A tangle of gold, p.38
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       A Tangle of Gold, p.38

           Jaclyn Moriarty

  The room was quiet.

  ‘The agony is meant to be translated. It is meant to travel to another dimension—to Cello or the World—where it becomes beauty and light. Energy never disappears, you know. It changes form. That’s basic physics.’

  Samuel touched his face. Lumps seemed to grow beneath his fingertips. A purple vein snaked from his right temple to his chin.

  Madeleine moved close to his bed. ‘I’ll start untangling for you.’

  ‘Leave it. It will not change my path. But call yourselves my pardon, I have interrupted your tale. What did Isaac Newton want with you?’

  ‘He wanted us to make Gold,’ Elliot said, and he and Madeleine explained.

  ‘If it is so,’ Samuel said eventually, his voice rasping now. ‘If you are magic-weaver and truth-seer. If you can go to the Undisclosed Province and make Gold. If the Gold can indeed heal our ailing Kingdom—then the way it should do that is by opening the cracks.’ His voice fell to a whisper. ‘Once the cracks are open, we will have it again, the constant, seamless flow. The Wind will blow here again. The Colours will flow out.’

  He fell back against the pillow, eyes closing. Madeleine’s hands began to twist the air around him.

  The others watched her in silence. Eventually, one by one, they curled up and fell asleep.

  Elliot stayed awake the longest. The ridge in his chest was a chasm now. Cold air blew right through him. When he did sleep, he woke often, and each time he saw Madeleine, a dark silhouette, hands twirling, flinching, pausing, and then starting up again.

  Once, Elliot woke from a dream in which he was a kid taking a bubblebath. He realised that the sound he’d been hearing was not crackling bubbles, but Samuel’s breath. Another time he thought ants were quietly chewing the frame of his bed and again he realised it was Samuel making those small, strange, scritching sounds.

  In the morning when Elliot woke, Madeleine was sitting perfectly still on the edge of Samuel’s bed, and Samuel had stopped breathing altogether.


  In the breakfast room of the Jongleur Inn, there was the urgent roar of the river outside, the quiet clanging of cutlery, and whispers about the boy who had died in the night.

  ‘That’s his friends at that table over there,’ somebody hissed.

  ‘Not saying much, are they?’

  ‘I heard it was the worst case of Olde Quainte poisoning the doctor had ever seen.’

  ‘In shock, I expect. Or possibly just not feeling chatty?’

  An ambulance had taken Samuel’s body away. The doctor had raised mocking eyebrows towards Madeleine: ‘You tried to save him with magic-weaving! That was never going to work!’ Then her gaze had fallen on Madeleine’s blistered hands, and she’d reached for a salve and bandages, saying firmly: ‘But you’ll certainly have eased his final suffering.’

  Now Madeleine was looking at her white bandaged hands and at the mushrooms, tomatoes and scrambled eggs on her plate. These kept disappearing into blackness, then reappearing in all their gaudy colours. It was fascinating. She couldn’t figure it out, and then she could. It was her eyelids: they kept closing, wanting sleep.

  ‘It seems ridiculous,’ Keira said suddenly, ‘that someone who talked as much as Samuel could be dead.’

  ‘It is always so,’ Sergio agreed, ‘when the people with much character die. That is when death is at its most impossible.’

  Princess Ko’s eyes were red. ‘We’ll have a memorial service for him tomorrow,’ she announced. ‘Meanwhile, today we save the Kingdom.’

  The others turned blank faces on her.

  ‘Recall that the Jagged Edge Elite will declare themselves the rulers of Cello today?’

  ‘They do that,’ Elliot said, ‘and the Hostiles will attack. They’ll use their Colour weapons.’

  ‘And if the Hostiles attack,’ Ko continued, ‘the Loyalists will rise up against them.’

  ‘Civil war,’ Keira said.

  Ko nodded. ‘We must prevent this. After breakfast, Sergio will kindly fly Keira and myself back to Bonfire, where we will collect my father, the King, and proceed to Jagged Edge to reclaim power. Meanwhile, Madeleine and Elliot will do as Isaac Newton suggested and go and make Gold.’

  Madeleine had just taken a drowsy sip of orange juice. It spluttered everywhere.

