Godric picked himself up from the floor and muttered, "A coldness ... a coldness went through me." He subsided shakily back into his chair and closed his transparent eyes.
"Are you all right, Godric?" Jenna asked, concerned.
"Yes, indeed," murmured the old ghost faintly. "Thank you, your honor. I mean, thank you, your Princess."
"Are you sure you're all right?" Jenna peered at the ghost but he had fallen asleep.
"Come on, Sep," whispered Jenna. "Let's see what's happening."
The inside of the Palace was dark after the brilliant sunshine. Jenna and Septimus ran across the central hallway to the Long Walk. They stared down the seemingly endless, dimly lit expanse, but there was no sight or sound of the horseman.
"He vanished," whispered Jenna. "Maybe he was a ghost."
"Funny sort of ghost," said Septimus, pointing to some dusty hoofprints on the faded red carpet that was laid on the huge old flagstones. Jenna and Septimus turned down the east wing of the Walk and followed the hoofprints. Once, before the Supreme Custodian had taken over the Palace, the Long Walk had been full of wonderful treasurespriceless statues, rich hangings and colorful tapestriesbut now it was a dusty shadow of its former self. During his ten years of occupation, the Supreme Custodian had stripped all the most valuable possessions from the Palace and sold them to fund his lavish banquets. Now, Jenna and Septimus walked past a few old paintings of previous Queens and Princesses, which had been rescued from the basement, and some empty wooden chests with broken locks and wrenched hinges. After three Queens, all of whom looked somewhat bad-tempered, and a cross-eyed Princess, the hoofprints made a sharp right turn and disappeared through the wide double doors of the Ballroom. The doors were already thrown open, and Jenna and Septimus followed the hoofprints in. There was no sign of the horseman.
Septimus let out a low whistle. "This place is big," he said.
The Ballroom was indeed huge. When the Palace had been built it was said that the entire population of the Castle could have fit inside the Ballroom. Although this was no longer true, it was still the biggest room that anyone in the Castle had ever seen. The ceiling was higher than a house and the massive windows, which were full of small panes of stained glass, stretched from floor to ceiling and threw an array of rainbow colors across the polished wooden floor. The lower panes of the windows were thrown open in the heat of the summer morning. They led out onto the lawns at the back of the Palace, which swept down to the river.
"He's gone," said Jenna.
"Or Disappeared," muttered Septimus. "Like the Ancient said, 'a Darke horse and a Darke rider.' "
"Don't be silly, Sep. He didn't mean it like that," said Jenna. "You've spent too long at the top of that Tower with a spooked Wizard and her Shadow. Anyway, he's only just gone out through that windowlook."
"You don't know that for sure," Septimus objected, stung at being called silly by Jenna.
"Yes, I do," said Jenna, pointing to the pile of horse dung steaming on the step. Septimus made a face. Carefully they stepped out onto the terrace.
It was then that they heard Sarah Heap scream.
Chapter 4 Simon Says
Just one little message rat," Sarah Heap was saying tearfully to the dismounted dark horseman, as Jenna and Septimus reached the door to the walled kitchen garden. The man had his back to them. He stood awkwardly, holding on to his horse with one hand and patting Sarah, who had thrown her arms around his neck, with the other.
Sarah Heap looked small and almost frail beside the man. Her wispy fair hair straggled down to her shoulders, and her long blue cotton tunic with the Palace gold edging on the sleeves and hem could not hide how thin Sarah had become since her return to the Castle. But her green eyes were bright with relief as she looked up at the dark horseman.
"Just one message to let me know you were safe," chided Sarah. "That's all I needed. All we needed. Your father has been worried sick too. We thought we would never see you again ... gone for more than a year and not a word. You really are a bad boy, Simon."
"I am not a boy, Mother. I am a man now. I am twenty years old, in case you had forgotten." Simon Heap detached Sarah's arms from his neck and stepped back, suddenly aware that he was being watched. He swung around and did not look particularly pleased to see his youngest brother and adopted sister hanging back uncertainly by the kitchen garden door. Simon turned back to his mother.
