Chapter One: Running Away
Christopher decided to escape.
It was near the end of another long morning, during lessons. Master Ward, watching him, said, “Perhaps our work is done for today, Christopher,” and set the history book aside. When it came to boredom, was there anything worse than history lessons? Probably not. Christopher’s guardians had been cramming the history of the kingdom of Everie into his head as long as he could remember. Love your homeland, Christopher. Hate its enemies. Other boys went to school, but Christopher stayed behind locked doors, longing to run away and have adventures, and drummed his fingers and yawned over history.
When younger, he’d expected to be taught magic, but he’d given up on that long since.
He’d been confident that the masters—they were all magicians—had taken him in to be apprenticed, but no. No. Other boys, yes. Master Ward had two apprentices already, boys about Christopher’s age. They were allowed to go outside, talk to strangers, read the master’s grimoires and learn all sorts of fascinating spells. But Christopher wasn’t.
The magic was real. He’d seen it. It wasn’t for him, though.
That was why he had to escape.
One of the servants came in with the lunch-tray. “Master?” Christopher said. “May I read the daily broadsheet?”
“The news?” Master Ward nodded. The manservant, smiling, went away to fetch the broadsheet. “It’s exciting today. The Princess Alexane is coming home with her foreign bridegroom. Tomorrow we’ll be able to see engravings of the procession entering through the Grand Gates. I wish I could take you to watch it.”
Christopher looked down at the table. Complaining was stupid. It was better to make plans instead.
“But do you want to ride at the tilting-arm this afternoon? Since it’s such fine weather.”
“I’ll be back to fetch you at two by the bells, then.”
Before leaving, he drew an intricate key-design in midair. It hung there, glowing, as the window-shutters swung shut, swift light sealing their frames. The same spell-light danced on the doorknob, after Master Ward went out. Nobody could open it now. Christopher lit the lamp and stood staring down at the daily broadsheet.
Fifty thousand flowers had been used to decorate the Grand Gates and Royal Avenue for the princess’ procession. Two knights-royal would ride in her escort. Sir Gawaine and Sir Surrey. Two knights! There were only eleven, each the equal of an army. They were knights-royal because they wielded battle-magic. They would enter the city at high noon, an hour away by the clock.
Master Ward expected Christopher to settle in and read while eating his lunch, as usual. They’d brought him several new books. An atlas of the Seven Kingdoms, among others, and the Royal Gloxia Book of Winged Clockwork Engines. And the latest issue of Boy’s Adventure Quarto, illustrated with tinted woodcut pictures. He flipped through the adventure magazine, shut it and let it drop with a thump. Then he swept his hands through the books and papers on the desk, setting everything awry.
He’d been living in this house for just three days now. Before then it had been a house near the harbor, with the Master Lamplighter—a magician far older than Master Ward. He kept being shuttled from guardian to guardian, never anywhere for long. His guardians were all magicians of the Order of the Oroboros, and very powerful, but they kept moving him around. Still, no matter where he was taken or who watched over him, his guardians always tried to keep him on a routine. Everything at the right time, everything calm and predictable. Lessons in the morning, then lunch and a book, and a nap if he felt especially bored, but the important thing was that they’d leave him alone for about two hours.
Yesterday while searching his new suite of rooms, he’d knocked on all the walls, pried up some boards and found a disused dumbwaiter-shaft.
Just a cobwebby shaft, boarded up and forgotten long before his guardians had bought this old mansion. It led down to a pantry off the kitchens. From there, he could reach the servant’s backdoor. He’d gone that far last night.
He didn’t have any money but that didn’t matter. What he wanted to do was see the knights.