Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret (16 page)

A
rchie opened the door to the Aisle of White slowly so that the bell wouldn’t clang. There was no sign of Marjorie as the three cousins crept along the aisles of books and through the velvet curtain.

When they reached the bookcase where Archie had heard the books whispering before, he paused.

‘Hello, there,’ he said urgently. ‘You’ve got to talk to me. I need your help!’

‘I am very weak,’
The Little Book of Blessings
said. ‘We all are.’

‘I’m sorry I didn’t do more to protect you when you asked for my help, but I didn’t understand the danger. It was my book that was stealing your magic, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ whispered
The Little Book of Blessings
. ‘I tried to warn you.’

Archie nodded, sadly. ‘I thought my book was
in danger. Now I realise it was the danger!’

‘Yes,’ said the little book. ‘Why have you come now?’

‘I am a book whisperer,’ Archie said. ‘It is my duty to protect the magic books.’

‘You are going to face the beasts, aren’t you?’

Archie looked away. ‘Yes,’ he breathed. ‘Do you know what secret they guard?’

‘They guard another entrance to the crypt and there is another secret but I don’t know what it is,’ said the little book. ‘But take me with you and I will bring you luck.’

Archie had a feeling he would need all the luck he could get. He slipped the little book into his back pocket.

‘Bless you, Archie Greene. May you have the courage when the time comes.’

The three cousins hurried down the stone stairs. When they arrived at the blue door Archie reached down a flaming torch from its bracket. He took a deep breath and turned the invisible door handle.

The bookend beast stood motionless. It was eight feet tall and carved from a single slab of grey stone. It had the head of a giant eagle with a fearsome hooked beak and staring eyes. Below its neck, it had the muscular body of a lion with chiselled fur that grew thick about its chest and flanks. Two huge feathered wings were folded across its back.

‘Stay here,’ Archie said to Bramble and Thistle. ‘It’s best if one of us tries to talk to it.’

As he stepped closer, the creature’s eyes lit up a deep amber colour.

‘Uh oh,’ whispered Thistle. ‘I think you woke it up.’

With a sound like stone grinding on stone, the beast turned its head and held Archie with its gaze. A ripple of light pulsed through the beast and its body turned from grey stone to living flesh. Archie felt his legs turn to jelly. He took a deep breath.

‘Greetings mighty bookend beast,’ he cried as loudly as he dared. His thin voice bounced off the walls and disappeared into the gloom.

The gryphon flexed its enormous talons. When it spoke, its voice was deep and resonated in the darkness.

‘Who are you who troubles me in my lair?’ it thundered.

‘I am Archie Greene,’ Archie replied. ‘Apprentice at the Museum of Magical Miscellany. And this is Bramble Foxe and her brother Thistle.’

‘And what is your reason for disturbing me, Archie Greene?’

‘I have come on a matter of great urgency,’ Archie cried, projecting his voice into the void.

‘You humans are always in such a hurry,’ the
creature sighed, and Archie detected a great sadness in its voice. ‘Look at all the harm your urgency has done in the world.’ It shook its great eagle head slowly from side to side.

Archie felt his courage start to waver, but he stood his ground. ‘Mighty bookend beast, protector of secrets, I understand that you have a low opinion of humans,’ he empathised.

‘Some humans,’ the creature boomed, ‘not all. But most are not worth the effort. I fear that any wisdom or magic your kind ever had has long since been forgotten.’

‘But that’s what I must talk to you about,’ said Archie, seeing an opportunity to turn the conversation in his direction. ‘I need your help to protect the magic books that remain.’

‘You humans and your magic books. For centuries my kind has guarded your treasures for you.’

‘What is it that you guard here?’ Bramble asked, plucking up her courage.

The gryphon lifted its head and shook its mighty wings. ‘This audience is at an end! You may leave now and live. But if you remain, then I will pass judgment on you.’

Archie sensed that something had made the creature angry and that they were in grave danger.

‘We would leave if we could,’ he exclaimed. ‘But something terrible will happen if we can’t prevent it!’ Archie knew this was his last chance. He took a deep breath.

‘There is a great secret that only you can unlock,’ he cried. He thought that the creature’s curiosity was his best hope. ‘But if you have grown old and forgetful then I will leave you to your slumber.’ He started to edge his way back towards his cousins.

‘Wait,’ the creature’s voice echoed in the stone cavern. ‘What is this secret of which you speak?’

‘It is a riddle that only you know the answer to.’

‘Tell me this riddle,’ the beast commanded.

Archie recited the words that he had memorised. They echoed as he spoke them.

‘Buried deep in caverns cold

A secret that remains untold

Two ancient sentries guard the prize

With lion heart and eagle eyes.’

The gryphon was silent. Archie tried again. ‘“Two ancient sentries guard the prize With lion heart and eagle eyes.” That is you!’ he cried.

The creature bowed its great eagle head, solemnly. ‘Indeed,’ it boomed. ‘It is a description of my brother and me. Who wrote this riddle?’

