up to his full height.
It was the Sovereign. The old, true Sovereign. He was having a very hard time. He
was barely breathing. His arms and legs were trembling. Nevertheless, he threw the
silver lid of the coffin far away from himself and stepped onto the floor. By this time,
there was already no one in the tomb. People had managed to leave it and were now
tearing along with shouts and howls to exit the castle.
Clutching his chest and unsteady like a drunk, the Sovereign dragged himself along
in the direction of the White Tower. The first one who came across his path was
Gargulio, who had only just come out of the Black Tower. When he saw the Sovereign,
he fell unconscious onto the stone floor. He thought at first that Heaven was punishing
him in the form of the Sovereign’s ghost, then thought that he had lost his mind.
“Gargulio!” the Sovereign uttered in a hoarse voice. “You’re just what I need, you
worthless fat worm. Get up!” Such power was in his voice that Gargulio came to and
obeyed in terror. He looked devotedly at the Sovereign, although not without a shudder.
“Where’s Alvansor?” the old man asked.
“He’s not in town,” Gargulio babbled.
“Then you are my First Minister again. Remember his?” The Sovereign extended a
fat crystal whistle. Gargulio nodded his head, frightened. “Do you remember what you
must do? I see that you remember. Then go right now and do what you once did
Having said this, the Sovereign made his way to the White Tower. Gargulio saw how
he entered it by stretching out the wide cloak with his arms and – what a miracle! – flew
upstairs. The First Minister shrieked in surprise and fear, and ran to the exit. Beside
himself, he ran to the mermaid statue and blew the whistle.
Leaving the castle, Gargulio saw that the street was in full darkness. This was at a
time when the sky should be ablaze with the bright colours of sunset, when it should be
lighter than during the day. No. Instead, the sky was covered with dark clouds. Nothing
of the sort had ever been observed before in the time of existence of the Capital. Some
clouds were not even black but dark purple and emitted a weak glow, the reason the
sight of such a grim picture began to send goose bumps down every spine. Gargulio,
though, was busy with other things. The fear of the Sovereign was stronger than that of
nature. The elements were not as scary as the gaze of the yellow eyes of the living dead.
Again, everything was repeated as in the beginning of this story. Only this time the
water in the pond, from which the swans appeared, was not calm and transparent. It
was choppy like the sea before a storm. The swans, which, cutting through the waves,
came swimming to the man, were so stern, as if they were not birds but spirits of unfair
justice. They flapped their wings threateningly and in a condemnatory way and flew to
the window of the White Tower.
When they left, Gargulio wanted to return home. At this moment, it dawned on him.
Now he was the First Minister again. It meant power had been returned to him! Tears of
happiness rolled down Gargulio’s fat cheeks. So, now there is no need to hatch
conspiracies! Then he remembered that a conspiracy had already started operating. It
had to be stopped. The fat man ran to the Black Tower to warn security. However, when
he ran into the prison building, he found only disarmed, naked, and tied up guards. The
prisoners had disappeared.
“Damnation!” Gargulio exclaimed. “They managed to get away. Still, what will be,
will be. I won’t bother with them anymore. If they succeed in killing the Sovereign, be it
old or new, I’ll get everything all the same. If they lose, then I’ll take the side of the old
man and his stupid boy. Now it’s time to restore order in the castle and the tower. Am I
the minister or not?”
Gargulio ran to the security detachment and ordered the officer on duty to return all
servants and guards to their places. “The old Sovereign has returned because he saw that
everything has gone to ruins without him,” the First Minister explained the situation.
Now lightning rained down from the sky to the ground, thunder roared, and
streams of water poured. Trees started to crack and the wind whistled. The storm had
When the Sovereign flew into the throne hall and rushed to the magic window to see
where Gene was now, he saw that the glass was broken. In fury, the Sovereign released
into the dark sky a giant lightning bolt, which the witch Areatanuta would never produce
no matter how she tried. So began the storm.
The old man groaned loudly and got to the throne with difficulty. Having sat down
on it, he saw that his staff with an eagle on the handle was beside it, picked it up, and
pressed it to his chest.
“Oh, woe is me!” the Sovereign exclaimed. “Because of my carelessness and selfconfidence, I’m risking my life. How could I deceive myself so? How could I surmise that
some little girl would defeat me? Me, the greatest wizard that ever was! This had never
happened to me! Why did it? But I won’t give up! My life depends on it.”
Here the swans flew in through the broken window. They flapped their wings and
hissed. The leader approached the Sovereign. “You summoned us again. Why?” it asked.
“Fly and find me the boy whom you brought out of the land that lies beyond the fog
of timelessness!” the Sovereign ordered.
“You know that we can’t do this; indeed only six months have passed since we
fulfilled your order. Have a hundred years passed?”
“I know that they haven’t, but now it’s about my life and I don’t care at all.”
“Lunatic, indeed you’ll die. You can’t use the power of the pyramids so often. You
need a hundred years to regain the power that you possess.”
“I know. But if I lose the boy, I’ll die as a mere mortal. Don’t argue, just fulfil my
wish. You’ll gain freedom forever after this. I remember the agreement.”
The swans did not want to carry out such an immoral order again. However, they
were in the power of the Sovereign’s wishes; therefore, they flew to where the terrible
storm was raging as hard as it could.
IN CAPTIVITY AGAIN
Chris woke up first. He saw how a couple of pairs of curious black eyes were looking
at him. These were the gypsy children. They never took their eyes off the boys who had
appeared from somewhere unknown in their wagon. On seeing that Chris was awake,
the gypsy children fell like peas from the wagon and fled shouting among the band.
Chris woke Kate and Gene. The brother and sister rushed to each other at once to
ascertain that they were back together.
“Are you all right?” Kate studied her brother so carefully as if to make sure that it
was really him.
“Of course! Will you let me ride your horse?”
Kate promised her brother and began to badger him with questions. She wanted to
know everything that had happened to him from the moment he started the journey on
the swans. Certainly, she knew everything but still wanted to hear it from the horse’s
Gene did not much want to go down memory lane, but Kate persuaded him, and the
boy began to describe everything that had happened to him. When he got to the
Sovereign’s death, he immediately became gloomy. It was too painful and scary to recall.
“You know, I really want to go home!” Gene hugged Kate, and with the tenderness
of a younger brother cuddled up to her. “Will we go home or stay here forever?”
“Of course, we’ll go home,” the girl calmed him. “With a friend like Chris, we’ll
definitely go home.” The squire, sitting alone in the corner of the wagon, became
animated and a smile returned to his face. He joined in the conversation and also
assured Gene that he would return home for sure.
Respiro the gypsy leader looked in the wagon. “The Great Crossing,” he imparted
glumly. “We turn south. Are you coming?”
“No,” Chris replied. “We need to go west, to Unicorn Canyon.”
“Then get down.”
The children started to gather their belongings and prepare the horses for a new
journey. Very soon, they were already riding on the road to the west. Gene sat on Mirko
in front of his sister and watched with delight as everything passed. They travelled fast.
It was necessary to be as far away as possible from the Capital while the Sovereign was
in his stone coffin. The sky behind them began to darken. From the direction from
which they fled, dark clouds were approaching one after another. They soon covered the
whole horizon in the east.
“There’s something I don’t like,” Chris shared his misgivings. “Maybe we should
“What’s with you? We haven’t been in the saddle for very long. I’m not at all tired.
Are you?” Kate asked her brother.
“I’m not tired.”
“Are we really sacred by some storm, Chris?”
Chris shook his head. “Not the storm.”
“Further there’s a river. If we don’t manage to cross it, then there’ll be nowhere for
us to hide. The shore there is quite bare.”
“How do you know? You’ve never been there.”
“I studied the map.”
“In that case, I understand. Perhaps, if we hurry, we’ll manage?”
“We’re going too fast as it is. Can tire the horses. But likely not far to go. Let’s try.”
The travelers lashed the horses and galloped. Not much time had passed and a grey
ribbon of water showed up ahead. This was the river. Kate looked triumphantly at her
squire. She turned out to be right. When the riders got to the shore, they saw an old
ferry. “There, you see, everything will be fine with the crossing,” the girl was glad.
Chris said nothing. He anxiously looked up at the sky. The dark clouds had already
managed not only to catch up with them but also to be ahead. It was dark like an
evening in the fall. A cold wind also added to the gloom. Feeling cold, Kate took a vest
out of her backpack and put it on. Gene’s jacket was quite warm, but Kate still made him
put on her knightly cloak and do up the gold buckle, which the innkeeper Apius had
returned to her. Chris also put on his warm hunting jacket.
When they got on the ferry, the wind had become so strong that the ferryman flatly
refused to make the crossing. “Look at the water!” he declared. “It’s not a river but an
ocean!” The old man was right. The water in the river was already heaving waves, which
happens at sea in a storm.
“Wait until the storm ends, then cross,” the old ferryman proposed. However, the
children were concerned about the chase, and continued to persuade the old man, until
he agreed to take them for three gold buttons from the dress coat of the Prince of the
“Mind you, your horses will have to cross separately. Won’t work together. Not
enough strength. And you, the oldest, help me. You’ll take the wheel.” The children
agreed. They tied up the horses and went up onto the ferry deck themselves.
On seeing that they were being abandoned, the beasts neighed nervously. “Don’t
worry, Mirko, and you, Laura, you too will cross to us!” Gene shouted to the horses.
The old man and Chris turned the wheel and the ferry pushed off with a squeak
from the shore. It had become quite dark. The ferry rocked on the waves and just about
threatened to break the chain that held it. Kate pressed her younger brother to herself
and both held on tightly to the railing.
“Oh!” Gene suddenly shrieked.
“What happened?” Kate asked.
“The buckle fell off the cloak,” the boy complained. He bent down and picked it up.
“I can’t reattach it.”
“Put it in a pocket. I’ll fix it when we get ashore.”
Gene pondered in which pocket he would hide the buckle so that it would not be
lost, and chose the breast pocket of his jacket, because there was still a button on it,
while there were already no buttons on the other two pockets. The boy had torn them off
to pay the innkeeper, the gypsies, and the ferryman.
The ferry slowly moved across the wide river and, when it was close to the middle,
the storm started. A downpour gushed from the sky, thunder rumbled, lightning hit the
water with a crash and hiss. Waves reached such a size that they rolled over the ferry as
if it were a pitiful little skiff. In a few seconds, everybody on the ferry deck was
Kate thought that she had probably spoilt everything again with her obstinacy. To
get away from one danger, they had fallen into another, no less hazardous. Who knew
whether they would be able to reach the other shore?
The old ferryman and Chris turned the wheel, which set the heavy vessel in motion,
with difficulty. They were puffing and shrieking with effort. The chain rattled and
“Hey, you!” the old man shouted to Kate. “Come on, help us, or else we’ll all end
The girl understood that he was right and, together with Gene, holding hands and
struggling to keep their balance on the rocking surface, started pushing their way to the
aid of the ferryman and Chris. One high wave covered them and nearly washed them
overboard. The children screamed loudly with fear. At the last second, Kate managed to
grab a piece of iron protruding from the edge. Chris immediately leapt to her and helped
her and Gene to their feet. They were so frightened that they did not immediately come
to help turn the wheel.
Chris returned to his place, and Kate asked Gene, “Are you very scared, little one?”
It was not necessary to ask. The boy’s teeth were chattering from fear. Nevertheless, he
bravely shook his head all the same.
“Not at all. What about our horses there? We’ve left them alone. They can be
frightened by the storm.” The brave boy was so fond of the horses that he worried about
them even at this moment.
“They’ll be fine,” the girl calmed him. “These are our horses. They also haven’t seen
such a thing. Come on, we’d better help Chris.”
However, they were too late. As soon as they were behind the wheel, the heavy chain
could not hold on after all and broke with a clatter and a jingle when the ferry was
already quite close to shore. The ferry jerked such that everybody toppled over, then it
began to spin on the spot and floated backwards. Lightning hit its edge. The ferry caught
fire, but the pouring rain instantly put out the fire. The frightened children started to get
up. The ferryman saw what misfortune had happened to him, started crying, and began
to curse those who had forced him to make the ruinous voyage.
The children, though, did not pay him any attention. They were not concerned
about the old man. It was necessary to think how not to turn up in the water. The ferry
was dangling in the waves like a wood chip. If it were not so heavy, it would have
capsized long ago. It was also drawing near the middle of the river on the furious waves.
There was no possibility of steering it. The children were at the mercy of the elements.
What awaited them ahead?
“Stay in the centre!” Kate heard Chris’ shout. “You won’t be washed overboard
The sister and brother started to make their way on all fours to the middle of the
raft. When they reached the safest place, they sat down and hugged tightly. Kate was
afraid for her brother, but when she looked at his face, she saw that the boy’s eyes,
though frightened, were shining with delight.
“This is our adventure!” he shouted into her ear over the roar of the storm. “You had
a lot of them. I was so jealous when I saw them.”
“It wasn’t you who saw.” Kate shouted to him. “It was the Sovereign!”
“Me too! Just couldn’t do anything when he was in me. I didn’t know that it wasn’t
me. I thought I was so bad, and now I don’t want to be like that again! I want to be with
you. This is our first adventure, right? You’re Knight Caterino, but who am I? Perhaps
I’ll also be your squire?”
Kate smiled. She never expected this from her brother. Yes, the passion for
adventure was really in both of them. “You’re the Prince of the White Tower,” she said.
“Who else do you want to be?”
“I want to be a knight!”
“Okay, let’s assume that you’re also a knight,” Kate proposed. “When you’ve
accomplished a feat, we’ll talk about this with everybody, okay?”
The boy gladly embraced his sister. Suddenly, he shrank back sharply. Kate saw
such fright in his eyes that she was scared. She decided that the boy saw something
terrible behind her and turned around. Her heart was pounding with anticipation of a
new calamity. In the light of the lightning, she saw white swans flying in the sky, flying
right to them.
“They’re coming for me!” Gene cried desperately and clung to Kate. “Don’t let them
get me!” Kate, in agitation, could not utter a word. They stuck in her throat. The swans
“Chris!” the girl shouted pitifully. “Save us!”
The boy heard her. He was busy looking for an oar or a pole, any tool that would
help him steer the ferry. He did not realize at first why he was being appealed to for
help, but when he looked at the sky and saw the swans, he understood everything at
once. The courageous squire jumped to his feet and ran to his friends. However, on the
way he fell over the lying and crying ferryman. Swearing and cursing everything in the
world, Chris got to his feet, drew his sword, and made his way further. It was not easy.
The deck beneath his feet was swaying. Nevertheless, he stubbornly moved forward, not
even bending under brutal wind gusts, every second threatening to throw the boy in the
When only a few steps to his friends remained, the swans swept past with great
speed, and Chris saw that there was no one in front of him. The swans had carried both
Kate and the boy away. Perplexed, Chris stood on the distressed ferry and looked at the
turbulent sky, through which five white swans were flying smoothly away in the
direction of the Capital. It was possible to see the tiny figures of his friends on the backs
of two of them. For the first time since the day he had left his castle, Christian Thirteen
was in such despair. He sat, wrapped his arms around the now useless sword, and began
to cry softly. Now he could allow himself this.
Kate and Gene were already far away. The brother and sister did not have time to
understand. Some powerful force suddenly tore them apart and separated them in a
short moment. They did not even have time to cry out. When the children had gathered
their wits, they saw that they were each sitting on a swan, and the ground flooded with
streams of water and the river white with waves surging in it remained far below. In
front was only a pitch-dark abyss, in which a blinding lightning grid could not dispel the
darkness and even made it impenetrable.
When Kate saw what had happened to her and her brother, she was terribly angry.
The girl was so furious that she almost drew her sword to cut off the head of the poor
bird on which she sat. She was already about to grab the hilt when she realized that it
was the stupidest thing she could have done at that moment. After all, if she killed the
swan, both of them would fall down. But Gene would go further. Who would save him?
The most terrible thing that she was afraid of – parting with Gene – did not happen.
In spite of everything, she was with him. This was the most important for the time
being. “Gene, hold on!” she shouted. “I’m with you!” The boy turned to her and nodded.
Something like a pitiful smile appeared on his face.
Kate would never in her life forget this flight. The swans were flying almost without
flapping their wings, like small jet planes. They deftly dodged the numerous lightning
bolts, which time and again tried to hit the bold birds. How many times the children’s
hearts contracted with fear, when the swans flew into the space between the thundering
clouds and managed to fly through at the last second, while behind the cheated thunder
roared furiously and the lightning hissed angrily. In another time, this flight would have
seemed like a fantastic attraction in a state of the art amusement park. Now the thought
of what was waiting at the end of this journey consumed them.
Despair took hold of both when they saw in one of the storm’s flashes the silhouette
of the White Tower ahead. Everything became clear. With the help of magic, they had
returned to the Sovereign, and they again faced a fight with the great and evil magician.
Only would they win this time?
The swans began to climb smoothly and at the same time swiftly to the top of the
White Tower. The storm had stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The sky began to free
itself from the clouds. It turned out that night was already over. Soon morning would
begin. The magical birds rose higher and higher, and soon the tip of the tower began to
glint golden directly at the level of their eyes. After circling, the swans flew through one
of the few windows of the top floor. They landed a moment later on the floor smooth like
a mirror and shed their captive riders.
The children looked around and recognized with horror the wall of the throne hall.
There the Sovereign’s portrait hung on the wall. There he was also sitting on the throne.
Dreadful and terrible. The old man’s eyes shone with an unkind fire. They were in
captivity again. They had returned where they had escaped from with such difficulty.
The Sovereign looked at them and turned to the swans, “Why did you bring the girl?
I ordered only the boy!”
The swans flapped their wings. “We thought that you’d like to punish the girl for her
meddling in your affairs.”
“Nonsense. I need the boy, but I want to see this girl as far away from here as
“Your problem, Sovereign,” the swan leader replied grandly. “You have no right to
command us. We’re free.”
The birds again flapped their wings, then passed the children standing downcast,
trying not to look them in the eye, and flew out of the window, which was magical earlier
but now presented itself as only an empty frame with glass shards. The prisoners were
left alone with their abductor.
The Sovereign sighed heavily and clapped his hands. Four guards appeared. “Lock
them in different rooms!” the old man ordered.
The children were led out of the hall and, despite their opposition and outcry, were
separated. Neither tears nor persuasion helped. The guards were adults, therefore
strong and unyielding.
“Oh, how tired I am!” the Sovereign said, when the children’s outcry could no longer
be heard. “How much effort it took me to correct the dumbest mistakes. But now it’s
over and I need to gain strength. ”
He slowly, barely moving his feet, walked into his dark bedroom. He fell exhausted
into bed. “I need to gain strength,” he repeated and rang the bell. A servant entered.
“Bring me the fresh meat of a blue hare in the evening.”
The servant bowed humbly and went out. The Sovereign closed his eyes and fell into
oblivion. A ray of sunlight looked in the window through a gap between the dark
curtains. It was morning.
When Chris realized that all was lost, he wanted to jump into the water and thus
wash away his shame. Indeed, he had not guarded his knight from danger! He had lost
her and her brother. He would never become a knight after this. However, this was
unimportant. Certainly, the main thing was that his friends were in trouble but he could
not help them in any way.
Suddenly Chris’ gaze brightened. He saw that the ferry was going directly to the
shore that they had left so carelessly. The storm and the waves, recently former enemies,
were now doing him an invaluable service. His mood immediately improved. Joy and
the readiness to act took possession of Chris. The ferry approached the shore rapidly. A
minute passed and it loudly bumped against the sandy slope all of a dozen metres from
the home dock.
“Look.” Chris tapped the shoulder of the ferryman. “Nothing terrible has happened
to your ferry. You only need to fix the chain and navigate as you please!” The old man
again burst into tears, this time of happiness.
Chris jumped ashore and ran to the horses. Fortunately, nothing bad had happened
to them. They were just scared. The boy grabbed the reins of his horse, but here he failed
to catch Mirko. The horse did not want to listen to him. It recognized only one rider –
the knight Caterino. Chris chased after it a little but to no avail. Mirko peered
mischievously at him with its lilac eyes and ducked away every time he tried to get
closer. Finally, Chris spat and rushed the opposite way alone. He rode hard with all his
might, paying no attention to either rain or wind, and was in such a mad rush that he
did not even notice that the weather had begun to improve. Only when the sun came out
did he see that there was not a single cloud in the sky and that he was completely dry.
The wind had dried his clothes, he was going so fast.
It took quite a while before both the horse and the rider started to tire. However,
despite fatigue, Chris continued to urge his mount forward. The time came when Laura
could not sustain it. Its sides were covered with foam, its eyes were red, and its
breathing became irregular and harsh-sounding. Chris saw that it could no longer keep
going but did not stop spurring it on. In the end, the creature stopped by itself.
“Gee up!” the boy gave the command timidly. “Forward, Laura!” But the horse,
instead of moving forward at least a step, began to fall on its knees. Chris barely had
time to jump from the saddle before the poor animal fell down with resentment and a
sad sigh onto the grass growing along the road. A small tree was growing nearby. The
boy tried to help it up but nothing came of it. Laura looked plaintively at him and did
not rise. Chris understood that he could get nothing from it. He looked with pity at his
horse, which had been with him from the beginning of the journey, and felt that his eyes
were on the point of filling up with tears.
“Forgive me!” Chris muttered. For a long time he could not turn his back on the
faithful animal. Then he did, nevertheless, and ran. He ran for a long time. When he
turned back for the last time, the horse and the tree under which it remained were no
The daily walks in his native forest, when he chased rabbits and deer all day,
climbed trees and bathed in the river, had an effect on him. But his strength was nearing
the end. The tip of the White Tower, small like a needle, appeared on the horizon, but
Chris was already barely walking, out of breath from the brisk walk.
Luckily for him, a heavy long wagon loaded with gigantic casks drove out from the
village through which he was passing. There was probably wine in these casks. Two wellfed dray geldings sleek with muscles, loudly clattering with broad hooves, were pulling
the wagon in the direction of the Capital. A farmer with a cheerful face was sitting at the
When the wagon came up to Chris, the farmer hailed him, “Where are you going so
“I need to get to the city.” Chris jumped without another word into the wagon. The
farmer did not object, because it was not difficult to take the boy. Moreover, farmers
rarely argue with someone with a sword hanging at his side.
“I’m bringing wine to the Capital,” the farmer began talking. “My vineyards had a
great harvest this year and the wine is excellent. I came to an agreement at once with
three taverns, to which I’ll deliver my products once a month. It’s profitable for both
them and me. These innkeepers are such people that will never buy the wine if it’s of
“Is my favourite, Apius, among them?” Chris asked when he heard that the matter
“Apius?” the farmer-winemaker became animated. “The owner of By the Hearth
“Yes, the same.”
“Yes, my most profitable buyer! A very respectable man.” The farmer started to say
something else about Apius, but Chris was not listening to him. He was lucky. He would
be right where he needed to be. Now, the best of all was to surrender to sleep. It was not
known what ordeals would be ahead. He needed to gain strength and a good rest.
“Wake me when we get to the city gates of the Capital and tell the guards that I’m
your son,” Chris said to the owner of the wagon. He settled himself between the barrels
and fell asleep, lulled by the steady vibration, which the dray horses tapped out on the
road. The wagon was not traveling with great speed and Chris had time to sleep.
When the dray horses appeared at the city gates, the farmer roused the boy. “We’ve
arrived. Hide your sword, peasant sons don’t have weapons. And you don’t look like a
farmer,” he said when he woke Chris. “You have too noble a face. And look at your
hands, they’ve never held a hoe or a shovel.”
“But then they have a good command of the sword,” Chris muttered. “Maybe today
I’ll have to prove it.” Yet he obeyed the farmer and hid his sword under one of the casks
and covered it with burlap. The guards at the gate were not as observant as Chris’ farmer
and let the wagon pass without any hindrance.
This time it was not quite as it usually was on the streets of the Capital. Even the
lower streets were not making merry. The townspeople were uneasy. They were
gathering in small groups and quietly discussing something. There were half as many
traders and open shops and stores as usual. Almost no buyers were to be seen. The city
resembled more a besieged fortress despite the fact that all the gates were open.
Chris surmised that all this was connected with the kidnapping of the little
Sovereign, but here the farmer was staring around in surprise and several times
exclaimed, “Somehow I don’t recognize today’s Capital! Maybe someone died?”
How surprised he was when he found out that no one had died but, on the contrary,
(one tall citizen informed with a mysterious air) someone had risen from the dead. “The
old Sovereign came back from the dead,” he said.
“You’re lying!” the farmer whistled. “This can’t be! What would the old man need in
However, the majority believed that this was all a false rumour to conceal from the
people that the current Sovereign, the little Prince of the White Tower, was gone, or
abducted. On the whole, the city was buzzing like a hornets nest. Before Chris and his
companion reached By the Hearth Tavern, they heard several more pieces of news, one
of which conflicted with the others. It was absolutely unclear who the current First
Minister was: Gargulio, who was in the city, or Alvansor the Flawless, who was not in
the city at all.
When Apius saw Chris again, he was like a statue dressed in the bright attire of an
innkeeper. He, like a mechanical toy, paid the farmer for two of the biggest casks. Apius’
servants unloaded the casks, and the satisfied farmer went to the next buyer.
Finally, Apius acquired the gift of speech and said, “Your stroll had ended so
“Yes. I decided to return.”
“To me again?”
“You’re the only person in the city that I know.”
Apius grinned, “Next you’ll say that you’ve become attached to me.”
“I’m not joking, Apius,” the boy sighed. “My friends are in trouble and I must help
“Why do you think that I’ll be able to help you?”
“I need Felix, the hunter who brings the blue rabbit to the White Tower.”
“The blue hare,” Apius corrected him. “Your friend was going to pay for a meeting
“My friend’s now in awful trouble and only I can save him. But for this I need Felix.”
“I’ll take you to Felix immediately, as soon as you pay with money.” Apius said this
in a hard voice.
Chris turned pale. His lips clenched in anger, lightning flashed in his eyes. However,
this did not discourage the innkeeper at all.
“Do you know what I want to be?” asked Chris.
“I don’t and I’m not interested.”
“I wanted to become a knight,” Chris said peacefully. “But it seems I’m not destined
to be one because you’ve forced me to become a robber.”
“A robber?” Apius was surprised.
“Yes. What else do you call a guy who pulls a knife from his belt and orders another
person to carry out all his bidding?” Chris, in confirmation of his words, placed his hand
on the hilt of his dagger.
The innkeeper immediately lost his severity and impregnability. Yet, he still had not
lost his dignity and just asked cautiously, “Won’t this be a stupid act on your part? After
this you’ll lose your knightly honour forever.”
“Yes, I’ll lose honour. It’s all that I have. But I’ll lose it for my friends. They’re
everything dear to me. So I’ll do it.”
“What will be your first bidding?”
“Lead me to Felix.”
“And if I won’t?”
“I’ll kill you. On the spot.”
“Fine, follow me,” Apius said and went down the street.
Chris followed him, not lagging behind a single step. They walked for a long time.
Apius uttered not a word along the way. He showed neither resentment for the boy’s
action nor fear that his life was in danger. His face was completely calm and indifferent,
as if he was taking a pleasant walk in the fresh air.
“Here we are,” he said, as if nothing had happened, when they were outside a squat
little house hidden among the three-storey homes, and after a moment’s reflection
knocked loudly on the rather low door.
No one answered for some time and the innkeeper looked at Chris with a
triumphant grin. However, the door then opened and a man with a sleepy face showed
himself. “Who needs me?” he grumbled.
“A young person wants very much to talk to you,” Apius replied.
“Ah, it’s you?” Felix, for this was him, was surprised. “Come on in, since you’ve
Apius and Chris entered the humble home of the hunter. Hunting trophies covered
the walls of the room. There was almost no furniture, only a table, two chairs, and a bed.
“Tell me on what business you’ve come,” Felix addressed the guests.
“You see, hunter friend,” Apius began, “this boy wants very much to get into the
White Tower. I think you can help him.”
“Is that so?” Felix did not show any surprise. “And how can I help?”
“You deliver game to the White Tower. Why don’t you hide the boy in one of the
Felix thought for a bit. Chris looked at him expectantly and with entreaty. Apius also
waited for what the hunter would say.
“Who needs this?” the hunter finally asked.
“Me,” Apius replied and, having met the boy’s astonished eyes, added, “This is very
serious. I’ve never asked you for anything.”
“But now you are?”
“Yes, now I’m asking. As my friend and the friend of my father.”
“You’re lucky,” Felix sighed. “An order came from the castle just today that I’m to
deliver a blue hare.”
“You’re lucky,” Apius repeated the words of the hunter. Now he turned to Chris,
who looked at him with wonder. “Don’t look at me like that, my friend,” Apius answered
his look. “No need to think that I can only be interested in money. I can also do things
that I won’t be ashamed to recall in my old age.”
“Thank you, Apius.” Chris held out his hand. “I will never forget your deed. If you
curse me now, I’d live with this curse to the end of my life. But now I’ll be able to
become a knight.”
