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The Puzzle Ring

Kate Forsyth

  Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of numerous books for children and adults, including The Gypsy Crown, The Starthorn Tree and Dragon Gold.

  The Gypsy Crown is the first in ‘The Chain of Charms’ series, a historical adventure story which follows the perilous adventures of two Romany children in the time of Oliver Cromwell. In 2007, Kate became the first author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year when Books 2–6 in the series were jointly awarded the 2007 Aurealis Award for Children’s Fiction. Book 5, The Lightning Bolt, was also named a Notable Book for 2007 by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Kate lives by the sea in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and three children, a slinky black cat, a lion-hunting hound, and many thousands of books.


  The Starthorn Tree

  The Chain of Charms series:

  The Gypsy Crown

  The Silver Horse

  The Herb of Grace

  The Cat’s Eye Shell

  The Lightning Bolt

  The Butterfly in Amber



  Ben and Tim’s Magical Misadventures:

  Dragon Gold

  Wishing for Trouble

  Sea Magic



  I Am

  First published 2009 in Pan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited

  1 Market Street, Sydney

  Copyright © Kate Forsyth 2009

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

  Forsyth, Kate, 1966–

  The puzzle ring / Kate Forsyth.

  978 0 330 42493 6 (pbk.)

  For children.


  Typeset in 11.5/15pt Minion by Midland Typesetters, Australia

  Printed by McPherson’s Printing Group

  Papers used by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

  These electronic editions published in 2009 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

  1 Market Street, Sydney

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.

  The Puzzle Ring

  Kate Forsyth

  Adobe eReader format: 978-1-74198-458-3

  Online format: 978-1-74198-539-9

  EPUB format: 978-1-74198-485-9

  Macmillan Digital Australia

  Visit to read more about all our books and to buy both print and ebooks online. You will also find features, author interviews and news of any author events.



  About Kate Forsyth

  Also by Kate Forsyth

  Title page



  Scotland map

  The Thin Days


  The Curse of Wintersloe Castle


  Blackthorn Twigs

  Lady Wintersloe

  The Queen’s Garden

  The Fairy Hill

  The Black Rose


  I Put A Spell On You

  Toad Poison

  Suffer This Bane

  Cryptic Clues


  Scarlett Spry, Super Spy

  The Blue-Faced Hag

  Two Hornet Queens

  Midwinter Bairns

  The Wild Hunt


  The Old Straight Way

  Backflips and Cartwheels

  The First Day

  Looking Through The Hag-Stone

  Arthur’s Seat

  The Queen of Scots

  The World’s End


  A Blood-Sucking Mad-Headed Ape

  The Hag

  The Blue Men

  The Devil’s Influence

  The Girl From Under The Hill

  The Jester

  Port Wine Stain


  Into The Otherworld



  The Rose Of The World

  The Child Of True Blood

  Blackthorn Blossoms

  The Facts Behind the Fiction

  In loving memory

  of Nonnie, Aunty Clarice and Aunty Gwen—

  my grandmother and great-aunts,

  women of the Mackenzie Clan—

  who first told me the story of the bloodstains on

  Mary, Queen of Scots’ floor,

  which no amount of scrubbing can remove


  The Thin Days

  The Curse of Wintersloe Castle

  Hannah Rose Brown was not quite thirteen years old when she discovered her family was cursed.

  The day she first heard of the Curse of Wintersloe Castle was the day her life was slashed in two, as if by a silver sword. Behind her was an ordinary life, just like any other girl’s. Ahead was a life shadowed with mystery and menace and magic.

  Hannah had not known the world could change so swiftly. For the rest of her life, she would never forget that brightness—and darkness—can break upon you at any moment.

  Hannah had no way of knowing that the letter she found stuffed in their mailbox was going to change her life forever. She only found it because she had been sent home early from school in disgrace. If Hannah’s mother Roz had found it instead, she would have destroyed it, and so Hannah would never have found out about the curse, or the puzzle ring, or her father’s mysterious past.

  The envelope was of thick parchment, with a row of golden stamps depicting a red heraldic lion. It was addressed to: The Right Honourable Viscountess of Fairknowe.

  On the back was printed a brilliantly coloured crest. It showed a thorn tree with stars above and roses below. The word Audacia was inscribed on a scroll above. Underneath the crest was printed:

  The Countess of Wintersloe

  Wintersloe Castle


  Loch Lomond


  Hannah wondered how such an unusual-looking letter could possibly have ended up in their letterbox. She had been born at Loch Lomond, but did not remember anything about it since her mother had brought her from Scotland to Australia when she was only a tiny baby. Hannah thought the letter was most intriguing.

  She laid the letter on the table, made some cinnamon toast and carried it to her bedroom. Hannah’s room was very different from the rest of the apartment. Her light was swathed in crimson silk, giving the room an exotic gloom, a guitar was propped up against the chair, and her bedside table was crammed with books.

