Footsteps echoed on the stairs and the door was flung open. Arthur burst into the room, followed a few seconds later by Gloria.
‘What the…?’ he began, and then he saw the look of horror on Emily’s face. She was pointing to the mirror, and his eyes followed her arm. Gloria bumped into his back, and her own eyes widened in surprise as she too noticed the strange sheen on the mirror.
‘He’s gone!’ Emily whispered. ‘He’s gone!’
Arthur looked for Danny; there was no sign of his son. ‘What do you mean, he’s gone?’ The sheen on the mirror was moving… like sluggish water.
‘He fell in! He just… one minute…’ panic was rising up in Emily.
‘Are you trying to tell me Danny fell into the mirror?’ He looked into Emily’s frightened eyes and he knew she had seen something. ‘Emily, what are you…’
‘Arthur!’ Gloria’s own scream rent the air and Arthur twisted around
…as the mirror fluxed
…the oily sheen roiled
…a satchel slowly appeared, thrust into the room
…a pair of hands gripped it
…with a liquid sound a young man emerged from the mirror…
…then suddenly catapulted across the room where he collapsed on the bed, face down. Arthur looked on in open-mouthed amazement. Gloria and Emily were both too stunned to scream.
Unnoticed, the mirror cleared.
Theolonia Crabbe climbed the stairs as fast as her skirt would allow.
Her heart was pounding, not from the exertion, but from the excitement of what she would find in the attic. Seconds before she had been sitting at her desk in the study, then the temple bell had struck once of its own accord. The spell was complete!
With shaking fingers she lit the candle, then flung back the attic door and listened. No sound came to her, so cautiously Theolonia climbed the last few steps. There was the mirror, shrouded and silent. And undisturbed! She ran to it and with a sweep of her hand pulled the shroud to the floor. Empty! The mirror was empty; there was no trace on its surface of the spell, only her own horrified eyes staring back at her.
‘Where is he?’ she shouted to the darkness. ‘Where?’ Blindly, Theolonia stumbled back down to the study. Her mind was racing. The spell was completed, that she was certain of. But not where she had planned it. Why? What had gone wrong?
She opened a lacquered cabinet and drew forth a very large crystal ball and carried it to the desk. Taking the small tuning fork from a drawer Theolonia rapped it gently against the crystal and peered closely into its depths. The ball was a scrying crystal and was now tuned to the original spell. With it Theolonia could follow the spell’s movements.
Slowly, a village swam into view. She was looking down on it from a great height, and then the picture changed as she followed the path of the spell as it spiraled downwards. Down it went, the cottages getting closer and closer, until one particular cottage filled the ball. Closer the image came, and then she was inside, looking into a bedroom. A very untidy bedroom. With a large mirror.
Now Theolonia took control of the crystal. Raising her view back above the cottage, she cast around for some clue as to what might have happened…
…there! Just leaving the front gate
…a young man furiously pedaling a bicycle
…and there was a girl sitting on the crossbar.
With a deep sigh of relief, Theolonia settled back and watched them ride to what she assumed was the girl’s house. The house, Theolonia noted, was warded; that wouldn’t stop her scrying inside, but her presence could be detected. Best not, she reasoned, give the game away. It was enough that she knew exactly where the lad was.
Jemma was very relieved when her parents arrived home.
Even in a world dependent on magik, it’s still disconcerting, and not a little frightening, when something so unusual and bizarre happens. Her initial thought that it was obviously a prank by some of Garreth’s friends from the guild had evaporated when this… Daniel… had started to speak. She’s never heard any language like it! But if it wasn’t a prank, what was it? And the tale he told was altogether too weird to believe… another world indeed! Jemma had never heard of such a thing before, but she was certain her parents would sort it out. And if it was an elaborate hoax…
Clarity and Redgrave Mayhorn were different to other folks. Maybe it was the university they worked at, with its new ideas and avante-garde life-style, but both of them stood out. They shunned modern vehicles; they were open in their discussions and no subject was taboo; they drank wine not ale, and they dressed… well… oddly.
Redgrave was a thin, tense man with faded blond hair that was thinning on top, and grey eyes. And he had a pony tail. He wore clothes of no discernable taste or style. People excused him because they said that as a professor he was naturally eccentric.
Clarity… well, some people in Lower Thatching thought her to be outrageous because she often wore… pants! Not your calf-length, tight-fitting house pants, and not your dressed-up Venetian-styled pantaloons… but real pants! Trousers! And she wore a shirt that was actually tucked into them.
Jemma’s parents listened to the tale. At first they were openly skeptical; such an idea as a parallel world was so outrageous as to be unbelievable. But as the story unfolded and the lad’s distress became more apparent, they became concerned. What if it were true? Daniel was certainly different; his clothing was so unusual and he spoke with an accent neither had heard before. Then there was the way he paused before speaking, as if listening to an inner voice. Not to mention his memories of Garreth; or rather, his total memory of Garreth.
The four of them were sitting around the kitchen table; Clarity had a notebook at the ready. Anyone looking at Clarity Mayhorn could see where Jemma got her looks from; the same hazel eyes, the same strawberry hair, the same deportment. Only the spectacles she wore on a chain around her neck, a couple of extra pounds weight and a few tiny wrinkles around the eyes separated them.
