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IN THE GOLDEN CITY
At the crack of dawn, an invisible Watcher Rube slipped back into the Golden City. He’d spent the night at the base of the city walls, trying to sleep, but the excitement of the previous day had kept him tossing and turning all night long.
The Golden City was the capital of Medar and home to the Master. It was a conical mountain surrounded entirely by a moat and a tall, gleaming white wall. The only way in was via the drawbridge to the single gateway. The dwellings within the city were perched one above the other on the steep hillside, like decorations on an elaborate cake. Narrow roads wound their way between them. All the houses were whitewashed, with terracotta tiled roofs, and many had pots of brightly coloured geraniums hanging from the windowsills. The Master’s mansion, shrouded in cloud, crowned the city. It was said that it was covered in glittering gold.
The inhabitants of the Golden City were selected by a lottery system, and when Freya’s family had been Selected, they’d considered themselves the luckiest people in Medar. Back in Nob, they’d led a meagre existence, scratching out a living in the poor soils in that part of the Land. Here, they were given a pretty, whitewashed cottage with glass windows and two bedrooms. They’d been assigned farming duties to work the fertile fields outside the city gates.
Freya’s family had told Rube that before coming to the Golden City, they had thought that the reason nobody ever left it was because life was so much better there. But on the day of their admittance, they’d learnt otherwise. As they’d stepped into the entranceway, they’d been cast into gloom. As they blinked, trying to adjust their vision, hands had grabbed their arms and pushed back their sleeves. Something had stabbed their inner elbows, and a strange coolness flowed through their veins. An injection. At the time, the Guards had told them that the injection was not only their ‘ticket into the Golden City’ but also that it would prevent them ever leaving. As farmers, the family’s injections allowed them to work the fields outside the city gates, but only to a certain distance. Any further … and they would die.
Rube had first managed to enter the Golden City about a week back and, thanks to his ability to turn himself invisible, had escaped being given the injection. After spending nearly a week drifting invisibly through the city, two days ago he’d finally found Freya’s family. That had been a stroke of luck: he’d been at the weekly Games, and ‘Jack from Nob’ had been announced as the winner of a wrestling match.
He’d followed them home and brought them up to speed with Freya’s adventures—how he and his fellow Watchers had been able to turn her invisible, help her solve the clues that the tablet revealed, and figure out where the long-lost path to Tyrelia was. But, most importantly, based on Martha’s description of Freya’s natural mother, the woman from Yaw, he’d been able to confirm that she’d been his wife … and that Freya was his natural daughter!
However, it had not taken him long to discover that his talking stone didn’t work within the city’s walls. The day after discovering Freya’s family, they’d helped him leave. He’d found a safe spot and waited most of the day, trying to contact the other Watchers. Finally, late yesterday afternoon, they’d connected. Freya and the Watchers had found the long-lost path, crossed the Chasm and were at the Wall. Except Freya could no longer see the Wall! They didn’t know why or how, but Freya was the only one who could pass through and enter Tyrelia. And so, moments after finding his daughter, he had sent her off alone into Tyrelia on another adventure. But not before arranging with Freya and the Watchers to contact each other every evening at sunset.
Now, he crept back into the Golden City to update Freya’s family on this latest development. Once through the gates, he headed up the wide boulevard to the right. He twisted this way and that, up a narrow staircase here and through an alley there, heading ever higher until he found the family’s whitewashed cottage. He sneaked around to the back door and rapped three times, waited a few seconds, then rapped three more times.
Shortly, Thomas opened the back door, stepped outside and stretched, pretending to take in some fresh air. Rube slipped around behind him into the house. Thomas swung his arms vigorously, reached down and touched his toes, then stepped back inside, closing the door behind him.
Rube was now visible and stood resting his hand on the bench, his white hair a startling contrast to his smooth red cheeks.
“Have a seat, sir.” Thomas gestured towards the kitchen table and four chairs in the middle of the room. “Martha, Jack! We have a guest.”
Martha bustled into the kitchen. “Rube!” she exclaimed. “You made it safely back. What news of Freya?”
While she fussed around, fixing bowls of porridge with fresh cream and hot cups of tea for everyone, Rube recounted the previous evening’s conversation.
“Freya and the Watchers found a secret staircase and bridge across the Chasm near the town of Andor.” The family looked blank. “In the north of the Land, on the other side of the Andoria mountains,” Rube explained. “And last evening, Freya managed to pass through the Wall into Tyrelia!”
He waited until the exclamations of surprise had ceased. “Unfortunately, the Watchers are unable to get through. We don’t know why.” He shook his head with frustration.
“So …” Thomas said slowly, “Freya’s all alone in Tyrelia?” He raised his eyebrows.
Martha’s hands flew to her mouth as she gasped.
“I’m afraid so, sir.” Rube replied. “It’s the only way to discover what Tyrelia is all about. But so far so good. I’ve agreed with the other Watchers and Freya that we’ll contact each other at sunset each night. But that does mean I can’t stay in the city.”
“What are you going to do?” Jack asked.
Rube sighed. “I’m not sure. I’d need to find somewhere safe to hide out, but also somewhere close enough so we can all talk each day—so I can pass on news of Freya to you all. And vice versa. Any ideas?”
It was quiet as they all thought for a bit.
Jack was the first to speak. “What about that big tree we all rest under during our breaks? Rube could hide out there and we should be able to somehow arrange to talk to each other?”
“Hmm, yes, I think that would work.” Thomas mused. “Rube, you’d have to be up in the branches, I think, to totally avoid all accidental contact with the other workers. I’m sure one of us could lean up against the trunk. You should be able to whisper in our ear.”
“Yes. I think the afternoon break would be the one to aim for. Then I could hitch a ride on a passing cart leaving the city for the day and find a safe place to contact the others by sunset.”
Martha nodded and clapped her hands together. “That’s settled then.” She beamed around at them all. “Anyone for another cuppa?”