Conjuror: Orion Chronicles

Conjuror: Orion Chronicles

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781781856376
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 07/01/2016
Series: Orion Chronicles Series
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,074,552
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

John Barrowman has worked in television, musical theater, and film, and stars as Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood and Doctor Who. His sister, Carole E. Barrowman, is a talk show host and teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They are the authors of Hollow Earth, Bone Quill and The Book of Beasts.

Read an Excerpt

Conjuror


By John Barrowman, Carole E. Barrowman

Head of Zeus Ltd

Copyright © 2016 John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78185-636-9



CHAPTER 1

EL DIABLO WEEPS


SOUTHERN SPAIN, 1510


Tears of joy creased the powdered cheeks of the Grand Inquisitor Cardinal Rafael Oscuro as he listened to the boy sing. Tugging a perfumed kerchief from the sleeve of his gown, he dabbed at his eyes, and then crooked his finger at the man in red and gold silk lounging on a chaise behind the child.

Don Grigori finished his sugared square of marzipan and glided across the chambers towards his master, his gait surprisingly graceful for such a tall man. Blond hair curled at the curve of his elegant neck, framing the youthful face that audiences across Europe courted and coveted.

He kneeled before the older man.

'Your Eminence?'

Don Grigori's voice was as high and girlish as his cheeks were smooth. It was a voice that could make the heavens smile – if Don Grigori had been interested in such mundanities.

* * *

At the twilight of his second decade, the Vatican's most famous castrato could still hold a note for minutes and the attentions of princes and popes for hours. He had been a gift to Rodrigo Borgia from Spain's emissary at the Vatican when, as Pope Alexander VI, Borgia had granted the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon to Spain. Don Grigori's fame had grown even as popes had fallen.

* * *

The Grand Inquisitor gestured for Don Grigori to rise.

'Where did the boy come from?'

The child's ankles, visible beneath the hem of a sackcloth tunic, were clotted with welts from months in manacles. His fists were clenched at his sides. The boy was biting his lip. The boy was trembling. But the boy was not crying.

Don Grigori stood again, licking flakes of sugar from his rouged lips.

'He arrived two days past from the Ivory Coast, Your Eminence.' He had adapted the pitch of his high voice with a lilting cadence that was mesmerizing whether he was speaking in Spanish, Italian, French or English.

'Was he alone?' asked the Grand Inquisitor.

'He is now, Your Eminence.'

'His age?'

'It is difficult to say. His diet has been poor.'

'A guess then?'

'Not yet in manhood.'

The Grand Inquisitor smiled his approval. 'Excellent. We are in time.'

The child was, in fact, ten years old and, until he had been hunted like a wild boar and forced naked into the rat-infested hold of a slave ship, had been well-nourished and deeply loved.

The Grand Inquisitor cupped his hand under the boy's chin. The boy jerked his head away. 'Ah, we have a spirited one. Does he have the mark?'

'I could not find it, Your Eminence.' The castrato paused, before adding, 'I examined him ... thoroughly.'

'Still, with a voice like his we cannot take chances.' The Grand Inquisitor ran his manicured fingers over the boy's roughly shaved head. 'How did you find him?'

'The Moor was protecting him. I had a spy placed in his household days ago when he first became a nuisance. Her presence finally bore fruit.'

'Ah, Don Grigori, my most loyal friend, you will be doubly rewarded.'

Don Grigori kissed the Grand Inquisitor's lips. It was a dutiful kiss, one to seal a promise rather than sustain a dalliance. Those desires had ceased for Don Grigori years ago with the nip of a knife.

CHAPTER 2

A FALSE EDEN


The Grand Inquisitor stepped on to his balcony and inhaled the perfumes of his gardens. A warm breeze rippled the sparkling water in a chain of ponds, where faceless human statues cavorted with odd reptilian creatures. A great phallic fountain with a blue globe at its base soared at the centre of this secret garden, designed for the Grand Inquisitor's eyes alone. Every tree in the garden was heavy with strange, lush fruits, and creatures that had no place in the world outside frolicked in the foliage. Perched on a drooping branch, a peculiar, oblong-shaped owl stared back at the Grand Inquisitor with wide, lidless eyes.

The Grand Inquisitor regretted what he had to do, but he had spent too long in this place enjoying the hospitality of the Spanish Inquisition. The Moor, Don Alessandro de Mendoza, was drawing close and he couldn't afford to have his plans exposed. He must retreat once again, let his network of soldiers and spies continue under Don Grigori's leadership, while he rested and rejuvenated. After all, time was the Grand Inquisitor's closest ally. As for the Camarilla, they were as ancient as the Knights Templar and their mission just as sacred. With Don Grigori at the helm, the Camarilla would be ruthless and unwavering.