‘I think,’ Redgrave informed everyone, ‘that we need some help here.’ He looked at his wife. ‘What about Garreth’s parents? They need to know.’
Clarity considered this for a moment. ‘They’re not exactly… how shall I put this… open to new ideas, Redgrave. I don’t know how they would react.’
‘We can’t not tell them. That would…’
‘Uncle Rufus,’ Jemma interjected. ‘He could help. I was just saying to… Garreth… before, that Uncle Rufus needed someone in the office.’
‘Your brother would know what to do, Clarity,’ Redgrave acknowledged. ‘He’s an attorney-at-magik; he’s bound to know someone high in the Art that could make sense of this.’
‘Let’s call him,’ Jemma enthused. ‘Before the Aldredge’s get back.’ She’d been keeping one eye on Daniel and noticed that he’d lapsed into silence, his face a picture of misery.
Clarity opened the note book and put her glasses on. ‘I’ll just…oh dear,’ she exclaimed, pulling her glasses off and peering at them. ‘They were perfectly fine this morning.’
‘What’s happened, Mum?’
‘The spell’s gone!’ She waved the spectacles in front of Redgrave. ‘They’re supposed to last for months.’
Danny jerked his head up. ‘Spell?’ he asked. ‘What do you mean, spell?’
Jemma’s father took the glasses from Clarity and held them up in front of Danny. ‘Spell as in a magikal corrective field in the plain lenses. Simple constructed magik, Daniel.’
‘Magik? As in hocus-pocus?’ All the bits of Garreth’s memory were floating in his head, but there were gaps in the order they arrived in.
‘No,’ Redgrave said. ‘As in the science of thaumaturgy.’ He saw the bewilderment in the lad’s eyes. ‘Here, I’ll show you.’ He rose and went into the lounge room, returning seconds later with a small, coloured box. ‘This is a house ward. It is created to protect the house…’ he neared Daniel to show him
…Danny reached a hand towards it
…and, in total silence
…in slow motion
…the box exploded! Points of light poured from it, sparkling and dancing across the room; fizzing then fading into nothingness. Then it was nothing but an empty box.
Silence gripped the room. Three faces stared at him in amazement. Finally, Redgrave spoke in a very quiet and deliberate manner.
‘Jemma, if you and Daniel get the buckboard ready, we’ll head into the village and place a paraphone call to your uncle.’
Danny watched with amusement as Jemma hitched the horse to the buckboard.
The vehicle looked like an antique to his eyes, an open four-seater with small rear loading tray, black lacquered with white pin-stripes, red cushion squabs on the seats and the wheels were wooden-spoked with metal tyres. The spokes had roses painted on them. He shook his head in wonder… he’d never been this close to a horse before. The smell of leather… and dubbin… and horse droppings. All new to him.
The Saturday market was crowded.
Seventy or eighty gaily-coloured, canvas-topped stalls ringed a cobbled square that was bound on three sides by roads, and on the fourth by the red-brick market hall. A flag-draped clock-tower rose from the side of the hall, tall enough that the four faces of the clock were seen clear across the village, and inside that hall were all the produce and meat stalls; those outside catered for every type of commodity under the sun that wasn’t animal or vegetable. People thronged, many more than the village would appear to house, and the noise was one continual drone with spruikers raising their voices above it to attract recalcitrant shoppers. That noise was the sound of people. There were no mechanical noises Danny’s ear could detect; no background drone of man-made artifacts… this new world was quiet!
Horse-drawn carts and buggies lined the streets, with the odd steam-buggy scattered amongst them, and Jemma’s father skillfully weaved his way between and around them. There appeared to be no hard and fast rules about which side of the road one parked on.
Danny was taking it all in, piece by piece… his eyes travelled across the clock tower then on to… his eyes snapped back to the clock… his jaw dropped, but no words came out. Jemma looked at him askance.
‘Daniel! What’s wrong?’ Her father turned around at the tone of her voice
‘The clock!’ Danny managed to say, pointing at it. ‘The clock!’
‘What’s wrong with the clock?’ Jemma looked up at the tower, but everything looked normal to her.
Redgrave Mayhorn slowed the horse and faced Danny. ‘What do you mean… backwards?’
‘It’s numbered anti-clockwise! The numbers go around to the left.’
‘But that’s clockwise, Daniel. If they went to the right that would be anti-clockwise.’
There was something else on the clock tower that he had seen. A huge, red, white and green banner with an emblem on it. An emblem that looked like…
‘What’s that?’ he pointed to the fluttering banner.
‘The dragon flag of Cymru,’ Jemma replied.
‘Cymru? What’s Cymru?’
‘The land of the Celts, of course.’
Danny’s mind was reeling. Celts? Chester? Wales? ‘Wales!’ he shouted. ‘And that’s the Welsh flag!’ He peered harder at the fluttering banner. ‘That’s not a dragon,’ he told Jemma. ‘It’s all wrong.’
‘Well, it looks like a snake with four wings…’ he squinted at it, ‘four dragonfly wings. That’s not a dragon, it’s a giant dragonfly.’
‘And what,’ Jemma asked, icily, ‘do your dragons look like?’
