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Seth and the Book of Knowledge


Kathryn England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

World Castle Publishing, LLC

Pensacola, Florida

Copyright © Kathryn England 2018

Smashwords Edition

Paperback ISBN: 9781629899923

eBook ISBN: 9781629899930

First Edition World Castle Publishing, LLC, September 10, 2018

Smashwords Licensing Notes

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.

Cover: Karen Fuller

Editor: Maxine Bringenberg

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chatper Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chatper Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter One

Seth stood at the back of the Great Hall, heart thumping, teeth chattering, hands shaking, knees knocking. He’d been summoned from class by the Wizards’ Council. Its three members were deep in conference. All had bushy white eyebrows and long white beards that disappeared under the table at which they were seated.

He wondered what he’d done wrong. He was only an apprentice wizard, and sometimes things didn’t go the way they were supposed to. His spells were very unpredictable.

His cheeks glowed hot. Maybe they’d found out that he’d turned Dorphin of the Highlands into a frog. Dorphin was a bully, and had been giving Seth’s best friend, Mim, a hard time for ages. Seth couldn’t believe it when his spell had actually worked. He’d only left it on Dorphin for a little while, just long enough to teach him a lesson. But his taste of success had consequences. He had to stay back every day for a whole week writing ‘I must not turn children into frogs’ on the wizard school blackboard.


He jumped.

“Come forward!” Mendolin ordered.

Galdrummond and Wherewithal regarded Seth without expression when he tripped over his full-length purple cape as he approached the table. Like everything else, the cape was too big. He adjusted the cone hat with the silver stars and half moons that kept slipping down over his eyes.

It seemed to take ages to get from the back of the Great Hall to the front. Seth walked solemnly past wooden benches stacked haphazardly around the room like discarded playthings. Thick tables intricately carved out of fallen trees from the Forest of the Evergreens were laid one upon the other, their previously shiny oiled surfaces covered in a layer of dust.

The Great Hall had once been used for many things—conferences, weddings, feasts, harvest celebrations—but since the appearance of Mordlon it had become a vast, empty space. Not a note of music had been played there for three long years.

Finally, Seth reached the panel of wizards.

“We have something to discuss with you, young Seth.” Mendolin’s eyebrows were drawn so close together they formed a continuous line, leaving no space even for a wrinkle.

“If it’s about the frog thing…,” Seth began. He was too nervous to notice the faint twinkle in Mendolin’s piercing blue eyes or the slight curve of his lips.

“No, it’s not about that.” Mendolin glanced at Galdrummond and Wherewithal. Both were trying valiantly to suppress a smile. He gave them each a kick under the table to bring an appropriate look of displeasure to their faces.

Galdrummond rested his elbows on the table, twirled the ends of his moustache into peaks, and cleared his throat. He forced his voice to assume the required tone. “Since you bring it up, you are aware, are you not, young apprentice, that magic is not a tool to be used for your own ends. Don’t they teach you anything at school?”

Seth hung his head. “Yes, sir.” However, try as he might, he could not hide his inner joy at having successfully cast a spell.

“That sort of magic is for the faint-hearted,” Wherewithal added. “As you grow older you will realize that selfish magic requires no real skill. Only a true wizard will learn to control this. You may struggle with it all your life. Spells cast for the good of others, they are hardest to achieve.”

Seth believed that his spell had been cast for Mim’s good. But deep down he knew it could have ended in disaster. What if he hadn’t been able to change Dorphin back? How embarrassing would it have been to have had to catch him and take him, wriggling and croaking, to his teacher to reverse the spell?

“You do want to become a true wizard, a Wizard of the Light, don’t you, Seth?” Mendolin asked.

Seth raised his head and his eyes shone with an inner fire. “More than ever, sir.”

Before Seth had replied, Mendolin already knew what his answer would be. He’d been following Seth’s progress for seven years, ever since his mother had noticed his powers and brought him before the Wizards’ Council when he was just five. That’s how it was. Some children had the power passed down from long ago, from ancient ancestors, perhaps skipping several generations in the process. The challenge was to harness that energy and turn it into a force to defeat evil.

Many wizard children dropped out and went back to regular school, often at the urging of their parents and to their great relief. Raising a wizard was a big responsibility, and some were just not up to it. But Seth’s mother, widowed soon after his birth, was proud of her son. She was certain that the wizard power came from her late husband’s side of the family, and was determined to be true to his memory.

The boy had such inherent goodness in him. The potential to be a great and powerful wizard was already apparent for those who had eyes to see it. Mendolin could see auras. This child positively glowed, although others were not aware of it. Even Galdrummond and Wherewithal could not see the silvery radiance enveloping the child’s body like a cocoon. Of course, Seth was just a boy and still played childish pranks, such as the frog episode.

“We need your help, Seth,” Mendolin told him.

Mendolin’s eyes were boring into him and Seth was taken aback. He was sure he must have misheard. The three wizards of the Wizards’ Council needed his help? That wasn’t possible.