‘It was written a very long time ago,’ Archie said.
‘By a man who wanted to keep his secrets safe. He hid them in a special place. His name was John Dee. Do you remember him?’

The beast bowed its head again. ‘Yes, I remember him. We promised the magician that none would pass without the secret word. Do you know the secret word?’

Archie thought hard. He recited the second half of the riddle.

‘In stony silence shadows sleep

The final gift is safe to keep

To pass requires a simple test

Name the one whom I served best.

‘“Name the one whom I served best”? I know this. Who did Dee serve? Dee served Queen Elizabeth,’ Archie said.

‘Is that your answer?’

‘No,’ said Archie. ‘Dee wouldn’t have called her that.’

In his mind he could see the Enochian Script the riddle was written in dancing before his eyes. Something was lodged in the deep recesses of his memory. If only he could remember what it was.

‘Archie, try this,’ said Bramble. She pulled the imagining glass from her pocket. Archie peered at the bookend beast through the pink lens. He
closed his eyes in concentration. When he opened them again, something glinted in his mind.

‘Dee had a nickname for Queen Elizabeth. I read it in a book. Gloriana. That’s what Dee called her. Gloriana is the answer.’

‘That is correct!’ the bookend beast thundered. ‘That is the password.’

Archie breathed a sigh of relief.

‘But there is another test,’ said a second stony voice.

Archie looked up to see the other bookend beast looming towards him out of the shadows. When the two beasts stood next to each other, it was clear that they were a set – like bookends for keeping books upright on a shelf. Except that they were eight feet tall.

‘Another test!’ cried Archie.

‘Yes,’ said the second beast. ‘The magician said that only the book whisperer was allowed to pass. Are you he?’

‘Yes, I am,’ said Archie.

‘Prove it!’ thundered the beast.

Archie looked at his cousins desperately. ‘How can I prove it?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Thistle. ‘Talk to a magic book or something.’

Archie felt his hope ebbing away. Then suddenly he heard a voice. It sounded soft like tissue paper.

‘Archie Greene is a book whisperer. And, although he does not quite believe in himself yet, he could be a great book whisperer – perhaps the greatest ever!’

He had forgotten about
The Little Book of Blessings
!

‘Thank you,’ he mumbled.

Bramble and Thistle looked at him blankly.

‘They cannot hear me,’ said
The Little Book of Blessings.

‘But we can,’ thundered the first bookend beast. ‘You have passed the second test. But only you may pass beyond this point.’

‘But what about my cousins?’ said Archie. ‘They are Flame Keepers, too.

The creatures shook their heads. ‘Only the book whisperer may pass.’

They stood barring the way.

‘We’re not leaving you down here with those things,’ said Bramble.

‘There’s no other way,’ said Archie. ‘Wait for me in the bookshop. I have to do this.’

The bookend beasts stood aside and Archie stepped into the shadows.

D
usk was falling when Bramble and Thistle slipped back through the velvet curtain and into the Aisle of White. An owl hooted outside.

‘This place is seriously creepy at night,’ whispered Thistle, peering out of the door into the courtyard towards Quill’s.

‘Don’t be such a wimp!’ snorted Bramble. She glanced at the bookcases. Thistle was right. It was creepy in the bookshop at night.

‘Bram,’ whispered Thistle. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rising. ‘I’ve got a horrible feeling something is watching us.’

There was a movement outside in the courtyard. ‘What was that?’ asked Bramble.

‘There’s someone out there!’ exclaimed Thistle. A dark figure was moving stealthily towards the shop.

‘Quick,’ Bramble said, ‘lock the door!’ ‘I can’t’ said Thistle. ‘Archie took the key. What are we going to do?’

‘Hide!’ whispered Bramble. She darted off to the right, her head down, staying in the shadows. Thistle plunged left into the darkness. Hiding in the gloom, he watched the door.

The door slowly opened and the floorboards creaked as someone crept up the aisle. A figure lunged at him in the darkness. Thistle dived to his right, eluding its grasp. His assailant tripped in the darkness and went sprawling on the floor.

Thistle could still hear him cursing as he scrambled back to his feet. A voice called out. ‘Stop! I won’t hurt you!’

Thistle saw Bramble’s face appear out of the dark. ‘Run Thistle, run!’ she cried over her shoulder as she raced away up another aisle.

Thistle ran blindly, zigzagging between the bookcases. He glanced over his shoulder, and as he did his foot caught on a rug. He landed on his back with a bone-crunching thump. Everything went black.

*

Archie walked on in the shadows. Behind him, the torch that lit the lair of the bookend beasts was just
a faint glow. In front of him was a low entrance. It was far too small for the huge beasts to follow, but just big enough for him to squeeze through. Archie dropped to his hands and knees and crawled forward into the darkness. Water dripped down the walls. Archie’s hands touched flagstones and he stood up. Ahead of him now he could see another torch burning in the gloom and a green glow.

