Read Jack Shian and the King's Chalice Online
Authors: Andrew Symon
I’d like to thank Ian Black for all his support and advice in getting this far. Slàinte!
(pronounced Shee-an [
n, the otherworld; creatures living in or coming from the otherworld. Also called daemons, fey, gentry,
], portunes, etc. (C. 14; origins debated)
When Jack Shian was twelve, he was just growing into his magycks.
The Shian had always had magycks. Some had a little, some a little more. Charms, hexes, healing – all sorts. The magycks became much stronger when the Destiny Stone came home – it even opened up the Shian square under Edinburgh castle once more. Little wonder that the Shian celebrated; the Stone had been gone for hundreds of years, you see. That’s hundreds of years in human time
Shian time; they’re not always the same.
Shian can look like any creature you’ve ever imagined, and many that you haven’t. Most humans have forgotten about the Shian, even the ones that look like humans, but they’ve always been there.
The Shian square opening up again meant that families were moving into the old houses, and craftsmen were getting the workshops going again. The craftsmen were employing apprentices too – that’s the Shian way. A youngster who has ‘grown into the magycks’ is of an age to become an apprentice.
When the Shian Congress allocated Jack to work with Gilmore the tailor, it was decided that the whole family would settle in the Shian square, and so Jack
his younger cousins moved from the quiet glen of Rangie just south of Edinburgh to join his older cousin Petros and Uncle Doonya in the Shian square. Jack’s mum and dad aren’t around at the moment because … well, you’ll find out why.
When Jack Shian was twelve and he was just growing into his magycks, everything changed.
Screams startled Jack out of his daydream. He realised he couldn’t see his uncle or Petros, but he
see that the girls were terrified.
“Over there.” Rana, pale with fright, was pointing to a group of creatures about fifty yards away.
Even by Shian standards they were small – certainly smaller than Jack – but their obvious menace more than made up for any lack of height. Like a small platoon they moved swiftly across Falabray field towards the festival’s main stage. Jack counted about a dozen of these creatures, as they upturned stalls and shoved others roughly aside. Then four broke away from the main group and set to work on demolishing two stalls, cackling and screeching with evident delight.
A stallholder moved forward, brandishing his sceptre. In a flash, one of the thuggish creatures had hurled a small stone at his feet. There was an explosion, and the stallholder fell, clutching his ears and screaming. His friends shrank back.
Jack’s heart was drumming. He realised he had no idea who these creatures were.
“Where’s Petros?” gasped Aunt Katie, arriving almost out of breath.
“He’s with Grandpa,” sobbed Lizzie. “Who–who’re they?”
“The Hobshee; they’re vandalising the festival.”
Atholmor’s commanding voice had the desired effect. The Hobshee group halted ten yards from the central stage – from looking self-assured, they suddenly seemed unsure what to do. They hesitated, avoiding the Congress president’s gaze.
“Who has brought you here?” roared Atholmor, holding his sceptre over the crowd.
None of the Hobshee seemed inclined to reply. Gnarled, grimy halflings, they squinted uncertainly up at the stage. Atholmor’s fierce stare shifted to the northern edge of Falabray as a group of about twenty men and women on horseback appeared, their green cloaks flickering in the late evening light. They approached the central stage without sound or acknowledgement, unsmiling, stern of feature. Except for one rider, whose hood covered his face. Nausea swept through Jack.
He looks like the one who attacked me in the High Street!
“It’s Briannan,” said Grandpa Sandy, indicating the lead rider. He and Petros had silently joined the rest of the group. “I see he’s brought his shock troops along.”
The one called Briannan now reached the stage where Atholmor continued to stand commandingly.
“We have arrived,” said Briannan in a drawling voice that demonstrated no warmth, “to join the festival. I am sorry if our diminutive friends have been a little … exuberant.” He smiled condescendingly.
Atholmor continued to hold his sceptre in front of him.
“Your ‘friends’ are not welcome here,” he said in a low, steady voice. “On this most important festival they have desecrated this site. How do you account for them?”
“All Shian families are entitled to attend the midsummer festival,” said Briannan firmly. “Our Hobshee friends cannot be disallowed on that front.”
