Before Atalanta became a Greek legend, she encountered a beast . . .
Abandoned by her parents and raised by bears until the age of four, Atalanta has led a life of adventure. After her adoptive father is slain by a ferocious beast, the twelve-year-old Atalanta sets off on a journey of revenge, accompanied by the bear she treats as a brother. She discovers that a monster is terrorizing the land of Arcadia and that the king has assembled a party to track it down—led by the legendary huntsman Orion. Atalanta wins a place at Orion’s side, but the hunt for the beast is also a hunt to uncover the secret of her own past. And that may prove to be the greatest danger of all. This ebook features personal histories by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris including rare images from the authors’ personal collections, as well as a timeline of the Heroic Age and a conversation between the two authors about the making of the series.
About the Author
Jane Yolen is a novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author who has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Born and raised in New York City, the mother of three and the grandmother of six, Yolen lives in Massachusetts and St. Andrews, Scotland.
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Atalanta and the Arcadian Beast
By Jane Yolen, Robert J. Harris
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2003 Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris
All rights reserved.
A SHAPE IN THE FOREST
The girl was silent, tracking through the deep woods, a small gutted rabbit safely tucked into her leather belt. It was all she had found in the snares they'd set, and she was still hoping she might be able to find something more impressive before her father reappeared.
He'd left her to check the snares while he followed some deer tracks. Of course she'd grumbled. Checking the traps was a child's task.
"And I'm no longer a child," she whispered to herself, though she wasn't yet thirteen.
The forest seemed unnaturally quiet. Nothing scrabbled in the underbrush away from her. No birds trilled overhead. Even the wood pigeons were still. She was disappointed.
How can I prove to Papa what a good hunter I am, she thought, if there is nothing here to hunt?
A spring gurgled from a low crag, their usual meeting place. Glancing around, she looked for some sign of her father.
Perhaps he has had good luck, she thought. Then she added in an under-breath, "I've certainly had none." The rabbit didn't count. It was scarcely a meal for one, and besides, it had been caught in their snares.
Setting aside her bow, she crouched by the stream and scooped up the cool water in her cupped hands, drinking greedily. Then she straightened up, licking the droplets from her lips and brushing a strand of dark hair from her eyes in a single unconsciously graceful movement.
The sun was almost touching the hilltops to the west.
Where is he? she wondered, a bit anxious. They had agreed to meet long before dark. It was not like him to be late.
The only other time he'd left her waiting at the stream was a few weeks ago when he'd been gathering wildflowers for her birth remembrance day. She'd forgotten about it. He hadn't.
She smiled at the memory, then stiffened at a sudden noise, a strange rustling in the bushes, as if something big was creeping through the undergrowth toward her.
It didn't sound like her father.
Instantly alert, she snatched up her bow and looked about.
As suddenly as it had come, the noise was gone.
A breeze? she thought. A breeze could rustle the bushes. But she didn't really believe it was a breeze. Or at least she wasn't sure of it. In the woods—her father always said—certainty keeps the hunter alive.
She slipped an arrow out of her quiver and fitted it to the bowstring.
The rustling started again, and this time there was no breeze. Then she heard a solid crack, as if a branch had been stepped upon.
A deer? Too heavy.
A boar? Too subtle.
A bear? Though they were rare in these parts.
A pair of wood pigeons burst suddenly from a tree, their wings beating in a desperate flight. The girl felt her heart fly off with them.
Suddenly something touched her on her arm and she whirled about, arrow at the ready.
"Papa!" She lowered the bow.
"Hush, Atalanta," he said, raising a finger to his lips. "There's something out there." His weather-browned face creased with concern. "Something big."
"I know," she whispered back, realizing she did know. "I think it may be stalking me. What is it?"
His eyes narrowed, and his fingers clenched tightly around the shaft of his long hunting spear. "I don't know. I found some spoor in the woods. Nothing I recognize."
She thought, Nothing he recognizes? How can that be? Her father knew every inch of the forest. He was a great hunter. Perhaps the greatest. She found herself shivering.
"Nothing from around here, anyway," he added.
