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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 Evelyn and Emyr Davies and their family.

First published in Great Britain 2008 by Egmont UK Limited
This edition published 2010
by Egmont UK Limited
239 Kensington High Street
London W8 6SA

Text copyright © 2008 Jenny Nimmo

The moral rights of the author have been asserted

ISBN 978 1 4052 4586 9
eISBN 978 1 7803 1208 8

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.

Egmont is passionate about helping to preserve the world’s remaining ancient forests. We only use paper from legal and sustainable forest sources, so we know where every single tree comes from that goes into every paper that makes up every book.

This book is made from paper certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), an organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of forest resources. For more information on the FSC, please visit www.fsc.org. To learn more about Egmont’s sustainable paper policy, please visit www.egmont.co.uk/ethical.

Contents

Cover

Title page

Books by Jenny Nimmo

Copyright

The endowed children

Prologue

1. The package in the cellar

2. The melting dog

3. Squirra stew

4. Green vapour

5. The Pets’ Café is closed

6. The poisoned net

7. An evil wind

8. Destruction in The Kettle Shop

9. Purr spells

10. Mr Bittermouse

11. Tancred’s note

12. A drowning

13. Charlie is excluded

14. The painting vanishes

15. The shadow’s palace

16. The spy

17. Travelling with the boa

18. A tiger without a heart

19. Lysander to the rescue

20. Amoret

About the Publisher

The children of the Red King, called the endowed

Manfred Bloor

Talents Master at Bloor’s Academy. Previously head boy. A hypnotiser. He is descended from Borlath, eldest 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.

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 gibbet where dead men hung. For this talent he was banished from his village.

Lysander Sage

Descended from an African wise man. He can call up his spirit ancestors.

Tancred Torsson

A storm-bringer. His Scandinavian ancestor was named after the thunder god, Thor. Tancred can bring rain, wind, thunder and lightning.

Gabriel Silk

Gabriel can feel scenes and emotions through the clothes of others. He comes from a line of psychics.

Emma Tolly

Emma can fly. Her surname derives from the Spanish swordsman from Toledo, whose daughter married the Red King. He is therefore an ancestor to all the endowed children.

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.

Dorcas Loom

Dorcas can bewitch items of clothing. Her ancestor, Lola Defarge, knitted a shrivelling shawl whilst enjoying the execution of the Queen of France in 1793.

Idith and Inez Branko

Telekinetic twins, distantly related to Zelda Dobinsky, who has left Bloor’s Academy.

Joshua Tilpin

Joshua has magnetism. He is descended from Lilith, the Red King’s oldest daughter, and Harken, the evil enchanter who married her.

Una Onimous

Mr Onimous’s niece. Una is five years old and her endowment is being kept secret until it has fully developed.

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.

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.

The endowed are all descended from the ten children of the Red King: a magician-king who left Africa in the twelfth century, accompanied by three leopards.

Prologue

The winds of Badlock were the cruellest in the world; they came from every quarter, screaming against the giant’s broad back, tearing his hair and lashing his eyes, so that he could barely open them. At every step great gusts swept around his long legs until, at length, he was forced on to his knees.

Behind the giant lay a vast plain of wind-torn scrub and ever-shifting stones. It had taken him and his child a night and a day to cover this inhospitable terrain. They had come from the range of snowcapped mountains that surrounded the plain like a massive wall.

The giant drew his cloak tight about the boy in his arms. They had been making for a little hollow, where a shelter of trees could be seen, and the gleam of water.

‘Forgive me, Roland,’ moaned the giant. ‘I can go no further.’

‘You are tired, Father,’ said the boy, twisting out of the giant’s arms. ‘If I walk you can move more easily.’

The giant marvelled at his little son’s spirit. It must come from the boy’s mother, he thought. It shamed him to see Roland still so unafraid after their long ordeal. Gathering his strength, the giant got to his feet again and battled forward, while his son staggered bravely at his side.

‘Look!’ Roland suddenly sang out. ‘I see a light in the hollow.’

‘The moon,’ murmured his father.

‘No, Father. A flame.’

The giant brushed a hand across his eyes and blinked. Yes, there was, indeed, a light flickering at the edge of the hollow. But how could he tell if it meant danger? They were unlikely to find help in such a godforsaken place.

All at once, Roland suddenly sprinted ahead. He had always been inclined to rush headlong into things that excited his curiosity.

‘Wait!’ called the giant.

