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
Greasle snorted. "You ain't no sorcerer."
"Well, I know that. And you know that. But Fadia doesn't. It was the only bargaining tool we had. If she's afraid you're a jinni and will hurt her people, she'll do what I say. So if we run into the Bedouin again, you be sure to look as jinnilike as you can."
"Right-o." Greasle put her fingers into her mouth and drew it wide open, then wiggled her ears.
"Perfect," Nate said.
fter the close call with Fadia, Nate was finally able to get some rest. He curled up in his bedroll and fell asleep before his head hit the sand.
Hours later, he woke up feeling disoriented. Unsure what had awakened him, he sat up, listening for voices. He heard nothing.
The angle of the light told him it was late afternoon. He'd slept most of the day. Maybe he just woke up because he wasn't tired anymore.
Then he heard it. A faint ripping sound.
was what had awakened him.
He looked toward the noise and saw the tip of a knife cutting through the wall of the tent. The blade slowly worked its way through the material, making as little noise as possible.
Once the knife disappeared, a thick, hairy hand emerged through the tear. It groped silently about, as if looking for something.
The hand felt its way toward Aunt Phil's pack. After another minute of groping, it landed on the corner of
The Book of Beasts.
Aunt Phil's words echoed in Nate's head:
would protect the book with my life.
Before thinking it through, Nate sprang forward and grabbed the book with both hands. The intruder's hand gripped tighter, its knuckles growing white.
"Greasle! Help!" Nate yelled, not knowing what else to do.
The gremlin joined him. She gripped the stranger's hand and sank her sharp little teeth into it.
There was a bellow of pain. The hand let go of the book and flung the gremlin off.
[Image: Greasle and the hand.]
Greasle did a somersault, came up on her feet, and hurried over to the tent flap. Nate was close on her heels, the book safely in his hands.
They stumbled outside in time to see a man in black robes running to a waiting camel. Once he'd clambered onto the animal's back, it lurched to its feet and broke into a run. The man's turban was knocked from his head. Nate only had time to note that the intruder had bushy ginger-colored hair before he disappeared over the ridge.
"Who was that, I'd like to know!" Greasle spat. "He tasted right awful, he did."
"I don't know. But I think he was after Aunt Phil's
Book of Beasts."
"Why would anyone want that stupid ol' thing?"
"I don't know," Nate said. He was tired of that answer. There were so very many things he didn't know. A sick feeling rose up in his stomach. But then Greasle came over and leaned up against him. Her warm presence at his side reminded him that he had done the right thing by her. Even if it had meant disagreeing with Aunt Phil.
A cool breeze stirred. Nate glanced overhead. The sun had set. It was time to tend the nest. Even if he failed at everything else, he could still try to get that right.
He shoved the book into his rucksack, then slung the pack over his shoulders and got to work.
Greasle quickly grew bored watching the nest. She curled up and fell asleep at Nate's feet.
Perched atop the saddle, he leaned against the palm tree and fed a cinnamon twig into the smoldering ash. Was it just his imagination or had the ash taken on a more solid shape? It seemed lumpier to him. If he squinted his eyes, it was almost bird shaped.
"What am I going to do about Aunt Phil?" he asked the small pile of ash. "How can I rescue her when I have no camels, no weapons, nothing?"
"Who are you talking to?" Greasle asked sleepily from her spot near his feet.
"No one," Nate said, embarrassed to have been caught. "Just thinking out loud."
"Well, stop it." Greasle yawned. "Some of us wants to sleep."
"Sorry," Nate mumbled. He kept his mouth firmly closed while his mind worked furiously to come up with a plan.
morning of the third day dawned, Nate still didn't have a plan. The Bedouin period of hospitality would soon be over and Aunt Phil would be tried for trespassing.
Discouraged, he fed the last cinnamon twig into the ash just as the sun rose over the ridge. He turned to watch the gold and pink rays shoot out across the oasis.