There was a small flicker of movement in the bushes, barely visible in the twilight. Atalanta caught a glimpse of a large tawny shape, low to the ground. Then in a blink of an eye it was gone again.
"Put away your bow," her father whispered, "and be ready to run."
"But I'm a hunter, too—" Atalanta began.
"Don't argue with me, Atalanta," he said, his voice low. "I know you are a hunter. But if we don't get away now, we'll be two dead hunters."
She had never heard him nervous like this. Nodding, she slipped the arrow carefully back into the quiver and slung the bow over her shoulder. She grasped the hilt of her knife where it was kept in her belt but did not draw it.
Her father hefted the spear above his head, drawing back his right arm. "Go!" he barked, his voice like the snap of a bowstring.
She shot into the copse of trees behind her, as fast as a rabbit fleeing a fox. Only once did she glance back, in time to see him hurl his spear at some shape that was ripping through the greenery toward him.
For a moment she hesitated, then heard him pounding behind her.
"Don't look back!" he called. "It will only slow you down." Then he caught up to her, his fingers digging into her shoulder, pushing her onward. "Run, Atalanta, run!"
From behind them came an incredible roar. It sounded like a cataract of rocks and boulders crashing down the slopes of Mount Parthenon.
All the hairs on the nape of Atalanta's neck seemed to stand up at the sound. She had always been quick, quick enough to match her father step for step when he sprinted through the forest after deer or wild goat. But that roar pushed her forward at a pace she'd never managed before.
This time they were not the hunters. They were the prey.
"Will we be fast enough?" she cried.
"Save your breath for running."
As she ran, she thought: We might have one advantage. Papa said the beast was not from around here. She and her father had been hunting the woods for years. They knew every track and stream and shortcut and obstacle.
"Left, Papa!" she cried, taking a quick jog left and sliding through a small cleft in a wall of stone. Her father followed.
There! she thought, pleased when the beast behind them roared its frustration.
But it must have found another way to scramble over the stone, for almost immediately it was on their trail again.
A thick copse of trees seemed to stymie it only momentarily.
They leaped a small stream but heard it close behind.
Atalanta could feel her breath searing her throat. "Papa," she gasped, but couldn't get out anything more.
"The house," he cried, his voice full of pain. "Safe there."
And there, across the clearing, was their cottage.
Atalanta took another hot breath and, with a final burst of speed, headed toward it. She could hear the thump of huge paws behind her, then remembered her father's warning not to look behind.
She was tiring, but a small prod in her back gave her the energy for a few more steps. Then a few more.
Suddenly, she could hear her father stop running; hear the sound of his knife slicing through the air; hear a grunt, a gasp, a cry.
Then she was at the cottage door, yanking it open, tumbling through, rolling across the straw-covered floor.
Her father was several steps behind her, and he came in through the door, gasping.
"Papa!" she cried, relieved he was all right.
He slammed the door shut, and she got up to help him bar it, shoving the heavy wooden beam across.
No sooner was the beam in place than a huge weight crashed into the door, making the whole house shudder. Thankfully, the door held.
Her father slid to the floor with a groan. There was a bead of blood on his tunic.
No, Atalanta thought, not a bead, a spot. Then she thought: Not a spot, a blot. Even as she watched, the bloodstain grew bigger.
She knelt beside him, lifted the tunic, saw the wound. It was jagged and wide and blood seemed to be gurgling out like the spring from the crag.
"Papa!" she whispered.
He tried to answer but could only manage a croak. He pulled down the tunic and pressed his hand against it to try and staunch the bleeding.
From outside came a low growl followed by a snuffling noise. Something was sniffing at the door.
To her horror, Atalanta realized that the beast must be smelling the blood.
She pulled her father away from the door and got him up onto his pallet.
"Stay there, Papa," she said, but he did not hear her, having fainted with the pain.
Drawing her knife, she went back to the door where she stood silently for a moment, listening. The scratching and the growling came again, then stopped.
Her father had always said a hunter's ears were among his most important weapons. She strained to understand what she was hearing. The beast seemed to be padding around the little house, rubbing itself against the rough stone walls as if marking its territory. Then it went around a second time.
The house had two small windows, each protected by a leather curtain. Those curtains were open. Atalanta stared out as the beast went by, its bulk blocking the light.