“They may be permitted, but their behaviour makes them most unwelcome.” Atholmor chose each word with care.
“It is always pleasant to visit the festival and meet old … friends.” Briannan continued to scan the crowd, his voice showing no hint of emotion. Apart from that briefest of smiles, his face had been impassive. Now he turned to look up at Atholmor on the stage above him.
“Of course, if you wish to dismiss us from the festival you may do so. But I warn you that such an action will be long remembered. The Destiny Stone has not brought the power you believed it would.”
Briannan made no attempt to hide the menace of these words.
“The Stone brings power to all Shian …” began Atholmor.
power, you mean,” retorted Briannan. “But to work properly, it needs the other Shian treasures.”
Atholmor paused. His shoulders seemed to sink slightly, but his gaze remained firm.
“The other treasures are lost – if they ever existed.”
The side of Briannan’s mouth twitched: half smile, half sneer.
“That stallholder …” began Atholmor.
“A harmless stun hex. He’ll be fine.”
Atholmor considered this for a few moments. “Then you are free to join in the festival,” he said evenly. “But you would be well advised to keep your little army under control.”
Satisfied with his moral victory, Briannan wheeled his horse around and started to trot off towards the north end of the field. Jack could see that there were three or four youngsters in addition to the men and women on horseback. One of them, a lad about his age with jet-black hair, looked over his shoulder contemptuously.
The air seemed somehow … tainted.
“It’s time we were going,” said Grandpa firmly, after ten minutes of growing tension. “Come along, young Jack. The rest of you too.”
“Grandpa, who were those Shian?” Petros broke the silence as they passed through the bell hex, rising up to human size once more. “I didn’t recognise any of them.”
The bell hex had stopped any inquisitive humans from venturing up to Falabray, but now they were back in the human spaces and needed to be able to get about without attracting attention.
“That was the Brashat and their hired thugs, the Hobshee,” said Grandpa. “I suppose we should have realised they would show up, but everyone was so excited about the festival, they didn’t enter into our thoughts that much.”
Jack toyed with the idea of mentioning the hooded figure, but decided against it.
They’ll just tell me I’m imagining things
“Who are the Brashat?” he asked.
“That’s a long story,” said his grandfather. “They think they’re the greatest Shian, because they rarely mix with humans. They also live much longer than we do, and that makes them look down on us.”
“If they’re not from round here,” said Petros, “they wouldn’t get any benefit from the Stone, would they?”
“That’s true. Even so, I never thought they’d disrupt the festival. Briannan’s a nasty piece of work, but he’s manageable. I’m just glad Amadan the demon wasn’t there. It was bad enough that they brought their little band of hooligans.”
“Why did Atholmor let them stay, then?”
“Stun hexes don’t last long. If they’d killed someone, that would’ve been different.”
Jack realised he couldn’t see his uncle. He turned to Petros.
“Where’s your dad? I thought he was coming back with us.”
“Doonya has stayed behind,” replied Grandpa wearily. “He and the senior Congress will want to discuss tonight’s little storm. I fear, too, there may be more storms ahead.”
“I thought the Congress was organising everything, Grandpa,” said Petros. “I mean, they’re in charge, aren’t they? How come they got it so wrong?”
Jack looked daggers at his big cousin, and decided to distract their grandfather. Pointing to a church clock, he asked, “A quarter past ten, Grandpa? How long were we up on Falabray?”
“Quite a while. It would have been longer if Briannan and his mob hadn’t turned up. But down here for the humans it’s only been a few minutes. You know the bell hex slowed time down, don’t you?”
“Aye – Uncle Doonya told me.”
Two fire engines raced past, their sirens blaring. Screeching to a halt outside a tenement building, several firefighters raced inside, dragging a coiled hose. Smoke billowed from an upstairs window.
“Cordita,” said Grandpa. “I’d recognise that smell anywhere. The Brashat are up to their dirty work again, attacking humans. Come on, we’d better get back.”
Edinburgh castle’s esplanade was in dark shadow when they reached it. Grandpa and Petros motioned Jack to join them in forming a wall, behind which Aunt Katie, Rana and Lizzie crouched. Jack heard a brief
sound, and turning round saw that they had disappeared.