Land of the Black Castle

This is a story of bravery and burrito burgling in the domain of Sir Egbert ‘Fuffy Pants’ Rotter, perhaps the smelliest of knights. There are duels with tickling swords, polite-o-muffs to shield the brave from harsh words, bandit trees, a quest for mistaken identity, a tea-drinking queen, naughty bees, a tree-dwelling acrobatic grandmother and the Brussels-sprouts eating villagers of Little Dimmy.

[For Renzy and Mercer]

1 The Flight

 

Far across the misty green sea lay the tiny island Kingdom of Sackonia. Each day was much like the next. King Adada and Queen Chichi ruled from their tall castle on the topmost hill. The royal bees performed their formation flying exercises, and the Queen took tea at four ‘o clock with her ladies.

The King and Queen had two small boys, Renzy and Mercer. All had been quiet for a very long time. But that was about to change.

Mercer was always inventing new things.  He’d invented his upside-down boots so he could walk on the ceiling. However, most of the time he spent in his laboratory, high in the northwest tower, trying to turn ordinary metal into pure gold. But for the last few days, he had been thinking about flying.

 

At last, he completed his newest invention, and now he needed help to test it.  He sat down and wrote a note to his brother, Renzy. The trouble was, Mercer was having difficulty getting his raven to deliver the message.

 

“Corax, Corax, come down here,” said Mercer.

The raven sat on the window ledge and pretended not to hear.

“Corax! I know you can hear me. Please take this message to Renzy.”

Corax covered his ears with his feathers.

“I promise this will be the last message today.”

A few minutes later, Corax flew out of the window in search of Renzy.

On the other side of the fish-filled moat, Renzy stood up in his saddle. He waved his sword at full gallop. Corax landed with a bump on Renzy’s shield. The young boy drew his horse to a halt and unrolled the parchment.

Dear Renzy,

 Please come quickly.

I need your help.

Mercer

 

What is it this time? thought Renzy to himself. Only last week he’d helped his younger brother with the turning-jam-into-gold experiment. It had not been a success. Renzy and Mercer had become very sticky, and this did not please the Queen.

Renzy climbed the last of the stone steps. From the top of the castle, he could see all of Sackonia. He could hear the pounding surf against the cliffs. And far out to sea, the Island of Forgetting was just visible. In the other direction, he could see the Bay of Calm where the King Adada’s ships groaned at anchor in the mist.

What he couldn’t see was the distant Land of the Black Castle, the domain of Sir Egbert ‘Fuffy Pants’ Rotter, perhaps the smelliest of all knights.

In a small room at the top of the tower, Mercer fiddled with something that looked like a giant bird. Renzy stared at the strange-looking object.

“This is a kite,” said Mercer.

“And what’s it for?”

“Now that is a good question,” said Mercer, and if he had had a beard, which he did not, he would have stroked it thoughtfully. “You see, sometimes people build things, and then decide what they are for.”

“What does it do?” asked Renzy.

“Oh, it flies.”

“No! Does it really?”

“Well, it’s supposed to fly. We attach one end of this rope to the flagpole and the other end should go up in the air.”

“I’d like to see it fly,” said Renzy.

“Then let’s try it out,” said Mercer. And that’s what they did.

The two young boys climbed out onto the roof. They felt the breeze on their faces. Suddenly, the wind roared. They could hardly hear themselves talk against the deafening blast. The flag at the top of the flagpole ripped itself loose and blew away.

“Hold onto the kite,” yelled Mercer. “I’ll tie the rope around the flagpole. When I say let go, let go.”

But at that instant, a gust of wind blew across the high tower and lifted the kite —and Renzy— into the air. Up and up and up rose the kite. Renzy hung on. Already the kite was moving fast.

“Tie the rope around the flagpole,” yelled Renzy. But Mercer could hear nothing but the howling wind. The rope flew out of Mercer’s hand. And that was the last time Mercer saw Renzy for a very long time.

The wind turned into a storm. The afternoon turned into night. Still, Renzy held on tight to the kite. First, he was blown one way, and then another. Eventually, the storm blew itself out. All he could see above him were stars. Below was the sparkling night sea.

 

He drifted for a long time. His arms were hurting now. And he was much lower. Instead of the sea beneath him, now there was a forest, and then a clearing, and then a castle. A moment later, he came to land on its roof with a loud crash. The kite splintered into pieces. His knee hurt, but apart from that, he was in one piece.

It was quiet that night. He listened carefully. A dog barked for a moment, then nothing. It barked again. Someone yelled at it. It was quiet again. In the darkness, Renzy could just see an iron ring set in the roof of the turret. He pulled it. It wouldn’t budge. He grabbed a long piece of wood from his broken kite, slipped it through the ring and pulled it upward. The great stone slab moved, revealing a staircase. Below he could hear the sound of snoring. Two guards with nasty-looking axes were sleeping directly beneath him. Renzy didn’t move a muscle.

 

2 Sir Rotter

 

Sir Egbert ‘Fuffy Pants’ Rotter could not sleep. Just as he was drifting off, one of the dogs barked. He got up and went to the window. The dog stopped barking.  He went back to bed. But moments later, the dog barked again. He got up and shook his fist out of the window.

“Silence! Stop that hullabaloo, you dratted dog!”