Apius smiled a broad, warm smile and patted the boy on the shoulder in a friendly
way. “You’ll definitely become a knight,” he said. “I’d say that you’ve already become one
if you’d sacrifice your honour for the sake of friends. People very often sell their honour
for money, for power, for prosperity, but I’ve never heard of giving it up for the sake of
friends. I give you back your honour and I’m not angry with you at all. I wish you luck
and believe that you’re honest and noble. I’m also raising a son and I want him to be like
you when he’s grown. Now, goodbye, I must go. I’m not a knight, I need to work and
feed my family.” He again asked Felix to help Chris and left.
Chris followed Apius with his eyes and thought that everything was indeed not so
bad. He began to reflect on the innkeeper’s words but was interrupted by Felix. “Well,
bring me the biggest basket there and load it onto the wagon. It’s in the barn next to my
donkey. Harness it to the wagon and then I’ll tell you what needs to be done next.”
Chris obediently went to do his bidding. He carried out the basket, hitched up the
donkey, and led it out to the yard.
Felix came up to him, carrying in his hands another two baskets. “Get inside,” he
pointed to the large basket.
Chris got into it and the hunter started to pile the catch of his hunts on top. It is not
very pleasant when killed animals are placed on you, but there was nowhere to go and
Chris meekly endured being covered with skinned carcasses. Felix lashed the donkey
and they set off. It was far to the castle. Felix lived in a region opposite the main gate,
and his two-wheeled buggy would not reach the castle soon. Hence, it is time to know
what Kate was doing at that moment.
The girl looked sadly at the open window and thought that if she could not extricate
herself from this affair and save her brother, then it only remained for her to jump
Poor girl! She was in complete despair and now there was already nothing to hope
for. As soon as she was separated from her brother, she decided that everything was
over. They took away her weapon in the throne hall and locked her up in here, as if she
was a little girl and not a famous knight. What was left for her to do now? Just cry. That
she also did all the time. True, she soon fell asleep, but when she woke up, tears welled
up again. She did not even want to eat when they brought her food, but then decided
that she would not have any strength left this way. The struggle was not yet over. So,
strength would be needed. The girl ate without appetite and again began to cry and
think what she should do next. Plans appeared in her head, but they were so unrealistic
and fantastic that there was no possibility of making use of them in life.
Not coming up with anything, Kate again sat by the window and looked down. She
certainly understood very well that even birds would not fly to such a height. However,
she was mistaken here, because as soon as she thought so, she immediately saw a few
white spots in the sky twirling at a distance on the same level with her window. Once
they flew closer, Kate recognized white pigeons.
“How happy they are,” the girl muttered with envy, looking at the carefree birds. “If
I had wings, I would...”
The pigeons made a few circles, once very close to Kate, and flew on. They had
already begun to disappear into the distance when suddenly one bird separated from the
pack and flew in Kate’s direction. It flew very close to the window, and it seemed to Kate
that it was staring intently at her. The bird flew past once more and then suddenly
descended onto the windowsill and again stared at Kate. The girl was very surprised by
such boldness of the pigeon, but she was even more surprised when the pigeon
addressed her in the human tongue. She almost fell down in surprise but managed to
grab hold of the curtain just in time.
“Tell me, please,” the pigeon asked the girl, “Is your name Caterino?”
“Yes,” Kate babbled.
“Ah, what luck!” the bird was pleased. “So, I finally have the opportunity to thank
“You brave boy, I want to thank you for saving me from death.”
“I saved you?” Kate was surprised. “Somehow I can’t understand what you’re talking
“Why?” the pigeon was distressed. “You really don’t remember the night when you
were in the witch Ruina’s cave? Indeed, then you wouldn’t let me be killed when she
needed my blood for the terrible magic cauldron!”
“Ah, so it was you?” the girl was pleased. She remembered everything the pigeon
was talking about. “What’s your name?”
“Vorkulina. Now I’m not just the king pigeon’s girlfriend, as I was recently. Now I’m
his wife. We celebrated our wedding a few days ago. Oh, how merry it was! And it’s all
thanks to you and your courage, brave knight.”
“I’m happy for you,” Kate sincerely said.
“Pity I couldn’t invite you to our wedding,” Vorkulina cooed. “But the birds told me
that you’re constantly hurrying somewhere and it was simply impossible to catch up
with you despite their swift wings. Besides, we pigeons can’t fly in those places through
which you travelled. Our messengers came back each time with nothing. But why are
you crying? Don’t be so disappointed. Wipe your tears. You can still visit our kingdom.”
Kate smiled through her tears. How she envied Vorkulina’s blitheness! “I’m not
crying about that,” she explained. “Just that all my deeds and adventures turned out to
be in vain. All is lost. I couldn’t save my brother.”
“Is that so!” the pigeon queen was upset. “What happened to the little Sovereign?
Indeed, you have him in mind?”
“Yes, he’s my brother, but a terrible misfortune happened to him. It’s a long story.”
“Tell me your story. Perhaps I’ll be able to help you with something.”
Kate looked at the beautiful but weak and small bird. Would it really be able to do
anything? But what was left for her to do? She wanted at least to share her troubles with
somebody, even without any hope for help. She told the pigeon everything that had
happened to her over the past few days. Finally, she revealed the secret, which was
already known to many, that she was not a boy but a girl. It struck Vorkulina more than
“Poor girl!” the pigeon exclaimed. “How much you’ve lived through and
experienced! But what a villain this Sovereign is! He’s going to commit the most terrible
crime. It’s black magic, what I just heard.”
Vorkulina had already been talking to Kate for a long time. The king pigeon,
apparently, began to worry and came looking for it. When it saw that its queen was
talking to a person, it was very surprised and afraid that its beloved would be harmed.
The king pigeon cooed anxiously and began to reproach its wife for thoughtlessness,
“You were almost killed recently! Why do you fly so close to people again?”
“Don’t fear for me, my king,” Vorkulina started to calm it. “You justly carry the
name of Brilliant. I love you. But this is the person to whom we owe our happiness.
Come down here. Indeed, this is the knight Caterino. Only now he needs our help.”
Brilliant came down next to Vorkulina and bowed like a most gallant gentleman to
the girl. It thanked her for a long time for saving Vorkulina. Kate even became
uncomfortable. “Your Majesty,” she said. “Please don’t thank me for so long, I’m a
simple girl and did nothing special.”
“A simple girl?” Brilliant was surprised. “Aren’t you the knight Caterino?”
“A knight, a knight,” Vorkulina assured him. “Only, a girl.”
“Caterino is my knightly name,” the girl explained to the king. “At home my name is
Kate. Kate Konstantinova.”
“Tell my husband your story,” the queen asked. “He’s very intelligent, kind, and fair,
and he’ll be sure to think of something.”
Kate had to describe her miseries once again. Brilliant listened to her very carefully
and never interrupted. When the story was finished, it thought for a bit and said, “The
Sovereign is a great magician and we have no right to interfere in his affairs. It’s so. But
the Sovereign has interfered in my affairs. I’m the king,” Brilliant proudly puffed up its
chest, “and this offends me. He had no right to upset the girl to whom I owe my
happiness. The kings of people differ by base ingratitude and treachery. We birds are the
noblest beings in the world. No wonder we have wings. Therefore, girl Kate, we’ll help
you. We’ll do everything in our power.”
Kate thanked the king and queen heartily for their words and the three of them
began to think what they should do.
“Now is a very bad time,” Brilliant said. “A few days ago we concluded a week of
weddings. The birds were married and flew across the country to begin building nests
and breed. It’ll be very difficult to gather my subjects. But I’ll try and gather as many as
possible. Tonight we’ll fly to the White Tower – I saw exactly one broken window – and
steal you and the boy. The swans no longer serve the Sovereign so he won’t catch up
with us. Tell me, your brother doesn’t carry a slingshot?”
“What are you saying!” the girl stood up for Gene. “He loves all animals and birds
very much. He’d never hurt anything, not even a kitten.”
They so decided. After this, telling Kate not to worry and wait for them, the pigeons
flew away. The girl watched them for a long time and when they had disappeared from
sight, sighed, “I wonder, where’s Chris now? Did he drown in the river? No, it can’t be.
He isn’t such a person to just die.”
Chris, at that very moment, was already in the castle and advancing in a straight
course to the White Tower. Two burly strongmen carried the basket in which he sat to
the Tower. Felix warned them to carry it carefully because blue hares could not stand
the shock. They would lose their tenderness. He looked at the basket with an anxious eye
and even wanted to help carry it, but here the castle paymaster came up to him and
called him into his office to pay for the delivered goods.
The strongmen carried the basket directly to the hoist, placed it beside the other
boxes and baskets to be sent up, and went down for the next cargo load. Chris listened.
There was likely no one outside. He only wanted to get out of the basket and hide in the
shaft of the hoist, which he already knew like his own five fingers, when he heard
someone’s shuffling steps. The boy froze, and just in time. Someone stopped beside him
and said in a hoarse voice, “Are you sure that they’re going to do it today?”
“Yes. As soon as it gets dark, they’ll attack the castle and break into the tower. All
who show resistance, they’ll kill on the spot.”
Spurs jingled anxiously and Chris surmised that it was guards talking. The
conversation interested him, and the boy listened carefully, in order not to miss a single
“I can’t believe that such villains as Alexandro the Black and Leonari are on the
loose again and doing their mischief,” said the first guard.
“Nevertheless, it’s so. Together they’re three times as dangerous.”
“What do they want?”
“It’s well known what. They want to kill the Sovereign.”
“Indeed? We have the old Sovereign again now, if people aren’t lying.”
“Even if the old Sovereign came back to life, it still doesn’t change anything. The
Sovereign is who’s crowned by law. And the Prince of the White Tower was crowned. It
means the Sovereign is that kid! But I think that just in case the rebels will kill both: the
old man and the boy.”
“But this is terrible! Will no one stop them? The army, the guards? Not just us two
to guard the Sovereign?”
“Of course, it’s terrible. But what to do? The army’s on the side of the Minister. He
holds in his hands half of the officers and the soldiers worship him for his cheerful
disposition. I think that now they’ll capture the city and then come here. The guards
can’t stop them. Alvansor has led the best parts out of the city and disappeared to
somewhere unknown. And this idiot Gargulio is only concerned now with how to please
“Isn’t Prince Eugene missing?”
“Oh, no. They informed from above that the boy’s there again.”
“No one will figure this out. The devil knows what’s going on! What do we do?”
“Run,” the second guard answered surely and quietly. “These wizards will be able to
stand up for themselves, if anything. No need for us to risk our skin because of them.
There’s already not a single courtier left in the castle. All have hidden like rats. Waiting
for everything to finish. And half of ours have gone. No one wants to die because of the
“Yes, you’re right. I have my own kids. Who will feed them if they kill me?”
Chris listened to all this and bit his lips with rage. “What cowards!” he cursed the
guards under his breath. He could not even see their faces. “Traitors! Villains! Only care
about their own skin!” His hand convulsively clutched the hilt of his sword. He could
barely restrain himself from jumping out of the basket and lashing out at those
intending on committing betrayal. However, what he had found out stopped him. Now
one mortal danger threatened Gene and Kate. It meant he should be with them and do
everything to save them or perish together with them. Chris stayed in his place.
The guards did not talk any more. They saw the hoist officers who came with the
new stuff, and hurried to escape. The strongmen loaded the hoist and took to the wheel.
Chris felt that he was going up. He waited a bit, and when he was convinced that he had
gotten high enough, he climbed out of the basket. He now had enough time to examine
the contents of where he had just been. The carcasses really belonged to blue hares.
When Chris saw the tender blue meat of these animals, he told himself that he would
never eat this stuff even if someone held a knife to his throat, and began to throw away
the blue carcasses carefully onto the floors, which gradually and slowly drifted past him.
Very soon all the blue hares were scattered about the White Tower. Like the last time,
Chris decided to get out a couple of floors before the last. There was no need for him to
meet those who would unload the basket.
Time passed very slowly. To a person waiting for an important event, the wait is
unbearable torment. Kate was waiting. She was waiting for evening and the time when
the pigeons would come and save her and her brother. She knew in her heart that it was
impossible to be certain of this. How could birds really help for real? Nevertheless, it
was Kate’s last hope and she did not want to lose it. Therefore, she convinced herself
that everything would be decided in the evening. Vorkulina and its husband-king would
come together with its subjects and help them escape. How would they do it? It was not
important. The main thing was to wait for the evening, and Kate waited. She looked
tirelessly out the window and searched for a flock of white birds in the endless sky.
However, the sky was empty. Only clouds were floating lazily. There were no birds. The
sun had already started falling to the ground, having reached its zenith. It meant the
second half of the day had come. The girl sighed. She dragged a heavy deep armchair up
to the window and sat down in it. She folded her legs under herself and continued to
look out for the pigeons. It was very boring to look at the empty sky. It was very empty
and the armchair was so comfortable, soft and warm. Kate did not notice herself falling
When she woke up, she saw that the sun, instead of blinding, had become orange
and hung very close to the ground. The girl was even scared. Had evening already
arrived? Had she overslept and missed the arrival of the pigeons? Kate wanted to cry
from grief, but here the door slammed open, and two guards entered the room. Not
saying a word, they made their way to the prisoner and pulled her roughly out of the
“Hoods!” the girl was outraged. “You have no right!”
The guards answered not a word and dragged her out of the room. Kate tried to
break free, but nothing came of it. On the contrary, one of the guards seemed to
remember something and turned the girl to face him. Kate first felt her nose poke into
the uniform of one of the guards, and then she was not even able to cry out and began
gasping for breath. The other guard then grabbed her hands tightly, put them behind
her back, and tied them with a thick rope. The frightened girl was released after this.
“Aren’t you ashamed?” Kate shouted at the guards, who allowed themselves such
cavalier treatment. “Where are you dragging me?”
“Come with us and don’t talk!” she heard in response. “And no tricks, knight!
Otherwise, we’ll throw you out the first available window! Such is the Sovereign’s
“The Sovereign is my brother and you can’t treat me this way!”
“Come and don’t argue! Or do we carry you?”
There was nothing left to do but obey. Kate sighed, looked longingly at the open
window, and asked, “Where are you taking me?”
“To the throne hall.”
Proudly lifting her head, and pressing her lips together in order not to cry, Kate
walked behind the guards. She walked and thought that now she looked like a young
hero captured by enemies and being led to the execution after an unsuccessful
interrogation. Maybe it was so? Did the Sovereign order them to bring her to the throne
hall for this reason in order to let her know this? So, everything was lost. Her legs
became like cotton, a lump caught in her throat, and her eyes started to sting. Tears
were on the point of pouring out of one of them. They had already appeared and now
would start to drip. The girl lifted her face to the ceiling so the tears would go back. She
wanted to do this with dignity befitting her status but stumbled over something and
almost fell. One of the guards managed to catch her. Kate sniffed in offence. The girl
immediately stopped feeling like a hero after this. Now she more resembled a naughty
schoolboy brought in front of a principal with the ability to give a misbehaving student a
good dressing down.
The door of the throne hall loomed ahead and Kate stopped. A just rage against her
and her brother’s tormentor began to stir again in her soul. No! She would not stand in
front of him with a pitiful guilty look! She would even meet the order of death with
courage in her face and pain in her heart. She would not let her enemy revel in her
despair and an entreaty for mercy. Now she was again the brave knight Caterino. The
fight was not yet over.
She entered the door as befit a captive knight, without fear on her face and with
courage in her heart. Kate even surprised herself, surprised and reassured. Since she
was ready for a fight, it meant she had to fight! The girl carefully tested how tightly her
hands were tied behind her back. Tight enough, but not so much that it was impossible
to break free.
She had learned to solve such a problem in camp under the leadership of Nick. One
evening the leader brought to his group a whole pile of ropes and then tied up all his
charges. He said that life was a devilishly complicated thing and anything could happen,
so let the children learn to extricate themselves. The children did, both the boys and the
girls, painfully and for a long time. Then Nick tied them up again, each time in a
different way, and everything started again. The leader explained how one should
behave when one was tied up and later how to tackle the most complex knots.
“Will, patience, and a cool head are the main things in this matter,” he would often
say. “And then all the rest: strength, dexterity, and flexibility. So learn and practice and
you won’t be afraid of evil people who suddenly want to kidnap you.” The children
groaned, sometimes almost cried, but played this game, and each day felt their bodies
becoming stronger and more flexible, their hands stronger and faster, and their minds
more inventive and cooler.
Kate was a good student and was certain that she could untie herself and no one
would even notice. So she calmly and proudly walked into the throne hall and heard the
high heavy doors slam shut behind her back.
The Sovereign was here. He met Kate with a spiteful and triumphant look of his
yellow eyes like that of a lynx. However, he did not like that the girl was looking at him
without fear or terror. Mere mortals tremble before him! Triumph fell from the
Sovereign’s face but anger remained. Kate was silent. She did not want to be the first to
talk with someone she hated. Putting all her hate in her look, she proudly and boldly
met the look of the evil wizard.
“How bold you are!” The Sovereign was unable not to admire her courage. “I can
burn you with a look so that not even ashes remain, but you’re not afraid of me. Why?”
Kate smiled. Seeing this, the Sovereign grimaced and in the depths of his soul felt a
slight, very slight fear. He had not told the girl that now he did not even have one
hundredth of the strength that he had earlier, and all because his soul was now sitting
much too weakly in the decrepit and old body. Besides, he had spent the remainder of
his power on the magic swans.
Kate, as if guessing the Sovereign’s thoughts, answered him thus, “Why should I be
afraid of you? I don’t want to and I won’t. Because my fear is what you need. The more I
fear you, the stronger you become. I will not be afraid of you! You should fear me! If you
could burn me to ashes with a look, you would have done this already. Instead you order
them to tie my hands, although I’m only a little girl and weaker than you. What kind of
great magician are you after this?”
The Sovereign shuddered and squeezed his hands so tightly that his bony fingers
cracked. “You’re not as weak as you try to convince me.” He got up from his throne and
walked slowly to the girl. “On the contrary, you’re the strongest of all the people I’ve
seen in my life. And I’ve lived for a long time. Two thousand years. For twenty centuries
no one dared to challenge me. You, a little child, stood in my way. What helped you?
What? I don’t believe that this iron stuff,” the Sovereign nodded at Kate’s shield, sword,
and cloak, which had remained in the throne hall since the night before, “saved you
from deadly traps.”
“Not for you to understand, Sovereign,” the girl replied boldly. “I’m sure you never
had a brother or sister!”
“You hated each other!” the indignant old man exclaimed. “You always wanted to
strangle your brother, and he you.”
“Nonsense. We were simply mistaken. You forgot that we’re just kids, stupid kids
who can’t truly hate each other yet. Now I hate you. But I’ve always loved my brother.
Therefore, if danger threatens Gene, I’ll give my life for him.”
“Give! You’ll give for sure!” The Sovereign chuckled in response, so menacingly that
Kate winced. “The game’s over, little girl. I confess that when I first saw you in the magic
window, I wasn’t at all worried. I was already living in your brother’s body. Oh, how
wonderful it was there! Nasty little boy! For some reason I couldn’t stay in him at night.
All day I wrestled with him, but at night there was already no strength left in my soul
and I had to return to the old body. The boy turned out to be too good and noble.
Another week and it would have been done. But you interfered with me. And you will die
for this! Nothing will help you!”
The Sovereign was so excited that he grabbed the girl by the shoulders and started
to shake her. Then he suddenly calmed down and an ominous smile again disfigured his
thin lips. “But before I kill you, I’ll reward you. You’ll watch as your brother assumes my
soul, then precisely he will give the order on your punishment, and he himself will
attend it.” Kate shuddered and shrank from the crazed old man.
“You yourself are at fault,” the Sovereign shook his head with false sympathy. “You
shouldn’t have carried the boy outside of the tower. I would’ve become him and you
would’ve remained with me. In memory of Gene, I would have made you an important
lady in my court. Some duchess. Ha-ha-ha! But now it’s too late. You’ll die. First you’ll
watch the death of your brother; not his body, no, it’ll be fine and live for another five
hundred years, but his soul. His soul will die. It’ll see neither heaven nor hell. It’ll
forever roam the earth without a body, miserable and restless.”
“No, don’t do this!” Kate shouted in horror. Now she was really scared.
“I’ll do it,” the wizard said, satisfied with her despair, and again sat on his throne.
“Today, as soon as the sun sets, I’ll fulfil my promise, and you’ll see all this. You’re a
brave girl and I even like you. Very much. Honestly! But you’ve discovered my secret
and must die. Pity. But that’s how it is. Whoever knows the secrets of the powerful of
this world doesn’t live long. So I won’t prolong your torment. The sun will go down soon
and they’ll bring Gene Konstantinov, your brother and my Prince Eugene, Prince of the
White Tower. I’ll do everything quickly. He won’t even feel pain. We still have time.
Although what time can there be in the Country of Frozen Time?” The Sovereign
chuckled again. “But it’s so with you and me. Since you know my secret, you should
know my story, the story of the greatest magician and person of all time. Do you want to
know my story? Even if you don’t, I’ll still tell it. I want to do this. It’s hard to keep quiet
for two thousand years.”
Kate had never seen true lunatics in her life, but she knew very well that it was not
possible to contradict them in conversation in any case but necessary to agree with
everything. Now in front of her was clearly a lunatic. The girl nodded in agreement but
redoubled her efforts to free herself from the shackles.
The Sovereign rubbed his hands in satisfaction, snapped his fingers, and began, “It
was a very, very long time ago. Not here but far to the south. In Africa, in the blessed
land of Egypt. Have you heard anything about Egypt?”
“Yes,” Kate muttered.
“A wonderful land. The country of pyramids; gods like people, animals, and birds at
the same time; pharaohs brilliant and great; and priests with the wisdom of the cosmos.
I was born two and a half thousand years ago in this country. But we must not start with
this. Two hundred years before I was born, the wise Abado was chosen as the first and
great priest of the Sun Temple. There was none in Egypt equal to him in intellect,
wisdom, and knowledge. He was a great scholar, teaching the Egyptians to build the
pyramids and make mummies of dead people. But his chief merit was that he grasped to
perfection all the secrets of magic and wizardry. Any sorcery was under his control. He
was the first wizard on earth and conversed easily with gods and spirits. What was any
pharaoh compared to him? They were just a bunch of perishable conceit. Abado
survived dozens of them. Once, when he was already profoundly old and had left the
post of First Priest and retired to the old unfinished pyramid, the Pharaoh summoned
him and ordered the former priest to channel the will of the gods to the people at the
next festival of Osiris,3 the main god of the Egyptians.
“‘But do it so that you yourself don’t go to the gods in the sky but stay with us mere
mortals,’ the Pharaoh ordered.
“Abado bowed to the earthly god and went home. For a long time he thought how
best to fulfil the Pharaoh’s will, and he finally came up with something and summoned
one of his friends, the faithful dog Ratu.4
Osiris was the Egyptian god of the afterlife, the underworld, and the dead, considered not only as a
merciful judge of the dead but also one granting life from the underworld, including the sprouting of
vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile River, thus associated with new life after death.
Ratu is the term for leader in Zoroastrianism, an ancient Iranian religion and religious philosophy. It
means the righteous leader who guides people with constructive plans and programs to peace, prosperity,
happiness, and bliss.
“‘My faithful friend,’ the wizard addressed the dog. ‘Go to the banks of the Nile, our
great river, and make the round of all the human villages nearby. Every morning, before
the sun burns all living things, the children splash in the water. They play with the
young crocodiles and tease the lazy hippos, throwing mud at them. Happy and carefree
beings! Among them you’ll look for the best-looking boy, who already considers himself
big, but still has no clothes because he has only met seven springs. Study carefully! He
must be the bravest, cleverest, and sharpest among the children. A favourite of all
adults. Find him and abduct him in the dead of the night. The light of the big moon will
help you. Bring the boy to me. And look out, take good care of him.’
“Ratu wagged its tail, licked its master’s hand, and rushed to fulfil the order. It
returned after a week at midnight. A boy was sleeping on its back. Such a one as what
Abado spoke of. The priest was delighted, and in the morning, as soon as the boy woke
up, started to cast spells over him, and when the boy wept and begged to let him go
home, the wizard beat him painfully on the back with a bamboo stick.”
“What a scoundrel!” the indignant Kate exclaimed. The Sovereign’s story so
interested her that she even forgot about the rope. “But then, you’re no better. Beat a
poor child, how mean!”
The old man paid no attention to these words. He had become kinder and
sentimental with the reminiscences. “You’re probably tired?” he addressed Kate.
“Standing all the time. Sit down.”
“Thank you,” the girl replied rather rudely. She looked around. Except for the
throne, there was neither a chair nor an armchair. So she sat cross-legged right down on
the floor. It was much more comfortable this way to sit and untie the rope.
“Beating a child is mean?” the old man laughed. “And you really didn’t beat your
little brother?” Kate felt her face blushing with shame. She could not find any answer
but only bit her lips painfully.
The Sovereign continued, “Here the long-awaited festival had arrived. A huge crowd
gathered in front of the Sun Temple. The Pharaoh with his wife, his subjects, and the
guards were sitting in the most honourable places, and the slaves created shade for them
with big fans. Abado came out. He led a little boy of divine beauty. Rich and dazzling
clothing, worthy of kings, shone on him.
“Everyone froze in expectation of a miracle. Even the rustle of palm trees growing
around the temple was inaudible.
“Abado began to speak. People listened to him with bated breath. But the priest was
talking to the boy. He ordered him to set off to Osiris. The boy closed his eyes and went
along the magic path. Mentally, of course. Rather, it was his soul going off to talk to the
gods. He described everything he saw to the people, and it seemed to them that they
went together with him. It was a miracle. Even the Pharaoh acknowledged this and
rewarded Abado. After the boy had described to the people everything the gods told him,
the wizard took him and returned to their home.
“He kept the child with him, having decided to raise him and transfer to him his
own magic power. No wizard or sorcerer can die if his secrets haven’t been handed over
to another. And Abado had already begun to think about death. He was tired of living.
Fool! Are three hundred years really that many? But he lived only fifty years after the
abduction of the boy. He made the boy his apprentice and heir to all his knowledge and
“Now you’ve probably guessed that this boy was none other than me?” The
Sovereign solemnly crossed his arms. A happy smile was on his face.
“Not hard to guess,” Kate grumbled. “They kidnapped you in your time and now
you’re doing this criminal and shameful act.”
“It’s the greatest thing!” the old man exclaimed. “The greatest magic that I devised!
Here’s how it was.
“When Abado died, I was already a fifty-year-old man and almost as powerful a
wizard as Abado himself. I was fifty but I looked like a twenty-year-old. We’ve overcome
old age, but only for a time. Abado lived three hundred and fifty years but died all the
same. His soul left the body. I expected to live five hundred years but knew that I too
would die. Sooner or later, but death would come for me. All my life I devoted to not
dying. Five hundred years passed and I was not dead, but I knew that I’d live no more
than a hundred years. I searched and searched, but couldn’t find anything. I studied the
papyri of all the wizards in the world, I read all the inscriptions carved on the walls of
the pyramids, but all to no avail. In the end, I was tired of everything and I also began to
think of death as deliverance. But I couldn’t die, not having left any apprentice or
successor, and I decided to do what Abado once did. I also kidnapped a boy. It all started
again. I began to teach and train him. Sometimes I sent my soul to the gods for advice.
Then I learned to send the boy’s soul to them. Together we visited feasts, at which the
gods made merry. At first I did it often. Then less and less because every time it was
harder and harder for me to get back into my body. Then I realized that one day I
wouldn’t be able to go back to my old decrepit body and weak shell, and it would be my
“Suddenly it dawned on me. Indeed, it’s not necessary for my soul to return to my
body. It’s possible to return to someone else’s! That was my great discovery. I’ve done it!
Me!” The wizard was so excited that he did not notice that he was shouting! The
Sovereign paused for a moment to calm down. Then he again returned to his story.
“As soon as I thought about this, I immediately took up the experiment. Whose
body was best for my soul? Of course, my apprentice’s. I forced him to send his soul to
another flight and I moved into his empty body. Imagine my disappointment when I
realized that I couldn’t live there. My apprentice turned out to be too old for this. He
died. When his soul returned to the body and saw that it was occupied, it fled into space.
I returned to mine and began to think further. Why can’t I live in a new body? Why did
it press down on me and suffocate my soul? I did one experiment after another, but
nothing turned out. I merely destroyed three boys for nothing. They were all ten-twelve
years of age. I thought that their bodies had probably had too much time to get used to
their souls, so they didn’t want to accept mine. I took a seven-year-old boy. A brown
hyena stole him. Yes, a brown hyena. Don’t be surprised. For this purpose, animals or
birds are the best fit, especially enchanted ones. Last time I made use of swans. They
were once brothers and even princes, he-he-he, just like your brother. A witch turned
them into birds and later handed me the authority over them. I gave them the power of
the pyramids and they started to serve me. Unfortunately, I need boys only from the
outside world and it takes too much energy. Local children aren’t suitable, their souls
are too weak for witchcraft. You understand, this country exists in the field of magic
after all and people in it live with magic in their blood. I need a person not spoiled by
magic. Only from the outside world. So the swans need a respite. I didn’t give it to them
at that time and lost power over them. And all because of you, cursed girl!”
