A tangle of gold, p.35
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       A Tangle of Gold, p.35

           Jaclyn Moriarty
 

  It was agreed that Samuel would take a room at the nearby Jongleur Inn, that Sergio would remain watching over him, and that the others would ride, by husky sled, to Lanternville. While these arrangements were being made, neither Elliot nor Madeleine spoke a word.

  3

  The husky sled hissed through the mountains at a hush, trailing creases in the snow. Elliot and Keira rode backwards, Elliot’s head turned to the side, so he was always watching the night. Madeleine, opposite him and alongside her sister, also turned her head. At first, she did this so she wouldn’t have to look at Elliot, but then she found herself studying the landscape. The Magical North had become two places, she realised. It was the province she knew from her childhood—dark woods, blue-white snow, and clusters of distant spilled lights that grew into the golden-orange glow of villages; steeples, sculptures of wolves, wooden walkways; dark, cold smells of old ice and moss, richer smells of spruce, rowan and pine, and crowded fragrances of wine, beer, wool and spicy sausages—but now also it was a province of rivers, ponds, streams and skating ponds, each shrouded in the finest, strangest twists of silvery fog. She wanted to reach for it, untangle it, weave it, see what it could do.

  I see magic everywhere, she almost said. How did I miss this before? But she caught Elliot’s eye, and said nothing.

  They reached Lanternville as the town clock struck 10 pm.

  ‘Do you know where T.I. Candle lives?’ Princess Ko asked the sled driver, and as his sled moved away, the man’s voice came back, muffled by his scarf: ‘Hereabouts!’

  Once the sled had disappeared, they stood by the town well, looking in vague directions. Elliot slid across the icy cobblestones and stopped at a clustered sign post.

  ‘Look at this,’ he called after a moment.

  The Tavern, said one of the signboards, an arrow pointing left. The Square, said another. The Well. Maybelline’s Hosiery. The Sparkleshine Hattery. The Dwelling of T.I. Candle.

  ‘He’s got his own sign,’ Keira said.

  ‘Convenient,’ Princess Ko said.

  ‘Self-important,’ Keira corrected.

  The arrow pointed towards the main street. This was steeply angled, and dimly lit by lanterns and moon. They passed shops, cafés, a pub, and reached a row of attached houses, each painted a different, bright colour. The consistency, Madeleine thought, is in the peaks of their roofs, the rise and fall of those peaks. Also in the white of the snow: white above, white below. She watched her feet in the scuffed, polished, ruffled snow, looked up at the snow-draped chimneys, railings and ledges, and her eyes fell on a tiny board: THE DWELLING AND OFFICE OF T.I. CANDLE, ESQ. A wooden owl dangled on chains from this board.

  The four of them stopped. The house was dark and silent.

  ‘I guess he’s asleep,’ Elliot said.

  ‘Then we will wake him,’ Ko declared, reaching over and clattering the knocker.

  The sound echoed up and down the street. It faded. Nothing happened.

  Keira was peering through the window in the door. ‘The back-door latch is open,’ she said, and raised an eyebrow at Ko, who nodded. Keira disappeared down a side laneway.

  ‘I like her more all the time,’ Ko said, smiling.

  Elliot and Madeleine glanced towards each other, realised they were doing this, and glanced away again.

  The front door opened. Keira stood in the doorframe.

  ‘Come on then,’ Ko said.

  Again, Elliot and Madeleine caught each other’s eye, then both walked inside.

  At the end of a narrow hallway, a door opened onto a study. Ko shone a flashlight over a dark fireplace, a stack of wood, a desk, bookcases, a sudden curl of black against crimson. The flashlight jumped at this, then held. It was a cat, sleeping on a cushion.

  A candelabra stood on the mantelpiece. Keira moved across to this, and there was the flash of a match being lit, then the candles flickering one by one. The room seemed to wake up, drowsily. Now they saw framed certificates and maps on the walls, a half-empty glass of wine, ink pot, loose papers and books.

  ‘We’ll look for clues,’ Ko whispered.

  Madeleine ran her hands over the papers on the desk. A Treatise on the Colours of Cello, she read, and The Shifting Seasons of Our Kingdom: A Proposition. There were printed papers, hand-scribbled notes, sketches and rows of figures. The Cat Walk and Cosmology: Certain Philosophical Questions, she read, and then: The Moving Mountains: A Very Pleasing Divertisement. There was a list headed ‘Philosophical Equipment’, another, ‘Mathematical Equipment’, and a third, ‘Items Purchased’: cherries, marmalade, milk, cheese, butter.

