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Slathbog's Gold

M. L. Forman

  © 2009 Mark L. Forman

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher, Shadow Mountain¨. The views expressed herein are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Shadow Mountain.

  All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Forman, Mark, 1964-

  Slathbog’s gold / Mark Forman.

  p. cm. — (Adventurers wanted ; bk. 1)

  Summary: When fifteen-year-old orphan Alex Taylor sees an odd sign in

  a shop window and goes inside to investigate, he is sent on a quest to

  defeat an evil dragon, and in the process he confronts his fears and

  learns about his future and his past.

  ISBN 978-1-60641-029-5 (hardbound : alk. paper)

  eISBN 1-60641-629-4 (eletronic)

  [1. Fantasy. 2. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction.

  3. Orphans—Fiction. 4. Wizards—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.F7653Sl 2009

  [Fic]—dc22 2008030691

  Printed in the United States of America

  R. R. Donnelley and Sons, Crawfordsville, IN

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


  Chapter One

  adventurers wanted

  Chapter Two

  mr.clutter’s back door

  Chapter Three

  magic bag

  Chapter Four

  the great arch

  Chapter Five

  three-legged troll

  Chapter Six

  the troll’scave

  Chapter Seven

  the white tower

  Chapter Eight


  Chapter Nine

  the promise

  Chapter Ten

  magic sword

  Chapter Eleven


  Chapter Twelve

  eric von tealo

  Chapter Thirteen

  dwarf realm

  Chapter Fourteen

  the first bag

  Chapter Fifteen

  haunted ruins

  Chapter Sixteen

  the dark forest

  Chapter Seventeen


  Chapter Eighteen

  the wall

  Chapter Nineteen

  the journey home

  Chapter Twenty

  home again

  Reading Guide

  chapter one

  Adventurers Wanted

  Alex and his friends gathered around the small opening, preparing for what they had to do. His eyes fixed on the darkness in front of him and a shiver ran down his back. The darkness didn’t bother him, but the smell coming from the cave did. It was a nasty mix of rotten eggs and meat that had been left out too long, and it turned his stomach. Looking away, he tried to think of something happy, but nothing came to him.

  Everything that had happened to him in the past few months seemed like a dream, a dream that was fast becoming a nightmare. They had reached the goal of their great quest. Alex had thought this day would never come, and for a moment he wondered why he was here.

  “In we must go, or give up our quest,” said Bregnest in a grim tone.

  “To some this would seem foolish, but let us seek our fate and trust to luck,” Skeld added, looking as serious as Alex had ever seen him.

  Foolish, thought Alex. That was a good word for what they were about to do. Foolish or incredibly brave, he couldn’t decide which. It didn’t really matter though, because Alex knew he would go into the dark cave with his friends. He looked around at his seven companions and smiled, remembering how he had gotten here.

  It had been a normal day when he had wished for a life different from the one he had known, a life of adventure. Yes, it had been a day like every other day he could remember—before he became an adventurer.

  * * *

  Alex had lived above the Happy Dragon tavern for as long as he could remember and there had been times when he’d enjoyed the sounds of the customers, the clinking of glasses, and the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. The tavern was usually a happy place, but right then it was hard for Alex to think of anything happy.

  “It wasn’t even my fault,” Alex said to himself as he clenched and unclenched his hands inside his jacket pockets, trying to work off his anger. If only he could run away from his life, run away to a place where no one would know him. He wanted to change his life, but he knew his wish was foolish and nothing would change. Frustrated, he walked faster than normal, ignoring the people and traffic around him.

  It wasn’t fair that he had been yelled at for breaking the glasses. His stepbrother, Todd, had tripped him as Alex was carrying the glasses to the kitchen. Todd hadn’t meant to get him in trouble, or even to make him drop the glasses. He was always just goofing around. It was just Alex’s bad luck that he got blamed when the joke went wrong.

  Turning onto Sildon Lane, Alex slowed his pace and took a deep breath to calm himself. Todd was two years older than Alex, and as stepbrothers went, he wasn’t all bad. The problem with Todd was that he was always doing things he shouldn’t have been, or that he didn’t really think through. It wasn’t Mr. Roberts’s fault that it looked like Alex was to blame for whatever happened. Todd was good at disappearing when things went wrong, leaving Alex to answer for what had happened.

  Alex always called his stepfather “Mr. Roberts” or “sir” and Mr. Roberts was a busy man. He often didn’t have time to listen to Alex’s explanations of what had happened before he started yelling. Alex knew running the Happy Dragon was difficult work, and always being shorthanded didn’t help Mr. Roberts’s temper.

  Alex paused and looked at his reflection in the dirty window beside him. His blue-green eyes looked back at him, and he could see the troubled look on his face. Smiling weakly at his reflection, he used both hands to flatten his ruffled, sandy-blond hair. He was being foolish and he knew it. But he couldn’t deny he still felt unhappy and frustrated with his life and he longed for something different.

