Green Rider by Kristen Britain
Totally disgraced after her expulsion from school, Karigan trudged homeward through the countryside. It wasn't an easy walk, more of a cross-country hike, really, but her shame and rage kept her moving even as she spent an aching night sleeping in a meadow and washed down some hunks of cheese and bread with less than clean brook water.
Suddenly from out of the dark woods, there came an explosion of red and green.
Bounding into the clearing came a chestnut horse lathered with sweat and his green-clad rider, pale-faced except for the bloody scratches that dug crimson furrows into his face. As he half-dismounted, half-fell from his horse, Karigan saw the two black-shafted arrows buried deep into his back.
With his dying words, the messenger, one of the legendary Green Riders for the king, asked her to carry on his mission:
"Swear...swear you'll deliver...the message to King Zachary...for the love of country."
Karigan could only stare at him wide-eyed.
It was as if she already looked upon a ghost rather than a living man. He would not allow himself to die until she swore the oath. "I swear...I'll deliver the message for the love of my country."
Although she had sworn, the Green Rider was not ready to die yet. "Take the brooch...from my chest. It will ident..." He squeezed his eyes shut in pain till the spell passed. "Identify you as messenger...to other Riders." The words were gasped as if he were forcing air in and out of his lungs by sheer will to extend his life. "Fly...Rider, with great speed. Don't read m-message. Then they can't tor-ture...it from you. If captured, shred it and toss it to the winds." Then, because his voice had grown so faint, she had to lean very close to hear his final words. "Beware the shadow man."
To save a kingdom, Karigan must take on the role of Green Rider and outwit the deadly enemies who follow her through places both of this world and otherwise. Karigan's adventures continue in First Rider's Call.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
The Amazing Maurice has a grand scheme going. He and his players go from town to town, create a problem, fix it, and make off with a good bit of the city's treasury in exchange for their "help." From the tips of his whiskers to the swish of his tail, Maurice is the very embodiment of a feline con artist. His partners in crime are a passel of hundreds of intelligent, well-spoken rats and a young lad named Keith who may be a bit of a dim bulb, but he does play the flute beautifully.
Every player knows his part, from the young leader Darktan who rallies the troops to face down the native rodents, to Sardines who adds a theatrical flair by backstroking in a bucket of milk, to Dangerous Beans, the dreamer of the crew who leads his fellows to his vision of a deserted island paradise where the rats will be free to begin their own society. And, at the end of the rats' very professional reign of alarm if not terror, the mayor and town council gladly part with their silver and gold to rid their homes and streets of this cheeky rodent plague. The only difficulty, as Maurice sees it, was that the rats and the boy are beginning to question the ethics of the whole thing. The situation was starting to smart on their consciences.
Yet the Amazing Maurice assures them, passage to an island will take money...lots of money. And money could only be had by his clever scheme. One more adventure, he said, and they'd finally have enough cash to part company and begin their new lives. All they needed was one last show to go on. After all, was it really so difficult?
"You didn't need many rats for a plague, if they knew their business. One rat, popping up here and there, squeaking loudly, taking a bath in the fresh cream and widdling in the flour, could be a plague all by himself.
After a few days of this, it was amazing how glad people were to see the stupid-looking kid with his magical rat pipe. And they were amazed when rats poured out of every hole to follow him out of town. They were so amazed that they didn't bother much about the fact that there were only a few hundred or so rats.
They'd have been really amazed if they ever found out that the rats and the piper met up with a cat somewhere in the bushes outside of town, and solemnly counted out the money."
But there was something different about this final town. Throughout their usual preparations, the rats saw signs everywhere that the lay of the land was sinister, odd, and just plain wrong. But, surely these magical talking and thinking rodents, scheming cat, and well-intentioned boy were up to whatever challenges the darkness held. Weren't they?