CHAPTER 1: Madame Howe's Summer House
We didn’t ask for trouble. It came to us on the wings of the little pine bunting. My heart flip-flopped when I saw Beady Garr fly past the upstairs window. I hadn’t seen him or his mate Ghetti since I left Ellandria.
My family—Mom, Dad, Gigi, and I—had been staying at Madame Howe’s summer home for four months now. Madame Howe didn’t have a housekeeper. She expected Gigi and me to do the cleaning. I was shaking out the dust mop when I spotted Beady.
Seeing him made me think of my friend, Pájaro, the bird boy. He had helped to find and rescue first my mother and later my sister. He had helped rescue Penter too, along with the dogs who followed him. Penter is the true king of Ellandria, the enchanted world of talking animals.
Trouble shouldn’t have surprised me. We had barely escaped. We hadn’t been able to defeat Savino, the Captor of Ellandria, and we’d left Qiao Miao there.
“Don’t worry, Penny,” Madame Howe had told me. “Qiao Miao is a very clever cat, and he has friends among the bears.”
“Among the sea-eagles too,” I’d reminded her, thinking of the last time I’d seen the oriental gray cat.
Beady must have news! I dropped the dust mop and stuck my head out the open window to watch where Beady landed. Then I raced downstairs and outside to the old dairy, the room the dogs used to discuss the war against Savino.
All summer, my mother and Gigi had been working with the dogs, making plans for their return to Ellandria. Orva and Burr, the golden retrievers whom everyone called engineering wonders, had designed weapons. Most metals don’t survive the musical transport, so Orva and Burr had to design special weapons for the dogs to use.
Mom met with the dogs every afternoon to review their progress. Until last spring, I’d never known my mom was the Keeper of Ellandria. She didn’t live with us because she was guarding the heirs of Ellandria, Penter’s four pups. The pups were grown now, but they were still hidden somewhere in H’an, the land of humans. Mom is the only one who knows where they are.
The dogs had been planning to return to Ellandria and attack Savino this fall. Sometime bad must have happened to make Beady compromise our hiding place. But what? Mom won’t let me join their meeting. I’ll have to find a way to spy on them.
So I sneaked into the adjacent tack room and covered the small window with an old horse blanket. I felt my way to the stone wall between the tack room and the old dairy. I slipped a rounded stone from its nesting place, the loose one I’d discovered months ago, when Dad had assigned me the task of cleaning out the place.
Through my peep hole, I had a perfect view of the circle of dogs in the dairy, so long as I stood perched on an upside-down bucket. The room was in an uproar.
Penter, with his magnificent physique, stood head and shoulders above the others. “Silence!” he barked in his deep voice. .
I understood most of what the dogs said now. Mom had been teaching me all summer.
A hush fell over the room. “As you suspected, Beady brings bad news on several levels. First, you should know that Savino attacked the bears. Elgin is dying of battle wounds. Gipp has been injured. Savino is camped in the bears’ singing hollow.”
I swallowed hard. Elgin has been the leader of the bears’ council for forty years. Gipp is my mother’s friend. He rescued us from the Cavern of Colors. How badly is he injured, I wonder?
Silence filled the room for the length of a heartbeat, then heated discussion.
“We never considered he’d attack first.”
“The Singing Hollow? That’s where we planned to transport most of the weapons!”
“What do the bears expect us to do? They didn’t help us when Savino attacked the palace years ago.”
“That’s not entirely true. There were bear guards who fought to the death, but Savino killed them.”
“We need to leave now. Savino has a limited number of followers and probably left his logging camp unguarded.”
“Yes, the bears will need weapons to fight. Let’s deliver them. They’ll need our help.”
“Aye, that’s true. We were going to leave soon anyway.”
“But the rations aren’t ready. We’ll starve if we leave now.”
“The rations can be sent afterward.”
Penter paused and stared around the circle. “There is worse news Beady brings. Savino has the Seer of the South. He drugged her to obtain the information he needed to attack the bears.”
A murmur rose. “We’re doomed,” someone groaned. “How can we win when he has her under his control?”
“Not doomed,” Penter countered, his voice booming throughout the room.
“But we must act quickly. The bears need our help. They need it now.”
“But the Seer of the South!” someone cried.
Penter growled. “It takes time for Savino to extract information from the Seer. Let us act quickly, before he obtains more from her. The question is not whether we should help,” Penter announced. “But how we go about doing so.”
“Then we need a new plan to transport the weapons as well as ourselves,” Burr responded.
“Yes,” Orva confirmed. “We were planning to use The Happy Wanderer to transport all the weapons to the bears’ singing hollow, but I’ve never been comfortable with that plan. We pushed its limits of the enchanted artifact with its last use. Seven dogs and three humans? Penny nearly died in the transport.”
Penter growled. “She nearly died because of the Lynx. When he attacked, he knocked Penny outside the radius of the artifact’s power.”
I gulped and rubbed the underside of my arm, where the Lynx’s claws had left a long gash. The wound had healed without a scar, thanks to the Healing Stone of Begen I’d carried in my pocket. But the pain was seared in my memory. I shivered.
“But I agree,” Penter was saying. “We shouldn’t depend on the artifact this time. We must use the Beggar’s Chant to transport the troops, Beady Garr’s version.”
“But that’s where Savino has his camp!”
My eye bounced from Penter to the dog who spoke. I raised my eyebrows in surprise. So there’s more than one version of the Beggar’s Chant? And they all know this? Everyone but me?
Months ago, when Savino’s men kidnapped Gigi, they used a string of staccato words to transport her to the Beggar’s Circle. I’d seen her disappear in a puff of smoke. Madame Howe later told me not to repeat the chant. “Those words are used by evil men to transport unwilling captives!”
She’d never breathed a word about the chant Beady Garr and his mate Ghetti used in their travels to and from Ellandria. What other information had Madame Howe withheld? And why? Is it because she still thinks of me as a little kid? I hate it!
I shifted my weight, and the pail I was standing made a “pong” sound.
“What was that?” one of the dogs asked.
I froze. Mild ripples of pain radiated from the bracelet I wore, the bracelet the Seer of the South had given me. Only back then I didn’t know her as the Seer of the South. I knew her as Mrs. Dobbs, our housekeeper.
I heard Madame Howe calling me to come and help with supper. Her voice sounded sharp, as if she was annoyed.
I’ll be in big trouble if I don’t go. I wish Mom and Dad and Madame Howe would let me be part of their plans. After all, I’m the keeper’s child, the one of whom the Seer’s Ballad spoke. I’m part of the group who brings hope back to Ellandria. At least that’s what the prophecy says.
But the dog is dead. Beetle. So how does that work?
With a sigh, I stepped down from my perch and slipped outside.