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Authors: Jennifer Bell

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BOOK: The Crooked Sixpence
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Except they're both common markets
, Ivy reminded herself. She had to try to think more
uncommon
.

She glanced at the old guide hanging out of Thaddeus Kandinsky's pocket and wondered if it might help her find the underguard station. Hoping that Mr Kandinsky would understand, Ivy made a silent apology as she reached a hand towards the guide and gently tugged it free. The trader didn't feel a thing.

Stuffing the guide into her pocket, Ivy scurried away as the crowd fanned out onto a wide stone terrace that looked over Lundinor.

As Ivy caught sight of the view beyond, her legs went weak.

Lundinor wasn't just a market.

It was a
city.

A sea of crooked rooftops, spires, towers and chimneys – belching everything from smoke to bubbles to glittering fireworks – stretched into the distance. The cave was so big that Ivy couldn't even see the surrounding walls. She crept to the edge of the terrace and looked down at the web of cobbled roads and shadowy alleyways, flickering with lights and movement.

No. Way.

It wasn't possible. An entire city hidden beneath London?! Ivy remembered what Valian had said about uncommoners protecting their secrets, but this was extreme. She wondered what uncommon objects they'd used to keep the place from being discovered.

All around her, uncommoners began making their way down to the cave floor. Those who had brought goods on trolleys and carts loaded them onto uncommon rugs to be flown down, while everyone else went down two large flights of steps chiselled into the cave wall on either side. Ivy searched around for someone to camouflage her, and found two tough-looking traders in kilts and judge's wigs heading towards the steps, carrying a grandfather clock between them. Ivy tiptoed over and carefully fitted herself beneath their cargo, crouching down as they moved off.

Once on the cave floor, she retreated to a quiet spot in the shadows of the stairs, where she tried to gather her thoughts.

OK, now what . . . ?

She needed a plan. Just then, she heard a crackling noise and looked down.

Wait – no!

The wisp of black smoke that had been trailing from the wick of the invisibility candle was now fading as a flame spluttered back into existence. The black wax, in some bizarre, reverse way, seemed to have shrunk. Ivy shook the candle and blew on the flame, trying in vain to put it out again.

Eventually she had to admit defeat. She turned her eyes away from the steadily burning white flame and looked out into Lundinor.

A chill swept over her.

She was visible.

Chapter Ten

Ivy knew she had to act fast. She tore off her duffel coat, half tripping over the sleeves as she tried to turn it inside out. The notice for her arrest had described her as wearing a blue coat; the red lining might make her less identifiable. She tossed what was left of the invisibility candle into Granma Sylvie's handbag, tugged the bottom of her jeans over her yellow wellingtons and tugged her hood up to cover her hair. With Valian's leather jacket tucked under her arm, she set off.

She headed towards the first buildings, which were small and crooked, with gnarled wooden beams and sloping snow-topped roofs, like houses on a Victorian Christmas card. The uncommon lighting made the place feel like a film-set. She looked around. No one seemed to be paying her any attention . . . for now.

She pulled out the pamphlet, opening it at the first page.

RONID NULOT EMO CLEW

Ivy frowned.
OK . . .
She flicked through the rest of the guide. There was text on every page, but it was all written in gobbledygook.
Another language maybe?
The only part that was in English was the title on the cover.
Great
. Her shoulders slumped. She shoved it back in her pocket and sighed; she'd have to think of another way to navigate Lundinor if she was going to find Seb.

Her eyes scanned the market; there was only one road leading in – a wide cobbled street flanked by wrought-iron streetlamps. Cautiously she approached the nearest one. It was decorated with a wreath of berries, and a fist-sized bell hung from a hook at eye level. Checking that no one was watching, Ivy reached up and tapped it gently. Her fingers came away tingling with a pleasant warmth.

It's uncommon. Now what?

Unlike the bells by the Great Gates, there was no fingerprint symbol on the front. Instead, Ivy saw the image of a compass.

I wonder . . .

She grabbed the short length of rope that hung from the bottom and shook it gently. A voice rang out clearly.

‘
You are on the Gauntlet, Lundinor
,' it said, immediately falling silent.

