The DaneLaw Chambers building was an old converted moot-hall that had been built against the Latin wall in the Old Quarter of Chester. It was three stories high, with an imposing Saxon arch at the entrance and narrow, pointed windows on three sides. The offices of Halfdan, Athelstane and Pendragon occupied most of the second floor, high enough to be insulated from the incessant clatter of horseshoes on the cobbled streets and the rumble of hard coach tyres.
Jemma’s uncle had a liking for the pipe, and his office reeked of tobacco; it seemed to match the patina of age that covered everything from the leather chairs to the etched glass of the gas lamps. Quill pens, each one a different colour for the different protocols of magikal determination and courtesy, stood like flagpoles across the front of Rufus’ highly polished desk; and there were photographs of wife and family in leather holders arraigned along the left side. On the wall behind his seat, diplomas of Law and Magik were arrayed in serious presentation, each one positioned according to the requirements, and power, of the issuing schools and colleges. The room, to Danny’s nose, had an olde-worlde lived-in kind of smell.
Scrolls, contracts and books littered the floor about the desk and the floor underneath them was covered by a rather faded carpet. Danny’s other memory wasn’t fooled by that carpet. Faded or not, it was a powerful mandala, its weave containing the schematic representations of the mathematics of the spells of truth, honesty and justice. It was a very big carpet. And very, very expensive.
Danny Royce was getting used to the bizarre; here he was on the morning of his third day since falling through the mirror sitting with Jemma in the waiting room of an attorney-at-magik waiting for a wizard to arrive! Nowhere, not in his wildest dreams, nor in his most lurid fantasy books would such a scenario be believable. He was on overload, and what made it so weird was how normal everything felt. He caught Jemma’s eye and gave her a wan smile. Secretly Danny was pleased that Jemma had insisted on coming along…
…voices sounded from the outer hall and the office door opened. Jemma’s uncle stepped through followed by two men. One was a rather portly man wearing a black frock-coat and a very bright crimson waistcoat. He was carrying a large leather traveling bag.
The second man was odd; odd like an eccentric is odd. To Danny, he reminded him of one of those tramps he often saw shuffling along the main roads of Manchester, dressed in a tattered great coat, rummaging through the rubbish bins, gratefully sipping on a cup of tea donated by a sympathetic shopkeeper, disappearing to God-knows-where in the night.
‘Salamander Ord,’ the first man said by way of introduction. He dropped the bag and walked over to Jemma and shook her hand. ‘I’d recognise you as Rufus’ niece anywhere, young lady.’ Then he switched to Danny and his face grew serious. ‘Young man, welcome to your alter-dimension. I bet it’s not what you imaged such a place to be. Eh?’
Danny took the offered hand, and smiled sheepishly. ‘No, sir. Definitely not.’ So this was Jemma’s uncle’s wizard friend! He noted the absence of any wizardish paraphernalia or regalia; the old man sitting there could have been anybody… the word “Dickens” popped into mind… that’s it! The clothes! He looks like uncle whatsisname out of Dickens. No… definitely not what he expected at all!
‘To business,’ Salamander said as he pulled forth the bag and removing from it a grey leather box as big as a spectacle case. He gave them both a smile. Opening the small grey case, he took out a pair of spectacles and put them on. For some reason, the familiarity of the act delighted Danny; we’re not that different after all, he thought. He did notice, though, that the wizard’s spectacles contained ground lenses.
‘I have made this trip under some haste, young man, so that I might make your acquaintance and ascertain your threat to our world.’
Danny started. ‘Threat? How can I be a threat?’ He looked at Jemma and saw the same confusion in her eyes. Rufus sat behind his desk and just watched.
‘Suppose, young man that a powerful exponent of my craft was to visit your world. This person could, with nothing more than simple earth-magik and glamour’s, control the way people acted and believed. And in doing so would be all but invisible to any regulatory authority you have.
‘Now. Turn that around. One such as yourself, who appears to be impervious to constructed magik, would also be invisible to us. Do you see? If magik fails in your presence, what mayhem may be wrought? Hmmm?’
Danny nodded, slowly. ‘I think I do, Mister Ord,’ he said with some hesitation; but Jemma was nodding her head with some certainty, so she knew exactly what could happen.
‘Good. On, then,’ said Salamander Ord rubbing his hands together. From his coat pocket he produced a wooden pencil and held it up before Danny’s eyes.
‘A simple pencil. Here.’ The wizard offered it over and Danny took it. ‘Does it feel normal to you?’
Danny rolled it between his fingers. It was wood. It was a pencil. ‘Yes,’ he said.
‘That, lad, is because that’s all it is. However,’ Salamander said, reaching into his pocket again, ‘I have another.’ His hand appeared holding another pencil, exactly the same as the first. ‘Now, this one…’
…the pencil started to come apart! Like a dandelion in the wind, small particles of matter leapt away from contact with him… tiny shards of energy pulsed like miniature forked lightning… filling the room with actinic flashes… a sharp crackling sound filled the air… then there was no more pencil. It had completely dissolved, leaving behind the tangy smell of ozone.
Jemma boggled at what she’d seen; Salamander, sweat pouring down his cheeks, leaned back and gasped for air. ‘Well, well,’ he said, to no-one in particular. ‘Well, well, indeed.’ His eyes were far away and unfocused; as if he were listening to something far, far away and he scratched the top of his head. Then, with a start, he returned to face Danny.
‘I am, as you may have been informed, young man, a mage of some considerable ability.’ Danny nodded absently; but the wizard looked to him like a man who was badly rattled by what he had seen. ‘That…’ he held up his now empty hand, ‘…was a very sophisticated and difficult replication. It is the hardest thing to achieve in magik, and requires the highest… no matter… no matter, eh?
‘That simple pencil,’ Salamander Ord continued, returning the subject to its original course, ‘was made by me this morning. It’s a rather elegant molecular confidence trick utilising a complex replication with a disparate energy bonding matrix against a true template…plus… randomly accumulated matter that produced, young man, a real pencil. A replication in which two presumptions are made. The pencil will appear like a pencil, and, while I concentrate on it, it will act like a pencil. That’s how constructed magik works, young man. The fact that my creation had the physical aspects of its master-form satisfied the former; its failure at the latter is the proof of the pudding… so to speak.
‘However, try as I might… I couldn’t… hold… the process together.’ Again the wizard’s eyes grew vague, and his voice was far away. ‘In my mind… all the imperatives… hardened formulae of constructed power… just… dissolved.’ He barked a laugh. ‘Poof! Just like that!’ The wizard shook his head. ‘Let’s try something else, lad. That last was constructed power; let’s try some raw focused energy.’ He removed his coat and rolled up his sleeves.
‘Stand over buy the door, if you will.’ The wizard held both hands out before him, his fists closed, and Danny saw Rufus and Jemma back away. The old man just stood there and watched. ‘This is Elphyck’s Coil,’ he said. ‘Designed to restrain and hold.’ His hands opened…
…Jemma saw the power flow
…saw the brilliant blue coils of writhing energy leap from the wizard’s hands and encircle Danny
…saw sweat bead the wizards face
…then saw the coils splutter and die.
Danny saw Salamander Ord straining mightily with his empty hands outstretched. It was obvious that everyone in the room could see something, but he had no idea what. There was, however, a very slight blue haze around the wizard’s hands. Then that too was gone. It had been the same with the pencil. One second it was in the wizard’s hand, the next second it had faded away.
The only sound in the office was the wizard panting.
Jemma had never seen anything like it in her life. Such fierce and applied magik was not exactly used every day, but she had no doubt that that was what the wizard had used. And it had fallen apart!
‘Dear me,’ Salamander said. ‘Well Rufus, you were right. I have learned something today that no mage in living memory has known; and I would seek further, if…’ he turned to Danny and gave him his full attention, ‘if you will allow me a courtesy. A small concession. A reading of your mind. Painless, I assure you.’
Danny nodded assent, his lips too dry to speak. For some reason he didn’t want to lick them for fear of appearing nervous. ‘Excellent!’ boomed the wizard. ‘That’s the spirit, young man. Now. Sit down here,’ he used the two visitor chairs in front of Rufus’ desk, ‘opposite me. Good. Now, just lean forward towards me… good…. close your eyes…’
Jemma saw the wizard bend his own head to almost touch Danny’s; then, almost on the point of being unseen, a faint violet glow came into being between them. She couldn’t look at it for too long, because it made her eyes begin to itch. Then… minutes only… it was over, and Salamander Ord sagged back in his seat, perspiration again dripping down his cheeks.
‘Well, well, well.’ He pulled a small notebook and pencil from his pocket and quickly began to write. ‘Amazing…’ he muttered away to himself, still writing. ‘Utterly amazing. There!’ He slammed the book shut and put it away with a flourish.
‘My initial analysis suggests that while you may accept the benefits of magik… things you can see and touch that were crafted with some original magikal input… the direct application of magik has no affect on you. There is definitely a degree of separation within your mind that is distinct and quantifiable, and I suspect we’ll find a sliding scale of it in there somewhere, a way of measuring cause and effect. But that’s for later.’ He pulled his spectacles off and put them away also.
‘Something else you should know. You too, Miss Mayhorn.’ He eyed them each in turn. ‘There are two of you in there…’ he pointed to Danny’s head, ‘… almost identical in aura and aspect… but very different in content. It seems that our misplaced Master Aldredge is still with us… in a fashion. Hmmm?’
‘I… I have memories of things… I know things that… Garreth knows…feel things,’ he avoided looking at Jemma, who had reddened considerably.
