Castle in the air, p.1
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       Castle in the Air, p.1

         Part #2 of Howl's Moving Castle series by Diana Wynne Jones
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Castle in the Air


  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Chapter One

  In which Abdullah buys a carpet.

  Chapter Two

  In which Abdullah is mistaken for a young lady.

  Chapter Three

  In which Flower-in-the-Night discovers several important facts.

  Chapter Four

  Which concerns marriage and prophecy.

  Chapter Five

  Which tells how Flower-in-the-Night’s father wished to raise Abdullah above all others in the land.

  Chapter Six

  Which shows how Abdullah went from the frying pan into the fire.

  Chapter Seven

  Which introduces the genie.

  Chapter Eight

  In which Abdullah’s dreams continue to come true.

  Chapter Nine

  In which Abdullah encounters an old soldier.

  Chapter Ten

  Which tells of violence and bloodshed.

  Chapter Eleven

  In which a wild animal causes Abdullah to waste a wish.

  Chapter Twelve

  In which the law catches up with Abdullah and the soldier.

  Chapter Thirteen

  In which Abdullah challenges Fate.

  Chapter Fourteen

  Which tells how the magic carpet reappeared.

  Chapter Fifteen

  In which the travelers arrive at Kingsbury.

  Chapter Sixteen

  In which strange things befall Midnight and Whippersnapper.

  Chapter Seventeen

  In which Abdullah at last reaches the castle in the air.

  Chapter Eighteen

  Which is rather full of princesses.

  Chapter Ninteen

  In which a soldier, a cook, and a carpet seller all state their price.

  Chapter Twenty

  In which a djinn’s life is found and then hidden.

  Chapter Twenty-One

  In which the castle comes down to earth.

  About the Author

  About the Publisher

  Chapter 1

  In which Abdullah buys a carpet.

  Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, a young carpet merchant called Abdullah lived in the city of Zanzib. As merchants go, he was not rich. His father had been disappointed in him, and when he died, he had only left Abdullah just enough money to buy and stock a modest booth in the northwest corner of the Bazaar. The rest of his father’s money, and the large carpet emporium in the center of the Bazaar, had all gone to the relatives of his father’s first wife.

  Abdullah had never been told why his father was disappointed in him. A prophecy made at Abdullah’s birth had something to do with it. But Abdullah had never bothered to find out more. Instead, from a very early age, he had simply made up daydreams about it. In his daydreams, he was really the long-lost son of a great prince, which meant, of course, that his father was not really his father. It was a complete castle in the air, and Abdullah knew it was. Everyone told him he inherited his father’s looks. When he looked in a mirror, he saw a decidedly handsome young man, in a thin, hawk-faced way, and knew he looked very like the portrait of his father as a young man, always allowing for the fact that his father wore a flourishing mustache, whereas Abdullah was still scraping together the six hairs on his upper lip and hoping they would multiply soon.

  Unfortunately, as everyone also agreed, Abdullah had inherited his character from his mother—his father’s second wife—who had been a dreamy and timorous woman and a great disappointment to everyone. This did not bother Abdullah particularly. The life of a carpet merchant holds few opportunities for bravery, and he was, on the whole, content with it. The booth he had bought, though small, turned out to be rather well placed. It was not far from the West Quarter, where the rich people lived in their big houses surrounded by beautiful gardens. Better still, it was the first part of the Bazaar the carpet makers came to when they came into Zanzib from the desert to the north. Both the rich people and the carpet makers were usually seeking the bigger shops in the center of the Bazaar, but a surprisingly large number of them were ready to pause at the booth of a young carpet merchant when that young merchant rushed out into their paths and offered them bargains and discounts with most profuse politeness.

  In this way, Abdullah was quite often able to buy best-quality carpets before anyone else saw them, and sell them at a profit, too. In between buying and selling he could sit in his booth and continue with his daydream, which suited him very well. In fact, almost the only trouble in his life came from his father’s first wife’s relations, who would keep visiting him once a month in order to point out his failings.

  “But you’re not saving any of your profits!” cried Abdullah’s father’s first wife’s brother’s son Hakim (whom Abdullah detested), one fateful day.

  Abdullah explained that when he made a profit, his custom was to use that money to buy a better carpet. Thus, although all his money was bound up in his stock, it was getting to be better and better stock. He had enough to live on. And as he told his father’s relatives, he had no need of more since he was not married.

  “Well, you should be married!” cried Abdullah’s father’s first wife’s sister, Fatima (whom Abdullah detested even more than Hakim). “I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again—a young man like you should have at least two wives by now!” And not content with simply saying so, Fatima declared that this time she was going to look out for some wives for him—an offer which made Abdullah shake in his shoes.

  “And the more valuable your stock gets, the more likely you are to be robbed, or the more you’ll lose if your booth catches fire. Have you thought of that?” nagged Abdullah’s father’s first wife’s uncle’s son, Assif (a man whom Abdullah hated more than the first two put together).

