Magic, cunning, and one very special cat join forces in this hilarious, extraordinary tale by the author of the Dairy Queen trilogy and Princess Ben.Princess Wisdom, known as Dizzy, longs for a life of adventure beyond the staid old
A LIFE UNFORESEEN
The Story of Fortitude of Bacio, Commonly Known as Trudy, as Told to Her Daughter
Privately Printed and CirculatedTRUDY’S SIGHT revealed itself one warm summer night when the child was no older than three. The Duke’s Arms had been lively all evening, denying Trudy’s mother even a minute to put her to bed, for Eds made it clear that customers always came first, and Mina was the inn’s sole server. Trudy, however, was an easy child, happy to play in a kitchen corner with her yarn doll and tattered little basket, her head a halo of auburn curls streaked with gold. So settled, she did not observe the stranger’s arrival or his demand for a meal and a room, and right quick with them both. Nor for that matter did anyone else pay notice to this rawboned traveler missing half an earlobe, for dusty foreigners stopped there daily. Mina was just beginning to serve him when Trudy wandered in from the kitchen, caught sight of the man, and began to scream. The room quieted at once, and Mina rushed over to take her away. Yet Trudy stood unbudging. "Go!" she shrieked, pointing at the stranger with one small shaking finger. "Go away! Go away! Go away!" The man flinched at the clamor, and more so at the two dozen pairs of eyes now focused upon him. He flicked a hand toward Trudy and demanded that Eds take the brat from earshot; this place was supposed to be an inn for God’s sake, not a damned madhouse. That may have been the man’s gravest mistake, for while Eds readily agreed about the racket, he abided no criticism of his beloved Duke’s Arms. He also knew, with the innate discernment of a successful host, that though this fatherless child meant little to him, she was a favorite with the locals, unlike, say, the miller’s youngest son, who—everyone agreed—was a rascal through and through. The regulars who kept the Duke’s Arms solvent during the lean summer months were now muttering among themselves, uneasy about this stranger who so distressed their wee sweet Trudy. Eds thus, without another moment’s consideration, ordered him to leave. "Ye can’t toss me out!" the man spat back. "This is a public hostel, it is, and I’ve nowhere else to sleep!" "It’s my establishment, and I operates as I please," Eds replied coolly. "Besides, I hear tell the heavens make a very fine blanket"—a riposte, it should be confessed, that he had wielded many times, always to widespread mirth. His patrons laughed now, but smiles faded as the stranger cursed Eds and with cold viciousness described his imminent and painful demise. It was only Eds’s girth, and cudgel, that got the stranger past the threshold, and no one objected when Eds slammed the door behind him. Trudy’s mother by this time had managed to carry her up to their attic bed, though her wails reverberated through the building. The public rooms emptied soon thereafter, the locals heading home in twos and threes, and in twos and threes they searched their barns and outbuildings before locking every door, so unnerved were they by the child’s reaction, and by the stranger’s ruthless air. Trudy continued to sob about the awful man "out there" until Mina finally took her outside to see the empty road for herself. The girl peered through the moonlight in every direction and, inexplicably calmed, fell asleep on her mother’s shoulder. Oh, how tongues wagged the next morning, and, oh, how the inn’s patrons were teased. What was Eds adding to his beer, the wives asked, that made men fearful old maids? Did a child’s tantrum turn Bacio into a village of milksops? Sheepishly the men shrugged, unable themselves to explain their spooked reaction to one ill-tempered customer. Vindication arrived soon enough, for not halfway through morning chores a squad of soldiers rode into town—imperial soldiers, not the duke’s preening guards, and their weapons were polished from use, not show. Halting at the Duke’s Arms, they asked if anyone had seen a lone traveler, a gaunt man with a severed ear. Eds had only begun to answer when the soldiers wheeled and galloped off toward the pass. Well. Chores now stopped outright, and pigs and children whined unfed as the good folk of Bacio clustered to gossip over this unprecedented turn of events. Henpecked husbands stood tall, pointing out that their women were right grateful now. Little Trudy, muzzy yet from lack of sleep, received numerous kisses for being the first to notice the villain in their midst. How much of a villain they did not learn until late that afternoon, when the soldiers returned grimly bearing two bodies: one of their own, who in searching an abandoned shepherd’s hut had drawn his weapon too late, and the mangled-ear stranger, whom the squad then set upon and killed at last. This man, the soldiers explained, had robbed and murdered his way across the empire, seeking in particular backwoods inns, and as evidence they displayed the wealth of a dozen victims found in his pack. How had the villagers known to turn him away? For otherwise they’d be burying, not chattering, this sunset. All eyes turned to Trudy playing tag with the miller’s boy. She could provide no explanation other than that the man had "looked bad," and shyly she asked if she could pet the ponies. Smiling, the sergeant hoisted her up to stroke the nose of his majestic warhorse, and over her copper curls he informed the villagers that they owed this child their lives. Needless to say, the residents of Bacio began observing Trudy, and so noticed that she had a talent for staying out of trouble (unlike Tips, the miller’s boy, who would dance on the rooftops like the very devil himself). She was always elsewhere when Eds flew into one of his great rages, and often would coax Mina away as well before the man began seeking targets for his ire. When one day Trudy happened upon Tips and two other boys taunting Lloyds’s prize new ram, she begged Tips to play with her instead—to which he readily acceded, for they were the dearest of friends—and therefore the lad was (for once) innocent when the enraged ram burst from his pen, never to be seen again. Yet when young women asked Trudy to prophesy their true love, or Eds sought her opinion of an odd-looking customer, she could only shake her head sadly. Soon, ashamed that she provoked such disappointment, she took to hiding herself away at the approach of any would-be supplicant. So, they concluded, the girl did have a talent. It was not magic, to be sure—there was no such thing as magic, and any fool claiming otherwise would end up in an asylum, or worse—but a certain limited gift. Tips in his inimitable fashion put it best: "It’s simple, really: all the feeling most folks get after something happens, Trudy just happens to feel before." Phrased that way, then, yes, the girl could often see the future, but only her own, and the potential futures of those she loved—sometimes the near future, sometimes not for days hence. But she could not always see enough to avert trouble, and certainly not when it mattered most. The day the beggar woman limped into town, Trudy, now aged ten, was hanging sheets to dry and so did not observe the woman pass from house to house seeking aid for her sick baby. Nor would Trudy speak, ever, of what her sight revealed when finally she laid eyes on the pair. But from her hysteria, and the sobbing manner she clung to her mother, the residents of Bacio knew it could not bode well. In the days that followed, the deadly fever claimed one life after another, and while some survivors muttered that Trudy should have done
"Packed with double entendres, humorous dialogue and situations, and a black cat that will capture the reader’s imagination, this is a joyful, timeless fantasy that teens will savor." --Booklist, starred review"Readers who enjoy fairy-tale romance and intrigue with multiple strong heroines, an enigmatic cat, and a bit of reading challenge will adore this, and those who are already acquainted with Princess Ben will be glad to see her again."--Bulletin, starred review "Richly developed characters, humor, exciting plot twists, and, of course, magic combine to craft a most enjoyable read. Fans of Gail Carson Levine will be charmed by this witty, whimsical fantasy. Exceptional!"--School Library Journal, starred review
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