What seemed like a moment later, he was shaking me awake. I was very sore now.

"We've reached Hamelin," he said. "It looks like we'll have to open the gate ourselves."

I blinked. Behind us, I could hear and smell a river, the Weser. In front of us was a huge wall. Beyond it to the right I could see a golden spire shining—the ancient abbey of St. Boniface that my father had told me was the oldest thing in Hamelin. And directly in our path stood a gate, shut even though there was still daylight. I tried to imagine the five horses pulling it open.

I felt the Pipelord take a deep breath. He lifted his golden pipe to his mouth. As his fingers moved up and down the holes, a few hard, eerie tones came out... followed by one long note.

A rumble sounded through the gate.

The Pipelord leaned back, nudging the horse with his knees so that it moved back, too. He repeated the notes he played at first, except lower, and then the long one again. He held the note, his face and hands perfectly relaxed.

Something large in the gate shoved and clicked. The gate creaked and slowly opened, as if the Pipelord had it on a string.

His face was very serious now. He slapped the horse with the reins, and we jolted forward into the city with the others close behind.

I heard a roar from up ahead and felt the Pipelord's muscles grow tense. The horses clattered along the cobblestones, and the city houses flew by. There were no people anywhere. When we turned onto another street and slowed down, I realized what the noise was: hundreds, thousands of human voices. Angry voices.

As we turned the corner, I saw a large open space boiling with people. They were all shouting and jostling one another to get a better view of something I couldn't see. The Pipelord's horse stepped slowly toward the crowd, and the other riders fell into place behind us. The people at the edges saw us first, and they froze.

Their faces were covered with gouges and three-rowed scratches, barely scabbed over. Silence ate through the crowd as more and more scarred faces turned to us. Amid the crowd a worried-looking girl about my age met my eyes. Surrounded by a waterfall of brown hair, her face was unscarred except for one small cut over her left eyebrow. Then someone moved between us and I lost her.

At last the men in the center turned around, and I saw what all the shouting was about. A boy, twelve or thirteen, was locked, neck and wrists, in the stocks. His clothes were torn and his dirty black hair was sticking up, with tufts of it missing. Blood and bruises covered him from his shaking knees to his cringing shoulders. But his eyes were hungry and burning.

As soon as the men stepped back, the boy's eyes pounced on us, and through cracked lips he shouted, "Master! At last! I knew you wouldn't want to see one of your own in the stocks."

"Be silent, Anselm of Aerzen!" the Pipelord shouted back, with echoes crackling from the walls around. "I don't want to see you in the stocks. I want to see you in court."

From the corner of my eye, I saw the people in the crowd look at each other, then look at the long pipes Master Josef and his men carried. The Pipelord turned away from Anselm toward the building nearby, which seemed to be Town Hall. In the dusk, its three stories loomed up, heavy and imposing, over the square full of people.

The Pipelord urged his horse forward. The crowd made way with doubtful faces, and we rode toward the bottom of the steps.

"O great Pipelord!" Anselm screamed, and we stopped. Burning anger forced the words through that thickened tongue and broken face. "You think you can just replace me? As if any of your lackeys could do what I've done. But you see, I know what you are. I know you've come to take Hamelin from me and run it for yourself."

The Pipelord's jaw tightened, but he never turned around. He dismounted and swung me down. As the pipers tied their mounts to a post, he said to me, "Stay here and watch the horses."

With his companions, the Pipelord strode up the steps of Town Hall two at a time and, flinging the doors wide, plunged into the darkness within. As the last of them disappeared inside, a murmur went through the square, and a few people ran up the steps. Soon the crowd followed, and Anselm got no more than a passing cuff on the ear from an old woman as they all climbed, jabbering, under the heavy archway. And the doors boomed shut.

I shuddered. I could feel Anselm looking at me, though with the setting red sun behind him, I couldn't see his eyes. At last he spoke.

"He blamed all this on me, didn't he?"

I put my hand on the neck of the Pipelord's horse.

"You trust him?" he asked.

I didn't answer.

"Why do you think he's here today?"

When I still said nothing, Anselm went on, his eyes pawing at me.

"It's all to keep his power. His reputation. Everything he says is just to sell the goods." He drew a breath, then groaned. "I'm innocent. The villain in this town is the man who put me here. You look... honest. Listen to me. The key to the stocks is in the vice-mayor's office. In that building, just down the hall—"

He stopped and turned his head as well as he could in the brace. Boot heels were clicking on the cobblestones. Anselm shrank. A four-sided stone pillar stood nearby, and I jumped behind it.

The clicking heels grew still. I peeked out from my hiding place. An enormous man stood ten feet from where Anselm's slight frame was bunched up in the stocks. He towered broad and black against the red sunset.

"Comfortable, Anselm?" he asked in a rumbling voice. He strolled closer. "Your hands look so empty without a pipe." Two feet away he stopped, raised his fist, and slammed it down on Anselm's head.

