Last week we announced that Eleanor Rogers’ ELF GIRL was 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 Eleanor Rogers
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
It takes two to speak the truth—one to speak, and another to hear.
Henry David Thoreau
Chapter 1: An Earful
“On your left, lass.”
I pulled Red, my two-year-old bike, to the right as I shot past my favorite Scarlet Oak. Radiant in the sun, its umbrella of orange and amber leaves glowed like a stained-glass window.
“Mornin’ t’ ya.”
I nodded to the cyclist pacing me—a slender man in a black suit and top hat. A costume? Halloween was more than a month off. A magician? The summer street artists had left Wycliff Harbor two weeks ago. Pushing harder on the pedals, I veered by the tennis courts, stuck like a postage stamp in the northwest corner of Sunset Park.
“Got a wee minute?”
I glanced back and my grip tightened on the handlebars. The man was following me. “No! I’m late for school!”
“I won’ be bitin’ ya, Seven.”
Only Dad called me Seven. To the rest of the world I was Lyris. How did he know my nickname?
Switching to a higher gear, I swerved onto the cement path dividing a wide stretch of beach. Most days it was crowded with roller-bladers, moms and strollers, kids on tricycles, joggers, cyclists, kite flyers, you name it. Today? Deserted.
“Don’ ya believe in magic, lass?”
Still here? I gave him a leave-me-alone stare, but he zipped up next to me as if his bike was rocket-propelled.
“Go away!” I yelled.
“The name’s Peregrine. The messenger,” he said, as if it would make a difference.
Silver hair curled at his temples, at odds with his tanned, unwrinkled face, and something flashed from his eyes: a glare, like sun glinting off a mirror. Though I pedaled like mad, Red came to a coasting stop by itself. Grabbing my cell phone, I hopped off, and my bike keeled over in the sand.
“Came t’ tell ya th’ goblin’s takin’ hold.”
Yanking my blazer around me, my heart hammering in my chest like a gavel, I backed up a few feet, maybe ten. “I gotta go.”
Another eye flash. His bike disappeared— poof—gone—and he did a chain of back flips that sent his top hat sailing twenty feet in the air. When he landed, he had no shoes. Or feet. Two black paws—like bear paws—stuck from under his pants’ legs, and long, pointy ears poked above his head.
Like a warm stick of butter, my phone slipped from my hand. Who was this guy?
“Peregrine.” He’d read my thoughts? “Jus’ a bit o’ time ‘tis all I be needin’.”
He parked himself on the bike path as his top hat thumped back on his head. For the first time I noticed the color of his eyes: Windex blue. And a strong cinnamon scent—like candy, ice cream, cookies, cinnamon buns—mingled with the salt-sea air. Could anybody scary smell so good?
“Why… why are you telling me about a goblin?” Maybe he was an escapee from the mental hospital in Fernside. Locals called it Happy Daze.
“Ya be thirteen next year. Time t’ use your magic. Got a special gift inside ya—” He tapped his chest. “—one tha’ come along once in a thousand spans.”
“You’ve got the wrong person,” I said, shoving my foot into a mound of seaweed. “I don’t know a thing about spans, and there’s nothing magical about me at all.”
But the seaweed spun into a tight green ball. Scattering a swarm of sand fleas, it twirled across the sand and collapsed in a breaking wave. Nothing like that had ever happened before.
“See ya know ‘bout your tappin’.” A slow smile spread across his face.
“Tapping? All I did was—”
“Be useful when ya come over.” Like during visiting hours? “Me boat’s right there.” And he pointed out to sea where a ghostly ship, veiled in fog, drifted on the horizon. “So, off we go.”
Go? The thumps of my heartbeats almost drowned out the surf. Where was everybody? “I’m not going anywhere with you, especially not in a boat. I get seasick… and car sick, bus sick, plane sick, every kind of motion sick. I get sick in an elevator.”
“Time be runnin’ out, lass. Th’ goblin’s takin’ t’ killin’ forests, an’ th’ creatures livin’ in ‘em.”
