Authors: Andrew Symon
As the four ran towards the south end of the square, a group of five Claville players converged on them, each from a different line, firing hexes and charms. The four Cos-Howe men fell. A Claville player grabbed the ball and made a dash for it. Leaping over a table around which sat four human statues, he skilfully hid the ball in the long pleats of his robe. Reaching a dimly lit side street, he was lost to Jack’s view.
Jack could see Radge and Oobit coming out of their hexes and making off in pursuit. Gandie, however, remained frozen to the spot. As the action moved out of sight, Philippe turned round.
“A good start for us, no?”
“You wait,” said Petros confidently. “We’re not beaten yet.”
Despite having never been in Cos-Howe before that day, Petros felt he owed this loyalty to his older cousin, clearly a rising star in the Cos-Howe group.
“We never had to slow down time to play football in Rangie,” said Jack. “There weren’t any humans around, so we didn’t need to. It’s weird to see them like statues. I just wish we could see more of the players.”
“They said we’d be able to see from here!” complained Rana.
“You can see both goals, so you know when a team’s nearly there,” said Lizzie. “But I haven’t seen Ossian yet.”
A bright flash shone to their left, and Jack saw a Cos-Howe player emerge from one street and turn into another. He was hovering swiftly above the ground, but close on his heels came two opponents. Jack saw Ossian join his teammate, turn and wave his left arm in a wide sweep. Instantly the two Claville players fell to the ground, crying out in pain. Ossian continued to follow his teammate, and play was lost to sight once more.
“They must be near the south gate by now,” said Petros. “Can you see anything there?”
Rana strained to see, but she shook her head.
“I’ve got a telescope,” said Philippe. “Do you want to try it?” He offered it to Fenrig, who hadn’t moved from his position with his back against the balcony windows.
“Are you scared of heights?” asked Rana.
Fenrig didn’t reply, but simply shook his head. Rana took the telescope from Philippe and trained it quickly upon the south gate.
“Nothing’s happening there,” she said. “Just one of their players guarding the gateway.”
The youngsters could do little except try and guess where the action was. Another bright glow came from the south edge of the square, followed by a crackle of pops and howls of pain.
“Aha!” exclaimed Philippe. “Our secret weapon! A special hex, one you have not seen before.”
In the town square eight Claville players surged forward in a phalanx. Flying over the statue-like humans, they moved rapidly northwards. Another series of pops (and howls of pain) followed as they encountered Cos-Howe players. Rana trained the telescope as they emerged onto the small square leading to the north gate. She watched in horror as the Claville players fired off a volley of hexes. As the hexes found their mark, the two hapless Cos-Howe defenders fell, yelling in agony. Placing the ball down on the ground, a Claville player took a short run up and thumped it through the defenceless gateway. The game was over.
Jack felt deflated. They’d come all this way, only to lose?
“I could hardly see any of it,” moaned Lizzie, as they climbed down the stairs.
When they reached the foot of the stairway, Philippe leant forward and touched a stone in the wall. Moments later the six of them found themselves in the dimly-lit side street at the side of the town hall. The group started to make their way across the town square, whose human occupants remained motionless, as they had done throughout the match.
“The party is in the field.” Philippe’s smile told its own story.
They had hardly moved ten paces when they heard a shout. A young Shian, aged about twenty, ran into the square, followed closely by four others. Jack saw that the leader was Grulsh, but he had no time to say anything. The sound of an explosion in a side street was followed by flames that engulfed the ground floor of a house.
The five Shian raced across the square, shouting curses and threats. One drew a sceptre and fired off a bolt towards the
. A shower of stone debris fell to the ground, only narrowly missing Jack. A second fired off a bolt at a café window, which promptly shattered. Broken glass flew inside the café and out, lacerating all nearby. As Grulsh and the others reached the motionless humans by the café tables, each produced a stout stick and began to flail at human legs and arms. People toppled sideways, along with the tables and chairs, and lay motionless amongst smashed glass and crockery.
As the first table was overturned, Philippe drew out a small whistle and blew soundlessly into it. Within seconds, local Shian filled the square. They quickly surrounded Grulsh and the four others. A small stone was thrown down, there was a puff of smoke and the five figures fell back without a sound.
