The Thief and the Beanstalk (Further Tales Adventures)

BOOK: The Thief and the Beanstalk (Further Tales Adventures)
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The Thief and the Beanstalk

P. W. CATANESE

Can a thief be a hero, too?

ALADDIN PAPERBACKS

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.”

Everyone knows the story of Jack and the beanstalk. Everyone also knows that Jack’s little adventure made him a very rich man. But what they don’t know is what happened a long time ago after Jack….

Don’t miss the upcoming Further Tale:

The Brave Apprentice

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.

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

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 May 2005

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3

Library of Congress Control Number 2004107563

ISBN 0-689-87173-2

eISBN 978-1-439-11306-6

ISBN 978-0-689-87173-3

For Kristina, Michael, and Andrew

Chapter 1

Nick opened his eyes and blinked. He felt the warmth of decaying straw rising from below and cool autumn air penetrating from above. But it was an unpleasant sensation that woke him: three points of cold metal pressing into his throat, chest, and belly. He thought of the pitchfork, always propped against the wall near the barn door.

“Get up,” a familiar voice said.

“How c-can I?” Nick replied. He knew there was fear in his voice, but that was all right. The man holding the pitchfork might take pity.

“Show your face, then,” the voice growled. He prodded with the pitchfork as he spoke.

Nick whimpered. He was sure the middle tine had pierced the skin on his chest. He could feel his heart hammering under the wound. Moving cautiously, he reached up and pushed the straw away, revealing his dirt-smudged face.

The farmer glared down at Nicks thin nose, brown
eyes, and tangled mop of dark hair. Nick had watched this man from hiding for nearly a month now. But the farmer had never known Nick was there until now.

“Oh, Geoffrey, its just a boy!” said a second voice. The farmer’s wife stood behind her husband, holding an enormous knife.

“Just a boy? Just a thief, you mean. Stealin’ the food from our mouths.” He wiggled the pitchfork as he spoke, and the pain in Nick’s chest flared at all three points. Nick squeezed his eyes shut and pulled his lips back from clenched teeth.

“How long you been around here?” the farmer said.

“A couple of days,” Nick lied.

“Days?” The farmer laughed bitterly. “A month is more like it. That’s when the chickens stopped layin’ so many eggs. And the cow stopped givin’ so much milk. And the turnips and onions started to disappear. Ain’t it?”

“Please—you’re hurting me!” Nick said. He had seen the farmer’s cruel nature as he watched from hiding these past weeks: beating the dog, cursing at his wife, twisting the neck of a rooster that pecked his ankle too many times.

“I’ll do worse than hurt,” the farmer said. There was an angry spark in his eye.

“Now, Geoffrey,” said the wife. “We can’t just kill him, can we?” From the tone of her voice, Nick thought this was a question of practicality, not morals. Would they get in trouble? Would they get caught?

“This little rat wont be missed. I’ll cut him up and fatten our pigs on the pieces. Get back what’s ours, we will!” The pitchfork drew back and came down again for the killing thrust. But Nick reached up from the straw and grabbed the pitchfork between the tines. He shoved it to one side, and the points plunged deep into the pile, inches from his gut. The farmer pulled back on the fork with a grunt and Nick held on, scrambling to his feet, with yellow strands of straw flying into the air. Chickens and geese squawked and flapped around the barn, and the cow turned to watch with mild interest.

With a savage scream, the farmer twisted the pitchfork, wrenching it from Nick’s hands. Nick darted the other way, only to see the wild-eyed wife coming at him with the enormous knife. Nick had to duck to avoid the slash. He dropped to all fours and scampered underneath the cow. Looking back, he could see two pairs of legs coming around opposite sides of the animal. He shot back under the belly again and raced through the open door into the pale light of dawn.

“I’ll get you yet!” the farmer shouted. But Nick knew the race was over. The farmer had a bad leg that would not straighten, and could only hobble along in slow pursuit.

Nick felt his sweat stinging in the three wounds, and a white-hot anger flooded through him. He picked up a stone and flung it at the farmer. “You can’t kill me if you can’t catch me, old man!”

The farmer threw his arms in front of his face and the
stone flew over his shoulder. He pointed at Nick. “You better run, little thief! Run while you can. We’ll set the dogs on you, my neighbors and me! We’re comin’ after you! Thief! Wretch!” He went on shouting until Nick was too far to hear him anymore.

Nick dashed across fields and hopped a stone wall. When he was out of sight at last from the bellowing farmer, he changed directions to avoid pursuit, heading away from the rising sun.

An hour later, he came to a stream. He sat on a large rock and pulled his ragged tunic up, tucking it under his chin. The wound on his chest was still bleeding. He cupped water in his hand and splashed it onto the gash.

Nick looked down at the ribs that were plain to see under his skin, and the shrunken space where other boys had plump bellies. He was not quite the skeleton that had crawled onto the farm a month ago and began to drink the eggs raw, and lay under the cow to squeeze its milk into his open mouth. But he was still terribly thin.

He had lost more than a hiding place; he’d had to leave behind the sack of items he’d stolen over time. They were things of meager value—a ceramic bottle, a pewter spoon, bits of colored glass, buttons, a buckle without a belt, a brass thimble, a toy horse made of wood—but he might have traded them for something to eat.

