‘Good job, puppy,’ I whispered, awed.
For this room was larger than the rest of the cottage put together, and it was packed full. It looked like it might once have been a barn, or something of the like, for it consisted of a large open space with a high ceiling supported by thick, crooked beams, and the windows were near the top of the walls. Shelves, chests of drawers and bookcases were everywhere in evidence, to the pup’s delight, for many of them bore objects of obvious value: jewellery, Wands, trinkets and Curiosities, even one or two genuine Treasures as far as I could tell. There were a great many books as well, and — to my relief — a section which was clearly designated for the storage of papers.
I made straight for that, and by the time Jay found his way through the sneaky enchantment on Jenifry’s kitchen door, I was up to my eyeballs in crumbling old documents. Figuratively speaking.
‘Soooo,’ said Jay with a low whistle, walking up behind me. ‘Do you suppose all this is legally held?’
‘Probably not, considering how eager they’ve been to hide it. Help me with this, Jay?’ I had found a set of four bookcases fitted edge-to-edge and back-to-back, and their shelves were stuffed with old books, proper scrolls with ribbon bindings, notebooks, journals, and everything of that sort. There was so much of it, and we did not have much time before Jenifry would appear — or send someone else to intercept us.
Jay took a look at the job that lay before us, and blanched. ‘Try Mauf,’ he suggested.
‘He says he needs time to absorb this much information.’
‘We don’t need him to absorb it all, but he may be able to identify what we need.’
So I extracted Mauf. ‘Dearest book, if you can contrive to find out whether any of these books and such were written by, or predominantly about, the brothers Melmidoc and Drystan Redclover, our gratitude would know no bounds.’
‘I cannot do much with gratitude,’ remarked Mauf. ‘Do you have something more concrete?’
‘What did you have in mind?’
‘I want a proper ribbon bookmark. Silk, not polyester. And a sleeping bag.’
‘A sleeping— never mind. I will get you anything you like, as long as you’re quick.’
‘Bookcase to your left,’ instructed Mauf. ‘Second shelf from the top, third book from the end. Melmidoc’s journal of his discoveries, covering the years 1618 to 1630. Bookcase behind that, bottom shelf, a small notebook with crumbling pages — how embarrassing — entitled “A Mayor’s Recollections of Service,” written by Drystan Redclover.’
We hurriedly collected both.
I took the liberty of kissing Mauf’s front cover soundly. ‘Best book ever.’
The book gave what sounded like a cough, if the rustling of dry pages could ever be termed such. ‘That spire you were asking me about. Is that also of interest?’
‘Scroll, bottom shelf. The one with the sumptuous tassels. “An Account of the Deliberations of the Dappledok Council Regarding the Matter of the Spire.” I advise you to take all three in that pile.’
I gave him another kiss. ‘I love you,’ I said as I stuffed him back in the bag.
His response was too muffled to be understood.
I put the books and scrolls in on top of him, trusting that he would enjoy the company sufficiently to forgive me the indignity.
‘Time to go,’ I told Jay.
He cast a brief, agonised look at the contents of that building, and I could hardly blame him, for I, too, desperately wanted to explore. But he did not argue, perhaps because there came a kerfuffle from the doorway at just that moment, and a voice called belligerently: ‘You are trespassing upon private property, and are hereby arrested on the orders of the Mayor!’
Interestingly, whoever it was did not burst straight in, as might be expected. ‘I think they are afraid of us,’ I remarked.
‘Maybe it was the pile of unconscious bodies outside the front door that did it,’ mused Jay.
‘Could be that. Can you levitate?’
‘Badly.’ He looked up at the distant windows, and sighed. ‘You’re thinking of those, aren’t you?’
‘I am afraid so.’ I looked around in irritation, for while there was no shortage of storage spaces, and even a desk against the far wall, there was not a single chair in sight. So much for flying.
‘Come on in!’ I trilled. ‘We give ourselves up!’
On which note, I grasped Jay’s hand and shot up into the air, dragging him with me.
I cannot say it was our most successful effort ever. We made it about four feet before we began to wobble, and promptly sank halfway back down again.
Our assailants found their courage and came striding through the door, looking warily about. They were guards like the two we had felled, wearing the same uniforms, though these were equipped with proper Wands: a Jade, and by the looks of it an Opal.
These they levelled at us. ‘Stop where you are,’ commanded one.
Well, we tried. Hovering for long in mid-air is a talent neither of us possesses, however, so we drifted inexorably back floorwards again. ‘Sorry,’ I giggled.
The pup trotted over to me, grinning a canine grin, her tail wagging exuberantly. She had an amethyst Wand in her mouth, which she presented to me with great pride.
‘Oh, thank you!’ I said, accepting it with alacrity. I gave her a luxurious pat, for what a clever, good pup she was!
A guard took it off me moments later.
‘That was a gift,’ I said indignantly.
‘It is stolen property. What else have you taken?’
I rolled my eyes, and sighed. ‘Fine, fine.’ I unpacked the bag again, offloading all our acquisitions into the wrinkled palms of the belligerent guard.
‘Any more?’ he prompted when I had finished. ‘You will submit to a search.’
Jay did so quiescently enough, but I was not feeling so docile, for if they found Mauf, were they going to believe that the book belonged to me, and not to Jenifry? So as they searched Jay, I cast about for an alternative solution. Sadly, I couldn’t get at my brilliant sleep pearls without attracting notice, and I was not perfectly certain that I had any left, anyway.
‘I suppose it doesn’t have to be a chair,’ I said, and kicked over the nearest bookcase. It took a couple of attempts, for it was heavy oak, but it toppled with a nice bang, and all its books fell off onto the floor. I felt a pang of guilt over that, for many of them were old and fragile. But needs must.
