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Marco Polo glared at the menacing knight standing at the other end of his family's trophy room. The sixteen-year-old boy saw his curly brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and thin, wiry frame ref ected in the knight's enormous blade and polished armor. This was a matt er of life or death; it would take only one slice for that knight to cut him in half.
"This is the house of Niccolo, Maff eo, and Lorenzo Polo," Marco said in the most confident voice he could muster. "You are an intruder, and I order you to leave."
The knight tightened his armored fingers around his sword.
Nothing changed. The knight was still there, silent and menacing as ever.
"Fine," Marco said. "You can't say I didn't warn you."
Marco glanced around the trophy room, trying to figure out a plan. The room was lined with enormous wooden bookcases full of old, carefully bound books. Above the bookcases the walls were decorated with paintings of the Polo family, artifacts Marco's father brought home from his travels, and shields bearing the Polo family crest. There had to be something he could use....
Before Marco could fi nish his thought, the knight let out a yell, raised his sword over his head, and came charging madly in Marco's direction.
Quickly, Marco jumped onto the shelf of a nearby bookcase, yanked a shield with the Polo crest off the wall, and positioned himself behind it as he leaped back down.
Within seconds, the knight's powerful blade smashed against the shield. Marco's body shook from the impact.
"Coward!" Marco said. "If you came here to kill me" Marco lifted his shield to fend off another att ack "at least fi ght fair and give me a weapon!" The knight's sword hit Marco's shield again. "Or are you afraid, because I'm the finest young swordsman in Venice?"
Marco glanced quickly past the knight between blows and spotted one of his grandfather's wooden canes lying on the floor.
Before the knight could stop him, Marco dove, rolled between the knight's armored legs, and broke into a run toward the cane.
Snapping it up, Marco turned and pointed it threateningly in the knight's direction. "Ha! Who's the scared one now?"
With three quick swipes of his sword, the knight cut the cane into pieces.
Changing tactics, Marco fl exed his legs, shot forward, and pushed into the knight, using his shield like a batt ering ram. The knight stumbled, caught by surprise. Marco pushed harder into the knight, slamming him into a bookcase, and the sword slipped from the knight's hand at the moment of impact.
Marco snatched up the sword with a triumphant shout and immediately brought the blade to the knight's chest. "I told you not to mess with Marco Polo!"
The knight raised his head and said something that was muffled by his metal headpiece. It sounded like "mmmm mm mmm mmmmm!"
"What?" Marco asked, confused.
"Mmmm mm mmm mmmmmm!" the knight said with urgency. He motioned toward the tall bookcase behind him, stacked full with hundreds of books, wobbling dangerously from the recent impact.
Marco looked up at the bookcase and his eyes grew wide. "Oh, no..."
The bookcase wobbled once more, then pitched forward, everything inside crashing down on Marco and the knight, instantly burying them both under a sea of books. Copyright © 2009 by Virgil Howard
Marco's grandfather, Lorenzo Polo, slowly opened the door to the trophy room.
His wrinkled face grew stern as he saw the toppled bookcase, the enormous pile of books, and Marco in the middle of them, alongside a figure wearing the metal headpiece of a knight. Two armored hands lift ed off the headpiece, revealing the pale face and blond hair of a fifteen-year-old boy.
"Marco Polo and Amelio Strauss," Marco's grandfather said in his stern, commanding voice.
The two boys turned as one, shocked to see Lorenzo standing by the open door. Lorenzo's long, tousled gray hair hung around his shoulders, and his thick eyebrows were arched into an angry V.
Marco's and Amelio's faces immediately flushed with embarrassment.
"What in the world is going on in here?" Lorenzo asked. "Amelio, are you wearing armor? Did you take that from the armory?"
"No, sir! Or yes, sir, I am wearing armor, but it's "
Marco interrupted him. "It's my fault," he said, getting up from the pile of books. "All of it. I snuck into the armory last night, and I took the suit of armor. I made Amelio put it on."
Lorenzo's face radiated disappointment. "Why?"
"I wanted him to act like a knight. Invading the house. To be sure I could protect us."
Lorenzo looked at Marco incredulously. "Protect us, Marco? From what?"
"In case anything happened!" Marco said, his voice rising. "My father's been gone so long, and...I needed to know that I could. I even told Amelio to go rough on me, take me by surprise...."
Lorenzo held up his hand and Marco grew silent. Lorenzo looked at his grandson's earnest face, so much like his own when he was a boy, and took a deep breath.
Lorenzo turned to Amelio. "Amelio Strauss, stand up and listen very closely to what I'm about to say."
Amelio stood, armor clanking, still holding the metal headpiece in his hands. He lowered his head in respect.