The prisoner choked for a long time.

"Your friend died before he gave anything away," the man growled.

Anselm's wide eyes rolled up at the man.

"But I hope to get more out of you. If only satisfaction." He crouched to look Anselm in the eye.

I did not move and barely breathed.

"Nobody gets back at me forever, boy. Nobody." He brought his massive hands toward Anselm's head.

A girl's voice rang out over the red-lit square. "Excuse me, sir!"

The man jumped and spun toward the voice. It was the girl with the cut by her eyebrow. She was standing on the steps, looking pale and thin as her dark hair and clothing stirred in the breeze.

"Sir, they're having a meeting about Anselm. They need you to come."

"I'll be right there," answered the man.

"But they need you now, sir," the girl insisted.

The man hesitated. Then he rose and strode up the stairs, his heels clicking all the way. One of the horses shied from the man as he passed, and though the pillar hid me, I shrank, too. The girl watched him go until the sound of his boots faded behind the door. Then she turned, ran down the steps to Anselm, and pulled out a key.

Anselm wheezed out a little rattling laugh. "I knew it. I knew you loved me."

"I don't," she snapped. "I never did. And I never want to see you again."

I heard the key in the lock.

"And don't try anything now or I'll scream, and then you'll really be in trouble."

"If you don't care about me," Anselm croaked, "why are you letting me go?"

She was silent for a moment, struggling with the lock.


"What you did was horrible. But that doesn't mean they can do this to you," she answered.

With a click the top of the stocks opened, and Anselm carefully stood and rubbed his wrists.

"Go on, get out of here," she said.

"Which way is safest?"

"I'm not helping you!" she retorted. "I'm only here because one murder is enough. Go on." She pointed down a street. Just then she saw me, and stood petrified.

At the look of terror in her eyes, I got up. "I won't tell," I promised. "Don't worry. I won't tell."

A shiver went through her, and she glanced back at Anselm. "Go!" she said. "Now!"

"Good-bye," he said. As he limped down the street, the girl ran past me, up and through the big doors.

The square was silent. One of the horses snorted. I heard the sound of running feet. Perhaps they'd caught her. But the sound wasn't coming from Town Hall; it was coming from around the corner.

The girl had had time to return the key. I sprinted up the stairs and yelled into the hallway, "Master Josef! Master Josef, Anselm has escaped!"

Soon the Pipelord, his pipers, and a crowd of men pushed me back out through the doors. About two dozen boys of Anselm's age, dressed in red cloaks and carrying long pipes, stood facing us.

At the sight of the boys, most of the Hameliners shrank back, but one yelled, "Go for the pipes!" and a few men rushed at the boys.

"Wait!" the Pipelord shouted, but already the boys had raised their pipes and played a burst of screeches.

The men ran faster at the boys, but I heard wings beating the air. In the fading light, crows appeared, black against the dark blue sky, with the sunset glinting red on their wings. They swooped over the buildings and down at the men like a pack of hunting wolves. The men waved, ducked, scattered. And the crows rose and fell in a relentless, bloody dance—dive, claw, jab, dive, claw, jab.

A long, deep note throbbed through me. The Pipelord was stepping out into the square, his pipe to his lips. The music pulsed in the air, the boys' hands shook, and thin smoke rose from their pipes. At last the boys yelped and dropped the steaming pipes onto the paving stones.

The crows slowed down. The Pipelord spread his feet and elbows. Abruptly the music tilted, and the crows swept away from the men, gathering around the Pipelord in a spinning ball. The music grew louder, higher. I could see only tiny glimpses of the Pipelord between the feathers as the crows raced around him in a whirling wall of beating wings. The music stretched and stretched until I thought the world would break; then, suddenly, it did.

A blinding flash of lightning cracked from the glowering clouds down into the crows. Fire burst from bird to bird, through the fluttering mass of them, and flaming crows were flung out in all directions. My ears rang, and my eyes were full of dancing light.

There stood the Pipelord, his pipe in his hands, the ground around him paved with dead, burning crows. He strode through the smoke and fire to the injured men. One of the pipers used the sash of his robe to snatch up the boys' pipes, then bound them together with a leather strap. The other pipers were already tying the boys' hands.

"Here," said the one with the bunch of pipes, looking my way. He held out the bundle at arm's length, as it swung, smoking, on the strap. "Put these in my pack." He nodded at the bag on his horse.

When I nearly toppled from the weight, he said, "Careful. They're still hot."

The boys were nursing their burned hands and stabbing at me with their eyes.

"Yes, sir," I said, and went over to the horses, bracing my left arm with my right. The pipes spun, glinting, with smoke trailing off them. I supposed I would get one soon. I shivered at the sight of so much power, and lowered the pipes into the saddlebag.

