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Disclaimer: The Chronicles of Chrestomanci and The Homeward
Bounders and their characters do not belong to me. I'm just
borrowing them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and
have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way,
shape or form.
Warnings: None to speak of.
Fandom: Chronicles of
Chrestomanci/The Homeward Bounders
Author: The RCK
Last updated: 8 October 2013
Thanks to Jan Levine for beta reading.
Written for russian_blue in the 2013 Exchange at Fic Corner.
Measure Every Grief
Christopher had just settled in with a pot of tea, a plate of
biscuits and a new detective novel from 12B when he felt the itch
that was the castle's way of letting him know that someone was
asking for him. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, intending to
ignore the summons. Whoever it was probably wasn't serious. The
castle was often overzealous about calling his attention to casual
mentions of his title. After that business with the delegation
from India, I deserve a half day.
The castle pulled at his attention again. Carefully marking the
page, he set down his book. He gave the castle his attention. At
least see who's calling--
"Christopher, darling, I need you." Millie's voice sounded urgent.
Not the castle being overzealous. By the time he'd finished
the thought, he was out the door, heading in the direction the
castle's magic indicated. He took a shortcut, folding space just a
trifle to put himself into the garden.
Millie knelt beside a flowerbed. There was a rather bedraggled
figure lying sprawled face down across the bed. Christopher wasn't
sure at first whether the figure was male or female. Then he saw
that it was wearing trousers, and he decided on male. The trousers
were loose and red and topped by a brown jacket belted at the waist.
Christopher couldn't see much of the jacket because a large backpack
covered most of it.
"Oh, good." Millie pressed on the figure's back even as she met
Christopher's eyes. "He's coughing up water, and he's soaked to the
bone. How he got here, I can't imagine." She paused a moment to push
a strand of hair back from her face. "He's very young."
"What would you like me to do?" Christopher knelt next to Millie. "I
could get that backpack off him if that would help."
"Would you? I thought about doing it myself-- it's in the way-- but
I thought I'd better get the water out of him first."
Christopher laid his hands on the wet fabric of the pack. He dug in
his fingers and pulled, willing the straps to insubstantiality so
they'd pass through the boy's shoulders. The pack was heavier than
it looked and dripped water. He set it down and started to undo the
flap that closed it.
"Leave that until we get him to the castle," Millie said. She rocked
back on her heels. "Where are the gardeners? I shouldn't have been
the first one to find him."
Christopher checked the security spells around the perimeter of the
grounds. "He didn't come through the defenses."
"I know. Look at the prints." She pushed the boy's hair back off his
Christopher stood up and looked. There was a single dent in the bed,
as if the boy had jumped into the flowers and collapsed as he
landed. But he's in no shape to have jumped. He's in no shape to
have walked. QED. He just landed here. "That's supposed to be
"Obviously not." Millie looked up at Christopher then down at the
boy again. "We need to get him out of those wet clothes. He's
breathing well enough now, but that was a lot of water came out."
Christopher looked down at the boy, lying amid broken flowers and
mud, and considered his clothing. "I suppose I can carry him," he
"You?" Millie laughed, not unkindly, but Christopher felt a little
hurt. "You can find a gardener or two. You may carry the backpack if
When they lifted the boy out of the flowerbed, a small device fell
out of his hand. Christopher picked it up and examined it. One side
looked rather like a compass, but the needle swung around wildly as
if unable to locate north. The other side had a meter with the
needle pointing close to zero. Christopher turned it over twice then
shrugged and stuck it into the backpack.
Once back at the castle, Christopher left Millie to get the boy
cleaned up and into dry clothes. She'd do a much better job without
his interference. He found a work table that wouldn't be damaged by
water and started pulling things out of the backpack.
Ten minutes later, he had three piles, things that could, at least
theoretically, have come from this world, things that couldn't
possibly come from this world, and things that needed laundering.
