Copyright © Ian Irvine, 2008.
1. The Frost Fair
It was Midwinter Night in Meadowhythe, and
the townsfolk were gathered around the Frost Fair bonfires, when
the next attack came.
Tamly was sitting on one of the branches of
the fig tree in the park with his friends Kym and Mel, for the
fireworks were about to begin.
‘I’ve been waiting for this night all year.’
Tamly polished his golden medal; the council had awarded it to
him last summer for saving the town from Lord Harshax.
‘Me too,’ said Mel, the blacksmith’s son, a
quiet, muscly boy who had a curving scar on his left cheek where
he’d been struck by a piece of hot metal from the forge. It gave
him a squint in that eye. ‘I love real fireworks, especially the
smell of them.’
Tamly preferred magical ones, because he was
the only kid in the town, and perhaps the whole world, who couldn’t
do magic. His had been taken from him when he was a baby, because
of some old foretelling that said he would become a great danger
to magic. Only the town council knew what that meant, but they
weren’t going to tell him. He desperately wanted magic, and whenever
anyone else made spells he watched and listened carefully, and
practised them in his attic bedroom until he was so tired he could
barely keep his eyes open. Nothing ever happened but Tamly refused
to give up. He just had to
‘You’re very quiet tonight, Kym,’ he said.
Kym, who was small with black hair and a pretty,
pixie-innocent face, was brilliant at magic, though she was a reckless
joker who was always playing tricks on people. Now, though, she
was sitting with her back to the trunk and her knees pulled up
under her chin, staring at the bonfire.
‘I was thinking about last summer,’ she said
quietly. ‘I’m scared that –’
With a crack and a boom, a plume of flame and
sparks shot up from the bonfire, and silence fell. Plump old Mayor
Ignatia clambered onto the platform to present the speech she gave
‘Four hundred years ago, Meadowhythe was founded
at the end of the terrible reign of the black sorcerer, Shardax.
At that time the town council decided that a Frost Fair would be
held each year, on the day of his downfall, to remind us all that
evil must never be forgotten. Evil does not die, it merely sleeps
until we relax our vigilance. Then it strikes when
we least expect it.’
‘You’ll scare the children, Mayor,’ called
a voice from the crowd. ‘Shardax’s evil is long gone.’
‘But it must not be forgotten,’ said Ignatia.
She raised her wand, the band began playing the merry ‘Fireworks
Melody’ and the first rocket soared into the sky. Just as it exploded
in brilliant green sparks, Tamly felt his hair stand up and the
backs of his hands prickle.
‘Someone’s using magic,’ he said. ‘Strong magic.’
‘Half the town is using magic tonight, Tam,’
said Mel. ‘That’s how Meadowhythe gets such great fireworks.’
‘I suppose so.’ Tamly settled back to enjoy
His skin kept prickling for a few more minutes.
From a distance, he heard a smashing boom that didn’t sound like
a firecracker exploding, and shortly the odd feelings faded away.
Tamly couldn’t stop fretting, though, for the magic had felt strangely
‘That was fantastic!’ Mel said dreamily when
the fireworks finally ended and the last of the townsfolk were
heading home to bed.
‘Mmn,’ said Tamly distractedly.
‘What’s the matter, Tam?’ said Kym. ‘Are you
still sensing strong magic?’
‘Then what’s wrong?’
‘It . it felt like Harshax’s sorcery.’
‘Where?’ she cried.
Tamly turned his head back and forth, trying
to work out where the magic had come from. ‘At the town hall, I
Kym reached up and gave the silvery lock in
Tamly’s dark hair a tug. ‘Come on!’ She slid off the branch onto
rustling leaves. ‘Around the back way, so no one sees us.’
‘I don’t think we should,’ said Mel, a slow,
quiet, hard-working boy who was never in trouble. His mother had
died years ago, and since then Mel’s father had been so cranky
that Mel never dared.
‘The town is in danger,’ Kym said loftily.
‘And I’m going, even if I have to go by myself.’