But Roland, his arms wide as if embracing the wind, forged through the swirling gusts, whirled away towards the trees and disappeared from view.

When the giant arrived at the hollow, he found his son talking earnestly to a boy of about ten with startling snow-white hair. The stranger raised his rush-light the better to see the form that stood at the lip of the hollow, and the giant noted his large violet-coloured eyes. A goblin, thought the giant. What fairy tricks has he come to play on us?

‘Roland, come here,’ the giant commanded, stepping closer to the pair.

Of a sudden, as if from nowhere, another figure moved into the circle of light: a tall young man with raven hair and a cloak of some dark shiny stuff.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ said the dark young man. ‘White-haired Owain is no fairy. He has sought you for many months.’

‘For me?’ The giant’s eyes narrowed.

‘You are Otus Yewbeam?’ asked the boy.

‘That is my name.’

The boy made a deep bow. ‘I am so happy to find you, sir. No one could tell me where you had gone. It was an old woman in your village who, nearing the end of her life, overcame her fear of punishment, and told me that you and your son had been taken prisoner by a knight all in green.’

‘Count Harken.’ The giant gave a snort of loathing.

‘But you have escaped,’ said the dark youth.

‘We would have rescued you,’ said Owain, ‘however fiercely you had been guarded.’

Roland, who had been leaping up and down with excitement, could contain his news no longer and burst out, ‘Owain is my cousin, Father, and he,’ he pointed to the dark young man, ‘he is my uncle Tolemeo.’

The giant frowned. ‘Can this be true?’

Tolemeo said, ‘Let us go further into this hollow where we can speak more easily.’ For they had been shouting in sentences devoid of warmth or feeling, as the wind snatched their words and scattered them into the air.

Tolemeo led the way, followed by Owain, whose flaring torch caused Tolemeo’s cloak to sparkle with ever-changing colours, from vivid blue to green to deepest purple.

He is wearing feathers, thought the giant, and a small thread of unease ran through him. Yet I must not expect them to be ordinary, he told himself, for they are the Red King’s children and my own dear wife, Amoret, was a child of the magician-king.

They reached a cluster of rocks at the bottom of the hollow and, easing himself on to a wide slab, the giant asked, ‘Have you news of my wife?’

He did not get an immediate answer. Owain looked at the ground. The white-haired boy seemed, all at once, nervous and uncertain.

‘Forgive me, sir,’ said Tolemeo, ‘but you are not my idea of a giant.’

‘No,’ said Owain, with an edgy laugh. ‘I always imagined a giant’s head to be swallowed by the clouds.’

Otus smiled indulgently. ‘I am not a true giant, though I come from a race of giants. My father stood two fathoms high. I am only two-thirds his height. My brothers are even smaller. Perhaps our descendants will be a more manageable size.’ He glanced at Roland and then said urgently, ‘But please, have you news of my wife?’

Tolemeo lowered his gaze. His slight uncomfortable shrug caused the giant’s heart to miss a beat.

‘Tell me, please,’ cried Otus, ‘even if it is the worst a man can expect.’

‘Your wife went to her brother Amadis . . .’ Tolemeo began.

‘Yes, yes,’ broke in the giant. ‘We heard that Count Harken was on his way. I thought she would be safe with Amadis. She had a mirror, made by her father, the king, and she used it – for travelling.’ Otus looked into the faces that stared up at him. They didn’t seem surprised. ‘You know of the mirror?’

‘We do,’ Tolemeo affirmed. ‘And we know that it is what Harken craves.’

The giant’s mouth twisted in a bitter smile. ‘Count Harken may be an enchanter but he craves everything the king, your father, ever made or owned. They surrounded our house, Harken and his army of trolls and thugs. Amoret tried to take our baby with her, she thought the mirror would transport them both but, somehow, it would not work for Roland. He fell into my arms just as his mother vanished. Minutes later, Harken broken into the house and captured us. They brought us here to Badlock and for two years we have been imprisoned in one of his many towers. Three days ago I kicked out at the wretched troll who brought our food and while he was still reeling from the pain of my boot, clever Roland pushed him into a cupboard and locked the door.’

‘And then I untied my father’s bonds,’ said Roland. ‘They didn’t know I had grown so strong, or they would have chained me to the wall, like my poor father.’

The giant lifted his son into his arms. ‘We have been travelling ever since, but with these accursed winds it is hard to make progress. If we can reach the coast and get a boat, we’ll find my wife no matter what. I’ve heard her brother, Amadis, has a fine castle, on an island in the western sea.’

