Darius swirled his spoon through his cereal. The beige flakes crumbled in the milk.
Adjusting her crown, Mama scolded him. “Stop playing with your breakfast.”
“I hate Gruels!” grumbled Darius. “They taste like soap. They smell like newspaper. Can’t we eat something else?”
“You know the choices,” said Mama. “Gruels, Cruels, or Chewels.”
Darius grunted. “Cruels cut my mouth. Chewels yank my teeth.”
Mama sighed. “Maybe someone will invent a new cereal. Till then, eat your Gruels.”
At the park that day, Darius played with a thousand other princes and princesses of Royalton. A thousand Royalton queens and kings chatted on benches.
The next morning as Darius poked his Gruels, he heard yelling. Opening the castle door, he saw Town Crier marching across the square.
“Hear ye, hear ye!” hollered Town Crier. “Announcing a new breakfast cereal from across the sea! Lodies! Delectable and wondrous!”
Darius ran to tell Mama. Mama handed him jembels, and Darius dashed to Mama’s favorite shop. “Lodies, please,” he told the shopkeeper.
“Two jembels, please,” the shopkeeper said.
Darius argued. “Gruels, Cruels, and Chewels cost one jembel.”
“Lodies cost two jembels,” answered the shopkeeper.
When Darius got home, Mama snorted. “Two jembels? Outrageous!”
Darius and Mama sat at the kitchen table. Mama poured Lodies into two bowls. “They’re red!” exclaimed Darius. “And round. They smell like...”
“Raspberry honey,” said Mama. She drizzled milk over the cereal.
“What’s that humming sound?” asked Darius. A soft melody rose from the bowls. Darius and Mama dug spoons into the Lodies. The humming grew louder. It sounded like princes and princesses singing.
“I know this melody,” murmured Mama.
“Terrific!” crowed Darius, chewing. “They taste like caramel corn! And chocolate pie! Mixed together!”
Mama agreed. “Delicious!” She read the box label. “Made entirely from melodium.”
“What’s melodium?” asked Darius.
“No idea,” Mama said.
Darius made a vow. “I’ll never eat Gruels again. Or Cruels. Or Chewels. Mama, Lodies hum songs!”
“Yes,” purred Mama. “How strangely sweet.”
That day, all the princes, princesses, queens, and kings talked about the wonderful humming cereal. Everyone loved Lodies.
On Saturday, Darius knocked on Town Crier’s door. “Please,” Darius said, “where can I get more Lodies? The shops are sold out.”
Town Crier pointed toward the ocean. “Lodies come from Bogland, across the sea. A Mr. Grane buys the melodium from the farmers who grow it. Mr. Grane knew everyone in Royalton would buy cereal that hums.”
“Thanks!” Waving, Darius hurried to the shipyard.
“Please,” Darius said to a ship captain, “will you take me across the sea to Bogland?”
The captain saluted. “Welcome aboard.”
After five days at sea, the ship reached Bogland. Darius pulled his camera from his pocket. He snapped a picture of a man on the dock.
Jumping off the ship, Darius approached the man. “Could you help me find Mr. Grane?”
“You’re looking at him,” said the man. “You here to buy Lodies?”
Darius thought carefully. “I’m here to study melodium.”
“Climb onto that farmer’s cart,” said Mr. Grane. “He’s headed to a melodium field.”
Darius rode beside the farmer. The horse’s hoofs slurped in the mud. Fields of squat plants stretched to the horizon. “Are these melodium fields?” Darius asked.
“Yup,” the farmer replied.
“Can I help you work?” asked Darius.
The cart stopped next to a shed. Darius saw people scattered about the melodium field. They were bent over, picking round red bits off the plants. The air smelled like raspberry honey.
“You can help my daughter Taya.” The farmer pointed to a girl holding a big sack.
Darius sprinted to Taya. She wore a torn dress and no shoes. Quickly he pulled a round red bit from a melodium plant and dropped it in Taya’s bag. He bowed and said, “I’m Darius.”
“I’m Taya. If you lean closer to the ground, you can pick four or five at once.”
Taya and Darius worked side-by-side for an hour. Then Darius complained. “This crunches my back. When do you eat lunch?”
Taya squinted. “Lunch? What’s lunch?”
At dusk, Darius and Taya dragged their bag of melodium bits to the shed. “This is Thursday,” said Darius. “Didn’t you have school today, Taya?”
“School?” she asked. “What’s school?”
“You know. Where you read books.”
She blinked. “Books? What are books?”
The farmer drove Taya and Darius home in his cart. For supper the family ate root soup and flat bread. Darius slept on the floor with everyone else. For breakfast they ate root soup and flat bread again.
“Do you ever eat Lodies?” asked Darius.
“Lodies?” replied Taya. “What are Lodies?”
“Lodies cereal. Made from your melodium.”
Taya shrugged. “Mr. Grane takes the melodium we pick. He pays us for our work.”
Darius eyed Taya’s root soup and bare feet. Then he bid the family goodbye and raced to the dock.
After five days at sea, the ship reached Royalton. “We were so worried!” wailed Mama.
Darius slid his camera from his pocket. “Look!”
Mama and Papa studied Darius’s pictures. They saw the dock, Mr. Grane, the cart, the melodium, the farmer’s family, the one-room house. “Taya eats tree roots,” Darius said.
“We will call a meeting,” declared Papa, “of all the royals of Royalton. We will discuss this.”
That evening the royals talked and talked. Finally Darius suggested a plan. “Royalton could get its own ship. Town Crier could go to Bogland. He could buy melodium from the farmers. Our melodium cereal would not be Lodies. We would call it Melodios. We would pay double-extra for Melodios, so the farmers would get more jembels.”
Some of the royals moaned. “Lodies and Melodios cost too much. We do not need a humming cereal. We will eat Gruels, Cruels, and Chewels.”
Other royals groaned. “Gruels, Cruels, and Chewels taste horrid. We will pay extra for Lodies. We will not pay double-extra for Melodios.”
But most of the princes, princesses, queens, and kings clapped and cheered. “Yay Melodios!”
So Royalton bought its own ship. Town Crier sailed to Bogland. Soon the shops of Royalton sold Melodios alongside the other cereals. Gruels, Cruels, and Chewels cost one jembel. Lodies cost two jembels. Melodios cost three jembels.
Darius, Mama, and Papa ate Melodios every day for a year. They loved the caramel and chocolate taste. They loved the raspberry honey smell and the sweet soft songs.
Then one day Darius said, “I miss Taya.”
The next morning Papa, Mama, and Darius boarded the Royalton ship. After five days at sea, they reached Bogland.
Taya’s papa waited by the dock. They climbed onto his cart and rode past melodium fields to his two-room house. Taya greeted them. She wore a new dress and sandals. For supper the families ate fish and flat bread. When nighttime came they slept on beds. For breakfast they ate Melodios.
Suddenly Taya rushed to the door. “Where are you going?” asked Darius.
“School,” she answered. “Want to come with me? We’re learning how to make Melodios. Did you know Bogland farmers ate Melodios a thousand years ago?”
Darius shook his head. “Who told you that?”
Taya laughed. “No one told me. I read it in a book.”
© Suzanne Werkema