Arthur Underwood had forfeited his right to Nathaniel's obedience and respect
the moment he failed to shield him from Simon Lovelace's jibes and physical as-
saults. This, Nathaniel knew, simply was not done. Every apprentice was taught
that their master was effectively their parent. He or she protected them until they
were old enough to stand up for themselves. Arthur Underwood had failed to do
this. He had stood by and watched Nathaniel's unjust humiliation—first at the
party, then in the schoolroom. Why? Because he was a coward and feared Love-
Worse than this, he had sacked Ms. Lutyens.
From brief conversations with Mrs. Underwood, Nathaniel learned that while
he had been suspended upside down, being beaten by Lovelace's imp, Ms. Lutyens
had done her best to help him. Officially she had been fired for "insolence and im-
pertinence," but it was hinted that she had actually tried to hit Mr. Lovelace and
had only been restrained from doing so by his companions. When he thought about
this, Nathaniel's blood boiled even more forcefully than when he considered his
own humiliation. She had tried to protect him, and for doing this, for doing exactly
what Mr. Underwood should have done, his master had dismissed her.
This was something that Nathaniel could never forgive.
With Ms. Lutyens gone, Mrs. Underwood was now the only person whose
company gave Nathaniel any pleasure. Her fondness punctuated his days of study-
ing and brought relief from his master's cold detachment and the indifference of his
tutors. But he could not confide his plans to her: they were too dangerous. To be
safe and strong, you had to be secret. A true magician kept his own counsel.
After several months Nathaniel set himself his first real test, the task of sum-
moning a minor imp. There were risks involved, for although he was confident
enough about the incantations, he neither owned a pair of contact lenses for ob-
serving the first three planes, nor had received his new official name. Both of these
were due to appear on Underwood's say-so, at the beginning of his coming of age,
but Nathaniel could not wait for this far-off day. The spectacles from the work-
room would help his vision. As for his name, he would not give the demon any op-
portunity to learn it.
Nathaniel stole an old piece of bronze sheeting from his master's workroom
and cut it, with great difficulty, into a rough disc. Over several weeks, he polished
the disc and buffed it and polished it again until it sparkled in the candlelight and
reflected his image without defect.
Next, he waited until one weekend when both his master and Mrs. Under-
wood were away. No sooner had their car vanished down the street than Nathaniel
set to work. He rolled back the carpet in his bedroom and on the bare floorboards
chalked two simple pentacles. Sweating profusely despite the chill in the room, he
drew the curtains and lit the candles. He placed a single bowl of rowan-wood and
hazel between the circles (only one was required, since the imp concerned was
weak and timorous). When all was ready, Nathaniel took the polished bronze disc
and set it in the center of the circle in which the demon was to appear. Then he
placed the spectacles on his nose, put on a tattered lab coat he had found on the
workroom door, and stepped into his circle to begin the incantation.
Dry-mouthed, he spoke the six syllables of the summoning and called out the
creature's name. His voice cracked a little as he spoke, and he wished that he had
had the foresight to enclose a glass of water within his circle. He could not afford to
mispronounce a word.
He waited, counting under his breath the nine seconds that it would take for
his voice to carry across the void to the Other Place. Then he counted the seven
seconds that it would take for the creature to awaken to its name. Finally he
counted the three seconds that it would take for—
A naked baby floated above the circle, moving its arms and legs as if it were
swimming on the spot. It looked at him with sullen yellow eyes. Its small red lips
pursed and blew an insolent bubble of spit.
Nathaniel spoke the words of Confinement.
The baby gurgled with rage, frantically flapping its pudgy arms as its legs were
drawn downward toward the shining bronze disc. The command was too strong: as
if sucked suddenly down a drain, the baby elongated into a flow of color, which
spiraled down into the disc. For an instant its angry face could be seen squashing its
nose up against the metal surface from below; then a misty sheen obscured it and
the disc was clear once more.
Nathaniel uttered several charms to secure the disc and check for snares, but
all was well. With shaking legs, he stepped from his circle.
His first summons had been successful.
The imprisoned imp was surly and impudent, but by applying a small spell that
amounted to a brisk electric shock, Nathaniel could induce it to reveal true
glimpses of things happening far away. It was able to report conversations it over-
heard as well as to reveal them visually in the disc. Nathaniel kept his crude but ef-
fective scrying glass hidden under the roof tiles outside the skylight, and with its aid
learned many things.
