Sixteen-year-old Jaclyn looks up to her father. An honest man who once fought for the king, he now teaches Jaclyn how to use her wits—and her sword. But he has a secret. And his secret may have a connection to the one thing Jaclyn is hiding from him.
Upon hearing "monsters" are terrorizing the small villages around Black Mountain, Jaclyn's father and his friends head out to hunt them … but they don't return. Armed only with her sword and three magic beans—a gift from a mysterious old woman—Jaclyn sets out for Black Mountain to save her father.
On her climb, one bean drops and grows into a beanstalk, catching her when she falls.
She isn't the only one that takes the ride. Jack, her childhood friend and secret crush, is following her.
Together, Jaclyn and Jack must battle to save not only their fathers, but the townspeople the beasts plan to lay waste to before it's too late.
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About the Author
Becoming an author happened by chance. It was a way to grieve the death of her beloved grandmother, and inspired by a dream she had in high school. After realizing she wanted to become a full-time author, Mary retired from teaching after twenty years. She also had the privilege of touring with the Magic Johnson Foundation to promote literacy and her children’s chapter book: No Bullies Allowed.
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* * *
Shrieks rent the peaceful night. I bolted upright and gulped air as if I had been under water too long. My heart raced as a white, ghost-like mist escaped my panting mouth. Despite the chill, sweat trickled down my forehead and dampened my back, causing the fabric of my chemise to stick.
I squinted through the darkness; moonlight faintly illuminated the storage chest and a nub of a candle was atop the plain table. In my room — safe. But my heart did not slow, for the cries still echoed in my mind.
Please, go away. Go away.
My head — a pounding mess.
Curling into a ball and covering my ears, I hummed a tune Mother used to sing. The song always had a way of comforting me, but it never made the noise go away.
Thinking the devil waited for me to lose my mind, to seize my soul, I whispered the Lord's Prayer. "... And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
As the noises faded, I released my knees. Exhaustion consumed me and I found sleep once more.
"Rise, Jaclyn," Father hollered from the kitchen. "Time for your lesson."
No, no, no.
I squirmed lower under my coverlet and yawned.
Bodies shuffled and thumped in other rooms. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I shivered as frosty air pricked my bones. Outside my window, the sun glowed molten-gold through the cluster of gray clouds.
Perhaps the night before had been a dream. Can one dream the same dream for months on end?
I swept the night's occurrences to the back of my mind and pulled the bedclothes tighter. I shut my eyes against the light kissing my cheeks and thought only of rest until my chamber door creaked open.
The mattress shifted.
"Father." I flailed my arms and kicked uncontrollably, laughing and slapping his hands as he tickled my sides. "Cease, cease. I'm awake."
I sat up and clutched the coverlet, wishing to be honest with him about the nightmares. Swallowing the words, I gave him a sheepish smile. He had a belly full of worries and I did not wish to add mine. I would not have him think the devil damned my soul; Father's belief would make it true.
He'd aged right before my eyes. Even his garments — dark breeches and a forest-green tunic — drooped wearily, and his muddy black boots had cracked. Father's thick eyelashes touched his ruddy face when he looked down. His rough hands, callused and dirty from labor, cradled his favorite tatty, brown hat, and he poked his finger through a hole in the top.
"Are you well, Daughter?" The skin around his nut-brown eyes crinkled with concern, and his forehead creased.
No. I hear monsters at night. Something is wrong with your daughter.
"Yes." I disliked keeping the truth from him. "A little unwell, perhaps."
I smiled when the aroma of fresh baked bread wafted through the door, but cringed at the sight of rat droppings on the white linens — gifts from vermin in the thatch that had fallen from the roof.
Father raised his chin and wiggled his nose. "Generous this time, were they not?" He chuckled. "They left none for me last night."
I cursed under my breath, frowning. "They left me plenty."
"You're late abed this morning." Father rubbed his jaw, and pushed his fingers through the white streaks by his temple before placing the hat on his dark head. "Do you want to pass this morning?"
Closing my eyes, I wished my lassitude away. "Nay. I need to dress first." I plucked at my white chemise.
"Certainly. Clothe yourself and eat some of your mother's bread. I'll be tending to the horses." He ruffled my hair and shut the door behind him.
Determined to begin the day afresh and forget the previous night, I took out a boy's breeches and tunic from my chest. Mother had frowned when I wore them at first, but ceased when she grew tired of mending gowns.
