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The Amulet of Samarkand / Àìóëåò Ñàìàðêàíäà (by Jonathan Stroud, 2003) - àóäèîêíèãà íà àíãëèéñêîì

The Amulet of Samarkand / Àìóëåò Ñàìàðêàíäà (by Jonathan Stroud, 2003) - àóäèîêíèãà íà àíãëèéñêîì

The Amulet of Samarkand / Àìóëåò Ñàìàðêàíäà (by Jonathan Stroud, 2003) - àóäèîêíèãà íà àíãëèéñêîì

Ðîìàí, êîòîðûé ïðèíåñ ñâîåìó ñîçäàòåëþ ñëàâó è ñòàë áåñòñåëëåðîì. Äåéñòâèÿ ïðîèñõîäÿò â Àíãëèè, ïðèìåðíî íàøè äíè. Òîëüêî íå â òîé Àíãëèè ÷òî ìû ïîíèìàåì, à â ïàðàëëåëüíîé ðåàëüíîñòè. Ìû çàâîäèì äîìàøíèõ ëþáèìöåâ, à îíè, ëþäè, òî÷íåå ìàãè ñ ïàðàëëåëüíîé ðåàëüíîñòè, çàâîäÿò ñåáå äæèííîâ. Âîò òàêèå ïðè÷óäû… Ðàññêàç æå ïîéäåò î ìàëü÷èêå, ÷üå äîñòîèíñòâî óíèçèë îäèí èç ìàãîâ, à èìåííî Ñèìîí Ëàâëåéñîâ. Íàòàíèýëü æàæäÿ ìåñòè ïðèçûâàåò íà ïîìîùü ñàìîãî ñèëüíîãî äæèííà-äåìîíà Áàðòèìåóñà.

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Íàçâàíèå:
The Amulet of Samarkand / Àìóëåò Ñàìàðêàíäà (by Jonathan Stroud, 2003) - àóäèîêíèãà íà àíãëèéñêîì
Ãîä âûïóñêà àóäèîêíèãè:
2003
Àâòîð:
Jonathan Stroud
Èñïîëíèòåëü:
Simon Jones
ßçûê:
àíãëèéñêèé
Æàíð:
ðîìàí, ôàíòàñòèêà, ôýíòåçè
Óðîâåíü ñëîæíîñòè:
Intermediate
Äëèòåëüíîñòü àóäèî:
13:30:46
Áèòðåéò àóäèî:
128 kbps

Ñëóøàòü îíëàéí The Amulet of Samarkand / Àìóëåò Ñàìàðêàíäà àóäèîêíèãó íà àíãëèéñêîì ÿçûêå:

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Ñêà÷àòü òåêñò êíèãè â ôîðìàòå .pdf ïî ïðÿìîé ññûëêå  the_amulet_of_samarkand.pdf [1.32 Mb] (cêà÷èâàíèé: 83) .
Ñêà÷àòü audiobook (MP3) áåñïëàòíî ñ ôàéëîîáìåííèêà.


×èòàòü êíèãó íà àíãëèéñêîì îíëàéí:

(×òîáû ïåðåâîäèòü ñëîâà íà ðóññêèé ÿçûê è äîáàâëÿòü â ñëîâàðü äëÿ èçó÷åíèÿ, ùåëêàåì ìûøêîé íà íóæíîå ñëîâî).


Jonathan Stroud The Amulet of Samarkand 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] 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. "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] "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.[4] 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. 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 observed the bird[5] from some way off waited a few moments for it to emerge, lost patience, and scuttled curiously after it. Behind the bags it discovered no bird, black or otherwise. There was nothing there but a freshly turned molehill. 3 I hate the taste of mud. It is no fit thing for a being of air and fire. The cloying weight of earth oppresses me greatly whenever I come into contact with it. That is why I am choosy about my incarnations. Birds, good. Insects, good. Bats, okay. Things that run fast are fine. Tree dwellers are even better. Subterranean things, not good. Moles, bad. But there's no point being fastidious when you have a protective shield to bypass. I had reasoned correctly that it did not extend underground. The mole dug its way deep, deep down, under the foundations of the wall. No magical alarm sounded, though I did hit my head five times on a pebble.[6] I burrowed upward again, reaching the surface after twenty minutes of snuffling, scruffling, and turning my beady nose up at the juicy worms I uncovered after every couple of scrapes. The mole poked its head cautiously out of the little pile of earth it had driven through the immaculate surface of Simon Lovelace's lawn. It looked around, checking out the scene. There were lights on in the house, on the ground floor. The curtains were drawn. The upper floors, from what the mole could see, were dark. The translucent blue span of the magical defense system arched overhead. One yellow sentry trudged its stupid way ten feet above the shrubbery. The other two were presumably behind the house. I tried the seventh plane again. Still nothing, still that uneasy sense of danger. Oh, well. The mole retreated underground and tunneled below the grass roots toward the house. It reappeared in the flowerbed just below the nearest windows. It was thinking hard. There was no point going further in this guise, tempting though it was to try to break into the cellars. A different method would have to be found. To the mole's furry ears came the sound of laughter and clinking glasses. It was surprisingly loud, echoing from very close by. An air vent, cracked with age, was set in the wall not two feet away. It led indoors. With some relief, I became a fly. 4 From the security of the air vent, I peered with my multi—faceted eyes into a rather traditional drawing room. There was a thick pile carpet, nasty striped wallpaper, a hideous crystal thing pretending to be a chandelier, two oil paintings that were dark with age, a sofa and two easy chairs (also striped), a low coffee table laden with a silver tray, and, on the tray, a bottle of red wine and no glasses. The glasses were in the hands of two people. One of them was a woman. She was youngish (for a human, which means infinitesimally young) and probably quite good—looking in a fleshy sort of way. Big eyes, dark hair, bobbed. I memorized her automatically. I would appear in her guise tomorrow when I went back to visit that kid. Only naked. Let's see how his very steely but ever so adolescent mind responded to that![7] However, for the moment I was more concerned with the man this woman was smiling and nodding at. He was tall, thin, handsome in a rather bookish sort of way, with his hair slicked back by some pungent oil. He had small round glasses and a large mouth with good teeth. He had a prominent jaw. Something told me that this was the magician, Simon Lovelace. Was it his indefinable aura of power and authority? Was it the proprietorial way in which he gestured round the room? Or was it the small imp which floated at his shoulder (on the second plane), warily watching out for danger on every side? I rubbed my front two legs together with irritation. I would have to be very careful. The imp complicated matters.[8] It was a pity I wasn't a spider. They can sit still for hours and think nothing of it. Flies are far more jittery. But if I changed here, the magician's slave would be certain to sense it. I had to force my unwilling body to lurk, and ignore the ache that was building up again, this time inside my chitin. The magician was talking. He did little else. The woman gazed at him with spaniel eyes so wide and silly with adoration that I wanted to bite her. "…It will be the most magnificent occasion, Amanda. You will be the toast of London society! Did you know that the Prime Minister himself is looking forward to viewing your estate? Yes, I have that on good authority. My enemies have been hounding him for weeks with their vile insinuations, but he has always remained committed to holding the conference at the Hall. So you see, my love, I can still influence him when it counts. The thing is to know how to play him, how to flatter his vanity… Keep it to yourself, but he is actually rather weak. His speciality is Charm, and even that he seldom bothers with now. Why should he? He's got men in suits to do it for him…" The magician rattled on like this for several minutes, name—dropping with tireless energy. The woman drank her wine, nodded, gasped, and exclaimed at the right moments, and leaned closer to him along the sofa. I nearly buzzed with boredom.[9] Suddenly the imp became alert. Its head swiveled 180 degrees and peered at a door at the other end of the room. It tweaked the magician's ear gently in warning. Seconds later, the door opened and a black—jacketed flunky with a bald head stepped respectfully in. "Pardon me, sir, but your car is ready." "Thank you, Carter. We shan't be a moment." The flunky withdrew. The magician replaced his (still full) wineglass on the coffee table and took hold of the woman's hand. He kissed it gallantly. Behind his back the imp made faces of extreme disgust. "It pains me to have to go, Amanda, but duty calls. I will not be home this evening. May I call you? The theater, tomorrow night, perhaps?" "That would be charming, Simon." "Then that is settled. My good friend Makepeace has a new play out. I shall get tickets presently. For now, Carter will drive you home." Man, woman, and imp exited, leaving the door ajar. Behind them, a wary fly crept from its hiding place and sped soundlessly across the room to a vantage point that gave a view of the hall. For a few minutes there was activity, coats being brought, orders given, doors slammed. Then the magician departed his house. I flew out into the hall. It was wide and cold, and had a floor of black—andwhite tiles. Bright green ferns grew from gigantic ceramic pots. I circled the chandelier, listening. It was very quiet. The only sounds came from a distant kitchen, and they were innocent enough—just the banging of pots and plates and several loud belches, presumably emanating from the cook. I debated sending out a discreet magical pulse to see if I could detect the whereabouts of the magician's artifacts, but decided that it was far too risky. The sentry creatures outside might pick it up, for one thing, even if there was no further guard. I, the fly, would have to go hunting myself. All the planes were clear. I went along the hall, then—following an intuition—up the stairs. On the landing a thickly carpeted corridor led in two directions, each lined with oil paintings. I was immediately interested in the right—hand passage, for halfway along it was a spy. To human eyes it was a smoke alarm, but on the other planes its true form was revealed: an upside—down toad with unpleasantly bulbous eyes sitting on the ceiling. Every minute or so it hopped on the spot, rotating a little. When the magician returned, it would relate to him anything that had happened. I sent a small magic the toad's way. A thick oily vapor issued from the ceiling and wrapped itself around the spy, obscuring its vision. As it hopped and croaked in confusion, I flew rapidly past it down the passage to the door at the end. Alone of the doors in the corridor, this did not have a keyhole; under its white paint, the wood was reinforced with strips of metal. Two good reasons for trying this one first. There was a minute crack under the door. It was too small for an insect, but I was aching for a change anyway. The fly dissolved into a dribble of smoke, which passed out of sight under the door just as the vapor screen around the toad melted away. In the room I became a child. If I had known that apprentice's name, I would have been malicious and taken his form, just to give Simon Lovelace a head start when he began to piece the theft together. But without his name I had no handle on him. So I became a boy I had known once before, someone I had loved. His dust had long ago floated away along the Nile, so my crime would not hurt him, and anyhow it pleased me to remember him like this. He was brown skinned, bright eyed, dressed in a white loincloth. He looked around in that way he had, his head slightly cocked to one side. The room had no windows. There were several cabinets against the walls, filled with magical paraphernalia. Most of it was quite useless, fit only for stage shows,[10] but there were a few intriguing items there. There was a summoning horn that I knew was genuine, because it made me feel ill to look at it. One blast of that and anything in that magician's power would be at his feet begging for mercy and pleading to do his bidding. It was a cruel instrument and very old and I couldn't go near it. In another cabinet was an eye made out of clay. I had seen one of them before, in the head of a golem. I wondered if the fool knew the potential of that eye. Almost certainly not—he'd have picked it up as a quaint keepsake on some package holiday in central Europe. Magical tourism… I ask you.[11] Well, with luck it might kill him some day. And there was the Amulet of Samarkand. It sat in a small case all of its own, protected by glass and its own reputation. I walked over to it, flicking through the planes, seeking danger and finding—well, nothing explicit, but on the seventh plane I had the distinct impression that something was stirring. Not here, but close by. I had better be quick. The Amulet was small, dull, and made of beaten gold. It hung from a short gold chain. In its center was an oval piece of jade. The gold had been pressed with simple notched designs depicting running steeds. Horses were the prize possessions of the people from central Asia who had made the Amulet three thousand years before and had later buried it in the tomb of one of their princesses. A Russian archaeologist had found it in the 1950s, and before long it had been stolen by magicians who recognized its value. How Simon Lovelace had come by it—who exactly he had murdered or swindled to get it—I had no idea. I cocked my head again, listening. All was quiet in the house. I raised my hand over the cabinet, smiling at my reflection as it clenched its fist. Then I brought my hand down and drove it through the glass. A throb of magical energy resounded through all seven planes. I seized the Amulet and hung it round my neck. I turned swiftly. The room was as before, but I could sense something on the seventh plane, moving swiftly and coming closer. The time for stealth was over. As I ran for the door I noticed out of the corner of my eye a portal suddenly open in midair. Inside the portal was a blackness that was immediately obscured as something stepped out through it. I charged at the door and hit it with my small boy's fist. The door smashed open like a bent playing card. I ran past it without stopping. In the corridor, the toad turned toward me and opened its mouth. A green gobbet of slime issued forth, which suddenly accelerated down at me, aiming for my head. I dodged and the slime splattered on the wall behind me, destroying a painting and everything down to the bare bricks beneath it. I threw a bolt of Compression at the toad. With a small croak of regret it imploded into a dense blob of matter the size of a marble and dropped to the floor. I didn't break stride. As I ran on down the corridor I placed a protective Shield around my physical body in case of further missiles. Which was a wise move as it happened, because the next instant a Detonation struck the floor directly behind me. The impact was so great that I was sent flying headlong at an angle down the corridor and half into the wall. Green flames licked around me, leaving streaks on the decor like the fingers of a giant hand. I struggled to my feet amid the confusion of shattered bricks and turned around. Standing over the broken door at the end of the corridor was something that had taken the form of a very tall man with bright red skin and the head of a jackal. "Bartimaeus!" Another Detonation shot down the corridor. I somersaulted under it, aiming for the stairs, and as the green explosion vaporized the corner of the wall, rolled head over heels down the steps, through the banisters and six feet down onto the black—and—white tiled floor, cracking it quite badly. I got to my feet and took a look at the front door. Through the frosted glass beside it I could see the hulking yellow outline of one of the three sentinels. It was lying in wait, little realizing that it could be seen from inside. I decided to make my exit elsewhere. Thus does superior intelligence win over brute strength any day of the week! Speaking of which, I had to get out fast. Noises from above indicated pursuit. I ran through a couple of rooms—a library, a dining room—each time making a break for the window and each time retreating when one or more of the yellow creatures hove into view outside. Their foolishness in making themselves so obvious was only equaled by my caution in avoiding whatever magical weapons they carried. Behind me, my name was being called in a voice of fury. With growing frustration I opened the next door and found myself in the kitchen. There were no more internal doors, but one led out to what looked like a lean—to greenhouse, filled with herbs and greens. Beyond was the garden—and also the three sentinels, who came motoring round the side of the house at surprising speed on their rotating legs. To gain time, I put a Seal on the door behind me. Then I looked around me and saw the cook. He was sitting far back in his chair with his shoes on the kitchen table, a fat, jovial—looking man with a red face and a meat cleaver in his hand. He was studiously paring his nails with the cleaver, flicking each fragment of nail expertly through the air to land in the fireplace beside him. As he did so he watched me continuously with his dark little eyes. I felt unease. He didn't seem at all perturbed to see a small Egyptian boy come running into his kitchen. I checked him out on the different planes. On one to six he was exactly the same, a portly cook in a white apron. But on the seventh… Uh—oh. "Bartimaeus." "Faquarl." "How's it going?" "Not bad." "Haven't seen you around." "No, I guess not." "Shame, eh?" "Yes. Well… here I am." "Here you are, indeed." While this fascinating conversation was going on, the sounds of a sustained se ries of Detonations came from the other side of the door. My Seal held firm, though. I smiled as urbanely as I could. "Jabor seems as excitable as ever." "Yes, he's just the same. Only I think perhaps slightly more hungry, Bartimaeus. That's the only change I've noticed in him. He never seems satisfied, even when he's been fed. And that happens all too rarely these days, as you can imagine." " 'Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen, that's your master's watchword, is it? Still, he must be fairly potent to be able to have you and Jabor as his slaves." The cook gave a thin smile and with a flick of the knife sent a nail paring spinning to the ceiling. It pierced the plaster and lodged there. "Now, now, Bartimaeus, we don't use the s—word in civilized company, do we? Jabor and I are playing the long game." "Of course you are." "Speaking of disparities in power, I notice that you choose to avoid addressing me on the seventh plane. This seems a little impolite. Can it be that you are uneasy with my true form?" "Queasy, Faquarl, not uneasy."[12] "Well, this is all very pleasant. I admire your choice of form, by the way, Bartimaeus. Very comely. But I see that you are somewhat weighed down by a certain amulet. Perhaps you could be so good as to take it off and put it on the table. Then if you care to tell me which magician you are working for, I might consider ways of ending this meeting in a nonfatal manner." "That's kind of you, but you know I can't do that."[13] The cook prodded the edge of the table with the tip of his cleaver. "Let me be frank. You can and will. It is nothing personal, of course; one day we may work together again. But for now I am bound just as you are. And I too have my charge to fulfill. So it comes, as it always does, to a question of power. Correct me if I am wrong, but I note that you do not have too much confidence in yourself today—otherwise you would have left by the front door, quelling the triloids as you went, rather than allowing them to shepherd you round the house to me." "I was merely following a whim." "Mmm. Perhaps you would stop edging toward the window, Bartimaeus. Such a ploy would be pitifully obvious even to a human[14] and besides, the triloids wait for you there. Hand over the Amulet or you will discover that your ramshackle defense Shield will count for nothing." He stood up and held out his hand. There was a pause. Behind my Seal, Jabor's patient (if unimaginative) Detonations still sounded. The door itself must have long since been turned to powder. In the garden the three sentinels hovered, all their eyes trained on me. I looked around the room for inspiration. "The Amulet, Bartimaeus." I raised my hand, and with a heavy, rather theatrical sigh, took hold of the Amulet. Then I leaped to my left. At the same time, I released the Seal on the door. Faquarl gave a tut of annoyance and began a gesture. As he did so he was hit square on by a particularly powerful Detonation that came shooting through the empty gap where the Seal had been. It sent him backward into the fireplace and the brickwork collapsed upon him. I smashed my way into the greenhouse just as Jabor stepped through the gap into the kitchen. As Faquarl emerged from the rubble, I was breaking out into the garden. The three sentinels converged on me, eyes wide and legs rotating. Scything claws appeared at the ends of their blobby feet. I cast an Illumination of the brightest kind. The whole garden was lit up as if by an exploding sun. The sentinels' eyes were dazzled; they chittered with pain. I leaped over them and ran through the garden, dodging bolts of magic that sprang from the house, incinerating trees. At the far end of the garden, between a compost heap and a motorized lawn—mower, I vaulted the wall. I tore through the blue latticework of magical nodes, leaving a boy—shaped hole. Instantly alarm bells began ringing all over the grounds. I hit the pavement outside, the Amulet bouncing and banging on my chest. On the other side of the wall I heard the sound of galloping hooves. It was high time I made a change. Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds on record. They can attain a speed of two hundred kilometers an hour in diving flight. Rarely has one achieved this horizontally over the roofs of North London. Some would even doubt that this was possible, particularly while carrying a weighty amulet around its neck. Suffice it to say, however, that when Faquarl and Jabor landed in the Hampstead backstreet, creating an invisible obstruction that was immediately hit by a speeding moving van, I was nowhere to be seen. I was long gone. 5 Nathaniel "Above all," said his master, "there is one fact that we must drive into your wretched little skull now so that you never afterward forget. Can you guess what that fact is?" "No, sir," the boy said. "No?" The bristling eyebrows shot up in mock surprise. Mesmerized, the boy watched them disappear under the hanging white thatch of hair. There, almost coyly, they remained just out of sight for a moment, before suddenly descending with a terrible finality and weight. "No. Well then…" The magician bent forward in his chair. "I shall tell you." With a slow, deliberate motion, he placed his hands together so that the fingertips formed a steepled arch, which he pointed at the boy. "Remember this," he said in a soft voice. "Demons are very wicked. They will hurt you if they can. Do you understand this?" The boy was still watching the eyebrows. He could not wrench his gaze away from them. Now they were furrowed sternly downward, two sharp arrowheads meeting. They moved with a quite remarkable agility—up, down, tilting, arching, sometimes together, sometimes singly. With their parody of independent life they exerted a strange fascination on the boy. Besides, he found studying them infinitely preferable to meeting his master's gaze. The magician coughed dangerously. "Do you understand?" "Oh—yes, sir." "Well now, you say yes, and I am sure you mean yes—and yet…" One eyebrow inched skyward musingly. "And yet I do not feel convinced that you really, truly understand!" "Oh, yes, sir; yes, I do, sir. Demons are wicked and they are hurtful and they will hurt you if you let them, sir." The boy fidgeted anxiously on his cushion. He was eager to prove that he had been listening well. Outside, the summer sun was beating on the grass and the hot pavement; an ice—cream van had passed merrily under the window five minutes before. But only a bright rim of pure daylight skirted the heavy red curtains of the magician's room; the air within was stuffy and thick. The boy wished for the lesson to be over, to be allowed to go. "I have listened very carefully, sir," he said. His master nodded. "Have you ever seen a demon?" he asked. "No, sir. I mean, only in books." "Stand up." The boy stood quickly, one foot almost slipping on his cushion. He waited awkwardly, hands at his sides. His master indicated a door behind him with a casual finger. "You know what's through there?" "Your study, sir." "Good. Go down the steps and cross the room. At the far end you'll find my desk. On the desk is a box. In the box is a pair of spectacles. Put them on and come back to me. Got that?" "Yes, sir." "Very well then. Off you go." Under his master's watchful eye, the boy crossed to the door, which was made of a dark, unpainted wood with many whorls and grains. He had to struggle to turn the heavy brass knob, but the coolness of its touch pleased him. The door swung open soundlessly on oiled hinges and the boy stepped through to find himself at the top of a carpeted staircase. The walls were elegantly papered with a flowery pattern. A small window halfway down let in a friendly stream of sunlight. The boy descended carefully, one step at a time. The silence and sunlight reassured him and quelled some of his fears. Never having been beyond this point before, he had nothing but nursery stories to furnish his ideas of what might be waiting in his master's study. Terrible images of stuffed crocodiles and bottled eyeballs sprang garishly into his mind. Furiously he drove them out again. He would not be afraid. At the foot of the staircase was another door, similar to the first, but smaller and decorated, in its center, with a five—sided star painted in red. The boy turned the knob and pushed: the door opened reluctantly, sticking on the thick carpet. When the gap was wide enough the boy passed through into the study. Unconsciously he had held his breath as he entered; now he let it out again, almost with a sense of disappointment. It was all so ordinary. A long room lined with books on either side. At the far end a great wooden desk with a padded leather chair set behind it. Pens on the table, a few papers, an old computer, a small metal box. The window beyond looked out toward a horse chestnut tree adorned with the full splendor of summer. The light in the room had a sweet greenish tint. The boy made for the table. Halfway there, he stopped and looked behind him. Nothing. Yet he'd had the strangest feeling… For some reason the slightly open door, through which he had entered only a moment before, now gave him