The amulet of samarkand, p.1
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       The Amulet of Samarkand, p.1
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           Jonathan Stroud
The Amulet of Samarkand

  Also by Jonathan Stroud

  The Bartimaeus Books

  The Golem’s Eye

  Ptolemy’s Gate

  The Ring of Solomon

  The Amulet of Samarkand Graphic Novel

  Buried Fire

  The Leap

  The Last Siege

  Heroes of the Valley

  For Gina

  About the Endnotes

  Bartimaeus is famous for making snarky asides and boastful claims, which you can find in this book’s endnotes. To access his comments as you are reading the story, click on the highlighted superscript number and the page will turn to the corresponding note. To return to where you were reading, click on the same number in the endnotes section. This feature works on most devices.

  Text copyright © 2003 by Jonathan Stroud

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion Books for Children, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

  ISBN 978-1-4231-4146-4



  Title Page


  Copyright Page

  Part One

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Part Two

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Part Three

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44


  About the Author

  Praise for the Bartimaeus Books


  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.


  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 racin
g 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.


  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 hub-caps. 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.1 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 bird2 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.


  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.1 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 scr

  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.


  From the security of the air vent, I peered with my multifaceted 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!1

  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?

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