  He assured Assif that he always slept in the booth and was very careful of the lamps. At that all three of his father’s first wife’s relatives shook their heads, tut-tutted, and went away. This usually meant they would leave him in peace for another month. Abdullah sighed with relief and plunged straight back into his daydream.

  The daydream was enormously detailed by now. In it, Abdullah was the son of a mighty prince who lived so far to the east that his country was unknown in Zanzib. But Abdullah had been kidnapped at the age of two by a villainous bandit called Kabul Aqba. Kabul Aqba had a hooked nose like the beak of a vulture and wore a gold ring clipped into one of his nostrils. He carried a pistol with a silver-mounted stock with which he menaced Abdullah, and there was a bloodstone in his turban which seemed to give him more than human power. Abdullah was so frightened that he ran away into the desert, where he was found by the man he called his father now. The daydream took no account of the fact that Abdullah’s father had never ventured into the desert in his life; indeed, he had often said that anyone who ventured beyond Zanzib must be mad. Nevertheless, Abdullah could picture every nightmare inch of the dry, thirsty, footsore journey he had made before the good carpet merchant found him. Likewise, he could picture in great detail the palace he had been kidnapped from, with its pillared throne room floored in green porphyry, its women’s quarters, and its kitchens, all of the utmost richness. There were seven domes on its roof, each one covered with beaten gold.

  Lately, however, the daydream had been concentrating on the princess to whom Abdullah had been betrothed at his birth. She was as highborn as Abdullah and had grown up in his absence into a great beauty with perfect features and huge misty dark eyes. She lived in a palace as rich as Abdullah’s own. You approached it along an avenue lined with angelic statues and entered by way of seven marble courts, each with a fountain in the middle more precious than the last, starting with
one made of chrysolite and ending with one of platinum studded with emeralds.

  But that day Abdullah found he was not quite satisfied with this arrangement. It was a feeling he often had after a visit from his father’s first wife’s relations. It occurred to him that a good palace ought to have magnificent gardens. Abdullah loved gardens, though he knew very little about them. Most of his experience had come from the public parks of Zanzib—where the turf was somewhat trampled and the flowers few—in which he sometimes spent his lunch hour when he could afford to pay one-eyed Jamal to watch his booth. Jamal kept the fried food stall next door and would, for a coin or so, tie his dog to the front of Abdullah’s booth. Abdullah was well aware that this did not really qualify him to invent a proper garden, but since anything was better than thinking of two wives chosen for him by Fatima, he lost himself in waving fronds and scented walkways in the gardens of his princess.

  Or nearly. Before Abdullah was fairly started, he was interrupted by a tall, dirty man with a dingy-looking carpet in his arms.

  “You buy carpets for selling, son of a great house?” this stranger asked, bowing briefly.

  For someone trying to sell a carpet in Zanzib, where buyers and sellers always spoke to one another in the most formal and flowery way, this man’s manner was shockingly abrupt. Abdullah was annoyed anyway because his dream garden was falling to pieces at this interruption from real life. He answered curtly. “That is so, O king of the desert. You wish to trade with this miserable merchant?”

  “Not trade—sell, O master of a stack of mats,” the stranger corrected him.

  Mats! thought Abdullah. This was an insult. One of the carpets on display in front of Abdullah’s booth was a rare floral tufted one from Ingary—or Ochinstan, as that land was called in Zanzib—and there were at least two inside, from Inhico and Farqtan, which the Sultan himself would not have disdained for one of the smaller rooms of his palace. But of course, Abdullah could not say this. The manners of Zanzib did not let you praise yourself. Instead, he bowed a coldly shallow bow. “It is possible that my low and squalid establishment might provide that which you seek, O pearl of wanderers,” he said, and cast his eye critically over the stranger’s dirty desert robe, the corroded stud in the side of the man’s nose, and his tattered headcloth as he said it.

  “It is worse than squalid, mighty seller of floor coverings,” the stranger agreed. He flapped one end of his dingy carpet toward Jamal, who was frying squid just then in clouds of blue, fishy smoke. “Does not the honorable activity of your neighbor penetrate your wares,” he asked, “even to a lasting aroma of octopus?”

  Abdullah seethed with such rage inside that he was forced to rub his hands together slavishly to hide it. People were not supposed to mention this sort of thing. And a slight smell of squid might even improve that thing the stranger wanted to sell, he thought, eyeing the drab and threadbare rug in the man’s arms. “Your humble servant takes care to fumigate the interior of his booth with lavish perfumes, O prince of wisdom,” he said. “Perhaps the heroic sensitivity of the prince’s nose will nevertheless allow him to show this beggarly trader his merchandise?”

  “Of course, it does, O lily among mackerel,” the stranger retorted. “Why else should I stand here?”

  Abdullah reluctantly parted the curtains and ushered the man inside his booth. There he turned up the lamp which hung from the center pole but, upon sniffing, decided that he was not going to waste incense on this person. The interior smelled quite strongly enough of yesterday’s scents. “What magnificence have you to unroll before my unworthy eyes?” he asked dubiously.

  “This, buyer of bargains!” the man said, and with a deft thrust of one arm, he caused the carpet to unroll across the floor.

