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Across the Wall (SNY)Chapter OneNicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case
"I am going back to the Old Kingdom, Uncle," said Nicholas Sayre. "Whatever Father may have told you. So there is no point in your trying to fix me up with a suitable Sayre job or a suitable Sayre marriage. I am coming with you to what will undoubtedly be a horrendous house party only because it will get me a few hundred miles closer to the Wall."
Nicholas's uncle Edward, more generally known as The Most Honorable Edward Sayre, Chief Minister of Ancelstierre, shut the red-bound letter book he was reading with more emphasis than he intended, as their heavily armored car lurched over a hump in the road. The sudden clap of the book made the bodyguard in front look around, but the driver kept his eyes on the narrow country lane.
"Have I said anything about a job or a marriage?" Edward enquired, gazing down his long, patrician nose at his nineteen-year-old nephew. "Besides, you won't even get within a mile of the Perimeter without a pass signed by me, let alone across the Wall."
"I could get a pass from Lewis," said Nicholas moodily, referring to the newly anointed Hereditary Arbiter. The previous Arbiter, Lewis's grandfather, had died of a heart attack during Corolini's attempted coup d'état half a year before.
"No, you couldn't, and you know it," said Edward. "Lewis has more sense than to involve himself in any aspect of government other than the ceremonial."
"Then I'll have to cross over without a pass," declared Nicholas angrily, not even trying to hide the frustration that had built up in him over the past six months, during which he'd been forced tostay in Ancelstierre. Most of that time spent wishing he'd left with Lirael and Sam in the immediate aftermath of the Destroyer's defeat, instead of deciding to recuperate in Ancelstierre. It had been weakness and fear that had driven his decision, combined with a desire to put the terrible past behind him. But he now knew that was impossible. He could not ignore the legacy of his involvement with Hedge and the Destroyer, nor his return to Life at the hands or paws of the Disreputable Dog. He had become someone else, and he could only find out who that was in the Old Kingdom.
"You would almost certainly be shot if you try to cross illegally," said Edward. "A fate you would richly deserve. Particularly since you are not giving me the opportunity to help you. I do not know why you or anyone else would want to go to the Old Kingdom my year on the Perimeter as General Hort's ADC certainly taught me the place is best avoided. Nor do I wish to annoy your father and hurt your mother, but there are certain circumstances in which I might grant you permission to cross the Perimeter."
"Yes, really. Have I ever taken you or any other of my nephews or nieces to a house party before?"
"Not that I know "
"Do I usually make a habit of attending parties given by someone like Alastor Dorrance in the middle of nowhere?"
"I suppose not. . . ."
"Then you might exercise your intelligence to wonder why you are here with me now."
"Gatehouse ahead, sir," interrupted the bodyguard as the car rounded a sweeping corner and slowed down. "Recognition signal is correct."
Edward and Nicholas leaned forward to look through the open partition and the windscreen beyond. A few hundred yards in front, a squat stone gatehouse lurked just off the road, with its two wooden gates swung back. Two slate-gray Heddon-Hare roadsters were parked, one on either side of the gate, with several mackintosh-clad, weapon-toting men standing around them. One of the men waved a yellow flag in a series of complicated movements that Edward clearly understood and Nicholas presumed meant all was well.
"Proceed!" snapped the Chief Minister. Their car slowed more, the driver shifting down through the gears with practiced double-clutching. The mackintosh-clad men saluted as the car swung off the road and through the gate, dropping their salute as the rest of the motorcade followed. Six motorcycle policemen were immediately behind, then another two cars identical to the one that carried Nicholas and his uncle, then another half dozen police motorcyclists, and finally four trucks that were carrying a company of fully armed soldiery. Corolini's attempted putsch had failed, and there had surprisingly been no further trouble from the Our Country Party since, but the government continued to be nervous about the safety of the nation's Chief Minister.
"So, what is going on?" asked Nicholas. "Why are you here? And why am I here? Is there something you want me to do?"
"At last, a glimmer of thought. Have you ever wondered what Alastor Dorrance actually does, other than come to Corvere three or four times a year and exercise his eccentricities in public?"
"Isn't that enough?" asked Nick with a shudder. He remembered the newspaper stories from the last time Dorrance had been in the city, only a few weeks before. He'd hosted a picnic on Holyoak Hill for every apprentice in Corvere and supplied them with fatty roast beef, copious amounts of beer, and a particularly cheap and nasty red wine, with predictable results.
"Dorrance's eccentricities are all show," said Edward. "Misdirection. He is in fact the head of Department Thirteen. Dorrance Hall is the Department's main research facility."
"But Department Thirteen is just a made-up thing, for the moving pictures. It doesn't really exist . . . um . . . does it?"
"Officially, no. In actuality, yes. Every state has need of spies. Department Thirteen trains and manages ours, and carries out various tasks ill suited to the more regular branches of government. It is watched over quite carefully, I assure you."
"But what has that got to do with me?"
"Department Thirteen observes all our neighbors very successfully, and has detailed files on everyone and everything important within those countries. With one notable exception. The Old Kingdom...Across the Wall (SNY). Copyright © by Garth Nix. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.