Chapter One: Bullies
"Hey, Edward!" said Peter Cooper. "Where are you going? Up to see the crazy man?"
"Moongobble isn't crazy," I said, trying not to let Peter make me angry.
"I hear they're never going to let him into the Society of Magicians!" yelled Thomas Baker.
I walked faster, trying to ignore the two boys, as Mother had always told me to do. But I knew that wouldn't work. Peter and Thomas wanted to make me cry, and they wouldn't stop until they did.
I don't know why big kids feel like they have to pick on smaller kids. Maybe it's not that way other places. But it's sure the way things work in our little town of Pigbone.
"Is Moongobble your mother's boyfriend?" called Peter.
"Does she kiss him?" hooted Thomas.
"Where's your real father?" shouted Peter. "Did he run away because you're so ugly?"
I felt like I was going to explode. I wanted to rush back and hit them. But I had had enough black eyes and bloody noses to know what would happen if I tried.
So I kept walking.
I wished I had Fireball with me.
Fireball is my pet dragon. Well, he's not really a pet; dragons do not believe in being pets. Fireball says he prefers the word "friend." The problem is that Mother thinks trying to keep a dragon -- even one that is only four feet long -- in a town like Pigbone would cause more trouble than it is worth. So Fireball stays with my other friend, Moongobble the Magician, who lives in the cottage at the top of the hill. He is the "crazy man" Thomas and Peter were talking about. He's not crazy, of course. But he is a little strange.
"Edward is a sissy!" cried Peter.
"Edward is a coward!" cried Thomas.
"Edward doesn't have a father!" they yelled together.
I kept walking, trying not to let them see the tears running down my cheeks. Soon I would be finished with the errand I was doing for Mother. Soon I could climb the hill to Moongobble's cottage. Soon I would be where I really wanted to be.
But when I finally got to the top of the hill, I sensed trouble was there, too. Moongobble's faithful toad, Urk, was squatting on the doorstep. He looked even crankier than usual.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"We just got a message that Fazwad is coming."
I groaned. "Not already!"
"Yes, already," said Urk.
Fireball came fluttering out of the cottage to land on my shoulder. "I do not like Fazwad," said the little dragon once he had his claws in my shirt. "He's mean, and he's tricky."
I agreed. Fazwad is head of the Society of Magicians. His full title is Fazwad the Mighty. He did not like Moongobble, and did not want to let him join the society. But if Moongobble didn't join, he couldn't do magic in our kingdom. That meant he would either have to give up magic, or move away.
I didn't want Moongobble to leave. He paid me a silver penny every day I helped him. This was good, since Mother and I did not have much money. But the real reason I didn't want him to go was that he was my friend.
The problem was, the first time Fazwad came to test Moongobble's magic, Moongobble flubbed the exam. That had not surprised me. Moongobble always flubs his magic. He has a good heart, but he is not a very good magician.
Fortunately, Urk had read the Society of Magicians Handbook. He knew that a magician who fails the entry test can still join the society by performing three Mighty Tasks.
Moongobble's first task had been to fetch the Golden Acorns of Alcoona. I had helped with that one, which was how I met Fireball.
Now it was time for another.
Before I could ask Urk how he knew Fazwad was coming, we heard a loud buzz. An instant later, Fazwad himself was standing in front of us.
Fireball poked his head over my shoulder and hissed.
Fazwad was very snooty looking. From the look on his face, he was also very happy. That was a bad sign. "Where is Moongobble?" he demanded.
Just then we heard a big boom! from inside the cottage. Urk looked at me and shook his head.
A moment later Moongobble stepped out the door. "Moongobble the Magician, reporting for duty!" he said.
Moongobble is short and roundish. He has merry eyes and a big mustache. Today his robe was stained from magic that had gone bad. The mice who live in his hat were looking over the brim, staring at Fazwad. One of them made a little spitting noise.
"Ah, there you are, you blithering idiot," said Fazwad with a grin. "You'll be happy to know I have chosen your next Mighty Task." He rubbed his hands together and grinned. "And this one should settle things for good!"
Copyright © 2004 by Bruce Coville