An excerpt from Part IV of Sir Nathan and the Quest for Queen Gobbledeegook, available on Smashwords and Amazon. Coming soon to Barnes and Noble's site for the Nook.
The sun shone out of a dazzling, blue sky and warmed the forest floor. The weather was changing, getting cooler in preparation for winter. The leaves of the Hootentoot Trees were shifting colors with the change in seasons, going from green to white with pink polka-dots. Nothing looked more stunning than an entire forest of Hootentoot Trees in the fall.
Every puff of wind caused more and more of the changed leaves to drop gently from the trees, where they would swirl and waft and scream all the way to the ground, for nothing has a greater fear of falling than the leaves of a Hootentoot Tree. If you were going to go for a walk through a Hootentoot Forest during the fall on a particularly windy day, you'd be smart to bring some ear plugs.
The forest floor was covered in a colorful carpet of leaves. Chattering Hobnobber Squirrels hopped and scurried about. The dry, autumn leaves crackled and crunched underfoot and the noise caused by the busy squirrels was almost as loud as all the screams of the terrified, falling foliage.
The Hobnobber Squirrels were busy looking for Huckle Nuts from the few Huckle Nut Trees scattered amongst the Hootentoots to store for the long winter months ahead. Fortunately for them, they weren't finding very many, for nothing is more poisonous to a Hobnobber Squirrel than a few tastes of Huckle Nut. In the dazzling sunshine, the fuzzy, blue squirrels stood out brightly against the background of the forest floor covered in pink polka-dot leaves. There were even a few late-season Grumble Bees buzzing here and there, muttering about how cold it was already getting at night even though summer had just ended.
It was a wonderful, crisp autumn day to be out in the woods. It was a day where the chill in the air was countered by the toasty warmth of the sunshine. And the Hobnobber Squirrels chattered happily as they searched for nuts, all of them just as delighted with the day as they could be.
Except for one.
This one particular squirrel just sat on a stump. If you listened closely, and you could find a quiet moment amongst all of the wailing leaves, you just might have been able to hear an occasional naughty word or two come from the squirrel's tiny mouth.
Even when other Hobnobber Squirrels came over and chattered excitedly to him in a friendly way, this squirrel just scowled and hid behind his bushy, blue tail.
Another polka-dotted leaf fell screaming past the grumpy Hobnobber Squirrel to land on a growing pile of leaves right next to the stump on which he sat.
“You know, you're not helping things,” said the squirrel to the mound of leaves.
A muffled voice came from the center of the pile. “I don't care. I'm not going.”
It was evident this discussion had been ongoing for quite some time and was probably what had the squirrel in such a foul mood. That and the fact he was a squirrel instead of a horse.
“You know, it's not like you really have a choice. This is your job! You swore an oath, and everything! If you don't do this, who will?”
A vague grunt from the bottom of the leaf pile was the Squirrel's only answer.
It had already been a very difficult morning and it seemed as if things weren't going to change any time soon. Tupolev was not pleased. He had been caught up in some hasty actions back at the Warlock's castle and he was extremely grumpy. Whether or not he had been turned into a Hobnobber Squirrel, he wasn't about to take any more of this nonsense.
To anyone that didn't know what was going on, it would have appeared completely normal and innocent. They would have thought there was nothing unusual about a fluffy, blue Hobnobber Squirrel sitting on a stump in the middle of a Hootentoot Forest. Sure, they might have noticed all the other Hobnobber Squirrels were hopping this way and that, chasing each other through the trees and digging through the accumulating piles of leaves, while this particular squirrel just sat on the stump with a very angry look on his face. They might have also noticed it seemed as if the squirrel were paying an awful lot of attention to a particularly large mound of leaves beside the stump. And if they were very observant, they might have also thought they could hear the squirrel talking in a high-pitched squeak. Not only did the squirrel appear to be talking, but it appeared to be talking to the pile of leaves.
Now, for anyone who knows a thing or two about Hobnobber Squirrels, they might not have thought this very odd. It might have actually seemed to be the first normal thing they had ever observed a Hobnobber Squirrel doing, since the fuzzy creatures usually spent most of their time looking for a snack guaranteed to kill them. No, it would only have seemed unusual when they saw the squirrel hop down from the stump and burrow its way into the pile of leaves, brandishing its sharp teeth. That's when they would have observed the mound of polka-dot foliage explode in an eruption of pink and white. The sound of that explosion was, “Yeeeeeaaaaarrrrrrgghhh!”
When the echoes of the explosion died away and the flurry of Hootentoot leaves once again wafted to the forest floor, Sir Nathan was left standing next to the stump, reaching under his armor to rub at a delicate place that only recently had been bitten by a horse turned into a squirrel.
“Why did you go and do a thing like that?!” demanded Sir Nathan. He was convinced he was most likely bleeding to death from the tiny nip Tupolev had given him.
Tupolev, who very recently had been a massive horse, emerged from under a few scattered leaves rubbing an ear that had gotten pinched in Sir Nathan's chain mail.
“What else was I supposed to do?” asked the squirrel. “Nothing else was working and we need to get moving.”
The Hero's only answer was a scowl. He knew he had been pouting quite a bit for the past several hours. He knew that everything the squirrel had told him about honor and duty were true. He knew it was up to him to find the missing Queen Gobbledeegook. He just felt very overwhelmed.
They had been searching for the missing Queen for a long, long time. The Hero had travelled further beyond the borders of Mariskatania than anyone ever had before and he felt no closer to finding the Queen than he was when he had started. It was starting to feel like it was all too much. For a Hero who had never before felt so much as a teaspoon of doubt or an inch of fear, this whole journey was really starting to depress him. Normally he would have just crashed through his duties like he always did … waving his Sword of Power and yelling about honor and duty. In the past, that had always seemed to sort things out fast enough so he could make it back to the Palace before they were done bolting on the Whining And Dining Room for the evening meal.
But this mission was making him seriously consider quitting his job as Hero of Mariskatania and becoming a gardner or a baker or a kite maker.