Images flashed through Danny’s mind. ‘Huge, flying, fire-breathing things they are. All scales and teeth and great leathery wings. That’s what real dragons look like.’
‘They sound awful,’ Jemma whispered. ‘Your people must live in fear of them.’
‘What? What… nono…you don’t understand, Jemma. Dragons aren’t real. They’re symbols.’
Jemma’s eyes travelled to the flag, and something in them caused Danny to ask…
‘Those,’ she inclined her head towards the flag, ‘those are real.’
‘This place is weird, folks. Seriously weird.’
Mr. Mayhorn navigated their way through the crowded streets and turned off behind the market building. Across the road from the market loading docks was a row of shops with hitching rails outside. He headed there.
One of the shops sported a large bold sign that hung over the pavement from a bracket on the first floor. Danny squinted to make the words on it understood. He relaxed and let Garreth’s memory float to the surface:
GATES & BYTES, he read. MAGES TO THE COMMUNITY – COMMUNICATIONS, SCRYING, PARA-PHONY. COMPETITIVE RATES.
In the window a coloured shield with a license and registration number on it slowly changed through a range of colours; Danny thought it looked a bit like a neon sign.
‘This way,’ Redgrave Mayhorn said, holding the door open for everyone. As Danny passed through, the sign flickered and went out. He was on the point of saying something, but when Danny had walked a few yards into the shop, the sign came back on.
Open booths filled two walls of the shop and each booth contained a large crystal ball that was mounted knee-high on a stand. Redgrave was shown to one of them as he gave the mage the name to be contacted, and he waited while the connection was made. But…
…the paraphone wouldn’t work. The mage was a young man covering the Saturday shift and he was getting flustered. The scrying crystal was as lifeless as a decoy duck and no way was he going to be able to raise the target without it. A register of connections and networks lay open on his desk and Rufus Pendragon’s name was highlighted in the appropriate colour for an attorney-at-magik…black and white. It should work. But it didn’t.
‘Just a moment, if you don’t mind,’ Redgrave said, interrupting the young mage’s deliberations. He turned to Danny and Jemma. ‘Jem, take Daniel here outside and check the horse, would you? You might also go over to the market hall and get one of those big raisin and honey cakes for tonight.’
Redgrave Mayhorn bent low to his daughter’s ear. ‘It’s Daniel,’ he whispered. ‘Magik doesn’t seem to work near him. Best go outside.’
The mage looked up in surprise as his crystal ball lit up in just the manner it was supposed to and the connection was made.
‘Static?’ Mr. Mayhorn inquired of him, with a disarming smile, as the image of Rufus formed in the air above the ball. With a curious look at him, the mage retired to the back of the store where he could monitor the connection, but not the conversation.
‘Sorry to interrupt your Saturday, Rufus,’ Redgrave began, ‘but there’s something very odd happening here…’
Once outside, Jemma turned to Daniel. ‘Do you think Garreth will be all right in your place?’
‘What? Garreth?’ Jemma’s question threw him, the coldness in his stomach returned. ‘Oh. Yeah. Fine.’ Visions of sport day danced across his mind. ‘He’ll be fine.’ Jemma’s eyes held his for long enough for him to blush at the obvious lie. ‘Well,’ he amended, ‘my Dad’s a bit like your Dad. He’s pretty tuned in to things, you know?’
She shook her head. ‘Tuned in?’ This …Daniel…was so similar to Garreth. Yet, he seemed older, somehow. I want Garreth back.
He sighed. ‘Look, Jemma. I honestly don’t know how Garreth will go. If he’s like me he’ll be fighting like mad to hold down the panic. I mean, this magik stuff is pretty mind-blowing; I imagine Garreth will find the same thing. But,’ he pointed to his temple, ‘if he has some of me in there the way I have his memory… then… yeah…’ He gave his thoughts a few seconds to coalesce. ‘Look, Jemma. Having Garreth’s recall is like completing the set. Do you know what I mean?’
‘No.’ She looked into his dark eyes and saw more than the Garreth she remembered.
‘Ok, then. Do you know how twins seem to be a complete personality when they’re together? Yeah? Well, it feels like that to me. I know more than I knew before. As if he and I make up the set.’
‘Ah. Yes!’ She smiled in relief. ‘I know exactly what you mean.’
‘Phew!’ Danny blew his cheeks out in mock exasperation. ‘Good. So. If Garreth trusts my Dad, he’ll be fine.’ He grinned suddenly, and Jemma’s heart gave little lurch… because it was almost the same cheeky grin that Garreth had. ‘He’d have a heart attack if he heard me say it… but my Dad’s pretty cool.’
‘Cool?’ Jemma asked, her eyebrows knitting together in a frown, and Danny groaned.
‘I’ll explain later. And by the way. It’s Danny,’ he told her. ‘I don’t like Daniel.’
Rufus Pendragon drove into Lower Thatching as the afternoon was fading.
Jemma’s uncle was a tall, middle-aged, gangly, affable man with a long, clean-shaven face and large teeth. He had pale grey eyes and thinning sandy hair and looked nothing like Jemma’s mum… at least not to Danny’s eyes. He wore a driving coat and a tie-down cap with a pair of goggles perched on top.
