Marcia was satisfied. Today she needed to look impressive. Impressive and just a little scary. Well, quite a bit scary if necessary. She just hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.
Marcia wasn’t sure if she could do scary. She tried a few expressions in the mirror, which shivered quietly to itself, but she wasn’t sure about any of them. Marcia was unaware that most people thought she did scary very well indeed, and was in fact a complete natural at scary.
Marcia clicked her fingers. “Back!” she snapped.
The mirror showed her her back view.
The mirror showed her both side views.
And then she was gone. Down the stairs two at a time, down to the kitchen to terrorize the stove, which had heard her coming and was desperately trying to light itself before she came through the door.
It did not succeed, and Marcia was in a bad temper all through breakfast.
Marcia left the breakfast things to wash themselves up and strode briskly out of the heavy purple door that led to her rooms. The door closed with a soft, respectful clunk behind her as Marcia jumped onto the silver spiral staircase.
“Down,” she told the staircase. It began to turn like a giant corkscrew, taking her slowly down through the tall Tower, past seemingly endless floors and various doors that all led into rooms occupied by an amazing assortment of Wizards. From the rooms came the sounds of spells being practiced, chanted incantations, and general Wizard chitchat over breakfast. The smells of toast and bacon and porridge mixed strangely with the wafts of incense that floated up from the Hall below, and as the spiral stairs came gently to a halt, Marcia stepped off feeling slightly queasy and looking forward to getting out into the fresh air. She walked briskly through the Hall to the massive, solid silver doors that guarded the entrance to the Wizard Tower. Marcia spoke the password, the doors silently swung open for her, and in a moment she was through the silver archway and outside into the bitter cold of a snowy midwinter morning.
As Marcia descended the steep steps, treading carefully on the crisp snow in her thin pointy shoes, she surprised the sentry who had been idly throwing snowballs at a stray cat. A snowball landed with a soft thud on the purple silk of her cloak.
“Don’t do that!” snapped Marcia, brushing the snow off her cloak.
The sentry jumped and stood to attention. He looked terrified. Marcia stared at the waiflike boy. He was wearing the ceremonial sentry uniform, a rather silly design made from thin cotton, a red and white striped tunic with purple frills around the sleeves. He also wore a large floppy yellow hat, white tights and bright yellow boots, and in his left hand, which was bare and blue with cold, he held a heavy pikestaff.
Marcia had objected when the first sentries arrived at the Wizard Tower. She had told the Supreme Custodian that the Wizards did not need guarding. They could look after themselves perfectly well, thank you very much. But he had smiled his smug smile and blandly assured her that the sentries were for the Wizards’ own safety. Marcia suspected he had put them there not only to spy on the Wizards’ comings and goings but also to make the Wizards look ridiculous.
Marcia looked at the snowball-throwing sentry. His hat was too big for him; it had slipped down and come to rest on his ears, which conveniently stuck out at just the right places to stop the hat from falling over his eyes. The hat gave the boy’s thin, pinched face an unhealthy yellow tinge. His two deep gray eyes stared out from under it in terror as the boy realized that his snowball had hit the ExtraOrdinary Wizard.
He looked, thought Marcia, very small to be a soldier.
“How old are you?” she said accusingly.
The sentry blushed. No one like Marcia had ever looked at him before, let alone spoken to him.
“Then why aren’t you in school?” demanded Marcia.
The sentry looked proud. “I have no need of school, Madam. I am in the Young Army. We are the Pride of Today, the Warriors of Tomorrow.”
“Aren’t you cold?” Marcia asked unexpectedly.
“N-no Madam. We are trained not to feel the cold.” But the sentry’s lips had a bluish tinge to them, and he shivered as he spoke.
“Humph.” Marcia stomped off through the snow, leaving the boy to another four hours on guard.
Marcia walked briskly across the courtyard, which led away from the Wizard Tower, and slipped out of a side gate that took her onto a quiet, snow-covered footpath.
Marcia had been ExtraOrdinary Wizard for ten years to the day, and as she set off on her journey her thoughts turned to the past. She remembered the time she had spent as a poor Hopeful, reading anything she could about Magyk, hoping for that rare thing, an Apprenticeship with the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Alther Mella. They were happy years spent living in a small room in The Ramblings among so many other Hopefuls, most of whom soon settled for Apprenticeships with Ordinary Wizards. But not Marcia. She knew what she wanted, and she wanted the best. But Marcia still could hardly believe her luck when she got her chance to be Alther Mella’s Apprentice. Although being his Apprentice did not necessarily mean she would get to be the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, it was another step closer to her dream. And so Marcia had spent the next seven years and a day living at the Wizard Tower as Alther’s Apprentice.
Marcia smiled to herself as she remembered what a wonderful Wizard Alther Mella had been. His tutorials were fun, he was patient when spells went wrong and he always had a new joke to tell her. He was also an extremely powerful Wizard. Until Marcia had become the ExtraOrdinary Wizard herself she hadn’t realized just how good Alther had been. But most of all, Alther was just a lovely person. Her smile faded as she remembered how she came to take his place, and she thought about the last day of Alther Mella’s life, the day the Custodians now called Day One.
Lost in her thoughts, Marcia climbed the narrow steps leading up to the broad, sheltered ledge that ran just below the Castle wall. It was a fast way of getting across to the East Side, which was what The Ramblings were now called, and which was where she was headed today. The ledge was reserved for the use of the Custodian Armed Patrol, but Marcia knew that, even now, no one stopped the ExtraOrdinary Wizard from going anywhere. So, instead of creeping through endless tiny and sometimes crowded passageways as she used to many years ago, she moved speedily along the ledge until, about half an hour later, she saw a door that she recognized.
Marcia took a deep breath. This is it, she said to herself.
Marcia followed a flight of steps down from the ledge and came face-to-face with the door. She was about to lean against it and give it a shove when the door took fright at the sight of her and flew open. Marcia shot through it and bounced off a rather slimy wall opposite. The door slammed shut, and Marcia caught her breath. The passageway was dark; it was damp and smelled of boiled cabbage, cats’ pee and dry rot. This was not how Marcia remembered things. When she had lived in The Ramblings the passageways had been warm and clean, lit by reed torches burning at intervals along the wall and swept clean every day by the proud inhabitants.
Marcia hoped she could remember the way to Silas and Sarah Heap’s room. In her Apprentice days she had often rushed past their door, hoping that Silas Heap would not see her and ask her in. It was the noise that she remembered most, the noise of so many little boys yelling, jumping, fighting and doing whatever little boys do, although Marcia wasn’t quite sure what little boys did—as she preferred to avoid children if at all possible.
Marcia was feeling rather nervous as she walked along the dark and gloomy passageways. She was beginning to wonder just how things were going to go for her first visit to Silas in more than ten years. She dreaded what she was going to have to tell the Heaps, and she even wondered if Silas would believe her. He was a stubborn Wizard, and she knew he didn’t like her much. And so, with these thoughts going around in her head, Marcia walked purposefully along the passageways and paid no attention to anything else.
If she had bothered to pay attention, she would have been amazed at people’s reactions to her. It was eight o’clock in the morning, what Silas Heap called rush hour. Hundreds of pale-faced people were making their way to work, their sleepy eyes blinking in the gloom and their thin, cheap clothes pulled around them against the deep chill of the damp stone walls. Rush hour in the East Side passageways was a time to avoid. The crush would carry you along, often way past your turning until you managed to somehow wriggle through the crowd and join the stream in the opposite direction. The rush hour air was always full of plaintive cries: