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The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

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The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle


  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street

  New York, New York 10014

  First published in the United States of America by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016

  Copyright © 2016 by Janet Fox

  Interior illustrations copyright © 2016 by Greg Ruth

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.


  eBook ISBN: 9780698402454



  Title Page




  1. The Fifth Charm: The Cat

  2. London, Fall 1940: The Blitz

  3. Claw

  4. The Number Thirteen

  5. Rooks

  6. The Lady

  7. The Fishing Girl

  8. The First Charm: The Fish

  9. The Secret Room

  10. Flesh and Bone

  11. Ghosts

  12. Spikes

  13. The Second Charm: The Hunchback

  14. Chatelaine

  15. Tricks of Magic

  16. Moon

  17. Storm

  18. The Third and Fourth Charms: The Boot and the Chest

  19. Wish Upon a Star

  20. Dark Magic

  21. No Place for Holidays

  22. Knives

  23. Lost Souls

  24. Lessons

  25. The Sixth Charm: The Devil’s Sign

  26. Children

  27. Howl

  28. Tim, and Kat’s Chatelaine

  29. Exhaustion

  30. The Keep

  31. Hidden Magic

  32. Punishment

  33. Magister

  34. Missing

  35. The Cave by the Sea

  36. Ice

  37. The Seventh Charm: The Dog

  38. The Cave of Plato

  39. Hand

  40. Lost

  41. Porridge

  42. The Perfect Heart

  43. Sisters

  44. Spies

  45. The Eighth Charm: The Bell

  46. Spies and Magic

  47. Dreaming

  48. The Ninth Charm: The Pearl

  49. Wolves

  50. Talisman

  51. Gregor, Lord Craig

  52. The Tenth Charm: The Eel

  53. Witch

  54. Pen, Scissors, Thimble

  55. The Witch’s Mark

  56. The Eleventh Charm: The Anchor

  57. The Twelfth Charm: The Heart

  58. The Pen

  59. The Scissors, and the First Unmaking: Anchor

  60. The Second Unmaking: Dog, Cat, Bell, Devil’s Sign, Fish, Hunchback

  61. Scattered Pieces

  62. The Third Unmaking: Boot and Chest

  63. The Thimble

  64. The Witch’s Bane

  65. Sturm

  66. The Well

  67. Time


  To Kathi, mentor and friend, and to Jeff and Kevin, with love

  chatelaine, n. (shat-l-eyn)

  2. An ornamental appendage worn by ladies at the waist, supposed to represent the bunch of keys, etc., of a mediæval châtelaine; it consists of a number of short chains . . . bearing articles of household use and ornament. . . .

  —Oxford English Dictionary






































  The Fifth Charm: The Cat

  IT IS 1863.

  The winter winds shriek and moan around the castle turrets as the nightmare finds him, poor cat-boy John.

  He runs from room to room until he finds a place to hide, and then he hears but two things: the clattering and the ragged hish, hish of his own breath.

  Quit breathing so loud, you fool, or you’ll never breathe again.

  His heart pounds in his ears and his chest aches as he holds himself still and silent.

  The clattering—irregular, metal on stone—stops, and the dread silence that follows almost stops his heart, too.

  Now where is the blasted thing?

  The only sound cat-boy John hears beyond the pounding of his heart is a soft jingle—as of light rain on a bucket, or a bracelet on a moving wrist, or the whisper a falling star would make as it scatters, broken, across the sky. Oh, the heavens help me.

  Then, a click, rasp, click, like a clock being wound, and there it is again, not ten feet from where he stands pressed against the wall behind the tapestry, the cold stone seeping through his thin shirt and up through the soles of his bare feet, the smell of wormy wool full in his nose, suffocating him, the horrifying thing only feet away now and closing in on him, metal on stone, metal on stone, his heart a thump, thump, his eyes pressed tight as the tears leak out beneath his lashes, his breath held in his tight-drawn chest.

  As one tear descends his right cheek and cleaves a line down to his chin he thinks again, The heavens help me. Except that heaven is far, far from this place of unearthly creatures.

  How he wishes he could have saved the others before him—the fishmonger’s daughter, the hunchback boy, the singing girls—but he is only a boy, brave but not brave enough, more mouse than cat, and at the mercy of a monster too dreadful to behold.

  No, he is not the first to be taken. Nor will he be the last.

  One of John’s own cats, fresh from the night’s kill, betrays him, cat-boy John. Poor lovey kitten drops a mouse on John’s bare right toe before she speeds away to escape the monster.

  The last John hears is a string of accursed words in a voice that comes from the depths, perhaps from the devil himself: . . . by flesh and bone . . .

