Authors: Paul Stewart,Chris Riddell
Tags: #Ages 10 & Up
For Joseph and William
ar far away, jutting out into the emptiness beyond, like the figurehead of a mighty stone ship, is the Edge. A torrent of water pours endlessly over the lip of rock at its overhanging point.
The river here is broad and swollen, and roars as it hurls itself down into the swirling, misty void below. It is difficult to believe that the river – like everything else that is large and loud and full of its own importance – might ever have been any different. Yet the origins of the Edgewater River could scarcely be humbler.
Its source lies far back inland, high up in the dark and forbidding Deepwoods. It is a small, bubbling pool, which spills over as a trickle and down along a bed of sandy gravel, little wider than a piece of rope. Its insignificance is multiplied a thousandfold by the grandeur of the Deepwoods themselves.
Dark and deeply mysterious, the Deepwoods is a harsh and perilous place for those who call it home. And there are many who do. Woodtrolls, slaughterers, gyle goblins, termagant trogs: countless tribes and strange groupings scratch a living in the dappled sunlight and moonglow beneath its lofty canopy.
It is a hard life and one fraught with many dangers – monstrous creatures, flesh-eating trees, marauding hordes of ferocious beasts, both large and small … Yet it can also be profitable, for the succulent fruits and buoyant woods which grow there are highly valued. Sky pirates and merchant Leagues-men vie for trade, and battle it out with one another high up above the endless ocean-green treetops.
Where the clouds descend, there lie the Edgelands, a barren wasteland of swirling mists, spirits and nightmares. Those who lose themselves in the Edgelands face one of two possible fates. The lucky ones will stumble blindly to the cliff edge and plunge to their deaths. The unlucky ones will find themselves in the Twilight Woods.
Bathed in their neverending golden half-light, the Twilight Woods are enchanting, but they are also treacherous. The atmosphere there is heady, intoxicating. Those who breathe it for too long forget the reason they ever came to the Twilight Woods, like the lost knights on long-forgotten quests, who would give up on life – if only life would give up on them.
On occasions, the heavy stillness is disturbed by violent storms which blow in from beyond the Edge. Drawn to the Twilight Woods, like iron filings to a magnet, like moths to a flame, the storms circle the glowing sky – sometimes for days at a time. Some of the storms are special. The lightning bolts they release create stormphrax, a substance so valuable that it too – despite the awful dangers of the Twilight Woods – acts like a magnet, like a flame, to those who would possess it.
At its lower reaches, the Twilight Woods give way to the Mire. It is a stinking, polluted place, rank with the slurry from the factories and foundries of Undertown which have pumped and dumped their waste so long that the land is dead. And yet – like everywhere else on the Edge – there are those who live here. Pink-eyed and bleached as white as their surroundings, they are the rummagers, the scavengers. A few serve as guides, steering their charges across the desolate landscape of poisonous blow-holes and sinking mud, before robbing them blind and abandoning them to their fate.
Those who do make their way across the Mire find themselves in a warren of ramshackle hovels and rundown slums which straddles the oozing Edgewater River. This is Undertown.
Its population is made up of all the strange peoples, creatures and tribes of the Edgeworld crammed into its narrow alleys. It is dirty, over-crowded and often violent, yet Undertown is also the centre of all economic activity – both above-board and underhand. It buzzes, it bustles, it bristles with energy. Everyone who lives there has a particular trade, with its attendant league and clearly defined district. This leads to intrigue, plotting, bitter competition and perpetual disputes – district with district, league with league, tradesman with rival tradesman. The only matter which unites all those in the League of Free Merchants is their shared fear and hatred of the sky pirates who dominate the skies above the Edge in their independent boats and prey off any hapless merchantmen whose paths they cross.
At the centre of Undertown is a great iron ring, to which a long and heavy chain – now taut, now slack – extends up into the sky. At its end, is a great floating rock.
Like all the other buoyant rocks of the Edge, it started out in the Stone Gardens – poking up out of the ground, growing, being pushed up further by new rocks growing beneath it, and becoming bigger still. The chain was attached when the rock became large and light enough to float up into the sky. Upon it, the magnificent city of Sanctaphrax has been constructed.
Sanctaphrax, with its tall thin towers connected by viaducts and walkways, is a seat of learning. It is peopled with academics, alchemists and apprentices and furnished with libraries, laboratories and lecture halls, refectories and common rooms. The subjects studied there are as obscure as they are jealously guarded and, despite the apparent air of fusty, bookish benevolence, Sanctaphrax is a seething cauldron of rivalries, plot and counter-plot, and bitter faction-fighting.
The Deepwoods, the Edgelands, the Twilight Woods, the Mire and the Stone Gardens. Undertown and Sanctaphrax. The River Edgewater. Names on a map.
Yet behind each name lie a thousand tales – tales that have been recorded in ancient scrolls, tales that have been passed down the generations by word of mouth – tales which even now are being told.
What follows is but one of those tales.
· CHAPTER ONE ·
wig sat on the floor between his mother's knees, and curled his toes in the thick fleece of the tilder rug. It was cold and draughty in the cabin. Twig leaned forwards and opened the door of the stove.
‘I want to tell you the story of how you got your name,’ his mother said.
‘But I know that story, Mother-Mine,’ Twig protested.