  ‘By 5 pm,’ Ko remembered. ‘Try to make Gold by 5 pm.’

  Madeleine, awake now, said, ‘This is where Samuel would say, as to a turkey in black tie, meaning, what the? No offence, Ko, but you’ll reclaim power and Elliot and I will make Gold?’

  Ko jiggled her shoulders as if Madeleine was being frivolous. ‘Didn’t Isaac Newton tell you Gold-making was possible?’

  ‘Only with a truth-seer,’ Elliot said. ‘And I don’t believe that I’m one for a second. I nearly got Madeleine killed yesterday, because I

  didn’t see what Mischka was up to. That’s a pretty significant truth I missed right there.’

  ‘Well, my mother excels at concealing truth,’ Keira told him. ‘Best truth-seers in the Kingdom have been bamboozled by her. You not seeing what she was up to isn’t relevant.’

  Princess Ko spoke in such abruptly ringing tones that people at nearby tables turned. ‘Elliot, you saw that our Kingdom needed saving!’

  ‘Not relevant either,’ Keira put in. ‘A blind armadillo could’ve seen that.’

  Ko ignored her. ‘You saw that the Royal Family are deeply flawed. You were right! What was it you said about me? That I am a tyrant? Certainly, there is a truth.’

  ‘Well, again—’ Keira began, but the Princess threw her napkin at Keira’s face, which surprised her into silence.

  ‘Elliot was right that the Kingdom would be better off without me,’ Ko continued. ‘I let all of you risk your lives. Now Samuel is dead. I risked Keira’s eyesight. I caused Sergio agony, forcing him to learn how to fly at will.’

  There was a long pause.

  ‘You could put a positive spin on that,’ Keira said thoughtfully, ‘and say that in a lot of ways, you’re just a kick-arse personal trainer.’

  Sergio cleared his throat. ‘I want to say this, as Ko is my best friend, and it is this. She is ruthless, yes, but she does what she thinks right to save her Kingdom and her family. Keep in mind, also, that she was raised by a PR Department. Princesses have blonde hair, they used to say, princesses have fair skin. They made her dye her hair and wear makeup. She could never be herself. Princesses follow the rules. Princesses never cry, they said, and so she became angry whenever she felt hurt.’

  ‘Or maybe I’ve just got a bad temper,’ Ko reflected. ‘But thanks, Sergio. That was nice of you. I always secretly wished I’d been more like Jupiter—Madeleine, I mean—though. She threw the makeup away and she dyed her hair every colour except blonde. She got in so much trouble.’

  ‘This, to me, also was beautiful,’ Sergio said. ‘And Elliot, it is true that Princess Jupiter ran away often, and there was a terrible incident when Royal guards pursued her into the Swamp of the Golden Coast and were killed. But she did not mean to put their lives at risk. And can you blame her for running? She ran from an alcoholic father, and the myth of Royal blood. She knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know how to fix it, so she ran, they brought her back, she ran again.’

  Elliot’s face had rumpled. His head tipped slowly forward, and he placed his elbows on the table and held his fingers to his forehead, propping himself up.

  ‘You know what,’ Keira said. ‘You seem different, Elliot. It’s like you’re seeing truth, sure, but only the bad truths. When I knew you on the R.Y.A., I remember I felt like you saw all of me—good and bad—in a way nobody else ever had. So it makes sense to me that you’re a truth-seer. But now, like I said, something’s wrong.’

  Elliot spoke to the surface of the table so nobody could hear him. ‘There’s a tear right across my chest,’ he whispered.

  ‘And another thing,’ Keira said. ‘You’ve got these tiny specks of Colour on the surface of your skin. What
s that about?’

  Elliot straightened and spoke in his regular voice. ‘I’ve got what?’

  ‘I guess nobody else can see those cause they’re so small, but it’s like you’re sweating Colour. It’s on your face and your neck.’

  Everybody stared at Elliot’s face, trying to see specks of Colour.

  ‘He looks colourless to me,’ Princess Ko said. ‘Paler than white.’

  ‘Right there?’ Keira pressed a fingernail into Elliot’s cheek.


  Madeleine turned to Keira. ‘Is it one Colour or a mix?’

