"Oh they all say that," said the rat dismissively, picking up a briefcase and making for the door. Jenna stepped in front of the rat, a rather portly brown creature. The rat glanced up and for the first time he saw properly who he had been talking to. He swallowed hard. "Oh," he said. "I. Um. I didn't realize it was you, Your Majesty. Very sorry."
"It doesn't matter. Just send the message, will you?" With Jenna still barring the door, the rat returned to his desk and opened his briefcase, looking through a list of names and shaking his head.
"Your Majesty," the rat said regretfully, "there is nothing I would like to do more, but all the Message Rats are unavailable. That's why I've closed up. The soonest I can get one for you will be tomorrow morning"
"It will be too late tomorrow morning," Jenna interrupted.
The elderly rat looked worried. "I'm so sorry, Your Majesty.
We've had a very difficult time recently what with the epidemic down by the sewer pipe which took out some of my best young rats, and now half of my staff are on holiday. And then we've had so many long-distance call-outs I've lost count"
"I'll have a Secret Rat then," said Jenna. "Is Stanley available?"
The rat looked studiedly blank. "Secret Rat?" he asked. "I'm very sorry, but there is no such thing."
"Oh, don't be silly," snapped Jenna exasperated. "Of course there is. I should know."
The rat was stubborn. "I really don't know what you're talking about," he said. "Now I must be getting along, Your Majesty. I could send a Message Rat along to the Palace first thing tomorrow if that would be of any help?"
Jenna's patience was at an end. "Look," she said sternly, "I want a Secret Rat and I want one now. That's an order. And if I don't get one, there won't be a Secret Rat Service anymore. Let alone a Message Rat Service. Got that?"
The rat gulped and shuffled his papers. "I-I'll just make a quick call," he said. Then, to Jenna's surprise he leaned out a small window beside his desk and yelled, "Stanley! Hey, Stanley! Get your tail down here. Pronto!"
A few moments later Stanley appeared at the window. "Keep your fur on, Humphrey, what's so important?" And then, catching sight of Jenna, he said, "Oh."
"Special request for you, Stanley," said the rat somewhat apologetically.
"Ah," said Stanley, sounding less than enthusiastic.
Jenna lost no time. "Stanley," she said, "I want you to take an urgent message to Aunt Zelda. She has to come here as soon as she can. She is my only hope for"
In a familiar gesture, Stanley raised his paw. "No," he said firmly.
"What?" said Jenna. Even Humphrey looked shocked.
"I am sorry," said Stanley, stepping through the window onto the desk. "I am unavailable tonight."
"No, you're not," said Humphrey.
"Yes, I am," retorted Stanley. "Dawnie has asked me over for supper. I understand that she and her sister have had a falling-out. I have learned my lesson. In the past I have put my job first and Dawnie second. But no longer."
"But" protested Jenna.
"I know what you're going to say, Your Majesty, and I am very sorrybut tonight Dawnie comes first, even if I do lose my job. Now if you'll excuse me, I want to pick up some flowers from the florist's garbage bin before it gets emptied." With that Stanley gave a small bow and walked past Jenna, head held high. Dumbfounded, Jenna held the door open for him and watched the rat jump down from the ledge and disappear over a roof.
"Well," said Humphrey, "I really don't know what to say..."
"No," said Jenna. "Neither do I. It was my last hope. But I don't suppose Aunt Zelda could have got here in time anyway. I don't think there is much time left. Good night."
"Good night, Your Majesty," said Humphrey, as Jenna quietly closed the door and made her way back to the boatyard.
Chapter 42 The Lock-Up
Inside the lock-up Simon Heap opened his eyes and groaned. For a moment he thought he must be in Dungeon Number One, but then he realized that there was a small chink of light coming through a tiny barred window and he relaxed. Dungeon Number One was Sealed in darkness, and although wherever he was now smelled pretty bad, it smelled nowhere near as bad as the dungeon. Simon had once been shown Dungeon Number One by the Supreme Custodian, and he had never forgotten it.
Very slowly, Simon sat up. His head hurt and his stomach felt horribly bruised, but as far as he could tell there were no bones broken. He was a little confused by the huge holes in his tunic until, in a flash, it all came back to him. The dragon ... the brat ... and the Flyte Charmgone. Simon groaned again. He was a failure. A terrible failure. Not only had Marcia never asked him to be her Apprentice, but it now turned out that DomDaniel had never wanted him eitherand after all Simon had done for him too. Picking up those horrible slimy bones of his, taking endless trips to the Manuscriptorium with them, having to deal with that snooty Hugh Fox who had always looked down his long pointy nose at him, and worst of all, making those bleak trips along the Ice Tunnels to deliver the bones to that ghastly woman, Una Brakket, and making sure that old Weasal never saw him. Sometimes he had even ended up helping her put the wretched bones into the Amalgam so that she could get off to her country dancing in time. What a fool he had been. And then, to top it all, his imposter brother turns up on a dragon. The boy was whatonly elevenand there he was, not only the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice, he now had his own blasted dragon. How did he do it?
Simon sat on the floor of the lock-up in a cloud of self-pity. No one wanted him. Nothing ever went right for him. Life stunk and it just wasn't fair.
After a while a familiar feeling of anger stole over Simon. He stood and began to look around his prison. He'd show them they couldn't tame Simon Heaphe'd be out of here in no time.
Angrily, Simon pushed the door, but to no effect, except he heard some frightened whispering.
"He's trying to get out..."
"What shall we do?"
"Is he very dangerous?"
"Oh, don't be such a baby, Brian."
"Stop bickering you two. The ExtraOrdinary will be here soon."
Simon smiled broadly. Well, let her come, but he would not be there to meet her. For Simon Heap had just realized where he was.
Many years ago, Jannit had expanded her boatyard to take in the derelict old Castle Customs Quay. The brick lock-up, which had been used for drunken sailors and suspicious characters landing at the Castle, was the only part of the old Customs House left standing, and Jannit had kept it to store her more valuable tools in. It still had its heavy iron door with three massive bolts on the outside and the huge brass key in the lock. Simon was willing to bet it also still had its trapdoor leading into the Ice Tunnels.
Simon knelt and quickly set to work shifting the hundreds of years of accumulated dirt from the floor. Luckily, Jannit had thoughtfully provided him with a rather good shovel, and it did not take Simon long before the shovel hit metal about a foot beneath the surface.
The Sealed trapdoor easily swung open in Simon's practiced hands. A cold gust of air blew up to meet him, and Simon slipped through the trapdoor, down into the familiar chill of the Ice Tunnels.
The full complement of thirteen Wizardsfor Jannit had speedily retrieved the other ten from the fishing jetty outside the boatyardwere dutifully encircling the lock-up when Marcia marched into the boatyard, accompanied by Sarah and Silas Heap.
Sarah and Silas had insisted on seeing their eldest son. Unable to believe what Marcia had told them, they had decided to confront him. "At least," Sarah had said, "he will have to sit and listen to us this time. He won't be able to run off like he usually does."
Jannit escorted the party to the lock-up, her small wiry figure somewhat dwarfed by Marcia in her purple silk robes, which billowed out around her in the summer evening breeze.
"Here we are, Madam Marcia," said Jannit as they stopped outside the circle of Wizards. "He's in there. We put him in a couple of hours ago and he should have come around by now. Had a nasty bump on the head from that dragon he attacked."
"Oh, dear," said Sarah anxiously, "I do wish he wouldn't do these silly things."
"I'm sure we all wish that, Sarah," said Marcia sternly. "But unfortunately he has progressed rather further than the silly stage now. Evil-minded-scheming stage is more what I would call it."