Hamster Princess: Ratpunzel
Rapunzel gets a rodent twist in book three of the critically acclaimed and uproariously funny series that’s perfect for fans of Princess in Black and Babymouse
Princess Harriet Hamsterbone does not like sitting around at home. How’s a princess supposed to have any fun when her parents are constantly reminding her to be careful and act princessly? So when her pal Prince Wilbur needs help finding a stolen hydra egg, Harriet happily takes up the quest. The thief’s trail leads them to a wicked witch and a tall tower, occupied by a rat whose tail has more to it than meets the eye!
The third book in the award-winning comic hybrid Hamster Princess series will make you look at rodents, royalty, and fairy tales in a whole new light.
Excerpt from Hamster Princess: Ratpunzel
Harriet Hamsterbone had come home to her parents’ castle, and she was already starting to regret it.
“Where have you been?” cried her mother, the queen, descending on her with a washcloth. “And how did you get sogrubby?”
“I was saving princesses in the mouse kingdom,” said Harriet, squirming away from the washcloth. She’d gotten home late and hadn’t taken a bath before bed, but that was no reason to go flinging washcloths at her as if she were a little kid. “It was important.”
“Saving princesses is all very good,” said the queen, “but who’s going to save you? You’re not invincible anymore, dear.”
“I’ll save myself,” said Harriet, puzzled. “That’s why I’ve got a sword. And Mumfrey.” (Mumfrey was her trusty battle quail.)
“Is it Tuesday?” asked the king, wandering into the room. “It feels like Tuesday . . .”
“It’s Thursday, dear,” said Harriet’s mother, distracted.
“Are you sure?”
“Oh. Hmm. What happened to Wednesday?” Her father patted Harriet’s shoulder absently. “Hello, honey. Did you have fun in the mouse kingdom?”
“I helped knock the mouse king’s castle down,” said Harriet, which was only a slight exaggeration.
The queen pressed a hand to her forehead. “Harriet! Did you apologize?”
“He was a bad king, Mom! He had gone to a very dark place in pursuit of organizational excellence!” (This was an understatement. The mouse king had been color-coding his guards and treating his daughters like a matched set. It had not gone well.)
“I suppose we can rule out getting a prince for you to marry from there,” said her mother grimly. “Honestly, Harriet! You’ve terrified every eligible royal bachelor in ten kingdoms, and your room is a disaster.”
“It can’t be Thursday,” said the king, winking at Harriet. “If it was Thursday, that would mean that we were having high tea with the Archbishop of Rodentbury, and I don’t have any clean crowns.”
The queen swung toward Harriet’s father, her mouth falling open. “We are! In twenty minutes! I told you yesterday!”
“Is that what happened to Wednesday . . . ?”
The queen held the washcloth aloft. “You’re coming with me!” she cried.
Harriet mouthed thank you silently to her father as her mother dragged him out of the room.
Harriet decided that maybe she’d been home long enough. She grabbed a fresh change of clothes from her dresser, raided the kitchen for sandwich materials, and scurried down to the stables.
Mumfrey the quail poked his beak over the stall door. He’d had a good meal of birdseed and was ready to head back out again, if that’s what his rider wanted.
Harriet led him out of the stables and through the gate, and swung herself up on quailback.
The castle shrank behind her.
“It’s good to go home again,” said Harriet. “If only so that you canleave home again.”
After a while, as Mumfrey trotted along, Harrietstarted to sing.
There are undoubtedly princesses out there with beautiful singing voices. Harriet was not one of them. She was good at hitting monsters with swords. Hittingnotes was a little beyond her.
Mumfrey made it through twenty minutes of tuneless singing and was very glad when he saw someone in the distance.
The quail pointed one wing. Far down the road, a quailback rider was charging toward them.
“Oh,” said Harriet. “Man, they’re coming in fast too . . .”
She pulled Mumfrey’s reins up and waited.
The rider did not slow down. If anything, he sped up.
“Hey, I think it’s Wilbur!”
It was indeed her friend Wilbur, a prince from the next kingdom over. He was bent low over the neck of his own riding quail, and his expression was grim.
He pulled up in front of Mumfrey and Harriet and practically fell out of the saddle. His quail, Hyacinth, dropped her head, panting.
“Jeez,” said Harriet. “What’s wrong? Is something on fire? Is your mother okay?”
“Harriet,” gasped Wilbur. “You have to help.” He staggered to Mumfrey’s side and grabbed Harriet’s ankle. “You have to help!”
“Of course I’ll help,” said Harriet. “What do you need me to do?”
“It’s Heady,” said Wilbur.
“Your hydra? What’s wrong?”
“Her egg,” he said. “It’s been stolen.”
Riding quails can’t fly, but they can hop while flapping frantically. It’s a good way to cover rough ground that they can’t run over, because the quails’ feet only touch the ground every few yards. This specialized gait is called “shlopping” and is well known among quail-riders everywhere.
If you are riding a quail who is shlopping, you cling to the reins as tightly as you can and try not to fall off. When the quail comes in for a landing, you stand in the stirrups so that you are not bounced brutally against the quail’s back.
