Centaur School #5
Lucy Coats; illustrated by Brett Bean
Is Demon up to the challenge?
Beasts of Olympus is a series of illustrated chapter books set in a magical Ancient Greece where strange things still walk the Earth. In the fifth book, Chiron the centaur teaches Demon to make his own cures for sick mythical beasts. But Demon must put his new skills to the test right away in order to save an ailing phoenix before it's too late!
Excerpt from Centaur School #5
CHAPTER ONE: Itchy Griffin
Since the Colchian Dragon had nearly exploded Olympus, Demon had learned oodles and squoodles of useful stuff about mixing medicines and proper animal doctoring from his centaur teacher, Chiron. There was one thing, however, he just couldn’t seem to get right.
“AARRRGGHH!” The official stable boy to the gods and apprentice healer stood up, threw down the slate he was writing on, and stamped on it. Twice. He looked at the book that lay open beside him on the bale of silver hay. The letters next to the beautiful pictures on the pages were all wriggly and squirrelly and squiggly. His own attempts to copy them were even worse. “I’m NEVER going to learn to write properly,” he said, sitting down again with a despairing thump.
A large beak reached down from the roof of the Stables of the Gods and nipped his ear.
“What’s up, Pan’s scrawny kid?” asked the griffin, flapping down through the light of another bright Olympus day. “Why the long face? You look as grumpy as the giant scorpion.” It sat its lion’s rump down and began to scratch under its wing feathers with a sharp-clawed back paw.
“Chiron says I have to make notes on all my new patients now,” Demon replied. “But the letters won’t stay still. They all wiggle and try to run away when I read them, AND when I write them down. It’s giving me a headache as big as a hill.”
The griffin scratched some more. “Sounds like a puzzle for old Heffy to me,” it said. “Why not go on up to the forge and ask him what to do about it?”
Demon looked around him. He’d worked extra hard to get the Stables spick-and-span that morning. All the immortal beasts were clean and munching on ambrosia cake or sun hay. He wasn’t due down at Chiron the centaur’s cave for his lesson till later.
“Good idea,” he said. Then he frowned at the griffin. “Stop scratching. You’ll make yourself bleed.” But the beast just turned its eagle head around and used the pointy tip of its beak to scratch even harder.
“I’ve got an itch,” it said sulkily. “Not that you care, running off to earth all the time like you do now.”
Demon rolled his eyes. “I’ll ask Chiron what ointment to mix up for you,” he said.
“Why not ask that magic medicine box of yours?” the griffin asked. “No need to trouble your teacher.”
Demon sighed. “I can’t,” he said. “Chiron’s forbidden it to help me anymore—at least till I’ve learned much more about proper healing. But he’s already taught me loads and loads of things, so don’t worry. I’ll bring something back with me tonight.”
“You’d better,” said the griffin, swishing its tail. “Or else.”
As Demon set off up the mountain, his book under one arm, to visit the smith god, Hephaestus, he wondered nervously what the griffin’s “or else” might mean. He’d been on the wrong side of a few griffin wounds by now—and they hurt.
* * *
A long arrow-pointed tail, covered in bright purple scales, snaked out of the smith god’s cave. Demon stepped carefully around it and poked his head through the door.
Hephaestus was standing by the Colchian Dragon, scratching it behind the horns with his grimy fingers. The dragon’s eyes were closed in bliss, and happy orangey-purple jewel tears were rolling down its face, dropping with tiny plinks onto the dirty floor, where they shone like miniature stars.
“Good dragon,” said the smith god encouragingly. “Just a few more and I’ll have enough for Hera’s new tiara. Then you can have as much charcoal as you can eat.”
Demon eyed the dragon’s bulk. If it ate much more charcoal, he reckoned Hephaestus would have to get a bigger cave. But he wasn’t going to suggest that the beast go on a diet. The memory of its terrible farting problem and how it had nearly blown up the whole of Olympus was still too fresh in his memory. Just then, Hephaestus turned around and saw him.
“Hello, young Pandemonius! What’s up?”
After Demon had explained, the smith god tapped one grubby fingernail against his teeth, thinking. “Young Eros had just the same trouble,” he said. “Aphrodite kept after me for months to sort him out after he wrote some love letters all wrong and nearly started a war.” He chuckled. “He’s a little scamp, is Eros. Him and his love potions. Always some poor girl or boy with hearts coming out of their ears.” He went over to a wooden box, rummaged around, and came out holding some thick golden wire and some dusty square blocks of blue, pink, and yellow crystal, which he cleaned off with a damp rag.
“What are those for?” Demon asked. Behind him, the chubby dragon made loud, happy crunching sounds as it munched on a trough full of charcoal.
