The clinging mist that hovered over the field since dawn had begun to lose its grip as the two armies arrived to do battle. The Vegetarians of the west were preparing to mount the latest offensive against the kingdom of Dryvthru. Never content to live a peaceful, meat-free existence, the forest-dwelling herbivores sought to spread their doctrine to other, less-enlightened people groups—by force if necessary. In response to this threat, King Burger, quickly assembled an army and marched out from the Whyte Castle to meet the foe.
As the last of the mist burned away in the morning sun, the king sat astride his horse and took stock of the Vegetarian army. They were a ragged lot to be sure; not ones for military precision. Yet the zealous devotion to their cause was something never to be underestimated.
The chanting began slowly.
“Meat is murder!”
Gradually, more and more Vegetarians took up the call:
“Meat is murder!”
The battlefield soon shook with the thundering chorus:
“Meat is murder! Meat is murder! Meat is murder!”
For the next three hours, the invading army continued to chant and wave placards. At one point, a Vegetarian warrior started to dance in a pig costume. Things looked bleak for the beleaguered Dryvthru army, especially when the Vegetarians began to catapult large blocks of tofu across the field. Though his army was shaken, King Burger was undaunted. Brandishing a large silver spatula over his head, he called for his royal grill. It took several horses to wheel the large, jewel-encrusted cooker into place. Soon, the smell of flame-broiled meat wafted across the field, bringing comfort to his exhausted men and sending their foe staggering back in disgust. As the king prepared burgers for his troops, the Vegetarians dropped their placards and tofu in utter indignation.
“Would any of you like a burger to go?” the victorious king bellowed to the retreating vegetable-eaters. “No? Well…have it your way!”
Fortunately, such forceful encounters were the exception in Dryvthru. For much of the time, the land dwelled in peace under the wise counsel of King Burger and his wife, the lovely and clever Queen Dairy. Under their happy reign, the kingdom thrived. Food of every variety was produced in abundance throughout the land, and every citizen was within walking distance of a restaurant.
While her husband oversaw the kingdom’s vast food production, Queen Dairy, along with her trusted handmaidens, Haskin and Bobbin, saw to the continual demand for dessert. Although as sweet as the treats she created, the queen also possessed a shrewd mind that few people dared to underestimate. Still, that didn’t stop everyone from trying their luck. Once, an ambitious young man hailing from parts unknown decided to create a niche in the kingdom’s dessert market. Selling the concept of frozen yogurt-as-dessert, the man established a specialty shop, calling it TCBY. At first doubtful of this heathy alternative to ice cream, the queen soon accepted the man as a worthy competitor. The frozen yogurt business quickly took root, drawing many people to its door. Although there was a noticeable drop in ice cream consumption following the store’s opening, Queen Dairy remained serene.
However, there was the issue of the name. What did “TCBY” stand for? When asked, the young entrepreneur claimed that the initials stood for “The Cingdom’s Best Yogurt.” Informed that “kingdom” actually started with a “K,” the man simply shrugged and confessed that he was never a good speller. Yet he steadfastly refused to make the correction, which the queen found strange. Paying her own visit to TCBY one day, she inquired as to why the owner was so resistant to make the change. After some hemming and hawing, the man mumbled something about trademark issues, offered the queen a free sorbet fizz and tactfully ushered her out the door.
Undeterred, Queen Dairy began to make investigations. After numerous inquiries, the queen succeeded in tracing the young man’s origin back to the Hellthnutt tribe, a group that had splintered off from the Vegetarians some years ago. Although less fanatical than their vegetable-eating brethren, the Hellthnutts were a cunning lot who took a much subtler approach in undermining Dryvthru’s eating habits. Further research by the queen revealed that the letters “TCBY” were in fact part of an elaborate coding system used by the Hellthnutts. The seemingly innocent frozen yogurt shop was in truth the vanguard of a destabilization effort of the Dryvthru economy.
Queen Dairy found this to be unacceptable.
