I have been with the Court all my life, traveling with the King's Progress.
I didn't know how to go on. I sat and stared at this sentence, until Grundo said, "If you can't do it, I will."
If you didn't know Grundo, you'd think this was a generous offer, but it was a threat, really. Grundo is dyslexic. Unless he thinks hard, he writes inside out and backward. He was threatening me with half a page of crooked writing with words like inside turning up as sindie and story as otsyr.
Anything but that! I thought. So I decided to start with Grundo -- and me. I am Arianrhod Hyde, only I prefer people to call me Roddy, and I've looked after Grundo for years now, ever since Grundo was a small, pale, freckled boy in rompers, sitting completely silently in the back of the children's bus. He was so miserable that he had wet himself. I was only about five myself at the time, but I somehow realized that he was too miserable even to cry. I got up and staggered through the bumping, rushing bus to the clothes lockers. I found some clean rompers and persuaded Grundo to get into them.
This wasn't easy, because Grundo has always been very proud. While I was working at it, Grundo's sister, Alicia, turned round from where she was sitting with the big ones. "What are you bothering with Cesspit for?" she said, tipping up her long, freckled nose. "There's no point. He's useless." She was eight at the time, but she still looks just the same: straight fair hair, thick body, and an air of being the person, the one everyone else has to look up to. "And he's ugly," she said. "He's got a long nose."
"So have you got a long nose," I said, "Lady Sneeze." I always called her Lady Sneeze when I wanted to annoy her. If you say "Alicia" quickly, it sounds just like a well-behaved sneeze -- just like Alicia, in fact. I wanted to annoy her for calling Grundo Cesspit. She only said it because Sybil, her mother, called Grundo that. It was typical of the way they both treated him. Grundo's father left Sybil before Grundo was born. Ever since I could remember, Sybil and Alicia had been thick as thieves together. Poor Grundo was nowhere.
It got worse when Grundo started lessons with us and turned out to be dyslexic. Sybil went around sighing, "He's so stupid!" And Alicia chanted at him, "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" Alicia, of course, did everything well, whether it was maths, magic, or horse riding. She got chosen as a Court page when she was ten.
Our teachers knew Grundo was not stupid, but his inside-out way of going on baffled them. They sighed, too, and called Grundo "our young eccentric," and I was the one who taught Grundo to read and write. I think that was when I started calling him Grundo. I can't quite remember why, except that it suited him better than his real name, which is Ambrose, of all things! Before long the entire Court called him Grundo. And while I was teaching him, I discovered that he had an unexpected amount of inside-out magical talent.
"This book is boring," he complained in his deep, solemn voice. "Why should I care if Jack and Jill go shopping? Or if Rover chases the ball?" While I was explaining to him that all reading books were like this, Grundo somehow turned the book into a comic book, all pictures and no words. It started at the back and finished at the front, and in the pictures the ball chased Rover and Jack and Jill were bought by the groceries. Only Grundo would think of two people being bought by a huge chunk of cheese.
He refused to turn the book back. He said it was more fun that way, and I couldn't turn it back into a reading book whatever I tried. It's probably still where I hid it, down inside the cover of the old teaching bus seat. Grundo is obstinate as well as proud.
You might say I adopted Grundo as my brother. We were both on our own. I am an only child, and all the other Court wizards' children were the same age as Alicia or older still. The other children our own age were sons and daughters of Court officials, who had no gift for magic. They were perfectly friendly -- don't get me wrong -- but they just had a more normal outlook. There were only about thirty of us young ones who traveled in the King's Progress all the time. The rest only joined us for Christmas or for the other big religious ceremonies. Grundo and I always used to envy them. They didn't have to wear neat clothes and remember Court manners all the time. They knew where they were going to be, instead of traveling through the nights and finding themselves suddenly in a flat field in Norfolk, or a remote Derbyshire valley, or a busy port somewhere next morning. They didn't have to ride in buses in a heat wave. Above all, they could go for walks and explore places. We were never really in one place long enough to do any exploring. The most we got to do was look round the various castles and great houses where the King decided to stay.
The foregoing is excerpted from The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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