“You’ll see,” said Hephaestus, setting them down on his workbench. Working fast, he twisted and turned the wire in his big, grimy hands until he had a strange-looking frame with two attached circles and two long arms. Then he carefully tapped each block of crystal with a small silver hammer until he had three thin, transparent sheets of different colors. He beckoned to Demon. “Give me the book.” Demon handed it over, and quickly the smith god set it open and laid a sheet of blue crystal over it. “Have a look,” he ordered.
Demon looked. The letters were just as squiggly as ever. He shook his head. Hephaestus whipped away the blue crystal and replaced it with the yellow. Demon shook his head again. Yellow made his stomach want to heave.
“I don’t think it’s working,” he said. A little knot of despair was growing inside him. If the letters didn’t behave, he’d never be able to be a proper apprentice healer to Chiron.
“Don’t give up yet, boy,” said the smith god. He laid down the pink crystal, and suddenly, everything on the page was still and clear.
“Oh!” said Demon, staring at the straight, elegant lines of writing. “It’s like magic!”
“Not magic this time,” said Hephaestus, looking smug underneath his huge black beard. “Just godly cleverness.” He took one of the dragon’s jewel tears and used its sharp point to cut two little circles out of the pink crystal, fixing them tightly within the circles on the golden frame. Then he popped them on Demon’s nose and fastened the arms behind his ears. After making a few adjustments, he stood back.
“There you are,” he said. “Problem solved! I call them opticles.”
With the opticles on, Demon’s world was now slightly pink tinted, but he didn’t care. Now he could take proper notes! Chiron would be happy.
* * *
Demon got off the Iris Express rainbow and went into the light, airy cave to find his teacher. Neither Chiron, nor his assistant, Asclepius, was anywhere to be seen. However, Demon could hear a strange noise in the distance, a sort of snorty, shouty sound and some high screaming. Maybe an animal was in trouble, and the centaur god had gone to heal it. He ran outside to see.
At first there was nothing, only the usual silvery cistus shrubs and olive trees waving in the breeze with the watery blue of King Poseidon’s realm down below. But then, from around the corner, came a tall, thin young man. He ran so fast that he was past Demon and into the cave before Demon could do more than gasp. Behind the young man, in a cloud of white dust, galloped a crowd of about twenty centaurs. These weren’t nice calm centaurs like Chiron. Oh no! These were angry centaurs, with rolling red eyes and bared white teeth and rearing hooves that pounded the ground so hard that it shook.
Demon threw himself into a bush just in time, as a plate-size hoof slapped through the air exactly where his head had been.
“Whoa!” he said breathlessly, heart thumping harder than a hammer on an anvil. “What’s going on?” But nobody heard him. The herd of centaurs milled around in front of the cave, stamping angrily and swishing their tails like vicious fly swatters. In their hands he could see torn-off tree branches and slings full of rocks.
“Peleus!” they screamed. “Prince Peleus! Come out and die!”
Demon eyed the angry mob. Things weren’t looking too good for this Prince Peleus, whoever he was. “Suppose I’d better go and help,” he muttered, pushing the bag that held his book and the precious opticles into the space between two rocks.
He crawled through the bushes on his belly to avoid being seen, slipped around the side of the mountain, and climbed into Chiron’s cave by a back window. As he landed, a body shot out from under one of the empty beds and tackled him to the ground, pinning his arms over his head with two strong hands.
“Oof!” Demon grunted. “Get off me! I’ve come to help!”
Two very green eyes looked at him down a long, thin nose, before letting him up.
“Bit small for a warrior, aren’t you?” said Prince Peleus scornfully, flicking back his straight black hair. “Where’s your sword? You can’t stab those centaurs without a sword.”
Demon dusted himself off before replying. He was fed up with people thinking that everything could be sorted out with swords and violence.
“I’m not a warrior,” he said. “And I don’t need a sword.” Without another word, he marched to the front of the cave and pulled out his father’s silver pipes from the front of his tunic. Putting them to his lips, he blew a long, discordant blast that echoed off the rocks, bouncing back and forth like shrill thunder.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Shut up and listen.”
It was as if a sheet of perfect silence had fallen over the mountain. Not a bird sang, not a cricket chirped.
Then the lead centaur snorted, red foam dripping from his lips. “Who are you, boy? And what are you doing with Pan’s pipes? Just wait till he catches you! He’ll tear you apart with his teeth.”
“Pan’s my dad,” said Demon. “And he gave them to me, so there. Now, what do you want with Prince Peleus?”
As if the name had lit a fire under them, the centaurs began to scream and rear and shout again. Demon was just about to blow his dad’s pipes once more when a great voice shouted from the back of the herd.
“STOP THAT RACKET AT ONCE!”
The centaurs all wheeled around and fell to their knees.
Chiron the centaur god had arrived.