Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret (7 page)

I
t was already nine o’clock when Archie stepped back through the shaft of light into the front of Quill’s. An old woman looked up from her table, surprised to see a young boy suddenly appear from the shadows at the back of the café. But then she resumed eating her cake and didn’t think any more of it.

Archie crossed the courtyard to the Aisle of White. He pushed on the door and the bell clanged behind him. Marjorie Gudge was asleep at the shop counter.

‘Mrs Gudge?’ he said. ‘Are you all right?’ He put his hand on her shoulder and gave her a gentle shake.

‘Wossat?’ she snorted. ‘Geoffrey, is that you? Where’ve you been all this time?’

‘No, it isn’t Mr Screech,’ said Archie. ‘It’s me, Archie Greene. I brought a book here yesterday. Remember?’

Marjorie sat up and rubbed her eyes. ‘Archie Greene?’ she said. ‘Oh yes, you’re the new apprentice, aren’t you? Better get you down to the workshop.’

Archie looked around curiously at the bookshelves. ‘Are all these books magic?’ he asked.

‘Oh no,’ said Marjorie. ‘The magic ones aren’t for sale. They go on the bookcase behind the curtain until they are ready to go down to the workshop.’

She bustled through the curtain and Archie followed.

‘So what happens to them?’ he asked.

Marjorie smiled. ‘There’s a procedure that has to be followed,’ she said. ‘Mr Screech is very particular about it. When a book first arrives, it is inspected for damage – can’t have them leaking their magic all over the place. And then it has to be catalogued and classified before it can go to the museum. Unless it is a very special book – then it might be locked in the crypt for safekeeping.’

‘The book I brought in yesterday,’ Archie said, thoughtfully, ‘is it special?’

‘I don’t think so dear,’ said Marjorie. ‘The only Special Instruction Mr Screech was expecting was the almanac.’

‘But the man from Folly & Catchpole said my book had a Special Instruction, too,’ said Archie.

‘Really?’ said Marjorie. ‘Well, he must have been mistaken.’

‘But it was written on a scroll in a strange language. He translated it.’

‘Well, I’m afraid he must have mistranslated it,’ said Marjorie. ‘I’m not surprised. Some of those old magical languages are very confusing.’

Archie felt a pang of disappointment. ‘Oh,’ he said. Horace Catchpole must have got it wrong. It wasn’t a Special Instruction after all. Archie shrugged. ‘Can I have it back then?’

Marjorie smiled. ‘Absolutely not! It’s a tradition – every new apprentice brings a book. It’s called a snook. It’s a way of making sure that the apprentice is worthy. Now, let’s get you down to the workshop.’

The shop doorbell interrupted her. ‘Wait here while I serve this customer. And don’t touch anything.’

But Archie was no longer listening to her. He could hear a rustling noise from the bookcase where the magical books were kept. At first it sounded like the pages of a newspaper being turned, but as he listened Archie could hear a voice.

‘It’s not safe here!’ it rustled. ‘Something is stealing my magic.’

Archie froze. He peered at the bookcase to see where the sound was coming from and as he did
he heard an answering voice. The second voice sounded like tissue paper crinkling.

‘My magic is fading, too!’ it sighed, sadly. ‘Something is taking it all. I will not last much longer.’

Archie turned his head. The second voice was coming from the top shelf of the bookcase. He stepped closer and put his ear to a little book with a red cover.

‘Who are you?’ he asked.

Silence. Archie waited a few seconds. ‘I know you are there,’ he said, lowering his voice. ‘I heard you whispering!’

The tissue-paper voice spoke again. ‘You can hear us?’ it asked, a note of surprise in its crinkly voice.

‘Yes, of course,’ Archie said, less certain.

‘He can hear us!’ exclaimed the first voice – the one that rustled like a newspaper.

There was an excited murmuring of papery voices. ‘He can hear us!’ they twittered among themselves. ‘He can hear us!’

‘Yes,’ said Archie. ‘And it’s not the first time either. It was your voices I heard yesterday when I came into the bookshop. Why wouldn’t I hear you?’

The first voice answered. It was coming from a chunky green book on the shelf below the little red
book. ‘Most humans can’t hear us,’ it explained. ‘In fact you are the first one in years!’

Archie could hear lots of other papery voices murmuring now. The bookcase seemed to be alive with them. They sounded like little birds twittering in a hedgerow.

‘What about the other apprentices?’ Archie demanded.

‘No,’ said a new voice that was deeper than the first two and sounded stiff, like parchment. ‘They can’t hear us. Only you can hear us. You have the gift!’

‘What gift?’ Archie asked, suspiciously.

