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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

They said he had broken his neck this time. Miss Rosalie told him that the spells on the Castle should have stopped him falling, or at least alerted people when he did fall. But as the spells were worn out there, it had been Throgmorten's howls that had fetched a horrified gardener. Because of this, Throgmorten was respectfully allowed to spend that night on the end of Christopher's bed, until the maids complained of the smell in the morning. Then Miss Rosalie appeared with her gardening gloves and her broom and chased Throgmorten out.

Christopher thought resentfully that there was very little difference between the way the Castle people treated Throgmorten and the way they treated him. The bearded Dr. Simonson, when he was not instructing everyone how to put tinctures to fire, turned out to be a medical magician. He came the following morning and, in an off-handed disapproving way, examined Christopher's neck.

"As I thought," he said. "Now the new life has taken over there is no sign of the break. Better stay in bed today because of the shock. Gabriel is going to want to talk to you about this escapade."

Then he went away and nobody else came near Christopher apart from maids with trays, except Flavian, who came and stood in the doorway sniffing cautiously at the strong odor Throgmorten had left in the room.

"It's all right," Christopher said. "Miss Rosalie's just chased him out."

"Good," said Flavian and he came over to Christopher's bed carrying a big armful of books.

"Oh wonderful!" Christopher said, eyeing the armful. "Lots of lovely work. I've been lying here itching to get on with some algebra!"

Flavian looked a little injured. "Well, no," he said. "These are things from the Castle library that I thought you might like." And he went away.

Christopher looked through the books and found they were all stories from different parts of the world. Some were from different worlds. All of them looked pretty good. Christopher had not realized there was anything worth reading in the Castle library before, and as he settled down to read, he decided he would go and have a look for himself tomorrow.

But the smell of Throgmorten interrupted him. The combination of the smell and the books kept reminding him of the Goddess, and he kept remembering that he still had not paid for a hundredth part of Throgmorten. It took him quite an effort to forget about Series Ten and concentrate on his book, and as soon as he did, Miss Rosalie came in, flushed and breathless from a long pursuit of Throgmorten, and interrupted him again.
"Gabriel wants to see you about that fall," she said. "You're to go to his office at nine o'clock tomorrow." As she turned to go, she said, "I see you've got some books. Is there anything else I can get you? Games? You've got Snakes and Ladders, haven't you?"

"It takes two to play that," Christopher told her pointedly.

"Oh dear," Miss Rosalie said. "I'm afraid I don't know much about games." Then she went away again.

Christopher laid his book down and stared around his brown empty room, hating the Castle and all the people in it quite passionately. The room now had his school trunk in one corner, which made it seem emptier than ever by reminding him of all the company he was missing at school. There was an ideal corner for getting to the Anywheres between the trunk and the bare fireplace. He wished he could run away to somewhere even magic could not find him, and never come back.

Then he realized that he could get away, after a fashion, by going to an Anywhere. He wondered why he had not tried all the time he had been at the Castle. He put it down to the Castle spells. They muffled your mind so. But now, either the shock of breaking his neck, or the new life he could feel sturdily and healthily inside him, or both, had started him thinking again. Perhaps he could go to an Anywhere and stay there for good.

The trouble was, when he went to the Anywheres, he seemed to have to leave a piece of himself behind in bed. But it must be possible to take the whole of yourself. From the things Flavian and Gabriel had said when they talked about the Related Worlds, Christopher was sure that some people did go to worlds in the other Series. He would just have to wait and learn how it was done. Meanwhile, there was nothing to stop him looking around for a suitable Anywhere to escape to.

Christopher read his books innocently until the maid came and turned out his gaslight for the night. Then he lay staring into the dark, trying to detach the part of himself that could go to the Anywheres. For quite a while, he could not do it. The Castle spell lay heavy on him, squashing all the parts of him into a whole. Then, as he got sleepier, he realized the way, and slipped out sideways from himself and went padding around the corner between the trunk and the fireplace.

There, it was like walking into a sheet of thick rubber that bounced him back into the room. The Castle spells again. Christopher set his teeth, turned his shoulder into the rubberiness, and pushed. And pushed, and pushed, and walked forward a little with each push, but quietly and gently, not to alert anyone in the Castle - until, after about half an hour, he had the spell stretched as thin as it would go. Then he took a pinch of it in each hand and tore it gently apart.

It was wonderful to walk out through the split he had made, into the valley and find his clothes still lying there, a little damp and too small again, but there. He put them on. Then, instead of going into The Place Between, he set off the other way, down the valley. It stood to reason that the valley led to one of the other worlds in Series Twelve. Christopher hoped it would be World B. One of his cunning ideas had been to hide quite near in the nonmagical world, where he was sure no one, even Gabriel de Witt, would think of looking.

Probably it was World B, but he only stayed there half a minute. When he got to the end of the valley it was raining, pouring - souping down steadily sideways. Christopher found himself in a city full of rushing machines, speeding all around him on wheels that hissed on the wet black road. A loud noise made him look around just in time to see a huge red machine charging down on him out of the white curtain of rain. He saw a number on it and the words TUFNELL PARK, and sheets of water flew over him as he got frantically out of its way.