The silence that greeted this remark was so profound it seemed like a dark chasm where the giant’s mind refused to go.

‘Tell me,’ he whispered.

‘Your wife is dead,’ said Tolemeo steadily. ‘Owain will tell you the rest, for he was there.’

Roland buried his head in his father’s neck, his shoulders heaving with quiet sobs. I have known this all along, thought Otus. How could I have hoped to avoid the truth? ‘Tell me,’ he said.

Owain slipped off his rocky perch and passed the torch to Tolemeo. Then, clasping his hands together, he looked steadily into the giant’s face and began, ‘It was my own uncle, your wife’s older brother Borlath. You must know that he is one of Harken’s allies. He found my father’s island and the castle he had built. The loveliest castle in all the world, they said. Borlath wanted it. He brought an army of mercenaries and tried to starve us out, but my father, who could speak with animals, called to the wolves, the bats, the birds and the rats. The rats were especially useful, they ate all Borlath’s supplies. When winter came the mercenaries grew sullen, they wanted to leave, and that’s when Borlath used his awful power. I saw it myself from the battlements; fire came from his hands, flames from every finger.’ Owain held up his hands, his fingers spread wide. ‘In a second a ring of fire had encircled us. My father lifted me down. “Run, Owain,” he cried. “Run to the well as fast as you can, and don’t come out until I tell you.” So I ran. And as I went I looked up and a bright mirror came flying over my head, and I caught it, and far, far away, I heard Amoret call out, “Give the mirror to my son.” And I went down the well, and my raven came with me. He was my friend, you see, and I talk his language.

‘From the depths of the well we listened, Raven and me. We listened to screams, to roaring flames, to beams tearing and crashing, to moans and cries and boulders falling. And I smelt fire, and worse than fire.’ Owain lifted his glistening eyes to the sky and his chest rose and fell, as though he were fighting for breath. Tolemeo put a hand on his shoulder, and the boy continued, ‘And then it was quiet, very quiet, and I knew my father could never tell me to come out; I knew I would never hear his voice again. So I came out anyway. And they were all dead. Everyone.’

The giant’s mouth had fallen open, but his cry was silent. Roland turned his head to stare at Owain. Horror had dried up his tears.

Owain said gently, ‘When I came out it was snowing, and the castle walls were as shiny as glass, so shiny I could see my face in them.’

‘It was the work of a magician,’ said Tolemeo, ‘my father’s friend, Mathonwy. He sent a cloud of snow to smother the flames. But his help came too late to save Amadis and Amoret. I was in Toledo, my mother’s city, when it happened.’

Owain clasped Tolemeo’s hand. ‘I sent my raven to find him, and since the day Tolemeo arrived, we have been searching for you.’ He put his hand into his jerkin and drew out a mirror set in a jewelled frame. The glass was so brilliant it was as if the sun had touched their faces.

The giant gasped, and turned his head away. ‘Amoret,’ he murmured.

Tolemeo took the mirror from Owain and thrust it into the giant’s hands. ‘Take the mirror, Otus Yewbeam,’ he said sternly. ‘You have lost your wife but you still have your son.’

The giant was about to reply when Tolemeo suddenly spun on his heel, his nostrils flaring, his eyes wide and alert. ‘They are upon us,’ he cried.

‘I heard nothing,’ said the giant.

‘Nevertheless.’ Tolemeo lifted Roland on to his shoulders. ‘We have but a moment.’ He began to stride round the lake. ‘Otus, make haste. They approach.’

The giant stood, clutching the mirror to his chest. He looked up to the rim of the hollow, and there they were – a long line of shadows weaving through the trees. A deep, nasal roar filled the giant’s ears as Harken’s troll army began to run down the steep bank. Their tiny eyes and scribble mouths were all but hidden in the fleshy spread of their huge noses. They wore scaley breastplates of dull metal, and tall, ridiculous helmets that disguised their lumpy heads. Their weapons were cudgels, spears and deadly slingshots, and behind them came a group of hideous beings that were neither troll nor human.

The giant began to run, his long legs easily clearing the rocks at the lake’s edge. Ahead of him, he could see Roland’s small face gazing back from Tolemeo’s shoulders. ‘Run, Father, run,’ called the little boy.

The trolls’ bellowing filled the hollow. Rocks and spears began to rain down from every side, and now the giant could see that they were surrounded.