Above all else, you try not to think about how ridiculous you (and your quail) must look.
Wilbur and Harriet were taking the shortcut to Wilbur’s mom’s castle, which involved a lot of rocky terrain. Trying to run across it would have been dangerous for everyone involved, so they were shlopping.
Wilbur was not terribly good at it and kept missing the landings. He was looking a little seasick by the time the castle came into view.
It’s very hard to communicate effectively while shlopping, so Harriet had not learned anything important, other than that the egg was missing and Heady the hydra was devastated.
“Why would anyone want to steal a hydra egg?” moaned Wilbur as they finally reached the road and settled into a more normal trot.
“Presumably they wanted a baby hydra,” said Harriet. “Or a really big omelet, I guess . . .”
Wilbur shuddered. “Don’t say anything about omelets to Heady! She’s already upset!”
“Any chance that the egg could simply have been misplaced?”
Wilbur gave her a sideways look. “You’ve never seen a hydra egg, have you?”
Harriet had to admit that she had not.
“They’re the size of a desk. It’s not like you can just put one down for a minute and forget what you did with it.”
“Right!” said Harriet. “I will investigate the scene of the crime! No one steals an innocent monster’s egg on my watch!”
“Just . . . be nice to Heady,” said Wilbur.
The castle that Wilbur’s mother ran was small and rather run-down. The family fortunes had vanished long ago and left them with a castle that was expensive to keep up. Wilbur worked a variety of odd jobs to bring in money to fix the leaks in the roof.
Despite the disrepair, it was a cheerful little castle. Wilbur’s mother was always cutting flowers in the meadow and arranging them in the hallways. It usually smelled like fresh-baked bread.
It was jarring to walk inside and hear loud sobbing from downstairs.
They left the quails in the courtyard and rushed down the steps to the basement, toward the sobbing sounds.
A hydra has nine snake-like heads, and every single one of Heady’s was crying. Wilbur’s mother was holding tissues for one of the heads and saying “There, there,” because that’s the only thing to say when someone is crying. (Which is rather odd, when you think about it, because if you are crying because your egg has been stolen, “There, there” is much less helpful than “I’ve found your egg” or even “I will find your egg” or possibly “I will find those responsible for stealing your egg and beat them about the head and shoulders.”)
“Oh, Heady!” said Wilbur. “It’ll be okay! I brought Harriet!”
One head sniffled and turned toward the stairs.
“Harriet’s going to get your egg back,” said Wilbur. “You remember Harriet. She’s invincible.”
“Well, not anymore . . .” said Harriet, but this didn’t seem like the best time to get into the details.
Several more heads turned toward her.
“Can you show me where you saw the egg last?” asked Harriet.
Heady nodded and shuffled aside, leading the way into the back corner of the room.
The basement was warm and damp. Pipes zigzagged across the ceiling, dripping water onto the floor.
In the farthest corner, Heady had built a nest. It did not look like a bird nest built of twigs. Hydras are more like snakes or crocodiles, so Heady’s nest was a lumpy mound, about knee high, and seemed to be made mostly of mud and old towels.
The hydra scuffed at the depression in the middle of the empty nest and let out another sob.
“She took very good care of the egg,” said Wilbur’s mother. “She checked on it every hour and she slept down here at night. I don’t want you to think that Heady was careless in the least!”
“Nobody’s saying that,” said Harriet, patting one of the heads. “Heady’s agreat mom. When did the egg go missing?”
“Hisssss-sss-ssss,” said Heady.
“Early in the morning,” translated Wilbur.
“She got up to make breakfast and when she came back, the egg wasgone,” said Wilbur’s mother. “Oh, you should see her make breakfast! Six heads with frying pans and three to crack the eggs. It’s amazing.”
Harriet nodded. She was familiar with Heady’s astonishing cooking skills. “Anybody strange going in or out of the castle?”
“You can’t think it was the gardener,” said Wilbur’s mother. “He’s ninety years old and the only thing he cares about is plants.”
“Are you sure?” asked Harriet. “No secret egg-smuggling rings?”
Harriet had to admit that it seemed unlikely.
She stared at the muddy nest.
It wasn’t a very pretty nest. It wasn’t the sort of place where you’d expect to find something valuable. In fact, if you were looking for something valuable, you probably wouldn’t go looking in Wilbur’s castle in the first place.
“They knew the egg was here,” said Harriet slowly. “It wasn’t random. They didn’t just break in looking for stuff. Whoever took it must haveknown you had a hydra egg.” She crouched down in front of the nest, looking closely at the mud.
“It’s not like Heady’s a secret,” said Wilbur’s mother. She patted the hydra.
“Hiss-sss-ss,” said Heady sadly. One of her other heads teared up again.
“But who would have done this?” asked Wilbur, wringing his hands.
“I don’t know,” said Harriet, standing up. “And I don’t know where they’ve gone or how they got in undetected.”
She pointed at one corner of the nest. “But I do know that they left a footprint.”