How could I get in touch with the guys in white coats? I was totally over my head here, under water, out of my league—fill in a favorite cliché. “I’m… very sorry about that. But one thing I know about goblins is they’re not real. So—”
“T’ be sure, they’re real. Dreadfully real. One especially.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “If that’s the case, what could I possibly do?”
“Stop ‘im. Time t’ teach ya th’ ways.”
“Goblins are outside my comfort zone, okay?”
“Th’ aird’ll be a help t’ ya.”
A gust of wind whipped my hair across my face. Brushing a clump behind my ears, I dropped to the sand. “I haven’t got an aird, whatever that is.”
His healthy tan seemed to pale a bit. “Ya no’ have th’ aird? Has your father said nothin’ ‘bout your flute?”
“My father! First of all, I don’t have a flute. And second, how do you know my father?”
“We go back a ways, Seven.”
Too bad. Such great eyes and awesome cheekbones. But it was time to call his bluff:
Ever since the day I was born—the seventh day of the seventh month on the seventh day of the week—Dad had called me Seven. Only Dad. To him it meant ‘everything’s cool,’ lucky number seven, that sort of thing. A word hug between him and me. Somehow, this guy had found out, and had picked today of all days, when I was late for school, to play with my head.
“You said your name is Peregrine, like the falcon?”
“A beautiful soarin’ spirit, aye.”
“And you say you know Dad, so I’m sure he mentioned his favorite piece of music.”
“O’ course!” He slapped his knee, and a snoozing seagull flapped into the air. “Th’ Bach Partita #2 for Solo Violin. Heard him play it once.”
Oh, man. He did know Dad. Why hadn’t my father ever mentioned this guy?
Peregrine leaded forward. “Ask ‘im about the aird. Your other world be needin’ ya. ‘Tis more important than anythin’ else.” His voice dropped an octave. “Make your farewells an’ come back tomorrow. Same time an’ place. I be waitin’.”
With a glance at my watch, I jumped to my feet and tossed my sandy phone into my backpack. “Don’t wait,” I said, whisking sand off my skirt. “This is… not my thing at all. I’m probably just hallucinating you because I’m exhausted. Last night I couldn’t sleep, which is why I’m late. A tardy already has my name on it.”
Peregrine somersaulted to his bear paws and rubbed his chin, as if I’d become a perplexing puzzle he needed to solve. With another flash from his eyes, a small bottle appeared in his hand. “Take this.”
It was made of glass—dark blue and slightly larger than a tube of lipstick. “What is it?” Something inside made a gloop-gloop sound.
“A portal-maker. Guard it well.” He set it in my palm. “When ya can, pour th’ contents on th’ ground. An’ if ya be needin’ help, get over t’ Dragon’s Tail.”
“You know about Dragon’s Tail?” I tossed Frisbees over there.
“At th’ old oak a portal once connected our worlds. Jus’ a teensy hole now. But a friend on th’ other side be hearin’ ya.”
I dropped the blue bottle into my backpack. What I’d do with a portal-maker I didn’t know. Again, I told Peregrine that he had the wrong person, but he tilted his head, as if listening to something in the air.
“My apologies.” His eyes dimmed to sapphire, like a cloud had crossed the sun. “I be summoned. Farewell ‘til tomorrow.”
With one last flash, he followed his bike—poof—gone—and the white boat vanished inside a cloud. Not even Shannon, my best friend, would believe this story.
I settled Red on the bike path as a blast of wind shot down my neck. Pausing to raise my collar, I noticed horse hoof prints trailing toward the bluff. A local from one of the hillside ranches must’ve gone for an early morning ride. Two joggers passed me. Now they show up.
Shaky with adrenalin, I raced the rest of the way to Ridgemont Preparatory School and pedaled up the drive. Another gust shot a two-by-four into my eye. Blinking away tears, I wobbled Red along the pavement. Tires screeched behind me. Yikes. A blue BMW hopped the curb, bounced a few feet, and bashed into a fire hydrant. A fountain of water drummed on the scrunched hood and splattered the sidewalk. Dropping Red on the grass, I ran to the car and recognized the kid inside: Joe Wheeler, my cousin Darla’s boyfriend.
