Life of Zarf: The Trouble with Weasels
"A Wimpy Kid format with a fairy-tale twist? Yes, this is bound to be a hit." --Booklist
Shrek meets Dork Diaries in this comic novel of a troll trying to figure out how to be more popular.
It’s not easy being Zarf. As a troll, he's stuck at the bottom of the middle school hierarchy, way below the prince and knights (populars), ogres and giants (jocks), and even the lowly minstrels (band geeks). Plus, trolls aren't exactly known for their brain power or cool demeanor. But it gets worse. When the king disappears and Zarf's archenemy, the prince, ascends the throne, he makes Zarf's life even more miserable. And so it is that Zarf and his two sidekicks (a neurotic, mutton-obsessed pig and the not-funny son of the court jester) set out to find the missing king as well as their way to middle school heroism. (Okay, the heroism part might be wishful thinking.)
The first book in this brilliant new illustrated series from comics creator Rob Harrell is perfect for fans of fractured fairytales and the Land of Stories series.
Excerpt from Life of Zarf: The Trouble with Weasels
• 1 •
INTRODUCTIONS ARE IN ORDER
That’s the name they gave me.
Not a majestic name, by any means. You don’t hear about many kings or leaders named “Zarf the All-Powerful” or “Zarf the Merciless.” Not a melodic name, either. Sort of falls out of your mouth in one big lump and just lays there.
It’s also a really easy name to mock, seeing as how it rhymes with “barf.” But I’m doing with it what I can. It’s a family name, after all.
I am a troll. I know the term “troll” has become a popular insult these days, but I mean it literally. I come from a long line of Eastern Prairie Trolls. My grandfather (also named Zarf) is the one you’ve probably heard the most about, what with the “billy goats gruff” business. That story got a lot of traction in the papers and the anti-troll literature. He’s still living that whole thing down.
And before you ask, yes, my family does live under a bridge. My folks claim they rent the place because it’s in a good school district and the price is right, but I’m not a complete idiot—my dad and Gramps still get their kicks scaring the stuffing out of unsuspecting bridge-goers from time to time.
• 2 •
We live in the village of Cotswin in the kingdom of Notswin, and I can assure you that nothing exciting has happened around here since Goldie Locks was in short pants. And that was a LOOONG time ago. Old Lady Locks has been the lunch lady at my school since time began, slopping out porridge to generation after generation of Cotswinians. And her hair is a lot more blue than it is gold these days. Anyways, Cotswin is a fairly quiet place where kids my age are free to perish from acute boredom, and often do.
Sure, there’s your occasional small dragon attack or croquet match, but mostly the days just drag out like the last few minutes of algebra class. That is, until the last couple of weeks, I should say.
I attend Cotswin Middle School for the Criminally Insane. Okay, I added that last part, but it’s not far from the truth. Good old Cotswin—Home of the Prancing Knights. (Trust me, no one is happy about that mascot name. Petitions have been filed.)
School is tough. In a lot of ways. Trolls aren’t exactly known for their book smarts. I’m doing my best to overcome my heritage, but it ain’t easy. I was doing a word problem the other day in class and actually caught myself grunting. Grunting! So embarrassing. Fortunately it was kind of a quiet grunt. More like a gruntlet.
This is one of the reasons it’s important to surround yourself with a quality crew . . .
• 3 •
SIX DEGREES OF KEVIN
Two weeks ago on a rainy Tuesday morning, my friend Kevin stopped by my house like he does every day on the way to school. His full name is Kevin Littlepig, of the world-famous Littlepigs. You’ve probably heard of them. His family lives a few streets over in an epic mansion called Littlepig Manor.
After their well-known encounters with a certain huffing and puffing wolf, Kevin’s dad and his uncles got into the construction business and made a small fortune. They’re constantly pushing Kevin to become a structural engineer. Given their family history, I guess I can’t blame them.
Kevin and I have been best friends since second grade, when I traded him a leg of my mom’s mutton for an extra milk at lunch. My mom makes the best mutton this side of Notswin Castle. Ask anyone. Kevin couldn’t stop going on about that mutton. He still talks about it—like a broken record. This particular day I’m gonna tell you about, he arrived looking pretty shaken up, but I still noticed him sniffing around the kitchen just in case. Seriously, he’s like an un-dead mutton zombie or something.
Kevin has issues. Lots of ’em. For starters, there’s his height. His last name, Littlepig, really couldn’t be more appropriate. He stands about knee-high to a hill ferret, and boy is he ever sensitive about it. I once saw him burst into tears when he ordered pancakes and the waitress asked if he wanted a “short stack.”
