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Authors: Gail Carson Levine

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BOOK: The Two Princesses of Bamarre
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Chapter Thirteen

O
N THE WAY TO
my chamber I realized I couldn’t tell Bella and Milton about my quest, because they might think it their duty to tell Father’s councillors.

But I wanted to tell them. I blinked back tears. I wanted their advice. Bella knew a thousand tales of monsters, and some of her lore might help me, and Milton might have useful elvish counsel. More than that, though, I wanted them to follow me with their eyes as I prepared to leave. I wanted to feel their love, to carry it away with me.

I’d tell Meryl late tonight, when she was alone. She wasn’t so sick yet that she needed an elf through the night.

In my room I wrote a letter to Father.

“Sire,” I wrote, “your valiant attempt to save my sister has moved me to emulation. I cannot let her die without trying, as you did, to save her. I am leaving on a quest for her salvation and the cure to the Gray Death. I consulted
The Book of Homely Truths
, and it spoke to me with these words. . . .”

I took my copy down from the shelf in my wardrobe and thumbed through it. “Peril recollected is superior to peril evaded.” Not quite right. “The sickroom is a battlefield; take command or forfeit.” Not right either. Ah. “An endeavor undertaken in the fullness of need is its own imperative.” I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but it seemed urgent and portentous enough.

I copied down the moral and continued, “Please do not send a party after me, lest you go against the wisdom of
Homely Truths
and bring trouble down on us both. If I do not return, I hope you will remember me as a dutiful and respectful daughter.”

I’d give the note to Meryl to deliver when Father returned. I sat in my window seat and watched the starry sky, and fell asleep. At midnight I awoke. I stood and stretched.

Meryl was lying on her side, facing me as I opened her door. Moonlight poured in her window, and I saw that her eyes were open. She smiled at me. “I was thinking about you. I was thinking—”

“I came to tell you. I’m leaving Bamarre castle.”

“Where are you going?” She struggled to sit up.

I hurried to her.

“Don’t help me.” She panted. “There.” She straightened her shoulders and sat erect. “That’s better. Where are you going?”

Tears streamed down my face. What if I never saw her again? “I’m going to find the cure.”

“You’d leave home for me?” I heard tears in her voice. “Oh, Addie.”

We hugged and didn’t speak for a few minutes.

Finally she whispered bitterly, “Sir Gray Death robbed me of my adventure and gave it to you.”

I hugged her harder. “He has a lot to answer for.”

She said, sounding more like herself, “We’ll make him regret it.” She pulled out of my arms and looked at me. “You’ll have a better chance than Father. You’ll put your whole self into it, and that will help you.” She thought for a minute, and then her face lit up. “You can take Blood-biter. It will help you too.” She shrugged. “At least I threatened your specter with it. I used it that much.”

I took the sword down from the mantelpiece and put it on the floor by the door. How would I use it? I knew nothing about swordplay.

“Where would you have gone on your quest for the cure?”

She smiled. “Everywhere, since it was to be a grand adventure. But first I would have looked for fairies.”

“How?”

“I was planning to catch a specter and ask it how to find them. When are you leaving? Tomorrow morning?”

I nodded and gave her my note to Father.

“What did Bella say?”

“I haven’t told Bella, and you mustn’t either.”

“You have to tell her. She’ll never forgive you if you don’t. She won’t tell anyone she shouldn’t. Besides, you can order her not to. She’ll help you. Tell Milton too.”

I didn’t argue. We said good-bye and hugged again. I might have continued to hold her for the next nineteen days, but she said, “Go, Addie. I need sleep to do battle again tomorrow.”

I started for the door.

She said, “You’re the bravest sister in Bamarre.”

“I wish I were brave.” I went back and hugged her one more time. “I wish I were like you.” I picked up Blood-biter and ran out.

I stopped at the bottom of the staircase that led to Bella’s bedchamber. It was time for me to think for myself, and I thought it best and safest not to tell Bella or Milton.

But I had the guilty feeling that Meryl was hearing my thoughts.

In my room I fell asleep instantly and slept deeply.

I awoke before dawn. My first adventure was going to be slipping out of the castle and crossing the drawbridge unnoticed. I picked out my plainest gown. It was finer than I liked, but it would have to do.

I packed my things into my sewing basket. I put fresh underclothes on the bottom, and above them the maps, the magic cloak, and the magic tablecloth. On top I placed my worn copy of
Drualt
. I selected two gold brooches, which I could trade for money if I needed to. They were small, and I feared they might fall out of the basket, so I pinned them to my shift. Last of all I buried Rhys’s first gift, the wooden ball holding the beautiful cloth, at the bottom of the basket. I didn’t need it, but I couldn’t leave it behind.

