Lucy Gringe found the last space on the dawn Port barge. She squeezed in between a young man clutching an aggressive chicken and a thin, weary-looking woman wrapped in a woolen cloak. The woman - who had uncomfortably piercing blue eyes - quickly glanced at Lucy, then looked away. Lucy dumped her bag down by her feet to claim her space; there was no way she was going to be standing up for the entire journey to the Castle. The blue-eyed woman would have to get used to being squashed. Lucy swiveled around and looked back up at the quay. She saw the damp, lonely-looking figure of Simon Heap standing on the edge, and she gave him a brief smile.
It was a bleak, cold morning, with a threat of snow in the sky. Simon shivered and attempted a smile in return. He raised his voice against the bangs and thuds that accompanied the barge's sail being readied. "Take care, Lu!"
"And you!" Lucy replied, elbowing the chicken out of the way. "I'll be back the day after Longest Night. Promise!"
Simon nodded. "You got my letters?" he called out.
"'Course I have," returned Lucy. "How much?" This was addressed to the barge boy who was collecting the fares.
"Six pence, darlin'."
"Don't call me darlin'!" Lucy flared. She fished around in her purse and dumped a large collection of brass coins into the boy's outstretched hand. "Could buy my own boat for that," she said.
The boy shrugged. He handed her a ticket and moved along to a travel-stained woman next to her, who was, Lucy thought, a stranger who had just arrived at the Port. The woman gave the barge boy a large silver coin - a half crown - and waited patiently while the boy made a fuss with the change. When she politely thanked him, Lucy noticed that she had a strange accent, which reminded her of someone, although she couldn't think who. Lucy was too cold to think right then - and too anxious. She hadn't been back home for a long time, and now that she was sitting in the boat bound for the Castle, the thought scared her a little. She wasn't sure what kind of reception she would get. And she didn't like leaving Simon, either.
The Port barge was beginning to move. Two dockhands were pushing the long, narrow boat away from the shore, and the barge boy was raising the worn red sail. Lucy gave Simon a forlorn wave, and the barge drew away from the quay and moved toward the fast incoming tide running up the middle of the river. Every now and then Lucy glanced back to see Simon's solitary figure still standing on the quay, his long, fair hair blowing in the breeze, his pale wool cloak fluttering behind him like moth wings.
Simon watched the Port barge until it disappeared into the low mist that hung over the river toward the Marram Marshes. As the last vestige of the barge vanished, he stamped his feet to get some warmth into them, then headed off into the warren of streets that would take him back to his room in the attic of the Customs House.
At the top of the Customs House stairs Simon pushed open the battered door to his room and stepped across the threshold. A deep chill hit him so hard that it took his breath away. At once he knew that something was wrong - his attic room was cold, but it was never this cold. This was a Darke cold. Behind him the door slammed shut and, as if from the end of a long, deep tunnel, Simon heard the bolt shoot across the door, making him a prisoner in his own room. Heart pounding, Simon forced himself to look up. He was determined not to use any of his old Darke skills but some, once learned, kicked in automatically - and one of these was the ability to See in the Darke. And so, unlike most people who, if they have the misfortune to look at a Thing, see only shifting shadows and glimpses of decay, Simon saw the Thing in all its glorious detail, sitting on his narrow bed, Watching him with its hooded eyes. It made him feel sick.
"Welcome." The Thing's deep, menacing voice filled the room and sent a stream of goose bumps down Simon's spine.
"G-Ger . . ." stuttered Simon.
Satisfied, the Thing noted the terrified expression in Simon's dark green eyes. It crossed its long, spindly legs and began to chew one of its peeling fingers while regarding Simon with a baleful stare.
Not so very ago, the Thing's stare would have meant nothing to Simon; one of his pastimes during his residency at the Observatory in the Badlands had been staring down the Things that he occasionally Summoned. But now Simon could hardly bear to look in the direction of the decaying bundle of rags and bones that sat on his bed, let alone meet its gaze.