“Mordlon has kidnapped Princess Athena of the Golden City,” Mendolin continued.

Seth had seen the princess when she’d visited Elon earlier that year with her parents. She was eleven years old, the daughter of King and Queen Midas. He was full of questions and didn’t know which to ask first. He wondered why he was being told all this anyway.

“You are no doubt aware that the Golden City and our own White Towers of Elon are the only provinces not claimed by Mordlon.” Mendolin paused. Claimed was hardly the word. Defeated, destroyed, laid barren, wasted were more apt descriptions. Once Mordlon’s armies seethed in their evil spewing masses across the land, they left nothing behind. Forests withered and died. Crops failed. Rivers stopped flowing, their clear and sparkling waters left murky and stagnant. The victorious armies turned the unfortunate inhabitants into slaves, and drove them underground into mines to ravage the earth and plunder its riches for the coffers of Mordlon, the Sorcerer of Darkness. He seemed to take a perverse pleasure in marking his territory with the annihilation of anything beautiful.

Mendolin shook his head sadly. So many had died—brave warriors, women, and even children. Mordlon placed no value on human life. He was a wizard gone bad, drunk on his own evil and destructive power. It was only the combined force of Mendolin, Galdrummond, and Wherewithal that had kept him, so far, from sending his armies to attack their beloved White Towers.

But his influence was there for all to see. The City of the Ebony Forest to the north was the first to fall. The City of the Waters of Life to the northeast was captured next. The City of the Ice Mountain in the south was taken last year. That left only the City of Gold and their own White Towers of Elon. All lands bordered each other and were intricately linked in a web of life. The desolation caused by Mordlon’s armies was already seeping across the borders, and had resulted in several crop failures. Even the clouds were now a perpetually murky gray as they sucked moisture from the ruined earth.

“Sir?” Seth’s voice drew Mendolin back from his morbid thoughts. “Why did the evil one kidnap Princess Athena?”

“To make us surrender our own city to him,” Mendolin told him.

Seth was horrified. “We’d never surrender!” His voice quickly slipped back into a questioning tone. He was, after all, only a boy, and matters of war were unfamiliar to him. “Would we?”

“Mordlon knows we would never willingly surrender,” Mendolin said. “And he also knows that the combined powers of Galdrummond, Wherewithal, and I would make a severe dent in his army, though goodness knows it would be only a dent. We believe this evil sorcerer possesses the Book of Knowledge, and has conjured up unearthly creatures and the undead to swell his ranks. Reports have come in that skeletal warriors and wraiths lead his forces.”

Seth shuddered. “He has the undead fighting for him?”

Mendolin nodded. “Even so, he is a coward. He won’t risk a confrontation with us. He has given us an ultimatum. We have one week in which to surrender our city. When the week is up, Princess Athena will be executed.”

“But can’t we combine forces with the City of Gold?” Seth asked.

Mendolin’s frown deepened. “We would be sending fine young men to a certain death, Seth. It is not possible to fight what you cannot see. And Mordlon has decreed that any attack by either army will result in the princess’s immediate execution.”

Something was tugging at Seth’s memory. “The Book of Knowledge. Isn’t that just a myth? We were told about it in school.”

Mendolin shrugged. “Until recently, we all believed it was a legend. It is said that the Great One wrote it aeons ago. Every magic spell, good and bad, is rumored to be in it, including the most evil of all—the raising of the undead. Since Mordlon has an army of undead, he must somehow have come into possession of the book. It’s the only explanation.”

“Why did the Great One write down all the bad spells then? Why didn’t he just leave those out?” Seth thought the Great One, the First Wizard, had made a major mistake.

“Because he wanted the book to be a record, a warning if you like, of the power of magic. Whether the bad spells were written down or not, they already existed and could be found in dark recesses in dark places. Except for the death spell. And the book also has the undoing spells. Without it there would be no way of reversing the worst of evil sorcery.”

All three wizards now stared at Seth, and he wilted under their combined gaze. “What can I do? I’m not a proper wizard. My spells don’t even work. You’re all a million times more powerful than me.”

“Mordlon has warned that if any of us approach the Dark Tower where he has imprisoned the princess, she will die,” Mendolin said.

“But can’t you turn yourselves into—you know, frogs or something, and slip in unnoticed?” Seth asked.

Mendolin suppressed a smile. “Mordlon will know we are there, Seth. He has become very powerful now. He would smell us. With evil surrounding him on all sides and the odor of death and destruction ripe and pungent in his nostrils, our presence would be detected before we got anywhere near the tower. He knows King and Queen Midas are my dearest friends, and that Athena is their only offspring, the heir to the Throne of Gold, a line that has existed for centuries. Queen Midas is in her fiftieth year. There will be no more children.”

