By the next morning, Christopher was heartily sick of the smell - it was more of a reek really - from the leather bottle. He put it under his head, but it was still so bad that he had to get up and cover it with a pillow before he could get to sleep.
When the Last Governess came in to tell him to get up, she found it at once by the smell. "Dear Heavens above!" she said, dragging it out by its strap. "Would you credit this! I didn't believe even your uncle could ask for a whole bottleful of this stuff! Didn't he think of the danger?"
Christopher blinked up at her. He had never seen her so emotional. All her hidden prettiness had come out and she was staring at the bottle as if she did not know whether to be angry or scared or pleased. "What's in it?" he said.
"Dragons' blood," said the Last Governess. "And it's not even dried! I'm going to get this straight off to your uncle while you get dressed, or your mama will throw fits." She hurried away with the bottle at arm's length, swinging on its strap.
"I think your uncle's going to be very pleased," she called over her shoulder.
There was no doubt about that. A day later a big parcel arrived for Christopher. The Last Governess brought it up to the schoolroom with some scissors and let him cut the string for himself, which added much to the excitement. Inside was a huge box of chocolates, with a vast red bow and a picture of a boy blowing bubbles on the top. Chocolates were so rare in Christopher's life that he almost failed to notice the envelope tucked into the bow. It had a gold sovereign in it and a note from Uncle Ralph.
"Well done!!!!" it said. "Next experiment in a week. Miss Bell will tell you when. Congratulations from your loving uncle."
This so delighted Christopher that he let the Last Governess have first pick from the chocolates. "I think," she said dryly, as she picked the nutty kind that Christopher never liked, "that your mama would like to be offered one before too many are gone." Then she plucked the note out of Christopher's fingers and put it in the fire as a hint that he was not to explain to Mama what he had done to earn the chocolates.
Christopher prudently ate the first layer before he offered the box to Mama. "Oh dear, these are so bad for your teeth!" Mama said, while her fingers hovered over the strawberry and then the truffle. "You do seem to have taken your uncle's fancy - and that's just as well, since I've had to put all my money in his hands. It'll be your money one day," she said as her fingers closed on the fudge. "Don't let my brother spoil him too much," she said to the Last Governess. "And I think you'd better take him to a dentist."
"Yes, Madam," said the Last Governess, all meek and drab.
It was clear that Mama did not have the least suspicion what the chocolates were really about. Christopher was pleased to have been so faithful to Uncle Ralph's wishes, though he did wish Mama had not chosen the fudge. The rest of the chocolates did not last quite the whole week, but they did take Christopher's mind off the excitement of the next experiment. In fact, when the Last Governess said calmly, the next Friday before bedtime, "Your uncle wants you to go on another dream tonight,"
Christopher felt more businesslike than excited. "You are to try to get to Series Ten," said the Last Governess, "and meet the same man as before. Do you think you can do that?"
"Easy!" Christopher said loftily. "I could do it standing on my head."
"Which is getting a little swelled," remarked the Last Governess. "Don't forget to brush your hair and clean your teeth and don't get too confident. This is not really a game."
Christopher did honestly try not to feel too confident, but it was easy. He went out onto the path, where he put on his muddy clothes, and then climbed through The Place Between looking for Tacroy. The only difficulty was that the valleys were not arranged in the right order. Number Ten was not next one on from Nine, but quite a way lower down and further on. Christopher almost thought he was not going to find it. But at length he slid down a long slope of yellowish scree and saw Tacroy shining wetly through the mist as he crouched uncomfortably on the valley's lip. He held out a dripping arm to Christopher.
"Lord!" he said. "I thought you were never coming. Firm me up, will you? I'm fading back already. The latest girl is nothing like so effective."
Christopher took hold of Tacroy's cold woolly-feeling hand. Tacroy began firming up at once. Soon he was hard and wet and as solid as Christopher, and very pleased about it too. "This was the part your uncle found hardest to believe," he said while they climbed into the valley. "But I swore to him that I'd be able to see - Oh - Um. What do you see, Christopher?"
"It's the Anywhere where I got my bells," Christopher said, smiling around the steep green slopes. He remembered it perfectly. This Anywhere had a particular twist to the stream halfway down. But there was something new here - a sort of mistiness just beside the path. "What's that?" he asked, forgetting that Tacroy could not see the valley.