The townspeople, who had retreated at the sight of the crows, were coming back out of the doors now, milling on the steps of Town Hall at a safe distance. The Pipelord found a doctor to tend the men that the birds had attacked, then turned to the boys. They did not meet his eyes.

"Why?" he asked after a long while. "Why did you listen to him?"

They did not answer.

"These people never did anything to you. How could you do all this?" He waved at the dead crows, the men with gouged faces.

The boys looked at their shoes.

The Pipelord breathed slowly in and out. "Take them into Town Hall," he said to the pipers. "We still have to negotiate their trial."

The pipers led the boys away across the smoldering square. The Pipelord's face fell as he surveyed the shuffling boys, the gawking crowd, the reeking ruin of the birds.

One of the pipers spoke to him. "My lord, don't punish yourself. It's over now. At least we've ended the Unbound movement."

The Pipelord said nothing.

"Except for Anselm," added the piper.

The Pipelord nodded.

He came over to me. "I'm sorry you had to see all that," he said. "Now help me put out the crows before a fire starts."

Even as he spoke, there was a cold breeze, and I smelled lamp oil. The Pipelord stiffened, and the crowd gasped. I turned towards the smell in time to see Anselm on the roof of a house, splashing oil from a barrel on the walls below him. Already smoke rose behind him and an eerie light flickered from the windows.

"My lord!" Anselm made a mock bow, then dumped the rest of the barrel in a long arc to the nearest burning crow.

Flame leaped from the bird to the house, flowing into the windows and slithering up the walls. The crowd shouted. People ran for water. The roofs on both sides of the burning house were slate, but the one across the street was thatch.

The flames swelled, drawing in air, and the house glowed red against the gray sky. The fire welled up around the edge of the shingles, and we could hardly see Anselm through the red light and streaming heat. The Pipelord's eyes reached out to the boy on the burning house.

"Anselm!" he screamed over the rushing sound of the flames. "Anselm! Get onto the roof of the next house!"

"What's that, master?" Anselm hooted. He crouched down and put his hand to his ear. "Still giving orders to the very end?"

"Anselm!" the Pipelord repeated. "I can put out the fire, but what I do will kill you if you are in the way. Do you understand? You will die!"

"We will all die, master!" Anselm screamed back. "But I will die young and free, and you will die old, with nothing but a book of rules to keep you company."

The flying sparks were falling near the thatch now. Someone tried to dump water on the burning oil, and fire splashed everywhere. Some men were pointing at the roofs on either side of Anselm, and bringing buckets into the neighboring houses below. Flames crept into the shingles.

"Anselm! Go!"

"Anselm, go!" the boy mimicked. "Master, surprise! I've learned to laugh at your orders. I see them now for what they are."

A man with a bucket poked his head out onto the roof beside Anselm's.

"You!" Anselm pointed a finger at him, and the man gaped. "Do you know what I would have done for you? For all of you!" His hand swept out over the crowd. "I would have made you a great empire!" He seemed to float in the red rippling heat. "Hamelin would have been my capital. One of you"—he squinted through the fire to scan the crowd—"one of you would have been my queen! And, master, I would have given you the crown. If you had been honest enough to admit you wanted it!"

The man with the bucket jumped up from the hole, and in the same moment, part of the wall between his roof and Anselm's collapsed. The roof warped, fire gushing from the wound. The man with the bucket fled, other firefighters scrambled from homes on both sides, and still Anselm swayed above the flames.

"Children!" he screamed. "You are all just foolish children!"

He crouched and, as dozens of voices screamed, he sprang into the yawning fire.

"Anselm!" the Pipelord yelled, and he ran towards the upward-streaming flames.

I saw him, small against the wash of fire, and I ran after him.

The wind whipped around us, sucking us to the red mouth of the house, and the flame beat us back. My skin went tight with the heat, but I plunged ahead and grabbed the end of the Pipelord's cloak just as he would have run through the glowing door.

He pulled against me. I fell to my knees and clung to his cloak, wrapping my whole body around it. I felt the cloak go slack.

"My lord," a piper was shouting, "Karl will look for him from the other side. Please, get away from the fire."

The blaze roared, and the draft lashed the Pipelord's hair about his face. He lifted me to my feet.

We trudged from the house with the crowd spinning around us, the roof of the house breaking and spilling. At last the pipers came and told the Pipelord there was nothing alive in the house. He nodded, and one of the pipers played a tune in a minor key. The fire swept out of the house toward us, but gasped out at the last moment, leaving the rubble crusted with frost.

They called my master. With his hand on my shoulder he walked into the shell of the first floor. There lay the body, a boy-shaped lump like charcoal, covered with fine, white frost. I thought I would be sick.

The Pipelord kneeled in the rubble and ashes and put his hand on the charcoal forehead. "Good-bye, Anselm," he said. He nodded to the men, who carried the body away on a cloth stretched between them.

He looked up at me out of a weary face and said, "He was my last apprentice."