He also might be the most nervous individual in the world. It can be kind of annoying, the way he’s always worrying and wringing his hooves. If there were a Stress Olympics, he’d take the gold all day long—but then he’d probably drop dead from a panic attack on the winners’ podium.
I swear to you, the other day on the way to school he admitted to me that he’d been worrying that he wasn’t worrying enough. That makes my head hurt to even think about. He’s kind of a freak-show that way.
So Kevin showed up at my place and as we were walking through a steady drizzle to school, I could tell something was bothering him. When he’s really worked up, he lets out these little whimpers and twitches a lot.
“What’s up with you? You’re like a fart in a skillet.”
He looked up with wide eyes. “I don’t know what that means. Is that bad? That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“No, it just means you’re hopping around a lot. What’s on your mind?”
So as we cut across the Enchanted Field, Kevin nervously filled me in on the latest village news. A group of woodsmen from Wallen, the next village over from ours, had been attacked by a herd of Snuffweasels. Details were foggy about the woodsmen’s injuries, but the town was understandably flipping out. There hadn’t been a Snuffweasel sighting in ten years or more, and everyone was pretty happy about that. If you aren’t familiar with them, Snuffweasels are nothing to sneeze at. They stand about seven feet tall with mouths full of teeth like broken glass. They’re sort of like Swampweasels, but quite a bit snuffier.
“I heard they ate one guy’s face and toes.” Kevin shuddered.
“This is fantastic,” I said in a hushed tone.
“WHAT?? How can you say that??”
“No!” I quickly backpedaled. “Not that people were hurt! That’s horrible. Just the fact that there are Snufffweasels out there. I thought they were pretty much extinct.”
“Well, that’s easy for you to say! You’re not made of delicious bacon! I hear they have a real taste for pork products!”
Kevin was really worked up now, so I just patted him on the back and kept my thoughts to myself as we arrived at school.
• 4 •
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
Cotswin Middle School is a damp old dungeon of a building, and on rainy days like today it reeks of dark mold and soggy Tater Tots. It probably bothers me more than most, as trolls can smell a mincemeat pie from three villages away. No joke.
The entryway was full of kids stamping around and shaking off the rain. I was bent over drying off my soggy feet when one of the football giants casually pushed my backpack up over my head, pitching me forward onto my nose with my shirt shoved up around my ears.
Of course, everyone got a huge kick out of me with a face full of muddy mat water, and laughter rang out in the wet foyer. Savages! Neanderthals! Anyway . . . Welcome to Cotswin.
Let me say a word about the social ladder at Cotswin. I’ve taken the time to draw up a visual aid for you.
At the top, you’ve got your princes and princesses. They’re the true “populars.” Then come your knights and fair maidens. Just below that are the jocks, made up mostly of giants and ogres. Then come your wizards. They’re kind of all science-y and geeky, but they can also do some pretty cool tricks.
Then comes the general population—just your average kids: elves, gnomes, enchanted animals, etc. Below them are the minstrels, or band kids. A few kids are in rock minstrel bands, which elevates their status, but for the most part, this is where they settle in the social pecking order. Then, finally, on the bottom rung you have your trolls. The princesses and maidens aren’t exactly lining up to go to the school dances with my size-22, two hairy left feet. I try not to take it personally. Trolls have had it crappy since time began. It’s just the way it’s always been.
When I arrived at my locker, Kevin’s and my other good friend Chester was waiting for me with a big goofy grin.
A few words about Chester. First, I would say that he’s my Second Best Friend. Technically, he’s right up there with Kevin, but I’ve known Kevin a couple years longer, so . . . you know. He gets the Number 2 slot and seems okay with that. But if they were in some sort of weird best friend race, it’d be a photo finish.
Chester Flintwater is the son of the Notswin Court Jester. If you’re not familiar with what a jester does, they’re sort of like a clown whose job is to make the king laugh. They tell jokes, smash bottles over their head, fall down, shove breadsticks up their nose—whatever it takes to get a smile out of the big guy.
It is assumed that when Chester’s dad retires, Chester will take over the position of jester. And yes, this will make him “Chester the Jester.” This is the kind of rib-splitting hilarity one can expect when they have a clown for a father.
There is one problem, however. My friend Chester, God love him, is the least funny person I know. He tries. Oh, man does he try, but it’s just not in him. He’s constantly studying joke books, listening to old tapes of the Classic Days of Ye Olde Comedy show, and practicing his pratfalls. He actually keeps a rubber chicken on him at all times, no matter how many times I tell him they aren’t funny.
