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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9. The Midnight Incantation

The air was so gloriously cold on her flushed cheeks that Grace felt as if the night had kissed her. The street was absolutely empty, and only a distant rush of traffic from the interstate a mile and a half away told her that there was anybody else alive.

The door clicked quietly shut behind her and she spent a moment putting her pack and staff down so that she could slide her thick cardigan and coat on, before heaving the bag onto her back once again. Then, with a feeling as if someone else was moving her legs, she was walking down the slippery hardened snow on the sidewalk.

            The park seemed much further away tonight than it had earlier that day, and the shadows between buildings were suddenly populated with people and animals, which turned out to be no more than marks on the brickwork or refuse bins. She tried to keep her eyes on her boots, and to ignore the doubts which always threatened to crowd out her excitement and her determination; the voices which mocked her for being frightened here, and asked how she would cope in a world where there were threats she had never even heard of.

            The park opened up to her left at last, and although it was stark in the moonlight, it was also bright and empty. She walked through the gates with relief, and crunched over the glittering snow until she arrived in the centre. She drew her phone out with hands which were already starting to feel cold in the biting air, and checked the time. 11:51. Just time enough.

            She had returned the silver disc to her coat pocket that afternoon, bundling her gloves into the other, and she drew it out and looked at it, remembering Mr. Fredrickson’s words.

            You must know that symbol inside out before you go. Practise drawing it on paper, and then drawing it large enough that you can stand on it, because it must be right.

            She had drawn it some fifty times in different sizes, wishing she could have taken Maggie along to do it for her. She had drawn it so often that she could see it when she closed her eyes, but she still checked it on the disc, running her eyes over the triangle with its one rounded off side, and the two lines which swept through it diagonally at subtly different angles.

            It is the symbol for wholeness, Mr. Fredrickson had said. Each has a meaning, and each is used in the rituals of spell-casting, but your book will tell you the others. Tonight you will only need this one and – there, the one for turning. Wholeness for travelling, turning for once you arrive.

            She put the disc back in her pocket, gripped the rowan-wood staff in her right hand, and then put its point into the snow. It crackled and crunched as she drew the triangle, slowly and carefully. By the time she had finished the final curved line, she could see tiny points of light glimmering along the outline, and her breath caught in her throat.

            She stopped for perhaps a minute, feeling as if she was standing outside herself and watching. It had been one thing to hear Mr. Fredrickson describe the ritual; it was a vision which changed her whole life to see those tiny glowing, moving points, and to know that she had conjured them up.

            It took a very deep breath and the memory of time running away to make her draw those final two lines. She had to stop and lean on the staff once she had finished, dizzied by the brightness in those points now. As she watched, they seemed to float upwards and around her, until there were winking, shining points of light on every side of her.

            She held out a hand and saw some of the little lights bounce from her skin and move off in another direction, the sensation no more than if a grain of sugar had fallen on her.

            Possibility is everywhere in the Cold Lands, the bookseller had told her. It is in the air, in the water, and in every object, living or dead. But there is some here, too. Where our worlds rub close together, a little wanders through and imbues the ground and the air of this world too. That is what you will use, what you will summon up to help you.

            What do I do after that? Grace had asked, uncertain and afraid of making a mistake.

            You will imagine a doorway and make it real, Mr. Fredrickson told her, with a small smile.

            Grace closed her eyes for a moment, trying not to think about breathing the particles into her mouth and nose and lungs. She had already chosen the door that she would imagine. It was her own bedroom door, which she had loved to close on the world as a younger girl. It was an off-white wooden panelled door, plain and simple, and hopelessly out of place when it came to letting on to other worlds, but she knew every flaking piece of paint and visible knot of wood.

            She opened her eyes, and could only smile in delight. It was there, her door, standing in the park amidst the glittering lights. As she put out her hand to touch it, she remembered Mr. Fredrickson’s final words to her.

            Your door will not open to your touch, but to your voice. There is an incantation you must say.

            What incantation? Grace had asked, beginning to grow anxious about remembering all this.

            Mr. Fredrickson had laughed, a deep chuckle which made her smile with him instead of resenting it. The simplest phrase in the world, Grace. You tell it to open. “Open, I say, open, says me.”

            Open sesame, Grace had whispered, and the bookseller had laughed so hard that he had to sit down.

            She said the words into the empty park, and as the door opened, she felt the ground under her feet surge towards it. For a moment, she thought she heard a sound in the park behind her, and turned her head sharply to look at it. But the park was vanishing away, becoming impossibly distant as she rushed forwards, and she turned back in fear to look the way she was going.

Her hands clutched at the rowan-wood staff as she rushed through the doorway into a darkness so complete it was like a brick wall, and she hoped with all her heart that she hadn’t done something wrong.


 

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