One of the Claville men then turned his sceptre on Jack and the others. A bolt flew from it, catching Jack on the chest and ricocheting onto Lizzie’s head. Both fell instantly. Jack was so surprised that he barely registered the pain in his lungs.
!” shouted Philippe, holding up his left palm to the Claville man.
His palm glowed orange, and the man’s sceptre dropped to the ground.
Ce sont cinq
. There are five attackers. You have them already.”
The Claville man, apologising profusely, produced a phial and sprinkled some powder over Jack and Lizzie.
“What happened?” Jack’s chest hurt badly.
“He thought you were one of the hooligans,” replied Philippe. “I’m sorry.”
Jack saw that several local Shian had produced small jars from inside their capes and were going around the square dribbling what looked like oil onto the injured human bodies. Another ran across to the house that was on fire and directed a jet of cold air at the window. The flames died away, leaving only the smell of burning wood.
Henri stalked into the square, followed by an anxiouslooking Cosmo. Striding through the crowd surrounding the motionless bodies, Henri surveyed the scene with evident distaste. He turned to his counterpart.
“Your friends, I believe?”
Cosmo indicated two of the bodies.
“Those two are not from Cos-Howe.” He looked around, seeking support from the sizeable group that had collected.
“But the others are with you?” Henri pressed his point home.
“One travelled with us.” Cosmo stared pointedly at Fenrig, who looked away. “The other two must have come later.” Realising that he had to concede some ground, Cosmo went on, “Henri, I can’t explain this. These Cos-Howe have shamed all of us. By Shian custom you have the right to punish them, but I ask that you let me take the three Cos-Howe boys back with us. They will face punishment when we get back.”
“No.” One of the local Shian stepped forward. “They must all be punished here, tonight.”
“Let them go,” Ossian shouted. “There’s no real harm done, just a few bruises and broken glass.”
“And let everyone know that we allow visitors to come and terrorise our town?” a local replied. “We will be the laughing stock of the country. No, they must all be kept here.”
Realising that these disagreements were furthering the division between the two groups, Henri held up his hand for quiet.
“The three from Cos-Howe can go back home tonight, but I want an assurance that their punishment will fit the crime.” Cosmo nodded solemnly at this. “The two others we shall punish ourselves. Bring them forward.”
Cosmo indicated to Gandie and Radge to lift the two bodies upright. When they had done so, he examined their faces.
“Does anyone know who they are?” he demanded. “If anyone knows their names, they’d better tell me now.”
There was silence. Jack saw that Fenrig was pointedly avoiding Cosmo’s gaze. Cosmo then turned and nodded to Henri, who pointed at the two men in turn. A glow surrounded each of the bodies, which remained upright without the support of Gandie and Radge. Henri flicked his wrist, and the bodies dragged themselves backwards towards the war memorial. Throughout the match, none of the players had gone within ten yards of it. A mixture of stone and wrought iron, it was an imposing structure that commemorated the human dead from two wars.
The crowd followed on hesitantly, none wanting to draw too close to the ironwork. The two unnamed Shian continued to be dragged by some invisible force towards the monument, even as those following halted. When they had almost reached the memorial, they stopped. Henri turned to face the assembled crowd.
“For the violation of our town, and for shaming our visitors who came here in friendship, I condemn these creatures to the iron.”
He threw a bolt from his sceptre that struck both bodies simultaneously. A blast of heat emanated from them, and they fell back onto the ironwork, melting into it. Petros gripped Jack’s arm.
“They’re trapped. They can’t get out of that, not ever.”
“It might happen,” whispered Rana, who had watched in silent amazement. “I’ve heard a really powerful enchanter can break iron.”
“Friends,” declared Henri in a commanding voice, “let no one be in any doubt about this vile crime. None may go to help these creatures.” He looked across at Cosmo. “I know that the others will be dealt with in the correct way. And now, let us go to the field. The King’s Cup awaits.”
He turned and strode back up the square, to where Grulsh and the other two Cos-Howe men lay motionless. Taking control of the situation, Cosmo indicated again to Radge and Oobit to bring the bodies with them. Radge made as if to levitate the bodies, but Cosmo shook his head.