‘Don’t fear those memories. Their energy quotient is significantly less than your own…’ he stopped at the perplexed look on the lad’s face. ‘You are the stronger personality; the other is more of a symbiot. I suspect that Master Aldredge is experiencing the very same thing.’
‘That’s a relief,’ Danny enthused. ‘I was beginning to think I was going crazy.’
‘Oh, you may, lad. You may.’
‘Or you may profit… it’s up to you. Basically, you are more than what you were before. With the additional experience and knowledge you now possess, you will have an accelerated learning curve in your development and growth. Axiomatic, really.’
It made sense; Danny knew it made sense. ‘What will happen to me, Mr. Ord?’
‘Happen?’ The wizard seemed surprised at the question. ‘Why, we will have to return you home, Mr. Royce. You’re too much of a risk here. Just as I’m sure that Garreth Aldredge is a risk to your world.’ The wizard’s face grew serious and his kindly eyes hardened. ‘Yet, there is more to this than meets the eye, I’m afraid. This was no accident. However, at this very moment I am unable to identify the spell that brought you here and thus unable to offer any theory as to “why”.’ He gestured to the third man, who shuffled over.
‘Meet Afferton Smythe,’ he said, by way of introduction. Afferton Smythe was a small, wrinkled man with yellow weeping eyes, and a fringe of grey hair from which the dome of his bald head protruded. The skin of his face sagged in white-stubbled folds and his nose was a huge red cherry. He looked old and frail inside his moth-eaten greatcoat. Well-worn boots shod his feet and he wore gloves with the fingers cut off; the skin on his fingers was rough and red.
Yet there was something about the old man that kept drawing Danny’s eyes to him… something that flickered in the old man’s weepy orbs… something on the border of the unseen… something hard and sharp… something golden. And his handshake was surprisingly firm.
Rufus said from his chair, ‘Afferton has a very special talent, Danny.’ He grinned his toothy grin. ‘Proceed, Afferton.’
‘Are we safe, Salamander? No chance of being scryed on?’ Afferton’s voice was in complete contrast to his looks; there was the feeling of power in the old man’s deep rumble.
The wizard gave a mirthless smile. ‘Anything that can get through my wards hasn’t been devised yet.’ With a nod, Afferton turned back to Danny.
The old man walked around the young man, sniffing. ‘I smell things, lad,’ he told Danny. ‘Things that are wrong; things that don’t belong.’ He peered into Danny’s eyes, examining him. The stare from the yellow eyes was unblinking and very disconcerting. Danny felt he was being pulled apart bit by bit.
‘What sort of wrong?’ he asked, unable to move his eyes away.
‘Sorcery. Sins.’ He blinked. ‘Evil things.’ He lifted his rheumy eyes to Salamander. ‘Could I have a word, Sal? Outside?’
Jemma was unable to contain herself. ‘How can you do that, Mister Smythe? Is it the same thing a witch-smeller does?’’
‘Ah. Well,’ the old man said, ‘you see… it’s not exactly the same… it’s more of a side effect of my condition.’
Both Jemma and Danny felt sorry for him, and Danny just had to ask… ‘Condition?
Afferton gave an apologetic smile. ‘Didn’t they tell you, lad? I’m a were-wolf.’ The old man saw the disbelief and astonishment in the lad’s eyes and patted him on the shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, though,’ he assured Danny, with a small smile on his face, ‘I’m on medication for it.’
Danny struggled to stop himself from bursting out in laughter. Myth and reality collided head-on in his mind and the result was only more weirdness. Backward clocks… not-quite dragons… and werewolves on the pension. From now on he had better start taking everything at face value.
Outside of the office, Salamander peered into his friends eyes. ‘What did you find?’
‘There’s something there, Sal,’ Afferton replied, doubt in his voice, ‘but it’s very faint.’ He rubbed his nose with his sleeve. ‘It’s something that’s attached to him.’
‘Attached, eh?’ Salamander Ord rubbed his chin. ‘Possibly at the house where he first appeared. Would you go there with Rufus and myself tonight and sniff it out?’
Salamander Ord sadly watched his old friend shuffle off down the stairs. He was dismayed at his friend’s condition. Surely it hadn’t been that long ago…? But it had… the years had skipped away, stranding them both.
On the first floor, in an office of Gryphon and Arrowsmith, contract attorneys in the dramatic arts, Theolonia Crabbe was taking her leave. Not as herself, of course, she wore another name; her demeanour was stooped and there was a slight tremble to her frail hands. The weak guise-spell she wore made it very easy for someone without the Talent to believe that she was indeed who she claimed to be and as frail and delicate as she looked.
‘I really do hope the bequest fulfils someone’s dreams,’ she said in a quiet, small voice. ‘So much of my late friend’s works were never catalogued properly, you know. All that history. All those long-gone actors. The fabulous set designs and… oh… don’t forget the costumes, Mr. Rundle. Never forget the costumes.’
‘My dear lady,’ Forrester Rundle demurred, ‘the great works of this unknown genius shall not be forgotten. I will personally handle the allocation of the manuscripts and books and seek the best repository for such a collection.’ Forrester Rundle was senior partner and nearing the end of his working life. His passion for the theatre would sustain his intellect in the years remaining to him. The lady who had brought such a bequest clearly satisfied the cursory inspection Rundle had made, given that it was made on his own carpet. And she certainly had manners and breeding.
‘I will have the runner collect the catalogue directly.’ He hovered over her hand, before bringing it to his rather wet, fleshy lips. Then she was gone, her perfume trailing out of the door.
‘What a delightful lady,’ he told his receptionist, who had missed the whole thing. ‘Quality shows in the breeding, Miss Clarke. In the breeding.’ He closed the door on her.
Anybody looking into the back garden of Arthur and Gloria Royce bright and early in the morning would have seen four people wandering about with lengths of copper pipe and tape measures. Their quest was simple; they were going to build a pyramid. Not a real one, of course, but the outline of one. Actually, it wasn’t really the outline of one either; more the suggestion of an outline of a pyramid.
Four pipes were stuck into the ground in the positions Garreth had marked and oriented. The pipes were bent at ground level and pointed to an imaginary point somewhere above the roof, which was the theoretical apex of the pyramid. It had to be in perfect ratio to the Great Pyramid, and the details came from one of Garreth’s books. It took most of the morning to get it right.
Arthur had flung himself into the task because his own particular little talent had recognized the truth; he believed Garreth. Now all he had to do was to stop Gloria from panicking… and that wasn’t easy. They had no way of knowing how their son was faring; but Emily had seen someone else in the mirror, and Garreth did seem to know what he was doing… or maybe, Arthur Royce told himself, I’m dreaming this because they’ve already put us in the funny farm.
In Danny’s bedroom, when everything was in place, Emily ran a critical eye over proceedings. Garreth had placed the Book of Null on the pentacle on a table before the mirror and the grey runes of the spell were just visible in the glass. Whatever he had done with the pyramid obviously worked because he was quite happy, she thought. Now what?
‘Now what?’ she asked. Garreth was very excited. The aerials he had placed focused the earth’s energy just as they were designed to do and he could feel that energy tingle through his body; his Talent was still there!
‘Ah?’ he said, as Emily’s words filtered through his thoughts. ‘Oh. Right. I’m going to use the energy that’s under the pyramid to charge the pentacle. That will energise the book and keep the spell visible in the mirror. Understand?’ Garreth picked up the marker pen and his book of schematics and laboriously drew a series of symbols on each of the points of the pentacle.
This was the bit Emily was struggling with. ‘No. What does it matter if you can see the spell?’
‘Because the spell is also on the mirror over there! On my mirror!’
‘Ah. Yes! Someone will see it.’ An idea popped into Emily’s head. She rummaged through Danny’s drawer. ‘Garreth,’ she said in a small voice, ‘if the words on the mirror are coming from the book…’
‘Hmmm?’ Garreth was concentrating on his work. He put the pen away and stepped back. He licked his thumb ready to imprint each point. ‘Now to activate it… sorry... what did you say?’
‘If the words in the mirror come from the book, would they change if you blanked out some of the letters?’
Garreth stared at her while his mind grappled with what she had said. Finally, ‘Emily… you are a genius! A message! I could send a message!’ He picked up the Book of Null. ‘How? How do we…?’
Emily smiled sweetly at him. ‘Whiteout,’ she told him, showing him the small white bottle in her hand.
When Arthur and Gloria came into the room at Emily’s urging, the spell on the mirror was pulsing slightly with a pearly light. And there were lengthy gaps in the rows of runes.
‘What does it say?’ Arthur asked.
Mary Aldredge carried a set of fresh sheets up the stairs to Garreth’s room.
Her mind was busy. Mr. Pendragon had paraphoned a little while ago to say that his wizard friend would like to inspect the room and she thought the least she could do was to clean it up and make the bed properly. Just in case they thought she was a sloppy housekeeper. This… Danny… she mentally stumbled over the name… was just as untidy as her Garreth. Thoughts of Garreth didn’t upset her so much now that she wore a calming amulet. Besides, Jemma’s uncle had assured them that his friend was one of the country’s most senior wizards and he would sort out…
…something caught her eye
…something in the mirror
…pulsing. Mary turned her head and looked.
Three minutes later an out of breath and terribly excited Mary Aldredge was gasping her story to Clarity Redgrave and forty minutes after that Rufus Pendragon, Afferton Smythe and Salamander Ord were speeding to Lower Thatching.
In the rooms that had been leased by a lady of impeccable charm and breeding, all the curtains were drawn tightly closed and all the doors were sealed. A gentle guise warded the rooms, one where a casual scrying would find a little old lady quietly reading the works of a benefactor of the theatre.
