History Keepers: Nightship to China

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Author: Dibben Damian
about it tomorrow?’ Jake said, pulling Charlie’s blankets up and giving Mr Drake a stroke. His friend nodded and they said their goodbyes.
    At the door, Jake whispered to Lydia, ‘He’s going to be all right, isn’t he?’
    ‘Thanks to you, he’s going to be fine.’ Lydia would never let it be known that she had a favourite, but she was particularly fond of Jake. She gave him a peck on the forehead as he left.
    Jake strolled back to his room. Usually he loved the castle at night, when its corridors were deserted. He could appreciate the history of the building; imagine the young agents of yesteryear setting off on missions, their stomachs in a knot of excitement. But tonight he felt different. He had tried to avoid thinking about his brother, but now that he was alone, a black cloud crept over him. Midsummer’s Day – 21 June, the longest day of the year – used to be one of his favourites; a day of laughter and madcap family expeditions. Now he dreaded it.
, Charlie had said. It didn’t ring true any more. A year had passed since Jake had last heard anything about Philip. The traitorous Caspar Isaksen, before he died on the rooftop of Agata’s palace in Rome, had confessed:
Yes, I’ve seen him. I’ve even tortured him. But I expect he’s dead now
. The last phrase Caspar uttered was the worst of all:
He thought you’d forgotten all about him
    The notion of Philip locked up in a dark dungeon in a distant corner of history tormented Jake. How could his brother ever think he’d been forgotten?
Never. Not until my dying day will I ever forget him
    Galliana had been so intrigued by the discovery of even a tenuous link to Philip, she’d managed to persuade Fredrik Isaksen, Caspar’s father, to let her come and look through his dead son’s possessions in the Isaksen family mansion, situated in northern Sweden of the 1790s. For reasons of security, one of the most solemn rules of the History Keepers was that the Isaksen laboratory – where atomium, the substance they needed to take when travelling through time, was laboriously manufactured – was out of bounds to anyone but the Isaksens; even to the commander herself. However, the disappearance of Philip Djones had been so momentous, so keenly felt by everyone, that the Isaksens had waived the rules – though Galliana had had to submit to being blindfolded for the journey.
    She had found nothing. She and Fredrik had spent an entire week going through every drawer and cupboard in the castle, scanning every piece of paper. There had been no mention of Philip anywhere. That had been many months ago now.
    As Jake closed his bedroom door, Felson came to greet him, tail wagging. He gave Jake a quick lick of the hand before retreating to his basket.
    Jake opened the window and breathed in the balmy night air. Across the bay he could see twinkling lights on the mainland and hear the distant sounds of a party – a band playing, accompanied by cheers of delight. Despite the hour, the sky was still streaked with crimson and pink.
    He got into his pyjamas, but found that he was no longer tired. He didn’t want to start thinking about Philip again, so he jumped onto his fourposter bed and – remembering Charlie’s ideas about the Han dynasty – picked up the book that Yoyo had given him. (She was very patriotic and had circulated books about China to everyone; though she had annoyed Topaz by giving her one called
Chinese Manners and Morals
    Jake’s volume was all about the adventures of Marco Polo, a young Venetian who had voyaged to China in 1272 and ended up staying for twenty-four years; the first European ever to reach that mysterious country. He’d met the grand emperor Kublai Khan, staying in his summer palace and even spending time as his ambassador.
    Jake was two pages into a chapter about brilliant Chinese inventions when he heard a thump on the roof above him. His room was at the top of a turreted tower – the highest bedroom in
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