“Let us take care of him,” yelled a staff person.
Sirens howled as people swarmed from the administration building and Joe struggled to un-wedge himself from a prison of giant-marshmallow-like airbags. As someone helped him out, he mumbled about ‘texting somebody.’ Ha. I knew I never liked that dude. He could’ve launched me into another dimension just because he wasn’t paying attention. Wait ‘til I told Shannon about this.
A bunch of students huddled on the sidelines, Darla’s BFF Emily among them. Glancing at me, she turned and whispered to the girl next to her. If my cousin only knew I’d seen Emily and Joe in a monster cling in the student parking lot, the BFF would become an ENO—Enemy Number One. But Darla’s love life wasn’t my business.
With Red stowed in the bike rack, I huffed and puffed into Advanced English. “Sorry, Mrs. Ruffino. There was an accident.” The kids stared up at me. “I… nearly got hit by a car.” Pant. Pant.
Eyebrows raised, the teacher gave me a not-so-sure-I-buy-this stare, and handed me my two-page essay on H.G. Wells. “Please take your seat, Miss Radlek.”
Causing a breeze, I raced to my chair, my eyes on the red-penciled A- circled at the top of my essay. Most of the time I could count on Mrs. Ruffino to start the day on a high note—like two octaves above middle C. Today felt more like a high E for Escape.
“All right, class,” Mrs. Ruffino began as I plopped into my chair, “What did Henry Thoreau mean by ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them’?”
A hand went up in the second row. “Yes, Mr. Lim?”
“Thoreau meant that many people die unhappy because their lives didn’t turn out the way they’d hoped or dreamed.”
How depressing. With a capital D. Even if life took me down a path I hadn’t planned on, couldn’t it turn out better than I’d hoped or dreamed? Besides, nothing could keep a song inside of me. Singing was like chocolate: my up elevator, my happy place. I didn’t even mind that the choir had to sing old Rogers & Hammerstein musicals. ‘Oklahoma! Where the wind comes whippin’ down the plains’ sort of got my blood stirring.
After school, I met Shannon and we rode home through the park. Although she lived downtown with her mom and two brothers, our routes overlapped part of the way. As we crunched through the rust-washed leaves, I gave her the rundown on my conversation with the P.E. teacher, Miss Fitch. A rundown on Peregrine might come later.
“Miss Fitch asked you again?” Shannon wrinkled her wind-reddened nose.
“Yup. Every fall it’s the same.” Squinting in the afternoon sun, I steered around a parked car. “Why am I supposed to love basketball just because I’m tall? Maybe I should’ve said I had enough balls to juggle.”
Her laugh—a trill, really—was like a stone skipping across a pond. We’d been friends since second grade. Could I trust her to be her usual kind, non-judgmental self about a chat with a rabbit-eared elf—or whatever he was?
“Shannon, do you believe in real magic?” It seemed a safe opener.
“I don’t know. Magicians learn to do tricks,” she said, drawing a hood over her auburn curls. “I guess it’s possible. Why?”
“Just wondered.” As soon as Dad came home, we’d have an out-of-the-box conversation about what was possible. But I didn’t feel ready to go there with Shannon.
Eleven minutes later I wheeled up the hill and into our driveway, prepared to let myself in. Maybe Mom couldn’t help that, for days or weeks at a time, she wasn’t around after school. Staying on top of Depositions and Deadlines kept her busy. And Dad couldn’t help that he’d Dedicated himself to his musical career. Still, I often felt Deserted, especially when the sky darkened, and the lights switched on in the empty house—empty, that is, but for me.
Today, though, an excited bark from the next-door neighbors’ yard meant a welcome Diversion. The Colton’s black and white spaniel waited at the gate, thumping his tail. I smiled. Tuxedo and I were pals. One day he’d told me he could pee higher on a tree than any other dog—a big thing in Doggyworld. I thanked him for sharing and always checked for damp spots before I leaned against a trunk.