The backpack was made of some sort of waterproof material, but
water, a lot of water, had got in anyway. The blanket and sweater
now in the to be laundered pile had soaked up a lot of it, but there
was still some for Christopher to tip out the window after the
backpack was empty.
Christopher frowned at the pile of things not from this world. There
was food sealed in bags that had to be plastic. There was fishing
line made of a clear substance that he thought was also plastic. He
didn't recognize the synthetic from which the rope was made, but it
definitely wasn't any natural fiber he'd ever encountered. Finally,
there was a tube shaped device that he thought was a torch. He
wasn't sure if immersion had destroyed it but rather thought that
he'd better let it dry out before he fiddled with it.
"So he's traveling worlds. He's prepared for wilderness, but he's
also--" Christopher's eyes strayed to the small pile of silver and
gold coins. "--prepared to meet people." Silver and gold weren't
good on all worlds, and some worlds, like 12B, tended to ask pointed
questions of anyone turning up with such coins. "The question is why
Deciding that staring at the things wasn't going to tell him
anything, he called a maid and asked her to see that the clothing,
blanket and backpack were properly cleaned. Then he went back to the
garden. Staring at the flowerbed was only marginally better. There
was a gardener there, attempting to save the crushed plants.
Christopher didn't feel that he could step into the bed himself, not
while that was going on. He didn't care all that much about the
plants, but he didn't want to offend the gardener, who obviously
He satisfied himself with standing at a distance and letting his
magic grope around for signs of the boy's passage. The castle had
been built at a place where the walls between universes were weak,
but those walls didn't feel any weaker here than usual. However the
boy had passed through, he hadn't left a hole or even a scar. He
frowned and stepped into The Place Between.
It hadn't changed since he'd last been there. The rocky ground was
still steep and slippery. He could feel the Anywheres stretching
around him. None of them seemed closer than usual, and he didn't see
how the boy could have walked through, not given the state in which
he'd arrived. Christopher supposed that someone might have carried
him. Christopher himself could have done it.
Though I wouldn't with his lungs still full of water.
Christopher picked up a few loose stones and let them fall, one by
one, from his hand. No. Wherever he came from, there was water
there, water deep enough to drown in.
His clothes were still a bit damp from the water that had been on
and in the backpack. He considered whether that might be enough.
Sometimes, he could track things to their world of origin. He pulled
the water from his clothes so that it sat cupped in the palm of his
hand. He gave it half his attention and let the other half of his
mind drift, trying to see if he could get a direction.
When the pull came, it went three ways. He blinked and shook his
head to clear it. Not all from the same world. What on earth was
he doing to get soaked on three different worlds? He dipped a
finger into the water in his hand and tasted it. Salt. He
tipped his hand and shook off the last drops of water. I shall
have to talk to him. I was always going to have to talk to him,
but I hoped-- I should be able to discover more about him.
For several hours, Millie kept Christopher out of the room where
she'd put the boy. At first, she was simply too busy to be bothered
with him. The boy needed washing and clean, dry clothes and any
number of other things that Christopher wouldn't have thought of.
Then, the boy needed to rest before talking to anyone.
Christopher acknowledged that all of this was true, but it didn't
satisfy his own need to know what was going on. The boy was a
mystery, and Christopher wasn't comfortable leaving that mystery for
later. He did take the precaution of putting some monitoring spells
around the room. He'd know if the boy tried to leave. He had to
trust Millie to look after herself inside the room. She wouldn't
thank him for intruding. He told himself that he had no reason to
think the boy was dangerous, and himself told him right back that he
had no reason to think he wasn't.
"He says his name is Jamie Hamilton," Millie told him when she
emerged from the room to order food.
"So he can talk?" Christopher replied.
"A little." Millie rubbed her face with one hand. "He's wary. He's
not scared, but he is wary. He hasn't asked any questions but what
my name is and what happened to his things. I'm having his things
brought to his room." She considered for a moment. "I'm not sure
why, but I think he was surprised that I spoke English."