He arrived in an open-topped steam buggy; one of the new types with the piezo-quartz ignited flash burner and two-speed leather belt transmission. It had a low-slung beech wood body that gleamed with lacquer, and two rows of red leather seats with horse-hair stuffing. A large steering wheel dominated the right front seat and glass-fronted brass gauges lined the dashboard. There were four wooden-spoked wheels with white pneumatic tyres and external drum brakes, and two spare wheels were carried on a frame at the rear. Brass and nickel-plated gas-powered driving lights pointed the way forward.
Danny couldn’t believe his eyes. This was the peak of technology?
The Attorney wasted no time. He sat Danny down in the lounge room and had him tell his story, which he listened to without a flicker of expression. Every now and then he made notes in a small book, but said nothing until Danny had finished. Jemma and her parents were present, but just sat and listened. When Danny had finished, Jemma told her tale.
‘Well,’ Rufus said at last, ‘I’ve never heard the like of this. A strange tale indeed.’ He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘Tell me, this book you say you found. Can you remember any of the characters in it?’
‘I’m afraid not.’
‘Very well.’ He consulted his notes. ‘This memory you have of Garreth. How detailed is it? Do you have his full memory?’
Out of the corner of his eye Danny saw Jemma blush. ‘No… I don’t think so,’ he said slowly. ‘I know things, but only when they pop up… as if the knowledge is there when I need it.’ He concentrated. ‘I don’t know if it makes any sense, but they feel like my own memories, only they’re fragmented. I don’t feel like Garreth… but I know things he knows.’
Rufus picked up the little box that had carried the house-ward and turned it over in his hands. ‘And you say there is no magik in your world at all? Nothing that could account for this… anomaly?’
Danny Royce was starting to wake up to the reality of his situation. And it made no sense whatsoever. It could have been a story from one of his books, but it wasn’t. It was real!
This new world he found himself in was one of contrast and contradiction; no electricity, but magik instead; horses and steam-buggies instead of cars and trucks; windmills instead of pumps and airships instead of aero planes.
Like electricity. They didn’t have it; more… they’d never heard of it! Trying to describe it to Jemma and her folks and Mr. Pendragon had been, well… difficult.
‘It’s power,’ he’d told them. ‘It comes from a power station through power lines and into your home. You plug things into it to make them work.’
‘So these “power lines” are hollow, then?’ Rufus had asked. His skepticism at the tale had lasted seconds only, as it was quite clear that the young man was not Garreth. For one, although similar in appearance, there were obvious differences. His hair, and the way his speech was slow as if he was listening offstage for prompts. And the way his own language sounded convoluted and soft… like the way of the southern Frenche.
‘Nonono. They’re solid copper or something like that. Electricity flows through it.’ He saw the quizzical looks on their faces, and thought, I’m in trouble here. ‘Electricity’s a bit like… well… lightning. Yeah. Lightning. We use it to make television sets and fridges and radios work. Even watches.’ He rolled his sleeve up to show them his digital watch, and they peered closely to see.
‘Liquid crystal diodes,’ he said, before he noticed his watch was blank and the cursor didn’t blink. He pressed the reset button, but nothing happened. ‘That was a brand new battery,’ he said, awe in his voice as the truth crept up on him… electricity didn’t work here!
‘So it’s run out of lightning, then?’ Jemma asked, keeping a wary eye on the glass-covered amulet on Danny’s wrist.
‘Yeah. No! It’s not lightning. Electricity is…’ he screwed his eyes tight as he tried to remember, wishing he’d paid more attention at school when he hadn’t had too, ‘…like a flow of positive and negative… things. Ions. No. Charged particles. That’s it!’ he said triumphantly. ‘Charged particles. But you can’t see them.’ Messy, he knew, though he felt he’d acquitted himself well.
‘So, something I can’t see flows out of solid wire and imparts the power of lightning to certain forms of machinery.’ Rufus was struggling with this concept, but determined not to let it show. ‘This machinery cooks food, preserves food, warms or cools the house, tells the time and operates entertainment screens. In return, “electricity” isn’t lightning, is invisible, but can kill you if you touch it; oh, and it consumes enormous quantities of coal and oil. Am I right so far?’
It was starting to sound odd to his own ears, but he went on with it anyway. ‘It can also be generated by… er… do the words “nuclear fission” mean anything to you?’ He’d lost them there, he knew, as four blank faces stared at him.
But by the same token, he had been completely floored by the concept that magic was the chief operating system in this world. Magik, his Garreth-memory corrected. Then Rufus had shown him the globe. All those weird countries and different borders. Where had Russia gone? I looked a quarter the size he was used to. And America! Now it was just a collection of territories and federations. And what was this “Thule” that seemed to compromise most of the Arctic Circle? And what were the “Mongol Territories”? And what the hell was “New Holland” doing where Australia should be? It was all too much; his brain ached.
Rufus Pendragon was puzzled. The lad was obviously familiar with the globe of the world, but not the countries as it showed them. Was he really from a different world, or was he a fake? But why would anyone fake such an improbable tale? What was to be gained? He turned to the globe again.
‘Show me,’ he asked Danny, ‘what sort of world you say you’re familiar with.’ Then he watched as Danny retraced borders and renamed places. Amazing! What an imagination! Or was it? ‘Tell me, Danny, this… England... is that what it’s called? How is it governed?’