an unsettled sensation. He wished that he had thought to close it after him. He shook his head. No need. He was going back through it in a matter of seconds. Four hasty steps took him to the edge of the table. He looked round again. Surely there had been a noise… The room was empty. The boy listened as intently as a rabbit in a covert. No, there was nothing to hear except faint sounds of distant traffic. Wide—eyed, breathing hard, the boy turned to the table. The metal box glinted in the sun. He reached for it across the leather surface of the desk. This was not strictly necessary—he could have walked round to the other side of the desk and picked the box up easily—but somehow he wanted to save time, grab what he'd come for, and get out. He leaned over the table and stretched out his hand, but the box remained obstinately just out of reach. The boy rocked forward, swung his fingertips out wildly. They missed the box, but his flailing arm knocked over a small pot of pens. The pens sprayed across the leather. The boy felt a bead of sweat trickle under his arm. Frantically, he began to collect up the pens and stuff them back into the pot. There was a throaty chuckle, right behind him, in the room. He wheeled round, stifling his yell. But there was nothing there. For a moment the boy remained leaning with his back against the desk, paralyzed with fear. Then something reasserted itself in him. Forget the pens, it seemed to say. The box is what you came for. Slowly, imperceptibly, he began to inch his way around the side of the desk, his back to the window, his eyes on the room. Something tapped the window, urgently, three times. He spun round. Nothing there; only the horse chestnut beyond the garden, waving gently in the summer breeze. Nothing there. At that moment one of the pens he had spilled rolled off the desk onto the carpet. It made no sound, but he caught sight of it out of the corner of his eye. Another pen began to rock back and forth—first slowly, then faster and faster. Suddenly it spun away, bounced off the base of the computer, and dropped over the edge onto the floor. Another did the same. Then another. Suddenly, all the pens were rolling, in several directions at once, accelerating off the edges of the desk, colliding, falling, landing, lying still. The boy watched. The last one fell. He did not move. Something laughed softly, right in his ear. With a cry he lashed out with his left arm, but made no contact. The momentum of his swing turned him around to face the desk. The box was directly in front of him. He snatched it up and dropped it instantly—the metal had been sitting in the sun and its heat seared his palm. The box struck the desktop and lost its lid. A pair of horn—rimmed spectacles fell out. A moment later, he had them in his hand and was running for the door. Something came behind him. He heard it hopping at his back. He was almost at the door; he could see the stairs beyond that led up to his master. And the door slammed shut. The boy wrenched at the doorknob, beat at the wood, hammered, called to his master in a choking sob, but all to no avail. Something was whispering in his ear and he could not hear the words. In mortal panic, he kicked at the door, succeeding only in jarring his toe through his small black boot. He turned then and faced the empty room. Small rustlings sounded all about him, delicate taps and little flitterings, as if the carpet, the books, the shelves, even the ceiling were being brushed against by invisible, moving things. One of the light shades above his head swung slightly in a nonexistent breeze. Through his tears, through his terror, the boy found words to speak. "Stop!" he shouted. "Begone!" The rustling, tapping, and flittering stopped dead. The light shade's swing slowed, diminished, and came to a halt. The room was very still. Gulping for breath, the boy waited with his back against the door, watching the room. Not a sound came. Then he remembered the spectacles that he was still holding in his hand. Out of the clinging fog of fear, he recalled that his master had told him to put them on before returning. Perhaps if he did so, the door would open and he would be allowed to climb the stairs to safety. With trembling fingers he raised the spectacles and put them on. And saw the truth about the study. A hundred small demons filled every inch of the space in front of him. They were stacked one on top of the other all over the room, like seeds in a melon or nuts in a bag, with feet squishing faces and elbows jabbed into bellies. So tightly were they clustered that the very carpet was blocked out. Leering obscenely, they squatted on the desk, hung from the lights and bookcases, and hovered in midair. Some balanced on the protruding noses of others or were suspended from their limbs. A few had huge bodies with heads the size of oranges; several displayed the reverse. There were tails and wings and horns and warts and extra hands, mouths, feet, and eyes. There were too many scales and too much hair and other things in impossible places. Some had beaks, others had suckers, most had teeth. They were every conceivable color, often in inappropriate combinations. And they were all doing their best to keep very, very still so as to convince the boy that nobody was there. They were trying extremely hard to remain frozen, despite the repressed shaking and trembling of tails and wings and the uncontrollable twitching of their extremely mobile mouths. But at the very moment the boy put on the spectacles and saw them, they realized that he could see them too. Then, with a cry of glee, they leaped at him. The boy screamed, fell back against the door and sideways onto the floor. He raised his hands to protect himself, dashing the spectacles from his nose. Blindly he rolled over onto his face and curled himself up into a ball, smothered by the terrible noise of wings and scales and small sharp claws on top, around, beside him. The boy was still there twenty minutes later, when his master came to fetch him and dismiss the company of imps. He was carried to his room. For a day and a night he did not eat. For a further week he remained mute and unresponsive, but at length he regained his speech and was able to resume his studies. His master never referred to the incident again, but he was satisfied with the outcome of the lesson—with the well of hate and fear that had been dug for his apprentice in that sunny room. This was one of Nathaniel's earliest experiences. He did not speak of it to anyone, but the shadow of it never left his heart. He was six years old at the time. 6 Bartimaeus The problem with a highly magical artifact such as the Amulet of Samarkand is that it has a distinctive pulsating aura[15] that attracts attention like a naked man at a funeral. I knew that no sooner had Simon Lovelace been informed of my escapade than he would send out searchers looking for the telltale pulse, and that the longer I remained in one place, the more chance there was of something pinpointing it. The boy would not summon me until dawn,[16] so I had several restless hours to survive first. What might the magician send after me? He was unlikely to command many other djinn of Faquarl's and Jabor's strength, but he would certainly be able to whip up a host of weaker servants to join in the hunt. Ordinarily I can dispose of foliots and the like with one claw tied behind my back, but if they arrived in large numbers, and I was weary, things might become difficult.[17] I flew from Hampstead at top speed and took shelter under the eaves of a deserted house beside the Thames, where I preened my feathers and watched the sky. After a time, seven small spheres of red light passed across the heavens at low altitude. When they reached the middle of the river, they split forces: three continued south, two went west, two east. I pressed myself deep into the shadows of the roof, but couldn't help notice the Amulet giving an extra—vibrant throb as the questing spheres disappeared downriver. This unnerved me; shortly afterward I departed to a girder halfway up a crane on the opposite bank, where they were erecting a swanky riverside condo for the magical gentry. Five silent minutes passed. The river sucked and swirled round the muddy posts of the wharf. Clouds passed over the moon. A sudden green and sickly light flared in all the windows of the deserted house on the other side of the river. Hunched shadows moved within it, searching. They found nothing; the light congealed and became a glowing mist that drifted from the windows and was blown away. Darkness shrouded the house again. I flew south at once, darting and swooping from street to street. For half the night I continued my frantic, fugitive dance across London. The spheres[18] were out in even greater numbers than I had feared (evidently more than one magician had summoned them) and appeared above me at regular intervals. To keep safe I had to keep moving, and even then I was nearly caught twice. Once I flew around an office block and nearly collided with a sphere coming the other way; another came upon me as, overcome with exhaustion, I huddled in a birch tree in Green Park. On both occasions I managed to escape before reinforcements arrived. Before long I was on my last wings. The constant drag of supporting my physical form was wearing me down and using up precious energy. So I decided to adopt a different plan—to find a place where the Amulet's pulse would be drowned out by other magical emissions. It was time to mingle with the many—headed multitude, the great unwashed: in other words, with people. I was that desperate. I flew back to the center of the city. Even at this late hour, the tourists in Trafalgar Square still flowed around the base of Nelson's Column in a gaudy tide, buying cut—price charms from the official vending booths wedged between the lions. A cacophony of magical pulses rose up from the square. It was as good a place as anywhere to hide. A bolt of feathered lightning plunged down out of the night and disappeared into the narrow space between two stalls. Presently a young, sad—eyed Egyptian boy emerged and elbowed his way into the throng. He wore new blue jeans and a padded black bomber jacket over a white T—shirt; also a pair of big white trainers with laces that were constantly coming loose. He mingled with the crowd. I felt the Amulet burning against my chest. At regular intervals it sent out little waves of intense heat in double bursts, like heartbeats. I fervently hoped that this signal would now be swallowed by the auras all around. Much of the magic here was all show, no substance. The plaza was littered with licensed quacks selling minor charms and trinkets that had been approved by the authorities for common use.[19] Wide—eyed tourists from North America and Japan eagerly probed the stacks of multicolored stones and gimcrack jewelry, trying to recall the birth signs of their relatives back home while being patiently prompted by the cheery Cockney vendors. If it weren't for the camera bulbs flashing, I might have been back in Karnak. Bargains were being struck, happy cries rang out, everyone was smiling. It was a timeless tableau of gullibility and greed. But not everything in the square was trivial. Here and there rather more sober—faced men stood at the entrance to small closed tents. Visitors were admitted to these one by one. Evidently there were artifacts of genuine value inside, since without exception small watchers loitered near each booth. They came in various unobtrusive forms—pigeons mostly; I avoided going too close in case they were more perceptive than they looked. A few magicians wandered about amid the crowd. They were unlikely to be buying anything here; more probably they were doing the night shift in the government offices in Whitehall and had come out for a breather. One (in a good suit) had an accompanying second—plane imp hopping at his heel; the others (more shabbily attired) simply trailed the telltale odor of incense, dried sweat, and candle wax. The police were present too—several ordinary constables and a couple of hairy, hatchet—faced men from the Night Police keeping themselves just visible enough to prevent trouble. And all around the square, the car lights swirled, carrying ministers and other magicians from their offices in Parliament to their clubs at St. James's. I was near the hub of a great wheel of power that extended over an empire, and here, with luck, I would remain undetected until I was finally summoned. Or possibly not. I had sauntered over to a particularly tatty—looking stall and was examining its fare when I had the uneasy feeling that I was being watched. I turned my head a little and scanned the crowd. An amorphous mass. I checked the planes. No hidden dangers: a bovine herd, all of it dull and human. I turned back to the stall and absently picked up My Magic Mirror™, a piece of cheap glass glued into a frame of pink plastic and feebly decorated with wands, cats, and wizards' hats. There it was again! I turned my body sharply. Through a gap in the crowd directly behind me, I could see a short, plump female magician, a bunch of kids clustered round a stand, and a policeman eyeing them suspiciously. No one seemed to have the slightest interest in me. But I knew what I'd felt. Next time I'd be ready. I made a big show of considering the mirror. ANOTHER GREAT GIFT FROM LONDON, MAGIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD! screamed the label on its back. MADE IN TAIW— Then the feeling came again. I swiveled quicker than a cat and—success! I caught the starers eyeball to eyeball. Two of them, a boy and a girl, from within the gaggle of kids. They didn't have time to drop their gaze. The boy was in his mid—teens; acne was laying siege to his face with some success. The girl was younger but her eyes were cold and hard. I gazed back. What did I care? They were human, they couldn't see what I was. Let them stare. After a few seconds they couldn't handle it; they looked away. I shrugged and made to move off. There was a loud cough from the man on the stand. I replaced My Magic Mirror™ carefully on his tray, gave him a cheesy smile, and went my way. The children followed me. I caught sight of them at the next booth, watching from behind a candyfloss stand. They were moving in a huddle—maybe five or six of them, I couldn't be sure. What did they want? A mugging? If so, why pick me out? There were dozens of better, fatter, richer candidates here. To test this I cozied up to a very small, wealthy—looking tourist with a giant camera and thick spectacles. If I'd wanted to mug someone, he'd have been top of my list. But when I left him and went on a loop through the crowd, the children followed right along too. Weird. And annoying. I didn't want to make a change and fly off; I was too weary. All I wanted was to be left in peace. I still had many hours to go before the dawn. I speeded up; the children did so too. Long before we'd done three circuits of the square, I'd had enough. A couple of policemen had watched us beetling around and they were likely to halt us soon, if only to stop themselves getting dizzy. It was time to go. Whatever the kids were after, I did not want any more attention drawn to me. There was a subway close by. I hotfooted it down the steps, ignored the entrance to the Underground, and came up again on the other side of the road, opposite the central square. The kids had vanished—maybe they were in the subway. Now was my chance. I slipped round a street corner, along past a bookshop, and ducked down an alley. I waited a little there, in the shadows among the dumper bins. A couple of cars drove past the end of the alley. No one came after me. I allowed myself a brief smile. I thought I'd lost them. I was wrong. 7 The Egyptian boy wandered off along the alley, made a couple of right—angle turns and came out in one of the many roads that radiate from Trafalgar Square. I was revising my plans as I went. Forget the square. Too many irritating children around. But perhaps if I found a shelter close by, the amulet's pulse would still be hard for the spheres to locate. I could hole up behind some bins until the morning came. It was the only option. I was too weary to take to the skies again. And I wanted to do some thinking. The old pain had started up again, throbbing in my chest, stomach, bones. It wasn't healthy to be encased in a body for so long. How humans can stand it without going completely mad, I'll never know.[20] I stumped down the dark, cold street, looking at my reflection as it flitted across the blank squares of the windows alongside. The boy's shoulders were hunched against the wind, his hands deep in his jacket pockets. His trainers scuffed the concrete. His posture perfectly expressed the annoyance I was feeling. The Amulet beat against my chest with every step. If it had been in my power, I would have ripped it off and lobbed it into the nearest trash can before dematerializing in high dudgeon. But I was bound by the orders of the child's command.[21] I had to keep it with me. I took a side street away from the traffic. The massed darkness of high buildings closed in on either side, oppressing me. Cities get me down, almost as if I am underground. London is particularly bad—cold, gray, heavy with odors and rain. It makes me long for the south, for the deserts and the blank blue sky. Another alley led off to the left, choked with wet cardboard and newspapers. Automatically I scanned through the planes, saw nothing. It would do. I rejected the first two doorways for reasons of hygiene. The third was dry. I sat there. It was high time I thought through the events of the night so far. It had been a busy one. There was the pale—faced boy, Simon Lovelace, the Amulet, Jabor, Faquarl… A pretty hellish brew all round. Still, what did it matter? At dawn I would hand over the Amulet and escape this sorry mess for good. Except for my business with the boy. He'd pay for it, big time. You didn't reduce Bartimaeus of Uruk to dossing in a West End back alley and expect to get away with it. First I'd find out his name, then— Wait… Footsteps in the alley… Several pairs of boots approaching. Perhaps it was just coincidence. London's a city. People use it. People use alleys. Whoever was coming was probably just taking a shortcut home. Down the very alley that I happened to be hiding in. I don't believe in coincidences. I shrank back into the doorway's shallow well of darkness and cast a Concealment upon myself. A layer of tightly laced black threads covered me where I sat in the shadows, blending me into the murk. I waited. The boots drew nearer. Who might it be? A Night Police patrol? A phalanx of magicians sent by Simon Lovelace? Perhaps the orbs had spotted me, after all. It was neither police nor magicians. It was the children from Trafalgar Square. Five boys, with the girl at their head. They were dawdling along, looking casually from side to side. I relaxed a little. I was well hidden, and even if I hadn't been, there was nothing to fear from them now that we were out of the public gaze. Admittedly, the boys were big and loutish looking, but they were still just boys, dressed in jeans and leathers. The girl wore a black leather jacket and trousers that flared wildly from the knees down. There was enough spare material there to make a second pair for a midget. Down the alley they came, scuffling through the litter. I realized suddenly how unnaturally silent they were. In doubt, I checked the other planes again. On each, everything was just as it should be. Six children. Hidden behind my barrier, I waited for them to go past. The girl was in the lead. She drew level with me. Safe behind my barrier, I yawned. One of the boys tapped the girl's shoulder. "It's there," he said, pointing. "Get it," the girl said. Before I had a chance to get over my surprise, three of the burliest boys leaped into the doorway and crashed down upon me. As they touched the Concealment wisps, the threads tore and dissolved away into nothingness. For an instant I was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of distressed leather, cheap aftershave, and body odor. I was sat upon, punched, and smacked about the head. I was bundled unceremoniously to my feet. Then I reasserted myself. I am Bartimaeus, after all. The alley was illuminated by a brief discharge of heat and light. The bricks of the doorway looked as if they had been seared on a griddle. To my surprise the boys were still holding on. Two of them gripped my wrists, while the third had both arms tight round my waist. I repeated the effect with greater emphasis. Car alarms in the next street started ringing. This time, I confess, I expected to be left in the charcoally grip of three charred corpses.[22] But the boys were still there, breathing hard and holding on like grim death. Something was not quite right, here. "Hold it steady," the girl said. I looked at her, she looked at me. She was a little bit taller than my current manifestation, with dark eyes, long dark hair. The other two boys stood on either side of her like an acned guard of honor. I grew impatient. "What do you want?" I said. "You have something round your neck." The girl had a remarkably level and authoritative voice for someone so young. I guessed she was about thirteen. "Says who?" "It's been in full view for the last two minutes, you cretin. It fell out of your T—shirt when we jumped you." "Oh. Fair enough." "Hand it over." "No." She shrugged. "Then we'll take it. It's your funeral." "You don't really know who I am, do you?" I made it sound damn casual, with a side helping of menace. "You're not a magician." "Too right I'm not." She spat the words out. "A magician would know better than to trifle with one such as me." I was busy cranking up the awe—factor again, although this is always fairly tricky when you have a brawny half—wit clasping you round your waist. The girl grinned coldly. "Would a magician do so well against your wickedness?" She had a point there. For a start, a magician wouldn't have wanted to come within a dog's bark of me without being protected up to the hilt with charms and pentacles. Next he would have needed the help of imps to find me under my Concealment; and, finally, he would have had to conjure up a fairly heavyweight djinni to subdue me. If he dared. But this girl and her boyfriends had done it all on their own, without seeming particularly fussed. I should have let fly a full—strength Detonation or something, but I was too tired for anything fancy. I fell back on empty bluster. I laughed eerily. "Hah! I'm toying with you." "That's empty bluster." I tried another tack. "Despite myself," I said, "I confess I'm intrigued. I applaud your bravery in daring to accost me. If you tell me your name and purpose, I will spare you. In fact, I might well be able to help you. I have many abilities at my command." To my disappointment, the girl clamped her hands over her ears. "Don't give me your weasel words, demon!" she said. "I won't be tempted." "Surely you do not want my enmity," I went on, soothingly. "My friendship is greatly to be preferred." "I don't care about either," the girl said, lowering her hands. "I want whatever it is you have round your neck." "You can't have it. But you can have a fight if you like. Apart from the damage it'll do you, I'll make sure I let off a signal that'll bring the Night Police down on us like gorgons from hell. You don't want their attention, do you?" That made her flinch a bit. I built on my advantage. "Don't be naive," I said. "Think about it. You're trying to rob me of a very powerful object. It belongs to a terrible magician. If you so much as touch it, he'll find you and nail your skin to his door." Whether it was this threat or the accusation of naivete that got to her, the girl was rattled. I could tell by the direction of her pout. Experimentally I shifted one elbow a little. The corresponding boy grunted and tightened his grip on my arm. A siren sounded a few roads away. The girl and her bodyguards looked uneasily down the alley into the darkness. A few drops of rain began to fall from the hidden sky. "Enough of this," the girl said. She stepped toward me. "Careful," I said. She stretched out a hand. As she did so, I opened my mouth, very, very slowly. Then she reached for the chain round my neck. In an instant I was a Nile crocodile with jaws agape. I snapped down at her fingers. The girl shrieked and jerked her arm backward faster than I would have believed possible. My snaggleteeth clashed just short of her retreating fingernails. I snapped at her again, thrashing from side to side in my captors' grasp. The girl squawked, slipped, and fell into a pile of litter, knocking over one of her two guards. My sudden transformation took my three boys by surprise, particularly the one who was clutching me around my wide scaly midriff. His grip had loosened, but the other two were still hanging on. My long hard tail scythed left, then right, making satisfyingly crisp contact with two thick skulls. Their brains, if they had any, were nicely addled; their jaws slackened and so did their grasps. One of the girl's two guards had been only momentarily shocked. He recovered himself, reached inside his jacket, emerged with something shiny in his hand. As he threw it, I changed again. The quick shift from big (the croc) to small (a fox) was nicely judged, if I say so myself. The six hands that had been struggling to cope with large—scale scales suddenly found themselves clenching thin air as a tiny red bundle of fur and whirling claws dropped through their flailing fingers to the floor. At the same moment a missile of flashing silver passed through the point where the croc's throat had recently been and embedded itself in the metal door beyond. The fox ran up the alley, paws skittering on the slippery cobbles. A piercing whistle sounded ahead. The fox pulled up. Searchlights dipped and spun against the doors and brickwork. Running feet followed the lights. That was all I needed. The Night Police were coming. As