|one : the big house at the end of the village >>>|
Sunday, 11 November 2012
Arthur Ness ran.
He ran so fast that his chest was bursting, his head was pounding and his legs were burning up from the inside. ‘You’d best stop running right now!’ his legs were threatening him, ‘Or we’ll never work for you again!’
But Arthur Ness did not stop running. One of the witch’s spells blasted right past his head, its bright, white light flashing in his eyes as it exploded against a nearby wall.
Arthur Ness ran faster.
Somewhat unnecessarily, the talking cat next to Arthur shouted,
There were times that Arthur Ness needed advice – like what to do about the boys at school that bullied him. Or whether it was okay to feel bad that his father was off fighting Hitler in the war (when he knew he was supposed to feel proud). Or how to handle being scared of everything all the time. Yes, all those things Arthur gladly admitted that he could do with some advice on.
Being chased by an evil witch and several huge, snarling bull-creatures that ran on their hind legs and brandished giant swords and axes..? He didn’t need advice on that. He knew just what to do.
“Arthur Ness!” screeched the witch. “You shall not defy me!”
“Don’t listen to her, Arthur,” the talking cat called. “Just keep running!”
More unnecessary advice. ‘It’s alright for you,’ thought Arthur, ‘you’ve got four legs!’
But having the Cat with him – even though they were running for their lives from Lady Eris and the Yarnbulls – somehow made Arthur feel better.
“This way!” the Cat shouted while darting left through a stone doorway. Arthur huffed and puffed and put his head down and sprinted after him. The doorway was ancient and medieval-looking just like the rest of the castle and it looked identical to a hundred others they’d passed. Arthur didn’t have the spare energy to wonder just how the Cat knew his way around here or where they were going. But even though he’d only known the Cat for a short time and even though he was the first talking cat he’d ever met and even though he’d never really liked cats in the first place, Arthur Ness trusted him. So he followed the Cat through the doorway.
It led outside.
To a cliff.
Which meant that they were-
“-trapped..!” was all Arthur could manage in-between pants of breath.
The Cat had led them to a dead end. Arthur glanced quickly around as his rasping, clinging lungs slowly sucked air back into his body. He looked around for a way out. Gradually, the details of their surroundings leaked through to Arthur’s brain. But each detail was followed by another that meant everything made less sense instead of more…
Yes, they were now outside the castle (and it was a huge, imposing place, he noted).
It was nighttime. Everything was dark with just a splash of moonlight.
They were standing at the edge of a cliff.
All good so far.
But that’s when things started to get a bit weird…
First - there was no sky. Nothing. It was just black. No clouds. No stars. No moon. Nothing. Just a sun.
A sun. At night.
Next, the cliff they were standing on the edge of – it went down to more nothing. Not ground. Not sea. Just more nothing. It was as if Arthur, the Cat and the castle were all standing on a bit of ground that was just floating in the middle of all that… nothing.
The final strange detail was that there was a cable attached to the ground, right next to their feet. A huge cable. About as thick as Arthur’s body. And it stretched away into the black nothingness. Stretched away into the darkness and disappeard. Whatever it was attached to, Arthur couldn’t see. It was probably a long way away, beyond the dark.
All these things made no sense to Arthur and under other circumstances, he might have said things like ‘wow!’ and ‘oh my gosh!’ and other such gems of exclamation.
Lady Eris and the Yarnbulls stepped out of the doorway toward him and the Cat – her hands were glowing white, their weapons were shining.
Arthur Ness wasn’t here under other circumstances. He was here under these circumstances.
“And now, Arthur Ness…” Lady Eris sneered, her eyes dark, her breath not at all heavy or rasping like his, “…and you, my feline tormentor…” she said to the Cat, her hands raised towards the pair, glowing white, “…your running is at an end.”
That’s when the huge, stretched-out cable began to shake.
And the Cat smiled.
Arthur Ness was scared. Of everything.
It was almost Christmas of 1940 and Arthur was a long way from home. Enemy planes were flying over London every night and bombing everything, including his own neighbourhood. His mother was still there, alone. His father, a pilot in the RAF, was somewhere in the skies above, facing constant death battling the enemy. So, perhaps it could be argued that Arthur had many good reasons to be scared of everything.
Unfortunately, Arthur’s fear had been around a lot longer than the war. It had been with him for his entire life. He’d been scared of his first teddy bear (and his second… and his third). He’d been scared of his neighbour because she was too old. He’d been scared of going under his bed. He’d been scared of climbing trees. Of going swimming. Of animals. Of the strange way his cousin’s dolls looked at him.
Now, right now, Arthur was standing on the doorstep of a big house. It was nighttime and it was raining. He was in a village he’d never heard of in a part of the country that was miles away from his home. He was standing on that doorstep getting wetter and wetter and colder and colder.
