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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

"How did you get here?" Christopher said.

The Goddess shook with shivers. She had left all her jewelry behind, which made her look very odd and plain. "B-By remembering what you said," she answered through chattering teeth, "about having to leave a l-life b-behind. And of course there are t-two of me if you count the g-golden statue as one. B-But it wasn't easy. I w-walked into the w-wall s-six times around the corner of m-my r-room b-before I g-got it right. Y-You m-must be b-brave to keep g-going through th-that awful P-Place B-Between. It was h-horrible - I n-nearly d-dropped P-Proudfoot t-twice."

"Proudfoot?" said Christopher.

The Goddess opened her hand with the white fur in it. The white fur squeaked in protest and began shivering too. "My kitten," the Goddess explained. Christopher remembered how hot it was in Series Ten. Sometime ago someone had put the scarf old Mrs. Pawson had knitted him neatly away in his chest of drawers. He began searching for it.

"I c-couldn't leave her," the Goddess said pleadingly. "I brought her feeding bottle with m-me. And I had to g-get away as soon as they l-left me alone after the p-portent. They know I know. I heard M-Mother P-Proudfoot saying they were going to have to 1-look for a new L-Living One at once."

And clothes for the Goddess too, Christopher realized, hearing the way her teeth chattered. He tossed her the scarf. "Wrap the kitten in that. It was knitted by a witch so it'll probably keep her safe. How on earth did you find the Castle?"

"B-By looking into every v-valley I c-came to," said the Goddess. "I c-can't think why you s-said you didn't have w-witch sight. I n-nearly m-missed the s-split in the s-spell. It's really f-faint!"

"Is that witch sight?" Christopher said distractedly. He dumped an armful of his warmest clothes on the bed beside her. "Go in the washroom and get those on before you freeze."

The Goddess put the kitten down carefully wrapped in a nest of scarf. It was still so young that it looked like a white rat. Christopher wondered how it had survived at all. "B-Boys' clothes?" the Goddess said.

"They're all I've got," he said. "And be quick. Maids come in and out of here all the time. You've got to hide. Gabriel de Witt told me not to have anything to do with Asheth. I don't know what he'd do if he found you here!" At this, the Goddess jumped off the bed and snatched up the clothes. Christopher was glad to see that she looked truly alarmed. He dashed for the door. "I'll go and get a hiding place ready," he said. "Wait here."

Off he went at a run to the larger of the two old tower rooms, the one that had once been a wizard's workshop. A runaway Goddess just about put the lid on his troubles, he thought. Still it was probably very lucky that everyone was taken up with poor Tacroy. With a bit of cunning, he ought to be able to keep the Goddess hidden here while he wrote to Dr. Pawson to ask what on earth to do with her permanently.

He dashed up the spiral stair and looked around the dusty room. One way and another, he had not made much progress furnishing it as a den. It was empty apart from an old stool, worm-eaten workbenches, and a rusty iron brazier. Hopeless for a Goddess! Christopher began conjuring desperately. He fetched all the cushions from the Small Saloon. Then on second thought he knew someone would notice. He sent most of them back and conjured cushions from the Large Drawing Room, the Large Saloon, the Middle Saloon, the Small Drawing Room and anywhere else where he thought there would be nobody to see. Charcoal from the gardeners' shed next to fill the brazier. Christopher summoned fire for it, almost in too much of a hurry to notice he had got it right for once. He remembered a saucepan and an old kettle by the stables and fetched those. A bucket of water he brought from the pump by the kitchen door. What else? Milk for the kitten. It came in a whole churn and he had to tip some out into the saucepan and then send the churn back - the trouble was that he had no idea where things were kept in the Castle. Teapot, tea - he had no idea where those came from, and did the Goddess drink tea? She would have to. What then? Oh, cup, saucer, plates. He fetched the ones out of the grand cabinet in the dining room. They were quite pretty. She would like those. Then spoon, knife, fork. Of course none of the silver ones would respond. Christopher fetched what must have been the whole kitchen cutlery drawer with a crash, sorted hastily through it and sent it back like the churn. And she would need food. What was in the pantry?