“You—you want me to rescue Princess Athena?” Seth was astounded. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t like to have a shot at Mordlon, the perpetrator of such hideous and evil actions. But although he knew he could be brave if need be, he wasn’t stupid. It was true that he’d come second to last in practical wizardry on his last test, but he’d topped his class in wizard theory, so he was no dill. But he also knew his limitations. He was just a boy, twelve years old, and the Wizards’ Council was asking him to march through the forces of Mordlon, undead to boot, and into the Dark Tower to rescue the princess. He didn’t see how it was possible.

“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, Seth,” Mendolin told him. “The decision must be yours and yours alone. Believe me, if I could take your place, I’d do so gladly.”

“But how can I do it? I don’t even know the way. How will I get through the armies? How will I get into the tower, or even through the door? And if I rescue the princess, won’t Mordlon just send his armies in anyway?” Something else just occurred to Seth. “What will Mother say?”

“I’ve spoken to your mother,” Mendolin said. “She knows you are destined to make your mark on the earth. She’s worried, of course, but has given us her blessing provided you are certain this is something you want to do. As for what Mordlon will do if you are able to rescue Athena, I believe that he will send in his armies. But he has made a vital mistake—he’s given us time to think. Your mission is to rescue the princess, but if you can find the Book of Knowledge we can reverse the spell of the undead. That will give us at least an even chance of defeating Mordlon’s armies.”

“Why did you choose me?” Seth asked. “I came second to last in spell casting.”

Mendolin regarded Seth fondly. “Seth, the greatest barrier to your becoming a fine wizard is to doubt yourself. Your own goodness will protect you to a degree, though not from all evil. There are those who are older, yes, and those who are more skilled. But I recognize something great in you, Seth. I am chief wizard, as you know, and I am at this moment looking at my successor.”

Seth fell backwards, as if struck by a great force, and landed with a thud on his bottom. His hat slipped down over his eyes and right on past his nose. He struggled to get up. He had somehow gotten tangled in his cape, and it took a moment to find his feet. When he finally stood up, he adjusted his headgear, brushed the hair from his eyes, and tried to regain some of his dignity.

Galdrummond and Wherewithal did not seem surprised or put out at Mendolin’s statement. Seth had assumed that one of them would be his successor.

“There is something else, Seth,” Mendolin said.

Seth was already having difficulty absorbing what was being asked of him. Rescue the princess. Find the Book of Knowledge. And there was more!

“The reason Mordlon has become so powerful, apart from apparently possessing the Book of Knowledge, is that he has some things that belong to us,” Mendolin continued.

Seth’s eyes widened. “He stole from you?”

“Yes. From me he took the Emerald Stone. In the wrong hands it can be a very dangerous object. The Stone of Courage has created a green fire of jealousy that now burns in Mordlon’s eyes, and he has used the gem to fuel that fire.”

“From me he took the Sapphire Stone,” Galdrummond said. “The stone represents the Rivers of Compassion, but it has turned his heart as cold as an ice flow.”

“He has my Ruby Stone,” Wherewithal told Seth. “Normally a symbol of the Essence of Life, it now colors these lands red with innocent blood.”

“You want the stones back?” Seth asked. It was not really a question. It was obvious. Three more tasks had been added to the impossible list.

“Mordlon has hidden the gems in his tower,” Mendolin said. “He dares not carry them with him because he knows we would endeavor to get them back.” Mendolin studied the hopeless expression on Seth’s face and spoke as gently as he could. “Because the gems are ours—more than that, they are almost a part of us—they will be drawn to something that belongs to each of us. We wouldn’t expect you to search without at least a little help. We will all give you something to aid you in your quest.”

“So if I take these things from each of you, it’ll help me find the gems?” Seth asked.

“Yes. And if you can do that, as well as recover the Book of Knowledge, Mordlon will lose most of his power. He has very little real power of his own. His strength lies in what he has stolen.”

When Seth’s legs began to tremble, Mendolin tweaked his nose at a chair beside a wall. It slid across the marble floor with an ear-piercing squeal and rammed itself unceremoniously behind Seth’s knees, making him sink into it. But he was grateful. He hoped by now he’d been told everything. There was just so much his brain could absorb.

“That’s it?” he whispered hopefully.

“That’s it,” Mendolin answered. “Do you want time to think about it?”

“What if I said no?”

“Then we would ask for a volunteer.”

“A wizard?”


“Someone who isn’t strong enough to smell like a real wizard?”

Mendolin smiled. “Yes.”

“But you asked me first because you think I can do it?”

“That’s right.”

Seth shut his eyes and went through it all again. Mendolin, the chief wizard, had asked him, Seth, second to last in practical wizardry, to undertake this quest because he thought he was capable of rescuing the princess and saving the whole of Earth from Mordlon, the most powerful and evil sorcerer ever. What was there to think about?

He opened his eyes. “I’ll do it.”

Chapter Two

Seth had been given the afternoon to say his goodbyes and prepare himself. He would leave Elon the following morning. When he pulled the heavy doors of the Great Hall shut behind him, Mim was waiting on the steps. School was out for the day. The sixth day of the week was always a half day.

