Last week we announced that Augusta Blythe’s IN THE LAND OF THE SAPPHIRE SEA is our new Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category: over 250 free titles, over 500 quality 99-centers, and hundreds more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Augusta Blythe
Twelve-year-old Emily Timmons is tired of being upstaged by her confident and capable younger sister. Charlotte Amelia, on the other hand, idolizes her big sister and follows her everywhere, including to Emily’s special treehouse. When a freak earthquake transports the girls from the treehouse to a magical land, Charlotte Amelia is captured by an evil Imp queen. To save her sister from the queen’s cruel clutches, Emily must swallow her fear and perform nine treacherous tasks, one task for each year of her sister’s life. As Emily’s quest progresses, however, she and her new friends begin to suspect that the Imp queen may only be using the girls as part of a larger, wicked plan. Emily must find courage within as she braves sea serpents, dragons, giants, and other creatures in exchange for her sister’s freedom.
About the Author
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Chapter One – Summer Days
“Cannonball!” a tiny voice shrieked.
Before she could duck underwater for cover, Emily Timmons felt the cold wall of water smack against the back of her head. Emily bitterly wondered how a wisp of a girl like Charlotte Amelia could generate tsunami-like waves. Within seconds, her little sister’s head shot up through the pool’s surface and water dribbled out of her mouth. Charlotte Amelia’s laughter had apparently begun while she was still underwater. In a huff, Emily swam back to the shallow end of the pool.
“Don’t be such a baby, Em,” her dad called good-naturedly from his splash-free zone at the barbeque grill.
Emily watched from the safety of the pool steps as Charlotte Amelia climbed out of the deep end and prepared to dive from the edge. Emily noticed all of the grown-ups briefly stop whatever they were doing to admire the nine-year-old’s prowess. Of course, now that Emily was in the clear, Charlotte Amelia barely made a splash as she entered the water headfirst. Mrs. Timmons and Aunt Grace clapped from their lounge chairs.
“Did you see that Emily?” asked her mother.
Emily knew that her mother’s comment was code for ‘why don’t you give it a try, twelve-year old?’ Emily shook her head and retrieved her snorkel mask from the nearby table. She dipped her head down in the water and splashed loudly with her feet to shut out the disappointed adult murmurs around her.
“C.A., that was great,” her dad called, using the family’s nickname for her, “but next time tuck your chin in just a little more.”
C.A. performed another dive with effortless perfection. Emily kept her head low, unwilling to be shamed into trying.
Aunt Grace attempted to be helpful. “Emily, why don’t you show me how fast you go down the slide?”
Emily pretended not to pay attention, but she saw her mother quickly shake her head at Aunt Grace.
“I’ll do it,” C.A. piped up before Emily could even answer. Not that Emily planned to respond, but C.A.’s eagerness to please still annoyed her.
“Emily still doesn’t like heights,” Emily heard her mom whisper to Aunt Grace.
After shooting down the slide, C.A. swam next to Emily. “Do you want to have an underwater tea party?” she asked in her usual bright-eyed manner.
“That’s stupid,” said Emily.
“But you’re the one who showed me how to play,” C.A. protested.
“That was last year,” Emily snapped.
“Emily,” her father called, flipping another burger, “be nice to your little sister.”
Under her snorkel mask, Emily rolled her eyes. How many times did she have to listen to that order?
“Fine,” said Emily, removing her mask. “Let’s see who can sit on the bottom longest without coming up for air.”
Emily counted to three, then the sisters took a deep breath and slipped beneath the watery plane. Emily knew it was the one thing she could do better than C.A. Her sister knew it too, but C.A.’s main objective in life was to gain Emily’s approval, mostly because Emily was the one person unwilling to give it.
Emily opened her eyes underwater, ignoring the sting of chlorine. C.A. was watching her with reddened eyes. She desperately wanted to stay under as long as her big sister, but it was no use. C.A. propelled herself to the top for a huge gasp of air. Emily waited a few moments for good measure before joining her sister.
