Authors: Catherine Fisher
Tags: #Fantasy, #Juvenile
The man could not speak. Attia was disgusted to see tears in his eyes.
The crowd murmured. Perhaps they were less convinced, because when the Enchanter came to Attia he turned to face them suddenly.
'It is easy, some of you are thinking, to speak of the future.' He raised his young face and stared out at them.
'How will we ever know, you're thinking, whether he is right or wrong? And you are right to doubt. But the past, my friends, the past is a different thing. I will tell you now of this girl's past.' Attia tensed.
Perhaps he sensed her fear, because a slight smile curled his lips. He stared at her, his eyes slowly glazing, becoming distant, dark as the night. Then he lifted his gloved hand and touched her forehead.
'I see,' he whispered, 'a long journey. Many miles, many weary days of walking. I see you crouched like a beast. I see a chain about your neck.'
Attia swallowed. She wanted to jerk away. Instead she nodded, and the crowd was silent.
The Enchanter took her hand. He clasped his own around it and his gloved fingers were long and bony. His voice was puzzled. 'I see strange things in your mind, girl. I see you climbing a tall ladder, fleeing from a great Beast, flying in a silver ship above cities and towers. I see a boy. His name is Finn. He has betrayed you. He has left you behind and though he promised to return, you fear he never will. You love him, and you hate him. Is that not true?'
Attia's face was scorching. Her hand shook. 'Yes,' she breathed.
The crowd were transfixed.
The Enchanter stared at her as if her soul was transparent; she found she cou
ld not look away. Something was
happening to him, a strangeness had come into his face, behind his eyes. Small bright glints shone on his coat. The glove felt like ice around her fingers. 'Stars,' he said breathlessly. 'I see the stars. Under them a golden palace, its windows bright with candles. I see it through the keyhole of a dark doorway. It is far, far away. It is Outside.'
Amazed, Attia stared at him. His grasp on her hand hurt but she couldn't move. His voice was a whisper.
'There is a way Out.
Sapphique found it.
The keyhole is tiny, tinier than an atom. And the eagle and the swan spread their wings to guard it.'
She had to move, break this spell. She glanced aside. People crowded the edges of the arena; the bearguard, seven jugglers, dancers from the troupe. They stood as still as the crowd.
'Master,' she whispered.
His eyes flickered.
He said, 'You search for a Sapient who will show you the way Out. I am that man.' His voice strengthened; he swung to the crowd. 'The way that Sapphique took lies through the Door of Death. I will take this girl there and I will bring her back!'
The audience roared. He led Attia by the hand out into the centre of the smoky space. Only one torch guttered. There was a couch. He motioned her to lie on it.
Terrified, she swung her legs up.
In the crowd someone cried out, and was instantly hushed.
Bodies craned forward, a stench of heat and sweat.
The Enchanter held up his black-gloved hand. 'Death,' he said. 'We fear it. We would do anything to avoid it. And yet Death is a doorway that opens both ways. Before your eyes, you will see the dead live.'
The couch was hard. She gripped the sides. This was what she had come for.
'Behold,' the Enchanter said.
He turned and the crowd moaned, because in his hand was a sword. He was drawing it out of the air; slowly it was unsheathed from darkness, the blade glittering with cold blue light. He held it up, and unbelievably, miles above them in the remote roof of the Prison, lightning flickered.
The Enchanter stared up; Attia blinked.
Thunder rumbled like laughter.
For a moment everyone listened to it, tensed for the Prison to act, for the streets to fall, the sky roll away, the gas and the lights to pin them down.
But Incarceron did not interfere.
'My father the Prison,' the Enchanter said quickly, 'watches and approves.' He turned.
Metal links hung from the couch; he fastened them around Attia's wrists. Then a belt was looped over her neck and waist. 'Keep very still, he said. His bright eyes explored her face. 'Or the danger is extreme.'
He turned to the crowd. 'Behold,' he cried. 'I will release her. And I will bring her back!'
He raised the sword, both hands on the grip, the point hovering over her chest. She wanted to cry out, gasp, 'No,' but her body was chilled and numb, her whole attention focused on the glittering, razor-sharp point. Before she could breathe, he plunged it into her heart.
This was death.
It was warm and sticky and there were waves of it, washing over her like pain. It had no air to breathe, no words to speak. It was a choking in her throat.
And then it was pure and blue and as empty as the sky she had seen Outside, and Finn was in it, and Claudia, and they were sitting on golden thrones, and they turned to look at her.
And Finn said,
haven't forgotten you, Attia.
coming back for you.'
She could only manage one word, and as she said it she saw his shock.
She opened her eyes.
Her hearing seemed to pop, to come back from somewhere far; the crowd were roaring and howling with joy, and the fastenings
were undone. The Enchanter was
helping her up. She stared down and saw that the blood on her clothes was shrivelling, vanishing away, that the sword in his hand was clean; that she could stand. She took a great breath and her eyes cleared; she saw that people were on the buildings and roofs, hanging on awnings, leaning out of windows, that the storm of applause went on and on, a screaming tide of adoration.
And the Dark Enchanter gripped her hand and made her bow with him, and his gloved fingers held the sword high above the crowd as the jugglers and dancers discreetly moved in to collect the rain of coins that showered like falling stars.
When it was all over, when the crowd was streaming away, she found herself standing in the corner of the square clutching her arms around herself. A low pain burned in her chest. A few women clustered at the door that the Enchanter had entered, their sick children already in their arms.
