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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

Here was the perfect excuse to stop looking for Gabriel. Christopher expected to have a short struggle with himself. He quite took himself by surprise when he stood up straightaway. He did not even have to think that the Goddess had also heard Tacroy confess that part of himself was in Series Eleven. "Tacroy," he said. He knew it was important to call Tacroy by his spirit name. "Tacroy, come to that empty office for a moment. I have to talk to you."

Slowly and reluctantly Tacroy stood up. Miss Rosalie said sharply, "Mordecai, you look ill. Do you want me to come with you?"

"No!" Tacroy and Christopher said together.

Tacroy sat on the edge of a desk in the empty office and put his face in his hands. Christopher was sorry for him. He had to remind himself that he and Tacroy were the ones who had brought Uncle Ralph the weapon which had blown Gabriel's lives apart, before he could say, "I've got to ask you."

"I know that," Tacroy said.

"So what is it about Series Eleven?" said Christopher.

Tacroy raised his head. "Put the strongest spell of silence and privacy around us that you can," he said. Christopher did so, even more fiercely than he had done for Miss Bell and Mama. It was so extreme that he went numb and could hardly feel to scrape out the center of the spell so that he and Tacroy could hear one another. When he had done it, he was fairly sure that even someone standing just beside them could not have overheard a word. But Tacroy shrugged. "They can probably hear anyway," he said. "Their magic's nothing like ours. And they have my soul, you see. They know most of what I do from that, and what they don't know I have to go and report to them in spirit. You saw me going there once - they summon me to a place near Covent Garden."

"Your soul?" said Christopher.

"Yes," Tacroy said bitterly. "The part that makes you the person you are. With you, it's the part that carries on from life to life. Mine was detached from me when I was born, as it is with all Eleven people. They kept it there when they sent me here to Twelve as a baby."

Christopher stared at Tacroy. He had always known that Tacroy did not look quite like other people, with his coffee-colored skin and curly hair, but he had not thought about it before because he had met so many stranger people in the Anywheres. "Why did they send you?"

"To be their guinea pig," said Tacroy. "The Dright puts someone in another world from time to time when he wants to study it. This time he decided he wanted to study good and evil, so he ordered me to work for Gabriel first and then for the worst villain he could find - who happened to be your uncle. They don't go by right and wrong in Eleven. They don't consider themselves human - Or no, I suppose they think they're the only real people, and they study the rest of you like something in a zoo when the Dright happens to feel interested."

Christopher could tell from Tacroy's voice that he hated the Eleven people very deeply. He well understood that. Tacroy was even worse off than the Goddess. "Who's the Dright?"

"King, priest, chief magician..." Tacroy shrugged. "No, he's not quite any of those, quite. He's called High Father of the Sept and he's thousands of years old. He's lived that long because he eats someone's soul whenever his power fails - but he's quite within his rights, doing that. All the Eleven people and their souls belong to him by Eleven law. I belong to him."

"What's the law about him fetching himself all Gabriel's lives?" Christopher asked. "That's what he's done, hasn't he?"

"I knew he had - as soon as Flavian said 'Series Eleven,'" Tacroy said. "I know he's always wanted to study someone with nine lives. They can't get them in Eleven, because there's only one world there, not a Series. The Dright keeps it down to one world so he won't have any rivals. And you know your nine lives came about - don't you? - because all the doubles you might have had in the other worlds in Twelve never got born for some reason."

"Yes, but what's Eleven law about pinching most of an enchanter?" Christopher insisted.

"I'm not sure," Tacroy confessed. "I'm not sure they have laws like we do. It's probably legal if the Dright can get away with it. They go by pride and appearance and what people do mostly."

Christopher at once resolved that the Dright should not get away with this if he could help it. "I suppose he just waited to see how many lives there were loose and then collected them," he said. "Tell me everything about Eleven that you can think of."

"Well," said Tacroy, "I haven't been there since I was born, but I know they control everything with magic. They have the weather controlled, so that they can live out in the open forest and control what trees grow and where. Food comes when they call and they don't use fire to cook it. They don't use fire at all. They think you're all savages for using it, and they're just as scornful about the kind of magic all the other worlds use. The only time they think any of you are any good is when one of you is absolutely loyal to a king or chief or someone. They admire people like that, particularly if they cheat and lie out of loyalty..."