  ‘A mix.’

  ‘Then maybe it’s one of those lethal Colour combinations? I remember seeing a documentary about them years ago. If you’re exposed to certain combinations, they get into your system and—I don’t know—mess with your psyche. Have you been out in a Colour storm lately, Elliot?’

  ‘Just the Grey attack.’

  Sergio was bouncing on his chair. ‘Grey, Vermillion and Green,’ he said. ‘That is one of the lethal combinations. I also saw this documentary. Have you been exposed to Vermillion and Green, Elliot?’

  ‘Not Green. But I’ve done a lot of Vermillion candy lately.’

  ‘Ah!’ Sergio smiled. ‘The Vermillion candy, it is good, no? We used to enjoy it in the stables long ago, Ko and I. Remember, Ko? But you are sure there was no Green?’

  ‘Nope. I’d know if I . . .’ Elliot stopped. ‘Well, it’s a while back now but they put me under when they took me into the Hostile compound. They said I was injected with seventh-level Green.’

  ‘Beautiful!’ Sergio exclaimed, at the same time as Ko said, ‘Wait, did you say this is a lethal combination?’ and Elliot breathed, ‘You think I feel like this on account of Colours?’

  ‘I remember now,’ Madeleine said. ‘That combination brings out the worst of you—like, the emotions of your darkest memories sort of come to the forefront.’

  ‘They just call them lethal combinations to be theatrical,’ Sergio reassured the others. ‘It won’t kill him. He’ll just be feeling like a horse that has been taken from a stable of his friends and placed on a prairie in a blizzard alone, knee-deep in snow without his horse blanket, a thousand packs of wolves bearing down on him. Is that how you feel, Elliot?’

  ‘Can I cure this combination?’ Elliot demanded. ‘Did your documentary say?’

  Sergio and Madeleine squinted into their memories.

  ‘I think it’ll just work its way out of your system,’ Madeleine said slowly.

  ‘Some people,’ remembered Sergio, ‘hurried the process with cold baths.’

  Elliot swivelled in his seat so that he was looking hard at the row of windows at the back of the room.

  ‘Don’t even think about it,’ Ko commanded. ‘That’ll be ice cold; that will kill you.’

  But Elliot had pushed back his chair and was striding, then jogging, then sprinting from the room.

  ‘He won’t do it,’ Keira said.

  ‘Do what?’ said Sergio, and then from outside came a crash of water, a loud shout, and a series of curse words from the farthest reaches of the Kingdoms and Empires. These were hollered so loud that the breakfast room fell into startled silence.

  A few moments later, Elliot was standing in the doorway again. A waiter, seeing him, rushed away, returning with armloads of towels. He began to drape these around Elliot.

  Water streamed from Elliot’s hair and clothes. He was shivering like someone with a fever. His face was translucent white, his lips a vibrant purple. But his eyes were so bright, and his expression so astonished, that the room burst into laughing applause.


  The clock on the wall outside the ticket office said twelve noon.

  ‘And we have until five o’clock?’ Elliot asked.

  Madeleine nodded.

  They were sitting on a bench on a railway station platform, just inside the border of the Undisclosed Province. The light was dim, poised in shadow.

  ‘It’s always twilight here,’ Madeleine remembered. ‘Even in the middle of the day.’

  BASALT STATION said an illuminated sign on the wall. Otherwise, the platform was a collection of hazy shapes.

  ‘So we’re at Philosopher’s Stone,’ Madeleine recited. ‘We’ve got a magic-weaver and a truth-seer—’

  Elliot made a small sound of objection, but let it go.

  ‘—and now, we just have to make gold.’

  Elliot smiled—she saw his smile glinting in his eyes.

  ‘Gold comes from the stars,’ she said.

  ‘It does?’

  They both looked up at the tiny darts of starlight in the dusky blue.

  ‘I read that in a book once,’ Madeleine explained. ‘My mother used to practise trivia when we were in the World. She had this memory of having won a quiz show once? Which I guess was translated from a real memory of a charity trivia night. Anyway, one of her practice questions was: Where does gold come from?’

  ‘And it comes from the stars?’

  ‘Kind of. It comes from neutron stars colliding, I think. Or supernovae exploding.’

