Beast Keeper #1
Lucy Coats; Illustrated by Brett Bean
Beasts of Olympus is a series of 144-page illustrated chapter books set in a magical Ancient Greece where strange things still walk the Earth. Beast Keeper tells the story of Pandemonius (a.k.a. "Demon," the half-god son of Pan) who, on his tenth birthday, is called upon to look after all the mythical creatures that belong to the stables of Olympus.
Excerpt from Beast Keeper #1
Demon was chatting to the chickens about eggs when his dad arrived. He’d never met his dad before, but he knew it was him all right. His dad had:
Thick, hairy, goaty legs.
Big curly horns.
Yellow eyes with black, slitted pupils.
No clothes to speak of.
And a set of silver reed pipes.
Demon’s dad was a god.
“Foxgodfoxgodfoxgodrunrunrunsquawwwwkkkk!” The chickens scattered across the yard, gabbling and squawking in terror. Demon kneeled in the dirt and bowed his head. He wasn’t too sure if that’s what you did with a dad, but it was certainly what you did with a god. Especially if that god was Pan, ruler of forests and all wild creatures. A god who could call up a pack of hungry bears that could rip you to bits in an instant.
“Pandemonius, my boy!” said his dad. Pan’s voice was like mossy bark on ancient trees. It was deep and velvety with a hint of crumbly roughness at the edges.
Even though it was Demon’s real name, no one ever called him Pandemonius. Even the mountain wolves called him Demon—and they tended to be rather formal in their speech. Demon was about to tell his dad how silly his full name sounded, when he felt a pair of huge hands under his armpits. He was lifted up into a god hug that smelled of pungent green things like goaty musk and old, stale blood.
“Good to meet you at last, my son. C’mon, let’s find your dear mother, Carys, and get your things together. Haven’t seen her in far too long. Not since you arrived in the world, in fact. By Zeus’s beard, how time flies.”
About two minutes later, a confused Demon found himself in the corner of the hut he shared with his mother. As he packed his few possessions into a bundle, he could see his dad whispering in his mom’s ear. When she’d seen Demon and his father walk in together, she dropped her best herb-chopping knife on the hard dirt floor. It nearly cut off her big toe. Now she kept saying, “But, but, but,” in a high-pitched voice. She sounded like Demon’s little black lamb, Barley, did when he wanted milk. She might as well have kept quiet. Pan stomped over her buts like a charging centaur.
“Pandemonius is coming with me,” he said at last. “And that’s final. You don’t want to offend the gods by refusing to let him go, now, do you?”
There was nothing much his mom could say to that, really. Mortals who offended gods usually ended up as little piles of scorched ash, or trees, or rocks. In the end, Pan dragged Demon forcibly out the door without more than a quick good-bye kiss and hug. A weeping Carys was left behind them waving a damp hankie.
Demon felt like crying, too. His mom was his whole family. He felt a fat, bumpy lump swelling bigger and bigger in his throat until he nearly couldn’t breathe. He didn’t dare ask where he was being taken, or what for. Even if he had dared, he didn’t know what to call his father, anyway. Your Godness? Your Holiness? Your Dadness? Until a few minutes ago, he’d been an ordinary eleven-year-old boy, living with his mom near an ordinary village in the middle of Arcadia. He spent his days looking after the goats and sheep and chickens, and hoeing the vegetables.
Although the fact that he could talk to animals was out of the ordinary. Everyone around his home knew he was the child of a god, and things like that happened to half-god kids. No one took much notice, really, except for the local farmers calling him in when their beasts were sick. Demon could find out what was wrong so his mom could say what herbs to prescribe for them. All the farmers got used to hearing Demon tell them that a sheep was saying, “My belly hurts,” instead of just “Baaaaah.” Now he was being wrenched away from everything he knew, all in an instant, by a father he didn’t even know how to speak to.
When they got to the edge of the forest, Pan stopped.
“IRIS!” The god bellowed. “EXPRESS FOR TWO! OLYMPUS BOUND!”
Demon felt his fat, bumpy throat lump get bigger still. Olympus? Why was he being taken to Olympus? That was where all the gods lived. What were they going to do to him? A horrid thought hit his brain like a speeding arrow. He couldn’t remember if the gods still liked human sacrifices or not. Perhaps that was what he was wanted for. Only . . . why had he packed all his stuff if they were just going to kill him? It wasn’t like Zeus was going to want his spare cloak, was it? Just then, right in front of his eyes, a rainbow burst from the sky and landed at their feet.
“Hop on, son,” said Pan. “Hold tight to me. The Iris Express can go a bit fast if you’re not used to it.”
Demon did as he was told. He squeezed his eyes shut and hung on to Pan’s big hairy waist. He felt his stomach drop away behind him. There was a loud whooshing sound and a strong smell of flowers. Wild roses, he thought, sniffing cautiously. He opened one eye a crack and looked down. Then he wished he hadn’t. He was standing on a see-through wisp of rainbow that was whizzing up in an arch into the sky. The earth was getting smaller and smaller behind him. The whole of Greece was laid out below like a wiggly green-and-amber hand in a dark purple pool of sea. He was just about to scream with terror when there was another whoosh and a thump. They burst through a misty barrier and landed.
“Here we are,” said Pan. He strode down off the rainbow toward some shining white temples.
Everything was enormous and very clean on Olympus (though Demon could smell an odd and rather nasty sort of pooey stench in the air). There were all kinds of nymphs and cherubs flitting about among gigantic multicolored blooms and trees with bunches of silvery golden fruit hanging from them. Demon had to run to keep up with Pan. His bundle banged against his back. Suddenly, he felt really angry. How dare his dad just turn up and kidnap him like this without telling him anything? It wasn’t fair! If he was going to be sizzled and frizzled as a sacrifice, he wanted to know why.
“Hey!” Demon yelled. “Hey, you! Stop!”
Pan stopped. He turned around very slowly, his eyes flashing green fire. The nymphs and cherubs flicked out of sight rather abruptly.
“Are you yelling ‘Hey, you!’ at ME, boy?” he asked, very quietly.
Demon gulped a bit, but he wasn’t going to back down. He nodded. His mom always said his worst fault was that he never knew when to be polite and keep his mouth shut in front of his elders and betters, but this time he just didn’t care.