Galen, the nine-banded armadillo, must accept the Tex, the ambitious outsider, as leader of the search for the fabled Faralone Falls, a place they can finally call home. But on the frontier, survival is the only thing that matters. Follow the armadillos on this epic quest for a home.
VAGABONDS is an American fantasy set in the Ozark mountains. Like El Garro's clan, we are a nation of immigrants, people who have known the sacrifice of leaving everything behind in hopes of finding a future and a hope for their families.
•Your heart will ache for Galen as he must leave behind his Four sisters.
•You'll weep with him when he finds his brother, Rafael, who has been blinded–and yet, he sees.
•You'll marvel at the courage and compassion of these endearing vagabonds as they push the very boundaries of their world in search for a home.
Travel for a season with Galen, Corie, Victor, Blaze and Rafael. Experience the Ozark Mountains in all their glory – an American fantasy. This isn't a fast read; instead, it's a compelling read.
I discovered Darcy Pattison's children's books before I worked with her as a publisher—at the aquarium, of all places, with my daughter. So, when I had the chance to work with her, I was thrilled. A renowned children's author, her books have been recognized for excellence by starred reviews, Book of the Year awards, state award lists and more. Vagabonds is a wonderful introduction to her compelling work. – Allyson Longueira
"Really enjoyed this one. Reminded me of the epic quests of Watership Down and the Cold Moons. A book about family and finding home. I also appreciated the author being true to the factual information about armadillos. I live in Texas and am a fan of the little nine banded fellows we have locally, and yes, they do have litters of single sexes only. ;-)"– Amazon review
"Before WATERSHIP DOWN came out, some people might have scoffed at the idea of heroic rabbits. Those same people might raise their eyebrows at the idea of armadillos on a quest, but it didn't take long for me to become invested in Galen's story as he did his best to raise his four younger sisters before giving into his compulsion to trek. Galen actually has a chance to break the age-old curse that has forced his ancestors north through Mexico and across the Rio Grand when he sets off with his old friend Corrie and an ambitious stranger named Victor."– Kristin Nitz, author
"There are many interesting concepts presented in "Vagabonds," including armadillo traditions, the "curse" that compels them to search for a legendary haven, an age-old mythology that has shaped the characters' views on life and the world. . .there are some nice descriptive moments, and I can see how the author's love for the Ozarks pours into her narrative."– Goodreads Review
Chapter 1: WHAT NEWS?
Above the armadillo's den, the western sky was ablaze with red, coral, and dark purple, while the eastern sky was just dark enough for stars to begin twinkling.
Galen, the nine-banded armadillo, yawned in fatigue and pushed out into the open. From deep under the oak, his Sisters scrambled up the tunnel after him. Galen breathed deeply, nose quivering, cherishing the smells. There were the freshwater stream down the hill, the hickory tree where he dug grubs yesterday, and the sharp tang of pines. The smells of home.
Without looking back, Galen ambled down the slope, stopping now and again, to root for bugs in the leaf litter. The Four Sisters would take their time stretching their tiny claws and waking up. Maybe, he could steal a bit of privacy and get a quick bath before—
A dark shadow swooped toward the band of armadillos.
"Down!" he yelled.
On the hillside above him, the Four Sisters instinctively hunched, curling as far as their armor allowed, protecting their soft bellies. Galen swelled with pride at their silence, pride at how still they held themselves. They were almost invisible in the dusk—except for Number Two twitching her tail. Oh! Fear stabbed him in the gut: his Sisters were too little to protect themselves.
Be still, he wanted to cry. But silence was their best de-fense.
Half-curled himself, Galen anxiously scanned the canopy of trees, looking for the intruder. From a nearby pine came a soft hoot.
"Hoo, hoo! Galen?"
"It's OK." Galen called in relief. "It's only Blaze."
Then, a deeper restlessness twisted inside him, and Galen uncurled and scurried downhill toward the pine where the light-colored barn own was easy to spot in the twilight. She was large for a female, with creamy white feathers, except where the darker tufts framed her face.
"What news? Good? Or bad?"
On wide wings, the owl flapped silently to the lowest branch. "News and more news!"
