Veiled Rose, page 1
Copyright © 2011
Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Book design by Paul Higdon
Cover illustation by William Graf
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
E-book edition created 2011
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
To my David Rohan
An Excerpt From the Next Tales of Goldstone Wood
Part One: The Prince
About the Author
Books by Author
HILL HOUSE, though abandoned, had remained unscathed during the years of the Dragon’s occupation. This pleased the young man as he climbed the forlorn path to that place where he had spent many happy months. He had feared that Hill House, despite its remote location, would have been one of the Dragon’s primary targets. But as he passed various shepherding villages and proceeded up the mountain road to the house itself, he felt his spirits lifting. And when he saw the house still standing and its sloping gardens yet unburned, something close to a smile touched his too serious face.
Of all the familiar haunts he had passed since returning to his homeland, this was the only one that bore no visible scars of the Dragon’s work.
His progress up into the mountains had been solitary. Companions had journeyed with him to the foot of the mountain road, but he had requested that they let him make the climb alone. This meant a long day of rough going with only a shaggy pony for company. But the young man was used to this kind of loneliness by now.
Lately, he felt far lonelier in a crowd than when left to himself.
The mountain air was clean compared to the stench that lingered behind every breath in the low country. The sturdy pony enjoyed it as well, wuffling to itself and shaking its mane with renewed vigor. The young man tethered his mount at the house gate and entered the overgrown gardens.
Hill House’s empty windows, like mourning eyes, gazed down on him. He sought the big windows framed by heavy curtains that belonged to the library; the smaller, set up a story higher, opened from his old bedroom. The glass panes were dusty with time and neglect, but at least they were not filmed over with ash, and the curtains did not reek with poison.
The young man did not enter the house, though a part of him longed to walk those corridors again, to feel a comfort that he had not yet felt since returning to his native land. No, he had made the climb to Hill House for a purpose, and he dared not linger.
He had a monster to hunt.
He found the garden shed, which was locked just as old Mousehand, the gardener, had always left it. The young man knew he would never get those complicated locks undone. When Mousehand died, his replacement had been unable to work them either and had been obliged to build a whole new shed. But the tools in that new shed would be insufficient, the young man knew. Some traditions must be maintained if one hoped to hunt a monster successfully.
The wooden door was soft in places. He kicked at it and pulled out several panels until he could force his way inside. He did not look around too carefully in that gloom, feeling as unwilling to disturb the old gardener’s secrets as he would be to desecrate a sacred tomb. He sought only one thing: the weapon of a warrior.
Which he found in the form of a beanpole.
Not just any beanpole. He recognized it the moment his fingers wrapped around the thin wooden rod. This was the beanpole of all beanpoles, mighty in purpose and fell with use. Another smile tugged at the young man’s mouth as he climbed back out of the shed, his weapon in hand. In the daylight, one could see the rough carvings that ran up and down the pole’s length, jagged and unlovely but made with care. And at the tip of the pole was tied a faded red scarf.
So armed, the young man made his way to the far garden gate, which these days was encrusted with rust. It squeaked in lazy protest when he opened it to step onto the trail that led farther up the mountain.
It wouldn’t be much of a hunt. He had a fair notion where his monster was to be found. This was by no means the first time he had pursued this quarry.
The first time, he had been no more than eleven years old.
THEY SAID A MONSTER lived in the mountains.
They couldn’t say where it hid. They couldn’t say when it had come. They certainly couldn’t say what it looked like, though they had plenty of conflicting ideas on that subject. But they all agreed that it was there. Somewhere.
They being no one in particular and everyone in general who lived and worked at Hill House, where Leo spent the summer of his eleventh year. At first, Leo assumed it was simply another one of those sayings that grown-ups liked to bandy about, such as swearing “Silent Lady!” when frightened, or “Dragon’s teeth!” when angry.
“Best come in, it’s almost dark,” his nursemaid would call from his bedroom window when he was playing out on the sloping lawns and gardens of Hill House. “You don’t want the mountain monster to carry you off.”
This wasn’t true. Leo wouldn’t have minded much if the monster did carry him off, or at least made the attempt. He put off coming in until the very last minute, just before his nursemaid would feel obliged to sally forth and fetch him. But no matter how long the shadows in the mountainside garden grew, he saw neither hide nor hair of anything monsterlike.
Then one day he took the servants’ stairway down from his rooms, for it was a quicker route to the gardens. He overheard furtive voices and could not have stopped himself from eavesdropping for the world.