"Anyway, you don't need me," he said sulkily. "Not now you have your precious long-lost seventh son back. Particularly as he has done so well for himselftaking my Apprenticeship."
"Simon, don't," Sarah protested. "Please don't let's argue over that again. Septimus took nothing from you. You were never offered the Apprenticeship."
"Ah, but I would have been. If that brat hadn't turned up."
"Simon! I will not have you talk about Septimus like that. He is your brother."
"If you believe what the old witch Zelda saw in a pool of dirty water was true. Which I don't, personally."
"And don't talk about your great-aunt like that either, Simon," Sarah said in a low voice, becoming angry. "Anyway, I know what I sawwhat we all saw-is true. Septimus is my son. And he is your brother. It is time you got used to it, Simon."
Septimus retreated into the shadows of the doorway; he was upset by what he had heard, but not surprised. He remembered only too well what Simon had said on the night of his Apprentice Supper at Aunt Zelda's cottage in the Marram Marshes. That night had been the most amazing night of Septimus's life, for not only had he just become Marcia's Apprentice, he had also found out who he really wasthe seventh son of Sarah and Silas Heap. But, in the early hours of the morning, after the celebrations, Simon Heap had had a terrible argument with his parents. He had stormed off into the darkness, taking a canoe across the Marram Marshes, much to Sarah's horror (and his brother Nicko's, who had only just acquired the canoe). After that Simon had vanisheduntil now.
"Shall we go and say hello, Sep?" whispered Jenna.
Septimus shook his head and hung back. "You go," he told Jenna. "I don't think he wants to see me."
Septimus stood in the shadows and watched Jenna as she walked into the kitchen garden and threaded her way through the lettuces that Simon's horse had trampled flat.
"Hello, Simon." Jenna smiled shyly.
"AhaI hoped I might find you here, in your Palace. Good morning, Your Majesty," said Simon in a slightly mocking tone as Jenna approached.
"I'm not called that yet, Si," said Jenna, a little uncertainly. "Not until I'm Queen."
"Queen, ehand won't we be grand then? You won't be speaking to the likes of us when you're Queen, will you?"
Sarah sighed. "Do stop it, Simon," she said.
Simon looked at his mother, then at Jenna. His irritable expression changed to something darker as he gazed at the view through the open door of the garden. His greenish-black eyes took in the mellow stonework of the ancient Palace and the tranquillity of the lawns. How different it was from the chaotic room he had grown up in surrounded by his five younger brothers and his little adopted sister, Jenna. In fact, it was so very different that he no longer felt his family had anything to do with him. Particularly Jenna, who, after all, was no blood relation anyway. She was nothing more than a cuckoo in the nest, and, like all cuckoos, she had taken over the nest and destroyed it.
"Very well, Mother," said Simon harshly. "I will stop it." Sarah smiled hesitantly. She hardly recognized her eldest son anymore. The man in the black cloak who stood before her felt like someone else. And not someone that Sarah liked very much.
"So," said Simon, slightly too jovially, "how would my little sister like a ride on Thunder here?" He patted his horse proudly.
"I'm not sure about that, Simon," Sarah said.
"Whyever not, Mother? Don't you trust me?"
Sarah was silent for just a second too long. "Of course I do," she said.
"I'm a good rider you know. Spent the last year riding through the mountains and valleys up in Border Country."
"Whatthe Badlands? What were you doing out there?" asked Sarah with a note of suspicion in her voice.
"Oh, this and that, Mother," said Simon vaguely. Suddenly he took a step toward Jenna. Sarah moved forward as if to stop him, but Simon reached Jenna first, and in one easy movement he lifted her up and put her on the horse. "How do you like that?" he asked Jenna. "Thunder's a lovely animal, isn't he?"