Authors: Jenny Nimmo
Charlie Bone and the Red Knight
(The Children of the Red King, Book 8)
Table of Contents
To Alice and Corwine, with love...
THE CHILDREN OF THE RED KING, CALLED THE ENDOWED
THE ENDOWED ARE ALL DESCENDED FROM THE TEN CHILDREN OF THE RED KING.
Manfred Bloor Teaching assistant at Bloor's Academy. A hypnotist. He is descended from Borlath, elder son of the Red King. Borlath was a brutal and sadistic tyrant.
Naren Bloor Adopted daughter of Bartholomew Bloor. Naren can send shadow words over great distances. She is descended from the Red King's grandson who was abducted by pirates and taken to China.
Charlie bone Charlie can travel into photographs and pictures. Through his father, he is descended from the Red King and through his mother, from Mathonwy, a Welsh magician and friend of the Red King.
Idith and Inez Branko Telekinetic twins, distantly related to Zelda
INEZ BRANKO Dobinski, who has left Bloor's Academy.
Dagbert Endless. Dagbert is the son of Lord Grimwald, who can control the oceans. His mother took the gold from drowned men's teeth and made them into charms to protect her son. Dagbert is a drowner.
Dorcas Loom. An endowed girl whose gift is the ability to bewitch clothes.
Una Onimous. Mr. Onimous's niece. Una is five years old and her endowment is being kept secret until it has fully developed.
Asa Pike. A were-beast. He is descended from a tribe who lived in the northern forests and kept strange beasts. Asa can change shape at dusk.
Billy Raven. Billy can communicate with animals. One of his ancestors conversed with ravens that sat on a gallows where dead men hung. For this talent he was banished from his village.
Lysander Sage Descended from an African wise man, Lysander can call up his spirit ancestors.
Eric Shellhorn Eric can animate stone carvings.
Gabriel Silk Gabriel can feel scenes and emotions through the clothes of others. He comes from a line of psychics.
Joshua Tilpin Joshua has magnetism. He is descended from Lilith, the Red King's oldest daughter, and Harken, the evil enchanter who married her.
Emma Tolly Emma can fly. Her surname derives from the Spanish swordsman from Toledo whose daughter married the Red King. The swordsman is therefore an ancestor of all the endowed children.
Tancred Torsson A storm-bringer. His Scandinavian ancestor was named after the thunder god, Thor. Tancred can bring wind, thunder, and lightning.
Olivia Vertigo Descended from Guanhamara, who fled the Red King's castle and married an Italian prince. Olivia is an illusionist. The Bloors are unaware of her endowment.
The Red King arrived in the North nine hundred years ago. He was an African magician and each of his ten children inherited a small part of his power. These powers were passed down, through their descendants, to the current inhabitants of an ancient city. But not all the inheritors use their powers wisely. Some of them are bent on evil, and Charlie Bone strives constantly to thwart them.
Charlie's parents are on their second honeymoon. They have been away for more than a month. Postcards arrive for Charlie, describing his parents' wonderful adventures on the world's oceans. Although Charlie is happy for them, he wishes they would return. The city is becoming a dangerous place for him and his friends. One of them was almost drowned and their favorite meeting place, the Pets' Cafe, has been closed.
Charlie is afraid that the Red King's old enemy, Count Harken, will try and enter the city once again. The count, an enchanter, has already abducted the orphan Billy Raven and now keeps him in Badlock, a world that exists in the far distant past.
If only the Red King could return to keep the city safe. But that is too much to hope for. And yet, deep in the ruins of the Red King's castle, a heart still beats within a tall, red tree. The king can watch with the eyes of birds that settle on his branches; he can listen with the ears of creatures that graze beside him; sometimes he can even move. But he who was once mighty is now powerless to help the children who need him. His last spell has been cast. He can only hope that his cloak and sword will protect the man who has chosen to take his place. One thing is certain: The white mare that was once the king's beloved queen will do all in her power to carry their champion to victory.
THE ENCHANTED SWORD
To the small man hurrying through the city, the dark buildings that rose around him had never appeared so menacing.
