When Alfredo, a twelve-year-old boy in eighteenth-century Italy, loses his family in a fire, he goes to live with Uncle Giorgio - a sorcerer in control of the fires of Mt. Etna who has sinister plans for his nephew.
O to live in the heart of such a fire, like a salamander! Alfredo, a choir boy in 18th-century Italy, loses his family in a fire, and his mysterious Uncle Giorgio spirits him away to their ancestral home below a volcano. There he learns that Uncle Giorgio is the Master of the Mountain; he can control the volcano. He is also an alchemist, able to make gold from the tears of the fiery salamander he captured from the heart of the mountain. Alfredo is his heir, the next Master; and as Alfredo learns the history of his family and its power, he begins to suspect that his uncle is actually a fearsome sorcerer.
The gift arrived for Alfredo's seventh name-day. It wasn't like his other giftsthe basket of candied cherries, the hobbyhorse, the toy drumnot a gift for a child at all. He opened the little leather pouch and pulled out a fine yellow chain, like the one his big brother, Giorgio, had been given to wear round his neck for his First Communion, but instead of a cross on the end this one had a funny little animal, made of the same yellow stuff as the chain.
He stared at it. The body was like that of one of the little brown lizards that lived in the cracks in the brickwork of the bakehouse, except that it had a long tail that curled under its belly, right round behind and over, with the end hanging down beside its front leg with a sharp hook at the tip. And the spread toes had small hooked claws, and not the sucker pads of the bakehouse lizards.
The head and face were even more different, not like any lizard's, but round and wrinkled, like the face of the ...
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