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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6. The Moon and the Book

Dad took her to St Matthew’s Park first at Grace’s insistence, even though he gently protested that the police had combed the place several times and were in the process of tracking down the fair.

“I know, but I still need to look,” Grace told him. “He might have ended up there. Maybe they brought him back...”

Maybe they’re waiting for me instead, a little part of Grace said. I’m the one who should have gone.

They drove up to the park, despite how close it was. Ma would have been appalled, but her Dad insisted that they weren’t going to waste time walking up and down that same stretch of road in this cold. When they pulled up across the road, Grace was shocked at how empty and dull the park looked. The almost-full moon which hung over it might have been just the same, but it seemed colder and more distant. The park itself was all stark white and black, with blue-grey shadows fighting for space.

Dad jumped out ahead of her and crossed the road, walking into the park quickly as if to get this over with. Grace climbed out of slowly and stopped at the gate, her eyes following the jumbled footsteps out into the snow. She could see the large, deep-sitting shapes made by her father. They struck out boldly over a mess of other shapes.

She wondered which of the patterns had been made by the fair-goers, and which had been made by the police. And then she wondered if her footprints were still visible, and Benjamin’s, and the thought made tears sting her eyes.

It was almost entirely still, as it had been the night before, but a faint breath of icy air touched her cheek and moved past, setting up a faint clinking on the railing to her side.

Grace’s eyes followed the sound, and saw a little flash of silver and blue. Frowning, she stepped over to the gate, and her breath caught slightly as she saw a piece of dark blue material with silver patterns threaded into it, and she remembered that warm hazy tent as if it had been years ago. It had been tied over one of the cross-bars of the gate, and something hard sat inside it, to be blown against the gate with a gentle clink.

She slid her gloves off, her fingers immediately cold in the sub-zero air, and untied the knotted blue fabric. Her hand felt something small and circular, and she wondered for a horrified moment if it was another coin that she held. But when she pulled it out, she saw that it was a little larger, and silver, and engraved with lines and symbols.

Holding it close to her face, she saw lines which radiated out from the centre of the circle, and smaller and smaller circles which crossed them, making a circular grid. The outer ring held tiny images of the moon in its various phases, with symbols the next layer in, and more again. The last circle, towards the centre, contained numbers, just eight of them, which had been carved over several of the tiny sections in each case.

She heard her Dad’s footsteps returning, and hastily shoved the disk and the cloth into her pocket. It was a new thing for her, keeping things from Dad. Before it had only ever been Ma who was kept shut away from the truth, because they knew that some things frightened her. Now, everything had been turned on its head. Grace had caught sight of a world that made all Ma’s fears real, and Dad was the one standing outside it.

            She went to meet him, her eyes taking in bare bushes and trees without real interest. She knew that Benjamin wasn’t here, but it was just possible that she might have been given a way of finding him.

            “Nothing,” Dad said, giving her a tired smile. “You see anything?”

            “No.” Grace glanced around. “You’re right. It’s pretty empty. Like the fair was never here.”

            “Let’s go and check the streets between here and school. The Lieutenant said he’d be likely to go somewhere he knew.”

            Grace nodded, silently. She could hear the terror in Dad’s voice, spiking up through all his positive phrases and his smiles. He knew how unlikely it was that Benjamin would have chosen to run away. She ached to tell him that her brother was all right, for now, but she couldn’t, and even if she’d been able to tell Dad, she didn’t really know that he was. She just knew where he had gone. That was all.

            They walked up the next street along, looking in gardens and around the backs of houses where they could, even though the police had put flyers up and the residents would be sure to check for themselves. Then they doubled back and headed up to where the road became the High Street, with its liquor store and drugstore, the small bar and grocery store, and then the larger Metro Market which had opened last year. Grace peered behind every bin, and down each alley, all the way up to Mr. Frederickson’s bookstore next to the school-gates.

            And then she stopped, because in the window there was a book with an elaborately-painted cover, an old book, she thought. She found herself staring because there, picked out in absolute detail, was the man who had given the light-show, his hands clasped around a globe which shone with colours.

            She glanced over the road, to where Dad was walking away from her down an alleyway, and then back at the window.

            “The Dazzling Lights,” she read. She wanted to kick the door of the bookshop in frustration. How could it show her something which could only help her, but be shut until the morning? She knew Mr. Frederickson wouldn’t open until nine at the earliest, and that was almost seven hours away.

            She tried the door, just in case, but it was locked, and the sign resolutely said “Closed” no matter how much she wished it didn’t. A glance up at the windows above where Mr Frederickson lived showed only darkness.

            Grace went to get Dad, her fingers itching to pick the book up and read it, and to somehow make sense of the little disc she had been given. She knew a pair of signs when she saw them, and she wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of finding her brother.