This was easier. ‘Well, it’s called a democratic monarchy,’ he began. ‘We…’
‘Aha!’ Rufus interrupted. ‘Monarchy. Who sits on the throne?’
Danny wasn’t sure where this was going. ‘Elizabeth. Elizabeth the Second.’
Rufus’ grey eyes took on a harder edge. ‘What year was it when you left this England?’
‘First year of the new millennium,’ he answered. There was expectancy on all four faces. ‘Two thousand and one.’ He saw confusion in Jemma’s eyes.
‘Two thousand and one counted from…when?’
‘The birth of Christ, of course. Is there anything wrong?’
‘I’m not sure, lad. We have the same year here. And the same birth of Christ.’
‘Really? But everything here is so… so… old fashioned!’ Danny Royce had only been in this new, strange place for a few hours, yet everything he had seen looked as if it had come straight out of an antique shop.
‘So you say,’ Rufus said, rubbing his chin in thought. ‘So you say. Tell me. This monarchy of yours. How far back does it go?’
History wasn’t one of Danny’s strong points, but he shut his eyes and concentrated. Eventually… ‘I think it started after the Romans left.’
Rufus sat upright. ‘Rome? You know of Rome?’
Danny nodded. ‘Yes. They left about… oh… I guess… the fourth century. I think.’
‘What came next? Can you remember?’
‘Saxons? Yeah. It was the Saxons. That’s when the kings of the different tribes started trying to unite the country.’
Rufus nodded to himself. ‘Yes, yes. Excellent. Then tell me, how was the country united?’
Danny grinned. ‘That’s easy. William the Conqueror did that.’ He saw the stunned looks on all four faces. ‘What? What’s wrong?’
‘William? The Conqueror? From Normandy?’ It was Clarity that interjected in an incredulous tone of voice.
‘When did this take place?’
Something was wrong, Danny knew. Then Garreth’s memory kicked in. ‘Oh, bugger!’ he whispered to himself. He knew what was wrong. ‘The Battle of Hastings. Ten sixty-six.’ He looked at Jemma. ‘In my world William won.’ Now that the initial memory was out, the rest came flooding in. Alfred VIII, Lord High Chieftain and King of The Angle Isles and her Domains could trace direct descent back to King Harold. The same Harold who had destroyed the Normans and their duke on the beachfront at Hastings.
Rufus Pendragon sank back into his seat and rubbed his eyes. The story was almost too strange to be true. Yet… here was a lad whose very presence caused magik to break down; who was absolutely convinced of another timeline. Was the lad genuine… or was he something else? Rufus knew he was out of his depth… he needed help. Serious help. Luckily, he knew where to get it. But first things first…
‘We need to talk to Garreth’s parents,’ he decided. ‘They should be made aware of events.’
Jemma knew just how Garreth’s parents would react. ‘They wouldn’t understand, Uncle Rufus,’ she said. ‘I don’t think they have the imagination.’ Danny nodded his head in agreement.
‘Still and all, they must be told. And Danny must stay there until things are sorted out. After that…’
The memory of Garreth’s parents popped into Danny’s mind. ‘Er,’ he looked at everyone around the table, ‘do I have to?’
‘Yes, you do,’ Clarity informed him. ‘The only other place would be here,’ she looked at Redgrave out of the corner of her eye, ‘and that wouldn’t be… ahem… proper.’
‘Why not?’ Danny noticed Jemma’s sudden look of embarrassment.
Clarity too was flustered. ‘Why not? Well…ahhh… in your world, Daniel, are young people allowed to mix unsupervised? At home, I mean.’’
‘Why not? Emily’s often at my place after school. I’ve got a great CD player in my room and we’re always playing music.’ A stillness descended on the others and Danny could sense something wasn’t right.
‘Are you telling us,’ Clarity said, with some precision, ‘that your parents allow a young lady to visit your… er,’ she was clearly embarrassed at what she was asking him, ‘your room?’
‘Alone?’ Everybody was looking at a different part of the room, trying not to make eye contact.
‘Yes. We sometimes do homework together as well as listen to music.’
Clarity looked at her husband and brother in amazement. Everyone avoided looking at Jemma. ‘I think, Daniel,’ Clarity eventually said, with some finality, ‘it would be best if you did stay at your pare… at Garreth’s house.’
Rufus put his notebook away and picked up his driving hat and gloves. ‘I’m off,’ he announced. ‘When I return to Chester I’ll contact an old friend in London.’ He half smiled at the thought. ‘He should know what to do.’
Theolonia Crabbe retreated from the scrying crystal and closed it down.
Even though she dared not risk discovery by listening in, now that her quarry was located, it would only be a simple process of conditioning him for the take-over of his body. And to do that, she didn’t have to go anywhere near him.