The Thing duly noted Simon's reluctance and spat a blackened nail onto the floor. A brief thought of what Lucy would say if she found that on the floor ran through Simon's mind, and the thought of Lucy made him just about brave enough to speak.
"Wher - what do you want?" he whispered.
"You," came the hollow voice of the Thing.
"M - me?"
The Thing regarded Simon with disdain. "Y - you," it sneered."Why?""I have come to Fetch you. As per your contract.""Contract . . . what contract?""The one you made with our late Master. You are still Bound.""What? But . . . but he's dead. DomDaniel is dead.""The Possessor of the Two-Faced Ring is not dead," intoned the Thing.Simon, assuming - as the Thing intended - that the Possessor of the Two-Faced Ring could only be DomDaniel, was horrified. "DomDaniel's not dead?"The Thing did not answer Simon's question; it merely repeated its instruction. "The Possessor of the Two-Faced Ring requires your presence. You will attend immediately."Simon was too shocked to move. All his attempts to put the Darke behind him and make a new life with Lucy suddenly seemed futile. He put his head in his hands, wondering how he could have been so foolish as to think that he could escape the Darke. A creak in a floorboard made him look up. Simon saw the Thing advancing toward him, its bony hands outstretched.Simon leaped to his feet. He didn't care what happened but he was not going back to the Darke. He raced to the door and pulled at the bolt but it would not shift. The Thing was close behind him now, so close that Simon could smell the decay and taste the bitterness of it on his tongue. He glanced at the window. It was a long way down.His mind racing, Simon backed away toward the window. Maybe if he jumped he would land on the balcony two floors down. Maybe he could grab the drainpipe. Or haul himself up onto the roof.The Thing regarded him with displeasure. "Apprentice, you will come with me. Or do I have to Fetch you?" Its voice filled the low-ceilinged room with threat.Simon decided to go for the drainpipe. He threw open the window, half clambered out and seized the thick black pipe that ran down the rear wall of the Customs House. A howl of anger came after him and, as Simon tried to swing his feet off the window ledge, he felt an irresistible force dragging him back into the room - the Thing had put a Fetch on him.Even though Simon knew that there was no resisting a Fetch, he clung desperately onto the pipe while his feet were being pulled so hard that he felt like the rope in a tug-of-war. Suddenly the rusty metal lurking below the drainpipe's thick black paint came away in his hands, and Simon shot back into the room, pipe and all. He slammed into the bony - yet disgustingly soft - body of the Thing and fell to the floor. Unable to move, Simon lay looking up.The Thing smirked down at him. "You will follow me," it intoned.Like a broken puppet, Simon was dragged to his feet. He staggered out of his room and lurched like an automaton down the long, narrow stairs. In front of him glided the Thing. As they emerged onto the quayside, the Thing became no more than an indistinct shadow, so that when Maureen from the Harbor and Dock Pie Shop glanced up from opening the shutters, all she saw was Simon walking stiffly across the quay, heading toward the shadows of Fore Street. Maureen wiped her hand across her eyes. Some dust must have got in them, she thought - everything around Simon looked strangely fuzzy. Maureen waved cheerily but Simon did not respond. She smiled and fastened open the last shutter. He was an odd one, that Simon. Always had his head in some Magyk book or chanting a spell."Pies ready in ten minutes. I'll save you a veg and bacon one!" she called out, but Simon had vanished into the side streets, and Maureen could once more see clearly across the empty quayside.* * *When a person is Fetched, there is no stopping, no rest, no respite, until the person has reached the place to which he is Fetched. For a whole day and half a night Simon waded through marshes, scrambled through hedges and stumbled along stony paths. Rain soaked him, winds buffeted him, snow flurries froze him, but he could stop for nothing. Relentlessly on he went until finally, in the cold, gray light of the next day's dawn, he swum an ice-cold river, hauled himself out, staggered across the early morning dew and climbed up a crumbling wall of ivy. At the very top he was dragged through an attic window and frogmarched to a windowless room. When the door was barred behind him and he was left alone, sprawled on the bare floor, Simon no longer knew or cared where - or who - he was.