a beam swung toward me, I leaped fluidly into the open mouth of a plastic bin. Head, body, brush—gone; the light passed over the bin and went on down the alley. Men came now, shouting, blowing whistles, racing toward where I'd left the girl and her companions. Then a growling, an acrid smell; and something that might have been a big dog rushing after them into the night. The sounds echoed away. Curled snugly between a seeping bin—bag and a vinegary crate of empty bottles, the fox listened, his ears pricked forward. The shouts and whistles grew distant and confused, and to the fox it seemed as if they merged and became an agitated howling. Then the noise faded altogether. The alleyway was silent. Alone in the foulness, the fox lay low. 8 Nathaniel Arthur Underwood was a middle—ranking magician who worked for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. A solitary man, of a somewhat cantankerous nature, he lived with his wife, Martha, in a tall Georgian house in Highgate. Mr. Underwood had never had an apprentice, and nor did he want one. He was quite happy working on his own. But he knew that sooner or later, like all other magicians, he would have to take his turn and accept a child into his house. Sure enough, the inevitable happened: one day a letter arrived from the Ministry of Employment, containing the dreaded request. With grim resignation, Mr. Underwood fulfilled his duty. On the appointed afternoon, he traveled to the ministry to collect his nameless charge. He ascended the marbled steps between two granite pillars and entered the echoing foyer. It was a vast featureless space; office workers passed quietly back and forth between wooden doors on either side, their shoes making respectful pattering noises on the floor. Across the hall, two statues of past Employment ministers had been built on a heroic scale, and sandwiched between them was a desk, piled high with papers. Mr. Underwood approached. It was only when he actually reached the desk that he was able to glimpse, behind the bristling rampart of bulging files, the face of a small, smiling clerk. "Hello, sir," said the clerk. "Junior Minister Underwood. I'm here to collect my new apprentice." "Ah—yes, sir. I was expecting you. If you'll just sign a few documents…" The clerk rummaged in a nearby stack. "Won't take a minute. Then you can pick him up from the day room." " 'Him'? It's a boy, then?" "A boy, five years old. Very bright, if the tests are anything to go by. Obviously a little upset at the moment…" The clerk located a wodge of papers and withdrew a pen from behind his ear. "If you could initial each page and sign on the dotted lines…" Mr. Underwood flourished the pen. "His parents—they've left, I take it?" "Yes, sir. They couldn't get away fast enough. The usual sort: take the money and run, if you get my meaning, sir. Barely stopped to say good—bye to him." "And all the normal safety procedures—?" "His birth records have been removed and destroyed, sir, and he has been strictly instructed to forget his birth name and not reveal it to anyone. He is now officially unformed. You can start with him from scratch." "Very well." With a sigh, Mr. Underwood completed his last spidery signature and passed the documents back. "If that's all, I suppose I had better pick him up." He passed down a series of silent corridors and through a heavy, paneled door to a brightly painted room that had been filled with toys for the entertainment of unhappy children. There, between a grimacing rocking horse and a plastic wizard doll wearing a comedy conical hat, he found a small pale—faced boy. It had been crying in the recent past, but had now fortunately desisted. Two red—rimmed eyes looked up at him blankly. Mr. Underwood cleared his throat. "I'm Underwood, your master. Your true life begins now. Come with me." The child gave a loud sniff. Mr. Underwood noticed its chin wobbling dangerously. With some distaste, he took the boy by the hand, pulled it to its feet, and led it out down echoing corridors to his waiting car. On the journey back to Highgate, the magician once or twice tried to engage the child in conversation, but was met with teary silence. This did not please him; with a snort of frustration, he gave up and turned on the radio to catch the cricket scores. The child sat stock—still in the backseat, gazing at its knees. His wife met them at the door. She carried a tray of biscuits and a steaming mug of hot chocolate, and straight away bustled the boy into a cozy sitting room, where a fire leaped in the grate. "You won't get any sense out of him, Martha," Mr. Underwood grunted. "Hasn't said a word." "Do you wonder? He's terrified, poor thing. Leave him to me." Mrs. Underwood was a diminutive, roundish woman with very white hair cropped short. She sat the boy in a chair by the fire and offered him a biscuit. He didn't acknowledge her at all. Half an hour passed. Mrs. Underwood chatted pleasantly about anything that came into her head. The boy drank some chocolate and nibbled a biscuit, but otherwise stared silently into the fire. Finally, Mrs. Underwood made a decision. She sat beside him and put her arm around his shoulders. "Now, dear," she said, "let's make a deal. I know that you've been told not to tell anyone your name, but you can make an exception with me. I can't get to know you properly just calling you 'boy, can I? So, if you tell me your name, I'll tell you mine—in strictest confidence. What do you think? Was that a nod? Very well, then. I'm Martha. And you are…?" A small snuffle, a smaller voice. "Nathaniel." "That's a lovely name, dear, and don't worry, I won't tell a soul. Don't you feel better already? Now, have another biscuit, Nathaniel, and I'll show you to your bedroom." With the child fed and bathed and finally put to bed, Mrs. Underwood reported back to her husband, who was working in his study. "He's asleep at last," she said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he was in shock—and no wonder, his parents leaving him like that. I think it's disgraceful, ripping a child from his home so young." "That's how it's always been done, Martha. Apprentices have to come from somewhere." The magician kept his head bent meaningfully toward his book. His wife did not take the hint. "He should be allowed to stay with his family," she went on. "Or at least to see them sometimes." Wearily, Mr. Underwood placed the book on the table. "You know very well that is quite impossible. His birth name must be forgotten, or else future enemies will use it to harm him. How can it be forgotten if his family keeps in contact? Besides, no one has forced his parents to part with their brat. They didn't want him, that's the truth of it, Martha, or they wouldn't have answered the advertisements. It's quite straightforward. They get a considerable amount of money as compensation, he gets a chance to serve his country at the highest level, and the state gets a new apprentice. Simple. Everyone wins. No one loses out." "All the same…" "It didn't do me any harm, Martha." Mr. Underwood reached for his book. "It would be a lot less cruel if magicians were allowed their own children." "That road leads to competing dynasties, family alliances… it all ends in blood feuds. Read your history books, Martha: see what happened in Italy. So, don't worry about the boy. He's young. He'll forget soon enough. Now, what about making me some supper?" The magician Underwood's house was the kind of building that presented a slender, simple, dignified countenance to the street, but which extended back for a remarkable distance in a confusion of stairs, corridors, and slightly varying levels. There were five main floors altogether: a cellar, filled with wine racks, mushroom boxes, and cases of drying fruit; the ground floor, containing reception room, dining hall, kitchen, and conservatory; two upper floors mainly consisting of bathrooms, bedrooms, and workrooms; and, at the very top, an attic. It was here that Nathaniel slept, under a steeply sloping ceiling of whitewashed rafters. Each morning, at dawn, he was woken by the fluting clamor of pigeons on the roof above. A small skylight was set in the ceiling. Through it, if he stood on a chair, he could see out over the gray, rain—washed London horizon. The house stood on a hill and the view was good; on clear days he could see the Crystal Palace radio mast far away on the other side of the city. His bedroom was furnished with a cheap plywood wardrobe, a small chest of drawers, a desk and chair, and a bedside bookcase. Every week Mrs. Underwood placed a new bunch of garden flowers in a vase on the desk. From that first miserable day, the magician's wife had taken Nathaniel under her wing. She liked the boy and was kind to him. In the privacy of the house, she often addressed the apprentice by his birth name, despite the stern displeasure of her husband. "We shouldn't even know the brat's name," he told her. "It's forbidden! He could be compromised. When he is twelve, at his coming of age, he will be given his new name, by which he will be known, as magician and man, for the rest of his life. In the meantime, it is quite wrong—" "Who's going to notice?" she protested. "No one. It gives the poor lad comfort." She was the only person to use his name. His tutors called him Underwood, after his master. His master himself just addressed him as "boy." In return for her affection, Nathaniel rewarded Mrs. Underwood with open devotion. He hung on her every word, and followed her directions in everything. At the end of his first week at the house, she brought a present to his room. "This is for you," she said. "It's a bit old and dreary, but I thought you might like it." It was a painting of boats sailing up a creek, surrounded by mudflats and low countryside. The varnish was so dark with age that the details could hardly be made out, but Nathaniel loved it instantly. He watched Mrs. Underwood hang it on the wall above his desk. "You're to be a magician, Nathaniel," she said, "and that is the greatest privilege that any boy or girl could have. Your parents have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving you up for this noble destiny. No, don't cry, dear. So in turn you must be strong, strive as hard as you can, and learn everything your tutors ask of you. By doing that you will honor both your parents and yourself. Come over to the window. Stand on that chair. Now—look over there; do you see that little tower in the distance?" "That one?" "No, that's an office block, dear. The little brown one, over on the left? That's it. That's the Houses of Parliament, my dear, where all the finest magicians go, to rule Britain and our empire. Mr. Underwood goes there all the time. And if you work hard and do everything your master tells you, one day you will go there too, and I will be as proud of you as can be." "Yes, Mrs. Underwood." He stared at the tower until his eyes ached, fixing its position firmly in his mind. To go to Parliament… One day it would be so. He would indeed work hard and make her proud. With time, and the constant ministrations of Mrs. Underwood, Nathaniel's homesickness began to fade. Memory of his distant parents dimmed and the pain inside him grew ever less, until he had almost forgotten its existence. A strict routine of work and study helped with this process: it took up nearly all his time and left him little space to brood. On weekdays, the routine began with Mrs. Underwood rousing him with a double rap on his bedroom door. "Tea outside, on the step. Mouth, not toes." This call was a ritual stemming from one morning, when, on his way downstairs to the bathroom, Nathaniel had charged out of his bedroom in a befuddled state, made precise contact between foot and mug, and sent a tidal wave of hot tea crashing against the landing wall. The stain was still visible years later, like the imprint of a splash of blood. Fortunately his master had not discovered this disaster. He never ascended to the attic. After washing in the bathroom on the level below, Nathaniel would dress himself in shirt, gray trousers, long gray socks, smart black shoes and, if it was winter and the house was cold, a thick Irish jumper that Mrs. Underwood had bought for him. He would brush his hair carefully in front of a tall mirror in the bathroom, running his eyes over the thin, neat figure with the pale face gazing back at him. Then he descended by the back stairs to the kitchen, carrying his schoolwork. While Mrs. Underwood fixed the cornflakes and toast, he would try to finish the homework left over from the night before. Mrs. Underwood frequently did her best to help him. "Azerbaijan? The capital's Baku, I think." "Bakoo?" "Yes. Look in your atlas. What are you learning that for?" "Mr. Purcell says I have to master the Middle East this Week—learn the countries and stuff." "Don't look so down. Toast's ready. Well, it is important you learn all that 'stuff'—you have to know the background before you can get to the interesting bits." "But it's so boring!" "That's all you know. I've been to Azerbaijan. Baku's a bit of a dump, but it is an important center for researching afrits." "What are they?" "Demons of fire. The second most powerful form of spirit. The fiery element is very strong in the mountains of Azerbaijan. That's where the Zoroastrian faith began too; they venerate the divine fire found in all living things. If you're looking for the chocolate spread, it's behind the cereal." "Did you see a djinni when you were there, Mrs. Underwood?" "You don't need to go to Baku to find a djinni, Nathaniel—and don't speak with your mouth full. You're spraying crumbs all over my tablecloth. No, djinn will come to you, especially if you're here in London." "When will I see a freet?" "An afrit. Not for a long time, if you know what's good for you. Now, finish up quickly—Mr. Purcell will be waiting." After breakfast, Nathaniel would gather his school books and head upstairs to the first—floor workroom where Mr. Purcell would indeed be waiting for him. His teacher was a young man with thinning blond hair, which he frequently smoothed down in a vain effort to hide his scalp. He wore a gray suit that was slightly too big for him and an alternating sequence of horrible ties. His first name was Walter. Many things made him nervous, and speaking to Mr. Underwood (which he had to, on occasion) made him downright twitchy. As a result of his nerves, he took his frustrations out on Nathaniel. He was too honest a man to be really brutal with the boy, who was a competent worker; instead he tended to snap tetchily at his mistakes, yipping like a small dog. Nathaniel learned no magic with Mr. Purcell. His teacher did not know any. Instead he had to apply himself to other subjects, primarily mathematics, modern languages (French, Czech), geography, and history. Politics was also important. "Now then, young Underwood," Mr. Purcell would say. "What is the chief purpose of our noble government?" Nathaniel looked blank. "Come on! Come on!" "To rule us, sir?" "To protect us. Do not forget that our country is at war. Prague still commands the plains east of Bohemia, and we are struggling to keep her armies out of Italy. These are dangerous times. Agitators and spies are loose in London. If the Empire is to be kept whole, a strong government must be in place, and strong means magicians. Imagine the country without them! It would be unthinkable: commoners would be in charge! We would slip into chaos, and invasion would quickly follow. All that stands between us and anarchy is our leaders. This is what you should aspire to, boy. To be a part of the Government and rule honorably. Remember that." "Yes, sir." "Honor is the most important quality for a magician," Mr. Purcell went on. "He or she has great power, and must use it with discretion. In the past, rogue magicians have attempted to overthrow the State: they have always been defeated. Why? Because true magicians fight with virtue and justice on their side." "Mr. Purcell, are you a magician?" His teacher smoothed back his hair and sighed. "No, Underwood. I was… not selected. But I still serve as best I can. Now—" "Then you're a commoner?" Mr. Purcell slapped the table with his palm. "If you please! I'm asking the questions! Take up your protractor. We shall move on to geometry." Shortly after his eighth birthday, Nathaniel's curriculum was expanded. He began to study chemistry and physics on the one hand, and the history of religion on the other. He also began several other key languages, including Latin, Aramaic, and Hebrew. These activities occupied Nathaniel from nine in the morning until lunch at one, at which time he would descend to the kitchen to devour in solitude the sandwiches that Mrs. Underwood had left out for him under moist Saran Wrap. In the afternoons the timetable was varied. On two days of the week, Nathaniel continued work with Mr. Purcell. On two other afternoons he was escorted down the street to the public baths, where a burly man with a mustache shaped like a mudguard supervised a punishing regimen. Along with a bedraggled posse of other small children, Nathaniel had to swim countless lengths using every conceivable style of stroke. He was always too shy and exhausted to talk much to his fellow swimmers, and they, sensing him for what he was, kept their distance from him. Already, by the age of eight, he was avoided and left alone. The other two afternoon activities were music (Thursday) and drawing (Saturday). Nathaniel dreaded music even more than swimming. His tutor, Mr. Sindra, was an obese, short—tempered man whose chins quivered as he walked. Nathaniel kept a close eye on those chins: if their trembling increased it was a sure sign of a coming rage. Rages came with depressing regularity. Mr. Sindra could barely contain his fury whenever Nathaniel rushed his scales, misread his notes, or fluffed his sight—reading, and these things happened often. "How," Mr. Sindra yelled, "do you propose to summon a lamia with plucking like this? How? The mind boggles! Give me that!" He snatched the lyre from Nathaniel's hand and held it against his ample chest. Then, his eyes closed in rapture, he began to play. A sweet melody filled the workroom. The short, fat fingers moved like dancing sausages across the strings; outside, birds stopped in the tree to listen. Nathaniel's eyes filled with tears. Memories from the distant past drifted ghostlike before him… "Now you!" The music broke off with a jarring screech. The lyre was thrust back at him. Nathaniel began to pluck at the strings. His fingers tripped and stumbled; outside, several birds dropped from the tree in a stupor. Mr. Sindra's jowls shook like cold tapioca. "You idiot! Stop! Do you want the lamia to eat you? She must be charmed, not roused to fury! Put down that poor instrument. We shall try the pipes." Pipes or lyre, choral voice or sistrum rattle—whatever Nathaniel tried, his faltering attempts met with bellows of outrage and despair. It was a far cry from his drawing lessons, which proceeded peacefully and well under his tutor, Ms. Lutyens. Willowy and sweet—tempered, she was the only one of his teachers to whom Nathaniel could talk freely. Like Mrs. Underwood, she had little time for his «nameless» status. In confidence, she had asked him to tell her his name, and he had done so without a second thought. "Why," he asked her one spring afternoon, as they sat in the workroom with a fresh breeze drifting through the open window, "why do I spend all my time copying this pattern? It is both difficult and dull. I would much rather be drawing the garden, or this room—or you, Ms. Lutyens." She laughed at him. "Sketching is all very well for artists, Nathaniel, or for rich young women with nothing else to do. You are not going to become an artist or a rich young woman, and the purpose for your picking up your pencil is very different. You are to be a craftsman, a technical draftsman—you must be able to reproduce any pattern you wish, quickly, confidently, and above all, accurately." He looked dismally at the paper resting on the table between them. It showed a complex design of branching leaves, flowers, and foliage, with abstract shapes fitted snugly in between. He was re—creating the image in his sketchbook and had been working on it for two hours without a break. He was about halfway finished. "It just seems pointless, that's all," he said in a small voice. "Pointless it is not," Ms. Lutyens replied. "Let me see your work. Well, it's not bad, Nathaniel, not bad at all, but look—do you not think that this cupola is rather bigger than the original? See here? And you've left a hole in this stem—that's rather a bad mistake." "It's only a small mistake. The rest's okay, isn't it?" "That's not the issue. If you were copying out a pentacle and you left a hole in it, what would happen? It would cost you your life. You don't want to die just yet, do you, Nathaniel?" "No." "Well, then. You simply mustn't make mistakes. They'll have you, otherwise." Ms. Lutyens sat back in her chair. "By rights, I should get you to start again with this." "Ms. Lutyens!" "Mr. Underwood would expect no less." She paused, pondering. "But from your cry of anguish I suppose it would be useless to expect you to do any better the second time around. We will stop for today. Why don't you go out into the garden? You look like you could do with some fresh air." For Nathaniel, the garden of the house was a place of temporary solitude and retreat. No lessons took place there. It had no unpleasant memories. It was long and thin and surrounded by a high wall of red brick. Climbing roses grew against this in the summer, and six apple trees shed white blossom over the lawn. Two rhododendron bushes sprawled widthwise halfway down the garden—beyond them was a sheltered area largely concealed from the many gaping windows of the house. Here the grass grew long and wet. A horse chestnut tree in a neighboring garden towered above, and a stone seat, green with lichen, rested in the shadows of the high wall. Beside the seat was a marble statue of a man holding a fork of lightning in his hand. He wore a Victorian—style jacket and had a gigantic pair of sideburns that protruded from his cheeks like the pincers of a beetle. The statue was weather worn and coated with a thin mantle of moss, but still gave an impression of great energy and power. Nathaniel was fascinated by it and had even gone so far as to ask Mrs. Underwood who it was, but she had only smiled. "Ask your master," she said. "He knows everything." But Nathaniel had not dared ask. This restful spot, with its solitude, its stone seat, and its statue of an unknown magician, was where Nathaniel came whenever he needed to compose himself before a lesson with his cold, forbidding master. 