  The others moved around the room, pulling books and papers from shelves. The cat stared at each of them in turn, speechless.

  ‘Everything I’m reading is what you’d expect in a guidebook writer’s office,’ Elliot said.

  ‘Same, I guess.’ Madeleine turned over a bound journal.

  Annalen der Physik, she read. Clipped to the front was a note: As requested, the Einstein pieces—special relativity is in 1905 vol, his gravitational work, 1916.

  The margins of the journal crawled with tiny, scribbled notes, diagrams, question marks and exclamation points.

  A note was pinned to another stack of pages: Here’s the latest on the death of wave/particle duality & of Schrodinger’s cat (ha!) etc, & on new idea that multiple, jostling, invisible universes (each operating according to Newtonian law (!)) is true explanation for quantum weirdness.

  Madeleine flicked through more loose papers, catching names: John Dalton, Henri Becquerel, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Hugh Everett, Howard Wiseman.

  This is all Worldian, she realised, then said it aloud: ‘There’s a lot of stuff here from the World.’

  ‘Indeed there is!’ agreed a voice, and there was a crash as Keira dropped a book and swore.

  A man stood in the doorway. He wore striped pyjamas and a heavy crimson robe. His hair was white, swept back from a high, pale forehead, and falling majestically to his shoulders. His nose was proud and he raised this now towards the ceiling.

  ‘Had you forgotten we have electricity in the province?’ He reached for a switch and an overhead light buzzed. The cat sniffed, irritated, stood and turned a circle. The man, however, seemed cheerful. ‘It is not often I have visitors this late at night! Certainly, it is rare to find four young people bustling about in my study while I sleep.’

  ‘We have questions,’ Princess Ko declared.

  ‘And you believe the answers to be in my study?’ He leaned against the doorframe.

  ‘Why does your guidebook have secret messages behind the print?’

  The man startled. He wiped his hand across his mouth. He resumed his lethargic stance.

  ‘It does?’ he tried.

  Keira drew the torn page from her pocket, unfolded it and handed it to the man. ‘Here,’ she said, pointing. ‘Also here, and here. It was on a lot of other pages too, but I’ve only got this one.’

  ‘You can see the code there? With your eyes?’

  Keira shrugged. ‘I’ve got good vision.’

  ‘But this is extraordinary! I’ve never known such eyesight, even amongst the greatest night-dwellers of Jagged Edge! I’d very much like to conduct a number of experiments on you!’

  ‘Yeah, that’s okay, thanks,’ Keira told him.

  ‘Well, we shall get to that. In the meantime, perhaps I should introduce myself. Traveller. Guidebook author. Owner of the house in which you have been making yourselves so marvellously at home. To put it more briefly, I am T.I. Candle.’

  ‘No, you’re not,’ said Madeleine. She blinked once. ‘You’re Isaac Newton.’

  4

  The man’s face changed. A rush of colour, something lifting and falling both at once. His smile became a complicated grimace.

  ‘It is long since I have heard that name,’ he said, and then the smile returned. ‘Sir Isaac Newton, is what you intended, I assume.’

  ‘Sure,’ said Madeleine, staring.


  ‘Who’s Isaac Newton?’ Keira asked, while Ko demanded: ‘In that case, where is T.I. Candle?’

  ‘It is I,’ said the man, ‘and here he is.’

  ‘Whatever is he going on about?’ the Princess complained.

  ‘T.I. Candle is Isaac Newton,’ Madeleine said. ‘He’s from the World.’

  ‘Perhaps you should come into the drawing room,’ Newton said, ‘and I shall tell my tale.’

  They followed him through to a room decorated exclusively in bright crimson. Each of them reeled at this a little. Newton didn’t notice: he was regarding the fireplace.

  ‘Perhaps one of you might get that fire lit,’ he suggested, before sitting in one of the armchairs and staring at a signet ring on his finger.

  After a while, he looked up. ‘Sit!’ he said impatiently. ‘Are you building up the fire there? Good, yes, that’s the way. I would curl some of the pages of the newspaper like so, if I were you. It works a treat.’ He twisted his hands to indicate. Elliot, stacking wood and kindling into place, ignored him.