Theolonia Crabbe had set a very small mirror on the heavy oaken table that dominated the room, and proceeded to will her brother forth. Slowly, reluctantly, his features displaced hers in the glass, his mouth sullen and thin, and his eyes glittering and bright.
‘Why do you keep me waiting, sister? I burn to taste the breath of life. Why delay?’ His voice was a rasp.
‘All is ready, Horatio. All is in place. Your body-to-be is nearby. No-one suspects.’
‘Is he aware of being null? If so… who else?’ The bright eyes peered hard at her from the mirror.
‘He does not suspect. Unless magik is used on him, no-one will suspect. So far it is a mystery and only a few people know. It will take them days to even get close to the truth.’ So nearly finished, she thrilled to herself. So nearly free! ‘I have devised a simple lure that will bring him to me. What of your preparations?’
His voice came thin and distant from the glass. ‘I need use of your body one last time, sister dear. One last excursion to organise the ranks of my followers.’
Horatio had accepted his sister’s plan with enthusiasm. A whole world to feast on! What might he accomplish with no-one to hunt him down? Oh, yes; he knew his sister was right about his chances of survival in this world and he had no hesitation in abandoning the plans he had made. Yet, they could still serve a purpose; the followers he had built up over the years could still be of some use to him.
Ah, yes; Horatio Crabbe had his own plan.
The thought of letting Horatio take over her body filled Theolonia with dread, as it always did. The loathing and disgust she always felt afterwards was physically and emotionally draining, and she imagined that she could smell him on her. A week of bathing never quite removed the psychic stain. But she would do it one last time… just to make absolutely certain that nothing… nothing… nothing … went wrong.
Absent-mindedly she drummed her fingers on the table, blissfully unaware that, as with the word “electricity”, there was no local word for “paranoia”.
The mirror told Salamander Ord exactly what was going on.
Runes were no mystery to one so high in the Arts and he needed no reader or dictionary to help him. In Garreth’s crowded bedroom he sat before the mirror and scribbled the message into his notebook. Rufus and Afferton crowded around, looking over his shoulder. Mary and Clarity sat on the bed, watching. The only sound was the scratching of the wizard’s pencil. Mr. Toast watched proceedings from under the bed.
‘Very clever, young lad,’ he muttered to himself, ‘very clever indeed.’
‘What’s he done, Salamander?’ Rufus asked, peering at the mirror.
Salamander tapped his pencil against the glass. ‘He’s used the book to send a message back.’
Mary jumped to her feet. ‘Is he alright, Master Ord? Is he…?’
‘Yes. Apparently he’s in good hands.’ There was a faraway set to the wizard’s face, as if he was deep in thought.
‘What is this book you mention?’ Clarity knew a lot about magik and the books that were written about it from her research at the university. She was certain that she had never heard of any book that could do this.
But Salamander Ord only shook his head. ‘I’m sorry ladies; the name of this book is not to be known by any but me. I’m sorry. Perhaps,’ he asked, with a disarming smile, ‘if you would leave us alone for a few minutes…?’ He didn’t like sending them away, but he had no choice.
‘Tea, then,’ Mary offered. She felt surprisingly relieved at the wizard’s news. ‘We’ll go and make some tea.’
When the door was closed behind them, Salamander fished around in his bag and pulled out a small bell. When he rang it, it rang not with a tinkle, but with a solid boom that filled the room.
‘Warded,’ he told his two friends. ‘Now we have privacy.’ He referred to his notes. ‘This is the message… “Garreth… safe… Danny family… Book of Null here… spell swap us.” That’s all.’
‘What exactly is a Book of Null?’ Rufus asked. ‘I’ve never heard of it.’
Salamander Ord loosened his tie and removed his coat. ‘I only know of the name, Rufus. It’s very old and it’s proscribed.’ He scratched his head absent-mindedly. ‘Or rather, it’s on the list of proscribed books. I don’t know anyone that’s studied it; in fact, I didn’t know it actually existed.’
‘Can we get a copy?’
‘Ha! Where do you start? Where’s it kept? When was it written? Who wrote it? What’s it about? No, gentlemen, whoever used this book had spent a long time searching for it. And I’m certain they would have covered their tracks. Damn!
‘Listen to me. The proscribed list is only known to thau six and above. And they were proscribed by order of the Crown.’
Rufus Pendragon knew he had just heard a state secret. The breath caught in his throat at the implication. T6 was very high in the science of thaumaturgy; wizardship began at T5… and only went up to T9. His friend Salamander was a Thau nine. Someone very high in the Arts had done this. And the Crown had proscribed the book! Heads, literally, would roll.
But Salamander had moved on. The lad had changed not the spell, but the path the spell took. Therefore the route was still open. Therefore…
‘Rufus. Get me some of Garreth’s possessions. Something natural… worn next to the skin. Same for Danny. There must be something here.’ While the search went on, Salamander drew something on the mirror, something that only he could see. He drew it with a blood-pen and what he drew was his own mandala. But this was no ordinary psychic prompt, this was written in binary, and to someone of education in the world he wished to access it would look amazingly like a DNA strand.
Rufus returned with a leather thong that carried a silver ward and Danny’s now-dark wrist amulet was found. He also saw the blood-pen and knew exactly what his friend was going to do. He was going to open a doorway through the mirror using his own body as a conduit, and to do that blood was needed. And that was necromancy… and illegal. I hope you know what you’re doing, Sal.
Salamander held one of the lad’s possessions in each hand and then rested both hands against the mirror. His mind moved to the plateau state where the most poweful mages can see the very skeins of magik themselves and call them in…. can focus them… command them.
Afferton backed into a corner of the room; already he could feel the currents of energy spiraling in on the figure of Salamander. His skin began to itch and his body vibrated as the increasingly powerful currents poured past him... and he wanted to change. Ancient urges rose up in him and another shadow stood behind him... a shadow of the beast within. Afferton trembled and tried to hang on.
The power coursed around Rufus and mostly ignored him. He was aware of it, but the ability he had that made him attorney acted like the prow of a ship and the power flowed seamlessly by. But he could see the corona that enveloped Salamander, and the sparkling motes of light that coalesced around him.
The mirror vibrated under Salamander’s hands as his mind forced the raw energy into shape and fed it into the mirror. With sweat pouring down his face the wizard teased the power into the runes, into the conduits. He could feel the room humming behind his back. He could see the runes getting brighter. Now the edges of the mirror turned opaque... now they started to shimmer. The mirror turned black, and the runes became clear... now they were openings to somewhere else. The runes grew; they expanded and flowed together… then the mirror itself was clear and whole…
…and showed another room!
The power around Salamander steadied to a dull throb as the conduit stabilized. Now he could see into the room. Shadows filled the corners, but he could see, directly in front of the mirror, a small table with a small brown book lying on it. That was it! The Book of Null! If only he could reach out! If only he could turn the pages!
‘GARRETH!’ he called in a Summoning voice. ‘GARRETH, ATTEND!’ The sound carried through and the words vibrated from the mirror and echoed around the bedroom beyond the mirror. ‘GARRETH! GARRETH, ATTEND ME NOW!’
The door was flung open and light spilled into the room. A young man stood there in round-eyed amazement, his mouth open. Salamander blinked at the sight and nearly lost the connection; this lad was just the same as the other! Ahhh, he realized, he’s dyed his hair. Suddenly, a young woman pushed past him and walked to the mirror. She said something to Garreth in a language that Salamander couldn’t understand and Garreth finally moved.
‘GARRETH, I NEED…’ the two figures clapped their hands over their ears and staggered back. ‘Garreth,’ Salamander said in his normal voice, ‘my name is Salamander Ord and I am a wizard. Danny is safe and well. I need your help. Time is of the essence. I need the book. Do you understand?’ The lad in the mirror nodded and the girl spoke to him again. He answered her in her own language, then…
‘Yes, Master Ord.’ Relief flooded his voice. ‘What can I do?’
‘Show me the book, lad. Hold it open for me.’ He shook sweat out of his eyes. ‘Rufus! Copy down what you see.’ The young lady reached somewhere out of his view and brought forth a sheaf of papers. Quickly sorting them, she held them before the mirror. Behind her a man and a woman appeared at the doorway; their eyes were wide in disbelief.
‘We copied the book, sir,’ Garreth explained. ‘We had to alter the original to get the message out. The runes in red are the spell; they’re the ones that glowed in the mirror.’
‘Show me,’ Salamander said, and page by page the young lady presented the text of the Book of Null to the mirror where Rufus copied it down. The only sound for a long. long time was the furious scribbling of Rufus’ pencil. Then, as Salamander’s strength began to fade; the job was finished. Which was just as well because Salamander was finding it hard to channel the power correctly; already the mirror was distorting.
‘Keep the power into the mirror, lad. I’ll be back…’ the mirror clouded as his strength gave out. In a heartbeat it was just a plain mirror that showed a sweat-drenched wizard on his knees.
Tea and scones are wonderful remedies for flagging spirits. Tea with brandy is much better, as Salamander knew. Soon he was back to his old self, the notes Rufus had made spread out before him on the dining table.
‘Listen to this…’ he told Rufus and Afferton.
…in the old Roman days of Angland, the story ran, following the rebellion of the Iceni tribe and the death of their queen, Boudicea, there was a meeting of the sages and seers of the Britons and Celts at the northern holy place called Long Meg. All the tribes were represented. Great magicians combined their arts to determine the future way of the land, and a great spell of seeking was crafted.
Within the circle of stones all men and women of power linked their hands and commenced the crafting. Ethereal fire, blue and flickering, began to leap from stone to stone; clouds darkened the sky; faerie lights drifted among the throng within the circle and a keening wind blew down from the cold north. The stones now glowed with the fire and the blue tongues of flame speared straight up into the black sky…
…but something was amiss and the spell went awry,
…all magik collapsed and the land returned to normal. But not quite normal. In the midst of the seers and sages, two strangers lay as dead on the ground, and two of the seers were missing.