There was a crackling sound behind him, drawing Nate's attention back to the nest.
It glowed bright red now and was definitely a lump. As he watched, the lump began to grow. It stretched up and up and began to fill out.
The snowy ash that clung to the shape shifted, fluttering in the morning breeze. Nate blinked. It was no longer ash, but tiny white and gray feathers. The body of the phoenix--for that's what it was--began to glow brightly. Colors spread out from the body to the ash, until all of it was bright orange and red.
Two small black eyes appeared next. The phoenix turned its head and met Nate's gaze. A wondrous feeling shot through him. A feeling that he could do anything in the world, if only he set his mind to it.
The phoenix opened its beak and melodious notes floated into the morning air. If hope and joy had a sound, Nate thought, it would be just like that. At his feet, Greasle sat up to listen.
Without any warning at all, the phoenix raised its wings and rose from the nest. Orange and gold tail feathers unfurled behind it like a glowing shower of sparks.
Nate watched the phoenix's first flight. As it circled the
oasis, it began singing again, the pure, joyous notes filling the air.
Greasle sighed. "That really is the most lovely sound."
The phoenix circled the oasis one last time before coming in closer to Nate. As it drew near, it thrust out its clawed feet. Nate flinched, afraid for a moment that the bird was attacking him.
Instead, it landed on his shoulder, so gentle he barely even felt it. Nate froze, afraid to move and disturb the magnificent creature. It weighed hardly anything, as if it were truly nothing but ash and smoke. It reached out and nibbled gently at Nate's ear with its beak.
"I think it likes you," Greasle said.
Nate felt himself blush with pleasure. "Maybe." He risked turning his head so that he could look into the phoenix's eyes. The bird tilted its head and their gazes met. It was as if the phoenix were looking deep inside him, taking his measure. Nate felt naked, his every secret hope and fear painfully laid bare before the phoenix's knowing gaze.
But as he continued to stare into the phoenix's eyes, Nate noticed something else.
[Image: Nate and the phoenix.]
His hopes began to grow, filling up and spreading out until there was hardly any room left over for fear. His exhaustion and discouragement were burned away, like clouds before the sun, leaving only his possibilities behind.
As if satisfied, the phoenix broke eye contact and trilled one final note before launching itself back to the nest. Unable to look away, Nate followed, standing on the saddle to get a closer look.
The phoenix was doing something with all the leftover ash in its nest. As Nate watched, it gathered it into a tidy little egg-shaped pile. As the ash and embers cooled, the egg hardened. The phoenix grabbed it in its claws, then rose up into the air and held the egg out to Nate.
"For me?" Nate asked, unable to believe he was being given such a precious gift.
The phoenix ducked its head, as if nodding, so Nate took the egg. "Thank you," he said, cradling it in his palms. The phoenix let out a burst of song, circled the oasis twice, then disappeared over the eastern horizon.
The egg in Nate's hand was smooth and glossy and still slightly warm. Small clumps of ash clung to it in places. Colors swirled deep inside it. As he stared at the egg in his
hand, a plan began to form. Miss Lumpton had been very pleased to receive a Tidy Sum for taking care of him. Maybe the Bedouin would like to receive a gift for taking care of Aunt Phil? Surely a phoenix egg was better than plain old money?
He carefully wrapped the egg in his soft leather helmet, then placed it in his rucksack next to
The Book of Beasts.
With Greasle at his heels, he climbed the eastern ridge. At the top, he shielded his eyes against the rising sun. There. He could see the Bedouin camp in the distance. That was where he had to go.
out down the ridge, where the sun had only just risen. Hopefully he'd reach the camp before the girls set out for their midmorning trip to the oasis. He didn't want to be caught out in the open like this. Mounted on camels, it would take them no time to raise the alarm. He preferred to sneak into the camp to be sure Aunt Phil was okay before announcing his presence.
