Read an Excerpt
By Jane Yolen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 1991 Jane Yolen
All rights reserved.
Thornmallow's real name was Henry. He was a small fellow, thin as a reed, with fair, unmanageable hair the color and shape of dandelion fluff. His eyes were a gooseberry green and hard to read. There was always a smudge or two on his nose as if the nose led him into trouble. But actually he was a quiet boy, shy and obedient to a fault.
He had never wanted to be a wizard.
As a youngster he'd fancied being a linewalker or a tree warden or a juggler, mostly outside work. But he'd outgrown each fancy in turn, as children often do, moving on to the next with hardly a backward glance.
One day, when he was eleven, he mentioned wizardry to his dear ma. He didn't mean it. Not really. It was just a passing thought.
She looked up from her butter churn and smiled.
"That's the job for you (Whomp!)," she said. "Steady work and (Whomp!) a good place in the world. That's the one." She gave one last Whomp! to the churn, got up from her stool, and with her kerchief wiped a smudge off Henry's nose. Then, stretching to get the knots out of her spine, she walked into the house to help him pack. She was never one for delay. She stuffed the bag with a change of shirts, a pair of woollies for the cold, a packet of rose petals for the sweetening, and hard journeycake for the road.
"That's the one!" she repeated with even more enthusiasm. "You had a great-uncle on your father's side — bless his soul — who took to wizardry." She hesitated, then shook her head. "Or was it card playing? Whatever."
"But what if I have no talent for it, Ma?" Henry had asked, somewhat sensibly and not a little nervous that she was packing him off so quickly.
"Talent don't matter," she'd answered, closing the bag. "I didn't know I had any talent for mothering until you came along. And look!" She gestured to him as if he were proof enough. "It only matters that you try."
Then she kissed him three times, once on each cheek for love and once on the forehead for wisdom, wiped his smudgy nose one last time, and closed the door behind him saying, "Don't forget to write."
Henry stared at his house for a long minute and bit his lower lip until tears came to his eyes. But he was a good boy and used to doing what he was told. So, wiping his eyes and leaving a brand-new smudge on the right side of his nose, he waved goodbye to his ma. Her smile shone out of the window at him like an off-center crescent moon. Then he turned. He could feel her smile warming his back and her kisses protecting his cheeks and face as he started on the road. Indeed, he didn't know if he had any talent for wizardry. Or for card playing. Whatever.
But he certainly knew he could try.
The way to Wizard's Hall was no secret. It was just over the Far-Rise Hills, turn left until morning. Every child in Hallowdale knew that. There was even a jump-rope rhyme about it:
Tell me the place where wizards dwell,
Tell me each step and turning,
Over the mountains, under the hill,
Turn left and walk till morning.
That certainly didn't rhyme as well as it might, but it fit the tip-taps of a jump rope perfectly. And of course, there ahead of him were the Far-Rise Hills, a day's journey away.
Henry needed no map.
It was late fall, and the last of autumn's colors had faded to a steady rust carpet beneath bare trees. Short bursts of wind hissed and hooted and whistled down the valley, pushing Henry onward from Hallowdale as surely as his dear ma had pushed him out the door.
The walk to the foothills was easy — a smooth and gently turning path lined with trees. Henry dodged a scallywag and two highwaymen along the way, but that was just in case. He doubted they had any interest in his poor goods. The journeycake was crumbled, and the woollies were well worn. But still he hid behind the trees, for his dear ma had always cautioned, Better take care than need care.
He also spent an hour up one of the taller beeches when a family of wild boar rooted by. Henry was no hero. Being small and thin had practically guaranteed that Besides, he'd no practice in the art of being brave. To make up the time lost shivering amongst the leaves, he forwent both lunch and dinner until he was within sight of the hills.
"And isn't it a marvel," he whispered to himself as he chewed the crumbly cake, "just how good a dry meal can be. No wonder my dear ma always says, Hunger is a great seasoner."
At the mountain's foot was a sign to make the passage simpler still:
THIS WAY TO WIZARD'S HALL
it announced in bold lettering. There was also a gold-leafed arrow, picked a bit raw by passing villains, pointing to the left. And sure enough, the path continued right up the mountain's face, with little yellow ribands marking every fifth tree, just as a reminder.
Clearly no one could get lost along the way.
Henry walked all night long. His only companions were the owls who swooped silently above him, for the crickets and frogs were long gone to their early winterings. Henry was actually glad of the quiet.
In the morning both sun and moon shone together, and right below them Henry could make out the towers of Wizard's Hall, standing tall and jagged against the sky. He knew there would be gardens, rosebushes, and trees. Everyone knew magic made things grow. Like manure. But the towers reminded Henry of the teeth of a great beast, and suddenly he was quite sure he didn't want to study wizardry at all. He knew with certainty that he'd make a better farmer or fisherman or even a cook.
He tried to turn and go home.
But as if the road itself knew it was Henry's fate to go to Wizard's Hall, it wouldn't let him turn. No sooner did he lift one foot to go home than the other was stuck fast. He could only move forward toward the Hall, not back.