I think he lives in a bit of a state of panic, knowing what’s going to be expected of him. I’m telling you . . . it’s painful to watch at times.
Chester saw me looking all disheveled and muddy, and tried to think up a witty quip.
“Wow. Look at you. You look like a . . . uh . . .”
I waited. It’s best to let him try to work these things out.
“Like a . . . You look like . . .” His eyes searched the ground, trying to find something even remotely funny. You could almost hear the gears grinding in his head.
Finally his shoulders sagged. “Ah, I got nothin’. But I was close.”
“You’re getting there. Just keep practicing.” I gave him an encouraging smile as I popped open my locker.
Suddenly he brightened and pulled a wadded piece of paper out of his back pocket. “Did you see this?” He unfolded it and showed me a public notice—one of the official ones from the castle. I took the sheet and read it quickly.
I looked up at Chester and we were able to hold it together for about 1.3 seconds before we both burst out laughing.
“His valiant son Prince Roquefort?” I snorted, which brought even louder laughter from Chester. I went on. “Lord help us if our savior is Young Prince Cheeseball. Maybe the plan is to let a Snuffweasel chomp down on the little nimrod and then barf to death.” I was on a roll. “The day I put my safety in the Good Prince’s hands is the day I . . .” And that, friends, was when I noticed that Chester was no longer laughing. That was when I heard a clearing of a throat and that oh, so annoying voice pipe up from behind and a bit below me . . .
“Oh, I do hope you’re having a good laugh, Troll.”
• 5 •
ROQUEFORT ON THE SIDE
It was, of course, Prince Roquefort. Flanked by two of his ogre bodyguards. Timing has never been my strong suit, but this was really bad.
Prince Roquefort is not a pleasant person. To be more accurate, I would rank him as one of the slimiest, sneakiest, most horrible people to ever slither through Cotswin Middle School. But I should let you judge his horribleness for yourself.
“Hmm. Maybe I should report you to my father.” This was a classic Roquefort threat, but I could tell he was really steaming this time. “Wait . . . who’s my father? Oh, that’s right. He’s the KING. As in, the man who could crush your stupid little troll family like so many floppy-eared bugs. So maybe you should watch your stupid troll mouth.”
I knew these were empty threats. King Cheznott was considered a kind and fair king. A beloved king. Every troll in the kingdom had a warm place in their heart for him, as he’d done more for troll rights than any king since King Cleo. His first act as a young king had been signing the Troll Act of ’57, outlawing Punch-A-Troll Day for good.
My parents and Gramps could go on forever about him. How he had sired a human skid mark like Roquefort was anyone’s guess. But it wouldn’t do any good to get even further on the bad side of the king’s son. Besides, those ogre guards were not so subtly baring their teeth at me. I was seething, but I clenched my jaw and fists and kept my mouth shut.
“Where’s your other friend, the pig? Maybe the three of you together would have the courage to stand up to me rather than carry on about me when you think I’m not around.” He had one of those gross stringy white spit things going between his lips when he spoke, and it somehow made me even angrier.
And then . . . Prince Roquefort, the tiny tyrant of Cotswin, took things one step too far. He stood up on his toes and got as close to my face as he could. He spoke slowly and in a soft tone so that the crowd that had gathered had to lean in to catch every word.
“You know what you and your friends are?” His hot breath smelled like one of your stinkier cheeses. “You know what you are to this school? I’m going to tell you, because everyone else knows. You three are nothing but . . .”
There was an audible gasp from the students gathered around. And then I saw red.
• 6 •
YOU’RE DRAGON ME DOWN
There are several types of dragons in our region. You’ve got your Night Dragons, your Swamp Dragons . . . Then you’ve got your really cool ones, like Lava Dragons. Lava Dragons are the ones everyone draws on their folders and has posters of in their bedrooms.
They’re wicked-cool-looking, they shoot molten lava, and there are story after story about Lava Dragon battles in all of the coolest history books.
Then, you have your smaller, nuisance dragons. Your Plump Dragons, your Roof Dragons. These are more like big rats or birds than actual scary dragons. My dad has to put up plastic scaretrolls around our bridge to keep the Roof Dragons from pooping all over the house.
And then, unfortunately, there are Stink Dragons. A Stink Dragon is one of the foulest, smelliest creatures in all of the world.
One single Stink Dragon can bring down the property value of an entire village. They slither around leaving an awful sulfur-smelling trail of goo wherever they go. The village of Handel had an infestation of Stink Dragons two years ago and it just ruined them. They ended up burning the whole town down and starting over, just to get rid of that disgusting lingering fart smell. Nobody likes Stink Dragons. Period. End of story.