This is the first part of a Children’s novel I am writing. The rest will be released upon eventual publication, which I will update about on this blog when the time comes. Enjoy!
Zarah squinted at Ferdinand, giving him her best scolding look, before speaking in her most authoritative voice.
“Ferdinand!” She bellowed. “Put Mr Smith’s cow down! Now!”
Ferdinand lowered his head sheepishly, but did not let go of the scruff of Bessie’s neck immediately.
“Ferdinaaaaand…” She warned now utilizing her menacing voice. Scrunching her face into a scowl to further show him her displeasure she then said “Naughty Dragon!”
Ferdinand lowered Bessie to the ground; setting her on her feet. Bessie turned to look up at the oaf of a reptile, snorting with disdain before ambling to the other side of the pasture.
“I am so sorry, Mr Smith,” Zarah said. “It won’t happen again.”
“Quite alright, your Majesty,” he responded. “We all know Ferdinand just wants to play – I just wish he could find a playmate his own size!”
“As do I,” Zarah responded before glaring back at Ferdinand; gesturing with two fingers to let him know she was still watching him.
Ferdinand bared his teeth in a silly grin and wagged his tail like a dog; taking out Dolores – another one of Mr Smith’s milk cows.
Dolores scrambled back to her feet and scurried as far out of harm’s way as she could.
Zarah squeezed the bridge of her nose, closed her eyes, and sighed.
“Come on, boy. Time to go home.”
Home for Zarah and Ferdinand was a sizeable castle on a picturesque hill a few miles away. Zarah decided it was a good a day as any to take a stroll, so instead of climbing onto Lady Licorice – her noble dapple steed – she held the reigns and walked beside her while Ferdinand plodded along the path behind them.
Ferdinand was too large to walk side by side with Zarah anymore. Zarah glanced back at him, remembering him as a pup. He used to be small enough to live inside the castle with her. Sadly, as Ferdinand grew he became too big not only for his frilly pink canopied four-post bed, but also to sit on Zarah’s lap – much to his chagrin.
The day that he took a running leap onto Zarah – as she sat in her arm chair reading the Sunday funnies in front of the fireplace – was the day she commissioned a dragon-sized kennel outside of the building; after she caught her breath of course. She commissioned frilly pink curtains as well, to be made out of his old canopy to help ease his transition to his new ‘room.’
Turning back to face forward, she walked a few moments in silence before glancing over at Lady Licorice with a sly grin.
“How about another adventure, Lady?”
Lady Licorice whinnied in approval.
“Good, it’s settled – we’ll set out in a couple of days! It’s been too long since we’ve had a quest! A good three weeks at least!”
Zarah was starting to get excited now; she had a wanderlust and thrived when there were adventures to be had, mysteries to be solved, and experiences to be made.
“Ferdinand needs a friend his own size,” Zarah stated. “And WE are going to find him one!”
Lady Licorice snorted and glanced at her sideways.
“Don’t worry, Lady,” said Zarah. “King Eric won’t object. I’ll speak to him as soon as we get home. Daddy is a reasonable person – he’ll see this is a noble – and necessary – venture!”
King Eric looked up to see his daughter, Princess Zarah, walking into the room. No, not walking – bouncing. ‘She looks much to cheerful,’ he thought as he squinted at her.
The king supposed he was biased, but he knew there was no one that could disagree that Zarah was the prettiest princess the kingdom had had for a long time. Suitors came from far and wide to request the honor of courting her, though Zarah had no interest in being courted. Secretly King Eric was pleased by this.
Her hair was dark and wispy, constantly falling into her face. It had become second nature for Zarah to brush her hair out of her face without being conscious of it; then showing off her equally dark and shining eyes.
“Good afternoon, Daddy!” Zarah sung cheerfully as she approached the king, who was sitting at his desk.
King Eric groaned, “You’re about to ask for something, aren’t you?”
“As a matter of fact…”
The king groaned again.
Zarah looked at him patiently.
