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The stones of ravenglass, p.1
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       The Stones of Ravenglass, p.1

           Jenny Nimmo
 
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The Stones of Ravenglass


  Books by Jenny Nimmo

  Midnight for Charlie Bone

  Charlie Bone and the Time Twister

  Charlie Bone and the Blue Boa

  Charlie Bone and the Castle of Mirrors

  Charlie Bone and the Hidden King

  Charlie Bone and the Wilderness Wolf

  Charlie Bone and the Shadow of Badlock

  Charlie Bone and the Red Knight

  The Secret Kingdom

  The Stones of Ravenglass

  The Snow Spider trilogy

  For Eve

  The Stones of Ravenglass first published in Great Britain 2012

  by Egmont UK Limited

  239 Kensington High Street

  London W8 6SA

  First e-book edition 2012

  Text copyright © 2012 Jenny Nimmo

  The moral rights of the author have been asserted

  ISBN 978 1 4052 5733 6

  eISBN 978 1 7803 1186 9

  www.egmont.co.uk

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title page

  Books by Jenny Nimmo

  Dedication and Copyright page

  Prologue

  1. The Arrow

  2. Escape

  3. Tree Children

  4. A Magic Beast

  5. The Widows’ Tower

  6. Deadly Sands

  7. Half-Ear and Worm-Apple

  8. Eri’s Dream

  9. A Dragon

  10. Outnumbered by Animals

  11. The Enchanted Wall

  12. Spirit Ancestors

  13. A Ruin

  14. The Damzel of Decay

  15. In Castle Melyntha

  16. Black Hounds

  17. Ravenglass Soldiers

  18. Vanishing

  19. The Wizard’s Grandchild

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  Timoken, the African, has been in Britain for a year now. He had arrived with his sister, Zobayda, and five children whom he’d met in France: Berenice, from the Spanish kingdom of Castile; Mabon, Edern, Gereint and Peredur from Britain. Timoken, a magician, had saved them from a band of kidnappers.

  The boys had persuaded Timoken to travel back to Britain with them, and Berenice, the adventurer, had joined them. On their long, dangerous journey, the travellers formed a bond of loyalty and friendship that each knew could never be broken. Timoken made enchanted swords for them, and shields that they decorated with their chosen symbols: a bear for Mabon, the oldest and strongest; an eagle for red-headed Edern, who wanted to fly; a fish for Gereint, whose clear voice was like a singing stream; and a wolf for Peredur, with his long, pointed teeth. Berenice loved to run and she chose a hare. Timoken’s shield was emblazoned with a burning sun, a memory of Africa.

  When their kingdom had been invaded, Timoken and his sister had wandered, homeless, through the world for over two hundred years. The four Britons had been born in Castle Melyntha, and their prince made Timoken and his sister so heartily welcome that, for the first time since their wandering began, they felt they had found a home.

  Chapter One

  The Arrow

  In the deep, dark heart of the forest, Timoken was happy. He might have missed the heat and brilliance of his African homeland, but here, in Britain, there was magic in the autumn leaves spinning through narrow shafts of light.

  A bell sounded in the distance and Timoken began to make his way back to Castle Melyntha. He was approaching the edge of the forest when something swept so close to his cheek, he felt it burn. Whirling round, he saw the arrow, its lethal tip embedded in an oak. Would there be another arrow? Did someone want him dead?

  A minute later he got his answer. A second arrow came hissing through the air. There was a moment when Timoken could have leapt aside and used a tree to shield himself, but the danger had fired his quick mind, and he knew it was time to test his skill. He noted the arrow’s trajectory and held up his arm. He had an instant of doubt as the arrow came at his unsteady hand but, incredibly, it hovered, an inch from his palm, and when Timoken uttered the ancient words from his homeland, the arrow slid into the air, turned and flew back to the archer who had launched it.

  There was a groan of pain and a soft thud as a body dropped into the undergrowth.

  Timoken waited. Was the archer alone, or were there others, even now marking him out and raising their bows? He moved behind the oak and listened. But the forest was silent. There were no footfalls, no rustling grasses.