Christopher escaped up the valley again, soaking wet. World B was the worst Anywhere he had ever been in. But he still had his other cunning idea, and that was to go to Series Eleven, the world nobody ever went to. He went up the valley and around the jutting rock into The Place Between. The Place was so desolate, so shapeless and so empty, that if he had not just been somewhere even more terrible he might have turned back. As it was, Christopher felt the same lonely horror he had felt the first time he had gone to The Place Between from school. But he ignored it and set off resolutely in the direction of the Anywhere that did not want you to get to it. He was sure now that this must be Eleven.

The way was across the mouth of his own valley, down, and then up a cliff of sheer slippery rock. Christopher had to cling with fingers and toes that were already cold and wet from World B. The Anywhere above kept pushing him away and the wind sweeping across reminded him of Mama's attack in Cambridge. Up, cling. Feel for a foothold. Then a handhold. Cling. Up.

Halfway up his foot slipped. A new gust of wind made his cold fingers too weak to hang on, and he fell.

He pitched down further than he had climbed up, upside down onto the back of his head. When he got to his knees, things in his neck grated and his head wobbled about. It felt very queer.

Somehow he made it back to the jutting crag, helped by the way The Place Between always pushed him back where he came from. Somehow he put his pajamas on again and got through the slit in the Castle spells, back into bed. He fell asleep with a strong suspicion that he had broken his neck again. Good, he thought. Now I won't have to go and see Gabriel de Witt in the morning.

But there was nothing at all wrong with him when he woke up. Christopher would have been very puzzled had he not been dreading seeing Gabriel. He crawled along to breakfast and found there was a pretty, scented letter from Mama on his tray. Christopher picked it up eagerly, hoping it would take his mind off Gabriel. And it did not, or not straightaway. He could tell it had been opened and then stuck down again. He could feel the spell still hanging about it. Hating the people in the Castle more than ever, he unfolded the letter.

"Dear Christopher,

The laws are so unjust. Only your papa's signature was required to sell you into slavery with that dreadful old man, and I have still not forgiven your papa. Your uncle sends his sympathies and hopes to hear from you by next Thursday. Be polite to him, dear.

Your affectionate Mama"

Christopher was very pleased to think that Gabriel had read himself being called "that dreadful old man" and he was impressed at the cunning way Uncle Ralph had sent his message through Mama. As he ate his breakfast, he rejoiced at the thought of seeing Tacroy again next Thursday.

What a lucky thing he had made that split in the Castle spells! And "slavery" was the right word for it, he thought, as he got up to go to Gabriel's office.

But on the way, he found himself thinking of the Goddess again, very guiltily this time. He really would have to take her some more books. Throgmorten was a cat worth paying for.

In his twilight room, Gabriel stood up behind his great black desk. That was a bad sign, but Christopher now had so many other things to think of that he was not as scared as he might have been. "Really, Christopher," Gabriel said in his driest voice, "a boy your age should know better than to climb about in a ruined tower. The result is that you have foolishly and carelessly wasted a life and now have only six left. You will need those lives when you are the next Chrestomanci. What have you to say for yourself?"
Christopher's anger rose. He felt it being pushed down again by the Castle spells, and that made him angrier than ever. "Why don't you make Throgmorten the next Chrestomanci?" he said. "He's got nine lives too."

Gabriel stared at him a second. "This is not a matter for jokes," he said. "Do you not realize the trouble you have caused? Some of my staff will have to go to the towers, and to the attics and cellars, in case you take it into your head to climb about there, too, and it will take them days to make it all safe." At this, Christopher thought ruefully that they would certainly find and mend the split he had made and he would have to make another. "Please attend," said Gabriel. "I can ill spare any of my staff at this time. You are too young to be aware of this, but I wish to explain that we are all working full stretch just now in an effort to catch a gang of interworld villains." He looked at Christopher fiercely. "You have probably never heard of the Wraith."

After three boring Sunday lunches, Christopher felt he knew all about the Wraith. It was what everyone talked of all the time. But he sensed that Gabriel was quite likely to get sidetracked from telling him off if he went on explaining about the gang, so he said, "No, I haven't, sir."

"The Wraith is a gang of smugglers," Gabriel said. "We know they operate through London, but that is about all we know, for they are slippery as eels. In some way, despite all our traps and watchfulness, they smuggle in illicit magical produce by the hundredweight from all over the Related Worlds. They have rought in cartloads of dragons' blood, narcotic dew, magic mushrooms, eel livers from Series Two, poison balm from Six, dream juice from Nine and eternal fire from Ten. We set a trap in Ten, which took out at least one of their operatives, but that did not stop them. The only success we have had is in Series Five, where the Wraith was butchering mermaids and selling the parts in London. There we were helped by the local police and were able to put a stop to it. But - " By this time, Gabriel had his eyes fixed on the sunset light of his ceiling and seemed lost in his worries. "But this year," he said, "we have had reports of the most appalling weapons that the Wraith is bringing in from Series One, each one capable of destroying the strongest enchanter, and we still cannot lay hands on the gang." Here, to Christopher's dismay, Gabriel turned his eyes down to him. "You see what mischief your careless climbing could do? While we rush around the Castle on your account, we could miss our one chance of catching this gang. You should learn to think of others, Christopher."

