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The Lightning Bolt

Kate Forsyth

  Kate Forsyth is a bestselling author across several genres. Her titles include the Witches of Eileanan series, The Gypsy Crown, The Silver Horse, The Herb of Grace and The Cat’s Eye Shell, the first four books in the Chain of Charms series, The Starthorn Tree, Wishing for Trouble and Dragon Gold. Kate lives with her husband, three children and a black cat called Shadow in Sydney.


  The Chain of Charms series:

  The Gypsy Crown

  The Silver Horse

  The Herb of Grace

  The Cat’s Eye Shell

  The Starthorn Tree



  Ben and Tim’s Magical Misadventures:

  Wishing for Trouble

  Dragon Gold




  First published 2007 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited

  1 Market Street, Sydney

  Text copyright © Kate Forsyth 2007

  Illustrations copyright © Jeremy Reston 2007

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, 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 lightning bolt.

  For primary school children.

  ISBN 978 1 4050 3784 6

  1. Gypsies – Juvenile fiction. I. Title. (Series: Forsyth, Kate, 1966– Chain of charms; 5)


  Internal text design by Seymour Designs

  Typeset in 11/17 pt Janson Text by Post Pre-press Group

  Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group

  The characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  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 2008 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 Lightning Bolt

  Kate Forsyth

  Adobe eReader format 978-1-74197-840-7

  Microsoft Reader format 978-1-74197-881-0

  Mobipocket format 978-1-74197-922-0

  Online format 978-1-74197-963-3

  Epub format 978-1-74262-540-9

  Macmillan Digital Australia

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  C H A R A C T E R S


  Luka Finch (13)

  Emilia Finch (13) – his cousin

  Maggie Finch, called Queen of the Gypsies – their grandmother

  Jacob – Luka’s father

  Silvia – Luka’s mother

  Lena (14) and Mimi (9) – Luka’s sisters

  Beatrice (15) – Emilia’s sister

  Noah (9) – Emilia’s brother

  Ruben – Luka and Emilia’s uncle

  Sabina (10) – Ruben’s daughter

  Alida – a grey Arab pony

  Zizi – a monkey

  Rollo – a dog

  Sweetheart – a brown bear


  Fairnette Smith (12)

  Van Smith (10)

  Old Man Smith – their father

  Stevo Smith – their eldest brother

  Bean-Pole, Potato-Head, Pea-Brain, Scar-Face, and Lazy-Eye – their other brothers


  Janka Hearne – the tribe’s grandmother

  Felipe Hearne – her eldest son

  Julisa – Felipe’s wife

  Sebastien (15) – Felipe’s son

  Cosmo Hearne – Janka’s second son

  Nadine (15) – Cosmo’s daughter


  Pastor Spurgeon – the Puritan minister of the Kingston-Upon-Thames parish church

  Coldham – a thief-taker for Cromwell


  In 1658, England is a dangerous place to live.

  For eleven years, Oliver Cromwell has ruled the land with an iron fist, determined to bring the people to a more godly way of life. Under his Puritan regime, football and horseracing are banned, dancing and singing and feasting are frowned upon, and everyone is expected to lead a quiet, sombre life, without Christmas or Easter to break the monotony.

  But now Old Ironsides is getting old and weak. He has been struck down with a violent and mysterious illness that some suspect is caused by poison, or witchcraft. Those who have remained faithful to the monarchy gather secretly to plot for the return of the young king, Charles II, who lives hand-to-mouth on the Continent, relying on charity. Others dream of a new society, where noble and commoner have equal rights and everyone has the freedom to choose their own religion.

  To maintain order, Cromwell’s men have clamped down on anyone they suspect of such treasonous thoughts. Old friends of the king’s have been thrown in the Tower, several high-profile men have been executed, and everywhere Quakers, Levellers, Catholics and other radicals are persecuted and imprisoned.

  Luka and Emilia Finch are thirteen-year-old gypsy children whose family has been imprisoned in Kingston-Upon-Thames, facing death by hanging if Luka and Emilia cannot find some way of saving them before the end of the month.

  Their grandmother Maggie has charged them with an urgent and dangerous task – they must travel to each of the gypsy tribes and beg them for their help. Once, Maggie tells Emilia, there was a gypsy witch who wore on her wrist a chain of six lucky charms. The witch gave each of her six children one of the charms as their lucky talisman, but ever since the chain of charms was broken, the gypsies have been dogged with misfortune.

  Maggie gives Emilia the first of the charms – a golden coin – and tells her to search for the other five. So far, they have found three – a silver horse, a sprig of rue, and a cat’s eye shell – but time is beginning to run out for their family in prison. Now they must try to find the charm that belongs to the Smith family – a lightning bolt forged from the heart of a falling star . . .