The two men spoke no known tongue. Magik was employed to seek the truth and the fate of the two missing seers; it failed. The highest minds were sent for and three great mages came together. Orin Halfblood journeyed across the northern sea from the Norse lands, Enan of Holy Island left his isolated retreat, and the Lady Deidre Blackthorn sailed from Baile Atha Cliath in Erin’s Isle.
They found the two strangers impervious to the art of magik. More… their very presence disrupted the magik in others. No direct spell or incantation affected them, and the two men were said not to even see the effects of magik. Small magik was tried; guises and glamours and the like. Simple earth-magik. And they worked. Through such simple conjurations the mages were able to converse with the two men; and the mages were afraid of that which they found. The two were beyond normal folk… and they were dangerous. Many wanted them killed, but the three mages refused. Cloistered in the northern lands, the two were studied and they recounted every aspect of the world they knew. Then the three mages carefully wrote down the spell of Long Meg and ensorcelled it in a book.
Centuries passed. Then a powerful mage sought that book. He was confidant and adviser to the chieftain of the Britons, Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was fighting to keep out the Saxon hordes. The power of other worlds was needed if the man popularly known as Arthur was to succeed, and the great mage Merlin delved for the mystery of The Book of Null.
No more was heard of the mage nor the fate of his master. Four hundred years crawled over the land, and the fortunes of its peoples changed yet again. The usurper William of Normandy sought the power of the book to help his invasion of the southern shores. Bishops and wise men were sent from Rome to assist him, yet they too failed, and his cause was lost. The wild Celts and Britons threw their lot in with the Saxons and Danes, and Harold was proclaimed king of the Angle Isle.
A later king, Alfred II, built a College of Magik and Mystery at York where all the great minds of magelore and the highest magicians from the Old Religions and the New were invited to finally determine and cast in word and deed the laws of magik. And in the process, the old books, amongst them The Book of Null, were condemned and proscribed.
Finally, in the reign of Athelstane IV, in 1666, the Laws of Magik were codified into the Office of the Triumvar under the aegis of the Crown
The Book of Null had finally been lost to memory.
Now, apparently, it had been found again.
‘There,’ said Salamander, pointing to several lines, ‘there’s the spell. Helixes and mirror fields and scrying parameters. Hidden in the runes. Look there, space-time indices. It’s very good work.’
‘What now?’ Afferton rumbled, his liquid eyes roving over the interior of the little room, glancing uncertainly at the silver cutlery… there’s something about the indoors, he told himself, that closes in on a fellow; something that could… trap.
Salamander decided. ‘I have to present this to the Office of Magikal Malfeasance.’ Rufus nodded agreement. ‘They are the only ones who can give me permission to re-enact the spell and swap the lads back.’ He yawned. ‘Time is now of the essence. I’ll leave for London on the early dirigible.’ He yawned for a second time. ‘Let’s go home, Rufus.’
‘Damn!’ Afferton swore under his breath, as they dropped Salamander at his hotel. ‘I forgot to smell out that attachment at the lad’s place.’
‘Tomorrow, Afferton,’ Rufus told the old werewolf. ‘We’ll do it tomorrow.’
That evening there was a small celebratory dinner at the Mayhorn’s home. Edgar and Mary Aldredge attended and Garreth’s father was in rare good humour. As he told everyone, he had known it was only a matter of time before it was sorted out and Garreth would be back. No real harm done, eh? And the lad’s had the adventure of a life time too boot, yes?
Jemma wasn’t sure how she felt at the prospect of Danny returning home. Not that she didn’t want Garreth back… but Danny was rather interesting. And funny.
Horatio Crabbe checked his image in the mirror before venturing out.
His own features had already overlaid his sister’s enough that she would be unrecognisable to anyone who knew her, and the rough, long dark dress and shawl gave the impression of a poor old crone. Old Crone! A bitter laugh escaped his lips. Here was a body that clad his soul, and as old as it was, it vibrated throughout with LIFE! With FEELING! Its life essence infused his senses and overpowered them; his mind reeled at the POWER that coursed through him… he exulted… CRAVED!… nonono…he had to fight the urges… yes… yes… had to control his feelings… or she would return and take her body back… or they would sense him and hunt him down.
Slowly, reluctantly, Horatio forced his emotions away… hid them. Then, satisfied at his control, he stepped out into the dark; and there, on the streets, he would be just one more unhappy creature of the night.
A ghostly moon rode behind silhouette clouds and cast pale, wavering shadows on the ground as Horatio made his way through the darkling streets to the damp alleyways of the riverside. Here there were no streetlamps or other signs of human comfort. In those squalid places the ones he sought took refuge from the bright of day and the curious inspections of the Law.
Horatio had to rely on his subterfuge and disguise, there was no way he could seek those he wished to find by arcane means. It was so hard not to use his powers, so hard not to give in to the driving need of his dark Talent. But, he consoled himself, it wouldn’t be long now. The dream of power unlimited in the world of null was so close. No… it wouldn’t be long before he… Horatio Crabbe… would take revenge on life itself for all the years of his misery.
The night closed in around him. Brackish water oozed around the cobblestones and the smell of rotting timbers and mud filled the narrow spaces between warehouses and wharves. The soft lap of water marked time with Horatio’s quiet tread as he picked his way through the broken reality of human dreams. This place was the bottom of the heap. No-one could fall lower than this and still take their body with them; and climbing out of it was too great a task for those who fell into it so easily.
It was paradise for Horatio… he fed on the very despair that pervaded the place…his soul absorbed the misery that seeped like river mist around his ankles. And in that misery he devised his own plan, one that would punish his sister and followers alike.
Senses, long ingrained but seldom used, brought his eyes around to stare full into the gaze of the biggest rat he had ever seen. It sat on a wall ten feet away and looked at him without fear.
‘Ahhh,’ Horatio sighed. ‘There you are. Tell your master I have need of him.’ The rat just stared back calmly, and anger flared in the mandrake’s mind. ‘Obey me, familiar,’ he seethed, his eyes flashing diamond bright, ‘or risk my power!’ A tendril of thought crept from the rat’s mind, fearful and supplicatory; wisps of fear and sorrow and regret followed as the sorcerer’s familiar tried to direct its master’s wishes.
‘Much better, sorcerer. Much better.’ Horatio’s voice was oily and smooth and positively dripped with venom. ‘You and your kind are to meet with me.’ An image of Theolonia’s great grey house flashed into the familiar’s mind. ‘Here. At this place. There the ways of old shall be returned to the true followers.’ Yes. He would send them to his sister’s house; let the Law find them together. Let the Law punish them equally. His followers because he needed a diversion; his sister because… because… because, he finally admitted to himself… he hated her.
Silently, the mandrake drifted into the night.
A fine drizzle of rain drifted down on the alleyways and narrow-ways of the waterside, as Horatio Crabbe continued his search. It wasn’t necessary to contact each and every sorcerer and witch personally, his experience over the years had gained enough converts that word had spread; most senior witches and sorcerers knew that there would soon be one abroad who would lead them back to the Old Ways. Fools!
One glowing eye gave the familiar’s position away, one eye that caught the light of the moon. But Horatio didn’t need the moon; his instincts told him things no eyes could see.‘Mistress cat,’ he addressed the single eye. ‘I have need of your other self. At this place, at this time.’ Again the tendrils of the mandrake’s corrupted mind went forth and found a willing receptacle. ‘Do not fail me.’ Then he was gone, swallowed up in the night.
Danny Royce turned up at Rufus’ office bright and early the next morning ready to help out as a runner. Jemma’s uncle had arranged for a room in a nice establishment five minutes walk away; and that suited Danny. He had felt very uncomfortable with the Aldredges; and he was certain that they in turn were just as uncomfortable with him. He had a few of Garreth’s clothes and Rufus had promised to buy him more if things dragged on a bit.
But the real good thing about staying in Chester, apart from Rufus keeping an eye on him, was the fact that Jemma’s school was in town. And that meant they could get together after school before her bus came. A kaffee or ice-cream; sometimes just a stroll and a chat. He was very careful during those times to avoid the subject of fashions.
“Running” meant doing all the menial things; the heavy lifting things; the quick-run-this-to-the-proctor’s-office kind of thing; the carry-these-heavy-affidavits-to-the-court thing. It gave him something to do and took his mind off the thought of going home. Home, he knew, would never be like this! How was he to know they would they stack oranges in large cone-like piles and hold them together with a magical anti-static field. He knew they did it because he had walked too close to a fruit vendor’s barrow and the whole stack had collapsed with a plopping sound, oranges spilling across the cobbled street.
Wherever he went he left a little unseen trail of destruction. Spectacles suddenly loosing their corrective fields, leaving their owners blinking myopically around them; amulets turning opaque as the power within lost all cohesion; befuddled people wandering around aimlessly, trying to remember what they were supposed to be doing, unaware their memory spell had just whimpered into non-existence.
The only thing he did miss was music. Real music. Rock music. They had nothing like it here… oh, Jemma had gone on about how cool… she’d adopted that word very quickly, he noted…how cool style bands were and how they were the modern edge and parents thought they would send their kids mad. But they were rubbish! A cross between jazz and polka wasn’t exactly gripping stuff. He’d tried to tell her about electric guitars and amplifiers and reggae and heavy metal, but in a world without electricity he was never going to demonstrate his point. Wouldn’t it be cool, he daydreamed, if Garreth found a way to bring some back. Now that would really give them something to worry about.