As a trial, he directed the imp to reveal what went on in his master's study. Af-
ter a morning's observation, he discovered that Underwood spent most of his time
on the telephone, attempting to keep abreast of political developments. He seemed
to be paranoid that his enemies in Parliament were seeking his downfall. Nathaniel
found this interesting in principle, but dull in the details, and soon left off spying on
Next he observed Ms. Lutyens from afar. The mist swirled across the disc,
cleared, and with a quickening heart, Nathaniel glimpsed her again as he remem-
bered her so well: smiling, working... and teaching. The disc's image shifted across to
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reveal a small, gap-toothed boy apprentice, drawing furiously in a sketchpad and
evidently hanging on Ms. Lutyens's every word. Nathaniel's eyes burned hot with
jealousy and grief. In a choked voice, he ordered the image to vanish, grinding his
teeth at the laughter that bubbled up from the delighted imp.
Nathaniel then turned his attention to his main objective. Late one evening, he
ordered the imp to spy on Simon Lovelace, but was disconcerted to see the baby's
face appear in the burnished bronze instead.
"What are you doing?" Nathaniel cried. "I've given you the order—now obey!"
The baby wrinkled its nose and spoke in a disconcertingly deep voice. "Trouble
is, this one's tricky, innit?" it said. "He's got barriers up. Not sure I can pass 'em.
Might set off a spot of bother, if you know what I mean."
Nathaniel raised a hand and waved it menacingly. "Are you saying it's impossi-
The baby winced and extended a pointed tongue gingerly out of the side of its
mouth, as if licking old wounds. "Not impossible, no. Just difficult."
The baby sighed heavily and vanished. After a short pause, a flickering image
began to form in the disc. It blurred and leaped like a badly tuned television. Na-
thaniel cursed. He was about to speak the words of the Punitive Jab when he con-
sidered that this was probably the best the imp could do. He bent close to the disc
and gazed into it, focusing on the scene within....
A man was sitting at a table, typing rapidly into a laptop computer.
Nathaniel's eyes narrowed. It was Simon Lovelace, all right.
The imp's vantage point was from the ceiling, and Nathaniel had a good view
of the room behind the magician, although it was a little distorted, as if seen
through a fish-eye lens. The room was in shadow; the only light came from a lamp
on Lovelace's desk. In the background was a set of dark curtains, stretching from
ceiling to floor.
The magician typed. He wore a dinner jacket, with the tie hanging loose. Once
or twice he scratched his nose.
Suddenly the baby's face cut in.
"Can't take much more of this," it sniffed. "I'm bored, innit, and like I say, if we
stick around too long, there could be trouble."
"You'll stick with it till I say so," Nathaniel snarled. He spoke a syllable, and the
baby scrunched up its eyes with pain.
"All right, all right! How could you do that to a wee babe, you monster!" The
face flicked out and the scene reappeared. Lovelace was still seated, still typing. Na-
thaniel wished he could get a closer look at the papers on his desk, but magicians
often had sensors on their person to detect unexpected magic in their vicinity. It
would not be wise to stray too near. This was as good a view as he was going to—
Someone else was in Simon Lovelace's room, standing in the shadows by the
curtains. Nathaniel had not seen him enter; and nor, for that matter, had the magi-
cian, who was still typing away with his back to the intruder. The figure was a tall,
massively built man, swathed in a long leather traveling cape that extended almost
to the bottom of his boots. Both cape and boots were heavily stained with mud and
wear. A thick black beard covered most of the man's face; above it, his eyes glinted
in the darkness. Something about the look of them made Nathaniel's skin crawl.
Evidently the figure now spoke or made a noise, for Simon Lovelace suddenly
started and wheeled round in his chair.
The image flickered, faded, reappeared again. Nathaniel cursed and pressed his
face closer to the disc. It was as if the picture had jumped forward a moment or
two in time. The two men were closer now—the intruder had moved to stand be-
side the desk. Simon Lovelace was talking to him eagerly. He held out his hand, but
the stranger merely inclined his head toward the desk. The magician nodded,
opened a drawer and, pulling out a cloth bag, emptied it upon the desktop. Bundles
of banknotes spilled forth.
The bronze disc emitted a throaty voice, which spoke urgently. "Just thought
I'd warn you, and please don't jab me again, but there's some kinda watcher com-
ing. Two rooms away, heading in our direction. We need to pull out, boss, and do it
Nathaniel bit his lip. "Stay where you are until the very last moment. I want to
see what he's paying for. And memorize the conversation."
"It's your funeral, boss."
The stranger had extended a gloved hand from under his cape and was slowly
replacing the banknotes inside the bag. Nathaniel was nearly hopping with frustra-
tion—at any moment the imp would leave the scene and he would be none the
Fortunately, his impatience was shared by Simon Lovelace, who held out his
hand again, more decisively this time. The stranger nodded. He reached inside his
cape and drew forth a small packet. The magician snatched it and feverishly tore
the wrapping apart.