The salmon sandwiches arrived, neatly wrapped in a white napkin. Christopher gagged. Mermaids. But he arranged them with the other things on the bench before taking a hasty look around. The charcoal had begun to glow red in the brazier, but it needed something else to make it look homey. Yes, a carpet. The nice round one from the library would do. When the carpet came, it turned out twice as big as he had thought. He had to move the brazier to make room. There. Perfect.

He dashed back to his room. He arrived at the exact moment when Flavian opened its door and started to walk in.

Christopher hastily cast the fiercest invisibility spell he could. Flavian opened the door on utter blankness. To Christopher's relief, he stood and stared at it.

"Er-hem!" Christopher said behind him. Flavian whirled around as if Christopher had stabbed him. Christopher said airily, and as loudly as he could, "Just practicing my practical magic, Flavian." The stumbling sounds he could hear from inside the blankness stopped. The Goddess knew Flavian was there. But he had to get her out of there.

"Oh. Were you? Good," Flavian said. "Then I'm sorry to interrupt, but Gabriel says I'm to give you a lesson now because I won't be here tomorrow. He wants a full muster of Castle staff to go after the Wraith."

While Flavian was speaking, Christopher felt inside the invisibility in his room - using a magical sixth sense which up to then he did not know he had - and located first the Goddess standing by his bed, then the kitten nestled in the scarf on the bed, and sent them both fiercely to the tower room. At least, he hoped he had. He had never transported living things before and he had no idea if it was the same. He heard a heavy whoosh of displaced air from among the invisibility, which was the same kind of noise the milk churn had made, and he knew the Goddess had gone somewhere. He just had to hope she would understand. She had after all shown she could look after herself.

He canceled the invisibility. The room seemed to be empty. "I like to practice in private," he told Flavian.

Flavian shot him a look. "Come to the schoolroom."

As they walked along the corridor, Christopher caught up with what Flavian had been saying. "You're all going after the Wraith tomorrow?"

"If we can get him," Flavian said. "After you left, Mordecai cracked open enough to give us a few names and addresses. We think he was telling the truth." He sighed. "I'd look forward to catching them, except that I can't get over Mordecai being one of them!"

What about Mama? Christopher wondered anxiously. He wished he could think of a way to warn her, but he had no idea where in Kensington she was living.

They reached the schoolroom. The moment they got there, Christopher realized that he had only canceled the invisibility on his room, not on the Goddess or the kitten. He fumbled around with his mind, trying to find her in the tower room - or wherever - and get her visible again. But wherever he had sent her, she seemed too far away for him to find. The result was that he did not hear anything Flavian said for at least twenty minutes.

"I said" Flavian said heavily, "that you seem a bit vague."

He had said it several times, Christopher could tell. He said hastily, "I was wondering what was going to happen to Ta... Mordecai Roberts now."

"Prison, I suppose," Flavian answered sadly. "He'll be in clink for years."

"But they'll have to put a special clink around his spirit to stop that getting away, won't they?" Christopher said.

To his surprise, Flavian exploded. "That's just the kind of damn-fool, frivolous, unfeeling remark you would make!" he cried out. "Of all the hardhearted, toffee-nosed, superior little beggars I've ever met, you're the worst! Sometimes I don't think you have a soul - just a bundle of worthless lives instead!"

Christopher stared at Flavian's usually pale face all pink with passion, and tried to protest that he had not meant to be unfeeling. He had only meant that it must be quite hard to keep a spirit traveler in prison. But Flavian, now he had started, seemed quite unable to stop.

"You seem to think," he shouted, "that those nine lives give you the right to behave like the Lord of Creation! That, or there's a stone wall around you. If anyone so much as tries to be friendly, all they get is haughty stares, vague looks, or pure damn rudeness! Goodness knows, I've tried. Gabriel's tried. Rosalie's tried. So have all the maids, and they say you don't even notice them! And now you make jokes about poor Mordecai! I've had enough! I'm sick of you!"

