Copyright © Ian Irvine 2008
- Abducted by Sorcerers
It was late on a freezing winter’s night and snow lay a foot thick on the ground. Every light in the little town of Meadowhythe was out, save one. In an attic room high above Rafe’s broom workshop a single candle burned.
In the room a boy of eleven paced back and forth, moving his hands in the air as he recited. He was slight but wiry, and his dark hair stuck out in all directions, save for a single white lock that hung over his forehead.
Two watchers, floating in the air some distance from the broom workshop, focussed their night glasses and exchanged grim smiles.
‘Tamly never gives up, does he?’ said a chubby, gnomish man, a sorcerer called Lord Harshax. ‘He’s determined to get back his lost magic.’
‘He never will,’ said his black-bearded brother, Lord Krushax. ‘His parents took it from him when he was a baby, because Tamly’s Birth Foretelling said he would be a great danger to magic. But the fools mucked up the spell and it killed them.’
‘And Tamly’s magic was lost forever.’ Harshax rubbed his plump hands together and chuckled. ‘He’s just what we need to raise the Tower of Sorcery again – the one kid in the land with no magic.’
Tamly was so tired that he could barely keep his eyes open, but he had to keep going. In the months since coming back from the Black Crypt he’d read books on magic until his eyes hurt. He’d practised spells until his voice went hoarse, and everyone in Meadowhythe had tried to help him, yet they had all failed.
‘I will get it back,’ he kept saying. ‘I must!’
Not tonight, though; he could do no more. Closing his spell books, he brushed his teeth, put his pyjamas on and combed his hair. It shot up at once, which was a bad sign. For the past hour he’d had the creepy feeling that someone was using strong magic nearby, though there was no way of telling who it was. Not without magic of his own.
Tamly warmed his hands over the candle flame, blew it out and slipped into bed. He had just closed his eyes when a whistling sound made him look out of his window. It was a clear night, and snow lay thickly on the leafless branches of the great fig tree, but he couldn’t see anything. Must be the wind, he thought sleepily. Tamly closed his eyes.
The whole building shook; splinters and glass flew everywhere. Tamly shot up in bed, thinking that a branch had fallen on the roof. No – there was something in his room, something huge, though it was too dark to see what it was. He was so afraid, he could hardly breathe.
‘What the blazes was that?’ yelled Great-uncle Rafe, from below. ‘Tamly, are you all right?’
He wasn’t game to answer, in case whatever was in his room heard him.
‘Light, dammit!’ said a voice that sent shivers down Tamly’s back. Lord Krushax! ‘The lanterns have broken.’
‘I’m trying,’ said a rather high-pitched, anxious voice, Lord Harshax. What were they doing here?
Easing out of bed, Tamly crept towards the trapdoor and the long ladder down to the broom workshop. If he could get that far he’d be safe.
‘Aah!’ he cried, hopping up and down. A piece of broken glass had gone deep into his foot.
Finger light flared and Tamly gaped. There was a sleigh in his room – a huge one with black runners, padded leather seats and shiny brass fittings. A flying sleigh had crashed through his window, smashing it to pieces. Lord Harshax was sitting on the left hand side, light shining from his fingers, and Lord Krushax, whose sharp teeth were bared, was pointing at Tamly, about to cast a spell on him.
Tamly was really afraid of Krushax, who had tried to kill him, and his friends Kym and Mel, twice before. Tamly pulled the piece of glass out of his foot and hurled it at the sorcerer. Krushax ducked. Tamly hopped towards the trapdoor.
Below, Rafe sounded frantic. ‘Tamly? Tamly? Hold on, I’m coming!’
‘He’s getting away,’ said Harshax. ‘Stop him, brother.’
Krushax sang out a spell, ‘Stay, Sweeper Boy!’ There came a blue flash, the air crackled, and sparks arced up from every metal object in the room.
Tamly creaked to a halt, one foot in the air, and couldn’t move a muscle. Fight the spell, he told himself. You can fight magic if your will is strong enough. That’s what the books said, though he didn’t think they were talking about kids who could do no magic at all.
Krushax leaned over the side of the sleigh, reaching towards Tamly. Why didn’t the sorcerer just jump out and grab him?
‘I can’t reach the brat,’ Krushax snapped. ‘Bring us closer, Harshax.’
Rafe was scrambling up the ladder now, roaring, ‘Tamly?’
Harshax pulled on a long lever. ‘I’m trying! I don’t want to –’
The sleigh suddenly skidded to the left and slammed into the head of Tamly’s bed, smashing it to splinters.
‘Move us the other way, fool!’ hissed Krushax. ‘Hurry, before the great-uncle gets here.’
He sounded afraid. Tamly strained with all his heart to overcome the spell. His feet would not move, but one arm did; he reached for his dresser, thinking to pull himself along, but could not get a grip.