Father had been training me to use a sword and other weapons, so I had no choice but to dress accordingly. Our only neighbors were hills and forest — no townspeople to scandalize.
Hunger pangs grew as I opened my chamber door. Just before I closed it behind me, I glanced about. I had smoothed the coverlet, shut the chest, and ensured nothing lay on the dirt floor. The small chamber left no room for a mess.
"You're awake at last."
Mother's smile and sky-blue eyes warmed me better than the fire under the big kettle.
I smiled back. "Good morning, Mother. Thank you for the delicious meal I'm about to eat."
A tankard of milk and a wooden trencher bearing a piece of bread with sweet butter had been set on the table. After I said grace, Mother tugged at my long, brown hair as I devoured my meal.
"You're sixteen and you can't even comb your own hair. What if a suitor comes to call? You should at least appear presentable."
Mother yanked back my bushy hair and worked it over with my favorite brush. I'd had it since I was a baby and always loved the vine carvings on the handle.
"I shall tie it up." I paused to swallow a bit of crust. "And I don't want a suitor, even if one happened to wander into the hills."
Mother did not reply. I winced and yelped quietly as she pulled and twisted my hair, determined to produce a miracle. She captured two tight braids and secured them atop my head. Not a strand of hair strayed out of place, but the cool air tickled my bare nape.
"There." She set her eyes on mine. "Beautiful. You can wear a brown sack if you choose, but your face Jaclyn, is a thing of beauty. You've got regular features, thank goodness, nothing like your father's crooked nose. And if I did not know you, I'd swear you'd painted those lips rosy. I've always said give me a pair of handsome brown eyes over flighty blue any day. You're living proof."
I shrugged away her compliments. "You're my mother. You're supposed to tell me lies to make me feel better." I turned away and bit off a hunk of bread.
Mother huffed and tended to the pot hanging over the fire. Stone by stone, Father had built the fireplace many years past.
I rose. "Shall I help you?"
"Nay, finish your meal. Father awaits." She stirred the previous night's stew with a long wooden spoon.
I sat back down and ran my finger along the ridges of the wooden table, also Father's handiwork. "When will we visit town? I miss the market."
I swallowed my milk after finishing the delicious bread. I wanted to ask for more, but with winter approaching, I kept my lips sealed.
Mother picked up a spoon from a washbasin and wiped it on the fabric around her thin waist. "Do not change the subject of our talk."
"I am not, Mother." I frowned and stood next to her as she dried another spoon.
Mother crinkled her nose. "Don't fret. You're of marriageable age now. We must think of finding you a husband or your time will pass. I'm only thinking of your future, Jaclyn. I want to see you settled soon. Your father and I are not getting younger."
"Getting married and bearing children is not for me. There's much work to be done."
I slipped my arms around her waist and pressed my head to her back. I inhaled deeply as warmth enveloped me and her love replaced the fright from my nightmares.
Safe. I am safe. No monsters.
"Our life is good here. Why would I want to fix what is not broken?"
"'Tis what we do. People will talk."
I scowled, anger boiling through my veins. I tended to not raise my voice, so I softened my tone out of respect.
"I will not be handed to a suitor I do not love."
Mother patted my arm. "My child, you have much to learn. Love comes later. I did not love your father at first."
"I will not follow other people's ways." Pouting, I shuffled my feet on the dirt.
She released a deep sigh. "Oh, Jaclyn. Your time will come. Everyone has a destiny. Everyone has a story to tell. Some more than others. We shall see what lies ahead for you. Fate will lead you to the path you are meant to take."
I wished I had eyes for the future. I wanted to know a demon would not seize my soul, and I wanted to see a path without the nighttime cries. They must be monsters. I'd never heard a human throat make such tortured sounds.
What fate awaits a girl who hears monsters at night?
Illness swept through my stomach. A shudder racked me, beginning in my gut, forewarning me.CHAPTER 2
Training With Father
* * *
"Again." Father waved a wooden sword longer than my arm. "You hit like a girl. Strike harder."
"I am a girl. You wish I were a boy?"
I lunged forward. My boots skidded on the dirt, raising a fine dust. With all my strength, I parried Father's sword when he came at me.
The blow knocked Father's arm aside, like many times before, but I had never disarmed him completely. He not only outweighed me, but also stood a head taller.
"Again. Unless you need the rest. Ready to surrender?"