Mim was about the same age as Seth, although no one knew precisely how old he was. He had simply wandered into Elon when he was just a toddler, apparently arriving out of thin air. It was rumored that a beautiful young woman had clutched him to her breast and smothered him in kisses before pointing him in the direction of the town.

This story was borne out by Old Leopold, an elderly man who lived on the edge of the Forest of the Evergreens, who swore blind—because he was blind—that a woman and laughing child had passed by him, but that only the woman had returned the same way. No one doubted Old Leopold. His blindness made his other senses as sharp as the thorns on a needle bush. He could smell rain hours before the clouds became heavy, and he could distinguish the movements of a lizard from those of a snake and the tread of a horse from that of a donkey. He knew the sound of the eagle’s wing as it swooped on the rabbit, and the scurrying of the squirrels in the branches. He could tell by a person’s footsteps whether they carried anything. And he could distinguish the scent of a woman from the smell of a man.

Despite the rumor, no trace of the woman was found. Mendolin searched for days right to the borders of Elon, but the child’s mother had vanished as mysteriously as she had appeared.

There was no shortage of couples wanting to adopt Mim. His dark hair, laughing eyes, and happy disposition charmed everyone. Mendolin had chosen a childless couple in their fortieth years. They had lost hope of having a child of their own, and Mim’s appearance added complete joy to their lives. He’d been named Mim, because that was the only word he could say.

Seth and Mim were very different in looks. Where Mim’s hair was black, sleek as a raven’s feathered coat, and reached to his shoulders, Seth wore his wavy, light brown hair short. Seth was slender with angular features, while Mim had a more rounded appearance.

“What did they say?” Mim asked. “Did you tell them you cast a spell? Did they think it was great? Did you get the wizards’ tick of approval?”

“Not exactly.” Now that the meeting was over, Seth took off the cape and hat. Mim grabbed the hat and stuck it on his head. It fit perfectly. He linked his arm in Seth’s as they kicked stones along the cobbled street. “I got another lecture,” Seth told him.

“Ah well, don’t worry about it,” Mim said. “They’ll get over it. What do they expect anyway? You’re an apprentice wizard. You’re supposed to cast spells.”

“I’m not supposed to use magic to solve personal problems,” Seth informed him.

“Well, it wasn’t personal. It was for me. And I’m not you. So that’s not personal, is it?” Mim reasoned.

They had turned into an alley. As they neared the end, three boys stepped out from behind some wooden crates stacked outside the rear of a tavern.

“Well, well. What have we here? High and mighty Wizard Boy and his dopey sidekick,” Dorphin sneered. He was a big lad, but his two companions were of slight build and stood a couple of steps behind.

“What do you want, dorky Dorphin?” Mim said. “You liked being a frog, did you? I must say it was a big improvement.”

Seth elbowed Mim. He had a lot on his mind, and the last thing he wanted was a fight with Dorphin. If Mim didn’t have such a big mouth, the whole frog thing mightn’t have happened. Mim obviously expected a repeat performance. He could hurl as many insults as he liked, because he expected Seth to back him up with a spell.

Dorphin stepped up to Mim. “You wanna eat your nose, pointy head?”

Mim looked at Seth and raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

“Well what?” Seth asked.

“Go on then. Turn the slimeball into a frog. Or maybe a toad this time.” Mim’s eyes glowed expectantly.

“I can’t do that, Mim. I’m not allowed.”

“I’m not allowed,” Dorphin mimicked, then looked behind him for support. The other two boys laughed nervously.

“What do you mean, you’re not allowed?” Mim said. “Who’s gonna know? Just turn these three into toads and leave ‘em that way.”

The two smaller boys took off.

“Hey!” Dorphin yelled after them. “You come back here!” Instead of three against two it was now two against one, and he didn’t appear to like the odds.

Mim put his hands on his hips. “I believe you asked me if I’d like to eat my nose. Actually, I wouldn’t.’”

“Come on, Mim,” Seth said. “Let’s forget it.”

“I’ll give you something you won’t forget,” Dorphin said. He shoved Mim out of the way and punched Seth right on the nose. As he tasted his own blood when it dripped into his mouth, Seth felt an awful anger well up inside him. His eyes glistened and he began to chant.

Dorphin turned and ran as fast as his legs would carry him, all the time waiting to be shrunk to ground level. He heaved a sigh of relief as he rounded the corner of the alley, still upright on just two legs.

Mim was crestfallen. “It didn’t work. How come this time it didn’t work?”

Seth wiped his bloody nose. “It wasn’t a spell. It was just mumbo jumbo.”

“Well, why are you mumbo jumboing when you could be…could be…spelling?”

“Spelling?” Seth laughed. “I’ve got to control my magic, remember? Come on. Let’s go down to the river for a swim. Then I’ve got to tell you something you’re not going to believe. Race you.”

As they ran through town towards the river, Mim frowned. “All that stuff I said. He’s gonna cream me.”