Christopher had no idea that people saw him like this. He was astounded. What's gone wrong with me? he thought. I'm nice really! When he went to the Anywheres as a small boy, everyone had liked him. Everybody had smiled. Total strangers had given him things. Christopher saw that he had gone on thinking that people only had to see him to like him, and it was only too clear that nobody did. He looked at Flavian, breathing hard and glaring at him. He seemed to have hurt Flavian's feelings badly. He had not thought Flavian had feelings to hurt. And it made it worse somehow that he had not meant to make a joke about Tacroy - not when Tacroy had just spent the whole day lying on his behalf. He liked Tacroy. The trouble was, he did not dare tell Flavian he did. Nor did he dare say that his mind had mostly been on the Goddess. So what could he say?

"I'm sorry," he said. "Truly sorry." His voice came out wobbly with shock. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings - not this time anyway - really."

"Well!" said Flavian. The pink in his face died away. He leaned back in his chair, staring. "That's the first time I've ever heard you say sorry - meaning it, that is. I suppose it's some kind of breakthrough." He clapped his chair back to the floor and stood up. "Sorry I lost my temper. But I don't think I can go on with this lesson today. I feel too emotional. Run away, and I'll make up for it after tomorrow."

Christopher found himself free - and with mixed feelings about it - to go and look for the Goddess. He hurried to the tower room.

To his great relief she was there, in a strong smell of boiled-over milk, sitting on the many-colored silk cushions, feeding the kitten out of a tiny doll's feeding-bottle. With the charcoal warming the air and the carpet - -which now had a singed patch beside the brazier - covering the stone floor, the room seemed suddenly homey.

The Goddess greeted him with a most un-Goddesslike giggle. "You forgot to make me visible again! I've never done invisibility - it took me ages to find how to cancel it, and I had to stand still the whole time in case I trod on Proudfoot. Thanks for doing this room. Those cups are really pretty."

Christopher giggled too at the sight of the Goddess in his Norfolk jacket and knee-breeches. If you looked just at the clothes, she was a plump boy, rather like Oneir, but if you looked at her grubby bare feet and her long hair, you hardly knew what she was. "You don't look much like the Living Asheth..." he began.

"Don't!" The Goddess sprang to her knees, carefully bringing the kitten and its bottle with her. "Don't say that name! Don't even think it! She's me, you know, as much as I'm her, and if anyone reminds her, she'll notice where I am and send the Arm of Asheth!"

Christopher realized that this must be true or the Goddess could not have got to his world alive. "Then what am I supposed to call you?"

"Millie," said the Goddess firmly, "like the girl in the schoolbooks."

He had known she would get around to school before long. He tried to keep her off the subject by asking, "Why do you call the kitten Proudfoot? Isn't that dangerous too?"

"A bit," the Goddess agreed. "But I had to put Mother Proudfoot off the scent - she was ever so flattered - I felt mean deceiving her. Luckily there was an even better reason to call her that. Look." She laid the doll's bottle down and gently spread one of the kitten's tiny front paws out over the top of her finger. Its claws were pink. The paw looked like a very small daisy, Christopher thought, kneeling down to look. Then he realized that there were an awful lot of pink claws - at least seven of them in fact. "She has a holy foot," the Goddess said solemnly. "That means she carries the luck of a certain golden deity. When I saw it, I knew it meant I should get here and go to school."

They were back on the Goddess's favorite subject again. Fortunately, at that moment a powerful contralto voice spoke outside the door. "Wong," it said.

"Throgmorten!" Christopher said. He jumped up in great relief and went to open the door. "He won't hurt the kitten, will he?"

"He'd better not!" said the Goddess.

But Throgmorten was entirely glad to see all of them. He ran to the Goddess with his tail up and the Goddess, despite greeting him, "Hallo, you vile cat!" rubbed Throgmorten's ears and was obviously delighted to see him. Throgmorten gave the kitten an ownerlike sniff and then settled down between Christopher and the fire, purring like a rusty clock.

In spite of this interruption, it was only a matter of time before the Goddess got around to school again. "You got into trouble - didn't you? - when I kept you in the wall," she said, thoughtfully eating a salmon sandwich. Christopher had to look away.

"I know you did, or you'd have said. What are these funny fishy things?"

"Salmon sandwiches," Christopher said with a shudder, and he told her about the way Gabriel had put his ninth life in a gold ring in order to take his mind off mermaids.

