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The Wildkin's Curse

Kate Forsyth

  Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books for children and adults, including The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, The Starthorn Tree and Dragon Gold.

  Since her first published book was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus magazine, Kate has been shortlisted for numerous awards, including a Cybil Award in the US. In 2007, Kate became the first author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year when Books 2–6 in the Chain of Charms 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, and many thousands of books.


  The Starthorn Tree

  The Puzzle Ring

  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 2010 in Pan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited

  1 Market Street, Sydney

  Copyright © Kate Forsyth 2010

  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 wildkin’s curse / Kate Forsyth.

  978 0 330 42605 3 (pbk.)

  For children.


  Map by Jeremy Reston

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

  Printed in Australia 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 2010 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

  1 Market Street, Sydney 2000

  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 Wildkin’s Curse

  Kate Forsyth

  Adobe eReader format: 978-1-74262-112-8

  Online format: 978-1-74262-115-9

  EPUB format: 978-1-74262-113-5

  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



  The Prophecy

  Family Tree of the Royal Family of Ziva



  Chapter 1: The Trap

  Chapter 2: The Erlrune

  Chapter 3: A Very Sad Story

  Chapter 4: Cloak of Feathers


  Chapter 5: Stormlinn Castle

  Chapter 6: Climbing Stormfell

  Chapter 7: Rattle Those Bones

  Chapter 8: A Terrible Dream

  Chapter 9: The Perilous Forest

  Chapter 10: Estelliana Castle

  Chapter 11: Lord Zakary

  Chapter 12: Swan Feathers

  Chapter 13: The Star and Crown Inn

  Chapter 14: Lilies in the Field

  Chapter 15: The Wanderer

  Chapter 16: Shooting the Albatross


  Chapter 17: Death Bells

  Chapter 18: Twiddling Their Thumbs

  Chapter 19: Midnight at the Gate

  Chapter 20: The King of Ziva

  Chapter 21: The Tower of Stars

  Chapter 22: The Swan Wife

  Chapter 23: Nightingale Song

  Chapter 24: Pelican Lady

  Chapter 25: Morning of the Spring Equinox

  Chapter 26: Traitors

  Chapter 27: The Feast

  Chapter 28: The Pit

  Chapter 29: The Boar’s Head


  Chapter 30: The Wildkin’s Curse

  Chapter 31: Playing Dice With Death

  Chapter 32: True Love Falls Awry

  Chapter 33: Words Have Weight

  For my sister

  Belinda Murrell

  For listening when I need to talk

  For talking when I need to listen

  And for travelling the writer’s road hand in hand with me

  The Prophecy

  Three times a babe shall be born,

  between star-crowned and iron-bound.

  First, the sower of seeds, the soothsayer,

  though lame, he must travel far.

  Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker,

  though broken himself he shall be.

  Last, the smallest and the greatest—

  in him, the blood of wise and wild,

  farseeing ones and starseeing ones.

  Though he must be lost before he can find,

  though, before he sees, he must be blind,

  if he can find and if he can see,

  the true king of all he shall be.

  Family Tree of the Royal Family of Ziva


  The ziv Estaria family, rulers of the County of Estelliana

  LORD ZEDRIN (called Zed)—aged 16

  PEDRIN, his father

  LADY LISANDRE, his mother

  PRISCILLA, his sister—aged 15

  COUNT ZYGMUNT, his uncle and Count of Estelliana

  The Bellringer family, residents of Estelliana

  MERRIK (called Merry)—aged 16

  DURRIK THE SOOTHSAYER, his father (now dead)

  MAGLEN, his mother (called Mags or the Hag)

  The Vendavala family, rulers of Stormlinn Castle and the Perilous Forest

  LILIANA (called Lili)—aged 16

  LADONNA, her mother (now dead)

  BRIONY, her aunt, Erlrune of the Evenlinn

  SHOSHANNA, her aunt (now dead)

  AVANNIA, her grandmother (once Erlqueen of the Stormlinn, now dead)

  The ziv Zitaraz family, rulers of the County of Zitara and the land of Ziva


  PRINCE ZANDER, his son and heir

  PRINCESS ADORA, Prince Zander’s wife

  PRINCESS ROZALINA (Prince Zander’s daughter with Shoshann
a Vendavala)—aged 16

  Lady Vernisha, Princess Adora’s mother

  The ziv Valletta family


  LORD ZAKARY, his son—aged 17

  STIGA, an old servant at Stormlinn Castle

  AUBIN THE FAIR, the constable at Estelliana Castle

  WILHELM, a soldier

  ANNIE, a lady-in-waiting





  The Trap


  He thrust his sword towards Zed’s mocking face. To his dismay, the tall, fair-haired boy swung his own sword around in a powerful arc, knocking Merry’s blow sideways. His sword spun from his hand and into the bushes.