The Sovereign was about to get agitated again but quickly calmed down and
continued, “However, it doesn’t matter. It was swans, it’ll be wolves. Or not, I already
used wolves. Okay, it seems I digress. We’ll return to the boy the brown hyena brought
me. Well, he seemed ideal for the fulfillment of my dreams. You see, every person has a
soul, but it’s unknown when it’s placed in the body, at conception, birth, or later. The
gods hide this. But it wakes up and begins to live when the person is five or six,
differently in each. The first two years it is very weak, barely supported by the body. It
costs nothing to drive it out of there. So I wanted to act, but, having done experiments
on snakes and lizards, I realized that I couldn’t. The child was too young, and his soul
couldn’t even leave him for a while. All the significance of my discovery was lost. I
turned out to be defeated. What despair came over me! But I didn’t grieve for long. I
continued to think and search. Then one day I found in the pyramid a spell unknown to
me up to that point. It gave me magical power. The power of the pyramids. The power of
the universe. My might multiplied many times over. I found what I had been looking for.
I didn’t have to cast the soul out of the child. I had to kill it inside the body, slowly and
carefully, poison it with black magic. My soul settled right in the boy and started a battle
with his soul. It was very hard and painful. It turns out that not only did the new body
have to get used to me, but I also to it. My soul could live in it for only a few hours, then
it had to return.
“I needed three years to settle permanently in the new body. But I won. In the last
year, I was already in the other body during the day and rested only at night. Finally, I
killed the young inexperienced soul and was established for good in its body. I became a
child. I had a child’s body. I lived and enjoyed life.
“After five hundred years I had to repeat the experience. It was easier than the first
time. I lived for another five hundred years. The third time it took me a whole year to
become a child again.
“I became immortal. People composed legends and wrote folktales about me. No
one believed that this is possible. I live and will live forever.”
“Now I understand where the story of Koshchei the Deathless 5 came from,” Kate
replied. “But even he was killed; it means you also won’t live forever. You can’t build
your own happiness on another’s misfortune. So my papa says.”
“Stupidity! You’re both wrong. What’s this misfortune of others? Nonsense.
Everyone should think only of himself. I’ve lived well for two and a half thousand years.
How many millions of people have died in this time? What are a few boys?!”
“You can settle, though, in all the boys in the world, cursed sorcerer!” Kate was
indignant. “But leave my brother alone!”
“I understand you,” the Sovereign answered calmly. “But there’s nothing I can do.
The dice has been cast. And I want to live. So, you have to die. You’ve interfered with me
too much. If not for your latest trick, I’d have finished everything already. This time I
needed six months. I had two weeks left, but then you appeared and hijacked my new
“Fool! It’s my body, that is, my brother’s, and he’ll remain my brother, not the
“You’re mistaken!” The Sovereign pointed to the window. “Look, the sun is almost
gone. So now my future body will be here.”
Indeed, the door opened and the guards pushed into the throne hall a tattered,
dishevelled, and frightened Gene. The boy fell to the floor, quickly got up, saw his sister,
and rushed to her.
“Kate!” he cried, hugging the girl. “You’re here! Why are your hands tied?”
“Because it’s time to finish with you, my little prince!” the Sovereign said instead of
Kate. The children watched in horror as he ominously approached them. “If you obey
me,” he said to the boy, “your sister will remain alive.”
Koshchei the Deathless is an archetypal male antagonist in Slavic folktales. His soul is hidden in a needle
inside an egg in a duck in a hare in an iron chest buried under an oak tree on Buyan, a mythical island in
the ocean. The only way to kill Koshchei is to find the needle and break it.
When only five or six floors were left for Chris to ascend, the hoist stopped. The boy
held his breath. Why did the hoist stop? There was nothing good in this. Either he had
been discovered or something important had happened below. “Are the rebels already in
the tower?” Chris asked himself and just in case decided to climb out of the hoist, not
waiting for further developments.
The platform had stopped between floors, and he had to scramble up the shaft. The
boy hung carefully onto the grid, along which the hoist slid on rollers, and climbed up as
if going up a ladder. As soon as he did this, the platform beneath him rushed down. Only
air came through the shaft.
Chris thanked the heaven for good luck and was soon already rushing up the steps
of a normal staircase. He stopped on the last floor and took a deep breath. After thinking
a little, he decided to use the back entrance so as not to stumble upon the watch at the
top. The boy remembered that the back staircase was at the other end of the tower and
he had to go through several halls to reach it. He went forward in full confidence that he
would be where he needed to in a minute. However, this was a magic tower! Chris
walked, walked, not turning anywhere, but the halls did not end.
“Where’s the darn staircase?” Chris could not contain himself. Instead of the
staircase he found himself in the weapons hall, in which he had been at the very outset.
“What the devil? I was here already!” He went forward again, trying to follow the
halls and doors, which were constantly changing. A little time passed and Chris was
back in the weapons hall. Now he was really confused. “If I stray here till night, then all
that’s left for me is to die here.”
Suddenly, entering the next door, Chris saw a hall he had not yet been in. It was a
long gallery. All the walls were covered with paintings and statues, and vases stood in a
row in the centre. “The picture gallery!” Chris surmised. “Only it’s all the same to me.”
He went along the gallery. Naturally, he did not go up to the paintings and statues,
but Chris stopped in the centre of the hall. He saw Gene. Or rather his statue cast in
pure gold. The statue was life size. Gene looked absolutely alive. In shorts, t-shirt, and
with one sandal, as if he was going to get off the swan on which he was sitting, and even
had one leg lowered to the ground, the one that was without a sandal...
Chris looked spellbound at the statue and marvelled at the craftsmanship of its
creator. Then he remembered that he needed the living Gene and not his statue, and
appealed to the tower because he suddenly realized that it should help him.
“Why are you hampering me?” he asked. “I must save my friends and you don’t let
me get to them. Why? Walter’s brainchild, how can you connive at a crime imminent in
your walls?” So much despair and resentment was in his voice that even the echo was
still but not rolling along the walls and the ceiling of the tower. Chris ran quickly across
the hall following the art gallery and found the back staircase.
When he showed up on the last floor, he saw beyond the windows that evening had
already come and the sun was about to sit on the horizon. Yes, time had passed
unnoticed. He drove out in Felix’s basket around lunchtime and only got to the top just
now. He must not lose a single minute. Chris ran down the empty corridors to the room
of toys. He ran up to it and looked in. There was no one in it.
Heavy footsteps were heard from behind. Chris slipped behind the door and waited.
The steps came very close and stopped. Spurs jingled. “It’s a guard,” Chris decided. The
desire to jump out of the room where he had been hiding and engage in battle seized
him. He suppressed it with difficulty. No need to give himself away.
Time passed, but the guard did not leave and hung around nearby all the time. Chris
began to lose patience. When he had already lost it, the guard cleared his throat, looked
into the room (the boy barely had time to hide behind a curtain), and left. When the
guard’s steps died away, Chris slipped out into the corridor. His hand held convulsively
onto the sword. His nerves were strained.
He worked his way to the throne hall and stopped when he was already quite close.
He saw two guards dragging a reluctant Gene. A fraction of a second was not enough for
Chris to save him. When Knight Caterino’s squire jumped out and moved forward a few
steps to take the boy away, the guards had already pushed Gene into the throne hall and
slammed the door behind him. The lock clicked.
Chris was too late. Dazed and dismayed, he stood and stared at the closed door. The
guards passed by him indifferently. “What, friend,” one of them slapped him on the
shoulder, “you want to go there? Nothing will come of it. The old man locked the door
from the inside.”
Chris rushed to the door and began pounding with his fists. “Don’t bother!” He
heard a mocking shout. “Won’t hear you.”
Tears streamed down Chris’ face. He saw nothing. The guards had left. They had
also decided to leave the tower. No one wanted to protect either the old Sovereign or the
Prince of the White Tower.
“Let the whole world turn away from me, but I won’t give up!” Chris said, gritting
his teeth in anger. He stood up, walked to the window, opened it, and looked out. Below
was an abyss. The wind met Chris and instantly dried the tears on his face. It seemed to
be dissuading the boy from what he had in mind. However, Chris swung a leg over,
threw his sword behind his back, and stepped out onto the ledge. He took a good look at
the neighbouring windows and found the broken one among them. It was above all the
others, much higher, and far away. Yet, it led to the throne hall.
Chris pressed against the wall and carefully, step by step, began to make his way to
the broken window. The wind came to help him and pressed the brave soul to the wall. It
became easier to move and Chris increased his speed, but all the same he went on very
slowly. One wrong move and... Chris tried not to think about it or look down. Not even
to the sides. He looked only at the white marble walls. A foot slipped down. His heart
sank and his chest was empty. Miraculously, retaining his balance, Chris stopped and
stood for a few seconds on the spot. He must be calm.
Again a few steps. Torturous minutes, full of horror. Finally the desired window was
above him. Now he had to climb. But how? Ahead, above, was a bare wall, smooth and
even, not a single groove. Chris looked carefully. No, he was wrong. Only the first halfmetre was smooth. After that the wall was decorated with beautiful ornaments and basrelief. Chris could perfectly catch onto them with his hands and feet. Only how to
overcome this half a metre?
Cautiously turning his head, the boy began to look for any crack. He found none.
The tower was built with magnificent marble. On the other hand, right in front he saw a
seam between two blocks. He took half a step back and felt the seam with his fingers. It
was an alloy of lead and silver. Chris was exulted. His knife was of steel, and therefore, it
could easily get into this seam. Not breathing, the boy pulled his hunting knife out of the
leather scabbard. Just that if he started to cut into the wall in his position, he would
surely fall. So, there was only one way out – plunge the knife with all his might into the
seam. Ten chances out of ten, he would fly down executing this stunt. But there was no
After saying a prayer under his breath, Chris swung and with all his might stabbed
the soft lead with his knife. He put all his strength into this attack. The knife went into
the wall like into butter, but the boy’s feet slipped off the narrow ledge. If he had not
held onto the hilt of the knife, he would now be flying down. Instead, he was only
hanging over the precipice. Then his legs found support and Chris was back on the
ledge. After a short break, the boy pulled himself up on his knife and with one hand
reached out to the stone eagle. If only the ornament would not turn out to be fragile.
Fortunately, the eagle held.
Like a lizard on a grey rock, Chris began to climb to the magic window. Using his
hands and feet on everything he could possibly catch on, he climbed up and never fell
even once. It even seemed to him that the tower helped in the dangerous ascent.
Necessary protrusions and indentations were where they should be. Birds and animals
carved in marble were seemingly encouraging the young hero on. Chris was puzzled.
Why was it necessary to carve all these at this altitude? Who would see them? Really
only the birds. They turned out to be of invaluable help for his difficult task, as if Walter
knew that someone in the future would take advantage of his marble beauty.
Here was the window. It was very close. A thin sliver of glass still stuck out of the
empty frame. It was possible to reach with a hand. The sliver, though, had become a
hindrance. The edges were sharp like a razor. Chris would be left without a hand if he
tried to remove it. The boy got up higher. Now he could knock the glass off with a foot.
Suddenly he heard desperate screams and recognized Kate’s voice. Until this, the sounds
of the tower had not reached him. Forgetting everything else, Chris unclenched his
hands and jumped inside.
Now we simply must return to the brother and sister and find out what happened to
them. We begin with the moment we left them.
The Sovereign came to where Kate’s knightly outfit was lying. He bent down, picked
up the sword, and approached the children. “If you don’t do my bidding now, I’ll kill this
girl in front of your eyes,” he said to Gene and in confirmation of his words put the blade
to Kate’s chest.
“Don’t listen to him, Gene!” Kate shouted, but the Sovereign covered her mouth
with his hand. Tied up, she could not show resistance and only tried to break free.
“First of all, move five steps away from your sister,” the Sovereign ordered.
Gene winced, then looked at Kate and took a few steps back. The wizard dragged the
girl to the throne and with the help of the staff attached her to one of the legs. Now Kate
could not move from the spot. The Sovereign left her and returned to Gene.
“Now let her say what she wants,” he said to Gene, “but you’ll do what I tell you to.
Get on your knees!”
“Don’t you dare!” Kate shouted. Now she could talk. “Don’t abase yourself in front
“Why abase?” the old man laughed. “I need this for the spell. Get on your knees!
You indeed love your sister? If you do, get down.” He stroked the sword blade with a
finger. “Or she’ll die.” Despite his two and a half thousand years, the old man thrust the
sword with such force into the back of his throne that he plunged it in up to the hilt, near
the girl’s face. He did not take it out, too lazy. The sword stayed where it was.
“Get on your knees and close your eyes!” the wizard demanded again.
“Don’t you dare!” Kate again cried. The boy looked fearfully at both.
“Or she’ll die,” the Sovereign smiled again. “Only you can save her. Don’t be afraid.
Do what I order. Get on your knees.”
“He’ll kill you, don’t trust him!” Kate shouted, bursting into tears.
Gene looked sadly at her and addressed the Sovereign, “You really won’t do her any
“Not a hair on her head!” the wizard assured him.
“Swear that you won’t kill her, won’t put her in jail, won’t sell her into slavery,” the
Prince of the White Tower demanded.
“I swear by my magic power!” the Sovereign solemnly said. “Nothing will happen to
her!” He turned to Kate. “You see, your brother has saved your life. I’ll have to spare
you. What one won’t do to achieve a lifelong goal!”
Gene went to Kate. “I don’t want you to die,” he sobbed piteously. “It all happened
because of me. I didn’t listen and ran away. My fault, sister, but you won’t die.”
“Don’t, Gene!” Kate groaned. But the boy did not listen to her. He looked his sister
in the eyes, with his palm touched her cheek wet with tears, and went to the Sovereign.
Kate watched in horror as he went to meet death but could not do anything.
“I’m ready,” Gene said to the wizard, standing in front of him. He slowly began to go
down on his knees. Kate could not watch this. Gene got to his knees, straightened his
back, and looked into the Sovereign’s eyes.
“What a smart kid!” The Sovereign laughed and triumphantly held his hands up in
the air. Lightning flew with a crackle from one hand to the other. He started to cast the
Kate heard him muttering strange words but she saw only the boy. She did not even
perceive the smell of smoke and fumes. Gene was kneeling defenceless and alone. The
Sovereign leaned over him like a bird of prey over a chick. He had already begun to
glow. Gene closed his eyes. Kate wanted to cry out, to break free, but could not. She was
coughing from the smoke. Suddenly she realized that the rope tying up her hands had
finally yielded. Perhaps she could break loose?
However, it was already too late. Something clicked above the Sovereign’s head and
blue lightning similar to that shot from laser guns in space war movies flew out of his
eyes. Much faster than in a movie, the lightning, the size of a cucumber, swooped down
upon the boy and penetrated inside through his eyes. Gene fell onto the floor as if dead
and spread out his arms. Kate screamed, but it froze on the high note when she saw how
the Sovereign also collapsed beside him. The old man was dead. Kate expected with
horror that Gene would get up now and it would no longer be him. The boy did not
move. Kate wailed quietly in her solitude. It was all over. Now there was already nothing
she could do. The Sovereign had gotten his own way. Now he was already in her brother.
Yet another click rang out; a blue zigzag suddenly flew back out of Gene and began
to rush about the throne hall. It flew to a metre from Kate, struck the wall, fell on the
floor, and crawled to the body of its former owner. Kate could not believe her eyes. So, in
the end the accursed sorcerer could not settle in Gene! Something had interfered with
him. There was a groan. It was the Sovereign’s soul reinstalled in the old body. The body
stirred, but Gene was lying still.
The Sovereign got up. He did it with great difficulty and stared at Gene perplexedly.
“I don’t understand,” he muttered. “Why did I come back?” Then his perplexity gave way
“Cursed girl!” he shouted at Kate. “What did you do to him? Why didn’t my spell
work? Ah, you’re celebrating? Too early to rejoice. I’ll settle in you.” Kate turned away.
“Afraid? Right, be afraid! Now it’ll be over for you!” the Sovereign shouted and again
raised his hands above his head.
The girl could not stand it. “Mama!” she shouted. “Mama! Help!” The Sovereign
Again there was a click, and the sound of glass breaking. Kate could not believe her
eyes. Chris was standing before her. “Have no fear, Caterino, I’m with you!” he said and
drew his sword.
“You’re here?” The Sovereign stared at him. “Where did you come from?”
“From the basket with blue hares!” Chris replied with a challenge. “If you want their
meat, go down and get them!”
“So that’s why I haven’t received my favourite dish today! So, it’s you, scoundrel,
you stole my supper?” The Sovereign was beside himself with rage.
“Your rule has ended, sorcerer,” Chris said. “Even if you get the better of us now,
soon conspirators will be here to kill you; you wouldn’t be in any body!”
“But first I’ll kill you all!” the old wizard shouted. He quickly whispered something
and Chris dropped his sword. His face reflected pain. The weapon, after flying through
the air, turned up in the Sovereign’s hands. “Prepare to die.”
“My sword burned my hand!” The boy in confusion turned to Kate and saw her
sword sticking out of the back of the throne. Having let out a shout of triumph, he
rushed to the sword and took possession of it. He first freed Kate and then threw himself
at the Sovereign. He carried out all this so quickly that the old man did not even have
time to react. With all his courage and zeal Chris rained attack down on the Sovereign.
Kate rushed to Gene. The boy was unconscious. With trembling hands the girl felt
for his pulse and sighed with relief. But it was still too early to rejoice. His pulse was very
weak and Gene was not even pale but grey, as if he had received a good electric shock.
His hair was standing on end. Kate sobbed and began to give her brother artificial
resuscitation. She paid no attention to what was happening around her.
Her friend’s combat with the wizard was fierce. The opponents were fighting to the
death. The Sovereign, after all that had happened to him, was unable to cast spells. He
was completely exhausted and discovered with horror that he was an ordinary mortal
and even a very old man. He fought with Chris with greater rage and bitterness. How
much power and energy he had lost over the past few days! The boy was young and
strong but did not possess such experience as his opponent. Both of them managed their
weapons capitally so that the two sides were almost equal. Who would win?
Kate was not interested in all of this at the moment. She was fighting for her
brother’s life. Several times, pressing her hands on the boy’s chest, she pulled at him
slightly, then again began to press against his chest. It was not easy. Kate was worried.
The boy did not regain consciousness. After gathering air in her lungs, she leaned in
closer and started blowing into Gene’s mouth. She immediately felt a sigh from him.
Kate again breathed in air, so much that she almost burst, and again repeated this
procedure. When she had finished, Gene started to cough and opened his eyes after a
few seconds. Tears gushed from them at once.
Kate laughed with joy and pressed her brother against herself. “Are you okay?”
“I think so,” Gene said with difficulty. “Just can’t move.” Kate began to massage the
boy, rubbing his hands and bending and straightening his legs. Soon his face turned
Meanwhile, Chris had already started to overpower the Sovereign. He had one
advantage. The old man seemed to be short-winded, and after a few rapid and
dangerous attacks, he began to gasp for breath. The boy had already inflicted two
terrible wounds on the Sovereign, but the villain only groaned, squirmed with pain, and
continued to fight. Blood did not even show up in those places where Chris hit.
However, Chris was neither depressed nor afraid and continued to press the old man
farther and farther away from Kate and Gene.
The Sovereign froze for a moment and gritted his teeth in anger. Fierce lightning
raced in his yellow eyes. He saw that the girl had managed to revive her brother. His
hesitation was enough for a good swing by Chris. Kate’s sword whistled in his hand, the
Sovereign’s head rolled onto the floor, and he collapsed right after it. There was no
blood, not a drop. The Sovereign was apparently so old that he had dried up like a living
mummy and not a single drop of liquid was left in him. Indeed, a real man is almost all
made up of water. In any case, so the medics confirm.
“Gosh!!!” Chris sighed and wiped the sweat from his face. “Here, it seems, that’s all.
Oh, no, not all!” He said because he saw the severed head stop and blink, and the mouth
begin to mumble something. The decapitated body began to pull with the hands, lifted
up a little on them, and began crawling to the head.
“Oh, no!” the boy exclaimed. However disgusting it was to him, he ran up to the
head, grabbed it by the hair as he should, struck it against the floor twice, and with a
swing hurled it out of the window, the same window through which the entire Country
of Frozen Time had once been visible.
The head disappeared into the darkness of the night. Yes, beyond the window it was
already night. The head flew down for a very long time, because the body continued to
twitch and roll from side to side all this time. However, here it twitched for the last time
and stayed still. The head had hit against the ground and shattered into a thousand
pieces, which no magic power could put back together again. The Sovereign, the great
villain and wizard, was no more.
Chris sighed and picked up Knight Caterino’s shield and cloak lying right there by
the window. Now the brother and sister came flying to him with hugs.
“Well done!” Kate was ready to kiss Chris. “Now we’re saved!” Gene said nothing.
He simply pressed affectionately against the older friend and looked at him with
Chris had never been as happy as he was at that moment. But he suddenly
remembered something. “Wait, friends,” he said with uneasiness. “We’re still very far
from salvation. The rebels will be here now.”
“What do they want?” Kate shrugged perplexedly.
“They want to kill the Prince of the White Tower.”
Kate almost burst into tears and again pressed Gene to herself. “Why does everyone
want to kill him? What bad has he done?”
“He’s the ruler of this country. Especially now when the real Sovereign is indeed
dead.” As if in answer to his words, they were hammering at the door of the throne hall.
Shouts were heard outside.
The children were startled. They never expected that new trouble would catch up
with them so quickly. Kate turned pale. Chris shoved her sword into her hands and
pulled his own out of the Sovereign’s hand.
“We’ll have to fight,” he said. “Do you remember what I taught you, Caterino?” The
girl sobbed and covered Gene with herself.
The door shook under numerous blows but did not yield. Chris looked appraisingly
at it. “We won’t last for long,” he said. “There’re obviously a lot of them. It means the
door can’t hold for long. We’ll fight. Of course, this won’t do much, but at least we’ll die
with dignity. With weapons in hand.”
“Really nothing to be done?” Kate said with despair.
“We’re here in a trap. There’s no exit. Unless we jump out the window.” All three of
them looked at the window. A starry sky brightened it. The children sighed heavily. They
suddenly saw what even made them forget that furious killers were breaking through to
The sky began to glow. At first lightly, then so brightly that it blinded the eyes. The
sun suddenly rolled out from behind the horizon, right from the very place to which it
had gone quite recently. The night retreated and a bright day shone again. The sun, like
a golden ball, rolled higher and higher in the sky, as if someone had quickly turned back
the time. Then it froze and fell into place. It was a great miracle. But what was it to our
heroes? Indeed, day or night on the street could have no impact on their situation.
The door had already begun to crack. Shouts and the clash of weapons increased
behind it. A shot rang out. Fortunately, it also could not smash the magic lock.
“We’re doomed!” Kate said hopelessly. She and Chris got up close together and
covered Gene. All three instinctively took a few steps back.
Right then an unusual noise was heard outside the window. It was getting closer,
and finally, Kate started to catch individual sounds in it. Not immediately, but she
realized that it was the flapping of wings. At the same second pigeons began to fly in
through the window. A lot of pigeons. A hundred, no, a thousand! Even more. They
filled the throne hall in a moment.
“It’s Vorkulina and the pigeon king!” Kate shouted. During recent events she had
forgotten all about her new friends.
Vorkulina sat down on her shoulder. “Hello, Kate,” it said to the girl. “I hope we
aren’t too late?”
“No, you came just in time! Only what are you going to do? They want to kill us.
“Of course. We need a large cloth for this; you sit on it and we’ll take you wherever
“We need a cloth,” Kate turned to Chris and Gene, who were looking at her with
great amazement. “Perhaps my cloak would work?”
“No, it’s too small.” Chris came to and began to run around the throne hall in search
of some material. Pigeons flew away from him to the side. How many of them were
there? No one could count.
“But this is just right!” Chris shouted and pulled out the Sovereign’s mantle, which
he had thrown down during the fight. The boy found it under the pigeons. The birds
went around it and talked loudly. Some cooed as pigeons do and some muttered human
“Will this cloak do?” Kate asked Vorkulina.
“Yes, perfectly. You get on, and there’s a lot of space for us.”
There was no time left. The pigeons spread out the mantle, grabbing hold of it with
beaks or legs. It occupied almost a third of the throne hall. The children and the pigeon
queen got to the very middle of the mantle and settled comfortably. The pigeons flapped
their wings and took off. The edges of the mantle lifted up and the rest of the pigeons
crawled under it. Like a living flying carpet, the Sovereign’s mantle took off in the air
and slowly flew out the biggest window.
As soon as that happened, the door noisily swung open with a crash and Leonari
and Alexandro burst into the throne hall with their soldiers. On seeing that they were
too late, the Defence Minister shouted violently, ran to the window, and fired after the
fugitives. However, they were already far away.
“Look!” one of the soldiers shouted suddenly. He saw the Sovereign’s body.
Everyone stared in a daze at the corpse.
Defence Minister Leonari was the first to collect himself. “Why are you all staring at
this dry piece of meat?” he shouted. “What good does that do us? The boy has fled and is
probably already gathering force against us now!”
“Have to catch up with him no matter what,” Alexandro the Black agreed with him.
He fingered the hilt of the dagger hanging from his belt. “If we follow on his heels, no
one will dare join him.”
“Then down!” Leonari gave the command. The conspirators ran down from the
At the doorway, which recently had a door, Gargulio stood, barely breathing, and
was nearly knocked down. When he found out that the Sovereign was dead, he was
incredibly pleased, but his beaming smile instantly faded when Leonari hastened to tell
him that the Prince of the White Tower had escaped miraculously.
“We failed!” the fat man whispered and almost fainted from fear. No one paid him
any attention and dragged him away with them.
Everyone left. Only one person remained in the throne hall. He was unlike any
soldier from Leonari’s army or bandit from Alexandro’s gang. This person stared for a
long time at the Sovereign’s body as if not believing what he was seeing. Finally, he went
and bent right over the body. On ascertaining that it was really the dead Sovereign
before him, the person howled like a dog. His voice was high and thin. This was not
surprising because this was a woman, a woman with a left hand chopped off almost to
the elbow. Ruina.
The witch was shocked. “Oh, cursed Caterino!” she shouted. “Did you really do
JOURNEY TO THE WEST
Kate, Gene, and Chris were already far away. The friends could not believe their
amazing salvation. Nevertheless, they felt safe.
“Where’s your husband?” Kate asked Vorkulina, who was sitting on her shoulder.
“Why didn’t I see him?” The pigeon king was indeed not among the birds.
“Oh, my husband Brilliant is now very far away. He flew to the West, to the Fairy of
“The Fairy of Eternal Youth?”
“Yes. He’s on very friendly terms with her. When we began to gather our subjects
together, we realized that we wouldn’t have time before nightfall. And we can’t fly in the
dark like owls do. Brilliant flew to the Fairy to persuade her to prolong the day for at
least an hour. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to save you and your friends and would
break our royal word. Breaking our word is a great crime for us royalty of the air. My
husband came up with flying to the Fairy. We waited anxiously for nightfall. To our
horror, it came. But we managed not to fall asleep (pigeons don’t fall asleep as fast as
chickens) as the sun returned to the sky and we took to the air.”
“If it were just a little longer, it would have been too late.” Kate lovingly stroked the
bird on the back. “We owe you our lives.”
“What are you saying!” the pigeon was embarrassed. “Indeed, you also once saved
me, sacrificing your own blood.”
“Are we flying to the West?” Kate asked the queen.
“Yes. You need to go to the Fairy of Eternal Youth?”
“Yes. I think that she’ll return my brother and me home.”
“Only we won’t be on the way for long. Night will come soon and my subjects will
have to return to their nests before dark.”
“Certainly, certainly. You’ve done so much for us!”
The queen was very upset that it could not deliver the girl and her friends right to
the Fairy’s home. “The hens have already laid their eggs,” it justified itself, “and can’t
leave their nests for long.”
“It’s okay,” the girl calmed it, “we’ll get there ourselves. We’re used to travelling.
“Of course,” the boy answered.
“Look, look!” Gene suddenly shouted. He crawled to the edge of the mantle, got up
on all fours, and looked down.
“You’ll fall!” Kate shouted at him. She almost started crying.
“Our horses are there,” the younger brother replied.
The children looked down and saw that the horses were really running after them.
White and black. From above they were the size of kittens. Chris excitedly recognized his
own Laura. He was very happy because he did not expect to see it alive after the mad
race that morning. It was not dead, however, and had even met up with Mirko. Here the
beautiful and faithful animals were running after the flock of flying birds, as if they knew
that their own masters were among them.
Vorkulina ordered the pigeons to descend and they gradually began to get down to
the ground. Soon the children were standing near their horses and saying goodbye to the
pigeon queen. They warmly thanked it and the rest of the birds for the rescue.
“Perhaps you still have some request for us?” Vorkulina asked in the end.
Kate shrugged. Gene started to think. Chris said, “You birds fly everywhere. Have
you heard anything about my brothers? They vanished thirteen years ago.”
“Alas. That was before my time,” Vorkulina replied.