  ‘Have I killed?’ Timoken stared at his palm. He had never used his hands to do what he had just done. But perhaps his cloak had protected him. Timoken wore a cloak that he had brought with him from Africa. It was made from the web of the last moon spider the world would ever see. It had protected Timoken for more than two hundred years, though you would have found that difficult to believe, for the boy looked no older than twelve.

  It was time to find out who had tried to kill him. Bent double, to avoid any more deadly weapons, Timoken sped through the forest. The arrow had come from the direction of the castle. The trees thinned out as he drew closer to the edge of the forest. He found the body in a clearing, the bow still clutched in a gloved hand. A rough leather helmet covered half the face, but there was something familiar about the square chin and line of whiskery hair above the wide mouth.

  Kneeling beside the body, Timoken carefully pushed up the leather helmet.

  ‘Mabon?’ Timoken couldn’t believe his eyes. His friend’s pale blue eyes were still open, and gazed up at the sky in shock.

  ‘Mabon!’ cried Timoken. ‘Tell me it wasn’t you.’

  Mabon didn’t reply. The arrow-head had pierced his chain-mail tunic and blood trickled from his chest.

  ‘Why?’ Timoken stood up and looked back at the castle, just visible through the trees. ‘Who sent you?’ He rubbed his head and felt the slim gold crown buried in his black curls. Who wanted him dead? And how had they persuaded Mabon, surely against his will, to try to murder a friend?

  For a moment Timoken was too bewildered to move. He had left the castle alone, to stroll in the forest he loved. The drawbridge was down and the great doors open to receive traders. He had intended to slip back before the doors were closed for the night, but now what should he do? He couldn’t leave Mabon like this, out in the trees where wolves and wildcats would find him.

  Perhaps he could carry the body back to the castle, thought Timoken, and blame his death on bandits that roamed the forest. No. That wouldn’t do. Whoever had sent Mabon to kill him would guess the truth.

  It was the feel of his cloak, warm under his fingers, that brought Timoken to his senses.

  ‘The cloak!’ he exclaimed. Pulling it from his shoulders he quickly laid it over Mabon’s body and, gazing into the pale blue eyes, began to murmur in his own secret language. But Mabon didn’t move, didn’t breathe, and there was not a flicker of life in the shocked blue eyes.

  It was too late for Timoken to run. He could hear the tramp of feet and the swish and rustle of men beating a path through the undergrowth. At that moment he could have escaped, for Timoken could fly, but his abilities were secret, and each of the five friends who knew he was a magician had kept their word and, so far, had never betrayed him.

  Grabbing his cloak, Timoken pinned it back on his shoulders, just as four soldiers stepped out of the trees. One glance told them all they wanted to know. In a second, Timoken’s arms were roughly clasped
and, while two soldiers held him still, the others bent over Mabon’s body. Timoken recognised them: Aelfric, a broad-shouldered bully who was missing half an ear, and Stenulf, an ugly fellow with a nose like a pin-cushion.

  ‘Sir Osbern won’t like this.’ The soldier holding Timoken’s right arm, almost yanked it out of its socket. ‘Mabon Ludd was the sharpest of all our young archers.’

  ‘I didn’t kill him,’ Timoken protested. ‘I . . . I found him. It must have been bandits.’

  ‘With an arrow like that?’ Aelfric growled. ‘Bandits don’t have fine arrows. They use spears and axes.’

  ‘I don’t have a bow.’ Timoken winced as the soldier on his left twisted his arm. It was all he could do not to cry out. ‘How could I have killed, without a bow for my arrow?’

  ‘So where is it? Hidden back there?’ Stenulf’s gloved fist slammed into Timoken’s shoulder.

  The pain took his breath away. ‘I told you. I don’t have a bow,’ he gasped.

  ‘Come on, we’re wasting our time out here.’ Aelfric pulled out the arrow and, with his thumb and forefinger, deftly closed Mabon’s eyes. ‘Stenulf, help me with the body.’

  Stenulf lifted Mabon and threw him over Aelfric’s wide shoulder. They strode away, while Timoken’s guards dragged him after them.

