Authors: William Nicholson
Tags: #Children's Books, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy & Magic, #Children's eBooks, #Science Fiction; Fantasy & Scary Stories, #Sword & Sorcery
Praise for SLAVES OF THE MASTERY
‘Sophisticated, tightly drawn and gripping . . . there’s now another children’s author whose next installment I’ll never get my hands on soon
‘Glorious, cinematic and completely enthralling’
‘Rich in characters . . . a gripping adventure’
‘It’s brilliant, I loved it’
T2, Daily Telegraph
‘A journey that will leave you breathless . . . a page-turning read, too’
‘This will undoubtedly be devoured by fans’
Praise for THE WIND SINGER and FIRESONG
‘An original and striking read’
‘A potent mix of thundering adventure and purposeful fantasy’
‘An accessible, rebellious and past-paced adventure’
The Sunday Times
Books by William Nicholson
The Wind on Fire Trilogy
The Wind Singer
Slaves of the Mastery
The Noble Warriors Trilogy
For older readers
Rich and Mad
First published in Great Britain 2001
This edition published 2011
by Egmont UK Limited
239 Kensington High Street
London W8 6SA
Text copyright © 2001 William Nicholson
The moral rights of the author have been asserted
ISBN 978 1 4052 3970 7
eISBN 978 1 7803 1211 8
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
Typeset by Avon Dataset Ltd, Bidford on Avon, Warwickshire
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.
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n a clear day the island can be seen from the mainland, the long ridge of its tree-ringed hill breaking the horizon to the south. Fishing fleets
sometimes pass its rocky shores, and the fishermen stare at the stark outline of the great ruin that tops the hill, but they don’t stop. The island has nothing for them. Little grows on its
bare sides, only tufts of dusty grass, and the circle of ancient olive trees round the roofless hall. Also there are stories about the island, of wizards who can summon storms, of talking animals,
of men who fly. Such matters are best left alone.
The island is called Sirene. Long ago a band of travellers settled here, and built the high stone walls on the top of the hill, and planted the olive trees for shade. The building has no floor,
other than the grass and rock that was there before. It has no roof. Its tall windows have no glass, its wide doorways no doors. But it’s not a ruin: this is how the people who built it meant
it to be. No timbers to rot, no tiles to slip and fall. No glass to break, and no doors to close. Just a long light space swept by sun and wind and rain, a house that is not a house, a place to
meet and sing and then to leave again.
Now after many years the sound of footsteps is heard again on Sirene. A woman is following the long rising path from the shore. No boat lies moored in the cove, and yet she is here. She wears a
plain faded woollen robe, and is barefoot. Her grey hair is cut short. Her face is weathered, lined, brown. How old is she? Impossible to say. She has the face of a grandmother, but the clear eyes
and agile body of a young woman. She barely pauses for breath as she makes her way up the hillside.
There is a freshwater spring where the hill levels off, and here she stops and drinks. Then she goes on, and passes between the twisted trunks of the olive trees, touching their jagged bark
lightly with one hand. She steps through the doorless doorway into the roofless hall, and stands there, gazing, remembering. She remembers how this hall was once full of people, and how they sang
together, and how she was filled by the song and wanted it never to end. But there is a time for singing and a time for waiting. Now it is all to begin again.
She walks slowly down the centre of the hall, looking out through the high windows on either side at the ocean beyond. A lizard, unaccustomed to human intruders, rattles away into a crack in the
stonework. A cloud sails across the sun, and its shadow slides over her.
She is the first. The others will join her, soon now. The time of cruelty has come.
arius Semeon Ortiz crested the brow of the low hill at a gallop, and drew his panting horse to a halt. There below him lay the broad coastal
plain, and the ocean: and not so far away, no more than an hour’s march, his goal, his prize, his gateway to glory, the city of Aramanth. Ortiz stood up in the saddle, and holding himself
steady, breathing rapid breaths, fixed his keen young eyes on the distant city. The walls were long gone, as his scouts had reported. There were no signs of any defences. Aramanth lay before him in
the fading evening light as fat and as helpless as a mother hen.
His line captains clattered up beside him, and they too smiled to see the end of their long journey. The food wagons were almost empty, and for the last three days the men had been marching on
short rations. Now Aramanth would feed them. The wagons would sit low on their axles when the lines turned for home.
Ortiz twisted round in the saddle, and saw with silent approval the orderly approach of the raiding force. Close on a thousand men, three hundred and twenty of them mounted chasseurs, were
making their way up the rising land. Behind them rolled the horse-drawn wagons which carried the tents, the cages, the rations for the men and the provisions for the horses: sixty wagons, and twice
that number of teams to haul them, for horses could not be asked to bear great weights for long without resting. Young as he was, Ortiz was a commander who left nothing to risk. No lame horse would
slow his lines on the long march.
He raised one hand. The silent signal flashed from squad to squad, and men and horses shuddered gratefully to a stop. Today was their nineteenth day on the march. They were tired, far from home,
and uncertain of success. It was his will alone that had sustained them: his certainty that this, the longest raid in the history of the Mastery so far, would yield its greatest prize. For years
now travellers had told tales of the prosperous and peaceful city on the plains. It was young Ortiz who had sent out scouts to confirm the reports. Aramanth was rich, and it was undefended.
‘How rich?’ he had asked. The scouts had made their best guess. ‘Ten thousand. At the very least.’ Ten thousand! No commander had ever delivered so much, nor half so much,
to the Mastery. Just twenty-one years of age, and he now held within his grasp such glory, such honour, that the greatest prize of all would surely follow. One day soon the Master would make his
choice of successor, his adopted son; and Marius Semeon Ortiz dared to dream that it would be he who knelt and said, ‘Master! Father!’
But first the wealth of Aramanth must be harvested, and brought safely home. He turned back to look once again at the distant city, where dusk was gathering and the lights were beginning to be
lit. Let them sleep in peace for one more night, he thought to himself. At first light I will give the command, and my men will do their duty. Aramanth will burn, and ten thousand men, women and
children will become slaves of the Mastery.
Kestrel Hath stood with the rest of her family towards the back of the crowd of guests. Her young sister Pinto, seven years old and jumpy as a sparrow, twisted and fidgeted
beside her. The betrothal ceremony was taking place in the centre of the city’s arena, where the old wind singer stood. The base of the structure had been dressed with candles for the
occasion. The light breeze kept blowing the candles out, and the bride’s mother, Mrs Greeth, who hated anything to be out of place, kept creeping forward to relight them. The wind caused the
wind singer to hum and coo, in its sweet everlasting way. Kestrel was not interested in betrothals, and so she listened instead to the voice of the wind singer, and as always, she was soothed.