“Children, children, don’t argue now.” Alther smiled. “I love you both the same. All my Apprentices are special.”
The ghost of Alther Mella shimmered slightly in the heat of the fire. He wore his ghostly ExtraOrdinary Wizard cloak. It still had bloodstains on it, which always upset Marcia when she saw them. Alther’s long white hair was carefully tied back into a ponytail, and his beard was neatly trimmed to a point. When he had been alive, Alther’s hair and beard had always been a mess—he could never quite keep up with how fast it all seemed to grow. But now that he was a ghost, it was easy. He’d sorted it all out ten years ago and that was the way it had stayed. Alther’s green eyes may have sparkled a little less than they had when he was alive, but they looked around him as keenly as ever. And as they gazed at the Heap household he felt sad. Things were about to change.
“Tell her, Alther,” demanded Silas. “Tell her she’s not having our Jenna. Princess or not, she’s not having her.”
“I wish I could, Silas, but I can’t,” said Alther, looking serious. “You have been discovered. An Assassin is coming. She will be here at midnight with a silver bullet. You know what that means…”
Sarah Heap put her head in her hands. “No,” she whispered.
“Yes,” said Alther. He shivered and his hand strayed to the small round bullet hole just below his heart.
“What can we do?” asked Sarah, very quiet and still.
“Marcia will take Jenna to the Wizard Tower,” said Alther. “Jenna will be safe there for the moment. Then we will have to think about what to do next.” He looked at Sarah. “You and Silas must go away with the boys. Somewhere safe where you won’t be found.”
Sarah was pale, but her voice was steady. “We’ll go into the Forest,” she said. “We will stay with Galen.”
Marcia looked at her timepiece again. It was getting late.
“I need to take the Princess now,” she said. “I must get back before they change the sentry.”
“I don’t want to go,” whispered Jenna. “I don’t have to, do I, Uncle Alther? I want to go and stay with Galen too. I want to go with everyone else. I don’t want to be on my own.” Jenna’s lower lip trembled, and her eyes filled with tears. She held on tightly to Sarah.
“You won’t be on your own. You’ll be with Marcia,” said Alther gently. Jenna did not look as though that made her feel any better.
“My little Princess,” said Alther, “Marcia is right. You need to go away with her. Only she can give you the protection you will need.”
Jenna still looked unconvinced.
“Jenna,” said Alther seriously, “you are the Heir to the Castle, and the Castle needs you to keep safe so that you can be Queen one day. You must go with Marcia. Please.”
Jenna’s hands strayed to the golden circlet that Marcia had placed on her head. Somewhere inside herself she began to feel a little bit different.
“All right,” she whispered. “I’ll go.”
TO THE TOWER
Jenna could not believe what was happening to her. She hardly had time to kiss everyone good-bye before Marcia had thrown her purple cloak over her and told her to stay close and keep up. Then the big black Heap door had unwillingly creaked itself open, and Jenna was whisked away from the only home she had ever known.
It was probably a good thing that, covered as she was by Marcia’s cloak, Jenna could not see the bewildered faces of the six Heap boys or the desolate expressions on the faces of Sarah and Silas Heap as they watched the four-legged purple cloak swish around the corner at the end of Corridor 223 and disappear from view.
Marcia and Jenna took the long way back to the Wizard Tower. Marcia did not want to risk being seen outside with Jenna, and the dark winding corridors of the East Side seemed safer than the quick route she had taken earlier that morning. Marcia strode briskly along, and Jenna had to run beside her to have any hope of keeping up. Luckily all she carried with her was a small rucksack on her back with a few treasures to remind her of home; although, in the rush she had forgotten her birthday present.
It was midmorning by now and the rush hour was over. Much to Marcia’s relief the damp corridors were almost deserted as she and Jenna traveled quietly along them, fluently taking each turn as Marcia’s memory of her old trips to the Wizard Tower came back to her.
Hidden under Marcia’s heavy cloak, Jenna could see very little, so she concentrated her gaze on the two pairs of feet below her: her own small, chunky feet in their scruffy brown boots and Marcia’s long, pointy feet in their purple python skins striding over the dank gray slabs beneath them. Soon Jenna had stopped noticing her own boots and had become mesmerized by the purple pointed pythons dancing before her—left, right, left, right, left, right—as they crossed the miles of endless passageways.
In this way the strange pair moved unnoticed through the Castle. Past the heavy murmuring doors that hid the many workshops where the people from the East Side spent their long working hours making boots, beer, clothes, boats, beds, saddles, candles, sails, bread, and more recently guns, uniforms and chains. Past the cold schoolrooms where bored children chanted their thirteen times-tables and past the empty, echoing storerooms where the Custodian Army had recently taken away most of the winter stores for its own use.
At long last Marcia and Jenna emerged through the narrow archway that led into the Wizard Tower courtyard. Jenna caught her breath in the cold air and stole a look out from under the cloak.
Rearing up in front of her was the Wizard Tower, so high that the golden Pyramid crowning it was almost lost in a wisp of low-lying cloud. The Tower shone a brilliant silver in the winter sunlight, so bright that it hurt Jenna’s eyes, and the purple glass in its hundreds of tiny windows glittered and sparkled with a mysterious darkness that reflected the light and kept the secrets hidden behind them. A thin blue haze shimmered around the Tower, blurring its boundaries, and Jenna found it hard to tell where the Tower ended and the sky began. The air too was different; it smelled strange and sweet, of magical spells and old incense. And as Jenna stood, unable to stir another step, she knew that she was surrounded by the sounds, too soft to be heard, of ancient charms and incantations.
For the first time since Jenna had left her home she was afraid.
Marcia put a protective arm around Jenna’s shoulders, for even Marcia remembered what it was like to first see the Tower. Terrifying.
“Come on, nearly there,” murmured Marcia encouragingly, and together they slipped and slid across the snow-covered courtyard toward the huge marble steps that led up to the shimmering, silver entrance. Marcia was intent upon keeping her balance, and it was not until she reached the bottom of the steps that she noticed there was no longer a sentry on guard. She looked at her timepiece, puzzled. The sentry change was not due for fifteen minutes, so where was the snowball-throwing boy she had told off that morning?
Marcia looked around, tutting to herself. Something was wrong. The sentry was not here. And yet he was still here. He was, she suddenly realized, between the Here and the Not Here.
He was nearly dead.
Marcia made a sudden dive toward a small mound by the archway, and Jenna fell out of the cloak.
“Dig!” hissed Marcia, scrabbling away at the mound. “He’s here. Frozen.”
Underneath the mound lay the thin white body of the sentry. He was curled up into a ball, and his flimsy cotton uniform was soaked with the snow and clung coldly to him, the acid-bright colors of the bizarre uniform looking tawdry in the cold winter sunlight. Jenna shivered at the sight of the boy, not from the cold but from an unknown, wordless memory that had flitted across her mind.
Marcia carefully brushed the snow from the boy’s dark blue mouth while Jenna lay her hand on his white sticklike arm. She had never felt anyone so cold before. Surely he was already dead?
Jenna watched Marcia lean over the boy’s face and mutter something under her breath. Marcia stopped, listened and looked concerned. Then she muttered again, more urgently this time, “Quicken, Youngling. Quicken.” She paused for a moment and then breathed a long slow breath over the boy’s face. The breath tumbled endlessly from Marcia’s mouth, on and on, a warm pale pink cloud that enveloped the boy’s mouth and nose and slowly, slowly seemed to take away the awful blue and replace it with a living glow. The boy did not stir, but Jenna thought that now she could see a faint rise and fall of his chest. He was breathing again.