  Alex shook his head to clear his thoughts as he continued to walk down the lane. He glanced at the shop windows as he passed them, not really looking for or seeing anything. He felt his anger burning out, just like it always did when he took time to think about things.

  He knew that when he got back to the tavern, Mr. Roberts would apologize for yelling at him and Todd would apologize for getting him into trouble.

  Mr. Roberts was a large man who shouted a lot, but never really got angry about anything. He had always treated Alex well enough, but he had never seemed like a real father, at least not to Alex. Even though he knew in his heart that Mr. Roberts and Todd would do anything for him, Alex felt alone in the world. And in some ways, it was the truth. His mother had died when Alex was only seven, and he had never known his real father. He didn’t have any relatives, or at least none that he knew about.

  Alex smiled as he remembered his mother, even though the memory made him sad. She had always told him that he could be whatever he wanted to be, if he just tried. Right now he wanted to be anything except the dishwasher at the Happy Dragon.

  Alex stopped and looked back at the bookshop window he had just passed. It looked like the same bookshop he had walked by hundreds of times before, but there was something different about it today. Instead of the normal pile of dusty books in the window, there was a large, brightly painted sign with two words printed on it in large red letters

  Adventurers Wanted

  Alex stared at the sign for a minute, forgetting his troubles. He wondered what the
sign might mean and why it was in the bookshop at all. It looked out of place in the window. He moved closer to the glass and tried to look into the shop, cupping his hands around his eyes to cut out the afternoon glare, but he couldn’t see anything. Puzzled, he looked back at the sign to see if he’d missed something. In deep blue letters the sign now said

  Adventurers Wanted

  Apply Within

  Alex stepped back and shook his head before looking at the sign again. The red letters were back, and he wondered if he’d seen the blue letters at all. He focused on the sign for several minutes without blinking, just to be sure, but the red letters remained unchanged.

  Alex looked up and down the lane, wondering if anyone else had noticed the sign. The normally busy lane was oddly empty. There were several parked cars, and a few people walking at the far end of the lane, but nobody close. It was still early afternoon. There should have been dozens of people and cars crowding Sildon Lane.

  Looking back at the window, Alex jumped when he saw the sign had changed for a third time, this time to shiny gold letters.

  Great Adventures

  Reasonable Prices

  Apply Now

  Butterflies whirled in Alex’s stomach. Something strange was happening; signs didn’t change in an instant. There must be some reasonable explanation for what he was seeing. He moved closer to the window again, looking to see if there was some mechanical device that had changed the sign while he hadn’t been paying attention. All he could see was the cardboard sign—a sign that changed every time he looked away.

  Alex moved to the bookshop door. He looked up and down Sildon Lane once more, but even the few people he had seen before were gone. Taking a deep breath, and considering how best to ask about the sign in the window, he pushed open the door and walked into the shop.

  “Good afternoon,” said a happy voice as soon as the door had closed behind Alex. “Here to get an adventure, no doubt.”

  Alex looked around the shop to see who had spoken. He spotted a short, round, balding man standing behind a dusty, book-covered counter.

  “No, I—” Alex began.

  “Thought you might like to try being an adventurer,” the man finished for him. “Excellent career choice I must say.”

  “N-no,” Alex stammered. “I was just wondering—”

  “Oh, not to worry,” the man interrupted again. “We don’t charge unless you’re completely happy with the adventure. And our prices are very reasonable. In fact, most adventures build the cost right in, so there’s no need for you to worry about payment at all.”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Come along then,” said the man with a laugh, turning away from the counter and walking toward the back of the shop. “We’ll just get some information and see what kind of adventure we can find for you.”

  “I only wanted to ask about the sign,” Alex said in a rush, afraid the man would interrupt him again.

  “Yes, it’s quite a good one, isn’t it?” the man replied, smiling fondly at the sign displayed in the window. “I’ve only just put it up today, and you’re the first one to notice it. Now, come along.”

  Not knowing what else to do, Alex followed the man through the blue velvet curtains that divided the back of the shop from the front. The man moved quickly and by the time Alex stepped through the curtains, the shopkeeper was already sitting behind a desk, shuffling through a pile of papers. He seemed to be looking for something special and ignored Alex completely.

  Alex approached the desk and looked at the papers scattered across the desktop and the floor. He tried to read what was printed on them, but it was impossible because more papers kept flying everywhere as the man continued searching through them. Alex stood and waited for the man to say something.

  “Here we are,” said the man, pulling a single page from the pile. “Adventurers’ Application. Exactly what we’re looking for.”

  “Excuse me, sir,” said Alex. “Who are you?”

  “Who am I?” the man echoed. “Why, I’m Cornelius Clutter, of course.”

  “And you . . . sell adventures?”

