Charlie lived a quiet life—until his father was suddenly kidnapped by the Iron Cog. In the midst of searching for his father, Charlie discovered the shocking truth about himself: he is one of his father’s inventions—a living clockwork boy!
Now separated from his friends, Charlie finds himself in the service of a very tough company of dwarves, who view him only as a machine—that is, until a heroic act makes them his closest allies. Soon Charlie must rescue his friends and face the Iron Cog head-on. But Charlie wonders . . . will he ever find his own kind?
Praise for The Kidnap Plot:
“Reminiscent of both Pinocchio and The Great Mouse Detective, this novel is tailor-made for young readers who love adventure narratives and steampunk fiction.” —Kirkus
“A page-turning adventure.” —School Library Journal
“The fast-paced plot is action-packed. . . . [The Kidnap Plot] should satisfy fans of fantasy and adventure.” —Publishers Weekly
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Series:||Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie Series , #2|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|Lexile:||720L (what's this?)|
|File size:||27 MB|
|Note:||This product may take a few minutes to download.|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Royal Magical Society simply cannot engage in more frequent weather manipulation than it already does. The problem is not the society’s lack of power, but the fact that after every arcane action to reduce local humidity, or “cloud squeezing,” as you call it, there is an equal reaction of dramatic precipitation and winds. Storms, sir. Sudden and violent storms.
--from a speech by Thaumaturge Hugh Rifflestop, Member for Oxfordshire, regarding the Weather Improvement Bill
“That cloud’s not making me very ’appy,” Heaven-Bound Bob said.
“Nor me,” added Natalie de Minimis. She flapped her green wings furiously against a sudden gust. The wind rocked the flyer, but Natalie—Gnat—was a pixie and stood only as tall as Charlie’s waist. Her wings were strong indeed to keep her in place against the blast of air.
Charlie looked up. All day, their second day out of London, he had watched the bright fields and the dark patches of forest alternate, several hundred feet beneath his shoes. This afternoon, he had seen fewer and fewer fields, and more and more trees.
Bob operated her flyer. It was a pair of wings she had built, stabilized by a belt of clockwork devices called the Articulated Gyroscopes, which fastened across the wings’ upper sides. Charlie’s father had made the gyroscopes, and the sight of them filled Charlie with both warmth and sorrow.
Had it only been two days since his father had been murdered?
It seemed longer.
Charlie stuck his hand into his coat pocket to touch the two halves of his bap’s pipe. The same events that had killed his bap had snapped his bap’s smoking pipe in two.
The broken pieces nestled in a tangle of bills. Charlie had taken the money from his father’s shop before leaving London, but if he had to choose between the broken pipe and the banknotes, the pipe seemed the greater inheritance.
Bob operated the flyer and Charlie rode in front. They were each strapped underneath the wings with a leather harness. Ollie hung coiled around Charlie’s neck in the form of a smallish yellow-green constrictor. Ollie could be various kinds of snakes, all of which were yellow or yellow-green in color. When he was in his boy form, Ollie had bright red hair and a habitual scowl.
Charlie looked up and saw the cloud. It roiled from horizon to horizon, black, and lightning crackled in its underside. This was bad news for the flyer, but even worse news for Gnat—water would damage her butterfly-like wings.
“Where did that come from?” Charlie could have sworn the horizon had been clear only a minute earlier.
“An’ ’ow did it get ’ere so fast?”
“Can we fly over it?” Charlie asked.
“Not likely, my china.” Bob was already leaning the nose of the flyer down, beginning to descend. “If you was alone, maybe, but there ain’t enough air up top of those clouds for blokes like me an’ Ollie to breathe.”
“Nor for me.” Gnat flew closer in to Charlie, sheltering under the wing of the flyer.
Charlie was careful not to laugh when Bob said blokes. Bob talked and dressed and acted like a boy, but she wasn’t one, and she had sworn him to secrecy about that fact. Even Ollie didn’t know, she’d said.
A spatter of moisture struck Charlie in his face, and the afternoon sun disappeared behind the edge of the cloud. “Maybe we’d better land.”
