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Astrantian Tales - Part 1. Callistephus and the Emerald (youngsters:fantasy, 2719 words) [1/3] show all parts
Author: Ian HobsonUpdated: Apr 17 2004Views/Reads: 3415/1664Part vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
This is the first of three (or perhaps more) children's stories set in the fairytale land of Astrantia. If you are looking for a bedtime story, then look no further.

Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

apples, though they were rather bruised and wrinkled. He took the food 
but left the basket, and walked on towards a grassy knoll where he 
often sat and ate or just daydreamed. 

It was springtime. The birds were singing in the trees and the insects
were bussing back and forth. The grass was lush and green, and the 
bluebells in the woods were in full bloom, as where the purple 
rhododendrons on the hillsides. And like most days in Astrantia, there 
was not a cloud in the sky. And as Callistephus lay back against a 
weatherworn rock, eating his breakfast, he looked out over the marshes 
in the valley bottom, over the wooded hills beyond, and westward 
towards the sea. 

But as he finished eating and was about to set off to the river, where
he liked to swim, he heard an animal roar. And as he looked in the 
direction of the sound he saw that there was a great beast thrashing 
around at the edge of the marshes. Callistephus hesitated, sensing 
danger, but his curiosity got the better of him and he went to 

The beast was Catananche, though friend and foe alike called him Catan.
Not that he had many friends. He was half leopard and half bear, and a 
creature best avoided. He had spent the winter in the south and was on 
his way north. But after resting for the night in a tree at the edge of 
the marshes, he had been attacked by an angry magpie who thought he was 
after her chicks, and then fallen from the tree into the marsh. But 
this part of the marsh was known to be very dangerous. The mud was very 
deep and very sticky, and though not at all sandy, it was often 
referred to as The Quick Sands. And Catan had fallen right into it. 

The more Catan struggled and roared, the more he sank deeper into the
mud. And the magpie and several other birds had gathered to watch the 
demise of this dangerous animal. For they knew that he was a cruel and 
unsavoury character and that their world would be a safer place without 
him. But as Callistephus came running towards the tree in which the 
birds were perched, they were startled and flew off. 

'Help me,' cried Catan, as he saw Callistephus approach. His voice was
deep and resonant. 'Help me before I drown in this stinking mud.' 

'Who are you?' asked Callistephus, warily. 

'I am Prince Catananche, though most call me Catan. You must help me.' 

'But how can I?' asked Callistephus. 'I am only a boy. And if I do get
you out, you will probably eat me.' He knew of Catan, and of his 
villainous reputation, though he had never before, even as a wolf, been 
this close to him. 

'Climb onto that branch,' ordered Catan, pointing to a branch of the
tree that was just out of his reach. 'When the branch bends under your 
weight, I will grab hold and pull myself out. And I promise, on my 
royal blood, not to eat you.' 

'Don't believe him,' said the Magpie, who had just returned to the tree.
'He is a cheat and a trickster. And he's no more royal than the worm I 
ate for breakfast.' 

Catan glared at the magpie but then turned his head towards Callistephus
and said 'It is true that in the past, Catananche has been a cheat, but 
if you save me I will never be dishonest again. You have my word.' 

'Don't believe him,' warned the Magpie again. 

Callistephus was not sure what to do, but as Catan began to sink lower
into the mud, his honesty and good nature decided for him, and he 
leaped into the tree and began to climb along the branch. And sure 
enough, as his weight bent the branch lower towards Catan he was able 
to grab hold of it and pull himself free of the mud. 

But Catan's weight was much greater than that of Callistephus and the
branch bent further and began to crack, and Callistephus fell from it 
and landed on his back in the mud, close to the very spot where Catan 
had been. 

'Fool,' said the Magpie. 'You should have left him there.' 

Catan, who had by now swung himself onto dry land, roared at the magpie,
sending her fleeing into the treetop. 

'Help,' said Callistephus. He had rolled over and was trying to crawl
out of the mud, but with each movement he sank a little deeper into it. 

'Who me?' asked Catan, as he rubbed himself against the trunk of the
tree, trying to rid himself of the worst of the mud. 'Why should I?' 

'But you promised,' replied Callistephus. 

'I promised not to eat you. I didn't promise to risk my life trying to
save yours.' Catan began to scrape some of the mud from his belly with 
his paws. 

'But you can't leave me here,' said Callistephus desperately. 'You could
pull the branch from the tree and stretch it out towards me and pull me 
out. You would be in no danger.' 

'That's true I suppose,' replied Catan, 'but, where's the advantage to
me?' He sat down and looked closely at his right forepaw, examining 
each of his five sharp claws. 'What can you offer me in return?' 

'My friendship,' said Callistephus, hesitantly. 

'Your friendship!' exclaimed Catan. 'What use is that to me? Do you not
have anything of value?' 

'What sort of thing?' asked Callistephus. 

'I don't know!' replied Catan. 'Gold, or jewels perhaps?' 

'Jewels?' said Callistephus, keeping as still as he could to avoid
sinking deeper into the mud. 

'You know! Diamonds, rubies, that sort of thing,' said Catan. 'There is
royal blood in my veins, you see, and I have a liking for such 
things... Well, do you have any?' 

