Last week we announced that L. R. W. Lee’sAndy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon’s Fury, Book 1 is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
L. R. W. Lee’s debut novel, Andy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon’s Fury, is described as a riveting book filled with visible humor, clever touches, vivid imagery, and unexpected twists and turns, that can’t be put down. From the After Life, ten-year-old Andy Smithson’s relatives initiated a curse 500 years ago. Now they no longer agree it should continue and one is willing to sacrifice Andy’s life to end it. Unaware of the disagreement and with no say in the matter, Andy is unexpectedly and magically transported from his home. He finds himself in the Land of Oomaldee, facing mortal danger at every turn as he seeks to find a scale from a rare red dragon, the most ferocious of dragon species, to break the curse and save his life.
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
The Boy Screws Up
He saw movement behind the bushes ahead. There, through the thick underbrush he could just make out the green scaly outline of the dragon. Barbed spikes protruded from its ugly head and it was noisily shredding its most recent kill. Andy crept forward. He must close in slowly, so as not to be noticed. He swallowed hard. This was his chance. Stealthily, he raised his bow.
“Andrew Farrin Smithson! Come here this minute!”
Startled, Andy argued, “But Mom, I can’t. I’m right in the middle of this level.”
“I don’t care. Turn off that game and come down here. Now!”
“But Mom, I’ll lose everything if I have to stop now.”
“You’ll lose more than that if you don’t stop arguing!”
The tone in her voice told him not to say anything more. She was home late tonight and clearly not in a good mood.
Andy came downstairs into the kitchen where his mom was sitting at the granite counter of the breakfast bar.
“That was Mrs. Crabtree on the phone.” Mom let the words linger for a minute.
Oh crap! thought Andy. He knew what this was about and it meant he would not be finishing off that dragon any time soon.
“What would you like to tell me, Andy?”
He hated this question. If he said anything, he usually ended up incriminating himself, at least that’s how it seemed.
“That’s not what Mrs. Crabtree says. She said you were very disrespectful to her in class today. She said you raised your hand to answer a question and when she called on you, you refused to answer. She said you stared at her for a minute and then yelled about her being a king or wizard or some such thing, and also something about a laboratory. Andy, you’re in fifth grade. This is not acceptable behavior and you know it. She said next time she will get the principal involved. Now go to your bedroom and do your homework. We’ll discuss this more when your father gets home. And I don’t want to hear you playing any video games, do you understand me?”
Great. Just what I wanted…another long, drawn-out “conversation” with my parents lecturing me about being respectful and responsible. I’ve heard it all a thousand times, but Dad seems to enjoy droning on for hours about how my behavior will not get me far.
Andy trudged back upstairs. He sat down on his bed. He didn’t feel like doing homework. In trouble again. It felt like the story of his life. Andy never meant to get into trouble—or put a different way, he never meant to get caught. Why did it feel like he was always getting in trouble when his older sister, Madison (aka Miss Perfect), always got away with whatever crime she committed? It seemed his parents overlooked anything their precious angel did, but he could do nothing right.
A clap of thunder sounded right outside his window. Andy jumped. He opened the blinds and watched the branches of the oak tree outside his window beat against the house, driven by the wind. As he glanced up, he saw the light in the attic window turn off.
That’s weird, he thought. Mom’s downstairs, Madison’s in her bedroom probably checking her homework over for the fifteenth time to make sure it’s perfect, and Dad’s not home yet.
Andy grabbed the flashlight that he used to read in bed at night after he was supposed to be sleeping, then snuck out of his room and down the hall toward the door at the end. Thankfully the hall had plush carpeting that muffled the sound of his footsteps. He carefully opened the door, stopping each time it started to creak and listening to make sure he didn’t hear his mom or loudmouth sister coming. He finally pushed it open far enough to squeeze through. A burst of cold air hit him. Andy hesitated, considering whether to go back for his jacket, then decided against it. He turned the flashlight on and started up the unfinished wood stairs. Halfway up, another thunder clap startled him, as if reminding him of Dad’s warning that “in no uncertain terms” was he to be up in the attic—but why he had never known. He persevered and made it to the top step.
