The Dragon Hollow Trilogy
Ages 9-13 (younger if they read well or if you read to them)
The Legend of Dragon Hollow
Chapter 1: The King Is Dead
“The king is dead. The king is dead,” proclaimed the town crier as he ran up the lane and across the courtyard. “King Cole is dead and the castle is overrun. Flee for your lives.”
Peter had been looking out the window of the castle for six hours, watching the enemy army scale the city walls with ladders and batter down the gate. He had been so fascinated by the activity that he forgot all sense of danger.
The stone structure jolted, knocking Peter off his feet. The cannon fire, which had been farther away, suddenly struck the residential wing. Women began screaming. All at once there was frenzy in the hallway as mothers gathered their infants and children and ran toward the staircase.
Peter lurched backwards again, but caught himself without falling. Out the window, Peter could see a section of his building break off and crash down, leaving a gaping hole that exposed someone’s living quarters.
“Peter! Peter!” yelled his tutor, Mary. She was out of breath and white as starched linen. “Oh, Peter! I am so sorry. Your parents are dead. You must come with me. I will look after you. We will have time for our grief later, but we must hurry.”
Mary grabbed Peter by the arm and headed for the door, but Peter pulled away. “Peter, you must come!” she cried with a shrill, trembling voice.
“Just a moment,” Peter yelled over the sound of other panic stricken people. Peter ran across the room to his bed. He put on his coat, reached under his blanket, and put something in his coat pocket.
“Peter, NOW!” screamed Mary, with the pitch of her voice escalating.
Then, Peter grabbed a book and shoved it in his backpack, cinched it closed, and tossed it over his shoulder. He turned toward the door but was knocked down.
The acrid smell of gunpowder and smoke filled the air. For a moment, he couldn’t see which direction to go. He sat on the cold, stone floor looking around and realized a portion of his bedroom was gone!
As the dust and smoke cleared, Peter coughed several times. When he finally stood up, he saw that large chunks of the stone walls had fallen in front of the doorway. He was cut off from Mary.
Peter turned back to the other doorway and passed through the adjoining room to the hallway. He would never be able to find Mary, if she even survived the last blast that blocked the door where she had been.
People in the hallway were pushing and shoving each other, trying to get out. Peter merged with the mass of people and was soon stumbling down the stairs with everyone else. Peter thought of something and checked his pocket to make sure it was still there. Whew! I wouldn’t want to lose that in the commotion, Peter thought.
Everyone screamed as the building shuddered again. Some people lost their balance and fell on the stairs and others began climbing over them to get out. Peter knew he needed to get out of this mass of people before he got trampled.
Fortunately, being a boy, Peter had climbed, crawled, and explored places that most grownups didn’t know about—and certainly his parents didn’t know he did these things or he might have been in trouble.
With his intimate knowledge of the castle structure, Peter exited the chaos on the stairs at the third floor and ran across the dining hall. He climbed out the window and dropped onto the roof below.
Soldiers from both sides were shooting arrows across the courtyard and a couple of arrows shot through the air near him on the roof. For a moment, he wondered if this escape plan had been a good idea. Then he scampered across the roof to a tree, where he knew from experience that he could just reach the branches to climb down.
As Peter dropped to the ground, he wondered where to go next. His first concern had been to get out of the building. He stopped behind the tree trunk while he considered his options. The stable, Peter thought. I want to get to the stable. Papa managed the stable and Mama tended the sheep. For the first time, Peter recalled Mary’s words: “Oh, Peter! I am so sorry. Your parents are dead.” His chest now ached at the thought.
Peter ran across the alley to the next building. As he did, he heard his name and stopped to look around. Peter’s face brightened at the sight of his two friends.
“Peter! Peter!” cried Sebastian and his sister, Alexandra, as they ran toward him. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” replied Peter. “Are you?”
“We’re not hurt,” said Sebastian, “but our parents are dead and we don’t know what to do.” Sebastian glanced at his sister, whose tears were making streaks on her dirty face.
“Mine, too,” Peter said, trying to ignore Alexandra because seeing her cry made him want to cry, too. “I’m headed for the stable. Come with me and we’ll try to escape on horseback.”
“You know, Peter, I bet all the horses have been stolen by now,” said Sebastian.
“Maybe most of them, but Papa was the stable manager and I know a few of his secrets.”
"I was very happy that Ms. Bower included a ton of humor around this great story. I loved all the references to fairy tales and other books and songs. Ms. Bower has a fun writing style that I enjoyed reading."
--This Kid Reviews Books
The kids flinched at the sound of cannon fire. Then Sebastian said, “Peter, the shortest way is through the kennel.”
“Not that way,” said Peter, shaking his head for emphasis.
“We’ll have to go the long way around if we don’t,” Sebastian countered.
