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Authors: The Amulet of Samarkand 2012 11 13 11 53 18 573

Jonathan Stroud - Bartimaeus 1

BOOK: Jonathan Stroud - Bartimaeus 1
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Jonathan Stroud

The Amulet of Samarkand

The Bartimaeus Trilogy, book 1

For Gina

Part One
1

Bartimaeus

The temperature of the room dropped fast. Ice formed on the curtains and crusted

thickly around the lights in the ceiling. The glowing filaments in each bulb shrank and dimmed, while the candles that sprang from every available surface like a colony of

toadstools had their wicks snuffed out. The darkened room filled with a yellow, choking cloud of brimstone, in which indistinct black shadows writhed and roiled. From far away came the sound of many voices screaming. Pressure was suddenly applied to the door

that led to the landing. It bulged inward, the timbers groaning. Footsteps from invisible feet came pattering across the floorboards and invisible mouths whispered wicked things from behind the bed and under the desk.

The sulfur cloud contracted into a thick column of smoke that vomited forth thin

tendrils; they licked the air like tongues before withdrawing. The column hung above the middle of the pentacle, bubbling ever upward against the ceiling like the cloud of an

erupting volcano. There was a barely perceptible pause. Then two yellow staring eyes

materialized in the heart of the smoke.

Hey, it was his first time. I wanted to scare him.

And I did, too. The dark-haired boy stood in a pentacle of his own, smaller, filled

with different runes, three feet away from the main one. He was pale as a corpse, shaking like a dead leaf in a high wind. His teeth rattled in his shivering jaw. Beads of sweat dripped from his brow, turning to ice as they fell through the air. They tinkled with the sound of hailstones on the floor.

All well and good, but so what? I mean, he looked about twelve years old. Wide-

eyed, hollow-cheeked. There's not that much satisfaction to be had from scaring the pants off a scrawny kid.[1]

[1] Not everyone agrees with me on this. Some find it delightful sport. They

refine countless ways of tormenting their summoners by means of subtly hideous

apparitions. Usually the best you can hope for is to give them nightmares later, but

occasionally these stratagems are so successful that the apprentices actually panic and step out of the protective circle. Then all is well—for us. But it is a risky business. Often they are very well trained.

Then they grow up and get their revenge.

So I floated and waited, hoping he wasn't going to take too long to get round to

the dismissing spell. To keep myself occupied, I made blue flames lick up around the

inner edges of the pentacle, as if they were seeking a way to get out and nab him. All hokum, of course. I'd already checked and the seal was drawn well enough. No spelling

mistakes anywhere, unfortunately.

At last it looked as if the urchin was plucking up the courage to speak. I guessed

this by a stammering about his lips that didn't seem to be induced by pure fear alone. I let the blue fire die away, to be replaced by a foul smell.

The kid spoke. Very squeakily.

"I charge you... to... to..." Get on with it! "T-t-tell me your n-name."

That's usually how they start, the young ones. Meaningless waffle. He knew, and I

knew that he knew, my name already; otherwise how could he have summoned me in the

first place? You need the right words, the right actions, and most of all the right name. I mean, it's not like hailing a cab—you don't get just
anybody
when you call.

I chose a rich, deep, dark chocolaty sort of voice, the kind that resounds from

everywhere and nowhere and makes the hairs stand up on the back of inexperienced

necks.

"Bartimaeus."

I saw the kid give a strangled kind of gulp when he heard the word. Good—then

he wasn't entirely stupid; he knew who and what I was. He knew my reputation.

After taking a moment to swallow some accumulated phlegm, he spoke again. "I-I

charge you again to answer. Are you that B-Bartimaeus who in olden times was

summoned by the magicians to repair the walls of Prague?"

What a time waster this kid was. Who else would it be? I upped the volume a bit

on this one.

The ice on the light bulbs cracked like caramelized sugar. Behind the dirty

curtains the window glass shimmered and hummed. The kid rocked back on his heels.