As I packed, I didn’t think about my quest. I didn’t think about my fears. I didn’t even think about where I would go first. I only worked, in time with my pounding heart.

My eyes fell on Blood-biter. How would I—

Someone tapped on my door. I thrust the basket into the bottom of my wardrobe. Then I hurried to the door and opened it a crack. Milton was there.

“Meryl! She’s worse!” I opened the door to admit him.

He shook his head and came in. “No worse. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He lifted himself onto the chair next to my wardrobe.

“I woke early and looked in on Princess Meryl. She told me you’re leaving to—”

“Did you tell anyone?”

“Just Bella.”

“Is she going to the councillors?”

“No. She only said that she had something for you, and so do I. Here, my dear.” He held a leather pouch out to me.

The scent reached me before I opened it—clean as mint, sweet and rich as lilacs. Inside were tiny dried purple flowers. I turned to Milton, puzzled.

He smiled. “It’s our moily herb. Our moily herb will give you heart. Put a flower in your tea and you’ll find the strength to go on. If you have no tea, pop one in your mouth and suck on it.”

“Thank you. I’ll—”

Bella rushed in, still wearing her nightdress and cap. A gown was draped over one arm, and she carried a lumpy-looking canvas sack. She stopped abruptly and stood uncertainly, looking up at the ceiling, down at the floor—anywhere but at me. Then she started to cry.

“I have to go,” I said. “I have to.”

She nodded. “Here, put this on.” She handed me the gown.

It was made of rough muslin in a bright green that I never would have chosen. With its canary-yellow apron it befit a jaunty serving maid, one who was shorter and stouter than I. But it would help me leave the castle undetected.

“And you can carry your things in this.” She lifted the sack.

It would be better than my basket, which had no cover.

“These may be of use too. Best be careful, though.” She reached into the sack and pulled out a pair of worn black boots.

“My, they’re big,” Milton said.

They were big enough for one of the royal guards, and I was already wearing my riding boots, which were very sturdy.

“They’re more than they seem. They’re seven-league boots.” She reached into the sack again. “This goes with them.”

I didn’t understand. “What are seven-league boots?” Why did a spyglass go with them?

“Your mother left them for you and Meryl.” Bella wiped her eyes and sniffled. “She said that the boots go seven leagues when you take a step. I don’t know what the spyglass is for.”

“Why didn’t you give them to us before?”

Bella’s face turned red. “They weren’t proper for princesses, and Meryl would have used them.” Her face crumpled. “Now it doesn’t matter.”

Meryl would have loved them. Bella and I both had kept Meryl from her deepest wishes.

“Thank you.” I pushed the boots and the spyglass back into the sack and added my things from the basket.

Meryl had been right to tell Milton. She’d been my protective sister one more time.

I used one of the brooches to pin the pouch of moily herbs to my shift. Then I looked at Blood-biter, leaning against my washstand.

I was no warrior, but it was Meryl’s gift. I put it into the sack too. It just fit. I was barely able to close the sack’s drawstring. I hoped the scabbard wouldn’t poke through the cloth.

“Where will you go?” Bella asked.

I shrugged. Rhys had said the quest would find me. I hoped he was right, because I couldn’t see beyond crossing the drawbridge. I could hardly see that far.

Chapter Fourteen

M
ILTON SAID HE’D
fly a gray pennant from the highest tower if Meryl entered another phase of the Gray Death. He told me to use the spyglass to see it. I hugged him good-bye.

Bella hugged me. “Dragons and specters
know
things.” She hiccoughed from crying too long. “But find someone else to question them. Not you.”

I didn’t go into Meryl’s room again. I knew that if I did, I’d never leave.

I crossed the drawbridge on foot. No one recognized me. A man bumped into me and didn’t apologize. A woman called me a lazy lump because I wasn’t walking fast enough to suit her.

On the far side of the bridge I turned off the road onto one of the farmers’ tracks where Meryl, Bella, and I often rode. A hot breeze rattled through the wheat fields around me. Above, a flock of red geese wheeled and beat the air, honking steadily.

When I was out of sight of the road, I stopped and put down my sack, which had grown heavy. I sat in the dusty track to consider where to go. Meryl’s favorite lines from
Drualt
came to me.

 

Step follows step.

Hope follows courage.

Set your face toward danger.

Set your heart on victory.

 

I was terrified of specters, but I was even more afraid of dragons, so I decided to go to Mulee Forest first. No humans lived there, so anyone I met would be a specter. To be certain, I’d enter the forest at night, wearing my magic cloak, which would conceal me from all but specters—and dragons, if any were near.