It's huge! she thought. Big as a bear. Bigger.
She kept listening as the thing made yet another circuit of the house. Her palm was clammy against the handle of the knife. Beads of sweat dripped down her face, tracing little rivulets.
Silently, she stepped over to one of the windows, pressed her back against the wall, and waited for the beast to pass by again.
It must have smelled her sweat or heard her breathing, for—like lightning—it stuck its huge paw through the window, sharp claws shredding the leather curtain.
Atalanta reacted without thinking, jamming the knife into the paw, right where a wrist would have been.
The beast roared with pain and jerked the paw back, knife and all. Then it roared again. This time the sound seemed compounded of rage and pain.
Standing frozen by the window, Atalanta found she could not move.
A groan from her father was so loud, it startled her. Suddenly her frozen limbs worked again. She stood on tiptoe and stared out the window. She could see nothing, hear nothing. It was as if the beast had disappeared.
"Atalanta," her father called.
Running over to him, she fell to her knees by his pallet. "What is it, Papa?"
"Is it ..." he whispered with difficulty. "Is it ... gone?"
"I don't know, Papa," she said, her voice almost as weak as his. "But I wounded it. I stuck my knife in its paw. Through the window."
"Wounded badly?" His words were so quiet, she had to bend over and put her ear close to his mouth.
She shook her head. "I'm not certain. But the knife was still in when it backed away."
He managed to sit up. "You need to find out. We cannot leave it wounded." He coughed, an awful frothy sound. "Take the small spear. But for Artemis' sake, be careful." He fell back.
"I will, Papa." She knew a wounded beast could be even more dangerous.
Going over to the corner by the door, she fetched her father's short spear where it was propped beside their nets and snares. Carefully, she slid the beam from the door, then stood for a long moment listening for any hint of danger.
It was quiet outside.
Perhaps, she thought, too quiet. But she went out anyway. She had no other choice.CHAPTER 2
Atalanta kept the wall of the house to her back for protection. Step-by-step she edged her way around the cottage, spear point raised to meet any sudden attack.
Large footprints, one of them outlined in blood, led from the window. Four great claw marks were gouged out of the door.
The footprints led to the middle of the clearing and then—impossibly—vanished.
She found her knife lying on the grass, a streak of dark blood staining the blade. Picking it up, she saw a tuft of orange fur sticking to it.
"So ..." she whispered. "You pulled the knife out with your teeth. Smart boy." She stuck the bit of fur down the front of her tunic and glanced quickly around the clearing. The sun was about gone. It would be too dangerous to remain outside in the dark.
As soon as she returned to the cottage, Atalanta set the bar across the door again.
"Not there," she told her father. "Not anywhere."
He nodded. "Now you must tend my wound, child."
She felt tears start in her eyes, hot and prickly. "You'll be fine, Papa. I'll take care of you."
First she built up the fire, for he was shivering with cold. Then she began to wash and dress the wound with folded lengths of sheepskin. But no matter how many bandages she wrapped around his side, the blood still seeped through.
Her father didn't stop her. Her touch seemed to soothe him.
"What sort of beast was it, Papa?" she asked in a trembling voice. The tip of her dark braid was now sticky with his blood. "I saw a back as high as the window, a paw with claws like a mountain cat's, but bigger."
The huntsman shook his head, shutting his eyes tight against a surge of pain. "I don't know." He took a deep breath. "Perhaps it's some beast migrating from one land to another and only passing through Arcadia. It must have come upon us by accident."
Pulling the hank of orange fur from her tunic, she showed it to her father. In the firelight, it looked flecked with gold. "Look what I found, Papa."
He touched the fur with a stained finger. "This is my last trophy."
She didn't tell him it was her knife that had cut that swatch.
He coughed, a thread of blood sliding from the side of his mouth into his white-streaked beard. "Whatever it is, the creature has dealt me my death blow."
The tuft of fur dropped from his feeble fingers.
"Papa!" she whispered. He didn't answer, but she could tell by the rattle of his breath that he was not asleep.
She added more wood to the fire till the room was uncomfortably warm. Then she made him a tisane of heal-all, feeding it to him as if he were a baby, using a leather bottle and a cloth teat. After that he dozed until midnight.