I lifted my chin and gripped my sword with determination. The apple tree Father stood under distracted me as thoughts of apple pie, applesauce, and apple spice tea danced through my head.
Father's lips curled down. "You mustn't daze, Jaclyn."
"Aye." I scolded myself and continued to focus.
I struck at him at least twenty times, and twenty times his sword blocked mine. I'd long since stopped counting when stones settled on my chest and I labored to breathe. My arms ached from the force of the collision, but my legs rooted strong beneath me.
The sun provided little warmth in the autumn chill, but the training left me sweaty. The cool air, which had stung minutes before, now felt refreshing.
"My turn." Father's brown eyes darkened. He snarled like a wild animal and came for me.
His bared teeth and fierce scowl, meant to scare me, but made me want to chuckle instead. I dared not. It would not be a laughing matter if I slipped or lost my guard. A blow from his wooden sword would leave me aching for a week.
Father would never willfully hurt me, but he would expect more after a year of practice. He knew precisely my skill level. He declared once he would challenge me until I became his equal, or better.
When his sword met mine, the vibration traveled up my arm, spread through me, and rattled my bones. He held nothing back that day. Father's lips hinted at a smile, a first during sword practice.
"Are you ready for more, Jaclyn?" Father asked, catching his breath.
My heart raced and sweat beaded on my forehead. Angling my sword across my body with the confidence of a knight, I pressed one leg back against the earth to anchor me.
"The question is, Father, are you ready for me?"
Father lifted his eyebrows, surprised by my confidence. He nodded with pride. To another father, my words would have sounded disrespectful, but Father and I had a special bond.
"After a year of training, I hope not. You can outwit this old fool. Being smaller doesn't mean you can't hurt me. Use your entire body and not just the strength of your arm. You haven't much to speak of, after all." He winked.
When Father's sword flew up, I blocked the blow by tilting mine across my body. Loud, warrior yells escaped my mouth as I charged. Then Father pulled back and aimed at my waist. I jumped back, escaping by a hair.
He blocked my advance with his sword and almost knocked mine from my hands. Pulling back, Father aimed below my knees. I leapt over the blade, twirled, and thumped him on the head with the hilt of the sword. Stumbling back, Father smiled.
"You've been secretly training with someone else, eh?" He chuckled, rubbing his head.
He knew it could not be true. No one lived around for miles. It had just been the three of us for as long as I recalled. We used to have visitors and helpers, but they had stopped coming years before. I never asked why, for I liked being isolated from idle gossip and foolish people.
"Nay. You're aging and slower."
He glared at me. "You're not to get arrogant, little one."
I pivoted sideways to dodge his sword, and just before he could regain his stance, I swept his legs and dropped him. It was the first time I'd bested him with wit and strength. Jumping, I howled like a hound. Unladylike, but my training had not been ladylike in any way.
Father stood, looking dazed, and dusted the dirt and loose grass off his tunic. "Well, I did not expect that. I reckon you need a greater challenge."
"I will not hold anything back, you hear? Keep your eyes fixed. Let this be a warning, my child."
I swallowed a mouthful of fear. "Ready."
Meeting his gaze, I brought my sword up and flexed my fingers, then tightened my grip with anticipation.
Father charged, swinging.
Every impact jarred my arms painfully until I thought my bones might shatter. The little triumph I had fled. I struggled with each slash of my wooden sword to meet Father's agile moves. With every miss, it took me longer to recover, and his lightning-fast swings battered me.
As he swung and I blocked, we moved across the field. I stepped on a branch, lost my footing and stumbled. A couple of times, I tripped while evading his sword. When a pebble rolled underfoot, I twisted my ankle.
Each fall made my muscles grow heavier. After countless minutes had passed, I was spent.
"Ready to cease?" Father slowed. Though he tried not to show his exhaustion, his heavy breathing betrayed him.
"Nay." I panted.
My throat scratched like grains of sand rubbing together, and my tunic clung to my back. Sweat trickled down my cheeks, and loose strands of hair stuck to my face.
Father lowered his sword, tip pointing toward the ground, and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the hem of his tunic.
"Good. That's what I want to hear. If they come from all sides, you'll not have time to rest. Kill or be killed. You must open your eyes always."
"Is war coming?"
Father's eyes widened. "Nay. Who told you a false tale?"
"No one. I assumed from the training."
"No man or woman should feel helpless. I want to ensure you can defend yourself in a time of need. I will not always be around."