Ivy thought for a moment and then rang the bell again.

‘
The Gauntlet, Lundinor
,' the bell repeated.

‘Is that all you can say?' she whispered, hoping no one was close enough to hear.

The bell remained quiet. Ivy waited for a moment. Eventually it gave a small, purposeful cough. ‘
I'm only supposed to speak when you ring me
,' it said, in a hushed, slightly annoyed voice.

Ivy whispered an apology, stretched up and rang it again. ‘Do you know where I can find the underguard station?'

‘
Underguard station?
' the bell repeated. ‘
The closest one is on the other side of the cavern. An hour north of here. End of Runner Street.
'

An hour . . . ?
Ivy's heart sank. She repeated the address in her head and wandered back onto the cobbles. Ahead of her, the Gauntlet seemed to stretch on for ever. Hulking grey stone buildings rose up on either side, lurching towards each other. Beneath them, the pavements were crammed with brightly coloured kiosks that spilled over into the road. Traders riding broomsticks, doormats and rugs flew over the rooftops, while the thud of a thousand footsteps made the ground shake. The noise would have easily drowned out Seb's loudest drum practice.

Ivy took a deep breath. The air was thick with delicious smells, making her mouth water: sweet roast chestnuts, freshly baked bread and spiced fruits.
Just act normal
, she told herself.
Don't attract attention.
But it was almost impossible to contain her amazement. It was like stepping into the pages of a Victorian history book, except . . . with uncommon objects.

Traders shuffled around in all directions. Some sang out to passers-by, trying to drum up business.

‘Lovegrove's Leather Dashers! Belts for all elevations! Best in Lundinor!'

‘Sale on long-haul bags, ladies and gents: at least two grade reduction!'

Above Ivy's head, shop signs creaked as they swung to and fro.
AL-DIN & SON FLYING CARPETS, OLD MR TANNENBAUM'S UNCOMMON DECORATIONS, ROY. G. BIV'S ART SUPPLIES, LIMELIGHTS' CITRUS LAMPS
. She stopped by the open windows of one particular store and peered inside. There was a length of ribbon suspended across the glass that seemed to be moving of its own accord, twirling into a message.

Welcome to Gil's Glove Shop!
Proprietor: Gilbert Grandiose – Glove-Maker for All Ages

Behind the ribbon was a circular room fitted with glass drawers. The front of each displayed a glove – violet suede, lace-cuffed, buttoned, leather, cotton, rubber . . . The room was dimly lit by half a dozen floating milk jugs. Ivy could tell they were uncommon – not just because they were hovering, but because, as they tipped over, a liquid gas poured out, glowing like stardust.

Standing in the middle of the room was a man with beady eyes and an absurdly huge white moustache which curled around his face, almost touching his ears. He wore an apron covered in oily stains and a name badge that said:
GILBERT, THE ONE AND ONLY
! There was a bobbing crowd of children in front of him, none of whom were wearing gloves.

‘Now,' Gilbert said, sticking out his chest. ‘Can anyone tell me what uncommon gloves are used for?'

One of the children – a stout boy in a Roman centurion's helmet – stuck his hand up. ‘My mum says they're like her credit card because they remember every transaction she makes.'

Gilbert beamed. ‘An excellent analogy, Louis. Uncommon gloves record the trades of whoever is wearing them. That's why uncommoners have to shake hands at the end of every deal. Is there anything else they do?'

A girl with a lilac bow in her hair raised her hand. ‘The most important thing they're used for is to tell the underguard where you are at all times. That's why you have to wear them inside the Great Gates, even if you don't want to.'

‘Correct,' Gilbert agreed. ‘After you take the glove, the underguards know exactly where you are,
all
the time. That's how they catch criminals. Uncommon gloves are used for all kinds of official business, they don't just help you trade. They are the keys to all Lundinor.'

‘But what does taking the glove actually
mean
?' asked the boy in the helmet.

One of the other children – a very small girl in a pale pink tutu – pointed up to a pair of long silk dress gloves. ‘Can I just take those ones?'