It was magic for sure — and he was part of it.
He ran his tired fingers through his hair and remembered his ma's smile at the window. He remembered some of her last words.
"It only matters that you try."
Shrugging the pack higher on his shoulders, he sighed once out loud and thought he heard an answering sigh in the wind.
"To Wizard's Hall, then," he whispered.
The road loosed both his feet at once and tumbled him forward at a run toward his new home.CHAPTER 2
Into the Hall
Wizard's Hall was a solidly built place of jagged stone towers and long arching windows. High gray stone walls curved around it, set with ironwork gates. There was not a tree or plant growing within the boundaries of those walls; it was as if magic had shattered the natural world.
Henry shivered when he looked through the gates and saw how barren the yard was, for he had been expecting much green. But he knew he could not fight his fate. So he walked steadily till he reached the main gate. There the iron was twisted into intricate symbols of power, laid out in a grid that looked like a quilt or like a beast — depending upon which eye he squinted with. It made his stomach queasy just looking.
Taking a deep breath, Henry knocked upon the gate and called out, "Hallooo?"
The gate made a rude sound, remarkably like a spit kazoo, and a small door just Henry's size opened in it.
Henry let out the breath he'd been holding. Red-faced, he trudged in.
Suddenly he found himself not in the barren yard nor yet in a hallway, but in a wood-paneled room hung with gray-blue tapestries fraying a bit at the sides. A large table, littered with parchment, stood in the center of the room. Some pieces of parchment were rolled up tightly with scarlet ribands, some were creased and folded, some were scrunched and discarded, some were held flat by dark inkwells or brass doorknobs or apple cores.
Behind the table sat an old man with skin the color of the parchment, eyes like blue marbles, and a white halo of hair.
"Good evening," the old man said gently.
As it was not evening at all but midday, and sunlight streamed in through the many-paned windows, quilting the floor with light, Henry was stuck for an answer.
"Or good morning," the old man added. "Whichever. I am Register Oakbend. Glad to meet you at last."
"At last?" Henry said. "But nobody knew I was coming. Not even me. Till yesterday."
The old man did not reply to this but merely held out his hand.
Only then did Henry realize that the wizard was quite blind, for his marble-blue eyes stared straight ahead and his hand was reaching slightly to the left of the table, though Henry was slightly to the right.
"Actually, sir," Henry said, gathering his courage, "it's coming on to noon."
Register Oakbend turned at Henry's voice so that now he was facing Henry directly, and lowered his hand. "I said whichever," he answered peevishly. "And that includes noon, young man. What did you say your name was?"
"Henry," said Henry, "though I didn't actually say it — yet."
"Said it now," said Register Oakbend. "The Book says Better now than not. But isn't Henry a silly name? H-E-N-R-Y, don't you know. Or H-E-N-R-I-E. Nothing to it. Simply a series of sounds without meaning. HEN-ER-REE. Now Couchwillow, there's a good one. Or Stickybun. Or Daffy-down-dilly, though that's really for a girl. How about Broadleaf? Do you like it? Does it fit?"
"Please, sir," said Henry in a quiet little voice, "my name is Henry."
"Listen carefully, boy. Words mean something, not just sounds thrown down willy-nilly. Willy-nilly — that's not a bad one. But I didn't ask what your name is. We haven't decided that yet. And you're going to need a good one. I asked what your name was." He cocked his head to one side.
"But, sir, my name has always been Henry. Always will be. My dear ma gave it to me." Henry's voice quavered a little bit at the mention of her.
"Despite popular opinion," Register Oakbend said, "mothers do not always know best. Especially about names. That is why children get called so many other things by their friends. I, for example, was called Niddy-Noddy by my companions, though my name at the time was Ned." He smiled, remembering.
"But my dear ma —" Henry began.
"Prickly sort of fellow, isn't he," murmured Register Oakbend. "But just what we desperately need."
Henry thought the old man was talking to himself until he heard an answering sound.
"Squark!" It came from a little white animal in a cage that was almost obscured by the mounds of parchment. Henry caught just a glimpse of it.
"Absolutely," replied Register Oakbend, nodding his head vigorously. "Right idea. That's the ticket."
"Squark?" Henry asked.
"Your name," the old man said. "Your name for is; for now; for Wizard's Hall."
"Squark," Henry repeated dismally, thinking for a moment about running away. Only for a moment. He was, after all, a good boy. And he had promised he would try. "Squark."
"Means Thornmallow: prickly on the outside, squishy within. Though I'll have to take that squishy on faith. But Dr. Mo is always right."
"Thornmallow," Henry whispered to himself, trying it out. Oddly he felt relieved. Thornmallow was certainly a great deal better than Squark for a name. And it was only his name for is, for now, for Wizard's Hall. When he went home for holidays, he could still be Henry to his dear ma. Closing his eyes for a moment, he tried to feel like Thornmallow the Wizard. He only felt like Henry, thin as a reed with a nose that was often smudgy. Suddenly he remembered something and opened his eyes.
"Who is Dr. Mo?" he asked.
But Register Oakbend, cage, desk, and all had unaccountably disappeared.
