S Bhattacharya Woodward

This is the first chapter of S Bhattacharya Woodward’s novel for young children (Middle Grade) about an adventuring, Elizabethan dog. She was shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize 2018 and is an award-winning science and health journalist whose articles been featured internationally. She has written for New Scientist, Nature, BBC Sky at Night magazine, the Mail on Sunday and Psychologies amongst others. She has also contributed to four Dorling Kindersley non-fiction titles and acted as a consultant for television.

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Chapter 1

The Castle and a New Friend


They say every dog has its day. Well, Dizzy Dog did not know about that. All she knew was that she’d been taken away from her kind, snuggly mother with big, brown eyes, and the brothers and sisters she loved to play with. Oh, how Dizzy longed to cuddle up with her family. But here she was instead in a big, old castle where the winds howled through the portcullis and stony eaves like wolves on the night of a full moon.

She was alone in the dark in a cage, a small pup with a long body, short legs and a stumpy tail. No one would call her pretty, or stroke her, or ever feed her juicy tidbits under the table. For Dizzy was a pup-in-training. In training for what?

For work, that’s what. She may have been only a little pup – not long away from the warm folds of her mother’s fur, but she wasn’t a rich lapdog. She didn’t get to sit in the velvety dresses of rich ladies all day, or play in toy-filled nurseries or flower gardens with the dainty little lords and ladies after they had finished their lessons. No, Dizzy was going to be a working dog. Not even a proper grown-up working dog, but a mere pup. A working pup.

She didn’t know exactly what her job would be. But she knew from the brimming tears in her mother’s eyes and the sorrowful sobs of her brothers and sisters, who were taken away to other castles, that it wasn’t going be good. Her littlest brother, Wolfie, the runt of the litter said it would be okay. But then he was always cheerful. Dizzy wasn’t so sure.

Why me? I never chose this, thought Dizzy as she shuffled her short, little legs in the small cage. She shivered against the bars as the wind blew through the castle courtyard where the men had dumped her.

She missed her family. She thought of her brothers and sisters and wondered where they were. Poor little Wolfie, she thought. How would he manage without her? He was such a little pup, always being pushed out of the way at feeding time. Even their other brothers and sisters would nip and shove him so they could get to the food first. Dizzy had to protect him, clearing a path between the puppies with her long body, so Wolfie could eat without being pushed or bitten.

Here she was alone in a strange place. Was he alone somewhere else too? Was he scared? The castle seemed to make all kinds of noises in the night, and Dizzy was frightened though she didn’t like to admit it, even to herself.

I’m a brave dog. A tough dog, she told herself as strange hoots and cries pierced the silence of the night. I will have adventures, she said as she jumped at the cackle and crackle of dry leaves swept into the courtyard by shifting draughts. I am tough. I am brave, she said as the echoes of the wind bounced off the narrow castle walls. But a little voice inside her said – but you are only a pup, a short little pup with a stumpy tail. I am a brave, adventuring dog, Dizzy told herself.

‘Psst!’ hissed a voice.

Dizzy jumped so high (as high as you can in a cage not much bigger than you) that she bumped her head hard on the top of her cage. ‘Oww!’ she cried, rubbing her head against her paw.

‘Psst!’ said the voice again.

Dizzy might have been scared, but she was not. The voice sounded little and friendly. She looked around but there was nothing outside the cage.

‘Psst!’ it said again. And then: ‘You silly little pup! Down here!’

And there it was, a tiny silhouette against the grey flagstones. The tiny thing seemed to raise a tiny paw and brush tiny whiskers. It came closer to the cage until its little snout was almost underneath Dizzy’s chin.

‘How d’you do? Pleased to meet you,’ said the mouse holding out its tiny paw.

‘Er…’ Shyly, Dizzy raised her own stubby front paw. She’d seen people do this at the cottage where she was born. In fact, her brothers and sisters had started wailing after the man with the cages had come to the house and shaken hands with her mother’s owner. ‘They’ve struck a deal,’ Wolfie had told her, when she asked what was going on.

Now Dizzy raised her paw, and touched the mouse’s paw.

‘I’m Elizabeth,’ said the mouse. ‘Y’know after the Queen. Cos I had red fur when I was born. It’s kind of brown, a nice shade of mouse now. But in a certain light…’

‘I don’t know about any Queen,’ said Dizzy. ‘Is this the Queen’s castle?’

‘Oh, I see I’m going to have a big job filling you in on everything,’ said the mouse, playing with her whiskers and tutting. ‘Our Good Queen Elizabeth I, you know?’

Dizzy shook her head.

‘Well, do you even know what year it is?’ the mouse sighed. ‘It’s 1572 and she’s the Queen, and a good queen too…and no this castle, though fine and splendid, is certainly not hers.

‘It used to belong to that rotten King John, centuries ago,’ the mouse continued. ‘But Royalty don’t come here much now – at least that’s what I hear in the castle kitchens. It’s just the Constable and his family and visiting lords, ladies and dig-no-trees…you know important people.’

‘What’s the Constable?’ asked Dizzy.

Who’s the Constable you mean?’ said the mouse. She sighed and preened her whiskers some more. ‘You really don’t know much do you? Come straight from the wilds of the woods, like the other dogs eh?

The Constable is a very important man. He lives here with his family. He’s in charge of the village and the area. He makes sure people follow the rules, stick by the law. And if they don’t, he throws them in prison – right here in this castle.’

‘Can’t you hear the cries?’ said the mouse, motioning her head upwards towards one of the castle turrets.

‘Oh,’ said Dizzy. Her brown eyes widened.

‘And of course, there’s all those knights – the Queen’s army. We are here to protect England,’ said the mouse, straightening her whiskers and standing tall as if she were a knight herself. ‘This is the last stop before that uncivilised, barbaric place.’

‘What do you mean?’ Dizzy found herself more and more intrigued by this talkative mouse.

‘Wales! I mean this is the last safe stronghold before the border with Wales,’ said the mouse spreading her little arms dramatically.

‘If it wasn’t for this castle and the weapons we make here, England would be no more!’ said the mouse, her paws moving wildly.

Before Dizzy could say a word, the mouse suddenly shrugged. ‘Anyway, you can call me Bessie or Bess,’ she said. ‘You know, just like our Queen – Elizabeth, Beth, Bess. What’s your name?’

‘Dizzy. Dizzy Dog.’

Bessie the mouse stood tall again, puffing herself out. ‘Well Dizzy, now I have ass-cert-trained…found out exactly who you are, I have an important message for you,’ she said.