Tom awoke with the sun. He jumped out of bed and pounced on his friend Peter still snoozing on the other side of the room.
"Wake up, Sleepyhead!" he shouted. He couldn't wait to go fishing in the King's river and build a tree house and look for wild animals. So what was he waiting for? He jumped out of bed and pounced on his friend. "Hurry up! Can't waste our day in bed!"
"Okay, okay. I'm getting up." Peter rubbed his eyes. "What do we need to take?"
"Fishing line, hooks, compass, snacks..."
"And chocolate cream cookies." Peter grabbed the bag his mom had fixed for them last night.
Tom and Peter were stuffing it all into their backpacks, when they heard a dog barking in the yard. They ran outside just in time to see a frightened squirrel scurry up a tree. A little white dog was bouncing like a jumping jack around the foot of the tree.
"Come here, you funny pup," called Tom.
The dog came running so fast that it almost did a somersault trying to stop at Tom's feet.
Tom knelt to pet it. "I wonder where it came from. Do you think it may be a stray looking for a home?"
"Maybe it belongs to one of the new families in town," answered Peter. "It doesn't look lost or starving."
Tom felt around the dog's collar for some kind of identification. All he found was a round hard disc with a strange symbol on it. "Look at this, Peter! What does it mean?"
Puzzled, they stared at the symbol. It had two circles. The inner circle framed the shape of a bear. From this center, four lines divided the rest of the symbol into four equal parts.
Suddenly a shrill whistle pierced the air. The dog perked its ears, then shot off in the direction of the sound. Tom and Peter ran after it. Moments later, they stood face to face with a boy about their own age. He smiled and greeted them with a friendly, "Hi, I'm Colin."
"I'm Tom and this is my friend Peter," said Tom. "Is this your dog?"
"Sort of," answered Colin. "I found her on the mountain last week when we passed an old cabin. I whistled and she came running."
"You found her on the mountain? What were you doing up there?" Tom looked toward the mysterious mountain that reached high into the clouds behind the King's palace.
"We were moving to Troth," answered Colin.
"Where from?" asked Peter.
"Lucidia," answered Colin.
"You mean the evil Baron's land?" Tom felt excited--and a bit afraid. He had never met anyone from that mysterious land on the other side of the mountain.
Colin frowned. "What do you mean--evil? Lucidia is a good place," he answered.
Tom wanted to ask why Colin's family had left Lucidia if it were such a good place, but he didn't. Maybe he'd ask later.
"Anyway, she's been following me ever since," continued Colin.
"Then she probably belongs to someone up there on the mountain," said Peter.
"She's mine now," said Colin. "She really likes me. Don't you, Sasha?" The little dog wagged her fluffy tail until her whole body shook.
"We looked for some kind of identification on her," said Tom, "and we found this strange symbol. Do you know what it means?" Tom lifted the little dog in his arms and held the disc up for Colin to see.
"Sure. That's a quartered circle. It's a great magic sign. Circles are sacred. The four lines point to the spirits of the North, East, South and West. The bear in the middle stands for somebody's special animal power."
"That's weird," said Tom. He quickly dropped the disc.
"Let's take the dog back to that cabin where you found her," said Peter. "I want to see what it looks like on the mountain."
"We're not supposed to go up there." said Tom. He remembered one of Dad's warnings about the mountain--something about strange rituals in the forest. But he wasn't sure. It can't be too dangerous, he thought to himself. Colin got here safely.
"We already have food for the trip," said Peter, as if he hadn't heard Tom.
"If we climb to the top, we can see my country," said Colin.
"Wow! That's awesome!" Peter's eyes sparkled. "Let's go..."
"Wait!" interrupted Tom. "You're forgetting something. We have to go to the King's reading first."
"Reading? Yuck! That sounds boring!" said Colin.
"It's not boring at all," said Tom. "The King reads to us from the Book of Truth. It's great! Then we eat a yummy breakfast afterwards. Hey, why don't you come along?"
"No way!" Colin backed away.
"We can climb the mountain afterwards, right?" Peter sounded impatient.
"Well... I guess," said Tom.
"All right! Where do we meet?"
"How about right outside the palace gates?"
"Sounds good. See you guys then." Colin turned and walked away. "C'mon Sasha!" The little dog bounded after him.
Tom was still thinking about Lucidia as he and Peter walked toward the King's garden. "Peter, did you see the symbol Colin was wearing? It had an animal on it too--just like Sasha's sign. Only Colin's animal was a snake. What do you think it means?"
"I don't know. Maybe the snake is Colin's power animal. Maybe it has some kind of magic."
"I didn't like it," said Tom. "It looked spooky!"
Peter shrugged. "Don't be so picky."
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