With one last lingering look at the view, the Grand Inquisitor reached under the stiff collar of his robes and lifted an ivory pitch pipe to his lips. He played a note and held it for a long beat before releasing it.

The sound raked over his glorious garden. Tines of yellow light turned over the soil as if under an imaginary plough, and cyclones of dirt swirled into the air, each leaving dark holes in the ground. From each cavity a swarm of scarlet flying beetles, the size of dragonflies, burst from the earth to hover in a thrumming cloud above the Grand Inquisitor's false Eden.

He put the pipe to his lips again. Now the red swarm mowed over the landscape like locusts, devouring everything, reducing the garden to a wasteland of sticks and stones, shattered statues and contorted limbs. The Grand Inquisitor surveyed the scene with a frown.

Behind him, Don Grigori cleared his throat.

The Grand Inquisitor tucked the pitch pipe on its velvet ribbon under his collar.

'It is good we leave here, Don Grigori,' he said. 'We have grown too comfortable in this time and place.'

'What do you intend to do, Your Eminence?' A stray beetle fluttered in from the garden, landing on Don Grigori's exaggerated cuff. He flicked it off with a long finger. 'The Moor's sorcery is strong. My spies tell me even our Queen trusts him intimately. And I fear he has others of his kind within his immediate circle.'

'The Moor's persistence has exhausted me. I should have listened to you, my friend. We should have left this place sooner.' The Grand Inquisitor squeezed Don Grigori's shoulder, the gesture close to an apology. 'However, I have arranged to correct this indulgence. Our portrait is almost complete. I think I'd like to venture west. Perhaps explore the new world beyond the horizon. We appear to have worn out our welcome in this old one. A ship bound for Hispaniola waits at Marbella for us. The ship's captain belongs to our trusted Camarilla, and has been well compensated. He and his crew will ensure our slumber is protected during the journey.'

'What of the Moor, Your Eminence?'

The Grand Inquisitor smiled coldly. 'Others are dealing with him and his cabal as we speak. He should not trouble us for much longer.'

'And the boy?'

The Grand Inquisitor considered his options. Such a truly divine voice, but without the mark the boy was merely a distraction. He poured two goblets of wine and held one out to Don Grigori.

'If the child does not bear the mark, then he is worthless to me, but the Vatican choir will be the richer for his voice.' He brushed the back of his hand across Don Grigori's soft cheek. 'Especially since the Pope has never forgiven me for stealing you away.'

'I'll take the boy below,' said Don Grigori, pausing to savour the rich red liquid in his goblet.

The boy whimpered. It was the only sound he'd made since he'd stopped singing.

'And remind the barber he is no longer the village butcher,' added the Grand Inquisitor. 'If he is not more precise in his cuts, he will be retired. Permanently. The fool has made far too many mistakes of late. It was likely one of his slips of the blade that brought the Moor's attention to us in the first place.'

'I will take care of this boy personally,' said Don Grigori, draining the goblet. 'It will be my pleasure. And perhaps one day he and I may sing for the gods together.'

The child's whimpering cries suddenly rose up in a series of notes that shocked the older men. The goblet fell from the Grand Inquisitor's hand and smashed on the shining tiles as a visible whip of sound threw Don Grigori against the nearest wall like a ragdoll.

'Why, you —'

The Grand Inquisitor raised his hand to strike the boy, but the song was too beautiful, too seductive, too pure, too divine. His imagination tilted. Tendrils of fog snaked at his feet, paralyzing him in his velvet slippers. His overfed body swayed to the aching melody while his mind struggled against the music as it swelled in a silver mist around him.

'Silence ... him!' The Grand Inquisitor gasped. 'He has the mark, he must ... Don Grigori, silence him!'

But the castrato lay slumped in the corner, his long legs splayed uselessly in front of him, leaving the Grand Inquisitor fighting to purge the boy's voice from his imagination alone. The effort was sapping his concentration. He could not make his hands do what his brain wanted of them. Helplessly, he raised his fat fingers in the air as if conducting the ribbons of sound swirling around his legs.

Don Grigori groaned as wraithlike vapours of perfect music carpeted the chamber, reaching across his fallen body and pressing him to the floor, the melody slowly squeezing the air from his lungs.

Blood wept from the Grand Inquisitor's eyes and ears. 'Who has trained you?' he gasped, fighting on. 'Whom do you serve?'

The boy's voice only rose higher, shattering the gilt-framed mirrors on the walls and the crystal decanters on the table, raining shards of glass. A dense curl of mist wrapped around the handles of the balcony doors and flipped the key from the lock.

The Grand Inquisitor's vision was a blur. Tearing his pitch pipe from under his robes he dragged himself to the balcony windows, pressing his free palm to the glass and blowing feebly.

At once the scarlet beetles rose from the charred earth and charged the balcony doors like a million tiny red arrows, coating the panes in crushed shells and dark inky blood.

The boy sang on.