Parking Red against the side of the house, I walked over. “Wanna play, Tux?”
He jumped in a circle with a slobbery, green ball lodged between his teeth. That was my answer. Sometimes, a picture says it all.
“Okay. Drop it,” I said, opening the gate.
He laid the ball at my feet and my first long throw sent it sailing into the woods. Of course, Tux went after it. Bounding over the back fence as if it were a log, he disappeared into a grove of White Ash. I raced after him. The Coltons would never forgive me if I lost their dog. So who could blame me if I didn’t watch where my feet were going? Bees. That’s who. I stepped into a hive nestled inside a hollow log, and a million of them swarmed over my shoe. If their low-pitched drone was any clue, the bees were a bit upset. Guess I’d be upset if somebody demolished my house.
I spun around, my heart doing jumping jacks, and glimpsed a bottle-green insect hovering over the nest. A dragonfly? I could’ve sworn it winked at me. Must’ve been a light trick. Or Tux’s shadow. Just a few yards away he pawed at a puddle to rescue his half-buried ball. His fur was a muddy mess.
“Tux, let’s get out of here!” His pathetic whine didn’t stop me from leading the way. “Never mind your ball. Come!”
Thanks to a supreme amount of luck, the bees didn’t chase us. But after hosing mud off the dog and honey off my shoes, I had no choice but to go home. My feet were soaked. I stomped upstairs with my backpack, and in a dry pair of socks from under the bed, a forest green sweatshirt and baggy jeans, headed for the kitchen. Wait. The potion. Shouldn’t I check it out, at least?
Sitting on the carpet in my room, I groped around for the bottle that had shifted to the bottom of my backpack. When I finally found it and rolled it between my fingers, the word ‘magic’ didn’t come screaming to my lips. It was just a small blue bottle with an ordinary glass stopper. I yanked off the top and sniffed the stuff inside. Yuck! Gross! Pee-ew! Like somebody badly in need of a shower. Back went the stopper, but a drop of blue stuff dripped onto my finger. Ouch! Pain like a burn from a lighted match. Instantly, I wiped my finger on the carpet. Rot. A wisp of gray smoke rose from the spot. The potion was eating through the fibers, singeing the carpet. If the house burned down, would I be hauled off to jail for arson?
Paralyzed, I stared at the spot until my brain clicked in, and I beat on the carpet with my wet shoe. The smoke took its last breath, but the damage was done: my pale blue carpet pockmarked by a nickel-sized hole. Would Mom notice? Gingerly, as if the stuff was radioactive, I carried the bottle to my desk and hid it underneath a pile of junk in my middle drawer. I’d figure out a better place for it later. The potion wasn’t something to mess around with.
Downstairs, I grabbed an apple from the refrigerator and heard Mom call me from her study. Weird. She must’ve come in while I was with Tux. Crunching on the apple, I propped myself in the doorframe to her office. Though sunlight streamed in from the garden windows, she had the desk lamp on.
“Whatcha doing?” I asked, as if I didn’t know. Probably a Deposition. Papers littered the entire surface of her desk.
Mom slid back in her chair, her silk blouse pulled from the waistband of her skirt. “Organizing my notes for tomorrow’s deposition. Court let out early.”
I nodded, trying not to roll my eyes. “Do you know when Dad’ll be home?”
“Don’t you remember? He’s on a golf trip with two of his buddies from the orchestra. He’ll be back tomorrow.”
I did know that. Dad had told me before I went to bed. So my questions about Peregrine would be limbo-ed for another whole day. “What’s for dinner?” All I could smell was lemon furniture polish. The oak-paneled walls reeked of it.
“With meatballs, right?”
Her exhaled breath fluttered her papers and she wove her fingers through her cropped, highlighted hair, the wisps on top waving like corn silk. Turning to face me, she said, “You need to know that Darla’s staying over tonight.”
Not good news. The guest room was piled with file boxes because Mom had run out of space in her study. “Where’s she gonna sleep? The guest room’s a mess.”
