Jack Shian and the King's Chalice (2 page)

BOOK: Jack Shian and the King's Chalice
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“You two next,” said Grandpa, and Petros pulled Jack down so that they were squatting low behind their grandfather’s cloak. Petros put his arm over Jack’s shoulder, placed his left hand on the ground and whispered, “
Effatha
!”

Jack felt the increasingly familiar sensation of rapid movement, and moments later found himself standing in the Shian square across from the cottages. Aunt Katie brushed Lizzie’s face as they walked towards their front door, while Rana protested about having to leave Falabray early.

“I’m sorry, Rana.” Her mother tried to sound soothing, but the tremor in her voice betrayed her apprehension. “We didn’t know the Hobshee would come and spoil things. There’ll be other festivals.”

“But the Seventh won’t come around for ages, and we’ve been looking forward to it so much,” wailed Rana, getting increasingly agitated. Lizzie’s heavy sobs punctuated her sister’s indignant complaint.

“Well, young Jack,” said his grandfather, who had appeared beside him. “Tonight hasn’t turned out quite the way we’d intended. But as we’re back earlier than planned, perhaps we can after all visit the Stone tonight.”

Jack’s eyes lit up.

The Destiny Stone!

2
The Watchers of the Stone

Grandpa drew his cloak around Jack’s shoulders and struck the ground firmly with his sceptre. Jack was briefly aware of a red glow, and moments later found himself in a small dimly-lit room. In the centre stood a large glass cabinet. Inside, Jack could just make out a crown, sword and sceptre … but it was the object at the head of the cabinet that drew his attention. A large glistening sandstone block with an iron ring at either end.

The Stone, I’ve finally seen it.

Jack felt his pulse race as a warm feeling of joy swept through him.

“We’re high up in the castle now,” his grandfather said quietly, pointing his sceptre at the security cameras. “They’ll be filming, but they won’t see anything unusual. We can get a little light from this.”

Grandpa waved his left arm in an arc and seven lit candles hovered beside them. He then clicked his fingers, and two armchairs appeared by the side of the glass cabinet.

“The Stone’s only been back a few years. The humans think they know why it’s important, but we need to go way back to understand why.”

“I can feel it already, Grandpa. Like a pulsing, and my fingers are tingling.”

“That’s a good sign – you’re tuned in. I’ll show you something I’ve not long discovered. In truth, I got the idea from some humans. If I concentrate really hard, I can use my sceptre to project an image of what I’m thinking onto the wall. It’s called a simulacrum.”

Grandpa took a moment to gather his thoughts then aimed his sceptre at the wall. Jack watched in fascination as moving figures started to appear, indistinctly at first, as if moving through the mist, then much clearer.

The boy gripped his bow so hard that his knuckles pulsed.

As the soldiers emerged from the forest, they started to run, their swords drawn.

“Yeearrgh! Kill the Shian!”

The boy’s heart thumped in his chest. These men wanted him dead. And not just him – everyone like him. Fear danced in his nostrils.

He fired.

“Not yet, son, save your flights. When they get closer – fire.”

The soldiers charged closer … closer … One threw an axe, which embedded itself into the man next to him. The smell of fear now mingled with the smell of blood.

“Let them have it, son”

Twang! Twang!

Two soldiers fell, but more kept coming … The boy could see the bulging eyes of the man nearest to him. The man swung a cleaver …

Jack leapt back as the cleaver seemed to jump out of the simulacrum.

“Fierce battles, young Jack. Many died terrible deaths, or were tortured or burnt afterwards. The Brashat never forgave us for siding with the humans. It split the main Shian people into two: Seelie and Unseelie.”

“Seelie?”

“The ones who mixed with humans. Those humans simply called us ‘Shian’, and for our family the name stuck. The Brashat were always scornful of us even having human names – said they couldn’t tell us apart. These days, of course, hardly any Shian mix with humans. They keep to their world, and we keep to ours. As long as we’re careful when we go out into the human spaces most of them don’t even see us.”

“Shian creatures too, Grandpa. Humans don’t see them any more either, do they?”

“Not any more, but when humans built castles like this, you can tell they saw Shian creatures – just look at the carvings.”

A hideous gargoyle peered out of the simulacrum at Jack.