The young man was sitting at a small table outside of his shop, writing a coded letter to his tribe contact when he noticed the clouds. On this bright, warm day, they seemed to have come out of nowhere. Thinking it to be just a passing rain shower, the man stepped inside to wait it out. To his astonishment, what starting coming out of the clouds wasn’t rain but…snow.
The SnoStorm that hit Dryvthru that day was the worst in anyone’s memory, especially for the middle of summer. Stranger still, the only thing to suffer from the storm was the TCBY shop which was buried to its roof in what turned out to be vanilla ice cream, sprinkled liberally with cookie crumbs and fragments of candy bars. The owner immediately left for home after that. Queen Dairy never commented on the strange occurrence, but many wondered if she had caused the SnoStorm. Rumor spread throughout the kingdom that the queen possessed supernatural powers. Others insisted that this was not the queen’s work, but the loyal Haskin and Bobbin who were magically inclined. After all, how was it possible that after years of developing new ice cream flavors, the two handmaidens still had only 31 choices available? Was this not magic?
“I cannot figure it out,” said King Burger one night after he and the queen had paid a visit to the kitchen where Haskin and Bobbin worked. “I cannot find one flavor missing from the original 31, and yet there seems to be ever more choices. I count the flavors myself, yet I always come up with 31. How can this be?”
The queen merely smiled.
King Burger and Queen Dairy had a son by the name of Prince Carl. From his youth, the prince learned the secret art of burger-making from his father. Upon reaching manhood, he was bequeathed land in the southern part of the kingdom, known locally as Hardyshire, where he established his own restaurant. Over the years, many Dryvthruvians made the pilgrimage south and marveled at the way Prince Carl managed to successfully imitate his father’s way of making all the pickles on his burgers warm and mushy.
Then there was Wendy.
Orphaned at an early age, the precocious redhead was raised by her kindly uncle Dave, who was a valued culinary advisor to the king. Wendy grew up in the kitchens of the Whyte Castle, watching the daily routine of burger-making. She particularly enjoyed spending time with a grandmotherly worker whose job it was to prepare the hamburger buns for the freshly grilled meat patties. Perched on a high stool, Wendy would watch in fascination as the woman’s wizened, practiced hands separated the bun halves, then adding ketchup, pickles, onions, and various other ingredients. The woman proved to be so skilled in preparing the buns that the royal grill master had a hard time keeping up with her.
“I need the beef!” the old woman would crow to the harried griller while giving the watching Wendy a mischievous wink. The redhead loved the oft-repeated phrase so much that for a time, her piping little voice could be heard all over the castle constantly demanding “I need the beef!”
Little Wendy was a favorite of the queen who would frequently invite the girl into the dessert kitchen while she worked on her treats. Wendy was permitted to experiment on her own dessert ideas…provided that she didn’t make a mess. The latter part was wishful thinking, of course, but the queen never chided Wendy, even when she would find the girl covered from head to toe in melted ice cream. After one particularly messy day, Wendy proudly presented the queen with a cup full of her newest creation.
“Oh my,” said the queen, looking at the thick brown substance within. “It seems that you have invented, er…chocolate ice cream.”
“No,” replied Wendy, “this is different. I call this the Frostbyte!” The queen dipped a spoon into the cup and tasted the contents.
“I’m fairly certain that is chocolate ice cream,” the queen said kindly, “or perhaps a malt…”
“It’s a Frostbyte,” Wendy replied testily.
“Look, my dear,” retorted the queen, also growing impatient. “I know chocolate ice cream when I taste it, and I tell you that you have just made…”
The queen sighed. Some battles just weren’t worth fighting.
There were many other fun things to do at the Whyte Castle for young Wendy. Among her favorite activities was to slide down the wide banisters of the castle’s large marble stairway which led up to the throne room. She was often seen sailing down the banisters, which she called her “sliders.” However, this activity was put to an immediate end on the day she over-slid and crashed into the ambassador of the island of Quizohs.