"Menaced," muttered Orvil Onimous. "That's what we are, my dears, menaced." He was speaking to three cats that paced about him, magnificent creatures with fire-bright coats, from the deep copper of the cat that leaped ahead, to the flame orange and starry yellow of the two that ran on either side of him.
"You are a comfort, Flames," sighed the little man. "You know that, don't you?"
They turned off High Street and made their way down Frog Street, a narrow alley that led to the ancient city walls. It was a cold, damp night and the cobblestones were wet with melting frost. Every step the small man took became more labored. He rounded a corner and came within sight of an unusual-looking shop, built into the very fabric of the old walls. Above a large, latticed window the words the pets cafe could just be made out on a sign filled with the paintings of animals.
Mr. Onimous seemed unable to continue. He hung his head, gasping for air. With his whiskery face and furry brown hair, he resembled a large mole in an ill-fitting tweed coat.
The cats gathered around him, meowing encouragement, but Orvil Onimous let out a mournful sob and pointed to a sheet of paper nailed to the green painted door.
These premises are closed,
read the notice,
by order of the
councillors, in accordance with Section 238 of the Public Health Act.
The cats could not read the notice, but they were well aware of its meaning. Their friend's livelihood had been stolen from him. The Pets' Cafe, where every customer was obliged to bring a pet, was now closed. The joyful twittering, the braying, and the meowing that once had welcomed every visitor was now gone, leaving only a bleak silence.
Inside the cafe, chairs were piled on empty tables, the lights were out in the colored lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and in the kitchen Mrs. Onimous endlessly filled the stove with cakes and cookies that no one would eat.
Thinking of his wife, Mr. Onimous took a firm step toward the green door, and then hesitated. A sound at the far end of the alley made him peer cautiously around the corner.
A figure came striding toward him.
"We're closed," called Mr. Onimous. "It's no use coming down here. Besides," he added sadly, "you haven't got a pet -- unless it's in your pocket. Go away."
The stranger paid no attention. He marched purposefully closer.
thought Mr. Onimous, noting the slim build and youthful stride. A yellow scarf covered the lower half of the boy's face, and the hood of his blue coat was pulled well down over his forehead.
Mr. Onimous backed nervously around the corner. His heart was beating rather fast, but his gloomy mood had been replaced by resentful anger. Who was this silent stranger, marching toward him when he had expressly told him to go away?
The cats were usually quick to defend Mr. Onimous, but they stood in the alley with their tails erect, sniffing the air and meowing expectantly.
A strong breeze accompanied the stranger, a sinister breeze in Mr. Onimous's opinion.
Can't be one of the kids,
Can't be one of the endowed. It's Wednesday night. They're all at school and in bed most likely.
He ran across to the green door and, pulling a key from his pocket, shakily inserted it into the lock.
"Mr. Onimous!" The voice was a harsh, urgent whisper.
The little man turned fearfully and looked into a pair of familiar sky blue eyes. "Tancred Torsson!" he cried.
"Shhh!" Tancred put a finger to his lips.
"Oh, my dear, dear fellow." Mr. Onimous clasped both Tancred's hands and squeezed them tight. "Oh, you can't know how you've lifted my spirits. We thought you were dead."
"I am dead, Mr. Onimous," whispered Tancred, "dead to THEM at least. Can I come in? I'll explain everything."
"Of course, of course." Mr. Onimous unlocked the door and drew Tancred into the empty cafe. The three cats bounced swiftly after them, and Mr. Onimous locked and bolted the door.
Tancred pulled down his scarf and gazed at the upturned chairs with their legs pointing desolately at the darkened ceiling. "This is so sad, Mr. Onimous," he said. "We must do something about it."
"Of course we must, but it's too much for my poor old brain to sort out." Mr. Onimous led the way around the counter at the back of the cafe and into the bright kitchen beyond.
An exceptionally tall woman with a long melancholy face was spooning jam into some rather pale-looking tarts. There were several plates of them spread across the kitchen table, and if it hadn't been for Mrs. Onimous's bleak expression, you would have thought she was preparing for a party.
"Don't say it," murmured Mrs. Onimous without looking up. "Who's going to eat a hundred tarts? I couldn't help myself, Orvil. What else am I to do?"
