Authors: Mike Wilks
Text and inside illustrations copyright Â© 2007 Mike Wilks
Cover illustration copyright Â© 2009 Pat Moffet
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.
Egmont UK Ltd
239 Kensington High Street
Visit our web site at www.egmont.co.uk
First e-book edition 2010
ISBN 978 1 4052 52294
lege nuntium turrium
Chapter 4. The Pleasure and the Pain
Chapter 11. The House of Mysteries
Chapter 14. The Fugitive Garden
Chapter 15. The Ill-Conceived World
Chapter 16. The Uninvited Guest
Chapter 18. Another Piece of the Puzzle
Chapter 19. The Irascible House
Chapter 20. The Rainbow Rebellion
Chapter 22. The Temporal Labyrinth
Chapter 24. The Mine of Inspiration
Chapter 26. The Excavator Excavated
Chapter 27. âThe World Turned Upside Down'
Chapter 28. âThe Garden at the End of Days'
Chapter 29. The Crystal Bridge
Chapter 32. Out of the Frying Panâ¦
Chapter 33. â¦and Into the Fire
Glossary of Terms in the Seven Kingdoms and the Mirrorscape
It should have been darker than the darkest night, as black as Indian ink. But it was not. He held his hand in front of his face and could clearly distinguish its outline in the feeble light. It was both a blessing and a curse. If he could see, then he could also be seen.
The man quickened his pace. There was little risk of stumbling now but where the light was coming from he could not yet tell. The echo of his footfall and the even floor told him that he was indoors and deep underground.
Then there was the smell. A smell of damp and decay laced with something sour and feral.
And sounds too. Sounds that could only be footsteps somewhere behind him, getting closer. Periodically they stopped, and he was sure he heard sniffing.
There was a sudden movement to his left and the man froze, his heart pounding. He turned his head slowly and so did his watcher. With an audible sigh of relief, he saw his own reflection. He approached the
mirror. Its ornate frame was cracked and draped with cobwebs, its glass scabby with age. But the shadowy reflection was his, even if his own mother would not have recognised the gaunt features and the malachite green skin. Escaping from the island of Kig had been the easy part. It had only taken him a matter of hours to travel the hundreds of miles from the horror of the mines to here â wherever here was. But when he finally emerged, fumbling, into the pitch darkness he found a new peril. It soon became clear he was being stalked.
As the man hurried on the light gradually increased until he discovered its source. A forgotten gallery stretched before him, one long wall hung with many paintings. But these were unlike any paintings he had ever seen before. Weird vines and plants spilled out of the images and on to the gallery floor. The branches of gnarled trees, originally crafted in oil paint, snaked and intertwined overhead. Streams formed by deft brushwork and pigment splashed their way out of the canvases and coursed along the gallery floor. Light was leaking from these pictures, casting rectangular pools
on the bare, stone floor. It reminded the man of a deserted city street at night, lit by the windows of many shops.
The green man walked down the long gallery open-mouthed, staring at the canvases. He stopped before one that depicted a clearing in the heart of a forest overflowing with extravagant plants where a band of travelling players dressed in gaudy costumes and masks slept. The scene was illuminated by thousands of candles that littered the floor of the forest and the branches of the trees. It was as if the troupe were dreaming a collective dream that had materialised into the forest around them. Dark spaces between the trees suggested shadowy forms that lurked beyond the light of the candles. In the foreground of the picture were strange creatures the size of small monkeys and covered with piebald fur. One had left the picture and was scampering around in its pool of light on the gallery floor. The man knelt and picked it up.
Then the smell was suddenly stronger. Behind him he heard a sound and without looking he knew what it was. The nightmare form of a monstrous creature
slowly emerged from the darkness beyond the gallery. It stood erect on immensely muscular hind limbs, its enormous jaws filled with needle-sharp teeth as long and transparent as icicles. It had huge, pale eyes as big as tea trays. From between them extended a long, curved barbel with a luminous tip like that of a deep sea fish. For a long moment they stood staring at each other. Then the monster folded its long wings and charged. As it hurtled towards the man, it uttered a blood-curdling roar.
The green man thrust the small, piebald creature into his rags, turned and sprinted down the gallery, his feet splashing in the watercourse. He knew from his pursuer's composition and fine detail that it was the work of Lucas Flink, and therefore exceedingly dangerous. But this was not the moment for the finer points of art appreciation.