“Well, what is it then? Get on with it.”
“I would if you wouldn’t interrupt, Daddy,” she said with a smile. She then came around his desk and gave him a hug around his neck and pecked a kiss on his cheek.
He looked up at her sideways with a look of suspicion. She still had her arms around his neck and was leaning over his shoulder grinning at him. He let out a defeated sigh, he knew he’d likely give in to whatever whim she had this time – though he steeled his resolve to fight valiantly before giving in to his sweet, adorable, intelligent… guileful… daughter.
“Well?” he asked again.
“Well…” She stated. “I went for a lovely walk this morning with Lady and Ferdinand…”
“MmmHmmm,” the king said cautiously.
“…And we went to visit Farmer Smith… You know, Mr Smith really is a lovely man – keeps such a nice, tidy farm… You should see it sometime, Daddy! Even the pigs keep their sty spotless… Though I suppose you can’t call it a ‘sty’ if it’s not filthy though, can you?” she mused.
King Eric sighed in an intentionally exasperated way.
Zarah smiled wryly at her father, she knew he was used to her tricks to distract him by now.
“Okay, Daddy, I’ll get to the point,” she said as she straightened up; taking her arms away from his neck and placing one hand on his shoulder.
Then, she put on her all-business face.
“Father,” she said formally. “Ferdinand was trying to play with Mr Smith’s cows again. I don’t need to tell you, he has gotten much too big to be playing with the bovines or any other animals in the immediate vicinity in a safe manner.” She paused to let this sink in.
Zarah then started pacing; back straight, hands behind her back. Walking back and forth imitating Admiral Johnson; the king’s most gruff and serious advisor.
“We do Ferdinand a disservice, Father, by keeping him deprived of friends his own size…”
“You want to send Ferdinand back to Drakevik?” King Eric said hopefully.
Zarah stopped her pacing to glare at him; breaking her professionalism.
“Daddy!” she scolded, throwing her hands to her hips.
“Sorry, dear, go on.”
Zarah straightened again and restarted her pacing.
“No, Father, I propose that I go on a quest to find Ferdinand a playmate his own size – for his sake, for the safety of our kingdom’s livestock, and for … Ummmm…” she faltered for a moment. “Well, for everyone’s sanity, really.”
She stopped pacing and stared at the king expectantly.
King Eric sighed, she did make a fair point or three. “Another quest? You only just got back from your last one!”
Zarah opened her eyes wide; pleading with her best puppy dog impression.
The king stayed silent for a moment while he considered it all. He knew if he said ‘No,’ she would just go enlist her mother, Queen Kadence, to help change his mind. First, she’d reason with him that Zarah’s arguments were sound. Ferdinand could certainly use a friend. If Zarah remained responsible there should be no reason to stand in her way. If he resisted still … Well… He could hear her rant starting already.
“Our daughter is her own person!” Kadence would say. “Zarah is a strong, capable girl! She’s almost seventeen already, don’t forget! Let her go – her adventures make her happy!”
‘Well,’ he thought. ‘It would make life easier if Ferdinand were more equally matched.’ He let out one more grumpy grunt for her benefit, then said “Okay, okay, you can go.”
Zarah let out a squeal and scurried over to give him another neck hug.
“Thankyouthankyouthankyou! I love you, Daddy!”
“That being said,” he continued sternly. “When you get back you must promise that you will stay home for a minimum of two months before any more quests… and I expect you will be responsible, and that you take someone to accompany you.”
“Well, I’ll be bringing Ferdinand – he’ll keep me safe. Besides, he’ll need to have say in his new friend after all.”
“I mean a person,” he said. “How about you ask your friend Leona? She’s always good for keeping your head out of the clouds.”
“Okay! I can do that!” Zarah said, visibly pleased. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” She gave him another quick squeeze before running out of the room – on her way to enlist Leona into her next adventure.