9 Between the ages of six and eight, Nathaniel visited his master only once a week. These occasions, on Friday afternoons, were subjects of great ritual. After lunch, Nathaniel had to go upstairs to wash and change his shirt. Then, at precisely two—thirty, he presented himself at the door of his master's reading room on the first floor. He would knock three times, at which a voice would call on him to enter. His master reclined in a wicker chair in front of a window overlooking the street. His face was often in shadow. Light from the window spilled round him in a nebulous haze. As Nathaniel entered, a long thin hand would gesture toward the cushions piled high on the Oriental couch on the opposite wall. Nathaniel would take a cushion and place it on the floor. Then he sat, heart pounding, straining to catch every nuance of his master's voice, terrified of missing a thing. In the early years, the magician usually contented himself with questioning the boy about his studies, inviting him to discuss vectors, algebra, or the principles of probability, asking him to describe briefly the history of Prague or recount, in French, the key events of the Crusades. The replies satisfied him almost always—Nathaniel was a very quick learner. On rare occasions, the master would motion the boy to be silent in the middle of an answer and would himself speak about the objectives and limitations of magic. "A magician," he said, "is a wielder of power. A magician exerts his will and effects change. He can do it from selfish motives or virtuous ones. The results of his actions can be good or evil, but the only bad magician is an incompetent one. What is the definition of incompetence, boy?" Nathaniel twitched on his cushion. "Loss of control." "Correct. Providing the magician remains in control of the forces he has set to work, he remains—what does he remain?" Nathaniel rocked back and forth. "Er…" "The three S's boy, the three S's. Use your head." "Safe, secret, strong, sir." "Correct. What is the great secret?" "Spirits, sir." "Demons, boy. Call 'em what they are. What must one never forget?" "Demons are very wicked and will hurt you if they can, sir." His voice shook as he said this. "Good, good. What an excellent memory you have, to be sure. Be careful how you pronounce your words—I fancy your tongue tripped over itself there. Mispronouncing a syllable at the wrong time may give a demon just the opportunity it has been seeking." "Yes, sir." "So, demons are the great secret. Common people know of their existence and know that we can commune with them—that is why they fear us so! But they do not realize the full truth, which is that all our power derives from demons. Without their aid we are nothing but cheap conjurors and charlatans. Our single great ability is to summon them and bend them to our will. If we do it correctly they must obey us. If we make but the slightest error, they fall upon us and tear us to shreds. It is a fine line that we walk, boy. How old are you now?" "Eight, sir. Nine next week." "Nine? Good. Then next week we shall start your magical studies proper. Mr. Purcell is busy giving you a sufficient grounding in the basic knowledge. Henceforward we shall meet twice weekly, and I shall start introducing you to the central tenets of our order. However, for today we shall finish with your reciting the Hebrew alphabet and its first dozen numbers. Proceed." Under the eyes of his master and his tutors, Nathaniel's education progressed rapidly. He delighted in reporting his daily achievements to Mrs. Underwood and basking in the warmth of her praise. In the evenings, he would gaze out of his window toward the distant yellow glow that marked the tower of the Parliament buildings, and dream of the day when he would go there as a magician, as one of the ministers of the noble government. Two days after his ninth birthday, his master appeared in the kitchen while he was eating breakfast. "Leave that and come with me," the magician said. Nathaniel followed him along the hall and into the room that served as his master's library. Mr. Underwood stood next to a broad bookcase filled with volumes of every size and color, ranging from heavy leather—bound lexicons of great antiquity to battered yellow paperbacks with mystic signs scrawled on the spines. "This is your reading matter for the next three years," his master said, tapping the top of the case. "By the time you're twelve, you must have familiarized yourself with everything it contains. The books are written in Middle English, Latin, Czech, and Hebrew for the most part, although you'll find some Coptic works on the Egyptian rituals of the dead too. There's a Coptic dictionary to help you with those. It's up to you to read through all this; I haven't time to coddle you. Mr. Purcell will keep your languages up to speed. Understand?" "Yes, sir. Sir?" "What, boy?" "When I've read through all this, sir, will I know everything I need? To be a magician, I mean, sir. It seems such an awful lot." His master snorted; his eyebrows ascended to the skies. "Look behind you," he said. Nathaniel turned. Behind the door was a bookcase that climbed from floor to ceiling; it overflowed with hundreds of books, each one fatter and more dusty than the last, the sort of books that, one could tell without even opening them, were printed in minute script in double columns on every page. Nathaniel gave a small gulp. "Work your way through that lot," his master said dryly, "and you might be getting somewhere. That case contains the rites and incantations you'd need to summon significant demons; and you won't even begin to use them till you're in your teens, so cast it out of your mind. Your case"—he tapped the wood again—"gives you the preparatory knowledge and is more than enough for the moment. Right, follow me." They proceeded to a workroom that Nathaniel had never visited before. A large number of bottles and vials clustered there on stained and dirty shelves, filled with liquids of varying color. Some of the bottles had floating objects in them. Nathaniel couldn't tell whether it was the thick, curved glass of the bottles that made the objects look so distorted and strange. His master sat on a stool at a simple wooden worktable and indicated for Nathaniel to sit alongside him. He pushed a narrow box across the table. Nathaniel opened it. Inside was a small pair of spectacles. A distant memory made him shudder sharply. "Well, take them out, boy; they won't bite you. Right. Now look at me. Look at my eyes; what do you see?" Unwillingly, Nathaniel looked. He found it very difficult to peer into the fierce, fiery brown eyes of the old man, and as a result his brain froze. He saw nothing. "Well?" "Um, um… I'm sorry, I don't…" "Look around my irises—see anything there?" "Um…" "Oh, you dolt!" His master gave a cry of frustration and pulled the skin below one eye down, revealing its red underbelly. "Can't you see it? A lens, boy! A contact lens! Around the middle of my eye! See it?" Desperately, Nathaniel looked again, and this time he did see a faint circular rim, thin as a pencil line around the iris, sealing it in. "Yes, sir," he said eagerly. "Yes, I see it." "About time. Right." His master sat back on the stool. "When you are twelve years old, two important things will happen. First, you will be given a new name, which you shall take as your own. Why?" "To prevent demons getting power over me by discovering my birth name, sir." "Correct. Enemy magicians are equally perilous, of course. Secondly, you will get your first pair of lenses, which you can wear at all times. They will allow you to see through a little of the trickery of demons. Until that time you will use these glasses, but only when instructed to, and on no account are they to be removed from this workroom. Understand?" "Yes, sir. How do they help see through things, sir?" "When demons materialize, they can adopt all manner of false shapes, not just in this material realm, but on other planes of perception too—I shall teach you of these planes anon, do not question me on them now. Some demons of the higher sort can even become invisible; there is no end to the wickedness of their deceptions. The lenses, and to a lesser extent the glasses, allow you to look on several planes at once, giving you a chance of seeing through their illusions. Observe—" Nathaniel's master reached over to a crowded shelf behind him and selected a large glass bottle that was sealed with cork and wax. It contained a greenish briny liquid and a dead rat, all brownish bristles and pale flesh. Nathaniel made a face. His master considered him. "What would you say this was, boy?" he asked. "A rat, sir." "What kind?" "A brown one. Rattus norvegicus, sir." "Good. Latin tag too, eh? Very good. Completely wrong, but good nevertheless. It isn't a rat at all. Put on your glasses and look again." Nathaniel did as he was told. The spectacles felt cold and heavy on his nose. He peered through the filmy pebble—glass, taking a moment or two to focus. When the bottle swam into view, he gasped. The rat was gone. In its place was a small black—and—red creature with a spongy face, beetle's wings, and a concertina—shaped underside. The creature's eyes were open and bore an aggrieved expression. Nathaniel took the spectacles off and looked again. The brown rat floated in the pickling fluid. "Gosh," he said. His master grunted. "A Scarlet Vexation, caught and bottled by the Medical Institute of Lincoln's Inn. A minor imp, but a notable spreader of pestilence. It can only create the illusion of the rat on the material plane. On the others, its true essence is revealed." "Is it dead, sir?" Nathaniel asked. "Hmm? Dead? I should think so. If not, it'll certainly be angry. It's been in that jar for at least fifty years—I inherited it from my old master." He returned the bottle to the shelf. "You see, boy," he went on, "even the least powerful demons are vicious, dangerous, and evasive. One cannot withdraw one's guard for a moment. Observe this." From behind a bunsen burner, he drew a rectangular glass box that seemed to have no lid. Six minute creatures buzzed within it, ceaselessly butting against the walls of their prison. From a distance they seemed like insects; as he drew closer, Nathaniel observed that they had rather too many legs for this to be so. "These mites," his master said, "are possibly the lowest form of demon. Scarcely any intelligence to speak of. You do not require your spectacles to see their true form. Yet even these are a menace unless properly controlled. Notice those orange stings beneath their tails? They create exquisitely painful swellings on the victim's body; far worse than bees or hornets. An admirable method of chastising someone, be it annoying rival… or disobedient pupil." Nathaniel watched the furious little mites butting their heads against the glass. He nodded vigorously. "Yes, sir." "Vicious little things." His master pushed the box away. "Yet all they need are the proper words of command and they will obey any instruction. They thus demonstrate, on the smallest scale, the principles of our craft. We have dangerous tools that we must control. We shall now begin learning how to protect ourselves." Nathaniel soon found that it would be a long time before he was allowed to wield the tools himself. He had lessons with his master in the workroom twice a week, and for months he did nothing except take notes. He was taught the principles of pentacles and the art of runes. He learned the appropriate rites of purification that magicians had to observe before summoning could take place. He was set to work with mortar and pestle to pound out mixtures of incense that would encourage demons or keep unwanted ones away. He cut candles into varying sizes and arranged them in a host of different patterns. And not once did his master summon anything. Impatient for progress, in his spare time Nathaniel devoured the books in the library case. He impressed Mr. Purcell with his omnivorous appetite for knowledge. He worked with great vigor in Ms. Lutyens's drawing lessons, applying his skill to the pentacles he now traced under the beady eye of his master. And all this time, the spectacles gathered dust on the workroom shelf. Ms. Lutyens was the only person to whom he confided his frustrations. "Patience," she told him. "Patience is the prime virtue. If you hurry, you will fail. And failure is painful. You must always relax and concentrate on the task in hand. Now, if you're ready I want you to sketch that again, but this time with a blindfold." Six months into his training, Nathaniel observed a summoning for the first time. To his deep annoyance, he took no active part. His master drew the pentacles, including a secondary one for Nathaniel to stand in. Nathaniel was not even allowed to light the candles and, what was worse, he was told to leave the spectacles behind. "How will I see anything?" he asked, rather more pettishly than was his habit with his master; a narrow—eyed stare instantly reduced him to silence. The summoning began as a deep disappointment. After the incantations, which Nathaniel was pleased to find he largely understood, nothing seemed to happen. A slight breeze blew through the workroom; otherwise all was still. The empty pentacle stayed empty. His master stood close by, eyes shut, seemingly asleep. Nathaniel grew very bored. His legs began to ache. Evidently this particular demon had decided not to come. All at once, he noticed with horror that several of the candles in one corner of the workroom had toppled over. A pile of papers was alight, and the fire was spreading. Nathaniel gave a cry of alarm and stepped— "Stay where you are!" Nathaniel's heart nearly stopped in fright. He froze with one foot lifted. His master's eyes had opened and were gazing at him with an awful anger. With a voice of thunder, his master uttered the seven Words of Dismissal. The fire in the corner of the room vanished, the pile of papers with them; the candles were once again upright and burning quietly. Nathaniel's heart quailed in his breast. "Step outside the circle, would you?" Never had he heard his master's voice so scathing. "I told you that some remain invisible. They are masters of illusion and know a thousand ways to distract and tempt you. One step more and you'd have been on fire yourself. Think of that while you go hungry tonight. Get up to your room!" Further summonings were less distressing. Guided only by his ordinary senses, Nathaniel observed demons in a host of beguiling shapes. Some appeared as familiar animals—mewling cats, wide—eyed dogs, forlorn, limping hamsters that Nathaniel ached to hold. Sweet little birds hopped and pecked at the margins of their circles. Once, a shower of apple blossom cascaded from the air, filling the room with a heady scent that made him drowsy. He learned to withstand inducements of all kinds. Some invisible spirits assailed him with foul smells that made him retch; others charmed him with perfume that reminded him of Ms. Lutyens's or Mrs. Underwood's. Some attempted to frighten him with hideous sounds—with squelchy rendings, whisperings, and gibbering cries. He heard strange voices calling out beseechingly, first high—pitched, then plummeting deeper and deeper until they rang like a funeral bell. But he closed his mind to all these things and never came close to leaving the circle. A year passed before Nathaniel was allowed to wear his spectacles during each summoning. Now he could observe many of the demons as they really were. Others, slightly more powerful ones, maintained their illusions even on the other observable planes. To all these disorientating shifts in perception Nathaniel acclimatized calmly and confidently. His lessons were progressing well, his self—possession likewise. He grew harder, more resilient, more determined to progress. He spent all his spare waking hours poring through new manuscripts. His master was satisfied with his pupil's progress and Nathaniel, despite his impatience with the pace of his education, was delighted with what he learned. It was a productive relationship, if not a close one, and might well have continued to be so, but for the terrible incident that occurred in the summer before Nathaniel's eleventh birthday. 10 Bartimaeus In the end, dawn came. The first grudging rays flickered in the eastern sky. A halo of light slowly emerged over the Docklands horizon. I cheered it on. It couldn't come fast enough. The whole night had been a wearisome and often humiliating business. I had repeatedly lurked, loitered, and fled, in that order, through half the postal districts of London. I had been manhandled by a thirteen—year—old girl. I had taken shelter in a bin. And now, to cap it all, I was crouching on the roof of Westminster Abbey, pretending to be a gargoyle. Things don't get much worse than that. A rising shaft of sunlight caught the edge of the Amulet, which was suspended round my lichen—covered neck. It flashed, bright as glass. Automatically I raised a claw to cup it, just in case sharp eyes were on the lookout, but I wasn't too worried by then. I had remained in that bin in the alley for a couple of hours, long enough to rest and become thoroughly ingrained with the odor of rotting vegetables. Then I'd had the bright idea of taking up stony residence on the abbey. I was protected there by the profusion of magical ornaments within the building—they masked the Amulet's signal.[23] From my new vantage point I'd seen a few spheres in the distance, but none of them came near. At last the night had ebbed away, and the magicians had become weary. The spheres in the sky winked out. The heat was off. As the sun rose, I waited impatiently for the expected summons. The boy had said he would call me at dawn, but he was no doubt sleeping in like the layabout adolescent he was. In the meantime I ordered my thoughts. One thing that was crystal clear was that the boy was the patsy of an adult magician, some shadowy influence who sought to deflect blame for the theft onto the kid. It wasn't hard to guess this—no child of his age would summon me for so great a task on his own. Presumably the unknown magician wished to deal a blow to Lovelace and gain control over the Amulet's powers. If so, he was risking everything. Judging by the scale of the hunt I had just evaded, several powerful people were greatly concerned by its loss. Even alone, Simon Lovelace was a formidable proposition. The fact that he was able to employ (and restrain) both Faquarl and Jabor proved as much. I did not relish the urchin's chances when the magician caught up with him. Then there was the girl, that nonmagician whose friends withstood my magic and saw through my illusions. Several centuries had gone by since I had last encountered humans of their sort, so to find them here in London was intriguing. Whether or not they understood the implications of their power was difficult to say. The girl didn't even seem to know exactly what the Amulet was, only that it was a prize worth having. She certainly wasn't allied to Lovelace or the boy. Strange… I couldn't see where she fit into this at all. Oh well, it wasn't going to be my problem. Sunlight hit the roof of the abbey. I allowed myself a short, luxurious flex of my wings. At that moment, the summons came. A thousand fishhooks seemed to embed themselves in me. I was pulled in several directions at once. Resisting too long risked tearing my essence, but I had no interest in delay. I wished to hand over the Amulet and be done. With this eager hope in mind I submitted to the summons, vanishing from the rooftop… …and reappearing instantaneously in the child's room. I looked around. "All right, what's this?" "I order you, Bartimaeus, to reveal whether you have diligently and wholly carried out your charge—" "Of course I have—what do you think this is, costume jewelry?" I pointed with my gargoyle's claw at the Amulet dangling on my chest. It waved and winked in the shuddering light of the candles. "The Amulet of Samarkand. It was Simon Lovelace's. Now it is yours. Soon it will be Simon Lovelaces again. Take it and enjoy the consequences. I was asking about this pentacle you've drawn here: what are these runes? This extra line?" The kid puffed out his chest. "Adelbrand's Pentacle." If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn he smirked, an unseemly facial posture for one so young. Adelbrand's Pentacle. That meant trouble. I made a big show of checking the lines of the star and circle, looking for minute breaks or wiggles in the chalk. Then I perused the runes and symbols themselves. "Aha!" I roared. "You've spelled this wrong! And you know what that means, don't you…?" I drew myself up like a cat ready to pounce. The kid's face went an interesting mix of white and red; his lower lip wobbled; his eyes bulged from their sockets. He looked very much like he wanted to run for it, but he didn't, so my plan was foiled.[24] Hastily he scanned the letters on the floor. "Recreant demon! The pentacle is sound—it binds you still!" "Okay, so I lied." I reduced in size. My stone wings folded back under my hump. "Do you want this amulet or not?" "P—place it in the vessel." A small soapstone bowl sat on the floor midway between the outermost arcs of the two circles. I removed the Amulet and with a certain amount of inner relief tossed it casually into the bowl. The boy bent toward it. Out of the corner of my eyes I watched him closely—if one foot, one finger, fell outside his circle, I would be on him faster than a praying mantis. But the kid was wise to this. He produced a stick from the pocket of his tatty coat. Jammed into the tip was a hooked piece of wire that looked suspiciously like a twisted paperclip. With a couple of cautious prods and jerks he caught the lip of the bowl with the hook and drew it into his circle. Then he picked up the Amulet's chain, wrinkling his nose as he did so. "Euch, this is disgusting!" "Nothing to do with me. Blame Rotherhithe Sewage Works. No, on second thought, blame yourself. I've spent the whole night trying to evade capture on your account. You're lucky I didn't immerse myself completely." "You were pursued?" He sounded almost eager. Wrong emotion, kid—try fear. "By half the demonic hordes of London." I rolled my stony eyes and clashed my horny beak. "Make no mistake about it, boy, they are coming here, yellow—eyed and ravening, ready to seize you. You will be helpless, defenseless against their power. You have one chance only; release me from this circle and I will help you evade their clutches."[25] "Do you take me for a fool?" "The amulet in your hands answers that. Well, no matter. I have carried out my charge, my task is done. For the remainder of your short life, farewell!" My form shimmered, began to fade. A rippling pillar of steam issued up from the floor as if to swallow me and spirit me away. It was wishful thinking—Adelbrand's Pentacle would see to that. "You cannot depart! I have other work for thee." More than the renewed captivity, it was these occasional archaisms that annoyed me so much. Thee, recreant demon—I ask you! No one used language like that anymore, and hadn't for two hundred years. Anyone would think he had learned his trade entirely out of some old book. But extraneous thees or not, he was quite right. Most ordinary pentacles bind you to one service only. Carry it out, and you are free to go. If the magician requires you again, he must repeat the whole draining rigmarole of summoning from the beginning. But Adelbrand's Pentacle countermanded this: its extra lines and incantations double locked the door and forced you to remain for further orders. It was a complex magical formula that required adult stamina and concentration, and this gave me ammunition for my next attack. I allowed the steam to ebb away. "So where is he, then?" The boy was busy turning the Amulet over and over in his pale hands. He looked up absently. "Where is who?" "The boss, your master, the ?minence grise, the power behind the throne. The man who has put you up to this little theft, who's told you what to say and what to draw. The man who'll still be standing unharmed in the shadows when Lovelace's djinn are tossing your ragged corpse around the London rooftops. He's playing some game that you know nothing of, appealing to your ignorance and youthful vanity." That stung him. His lips curled back a little. "What did he say to you, I wonder?" I adopted a patronizing singsong voice: " 'Well done, young fellow, you're the best little magician I've seen in a long while. Tell me, would you like to raise a powerful djinni? You would? Well, why don't we do just that! We can play a prank on someone too—steal an amulet—" The boy laughed. Unexpected that. I was anticipating a furious outburst or some anxiety. But no, he laughed. He turned the Amulet over a final time, then bent and replaced it in the pot. Also unexpected. Using the stick with the hook, he pushed the pot back through the circle to its original position on the floor. "What are you doing?" "Giving it back." "I don't want it." "Pick it up." I wasn't about to get into a prissy exchange of insults with a twelve—year old, particularly one who could impose his will on me, so I reached out through my circle and hefted the Amulet. "Now, what? When Simon Lovelace comes I won't be hanging on to this, you know. I'll be giving it right back to him with a smile and a wave. And pointing out which curtain you're shivering behind." "Wait." The kid produced something shiny from one of the inner pockets of his voluminous coat. Did I mention that this coat was about three sizes too big for him? It had evidently once belonged to a very careless magician, since, although heavily patched, it still displayed the unmistakable ravages of fire, blood, and talon. I wished the boy similar fortune. Now he was holding in his left hand a burnished disc—a scrying glass of highly polished bronze. He passed his right hand over it a few times and began to gaze into the reflective metal with passive concentration. Whatever captive imp dwelled within, the disc soon responded. A murky picture formed; the boy observed it closely. I was too far off to see the image, but while he was distracted I did a bit of looking of my own. His room… I wanted a clue to his identity. Some letter addressed to him, perhaps, or a name tag in his coat. Both of those had worked before. I wasn't after his birth name, of course—that would be too much to hope for—but his official name would do for a start.[26] But I was out of luck. The most private, intimate, telltale place in the room—his desk—had been carefully covered with a thick black cloth. A wardrobe in the corner was shut; ditto a chest of drawers. There was a cracked glass vase with fresh flowers among the mess of candles—an odd touch, this. He hadn't put it there himself, I reckoned; so somebody liked him. The kid waved his hand over the scrying glass and the surface went dull. He replaced the disc in his pocket, then looked up at me suddenly. Uh—oh. Here it came. "Bartimaeus," he began, "I charge you to take the Amulet of Samarkand and hide it in the magical repository of the magician Arthur Underwood, concealing it so that he cannot observe it, and achieving this so stealthily that no one, either human or spirit, on this plane or any other, shall see you enter or depart; I further charge you to return to me immediately, silent and unseen, to await further instructions." He was blue in the face when he finished this, having completed it all in one straight breath.[27] I glowered under my stony brows. "Very well. Where does this unfortunate magician reside?" The boy smiled thinly. "Downstairs." 11 Downstairs… Well, that was surprising. "Framing your master, are you? Nasty." "I'm not framing him. I just want it safe, behind whatever security he's got. No one's going to find it there." He paused. "But if they do…" "You'll be in the clear. Typical magician's trick. You re learning faster than most." "No one's going to find it." "You think not? We'll see." Still, I couldn't float there gossiping all day. I encased the Amulet with a Charm, rendering it temporarily small and giving it the appearance of a drifting cobweb. Then I sank through a knothole in the nearest plank, snaked as a vapor through the empty floor space, and in spider guise crawled cautiously out of a crack in the ceiling of the room below. I was in a deserted bathroom. Its door was open; I scurried toward it along the plaster as fast as eight legs could carry me. As I went I shook my mandibles at the effrontery of the boy. Framing another magician: that wasn't unusual. That was part and parcel, it came with the territory.