Read The Spell of Undoing Online

Authors: Paul Collins

Tags: #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Books & Libraries, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Friendship, #Orphans

The Spell of Undoing

The Spell of Undoing

Paul Collins is best known for his fantasy and science fiction series: The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars, and The Quentaris Chronicles, which he co-edits with Michael Pryor. Along with a dozen anthologies, he edited
The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy.
His current project is The World of Grrym series in collaboration with Danny Willis.

Paul has been short-listed for many awards for his fiction, and has won the Peter McNamara, Aurealis and William Atheling awards.

Visit Paul's websites at:



Also by Paul Collins

The Wizard's Torment
Swords of Quentaris
Slaves of Quentaris
Dragonlords of Quentaris
Princess of Shadows
The Forgotten Prince
Vampires of Quentaris
The Earthborn
The Skyborn
The Hiveborn
Allira's Gift
(with Danny Willis)
Lords of Quibbitt
(with Danny Willis)

Paul Collins


First published by Ford Street Publishing, an imprint of Hybrid Publishers, PO Box 52, Ormond VIC 3204

Melbourne Victoria Australia

This publication is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the publisher. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction should be addressed to Ford Street Publishing Pty Ltd, 2 Ford Street, Clifton Hill
VIC 3068.

First published 2008

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

Collins, Paul, 1954-.
The spell of undoing.

ISBN 9781876462536 (pbk.)

I. Title.


Interior illustrations © Fernando Molinari
Cover design by Grant Gittus Graphics
Cover art by Jeremy Maitland-Smith
Text © Paul Collins 2008. Visit
Ford Street website:

Series editors: Paul Collins and Michael Pryor
In-house editor: Saralinda Turner
Consultant: Randal Flynn

Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group


To Jenny Mounfield –
for much-needed advice


Tab Vidler was having a bad day and it was about to get worse. She wrung out her mop and rested on its handle. By her reckoning, it was her birthday. But no one at the orphanage knew, and none would care even if they did. She couldn't even afford to buy herself something special to celebrate. The Dung Brigaders weren't aid for their work – it was enough, said Mrs Figgin, the orphanage owner, to have a roof over their heads and two square meals a day. Grub ’n’ keep, it was called.

Bone-weary, Tab sighed. She had just scrubbed the latrines, mopped the floors, washed and dried the morning's dishes, and next she was expected to go to market and collect the dung deposited by an army of horses, oxen, and other creatures used to haul wagons. All she wanted to do was lie down and daydream of being a famous magician like Nisha Fairsight – someone who commanded great respect in the community. A person of restrained power. Someone people left alone. Of course, if she'd had even a smidgen of magical power she would have cast a spell on the orphanage, making it sparkling clean. Then she could have had the day off and gone to the Great River celebrations on the eastern bank, just beyond the cemetery. Everyone was either going or had gone already. Everyone except her, and those Dung Brigaders currently sweeping the streets.

Tab paused by a window. A family, mother and father, boy and girl, strolled past the orphanage. They were laughing. Tab's stomach churned. If only
had a family. Despondency fell on her like a shroud.

‘Wake up, you stupid girl,’ snapped Mrs Figgin.

Tab jumped. Her green cats’ eyes narrowed as she returned the landlady's glare.

‘Look alive! I'll have no shilly-shallying on my deck,’ said Mrs Figgin, prim lips pulled into a thin line. ‘Shape up or ship out.’ Mrs Figgin, whose husband had fled to sea soon after their marriage, liked her naval terms. ‘And get that look off your face, if you know what's good for you.’

Tab hung her head. It didn't pay to answer back, especially when the old prune was in one of her ‘moods’. Food was scarce as it was, and being sent to bed without supper was just about the worst punishment a Dung Brigader could get. Or so Tab thought at the time.

Mrs Figgin shook her head. ‘I don't know what I'm going to do with you. There's more water on this floor than what's in the bucket.’

‘It leaks,’ Tab said.

‘What? What did you say?’ Mrs Figgin demanded.

‘It leaks,’ she said stubbornly. ‘The bucket. It leaks.’

Mrs Figgin picked up the bucket and inspected the bottom. ‘It does no such thing, you little liar.’

Just then the rusted handle snapped. The bucket tipped.

‘Oh! Oh!’ Mrs Figgin gasped.

Water grey as pig swill emptied on her head. She staggered back, stepped on a cake of soap, floundered, and fell with her skirt up around her waist.

Tab hadn't seen such a funny sight in all her life. One hand flew to her mouth as she tried to stifle the giggles that welled up inside her, but it was impossible. She doubled over with gurgling laughter.

‘Get out you little wretch! Out!’ Mrs Figgin screeched.

Tab backed away quickly as Mrs Figgin gathered her skirt and clambered to her feet. A tall sharp-faced woman with beetling brows and a hook nose, she was a formidable sight when provoked.

‘I'm – I'm sorry!’ Tab babbled. Try as she might, it was hard to sound sincere.

‘You will be,’ growled Mrs Figgin. ‘Get out of here. Now.’ Tab stared back, not comprehending. The woman's voice became a nasty snarl. ‘You will leave this house at once, do you hear? At once. And if I ever see your useless carcass again, I will summon the City Watch and have you locked up for vicious assault. Now get out!’

Tab stood stunned, but not for long.

A bucket came hurtling towards her and she turned and ran. More missiles followed. Ducking and weaving, Tab fled the house. By the time she'd reached the far side of the square, she was starting to realise the dilemma she was in.

She was homeless.

Worse, she was without a copper round. Unless she could get back into the orphanage and get her few belongings. These included the silver coins she had stashed under a loose floorboard in the cellar. Without them she was in danger of being arrested for vagrancy. If that wasn't enough, it was strictly forbidden to keep money from Mrs Figgin (not that anyone was stupid enough to hand over any valuables found while digging dung) and if caught, she would be flogged to within an inch of her life.

The morning dragged by. Tab shifted locations every hour. That was the best way to avoid the City Watch, who would arrest children who stayed in one place too long. Those arrested, if unclaimed, were put to work, sometimes beneath Quentaris, so it didn't pay to get arrested. Luckily the bulk of the Watchmen were at the Tolrush siege. But even so …

By midday Tab was footsore, anxious and
The stiff breeze gusting off the river carried with it the lunchtime smells of fried fish, jellied eels, and – from the harbour inns – the divine odour of roast duckling, fresh-baked mince pies, and the pungent Quentaran coffee. Tab's stomach rumbled loudly, but as there was nothing she could do about it right now, she tightened her belt and waited outside the orphanage.

She knew Mrs Figgin was taking her favourite Dung Brigaders – her ‘shipmates’ as she called them- to the celebrations outside the city; most of the others would be out on their shifts. That would leave the orphanage pretty much deserted. As she was thinking this, Mrs Figgin flounced out the front door, followed by a bunch of smug-faced Dung Brigaders. A wagon pulled up and the woman climbed into the seat beside the driver. The children scampered into the back and the wagon pulled away.

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