Christopher Key, chapter two end

Christopher had always known the magicians were against the King, but this was dismaying. It also sounded like the meeting was about to end. He ought to scoot back fast to his rooms—wait, what was that?

Master Dust’s manservants were doubtless in the room beyond with their master. The magicians always treated their manservants as equals, keeping them in their confidence. Christopher had seen that in every household he’d ever stayed in. So the noise he heard wasn’t a servant banging pots in the kitchen. Or thunder?

Listening hard, he scrambled to his feet. In the other room the magicians were still pledging eternal loyalty to Everie; he stood with his head tilted and wished they’d stop doing it so loudly.

An almighty bang shook the front of the house.

Another bang, as if the doors had been blown in. The floor quaked. He heard shouts.

From the adjacent room, the voices of the magicians cut off.

A knight in full plate strode around the corner at the far end of the dark hall. He stopped short when he spotted Christopher, lowering his sword. That sword looked enormous.

The knight’s eyes shone beyond the cross-slit of his visor. They reflected like mirrors. Then he did the strangest thing.

He dropped to one knee and took off his helm. “Don’t be afraid.” His voice was gentle, coaxing. His face was sweaty, with colorless hair plastered to his forehead. His eyes were colorless too and they really did reflect like mirrors. Christopher saw his own image in them, two times over. The knight held out his hand. “My name’s Surrey. I won’t hurt you. Come now, come to me, it’ll be all right.”

Christopher, shaking his head, began to back up as fast as he could.

Behind him, a door banged open and Master Ward stepped through. More magicians crowded behind.

Christopher stopped short. A phalanx of knights rounded the corner at the other end of the hall. They piled to a stop, clanging.

Knights in one direction. Magicians in the other. Christopher stood between them, heart banging in his throat.

Those knights were huge. Sir Surrey had loomed over him, but compared to the others, Sir Surrey was small. The foremost of the phalanx, especially, seemed big enough that if he stood straight he might be in danger of breaking the ceiling. Nor were his companions much smaller. They filled the hall, broad shoulders jostling, swords drawn. Several carried torches. They all wore full plate; the tang of oiled steel and sweat and leather hit Christopher’s nose and even the back of his throat. Heat rolled off them too. Their armor creaked and clanked when they shifted.

Master Ward was already sketching runes on the air, and the other magicians were chanting. Master Dust, the gloomy one, shouldered Master Ward aside, shook out his sleeves, and clapped his hands; a haze billowed up, clouds of grey puffing out of nowhere and rising high around him. The taste of dust, clashing with the strong smells of the knights, made Christopher cough. Master Dust said, “Ward? Shall I deal with them?”

At the same moment, the knight Surrey said sharply, “Gawaine. Hold them off—this is the boy.”

The biggest knight, Sir Gawaine, stepped forward. “I don’t know who you are,” he said to the magicians. “But be aware that we are eleven knights here, and the king himself accompanies us. Go away.”

Master Dust didn’t look impressed. He flexed his fingers. The clouds of dust rolled along the ceiling over his head, and now they assumed shapes, thin colorless snakes writhing down the walls, waves licking around Dust’s feet—a mounting tide of dust. His expression was as doom-ridden as ever, but his eyes had opened wide, glinting. The knights raised their swords. Some of them hefted battleaxes. “Now?” Master Dust said. “Ward, can I? Please?”

“No,” said Master Ward abruptly. “Christopher could be hurt. We need to withdraw—” He broke off. “Yes. Brothers, let’s go.”

Treading over his words, the knight Gawaine said, “Surrey, quick now,” and at the order, Sir Surrey swung around and put himself between Christopher and the magicians. He had unslung a shield, and held it protectively in front of Christopher.

All the other knights surged forward. Christopher was encircled by them, all bristling weapons and vigilance. It was like being surrounded by mountains. Sir Gawaine took him gently by the shoulders, holding him in place.

The magicians were backing off. Christopher could barely see them, too many big knights in the way. Even Master Dust’s dust had cleared away like, well, magic. He didn’t know what to think. Everything had changed so fast. The magicians turned away, their backs to him, hurrying down the hall, leaving him with the knights. He stood on tiptoes and craned, and for an instant his gaze met Master Ward’s, the last to leave. Master Ward inclined his head to him, sketched a final rune upon the air, and darkness enveloped him.

He vanished into it.

His magicians had abandoned him.

Whichever way Christopher looked, all he saw were knights.

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