  As they reached the drawbridge, Timoken looked up into the pale sky. The low sun had gathered strength and begun to gild the mist with droplets of gold. He thought of using the fire in his fingers to free himself, he thought of escaping up into the golden mist, he even thought of calling eagles to attack his captors, but he knew he could do none of these things, for where would he go without his friends?

  They marched him over the drawbridge and across the great enclosure where men hammered and sawed, where pigs rooted in the churned earth and sheep bleated in their pens. There was such a clamour Timoken couldn’t hear Aelfric’s shouted command, but a carpenter hastily moved a saw-bench barring the soldiers’ way. Several men stopped their work and stared up at the body hanging from Aelfric’s shoulder. Sadly, it was a common sight. The forest was a dangerous place; bands of outlaws hid in the depths: men who had lost everything to the conquerors but refused to accept their laws.

  Timoken heard a sudden, high-pitched call that carried above the din in the enclosure. Someone was shouting his name.

  ‘What’s going on?’ Red-headed Edern jumped over a bale of straw and ran up to Timoken. ‘What’s happened, Timoken? Where are they taking you?’

  When Timoken opened his mouth to answer, one of the soldiers jabbed an elbow in his face.

  ‘Clear off!’ shouted Aelfric. ‘This has nothing to do with you.’

  The boy leapt in front of the group, his freckled face creased with concern. ‘It’s got everything to do with me,’ he cried. ‘I’m Edern, son of Elvin the poet. You wait till the prince hears of this. The great wizard, Eri, is my uncle, and you don’t want to cross him or . . . or . . .’

  ‘Or what?’ With a sweep of his great arm, Aelfric shoved Edern aside, but the boy jogged beside the soldiers as they continued to drag Timoken along.

  ‘Hey! What’s happening?’ Another boy had pushed his way through the crowd and appeared, breathless, beside Edern. ‘What’ve you done, Timoken?’

  ‘Peredur . . .’ Timoken began but, afraid of losing his teeth this time, he said no more and mutely shook his head.

  ‘This isn’t right. We’ll do something, Timoken. I promise.’ The boy grinned, revealing two extraordinarily long, pointed teeth. His wolfish appearance could be rather alarming and he often used this to his advantage, grinning at his adversaries, instead of scowling.

  ‘Save your smiles, Wolf-face,’ said Aelfric sourly. ‘Your friend won’t get away with murder.’

  ‘Murder?’ Edern had been staring at the body slung over Aelfric’s shoulder. He couldn’t see Mabon’s face, but he recognised the gloved hands of the archer.

  ‘Murder,’ said Stenulf, leaning towards the boys. ‘Your friend has murdered Mabon the archer.’

  ‘No,’ Timoken burst out. A soldier’s fist smashed into his chin, but he continued through swollen lips, ‘It’s not true.’

  ‘Take the prisoner to the tower,’ Aelfric commanded. He grunted heavily as he mounted the steep steps to the castle. ‘I’ll carry our dead archer to his family.’

  Timoken’s heart sank. Mabon’s family had been good to him. What would they think of his treachery? ‘I didn’t know,’ he muttered under his breath.

  At that moment, the glove fell off Mabon’s right hand. No one bothered to pick it up. If he hadn’t been staring miserably at Mabon’s bare hand, Timoken wouldn’t have seen the sign: a slight movement of the fingers. And then it was gone, and the hand hung limply from the lifeless body.

  His friends hung back as the soldiers pulled Timoken up the steps. He looked over his shoulder and shook his head. Edern and Peredur were staring at him in shock. Surely they didn’t believe that he had harmed Mabon.

  When they entered the castle courtyard, Aelfric turned through an arched door on his left. Stenulf carried on across the courtyard to the tall central tower. ‘Put him in the old man’s cell,’ he ordered as he pulled open the heavy door into the tower.

  A guard stepped in front of Stenulf, barring his way with a raised spear.

  ‘It’s me,’ Stenulf grunted. ‘Give them the key to the wizard’s cell.’

  The wizard’s cell? What was Edern’s uncle doing here? Timoken wondered. The prince thought highly of Eri the wizard. Why had he been imprisoned?

  The guard nodded and fumbled with a ring of keys hanging from his belt. Selecting a large, rusty-looking object he handed it to one of the soldiers.

