At the end of the century before last, in the
market square of the city of Baltese, there
stood a boy with a hat on his head and a coin in
his hand. The boys name was Peter Augustus
Duchene, and the coin that he held did not
belong to him but was instead the property of
his guardian, an old soldier named Vilna lutz,
who had sent the boy to the market for fish
That day in the market square, in the midst of the entirely unremarkable and absolutely ordinary stalls of the fishmongers and cloth merchants and bakers and silversmiths, there had appeared, without warning or fanfare, the red tent of a fortuneteller. Attached to the fortunetellers tent was a piece of paper, and penned upon the paper in a cramped and unapologetic hand were these words: The most profound and difficult questions that could possibly be posed by the human mind or heart will be answered within for the price of one florit.
Peter read the small sign once, and then again. The audacity of the words, their dizzying promise, made it difficult, suddenly, for him to breathe. He looked down at the coin, the single florit, in his hand.
"But I cannot do it," he said to himself.
"Truly, I cannot, for if I do, Vilna Lutz will ask where the money has gone and I will have to lie, and it is a very dishonorable thing to lie."
He put the coin in his pocket. He took the soldiers hat off his head and then put it back on. He stepped away from the sign and came back to it and stood considering, again, the outrageous and wonderful words.
"But I must know," he said at last. He took the florit from his pocket. "I want to know the truth. And so I will do it. But I will not lie about it, and in that way, I will remain at least partly honorable." With these words, Peter stepped into the tent and handed the fortuneteller the coin.
And she, without even looking at him, said, "One florit will buy you one answer and only one. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Peter.
He stood in the small patch of light making its sullen way through the open flap of the tent. He let the fortuneteller take his hand. She examined it closely, moving her eyes back and forth and back and forth, as if there were a whole host of very small words inscribed there, an entire book about Peter Augustus Duchene composed atop his palm.
" Huh," she said at last. She dropped his hand and squinted up at his face. "But, of course, you are just a boy."
"I am ten years old," said Peter. He took the hat from his head and stood as straight and tall as he was able. "And I am training to become a soldier, brave and true. But it does not matter how old I am. You took the florit, so now you must give me my answer."
"A soldier brave and true?" said the fortuneteller. She laughed and spat on the ground. "Very well, soldier brave and true, if you say it is so, then it is so. Ask me your question."
Peter felt a small stab of fear. What if, after all this time, he could not bear the truth? What if he did not really want to know?
"Speak," said the fortuneteller. "Ask."
"My parents," said Peter.
"That is your question?" said the fortuneteller. "They are dead."
Peters hands trembled. "That is not my question," he said. "I know that already. You must tell me something that I do not know. You must tell me of another - you must tell me . . ."
The fortuneteller narrowed her eyes. "Ah," she said. "Her? Your sister? That is your question? Very well. She lives."
Peters heart seized upon the words. She lives. She lives!
"No, please," said Peter. He closed his eyes. He concentrated. "If she lives, then I must find her, so my question is, how do I make my way there, to where she is?"
He kept his eyes closed; he waited.
Excerpted from The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo Copyright © 2009 by Kate DiCamillo. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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