[28] Framing your own master, though, now that was out of the ordinary—in fact possibly unique in a wizardling of twelve. Sure, as adults, magicians fell out with ridiculous regularity, but not when they were starting off; not when they were just being taught the rules. How was I sure the magician in question was his master? Well, unless age—old practices were now being dropped and apprentices were being bussed off to boarding school together (hardly likely), there was no other explanation. Magicians hold their knowledge close to their shriveled little hearts, coveting its power the way a miser covets gold, and they will only pass it on with caution. Since the days of the Median Magi, students have always lived alone in their mentors' house—one master to one pupil, conducting their lessons with secrecy and stealth. From ziggurat to pyramid, from sacred oak to skyscraper, thousands of years pass and things don't change. To sum up then: it seemed that to guard his own skin, this ungrateful child was risking bringing the wrath of a powerful magician down upon his innocent master's head. I was very impressed. Even though he had to be in cahoots with an adult—some enemy of his master, presumably—it was an admirably twisted plan for one so young. I did an eightfold tiptoe out of the door. Then I saw the master. I had not heard of this magician, this Mr. Arthur Underwood. I assumed him therefore to be a minor conjuror, a dabbler in fakery and mumbo—jumbo who never dared disturb the rest of higher beings such as me. Certainly, as he passed underneath me into the bathroom (I had evidently exited just in time), he fit the bill of second—rater. A sure sign of this was that he had all the time—honored attributes that other humans associate with great and powerful magic: a mane of unkempt hair the color of tobacco ash, a long whitish beard that jutted outward like the prow of a ship, and a pair of particularly bristly eyebrows.[29] I could imagine him stalking through the streets of London in a black velveteen suit, hair billowing behind him in a sorcerous sort of way. He probably flourished a gold—tipped cane, maybe even a swanky cape. Yes, he'd look the part then, all right: very impressive. As opposed to now, stumbling along in his pajama bottoms, scratching his unmentionables and sporting a folded newspaper under his arm. "Martha!" He called this just before closing the bathroom door. A small, spherical female emerged from a bedroom. Thankfully, she was fully dressed. "Yes, dear?" "I thought you said that woman cleaned yesterday." "Yes, she did, dear. Why?" "Because there's a grubby cobweb dangling from the middle of the ceiling, with a repellent spider skulking in it. Loathsome. She should be sacked." "Oh, I see it. How foul. Don't worry, I'll speak to her. And I'll get the duster to it shortly." The great magician humphed and shut the door. The woman shook her head in a forgiving manner and, humming a lighthearted ditty, disappeared downstairs. The «loathsome» spider made a rude sign with two of its legs and set off along the ceiling, trailing its cobweb behind it. It took several minutes' scuttering before I located the entrance to the study at the bottom of a short flight of stairs. And here I halted. The door was protected against interlopers by a hex in the form of a five—pointed star. It was a simple device. The star appeared to consist of flaking red paint; however, if an unwary trespasser opened the door the trap would be triggered and the «paint» would revert to its original state—a ricocheting bolt of fire. Sounds good, I know, but it was pretty basic stuff actually. A curious housemaid might be frazzled, but not Bartimaeus. I erected a Shield around me and, touching the base of the door with a tiny claw, instantly sprang back a couple of feet. Thin orange streaks appeared within the red lines of the five—pointed star. For a second the lines coursed like liquid, racing round and round the shape. Then a jet of flame burst from the star's uppermost point, rebounded off the ceiling and speared down toward me. I was ready for the impact on my Shield, but it never took place. The flame bypassed me altogether and hit the cobweb I was trailing. And the cobweb sucked it up, drawing the fire from the star like juice through a straw. In an instant it was over. The flame was gone. It had disappeared into the cobweb, which remained as cool as ever. In some surprise, I looked around. A charcoal—black star was seared into the wood of the study door. As I watched, the hex began to redden slowly—it was reassembling its charge for the next intruder. I suddenly realized what had happened. It was obvious. The Amulet of Samarkand had done what amulets are supposed to do—it had protected its wearer.[30] Very nicely, too. It had absorbed the hex without any trouble whatsoever. That was fine by me. I removed my Shield and squeezed myself beneath the door and into Underwood's study. Beyond the door I found no further traps on any of the planes, another sign that the magician was of a fairly low order. (I recalled the extensive network of defenses that Simon Lovelace had rigged up and which I'd broached with such easy panache. If the boy thought that the Amulet would be safe behind his master's «security» he had another thing coming.) The room was tidy, if dusty, and contained among other things a locked cupboard that I guessed housed his treasures. I entered via the keyhole, tugging the cobweb in my wake. Once inside I performed a small Illumination. A pitiful array of magical gimcracks were arranged with loving care on three glass shelves. Some of them, such as the Tinker's Purse, with its secret pocket for making coins "vanish," were frankly not magical at all. It made my estimate of second—rater seem overly generous. I almost felt sorry for the old duffer. For his sake I hoped Simon Lovelace never came to call. There was a Javanese bird totem at the back of the cupboard, its beak and plumes gray with dust. Underwood obviously never touched it. I pulled the cobweb between the purse and an Edwardian rabbit's foot and tucked it behind the totem. Good. No one would find it there unless they were really hunting. Finally I removed the Charm on it restoring it to its normal amulet—y size and shape. With that, my assignment was complete. All that remained was to return to the boy. I exited cupboard and study without any hiccups and set off back upstairs. This was where it got interesting. I was heading up to the attic room again, of course, using the sloping ceiling above the stairs, when unexpectedly the boy passed me coming down. He was trailing in the wake of the magician's wife, looking thoroughly fed up. Evidently he had just been summoned from his room. I perked up at once. This was bad for him, and I could see from his face that he realized it too. He knew I was loose, somewhere nearby. He knew I would be coming back, that my charge had been to return to him immediately, silent and unseen, to await further instructions. He knew I might therefore be following him now, listening and watching, learning more about him, and that he couldn't do anything about it until he got back to his room and stood again within the pentacle. In short, he had lost control of the situation, a dangerous state of affairs for any magician. I swiveled and followed eagerly in their wake. True to my charge, no one saw or heard me as I crept along behind. The woman led the boy to a door on the ground floor. "He's in there, dear," she said. "Okay," the boy said. His voice was nice and despondent, just how I like it. They went in, woman first, boy second. The door shut so fast that I had to do a couple of quick—fire shots of web to trapeze myself through the crack before it closed. It was a great stunt—I wish someone had seen it. But no. Silent and unseen, that's me. We were in a gloomy dining room. The magician, Arthur Underwood, was seated alone at the head of a dark and shiny dining table, with cup, saucer, and silver coffee pot close to hand. He was still occupied with his newspaper, which lay folded in half on the table. As the woman and the boy entered, he picked up the paper, unfolded it, turned the page crisply, and smacked the whole thing in half again. He didn't look up. The woman hovered near the table. "Arthur, Nathaniel's here," she said. The spider had backed its way into a dark corner above the door. On hearing these words it remained motionless, as spiders do. But inwardly it thrilled. Nathaniel! Good. That was a start. I had the pleasure of seeing the boy wince. His eyes flitted to and fro, no doubt wondering if I was there. The magician gave no sign that he had heard, but remained engrossed in the paper. His wife began rearranging a rather sorry display of dried flowers over the mantelpiece. I guessed then who was responsible for the vase in the boy's room. Dead flowers for the husband, fresh ones for the apprentice—that was intriguing. Again Underwood unfolded, turned, smacked the paper, resumed his reading. The boy stood silently waiting. Now that I was free of the circle and thus not under his direct control, I had a chance to assess him more clinically. He had (of course) removed his raggedy coat and was soberly dressed in gray trousers and jumper. His hair had been wetted and was slicked back. A sheaf of papers was under his arm. He was a picture of quiet deference. He had no obviously defining features—no moles, no oddities, no scars. His hair was dark and straight, his face tended toward the pinched. His skin was very pale. To a casual observer, he was an unremarkable boy. But to my wiser and more jaundiced gaze there were other things to note: shrewd and calculating eyes; fingers that tapped impatiently on the papers he held; most of all a very careful face that by subtle shifts took on whatever expression was expected of it. For the moment he had adopted a submissive but attentive look that would flatter an old man's vanity. Yet continually he cast his eye around the room, searching for me. I made it easy for him. When he was looking in my direction, I gave a couple of small scuttles on the wall, waved a few arms, wiggled my abdomen in a cheery fashion. He saw me straight off, went paler than ever, bit his lip. Couldn't do anything about me though, without giving his game away. In the middle of my dance, Underwood suddenly grunted dismissively and slapped the back of his hand against his paper. "See here, Martha," he said. "Makepeace is filling the theaters again with his Eastern piffle. Swans of Araby… I ask you, did you ever hear of such sentimental claptrap? And yet it's sold out until the end of January! Quite bizarre." "It's all booked up? Oh, Arthur, I'd rather wanted to go—" "And I quote: … in which a sweet—limbed missionary lass from Chiswick falls in love with a tawny djinni… —it's not just romantic nonsense, it's damnably dangerous too. Spreads misinformation to the people." "Oh, Arthur—" "You've seen djinn, Martha. Have you seen one 'with dusky eyes that will melt your heart'? Melt your face, maybe." "I'm sure you're right, Arthur." "Makepeace should know better. Disgraceful. I'd do something about it, but he's in too deep with the Prime Minister." "Yes, dear. Would you like more coffee, dear?" "No. The P.M. should be helping out my Internal Affairs department rather than socializing his time away. Four more thefts, Martha, four in the last week. Valuable items they were, too. I tell you, we're going to the dogs." So saying, Underwood lifted his mustache with one hand and expertly passed the lip of his cup beneath. He drank long and loudly. "Martha, this is cold. Fetch more coffee, will you?" With good grace the wife bustled off on her errand. As she exited, the magician tossed his paper to one side and deigned to notice his pupil at last. The old man grunted. "So. You're here, are you?" Despite his anxiety, the boy's voice was steady. "Yes, sir. You sent for me, sir." "I did indeed. Now, I have been speaking to your teachers, and with the exception of Mr. Sindra, all have satisfactory reports to make on you." He held up his hand to silence the boy's prompt articulations of thanks. "Heaven knows, you don't deserve it after what you did last year. However, despite certain deficiencies, to which I have repeatedly drawn your attention, you have made some progress with the central tenets. Thus"—a dramatic pause—"I feel that the time is right for you to conduct your first summons." He uttered this last sentence in slow resounding tones that were evidently designed to fill the boy with awe. But Nathaniel, as I was now so delighted to call him, was distracted. He had a spider on his mind. His unease was not lost on Underwood. The magician rapped the table peremptorily to attract his pupil's attention. "Listen to me, boy!" he said. "If you fret at the very prospect of a summons you will never make a magician, even now. A well—prepared magician fears nothing. Do you understand?" The boy gathered himself, fixed his attention on his master. "Yes, sir; of course, sir." "Besides, I shall be with you at all times during the summoning, in an adjoining circle. I shall have a dozen protective charms to hand and plenty of powdered rosemary. We shall start with a lowly demon, a natterjack impling.[31] If that proves successful, we shall move on to a mouler."[32] It was a measure of how unobservant this magician was that he quite failed to notice the flame of contempt that flickered in the boy's eyes. He only heard the blandly eager voice. "Yes, sir. I'm looking forward to it very much, sir." "Excellent. You have your lenses?" "Yes, sir. They arrived last week." "Good. Then there is only one other arrangement we need to make, and that is—" "Was that the door, sir?" "Don't interrupt me, boy. How dare you? The other arrangement, which I will withhold if you are insolent again, is the choosing of your official name. We shall turn our attention to that this afternoon. Bring Loew's Nominative Almanac to me in the library after luncheon and we shall choose one for you together." "Yes, sir." The boy's shoulders had slumped; his voice was barely audible. He did not need to see me capering on my web to know that I had heard and understood. Nathaniel wasn't just his official name! It was his real name! The fool had summoned me before consigning his birth name to oblivion. And now I knew it! Underwood shifted in his chair. "Well, what are you waiting for, boy? This is no time for slacking—you've got hours yet to study before lunch. Get on your way." "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." The boy moved listlessly to the door. Gnashing my mandibles with glee, I followed him through with an extra—special reverse somersault with octal hitchkick. I had a chance at him now. Things were a bit more even. He knew my name, I knew his. He had six years' experience, I had five thousand and ten. That was the kind of odds you could do something with. I accompanied him up the stairs. He was dawdling now, dragging each step out. Come on, come on! Get back to your pentacle. I was racing ahead, eager for the contest to begin. Oh, the boots were on the other eight feet now, all right. 12 Nathaniel One summer's day, when Nathaniel was ten years old, he sat with his tutor on the stone seat in the garden, sketching the horse chestnut tree beyond the wall. The sun beat upon the red bricks. A gray—and—white cat lolled on the top of the wall, idly swishing its tail from side to side. A gentle breeze shifted the leaves of the tree and carried a faint scent across from the rhododendron bushes. The moss on the statue of the man with the lightning fork gleamed richly in the yellow sunlight. Insects hummed. It was the day that everything changed. "Patience, Nathaniel." "You've said that so many times, Ms. Lutyens." "And I'll say it again, I have no doubt. You are too restless. It's your biggest fault." Nathaniel irritably cross—hatched a patch of shade. "But it's so frustrating," he exclaimed. "He never lets me try anything! All I'm allowed to do is set up the candles and the incense and other stuff that I could do in my sleep standing on my head! I'm not even allowed to talk to them." "Quite right too," Ms. Lutyens said firmly. "Remember, I just want subtleties of shading. No hard lines." "It's ridiculous." Nathaniel made a face. "He doesn't realize what I can do. I've read all his books, and—" "All of them?" "Well, all the ones in his little bookcase, and he said they'd keep me going till I was twelve. I'm not even eleven yet, Ms. Lutyens. I mean, I've already mastered the Words of Direction and Control, most of them; I could give a djinni an order, if he summoned it for me. But he won't even let me try." "I don't know which is less attractive, Nathaniel—your boasting or your petulance. You should stop worrying about what you don't yet have and enjoy what you have now. This garden, for instance. I'm very pleased you thought of having our lesson out here today." "I always come here when I can. It helps me think." "I'm not surprised. It's peaceful, solitary… and there are precious few parts of London like that, so be grateful." "He keeps me company." Nathaniel indicated the statue. "I like him, even though I don't know who he is." "Him?" Ms. Lutyens glanced up from her sketchbook, but went on drawing. "Oh, that's easy. That's Gladstone." "Who?" "Gladstone. Surely you know. Doesn't Mr. Purcell teach you recent history?" "We've done contemporary politics." "Too recent. Gladstone died more than a hundred years ago. He was a great hero of the time. There must have been thousands of statues made of him, put up all over the country. Rightly so, from your point of view. You owe him a lot." Nathaniel was puzzled. "Why?" "He was the most powerful magician ever to become prime minister. He dominated the Victorian age for thirty years and brought the feuding factions of magicians under government control. You must have heard of his duel with the sorcerer Disraeli on Westminster Green? No? You should go and see. The scorch marks are still on show. Gladstone was famous for his supreme energy and his implacable defiance when the chips were down. He never gave up his cause, even when things looked bad." "Gosh." Nathaniel gazed at the stern face staring from beneath its covering of moss. The stone hand gripped its lightning bolt loosely, confidently, ready to throw. "Why did he have that duel, Ms. Lutyens?" "I believe Disraeli made a rude remark about a female friend of Gladstone's. That was a big mistake. Gladstone never let anyone insult his honor, or that of his friends. He was very powerful and quite prepared to challenge anyone who had wronged him." She blew charcoal from her sketch and held it up to the light critically. "Gladstone did more than anyone else to help London ascend to magical prominence. In those days Prague was still the most powerful city in the world, but its time had long gone; it was old and decadent and its magicians bickered among the slums of the Ghetto. Gladstone provided new ideals, new projects. He attracted many foreign magicians here by acquiring certain relics. London became the place to be. As it still is, for better or for worse. As I say, you ought to be grateful." Nathaniel looked at her. "What do you mean, 'For better or for worse? What's worse about it?" Ms. Lutyens pursed her lips. "The current system is very beneficial for magicians and for a few lucky others who cluster all about them. Less so for everyone else. Now—let me see how your sketch is going." Something in her tone aroused Nathaniel's indignation. His lessons with Mr. Purcell came flooding into his mind. "You shouldn't speak of the Government like that," he said. "Without magicians, the country would be defenseless! Commoners would rule and the country would fall apart. Magicians give their lives to keep the country safe! You should remember that, Ms. Lutyens." Even to his own ears, his voice sounded rather shrill. "I'm sure that when you have grown up you will make many telling sacrifices, Nathaniel." She spoke rather more sharply than was usual. "But in fact not all countries have magicians. Plenty do very well without them." "You seem to know a lot about it all." "For a humble drawing tutor? Do I detect surprise in your voice?" "Well, you're only a commoner—" He stopped short, flushed. "Sorry, I didn't mean—" "Quite right," Ms. Lutyens said shortly, "I am a commoner. But magicians don't have a complete monopoly on knowledge, you know. Far from it. And anyway, knowledge and intelligence are very different things. As you'll one day discover." For a few minutes they busied themselves with their paper and pens and did not speak. The cat on the wall flicked a lazy paw at a circling wasp. At length Nathaniel broke the silence. "Did you not want to become a magician, Ms. Lutyens?" he asked, in a small voice. She gave a small dry laugh. "I didn't have that privilege," she said. "No, I'm just an art teacher, and happy to be one." Nathaniel tried again. "What do you do when you're not here? With me, I mean." "I'm with other pupils, of course. What did you think—that I'd go home and mope? Mr. Underwood doesn't pay me enough for moping, I'm afraid. I have to work." "Oh." It had never occurred to Nathaniel that Ms. Lutyens might have other pupils. Somehow the knowledge gave him a slightly knotty feeling in the pit of his stomach. Perhaps Ms. Lutyens sensed this; after a short pause she spoke again in a less frosty manner. "Anyway," she said, "I look forward to my lessons here very much. One of the highlights of my working week. You're good company, even if you're still prone to rushing things and think you know it all. So cheer up and let me see how you've got on with that tree." Following a few minutes of calm discussion about art—related issues, the conversation resumed its usual peaceful course, but it was not long afterward that the lesson was suspended by the unexpected arrival of Mrs. Underwood, all in a fluster. "Nathaniel!" she cried. "There you are!" Ms. Lutyens and Nathaniel both stood up respectfully. "I've looked all over for you, dear," Mrs. Underwood said, breathing hard. "I thought you'd be in the schoolroom…" "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Underwood," Ms. Lutyens began. "It was such a nice day—" "Oh, that doesn't matter. That's quite all right. It's just that my husband needs Nathaniel straight away. He has guests over, and wishes to present him." "There you are, then," Ms. Lutyens said quietly, as they hurried back up the garden. "Mr. Underwood isn't overlooking you at all. He must be very pleased with you to introduce you to other magicians. He's going to show you off!" Nathaniel smiled weakly, but said nothing. The thought of meeting other magicians made him feel quite queasy. Through all his years in the house he had never once been allowed to meet his master's professional colleagues, who appeared there intermittently. He was always packed off to his bedroom, or kept out of harm's way with his tutors upstairs. This was a new and exciting development, if a rather frightening one. He imagined a room stuffed full of tall, brooding men of power, glowering at him over their bristling beards and swirling robes. His knees shook in anticipation. "They're in the reception room," Mrs. Underwood said as they entered the kitchen. "Let's look at you…" She wet her finger and hurriedly removed a pencil—lead smudge from the side of his forehead. "Very presentable. All right, in you go." The room was full; he'd got that part right. It was warm with bodies, the smell of tea, and the effort of polite conversation. But by the time Nathaniel had closed the door and edged across to occupy the only space available, in the lee of an ornamental dresser, his magnificent visions of a company of great men had already evaporated. They just didn't look the part. There wasn't a cape to be seen. There were precious few beards on display, and none half as impressive as that of his own master. Most of the men wore drab suits with drabber ties; only a few sported daring additions, such as a gray waistcoat or a visible breast—pocket handkerchief. All wore shiny black shoes. It felt to Nathaniel as if he had strayed upon an undertakers' office party. None of them seemed like Gladstone, in strength or in demeanor. Some were short, others were crabbed and old, more than one was prone to pudginess. They talked among themselves earnestly, sipping tea and nibbling dry biscuits, and not one of them raised his voice above the consensus murmuring. Nathaniel was deeply disappointed. He stuck his hands in his pockets and breathed deeply. His master was inching himself through the throng, shaking hands and uttering an odd, short, barking laugh whenever a guest said something that he thought was intended to be funny. Catching sight of Nathaniel, he beckoned him over; Nathaniel squeezed between a tea plate and someone's protruding belly and approached. "This is the boy," the magician said gruffly, clapping Nathaniel on the shoulder in an awkward gesture. Three men looked down at him. One was old, white—haired, with a florid sun—dried—tomato face, covered in tiny creases. Another was a doughy, watery—eyed individual in middle age; his skin looked cold and clammy, like a fish on a slab. The third was much younger and more handsome, with slicked—back hair, round glasses, and a xylophone—size array of gleaming white teeth. Nathaniel stared back at them in silence. "Doesn't look like much," the clammy man said. He sniffed and swallowed something. "He's learning slowly," Nathaniel's master said, his hand still patting Nathaniel on the shoulder in an aimless manner that suggested he was ill at ease. "Slow, is he?" said the old man. He spoke with an accent so thick that Nathaniel could barely understand the words. "Yes, some boys are. You must persevere." "Do you beat him?" the clammy man asked. "Rarely." "Unwise. It stimulates the memory." "How old are you, boy?" the younger man said. "Ten, sir." Nathaniel said politely. "Eleven in Nov—" "Still a couple of years before he'll be any use to you, Underwood." The young man cut over Nathaniel as if he did not exist. "Costs a fortune, I suppose." "What, bed and board? Of course." "I'll bet he eats like a ferret, too." "Greedy, is he?" said the old man. He nodded regretfully. "Yes, some boys are." Nathaniel listened with barely suppressed indignation. "I'm not greedy, sir," he said in his politest voice. The old man's eyes flickered toward him, then drifted away again as if he had not heard; but his master's hand clamped down on his shoulder with some force. "Well, boy; you must get back to your studies," he said. "Run along." Nathaniel was only too happy to leave, but as he began to sidle off the young man in the glasses raised a hand. "You've