“Goodness, Cerys. That's a little way off, I hope.”
“I hope so too. But one must be eternally vigilant. Good-bye. Until we meet again...”
The Queen drifted back to her chair by the ever-burning fire, and Alther knew that the audience was over. He floated through the wall with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction—but it was only later that Alther realized that the Queen had not given a straight answer to any of his questions.
Alther went to find Marcia to tell her to stop slamming doors because Jenna had taken Septimus to see Aunt Z,elda. He found her arguing with Sir Hereward outside Jenna's room.
“If you don't stand aside, Sir Hereward,” Marcia was telling the ghost angrily, “I shall be forced to Pass Through, make no mistake about it.”
The old knight shook his head regretfully. “I do apologize, Your ExtraOrdinariness, but the Princess specifically instructed me not to let anyone into her room. Which, unfortunately, includes yourself. I only wish it were otherwise, but...”
“Oh, do stop dithering, Sir Hereward. I need to speak to her urgently. Now stand aside!”
“Oof!” Sir Hereward gasped as the sharp point of Marcia's purple python shoe poked through his armor-plated instep.
“Marcia!” said Alther sharply. “Marcia, there is no need for that. No need at all. Sir H does a very good job. Jenna is not in her room, she has taken Septimus to see Aunt Zelda.”
“What?” Marcia stopped, her foot still firmly placed in Sir Hereward's. The knight pulled his foot away; then he drew his sword, placed it across the door and gave Marcia a withering look.
Marcia stepped back from the ghost. "But—but why on earth has she taken Septimus to see Aunt Zelda? Alther, this is terrible. Septimus must not leave my side today, he is in grave danger. And as for Jenna, you know as well as I do that she should stay in the Castle. Anything could happen to them traveling all that way across the Marshes.
What are they thinking of?"
Alther glanced at Sir Hereward, unsure if he should say anything in the presence of the old knight, but the ghost was diplomatically staring at his feet. Sir Hereward knew when to blend into the background. All the same, Alther took Marcia by the elbow and led her away from the old ghost. As they walked up the corridor, Alther noticed to his dismay that Marcia was trembling.
As soon as he was sure they were out of earshot, Alther said, “Um, they haven't gone across the Marshes, Marcia. There is another Way.” Alther felt awkward. The Queen's Way was a secret kept by the Queens and their descendants. Many years ago, when he himself was ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Alther had stumbled across the Queen's Way at Keeper's Cottage when he had been looking for Aunt Zelda's predecessor, Betty Crackle. Betty had left the Way open, and Alther had, to his shock, found himself in the Queen's Room in the company of Queen Matilda, Cerys's fearsome grandmother. He had soon made his way back to Keeper's Cottage, but not before Queen Matilda had extracted a terrible promise from him never to divulge the secret of the Way.
“Well, going through the Port is no better, Alther.”
“It's not through the Port, Marcia. It is much quicker—and safer—than that.”
Marcia knew her old tutor well enough to tell when he was keeping something from her. “You know something, don't you?” she asked. "You know something and you're not telling."
Alther nodded. “I am sorry, Marcia, I swore I would never tell. It is a secret of the Queens.”
“It's obviously not a secret from Septimus,” Marcia said.
“No. Well, Septimus seems to be different,” said Alther.
“That's the trouble, Alther,” replied Marcia, her voice rising in what sounded to Alther suspiciously like a panic. “He is different. He's different enough to have written me a note five, hundred years ago.”
With great relief, Sir Hereward had watched Marcia and Alther set off down the wide corridor, take a right turn at the end and disappear from sight.
Behind the doors of Jenna's bedroom, another, altogether more unpleasant ghost took her ear from the door, a smile playing across her thin lips. So the troublesome young Princess had run off to the Marram Marshes with the Apprentice, had she? And not done what she had promised by the sound of it.
She would pay for this, and the Apprentice need not think he had gotten away with anything either.
Quickly the ghost of Queen Etheldredda crossed the floor to a small roughly made box where Jenna kept all her treasures. The ghost perused the box and then Caused the lid to silently open. Poking a long and bony finger through Jenna's possessions, Etheldredda found what she was looking for and then did something that no ghost should be able to do—she picked up the object, a small silver ball inscribed with the letters I.P.—and placed it in her pocket. Then, with a knowing smile, the ghost of Queen Etheldredda walked through the door and Passed Through the much put-upon Sir Hereward.
The ghost of Queen Cerys gave every appearance of dozing in her fireside chair, so when the ghost of Queen Etheldredda sidled in and headed straight for the potion cupboard, she was most surprised to suddenly find her way barred by a very determined descendant.
“You may not pass,” Cerys told Etheldredda coldly.
“Don't be ridiculous, child. I have every right to walk the Queen's Way. And I intend to do so. Stand aside.”
“I will not.”
“You will!” The angry Etheldredda pushed her way through. Cerys, who gasped—not only from the shock of being Passed Through, but also from the surprisingly solid feeling of Etheldredda—recovered just in time to Cause the potion cupboard door to jam shut.
“Two may play at that game,” snapped Etheldredda, Causing the door to reopen.
“But only one may win,” replied Cerys, Causing the door to close.
“Indeed, child. I am glad you see sense.” Etheldredda Caused the door to open.
“I intend to protect my daughter. You shall not stop me,” Cerys declared angrily, and Caused the door again to slam shut. Then, before Etheldredda could retaliate, Cerys began to spin. Faster and faster she turned, like a whirlwind, revolving the air in the turret with her until, despite herself, Etheldredda was caught up in the currents and whirled around the small circular room like an autumn leaf caught up in a windy corner.
“Go!” yelled Cerys. With that, Queen Etheldredda was hurled from the room, out of the turret and across the lawns toward the river, where she landed in the middle of one of Billy Pot's careful arrangements of dragon droppings. Angrily, she picked herself out of the mess and haughtily floated toward the riverbank, where the ghostly Royal Barge awaited her.
Head held high and without a backward glance, Queen Etheldredda walked up the gangplank. As she took her place upon the dais, the ghostly barge began to move.
Silently it glided away from the Palace gardens and headed for the middle of the river, where it drifted downstream, Passing Through a blockade of boats, which for some reason seemed to be on fire. Queen Etheldredda tutted to herself at the lawlessness of the Castle and comforted herself that it would not be so for much longer. She would see to that.
With a satisfied smile, Queen Etheldredda sat back to enjoy the journey. There was, thought the ghost, more than one way of getting to Keeper's Cottage.
As Queen Etheldredda was being hurled from the turret, Alther was leading Marcia down one of the many flights of back stairs that led to the Long Walk. “What exactly do you mean, Marcia—he wrote you a note nearly five hundred years ago?”
“This morning, Alther ... I opened the Sealed shelf.”
“You did what?”
“You know, you showed me once how to do it. There was something there I had to see.”
“Not the I, Marcellus?” Alther had become increasingly pale over the previous half hour. Now he went almost translucent.
“You opened the I, Marcellus? But it's been Sealed since before the Tunnels were Frozen.”
“I know, I know, but it was a risk I had to take. I saw ... I saw something in Jillie Djinn's calculations for Septimus's Prediction Practical.”
“Huh. That woman's always calculating something,” said Alther. “I caught her working out the percentage of wear on her new shoes yesterday. Wanted to know exactly how long they were going to last.”
“That does not surprise me, Alther. Personally, she drives me nuts. I'm meant to be at the Manuscriptorium now listening to more of her tedious theories. Oh, what a mess.”