“Yes, it’s not good. I’m very sorry, Silas.”

“All…gone,” mumbled Silas, “and now the books too. We had some good ones there. A lot of rare Charms…all going up in flames.”

“Not necessarily,” said Alther. “They’d fit nicely into your bedroom in the roof. I’ll help you with the Remove Spell if you like.”

Silas brightened a little.

“Just remind me how it goes, Alther, then I can do it. I’m sure I can.”

Silas’s Remove worked well. The books lined up neatly, the trapdoor flew open, and book by book they flew up through it and stacked up in Silas and Sarah’s old bedroom. One or two of the more contrary books headed out the door and were halfway down the corridor before Silas managed to Call them back, but by the end of the spell all the Magyk books were safely in the roof and Silas had even Disguised the trapdoor. Now no one could possibly guess what was there.

And so Silas walked out of his empty, echoing room for the last time and took off down Corridor 223. Alther floated along with him.

“Come and sit with us for a while,” Alther offered, “down at the Hole in the Wall.”

“Where?”

“I only recently discovered it myself. One of the Ancients showed me. It’s an old tavern inside the Castle walls. Got bricked up years ago by one of the Queens who disapproved of beer. Seems as long as you’ve walked the Castle walls—and who hasn’t?—a ghost can get in, so it’s packed. It’s got a great atmosphere—might cheer you up.”

“I don’t know if I really fancy it, thanks all the same, Alther. Isn’t that the one where they bricked up the nun?”

“Oh, she’s great fun, is Sister Bernadette. Loves a pint of beer. Life and soul of the party. So to speak. Anyway, I’ve got some news of Simon that I think you should hear.”

“Simon! Is he all right? Where is he?” asked Silas.

“He’s here, Silas. In the Castle. Come along to the Hole in the Wall. There’s someone you need to talk to.”

The Hole in the Wall Tavern was buzzing.

Alther had led Silas to a tumbledown pile of stones heaped up against the Castle wall just along from the North Gate. He had shown him a small gap in the wall hidden behind the pile of rubble, and Silas had barely managed to squeeze through. Once through he had found himself in another world.

The Hole in the Wall was an ancient tavern built inside the wide Castle wall. When Marcia had taken her shortcut to the North Side those few days ago, part of her journey had taken her over the roof of the tavern, but she had been unaware of the motley collection of ghosts talking the long years away right beneath her feet.

It took Silas a few minutes for his eyes to adjust from the brightness of the snow to the dull glow of the lamps that flickered along the walls. But as they did he became aware of a most amazing collection of ghosts. They were gathered around long trestle tables, standing together in small groups beside the ghostly fire or just sitting in solitary contemplation in a quiet corner. There was a large contingent of ExtraOrdinary Wizards, their purple cloaks and robes spanning the different styles fashionable through the centuries. There were knights in full armor, pages in extravagant liveries, women with wimples, young Queens with rich silk dresses and older Queens in black, all enjoying one another’s company.

Alther led Silas through the crowd. Silas did his best not to walk through any of them, but once or twice he felt a cold breeze as he passed through a ghost. No one seemed to mind—some nodded to him in a friendly manner and others were too intent on their endless conversation to notice him—and Silas got the impression that any friend of Alther’s was a welcome guest in The Hole in the Wall.

The ghostly landlord of the tavern had long ago given up hovering by the beer barrels, for the ghosts all nursed the same tankard of beer that they had been given when they first arrived, and some tankards had lasted for many hundreds of years. Alther bade a cheery hello to the landlord, who was deep in conversation with three ExtraOrdinary Wizards and an old tramp who had long ago fallen asleep under one of the tables and never woken up again. Then he steered Silas over to a quiet corner where a plump figure in a nun’s habit was sitting waiting for them.

“May I introduce Sister Bernadette,” said Alther. “Sister Bernadette, this is Silas Heap—the one I was telling you about. He is the boy’s father.”

Despite Sister Bernadette’s bright smile Silas felt a sense of foreboding.

The round-faced nun turned her twinkling eyes to Silas and said in a soft lilting voice, “He’s quite a lad, your boy, isn’t he? He knows what he wants, and isn’t afraid of going out to get it.”

“Well, I suppose so. He certainly wants to be a Wizard, I know that. He wants an Apprenticeship, but of course with the ways things are now…”

“Ah, to be sure it’s not a good time to be a young and hopeful Wizard,” agreed the nun, “but that’s not why he came back to the Castle, you know.”

“So he has come back. Oh, that’s a relief. I thought he had been captured. Or—or killed.”

Alther put his hand on Silas’s shoulder. “Unfortunately Silas, he was captured yesterday. Sister Bernadette was there. She will tell you.”

Silas put his head in his hands and groaned.

“How?” he asked. “What happened?”

“Well, now,” said the nun, “it would seem that young Simon had a girlfriend.”

“Did he?”

“Yes indeed. Lucy Gringe is her name.”

“Not Gringe the Gatekeeper’s daughter? Oh, no.”

“I’m sure she’s a nice lass, Silas,” remonstrated Sister Bernadette.

“Well, I hope she’s nothing like her father, that’s all I can say. Lucy Gringe. Oh, goodness.”

“Well now, Silas, it seems Simon took himself back to the Castle for a pressing reason. He and Lucy had a secret appointment at the chapel. To be married. So romantic.” The nun smiled dreamily.

“Married? I don’t believe it. I’m related to the ghastly Gringe.” Silas looked whiter than some of the occupants of the tavern.

“No, Silas, you are not,” said Sister Bernadette disapprovingly. “Because unfortunately young Simon and Lucy did not actually get married.”

“Unfortunately?”

“Gringe found out and tipped off the Custodian Guards. He no more wanted his daughter to marry a Heap than you wanted Simon to marry a Gringe. The Guards stormed the chapel, sent the distraught lass home and took Simon away.” The nun sighed. “So cruel, so cruel.”

“Where have they taken him?” Silas asked quietly.

“Well, now, Silas,” said Sister Bernadette in her soft voice, “I was in the chapel myself for the wedding. I love a wedding. And the Guard that had hold of Simon walked right through me, and so I knew what he was thinking just at that moment. He was thinking that he was to take your boy to the Courthouse. To the Supreme Custodian no less. I am so sorry to be telling you this, Silas.” The nun put her ghostly hand on Silas’s arm. It was a warm touch but held little comfort for Silas.

This was the news Silas had been dreading. Simon was in the hands of the Supreme Custodian—how was he to break the terrible news to Sarah? Silas spent the rest of the day in The Hole in the Wall waiting, while Alther sent out as many ghosts as he could to the Courthouse to search for Simon and find out what was happening to him.

None of them had any luck. It was as if Simon had vanished.

27

STANLEY’S JOURNEY

On MidWinter Feast Day, Stanley was woken by his wife. He had an urgent message from the Rat Office.

“I don’t know why they can’t at least let you have today off,” his wife complained. “It’s work, work, work with you, Stanley. We need a holiday.”

“Dawnie dear,” said Stanley patiently. “If I don’t do the work, we don’t get the holiday. It’s as simple as that. Did they say what they wanted me for?”

“Didn’t ask.” Dawnie shrugged grumpily. “I expect it’s those no-good Wizards again.”

“They’re not so bad. Even the ExtraOrdinary Wiz—oops.”

“Oh, is that where you’ve been?”

“No.”

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