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Authors: John Dahlgren

Sagaria

BOOK: Sagaria
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Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast …”

—Lewis Carroll,
Through the Looking-Glass
(1871)

 

“That’s the problem, you see.” Samzing patted him on the knee. “You know it’s impossible so you can’t do it, but what if someone convinced you it was perfectly possible? What if you
knew
it was possible? Would you be able to do it then?”

Sagandran moved uneasily in his seat. “Well, I guess so, but—”

“You have to reprogram your mind, you see, until you know something you once thought impossible can, in fact, be done. There can’t be even the tiniest scintilla of doubt left behind – you have to believe in the possibility with your whole being. Then you can do absolutely anything. You can do the impossible any time you want to. That, dear boybrat, is what magic is.”

—Samzing

To Jennifer and William

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Map

Prologue A Challenge is Accepted

 

BOOK 1
THE CODE OF FRIENDSHIP

1 A Frog’s Life

2 Eagle Lake

3 Grandpa’s Story

4 Shadows in the Night

5 A Diminutive Acquaintance

6 A Princess Royal and a Frogly Knight

7 Three or More Tales

8 The Monarch of All He Surveyed

9 Magic Buttons

10 The Nature of Magic

 

BOOK 2
THE ROAD TO QARNAPHEERAN

1 The Rainbow City

2 The Boy Whose Time Has Come

3 Pull HERE

4 Worg Fire Brew

5 Wonderville

6 The Greatest Invention

7 Shadow Knights

8 Junk Is As Junk Does

9 Qarnapheeran

10 Unveilings

 

BOOK 3
THE SHADOW WORLD

1 Once and Once Only

2 Jello Pudding

3 Ternsgiverty

4 The City of Fear

5 Unexpected Encounters

6 Into the Slave Mines

7 Tamash

8 The Shadow Master

9 Not Over Until We’ve Finished It

10 The Dawning

 

Epilogue A Challenge is Completed

About the Author

Also by John Dahlgren

Copyright

mack!

The first raindrop landed on Flip’s head while he was still some distance from home.

He looked up at the sky anxiously and just had time to see bulky gray clouds before another heavy drop hit him on the nose. Vexedly shaking the water from his whiskers, he hunched his shoulders and hurried along the forest pathway.
If I’m lucky I’ll

But he wasn’t lucky. Within a few short moments, the first scattered drops had turned into driving rain and, by the time the little house under the curling roots of the old pine tree came into view, he was running through a downpour. His last steps to the front door were more like slithers, his claws nearly losing their hold on a path that was growing rapidly muddier.

He stood with his back against the door for several seconds, catching his breath and looking out from under the porch roof at a drenched world. Gusts of wind made the bushes toss their heads and throw off bright sparkles of water – just like Flip was now doing. Far above, the rain ricocheted off the outstretched leaves of the great trees. United with the flailing of the branches, it created a cacophonous symphony that Flip was in no mood to appreciate. Over his head was the wooden sign he was normally so proud of:

creaked complainingly on its hinges, as if the rain were his fault. He gave it a baleful glance and shook himself.

“They say I’m crazy to go exploring,” he muttered sourly, turning the doorknob and shouldering his way inside. “Trouble is, when it’s raining like this, I agree with them.”

But it was hard to maintain a bad mood in the warm, welcoming snugness of his home. As if to make up for the hardships he often had to endure on his expeditions, everything about the cottage felt almost too amply comfortable. Couches – in a fit of happy self-indulgence, he’d added a second one last winter – and chairs were overstuffed to the point that his few visitors always sat on them with certain gingerness for fear of bursting the upholstery. It was hard to see the walls for the pictures hanging on them, often two or three layers thick. Some of them were portraits of Flip’s ancestors, but most of them were maps and diagrams he’d acquired or drawn during his travels. The dining table, its top made from a single piece of bark polished until it shone like a horse chestnut, was big enough to seat twelve for supper, even though it had never needed to. At the moment, it was, as usual, heaped with more charts and drawings, some of which would graduate to places on the walls. Underfoot was a carpet woven of dried grass; Flip’s feet bounced a little as he walked across it to the fireplace.

I’ll feel better after I have a cup of cone tea inside me,
he thought as he stooped to light a small fire under the kettle. A sudden sneeze made him doubt his optimism, but he ignored it.

