Copyright © Ian Irvine 2008
- 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 have magic.
‘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 every year.
‘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 them.
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 familiar.
‘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 think.’
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 street.
‘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 Mel.
‘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.
- 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 to see?’
‘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 him.
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, then froze.
‘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 Tamly.
‘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.
‘We dare!’ 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 shoulder.
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?’
- 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 the fireplace.
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 mouse.
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 air.
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 time.
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 like soot.
‘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.
‘Grofuss unhar raag!’
‘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.