Chapter 1: Intruder
India, 27th November 1907
Rose Muddle drew the curtain to one side and looked out of the window as the train started to move again, carving its way across Northern India. This was certainly as far away from the grey streets of Hove and the workhouse as any twelve-year-old girl could get. Rose was employed – till the following summer – as a companion to her best friend, Rui Singh, in a Royal Palace in India. A grin fanned across her face at the thought of it, and her grey eyes shone.
Outside, the lush green foliage from the beginning of their eighteen-hour train journey had changed to a blanket of scorching desert, and now two brightly dressed women walked alongside the tracks, with clay pots balanced on their heads and their saris floating in the back draught of the train. Rose waved at them excitedly. All thoughts of the evil shadowy world she had uncovered in England felt well and truly behind her.
What an adventure this had been already. Rose, Rui and Bahula the monkey had travelled on board the Peninsular and Oriental steam ship, The Oceania, spending three whole weeks at sea. Rose had loved the freedom of the open waters, and often found herself thinking about her pa whilst on deck. He’d been a sailor and probably travelled across those very same seas before he went missing. Perhaps she’d inherited her taste for adventure from him? She felt certain both her ma and pa would be proud of her now she was a companion to Indian royalty. Rose shook her head and giggled – she could still barely believe it herself.
“And we’re safe here, ain’t we?” she whispered, holding up the magic pendant hanging around her neck. The golden amber disk, with a dark centre, glinted in the sunlight, humming pleasantly in her hand.
With an unexpected whoosh, the train entered a tunnel, plunging Rose into rattling blackness. Her pendant shone golden in the gloom – but then, the darker spot in its middle started to pulse ominously. Something wasn’t right… Rose’s breath caught in her throat, as a hazy image entered her mind of a girl fluffing her blonde ringlets. Missy? Rose shivered right through to her bones. It can’t be... The girl in the image smiled, revealing tiny, perfectly straight teeth. Just then, the train blasted its horn. Rose stumbled as the locomotive bolted out of the other side of the tunnel. She blinked back the bright sunlight now flooding the corridor, and as the train rocked Rose from side to side, uncomfortable thoughts slid around in her mind.
Just a few weeks ago, she and Rui had discovered that her home town of Hove wasn’t the sleepy seaside resort it had seemed to be. Instead, it hid a dark past. A dark past stemming from two Bronze Age pendants that between them held magic strong enough to open a gateway to a shadowy other world, where terrible – evil – creatures lurked, intent on invading the earth. Rose shuddered. She held one of those pendants now. And the girl in the image, Missy, had helped the sinister Brotherhood of the Black Sun to try to steal it from her. Were they after it again now? Was that why Missy had appeared in her mind? Was that what her pendant was trying to tell her? Rose knew that the other pendant – the twin to hers – had gone missing. But it had all happened thousands of miles away, in England. And she and Rui had escaped to India – surely they were safe here?
Rose turned towards the dining carriage to find Rui, but something outside caught her eye. She rested her hands against the cool windowpane and watched two black stallions galloping alongside the train. A figure rode one of the horses, the saddle of the other was empty. The horseman’s face was wound in the same black material as his tunic – which trailed menacingly behind him, like fanned, blackened flames. An uneasy feeling crept beneath her skin. Rui was always going on about omens – and this sight didn’t feel like a good one. As the horses lost speed and disappeared from view, Rose shivered, and pushed herself back against the corridor wall.
“There you are, Rose!” Rui stepped from the dining cart opposite her, with Bahula, his trusty monkey, scampering at his heels.
“Rui!” Rose rallied at the sight of them. She opened her mouth to tell Rui about her vision and the horseman, but then his uncle, the maharajah, stepped out behind him.
A smile formed under the maharajah’s grey beard and his eyes sparkled. “Rose,” he said warmly, resting his hands on his nephew’s shoulders. “We’d been wondering where you were.”