Looking around, nothing seemed amiss. He shone his flashlight where his old Nintendo 64 and Game Cube had been sitting. Both “electronic altars” (he never understood why his parents called them that) as well as the multitude of games belonging to each, remained dust-covered and undisturbed. He shone the beam at the light switch. As if daring fate, he flipped it on and ducked, just in case something was about to jump him. Nothing did. Another clap of thunder. Startled, he stumbled over a trunk behind him, landing hard on the floor. Andy waited, listening for sounds of his mom or sister, but except for the constant howling of the wind and the continued thumping of the oak tree, there was only silence.
That’s new, he thought as he used the trunk to pull himself upright. It was weathered and old, made of oak. It looked like a pirate’s chest with a
rounded top and leather straps riveted to metal reinforcing bands every few inches. Two of them ended in buckles. Andy unbuckled the leather straps and then tried the lock that secured the middle. Amazingly, it easily pulled away from the trunk on its rusted hinge. After glancing around the attic again, he pushed up on the top. It creaked open. He rested the lid at an angle that assured him it would not crash down and smash his fingers, then peered in. There was a note and one other object in the uppermost tray. Andy pulled out the paper and read,
I’m sorry you’re getting involved in the problem this way, but I felt I had no other option. I was told to find a way to remove the contents of this trunk from the land lest they be found and stir up all manner of unrest among the people. It is pure speculation on my part, but based upon the position that I believe is yours, I felt you were the only one who could manage this. Please use the utmost secrecy and tell no one what you have.
The note was not signed. Andy read it several times wondering who had sent the trunk and what it meant. Still puzzling, Andy turned his attention to the object. It was some sort of black leather holster. Even though it was very old and worn, it still held a shine. It was neatly folded. At the top of the holster was a purple crest with three intricately detailed pendants attached: a spider at the top, followed by a wavy line, and then a knight on horseback beneath. Andy picked it up and ran his finger over the metal pendants, admiring them. A chill ran up his back. He told himself it was from the cold,
but his gut told him otherwise. He glanced around again, then heard his mom calling everyone to come for dinner. He would have to wait to explore the rest of the trunk. So Andy replaced the holster and carefully closed the lid.
“Glad you could join us,” Dad greeted as Andy reached the kitchen.
The Smithsons were an uncommon family, at least that’s what his dad always told him. “Uncommon” was not to be confused with strange, weird, or odd, mind you.
“We are in the top one percent,” Dad would announce matter-of-factly, although he made it clear that this piece of information was to remain a family secret.
Fred and Emily Smithson were both CEOs of multimillion dollar companies they had founded and grown themselves. He’d heard his mom throw that line out whenever she had to schedule doctor or dentist appointments and the person on the other end of the line expected her to be available at some inconvenient time during the middle of the workday.
Dinner table conversations were pretty boring as they tended to center around how the two businesses were doing and any challenges his mom or dad were currently facing: hiring, too many expenses, not enough revenue, the economy…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. His parents would tell him how fortunate he was to be exposed to this thinking at such a young age; it would put him far ahead of all his friends when it came time to start a career. While they might have had a point, that’s hardly what Andy cared about at the moment.
Dinnertime was also when his parents would have “conversations” with him about some irresponsible act he had committed and was about to be punished for—better boring business conversations than these, since he
never got to voice his side of the story. One time during the course of a heated “conversation,” Andy had told his parents, “My friends’ parents don’t think the way you guys do.” He had meant it to mean they were being unreasonable. They had taken it as a compliment. “You’re right!” his dad had responded, smiling. “I’m glad you’re beginning to understand.”
Over a quickly thrown together (“But healthy!” his mom always interjected, as if to make herself feel better) dinner of baked salmon, one of Andy’s least favorite, the lecture began.
“Your mother told me about the call she got from Mrs. Crabtree.”