When he woke, he whispered hoarsely, "I'm dying, Atalanta." His watery eyes were the color of an autumn sky.
"No, Papa, no," Atalanta cried. But looking down at him, she knew he was telling the truth.
"You must be a brave girl," he said.
When had he become so small? she wondered. All her life he'd seemed tree high, a big man, striding ahead of her in the woods, following tracks and spoor as surely as if they were signs engraved in stone. He could throw his javelin with deadly accuracy across the widest glade. The arrows leaped from his bow like hawks taking flight. As his only child, she'd always been his constant companion, learning all the lore of the forest at his side.
But since her mother's death three years earlier, he'd seemed to shrink a little every day. And now, coughing out specks of blood, he was scarcely her own size.
He struggled to sit up in the bed and she helped him. "But I must tell you now how you came to us," he said. "I'll not die until you know it all." He coughed again, groaned, and the wound seeped like a bog.
Atalanta shook her head "Do not speak, Papa, it wearies you."
"You must know."
"I know you found me in the woods, Papa, when I was four years old."
"Found you by a great she-bear who was long dead," he said between coughs.
She brushed his thin fair hair back from his forehead. The skin was burning hot, his blue eyes cloudy.
"I know, Papa."
"And you covered with bites, some ..." He bent over with the coughing and she held him till he was done.
"Some long healed and some quite new," she whispered. It was a story they had often told together. "I know, Papa."
"You were like a wild thing yourself," her father resumed. "Abandoned on Mount Parthenon by uncaring parents and by some miracle of the gods suckled by that she-bear for who knows how long. How slowly I had to approach you, how softly I had to speak to keep you from fleeing."
"It was only by luring me on with food that you were able to make me follow you," Atalanta continued for him as he stopped to suck in a few last breaths.
"And I brought you home to Mama who wanted a child and had none." His voice faltered twice, on "Mama" and on "none." He caught himself, then said, "A miracle of the gods she called it. How else would a wild beast give life to a helpless baby? I told her that most likely one of the she-bear's cubs had been stillborn so that she accepted a human child in its place." It was the most he had spoken since getting his wound. The speaking had exhausted him and he fell forward.
Atalanta caught him and rocked him as if he were a child. She knew the story, even though her own memory of the events was dim. When her father had found her, she couldn't even speak, only growl and snap like an animal. She had run about on all fours. Had eaten raw meat. Perhaps—she thought—perhaps it was because she had no words to form her memory of those early days that all she could recall was the sharp smell of the old she-bear, the warmth of the fur when she pressed her face into it, the rough-and-tumble company of the cubs who suckled at her side.
Excerpted from Atalanta and the Arcadian Beast by Jane Yolen, Robert J. Harris. Copyright © 2003 Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCHAPTER ONE: A SHAPE IN THE FOREST,
CHAPTER TWO: THE RING,
CHAPTER THREE: BURYING THE PAST,
CHAPTER FOUR: URSO,
CHAPTER FIVE: ON THE TRACK,
CHAPTER SIX: THE WOODLAND GOD,
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE TRAP,
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE HUNTERS,
CHAPTER NINE: THE VILLAGE,
CHAPTER TEN: A SMALL HERO,
CHAPTER ELEVEN: A SIGN FROM THE GODS,
CHAPTER TWELVE: THE HUNT,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: VICTIMS OF THE BEAST,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: LAND OF DANGER,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE CHALLENGE,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: TWO NATURES,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: THE RACE,
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE ROAD TO TEGEA,
CHAPTER NINETEEN: THE CITY,
CHAPTER TWENTY: CHOSEN FEW,
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: SACRED TEMPLE,
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: THE GREAT HUNT BEGINS,
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: ATTACK,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: NIGHT,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: ONE SMALL DEATH,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: ALLIES FROM THE WILD,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: THE TRAP,
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: ARROW'S FLIGHT,
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: THE CAVE,
CHAPTER THIRTY: THE PALACE,
WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT THIS STORY?,
A Conversation Between the Authors,
A Biography of Jane Yolen,
A Biography of Robert J. Harris,