"Onoria, my darling." Mr. Onimous failed to keep a squeak of excitement out of his voice. "We have a visitor."
She looked up, opened her mouth, screamed, staggered backward, and collapsed into an old armchair. "Tancred Torsson!" she gasped. "You're dead!"
"Not so, Mrs. Onimous." Tancred pulled back his hood, revealing a mop of thick, corn gold hair. "As you see, I am very much alive."
"The news is all around the city. They said you had drowned." Two fat tears rolled down Mrs. Onimous's cheeks. "A terrible accident, they said it was, but we guessed it was that evil boy, Dagbert Endless, who had drowned you."
"Well, he did, in a sense," Tancred agreed. "I was just about gone when Emma rescued me. And then, soon after my father had carried my lifeless body home, we had visitors." Tancred sat at the table and stroked the head of the yellow cat, Sagittarius, drawing a deep purr from his silky throat. "I thought you had sent them."
"The cats!" cried Mr. Onimous, clapping his hands. "I should have known it. But they lead a mysterious life. I never know where they are off to."
"They saved your life, too, Orvil," said his wife, pouring tea for their visitor. "It's a miracle how they always know when a child of the Red King is in trouble."
"I'm no child." Mr. Onimous chuckled, lifting orange-colored Leo into his arms.
"You're a descendant; that's good enough for them." Onoria smiled as Aries, the copper cat, wound himself around her legs.
"They sat on my bed all through the night." Tancred's eyes took on a faraway gleam as he began to describe the warmth and comfort the cats had brought to his aching limbs, and how their voices had soothed the pain in his head and steadied his faltering heart.
"I know, I know." Mr. Onimous thought of his own recent miraculous recovery.
Mrs. Onimous sat down and pushed some tarts across to Tancred. "Empty the plate, there's a good boy," she said. "And take some home to your mother. We don't see enough of her down here."
"She doesn't have a pet," said Tancred through a mouthful of tart. "She's tried dogs and cats, guinea pigs and rabbits, even a pony, but they all ran away. They couldn't take my dad's thunder."
Tancred's father was known as the thunder man, on account of the violent weather that constantly attended him.
"Does Charlie Bone know that you survived?" asked Mr. Onimous, biting into one of his wife's tarts.
Tancred nodded vigorously. "So do the others: Lysander, Gabriel, and everyone, but no one else must know. I can do more to help them if Dagbert and the Bloors think that I'm dead."
"We won't tell a soul." Mr. Onimous lowered his voice as though the Bloors might be outside the door that very moment. "I feel so sorry for poor Charlie. His parents have been away for more than a month now, and although I don't like to criticize a fine person like Lyell Bone, it's a long time to leave your only child when you've already been apart for more than ten years."
"I agree," said Tancred, "but Charlie's such a great --" A loud knocking caused him to stop mid-sentence and stare over his shoulder.
"Whoever can it be?" Mr. Onimous opened the kitchen door and stared across the cafe at a large figure framed in the window. "Bless me, it's Norton, I'll --"
"No, Mr. Onimous!" Tancred leaped up and pulled the little man back into the kitchen. "Charlie asked me to warn you. That's why I came. Norton Cross has betrayed you, Mr. Onimous."
"What?" Mr. Onimous frowned at Tancred in disbelief. "How can you say such a thing? Norton? He's the best doorman we've ever had."
"You have to believe me, sir," said Tancred in a low voice. "He's been seen in the company of the witch Tilpin and others. Some of the villains from Piminy Street, in fact."
"Norton?" Clutching the edge of the table, Mr. Onimous sank onto a chair. "What's the world coming to?"
"Well, at least we'll be on our guard, Orvil," said his wife. She shook her head. "Who can have turned our dear Norton to wickedness?"
No one could answer her.
The knocking had ceased at last and, peering through the cafe window, Tancred caught a glimpse of two figures walking down the alley. Norton was unmistakable, his bulky form clad in a green padded jacket printed with yellow elephants. His companion was shorter and wore a black cloak and a hat with a drooping feather. The hat was an odd shape, soft and velvety-looking. It reminded Tancred of another hat he'd seen. Was it in a book or in a painting? He couldn't yet place it.
"Think I'd better be going now," Tancred told the Onimouses.