"He's obviously traveling from world to world," Christopher said.
"There are many places on many worlds-- infinite worlds-- where no
one speaks English." He took her hand in his and started rubbing it.
"He doesn't look nearly so young when you can see his eyes. I mean,
he still looks young, but there's a look to him like he's seen too
much. You know how people get."
"I've met children with that look before." Christopher shoved
memories of worlds where he'd done too little too late aside. He's
here now. We can do something. "I do need to talk to him."
"I know, darling, but it's not as if he's going anywhere. He needs
some food and some sleep. Find something else to do until morning."
So Christopher took himself off. He thought about his book, but then
he remembered the peculiar little box and decided to experiment with
it. He walked around the garden and watched the needle spin. When he
reached the apple orchard, the needle swung straight, pointing back
into the garden. It shifted a bit as he wandered off course, but
eventually it directed him back to the flowerbed. As he approached
it, his magic told him that this was a path for leaving the world,
one that wouldn't need much of a push to get through. Not
something one wants to find in one's garden. Will the children be
wandering through it? No, if they were going to, they'd have done
it by now. It needs the right approach and a bit of intent. At
least, now I know the how. More or less. I just need the why.
He spent the rest of the afternoon distracting himself with work
he'd meant to put off until the next day. At dinner, everyone wanted
to know more about the mysterious boy. Christopher listened to the
speculation but refrained from adding his own thoughts to the
conversation. After the discussion came around to the same points
for the third time, Millie insisted on a change of subject.
Christopher was reluctant to go to bed. He knew he wouldn't sleep
well, not with so many unanswered questions. Still, he knew better
than to stay up when Millie was waiting for him. She wouldn't
consider curiosity an excuse. He stayed up for a little while,
reading in bed, until Millie sleepily demanded to know when he was
going to turn off the light.
At about three in the morning, one of his monitoring spells went
off. He slipped out of bed, grabbed a bathrobe, put on slippers, and
moved himself to the room where the boy had been sleeping.
The door was open, and the bed was empty. Christopher could hear
careful footsteps in the dark hallway outside. He's probably
trying not to run into anything. One smashed vase might bring the
whole castle out. Christopher padded out of the room. He
thought he could move more quickly than the boy could. At least,
I think I recall where everything is. And he can't know which way
is out. I suppose I should be glad he didn't go out the window. He
probably considered it, but it's a fair way down.
As he moved silently down the hallway, Christopher considered
tactics. Speaking might make the boy run. Grabbing the boy,
physically or magically, might make him cry out. And if he
yells, everybody wakes up. Somehow, I think this is best kept
"Jamie Hamilton," he said softly, "I don't think you'll get far
without your little box, and that's in my study."
The other set of footsteps went still. After several seconds, a
voice came out of the dark. "I'd like that back. It's better all
around if you give it to me." The boy didn't sound frightened, just
Christopher conjured a light. "Come to my study, then, and you can
tell me why I ought to give it back to you."
The shadows made reading the boy's face difficult. He hesitated then
nodded. "You'll have to lead the way."
"I can do that." Christopher brushed past the boy and walked down
the hallway. He led the way to his study without saying anything
further. When he got there, he opened the door, turned up the lights
then dismissed the magical light. "Sit anywhere," he told the boy.
The boy took a chair near the fireplace. He didn't take off his
"Are you cold? I can start a fire. I just wouldn't normally in
August." Christopher studied the boy. No. Call him Jamie. He has
a name. "Those boots can't be completely dry."
"No, no fire," Jamie replied. "And they're not, but it was easier to
wear them than to carry them."
"No, you've quite enough to carry." Christopher opened a drawer in
his desk and pulled out a tin of biscuits. He took the lid off and
offered the tin to Jamie. "Help yourself."
Jamie studied the contents of the tin then selected two. He held
them balanced in one hand, making no move to eat them.
Christopher leaned against the edge of his desk. "Was our
hospitality so unwelcome? Millie will be hurt."