“Way back, we even shared the Destiny Stone with the humans because it was important for both of us.”

“Uncle Doonya told me that. He said the humans used it to crown kings.”

“Ah, but it was the Shian who really knew what the Stone was. It absorbed energy from the local sandstone, but only gave this out to Shian. But with the Stone, our charms got much stronger. The clever humans could see that having powerful Shian allies was better than having powerful enemies.”

“Shian and humans shouldn’t mix!” shouted a disembodied face in the simulacrum.

“Hah,” said Grandpa. “A Brashat. Well, it’s true that some Shian hate the humans. Those house fires on the way back from Falabray were no accident.”

Flames from a burning building flickered in the simulacrum. Jack could almost smell the cordita.

“So the Brashat use their power to destroy things?”

“Oh yes, and with the Stone’s power, they’d be even worse. That’s why the humans put iron rings on the Stone. If the wrong kind of Shian got it …”

“Everyone knows Shian can’t go near iron,” said Jack, staring at the rings. “But even with them the Stone’s awesome. It gives off a … a kind of warmth.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Grandpa smiled. “It
is
a warmth. It makes you feel good about yourself. You’re a Watcher in the making, young Jack.”

“Why did Briannan say the Stone hadn’t brought the power we all thought it would?”

“Briannan is pardy right,” said Grandpa cautiously. “The Stone’s return didn’t change things straight away. But it was away for a long time; the energy may take years to flow at full strength. Some Shian groups – those ones who are furthest away from the Stone – are barely awake even now.”

“But Briannan said the Stone needed other treasures to work properly.”

“Oh, he was just making noises because the Brashat don’t have the Stone.”

“So the treasures don’t even exist? Like Atholmor said?”

“They were just stories that ancient Shian told themselves when the Destiny Stone was far away.”

“But what were the treasures?” persisted Jack.

Grandpa scratched his chin.

“I haven’t heard anyone mention these since I was a boy. Let’s see …” His brow furrowed. “I remember one was an ancient silver cup – that’s right, the French king’s cup. The legends said it told secrets about life and death for Shian and humans, or something like that. But they’re just stories.”

Jack thought back to the festival and the Brashat leader’s reaction when Atholmor had cast doubt on the treasures’ existence – Briannan knew something! Jack was sure of it. But Grandpa obviously didn’t believe this. Jack played for time.

“So we’ve just to wait for the Stone’s energy to flow again?”

“It
is
flowing – the Shian square opening up after centuries is proof of that. And the force of the charms we can conjure up – like the bell hex we used at Falabray to keep the humans away – we couldn’t do that while the Stone was away.”

Jack looked at the grey sandstone block again. The corner nearest the crown had a bit missing – like it had been chipped – but Jack could feel it pulsing anyway.

“Just imagine having even that corner. That would be awesome!”

“Oh, there’s no doubt it has power,” continued his grandfather, watching Jack closely. “That’s why Shian and humans have fought over it.”

“Shouldn’t all the Shian have joined together to have the Stone for ourselves?”

“There’s many more humans than us, and they can do some things we can’t, but the Watchers’ pact benefited both sides. The Unseelie never accepted that deal.”

“Arrrgh!” The Brashat in the simulacrum raged at historical injustices.

“Well, you’ve seen some of his sort tonight,” said Grandpa. “And there’s other Unseelie around the country. But as long as the Congress is in charge, they won’t cause too much trouble. And now the Stone’s back. Your father helped there – do you want to know more?”

Jack nodded.

“Then there’s bits Uncle Doonya should tell you now.”

Grandpa Sandy took up his sceptre and stood. Encasing Jack in his cloak, he struck the floor firmly with his sceptre. There was a rushing sense, which made Jack feel briefly giddy.

“I see Doonya has returned,” said Grandpa, noting that the light was on in the front room of the house. “He can tell you about what happened next.”

3
Family Secrets

“How did you get on with the Congress, then?” asked Grandpa, tapping the lumis crystals by the kitchen door and brightening the room.

Doonya’s knuckles were drumming the tabletop, his edginess evident. Jack stayed by the door and watched him warily.

“To be upstaged by Briannan and his mob … Well, let’s just say we should’ve seen it coming. It’s given the Brashat something to crow about, but they can’t do much unless they get someone here under the castle.”