I frowned. "Nay, Father. You'll grow old with me."
Father's lips twitched with a hint of a smile, I hoped from his approval of my words.
"My time will pass, but hopefully not too soon."
Father's talk of death pierced my heart. Mother told stories of the Black Death that had taken so many lives over a hundred and fifty years before. Struck with fever, the sick had raved as though they had seen demons. Swelling had appeared in soft places, hard and burning, and then victims had vomited blood. I imagined the suffering, a horrid way to die.
Perhaps the cries I heard in my waking nightmares were the sounds of those poor souls.
I swiped at tall grasses with my sword, for I did not want to imagine these people or my life without Father and Mother.
"Would you like to rest?" Father brought me back to the present.
I dropped my arms to my sides. The sword grew heavy as a tree, and my arm muscles throbbed. I should be used to holding my weapon for so long, but no matter the months of training, Father always pushed me just past my limit. The thrill of battle spurred me on when practicing with him, but would I be able to endure in real life?
Father rested his hand on my back, guiding me as we strode toward our cozy house. Mother would be bustling about the kitchen and, with luck, a hearty midday meal would be waiting in the common room.
As we neared the house, cows and sheep greeted us from their paddocks. Tom, the fine calico mouser, darted into the barn, doubtlessly chasing some vermin in the hay we'd laid in for winter. I noted the autumn bounty waiting for harvest in the garden. The vegetables and apples from the trees we'd practiced under would make some of my chores in coming weeks.
The gloomy clouds had bunched together. Their ominous bellies thickened, thrumming with charged energy. Far off in the distance, more storm clouds, black as the devil's heart, headed toward us. Rain would surely come our way. The cool breeze that had been a relief earlier stung through the fabrics, making me shiver.
As we neared our house, Mother greeted us. She had taken off the cotton square from around her waist to reveal a simple lavender dress. Mother frowned when she eyed my destroyed braided bun and again when she saw the dirt on my clothes. She gave me a cup of water and then shifted her attention to Father.
"Richard." Mother placed a hand on Father's arm. "You almost killed our daughter. She's just a girl, not a boy."
Her comment struck me. Had Father always wanted a boy instead? He loved me, but I secretly wished I were a boy for him. Perhaps I would be a better fighting companion.
Mother turned to me. "You didn't get hurt, did you?"
She took the empty cup from me, handed it to Father, and then took my wooden sword, relieving the pressure on my shoulder.
"Thank you for the water, Mother." I already wanted more. "And I'm well, I assure you. No need to scold Father."
I lagged behind, annoyed, as we continued toward the house. I wished she would stop fussing over me. Many girls my age had already wed or gone into service with a wealthy family. Just because I hadn't left home did not mean she should treat me like a child.
Mother should have been used to my training. I had been training with Father since I was old enough to hold a weapon, though I understood her concern. Father had used more force that day, and my garments and hair likely showed it. He had fought me as if we were on equal ground.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Jaclyn and the Beanstalk"
Copyright © 2018 Mary Ting.
Excerpted by permission of Vesuvian Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One — Sixteenth Century,
Chapter Two — Training With Father,
Chapter Three — Hidden Hoard,
Chapter Four — The Story,
Chapter Five — Monsters Are Real,
Chapter Six — Monsters In My Wake,
Chapter Seven — The Market,
Chapter Eight — The Secret Meeting,
Chapter Nine — Brave Mother,
Chapter Ten — The Black Mountain,
Chapter Eleven — Monsters' Cave,
Chapter Twelve — The Prisoners Found,
Chapter Thirteen — This Man,
Chapter Fourteen — Longinus,
Chapter Fifteen — Oh, Jack,
Chapter Sixteen — Escape,
Chapter Seventeen — The Beanstalk,
Chapter Eighteen — Jack's Town,
Chapter Nineteen — Miracle or Work of Evil,
Chapter Twenty — Home Sweet Home,
Chapter Twenty-One — Monsters Everywhere,
Chapter Twenty-Two — The Beanstalk,
Chapter Twenty-Three — The Power of the Lance,
Chapter Twenty-Four — Oh, My Heart,
Chapter Twenty-Five — Home At Last.,
Chapter Twenty-Six — Three Days Later,
Chapter Twenty-Seven — The Proposal,
Chapter Twenty-Eight — Eight Years Later,
Epilogue — The End,
Preview of Redd Riding Hood,
About the Author,