But Tacroy evidently could see the valley now he was firmed up. He stared at the mistiness with his eyes ruefully wrinkled. "Part of your uncle's experiment that doesn't seem to have worked," he said. "It's supposed to be a horseless carriage. He was trying to send it through to meet us. Do you think you can firm that up too?"
Christopher went to the mistiness and tried to put his hand on it. But the thing did not seem to be there enough for him to touch. His hand just went through.
"Never mind," said Tacroy. "Your uncle will just have to think again. And the carriage was only one of three experiments tonight." He insisted that Christopher write a big 10 in the dirt of the path, and then they set off down the valley. "If the carriage had worked," Tacroy explained, "we'd have tried for something bulky. As it is, I get my way and we try for an animal. Lordy! I'm glad you came when you did. I was almost as bad as that carriage. It's all that girl's fault."
"The lovely young lady with the harp?" asked Christopher.
"Alas, no," Tacroy said regretfully. "She took a fit when you firmed me up last time. It seems my body there in London went down to a thread of mist and she thought I was a goner. Screamed and broke her harp strings. Left as soon as I came back. She said she wasn't paid to harbor ghosts, pointed out that her contract was only for one trance, and refused to come back for twice the money. Pity. I hoped she was made of sterner stuff. She reminded me very much of another young lady with a harp who was once the light of my life." For a short while, he looked as sad as someone with such a merry face could. Then he smiled. "But I couldn't ask either of them to share my garret," he said. "So it's probably just as well."
"Did you need to get another one?" Christopher asked.
"I can't do without, unfortunately, unlike you," Tacroy said. "A professional spirit traveler has to have another medium to keep him anchored - music's the best way - and to call him back in case of trouble, and keep him warm, and make sure he's not interrupted by tradesmen with bills and so forth. So your uncle found this new girl in a bit of a hurry. She's stern stuff all right. Voice like a hatchet. Plays the flute like someone using wet chalk on a blackboard." Tacroy shuddered slightly. "I can hear it faintly all the time if I listen."
Christopher could hear a squealing noise too, but he thought it was probably the pipes of the snake charmers who sat in rows against the city wall in this Anywhere. They could see the city now. It was very hot here, far hotter than Nine. The high muddy-looking walls and the strange-shaped domes above them quivered in the heat, like things under water. Sandy dust blew up in clouds, almost hiding the dirty-white row of old men squatting in front of baskets blowing into pipes. Christopher looked nervously at the fat snakes, each one swaying upright in its basket.
Tacroy laughed. "Don't worry. Your uncle doesn't want a snake any more than you do!"
The city had a towering but narrow gate. By the time they reached it both were covered in sandy dust and Christopher was sweating through it, in trickles. Tacroy seemed enviably cool. Inside the walls it was even hotter. This was the one drawback to a thoroughly nice Anywhere. The shady edges of the streets were crowded with people and goats and makeshift stalls under colored umbrellas, so that Christopher was forced to walk with Tacroy down the blinding stripe of sun in the middle. Everyone shouted and chattered cheerfully. The air was thick with strange smells, the bleating of goats, the squawks of chickens, and strange clinking music. All the colors were bright, and brightest of all were the small gilded dollhouse things at the corners of streets. These were always heaped with flowers and dishes of food. Christopher thought they must belong to very small gods.
A lady under an electric blue umbrella gave him some of the sweetmeat she was selling. It was like a crisp bird's nest soaked in honey. Christopher gave some to Tacroy, but Tacroy said he could only taste it the way you tasted food in dreams, even when Christopher firmed him up again.
"Does Uncle Ralph want me to fetch a goat?" Christopher asked, licking honey from his fingers.
"We'd have tried if the carriage had worked," Tacroy said. "But what your uncle's really hoping for is a cat from one of the temples. We have to find the Temple of Asheth."
Christopher led the way to the big square where all the large houses for gods were. The man with the yellow umbrella was still there, on the steps of the largest temple. "Ah yes. That's it," Tacroy said. But when Christopher set off hopefully to talk to the man with the yellow umbrella again, Tacroy said, "No, I think our best bet is to get in around the side somewhere."
