Katie and Richard
A Tale of Wizardry
On their way to school one bright May morning, two normal American fifth graders suddenly find themselves transported to an unfamiliar and magical world. Accompanied by a mouse, who may or may not be just a mouse, Katie and Richard must try to determine why they have been brought here, and how their arrival relates to the threat looming over their new home from sinister powers once thought safely locked away. Are they this strange world's only hope for survival? Will they survive to find out? It would help if they liked each other better, and if the only wizard they believe they can trust could find a way to stop his spells from turning everything into roses. And who is that walking around inside their heads every night?
Over the next 24 weeks, you can enter Katie and Richard's world with them. Beginning on September 1, 2019, Katie and Richard is being released on this page at the rate of one chapter per week. So far, we have met Katie (who likes bugs) and Richard (who likes music), and watched as a fog near their school transports them to another world, where they have become separated from each other. Last week, Katie met four tiny men mining diamonds in the middle of a desert, heard about a mysterious figure called Grendell, and ran (literally) into a wizard who, when last seen, was threatening to turn her into a pig. This week, Richard finds himself deep in a hole, where he has a few odd meetings of his own.
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Chapter III: Gert
Richard picked himself up off the stone floor. His head was swimming. He was late, and he was running across the school courtyard in the fog, and then he was falling, and then he was here. Where was here?
He looked around. He was at a junction of four tunnels. The tunnels were round, and appeared to be hewn from solid stone. Torches every twenty feet cast dim, flickering light. Several hundred feet in, each tunnel curved gently out of sight to the right.
Richard turned slowly in place. All of the tunnels looked exactly the same. He looked up, but the roof was solid. There was no hole he could possibly have fallen through.
He couldn't tell where he had come from, or where he should go next.
At least he still had his flute. He opened the case. The three parts of the flute snuggled safely in their blue velvet-lined nests: mouthpiece, middle joint, and foot joint, each set carefully in its proper place. He closed the case again and took a deep breath. What now?
He turned once more in place, very slowly this time. He still could see no difference in the tunnels. However, if he was very quiet, he discovered that he could hear a difference. From one of the tunnels, faint and far off, came the sound of a deep, gravelly voice. The voice seemed to be singing.
Richard hesitated just a moment. Then he stepped forward cautiously, toward the tunnel with the voice.
The tunnel was dimly lit. It kept curving slightly to the right. The voice grew gradually louder as Richard advanced. Soon he could make out the words:
Se sa, wind and stone,
Troll breath and troll bone.
Only thing to take him down:
Diamond scepter, diamond crown.
One's alone, two's a pair,
Three to see, four to fare,
Five for size, six for when,
Seven, eight, nine, ten.
Suddenly there was a barrier across the passageway, a wooden barrier with a door in it. The door was open, and bright light was pouring out. Richard crept up to it and peered through.
He was looking into a stone-walled room. On the far side of the room stood a high workbench. Hammers and chisels hung neatly in leather straps on the wall behind it. In front of the bench was a tall stool, and on the stool perched a small misshapen man. He had a hammer in one hand and a chisel in the other, and he was carving away at what appeared to be a diamond bigger than Richard's fist. More diamonds were stacked in a heap to the left of the workbench. To the right were shelves. The shelves held exquisitely carved diamond figurines.
The small man sang as he worked.
Richard coughed. "Excuse me, sir…." he began, tentatively.
The small man jumped. A large chunk flew off the diamond in front of him. He whirled around angrily.
"How dare you t'sneak up on Gert!" he demanded.
Richard shrank back, protecting his flute. "Please, sir," he began again, "I –"
"Please, is't? Please an' thank you. La-de-da and gatherin' nuts in May. Why'd ya break my diamond?"
"I didn't. I just –"
"Yer right," Gert agreed. "I did. But ya made me. Sneakin' up behind a guy's back! What're ya doin' down here, anyways?"
Richard felt like bawling. "I – I don't know," he moaned. "I don't even know where I am!"
"Yer in a hole in the ground, boy," snorted Gert. "Can't ya tell?"
"Yes, but – but where's the school?"
"School? What school?"
"My school. Kennedy school."
"I never heard of no candy school."
"Not candy, Kennedy. K-E-N – "
Gert waved his hand impatiently. "Yer wastin' yer time, boy," he said. "I cain't spell. Why don't you just state yer business and get on with it?"
"But – but I don't have any business! I mean, I don't know what my business is. I was on my way to school, and then suddenly I was here. And I still don't know where I am, or what I'm doing, or who you are, or anything." Richard was close to bawling again.
Gert hopped down from his stool and shuffled across the room with a strange, bowlegged gait. Up close, he was slightly shorter than Richard. His skin was swarthy and wrinkled, his nose was hooked above a stubbly beard, and his head was totally bald except for a ragged fringe of gray hair just above his ears. His eyes were blue and piercing, and a lot kinder-looking than Richard had expected. He stroked his beard with one gnarled hand.
"Hmmm," he muttered. "This ain't a trick of Grendell's is it?"
"Who's Grendell?" asked Richard.
"Ya don't want ta know." He prodded Richard's flute case with a knobby finger. "What's in there?" he asked.
"A flute? A flute? Ya been standin' here all this time with a flute, and ya haven't told me?" Gert rubbed his hands together. "Kin ya play it?"
"Play it for me, then. No, don't." He waved his hand at the flute case as Richard prepared to open it. "If I start dancin' I'll never get me work done. But would yer let me just peek at it?"
Richard popped the latches and swung the case open. The three pieces of the flute gleamed in the torchlight, snuggled in their blue velvet nests. Gert touched the mouthpiece, very gently, with his forefinger; then, just as gently, he closed the lid. He sighed.