Sir Rotter tried sleeping on his back, but the light from the moon kept him awake. He pulled his sleeping cap over his eyes. It hurt his ears. He tried sleeping on his tummy, but now his neck hurt. The real problem was his tummy was too full of burritos. Eating so many made him ‘fuffy.’ No one dared to say that Sir Rotter was, well, stinky. But just about everyone knew he was.

Sir Rotter sat up in his huge four-poster bed. It was a cold night. If he wasn’t going to sleep, he thought he might as well have another burrito.

“Servants! Servants!” cried Sir Rotter “Bring me the finest burritos in the castle! Bring me the very best grilled cheese sandwich! I want the crispiest chips and the strongest apple cider!”

There came no answer. Although the servants were in bed nearby, no one wanted to attend to Sir Rotter after he’d been eating so many burritos. They didn’t secretly call him Fuffy Pants for nothing. And he had awful table manners.

“Servants! You lazy lumps of lard! Fetch me more burritos, now!”

“You’d better go,” said Plonk, the bigger servant. “He might even come in here if you don’t.”

“Why do I have to go?” said Bobble, who was tucked up and comfy in his little bed with his stuffed alligator.

“Because it’s your turn,” said Plonk.

“Let’s pretend we’re asleep,” said Bobble.

But it was too late: footsteps outside. Quick as a flash, they hid under their beds. The door burst open. There was no mistaking the smell of Sir Rotter.

“Where are you, you pudding-headed lazybones!” he yelled.

This made Bobble almost burst into tears. But under his bed, he kept quiet and cuddled his fuzzy alligator. Sir Rotter turned on his heel and left.

He stamped down the spiral steps, across the Great Hall, and down, down, down into the castle kitchen to the big black burrito pantry. He opened the large creaking doors. It was empty. Was he dreaming? He rubbed his eyes in disbelief. He banged his head against the door. Ouch! No, this was not a dream.

“Blasted burrito burglars!” he cried.

He dashed up the staircase, back across the Great Hall, out along the battlements to the bell tower. He swung on the bell-rope with all his might. Bong! Bong! Bong!

In the tower, the guards woke up and blundered downstairs. Renzy seized the moment. He lowered himself through the trapdoor into the guard room. He tiptoed down the long winding stone steps. People rushed past him on the landing. They were so sleepy they kept bumping into each other.  No one paid attention to Renzy.  Except for the guards, all the other people in the castle were in their pajamas.

Renzy peeked through the doorway at the foot of the stairs. Then someone pushed him from behind. He fell forward into the crowd pushing its way into the Great Hall.

Sir Rotter stood upon the highest table. He was cross. He was very cross. His purple face looked like a dried prune. His nose twitched. His eyebrows went up and down. His ears waggled, and steam shot out. For a few moments, he said nothing. His mouth opened and closed like a goldfish. He stamped his foot.

“There are no more burritos in the kitchen!” he shouted at the frightened crowd. “I will not rest. No! You will not rest until my larder is again full up with burritos. Now go!”

No one moved. This was because they didn’t know what he meant. And everyone was afraid to ask the angry knight. Sir Rotter barked, “Get on with it! Get going!”

A young boy finally broke the silence.

“Go where, Sir Knight, sir?”

“To get burritos, of course! You nincompoop!”

This hurt the boy’s feelings. He didn’t like to be called a nincompoop. But he was a brave boy and didn’t say anything.

“And where shall we buy them?” asked the brave boy.

“Buy them! Buy them! I demand burritos! You are all to search the land. Take any burritos you can find. Bring them to me. Now go!” he boomed.

Everyone rushed out of the Great Hall. Everyone, that is, except the boy.

“But isn’t that wrong, Sir Knight, sir?”

“What!” screamed Sir Rotter.

“Isn’t it wrong to take burritos that are not yours, Sir Knight, sir?”

Sir Rotter leered at him. “What’s your name, boy?”

“My name is Renzy.”

“Listen to me, Renzy. I am Sir Rotter. No one challenges me. Do you hear? NO ONE CHALLENGES ME! You impudent young rascal! You will pay. You will go to my dank, dark, stinking dungeon. You will have only Brussels sprouts to eat. You will take two naps a day. No! You will take three naps a day on the cold stone floor— with no blanket. You shall be tied to the tickling chair and be tickled until you BEG FOR MERCY—and worse! Guards! Guards! To the dungeon with him!”

But the guards had gone. Everyone else had gone in search of burritos. Renzy didn’t waste a moment. He ran. He was down the steps and across the courtyard in a flash.

“Stop him!” yelled Sir Rotter from an upstairs window.

“Pull up the drawbridge,” commanded the gate captain. But Renzy was halfway across when it started to rise. He made a flying leap and landed with a splat in the soft mud on the other side of the moat.

“Find the boy!” yelled Sir Rotter.

But Renzy ran into the nearby forest. No one from the Black Castle would go there after dark because they had heard the stories of savage monsters, strange plants with claws and trees that hop about dangerously. But Renzy did not know of these stories. He was glad to have escaped Sir Rotter’s guards. Only now he realized he was all alone in the dark wood. He shivered.