Chris sighed. “Don’t be sad,” Kate encouragingly tapped his shoulder. “It was
predicted that you’ll find them. So you will.”
The pigeons flew away. There were so many of them that the wind developed from
the birds’ wings tousled the children’s hair. They did a farewell circle above the children
and flew away in different directions.
“How beautiful they are!” Kate remarked.
“Pity they can’t be kept on the balcony,” Gene thought aloud.
“Yes,” the girl agreed. “Our parents would never allow it.” At the thought of their
parents, they both became sad.
However, Chris would not let them become emotional. “Why are you down in the
dumps? Or have you already forgotten how it was recently?” Indeed, it was a sin to be
sad after they escaped death.
The friends sat on their horses and rode off. Now their way was to the west. The sun
again hung over the horizon. For the second time that day, night came. The children
urged on their horses and very soon found themselves again on the river bank. When the
ferryman saw them, he almost fell into the water with surprise. He had repaired the
ferry, so without a word ferried the riders and horses across the river. As soon as he had
done so, night came. The children did not stop for the night but rode on. Very soon they
disappeared into the darkness.
The ferryman looked from behind and, after waving, went to sleep in his own cabin
at the pier. He fell asleep quickly and did not hear the large cavalry detachment
clattering their hooves on the opposite shore. The riders made noises and shouted,
calling for the ferry, but the old man was deaf and sleeping very soundly. The riders had
no choice but to dismount and settle for the night.
The commander of the detachment was indignant. “I swear by the witches, if it
wasn’t for this hellish ferry, we would have already caught up with them tonight!” he
shouted. “Now we’re hopelessly behind.”
“Doesn’t matter, Lord Alvansor,” they calmed him. “They won’t go far. Sooner or
later we’ll catch up with them.”
“If only nothing would happen to the boy!” Alvansor worried about Gene like his
own son. He never thought of him as a powerful wizard and ruler. He perceived him as a
child and hence thought only about his wellbeing and safety. When he saw something
resembling a flying carpet in the sky an hour ago, he was not surprised, but when he
noticed the children on it and recognized the Prince of the White Tower among them, he
immediately set off with his squad in pursuit.
However, even the fastest horses were in no position to catch up with the birds and
Alvansor was hopelessly behind. He did not stop the chase though. After an hour, he and
his soldiers found the Sovereign’s mantle. Where it lay on the ground, there were still a
lot of feathers and it was trampled by horse hooves.
“They travelled farther on horseback,” said Alvansor. “We’ll catch up with them
beyond the river. Forward!” A serious delay, however, occurred by the river, the reason
Alvansor was so angry.
Alvansor fell asleep with troubling thoughts. They woke him long before dawn. To
his question of “What’s the meaning of this?” they answered that three hundred guards
had come in a hurry from the Capital and wanted to report very important news.
Alvansor went out of the tent to meet the arrivals and found out with irritation that
there was a mutiny in the city headed by Gargulio, Leonari, and Alexandro the Black.
“Cheerful company,” Alvansor remarked and twirled his moustache thoughtfully.
“They worked quickly. What do they want?”
“They’ve won over to their side the whole of the Capital’s garrison and the army. The
guards have dispersed. Only we managed to flee from the city. The rebels are now
gathering troops to catch up with the Sovereign. The rebel army, led by Leonari, will
follow. They’ve already proclaimed a triumvirate. They’ve promised a great reward for
the boy’s head. He has been declared dethroned and outlawed.”
“What an outrage!” Alvansor exclaimed. “While I’m alive, not a single hair will fall
from the Sovereign’s head. Only he is the rightful ruler of the Country of Frozen Time!”
“There’re rumours in the Capital that the old Sovereign has revived.”
“Nonsense. Even if it were so, the boy all the same remains who he is. He was
solemnly crowned in the presence of the people. Therefore, no matter where he is, on
the throne or in exile, he’s the one who has the right to the highest authority. Naturally,
if he himself doesn’t reject it.” The guards all agreed with their wise commander.
“However, we have no more time to lose,” Alvansor the Flawless exclaimed. “Let
somebody swim with a horse to that shore and bring the ferry here.” There were
instantly volunteers, and by sunrise Alvansor’s detachment already numbered nearly
five hundred people. Supporters of the Prince of the White Tower were already on the
other side of the river.
“Burn the ferry, destroy the chain!” Alvansor ordered in the end. When the
ferryman ran up to him with howls and moans, he dropped into his hands a purse of
gold and said, “Shut up, old man, and dry your tears. War has started and it’s a sin to cry
because of a pile of logs.”
“Forward!” Alvansor ordered his men. A cavalcade of the best warriors of the
Capital started off to the west, to where our friends were heading.
The children were already far away, because, despite intense fatigue, they did not
stop their horses for a moment. They wanted to go as far away as possible from the
beautiful city, where they had miraculously remained alive. Not only alive! They had
also won a victory over a great and evil enemy, who until then few had dared to measure
strength with. The children, safe and sound, were travelling to meet new adventures.
Each of them now had his own goal. Kate and Gene sought to return home to their
parents; this would not be too much for them to ask. Chris thought only about his
brothers now. The prophecy must be fulfilled and the boy waited impatiently for the
moment when he would meet them.
The road, on which the travellers were going, was as smooth as a flat tablecloth. The
world around again consisted of joyful and bright colours. Flowers smelled very sweet,
bees and bumblebees buzzed, merry swifts soared high in the sky, larks warbled.
“How many days to the Fairy of Eternal Youth?” Kate asked her squire.
“Two weeks, no more,” Chris replied. “If we ride at a normal pace. I think that we’ll
be on site in ten days.”
“We’ll carry Gene in turn,” Kate proposed. “So the horses will be less tired.”
“Good,” Chris agreed.
“When will you teach me to ride?” Gene asked.
“I’ll teach you on the way,” Chris suggested, “if you want to get home quickly.”
“All right,” the boy was pleased. “Only how will we do this if we’re racing all the
“Doesn’t matter, I can run next to the horse sometimes. So you’ll have the
opportunity to learn to sit in the saddle.”
“Let’s start now.”
“Certainly not,” Kate interrupted the conversation. “Chris is too tired. Aren’t you
“I just wanted,” the boy started to justify himself, “just wanted to make a joke.
Right, Chris?” The squire nodded in the affirmative at the boy and smiled.
Ahead was a village. “We’ll halt there,” the children decided. Not possible to travel
infinitely! However, on reaching the village, they ate, rested only for an hour, and again
set off. When evening came, the friends dined on the food that they had intentionally
stocked up in the village, and went to sleep, not even posting a watch. Around was very
peaceful territory, nothing like what Kate had seen during her first trip across the
Country of Frozen Time. They got up before dawn in the morning and were back in the
If Alvansor the Flawless had known that they did not spare themselves this way, he
would have shaken the souls out of his soldiers. Yet he was sure that they would catch up
with the children soon and did not torture the men or the horses.
Even worse was the case with Alexandro the Black, whose detachment of many
thousands was stuck at the river. The prince gave the order to kill the ferryman, but the
latter managed to escape. Then he gave the order to swim across, but the current that
day was so strong that it was out of the question. “I’ll be damned!” Alexandro swore.
“We’ll be stuck here for a week.”
Leonari’s army of ten thousand (if the rebels only knew that the Prince of the White
Tower just made off to go home and did not intend to gather an army against them!) had
already left the Capital. Messengers arrived with the order to prepare for its passage.
Gargulio remained in the city as the full-fledged ruler. He, of course, was dying from
fear, but still hoped for an outcome favourable to him. “Perhaps Leonari and Alexandro
will catch the boy,” he reasoned. “Catch and kill. What will this be for me? Then the
Defence Minister and the Prince will definitely confront each other, and one of them will
kill the other. Indeed, I can handle one somehow. Not with strength but cunning.” How
wily this Gargulio was! He lived in his palace and all the courtiers now went to his
The castle and the White Tower had remained abandoned and empty. No one knew
that the wicked witch Ruina, who hated Knight Caterino more than anything in the
world, was left in full solitude there.
When the witch saw the Sovereign’s corpse, despair took possession of her. If the
boy had done away with the most powerful wizard in the land, then he was truly
invulnerable, and no one could deal with him. There was a moment when Ruina decided
to give up on her vengeance. She even began to descend the stairs with the intention of
returning to her cave or the Bewitched Forest, where there were no more witches. But
somewhere in the middle of the tower, she found the carcass of a blue hare. It was
slightly spoilt but still blue and not red (the meat of a blue hare turned red when it had
gone bad), and quite suitable for food.
Ruina’s eyes flared up with an ominous fire. Seizing the carcass, she bit into it,
began to tear it apart, and, almost without chewing, swallowed the sweet meat. When
not even a bone was left of the hare, the witch felt an incredible surge of mental and
physical strength. She even became younger and felt that her severed hand had stopped
aching for the first time in the past few days.
She went down one more floor and found two more carcasses. Ruina, with all her
magic instinct, realized that if she went any further, she would find more. Her instinct
did not deceive her. She ran down seven floors and found blue hares on each of them.
They were scattered near the shaft of the hoist. You have certainly guessed that these
were the hares that Chris had tossed out. The witch stuffed the carcasses into a bag,
which she had acquired during her wandering when she pretended to be a beggar. After
that, she rushed upstairs headlong like a mountain goat.
You are probably troubled by the question, “How did Ruina come to be in the White
Tower?” I will willingly answer.
Ruina, like a dog, nosed out the traces of her enemies – Caterino and his squire. She
reached them at By the Hearth Tavern but there Apius’ servants drove her away in
disgrace. Ruina discovered a fresh track, which Chris left when he went together with
the innkeeper to Felix. She found the hunter’s dwelling closed. The owner had recently
left it. The witch plodded on and came to the railing surrounding the Park of the Elf
King. Here she stopped, understanding perfectly that she would not be allowed further.
Ruina hid behind a lamppost and started to wait. Not much time had passed when
she saw that the guards began to flee, and very soon no one was left at the gate. The
witch was very surprised but immediately entered the park and ran to the castle. She
reached the White Tower. She rushed boldly upstairs. She caught up with the rebels
halfway. Ruina hid and let them go ahead, then ran after them. From the soldiers’
conversations she found out that they were going to kill the Sovereign and all those
around him. Ruina was unspeakably pleased. “It means they’ll kill the cursed Caterino if
he’s there,” she thought. Therefore, she experienced a lot of frustration from later
Now she again reached the top floor of the tower, ran into the throne hall, and
rushed to the Sovereign. “They cut off your head,” she addressed the dead body, “it
means your great soul has not yet left you. I’ll release it into the open. Only kill the boy,
kill Caterino! It’s because of him that your plans came to naught and now you’re dead.”
Having said this, she ate another blue hare, then took out a knife from her bosom
and made an incision on the skin of her maimed arm. An abundant stream of blood
black as ink flowed out from the wound. Ruina turned her arm so that the blood flowed
to the Sovereign’s body, to the place where earlier there had been a head but now only
the stump of his neck protruded. Blood flowed to the spot of the cut and was instantly
absorbed in it like a sponge.
The witch cast a spell:
Great evil spirit, revive!
Let the witch’s blood nourish you!
Black as tar. Ovi! Ovi!
Let the heavens shudder!
Gods of evil, come to my aid!
I summon you as I can!
He died a great villain.
Don’t let the deed be wasted!
Scorpion poison in me. Ovi!
Help revive him. Evio!
Blue hare, creator of magic,
Give him the power of the black earth!
My hate gives forth fire.
Let it be the water of life
For you, black demon. Vioe! Vioe!
You black out the clear day.
Turn the blue sky black
Burn the green earth. Ovi!
Let there be no good in the land!
Great evil spirit, revive!
As if in answer to her, the dead body shuddered and rolled up into a ball. Something
began to gurgle inside it, next it sighed and became silent, then it began gurgling again.
A swamp breathes this way, sighing and gurgling. A regular, quiet knock was heard from
the middle of the coil.
Ruina smiled happily. “This is my greatest sorcery,” she said. “Soon a beast will be
born and I’ll become more powerful than all in this country. Then I’ll kill Knight
MEETING THE UNICORN
Six days had already passed since Knight Caterino, her squire Christian Thirteen,
and the Prince of the White Tower set out on the road to the Fairy of Eternal Youth.
Nothing particular happened to them on the way. The three of them continued to ride
together, Kate on Mirko, Chris on Laura, and Gene on a nice little pony. They bought
this wonderful pony for the boy two days ago at the village inn. This is how it happened.
“I’m tired of always sitting with one of you,” the little Sovereign declared one day. “I
also want to be a full rider. I want to handle my own horse so that it’ll listen to me.”
“But where do we get you a horse?” the older sister wondered.
“We can buy one in any village,” said Gene. “I still have two gold buttons.”
“Not enough for a horse,” Chris remarked.
Gene was disappointed and started to sniff. Suddenly he remembered something
and his eyes shone. “I still have your gold buckle!” The boy fumbled in his breast pocket
and pulled out the belt buckle. “Look how big it is!”
Kate had quite forgotten about the buckle. The weather was very warm; the children
were travelling in light clothes and reached for the cloaks only at night. “Indeed,” she
was pleased. “How could I have forgotten about it? Chris, now do we have enough for a
The boy shook his head thoughtfully, “I think it’s not worth it to sell the buckle.”
“Why?” Kate and Gene were surprised.
“Don’t forget that it’s part of your knightly garment. Besides, remember what Apius
said about it? The buckle burns when in the wrong hands. That means it’s magic. You
can’t part with magic things good people gave you.”
The brother and sister were forced to agree with him. They travelled in silence for a
few minutes, staring at the gold buckle.
Suddenly, Kate slapped herself on the forehead, “Now I understand!”
“What do you understand?” the boys asked her.
“Now it’s clear to me why the Sovereign couldn’t settle in Gene and flew out of him
as soon as he entered,” said Kate. “My buckle drove him out of there. What luck, Gene,
that you had it!”
“So it was,” Chris agreed. “You transferred all your energy to the buckle and it saved
us. How would I have fought with the Sovereign if he had been in your brother?” The
children sighed and looked with gratitude at the golden trinket, which had in fact
provided them with valuable services. Gene even stroked it.
When they reached a small village and dined in a tavern, Chris asked Gene for one
gold button and went out. He returned after some time, leading a little horse by the rein.
“What is this?” Gene stared with surprise.
“It’s a pony,” Chris said. “Your pony.”
Gene even gasped in happiness. “Where did you get it?”
“Bought it from the milkman.”
“The milkman? But where did you get the money?”
Chris shrugged. Kate immediately guessed what the matter was, on seeing that his
hunting knife with a handle decorated with gold no longer hung from his belt. “Thank
you, Chris,” she said.
The squire was embarrassed, “You stop it; surely I can spare something for a friend?
Gene still has a button. Let him take it home as a keepsake.”
During these days, Chris and Gene had become fast friends and loved each other
very much. The older taught the younger how to ride a horse, how to sword fight, and
techniques of fighting, and the little boy repaid him with the tender affection of a
younger brother. Kate sometimes even experienced a tiny feeling of jealousy when she
saw their relationship, but was not the least bit angry with her brother because she knew
how he needed contact with an older friend. She also took part as a boy in all their
games and amusements and could already fence as well as Chris. After getting the pony,
Gene forgot everything in the world; he called the little horse Larissa, hugged its neck
while riding, and whispered sweet words in its ear. Their journey was so pleasant and
However, life around them was losing more and more of its peaceful and tranquil
character each day. Events taking place in the Capital gradually began to spread their
detrimental effect on the whole country. The air smelled of anxiety. Rumours,
overtaking each other, each more absurd than the other, spread with the speed of a
bird’s flight, and people started to lose their calm.
Nevertheless, the children, captivated by the trip and each other, did not notice any
of this. That Alvansor’s squad had not caught up with them so far proved what
wonderful horses they had.
“I love my pony most of all in the world,” Gene said, as he and Larissa started to lag
behind Kate and Chris.
“Now we’re not going as fast. Why did you buy him this tortoise, Chris?” Kate said
this without any anger and Gene was not offended by her.
“But then it’s the smartest!” Gene stood up for Larissa.
Still, they were actually starting to go slower, and the distance between Alvansor
and them began to shorten. The first signs of wartime, though, caught up with them
Villages and small farms ceased to be hospitable and friendly. The residents
welcomed the children with frowns and suspicion. All this time they had been receiving
them very warmly, and wined and dined them without taking any money. It was wellknown that a knight would bring luck to the home. Could you really take money from
those who brought you good luck? Now money was still not taken, but they were looked
at in such a way that the children wanted to clear off sooner.
Everyone spoke about some detachments, which looted villages, killed those who
tried to show resistance, and carried out other abominations. The children could not
understand why all this was happening. Then they suddenly saw a group of people and
carts loaded with simple peasant belongings going quickly in the same direction our
heroes were travelling. Together with people plodded animals: cows, goats, sheep, and
dogs. Cats, chickens, and geese were sitting in the carts with the children and the
elderly. The adults were walking alongside.
“Who are they?” Gene asked perplexedly.
“Refugees,” Chris replied. “It means war has really begun. Only from war do people
try to run away. So, we must hurry. Please tell me,” he addressed a peasant, “why are
you leaving your native place?”
“Oh, Sir Squire,” the peasant easily guessed with whom he was talking, “our
province is in trouble. They say now there’s no real ruler in our country but great
contention. We live in the neighbourhood of the Black Principality. Now Prince
Alexandro has returned and will seek revenge on us for having the little Sovereign pass
through our land in times of war with him. The Prince’s soldiers are fierce like wolves.
Perhaps we would withstand them, but they say that yet another unknown army has
appeared in our land. This one leaves nothing, takes everything clean away. We run
from them. We think that we’ll be able to hide in the city of Bear-weaver.”
The children listened with sympathy to the peasant’s story and their hearts were
also full of alarm. They continued on even faster. By noon, they reached the city which
the farmer had described. On the city emblem was the picture of a bear working on a
Once it was a very beautiful and rich city. But after it ill-treated Walter, fate
punished it, turning it from prosperous and magnificent to provincial, shabby, deserted,
and impoverished. Now, in times of danger and distress, which had not been in the
Country of Frozen Time for many centuries, the city came to life and started stirring.
Dozens of small groups of refugees, like the one Kate and the boys met, drove up along
the three roads to all the city gates. There were noise, jam, shouts of people and animals.
The city intended to defend against intruders and prepared in earnest for a long
siege. The military ran along the walls and examined the ancient guns. Anvils were
ringing in blacksmith shops, hastily making swords, tips for lances, and arrowheads.
Officers of the city self-defence troops gave orders. The townspeople were seemingly
awakened from hibernation.
Suddenly everybody started to shout and look to the east. The children looked
around. Behind them on the horizon clouds of smoke appeared in two places. Evidently,
a village or single farms were burning.
“I think it’ll be here soon,” said Chris.
“I think so too,” Kate agreed.
“Yes, yes, we need to go home!” Gene yelled.
They rode around the town itself. In the general confusion and turmoil few paid
attention to the three boys (Kate also remained as Knight Caterino) who rode west on
horseback to where the Black Principality was. This happened just on the sixth day of
That same evening Alvansor the Flawless appeared at the city walls, and with him
were already half a thousand people who followed him as the supporter of the lawful
ruler. The townspeople were about to take him for Alexandro but, fortunately, figured
out in time and did not start military action. They offered to open the gate, but Alvansor
wanted to know whether the Sovereign was in the city. The townspeople were very
surprised. “A little boy accompanied by two older boys, one of which is a knight,” the
commander of the detachment specified. He was told that they were indeed seen, but
they had gone on further. Having learnt that the Sovereign was not in the city, Alvansor
did not linger.
On the horizon in the west everything was already ablaze; it was crimson from the
fire and black from the smoke. The townspeople and all those hiding with them spent a
The first detachments of Alexandro the Black arrived in the morning. They began to
dart about right by the city walls. The Prince himself on a magnificent steed rode under
a white flag up to the gate and began to promise the city a terrible punishment if they
did not hand over to him the Prince of the White Tower, the former Sovereign and
present exile. They did not answer him. The Prince went away furious. When evening
came, Leonari’s army also began to surround the city; the first cannon shots were heard
from the walls. The war had started.
The villains stood by the walls for two days and even tried to launch an assault but
they did not succeed. The cannons drove them off easily. Then Leonari went to
negotiate. He promised full immunity to the city and even allowed the city gate not be
opened before their departure if the boy was handed over. How surprised he was when
he was told that the one he wanted was not in the city.
“What do you mean not here?” Leonari was surprised. “It can’t be!”
“He was here,” they replied. “But went further to the west with Alvansor’s army.”
Leonari frowned. “How large an army?”
“Five thousand, no less,” the city authorities lied to him.
They guessed correctly. Leonari and Alexandro, after arguing for a few hours,
gathered their army and went on, to the great joy of the people hiding in the city. Kate,
Gene, and Chris, however, were already in the Black Principality. If Alexandro had
known about this, he would have died of anger.
Chris decided to go through the Principality. “It’s the most direct route,” he
reasoned, “and the Prince and all his soldiers aren’t close by, so we’ll gain time, and it’ll
be Unicorn Canyon right away.” Kate and Gene agreed with him and they bravely turned
the horses onto a dusty trail, which turned off from the main road. They were not
accustomed to going along a straight line.
Black Principality was not called this in vain. It was the darkest spot in the entire
Country of Frozen Time. The land here was rocky with almost no grass growing, and it
was not even green but grey as if covered with dust. Gnarled trees with withered and
dried leaves were seen in rare places. The horses kept on stopping, afraid of hurting
their hooves on the sharp rocks that covered the road. Even the sky was not blue but
grey, like a washed-out bed sheet. The mood of the travellers was hopelessly spoiled.
Bad mood turned into fear and despair when the children saw the first human
settlement. It was a large village, which occupied so much space that it was impossible
to go around. The friends went along a narrow winding road, which passed through
small shabby huts built of clay and grey stones and covered with old straw, almost with
no windows, and doors barely supported by rusty hinges.
The inhabitants of this village looked even worse than the houses. The children only
met barely moving old folks, who almost did not notice them, even when they looked
point blank with red and watery eyes. They were incredibly emaciated and dressed in
rags, which probably had never been normal clothing, and even if they were, they had
long ago lost their original colours.
Children swam together with scraggy dogs in dirty and wide puddles, from which
came a stench. It was not possible to look at them without pain and compassion. Very
small and a bit older than Gene, barely covered by dirty half-rotting rags or even without
clothing, they stared fearfully at the riders and immediately scattered if the riders got
too close to them. The dogs also acted this way. They and the others looked at the
friends with distrustful eyes.
Kate felt bad. “Let’s get away from here quickly, or else my heart will break,” she
suggested. Gene and his pony from fear got into the middle between the older comrades
and gladly supported the proposal. Even the imperturbable Chris nervously urged his
However, literally a thousand steps after the village a new sight awaited them. When
they rode past a low but long hill, they saw on the slope all the rest of the adult
population of the village. Men, women, teenagers, and children older than nine were all
working under the supervision of five soldiers of dreadful appearance. The soldiers were
not even overseeing but sitting around playing cards, laughing and swearing loudly at
the same time. The unlucky ones worked in silence. The men hammered hard rocks, of
which the hill was made. Children and teenagers piled the stones into baskets and
hauled them on their shoulders and in wheelbarrows down to the foot of the hill, where
stone crushers were filled and manually turned by the women.
When the soldiers saw the travellers, they dropped their cards and got up from the
ground. A red-bearded and broad-shouldered fat man grabbed his sword and shouted,
“Who are you and what do you want?” However, Chris looked at him so threateningly
and fiercely, showing his sword at the same time, that the soldiers immediately stepped
back two steps and hesitantly moved from foot to foot on the spot.
Chris pulled up closer to him and posed the question, “Is this the way to Unicorn
“Yes,” the red-bearded one answered.
“The Sovereign smashed your Principality. Who are you and why do you force
people to work and oppress them as before?”
“The Sovereign defeated and jailed Prince Alexandro, and put in his place his
younger brother Virus. He’s no different from his predecessor. So nothing has changed
in our land. Good that we’re soldiers just like our fathers and not docile peasants and
don’t have to work five days a week for the Prince and his court.”
“The Sovereign’s no more,” Chris replied. “Alexandro’s at large and will be here
soon. I think that he won’t be pleased that his soldiers so devotedly serve his chief
enemy, his brother.” The soldiers blanched. They knew very well Prince Alexandro’s
“Let the people go home and pretend that none of the subjects of the present ruler is
fulfilling his duties because people don’t recognize Virus.” The soldiers obviously liked
this proposal, because when Kate and the boys went on farther, shouts were already
heard behind them. The soldiers chased the people away and ordered them not to come
“It’s some nightmare,” Kate said, when it was again empty and deserted around.
“Better not think about it,” Chris replied. “We have our own task.” Kate and Gene
agreed and went on in a gloomy mood. Everyone wanted to leave the Black Principality
To their right on the horizon among the hills, a castle with long towers dominated
the highest of them. It looked as black as coal from a distance.
“It’s Prince Alexandro’s castle,” Gene quietly imparted. “When he was inaccessible
and invincible...” He paused and then added, “Before I defeated and took him in an
“You?” Kate looked up at her brother with a puzzled expression.
Gene was embarrassed. “Well, not me but the one who was in me. Only it seemed
that it was me.” He looked guiltily at Kate. “I had almost forgotten everything that
happened. And then I saw the castle and remembered.” Kate with pity stroked her
brother on the head.
Soon the gloomy castle was out of sight. Half an hour later they started to come
across green bushes and tufts of grass. The girl and the boys had arrived at the border of
the Black Principality.
“What’s this Unicorn Canyon?” Kate asked Chris.
“Oh, it’s the most amazing place in our country,” the boy replied. “It’s a place of
fulfilment of desires.”
“Fulfillment of desires?” the brother and sister asked in one voice.
“Yes. Any wish will come true if you see the unicorn with your own eyes.” The
children’s eyes lit up.
“You mean that any wish will come true if you see the unicorn?” asked Kate.
“Not any,” said Chris, “only the most cherished one. Only what you want more than
anything in the world will be fulfilled.” Kate and Gene started to snuffle from their
desire to see the unicorn.
“What does it look like, this Unicorn Canyon?” Gene asked.
“No one knows this exactly,” Chris thought for a bit. “Everyone who was there says
differently. It’s a magical place and it can have a very different look. Everything depends
on the person who passes through the canyon and the thoughts in his head. One passes
through and sees only a barren desert because he’s a shallow person. A beautiful garden
with beautiful flowers appears before the eyes of another traveller.” Kate and Gene were
listening intently to his story and did not notice that they were getting closer and closer
to the place the boy was describing.
At that very moment in the White Tower in the Capital, the witch Ruina was
watching with bated breath as the new creature, destined to bring evil, misery, and
wretchedness to the land, was writhing. She had lived alone in the tower the whole
week, feeding on blue hares. She needed all of a few pieces a day to feel really good, so
she did not starve. The whole being of the witch was filled with a sweet expectation of
the moment when her magic would take effect.
Now the moment had arrived. Ruina was trembling with impatience and triumph.
Finally, the great thing that she wanted most in the world happened. A monster, with
the help of which she would rule the world, was born. But the most important thing was
that she would now safely deal with the hateful Knight Caterino, his brother, and his
The Sovereign’s body, which had been lying all these days curled up in a ball,
suddenly straightened itself up and started to tremble slightly and intermittently. Ruina
froze in anticipation. The body began to breathe. Yes, it was breathing deeply and noisily
taking in air.
“Come on, come on!” Ruina whispered with trembling lips.
From the severed neck a repulsive black head came into view with bulging, red,
insane eyes and a mouth dotted with small sharp teeth. The witch recognized without
difficulty a baby dragon. The beast squeaked piteously and started to get out. Ruina
laughed with happiness and tenderly handed him the last blue hare carcass. The dragon,
with speed and agility unexpected for such a young thing, rushed to the meat, snatched
it out of Ruina’s hands, and swallowed the blue hare whole with pleasure and a
“Well done!” the witch praised it. “Smart boy! Your dream was fulfilled, Sovereign.
Yes, since your soul didn’t settle in the boy, it’s now settled in the Black Dragon. It’s
much more suited to your essence. Well, come out now! Out in your entirety. Show
yourself in all your beauty!!!”
The disgusting monster again squeaked like a domestic kitten, yawned, and started
to drag itself out to freedom. The head was followed by an incredibly long neck. But
then, a dragon is the same as a snake, only very large. Hence, it also crawled out like a
snake. Soon, its long body had taken up all the space beside Ruina, and she, surprised
and startled, moved away. The trunk crawled and crawled out of the Sovereign’s neck,
and it was hard to believe that it could fit inside such a small body. Finally, the tail also
appeared, and now the whole monster was lying on the floor and trying to get up on its
short legs like those of a crocodile.
“Come on, baby, get up,” Ruina cheered on the hatchling. “How beautiful you are.”
The witch had horrible taste. The dragon was ugly and terrifying, completely
covered with shiny black scales. Dangling on its back were wings, still weak and fragile,
transparent like those of a dragonfly. The baby dragon finally stood up on its legs and,
shaking and unsteady, lumbered to Ruina. On reaching her, it shivered as if it was chilly,
and then began to rub against her legs.