  Outside—beyond the thick walls, the froz
en moat, the barren yard, the ringing stockade—the moon slips from behind a skidding cloud as the screams whisk away into the forest. Even the sneaking stoat hunkers in terror as the boy cries with the ripping pain of losing his very soul.


  London, Fall 1940: The Blitz

  THE PIECES THAT made up Katherine Bateson’s world were scattered across the landscape and over the ocean, far and wide, blown about by the winds of war. Kat herself felt like one of the clocks in Father’s workshop, all wheels and plates and springs and pins strewn across the table, waiting.

  But she squared her shoulders and told herself to hold her wits together. That’s what her father would want, and what her brother and sister needed. Especially given the urgency in Father’s letter to Mum, the letter sending the children away.

  “Are you sure?” Robbie pressed against Kat’s left arm. She tilted the photograph so he could see. “Wow, it is,” he said, sounding awed. “A castle.”

  More like a not-so-majestic ruin, a shadowy box with peaky turrets rising out of the ivy, but maybe the photo didn’t do justice to the name: Rookskill Castle.

  “I bet it’s got battlements,” Rob went on. “And ramparts. I’ll bet there are dungeons. Secret passageways and hidden rooms. And ghosts.”

  “Ghosts?” Amelie popped up from the floor like a bobbin, round eyes in her round face, curls bouncing.

  “All castles have ghosts,” Rob said. “They moan. And carry clanking chains”—he raised his arms straight forward and stiffened his body—“that they rattle at night when they’re coming for you!”

  “Robbie,” Kat said, a low warning.

  “I can’t wait to learn more sword fighting,” he said. “I’m already a whiz.” He took a stance.

  “I doubt we’ll be fiddling with swords,” Kat answered. “They’ll have us at regular lessons.”

  “Lessons! You’re being stodgy again. It’s a castle,” Rob answered. “Who in a castle gives regular lessons during wartime?”

  “Read Father’s letter, Rob. Rookskill Castle Children’s Academy, that’s what he says.” She unfolded the letter.

  Aunt Margaret’s cousin Gregor is the eleventh Earl of Craig, and a good man, recently married. They need the income, as Lord Craig has taken ill. I met with Lady Craig at the castle not long ago, and she seems devoted to children, having none of her own. As I was thinking of sending the children here, I helped her secure instructors of my acquaintance. And I have reason to be back in Scotland from time to time. A sound choice for the children, under the circumstances.

  Kat paused. “So there you have it. Father secured instructors. We’ll be learning.”

  “You are dull, Miss Stodginess. Of course we’ll be learning. But it won’t be sums and history and Latin. We’ll be learning how to parry and form up and shoot arrows. Practical things we can use against the Jerries.” Rob thrust his imaginary sword, made an imaginary block. “I’ve heard that the Jerries are planning a landing on the beaches in Scotland. We’d best be ready.”

  Kat folded Father’s letter around the photo, tucking both back into her pocket. Amelie’s eyes slipped from Kat to Robbie and back. “I like ghosts,” Amelie said. She still held her drawing pencil clutched tight in her fist. “Maybe there’ll be a ghost like Mr. Pudge.”

  Kat smiled. “Ame, it’s an old place that looks like a castle, and we’ll be in school. And it’s Great-Aunt Margaret’s cousin. And Father may visit. I’m quite sure there won’t be any ghosts.”

  Kat had plenty of real things to worry about. For one, Robbie might be right: the Germans could land on their shores at any time. Kat worried about Father and his reasons for being in Scotland, and about Mum and Great-Aunt Margaret being left in London while the Germans continued their incessant bombing. And at twelve, Kat had started in a new school and was trying to sort out where she belonged and who her friends might be, and now she had to leave. She twisted the watch that wrapped her left wrist.

  Ghosts ranked low on Kat’s list of worries.

  “You must look after Rob and Ame,” Father had said. “I’m counting on you.” It was what seemed ages ago, in midsummer, and he was readying to leave. His tools lay on the bench before he fitted them one by one into the sleeves in the felted fabric. The clock he was done fixing tick-tocked on the table behind them.

  She wondered how he could do two such different things—the one, mend clocks, and the other, so dangerous. He didn’t even look the sort for the other, and she said so straight out.

  He smiled, pushing his glasses on top of his head and resting his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t judge a book by its cover, Kitty. There’s often much going on inside. I do what I’m good at. And I do it for you, and your mum and Rob and Ame, and everyone who loves ‘this precious stone set in the silver sea.’” His voice lifted a little with the quote. “Your mum has many cares. So you must promise to do your bit.”

  Kat had promised, yes, but she wished her father wasn’t so noble. She wasn’t sure she could bear it if he should be caught.

  Now she was sure about only one thing. That castle in Scotland to which he wanted them sent would be cold. Warm clothes essential. And she would be head of the three young Batesons.