‘The Count is angry,’ a thick, rasping voice announced. ‘He punished me for your escape, Otus Yewbeam. And now I shall punish you.’

The giant recognised Oddthumb, leader of Harken’s guards. He was bigger than the others and his face was a corpse-like grey, but what marked him out was the thumb of his right hand, a huge, gnarled, stumpy thing, wider than his palm.

Otus ducked as a rock came winging from Oddthumb’s slingshot.

‘The mirror, Father,’ cried Roland. ‘Use the mirror to save yourself. Mother would have wished it.’

Tolemeo stopped and called back, ‘It’s the truth, Otus. Give them the mirror. It will slow them down. I will save your son, but you will have to fend for yourself.’

‘Save Roland,’ cried the giant, and he threw the mirror high into the air.

Every troll face was raised in fear and astonishment as the shining circle spun to earth, its radiance piercing their weak eyes and momentarily blinding them.

A howl of pain and fury went up. The mirror dropped at Oddthumb’s feet. He felt its weight but couldn’t see it.

‘Farewell, Otus!’ called Tolemeo.

The giant turned.

Tolemeo was rising from the ground with Roland and Owain clasped in his arms. Higher and higher. Now they were over the lake, and the feathered cloak billowed around them, while the dark water shimmered in the breeze. When they were higher than the trees that rimmed the hollow, two great wings spread behind Tolemeo. He swung in the air and lay like a swimmer, while the wings beat gracefully above him. He might have been a great bird soaring through the starlit sky, if you chose not to see the two small figures clasped to his chest.

A joyous smile lit Otus Yewbeam’s face, and in the long, solitary years that were to follow, the smile would return every time the giant remembered that moment.

The trolls had recovered their sight. They ran down to the lake, swinging their cudgels, grunting and swearing. The giant knew it would be useless to run. He saw that Oddthumb had picked up the mirror. The shadow would have what he wanted at last.

The package in the cellar

‘Pretty Cats!’

In the hall of number nine, Filbert Street, a small boy stood at the foot of the staircase. He looked sickly and too thin. Scraping a tangle of dull brown hair away from his face, he stuck out his tongue. ‘Flames! That’s what they call you, isn’t it?’

The three cats, sitting on the rail, stared down from the landing above. They had fiery coloured coats: copper, orange and yellow. The orange cat hissed; the yellow cat lifted a paw and flexed his dangerous claws; the copper cat gave a deep, threatening growl.

‘Why don’t you like me? I’m smarter than you. One day,’ the boy raised his fist, ‘you’ll be sorry.’

A door opened behind him and a voice called, ‘Eric, what are you doing?’

‘Come and look.’

Two women stepped into the hall. They would have been identical if there had not been twenty years between them. Both were tall and dark-eyed, with thin, chilly mouths and long, narrow noses. But whereas one had bone-white hair, the other’s was as black as a crow’s wing.

‘Look!’ Eric pointed up at the three cats.

The older woman uttered a throaty snarl. ‘What are they doing here? I’ve forbidden them, expressly.’

The younger woman, Eric’s stepmother, grabbed his hand and dragged him back. ‘I’ve told you never to approach those creatures.’

‘I didn’t,’ said Eric. ‘I’m down here and they’re up there. And anyway, they can’t hurt me.’

‘Of course they can,’ his stepmother retorted. ‘They’re wild creatures.’

‘With leopards’ hearts,’ her sister added. Raising her voice, she called, ‘Charlie! Charlie Bone, come here, this minute.’

A door opened upstairs and a moment later a boy with tousled hair leaned over the railing. The yellow cat walked up to him and rubbed its head against his arm. The other cats jumped down and circled his legs.

‘What is it, Grandma?’ Charlie stroked the yellow cat’s head and yawned.

‘Lazy lump!’ said his grandmother. ‘Have you been asleep?’

‘No,’ Charlie replied indignantly. ‘I’ve been doing my homework.’

‘Did you let those cats in?’

‘They’re not doing any harm,’ said Charlie.

‘Harm?’ Grandma Bone’s dark eyes became angry slits. ‘They’re the most harmful creatures in this city. Get them out.’

‘Sorry, Sagittarius.’ Charlie lifted the yellow cat off the banisters. ‘Sorry, Aries and Leo,’ he said to the cats winding themselves round his legs. ‘Grandma Bone says you’ve got to go.’