"Do take care, my dear." Mrs. Onimous came and gave him a hug. "You're young to be out alone on such a dark night."
Tancred was fourteen and accustomed to being out alone on dark nights. His endowment was the only protection he needed, or so he thought. A bolt of lightning or a blast of gale-force wind had always been enough to deter any would-be assailant. "I can look after myself," he said, extricating himself from Mrs. Onimous's embrace.
A violent gust of wind blew through the kitchen, and the cups hanging on the dresser rattled and clinked in a wild tune.
"All right, storm boy, you don't have to prove it." Mr. Onimous chuckled.
Tancred walked briskly through the cafe, calling, "Good night, Onimouses. Keep safe!"
Stepping into the alley, he closed the cafe door and stood listening for a moment. Footsteps could be heard turning right onto High Street. Pulling up his hood, Tancred tiptoed swiftly up the alley and looked around the corner.
The two figures were walking briskly in the direction of Bloor's Academy. Tancred drew his scarf over the lower part of his face and hurried after them. At first, Norton and his companion seemed unaware of their stalker, but all at once, the man in the black cloak swung around. Tancred leaped into a doorway.
He stood with his back against the door, breathing heavily.
He must have seen me,
because I saw him.
It was a face Tancred had instantly recognized. Framed in shoulder-length black curls, the stranger's pale features were dominated by large dark eyes and heavy arched eyebrows. He had a small pointed beard, and the tips of his fine mustache curled up to each cheek.
If the man had seen Tancred, he was apparently unconcerned, for the footsteps resumed their brisk walk.
It was several minutes before Tancred could bring himself to move again, and by the time he emerged on High Street, the two figures were nowhere to be seen. They had evidently taken the side street that led to the academy.
Keeping close to the buildings, Tancred flew after them. He reached the square in front of the academy just in time to see Norton climb the steps up to the school.
A cold shudder ran down Tancred's spine. He had spent three years at the academy, and in spite of the friends he had made, he had always been aware that, at any moment, old Ezekiel Bloor and the children he controlled might do something irrevocably evil. And then Dagbert-the-drowner had arrived, and the evil had finally shown its hand. Dagbert thought he had drowned Tancred Torsson; indeed, if it hadn't been for the cats' miraculous powers, Tancred would be dead.
He watched Norton climb to the top step, then turn and look back at the fountain in the center of the square. A circle of swans, their beaks upraised, blew silvery streams into the lamplit air. Tancred pressed himself against a wall, where the glow from the streetlights couldn't reach him. Norton made an odd sign with his hand, a sort of thumbs-up with all his fingers. And then, before Tancred realized what was happening, Norton's hand had twisted around so that his forefinger was now pointing straight at him. Tancred cursed himself for being such a fool. He had forgotten Norton's companion.
The man now emerged from behind the fountain and advanced toward Tancred.
"Who are ye? Give us thy name?" The voice was deep and husky. "Speak!"
With his back to the wall, Tancred shuffled sideways, attempting to slide back into the alley.
"Stop!" roared the man, and Tancred froze as, from beneath the folds of his cloak, the man drew out a gleaming sword. "Spy! Give thy name!"
Tancred found he couldn't breathe; his legs felt so weak he feared they would give way at any moment. He tried to summon up a wind, to fill the air with hailstones, but in the stranger's presence he could muster up only a damp breeze. The man was almost upon him, his sword slicing the air in shining arcs of light.
"Must I die a second time?" Tancred whispered dismally.
There would be no witnesses. The city seemed deserted; even the noise of traffic had faded away. The only sound that Tancred could hear was a faint clattering, which he mistook for his own beating heart. But the clattering grew louder. And now the sound resembled hooves cantering on stone, and then a voice cut through the night, "ASHKELAN!"
The swordsman whirled around and Tancred blinked in amazement as a knight on a white horse charged into the square. The knight was dressed from head to foot in glittering chain mail; he wore a helmet of polished metal with a plume of red feathers flowing from its crown, and a red cloak that billowed behind him like a sail. In his right hand he wielded a bright sword, the hilt encrusted with dazzling jewels, and the shield that hung from his saddle was emblazoned with a burning sun.