"I am Bartimaeus! I am Sakhr al-Jinni, N'gorso the Mighty, and the Serpent of

Silver Plumes! I have rebuilt the walls of Uruk, Karnak, and Prague. I have spoken with Solomon. I have run with the buffalo fathers of the plains. I have watched over Old

Zimbabwe till the stones fell and the jackals fed on its people. I am Bartimaeus! I

recognize no master. So I charge you in your turn,
boy.
Who are you to summon me?"

Impressive stuff, eh? All true as well, which gives it more power. And I wasn't just

doing it to sound big. I rather hoped the kid would be blustered by it into telling me his name in return, which would give me something to go on when his back was turned.[2]

But no luck there.

[2] I couldn't do anything while I was in the circle, of course. But later I'd be able to find out who he was, look for weaknesses of character, things in his past I could

exploit. They've all got them.
You've
all got them, I should say.

"By the constraints of the circle, the points on the pentacle, and the chain of runes, I am your master! You will obey my will!"

There was something particularly obnoxious about hearing this old shtick coming

from a weedy stripling, and in such a foolish high voice too. I bit back the temptation to give him a piece of my mind and intoned the usual response. Anything to get it over with quickly.

"What is your will?"

I admit I was already surprised. Most tyro magicians look first and ask questions

later. They go window-shopping, eyeing up their potential power, but are far too nervous to try it out. You don't often get small ones like this squirt calling up entities like me in the first place, either.

The kid cleared his throat. This was the moment. This is what he'd been building

up to. He'd been dreaming of this for years, when he should have been lying on his bed thinking about racing cars or girls. I waited grimly for the pathetic request. What would it be? Levitating some object was a usual one, or moving it from one side of the room to the other. Perhaps he'd want me to conjure an illusion. That might be fun: there was bound to be a way of misinterpreting his request and upsetting him.[3]

[3] One magician demanded I show him an image of the love of his life. I rustled

up a mirror.

"I charge you to retrieve the Amulet of Samarkand from the house of Simon

Lovelace and bring it to me when I summon you at dawn tomorrow."

"You what?"

"I charge you to retrieve—"

"Yes, I heard what you said." I didn't mean to sound petulant. It just slipped out, and my sepulchral tones slipped a bit too.

"Then go!"

"Wait a minute!" I felt that queasy sensation in my stomach that you always get when they dismiss you. Like someone sucking out your insides through your back. They

have to say it three times to get rid of you, if you're keen on sticking around. Usually you're not. But this time I remained where I was, two glowing eyes in an angry fug of

boiling smoke.

"Do you know what you are asking for, boy?"

"I am neither to converse, discuss, nor parley with you; nor to engage in any

riddles, bets, or games of chance; nor to—"

"I have no wish to converse with a scrawny adolescent, believe you me, so save

your rote-learned rubbish. Someone is taking advantage of you. Who is it—your master, I suppose? A wizened coward hiding behind a boy." I let the smoke recede a little, exposed my outlines for the first time, hovering dimly in the shadows. "You are playing with fire twice over, if you seek to rob a true magician by summoning me. Where are we?

London?"

He nodded. Yes, it was London all right. Some grotty town house. I surveyed the

room through the chemical fumes. Low ceiling, peeling wallpaper; a single faded print on the wall. It was a somber Dutch landscape—a curious choice for a boy. I'd have expected pop chicks, football players.... Most magicians are conformists, even when young.

"Ah, me..." My voice was emollient and wistful. "It is a wicked world and they have taught you very little."

"I am not afraid of you! I have given you your charge and I demand you go!"

The second dismissal. My bowels felt as if they were being passed over by a

steamroller. I sensed my form waver, flicker. There was power in this child, though he was very young.

"It is not me you have to fear; not now, anyway. Simon Lovelace will come to you

himself when he finds his amulet stolen. He will not spare you for your youth."

"You are bound to do my will."

"I am." I had to hand it to him, he was determined. And very stupid.

His hand moved. I heard the first syllable of the Systemic Vise. He was about to

inflict pain.