"Without even asking you first?" the Goddess said indignantly. "Now you're the one who's worst off. Just let me get settled in at school and I'll think of a way to get that life back for you."

Christopher realized that the time had come to explain the realities of life in Series Twelve to the Goddess. "Look," he said, as kindly as he could, "I don't think you can go to school - or not to a boarding school like the one in your books. They cost no end of money. Even the uniforms are expensive. And you haven't even brought your jewelry to sell."

To his surprise, the Goddess was quite unconcerned. "My jewelry was nearly all silver. I couldn't bring it without harming you," she pointed out. "I came prepared to earn the money." Christopher wondered how. By showing her four arms in a freak show? "I know I will," the Goddess said confidently. "I have Proudfoot's holy foot as an omen."

She really did seem to believe this. "My idea was to write to Dr. Pawson," Christopher said.

"That might help," the Goddess agreed. "When Millie's friend Cora Hope-Fforbes's father broke his neck hunting, she had to borrow her school fees. I do know all about these things, you see."

Christopher sighed and conjured some paper and a pen from the schoolroom to write to Dr. Pawson with. This intrigued the Goddess mightily. "How did you do that? Can I learn to do it too?" she wanted to know.

"Why not?" said Christopher. "Gabriel said you were obviously an enchantress. The main rule is to visualize the thing you want to bring on its own. When Flavian started me conjuring, I kept fetching bits of wall and table too."

They spent the next hour or so conjuring things the Goddess needed: more charcoal, a dirt-tray for the kitten, socks for the Goddess, a blanket and several scent-sprays to counteract the strong odor of Throgmorten. In between, they considered what to write to Dr. Pawson and the Goddess made notes about it in slanting foreign-look ing handwriting. They had not made much progress with the letter when the gong sounded distantly for supper. Then Christopher had to agree that the Goddess could conjure his supper tray to the tower. "But I have to go to the schoolroom first," he warned her, "or the maid that brings it will guess. Give me five minutes."

He arrived at the schoolroom at the same time as the maid. Remembering Flavian's outburst, Christopher looked at the maid carefully and then smiled at her - at least, it was partly to keep her from suspecting about the Goddess, but he smiled at her anyway.

The maid was obviously delighted to be noticed. She leaned on the table beside the tray and started to talk. "The police carried off that old woman," she said, "about an hour ago. Kicking and shouting, she was. Sally and I sneaked into the hall to watch. It was as good as a play!"

"What about Ta - Mordecai Roberts?" Christopher asked.

"Held for further questioning," said the maid, "with spells all over him. Poor Mr. Roberts - Sally said he looked tired to death when she took him in his supper. He's in that little room next the library. I know he's done wrong, but I keep trying to make an excuse to go in and have a chat with him - cheer him up a bit. Bertha's been in. She got to make up the bed there, lucky thing!"

Christopher was interested, in spite of wishing the maid would go. "You know Mordecai Roberts then?"

"Know him!" said the maid. "When he was working at the Castle, I reckon we were all a bit sweet on him." Here Christopher noticed that his supper tray was beginning to jiggle. He slammed his hand down on it. "You must admit," the maid said, luckily not looking at the tray, "Mr. Roberts is that good-looking - and so pleasant with it. I'll name no names, but there were quite a few girls who went out of their way to bump into Mr. Roberts in corridors. Silly things! Everyone knew he only had eyes for Miss Rosalie."
"Miss Rosalie!" Christopher exclaimed, more interested than ever, and he held the tray down with all his strength. The Goddess clearly thought she had got something wrong and was summoning it mightily.

"Oh yes. It was Mr. Roberts taught Miss Rosalie to play cricket," said the maid. "But somehow they never could agree. It was said that it was because of her that Mr. Roberts got himself sent off on that job in London. She did him a bad turn, did Miss Rosalie." Then, to Christopher's relief, she added, "But I ought to get along and let you eat your supper before it's cold."

"Yes," Christopher said thankfully, leaning on the tray for all he was worth and desperately trying not to seem rude at the same time. "Er - if you do get to see Tac - Mr. Roberts, give him my regards. I met him in London once."