  ‘As a boy,’ Newton said, ‘I was sent to a town called Grantham, to board with an apothecary named—’

  ‘Clarke,’ Madeleine said.

  ‘Quite. He had a wife and three children, named—’

  ‘Arthur, Edward and Catherine.’

  Newton looked up sharply. ‘I cannot abide interruptions,’ he said.

  ‘You shouldn’t blame her.’ Elliot spoke from the fireplace. ‘She knows a lot about you. I just remembered. She used to tell me all about you.’

  ‘And she is a magic-weaver,’ Ko said. ‘So you should respect her.’

  Newton twitched. ‘You’re a magic-weaver?’

  ‘Go on,’ she told him. ‘I won’t interrupt.’

  ‘Very well. I was very much alone.’ Newton settled back into his story, comfortably. ‘Despite the three children. They were not my friends: quite the reverse. Arthur, in particular, used to bully me. In any case, children never interested me much. They like to frolic and sport, you see, children, and quite frankly I have never seen the point.’

  ‘He wanted to be reading and thinking and inventing,’ Madeleine elaborated for the others.

  Newton rested his elbows on his knees, placing his chin in his hands. ‘Come along then,’ he told Madeleine. ‘If you wish to tell my story, please do.’

  ‘Sorry. I’ll stop. Go on.’

  ‘One day, I was carving pictures into the walls of my room. I picked up my candle to hold it closer and—a boy appeared beside me. Extraordinary. Even now, centuries later, I can feel the shock of that moment. He was not there—and then he was. He was from the Kingdom of Cello, you see. There must have been a crack in my room, and he’d been holding a mirror. Thus, the crack had opened. But we understood that some time later. The boy’s name—’

  Newton shot a warning glance at Madeleine, but she was silent, so he continued.

  ‘His name was Tobin. He was a Prince of Cello, and exactly my age. He was so bright, such a lively mind. We became great friends. Hidden in my room, we talked about everything: his world, mine, the secrets of the cosmos. We explored the fields around Grantham, made kites, lanterns, wooden clocks. He took me to Cello, and we ventured far and wide, to the Lake of Spells, to Nature Strip. Once, he and I saw a Crimson; it is a Colour that falls like apples. If you catch one, you see truths you’d always known. Years later, I saw another, and my thoughts collided, and I knew precisely how matter is drawn to other matter, how planets interact . . . But that first childhood encounter with Tobin was the most precious. He and I remained partial to the colour crimson ever since.’ He paused, smiling vaguely.

  ‘I like it too,’ Keira said. ‘But what you’ve done to this room is known as overkill.’

  ‘Excuse me?’

  ‘Never mind. Go on with your story.’

  Newton crossed his legs. ‘By odd coincidence, Tobin and I were very similar of appearance. Almost, we could have been twins.’

  ‘Mirror images!’ Madeleine cried. ‘I saw you both in a vision! You were leaning over a patch of sun and . . . Okay, yeah, I know. Keep going.’

  ‘Almost,’ he repeated sternly, ‘we could have been twins. We tried an experiment. We traded places: he became me, and I him. It was a great success, and after that, we exchanged positions regularly, playing each other’s parts, delighted by our game. It did cause some confusion: Tobin was more sociable than I am. When I was in his place, people were puzzled by my sudden reserve; when he was in the World, they were perplexed by his surges of character. Not to mention the changes in our handwriting. Over time, we became more adept at swapping. We also realised that Tobin lost his memory if he spent more than a few days in the World, so we were careful not to stay too long.’

  Newton again studied his signet ring.