“Oh, all right,” sighed Peter.
The kids entered the building and went down the hallway, stopping outside the closed door of the kennel. As much as Peter dreaded what was behind that door, he knew it was the best route. Peter closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Sebastian watched his friend. “Peter, you’ve got to get over your fear of poodles.”
“I don’t know what King Cole liked about them so much that he had to have dozens of poodles of all shapes, sizes, and colors. They are freakish dogs with poufs of hair on their long floppy ears, their tails, their feet, and around their shoulders.”
Peter shuddered at the thought and continued, “And those really big poodles seem the most unnatural of all. Not to mention they are white, black, blue, or pink. Who ever heard of a blue dog? Or a pink one?”
Alexandra squealed. “But they are so cute! How could you be afraid of them?”
“I have good reason to be afraid: one of them bit me when I was little.”
Sebastian urged Peter on, saying, “Peter, you and I have done this before. You can do it again. Just follow me.” With that Sebastian threw open the door.
Peter’s palms began to sweat. The kennel wasn’t a room full of caged dogs; it was more like a large playroom where the dogs roamed around freely.
The kids had to run across the room full of poodles to the doggie door on the other side, where they would crawl through a short tunnel into the secret garden. At least Peter called it the secret garden because it was his secret entrance into the stable but it was really just an outdoor pen for the dogs.
Without hesitation, Sebastian ran into the room. Alexandra pushed Peter and he followed, with Alexandra bringing up the rear.
Poodles swarmed around the kids. The poodles wanted to play with them, and running seemed like a fun game. But once fifty poodles swarm around you, it’s impossible to run without stepping on them and the kids waded through the sea of fur balls. The poodles were yipping with excitement and they kept jumping on the kids’ legs. That’s when it happened.
A big black poodle, with long floppy ears and fur balls all over its body, jumped up and hit Peter in the chest, knocking him over. Once he was down, dogs were climbing all over him, licking his face and hands and sniffing him in places he didn’t want to be sniffed. Peter let out such a blood chilling scream, you would have thought he had fallen in a pit of poisonous snakes.
Sebastian and Alexandra reached through the pile of poodles and pulled Peter to his feet. He began to brush himself off and felt his pocket. “Oh, no!” cried Peter, looking at the sea of fur still jumping for joy around them.
Sebastian and Alexandra knew what had fallen out of Peter’s pocket in the chaos so they dropped to their hands and knees and began pushing through poodles looking for it. Every time they caught a glimpse of it, the poodles jumped around and they would lose sight of it again. Sebastian almost grabbed it, but a poodle kicked it out of reach.
Amid the yipping frenzy, Peter stood frozen like a statue. Poodles all around him jumped like a bowl of popping corn. To Peter, it seemed like it took forever, and then Alexandra said, “I’ve got it!” She stood up, shoved it in Peter’s right coat pocket, and said, “Let’s go, Peter.”
This time, Peter put his hand in his pocket and would not let go. When they got to the doggie door, Sebastian and Alexandra crawled into the tunnel. Peter crawled with one hand still in his pocket. The worst part was that poodles were following them through the tunnel, nipping at Peter’s heels. Then Sebastian and Alexandra pulled Peter out of the tunnel and helped him to his feet. They were in the secret garden. A steady stream of poodles emerged from the tunnel, so Peter led the way now, anxious to get out of there.
Peter and Sebastian reached up to the branches of a tree and pulled themselves up. Then each of them took one of Alexandra’s hands and pulled her up. The kids climbed through the branches and dropped out of the tree on the other side of the wall. They had reached the stable.
Just outside the entrance of the stable, four enemy soldiers stood around talking.
Peter still seemed a little dazed from his ordeal with the poodles, so Sebastian and Alexandra grabbed him and pulled him behind some bales of hay.
Sebastian whispered, “I think the enemy soldiers probably took all the horses already. What should we do now?”
“They may have taken the horses from the main stable, but I doubt they have found the king’s horses, which are kept more secure.”
“Where are they?” asked Sebastian.
Peter, who seemed more himself, peeked around the corner of the haystack. The soldiers were still talking. “Follow me,” whispered Peter as he jerked his head to indicate which direction they were going.
The kids snuck to the back of the stable. Peter looked around to see if anyone was watching and he pulled the handle on a trap door in the floor. As Peter folded the hatch back, the golden glow of torch light escaped from below. The kids walked down a ramp into a secret stable beneath the ground.
As Peter began to saddle some horses for them, he explained: “For just such occasions as this, if something happened to the horses, the king wanted six horses in hiding so he would never be without a horse if the need became dire. Horses can’t really live underground, so every twelve hours different horses are rotated into the king’s stable. King Cole is dead, so I don’t think he’ll mind if we use his horses. Shall I saddle two horses or three?”