“With you, of course. On the extra bed.”
“Aw, come on, Mom! Darla snores.”
“You’ll manage. Doctor Meecham never showed up for her appointment today. Some emergency. So she’s rescheduled for the morning and I’m driving her in.”
“Why can’t Aunt Jessica take her?”
“Mornings aren’t usually… good for my sister.” Yeah, ‘cause she’s usually hung over. “Besides, Darla’s cardiologist is right next to the courthouse. It works for me.”
“Not for me,” I muttered.
Mom hunched over her desk again, and the creak of her chair made me think of the Coltons’ sailboat docked in the marina. “Did you have a good day at school?”
Should I tell her a strange dude wanted to take me away in his boat, or that I was nearly run over by Darla’s boyfriend? “I got an A minus on my English paper.”
“Good for you, honey! Now, unless you’re fixing dinner, let me finish here. I’ll be more conversational after this is done.” She gave me a lightning-quick smile. “But I’m not making meatballs.”
Back in my room I flicked open my social studies textbook, and a slip of paper flitted from between the pages. Someone had written notes about trees, maybe for a quiz. ‘Sap is like a tree’s blood,’ ‘Leaves are like its lungs,’ ‘Trees need air as much as people and animals,’ ‘Without the oxygen trees make, we couldn’t live on this planet.’ Nice. I taped the note to the base of my desk lamp. Still, the best thing about a tree? It stayed in one place; it would always ‘be there’ for me.
After Uncle Frank dropped off Darla, the two of us set the table and Mom dished out the spaghetti—with meatballs. She’d changed her mind because Darla liked them. Darla’s heart problem always got special treatment. I left a mound of spaghetti on my plate to make a statement, but Darla had to suck up to Mom and ask for seconds. Later, while a puttering-motorboat noise came from the extra bed, my mind swirled with images of long ears and bear paws. My stomach felt frozen, and the coldness refused to melt.
There are strings in the human heart that had better not be vibrated.
Charles Dickens Barnaby Rudge Ch.22
Chapter 2: Hiding In Hats
When the radio jolted me awake, I was grateful. In one of my dreams leather-skinned monsters with curved horns and snouts chased me with a sack. Maybe hunger—not enough spaghetti—had brought it on.
Hopping out of bed, I recited my new mantra: Whatever comes my way today let it not be weird, okay? The wish lasted three seconds. Something about my reflection in the mirror called for inspection.
I scrambled to the window to flip open the blinds and practically yanked the cord off the rod. As sunbeams raided my room with yellow rectangles, guess-who breezed in.
“Tsk. It’s hot in here,” Darla said. Fluffing the collar of Mom’s other robe, she dropped her hairbrush on my desk.
“My window faces east,” I murmured, peering into the mirror.
All week I’d felt a tiny bump on the tips of my ears. Now they were pea-sized.
Darla swiveled to the closet and shoved everything I owned down the rack. “I hate uniforms! Sophomores get ‘free dress’ every Friday. I can’t wait ‘til next year.” She hurled her blouse onto the bed. “I’m much too pale to wear white. And who wears skirts anymore?”
In a panic about my ears I barely heard her. Where were my slippers? “Did Mom say what time we’re leaving?”
“I think in fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes!” My fuzzy, blue mules gave up their hiding place under the bed and I slid into them, shrugging on my robe. With knobby feet like mine I could only wear extra wide shoes. Nothing cute ever fit. “How are you getting to school after your appointment?”
“Mother’ll pick me up.” Her eyebrows came together. “I wish Ridgemont was closer to downtown.”
“Yeah… Sorry that you have to see a cardiologist.” Darla had already undergone two heart surgeries due to an obstructed valve. Maybe I’d need to see a doctor about my ears.
“Let’s drop it,” she said.
Why? It’s not news that your mother drank while she was pregnant with you. “What’s wrong?”
Fumbling with the button on her navy skirt, she glared at me. “Just drop it.”
Fine. Darla would be old and gray before I mentioned it again. I stomped to the door and she let out a squeal.
