Sarah Heap came from a Warlock and Wizard family. As a girl, Sarah had studied herbs and healing with Galen, the Physik Woman in the Forest, which was where she had met Silas one day. Silas had been out looking for his father. He was lost and unhappy, and Sarah took him back with her to see Galen. Galen had helped Silas to understand that his father, as a Shape-Shifter, would have chosen his final destination as a tree many years ago and would now be truly happy. And Silas too, for the first time in his life, realized he felt truly happy sitting next to Sarah by the Physik Woman’s fire.
When Sarah understood all she could about herbs and healing, she had said a fond good-bye to Galen and joined Silas in his room in The Ramblings. And there they had stayed ever since, squeezing in more and more children while Silas happily gave up his Apprenticeship and worked as a jobbing Ordinary Wizard to pay the bills. Sarah made herb tinctures at the kitchen table when she had a spare moment—which did not often happen.
That evening, as Silas and the boys made their way up the beach steps to go back to The Ramblings, a large and menacing Custodian Guard, dressed in black from head to toe, barred their way.
“Halt!” he barked. Nicko started to cry.
Silas stopped and told the boys to behave.
“Papers!” shouted the Guard. “Where are your papers?”
Silas stared at him. “What papers?” he asked quietly, not wanting to cause trouble with six tired boys around him needing to go home for supper.
“Your papers, Wizard scum. The beach area is forbidden to all without the required papers,” sneered the Guard.
Silas was shocked. If he had not been with the boys, he would have argued, but he had noticed the pistol that the guard was carrying.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
The Guard looked them all up and down as if deciding what to do, but luckily for Silas he had other people to go and terrorize.
“Take your rabble out of here and don’t come back,” snapped the Guard. “Stay where you belong.”
Silas hurried the shocked boys away up the steps and into the safety of The Ramblings. Sam dropped his fish and started to sob.
“There there,” said Silas, “it’s all right.” But Silas felt that things were most certainly not all right. What was going on?
“Why did he call us Wizard scum, Dad?” asked Simon. “Wizards are the best, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” said Silas distractedly, “the best.”
But the trouble was, thought Silas, there was no hiding it if you were a Wizard. All Wizards, and only Wizards, had them. Silas had them, Sarah had them and all the boys except Nicko and Jo-Jo had them. And as soon as Nicko and Jo-Jo went to the Magyk class in school they would have them too. Slowly but surely, until there was no mistaking it, a Wizard child’s eyes would turn green when he or she was exposed to Magyk learning. It had always been something to be proud of. Until now, when suddenly it felt dangerous.
That evening, when at long last all the children were asleep, Silas and Sarah talked late into the night. They talked about their Princess and their Wizard boys and the changes that had overtaken the Castle. They discussed escaping to the Marram Marshes, or going into the Forest and living with Galen. By the time dawn broke and at last they fell asleep, Silas and Sarah had decided to do what the Heaps usually did. Muddle through and hope for the best.
And so, for the next nine and a half years, Silas and Sarah kept quiet. They locked and barred their door, they spoke to only their neighbors and those they could trust and, when the Magyk classes were stopped at school, they taught the children Magyk at home in the evenings.
And that is why, nine and a half years later, all the Heaps except one had piercing green eyes.
THE SUPREME CUSTODIAN
It was six in the morning and still dark, ten years to the day since Silas had found the bundle.
At the end of Corridor 223, behind the big black door with the number 16 stamped on it by the Numerical Patrol, the Heap household slept peacefully. Jenna lay curled up snugly in her small box bed that Silas had made for her from driftwood washed up along the riverbank. The bed was built neatly into a big cupboard leading off a large room, which was in fact the only room that the Heaps possessed.
Jenna loved her cupboard bed. Sarah had made some bright patchwork curtains that Jenna could draw around the bed to keep out both the cold and her noisy brothers. Best of all, she had a small window in the wall above her pillow that looked out onto the river. If Jenna couldn’t sleep, she would gaze out of her window for hours on end, watching the endless variety of boats that made their way to and from the Castle, and sometimes on clear dark nights she loved to count the stars until she fell fast asleep.
The large room was the place where all the Heaps lived, cooked, ate, argued and (occasionally) did their homework, and it was a mess. It was stuffed full of twenty years’ worth of clutter that had accumulated since Sarah and Silas had set up home together. There were fishing rods and reels, shoes and socks, rope and rat traps, bags and bedding, nets and knitting, clothes and cooking pots, and books, books, books and yet more books.
If you were foolish enough to cast your eye around the Heaps’ room hoping to find a space in which to sit, the chances were a book would have found it first. Everywhere you looked there were books. On sagging shelves, in boxes, hanging in bags from the ceiling, propping up the table and stacked up in such precariously high piles that they threatened to collapse at any moment. There were storybooks, herb books, cookery books, boat books, fishing books, but mainly there were the hundreds of Magyk books, which Silas had illegally rescued from the school when Magyk had been banned a few years back.
In the middle of the room was a large hearth from which a tall chimney snaked up into the roof; it held the remains of a fire, now grown cold, around which all six Heap boys and a large dog were asleep in a chaotic pile of quilts and blankets.
Sarah and Silas were also fast asleep. They had escaped to the small attic space that Silas had acquired a few years back by the simple means of knocking a hole up through the ceiling, after Sarah had declared that she could no longer stand living with six growing boys in just one room.
But, amid all the chaos in the big room, a small island of tidiness stood out; a long and rather wobbly table was covered with a clean white cloth. On it were placed nine plates and mugs, and at the head of the table was a small chair decorated with winter berries and leaves. On the table in front of the chair a small present, carefully wrapped in colorful paper and tied with a red ribbon, had been placed ready for Jenna to open on her tenth birthday.
All was quiet and still as the Heap household slept peacefully on through the last hours of darkness before the winter sun was due to rise.
However, on the other side of the Castle, in the Palace of the Custodians, sleep, peaceful or not, had been abandoned.
The Supreme Custodian had been called from his bed and had, with the help of the Night Servant, hurriedly put on his black, fur-trimmed tunic and heavy black and gold cloak, and he had instructed the Night Servant how to lace up his embroidered silk shoes. Then he himself had carefully placed a beautiful Crown upon his head. The Supreme Custodian was never seen without the Crown, which still had a dent in it from the day it had fallen from the Queen’s head and crashed to the stone floor. The Crown sat crookedly on his slightly pointed bald head, but the Night Servant, being new and terrified, did not dare to tell him.
The Supreme Custodian strode briskly down the corridor to the Throne Room. He was a small, ratlike man with pale, almost colorless eyes and a complicated goatee beard that he was in the habit of spending many happy hours tending. He was almost swamped by his voluminous cloak, which was heavily encrusted with military badges, and his appearance was made faintly ridiculous by his crooked, and slightly feminine, Crown. But had you seen him that morning you would not have laughed. You would have shrunk back into the shadows and hoped he would not notice you, for the Supreme Custodian carried with him a powerful air of menace.
The Night Servant helped the Supreme Custodian arrange himself on the ornate throne in the Throne Room. He was then waved impatiently away and scuttled off gratefully, his shift nearly over.
The chill morning air lay heavily in the Throne Room. The Supreme Custodian sat impassively on the throne, but his breath, which misted the cold air in small quick bursts, betrayed his excitement.