  Abdullah could do this, too. A carpet merchant learned these things. He was not impressed. He stuck his hands in his sleeves in a primly servile attitude and surveyed the merchandise. The carpet was not large. Unrolled, it was even dingier than he had thought—although the pattern was unusual, or it would have been if most of it had not been worn away. What was left was dirty, and its edges were frayed.

  “Alas, this poor salesman can only stretch to three copper coins for this most ornamental of rugs,” he observed. “It is the limit of my slender purse. Times are hard, O captain of many camels. Is the price acceptable in any way?”

  “I’ll take FIVE HUNDRED,” said the stranger.

  “What?” said Abdullah.

  “GOLD coins,” added the stranger.

  “The king of all desert bandits is surely pleased to jest?” said Abdullah. “Or maybe, having found my small booth lacking in anything but the smell of frying squid, he wishes to leave and try a richer merchant?”

  “Not particularly,” said the stranger. “Although I will leave if you are not interested, O neighbor of kippers. It is, of course, a magic carpet.”

  Abdullah had heard that one before. He bowed over his tucked-up hands. “Many and various are the virtues said to reside in carpets,” he agreed. “Which one does the poet of the sands claim for this? Does it welcome a man home to his tent? Does it bring peace to the hearth? Or maybe,” he said, poking the frayed edge suggestively with one toe, “it is said never to wear out?”

  “It flies,” said the stranger. “It flies wherever the owner commands, O smallest of small minds.”

  Abdullah looked up into the man’s somber face, where the desert had entrenched deep lines down each cheek. A sneer made those lines deeper still. Abdullah found he disliked this person almost as much as he disliked his father’s first wife’s uncle’s son. “You must convince this unbeliever,” he said. “If the carpet can be put through its paces, O monarch of mendacity, then some bargain might be struck.”

  “Willingly,” said the tall man, and stepped upon the carpet.

  At this moment one of the regular upsets happened at the fried food stall next door. Probably some street boys had tried to steal some squid. At any rate, Jamal’s dog burst out barking; various people, Jamal included, began yelling, and both sounds were nearly drowned by the clash of saucepans and the hissing of hot fat.

  Cheating was a way of life in Zanzib. Abdullah did not allow his attention to be distracted for one instant from the stranger and his carpet. It was quite possible the man had bribed Jamal to cause a distraction. He had mentioned Jamal rather often, as if Jamal were on his mind. Abdullah kept his eyes sternly on the tall figure of the man and particularly on the dirty feet planted on the carpet. But he spared a corner of one eye for the man’s face, and he saw the man’s lips move. His alert ears even caught the words two feet upward despite the din from next door. And he looked even more carefully when the carpet rose smoothly from the floor and hovered about level with Abdullah’s knees, so that the stranger’s tattered headgear was not quite brushing the roof of the booth. Abdullah looked for rods underneath. He searched for wires that might have been deftly hooked to the roof. He took hold of the lamp and tipped it about, so that its light played both over and under the carpet.

  The stranger stood with his arms folded and the sneer entrenched on his face while Abdullah performed these tests. “See?” he said. “Is the most desperate of doubters now convinced? Am I standing in the air, or am I not?” He had to shout. The noise was still deafening from next door.

  Abdullah was forced to admit that the carpet did appear to be up in the air without any means of support that he could find. “Very nearly,” he shouted back. “The next part of the demonstration is for you to dismount and for me to ride that carpet.”

  The man frowned. “Why so? What have your other senses to add to the evidence of your eyes, 0 dragon of dubiety?”

  “It could be a one-man carpet,” Abdullah bawled, “as some dogs are.” Jamal’s dog was still bellowing away outside, so it was natural to think of this. Jamal’s dog bit anyone who touched it except Jamal.

  The stranger sighed. “Down,” he said, and the carpet sank gently to the floor. The stranger stepped off and bowed Abdullah towar
d it. “It is yours to test, O sheikh of shrewdness.”

  With considerable excitement, Abdullah stepped onto the carpet. “Go up two feet,” he said to it—or, rather, yelled. It sounded as if the constables of the City Watch had arrived at Jamal’s stall now. They were clashing weapons and bawling to be told what had happened.

  And the carpet obeyed Abdullah. It rose two feet in a smooth surge which left Abdullah’s stomach behind it. He sat down rather hastily. The carpet was perfectly comfortable to sit on. It felt like a very tight hammock. “This woefully sluggish intellect is becoming convinced,” he confessed to the stranger. “What was your price again, O paragon of generosity? Two hundred silver?”

  “Five hundred GOLD,” said the stranger. “Tell the carpet to descend, and we will discuss the matter.”

  Abdullah told the carpet, “Down, and land on the floor,” and it did so, thus removing a slight nagging doubt in Abdullah’s mind that the stranger had said something extra when Abdullah first stepped on it which had been drowned in the din from next door. He bounced to his feet, and the bargaining commenced. “The utmost of my purse is one hundred and fifty gold,” he explained, “and that is when I shake it out and feel all around the seams.”

 
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