Read The Crooked Sixpence Online

Authors: Jennifer Bell

The Crooked Sixpence (6 page)

After Valian's feet had disappeared, Ivy hauled herself up the rucksack hill and leaned out over the edge of the opening. There was only darkness beneath her, heavy with the smell of stagnant water. Her face flushed. She still couldn't believe this was happening . . .

‘Hello?' Her voice echoed in both directions.

There was no response.

Chapter Eight

Cool air streamed through Ivy's wet curls as she soared up the elevation shaft, Granma Sylvie's bag rocking gently around her hips. The sensation was incredible.

I'm flying.

I'm actually flying.

She could feel her face glowing with exhilaration as she clutched the uncommon belt tightly above her head, marvelling at the fact that she didn't need to do anything. It wasn't as if she was hanging from the belt; the belt seemed to be holding her up.

A square of pale yellow light glowed above her – the entrance to another tunnel. As she floated up to it, Valian offered her an elbow and she pulled herself in, reaching down with her toes as she slowly lowered the belt.

I just flew. In the air. Using a belt.

She spotted a smirk on Valian's face as he returned his belt to another set of hooks on the wall. As she copied him, she tried to hide her amazement. She reminded herself that Valian had made no effort to stop Seb from being arrested. She shouldn't trust him.

He leaned back against the wall, stretching his shoulders. ‘I can't go any further,' he said casually. ‘Beyond this point I'll be recognized.' He gestured down the tunnel. ‘When you get to the T-junction, take a left, then second right. After the cave filled with suit-carriers you go left, then down the passageway that smells of boot polish. That'll lead you into the main arrivals chamber.'

Ivy peered ahead. The thick gloom of the passageway was broken only by a few strips of weak lemon-squeezer light. She tried not to let Valian see her fear. ‘Er – what exactly do you want me to get for you?'

‘Just a candle.'

‘
Just
a candle?'

Valian studied his nails. ‘It's uncommon, OK? I need it to get into Lundinor, to visit someone who can clear my name.' He nodded in the direction of the main arrivals chamber. ‘All you have to do is get into the cave. The candle trader has debts to settle with me, so you won't have to pay him; and you don't need to worry about finding him. He'll find you. He always does.'

Ivy didn't like being given orders by someone so suspicious. ‘Fine. But first you have to tell me how to get my brother out first. That was the agreement.'

Valian raised a hand. ‘All right, I know. The underguard station is in Lundinor, through the Great Gates. You'll find those in the main arrivals chamber – they're the ones with Sir Clement and Lady Citron, the founding traders of Lundinor, on either side. And next to them you'll see some ladders. They're the best way out of here for muckers – they're not used much any more so they won't be guarded. But first make sure you get my candle. Bring that back and I'll tell you the rest – how to break into the underguard station and get your bro out of there.'

Ivy huffed. She should have known there would be some security for him in the arrangement. ‘Fine.'

Valian shrugged off his leather jacket. Beneath it he was wearing a black T-shirt with what Ivy assumed was the logo of a heavy metal band – it involved a rose wrapped in barbed wire. ‘Here, take this.'

Ivy scowled as he thrust the jacket into her arms. ‘Why do I—?'

‘Because you'll need it, OK? You won't get very far in that coat. The Ugs have circulated your description, remember? They all know what you look like.'

Ivy groaned and reluctantly peeled off her duffel coat, depositing it in Valian's arms, then put her granma's bag over her shoulder again.

‘Anyway,' he said with a hint of glee, ‘you'll need to be wearing something a bit different in order to fit in. Uncommoners all wear Hobsmatch.'

‘What's that?'

Valian's eyes twinkled. ‘You'll find out soon enough.'

Ivy fiddled with the strap of Granma Sylvie's handbag, repeating Valian's instructions over and over in her head.
Left, then second right . . .

After the third turn, the tunnel walls started to shake with noise. Ivy fought the urge to turn back. The further she went, the louder the rumble of voices and shuffling footsteps became. Eventually she turned the final corner and was forced to grip the rock for support as a wall of sound rose up to meet her.

