The Forbidden Castle
Illustrated By: Drew Willis
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Excerpt
It’s late in the day when you find the opening behind a boulder in Snake Canyon. The cave seems darker than you remember it, but you step inside, take a second step, and a third, and you slip and are falling down a chute. Your head hits something, but what matters is that here you are, lying in a field, rubbing your scalp and looking up at the branches of an oak tree and the bright blue sky without any idea of where you are.

Around you is mixed pasture and woodland. Nearby is a narrow dirt road, which disappears over a rise a few hundred yards away. Across the road is a fast-flowing stream.

You hear hoofbeats and a strange clanking sound. Someone is coming. You duck behind a clump of bushes. Two men on horseback come over the rise, riding toward you. They are wearing shining metal armor. One of them carries a white shield with a golden lion on it. They must be knights! You watch as they rein in their horses and dismount just a few yards away. They tie their horses to a tree by the stream.

“It has been a long ride, Sir Rupert,” says the taller one, “and you’ve had a long time to think. Have you solved the riddle of the Forbidden Castle?”

“In truth, Sir Godfrey, I have tried, and so has everyone else in England. What a reward King Henry has offered—half the kingdom of Wales!”

“A handsome reward indeed,” Sir Godfrey replies, “but not an overgenerous one, for the old monk prophesied that if the king conquered the Forbidden Castle, he would rule all of Europe!”

“He can’t conquer the castle unless he can find it!” says Sir Rupert, and the two of them roar with laughter.

Sir Godfrey’s face turns serious.

“Even if he solves the riddle, he is not likely to find the Forbidden Castle without the secret name.”

“Aye,” says Sir Rupert. “And to think I had half of that name and now I can’t find it—I thought it was on a piece of paper in my saddlebag.”

“You were a dunce not to memorize it,” Sir Godfrey says, poking his friend in the arm. “Ah well, it’s useless anyway unless you can find out what the missing letters are.”

“That’s some consolation, I suppose,” says Sir Rupert. “The word is eight letters long, and I only had the first four of them.”

“Or the last four—we don’t even know that,” says Sir Godfrey. The two knights stroll off out of earshot. You watch them fill their flasks from the stream. As they return to their horses, Sir Godfrey says, “We must get on to Cotwin Castle. King Henry expects us before the sun passes behind the west tower. He will be angry if we are late.”

“Aye,” says Sir Rupert as he vaults onto his horse. “The king has been in a foul temper since he learned that foreign spies have found their way into the English court. He’s ordered that suspicious-looking travelers be locked in the dungeon.”

“Aye, and he means it,” says Sir Godfrey.

As the two knights prepare to ride off, you wonder whether you should come out from behind your tree. You’re wearing twenty-first-century clothing. Surely you will look suspicious to them. On the other hand, you can’t stay hidden forever.

Wait for the next passerby

Step out from your hiding place
 
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