It was very quiet. It was so dark that at first, he couldn’t see anything. Eventually, his eyes began to get used to the darkness and he could make out the shapes of the thick tree trunks. He was in a clearing. Gigantic roots lay across the forest floor.  If he wasn’t mistaken, he could see a dim orange light ahead.

Snap! A creeper wrapped around his leg. It catapulted him upward.  He dangled upside down from a branch of a bandit tree. A moment later he heard a wolf howl. And then another one, and then another.

They were coming.

3 Queen Chichi’s Bees

 

Queen Chichi was cross with Mercer. Of course, it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t mean to lose his brother.  Nevertheless, the Queen made him have a time out for the rest of the day.

The Queen summoned her maids. They sat around the fire drinking tea and eating hot crumpets and honey. As everyone knows, Sackonian honey is not like ordinary honey. Some people said that eating it was why the Queen and her maids were so beautiful. Sackonian honey came from the royal beehive and it also helped those who ate it think more clearly.

“We must find Renzy,” said the Queen.

“Let’s ask Mr. Bumble, ma’am,” said Lydia, one of her maids.

“Good idea,” said the Queen.

A few moments later, the Royal Beekeeper, Mr. Bumble, stood before them in his large striped yellow trousers and black hat with its wobbling antennae.

“How are the bees?” asked the Queen.

He made a low bow. “Your majesty, they are quite well. Thank you for asking. Is there a problem with the bees? Is the honey not delicious?”

“Yes, yes, the honey is perfect. I have an errand for the bees.”

“I see, ma’am.” Although Mr. Bumble didn’t yet see what the Queen meant.

“Mr. Bumble, what I am about to tell you is secret.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We have lost Prince Renzy. He was blown off the northwest turret on a kite. He could be anywhere.”

“A kite, ma’am? May I ask what a kite is?”

“As far as Prince Mercer tells me, it is a framework of paper that flies.”

“I see, ma’am.” Mr. Bumble did not see. He had never seen a kite.

“And never mind about kites. Finding

Prince Renzy is the important thing. I want the bees to search for him.”

“Yes, ma’am. I shall pass your instructions on to the bees.” He bowed low and walked backward to the door.

“And Mr. Bumble?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Don’t let them go anywhere near the Island of Forgetting.”

“No, ma’am.”

There were sailors who had been just close enough to the Island of Forgetting to smell the fragrant breeze and see the palm-tree fringed, glittering lagoons. But no one who went there ever came back, because they would forget everything, and remember nothing.

Mr. Bumble climbed the steps to the apiary where the bees were practicing formation flying. He watched as they changed their formation from the shape of a pirate ship into a teapot.

“Well done!” said Mr. Bumble. The bees now changed their shape again to look just like Mr. Bumble.

“Behave!” he said. “I have a secret mission for you.”

The bees all landed and Mr. Bumble explained that they were to form into groups and search the world for Prince Renzy. And they were not to go near the Island of Forgetting.

 

4 Sir Roger

 

Renzy could now see the wolf pack in the half-light. A moment later, they were circling and snarling, and showing their razor-sharp teeth.

A wolf of monstrous shape leaped into the air and tried to take a bite out of Renzy.  He missed. The wolf crouched down ready to spring again. Suddenly, a rider thundered into the clearing. He swung the flat of his sword on the rump of the beast. It let out a yelp. The other wolves scattered.

Renzy saw all this upside-down, because he was cocooned in creepers, and dangling from a branch of a bandit tree. And what he saw next worried him.

This was no ordinary rider. His armor gleamed gold in the first rays of dawn. He turned his sky-blue horse toward Renzy. Sunlight flashed on the tip of his pointed sword. He charged right at him. YAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!

 

“Help! Help!” yelled Renzy from inside his leafy prison. But the rider heard nothing but his own scream. Renzy could hear the sword as it sliced through the air. Thud! Renzy fell to the ground.

What the rider saw was a small, untidy, and very muddy young boy. He was squirming on the ground trying to untangle himself from a branch of a bandit tree.

What Renzy saw was a sky-blue horse. In its magnificent saddle sat a tall knight with orange plumes on his helmet. And then Renzy saw the shield— a Sackonian shield! There it was; the symbol of the Gray Elephant. And that could only mean one thing.

“Sir Roger, sir!” cried Renzy. It was Sir Roger of the Gray Elephant Castle, who lived not far from Renzy’s home. Renzy had never actually seen Sir Roger, but he had learned about him from his tutor, Mr. Fiddlybobble.

“What are you, who know my name?” boomed Sir Roger.

“I am Prince Renzy of Sackonia, son of King Adada and Queen Chichi, and brother to Mercer-the-Inventor.”

Sir Roger roared with laughter. He almost fell off his horse. “What nonsense!” he said. “Stuff and nonsense! Absolute rot!”

“I am Prince Renzy, Sir Roger, sir”

“Don’t talk such flapdoodle and piffle!”

“I am!”

“You are a young scallywag! And you have a vivid imagination. I don’t know how you even know who Prince Renzy is, let alone pretend to be him.”

“I’m not pretending.”

Renzy was so upset that he felt like saying some harsh words to Sir Roger. But he didn’t of course. Renzy knew how to be polite. And he didn’t want Sir Roger to be so cross he would ride off and leave him all alone in the wood.

