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"The Lives of Christopher Chant"

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

For the first week, Christopher could think of nothing else but how much he hated Chrestomanci Castle and the people in it. It seemed to combine the worst things about school and home, with a few special awfulnesses of its own. It was very grand and very big, and except when he was doing lessons, Christopher was forced to wander about entirely on his own, missing Oneir and Fenning and the other boys and cricket acutely, while the Castle people got on with their grown-up affairs as if Christopher was not there at all. He had nearly all his meals alone in the schoolroom, just like home, except that the schoolroom looked out onto the empty, shaven Castle lawns.

"We thought you'd be happier not having to listen to our grown-up talk," Miss Rosalie told him as they walked up the long drive from church on Sunday. "But of course you'll have Sunday lunch with us."

So Christopher sat at the long table with everyone else in their sober Sunday clothes and thought it would have made no difference if he hadn't been there. Voices hummed among the chinking cutlery, and not one of them spoke to him.

"And you have to add copper to sublimate, whatever the manuals say," the bearded Dr. Simonson was telling Flavian Temple, "but after that you can, I find, put it straight to the pentacle with a modicum of fire."

"The Wraith's illegal dragons' blood is simply flooding the market now," said a young lady across the table. "Even the honest suppliers are not reporting it. They know they can evade taxes."

"But the correct words present problems," Dr. Simonson told Flavian.

"I know statistics are misleading," said a younger man beside Christopher, "but my latest sample had twice the legal limit of poison balm. You only have to extrapolate to see how much the gang is bringing in."

"The flaming tincture must then be passed through gold," Dr. Simonson proclaimed, and another voice cut across his saying, "That magic mushroom essence certainly came from Ten, but I think the trap we set there stopped that outlet." While Dr. Simonson added, "If you wish to proceed without copper, you'll find it far more complicated."

Miss Rosalie's voice rang through his explanation from the other end of the table. "But Gabriel, they had actually butchered a whole tribe of mermaids! I know it's partly our wizards' fault for being willing to pay the earth for mermaid parts, but the Wraith really has to be stopped!"
Gabriel's dry voice answered in the distance, "That part of the operation has been closed down. It's the weapons coming in from One that present the biggest problem."

"My advice is that you then start with pentacle and fire," Dr. Simonson droned on, "using the simpler form of words to start the process, but..."

Christopher sat silent, thinking that if he did get to be the next Chrestomanci he would forbid people to talk about their work at mealtimes. Ever. He was glad when he was allowed to get up from the table and go. But when he did, the only thing to do was to wander about, feeling all the spells on the place itching at him like gnat bites. There were spells in the formal gardens to keep weeds down and encourage worms, spells to keep the giant cedars on the lawns healthy, and spells all around the grounds to keep intruders out. Christopher thought he could have broken that set quite easily and simply run away, except that the sensitivity he had learned from Dr. Pawson showed him that breaking that boundary spell would set alarms ringing in the lodge at the gate and probably all over the Castle too.

The Castle itself had an old crusty part with turrets and a newer part which were fused together into a rambling whole. But there was an extra piece of castle that stood out in the gardens and looked even older, so old that there were trees growing on top of its broken walls. Christopher naturally wanted to explore this part, but there was a strong misdirection spell on it, which caused it to appear behind him, or to one side, whenever he tried to get to it. So he gave up and wandered indoors, where the spells, instead of itching, pressed down on him like a weight. He hated the Castle spells most of all. They would not allow him to be as angry as he felt. They made everything blunt and muffled. In order to express his
hatred, Christopher fell back more and more on silent scorn. When people did speak to him, and he had to answer, he was as sarcastic as he knew how to be.

This did not help him get on with Flavian Temple. Flavian was a kind and earnest tutor. In the ordinary way, Christopher would have quite liked him, even though Flavian wore his collars too tight and tried far too hard to be hushed and dignified like the rest of Gabriel de Witt's people. But he hated Flavian for being one of those people - and he very soon discovered that Flavian had no sense of humor at all.

"You wouldn't see a joke if it jumped up and bit you, would you?" Christopher said, the second afternoon. Afternoons were always devoted to magic theory or magic practical.

"Oh, I don't know," Flavian said. "Something in Punch made me smile last week. Now, to get back to what we were saying - how many worlds do you think make up the Related Worlds?" "Twelve," said Christopher, because he remembered that Tacroy sometimes called the Anywheres the Related Worlds.

"Very good!" said Flavian. "Though, actually, there are more than that, because each world is really a set of worlds, which we call a Series. The only one which is just a single world is Eleven, but we needn't bother with that. All the worlds were probably one world to begin with - and then something happened back in prehistory which could have ended in two contradictory ways. Let's say a continent blew up. Or it didn't blow up. The two things couldn't both be true at once in the same world, so that world became two worlds, side by side but quite separate, one with that continent and one without. And so on, until there were twelve."