"Back to work," he said, and he clambered back up on his stool.
"Please, sir," pleaded Richard, "I need some help."
Gert was regarding the nicked diamond. "Ruint," he said. "Well, it ain't the first." He picked it up and tossed it toward a dark corner of the chamber. Richard could make out a small pile of partially carved figurines there, sparkling dimly in the gloom.
"Help, is't?" Gert went on. "Well, mebbe so, mebbe not. Bring me one of them diamonds an' be quick." He gestured toward the pile of raw diamonds on his left.
Richard hastened over to the pile and reached for the topmost diamond. A small grey mouse skittered away. Gert, observing this, snorted. "Durn mice," he said. "Allus hangin' around down here. I traps 'em, but it don't do no good."
The mouse ran up Richard's pantleg and onto his shoulder.
Gert chuckled. "He likes ya, Flute Boy," he said. "Tell ya what. Bring me that diamond an' I'll tell ya where ya kin find a cage. Then ya kin take him out with yer, an' I won't have to smash him."
Richard craned his neck and tried to focus his eyes on the mouse, which was sitting on its haunches on his shoulder, preening its whiskers. He really didn't want to take it along, and yet –
"S-smash him?" he asked.
"That's what I usually does," nodded Gert. "Sometimes I takes 'em up to the Veil of Thunder and tosses 'em through. That's a long ways, though. Now, about that diamond in yer paw –"
Richard hurriedly handed it to him. "Thank ye kindly," said Gert. "Traps 're on that shelf by the door." He gestured to the door through which Richard had entered the chamber. There were several shelves full of odds and ends to the door's left. One of the shelves held several small wire cages. Richard picked up the nearest one and held it up to his shoulder. The mouse ran in. Gert chuckled.
"He knows a cage is sommat better than smashin'" he observed, picking up his tools. He studied the diamond.
"Mr. Gert, sir –" began Richard tentatively
"What is it now?" rasped Gert irritably.
"How do I get out of here?"
Gert smacked his forehead. "I knew I'd forgot somethin'," he said. "Veil of Thunder's the way."
"Veil of Thunder"
"That's what folks calls it. It's white like a veil, and it thunders. Comes down across the tunnel. The rest o' the world's on t'other side."
"How do you know?"
"I come in through it originally, Flute Boy. Long time ago, now, and I ain't a-goin' out again fer nothin'."
Gert snorted. "Wet, boy," he said. "Ya gets wet goin' through the Veil. I ain't a-doin' that again. Now, git." He turned back to the diamond.
"How do I find the Veil?" asked Richard.
"Back the way ye came, then first right," called Gert over his shoulder. "Left goes to the mine, an' ya don't want ta go straight."
"I dunno. But the torches stop, an' it's dark. An' then it gets creepy." He turned his head again and fixed one bright
blue eye on Richard. "What I think is, I think Grendell hangs out down there."
"I already told ya, boy," said Gert, obviously irritated. "Ya don't want ta know. Now stop askin' questions an' git."
With a sigh, Richard turned and trudged back the way he had come.
The junction chamber was closer than he remembered from his trip down to Gert's workshop. He paused at the entrance and looked around. In the little wire cage in his left hand the mouse rustled impatiently. Which direction had Gert said to turn? Straight ahead was the tunnel the odd little man had warned him not to enter, but was the way to the Veil of Thunder to the left or the right? As he paused, he heard voices. They were coming from the left-hand tunnel, and they were getting louder.
"These things is heavy!" moaned one voice.
"Right," said another. "Good thing we only need to fetch one load a day."
"What's the dwarf gonna do with all them figurines, anyways?" asked a third voice.
"Durned if I know," said the second voice. "All I know is, we gotta get these diamonds to him or Clarence will sic Grendell on us."
The voices were very near, now. Richard shrank into the shadows on one side of the passageway. Soon a heavy cart lumbered into view up the left-hand tunnel. Two large men were pulling it, and two more were pushing. The cart was heaped full of fist-sized diamonds. The men wrestled it around the corner into the passage leading to Gert's workshop, nearly tipping it over in the process. A diamond fell to the floor.
"Steady there, Fred," cried one of the men. Richard recognized the voice as the second one that had spoken as they approached up the left-hand tunnel.
"I'm tryin,'" said another of the men. He was so close he was almost stepping on Richard's foot. The cart rolled ponderously down the passage toward Gert's workshop. It disappeared around the bend.
Richard remembered to breathe.
At least that settled which passage to use. The cart must have come from the mine. Richard started down the right-hand passage. In the entrance to it he paused, looking back at the diamond which had fallen from the cart. It glittered in the torchlight.
"Why not," muttered Richard to himself. He set the mouse down, walked back to the diamond, picked it up – the miners were right, it was very heavy – and stuffed it in his pocket. Then he squared his shoulders, picked up the mouse again, and headed down the right-hand tunnel.
He had not gone far when the rumbling began. Richard felt it more than he heard it: it seemed to come from the ground itself. He crept cautiously forward. The tunnel straightened. Far ahead he could see the Veil, blocking the passageway. The Veil was white, and it appeared to be moving. Light streamed through it.
"It's the back of a waterfall," marveled Richard aloud, approaching it. "No wonder it makes you wet."
Up close the roar was deafening. Richard hesitated. There was an awful lot of water coming down. But Gert had made it in; surely Richard could make it out! The mouse rustled in its cage again. The little creature would have to be protected. So would the flute. Stepping back from the falling water, Richard cradled the flute and the mouse in his arms and hunched over them. If he moved fast enough –
He headed for the Veil at a dead run.
Next Week: Katie gains a companion, and we find out who Grendell is - and why no one wants to talk about him.