"I knew your grandfather very well, and I've known your father since the day he was born. Generations of your family have lived and worked at the Polo household, and for that we are extremely grateful," Lorenzo said. "Because our families have a special relationship, you and I are going to make a deal. Very soon, you will leave this room, head down to the armory, and take off that armor. You will polish it and return it to its rack. Then you will leave the armory, forget it exists, and I will never see you in there again. Is that clear?"
"Good," Lorenzo said, nodding his head. "In return, I will do what old men do and forget I saw you here today. That will save me from growing upset at my age, one should grow upset as infrequently as possible. Are we agreed?"
"Yes, sir. We are, sir," Amelio said, unable to fight back a slight smile.
"Then go and do what I told you before I start remembering."
At that, Amelio ran out of the room as fast as he could, armor clanking loudly with each step.
With Amelio gone, Marco looked at his grandfather warily. "I don't suppose you're willing to forget about me, too?"
"Unfortunately, when it comes to my grandson, my memory's quite a bit sharper." Lorenzo looked down and saw several books on the fl oor by his feet. He picked one up and thumbed through it. "Marco, did you know some of these books are over a hundred years old? Look at the artifacts on the walls. Do you realize what your father went through to fi nd them in the first place?"
Marco studied the artifacts on the walls for the thousandth time. The mounted ceramic plate covered in strange, cryptic symbols, with two dueling dragons in its center. The fist-shaped black rock hanging next to it, always ice-cold to the touch, even when Marco stole it one night and held it for hours over a fire. Marco spent far too much time imagining the adventures his father found himself on to obtain these and the rest of the artifacts...and far too little time going on any adventures himself.
Lorenzo put his hand on Marco's shoulder, his grip loving but firm. "I know it's been hard on you since your father went away again. But you know better than to play in this room. Tell me, Marco, have you even finished your warehouse inventories yet?"
Marco looked down at his feet. "Not quite."
"The inventories that were supposed to be done yesterday?"
Marco didn't say a word.
Lorenzo sighed. "You're not a boy anymore, Marco. You're training to become the chief accountant for the Polo trading venture, and it's a huge responsibility. Your father and uncle risk their lives to open new trading routes, and they've expanded our business farther than anyone imagined. But you and I have to hold up our end of the bargain back home to keep things running."
"There are some things I have to att end to, so we'll finish this conversation later. For now, pick up every one of these books, then go straight to the clerk's chambers and stay there until your inventories are finished. Is that understood?"
Lorenzo sighed again, patted Marco on the back, then walked out of the room. Seconds later Marco heard Lorenzo's voice calling from the hallway. "And Marco, don't think I didn't see my ruined cane! We'll talk about that later!"
Marco walked over to the pieces of the cane, picked up the largest one and held it until Lorenzo was out of earshot. As soon as he was, Marco grunted with frustration. Then he dropped it on the fl oor, kicked it across the room, and watched it crash into the opposite wall with a loud thwack! Copyright © 2009 by Virgil Howard
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
best book ever
This book is a great summer read, boys and girls will both enjoy the action. I didn't not want the book to end, and I am hoping for a sequel!
Reason for Reading: An historical fantasy featuring Marco Polo is an ideal theme to tickle my fancy. Comments: 16yo Marco Polo's father, Niccolo, has been kidnapped on his last exploration and through a rather round about way Marco, along with his best friend Amelio (son of the family servant), journey to Constantinople, where they will start a rescue mission. Traveling across Asia, through the desert, into the Unknown Lands where Marco is being followed by the minions of a sorcerer who has harnessed so much evil power that he may no longer be human. These are then the early unrecorded adventures of Marco Polo.This was a riveting read and caught me from the first chapter. Very well written, the language and dialogue flow naturally and I often enjoyed scenes simply because of the writing. Impressive for a first novel. Sometimes books create pictures in your mind as you read, and for me this was such a one. Best described as an Indiana Jones-type plot we have adventure after adventure all over the Asian continent, from small market towns to travel across the burning desert to the courts of Kublai Khan. Swordplay abounds wherever they are. Throw in the magical element of the East, sorcerers, the reverence of dragons, the elementals, and we have a plot that doesn't stop. I really enjoyed the mixture of historical content, the Asian aspects with the fantasy elements.With the book being plot driven this does cause characterization to suffer. Most characters are not fully realized except for Marco, whom I felt had a well developed character. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the other characters but just wanted to know more about them and care for them more. While the book is wrapped up nicely and seems to be a stand-alone, there is a feel to it that this may be the first in a series. Amazon seems to think is labeling it as "The Adventures of Marco Polo" but I can find no official information. Guess, we'll just have to wait and see! If another book does come out, will I read it? You betcha!