Later that evening, Edgar and Mary Aldredge sat in open-mouthed amazement as they listened to Redgrave and Clarity relate the strange events of the day to them. As the tale unfolded their eyes travelled to the lad who sat with them… and Edgar tried to understand what exactly was happening. But really, he thought, the tale was too preposterous for words. One day Garreth’s moping around because he’s lost his Talent, the next, someone shows up from another world beyond the mirror pretending to be their son’s alter-ego! This, he rationalized, has all the hallmarks of a hoax. Or… it was a way of getting attention. Yes… that’s what this is… a way of getting attention. And this Daniel is in on it. Well, two can play at that game…
‘Amazing,’ Edgar announced when the tale was told, ‘absolutely amazing!’ He chuckled to himself and the Mayhorns looked on with some concern. ‘Another world, eh? That’s perfect for Garreth; a nice holiday where there’s no magik to remind him of his own failure. That will do him a power of good, that will.’ He gave Daniel a meaningful look. ‘You can stay as long as you like, Daniel. And when you two have had enough and Garreth wants to come back, there’s always the fruit shop for him to work in.’ He patted Mary’s hand as he beamed at Clarity and Redgrave. ‘You can tell him that.’
Outside, when the front door had been closed behind them, an astonished Redgave Mayhorn turned to his wife and said, ‘That went rather badly, I think.’
Garreth memory tugged at Danny. ‘Actually, I thought it went quite well.’ He grinned at Jemma’s parents. ‘Terrific, in fact.’
In his dreams that night Edgar Aldredge wrote a very strong letter to the Office of Magikal Malfeasance… a very strong letter indeed.
The fog from the Thames River was particularly thick and damp, not usual for London this time of year, and there was a pungency to its aroma that carried memories of coal-fired ships, wet mud, fish and horses.
Harley Street was a long foggy tunnel interspersed with feeble pools of orange gas-light that diminished into the distance, and was dotted with the moving points of carbide-fuelled coach lamps that suddenly appeared out of the gloom. Sounds were muffled for once, which was a blessing in normally noisy London. It was obvious that the Camelot Effect had been turned off. Number thirty-four was the middle house in a long street of similar houses. It was a rather imposing terrace-house built in the classic design that was beloved of most professional, and successful, people.
Attached to the front door and just visible through the fog was a very small, and highly polished, brass plaque with onyx inlaid lettering that proclaimed:
Salamander Erasmus Ord
By Appointment to the Crown
Wizards, as a rule, are intelligent, detached, insular, old, short tempered and rude. They can afford to be whatever they want because they are immensely powerful. They are also, to the very last man and very last woman, deeply obligated to serve The Law. Because wizards have to spend so much time in the study and application of their craft, such things as exercise, good diet and regular hours are foreign concepts to them; actually, they do know what they are, it is the very idea of implementing them that is foreign. Most wizards, therefore, are out of shape; mental giants in soft, rotund bodies.
Salamander Ord was no exception; rather, he was the proof that made the pudding, with the exception of the temper and the rudeness. Salamander Ord was affable to a serious degree. Short and rotund he might be, but he had ruddy cheeks and a wide smile, white hair that was short and thick and neatly trimmed, long sideburns and a booming laugh. His eyes were of the deepest, deepest blue.
All mages were expected to show sobriety in manner and dress, and the dark colours were the norm. Short top hats, tailed frock-coats, even cuff-less trousers and shoes were usually black or charcoal grey. Only waistcoats offered delivery from the self-imposed sartorial monotony. And the higher up the rankings a mage was, the more refined his, or her, appearance was expected be.
Yet it was a quirk of high mages everywhere to affect a little eccentricity in an area unimportant to the craft, but important to their personas… signatures as it were. There were the absent-minded, the quixotic, reclusive and flamboyant. Salamander Ord had a thing about stiff collars and braces. His shirts always had stiff cellulose collars held on with golden studs, and he always wore wide, brightly coloured braces. His eccentricity flowed on to his shirts; they were the faintest of blue … or pink. And his ties were of the Spanish affectation, thin and dramatically tied into a large, drooping bow. Salamander Erasmus Ord cared not a fig for convention, he was so high in the listings of the Arts Arcana that his quirks and foibles were to be tolerated and even applauded… but never, ever, copied.
Salamander Ord was just sitting down to dinner all alone.
Gwendolyn, his wife of forty years was spending a week or two down in Winchester with her sister and he was very happy about that because it meant he got the cook to make the dinners he wanted. This night’s repast was lamb stew with dumplings and he was also going to eat it in his study!
BONG… BONG… BONG... the soft tones of the paraphone receiver came from the hallway and old Martynsyde his manservant put his head around the door.
‘Sir,’ he whispered in a dry, sepulcher voice, ‘Attorney Pendragon apologises the lateness of the hour, but…’
‘Rufus!’ boomed Salamander. ‘Bring him in, man.’ He gestured with his hands. ‘Bring him in.’
Martynsyde shuffled through the doorway towing a small wheeled trolley that carried several large crystals and placed it in the centre of the room. One of the crystals was glowing and Salamander brought it to life with a snap of his fingers. Immediately a hologram took shape next to the trolley and resolved itself into the shape of Rufus Pendragon.
‘Hello Salamander,’ Rufus began, eyeing the desk, ‘I’m sorry to interrupt your meal.’
The wizard waved away the apology. ‘Don’t worry about that, old friend. What are you up to these days? Ah? How long has it been since we sorted out that little football-tampering scandal… six months?’
‘Fourteen months, Sal. All of that.’