“You’re from the village of Little Dimmy, yonder,” he said, pointing his finger. “You’re lucky I came along. Hop on, and I’ll take you home.”

Renzy climbed up onto the back of the sky-blue horse. They plunged through the wood in the direction of Little Dimmy.

Sir Roger would not stop talking. Renzy tried to interrupt, so he could convince him of who he was.  Yet, whenever Renzy managed to get a word in edgewise, Sir Roger just laughed and returned to his favorite subject; his quest. After a while, they came upon a little girl. She was kicking a tree and muttering to herself.

Sir Roger called to her. “What place is this?”

The little girl immediately stopped kicking the tree and came to Sir Roger.

“This is the village of Little Dimmy, Sir Knight, sir,” said the little girl. And then she went back to kicking the tree.

“Why are you kicking that tree?” asked Sir Roger.

“Because the Knights of the Black Castle came in the night and took all our burritos, our grilled cheese sandwiches, and the rest of our ice cream, Sir Knight, sir. That’s why I am kicking this tree. It’s not fair.”

“Stolen, you mean?”

“Yes, Sir Knight, sir.”

“And now all we have to eat is our Brussels sprouts,” said the little girl.

“I can see why you’re so cross,” said Sir Roger. “Sadly, I cannot help. I must away. I am on a quest.”

Sir Roger turned in his saddle toward Renzy. “Right then, down you get, young fellow!” commanded Sir Roger. “And take this bag of chocolate-covered blueberries. Use them wisely.”

Renzy looked up to see Sir Roger galloping away. He took out one chocolate-covered blueberry and put it in his mouth. He hadn’t eaten for a very long time. He had just one, and then another, and another, and another. At last, he noticed the little girl standing beside him. She had finished kicking the tree and was now watching him closely as he ate from the bag.

“Would you like one?’” Renzy held out the bag, and she took one.

“Mmm, they’re delicious. Thank you. What did that knight mean when he said to use the chocolate-covered blueberries wisely?”

“I have no idea,” said Renzy, “I haven’t eaten for ages. I think eating them is using them wisely.”

“But if you eat them all now, you won’t have any for later.”

“That’s true. I shall keep the rest for later. What’s your name?”

“I am Lily,” said the little girl.

“I am Prince Renzy of Sackonia.”

Lily burst out laughing. “That’s very funny,” she said. “What’s your real name?”

“Renzy is my real name. I am a prince.”

“Fiddlesticks! Princes aren’t all muddy and untidy. You must be from the village of Moldy Damp,” she said.

Renzy decided to change the subject. “I like your name,” said Renzy.

“I like it too,” she said. “How did you get here?”

“I was blown off the castle roof on a kite. I traveled most of the night in the air across the sea and landed right on the roof of the Black Castle. Then I was chased by Sir Rotter, captured by a bandit tree, almost eaten by wolves, and brought here by Sir Roger.”

Lily laughed so much her tears were running down her cheeks. “You tell a good story!” She didn’t believe a word of it. She had no idea what a kite was, but she didn’t want to say so. “And if you were a prince from Sackonia, that knight would have treated you differently. He just gave you a ride.”

“He didn’t believe me either. All he talked about was his quest.”

“What’s a quest?” asked Lily.

“He has to do a brave deed for his lady.”

“And what’s that?”

“Sir Roger is in search of the Wooly Grapefruit.”

Her eyes widened. “You mean the Wooly Grapefruit that grows on the Hill of Beans that none can climb?”

“Yes.”

“And that is on the other side of King Nasty the Horrible’s realm?”

“Yes.”

“And it is guarded by the bug-eyed troll who speaks in a terrible sing-songy-bad-poetry voice that none can hear without going mad?”

“Yes.”

“Then he is a brave knight, indeed.”

“How do you know about such things, Lily?”

“Mamu-Shamu.”

“Who is Mamu-Shamu?” asked Renzy.

 

5 Mamu-Shamu

 “Mamu-Shamu is the wise old lady who lives in the treehouse in the next clearing,” said Lily.

They walked through the village, crossed the Brussels sprout fields, and eventually came to a clearing with two large tree trunks in the middle.

“Shall I go first?” said Lily.

“Go where?”

“Look up,” said Lily, pointing to a rope ladder. She went first, and Renzy followed. They climbed up and up through the branches, and eventually found themselves on a high platform where there was a swing.

“This is a trapeze,” said Lily. “We have to swing out and jump over to the platform on the other tree, see?”

Renzy looked down. He felt a little dizzy.  That’s what happens when you go to a high place and you haven’t had enough to eat.

Lily went first. She swung her legs up and down to get the swing going. When it reached the furthest arc, she let go, sailed through the air and landed on the other platform.

“Now it’s your turn,” she said as she sent the swing back across. Renzy did the same and landed by her.

Now they climbed higher. At last, they came through a trap-door and into the most wonderful garden with a fountain in the middle. Hummingbirds flew in and out of the banana trees, and grapefruit hung on a tree by an old wooden door. Lily knocked on the door.

“Just a minute,” called Mamu-Shamu. “I’m coming.” A moment later, Mamu-Shamu opened the creaking door. “Hello, Lily, who have you brought with you?”

“He says his name is Renzy. I think he is from Moldy Damp, but he is pretending to be a prince.”