Whether it was Charlie’s tone of voice or his actual words was not clear, but the cats appeared to know exactly what he was saying. They followed him into his bedroom and, when he had opened his window, they jumped through it, one by one, on to the branch of a chestnut tree that stretched close to the sill.

‘See you at the Pets’ Café,’ Charlie called as the Flames leapt on to the pavement. They bounded up the street with a chorus of mews that made a dog, on the other side of the street, stop dead in its tracks.

Charlie smiled and closed the window. Returning to the landing, he found his grandmother, his great-aunt Venetia and Eric still staring up at him.

‘Have they gone?’ Grandma Bone demanded.

‘Yes, Grandma,’ Charlie said wearily.

At this point a third woman emerged from the sitting room. With her sharp features and abundant grey hair she was clearly related to the other two women. She was, in fact, Charlie’s great-aunt Eustacia. She was carrying a flat rectangular object covered in brown paper. It was about a metre and a half long and, perhaps, just under a metre wide.

Charlie knew there was no point in asking about the package. He would be told to mind his own business. But he had a fairly good idea what it was. He began to feel unaccountably excited.

‘What are you staring at?’ Great Aunt Eustacia grunted at Charlie.

‘Get back to your homework,’ ordered Grandma Bone.

Eric’s thin little mouth twisted into an unpleasant smirk. ‘Goodbye, Charlie Bone!’

Charlie didn’t bother to reply. He went back to his room and closed the door with a loud click. But then, as quietly as possible, he opened it, just a fraction. He wanted to know what was going to happen to the object Eustacia was carrying. Surely, it had to be a painting.

It was two years since Charlie had discovered his extraordinary endowment. It had begun when he heard voices coming from a photograph. Over the next few months Charlie found himself travelling into photographs and talking to people who had died many years before. When he turned his attention to paintings, the same thing had happened: he could meet the subjects in old paintings, people who had lived centuries before. Charlie often tried to avoid these situations; it was one thing to go into the past, quite another to leave it. Once or twice he’d been lucky to get out alive.

For some reason, the rectangular object with its covering of wrinkled brown paper aroused Charlie’s intense curiosity. He put his ear to the crack in the door and listened.

‘Why you’ve brought it here, I can’t imagine.’ Grandma’s voice crackled with irritation.

‘I told you,’ whined Great Aunt Eustacia, ‘my basement’s damp.’

‘Hang it on your wall, then.’

‘I don’t like it.’

‘Then give it to –’

‘Don’t look at me,’ said Great Aunt Venetia. ‘It gives me the creeps.’

‘She made me take it,’ Eustacia said fretfully. ‘Mrs Tilpin isn’t someone you can argue with.’

Charlie stiffened. He hadn’t heard Mrs Tilpin’s name mentioned for some time. Once, she had been a rather pretty music teacher called Miss Chrystal, but she hadn’t been seen since she had been revealed as a witch.

‘They won’t keep it at the school,’ went on Eustacia. ‘Even Ezekiel is wary of it. He says it steals his thoughts, it draws them away like a magnet – he says.’

‘Joshua Tilpin is a magnet,’ said Eric.

His stepmother uttered a short, dry laugh. ‘Huh! The witch’s son. So he is.’

At this everyone began to talk at once, and Charlie had difficulty in making out what was said, but it seemed that Grandma Bone had finally agreed to allow the painting, or whatever it was, to be stored in her cellar. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t her cellar, because she shared the house with her brother, Paton. Charlie and his other grandmother, Maisie, had been permitted to live there until Charlie’s parents returned from their second honeymoon, and their house, ‘Diamond Corner’, had been restored.

There began a succession of bangs, scrapings and irritated exclamations as the painting was presumably carried down into the cellar. Finally, the cellar door was shut and, after more discussions, bangs and clicks, Grandma Bone, her two sisters and Eric left the house.

Charlie waited in his room until he heard everyone bundle into Great Aunt Eustacia’s car. Then, with much mis-firing and a painful scraping of gears, the old Ford lurched down the street.

After another five minutes had passed, Charlie slipped out of his room and ran downstairs. When he reached the cellar he found that the door had been locked. Luckily, Charlie knew where all the keys were kept. He went into the kitchen and pulled a chair up to the dresser. Standing on tiptoe, he reached for a large blue jug patterned with golden fishes.

‘And what might you be up to?’ said a voice.

Charlie hesitated. The chair wobbled. Charlie uttered a shaky yelp and steadied himself. He hadn’t noticed Grandma Maisie folding the washing in a corner.