‘Oh.’ The wizard scratched his head. ‘Time seems to have a different speed these days, eh, Rufus. Well, well. Fourteen months.’ He brightened. ‘How’s your good lady wife? How’s Phoebe?’
Rufus smiled a toothy smile. ‘She’s fine, Sal. Gwen?’
Rufus was the only person his wife allowed to contract her name. ‘At her sister’s.’ Rufus’ eyes travelled to the desk and the meal on it. They also noticed the bottle of red wine and the box of cigars. He nodded in understanding.
‘Ah, well,’ said Rufus’ old friend. ‘So… I assume, by the fact you’re wearing a driving coat and look rather dusty, that this is a business call. Ah?’
‘Well, if you consider a young man who disappears into a mirror… and another who falls out of the same mirror, claims to be from another world and is impervious to magik… to be business…’ he shrugged his shoulders, ‘…then business it is.’
Rufus Pendragon now had the total and undivided attention of one of the country’s most powerful wizards. Salamander leaned forward in his chair. ‘Have you seen this lad?’
‘And interviewed him, Sal. My niece found him.’
‘Right. Go home, Rufus; I’ll call you there in one hour.’
One and a half hours later, Salamander Ord had the whole story.
He had spent the time researching his extensive library, but there was nothing in it that would yield a clue. Nothing. His friend looked at him expectantly from the comfort of his own lounge room in Chester.
‘I’ll have to come up there and examine the lad,’ he said. ‘There may be some residual memory of the book I could trace. We need to check Garreth’s background; his movements, contacts.’ The dinner was still sitting on the desk untouched, but the wine was open and half finished and a cigar burned between his fingers. ‘I’ll book a train seat tomorrow and we will all meet at your offices, I think.
‘See if you can get old Afferton around, will you. If there is any malignancy involved, he’ll smell it.’
Rufus nodded. Afferton Smythe was eighty-three years old and he had the best nose in the north. Which was quite normal because Afferton Smythe was a were-wolf. His age, and the fact that he was on anti-lycanthropic medication had kept him safe from harm; especially from the occasional posse of angry farmers who thought that any missing livestock was obviously the work of a were-wolf.
‘He’s not very well, Salamander,’ Rufus replied, ‘but I’ll try. Do you think dark arts are involved?’
The wizard blew a perfect smoke ring towards the ceiling. ‘I don’t know. There have been some odd happenings these last few months. Portents in the skies; people reporting faces and names written in clouds; weather spells gone a’glimmer; two-headed lambs born. Oddities, but nothing dramatic.’
To an attorney’s ear they sounded like interference in the laws of magik; and interference meant the dark arts. The underworld. Literally. He said so.
‘Not necessarily, Rufus. But on that note, I have to tell you that I’m bound by my office to report this tale of yours to the Office of Magikal Malfeasance.’ The OMM was the most feared office in the Arts Arcana. It was the watchdog of the law. Any diversion from the true path of thaumaturgy was investigated. Thoroughly.
‘What would you like me to do, Sal?’
‘Can you keep the lad close to you? Maybe he could help around the office.’
Rufus reached out of crystal range, his hand disappearing momentarily. When it returned it held a pipe that Rufus puffed back into life. ‘That’s a good idea. The clerks could use a runner around the place. Is that alright?’
‘Perfect.’ He raised his glass. ‘Here’s to adventure, eh?’
‘Ah, Salamander. I think we’re too old for that.’
After Rufus had gone, Salamander sat for long minutes in the quiet. His study was large and mostly empty save for the desk, several heavy leather wing chairs and a few small, but also heavy, wooden side-tables. All were strategically placed before the hearth; and beyond the hearth, a fire burned hot with the combustion of anthracite coal.
Gas lamps dotted the walls and between the lamps, in half shadows, bookcases filled the walls on three sides. Above the fireplace, memographs and pictures, paintings and photographs gazed down on the room.
And one of those paintings began to move.
‘Adventure indeed!’ it said. The painting turned an imperious eye towards him.
It was a painting of himself, enthusiastically daubed by an eager amateur. The face in the painting was his own, as of that very moment; the voice from the painting was also his own. Together, they constituted his ego-savant; here he could talk to himself and get a chance to listen to himself. It was a wonderful and powerful mental tool… and he’d had it a long time.
‘A parallel universe,’ the painting said. ‘What a splendid adventure that would be, eh, Ord? ‘
‘Well…’ Salamander swirled the wine around in his glass, his eyes fixed on the play of light in the wine. ‘…if it’s not a hoax…’
‘That little knot in your belly tells you it’s no hoax. An alien lad… anti-magik… ah, yes. I see adventure and danger ahead.’
‘Oh, yes, Ord. Danger. Gwendolyn expects you down in Winchester next week.’
Salamander woke from his introspection. ‘Stop being melodramatic, you fraud.’
‘Of course I’m melodramatic,’ the painting responded, ‘given the nature of my artist.’ There was a disdainful sniff. ‘And it’s not “fraud,” Ord… the word is “forgery”.’ The face in the painting de-animated and became a portrait once again.
‘Always the last word, eh?’ Salamander saluted his picture with the glass and took a sip.
In her dark room, lying in her bed of dark counterpane, the Grey Lady Crabbe composed herself for a special journey.