“Is he now?” said Mamu-Shamu. “Well, you’d better come in, and don’t mind the bees.”

A swarm of bees was inspecting Mamu-Shamu’s bookshelves in the corner.

“Mamu-Shamu, something horrible has happened. In the night, Sir Rotter came with his men and stole all our burritos,” said Lily. “They only left us Brussels sprouts to eat.”

“How beastly! But don’t worry. Neither Sir Rotter nor his men can find their way up here,” said Mamu-Shamu. “Are you hungry?”

The children said they were. Mamu-Shamu sat them down at her large table and brought apple cider, chips, grilled cheese sandwiches, and the most delicious burritos. Then they had some of Mamu-Shamu’s crispy ice cream.

“I don’t want to be rude,” said Mamu-Shamu. “You are rather dirty, Renzy. And your clothes are all torn.”

“Mamu-Shamu, if you’d been blown off a castle tower on a kite, sucked up by a storm, drifted across the sea in the night, crashed into the Black Castle, chased by Sir Rotter, become lost in the wood, captured by a bandit tree, almost eaten by wolves, saved by Sir Roger, and brought here by Lily, you’d be untidy, too.”

“Yes, I think I would be,” said Mamu-Shamu, smiling at Renzy. “And you say your name is Renzy?”

The bees had been quietly reading a map at the other end of the room. But when they heard the name Renzy, they became very excited and buzzed about.

“You bees calm down,” said Mamu-Shamu. For just an instant, they formed themselves into a face that stuck its tongue out behind Mamu-Shamu. Then they swarmed in circles around Renzy, flew out of the window, and were gone.

Mamu-Shamu, Renzy, and Lily talked for a long time about the burrito-stealing Sir Rotter and his men. They spoke for so long that the sun was setting and it was time for Lily to go home. So she said goodbye and went back through the trap door and climbed down the rope ladder.

When they were alone, Mamu-Shamu asked Renzy more about his story, and how he came to be blown off the turret roof of the castle in Sackonia. The moon was just coming up when she took him outside into her garden. They walked over to a small well under the grapefruit tree.

“What do you see?”

At first, Renzy could just see his own reflection on the still surface.

“Say the numbers,” said Mamu-Shamu.

“What numbers?” asked Renzy.

“Any numbers that come into your head.”

“Alright, 434.” He didn’t know why he said those numbers but they were the right ones.

Suddenly the reflection changed. He saw billowing clouds. Stars. The dawn. A green island. And then a castle with a flag emblazoned with the numbers 434.  It was his home. He saw the face of his mother, Queen Chichi. He waved. And she waved back. Then the vision vanished.

“I saw my home and my mom,” said Renzy.

“And what did your mom look like?” asked Mamu-Shamu.

“She looked happy to see me. She was wearing her gray velvet cloak and amethyst necklace.”

“That doesn’t sound like someone’s mom who lives in Moldy Damp,” said Mamu-Shamu. “You, young man, are going to stay with me for a while. And the first thing you need is a bath.”

 

Mamu-Shamu’s bathtub was big. It was more like a swimming pool than an ordinary bathtub. It was sunken in the floor of a green-tiled steamy room. Best of all was the amazing bath toys. There were two small pirate ships, some very life-like sharks, mermaids, flying ducks, a submarine, and a bar of soap in the shape of a banana that squirted water.

Renzy was the happiest he had been since he was blown off the roof. He might have stayed in the bath, happily splashing about, if Mamu-Shamu had not said it was time for bed. When he got out, Mamu-Shamu gave him pajamas and sent him off to bed.

Then the next morning, Renzy woke up to find the sun shining in on his plump bed.  Corax, his brother’s raven, was sitting on the windowsill looking bored. He had been politely waiting for Renzy to wake up for a long time. In his claw, he held a message.

 

Dear Renzy,

 Sorry, you were blown off the roof. The bees told us where you are.

Come home soon.

Mercer

 

“Corax, you’d better wait here,” said Renzy, “while I show this note to Mamu-Shamu.”

Corax flew onto the back of the chair. It was then that Renzy noticed the clothes. At the foot of the bed was a blue shirt, an orange jerkin with the number 434 on the front, and blue pants. They fit him perfectly.

Renzy ran into the kitchen where Mamu-Shamu was making breakfast.

“Look, Mamu-Shamu, this message is from my brother Mercer. It proves I am Prince Renzy from Sackonia.”

“Oh, yes,” said Mamu-Shamu. “I knew who you were as soon as you said the magic number. And there it is on your orange jerkin.”

“Thank you for the food and clothes, but after breakfast, I should go home,” said Renzy.

Mamu-Shamu looked at Renzy carefully. He was still a young boy, even if he had had some wild adventures. She looked thoughtful.

“I wonder, I wonder,” she muttered.

“What are you wondering, Mamu-Shamu?”

“You stood up to Sir Rotter and told him what he was doing was wrong.”

“Yes, I did.”

“And he called you very hurtful names?”

“Yes, he did.”

“And you still stood up to him?”

“It was scary, but I did,” said Renzy.

“Good for you. Not many people can do that. The villagers are afraid of Sir Rotter and his men. I’ll tell you what I am wondering. I am wondering whether you can help the villagers.  They have nothing to eat except Brussels sprouts and cabbage.”