“But Dad! It really did happen! I was transported to a laboratory in an old stone castle and there was a wizard in blue robes with a floppy hat and…”
“Nonsense, Andy!” responded his father. “I’ve heard all of your excuses before, and I don’t want to hear any ridiculous stories about your visiting some foreign country and seeing wizards or fighting dragons! You’re ten years old! You must learn to respect authority and take responsibility for your actions. How will you ever hold down a job?”
Amazingly, and thankfully, the lecture had only lasted 58 minutes tonight. Andy always timed his parents with the clock on the wall. A new record! He figured they must have something important to take care of and did not want to waste time dealing with him.
With his parents as judge and jury, respectively, Andy was found guilty once again. His sentence was washing the dishes by hand for the next two nights even though they had a perfectly good dishwasher. Somehow, he failed to see what washing dishes had to do with being more respectful.
Andy stood on the stepstool at the sink to begin his sentence. He hated having to use it. Like so many other things in his life, the stool made him feel
like a little kid. He squirted dishwashing liquid into the rising water, playing with the soap bubbles.
“Scrub every dish thoroughly and don’t make a mess, Andy. I will inspect when you’re done,” Mom warned as she left the kitchen.
The sink was just about full of water. Andy reached for the faucet to turn it off. Suddenly, he felt strange, very light and airy. Then everything went dark.
Curse Day Remembered
Andy landed with a thud on a cold, hard floor. He heard the sounds of breaking glass and things falling. It was pitch dark. Strange smells erupted around him and he could hear something fizzing.
“I’ve got it this time, Your Majesty!” a man exclaimed.
“I hope so,” replied another.
“I’ve nawwowed the Appeawo Beam and I’ve bwought only the Us Pus box this time,” the first voice explained.
“You brought that boy earlier,” said the second. “A most unfortunate happening. I hope he doesn’t remember.”
“Ooow,” moaned Andy, rubbing his forehead with his soapy hands. “What happened?”
“Candles, Mermin!” commanded a voice.
“Yes, Your Majesty. Wight away, sir. I’m twying to find them.”
Andy quickly wiped the remaining soap bubbles from his hands onto his pants and braced for what might happen next. As the candles were lit, Andy could see an overturned table with papers. Books and broken beakers were scattered about the large, stone-walled room. Next to him lay the mailbox from his front yard, its limestone base broken, its stones scattered nearby. Unopened letters had fallen out of the now-open front and were strewn about. Not far away lay a large man dressed in a long-sleeved black T-shirt and faded blue jeans. An odd-looking man with a long silver beard and wearing a bright blue satin robe was peering through the dim light, inspecting
Andy. He was holding a lit candlestick in one hand and cinching up his overflowing robes with the other. His coordinating bright blue Santa hat caught Andy’s attention with its drooping peak and huge stars that twinkled gold. The large pompom at the end nearly caught fire in the flame as the man quickly turned his attention toward the black-shirted man who was now sitting on the floor looking excited. Neither man looked at all concerned about the mess. No matter how strange it all seemed to Andy, it was as though this might be a common occurrence.
“You must pardon us,” began the black-shirted man. “Mermin had assured me he had sufficiently narrowed the Appearo Beam so he would only bring the Us Pus Box.”
Appearo Beam? Am I going to see Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner next? Andy wondered.
“Mermin!” shouted the black-shirted man. “What happened?”
“I’m not sure, sir,” replied the man in blue robes, scratching his head through his oversized hat and pushing his round-framed glasses back up his knotty nose. “I know I didn’t gwab the boy, too! There is no way the beam was that wide. I fixed that earlier pwoblem this afternoon. I even tested it to make sure it was working pwoperly.”
“Then how do you explain the boy coming back again?”
“I don’t know, sir. I cannot explain him.”
“Reminds me of the time young da Vinci dropped in for an unexpected visit,” began the man in the black T-shirt. “We had no idea where he came from. He just showed up.” Then turning to Andy he said, “Forgive me. Let me introduce myself. I am King Hercalon V, ruler of the land of Oomaldee. And this is my wizard, Mermin. And you are…?”