“You win,” said C.A.
Although Emily smiled triumphantly, the victory felt hollow.
That evening, Emily brushed her teeth and dressed for bed after a quick shower. At least she didn’t have to share a bath with C.A. anymore. A few minutes of peace was better than nothing. She chose a Beverly Cleary book from the shelf and padded to her bed for a quiet read. Emily loved reading books more than any other activity. She could pretend to be someone else, somewhere else, with the knowledge that she could always return to the security of home at the end. As Emily snuggled down into the pillow and flipped open the first page, she thought she heard a bump sound. Nighttime noises were most unwelcome in Emily Timmons’ room. She could feel her heart thumping rapidly.
“Coco, is that you?” she whispered. The Timmons’ Siamese cat often slept with Emily. It was not unusual for Emily to be awakened by the feel of sandpaper rubbing against the tip of her nose. Coco’s tongue was notoriously rough.
Suddenly Emily felt something on the edge of the bed. She tried to calm herself, thinking that Coco must have jumped up from the floor. Emily reached her hand over to pet the cat but instead of soft fur, she felt something else entirely. Human skin. Emily leaped out of bed and screamed at a decibel only Taffy the dog could hear. She bolted into the hallway and flicked on the light. Emily heard her sister before she could see her. Climbing out from under Emily’s bed, C.A. was laughing so hard that no sound came out of her mouth. Mrs. Timmons appeared in the hallway and saw Emily shaking with fear.
“What happened?” Mrs. Timmons asked, her weary eyes surveying the girls.
C.A. collected herself and explained that she got stuck under Emily’s bed and accidentally scared her when she tried to pull herself out. Mrs. Timmons was not impressed.
“Charlotte Amelia,” her mother said firmly, “are you not familiar with the phrase ‘scared to death?’”
“It was an accident,” said C.A.
For a moment, Emily was comforted by her mother’s defense of her.
“You know your sister is afraid of her own shadow,” her mother continued. “Go to bed, you two.”
The moment was short-lived.
It didn’t take long for Emily to realize that she would not get to sleep easily. C.A.’s prank had agitated her and now she couldn’t relax. Even Coco’s actual presence at the foot of her bed failed to quell her anxiety. Emily eyed the evening shadows suspiciously as they danced across her walls. After what seemed like hours of torment, Emily got up the nerve to climb out of bed and sneak into C.A.’s room. Even though she was three years younger, C.A. somehow managed to snag the larger bedroom. Naturally, C.A. was sound asleep when Emily slid into the double bed. C.A.’s room wasn’t Emily’s only port of call during a difficult night. Sometimes Emily slept on the floor by her parents’ bed. She would creep out of her own room dragging a pillow and her sleeping bag. Her parents never allowed her to sleep in their bed, even when she was quite small. The first time she slept on their floor, her mother accidentally plunked her foot down on Emily’s sleeping head. After that initial misstep, however, they simply walked around her to get to the bathroom in the morning. Tonight Emily was unable to gather her courage to face the dark hall that led to her parents’ room so her little sister’s room would have to do. Besides, the way Emily saw it, this bout of sleeplessness was C.A.’s fault. She owed her one.
In the morning Emily was awakened by the bright sunshine streaming in through the curtains as well as the rhythmic tap, tap, tap of her little sister’s finger on her arm.
“Do you want to go swimming after breakfast?” asked C.A. once she could see her sister’s eyes open.
Emily shook her head. It was too early for decisions, but whatever C.A. wanted to do, she wanted to do the opposite.
“I’m going to the play at the tree house today,” said Emily.
Emily enjoyed playing in the woods behind the Timmons’ home. The tree house was built by their grandfather for their father when he was a boy. The girls lived in the same house now as their father did when he was a child. Pops continued to live there until he died and the girls were very grateful that they had such a fine tree house by which to remember him. The tree house was special for more than one reason though. Although the tree house itself was built from White Cypress, it was affixed to two very strong trees, two trees that did not look like any other tree in Waltham Forest. They were taller and sturdier, and the bark had a faded orange patina. The treetops seemed to bend toward each other, meeting in the middle of the sky. It was within this natural arch that the tree house sat, suspended in the air in the woods far behind the Timmons’ house.