“Yes, I’d like to help them, but how can I do that, Mamu-Shamu?”

“I have a plan. I think you had better write back to Mercer and tell him you have a job to do here before returning home. We shall start after breakfast.”

So Renzy wrote a note to his brother. Corax grasped the message in his claw, flapped his wings, and rose into the clouds.

 

6  The Plan

 

Mamu-Shamu and Renzy spent most of the day making food for the villagers. Mamu-Shamu made burritos and grilled cheese sandwiches. Renzy filled bottles with apple cider and put them in bags.

Once all the food was ready, they strapped their packs to their backs and climbed down the rope ladder. On the platform, Mamu-Shamu took their bags and lowered them all the way to the ground on a long rope. She then caught hold of the swing and jumped off the platform.  She swung her legs up and down, up and down, up and down, and then— she let go—somersaulted twice in the air— and landed gracefully on the other side.

Renzy looked across the chasm. One slip and he would fall. No, Renzy was quite right to swing across carefully.

Mamu-Shamu couldn’t help but show off. She was a superb aerobatic trapeze artist. Sometimes she was quite happy to hang upside down by her toes, all day, so she could look up at the sky between the massive leafy branches.

But today, they were on Mamu-Shamu’s mission. At the bottom of the trees, they strapped on their packs and hiked into the village. First, they went to Fofo’s house.

Fofo was perhaps the strangest-looking person Renzy had seen. He had a very large head and tiny legs. And he was very shy. Mamu-Shamu gave him some delicious burritos, so he would have enough to eat until he could start making his own again.

They distributed the food to the rest of the villagers. Mamu-Shamu spread the word that they were to meet in the village hall on Tuesday, at four-‘o-clock. She would bring the tea.

That night, Mamu-Shamu sat by the fire and she laid out her crafty plan to Renzy.

“We need a hiding place for the village food. That’s the first part of the plan. Next, we need an early warning system. We need to know when The Knights of The Black Castle are coming.”

“Sir Rotter is so stinky. You can smell him coming,” said Renzy.

“We certainly need something to let us know, so we can hide our food before he gets here.”

Renzy said, “I think the villagers need someone to tell Sir Rotter to go away and never come back.”

“That’s true,” said Mamu-Shamu, “But Sir Rotter is rotten to the core. In the past, he has taken villagers to his castle and given them such tellings off that they’ve cried for a very long time. He has a tickling chair!”

“Sir Rotter said he was going to put me in it,” said Renzy.

“Well, there you are, you see, he’s dastardly dangerous.”

“I’d like to teach Sir Rotter a lesson!” said Renzy.

“Would you indeed? In that case, you must train in the art of the tickling sword, and shield yourself from harsh words. And you must learn the words only to be used in battle.”

“I will do all that, Mamu-Shamu.”

They went into Mamu-Shamu’s secret room where they found Renzy a helmet and shield. They unlocked a dusty trunk by the window. Inside were two gleaming tickling swords. Mamu-Shamu carefully picked them up and carried them out into the sunlit garden where she put them on the grass.

“Now Renzy, you are going to learn how to handle the tickling sword.”

“Mamu-Shamu, I have my own tickling sword at the castle. Mr. Fiddlybobble has given me lessons.”

“I see,” said Mamu-Shamu. “Then let’s see what you can do against me!”

Their swords crashed together! Renzy lunged at Mamu-Shamu. She stepped aside. He kept running, and before he could stop, he ran into the hedge. Mamu-Shamu waited for him to climb out again. Ting-ting, ting-ting, their swords met again and again and again. Renzy thrust his sword at Mamu-Shamu. With a loud clink, she easily knocked it away.

“You see, you must be light on your feet. You’ve got good form, but you need practice. Whatever you do, don’t touch the blade. It will give you a nasty tickle.”

As everyone knows, a stab with a tickling sword can leave its victim laughing so hard he can’t stand up. And almost everyone begs for mercy.  They fought for an hour, Renzy was improving. Once his sword even landed on Mamu-Shamu’s arm, but she only giggled briefly.

“Good work, Renzy. We shall make a tickling swordsman out of you yet. We’ll practice more tomorrow.  You should have a bath, and I am going to make more burritos.”

The village hall was packed the following Tuesday afternoon. Renzy passed around sandwiches and cake. Mamu-Shamu poured the afternoon tea. After everyone had plenty to eat and drink, Mamu-Shamu stood up on the tiny stage.

“People of Little Dimmy,” she said, “we must do something about Sir Rotter! He must not be allowed to take our honest burritos and our worthy sandwiches.”

The people nodded their heads. “That be right,” they all said together.

“No, no, no. Language, please!” said Mamu-Shamu, “That IS right.”

“That is right!” they all said together.

“That’s better,” said Mamu-Shamu straightening her jacket.

“What are we going to do?” asked Fred Wurzul.

“Thank you for reminding me, Fred. I have a plan to save our burritos.”

“Save Our Burritos!” chorused the group.

For the next five minutes, they wouldn’t stop chanting. They tramped out of the village hall.

“Save Our Burritos!”

“Save Our Burritos!”

Mamu-Shamu waved her arms for them to stop, but they thought she was conducting. Eventually, they calmed down and came back into the hall and had some more tea.