‘You are a book whisperer!’ exclaimed tissue-paper voice. ‘Some people can hear magic books talk to each other and can talk to them. It’s very rare, though. There hasn’t been a book whisperer for a long, long time. And because you are the only one who can hear us, you might be the only one who can help us!’

‘Hold on a minute,’ said Archie, who couldn’t quite believe his ears. ‘How do I know this isn’t some sort of trick?’

‘A trick?’ The little red book crinkled, dismayed. ‘Dark scribes did not make me. I am a book of blessings. My magic is wrought from kind words. I am full of wise sayings, and I have one for you, Archie Greene. Listen carefully.

‘“Release the magic that lies within

Believe in its power above all things.”’

‘Thank you,’ said Archie. ‘But what does it mean?’

‘That is for you to discover,’ said the little red book. ‘It is my blessing to you. My magic is almost gone. Something has taken it all.’

‘What is this thing that is stealing your magic?’

There was much murmuring and whispering between the books. It seemed to Archie that there was some sort of disagreement going on. Eventually, newspaper voice spoke up.

‘It is dark magic that is feeding on our magic!’

Archie felt a sense of dread. He remembered that Bramble had warned him about the Greaders coming to Oxford, and how it was a sign that dark magic was present.

The rustling voices grew louder. Archie could tell they were arguing.

‘Shhhhh – we have said too much!’ warned parchment voice, which was coming from a big blue book. ‘Do not speak of it! It will hear us and punish us!’

The rustling stopped. The voices fell silent. Archie stared at the blue book. Its title was written on its spine.
Magical Leadership: The Pragmatic Approach.

Just then Marjorie’s head appeared through the curtain.

‘Come along, dear! Do get a move on. We mustn’t keep Old Zeb waiting.’

She ushered him along the dingy corridor. All the while he was thinking about what the magic books had told him. He wondered if his book could talk, and whether it was safe from whatever was frightening the others.

Marjorie stopped at the top of the stairs and handed him a lantern. ‘Third door on the right,’ she said. ‘No other.’

D
own in the mending workshop, Old Zeb was perched on a wooden stool at the workbench, his cheeks flushed red. His lips puckered and creased as he whistled a jaunty tune. When he saw Archie, he smiled.

‘You’re late. Never mind, you’re here now. Try to be on time tomorrow. We’ve got a lot to do.’

Archie looked around him. The workshop was larger than he remembered, and the smell of old parchment was even stronger. He noticed a vice on the side of the bench and a large book press beside it.

‘First things first,’ Old Zeb said, holding up a finger to get his attention. ‘You’ll be needing your own tool kit. I’ll get you started and then you’ll have to acquire the other bits as you go along. Have a word with one of the apprentices in Natural Magic – they might be able to help.’

He winked and reached under the bench. ‘One pair of gloves – for the handling of dangerous books,’ he said, producing what looked like a pair of scaly green oven mitts. Archie wondered what they were made from. It looked like alligator skin, only much thicker. Could it be dragon skin?

‘One magical needle, very hard to come by – this one is made from a werewolf’s claw,’ said the old bookbinder, holding up a large, black, hooked object.

‘One reel of thread – finest yeti hair.

‘One binder’s knife – forged in the Flame of Pharos. And finally,’ he said, placing a brown pouch-like bag on the bench, ‘your very own magic tool bag. It’s resistant to magic so it will stop all but the very strongest spells leaking out – ideal for carrying damaged books and unknown magical objects.’

The old man smiled at Archie. ‘Oh, almost forgot, you might need this.’ He put a small brass key-shaped object on the bench.

‘What is it?’ asked Archie, hoping it might also be magical.

‘It’s a key to the shop – so you can let yourself in if you need to.’

Archie smiled and put the key in his pocket.

‘Now then,’ the old bookbinder continued, ‘this morning we’ll cover the basics.’

He hopped off his stool and took down a large book. He laid it on the bench. Archie saw that it was entitled
A Beginner’s Guide to Magic.

‘Is this a … magic book?’ Archie asked, his eyes wide in awe.

‘Good heavens, no,’ said the old man. ‘It’s just a magic reference book.’

He opened the book to a page divided into three sections. ‘First,’ he said, ‘what do you know about the different types of magic?’

Archie’s face fell. ‘Er, not a lot,’ he said. ‘I only found out there was magic yesterday.’

‘You didn’t know about magic!’ exclaimed Old Zeb. He shook his head, sadly. ‘What do they teach children in schools these days?

‘Well, never mind, you’ll soon catch up,’ he added more brightly. ‘All you need to know for now is that there are three types of magic.’