Pops had unknowingly done Emily the great favor of not building the tree house very high off the ground. This simple fact allowed Emily to spend hours there on her own and only return home for mealtimes. Once C.A. was old enough, the two girls played there together. C.A. was a natural climber and often tormented Emily by climbing high and then taunting, “Catch me if you can!” Emily didn’t care, though. She loved the woods in the summer because it was secluded and the sun stayed bright for hours longer than when she was in school. She wiled away the hours dragging sticks over the paths created by years of running feet and riding bikes in the dirt.
Emily also liked to bring her stuffed animals and set them up inside, classroom style. She knew she was supposed to be moving on from her stuffed animals and playing older games, but she preferred the magic of her imagination. Besides, no one judged her here. No adults stood around her wearing disappointed expressions. After yesterday at the pool, Emily decided that classroom at the tree house was the game for her today. Emily was in the mood to be the teacher. She was surprised when she heard the crunch of C.A.’s footsteps behind her in the woods. Emily was sure that her sister would spend the day in the pool again. Especially when there was no guarantee that Emily would let C.A. sit in the classroom.
“Go home,” Emily said, without turning around to look at her sister.
“But I want to play with you, please,” Charlotte Amelia begged with heavy emphasis on the ‘please.’ A common refrain. Emily could be counting ants on the ground and C.A. would want to join her.
Emily ignored her and carried on to the tree house, busily setting up her classroom while C.A. watched. Emily stood in the tree house, holding a stick and pointing toward an imaginary chalkboard. The stuffed animals listened politely to her English lesson.
After a little while, C.A. decided to try again. “Emily, can I play now?”
“You’re a bad influence on the class,” Emily told her. “You may sit in the time out corner and wait to be called in.”
Charlotte Amelia let out a little whine. “Can I at least have Bertie the Bunny to sit with me?”
Emily considered this. “Fine. Bertie,” she said to the blank-eyed blue rabbit, “join your friend Charlotte Amelia for a time out.”
Charlotte Amelia scooped up the soft bunny and made him hop out of the room. She then climbed up the short ladder to the deck of the tree house, the designated time out corner. While Emily continued her lesson, she felt a slight rumbling beneath her feet. At first she thought she had imagined it because the moment passed so quickly. Emily had heard of earthquakes, but as far as she knew, Waltham Ridge wasn’t vulnerable to natural disasters. She glanced up at her sister, still perched on the deck with Bertie, but Charlotte Amelia seemed oblivious to the earth’s movement. C.A. danced happily around the deck with the rabbit slumped in her arms. Emily resumed lecturing Zeke the Zebra on the proper use of pronouns until she felt the entire tree house shift beneath her feet. Emily heard C.A. yell as Emily fell onto the wooden floor along with some of the toys. More horrifying, though, was the next sound of her little sister’s scream. Emily looked up just as C.A. let go of the edge deck that she had been gripping and plunged down toward the forest floor.
“C.A.!” yelled Emily and rushed to the end of the tree house to peer down below. Hopefully, C.A. had landed in a soft pile of leaves. Emily crossed her fingers and looked. Her little sister wasn’t a mangled heap on the ground. She wasn’t anywhere.
“Charlotte Amelia,” said Emily, more hesitantly now. “Do you hear me?”
At the moment when Emily leaned further over the side to see where her sister landed, another tremor hit and catapulted Emily head over heels off the edge of the tree house.
Chapter Two – The Bunyon Forest
A few minutes later, Emily sat up in a daze, rubbing her head. She glanced dizzily around the forest. Emily had no idea where her sister had gone. For a second, she hoped that C.A. was playing another one of her tricks and that she would hear her sister’s laughter before she saw her. Emily sensed that this was not one of those times.