Leona sat cross legged on Zarah’s bed, squinting at her dubiously. “What makes you think you can find a playmate for Ferdinand? Most creatures his size are much too aggressive. You’ve babied him since he was a pup… he acts more like an oafish dog than a dragon! Seriously, Zarah,” she said shaking her head. “Sometimes I wonder what goes on in your head… Have you even thought this out? I mean really thought about it?”
Zarah sighed in exasperation and turned to face Leona, tossing her cape she had just taken from her wardrobe in to her ‘take’ pile. “Come on, Leona… Don’t be a party pooper! If nothing else this adventure will be fun… What’s the harm in at least trying?”
Leona pursed her lips. It was hard to argue further if Zarah wasn’t even admitting that she actually expected a successful quest. Of course, Zarah had always considered any outcome that was fun or exciting as successful regardless of the previously stated goal.
Leona was a couple years older than Zarah and fancied herself more mature, but deep down she loved Zarah’s youthful spark and used her as the excuse to act childish. Their friendship had started when the King and Queen had suggested to her parents a play date might be prudent – they wanted a level headed friend for their flighty dreamer of a daughter. That was when they were 6 and 8, respectively. Leona had always been level headed and tried so hard to be mature in her parent’s eyes… but she supposed that she and Zarah actually did each other good. They balanced each other out.
They had quickly become best friends and had remained so ever since. It helped that Leona’s father had a relatively high position in King Eric’s court and that her mother was a Lady-in-waiting to Queen Kadence, so they all lived within the castle. Zarah provided the carefree fun for Leona – though she did often require some prompting first, it didn’t take long to convince her of shenanigans- and Leona provided just enough caution and sensibility to keep them out of any real trouble.
“Okay, Okay,” Leona said. “So where do we start?”
Zarah paused again and tilted her head as she thought for a moment. “Hmmm… I think you’re right about Ferdinand likely not fitting in with other dragons… We best leave Drakevik as a last resort… Ummm… How about we head to that Kingdom to the East… What’s it called? Oh, yeah – Pittoreska – Prince Whathisface lives there and doesn’t he have a pet Griffin?”
“Prince Arvid? And yes, I believe he does… I suppose that might be an option…”
Zarah reached back into her wardrobe again, pushing the few gowns she owned to the side. She rarely wore them – saving them for state events or balls – she would rather be comfortable on a daily basis, given her penchant for seeking out adventure. Besides… What a bore to be restricted in what she could do if she had to worry about messing up a nice dress. It was simply practical to leave her gowns at tucked away in her wardrobe. She pulled out a couple extra pair of knicker pants and a couple extra tunics and tossed them into her pile.
“I think that will do,” she said half to herself. She then looked up at Leona and smiled, “Time to pull your knickers and tunics back out!”
Leona groaned. She actually liked her frocks. She felt silly wearing her knickers but knew that Zarah was as ever right about the practicality of leaving the dresses at home. She also knew after a short time she’d get comfortable as always and nearly forget her embarrassment that was due to her outfit.
“Yeah, yeah… Okay,” Leona sighed. “Let’s go to my room and dig them out. They may need a wash though, I think I stuffed them in my trunk. They likely smell like moth balls again.”
“Well, come on then!” Zarah said as she gestured to Leona to follow and pranced out the door.
Leona let out a loud overly dramatic sigh for Zarah’s benefit, though deep down the excitement was starting to grow. A small smile crept onto her face as she hopped off of the bed and hurried out after her friend.
Leona opened one eye to glare at whoever was at fault for waking her up in such a way – a violent jostling of her bed as the culprit bounced up and down on her mattress.
“For crying out loud… ZARAH! Stoooopppp,” Leona whined. “It’s not even 4:30 yet!”
“Early bird catches the worm!” Zarah responded way too cheerfully as she continued to bounce… Though she slowed slightly since her main mission had been accomplished – Leona was awake.
Leona groaned and shut her eye again. “When you said we’d get an early start, I thought you meant like… 7 or 8… Time for a nice, hearty breakfast… So… Just…” Leona faded off and started snoring ever so quietly.