  Father’s parting words to her were, “Remember, my dear. Keep calm.”

  And biting down the swell of tears, she’d whispered back, “And carry on.”

  As Kat was packing, Great-Aunt Margaret called her to the library.

  “Your father is wise to send you to Gregor’s,” Aunt Margaret said. “Well away from this dreadful noise and strife.” She paused. “Although I must say Scotland is a bit dodgy. An umbrella is of no avail against a Scotch mist.” She, like Father, liked aphorisms. Mum had once said it was the way Great-Aunt Margaret kept her mind sharp; Father had whispered that if Kat’s great-aunt’s mind was any sharper, she’d impale her pillow.

  Yes, she used to be so sharp, so logical and precise. But, to Kat’s dismay, Great-Aunt Margaret had lately gone a little dotty, perhaps more now with the bombing and the stress of war.

  Mum stood at the tall window, her hands clasped behind her, her fingers weaving patterns, in and out, in and out, like she was kneading dough.

  Great-Aunt Margaret rose from her thronelike chair. “Now, come over here, dear. ‘Time and tide wait for no man.’ I have something for you. To keep you safe.” She took Kat’s chin in the fingers of her right hand and laid the finger of her left alongside her nose while she widened her eyes. Kat knew the gesture: it meant, This is our secret.

  How it could be with Mum there, Kat couldn’t imagine. She glanced at Mum, who raised her eyebrows as if to say, Be kind. So Kat played along, forcing down a smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

  Great-Aunt Margaret dropped Kat’s chin and took a step back, and her hands went to her waist, to her belt of soft leather. Pinned to it, dangling from it as it had every day in all the years of Kat’s memory, was her great-aunt’s chatelaine.

  The chatelaine had been a gift to Margaret from her mother upon Margaret’s marriage, and Kat knew it to be a precious family heirloom. Wrought of silver and marked with the smith’s stamp, the chatelaine contained three useful items that hung from slender silver chains joined on a silver hoop. “Yes,” said her great-aunt. “This will keep you safe.” She was removing the chatelaine from her belt.

  To give to Kat.

  “Oh, Auntie, no. I couldn’t.” Kat raised both hands in protest and looked to her mother, who pursed her lips. What if it should be lost?

  “Nonsense.” Her great-aunt’s response was firm even as her stiff fingers fumbled. “I’m having a bit of trouble. . . .” She lifted watery eyes to Kat. “Help me, my dear,” she said. “Come, now. I insist.”

  Kat stepped forward, hesitant. She unclasped the chatelaine and held it up. The three items—pen, scissors, thimble—swayed as they dangled from her fingers.

  Aunt Marga
ret leaned toward Kat, her lips close to Kat’s ear, and dropped her voice to a whisper. “It’s quite magical, you know.”

  “I’m sorry?” Kat whispered back. “Did you say magical?” Oh, goodness. Kat saw worry in the set of Mum’s face.

  Aunt Margaret straightened. “Yes, my dear. I shall explain. But do remember this: be careful with magic.” She fixed her eyes on Kat’s. “Do you hear me, Katherine? Magic is tricky. There is always a price to pay for its use.”

  Mum went with them to King’s Cross Station to catch the train. Kat turned in the seat of the hackney as they pulled away from the curb, catching a glimpse of Great-Aunt Margaret standing at one of the tall windows with her hand in solemn salute.

  The cab splashed through deep puddles and rain pelted the roof. They passed mounds of rubble, men in their clinging wet work clothes clearing flattened homes with picks and shovels and barrows. They passed St. Paul’s, rising stately and seemingly untouched from the ruins around it. Pride surged in Kat. The bustle of London—motors and buses and black umbrellas—continued as if there was no war. Londoners described the bombings as “blitzy,” as if they were some kind of nasty weather.

  Most of the kids she knew were staying put, working after school hours to help clear roads of broken bricks and glass, and here she was, fleeing. She shut her eyes. No, she didn’t like the bombings one bit, the sirens wailing, the dark root cellar, the shuddering blasts, the plaster raining down, Ame crying out. She didn’t like shaking so hard her teeth chattered. Still, Kat would rather stay. Stay with Mum, stay in London, stay and be strong.

  She felt anything but strong as the station grew close and home slipped farther away.

  Mum, squeezed between Kat and Amelie, cleared her throat over the splish-splosh-rumble of the cab. “Kitty, I must tell you. In the Service office with me there’s a couple with a son about your age. They want him out of London, too, so I thought to recommend this place. He’ll be on your train.”

  Kat twisted sideways. “Oh, Mum, you didn’t.”

  Kat’s mum was always trying to fix her up with friends. She didn’t think it was good for her eldest daughter to spend more time with facts and figures and puzzles and Father’s clocks than with people.

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