"I do," Christopher said bitterly, "but none of you think of me. When most people die, they don't get told off for it."

"Go down to the library," said Gabriel, "and write one hundred times 'I must look before I leap.' And kindly shut the door when you leave."

Christopher went to the door and opened it, but he did not shut it. He left it swinging so that Gabriel would hear what he said as he went towards the pink marble staircase. "I must be the only person in the world" he called out, "EVER to be punished for breaking my neck!"

"Wong," agreed Throgmorten, who was waiting for him on the landing.

Christopher did not see Throgmorten in time. He tripped over him and went crashing and sliding the whole way down the staircase. As he went, he could hear Throgmorten wailing again. "Oh, no" he thought.

When his next life took over, he was lying on his back near the pentacle in the hall, looking up into the glass dome. Almost the first thing he saw was the clock over the library, which said half past nine. It seemed as if every time he lost a life, the new one took over more quickly and easily than the last. The next thing he saw was everyone in the Castle, standing around him staring solemnly. "Just like a funeral!" he thought.

"Did I break my neck again?" he asked.

"You did," said Gabriel de Witt, stepping up to lean over him. "Really, after what I had just said to you, it is too bad! Can you get up?"

Christopher turned over and got to his knees. He felt slightly bruised but otherwise all right. Dr.Simonson strode over and felt his neck. "The fracture has vanished already," he said. Christopher could tell from his manner that he was not going to be allowed to stay in bed this time.

"Very well," said Gabriel. "Go to the library now, Christopher, and write the lines I gave you. In addition write one hundred times 'I have only five lives remaining.' That might teach you prudence."

Christopher limped to the library and wrote the lines at one of the red leather tables on paper headed Government Property. As he wrote, his mind was elsewhere, thinking how odd it was that Throgmorten always seemed to be there when he lost a life. And there was that time in Series Ten. Just before the hook hit him, a man had mentioned Asheth. Christopher began to be afraid he might be under a curse from Asheth. It made another very good reason for taking the Goddess some more books.

When the lines were done, Christopher got up and inspected the bookshelves. The library was large and lofty and seemed to contain thousands of books. But Christopher discovered that there were really ten times as many as the ones you saw. There was a spell-plate at the end of each shelf. When Christopher put his hand on one, the books at the right of the shelf moved up and vanished and new books appeared on the left. Christopher found the storybook section and stood with his hand on the plate, keeping the line of books slowly moving until he found the kind he wanted.

It was a long row of fat books by someone called Angela Brazil. Most of them had School in the title. Christopher knew at a glance they were just right for the Goddess. He took three and spread the others out. Each of them was labeled Rare Book: Imported from World XIIB, which made Christopher hope that they might just be valuable enough to pay for Throgmorten at last.

He carried the books up to his room in a pile of others he thought he might like to read himself, and it seemed just his luck that he had to meet Flavian in the corridor. "Lessons as usual this afternoon," Flavian said cheerfully. "Dr. Simonson doesn't seem to think they'll harm you."

"Slavery as usual!" Christopher muttered as he went into his room.

But in fact that afternoon was not so bad. In the middle of practical magic, Flavian said suddenly, "Are you interested in cricket at all?"

What a question! Christopher felt his face light up even while he was answering coolly, "No, I'm only passionate about it. Why?"

"Good," said Flavian. "The Castle plays the village on Saturday, down on the village green. We thought you might like to work the Scoreboard for us."

"Only if someone takes me out through the gate," Christopher said acidly. "The spell stops me going through on my own. Otherwise, yes - like a shot."

"Oh Lord! I should have got you a pass!" Flavian said. "I didn't realize you liked to go out. I go on long hikes all the time. I'll take you with me next time I go - there are all sorts of outdoor practicals we can do - only I think you'd better master witch sight first."
Christopher saw that Flavian was trying to bribe him. They were on enchanter's magic now. Christopher had had no trouble learning how to conjure things from one place to another - it was a little like the levitation he had worked so spectacularly for Dr. Pawson, and not unlike raising a wind, too - and he had learned with only a little more difficulty how to make things invisible. He thought he would not have too much trouble conjuring fire, either, as soon as Flavian allowed him to try. But he could not get the hang of witch sight. It was quite simple, Flavian kept telling him. It was only making yourself see through a magical disguise to what was really there. But when Flavian put an illusion spell on his right hand and held that hand out as a lion's paw, a lion's paw was all Christopher could see.

Flavian did it over and over again. Christopher yawned and looked vague and kept seeing a lion's paw. The only good thing was that while his mind wandered he hit on the perfect way to keep those books for the Goddess dry in The Place Between.

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