“I’m Andy Smithson,” replied Andy.
“Good to meet you Andy son of Smith,” said the King. “To what guild does your father belong?”
Andy hesitated a moment. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he answered in a puzzled voice.
“To what guild? Ship builders? Yarn weavers? Cobblers? What guild does your father belong to?”
“Umm… ” stuttered Andy. “My dad owns a company and he’s the CEO,” he finally said. “My mom does too.” Somehow the thought of his dad using his hands to build a ship or to spin yarn seemed hard to imagine. Whenever they needed something fixed, they called a repairman. He could hear his dad saying, “Not a good use of my time to fix things. Do you know how much an hour of my time is worth?”
“A company?” questioned the King. “I don’t know what a company is, but let’s explore that later. For now, Andy, son of Sea Eee Ohhh, since it seems you’ll be staying with us for a while, let’s have Mermin show you around the castle and to your room.”
“Why do you say I’ll be staying here for a while?” Andy asked, unsure about the prospects, based upon what he had just experienced.
“It appears Mermin did not bring you here. Someone or something else did. That being the case, until we can determine who or what brought you, we won’t know how to send you back. Mermin and I will work on that, but I sense you are here for a reason and if that’s the case, only the one who brought you can send you back.” His voice trailed off as he took a deep breath and scratched the top of his head. “I will let you know what we find out as soon as we do.”
That did not sit well with Andy. This guy is crazy, and the wizard even more so. What’s going to happen to me? He had an uneasy feeling. One thing
he knew, this was where he had come earlier in the day and was why he was being punished by doing the dishes.
With no other options available, Andy thanked the King, then turned and followed Mermin out the heavy wooden door. As soon as the door had closed, Andy asked the question he’d been wondering about since the king first mentioned his wizard. “So you’re Merlin the Magician? We studied you in school last year.” I had no idea the guy could have been so wacky, Andy thought.
“Oh no, Merlin was my bwother.” Mermin smiled. “Made quite a name for himself,” he chuckled.
“Oh,” replied Andy, a bit disappointed. “Then are you related to the mermen—like the ones who live underwater?”
“Well, yes,” laughed Mermin. “They are my cousins twice wemoved on my father’s side of the family. I’m afwaid of water myself. You seem to know a lot about my family.”
“Just a lucky guess,” replied Andy.
With that, Mermin began narrating the tour of the castle.
“We are on the fifth floor,” he intoned.
Mermin’s narration took the better part of the afternoon due partly to the castle’s sheer size, but more to Mermin’s habit of following his random streams of thought, for which he seemed duty-bound to explain the minutest details. They passed several statues and other works of art that were attractively displayed. There was a statue with a horse and rider showcased by several candles, another of a knight fighting a dragon, another of women washing clothes by a stream. Andy could just make out a suit of armor standing at attention in an alcove at the end of one of the halls.
“The King loves awt, especially the Knights of the Woundtable. Castle is full of pieces like these,” explained Mermin. “Guess he fancies himself to be a modern day King Awthur.”
Andy saw a sign that said GOLDERY hanging outside a door they approached.
“What’s a goldery?” asked Andy.
Mermin looked back at him and smiled. And then, under his breath, Andy overheard him say, “How intewesting… The boy doesn’t know what a goldewy is.” He continued, “A goldewy is where the gold of the kingdom is made.”
They walked through a heavy, metal-reinforced door into a small room with a stone floor. Straw was strewn about. A fiery stone furnace stood against the far wall, making the room oppressively hot. An army of water-filled, wooden buckets stood at attention in the area next to the door. From the looks of the blackened walls, there had been a number of fires and Andy soon understood why. Three men wearing brown burlap tunics and bright yellow leggings—the traditional dress of members of the gold weavers guild, Mermin had said—were busily working.