This touched the witch unspeakably. She felt maternal tenderness towards the
dragon, sat down next to it, embraced it with her good arm, and began to stroke it like a
cat. Dragons obviously also love caresses, because the monster growled with pleasure
and wound its body around the witch. It also went to sleep this way. Ruina admired it
for a bit, then carefully freed herself and lay down beside it.
She woke up in the morning and immediately saw that the dragon was almost three
times bigger. It also had woken up long ago and was looking at its “mother” plaintively,
opened wide its mouth and started to hiss. Ruina understood that it wanted to eat. She
jumped up and ran into the hallway. She remembered that she had dropped a blue hare
there and was too lazy to pick it up later. When she got to the place where the carcass
was, it was not there. However, on the floor were clearly visible traces of the dragon’s
claws and body, left in the dust accumulated in a week. Ruina was not pleased.
“It means it had already gone there while I slept. Will have to deal with it more
carefully,” she told herself.
On entering the throne hall, Ruina stopped. The dragon was looking attentively at
her. It had still managed to grow and was already standing quite sturdily on crooked
legs, which had become strong and long. Ruina stepped back. She suddenly wanted to
run. She was too late, however. A shiny black body flashed faster than lightning in the
air and the witch screamed with fear and pain. She did not even have time to understand
anything as a huge mouth closed down on her body with a smack.
The dragon acted swiftly. It tore the witch’s body in half and began to swallow with
pleasure the bitter and unpalatable meat. Thus, Ruina died ignominiously.
At the very moment when the dragon made a sudden jump on the witch, Chris saw
the unicorn. He woke up early, when Kate and Gene were still asleep.
Late in the evening the night before, the three travellers entered Unicorn Canyon,
and even at night in the darkness, it amazed them with outstanding landscapes and
exotic animals peacefully roaming the ground. A lion was lying peacefully and lion cubs
were frolicking with fawns around him. A lioness and a doe were peacefully strolling
some distance apart. Nobody paid any attention to the young riders. The stars shone
brightly, and the ground and the trees around seemingly issued a soft glow. The air was
warm and filled with the most delicious, aromatic scents. It seemed to the children that
they were in paradise. Likely it was too. Ripe fruits hung on tree branches and
transparent streams with crystal water flowed under them. It was peaceful and joyful in
the soul. All worries, unease, and grievous memories were forgotten as if they had never
been. The friends dined and went to sleep.
Chris did not disturb Kate and Gene in the morning and went down to the river
flowing nearby. He washed his face and then could not control himself and rushed into
the alluringly fresh and clean water. The boy was very fond of swimming and swam for a
long time, making foam with his strong arms. When he got out of the water and was
dressed, a beautiful white horse walked out of the forest, about five hundred paces from
him on the riverbank.
Chris did not immediately realize that this was the unicorn. He was surprised at first
that the horse was almost twice as big as a normal horse. Suddenly the sun came out, the
mane and tail of the magical beast flared up golden, and a small golden lightning bolt
glittered above its head. After his eyes had gotten accustomed to the light, Chris saw that
it was a horn sparkling on the head of the fantastic creature.
“The unicorn,” the boy whispered and froze, unable to tear his rapt gaze from this
magnificent spectacle. The unicorn also decided to take a swim. It neighed loudly, stood
up on its hind legs so that the powerful muscles under his snow-white skin started
rolling, and ran into the water, noisily raising fountains of spray.
Chris feasted his eyes upon it and ran to his friends. Kate and Gene were still
sleeping soundly and for a long time could not understand what Chris was talking about.
However, they immediately woke up on the word “unicorn” and ran to the river, afraid
to be late. They were lucky. The unicorn had not gone away. Mouths open, the children
stared at him and even forgot to hide but stood this way right by the water.
The unicorn saw them, neighed nervously, and jumped onto shore. It got up very
close, huge and beautiful. It shook itself – the children were as if doused by cold water in
a shower – and sped away. The horn glittered for a moment like gold in the sun, the
mane and tail sprinkled stars, and the unicorn disappeared among the green trees.
Kate, Gene, and Chris just sighed. They looked long at the forest, where the fairytale horse had vanished.
CHRIS FINDS HIS BROTHERS
The travellers went along Unicorn Canyon the whole day and were delighted by its
charms. They did not see the magic animal anymore. But then, a lot of other marvellous
things, animals, and birds crossed their path.
“Now our desires will be fulfilled.” Gene said what the older kids dared not say out
loud. “What do you dream of, Kate?”
“I want to return with you to Mama and Papa.”
“And you, Chris?”
“I want to become a knight and find my brothers.”
“I don’t even know. I so want to find my brothers but want no less to be a knight.
Though this isn’t good. I have to think about my brothers first of all. But which I want
more, I don’t know myself.”
“What do you want, Gene?” Kate asked her brother.
“I want to have a horse.” The answer surprised both Kate and Chris.
“But you have Larissa.”
“I mean when we get home,” the boy replied, embarrassed. “You see,” he continued,
“I want Mama and Papa, but you want this too, and if your wish comes true, we’ll both
“So?” Kate did not understand.
“Well, if we both wish for the same thing, then only one wish will be fulfilled and the
second wasted. But if I wish for something else, then we’ll get two wishes fulfilled.”
Kate looked up at him with surprise, to which a share of respect was added. “And
you, it turns out, are a real rascal!”
“He didn’t become the Sovereign for nothing.” Chris added with a laugh.
The older kids laughed at Gene a little but not so that he would be offended, and
began to estimate how long they would still have to travel to reach the Fairy of Eternal
Youth. Following the conversation, having gone up along a narrow path, they left
Unicorn Canyon and were back on the plain.
Although it was not late yet, Chris proposed to stop for the night. “In the morning
we’ll get to the Valley of Stone Knights, but we’ll have to go around it,” he said.
“We’re really not going right through the valley?” Kate asked.
“It’s a very dangerous place. First of all, for knights.”
“For knights? Why?”
“Because ordinary people don’t go there.”
“But I’m a knight.” Kate started to fidget in the saddle. “I was told that knights
mustn’t run away from danger.”
“Not a single knight has returned from there,” Chris said sombrely. “Do you want to
Kate shivered with fear. “I think you’re right. Better we go round. I would go myself
but can’t with my brother.”
“I can,” Gene protested. “I also want to become a knight. We’ll go through this valley
and complete a feat.”
“We’ll discuss it tomorrow,” Chris said firmly. “You’re both little fools. We're
already very close to the mountain where the Fairy lives and you’re posing as heroes.
That’s not heroism but empty bragging.”
Kate and Gene became quiet. This was the first time Chris talked to them this way.
It turned out that he almost gave them a scolding. They only realized now that the boy,
being the oldest, had taken upon himself a long time ago the responsibility for their fate.
They again went forward early in the morning. Kate and Gene no longer hinted at going
through the Valley of Stone Knights.
At noon, a blue strip appeared on the horizon. “Mountains,” said Chris. “After a
thousand steps we turn left.” No one argued with him, but when the friends had
travelled half the distance, they turned up in front of a little hut, which they had not
“Where did this come from?” Gene exclaimed. Kate and Chris shrugged.
The door of the hut opened and an old woman appeared. She came out to meet the
riders. The children stopped the horses and looked at the old woman with surprise and
“What nice children!” the old woman lisped with a toothless mouth. “Where are you
“We’re going to the Fairy of Eternal Youth, grandma,” Chris replied.
“I haven’t seen a single person for thirteen years already,” the old woman said, and
the children stopped fearing her. Indeed, she had an awfully kind voice. “Come to my
house. I’ll feed you a tasty meal. After all, you must not have eaten a hot meal for more
than a day already.”
The children thanked the old woman and dismounted. “And they’ll find food.” The
woman patted the animals on the sides trembling with impatience.
Soon the friends were already sitting at a high, long table and shovelling in meat
soup. The old woman fussed around and covered the table with pastries and cakes. “Eat,
my dears,” she kept saying. “The way to the Fairy is long and hard. You still have to go
and go. I hope you’re not planning on going through the Valley of Stone Knights?”
“No, grandma,” Gene said with his mouth full. “We’re going to bypass it. I would
have gone straight, but my older brother and sister are afraid.”
“And they’re right,” the mistress of the hut approved of Kate and Chris. “Your
brother and sister are right and you listen to them. They are older and wiser.”
Gene was offended, “I’m also not stupid and understand everything. But it’s all very
well for them! They’ve already experienced so many adventures that they now don’t
need any. But I also want to accomplish feats.”
The old lady smiled and patted him on the head, “I know that you’re a very brave
boy. But it’s no shame even for you to go around the valley. Once you’ve passed it, it’ll
never be dangerous for you your whole life. You won’t find yourself in it.”
“It won’t let you. Its entrance will be closed to you forever. And that’s good. Nothing
for you to do there! No one has come out of it yet.”
“Has anyone gone into the valley?”
“Very rarely. Once in a hundred or fifty years. Knights, rogues, and other
adventurers. But mostly knights. They go in there and disappear without a trace. They
say that they turn to stone. Therefore, the place is called the Valley of Stone Knights. But
what actually happens there, nobody knows.”
The children listened to the old woman’s story and were more and more convinced
that they had made the right decision. When they had finished eating, they thanked
their hostess warmly for the feast and began to get ready for the road. She asked them
who owned the knight’s shield.
“It’s Kate’s shield,” Gene instantly replied. “She’s a real knight. Knight Caterino.”
“Indeed!” the old lady exclaimed. “So young. Even younger than the youngest of the
twelve knights that were here last.”
Chris gave a start. “Twelve knights?” he repeated. “Please tell me, grandma, what
knights are you talking about?”
“Thirteen years ago twelve knights passed here. They were all brothers.”
“Brothers!” Chris in his excitement gripped Kate’s hand, just as he was helping her
into the saddle. “Tell me, do you remember their names?” The old lady began to think.
“Were their names Richard, Anthony, Julius, Emilio, Enolio, Hans, Michael,
Heinrich, Francois, Johann, Juan, and Carlos?” Chris said in a trembling voice.
The old woman nodded, “Yes, yes, exactly what they were called. They rode straight
into the Valley of Stone Knights. They said that they’d completed all the feats that could
be accomplished and now intended to unravel the mystery of the valley. But, they
obviously also failed, because they entered the valley and also didn’t come out.”
“How do you know? Maybe they came out the other side and you just didn’t see
“No.” The old woman shook her head. “If it were so, then the Valley would cease to
exist and all who had disappeared there would’ve come back out.”
“Thank you.” Chris was very serious. “What you said is very important for me. Come
on, friends!” The children got on their horses and rode off.
The old woman suddenly ran clumsily in front of Chris’ horse. “Don’t go there, boy,”
she said. “I see in your eyes what you’re thinking.” Chris paused and only pressed his
lips firmly together. Kate and Gene looked anxiously at him.
The woman continued, “But if you don’t listen and still go there,” she nodded in the
direction of the mountains, “remember, the most important thing is that you can’t take
even one step back or touch those who were once human. Remember this, or else you’ll
die.” Chris looked at her as if he had heard nothing and rode past. Kate and Gene heard
everything very well and remembered. They said “thank you” and hastened after their
About three hundred steps later Gene touched Kate’s shoulder. “Look!” He nodded
behind them. The girl looked back and cried out in surprise. There was neither hut nor
old woman, only smooth ground where they had been.
A minute passed and Chris stopped. He turned to his friends and said, “I must save
my brothers.” Kate and Gene were silent.
“If you keep on this sand ridge, then in three days you’ll be at the foot of the
mountains. And from there it’s a short distance to the Fairy. The main thing, don’t take
long halts. Remember, Alexandro the Black is pursuing you.”
“You’re not coming with us?” Kate asked, though she clearly understood what Chris
“If I go around the valley with you, I’ll never be able to get into it. So go on without
“No, Chris, we won’t leave you!” the brother and sister declared in one voice. “We’ll
go with you and save your brothers.”
“But it’s dangerous!”
“Nonsense!” Kate said. “All threats can be overcome if we’re together and agree to
die for each other. We won in all of our adventures only because we defended each
other. Isn’t that so?”
Chris’ eyes brightened. “I guess so,” he agreed uncertainly.
“Of course it is!” Gene cut in. “You’ll die without us, and we without you.”
Kate hugged Gene and pressed him to herself. They were both determined to follow
the other even to hell. “If our path lies through the Valley of Stone Knights, we’ll go
through it, or I’m not Knight Caterino!”
“And I’m Prince of the White Tower. We’ll save your brothers, Chris!”
The boy looked with gratitude and affection at his friends. He realized that there
was no point in dissuading them and held out his hand. Knight Caterino and the Prince
of the White Tower shook it. Then all three galloped forward. Again, they did not turn
from the straight path.
The Valley of Stone Knights sprung up in front of them suddenly. Instantly the
mountains were out of sight on the horizon. The air was no longer transparent.
Everything around jumped as if separated from the people by thick curved glass. There
were no trees or bushes and there was no grass on the ground. Everywhere were stones
of the most diverse and bizarre shapes. Two of the largest, like giant crows, were
standing opposite each other with shimmering sides smooth as a mirror. The children
understood that this was the entrance to the valley.
“If we go through them,” Kate whispered, “then we’ll no longer be able to take a step
back.” The boys did not answer her. They were looking between the stones. Kate stared
and saw the stone statue of a man in front of them.
“He took a step back,” Chris said.
“What frightened him?” Kate asked.
“The thought that he couldn’t return.”
“I think we ought to walk and be very careful,” the girl suggested. The children
dismounted. Fear ran like a breeze along their backs.
“Well, are we going to stand like this for long?” Gene asked impatiently. His words
were the sign for action. Holding the reins of the trusting horses, they entered the space
between the stones and instantly stopped, because a real crow with a loud caw flew off
one of the stones.
“Ooh!!!” Kate breathed a sigh of relief. “I almost took a step back.”
“Me too,” Chris admitted.
“I didn’t,” Gene said proudly. “I saw the crow.”
“Show-off,” Kate said with mild reproach. “Then why didn’t you warn us?”
“I thought that you saw it too.”
“You thought! What would you do now with two statues if the worst had
“Have no fear, I would disenchant you.” Gene’s naivety had a calming effect on the
children. They made their way further with firm and resolute steps and went without
fear around the first stone knight.
“He was probably unable to handle the horse,” Chris surmised. “We did the right
thing to go on foot. If suddenly one of the horses won’t obey, better let it go so it won’t
drag us back.”
They passed the following several hundred steps, not seeing or meeting anyone in
their path. Then suddenly a high stone rose up before them like a mushroom from under
the ground. They again jumped with surprise.
“Can have a heart attack this way,” Kate muttered and looked anxiously at the boys.
Did anyone turn into stone? However, everything was fine with them.
“Something’s written on it,” Gene whispered.
“The letters are somewhat strange,” Kate examined the stone attentively.
Chris read, “Go straight – you lose the ground beneath your feet; to the right – a
river of fiery water flows, to the left – you find eternal peace.”
“Which way?” Gene asked the older kids.
“Straight,” Kate replied. “We always go forward and do not turn. Besides, we
absolutely don’t need a fiery river or eternal peace.”
Everyone agreed with her. However, it was easy to say but hard to do. The stone was
not high but so wide that it occupied all the path in front, and to go around it would
imply turning in one direction or the other. The children pondered.
“Perhaps climb over it?”
“No, it’s too smooth. No cracks or holes.”
Time passed and they could not decide what to do. Did they really have to turn? No
one wanted to do this. In the end, an extremely unpleasant thing happened. They
pondered for so long that their horses became impatient. They began to thump with
their hooves, trying to get away from where they were. The children were alarmed and
tried to calm them, but the horses suddenly began to break away and neigh in fear.
“What’s up with them?” Kate asked. The children just shrugged. It was a miracle
that they had not yet taken a step back.
Suddenly, all three of them felt the ground shaking under their feet. It was minor
and quiet at first, but became stronger and louder with every passing second. Now it had
become difficult to stay on their feet and the rumble was just unbearable. The horses
went berserk. With tears in their eyes the children let go of the reins and the horses
raced back. The friends fell onto the ground and watched with sorrow as their faithful
animals, one after the other, turned right to stone on the path. One last neigh and clatter
of hooves, and everything was quiet. The ground had settled, but on its surface appeared
three more beautiful statues: statues of running horses, two large and one small.
Gene was crying and clinging to Kate. She stroked his head, but her heart was also
filled with sorrow for Mirko.
“Stop crying,” Chris said sternly. “Have to think about ourselves and not them.
Otherwise, we’ll become this way, then what’s the use?”
They began to think anew and had just about decided to turn to the right, where the
fiery river was, when Kate, ready to burst with anger, stamped her foot hard.
Now the travellers felt the ground disappear from under their feet and they, crying
out, were flying down somewhere. A few seconds passed before they realized that they
were not flying but rolling down a circular tunnel to somewhere, and the walls of the
tunnel were so slippery and smooth that there was no possibility of stopping or getting
caught on anything. They rolled down with great speed one after another, turned to the
right and left, then up, then down again. Anyone who has ever ridden a rollercoaster will
understand what sensations Kate and the boys were experiencing. It was certainly scary
but, on the other hand, both fun and breathtaking.
Yet everything on earth ends. The tunnel ended. Kate, Chris, and Gene at last fell
into a pile of garbage. The landing was soft but dusty.
“Gene, you okay?” the girl asked first of all, after she spat out all the sand which had
gotten into her mouth during the fall.
“OK!” Gene coughed like a kitten that had fallen into a snuffbox and swallowed
some old tobacco.
“I’m here!” The squire appeared right in front of Kate’s nose.
“A scarecrow!” the girl could not resist.
“Look at yourself!” Chris returned the favour.
The children climbed out of the piles of rubbish and began to clean themselves up.
This demanded a little time and soon they were already walking along a dark corridor.
“Be careful,” Chris warned his companions, “follow in my tracks, and for heaven’s
sake don’t touch anything!” These last words were addressed first of all to Gene, who
had been plucking at everything that he came across on the way. He was just about
ready to pick some glowing fungus when Chris shouted this. The boy, on the contrary,
gave a start and his hand involuntarily picked the fungus. Stones and sand instantly
started to fall from above.
“It’s a cave-in!” Kate shouted. “Run!” She grabbed her brother’s hand and ran. Chris
followed her. After a few seconds the noise stopped. The children looked back and saw
that where they had been was all blocked up to the top. Now there was no way back.
“I told you not to touch,” Chris said with annoyance to himself first.
“I didn’t mean to,” Gene smiled apologetically. “But how cool! Right?”
“Now I’ll beat you up!” Kate was outraged. “Found it amusing!”
“Doesn’t matter. All the same we’re not going back but forward. This is the most
In order that Gene would not do anything again, the older kids took his hands on
both sides and walked on.
After a few steps, a whole cloud of bats flew with squeaks and a loud rustling of
wings at the children. Kate uttered a frenzied scream of fear. She had never experienced
anything like this in her life. One bat even clutched at her hair but quickly flew on. When
there were no more bats, Kate looked guiltily at the boys. She was so frightened, she
almost ran back. Nevertheless, her friends would not let her and literally held her by
“She found something to fear.” Gene looked at his sister with a sense of superiority.
“These are harmless bats. They just fly with wings.”
“Good that they fly.”
“Because they flew away.”
“Are you afraid of bats?” Chris asked Kate.
“Of course!” Gene replied instead of his sister. “All girls are afraid of bats.”
“I’ll beat you up!” the girl again threatened her brother. She was very angry with
him. For the first time since they met again, she genuinely wanted to take revenge on
him for the humiliation. When the corridor ended and they turned up in a wide cavern,
Kate forgot about all her threats and felt her legs give way.
“I’m not going further,” she moaned. She would have fallen if the boys had not
“Mamma mia, what’s happening?!” Gene exclaimed and lightly tapped his sister’s
cheek, so she would come to. Even a reserved Chris was standing with his mouth open.
The entire floor of the cavern was covered with a living carpet of mice. The mice were
squeaking and running after each other, therefore it seemed that the carpet was moving.
“Come on, Kate, let’s go!” Gene urged his sister. “Don’t be afraid, sister, we’re with
you. Don’t think of the mice. Imagine that you’re walking on asphalt, which was just laid
and soft. Pull her, Chris.”
The boys literally carried the girl through the cavern. Gene was not afraid of mice
and boldly pushed them away with his feet. Chris did the same. He was disgusted. Kate
was in a kind of half-sleep and grasped with difficulty what was happening around her.
She opened her eyes once, but just at that moment Gene stepped on the tails of three
mice at once, the mice squeaked frenziedly, and Kate again dropped her head on Chris’
shoulder. Finally, this terror ended. The children ran into a spacious corridor. There
were no mice. A few steps and their smell faded. It became fresh. Kate opened her eyes
and saw the boys’ anxious faces in front of her own.
“Where are they?” the girl whispered through dry lips. Chris and Gene understood
that she had the mice in mind.
“Don’t worry, they’re not here.”
Kate sighed with relief and immediately felt vital energy running through her veins.
The friends again rushed forward. The further they went, the wider, more spacious, and
brighter the gallery became. The children walked for quite a bit and then the gallery
ended, and they turned up in an underground valley, over which the arches of a great
cavern linked together. In the distance were seen houses, villages, and a large, beautiful
city, in the centre of which was the marvellous White Tower. The same as the one they
had left. The friends could not understand.
“Wow!” Gene exclaimed. “Maybe the seven underground kings 6 of your books live
here? Huh, Kate?”
“I doubt it,” Kate replied.
“I think I know what this city is,” said Chris.
“Tell us,” the brother and sister turned to him.
“Let’s go forward and then you’ll understand.” The children went a few dozen steps
and saw the first houses near their feet. The biggest of them barely reached to their
“Underground gnomes!” Kate and Gene guessed.
“The same.” Chris agreed. As if in answer to him, about a hundred gnomes armed
with spears, swords, and bows and arrows rushed out to meet them. In front was the
“If you take another step, we’ll turn you to stone.”
“But if we go back, then we’ll turn to stone too,” Gene replied. The gnomes gave that
“Why have you come to us and not turned right or left?” the head gnome again
“We didn’t have time to turn,” Gene replied. “But then, we never turn off the road
but always go forward.”
The Seven Underground Kings (1964) is the third book from the series Magic Land by Alexander
Melentevich Volkov (1891-1977), Soviet novelist and mathematician. The Magic Land is loosely based on
Oz and the series is in effect an alternative to the Oz books by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919).
“Who are you that you can’t turn to the side?”
Gene, who was standing, bowed and drew himself up proudly, “I'm the Sovereign of
the Country of Frozen Time and these are my friends: Knight Caterino and Christian
Thirteen of the Brave clan.”
On hearing these words, the gnomes put down their weapons and looked respectful.
“If this is so, then you need to talk to our king.”
“The same one who built the White Tower with Walter?” Kate could not restrain
“No, his son, because that king died three hundred years ago.”
They led the children as honoured guests to the gnome king. They entered the city
and approached, accompanied by almost its entire population, the White Tower, which
was about the height of a good ship pine. 7 The king, not yet very old, met them at its
foot. He was almost no different from his subjects except that the buckle on his broad
belt was not silver but gold.
“I greet you, wise travellers, the first who found the entrance to the Kingdom of
Underground Gnomes,” he said. Then he address Gene directly, “You’re the Sovereign of
our country, the Prince of the White Tower?”
“Yes, it’s me,” the boy answered modestly.
“Where’s the old Sovereign, who kept your soul in captivity? Now he isn’t in you?”
“No. The old Sovereign is dead. This time for real. Chris killed him and saved my
sister and me.”
The gnomes nodded approvingly, and looked with delight at Knight Caterino’s
squire. The boy even became uncomfortable. “I did what I had to do,” he muttered.
“We admire you, Christian,” said the gnome king. “You, your friends, and the way
that you sacrificed everything for the sake of them. But now you have to sacrifice
yourself once more, maybe for the last time. Children of big people, hear our history.
“When our people set off in search of a new homeland, we had to wander for almost
forty years. Several times the gnomes thought that they had found a good underground
kingdom, but every time left it because it was either too wet, too stuffy, or too tight.
“Finally, we came here. A beautiful cave! A lot of water, light, gems, and metals. All
we need for life. We went to work and built a city, and in memory of our former home
erected a copy of the White Tower in the centre. Only to our size and not to man’s. And
began to live wonderfully well.
“Only my father, a wonderful gnome, became eccentric near old age. It seemed to
him that people were again coming here all the time and didn’t let the gnomes live in
peace. He decided to make all the land above the Kingdom of Underground Gnomes
inaccessible to people and cast a spell on it. He surrounded it with an invisible wall, in
which there was only one entrance, and created inside a lot of deadly traps, in which
each person would turn into stone. He died with a clear conscience and we lived
A ship pine is a pine tree reaching a height of 40 metres with a trunk of half a metre in diameter.
peacefully and quietly. No one bothered us. All who came above here turned to the side
up in front of the big stone and died.
“Only now we ourselves are also in our own trap. As the whole Country of Frozen
Time is separated from the world by frozen time, so are we also separated from the
country by a stone wall.
“Thirteen years ago a hope appeared when twelve brother-knights came down to
our cave. We showed them the way to great trials, but they couldn’t pass the tests and
also turned to stone one after the other. And we had such hope in them!”
“Where are they?” Chris asked, extremely agitated and turning pale.
“We’ll take you there,” the gnome king promised. “Only make up your minds now.
Either you go on the way of great trials, or remain forever with us, in which case, you’ll
spend the rest of your life in peace, calm, and honest labour for the good of our
kingdom. And we’ll wait together until someone frees us.”
“Certainly not,” Chris replied. “Even if my friends decide to stay, I’ll go alone.”
“We’re with you!” Kate and Gene declared in one voice.
“Ahead then!” the gnome king shouted happily, and they all set off on their way.
They left the city and went above along a small (for our heroes) road to the surface of the
land. Soon they came out of the cave and found themselves in fresh air and sunlight. A
waterfall in front was making noise, sending its water flying into the deep abyss. A
narrow road was beside it. A windmill with its spinning sails barred the way. Two stone
statues were standing near it. Chris recognized them from afar.
“These are my brothers!” he exclaimed. Beyond the mill was a field where sharp
daggers grew instead of grass. Just five knights were in this field.
“Where are the others?” Chris was surprised.
“You’ll see them when you pass the first three tests.”
“We’re with you, Chris!” Kate and Gene ran up to him.
“Good, only stay behind me. We’ll pass this road. My brothers are there. I’ll save
them. The important thing is I’ve found them!”
ON THE ROAD OF GREAT TRIALS
“Remember,” the gnome king counselled them in the end, “these traps were created
specially for people and count on their main vices: cowardice, greed, selfishness, conceit,
heartlessness, pride, and foolishness. No knight has overcome them. Forget about fame
and feat. Only the one who sacrifices himself, who leaves pride at home but takes his
wits with him, will triumph. First be victorious over yourself. And not a step back. We
gnomes will worry about you. Go!”
Chris, followed by Kate and Gene, went to the waterfall.
“I’ll go first. Don’t try to overtake me,” Chris warned his friends.
“Take my gold buckle from the cloak,” Kate proposed to him. “It’ll help you.”
“No,” the boy answered firmly. “Let it protect you. And hold hands tightly.” Kate
held onto Gene as if she wanted their hands to become one.
Here was the waterfall, and the abyss beneath it. It was scary to look down. The
bottom was not even visible, only white foam and the mist of water spray.
“Here’s a bridge,” Chris shouted above the roar of the water. “It’s very narrow. Be
The bridge turned out to be not only narrow but also flimsy, and shook so under the
feet when the children stepped onto it that their hearts stood still. There was no railing
or at least a rope. Carefully, step by step, the friends went forward, first Chris, Gene after
him, and Kate last. The girl did not take her eyes off her brother or fall a single step
behind him. She saw how scared he was, but the boy, white as chalk, went on. The water
roared at the side, water drops flew to them, and the air was permeated with moisture.
Kate looked around for a second, but this was enough to ensure that the bridge
shuddered, and Gene lost his balance. Crying out, he fell. Kate yelled and, forgetting
about danger, rushed to her brother. She succeeded in getting down on her knees and
caught the boy’s sleeve. She almost flew down herself but managed to hold her ground.
She saw before her Gene’s frightened eyes and the abyss below him. Gene was holding
on with both hands, but Kate felt as he slowly but inevitably slid down.
“Chris!” the girl yelled.
“I’m here,” he was already helping to pull Gene up.
The children felt real fear only when they were on solid ground. Kate, not
restraining herself, hugged and kissed Gene and thanked Chris for saving him.
“Listen,” she said suddenly, “you were indeed ahead.”
“I returned as soon as I saw what had happened to you.”
“So you came back?” Chris nodded. The children looked at each other with surprise.
How did it happen that Chris did not turn into a statue?
“Don’t think about it!” the boy finally said. “Caterino, hold onto your brother and
let’s go.” The still frightened brother and sister got up and walked behind Chris.
“It was great, right?” Gene asked Kate.