  ‘Don’t be long about it,’ called Stenulf, as the prisoner was marched towards a shadowy set of steps.

  Timoken had never got used to the damp, spiralling stairways of Castle Melyntha. A melancholy smell lingered on the steep, cold steps; a musty scent, putrid and dark. He had no choice but to follow the first soldier up the steps; the second man came close behind, continually prodding Timoken’s legs to hurry him up.

  They came, at last, to a long passage where a low door faced a narrow window slit. The leading soldier turned the key in the lock and the door creaked open. Timoken was pushed inside and the door clanged shut behind him. He stumbled over a pile of rags and fell on to the hard planked floor. As he lay there, staring at the filthy straw beside him, the rags cursed softly.

  Timoken sat up and looked into a pair of owl-like eyes; eyes the colour of a storm-cloud, mysterious and alarming. They belonged to the wizard, Eri.

  ‘Sir, forgive me,’ Timoken murmured. ‘I didn’t know . . . didn’t think . . .’

  The wizard raised his head and shook out his black and silver hair. He sat up and brushed dust and hay seeds from his shoulders, revealing the faded gold stars on his once splendid cloak.

  Timoken tried not to stare at the great wizard. Men bowed their heads when Eri passed; they whispered behind their hands, ‘Watch out, here comes the wizard’, afraid that he’d take against them, and turn them into pigs, though he’d never done such a thing.

  ‘You didn’t think that a prince’s favourite could end up as pile of rags.’ The wizard’s chuckle was heaved out of his rattling chest with a stream of spittle. ‘Well, I knew you would soon be here, African. But what did you do to give them the excuse?’

  ‘They say I killed an archer,’ said Timoken. ‘But not any archer. He was my friend, and yet he tried to kill me.’

  ‘And how did you kill him?’ the wizard sat up.

  Timoken hesitated. ‘With . . . with my hand, sir,’ he mumbled.

  ‘Ah,’ said Eri, scratching his long nose.

  ‘And yet I think he might still be alive,’ Timoken said, almost to himself.

  ‘Either he is, or he isn’t. Whichever the case, once in here, no one ever gets out.’

  ‘What is happening?’ asked Timoken. ‘For you to be imprisoned the world must have turned upside
down.’

  ‘Precisely.’ The wizard shuffled over to Timoken and sat beside him.

  ‘Prince Griffith honoured you,’ said Timoken, his glance travelling from the wizard’s bruised cheek to his torn and bloodstained robes. ‘What did you do to anger him?’

  ‘Not the prince, Timoken. Our prince has gone to war far over the ocean.’

  ‘And when he returns he will punish whoever did this to you,’ Timoken said hotly.

  The wizard hung his head and muttered, ‘He will not return.’

  ‘How do you know?’ Timoken was aghast. Prince Griffith had been good to him. When Timoken had arrived in Britain, the first African ever seen in the part of that part of the country, the prince had welcomed him. He was allowed to dine and sleep with the boys of high rank, he took lessons with them and wore the same clothes. Even Timoken’s camel was treated with respect and stabled close to the prince’s favourite horse. Though the camel, being rather a proud animal, didn’t consider this a favour.

  ‘Tell me, I beg you.’ Timoken gently nudged the wizard, who appeared to have fallen asleep, for his eyes were closed and his chin rested on his chest. Timoken raised his voice. ‘How do you know our prince will not return?’

  Without opening his eyes, Eri replied, ‘I am something of a seer. That means that, on occasion, I can dream the future.’

  ‘And what did you dream?’

  ‘Last night I saw our prince lying on the battlefield. “I am dying, Eri,” he told me. “Save yourself and the African. Leave the castle, for dark –” And then our fine young prince gave a moan and said no more.’

  ‘Dark?’ Timoken didn’t like the sound of that word. ‘Leave the castle for dark . . . ?’

  The wizard turned his stormy gaze on the boy. ‘He meant Osbern D’Ark, the castle steward. The prince has always known that Osbern hated me, and I suspect the same holds true for you. You are popular, Timoken, and something of a leader to the other boys. And then there is that hint of a golden crown in your black hair. Osbern is from a family of conquerors. He wants this castle and every man it holds. He will probably get his way.’

 
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