And he was too scared to knock.
“You have to be brave,” his mum said as they stood on the platform in the train station. There were other children, other parents all around them. The platform was packed with them. Some, he recognised from school, most not. Arthur didn’t look at his mother. If he didn’t look at her, the conversation couldn’t finish. If the conversation didn’t finish, she couldn’t put him on the train. If he didn’t get put on the train, he wouldn’t get sent away like all these other children.
But his mum gently took hold of Arthur’s chin and turned his face toward hers. And she smiled at him.
“Be brave, okay?” she said. “For me.”
And Arthur nodded.
And then the conversation did finish. And he did get put on the train. And he did get sent away with all the other children. And even though he knew it was making him safe from the bombs, Arthur had never felt so alone. Or afraid.
The rain was beginning to soak through his clothes. His cap, his coat, his shorts – even his socks inside his shoes. All beginning to get squelchy and horrible and cold. His little, battered suitcase was looking exceedingly soggy. And the label that was hanging from the top button of his coat. The label that read;
Arthur Ness to :
Lord and Lady Roberts
No.1 Church Lane
Even that was getting hard to read – all the inky words now running into each other in a black, blobby mess.
Blinking against the rain, Arthur forced himself to look up at the house. It was huge and dark with horrid sharp edges and massive windows that looked like evil eyes looking out over the countryside. It even had a tower at the top, near the roof. Arthur shivered – and not just from the cold.
What kind of a person could possibly live here?
The kind of person who will be very angry with you
for waking them up at this hour of the night.
That was the voice. Arthur’s voice. Not the one he talked with. It was the one he thought with. The one that sat inside his brain and constantly reminded him how scared he was. Arthur never argued with it. Because it was always right.
But… scared or not, Arthur knew this couldn’t go on. If he didn’t go inside, he would freeze to death. And he didn’t like freezing to death, not especially.
He took a deep breath and raised his hand toward the wooden door – but before he could knock…
Arthur nearly jumped out of his skin as the deafening noise burst from behind the door. The noise of someone pulling open large, old, heavy locks. Then the door scraped slowly open. And there, emerging from the darkness inside the house into the half-light of the rainy night was the tallest woman Arthur had ever seen.
“Arthur Ness,” she said. “You’re late.”
|<<< prologue||two : lady eris >>>|
As soon as she said his name, something dark and heavy seemed to land on Arthur’s shoulders. His knees went weak and his head felt fuzzy.
This was one scary lady.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur muttered, dredging his voice up from the murky depths of his fear. “There was no-one to meet me at the train station in Nottingham. This man with a lorry-full of sheep gave me a lift to Lowdham, but then I had to walk the rest of the -”
“In,” she said.
So, in Arthur went. The door slammed shut behind him.
Even though it was nighttime, it was somehow darker inside the house than it was outside. A couple of murky-looking lamps struggled to illuminate a long, high hallway. It was nothing like the houses in London - not like the ones he’d ever been in, anyway. It was big and quiet and reminded Arthur of being in a church. But not the friendly kind where he went with his parents every Sunday. Here, there were no welcoming smiles. Just a wide, sweeping darkness.
“I’m going to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Devon,” said Liam Wilshaw. He, Mark Cooper and Arthur all picked their way along the Commons Road, winding themselves between piles of bricks and rubble and bits of houses.
Arthur looked up at the library as they went past. Yesterday, he’d been in there, looking through the adventure novels. Today, it had no roof and one of the walls was missing. Burnt, blackened books were strewn across the street.
Still – the sun was shining and nobody had picked on him since…. well, yesterday. So, for Arthur, things were good.
“Wow, Devon! That sounds ace,” said Mark. “That’s where they make ice-cream, you know.”
“I know,” glowed Liam. “That’s all they eat, down there. Ice cream for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, ice cream before bed-time… I’ll probably get given a big bowl of it as soon as I get there.”
“My dad’s friend is totally important at the war office,” Mark said. “I bet I could ask him to get me sent to Devon, too.”
“Oh, yeah, that’d be brill!” Liam wore a massive grin that matched Mark’s. Arthur walked on behind, all but unnoticed during this plan of evacuation and desserts.
Unlike the other two, Arthur still had no idea where he would be going. He could only hope it was somewhere where he’d get given a bowl of ice-cream when he arrived.
Arthur’s teeth chattered uncontrollably as he stared up at the dark, towering figure that was glowering down at him.
“Get used to the cold. You are forbidden to put on any heating in this house,” the tall woman said to Arthur in a hard, impassable voice. “You will sleep tonight. Tomorrow you will begin work. Every day, you will clean, tidy, cook and wash. You will not speak to me unless it is absolutely necessary. You will stay out of my room. You will stay out of the drawing room. All other rooms are your responsibility to clean. Am I making myself perfectly clear, Arthur Ness?”