Dad took her to St Matthew’s Park first at Grace’s insistence, even though he gently protested that the police had combed the place several times and were in the process of tracking down the fair.

“I know, but I still need to look,” Grace told him. “He might have ended up there. Maybe they brought him back...”

Maybe they’re waiting for me instead, a little part of Grace said. I’m the one who should have gone.

They drove up to the park, despite how close it was. Ma would have been appalled, but her Dad insisted that they weren’t going to waste time walking up and down that same stretch of road in this cold. When they pulled up across the road, Grace was shocked at how empty and dull the park looked. The almost-full moon which hung over it might have been just the same, but it seemed colder and more distant. The park itself was all stark white and black, with blue-grey shadows fighting for space.

Dad jumped out ahead of her and crossed the road, walking into the park quickly as if to get this over with. Grace climbed out of slowly and stopped at the gate, her eyes following the jumbled footsteps out into the snow. She could see the large, deep-sitting shapes made by her father. They struck out boldly over a mess of other shapes.

She wondered which of the patterns had been made by the fair-goers, and which had been made by the police. And then she wondered if her footprints were still visible, and Benjamin’s, and the thought made tears sting her eyes.

It was almost entirely still, as it had been the night before, but a faint breath of icy air touched her cheek and moved past, setting up a faint clinking on the railing to her side.

Grace’s eyes followed the sound, and saw a little flash of silver and blue. Frowning, she stepped over to the gate, and her breath caught slightly as she saw a piece of dark blue material with silver patterns threaded into it, and she remembered that warm hazy tent as if it had been years ago. It had been tied over one of the cross-bars of the gate, and something hard sat inside it, to be blown against the gate with a gentle clink.

She slid her gloves off, her fingers immediately cold in the sub-zero air, and untied the knotted blue fabric. Her hand felt something small and circular, and she wondered for a horrified moment if it was another coin that she held. But when she pulled it out, she saw that it was a little larger, and silver, and engraved with lines and symbols.

Holding it close to her face, she saw lines which radiated out from the centre of the circle, and smaller and smaller circles which crossed them, making a circular grid. The outer ring held tiny images of the moon in its various phases, with symbols the next layer in, and more again. The last circle, towards the centre, contained numbers, just eight of them, which had been carved over several of the tiny sections in each case.

She heard her Dad’s footsteps returning, and hastily shoved the disk and the cloth into her pocket. It was a new thing for her, keeping things from Dad. Before it had only ever been Ma who was kept shut away from the truth, because they knew that some things frightened her. Now, everything had been turned on its head. Grace had caught sight of a world that made all Ma’s fears real, and Dad was the one standing outside it.

            She went to meet him, her eyes taking in bare bushes and trees without real interest. She knew that Benjamin wasn’t here, but it was just possible that she might have been given a way of finding him.

            “Nothing,” Dad said, giving her a tired smile. “You see anything?”

            “No.” Grace glanced around. “You’re right. It’s pretty empty. Like the fair was never here.”

            “Let’s go and check the streets between here and school. The Lieutenant said he’d be likely to go somewhere he knew.”

            Grace nodded, silently. She could hear the terror in Dad’s voice, spiking up through all his positive phrases and his smiles. He knew how unlikely it was that Benjamin would have chosen to run away. She ached to tell him that her brother was all right, for now, but she couldn’t, and even if she’d been able to tell Dad, she didn’t really know that he was. She just knew where he had gone. That was all.

            They walked up the next street along, looking in gardens and around the backs of houses where they could, even though the police had put flyers up and the residents would be sure to check for themselves. Then they doubled back and headed up to where the road became the High Street, with its liquor store and drugstore, the small bar and grocery store, and then the larger Metro Market which had opened last year. Grace peered behind every bin, and down each alley, all the way up to Mr. Frederickson’s bookstore next to the school-gates.

            And then she stopped, because in the window there was a book with an elaborately-painted cover, an old book, she thought. She found herself staring because there, picked out in absolute detail, was the man who had given the light-show, his hands clasped around a globe which shone with colours.

            She glanced over the road, to where Dad was walking away from her down an alleyway, and then back at the window.

            “The Dazzling Lights,” she read. She wanted to kick the door of the bookshop in frustration. How could it show her something which could only help her, but be shut until the morning? She knew Mr. Frederickson wouldn’t open until nine at the earliest, and that was almost seven hours away.

            She tried the door, just in case, but it was locked, and the sign resolutely said “Closed” no matter how much she wished it didn’t. A glance up at the windows above where Mr Frederickson lived showed only darkness.

            Grace went to get Dad, her fingers itching to pick the book up and read it, and to somehow make sense of the little disc she had been given. She knew a pair of signs when she saw them, and she wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of finding her brother.

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