Salamander Ord’s day was getting more frustrating the longer it went on.
The dirigible flight had been early and bumpy and crowded. Then, hansom cabs had been hard to find and when he did eventually get one the traffic was dreadful. He had arrived at his residence tired and irritable and had thrown himself straight into a search for the book. And it was all to no avail. There was not a single reference in his own extensive library to the Book of Null.
Libraries of other high wizards had been accessed with the same result and his great crystal ball was warm from the contacts. Hours passed; Martynsyde tiptoed in with a lunch tray and kaffee and tiptoed out again. Fading windowpanes of daylight crept across the wall. And for all his effort, the only tangible evidence of the book was on his desk in the notes Rufus had taken. He poked them with his finger as his mind sorted the meager evidence.
The lad’s story and the book agreed up to a point. Then the book was never mentioned again and only appeared as a name on the proscribed list. A number kept floating through Salamander’s mind. A number that tied Danny’s world and this one with the book… 1066. The last time the book is mentioned.
‘Wrong word, Ord.’ The voice came from over the mantelpiece. His portrait was animated again and looking at him with a haughty stare. ‘The lad’s story is the key. William won. His world differs from that point of time onwards. How? Better yet, Ord… why? Eh?’
Salamander finally looked up at his ego-savant. ‘Used. That’s the word. It’s the last time the book was used.’
‘Well done! Bravo! Now... try the “why”.’
Salamander tapped his teeth with a pencil. ‘Because they wanted to influence the battle. They wanted to make absolutely certain that Harold would win. And that meant….’
‘Oh, dear, Ord. You are getting good at this thinking business. They swapped Harolds. We got one impervious to magik; the one they got was just a man. Well done, you old conjurer, you won’t need me again today.’ The portrait de-animated and suddenly was merely an assembly of pigments and oils.
1066. The number floated in Salamander Ord’s mind’s eye. Someone powerful on Harold’s side had used the book. The Norman agents couldn’t find it… it had to be in Harold’s hands. The deed was so focused and so specific, and so dire, that it had to be close to the king. No-one else would have the authority and power to ensure the book disappeared from history…
‘So… someone close to Harold used the book,’ Salamander told the empty room. His open palm slapped the desk. ‘That’s why it was never heard of again! It was in Harold’s hands!’ Logic flowed. ‘And stayed there. Passed down through each succession. Hidden in the royal vaults, no doubt.’ This was very dangerous ground. To even think that the Royal Family…
..nonono… that was preposterous. But… someone close to the Crown, surely. Someone with access. Yes. The threads wove together rather well. The only disquiet in the wizard’s mind was the length of them.
1066 to 2001. The threads were rather long. Nine hundred and thirty five years long, to be exact.
The night darkened and a shower of rain washed the air of the day’s heat. The moon, golden and huge, followed the rain and lit the land with its eldritch light. It was almost a full moon…
…Mr. Toast’s eyes opened with a snap. Gone was the fat, old lap cat; what he had felt brought out the primal animal in him… brought the energy of fear to his muscles. In a flash he leaped from his master’s bed and scooted down the stairs, through the kitchen and out through the little flap in the back door. He stood there in the shadows, every sinew on edge, every muscle taut, every whisker straining to pick up what his sleeping mind had known was there.
Something ancient and fearful waited beyond the front gate… across the road… under the trees. Mr. Toast had never seen such a one as this, but every nerve knew of its existence, every twinge of animal memory screamed out its name; his mind’s eye saw the glittering fangs, the huge golden eyes, the mindless savagery, the dark countenance of an enemy of man… he bristled as he padded to the gate and looked through. His fur was crackled with static as he placed himself between his master and this foul…
…something else was there
…another side to the anger
…another mind within
…a nice mind…
‘Hello pussy,’ said Mr. Smythe. ‘What’ve you got for me?’
Mr. Toast sat down hurriedly in the middle of the dark road, and sighed with relief. The creature of fear and horror was but a part within a part, enmeshed with the old man who had squatted down in the road opposite him. Their eyes met and held for long seconds, and Mr. Toast saw within the rheumy orbs of Mr. Smythe the flickering of gold… felt the mind within reach forth… and both primal minds met in an exchange of imagery and senses. The big marmalade cat almost recoiled at the information he received, flickers of not-quite-thoughts that made him want to exclaim So that’s how it’s done!” and “That explains that!”
And in return, Mr. Toast gave up with relief that secret which he knew the creature sought.
Mr. Smythe straightened up his aching knees and regarded the cat. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll look after him.’ A shadow stepped out from under the trees and joined him in the road.
‘Did you get what you wanted, Mr. Smythe?’ Rufus Pendragon asked quietly.
The old man looked up at the moon, then around about him. ‘More than I expected, Mr. Pendragon. More than I feared.’
‘What do we have then?’
‘We have a mandrake, Mr. Pendragon.’ He whispered, as his old eyes returned longingly to the moon and his soul drank in the light. ‘I’m afraid we have a mandrake.’
‘Garreth! I’ve got to pick up some paperwork from the yard,’ Arthur informed him. ‘Care to come? I’ll drop you at Emily’s on the way back.’ Usually, Wednesday was his day off, but things had been quiet on the car-sales front since the weather had turned miserable and Arthur Royce thought he would drop in before they closed and go over the figures. Besides, it gave him another chance to spend time with Garreth. Now that there was a rescue mission of sorts under way, both he and Gloria felt different towards the lad. More… well… like family. Especially since Garreth had explained this business of gaining the memory of the other when they swapped over; that meant that Danny would be a lot like Garreth.
Garreth was cleaning the bike, and he had a free evening ahead… why not? Now that Salamander Ord had everything in hand, everyone was more at ease. More relaxed. And he did actually like spending time with Arthur and his cars.
‘Why not, Arthur? I might sell some cars for you while I’m there.’ Truth to tell, in the last few days he had visited the yard a few times with Arthur and had come to like it and its microcosm of passing life.
‘Cheeky bugger,’ Arthur muttered, but secretly he was pleased. ‘Jump in,’ he said, holding open the car door.
Of all the strange wonders in this new and weird world that Garreth had struggled to come to terms with, the car had been the most frightening. Arthur’s buggy… “car”… was unimaginably beautiful. Sleek like a predatory animal is sleek. Gleaming like a deep blue jewel. It looked crafted and sculpted all in one, like a work of art. Danny’s memories told him all about cars; but memory is not the same as experience.
When Arthur had first taken him for a ride, the car had flashed its lights and emitted a high-pitched beep sound, without anyone being near it. Garreth had jumped and kept a wary eye on it, but nothing untoward happened. Inside was luxury unparalleled; no steam buggy that Garreth had ever heard of was so opulent. He had snuggled into the seat and clasped the belt around him…
…then everything went wrong!
The car had launched itself out into the traffic at what seemed like breakneck speed and proceeded to deny all the laws of physics by not smashing into the nearest object. Panic held him rigid, his eyes staring… his fingers steel talons digging into the seat. His mind had reeled trying to come to terms with the sheer speed of the thing. Other cars, and vehicles that were big square versions of cars, encroached rapidly to within mere feet of his door and just as rapidly departed; vehicles in the road ahead seemed to stop for no valid reason and Arthur’s car seemed intent on smashing into them before a huge force pushed him forward in his seat and his car came to a frantic… and miraculous… stop, mere inches away from certain death.
Arthur had seemed totally unconcerned with the imminent destruction that lay all around them and had even continued talking to him as the journey progressed! It wasn’t until they had stopped and Garreth had got out on shaky legs, his face ashen, that Arthur had realized something was wrong. And another Danny memory had crawled into a heaving Garreth’s brain… car sickness.
The car was still horrendously fast, but there was now a certain thrill in that speed. And he was working on the crafting of a ward, one that would allow him to interface with this modern machinery in complete safety. Not from his own stupidity, of course; that kind of ward was impossible to construct, flying as it did in the face of all the base codes. But a ward that would intervene between his designed and designated physical and psychic parameters… namely, himself… and a varied range of probability conflict options.
The sticking point was the need for a detailed precognitive paradigm… and he wasn’t up to that stage yet.
His introspection was broken when Arthur slowed and turned into the brightly lit forecourt of the car-yard he managed. Surprisingly there were three or four people looking over the second-hand vehicles that gleamed under the lights, and a lone salesman was talking to one of them. Arthur went inside, but Garreth stood outside and watched. He found interest in how people in this world conducted themselves, how society as a whole worked. It was all so very different from his own world. Memories of home tugged at him and he had to make a deliberate effort to put them away.
One customer was walking up and down the cars, seemingly uninterested. Garreth’s Talent nudged him and he called up a simple formula in his mind, a device to read a person’s aura. He had to squint to see it, but it was there; doubt, desire, need, worry… all showed in the faint halo around the man’s head. The man himself looked anything but what his aura described; he was thirty-ish, well dressed in a business suit, carried a leather briefcase, and looked successful and confident. The paradox in aura and manner prompted Garreth to delve further.
The two next higher laws of magik above the Base Laws were all part of the training for first year mages. The Yggdrasil Codes embodied all the earth harmonies while the Artifice Mechana explored the interaction of devices; basic reader cantrips from each allowed Garreth to quickly realise his target’s problem. The man wanted to buy a car. Nothing clever in ascertaining that, Garreth thought, that’s why the man was in the yard in the first place. The clever bit would be in finding the perfect choice for him…
…and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Let’s see...
