Authors: R. L. LaFevers
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Legends, #Myths, #Magic, #Fables, #Ages 9-12 Fiction, #Animals, #Mythical, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Action & Adventure - General, #Action & Adventure, #Children's Books, #Social Issues, #Family, #People & Places, #Adventure and Adventurers, #Parents, #Children: Grades 3-4, #Animals - Mythical, #Girls & Women, #Readers, #Boys & Men, #Emotions & Feelings, #Middle East, #Orphans & Foster Homes, #Animals - Birds, #Birds, #Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, #Phoenix (Mythical bird), #Readers - Chapter Books, #Chapter Books, #People & Places - Middle East
Like a shot, Shabiib loped away from the water's edge and galloped after Aunt Phil. Greasle squeaked and Nate tried to pull back on the reins. Then, just as suddenly, Shabiib stopped. Nate found himself airborne, tumbling end over teakettle to land flat on his back in the sand. All the air whooshed out of his lungs. With a final squeal, Greasle landed a few paces to his left.
Shabiib snorted and shook his head, then strolled over to Aunt Phil. Nate struggled to find his breath. "I think I hate camels," he wheezed.
"I told you airplanes were better," said Greasle.
hat," Aunt Phil asked , "is
Nate raised his head from the sand and followed her gaze to Greasle.
"She," he corrected without thinking.
Aunt Phil arched an eyebrow at him. "Even so, that doesn't explain why she's here."
Nate got to his feet. "You said I didn't have to throw her overboard," he explained.
"Yes, but I didn't say she could come with us."
"I'm sorry. I thought you didn't want to leave her with the plane."
"Besides," Nate said, "she's a beast, and you're a beastologist. I would think you'd like having her around."
Aunt Phil sniffed. "She's not a true beast. She's just a pest."
Kind of like me,
Nate thought. If he couldn't prove himself a true Fludd, he was just a pest dumped on Aunt Phil's doorstep.
Aunt Phil stared at him for a long moment, then threw up her hands and shook her head. "Very well. Keep her. Now let's quit talking and get these camels unloaded." As she turned and strode away, Nate risked a glance at Greasle.
"Phew," she said. "That was close."
"Yes, it was," Nate said. "Now, be good and stay out of trouble."
The gremlin saluted. "Aye, aye, cap'n."
Nate shook his head, then hurried to help Aunt Phil.
Greasle proved to be quite a help in getting the tent set up. Her tiny fingers were especially good at untangling knots. But when Nate pointed that out to Aunt Phil, she merely grunted and shoved a bundle of fragrant sticks at
him. "Put those in the tent." He sneezed, then did as instructed.
When the camp was finally set up to Aunt Phil's liking, they settled down to dinner in the tent. Aunt Phil handed Nate a piece of dried goat meat that tasted like salty leather. He tried to hand it back to her.
She shook her head. "Eat it. You'll need to keep up your strength out here."
He choked it down as fast as he could, then popped a date into his mouth. It was sticky and sweet, almost like a piece of toffee. When Aunt Phil wasn't looking, Nate slipped Greasle two dates, then shooed her away to hide behind his rucksack. He wasn't sure how Aunt Phil would feel about sharing food with the gremlin.
Almost as if reading his mind, Aunt Phil looked up. "Where is that pest of yours?" she asked, glancing around the tent.
"Oh, she's already asleep in my rucksack," Nate said. Wanting desperately to change the subject, he asked, "What exactly are we going to do with the phoenix?"
"Well, let's check, shall we?" Aunt Phil turned to one of
her saddlebags. She pulled from it a large, very old-looking book and held it up for Nate to see.
"The Book of Beasts,"
she announced. "The only copy in existence, and so sacred to us Fludds that I would protect the book with my life."
Nate hoped it wouldn't come to that. "Do you have a copy of
"No." Aunt Phil's face grew sad. "Your father had the only surviving copy of that book. I'm afraid it was lost at sea with him." They were both silent for a moment, and then Aunt Phil began to read from the book.