“Indomitably.” Bob pushed the flyer into a steeper descent.
Charlie laughed. “Do you mean indubitably?”
Before Bob could answer, the spatter of rain turned into a hard hammer of wind. It swelled from below and knocked the flyer nearly straight up. Gnat yelped and clung to Charlie’s coat. Ollie squeezed Charlie’s neck tight—which would have strangled Bob, but only made Charlie uncomfortable.
Charlie didn’t need to breathe. The man he’d known as his bap—or his father—was really his inventor, a fact Charlie had only learned in recent days. Charlie’s friend Bob, also an inventor and engineer as well as an aeronaut, had taken a small box of spare parts for Charlie from Mr. Pondicherry’s shelves before she, Charlie, and the others had left London. That precious cargo hung strapped to the flyer’s undercarriage.
“ ’Ang on!” Bob held the loops that controlled the flyer, and Charlie heard her twisting and pulling at both the straps. For a moment, the thundercloud looked as if it were going to spin underneath the craft and become a carpet for their feet, and then the flyer leveled out.
“That’s it, Bob!” Charlie cheered on his friend. “Now bring us down!” The fields had disappeared, and the ground below was one dark tangle of trees.
“Can’t!” Bob grunted. “The flyer’s not answering!”
Charlie twisted around in his straps to look back at the aeronaut. Her face was red and her cheeks puffed out. She grinned when she caught Charlie’s eye, though.
“Is it broken?” Charlie shouted to be heard over the storm, which was getting louder by the second.
“Wind! I reckon we could ’ave Ollie turn back into a lad. The weight would bring us down quick enough!”
Charlie laughed. “May I help?” he said, but it wasn’t really a question. Before Bob could answer, he turned around. Then he unbuckled himself out of the harness and backed up against her so he could grab the straps, too.
Ollie took the occasion to slither off Charlie’s shoulders and back onto Bob, disappearing inside the sleeve of her peacoat. Gnat flapped her wings, snapping off droplets of water.
How much rain would it take to damage her wings, and what would happen to Gnat then?
Bob was the aeronaut, but Charlie was the strongest. He was the fastest, too, although feats of speed and strength wound his springs down faster, and if his springs wound all the way down, he would pass out.
“Help me know what to do,” he said, and then he followed Bob’s motions. Where Bob pulled with her left hand, Charlie pulled with his—only with more strength. Where she squeezed the straps tight, he squeezed them tighter.
The wind was a stampeding bull. Gritting their teeth and putting all their strength into it, Charlie and Bob both ground the straps back, pulling down the smaller flaps that made the flyer rise and fall.
“That’s it!” Bob cried.
A gigantic column of white lightning, which seemed almost within arm’s reach, slammed down past the four friends and shattered trees. Charlie saw a fire spring up, but only out of the corner of his eye, because the wind, stronger from moment to moment, whisked them past.
“Bring us down now,” Bob suggested. “Over on that ’ill.”
The little bluff was a good choice of landmark, because everything else was just knotted forest, each acre identical as far as Charlie could see. Charlie pulled on the straps and angled down toward the hill.
A clearing marked one side of the hill, like a man going bald only in front. Charlie aimed right for the bare forehead. It showed gray clumps, probably outcroppings of rock, but there was plenty of green, too. He steered for the green, hoping it was a meadow of soft grass. Even with a little luck, it was going to be a rough landing.
The ground came closer. Lightning flashed again; in the white light the rocks on the hill looked like teeth. Gnat gripped Charlie’s coat more tightly.
The tops of the trees were only a few yards beneath Charlie’s and Bob’s feet, and Charlie guided the flyer, aiming to just drift over the top of the last trees and drop into what he could now see was a wide green meadow with a brook running across it.
Wind shoved the flyer down without warning—
Charlie dipped, and a thick-boled pine loomed in front of him.
“Up!” he yelled. “Higher!”
He and Bob both pulled, and the flyer’s nose veered skyward again.
Charlie banged into the tree trunk, let go, and fell.
