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. So far, Katie has encountered four tiny diamond miners in the middle of a glittering desert; Richard has met a dwarf named Gert in an underground workshop, and has accumulated a full-sized diamond and a small mouse in a cage. Each has been warned to beware of someone - or something - called Grendell. Now, reunited, the two children are traveling down a river toward a distant city called Amaria in the company of a wizard named Malvolio, who can't seem to keep his spells from turning things into roses. When last seen, they were on the far side of a bridge from a town called Dwerry, where they expect to spend the night.
This week: Roast beef and nightmares, with a side helping of troll.
Chapter VII. The Turn Inn
They hastened onto the bridge, which arched like a wooden rainbow over the broad river. Hempen cables more than a foot thick stretched to suspension points high up the cliffs at each end, where they passed through great rings and returned to anchor points near the ends of the bridge. The wooden deck swayed like a carnival ride as the little party dashed across.
The sun was just leaving the far end of the bridge as they approached it; they could see the shadow line on the cobbled street twenty feet away. Two dwarves with immense axes lounged against the ends of the bridge railings, one on each side. They stepped forward to bar the way.
"Let us through, Gorm," said Malvolio, addressing the taller of the two dwarves.
"Caint," said the dwarf. "It's after sundown."
The wizard pointed to the receding shadow line. "The sun's right there," he said.
"I know that," said the dwarf, "but it ain't here."
"What difference does that make?"
"Us got strict orders. Nobody's t'cross the bridge after the sun's off it."
"And why is that?"
"Trolls," said the other dwarf. "Rast spotted a troll in the woods across the river t'other day. So the mayor give us the order: don't let no one across after sundown. Too dangerous over there when the sun's off it an' trolls can prowl around."
"But, Dob," said Malvolio in a reasonable voice, "We're coming from there."
"Don't make no nevermind. Orders is orders, an' our orders is, no one crosses."
The wizard's brows drew together. He raised his staff. "I've half a mind to turn you both into toads," he said.
Dob nudged Gorm in the ribs. "Listen up," he snickered. "Ol' Maladroit wants t'turn us into toads."
Gorm chuckled. "I'm real worried," he said. "Think we should get set t'water some roses?"
"Nah," replied Dob, "I'll just clip 'em with this." He waggled his axe. Both dwarves guffawed.
Malvolio nodded agreeably. "Possibly you are right," he said. "Possibly if I tried for toads I would get roses. But don't forget that I can also do this." He pointed his staff at Dob's axe. There was a puff of multicolored smoke, and Dob was holding a long-stemmed red rosebud, with a ribbon tied around it. He stared at it in alarm.
"And now," said Malvolio reasonably. "May we pass? Or would Gorm like a nice pansy to take home and put in a vase?"
Dob looked at Gorm, who nodded. The two dwarves stepped aside. The wizard and the children passed through.
When they were all safely on the cobbled street, Malvolio turned back to address the two bridge guardians. "What makes you think," he said, "that you can stop a troll with axes?"
"Oh, us isn't goin' to hit the troll, " said Gorm. "Us'll hit those." He pointed to one of the suspension cables, which were anchored to great stanchions on each side of the road "When that troll gits to the middle of the bridge – splash! Down he goes."
"Very clever. In that case, you'd better have this back." There was another puff of multicolored smoke, and the dazed Dob was holding his axe again. "Wouldn't want you to get into trouble," said Malvolio, and he led Katie and Richard away.
"Why couldn't you just turn them into rosebushes?" asked Katie, as they climbed the steep cobbled street away from the bridge.
"It doesn't work that way," explained Malvolio. "Animals can only be turned into other animals. That's why my staff sprouted roses this morning, instead of turning you into a rose. Humans are animals – dwarves, too, they're just a different type of human. I'm not sure about trolls, but my kind of magic doesn't work on them anyway, under most circumstances. Anyway," he added, turning a corner, "Gorm and Dob aren't bad, just a little dense. They don't deserve being turned into rosebushes."