“Omigod! Why didn’t I notice these creases on my face!” Standing as close to the mirror as she could get, she rubbed furiously, turning her cheek lipstick-red. “It must be from that rotten pillow!”
“I’ll see if Mom has any anti-wrinkle cream.”
A shoe skidded past my head as I dashed to the bathroom where I learned the worst. The bumpy things on top of my ears wouldn’t rub off or squeeze off. Not like zits. Something really bad was happening. But why? Already, I was an ostrich in a field of sparrows. Now I’d be even more conspicuous.
Shaken to the bone, I added two new things to my long morning routine: gobs of gel on the long, raven strands draping my cheeks, and a please-please-with-chocolate-sprinkles-on-top-wish for cold-rain-snow-sleet-hail—fill in the blank—anything that would give me an excuse to wear a hat.
When I came out, Mom was jingling her car keys. “You’re not even dressed yet?” Her face seemed to have extra corners. “I have court at nine. You’ll have to take your bike.” And she clopped away on her stiletto heels, Darla right behind her.
In a cyclone rush I pulled on my uniform and squeezed into shoes that might’ve been popular fifty years ago. Maybe Peregrine could tell me what the flip was going on. He’d said to come back ‘the same time tomorrow.’ Locking an olive green beanie on my head, I dashed to the garage to get Red. But, before we’d even wheeled down the drive, I changed my mind about going. I couldn’t be late for school. Not again.
After my last class let out, I rode to the thrift store downtown and paused at the door to give Emory, the sleepy-eyed bloodhound, a few scratches behind the ear. He filled me in on the latest news: Last week, a couple across the street had adopted a baby girl. I wondered if the baby would learn about her birth family when she got old enough to understand.
Inside, I picked out three funky hats from a wicker basket, and the lady at the cash register sold them to me for four dollars. When I arrived home, Dad was lounging on the living room sofa, his eyes on the muted TV, his tuxedo shirt unbuttoned at the neck, and his tie, like two black ribbons, dangling around his collar.
“You’re back!” I pulled off my shoes and padded over, my hats balled in my fist.
“You don’t usually wear hats,” he said, pointing to my head. “Suits you.”
I yanked off my beanie and tossed it on the coffee table with the others. Dad’s face looked as gray as his thinning hair, and a roll of skin bagged under his eyes. Cozying against his shirt, I kissed his cheek and asked about his golf game.
“A long drive,” he said with a smile. “But I got two birdies.”
“Awesome. Why are you already in your concert clothes?”
“Peter wants to run through the second movement. Got to leave in…” He glanced at his watch as he wrapped his arm around me. “…less than an hour.”
Time was short. “I, um… I have something to tell you.” I felt his arm tense.
“I had a feeling. What is it?” I told him about the bumps growing on my ears and the angles in his face seemed to squeeze together. “I think… whether you’re ready or not… that I should explain a few things,” he said.
“More than a few. I want to know what’s happening to me.”
He leaned his head on the sofa back. His sigh seemed to come from his toes.
“Talk to me, Dad. What am I? Is the fact that I understand dogs part of it?” I realized that my body trembled. Even my teeth shook.
“The connection with dogs is probably your alter-essence, which is some—”
Dad eased off his glasses and cleared his throat. “Ah…. this is… going to be harder than I thought,” he said.
“Do you mean what the man told me is true?” I took his glasses, set them on the table and leaned closer.
“Somebody with… with rabbit ears and bear paws.”
“Oh. You met Peregrine.”
“Yes. That was his name. His accent sounded… Irish-like… and other things.”
“You’ll hear all manner of speech in…” He hesitated and squeezed my hand. “Here’s the deal. You are the bridge.”
“Between the mortal realm and the realm of the Faer.”
“Huh? What does that mean?”
He stretched his long legs under the coffee table and gazed at me. “Since the time when the Faer came to be laughed upon… and respect for our kind was left to the minds and hearts of children, you have remained the wish of ages. You are the hope of generations of magical creatures because you are of both worlds.”