Tacroy talked for the next half hour. He talked as if it was a relief for him to tell it at last, but Christopher could see it was a strain too. Halfway through, when the lines on Tacroy's face made him look haggard, Christopher told him to wait and slipped out of the secrecy spell to the door. As he had expected, Miss Rosalie was standing outside looking more than usually fierce.

"Mordecai's worked himself to the bone for you, one way and another!" she hissed at him. "What are you doing to him in there?"

"Nothing, but he needs something to keep him going," Christopher said. "Could you..?"

"What do you take me for?" snapped Miss Rosalie. Erica rushed up with a tray almost at once. As well as tea, and two plates piled high with cakes, there was a tiny bottle of brandy nestling in the corner of the tray. When Christopher carried the tray back inside the spell, Tacroy looked at the brandy, grinned, and poured a good dollop of it into his cup of tea. It seemed to revive him as much as the cakes revived Christopher. While they polished off the trayful together, Tacroy thought of a whole new set of things to say.

One of the things he said was, "If you saw some Eleven people without being warned, you might take them for noble savages, but you'd be making a big mistake if you did. They're very, very civilized. As for being noble - " Tacroy paused with a cake halfway to his mouth.

"Eat your elevenses," said Christopher.

Tacroy gave a brief grin at the joke. "Your worlds know about them a bit," he said. "They're the people who gave rise to all the stories about Elves. If you think about them like that - cold, unearthly people who go by quite different rules - that will give you some idea. I don't understand them really, even though I was born one of them."

By this time Christopher knew that getting Gabriel back was going to be the toughest thing he had ever done in his lives. If it was not impossible. "Can you bear to come to Eleven with me?" he asked Tacroy. "To stop me making mistakes."

"As soon as they realize I've told you, they'll haul me back there anyway," Tacroy said. He was very pale again. "And you're in danger for knowing."

"In that case," said Christopher, "we'll tell everyone in the Castle, and get Yolande and Beryl to type a report to the Government about it. The Dright can't kill everyone."

Tacroy did not look any too sure about this, but he went back with Christopher to the operations room to explain. Naturally, it caused another outcry. "Eleven!" everyone exclaimed. "You can't!" People crowded in from the rest of the Castle to tell Christopher he was being a fool and that getting Gabriel back was quite impossible. Dr. Simonson left off making final adjustments to the Lobster Pot to march upstairs and forbid Christopher to go.

Christopher had expected this. "Fudge!" he said. "You can catch the Wraith without me now."

What he had not expected was that the Goddess would wait for the clamor to die down and then announce, "And I'm coming with you."

"Why?" said Christopher.
"Out of loyalty," the Goddess explained. "In the Millie books, Millie never let her chums down."

There was no accounting for the Goddess's obsession, Christopher thought. He suspected she was really afraid to stay where the Arm of Asheth could find her on her own, but he did not say so. And if she came along, she would almost double the amount of magic they had between them.

Then, on Tacroy's advice, he dressed for the journey. "Fur," Tacroy said. "The more you wear, the higher your rank." Christopher conjured the tigerskin rug from the Middle Saloon and the Goddess cut a hole in it for his head. Miss Rosalie found him a lordly belt with great brass studs in it to go around the middle, while the housekeeper produced a fox fur to wrap around his neck and a mink stole for the Goddess. "And it would help to have it hung all over with ornaments," said Tacroy.

"Not silver ones, remember," Christopher called as everyone rushed away to find things.

He ended up with three gold necklaces and a rope of pearls. Yolande's entire stock of earrings was pinned artfully here and there on the tigerskin, with Beryl's brooches in between. Around his head he had Miss Rosalie's gold evening belt with Erica's mother's mourning brooch pinned to the front of it over his forehead. He chinked in a stately way when he moved, rather like the Goddess in the Temple. The Goddess herself merely had a cluster of ostrich feathers at the front of her head and somebody's gold bracelets around the bottom of her Norfolk breeches. They wanted to make it clear that Christopher was the most important one. Tacroy stayed just as he was. "They know me," he said. "I have no rank in the Sept at all."