‘
Whoa . . .
'

In front of her was another chamber, but this one was
gigantic
. The gaping roof glittered with red-brown stalactites, as long and jagged as giant fangs, and the walls were so high they disappeared into shadow. Against them were stacks of every type of bag imaginable: ostrich-leather handbags, sequinned purses, neoprene rucksacks, canvas sacks, duffel bags; even the odd cheap, rustling carrier bag tied onto the sides of larger cases. If the first arrivals chamber Ivy had crawled into was like a cloakroom fortress, then this one was more like the Colosseum.

On the floor hundreds of uncommoners bustled around, hopping over cases, bags swinging at their sides, some dragging children behind them. Ivy remained in the shadows of the tunnel while she observed them. She struggled to take in all the costumes: there was a lady in a silky kimono and herringbone tweed jacket; a man wearing breeches and a Hawaiian shirt; another lady in camouflage trousers, platform shoes and a baseball cap. Ivy watched wide-eyed as three kids wearing tight plastic raincoats over Roman togas chased each other through a group in petticoats and puff sleeves. Men in cycling shorts and sombreros stood next to others in top hats and tunics. There were fancy feathered collars, felt berets, shimmering Egyptian headdresses, fur stoles, medieval veils. It was as if everyone had taken bits of fashion throughout history and put them all on at once.

So this is Hobsmatch
, Ivy thought. She didn't quite know what to make of it. The rich colours and elaborate designs were beautiful, but it didn't exactly look practical – all those ruffs and heels – and yet she guessed it suited uncommoners. They were collectors, after all. Hobsmatch must be a good way to show off.

She tried to pick out a few faces, though it was easy to get distracted. The people were as diverse as any she'd seen at an airport. And – her heart sank – none were carrying candles. Valian had said that this candle trader would find
her
. She wondered if she should go and wait somewhere.

Everyone was funnelling into the mouth of a tunnel in the far wall, positioned between two colossal iron gates. The vast hinges were set into the statues of two figures who held hands, forming an arch over everyone below. One was a stately man in a long-sleeved jerkin with a garland of oranges around his neck; the other an elegant woman wearing a tasselled dress decorated with lemons. Ivy stared at them. They looked grand, like the statues of ancient gods she'd seen on trips to the V&A with her dad.
The one with the oranges must be Sir Clement
, she thought,
and Lady Citron has to be the one with the lemons.
She wondered what her dad would make of them.

Between the two statues stood the Great Gates – which, according to Valian, meant the ladders would be close by. Ivy hunted around and, sure enough, spied a shadowy gap between two stacks of cases, where silvery rungs glinted against the wall. Her shoulders tensed. That was her and Seb's way out.

Turning up the collar of Valian's jacket, she curled her trembling hands into fists.

Here goes . . .

She stepped out.

It was like being trapped in the middle of an enormous school reunion where everyone had come in fancy dress.

‘Kitty, I haven't seen you in ages! Your chain mail looks great – is it new?'

‘How're the kids, Arthur? I heard your two'll be trading this season.'

‘Ooh, yes. I saw those floods on the news. Must have been
terrible
for you down at the bottom of the country. How did your robes survive?'

Ivy slipped carefully between the puffed sleeves and flouncy skirts, a cold, heavy feeling settling at the bottom of her stomach like wet cement.
Keep it together
, she told herself.
This is real. You've got to rescue Seb.
She fixed her eyes on the ladders ahead.

‘You read the
Chronicle
this morning?' Ivy heard one of the traders say. ‘'Eard there's been some sort of scandal at the Ug station. Something to do with the Wrenches.'

‘Wrench? I haven't heard that name in years.'

‘Well, it's hardly surprising . . .'

The name
Wrench
tripped alarm bells in Ivy's head, but the din of the crowd was so overwhelming, she couldn't think straight. A trader in an embroidered tunic and a kilt swished past carrying a basket of brass kettles. Everyone was hefting something – muddy bicycle wheels slung over shoulders, dusty wine bottles stuffed under armpits.

Suddenly something swooshed close to Ivy's head and she looked up as a dark shape passed over her. It zoomed towards the Great Gates, before slowing down so that Ivy could identify it:
a man riding a flying vacuum cleaner.
She looked back up to discover a multitude of other traders flying in and out of the stalactites. Some were straddling broomsticks, mops or feather dusters, while others knelt on flying rugs or doormats.