Thump, thump, thump. Rafe was almost up the ladder now and Tamly had never wanted to see his stern great-uncle more. But what if they attacked him? Rafe couldn’t take on two sorcerers. He thrust his grizzled head through the trapdoor and cried in a voice like rumbling thunder, ‘Sorcerers, begone! This house is under magical protection.’
So that’s why they couldn’t get out of the sleigh. Harshax’s finger light died to a small point and the sleigh was driven sideways towards the window by Rafe’s spell, its runners squealing on the floorboards.
Krushax paled, then raised his iron staff. ‘Back, Broom Maker!’
Rafe, halfway through the trapdoor, was slammed backwards by the spell and just managed to hold on to the ladder. ‘Tamly, run to me,’ he gasped. He moved his free hand in the air and Tamly could move.
He was hopping towards Rafe when Krushax shouted, ‘The boy is ours!’ Tearing the lever from his brother’s hand, he slammed it forwards.
The sleigh shot across the room. Krushax caught Tamly by the arm and dragged him over the side. He kicked furiously but couldn’t break free. Harshax spun the sleigh the other way and, as Rafe tried in vain to stop it, flew out through the window hole.
Tamly couldn’t jump out; they were too high up. The sleigh wove between the branches of the fig tree and soared up into the freezing night.
The brothers laughed and shook hands. Tamly saw Rafe’s haggard face at the hole in the wall, then Meadowhythe disappeared from sight.
- The Temptation
Tamly could see nothing but forest and snow-covered hills in every direction. He hunched down on the floor of the sleigh in his pyjamas, trying to keep out of the freezing wind. After a long flight, the sleigh landed in front of a castle built from pink granite upon an island in the middle of a huge lake.
Harshax gestured with his ebony wand and a brass-studded door rattled up. The sleigh flew in and along a broad hall hung with dozens of paintings. Those on the left hand side showed Harshax dressed in ever more magnificent robes, while the paintings on the right were of Krushax, similarly dressed. Each portrait appeared to be glaring at its pair across the hall.
They flew through a door into a dark chamber, where Harshax raised his wand and a thousand lanterns came to life. They were in the throne room of a crystalline palace, the one Horace the giant had taken Tamly, Kym and Mel to through his portal a year ago. . There was no sign of the dwarf nor the little girl this time.
The sleigh landed beside the two ruby thrones and the sorcerers climbed out.
‘That was a cold ride.’ Rubbing his gloved hands together, Harshax trotted across to a fireplace stacked with logs. At a twitch of his wand they burst into flame.
‘It would have been colder if we’d come back empty-handed,’ grated Krushax, then leaned his iron staff against the side of his throne and sat down.
Tamly was so frozen that he could barely stand up. ‘What do you want me for?’ he said in a small voice. He was very afraid, for the brothers had been trying to recover the dark magic of their evil ancestor, Shardax, for more than a year. First they had to raise his Tower of Sorcery and they didn’t care who they harmed on the way.
The brothers did not answer. ‘Take him away,’ said Krushax. ‘We’ve got a lot of work to do tonight and I’m already tired. We must begin at first light.’
Harshax hauled Tamly through a small doorway and along a narrow corridor to a plain wooden door. Thrusting him inside, Harshax bolted the door.
The room had a bed, a window and a table with an jug of icy water on it. Tamly looked out the window. Dark ice crusted the shores of the lake and, even if he could escape the castle, there was no way to get across the water. He was trapped. He examined his cut foot in the dim moonlight and bandaged it with a strip torn from his pyjamas.
The sleigh came whistling around the corner of the castle, carrying the two sorcerers, then banked and shot up into the sky. What were they up to now?
Tamly couldn’t bear the cold any longer. He got into the bed, pulled the covers up and lay there, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep a wink.
Hours later the door was unlocked. Tamly leapt out of bed, his heart pounding.
‘Come,’ said Harshax, who now had a black eye and was limping badly.
Tamly followed him to the throne room and was given a bowl of hot porridge, without milk or honey. He wolfed it down and, when Harshax was not looking, slipped the spoon in his pyjama shirt pocket, wishing it was a knife. Krushax came in and sat on his throne, rubbing his ribs and wincing.
‘You know why you’re here, boy,’ he snarled. He had a bruise on his right cheek which hadn’t been there last night. What had happened to the brothers?
‘No, I don’t,’ said Tamly, trying to keep his voice steady. He didn’t want them to know how afraid he was. He had to fight them every way he could.
‘You and your stupid little friends have thwarted us at every turn,’ said Harshax, who had a broken front tooth. ‘You stole my Book of Spells, separated our red stone into two, then ruined it in the Black Crypt.’
Tamly allowed himself a secret cheer.
‘But you haven’t beaten us,’ said Krushax. ‘We’ve still got the bones of Prince Cadmus – the key to opening Shardax’s tomb –’
‘Then what do you need me for?’ said Tamly.