“I swear on my hand, I saw it!” said the voice Leo recognized as belonging to Leanbear, the carriage man. “I was on my way up the mountain trail to my old granna’s house, and I saw it clear as day!”
Leanbear was a strong man, used to working with the tough mountain ponies that pulled the carriages in this rough part of the country. But his voice quavered and remained low as he spoke.
“What did it look like?” Mistress Redbird, the cook, aske
“This was no wolf, Redbird, I’ll tell you that straight,” said the carriage man. “I’ve hunted down my share of wolves, and I’m proud to say I’ve yet to feel even a twinge when they set up their howling on winter’s nights. But this was no wolf.”
“What, then?” demanded Redbird. “A troll? A goblin? A sylph?”
“More like . . . a demon.”
Leo shuddered in his dark stairway, a delightful shudder of terror such as only boys of a particular spirit may experience. But Mistress Redbird laughed outright. “I’d have sooner you said dragon, Leanbear.”
“You know as well as I that it’s out there,” the carriage man growled.
For a moment, Mistress Redbird’s voice became more serious. “I know what I know, and the rest I don’t pretend to understand. But I say it’s best you keep such fool talk to yourself, especially while the little mister is running about the place.”
Leanbear grunted, and both of them moved on without seeing Leo where he stood in the dark stairway.
Leo did not move for a long moment. He’d made plans for his day already, packing up the fine library chess pieces into a leather sack to sneak them out to the garden, where he intended to dig a dirt fortress and wage a battle that had nothing whatsoever to do with chess. But such paltry games were as nothing to the inspiration that now filled his soul.
His chess pieces rattling in their sack, Leo turned and raced back up the stairs and on to the Hill House library, where he could be certain to find his cousin, Foxbrush.
Foxbrush was a pale, sickly, self-styled cherub, and a favorite of Leo’s mother. She thought him a good influence on Leo, so she insisted the two of them be the best of friends. Leo wouldn’t have minded this so much—not even his mother’s constant nagging of “Why can’t you be more like your cousin?”—if once in a while Foxbrush could have been convinced to put down his books and get out of his overstuffed chair.
“Foxbrush!” Leo cried, bursting into the library. His cousin looked up from behind the cover of his book. It was one of his “improving reads,” something like Economic Concerns of the Trade Merchant’s Status, full of numbers and dates and other hideous things of that nature. Foxbrush pretended to enjoy them and was so good at the pretense that Leo sometimes believed him. He’d even picked up one or two of these books himself but had found them to be rubbish.
“Foxbrush!” he cried. “There’s a monster in the mountains!”
“No there isn’t,” said Foxbrush.
Hill House belonged to Foxbrush’s widowed mother, which meant that when any disagreement arose between the boys, Foxbrush could usually win with a final swipe of, “This is my mother’s house, so you have to do what I say!” However, Leo’s was by far the stronger personality, so if he made the effort he could sometimes barrage Foxbrush with so much enthusiasm that his cousin forgot to employ that dreaded line.
Foxbrush took one look at Leo’s face, flushed and bright-eyed with the prospect of adventure, and ducked behind his book as though sheltering from a siege.
“Yes there is!” Leo said. “The carriage man saw it!”
“He also sees pixies dancing when he’s been into last year’s cider.”
“We must hunt it!”
“No, we mustn’t.” Foxbrush nestled more solidly into his comfortable chair. “Aunt Starflower wouldn’t like it.”
“Mother’s not here!”
“She’d find out.”
“And praise us for catching a demon that’s been terrorizing the countryside!”
“There isn’t any demon.”
“How do you know?”
Foxbrush’s face emerged from behind the book, this time wearing his patient expression, the one that made Leo want to poke him in the eye, and said, “I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve heard people babble nonsense for years. But I’ve not seen it. I’ve not heard it. It doesn’t exist.” Back behind the book again, he added, “Go away.”
Leo stared at the thick red cover for several fuming seconds. Then he took the sack of chess pieces from his belt and tossed it so that it came down on Foxbrush’s head, eliciting a satisfactory “Ow!”
“You’re no better than a girl, Foxbrush,” Leo declared, storming from the library. It was much too fine a day to waste on his cousin.
Out in the gardens, Leo stood for some time a few steps from the door, gazing about. Hill House was so named because it rested high in the mountains in the southern part of the country. It commanded a fine prospect, looking north toward the spreading landscape of Leo’s homeland. The weather was pleasant here, a little cool due to the altitude, but fresh and invigorating . . . the right air for an adventurous heart.