got a tongue in your head, I see," he said. "Not afraid of your elders." Nathaniel said nothing. "Perhaps you don't think we're your betters too?" The man spoke lightly, but the sharpness in his voice was clear. Nathaniel could tell at once that he himself was not the point at issue and that the young man was challenging his master through him. He felt as if he ought to answer, but was so confused by the question that he did not know whether to say yes or no. The young man misinterpreted his silence. "He thinks he's too good to talk to us at all now!" he said to his companions and grinned. The clammy man tittered wetly into his hand and the old, red—faced man shook his head. "Tcha," he said. "Run along, boy," Nathaniel's master said again. "Hold on, Underwood," the young man said, smiling broadly. "Before he goes, let's see what you've taught this whippet of yours. It'll be amusing. Come here, lad." Nathaniel glanced across at his master, who did not meet his eye. Slowly and unwillingly he drew near to the group again. The young man snapped his fingers with a flourish and spoke at top speed. "How many classified types of spirit are there?" Nathaniel replied without a pause. "Thirteen thousand and forty—six, sir." "And unclassified?" "Petronius postulates forty—five thousand; Zavattini forty—eight thousand, sir." "What is the modus apparendi of the Carthaginian subgroup?" "They appear as crying infants, sir, or as doppelgangers of the magician in his youth." "How should one chastise them?" "Make them drink a vat of asses' milk." "Hmmph. If summoning a cockatrice, what precautions should one take?" "Wear mirrored glasses, sir. And surround the pentacle with mirrors on two other sides also, to force the cockatrice to gaze in the remaining direction, where its written instructions will be waiting." Nathaniel was gaining in confidence. He had committed simple details such as these to memory long ago, and he was pleased to note that his unerringly correct answers were exasperating the young man. His success had also stopped the clammy man's snickering, and the old magician, who was listening with his head cocked to one side, had even nodded grudgingly once or twice. He noticed his master smiling, rather smugly. Not that I owe any of this to you, Nathaniel thought witheringly. I read all this. You've taught me next to nothing. For the first time there was a pause in the barrage of the young man's questions. He appeared to be thinking. "All right," he said at last, speaking much more slowly now and rolling the words luxuriously over his tongue, "what are the six Words of Direction? Any language." Arthur Underwood uttered a startled protest. "Be fair, Simon! He can't know that yet!" But even as he spoke, Nathaniel was opening his mouth. This was a formula contained in several of the books in his master's large bookcase, where Nathaniel was already browsing. "Appare; Mane; Ausculta; Se Dede; Pare; Redi: Appear; Remain; Listen; Submit; Obey; Return." He looked into the young magician's eyes as he finished, conscious of his triumph. Their audience murmured their approval. His master now wore an unconcealed grin; the clammy man raised his eyebrows; and the old man made a wry face, quietly mouthing, "Bravo." But his interrogator just shrugged dismissively, as if the incident were of no account. He looked so supercilious that Nathaniel felt his self—satisfaction turn into a fiery anger. "Standards must have dropped," said the young man, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and wiping at an imaginary spot on his sleeve, "if a backward apprentice can be congratulated for spouting something we all learned at our mothers' teats." "You're just a sore loser," Nathaniel said. There was a moment's hush. Then the young man barked a word, and Nathaniel felt something small and compact land heavily upon his shoulders. Invisible hands clenched into his hair and jerked it backward with vicious strength, so that his face stared at the ceiling, and he cried out with pain. He tried to raise his arms but found them pinioned to his sides by a hideously muscular coil that wrapped itself around him like a giant tongue. He could see nothing except the ceiling; delicate fingers tickled his exposed throat with horrible finesse. In panic, he cried out for his master. Someone came close, but it was not his master. It was the young man. "You cocksure guttersnipe," the young man said softly. "What will you do now? Can you get free? No. How surprising: you're helpless. You know a few words, but you're capable of nothing. Perhaps this will teach you the dangers of insolence when you're too weak to fight back. Now, get out of my sight." Something sniggered in his ear and with a kick of powerful legs removed itself from Nathaniel's shoulders. At the same moment, his arms were freed. His head drooped forward; tears welled from his eyes. They were caused by the injury to his hair, but Nathaniel feared that they would seem the weeping of a cowardly boy. He wiped them away with his cuff. The room was still. All the magicians had dropped their conversations and were staring at him. Nathaniel looked at his master, silently appealing for support or aid, but Arthur Underwood's eyes were bright with rage—rage that appeared to be directed at him. Nathaniel returned the look blankly, then he turned and walked along the silent passage that parted for him across the room, reached the door, opened it, and Walked through. He shut the door carefully and quietly behind him. White—faced and expressionless, he climbed the stairs. On the way up he met Mrs. Underwood coming down. "How did it go, dear?" she asked him. "Did you shine? Is anything wrong?" Nathaniel could not look at her for grief and shame. He started to go past her without answering, but at the last moment stopped short. "It was fine," he said. "Tell me, do you know who the magician is with the little glasses and the wide, white teeth?" Mrs. Underwood frowned. "That would be Simon Lovelace, I expect. The Junior Minister for Trade. He does have quite a set of gnashers, doesn't he? A rising star, I'm told. Did you meet him?" "Yes. I did." You're capable of nothing. "Are you sure you're all right? You look so pale." "Yes, thank you, Mrs. Underwood. I'll go up, now." "Ms. Lutyens is waiting for you in the schoolroom." You're helpless. "I'll go right along, Mrs. Underwood." Nathaniel did not go to the schoolroom. With slow, steady tread, he made his way to his master's workroom, where the dust on the dirty bottles gleamed in the sunlight, obscuring their pickled contents. Nathaniel walked along the pitted worktable, which was strewn with diagrams that he had been working on the day before. You're too weak to fight back. He stopped and reached out for a small glass box, in which six objects buzzed and whirred. We'll see. With slow, steady tread, Nathaniel crossed to a wall—cupboard and pulled at a drawer. It was so warped that it stuck halfway, and he had to place the glass box carefully on the work surface before wrenching it open with a couple of forceful tugs. Inside the drawer, among a host of other tools, was a small steel hammer. Nathaniel took it out, picked up the box again, and, leaving the drawer hanging open, left the sunny workroom. He stood in the cool shadows of the landing, silently rehearsing the Words of Direction and Control. In the glass box, the six mites tore back and forth with added zest; the box vibrated in his hands. You're capable of nothing. The party was breaking up. The door opened, and the first few magicians emerged in dribs and drabs. Mr. Underwood escorted them to the front door. Polite words were exchanged, farewells said. None of them noticed the pale—faced boy watching from beyond the stairs. You had to say the name after the first three commands, but before the last. It was not too difficult, provided you didn't trip over the quicker syllables. He ran it through his head again. Yes, he had it down fine. More magicians departed. Nathaniel's fingers were cold. There was a thin film of sweat between them and the box they held. The young magician and his two companions sauntered from the reception room. They were talking animatedly, chuckling over a remark made by the one with clammy skin. At a leisurely pace they approached Nathaniel's master, waiting by the door. Nathaniel gripped the hammer firmly. He held the glass box out in front of him. It shook from within. The old man was clasping Mr. Underwood's hand. The young magician was next in line, looking out into the street as if eager to be gone. In a loud voice Nathaniel spoke the first three commands, uttered the name of Simon Lovelace, and followed it with the final word. Then he smashed the box. A brittle cracking, a frenzied droning. Glass splinters cascaded toward the carpet. The six mites burst from their prison and rocketed down the stairs, their eager stings jutting forward. The magicians barely had time to look up before the mites were upon them. Three made a beeline for Simon Lovelace's face; raising his hand, he made a rapid sign. Instantly, each mite erupted into a ball of flame and careered off at an angle to explode against the wall. The three other mites disobeyed their command. Two darted toward the clammy, doughy—faced magician; with a cry, he stumbled back, tripped over the doorsill and fell out onto the garden path. The mites bobbed and dived above him, seeking exposed flesh. His arms thrashed back and forth in front of his face, but to no avail. Several successful jabs were made, each one accompanied by a howl of agony. The sixth mite approached the old man at speed. He appeared to do nothing, but when it was just inches from his face, the mite suddenly pulled to a halt and reversed frantically, cartwheeling in midair. It spun out of control and landed near Simon Lovelace, who trod it into the carpet. Arthur Underwood had been watching this in horror; now he pulled himself together. He stepped over the threshold to where his guest was writhing in the flower bed and clapped his hands sharply. The two vengeful mites dropped to the around as if stunned. At this point Nathaniel thought to make a judicious retreat. He slipped away to the schoolroom, where Ms. Lutyens was sitting by the table reading a magazine. She smiled as he entered. "How did you get on? Sounds like a boisterous party for this time of day. I'm sure I heard someone's glass smashing." Nathaniel said nothing. In his mind's eye he saw the three mites exploding harmlessly into the wall. He began to shake—whether from fear or disappointed rage, he did not know. Ms. Lutyens was on her feet in a trice. "Nathaniel, come here. What's the matter? You look ill! You're shaking!" She put her arm around him and let his head rest gently against her side. He closed his eyes. His face was on fire; he felt cold and hot all at the same time. She was still talking to him, but he could not answer her… At that moment the schoolroom door blew open. Simon Lovelace stood there, his glasses flashing in the light from the window. He issued a command; Nathaniel was ripped bodily from Ms. Lutyens's grasp and carried through the air. For a moment, he hung suspended midway between ceiling and floor, time enough to catch a glimpse of the other two magicians crowding in behind their leader, and also, relegated to the back almost out of sight, his master. Nathaniel heard Ms. Lutyens shouting something, but then he was upended, the blood rushed to his ears, and everything else was drowned out. He hung with his head, arms, and legs dangling toward the carpet and his bottom aloft. Then an invisible hand, or an invisible stick, struck him on his rump. He yelled, wriggled, kicked in all directions. The hand descended again, harder than before. And then again… Long before the tireless hand ceased its work, Nathaniel stopped kicking. He hung limply, aware only of the stinging pain and the ignominy of his punishment. The fact that Ms. Lutyens was witness to it made it far more brutal than he could bear. Fervently he wished he were dead. And when at last a darkness welled up and began to carry him away, he welcomed it with all his heart. The hands released him, but he was already unconscious before he hit the floor. Nathaniel was confined to his room for a month and subjected to a great number of further punishments and deprivations. After the initial series of penalties, his master chose not to speak to him, and contact with everyone else—with the exception of Mrs. Underwood, who brought him his meals and dealt with his chamber pot—ceased forthwith. Nathaniel had no lessons and was allowed no books. He sat in his room from dawn until dusk looking out across the roofscapes of London toward the distant Houses of Parliament. Such solitude might have driven him mad had he not discovered a discarded ballpoint pen under his bed. With this and a few old sheets of paper he managed to wile away some of the time with a series of sketches of the world beyond the window. When these became tedious, Nathaniel devoted himself instead to compiling a large number of minutely detailed lists and notes, drawn over his sketches, which he concealed under his mattress whenever he heard footsteps on the stair. These notes contained the beginnings of his revenge. To Nathaniel's great distress, Mrs. Underwood had been forbidden to talk to him. Although he detected some sympathy in her manner, her silence gave him cold comfort. He withdrew into himself and did not speak when she entered. It was thus only when his month's isolation came to an end and his lessons started up once more that he discovered that Ms. Lutyens had been dismissed. 13 SPECIAL_IMAGE-undefined-REPLACE_ME Throughout the long, wet autumn, Nathaniel retreated to the garden whenever he could. When the weather was fine, he brought with him books from his master's shelves and devoured their contents with a remorseless hunger while the leaves rained down upon the stone seat and the lawn. On drizzly days, he sat and watched the dripping bushes, his thoughts circling to and fro on familiar paths of bitterness and revenge. He made swift progress with his studies, for his mind was fired with hate. All the rites of summoning, all the incantations that a magician could bind around himself to prevent attack, all the words of power that smote the disobedient demon or dismissed it in a trice—Nathaniel read and committed these to memory. If he met with a difficult passage—perhaps written in Sumerian or Coptic, or hidden within a tortuous runic cipher—and he felt his heart quail, he had only to glance up at the gray—green statue of Gladstone to recover his determination. Gladstone had avenged himself on anyone who wronged him: he had upheld his honor and was praised for it. Nathaniel planned to do the same, but he was no longer mastered by his impatience; from now on he used it only to spur himself on. If he had learned one painful lesson, it was not to act until he was truly ready, and through many long, solitary months, he worked tirelessly toward his first aim: the humiliation of Simon Lovelace. The history books that Nathaniel studied were full of countless episodes in which rival magicians had fought each other. Sometimes the more powerful mages had won, yet often they had been defeated by stealth or guile. Nathaniel had no intention of challenging his formidable enemy head on—at least not until he had grown in strength. He would bring him down by other means. His proper lessons at this time were a tedious distraction. As soon as they had resumed, Nathaniel had immediately adopted a mask of obedience and contrition, designed to convince Arthur Underwood that his wicked act was now, for him, a matter of the utmost shame. This mask never slipped, even when he was put to the most wearisome and banal jobs in the workroom. If his master harangued him for some trifling error, Nathaniel did not allow so much as a flicker of discontent to cross his face. He simply bowed his head and hastened to repair the fault. He was outwardly the perfect apprentice, deferring to his master in every way and certainly never expressing any impatience with the snail's pace at which his studies now progressed. In truth, this was because Nathaniel did not regard Arthur Underwood as his true master any longer. His masters were the magicians of old, who spoke to him through their books, allowing him to learn at his own pace and offering ever—multiplying marvels for his mind. They did not patronize or betray him. Arthur Underwood had forfeited his right to Nathaniel's obedience and respect the moment he failed to shield him from Simon Lovelace's jibes and physical assaults. This, Nathaniel knew, simply was not done. Every apprentice was taught that their master was effectively their parent. He or she protected them until they were old enough to stand up for themselves. Arthur Underwood had failed to do this. He had stood by and watched Nathaniel's unjust humiliation—first at the party, then in the schoolroom. Why? Because he was a coward and feared Lovelace's power. Worse than this, he had sacked Ms. Lutyens. From brief conversations with Mrs. Underwood, Nathaniel learned that while he had been suspended upside down, being beaten by Lovelace's imp, Ms. Lutyens had done her best to help him. Officially she had been fired for "insolence and impertinence," but it was hinted that she had actually tried to hit Mr. Lovelace and had only been restrained from doing so by his companions. When he thought about this, Nathaniel's blood boiled even more forcefully than when he considered his own humiliation. She had tried to protect him, and for doing this, for doing exactly what Mr. Underwood should have done, his master had dismissed her. This was something that Nathaniel could never forgive. With Ms. Lutyens gone, Mrs. Underwood was now the only person whose company gave Nathaniel any pleasure. Her fondness punctuated his days of studying and brought relief from his master's cold detachment and the indifference of his tutors. But he could not confide his plans to her: they were too dangerous. To be safe and strong, you had to be secret. A true magician kept his own counsel. After several months Nathaniel set himself his first real test, the task of summoning a minor imp. There were risks involved, for although he was confident enough about the incantations, he neither owned a pair of contact lenses for observing the first three planes, nor had received his new official name. Both of these were due to appear on Underwood's say—so, at the beginning of his coming of age, but Nathaniel could not wait for this far—off day. The spectacles from the workroom would help his vision. As for his name, he would not give the demon any opportunity to learn it. Nathaniel stole an old piece of bronze sheeting from his master's workroom and cut it, with great difficulty, into a rough disc. Over several weeks, he polished the disc and buffed it and polished it again until it sparkled in the candlelight and reflected his image without defect. Next, he waited until one weekend when both his master and Mrs. Underwood were away. No sooner had their car vanished down the street than Nathaniel set to work. He rolled back the carpet in his bedroom and on the bare floorboards chalked two simple pentacles. Sweating profusely despite the chill in the room, he drew the curtains and lit the candles. He placed a single bowl of rowan—wood and hazel between the circles (only one was required, since the imp concerned was weak and timorous). When all was ready, Nathaniel took the polished bronze disc and set it in the center of the circle in which the demon was to appear. Then he placed the spectacles on his nose, put on a tattered lab coat he had found on the workroom door, and stepped into his circle to begin the incantation. Dry—mouthed, he spoke the six syllables of the summoning and called out the creature's name. His voice cracked a little as he spoke, and he wished that he had had the foresight to enclose a glass of water within his circle. He could not afford to mispronounce a word. He waited, counting under his breath the nine seconds that it would take for his voice to carry across the void to the Other Place. Then he counted the seven seconds that it would take for the creature to awaken to its name. Finally he counted the three seconds that it would take for— A naked baby floated above the circle, moving its arms and legs as if it were swimming on the spot. It looked at him with sullen yellow eyes. Its small red lips pursed and blew an insolent bubble of spit. Nathaniel spoke the words of Confinement. The baby gurgled with rage, frantically flapping its pudgy arms as its legs were drawn downward toward the shining bronze disc. The command was too strong: as if sucked suddenly down a drain, the baby elongated into a flow of color, which spiraled down into the disc. For an instant its angry face could be seen squashing its nose up against the metal surface from below; then a misty sheen obscured it and the disc was clear once more. Nathaniel uttered several charms to secure the disc and check for snares, but all was well. With shaking legs, he stepped from his circle. His first summons had been successful. The imprisoned imp was surly and impudent, but by applying a small spell that amounted to a brisk electric shock, Nathaniel could induce it to reveal true glimpses of things happening far away. It was able to report conversations it overheard as well as to reveal them visually in the disc. Nathaniel kept his crude but effective scrying glass hidden under the roof tiles outside the skylight, and with its aid learned many things. As a trial, he directed the imp to reveal what went on in his master's study. After a morning's observation, he discovered that Underwood spent most of his time on the telephone, attempting to keep abreast of political developments. He seemed to be paranoid that his enemies in Parliament were seeking his downfall. Nathaniel found this interesting in principle, but dull in the details, and soon left off spying on his master. Next he observed Ms. Lutyens from afar. The mist swirled across the disc, cleared, and with a quickening heart, Nathaniel glimpsed her again as he remembered her so well: smiling, working… and teaching. The disc's image shifted across to reveal a small, gap—toothed boy apprentice, drawing furiously in a sketchpad and evidently hanging on Ms. Lutyens's every word. Nathaniel's eyes burned hot with jealousy and grief. In a choked voice, he ordered the image to vanish, grinding his teeth at the laughter that bubbled up from the delighted imp. Nathaniel then turned his attention to his main objective. Late one evening, he ordered the imp to spy on Simon Lovelace, but was disconcerted to see the baby's face appear in the burnished bronze instead. "What are you doing?" Nathaniel cried. "I've given you the order—now obey!" The baby wrinkled its nose and spoke in a disconcertingly deep voice. "Trouble is, this one's tricky, innit?" it said. "He's got barriers up. Not sure I can pass 'em. Might set off a spot of bother, if you know what I mean." Nathaniel raised a hand and waved it menacingly. "Are you saying it's impossible?" The baby winced and extended a pointed tongue gingerly out of the side of its mouth, as if licking old wounds. "Not impossible, no. Just difficult." "Well, then." The baby sighed heavily and vanished. After a short pause, a flickering image began to form in the disc. It blurred and leaped like a badly tuned television. Nathaniel cursed. He was about to speak the words of the Punitive Jab when he considered that this was probably the best the imp could do. He bent close to the disc and gazed into it, focusing on the scene within… A man was sitting at a table, typing rapidly into a laptop computer. Nathaniel's eyes narrowed. It was Simon Lovelace, all right. The imp's vantage point was from the ceiling, and Nathaniel had a good view of the room behind the magician, although it was a little distorted, as if seen through a fish—eye lens. The room was in shadow; the only light came from a lamp on Lovelace's desk. In the background was a set of dark curtains, stretching from ceiling to floor. The magician typed. He wore a dinner jacket, with the tie hanging loose. Once or twice he scratched his nose. Suddenly the baby's face cut in. "Can't take much more of this," it sniffed. "I'm bored, innit, and like I say, if we stick around too long, there could be trouble." "You'll stick with it till I say so," Nathaniel snarled. He spoke a syllable, and the baby scrunched up its eyes with pain. "All right, all right! How could you do that to a wee babe, you monster!" The face flicked out and the scene reappeared. Lovelace was still seated, still typing. Nathaniel wished he could get a closer look at the papers on his desk, but magicians often had sensors on their person to detect unexpected magic in their vicinity. It would not be wise to stray too near. This was as good a view as he was going to— Nathaniel jumped. Someone else was in Simon Lovelace's room, standing in the shadows by the curtains. Nathaniel had not seen him enter; and nor, for that matter, had the magician, who was still typing away with his back to the intruder. The figure was a tall, massively built man, swathed in a long leather traveling cape that extended almost to the bottom of his boots. Both cape and boots were heavily stained with mud and wear. A thick black beard covered most of the man's face; above it, his eyes glinted in the darkness. Something about the look of them made Nathaniel's skin crawl. Evidently the figure now spoke or made a noise, for Simon Lovelace suddenly started and wheeled round in his chair. The image flickered, faded, reappeared again. Nathaniel cursed and pressed his face closer to the disc. It was as if the picture had jumped forward a moment or two in time. The two men were closer now—the intruder had moved to stand beside the desk. Simon Lovelace was talking to him eagerly. He held out his hand, but the stranger merely inclined his head toward the desk. The magician nodded, opened a drawer and, pulling out a cloth bag, emptied it upon the desktop. Bundles of banknotes spilled forth. The bronze disc emitted a throaty voice, which spoke urgently. "Just thought I'd warn you, and please don't jab me again, but there's some kinda watcher coming. Two rooms away, heading in our direction. We need to pull out, boss, and do it swiftish." Nathaniel bit his lip. "Stay where you are until the very last moment. I want to see what he's paying for. And memorize the conversation." "It's your funeral, boss." The stranger had extended a gloved hand from under his cape and was slowly replacing the banknotes inside the bag. Nathaniel was nearly hopping with frustration—at any moment the imp would leave the scene and he would be none the wiser. Fortunately, his impatience was shared by Simon Lovelace, who held out his hand again, more decisively this time. The stranger nodded. He reached inside his cape and drew forth a small packet. The magician snatched it and feverishly tore the wrapping apart. The imp's voice sounded. "It's at the door! We're pulling out." Nathaniel just had time to see his enemy reach into the wrapping and draw forth something that sparkled in the lamplight—then the disc was wiped clean. He uttered a terse command, and the baby's face reluctantly appeared. "Ain't that all? I need a bit of shut—eye now, I can tell you. Whoof, that was a close one. We so nearly got fried." "What did they say?" "Well now, what did they say? I might have heard snatches, won't say I didn't, but my hearing's not what it was, what with my long confinement—" "Just tell me!" "Big fella didn't say much. Did you see those red stains on his cape, incidentally? V—e—r—y suspicious. Not ketchup, let's put it that way. Fresh too, I could smell it. What did he say now? 