Henry — now Thornmallow — croggled, swallowed hard, and looked around. He was no longer inside the Hall but outside it, this time in the treeless, shrubless, flowerless yard, standing on hard cobbles. Not sure what it all meant, he walked up to the front door. It, like the gate, was covered with a grid, but this grid looked entirely like a quilt and not at all like a beast. That made him feel a bit better. He knocked on it.
The door made a sighing noise and opened. Thornmallow walked in.
He was quite surprised that now it was cozy and snug inside, not unlike a larger version of his cottage. Unaccountably, he felt at home. Small gold-framed portraits of wizards hung along one wall, each of them looking old and wise. Beneath each frame was a name.
"Magister Greybane," he read silently. "Magister Bledwort. Magister Hyssop. Magister Briar Rose." Something about the last wizard reminded Henry of his dear ma. Perhaps it was because she was the only one smiling. He said her name aloud: "Magister Briar Rose."
The picture winked at him.
"I must be tired," Henry told himself and suddenly recalled he'd been walking all night. But when the picture winked a second time, mouthing his name, he felt his knees give way, and he sat down quite suddenly on the polished floor.
"Now, now, none of that, child," came a small voice from the picture. "It won't do. You are the last, and what we desperately need, and therefore most important to us. Be strong and stand. You must try, dear child. You must try."
The voice was remarkably like his dear ma's, only older. Henry stood at once, not even bothering to wonder what being the last meant or how desperate they were at Wizard's Hall.
Addressing the picture, he said, "Pardon me, Madame Magister, but my name is Hen — er — Thornmallow. I'm not quite sure what's happening, but I've come to try and be a wizard."
"Well, of course you have, Thornmallow," the picture answered. "Otherwise Door wouldn't have let you in, and Dr. Mo wouldn't have given you a name. You'd still be outside and called Hen-er. Now you are inside and called Thornmallow. Hmmmmmm, Thornmallow. Prickly on the outside, squishy within. I'll have to take that prickly on faith. But prickly is just what we need. Let's get you settled, shall we? And wipe that smudge off your nose."
Suddenly a small, compact woman in a musty, wine-colored robe with something that could have been egg stains on the front, stood by his side. The picture frame was empty. She plucked a handkerchief from the air and scrubbed at his face with it. Then, apparently satisfied, she guided him with two fingers on his elbow into a small room immediately to the right.
"This will be yours," she said. "See?" She made a quick gesture with her hand, and the handkerchief disappeared. At the same time, a portrait of his dear ma with her butter churn appeared on a small wooden stand. His clothes, clean-smelling and ironed, winkled out of his pack and hung themselves on pegs by the door. A little quilt covered with sunbursts tucked itself tidily over the bed.
"Do you like it?" asked Magister Briar Rose.
Thornmallow picked up the picture from the stand and collapsed onto the bed. He was about to thank Magister Briar Rose when he saw that in the picture his dear ma seemed quite sad.
Bursting into sobs, Thornmallow put his face into his hands and was quite a long time at it. When he was quiet at last, he looked up, but the wizard was gone.
"All this appearing and disappearing," Thornmallow told himself between sniffles, wishing the handkerchief hadn't vanished as well, "can be awfully hard on a body." At his words a handkerchief dropped out of the air, landing beside him on the bed.
NOW BLOW, in little flaming letters, flashed above the handkerchief.
He blew until his nose was quite clear. Then he lay down on the bed with the picture of his dear ma pressed next to his heart. He was asleep at once.CHAPTER 3
Thornmallow Gets to Class
When Thornmallow awoke, he felt refreshed. Opening his eyes, he blinked twice, not quite believing what he saw. On the ceiling of his room was a star map with little lights that winked off and on, reciting their own names.
"The Ram," one group of stars said. "The Hunter," whispered another.
He sat up.
Someone had taken off his boots and tucked them side by side under his bed. He reached over, picked them up, and drew them back on. They were freshly polished. He could almost see his face in them. Sitting on his bed, he began to wonder if all the magicks he had seen were tricks — or real.
Real! he decided at last and stood.
"The Bear," answered the stars.
When he opened the door of his room, he saw a long hall. Out of many similar doors poured boys his own age. Some were tall, some short, some weighty, and some as slim as he. None of them seemed to have combed their hair, though one — a boy with a bright yellow cock's comb — was intent on slicking his hair back with hasty fingers. All the boys were wearing long black scholastic gowns and carrying books.
"New boy?" called one as he raced by, going right to left. He was tall, with flaming red hair and a network of freckles like a map over his nose and cheeks.
Before Thornmallow could answer, the boy and his companions were gone. Not disappeared this time, but gone around a corner of the building. Thornmallow hurried after them and found himself in another long hall, this one filled with rushing girls in black scholar's robes running toward the right.
"Last bell!" one girl cried. She had a face the color of old wood, and her black hair was caught up in three plaits of equal weight: one on each side of her head and one standing straight up from it. She was short, with the eager look of certain small dogs.
Excerpted from Wizard's Hall by Jane Yolen. Copyright © 1991 Jane Yolen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.