Again, Mamu-Shamu got up and said, “I shall tell you how we are going to go about it.”

“Tell us what it be,” mumbled the villagers.

“No, no, no,” said Mamu-Shamu, “Not what it be. Tell us what it IS!”

“Tell us what it is,” they said.

“We shall hide the burritos,” said Mamu-Shamu.

“Hide the Burritos! Hide the Burritos!” Out they tramped again. Mamu-Shamu and Renzy waited a long time for them to calm down.

 

Secret Words

 

Every waking moment, Renzy practiced with his tickling sword. As each day passed the lessons were harder, but he got better. Mamu-Shamu was an expert tickling swordswoman.

The lessons were hard for Mamu-Shamu sometimes. She stabbed him on purpose to show just how powerful a tickling sword could be. Renzy giggled. He chuckled. He laughed. He guffawed. He couldn’t stop: giggle, giggle, wriggle, wriggle. He wriggled on the ground begging her to make it stop.

At her great age, Mamu-Shamu was almost immune to the blade of a tickling sword. She showed him how to breathe and relax and so to avoid the worst tickling effects.

Then he was ready for the lesson of words. From under her cloak, she pulled out a small silver box. Inside was a set of earmuffs that looked just like ladybugs.

“Put these over your ears,” said Mamu-Shamu. “Good. Now turn the dial onto the high setting. As long as you wear the polite-o-muffs you will only understand nice language.  They reject anything they don’t like or understand. Sometimes they guess. Now I’m going to test that they’re working properly.

“You dirty dog Renzy!” said Mamu-Shamu. “What did I say?”

“You’re a nice boy, said Renzy.”

“Good, good. Now they are working. You see, tickling sword fighting is not enough. There are words so powerful as to turn some people’s knees to jelly, and to enrage others, or even make them cry. These are dangerous words, Renzy. But turn them to your advantage, and in battle, they will serve you well. But first, you must learn to withstand harsh words. And that is what I am going to teach you now.”

“You’re not in my club. You’re not in my club,” sang Mamu-Shamu.

Renzy felt those words, even though his polite-o-muffs. But at least he was protected from the full horribleness of Mamu-Shamu’s taunting words.

“What are you doing?” said Mamu-Shamu.

“What do you mean?”

“You look sad. Look what you are doing to your face. You are turning your mouth down. You are pulling your face into a frown. Doesn’t that hurt you? Try not to turn your mouth down quite so much.”

Renzy paid attention to what he was doing with the muscles of his face, and ever so slightly relaxed them.

“I do feel better for undoing my frown a bit,” said Renzy.

“Good,” said Mamu-Shamu. “You are managing your reaction. Not many people know how to do that. Are you ready to continue?”

Renzy said he was. Mamu-Shamu called him a bowl of cabbage, a clay-brained pudding bottom, and worse. At first, Renzy almost cried, but as their training progressed he could even stand being called a stinky egg without his polite-o-muffs on.

And that’s how Renzy learned the words only to be used in battle. Then Mamu-Shamu presented him with his own tickling sword, shield, and helmet; and made him promise only to use the secret words as a last resort.

Renzy said he would.

 

 The Battle

 

Just outside the village of Little Dimmy, Mr. Blobby made himself comfortable in his tree-top lookout. He tightened the rope that ran through the high branches of the tallest trees. It was the rope that led to the village bell.

He was lying in his hammock, and the first thing he noticed was his tea had gone cold. Mr. Blobby was always drifting off to sleep. So it was odd that the villagers should put their trust in him to be the lookout at the crossroads.

The second thing he noticed was a bee buzzing around his half-eaten cake. If he wasn’t imagining it, he could have sworn the bee was trying to tell him something. Mr. Blobby did not know about bees. It had been a nice day so far. The sun was just warm enough and the leaves smelled fresh. But now there was the most awful stink.

Mr. Blobby sat bolt upright in his hammock. If you have ever been in a hammock, you’ll know that sitting bolt upright and staying in that position is not easy. And it was not easy for Mr. Blobby. He fell out. There was only one stinky-stench like the one poor Mr. Blobby now smelled. He pulled on the bell-rope. But he was too late.

The villagers heard the alarm. They dashed about. They bumped into one another yelling, “Hide the burritos! Hide the burritos!”

Sir Rotter fuffed his way onto the village green, his men stinking up the village behind him.

“Hand over your burritos!” ordered Sir Rotter. “You! Where are you going with that sack?”

“I was just taking the food out for an airing, Sir Rotter, sir,” said Moira Rubble.

“What!” Sir Rotter was dribbling.

“We always like to give our food a good walking about. It improves the flavor and makes it much more scrumptious-like.”

“You!” Sir Rotter, pointed at Jeff Fumble. “Is that a cheese sandwich?”

“Yes, Sir Rotter, sir.”

“Give me your cheese sandwich!” Sir Rotter boomed.

Sir Rotter snatched the sandwich and stuffed it into his drooling mouth. He chewed rudely with his mouth open.

“You, Sir, are a swag-bellied malt-worm!” said a voice.

Sir Rotter coughed, spluttered and spat out his sandwich. His head hurt at these terrible words.