Attia breathed out slowly. She felt stiff, and stupid. She felt as if some great explosion had deafened and stunned her.
Quickly, before anyone noticed, she turned and ducked under the awnings, past the bearpit, through the ragged camp of the jugglers. One of them saw her, but stayed sitting by the fire they had lit, cooking slivers of meat.
Attia opened a small door under an overhanging roof and slipped in.
The room was dark.
He was sitting in front of a smeared mirror lit only by a single guttering candle, and he looked up and saw her in the glass.
As she watched he took off the black wig, unfurled his missing finger, wiped the smooth make-up from his lined face, tossed the ragged coat on the floor. Then he leant his elbows on the table and gave her a gap-toothed grin. 'An excellent performance,' he said.
She nodded. 'I told you I could do it.'
'Well, I'm convinced, sweetie. The job's yours, if you still want it He slipped a wad of ket into his cheek and began to chew.
Attia glanced round. There was no sign of the Glove. 'Oh yes,' she said. 'I want it.'
How could you betray me, Incarceron ? How could
me fall? I thought I was your son. It seems I am your fool.
SONGS OF SAPPHIQUE
Finn flung the documents at the wall. Then he picked the inkwell up and hurled it after them. It exploded into a black, dripping star.
'Sire,' the chamberlain gasped. 'Please!'
Finn ignored him. He heaved the table over; it collapsed with a crash. Papers and scrolls cascaded everywhere, their seals and ribbons tangling. Grim, he stalked over to the door.
'Sire. There are at least sixteen more . . .'
'You heard. Burn them. Eat them. Feed them to the dogs.' 'There are invitations which need your signature.
The deeds of the Stygian Accord, the orders for the coronation robes.'
Savagely, Finn turned on the thin figure scrabbling among the papers. 'How many times do I have to say it.
will be no coronation!'
Leaving the man open-mouthed he turned and hauled the doors open. The guards outside stiffened to attention but as they closed in behind him he swore at them. Then he ran, down the panelled corridor, through the curtains and across the Great Salon, vaulting the upholstered sofas, flinging the dainty chairs over, leaving the guards panting behind. With one quick leap on to the table he slithered over its polished surface, dodged silver candlesticks, jumped up on to the wide windowseat, slid through the casement, and was gone.
Back in the doorway, breathless, the chamberlain groaned. He stepped discreetly into a small side chamber, closed the door and hefted the pile of crumpled paper wearily under one arm. With a careful look around, he took out the minicom she had given him and pressed the button, with distaste, because he deplored this breach of Protocol. But he didn't dare not to, because she could be almost as ferocious as the Prince.
The device crackled. 'What now?' a girl's voice snapped.
The chamberlain swallowed. 'I'm sorry Lady Claudia, but you asked me to tell you if it happened again. Well, I think it just did.'
* * *
Finn landed on all fours on the gravel outside the window and picked himself up. He stalked off across the grass. Parading groups of courtiers scattered as he passed, the women under their flimsy parasols dropping hurried curtsies, the men making elaborate bows and sweeping their hats off. Eyes fixed, Finn marched past. He scorned the pathways with their finely raked surfaces, cutting directly across the parterre, crunching the white seashells underfoot. An indignant gardener came out from behind a hedge, but as soon as he saw it was Finn he crumpled to one knee. Finn allowed himself a cold smile. Being the Prince in this pretty Paradise had some advantages.
The day was perfect. Tiny fleecy clouds moved high in the sky, the amazingly blue sky he could never get used to. A flock of jackdaws cavorted over the elms near the lake.
It was the lake he wanted.
That smooth blue expanse of water drew him like a magnet. He undid the stiff collar they made him wear, tearing it open, cursing everything over and over: the constricting clothes, the baffling rules of courtesy, the endless Protocol. Suddenly he broke into a run, past statues and classical urns planted with floral displays, making a gaggle of geese on the grass squawk and flutter and hiss away.
He was breathing more freely now. The sparks and dull pain behind his eyes were
easing. The fit had been coming
on him, back there in that stuffy unbearable room, behind that heaped desk. It had been growing inside him like anger. Maybe it
anger. Maybe he should have let it happen, fallen gratefully into it, the seizure that always waited for him somewhere like a black pit in the road. Because whatever it made him see, however much it hurt, after it was over he could sleep, deep and oblivious, without dreams of the Prison. Without dreams of Keiro, the oathbrother he had left there.
The lakewater rippled under the faint breeze. He shook his head, angry at how perfectly judged the temperature was, how serene it all looked. At the jetty rowing boats bobbed and knocked at the end of their ropes, surrounded by flat green waterlily leaves, where tiny gnats danced.
He had no idea how much of it was real.
At least in the Prison he had known that.
Finn sat on the grass. He felt worn, and his anger was turning on himself. The chamberlain had only been doing his best. Throwing the ink had been stupid.
Lying on his stomach he buried his forehead under his arms and let the warm sun comfort him. It was so hot, and so bright. He could take it now, but for the first few days Outside he had been blinded, had had to wear dark glasses because his eyes wept and watered. And then all those long weeks until his skin had lost that white pallor, those days of washing and delousing and the endless medication Jared had
made him take. Weeks of patient
lessons from Claudia in how to dress, how to talk, how to eat with knives and forks; the titles, the bows, how not to yell, spit, swear, fight.