Callistephus looked thoughtful but said nothing. 

'No,' said Catan, standing and turning and starting to stroll away. 'I
thought not... Well, it's been nice meeting you.' 

'Wait!' cried Callistephus, desperately. 'If you save me, I could... I
could show you where to find an emerald.' 

Catan turned back towards Callistephus. 'An emerald, you say. That would
be a fair price, but how could you know where to find such a thing?' 

'I just do, that's all,' said Callistephus. 

'No. You can't trick a trickster,' said Catan. 'You are pretending to
know where to find an emerald so that I will save you.' 

'But I do know, and it's not a trick,' replied Callistephus. 'For I am
Callistephus, the boy who cannot steal or tell a lie.' 

Catan thought for a moment. He had heard of such a boy, though he was
unsure of the details. 'Very well,' he said. 'I suppose I have nothing 
to loose. But if you are not telling the truth, I will eat you.' And 
with that, he tore the cracked branch down from the tree and, holding 
one end, he stretched out and offered the other end to Callistephus who 
grabbed hold if it and allowed himself to be pulled from the mud. 

'Thank you,' said Callistephus. For the witch's spells had made him very
polite as well as completely honest. He began to wipe the mud from his 
clothes with handfuls of grass. 

'I don't want your thanks,' said Catan. 'I want to see this emerald.
Where is it?' 

'To the west,' replied Callistephus, still wiping away the mud. 'About
two days walk away.' 

'Two days!' roared Catan. 'You expect me to walk for two days? I have
been walking for twenty days already!' He came closer to Callistephus, 
and looked as though he was about to tear him to pieces. 

'Two days for a boy,' explained Callistephus, quickly. 'But not for you.
If I could ride on your back, then we could easily be there in less 
than one day. And the emerald is there, I promise. The most beautiful 
emerald you will ever see.' 

'Very well,' said Catan, suspiciously. 'Climb on my back and tell me
which way to go. But if this is a trick, I will tear you limb from limb 
and eat you.' 

So Callistephus climbed onto Catan's back and pointed westwards, and the
two unlikely travelling companions set off. Their journey lasted many 
hours, even though Catan moved swiftly through the constantly varying 
terrain. But as shadows began to lengthen, Catan began to tire and 
complain. 'How much further?' he asked. 'I am hungry and I think 
perhaps a bellyful of boy-meat would be a better reward for my efforts 
than any jewel.' 

'Just a little further,' replied Callistephus. 'To the top of the next
hill and then down the other side, that's all. My father took me there 
once. It was he who showed me the emerald.' 

'Well it better be still there,' growled Catan. But he continued on,
sniffing the air as he went. And as he came nearer the to the top of 
the hill, his ears pricked up as he heard a distant roar. 'What beast 
is that, that roars so?' he asked Callistephus. 'Is this some trick of 
yours? Are you leading me into a trap?' 

'No,' replied Callistephus, 'there is no beast. It's just the ocean.'
And as the two of them crested the hilltop, and shaded their eyes 
against the low sun, they saw ahead of them the sea and below them a 
great sandy beach. 

'I can walk from here,' said Callistephus, as he slid down from Catan's
back. And with that he ran down the hill towards the beach with Catan 
bounding along behind him. And when at last he came to the beach he 
kept on going almost to the water's edge, where waves rolled in and 
crashed and foamed onto the golden sands. Catan was close behind him 
and as he came to a halt beside the boy he said 'What trickery is this? 
There can be no emerald here.' 

'Be patient,' said Callistephus, looking across the sea, towards the sun
but not directly at it, for he knew that to do so was dangerous. 'If 
you want me to show you the emerald you must do exactly as I say. Look! 
See how the sun is kissing the sea.' And as he said this, the sun, 
which was loosing its brightness, began to dip into the horizon, where 
the ocean met the sky. 

It was a beautiful sight and even Catan was impressed by it. 'Look,' he
said, 'the sun is falling into the sea. Almost half of it has 

'Keep watching,' said Callistephus, as the sun sank lower and began to
turn orange in colour. 'Look how its light reflects on the water. See 
how weak the sun is becoming as its fires are quenched by the ocean. 
Don't blink or you will miss the best part. You will miss the emerald.' 
And then, for a brief moment, what was left of the sun turned from 
orange to emerald green, before disappearing beneath the horizon. 

'That was truly beautiful,' said Catan, still enthralled and still
looking towards the spot where the sun had vanished. 'But, wait! You 
have tricked me!' He turned towards Callistephus, looking ready to tear 
out his heart and eat it. But with the setting of the sun, Callistephus 
was no longer a boy. He was a great wolf. And though he was not as big 
as Catan, he was quicker, and he sprang forward, knocking Catan onto 
his back and rolling him into a wave that had just crashed onto the 
beach. And before Catan could recover his wits, Callistephus raced off 
back towards the hillside and into the gloom, and the safety, of the 
coming night. 

So, the next time you stand on a western shore to watch the sunset, look
out for the emerald. It's not just in the enchanted land of Astrantia 
that such a phenomenon can be seen. 


This is part 1 of a total of 3 parts.
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