Jane Smith is the unhappy, resentful, eleven-year-old daughter of a single parent. Her escape from the unpleasantness she considers her life is through another world. There, she’s one of the four powerful Patrollers sworn to the service of the Princess in the Far Tower. Their quest: To choose the bravest warriors in all space and time to fight the Red Wizard.
Jane’s ordinary life improves as she makes friends. She’s picked for the school play and the prestigious trampoline team. But her otherworldly life with its epic adventures continues to be more important to her than the one she lives in…until the warriors’ battle causes a merging of Jane’s ordinary world and her otherworldly one.
GENRE: Mid-Grade Reader Word Count: 31,639
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Jane Smith drank her milk and watched her mother washing breakfast dishes.
Her mother was small, dark and quick-moving, and at the moment, very upset. Jane felt guilty. The question had just forced itself out.
“Was there something wrong with us that my father left?”
Perhaps if there were any relations at all she wouldn’t feel so unwanted, or such an oddity. As it was, the resentment was forever there against the unknown father who had gone all those years ago. Her mother wiped down the sink and hung the tea towel on the rail.
“I wish we had some relations.” The hateful words just slid out.
Everybody at school seemed to have a full set of parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents. Some had more than one set of parents. One girl even boasted of having one father and two stepfathers. Families came in sets, with lots of interlocking pieces, except for them.
Her mother buttoned on the green factory uniform that matched her eyes, and reached for her shabby brown bag. “You’ve got me, Jane. Some girls don’t even have a mother.”
Jane sighed, and picked up her school bag. The lump in her throat stopped her from answering as she followed her mother down the stairs, and across the courtyard of the flats.
“Have a nice day,” her mother said as she left.
Jane watched until her mother reached the high fence of the local factory, before turning and trudging towards the school. The lump in her throat subsided. It was true; at least she had a mother. Ten relatives couldn’t fill the gap of life without a mother.
THE MENTOR TURNED FROM THE CRYSTAL BALL, LONG GREEN SLEEVES FLOATING AS SHE RAISED HER ARMS.
“Just another ten warriors.”
Four pairs of cool grey eyes studied her. Outside the high tower window the four disks bobbed in the breeze.
Mallannis spoke first. “Lady! I have searched the entire west. Warriors with the qualities you require are no longer to be found.”
“And I have covered the south,” Hallin said. “Over all the battles, I have rescued only six warriors who are worthy.”
The green eyes looked a question at Jeraine, whose eyes were thoughtful under his tangled white brows.
“I have been all over the east. There is no one.”
“Are we permitted to venture into the other worlds?” Gaynor, patroller of the north asked.
The owner of the green eyes sighed. “We must have fifty warriors to hold the gates for the bridging. We are still ten warriors short. From whenever in time you find them they must still be of this world.”
Four knees in high silver boots dipped in acknowledgment, and full silver cloaks swirled as their owners stepped out of the long window and on to their waiting disks, that tilted and swayed. Three silver disks, raised sides embellished with the ornate circuitry drifted away from the tower, to accelerate and vanish into the haze of distance.
“Jeraine!” the imperious voice lilted, and Jeraine paused. “Battle clouds are gathering in the plains beyond the mountains. There are rumours that the Red Wizard is behind them.”
“I shall be on guard, lady,” Jeraine promised. “Of course he would be behind them. Isn’t he going to be one of our opponents at the bridging?”
He raised his hand, both in farewell and control. The pattern on his gauntlet flashed its message around the scrolled sides. The drifting disk picked up speed, skimming across the sky towards the haze of mountains in the east.
The dark haired lady in the green robes matching her green eyes, turned from the long window and paced back to the crystal ball dominating the high tower room.
JANE WATCHED THE ORANGE ROLL ACROSS THE FLOOR. Heather sniggered, and the teacher’s attention was caught.
“This your orange, Heather?”
“Yes, Miss Dolphin.”
“Pick it up then.”
Acceptance, tolerance and dismissal in the same tone. The incident was closed, and Heather possessed the orange. Jane put up her hand.
“That was my orange.”
“Are you saying that Heather is a liar?”
Tell the truth and shame the devil, Jane’s mother always said. The teacher looked from one to the other.
“I shouldn’t think Heather would lie.”
Evidence considered and judgement given. Heather Sitwell, only daughter of wealthy parents. Jane Smith, only daughter of a single mother. The matter was closed!