“Yes, Lady Roberts,” said Arthur, “But, I…”
“I am not Lady Roberts,” she said, annoyance crawling all over her voice. “You will call me Lady Eris.”
“I’m sorry, Lady Eris,” said Arthur, lowering his eyes to the floor, confused and embarrassed.
“Do you have any questions?” she asked. Arthur forced himself to look up at her. She was really very pretty, he thought, but in a dangerous, cruel kind of way. She reminded him of the creatures he’d read about in ancient Greek mythology – Sirens. Beautiful creatures on the outside but nasty and evil within. Her strong jawline and long, black hair framed dark eyes which pinned Arthur to the spot. He was petrified, unable to move. She had on a long, black dress – so long, her feet were hidden from view. Arthur wondered if she even had any feet.
“Let us be perfectly clear, Arthur Ness,” she said, looking down her nose at the boy, “I do not want you here. It was the previous owners of this house, Lord and Lady Roberts, who volunteered to take in evacuee children from London. Despite my objections, I was unable to have you sent elsewhere when I… took over.”
Arthur nodded, his gaze never leaving his feet. He wished those Roberts people were here now – they, at least, sounded kind.
Arthur shuffled from foot to foot, unable to settle or calm himself down. Then, quite suddenly, a chill swept right through his body – incredibly, he felt as though Lady Eris was looking into him. Into his brain, into his mind. It felt for all the world as though she were spreading his thoughts out like a newspaper on a table and flicking through the pages at her leisure. And then, just like that, the feeling passed and Arthur felt alone in his head once more.
He looked up at her to see a horrid, satisfied grin across Lady Eris’ face and he knew just what she was thinking. He knew because he was thinking it too;
You’re scared of her, scaredy-cat. Really, really scared.
So scared, you’ll do exactly as she says. You won’t cause her any trouble.
And she knows it.
Lady Eris unfolded a long arm and pointed a slender finger up the stairs.
“Your room is the first on the left,” she said. “Mine is across the way, up in the tower. Never go there.”
Arthur looked up towards where she was pointing. When he turned to look back at her, he was startled to find her face just inches away from his.
“Never,” she repeated, “go there.”
Arthur nodded, mute.
But, then – strange… her hair, Arthur thought… close up, it almost looked like lots and lots of pieces of straight, black…
Lady Eris returned to her full height.
“Go. Unpack. Sleep,” she said. “Tomorrow, you begin.”
Without waiting for another word from her young houseguest, the scariest woman Arthur had ever met turned and went into the drawing room – one of the two rooms Arthur was already banned from.
As the door to the room swung slowly open, Arthur caught a glimpse of something inside – the biggest, most elaborate tapestry he had ever seen. Okay, he hadn’t seen many tapestries, but this one was…well, huge. A great piece of material, like a wall-mounted rug. It stretched from floor to ceiling and was made entirely from multi-coloured cotton threads, woven in and out to make a huge picture.
Actually, Arthur noticed, this one was lots of little pictures, all connected to each other – from one end of the weaving to the other. But the pictures were too small for Arthur to make out at this range. All except one. The picture of a small, black cat.
Arthur wasn’t sure why that one caught his eye. Maybe because it looked kind of different from the other images – a different style. The cat was looking off to one side. Very enigmatic, Arthur thought. Impressive. Mysterious.
A drop of rainwater plopped off the end of his cap and landed on his nose, making Arthur sneeze.
When he looked at the cat again, Arthur was somewhat startled to see that the cat was…well…
…looking back at him.
And - click - the door closed, leaving Arthur standing in almost total darkness.
With a sigh and a shake of his head, the young Londoner picked up his heavy bag and suitcase. Exhausted. Scared. Not thinking straight. Clearly, he’d looked at a different picture the second time. Clearly, it hadn’t actually moved. Clearly, he needed sleep.
And so Arthur trudged up the stairs, his case banging on each step as he went – and he found himself wondering if Mark and Liam were eating their ice cream right now.
|<<< one : the big house at the end of the village||three : out of the tapestry >>>|
(from the chaotic thoughts of the Cat)
The ship was on fire.
The ship was on fire.
If I had to make a list of sentences I want to say while aboard a ship, they would include ‘I’m going to take a long nap’, ‘Yes, madam, you’re right, I am handsome’ and my all-time favourite, ‘I see that everything on the menu is made of fish.’
‘The ship’s on fire’ would not even make the top one hundred. When I got aboard this morning, the Captain had assured me his vessel was sturdy and strong and reliable and absolutely not going to be on fire by late afternoon. Still, I suppose it wasn’t entirely his fault.