"As the sun sets on the phoenix's five hundredth birthday, it returns to its
place of birth and builds a funeral pyre, Amid the rays of the setting sun, it sets
itself on fire, burning until it is reduced to a pile of ash,
The secret to a phoenix hatching is to be sure the pile of ash never grows cold,"
"How do we do that?" Nate asked. Aunt Phil continued reading:
"The nest must be protected from the wind, It is also wise to feed additional fuel to the glowing ash, especially during the cold desert nights,"
Aunt Phil stopped reading and looked at Nate.
"Is that it?"
"Well," he said with a smile, "that doesn't sound too hard."
"Of course not," Aunt Phil agreed. "I told you there was nothing to worry about. Good night, Nate."
Aunt Phil snuggled down and was asleep within moments. But when Nate lay down, his mind kept churning through the events of the past three days. Plus, it was too light out to go to sleep. Which gave Nate an idea.
Moving quietly so as not to wake Aunt Phil, he pulled his rucksack closer. He reached inside and got out his sketchbook. Glancing over his shoulder, he angled the paper away from Aunt Phil and began to draw. As his pencil flew across the page, his mind began to sort through all that had happened.
He decided he liked Aunt Phil. Except for her unreasonable dislike of gremlins, she was very nice. Even better, she told him stuff. Important stuff that no other grownup had ever taken the time to tell him before. She also didn't leave him behind, no matter how lacking he was in Fludd skills.
Nate jerked in surprise at Greasle's voice next to his ear. "Drawing," he whispered, closing the book. "I wanna see," Greasle said. "Shh! You'll wake Aunt Phil."
Greasle tugged on the book. "But I wanna see," she whined.
"Oh, all right." Nate opened to the page on which he'd been drawing. Greasle pointed to the picture he'd drawn of her. "What's that?"
"You," he said. She tilted her head and studied the page. "Is that what I look like?" He glanced down at the drawing. "Yep."
"Pretty, aren't I?" Nate looked at her
big, round eyes, her batlike ears, and her sharp little teeth. "Quite pretty," he said, trying not to smile.
"And what's that?" she asked, pointing to the facing page.
"A map," Nate whispered, closing the book. He didn't want Aunt Phil to know he'd tried his hand at mapmaking. He wasn't very good at it.
"It's not as pretty as the picture of me," Greasle pointed out.
"No, it's not," Nate agreed. He put the sketchbook aside. "Now let's get some sleep."
Nate was awakened by the most beautiful music he had ever heard. The notes were pure and lovely, but haunting as well, as if sadness might be just around the corner. He pushed to his knees. Greasle was already at the tent opening, peeking out. He joined her. "What is that?"
She wiped an oily tear from her eye. "Don't know."
Nate stepped outside and saw Aunt Phil standing nearby. The music grew louder and she pointed to the horizon.
[I mage: Aunt Phil and Nate looking at the phoenix.]
Nate could make out a bright shape against the darkening sky.
"The phoenix!" he whispered.
"The phoenix," Aunt Phil agreed. "Shh, now. We don't want to startle it."
Nate stood transfixed as the brilliant red and gold bird approached. The phoenix swooped into the oasis area, its tail feathers streaming behind like an orange comet. Sweet, soaring music filled the air as the phoenix circled overhead once, before landing on a palm tree.
As the last of the setting sun's golden rays spread across the desert, the phoenix gave a final burst of song, then erupted into flames.
Nate gasped in surprise. Greasle squeaked and dived under the nearest bedroll. Nate watched the pillar of fire in stunned silence. He hadn't truly believed Aunt Phil. Not really. Not until this minute. But there really
magical beasts in this world. And he really would get to help take care of one. This was turning out much better than he had imagined!
As they continued to watch, the flames crackled yellow,
then orange, then red. There was a flash of green flame just before the fire died out.
Now that the fire was silent, Nate heard a noise--a low rumbling sound. Almost like thunder. He looked up to the ridge above the oasis, and fear punched him in the belly.
Outlined against the dusky sky, a score of men riding camels galloped toward them, their curved swords drawn. Afraid, Nate quickly slipped back into the tent and hoped they hadn't seen him.
ate heard Aunt Phil whisper. Peeking out through the tent flap, he watched them approach. The leader halted his camel and dismounted, then strode toward Aunt Phil.
He studied her suspiciously. "Are you a Turk?"
"No," Aunt Phil replied. "I am a Fludd. Perhaps you've heard of us?"