Zarah plopped to her knees so she could grasp Leona’s shoulders and shake her. “Leona! Rise and shine already!”
“Go awaaaaaayyyy,” Leona whined with her eyes still closed. “You’re worse than mother on a school day!”
“Why thank you,” Zarah grinned facetiously.
Leona sighed as she arched her head back in a pathetic attempt to stretch and then opened her eyes. She turned to give Zarah a deadpan look to convey her annoyance. Zarah was sitting there on her knees looking all too pleased with herself.
Zarah was much too awake and much too excited; Leona knew there was no fighting it. Zarah would continue to harass her until she got out of bed regardless.
“FINE,” she said as she suddenly started to thrash around to rid herself of her blankets as quickly and with as big a show as she could muster. She’d get up – but she wouldn’t be happy about it.
By the time she was dressed in her horrid knicker pants and tunic, Zarah was waiting for her in the kitchen for breakfast. Leona gave the exhausted looking cook a knowing and sympathetic smile. They both should have seen this coming. Every adventure of Zarah’s started before dawn and with a large plate of waffles and eggs.
They should have seen it coming – in fact the cook had prepped her batter the night before in anticipation – but that didn’t make getting up that early any easier.
Leona flopped into a chair across from Zarah with a pout, but as cook placed her plate in front of her she soon forgot to make the show of discontentment for Zarah’s sake. There were waffles with butter and jam, scrambled eggs with crispy bits of bacon, orange slices, and a steaming cup of coffee with cream. Her pout quickly turned into a smile and she expressed her gratitude to cook promptly.
“Thank you ever so much, Ingrid!” Leona smiled. “Is Ferdinand up?” She then said as she turned her attention back to Zarah.
“For the most part… He’s drowsily eating his breakfast from what the Head Groom just reported. Apparently he is snoring between bites,” Zarah chuckled. “But he’ll be good to go shortly, it’s always a slow start with him…” Zarah paused to take a large bite of waffle and as her cheeks puffed out in her attempt to chew, Leona responded.
“Poor Ferdinand… We’re not going to get very far today if we are all too fatigued. You know day one is always the hardest on us… Next time you better promise to let us sleep in or I’ll refuse to go!”
Zarah swallowed and said “No you won’t.”
Leona snorted and answered in a defensive tone, “I sure will!”
Zarah looked at her knowingly and almost bored. “Blah, blah, blah. You said the same thing the last three times you came out with me. Get a new line, Leona. Besides, you’d secretly be annoyed if you realized you missed out on the fun.”
An expression of disgust crossed Leona’s face. She was disgusted because she knew Zarah was right and she had no argument at the ready.
“Besides,” Zarah continued. “Pittoreska is only an hour ride away at a quick gallop. We can take our time today and when we’re done we can go make an early camp by that one lake – Sagobok Fjorden – the biggest one.”
“Well, I suppose you’re right… And the fjord area is quite beautiful and relaxing this time of year.” Leona conceded and focused back on her plate.
The girls finished up their hearty breakfast and ran off in different directions to find their parents for goodbyes and hugs and then met up at the stable where the Head Groom, Gustav, had their horses ready and waiting. Ferdinand was also standing there patiently, still holding his blankie, but otherwise looking sufficiently alert.
“Thank you, sir,” Zarah said as Gustav handed her Lady Licorice’s reigns. Leona parroted the same sentiment when he then handed over her horse’s reigns.
Leona stroked her horse’s nose, nuzzled up to her face and said quietly “Good morning Princess Snowflake, are you ready for adventure?”
Leona was nodding off with sleep as her white steed plodded along next to Zarah and her dapple. Ferdinand skipped happily behind them both, periodically causing Leona to jerk awake when he landed so hard that the ground shook beneath him.
“We’re almost there!” Zarah exclaimed as she pointed ahead towards a castle looming in the distance.