All things crafted have a residual empathy from the input of the builders, tiny molecular enhancements that can respond to positive and negative stimuli. These are so minute yet so profound that in some cases they can go back to the very ore or tree the object was derived from. Tracing them was a skill way, way beyond Garreth, but the basics weren’t. He could match the empathy with the boundary layers of the man’s aura… he could actually see the perfect match. There was no spell, because that would be a modifier, something like the Salesman spell, and that was illegal. Besides, it probably wouldn’t work. Polymorphic empathy was another matter entirely. The customer’s aura was a faint band of colour, and all Gareth had to do was find a compatible match among the vehicles. Ah. There.
With the confidence that knowledge brings, Garreth walked over to the man, just as he was turning to leave.
‘Excuse me!’ he hailed, and his target turned back. ‘If you took that silver
Opel for a drive, you’d find it the best car you’ve ever driven.’
The businessman looked at the tall, clean-cut young man standing before him, and then looked over at the silver car. He didn’t particularly like silver, although there was no reason why he shouldn’t. ‘I’ve never heard that line before, pal,’ he told Garreth. ‘Are they employing magicians now?’
‘Yes. Would you like the keys?’
Arthur Royce had seen the exchange through the window. Twenty minutes later he waved the silver Opel away from the yard with the customer’s briefcase sitting on the passenger seat and the customer beaming behind the wheel of his new car.
All the way home he kept quiet, but there was something he needed to know. Arthur had the gift of reading customers, but what Garreth had done was… well… there was no way he would have lined that customer up with that car. No way. What, he wondered, had Garreth seen that put the two together? The question was rhetorical, the answer was… magic.
Salamander Ord, despite outwards appearances and a certain gruffness of manner, was not exactly against the odd little luxury in life.
Take, for example, a bath. To some people, a bath would be merely a cast iron tub full of hot water and a bar of soap that was endured in as short a time as possible. To others… if the bath was deep and piping hot, and if there was a small table next to it that carried a bottle of the finest single malt whisky to come out of the Pictish highlands, and if a cigar of the best Portuguese tobacco burned fragrantly in an ashtray on that same table, who could not say that such a bath is indeed luxurious.
The cares of the day slipped…
BONG BONG BONG The paraphone’s signal call reached his ears.
‘Tell ‘em I’m out,’ he mumbled sleepily. Presently he heard footsteps outside the bathroom door, and Martynsyde’s voice muffled by the wood, said…
‘Master Ord, sir. Master Pendragon wishes an urgent word, sir.’
‘What can be so urgent at this time of night?’ Damn! Every time I start to enjoy myself…
‘He’s most insistent, sir. He said to tell you…’
…thirty seconds later Salamander Ord was standing in his study, wearing a rather damp terry robe and a very wet pair of slippers; the cigar was clamped in his teeth and his hand held a crystal glass half full of whisky. A trail of puddles glistened on the floor behind him and retreated across the room and up the stairs.
‘A mandrake?’ he shouted at the image of Rufus Pendragon. ‘A bloody mandrake?’ There was a grimace on Salamander’s face as he said the word, as if he wanted to spit. He cast a baleful eye at his ego-savant, which thankfully stayed silent. ‘Ye gods! How did Afferton smell that?’ He paced back and forth, his slippers making little squishy noises.
‘It appears that Garreth’s cat saw it.’ Rufus looked down at his notes. ‘In the lad’s bedroom. The image was looking over his new master. He… er… Afferton says… that the cat was most definite about what he saw.’
‘I wanted adventure… and you bring me the worst of the Necromancers.’ The malt whisky seemed to ease the taste of the word.
‘Hateful and vicious they are, Rufus. And mad, of course. You knew that, didn’t you?’ He puffed a halo of smoke around himself.
The attorney shook his head and then ran fingers through his sparse, pale hair. ‘I’m afraid not, you know. They’re not exactly thick on the ground, are they? Not a lot to study up on. Hmmm?’
‘True enough. But remember this… any creature that draws its arcane energy from cast-off sins and misery is going to have a very narrow band of subjective reality to operate in.’ Salamander kept pacing. ‘Oh, yes. They’re mad, alright. Utterly insane. Thank the gods they’re a rarity.’
But there was a time, long centuries ago, when the Laws were first being formulated, when distinctions between the Arts Arcana and sorcery were ill-defined. In those days the practitioners of what is now known as the Dark Path needed leaders of power and terror to carry the fight for their craft’s domination over reasoned magik… and the mandrakes were created. They were magicians of malignant soul, who gorged on the cast-off sins of the dying and dead in the very sin-pits of the underworld. Their powers were extreme and brutal. But, over time, the Law prevailed and such creatures were hunted down and destroyed. The practitioners of the Dark Path were hounded and prosecuted, but were never fully eliminated. Over time they formed an underworld of sorts, one where the dispossessed and dissatisfied, the criminal and the charlatan could find common ground. They were banded in secret groups trading in questionable, and sometime illegal, practices; but like all who trespass against the law, they were very careful not to attract too much attention. Thin gruel for a resurgent mandrake to claim as his own.
Salamander was pacing, puffing and thinking furiously. Occasionally he took a sip of whisky.
‘Why?’ The wizard asked no-one in particular. ‘Why now? What’s to gain? Ah? A handful of followers? In this day and age? No, that makes no sense. And why visit Danny?’
‘Maybe, Salamander, whoever set up the Book of Null is connected with the mandrake.’
‘Hmmm. Or the mandrake set it up.’
‘To what end? To bring in more Nulls?’ Rufus’ eyes opened in surprise at the implication of his own question. ‘More Nulls! To protect the mandrake!’ Salamander was looking steadily at him, confirmation in his eyes. ‘You suspect the same. Is it reasonable, do you think?’
Salamander Ord gave a derisory bark. ‘Ha! Reasonable? Why not, Rufus? It’s been done before.’ There was that number again, floating through his inner eye.
‘Sorry, Rufus. I can’t say anything just yet.’ 1066. Bloody hell! ‘I’m not sure I have the authority to do so.’
‘Very well.’ Rufus hid his disappointment well. ‘Is there anything I can do here?’
‘Just keep a close eye on Danny, Rufus. Just watch the lad.’
‘Will you be coming back here soon?’
‘I have to call the ecclesiastical spokesmen together and give them the bad news; then update the OMM.’ Salamander finished his drink. ‘Then I’ll be back. Meanwhile… is Afferton there with you?’
‘Good. Bring him to the ‘phone. Please.’
Through rheumy eyes Afferton regarded the wizard he had known for nearly fifty years, and he seemed to recall that Salamander had always looked the same. Or maybe memory played false.
‘Since my Meredith died… I don’t know, Mr. Ord… some of the oomph seems to have gone. The little I do for Mr. Pendragon only delays the inevitable, I’m afraid. The great pound in the sky would be a blessed relief, seems to me.’
Salamander Ord knew that his old friend spoke the truth. There is knowledge of fate and destiny that every animal feels deep down in its primal soul; life, win, lose, fight, eat, love, die…all deeply sensed; all deeply known. The wizard could see Afferton’s aura and it was dim; it had been for years, but now it was less. Only grains were left in the hour-glass of the life of Afferton Smythe.
‘I have a boon to ask,’ Salamander said quietly. ‘A great boon. I need your skills to watch over the lad. One last job, Afferton. One last trial.’
‘I don’t think I’m up to it, Sal; not up to it at all.’
His friend hadn’t used that name for thirty years and the wizard knew the past and present were sliding together in the old man’s mind. With deliberate steps Salamander walked over to one of the large bookcases. Like all wizards he was well read. History, politics, economics and biographies all were well represented on the groaning shelves. But the biggest selection of books by far was those devoted to the noble Art Arcana. Hundreds of books from massive tomes to tiny pocketbooks filled the shelves. He reached for one in particular and a Ward of Aversion that protected the collection momentarily stayed his hand while it recognised him. The ward was a classical sub-field of the Entropic Law and could vary from repulsion to non-recognition. His fingers pulled out a brass-bound tome that rang solidly when he dropped it onto his desk. It was titled The Osirian Laws and Heresies, and only the most senior and powerful wizards could access it. It dealt with life and death.
‘I remember,’ Salamander continued, ‘when you were as black and shiny as a stormy night and you stood hip high to a big man. I remember fangs white as snow and three inches long. I remember you when you had the strength of four men.’
A tear made its way down Afferton’s cheek, and he pulled a ‘kerchief from his pocket and honked loudly. ‘Ahhh.’ The sigh came through the veil of eighty-three years like a rasp of regret, forlorn and sad. ‘Memories,’ he whispered. ‘Those were the days, eh?’ He nodded to himself. ‘Those were the days.’
Salamander tapped the cover of the book with his finger, and the walls echoed to the sound. ‘Would you like them back?’ He opened the book and flipped over pages. ‘For a little while? For one last time?’
Magik is a wonderful and colourful thing to behold when seen through the eyes of a wizard. They can actually see the lines of force and power that constitute the building blocks of constructed magik, and by altering those forces as they channel through their bodies they create…
…Afferton’s image became a mist-filled silhouette as the wizard adjusted curved-space geometrics. The mist began to roil… temporal nodes altered the power negatively… the clouds within the silhouette darkened… more negativity… now the silhouette was midnight black. Now came the tricky part. Salamander called Afferton’s mandala forth and laid the pattern over the silhouette, and immediately the shape of Afferton’s silhouette changed…
…his head elongated into a snout
…his body lowered and filled out
…his arms turned into legs and paws
…and a long tail grew. It was a lupine shape, but one that seemed to cower in on itself; one that seemed old and frail. This was the real Afferton Smythe.
Now Salamander seized the mandala with his mind and inverted it… he was now deep into Osirian magik. This was the boundary layer between life and death… this was the event horizon of the soul. Salamander consulted the book and brought forth the formula he sought and with his finger traced its rune-shape inside the outline of Afferton. Wherever his finger moved, a golden line appeared, and in seconds the image was filled with the schematic of a powerful spell. The lines stayed there when he removed his hand.