She ran off into the night. Mel and Tamly looked
at each other helplessly, then raced after her. They turned onto
a winding path in the long grass behind the blacksmith’s shop,
bolted past Kym at the stables, and through a copse of trees skirting
a bend in the river. Mel had sprinted ahead but couldn’t last.
Tamly shot past him as they came around the corner into the high
‘Hurry!’ said Kym from close behind.
Tamly was just a few doors away from the town
hall when Kym, using her magic for a burst of speed, cruised past
Tamly and flashed in through the door. Tamly and Mel followed.
It was dark inside. Kym was standing by the
dais at the far end of the hall, her shoulders slumped. ‘We’re
too late!’ she cried. ‘It’s gone!’
The fireplace was a mess of broken stone and
the floorboards in front of it had been smashed to splinters. The
hearthstone had been torn up, revealing an empty hole. Huge, dirty
footprints ran across the floor to the side wall, then disappeared.
‘The foundation stone has been stolen!’ cried
‘And without it,’ said Kym heavily, ‘all Meadowhythe’s
magic will die.’
‘It’s even worse than that,’ said Tamly. ‘The
foundation stone takes on the character of the place where it’s
kept. In our town its magic is good, but in Harshax’s hands the
stone could become a force for darkness again.’
‘The Book of Spells is gone too,’ said Kym.
The chain securing the book to its stand had
been torn away from its bracket.
‘What are we going to do?’ said Tamly.
2. The Giant, the Dwarf and the Child
‘Wait here!’ Kym bolted for the door. ‘Don’t
touch anything,’ she yelled over her shoulder.
‘What’s got into her?’ said Mel.
Tamly didn’t answer. He was trying to work
out why the footprints ended at a solid wall.
Shortly Kym came running in, red-faced and
gasping, and began to rummage through all the stuff in her bag.
‘What are you looking for?’ Tamly asked.
‘I borrowed a Scrying Scroll from my mother.’
She pulled out a parchment scroll tied with
a candy pink ribbon, unrolled it and chanted, ‘Dust and ashes,
splinters and glass, come back together and reveal what’s past.’
‘What happens now?’ said Mel after a long pause.
‘The spell is supposed to show us what happened
here,’ said Kym.
‘How does it know?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Millions of things have happened here since
the town hall was built. How does the spell know what you want
‘Ah –’ said Kym. ‘Of course!’ She thought
for a moment, chanted the spell again, and added at the end – ‘Two
hours before midnight, on this night just past.’
Tamly didn’t really expect anything to happen,
but suddenly the hair stood up on his head, the air grew colder
and the room faded until he could see through the wall to the building
next door. Everything became transparent, except Kym and Mel beside
The Book of Spells appeared on its stand, and
it also looked solid and real. Tamly’s scalp was crawling now – Kym’s
spell wasn’t the only one at work here, and the other magic was
bad. Mel looked sick; he must have sensed it too.
Kym chanted two final lines: ‘You’ve left out
the best, now reveal the rest.’
The book shuddered; the other magic was getting
stronger. The cover was forced open; the pages fluttered like a
fan, settled, and a red glow shone from the spell seared into the
book. Now the ruined fireplace was whole again, the splintered
floorboards as good as new, though still transparent. They were
seeing back to the moment of the attack, two hours ago.
Kym took a step towards the Book of Spells,
‘WHO DARES, DIES!’ a dry, papery voice raged
from the pages.
Kym went pale. Tamly fought the temptation
to run for his life. This was really dark magic.
‘The scroll’s not working properly.’ Kym reached
out. ‘Take my hands, quick!’
‘Kym, this isn’t the time for games,’ began
‘It’s not a game,’ she hissed. ‘If we can’t
get the foundation stone back by midnight tomorrow, its magic
will turn to the dark side, forever.’
‘We have to tell the council!’
‘They’ll talk about it for a week, and by the
time they decide what to do, it’ll be too late,’ Kym argued.
‘But –’ began Mel.
‘This is an emergency,’ hissed Kym. ‘Once Harshax
and Krushax use our stone to rebuild the Tower of Sorcery –’
‘All right!’ snapped Mel. ‘Let’s do it.’
