Authors: Eva Ibbotson
‘A prince?’ said Raymond. ‘Me?’
‘Yes, Your Highness,’ said the Wizard, and told Raymond the story of his birth.
Raymond listened, and as he did so a smug, self-satisfied smile spread across his face.
‘I always knew I was special,’ he said. ‘I knew it,’ – and he climbed on to his throne.
There had been nothing like it for a hundred years.
The witches had made a circle of protection round the lake which no one could cross; everything inside it was invisible to any stray wanderers. Light came from the flaring torches of the wizards and from the glow-worms which Gurkie had coaxed into the trees – hundreds of them, glimmering and winking like stars. And there were real stars too: the night was clear, the moon shone down calmly on the revels.
‘Doesn’t it look
!’ whispered Ben. He hadn’t expected to be allowed to watch, but Odge had told him not to be silly .
‘Of course you’re watching. We’ll hide in the shrubbery with the mistmaker; no one will mind you being there.’
And they didn’t. It was strange how well Ben fitted in. He spoke to the ghosts as easily as the Islanders and even Odge’s aunt, the Old Woman of Gloominess, had patted him on the head without turning him the least bit bald.
The Raymond Trottle Magic Show began with a fly-past of Important Birds.
First a skein of geese flew in perfect formation across the moon, dipping their wings in salute as they passed over the Prince. Next the enchanter who had brought them called up a cloud of coal black ravens who swooped and circled over Raymond’s head – and then he stretched out an arm, and from a tree full of nightingales came music so glorious that Ben and Odge vanished for a moment as the mistmaker folded his paws over his chest and sighed.
Last came three dozen snow-white doves which did the most amazing aerial acrobatics and turned to green, to orange, to pink, as the wizards changed the light on their flares. Then one bird left the flock, pulled a sprig of greenery from a laurel bush, flew with it in his beak to Raymond’s throne – and laid it in his lap. It was just like this that the dove in the ark had come to Noah and shown him that his troubles were over, and all the watchers were very much moved.
And what did Raymond Trottle say? He said: ‘I’ve seen that on the telly . ’
But now the waters of the lake began to shimmer and shine. Then slowly , very slowly – three spouts of water rose from the centre, and on the top of each spout sat a beautiful girl who began to sing and comb her hair.
‘Of course, there are far more mermaids than this on the Island, Your Royal Highness,’ said Cor who was standing beside the Prince.
Not only more, but of better quality, thought the wizard, who was beginning to realize what Ernie had meant when he said magic wasn’t what it was. One of the mermaids came from the Pimlico Swimming Baths and the chlorine in the water hadn’t done much for her voice; the second had cut her hair into spikes after a pop group came to give an open air concert by the lake where she lived, so though she could sing, she couldn’t really comb. As for the third lady , s he was Melisande from the fountain at Fortlands and as she sang and combed, she kept pointing to her feet. No one knew why she minded so much about being taken for a mermaid, but she did.
Everyone clapped when it was over, though Raymond didn’t seem very excited, and then Melis-ande’s uncle, whom they called the Plodger, came forward. He was wearing his wellies and the woolly hat he wore to work in the sewers, but he bowed very respectfully to the Prince and said: ‘I shall search for the treasure of the lake.’
He then walked to the water’s edge . . . plodged into the shallows, kept on till the water came to his waist, his chin, his woolly hat . . . and disappeared!
No one was worried about this because merrows can breathe under water, but they were very interested.
The Plodger was gone a long time and when he came back he was holding a large fish by the tail. The fish was flopping and wriggling and the Plodger, though covered in slime and waterweed, looked pleased.
The wizards and witches whispered among themselves because they knew what was coming, and in the bushes Odge said: ‘This is going to be good; he’s found a Special Carp!’
The Plodger came right up to Raymond; he still held the fish upside down and the fish went on wriggling and thrashing its tail. Then suddenly it gave a big hiccup and out of its mouth there came – a beautiful ring! Swallowing rings is something certain fish do – one can read about it in the fairy tales – but finding a fish who has done it when you’re wandering about on the bottom of a grey and murky lake is really difficult, and from the watchers there came another burst of clapping.
