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About the Author
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It was a warm and calm spring day when Bill Barley drove his wagon into the village of Downs End on the eve of the planting festival. The village was buzzing with last minute preparations. A young girl suddenly darted into the street in front of him chasing a cat that ran between the legs of the horse pulling his wagon.
"Whoa Shadow!" he shouted as he pulled hard on the reins.
Shadow showed his displeasure by raising up on his hind legs which caused the girl to fall backwards. Once he regained control, Bill said, "Best be watching where you chase that cat! You don't have as many lives to spare as him."
"Sorry sir", replied the girl as she quickly got up and continued her pursuit.
This commotion caught the attention of the village constable who was talking to a nearby group of peddlers. The constable was a jolly, rotund man who looked like a peasant except for his silver badge.
"Top o'the morning to you! I don't recall seeing you here before", said the constable as he approached the wagon.
"Right you are. This is my first visit to Downs End."
"Welcome! We are always glad to see more peddlers come to celebrate with us. Where are ye from?"
"The village of Ashford."
"Hmm, not familiar with that one. Must be a ways away."
"Aye, I have traveled south for two weeks to get here."
"Well, I know that our festivals are popular but this is the furthest I have ever heard of."
Bill looked down and fidgeted with the reins, before replying. "Actually, the festival is a fortuitous circumstance.
My main business is the delivery of some special order books."
"Ahh! So you have come to see Willet our village scribe!"
"Yes, can you tell me where he lives?"
"I can do better than that if you give me a lift. He lives on the opposite side of the village."
Bill was unsure about this due to the size of the constable but he moved over as best he could. The entire wagon tilted to one side when he climbed aboard. The constable overlapped Bill's space so that he had to lean away.
"Thanks for the lift. Terrible hot day for this time of year, said the constable as he took out a handkerchief and dabbed his head.
"Now let me tell ye a bit about Willet as we go."
"Willet is a strange fellow even as scribes go. He rarely attends the festivals and keeps mostly to himself. He deals mainly in deeds, wills, and how-to types of books. Stays up well beyond a respectable bedtime reading books that he orders from strange places." He cast a sideways glance at Bill who forced a smile.
"Nobody knows where Willet came from, as he is the oldest living person in the village. He arrived years before even the eldest of the villagers could remember."
"That is odd," replied Bill as he wondered what Willet might look like.
"Some say he arrived with a rare company of knights. Others think that he was the orphan of a trader who was killed by wolves. There are even a few who say that he emerged from the enchanted forest."
"More than odd," Bill added.
The constable nodded in agreement.
"Although he is strange, we do appreciate his wisdom. He has read virtually every book in his shop and he likes to give advice. Mostly about farming and business. Rumor has it that sometimes he helps with improving the competitive skills of some of the winners of our festival events."
The constable gave Bill a wink and added, "I think this is just sour grapes as we run fair and honest competitions. However, most folks around here are not much for reading unless it had some practical value so Willet is consulted by many."
"Yonder is Willet's shop."
A young lad emerged from the entrance.
"Tom, I see you have another arm full of books, shouted the constable as they pulled up to the front.
"Yes sir, I can hardly wait to read these!" Tom replied as he passed by.
The constable whispered, "Strange lad. Almost as strange as Willet. Likes to read books and says he wants to be a scribe like Willet."
"Weird," Bill replied.
"Aye, especially since he is the only son of Throm who is one of the best farmers in the village. Some say his crops grow better because his farm adjoins the enchanted forest. Throm comes from a long line of farming families. I expect he will straighten his son out on this matter before too long. The course Tom is on is causing embarrassment to his parents. Not to mention the teasing he gets from other children who think he's strange."
The constable got out of the wagon and said, "pardon my rambling. I had best get about my business. Lot's to do before tomorrow."
Confounded Fantasy Books
Several days after the festival, Tom went to Willet's shop to return some farming books for his father. He entered the shop, but the old man was not there.
"Willet! It's Tom. Are you here?"
This generally would rouse the old man as the adjoining room was his apartment. He called again but there was no response. Tom thought this was odd since Willet rarely left the shop except to buy food. Because Tom had delivered food to Willet the day before, he ruled out this possibility.
He noticed that the door to the adjacent room was open which was unusual. Tom approached the doorway to the apartment and looked inside. Like the shop, this room was filled with numerous books that were stacked on the floor and filled the shelves that covered the walls. There was a simple wooden bed and a few pieces of furniture, which were also covered with books.
Tom had never been in this room before and the sight of so many books surprised and delighted him. He entered cautiously so as to not disturb the piles of books, some of which reached almost to the ceiling. As he wandered about, he read some of the titles and noted that many of them had accumulated dust and appeared to be very old.
