Marley and her guardian Dodo bird leave the safe confines of Storybook Land to search out Mole who has gone off to the environs of New Orleans to help a cousin. The burrowing cousin made a comfortable and peaceful home in a cemetery, but then the place became much too lively. Accompanying them in this trip are two new Storybook Land characters, the sultan’s sorcerer and his ward, the Princess Badroulbadour, whose friends call Bee.
The Final Reading Place Cemetery
Marley’s Halloween party certainly brought out the creative genius in most of her friends’ parents. Though, many a grownup and child wondered who dropped off the kid in the dodo bird costume. It looked very real. It’s feathers especially looked so prettily real which, of course, they were. And those feathers were also extremely valuable being the real feathers of an extinct bird.
Seeing her old friend and guardian dodo bird walk through the front door, brought a smile to the serious face she’d been wearing all that evening. One reason for the grim face was the recent death of her beloved dog. Also, this year her costume was that of a no-nonsense detective: a baggy suit (actually, the only kind her mom could find near to her size), a loose tie around an open collar white shirt, a badge on her belt, but no gun. Her mom forbade it, and when Marley demanded to know what kind of detective didn’t have a pistol, her mom told her, “An English one.” Marley wanted to double check that, but the badge and the trench coat so completed the costume, she grew entirely satisfied with being unarmed.
“Marley.” She could barely hear her friend, Chuck the guardian dodo bird, partly because his upper and lower beaks didn’t move and like a human trying to talk without moving the lips, the result was hardly loud enough to be heard over the voices of the excited kids and the CD of “Monster Mash” that her dad insisted on playing.
“You have to come to Storybook Land. We need your help.”
“What? I can’t hear you?”
Outside, distance rumbles of thunder also couldn’t make themselves heard inside the party, then, outside of the living room picture window, a flash of intensely bright light, followed by childish screams followed by a rumble of thunder. As all the lights in the house flickered out leaving everyone quite in the dark, Chuck took Marley’s hand in his and lightly pulled her in the direction he needed to take her. Slowly, a soft natural light began to reveal the familiar landscape of Storybook Land.
“Marley, Mole has gone off into the nearly big world.” Chuck led Marley toward Toad Hall which so far served as the headquarters for Marley’s adventures in that land of storybook folk.
“Oh, that’s terrible, I guess.” Marley knew that the ‘nearly big world’ Chuck referred to wasn’t the normal world Marley lived in with her family and friends. No, it was the rather odd world that existed just outside of Storybook Land and inside of the real big world.
After entering Toad Hall, they approached the sitting room with the fireplace, in front of which were several armchairs. Badger, Ratty, and Toad rose from their comfy chairs, each beaming with pleasure at seeing their old friend enter the fire lit room.
“Come sit down, lassie,” said Badger.
Toad motioned for her to sit in the chair he’d been in, close to the cheery fire. Chuck disappeared into the kitchen and Marley knew what to expect when he reappeared.
“So, Marley, what’s new in your world?” asked Ratty.
“I see you have a new way of dressing,” said Toad. “And I approve of the many additional pockets your overcoat has. A gentleperson can never have too many pockets, you know.”
“It’s a costume. I’m dressed as a detective.” She held up her badge. “Chuck found me at my Halloween party.”
“Oh, that does sound like jolly fun.” Toad turned to the others. “We should host one of those.”
“Time enough later to discuss parties,” said Badger. “Marley, before we tell you our news, tell us what’s on your mind. I’ve a powerful feeling all is not right in your world.”
Chuck entered with a tray on which were five mugs of steaming hot cocoa. Around his neck hung a chain of dodonuts. He held the tray before Marley who took a mug, held it to her lips and then decided to let it cool a bit. She set the mug on a side table and looked around at her animal friends.
“Jolie, my dog, died last week.”
They all shook their heads, their sadness plain to see.
“I was sort of hoping I’d see her here.”
“Oh, no, my dear,” said Chuck. “Storybook Land is for imaginary creatures, the kind one finds in books. Real dogs have their own special afterlife place.”