The Grand Inquisitor jiggled the gold handles hopelessly, his sweaty hands slipping, his fleshy elbow thumping into the stained glass over and over again. This century's appetites had weakened him. Full of bile and riddled with gout, he had become soft and lazy, his powerful magic muted. In desperation, he blew once more into his pipe. This time the beetles rose off the balcony and formed a battering ram, their scarlet shells gleaming in the midday sun, to pummel the door over and over again until a web of cracks spidered across the thick glass.

The frenzied fog of sound whipped around the Grand Inquisitor's neck, his chin, his face, enveloping him, pressing the pipe against his pocked chin. He toppled to the ground, his body mummified in a web of ropey fibres, leaving only one eye left to stare at the boy through tears of blood.

The balcony doors shattered.

CHAPTER 3

PERFECT PITCH


The beetles encased the boy in seconds, filling his mouth, clogging his throat and choking his voice. He swallowed some and spat out the rest in sticky clumps. Shaking as many off as he could manage, he twisted his robe up over his head, knotting it off like a hood. He mustered a rondo, a repeating phrase he'd learned years ago from his father before he died in a hunting accident, the melody rushing from his imagination.

But the beetles and his exhaustion were winning. The mist and its effects were beginning to dissipate. And Don Grigori was stirring. The boy collapsed to his knees, his voice faltering. Groaning, the castrato reached for his mummified master.

With an explosive splintering of wood the chamber doors burst open and a tall, brown-skinned soldier crashed into the room, wielding a sword in each hand. His breeches were tucked inside black riding boots, knives sheathed on their silver buckles, and his head was wrapped in a low yellow turban. Opals pierced his ears and a fist-sized golden tablet etched with peculiar glyphs rested at the glistening V of his open tunic.

Two of the Grand Inquisitor's household guards leaped into the chamber after him. The soldier pivoted, lunged at the guard to his left, piercing his neck. Before the first guard fell, the soldier feigned a counter-parry, cross-stepped, and lunged at the second guard, stabbing through the hatch in his armour and piercing his heart. The second guard dropped instantly. Smelling fresh blood, a horde of beetles abandoned the boy's head and flocked to the guards instead.

The soldier sheathed his swords. He quickly took measure of the mummified Grand Inquisitor and the stunned castrato before striding to the boy he'd rescued from the slave blocks at Cadiz two months since.

'Damn you, Moor,' croaked Don Grigori.

'I was delayed, child,' said the soldier, soothing the boy with his mind as he spoke in a mash-up of Spanish and Swahili. 'I regret it most bitterly.'

Pulling down his makeshift hood, the boy threw himself into the Moor's arms and pressed his face against the leather bands that criss-crossed the soldier's loose white tunic.

Don Grigori suddenly lunged for the Grand Inquisitor's pipe on the floor.

The Moor put the boy aside, pulled a blade from his boot and, with a brutal swiftness, chopped off the long fingers on the castrato's right hand. Don Grigori flew backwards, howling, his blood spraying the velvet-papered walls.

Fat with the flesh of the slaughtered guards and Don Grigori's severed hand, the beetles swarmed once more around the boy's head and mouth, insatiable in their bloodlust. The Moor pivoted back to the child, calming his small, trembling body and settling his terror as the beetles flew about them both in thick bloody clouds.

Through a gap in the swarm, the Moor's dark eyes caught Don Grigori struggling to lift the enchanted ivory pipe to his own thin lips.

'Boy!' The Moor hissed. 'Sing again, before it is too late!'

But Don Grigori blew on the pipe at exactly the same moment as the boy opened his mouth and struck a perfect high C. Their conjuring rose up in two great dissonant waves of sound, colliding in a blinding white explosion of music and marble.

CHAPTER 4

SMOKE IN THE AIR


On the red mountain bordering the Grand Inquisitor's garden, the artist gasped, yanked off his skullcap, dropped to his knees and prayed. He then sat back on his haunches and took a sip of ale, then another, and one more for good measure from the pouch fastened at his waist. What had he witnessed? When the sounds had collided, it was as if the earth shifted inside the Grand Inquisitor's chambers with a force so powerful the rear of the palace had collapsed.

He secured his pack round his waist, and climbed quickly from the rocky ledge before jumping the last few metres on to the narrow path that led to the outer wall of the palace, or what was left of it. Ducking behind the remains of a woodshed, the artist waited, but no guards appeared. No one from the village would risk life or limb to come to El Diablo's rescue. The palace and its walled grounds were eerily silent, the air heavy and dry, as if the explosion had created a vacuum to which sound had yet to return. As far as the artist could tell, he was alone.

He ran to the slabs of broken marble and mounds of rubble beneath what was left of the balcony. Staring up at the destruction, he weighed his chances. It would take him, a man deep in his fifth decade, far too long to climb unassisted. What if he should fall or – worse yet – get trapped in the twisted wreckage?