“This is Henwy,” said Mermin going over to a shorter man who was busily pumping the bellows to make the furnace hotter still.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Henry, wiping away the sweat that was freely flowing down his face. He gave the bellows another pump and several sparks flew. “Keeps me on my toes,” he said, stomping out the burning embers as they landed on the floor.
“And this is Max,” Mermin continued, walking over to a balding man who was working at a spinning wheel near the furnace. A large pile of straw was stacked next to him from which he kept taking handfuls. Each time he
pumped the pedal, a narrow flame shot out. With his concentration broken, Max yelped, “Youch! I hate when that happens!” He shook his singed finger, trying to kill the pain.
“Sowwy about that Max…” said Mermin. “Just wanted Andy, here, to meet our finest gold spinner.”
Max smiled. “Good to meet you.” He stood, walked over to a bucket of water, and plunged his finger in. “Ahh. That’s better.”
Andy wiped the sweat pouring down his face on the sleeve of his T-shirt. It was hard to stand such intense heat. He understood why these men were so thin.
“And that’s Oscar,” Mermin said, nodding to a short man working next to the spinning wheel.
Oscar was taking the gold thread that was coming out of the machine and winding it around a spindle. When a spindle was full, he would stack it neatly in the corner with the rest of the full spindles. The stack was impressive.
“When there are enough full spindles, they melt all of the gold thwead down and form gold coins, which are then stored in the tweasury,” Mermin explained.
“This is awesome!” Andy exclaimed.
How freeing it would be to whip up gold coins whenever I want to buy a new videogame or something else, he thought.
Max, Oscar, and Henry looked up and smiled proudly.
“It takes years of wigowous study to do what they do and make it look so easy,” said Mermin.
“Can they show me how to spin gold?” asked Andy.
“We’ll have to see about that,” replied Mermin, stroking his beard. Andy knew that was code for “no,” just like his parents always said when they didn’t want to do something.
All of a sudden, flames shot up around them. A spark had flown out of the furnace unnoticed while they were chatting.
“Water!” yelled Max.
All five of them grabbed water buckets and sprang into action to drench the quickly spreading flames.
“Mermin, your robe is on fire!” yelled Oscar.
Andy grabbed a bucket and doused Mermin with water. The others continued battling the flames. After several tense minutes, they finally succeeded in extinguishing the fire. Everyone and everything was soaked, except for the furnace, which continued to burn, drying the wet. The excitement died down and Mermin, seemingly unfazed by his sogginess, wrung out the sleeves of his robe and continued explaining how gold was spun. Time passed and Andy grew bored. He started pushing Mermin out the goldery door as politely as he could. Mermin did not resist. It seemed he was used to having his conversations halted this way.
Ah, cool air at last! thought Andy as they exited the goldery. Out in the corridor again, Mermin continued chattering merrily, at times talking to himself as much as to Andy. They arrived next at Mermin’s Library, the next door down the hallway. Andy glanced back and saw the trail of water Mermin had left. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head.
As they entered through another heavy wooden door, Andy was struck by the sea of books in a multitude of colors and sizes that lined the room from floor to ceiling. It seemed strange how tall the room looked, going up what appeared to be three stories. The other rooms had not seemed this tall.
Perhaps he just hadn’t noticed. There were several of those wooden ladders on wheels that stretch to the ceiling and go sideways so you can reach the books on the highest shelves, as well as lots of finely carved wood throughout. The room smelled slightly musty. Andy gasped as his gaze reached a large trunk sitting on the floor near an oversize stone fireplace. It looked almost identical to the one he had discovered in his attic. The top was resting open at an angle and it was overflowing with rolled up manuscripts all standing up on end.
“Something wong?” Mermin inquired.
Remembering that the note in his trunk at home had instructed not to tell anyone what he had, Andy replied, “Uh, no. Just admiring that trunk.”
“That is a special twunk,” replied Mermin. “I’ve seen lots of lands in my time, but I’ve never seen twunks like this anywhere except in Oomaldee. Our cwaftsmen weally know how to build them well.” Mermin moved closer to Andy and whispered, “Don’t tell anyone, but the ones made for the King have secwet compartments, too. Come in weal handy for hiding things.”