The imp's voice sounded. "It's at the door! We're pulling out."
Nathaniel just had time to see his enemy reach into the wrapping and draw
forth something that sparkled in the lamplight—then the disc was wiped clean.
He uttered a terse command, and the baby's face reluctantly appeared.
"Ain't that all? I need a bit of shut-eye now, I can tell you. Whoof, that was a
close one. We so nearly got fried."
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"What did they say?"
"Well now, what did they say? I might have heard snatches, won't say I didn't,
but my hearing's not what it was, what with my long confinement—"
"Just tell me!"
"Big fella didn't say much. Did you see those red stains on his cape, inciden-
tally? V-e-r-y suspicious. Not ketchup, let's put it that way. Fresh too, I could smell
it. What did he say now? 'I have it.' That was one thing. And, 'I want my payment
first.' Man of few words, I'd call him."
"Was he a demon?"
"By that crude remark I assume you mean a noble entity from the Other Place?
"And what did the magician say?"
"He was a bit more forthcoming. Quite voluble in fact. 'Do you have it?' That's
how he began. Then he said, 'How did you? No, I don't want to know the details.
Just give it to me.' He was all breathless and eager. Then he got the cash out."
"Was that it? What was the object? Did either of them say?"
"Don't know that I recall—no, wait! Wait! You don't need to get nasty with
me—I'm doing what you asked, ain't I? When the big guy handed over the package,
he said something...."
"So quiet, almost didn't catch it..."
"What did he say?"
"He said: 'The Amulet of Samarkand is yours, Lovelace.' That's what he said."
It took Nathaniel almost another six months before he felt himself to be ready.
He mastered new areas of his craft, learned new and greater Commands, and went
swimming every morning before lessons to increase his stamina. By these means he
grew strong in body and mind.
Never again was he able to spy directly on his enemy. Whether or not its pres-
ence had been detected, the imp was unable to get close again.
No matter. Nathaniel had the information that he needed.
He sat in the garden as spring turned into summer, devising and refining his
plan. It pleased him. It had the merit of simplicity and an even greater one in that
nobody in all the world guessed at his power. His master was only just ordering his
lenses now; he had spoken absently of perhaps trying out a basic summons in the
winter. To his master, his tutors, even to Mrs. Underwood, he was an apprentice of
no great talent. This would remain the case while he stole Simon Lovelace's amulet.
The theft was only the beginning, a test of his own power. After that, if all
went well, he would set his trap.
All that remained was to find himself a servant who could do what he re-
quired. Something powerful and resourceful enough to carry out his plan, but not
so potent that it would threaten Nathaniel himself. The time for mastering the
great entities was not yet here.
He read through his master's works of demonology. He studied track records
through the ages. He read about the lesser servants of Solomon and Ptolemy.
Finally, he chose: Bartimaeus.
I knew there was going to be a decent scrap when we got back to the attic, so
this time I prepared for it properly. First, I had to decide what shape to take. I
wanted something that would really goad him—make him totally lose his cool—
and, strange as it may seem, that ruled out most of my more scary forms. In fact, it
meant appearing as a person of some kind. It's odd, but being insulted by a flicker-
ing specter or being called names by a fiery winged serpent isn't half as annoying for
a hardened magician as hearing it from the mouth of something that seems to be
human. Don't ask me why. It's just something to do with the way people's minds
I figured that the best I could do was appear as another boy of about the same
age, someone who would rouse all the kid's feelings of direct competition and ri-
valry. That was no problem. Ptolemy was fourteen when I knew him best. Ptolemy
it would be.
After that, all that remained was to revise my best counter-spells and look
forward with pleasure to being able to return home shortly.
Perceptive readers might have noticed a new optimism in my attitude toward
the kid. They would not be wrong. Why? Because I knew his birth name.
 Armed with this, I would be able to combat the whippersnapper's most vicious
attacks. Knowledge of the name redresses the power balance a little, you see, acting as a
kind of defensive shield for djinn inside the circle. It's a simple and very ancient kind of
talisman and—Well, what are you hanging around reading this for? Read on quickly and
see for yourself.
Give him his due, however: he came out fighting. No sooner had he got up to
his room than he put on his coat, hopped into his circle, and summoned me in a
loud voice. He didn't have to shout so; I was right beside him, scuttling along the
An instant later, the small Egyptian boy appeared in the circle opposite, wear-
ing his London gear. I flashed a grin.
"Nathaniel, eh? Very posh. Doesn't really suit you. I'd have guessed something
a bit more down-market—Bert or Chuck, maybe."
The boy was white with rage and fear; I could see panic in his eyes. He con-
trolled himself with an effort and put on a lying face.