They found their way down narrow side alleys that ran all around the temple. There were no other doors to the temple at all, nor did it have any windows. The walls were high and muddy-looking and totally blank except for wicked spikes on the top. Tacroy stopped quite cheerfully in a baking alley where someone had thrown away a cartload of old cabbages and looked up at the spikes. The ends of flowering creepers were twined among the spikes from the other side of the wall.
"This looks promising," he said, and leaned against the wall. His cheerful look vanished. For a moment he looked frustrated and rather annoyed. "Here's a turnup," he said. "You've made me too solid to get through, darn it!" He thought about it, and shrugged. "This was supposed to be experiment three anyway. Your uncle thought that if you could broach a way between the worlds, you could probably pass through a wall too. Are you game to try? Do you think you can get in and pick up a cat without me?"
Tacroy seemed very nervous and worried about it. Christopher looked at the frowning wall and thought that it was probably impossible. "I can try," he said, and largely to console Tacroy, he stepped up against the hot stones of the wall and tried to push himself through them. At first it was impossible. But after a moment, he found that if he turned himself sort of sideways in a peculiar way, he began to sink into the stones. He turned and smiled encouragingly at Tacroy's worried face. "I'll be back in a minute."
"I don't like letting you go on your own," Tacroy was saying, when there came a noise like SHLUCK! and Christopher found himself on the other side of the wall all mixed up in creepers. For a second he was blinded in the sun there. He could see and hear and feel that things were moving all over the yard in front of him, rushing away from him in a stealthy, blurred way that had him almost paralyzed with terror. Snakes! he thought, and blinked and squinted and blinked again, trying to see them properly.
They were only cats, running away from the noise he had made coming through the wall. Most of them were well out of reach by the time he could see. Some had climbed high up the creepers and the rest had bolted for the various dark archways around the yard. But one white cat was slower than the others and was left trotting uncertainly and heavily across the harsh shadow in one corner. That was the one to get. Christopher set off after it.
By the time he had torn himself free of the creepers, the white cat had taken fright. It ran. Christopher ran after it, through an archway hung with more creepers, across another, shadier yard, and then through a doorway with a curtain instead of a door. The cat slipped around the curtain. Christopher flung the curtain aside and dived after it, only to find it was so dark beyond that he was once more blinded.
"Who are you?" said a voice from the darkness. It sounded surprised and haughty. "You're not supposed to be here."
"Who are you?" Christopher said cautiously, wishing he could see something beside blue and green dazzle.
"I'm the Goddess of course," said the voice. "The Living Asheth. What are you doing here? I'm not supposed to see anyone but priestesses until the Day of Festival."
"I only came to get a cat," said Christopher. "I'll go away when I have."
"You're not allowed to," said the Goddess. "Cats are sacred to Asheth. Besides, if it's Bethi you're after, she's mine, and she's going to have kittens again."
Christopher's eyes were adjusting. If he peered hard at the corner where the voice came from, he could see someone about the same size as he was, sitting on what seemed to be a pile of cushions, and pick out the white hump of the cat clutched in the person's arms. He took a step forward to see better.
"Stay where you are," said the Goddess, "or I'll call down fire to blast you!"
Christopher, much to his surprise, found he could not move from the spot. He shuffled his feet to make sure. It was as if his bare soles were fastened to the tiles with strong rubbery glue. While he shuffled, his eyes started working properly. The Goddess was a girl with a round, ordinary face and long mouse-colored hair. She was wearing a sleeveless rust brown robe and rather a lot of turquoise jewelry, including at least twenty bracelets and a little turquoise-studded coronet. She looked a bit younger than he was - much too young to be able to fasten someone's feet to the floor. Christopher was impressed. "How did you do it?" he said.
The Goddess shrugged. "The power of the Living Asheth," she said. "I was chosen from among all the other applicants because I'm the best vessel for her power. Asheth picked me out by giving me the mark of a cat on my foot. Look." She tipped herself sideways on her cushions and stretched one bare foot with an anklet around it towards Christopher. It had a big purple birthmark on the sole. Christopher did not think it looked much like a cat, even when he screwed his eyes up so much that he felt like Tacroy. "You don't believe me," the Goddess said, rather accusingly.
"I don't know," said Christopher. "I've never met a Goddess before. What do you do?"
