Madeline didn't start out as a brave knight. Actually, she didn't even think that she would be a knight or anything like it. She was just a girl on her way to FDR Elementary School on a Tuesday. Tuesdays were OK, they weren't quite as nice as Fridays (pizza day), or as bad as Mondays (which were, well, Mondays). It was just another boring day in a boring week in her boring third-grade year. Her walk to school that morning had been boring, her classes had been boring, and her walk home, well, it started as boring. Then she decided to go the long way around.
There were woods in her town, but not along her path home. Madeline liked the woods. They were a little creepy: even in the late fall the woods still felt alive and ancient, like they had seen things that the rest of us have just forgotten, or had just never known, but they were also mysterious, and always seemed strangely warm and green, especially this early in the year. She didn't plan on really going in them, no one ever really went in, but she would sit on a large rock along the edge, wondering about what might be inside them.
Today was one of those days: she wasn't expected at home for another hour, and her friends had already left her. She was alone and dawdled to her favorite spot on the outskirts of the woods. She called it her "sitting rock". It was one place that never seemed to get wet or muddy or snowy, and she loved it there. She loved to go there and stare deep into the woods, imagining what mysterious adventures it might hold.
When Madeline sat down, however, she did not realize that she was not alone. She was being followed without her realizing. And this was important.
"Handsome" was a bulldog, a giant brute of a dog but convinced that he was really only the size of a toy poodle. Despite the fact that he was already seven, he acted like he was no more than one and a half. He'd never been completely housebroken and was especially talented at biting his collar in two. This meant that not only was Madeline unaware that he was out here, no one else knew about him either.
When she put her bag down to go sit in her favorite nook, he saw an opportunity. After all, if someone put something on the floor, that means they must want to play with it, right? So the galumph of a dog ran up and snatched her backpack. Before she even knew what was happening he had bounded off into the woods
"Wait, no!" She cried at the dog, her moment of peace destroyed, "That's not yours!"
Handsome didn't understand. He thought she wanted to play. After all, what fun is it to chase someone if they don't try to run away? So he ran deeper into the woods.
"Oh… puppy! Puppy! Here boy," she said.
Handsome knew those words, those were the words that his owners would say right before it was time to run around a lot. The trick to the game was to not let them catch you too quickly. He knew that.. He dropped the bag and smiled. This was going to be fun.
Meanwhile, Madeline, trying to keep calm, and hoping the puppy wouldn't go crazy and eat her backpack, began moving deeper and deeper into the woods. But every time she tried to get closer to Handsome, he would grab the bag and move another five or ten yards further away.
He led her like this for a half an hour, letting her catch up and then grabbing the bag and bolting, grabbing the bag again, and then charging off deeper into the woods. By the time that Madeline finally got to the misbehaving hound, the sun had already set and her sense of direction was turned around completely. He was delighted in how the game turned out and was hoping that Madeline might reward him by giving a nice treat. She, meanwhile, realized that she was completely lost and was terrified.
She held onto the dog, glad to feel his chest rising and falling, glad to feel his warmth next to her, and tried to think of what to do next. She'd never been lost in the woods before, and the light was disappearing.
Handsome then surprised them both by asking, "So… that was fun. What game do we play next?