The collision knocked Gnat free, and Charlie lost track of her. He had one brief glimpse of Bob’s dangling feet as she pulled the flyer away from and over the top of the pine tree. She cleared the highest branches, and then the wind wrenched her out of Charlie’s sight too.
He hit the ground hard.
“Bob!” he yelled, but she was gone.
Charlie lay in the mud and grass for only a few seconds, rain splashing into his face, before he scrambled to his feet. He looked at the hill around him, guessed which direction Bob might have gone, and ran.
Charlie moved with a limp because, under Waterloo Station, Bob had pulled a pin from his inner mechanism to use as a lockpick, and since she’d put it back, he had not been quite the same. But the limp didn’t slow Charlie down.
The rain sloshed on Charlie’s head. He missed his father’s John Bull hat, which had been shot off Charlie’s head in a milking parlor in London. The water poured through his jacket, and Charlie felt the cold like needles.
He ran to the center of the meadow, where he could see the most sky. Standing on the bank of the little stream, he threw back his head and scanned the clouds and the woods for any sign of Bob, Ollie, and Gnat.
Lightning flashes and distant fire, but not a glimpse of his friends.
“Bob!” he yelled. “Booooooooooob! Gnat!”
Still no sign.
He ran again. He slipped and fell more as the soft black earth turned into soup, and he made up for each fall by pushing himself faster. Down the hill, across a ravine, up another hill to the top of a high chalk cliff with a wide view of a wooded valley below.
No indication of his friends. No flyer in the sky.
He was alone.
But there—a light. Not the orange curtain of a forest on fire, but something smaller and more tidy.
Charlie slid down the face of the chalk, coating himself with the thick, white, claylike earth. At the bottom he rolled, and tumbled through a bramble of thorns.
Jumping to his feet, he found a path. It was wide, rutted by wheels and churned by animals’ hooves, and although it wound one direction and then the other, it seemed to go generally toward the light Charlie could still see in the forest.
He ran. When the path turned too far to one side, he left it, shattering branches with his face and forearms as he plunged through the woods, only to find himself again on the path as it turned back the other direction.
The first time his leg jerked, Charlie skewed sideways in a slick carpet of pine needles and collided with a tree.
Lying on the ground, he considered his plight. The leg twitch was a sign that his mainspring was nearly unwound. When it unwound completely, Charlie would lose consciousness. Passing out would not be a problem if he were with his friends, who could roll him over onto his belly and wind him up again.
Alone, in a forest, in the middle of nowhere . . . if he lost consciousness, Charlie might never wake up.
Charlie rose, found the faint glimmer again, and walked.
He stepped deliberately. He didn’t turn his head, trying to conserve energy. He stuck his hands in his pockets to avoid swinging his arms.
And he found that the bowl of his bap’s pipe was missing. He curled his fingers around the lonely stem.
Could he leave Bap’s pipe behind?
He had no choice. Stepping carefully, he continued his march.
A second twitch brought Charlie to his knees. He rose to his feet and kept going.
Emerging from a last thin veil of saplings, he found himself at the edge of a small clearing. The road ran along one end of it, and at the other stood three crimson wagons, circled around a small fire pit containing a merry flame.
The wagons had oversized wheels, and even in the darkness Charlie could see that their trim was all gold-painted. He’d seen such wagons before, in London.
He stepped out of the woods and into the center of a circle of dwarf wagons.
The third twitch dropped Charlie face-first into the mud.
Darkness took him.
Dwarf names are reputedly serial numbers, each dwarf in an extended family receiving the number next in order as his personal name. It is unknown whether dwarfs have separate family names or whether each dwarf’s number includes a series of digits identifying the dwarf’s lineage. Even personal names may be difficult to learn, as dwarfs are reluctant to speak one another’s names to outsiders.
—from Reginald St. John Smythson, Almanack of the Elder Folk and Arcana of Britain and Northern Ireland, 2nd ed., “Dwarf”
Charlie sat on a stool beside a large stone fireplace, its fire burned down to an orange heap of coals. The coals weren’t bright enough to light the entire room, so all Charlie saw was the packed-earth floor in front of the fire, a rocking chair, and a person sitting in the chair.