Mel took her left hand and Tamly her right,
which still held the Scrying Scroll.
said Kym in a voice that was supposed to be powerful but sounded
small and scared. ‘Book of Spells, by the power of this Scrying
Scroll I command you to reveal what happened here when the red
stone was taken.’
Nothing happened, but Tamly had a horrible
thought. ‘Kym, the book is solid, so it must be here with us, right
now. But the rest of the room is transparent; it’s back at the
moment of the attack.’
‘So?’ said Kym.
‘What if the book’s dark magic isn’t bound
by the good magic of the stone any more?’
Her mouth opened and closed like a stranded
fish. ‘Reach out and touch the book.’
Tamly swallowed painfully, for brown fumes
were rising from it and it was making a crackling sound. ‘Why me?’
‘We’ve got to touch it to complete the spell,
and you’re closest.’
He eyed the baleful book, then ever so slowly
reached out with a finger tip. Closer, closer –
Tamly’s arm was cracked like a whip and he
was hurled backwards into the fireplace. He lay there, hurting
all over. Mel was crumpled near the door. His left eye was swelling
and there was blood on his lip. Kym had been thrown right up onto
the council table.
‘Tam, Mel, look,’ whispered Kym.
Fumes belched up from the Book of Spells in
the shape of a thunderhead and a ruddy light shone from it onto
the side wall. An oval shape shimmered there, and through it appeared
a winding mountain path bathed in moonlight. Tamly gulped, for
there was no mountain in Meadowhythe. The oval had to be a magical
portal – a gateway to another place.
A blonde-haired, pigtailed girl, no older than
five, came down the path and climbed through the portal into the
town hall, followed by a horn-helmed dwarf with skin as wrinkled
as a hippopotamus’s knee. He carried a double-bladed axe over his
A shadow blocked out the mountain path, then
a monstrous hand gripped the side of the portal – a warty,
filthy hand almost as big as the little girl. An enormous head
was thrust through, thatched with red hair as coarse as hay. A
pair of eyes the size of melons inspected the room and, grunting
with the effort, a giant squeezed in and stood up.
The floorboards groaned under his weight; his
head cracked the plaster ceiling.
‘Kym,’ whispered Mel, ‘what have you done?’
3. The Command Scroll
The giant, whose bottom lip stuck out like
a pantry shelf, stooped and looked around. The dwarf was standing
stock-still, staring at the fireplace. Tamly didn’t think the dwarf
could see him – the spell showed what had happened two hours
ago – but he looked suspicious. The little girl sat on the
floor and began playing with a toy mouse on a string.
The dwarf pointed and said something to the
giant, though Tamly didn’t hear anything. The giant strode across,
the floor groaning under his weight, and slammed his fist into
Chunks of stone flew everywhere. Tamly tried
to scramble out of the way but a lump of rock shot in one side
of his head and out the other. He didn’t feel a thing, for it had
happened two hours before he got here.
The fireplace crumbled in an eerie silence.
The giant stamped one foot, smashing the floorboards to splinters.
After cleaning the mess out of the way with a sweep of his hand
he stepped back, grinning stupidly.
The dwarf levered up the hearthstone and called
the little girl, who skipped across to take his leathery hand.
He helped her to climb into the hole. She bent over then stood
up, proudly holding a round red stone the size of a grapefruit – the
foundation stone. Strange writing was carved in lines around it.
The girl strained to hold its weight but the
dwarf didn’t take it. He lifted her out, she walked to the portal,
laid the red stone on the floor beside it and picked up her toy
The giant squeezed back through the portal,
grunting and groaning. A wooden button burst off his coat and went
flying across the room. The dwarf tore the chain from its bracket
and passed the Book of Spells to the giant. Then he lifted the
girl through and climbed after her, his stumpy legs waving in the
The giant was reaching back for the red stone
when Kym stood up on the table, raised her scroll in one shaking
hand and cried, ‘By the power this Scrying Scroll holds over the
Book of Spells, stop!’