Gilbert hushed the group. ‘Taking the glove is a lot more special than that. You must be at least secondary school age – and be nominated by one of the four great quartermasters of Lundinor. It is a mark of your responsibility to the Trade and your promise to live by the rules of GUT law.' He held out his hands, encased in a pair of apple-green suede gloves. ‘When you wear a pair of uncommon gloves for the first time, a bond forms between you and them. You keep the same pair of gloves your whole life. They are with you for every trade you make and' – he lowered his voice – ‘they know if it is honest or dishonest.' He pointed to a spot on the wall.

Ivy followed his thin finger. Beside a drawer containing a pair of old leather boxing gloves was a framed poster. There was writing at the top and then a photo:

REMEMBER
If you perform an illegal deal according to GUT law, your uncommon gloves will leave a permanent mark against you.

She looked at the photo beneath. It showed a pair of yellow, rotten hands, the skin infested with maggots.

‘The man in grey,' she whispered. She clapped a hand over her mouth as she backed away from the window. She hadn't meant to say it out loud. But . . . she had seen hands exactly like that this very morning, in the hospital. It felt like a lifetime ago.

Ivy continued along the street. Some things were starting to make sense. The man in grey was an uncommoner – an extremely shady one, if that glove poster was anything to go by. It couldn't have been a coincidence that he was poking around in the hospital that morning. Maybe he
had
been looking for Granma Sylvie – just like Ivy had suspected at the time. And that meant . . . she was in danger.

Ivy clenched her fists as she hurried towards the underguard station, weaving her way through the traders. When she had rescued Seb, they had to get back to the hospital as quickly as they could. Her heart pounded as she dodged and ducked past traders, desperately hoping she'd make it to the underguard station without being identified as a mucker. The crowd slowed as they approached a crossroads in the Gauntlet. Ivy tried to squeeze through, but the traders were standing shoulder to shoulder and she found herself stuck between a wooden cart heaped with old chairs and a kiosk with a yellow awning. She heard shouts up ahead. No one was moving.

She turned to the stall beside her. Its owner seemed to have disappeared, but Ivy saw that it sold
coins
. Hundreds of them – shiny copper, dull silver, six-sided, circular, all stored in little plastic pouches – hung from the metal poles of the canopy. Every face was engraved with a portrait, although Ivy wasn't familiar with any of the heads on show. She reached down into her reversed pocket and fumbled around for the silver coin. Her fingers tingled as they found it.

‘Can I interest you in anything, little one?' A head of curly red hair popped up from behind the stall. ‘Maybe a nice tuppence?' The lady took one of the pouches and pulled out a small copper coin. ‘You can put the image of your sweetheart on it.' She flipped the coin over several times. With each turn the face changed. ‘Can fit eight different pictures on this one – see? Much better than a common photo frame.'

Ivy blinked.
Eight different pictures . . . ?

Just then the crowd started to move. She shook her head shyly at the stallholder and shuffled along. In her pocket, she turned the silver coin over and over between her fingers, thinking.

The coin is like a photo frame . . .
Which meant that it held pictures of people. Ivy couldn't remember seeing a face on it before, but at the time she'd been more interested in the words around the edge. She hadn't bothered to flip the coin over and check it again. She needed to have a second look.

To her surprise she soon spotted a shop that seemed to be closed – the front windows were empty and the heavy glass door was shut.
Odd
. . . all the others were clearly open. Still, Ivy climbed the three black steps up to the front door. She looked around, checking that no one was watching, before retrieving the coin.

The portrait engraved on the front was of a hooded face in a tusked mask, most likely that of a man – the jaw was too large and square for a woman. Ivy flipped the coin over several times, but in the gloom she couldn't make out the other faces. She leaned back, angling the coin to catch the light.

All of a sudden she slipped and lost her footing. Her head struck the door, and then there was a crack, followed by a long groan as it swung inwards. Ivy tripped over Valian's jacket and fell head-first into the shop. The coin rolled out of her hand and onto the floor with a loud
thrum
.

Chapter Eleven

Ivy clambered to her feet, wincing. She wasn't quick enough to stop the door rattling to behind her. She squeezed her eyes shut, tensing as the sound reverberated around the room. After a moment's silence she slowly opened them again.

BOOK: The Crooked Sixpence
10.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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