The Plodger then thanked the fish and threw him back into the lake and Raymond looked at the ring.
‘It isn’t gold,’ he said. ‘It isn’t a proper one. You couldn’t get money for it in a shop.’
Cor shook his head and the merrow went off looking hurt. It was true that the ring had come out of a Christmas cracker, but what had that to do with anything? The special fish had trusted him; he had given up the ring that had been in his stomach for ten years – the ring that was part of his life as a fish – and all the Prince wanted to know was if he could sell it in a shop.
After that came the chorus of banshees. They’d had a busy week wailing in a football stadium because they knew that England was going to lose the European Championship, but they’d taken a lot of trouble, putting on their white shrouds and looking properly sinister and sad. And the songs were sinister and sad too – songs about darkness and dread and doom and decay.
When the banshees had finished, Raymond wanted to know if they were going to be sawn in half.
‘There’s always people sawn in half when there’s magic on the telly , ’ he said.
Needless to say, the banshees didn’t stay around after that and Hans came on to do some weight lifting.
The ogre had washed off his fernseed and looked truly splendid in his leather shorts and his embroidered braces and the knee socks with the tassel on the side.
First he picked up a park bench, twirled it over his head, and put it down. Then he plucked out a concrete drinking fountain, balanced it on his nose – and put it back. And then he turned to the statue of Alderman Sir Harold Henfitter which had been put up a month before. The Alderman was cast in bronze and rested on a slab of marble and even Hans had to pull and tug several times before he could free him from the ground.
But he did it. Then he counted to one . . . to two . . . to three . . . and threw the ten ton Alderman into the air!
Everyone waited. They waited and waited but nothing happened. Nothing ever
happen – and that was the point, of course. The Alderman had been thrown with such force that he would never come down again. Even now, Sir Harold Hen-fitter is going round and round somewhere in space and will go on doing so until the end of time.
It is not easy to believe what Raymond did after this amazing trick. He pointed with his fat finger at the giant’s midriff. He giggled. And then he said: ‘A button’s come off his braces!’
No one could believe their ears. Making personal remarks is rude at any time, but at a moment like this! It was true there had been a slight twang as the button went missing – but it was only on one side and the ogre’s leather shorts had hardly slipped at all.
Still, the show had to go on. The wizards did some tricks with the weather, making it rain on one side of the lake and snow on the other, and calling up a rumble of thunder with lightning following
– and then it was time for refreshments.
Gurkie was in charge of these, and instead of arranging for an ice-cream lady to come with her tray, she had laid on something very special. She ran to the big elm growing by the water and called to the glow-worms to come so that the tree was lit as brightly as on a stage. Then she tapped the bark and spoke softly to the tree – and lo, every one of its branches began to bear fruit. There were peaches like golden moons; apples whose red skins glistened; pears as big as two fists put together.
‘We beg Your Highness to refresh himself,’ said Gurkie.
Raymond got out of his throne and waddled over to the tree. Then he said: ‘I don’t like fruit; it’s got pips in it. I want a gobstopper.’
Everyone lost heart a little after that. Cor didn’t know what a gobstopper was; they hadn’t had them when he lived Up Here and even when the troll called Henry Prendergast drew one for him he didn’t feel like conjuring one up. There is very little magic done with gobstoppers anywhere in the world – and in the end a kind witch who worked as a school cook got on her bicycle and found an all-night garage which sold sweets and brought one for Raymond who sucked it, moving it from cheek to bulging cheek all through the second part of the show.
This began with Odge’s aunt and her sewing circle. There were seven of these Old Women of Gloominess, and though all of them were fierce and hairy , O dge’s aunt was definitely the fiercest and the hairiest. The ladies struck each other with baldness, they made newts come out of each other’s nostrils; they gave each other chicken pox . . . And in the bushes, Odge sighed.
‘Do you think I’ll ever be like that?’ she asked.
‘Of course you will,’ said Ben stoutly. ‘You’ve just got to get a little older.’