Nick wondered how long he could last before he found another source of food. Shivering a little in the
cool morning, he wondered also where he would take shelter from colder days to come. He let the tunic fall back to his knees and turned toward the sun. Might as well go west, he thought.
The sea is out there somewhere. I’d like to see that Maybe get on a ship, go far away from here
.

The sea was nowhere in sight now, though. From this spot, it looked like heading west would bring him to a high, wild land. There were no roads or trails, no visible farms or towns, no smoke rising from chimneys. At the far horizon stood a rocky ridge. Maybe on the other side there was a better place.

A dim sound floated toward Nick from the direction he had fled: A dog barking—and more dogs echoing the cry.

He leaped across the stream and ran toward the wilderness.

Chapter 2

He did not care if the legend was true or not. The only thing that mattered was the fortune.

“If we can find a way to get inside, there’s enough gold in there to make us rich as princes,” said Finch.

The two men observed the great house as it gleamed under the full moon. They were hidden in the inky undergrowth at the forest edge. Finch was by far the bigger of the pair, handsome and powerfully built, with a neatly trimmed mustache and a little triangle of a beard. His companion was a dirty gnome of a man called Squint.

There were twelve altogether in Finch’s band of thieves. Finch was careful about whom he enlisted. He preferred his men strong, fast, and deadly with weapons. Slightly built Squint was the exception, but there was a reason. Feeble as his body was, his acute eyesight had proven valuable to the band on many occasions. Finch was counting on Squint now to help him see a way into Old Man Jack’s house.

House? Fortress is a better word for this place,
thought Finch. It was not nearly as big as some of the impressive castles he had seen here and there in his wanderings, or the one he had been driven from years before. But in this remote area, it was the largest structure for many miles around.

Yet the purpose of its architecture was not to be big; the intent was to be impenetrable. There was only one entrance, a massive wood and iron door that looked sturdy enough to defy a battering ram. There were windows high and low, but they offered little promise. The low ones were narrow slits, crossed by heavy bars. The upper windows were wider but far out of reach, nearly forty feet off the ground.

The house was built on a gently rising hill. The slope and the flat fields around it were kept clear of bushes and trees, making it difficult to approach unseen. At all times, a sentry patrolled the top of the walls, slowly pacing the square perimeter.

All of this worried Finch, but encouraged him at the same time.
That means there’s something inside worth protecting,
he thought.

“So you really believe that story, about the giant and the beanstalk?” asked Squint, glancing sideways at his leader. Squint was nervous, and Finch knew why. Breaking into strongholds was not the band’s usual way; waylaying hapless travelers was more to its liking.

Of course I don’t believe it,” snapped Finch. “But what does it matter anyway? I don’t care where his
wealth came from. I just want it to be mine.”

Squint turned his peering eyes back to Jack’s house, but went on talking. “It could be true, though, couldn’t it? Think about it. Jack was just a lad when it happened—
if
it happened. Now he might be the oldest man in these parts. So everyone who might have seen it happen is dead, and only the story is left. And you know how stories are: They get told, stranger to stranger, father to son, and they change a bit every time they’re passed along. Before long you don’t know what’s real and what’s rubbish.”

Finch had no patience for this speculation. The wealth inside those white stone walls was a siren calling to him. “Listen, Squint. This Jack is just a crazy old bird with nothing better to do than make up stories about himself that only fools like you believe. Now I’ve got a story for you: He’s rich. We’re not. The end. So shut up and find me a way inside.”

“I think I already have,” said Squint. “But we have to get closer.”

Finch nodded. He reached to the ground and picked up a lantern that was covered with metal doors to conceal its glow. Finch kept it close to his belly and turned his back to Jacks house, to shield the light from the sentry. Then he opened and closed one of the hinged doors three times.

At the wood’s edge a few hundred yards to the north, two more of Finch’s men saw the signal. They began to make noise, shaking branches and mimicking
the sounds of forest animals. The disturbance had the desired effect, as the sentry went over to that side of the castle wall.

“Let’s go,” said Finch. With Finch leading the way, the two cutthroats broke from the cover of the trees and headed for the fortress. The moonlight illuminated them as they ran, but the distracted sentry did not see them and they safely reached the darkness at the foot of the white stone walls. Squint’s breathing was labored from the sprint. But Finch had the predatory strength of a wolf, and the exertion did not affect him at all.

“Now tell me—when the time comes, how do we get in?” said Finch.

“I thought … these might … be the answer. Now I’m not … so certain,” wheezed Squint, struggling to catch his breath. With a gnarly finger, he pointed at the ivy that snaked up to the highest reaches of the wall.

“These vines? No man could ever climb them, you dolt! Look how flimsy they are!” Finch was outraged that they had made the risky dash to this spot for no good reason. He gave a hard yank on one of the vines, and it peeled from the wall with a sound like ripping fabric.

“Yes, yes. I can see that, now that we’re close,” said Squint. “They couldn’t support a grown man. But what if we got a kid to climb up there and unlock the big door for us? That’s the answer, isn’t it?” Squint narrowed his eyes and looked at Finch, waiting with an expectant grin. Finch worked his jaw side to side and tugged the
short hairs of his beard, thinking it over. He gave one of the sturdier vines a gentler tug. It clung fast to the walls, where its tiny threadlike fingers penetrated the cracks and seams of the stone.

BOOK: The Thief and the Beanstalk (Further Tales Adventures)
2.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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