Extract

 

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It’s three days to the Annual Festival of Chivalry, and Olivia is practising hard for the Novice Squire’s Competition – but no one has yet managed to find out what Morgana’s swordspell plot is all about. Merlin has been called away, and Max has sent Vortigern the duck and Adolphus the dragon to spy on Morgana. They are both disguised as frogs, and they are stationed at her chimney, looking down into her chambers…

 

Morgana lifted up her white arms and spoke the final words of the spell. The whole room seemed to shiver, and a burst of light from the cauldron seared Sir Richard’s eyeballs. When he could see again, Morgana was holding a shining sword with a gleaming jewelled hilt, and was shaking the last drops of potion off its length.

“The swordspell,” she breathed. “The final spell. The spell that will bring Arthur Pendragon down.”

She turned her icy stare on Sir Richard, and her expression would have frozen the heart of the bravest knight. Not being the slightest bit brave, Sir Richard quaked, and waited for her to blast him down into the castle duck pond with a swift transference spell. But Morgana had not noticed his sneeze. She had been too intent on the magic in front of her.

“So, Sir Richard,” she said, and smiled at last. “The first part of the plan is in place. A few more easy little spells and then we have him. And I…” she took a deep breath, and raised the sword aloft. “I shall be queen… at last!” Her expression was triumphant, and terrible. Sir Richard could not suppress a shiver, but Snotty smiled, and the expression on his pale face was an almost exact mirror of Morgana’s own.

*    *    *

Down in the castle practice yard, Max was flat out on the ground, looking white, and Olivia was hovering over him, wringing her hands.

“Max, I’m really sorry – are you all right? I thought you’d dodge it… I didn’t mean –”

“Well that’s all right then,” said a sarcastic voice. Ferocious slid out of Max’s belt pouch, wincing, and sprawled on the ground next to him. “Didn’t mean to kill us both with your ill-timed thrust to the midriff… So we’ll just die here quietly and you can put flowers on our grave to show how sorry you are. Charmed, I’m sure.”

Max groaned, and Olivia knelt down beside him, looking concerned.

“Max! Are you all right?”

“Uurrghh…” was all he could manage, but there was a little colour coming back into his cheeks, and he seemed to be breathing again. After a few minutes, he opened his eyes, and gingerly sat up.

“Druid’s toenails!” he gasped. “What was that?”

“It was a disarming manoeuvre Dad showed me yesterday,” said Olivia, looking guilty. “I thought you knew it was coming. I thought you’d dodge it.”

“No,” said Max, with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Not you. Just before you whacked me – there was something… like a rock fall. The whole castle shook.”

Olivia looked puzzled. “I didn’t notice anything. Are you sure?”

“Ferocious? Did you feel anything?” asked Max.

“Nope,” said Ferocious, shaking his head. “Nothing I could feel. Sure it’s not the knock on the head, Max? Or… well… I know it’s a bit embarrassing to get defeated by your little sister but, you know, she’s getting very good. You don’t need an excuse for going down to her savage disarming technique.”

Max frowned. “Very funny, Ferocious. But I felt something massively powerful hit me. And if none of you noticed it, it makes me wonder if it was something to do with magic.”

“But there’s magic going on all the time, Max,” said Olivia. “All sorts of spells and enchantments all over the castle. They don’t normally affect you.”

“It’s true, they don’t,” said Max, thoughtfully. “But maybe – if it was a really massive spell…”

Olivia frowned. “You think it might be Morgana? You think it might be this swordspell she’s been planning?”

At that moment there was a loud squawk and a clatter, and a small flapping duck crash-landed right in the middle of them and started quacking really loudly. He was followed by Adolphus, who collapsed in a tangle of limbs and wings and tail, snorting fire and gulping in panic.

“Feel that?! Sent my feathers standing on end! Feel like I got struck by lightning! Quack! Shock of my life!”

“Yes!” gulped the dragon. “A big bang! Help! Olivia! Max! It was fire… and lightning and… and… I don’t feel very well.”

And Adolphus rolled over and shut his eyes.

“Vortigern!” said Max. “What happened?”

“We were at the top of the north tower,” said the duck, shaking his wings and waggling his head as if he were trying to get water out of his ears. “Watching down the hole. Couldn’t see much – she was brewing a spell. And then… Hit me like a boulder to the head. Can’t stand up straight.”

And indeed, he was weaving slightly from side to side as he tried to get all his feathers back in order.

“You can feel magic, can’t you?” said Max thoughtfully. “You’ve always says it makes your feathers go tingly.”

“Hah!” said the duck, his beady eyes looking slightly crossed. “Tingly feathers! More like my insides got skewered by a red hot poker! And the blast of it took the frogspell off us both in a second. I tell you, after all that I really need a bit of bread. Quack!”

Max reached into his belt pouch, where there was always a stray bit of breakfast, and handed Vortigern a crust of bread, which he started to gobble happily. After a couple of minutes, the duck looked up.

“The thing is,” he said, “just after the blast, before we scarpered, we saw what she was holding up. It was a sword.”

“Yes, yes,” said Adolphus, raising his head slightly and thumping his tail. “She had a big sword. A really shiny big sword.”

“Max!” said Olivia. “That sounds like…”

He nodded. They must have done the swordspell. The spell that Morgana had said would sort out King Arthur once and for all.

“It’s obviously something really big,” said Max, with a shiver. “I need to send a swift to Merlin, right now.”

 

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