Tamly shivered, for Kym was trying to change
something magical that had already happened, and it was a perilous
thing to do. He felt a pain in his head and couldn’t see for a
second – the dark magic was getting stronger.
The giant’s arm stopped in mid-air, frozen
by Kym’s spell. Drops of sweat the size of pigeon’s eggs appeared
on his forehead as he struggled to move. The dwarf’s head popped
over the rim of the portal, his lips moved in a counter-spell,
then the giant’s hand jerked forward and grasped the red stone.
‘No!’ Kym cried. She jumped down, fumbling
in her shoulder bag.
Tamly’s mouth had gone dry. ‘Kym, whatever
you’re going to do, don’t!’
Over by the door, Mel’s eyes went wide with
horror, for Kym was waving another scroll, a black one with red
glowing edges. It was a Command Scroll, magic so dangerous that
only a powerful sorcerer could use it safely.
She shook the scroll open, scanned it, her
lips moving, and said, ‘Giant, by the power of this Command Scroll, stop!’
The giant froze and this time the dwarf could
not unfreeze him. The Book of Spells fell to the floor beside the
red stone. A spark zipped from the book to the stone and the writing
on it shone silver. The book took on a purple glow but the stone
looked fuzzy now.
‘What’s happened?’ said Mel.
Tamly shuddered. ‘I think the book has broken
free of our stone’s good magic, and it’s trying to turn it to evil.’
Kym held up the Command Scroll. Black flames
were dripping from it, forming a fiery puddle on the floor, and
the floorboards began to smoke.
‘Come back, giant!’ she said, quietly this
There came an audible rumble from the other
side of the portal. The town hall shook, and the giant was forced
out of the portal like a cork popping from a bottle.
‘What is your name?’ said Kym, struggling to
keep her voice steady.
The giant’s clothes were torn to rags and a
river of orange blood ran from a gash on his shoulder. Standing
with his head twisted sideways, he said, as though every word were
being dragged out of him, ‘My – name – is – Horace.’
The words came strangely to Tamly, echoing
as the past was dragged unwillingly into the present. He took a
step forwards, and another. He had to stop Kym before this got
any worse. Mel was creeping across, trying to work a charm with
his fingers, but Tamly knew kid’s magic was no use here.
‘Don’t, Mel – you’ll only make things
worse.’ Tamly pointed to Kym, gesturing that they should grab her
and snatch the Command Scroll. Mel bit his bloody lip, and nodded.
‘Giant,’ said Kym, ‘I command you –’
Tamly felt sick. Her magic was going to go
terribly wrong, he knew it.
‘NO – MORE!’ boomed Horace, writhing
in agony. One arm flew up, smashing a large hole in the ceiling.
Black ceiling dust sifted down, coating his head and shoulders
‘Ready?’ Mel mouthed.
‘I command you –’ Kym repeated.
The dwarf sprang onto the rim of the portal,
wobbling on his stumpy legs. Reaching down, he flipped the pages
of the book, jammed a stumpy finger between them and sang three
words in a language Tamly had never heard before.
‘Go!’ hissed Tamly, darting at Kym. Mel ran
at her from the other side.
At the dwarf’s words, the pain lines on Horace’s
face eased. He lunged, caught Kym around the waist and lifted her
high. She began kicking him and beating at his hand. The Command
Scroll, still dripping black flame, fluttered to the floor.
Mel dived for it but it landed in the puddle
of fire, blazed up and burned away. Kym tried to reach into her
bag for another scroll, but the bag was trapped under Horace’s
arm. She bit him. Horace squeezed her until her tongue bulged out
of her mouth.
‘Stop, Kym,’ Tamly screamed. ‘He’ll kill you.’
She stopped, staring down at him with huge,
terrified eyes. ‘Help!’ she croaked.
How could Tamly fight a giant and a sorcerer-dwarf?
He had to try. He picked up a chunk of rock. Mel held a length
of timber like a spear and they moved towards Horace, but he knocked
them across the room with his free arm.