“I’ll tell you something about that later. I’ve been telling young Jack about the Stone being returned. Now he’d like to know about his parents. Perhaps you’d pick up from there?”

Doonya looked quizzically at his father for a moment, then shrugged and motioned Jack to sit down.

“You were only tiny at the time, so I don’t suppose you remember your dad helping us escort the Stone back,” he began, “but he disappeared two nights after the Stone was placed in the castle.”

“He can’t have just disappeared.” Jack could hear his voice betraying the upset he felt for a father he couldn’t even remember. “Somebody must know where he is.”

“D’you think we haven’t looked?” snapped Doonya. Then more calmly, “He was seen talking with one of the Brashat lieutenants.”

“But he wouldn’t betray us to the Brashat!”

Grandpa held up his hand. “Calm down, young Jack.” The soothing voice broke through Jack’s fear. “We don’t think he betrayed us. But the Brashat may have taken him, and they can count on other Shian who are no friends of ours.”

“What kinds of Shian?” With a sickening feeling, Jack realised that his upbringing in Rangie had not prepared him for this.

“You’ve seen the Hobshee; they’ll do what the Brashat tell them. Then there’s blood-drinking Boaban Shee from the far north – a bit like vampires. And there’s Red Caps – they dip their caps in their victims’ blood.”

Grandpa aimed his sceptre at the kitchen wall. As the simulacrum reformed, a grisly old man appeared, stooping over a fresh corpse. Clutching a bloody red cap, he looked up, leering into the kitchen. Jack felt the colour drain from his face.

“You never told me about Shian like that before,” he whispered.

“There’s Seelie and Unseelie all around the country,” said Doonya. “That’s why we need a strong Congress – to make sure the Unseelie don’t unite.”

“Amadan could unite them; I pray you never have to deal with him. We deliberately shielded you, that’s why you’ve never left Rangie before. If your father was captured, whoever did it might have wanted to get you too – to put pressure on him.”

“But why would they want to take him?”

“Your father told us he was on to something – something big that would make our family strong again. If the Brashat – or whoever – found out about that, well …”

The hooded figure who’d accosted him in the High Street flashed across Jack’s mind.
Had he
really
been Shian? And had he really said ‘father’?
The more Jack thought about it, the less sure he was.

“That’s why my mother left, isn’t it?” Jack played for time. “Aunt Katie told me that she left because she thought she’d be captured next.”

“She
was
scared,” said Doonya. “You never knew before, but a Brashat killed her own father. A stupid quarrel that got out of hand. She was never the same after that. And then when your dad disappeared, it just distracted her. All she could think of was evil Brashat coming to snatch her and Cleo. So she ran away.”

“Why didn’t she take me with her, then?” demanded Jack.

“Well, your mother was always quite … highly strung. Your dad’s disappearance brought back memories of her own father’s death. It was too much for her.”

“What d’you mean, ‘highly strung’?”

“After her father died, she became very … nervous. She felt she couldn’t cope with you
and
Cleo.”

A pause.

“She just didn’t face problems well, young Jack. But you were better off in Rangie. The Brashat would never go there, it’s too far away from their own places. They’d stand out.”

“Then she would’ve been safe there too.”

“She didn’t see it that way. She panicked, and ran.”

“She’s had years to stop panicking, though,” Jack shouted.

He felt numb. The explanations didn’t convince. Maybe he just didn’t want to hear them. For years he had been fobbed off with evasions and half-stories. But he’d always known there was something else, something no one wanted to tell him. And now the painful truth was upon him. His father had disappeared, possibly in an act of treachery, maybe kidnapped; his mother had run away, too scared to stay and look after him. He had a younger sister who might not even know of his existence.

One thing Jack knew: no one had ever felt this sense of betrayal. His uncle and aunt had always taught him to be proud of his family, but this was a lie – his parents had not protected or raised him. Unable to think of any other response, Jack jumped to his feet.

“It’s a lie!” He thumped the table. “He didn’t betray us!”

Storming out of the kitchen, he slammed the door and ran upstairs.

Grandpa Sandy stood up and exhaled slowly. “We might have handled that a bit better.”

BOOK: Jack Shian and the King's Chalice
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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