Near Willet's bed, he saw an old wooden trunk with strange carvings on it that appeared to be words in some unknown language. He went over to the trunk and ran his fingers over the carvings. The characters were smooth and eloquent but totally unlike anything he had ever seen. They were grouped like letters to form what Tom guessed must be words. As Tom was feeling the trunk, Willet suddenly appeared through a trap door in the floor.
"Must be getting old that I can't remember where I put my reading glasses ... second pair that I have misplaced in the past month," he muttered to himself as he came up the stairs.
Willet was startled as he met Tom at the top of the stairs.
"Master Tom, what are you doing here?" Before he could answer, Willet said, "I see you have been drawn to my old trunk. Quite unusual, is it not? It was made long ago from a tree that no longer exists. However, even greater treasures lie within. Would you like to see?"
"Yes, please!" said Tom with eager anticipation.
The old man proceeded to pull a key from a leather necklace inside his shirt and went to open the trunk.
"I must warn you before I show you the contents. What you are about to see has the potential to radically change your life."
Tom replied, "I will gladly take the chance to learn more about these mysterious carvings. As you have said, my curiosity is aroused and I must know more about this."
"Very well, Master Tom. Look inside!"
Tom slowly lifted the lid and peered into the trunk. To his surprise, there was nothing inside but more books.
"You may be thinking that these are just more books, but they are much more than that."
Willet explained that these were books of history and legends of the first age of the earth.
"These books contain ancient knowledge that has passed from mankind."
"May I read them?" asked Tom.
"You may, but I must warn you that they will expand and transform your mind, for the words within them will come alive in you."
Tom eagerly grabbed several of them and, after thanking the old man, ran home to read them.
Over the next several weeks, Tom read the books. They contained stories of good and evil creatures like elves, werewolves, wizards, vampires, angels, and demons. These stories frightened and intrigued him so that the more he read, the harder it was to stop reading. The images inspired by the stories captivated his mind. He began to have dreams in which he became part of the stories.
There was one recurring dream that frightened him so much that he would wake up in a cold sweat. In this dream, he wandered to the nearby lake in the enchanted forest and drowned while swimming in the icy water.
Reality and his dreams seemed to merge. In his dreams, he relived an incident that happened to him at school in which he was teased and bullied by some boys. They pushed him down so that he fell backward and was looking up at them. As he lay on his back, they converged on him and taunted him. He could see their faces looking down at him. Suddenly, their faces were transformed into hideous snarling beasts bending down to devour him, which jarred him out of his sleep.
Along with the nightmares, he also had wonderful dreams of flying over fantastic landscapes and kingdoms inhabited by elves. He dreamed of blessed places of peace and order in which there were angels and other beautiful creatures of good will. The pleasant stories and dreams made his village life seem small and insulated. He became restless to explore the possibility that the magical places he read about might exist in some far away land.
His parents took note of his increasingly incessant reading, which began to interfere with the completion of his farm chores. His mother wanted to ban him from reading books other than his schoolbooks, but his father felt otherwise.
"It's just a phase he's going through. Do you remember how I was when you met me? I too was captivated by the old man's books for a time, but I came to my senses and so will he. He's got too much farming in his blood to be anything else."
Nevertheless, his father kept an eye on Tom and, much to his dismay, noticed that he spent more and more time reading the fantasy books.
One day, Throm noticed that the chickens were running wildly to and fro as Tom absent-mindedly flung feed with one hand and read with the other.
His father approached him and said, "Tom, doing so much book reading is bound to confound your mind. Books are good if they teach you something practical, but they can cause unhappiness if they fill your mind with imaginary things that have no value."
He looked around and then urgently motioned for Tom to follow him into the barn saying, "Follow me. I want to show you something."
Throm led his son into the barn and proceeded to a feed bin which he opened. He reached inside and pulled up a loose board in one corner and took out a book wrapped in a rag.
"Here is an example of one of those useless and confounded fantasy books. I borrowed it from Willet many years ago and have kept it. I no longer read it because it put images in my mind of things that don't exist and that distracted me from being a successful farmer. Nevertheless, I could not bring myself to return it or destroy it for there is something haunting about it."
His father continued, "I never could quite understand the story and it gave me troubled dreams."
He paused and stared at the wrapped book and a look of sadness came over him as though he had lost or forgotten something. Then his mood changed and he seemed to gather himself and said, "Your mother was right when she advised me to keep my feet on the ground and not fill my head with nonsense that only leads to ridicule and ruin. I think it's best for you to return this book and the other fantasy books to Willet and stick to the practical sort."