The leader shook his head. "No Fludds here. You are trespassing and must leave."
"You speak English?" Aunt Phil sounded surprised.
"We fought with British soldiers against the Turks. In the Great War, many years ago."
"Ah, I see. Well, there is no war now, and I am just a scientific observer," she said.
"You are still trespassing," the leader repeated. "This oasis belongs to us." Anger flashed in his eyes. "You must leave."
Aunt Phil shook her head. "I'm very sorry, but I can't leave until I've done what I came for."
"Are you refusing?" He sounded as if he couldn't quite believe it. Nate couldn't either.
"Yes. I really must insist that I stay. But it will be only for a short while."
Instead of answering, the Bedouin leader shouted out instructions to his men. They began to descend upon Aunt Phil. She took one look at the advancing men, then turned back to their leader. "Very well, then. I ask that you grant me hospitality."
A murmur of surprise rose up from the group. The leader narrowed his eyes and gave Aunt Phil an assessing look. "You know of Bedouin hospitality?"
Aunt Phil nodded.
[I mage: The Bedouin leader and Aunt Phil talking.]
"I know if anyone, friend or enemy, asks for Bedouin hospitality, you are honor bound to grant them food, water, and shelter for three days."
The Bedouin leader did not look happy that she knew this. He looked around the oasis. "You are alone?"
Aunt Phil hesitated but a second before nodding. "Yes, I am alone."
"Very well. Our code of honor demands we grant you hospitality. But only for three days. After that, you will experience Bedouin justice for your crime of trespassing." His voice was harsh, and Nate wondered what exactly Bedouin justice would be.
They waited while Aunt Phil mounted her camel, and then they led her camel and Shabiib from the oasis. At the ridge, Aunt Phil paused and looked back over her shoulder.
Nate stood just inside the tent, watching helplessly as the only person who cared anything about him was taken away.
reasle turned to look at Nate, her eyes wide. "Now what?"
Nate could only stare at the empty space where Aunt Phil had just been. "I don't know." He felt numb and hollow inside. How was he supposed to survive without her? Let alone accomplish their mission with the phoenix? This was a disaster. Cornelius was right: Nate wasn't cut out to be a Fludd. A true Fludd would know what to do, and Nate hadn't the faintest idea.
"Maybe we should follow her," he finally suggested. He took a step forward to leave the shelter of the tent. Greasle pinched him.
"Not so fast. Look."
He peered past the tent flap to where the gremlin pointed. A lone sentry stood up on the ridge, watching the Bedouin depart. If Nate tried to follow, he'd be spotted and captured, too.
He slipped back inside the tent and sat down--hard-- to try to think. They had enough food and water for five days. With Aunt Phil gone, the supplies would last him and Greasle even longer. Besides, Aunt Phil had gone to great lengths to keep his presence hidden. Clearly, she meant for him to stay here and watch over the phoenix's ashes while she ...
Nate's mind slammed into a wall when he tried to guess what might happen to her.
"I wouldn't worry too much about that old witch," Greasle said, scrunching up her face. "She knows how to take care of herself. The mean ones usually do."
Nate looked in surprise at the gremlin.
"What?" she said. "She's not nice to us gremlins. Not like you are." Greasle reached out and gave Nate's arm a shy little pet.
This heartened Nate somewhat. He seemed to be doing a good job with Greasle, even if Aunt Phil didn't consider her a true beast. Maybe that meant there was a chance he could help the phoenix. He'd never know until he tried.
"I guess it's up to us." He scooped Greasle up onto his shoulder, went to the tent flap, and peeked outside. The sentry was gone. Safely alone now, Nate crossed the sand to the palm tree.
"What if she doesn't come back?" Greasle asked. "What do we do then?"
"I don't know. But we have three days to come up with a plan. Now, quiet--I have to think." The palm tree was too high for him to see into. The tree's trunk offered no branches or footholds. He turned to Greasle. "I'm going to give you a boost. Check and tell me what it looks like."
"Right-o." Greasle scampered off his shoulder and up the tree. She peered into the branches and wrinkled her nose. "Ain't nothing but a bunch of ashes and twigs. Not even a feather left."
"That's what Aunt Phil said would happen. Is it still warm?"
"Yep. Could roast a frankfurter on it. Hey! There's an