  The Knight of Swords

  The Gun Foundry

  Rose Honey

  Telling the Bees

  The Secret Society of the Swallow Feather

  Cursed Bad Luck

  A Storm of Bees

  The Gypsy Camp

  A Hungry Beast

  Fire and Smoke

  For the Want of a Horse

  The Facts behind the Fiction

  The Knight of Swords


/>   27th August 1658

  The smugglers had their own secret ways through the dark, sleeping countryside.

  Leading ponies laden with mysterious bundles, the Owlers crept down narrow tracks, through sunken lanes, up steep bridlepaths and along forgotten byways. Their ponies were black or bay, and any blaze or sock was darkened with soot. With their tack and hooves muffled, they moved as silently as ghost-horses, and the men that walked beside them did not speak, or cough, or smoke their pipes.

  Slumped on the back of one of the ponies, poked on all sides with boxes and parcels, Emilia felt the night seeping into her very pores. She felt the wind moving over her skin and through the trees; she heard the far-distant bark of a badger and the invisible gurgle of water over stones; she saw a constant ruffle at the edges of the darkness as leaves rustled, clouds drifted, grass swayed and the hunters of the night leapt past on soundless paw or muffled wing. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. And, because she did not need to guide her pony, which blindly followed the tail of the pony before it, Emilia found her eyes giving up their urgent desire to see, and allowing her nose and ears and skin to see for her. The night scents were sharper, the night sounds were stranger, the night air was silkier than she was used to. It was a different world entirely that she found herself riding through, and it so fascinated her that she forgot her fear and her impatience, and rode as if she were some night animal herself, a cat or an owl, eyes as round as a moon.

  That is why they call themselves Owlers, she thought. Not because an owl feather is their secret signal.

  She was almost asleep when Milosh drew the ponies to a halt.

  ‘Horsmonden is down in that valley,’ he whispered to Emilia and Luka, as he helped them down from their ponies. ‘Are you sure you do not want to ride to London with me, and wait till I come back this way? The Smiths are hard men. They do not care for children.’

  Luka and Emilia shook their heads. They had already discussed this with the leader of the smugglers. He could not change his route to suit them. It was meticulously planned and organised. Any change and it could all fall apart. Much as the two gypsy children would love to have Milosh at their backs as they confronted the Smiths, they dared not wait any longer. Every day they delayed on the road was one more day in gaol for their family, one more day at the mercy of the cruel, fanatical Pastor Spurgeon. Already it had seemed an agonisingly slow journey for them, since the smugglers only travelled by night and spent the day hiding and resting. Two days already had passed in this fashion, and it had almost driven Luka mad with impatience.

  ‘Thanks though,’ Luka whispered, tucking his monkey Zizi up under his collar to keep her warm. ‘Will we see you at the end of the month? At Richmond Park?’

  ‘If I can, I will be there,’ Milosh answered. He must have sensed their dismay at his reticence, because he added, humorously, ‘Only the gallows will prevent me, I promise,’ and he gave each of them a white owl feather.

  They had to be satisfied with that.

  Standing in the dark, the owl feathers in their hands, the two children watched as the train of ponies vanished from view. A few steps and they were gone. Emilia put her hand on Rollo’s shaggy back. Although she could not see the big dog, he was satisfyingly warm and solid beside her.

  ‘It’s too dark to see the way,’ Luka said. ‘Let’s lie down under the hedge and sleep awhile, and in the morning we’ll go on, when we can see.’

  ‘All right,’ Emilia said, ashamed of how small her voice sounded.

  Silently, they dug themselves a bed of sorts in the leaves under the hedge, and lay down, back to back, Rollo curled up by Emilia, Zizi huddled in Luka’s arms. It was cold, and they spread Emilia’s shawl over them both, and shut their eyes, sure they could never sleep.

  Somehow they did. Emilia woke in the dew-bright dawn, rubbing the crust from her eyes. Luka was still sleeping, and Rollo opened one eye, thumped his tail, then shut his eye again. Emilia huddled her skirts about her cold feet and looked about her.

  Fields stretched away on either side of the road, silver with dew. All the harvesting was done, and the farmer had recently ploughed so that the furrows lay across the dark earth like puckered seams. A hare sat up in the verge to stare at her. Although Emilia was hungry, she did not call to it, to see if it would come leaping into her arms. They had no cook-pot, and anyway, Emilia liked to see it running wild over the bare earth.

  She dug through the satchel until she came to her grandmother’s things, wrapped up in a gaudy old scarf that smelt, faintly, of her Baba.

  Inside lay a cloudy crystal ball and a pack of worn tarot cards. Emilia touched them gently, tears prickling her eyes. She had not dared look at her grandmother’s things since Nonsuch Palace, when she had foreseen Colonel Pride’s death. The memory filled her with horror. Even now, almost two weeks later, she dared not look in the crystal ball, for fear of what it might show her. She laid it aside on the grass, and slowly looked through the shabby old tarot cards.