I went. I didn't bother with any more special effects.

2

When I landed on the top of a lamppost in the London dusk it was peeing with

rain. This was just my luck. I had taken the form of a blackbird, a sprightly fellow with a bright yellow beak and jet-black plumage. Within seconds I was as bedraggled a fowl as ever hunched its wings in Hampstead. Flicking my head from side to side, I spied a large beech tree. Leaves moldered at its foot—it had already been stripped clean by the

November winds—but the thick sprouting of its branches offered some protection from

the wet. I flew over to it, passing above a lone car that purred its way along the wide suburban street. Behind high walls and the evergreen foliage of their gardens, the ugly white facades of several sizeable villas shone through the dark like the faces of the dead.

Well, perhaps it was my mood that made it seem like that. Five things were

bothering me. For a start the dull ache that comes with every physical manifestation was already beginning. I could feel it in my feathers. Changing form would keep the pain at bay for a time, but might also draw attention to me at a critical stage of the operation.

Until I was sure of my surroundings, a bird I had to remain.

The second thing was the weather. Enough said.

Third, I'd forgotten the limitations of material bodies. I had an itch just above my

beak, and kept futilely trying to scratch it with a wing.

Fourth, that kid. I had a lot of questions about him. Who was he? Why did he

have a death wish? How would I get even with him before he died for subjecting me to

this assignment? News travels fast, and I was bound to take some abuse for scurrying

around on behalf of a scrap like him.

Fifth... the Amulet. By all accounts it was a potent charm. What the kid thought he

was going to do with it when he got it beat me. He wouldn't have a clue. Maybe he'd just wear it as some tragic fashion accessory. Maybe nicking amulets was the latest craze, the magician's version of pinching hubcaps. Even so, I had to get it first, and this would not necessarily be easy, even for me.

I closed my blackbird's eyes and opened my inner ones, one after the other, each

on a different plane.[1] I looked back and forth around me, hopping up and down the

branch to get the optimal view. No fewer than three villas along the street had magical protection, which showed how wealthy an area we were in. I didn't inspect the two farther off up the street; it was the one across from them, beyond the streetlight, that interested me. The residence of Simon Lovelace, magician.

[1] I have access to seven planes, all coexistent. They overlap each other like

layers on a crushed mille-feuille. Seven planes is sufficient for anybody. Those who

operate on more are just showing off.

The first plane was clear, but he'd rigged up a defense nexus on the second—it

shone like blue gossamer all along the high wall. It didn't finish there either; it extended up into the air, over the top of the low white house, and down again on the other side, forming a great shimmering dome.

Not bad, but I could handle it.

There was nothing on the third or fourth planes, but on the fifth I spotted three

sentries prowling around in midair, just beyond the lip of the garden wall. They were a dull yellow all over, each one formed of three muscular legs that rotated on a hub of

gristle. Above the hub was a blobby mass, which sported two mouths and several

watchful eyes. The creatures passed at random back and forth around the perimeter of the garden. I shrank back against the trunk of the beech tree instinctively, but I knew they were unlikely to spot me from there. At this distance I would look like a blackbird on all seven planes. It was when I got closer that they might break through my illusion.

The sixth plane was clear. But the seventh... that was curious. I couldn't see

anything obvious—the house, the street, the night all looked unchanged—but, call it

intuition if you like, I was sure something was present there, lurking.

I rubbed my beak doubtfully against a knot of wood. As expected, there was a

good deal of powerful magic at work here. I'd heard of Lovelace. He was considered a

formidable magician and a hard taskmaster. I was lucky I had never been called up in his service, and I did not much want his enmity or that of his servants.

But I had to obey that kid.

The soggy blackbird took off from the branch and swooped across the road,

conveniently avoiding the arc of light from the nearest lamp. It landed in a patch of

scrubby grass at the corner of the wall. Four black trash bags had been left out there for collection the next morning. The blackbird hopped behind the bags. A cat that had

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