Archie heard a low, wheezing cough, like wind through dry bones. Someone was already there waiting in the shadows.

*

When Thistle awoke he tried to sit up. His head was thumping. He touched the back of his skull and felt a large egg-shaped bump. Then he heard a voice. ‘You should have given us the book when you first had the chance.’

He looked up to see Wolfus Bone bent over him with a black dagger in his hand.

Thistle screamed.

Bone put his finger to his lips. ‘There’s no need to be afraid,’ he said. ‘I have come to protect you. Gideon told me to find the three of you and keep you safe.’

Bramble’s face appeared over Bone’s shoulder, pale but unharmed.

‘It’s all right Thistle,’ she said. ‘Wolfus is here to help.’

‘Gideon had to attend the emergency meeting with the other museum elders, so he sent me,’ Bone continued. ‘He told me to bring you to the museum.’

A
rchie stepped forward into the torchlight. The first thing he saw was the green glow. Then he saw the ghost of the old man. He knew he must be a ghost because of the way he shimmered in the light and was no more substantial than mist. His shoulders were stooped with age. His hair was pure white and he had a thick white beard that reached down to his chest. He wore a long coat with a white fur collar. Archie recognised him.

‘You are John Dee, aren’t you?’ he said.

A pained expression passed across the old man’s face as if he was trying to remember something from long ago.

‘Dee?’ he said. ‘Yes, that is my name. I have not heard it spoken in so long that I had almost forgotten. Four hundred years I have haunted this
place. It is my punishment.’ He sighed sadly. ‘For this is of my own making. I was foolish to believe that I might converse with the angels. It was my vanity that led me to this pass. What is your name, boy?’

‘Archie Greene.’

The ghost of John Dee peered at him in the gloom. ‘Then you are the one!’ it cried. ‘It was to you that the book has passed. You are the one I saw in the scrying crystal.’

*

Wolfus Bone strode down the corridor with his eyes fixed straight ahead. Gideon Hawke had told him to protect Archie and his cousins and that was what he was going to do. But where was Archie? These were the thoughts running through his mind as he marched Bramble and Thistle towards the Lost Books section. He had already lost precious time persuading Pink to let Thistle through the permission wall without a firemark. There was no more time to lose.

He opened the door to Gideon Hawke’s study. Something didn’t feel right. His eyes were drawn to the desk where he had left the popper stopper containing the flarewolf. The glass phial was smashed on the floor. The magic clasp that he
had used to lock it had been cast aside. Bone shook his head angrily. Who would do such a thing?

His thoughts were interrupted by a blood-chilling howl. It was followed by a woman’s screams coming from the archive. The archive was next to the crypt.

‘It’s another attack,’ cried Bone, turning to the children. ‘Someone has released the flarewolf. You stay here.’

‘No way,’ said Bramble. ‘It’s our museum, too, and we’re coming with you!’

‘I cannot guarantee your safety.’

‘We know that,’ said Thistle, ‘but we’re coming anyway!’

Bone knew there was no point in arguing. ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘But stay with me.’

He broke into a run. Bramble and Thistle ran after him trying to keep up. The black blade in his hand glinted in the torchlight.

Bone threw open the door to the archive. The room was a mess. The bookcases had been knocked over and there were scrolls and papers smouldering all over the floor. Morag Pandrama was crouched in a corner, her hair scorched and her arms raised as if to ward off some unseen attacker.

‘That thing!’ she wailed. ‘It was here!’

‘The flarewolf! Where is it now, Morag?’

‘It is trying to get into the crypt, Wolfus. We have to stop it! You have to get help!’

Bone sniffed the air. It was no more than a whiff of sulphur, but he sensed the creature lurking at the end of the passageway.

‘It’s too late for that,’ he said, quietly.

Vincent von Herring suddenly appeared beside them. ‘What’s all the screaming about?’ he demanded. ‘How are the museum elders supposed to hold a meeting with all that racket going on?’

‘It’s the flarewolf,’ said Bone. ‘Someone released it and now it’s trying to get into the crypt.’

Von Herring looked alarmed. ‘We must organise a search party and destroy it once and for all.’

‘There’s no time for that,’ said Bone. ‘Look!’

Two yellow eyes were watching them from the end of the corridor. The flarewolf threw back its head and howled. Then it leaped at them. As it did, Wolfus Bone threw himself in its path and caught it a glancing blow with the shadow blade. The beast howled in rage, shooting flames from its nostrils. For a moment it regarded them coldly then it seemed to suddenly lose interest and bounded off down the corridor.

‘You’ve scared it off,’ cried von Herring.

‘No,’ said Bone. ‘We aren’t its prey. It’s going after Archie. Keep the other two children safe.’

Von Herring placed a protective hand on Bramble and Thistle’s shoulder. ‘Very well, Wolfus,’ he said. ‘I will look after them.’

‘I will protect Archie,’ Bone said. ‘He is in great danger.’ Then he turned and ran after the flarewolf.

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