"That's not my true name. Even my master doesn't know it."
"Yeah, right. Who are you trying to kid?"
"You can think what you want. I charge you now—"
I couldn't believe it—he was trying to send me off again! I laughed in his face,
adopted a puckish pose with hands on hips, and interrupted in sophisticated style.
"Go boil your head."
"I charge you now—"
"Yah, boo, sucks!"
The boy was almost frothing at the mouth, he was so angry.
He stamped his
foot like a toddler in the playground. Then—as I hoped—he forgot himself and
went for the obvious attack. It was the Systemic Vise again, the bully's favorite.
 Old or young, small or fat, the besetting weakness of all magicians is their pride.
They can't bear to be laughed at. They hate it so much even the cleverest ones can lose
control and make silly mistakes.
He spat out the incantation, and I felt the bands drawing in.
 The Systemic Vise consists of a number of concentric bands of force that squeeze
round you, tight as a mummy's bandage-cloth. As the magician repeats the incantation,
the bands grow tighter and tighter until the helpless djinni trapped inside begs for mercy.
"Nathaniel." Under my breath I spoke his name and then the words of the ap-
The bands immediately reversed their loop. They expanded outward, away
from me, out of the circle like ripples in a pond. Through his lenses, the boy saw
them heading in his direction. He gave a yelp and, after a moment's panic, found
the words of cancellation. He gabbled them out; the bands vanished.
I flicked a nonexistent piece of dust from the sleeve of my jacket and winked
"Whoops," I said. "Nearly took your own head off there."
If the boy had paused, he would have realized what had happened, but his rage
was too great. He probably thought he had made some error, spoken something out
of turn. Breathing deeply, he searched through his repertoire of nasty tricks. Then
he clapped his hands and spoke again.
I wasn't expecting anything as potent as the Stimulating Compass. From each
of the five points of the pentacle I was in, a glowing column of electricity shot up,
jarring and crackling. It was as if five lightning bolts had been momentarily trapped;
in another instant, each column had discharged into a horizontal beam that pierced
me with the force of a javelin. Arcs of electricity coursed around my body; I
screamed and jerked, carried off the floor by the force of the charge.
Through gritted teeth I spoke it—"Nathaniel!"—then a counter-spell as before.
The effect was immediate. The charge left me, I slumped to the ground. Small
lightning bolts shot off in all directions. The boy dived just in time—an electric
charge that would have killed him beautifully speared straight through his flailing
coat as he hit the floor. Other bolts collided with his bed and desk; one zapped into
his vase of flowers, slicing the glass cleanly in two. The rest vanished into the walls,
peppering them with small, asterisk-shaped burn marks. It was a delightful sight.
The kid's coat had fallen over his face. Slowly he raised his head and peered out
from under it. I gave him a friendly thumbs-up.
"Keep going," I grinned. "One day, if you work hard and stop making all these
stupid mistakes, you might make a real grown-up wizard."
The kid said nothing. He got painfully to his feet. By pure fluke, he had dived
pretty much straight down and so was still safe within his pentacle. I didn't mind. I
was looking forward to whatever mistake he would make next.
But his brain was working again. He stood still for a minute and took stock.
"Better get rid of me quickly," I said, in a helpful sort of way. "Old man Un-
derwood will be coming to see what all the noise is about."
"No, he won't. We're too high up."
"Only two floors."
"And he's deaf in one ear. He never hears anything."
"Shut up. I'm thinking. You did something then, both times.... What was it...?"
He snapped his fingers. "My name! That's it! You used it to deflect my spells, curse
I studied my fingernails, eyebrows raised. "Might have, might not. It's for me to
know and you to find out."
The kid stamped his foot again. "Stop it! Don't speak to me like that!"
"Like you just did! You're speaking like a child."
"Takes one to know one, bud."
This was fun. I was really riling him. The loss of his name had made him lose
his cool. He was seconds away from another attack, I could tell—he had the stance
and everything. I adopted a similar, but defensive pose, like a sumo wrestler.
Ptolemy had been exactly this boy's height, dark hair and everything,
so it was
nice and symmetrical.
 Better-looking by far, of course.
With an effort, the kid controlled himself. You could see him flicking through
all his lessons, trying to remember what he should do. He had realized that an ordi-
nary quick-fire punishment was out of the question now: I'd just send it back at
"I'll find another way," he muttered darkly. "Wait and see."
"Ooh, I'm really scared," I said. "Watch me shiver."
The kid was thinking hard. There were big gray bags under his eyes. Every time
he made an incantation he wore himself out further, which suited me just fine.
Some magicians have been known to drop dead simply from overexertion. It's a
high-stress lifestyle they have, poor things.
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