'I have it. That was one thing. And, 'I want my payment first. Man of few words, I'd call him." "Was he a demon?" "By that crude remark I assume you mean a noble entity from the Other Place? Nope. Man." "And what did the magician say?" "He was a bit more forthcoming. Quite voluble in fact. 'Do you have it? That's how he began. Then he said, 'How did you? No, I don't want to know the details. Just give it to me. He was all breathless and eager. Then he got the cash out." "Was that it? What was the object? Did either of them say?" "Don't know that I recall—no, wait! Wait! You don't need to get nasty with me—I'm doing what you asked, ain't I? When the big guy handed over the package, he said something…" "What?" "So quiet, almost didn't catch it…" "What did he say?" "He said: 'The Amulet of Samarkand is yours, Lovelace. That's what he said." It took Nathaniel almost another six months before he felt himself to be ready. He mastered new areas of his craft, learned new and greater Commands, and went swimming every morning before lessons to increase his stamina. By these means he grew strong in body and mind. Never again was he able to spy directly on his enemy. Whether or not its presence had been detected, the imp was unable to get close again. No matter. Nathaniel had the information that he needed. He sat in the garden as spring turned into summer, devising and refining his plan. It pleased him. It had the merit of simplicity and an even greater one in that nobody in all the world guessed at his power. His master was only just ordering his lenses now; he had spoken absently of perhaps trying out a basic summons in the winter. To his master, his tutors, even to Mrs. Underwood, he was an apprentice of no great talent. This would remain the case while he stole Simon Lovelace's amulet. The theft was only the beginning, a test of his own power. After that, if all went well, he would set his trap. All that remained was to find himself a servant who could do what he required. Something powerful and resourceful enough to carry out his plan, but not so potent that it would threaten Nathaniel himself. The time for mastering the great entities was not yet here. He read through his master's works of demonology. He studied track records through the ages. He read about the lesser servants of Solomon and Ptolemy. Finally, he chose: Bartimaeus. 14 Bartimaeus I knew there was going to be a decent scrap when we got back to the attic, so this time I prepared for it properly. First, I had to decide what shape to take. I wanted something that would really goad him—make him totally lose his cool—and, strange as it may seem, that ruled out most of my more scary forms. In fact, it meant appearing as a person of some kind. It's odd, but being insulted by a flickering specter or being called names by a fiery winged serpent isn't half as annoying for a hardened magician as hearing it from the mouth of something that seems to be human. Don't ask me why. It's just something to do with the way people's minds work. I figured that the best I could do was appear as another boy of about the same age, someone who would rouse all the kid's feelings of direct competition and rivalry. That was no problem. Ptolemy was fourteen when I knew him best. Ptolemy it would be. After that, all that remained was to revise my best counter—spells and look forward with pleasure to being able to return home shortly. Perceptive readers might have noticed a new optimism in my attitude toward the kid. They would not be wrong. Why? Because I knew his birth name.[33] Give him his due, however: he came out fighting. No sooner had he got up to his room than he put on his coat, hopped into his circle, and summoned me in a loud voice. He didn't have to shout so; I was right beside him, scuttling along the floor. An instant later, the small Egyptian boy appeared in the circle opposite, wearing his London gear. I flashed a grin. "Nathaniel, eh? Very posh. Doesn't really suit you. I'd have guessed something a bit more down—market—Bert or Chuck, maybe." The boy was white with rage and fear; I could see panic in his eyes. He controlled himself with an effort and put on a lying face. "That's not my true name. Even my master doesn't know it." "Yeah, right. Who are you trying to kid?" "You can think what you want. I charge you now—" I couldn't believe it—he was trying to send me off again! I laughed in his face, adopted a puckish pose with hands on hips, and interrupted in sophisticated style. "Go boil your head." "I charge you now—" "Yah, boo, sucks!" The boy was almost frothing at the mouth, he was so angry.[34] He stamped his foot like a toddler in the playground. Then—as I hoped—he forgot himself and went for the obvious attack. It was the Systemic Vise again, the bully's favorite. He spat out the incantation, and I felt the bands drawing in.[35] "Nathaniel." Under my breath I spoke his name and then the words of the appropriate counter—spell. The bands immediately reversed their loop. They expanded outward, away from me, out of the circle like ripples in a pond. Through his lenses, the boy saw them heading in his direction. He gave a yelp and, after a moment's panic, found the words of cancellation. He gabbled them out; the bands vanished. I flicked a nonexistent piece of dust from the sleeve of my jacket and winked at him. "Whoops," I said. "Nearly took your own head off there." If the boy had paused, he would have realized what had happened, but his rage was too great. He probably thought he had made some error, spoken something out of turn. Breathing deeply, he searched through his repertoire of nasty tricks. Then he clapped his hands and spoke again. I wasn't expecting anything as potent as the Stimulating Compass. From each of the five points of the pentacle I was in, a glowing column of electricity shot up, jarring and crackling. It was as if five lightning bolts had been momentarily trapped; in another instant, each column had discharged into a horizontal beam that pierced me with the force of a javelin. Arcs of electricity coursed around my body; I screamed and jerked, carried off the floor by the force of the charge. Through gritted teeth I spoke it—"Nathaniel!" —then a counter—spell as before. The effect was immediate. The charge left me, I slumped to the ground. Small lightning bolts shot off in all directions. The boy dived just in time—an electric charge that would have killed him beautifully speared straight through his flailing coat as he hit the floor. Other bolts collided with his bed and desk; one zapped into his vase of flowers, slicing the glass cleanly in two. The rest vanished into the walls, peppering them with small, asterisk—shaped burn marks. It was a delightful sight. The kid's coat had fallen over his face. Slowly he raised his head and peered out from under it. I gave him a friendly thumbs—up. "Keep going," I grinned. "One day, if you work hard and stop making all these stupid mistakes, you might make a real grown—up wizard." The kid said nothing. He got painfully to his feet. By pure fluke, he had dived pretty much straight down and so was still safe within his pentacle. I didn't mind. I was looking forward to whatever mistake he would make next. But his brain was working again. He stood still for a minute and took stock. "Better get rid of me quickly," I said, in a helpful sort of way. "Old man Un derwood will be coming to see what all the noise is about." "No, he won't. We're too high up." "Only two floors." "And he's deaf in one ear. He never hears anything." "His missus—" "Shut up. I'm thinking. You did something then, both times… What was it…?" He snapped his fingers. "My name! That's it! You used it to deflect my spells, curse you." I studied my fingernails, eyebrows raised. "Might have, might not. It's for me to know and you to find out." The kid stamped his foot again. "Stop it! Don't speak to me like that!" "Like what?" "Like you just did! You're speaking like a child." "Takes one to know one, bud." This was fun. I was really riling him. The loss of his name had made him lose his cool. He was seconds away from another attack, I could tell—he had the stance and everything. I adopted a similar, but defensive pose, like a sumo wrestler. Ptolemy had been exactly this boy's height, dark hair and everything,[36] so it was nice and symmetrical. With an effort, the kid controlled himself. You could see him flicking through all his lessons, trying to remember what he should do. He had realized that an ordinary quick—fire punishment was out of the question now: I'd just send it back at him. "I'll find another way," he muttered darkly. "Wait and see." "Ooh, I'm really scared," I said. "Watch me shiver." The kid was thinking hard. There were big gray bags under his eyes. Every time he made an incantation he wore himself out further, which suited me just fine. Some magicians have been known to drop dead simply from overexertion. It's a high—stress lifestyle they have, poor things. His thinking went on for a long time. I gave an ostentatious yawn and made a watch appear on my wrist so that I could glance at it wearily. "Why not ask the boss?" I suggested. "He'll help you out." "My master? You must be joking." "Not that old fool. The one who's directing you against Lovelace." The boy wrinkled his brow. "There's no one. I don't have a boss." Now it was my turn to look blank. "I'm acting on my own." I whistled. "You mean you really summoned me on your lonesome? Not bad… for a kid." I tried to sound suitably sycophantic. "Well then, let me give you a tip. The best thing now is for you to let me go. You need a rest. Have you looked in a mirror recently? One without an imp inside, I mean? There are worry lines there. Not good at your age. It'll be gray hairs next. What will you do then when you meet your first succubus?[37] Put her right off, it will." I was talking too much, I knew, but I couldn't help it. I was worried. The kid was looking at me with a calculating expression that I didn't like. "Besides," I said, "with me gone, no one will know you have the Amulet. You'll be able to use it in complete secrecy. It's a precious commodity—everybody seems to want it. I didn't tell you before, but some girl tried to jump me for it when I was hanging around in town." The boy frowned. "What girl?" "Search me." I neglected to mention that this was pretty much what the girl had succeeded in doing. He shrugged. "It's Simon Lovelace I'm interested in," he said, almost to himself. "Not the Amulet. He humiliated me, and I'm going to destroy him for it." "Too much hate is bad for you," I ventured. "Why?" "Um…" "I shall tell you a secret, demon," he went on. "By dint of my magic,[38] I saw how Simon Lovelace came by the Amulet of Samarkand. Some months ago, a stranger—swarthy, black—bearded and cloaked—came to him in the middle of the night. He brought him the Amulet. Money was exchanged. It was a furtive meeting." I snorted. "What's surprising there? It's how all magicians trade. You should know that. They thrive on unnecessary secrecy." "It was more than that. I saw it in Lovelace's eyes and in the eyes of the stranger. There was something illegal, underhand about it… The man's cloak was stained with fresh blood." "I'm still not impressed. Murder's part of the game for you lot. I mean, you're obsessed with revenge already, and you're only about six." "Twelve." "Same difference. No, there's nothing unusual in it. That bloke with the bloodstains probably runs a well—known service. He'll be in the Yellow Pages, if you let your fingers do the walking." "I want to find out who he is." "Hmm. Black—bearded and cloaked, eh? That narrows our suspects down to about fifty—five percent of the magicians in London. Doesn't even exclude all the female ones." "Stop talking!" The kid seemed to have had enough. "What's the matter? I thought we were getting along well." "I know that the Amulet was stolen. Someone was killed to get it. When I find out who, I shall expose Lovelace and see him destroyed. I will plant the Amulet, lure him to it and alert the police at the same time. They will catch him red—handed. But first, I want to know all about him and what he gets up to. I want to know his secrets, how he does business, who his friends are, everything! I need to discover who had the Amulet before and exactly what it does. And I must know why Lovelace stole it. To this end, I charge you, Bartimaeus—" "Wait just a minute. Aren't you forgetting something?" "What?" "I know your true name, Natty boy. That means I have some power over you. It's not all one way anymore, is it?" The kid paused to consider. "You can't hurt me so easily now," I went on. "And that limits your room for maneuver in my book. Throw something at me, and I'll throw it right back." "I can still bind you to my will. You still have to obey my commands." "That's true. Your commands are the terms on which I'm in this world at all. I can't break out of them without your unleashing the Shriveling Fire.[39] But I can sure as hell make life difficult for you when I carry out your orders. For example, while I'm spying on Simon Lovelace, why shouldn't I grass you up to some other magician? The only thing that stopped me doing that before was fear of the consequences. But I'm not so worried about them now. And even if you explicitly forbid me to grass you up, I'll find some other way to do you a nasty. Let slip your birth name, maybe, to acquaintances of mine. You won't be able to sleep in your bed for terror of what I might do." He was rattled, I could see that much. His eyes flicked from side to side, as if hunting for a flaw in my reasoning. But I was quietly confident: entrusting a mission to a djinni who knows your name is like tossing lit matches into a fireworks factory. Sooner or later you're going to have consequences. The best he could do was to let me go and hope no one else called me up while he was alive. Or so I thought. But he was an unusually clever and resourceful child. "No," he said slowly, "I can't stop you if you want to betray me. All I can do is make sure you suffer along with me. Let's see…" He rummaged through the pockets of his shabby coat. "There must be something in here somewhere… Aha!" His hand emerged holding a small battered tin, on which the words Old Chokey were ornately inscribed. "That's a tobacco tin!" I exclaimed. "Don't you know smoking kills?" "It doesn't contain tobacco anymore," the boy said. "It's one of my master's incense pots. It's full of rosemary now." He lifted the lid a fraction; sure enough, an instant later, a waft of the hellish scent reached me and made the hairs rise on the back of my neck. Some herbs are very bad for our essence, and rosemary is one of these. In consequence, magicians can't get enough of it.[40] "I'd turf that out and fill it up with some honest baccy," I advised. "Far healthier." The boy closed the lid. "I am going to send you on a mission," he said. "The moment you've gone, I shall cast the spell of Indefinite Confinement, binding you into this tin. The spell will not take effect immediately; in fact I shall make it start up a month from today. If for any reason I am not around to cancel this spell before a month is up, you shall find yourself drawn into this tin and trapped there, until such time as it is opened again. How'd you like the idea of that? A few hundred years encased in a small tin of rosemary. That will do wonders for your complexion." "You've got a scheming little mind, haven't you?" I said glumly. "And in case you're tempted to risk the penalty, I shall bind this tin with bricks and throw it into the Thames before the day is out. So don't go expecting anyone to release you early." "I won't." Too right—I'm not insanely optimistic.[41] The kid's face now bore a horribly triumphant look. He looked like an unpleasant boy in a playground who'd just won my best marble. "So, Bartimaeus," he said, sneering. "What do you say to that?" I gave him a beaming smile. "How about you forget all that silly tin business and just trust me instead?" "Not a chance." My shoulders sagged. That's the trouble, you see. No matter how hard you try, magicians always find a way to clobber you in the end. "All right, Nathaniel," I said. "What exactly is it that you want me to do?" Part Two 15 Nathaniel No sooner had the djinni transformed itself into a pigeon and flown from his window than Nathaniel closed the fastener, drew the curtains, and sank down upon the floor. His face was corpse—white and his body shook with exhaustion. For almost an hour, he remained slumped against the wall, staring at nothing. He had done it; yes, he had done it all right. The demon was bested, was under his control again. He only had to work the binding spell on the tin, and Bartimaeus would be forced to serve him for as long as he desired. It was all going to be fine. He had nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. So he told himself. But his hands trembled in his lap and his heart pounded painfully against his chest, and the confident assertions he tried to conjure fell from his mind. Angrily, he forced himself to breathe deeply and clasped his hands together tightly to suppress the shaking. Of course, this fear was only natural. He had ducked the Stimulating Compass by a fraction of a second. It was the first time he had come near death. That sort of thing was bound to cause a reaction. In a few minutes he would be back to normal; he could work the spell, take the bus to the Thames… The djinni knew his birth name. It knew his birth name. Bartimaeus of Uruk, Sakhr al—Jinni of Al—Arish… He had allowed it to uncover his name. Mrs. Underwood had spoken, and the djinni had heard; and in that moment the cardinal rule had been broken. And now Nathaniel was compromised, perhaps forever. He felt the panic welling up in his throat; the force of it practically made him gag. For the first time he could remember, his eyes stung with tears. The cardinal rule… if you broke that, you gave yourself up for lost. Demons always found a way. Give them any power at all and sooner or later they would have you. Sometimes it took years, but they would always… He remembered famous case studies from the books. Werner of Prague: he had allowed his birth name to be uncovered by a harmless imp in his employ; in due course the imp had told a foliot and the foliot had told a djinni and the djinni had told an afrit. And three years later, when Werner had been crossing Wenceslas Square to buy a smoked sausage, a whirlwind had swept him into the air. For several hours his howls from above had deafened the townspeople going about their business, until the disruption had finished with pieces of the magician raining down upon on the weathervanes and chimneys. And this fate was hardly the most horrible that had befallen careless magicians. There was Paulo of Turin, Septimus Manning, Johann Faust… A sob broke from Nathaniel's mouth, and the small, pathetic sound shocked him out of his despair and self—pity. Enough of this. He wasn't dead yet, and the demon was still under his command. Or it would be, once he had disposed of the tobacco tin properly. He would pull himself together. Nathaniel struggled to his feet, his limbs awash with weakness. With a great effort, he drove his fears to the back of his mind and began his preparations. He redrew the pentacle and changed the incense. He lit new candles. He stole down to his master's library and double—checked the incantations. Then he added more rosemary to the tobacco tin, placed it in the center of its circle, and began the spell of Indefinite Confinement. After five long minutes, his mouth was dry and his voice cracked, but a steel—gray aura began to gleam across the surface of the tin. It flared and faded. Nathaniel uttered the name of Bartimaeus, added an astrological date on which the confinement would begin, and finished. The tin was as before. Nathaniel put it in the pocket of his jacket, snuffed out the candles, and drew the rug over the markings on the floor. Then he collapsed upon the bed. When Mrs. Underwood brought her husband his lunch an hour later, she confided an anxiety with him. "I'm worried about the boy," she said. "He's barely touched his sandwich. He's flopped himself down at the table, white as a sheet. Like he's been up all night. Something's scared him, or he's sickening for something." She paused. "Dear?" Mr. Underwood was inspecting the array of food upon his plate. "No mango chutney, Martha? You know I like it with my ham and salad." "We've run out, dear. So what do you think we should do?" "Buy some more. That's obvious, isn't it? Heavens above, woman—" "About the boy." "Mmm? Oh, he's all right. The brat's just nervous about the Naming. And about summoning his first impling. I remember how terrified I got—my master practically had to whip me into the circle." Mr. Underwood shoveled a forkful of ham into his mouth. "Tell him to meet me in the library in an hour and a half's time and not to forget the Almanac. No—make it an hour. I'll need to ring Duvall about those thefts afterward, curse him." In the kitchen, Nathaniel had still only managed half a sandwich. Mrs. Underwood ruffled his hair. "Buck up," she said. "Is it the Naming that's unsettled you? You mustn't worry about it at all. Nathaniel's nice, but there are lots of other good names out there. Just think, you can choose whatever name you like, within reason. As long as no other current magician has it. Commoners don't have that privilege, you know. They have to stick with what they're given." She bustled about, filling the teapot and finding the milk and all the while talking, talking, talking. Nathaniel felt the tin weighing down his pocket. "I'd like to go out for a bit, Mrs. Underwood," he said. "I need some fresh air." She looked at him blankly. "But you can't, dear, can you? Not before your Naming. Your master wants you in the library in an hour. And don't forget the Nominative Almanac, he says. Though having said that, you do look rather peaky. Fresh air would do you good, I suppose… I'm sure he won't notice if you nip out for five minutes." "It's all right, Mrs. Underwood. I'll stay in." Five minutes? He needed two hours, maybe more. He would have to dispose of the tin later, and hope Bartimaeus didn't try anything beforehand. She poured a cup of tea and plonked it on the table before him. "That'll put color in your cheeks. It's a big day for you, Nathaniel. When I see you again, you'll be someone else. This will probably be the last time I call you by your old name. I suppose I shall have to start forgetting it now." Why couldn't you have started forgetting it this morning? he thought. A small, malicious part of him wished to blame her for her careless affection, but he knew that this was totally unjust. It was his fault the demon had been on hand to hear her. Safe, secret, strong. He was none of these things now. He took a gulp of tea and burned his mouth. "Come in, boy, come in." His master, seated in a tall upright chair beside the library desk, seemed almost genial. He eyed Nathaniel as he approached and indicated a stool beside him. "Sit, sit. Well, you're looking smarter than usual. Even wearing a jacket, eh? I'm pleased to see that you register the importance of the occasion." "Yes, sir." "Right. Where's the Almanac? Good, let's have it…" The book was bound in shiny green leather, with an ox—hair ribbon bookmark. It had been delivered by Jaroslav's only the day before and had not yet been read. Mr. Underwood opened the cover delicately and glanced at the tide page. "Loew's Nominative Almanac, three hundred ninety—fifth edition… How time flies. I chose my name from the three hundred fiftieth, would you believe? I remember it as if it were yesterday." "Yes, sir." Nathaniel stifled a yawn. His exertions of the morning were catching up with him, but he had to concentrate on the task in hand. He watched as his master flipped the pages, talking all the while. "The Almanac, boy, lists all official names used by magicians between Prague's golden age and the present. Many have been used more than once. Beside each is a register that indicates whether the name is currently being occupied. If not, the name is free to be taken. Or you can invent one of your own. See here—'Underwood, Arthur; London'… I am the second of that