"Would it really work, cutting the cables?" asked Richard.
"I don't think so," answered the wizard thoughtfully. "Trolls aren't afraid of water. And I don't think the bridge is strong enough to hold up a troll, anyway. If one of them comes at Dwerry, it'll come right through the river."
"Are all dwarves as stupid as those two?" wondered Katie.
Malvolio shot her a glance over his shoulder as he strode forward. "Be careful about generalizing from small bits of evidence," he said. "Dwarves are just like the rest of us – some are clever, some aren't. Gert, for instance, I would trust my life to. But if you want to know about dwarves," he went on, "just look around. Dwerry is a dwarf town. We are welcome to spend the night here – even several nights – but we would not be allowed to settle down. Ah, here we are."
He came to a stop before a long, low stone building. Small-paned windows beneath a thatched roof glowed orange with the last of the departing sun. The stonework was tight and well-crafted; the place seemed to grow out of the cliff behind it, like some great stone vegetable. A small sign said:
The Turn Inn.
Malvolio ducked through the door. Katie and Richard followed.
Most of the small lobby of the inn was taken up by a large stone reception desk. An ancient, wizened dwarf perched on a stool behind it. He hopped down and hobbled around the desk, his wrinkled face creased by a broad smile.
"Maladroit, you old buzzard!" he exclaimed, taking the wizard's hands in both of his. "What brings you to Dwerry?"
"Business with the Ring of High," said Malvolio. "We're on our way to Amaria. Do you have a room for us, Rax?"
"I've always got a room for you. I'm not sure about the cubs." The dwarf frowned at Katie and Richard.
"They're with me. You can put us all in the same room."
"Maybe. You'll vouch for them?"
"Of course." Malvolio waved his hand at Richard. "The young man is a friend of Gert."
Rax beamed. "Well, why didn't you say so?" he demanded.
"I just did," the wizard pointed out.
"Of course, of course." The old dwarf rubbed his hands together. "Right this way."
He led them up a short flight of stone steps, through a round door, and down a narrow passage with more round doors on each side. At the last door on the left he paused, removed a large key from his pocket, and inserted it into the lock. The door swung open. Rax started to hand the key to Malvolio, but his eyes fell on Fluffy, and he stopped.
"No pets," he announced firmly.
Richard quickly put the mouse's cage behind him. Katie stood next to him to help hide it.
"Too late," said Rax. "I've already seen the little beastie. He's not allowed."
"Couldn't you make an exception?" asked the wizard. "Fluffy will stay in his cage – he won't run free."
"'Fluffy,' is it?" The dwarf appeared to be wavering.
"Gert gave him to me," said Richard.
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Rax rolled his eyes. "All right, you can keep him. Just don't let any of the other guests see. I don't want word getting out that there's mice in the Turn Inn." He put the key in Malvolio's hand. "You probably shouldn't leave the room anyway," he confided. "The town's on high alert. A troll has been spotted."
"Yes, we know. Gorm and Dob weren't going to let us off the bridge." The wizard told Rax about their encounter with the two guards. The old dwarf chuckled.
"Wish I could have seen Dob's face," he said. "You should have left him holding that rosebud. He'd never live it down."
"That's why I didn't. It's no crime to be stupid."
"No, but it is a crime to trust Dwerry's safety to those two numbskulls. I don't know what the town council was thinking."
"I wouldn't worry about it. No troll's going to trust himself to that bridge, anyway. Even their tiny little brains can see what would happen."
"You're right." Rax was suddenly serious. "You know what, Maladroit? I'm mighty glad you're here. Dwerry is much safer with a wizard in it – even one whose specialty seems to be flowers. Sleep well." He hobbled off down the passageway.
The room contained two dwarf-sized twin beds, a large overstuffed chair, and some empty shelves. An open door led to a small bathroom; another, closed, door appeared to lead to a closet. A deep-set window overlooked the bridge and the river, silver beneath the black cliffs on the far side of the Glade. The cliffs were topped by a faint orange glow from the departing sun. A few stars were twinkling in the blue-black sky.