…and Afferton’s shape altered
…it filled out
…the haunch muscles bulged
…its neck thickened
…it crouched there like a black jaguar
…but much, much more powerful than any jaguar.
A simple closing of the book brought Afferton’s image back in the paraphone. His weepy eyes looked at Salamander in surprise and his hands wandered over his body as if looking for something. He obviously found it.
‘What would you have me do, Sal?’ His voice was firm, and there was golden fire in his eyes.
‘Watch the lad, my friend. Just keep an eye on him.’ He considered something for a moment. ‘Oh. Yes. Keep up your medication, Afferton. I don’t want you running through the night without your own mind,’ he tapped his temple, ‘in there.’
When the ‘phone was closed own and his friends gone, Salamander returned the book to the bookcase. A single lamp burned on his desk and soft shadows filled the corners of the room. And in one of those shadows… movement.
‘Such arrogance, my dear fellow,’ his ego-savant said. ‘Such gall. It’s rather breathtaking really how easily you cast aside everything you’ve stood for…’
‘I’ll cast you aside, if you don’t stop. I decide…’
‘You? You’re just a wizard, Ord, who’s dabbled on the other side! Those that do decide will be spitting blood… your blood!’ There was definitely an argument in development. ‘What scares you so much that you’re prepared to bend the rules? Ah?’
Salamander Ord had a grim look on his face. ‘I’ve seen inside the lad’s mind. I’ve seen what his world is like. Any doorway between us must be closed. The power of Null could reshape our world.’
‘Ah. It’s been done before, hasn’t it? That number that floats around in your head... the one you keep to yourself. It happened to us then, didn’t it?’
The Thames River threw sheets of sparkling light back into the air as the sun’s rays broke apart on the water.
Shipping and water craft of all descriptions plied their trade up, down and across the Wet Road, as the river was affectionately called. There were busy little courier skiffs darting about like insects, and small steam ferries nudged along from pier to pier, picking up, dropping off. Steam tugs pulled great rows of barges in ponderous procession along the middle river, shoals of fishing smacks were tied up in long strings along both banks and freighters and lighters of all shapes and sizes jostled each other for space at the wharves. Now and again the deep, booming steam-horn of a passenger liner sounded from down-river closely followed by the more shrill replies from her tugs.
Every boat, ship and craft was brightly painted; every piece of brass and bronze was polished to mirror brightness. The great London Bridge of Canute IV was raised and royal standards flew from each tower, while upstream the arches of the Union bridge were bedecked with gaily coloured bunting.
A vibrant throbbing spread out across the city.
Looking out over the city from the window on the third, and top, floor of the Magician’s Guild Hall, Salamander Ord was too tired to appreciate the beauty of a summer’s day on the river. While his guests polished off a late breakfast, Salamander contemplated the events of the last few days.
Danny Royce had been a delight to meet. And brave, too. The strange tale the young man had related had both fascinated and alarmed him. Yet, through the lad’s mind’s-eye, helped with a liberal dose of mental empathy and synergy, he, Salamander Ord, high wizard, had looked into another world!
And what a world it was! He mentally gaped at what he had discovered there. Crowded and polluted, cold and dark… yet energetic and progressive. Strange laws applied there, different concepts and conditions ruled.
And in a small recess of the lad’s mind, he had found the secret that made null’s impervious to magik. A secret that was so, so simple he had all but slapped his hand to his forehead in amazement. In Danny’s world, the DNA spiral was right-handed! There was also, deep within Danny’s mind, the imprint of another; a ghost in the shadows, one so like him that they were almost indistinguishable. Garreth Aldredge.
So, Salamander mused, the lad is greater than the sum of his parts, eh? And when I swap them back, what then? Will they become more like each other? He filed the question for later… there were too many variables. Too many unknowns.
He took the gift of Danny’s memory and filed it alongside his own, and he now knew as much about the other world as the young man did, and it cheered him not to understand the true nature of null.
‘More kaffee, sir?’ The waiter’s question tore him away from his thoughts and as his cup was replenished, his attention returned to the business at hand. The last of the breakfast was finished and the clink of porcelain filled the room.
Salamander’s guests were here by fiat; they had no option but to come when his call went out, but they were guests for all that. Their positions and stations demanded nothing less, their power expected no more. Salamander Ord had called together the chief spokesmen of all the religions of the Angle Isles.
From the Old Religion of the North came one of the four White Ladies of the Elements. An abbot from the Great College of the Erin Druids chatted with one of the most senior, and famous, bishops of the Roman Church in Angland… who happened to wear a dress. Guinevere Beltrain had single-handedly broken down the taboo against women in the church, and thus pushed it into a more modern and progressive direction. The large, solid, florid, red-bearded and fierce-eyed Cavendish McCrue, High Bishop of the Kirk of Pictland, was busy polishing off the last of the kippers.
Business attire, rather than the dress robes of office, was the order of the day.
‘Ladies.’ Salamander began. ‘Gentlemen. To business.’ The atmosphere in the room changed, as if charged with the static of anticipation; a phenomenon that didn’t escape Salamander, because each and every one there with him was a high-level mage.
‘We are here,’ he continued, ‘on a matter of The Law.’ With that formal declaration the seriousness of the moment was understood by all, and Salamander took a thin scroll from his jacket’s inner pocket and laid it on the table. ‘This is my commission from the Triumvar. You may inspect it.’ None did.
Cavendish brushed the crumbs from his beard and gave Salamander the benefit of his gaze. ‘It’s a wee hurried moot this one, Sal. I’ve nay hear’d the like a lang time.’ His brogue was as deep and thick as porridge.
‘I need your help to find and destroy a dread and fell creature.’ There! Now he certainly had their attention!
‘Do we speak of sorcery, my lord wizard?’ The Lady of Water was a rather matronly type with a preference for tweeds and stout walking shoes. Had she attended in her elemental form, however, the sight of a young, sylph-like creature in billowing, diaphanous silks would have called for something a lot stronger than kaffee.
‘Of the worst kind, my Lady. If you would all indulge me, for a moment, I would tell you a tale of two young men, a hidden book and a dimension beyond this one.’ Had Salamander offered his tale at a convention of wizards, the pipes and cigars would come out along with the pints of ale and the decanters of sherry. As it was, his guests settled down in the big old leather chairs that dotted the room and nursed their cups of tea and kaffee. The wizard adopted a stance before them, and, short and rotund as he was, he seemed to fill the room with his presence.
‘It all starts a long time ago,’ he began, ‘with the crafting of a spell…’
…the sun-filled image of the window had moved across to another panel when Salamander Ord finished the tale. The silence in the room was thunderous as each there absorbed the implications of events. Guinevere Beltrain broke that silence.
‘A mandrake.’ She was a tall, severe woman of middle years who wore her white-blonde hair pulled back in a bun and peered at the world through a pair of black-rimmed glasses. Her eyes and smile belied her severity, they were warm and friendly. ‘A very dangerous creature indeed. But this Book of Null you speak of…’ she looked at each one in the room, ‘…to be able to walk through magik as if it didn’t exist… that, my friends, would be catastrophic if it were in the hands of one so dire.’
‘Or anyone’s hands, for that matter,’ the Lady of Water added.
Cavendish McCrue moved uncomfortably in his chair and hrrmphed a little. There was no room in the harsh Pictish highlands for the foibles and etiquettes of London… points should be made quickly. And Cavendish was a man of the land. Every eye turned to him.
‘I nay wish to dispute ye wee evidence, Sal. But…’ he held up a finger as caution, ‘… a cat? We’re listening to a cat that told the tale to a were-wolf? Maybe we’re missing some form of constructed evidence here… or maybe I’ve spent too much time hating cats and chasing were-things across the heather wi’ sharp implements to take stock o’ their reliability as witnesses.’ His heavy brows lowered and he peered from under them at the wizard. ‘I mean nay disrespect to ye wee friends, mon, but “credibility” and “laughing-stock” are words stamped on either side of the same coin.’
The grin on Salamander’s face nearly split it in two, and his ample girth quivered ever so slightly in suppressed laughter. His old friend had a wonderfully bluff way of cutting to the nub of things.
‘Ordinarily,’ he replied, ‘I would agree. But the truth of the coin’s in the tossing. There are three diverse aspects here that meld together and complete the mosaic.
‘One. An ancient spell has been activated and we now have a young man amongst us who comes from a totally different reality. That spell, and the book that contains it, is only… I repeat, good people… only known of at the highest levels of the Art.’ His guests looked at one another, the obvious writ large on each face. ‘That’s right,’ he confessed, ‘I have just officially divulged a state secret to lower mages.’ No religious mage had ever attained a level five ranking in thaumaturgy, because the power of ecclesiastical belief contradicts the mental requirements of the higher houses of both the Gnostic and Osirian Laws. Salamander rubbed his hands together, warming to his task, and continued in a dread voice…
‘Two. Mr. Toast,’ he couldn’t say that name in his dread voice, so didn’t. ‘Mr. Toast,’ he smiled, ‘is old and fat and as sharp as a fish-wife’s tongue. He saw an apparition above his master’s bed when the lad slept and he passed on what he saw and what he sensed.
‘Three. I’ve known Afferton Smythe for nearly fifty years.’ The diamond hardness came back to the wizard’s eyes and all noticed. ‘On one occasion, many years ago, he saved my life. And on two other occasions, I have literally bet my life on his sense of smell.’ He fixed his gaze on Cavendish and matched the Pictlander’s heavy glower. ‘If Afferton tells me the attachment was corrupt and identical with Mr. Toast’s observations… then I believe him.’