The artist sighed. He did not take lightly what he needed to do. He had to finish this commission, whether the Moor had survived or not. And that meant he would have to animate.

He unfolded a torn piece of parchment, stretched the cloth out on the cracked stones, licked his wooden pencil and drew with great haste, his imagination working to its limits. Steps appeared one after the other, rising in a fat line of blue light from the mosaic-tiled path up into the collapsed chambers.

The artist took them two at a time into the Grand Inquisitor's lair.

CHAPTER 5

WHAT TO DO


Inside the chamber, the air was thick with dust and grime that coated the artist's mouth and throat. He couldn't see the boy amid the chaos. He couldn't see the Grand Inquisitor or Don Grigori either. He prayed they had both been squashed as flat as the dead, scarlet beetles that carpeted the room.

Clambering over the rubble, he saw a hand sticking out from beneath what was left of an iron and wood chest. The chest had snapped in three places, the heaviest part pinning the Moor beneath its weight.

The artist used his own sweat and muscle to lift the broken wood and iron from the Moor's chest. It wasn't enough. The Moor's legs were pinned by something bigger, something the artist couldn't move.

He kneeled by the Moor's turbaned head, which was caked in blood from a gouge slicing through his eyebrow into his scalp. Pulling a paint rag from his pouch, the artist did his best to clean the blood from his friend's face. He pressed his hand to the Moor's chest, but his fingers were shaking too much for him to feel a heartbeat over his own racing pulse. Instead he leaned his ear to the man's lips and listened.

Nothing. Wait. Something. A ragged whistle of air? Perhaps.

Quickly, the artist used a chunk of brick and sketched a pouch filled with water on the ground. It burst from the thick air in an oval of blue light, and landed with a splosh next to the Moor. It was all he could do, other than pray – and complete the mission on his dear friend's behalf.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Conjuror by John Barrowman, Carole E. Barrowman. Copyright © 2016 John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
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.

Table of Contents

Contents

Cover,
Welcome Page,
About Conjuror,
Dedication,
Prologue,
First Movement,
Chapter 1. El Diablo Weeps,
Chapter 2. A False Eden,
Chapter 3. Perfect Pitch,
Chapter 4. Smoke in the Air,
Chapter 5. What to Do,
Chapter 6. Not Even a Croak,
Second Movement,
Chapter 7. Some Kind of Freaky,
Chapter 8. Play Somethin' Sweet,
Chapter 9. Sticky Fingers,
Chapter 10. Out of Words,
Chapter 11. Count to Ten,
Chapter 12. No Dirty Notes,
Chapter 13. Run, Rémy, Run!,
Chapter 14. What Dying Sounds Like,
Chapter 15. Blackbird,
Chapter 16. Taco Tuesday,
Chapter 17. Lord of the Flies,
Chapter 18. We all Fall Down,
Chapter 19. Take this and Go,
Third Movement,
Chapter 20. Time Travel Sucks,
Chapter 21. Outside the High Kirk,
Chapter 22. Mothballs and Lilacs,
Chapter 23. Banksy and Merlin,
Chapter 24. Midnight in Paris,
Chapter 25. Not My Fault,
Chapter 26. Old Friends,
Fourth Movement,
Chapter 27. A Higher Cause,
Chapter 28. Memories of You,
Chapter 29. Mi Casa Es Tu Casa,
Chapter 30. Still Freaky,
Chapter 31. Scalding Tea and Burning Questions,
Chapter 32. Death and Dust,
Chapter 33. Magic and Revelation,
Chapter 34. The Price of Freedom,
Chapter 35. Time to Go,
Chapter 36. Making the Headlines,
Chapter 37. Trifling Details,
Chapter 38. Casting Call,
Chapter 39. Open for Visitors,
Chapter 40. A Cabinet of Curiosities,
Chapter 41. Inside the V&A,
Chapter 42. Into the Wardrobe,
Chapter 43. Exit the Building,
Chapter 44. Making Tracks,
Chapter 45. Let Me Go,
Chapter 46. Too Much Awesome,
Chapter 47. Putting it Together,
Chapter 48. This Happened,
Chapter 49. Fast Learners,
Chapter 50. Annie's Journal,
Fifth Movement,
Chapter 51. Hot as Hades,
Chapter 52. Driving While Invisible,
Chapter 53. Turn Round,
Chapter 54. In Chains,
Chapter 55. Guilt Trip,
Chapter 56. The Second Kingdom,
Chapter 57. Captives,
Chapter 58. The Final Cut,
Chapter 59. Reunion,
Chapter 60. Introductions,
Chapter 61. Street Fighting Man,
Questions for Your Book Club,
About John & Carole E. Barrowman,
Also by John & Carole E. Barrowman,
An Invitation from the Publisher,
Copyright,

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