Back to the household customs of the Romans, and another fifteen minutes to recess. Jane narrowed her eyes and scowled. She scowled with such intensity at the teacher’s back that the chalk faltered in its journey across the blackboard.
THE PLATFORM HOVERED, SWAYING LIGHTLY IN THE BREEZE.
Jeraine watched the battle below.
The soldier was getting tired. Sweat beaded his face, and his breathing was heavy and laboured. His attackers were silent now, and the clang of his sword against the studded leather shields was the only noise.
Three bodies clad in the rancid fur pelts, sprawled on the ground. Each of the shaggy black heads was matted with congealing blood. With the skilful use of the round shields, and their agility, it was only a well-placed slash to their heads, which could disable or kill.
The two remaining tribesmen were wary, and not so inclined to be impulsive, and the implacable hatred in the black eyes had become even more intense. One of the attackers circled with a curious shuffling run. The soldier settled his oblong shield on his arm and feinted with his heavy iron sword.
The tribesman sprang back, raising his round shield. His companion bounded towards the soldier’s unprotected back, short stabbing spear poised. The soldier in his crested iron helmet half turned, flung his shield like a missile at his exposed throat, and hurtled towards the first attacker.
The shaggy dark man went down under his weight, and the short spear grated across the breastplate as the soldier shouldered aside the round shield to plunge his sword through the heavy skin pelt. There was a coughing grunt, and the tribesman lay still.
The soldier spun around and staggered towards the other man, but the heavy metal shield had done its job. Sightless black eyes stared up at the sky, blunted yellow teeth still bared in a snarl.
The soldier prowled around kicking at the bodies to make sure they were dead. Only then he raised dazed blue eyes to stare across the sombre landscape. The tumbled rocky landscape was still lifeless. The soldier took a faltering step forward, and pitched on to his face.
Jeraine shook back his mane of white hair. One gauntleted hand swept across the embossed controls, fashioned into the runic characters of the Name. The platform shivered in response and lowered to the ground.
Jeraine stepped across the bodies, picked up the unconscious body of the soldier, and dropped him, his shield and sword on to the platform. Silver tendrils snaked from the floor around the body and the weapons.
In obedience to the hand sweeping across its controls, the platform flung skywards like a silver blur, merging with the clouds covering the unfriendly landscape.
The five bodies lay where they had fallen, forming a circle around the slight mound with its scarred granite blocks.
“LIAR AND THIEF!” JANE BURST OUT AS THEY TUMBLED INTO THE PLAYGROUND.
“Pooh!” Heather’s shrug was indifferent.
“I’ll get even, see if I don’t,” Jane threatened.
Heather drew closer to Gwenda. They looked at her and giggled. Plain Jane Smith, untidy socks and worn sneakers, patched jeans, and raggy jumper.
“Come on Jane,” said tactful Marianne. “We’ll be late for our game.”
“I hate her,”‘ Jane gritted, as she slammed the ball into the net.
“Net ball,” Marianne warned.
Marianne took her tennis very seriously. Her father was the school coach, and she practised desperately to keep ahead of the other players.
Jane took a deep breath and tried again. Her tennis suffered when she was in a bad mood.
“I don’t know why you let her get under your skin–nobody else does.” Marianne ran for the ball as it was returned, swinging her arm across in her copybook backhand.
Jane was silent, watching the ball spin over the net. It wasn’t fair. Her entire life at school was ruined by Heather! Heather was everything she wasn’t.
Heather was tall and long legged, with pink skin, blue eyes and heavy blonde hair. Jane was small, with a narrow dark face, muddy eyes and colourless dirty blonde hair. Her arms and legs were skinny and her tongue as sharp as her elbows.
Heather had wealthy parents. She only had to express a wish for anything to have it granted. Jane only had her mother, and a simple request for money for school outings, for a mobile phone, or an MP3 brought on a tirade about gas and electricity bills.
A twinge of memory eased her resentment as she returned the ball. Heather was a brainless clot at mathematics. The satisfaction passed quickly. Heather still managed to be teacher’s pet. She passed notes, but never got caught. She cheated, and read comics under the desk, but she still never got caught.
That was probably the main difference between them. Some good fairy had bestowed powerful gifts at birth. Gifts like good looks, indulgent rich parents, and the gift of invisibility when she did anything wrong and the gift of invincibility if she got into trouble. Life wasn’t fair!
“Quit daydreaming,” Marianne nagged.
Jane focussed. She slashed at the ball with all her might, pretending it was Heather.