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Authors: P. W. Catanese

The Brave Apprentice

BOOK: The Brave Apprentice
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If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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ALADDIN PAPERBACKS
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
www.SimonandSchuster.com

Text copyright © 2005 by P. W. Catanese

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

ALADDIN PAPERBACKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Designed by Tom Daly

The text of this book was set in Adobe Jenson.

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Aladdin Paperbacks edition July 2005

2  4  6  8  10  9  7  5  3  1

Library of Congress Control Number 2004109869

ISBN 0-689-87174-0
ISBN 13: 978-0-689-87174-0
eISBN 13: 978-1-439-11304-2

, there’s another one:”

The tailor on squinted at the grassy land the other side of the river from the village of Crossfield, where a lone sheep had wandered into view with no shepherd or dog in sight.

“I don’t like it,” he said to the apprentice by his side. “I’m afraid something has happened to old Osbert. Stubborn fool, I told him he didn’t look well. Never should have gone out there with the herd.”

“I’ll find him, master” “You’re a good lad, Patch. Go on, now—there’s not much daylight left. And cross the second bridge, mind you, no sense taking chances at the Tumbles.” The tailor shouted the last few words because the boy was already running along the footpath by the river’s edge.

Patch could run fast and forever, as everyone in town knew. He ran everywhere on those long colt legs, with his tangle of black hair flapping behind him like
a pennant. Even when there was no cause to run, Patch ran. But there was a reason now. Earlier that afternoon one of Osbert’s sheep had ambled into town unattended. And now this one had appeared across the river. It seemed that neither Osbert nor his dog was minding the flock. Besides, the old shepherd should have been back by now, at the little house next to the tailor’s home, with his herd safe in its pen.

The river was running swiftly too, as it always did in spring when the snows melted in the hills of the Barren Gray. As Patch raced along the bank he tried to guess why Osbert had lost track of time and sheep. He hoped the old man had fallen asleep on a sun-warmed rock or was helping one of his flock give birth. But darker explanations tugged at the boy’s thoughts, and he dreaded coming at last upon his friend’s cold body, somewhere on the other side of the river.

The Tumbles were coming up. Here the banks of the river stood tall and close on each side, and the waters narrowed and hastened between them, frothing among the boulders that cluttered the riverbed. Aging willows lined the banks, and their roots reached into the swirling currents like long probing fingers. The Tumbles bridge was here. It was a simple construction, with wide, sturdy planks nailed along the trunks of two trees that spanned the gap, and no railing on either side. It was a way that few dared to take these days, even though it spared the traveler a long walk to the next bridge much farther down-stream.
As for Patch, he crossed here often (at least when the sun was shining), sometimes just for the thrill of it.

He took the bridge the same way as always, slowing only a little as he approached the first plank. Then he jumped high, a leap that carried him halfway across. He landed, took two more long steps, and then leaped again to soar over the far end, out of the reach of any large and ugly hand that might dart out grasping from the shadowy place under the span.

Patch stopped and turned to look back at the crossing. No such hand had appeared. But in a strange way, he almost wished that it had. As horrifying as it might be, Patch hoped that one day he might catch a glimpse of the troll that was rumored to live under that bridge.

Between two enormous rocks on the far side was the dark space where the troll had supposedly carved itself a cave just a few months before. No villager had yet gotten a good look at the creature. Once the farmer Dale came puffing white-faced into town, shouting that something had snatched three of his geese as he crossed the Tumbles. People spoke of unearthly groans and a hulking shape glimpsed in the moonlight. And everyone could smell the foul, foul stench that poured from that hole like vapor from a hot spring, the scent of things rotten and dead.

Patch ran to the first hilltop on the far side of the river and stopped to look about. He shouted “Osbert!” three times and held his breath to listen for a reply. None
came from his old friend. But somewhere to the north, over the next hill, a dog barked.

BOOK: The Brave Apprentice
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