"I stay in the Temple unseen, except for one day every year, when I ride through the city and bless it," said the Goddess. Christopher thought that this did not sound very interesting, but before he could say so, the Goddess added, "It's not much fun, actually, but that's the way things are when you're honored like I am. The Living Asheth always has to be a young girl, you see."
"Do you stop being Asheth when you grow up then?" Christopher asked.
The Goddess frowned. Clearly she was not sure. "Well, the Living Asheth never is grown up, so I suppose so - they haven't said." Her round solemn face brightened up. "That's something to look forward to, eh Bethi?" she said, stroking the white cat.
"If I can't have that cat, will you let me have another one?" Christopher asked.
"It depends," said the Goddess. "I don't think I'm allowed to give them away. What do you want it for?"
"My uncle wants one," Christopher explained. "We're doing an experiment to see if I can fetch a live animal from your Anywhere to ours. Yours is Ten and ours is Twelve. And it's quite difficult climbing across The Place Between, so if you do let me have a cat, could you lend me a basket too, please?"
The Goddess considered. "How many Anywheres are there?" she asked in a testing kind of way.
"Hundreds," said Christopher, "but Tacroy thinks there's only twelve."
"The priestesses say there are twelve known Otherwheres," the Goddess said, nodding. "But Mother Proudfoot is fairly sure there are many more than that. Yes, and how did you get into the Temple?"
"Through the wall," said Christopher. "Nobody saw me."
"Then you could get in and out again if you wanted to?" said the Goddess.
"Easy!" said Christopher.
"Good," said the Goddess. She dumped the white cat in the cushions and sprang to her feet, with a smart jangle and clack from all her jewelry. "I'll swap you a cat," she said. "But first you must swear by the Goddess to come back and bring me what I want in exchange, or I'll keep your feet stuck to the floor and shout for the Arm of Asheth to come and kill you."
"What do you want in exchange?" asked Christopher.
"Swear first," said the Goddess.
"I swear," said Christopher. But that was not enough. The Goddess hooked her thumbs into her jeweled sash and stared stonily. She was actually a little shorter than Christopher, but that did not make the stare any less impressive. "I swear by the Goddess that I'll come back with what you want in exchange for the cat - will that do?" said Christopher. "Now what do you want?"
"Books to read," said the Goddess. "I'm bored," she explained. She did not say it in a whine, but in a brisk way that made Christopher see it was true.
"Aren't there any books here?" he said.
"Hundreds," the Goddess said gloomily. "But they're all educational or holy. And the Living Goddess isn't allowed to touch anything in this world outside the Temple. Anything in this world. Do you understand?"
Christopher nodded. He understood perfectly. "Which cat can I have?"
"Throgmorten," said the Goddess. Upon that word, Christopher's feet came loose from the tiles. He was able to walk beside the Goddess as she lifted the curtain from the doorway and went out into the shady yard. "I don't mind you taking Throgmorten," she said. "He smells and he scratches and he bullies all the other cats. I hate him. But we'll have to be quick about catching him. The priestesses will be waking up from siesta quite soon. Just a moment!" She dashed aside into an archway in a clash of anklets that made Christopher jump. She whirled back almost at once, a whirl of rusty robe, flying girdle, and swirling mouse-colored hair. She was carrying a basket with a lid. "This should do," she said. "The lid has a good strong fastening." She led the way through the creeper-hung archway into the courtyard with the blinding sunlight. "He's usually lording it over the other cats somewhere here," she said. "Yes, there he is - that's him in the corner."
Throgmorten was ginger. He was at that moment glaring at a black and white female cat, who had lowered herself into a miserable crouch while she tried to back humbly away. Throgmorten swaggered towards her, lashing a stripy snakelike tail, until the black and white cat's nerve broke and she bolted. Then he turned to see what Christopher and the Goddess wanted.
"Isn't he horrible?" said the Goddess. She thrust the basket at Christopher. "Hold it open and shut the lid down quick after I've got him into it."
Throgmorten was, Christopher had to admit, a truly unpleasant cat. His yellow eyes stared at them with a blank and insolent leer, and there was something about the set of his ears - one higher than the other - which told Christopher that Throgmorten would attack viciously anything that got in his way. This being so, he was puzzled that Throgmorten should remind him remarkably much of Uncle Ralph. He supposed it must be the gingerness.
