"We can reach the edge of the estate by nightfall—if we catch an early morning
train. There's a long walk at the other end. But we'll need to get going now."
"Very well." He began to get up, squelching and oozing as he did so.
"Are you sure about this plan?" I said. "I could take you to the docks instead.
There's bound to be vacancies for cabin boys there. It's a hard life, but a good one.
Think of all that salty air."
There was no answer. He was on his way out. I gave a sigh, snuffed out the fire,
and followed him.
The route I selected was a strip of wasteland that ran south and east between
the factories and warehouses, following a narrow tributary of the Thames. Al-
though the stream itself was meager, it meandered excessively across its mini flood
plain, creating a maze of hummocks, marshes, and little pools that took us the rest
of the night to negotiate. Our shoes sank into mud and water, sharp reeds spiked
our legs and hands, and mosquitoes whined occasionally about our heads. The boy,
by contrast, whined pretty much continually. After his adventures with the Resis-
tance, he was in a very bad temper.
"It's worse for me than it is for you," I snapped, after a particularly petulant
outburst. "I could have flown this in five minutes, but oh, no—I have to keep you
company. Writhing about in mud and slime is your birthright, human, not mine."
"I can't see where I'm putting my feet," he said. "Create some light, can't you?"
"Yes, if you want to attract the attention of night-flying djinn. The streets are
well watched—as you've already discovered—and don't forget Lovelace may still
be seeking us too. The only reason I've chosen this way is because it's so dark and
He did not seem greatly comforted by this; nevertheless, his protests ceased.
 One side-benefit of this route was that its difficulties eventually took his mind
off the loss of his precious scrying glass. Honestly, the way he went on about it, you'd
think that imp was his blood brother, rather than a vulgar baby impersonator trapped
against its will. He did seem to have taken his misfortune personally. But after the loss of
his beloved Mrs. Underwood, I suppose the disc was his only friend in the world, poor
As we stumbled on, I considered our situation with my usual impeccable logic.
It had been six days since the kid had summoned me. Six days of discomfort build-
ing up inside my essence. And no immediate end in sight.
The kid. Where did he rate in my list of all-time human lows? He wasn't the
worst master I had endured,
but he presented some peculiar problems of his own.
All sensible magicians, well versed in clever cruelty, know when the time is right to
fight. They risk themselves (and their servants) comparatively rarely. But the kid
hadn't a clue. He had been overwhelmed by a disaster brought about by his own
meddling, and his reaction was to lunge back at his enemy like a wounded snake.
Whatever his original grudge against Lovelace, his previous discretion had now
been replaced by a desperation powered by grief. Simple things like self-
preservation were disregarded in his pride and fury. He was going to his death.
Which would have been fine, except he was taking me along for the ride.
 A "good master" is a contradiction in terms, of course. Even Solomon would have
been insufferable, he was so prissy in his early years, but fortunately he could command
20,000 spirits with one twist of his magic ring, so with him I got plenty of days off.
I had no solution to this. I was bound to my master. All I could do was try to
keep him alive.
By dawn, we had followed the waste strip down from north London almost to
the Thames. Here the stream widened briefly before sluicing over a series of weirs
into the main river. It was time to rejoin the roads. We climbed a bank to a wire
fence (in which I burned a discreet hole), stepped through it and came out on a
cobbled street. The political heart of the city was on our right, the Tower district
on our left; the Thames stretched ahead. Curfew was safely over, but there was no
one yet about.
"Right," I said, halting. "The station is close by. Before we go there, we need to
solve a problem."
"To stop you looking—and smelling—like a swineherd." The various fluids of
the wasteland adhered to him in a complex splatter-pattern. He could have been
framed and hung up on a fashionable wall.
He frowned. "Yes. Clean me up first. There must be a way."
Perhaps I shouldn't have seized him and dunked him in the river. The Thames
isn't that much cleaner than the quagmire we'd waded through. Still, it washed off
the worst of the muck. After a minute of vigorous dousing, I allowed him to come
up, water spouting through his nostrils. He made a gurgling sound that was hard to
identify. I had a stab, though.
"Again? You are thorough."