Christopher listened to this with some interest, because he had always wondered how the Anywheres had come about. "And did the Series happen the same way?" he asked.

"Yes indeed," said Flavian, obviously thinking Christopher was a very good pupil. "Take Series Seven, which is a mountain Series. In prehistory, the earth's crust must have buckled many more times than it did here. Or Series Five, where all the land became islands, none of them larger than France. Now these are the same right across the Series, but the course of history in each world is different. It's history that makes the differences. The easiest example is our own Series, Twelve, where our world, which we call World A, is oriented on magic - which is normal for most worlds. But the next world, World B, split off in the Fourteenth Century and turned to science and machinery. The world beyond that, World C, split off in Roman times and became divided into large empires. And it went on like that up to nine. There are usually nine to a Series."

"Why are they numbered back to front?" Christopher asked.

"Because we think One was the original world of the twelve," Flavian said. "Anyway it was the Great Mages of One who first discovered the other worlds, and they did the numbering."

This was a much better explanation than the one Tacroy had given. Christopher felt obliged to Flavian for it. So that when Flavian asked, "Now what do you think makes us call these twelve the Related Worlds?" Christopher felt he owed him an answer.

"They all speak the same languages," he said.

"Very good!" said Flavian. His pale face went pink with surprise and pleasure. "You are a good pupil!"

"Oh, I'm absolutely brilliant," Christopher said bitterly.

Unfortunately, when Flavian turned to practical magic on alternate afternoons, Christopher was anything but brilliant. With Dr. Pawson he had become used to spells that really did something. But with Flavian he went back to small elementary magics of the kind he had been doing at school. They bored Christopher stiff. He yawned and he spilled things and usually, keeping a special vague look on his face so that Flavian would not notice what he was doing, he made the spells work without going through more than half the steps.

"Oh no," Flavian said anxiously, when he did notice. "That's enchanter's magic. We'll be starting on that in a couple of weeks. But you have to know basic witchcraft first. It's most important for you to know whether a witch or wizard is misusing the craft when you come to be the next Chrestomanci."

That was the trouble with Flavian. He was always saying, "When you come to be the next Chrestomanci." Christopher felt bitterly angry. "Is Gabriel de Witt going to die soon?" he said.

"I don't imagine so. He still has eight lives left," said Flavian. "Why do you ask?"

"It was a whim," Christopher said, thinking angrily of Papa.

"Oh dear," Flavian said, worrying because he was failing to keep his pupil interested. "I know - we'll go out into the gardens and study the properties of herbs. You may like that part of witchcraft better."

Down into the gardens they went, into a raw gray day. It was one of those summers that was more like winter than many winters are. Flavian stopped under a huge cedar and invited Christopher to consider the ancient lore about cedarwood. Christopher was in fact quite interested to hear that cedar was part of the funeral pyre from which the Phoenix was reborn, but he was not going to let Flavian see he was. As Flavian talked, his eye fell on the separate ruined piece of castle, and he knew that if he asked about that Flavian would only tell him that they would be doing misdirection spells next month - which put another thing he wanted to know into his mind.

"When am I going to learn how to fasten a person's feet to the spot?" he asked.

Flavian gave him a sideways look. "We won't be doing magic that affects other people until next year," he said. "Come over to the laurel bushes now and let's consider those."

Christopher sighed as he followed Flavian over to the big laurels by the drive. He might have known Flavian was not going to teach him anything useful! As they approached the nearest bush, a ginger cat emerged from among the shiny leaves, stretching and glaring irritably. When it saw Flavian and Christopher, it advanced on them at a trot, purpose all over its savage, lop-eared face.

"Look out!" Flavian said urgently.

Christopher did not need telling. He knew what this particular cat could do. But he was so astonished at seeing Throgmorten here at Chrestomanci Castle that he forgot to move. "Who - whose cat is that?" he said.

Throgmorten recognized Christopher too. His tail went up, thinner and more snaky than ever, and he stopped and stared. "Wong?" he said incredulously. And he advanced again, but in a much more stately way, like a Prime Minister greeting a foreign President. "Wong," he said.

"Careful!" said Flavian, prudently backing behind Christopher. "It's an Asheth Temple cat. It's safest not to go near it."

Christopher of course knew that, but Throgmorten was so evidently meaning to be polite that he risked squatting down and cautiously holding out his hand. "Yes, wong to you too," he said. Throgmorten put forward his moth-eaten-looking orange nose and dabbed at Christopher's hand with it.

"Great heavens! The thing actually likes you!" said Flavian. "Nobody else dares get within yards of it. Gabriel's had to give all the outdoor staff special shielding spells or they said they'd leave. It tears strips off people through ordinary spells."

"How did it get here?" Christopher said, letting Throgmorten politely investigate his hand.

"Nobody knows - at least not how it wandered in here from Series Ten," Flavian said. "Mordecai found it in London, brave man, and brought it here in a basket. He recognized it by its aura, and he said if he could, then most wizards would, too, and they'd kill it for its magical properties. Most of us think that wouldn't be much loss, but Gabriel agreed with Mordecai."