  “Of course I do,” replied Mr. Clutter with a smile. “Didn’t you say you saw the sign in the window?”


  “Well, that says it all, doesn’t it?”

  “Yes, but—”

  “I mean, it would be silly for me to put up a sign offering adventures if I didn’t sell them, wouldn’t it?” Mr. Clutter asked in a kindly voice. “No good advertising for things you haven’t got, is it?”

  “No, I suppose not.”

  “Of course not. That would be silly. And one thing Cornelius Clutter is not is silly.”

  “No,” Alex agreed, not wishing to offend Mr. Clutter. “But I’m not sure—”

  “You’re not sure if you’re properly suited to be an adventurer,” Mr. Clutter finished for him. “Well, not to worry, the application will sort that out. After all, you’re already here, aren’t you?”


  “No, no, don’t worry,” said Mr. Clutter, looking down at the paper in his hand. “Let’s just see what we have once the application is filled out.”

  Alex looked around Mr. Clutter’s office, feeling slightly nervous. He’d only wanted to know about the sign in the window, not fill out some application to become an adventurer, whatever that was. He was sure, however, that any objection he made would be brushed aside before he could get the words all the way out. He also felt certain that any answer of Mr. Clutter’s would have nothing at all to do with his question.

  “Have a seat then, mister? Mister? Mister what?” asked Mr. Clutter, looking at Alex and pointing to a large chair in front of his desk.

  “Taylor,” Alex answered, sitting down slowly. “Alexander Taylor. But I go by Alex.”

  “Ah, well, we’ll jot that down,” said Mr. Clutter, taking a pen from his desk and starting to write. “Now then, Mr. Taylor—or may I call you Alex?”

  “Yes, please.”

  “Thank you. Now then, Alex, what is your age?”


  “A bit young,” Mr. Clutter said, scribbling on the paper in front of him and making a soft clucking sound.

  “I’ll be sixteen in two months,” Alex added quickly, not liking the frown that had appeared on Mr. Clutter’s face. “I turn sixteen at the end of October.”

  “Ah, well, that does make a difference. I find it’s best to start a career early. So, any special abilities?” questioned Mr. Clutter.

  “None that I know of.”

  Mr. Clutter nodded, writing something down. “We’ll put you down as untested then.”

  “Yes, I suppose so,” Alex replied. He didn’t know what Mr. Clutter meant by “special abilities” or “untested,” but he didn’t dare ask any questions.

  “Ah, yes, now a more difficult question,” said Mr. Clutter, the corners of his mouth twitching as he tried not to smile. “Would you have any problems traveling with female adventurers?”

  “What?” Alex asked, blushing at the question.

  “Well, as I’m sure you know, there have always been female adventurers,” Mr. Clutter said quickly. “And many of them have found a great deal of success. It’s just that, well, some male adventurers don’t think the ladies belong—if you know what I mean. A bit silly if you ask me, but people can be silly about things like that.”

  “No, I don’t have a problem with female adventurers,” said Alex.

  “Right,” Mr. Clutter went on without waiting for Alex to say anything more. “Do you believe in brownies, dragons, dwarfs, elves, fairies, ghosts, goblins, griffins, pixies . . .”

  Mr. Clutter continued to read names from the paper and Alex listened closely as the list went on and on. He wondered how long it would be before Mr. Clutter ran out of breath. Alex had never heard of most of the things on the list before, and those he did recognize, he didn’t believe in anyway. After several minutes, and what seemed like hundreds of names, Mr. Clutter appeared
to be winding up.

  “ . . . Sea serpents, skin changers, trolls, werewolves, and wraiths?” Mr. Clutter took a deep breath and looked at Alex.

  “Well,” said Alex, feeling uncomfortable. “I—”

  “We’ll just put yes on that one, shall we?” Mr. Clutter interrupted. “Not to worry, not to worry, most people don’t know half of the creatures listed.”

  “No, I suppose not.”

  “And we’ll put yes down on number seven as well. Everybody says yes to number seven.”

  “Number seven?”

  “And let’s see. We should put down unknown on magical ability and resistance to curses.”


  “And yes to willing to learn magic,” Mr. Clutter continued happily, marking the page in front of him as if Alex wasn’t there. “We should put no to affiliated with dark creatures. And no to evil intent.”

  “Does anybody say yes to evil intent?” Alex asked, more to himself than Mr. Clutter.

  “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Mr. Clutter replied, looking up from the page. “We have to ask, it’s on the form.”

  “Oh,” Alex said, surprised that Mr. Clutter had answered his question directly.

  “Any experience with weapons?” Mr. Clutter asked suddenly. “You know—sword, ax, bow. Anything at all?”

  “No,” Alex answered, confused.

  “Ah, well,” said Mr. Clutter, looking back to the paper on his desk. “Not a problem, not a problem at all. Lots of first-timers don’t have any experience with weapons.”