name, boy. The first was a prominent Jacobean; a close associate of King James the first, I believe. Now, I have been giving the matter some consideration, and I think you would do well to follow in the footsteps of one of the great magicians." "Yes, sir." "I thought Theophilus Throckmorton, perhaps—he was a notable alchemist. And… yes, I see that combination is free. No? That doesn't appeal? What about Balthazar Jones? You're not convinced? Well, perhaps he is a hard act to follow. Yes, boy? You have a suggestion?" "Is William Gladstone free, sir? I admire him." "Gladstone!" His master's eyes bulged. "The very idea… There are some names, boy, that are too great and too recent to touch. No one would dare! It would be the height of arrogance to assume his mantle." The eyebrows bristled. "If you aren't capable of a sensible suggestion, I shall do the choosing for you." "Sorry, sir. I didn't think." "Ambition is all very well, my lad, but you must cloak it. If it is too obvious, you will find yourself brought down in flames before you reach your twenties. A magician must not draw attention to himself too soon; certainly not before he has summoned his first mouler. Well, we shall browse together from the beginning…" It took an hour and twenty—five minutes for the choice to be made, and a harrowing time Nathaniel had of it. His master seemed to have a great deal of affection for obscure magicians with obscurer names, and Fitzgibbon, Treacle, Hooms, and Gallimaufry were avoided only with difficulty. Likewise, Nathaniel's preferences always seemed too arrogant or ostentatious to Mr. Underwood. But in the end the choice was made. Wearily, Mr. Underwood brought out the official form and entered in the new name and signed it. Nathaniel had to sign too, in a large box at the bottom of the page. His signature was spiky and ill—formed, but then it was the first time he had used it. He read it back to himself under his breath: John Mandrake. He was the third magician of that name. Neither of his predecessors had achieved much of significance, but by this time Nathaniel didn't care. Anything was better than Treacle. It would do. His master folded the paper, placed it into a brown envelope, and sat back in his chair. "Well, John," he said. "It is done. I shall get that stamped at the ministry directly and you will then officially exist. However, don't go getting above yourself. You still know almost nothing, as you will see when you attempt to summon the natterjack impling tomorrow. Still, the first stage of your education is completed, thanks to me." "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." "Heaven knows, it has been six long and tedious years. I often doubted you would get this far. Most masters would have turned you out on to the streets after that little affair last year. But I persevered… No matter. From now on you may wear your lenses." "Thank you, sir." Nathaniel couldn't help blinking. He was already wearing them. Mr. Underwood's voice took on a complacent tone. "All being well, in a few years we will have you in a worthy job: perhaps as an under—secretary in one of the lesser ministries. It won't be glamorous, but it will suit your modest capabilities perfectly. Not every magician can aspire to become an important minister like me, John, but that shouldn't stop you making a contribution of your own, however meager. In the meantime, as my apprentice, you will be able to assist me in trivial conjurations, and pay me back a little for all the effort I have spent on you." "It would be an honor, sir." His master waved a hand of dismissal, allowing Nathaniel to turn away and assume a sour expression. He was halfway to the door when his master remembered something. "One thing more," he said. "Your Naming has happened just in time. In three days, I shall be attending Parliament to hear the state address given by the Prime Minister to all senior members of his government. It is a largely ceremonial occasion, but he will be outlining his intended policies at home and abroad. Named apprentices are invited too, along with spouses. Providing you do not displease me beforehand, I shall take you with me. It will be an eye—opening experience for you to see us master magicians all together!" "Yes, sir; thank you very much, sir!" For almost the first time in living memory when talking to his master, Nathaniel's enthusiasm was actually genuine. Parliament! The Prime Minister! He left the library and ran up the staircase to his room and the skylight, through which the distant Houses of Parliament were barely visible beneath the gray November sky. To Nathaniel, the matchstick tower seemed bathed in sunshine. A little later, he remembered the tobacco tin in his pocket. There were still two hours till dinner. Mrs. Underwood was in the kitchen, while his master was on the telephone in his study. Stealthily, Nathaniel left the house by the front door, taking five pounds from the tradesmen's jar that Mrs. Underwood kept on a shelf in the hall. At the main road, he caught a bus heading south. Magicians were not known for catching public transport. He sat on the backseat, as far away from the other passengers as possible, watching them get on and off out of the corner of his eye. Men, women, old, young; youths dressed in drab colors, girls with flashes of jewelry at their throats. They bickered, laughed or sat quietly, read newspapers, books, and glossy magazines. Human, yes, but it was easy to see they had no power. To Nathaniel, whose experience of people was very limited, this made them oddly two—dimensional. Their conversations seemed about nothing; the books they read looked trivial. Aside from feeling that most of them were faintly vulgar, he could make nothing of them. After half an hour the bus arrived at Blackfriars Bridge and the river Thames. Nathaniel alighted and walked to the very center of the bridge, where he leaned out over the wrought—iron balustrade. The river was at high tide; its fast gray waters raced beneath him, its uneven surface swirling ceaselessly. Along both sides, blank—eyed office towers clustered above the Embankment roads, where car lights and street lamps were just beginning to come on. The Houses of Parliament, Nathaniel knew, stood just around a bend in the river. He had never been so close to them before. The very thought made his heart quicken. Time enough for that another day. First he had a vital task to accomplish. From one pocket he drew a plastic bag and a half—brick found in his master's garden. From another he took the tobacco tin. Brick and tin went into the bag, the head of which he tied with a double knot. Nathaniel gave a quick glance both ways along the bridge. Other pedestrians hurried past him, heads down, shoulders hunched. No one glanced in his direction. Without any more ado, he tossed the package over the balustrade and watched it fall. Down… down… By the end it was nothing but a white speck. He could barely see the splash. Gone. Sunk like a stone. Nathaniel pulled up the collar of his jacket, shielding his neck from the wind gusting along the river. He was safe. Well, safe as he could be for the moment. He had carried out his threat. If Bartimaeus dared betray him now… It began to rain as he made his way back along the bridge to the bus stop. He walked slowly, lost in thought, almost colliding with several hurrying commuters coming in the opposite direction. They cursed him as they passed, but he barely noticed. Safe… That was all that mattered… A great weariness descended upon him with every step. 16 Bartimaeus When I set out from the boy's attic window, my head was so full of competing plans and complex stratagems that I didn't look where I was going and flew straight into a chimney. Something symbolic in that. It's what fake freedom does for you. Off I went, flying through the air, one of a million pigeons in the great metropolis. The sun was on my wings, the cold air ruffled my handsome feathers. The endless rows of gray—brown roofs stretched below me and away to the dim horizon like the furrows of a giant autumn field. How that great space called to me. I wanted to fly until I had left the cursed city far behind, never looking back. I could have done so. No one would have stopped me. I would not be summoned back. But I could not follow this desire. The boy had made quite clear what would happen if I failed to spy on Simon Lovelace and dish the dirt on him. Sure, I could go anywhere I wanted right now. Sure, I could use any methods I chose to acquire my info (bearing in mind that anything I did that harmed Nathaniel would in due course harm me too). Sure, the boy would not summon me for a while at least. (He was weary and needed rest.[42]) Sure, I had a month to do the job. But I still had to obey his orders to his satisfaction. If not, I had an appointment with Old Chokey, which at that moment was probably settling softly into the thick, dark ooze at the bottom of the Thames. Freedom is an illusion. It always comes at a price. Thinking things through, I decided that I had the meager choice of starting with a known place or with a known fact. The place was Simon Lovelace's villa in Hampstead, where much of his secret business presumably occurred. I did not wish to enter it again, but perhaps I could mount a watch outside and see who went in and who went out. The fact was that the magician had seemingly come into possession of the Amulet of Samarkand by ill means. Perhaps I could find someone who knew more about the object's recent history, such as who had owned it last. Of the two starting points, visiting Hampstead seemed the best way to begin. At least I knew how to get there. This time I kept as far away as possible. Finding a house on the opposite side of the road that afforded a decent view of the villa's front drive and gate, I alighted upon it and perched on the gutter. Then I surveyed the terrain. A few changes had been made to Lovelace's pad since the night before. The defense nexus had been repaired and strengthened with an extra layer, while the most badly scorched trees had been cut up and taken away. More ominously, several tall, thin, reddish creatures were now prowling the lawns on the fourth and fifth planes. There was no sign of Lovelace, Faquarl, or Jabor, but then I didn't expect anything right away. I was bound to have to wait for an hour or so. Fluffing up my feathers against the wind, I settled down to my surveillance. Three days I stayed on that gutter. Three whole days. It did me good to rest myself, I'm sure, but the ache that grew up within my manifestation made me fretful. Moreover, I was very bored. Nothing significant happened. Each morning, an elderly gardener toddled around the estate scattering fertilizer on the stretches of lawn where Jabor's Detonations had landed. In the afternoons, he snipped at token stems and raked the drive before pottering in for a cup of tea. He was oblivious to the red things, three of which stalked him at all times, like giant yearning birds of prey. No doubt only the strict terms of their summoning prevented them from devouring him. Each evening, a flotilla of search spheres emerged to resume their hunt across the city. The magician himself remained inside, doubtless orchestrating other attempts to locate his amulet. I wondered idly whether Faquarl and Jabor had suffered for letting me escape. One could only hope. On the morning of the third day, a soft coo of approval broke my concentration. A small, well—presented pigeon had appeared on the guttering to my right and was looking at me with a distinctly interested tilt of the head. Something about it made me suspect it was female. I gave what I hoped was a haughty and dismissive coo and looked away. The pigeon gave a coquettish hop along the guttering. Just what I needed: an amorous bird. I edged away. She hopped a little closer. I edged away again. Now I was right at the end of the gutter, perched above the opening to the drainpipe. It was tempting to turn into an alley cat and frighten her out of her feathers, but it was too risky to make a change so close to the villa. I was just about to fly elsewhere, when at long last I spotted something leaving Simon Lovelace's compound. A small circular hole widened in the shimmering blue nexus and a bottle—green imp with bat's wings and the snout of a pig issued through it. The hole closed up; the imp beat his wings and flew down the road at streetlamp height. He carried a pair of letters in one paw. At that moment, a purring coo sounded directly in my ear. I half turned my head—and looked directly into the beak of that benighted she—pigeon. With devious feminine cunning she'd seized the opportunity to snuggle right up close. My response was eloquent and brief. She got a wingtip in the eye and a kick in the plumage. And with that I was airborne, following the imp. It was clear to me that he was a messenger of some kind, probably entrusted with something too dangerous or secret for telephone or mail. I had seen creatures of his kind before.[43] Whatever he was carrying now, this was my first opportunity to spy on Lovelace's doings. The imp drifted over some gardens, soaring on an updraft. I followed, laboring somewhat on my stubby wings. As I went I considered the situation carefully. The safest and most sensible thing to do was to ignore the envelopes he was carrying and concentrate instead on making friends with him. I could, for instance, adopt the semblance of another messenger imp and start up a conversation, perhaps winning his confidence during the course of several «chance» meetings. If I were patient, friendly and casual enough, he would no doubt eventually spill some beans… Or I could just beat him up instead. This was a quicker and more direct approach and all in all I favored it. So I followed the imp at a discreet distance and jumped him over Hampstead Heath. When we were in a remote enough area, I made the change from pigeon to gargoyle; then I swooped down upon the unlucky imp, and bundled us to earth among some scrubby trees. This done, I held him by a foot and gave him a decent shaking. "Leggo!" he squealed, flailing back and forth with his four clawed paws. "I'll have you! I'll cut you to ribbons, I will!" "Will you, my lad?" I dragged him into a thicket and fixed him nicely under a small boulder. Only his snout and paws protruded. "Right," I said, sitting myself cross—legged on top of the stone and plucking the envelopes from a paw. "First I'm going to read these, then we can talk. You can tell me what and all you know about Simon Lovelace." Affecting not to notice the frankly shocking curses that sounded up from below, I considered the envelopes. They were very different. One was plain and completely blank: it bore no name or mark and had been sealed with a small blob of red wax. The other was more showy, made of soft yellowish vellum, its seal had been pressed with the shape of the magician's monogram, SL. It was addressed to someone named R. Devereaux, Esq. "First question," I said. "Who's R. Devereaux?" The imp's voice was muffled but insolent. "You're kidding! You don't know who Rupert Devereaux is? You stupid or something?" "A small piece of advice," I said. "Generally speaking, it isn't wise to be rude to someone bigger than you, especially when they've just trapped you under a boulder." "You can stick your advice up—" * * * * * * * * * *[44] "I'll ask again. Who is Rupert Devereaux?" "He's the British Prime Minister, O Most Bounteous and Merciful One." "Is he?[45] Lovelace does move in high circles. Let's see what he's got to say to the Prime Minister, then…" Extending the sharpest of my claws I carefully prised the sealing wax off the envelope with minimum damage and placed it on the boulder beside me for safekeeping. Then I opened the envelope. It wasn't the most thrilling letter I've ever intercepted. Dear Rupert, Please accept my deepest, most humble apologies, but I may be slightly late arriving at Parliament this evening. Something urgent has come up in relation to next week's big event and I simply must try to resolve it today. I would not wish for any of the preparations to get badly behind schedule. I do hope you will see fit to forgive me if I am delayed. May I take this opportunity to say again how eternally grateful we are to have the opportunity of hosting the conference? Amanda has already renovated the hall and is now in the process of installing new soft furnishings (in the Nouveau Persian style) in your suite. She has also ordered a large number of your favorite delicacies, including fresh larks' tongues. Apologies again. I will certainly be present for your address. Your faithful and unfailingly obedient servant, Simon Just your typical groveling magician—speak, the kind of sycophantic twaddle that leaves an oily sensation on the tongue. And isn't greatly informative either. Still, at least I had no difficulty in guessing what "something extremely urgent" was—that could only be the missing Amulet, surely. Also, it was noticeable that he needed to sort it out before a "big event" next week—a conference of some kind. Perhaps that was worth investigating. As for Amanda: she could only be the woman I had seen with Lovelace on my first trip to the villa. It would be useful to learn more about her. I replaced the letter carefully in the envelope, took up the sealing wax, and, by judiciously applying a tiny burst of heat, melted its underside. Then I stuck the seal down again and—presto! Good as new. Next, I opened the second envelope. Inside was a small slip of paper, inscribed with a brief message. The tickets remain lost. We may have to cancel the performance. Please consider our options. Will see you at P. tonight. Now, this was more like it! Much more suspicious: no addressee, no signature at the bottom, everything nice and vague. And, like all the best secret messages, its true meaning was concealed. Or at least, it would have been for any human numbskull who'd chanced to read it. I, on the other hand, instantly saw through all the tripe about lost tickets. Lovelace was quietly discussing his missing amulet again. It looked as if the kid was right: perhaps the magician did have something to hide. It was time to ask my friend the imp a few straight questions. "Right," I said, "this blank envelope. Where are you taking it?" "To the residence of Mr. Schyler, O Most Awful One. He lives in Greenwich." "And who is Mr. Schyler?" "I believe, O Light of All Djinn, that he is Mr. Lovelace's old master. I regularly take correspondence between them. They are both ministers in the Government." "I see." This was something to go on, if not much. What were they up to? What was this «performance» that might have to be canceled? From the clues in both letters, it seemed that Lovelace and Schyler would meet to discuss their affairs this evening at Parliament. It would be well worth being there to hear what they had to say. In the meantime, I resumed my enquiries. "Simon Lovelace. What do you know about him? What's this conference he's organizing?" The imp gave a forlorn cry. "O Brilliant Ray of Starlight, it grieves me, but I do not know! May I be toasted for my ignorance! I simply carry messages, worthless as I am. I go where I'm directed and bring replies by return, never deviating from my course and never pausing—unless I am so fortunate as to be waylaid by your good grace and squashed under a stone." "Indeed. Well, who is Lovelace closest to? Who do you carry messages to most often?" "O Most Glorious Person of High Repute, perhaps Mr. Schyler is his most frequent correspondent. Otherwise, no one stands out. They are mainly politicians and people of stature in London society. All magicians, of course, but they vary greatly. Only the other day, for instance, I carried messages to Tim Hildick, Minister for the Regions, to Sholto Pinn of Pinn's Accoutrements and to and from Quentin Make—peace, the theatrical impresario. That is a typical cross—section." "Pinn's Accoutrements—what's that?" "If anyone else asked that question, O He Who is Terrible and Great, I would have said they were an ignorant fool; in you it is a sign of that disarming simplicity which is the fount of all virtue. Pinn's Accoutrements is the most prestigious supplier of magical artifacts in London. It is situated on Piccadilly. Sholto Pinn is the proprietor." "Interesting. So if a magician wanted to buy an artifact he would go to Pinn's?" "Yes." "What?" "I'm sorry, Miraculous One, it's difficult to think of new titles for you when you ask short questions." "We'll let it pass this time. So, other than Schyler, no one stands out among all his contacts? You're sure?" "Yes, Exalted Being. He has many friends. I cannot single one out." "Who's Amanda?" "I could not say, O Ace One. Perhaps she is his wife. I have never taken messages to her." " ' O Ace One.' You really are struggling, aren't you? All right. Two last questions coming up. First: have you ever seen or delivered messages to a tall, dark—bearded man wearing a travel—stained cloak and gloves? Glowering, mysterious. Second: What servants does Simon Lovelace employ? I don't mean squirts like yourself, but potent ones like me. Look sharp and I might remove this pebble before I go." The imp's voice was doleful. "I wish I could satisfy your every whim, Lord of All You Survey, but first, I fear I have never set eyes on such a bearded person, and second, I do not have access to any of the magician's inner chambers. There are formidable entities within; I sense their power, but fortunately I have never met them. All I know is that this morning the master installed thirteen ravenous krels in his grounds. Thirteen! One would be bad enough. They always go for my leg when I arrive with a letter." I debated for a moment. My biggest lead was the Schyler connection. He and Lovelace were up to something, no doubt about it, and if I eavesdropped at Parliament that evening, I might very well find out what. But that meeting was hours away; in the meantime, I thought I would call in on Pinn's Accoutrements of Piccadilly. For sure, Lovelace hadn't got his Amulet there, but I might learn something about the bauble's recent past if I checked the place out. There was a slight wriggling under the stone. "If you are finished, O Lenient One, might I be allowed to proceed on my way? I suffer the Red—hot Stipples if I am late delivering my messages." "Very well." It is not uncommon to swallow lesser imps that fall into one's power, but that wasn't really my style.[46] I removed myself from the boulder and tossed it to one side. A paper—thin messenger folded himself in a couple of places and got painfully to his feet. "Here're your letters. Don't worry, I haven't doctored them." "Nothing to do with me if you had, O Glorious Meteor of the East. I simply carry the envelopes. Don't know nuffin about what's in 'em, do I?" The crisis over, the imp was already reverting to his obnoxious type. "Tell no one about our meeting, or I'll be waiting for you next time you set out." "What, d'you think I'd go looking for trouble? No way. Well, if my drubbing's over, I'm out of here." With a few weary beats of his leathery wings, the imp rose into the air and disappeared over the trees. I gave him a few minutes to get clear, then I turned into a pigeon again and flew off myself, heading southward over the lonely heath to distant Piccadilly. 17 Pinn's Accoutrements was the sort of shop that only the very rich or brave dare enter. Occupying an advantageous position at the corner of Duke Street and Piccadilly, it gave the impression that a palace of some kind had been dropped there by a gang of knackered djinn, and then been soldered on to the drabber buildings alongside. Its illuminated windows and fluted golden pillars stood out among the magicians' bookshops and the caviar—and—pate houses that lined the wide, gray boulevard; even when seen from the air, its aura of refined elegance stood out almost a mile away. I had to be careful when landing—many of the ledges had been spiked or painted with sticky lime to deter no—good pigeons such as me—but I finally settled on the top of a road sign with a good view of Pinn's and proceeded to case the joint. Each window was a monument to the pretension and vulgarity to which all magicians secretly aspired: jeweled staffs rotated on stands; giant magnifying glasses were trained on sparkling arrays of rings and bracelets; automated mannequins jerked back and forth wearing swanky Italian suits with diamond pins in the lapels. On the pavement outside, ordinary magicians trudged along in their shabby work attire, gazed longingly at the displays and went away dreaming of wealth and fame. There were very few nonmagicians to be seen. It wasn't a commoner's part of town. Through one of the windows I could see a high counter of polished wood at which sat an immensely fat man dressed all in white. Perched precariously on a stool, he was busy issuing orders to a pile of boxes that wobbled and teetered beside him. A final command was given, the fat man looked away and the pile of boxes set off uncertainly across the room. A moment later they turned and I glimpsed a small stumpy foliot[47] laboring beneath them. When he arrived at a set of shelves in one corner of the shop, he extended a particularly long tail and, with a series of deft movements, scooped the boxes one by one from the top of the pile and set them carefully on the shelf. The fat man I took to be Sholto Pinn himself, the owner of the shop. The messenger imp had said he was a magician, and I noticed that he had a gold—rimmed monocle stuffed against one eye. No doubt it was this that enabled him to observe his servant's true shape, since on the first plane the foliot wore the semblance of a youth to prevent startling nonmagical passersby. As humans went, Sholto looked to be a formidable fellow; for all his size, his movements were fluid and powerful, and his eyes were quick and piercing. Something told me he would be difficult to fool, so I abandoned my first plan of adopting a human disguise and trying to draw information out of him. The small