Chapter Three

There was no send-off party. Because of the nature of his mission, only those closest to Seth knew where he was going. It had been arranged the previous day that he would leave at dawn from the main square. Mendolin, Galdrummond, and Wherewithal would bring him things he would need for the journey. He’d been told to pack just his clothes and a night blanket.

In the center of the main square, three white polished obelisks rose towards the sky. The White Towers were visible from every point in Elon. The town was still asleep. Sunrise would bring the vegetable merchants from their gardens to set up market stalls around the perimeter of the square while the dew still glistened on their produce. Fishermen would carry in their night-time catches, poor these days, to trade early before the sun was too high. Various basket and mat weavers would begin demonstrating their skills to the early risers in an effort to entice buyers. The cheekiest and more daring of the children would engage in their daily apple pinching game, avoiding the fruit vendors’ clutches if not their loud admonishments. By the time the sun had cleared the treetops, the poultry farmers, egg sellers, milk vendors, carpenters, and tradesmen of all descriptions would be set up and ready for the day’s trading.

Seth’s mother dabbed at her eyes as she adjusted his scarf against the briskness of the morning. Her tears were partly because she feared for him, but mostly she was proud. Of all those living around the White Towers of Elon—young and old, wise and learned, brave and strong—her son had been chosen for this task. If the chief wizard thought he was up to it, then so did she.

She pushed any doubts to the far recesses of her mind. Seth needed all the encouragement he could get. He must believe in himself. It wouldn’t do for him to see doubt in his own mother’s eyes. She had been told about Mendolin’s prediction that Seth would be his successor. He wouldn’t have said such a thing if he didn’t believe her son would return safely from this quest.

Mim was also there with his mother and father. Seth thought it was nice of them to come and see him off, and was touched that Mim’s mother was wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. Mim’s father stood solemnly. Seth hadn’t noticed the bag at Mim’s feet.

“Well, Seth. Are you ready?” Mendolin asked.

Seth took a deep breath. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

Mendolin reached inside his cape and brought out a scroll and handed it to him. “The Dark Tower wasn’t always known that way. There was a time, before Mordlon changed its name, when it was called the Ivory Tower. Its doors stood open to all. The scroll is a map. It shows every room and every entrance and exit. It will be drawn to the Emerald Stone. More than that, and perhaps unknown to you, it will lead you right to it.”

Seth patted his shirt pocket to make sure he’d remembered his reading spectacles, then put the scroll in his knapsack.

Mendolin reached into his cape again and handed him a clear glass ball about the size of a marble. “If you rub this between your palms it will carry you in a straight line from one place to another. Just breathe on it and tell it where you want to go. You’ll be there in the twinkling of an eye.”

Seth balanced the ball reverently in his palm. “A real magic ball!” He didn’t mind that it was a very little one. In school they weren’t allowed to handle magical things without supervision. The teachers demonstrated what could be done with enchanted objects, but students were not permitted to use them until they’d graduated and knew exactly what they were doing.

Seth looked at Mendolin. “Are you sure it’ll do what I tell it? My spells aren’t all that great, you know. It won’t land me on the side of a cliff or anything, will it?”

Mendolin laughed softly. “Not unless you want it to. The ball is mine, remember? The spell has already been cast. It will do what it’s supposed to do.” Mendolin’s face assumed a more somber expression. “But beware. It can be used five times, and will carry you only half as far as you can see.”

Seth put the ball carefully in his other shirt pocket.

Galdrummond stepped forward. “I too have something for you.” He handed Seth a small flask of water. “Drink.”

Seth undid the lid of the flask and drank about half. He was amazed to see that when he took it from his lips, it was still full.

“More than anything else you’ll need water on your journey,” Galdrummond said. “The flask will be attracted to the Sapphire Stone. You will also need food.” He handed Seth a packet of seeds and laughed when he saw Seth’s expression. “Try one,” he prompted.

Seth put a seed in his mouth and chewed. When he swallowed he felt like he’d devoured a banquet. He was amazed. Being an apprentice wizard didn’t lessen his appreciation for magic. “Thanks,” he said. “I was wondering what I was going to do about food.” He put the packet and flask in his knapsack.

Wherewithal also handed Seth a small bag. Inside were two large mushrooms—one red, the other green. “If you eat a piece of the red mushroom you will shrink to the size of an ant.” Seeing Seth’s puzzled expression, he winked. “Handy for getting under locked doors. But be careful of the boots of the enemy. You can be squashed just as easily as an ant. A piece of the green mushroom will return you to normal size.”

“Thanks, Wherewithal,” Seth said. “Will these be attracted to the Ruby Stone?”

“No. But this will.” Wherewithal handed him a gem. Red and as brilliant as the embers of a fire, it was exquisite.

“But this is a ruby too!”

“The rubies are a pair, Seth, and very valuable,” Wherewithal told him. “One will attract the other. There might come a time when you will need to barter your way out of a situation. You have my permission to use one or both of the rubies if you have to.”

