Authors: D D Everest
Then the knight spoke.
‘Well met, young sir,’ he said, and he raised his gauntlet-clad hand in a salute. ‘I am Sir Bodwin the Bold. You have rendered me a great service. I’ve been stuck at that angle for years – very uncomfortable. But now I am restored to my former glory, thanks to you. What is your name, Sir Squire?’
‘Archie Greene,’ Archie stuttered, staring at the knight. He knew it was rude, but he couldn’t help it.
‘I am at your service, Archie Greene,’ Sir Bodwin said, bowing so low that the plume in his helmet almost tickled Archie’s nose. ‘How can I repay you for your noble deed?’
‘Urm … you really don’t have to,’ said Archie, not sure what else to say.
The knight continued. ‘It’s very embarrassing being a knight when everyone laughs at you. But now I can hold my head up high once more – literally! I am forever in your debt. What quest would you have me fulfil?’
Archie was desperately racking his brain for a
response when the door to the workshop opened and Old Zeb’s face appeared.
To Archie’s immense relief, the old bookbinder did not seem in the least put out to find a very large horse and a fully armed knight in his workshop. In fact, he just chuckled.
‘Been at the poppers then, I see, young Archie?’ he said. ‘I warned you about that!’
Archie opened his mouth to reply but at that moment a steaming pile of horse dung landed on the ground next to his foot. Old Zeb chuckled at the sight of it. Relieved, Archie laughed with him.
The knight raised his hand in salute. ‘Well met,’ he said cheerily. ‘I am Sir Bodwin the Bold. My sword is at this boy’s service.’
‘Well, that’s very kind, I’m sure,’ Old Zeb replied, ‘but he doesn’t need your help just now.’
He reached into his pocket and produced a small glass phial. He pointed it at the knight and removed the stopper. A wispy white vapour drifted out and coiled around Sir Bodwin and his steed. There was a crackling noise like static electricity as the white vapour was sucked back into the phial and the horse and knight vanished in front of Archie’s startled eyes. Old Zeb immediately replaced the glass bottle’s top.
Archie blinked. Sir Bodwin and his horse were
gone. All that was left to show they had ever been there was the steaming pile of horse dung.
Old Zeb raised his eyebrows knowingly.
‘There, now,’ he chided. ‘Let that be a lesson to you, young Archie.’
Archie felt the colour rise to his cheeks. ‘How did you get rid of them? Where did they go?’ he asked.
‘I phialled ’em away, of course!’ said Old Zeb, grinning. ‘With my popper stopper,’ he added with a twinkle in his eye. ‘All the museum elders have them. Don’t know where we’d be without them. Well, yes I do, we’d be overrun with poppers. That’s where we’d be!’
Archie smiled. ‘I think I’d like to get one,’ he said, eyeing the glass bottle.
‘Not allowed,’ grinned the old man. ‘First and second hand apprentices are strictly forbidden from carrying them. Third hands, with three firemarks, are allowed to use them under supervision. Makes it too easy, you see, to start opening poppers without due care and attention. Far too dangerous.’
Old Zeb placed the glass phial on a shelf. ‘That will have to go back to the museum later, but it will be safe enough there for now.’
Archie looked at the horse dung on the floor of the workshop.
The old bookbinder grinned again. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘now get a shovel and clear that up – it’ll go a treat on that gardening book. And I’ll take the rest home for my tomatoes!’
ater that afternoon, when Archie had finished at the bookshop, he met Bramble outside Quill’s. As they walked home, he told her about Sir Bodwin.
‘So, you found out about poppers, then?’ she said, with a giggle.
‘Yes, you could say that,’ Archie said, feeling a little foolish. ‘But it was worth it. It was absolutely brilliant!’
‘Yes,’ said Bramble. ‘But be careful with them. Poppers can get you into trouble. There was an unfortunate incident a few years ago involving a rhinoceros and a china shop. Actually, it was more a priceless collection of porcelain, really. Quite a big one.’
‘And the rhinoceros?’ Archie asked.