He tapped the page with his finger. ‘The first is natural magic. That’s the purest kind and comes from magical plants and creatures – unicorns, dragons, etc., etc. – and the elemental forces of nature – the sun, the stars, and so on. The symbol for natural magic is a lightning bolt in a tree,’ he added, tapping the page.

‘Mortal magic is the second kind of magic and is man-made magic. It includes the magical instruments and other devices used by magicians
to channel magical power. It is usually represented by a crystal ball,’ he said pointing at the symbol on the open page.

‘And, finally,’ he said, gesturing to a smiling skull, ‘there is supernatural magic, which uses the power of supernatural beings. That includes the use of good and bad spirits, genies, demons and anything else that’s not of this world.’

The old bookbinder paused. ‘Supernatural magic is usually regarded as the darkest of the three. But any one of them can be dangerous.’

Archie stared at the three symbols. He had seen them somewhere before, but where? With a start, he remembered. They had appeared in the window of the clasp on his book. The clasp had another symbol, too, of a matchstick figure with a crescent crown. He wondered what that symbol meant.

Old Zeb moved on quickly. ‘Each of the three branches of magic has its own department in the museum. Dr Motley Brown is the current head of Natural Magic.’ He pointed at a photograph of a short man in a tweed suit. ‘Vincent von Herring is head of Mortal Magic,’ he added, indicating another photograph of a tall man wearing a pink bow tie. ‘And that,’ he said, pointing to a third photograph of a slender woman with long, silver hair, ‘is Feodora Graves, head of Supernatural Magic.

‘Every apprentice learns the three basic skills
for protecting magic books – book finding, bookbinding and book minding. And every apprentice spends time working in all three branches of magic. Any questions so far?’

‘Does everyone start in bookbinding?’ Archie asked.

‘No,’ said Old Zeb. ‘The Flame decides the order in which you learn. Every apprentice has his or her own path to follow. Not many start with binding, though,’ he added, looking thoughtful. ‘It’s the hardest of the three skills, you see. Only the most gifted of the apprentices start with it. Wolfus Bone – he works in Lost Books now – Arthur Ripley, who used to work there, and your father, too. I taught all three of ’em. The only one I didn’t teach is Gideon Hawke.’

So it was true, his father had learned bookbinding from Old Zeb. Archie felt a surge of pride that he was following a family tradition.

Old Zeb was talking again. ‘Now there’s just a couple more things you need to know. The Lores – they’re all up there, all five of ’em.’ He pointed at a sign on the wall and began to read aloud.

‘The First Lore states that all magical books and artefacts must be returned to the Museum of Magical Miscellany for inspection and classification.’ He looked at Archie. ‘No ifs or buts – understand?’

Archie nodded.

‘Good lad. The Second Lore says that magical books and artefacts may not be used or bought and sold until properly identified and classified. Self-explanatory, I think.

‘The Third Lore forbids the unauthorised use of magic outside of magical premises. And the Fourth Lore says that hoarding magical books to accumulate personal power is outlored under the prohibition of dangerous magical practices.’

Old Zeb’s face turned serious. ‘It is our duty to make sure the magic books are safe. We can’t have them falling into the wrong hands.

‘Finally, the Fifth Lore says the mistreatment of magical creatures is forbidden.

‘Now, I want you to be on your guard because we suspect that Greaders are operating in Oxford. Professor von Herring will tell you more about that at the apprentices’ meeting tomorrow. You know about the meeting, I take it?’

‘My cousin said something about it,’ Archie replied.

‘Good,’ nodded Old Zeb. ‘Make sure you attend.

‘Well, that’s enough theory for one day.’ The old man rubbed his hands together like an excited child. ‘Right, let’s get on to the practical stuff. See these books here?’

He indicated two shelves on the wall above the workbench. ‘Everything you need to know is in these books,’ he said.

Archie scanned the bookshelves. There were several books about bookbinding and repairing spells, but the one that caught his eye was called
Magic Collectors Past & Present
. He was going to ask about it, but Old Zeb drew his attention to a volume called
Bookbinding for Beginners
by Basil Gumtree.

‘I was apprenticed to Basil Gumtree myself,’ the old man said, shaking his head fondly. ‘Best bookbinder I’ve ever seen. Course, I was a young lad then starting out on my apprenticeship, just like you.’

‘Yes, well, about that,’ said Archie, feeling awkward. ‘Do you really think I’m the right person to be your apprentice? I mean, I appreciate the offer and everything, but I don’t know the first thing about magical books, or magic for that matter. Are you sure you aren’t making a mistake?’