The villagers ran. And just one boy was left standing on the village green. He was a boy wearing polite-o-muffs, a shield with a gray elephant on it, and brandishing a tickling sword.

“You are all swag-bellied malt-worms!”

Many of Sir Rotter’s men looked close to tears. Such is the power of the secret words only to be used in battle. Renzy was ready.

Sir Rotter turned in his saddle. “I know you! You’re the blasted nincompoop who dared to oppose me.”

Renzy had already turned up his polite-o-muffs to mark 9, so he wasn’t at all upset by being called a blasted nincompoop.

“Sir Rotter, you must not steal the villagers’ burritos or their cheese sandwiches. These poor people have had nothing but Brussels sprouts for every meal. It is not right that anyone should only have Brussels sprouts,” said Renzy.

“They’ve got cabbage,” said Sir Rotter.

“Yes, they have cabbage. But think how awful it would be for you if you only had Brussels sprouts and cabbage.”

“I wouldn’t like it,” said Sir Rotter.

“So go back to your castle and never bother the villagers again,” said Renzy.

“Never! I shall take all the burritos I want. And I shall throw you into my dank and dark dungeon.”

“Never!” said Renzy.

The two of them glared at each other. Sir Rotter jumped off his horse. Their swords clashed.

“You little gink,” said Sir Rotter as he lunged at his opponent. Renzy stood aside and wacked Sir Rotter on the bottom with his tickling sword. But Sir Rotter only giggled. His armor protected him.

“You, sir, are a rank boiled-brained smelly beast!” shouted Renzy.

Sir Rotter had never been spoken to like this. He dropped his sword and covered his ears.

“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” He hopped up and down on one foot.

Renzy turned to the rest of Sir Rotter’s men and shouted, “You are all rank boiled-brained smelly beasts.”

At these awful words, they turned their horses and fled.

“Come back here, Knights of the Black Castle,” shouted Sir Rotter, and then he fuffed. But the knights could not bear the secret words only to be used in battle.

“You will pay dearly,” said Sir Rotter as he picked up his tickling sword.

It was a long fight. Sir Rotter called Renzy a stuffed carrot, a gleeking nitwit, and pongy-wongy, but none of these insults bothered Renzy because he had on his polite-o-muffs.

But Renzy knew the secret words that should only be used in battle. When he called Sir Rotter a clay-brained baggage and a stinky pudding, it was the end. Sir Rotter gave up and begged Renzy for mercy.

“If you promise never to steal burritos again, I shall let you go in peace,” said Renzy.

“I agree,” said Sir Rotter.

“And you shall never call people names, either.”

Sir Rotter scowled. “Never!” he cried. “I shall call people rotten names, you numpy-noodle!”

The battle continued. Their swords crashed again and again. At last, Renzy bonked Sir Rotter on the head with his tickling sword. Sir Rotter giggled and guffawed. His legs wobbled, and then he fell whimpering to the ground.

“Make it stop! Make it stop! No more tickling, please,” cried Sir Rotter. “I won’t call people nasty names anymore.”

“Good,” said Renzy. “If you do, I shall come back and teach you another lesson.”

The villagers, who had been watching this from the other side of the wood, let out a great cheer.

9 The Feast

 That evening in the village hall, Sir Rotter sat tied up with a thick rope so he wouldn’t escape. The villagers made sure he had a cold bath so he didn’t smell. They gave him a scratchy sack to wear. Sir Rotter had to say he was sorry ─ very nicely ─ to each of the villagers, and they made him promise to make fresh burritos for everyone.

When the villagers were satisfied Sir Rotter would keep his promise, they said he could go home. They chose Fofo to escort him back to his castle and make sure he behaved himself.

The villagers waved goodbye to Fofo as he sat

on Sir Rotter’s horse, with Sir Rotter attached to a long rope walking behind.

“Feast,” shouted Lily.

The villagers took up the chant. “Feast! Feast! Feast!” They marched out of the village hall, around the back, and in again through the front door.

“Feast! Feast! Feast!” They marched all the way to the hiding place and brought back the finest burritos and the most delicious cheese sandwiches. Their cups overflowed with apple cider, and everyone had chocolate-covered blueberries.

The villagers were astonished to learn that the small, muddy boy who’d arrived in their village only a few days ago was really and truly young Prince Renzy of Sackonia. They thanked him and said he could be Prince of Little Dimmy, too. But Renzy said he needed to start his journey home. He was sad to say goodbye to Lily, and Lily was sad to see him go. But Renzy’s job had been done.

Mamu-Shamu was sad to see him go, too. But she was also getting tired of cleaning up the bathroom after Renzy took his splashy baths.

When Mamu-Shamu said goodbye, she gave him a pair of his own polite-o-muffs and told him to make new friends.

 

Weeks later, Renzy lay in his own bed, at home, in King Adada’s castle. The sun was just coming up. He was remembering the creaking ship that brought him home, and the sound of the waves, and his first sight of the high green hills through the mist. And he thought about the homecoming party and how happy everyone was to have him back.

A moment later, Corax flew through the window and landed at the foot of Renzy’s bed. In his claw, there was a message. Renzy unfurled it.

 

Dear Renzy,

 Please come quickly. I need your help.

Mercer

 

What is it this time? thought Renzy to himself.

But that is another story.

The End