“Magical creatures…?” I felt the blood drain from my face and barely breathed.
“You’re the only one who can stop the goblin,” he said.
“But how can I possibly—”
“By going through a portal… into Dandelorn.”
“Dandelorn! That’s just an imaginary place you told me about when I was a kid.”
He turned toward me. “Seven, I don’t know how to say this, except to just say it. I’m from Dandelorn.”
“What? You’re from Norway.”
He shook his head. “I just lived there for a time after a procedure changed my… appearance—a procedure called flehren.”
Words wouldn’t come together. Dad had always topped my list of Favorite D Words—above Dickens, dogs, dandelions, and my favorite Dark & Dandy chocolate. If he was from another world—a world of goblins and creatures with bear paws—what did that say about me? Questions tumbled in my brain, too confused to sort out.
“The bones in my feet didn’t heal right,” he went on. “Flehren doesn’t work well on… on elf feet, apparently. So… you know… my feet give me trouble.”
The beats of my heart did a tap dance. “And I need special shoes. Is it because I’m getting elf feet?”
“I… don’t know. You’re only half Elven. As far as your appearance goes, nobody knew how… how you might…”
“What do you mean, ‘nobody knew’?” The wobble in my voice refused to leave. My breaths came fast.
He gave me a look that said ‘I-don’t-know-how-to-say-this.’ “An Elven-human child has never… You’re the first. In Dandelorn, anyway.” He glanced at my face and added hurriedly. “Dandelorn is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Seven. Beautiful beyond words. Your home would be in Amber-lyn, in the Dun’u’Var Mountains.”
I felt numb, as if I’d spent an hour in a freezer. “How could you do this to me?”
“I never wanted to… to hurt you.” He blinked several times. “I thought… when you were little… that you couldn’t keep the secret, that you’d tell your mother, and so—”
“Mom would’ve just laughed. She would’ve called it my imagination running away with me.”
“And how would you have felt when you knew you were telling the truth?”
“Well… bad, I guess. But—”
“And if you’d persisted, there could’ve been worse trouble. Lots worse. At school… with your teachers… friends. So, instead, I told you stories and we played make-believe games. I needed to wait until you were old enough to handle the truth. But I guess I waited too long.”
An angry heat rushed up my neck and enflamed my warm skin. “You guess?”
Hands clenched into balls, I stormed to my room, and by the time Dad showed up—I knew he would—I’d thrashed my pillow against the wall over and over, and worn a path in the carpet while I waited for my head to explode.
He limped toward me, taking an object from his pants’ pocket. “I promise I’ll go easier on you for now. I want to give you this.” A glossy orange stone the size of a lemon sat in his palm. “It’s a charm called an Enywyl, designed for you alone, to respond to your every need.”
I tossed my pillow on the rocking chair, took the stone and pinched it between my fingers. Glittery gold flecks sparkled in the light from the window.
“It’s a gift from a special group of elves. Made by dwarves. Miners. The Enywyl has been looking after you since you were born.”
So. Now I knew. The Enywyl was the reason I’d escaped colds, the flu, even hangnails all my life. Last summer, when I sliced the ball of my foot on a shell at the beach, the cut healed in thirty seconds. Probably, the Enywyl had helped me avoid a smash up with Joe Wheeler’s BMW. It was as if a safety faery waited in the wings to wave her magic wand for me.
“Can the Enywyl fix my ears and feet?”
His jaw tightened. “No. I wish it could, but…”
“What if I don’t want to be half an elf?” Flopping onto my bed, I set the stone on the bedside table. “What if I just want to be a normal kid who sings in the choir and does stuff with the nature club?”
Dad sat beside me and hugged my shoulder. “It’s good to be different. With elves like me… like us… magic flows through our feet. Just tap and watch what happens.”
I thought back to the morning. Had I caused the creases on Darla’s face when I’d pictured her old and gray? Wicked cool! What else could I do?
“Let me be clear,” Dad went on. “Magic should only be done in Dandelorn.” I glanced away. “I cheat when I make you Wiggle Pudding, but that’s… well…different.”
