Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
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have been with the Court all my life, traveling with the King's Progress
I didn't know how to go on. I sat and stared at this sentence, until Grundo said, “If you can't do it,
If you didn't know Grundo, you'd think this was a generous offer, but it was a threat, really. Grundo is dyslexic. Unless he thinks hard, he writes inside out and backward. He was threatening me with half a page of crooked writing with words like
turning up as
Anything but that! I thought. So I decided to start with Grundoâand me. I am Arianrhod Hyde, only I prefer people to call me Roddy, and I've looked after Grundo for years now, ever since Grundo was a small, pale, freckled boy in rompers, sitting completely silently in the back of the children's bus. He was so miserable that he had wet himself. I was only about five myself at the time, but I somehow realized that he was too miserable even to cry. I got up and staggered through the bumping, rushing bus to the clothes lockers. I found some clean rompers and persuaded Grundo to get into them.
This wasn't easy, because Grundo has always been very proud. While I was working at it, Grundo's sister, Alicia, turned round from where she was sitting with the big ones. “What are you bothering with Cesspit for?” she said, tipping up her long, freckled nose. “There's no point. He's useless.” She was eight at the time, but she still looks just the same: straight fair hair, thick body, and an air of being
person, the one everyone else has to look up to. “And he's ugly,” she said. “He's got a long nose.”
“So have you got a long nose,” I said, “Lady Sneeze.” I always called her Lady Sneeze when I wanted to annoy her. If you say “Alicia” quickly, it sounds just like a well-behaved sneezeâjust like Alicia, in fact. I wanted to annoy her for calling Grundo Cesspit. She only said it because Sybil, her mother, called Grundo that. It was typical of the way they both treated him. Grundo's father left Sybil before Grundo was born. Ever since I could remember, Sybil and Alicia had been thick as thieves together. Poor Grundo was nowhere.
It got worse when Grundo started lessons with us and turned out to be dyslexic. Sybil went around sighing, “He's so
!” And Alicia chanted at him, “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Alicia, of course, did everything well, whether it was maths, magic, or horse riding. She got chosen as a Court page when she was ten.
Our teachers knew Grundo was not stupid, but his inside-out way of going on baffled them. They sighed, too, and called Grundo “our young eccentric,” and I was the one who taught Grundo to read and write. I think that was when I started calling him Grundo. I can't quite remember why, except that it suited him better than his real name, which is Ambrose, of all things! Before long the entire Court called him Grundo. And while I was teaching him, I discovered that he had an unexpected amount of inside-out magical talent.
“This book is boring,” he complained in his deep, solemn voice. “Why should I care if Jack and Jill go shopping? Or if Rover chases the ball?” While I was explaining to him that
reading books were like this, Grundo somehow turned the book into a comic book, all pictures and no words. It started at the back and finished at the front, and in the pictures the ball chased Rover and Jack and Jill were bought by the groceries. Only Grundo would think of two people being bought by a huge chunk of cheese.
He refused to turn the book back. He said it was more fun that way, and I couldn't turn it back into a reading book whatever I tried. It's probably still where I hid it, down inside the cover of the old teaching bus seat. Grundo is obstinate as well as proud.
You might say I adopted Grundo as my brother. We were both on our own. I am an only child, and all the other Court wizards' children were the same age as Alicia or older still. The other children our own age were sons and daughters of Court officials, who had no gift for magic. They were perfectly friendlyâdon't get me wrongâbut they just had a more normal outlook.
There were only about thirty of us young ones who traveled in the King's Progress all the time. The rest only joined us for Christmas or for the other big religious ceremonies. Grundo and I always used to envy them. They didn't have to wear neat clothes and remember Court manners all the time. They knew where they were going to be, instead of traveling through the nights and finding themselves suddenly in a flat field in Norfolk, or a remote Derbyshire valley, or a busy port somewhere next morning. They didn't have to ride in buses in a heat wave. Above all, they could go for walks and explore places. We were never really in one place long enough to do any exploring. The most we got to do was look round the various castles and great houses where the King decided to stay.
We envied the princesses and the younger princes particularly. They were allowed to stay in Windsor most of the year. Court gossip said that the Queen, being foreign, had threatened to go back to Denmark unless she was allowed to stay in one place. Everyone pitied the Queen rather for not understanding that the King
to travel about in order to keep the realm healthy. Some said that the whole magic of the Islands of Blestâor maybe the entire world of Blestâdepended on the King's constantly moving about and visiting every acre of England.
I asked my grandfather Hyde about this. He is a Magid and knows about the magics of countries and worlds and so on. And he said that there might be something in this, but he thought people were overstating the case. The magic of Blest
very important for all sorts of reasons, he said, but it was the Merlin who was really entrusted with keeping it healthy.
My mother did quite often talk of sending me to live with this grandfather in London. But this would have meant leaving Grundo to the mercies of Sybil and Alicia, so whenever she suggested it, I told her I was proud to be a member of Courtâwhich was quite trueâand that I was getting the best possible educationâwhich was partly quite trueâand then I sort of went heavy at her and hoped she'd forget the idea. If she got really anxious and went on about this being no sort of life for a growing girl, I went on about the way Grandad grows dahlias. I really do hate dahlias as a way of life.
Mam had her latest worry session in Northumbria, in the rain. We were all camped in a steep, heathery valley waiting for the Scottish King to pay our King a formal visit. It was so bare that there was not even a house for the King. The canvas of the royal tent was turning a wet, dismal yellow just downhill from us, and we were slithering in shiny, wet sheep droppings while I went on about the way Grandad grows dahlias.
“Besides, it's such a stupid thing for a powerful magician to do!” I said.
“I wish you didn't feel like this about him,” Mam said. “You
he does a great deal more than simply grow flowers. He's a remarkable man. And he'd be glad to have you as company for your cousin Toby.”
“My cousin Toby is a wimp who doesn't mind being ordered to do the weeding,” I said. I looked up at Mam through the wet black wriggles of my hair and realized that my dahlia ploy hadn't worked the way it usually did. Mam continued to look anxious. She is a serious person, my mam, weighed down by her responsible job in the traveling Exchequer, but I can usually get her to laugh. When she laughs, she throws her head back and looks very like me. We both have rather long pink cheeks and a dimple in the same place, though her eyes are black and mine are blue.
I could see the rain was getting her downâhaving to keep the water out of her computer and having to go to the loo in a little wet flapping tent and all the restâand I saw it was one of the times when she starts imagining me going down with rheumatic fever or pneumonia and dying of it. I realized I'd have to play my very strongest card or I'd be packed off down to London before lunch.
“Come off it, Mam!” I said. “Grandad's not
father. He's Dad's. If you're so anxious for me to be in the bosom of my family, why not send me to
She pulled her shiny waterproof cape around her and went back a step. “My father is Welsh,” she said. “If you went there, you'd be living in a foreign country. All right. If you feel you really can stand this awful, wandering existence, we'll say no more.”
She went away. She always did if anyone talked about her father. I thought he must be terrifying. All I knew about my other grandfather was that Mam had had to run away from home in order to marry Dad, because her father had refused to let her marry anyone. Poor Mam. And I'd used that to send her away. I sighed with mixed relief and guilt. Then I went to find Grundo.
Grundo's lot is always worse when we're stopped anywhere for a while. Unless I think of an excuse to fetch him away, Sybil and Alicia haul him into Sybil's tent and try to correct his faults. When I ducked into the dim, damp space, it was worse than usual. Sybil's manfriend was in there, laughing his nasty, hissing laugh. “Give him to me, dear,” I heard him saying. “I'll soon make a man of him.” Grundo was looking pale, even for him.