The other guard had more of his wits about him than I was hoping. He flicked his Opal Wand at me, and succeeded in paralysing my every muscle. I fought, but to no avail; I could barely breathe.
Then the pup sank her teeth into his ankle, making him screech in a fashion I found most satisfying. She followed that up with an athletic jump, closed her slightly bloody jaws around his Wand, and cheerfully pinched it from him.
The paralysis eased.
‘Right,’ I said. ‘We’re going.’ I bent to scoop up the pup, Wand and all, and at the same time persuaded the nice, empty bookcase that it was feeling energetic. Jay took care of the guard who had hold of him with a solid punch to the face, and jumped onto the bookcase with me.
Up we went.
‘The books!’ Jay cried.
‘Never mind. Mauf’s got it.’
‘I hope so.’
‘Me too. Hup.’ I didn’t bother opening the nearest window, for the guards were still down there, and one of them still wielded a Wand. So I smashed it, and sent Jay through first.
‘Woah,’ he gasped as he clambered out. ‘Careful, Ves.’
‘It’s not that far up.’ I accepted his help, however, letting him pull me through the window and out onto the roof.
I was immediately obliged to retract my statement, for the ground yawned a long way below; plenty far enough for a mere Ves to go fatally squish, should she fall.
I hung onto Jay. ‘Unexpected,’ I remarked.
‘Any idea where we are?’ Jay asked, and that was a fair question, for I had not quite grasped that the view was wholly unfamiliar, and also notably lacking in a town. We were up somewhere high, a clifftop perhaps, and a green valley lay below us, with a pearly lagoon cutting into one side of it. In Dapplehaven we emphatically were not.
My phone rang.
Jay took the squirming pup off me, at some peril to his life, and promptly sat down on the roof. Said roof was also incongruous, by the by, for it was not a barn roof. It was instead rounded, with a peak in the middle, and covered in slate pieces. Also, the window we had climbed through was gone.
I dug out my phone. ‘Val,’ I said, perhaps a bit shakily. ‘This is a bad time.’
‘Is your life in imminent danger?’ said she crisply.
I tested my footing. Reasonably sound. I followed Jay’s example and sat on my haunches, and felt a bit better. ‘Probably not.’
‘I mean, we’re stuck on a roof with no way to get down, but we probably won’t die just yet.’
‘Great. Because this is important.’
Another voice cut in: Zareen’s. ‘Ves, this is way important. That cottage? The Greyer place?’
‘I remember it,’ I said drily.
‘Right, listen. I’ve tracked it everywhere I can, and I admit that it is hard to do, because of its sheer mundanity — nondescript to say the least, right? — but still. Vanishing buildings tend to attract notice, but this one has only done so patchily. In the, what, five hundred years since it began to go walkabout, there have been only a handful of recorded sightings of any vanishing building of its general description. It might have been quietly camouflaged in some unremarkable spot for a lot of that time, sure, but — get this, Ves — I did find one or two other recorded sightings of just such a cottage.’
‘And?’ I said, not following at all.
‘They date from before 1508.’
My thoughts spun. ‘1508, wasn’t that the year that the Maud Greyer—’
‘Killed John Wester and stuffed him into the walls. Yes.’
‘But if Waymaster Wester was the one moving the cottage about, how could it have been moving around before that year? Are you sure it was the same place?’
‘It’s impossible to be entirely sure, but how many late medieval timber-framed dwellings do you know of that had a habit of wandering about?’
‘There could have been more. Waymasters were more common, once.’
‘They were. And it could be a different building that was spotted mid-vanishment near Colchester in 1432, or that was seen to appear out of nowhere near Ipswich in 1398. But Ves, there’s more.’
My hands were getting cold, way up high as we were, for the wind was chilly and it was growing late in the day. I gripped the phone tighter, hugged my bag closer to myself, and said as patiently as I could: ‘Go on.’
Val came back on. ‘I’ve been looking into that Spire. Did you manage to find the papers you were after?’
‘Yes, but haven’t had chance to look at them yet.’
‘Right. No tower-like building has ever been sighted moving around Britain the way the Greyer’s cottage did, and I think a place like that would attract some notice, wouldn’t you? So I went looking for any such reports from Dells or Enclaves or other magickal communities, and bingo. There are a few such cases. Did you get any description of the Spire, by chance?’
‘No. My source was a dragon of little brain, who is weak on things like details.’
‘There was a tower that used to appear in the heart of the Meyvale Dell, a predominantly sylph community, in the fifteen hundreds. It was said to be all white, but it shone blue at twilight. What does that sound like to you?’
‘Starstone, but that wasn’t developed into a building material until the early 1600s, so it can’t be.’
‘Another such tower was spotted twice on the edges of the Barraby Troll Enclave, early 1500s. And there are more such examples, Ves, going back another three centuries.’
My head spun. ‘It can’t have been starstone.’
‘Ves. Get off that roof and go through those papers. I need you to find out whether the tower your Dappledok folk called the Striding Spire was built out of starstone, which would have been brand new and exciting at the time.’
‘But—’ I stopped, confused. ‘But Val, it can’t have been starstone.’
‘Just find out, Ves. Stop overthinking it.’
I wanted to remonstrate with her some more, but she hung up on me.
I looked at Jay, but before I had chance to relay what Valerie and Zareen had said, he simply gave me a meaningful look and pointed down over the edge of the roof.
I inched my way thither, and peeped.
Below us stretched a tall, slender tower made from blocks of bright white stone tinged faintly with blue — a blue that would flare to brilliance when the sun went down.
I called Val back. ‘Val? I think we’ve found the Spire.’