The Book Without Words: A Fable of Medieval Magic

The Book Without Words: A Fable of Medieval Magic

by Avi

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From Avi, the 2003 Newbery Award-winning author of "Crispin: The Cross of Lead," comes the story of Thorston, an alchemist who works to concoct a potion that will enable him to live forever--and keep dying and rising from the dead as a result.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781423140252
Publisher: Disney Press
Publication date: 07/25/2010
Format: NOOK Book
Lexile: 620L (what's this?)
File size: 589 KB
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Lynne Ewing is the best-selling author of the Daughters of the Moon series, and the popular companion series Sons of the Dark and Sisters of Isis. Ms. Ewing lives in Los Angeles, California, and Washington, DC.

Date of Birth:

December 23, 1937

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964

Read an Excerpt


A Fable of Medieval Magic

Thorndike Press

Copyright © 2005 Avi
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7862-7940-0

Chapter One


It was in the year 1046, on a cold winter's night, when a fog, thick as wool and dank as a dead man's hand, crept up from the River Scrogg into the ancient town of Fulworth. The fog settled like an icy shroud over the town, filling the mud-clogged streets and crooked lanes from Westgate to Bishopsgate, from Three Rats Quay upon the decaying riverbanks to Saint Osyth's Cathedral by the city center. It clung to the crumbling city walls. It heightened the stench of rotten hay and offal, of vinegary wine and rancid ale. It muffled the sound of pealing church bells calling the weary faithful to apprehensive prayers.

In a neglected corner of town, at the bottom of Clutterbuck Lane, with its grimy courtyard and noxious well, against the town's walls, stood a dilapidated two-story stone house. The first-level windows were blocked up with stone. A single second-floor window was curtained.

In a large room on the second floor stood a very old man by the name of Thorston. His dirty, high-cheek-boned face - with baggy eyes and long narrow nose - was deeply lined. His mouth was toothless. His eyes were green. Unkempt hair, hoary eyebrows, and wispy beard were as sparse as they were gray. He was wearing an old, torn blue robe to whichwas attached - at his waist - a small leather purse.

In the trembling light provided by an all but guttered candle, Thorston fed bits of sea coal into a brazier and watched its blaze change from red to blue. He sprinkled in some copper grains: the flames turned green.

"Green," whispered Thorston. "The color of life." The thought brought an anxious recollection of Brother Wilfrid's eyes. "No," he murmured. "There shall be no death for me."

He peered back into the room's shifting shadows. Nearest to him was a tar-black raven. The sleeping bird - his name was Odo - was perched on a cracked human skull that rested atop a column of leather-bound books.

Farther on, in a small back room, Thorston could see his servant girl, Sybil, asleep on her straw pallet. She had been with him for just four months and knew nothing about him - not who he was, not what he was doing - nothing.

The old man shuffled to his dirty, rumpled bed where the Book Without Words lay open. He read it. "Yes," he muttered, "one by one - in the proper sequence, at the proper moment, and I at the proper age."

He went back to the brazier. With twisted, twig-thin, and stained fingers, Thorston took up an iron pot and placed it over the green flames. "All is ready," he said.

With his left hand, he reached into a round box and removed a perfect cube of white clay. With his right hand, he kneaded the clay until it became as soft as the nape of a newborn's neck. With his left hand, he placed the clay at the bottom of the pot - in its exact center.

Weak heart fluttering with excitement, Thorston used his right hand to pour a flagon of water over the clay. The water was holy water siphoned secretly from the cathedral's baptismal font, then tinted pink with a drop of his own blood.

Taking the items from his hip purse, the old man rapidly added to the mix; bits of shredded gargoyle ears, chimera crumbs, scales from a fire-lizard's tail, two dozen white spider legs, thirteen and a half nightshade leaves, sixteen hairs from the tip of a Manx cat's tail, plus six white pearls of dried unicorn tears. He also dropped in the blackest of the raven's black feathers.

Using a spoon made of Jerusalem silver, Thorston stirred the mixture eighty-six times to the left - once for each year of his life. He stirred to the right eighty-one more times - once for each day of his eighty-sixth year. When the brew smelled like the sweet breath of a resurrected phoenix, he knew he was close. His pulse quickened.

From the small leather purse on his belt, he drew forth a box made of narwhale bone. Within lay the dusty remains of Pythagoras, most ancient of philosophers. Thorston paused: the dust had cost him much - all the gold he could make - gold that would soon crumble. The other ingredients in the formula had taken more false gold. Thorston didn't care that it was false. His new life would make him - for all practical purposes - invisible. As he had planned things, by the time his gold turned to sand, he would not be found.

Thorston sprinkled Pythagoras's remains grain by grain into the pot, until the brew frothed, foamed, and fumed.

His excitement rising, Thorston scurried to his bed, checked the book anew, then hastened back to stir the recipe: one stir to the right - for the midnight sky. Three stirs to the left - for the heavenly Three. One stir across - for the noonday sun. A final stir for the cold and distant moon.

"Now," he said, unable to suppress his exhilaration, "the final ingredient ... the girl's life."