The dwarf climbed back through the portal with
the book, and again Tamly felt that pain in his head. Horace was
sucked after the dwarf, with Kym. The little girl reached down
and took the red stone, which still looked oddly blurred, and with
a pop the portal winked out of existence.
4. The Register of Giants
The room became solid again, and everything
in it. The town hall looked just as it had when they’d first entered
it, save for a black mark on the floor where the Command Scroll
had burned away, and the hole in the ceiling.
‘What are we going to do?’ said Tamly.
‘I don’t know. They could have taken Kym anywhere.’
‘We’d better wake Great-uncle Rafe, and your
‘I – I’m supposed to be in bed,’ said
Mel. ‘Dad would belt me black and blue
Mel’s father was a huge, burly man with a furious
temper, and all the children were afraid of him.. Tamly wasn’t
scared of his Great-uncle Rafe, though he’d be in big trouble if
Rafe found out what they’d done.
‘There’s got to be a way to find Kym,’ said
Tamly, but how was he supposed to do that when he had no magic?
He felt useless.
‘Wait,’ said Mel. ‘Isn’t there a Register of
Tamly shrugged. ‘Wouldn’t have a clue.’
‘Yes, we learned about it in school. It’s kept
in Mayor Ignatia’s chambers, at the back of the town hall.’
They went out and around to the Mayor’s
door. ‘It’s locked,’ said Tamly. He felt really afraid for Kym
now. Giants weren’t nice. What if Horace sat on Kym and squashed
her? ‘Mel, we’ve got to tell the council.’
‘I can’t face my father,’ Mel said faintly.
‘There’s nothing we can do. We’ll never open
‘I’m a blacksmith’s apprentice, remember, and
I’m good at metal-magic.’ Mel flushed, as if thinking that sounded
boastful. ‘For a kid, anyway.’
The keyhole was surrounded by a brass plate
with a coiled snake engraved upon it. Mel put his thick fingers
on the metal, stroked up and down, humming softly to himself, and
laid his ear to the keyhole, then nodded.
Tamly watched, mystified, as Mel drew a flat
strip of iron from his pouch, rubbed it between his palms and sang
a different tune.
‘What on earth are you doing, Mel?’
‘Singing the metal.’
‘It’s secret smith’s magic.’ As Mel sang and
rubbed, the iron strip softened like wet clay. He slipped it through
the keyhole, wiggled it back and forth a few times and drew it
out. There were markings on it.
Mel got out his knife and carved the metal
away like cheese where the markings were. He inspected the toothed
strip, which looked just like a door key, and after it had hardened
he slipped it into the lock, and twisted.
The lock clicked. He turned the handle and
the door came open.
Tamly realised that his mouth was open. He
closed it with a snap, wishing that he could do magic; any magic.
‘Wow! Did your father teach you that?’
‘No way! It’s . er . illegal magic.’
‘Really?’ whispered Tamly. Mel, who was always
well behaved, was the last kid Tamly would have expected to know
illegal magic. ‘Then how did you learn it?’
‘I saw my father practising it a while back,
when no one else was in the smithy.’
Tamly was wondering why the blacksmith would
be using illegal magic, when he remembered their deadline. ‘We’ve
got to find the Register of Giants, quick..’
There were seventeen giants in the local register,
but only one was called Horace. ‘He lives – in a eyr-eyrie – at
the top of the – highest peak in the – Thou-Thousand
Cliffs – of the Hum – bungles,’ Mel read, haltingly.
‘A thousand cliffs? How are we ever going to
‘There’s a map.’
They studied it together. ‘It’s a long way,’
said Tamly. ‘Twenty miles, at least. All right. Run home and get
a rope. I’ll bring some food, and … and a knife. Meet you at
the park in twenty minutes.’
It was one in the morning by the time they
crept past the last dark house on the track that ran east into
the Wildlands, a country of stony hills and prickly scrub infested
with scorpions and other unpleasant, scuttling creatures. At the
furthest reaches of the Wildlands stood the spires of the Humbungles,
hundreds of knobbly peaks of rainbow-coloured stone bounded by
They ran through the moonlit dark until they
could run no more, slept until dawn then got up on blistered feet
and kept running.