Ahead, an interruption in the light betrayed the presence of a painting with its surface still intact. There was no time to examine the dark canvas closely; he had to trust that the seal remained unbroken. He came to a halt and made a complicated gesture with his hand and, with a faint smile of satisfaction, he saw the surface ripple.
Then he vanished!
Flink's creature let out a howl of frustration and skidded to a halt in front of the canvas, its wicked jaws closing on thin air and its claws tearing great gashes in the floor. It sneezed loudly, spraying pellets of foul, black mucus on to the canvas, each droplet reflecting a tiny, distorted image of its maker as it slid slowly down. The ghostly light from the creature's barbel revealed a snowy landscape with a group of lamp-lit dwellings nestling in a hollow. Misty, blue mountains graced the skyline silhouetted against the setting sun. If the creature had possessed the intelligence to comprehend the picture it would have seen a trail of footprints leading from the foreground down towards the village. And if it had followed that trail to its end it would have seen the beautifully painted form of a ragged man with a skin of malachite green cradling a tiny, piebald creature in his arms.
He was looking back over his shoulder and smiling.
The hare lay perfectly still. As a breeze stirred the long grass, her silky fur would ruffle and her whiskers twitch. Once, when a bee lifted off from a nearby gentian flower, she gave a quick flick of her long ear to send it on its way. Mel could see the nervous movement of her tiny nose as she sniffed the air for danger. Her bright eyes remained motionless but she was aware of everything around her. There was no sound except the faint buzz of insects and the whispering of the trees.
Mel had skived off to his favourite spot on the outskirts of the village. He had been dying to try out his new drawing materials. Lately he had been experimenting with a new ink. His first attempts had been soot mixed with water, but the ink was thin and soon faded to a sickly yellow-brown when he drew with it. His brainwave was to boil the sooty liquid the same way his mother thickened the broth. The result was much more like the real ink that Fa Theum used to pen his sermons. For his pen Mel had a fine goose quill
made from a long wing feather. With his father's sharp knife he had stripped away all of the feathery part and cut a fine point that he split to hold the ink. It was light â feather-light in fact â and responded to the slightest movement of his hand.
Mel sat in the sweet-smelling grass with the warm midday sun on his back, resting his mother's chopping board on his knees. On this was a precious sheet of paper that he had begged from Fa Theum.
He drew slowly but carefully, only putting the quill to the paper when he was certain that he understood what he was looking at. It was absorbing work, but he found the same old frustration gnawing at his concentration. If only he had colours to match the vivid splendour he saw all around him. The grey-brown of the hare, the green of the grass, the blue gentians, the yellow buttercups, the rich colour of the soil. But colour was out of the question. He might as well wish for a mansion to live in or velvet and silken clothes to wear.
âYou haven't finished it, Mel.'
The hare streaked away, a blur of movement. As startled as the wild creature, Mel spun around. Indistinct,
with the sun directly behind his head, creating a kind of nimbus, stood the figure of Fa Theum. Relieved, Mel squinted up at the grey-haired priest. âNearly, Fa. I was thinking that if I had some colours I could make it better. You know, more lifelike.'
âIt looks very lifelike to me. But that's not quite what I meant.'
âSorry, Fa. What did you mean?' asked Mel, puzzled.
âWhy, you've forgotten the most important part, my son.'
Mel stared back blankly.
âYour signature! All great works of art should be signed by their creator. Like I taught you.'
Mel smiled at the compliment. He tilted his little pot, dipped his pen in the last of the ink and slowly and carefully wrote in the bottom right-hand corner
âThat's it.' Then, after a pause as he continued to admire the drawing, âI guessed I'd find you here.' With a grunt, the elderly priest eased himself down to sit alongside Mel and absent-mindedly plucked a blade of grass to suck. âThat's a fine sketch, Mel. You have a rare
talent. But it's not your usual subject matter, is it?'
âNo, Fa. I really like to draw, you know,
things.' It was his favourite word. âBut sometimes I need to find an outside thing and use it as a starting point. Like, if I want to draw a creature with â¦ with an owl's body and a hare's head, I'll need a drawing of an owl and another of a hare so that I can join the two up.'
âWe call such creatures “hybrids”.'
Mel tried out his new word. âHybrids.'