At this moment, Throgmorten sensed they were after him. His back arched incredulously. Then he fairly levitated up into the creepers on the wall, racing and scrambling higher and higher, until he was far above their heads.
"No you don't!" said the Goddess.
And Throgmorten's arched ginger body came flying out of the creepers like a furry orange boomerang and landed slap in the basket. Christopher was deeply impressed - so impressed that he was a bit slow getting the lid down. Throgmorten came pouring out over the edge of the basket again in an instant ginger stream. The Goddess seized him and crammed him back, whereupon a large number of flailing ginger legs - at least seven, to Christopher's bemused eyes - clawed hold of her bracelets and her robe and her legs under the robe, and tore pieces off them. Christopher waited and aimed for an instant when one of Throgmorten's heads - he seemed to have at least three, each with more fangs than seemed possible - came into range. Then he banged the basket lid on it, hard. Throgmorten, for the blink of an eye, became an ordinary dazed cat instead of a fighting devil. The Goddess shook him off into the basket. Christopher slapped the lid on. A huge ginger paw loaded with long pink razors at once oozed itself out of the latch hole and tore several strips off Christopher while he fastened the basket.
"Thanks," he said, sucking his wounds.
"I'm glad to see the back of him," said the Goddess, licking a slash on her arm and mopping blood off her leg with her torn robe.
A melodious voice called from the creeper-hung archway. "Goddess dear! Where are you?"
"I have to go," whispered the Goddess. "Don't forget the books. You swore to a swap. Coming!" she called, and went running back to the archway, clash-tink, clash-tink.
Christopher turned quickly to the wall and tried to go through it. And he could not. No matter how he tried turning that peculiar sideways way, it would not work. He knew it was Throgmorten. Holding a live cat snarling in a basket made him part of this Anywhere and he had to obey its usual rules. What was he to do? More melodious voices were calling to the Goddess in the distance, and he could see people moving inside at least two more of the archways around the yard. He never really considered putting the basket down. Uncle Ralph wanted this cat. Christopher ran for it instead, sprinting for the nearest
archway that seemed to be empty.
Unfortunately the jigging of the basket assured Throgmorten that he was certainly being kidnapped. He protested about it at the top of his voice - and Christopher would never have believed that a mere cat could make such a powerful noise. Throgmorten's voice filled the dark passages beyond the archway, wailing, throbbing, rising to a shriek like a dying vampire's, and then falling to a strong curdled contralto howl. Then it went up to a shriek again. Before Christopher had run twenty yards, there were shouts behind him, and the slap of sandals and the thumping of bare feet. He ran faster than ever, twisting into a new passage whenever he came to one, and sprinting down that, but all the time Throgmorten kept up his yells of protest from the basket, showing the pursuers exactly where to follow. Worse, he fetched more. There were twice the number of shouts and thumping feet behind by the time Christopher saw daylight ahead. He burst out into it, followed by a jostling mob.
And it was not really daylight, but a huge confusing temple, full of worshippers and statues and fat painted pillars. The daylight was coming from great open doors a hundred yards away. Christopher could see the man with the yellow umbrella outlined beyond the doors and knew exactly where he was. He dashed for the doors, dodging pillars and sprinting around people praying. "Wong-wong - WONG-WONG!" howled Throgmorten from the basket in his hand.
"Stop thief!" screamed the people chasing him. "Arm of Asheth!"
Christopher saw a man in a silver mask, or maybe a woman - a silver-masked person anyway - standing on a flight of steps carefully aiming a spear at him. He tried to dodge, but there was no time, or the spear followed him somehow. It crashed into his chest with a jolting thud.
Things seemed to go very slowly then. Christopher stood still, clutching the howling basket, and stared disbelievingly at the shaft of the spear sticking out of his chest through his dirty shirt. He saw it in tremendous detail. It was made of beautifully polished brown wood, with words and pictures carved along it. About halfway up was a shiny silver handgrip which had designs that were almost rubbed out with wear. A few drops of blood were coming out where the wood met his shirt. The spearhead must be buried deep inside him. He looked up to see the masked person advancing triumphantly towards him. Beyond, in the doorway, Tacroy must have been fetched by the noise. He was standing frozen there, staring in horror.
Falteringly, Christopher put out his free hand and took hold of the spear by the handgrip to pull it out. And everything stopped with a bump.