“Really?” Andy asked, more curious than ever.
Andy continued looking around the room. To one side stood an oversized oak desk on an old red rug. Its top was completely buried with open books and rolled up manuscripts. To the right of the desk was a tall wooden table that was also mostly covered with old books and papers. Andy immediately felt at home in the surprising coziness of the large room that was sparsely furnished despite its size. He walked over to the table. In the middle lay a map, its corners held in place by four round stones. It was well marked with ink. Mermin noticed Andy’s fascination and joined him at the table.
“This is a map of the land of Oomaldee,” he began.
He pointed to the hand-drawn picture of a castle on the left side. “This is Castle Avalon where we are, and here’s the city of Oops where Henry, Max and Oscar live,” he continued, pointing to an area just beyond the castle and across a river. Mermin continued to point out each and every detail of the map. Andy tried to pay attention, but his mind wandered. It felt like Mrs. Crabtree’s English class, only Mermin was older and nicer. Andy forced himself to refocus. As Mermin droned on, he looked at the map again. In this land there were areas marked for gnomes, fairies, ogres, trolls, dragons, and something called herewolves and therewolves.
Andy made a mental note. I’ll have to ask what herewolves and therewolves are.
There were also bogs with quicksand, seas with serpents, lots of mountains, and a forest with towering trees where giants lived. Surrounding half of the land was an enormous wall with watchtowers.
Andy interrupted Mermin. “Why is there a wall around half the land?”
Mermin paused from his commentary. He hesitated and seemed to be thinking carefully about what he was going to say. “King Hercalon had the northernmost part of the wall built over five hundwed years ago to pwotect the land fwom attack by King Abaddon. At least that’s how it started…” His voice trailed off.
Something was strange about how Mermin finished his sentence, and Andy probed further. “How what started?”
“The curse,” he replied, looking sad and very tired.
At that moment there was a knock on the door. Mermin looked up and said, “Enter.” The door creaked open and a boy about Andy’s size stepped
into the room. His eyes were bright blue and his bushy hair was neon green. He wore a royal blue tunic with white trim and bright green leggings. It was quite a combination. The boy cleared his throat and announced, “I was told to tell you that dinner is nearly ready and to remind you that today is Curse Day.”
“Thank you, Alden. You may go,” replied Mermin. “As if anyone could forget it’s Curse Day,” he muttered.
Mermin looked at Andy. “I need to change my wobes before dinner. We will continue this later. Walk with me.”
With that, Mermin walked out of the library with Andy following. They walked to the end of the corridor and Andy saw a set of winding stone stairs leading both upwards and downwards. Mermin headed up.
“My chambers are just up here on the sixth floor,” Mermin said as they reached the landing.
They walked down the corridor and stopped next to a black door with a shiny silver crescent moon. Mermin waved his hands. Andy half expected him to say abwa cadabwa, but he didn’t.
“Secwet passcode,” said Mermin. “Can never be too careful.”
He opened the door and they entered a modest-sized room with a large stone fireplace and bed at one end and a dressing area at the other.
“Please wait here while I change.”
Andy looked around the room. Something twinkled and caught his eye. He looked up and saw the black ceiling decorated with thousands of stars. They seemed almost alive. He could make out the Big Dipper and Orion with his belt. He couldn’t remember any of the other constellations he was supposed to have learned in science class and regretted it briefly. He walked over to the large bed to examine the intricately detailed carvings on the
headboard. He saw a unicorn standing next to a pegasus. Above them were the sun and moon walking hand in hand across the sky. There were fairies dancing with a troll, all smiling and laughing. There was also the carving of a creature Andy had never seen before. It looked almost like a wolf, but its paws were huge, clown-like, and its snout was pushed in like a Pug dog.