They shook hands with everyone in the operations room and turned to the Gate. It was now tuned to Eleven as far as Flavian and Tacroy knew, but Miss Rosalie warned Christopher that the spells around Eleven would probably take all their strength to break, and even that might not be enough. So Christopher paced, chinking in the lead, pushing with all his might, and the Goddess walked after with her ghostly pair of arms spread under the real pair. Behind them, Tacroy muttered an incantation.

And it was easy. Suspiciously easy, they all felt at once. There was an instant of formlessness, like one short breath of The Place Between. Then they were in a forest and a man who looked like Tacroy was staring at them.

The forest was smoothly beautiful, with a green grassy floor and no bushes of any kind. There were simply tall slender trees that all seemed to be the same kind. Among the smooth and slightly shiny trunks, the man was poised on one foot, something like a startled deer, looking over his naked brown shoulder at them. He was like Tacroy in that he had the same sort of coffee-colored skin and paler curly hair, but there the likeness ended. He was naked except for a short fur skirt, which made him look like a particularly stylish Greek statue, apart from his face. The expression on the man's face reminded Christopher of a camel. It was all haughty dislike and scorn.

"Call him. Remember what I told you," Tacroy whispered.

You had to be rude to Eleven people or they did not respect you. "Hey, you!" Christopher called out in the most lordly way he could. "You there! Take me to the Dright at once!"

The man behaved as if he had not heard. After staring a second longer, he took the step he had been in the middle of and walked away among the trees.

"Didn't he hear?" asked the Goddess.

"Probably," said Tacroy. "But he wanted to make it clear he was more important than you. He was obviously low in the Sept. Even the lowest ones like to think they're better than anyone else in the Related Worlds. Walk on, and we'll see if anything comes of it."

"Which way?" asked Christopher.

"Any way," said Tacroy, with a slight smile. "They control distance and direction here."

They walked forward the way they were facing. The trees were all so much the same and so evenly spaced that, after about twenty steps, Christopher wondered if they were moving at all. He looked around and was relieved to see the square frame of the Gate among the tree-trunks about the right distance behind. He wondered if the whole of Eleven was covered with trees. If it was, it was hardly surprising that its people did not use fire. They would risk burning the whole forest down. He looked to the front again and found that, without any change in the landscape, they were somehow walking towards a fence.

The fence stretched for as far as they could see into the trees on either side. It was made of stakes of wood, nicely varnished and wickedly pointed on top, driven into the turf about a foot apart. The points at the top only came to Tacroy's waist. It did not look much of a barrier. But when they turned sideways to get between the stakes, the stakes seemed much too close together to let them through. When Tacroy took his jacket off to cover the points on top so that they could climb over, his jacket would not go anywhere that was not their side of the fence. As Tacroy picked his jacket up for the sixth time, the Goddess looked to the left and Christopher looked to the right, and they discovered that the fence was now all around them. Behind them, there was no sign of the Gate among the trees - nothing but a row of stakes blocking the way back.

"He did hear," said the Goddess.

"I think they were expecting us," said Christopher.

Tacroy spread his jacket on the grass and sat on it. "We'll just have to wait and see," he said glumly. "No, not you," he said to Christopher as Christopher started to sit down too. "The important people always stand here. I was told that the Dright hasn't sat down for years."

The Goddess sank down beside Tacroy and rubbed her bare toes in the grass. "Then I'm not going to be important," she said. "I'm sick of being important anyway. I say! Was he here before?"

A nervous-looking boy with a scruffy piece of sheepskin wound around his hips like a towel was standing on the other side of Tacroy. "I was here," he said shyly. "You just didn't seem to see me. I've been inside this fence all morning."

The fence surrounded a small grassy space no bigger than the tower room where Christopher had hidden the Goddess. Christopher could not understand how they could have missed seeing the boy, but given the queerness of everything perhaps they could. Judging by the boy's lank white body and straight fair hair, he was not one of the Eleven people.

"Did the Dright take you prisoner?" the Goddess asked.

The boy rubbed his funny little hooked nose in a puzzled way. "I'm not sure. I don't seem to remember coming here. What are you doing here?"

"Looking for someone," said Tacroy. "You don't happen to have seen a man - or several men, maybe - called Gabriel de Witt, do you?"

"Gabriel de Witt!" said the boy. "But that's my name!"
They stared at him. He was a timid, gangling boy with mild blue eyes. He was the kind of boy Christopher - and probably the Goddess, too - would naturally have started to boss about in the next minute or so. They would have bossed him quite kindly though, because it was easy to see that it would not take much to upset him and make him sick with nerves, rather like Fenning at school. In fact, Christopher thought, this boy reminded him of a tall, thin Fenning more than anything else. But now he knew, he saw that the boy's face had the same pointed outline as Gabriel's.

"How many lives have you?" he asked disbe-lievingly.

The boy seemed to look within himself. "That's odd," he said. "Usually I have nine. But I can only seem to find seven."

"Then we've got all of him," said the Goddess.

"With complications," said Tacroy. "Does the title Chrestomanci mean anything to you?" he asked the boy.

"Isn't he some boring old enchanter?" asked the boy. "I think his real name's Benjamin Allworthy, isn't it?"

Gabriel had gone right back to being a boy. Benjamin Allworthy had been the last Chrestomanci but one. "Don't you remember Mordecai Roberts or me?" Christopher asked. "I'm Christopher Chant."

"Pleased to meet you," Gabriel de Witt said, with a polite, shy smile. Christopher stared at him, wondering how Gabriel had come to grow up so forbidding.

"It's no use," Tacroy said. "Neither of us was born when he was that age."

"More people," said the Goddess.

There were four of them, three men and a woman, a little way off among the trees. The men all wore fur tunics that only covered one shoulder and the woman had a longer one that was more like a dress. The four of them stood half turned away from the fence, chatting together. Occasionally one of them looked scornfully over a bare shoulder at the fence.

Tacroy sank down into himself. His face was full of misery. "Take no notice, Christopher, definitely," he whispered. "Those are the ones I usually had to report to. I think they're important."

Christopher stood and stared haughtily over everyone's heads. His feet began to ache.

"They keep turning up like that," Gabriel said. "Rude beasts! I asked them for something to eat and they pretended not to hear."

Five minutes passed. Christopher's feet felt wider and hotter and more overused every second. He began to hate Eleven. There seemed to be no birds here, no animals, no wind. Just ranks of beautiful trees that all looked alike. The temperature never changed from just right. And the people were horrible.

"I hate this forest," Gabriel said. "It's so samey."

"That woman-one," said the Goddess, "reminds me of Mother Anstey. She's going to giggle about us behind her hand any moment, I know she is." The woman put her hand up to her mouth and gave a scornful, tinkling laugh. "What did I tell you?" the Goddess said. "And good riddance!"
The group of people was suddenly gone.

Christopher stood on one foot, then on the other. It made no difference to the ache. "You were lucky, Tacroy," he said. "If they hadn't dumped you in our world, you'd have had to live here." Tacroy looked up with a crinkled, unhappy smile and shrugged.

A minute or so after that, the man they had seen first was back, strolling among the trees a little way off. Tacroy nodded at Christopher. Christopher called out loudly and angrily, "Hey, you! I told you to take us to the Dright! What do you mean by disobeying me like this?"

The man gave no sign that he had heard. He came and leaned on the fence and stared at them as if they were something in a zoo. In order to put his elbows on top of the sharp stakes, he had somehow made a wooden armrest appear. Christopher could not fathom the peculiar magic he used to do that. But the Goddess always seemed a little quicker on the uptake than Christopher. She frowned at the armrest and seemed to get the hang of it. The block of wood hurtled away into the trees sending the man's arms down onto the spikes, quite hard. Gabriel laughed, an ordinary, unforbidding gurgle. The man sprang upright indignantly, went to rub his arm and then remembered that he should not show pain before inferiors. He swung around and went marching away.

Christopher was annoyed, both with the man and with the Goddess for being so much quicker than he was. The two things together made him so angry that he raised his arms and tried to hurl the man upwards, the way he had levitated all the things in Dr. Pawson's house. It was almost impossible to do. True, the man went up six feet or so. But he came down again gently and easily the next second, and looked jeeringly over his shoulder as he slipped earthwards.

This seemed to make the Goddess even angrier than Christopher. "All do it!" she said. "Come on, Gabriel!"

Gabriel shot her a mischievous grin and they all heaved together. Between them they only seemed to be able to raise the man three feet into the air, but they found they could keep him there. He pretended nothing was happening and kept walking as if he was still on the ground, which looked decidedly silly.

"Take us to the Dright!" Christopher yelled.

"Now down," said the Goddess. And they bumped him to the ground again. He walked away, still pretending nothing was happening, which gave Gabriel a fit of the giggles.

"Did that do any good?" Christopher asked Tacroy.

"No way of knowing," said Tacroy. "They always like to keep you waiting until you're too tired and angry to think straight." He settled down in a miserable huddle, with his arms around his knees.

They waited. Christopher was wondering whether it was worth the enormous effort it would take to levitate himself in order to get the weight off his feet, when he noticed that the trees were sliding aside, to the right and left of the fence. Or perhaps the fenced enclosure was moving forward without any change to the smooth grass inside or out. It was hard to tell which. Either made Christopher feel queasy. He swallowed and kept his eyes haughtily on the trees ahead. But in less than a second those trees had wheeled away to nowhere, leaving a widening green glade. A person was in sight at the distant end of the glade, a tall, bulky person, who was sauntering slowly towards them.

Tacroy gulped a little. "That's the Dright."

Christopher narrowed his eyes to get his witch sight working and watched the trees sliding further and further apart. It reminded him of the way he had played at shunting the trees up the Trumpington Road.
He could see the Dright doing it now. In order to work magic in this world, you seemed to have to work in a way that was tipped sideways from the way you did it on any other world, with a bend and a ripple to the magic, as if you were watching yourself work it in a wavy glass ball. Christopher was not sure he was going to be able to do it.

"I don't get the hang of this foreign magic," Gabriel sighed.

As the Dright sauntered slowly nearer, Christopher squeezed the corners of his mouth in, in order to stop a grin of delight at the thought that he was actually quicker at understanding it than Gabriel was. By now, the trees had sped away to leave a big circular meadow full of greenish sunlight. The Dright was near enough for them to see that he was dressed rather like Christopher in at least two lion skins hung all over with bright chinking ornaments. His curly hair and his crisp beard were white. There were rings on the toes of his smooth brown feet.

"He looks like one of those rather nasty gods - the ones that eat their own children," Gabriel said in a clear and carrying voice.

Christopher had to bite his tongue or he would have laughed. He was beginning to like this version of Gabriel. By the time he had the laugh under control, he was standing facing the Dright some yards outside the fence. He looked back incredulously. The Goddess and Gabriel were standing behind the fence, still prisoners, looking a little stupefied. Tacroy was still sitting on the ground, doing his best not to be noticed.

Christopher lifted his chin and looked up at the Dright's face. The smooth brown features did not have any expression on them at all. But Christopher stared, trying to see the person behind the blank-ness. What feelings the Dright had were so different from his own, and so lofty, that for a moment he felt like an insect. Then he remembered that glacier, years ago in Series Seven, which Tacroy had said reminded him of two people. Christopher knew that one of the people was the Dright. Like the glacier, the Dright was cold and high and too crusted with ancient knowledge for ordinary people to understand. On the other hand, the other person the glacier had reminded Tacroy of was Uncle Ralph. Christopher looked carefully for any signs that the Dright was like Uncle Ralph. There was not much of Uncle Ralph's shoddy look to the Dright's grand face, but his features did not seem sincere. Christopher could tell that the Dright would cheat and lie if it suited him, like Uncle Ralph, but he thought that the main way the two were alike was that they were both utterly selfish. Uncle Ralph used people. So did the Dright.

"What are you?" the Dright said. His voice was deep and scornful.

"I'm the Dright," said Christopher. "Dright for world Twelve-A. The word for it there is Chrestomanci, but it amounts to the same thing." His legs were shaking at the sheer cheek of this. But Tacroy had said that the one thing the Dright respected was pride. He held his knees stiff and made his face haughty.

There was no way of telling whether the Dright believed Christopher or not. He did not answer and his face was blank. But Christopher could feel the Dright putting out small tendrils of sideways, rippled Eleven magic, testing him, feeling at him to see what his powers were and what were his weak points. To himself, Christopher felt he was all weak points. But it seemed to him that, since the magic here was so peculiar, he had no idea what his own powers were, and that meant the Dright probably had no idea either.

The meadow behind the Dright became full of people. They had not been there at first, but they were there now, a pale-headed, brown-skinned crowd, wearing all possible degrees of fur, from tiny loin-wraps to long bearskin robes. It seemed that the Dright was saying, "Call yourself Dright if you like, but take a look at the power I have." Every one of the people was staring at Christopher with contempt and dislike. Christopher put his face into the same expression and stared back. And he realized that his face was rather used to looking this way. He had worn this expression most of the time he had lived at the Castle. It gave him an unpleasant shock to find that he had been quite as horrible as these Eleven people.

"Why are you here?" said the Dright.

Christopher pushed aside his shock. If I get out of here, I'll try to be nicer, he thought, and then concentrated carefully on what Tacroy had told him might be the best things to say. "I've come to fetch back something of my own," he said. "But first, let me introduce you to my colleague the Living Asheth. Goddess, this is the Dright of Eleven." The ostrich feather fluttered on the Goddess's head as she stepped up to the sharp stakes and bowed graciously. There was the slightest twitch to the Dright's features that suggested he was impressed that Christopher had actually brought the Living Asheth, but the Goddess was still behind the fence in spite of that. "And of course you know my man Mordecai Roberts already," Christopher said grandly, trying to slip that point past as a piece of pride.

The Dright said nothing about that either. But behind him, the people were now all sitting down. It was as if they had never been any other way. By this, the Dright seemed to be saying, "Very well. You are my equal, but I'd like to point out that my followers outnumber yours by several thousand to one - and mine are obedient to my slightest whim." Christopher was amazed that he had won even this much. He tried to squash down his amazement by watching the people. Some were talking and laughing together, though he could not hear them. Some of them were cooking food over little balls of bluish witchfire, which they seemed to use instead of fire. There were very few children. The two or three Christopher could see were sitting sedately doing nothing. I'd hate to grow up on Eleven! he thought. It must be a hundred times more boring than the Castle.

"What thing of your own have you allowed to stray into my world?" the Dright said at length.

They were getting down to business at last, even though the Dright was trying to pretend that Christopher had been careless. Christopher smiled and shook his head, to show he thought that was a joke of the Dright's. "Two things," he said. "First, I have to thank you for retrieving the lives of Gabriel de Witt for me. It has saved me a lot of trouble. But you seem to have put the lives together in the wrong way and made Gabriel into a boy."

"I put them into the form which is easiest to deal with," said the Dright. Like everything he said, this was full of other meanings.

"If you mean that boys are easy to deal with," Christopher said, "I'm afraid this is not the case. Not boys from Twelve-A."

"And not girls either," the Goddess said loudly. "Not from anywhere."

"What is Gabriel de Witt to you?" the Dright asked.

"He is as father to son," said Christopher. Rather proud of the way he had carefully not said who was which, he glanced through the fence at Tacroy. Tacroy was still sitting wrapped into a ball, but Christopher thought his curly head nodded slightly.

"You have a claim to de Witt," the Dright said. "He can be yours, depending on what else you have to say." The fence around the other three slid and poured smoothly away sideways until it was out of sight, just as the trees had.

Gabriel looked puzzled. The Goddess stood where she was, clearly suspicious. Christopher looked warily at the Dright. This was too good to be true. "The other thing I have to say," he said, "is about this man of mine who is usually known as Mordecai Roberts. I believe he used to be yours, which means you still have his soul. Since he is my man now, perhaps you could let me have his soul?"

Tacroy's head came up and he stared at Christopher in horror and alarm. Christopher took no notice. He had known this would be pressing his luck, but he had always meant to try for Tacroy's soul. He planted his aching feet astride, folded his arms across his fur and jewelry, and tried to smile at the Dright as if what he was asking was the most ordinary and reasonable thing in any world.

The Dright gave no sign of anger or surprise. It was not simply self-control or pride. Christopher knew the Dright had been expecting him to ask and did not mind if Christopher knew. His mind began to work furiously. The Dright had made it easy for them to come to Eleven. He had pretended to accept Christopher as an equal, and he had told him he could have Gabriel's lives. That meant there was something the Dright expected to get out of this, something he must want very much indeed. But what?

"If my Septman claims to be your man, you should have his soulname," the Dright observed. "Has he given you that name?"

"Yes," said Christopher. "It's Tacroy."

The faces of all the people sitting in the meadow behind the Dright turned his way. Every one of them was outraged. But the Dright only said, "And what has Tacroy done to make himself yours?"

"He lied for me for a whole day," Christopher said. "And he was believed."

The first real sound in this place swept through the seated people. It was a long throaty murmur. Of awe? Approval? Whatever it was, Christopher knew he had said the right thing. As Tacroy had told him, these people naturally lied for their Dright. And to lie convincingly for a whole day showed the utmost loyalty.

"He could then be yours," the Dright admitted, "but on two conditions. I make two conditions because you have asked me for two things. The first one is of course that you show you know which the Septman's soul is." He made a small gesture with one powerful brown hand.

A movement in the trees to one side caught Christopher's eye. He looked and found the slender trunks pouring silently aside there. When they stopped, there was a grassy lane leading to the square framework of the Gate. It was about fifty feet away. The Dright was showing him that he could get home, provided he did what was wanted.

"There's a huge block of their magic in the way," the Goddess whispered.

Gabriel craned over his shoulder to look longingly at the Gate. "Yes, it's just a carrot in front of the donkey," he agreed.

Tacroy simply groaned, with his head on his knees.

In front of Christopher, people were bringing things and laying them out in a wide crescent-shape. Each man or woman brought two or three, and stared derisively at Christopher as he or she thunked the things down in the growing line. He looked at the things. Some were almost black, some yellowish, and others white or shiny. He was not sure if they were statuettes or blobs of stuff that had melted and hardened into peculiar shapes. A few of them looked vaguely human. Most were no shape that meant anything. But the stuff they were made of meant a great deal. Christopher's stomach twisted and he had a hard job to go on staring haughtily as he realized that all the things were made of silver.

When there were about a hundred of the objects sitting on the green turf, the Dright waved his hand again and the people stopped bringing them. "Pick out the soul of Tacroy from the souls of my people," he said.

Miserably, Christopher paced along the curving row with his hands clasped behind him to stop them trembling and Beryl's ornaments chinking. He felt like a General reviewing an army of metal goblins. He paced the entire line, from left to right, and none of the objects meant anything to him. Use witch sight, he told himself, as he wheeled on the right wing and started back again. It might just work on the silver statues provided he did not touch them.

He forced himself to look in that special way at the statues. It was a real effort to do it through the wavy sideways magic of Eleven. And, as he had feared, the things looked just the same, just as grotesque, just as meaningless. His witch sight was working, he knew. He could tell that a number of the people sitting in the meadow were not really there. They were in other parts of the forest busy with other schemes of the Dright's and projecting their images here in obedience to the Dright's command. But his witch sight would not work on silver.

So how else could he tell? He paced along the line, thinking. The people watched him jeeringly and the Dright's head turned majestically to follow him as he passed. They were all so unpleasant, he thought, that it was no wonder their souls were like little silver monsters. Tacroy was the only nice one - Ah! There was Tacroy's soul! It was some way around to the left. It looked no more human than any of the others, but it looked nice, fifty times nicer than the rest.

Christopher tried to go on pacing towards it as if he had not seen it, wondering what would happen when he picked it up and lost every scrap of his magic. He would have to rely on the Goddess. He hoped she realized.

His face must have changed. The Dright knew he had found the right soul and instantly began to cheat as Christopher had known he would. The line of twisty objects was suddenly a good mile long, with Tacroy's soul away in the far distance. And all of them were changing shape, melting into new queer blobs and fresh formless forms.

Then, with a sort of wavy jolt, everything went back to the way it was at first. Thank goodness! Christopher thought. The Goddess! He kept his eye on the soul and it was quite near. He dived forward and picked it up. As soon as he touched it, he was weak and heavy and tired. He felt like crying, but he stood up holding the soul. Sure enough, the Goddess was staring at the Dright with her arms spread. Christopher was surprised to find that, even without his magic, he could see the second pair of ghostly arms spread out underneath.

"My priestesses taught me that it was low to cheat," she said. "I'd have thought you were too proud to stoop to it."

The Dright looked down his nose at her. "I named no rules," he said. Being without magic was a little like another kind of witch sight, Christopher thought. The Dright looked smaller to him now and not nearly so magnificent. There were clear signs of the shoddiness that he had seen in Uncle Ralph. Christopher was still scared stiff, but he felt much better about things now he had seen that.

While the Goddess and the Dright stared at one another, he lumbered weakly over to Tacroy. "Here you are," he said, thrusting the strange statue at him. Tacroy scrambled on to one knee, looking as if he could not believe it. His hands shook as they closed around the soul. As soon as he had hold of it, the thing melted into his hands. The fingernails and the veins turned silvery. An instant later, Tacroy's face flushed silvery too. Then the flush faded and Tacroy looked much as usual, except that there was a glow about him which made him much more like the Tacroy Christopher knew from The Place Between.
"Now I really am your man!" Tacroy said. He was laughing in a way that was rather like sobbing. "You can see I couldn't ask Rosalie - Watch the Dright!"

Christopher spun around and found the Goddess on her knees, looking bewildered. It was not surprising. The Dright had thousands of years of experience. "Leave her alone!" he said.

The Dright looked at him and for a moment Christopher felt the strange distorted magic trying to force him to his knees too. Then it stopped. The Dright still had not got what he wanted from Christopher. "We now come to my second condition," the Dright said calmly. "I am moderate. You came here demanding seven lives and a soul. I give you them. All I ask in exchange is one life."

Gabriel laughed nervously. "I have got a few to spare," he said. "If it means getting out of here..."

This was what the Dright wanted, Christopher realized. He had been aiming for the life of a nine-lifed enchanter, freely handed over, all along. If Christopher had not dared to ask for Tacroy's soul, he would have asked for a life for setting Gabriel free. For just a second, Christopher thought they might as well let him have one of Gabriel's lives. He had seven, after all, and another lying on the floor back in the Castle. Then he saw it would be the most dangerous thing he could do. It would give the Dright a hold over Gabriel - the same hold he had had over Tacroy - for as long as his other lives lasted. The Dright was aiming to control the Chrestomanci, just like Uncle Ralph was aiming to control Christopher. They did not dare give him one of Gabriel's lives.

"All right," Christopher said. For the first time, he was truly grateful to Gabriel that his ninth life was safely locked in the Castle safe. "As you see, I've still got two lives left. You can have one of them," he said, naming conditions very carefully, because he knew the Dright would cheat if he could, "because if you take more than one it would kill me and give my world the right to punish yours. Once you have that life in your hands, your conditions are fulfilled and you must let all four of us go through the Gate back to Twelve-A."

"Agreed," said the Dright. He was keeping his face as expressionless as always, but underneath Christopher could tell he was hugging himself and chuckling. He stepped solemnly up to Christopher. Christopher braced himself and hoped it would not hurt much. In fact, it hurt so little that he was almost taken by surprise. The Dright stepped back a mere instant later with a floppy transparent shape dangling in his hands. The shape was wearing a ghostly tiger-skin and it had a dim gold band fluttering from its transparent head.

Christopher conjured fire to that shape, hard and sideways and wavily, with all the power he had. Fire was the one thing the Dright was not used to. He knew it was the one thing that might cancel out those thousand years of experience. To his relief, the Goddess had made exactly the same calculations. He had a glimpse of her, with all four arms spread, conjuring fire down as he called it up.

His seventh life leaped into flame all over at once. The Dright hung on to its shoulders as it blazed, grimly trying to quench it, but Christopher had been right. Fire magic was the Dright's weak point. His attempt to reverse the spell was slow and hesitating. But he kept trying, and hung on to the life by its shoulders, until he had to let go or lose both hands. By that time the front of his lion-skin was on fire too. Christopher glimpsed him trying to beat it out and coughing in the smoke, as he collapsed himself into a writhing heap on the turf. It was worse than being crisped by the dragon. He was in agony. He had not realized it would hurt at all, let alone this much.

Tacroy scooped him up, threw him over one shoulder in a fireman's hoist, and raced for the Gate. Every step bumped Christopher and every bump was torment. But his watering eyes caught sight of the Goddess seizing Gabriel's arm in at least three hands and dragging him to the Gate in a mixture of brute force and magic. They all reached it together and plunged through. Christopher kept just enough sense to cancel the spells and slam the Gate shut behind them.

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