“What are you saying!” the girl moaned. “What good did you see?”
“Adventure,” the boy said slyly and smugly. “And you accomplished a feat.” Kate did
not have the strength to be angry with him. She took her brother by the hand with the
firm intention of not letting go until they showed up at home with their parents.
When they reached the mill, they stopped, deep in thought. The sails of the mill
were spinning so fast that there was no possibility of going further.
“Maybe if we use my shield as a cover, we can quickly run past?” Kate reasoned.
“Don’t hope for it,” Chris dissuaded her. “Look at what became of those who tried.”
He nodded at the two statues standing on different sides of the mill. Only then did Kate
realize that it was just two halves of a knight, whom the sail had cut into two together
with the shield.
“What should we do?”
Gene picked up a stone from the ground and tossed it to the other side. The children
did not even notice the sail making a sound, and the stone broke with a thud into two
pieces. “Not even speed will help,” Chris sighed.
The children started to think but could come up with nothing.
“The gnome king said that all these traps are made for bad people!” Gene suddenly
roused himself. “But we aren’t bad! That means we can pass. Chris ran back to save me
and didn’t turn to stone.” Kate and Chris looked at him with interest. There was truth in
what Gene said.
“True indeed,” Chris agreed, “all this is magic. The king said that only the one who
sacrifices himself... I’ll try. Come with me, Caterino. I’ll shield you; if anything, it’ll cut
me first and you’ll have time to pass.”
“No!” Kate protested. “Why you?”
“Because I thought of it.”
Gene did not agree with Chris’ statement. “I figured it out first, so I’ll sacrifice
myself.” But no one listened to him.
Chris pushed Kate towards the mill and immediately appeared in front of her. Still,
it was very scary to go through the windmill sails. Kate shut her eyes when only a few
centimetres were left. The squire pushed her, shielding her himself. Once in safety, Kate
opened her eyes and screamed with horror, because she saw how the huge sail cut into
Chris. Gene yelled on the other side. The sail flew up but the boy was left below, and
immediately the next sail passed through him. Kate and Gene had stopped screaming
and could hardly believe their eyes. Chris was standing before them alive and
unharmed, and the windmill sails, which cut stones into pieces, did not do him the
tiniest harm. Gene ran over to Kate, or rather Chris dragged him through and he came
up beside her.
“Wow!” Gene exclaimed and again threw a stone. It was cut into pieces the same as
“Where do we go next?” asked Kate.
“Forward and only forward!” Gene said with complete unconcern.
However, in front was a field where the blades of hundreds of thousands of daggers
and knives, instead of grass, were sticking up out of the ground. Chris bent down
carefully and touched one of them with his fingers. “Real.”
“What, one of us lies down on them and the rest walk on him?” Kate assumed
“Only this time it’ll be me!” Gene demanded.
“What,” Chris smiled, “you’ll crawl along the knives? And we’ll be on top of you,
The children started to think how to deal with it.
“First I’ll carry Gene over,” Chris said to Kate, “then I’ll come back for you.”
“Indeed not. Go back again? You think you’ll get away with it forever? No, I don’t
agree. Besides, can’t even see the end of this field. Better not separate. Easier to get lost
one by one than all together.”
“You’re probably right.” Chris was thinking of something.
“My sister’s smart,” Gene interjected.
“Gene, keep quiet!”
“I think I know,” Chris said. He sat down on the ground and began to take off his
“What are you doing?”
Chris did not answer. Barefooted, he approached the iron grass. “We must forget
about pride,” he said. “No knight will walk barefoot like a simple peasant.” He took a few
steps and the blades beneath his feet became softer than the softest grass. “Follow me!”
Kate and Gene did not have to be persuaded. They instantly took off their shoes and
showed up beside Chris.
“Look,” the young boy, holding a shoe in each hand, said to the older friend, “I’m
not proud at all, though a prince.”
Jumping and racing each other merrily like kids on a green lawn, the children
moved forward. Suddenly, they stopped in confusion because further there was nothing.
Nothing, just emptiness, the same as what Kate once flew through on a magic chair.
“It’s called ‘got there, don’t know where’,” Gene remarked.
The friends put their shoes on and carefully stepped into the void. The ground again
disappeared under their feet. Only they did not fly down like last time but started to
come down softly into some disgusting muck like jelly. The void swallowed all three of
them so fast that they did not have time to understand anything.
“Kate, where are you?” the girl heard her brother’s yell.
“Gene!” she shouted. “Give me your hand!” She immediately felt his hot, little hand.
“And where’s Chris?”
“I’m here.” Chris grabbed the shoulders of the brother and sister. “Move your legs
carefully and make your way forward.”
“Where’s this ‘forward’?” Gene asked. “Kate, look at your compass.”
Kate brought a hand up to her eyes and began to examine the compass. “We have to
go there.” She moved further into the void.
The boys started after her, and after a few steps, they turned out to be on a firm path
that ran along the emptiness like a narrow corridor. It was yellow and glowing slightly.
The friends went forward, but the corridor split into two after a few metres. The children
turned to the left because it seemed to them that it was more forward than the right one.
Very soon the corridor split into three parts and they realized that they had fallen into a
“In each labyrinth there’s a central room,” said Kate, “and some horrible monster
lives in it, Medusa8 or the Minotaur.”9
“What’s this Minotaur?” Gene asked.
“A person with the head of a bull and horns.” Gene shivered. Chris reached for his
sword. “If you can’t defeat it, you’ll never leave the labyrinth,” she continued. “But no
need to search for it. Wherever you go, all the same you’ll come upon it.”
Indeed, they wandered through the maze of emptiness for quite some time and
entered a round room with the same luminous yellow floor. In the centre of the hall on a
gold dais sat a monster. However, it was not the Minotaur.
In Greek mythology, Medusa was one of the gorgons – vicious female monsters with hair of living,
venomous snakes. The children of Phorcys, a primordial sea god, gorgons turned to stone anyone who
looked at their faces.
In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a fierce man-eating creature with the body of a man but the head
and tail of a bull.
Kate recognized it immediately. “The Sphinx,”10 she said, “You see, it has the body of
a lion, the wings of an eagle, and a woman’s head. Everything’s clear! It’ll give us a
riddle, and if we can’t solve it, it’ll devour us.”
“A house without windows, without doors, a room full of people, right?” 11 Gene
“But it’s asleep,” said Chris.
“Now it’ll wake up,” Kate replied with confidence.
She had barely uttered these words and the Sphinx began to open its eyes slowly.
The children looked at it spellbound. The Sphinx’s eyes opened but they were completely
empty, just like the walls of emptiness around. These empty eyes stared at the strangers.
“Who are you?” The Sphinx’s voice seemingly came from all directions as if several
voices were heard at once.
“I’m Knight Caterino...” Kate was about to start, but the Sphinx interrupted her.
“No names,” it said solemnly. “Only what is.” The children were confused and
immediately saw that the walls of emptiness had moved one step closer.
“We’re kids, just kids.” Kate quickly corrected herself. The emptiness stopped its
advance and the first signs of colour immediately appeared in the Sphinx’s eyes.
Something in them was warm, but only a little.
“It looks like the truth.” The Sphinx folded its wings with satisfaction. “Which of you
will speak with me, let him approach me.”
Kate and Gene did not manage to take a step and Chris was already in front of the
Sphinx. The sister and brother took a step behind him, but the monster cast them such
an icy look filled with light and cold that the brother and sister stopped at once.
“Only one can speak with me. He’ll have to decide the fate of not only his own life
but also the lives of his companions. Summon up your courage, Christian!”
“You know my name?” The boy was wonder-struck.
“I know everything because the world lives in my eyes. I decide how it develops and
continues to exist.”
“Perhaps this is God?” Gene quietly asked Kate.
“You’re mistaken, child.” The Sphinx heard everything. “I’m not God. I’m the centre
of the universe. I’m that spring which gives life to the living. God is probably the one
who created me and made me manage life. Somewhere lives the white sphinx. He
manages death. God also created him. I’m life, he’s death.”
“Tell me what you want to say to me,” Chris demanded, tired of the Sphinx’s
The Sphinx is an iconic image of a recumbent lion with the head of a ram, bird, or human. It was
invented by the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, but a cultural import in archaic Greek mythology, where it
received its name. There was only a single sphinx in Greek mythology, a unique demon of destruction and
This is an old riddle to teach children about certain fruits like a cucumber.
“You’re impatient,” the Sphinx replied. “Not so fast. Life isn’t eternal, just as death
isn’t eternal. You’ll come to death and it’ll meet you.”
“Don’t threaten and don’t drag it out, Sphinx. Tell your riddles,” Chris demanded.
“Riddles? Who said that I’ll give you riddles? No, you have to give me a riddle.”
“You. And if I guess it in three attempts, my eyes will turn you to stone.”
Chris thought. The Sphinx looked at him without a word and did not move. Only its
eyes were shining and reminded one of a sea in bad weather. The boy looked at these allknowing eyes and asked, “I must know the answer?”
“Not necessarily. You’ve already asked one question. Be careful, little man.”
“How ‘asked’?” Kate and Gene exclaimed indignantly. “Not fair!” The Sphinx did not
even turn its head in their direction. It was waiting for what Chris would say.
“What is a soul like?”
“Don’t think that only you and your friend have seen people’s souls.” The Sphinx got
up on its legs and spread its wings. It again blew out cold air. The emptiness moved
closer still by two steps.
“Chris!” Kate yelled. “We’re lost!”
“Don’t disturb him,” Gene begged her.
“A blue flower, that’s what your sworn brother’s soul is like,” said the Sphinx, “and
your soul and people’s souls. I guessed your second riddle.”
Chris tensed up and clenched his fists. He had already thought of the third question
and was deciding now whether to ask it. Or even think it. He looked around at his
friends and his heart ached with anguish. He did not pity himself, but their lives
depended on his words. The boy did not wait any longer.
“If you manage life and say that you are life, then tell me what the one who created
you looks like. Who is your God?”
The Sphinx was stony. The children felt how warmth poured out from it and melted
the void. Its eyes became brighter and the light in them was lit by a golden fire.
"I don’t know who created me and what he looks like. This is the only mystery not
under my control. How do you know about it?”
“You said that God is PROBABLY the one who created you. When they say
PROBABLY, then most likely they don’t know about what they call PROBABLY.”
“You’re smart. Saved yourself and your friends. As a reward, I’ll not only show you
the way from here but also tell you something. A blue flower, which could not leave the
body, has burst into life. It’s dead and therefore fears life. Move your eyes closer to
mine; I’ll fill them with life. And hold up your weapons. You, girl, come closer, because
your weapon is the most powerful and there’s already life in it. You’ll have to battle a
black devilry. I can’t say which side will win, but know that what has already saved you
will help in this battle.”
The children stood under the Sphinx’s golden gaze and felt how they were filled with
life. It was the best feeling in the world, the greatest bliss.
“Enough,” said the Sphinx. “Now go. My eyes will show you the way.” Golden rays
burst into the void, into one of the corridors, and the yellow path was lit with a red fire.
The children understood that this was the way to the exit. They followed it and soon
came out of the emptiness.
The path immediately faded and the emptiness was gone as if it had never been.
Only a light mist remained in its place. The friends found themselves in water. They
were standing up to their knees in water. Water was everywhere, front and rear, right
and left, to the horizon, and smooth marble instead of a bottom. There was nothing left
to do but to wade through water.
It was an hour of laborious walking. The children were tired. Here human figures
appeared in front. The children came alive and lengthened their steps. However, when
they saw these figures, they immediately stopped. These were statues, twelve stone
statues. Kate did not immediately guess that these were Chris’ brothers, but when she
did, she saw that her friend was already running towards them. She looked at her
brother and saw that he, too, had realized what the matter was. Not saying a word, the
brother and sister ran after their friend. They caught up with him at the last second,
when Chris had already stretched out his hand to the first brother. Kate and Gene hung
onto Chris’ arm and dragged him into the water.
“Don’t touch me!” Chris yelled in dreadful despair. “It’s them! My brothers.”
“Chris, darling!” Kate screamed as she and Gene held him and would not let him get
close to the statues. “Don’t touch them, you’ll also turn into stone!”
However, Chris did not hear her. He broke free, pushed his friends aside, and got up
again to touch his brothers. Some madness had possessed him. Kate again threw herself
at him with a sob and tears. Chris again flung her aside.
“Chris!” Kate could not believe that Chris, loyal and calm Chris, was treating her this
way. Another second, Chris would touch some of his brethren and become like them.
Kate, horrified, covered her eyes with her hands. Immediately she heard her brother’s
“Christian of the Brave clan, I command you to stop!” Gene said it so authoritatively
and firmly as if he had become the Sovereign again.
Kate opened her eyes and saw Chris standing near an older brother. He was alive.
Obviously, he still had not managed to touch the stone. Gene stood behind him. He had
such a decisive look and voice that even Kate wanted to fulfill all of his orders.
“Take three steps towards me,” Gene ordered Chris.
Chris obeyed and went to the boy. The madness had left him. Chris’ look had
brightened and he was looking around horrified. “I don’t know what came over me,” he
All three calmed down and began to discuss the situation.
“How did you recognize them, your brothers?” asked Kate. “You’ve never seen
“In our home are the portraits of all the members of our family. I examined them so
many times. I’d know my brothers anywhere!”
“How to remove the spell now?” Gene studied the stone knights. No one knew the
answer to this question. The friends were again in front of a complex puzzle. Kate and
Gene began to recall fairy tales, looking for a means to remove the spell, but could think
of nothing. Time went on. The children were tired and cold in the water.
“You must go on,” Chris said in a firm voice to Kate and Gene.
“I’ll stay here?”
“Yes. I can’t leave them.” Chris nodded at his brothers.
“Perhaps it’s possible to remove the spell in another place?” Kate surmised.
“Perhaps,” Chris agreed. “Only I’ll remain here.”
“What are you going to do? Wait?”
“How long will you wait?”
“Till the end. Mine or the spell’s. Not important. But I’m staying here. You go.
Maybe you’ll reach a dry place.”
“It turns out that though you haven’t turned to stone, you’ll still be here forever, like
a living statue, right?”
“This is your final decision?” asked Kate.
“Pity,” Kate sighed. “It means we have to leave. I must send my brother home. After
I’ve done this, I’ll return to you.”
“Look!” Gene yelled and pointed down. Chris and Kate saw that the water was
rapidly going down and being absorbed by the marble bottom like a sponge. A minute
later and there was no water; the marble had become a ground covered with silky grass.
Sounds were heard, like pans crashing. The friends lifted their heads and saw the
knights, alive and well, in real armour with shields and spurs. Then the ground shook,
the air was filled with horse neighing, and then the animals themselves also appeared.
There were about fifteen, and among them were Mirko, Larissa, and Laura.
The Valley of Stone Knights had ceased to exist.
THE FAIRY OF ETERNAL YOUTH APPEARS AT LAST AND CHRIS
BECOMES A KNIGHT
As soon as this happened, the army of Alvansor the Flawless finally caught up with
the Prince of the White Tower. Alvansor and his officers rode up to the boy, saluted him,
and bowed their heads, waiting for orders.
“How did you find me?” Gene was surprised.
“A woman at the gateway of Unicorn Canyon told us. I didn’t believe her but
decided to check it out. As soon as we pulled up to the Valley of Stone Knights, she
suddenly disappeared, and we were right in front of you, Sovereign. I and my people are
ready to execute any order of yours.”
So Gene again became the Sovereign. He explained that he must go to the Fairy of
Eternal Youth. Alvansor nodded in response, and the boy, escorted by the acquired
army, his friend, and his sister, travelled to the West. In addition, there were Chris’
brothers and another twenty knights who had also been released from the spell and now
looked menacingly from under the visors of their helmets. About the threat of the army
of Alexandro the Black and Leonari, the children found out from Alvansor and
considered it their first duty to join his army.
Alvansor with satisfaction noted to himself that they were an army. Now there was
no need to fear the enemy as before. He recalled how the day before he and his people
were going through Unicorn Canyon. They entered it early in the morning and saw a
magnificent picture. They were surrounded by a field with high spikes, in which large
diamonds glittered instead of grains. Madness took possession of Alvansor’s
companions, but only for a moment, because nobody succeeded in taking even a small
pebble. As soon as hands stretched out to the spikes, the diamonds vanished. They had
to go past the treasures this way, knowing that they would remain illusory.
In the middle of the day, the soldiers and guards reached an unusual forest. A
victory flag fluttered near each tree. The wind played with the panels and the
triumphant blare of trumpets was heard in the wood. Steel blades flashed among the
foliage and gun volleys rumbled in the distance. All this intoxicatingly and unspeakably
gladdened the hearts of the warriors. When the wonderful forest ended, in the eyes of
the people appeared a triumphal arch, through which they also passed.
In front of the exit from the canyon the soldiers saw...empty houses. A lot of empty
houses, in which were open windows and doors, but there were neither women nor the
elderly standing near the doors, and no happy faces of children loomed in the windows.
Only the wind whistled through the empty rooms and hallways. Some houses had
already begun to decay: doors had fallen off or were hanging on by one hinge, roofs were
gaping with holes. And the odour... The homes of lonely elderly people smell this way.
Alvansor even shivered at the memory. He did not know that at that very moment
Alexandro the Black and Leonari were riding with their thugs down the canyon and
seeing a totally different sight.
When the last soldiers of the ungodly troops entered, the land around immediately
turned into an almost impassable wilderness. Sand dunes of dirty-grey spread as far as
the eye could see and here and there they were brown in colour. Legs and horse hooves
got stuck in it. Nowhere was there a hint of water. A terrible thirst began to torment the
The whole day the soldiers of Alexandro and Leonari wandered in this desert and
thought that there would be no end and no edge to it, and only late at night did they
come upon a mud puddle with foul and warm water. However, it was a joy for the
torturous thirst of the people. The night passed in quarrels between the rebel leaders.
Each blamed the other for the Prince of the White Tower still walking free. The matter
almost came to blows, but they came to their senses in time and reconciled as enemies
keeping hatred and malice in their souls could reconcile.
The desert disappeared in the morning. What emerged instead was many times
worse and more terrifying. The rebels went along a field completely littered with human
bodies left after a horrible battle. Fragments of weapons, broken shields, knightly
armour, and dead horses were lying everywhere. Flocks of crows and loathsome vultures
were hovering in the air, and a terrible smell of blood hit the nose and circled the head.
The hearts of the rebels were filled with terror.
Further on graves and burial monuments began to appear among the dead bodies.
It was the most diverse of graves, which only mankind created. There were Christian
tombs with crosses and stone Madonnas, Muslim with crescents, Scythian burial
mounds, and trees where primitive hunters interred their dead brethren in bags hanging
on the branches. They also came across places simply littered with skeletons and bones
whitewashed by wind and time. The people quickened their steps, striving to get away
faster from this terrible place, but it did not end, and they even had to spend all night
among the dead and listen to the howling of the invisible dogs.
In the morning they went along an empty field and sighed with relief. But then
snowflakes started to fall from the sky. At first it was a bit, then a snowfall, and the
ground was covered with a thick layer of snow in an instant. The rebels passed this day
in a snowy desert, suffering from icy wind and piercing cold.
It took Kate, Chris, Gene, and Alvansor and his army a whole day to pass through
Unicorn Canyon. The rebels plodded along it for three days, and only on the fourth did
they get up onto a plain and breathe a sigh of relief. In the morning of the fifth day, the
rebels set off again in pursuit of the Prince of the White Tower. Only after finishing him
off could they count on the authority of the Country of Frozen Time. Even the warning of
the enchanted place did not deter them from their dark designs. People turned away
from evil deeds with such difficulty no matter what.
Leonari and Alexandro again travelled back together and discussed the plan of
future war with the Sovereign’s army.
“Have to crush the boy and Alvansor in the first battle no matter what, before they
get up to their magic tricks,” said Leonari.
Alexandro agreed with him. “When we’re done with them and return to the Capital,
I’ll personally hang this fat pig Gargulio in the main square,” he said, and thought about
Leonari, “But for you I’ll look for a more terrible death than a simple rope!”
“I’ll spare no poison for you when we return,” Leonari thought about Alexandro.
People do not like to share with each other. The hardest of all is to share money, but
there is something that is quite impossible to split. This is power, because power is more
than money. If the government wants, it can just abolish money. This is what power is.
Gargulio, wielding power in the Capital, was also making plans to get rid of the likeminded people. He wished them death in battle and hoped very much for it. He rejoiced
that once he had managed to cheat Leonari and Alexandro. Indeed, they were knocking
about the country and risking their lives, but he was already ruling the country, even
within the Capital. Was this not happiness? Gargulio lived in his magnificent palace
surrounded by guards and servants and ruled the city. All the rich citizens now came to
him at the reception and showed feelings of true subjects. A small, fat, and cowardly
man, he felt like a giant and a powerful ruler.
He woke up one morning with a troubled mind but could not understand what
troubled him so. He lay in bed for a long time and did not call his servants so that they
could help him get dressed. Finally, he realized what he needed. The crown! What is a
king without a crown? How could he have forgotten such an important thing? Gargulio
jumped off the bed and frantically rang the bell. The servants entered and the fat man,
in a voice breaking with excitement, ordered them to dress him and prepare a carriage
to take him to the White Tower.
How could he have forgotten about the crown? Indeed, it, lonely and restless, was
stored above the bolster of the former Sovereign’s throne, together in order to grace his
great head. This must stop! Today he would get the crown into the city and tomorrow he
would arrange a solemn coronation for himself. It would be a grandiose affair. After that
he would rightfully give out orders and be obeyed unquestioningly, because he would be
the Sovereign now! And his children, if there were any, would also become the
Sovereign. Gargulio would be the progenitor of the new royal family. That to the witch of
the White Tower with her useless magic! His home would be the centre of the land.
From there, he and his descendants would rule the world.
He would drag down the old man’s corpse rotting in the throne hall and burn it
somewhere outside the city. No solemn burials and funeral speeches. No! Let no one
even remember what this Sovereign was, neither the old nor the little Prince of the
White Tower. One was already dead and Leonari or Alexandro would also kill the other.
Then he would give the order to execute those two allegedly for the assassination of the
legitimate ruler. Now he must quickly possess the crown before anyone else.
Gargulio rushed to the White Tower. He was at the very top by noon and on his own
curved and thin legs ran to the throne hall. Four servants accompanying him remained
at once behind their master. This saved them from death. Gargulio did not even have
time to understand anything or be really scared when something long and black flashed
in one of the corridors. He was tossed into the air, then dragged through the air with
incredible speed, and then smacked against the wall and twice on the floor. Gargulio lost
consciousness, thus never found out the reason for his death.
However, the servants saw how a terrible monster, which probably came straight
from hell, ate Gargulio like a stork swallowing a frog. Quickly and rapidly. The people
rushed headlong away from the monster. The poor devils had the sense to turn into a
narrow hallway for servants, and the black dragon simply could not squeeze through
there because it was huge. Gargulio’s servants ran down horrified into the city. It turned
out that none of them could speak anymore but simply moaned and made strange
noises. This happened on that same day when the rebel army got out of Unicorn
Now, when we know what happened in the enemy camp of our heroes, it is time to
return to them.
The mountains, towards which Kate, Gene, Chris, his brothers, and Alvansor with
his army rushed, got closer and closer every day. Finally, on the third day after the
reunion, the exiles were at the foot of the first mountain.
“We’ll be at the castle of the Fairy of Eternal Youth this evening,” Alvansor solemnly
announced to the Prince of the White Tower.
“How exciting!” Gene was pleased. “It means we’ll soon be home. Right, Katie?”
“Of course,” the girl agreed, though in the depths of her soul she feared the meeting
with the enchantress. What if she would be powerless and unable to send them home?
The caravan of riders stretched out like a long ribbon along the narrow mountain
path, which led to the Fairy’s estate. Our heroes, together with Alvansor, rode at the
head of the caravan, and behind them, jingling their heavy armour threateningly, rode
the knights. They were boisterously discussing the upcoming battle and were pleased
that a chance to accomplish a large amount of deeds had presented itself so soon.
Alvansor’s guards were last. The first mountain ridge ended by noon and the caravan
descended into a flat valley, in the centre of which dominated three hills located at the
same distance from each other.
“These are the burial mounds of the founder-knights,” Alvansor informed the
children. “Behind them begins the main mountains and between them the castle of the
Fairy of Eternal Youth.”
Kate and Gene were unspeakably happy about the upcoming meeting with the Fairy.
However, try as they might to address their questions to Chris, he only said nothing or
nodded sadly. Knight Caterino’s faithful squire was not himself lately. A profound
sadness had settled in his heart and his brothers were the reason for this.
When the spell was lifted and the knights assumed their normal appearance, their
first reaction was joy on the occasion of meeting each other. When they found out that
Chris was their brother, they were very surprised and at first did not even believe it.
However, when Chris described to them everything that had happened in the Brave
castle after the disappearance of the boys, the brothers were very upset. They did not
grieve for long though. Soon they were so keen on the war with Alexandro and Leonari
that they forgot about their home and their mother, who was waiting for their return.
They also forgot about Chris as if he was not there with them. They so obviously ignored
their younger brother that he was mortally hurt but, not wanting to impose himself, no
longer tried to socialize with them. In his soul the boy was very upset by his older
brothers’ attitude and therefore became sad, thoughtful, and almost never talked to Kate
The brother and sister noticed that their friend had changed suddenly and for a long
time could not understand the reason of such behaviour. However much they put
questions to him, the boy simply assured them that everything was fine, then turned his
face away to hide the excessive glint in his eyes.
However, these same knights talked to Kate and Gene with undisguised admiration.
Gene was the crowned head, the head honcho of the Country of Frozen Time. Kate was
his sister and, besides, a real knight. Who was Chris to them? Only a squire of the noble
gentlemen. They even disparagingly called him “Kid Christian” as if emphasizing that he
was only their little brother, not worth any special attention.
In the end, Kate guessed what the matter was and attacked one of the brothers. It
seemed it was Anthony or perhaps Julius; she never learned to distinguish them from
each other and even confused their names.
“Aren’t you ashamed!” she became indignant when Anthony, or maybe Julius, asked
Chris to step aside because he wanted to speak with the Sovereign and the knight
Caterino. “Chris has done so much to save you and lift your spell and you treat him this
way! Why should he go? He’s my friend.”
“And mine, too,” Gene echoed. “And even my brother.” Chris looked at his sworn
brother and smiled sadly. If only his own brothers would treat him the same way!
“He’s a squire,” Anthony (or Julius) replied. “His place is at the saddle of his master
but not where knights talk. When he becomes a knight, then...”
The conversation never took place, and when the puzzled knight rode away, Kate
said to Chris, “Your brothers are just puffed-up blockheads. Why do they talk to you this
“Because I’m not a knight.”
“You’re bound to become a knight, Chris!” Kate exclaimed. “You already became
one long ago. I’m certain what your brothers have accomplished isn’t comparable to
your feats. How many times you risked your life and saved my brother and me! And you
did all this totally sincerely and selflessly. Your brothers do everything in order to boast
to each other. You’re a true knight and they’re not!”
“Don’t say that, you don’t know their deeds,” Chris objected.
“I judge them and not their deeds. They came with us not because they wish to help
us. Their main thing is to show themselves, their courage and bravery. But you came
with me not for this. You came to find and save your brothers and help me. You’ve been
with me all this time. If not for you, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I would have died
and Gene wouldn’t be himself. You saved us. Then saved your brothers.” Chris wanted to
protest but Kate would not let him. “Don’t interrupt me! Yes, you saved your brothers.
The spell dissipated when you agreed to stay with them. You voluntarily gave yourself up
to the same fate that had befallen the knights. You sacrificed yourself and the spell was
broken. The monster always turns into a prince if someone is willing to give herself and
her love to him!” Kate took a breath. “Your brothers didn’t even understand this. This
“It wasn’t Anthony.”
“It was Richard,” Chris smiled. He already did not look so sad. Kate’s words
seemingly installed confidence in him. The boy looked at Kate, then at Gene, and
laughed. His friends laughed along with him. They were fine together again and they
needed no one else.
“Don’t worry, lad,” they suddenly heard a voice. “Your friends are absolutely right.
You’ll be a knight because you deserve it more than anyone else.” It was Alvansor, who
by chance turned up to be a witness to the last scene and could not resist expressing his
opinion. The children looked at him with gratitude. They liked this stern and taciturn
When he had gone forward, Kate turned back to Chris. “When you become a knight,
don’t be like your brothers. After all, you’re very good, Chris. Stay yourself.”
“I promise not to become someone else,” the boy answered. Kate shook his hand.
Gene also stretched his hot hand out to Chris on the spot. “And promise me the
same thing,” he asked.
Instead of answering Chris simply hugged the boy tightly and whispered into his
ear, “Brothers must trust each other and without promises. But all the same I give you
my word that I’ll always be your brother.”
Mountains appeared again and on the top of one of them, the people saw a beautiful
white castle with high and graceful towers.
“It’s the Fairy’s home,” Alvansor said. “We’ll take with us ten knights and thirty of
my guards and go up. The rest set up camp here at the bottom.” They did this and just
before sunset, when the last rays painted the white castle pink, they were already before
the gates of the great enchantress’ abode. The gates were open.