‘Yes, that was quite a big one as well. It lasted three days and there wasn’t a single piece of china left.’
Archie raised his eyebrows. ‘Smashing!’ he chuckled.
Bramble grinned. ‘Exactly, but it caused a bit of a fuss at the time and Dad got into a lot of trouble.’
‘You mean Uncle Woodbine let the popper out?’ exclaimed Archie.
Bramble pulled a face. ‘Yes, ’fraid so,’ she said. ‘That’s why he doesn’t work at the museum any more. He had to leave after that.’
Archie looked thoughtful. There was more to his uncle than met the eye. ‘What does he do now?’ he asked.
‘He’s a finder. Most of the jobs at the museum are for minders – they look after the magic books and keep them safe. There are a few binders, like Old Zeb. Then there are finders who get paid for any lost magic books they find. That’s why we collect the old books.’
‘I see,’ said Archie. ‘And that was all because of a popper?’
‘Yes,’ said Bramble, ‘but it’s the drawing books that you really need to look out for. They are the most dangerous of all.’
‘How can a drawing book be dangerous?’ asked Archie, incredulously.
Bramble ignored his sceptical tone. ‘Trust me, they can. Drawing books draw you in,’ she said. ‘You can end up being a character in the story.’
‘That’s weird!’ said Archie.
‘It’s more than weird,’ cautioned Bramble. ‘You can end up trapped forever and unable to escape. This isn’t a lark, Archie. Some magic books are not very nice at all! You’ll find out more at the meeting about dark magic tomorrow. Mum’s given me a keepsafe because she says you can never be too careful with Greaders around.’
She showed Archie a gold charm bracelet around her wrist. It had a tiny heart, an anchor and a bow and arrow. ‘It’s a magical gift that protects you. I got it when I started my apprenticeship.’
‘Do you think we’re in danger then?’ Archie asked.
Bramble shrugged. ‘Better to be safe than sorry.’
When they got back to Houndstooth Road, Loretta met them in the hall.
‘Good timing. You’ve got a visitor, Archie. Says he got our address from Granny Greene.’
Archie and Bramble went through to the kitchen to find Horace Catchpole drinking elderberry squash with Thistle.
‘There’s something you should know,’ Horace exclaimed when he saw Archie. ‘There’s a second message. It was added later. It should have been
delivered with the package and the first scroll, but somehow it got overlooked.’
‘What does it say?’ asked Archie.
‘It’s in Enochian Script,’ said Horace, ‘the language of angels.’ From his pocket he produced a scroll tied with a bottle green ribbon.
‘The language of angels is the purest magical language of all. Several of the great books of magic were written in it, including
The Opus Magus
. But it’s even more obscure than the alphabet of the Magi, the magical language the first message was written in. It’s a devil to translate.’
Archie didn’t have the heart to tell Horace that he’d got the first translation wrong.
Horace continued. ‘Anyway, it’s a riddle.’
‘You mean you don’t know what to make of it?’ asked Thistle.
Horace pulled a face. ‘Well no, it really is a riddle. It rhymes and everything.’
‘I see,’ said Archie, wondering whether Horace’s translation could be trusted after the last one.
Horace straightened his glasses, and referring to his notebook he began to read. Bramble grabbed a pen and started transcribing what was being translated.
‘Buried deep in caverns cold
A secret that remains untold
Two ancient sentries guard the prize
With lion heart and eagle eyes.’
Archie gazed at the scroll. As Horace read out the words, the strange letters began to shimmer and rearrange themselves into words that he could understand. He rubbed his eyes.
‘What does the second verse say, Horace?’ asked Thistle.
‘In stony silence shadows sleep
The final gift is safe to keep
To pass requires a simple test …’
But it was Archie who finished the verse. ‘Name the one whom I served best.’
The other three stared at him.
‘How did you know that?’ gasped Horace. ‘It took me hours to translate it and you got it in seconds. Who taught you to read magical languages?’
Archie felt confused and embarrassed. ‘It must have been a fluke,’ he said, but he knew that no one believed it. He didn’t even believe it himself.