In quite another part of Fulworth, a monk appeared at the entrance of a small and bleak cemetery. His name was Brother Wilfrid, and he too was very old. Indeed, his face was a web of wrinkles upon skin so thin, so translucent, the skull beneath offered up its own yellow cast. Upon his mottled head hung shreds of lank white hair. His small, green-hued eyes were sunk deep and forever leaking tears. His nose was all but fleshless, his mouth almost without lips. Knobby feet were bare. Stooped and limping, Brother Wilfrid wore an old brown tunic, more tattered than complete.

In one clawlike hand, he held up a smoldering torch. The light of the feeble flame seeped through the shifting veils of fog, a fog that drifted back and forth like the ebb and flow of open sea. The monk prowled about the cemetery, over the oozing black mire, pausing before cracked gravestones, holding his torch close to examine obscure names. From time to time he rubbed encrusted dirt away to read Latin or Runic words.

"Not here," he murmured at last.

Leaving his spent torch behind, the old monk limped out of the cemetery and into the church. It was a small, ancient structure built with gray stone. Its modest single tower was sharply pointed. Wilfrid entered by a narrow, arched doorway, stepping noiselessly into the building. It was deserted. On the old stone altar, a solitary candle burned, its muted light making the outer reaches of the building indistinct. But on the eastern wall was a large painting. Wilfrid looked at it and gasped. "Saint Elfleda!" he cried. The saint was portrayed larger than life, garbed in white, floating in the air. One hand held a belt, the other hand was lifted in blessing. Her large, dark eyes were almond-shaped and full of pain.

Wilfrid sank to his knees. "Help me," he pleaded. "Help me help you."

A short time later, the old monk left the church, went out into the roiling fog, and roamed through Fulworth, making his way along stinking, narrow streets, constricted lanes, and neglected courtyards. But in truth, Wilfrid did not look where he was going so much as he sniffed.

Suddenly he halted, lifted his frail head, and breathed deeply. He had smelled something. Goat reek! Thorston's stink! A smell he could never forget.

The monk, breathing deeply, old heart pounding, went on. His nose led him to a neglected corner of town, to the bottom of Clutterbuck Lane and its grimy courtyard centered by a fetid well. There, against the city's crumbling walls, he saw a dilapidated two-story stone house. But though the house appeared to contain no life, Brother Wilfrid stared at it, sniffed at it.

"Blessed Saint Elfleda," he whispered. "I've found him! Thorston is here." He sniffed again. This time he smelled gargoyle, chimera, fire-lizard, and ... a raven. "God's mercy!" cried Wilfrid. "He's about to make the stones of life!"

The old monk stretched out a frail, trembling hand toward the house. "Return the book to me!" he called in a rasping voice.

No reply. Wilfrid hardly expected one. Worse, as he stood there, he knew he was too feeble to take back the book himself. He would need help. But who would help him? He sniffed again. This time he detected - a girl. A young girl.

Of course! If Thorston were working to renew his life by making the stones, he would need some young person's breath - and then her life.

He must talk to her and warn her before it was too late.


Thorston crept into the back room, where Sybil, covered by a thin, moth-eaten wool blanket, lay asleep on a straw pallet. Thorston gazed at her. She was big boned, and skinny. Long brown hair was tangled; face chapped and sullied; her nose - often dripping - was blunt and red from the chill. She had on a tattered, gray wool gown with wide sleeves, which she wore night and day. Most important of all - for Thorston - was the fact that she was as young as he had been when he stole the book: thirteen years of age. Now her breath would become his breath - his life. When he regained his young life, she would die. What does her life matter? thought Thorston. She's nobody. No one will miss or care about her. It's my life I desire.

He bent over the girl. With a quick, scooping gesture, he caught up a fistful of her sleepy breath - a hand bowl, as it were, of her life. He clapped his other hand over it, trapping it.

Back at the brazier, the old man let Sybil's breath slide through his thin fingers into the pot. The brew seethed, frothed, and boiled, then settled into a slow simmer.

Though Thorston's heart pounded so hard he experienced some dizziness, he plunged his right hand into the hot concoction. Paying no heed to the searing pain, he pressed down to the pot's bottom. There - in the midst of thick and sticky sludge - he found four stones.

Breathless with excitement, knowing he must hurry, Thorston plucked up the largest stone. It was white, round, and an inch in diameter. He clutched it in his trembling hand. With faltering steps, he staggered to the window at the front of the house, where he drew aside the leather curtain that kept in and out the light.

Outside, the thick fog had made the night sky impenetrable. But as Thorston stood before the window, clenched fist lifted heavenward, the mists parted. A full moon blossomed. From it, a glittering shaft of gold light fell like an arrow upon his quaking hand.

Thorston counted to thirteen - slowly - before drawing down his hand. Though it was growing difficult, even painful for him to breathe, he unfolded his fingers and peered into his palm.

There lay the piece he had taken from the pot. It had turned green.

"I have it," he whispered with breathless ferocity. "Life! Three more stones, and I shall be reborn."