“No. We’ll drag them.”
Waving his sceptre, he produced three long ropes. Slowly they dragged the bodies across to the side of the square. Heads and shoulders bumped defencelessly over kerbstones and hit the sides of tables, scratches and grazes began to appear and blood started to trail from Grulsh’s head. Seeing that this public display was meant to placate him, Henri simply nodded and turned into the street that led to the gate. The light in the sky diminished, and the humans who had been frozen in position began to move again. A few started to massage their arms and legs, and there were exclamations about the smashed window and upturned tables. Accusations were thrown, and quickly denied.
“This is not good.” Philippe had stopped with Jack. “There will be many arguments tonight. Tomorrow when it is light, they will start searching. That means trouble.”
Jack, remembering the hex that had caught him, didn’t know how to reply, and instead hastened to catch up with Petros and the others.
Within minutes, the Shian had reached the field outside the town. Cosmo, Oobit and Radge, breathing heavily, released their grip on the ropes, leaving Grulsh and the other two bodies motionless. Fenrig ran up, but stopped as he saw Grulsh’s inert body, blood trickling from one of his ears. Sullenly Fenrig turned away and sat down by the wall.
Matthew the referee stood in front of the fiery cup, which still glowed, suspended in mid-air. He glanced at Cosmo, and there was a formal nod of the head before he turned to address the crowd.
“My friends,” said Matthew, “we thank you for coming tonight. I know that your friendship, which goes back for so long, is what matters. Tonight’s unfortunate events will not mar that. The King’s Cup is awarded to the captain of Claville.”
Henri strode forward and made as if to grab the fiery chalice. As his hands touched the flames they disappeared, leaving only a momentary wisp of smoke in their place. A loud laugh greeted this display. Jack saw that as the flames disappeared, so too did Matthew.
“To our friendship!” shouted Henri.
The party quickly kicked in, and even the despondent Cos-Howe players were soon eating and drinking heartily and regaling each other with incidents from the game. Jack and Petros sat down, each sipping a cup of juniper juice. Looking up, Jack saw Fenrig, his back to them, talking earnestly with a tall Shian Jack had an uncomfortable feeling he’d seen before. The hairs on the back of his neck were bristling, and a wave of nausea passed through him. Then Fenrig turned round and looked at Jack, a cold, contemptuous stare that made Jack’s stomach churn. He nudged Petros.
“What is it?”
“It’s Fenrig, he was up at Falabray, with the Brashat. That other guy was there too.”
Petros looked at Jack. He didn’t need to ask if he was sure. The answer was in his eyes.
“It’s time we were going, then. You get Rana and Lizzie. I’ll find Ossian.”
Blushing and giggling, the girls were standing next to one of the Claville players, a strong lad of about sixteen. Paying the French player no notice, Jack urgently whispered, “We need to go. We’re leaving now.”
“But we’re having fun!” protested Lizzie. “I don’t want to go.”
Jack wondered how it was that Lizzie managed to change her mind so completely when it suited her.
“Ossian’s not pleased at being dragged away from the party,” said Petros, who had returned. “He’s found a French girl.”
Keeping an eye out for Fenrig and the tall Brashat, Jack quickly found Ossian and told him that they would be taking two horses whether he, Ossian, came with them or not. Reluctantly, Ossian followed Jack back to the others.
“Just let me tell Cosmo,” he explained. “I’ll have to make sure the horses are all right.”
Frustratingly, Ossian took some time accomplishing this simple task. Cosmo returned with him and expressed his thanks for their support.
“Well, Jack, you didn’t bring us the victory tonight. Do you play yourself?”
Jack nodded. “I’m fast.”
“Maybe next year we’ll give you a try-out.”
He made as if to leave, then turned back.
“What you witnessed tonight in the square. I hope you’ll have the good sense not to broadcast it. We’ll deal with it ourselves, all right? And I’ll see that Grulsh’s cousin gets back.”
“We’ll take the same horses,” stated Ossian bluntly.
Without delay, they mounted and started to canter across the field. Though tired, Jack gripped his cousin’s belt tightly. As they reached galloping pace, Ossian cried, “Horse and hattock!” and the horses rose swiftly into the air.