I’d never reach the Mulee in time without Mother’s gift, the seven-league boots. I took the spyglass out of my sack. I had realized why it went with the boots—so I could see where I was going, so I wouldn’t step into the middle of an ocean or a mountain.

I wondered if Meryl had awakened yet. This would be my first day ever without her.

I examined the spyglass. Behind the eyepiece were three rings. The first had notches numbered from one to fifty. In tiny flowing script the legend read
Seven Leagues
. I assumed that each notch increased the distance viewed by seven leagues. Thus I calculated that the greatest distance the spyglass could show me was three hundred fifty leagues, or a thousand fifty miles. Far enough and more.

The next ring was labeled
Miles
, and it was numbered from one to twenty-one. The third ring was neither marked nor labeled.

Mulee Forest was about three hundred miles away. I set the leagues ring at sixteen, faced south, and put the eyepiece to my eye.

The forest was dark as dusk. The trees were huge, so close together that I had no vista. Thick vines hung between them and trailed on the forest floor. The spyglass didn’t show the vines clearly—they were blurred. On the ground were bright butter-yellow flowers, blurry too, but still dots of sunshine in the forest’s twilight.

It was a restful scene, nothing frightening. A burst of purple, unclear as well, flashed by and settled on a low branch. I knew it was a bird, but I wished I could see it better.

I put my fingers around the unmarked ring and twisted. The scene became clear.

Oh no! A hairy brown spider clung to a vine!

I couldn’t go there!

I’d go to the desert to find a dragon. I began to reset the spyglass, but then I stopped myself. A spider was worse than a dragon?

No.

My first monsters would be spiders, then. My fingers trembled, but I unlaced my ordinary boots and took the magic ones out of my sack.

The sole of the right boot was flapping, and the left heel was half worn away. Even worse, the boots were so big, I feared they’d fall off during my first step.

I slipped my foot into a boot—and it shrank to a perfect fit. Thank you for your gift, Mother.

I set the spyglass’s seven-league ring to the first notch and looked to see where my step would take me. A lake. I didn’t want to begin by drowning. I turned my head slightly and looked again. A village. I turned more. A pasture with sheep. Perfect. I clutched my sack and stood, placing my feet carefully and not moving them.

My quest was beginning.

I raised the spyglass and lifted my right foot. Meryl, I will save you.

A horse in harness turned into the track a few feet ahead of me. The horse reared in surprise. I stumbled back. The boots whizzed away and me with them, going in the wrong direction. I glimpsed the farmer’s startled face and then I was gone, hurtling backward.

I was a rag doll dragged by a whirlwind, my feet inches above the ground, bouncing into rocks, dirt—too fast to see. Crossed a stream, a marsh—over a fence—inches from a stone fort—whipping wind, dust, leaves, thorns, bushes, mud.

The boots slowed down jerkily and stopped on a hill. But I couldn’t catch my balance. I went on stumbling and was off again.

I fought for control so I’d be able to stay where I was when this step was over. While I skimmed over the rough ground—more rocks, tall grass, a road, a river—I struggled to raise my arms. My left hand still held the spyglass, and my right clutched my sack.

After about three minutes the boots slowed. I crashed into something and fell to my knees. For a moment I was pleased that I had truly stopped. Then I saw what I had struck against.

An ogre. Huge—twice my height and five times broader. For a moment I stared stupidly at him and he stared stupidly at me. Then I began to scramble away, on my knees. I should have stood and used the boots, but my mind was a blur of fear.

He grinned and grabbed my left arm. I tried to pull free, but I couldn’t. He said something. His voice was like rocks colliding. Other colliding rocks answered him. He had three companions, all grinning, their lipless mouths making long cracks in their pasty faces.

The ogre holding me picked up his club and raised it. My wits returned. I stood and took a step.

The ogre came with me! I was dragging him! My arm was going to be ripped away. My shoulder was a blaze of pain.

It was worse to see the world rush at me. A stone wall! I braced myself and bumped over it. A stand of trees! We crashed between them, cracking branches and scattering leaves.

I glanced back. The ogre was trying to shield himself with his free arm. His face was purple, his eyes wild.

The boots slowed and then stopped. The ogre roared and raised his club. I took another step, shrieking from the agony in my shoulder.

How long could I pull him?

Far ahead to my left—a lookout tower. We’d pass it by, unless . . . I leaned to my left as hard as I could. The boots changed direction, just a bit. I kept leaning. The ogre’s roar changed pitch, whined, squealed. The tower was seconds away. Aaah! I was going to hit it!

BOOK: The Two Princesses of Bamarre
5.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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