Igraine the brave, p.1

Igraine the Brave, page 1


Igraine the Brave

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Igraine the Brave


  the Brave


  with illustrations by the author

  Translated from the German by ANTHEA BELL


  Title Page


  Who’s Who in Igraine the Brave

  The Sorrowful Knight’s Rules of Chivalry

  1 The Castle in the Woods

  2 Water Snakes and Fencing Practice

  3 An Unexpected Visitor

  4 Bad News

  5 A Little Magic Mistake

  6 Birthday Breakfast on the Carpet

  7 Osmund the Greedy

  8 Igraine’s Plan

  9 At Darkrock Castle

  10 A Friend in the Dungeon of Despair

  11 Escape from Darkrock

  12 The Giant Garleff

  13 The Sorrowful Knight

  14 The Rules of Chivalry

  15 The One-Eyed Duke

  16 The Castle Under Siege

  17 The Mouth of the Stone Lion

  18 Egg Yolks and Apple Crumbs

  19 The Battle of the Magicians

  20 A Noble Offer

  21 Albert’s Plan

  22 In the Spiky Knight’s Tent

  23 The Challenge

  24 A Squire for the Sorrowful Knight

  25 Final Preparations

  26 The Knights in Single Combat

  27 All Is Revealed

  28 The Three Ladies from the Mount of Tears


  About the Author




  (sometimes known as Sir Lamorak the Witty)

  The greatest magicians between the Whispering Woods and the Giant’s Hills. They live at Pimpernel Castle and have two children, Albert and Igraine.


  Oldest son of the house. He is training to be a magician like his parents.


  Younger sister to Albert. She longs to be a knight and is not interested in magic at all.


  Igraine’s talking cat.


  The most precious and sought-after possession of Sir Lamorak and the Fair Melisande.


  Nearest neighbor to the folk in Pimpernel Castle.


  Master of Horse to the Baroness.


  (depends on who is talking!)

  Nephew of the Baroness of Darkrock.

  ROWAN the HEARTLESS, who also goes by the names of SPIKY KNIGHT or IRON HEDGEHOG

  A knight who is the castellan and ally of Osmund.


  The Baroness’s very fast and special horse.


  A redheaded giant.


  A knight Igraine befriends. He teaches Igraine the rules of chivalry by which a knight lives (or let’s say: by which he ought to live).

  The Sorrowful Knight’s RULES of CHIVALRY

  Help damsels in distress.

  Never turn your fighting skills against weaker opponents.

  Protect the weak.

  Use your sword only in self-defense or defense of others — never to enrich yourself.

  And MOST IMPORTANT: Always remember that your opponent may not be keeping to the rules himself.

  P.S. A knight can never lose his honor in a fair fight.


  Igraine woke up because something was crawling over her face. Something with a lot of legs. She opened her eyes and there it was, sitting right on the end of her nose, a fat black spider. Igraine was scared stiff of spiders.

  “Sisyphus!” she whispered in a trembling voice. “Wake up, Sisyphus. Shoo that spider away!”

  The cat raised his furry gray face from Igraine’s stomach, blinked, stretched — and snapped up the spider from the end of her nose. One gulp, and it was gone.

  “Did I say anything about eating it?” Igraine wiped cat spit off her cheek and pushed Sisyphus off her bed. “A spider on my nose,” she muttered, throwing back the covers. “The day before my birthday, too. That’s not a good omen.”

  Barefoot, she went over to the window and looked out. The sun was already high in the sky above Pimpernel Castle. The tower cast its shadow over the courtyard, doves were preening on the battlements, and a horse snorted down in the stables.

  Pimpernel Castle had belonged to Igraine’s family for more than three hundred years. Her mother’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather had built it. (There may have been a few more “greats” in that; Igraine wasn’t sure.) The castle was not large; it had only a single tower, which leaned over sideways, and the walls weren’t much more than two feet thick, but Igraine thought it was the most beautiful castle in the world.

  Wildflowers grew between the paving stones in the courtyard. Swallows nested under the roof of the tower in spring, and water snakes lived under the blue water lilies in the great castle moat. Two stone lions, high on a ledge above the gateway, guarded the castle. When Igraine scraped the moss off their manes they purred like cats, but if a stranger came near they bared their stony teeth and roared. They sounded so terrifying that even the wolves in the nearby forest hid.

  The lions, though, were not the only guardians of Pimpernel. Stone gargoyles looked down from the walls and made terrible faces at any stranger. If you tickled their noses with a dove’s feather they laughed so loud that the bird droppings crumbled off the castle battlements, but their wide mouths could swallow cannonballs, and they crunched up burning arrows as if there were nothing tastier in the world.

  Luckily, however, the gargoyles hadn’t had any arrows or cannonballs to eat for a long time. It was many years since Pimpernel Castle had been attacked. Once upon a time, life hadn’t been so peaceful. For Igraine’s family owned the famous Singing Books of Magic, and many powerful men had wished to own them. Robber knights, dukes, barons, even two kings had attacked Pimpernel to steal the books. But they had all gone away empty-handed, and since Igraine’s birth, life had been quiet at Pimpernel.