  Elliot studied the sky. ‘Easy then. We just head on up.’

  Madeleine laughed. ‘It might be more convenient to find some in the ground.’

  ‘Easy again,’ Elliot said promptly. ‘Find a goldmine.’

  They both smiled.

  After a moment, Elliot said, ‘Isn’t the idea that we make gold?’

  ‘You’re right. I got off track. I blame you.’

  ‘Fair enough.’

  Madeleine drew her knees up onto the bench and concentrated. ‘Okay, this is what I know about making gold,’ she said. ‘Princesses weave it from straw, or bake it from flax.’

  ‘I’m quite a good baker,’ Elliot said.

  ‘You are. You gave me cinnamon cookies once.’

  There was a silence. Elliot scuffed the heels of his boots on the platform.

  ‘I did too,’ he said eventually.

  I baked you freakin cookies, he’d screamed the night before.

  ‘Alchemists used to try to make gold,’ Madeleine said, to cut through that memory.

  ‘They ever succeed?’

  ‘No. Well, I don’t think so. See, they thought they could turn base metals into gold using chemistry, but chemistry won’t change the number of protons in an atom. You need physics for that. You need a particle accelerator and a lot of energy. Then you get your base metal, and you smash atoms around until you tear some protons off, and if you’re lucky, you get gold.’


  They both gazed around the platform. Now that their eyes were adjusting to the light, they could see people: bags on shoulders, hands in pockets, watching the rails, lost in thought.

  ‘You know what I just remembered,’ Madeleine said. ‘We’re meant to be making Gold, the Colour, not the metal.’

  ‘You’re right.’

  She thought for a while. ‘Colour comes from light.’

  ‘So we’re back to the stars?’

  They looked at the sky again.

  ‘Stars are where everything came from, originally.’ Madeleine studied the sparks of light, then lowered her eyes and looked at Elliot again. ‘And alchemists thought they could make gold if they could just get some original matter. Like, the substance that everything comes from. They thought, if we take that substance apart, we get back to the essence of everything, then we can piece it together to make whatever we want. I think you have to go to the ether to get it.’

  ‘What’s the ether?’

  ‘It’s kind of everywhere and nowhere. It’s all the light and dark. It’s finely spun chaos. It’s outside of everything, but also inside.’

  Elliot scratched his neck. He looked at Madeleine. ‘That kind of sounds like the space between,’ he said.

  She looked back at him. His eyes seemed like a city nightscape. All the gleam and light of them.

  ‘So how do we get back to the space between?’ Elliot said eventually

  Madeleine let her eyes fall from his. She saw that her bootlace was coming loose. ‘Remember how Samuel said that the Cello Wind is translated sadness from the World? If that’s true, if he’s right about that, then the Wind must come through the space between.’

  ‘So if we go to the place where the Wind is mined,’ Elliot reasoned, ‘maybe we find a way to the space between?’

  ‘The Wind is mined right here in this province.’ Madeleine tied her lace and stood. ‘Let’s find out exactly where.’

  ‘We make a great team,’ Elliot said, also standing. ‘You do all the figuring, and I relax and listen.’

  ‘Well. You asked questions. The right questions.’


  Inside the ticket office, train destinations were listed on a swinging board. A woman sat behind a counter. She was examining a pale green pear.

  ‘Can you tell us where the Cello Wind is mined?’ Elliot said to her.

  The woman set the pear onto the counter. Her eyes flickered and she blinked three times.

  There was a pause.

  ‘We were wondering,’ Madeleine tried, ‘if you can tell us where the Cello Wind is mined?’

  Now the woman frowned. Again her eyes flickered and there was another series of three blinks: this time each slow and emphatic.

  ‘In the Undisclosed Province,’ Elliot recalled, looking at the woman’s face, ‘people speak with their eyes.’ The woman looked right back at him, then inclined her head in what might have been a sideways nod. Her arm reached up at the same moment so she could massage her neck.

  Elliot studied her a moment more.

  ‘Can you tell us one more time,’ he said, ‘where the Cello Wind is mined?’

  The flicker, and three blinks.

  Elliot looked at the board of station names. He looked back at the woman.

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