‘Hello, missy.'

Ivy froze as she felt a hand on her shoulder. She spun round and came face to face with a toothless, wrinkled old man.

‘Bleedin' vacuum fliers,' he croaked, rubbing his hunched back. ‘No care for pedestrian safety, absolutely none!' He was holding the broken pieces of a cardboard sign mounted on a long wooden stick. Ivy could just about make out what it said:
INVISIBILITY CANDLES:
8
GRADE
.

The man raised a fist towards the roof of the cavern. ‘Broke three signs this week!' he shouted. ‘If I ever get my hands on one of you ruffians . . .' He shook his head and turned his foggy turquoise eyes towards Ivy. ‘Don't suppose I can interest you in a candle, dearie? Eight grade's an awful good price, honest.' As he smiled, his tanned skin creased like baked mud.

Ivy didn't say a thing. She didn't even move.
He'll find you
, Valian had told her. And here he was . . .

‘Er – yeah, I need a candle,' she said, trying to keep her voice steady. In the pockets of Valian's jacket, her hands were trembling. ‘It's for someone else. He said you had a debt to settle with him.'

The old man squeezed his lips together and frowned. ‘A debt, you say?' He scratched his scalp. ‘Who sent yer?'

Ivy hesitated and half smiled. ‘Valian Kaye?'

The man spat in her face. ‘Pah! Owe 'im a candle? 'E must be kidding. Boy's gone raving mad. 'E owes me objects to the value of fifteen grade!' He shook his head. ‘Owe 'im a candle indeed!'

Ivy tried not to gag as she wiped the spittle off her cheek.
Lovely.
Valian had lied, but she still needed that candle. ‘Wait,' she said. ‘Maybe there's something I can give you in return.' She started searching through Valian's pockets. There must be something uncommon there—

‘Ouch!' Ivy's fingertips burned as something bit her. She withdrew her hand and looked into the pocket. The lining was wriggling.

The comb! Of course.

‘How about this?' Ivy pulled the comb out carefully and pointed it away from her, trying to keep control of the gnashing teeth.

The man inspected it from a distance, rubbing his chin. ‘Not bad, not bad. But what would I use it for?' He signalled to the loose, tattered shirt he was wearing. ‘I don't have no pockets.'

Ivy racked her brains. ‘Er . . .' The man held her gaze. His irises were swirly dark blue now, like a lagoon. ‘Maybe you could attach it to the top of your sign to stop people flying into it?' she said hopefully.

The man looked angrily down at his broken sign and then, slowly, he smiled. ‘You got yerself a deal there, missy.' He held out his hand, which was encased in a fraying grey gardening glove.

Ivy sighed with relief as she shook it.

The man glanced at her bare fingers. ‘Best make sure yer wearing gloves in there,' he said, nodding towards the Great Gates.

‘Yeah, thanks,' Ivy said dismissively, registering the advice at the back of her brain. She was more interested in getting the candle. After the old man had handed it over, she shoved it in her pocket, trying to ignore the fact that it was black and odd looking.

‘Yer jus' gotta blow it out to use it,' the man instructed before turning to leave. ‘It only works if you're touchin' it, mind. If you let go, you'll become visible again.'

Once the old man had disappeared, Ivy turned round and set off through the crowd. When the main arrivals chamber was well behind her, she sprinted down the last tunnel to Valian, anticipation surging through her. She had the candle; now she just had to make sure that Valian kept his side of the bargain. She was still determined to give him a piece of her mind when she found him. It served him right that she'd had to give away his comb. She felt the uncommon candle between her fingers as she dashed round the corner. ‘Valian?' she hissed. ‘I've got it!'

The tunnel was empty.

Ivy hurried to the end and called down the elevation shaft, but there was no reply. She ran back and looked down the two adjoining passageways.

‘Valian?' she whispered. She didn't understand why he wasn't there. Then she spotted it: a shadow on the floor. As she drew closer, she realized what it was.

My duffel coat?

In the dust beside it lay the silver coin. Ivy picked it up and closed her fingers around it thoughtfully, letting the warmth surge through her. Valian must have found it and left it there for some reason.

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