He sighed and rubbed his shoulder, which worried Sunday. Storyless days happened, when the weather was foul or the work had been troublesome. Most days, however, he brought her a little something: a tale or a trinket. His eyes would get bright, and there would be mischief and laughter in his voice. For that brief moment, Papa was happy, and he was all hers. Not that anything could dim the happiness that still shone inside her from making a new friend, but a story from Papa would have been the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Papa sat back and rested his hands on the table. He looked at Sunday thoughtfully, for a long time. And then he smiled. Sunday caught it and grinned right back at him, for in that smile was a story.
"We went deep into the Wood today." He leaned forward to whisper the words to her, as if they were a secret between the two of them. "Deep into the Wood, where the trees are so tall and the leaves are so thick that no sunlight touches the dark ground."
"Were you scared?" Sunday whispered back.
"A little," he admitted. "I told Peter and Saturday to stay at the edge of the Wood."
"You told Saturday to do something and she obeyed?" The only orders Sunday had ever seen her sister obey were Mama's. Everyone always did what Mama said. Every time.
"Well, no," admitted Papa. "I gave her a very large task and told her she could join me when she'd finished."
"Did she finish?"
"Not yet. It was a very, very large task."
"You are a clever Papa."
"I am a Papa with much experience keeping his mischievous children out of harm's way," he said. "The edge is the safest, but deep in the Wood is where one finds the best trees. The old trees. I never take more than one at a time, and I always wait several moons before I take another one. The lumber from that tree will always fetch the highest price. It will be the most beautiful, and it will last forever. No mortal fire can burn Elder Wood."
"Did you take an Elder Wood tree today?"
"I did. I asked the gods' permission and begged the tree's forgiveness before I forced it to give its life. And since no one was around, I did not yell 'timber' before its fall."
Sunday gasped. Anyone who had ever lived near the Wood knew the importance of yelling to announce a treefall. Silence had dangerous consequences.
"The tree came down with a spectacular crash! And when the Wood became silent again, I heard a yelping."
"Did you hurt someone?" She was afraid to know the answer. It was clear that Mama wasn't worried; she continued to busy herself in the kitchen as if she hadn't heard a word of Papa's tale.
"Very nearly. It took me a long time to get to the other side of the tree. When I did, I found a leprechaun hopping around."
"A leprechaun? Wasn't that lucky," Sunday remarked skeptically. "Luckier for him! He was still alive to be hopping around," Papa said. "Trapped by his beard, he was, and mighty put out about it, too." Sunday laughed.
"I hope you asked for his gold," Mama's voice echoed from inside the oven as she retrieved the bread.
"Of course I did, woman! What kind of man do you take me for?"
"A fool, most days," Mama murmured. She wiped her hands on her apron and picked up a knife to cut the loaf. "Go on, "finish your story."
" Thank you, wife." Papa leaned forward again and took up his storytelling tone once more. "The leprechaun pleaded with me to set him free."
"And did you?"
"I asked for his gold first." Papa glanced at Mama, but she did not show that she had heard his comment. "He promised it all to me. Told me if I used my ax to chop him free he would lead me to it." Mama clucked her tongue. She was listening. "Of course I didn't believe him," Papa said loudly. "I said I wanted proof. He told me he had three gold coins in his pocket. He would give them to me as a down payment, so if he ran away, I wouldn't be left with nothing for my trouble."
Excerpted from Enchanted by Alethea Kontis. Copyright © 2012 by Alethea Kontis. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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