On regular days, the mountainside gardens of Hill House were interesting enough to occupy the boy. But now that he knew there was more to this monster talk than a mere nursemaid’s warning, the gardens were suddenly much too small and cramped. No monster would come within the bounds of Hill House’s gardens. Leo would have to venture out after it himself.
But first he must be properly armed.
“I need a weapon,” he told Mousehand, the gardener. Mousehand was probably the oldest, creaking-est man in the world, and his face was a mass of beard. At Leo’s words, the beard wrinkled into something that was probably a smile underneath, and the gardener’s little eyes winked.
“A weapon, eh?” said Mousehand.
“Yes. A sword, if you have one.”
Mousehand grunted, pausing to contemplate the row of parsnips he was weeding. “I think I know what you need.”
With a splendid cacophony of crackling, the old man rose from his knees and hobbled to his toolshed with Leo close behind. In moments, Mousehand undid the various chains and latches that had baffled Leo every time he’d tried to get into the shed on his own, and the door swung open with almost as much creaking as Mousehand’s joints. The gardener stepped inside and emerged with his selected weapon, which he handed to Leo with great ceremony.
Leo took it and frowned. “A beanpole?”
“A mighty sword, good sir knight, if you look at it right.”
Leo wrinkled his nose. “You mean, use my imagination?”
“I might. Or I might not,” said the gardener.
If there was one thing Leo disliked about grown-ups, it was their tendency to treat him like a child. “I’m going to hunt a monster. Is this really going to help?”
Here the gardener seemed to really look at Leo for the first time. He put his gnarled hand on the doorpost, leaning against it as his eyes traveled up and down the boy’s slight frame. He took in the fine clothing, slightly mussed from play. He took in the scrapes on the hands that indicated a willingness to plunge into any activity with a will. He noted the spark that shone behind the sulkiness in a pair of large black eyes.
“What monster do you hunt?”
“The monster up the mountain,” Leo replied. “Have you heard of it?”
The gardener nodded. “I have.”
“Have you seen it?”
The gardener’s beard shifted as the mouth somewhere in its depths worked back and forth in thought. “What I’ve seen and what others’ve seen ain’t likely to be the same thing.”
Leo shouldered his beanpole. “What have you seen?”
Mousehand shook his head. “You must see for yourself, lad, and decide for yourself. So, you’re setting off up the mountain, are you?”
“Does your nursemaid know?”
Dragon’s teeth! He hadn’t thought of that detail. “Um . . .”
“I’ll just tell her you’ll be home by nightfall when she asks, eh?”
Here Leo gave the old man a real smile; a smile that Mousehand, who had been a spirited boy himself ages ago, returned. Then the gardener escorted the boy up the mountainside to the edge of the garden and saluted solemnly as Leo step
“Which way is quickest to the monster?”
“Never be in too much of a hurry to catch your quarry, young master,” the gardener responded. “The adventure is the hunt, not the catch, remember.” Then he pointed an arthritic finger up the beaten trail. “Follow that a good hundred yards, then look for the deer path on your left, beginning just under the silver-branched sapling tied with a red scarf. Follow that path, and you’ll make a wide loop around that side of the mountain and end back where you started. Be careful you don’t stray, now.”
“I won’t find a monster while following a path.”
“If you’re meant to meet with the monster, you’ll meet it on that path. I swear to you. Do you believe me?” His eyes met Leo’s and held the boy’s gaze for much longer than Leo was comfortable. But Leo was not one to look away, so he studied the old man and considered what he’d said.
Oddly enough, he found that he believed Mousehand.
“All right,” he said. “I’ll follow the path.”
With those words, he adjusted his grip on the beanpole, squared his shoulders, and started at a trot up the mountain.
“Hey!” the gardener called.
Leo looked back over his shoulder.
“Try not to get eaten whilst you’re about. Might be kinda hard for me to explain to your folks, eh?”
Leo nodded, saluted the gardener, and continued up the path.
At first, it was a fantastic feeling. The forest at that time of year was a heavy dark green that breathed mystery. The birds sang tempting tunes like sirens, not so cheerful as to destroy the ambiance. Leo felt that surge of manliness common to all young adventurers and tried the mettle of his beanpole on an offending sapling or two. Perhaps it was a little lonely sallying forth on his own. Perhaps he would have preferred a brave comrade-in-arms. But there’s a certain spirit that follows the solitary adventurer and prevents any real loneliness from setting in.
The path was broad, for many lived in the higher reaches of the mountain and trekked down to the lower village once or twice a week. It was hardly the right location to hunt monsters, but to Leo it was nonetheless exciting. He’d never before been so far away from home on his own. In fact, he had never before been so completely alone.
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