“Like humans have heaven?”
“Yes, that is the way of it,” said Badger.
“Though, I suppose if you wrote a story about your beloved Jolie,” said Chuck, “she could exist here, and in your memory for as long as you, well, remember her.”
“I’ll never forget her.” The mug felt cooler to her lips so she sipped at a little before asking, “Is Mole in some sort of trouble?”
“He sure is, the silly fellow,” said Ratty. “Or, at least, we know he’s sure to be very soon.”
“He’s gone and left the proper bounds of our snug lands,” said Badger.
“He left us this letter he’d received from a distant cousin living just outside of the nearly big New Orleans.” Ratty held up a sheet of paper that had been folded over twice. “In the letter his cousin complains about not being able to get a good night’s sleep because of…”
“Ghosts!” exclaimed Toad. “Ghosts rising out of their graves.”
“That’s what the cousin said,” said Ratty. “Every night ghosts are rising right up out of the ground. Well, the cousin being an underground creature naturally gets disturbed by all those spooky goings-on.”
“His cousin lives in a graveyard?” asked Marley.
“Aye,” said Badger, “the daft gopher thought it looked so calm and peaceful that he burrowed straight in.”
“So, Mole, the kind-hearted fellow,” said Ratty, “determines without so much of a by-your-leave, to go off and help his unfortunate relation.”
“But, lassie, we’re very worried about our friend’s well-being. We’re not sure if Mole, though stout hearted as he is, is a match for such evil characters such as ghosts.” Badger said this while Ratty and Toad nodded in agreement. “So, we asked ourselves…”
“Nobody asked me anything,” Toad said sulkily.
“We asked ourselves: Who do we know that is not the least bit afraid of the nearly big world, and who is brave and resourceful, and who will always cheerfully volunteer to help a friend in need.”
“And I shouted, ‘Marley!’,” said Toad.
Badger, slightly irritated, glared at Toad. “We all said, ‘Marley’. She is just the one to fetch back Mole to his rightful land.”
“I’ll do it!” exclaimed Marley. “Who else is coming along?”
This question caused an awkward silence. Toad and Ratty looked away and stuffed their mouths with bits of dodonuts. Badger, coughed, and said, “The last expedition quite took it out of me. It’ll be a long while before I leave this contented land of normal critters.”
“Same here,” said Ratty. “And Toad, here, deeply offended the fairies. They won’t be helping him anytime soon.”
Toad sunk lower into his comfy chair. “All I said to them was that it appeared I was better actor then they were. It was just a witty way of saying I could be seen and they couldn’t.”
“I’m afraid, dear child,” said Chuck, “it’s to be just you and I. Oh, and maybe Tinkerbell.”
Tinkerbell flew out to Chuck’s and Marley’s rowboat as it glided down the Grand Canal on its way to the dark tunnel that led to the nearly big world. The bright pinpoint of light, which was the only physical presence of Tinkerbell that could be seen when they weren’t playing Bubble-ball, floated just behind the boat and above the calm dark waters of the canal. Marley and Chuck watched as several other pinpoints of light floated toward them from the shore.
“Her friends,” said Chuck. “Probably come out to see if she’s going anywhere interesting.”
In the perpetually twilight of Storybook Land, the lighted windows glowed prettily in the Snow Queen’s town, Askershus. It lay just abeam of their boat. On a dock facing the canal, a lantern light could be seen moving slowly up and down. Holding it was a lean cloaked figure. Standing next to the figure, stood an also cloaked figure but wearing bright red shoes.
“That’s the canal signal for a boater to come ashore.” Chuck, alone at the oars, rowed the boat toward the dock.
“Do you think they need help?”
“Perhaps, though the signal is also used for ‘come ashore and share a tasty treat with us’.” Chuck stopped rowing and the boat glided up against the dock. While the red shoed person made herself useful by securing the dock lines, the lean hooded figure carefully placed the lantern on the dock. Then, using both of his hands, he pulled back the hood of his cloak revealing his angular face, his narrowed eyes, and his tightly drawn lips.