‘Maisie, are you spying on me?’ asked Charlie.

Maisie straightened up. ‘I’ve got better things to do, young man.’

Charlie’s other grandmother was the very opposite of Grandma Bone. Maisie wasn’t much taller than Charlie and battled hard to keep her weight down. Being the family cook didn’t make this easy.

‘Now, I wonder why you were trying to get those keys?’ Maisie’s face was too round and cheerful to look stern. Even frowning was an effort. ‘Don’t deny it. There’s nothing else up there that would interest you.’

‘I think Great Aunt Eustacia has put a painting in the cellar.’

‘What if she has?’

‘I . . . well, I just wanted to . . . you know, have a look at it.’ Charlie clutched the fish jug and drew out a large, rusty-looking key.

Maisie shook her head. ‘Not a good idea, Charlie.’

‘Why?’ Charlie replaced the jug and jumped down from the chair.

‘You know them,’ said Maisie with meaning. ‘Those Yewbeam sisters are always trying to trick you. D’you think they didn’t know you’d be just itching to take a look at . . . whatever it is?’

‘They didn’t know I was listening, Maisie.’

‘Huh!’ Maisie grunted. ‘Course they did.’

Charlie twiddled the key between his fingers. ‘I just want to take a look at the outside of it, the shape of it. I won’t take the paper off.’

‘Oh no? Look, Charlie, your parents are watching whales on the other side of the world. If something happens to you, how am I going to . . .?’

‘Nothing will happen to me.’ Before Maisie could say another word, Charlie walked briskly out of the kitchen and along the passage to the cellar. The key turned in the lock with surprising ease. But as soon as the low door opened, Charlie knew that there was really no doubt – something would happen to him. He could feel it already: a light, insistent tug, drawing him closer; down a set of creaking wooden steps, down, down, down, until he stood in the chilly gloom of the cellar.

The package was propped against the wall, between an old mattress and a set of rusty curtain poles. Charlie couldn’t be certain but he thought he could hear a faint sound coming from beneath the crumpled wrapping paper.

‘Impossible!’ Charlie clutched his hair. This had never happened before. He had to see a face before he heard its voice. But this sound was coming from something out of sight. As he stepped towards the package a deep whine whistled past his ears.

‘Wind?’ Charlie reached out a hand.

At his touch the paper rustled and creaked. The whole package seemed suddenly alive and Charlie hesitated. But a second of doubt was immediately overcome by his burning curiosity, and he began to tear at the wrapping. Strips of paper flew into the air, borne by Charlie’s frantic fingers and the unnatural wind that blew from who knew where.

The painting didn’t even wait to be entirely revealed. Long before every corner was free of the paper, a dreadful landscape began to seep into the dim cellar. This was not how it should happen. Charlie was mystified. He waited for the familiar tumbling sensation that usually overwhelmed him when he travelled into paintings. It never came. He watched in astonishment as the brick walls of the cellar were swallowed by a vista of distant mountains. Tall, dark towers appeared in the foreground; one swam so close to Charlie that he could smell the damp moss that patched the walls. Ugly scaled creatures scuttled over the surface, pausing briefly to stare at Charlie with dangerous glinting eyes.

It has to be an illusion, Charlie told himself. He put out his hand – and touched the horny spine of a black toad-like thing. ‘Ugh!’ Leaping away from it, he tripped and fell on to his back. Beneath him he could feel rough stone cobbles, slippery with grey-black weeds. Above him purple clouds rushed through an ash-coloured sky, and all about him the wind roared and rattled, howled and sighed.

‘So I’m there already.’ Charlie got to his feet and rubbed his back. ‘Wherever there is.’

In brief intervals, when the wind died to a low whine, Charlie could hear the tramp of heavy feet and a low muttering of voices. ‘It’s here,’ one said. ‘I can smell it.’

‘It’s mine.’ This voice glooped like a sink full of dishes. ‘I know how to catch it.’

‘Oddthumb knows,’ came a chorus of low, tuneless voices.

Charlie backed round the tower as the marching feet drew closer. There appeared to be no windows in the building and Charlie was just beginning to think that it was without a door, when he was suddenly seized round the waist and lifted high in the air. A huge fist closed over his mouth and a voice, close to his ear, whispered, ‘Boy, your life depends on your silence.’

Shocked and speechless, Charlie was swung backwards through an open door and set down. He found himself on the lowest step of a stone staircase that spiralled upwards before disappearing into the shadows.