Christopher had still not learned the names of all the sober-suited men around the Sunday lunch-table. "Which one is Mr.Mordecai?" he said.

"Mordecai Roberts - he's a particular friend of mine, but you won't have met him yet," said Flavian. "He works for us in London these days. Perhaps we could get on with herb lore now."

At that moment, a strange noise broke from Throgmorten's throat, a sound like wooden cogwheels not connecting very well. Throgmorten was purring. Christopher was unexpectedly touched. "Does he have a name?" he asked.

"Most people just call him That Thing," said Flavian.

"I shall call him Throgmorten," said Christopher, at which Throgmorten's cogwheels went around more noisily than ever.

"It suits him," said Flavian. "Now, please - consider this laurel."

With Throgmorten sauntering amiably beside him, Christopher heard all about laurels and found it all much easier to take. It amused him the way Flavian took care to keep well out of reach of Throgmorten.
From then on, in a standoffish way, Throgmorten became Christopher's only friend in the Castle. They both seemed to have the same opinion of the people in it. Christopher once saw Throgmorten encounter Gabriel de Witt coming down the pink marble stairs. Throgmorten spat and flew at Gabriel's long thin legs, and Christopher was charmed and delighted at the speed with which those long thin legs raced up the stairs again to get away.

Christopher hated Gabriel more every time he had a lesson with him. He decided that the reason Gabriel's room always seemed so dark in spite of all its windows was because it reflected Gabriel's personality. Gabriel never laughed. He had no patience with slowness, or mistakes, and he seemed to think Christopher ought to know everything he taught him at once, by instinct. The trouble was that, the first week, when Flavian and Gabriel were teaching him about the Related Worlds, Christopher had known all about them, from the Anywheres, and this seemed to have given Gabriel the idea that Christopher was a good learner. But after that, they went on to the different kinds of magics, and Christopher just could not seem to get it through his head why witchcraft and enchanters' magic were not the same, or how wizardry differed from sorcery and both from magicians' magic.

It was always a great relief to Christopher when his lesson with Gabriel was over. Afterwards, Christopher usually sneaked Throgmorten indoors and the two of them explored the Castle together. Throgmorten was not allowed inside the Castle, which was why Christopher liked to have him there. Once or twice, with luck and cunning from both of them, Throgmorten spent the night on the end of Christopher's bed, purring like a football rattle. But Miss Rosalie had a way of knowing where Throgmorten was. She nearly always arrived wearing gardening gloves and chased Throgmorten out with a broom. Luckily Miss Rosalie was often busy straight after lessons, so Throgmorten galloped beside Christopher down the long corridors and through the rambling attics, thrusting his face into odd corners and remarking "Wong!" from time to time.

The Castle was huge. The weighty, baffling spells hung heavily over most of it, but there were parts that nobody used where the spells seemed to have worn thin. Christopher and Throgmorten were both happiest in those parts. The third week, they discovered a big round room in a tower, which looked to have been a wizard's workshop at one time. It had shelves around the walls, three long workbenches, and a pentagram painted on the stone floor. But it was deserted and dusty and stuffy with the smell of old, old magic.

"Wong," Throgmorten said happily.

"Yes," Christopher agreed. It seemed a waste of a good room. When I'm the next Chrestomanci, he thought, I shall make sure this room is used. Then he was angry with himself, because he was not going to be the next Chrestomanci. He had caught the habit from Flavian. But I could make this a secret workshop of my own, he thought. I could sneak stuff up here bit by bit.

The next day, he and Throgmorten went exploring for a new attic where there might be things Christopher could use to furnish the tower room. And they discovered a second tower up a second, smaller winding stair. The spells were worn away almost entirely here, because this tower was ruinous. It was smaller than the other tower room and half its roof was missing. Half the floor was wet with that afternoon's rain. Beyond that there was what had once been a mullioned window. It was now a slope of wet rubbly wall with one stone pillar standing out of it.

"Wong wong!" Throgmorten uttered approvingly. He went trotting over the wet floor and jumped up onto the broken wall.

Christopher followed him eagerly. They both climbed out onto the slope of rubble beyond what was left of the window and looked down at the smooth lawn and the tops of the cedar trees. Christopher caught a glimpse of the separate piece of castle with the misdirection spell on it. It was almost out of sight beyond the knobby stonework of the tower, but he thought he should be high enough to see into it over the trees growing on top of it. Holding on to the pillar that had been part of the window, he stepped further out on the broken slope and leaned right out to see.

The pillar snapped in half.

Christopher's feet shot forward on the slippery stones. He felt himself plunge through the air and saw the cedars rushing past upside down. Bother! he thought. Another life! He remembered that the ground stopped him with a terrible jolt. And he had a vague notion that Throgmorten somehow followed him down and then proceeded to make an appalling noise.

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