The ambassador and his entourage had arrived at Dryvthru earlier that day, having sailed in the most agreeable weather. As the routine busyness of his job usually prevented him from spending much time outdoors, the ambassador reveled in the sunshine and sea air, spending as much time out on deck as possible. However, his normally pallid skin was unaccustomed to so much sunlight. By the time the ship entered the southern port of Plees-Comagin, the ambassador’s exposed skin had taken on a bright pink color. When he arrived at the Whyte Castle after several days of overland travel, he was glowing an uncomfortable red. Wincing in pain, the ambassador hobbled into the castle and had reached the foot of the marble staircase just as a small girl, red pigtails flying, launched herself off one of the banisters. The anguished cry of the ambassador could be heard throughout the castle. Escaping injury, Wendy was nevertheless sympathetic. She tended to burn easily too.
“Ohhhhh,” murmured Wendy, as she kneeled beside the writhing ambassador, gently patting his red, tender face, “toasted.” She would have imparted more words of comfort, but just then she was yanked up by one of the palace guard and dragged into the throne room.
“We’ll have no more of this!” thundered the king as he paced in front of Wendy. “Knocking over the Quizohs ambassador will not help us in our treaty renegotiations. It’s important that we maintain friendly relations with his island. Let us hope that he is a forgiving man. In the meantime, I forbid you from sliding down any more banisters!
“No more sliders?” Wendy was aghast. She had never been forbidden from doing anything before.
“No more, uh, sliders,” confirmed the king.
“But…but…” stammered Wendy plaintively, “sliders are what I crave!”
“Well…” Wendy was unsure just how to convey to the king the thrill she got from the sliders. Although she couldn’t express herself in words, King Burger somehow understood how she felt. In all honesty, there were some days that the king himself would have liked to have taken a ride down one of the banisters. He couldn’t fault the young girl. After all, it wasn’t easy being the only child her age having to stay within the castle grounds. Still, the Whyte Castle was a place of business, and so Wendy’s energies must be directed elsewhere. After a moment of silent pondering, the king took a seat on his throne and beckoned Wendy forward.
“I think what you need, dear Wendy,” spoke the king, kindly taking her hands in his, “is an adventure.”
“An…adventure?” Wendy hadn’t expected this response.
“Naturally, I don’t mean anything dangerous, but there is a whole kingdom for you to explore. The land is at peace and you are known among the people. No one would dare lay a threatening hand upon you. To do so will bring the wrath of the kingdom down upon them.”
“I don’t understand,” Wendy replied. “You want me just…to go? By myself?”
The king chuckled. “No, not by yourself! Imagine what the queen would do to me if I let you go alone. You will of course be accompanied on your travels.”
“But Uncle Dave…”
“I will speak to your uncle,” the king said with a small smile. “I have a feeling that he would be most agreeable to this idea.” Although Dave was a kindly and attentive guardian for Wendy, he was an older man who at times simply couldn’t keep up with his energetic niece.
The king clapped his hands and a courier entered the throne room.
“Please notify the queen that I wish to speak to her,” said the king. “I have a favor to ask.”
Early the next morning, Wendy set out from the Whyte Castle; accompanying her were the reassuring presence of Haskin and Bobbin. The always sensible queen was not overly enthusiastic about the king’s plan. Still, he was the king, regardless of how foolish she thought his plan was. She was also not happy at losing the services of her handmaidens for the next several days. However, they were reliable. If anyone could shepherd the rambunctious Wendy, it was Haskin and Bobbin. Reluctantly, Queen Diary consented to the idea.
For the first time in her life, Wendy passed through the large gateway beyond the castle courtyard; the thought of what lay ahead fascinated and thrilled her. The proposed plan was for Wendy and her companions to travel the main road south to Port Plees-Comagin, paying a visit to Prince Carl along the way.
Not more than a mile beyond the castle lay the little village of Holdermayo. It was market day in the village and the streets were bustling with buyers, sellers and browsers. Wendy gazed wide-eyed as she passed by crowded stalls filled with fruits and vegetables, the butcher’s counter where a dozen people were shouting out various orders and a tinker’s wagon where a number of pots, pans, and other utensils were set out on display. Weaving in and out of the crowds were little barefoot children running, laughing and playing.