The boys looked at Alexandra, who said, “I can manage a horse.”
Peter explained that the main gate would be out of the question, so they would have to go out the Horse Gate or the Farmer Gate, depending on how many soldiers they encountered. He adjusted each of their saddles and stirrups because kids have shorter legs than grownups. Alexandra looked nervous so Peter asked her, “Are you sure you don’t want to ride with one of us?”
“I’m not worried about the horse; I’m worried about getting past all the enemy soldiers in the city.”
Sebastian and Alexandra were ready, when they heard: “Who’s down there?”
Peter jumped in the saddle, grabbed the reins and whispered, “Just follow me and do whatever I do.” Then he charged forward up the ramp and the others followed, knocking the soldier out of their way.
They raced down the length of the stable to the entrance where the soldiers had been. Before the soldiers knew what was happening, the three horses nearly knocked them over.
After that, Peter made a hard right turn and they doubled back along the outside of the stable, but halfway down, a group of soldiers spotted them. A couple of soldiers reacted quick enough to shoot arrows at the kids before Peter made a left turn between two rows of buildings. This gave them some shelter, but at the end of the alley, soldiers formed a line ahead of them.
Soon a barrage of arrows came their way. Peter yelled, “Keep your heads down. We have to punch through their line or we’ll be trapped.” Alexandra looked over her shoulder and saw a group of soldiers block the alley behind them. There was no way out.
Alexandra didn’t look forward soon enough to see it coming. The arm of the lamp post knocked her off her horse. Sebastian saw it happen and yelled, “Peter!”
Peter looked back and saw Alexandra getting up, but her horse had nearly caught up to Peter, so he wheeled around and forced her horse to change direction.
At the sight of the confusion, the soldiers at both ends of the alley began running toward the kids.
Alexandra’s horse was now galloping next to Peter and when Peter pulled back, Alexandra’s horse kept charging and broke through the line of soldiers that had been behind the kids.
The soldiers scattered in confusion. The soldiers on the other end continued closing in on the kids.
Sebastian watched Peter with awe at his horsemanship, skills he must have learned growing up around horses because his father was the stable manager.
By now, Peter had grabbed Alexandra’s hand and pulled her up onto his horse. “Let’s go,” he said.
In a moment, they crashed through the line of oncoming soldiers and kept going to the end of the alley. Peter hesitated, looking both directions before making a decision. To the left was the Horse Gate, heavily guarded by soldiers on horseback. To the right was the Farmer’s Gate, which seemed to be clear. They turned right, but four of the soldiers on horseback spotted them and began to pursue them.
Peter and Sebastian zigzagged through the farmer’s market, knocking down some produce stands and apple carts. These obstacles slowed down the four horsemen but other soldiers began shooting guns at the kids.
Peter’s heart pounded in his chest. Oh, no. The Farmer’s Gate is closing. This is going to be close, he thought.
Two soldiers ran into the narrowing entrance between the two wood and iron gates. Peter and Sebastian knocked the soldiers out of the way and continued to ride hard as they left the city behind.
The four horsemen pulled up at the Farmer’s Gate, got off their horses, loaded their muskets, and fired a round at the escaping horses. Then their captain arrived on his horse and said, “They’re just children. Let them go.”
The kids kept looking back over their shoulders for a long time, trying to spot their pursuers. When they finally realized they were not being pursued, they slowed down.
“Alexandra, are you hurt? How do you feel?” asked Sebastian, showing genuine concern for his sister.
“What do you think? I feel like I just got hit by a lamp post.” She didn’t mean to snap at him, but as the fear and adrenalin began to wear off, her right shoulder began to throb and she felt sore all over from the fall.
As they traveled across the farmland, they stopped occasionally to pull up carrots, onions, or potatoes. Peter insisted they should keep moving, so they filled their saddlebags with vegetables and ate a few while they rode.
The farmland turned into rolling hills, and then they reached the creek by the woods, where they set up camp.
Peter watered and tended the horses, brushing them down and giving them some carrots. The kids searched through the saddlebags and were grateful to find two blankets, a small skillet, a small water pail, and some eating utensils.
While Peter tended the horses, Sebastian and Alexandra built a fire and began roasting some vegetables for dinner. After they washed themselves in the creek—for they were frightfully dirty from the dust, smoke, and gunpowder of the attack on the castle—the kids ate the roasted vegetables until they could eat no more. Then, with their stomachs full, they realized how tired they were.
Peter insisted that Sebastian and Alexandra use the blankets because he had brought his coat and it was still summer so it wouldn’t get cold at night.
Alexandra cried herself to sleep and Peter felt sorry for her. They had lost their parents, their homes, and their city. They had nothing but two horses, a few sundries, and some vegetables. And they didn’t have a plan. However, none of them worried very long before their exhaustion took over and they were sound asleep.