"Garcia and Rafael?" Galen rose and waved his forelegs in anticipation. His brothers had gone north last month with all the other two year olds. Galen should have joined them, would have joined them, except—
The Four Sisters tumbled, somersaulted, shrieked and squealed down the slope in a blur of gray. They smashed into Galen and flipped him into the creek.
He sputtered and scolded, half in annoyance and half in relief that the danger hadn't been real. He kicked and slapped his tail until he cleared a space around him; then he stood very still. Caring for his sisters, the responsibility of it all, weighed heavy on Galen sometimes, especially the older they got and the farther they ranged from the den. But mo-ments like this lightened the load.
Number Three charged, then danced back, cautious as always. Galen waited. The Sisters circled closer. He waited, feeling the Sisters gather themselves for the attack. Closer. He waited. Then Number One inched too close, and he pounced. He shoved her under the water in a powerful dunking.
She came up, ready for a mock fight.
But Galen backed away. "Not now! I need to talk to Blaze."
His tone was serious enough that the Sisters obeyed. They turned to play in the shallows, splashing away the fuzz-iness of the day's sleep, leaving Galen and Blaze to talk.
Galen shook the water from his armor, and then dug his claws into the gravel bar to stop his shivering. He repeated, more urgently, "What news?"
Blaze chirped a couple times, as if she had to swallow laughter, before she could discuss anything serious. "Garcia and Rafael. Fast travelers. Gone already from my territory."
"But your cousins watch them?"
"Hoo, hoo. They try."
"Gone from my territory," Galen repeated. Gone. Magi-cal words. Without warning, the curse of his people bubbled up and spun him around to face north. The ancient curse decreed that they travel north until they find their ancestral home and the Faralone Falls. They had already crossed the southern continent and were far into the northern continent. But still they traveled north, with no answer to the question of how much farther they must go.
All Galen knew was that he wanted, he needed—more than anything else, to follow the stream northward. His wedge-shaped face lifted from the creek to the trees. The owls told tales about streams and rivers winding through the wooded hills of the Ozark Mountains. Galen longed for a home where he'd never have to trek, but the curse was stronger than his longing. When he did get to trek, he would see new things every day, wake in a new den each evening, walk north, ever northward. For now, his Sisters kept him so busy. It wasn't common, but armadillos were able to resist the curse, for a time. Galen felt the pressure building within, the longing to travel growing ever stronger. Sooner or lat-er—Sisters or not—he must go north.
He dropped his head and drank deeply, pulling himself back to the cold water of the creek and his noisy Sisters and the silent Blaze. Looking up, the color had already drained from the sky and the evening crickets and cicadas had taken up their strident calls.
Galen gulped and whispered, "What other news?"
"Hoo, hoo. El Garro sends greetings to all of his Colony. Bids you come to the Great Clearing near where the South Fork and North Fork rivers come together. Tomorrow night."
"What's this about?"
"Big things afoot. Hoo, hoo!" She flapped in excitement.
"You must come and see."
Galen spun away in frustration at the owl's evasive an-swer. "No. That's too far to travel with four babies!" Fear throbbed in his throat. "Tell El Garro I can't make it."
Blaze tilted her heart-shaped face. "You must come! El Garro said, 'Be sure he understands. Galen, especially, must come.'"
"No!" Galen spoke to an empty branch.
Winging away overhead, Blaze called, "When the full moon rises. Tomorrow. The Great Clearing."
With dismay, Galen watched his Sisters tromping through the creek. How would he get all four of them safely to the Great Clearing? Ever since his parents were killed by the Road Machines six weeks ago, he'd been both mother and father to them.
He had visited his parents' den that night to say a tearful goodbye since he planned to go the next day to El Garro for his trekking assignment. Once he started trekking, he might never see his parents again. Besides, he hated to be alone on the dark nights of the new moon. They invited him to sleep over, just as he had expected. They took advantage of his presence to watch the babies so they could take a romantic stroll. For some reason—did they get lost in the new moon darkness?—they crossed the Black Road, and the glaring lights of a Road Machine startled them. When his parents didn't come home, Galen discovered the horrible accident. It was the worst death an armadillo could suffer: Black Road and buzzards.