They had been taking their time so the journey that would usually take an hour had taken three instead. Now it was just before 9 AM, a perfectly decent time to call upon Prince Arvid and his Griffin.
“We haven’t seen Arvid in ages,” Leona said. “I wonder if he’s changed much.”
Zarah pulled a face. “I dunno. All I remember was last time we saw him was when we went to the Kingdom of Elgbjerg for Princess Svea’s wedding… Remember?”
“Even at thirteen he was… Um… Less than pleasant,” Zarah said, trying to be diplomatic.
“Still, thirteen is still young… Surely he’s grown up a bit over the last four years,” Leona responded.
“He pulled my braid, Leona!” Zarah stated emphatically. “And he laughed at my accent and made fun of my gown… and …and he wasn’t nice to you either!”
Leona sighed as she remembered the awful things Arvid had said under his breath to her trying to illicit a reaction from her during the wedding service. No doubt he was trying to get her to have an outburst and embarrass herself in front of everybody. Luckily, she had been able to control her temper and keep her cool. This had only served to annoy him, which of course pleased the girls to no end.
“Then why are we even here? You clearly haven’t forgiven him for his childish antics,” Leona said.
“Well, like you said… Maybe he’s changed… and he does have a Griffin,” she responded. “It’s at least worth the try.”
The girls approached the castle and were let through the gates promptly when the guards saw that it was Zarah. It had been awhile since she had visited Pittoreska, but her image was well known in the area; as was her dragon.
They waited in the courtyard watering their horses as the Prince was notified of their arrival.
The boy that strode out to greet them had grown into a handsome young man. He had blond hair, blue eyes, a nice stature, and had clearly been athletically active. Neither young woman could deny he was much more pleasing to the eye now, especially compared to his lanky thirteen year old self.
“Good Morning, Ladies,” Arvid greeted them courteously. “What can I do for you lovely creatures today?”
Zarah squinted at him. On one hand she was flattered to be considered ‘lovely,’ but on the other hand it seemed to rub her the wrong way being referred to as a creature of any sort. She let the turn of phrase go; however, as she wanted to remain polite as possible for the time being. At least until she had sussed out the situation.
Zarah explained their mission in a way that was to the point and professional. She figured neither of them had time to waste.
Arvid scoffed and pasted a smug look on his face as he responded “An adventure? You two?” He then let out a laugh. “Girls shouldn’t be going on adventures, especially alone… and come on… What is with those outfits anyway?”
Leona’s face blushed hot. She was already self conscious about wearing her knicker pants in public, but she said nothing.
“Are you going to help us introduce your griffin to Ferdinand or not?” Zarah asked, fuming but ignoring his disrespectful tone and hurtful comments.
Arvid crossed his arms and looked at her for a moment before sighing. “Ok, fine. Since you’re so determined.” He then turned to shout to one of his groomsmen to fetch Greyfell.
“Greyfell the Griffin?” Leona mouthed to Zarah. They both smirked at each other. Deep down they didn’t particularly think it was a bad name, but the alliteration gave them something to giggle over – something to make fun of Arvid over among themselves. Besides, it was a very… horsey name. Not so much a griffin name; not that they could even say what a griffin’s name should be.
Greyfell swooped down and landed with barely a sound and perched on a ledge to the left of Arvid. He was a majestic creature, neither Leona nor Zarah could deny that either.
They each sucked in a breath as he appeared.
“I’ve never actually seen a griffin up close,” Zarah said.
“He’s magnificent,” Leona acknowledged in awe.
Arvid clearly looked proud at how impressed they were. He then turned to Greyfell and explained that Zarah had brought Ferdinand to play and see if they might become friends. Ferdinand stood grinning at Greyfell and waved as Greyfell turned to look him over.
Greyfell cocked his head to consider Ferdinand for a moment, his eyes the only part of him moving as they assessed the dragon from head to toe. A moment later he straightened his head and then made a show of turning up his beak and snubbing poor Ferdinand.