“That’s a herewolf,” said Mermin. He had changed into a black robe that looked more old and worn than him. It looked like it was once soft and velvety but was now threadbare and had a small tear in one of its long sleeves. Tonight Mermin was not wearing a hat and Andy could see his long silver hair flowing over the contrasting robe. Mermin pushed his glasses back up his nose and said, “Herewolves are descended fwom werewolves but they don’t change form with the cycles of the moon. They can still be vicious cweatures though. This was carved before the curse…” Once again his voice trailed off.
“We best get ourselves down to dinner,” Mermin continued a minute later.
Andy and Mermin headed back down the steps, passing the fifth floor and continuing on down two more flights of circular stairs. They emerged into an expansive room that Mermin said was the dining hall. Several servants were hurrying about finishing last-minute preparations. Black banners hung from the ceiling and covered ornate tapestries that lined the walls. The black banners were undecorated except for gold trim extending around all but the top side. Three long tables filled most of the length of the hall and a head table stood perpendicular to them at the far end. Above each long table hung a banner with a coat of arms. Andy’s thoughts flashed back to the crest he had seen on the holster in the trunk in his attic, and he let out
a little gasp. Before this, the only coats of arms he had seen were in books. Now he had seen several real ones within a couple hours.
“Uh… no… nothing,” Andy stammered.
Above the rightmost table hung a crimson banner with a gold chevron separating a lion at the top from a pair of wings at the bottom. Over the middle table hung an aqua banner with a beaver on the top and a snail on the bottom. That’s weird, Andy thought. Who would want to be known as a snail? Above the far table hung a golden yellow banner. It had a bull at the top and a bird at the bottom.
A few minutes after Andy and Mermin entered, the first guests arrived. The contingent of thirty or so men and women were all dressed in black robes and each had an aqua coat of arms on their left sleeve. Next came several men and women, also wearing black robes, but having a golden yellow crest on their left sleeve. One more group arrived shortly thereafter and had a crimson coat of arms on their robes.
Mermin approached the leader of each group and welcomed them as they arrived. Several minutes passed before Andy saw King Hercalon enter the hall. He, too, wore a black robe, but sported a royal blue coat of arms on his left sleeve. Everyone stopped talking and acknowledged him. The king waved his hand and Mermin asked everyone to be seated. Each group sat at the long table corresponding to the color of their coat of arms. Mermin joined the King at the head table.
Andy stood watching all this from the back of the hall and wondered what he should do or where he should sit. It was the same feeling as when he was the last one picked for teams in gym class. The King glanced around the room at all his guests and then noticed Andy standing alone.
“Ah, Andy,” the King spoke loudly. Everyone heard him and turned to look. “Please join me here at the head table.”
While Andy was glad he had a place to belong, he felt very uncomfortable as he walked the length of the three tables up to the front, the murmur of hushed whispers all around him. He felt all eyes boring into him. He was the only one not wearing black robes and felt underdressed for such a formal occasion.
Before he reached the table, the King said, “I’d like to introduce you all to Andy, son of Smith Sea Eee Ohhh. He arrived this afternoon, quite unexpectedly.” He paused for emphasis. “Mermin and I were working on my most recent experiment to break the curse, and Andy here suddenly appeared.”
A murmur went up from the guests. The King paused and waited for Andy to reach the table. When he finally arrived, the King raised his hands for silence and then continued, “I know what you may be thinking. The same thought occurred to me. Time will tell… Please make him feel welcome.”
At that, the dining hall erupted in loud applause, making Andy feel yet more uncomfortable, if that was possible. He had no idea what the King meant by what he’d just said. He felt left out of this seeming inside joke that he was the center of.
The King rose. Everyone quieted and rose too.
“Today we commemorate Curse Day,” began the King. “Over five hundred years ago the darkest period of our history began, and I still take full responsibility.” The King paused. “I was young, jealous, and impulsive. My pride was unchecked by the wisdom and humility that only age brings. We cannot change the past but must look to the future. I continue to diligently seek for a solution to break the curse, but I am also aware that the solution
may come from beyond ourselves. Know that I will not rest until the curse is broken. As you know, I wish more than anything to see our land restored to its former glory and technological superiority. Please join me in a toast.” The king raised his goblet and bellowed, “To breaking the curse!”