Although she could no longer see the tree house, Emily thought she was still in her own woods at first. Once she started scouring the area for her sister and the tree house, she realized that most of the trees and pathways didn’t look familiar. In fact, many of the trees looked like the two strange trees that held up the tree house. Emily was sure there were no other trees like those two in Waltham Forest. She also didn’t recognize the tall, skinny dark trees that surrounded her. She touched one of those trees and it quickly snapped her hand back. The tree trunk felt like rubber. Emily felt fear grip her heart.
“Where am I?” she asked aloud.
“The Bunyon Forest,” a strange voice responded and Emily’s pulse quickened. She leaned against the rubber tree to keep from fainting. The tree leaned with her and Emily swiftly straightened up.
“Who’s speaking?” Emily asked timidly. The voice seemed to come from above her. Emily glanced up and caught a glimpse of a figure in a neighboring tree.
The appearance of the tree distracted Emily momentarily. It was like a ballerina, twisting beautifully yet firm in its posture. Red orbs shimmered in the branches like jewels. Apples? The figure seemed to be sliding gracefully down the curve of the tree. Emily shielded her eyes from the sun to get a better view. In the delicate twist of the tree, there were steps carved from the top all the way to the ground.
“I am called Bastia,” the figure said.
The first thing Emily noticed was her long, white hair tied in a thick braid down her back. It reminded Emily of Rapunzel. This woman wore enormous leaves like a dress and her hair was dotted with flower buds. Even though she looked human, Emily sensed that she was something else entirely.
“What are you?” Emily asked in bewilderment.
Bastia took the final step down from her tree and her bare feet crunched on the leaves below. “I am your new friend of the forest, my dear. Trust me, you need the help of Bastia.”
If Bastia wanted to be her friend, Emily was all for it. She wanted to find C.A. and any help would do. “Have you seen my sister?”
“If you are referring to the human smaller than you, then yes, I have seen her. I think this must belong to her.” She held out a small blue bunny.
“Bertie,” cried Emily and held the stuffed toy tightly. The happy reunion, however, was fleeting.
“She is in great danger. You should follow Bastia now, no time to waste.”
Bastia glided away from Emily on nimble toes while Emily stumbled after her, tripping on logs and getting tangled in brambles.
“What do you call yourself?” asked Bastia.
With great effort, Emily caught up to her guide. “My sister’s name is Charlotte Amelia and I’m Emily. I’m twelve.”
“Twelve what?” asked Bastia.
Emily did not understand his question, so she tried to explain. “That’s my age. Twelve years old.”
“Years?” Bastia balked. “Not very advanced then.” Bastia turned and studied her more closely. “I shall use small words and not explain too much.”
Emily’s hands flew to her hips. “You don’t need to use small words,” she said indignantly. “I can understand you perfectly well so explain everything you know.”
Bastia bowed her head slightly. “I have upset my new friend. Apologies. The breeze has told me that your sister is being held by Angel’s Hair, the thinnest, strongest rope ever made.”
“Who’s told you what now?” Emily asked, certain that she misunderstood the strange woman’s words.
“The breeze carries many secrets,” Bastia advised her. “You would do well to listen.”
“So who’s holding C.A. in spaghetti?” asked Emily, noticing how Bastia’s head tilted slightly at the word ‘spaghetti.’
“Sephora, queen of the Imps.” Bastia quivered slightly. “C.A. is being held in the queen’s chambers, and is guarded by two of the fiercest Imps, Vas and Mercadies.”
Emily then shivered in the confines of the Bunyon Forest. She wasn’t sure if she was scared or cold. Maybe both. Bastia noticed and regretted speaking so freely.
“Is your little human called C.A. or Sister?” Bastia asked gently.
Emily was confused. “She’s both. She’s my sister and her name is Charlotte Amelia, C.A. for short.”
“What is a sister?”
Emily thought a moment. She assumed everyone knew what a sister was. “She’s like me, born to my parents, except at a different time, unless you’re twins and then…”
“What is a twin?”