‘Why did they make that little girl take the
stone?’ panted Mel, hours later, as they splashed across a pebbly
Tamly sat down on a rock on the other side
and poured the water out of his boots. He had overheard Harshax
talking to his brother about the stone in Thorn Castle, last summer.
‘Because they can neither buy our stone nor steal it, but if an
innocent little kid takes it, that doesn’t count as stealing. Come
on. We’ve only got until midnight to get the stone back, or it
turns to darkness forever.’ And what would happen to Kym then?
He hastily put his boots on.
‘It’s still miles and miles,’ said Mel.
‘We’ll never make it in time,’
Tamly ran harder.
‘This peak is really high,’ Mel said that afternoon.
They were at the bottom of a towering spire of red, brown and yellow-banded
rock. ‘I’ll bet Horace lives at the top.’
‘Are you sure?’ said Tamly uneasily. It was
the tallest and steepest of all the peaks, and he was afraid of
Mel studied the map. ‘I’m sure.’
‘How would a giant get up there?’
‘I don’t know.’ Mel shivered, for it was cold
here, and the rocks were covered in ice. ‘Magic, I suppose.’
They were creeping along a narrow ledge when
Mel said, ‘What’s that awful stink?’
Tamly could smell it too, like something dead.
‘I don’t want to find out.’
Mel edged around a long sharp face of yellow
rock, like the sail on a yacht, but stopped so suddenly that Tamly
ran into him.
Ahead were heaps of bones, scattered as though
they’d been dropped from a great height. Many looked as though
they’d been gnawed on by a lion – or something even bigger.
There were also lumps of fur and scraps of clothing.
‘Are some of those bones – human?’
Giants were famous for their nasty habits, like eating people. (but
aren’t these bones fallen from the rukh’s nest?)[no, it’s on
the other side]
‘I don’t want to know.’ Mel turned around hastily.
He had gone green. ‘Let’s go the other way.’
Tamly wanted to run for his life, but Horace
might be getting ready to cook Kym right now. He followed Mel around
the other side of the peak.
‘We might be able to climb up there.’ Mel pointed
to a cleft that cut deep into the side, like a broken staircase.
The boys climbed and climbed until, fifty feet
below the top, the cleft petered out at a cliff. Tamly took a firm
grip on the rock and tried not to look down. His head was spinning.
‘Are you all right?’ said Mel.
‘I can’t climb up there.’ Tamly felt ill. ‘I’ll
fall; I know I will.’
Mel was looking down. ‘Uh-oh!’
Tamly followed his gaze; he couldn’t help himself.
His stomach churned and he felt his sweaty fingers slipping. He
would have fallen had Mel not pulled him back from the edge.
‘What’s the matter?’ Tamly gasped.
‘There on that rocky knob,’ said Mel. ‘Can’t
you see it?’
Tamly shook his head. He didn’t want to look
down again, but he had to know what it was. He managed to squint
through his fingers. The rock knob Mel was pointing to had a tangle
of sticks on top, as if left there by a flood. ‘It’s just a pile
of wood – no, a nest. A bird’s nest.’
‘It’s a mighty big nest,’ said Mel. ‘An elephant
could stand on top of that peak.’
‘W-what does it belong to?’
‘A rukh – the biggest bird that ever
was. And rukhs hate everything living, except –’
‘Giants?’ guessed Tamly.
‘Giants have no friends except rukhs, which
spy for them and guard their caves.’
‘Lucky this rukh isn’t at home, then. Hey,
there’s something shining in the side of the nest.’
‘Rukhs love anything yellow, especially gold
and jewels. But they’re sly, treacherous creatures. They’ll even
steal from their giant’s treasure chest –’ Mel looked up
A shadow flashed across them, plunging the
peak into deep shade, and when the sunlight returned it seemed
weaker. ‘What was that?’ said Tamly.
‘I just saw the tip of one wing. It was huge.’