“Sovereign,” Alvansor turned to Gene, “you must send a man to ask the Fairy’s
permission for you to enter her home.”
“Who should I send?”
“Whom you consider as the most worthy.”
The knights all tried to look important. Each of them thought that precisely he
would be sent. The Sovereign, however, did not even look in their direction.
“Christian Thirteen of the Brave clan, do you agree to be my ambassador to the
Fairy of Eternal Youth?” he asked with an air of importance.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Chris answered.
“Then go and ask for permission to enter,” Gene said in his normal childish voice.
Chris jumped down from his horse and disappeared into the castle. He appeared a few
minutes later and was no longer alone. Several dozen people came out to meet the
visitors. They sounded the trumpets and beat the drums.
Chris ran to Gene and said, “The Fairy of Eternal Youth considers Your Majesty’s
visit a high honour for herself and requests Your Majesty’s presence in her home.” He
helped Gene get down from Larissa and then rushed to Kate to do the same thing. He
was still squire to Knight Caterino and performed his duties piously.
Gene headed the procession and, together with his subjects, entered the castle.
The castle of the Fairy of Eternal Youth was an amazing dwelling. Outside it was
already dusk long ago, but inside it seemed that the morning sun was shining brightly
beyond the windows. Everywhere were flowers and fountains, the most diverse and
intricate. If we assume that Kate and Gene were in a fairy tale, then here, in the castle of
the Fairy of Eternal Youth, the fairy tale was in a fairy tale.
The Fairy met the children in the throne hall. She came out to meet them, took Kate
and Gene by the hand, and led them herself. The brother and sister were startled on
seeing her. The Fairy was a girl slightly older than Kate. She was no more than thirteen.
Of course, she was very beautiful. When the Fairy started to speak, in her voice was so
much wisdom and greatness that it seemed like before them was a grown woman who
has lived forever...
“Boy Gene, Prince of the White Tower and Sovereign of the Country of Frozen Time,
and girl Kate, courageous and brave Knight Caterino, I’m glad to see you. I’ve waited for
you and with my whole soul wished you good luck in all your affairs. I know why you
came and what you want to ask me.” The children, amazed by her words, were silent.
“You want me to send you home? To where you came from?”
“Yes, yes,” the brother and sister nodded happily.
“Prepare to hear some sad news,” the Fairy said ruefully and sweetly. “I’m unable do
this. Even my knowledge and magic aren’t enough to pierce the wall of timelessness.
Only the old Sovereign could do it, he was so great. I knew of his terrible ideas but
couldn’t oppose him. All that I managed to do was advise the white swans (when they
came to me and begged me to break their spell and not let the new crime happen) to
kidnap a boy with someone close by with the ability to set off after him into the
unknown. I suggested to the swans to give this person a chance. It was the only means to
oppose the Sovereign without disrupting his magic. We were lucky. The swans abducted
the boy but gave his sister a feather. The girl took advantage of it and ended up here.
You know the rest. The second time I was able to help you when the white pigeon
Brilliant so requested. I turned back time. Judging by the fact that you’re here, I make
the conclusion that it helped you. But I can’t do more for you, my dear children. For the
time being, you have to live here, in this country.”
Kate and Gene heard what the Fairy told them and tears flowed from their eyes.
Had everything really been in vain? All of their adventures and exploits. They had put so
much hope in the Fairy. She was their last chance to get home. Now the last hope had
been extinguished. The girl and boy were shocked and crushed.
“Why all the tears?” the Fairy exclaimed suddenly and pressed the children to
herself. “I said ‘for the time being’. For the time being you have to remain here. Later
we’ll definitely come up with something. I promise you that I’ll do everything I can.”
There was so much confidence in her words that the tears dried themselves and the
souls were filled with new hope. The Fairy radiated light and kindness and Kate and
Gene smiled, looking at her.
“Perhaps we’ll ask you to fulfill one request of ours?” Kate asked the Fairy when
they returned to the other guests.
“Of course, I’ll fulfill your request, brave girl,” the Fairy said. “You could do what no
wizard in this land including me managed to do. You defeated the Sovereign. I don’t
know what helped you. Luck, courage, or selfless love for your brother. The Sovereign is
dead. You intervened with the course of events! The millennial history of our country
was turned over by you after a few weeks. Here was peace and quiet. You came and there
is war throughout the country and rebellions of some principalities break out against the
others. Evil has settled in our country. This is connected to your presence. You don’t feel
guilty for the suffering of our country?”
“No!” Kate replied. “I don’t. My brother was kidnapped and it bothered no one that
those from whom he was stolen would suffer and cry about it their whole lives. Why
should I think about those who brought us misfortune? It’s their payback for what
“All the villains. The Sovereign and the others who prevented me from reaching my
“But what are the peaceful people guilty of? Indeed, they’re suffering now. Don’t you
Kate thought for a bit.
“I do,” she drawled. “But they’re to blame as well, since they had such an evil ruler
who stole children and killed their souls. Most of all I pity my brother and my mama and
“You’re a very smart girl,” the Fairy said. “I really can’t demand that you bear
responsibility for what’s happening now in the country, which appeared at my will. But
enough of this. So what did you want to ask me?”
“Gene and I will ask you to fulfil a request associated with our friend. Chris, come
here please!” The boy timidly approached.
“Christian participated in all my adventures. If not for him, my brother and I would
“Knight him, please!”
“Me?” the Fairy was surprised. “But I don’t have the right to do this.”
“Only a person of royal blood can do this.”
“I’m of noble origin but not royal.” Kate and Gene again saddened.
“But why wouldn’t Gene himself knight Christian?” the Fairy proposed.
“Me?” Gene was shocked. “Why?”
“What do you mean ‘why’?” the Fairy was shocked in turn. “You’re the Sovereign of
this country, you know. The true king.”
“Yes, king. Didn’t they place the Sovereign’s gold crown on your head?”
“Since that moment, you’re a person of royal blood and can knight anyone you want.
Remember that you’re the ruler of our country at the present time.”
“So, I can knight Chris?”
“Kate, please give me your sword,” Gene asked his sister. “And you, Chris, get on
your right knee.” The squire, not believing his luck, got down in front of the little ruler as
he was told. Gene took the sword from his sister, unsheathed it, and placed the blade on
Chris’ left shoulder.
“Christian, named Thirteen, son of Richard the Brave and Eliza the
Unapproachable.” His solemn and loud voice rang out through all the halls of the castle
of the Fairy of Eternal Youth. “In the presence of all present, and by the power given to
me by the sky and the people, I declare you a knight and bestow upon you this high and
honourable title. Serve truly and do not disgrace your weapon with dishonest deeds,
cowardice, or betrayal! Rise, Knight Christian!” Chris stood up radiant and happy.
“Now you’re a knight, Chris!” Gene cried and threw himself at Chris. The solemnity
of the moment was broken. Kate, who had watched agape as her brother spouted the
royal speech (when did he learn this?), also ran to the boy. Following behind her, all the
rest, including Chris’ brothers, began to congratulate the new knight.
In the general uproar, no one noticed that a servant of the Fairy had come and
whispered something in her ear. The Fairy frowned and then clapped loudly to attract
attention. “Gentlemen,” she addressed, when all eyes were turned to her. “I’ve been told
that the rebel army has entered my property. The wicked men have decided to go along
the path of evil to the end. They intend to kill our Sovereign and all on his side. They
don’t agree to any negotiations. So get ready for battle, for they’ll be here tomorrow.”
“What are your orders?” Alvansor asked Gene.
“You give orders, Alvansor, indeed you’re the head of the army,” the boy replied
“Everybody go down to the troops!” the brave warrior ordered, “tomorrow we’ll give
a decisive battle.”
THE LAST FEAT OF KNIGHT CATERINO
We will leave our friends and friends of our friends briefly and transport ourselves
to the Capital, where dizzying events were also taking place.
When Gargulio perished in the most fantastic way in the White Tower and several of
his servants that were with him went mad, the city was filled with incredible and
contradictory rumours. The merry citizens had never yet witnessed such rapid and
terrible events; in the last six months there had been several rulers and so many
incredible things had happened. The city lived in uneasy expectation of something
terrible and unknown. No one, not even the wealthiest and most conceited citizens,
thought of the crown and authority anymore. They would not venture for any amount of
money to get up to the White Tower, where people disappeared mysteriously, and if they
did not disappear, then they went mad. No one dared to declare himself the master of
the city either after the disappearance of Gargulio. Everyone knew perfectly that
Alexandro the Black and Leonari had laid claim on this place. If they returned, they
would spare no new rival. Hence, the city lived without a ruler and waited for what
would happen next. It was becoming depopulated fast because many of its residents
feared that Alexandro and Leonari, on returning from the campaign, would begin to sort
out on the city streets the relationship between themselves. They left the city just in
case; they departed and hid in the surrounding villages and farms. For example, Apius,
the innkeeper of By the Hearth Tavern, did just that.
One morning the remaining citizens looked out of habit at the White Tower and
their hearts were filled with terror. A huge, simply gigantic snake, twined thrice around
the White Tower, was sliding down. It was such a monster, even difficult to imagine to
oneself, as if it was darkness itself. Its eyes emitted a black light which no one would
want to live in, and it had instantly become difficult to breathe in the city because of the
serpent’s foul breath.
The whole town stood and watched as the Black Dragon slid down slowly but
inevitably. When it got about halfway down, a dreadful panic started in the city. People
were running in all directions. A crush began at the city gate; only with the help of the
most drastic measures were the guards able to restore order and organize normal
movement. The dragon, though, was getting closer and closer, and the people rushed to
the basements of their homes to save themselves from the terrible monster.
When the Black Dragon slipped down onto the ground, it got up on its huge paws,
its ten-metre wings spread out on its back, and it discovered an empty city. Even the cats
and dogs hid in the cracks so as not to become its food. The dragon hissed and then
squealed indignantly, causing the leaves to fall off the trees in the Park of the Elf King. It
turned its horned head and a thought seemingly flashed in its eyes as if it remembered
something. Then it growled so furiously and loudly that glass in the deserted homes
shattered. It got up on its hind legs. The enormous wings cut the air with a loud drone
and noise, and the Black Dragon took off. It rose higher and higher until it reached the
top of the White Tower, circled around the top three times, and, snapping the air,
quickly flew to the west.
The inhabitants of the city breathed a sigh of relief. They had survived. It did not
disturb them that it had set off to another place somewhere and pounced on someone
else, although in essence they were all good people.
We return to the domain of the Fairy of Eternal Youth. There the main event of the
morning had just started. The battle of the two armies – the army of the Prince of the
White Tower and the Fairy of Eternal Youth and that of Alexandro the Black and
Minister Leonari – began as soon as the sun came up. Everyone had been preparing for
it all night and had slept all of a few hours.
The enemy was so much bigger; therefore, anyone who could bear arms participated
in the battle. Only the Fairy and the little Sovereign remained near the tent pitched on
the ground in the middle of the mountains. Gene was going to take part personally in
the battle, but three people forbade him at once. Alvansor reminded him that the
commander should only direct the battle. The Fairy said that Gene must protect her if
the enemy suddenly broke through to them. Kate warned him that she would rather
spank him once more than let him go into battle, even if he ordered them to cut off her
head for this.
“You’re the only person here of royal blood!” Kate summed it up. “So you don’t have
the right to fight. We’ll shed our blood for you. Your subjects.” Gene had to yield. It was
difficult to say which of the three had the greater impact on him.
Kate occupied a place in the front lines by right of being a knight. When Gene found
out about this, he was awfully angry and wanted to order his sister to be with him, but
the girl looked at him so pitifully and pleadingly that the boy changed his mind. “Watch
out for my sister,” he asked Chris. “I can only trust her with you. Watch she doesn’t get
into the very heat of the battle! She’s so reckless!”
Now the battle had begun! The knights did not wait for the enemy to finish setting
up battle formation, and on Alvansor’s signal quickly rushed to the centre of the rebel
troops. In heavy armour and with long lances, they cut at full gallop into the enemy
Alexandro and Leonari did not expect such a powerful blow. Their army, which after
the passage through Unicorn Canyon had completely lost the fighting spirit and had
been deprived of a large number of soldiers, could not stand up to the first onslaught.
Alexandro gave the order to hang each person caught in an attempt at desertion and
somehow checked the breakdown. Now some fifty knights not afraid of musket or hand
cannon shots smashed and wrecked them.
Then Alexandro sent out his own desperadoes and they managed to stop the
knights. Hand-to-hand combat started. Alvansor’s guards and light cavalry came to help
the knights. Everything was mixed up. Horses neighed, weapons rang out, guns and
rifles thundered. Kate only now realized that there was nothing for her to do here and
her knightly impulse was nothing but a childish trick. This was neither a movie nor a
sport event. This was real war, where people killed each other. Chris understood her
state and took the girl to her brother, then dashed back.
Kate put her arms around Mirko and said with tears, “This is the most awful thing
that I’ve seen here!” She found Gene in the tent. He was as frightened as Kate.
The Fairy was beside Gene. She was sad and tried to console the boy. On seeing
Kate, she smiled. “I knew you would come back. You’re from another world, and
besides, still just small children. Enough fighting. Sit with each other. What happens
down there isn’t your concern. Your concern is to return home to your parents. Is this
your cherished desire?”
“Yes,” both nodded.
“So, it’ll be fulfilled. What’s more, you’ve seen the unicorn.”
“Yes,” said Gene, “Chris saw it too. And he became a knight and broke the spell of
his brothers.” The Fairy patted him on the head. The three of them sat this way in the
tent until a jubilant Chris ran in with an unsheathed sword.
“Victory!” he reported, sheathing his sword. “Alvansor killed Alexandro the Black in
single combat and Leonari is seriously wounded. He surrendered. The rebels have
thrown down their weapons. Sovereign,” he addressed Gene, “you must accept the
surrender of the enemy army. Leonari is waiting for you.”
Here even Kate could not restrain herself from being sarcastic. “The cream falls to
your lot all the time,” she said without malice to her brother.
Proudly sitting solemnly on his own Larissa, accompanied by Kate, the Fairy, and
Chris, the Prince of the White Tower came down and was greeted by the exultant army,
knights, and Alvansor. A seriously wounded Leonari, not hiding his anger, handed him
his sword as a sign that he and his army surrendered to the mercy of the victor. It would
seem that everything was over. Here it was, victory! Guns shot into the air and soldiers,
even those who were just in the rebel camp, shouted joyfully.
However, at that very moment, the sky suddenly darkened, and the Black Dragon
appeared among the dark clouds. It swooped down like lightning onto the people,
spurting flame and smoke from its jaws. It came down directly to where Gene, Kate, and
the Fairy were, and if an iron wall of knights had not surrounded them in a second, all
three of them would have perished. The dragon slammed into the impenetrable barrier
of knightly shields, which withstood the terrible charge, and flew away.
The people followed it with horror in their eyes. It all happened so fast that nobody
had time to understand anything. The dragon made a circle in the sky and went into a
second attack. When it came down, it was met by a hail of arrows, bullets, and knightly
lances. Unfortunately, none of them did the dragon any harm.
The second attack was more destructive than the first. Some knightly shields
snapped with a crack, many lances broke, and several warriors fell with a groan to the
ground. They were the first to meet the dragon’s monstrous jaws and teeth. Their iron
armour held on and they survived, but they lost consciousness. The dragon wrapped like
a ring around a handful of warriors and tried with the strength of its body to crush and
break their defence. But the knights gathered all their strength to resist this horrible
attack. They tried with swords to pierce the dragon’s hide and chop its long snake-like
body! In vain! The hide was as if made of armour. The knights could not kill the dragon
but withstood its attack and saved those whom they surrounded: the Fairy, Gene, and
Finally, the dragon broke down and unclenched its deadly ring. Those on the
outside tried to attack it, but it kept them off with its wings and the intense flames that
spewed out of its mouth. It struck no more. After a few rounds above the battlefield, it
flew to the mountains. After it had disappeared, the people breathed a sigh of relief.
“Are you all okay?” The Fairy of Eternal Youth turned to Kate and Gene. They
nodded, frightened. Their faces were white with terror. However, they quickly forgot
their fear when they found out that their friend, Knight Christian, was wounded in the
“I drove my sword into it!” the boy yelled, when his anxious friends ran up to him.
“Did you hear, Caterino, brother? I ran my sword into it. To the hilt. Just didn’t manage
to reach its heart. What a pity that the sword was left in it. Doesn’t matter, sooner or
later, this dog will croak.”
“What happened to your arm?” Kate exclaimed.
“A scratch!” Chris, it seemed, was even happy that he was wounded. “When I ran
the sword into it and wanted only to chop this vile thing in half, it grabbed my hand. If
not for the chain mail... Richard, my brother, hit it in the snout with a poleaxe and it let
“Very painful?” Gene with sympathy looked at his older friend in the face.
“Painful as witches! You know, friends, when I wounded the dragon, it cried out in
pain. Yes, yes! It did, or rather, it roared.”
The Fairy approached the friends. “I saw the way you wounded the dragon,
Christian,” she said. “It surprised me. You see, all the knights tried to impale it, yet no
one succeeded. But you did it. Why?”
“I don’t know,” the teenager shrugged.
“Strange!” the Fairy thought for a while. “It seems to me that this wasn’t simply a
dragon. As if death itself escaped from hell. It’ll return. It’ll definitely return. I saw it in
its eyes. What a look it had! A terrible look. And it’s all black. I’ve never seen a black
“I think I know!” Kate slapped her forehead. “This dragon is probably that same
black devilry which the Golden Sphinx told us about.”
“The Golden Sphinx?” the Fairy was surprised. “You spoke with the Golden
“You need to tell me about it,” the Fairy said excitedly. “Let us return to my castle.”
Kate bandaged Chris instead of being very surprised by everything. Gene helped her
in every way possible. He knew that she learned this at camp and he was often the object
of her training when they were at home. Then everybody set off for the Fairy’s castle.
In the evening, all the main participants of recent events gathered at a long table:
our friends, the Fairy of Eternal Youth, the knights, Alvansor, and the officers of the
guard. Kate described the maze of emptiness and the conversation with the Sphinx.
“It means, at the end of the conversation you stood under the golden gaze of the
Sphinx?” the Fairy asked, when Kate’s story came to an end. The enchantress was
holding in her hands a thick book, at which she was constantly glancing.
“Yes, it was so.”
“I surmised so. This dragon isn’t a simple dragon. It’s a human soul, which was
unable to leave the body and therefore turned into a dragon. The likes of which hadn’t
happened yet in the land, but according to the books, I know that it’s possible. The old
Sovereign! It’s his criminal soul that turned into the Black Dragon. Into the black
devilry, as the Sphinx said. This great power of evil won’t stop until it perishes or
destroys all life in the land. It’ll return in order to kill. We must stop it. Someone must
fight and kill it.”
The knights in the hall rumbled and shouted. Each claimed that precisely he must
fight the Black Dragon. The Fairy waved her hand and called for silence.
“But the Black Dragon is immune to simple weapons,” she reminded them. “Even a
knightly weapon. We’ve seen this in action.”
“What should we do?” the knights started talking. “Really hide from it cowardly? All
the same, we’ll fight the dragon.”
“You know very well that the dragon can only be killed in combat,” the Fairy said.
“We’ll fight in turn until we win or all die!”
“No,” the Fairy said firmly. “Only one person can fight the Black Dragon. If he
doesn’t win, then no one will be able to defeat the dragon. It’ll become invincible.” There
was silence after these words.
“All the same, each of us is ready to fight the dragon!” one of Chris’ brothers said.
“Yes, there’s such a person among you who can enter into single combat with the
Black Dragon, and he’s the only one who can defeat it.”
“Who is he?” the knights shouted. “Name him!”
“In the first battle with the dragon only one of you was able to inflict a wound. This
was the knight Christian,” the Fairy said, and all stared at Chris, who with a bandaged
arm was sitting next to Kate. “He was able to do this because he stood under the gaze of
the Golden Sphinx and held his weapon in its rays. His sword gained the mighty power
of life and therefore easily entered the dragon’s body immune to simple weapons. But
the sword was left in it and flew away with it. Now there remains only one sword with
the same power and the person who owns it is in front of us. This is the knight
The words startled all present, and Kate most of all. The girl looked around and
could understand nothing for a long time. The knights looked at her with envy. The girl
caught Chris’ enthusiastic gaze at her, then the frightened and puzzled look of her
“Me?” escaped from her.
“Yes, you,” the Fairy confirmed. “Only you among us can fight the Black Dragon,
Knight Caterino. You should end the job you once started.”
“What job is that?”
“The struggle with the Sovereign. As it turns out, it hasn’t yet ended.” Kate felt a
sinking sensation in her stomach.
“It’s wrong!” one of the knights exclaimed. “To send a little girl to certain death!
Even if she’s a knight. Let Knight Caterino give up her weapon to one of us!” But no one
supported this. Any knight knew that a knight’s weapon would operate only in the hands
of its owner. In someone else’s hands, it became the most ordinary and lost its
“Go to the Sovereign, Knight Caterino!” the Fairy of Eternal Youth invited Kate. “He
must give you the order to fight the Black Dragon.” The Fairy looked at Gene. “And bless
you for this great achievement.”
Kate, as if struck by a thunderbolt, went to her younger brother. Gene could not
utter a word. Finally, something escaped him but only the Fairy heard it. The boy said,
“Gentlemen!” the Fairy addressed those present. “Our Sovereign wants to speak
with his sister alone.” The knights and the guards got up, bowed respectfully, and left
the hall. The Fairy remained with the children.
“Kate,” Gene began ruefully, “I don’t want you to fight the dragon.”
The girl kept quiet. Gene sobbed. Kate also wanted to howl, but here the Fairy said,
“There’s one more reason that you should fight, Kate.”
“What’s that?” the girl looked plaintively at the Fairy. “You want to say that I
released the Black Dragon into the world and now must kill it? Free your country from
“No,” the Fairy’s voice had neither irritation nor spite, only kindness and
tenderness, “not so. The reason you should kill the dragon is that it has enormous
power. You must take this power from it.”
“Why do I need it? What will I do with it?”
“This dragon is the dark soul of the Sovereign. Its place is in hell and not here in the
land. You’ll send it there. The Sovereign brought you and your brother to this country.
He keeps you here. Finish him off and you’ll be able to return to where you came from.”
“We’ll return?” Kate was at a complete loss. “But how will we be able to return?”
“If you kill the dragon, its power will be yours. This power will be enough for you to
get home together with your brother. So, my friends, this is your only opportunity to
fulfill your cherished wish. Make up your mind! But only in solidarity! If Kate wants to
fight, Gene must agree with her. If one of you says ‘no,’ I’ll fight the dragon. I’ll be able
to keep the strength of your sword, Kate. But in the case of my victory, I’ll be able to
send only one of you back. If I send you both, then you’ll return home but not at the time
of origin, but ten or, more likely, a hundred to two hundred years earlier. Make up your
mind!” She had not yet managed to finish speaking and the decision was already made.
“I will fight!” Kate declared.
“I order you to fight!” Gene, sobbing, addressed his sister.
“Tomorrow I’ll show you a new horse,” the Fairy said to Kate, “now go to sleep.”
For a long time Kate and Gene could not sleep.
“You’ll win for sure,” hugging his sister, the boy assured her, but wept.
Kate did not see him crying but felt his tears on the pillow. “Why, little one,” she
said, “of course, we’ll win. I’ll chop this snake up into a thousand pieces and we’ll go
“But if you die...” Gene burst into tears.
“Don’t talk nonsense! I’m not in such trouble.”
In the end, they fell asleep nevertheless. Children are not adults. They sleep well
even when they are sad or anxious at heart. Besides, they understood that before such
important business as a battle with a dragon, they needed a good sleep.
Morning came. Kate and Gene came out of the bedroom and immediately met
Chris. According to his old habit of a squire, he slept by the door. “I have put your arms
in order,” he reported. “Now you can fight at least three dragons.”
Kate forced herself to smile. She heard unconcealed envy in her friend’s voice.
“Thank you, Chris,” she was thankful. “How’s your arm?”
“It’s fine! Try on the shield, Caterino. Does it fit snugly? Do up your cloak; I’ve
reattached the gold buckle. Let me help you. Let me be your squire once more.”
“I’ll also be your squire,” Gene said and began to help Chris prepare Kate for
“The Fairy of Eternal Youth sent you this hauberk,” Chris said, pulling a fine steel
shirt on the girl. “It isn’t susceptible to fire and will cool you in the battle. The helmet
once belonged to the knight Artois.12 He wore it in childhood and it’ll be just right for
you. The feathers on it are from the phoenix. 13 They’ll take all the fire directed by the
dragon; all the same they’ll just restore from the ashes. Here no armour of your size is
found. But I think they’re of no use to you. They’ll only restrict your movement. You
need speed and agility.”
When everything was done and the knight Caterino, dressed and ready for battle,
went into the main hall of the castle, she was met by the Fairy, the knights, the guards,
and Alvansor. They all wished the girl good luck and victory in combat.
“Come, I’ll show you your horse,” said the Fairy.
“I won’t fight on Mirko?”
“Mirko’s a fine horse. But it’s unlikely it’ll be of use to you this time. The horse,
which I offer you, is much stronger. Only it doesn’t live here. We have to make a small
journey. Ask Christian to prepare horses, and say goodbye to everyone. You’ll return
here only after victory.”
Chris ran to fulfil Kate’s and the Fairy’s request and the girl approached her brother.
“See you later, Gene,” she said to him, then put her arms around him, hugged and kissed
him. “Be good and don’t go anywhere till I come back.”
“The main thing, sister, don’t be afraid,” the boy whispered warmly. “Imagine that
it’s a computer game. You always play well!”
Duke Artois, one of the three knight-founders of the Country of Frozen Time, see chapter 6 of the first
book Knight Caterino.
In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird that is cyclically reborn from the ashes.
“Okay, will do,” Kate promised and thought that one always has to learn the games
first before starting to gain points.
Then Chris ran in and said that everything was ready. After a few minutes he, Kate,
and the Fairy had already raced to a nearby hill. They went around it and stopped at a
“Move back a little,” the Fairy ordered the children, then pulled out of her sleeve a
little silver whistle and blew in it softly. To Kate’s and Chris’ surprise the crevice opened
up like a sea-shell and the children saw a deep cave. They looked questioningly at the
Fairy, but she showed with a sign that they should wait.
Then a horned face showed itself from the cave. A huge monstrous snout of a
dragon covered with scales white as pearls. The horses neighed loudly and shrunk back.
Mirko reared up and Kate miraculously stayed in the saddle.
“Don’t be afraid,” the Fairy said. “This is Wardrag, my white dragon.” In
confirmation of these words, after the head also scrambled out all the rest: a long supple
body on four strong legs, two powerful wings, and a long, thorny tail. Wardrag was very
similar to the Black Dragon, only it was much smaller and all snowy white, but its face
was not terrible, on the contrary, kind and nice.
“This is your horse, Knight Caterino,” said the Fairy of Eternal Youth, “saddle it and
“I should fight on it?” the girl was confused.
“Of course, you really don’t think that you can defeat the Black Dragon otherwise?
Don’t be afraid of Wardrag. It’s very clever and understands everything.”
Kate and Chris approached the dragon timidly. It sighed noisily like a cow and
sniffed them attentively. It evidently liked the smell, because Wardrag again sighed with
“Attach the saddle where the neck meets the body,” the Fairy advised.
The neck at that place was just the same thickness as a horse’s torso, so Kate and
Chris, after taking the saddle off Mirko, put it on the white dragon. Chris helped Kate sit
down and then tied her legs with a strong rope so that she would not fall off the dragon
in the air.
“You can direct it with the help of these two scales.” The Fairy showed Kate two
small horns sticking out of the dragon’s body. “You push the right one, you fly to the
right, the left, to the left. You push up, you fly up, down, go down, and if you press on
them, Wardrag will shoot out fire. But remember, he can shoot only three times in a
row, then he needs a minute to restore fire power.”
“It’s indeed like a computer game!” Kate exclaimed. Neither Chris nor the Fairy
understood her, of course, but Kate felt in her element and her fear was gradually
replaced by excitement.
“Don’t take off until we ride far away enough,” the Fairy said, and together with
Chris, taking Mirko, which neighed in an offended way on farewell, rode back.
“See you later, Mirko! See you later, Chris!” Kate shouted after them and, when they
had disappeared from sight, turned to Wardrag. “Well, now we’re alone, we should think
about tactics. You aren’t afraid of your future enemy, huh, dragon?” Wardrag snorted.
Kate laughed and the remains of her fear completely evaporated. “Then let’s go!”
The air around Kate began to make noise, her heart fell somewhere to the soles of
her feet for a moment, the ground suddenly turned out to be far below, and the wind cut
into her face.
“Great!” the girl exclaimed. “Now let’s see how you are to control.” Kate began to
test the dragon’s operating levers, and after ten minutes of training, she was already
managing them as if flying on dragons was the only thing she had been doing all her life.