âYou know, Mel, in The House of Spirits â the Maven's palace in Vlam â there is a great library. And in that library there is a rare book called a bestiary, containing descriptions and pictures of all manner of beast from every corner of the world. There are also fabulous creatures â unicorns, mermaids, gryphons and manticores â and there are hybrids. There are cameleopards, hippardiums, allopecopithicums. And there are lots more besides. Do you know what these creatures are?'
Mel could only shake his head in bewilderment.
âWell, you know that when a donkey mates with a horse, their offspring is a â¦.'
âMule,' finished Mel.
âThat's right. Now, according to the bestiary, when a camel and a panther mate they create another kind of creature altogether â a cameleopard. But if that same panther were to bear the offspring of a horse, well that would be a hippardium. The offspring of a fox and a monkey would be an allopecopithicum.'
âDo such creatures really exist, Fa?'
âPossibly, possibly. But there's something else about hybrids. You remember what a symbol is?'
âIt's something that means more than itself. Like your diaglyph.'
The old priest touched the tarnished pendant slung around his neck that rested on his shabby, brown cassock. A triangle within a square within a circle. He smiled at his quick pupil. âJust so. This is a symbol of my maker and of my faith.'
Mel nodded, eager for the old man to continue.
âSo, a mermaid might symbolise temptation and a unicorn purity. As for the hybrids, well they might symbolise two things at once. A fox is cunning and a monkey full of mischief, so an allopecopithicum would
have both those qualities. A kind of cunning rascal.'
âYes, but do they
exist?' insisted Mel.
âWhen I was a young priest in Frest, I met some sailors who swore that they once saw a mermaid and had travelled in a land where unicorns and other strange creatures lived.'
âMermaids and unicorns sound better than an owl with a hare's head,' said Mel, disappointed that he had come up with such mundane components for his imaginary creature.
âWell, there you're wrong. According to ancient folklore, the owl possessed wisdom and the hare was the messenger of the moon. So your hybrid might symbolise a wise messenger.'
Mel thought about this for a moment and smiled. âAnd do you think that my hare might have been bringing me a message, Fa?'
The priest smiled and looked down at the thirteen-year-old, ruffling his unkempt fair hair. âCome on, Mel, let's go home and see your parents. There's something very important we must discuss with them.'
A wave of panic swept through the youngster. âIt's
all right. I'm not skiving. I've done my chores; they know I'm out here drawing. They said I could come,' he quickly lied.
âDon't fret. Come, help me up.'
As Fa Theum and Mel made their way up the village street, the boy began to drag his feet, reluctant to reach home and the inevitable price he would have to pay for his truancy. Their footsteps raised puffs of pale dust in the rutted, unpaved street. An unpleasant smell rose from the central gutter where all manner of waste flowed. The low, single-storey houses that lined the street had roofs of thatch and walls of wattle and daub. Some had once been whitewashed but most were now faded. The entire village seemed to be painted in shades of sepia, alleviated only by the green backdrop of the distant trees and the grey smudges of smoke from cooking fires drifting slowly upwards from the chimneys into the clear, azure sky. Doors and wooden shutters were thrown wide to allow the summer air to circulate.
The Womper cottage was on the far side of the village. It was little more than a shack with a lean-to at one side. The ceiling was low, the tiny windows unglazed
and the floor was of hard, packed earth scattered with dried rushes. Mel's father, Willem, worked incessantly at the wooden loom that filled most of the main room. What little space was left was occupied by the plain table and chairs and by Willem's fireside chair. Next to a small, mud-brick hearth there was a settle where Mel and his mother would sit of an evening, and in the far corner the straw pallet where Mel slept. The remaining accommodation was no more than his parent's tiny bedroom to one side and some storage in the lean-to.
As they approached, a gang of the village boys raced past them. Fa Theum looked down at Mel. âBefore we go in and see your parents there is something I must tell you.'
Mel was not listening. Something was wrong. Everything was quiet where there should have been the steady clackety-clack of his father's loom. What had started as a sense of unease in Mel's heart grew to one of trepidation. He broke away from Fa Theum and ran the last few steps to his door.
The priest shouted after him, âMel, wait!'
But Mel did not hear him. He burst inside and stopped dead. Seated in his father's chair by the hearth was a monster, its vast size dwarfing the room. The creature's leathery head slowly turned and its single eye fixed itself on the intruder.