Gurkie’s tree spirits came next. To get a spirit to leave his tree is not easy, but Gurkie had such a way with her that one by one they all stepped out: the old, gnarled spirit of the oak, the tall, grey slightly snooty spirit of the ash; the wavery spirit of the willow . . . The dance they did was as ancient as Stonehenge – only three humans had been allowed to watch it in a thousand years – and Raymond Trottle sat there, moving his gobstopper from side to side – and yawned.
And now came Cor’s big moment. He walked to the edge of the lake and the wizards and the witches, the banshees and the trolls all held their breath.
The wizard closed his eyes. He waved his wand and spoke the monster-raising spell . . . and nothing happened. Once more he raised his wand, once more he said the spell . . .
Still nothing . . . Cor’s shoulders sagged. He was too old. His power was gone. For the third and last time, the wizard drew on his strength and spoke the magic words. He had turned away, the watchers were shaking their heads – and then there appeared on the waters of the lake a kind of . . . shudder. The shudder was followed by a ripple . . . then a whole ring of ripples, and from the centre of the ring there came . . . slowly , very slowly . . . a head.
It was a large head, and human – but unusual. The head was followed by a neck and the neck was followed by shoulders and a chest, but what came after that was not a man’s body , it was the body of a horse.
And everybody remembered what it was that was different about a nuckelavee.
It wasn’t that it had a man’s head and a horse’s body . Animals that are partly people, and people that are partly animals, are two a penny where there is magic. No, what was unusual about the nuckelavee was that he didn’t have any skin.
As the monster looked about him, wondering who had called him from the deep, they could see the blood rushing about inside his arteries, and his windpipe taking in air. They could see the curving shape of his stomach as it churned the nuckel’s food, even the creature’s heart, patiently pumping and pumping, was as clear as if they were seeing it through glass.
No one could take their eyes off him; they were entranced! To be able to see a living body in this way – to be allowed to study the marvellous working of the muscles and nerves and glands – was an honour they could hardly believe, and a young cousin of the troll called Henry Prendergast decided then and there to become a doctor.
Of course, they should have known what was to come. They should have known that Raymond Trottle would spoil this amazing and wonderful moment – a moment so special that none of them forgot it as long as they lived. They should have known that this boy with his bulging cheeks and piggy eyes would hurt and insult this awe-inspiring creature, and he did.
‘Eeek!’ said Raymond. ‘Ugh! It’s disgusting; it’s creepy . I don’t like it!’
Well, that was that, of course. The nuckel sank – and from the onlookers there came a great groan for they knew it would be a hundred years before the monster showed himself again and they could once more study this miracle of nature.
After that there was nothing to do except get to the end. The troll called Henry Prendergast shape-shifted himself into a bank manager and a policeman, and the witches did a few interesting things with toads; and then everybody raised their torches and hailed Raymond as Prince of the Island – and it was done.
‘Well, Your Highness,’ said Cor, but he spoke without any hope. ‘Now do you see what powerful forces you would rule over if you came to the Island? Will you come with us?’
Raymond shrugged. ‘Well, I dunno. I don’t think I fancy it.’ And then. ‘You didn’t make gold, did you? I thought all wizards could make gold. Can you make it?’
‘Certainly we can make it. Your Highness. Any wizard worth his salt can make gold, but it isn’t very interesting to watch.’
‘I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you can do it.’
Cor turned and clapped his hands, and three wizards came to him at once.
‘His Highness wishes us to make gold,’ he said wearily . ‘ Find me some base metal – a bit of guttering from a drain pipe . . . an old bicycle wheel . . . anything.’
The wizards vanished and came back with a load of junk metal which they laid on the ground close to Raymond. ‘Shall we do it, sir?’ they asked because Cor was looking desperately tired. But the old wizard shook his head. ‘Just light the fire,’ he said.
When it was lit, he bent over it. He didn’t even bother to get out his wand or to consult his book of spells. Making gold is something wizards learn to do in the nursery .
Raymond, who had hardly seemed interested when the mermaids sang from a water spout, or the nuckel rose from the deep, couldn’t take his eyes from what Cornelius was doing.
The old bicycle wheel, the tin cans glowed . . . flared . . . the flames turned green, turned purple, turned red . . . Cor muttered. Then there was a small thud and the centre of the fire was filled with a mass of molten metal which glinted and glittered in the light of the flares.