No adult would learn as quickly to fly on Wardrag; but for Kate, who was the school
champion of computer games, this was downright a trifling matter. The dragon listened
to her like a very good console. It flew up and down, turned abruptly off to the side,
increasing speed till dizziness, and stopped abruptly and unexpectedly; all this
according to Kate’s command.
The Black Dragon would be a strong opponent, adroit as Wardrag and smart as
Kate. The girl, enthralled by the flight on a dragon, even forgot for a moment why, in
essence, she was flying, but the sky darkened by the clouds instantly sobered her up and
set her serious mood. Below was the battlefield, where the Black Dragon flew to the first
time. On a mountain next to it, people had gathered in anticipation of the great battle.
Kate waved to them and saw the Black Dragon first. The little black dot was approaching
fast. Kate checked how easy it was to unsheathe her sword. It seemed to jump into her
hand. Wardrag stayed still in the air and waited.
The Black Dragon became more terrifying and horrible with every second. Kate’s
heart was pounding like crazy in her chest. She started to get up to as great a height as
she could, and when the Black Dragon was right under Wardrag, Kate set her own
dragon on it at enormous speed. Wardrag attacked the Black Dragon like a brave, little
doggie attacking a wolf. Kate managed to rain the first pillar of flame right onto the head
of the serpent not expecting such a rapid attack. It howled in pain and began to spin on
the spot, trying to understand where the attack had come from. Kate and Wardrag
immediately descended and twice shot the Black Dragon in the belly. It immediately
stopped spinning and, in its turn, doused the daredevils with a sea of fire. They barely
managed to dodge the first shot, but the second shot got Kate and the white dragon. The
monster apparently finally realized with whom it was dealing and who its main enemy
was. Kate covered herself with the shield and the fire did her no harm. She was only hot
for a moment and the magic hauberk quickly cooled the heat. Wardrag also turned out
to be fireproof. If Kate could have seen herself from the side, she would have found out
that the feathers on her helmet were also burned and almost nothing was left of them.
However, she did not see this, and she felt feathers as before, when she adjusted her
helmet a minute later. Nevertheless, she was not concerned about that. The battle had
only just begun. Three shots from Wardrag were like shots at an elephant to the Black
Dragon. They merely provoked it and brought it to such a rage that the two heroes had
to escape from it. They darted around a little above the ground, dodging the enemy, and
then Kate sent Wardrag up. They passed through the clouds like lightning and rose to
such a height where the sun was shining. The Black Dragon rushed after them. It was no
less speedy than Wardrag and even managed to catch up and get hold of Wardrag’s tail.
The white dragon twitched, then turned and seized the enemy’s snout in turn.
Now Kate saw the monster up close. Its eyes were full of icy cold; the huge teeth
could crush iron, not to say little girls! Without waiting, the girl-knight drew her sword
and dealt the dragon the first blow. It screamed wildly and shrunk back. Kate looked at
its neck and saw on it a bright wound by a golden light. All this happened in one
Kate and the white dragon rose even higher. Their enemy was not flying as fast now
as before. It became careful after the hit by the magic sword; besides, it withstood
sunlight badly and would prefer to fight below, where the sun was covered by clouds.
Kate noticed this. She also noticed that the dragon screamed from the pain when
sunlight hit its wound and began to attack him with Wardrag from the direction of the
sun. It suited her better because the sun was shining on her back but the enemy in the
eye. When she saw the blinded dragon blink, she repeated the attack.
It nearly cost her life and Wardrag. The Black Dragon was not asleep but, as it
turned out, was ready for the attack. It twisted away from the attackers, kicked the white
dragon’s back with its hind legs, and grabbed a wing with the front. Another second and
it reached Kate.
The girl saw a huge mouth littered with more than a dozen teeth open above her and
screamed with horror. Wardrag saved her. It turned its long neck with difficulty and
released into the enemy’s mouth an entire supply of fire. The Black Dragon roared in
pain but stubbornly reached for Kate. The two dragons clinging to each other turned and
rolled over in the air. A little girl on one of them was desperately waving a sword. Dark
clouds hid the fighters and people did not see what a brutal battle was happening in the
Kate saw that Wardrag managed to free its wing from the clutches of the Black
Dragon, but the same paw grabbed its neck very close to her. The girl yelled and hit at
the thick paw with her sword, but did not touch it. The blade flew past with a whistle.
“Have to do something,” she decided, when she also did not reach it a second time. Not
thinking for long, the girl cut the rope that held her right leg and threw it over to the
other side. Now she was able to stretch out and hit the dragon paw. The sword entered
the dragon with such ease that Kate even felt no resistance. The severed paw
immediately flew down and the wounded enemy screamed so that it was probably heard
all over the Country of Frozen Time.
Wardrag finally broke free, but when it flew away, the Black Dragon released after it
a whole sea of fire and struck a terrible blow with its tail right on the left wing of the
white dragon. The wing cracked and Wardrag immediately lost speed and began to
descend slowly to the ground. The Black Dragon roared triumphantly and rushed after
Kate understood that this was the crucial moment. If she did not do something now,
she would die. The girl with difficulty forced her dragon to straighten out in flight and
met the enemy face to face. Kate decided to go on a ram attack. She knew that this was a
pilot’s last resort but had not considered that the Black Dragon was almost two times
bigger than Wardrag and would crush them twice as fast.
Further events developed as follows. When the Black Dragon was a few metres
away, it stopped unexpectedly and drew back. Kate was in a bad position. Now the sun
was shining in her eyes and not in the Black Dragon’s. However, it was blinded by Kate’s
gold buckle, which caught the sunlight. Kate took advantage of this at once, and in an
instant unfastened her cloak and threw it in the face of the opponent. The cloak became
three times bigger and wound around the dragon’s head. It even stopped in surprise.
Kate sent Wardrag forward and her next blow deprived the Black Dragon of half of its
terrible tail. It roared in pain and rage and tried to unveil itself. The girl fearlessly
delivered one blow after another in the meantime, and here one more dragon paw, the
front this time, flew down. But the dragon beat the air wildly with its wings. Finally, it
managed to tear and cast off the deadly cloak and immediately let out the next column
of fire at Kate. The girl had time to cover herself with the shield and bent down to
Wardrag’s neck. Now she saw Chris’ sword sticking right out of the Black Dragon’s belly.
A huge wound glittered golden around the sword. The girl understood that this was her
last chance. When the enemy’s fire ran dry, she shot twice in answer into the Black
Dragon’s face and, not being able to shoot anymore (Wardrag did not have time yet to
recharge fully), sent her dragon into the next attack. Kate did not understand how she
managed to drive in her weapon next to Chris’ and, grasping both swords, flew up.
Wardrag flew right up against the Black Dragon, and Kate sliced with two blades first
the belly and then the neck with such ease as if the dragon was filled with air and its
invulnerable hide cracked in such a way as if made of paper. Wardrag took off like a
bullet and in the end outlined a ring around the Black Dragon’s head. Kate saw the face
of the beast in the last cut and then its head fell down. It was the end of the Black
Dragon. Its body followed its head.
“Victory!!!” Kate shouted, not being able to control herself, and started to cry from
happiness. She finally became scared, though she knew very well that it was all over.
Wardrag roared happily and proudly. The poor thing, despite its severe wounds, still
flew in the sky together with Kate for a long time, enjoying the victory, before it
Kate freed herself with difficulty from the remaining rope and jumped to the
ground. She pressed gratefully against Wardrag, put her arms around its neck, and saw
people running toward her. The first person she saw was, of course, her younger brother
on Mirko. The boy was filled with happiness that his sister was alive and proud of what
she had accomplished. When the rest of the people reached them, he communicated to
each, “She’s my sister! She killed the Black Dragon!”
A feast was held in the evening in honour of Knight Caterino. It took place in the
grand hall of the Fairy of Eternal Youth’s castle. On the eve of this significant event, the
people saw how the giant remains of the Black Dragon disappeared. The monster,
fortunately, was not of blood, or else the entire field on which it fell would have been
spoilt. First, the hide, or rather scales, started to slide from it, falling by pieces to the
ground and instantly turning into ashes, which were quickly dispersed by the wind. Very
soon only the skeleton remained. The bones of the Black Dragon were also black. They
also began to disintegrate into the tiniest particles, and then the sky was completely
clear of clouds and the sun flooded with its light what remained of the dragon. The black
mess started to melt like snow. Just that snow is white but the remains of the dragon
However, this was unimportant because then there was the feast. Only what was not
on the long tables! Before sitting down and surrendering to merriment, there was a
solemn ceremony, which is certainly worth describing.
First, accompanied by the noise of applause and a thundering ovation Knight
Caterino was hailed as the greatest hero after the knight-founders in the history of the
Country of Frozen Time. She was also given a new nickname, or rather not one but two:
Victor over the Black Dragon and Maiden of the White Dragon. Kate liked the second
one more because it sounded romantic. All the guests, and there were many, noisily
raised their goblets of wine and drank to it. The festivities began; drinks sparkled, dogs
barked, to which the guests did not spare tasty morsels, and jesters rang their bells. In
general, it was everything to be expected at a real fairy-tale feast. Everyone had fun and
revelled in the victory.
Kate was sitting at a table with Chris and his brothers who, from the moment their
younger brother became a knight and almost routed the Black Dragon, began to treat
him quite differently. At the height of the party, she noticed that Gene and the Fairy of
Eternal Youth, both sitting at the head table, were talking quietly. The boy was saying
something heatedly to the enchantress and she was listening attentively to him. Kate
became curious as to what they were talking about and was even sorry that she was not
sitting next to them. Then she saw that the Fairy started to wave her hands gently under
the watchful eyes of the Prince of the White Tower. Her lips were whispering something
quietly and Kate understood that she was conjuring.
She did not notice this alone. Soon all eyes turned to the Fairy of Eternal Youth. It
became quiet at once. In the silence, a quiet ringing spread through the hall like the
wind shaking a crystal chandelier and a light bulb seemingly lit in the enchantress’
hands. It was shining so brightly that some of those present even lowered or covered
their eyes. When the “lamp” went out, everyone saw the Sovereign’s golden crown in the
hands of the Fairy of Eternal Youth.
The enchantress waited until the roar of delight and surprise had quieted down and
silently put the crown on the head of its lawful owner, who was really just a little boy.
Gene glanced over those present and smiled his famous smile, and they all jumped up,
stood in reverence, and bowed their heads before the ruler of the Country of Frozen
“My friends,” the boy addressed them just like a real adult, “I must tell you an
important thing!” Everyone froze in anticipation. “You all know that my sister, Knight
Caterino, and I came to the Country of Frozen Time from a country very far away, from
where time never stops. So, we must return! Now, after the Black Dragon was killed, we
have such an opportunity. Tomorrow at dawn I, your Sovereign, and my sister, Knight
Caterino, will leave the Country of Frozen Time.”
Kate looked with delight at her brother. How beautifully he talked and how nice and
at the same time majestic he was at that moment. A real prince. When did he manage to
learn to behave so royally?
Confusion reigned among the guests. The girl saw bewilderment on some of the
faces, fear on others, and on some it was as if they had lost something valuable. Kate
understood that they were all scared that their country would again be left without a
ruler, and heaven knows what could start again.
“Don’t be so upset,” Gene continued with a soothing gesture. “I’m leaving a
successor. You’ll have a new Sovereign, and I’ll crown him myself today because he’s
among us. Rather, it isn’t a he. It’s a she. Yes, you understood me correctly. It’s the Fairy
of Eternal Youth.” Hearing the statement of the Prince of the White Tower, everybody
immediately calmed down and was pleased. There were shouts of joy. All hailed the new
The coronation took place at once. Under the blare of trumpets Gene crowned the
beautiful Fairy, who gave the oath in front of all present, an oath that stated that she
would take good care of the wellbeing of the land and all the people and other creatures
that lived on it. So, a great and important event for the history of the Country of Frozen
Time had taken place. A new, wise, and kind ruler had appeared.
After this, Gene climbed down from the main chair, in which he had been sitting
solemnly, and ran to Kate and Chris. “I’m no longer the Sovereign,” he imparted
emotionally to his friends. “I’m no longer the Prince of the White Tower.”
“You’re mistaken,” Chris told him, “yes, you’re no longer the Sovereign, but you’ll
remain the Prince forever. The blood in you now will forever be royal and you must
always remember this, and protect honour and dignity.”
“Clear to you, Gene?” Kate smiled slyly. “Now you mustn’t tell lies, fight with girls,
or steal inserts from me. But on the whole, you were awesome!” She gave him a thumbsup.
“Tomorrow we’ll go home, Katie!” Gene replied and climbed onto his sister’s knees.
Now he could do it easily without losing his royal grandeur. The crown was no longer on
The affair went on into the night and the merriment never died down. Kate made
her way cautiously to the Fairy of Eternal Youth, or rather the Sovereign, and addressed
a question to her, “Please tell me, Your Majesty, is it true that Gene and I can now go
“Of course!” the Fairy smiled. “Don’t you feel a great power in yourself, the ability to
fulfil any will of yours?”
“Not really, no,” Kate was at a loss.
“It just seems so to you,” the enchantress calmed her. “You only have to wish and
you can move mountains and reverse rivers.”
“But I don’t need to reverse mountains!!! I want to go home. Together with my
“Fine! You set off for home at dawn.”
“Of course also now. But it takes much less effort at dawn than any other time of the
day, it’ll simply be easier for you. Besides, you’ll have a reserve of power for a few more
big things. Well, don’t you and your brother want to say goodbye to your friends? To
Chris? To me?”
“I do,” Kate muttered. “But why do I need the remains of the dragon’s power?”
“Why? You can accomplish anything you want. Everything! Absolutely everything!
You really don’t have one desire that you want fulfilled in our country? Think again!
You’re sure to find it!”
Kate thought for a while. “No, I can’t think of anything. Only some nonsense comes
to mind,” she sighed. “Maybe we’ll go home after all?”
“Alright,” the Sovereign agreed. “But I’ll ask you to give our country another half
hour. If at this time you haven’t surmised or remember what you should do, you go
“Okay,” Kate sighed and walked slowly to her place.
The girl felt that the Fairy was right and she should do something that would make
her stay here full and complete. She walked around the hall, in which dancing had
already started, and pondered hard. Gene walked beside her and pestered her with
questions. He wanted to know what his sister was thinking about and what the Fairy had
said to her. However, Kate said nothing to him. She wanted to remember by herself
without any help what she should do. She looked around absentmindedly and saw
blurry coloured spots instead of people. Here an attendant of the Fairy in a pink dress
swept past in a dance with Alvansor. Kate watched her and suddenly lightning seemed
to flash in her mind.
“Drool!!!” Of course! How could she have forgotten her friend!
Kate darted like a bullet to the Sovereign. Gene ran after his sister.
“I remember!” Kate ran to the Fairy of Eternal Youth. “I remember. I have a wish. I
want to revive my friend. His name’s Drool. He’s a troll. He died saving Chris and me
from death. He wasn’t supposed to case a spell, but he did to cure us from giant scorpion
bites. Please tell me, will my wish come true?”
“To revive someone who has died is very difficult,” the Fairy replied. “If we were
talking about a person, I’m afraid that nothing would turn out for you. But a troll is a
different matter. Trolls don’t die. They dissolve in air. You can try to assemble him
again. I think you’ll manage this.”
“What must I do?”
“Close your eyes and wish. Imagine how the air returns your friend to you.”
Kate closed her eyes and concentrated. She did not even notice as Chris, several
knights, and Alvansor approached them. In her memory emerged the image of the little
baby troll. Kate recalled all the adventures he took part in and her heart again ached out
of pity for her friend. She so wanted him to appear again. But how could this be done?
How to make the air return what it had taken away and dissolved? The girl understood
that she had to recollect how Drool had dissolved. She had to relive his death and then
turn everything backwards in her mind, like rewinding a movie on film or videotape.
She began to recall, with eyes tightly closed, something that was a short while ago
and at the same time so long ago, because so many events had occurred since the minute
of Drool’s death! All the same, Kate saw Drool as clearly as if it was yesterday. She saw
his remarkable face, so funny, dear, and kind. For some reason his smile was always
guilty and how funny the way he pulled his big ears.
Here he is, Drool! Pink like a new toy. Could he really have died? Kate felt tears
begin to flow from under eyelids closed tightly with all her strength.
How difficult it is to experience once again the death of a friend whom you love with
all your heart! However, the girl clenched her fists and started to recall further. She had
to do this. The image of the dissolved troll became clear and distinct. Kate wanted to cry,
but instead, at the very moment when Drool could barely be seen, she began to imagine
everything going backwards. Time was turned back and, instead of vanishing, Kate
started to imagine how the transparent and weightless body began to be filled with life,
substance, and colour. The eyes appeared first. They sparkled and, it seemed, began to
Kate saw nothing and heard nothing of what was happening around. Therefore, she
did not hear how quiet but astonished gasps began beside her. She saw only Drool, who
became more real with each passing moment. Now, finally, the fantasy ran dry. Kate
simply could not imagine anymore. She sighed, sobbed, sniffed just like Gene,
unclenched her fists, and opened her eyes...
...and saw Drool before her. He was alive and unharmed, even slightly newer than
he was, as if he had just been brought from a toy store. He was standing and looking
around in surprise.
Kate in a daze could not move or say anything.
She threw herself at Drool only when he, as always,
twitched his ear and covered one eye with it.
“Drool! Dear!” she shouted. “Chris, why don’t you
come over? It’s our Drool, a very real Drool! Drool,
it’s you? Tell me it’s you?”
“Kate...” the Sweet Tooth mumbled.
“It’s him!” Now even Chris no longer had any
A scene followed, which I am simply unable to
describe. All of my literary skills are not enough to
reproduce exactly the meeting of the friends with
the resurrected troll. I will only say that the
children left the adults and the four spent the
whole night together.
Naturally, Kate and Gene could not leave the
Country of Frozen Time at dawn, although they
wanted very much to go home. Could they part so
easily with such a friend as Drool immediately
after the meeting with him? There was so much
they had to tell him. On the whole, the departure
was postponed for a day, and the friends spent all
day and all the following night together. Nobody
disturbed them. The adults understood that the
children needed time to talk as they should before
In the evening, a heavy conversation took place between Kate and Chris. The boy
and the girl knew very well that they were parting forever. Gene and Drool, little kids,
did not realize till the end that these were their last hours together, but the older kids
did not have any illusions.
“So, Caterino, we’ll never see each other?” Christian asked first and broke the veil of
silence on this topic.
Kate did not know what to say. If their countries were separated by seas and oceans,
forests and deserts, it would be possible to hope that sooner or later they would meet. It
would be possible to fly over an ocean or pass continents, but one would not be able to
fly through the barrier of time to meet with friends. “Yes, we’re leaving tomorrow,” she
“You and your brother can’t stay for at least a month?”
The girl shook her head. “It’s impossible. Every hour takes away the power of the
Black Dragon and we’ve lingered for a day already. But even if it wasn’t so... You know,
Chris, something pulls us home with such a force that it’s just unbearable.”
Chris understood everything but parting was so hard. He also sighed, “You’ll think
of us out there, at home in the country with so many miracles?”
“Of course! All that happened to me, I’ll remember all my life!” Kate exclaimed.
“And I’ll never forget you, Christian. I’ve never had a friend like you, and I’m sure I
never will. After you I can’t even look at a boy!”
“Really?” Chris was quite childishly pleased.
“Really!” Kate assured him.
“I’ll also never forget you, Kate.” The girl was embarrassed. Chris very rarely called
her by her given name. She became especially sad because of this last phrase.
At dawn on the top of the mountain their closest friends from the Country of Frozen
Time, the Fairy of Eternal Youth, Alvansor, and Chris’ brothers saw the brother and
sister off on their way. Mirko, on which Kate had decided to make the grandiose
journey, ready and saddled, stood beside them and impatiently pawed the ground. It
was the only one who did not have to say goodbye to Knight Caterino and her brother.
The Fairy suggested taking it.
“Riding will be easier for you,” she said, “and you can quickly reach your desired
Gene most of all was pleased with this idea. “That’s right!” he yelled. “Mirko goes
with us and my wish for a horse will be fulfilled. You’ll let me ride it, Kate?” The girl,
suffering from sadness at the thought of parting, was so deeply affected that she
promised her brother that Mirko would be his too.
Gene was so glad that he even hopped on one leg. He did not share Kate’s grief of an
eternal parting from the magical country. He only had the burning desire to get home
quickly and see Mama and Papa. Like the majority of children his age, he simply could
not believe in parting. The boy was firmly convinced that sooner or later he would still
meet his sworn brother Chris and have time to play with Drool. At that moment he was
simply dying to go home and suffering from impatience that his sister was dragging out
How could Kate hurry? Taking leave of the Country of Frozen Time, she left
something dear and inexplicable here. She left not only friends. First of all, she left a
part of herself here, probably the best part, which helped her to overcome all difficulties
and ordeals that fell to her lot. Kate had found all the best in herself in the Country of
Frozen Time: courage, determination, the ability to love friends, brother, parents and do
for their sake the most seemingly impossible things. Now the time had come to return to
where it was not always necessary to be like what it was here. The girl-knight, Victor
over the Forest and the Black Dragons, Maiden of the White Dragon, Count Caterino, or
eleven-year-old schoolgirl Kate Konstantinova, was very sad because of this.
“Farewell, my friends!” she said to all those present.
Gene had already climbed onto Mirko and took leave of his former “subjects” in the
saddle as the true Prince of the White Tower. The Fairy and the rest approached him in
order and wished him a happy journey.
Kate hugged Drool for the last time, then turned to Chris. They looked each other in
the eye for a moment, then could not contain themselves and also embraced tightly.
“You’re the best friend!” Chris said.
Kate did not understand how she did it, but her lips touched the boy’s face and she
kissed him. Immediately, to hide her embarrassment, she again rushed to Drool.
“I have candy for you.”
“Thank you,” a deeply moved Sweet Tooth uttered.
“Don’t leave Chris, please,” the girl begged him. “You know how reckless he is.”
Drool and Christian, as sad as she was, led Kate to Mirko and helped her sit down
“Oh, Drool, Chris!” the boy yelled, happy eyes sparkling. “I still haven’t said to you.
Goodbye! So long! Now it’s your turn to come to us. Come! I’ll show you the zoo. Will
you come? Well, why are you silent? Will you come?”
“Of course, little brother,” Christian patted him on the knee, “we’ll definitely try to
“Hurray!” Gene yelled. “Great! We’ll wait for you. And now forward. Home! Kate,
what’s with you? Let’s go!”
“Farewell!” Kate shouted and, seized by a sudden impulse, kicked Mirko.
Faces flickered past: Chris, Drool, the Fairy of Eternal Youth, someone else, and
then all was left behind. Mirko raced ahead. At first along a narrow mountain path, but
then it was over, and the horse was racing through air. All the time higher, and higher....
Great! The last magic flight.
The Country of Frozen Time again spread out below their feet. Magnificent
mountains were in snow hats, over which giant eagles hovered. They tried to catch up
with Kate, Gene, and Mirko, but quickly fizzled out and fell behind.
“Home! Hurray! We’re going home!” Gene yelled.
His joy finally passed on to Kate and she also picked up Gene’s cry, “Home! Home!
Forward, forward Mirko! ”
Suddenly, the brother and sister saw a white point separate from the top of one of
the mountains and fly after the children, speedily catching up with them. They were
afraid at first and then recognized who was flying after them.
“It’s Wardrag!” Kate shouted. “It’s indeed Wardrag! He also wants to bid us
farewell! Hey, Wardrag! We recognized you!” The white dragon roared with pleasure
and turned over several times in the air.
“It’s seeing us off, Kate. Wardrag is seeing us off!” Gene yelled. “It’s also saying
goodbye to us.” The dragon roared in the affirmative and released three fiery clouds into
The children waved to it, “Goodbye, Wardrag!” The White dragon again filled the
cold mountain air with a roar. The mountains shuddered in response and some even
took off their snowy hats.
The dragon flew a little behind Mirko, but then the mountains were behind them
and it also lagged behind a little.
Kate and Gene on the magic horse flew farther and farther away. The power of the
Black Dragon was carrying them through space and time, through the emptiness, and
the enchanted lake, over the forests and rivers.
Closer and closer to home.
At home it was October. Early, early morning. Rain was drizzling like fine dust and
there was neither car nor passer-by in the streets. Merely a heavy, dense, and unpleasant
fog, which only happens in big cities, was bossing with all its might on the streets, not
even letting the light from the not yet turned off streetlights be seen.
A young man was walking along the street at this early hour. He screwed up his eyes
myopically because he had forgotten to put on his glasses and peered into the deserted
streets. What was he looking for? Likely even he himself could not answer this question.
He was not searching, just out for a walk, because it was not the first month insomnia
had tormented him. You must have guessed that the young man was none other than
the student Nick, the older friend of the girl Kate.
Nick suffered dreadfully. He suffered because four months had already passed from
the moment he sent Kate Konstantinova on the unusual journey, and there had been no
news from her or her brother, whom she went in search of. She had not returned and
Nick could not say what had become of the little girl. He sorely suffered, blaming
himself for sending a child to certain death. He suffered also because he saw Kate’s and
Gene’s parents, who after the disappearance of the children were in the depths of grief
Imagine their condition when they returned home after three days on a business
trip and found an empty apartment. There was absolutely no trace which could lift the
veil over the mystery of the disappearance of two kids – a boy and a girl. Neither
experienced investigators with their dogs nor wise detectives with their deductive
methods could find anything. Mediums and psychics, soothsayers and fortune-tellers
were all powerless. On the whole, everybody to whom the parents, crazed with grief,
turned. No one could help them. Ads in newspapers, on radio and television turned out
to be useless.
Time passed. At first the city was alarmed and made noise, discussing the awful
incident; many parents began to follow their children more vigorously, but gradually
this incident was also forgotten. The city fell back into everyday life with its cares and
worries. Only a few people continued to grieve for what happened. Obviously Mama and
Papa, so harshly punished for leaving their children at home alone once in their lives,
their close relatives and friends, and certainly the student Nick, who was already in fifth
Nick was in his own way more miserable than everyone. He was the only one who
knew the true and most comprehensive picture of the children’s disappearance, but had
to keep silent because he knew perfectly well that no one would believe him. This was
especially distressing. All that he could do was wait. Wait that somehow the children
would return. Only when? At first, it seemed to the student that this would happen soon.
He waited for their return from day to day. However, the days passed one by one,
developed into weeks and months, but still no them. Hope was replaced by despair, to
which were added pangs of conscience. The young man reproached himself for
depriving the parents of two children by insisting on Kate searching for her brother. He
had already forgotten that the girl made that decision herself and reproached himself for
forcing her to do it. Now there was neither Gene nor Kate, and he, alone and consumed
with guilt for their disappearance, wandered along the deserted streets at four in the
morning, because he could not sleep peacefully at home knowing that perhaps the
children were also not sleeping that night, if, of course, they were still alive.
Nick was already thinking of returning home when he suddenly heard the loud
neigh of a horse clearly and distinctly. He barely managed to step aside as a white horse
jumped out of the fog and hooves thundered on the pavement. No clopping was heard
until now, as if the horse had fallen down from the sky. The white horse reared on its
hind legs and neighed again, and Nick suddenly heard to his distress a familiar sounding
“It’s Nick! Mirko, stop, whoa! Whoa-aa! Is that you, Nick?”
“Yes, it’s me,” Nick answered in confusion and screwed up his eyes to see better.
“Who’s this? I can’t believe it. Kate? Kate Konstantinova, is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me!” the girl shouted. They had already slipped down from Mirko and ran
to the student. “We’re home!”
When Nick saw his favourite pupil Kate and a cute little boy with her, he felt like a
huge and heavy stone had slid off his soul.
What happened next? I think it is not worth telling. Naturally, Kate and Gene ran to
Mama and Papa, and I am simply unable to describe their meeting. I will only say that
Gene went to first grade and Kate worked with him in the evenings because the boy was
more than a month behind, and she had to catch up with her own studies.
Nick, after finding out their wonderful story, decided to tell it to a writer friend and
came to me. At first, to be expected, I did not believe him, but Nick did not prove
anything to me in words, just brought me into his garage, where his motorcycle had
been earlier. Now there stood a magnificent white horse with very kind and intelligent
“It still doesn’t prove anything!” I stated stubbornly.
“Fine,” he said, “I’ll show you something else. This, unfortunately, is the only thing
the kids were able to bring out of the Country of Frozen Time.”
He showed me a velvet jacket, quite worn but absolutely intact, only without
buttons. No, one button still remained on it. I stared and gasped. It was gold. Not only
that, there was the portrait of a boy on it. I looked at the button and gasped again in a
minute, because into the garage ran a handsome boy, whom I immediately recognized
from the portrait stamped on the button. He just came for the jacket.
“The cloak, shield, and sword stayed with Chris,” Nick told me. “Believe if you want,
or not, but we only have a button.”
However, I was no longer up to talking. I was so thrilled by all this that I
immediately rushed to my desk and began to work intensely to tell the story honestly
and truthfully of the extraordinary adventures of the Prince of the White Tower, Knight
Caterino, and their friends.