  “Mmm, just smell that!” Igraine put Sisyphus down on the windowsill beside her and took a deep breath of the cool morning air. A delicious smell of wood ash, honey, and vervain met her nostrils, and a shimmering pink glow rose into the sky from the top window of the tower. The magic workshop where Igraine’s parents cast their spells lay behind that window, for noble Sir Lamorak and the Fair Melisande were the greatest magicians between the Whispering Woods and the Giant’s Hills.

  “Why are they working magic so early in the morning?” Igraine whispered anxiously into Sisyphus’s pointy ear. “I don’t suppose they’ve even had breakfast yet. Do you think they’re worried my present won’t be ready in time?”

  She quickly brushed a few moths off her woolly pants, climbed into them, and put her great-grandfather’s chainmail shirt over her head. Igraine had worn it ever since she found it in the armory, although it came down to her knees and she had to admit that it wasn’t very comfortable. Her big brother, Albert, wanted to be a magician like their parents, but Igraine thought magic was dreadfully boring. Incantations, spells, lists of ingredients for magical powders and potions — learning all that by heart gave her a headache. No, she’d rather be like her great-grandfather Pelleas of Pimpernel. He was a knight who fought in tournaments and had adventures from morning till night — if the family stories were to be believed. Albert laughed at her ambition, but that’s big brothers for you. Now and then Igraine took her revenge by putting wood lice in his magic coat.

gh all you like!” she said when Albert teased her. “You wait and see. I bet you ten of your tame mice I’ll win one of the King’s tournaments someday.”

  Albert loved his mice, but he accepted Igraine’s bet all the same. As for Sir Lamorak and the Fair Melisande, they always exchanged worried glances when their daughter came down to breakfast in her mail shirt. Her family definitely didn’t think much of her plans for the future.

  “Come on, Sisyphus.” Igraine buckled up her belt and put the yawning tomcat under her arm. “Let’s go and do a bit of spying.” She ran downstairs to the Great Hall, passing the portraits of her ancestors (who all looked very glum), and pushed open the big gate leading into the courtyard. It was a lovely warm day. The scent of flowers filled the air within the high castle walls, mingling with the smell of mouse droppings.

  “Oh, Sisyphus, Sisyphus!” said Igraine reproachfully as she carried the cat downstairs with her. “If you lay off of Albert’s mice for much longer, we’ll be treading on them when we cross the courtyard! Couldn’t you at least scare them away now and then?”

  “Too dangerous,” growled the cat, sleepily closing his eyes. Ever since Igraine had sprinkled him with Albert’s red magic powder he’d been able to talk, though he didn’t often feel like it.

  “You’re just a scaredy-cat,” said Igraine. “Albert may keep threatening to turn you into a dog, but he’d never really do it. He doesn’t know how. And even if he did — well, my parents would never let him.”

  Sisyphus yawned in answer, and pretended to be asleep as she carried him over to the Enchanted Tower. The single tower of Pimpernel stood right in the middle of the castle courtyard, surrounded by a moat of its own, not as wide as the outer moat, but very deep. Igraine’s ancestors had survived many a siege in this tower, because you could barricade yourself inside even if the rest of the castle had been captured. The only way across the moat was over a very narrow bridge that could be raised in times of war. A dragon had once lived underneath (he hadn’t been very big, but in the family chronicles he was known as the Knight Eater). Igraine often wished he were still there, because now the underside of the bridge was infested with spiders. They made her knees shake when she went to visit her parents in their workshop. And because Albert knew that, he sometimes drew the bridge up just a bit so that she had to jump the gap. He’d done that today. Igraine cursed him, but she jumped, with Sisyphus under her arm.

  “Quiet now!” she whispered as she crept over the bridge, her knees still all spidery-weak. “No mewing, no hissing, no purring, nothing. You know Albert has ears like a bat.”

  The cat just gave her a scornful look as she put him down outside the tower door. Of course. He could prowl around much more quietly than she could, but Igraine did her best. A few startled bats fluttered to meet them when she climbed the endless staircase on tiptoe — there were hundreds up in the rafters — and Albert’s tame mice sat on almost every step, but Sisyphus acted as if he didn’t even see them.

  The heavy oak door of the workshop was painted with magical signs, and the door handle was a small brass serpent that liked to bite strangers’ hands.

  Igraine cautiously put her ear to the door and listened. She could hear the Books of Magic singing very indistinctly in their high voices. Sisyphus rubbed against her legs and purred. He wanted his breakfast.

  “What did I tell you?” whispered Igraine with irritation, pushing him away. “Be quiet!”

  But at that moment the door opened. Just a crack, just wide enough for Albert to put his head out.

  “I might have known!” he said, smiling his what-a-silly-little-sister smile. His nose was smudged with wood ash, and there were two mice in his hair.

  “I was passing here entirely by chance,” Igraine snapped at him. “I just wanted to ask when we’re finally going to have breakfast.”

  Albert’s smile widened. “You won’t find out what you really want to know!” he said. “Your birthday present has always been a surprise, and it’s going to be a surprise this time, too. Go and feed the snakes.”