“Bap!” Charlie tried to stand, but he couldn’t rise off the stool.
Bap smiled. He had the twinkling eyes Charlie knew, but to Charlie’s surprise he wore a red-checked dress and a kitchen apron. “Listen to me, boy.” It wasn’t Bap’s voice. It was a woman’s voice, cheerful and twangy, with something metallic in it. Charlie didn’t recognize it. “Listen to me.”
“I’m here,” Charlie said.
“Come to the mountain,” lady-voiced Bap said.
“What mountain?” Charlie asked.
Bap pointed into the coals. “I have something I must show you.” Bap started wrapping his hands in his apron, and as he did, Charlie noticed the backs of both hands were covered in fur.
“What is it?”
“It’s something important, Charlie. Something very important you should know about yourself.”
What could that be?
His hands completely wrapped in the apron now, Bap reached toward the coals.
Charlie opened his eyes.
Had he been dreaming? Charlie had never dreamed. Before he could think about it, though, he realized he wasn’t alone.
There was a dwarf.
The dwarf was Charlie’s height, but thicker. His beard was black and braided in three thick strands down his chest. The braids were interwoven with thin gold wire. Beneath his beard the dwarf wore a sleeveless leather jacket with multiple pockets, and on his head he had a bright crimson scarf. He wore red-and-white-striped trousers tucked into sturdy boots laced up just above his ankles.
The dwarf sat on a boulder and squinted at Charlie. “Praise earth and sky, it’s not broken.” He was talking to someone behind him, rather than to Charlie.
“Hello,” Charlie said. “What’s not broken?”
“I’m not an it.”
The dwarf frowned. “Mechanical devices are its.”
Charlie cringed a little. “My name’s Charlie.”
“I shall call you Donkey.”
“My other donkeys have names.” The dwarf jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and Charlie saw a little herd of the beasts grazing in the meadow. “There are Bill, Mary, Bess, Jim, Victoria, and Bad Luck John.”
It took Charlie a moment to recognize the names, but when he did, he laughed. “You named your donkeys after kings and queens of England?” William, Mary, Elizabeth, James, Victoria, and John, who had been Prince John in the Robin Hood ballads. He had been such a bad king that no king of England since had ever been named John.
“I did.” The dwarf nodded. “And someday, if you pull your load without complaint, I may call you Harry.”
“But my name’s Charlie. And there have been two King Charleses.”
“Your name’s Donkey. Don’t you forget it.”
Charlie looked down at himself. He was still filthy with mud and chalk, and he had pine needles, grass, and small branches stuck to his jacket. “Thank you for . . . waking me up.”
“I didn’t wake you up.” The dwarf’s stare was cold. “You’re not awake. I wound your spring.”
“Thank you.” Charlie stood. He brushed off the biggest clumps of needles from his coat and the seat of his trousers. “Can you tell me which way is the road for Cader Idris?” Cader Idris was a mountain in Wales, which was somewhere west of London. Charlie’s bap had a friend named Caradog Pritchard who lived on Cader Idris. The Iron Cog, the evil organization that had killed Charlie’s father, also wanted revenge on Pritchard. Charlie and his friends had left London to warn the man.
Could Cader Idris also be the mountain that the lady-voiced Bap had been talking about in Charlie’s dream?
The dwarf sucked his teeth. “You one of the Old Man’s?”
Charlie shook his head. “I beg your pardon?”
The dwarf spat. “You belong to me now, then. You’ll get to Cader Idris if and when I take you there, Donkey.”
Charlie turned and started to walk away.
“You won’t get far,” the dwarf called.
Charlie snorted and broke into a run.
He left the three gold-trimmed wagons behind, and the herd of donkeys, and the clearing. With each step he pushed himself faster, and because he knew Wales was somewhere to the west, he ran away from the rising sun. The ground was moist, but the worst of the mud had solidified and the sky overhead was clear.
He had only run a mile when his legs began to twitch.
He ran faster.
“Gnat! Bob! Ollie!” he yelled.
His body stopped working and he pitched forward into unconsciousness again.