Tom knew it was no good arguing, so he took the book from his father and the others and went to see Willet. As he walked to Willet's, he unwrapped the book his father gave him and looked at the title, The Past and Future King. Tom wondered why his father had kept this book hidden and so he was drawn to find out what it was about. He started to read it while he walked towards the scribe's shop, but he had only finished the first chapter when he arrived.
"Hello, Master Tom! Finished reading another batch of books?"
Tom's face told the old man that something was wrong.
"My father says I can not read any more fantasy books, but the stories are burned into my mind. I find myself thinking and dreaming about them more and more. There is one particular dream that troubles me where I jump into the lake by the enchanted forest to swim, but I drown. I have had this dream often and have even tried to change the ending but I cannot. It seems so real. What shall I do?"
The old man looked at Tom with compassion and said, "As a man thinks, so he becomes. I told you that these books were special and that they would transform your mind. A repeated dream that comes from reading these books is not to be ignored. Since your dream clearly revolves around the enchanted lake, you must go there to discover its meaning. When the moon is full, go to the lake and look at your reflection. As for reading more of these books, don't worry about that. A seed has been planted in you that will grow if you follow my advice."
It was a calm summer evening when Tom quietly slipped out of his bedroom window and headed towards the lake. He could see surprisingly well in the silver moonlight of the full moon. He soon reached the enchanted woods and proceeded on a path to the lake that he had taken a few times before, but always in daylight.
The forest seemed alive with sounds and he took note of crickets, frogs, and owls. A few times he heard some unfamiliar bird calls and even a low growl but, even in the moonlight, he could not see far enough into the forest to identify the sources of the sounds. After hearing a much louder growl from the blackness of the woods nearby, fear gripped him, so he quickened his pace and arrived at a grass field adjacent to the lake.
He ran across the grass field and climbed onto a boulder next to the shore. Before him was an expanse of calm water that looked inky black except for the reflection of the moon and stars. Near the shore, the water was deep and clear. Tom could see the cobblestone bottom drop away into blackness close to the boulder. He began to think that this was a rather pleasant place when he heard the howl of a wolf somewhere in the enchanted forest. This shattered his pleasant thoughts and he remembered Willet's words to look at his reflection in the lake.
He gazed at his image in the lake for several minutes, but saw nothing unusual. He decided to return home when he noticed a small ripple on the glass-like surface of the lake that distorted his image. The ripple multiplied and then the surface of the lake began to swirl, forming a whirlpool. From the center of the vortex a voice called to him saying, "Take a leap of faith if you want to know the truth!"
Tom was petrified as he remembered his dream in which he drowned while trying to swim in this very lake. As he wavered, uncertain as to what to do, he heard more wolves howling and turned to see a pack emerge from the woods a short distance from the path. Their yellow eyes gleamed from their large shadow-like outlines. They crept slowly towards him, growling as they approached.
Tom briefly considered trying to run but decided his best chance was to jump into the lake and swim along the edge to a safer place near the shore. He turned and jumped from the boulder into the lake.
He felt a cold shock as he entered the icy water at the edge of the whirlpool. The water was much colder than anything he had ever felt before. He struggled to swim along the edge of the whirlpool but the vortex was pulling him away from shore. His arms and legs became heavy and he no longer felt the cold. Numbness overcame his ability to swim and he became sleepy. He soon lost consciousness and sank into the vortex.
"Wake up! We must hurry!"
Tom opened his eyes to find himself staring into the handsome face of a young lad with pointed ears! As he struggled to assess the situation, he noted that the moon was full and that he was on the shore of the lake near the place he had jumped in. However, he was completely dry and when he looked beyond the young lad he saw six large wolf-like creatures approaching on their hind legs. They had long claws on their forelegs, huge fangs, and yellow, piercing eyes.
Excerpted from "The Past and Future King"
Copyright © 2017 Warren M. Mueller.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Downs End, 1,
Confounded Fantasy Books, 5,
Altered Reality, 11,
Valley of Glainne, 17,
The Enchanted Lake, 23,
The Enchanted Forest, 26,
The Truth Be Told, 47,
Willet's Home, 65,
Battle for the Darach Trees, 70,
Night Flight, 89,
Min's Journey, 99,
The Search for Min, 105,
The Ambush, 113,
Hadrian's Keep, 121,
The Walstrum, 131,
Devlin's Realm, 142,
Lord Ceowulf's Return, 150,
Behlin's Funeral, 153,
The Forest of Mordula, 159,
The Sons of Light, 162,
Aerial Adventure, 165,
The Forbidden Mountains, 170,
Dinwald's Deep, 175,
Book Review Request, 187,
About the Author, 197,