"Will do," the maid said cheerfully and left at last. Christopher's arms were weak by then. The tray exploded out from under his hands and vanished. A good deal of the table vanished with it. Christopher pelted back to the tower.

"You silly fool!" he began as he opened the door.

The Goddess just pointed to two-thirds of the schoolroom table perched on a workbench. Both of them screamed with laughter.

This was wonderfully jolly, Christopher thought, when he had recovered enough to share his supper with the Goddess and Throgmorten. It was thoroughly companionable knowing a person who had the same sort of magic. He had a feeling that this was the real reason why he had kept visiting the Temple of Asheth. All the same, now that the maid had put Tacroy into his head again, Christopher could not get him out of it. While he talked and laughed with the Goddess, he could actually feel Tacroy, downstairs somewhere, at the other end of the Castle, and the spells which held him, which were obviously uncomfortable. He could feel that Tacroy had no hope at all.

"Would you help me do something?" he asked the Goddess. "I know I didn't help you - "

"But you did!" said the Goddess. "You're helping me now, without even grumbling about the nuisance."

"There's a friend of mine who's a prisoner downstairs," Christopher said. "I think it's going to take two of us to break the spells and get him away safely."

"Of course," said the Goddess. She said it so readily that Christopher realized he would have to tell her why Tacroy was there. If he let her help without telling her what she was in for, he would be as bad as Uncle Ralph.

"Wait," he said. "I'm as bad as he is." And he told her about the Wraith and Uncle Ralph's experiments and even about the mermaids - all of it.

"Gosh!" said the Goddess. It was a word she must have picked up from her Millie books. "You are in a mess! Did Throgmorten really scratch your uncle? Good cat!"

She was all for going to rescue Tacroy at once. Christopher had to hang on to the back of the Norfolk jacket to stop her. "No, listen!" he said.

"They're all going to round up the rest of the Wraith gang tomorrow. We can set Tacroy free while they're gone. And if they catch my uncle, Gariel might be so pleased that he won't mind finding Tacroy gone."

The Goddess consented to wait till morning. Christopher conjured her a pair of his pajamas and left her finishing the salmon sandwiches as a bedtime snack. But, remembering her treachery over the portent, he took care to seal the door behind him with the strongest spell he knew.

He was woken up next morning by a churn of milk landing beside his bed. This was followed by the remains of the schoolroom table. Christopher sent both back to the right places and rushed to the tower, dressing as he went. It looked as if the Goddess was getting impatient.

He found her standing helplessly over a hamper of loaves and a huge ham. "I've forgotten the right way to send things back," she confessed. "And I boiled that packet of tea in the kettle, but it doesn't taste nice. What did I do wrong?"

Christopher sorted her out as well as he could and chased off to the schoolroom for his own breakfast. The maid was already there, holding the tray, looking quizzical. Christopher smiled at her nervously. She grinned and nodded towards the table. It had all four legs at one end, two of them sticking up into the air.

"Oh," he said. "I...er..."

"Come clean," she said. "It was you disappeared the antique cups in the dining room, wasn't it? I told the butler I'd tax you with it."

"Well, yes," said Christopher, knowing the Goddess was drinking freshly made tea out of one at the moment. "I'll put them back. They're not broken."

"They'd better not be," said the maid. "They're worth a fortune, those cups. Now do you mind putting this table to rights so that I can put this tray down before I drop it?" While Christopher was turning the table to its proper shape, she remarked, "Feeling your gifts all of a sudden, aren't you? Things keep popping in and out all over the Castle this morning. If you'll take my advice, you'll have everything back in its proper place before ten o'clock. After Monsignor de Witt and the others leave to catch those thieves, the butler's going to go around checking the whole Castle."

She stayed and ate some of his toast and marmalade. As she remarked, she had had her breakfast two hours ago. Her name turned out to be Erica and she was a valuable source of information as well as being nice. But Christopher knew he should not have taught the Goddess to conjure. He would never keep her a secret at this rate. Then, when Erica had gone and he was free to consider his problems, it dawned on Christopher that he could solve two of them at one go. All he had to do was to ask Tacroy to take the Goddess with him when he escaped. That made it more urgent than ever to get Tacroy free.

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