Rui’s uncle was like Indian royalty, so Rose smiled back, and watched her manners, though she was still desperate to tell Rui what her pendant had shown her. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, but listened politely as the maharajah continued.
“I was just telling Rui, we will be arriving in Jaipur at three o’clock – less than an hour from now. You two should prepare your belongings to disembark. I am sure great adventures await you both!” He winked and made to leave. Rose immediately shot to Rui’s side, but the maharajah turned back again, the train rocking him gently, and added, “Oh, and don’t forget the welcome feast tonight. Apparently, some excellent entertainment has been arranged, and an important member of the British High Command has, quite unexpectedly, boarded our train at Kota. They will also be dining with us.” He pottered off, waving his hands in the air theatrically. “So much to do.”
“So, Rose.” Rui strode away, oblivious to her panic. “Through our studies thus far, we have covered secret codes and ciphers.” Bahula scampered alongside him down the corridor, as Rui went on. “And invisible ink and locking mechanisms.” He held aloft his well-thumbed Conjurors’ Weekly magazine rolled into a tube. “Next we will concentrate on Sherlock Holmes and the powers of observation.”
“Wait,” Rose said, rushing to catch up. “My pendant,” she stammered, pulling him to a stop. “I had a vision. It showed me Missy.”
“Missy?” he stiffened.
“Yeah, Missy – inside that tunnel back there. I asked my pendant if we was safe – and then, there she was. Smiling inside my head.”
“Rose,” he began gently. “Are you sure your mind isn’t just playing tricks on you again? I mean, you had us trailing that poor man on the boat because you thought he looked like Banks in disguise, and then in Bombay you swore blind you saw Snodgrass – but all the Brotherhood of the Black Sun are safely behind bars.”
Rose’s head dropped. Rui was probably right. “But Missy ain’t locked up, is she! No one ever found her,
Bahula looked between the two of them.
“Now,” Rui placed an arm around her. “No one can blame you for being jumpy after everything you have been through – but, you are perfectly safe in India! Remember, no one knows you’re travelling to Jaipur, except Enna Lee.”
“Yeah,” Rose agreed, the toe of her boot circling the wooden floorboards of the corridor. “I know.”
“Plus, anyway, the evil pendant has always had a male guardian, has it not? Hmm?”
Rui was right. “Yeah, but what if Missy is taking the other pendant to someone else? And—”
At that moment, four royal guards came out of their carriage, and Rose squeezed herself against the wall to give them space to pass. They all wore the same outfits: blue tunics to their knees with white trousers beneath, and pointed sandals turning up at the toes. Akshay, the head guard, scowled at Rui as he swept by, picking at his teeth with a toothpick.
The corners of Rui’s mouth turned down.
Rose could tell some members of the palace staff seemed less keen on Rui than the maharajah. She’d yet to discover exactly why. Every time Rose tried to ask Rui anything about it, he seemed to change the subject – which just made Rose even more intrigued.
“That Akshay don’t like you much, does he?” she whispered.
“Well deduced, Rose. Erm, now–” he flustered – “Sherlock Holmes’s greatest skill was his power of observation. We must endeavour to hone our skills in the same way,” Rui said tucking his rolled-up magazine under his arm. Rose followed him and Bahula along the narrow train gangway back towards their compartment. “You see, Holmes prided himself on the observation of trifles.”
Rose slowed. “Trifles?” she began with a crumpled brow. “Whatever did Sherlock get out of watching cream puddings?” she asked, slipping into their private compartment.
But Rui didn’t reply. Instead, she found him facing her, frozen to the spot, his eyes wide with terror. Bahula growled by Rui’s feet, his lip curled to reveal gums and teeth. The two of them were looking right past her.
“W-what’s wrong?” She hardly dared turn round.
The compartment door slid shut, sealing them inside. Rose’s tummy plunged like a pound weight as she spun round.