‘What does the riddle mean?’ he asked, trying to change the subject.
‘Beats me,’ shrugged Horace. ‘But I thought you’d want to know about it. It goes with the first
scroll and package but it was sent after they were.’
‘Who sent it?’ Bramble asked, impatiently.
‘We can’t read his name in our records,’ confided Horace. ‘The ink is smudged. But we do know that he was a magician.’
‘A magician!’ exclaimed Archie. ‘I wonder if that’s who sent me the book as well!’
Horace shrugged. ‘The scroll has this weird symbol on it,’ he added, holding it out so they could all see.
‘Does that mean anything to you?’
‘Yes,’ said Archie slowly. ‘It’s the same one as on the clasp of my book.’
When Archie went up to bed that night to ponder the riddle, he found a letter on his pillow – it was from Gran! Loretta must have put it there in case he wanted to read it in private. Hungry for news, he tore it open.
I hope you are settling in well with the Foxes.
By now you will have discovered some things that you did not know about your family and especially your father’s past. You are probably wondering why I kept so much from you.
There are so many things that I should have told you. But your father made me promise to keep you away from magic until you were old enough to make your own mind up. He was trying to protect you.
I write in haste because I must make a journey. There are some matters that I must attend to. I realise now that I should have acted sooner. But what is done is done and I cannot change it.
I will try not to worry about you because I know you are in the safekeeping of the Foxes. Life is a funny thing because up until a few weeks ago nothing would have worried me more!
Loretta and Woodbine know how to reach me.
There is one more thing I need to tell you. (I once told your father this.) There are many different types
of courage in this world. But they all have one thing in common. You cannot be truly courageous if you are not truly frightened. Real courage is doing what we know to be right even though we are afraid for our own safety. Remember this. It will help you be brave when the time comes.
A postcard had been slipped in with the letter. It was marked Kathmandu.
Thinking about Gran made him think about his dad’s things. He wondered whether they would be able to help him with the magician’s riddle. He took out the shoebox that Thistle had given him, removed the lid and looked inside at an assortment of his father’s possessions. There was a pen, some faded black-and-white photographs, a pair of gloves and some books.
He picked up one of the photographs and examined it. It was a picture of a boy and girl standing together. The girl was wearing purple shoes and was clearly recognisable as a younger version of Loretta Foxe. She looked to be about ten. The boy was older, around Archie’s age and had to be his father. They were standing outside Quill’s.
Archie put the photo back in the box and picked up one of the books. It was an old scrapbook with some newspaper cuttings. He decided to look at it later. Another book was called
Magical Greats: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
. It was a list of all the most famous and infamous magical books ever written.
What was the book that Horace had mentioned?
The Opus Magus
. Archie looked it up in the index.
The Opus Magus:
Perhaps the greatest of all the magical books,
The Opus Magus
was written during the Golden Age of Magic by an unknown hand and is said to contain the secrets of writing new magic. Once housed in the Great Library of Alexandria, it is believed that
The Opus Magus
was incinerated in the fire that destroyed the Library.
Archie flicked on through the book until another entry caught his eye.
The Book of Yore:
An ancient codex that contains the history of magic, including many secrets about the past.
The Book of Yore
is sometimes included with the Books of Destiny, but strictly speaking it has no power to predict the future. Rather, the secrets it reveals about
the past may alter the fate of those who discover them.
The Book of Yore
may be consulted by asking it a direct question, although what it reveals may not seem immediately relevant. The book never lies but it has a dark side, which makes it dangerous.
Archie put the book back in the shoebox. He noticed another called
Creatures to Avoid If You Are of a Nervous Disposition
by Timothy Tremble. It was full of descriptions of magical creatures, with drawings of dragons, unicorns and centaurs, and something called a flarewolf – a wolf-like creature that breathed fire like a dragon.
Archie shivered involuntarily. The creature sounded vile. He was still thinking about it when he fell asleep. He dreamed a fire-breathing dragon was chasing him and trying to burn his book.