While he mourned their ignoble deaths, Galen thought deeply about the situation of his people. Armadillos were vagabonds, compelled to move on by the ancient curse. It had forced the armadillos to leave the jungles of the far south and travel across a continent in search of the Faralone Falls. Their children were forced to always look northward for their future, as he must do from now on. He would have only temporary homes until death brought a final home. When would the lives of his people change? When would the curse—the pull toward the north—be lifted?
Galen had scant time for such thinking, though. The Four Sisters hadn't quite been weaned, and the first few days were awful, grieving for his parents, trying to get the babies to eat solid foods and keeping them together. With so little sleep, he found himself dozing at odd times: he was terrified that a baby or two might wander away and stumble onto the Black Road. For safety, he moved them farther into the woods to his own den and did the best he could for them.
When the Sisters were old enough, Galen had always planned to take them to meet the rest of the family. He still thought they needed to grow for another full moon before they traveled, but when El Garro called a family meeting, no one dared be absent. If they traveled all night without stop-ping, they might make it before dawn. What would he feed them as they traveled? Where would they sleep if they didn't make it to the Clearing that night?
"Gone from my territory," he murmured with longing. If they made it to the Great Clearing, someone else—perhaps, Felix, the oldest brother of his quad—would take responsi-bility for the Sisters. Galen could start his trek.
He doubted they would make it in time for the meeting, but they'd have to try. When El Garro called, Galen obeyed.
Turning back to the creek, he called, "Let's go."
Instantly, the Sisters lined up on the bank. They were beautiful armadillo babies, or so Galen thought. When they batted their long eyelashes and wiggled their pointed ears, every annoyance disappeared. Galen could easily tell them apart, even though they were identical quadruplets. Number One was so curious it took her twice as long to go anywhere, which was just as well since the first-born of a quad wasn't compelled by the curse to trek. Number Two's tail had been broken once and healed crooked. Number Three wasn't scared exactly, but just cautious to try anything new: no strange foods for her. Number Four was always hungry; Ga-len felt a special bond with her since he was fourth-born of his quad, too.
Number Four gnawed desperately on an old sassafras root while the others danced about. "We're hungry!" Still babies, each was five or six pounds of pure energy, which meant they needed food. Lots of food.
Already, stars glittered coldly across the entire sky. Galen fretted at the time it would take to eat, but he had no choice. Without food, the Sisters would tire easily and couldn't make the trip to the Great Clearing. He led them to a ter-mite-infested trunk that he'd been saving for a special occa-sion. It lay buried in leaf litter, smothered in moss and li-chens.
The Four Sisters raked claws through the soft bark, ex-posing the nest that teemed with clear, almost see-through larvae and darker adults. Number Four pushed the others away, greedy as usual. Number One peeled strips of bark, examining the sponge-like wood closely, before starting her breakfast.
Number Three caught a single larva and, with a shudder, crunched it delicately and swallowed. She shrugged at Ga-len. "Not too bad." Then she caught up a mouthful and chewed methodically.
"Eat fast," Galen said, but the warning was mostly for himself. He flicked his own sticky tongue, hungrily ground the insects with his peg-like molars, and then took another rapid bite.
Galen's stomach was still woefully hollow when Number Two wandered off. He abandoned his meal and, with an inward tremble, herded the Sisters together. In spite of the urgency, Galen led them one last time to the large oak.
Sensing his solemn mood, they laid in front of the den's entrance.
Galen trotted down the tunnel and stopped in the large room of his den. This den, deep under the largest white oak on the hillside, was his first home after leaving his parents. Looking at it now, he saw that the ceiling sagged badly. But it was his.
Dug with his own efforts, his claws had enlarged the den after his parent's death, digging around the large root on the back wall to open up more space for his Sisters. His feet had trampled and packed the dirt floor to make it comfortable for them. His hard work had made this a safe place for his Sisters.
Galen vowed to himself: someday, I'll have a home that I'll never have to leave.
Then, with his heart full of both hope and fear, Galen trotted out to the Sisters and led them south along the streambed.