Greyfell turned to Arvid and let out a couple screeches as he shook his head and puffed out some of his neck feathers.
Leona and Zarah looked at Ferdinand and then back at each other, not sure of what was going on.
Arvid looked as though he was listening intently to Greyfell and once the screeching stopped he turned to the rest of them to translate.
“Greyfell isn’t interested in being friends with Ferdinand. He’s too oafish, too childish… Greyfell is much too sophisticated for the likes of Ferdinand.”
Well that hit Zarah in the gut. She couldn’t imagine anyone disliking Ferdinand. She looked back at him and he was standing there with his head hanging. He looked dejected and she just wanted to give him a hug. She stepped over to him and patted him on his back. He looked down at her and grunted.
Zarah nodded at him that she understood and turned her attention back to Arvid. “He says it’s fine – he doesn’t want to be friends with a snob anyway. We should go.”
Arvid looked affronted and sputtered “Now hold on!” He was annoyed that they had called his griffin a snob, but his prevailing feeling was that he didn’t want Zarah to go just yet. Even in her decidedly un-feminine clothing and her penchant for unladylike behaviors such as going on adventures, he decided she was pretty enough for his attentions and he was as ever bored with the selection of female companions in his court.
He tried to soften his approach because he knew arguing with her about whether or not Greyfell was a snob wouldn’t entice her to stay.
He sighed and shrugged his shoulders and said “Maybe you’re right.” Greyfell turned his head sharply to look at him and gave him a screech of displeasure. Arvid waved him away with an I’m-sorry-but-I-have-to-say-what-I-need-to-say-to-appease-them look. Greyfell begrudgingly nodded and then stalked off back towards his stable.
“Just because he doesn’t want to give Ferdinand a go doesn’t mean we can’t be friends,” Arvid put on his best charming smile.
Zarah swallowed the gag she was inclined to have in reaction to his overt smooth exterior. Perhaps his flirting worked on other ladies, but she wasn’t falling for it. He’d already shown her who he is as a person – more than once.
Zarah politely declined and Leona stood witnessing the scene with her arms crossed. She too picked up on his greasy attempts at flattering Zarah.
He offered to lend them each “suitable attire” in the form of gowns from his sister’s collection so as to complement their fine looks and so that they could remain through the day and have supper with him. Then they might as well stay the night as the wilderness outside of the castle is full of terrors – especially at night, and as girls they would need the protection of his walls.
Zarah and Leona both rolled their eyes simultaneously at him. Clearly, he thought he was being flattering and chivalrous, but he was actually being demeaning and boorish.
“Let’s go,” Zarah said to Leona as she lifted her hand in front of Arvid to indicate that she should stop talking. “As ever, it’s been a pleasure,” she said to Arvid in a thinly veiled sarcastic tone.
He put his hands on his hips and kicked the dirt in front of him saying “Well who’s the snob now?!”
Zarah simply smirked and shook her head at his childish behavior as she and Leona mounted their horses and rode out of the gates with Ferdinand trailing behind.
They headed straight for Sagobok Fjord, they were ready for a rest. It was a beautiful day; the sun was shining and the flowers were blooming. Leona and Zarah quickly put Arvid out of their mind. They were not about to let him ruin their day. They planned to spend the rest of their day in leisure by the shore while they regrouped and planned their next steps.
Ferdinand was looking forward to their lunch of sausages cooked over a fire and the chance to splash around in the water most of all. He too was not going to allow a jerk to ruin his day. Who wants to be friends with a griffin anyway?
Ferdinand smiled once again thinking about the day ahead and started walking with a renewed bounce in his step as she started to grunt out a song he made up. Leona couldn’t understand Ferdinand’s dragon language lyrics, but Zarah turned back to look at him to smile and laugh.
He was singing a ditty about how dragons were better than griffins on all counts.
“You are so right, Ferdinand!” Zarah exclaimed.
Ferdinand just grinned at her and continued singing.