“But how can you entrust this to me?” Seth asked. “I might lose it. And if I have to barter them, then you won’t have either of them. It’ll be twice as bad.” He was astounded at the trust placed in him by Wherewithal.

“There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that you will take good care of this ruby, Seth. And if one or both have to be given in order to get you back here safely, then they will have been put to good use.”

Seth blinked away moisture in his eyes. They had so much faith in him. It was almost too much to bear. “I promise I’ll do my best to get both rubies back to you, Wherewithal.”

Wherewithal smiled. “I know you will, Seth.”

Seth put the mushrooms in his knapsack and the ruby in the leg pocket of his pants. He thought both the traveling ball and the ruby were safer in his pockets where they could not accidentally get caught up in the blanket he’d need to pull out each night. He fastened the clasp on his leg pocket and the ones on his shirt pockets, then turned towards Mim. “I guess it’s time to say goodbye.”

Mim picked up the bag at his feet and slung it over a shoulder. “Guess so.” His mother burst into tears. His father stood stoically, but his twitching lips betrayed him. Mim hugged his mother. “Don’t cry, Mother. I told you, I have to go. Seth can’t do this on his own.”

Seth looked at Mendolin. “What is he talking about?”

The chief wizard just shrugged, but his expression was such a controlled look of innocence that Seth suspected he knew more than he was letting on. He turned back to Mim. “You’re not coming.”

“Oh yes I am.” Mim sounded so confident Seth knew there was something he hadn’t been told.

“He insisted,” Mendolin informed him.

Seth exploded. “But it’s too dangerous! Mim has no powers. I can’t be expected to sneak past undead armies, rescue the princess, find the Book of Knowledge, recover the gems, get out of the place, and have to look after Mim too!”

Mim waltzed up to him and gave him a shove. “Who says you have to look after me? I can look after myself. And you need a babysitter.”

Seth’s face reddened. “You can look after yourself, can you? Remember the frog? And I don’t need a babysitter. You’re not coming, and that’s that!” He raised his hand to return Mim’s shove, but Mendolin stepped between the two before they took their argument any further.

“Now, now, Seth. Don’t you think you’ve got enough to worry about without fighting with your best friend?”

Seth was still fuming about the babysitter remark. Here he was about to set off to save Earth, and Mim goes and says something like that.

“I’ve spoken with Mim’s parents, Seth,” Mendolin said. “I think you should have company on such a lonely quest.”

“But he could get hurt, or killed even.” This brought fresh wails from Mim’s mother. Seth couldn’t believe that Mendolin would allow a powerless person to go with him.

“You sure my boy’ll be in no danger?” Mim’s father asked Mendolin gruffly. “Chief wizard or not, if my boy doesn’t come back you’ll have me to answer to.”

“I’ve given my word, Valnar. Mim will come to no harm.” Mendolin took off the Orion necklace which had hung around his neck for as long as anyone could remember. No one was sure exactly what it did or what it was for, but it was as much a part of Mendolin as the wrinkles on his face and the gleam in his eyes. He put the necklace over Mim’s head. “This will keep you safe, Mim, even from Mordlon himself. It is of no use to Seth. It will only protect one without power.” Mendolin turned to Seth. “Happy now?”

The stubborn look on Seth’s face softened a little. “I guess. I mean, I’ve got a bit on my plate without worrying about Mim.”

Mendolin bent down until his nose was level with Seth’s. “You do have an enormous helping on that plate of yours, Seth, and Galdrummond, Wherewithal, and I are very proud of you. Our thoughts go with you, and our love. Just do your best, that’s all we ask. No one can do more than that.”

Seth straightened his bony shoulders and puffed out his skinny chest. “I won’t let you down.” He looked sheepishly at Mim. “And—I’m really glad Mim’s coming.”

Mim punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Knew you’d come round.”

Seth picked up his knapsack and turned to Mendolin. “You’d better point us in the right direction. Do I use the traveling ball now?”

“No, not yet,” Mendolin said. “We don’t want to waste it, do we? I’ll take you to the border of Elon. From there you’re on your own.”

Seth turned to his mother. “Don’t worry, Mother. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

She hugged him long and hard. “Good luck, my darling. I’ll be waiting for you.”

Mim kissed his mother goodbye and held out his hand to his father. But Valnar gripped his upper arms with large callused hands and lifted him right off his feet. As he dangled in the air, Valnar kissed him on both cheeks then put him back on the ground. “You watch out for yourself, boy, you hear?”

“I hear, Father.”

Mendolin held his cape with arms outstretched to either side and crooked a finger at the boys. They stepped up and stood beside him, and were enveloped in the folds of the cape when he brought his arms together. Before anyone had time to utter another word of farewell, the three were gone. A wisp of psychedelic smoke wafted away on the first faint breeze of the morning.

Chapter Four

When Mendolin opened his arms an instant later, the boys expected to still be standing in the square. Instead, they were on the border of Elon and what appeared to be a burnt-out forest.