  More books filled the bookcase. Books about wizards, witches, fairies, mermaids, dragons, sea-serpents, ogr
es, trolls, goblins, boggarts, vampires, werewolves, winged horses, unicorns, magic swords, rings of invisibility, flying carpets, talking mice, frog princes, feisty princesses and vengeful gods.

  Hannah refused to read anything else. This troubled her mother, who was a science teacher at Hannah’s school. Roz believed in logic and reason and proof. She tried many times to convince Hannah to read nice books about girls who set up babysitting groups, or went to pony club, or dreamt of being ballerinas. Hannah rejected them all scornfully. So Roz reluctantly bought Hannah the books she wanted, worrying in case she was feeding an unhealthy desire to escape from real life.

  Hannah was picking out a sad song on her guitar when she heard the sound of her mother’s key in the lock. Her stomach twisted. She knew her mother would already have been hauled to the principal’s office and told about Hannah’s suspension from school. She got up and went out to face Roz, her arms crossed, her face as stony as she could make it.

  ‘But, Hannah, why on earth would you rub mud into the face of the principal’s daughter?’ Roz sounded bewildered. Hannah wished she would get angry and shout like other people’s mothers. Roz never did, though. She thought Hannah’s bad behaviour was because her daughter had no male role model in her life—and this was a source of perpetual grief to Roz.

  ‘She deserved it,’ Hannah said coldly.

  ‘But what did she say?’ Roz took off her glasses and pressed her fingers to the red indentations either side of her nose.

  Hannah shrugged.

  ‘I just don’t understand, Hannah. It’s not rational! You should be trying to make friends, not throwing mud into people’s faces. Won’t you tell me what she said?’

  Hannah answered unwillingly. ‘She said I was such a loser, it was no wonder my dad walked out.’

  Roz closed her hand around the wedding ring she wore on a chain about her neck.

  ‘I’m not saying sorry,’ Hannah said. ‘She deserved it.’

  ‘It’s me who’s sorry. So sorry, darling. Your father . . . he loved you very much . . . you know he would never have left us.’

  ‘So why did she say he did?’ Hannah demanded.

  ‘Well, it’s just, when people’s bodies aren’t found, there are legal problems . . . and people talk . . .’ Roz’s voice grew choked.

  Hannah thought of the photo of her father that she kept hidden in her diary. It was the only photo of the two of them together. Robert had been looking down at his newborn baby with a tired and tender smile. He had the same wild, copper-coloured curls and blue-grey eyes as Hannah herself, and the same long, straight nose. He had disappeared the very next day, three days before Christmas. Roz said that he had walked into the village to visit a friend and had never returned. She thought he had probably fallen into Loch Lomond and drowned. Except his body had never been found.

  Hannah did not know if her father really had died that cold winter’s evening, or whether her mother just refused to admit the truth of his disappearance. Sometimes, in that dark floating space between waking and sleeping, Hannah would make up stories to explain his absence. Perhaps he had fallen and knocked his head and forgotten who he was. One day he’d receive another blow to his head and remember, and then he would come to Australia looking for them . . .

  Or perhaps he had witnessed a crime, and the bad guys had kidnapped him and kept him locked up in a dark prison from which he would one day escape and come to Australia looking for them . . .

  ‘So, are they going to expel me?’ Hannah asked.

  ‘Maybe. Mr Devine was very angry.’

  Hannah set her jaw. ‘I hate that school anyway.’

  ‘But, Hannah, I have to work there! It’ll be very uncomfortable for me if you’re expelled. And it was so convenient . . . we could catch the bus together . . .’ Suddenly she stopped, her hand flying up to her mouth. She had seen the letter.

  ‘I forgot to tell you about that,’ Hannah said. ‘Look, it comes from a castle in Scotland, near where we used to live. I wonder what it was doing in our letterbox? It’s got our address on it. But no viscountesses live here!’ She smiled at the absurdity of the thought.

  Her mother sat down limply at the table, staring at the letter.

  ‘I wonder if the old lady who used to live here was really a viscountess who lost all her money. But none of her other mail is addressed to that name. Isn’t it mysterious?’

  There was no response.

  ‘Mum? Are you listening?’ Her mother stared at the letter with a strange, fixed expression on her face.

  ‘It’s for me,’ Roz said. ‘The letter. It’s addressed to me.’

  ‘What do you mean?’ Hannah stared at her mother in utter surprise. ‘You aren’t a viscountess!’

  Roz looked at her apologetically. ‘Well, technically speaking, I am, I suppose.’

  ‘What? But your dad was a butcher, not a count!’

