It was strange inside the caravan. I never saw it properly because it was so dark in there, but it seemed much bigger than I would have expected it to be. It was warm - at least it was warm to me, but Millie kept shivering - and full of warm smells of cloth and onions and spiciness, with a sort of tinny, metallic smell behind that. Things I couldn't see kept up a tinkling and chiming from somewhere in the walls. There were what seemed like bunks to sit on, where Christopher and I sat with Millie between us to keep her warm, looking across to the two children, who had hurried inside to stare at us through the dimness as if we were the strangest things on earth. But they wouldn't speak to us whatever we said.
"They've gone shy again. Take no notice," Christopher said. "Why are you fleeing Stallery, Grant?"
"I'm a murderer," I said, and told him about the ghost and the camera.
Christopher said, "Oh," very soberly. After a while, he said, "I could really almost believe you do have bad karma, Grant, although I know you don't. You certainly have vilely bad luck. Maybe it was the magic - Did you know you were absolutely covered in spells when I first met you? One of them may have been a death spell. But I thought I took them all off you while we were walking through the park."
It was my turn to say, "Oh." I explained, rather angrily, "One of those spells was supposed to make Mr.Amos give me a job."
"I know," Christopher said. "That's why I took them off you. I wanted the job. What was Gabriel doing in Stallery - besides looking for me and Millie, that is?"
"Arresting Mr.Amos," I said. "Did you know he was my uncle?"
"Gabriel can't be your uncle," said Christopher. "He comes from Series Twelve."
"No, stupid - Mr. Amos," I said. "My mother said she was married to Mr. Amos's brother."
"That usually does make a person your uncle," Christopher agreed.
"And Mr.Amos is really Count of Stallery," I told him. "Not Count Robert. His father was an actor called Mr.Brown. The Countess is really plain Mrs.Brown."
Christopher was delighted. "Tell me all, Grant," he said. So I did.
Millie said, with her teeth chattering, "Did they arrest that witch, too - Lady Mary?"
"I don't think so," I said, "but they may have been going to arrest Mr.Seuly."
"What a pity," Millie said. "Lady Mary ought to be arrested. She uses magic in the vilest way. But - No, shut up, Christopher. Stop making clever remarks, and tell me what happened to you now. How did you end up with the Travelers?"
"By using my brain," Christopher said, "at last. Before it rotted and fell out of my head. I confess that I got really stuck, out in all those empty towers and mansions. Every time there was a change - and there were plenty of those - I seemed to get farther and farther off from Stallery, and half the time there didn't seem to be a way to get anywhere, even when I went outside. I got really tired and hungry and confused. I was in a giant building made entirely of glass, when the whole scene suddenly filled with Gabriel's people. Have you ever tried to hide in a glass house? Don't. It can't be done. And they were between me and the way to the roof, so I couldn't go up there to wait for another change. So I panicked. And then I thought, "There must be another way!" Then I thought of Champ. Champ was never allowed into the house..."
"Just like Mr.Avenloch and Smedley!" I said. "The changes happen out in the park, too!"
"They do, Grant," Christopher said. "The probability fault has two ends, but one is out in the middle of nowhere, and nobody notices it. As soon as I realized that, I dodged out of the beastly greenhouse and went chasing out into the moors to look for the other end. But I don't think I'd ever have found it if the Travelers hadn't come through more or less as I got there. They gave me some food, and I asked them to get me to Stallery - I hoped you were there by then, Millie - and they didn't want to do that at first. They said they would come out in the middle of the park. But I said I'd get them out through the gatehouse, so they agreed to take me."
"How do we get out through the gate?" I asked.
The words were hardly out of my mouth when the regular clop of the horse's shoes stopped. The Traveler leaned back from the driver's seat and said, "Here is the gatehouse."
"Right." Christopher got up and scrambled to the front of the caravan.
I don't know what he did. The horse started walking again, and after a moment the inside of the caravan went so dark that the kids opposite me gave out little twitters of alarm. The next thing I knew, I was looking out of the back of the van at the tunnel of the gateway, with its gates wide open, and the horse was turning out into the road. I heard its hooves bang and slide on the tramlines as Christopher came crawling back, and then it must have found the space between the rails, because its feet settled into a regular clopping again.
"How did you do that?" Millie asked. It was a professional,enchantress sort of question, even though her teeth were still chattering.
"The gatekeeper wasn't there," Christopher said, "so it was easy to short out the defenses. They must have arrested him, too."
It was a long way down to Stallchester, and the horse went nothing like so fast as the tram. The slow clopping of its feet was so regular and the inside of the caravan so cozy that I fell asleep and dreamed slow cloves-and-metal-scented dreams. From time to time I woke up, usually on the steep bits, where the horse went slower than ever and the Traveler put on the brake with a long, slurring noise and called out to the horse in his foreign language. Then I went to sleep again.
I woke up finally when white morning light was coming through both ends of the caravan. The clopping hooves seemed louder, with a lot of echo to them. I sat up and saw Stallchester Cathedral going past, very slowly, at the back of the caravan.
A moment later, the Traveler leaned backward to say, "This is where we must put you down."
Christopher jumped awake in a flurry, to say, "Oh. Right. Thanks." I don't think Millie woke up until we were down in the street, watching the caravan swiftly rumbling away from us, jingling and tinkling all over, with the horse now at a smart trot.
Millie started to shiver again. I was not surprised. Her striped Stallery uniform was not at all warm - neither was mine, for that matter. We looked very out of place, in the middle of the wet, slightly foggy street. Christopher's clothes must have been caught in one of the changes. He was wearing wide, baggy garments that could have been made of sackcloth, and he looked even odder than Millie and I did.
"Are you all right?" he said to Millie.
"Just freezing," she said.
"She lived most of her life in a hot country," Christopher explained to me. He looked anxiously around at the touristy
boutiques on either side of the street. "It's too early for these shops to be open. I suppose I could conjure you a coat..."
"Coat", I thought, "sweaters, woolen shirts - I know where to find all these things". "Our bookshop is just down the end of this street," I said. "I bet my winter clothes are still there in my room. Let's sneak in and get some sweaters."
"Good idea," Christopher said, looking worriedly at Millie. "And then show us the way to the train station."
I led them down the street and into the alley at the back of our shop. Our yard gate opened in the usual way, with me climbing to the top of it, leaning over to slide the bolt back, and then jumping down and lifting the latch. Inside the yard, the key to the back door was hanging behind the drainpipe, just as usual. I might never have been away, I thought, as we tiptoed through the office. In the shop it was not quite as usual. The cash desk and most of the big bookcases were in different places. I couldn't tell whether this was from one of Uncle Alfred's reorganizations or because of all the changes up at Stallery. The place smelled the same, anyway, of book and floor polish and just a whiff of chemicals from Uncle Alfred's workroom.
"You two stay here," I whispered to Christopher and Millie. "I'll creep up and fetch the clothes."
"Will anyone hear?" Millie asked. She settled into the chair behind the cash desk with a weary shiver.
As far as I knew, my mother was still up at Stallery. She had missed the last tram by the time she came into the Grand Saloon, and the first tram in the morning didn't get down to Stallchester until eight-thirty. Uncle Alfred needed two large alarm clocks with double bells the size of teacups in order to wake up in the mornings. "No," I said, and ran up the stairs as lightly as I could.
It was strange. Our stairs seemed small and shabby after Stallery. The fizz of old magics coming from Uncle Alfred's
workroom felt small and shabby, too, after the magic I had felt from Christopher and from Stallery itself. And I had forgotten that the private part of our house smelled so dusty. I hurried through the strangeness up to the very top, to my room.
And I could scarcely believe it when I got there. My mother had taken my room to write in. It was full of her usual piles of papers and copies of her books, and there by the window was her splintery old table with her typewriter on it. For a moment I thought it just might be one of the changes from Stallery, but when I looked closely, I saw the marks where my bed and my chest of drawers had been.
Still scarcely able to believe it, I shot down half a floor to Mum's old writing room. My bed was in there, upside down, and rammed in beside it was my chest of drawers with all its drawers open, empty. All my clothes were gone, and my model aircraft, and my books. They had truly not expected me to come back. I felt...well, hurt is the only word for it. Very, dreadfully hurt. But just in case, I went on down and looked into Anthea's room.
That was worse. When I left, there had still been Anthea's furniture in there, along with Mum's papers. Now that was all cleared away. Uncle Alfred had made it into a store for his magical supplies.
There were new shelves full of bottles and packets on three of the walls and a stack of glassware in the middle. I stood and stared at it for a moment, thinking about Anthea. How did she feel at this moment, now they had arrested her new husband for fraud?
I felt quite as bad.
I pulled myself together and tiptoed across the landing to my mother's room. This was better. This room looked and smelled the same as always - though perhaps dustier - and her unmade bed was piled with heaps of her dusty, moth-eaten clothes. There were more clothes puddled in heaps on the floor. Mum had obviously thrown everything out of her cupboards when she hunted out that awful yellow dress to wear at Stallery. I picked up one of her usual mustard-colored sweaters and put it on. It smelled of Mum, which somehow made me feel more hurt than ever. The sweater looked awful over my green and cream uniform, but at least it was warm. I picked up another, thicker sweater for Millie and a jacket for Christopher and hurried away downstairs.
As I went, I thought I heard the shop door open, with its usual muffled tinkle. "Oh no!" I thought. Christopher is doing something cleverly stupid again! I put on speed and fairly charged out into the shop.
It was empty. I stood in the polished space beside the cash desk and stared around miserably. Christopher and Millie must have left without me.
I was just about to charge on out into the street, waving the clothes, when I heard the flop, flop of slippers hurrying down the stairs behind me. Uncle Alfred bustled out into the shop, tying his dressing gown over his striped pajamas.
"Someone in the shop," he was saying as he came. "I can't turn my back for a moment - never a wink of sleep..." Then he saw me and stopped dead. "What are you doing here?" he said. He pushed his spectacles up his nose to make sure it was me. When he was certain, he ran his hands through his tousled hair and seemed quite bewildered. "You're supposed to be up at Stallery, Con," he said. "Did your mother send you back here? Does that mean you've killed your Uncle Amos already?"
"No," I said. "I haven't." I wanted to tell him that Mr.Amos had been arrested. So there! But I also wanted to tell Uncle Alfred just what I thought of him for putting spells on me and pretending I had an Evil Fate, and I couldn't decide which I wanted to say first. I hesitated, and after that I had lost my chance. Uncle Alfred more or less screamed at me.
"You haven't killed him!" he shrieked. "But I sent you up there with death spells all over you, boy! I sent you to summon a Walker! I sent you with spells to make you know it was Amos Tesdinic you had to kill! And you let me down!" He advanced on me in dreadful flopping of slippers and his hands sort of clutching like claws. "You'll pay for this!" he shouted. His face was wild, with strange blotches all over it, and his eyes glared at me through his glasses like big yellow marbles. "I might have had Stallery in my hands - these hands - but for you!" he screamed. "With you hanged and Amos dead, they'd give the place to your mother, and I can manage her."
"No, you're wrong," I said, backing away. "There's Hugo, you see. And Anthea."
He didn't listen to me. He almost never did, of course, unless I forced him to by going on strike about something. "I could have been pulling the possibilities this moment!" he howled. "Just let me get my hands on you!"
I could feel the fizz of his magic rising around me. I wanted to turn and run, but I didn't seem to be able to. I didn't know what to do.
"Summon the Walker again!" Christopher's voice whispered urgently in my ear. I could feel Christopher's breath tickling the side of my face and the invisible warmth of him beside me. I don't think I have ever been so glad to feel anything. "Summon it now, Grant!" The corkscrew key hung around my neck was tugged by invisible fingers and flipped out over Mum's mustard-colored sweater.
I dropped the jacket and the sweater for Millie and grabbed the corkscrew key gratefully. I held it up. The string it was hanging on lengthened helpfully so that I could more or less wave the thing in Uncle Alfred's glaring face. "I hereby summon a Walker!" I screamed. "Come to me and give me what I need!"
The cold, and the feeling of vast open distances, began at once. I could see the immense curving horizon beyond Uncle Alfred's untidy hair, glowing from the light that was out of sight below it. Uncle Alfred whipped around and saw it, too. His mouth opened. He started to back away toward the cash desk, but he did not seem to be able to. I could see dents on the sleeves of his dressing gown where two pairs of hands were hanging on to each of his arms. As the figure of the Walker crossed the huge horizon with its hurried, pattering steps, I could feel Christopher on one side of Uncle Alfred and Millie on the other, both holding on to Uncle Alfred like grappling irons.
Uncle Alfred shouted, "No, no! Let go!" and plunged and pulled to get free. His arms heaved as if there were lead weights on him as Christopher and Millie hung on.
The Walker approached with surprising speed, its hair and clothing blown sideways without moving, in the unfelt frozen wind it brought with it. In no time at all, it was towering into the shop and looming among the bookcases, filling the space with its icy smell. Then it was standing over us. Its intent white face and long dark eyes turned from Uncle Alfred to me.
"No, no!" Uncle Alfred cried out.
The Walker's long dark eyes turned to Uncle Alfred again. It held out to him the small crimson-stained wine cork labeled Illary Wines 1893.
"Don't point that at me!" Uncle Alfred shrieked, pulling away backward. "Point it at Con! It's got a really strong death spell on it!"
The Walker's white face nodded at him. Once. Both its arms swept out. It picked Uncle Alfred up bodily and pattered on past me, carrying Uncle Alfred as easily as if he had been a baby. The last I saw of him were his striped pajama legs kicking frantically as he was carried away beside my right shoulder. As the Walker itself passed me, there was a jerk at my neck, and the corkscrew key flew out of my hands and vanished. The feeling of wind and the horizon of eternity vanished at the same instant.
Millie and Christopher became visible then, staggering away sideways, both looking extremely shaken. Christopher said, in an unusually small, sober voice, "I don't think I like either of your uncles, Grant."
"That," said a deep, dry voice from behind me, "must be the first sensible notion you have had for months, Christopher."
Gabriel de Witt was standing there, gray and severe, and looking tall as the Walker in his black frock coat. He was not alone. All the staff who had come with him into the Grand Saloon were there, too, crowded up against bookcases and standing in the space where the Walker had been. Mr.Prendergast was with them, and the King's solicitor, and one of the Sorceresses Royal - Madame Dupont, it was - and the dreadful Mrs. Havelok-Harting as well. My mother and Anthea were standing beside Gabriel de Witt, both very weary and tearstained. But I was interested to see, looking around, that every single person there seemed as shaken as I was by the passing of the Walker. Even Gabriel de Witt was a little grayer than he had been in Stallery.
At the sight of him, and of all the other people, Christopher looked as dumbfounded as I had ever seen him. His face went as white as the Walker's. He gulped a bit and tried to straighten the tie he wasn't wearing. "I can explain everything," he said.
"Me, too," Millie whispered. She looked downright ill.
"I shall speak to the two of you later," Gabriel de Witt said. It sounded very ominous. "For now," he said, "I want to talk to Conrad Tesdinic."
This sounded even more ominous. "I can explain everything, too," I said. I was scared stiff. I thought I'd rather talk to Uncle Alfred, any day. "I come of a criminal family, you see," I said. "Both my uncles - and I'm sure I do have an Evil Fate, whatever Christopher says."
For some reason, this made Anthea give a weepy little laugh. My mother sighed.
"I need to ask you some questions," Gabriel de Witt said, just as if I had not said anything. He pulled a packet out of an inside pocket of his ink black respectable frock coat and passed it to me. It seemed to be a packet of postcards. "Please look through these pictures and explain to me what you see there."
Though I could not for the life of me see why Gabriel de Witt should be interested in picture postcards, I opened the packet and pulled them out. "Oh," I said. They were prints of the photographs I had taken of the double spiral staircase where we saw Millie. There was one of just the staircase, then two of Millie on the same staircase, shouting across at Christopher, and then one of the same staircase, looking up toward the dirty glass of the tower. But something had gone wrong with all of them. Behind each one, misty but quite distinct, were the insides of other buildings, dozens of them. I could see fuzzy hallways, other stairways, domed rooms in many different styles, ruined stone arches, and, several times, what looked like a giant greenhouse. They were all on top of one another, in layers. "I think I must have loaded a film that someone else had used first," I said.
Gabriel de Witt simply said, "Continue looking, please."
I went on down the pile. Here was the hall the double stairway had led down to, but the other person seemed to have photographed a marble place with a sort of swimming pool in it and somewhere dark, with statues, behind that. The next was the room with the harp, but this had literally dozens of rooms mistily behind it, blurred vistas of ballrooms and dining rooms and huge saloons, and a place with billiard tables on top of what looked like several libraries. The next two photographs showed the kitchens - with dim further kitchens behind them - including the knitting on the chair and the table with the strange magazine on it. The next...
I gave a sharp yelp. I couldn't help it. The witch had been even nearer than I'd thought. Her face had come out flat and round and blank, the way faces do when you push a camera right up to them. Her mouth was open in a black and furious crescent, and her eyes glared flatly. She looked like an angry pancake.
"I didn't mean to kill her," I said.
"Oh, you didn't kill her," Gabriel de Witt, to my astonishment, replied. "You merely trapped her soul. We found her body in a coma in one of those kitchens, while we were exploring the alternate buildings, and we returned it to Seven D, where I am pleased to say they promptly put it in prison. She was wanted in that world for killing several enchanters in order to obtain their magical powers."
Millie gave a small gasp at this.
One of Gabriel de Witt's tufty eyebrows twitched toward Millie, but he continued without interrupting himself, "We have of course returned the woman's soul to Seven D now, so that she may stand trial in the proper way. Tell me what else you see in those pictures."
I leafed through the pile again. "These two of Millie on the stairs would be quite good," I said, "if it wasn't for all the buildings that have come out behind her."
"They were not there when you took the photographs?" Gabriel de Witt asked me.
"Of course not," I said. "I've never seen them before."
"Ah, but we have," said one of Gabriel de Witt's people, a youngish man with a lot of light, curly hair and a brown skin. He came forward and handed me a packet of differently shaped photographs. "I took these while we were searching the probabilities for Millie and Christopher," he said. "What do you think?"
These were photographs of two ruined castles, some marble stairs leading up from a pool, a ballroom, a huge greenhouse, and the double spiral staircase again, and the last one was of the rickety wooden tower where Christopher and I found Champ. All of them, to my shame, were clear and single and precise.
"They're much better than mine," I said.
"Yes, but just look," said the man. He took my first photograph of Millie on the stairway and held it beside four of his. "Look in the background of yours," he said. "You've got both these ruined castles in it and the glass house, and I think that blurred thing behind them is the wooden tower. And if you take yours with the harp, you can see my ballroom at the back of it quite clearly. See?"
The Sorceress Royal said, "In our opinion - and Mrs.Havelok-Harting agrees with me - it's a remarkable talent, Conrad, to be able to photograph alternate probabilities that you can't even see. Isn't this so, Monsignor?" she asked Gabriel de Witt.
Mr.Prendergast added, "Hear, hear."
Gabriel de Witt took my photographs back from me and stood frowning down at them. "Yes, indeed," he said at last. "Master Tesdinic here has an extraordinary degree of untrained magical talent. I would like" - he turned his frown on my mother - "to take the lad back with me to Series Twelve and make sure that he is properly taught."
"Oh no!" Anthea said.
"I believe I must," Gabriel de Witt said. He was still frowning at my mother. "I cannot think what you were doing, madam, neglecting to provide your son with proper tuition."
My mother's hair was down all over the place, like an unstuffed mattress. I could see she had no answer to Gabriel de Witt. So she said tragically, "Now all my family is to be taken from me!"
Gabriel de Witt straightened himself, looking grim and dour even for him. "That, madam," he said, "is what tends to happen when one neglects people." And before my mother could think what to say to this, he added, "The same thing can be said to myself, if this is any consolation." He turned his grim face to Millie. "You were quite right about that Swiss school, my dear," he said to her. "I went and inspected it before I came on here. I should have done that before I sent you to it. It's a terrible place. We shall see about a better school as soon as we get home."
Millie's face became one jubilant, shivering smile.
Christopher said, "What did I tell you?"
It was clear that Christopher was still in bad trouble. Gabriel de Witt said to him, "I said I would speak to you later, Christopher," and then turned to Mrs.Havelok-Harting. "May I leave all outstanding matters in your capable hands, Prosecutor? It is more than time that I returned to my own world. Please present my compliments to His Majesty and my thanks to him for allowing me the freedom to investigate here."
"I shall do that," the formidable lady said. "We would have been quite at a stand without you, Monsignor. But," she added rather more doubtfully, "did your magics last night definitely stop those dreadful probability changes?"
"Very definitely," Gabriel de Witt said. "Some foolish person appeared to have jammed the shift key to on, that was all." I saw Christopher wince at this. Luckily Gabriel de Witt did not notice. He went on, "If you have any further trouble, please send a competent wizard to fetch me back. Now, is everyone ready? We must leave."
Anthea rushed at me and flung her arms around me. "Come back, Conrad, please!"
"Of course he will," Gabriel de Witt said, rather impatiently. "No one can leave his own world forever. Conrad will return to act as my permanent representative in Series Seven."
I have just come back to Series Seven to be Agent for the Chrestomanci here.
Before this I spent six blissfully happy years at Chrestomanci Castle, learning magic I never dreamed existed and making friends with all the other young enchanters being educated there - Elizabeth, Jason, Bernard, Henrietta, and the rest - although the first week or so was a little difficult. Christopher was in such bad trouble - and so annoyed about it - that the castle seemed to be inside a thunderstorm until Gabriel de Witt forgave him. And Millie turned out to have caught flu. This was why she had been feeling so cold. She was so ill with it that she did not go to her new school until after Christmas.
At the end of the six years, when I was eighteen, Gabriel de Witt called me into his study and explained that I must go home to Series Seven now or I would start to fade, not being in my own world. He suggested that the way to get used to my own world again was to attend Ludwich University. He also said he was sorry to lose me, because I seemed to be the only person who could make Christopher see sense. I am not sure anyone can do that, but Christopher seems to think so, too. He has asked me to come back next year to be best man at his wedding. He and Millie are using the gold ring with Christopher's life in it as a wedding ring, which seems a good way to keep it safe.
Anyway, I have enrolled as a student in Ludwich, and I am staying with Mr.Prendergast in his flat opposite the Variety
Theater. Though Mr.Prendergast isn't really an actor, he never can stay away from theaters. Anthea wanted me to stay with her. She keeps ringing me up from New Rome to say I must live with her and Robert as soon as she gets back. She is in New Rome supervising her latest fashion show - she has become quite a famous dress designer. And Robert is away, too, filming in Africa. He took up acting as soon as the police let him go. Mrs.Havelok-Harting decided that as Robert only discovered Mr.Amos's fraud when his father died and then refused to be part of it, he could not be said to be guilty. Hugo had a harder time, but they released him, too, in the end. Now - and I could hardly believe this when Mr.Prendergast told me - Hugo and Felice are running the bookshop in Stallchester. My mother is still writing books in their attic. We are driving up to see them next weekend.
Mr.Amos is still in jail. They transferred him to St. Helena Prison Island last year. And the Countess is living in style in Buda-Parich, not wanting to show herself in this country. And - Mr.Prendergast is not sure, but he thinks this is so - Mr.Seuly went there to join her when he got out of prison. Anyway, Stallchester has a new mayor now.
No one has seen or heard of my Uncle Alfred since the Walker took him away. Now I have learned about such things, I am not surprised. The Walkers are messengers of the Lords of Karma, and Uncle Alfred tried to use the Lords of Karma in his schemes.
And Stallery is falling into ruin, Mr.Prendergast told me sadly, and becoming just like all the other deserted probability mansions. I remembered Mrs.Baldock and Miss Semple coming weeping out of the lift and wondered what had become of all the Staff who had lost their jobs there.
"Oh, the King stepped in there," Mr.Prendergast told me cheerfully. "He's always on the lookout for well-trained domestics to man the royal residences. They've all got royal jobs. Except Manfred," Mr.Prendergast added. "He had to give up acting after he fell through the wall in a dungeon scene. I think he's a schoolteacher now."
The King wants to see me tomorrow. I feel very nervous. But Fay Marley has promised to go with me at least as far as the door and hold my hand. She knows the King well, and she says she thinks he may want to make me a Special Investigator like Mr.Prendergast. "You notice things other people don't see, darling," she says. "Don't worry so much. It'll be all right, you'll see."