“I am the sultan’s sorcerer.”
Marley looked to her guardian dodo bird. But before he could assure her there was nothing to worry about, red shoes removed her hood revealing a girl’s face positively radiating cheerful friendliness.
“Oh, lighten up, sourpuss and grow a smile. Hi, I’m Princess Badroulbadour, but you can call me Bee, all my friends do.”
“Hi, I’m Marley. And this is Chuck, he’s my guardian dodo bird.”
“Ooh, neat-o. Aren’t you the lucky one. A guardian dodo bird. They’re really, really rare. All I got is old Sorc, here. Daddy insisted I bring him along. Daddy is really, really sweet but sometimes he…”
“Princess, perhaps we should hurry along.” Sorc looked down at Chuck. “We request the favor of a row across the canal.”
The sorcerer stepped down into the boat and unsteadily remained standing in an effort to assist the princess aboard. But she refused his hand and said, “Oh, just sit down, Sorc.”
He sat down on the aft seat facing the rowers, and she with youthful grace stepped down and sat next to him. Chuck leaned back and freed the dock line. As they drifted clear of the dock, Marley and Chuck began rowing.
“Thanks a whole bunch for stopping and picking us up. We just had to escape from Ashershus.”
“Are you in trouble?” asked Marley.
“Goodness, no. Well, that is, sort of. You see we came down here because Daddy wanted me to meet this prince guy for marriage purposes only the boy turned out to be a real stiff, no fun at all, so rather than hurt his feelings we sort of snuck out of the palace.”
“Your father will be most displeased,” said Sorc.
“He’ll get over it, Daddy never stays angry with me, I’m the baby of the family. Anyway, we just need a lift over to the next town with a prince or two lying about the place, though I really got to hope they’re lots more lively than just lying about like so many couch potatoes. Hey, Sorc. What’s the name of the next town, you know the one… some little mermaid swam there and snared herself a hubby and then the town’s people made a bronze statue of her. Oh, what’s it called?”
“It has a Danish name. Solvang, I believe,” said Sorc.
“Do you think you’ll find a good husband in Solvang?” asked Marley.
“Who knows? I’m certainly not betting any money on it. And, you know what? I simply don’t care. I’m just doing this because Daddy wants me too. Hey, that’s a neat-o coat you got on. Is it a detective coat? It must be there’s your badge. We haven’t any detectives back in the sultanate – boring.”
“The sultanate? Is that where Aladdin’s palace is?”
“Heavens no, the silly boy is just going to have to wait his turn. Daddy, the Sultan, that is, has got a lot more life left in him yet. But don’t get me started on Aladdin and my sister, what’s-her-face. Hey, where you folks headed anyway?”
“We’re going to rescue our friend, Mr. Mole. He’s run off to the nearly big world to help his gopher friend because of the ghosts.”
“Ghosts? Ooh, that sounds marvelously mysterious. Oh, I know you’re a detective and you going there to solve the mystery of the ghosts. Can I help? I’d love to come along. Can I?”
Marley looked at Chuck who nodded his beak, yes. Bee saw that and the smile on her face grew even wider though no one a second ago would’ve thought it possible.
“Princess, I cannot advise such a course of action,” said Sorc.
“Oh, come on. Let’s live a little. I mean, look at that place.” Bee pointed to the town on the shore that they were now passing, Solvang. None of the town lights were on, not even in its modest castle. “The sun hasn’t even fully set and they’ve already all gone to bed – boring.”
Sorc sighed, folded his arms, and looked away from Bee. Marley watched him do this and felt a little sorry for the man. It did not appear that his job was easy or worry free.
“Are you really a sorcerer?”
Sorc nodded yes.
“Can you do magic?”
“I certainly can, young lady.” Sorc sat up, reached into a pocket of his robe and pulled out a small rectangular box. “Here, pick a card, any card.”
Chuck leaned over and whispered into Marley’s ear, “In Storybook Land, only some women can do real magic.”