  ‘Whose turn to die now?’ Zed jeered, swinging his sword high, ready to strike. ‘Unless, of course, you’re prepared to yield?’

  ‘I’d rather rot in the ground!’ Merry flung himself to the ground and seized his sword, rolling over and bringing it round low, trying to knock Zed from his feet. Zed jumped nimbly backwards, and Merry staggered to his feet again, flicking his dark hair out of his eyes. He slashed his sword back and forth, feinting once and lunging forward with a swift, if wavering, thrust.

  ‘Tricky!’ Zed said with a mocking smile. ‘But can you be so quick if I do this . . . and this . . . and this?’

  With each repetition, he thrust and parried expertly, his sword darting. Merry had to scramble to get away, gasping with exhaustion. His sword felt as if it had been forged from lead. His arm ached, his heart slammed erratically against his ribs, and sweat stung his eyes. He dashed his arm across his face and quickly wiped his sword hand on his shirt, before lunging forward with all his strength.

  Dusk fell over the forest, and the sun glared red over the jagged peak of a steep-sided mountain. It glinted in the slitted eyes of an omen-imp that crouched hidden in a tree that hung over the clearing. A hideous little creature, he had orange fur, black leathery wings and scaly limbs, and a huge grinning mouth filled with needle-sharp fangs. The omen-imp watched the battle below intently, waiting for his chance.

  Zed crossed his sword with Merry’s and pushed him back. Merry tripped over a root that snaked away from the tree. He crashed to the ground and, before he had time to roll away, found a heavy knee pinning him to the ground and a sword jammed against his throat.

  ‘Any last wishes before I slit your gullet?’ Zed said.

  Merry battled to recover his breath, his pulse hammering, the taste of bitter defeat in his mouth. Then the omen-imp launched into the air, landing on Zed’s head and tugging at his hair with all his strength.

  ‘Ow!’ Zed batted the omen-imp away.

  At once Merry rolled over, bringing his sword up and around in a swinging arc. Zed stumbled back, tripping over the same tree root that had sent Merry sprawling. He hit the ground hard, and lay winded for a moment, just long enough for Merry to set one foot upon his chest and the point of his sword into the hollow at the base of Zed’s throat.

  The omen-imp flapped up and down, shrieking with laughter. ‘What a thud! What a thump!’

  ‘So,’ Merry said breathlessly, ‘have you any last requests?’

  Zed tried to jerk away, but Merry leant a little more heavily on his sword point. ‘All right, all right, you win,’ Zed said ungraciously.

  ‘What a mighty big lump!’ the omen-imp jeered.

  Zed glared at him. ‘Shut up, will you!’

  ‘What a grump!’

  Zed ground his teeth together and tried to throw Merry off, but Merry held the sword point steady, even though his chest heaved.

  ‘Are you yielding?’ Merry asked sweetly. ‘The great warrior Zedrin, yielding to . . . what do you like to call me? Squirt?’

  ‘Get off me, you oaf.’

  ‘You oaf!’ the omen-imp shouted. ‘Use your loaf!’

  ‘Jumping Jimjinny, can’t you get that little monster to shut up?’ Zed said irritably. He tried to thrust the sword point away. ‘How am I expected to fight a sword battle with him pulling my hair out by the roots? Unfair!’

  ‘You shouldn’t care so much about your hair,’ the omen-imp jeered.

  ‘Come on, Merry, let me up!’ Zed begged. ‘This tree root is mighty uncomfortable.’

  ‘Really? Because I’m quite comfortable here.’ Merry lifted one hand and pretended to shade his eyes as he gazed at the mountains, black against the saffron sky. ‘Lovely view.’

  The omen-imp cackled with wicked laughter.

  ‘Come on, Merry, stop being such a cabbage-head.’

  ‘I need to hear the words,’ Merry said. ‘You know . . . I yield . . .’ He drew the words out.

  ‘All right, all right, I yield.’ Zed muttered.

  Merry cupped his hand behind his ear. ‘Sorry, can’t hear you.’

  ‘All right! I yield!’

  ‘That does sound good. Music to my ears. Can you say it again?’

  ‘I’ll make you start singing if you’re not careful,’ Zed threatened. ‘Come on! Let me up!’

  ‘Well, since you asked so nicely . . .’ Merry lifted his wooden sword away and stepped back so Zed could sit up and smooth back his tousled curls.

  ‘You only won because of that blasted omen-imp. Unfair!’ Zed said, standing up and dusting himself off.

  ‘The Erlrune says we can use any weapon to hand. Well, Tom-Tit-Tot is my secret weapon, aren’t you, boy?’

  The omen-imp bared his fangs and jeered with laughter. ‘Swift as a sword, sharp as a spear, indeed I am a weapon to fear!’

  ‘You should fear me, imp! It’s so unfair. Just because Merry happened to be the one to catch you when you fell out of the rafters. It could easily have been me.’

  ‘Except you probably would have trod on the poor little thing with those enormous boots of yours,’ Merry retorted.

  ‘The boots of a brute,’ Tom-Tit-Tot said, pretending to look cowed.

  ‘You’re just jealous, squirt,’ Zed said with all the confidence of a young man who stood over six feet tall in his socks. He towered over Merry, who was small and thin and bony. The two friends were a study in contrasts. Where Zed was tall and fair and easygoing, Merry was quick-witted and quick-tempered, with dark, fiery eyes. He wore his brown hair long, as he could never be bothered to cut it, and only tied it back so it would not hang in his face when he was playing his lute, which he did whenever he had a spare moment. His skin was rather sallow, and there were dark crescents under his eyes, for Merry never slept well, his brain on fire with dreams and ideas and plans and problems, none of which ever seemed to worry Zed.

  Zed bent and picked up his wooden sword from the grass. ‘Lucky we’re only fighting with practice swords. I’d have killed you ten times over, otherwise.’

  ‘Sure!’ Merry jeered. ‘Which is why you yielded in the end.’

  ‘If I hadn’t tripped . . .’

  ‘Excuses, excuses.’

  ‘Come on, we’d better get back. You know the Erlrune says we mustn’t be out after dark.’

  ‘Race you!’ Merry challenged, breaking at once into a run.

  ‘Hey! You can’t just start racing like that. It’s not fair.’

  ‘It’s the quick or the dead,’ Merry called back. ‘And so far, it’s me that’s looking quick.’

  ‘I’ll get you!’ Zed cried, lengthening his stride. ‘And when I do, I’ll beat you black and blue.’

  ‘Have to catch me first, slowpoke!’

  The two boys raced through the shadowy forest, laughing and calling rude comments back at each other. The omen-imp scampered after them, swinging from vines and spreading his leathery wings for short flights from branch to branch. Every now and again, he called, ‘I’ll beat you, black and blue!’

  The sun had sunk behind the sharp tip of Evenfell, the tall mountain at the far end of the valley, while the full moon hung, round and translucent, above the pine trees, its silver light reflected in the still waters of the Evenlinn. It w
as cold and snow lay thickly on the mountain’s flanks. It was the first day of the month of shedding antlers, though, and the days were already growing longer. Under the gloom of the evergreen trees, the path twisted among gnarled roots and jagged protrusions of stone. The boys did not slow their pace, however. They knew the path well, and could see ahead a dim archway of light that heralded the end of the forest.

  Tom-Tit-Tot flew down to pluck at Merry’s hair. ‘Beware the trap! Beware the trick! You’d better be spry, you’d better be quick!’

  Merry glanced over his shoulder, expecting to see Zed diving at him and trying to crash-tackle him. Suddenly Merry’s foot was caught in a loop of rope, and he was swung off his feet and spun upside-down, dangling from the enormous fist of a hobhenky.

  ‘Tricked! Trapped!’ Tom-Tit-Tot called sadly and took refuge in a tree, snatching at acorns and flinging them with astounding accuracy at the massive head of the hobhenky. The acorns hit with a satisfying clunk, and pinged off into the undergrowth. The hobhenky looked around in surprise.

  He was a huge, hulking creature, hung with ill-fitting armour made from scrap metal. A horned helmet was squashed down over his eyes, and he carried a gigantic mace in his free hand.

  Although Merry spun and twisted, and hammered the hobhenky with his wooden sword, the creature only roared with laughter and swung Merry from side to side so he was sick and dizzy. Tom-Tit-Tot launched himself at the hobhenky’s ear and was batted away as carelessly as a midge, flying head over heels back into the shadows under the trees.

  Zed, by this time, was hanging helplessly upside-down too, the rope that had trapped his foot dangling in the fist of another hobhenky, virtually identical to the first.

  ‘Crash! Smash! Let us down!’ Merry cried. ‘What are you doing?’

  The hobhenkies roared with laughter.

  ‘Got you good!’ one cried.