"That wasn't my intention." Jamie met Christopher's eyes then looked
away. "She was kind. It's just safer not to get involved with
"Safer?" Christopher's attention sharpened.
Jamie waved his empty hand. "It's nothing to worry about. It's just
that I should be moving on."
"Judging by the contents of your backpack, you do nothing but keep
moving on," Christopher said mildly. "Surely you can afford a day or
two here. You did very nearly drown."
Jamie shuddered. "I was afraid I'd never find dry land. Bounds on
water nearly always lead to more water, and there wasn't land in
"Bounds?" Christopher looked over Jamie's head. "Is that what you
call them? Disconcerting thing to find in one's garden. The children
might fall through."
Jamie swung his feet back and forth. "That wouldn't happen. I've
never known anyone to go through accidentally."
"Do I have to worry about other travelers popping in from elsewhere?
Or people breaking through our protections to get to this Bound?"
"I shouldn't think so. I'm the only one now." Jamie stilled his feet
and took a bite of one of his biscuits.
Implying that there used to be more. "We have no records of
strangers appearing in or disappearing from the garden. It seems
like the sort of thing we'd note."
Jamie shrugged and continued eating his biscuit.
"It's a novel way of going from one world to another. I'll give it
that. I think I prefer my own way of doing things. I like to have a
look at where I'm going before I get there."
Jamie swallowed. "I'd like that. How do you manage it?" For the
first time, he looked more interested than wary.
"There's a place between the worlds. All the worlds, well all the
worlds I know, can be reached from it. It's an odd place. It doesn't
seem large, but you can go anywhere at all from it. I can show you,
but unless you've magic of your own, I doubt you can get in without
help." Why am I offering that? Because I don't like the idea of
a child going blindly from world to world.
"Oh." Jamie's shoulders sagged. "I don't have any magic. We hadn't
any where I come from."
"I'm sorry." Pity. "Magic makes as many problems as it
solves." Christopher suspected that that was cold comfort. "I'm
Chrestomanci, by the way. At least, that's my title. My real name is
Christopher Chant, but that doesn't generally matter to people."
Jamie showed no sign of recognizing the title. He ate his second
"You don't have to go on, you know." Christopher felt he had to
offer. "Our world may not be what you're used to, but we have taken
in people from other worlds before, and we know of many other
worlds. One of them might suit you better."
Jamie's expression closed in. "I can't stay," he said.
Christopher thought he heard a hint of longing in the words. "Why
ever not? Are you cursed? I'm quite good at breaking curses."
Jamie took a deep breath, as if to steady himself. "It's not a
curse, not precisely. It's more of a... a duty. Yes. A duty." He
raised his chin. "There isn't anyone else."
"A duty," Christopher repeated. "What sort of duty?"
Jamie looked away. "It doesn't matter. I should be going."
"I'm not giving you that little box until you explain why you need
"I don't recommend keeping it from me." Jamie's tone was matter of
fact. "Bad things happen to people who steal from me."
"That sounds like a threat." Christopher wasn't impressed.
"It's not. It's just the way things work." Jamie shrugged. "It's one
of the rules: No interference. You can't steal from me or imprison
me. I can't hurt you directly."
Rules? I need to know more about this. "It seems to me that
we interfered when we pushed the water out of your lungs and hauled
you out of that flowerbed."
"That sort of thing seems to be allowed. I can, for example, get a
job, earn money and buy things. People can give things to me."
Christopher looked at Jamie's clothing. It was something, he
thought, that used to belong to Roger. "And you can steal from us."
He kept accusation out of his voice.
Jamie followed Christopher's gaze and looked down at himself. "I
can. This doesn't fit very well, but I'll stand out less if I wear
it than I would with my other clothes."
"If you're just heading for the garden, that hardly matters."
"I don't want to use that Bound." Jamie shuddered. "It might lead
back to water. I'm surprised you never had the Dutchman through." He
shook himself. "You don't have to worry about that now." His smile
was barely there.