I mean, we were under attack from the Queen’s forces.
Now, as bad as things were – and, make no mistake, being under attack from the Queen’s Royal Vanguard is very bad indeed – things could actually have been worse.
‘You were on board a ship that was on fire!’ I hear you cry. ‘How could things have been worse?!’
Well, mainly because nobody knew I was here. I mean, yes the Captain and his crew. But they just thought I was a normal talking cat. They thought the same thing everyone thinks when they see me. What a nice cat. What a small cat. What a harmless cat.
In reality, I’m none of those things.
So, since the Captain and the crew thought I was just a regular (if dashingly handsome) cat and since the Queen’s soldiers – like the Queen herself – thought I was already dead (more on that later) then that meant they hadn’t attacked the ship because they were looking for me.
Like I said – that was a good thing. It meant my mission could go ahead. Y’know… once I’d dealt with the whole ‘burning ship’ thing.
‘And how did you do that?’ I hear you cry.
Well, have no fear. I may be a small, black cat (or I may not) but I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Little cat. Flaming ship careening toward the docks at full speed. No worries.
I’ve been in plenty of scrapes in my time – most of them courtesy of the Queen. I’ve spent more years than I care to remember fighting her. Yes, many years and seven lives. Fighting either her or one of her Noir Ladies.
In fact, when it comes to the Noir Ladies, I’ve got a one hundred percent record. I’ve seen off each and every one of them. Lady Aerie. Lady Kray. Lady Taranteen. Several others. All defeated. And each time, the Queen doesn’t get the hint – she just goes ahead and brings out a new model. The latest one, though – ooh, she’s a toughie.
By far, the meanest, coldest and hardest of all the Queen’s Noir Ladies. We’ve been battling for some months now. Even in that short space of time, though, we’ve gotten to know each other quite well, I’d say. Best of friends. Do anything for each other.
By ‘best of friends’, of course, I mean, ‘worst of enemies’. And by ‘do anything for each other’ I mean ‘kill each other on sight’.
In fact, the last time we met (a couple of weeks ago, on a mountain-top which was very cold despite all the explosions) she dealt me what baddies like to call a ‘killer blow’. She thought she’d finally defeated me. Thought I was on my last life.
However, even though I escaped (fantastic stunt, it was, remind me to tell you how I did it), I had to admit that none of the Queen’s other Noir Ladies had ever managed to come as close to defeating me as Lady Eris. And under her guidance, things have actually started to get quite… well…
Up until now, my battles with the Queen were lots of fun. She’d come up with some villainous scheme and I’d stop her. She’d rant and rave for a bit. Then she’d come up with another villainous scheme and the whole thing would start all over again.
Except now, with Lady Eris at the helm, the Queen’s villainous schemes are actually starting to work. I can’t defeat her quite so easily.
Occasionally, I can’t defeat her at all.
More and more of my allies are getting captured, killed or Bound. More and more of hers are running wild. She’s always had her agents – you know, the soldiers, the Yarnbulls, the Shards (oh, and the Rainhand – if you can count that terrible, terrible creature as truly hers…). But now, everything feels like it’s almost in the palm of her hand – the sun, the islands and all the NothingSpace in between. (By the way, I’m glad you’re from Arilon – if you were some random human, you wouldn’t have a clue what I’m going on about).
Anyway, I keep getting sidetracked.
Me. Flaming ship. Speeding towards the docks on Noir Island. Home of Noir Castle. Home of Lady Eris of the Noir Ladies (okay, I’m sure you’d figured that all out).
Now, let me assure you, once again, that I’m really very amazing and extremely talented when it comes to getting out of tight scrapes.
‘But how?!’ I hear you cry. (You really ought to stop with all the crying – it’s bound to get us discovered).
I already told you – don’t worry about me. I had a plan. Well, it wasn’t really a plan – I just ran as fast as I could and hoped no-one saw me. I hate plans. Plans are boring. It’s much more exciting to just do stuff and see what happens.
So, anyway, I had the utmost confidence in my abilities and I did manage to get off the blazing ship before it crashed into the island. And I did manage to do it without being seen. And I did manage to evade all the soldiers and Yarnbulls roaming the castle as I made my way to the Main Hall.
And I did manage to get into the tapestry and make my way over to the Human World. All the way to Waterwhistle.
And guess what I saw as I arrived in the drawing room in the house in the village in the Human World? Guess what I saw standing there, shivering and dripping wet?
I saw a young, frightened human boy.
And I thought ‘brilliant’.
Because I knew I’d just found the best weapon against the Queen I could ever have hoped to find.
|<<< two : lady eris||to be continued - read the whole book! >>>|