But even as Thorston exalted, a sharp pain squeezed his heart. His left arm turned numb. His right eye fogged. As he struggled for breath, it became hard for him to grip the stone. "Spirits of mortality," he gasped. "What's amiss?"

His heart gave a jolt.

Thorston lurched across the room. Tripping on a pot, he started to fall. In a panic, he stuffed the green stone into his gaping, toothless mouth, and with a desperate gulp, swallowed it. Even so, he collapsed onto his bed. "Save me!" he shrieked. "Save the stones of life!"

There lay Thorston - all but dead.


Thorston's cry woke Odo the raven. The bird lifted his head and looked about the dismal room. When he saw his master sprawled on the bed, he flapped his wings and squawked, "Wings of salvation. What is wrong?"

A flutter of wings, some jumps and a hop - Odo could not fly - brought the raven to the old man's chest. "Master," he said, peering into Thorston's wizened face. "It's me, Odo, your most loving, your most faithful of servants. What ails you?"

"I've begun," muttered the old man, "my rebirth. But ... I may be too ... old."

Odo cocked his head. "Gold, Master? Did you say you made gold?"

"Yes ... old ... and dying."

"Dying, dear Master? But did you make gold?"

"Just ... the first ... step," the old man whispered, "toward new life. If I'm to live, I must reveal the secret."

"Me, Master," cried the raven. "Reveal the gold-making secret to me!"

"No. The ... girl."


"Yes, her."

"Kind master," croaked the bird. "Gentle master! I'm sure you didn't mean to say that. You know she's a fool. A street beggar. A nothing. Don't you remember? You promised that when you finally made gold, it would be me that would get half."

"Fetch ... the girl," Thorston whispered, even as his eyes clouded and his toothless jaw went slack.


Odo stared at the old man in disbelief. He pecked on his bony chest. "Most generous of masters, speak to me!"

When Thorston did not respond, Odo looked about the room. Spying the boiling pot, he leaped from the bed, clawed his way to the brazier, and stood upon the pot's hot rim. Hopping about its edge, he peered inside. The rising vapors caused his eyes to tear. He could see nothing.

Livid, talons hurting, Odo leaped away and began a frantic search about the cluttered room. He skipped under the bed, around it, on it. Nothing. He climbed on the table. Nothing. Crawled under it. Nothing. Coming upon an upside-down copper pot, he attempted to poke his beak under its rim in case anything was hidden beneath. When it proved too heavy, he darted a glance back toward the rear room to make certain Sybil was asleep. She was. He checked Thorston: the old man's eyes remained shut.

Satisfied he was unobserved, the raven lifted his left claw, held it toward the pot, and hissed: "Risan - Risan." The pot rose into the air where it hovered unsteadily. Odo looked beneath. Nothing. The next moment the pot fell with a crash.

Furious, the raven hopped back to the old man and pried back each of his fingers. Nothing. He jumped to Thorston's chest and drew close to his face. "Master!" he screamed, black tongue sticking out. "Think how loyally I've served you. In your solitary days, I alone talked to you. When you were hungry, I fetched food for you. When you were sick, I watched over you. Brought herbs to you. Guarded you from the world. Kept watch for dangers. To prove my loyalty, I gave up flying, my bird essence, allowing myself to become almost human - for you. Be grateful, Master. Be open handed. Tell me how to make gold. I want to fly again!"

The old man remained mute.

"Birds of mercy," hissed Odo. "He's truly dying. Cruel Master!" he suddenly shrieked. "Liar! Cheat! Self-centered knave! Hateful human! You're betraying me. What's to be done?" With a violent shake of his head, the bird peered down the hallway toward the back room. The thought that he would have to share his master's gold-making secret with the new servant girl filled him with fury. But with Thorston dying, there was no choice. Swallowing his rage, Odo leaped off the bed and hopped down the hallway. Upon reaching the girl, he leaned forward and gave a sharp peck to her hand. "Sybil! Wake!" he croaked. "Master Thorston is dying. Get up!"


The girl woke slowly. "Wh-at?" she murmured.

"Master is calling you."

"Is it to cook, fetch ... or run an errand?" Sybil said as she rolled away from the bird and pressed down into the thin straw. "Is he too lazy to look for something himself?"

"Sybil, he's dying."

"Who's dying?


The girl rubbed her eyes. "Is he - really?"

"Yes, and he wants to tell you the secret of making gold."

"You're jesting."

Odd, his panic growing, shook his head. "Sybil, know the truth: Master is an ... alchemist."

For a moment Sybil remained on her back, staring upward. Then she said, "I don't know the word."

"An alchemist is someone who makes gold."

"Are you saying that Master Thorston ... makes ... gold?"


"Then I'm England's queen."

"Idiot, what do you think he's been trying to do these past few months?"

"How would I know? He barely speaks to me."

The bird leaped atop the girl's head and gave her nose a rap with his beak. "Stupid girl - if he reveals the secret, we can live like lords."


Excerpted from THE BOOK without WORDS by AVI Copyright © 2005 by Avi. Excerpted by permission.
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.

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