At this, all in the room raised their goblets. “To breaking the curse!” they echoed in agreement.
“Please partake of the meal before you and we will complete our remembrance after,” the King concluded and sat down.
Andy didn’t know what to think. Both the King and Mermin have talked about a curse and it seems like everyone here understands, but I sure don’t.
Andy’s thoughts were interrupted by Mermin passing him what looked like mashed potatoes, except they were dark purple. Next came what Mermin said was roast duck and wild boar. They smelled okay but were blackened and did not look appetizing. As he scanned the rest of the table, all of the dishes seemed to be black or some dark color. Seeming to read his thoughts, Mermin leaned over and said, “Our twaditional Curse Day fare…”
“Oh,” was all Andy could muster.
Andy picked at his food until dinner ended and the dishes were cleared. The king rose again. “Please join me on the porch to conclude our remembrance of Curse Day.”
Everyone rose and slowly made their way out to the porch. This was the first time Andy had been outside. The dark night air was crisp. There was a dense fog. The light of the moon struggled to be seen. Andy could not see anything beyond the railing surrounding the porch.
“Governors, please join me,” instructed the King.
Three men squeezed through the crowd toward him.
“Is all in readiness?” the King inquired.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” they each replied in turn.
“Very well. Then on my count, please sound your call,” the King continued.
At this, three long trumpets were brought by three servants who handed one to each governor.
The King counted down, “Three…two…one… Begin.” Each governor raised his trumpet and, one by one, sounded a distinct call.
What Andy heard next more than puzzled him. It sounded like a huge herd of cows mooing. A second later he heard loud popping noises and then—he hated to think it; his mom would tell him to grow up!—it smelled like… Farts! Whewww! What a stench! This is crazy! he thought.
Andy couldn’t help himself. His imagination started running wild. He pictured the scene. He tried to cover his mouth, but a snicker snuck out. Mermin looked at him, his brow furrowed.
“Sorry,” he whispered to Mermin, desperately trying to contain his amusement. Andy finally resorted to pretending to cough in order to squelch his bursts of laughter, but a snort escaped. People around him glanced over and frowned.
It was all so strange. Everyone around him acted like they had expected the smell, casually pulling their sleeves over their noses. Andy covered his nose with his sleeve as best he could. Oh… this smell is awful!
Slowly, the dense clouds thinned and then disappeared, leaving a long trail of flickering lights clearly visible. Okay, this is REALLY weird! he thought.
Mermin moved closer to Andy and in a muffled voice from beneath his robe sleeve explained, “That’s the city of Oops I was showing you earlier on the map.” He pointed downward at crimson colored flickering lights.
Mermin moved his arm to the right and pointed. “And that’s the town of Ooggy,” he continued. Andy could now make out aqua blue flickering lights off in the distance.
“Over there,” he said, pointing further to the right, “is the village of Oohhh.” Andy could clearly see bright yellow lights.
A couple minutes later everyone heard a return trumpet blast from each of the communities.
“Please join me in a moment of silence,” the King said.
When the minute had elapsed, he concluded by saying, “Thank you all for your continued support. We will break this curse.” He spoke determinedly.
At this, the attendees began conversing again in hushed tones. Most greeted Andy pleasantly yet solemnly, then headed for the castle door. Once everyone had left, Mermin joined Andy again.
“We best find you your woom. It’s late.”
Andy started following Mermin back inside . He glanced back over his shoulder and saw that the dense clouds were back, although thankfully that horrible stench was nearly gone.
Andy was tired, but his mind would not quiet. He kept thinking about the trunk in his attic and what Mermin had said. What in the world is in that thing? Who would have sent it? Who even knows about me here? Mermin didn’t seem like he knew anything about it or he probably would have said something…