‘All being said and granted, Master Wizard,’ Guinevere asked quietly, ‘what is it that you wish of us?’
Aha! The nub! ‘I want you to consider closing every hallowed and sacred site in the Isles.’
The words were a bomb-shell on each and everyone gathered there. Never had there been such a thing! To withhold the transmission of souls… to close the conduit to higher things… impossible! Why, the effects of paradox and causality alone would be incalculable! The ripples would...
‘You are obviously aware of what you ask,’ Guinevere observed as she narrowed her dark eyes on the wizard. ‘How will this action serve your hunt for this creature?’
‘In that dimensional anomaly between the real world and the realm of the dead, there will be no place of refuge for it, no pool of misery and despair for it to draw upon. It will deny it the access to the cast-off sins of the souls you so vigorously administer to. Our quarry will have to make do with the real world… and that’s how we will find it.’
The Lady of Water placed her cup into the saucer with a calculated click, and rested both on her tweed-clad knees. ‘Full closure would require certain… consents… from forces other than temporal. The whole process would be convoluted, time consuming, expensive and difficult. No. I feel there is an easier approach that we can all happily agree to.’
Megan Nossitter had been the Lady of Water for over thirty years, and she knew how hard ecumenical co-operation was to bring about; too many suspicions, too many power plays. No. What Salamander proposed would make him, temporarily at least, the most powerful person in the Isles, and there was no way the hierarchy of the Old and New religions would accept that. Even if it was sanctioned by the Triumvar and the Crown! Subtlety, not brute force, was needed here.
‘The easiest thing to do,’ Daffyd Olwy, wey-abbot of the Holy Anglesey Druidic, said in his soft lilt, ‘would be to screen them. Then we can identify the nature of those souls passing through.’
‘More is required, I think,’ Megan continued. ‘We can effectively block the transmission of sentient thought, as opposed to the pure spiritual essence of the departed soul, from accessing the inner reaches of the event horizon. Insistence on penetrating further will result in permanent integration into the other world. Once there, isolated and alone, our foul quarry will be unable to return to this world, and our prayers and supplications to the powers of good in that blessed realm will ensure total annihilation follows.
‘We call it the Aesir Sanction; others will know it as the Lazarus Option or the Path of Two Doors.’ Heads nodded around the room. It was basically a trap that allowed the victim two options… return to the real world, or stay inside the anomaly for ever. It was elegant because it didn’t interfere with the daily business of the movement of souls or prayers.
It was exactly the conclusion Salamander had reached the night before in his sleeper seat on the airship. But he’d wanted them to make it.
The spells took two days to co-join and implement.
A traveller of the astral plane, looking down on the Pool of Dreams, would have seen the translucent tide of the ethereal air bask in the glow of a colossal tower of golden energy that climbed forever upward from the pool of dense colours that was London. Like the branches of a gigantic tree, a spell of enormous proportion and power grew from the trunk and spread over the land. Leaves of golden foliage, flickering and bright, rained down across the land and fell upon the holy sites and sacred monuments.
All the graveyards, kirks and churches; every wey-line and barrow, stone circle and henge were warded against trespass. The dark forces of magik would find lean pickings until the spell was removed.
An early evening sprinkle of rain glistened on the cobbled streets and turned them into rivers of silver.
A cool breeze blew between the old houses and swung the tavern signs a’creaking on their brackets. A hansom cab clopped its way along one particular street and stopped for a moment outside a row of narrow terrace houses. Farther down the street lamp-lighters were busy turning on the street lamps. Around about people were making their way home.
Inside the cab Theolonia Crabbe was chalking a small chalk-board with the signs and placements of the spell she wanted; and a small capped brass bowl, pre-heated and filled with the earth-minerals the spell required stood ready to be opened. The maths were in place. Carefully she raised the door blind enough so she could see the house she wanted, and, satisfied, removed the top from the bowl.
A small amount of white pungent smoke rose up and started to fill the cab. Quickly Theolonia replaced the cap and mouthed the formula that would hold the smoke in place; the white cloud ceased all movement; it hung there seemingly solid. Her hands traced their way inside the cloud, repeating the diagram on the board in three dimensional configuration. With one final word under her breath the spell was complete and the cloud of smoke changed…. altered… folded in on itself… and became… the face of Horatio.
The eyes opened and looked about. The white lips parted. ‘Ah, sister,’ he sighed, ‘what do you show me?’
‘Look along the street. Do you see…’ she pointed her finger, ‘that one?’
‘He is the one?’
‘Take him now, sister.’
‘There are people about; it’s too risky. My trap is set; fear not, Horatio.’
Now it can finish, Theolonia promised herself, as she settled back into the leather seat. A sigh of relief escaped her lips and she hoped… really hoped… that she would soon be free. She allowed a small smile of anticipation to move her thin lips out of their accustomed firmness…
From deep in the black shadows that fell across the mouth of an alley, a pair of eyes watched the cab disappear around the bend. The eyes were golden and flecked with blood, and they could see a long, long, way; especially at night. Especially when the moon was out.
There was the faintest of movement within the shadow, a movement darker than night, as the creature there lifted its long snout to the night and caught the scent of corruption. The golden eyes narrowed to slits and the moonlight from the wet road reflected off huge silver teeth that had bared in anticipation. With a deep rumbling growl and the flexing of powerful, rippling muscles, Afferton Smythe padded away into the shadows with the silence of the dead. Once again he was the true lord of the night.
There wasn’t a cat or dog within a half-mile radius of him that didn’t urgently want to be somewhere else… somewhere very far away indeed.
Danny awoke. His eyes were fuzzy with sleep but he quickly looked towards the mirror. Everything was fine. The room was dark, except for a square of moonlight at the bottom of the wall. Everything was peaceful and calm… so what woke me?
There was no light coming under his door from the light on the landing, but a faint whimpering came instead. It sounded like a puppy, and it didn’t go away. Then a light scratching started against the door.
He threw back the bed sheets and turned on the gas-lamp, the pilot light wasn’t quite bright enough. He was sleepy and his room was safe and warm…of course it was a puppy outside… he’d had enough bad things happen to last a lifetime…
…he opened the door… just a little…
…and two hundred pounds of sleek, black muscle pushed through and knocked him flat on his back.
Time froze. Above his face, mere inches away, were the biggest teeth he’d ever seen. And they were wet and shiny. Beyond them, blood-flecked golden eyes regarded him from behind slitted lids. Two massive paws held him down by the shoulders, and the room was hidden by shiny black muscles that rippled!
He dared not breathe. Nor blink. Movement was out of the question. Hot breath redolent of fresh blood poured over his face in even beats. He was too scared to think of dying, but he knew he was going to very soon…
…as soon as those massive jaws opened up
…the massive jaws opened up
…reached for him
…his eyes were petrified wide open, he couldn’t blink
…the great teeth came closer
…on his pajamas.
Gently, the beast pulled him up to a sitting position, and then backed into the door to close it.
The greatest shock of Garreth’s life was to find himself still alive. His breathing started again with a gasp, and he watched his captor. The beast was big, very big; much bigger than a dog. It was almost a dog, but a dog that had been elongated slightly. Its ears were very long and thin and lay along side a skull that was angular, the long snout was square and wide for the face, and the neck and shoulders were almost one massive muscle that seemed to taper to an impossibly narrow waist. The haunches literally bulged. There was a rigid tail that curved gently downwards and almost touched the ground. And everything except the eyes and teeth was midnight black.
The beast watched him. The golden eyes didn’t blink. Hope burst forth in Garreth’s breast. He wasn’t going to die! A low rumble from the beast snapped his attention back. It padded across the room and settled down on the carpet, its massive head resting on its paws. The golden eyes never left Danny.
Very slowly Danny Royce crawled back into bed. In the dark of the room the beast was all but invisible, a…
…were-wolf! Danny sat back up. ‘Afferton? Is that you?’
One golden eye closed in a wink.
‘Danny!’ Rufus’ voice carried from his office, breaking into his reverie. ‘Can you do a delivery for Gryphon and Arrowsmith? I know it’s getting late, but their lad’s off for the day and they need to pick up a catalogue for some theatrical memorabilia that’s due. Would you mind doing it?’
‘Sure, Mr. Pendragon. Be happy to.’
The envelope read…
Mistress Agnetha Pottewicke
The Young Eorl Private Hotel,
By the High Cross on the Manchester Road.
Danny stepped from the sunlight of the street into the cool shadow of the entry of the private hotel. It was a comfortable three storey building with lots of small pebble-glass windows and flowering planter boxes outside below every one. Black and white tiles covered the entry and foyer
Nice, he thought, looking about him. Just like something out of a holiday brochure.
The tiles led him inside to the desk, where an attractive receptionist looked up from her book-keeping and directed him up the stairs with a pointing of her pencil and a friendly smile.
The smell of lavender and bee’s wax pervaded the place, and each tenant’s door had a small white plaque with their name on it. His knock was answered after several seconds, and the shuffling of an old person could be heard through he door.
Danny whistled silently and aimlessly to himself while he waited, and presently the door opened.
‘Yes?’ queried the little old lady who peered at him around the edge of the door.
‘Mistress Pottewicke? Master Rundle sent me round to collect a catalogue from you.’
‘Yes,’ she smiled at him. ‘Such wonderful service. Do come in, please. I’m just about to pour a cup of tea. You’ll join me, of course.’ It was a statement not a request. Why not? he asked himself, and failed to find a convincing answer. So, with a smile in return, Danny stepped into the room.
‘Do you take yours with sugar, or without?’ asked Theolonia Crabbe.