At one end of the table that was clearer than the rest lay the map he was in the slow process of compiling, a master map of the whole region based on what he saw during his expeditions far beyond the little community of Mishmash. He plonked his steaming mug of tea beside the map and seized a piece of charcoal.

Rain or no rain, his most recent trip hadn’t been a waste. He began to draw in the details, as best he could recall, of a new area he’d explored, near the top right corner of the map. His tongue tip peeped from the corner of his mouth as he concentrated, and he hummed tunelessly while the charcoal flew across the dried leaf-paper of the map.

There had been a small round knoll just there, he remembered, and beyond it, a place where a spring merrily burst from the ground to tumble over mossy stones. Then there had been …

Time passed unnoticed as he happily labored.

“Anyone at home?”

He raised his head as if from a doze and looked annoyedly at the door.

“It’s open, Dodgem,” he called.

The door squeaked ajar. Standing there was a fellow who was a plumper version of himself but looking, if anything, even wetter and more miserable than Flip had looked on his arrival. Beyond the newcomer’s head and shoulders, Flip could see the rain was even heavier, big drops ricocheting off the wooden floor of his porch.

He grinned. It was impossible to remain irritable with anyone as bedraggled as his friend, Dodgem, currently was.

“Don’t just drip,” he said. “Come on in and get warm in front of the fire.”

A little while later, with Dodgem contentedly installed in the big armchair by the fireside and sipping on a cup of cone tea, Flip looked uneasily back toward his map. He hadn’t quite finished marking in his new discoveries and he was anxious not to forget them.

Dodgem saw the glance.

“Still up to the same old stuff, eh, Flip?”

“Someone’s got to do it,” said Flip with a shrug.

“So you say. When are you going to settle down like a normal citizen of Mishmash? Find yourself a wife and start a family? Or are you still mooning over your beloved Jinnia?”

Flip looked away embarrassed. Jinnia was the daughter of Luti Furfoot, the Mishmash chieftain. In Flip’s view, she was as lovely as the day is long, the loveliest creature ever born, no doubt about that whatsoever. If anything could persuade him to give up his life of exploration and adventuring, it might be one of Jinnia’s smiles. He had adored her from the very moment he’d first set eyes on her.

But she was as distant and unattainable as a rainbow’s arch. She would never so much as spare a thought for a disreputable ragamuffin like himself, who, to make matters worse, spent more than half his time questing through wild country with its unknown dangers. He was widely regarded in Mishmash as – the gentle folk of Mishmash tended to suck in their cheeks as they worked out how to put this tactfully – not altogether complete in the mind.

Still, he was permitted to dream, wasn’t he?

He drew back from a warm-hued fantasy to find Dodgem was still prattling on, ignorant of his host’s mental absence.

“… and people are
talking
, you know. It’s not as if there’s any law against what you do, but some folk say maybe there should be, and—”

“Dodgem,” said Flip affectionately, “shut up, will you? I’ve heard all this before a thousand times. I don’t need to be told again.”

“Perhaps you do.” Dodgem regarded him earnestly through the steam of his tea. “Some of the scientists are beginning to put it about that you’re a threat to society! ‘A threat to society.’ That’s exactly what they call you.”

Flip was startled. This was new. It didn’t concern him much what the scientists thought. He’d written them off long ago as a bunch of oldsters who might have had something interesting to say before he was born, but now …

On the other hand, there were still enough people around who didn’t think
the way he did, and who listened to the advice of the scientists as if it were ageless wisdom.

He snorted. “Why? Just because I have a curious mind and a bit of imagination? That’s what science is supposed to be all about, isn’t it?”

Dodgem shifted in his chair. His mouth creased as if it didn’t want to let him say what he was about to say.

“Well, you caused quite an impression last year, friend Flip, when you came out with that absurd notion about how when the birds fly away in fall, they go to another country beyond the mountains. I mean,
what
other country? Behind the mountains, there’s the abyss and on the other side of the abyss, there’s the end of the world. Everybody knows that, Flip, yet you were trying to say there were other countries there. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so … so troubling to see you talking such nonsense so seriously.”