The distance was a lot farther than it looked, and for the first time, he found himself missing Shabiib.
Greasle grew tired halfway there and he had to carry her on his shoulders.
When the group of tents finally came into sight, Nate got down and began to belly crawl the rest of the way.
He reached the camels first. They were all grouped off to the side of the tents. If he used them as cover, it would hide his approach.
Slowly he crawled forward until he was practically under the camels' hooves. Now what?
He peered through the camels' legs toward the tents. Most of the people seemed to be tending small cooking fires as they started their day. No one looked like Aunt Phil, which meant she must be inside one of the tents.
But which one? There were more than a dozen.
He couldn't very well search every tent. And he dared not get any closer to the Bedouin.
"So now what?" Greasle asked, echoing his thoughts.
"Now we find Aunt Phil, I trade the phoenix egg for her, and then we all go home."
"Are you sure she's worth it?" Greasle said. "I mean, that fiery bird gave it to you. Seems like he wanted
to have it."
"I know," Nate said. The feeling that he was betraying the phoenix's gift had haunted him all morning. "But it's the only thing I have of value. Now, the sooner you go over there and see where Aunt Phil is, the sooner we can all go home."
"Me?" Greasle squealed.
"Shh! Yes, you. You're so small, they probably won't even see you. And if they do, they'll just think you're a jinni, like Fadia did. They'll leave you alone."
"No, sir. I don't think so. Besides, why should I help her?"
"Well, Aunt Phil let you stay with us." Greasle snorted.
Nate thought a moment longer. "You want to get back to the plane, don't you? I won't be able to find my way back on my own. We'll need Aunt Phil to help us get there."
Greasle's ears drooped, and Nate could tell he'd won.
"Okay, then," she said.
"And remember," he said. "If they catch you, act like a jinni. It's our best weapon."
Greasle nodded, then leaped forward and disappeared within seconds. Nate held his breath, terrified he would hear a shout from the men signaling they'd spotted her.
But nothing happened. He waited so long that his legs began to cramp. Just when he was worried that something had happened to Greasle, Nate felt something damp and prickly against his leg. He whipped around and found himself staring into the face of a camel. The camel worked
his lips a couple of times.
Nate thought, but before he could roll out of the way, the camel shot a thick wad of stinky spit at him.
he thought as he wiped the mess away.
"Shoo!" Nate whispered, then turned back around to keep a watch out for Greasle and Aunt Phil.
A group of men emerged from one of the larger tents. They were all talking together importantly. Nate leaned forward, straining to hear their voices.
There was another nudge on his ankle. He jiggled his foot, shaking Shabiib off. "Not now, you stupid cam--" His words were cut off as an iron grip took ahold of his collar and hauled him to his feet.
dangled three feet from the ground. An angry dark gaze met his. "What have we here? A camel thief?"
"No!" Nate cried out, shocked someone would think such a thing. "I've just come for my aunt."
The Bedouin looked from Nate to Shabiib, his expression unreadable. "We will see what our sheik has to say about that." He set Nate's feet on the ground but kept a firm grip on his collar as he marched him toward the largest tent. Everyone stopped to stare. One girl raised her hand to her mouth in surprise. It was Fadia. She quickly looked away.
As he was propelled toward the tent, Nate glanced around frantically, trying to locate Greasle. This would be the perfect time for her to appear and do her jinni routine. But she was nowhere in sight.
The Bedouin threw open the tent flap and shoved Nate inside. He barely managed to keep from stumbling.
Five men looked up and their conversation came to an abrupt halt. Nate blinked, trying to adjust to the dim light.
"What have you brought us, Khalid?" asked an older man wearing a fancier robe than the others. The sheik, presumably.
"Another trespasser. Possibly a camel thief. Possibly a spy. Perhaps our honored guest knows something about it." It was then that Nate saw Aunt Phil seated regally on a floor cushion, watching all of them. "Does he belong to you?" Khalid asked.