“Silas,” sighed Marcia, “she is not safe with you. Not anymore. She has been discovered. You have a spy living right next door to you. Linda Lane.”
“Linda!” gasped Sarah. “A spy? I don’t believe it.”
“You mean that awful old gasbag who is always around here prattling on about pills and potions and drawing endless pictures of the kids?” asked Silas.
“Silas!” remonstrated Sarah. “Don’t be so rude.”
“I’ll be more than rude to her if she is a spy,” declared Silas.
“There’s no ‘if’ about it, Silas,” said Marcia. “Linda Lane most definitely is a spy. And I’m sure the pictures she has been drawing are proving very useful to the Supreme Custodian.”
Silas groaned. Marcia pressed home her advantage.
“Look, Silas, I only want the best for Jenna. You have to trust me.”
Silas snorted. “Why on earth should we trust you, Marcia?”
“Because I have trusted you with the Princess, Silas,” said Marcia. “Now you must trust me. What happened ten years ago must not happen again.”
“You forget, Marcia,” said Silas scathingly, “that we don’t know what happened ten years ago. No one ever bothered to tell us.”
Marcia sighed. “How could I tell you, Silas? It was best for the Princess’s, I mean Jenna’s, sake that you did not know.”
At the mention of Princess yet again, Jenna looked up at Sarah.
“Madam Marcia called me that before,” she whispered. “Is that really me?”
“Yes, poppet,” Sarah whispered back, then she looked Marcia in the eye and said, “I think we all need to know what happened ten years ago, Madam Marcia.”
Marcia looked at her timepiece. This had to be quick. She took a deep breath and started.
“Ten years ago,” she said, “I had just passed my final exams and I’d gone over to see Alther to thank him. Well, soon after I arrived a messenger rushed in to tell him that the Queen had given birth to a baby girl. We were so pleased—it meant that the heir to the Castle had at last arrived.
“The messenger summoned Alther to the Palace to conduct the Welcome Ceremony for the baby Princess. I went with him to help him carry all the heavy books, potions and charms that he needed. And to remind him in what order to do things as dear old Alther was becoming a little forgetful at times.
“When we arrived at the Palace we were taken to the Throne Room to see the Queen, who looked so happy—so wonderfully happy. She was sitting on the throne holding her newborn daughter, and she greeted us with the words, ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ And those were the last words that our Queen spoke.”
“No,” muttered Sarah quietly.
“At that very moment a man in a strange black and red uniform burst into the room. Of course I know now that he was wearing the uniform of an Assassin, but at the time I knew nothing of the kind. I thought he was some kind of messenger, but I could see from the Queen’s face that she was not expecting him. Then I saw that he was carrying a long silver pistol, and I felt very afraid. I glanced at Alther, but he was fussing with his books and hadn’t noticed. Then…it was all so unreal somehow…I just watched the soldier very slowly and deliberately raise the pistol, take aim and fire it straight at the Queen. Everything was so horribly silent as the silver bullet passed straight through the Queen’s heart and embedded itself in the wall behind her. The baby Princess screamed and tumbled from her dead mother’s arms. I leaped forward and caught her.”
Jenna was pale, trying to understand what she was hearing. “Was that me?” she asked Sarah in a low voice. “Was I the baby Princess?”
Sarah nodded slowly.
Marcia’s voice trembled slightly as she carried on. “It was terrible! Alther was starting on the SafeShield Spell when there was another shot, and a bullet spun him around and threw him to the floor. I finished Alther’s spell for him, and for a few moments all three of us were safe. The Assassin fired his next bullet—it was one for the Princess and me this time—but it skittered off the invisible shield and shot straight back at him, catching him in the leg. He fell to the floor, but he still kept hold of his pistol. He just lay there and stared at us, waiting for the spell to end, as all spells must.
“Alther was dying. He took off the Amulet and gave it to me. I refused. I was sure that I could save him, but Alther knew better. He just very calmly told me that it was time for him to go now. He smiled and then—and then he died.”
The room was silent. No one moved. Even Silas stared deliberately at the floor. Marcia continued in a low voice.
“I—I couldn’t believe it. I tied the Amulet around my neck and gathered up the baby Princess. She was crying now, well, we both were. Then I ran. I ran so fast that the Assassin had no time to fire his pistol.
“I fled to the Wizard Tower. I couldn’t think where else to go. I told the other Wizards the terrible news and asked for their protection, which they gave us. All afternoon we talked about what we should do with the Princess. We knew she could not stay in the Tower for long. We could not protect the Princess forever, and anyway, she was a newborn baby who needed a mother. It was then that I thought of you, Sarah.”
Sarah looked surprised.
“Alther often talked to me about you and Silas. I knew you had just had a baby boy. It was the talk of the Tower, the seventh son of the seventh son. I had no idea then that he had died. I was so sorry to hear that. But I knew you would love the Princess and make her happy. So we decided that you should have her.
“But I couldn’t just walk over to The Ramblings and give her to you. Someone would have seen me. So, late in the afternoon, I smuggled the Princess out of the Castle and left her in the snow, making sure that you, Silas, would find her. And that was it. There was nothing more I could do.
“Except, after Gringe had flustered me into giving him a half crown, I hid in the shadows and watched for you as you came back. When I saw the way you held your cloak and the way you walked as if you were protecting something precious, I knew that you had the Princess and, do you remember, I told you, ‘Tell no one you found her. She was born to you. Understand?’”
A charged silence hung in the air. Silas stared at the floor, Sarah sat motionless with Jenna, and the boys all looked thunderstruck. Marcia stood up quietly, and from a pocket in her tunic she took a small red velvet bag. Then she picked her way across the room, being careful not to step on anything, particularly a large, and none too clean, wolf that she had just noticed asleep in the middle of a pile of blankets.
The Heaps watched, mesmerized, as Marcia walked solemnly over to Jenna. The Heap boys parted respectfully as Marcia stopped in front of Sarah and Jenna and knelt down.
Jenna stared with wide-open eyes as Marcia opened the velvet bag and took from it a small gold circlet.
“Princess,” said Marcia, “this was your mother’s and now it is yours by right.” Marcia reached up and placed the gold circlet on Jenna’s head. It fitted perfectly.
Silas broke the spell. “Well, you’ve done it now, Marcia,” he said crossly. “The cat’s really out of the bag.”
Marcia stood up and brushed the dirt off her cloak. As she did so, to her surprise, the ghost of Alther Mella floated through the wall and settled himself down beside Sarah Heap.
“Ah, here’s Alther,” said Silas. “He won’t be pleased about this, I can tell you.”
“Hello, Silas, Sarah. Hello, all my young Wizards.” The Heap boys grinned. People called them many things, but only Alther called them Wizards.
“And hello, my little Princess,” said Alther, who had always called Jenna that. And now Jenna knew why.
“Hello, Uncle Alther,” said Jenna, feeling much happier with the old ghost floating next to her.
“I didn’t know that Alther came to see you too,” Marcia said, somewhat put out, even though she was rather relieved to see him.
“Well, I was his Apprentice first,” snapped Silas. “Before you elbowed in.”
“I did not elbow in. You gave up. You begged Alther to annul your Apprenticeship. You said you wanted to read bedtime stories to the boys instead of being stuck in a turret with your nose in a dusty old spell book. You really do take the biscuit sometimes, Silas,” glowered Marcia.