Another good rinsing made him look as good as new. I propped him up in the
shadows of a concrete embankment and dried his clothes out with discreet use of a
Flame. Oddly, his temper had not improved with his smell, but you can't have eve-
With this matter resolved, we set off and arrived at the railway station in time
to catch the first train of the morning south. I stole two tickets from the kiosk, and
while sundry attendants were busy combing the platforms for a red-faced clergy-
woman with a plausible manner, settled back into my seat just as the train got un-
derway. Nathaniel sat in a different part of the carriage—rather pointedly, I
thought. His improvised makeover still seemed to rankle with him.
The first part of the journey out of the city was thus the quietest and least
troublesome half-hour I had enjoyed since first being summoned. The train pot-
tered along at an arthritic pace through the never-ending outskirts of London, a dis-
piriting jumbled wilderness of brick that looked like moraine left by a giant glacier.
We passed a succession of rundown factories and concrete lots run to waste; be-
yond them stretched narrow terraced streets, with chimney smoke rising here and
there. Once, high up against the bright, colorless cloud that hid the sun, I saw a
troop of djinn heading west. Even at that distance, it was possible to pick out the
light glinting on their breastplates.
Few people got on or off the train. I relaxed. Djinn don't doze, but I did the
equivalent, drifting back through the centuries and contemplating some of my hap-
pier moments—magicians' errors, my choice acts of revenge....
This reverie was finally shattered by the boy throwing himself down on the
seat opposite me. "I suppose we'd better plan something," he said sulkily. "How can
we get through the defenses?"
"With randomly shifting domes and sentries in place," I said, "there's no way
we can break in unmolested. We'll need some kind of Trojan horse." He looked
blank. "You know—something which seems to be innocent, which they allow in
past the gates. In which we're hiding. Honestly—what do they teach you magicians
 Obviously not classical history. This ignorance would have upset Faquarl, as it
happens, who often boasted how he'd given Odysseus the idea for the wooden horse in
the first place. I'm sure he was lying, but I can't prove it because I wasn't at Troy: I was in
Egypt at the time.
"So, we need to conceal ourselves in something," he grunted. "Any ideas?"
Scowling, he mulled it over. You could almost hear the fleshy innards of his
brain straining. "The guests will arrive tomorrow," he mused. "They have to let
them in, so there's bound to be a steady stream of traffic getting through the gates.
Perhaps we can hitch a ride in someone's car."
"Perhaps," I said. "But all the magicians will be cloaked to the eyeballs with
protective Shields and bug-eyed imps. We'd be hard pushed to sneak anywhere
near them without being spotted."
"What about servants?" he said. "They must get in somehow."
Give him credit—he'd had an idea. "Most of them will be on site already," I
said, "but you're right—some may arrive on the day. Also there are bound to be de-
liveries of fresh food; and maybe entertainers will come, musicians or jugglers—"
He looked scornful. "Jugglers?"
"Who's got more experience of magicians—you or me? There are always jug-
But the point is that there will be some nonmagical outsiders entering the
manor. So if we get ourselves into position early enough, we might well get a
chance to sneak a ride with someone. It's worth a try. Now... in the meantime, you
should sleep. There's a long walk ahead of us when we get to the station."
 They've got the worst taste in the world, magicians. Always have done. Oh, they
keep themselves all suave and sober in public, but give them a chance to relax and do
they listen to chamber orchestras? No. They'd rather have a dwarf on stilts or a belly-
dancing bearded lady any day. A little-known fact about Solomon the Wise: he was enter-
tained between judgements by an enthusiastic troupe of Lebanese clowns.
His eyelids looked as if they were made of lead. For once he didn't argue.
I've seen glaciers cover ground more quickly than that train, so in the end he
got a pretty decent kip. But finally we arrived at the station closest to Heddleham
Hall. I shook my master awake and we tumbled out of the carriage onto a platform
that was being speedily reclaimed by the forces of nature. Several varieties of grass
grew up through the concrete, while an enterprising bindweed had colonized the
walls and roof of the ramshackle waiting room. Birds nested under the rusty lamps.
There was no ticket office and no sign of human life.