‘Mistake?’ the old man’s brow creased. ‘Impossible! The Flame decides and the Flame chose you. The mark of the Flame is binding. Book binding in this case!’ he added with a grin.

He gave Archie a knowing wink. ‘You are my apprentice and that’s the end of it. Now let’s get on
with our work. The books won’t bind themselves!’ he said, his face breaking into a smile then immediately turning serious. ‘Actually, sometimes they do! Some of them can’t be trusted you see.’

*

Later that morning, Archie and Old Zeb were sitting on their tall stools at the end of the long bench. At the other end were two piles of books labelled ‘Pop-Ups’ and ‘Pop-Outs’. Archie regarded them curiously, thinking about the pop-up storybooks Gran used to read him.

‘I see you have an eye for the poppers.’ Old Zeb grinned. ‘But be careful with those. There’s no telling what might pop out of them! Now let’s see what else we’ve got. Pass me that brown book over there.’

Archie picked up a book that smelled earthy.

‘A natural magic book,’ Old Zeb explained. ‘Written by the magician who tended the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.’

The old man peered at it through a large magnifying glass. ‘Quite straightforward,’ he said. ‘Couple of small rips in the cover – look like they were made by rose thorns. And it’s shedding some of its leaves. Nothing that some manure and a drink of water won’t fix!’

The old bookbinder picked up a small hole punch and a hammer and made two holes in the book’s spine. Then he took a large needle that looked like a hook for catching very large fish and threaded it with green gardening twine. With surprising speed the old man stitched the loose pages back, carefully knotting the twine before cutting off the end with some garden shears.

Next, he applied some glue from a small pot on the workbench to the tear in the cover. Then, to Archie’s surprise, he picked up a battered old watering can and liberally sprinkled it with water.

‘Nearly done,’ he muttered. ‘Just needs a bit of manure. Stick it in that bucket over there,’ he added, pointing to an old wooden one in a corner of the workshop.

‘Yes, that’s it,’ he added when Archie looked unsure. ‘Just bury it deep in the muck. Be good as new in no time.’

Archie gave him a quizzical glance, but realised that he was completely serious.

‘Right,’ said Old Zeb, ‘I’m just nipping out for a moment to see if Marjorie has anything urgent for me. Won’t be long. Finish what you’re doing and have a cup of tea. Don’t touch anything.’

The old bookbinder opened the workshop door and stepped out, whistling his way along the passageway. Archie picked up the bucket. He
plunged the gardening book into the manure, being careful not to get it on his hands. The book had a sweet smell like magnolia blossom. He smiled to himself. He felt a bit silly burying a book in horse dung.

When he was finished he collected the teacups from the workbench and was just putting the kettle on the stove to boil, when he caught sight of the poppers.

Archie felt a little surge of curiosity. He glanced over at the door. What harm could it do to have a quick peek as long as he was careful?

He turned his head sideways, reading the spines. One in particular caught his eye:
Medieval Magic: Charming Knights.

Archie opened the book and ran his eye down the table of contents. The names of different knights were listed. Half way down he spotted Sir Bodwin the Bold. His coat of arms was a roaring lion and the reference said he was the bravest knight in all of England. Archie opened the book to the page, expecting a three-dimensional image to pop up.

Sure enough, out popped a parchment knight in full armour seated on a black horse. Archie couldn’t see anything magic about it. He noticed that instead of sitting up straight on his horse, the parchment was torn so that Sir Bodwin was tilted at an angle as if he was falling out of his
saddle. It made the knight look rather comical.

Only a small repair was needed and Archie couldn’t resist having a go. He took Old Zeb’s needle and put in a stitch that pulled Sir Bodwin back into an upright position. He stood back and admired his handiwork just as the kettle started to whistle.

He was taking the kettle off the heat with his back to the popper when he detected a sulphurous smell, like a match being struck. There was a loud popping sound behind him, followed by the whinnying of a horse.

‘Steady, girl,’ said a man’s voice.

For a moment, Archie didn’t trust himself to turn around.

When he did, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Standing in the workshop, with its tail swishing and its nostrils flaring, was a full-sized black warhorse clad in silver armour. Mounted on the horse was a knight, also in full armour, with a red plume sticking out from his iron helmet, and a crest of a lion. He was so tall on his steed that his plume touched the ceiling of the workshop. In his hand, the knight held a huge iron mace with nasty looking spikes. He had his visor open, revealing a thickly bearded chin, and was making a clicking noise with his tongue against the roof of his mouth, so the horse’s ears twitched.

Archie knew they must have popped up from the book, but for a moment he could only stare. The magic he’d seen at Quill’s and the museum had been impressive but this was something else. Archie felt goosebumps on his skin.

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