The Fragile Tower

The Fragile Tower is book one of the Cold Lands series.

Grace Lane is fourteen and an outsider who has been looking for something to make her significant for most of her life. When the midwinter fair arrives at St Matthew's Park only a quarter mile from her house, it seems to be designed to draw her in. But after she wins a gold piece from a circus-performer in a strange test, her brother takes the coin and then vanishes.

Grace's ma admits that she knows where he has been taken - to the Cold Lands where she was born, in order to be bound to the workings of its Queen and her magics. Grace realises that she has to get him back before his twin sister can be taken too. With the help of a book and her mother's grudging confession, Grace steps out of her world and into the Cold Lands.

She enters the extroardinary and beautiful Fragile Tower, a place kept working by the magic of boys linked and kept captive. Grace must face ancient magics and the truth about her family to free Benjamin.

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7. The Dazzling Lights

Grace was reeling with tiredness by the time the reached home, just after the sun had made an appearance. Her balance was so bad that she tipped and almost fell as she was climbing out of the car. The coffee and cookies had lasted until six, and then Dad and she had gradually grown silent and shivery as the sugar left their systems and the caffeine was all used up. By the time Dad called it a night, Grace was finding it hard to do anything except stare blankly at the snow in front of her feet, and she knew that she badly needed a few hours of sleep before going to get that book.

            But she couldn’t let herself sleep for long. The thought of someone else coming and buying the book made her stomach twist, and her frustration had grown the longer they had stayed out, searching and finding nothing. But she couldn’t have left Dad to search on his own. She saw the despair on his face when he told her they had to give up for the night, and it was heartbreaking.

            The house felt desert-hot when she let them both in, but she was still shivering fifteen minutes later, curled up in bed with a warm mug of tea in her hands. It didn’t stop her beginning to fall asleep, and she jerked awake with the tea about to spill onto her sheets, and quickly put it down on the bedside table and with blurry eyes set her alarm clock for half past nine.

          

 

 She woke at ten fifteen, bolting upright with the knowledge that she had overslept already in her mind. She swore with one of Dad’s occasional favourites, and started scrabbling her clothes on.

            Ma was sitting at the kitchen table when Grace charged to the door and started pulling her boots on. She was so still, it took a moment for Grace to notice her, and she jumped slightly when she did. Ma was watching her without really seeing, and Grace wondered if she’d been to bed at all.

            “I’m just going to the park again,” Grace told her, the lie making her squirm inwardly. “Just in case...”

            Ma nodded slightly, and then said in a mumble, “Be careful and don’t go any further.”

            Grace turned and put her coat on, hoping that not answering would be taken as agreement. She took her keys and her purse off the hall table and walked out. By the time she reached the street, she was running.

            She could see the board up outside Mr. Fredrickson’s shop from a quarter of a mile down the road, and she didn’t stop running until she was close enough to read the new thriller titles it advertised.

            She bent over for a moment, dragging air back into her lungs, and then stood up and turned to walk in. Her breath was steaming in the air, and it took her a moment to notice that the book was no longer on display.

            Grace was shaking as she opened the door and hurried to the counter. There was only one customer inside, a teacher from Grace’s school – Mr. Gregory, she thought -  but he held only one small white travel book with “Istanbul” emblazoned across the cover.

            He placed it on the counter and started delving for his wallet. Grace wanted to run over there and speak to Mr. Fredrickson straight away, but the idea of interrupting was cringe-making, and entirely beyond her, no matter how important this was. Instead, she walked up to stand a little behind and to one side, her boots scraping on the floor as she shifted from foot to foot.

            “That’s seven dollars,” Mr. Fredrickson told the teacher, and then asked – because Mr. Fredrickson always struck up a conversation with every customer, no matter how long the queue – “Is this for an upcoming trip?”

            “Wish it was,” the man who was probably Mr. Gregory replied, finding his wallet and drawing it out. Grace willed him to hurry, but he took his time selecting a ten-dollar note. “I’m desperate for a little heat. Nobody warned me about the weather up here before I took the job.”

            He handed over the note at last, and Mr. Fredrickson went to the till and opened it.

            “You’re from California, aren’t you?”

            “Is it that obvious?” Mr. Gregory held out his hand for his change, smiling slightly.

            “It’s only the Californians who complain about the weather here,” Mr. Fredrickson told him, with a little smile of his own. “You should try Norwegian winters. This wouldn’t seem like such a hard deal afterwards.”

            He glanced over at Grace, and blinked his eyes for a moment in what looked like a wink. Grace watched in gratitude as he bagged up the book without any further remarks, and turned to her.

            “What can I do for you, my dear? A recommendation? Or another European great?”

            She saw his eyes follow Mr. Gregory to the door, and then, as soon as the bell had jangled to a stop, he reached under the counter and lifted up the book from the window-display.

            Grace could only blink at it for a moment, her eyes watering with tears of relief and making the words "The Dazzling Lights" into blurry shapes that seemed to be surrounded with beams of light. But then she looked up at him and his creased face, which was drawn into a strange smile, and she found herself speaking.

           "It hasn't gone?"

           “I took it down before the shop opened,” he told to her.

            “Why?” she asked, which was a grossly inadequate question in the circumstances.

            Mr. Fredrickson seemed to think it perfectly natural, and answered lightly, “I didn’t want anyone else deciding to buy it. And by then it had done its job. You saw it last night.”

            “I don’t-” Grace stopped, her mind reaching for some explanation, but finding none. “You knew I’d want it?”

            “Of course I did. As soon as I heard about your brother.”

            “What do you know about it?” Grace heard the anger in her voice after she had said it, and flinched. “I’m sorry, I-”

            “Anger is quite understandable,” he told her, “but I think perhaps that there isn’t time for it. At least, there isn’t time to direct it at anyone except Ruidic.”

            Grace shook her head, feeling dizzy at the way her world seemed to have been turned over and remade. To hear him speak the same name that Ma had used, and to realise that both of them had been keeping so many things from her, was enough to make this seem like a dream. But the urgent pull she felt to find Benjamin quickly, quickly, quickly – that was stronger than the dizziness.

            “Wait while I turn the sign around,” Mr. Fredrickson said, moving in his slightly uneven, stumping steps towards the door, “and then perhaps you and I should have a cup of tea and a short conversation.”

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