The three travelers continued to follow the high street through the village, Wendy eagerly drinking in her surroundings. Soon the crowds began to thin, and the shops and stalls gave way to small cottages where families were hard at work performing chores and tending small gardens. Occasionally, someone would look up from their labors as Wendy passed by, the girl smiling and waving. Some returned her enthusiastic greeting while others continued to stare at her in bemusement, unsure of what to make of the pint-sized redhead.
Eventually, the smattering of cottages dwindled and the land opened up to vast farmlands and pastures. Beyond the travelers, the dirt road seemed to roll on endlessly to the south, sliding over hills, disappearing from view, and then reemerging at the crest of a farther hill. The land on either side of the road, patchworked in golds and greens, spread out in a vast carpeting of plant life. Even the sky seemed bigger. Wendy was utterly astonished at the scene.
“It’s all so…big.” Although she had seen maps of the kingdom, Wendy never fathomed that there was so much space anywhere in the world. “Is this ALL part of the kingdom?”
“It is,” replied Bobbin. “As far as the eye can see, and beyond.”
Due to her sheltered life, Wendy had always imagined the Whyte Castle to be the center of the universe. Now she truly began to wonder just what was out there. It was all starting to become a bit intimidating to her.
“Are you all right, Wendy?” asked Haskin, after they had traveled for some time in silence. “You’re very quiet.”
“Quite unusual for you, I must say,” Bobbin said with a wink.
Before Wendy could reply, the sound of barking erupted from a nearby wheat field, followed by indistinct shouting. From the road, Wendy could clearly see a disturbance in the wheat to their left as whom—or whatever—was causing the noise moved steadily through the grain toward the road. The barking continued until out from the field burst the funniest little dog that Wendy had ever seen. It was small and long in shape, with floppy ears, and a long thin tail. The top portion of the dog’s fur had a reddish tint to it. Its bottom half and sides were more beige in color. The dog immediately spotted the travelers and happily trotted up to them, tongue lolling casually out the side of its mouth. If she hadn’t known any better, Wendy could have sworn that they were being approached by a four-legged, furry hot dog. No sooner had the little creature joined the travelers than a ragged-looking young man in a large floppy hat crashed out of the field and fell onto the road.
“Sahnik!” he yelled, scrambling up and adjusting his floppy hat which was askew. “Confound it, what are ya doin’ runnin’ off like that? Ya crazy little…”
It was then that he noticed Wendy and her companions. “Oh,” he said, stopping short, “hello.”
“Hi,” Wendy replied as she crouched down to pet the dog. The little canine for his part panted cheerfully, his tail whipping frantically back and forth. “He’s sure a friendly dog.”
The young man grinned.
“Oh yeah, Sahnik loves everybody. He probably heard ya comin’ and dashed off looking for a free belly rub.” He dropped to one knee and gave a little whistle. Sahnik returned to his master with the same enthusiasm that he showed Wendy.
“His name is Sahnik?” Wendy said, standing up and brushing off her dress.
“That’s a funny name.” Haskin made a shushing noise and Wendy glanced up at the disapproving look she was being given. “Well…it is.”
The young man laughed.
“I suppose it’s a bit funny soundin’, but Sahnik here is a funny sorta dog. One of a kind, I reckon.”
“What kind of dog is it?” asked Wendy. “I’ve never seen one like him.”
“He’s a pure-bred Coney dog,” replied the young man, giving Sahnik’s belly a rub.
“And what might your name be, young sir?” asked Bobbin.
“Me? Oh, my name’s Portino, ma’am,” the young man said, standing and removing his hat.
“Portino?” piped Wendy. “Now that’s a funny na…mmrrpphh!”
“We are pleased to meet you, Portino,” said Haskin, removing her hand from Wendy’s mouth, “aren’t we, Wendy?”
Wendy coughed and nodded grumpily.