‘Climb,’ whispered the voice, ‘as fast as your feet will take you.’

Charlie mounted the stone steps, his heart beating wildly. Up, up and up, never stopping until he had reached a door at the very top. Charlie pushed it open and went into the room beyond. A narrow window high in the wall shed a dismal light on to the sparse furnishings beneath: the longest bed Charlie had ever seen, the highest table and the tallest chair, and . . . could that be a boat, hanging on the wall? He turned quickly as the owner of the room ducked under the lintel and walked in, closing the door and locking it.

Charlie beheld a giant, or the nearest thing to a giant he had ever seen. The man’s white hair was coiled into a knob at the back of his head, and a fine, snowy beard reached a neat point just above his waist. He wore a coarse shirt, a leather waistcoat and brown woollen trousers tied at the ankle with cord.

The giant held a finger to his lips and then, raising his arm, pushed open a small panel set between the rafters of the roof. Without a word, he lifted Charlie up to the dark space revealed. Charlie rolled sideways and the panel was immediately replaced, leaving him in a dark, stuffy hole with his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped around his legs.

‘They’ll not find you. Trust me,’ whispered the giant, whose head was perhaps only a foot below the rafters.

There was a tiny hole right beside Charlie’s ear and when he turned his head, he could see directly into the room below. He had just positioned himself as comfortably as possible when he heard voices echoing up the stairwell.

‘Otus Yewbeam, are you there?’

‘Have you seen the boy?’

‘Caught him, have you?’

‘He’s ours.’

‘Mine,’ came Oddthumb’s husky snarl. ‘All mine.’

A battery of fists and cudgels began to thump against the door.

‘Patience, soldiers,’ called Otus. ‘I was sleeping.’ One step took him to the door, which he unlocked, with much sighing and rattling.

A crowd of squat, ugly beings rushed in and surrounded the giant. They wore metal breast-plates over their patched leather jerkins, and strapped to their heads were tall helmets like metal top hats. Axes, knives, catapults and cudgels hung from their belts, though some had bows slung over their backs, and quivers bursting with shiny arrows. Most came well below the giant’s waist, but there was one, somewhat larger than the others, who looked familiar to Charlie. Couldn’t be the same carved stone troll that had once sat outside Great Aunt Venetia’s gloomy house?

‘Why did you lock the door against us?’ this larger being demanded.

‘Not against you, Oddthumb,’ said the giant, ‘against durgles.’

‘Durgles!’ spat Oddthumb.

‘Durgles are very destructive,’ said Otus. ‘Many a day they have eaten my bread whilst I slept.’

‘Liar,’ said Oddthumb. ‘A durgle can no more unlock a door than a diddycock. You have got him, I know it.’

‘Who?’ Otus enquired in a mild tone.

‘The boy,’ snarled one of the smaller beings. ‘He’s here. The Watch see’d him a’coming from far off. Caught he was, by the Count’s guile.’

‘Enchanted,’ said the being beside him.

‘Spell-brought,’ chorused the others.

There was a loud creak as Otus lowered himself on to his bed. He was now out of Charlie’s sight, though he could still see a long leather-bound foot.

‘Respected soldiers, I have seen no boy,’ said Otus. ‘Search this room if you must.’

‘We will,’ grunted Oddthumb. ‘Up, giant!’

Otus had barely risen from the bed, when Oddthumb and his crew had pushed it over. They slashed at the blankets, battered the straw mattress, tore off a cupboard door, turned over a thin rush mat, poked up the chimney, pulled charred wood from the fire, and hacked at the floorboards. The frenzied attack lasted no more than ten minutes and, from his hiding place, Charlie saw a growing pile of ash and straw, broken pottery and chunks of bread.

‘Squirras!’ cried one of the soldiers suddenly.

Charlie couldn’t see what he had found. It must have been on the far side of the room.

‘Greedy, greedy,’ said Oddthumb. ‘Six squirras for your brekfass, Otus?’

‘I’m a giant,’ sighed Otus.

‘We’ll leave one – the smallest,’ Oddthumb said spitefully.

‘I thank you,’ said Otus.

A soldier with a warty face came and stood directly under Charlie’s spyhole. ‘No boy here, General,’ he said. ‘In forest maybe?’

‘No boy, eh? No boy.’ Oddthumb paced across the room. He stopped beside Wart-face and looked up.