I suppose it makes sense that there are other thin spots.
"You'll need money to get anywhere. Convince me that you should go,
and I'll give you something to help."
"You're going to make me tell you everything?" Jamie closed his eyes
and leaned back in his chair. He looked almost as if he were about
to disappear. "It's complicated."
"I have all night."
"Once upon a time," Jamie began, "there were creatures-- I don't
want to call Them people, though I suppose by some
definitions They must be. Anyway, They learned how
to make the worlds less real so that They could manipulate
the worlds and the people within them. They played games--
wars, quests, politics, famines, plagues, natural disasters-- all of
that was Them."
Christopher held up a hand. "Are you saying there wouldn't be any
earthquakes with out these... beings?" Not to mention the rest
of it. He believes it. I don't know that I do.
Jamie shook his head. "There has to be the potential for earthquakes
before They could use them somewhere. I imagine they used
some things as chance factors that might affect the outcome of play
without anybody deliberately setting them up." He yawned. "Do you
know a world called Uquar? The people there know something about how
all of this works. They might explain it better than me. Making
things real and unreal-- Well, you might believe it better from
someone who looks older than I do. I understand how They did
it, but I don't look like I ought to."
On the other hand, if he's right, there's an immense threat that
we know nothing about. Christopher turned to look out a
window. "You're using the past tense about these beings. Are they
gone?" Such things don't just go away. They have to be driven
"Years back, I can't really be sure how many, They made a
mistake that let us drive Them out of Their real
place. They're undoubtedly looking for ways back in. They'd
have to start over, but They can do that. Or They
could. They're sealed out as long as I walk the Bounds and
don't think of anywhere as Home."
Christopher continued looking out the window as he considered
Jamie's words. "How old are you, Jamie?" How long have you been
carrying this? Whether it's true or not, it drives you on. Can I
afford to assume it's not true?
"I don't rightly know. When we drove Them out, I'd been
walking the Bounds for one hundred years. Since then, people I knew
who stayed on one world have grown old. I still look like I'm
"And you're doing this alone." It wasn't a question. "Do you have to
do it alone?"
"There's no reason I have to, but I wouldn't ask anyone else to do
it. I've given up everything except the hope that I'll be able to
keep going and keep Them out. It's my gift to all the people
who'll never know."
"There are worse things than wandering. I suspect that, if you
looked, you could find someone with no reason to stay where he was,
someone for whom life as you live it would be an improvement."
"Someone older would try to run things," Jamie replied. "Someone
younger or even the same age-- Well. It's no life for a child."
"Jamie," Christopher said gently, turning his gaze on the boy, "you
appear to be a child. You say you're older, and I've no reason to
doubt you, but when I look at you, I see a child. This would be a
terrible burden for anyone. You're asking me to accept you as an
"I'm not asking for anything except my Bound finder back. It doesn't
matter what you think, what anyone thinks. I volunteered, and I'll
see it through."
"Stay with us for a few days. Let your boots dry. Let us find some
clothes that fit you better than these do. I can help you, too. I
can arrange travel to wherever on this world you need to go." Let
me make things a little better, for a while. I can't stop you
going on, not without imprisoning you.
Jamie looked dubious. "Staying just makes leaving harder. I've
supplies enough for now. More or less. I could use a new torch. The
sea water got into the old one and destroyed it."
"There is this, too," Christopher said. "Even in other worlds, you
can call me, and I'll come. There may be worlds too far away, but in
many places, I'll hear you. Just find a quiet place and say
'Chrestomanci' three times. If I can come, I will. Even if you're
really going on for centuries, there should always be a Chrestomanci
to answer. It just won't always be me."
"Chrestomanci," Jamie repeated. "I'll remember."
"I'll give you back your little box," Christopher said, "but I would
like more detail about reality and unreality and all of that. It
sounds like something I ought to know."
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