  ‘You mean an earl,’ Roz said absently. ‘And, no, of course, he wasn’t an earl. But your father . . . well, he was a viscount and so when I married him, I did become a viscountess, ludicrous as it seems. Your great-grandmother is a stickler for etiquette. In her eyes I’m still your father’s wife, and so that’s how she would address any letter to me.’

  ‘My father was a viscount?’


  ‘And I have a great-grandmother? Who’s a countess? How could you not tell me that?’ Hannah was white with rage, her hands clenched by her side.

  ‘I left all that behind me when I left Scotland,’ Roz said wearily, picking up the letter and turning it over in her hand. ‘It meant nothing to me, and it should mean nothing to you either, Hannah. We make our own destinies.’

  ‘Surely I have a right to know something like that!’

  ‘Hannah, please, don’t be angry. You must try and understand. I was brought up to scorn that kind of old-fashioned nonsense, and your father . . . he never used his title. He’d have been embarrassed if anyone did. It’s only old fossils like your great-grandmother who still care about that kind of thing . . .’

  ‘I care!’ Hannah shouted. ‘Of course I care! You’ve never told me anything about my father.’

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Roz said. ‘It’s not that I deliberately left you in ignorance . . . I always meant to tell you one day . . . it’s just that . . . I wanted to leave all that behind me. Make a fresh start, where no one knew about my past. I was only a viscountess for such a short time, and it never defined who I was. Can’t you understand?’

  Hannah could only understand that her mother had lied to her. She folded her arms and stared at her mother accusingly.

  ‘Hannah, darling, please don’t be angry.’ Roz crumpled the letter in her hand. ‘I never even changed my name when we got married. Your father’s last name was Rose, and Rosamund Rose would have been a bit much, don’t you think? Lady Wintersloe did not approve, though. In her day, a wife always took her husband’s name.’

  ‘So, my name’s not even really my name! I’m not really Hannah Brown?’ She felt stupefied, as if she had knocked her head hard in a fall.

  ‘I changed your name when I left Scotland. It seemed simpler if we had the same last name . . .’

  Hannah snatched the letter away from her. ‘But . . . it’s from a castle! My great-grandmother lives in a castle? In Scotland?’

  ‘It’s not really a castle.’ Roz sounded tired. ‘The castle burnt down in the sixteenth century. It’s really just a house. A big house.’

  ‘My great-grandmother lives in a castle in Scotland and you never told me?’ Hannah was so angry, her words tumbled out over each other.

  ‘Your great-grandmother and I didn’t really see eye to eye,’ Roz said. ‘After . . . after your father died . . . we argued . . . she didn’t want me to take you away but I couldn’t bear to stay. I wanted to get as far away as I could. That’s why I came here to Australia.’

  ‘So my great-grandmother is really a countess!’

  Roz shrugged, her lips quirking into a wry smile. ‘She’s
the Countess of Wintersloe. Your father was Lord Robert Rose, Viscount of Fairknowe.’

  ‘Does that make me a lady too? Lady Hannah Rose?’

  ‘I guess it does, now that your father is dead. I mean, you are your great-grandmother’s only heir. If your father was alive, you would be the Honourable Hannah Rose, but since he’s gone, I guess that means you’re a lady too.’

  ‘Lady Hannah Rose,’ she repeated wonderingly. ‘Heir to a castle in Scotland . . . It must be a joke! It can’t be true.’

  ‘It’s true enough.’

  ‘Why did you never tell me?’ Hannah demanded.

  Roz flushed. ‘I’ve put all that behind me, Hannah. Lady Wintersloe never thought I was good enough for her grandson. I was nothing but a butcher’s daughter! And your father and I were married only a month or so before you were born. Lady Wintersloe always thought I was out to get what I could. I saw no reason to stay.’

  ‘So why is she writing to you now?’

  ‘I don’t know,’ Roz said.

  ‘Well, let’s open it, find out!’ Hannah’s anger was replaced by a fizzy excitement. She tore the envelope open.

  Dear Rosamund

  I know that you must be surprised to hear from me now, after so many years. I can only say that I am sorry. I should never have spoken so cruelly to you after Robert died. I think we were both half mad with shock and grief. I am writing to you now to beg you to come home to Wintersloe, and to bring Hannah. I would very much like to see Robert’s child before I die. Do not think me maudlin, I have not been well this past year. I fell and broke my femur and have not healed well, I’m afraid. Sitting here day after day, thinking about how the curse has destroyed all that I love, and worrying about the shadow it must cast over Robert’s child too, has not helped. Please come home to Wintersloe, and let me make my peace with you, and meet the little one again. It would make an old lady very happy.

  Yours sincerely

  Isabelle, Countess of Wintersloe

  Hannah had wanted to ask her mother what a femur was, thinking it sounded like some kind of animal, but the very next sentence in the letter drove the question right out of her mind. ‘What does she mean, “the curse”?’