Wiggle Pudding was my favorite dessert that he only made when Mom wasn’t around. I had to eat fast before the blueberry foam slithered from the bowl by itself. Usually, I made a mess.
“Besides, you have a destiny,” he added.
A D word that belonged in my ‘least favorite’ category.
“My destiny is up to me. And Dandelorn is another world. I’d be totally lost. Nobody speaks English.”
“Who told you that?”
“Well… no one. I just thought—”
“Everyone speaks some form of English. Of course it’s a second language, but you wouldn’t have any trouble.”
Something about his smile suggested that I should say, “Great. I’m going.” Instead, I wanted to hide. Pulling up the extra blanket, I resisted the urge to pull it over my head. Oh. There it was again. In the oak tree at the side of the house. The nasal weh, weh song of a white-breasted Nuthatch that breaks open nuts by jamming them into tree trunks and tapping on them. Dad was nodding and gazing at his shoes when I tuned in again.
“Leaving Dandelorn was… very hard,” he was saying.
“Why did you, then?”
“Partly for you. And partly to reign in the trolls that had snuck into Norway. They were sending trophies—certain Earthworld objects—to Brabblerouse. Most of them fled to Dandelorn rather than deal with me, but some hid and dispersed. They’re still causing trouble—tricking folks and dragging them away to underground dens to die a slow death, never to see the light of day again.”
“Yuck. Why did they pick Norway? Why can’t anybody find them and capture them?”
“In winter months Norway is a free-for-all for trolls. It’s never-ending darkness. In summer months they hide in basements and cellars.”
“In sunlight, they turn to stone. It’s an important thing to remember.” He went on to describe them, but I stopped listening. My brain had reached information overload. A magical Destiny didn’t make me special—it only meant I didn’t belong here.
Dad noticed my glazed expression, I guess, because he said, “I know this is a lot to take in. But here’s the thing: Peregrine might have brought the trolls closer—to me, to us. His powerful energy creates an imbalance, which is why the messenger only comes to the Earthworld when he must.”
“In that case, this world is scary enough. Who needs Dandelorn’s problems?”
“It will get even scarier here. The goblin—his name is Brabblerouse—is busy creating a portal.”
“Why would Blabbermouth—”
“Brabblerouse. Gamil Brabblerouse.”
“Why would he want to come here?”
“Revenge. Against me, against humans. Over past losses, past failures. The goblin’s magic would wreak havoc. This world is not prepared to deal with him.” Dad’s mouth sagged, as if he’d just been told his Stradivarius was missing.
“I’ll take my chances.” Maybe I was being Difficult, as Mom would be quick to point out, but my life was my life and I had a say in it.
As if hunting for words in the air, Dad opened and closed his mouth a few times, and a dark emotion seemed to pull on the skin around his jaw. After a moment he nodded. “All right. I’ll go. I’ll go back.”
My insides turned wobbly. “You will? But… what about the… the flute, the aird thing?” I hugged my legs. “Isn’t it important?”
“It is. But only to you. All I need is the portal-maker Peregrine gave you.”
How did he know about that? A hard silence followed, like a wall between us.
“Well, didn’t Peregrine give you a potion?” he persisted.
I gazed into his sad-looking eyes. “Um… I’m trying to remember. I was pretty scared, and everything he said confused me. I think… he… he told me to go to a tree… that somebody would help me.” It wasn’t a lie, just a substitute truth—a side step with a bit of omission.
“Look, “ he began, “I know this isn’t easy. Not for me, either. You’re the only kid I’ve got in this world. I love you and your mother with all my heart.”
Just in time, a garage-door rumble from the other side of the wall meant our terrible conversation could come to an end. Mom was home.
“Time is running out.” Rubbing the back of his neck, Dad got to his feet. Deep creases lined the bags under his eyes. Maybe this situation weighed on him more than I knew.
“I get it, Dad.” He believed that one of us had to stop this crazy goblin, and I believed that neither of us did.
So, my next task was clear: to hide the potion someplace where my father would never find it.