  ‘I fell in love with this Kingdom,’ he said. ‘The Colours so fascinated me. They inspired my colour theory, you know. Tobin, also, loved my World. And we loved one another—we exchanged rings.’ He looked up and drew his robe closer. ‘We also had disagreements. I felt that Cello should remain a secret from the rest of the World: Tobin wanted to communicate it. He thought the World should establish a World–Cello Harmonisation Society such as existed here. While in the World, he even informed certain people about Cello’s existence, including members of the Royal Society. He set out to publish pieces about Cello. Each time I returned to the World, I would find myself stamping out the small fires he had set. I knew that the World could not cope with Cello: the World relies on truth, you see, and to introduce the magic of Cello would be an utter implosion of reality. It requires the highest sensibilities, the most refined intellect, to comprehend both truth and its implosion. We quarrelled often, Tobin and I, around this time, about numerous things, small and large, and our greatest quarrel took place in the 1660s. It left us both furious. Sulking, I came here and played the role of Prince Tobin, while he went to the World and played me—and, before we could cool down, before we were reconciled, the plague found its way through to Cello. You probably know, from school, that this was catastrophic for Cello. The cracks to the World were immediately sealed. The Harmonisation Society was disbanded, and the World Severance Unit established. I was trapped here; Tobin, in the World.’

  Sadness enveloped the room. Newton shook it from his shoulders and carried on.

  ‘I continued to be Prince Tobin and, as the years passed, I realised something remarkable. I was not growing any older. Cello had made me immortal. I saw that I should disappear before they crowned me King—that caused another scandal: my disappearance—but I simply set off to explore the various Kingdoms and Empires. And that has been my life ever since. Each generation, I return to Cello and reinvent myself, always settling in the Magical North, and befriending the Royal Family. I am so fond of Royals. And I am fond of my new self. You see, once Tobin was gone, I could transform myself into him. Rather than an awkward recluse, I could be urbane, affable and sociable. As a tribute to him and our partnership, I call myself T.I. Candle.’

  ‘T for Tobin,’ Madeleine guessed. ‘And I for Isaac.’

  ‘Precisely. Tobin and I were reflections of each other. The Candle is for light, of course. Mirror and light. And that,’ Newton concluded, looking around the room at their faces, ‘is my story.’ He swivelled towards the fireplace, which crackled with high flames. ‘You’ve done quite a good job there,’ he remarked. ‘A fine and blazing fire.’

  ‘Well, you haven’t,’ Princess Ko asserted. ‘You haven’t said a word about the Circle.’

  ‘I haven’t?’ Newton settled himself back into the chair. ‘Imagine that.’

  5

  ‘The Circle,’ he began affably, ‘has lodges in every province, an elaborate system of signs, grips and tokens, influence in every major institution and media outlet, and an ingenious means of communication. That is to say, a new edition of the guidebook is printed every year and distributed throughout Kingdoms and Empires, and only Circle members know how to see the code be
hind its print. At least, only Circle members could see it, until this very night, when this young person revealed her talent!’ Newton turned a fierce, admiring gaze onto Keira.

  ‘He did a lot of work in optics in his time,’ Madeleine explained to the others. ‘He used to do things like stare at the sun and stick needles in his eyes. That’s how keen he was on figuring out the science.’

  ‘You’re not sticking a needle in my eye,’ Keira said. ‘Get to the point. What does the Circle do?’

  Newton bit the edge of his thumbnail. ‘Let us take a few steps back,’ he suggested. ‘Not long after I settled in Cello, I was approached by a group of Worldians. They’d been here in Cello for centuries, which made them quite smug. They called themselves the Shining Ones. You see, not all Worldians lived forever here at that time. Others would seem to have the hang of eternal youth and then, boom!—they would age and die. Nobody knew why. So, as well as being smug, this group were uneasy. At any moment, they feared, that could happen to them too. They wanted me to solve the conundrum.’ He paused, closed his eyes as if to relish a memory, then opened them again. ‘Nature is not inconsistent. There is no such thing as random, despite what that Einstein fellow might say. I saw at once that there must be a reason that some lived forever, others not, and I set myself the task of solving this. In the end, it was perfectly simple. It’s a question of balance, you see. For each Cellian who goes to the World and remains, one Worldian gains a lifetime—a segment, if you will—of immortality. The inconsistency resulted from ad hoc movement back and forth, you see. It was all the open cracks. The solution was simple: Keep the cracks sealed. The plague was a wonderful opportunity. All we had to do was maintain the fury of the other Kingdoms and Empires and let them do the work of ensuring that the W.S.U. would itself be immortal. Irrevocable. All-powerful. Next, I constructed a device which could open and close cracks.’

  ‘You what?’ said Elliot.

  ‘He’s pretty smart.’ Madeleine watched Newton’s face, not looking at Elliot. ‘I told you that. At the parking meter. He built a small reflective telescope once. If he has a problem, he invents something to solve it.’

 
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