"The two of you might as well take the beds," said Malvolio. "They won't fit me, anyway. I usually just sleep on the floor here."
He pulled more food from his hat – roast beef and mashed potatoes this time, with gravy – and the three travelers sat down to dinner. Richard and Katie fed bits of the potatoes to Fluffy, who held them in his front paws and ate them sitting on his haunches, his whiskers twinkling. Then he pointed his nose at the roast beef and gravy and squeaked loudly, so they gave him some of that, too. The wizard looked on with amusement.
"I've never seen a mouse eat roast beef before," he laughed. "You're spoiling the little guy rotten."
"He's cute!" exclaimed Katie indignantly. Richard looked at her.
"Thanks for helping me try to hide him," he said.
Katie looked cross. "I did it for him, not for you," she stated. "So don't get any ideas, Mr. Stuck-up."
The wizard got to his feet. "I need to take a turn around the town before sleeping," he said, and added mildly, "do you think you two can keep from killing each other before I get back? There should be some games in there." He gestured at the closed door of the closet, picked up his staff, and left the room.
He was back in forty-five minutes, locking the door behind him and settling heavily into the room's only chair. "Rax was right," he said. "The town's in an uproar. Everywhere I went, people were talking about troll sightings. No one seems to be indoors – everyone's out in the streets, arguing about what to do."
"What about Dob and Gorm?" asked Katie, abandoning the game of checkers she and Richard had just started.
Richard was secretly relieved: Katie had won their previous four games. He put the board and pieces away.
"They volunteered," said Malvolio. "No one expects them to actually be able to stop a troll, but there was no point in telling them not to try. And the sight of their axes might be a little bit of a deterrent." He sighed heavily and began pulling off his boots. "Better get some sleep," he said. "We'll be starting early in the morning."
Toward morning, Richard awoke. He had been sleeping fitfully: his head was full of odd, disturbing dreams, and there seemed to be a lump like a rock in his pocket. He looked around the room, which was lit dimly by the moon. All seemed still. The wizard was snoring gently on a pad rolled out at the foot of the two beds; Fluffy rustled quietly in his cage on a shelf near Richard's head. In the other bed, Katie lay on her back, breathing evenly. Richard noticed that her eyes were open.
"Are you awake, Katie?" he whispered softly.
"Yes," came the muffled answer. Moonlight glinted from moisture on her cheeks: Richard realized that she had been crying. "Richard," she whispered, "do you think we'll ever get home?"
"I don't know," he answered. He was close to crying himself. "I don't even know where home is anymore, or how to get there, or what to do here. I think I trust Malvolio, but I don't know where he's taking us." He paused for a moment. "I miss Tibbles," he said.
"I miss Mr. Barks." Katie rubbed her cheek with her hand, spreading the tears around. "And I miss my parents. I even miss my little sister. And I've been having terrible dreams."
"Like someone's walking around inside your head?
She looked at him. "Yes. You, too?"
"Yeah. I got the feeling someone was poking into all my cupboards. Like he was trying to find something, and not succeeding. I couldn't tell anything about what he was like, except that he gave me the chills."
"Me, too." She looked worried. "Do you suppose it's Malvolio?"
"I don't think so. There wasn't anything flowery about this guy. I was wondering about the troll."
"I don't think trolls are smart enough. Do you think – " She paused and lowered her voice even further. "Do you think it's Grendell?"
"I wondered that, too. But how did he find us, and what does he want? And how did he get inside our heads?"
There was a shout from outside. Fluffy rustled anxiously in his cage. An answering shout came from the distance. Torches ran past in the street.
Malvolio was suddenly awake. He rushed past the children's beds to the window. Moonlight silvered his beard and bald head.
"The troll is coming," he said, pulling on his boots. "Stay here."
He grabbed his staff and hat and was gone.
Next Week: Richard frightens a troll.