“Wow! What a ride,” Mim said as he and Seth stepped forward. “When you learn to do that, Seth, I’m gonna be the first to buy a ticket.”

“How did you do that?” Seth asked Mendolin.

Mendolin blew at wisps of smoke rising from his cape. “You really need to ask, Seth?”

Seth smiled. “No, I guess not. Will I be able to do it some day?”

“Of course.” Mendolin swept an arm before him in a wide arc. “Behold the Ebony Forest.”

“You’re kidding,” Mim said. “That heap of firewood? That’s the Ebony Forest?”

The chief wizard’s sigh was long and deep. “What’s left of it.”

The stories Seth had heard of the Ebony Forest told of lush vegetation so thick it was almost impenetrable. The people of the city somewhere towards its center had very carefully selected certain trees for felling, just enough to create a path to enable them to enter and leave. But as far as Seth could see there was nothing but burned trees. The only green things were small patches of grass that had sprouted now that the canopy of branches no longer blocked out the light. At least the rabbits would be happy, he thought.

“Mordlon did this?”

Mendolin nodded. “He ordered his armies to set fire to it to break the spirit of the people. In that he was successful.”

“But can’t you undo it? Can’t you make it like it was before?” Seth asked. He had great faith in the power of good over evil.

“Not until Mordlon is defeated, Seth. This forest took centuries to grow. It is said that in the deepest part there were trees more than a thousand years old. Magic is a poor match for Mother Nature. It would take every ounce of my power to reverse this wanton destruction. And Mordlon would just as quickly order it burned again.”

The air was thick with an eerie silence, undisturbed even by bird calls. “Where are the people of the city?” Seth asked.

“They were driven away to work in the mines of Elgerad. At least Mordlon hasn’t honeycombed this place with mines. The roots of the trees are too thick and go too deep. Even Mordlon could not overcome that obstacle.”

“Which way do we go, Chief?” Mim asked.

Mendolin cringed at the unusual shortening of his title. “Ahem. Yes, well, you’ll have to go through the forest, right to the other side. There’s no point using the traveling ball yet. You can’t see far enough. Keep well away from the city. Mordlon’s forces occupy it now. The Dark Tower lies on the other side of a mountain range that you’ll see once you are out of the forest.”

Mendolin laid a hand on Seth’s shoulder. “You are an apprentice Wizard of the Light. You will be both repelled by and drawn to the Dark Tower. There’s no need to give you exact directions.”

It all sounded a bit vague to Seth, but he didn’t question it. “Will you go back now?”

“Yes. I daren’t go any further. Is there anything more you need to know before I leave?”

“How far is the Dark Tower from here?” Seth asked.

“By horse it would be ten days around the range. But you have the ball and can take a more direct route. Use it when you have uninterrupted vision. Remember, it will only take you in a straight line half as far as you can see. The further you can see, the further it will take you.”

Mim rolled his eyes. “We’re not stupid, Chief.”

Mendolin’s eyebrows bristled. “Must you call me that?”

Mim shrugged.

Mendolin turned back to Seth. “You should be through the forest by nightfall. Is there anything else you need to ask?”

“No, I don’t think so.” There was actually something Seth had wanted to ask earlier, but his head was too full of instructions to remember what it was.

“Well, good luck, my young friends. One last thing. When you use the ball, make sure your arms are linked—otherwise one of you will be left behind.” He began to wind his cape around himself. “Goodbye, Seth. Goodbye, Mim.”

“Goodbye,” Seth said.

Mim raised a hand. “Bye, Chief.”

A loud groan echoed from somewhere as the wizard disappeared.

Chapter Five

The boys set off. Their plan was to skirt the deepest part of the forest and rest at mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, and sunset, when they would have to bed down for the night.

At mid-morning, while they were taking a break, Seth finally remembered what it was he had wanted to ask Mendolin. Why had he agreed to let a powerless boy like Mim go on such a dangerous mission? If it was just to provide him with a companion, why wouldn’t he have chosen one of the other wizard boys?

“Mim, did you go and ask Mendolin if you could come with me, or did he go and see your parents?” he asked as he munched on one of Galdrummond’s seeds. It tasted like roast pig.

Mim was rummaging through the seed packet trying to find a big one. However, there was little difference in size, shape, and color. “He saw my parents. Well, actually, I was on my way to see him, ‘cause there was no way you were going without me. We sort of met halfway. So I guess I asked him first. But if we hadn’t run into each other on the road, then I suppose he would have asked my parents first. So when you think about it, we both sort of—”

“It’s all right. I see.” Seth was sure Mendolin was up to something. He lay back thoughtfully against a tree.

Mim was making disgusting lip-smacking noises as he chewed his seed. He swallowed then let out a loud burp. “These are great. They’re seeds, so they must come from a flower or bush. Wonder what would happen if you planted one. Just imagine having a tree with all this different food on it. Wouldn’t that be awesome? What was yours?”