Dodgem frowned. It was obvious he’d said his piece because he felt he owed it to his friend to do so, and now he’d rather talk about something else altogether – something cheerful and light, like the party the whole village of Mishmash was having tonight to celebrate the harvest festival.

But Flip wasn’t going to let him off so easily.

“Has anyone ever gone as far as the mountains?” he said.

“Well … no.”

“Has anyone ever climbed the mountains and looked at what’s beyond them?”

This time, Dodgem didn’t bother to reply. The expression on his face said it all.

“And,” persisted Flip, “has anyone ever
seen
this abyss of yours?”

“Not
quite
,” replied Dodgem gamely.

“So, how do you know it exists?”

“Well, the scientists say it does, and they should—”

“But
they
haven’t seen it either!” interrupted Flip triumphantly. “They’re just repeating what the scientists before them said, and the scientists before them, and nobody’s ever gone there to take a look.”

“Now you’re just being silly,” protested Dodgem. “You know as well as I do that most of the scientists can hardly walk from one side of Mishmash to the other without someone to help them. How could you expect them to venture all the way to the mountains?”

Flip balled his claws as he stared at his friend, frustration clogging his throat so the words he wanted to say couldn’t escape. It was always the same when he tried to explain his ideas to the good citizens of Mishmash: they’d use any excuse not to have to think. He loved his good friend Dodgem dearly. He had
ever since they’d grown up together, sharing laughter and scrapes in parts of the wood where the grown-ups had strictly forbidden them to go, but sometimes Dodgem seemed to be the worst of them all. It was a pity Flip couldn’t do what he’d have done when they were young, which was trip Dodgem up and roll him into a puddle.

“This isn’t what I called by to talk about,” remarked Dodgem mildly.

Flip let out a breath that seemed bigger than his lungs could possibly hold. Yes, that was probably best. Change the subject before he lost his temper completely.

“I thought you came here just to get out of the rain,” he said, trying to match Dodgem’s lightness of tone.

“No. This tea is very good. Could I have a little more?”

After his mug had been refilled, Dodgem settled back again in his chair, a broad smile on his face. “What are you doing about the celebrations tonight?”

“Oh, I thought I’d come along,” said Flip, scratching a foot. The reply had been unnecessary. Everybody in Mishmash went to harvest celebrations, whether they wanted to or not. It was one of those occasions you weren’t really allowed to not want to go to.

Dodgem chuckled. “Lots of food, lots of drink,” he said complacently. “I’m looking forward to making this tummy of mine” – he patted it – “even more
generous
than it is already.”

“Hm,” murmured Flip, not really interested.

“There will be lots of good stories to be heard as well,” added Dodgem, leaning forward once more. “With any luck, Tod will have a new adventure to tell us about. I’m looking forward to hearing about his newest escapade.”

“I’m not,” said Flip coldly. “That Tod’s just a blowhard. He tells a better tale than he’s lived. How big was that lizard he says he fought? As big as a mushroom? As big as a house? As big as a
tree
? It gets bigger and bigger every time he talks about it – which is most of the time.”

Dodgem waved a dismissive paw at his friend. “There’s not the tiniest speck of jealousy, is there, Flip? Tod goes away and has adventures that have all the ladies staring at him with big, big eyes when he tells the stories. And you, Mishmash’s other self-proclaimed adventurer, when
you
come back from your travels all you do is make scribbles on your” – he made another deprecatory gesture – “map.”

“My map’s a lot more interesting than Tod’s tall tales,” said Flip, knowing he sounded hollow. “It just doesn’t … seem so.”

“Tell that to Jinnia,” observed Dodgem with a sniff.

“Maybe I will, one day.”

“You’d better hurry up and get around to it then,” said Dodgem. “Luti Furfoot’s making a double celebration of it tonight, you know. He’s going to announce his darling daughter’s coming-of-age.”

Flip had been trying to forget that. After tonight, Jinnia was free to marry whomsoever she chose, and there was no shortage of suitors eager to persuade her they’d make the ideal choice. Tod was foremost among them, of course, and doubtless he’d take tonight as an opportunity to impress her even further. It pained Flip to admit it, but the braggart
did
have a way with words, and could use them to paint scenes of excitement and courage. There were also plenty of other potential suitors, each with his own claim to Jinnia’s attentions.

BOOK: Sagaria
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