A figure blocked the door, dressed in black, his face concealed beneath a scarf of the same colour. His brown eyes flashed angrily. A dagger glinted in his left hand, and Rose spotted another larger knife, tucked into a sheath around his waste, its blade curving into a sharp point.
She gasped, backing away towards Rui. Their seats were covered in a jumble of Rui’s things and his open trunk lay upside down beside them. His colourful clothes and jewels spilled out by their feet.
“Take whatever yer want,” Rose panted at the intruder. Her pendant vibrated beneath her dress, shooting out waves of adrenaline. Instinctively, she covered it with her hand. Was that what he was after? Her pulse skipped
a beat. But the man was not looking at her. He was glaring at Rui. He grunted something in Hindi, slicing the air between them with his dagger. Then he stepped closer, thrusting forwards an outstretched hand, expecting Rui to give him something.
Rui shook his head repeatedly at the man.
The train screeched to a halt, sending them all flying to one side of the compartment. The intruder righted himself, and Rose’s pendant pulsed furiously as she tried to catch her breath. Was this man going to kill them?
Bahula leaped back and forth across the seats, squealing in fright. Rui picked his monkey up and held him close to his chest to shield him.
Shouts and clattering feet rang out from the corridor. The intruder ducked down, pinning his back against the closed door, his dagger pointing between Rose and Rui. Terrified, they stayed silent as several members of the royal guard thundered past. “Check the train!” one shouted. “There has been a break-in.” Rose couldn’t understand the stream of words in Hindi that followed. She shut her eyes, willing the guards to burst inside and save them, but their cries faded as they moved further away down the train.
With an angry hiss, the intruder leaped up and slid open the door. Taking one last look at them, he muttered angrily and stole away down the corridor, leaving them were alone.
“Are you all right?” Rui asked. Dropping Bahula, he pulled Rose to her feet.
“Yeah,” she puffed, catching her breath.
Bahula careered outside and bounded up and down in the gangway, shrieking – trying to draw the guards’ attention from further along the train. Rui scrambled to the carriage door and shouted at the top of his voice, “He went that way!” Seconds later, half a dozen of the royal guard charged back along the narrow corridor in pursuit of the intruder.
The train sounded three sharp toots of its horn and gunshots followed from outside. Bahula covered his ears.
Both Rose and Rui dashed to the window, where desert sands stretched towards distant mountains.
“There he is!” Rose pointed at two figures tearing away on horseback, their identical black robes flapping behind them. Their intruder waved his dagger in the air as his horse picked up speed. They were riding the very same horses Rose had seen trailing the train moments earlier.
Angry voices screamed outside, followed by two more shots. But the targets were already out of range. The mysterious intruder and his accomplice disappeared in the dust kicked up by their horses. They’d escaped.
When Rose Muddle and Rui Singh travel to India to return a precious ruby, they discover they're being followed by a sinister stranger... someone who wants to steal the gem.
And as a dark curse falls across the land, Rose and Rui find themselves in mortal danger. There's evil magic in the air... Can they uncover the ruby's secrets before their shadowy enemies wreak their deadly chaos?
“Plenty of plot twists and intrigue in these cracking adventures”
Imogen White won her place in the Undiscovered Voices 2014 Anthology with the opening to The Rose Muddle Mysteries. Imogen loves local history, and children’s stories that aren’t limited to beautiful countryside locations or secluded seaside coves. Imogen lives in Hove with her husband, children and belligerent ginger-tomcat. The Amber Pendant is her debut novel.
“This spectacular story is a superb follow-up to The Amber Pendant, serving up the same heady cocktail of intrigue, danger, suspense, fun, ancient legends and first-class entertainment as Rose and Rui become immersed in the natural (and unnatural!) wonders of the exotic city of Jaipur. ”
Pam Norfolk, Lancashire Evening Post
Visit Usborne Quicklinks for links to websites where you can see photos of the pink city of Jaipur in India, where Rose and Rui's adventures take place, take a virtual tour of the Jantar Mantar Observatory, and find out more about life in India.