The train limped off as if it were going to die under a hedge. Across the track a
white gate led straight onto an unpaved road. Fields stretched away on all sides. I
perked up: it felt good to be free of the city's malignant clutches and surrounded by
the natural contours of the trees and crops.
 Even though they have been scraped and shaped by human will, fields do not
have magicians' stench about them. Throughout history, magicians have been resolutely
urban creatures: they flourish in cities, multiplying like plague rats, running along thickly
spun threads of gossip and intrigue like fat-bellied spiders. The nearest that nonurban so-
cieties get to magicians are the shamans of North America and the Asian steppe But they
operate so differently that they almost deserve not to be called magicians at all. But their
time is past.
"We follow the road," I said. "The hall is at least nine miles away, so we don't
have to be on our guard yet. I—what's the matter now?"
The boy was looking quite pale and unsettled. "It's nothing. Just... I'm not used
to so much... space. I can't see any houses."
"No houses is good. It means no people. No magicians."
"It makes me feel strange. It's so quiet."
Made sense. He'd never been out of the city before now. Never even been in a
big park, most likely. The emptiness terrified him.
I crossed the track and opened the gate. "There's a village beyond those trees.
You can get food there and cuddle up to some buildings."
It took my master some time to lose his jitters. It was almost as if he expected
the empty fields or winter bushes to rise like enemies and fall on him, and his head
turned constantly against surprise attack. He quaked at every bird call.
Conversely, I stayed relaxed for this first part of the journey, precisely because
the countryside seemed wholly deserted. There was no magical activity of any de-
scription, even in the distant skies.
When we reached the village, we raided its solitary grocery store and pinched
sufficient supplies to keep the boy's stomach happy for the rest of the day. It was a
smallish place, a few cottages clustered around a ruined church, not nearly large
enough to have its own resident magician. The few humans we saw ambled around
quietly without so much as an imp in tow. My master was very dismissive of them.
"Don't they realize how vulnerable they are?" he sniffed, as we passed the final
cottage. "They've got no defenses. Any magical attack and they'd be helpless."
"Perhaps that's not high on their list of priorities," I suggested. "There are other
things to worry about: making a living, for example. Not that you'll have been
taught anything about that."
 How true this was. Magicians are essentially parasitic. In societies where they are
dominant, they live well off the strivings of others In those times and places when they
lose power and have to earn their own bread, they are generally reduced to a sorry state,
performing small conjurations for jeering ale-house crowds in return for a few brass coins.
"Oh no?" he said. "To be a magician is the greatest calling. Our skills and sacri-
fices hold the country together, and those fools should be grateful we're there."
"Grateful for people like Lovelace, you mean?"
He frowned at this, but did not answer.
It was mid-afternoon before we ran into danger. The first thing my master
knew about it was my throwing myself upon him and bundling us into a shallow
ditch beside the road. I pressed him low against the earth, a little harder than neces-
He had a mouthful of mud. "Whop you doing?"
"Keep your voice down. A patrol's flying up ahead. North-south."
I indicated a gap in the hedge. A small flock of starlings could be seen drifting
far off across the clouds.
He spat his mouth empty. "I can't make them out."
"On planes five onward they're foliots.
Trust me. We have to go carefully
from now on."
 A variety with five eyes, two on the head, one on either flank, and one—well,
let's just say it would be hard to creep up on him unawares while he was touching his
The starlings vanished to the south. Cautiously, I got to my feet and scanned
the horizon. A little way ahead a straggling band of trees marked the beginning of
an area of woodland. "We'd better get off the road," I said. "It's too exposed here.
After nightfall we can get closer to the house." With infinite caution, we squeezed
through a gap in the hedge and, after rounding the perimeter of the field beyond,
gained the relative safety of the trees. Nothing threatened on any plane.
The wood was negotiated without incident; soon afterward, we crouched on
its far fringes, surveying the land ahead. Before us, the ground fell away slightly, and
we had a clear view over the autumn fields, heavily plowed and purple-brown.
About a mile distant, the fields ran themselves out against an old brick boundary
wall, much weathered and tumbledown. This, and a low, dark bunching of pine
trees behind it, marked the edge of the Heddleham estate. A red dome was visible
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