Cethosia and Papilio caught the breeze and were off. They climbed and climbed to catch an air current that would keep the sea on their left wings. Flying along they felt a thrill of exhilaration and excitement.
The clouds billowed and tumbled up to the highest reaches of the sky, like giant castles hastily heaped together by impatient gods. As they flew along, the sun started to sink over the mountains to the west, throwing out searing splashes of orange and fiery streaks of red, dragging the night sky behind it like a giant blanket.
Then, the first stars started to twinkle in the east, like children's eyes peeping out from the shadows.
“We should find a place for the night!” yelled Papilio. “Let's go down and see what's in that forest over there.”
The two butterflies, who had become expert flyers by now, let themselves out of the airstream and floated back to earth like a pair of richly coloured autumn leaves.
They came down into a copse of banksia trees, with three tall gums standing centinal.
Stepping lightly onto a branch, next to a rich red banksia flower, they delicately supped the nectar.
A Christmas beetle, with golden, speckled wings came over and made herself comfortable on the branch. Her children were soon running about and tumbling over each other.
Cethosia laughed as two little beetles, who were playing a game of chasing, ran under her legs. Papilio pretended to ignore them until little Jonathon stood on his foot.
“Ouch!” started Papilio, looking around indignantly.
Cethosia laughed, and put her arm around the little beetle.
Mrs Beetle came over to the two butterflies.
“Hello, are you staying here for the night?” asked Mrs Beetle.
“Yes,” replied Cethosia. “We are on our way to the realm of Queen Arcadia. Do you know if it is far away?”
“I have heard of it,” said Mrs Beetle, “but only in legend. My parents used to tell me stories of the Killer Wasps that surround it and of the Evil Queen, Regan. I only know that if you fly with the sea to your left your are supposed to find it.”
“We are very tired,” said Papilio. “Would you mind standing guard while we have a little sleep. Wake me in a while and I will look out while you sleep.”
“That is very sensible,” said Mrs Beetle. “You sleep over there and I will put my children to bed.”
With a shrill cry Mrs Beetle soon had her children scurrying around her legs. They knew that shrill sound meant to come home at once. Mrs Beetle led them to a shelter and tucked them in bed.
The stars were like Chinese sparklers scattered across the ebony sky.
It was quiet and still.
After a while the sounds of night insects and small ground animals going about their business floated through the air.
A light breeze slowly stirred the leaves. Mrs Beetle sitting near her children listened. In the distance, the sharp cry of a bird or a night animal, closer still, the sound of insects flying about and bumping into the branches and leaves.
Small sounds of the night.
A scratch. A faint scratch.
Mrs Beetle looked up.
The night sounds continuing .....
Another scratch, a little nearer.
Mrs Beetle looked around again.
A scratch, followed by a sudden rush of movement.
“WATCH OUT! FLY! IT'S MR LIZARD!” shrilled Mrs Beetle, flying into the night, her children swarming around her.
The two butterflies immediately awoke and flew straight up into the night sky.
The lizard remained standing on the branch, looking at his supper flying away to the next tree, his head moving slowly from side to side.
“My heart is beating so fast. Thank you Mrs Beetle,” cried Cethosia. “ Are all your children safe?”
“Yes, thank you,” said Mrs Beetle, who laughed a little nervously and pointed to one of her children, “Although little Jonathon bumped his head because he was sleeping under a twig, but otherwise we are all fine.”
Little Jonathon sat next to Mrs Beetle rubbing his head and looking a little sad and sleepy.
“I will stay awake now, if you would like to sleep Mrs Beetle,” said Papilio. “You can get some more sleep Cethosia. It will be another long day tomorrow.”
“I am still excited from the lizard,” said Cethosia. “I would like to stay awake with you Papilio, if you please.”
Papilio was very pleased.
Mrs Beetle gently herded the children into a safe place and after settling in front of them, went to sleep.
Cethosia and Papilio sat together in silence. After a while Papilio took Cethosia's hand in his. They sat listening to the sounds of the night. The moon climbed into the night sky, basking the world in soft golden light, and smiling down benevolently on the two butterflies.
Cethosia soon fell asleep.
Papilio gazed at her and sighed ..... whispering ..... “You are the most beautiful butterfly in all the world, and I will protect you forever with my life.”
He then brushed her wing lightly, and settled down for the long night watch.
A faint, rose-pink glow heralded the new dawn. Banks of grey clouds hugged the horizon, like giants still slumbering, still resting on the edge of the ocean, far out to the east.
Slowly, one patch of cloud started to glow brighter and brighter. Soon it was sparkling, silver lights dancing in and about, like children too excited to stay in bed.
Then, the top of the sun's head peeked out. The clouds welled up and the sun disappeared. As if it had thought it was too early and gone back to bed. The silver lights, like naughty children, were soon jumping and twinkling around the clouds, telling the sun to get up. "It's time to get up!"
Then the sun rose up, heaving itself into the sky and smiling down on the earth, basking it in orange hues of dawn light and casting the first shadows of the day - long dawn shadows that flowed through the leaves like treacle.
“Wake up, Cethosia, wake up,” whispered Papilio, gently shaking Cethosia's shoulder.
“Oh, Ummm.” Cethosia blinked her eyes, and then seeing Papilio she smiled, and felt warm and happy all over.
“Hello, Papilio,” she said sleepily, then with a start.
“Why did you not wake me to stand guard?”
“You were tired, so I let you sleep. I wasn't tired anyway,” replied Papilio, stifling a big yawn.
Cethosia smiled to herself.
“Thank you Papilio, but I must take my turn from now on.”
“Let's have some breakfast and then head off again,” said Papilio. He walked over to a flower and delicately sniffed inside.
“Good morning,” said Mrs Beetle. “How are you this beautiful morning?”
“We are both very well Mrs Beetle, thank you,” said Cethosia, “What do you plan to do today?”
“Oh, I think I might stay here for a while and let the children play. Before you go, I would like to warn you about the Deep Gorge you have to cross today. It is the Kingdom of the Killer Wasps. There is a castle in the centre shaped like an old gnarled tree where King Exeirus lives. If you are to cross over the gorge, you must fly low through the shrubs and make sure you are not seen.”
“Thank you, Mrs Beetle,” said Papilio. “Is there no way around this gorge?”
“No. It is said that Regan caused a terrible gash in the earth with one of her lightening bolts. That gash became the Deep Gorge. Regan gave it to King Exeirus as his Kingdom. It goes on for ever and ever, and no-one has ever found the end,” replied Mrs Beetle.
“We will be careful then,” said Cethosia. “Goodbye Mrs Beetle. Goodbye children.”
“Goodbye and good luck!” called out Mrs Beetle, waving to the two butterflies as they flew up into the sky, searching for a wind to carry them along. They were careful to keep the ocean to the left of their wings.
End of preview
There are 11 Chapters - Cethosia will be published as soon as I have found an illustrator.