Seth had always been amused at Mim’s way of speaking. He supposed it must have been some sort of hereditary trait, because some of his words just didn’t make sense. “Roast pig,” he said.

“Mine was blueberries and cream straight off the top of the pail. I hope I get roast pig next time. That would be cool.”

“You want cold roast pig?” Seth asked.

Mim looked at him like he was simple-minded. “It’s just an expression.” He stood up and brushed himself off. “Well, if that’s mid-morning break, I’ve had it. Ready to press on?”

“Ready,” Seth said.

By noon they had not encountered a living soul, not even a rabbit. The constant smell of burnt wood was becoming sickening. They wished they were out of the forest and breathing clean air. They drank from the flask and ate another seed. Seth’s seemed to be a combination of every fruit he’d ever tasted, and Mim was disgusted when his turned out to be oats.

But Mim was impressed with the flask. “I wish I had one of those. I wonder where Galdrummond got it.”

“It’s just a normal flask, you goose,” Seth said. “Galdrummond put a spell on it.”

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot.” Mim looked offended when Seth laughed softly at him. “Well, it’s all right for you. You’re used to magic seeds and bottomless flasks and—and—flying brooms.”

“Flying brooms!” Seth laughed harder. “I’m an apprentice wizard, you village idiot. Not an apprentice witch.” After some coaxing, Mim saw the funny side of it. He pushed Seth to the ground and they rolled around in a tussle. Mim was by far the strongest, and always won any play fight.

They set off again and were relieved when the sun indicated that it was time for the mid-afternoon break. Neither boy had done so much walking. Both were weary and footsore.

“You know, I wish I did have a flying broom after all,” Seth said as he took off one of his boots and wriggled his toes.

When Mim didn’t respond with a smart remark, Seth stopped examining the blister forming on his heel. “What’s the matter?” he asked. Mim was looking around and frowning.

Mim raised his hand. “Sssh! I thought I heard something.”

Seth strained his ears. He could hear the faint sound of tramping feet. “Someone’s coming!”

As the boys scrambled to their feet, they saw the glint of armor through trees in the distance.

Seth grabbed his boot and knapsack and frantically scanned the forest. There was no cover of any sort. All the undergrowth had been burned. Their only hope was to hide behind the largest tree trunk they could find.

Mim pointed to one. “Over there.” He slung his bag over a shoulder.

They crouched low to the ground and scuttled towards the tree and flattened their bodies against it. But it wasn’t large enough to conceal both of them, and there wasn’t time to move to another. The tramping boots were getting closer.

“This is no good,” Mim whispered hysterically. “They’re gonna see us. The mushrooms! Get the mushrooms!”

Seth rummaged in his knapsack as marching boots drummed in his ears. His hands shook so much he dropped the mushroom bag.

“Hurry, Seth! They’re nearly here!”

“I forget! Which one was it? The red or the green?” There was no time to make a mistake. Voices were now clear and loud.

“The red one,” Mim told him. Both boys broke off a small piece and swallowed it just as the marching boots approached their tree.

“What was that?” a gravelly voice questioned. The tramping stopped.

Seth was in total darkness and enveloped by something soft. He crawled out through a hole and into a cave of some sort. He couldn’t understand what had happened. He checked his body to make sure he was all there, and was horrified to find that he was totally naked.

“You seeing things again, Gornor?”

Guffawing met this question. The voices were so loud Seth had to put his hands over his ears. He could hear them, but he couldn’t see a thing.

The loud clanking of armor and the sound of shuffling feet surrounded Seth’s cave. Something slammed into the side of it and he was sent flying from one side to the other. As he somersaulted along the floor, he realized he hadn’t hurt himself. It wasn’t rock.

“Ah, it’s only a pile of clothes.” The orc soldier ruffled through them. “Children’s clothes. No use to me.” Even so, he began to go through the pockets.

“What d’you expect to find, Gornor? Some sweetmeats? Or a gold bar maybe?” This brought more uproarious laughter from the other soldiers.

“You never know,” Gornor said. “Feel like a game?” he asked when he found a glass marble in a shirt pocket. He flicked it away. Quickly losing interest in the clothes, he pulled everything out of Mim’s bag and tossed it. After examining and discarding the bag of mushrooms, he opened Seth’s knapsack. He tossed the seeds and water flask, then pulled out the scroll. “What’s this?”

“Even I can see it’s a scroll,” Blog, the senior officer, said. “Give it here.”

Seth followed the conversation from his cave. There was a tunnel nearby with light entering through an L-shaped junction. Slowly and cautiously he crawled towards the light, then looked up to see giant soldiers squabbling over his precious scroll.

“That’s an order, you worthless dollop of pig swill. Hand it over.”

Horrified, Seth watched as the scroll passed from one soldier to the other. They were incredibly ugly. In fact, pig swill wasn’t too far from the truth. Their noses were flat, the nostrils large and oval shaped. Untidy, filthy locks fell over their faces from under pointed helmets.

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