No spells or incantations were needed, for this journey was of her mind. She would travel the astral plane and see their intended victim for herself… read his hidden thoughts.
There was no light in her room save one, and that one could not be seen in this world. On a side table, burning with a black flame stood a beacon-candle. This was the anchor for her mind, with its mind-bright light she could not get lost among the planes of the ether.
With her head framed by a crisp, white pillow, the body of Theolonia Crabbe fell into sleep. Her disembodied mind rose up and saw every detail as she looked down on herself, but now the room was flooded with the candle’s spectral light, a light that created no shadows. With a smile on her imaginary lips, Theolonia rose up to the ceiling… and beyond. Through the physical world she climbed, the artifices and constructions of men mere clouds to be passed through. Higher, through rain she couldn’t feel, to the clear air above, she sought the distance from earthly bounds.
Now! Where the physical world lay below, and night spread across the Angle Isles like a deep, dreamless sleep, thick and dark; now she could enter the astral realm. With a mental squirm, akin to crossing the eyes of the mind, the molecules of the physical world separated… moved away from each other… allowed her to glide… between.
And there before her, arrayed in colours of glory and magik, lay the natural world. The air was a pale, translucent blue that moved slowly and languorously like an ethereal tide. The ground spread away all around, natural and pure, the greys and blacks of rock, the umbers of the soil, the greenish hues of woodlands, and the bright shards of water that were brilliant as diamonds. There was no presence of man on this place. But she could see the marks of where they were.
Across the land, for as far as the astral eye could see, was the wonder of the natural world, the fabulous Pool of Dreams. Every soul, every mind, every thought was a drop of incandescence and colour. Like drops in a pool they radiated out from the person they belonged to, spreading and blending until they joined together in one amorphous blanket.
Currents within told of powerful thoughts, eddies of colour were hallmarks of trained minds… here the cobalt blue of an ecclesiastic mage… there the soft rose of a lady chirurgeon… the scarlet whirlpool of an angry temporal mage spun furiously… all bound together like a living quilt.
The astral sky suddenly lit up as, far off, a golden column shot upwards out of the Pool like a glittering fountain, spreading light all around before subsiding. Theolonia knew that somewhere a high wizard had crafted a great spell.
There were dark holes in the Pool; vacant, still holes in the riot of colour that told her where other mages were, each one protected from the astral realm and those who might travel it. It was fatal to try to enter those dark holes.
The mind’s eye of the wizard Theolonia Crabbe saw all this and more. Rising upwards from the dark hole of her own presence was a thin, bright column of spectral light; a column that only she could see. Her beacon-light. Now she could orient herself… scan towards the west… ignore the thicker pools of dreams that were the cities…concentrate on the direction she knew… and go there. Like a gossamer wisp of thought, her astral mind sped across the multi-hued land, towards the dark wall of the coast that lined the far horizon.
In moments that coastline approached, and the dark horizon became a deep, dark ocean sparkling with the shifting phosphorescence of its denizen’s life forces.
She halted, and looked around. This way, her mind said. Down there, through the colours of the Pool. Back down to the real world…
…and she was there. A cottage rested below her, its roof shiny with rain, its windows dark and closed. Trees and bushes were mere phantoms against the night. An attic window beckoned, and she entered.
Her victim slept in his bed like a rag-doll that had been dropped on to it. Elbows and knees made the eiderdown look like a collapsed tent and the pillow had slipped to the floor where it rested among his discarded clothes. A shadow next to his sleeping form moved, startling the astral mind of the wizard with its unexpected appearance, and Mr. Toast’s tawny eyes looked above the recumbent form and saw what no human eyes could…a phantom mind and… behind it… hidden in the shadows… another mind… a mind with a face of evil. He knew the look; he’d seen it many times in the strange, dark places he’d hunted in.
Watch if you will, my feline witness. I have business with your master.
The tendrils of Theolonia’s mind descended and probed the mind of the sleeping Garreth. All was as it should be. Deeper she went, and the thoughts and emotions came tumbling out like fish from a barrel… fast and slippery… each one going its own way…
…but she knew those she wanted and the passing thoughts merely confirmed what she knew about Garreth. Deeper yet she penetrated his mind, to a place where only another wizard’s magikal scrutiny would detect her presence, and there, deep within the soul of Danny Royce, she found the shape and colour of his mandala…his psychic nexus. By this she could identify him anywhere, across oceans if need be. Patiently, she memorised him, for when the moment came for Horatio to inhabit this body, she wanted no nasty surprises.
Slowly, Theolonia Crabbe retreated, her task completed. With a last, contemptuous glance towards the cat, she drifted back up through the cottage, into the night sky, squirming her astral mind into the natural plane of the world. There, far away, the thin, glowing column of light beckoned her and she sped towards it
Safe and unseen, she gloated. The job is done.
Theolonia Crabbe was wrong. She had been seen. And understood. By a mind that instinctively knew the wrongness of her deeds; that could smell the foulness of the corruption that dwelt within her mind. A mind that would recognise her and her evil companion anywhere; that would never forget.
Mr. Toast curled back down next to the strange person that carried his master within, confident that the bad thing would not return. But he knew, deep in his instinctive heart, he would meet it again…
…he would meet both of them again.