  Igraine stood on tiptoe so that she could at least steal a glance into the room over his shoulder, but Albert pushed her back.

  “Go away and play knights in armor, little sister!” he said. “I’ll ring the bell for breakfast when we’re ready.”

  “Good morning, honey!” Igraine heard her mother call inside the magic workshop.

  “Good morning!” called her father, Sir Lamorak.

  Igraine didn’t answer. She stuck her tongue out at Albert and climbed down all those stairs again with her head held high.


  The water snakes’ food was in the kitchen, and half a dozen of Albert’s mice scurried off the table as Igraine came in. They’d been at the cheese again, and when Sisyphus pushed his way past Igraine’s legs, they trotted past him as calmly as if he were stuffed. One of these days I’ll catch them, thought Igraine, even if Albert does turn me into a spider for it. Albert! What use are brothers? Especially big brothers …

  “The same old whispering every year, the same old hush-hush stuff,” she said crossly, putting a saucepan over the nibbled cheese to cover it. “But they’re really going too far this time! They’ve been up there working magic for five days now. Are they giving me an elephant or what?”

  She poured some milk and water into Sisyphus’s bowl, took the bucket of magic leftovers out of the oven, where her mother always left it to hide it from the mice, and carried it into the castle courtyard. Sisyphus followed her, with milk on his whiskers.

  The great drawbridge squealed horribly when Igraine let it down. Of course. All this magic, but it never even occurred to anyone to oil the chain. Sisyphus brushed past her legs and put his head over the side of the bridge, looking for his breakfast. The fish in the large outer moat weren’t under Albert’s protection, and the cat was very fond of fish. It was little short of a miracle that there were still shoals of them left. Igraine took a couple of blue-shelled eggs out of the bucket of magic leftovers and threw them in among the water lilies.

  The water around the flowers began moving at once, as five snakes reached their shimmering heads up to Igraine, tongues darting in and out.

  “I’m terribly sorry,” she said, leaning down to them, “but it’s Albert’s dry biscuits and blue eggs again today.”

  The entire bucket was full of them. Even Igraine had to admit that Albert was quite a talented magician for someone his age, but as soon as he tried to conjure up something edible, he produced only blue eggs and dry biscuits. However, water snakes aren’t choosy, and as usual they devoured Albert’s magical failures with the utmost relish. Meanwhile Igraine wandered to the far end of the bridge and looked across the marshy meadows beyond the castle. Apart from a few rabbits hopping through the grass, nothing stirred in the morning sunlight. Igraine sighed.

  “Feeding the snakes every morning,” she muttered, “dusting the Books of Magic on Wednesdays and Saturdays, scraping moss off the stone lions’ manes once a week, and once a year a tournament at Darkrock Castle! Nothing exciting ever happens here, Sisyphus. Never ever!” Sighing, she sat down on the side of the bridge next to the cat, and Sisyphus rubbed his gray head against her knee.

  “I’m going to be twelve tomorrow, Sisyphus!” Igraine went on. “Twelve! And I haven’t had a single real adventure. How will I ever get to be a famous knight? Saving rabbits from the fox, rescuing squirrels from pine martens?”

  “No, saving fish from me,” purred Sisyphus, dipping his claws in the water, but this time his scaly prey got away from him.

  Igraine looked up at the stone gargoyles. Some of them were yawning, and the rest were squinting crossly at the fat flies that liked to bask on their noses in the sun.

  “I mean, look at that. Even the gargoyles are bored,” she said. “I bet they’d like to crunch a few arrows or swallow a cannonball for a change.”

  Sisyphus just shook his head, and went on staring patiently at the dark water.

  “Yes, I know
! It’s silly to wish for that kind of thing.” Igraine jumped up so suddenly that the cat hissed at her angrily.

  “You’ll scare the fish away!”

  “All you ever think about is food!” she snapped, reaching for the empty bucket. “I’m going to die of boredom, you wait and see! Maybe not overnight, but definitely before my next birthday!”

  Sisyphus dipped his paw into the water, and this time he threw a flapping fish up onto the bridge. “Learn to work some magic!” he growled.

  “I’m not interested in magic, you know that very well,” Igraine said. Gloomily she wandered back to the castle gate. “Magic!” she muttered. “Learning the ingredients for potions by heart, magic spells, magic symbols; no, thanks, not for me.”

  “Pull the drawbridge up again!” mewed Sisyphus as he dragged his fish past her.

  “What for?” she said. “There’s no one coming anyway. Twelve years old!” she murmured as she made for the armory to the right of the gateway. “My great-grandfather was a squire in a royal tournament when he was seven!” The door of the armory was always well oiled; Igraine saw to that. Even if her parents didn’t think much of weapons and armor (they thought their magic was much better protection), the armory of Pimpernel Castle was still full of swords and suits of armor, shields and lances from the days of her great-grandfather Pelleas. He had been an enthusiastic knight but a terrible horseman, and never won a single tournament because he always fell off his horse before his opponent had so much as leveled his lance. Igraine often passed the time cleaning rust off his old swords, or polishing the shields that bore his coat of arms until they shone.

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