Charlie found himself staring into a stoney grey eye. He dared not blink. He dared not breathe. His own eye began to ache as he held it wide open and unmoving. Could Oddthumb see him? Did he sense Charlie’s presence, lying above? An urge to sneeze overcame Charlie. He pressed his lips together, brought his fingers slowly up to his face and clamped them over his nose.

‘Dreaded creatures up there,’ whispered Wart-face. ‘Blancavamps maybe. Let us leave here, General.’

‘Blancavamps?’ Oddthumb stroked his chin with a grotesque thumb, as big as his hand. ‘Have you got blancavamps, Otus?’

Charlie had difficulty in stifling a gasp.

‘Sadly,’ said the giant. ‘They steal my sleep.’

Oddthumb threw back his head and gave a hideous burbling chuckle. In a second the room was filled with gurgling laughter, as the soldiers echoed their general. The dreadful sound stopped abruptly the moment Oddthumb closed his mouth. Without another word, the general marched out, followed by his troops.

Charlie listened to the stamp of heavy feet receding down the steps. A door at the foot of the tower clanged shut and the soldiers began to march down the street. Charlie waited breathlessly. He dared not move for fear one of the soldiers remained in the room below. He could hear Otus settling his room to rights after the rough intrusion.

Long after the footsteps had faded, the giant came and grinned up at Charlie. ‘You are safe, boy. Be not afeared, I will get you down.’

‘Thanks,’ Charlie said huskily.

The giant pushed back the panel, saying, ‘Step on to my shoulders.’ He held up his arms and Charlie thrust his legs through the hole. Otus gently lifted him down and set him on the bed.

Charlie wriggled his aching shoulders and rubbed his arms. ‘I’m not sure how I got here,’ he said.

The giant pulled his chair up to the bed and sat down. Putting his head on one side, he regarded Charlie quizzically. ‘Your name?’ he asked.

‘Charlie Bone, sir.’

‘You are a traveller?’

‘I . . . yes, I am sometimes. I can travel into photos and paintings.’ Observing the giant’s puzzled frown, Charlie added quickly, ‘Photos are a bit difficult to explain, but I expect you know what a painting is.’ The giant nodded. ‘Anyhow, this time it was different, my travelling, I mean. This time a painting has . . . kind of . . . captured me.’

‘Mm.’ The giant nodded again. ‘My wife had a mirror that took her a-travelling.’

‘A mirror?’ Charlie said excitedly. ‘My ancestor, Amoret, had a mirror. It caused a bit of trouble. Someone wanted it . . . an enchanter.’

‘Amoret was my wife!’ The giant clutched Charlie’s hand in his huge fist. ‘My name is Otus Yewbeam.’

‘Then . . . you’re my ancestor, too.’ Charlie’s gaze slid over the giant’s long frame, from the crown of his head to the tip of his long foot. ‘Maybe I’ll grow a bit.’

The giant smiled. ‘I was this high when I was a boy.’ He held his hand about six feet from the ground.

‘Oh,’ said Charlie, a little sadly.

‘What is your century?’ asked Otus.

‘Um . . . twenty-first,’ said Charlie, after a bit of thought.

‘There are nine hundred years between us.’

Charlie frowned. ‘I don’t get it. I’ve never, ever come into the past this way. I was just looking at a painting; I saw mountains and towers, but no people, and then, suddenly, it was all around me.’

‘He is powerful,’ Otus said gravely. ‘He wanted you in Badlock.’

‘Who?’

‘Count, enchanter, shadow of Badlock; he has many names. He brought me here as a captive, twenty years ago, when my wife fled to her brother’s castle.’ The giant’s large eyes clouded for a moment, and he looked up at the fading light in the window. ‘He wanted Amoret. He wanted all the Red King’s children. Five he won easily, they already walked the path of wickedness. The others – Amadis, Amoret, Guanhamara, Petrello and Tolemeo – they fled the evil. It was Tolemeo who rescued my son, Roland, and for that the shadow punished me. His soldiers relish torture. Now they let me bide in peace. I am forgotten, almost.’

Charlie reminded the giant that, today, the soldiers had not let him bide in peace. ‘I’ve put you in danger,’ he said. ‘If they catch me . . .?’

‘No,’ the giant leaned forward earnestly. ‘They will not catch you.’ He got up and strode over to a hearth set into a wide chimney breast. ‘Presently, we shall dine on squirra, boy.’

‘Oh, good.’ A note of anxiety crept into Charlie’s voice. What was a squirra, he wondered.

‘’‘’