  Emilia had grown up with these cards. It had been a rare day when her grandmother had not laid them out, either for herself or someone else. Emilia had always watched as Maggie read their mysteries, utterly fascinated by what she saw.

  The cards seemed to tell fantastical stories, of love and war and fate and disaster. Laying them out about her, fingering their bright, strange pictures, of stars and roses, flaming comets and winged lions, bodies pierced with swords, laughing devils, weeping queens and dancing fools, Emilia had to wipe her eyes with the back of her hand.

  We have four of the lucky charms, she told herself, and soon we will have the fifth. Soon Baba and Beatrice and Noah will be free, and the rest of the family too, and we can go back to the Great North Wood and live in peace.

  Emilia rhythmically shuffled the cards, soothing herself with the easy flow from hand to hand. She then laid out three cards on the grass before her, silently asking, What is to become of us all? This, the three-card spread, was the easiest of all the many different spreads, and at its simplest, stood for the past, the present and the future.

  Emilia turned over the cards, one by one, and saw:

  A tower struck by lightning. That meant calamity, a reversal of fortunes, a stroke of fate.

  Seven swords crossed. A trial that can only be overcome by inner strength and courage.

  The Knight of Swords. A treacherous man.

  Emilia stared down at the three cards, troubled and unhappy, then, as Luka stirred and sighed, swept them up and wrapped them quickly in the bright scrap of scarf, tucking them and her grandmother’s crystal ball back in the satchel. These were the tools of the drabardi, and as such were women’s mysteries, not meant for the eyes of thirteen-year-old boys who thought they knew everything.

  ‘I’m starving,’ Luka said, sitting up and scratching his dark mop of hair. ‘Did Milosh give us any more food?’

  ‘Only some more bread and bacon,’ Emilia said, getting the small parcel of food out of the satchel and unwrapping the greasy napkin.

  Luka sighed. ‘I never thought I’d be sick of bacon.’

  ‘It’s not so nice cold,’ Emilia agreed, tearing the hard, stale roll in half.

  ‘I’ll have that one,’ Luka said and grabbed the larger half.

  ‘Not fair!’

  ‘You tore it, I get to choose,’ Luka said. ‘That is so fair.’

  ‘But it’s much bigger than mine! I didn’t mean to tear it unevenly.’

  ‘You should’ve left it to me to cut it with my knife,’ Luka said through a mouthful. ‘Girls are hopeless at things like that.’

  ‘Are not!’

  ‘All right, then, you’re hopeless at it. I suppose somewhere in the world there may be a girl who can measure and cut properly, but you’re not one of them.’

  Glowering at him, Emilia chewed her bacon roll, doing her best to ignore Rollo who sat very close to her, his soft ears raised, his brown eyes fixed imploringly upon her breakfast. After a moment, she gave him the hard rind, whi
ch she did not like. In a snap and a gulp it was gone. She sighed and let him eat the rest of her roll. He swallowed it without chewing, and looked at her hopefully. As soon as he realised she had no more, he transferred his attention to Luka, who let the big dog lick his fingers.

  ‘That barely touched the sides,’ Luka said. ‘Do you think the Smiths will feed us?’

  ‘Sure they will. Probably some cold pottage and beans.’ Emilia sighed.

  ‘What I’d really like is some roast rabbit and potatoes hot from the coals,’ Luka said, and tucked his cold hands into his armpits.

  Rollo barked eagerly, his tail wagging.

  ‘Rollo does too,’ Emilia said with a giggle.

  ‘My darling monkey girl wants some plums,’ Luka said, picking Zizi up and swinging her onto his shoulder. She pushed his cap back to the usual jaunty angle so she could seize hold of his ear and croon something into it in her own liquid, monkey language. Luka listened solemnly, then said, ‘And some fresh bread with cherry jam and . . . what was that, sweetie? Oh yes, some walnuts and dried figs.’

  ‘I can just imagine the Smiths having dried figs and walnuts,’ Emilia said. ‘She may as well ask for a satin cushion and a new velvet dress at the same time.’

  ‘Nothing but the best for my little monkey girl,’ Luka said. ‘And she does need a new dress.’

  ‘So do I,’ Emilia answered, shaking out her own skirts rather ruefully. They were badly stained, and covered in pony hair, and the hem hung down at one side where she had caught it on a bramble. It had only been ten days since old Martha of Tanglewood Manor had given her this dress, but it looked as if Emilia had slept every night since in a ditch.

  ‘Well, the sooner we find the Smiths, the sooner we can be begging them for some more food,’ Luka said, and set off down the path that ran down through the copse.