Emily could tell this was getting complicated. “It’s not important. Can you tell me where I am?”
Bastia moved ahead of her rather than alongside of her, to make sure there were no fallen branches or ditches in their path.
“You are not in your world anymore.”
Emily didn’t understand. “Not in the woods near my house?”
“We are in the woods near your house, but not the ones in your world.” Bastia stopped and turned to look at her. Emily was a little out of breath from fear or fatigue.
“What kind of person are you?” She reached out to touch Bastia, but then reconsidered.
Bastia moved closer and bent her head toward the girl so Emily could touch her long hair. “I’m a nymph called an Epimeliad, dryad of the apple tree. At one time, there were many of us in the Bunyon Forest, but not anymore. Not since the Imps took control of the bunyon trees and forced many of us out.”
“Didn’t they know this was your home?”
Bastia wrinkled her nose in displeasure. “Sephora cares nothing for other creatures. That is why it is important that we get to your sister.”
Emily was struggling to keep up with Bastia’s elongated steps. Bastia turned around to check on her new friend and could see that she was fading.
“I fear I need to slow a little,” Bastia said. “I am too tired to carry on at this rate.” The truth was that the nymph wasn’t tired at all, her kind never tired, but she didn’t want Emily to feel guilty for needing to move more slowly.
“That’s okay,” Emily said, relieved.
Emily asked more questions about the Imps and Bastia answered as many as she could. “The Imps dwell in groups of threes and fours, all except the queen, who lives in the highest tree all alone. She dislikes the company of any creature, even other Imps.”
Emily thought the queen sounded a lot like Diana Perkins, a girl in her class who preferred to sit alone at school wearing a superior expression than join in any of the playground activities.
“The Imps are known for being cunning and mischievous and none of them grow higher than two feet, although some of them are hundreds of years old,” Bastia continued. “They often trick their enemies by acting helpless. The Imps are so tiny that everyone wants to take care of them. It is our instinct.”
“How are they so dangerous when they’re so little?” asked Emily.
Bastia wore a patient smile. “Imps are very territorial. They will not hesitate to use weapons and Sephora herself is known to be a merciless sorceress.”
Emily thought of asking Bastia to say ‘merciless sorceress’ ten times fast. Somehow, she didn’t think Bastia would find it funny. As kind as Bastia was, the nymph didn’t seem to have a sense of humor. Maybe that was strictly a human quality. Emily knew she should not be thinking of jokes right now. She was fully aware that her sister was in dire need of help.
“We have arrived,” whispered Bastia.
Emily took a moment to digest the scene. The bunyon trees were so high, she couldn’t see the tops at all, and sunlight barely filtered through this dense part of the forest. Emily did not like the increasing sense of darkness, but she felt better with Bastia next to her.
“I don’t understand,” said Emily. “We don’t really have bunyon trees in Waltham Forest.”
“You do not have Imps either, do you?” asked Bastia.
Emily glanced around at the unfamiliar surroundings. “We don’t have any of this,” she whispered, more to herself.
After a few meters, they came upon a miniature gate, which would have escaped Emily’s notice had Bastia not put a hand in front of her. On either side of the gate were tiny figures dressed in soldier’s clothes. They wore high, furry hats with chinstraps and Emily found them to be adorable, although she could not see their faces.
Bastia murmured to her, “Imps are very proud creatures. Pray do not insult them by remarking on their size.” Then to the gatekeepers, she said sweetly, “How now, fair Imps. We seek entry on official business.”
The Imp to the right of the gate eyed Bastia fiercely and drew his small sword. Emily resisted laughing at the sword’s toy-like appearance. “What official business might that be, nymph?”
Emily was surprised by the deepness of the Imp’s voice. She expected a high-pitched squeak to match his size. She gathered her courage and demanded to see the queen.
“This creature looks much like the other one,” the right Imp said to the left.
“Our queen must be expecting her as well,” responded the left Imp.
“I daresay she is,” interjected Bastia, thinking quickly.
“Very well then,” said the right Imp and he opened the tiny gate, which Bastia and Emily could have easily hopped over without its opening. As Bastia attempted to follow Emily through the gate, the Imps drew their swords and crossed them in front of her.
Emily dreaded the idea of going alone, not after what Bastia had told her about Queen Sephora.
“Please will you let my friend come too?” asked Emily politely.
“You alone or no one at all,” said the right Imp.
Emily looked nervously at Bastia. The nymph, however, remained calm. “I shall wait right here for you, friend.”
Emily took a deep breath and walked toward the largest bunyon tree until she came across two more Imps. These two were dressed in purple short pants and stockings. They wore large floppy hats with a big feather and carried miniature bugles around their toothpick necks. She could not see enough of any Imp to decide what sort of creature they most resembled.
“We are the harbingers,” they said in unison.
Suddenly, wings appeared on their backs and they each looped an arm under Emily’s shoulders. The harbinger Imps escorted Emily up to the very tops of the trees and blew their tiny bugles as they approached the end. It was like being lifted in the air by two very strong dragonflies. Emily’s stomach flipped and flopped as she rose higher and higher, but she bit her bottom lip to keep from crying. She focused on Charlotte Amelia.
The highest bunyon tree held within its tangled branches a small fortress, which seemed to have no windows. They flew through an opening where the harbinger Imps left Emily alone in a grand foyer with a glossy black and white marble floor. Emily felt like Alice in Wonderland amidst all the miniature furnishings. A large, beautiful mirror caught the light and Emily wondered whether the mirror was magic. She studied the paintings on the wall and marveled over the sculptures, some of creatures she had never seen before. Emily did not have the chance to admire them for long.
The queen’s voice echoed through the parlor. “I intend to keep the little copy of yourself as one of my Imps, where she will stay small like us forever.”
Emily whipped toward the regal voice. Sephora was much like the other Imps, dressed in so much finery that one could barely see the actual Imp. It reminded Emily of playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes. Emily bent down on one knee to speak with her, like she would do with Charlotte Amelia when she needed to explain something serious. Sephora mistakenly took this gesture as a sign of respect.
“She’s not a copy of me,” said Emily. “She’s my sister and I don’t think C.A. would like to be the same size forever. She very much wishes to grow up some day.”
“We all want things we cannot have,” Sephora sighed. She flashed her menacing yellow eyes toward Emily, but her eyes were so small that Emily failed to notice.
“There must be something I can do to change your mind,” said Emily reasonably. She used the voice she reserved for negotiating with her parents for a later bedtime or more dessert. If she hoped to rescue her sister, Emily felt confident that reasonable was the best place to start.
Sephora placed her fingertips together in an effort to appear thoughtful. The truth was, Sephora had already worked out this plan. She had no doubt the human would accept.
“Very well then. If you can prove to me that you are worthy of guiding your smaller self in the Other World, then I will release her to your custody.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll do anything you ask,” promised Emily. She desperately wanted to help her sister, although she took issue with Sephora’s description of C.A.
Sephora smiled wickedly, but again the cruel curl of her lips was imperceptible to Emily. All that Emily could see clearly was a long navy blue gown and a golden crown with flashes of sallow skin.
“You must perform nine tasks, one for every year of her life. Upon successful completion of those tasks, your younger self will be freed.”
Emily was familiar with doing chores at home. She didn’t like them much, but they weren’t too difficult. She wondered if that was what Sephora had in mind. She couldn’t imagine creatures so small capable of making a big mess, but then she thought of all the mess she and her sister made at home. This thought did little to comfort her.
The queen continued, “Deep in this very forest lives a special hive called the Zephyr Bees. They make the most delicious honey ever tasted. To store this wonderful honey, they use a magic jar that has an impenetrable seal once the lid is closed. Only the bees can open it. Part of what makes this honey so sweet is that it must not be touched by any living creatures except the bees until it is ready to eat. The jar protects it. You must acquire this jar and bring it to me.”