‘We must have the aid – the willing aid – of a person who is untainted by magic. Only someone with no magic at all can look into our crystal Orb and discover how to enter Shardax’s tomb.’
Tamly gulped. The brothers must never get that secret, or else they would become as bad as their evil ancestor. He had to hold out against them, no matter what.
‘I’m not going to help you,’ he said. ‘And if you try and force me, it doesn’t count, does it? That’s not willing.’
‘You think you’re so clever,’ hissed Krushax. ‘Listen, boy –’
Harshax raised a pudgy hand and his brother broke off. Harshax was smiling, though not in a friendly way. ‘You’ve had a hard life, Tamly, haven’t you? You lost your parents when you were a baby, and your great-uncle is a cruel man who has forced you to slave all day long with nary a word of thanks –’
‘I’m not stupid,’ said Tamly. ‘I know what you’re trying to do and it won’t work. Great-uncle Rafe is a kind man, deep down. He’s looked after me.’
‘Perhaps, perhaps,’ Harshax said hastily, ‘but he hasn’t given you much, has he? Look at your patched old pyjamas. Your great-uncle is a wealthy man with that huge broom workshop, but he doesn’t spend a penny on you.’
It was true, and Tamly knew it. Rafe counted every penny twice before he spent it. ‘It’s his money,’ he said grudgingly. ‘He can do what he wants with it.’
‘Of course he can,’ said Harshax, ‘And had you gold of your own, so could you …’
‘You’re trying to bribe me!’ cried Tamly.
‘Not at all. It would merely be payment for your services. And think, Tamly.’ Harshax lowered his voice, became cajoling, ‘just think what you could do with a bag of gold … like this.’ He reached down beside his throne and lifted up a heavy, chinking bag. ‘You want to learn magic, don’t you? With this bag of gold, you could buy the best books on magic in the land. You could hire a magician to be your tutor; or even go to the great College of Magic at Runcipool. Think of that! You could study magic all day, every day.’
Tamly swallowed, for he wanted that desperately. ‘Fat lot of good it would do me,’ he said dully, ‘since I haven’t got a scrap of magic.’
‘Even so,’ said Harshax hastily. ‘Think what you could do with this gold.’
‘You haven’t found his price, brother,’ Krushax snapped. ‘I know what you really want, sweeper brat.’
Tamly went cold, for he knew what Krushax was going to say.
‘We can give you back the magic you were robbed of,’ Krushax went on.
‘No you can’t,’ said Tamly. ‘It was lost forever when the Charm of Forgetfulness went wrong.’ He wasn’t sure he believed that but he had to fight the sorcerers every step of the way.
‘It will take a mighty spell,’ said Krushax, coiling his black whiskers around his middle finger. ‘but we can do it. We will give you your magic, Tamly, in return for one small favour.’
‘It’s not a small favour,’ Tamly said angrily, because anger helped him to resist the terrible temptation. ‘You want Shardax’s black sorcery so you can take over the world, and I’m not going to help you.’
‘The world is a shambles,’ Krushax snapped. ‘And with arrogant little twerps like you defying their betters, it’s no wonder. We‘ll put the world to rights – we know what’s best for everyone.’
‘You’re a stinking liar,’ cried Tamly. ‘No, no, no! I won’t help you.’
‘Krushax, allow me,’ said Harshax. He put on what he thought was a friendly smile, though it made him look like a fat toad. ‘Tamly, I want you to know that a talent denied is a talent strengthened, and so when you finally do get your magic back, it will be very strong. Just think what you could do with it – you could be a great force for good.’
Tamly was unbearably tempted this time, for he felt sure that Harshax was right.
‘We’re not bad men,’ Harshax said softly, licking his plump red lips. ‘We want to help people, but we’ve been terribly misunderstood.’
‘Terribly,’ Krushax said softly. A cockroach scurried across the arm of his throne. He crushed it beneath his thumb.
The way he’ll crush Meadowhythe, thought Tamly, if he gets the chance. He couldn’t risk it, not even to get his magic back. ‘No!’ he said, despairingly, feeling as though he was giving up his only chance. ‘If getting my magic back means betraying my town and my friends, I’d sooner go without it forever.’
The brothers looked at one another but, oddly, they did not seem to be upset.
‘Besides,’ said Tamly, ‘only someone with no magic can look into the crystal Orb, so that means you’re lying. You wouldn’t give me my magic anyway.’
‘What one spell takes away, another can put back,’ said Krushax. ‘We can give you back your magic. All you need do is agree to help us.’
The choice was even more agonising this time, but if Tamly gave an inch, he’d fail. ‘The answer is no.’
Krushax’s glittering eyes were fixed on him. ‘I thought it would come to this. Bring them out, brother.’
Harshax went behind a curtain and shortly returned, leading two children linked with thick, clanking chains – Kym and Mel.
‘For the last time!’ said Krushax. ‘Agree to what we want, willingly, or your friends die.’