“Ullr will,” Snorri replied stonily.

“Here,” said Alice, pushing a piece of paper into Snorri's unwilling hand. “This is where I live. Warehouse Number Nine. Top floor. There is space for you and Ullr to sleep comfortably. You would be very welcome.” Snorri looked unsure.

“Sometimes,” explained Alice, "I have to do things in my job that I do not like to do.

I am sorry about your barge but it is for the good of the Port. We cannot risk the Sickenesse spreading here. Boats bring rats and rats bring disease."

“Some say,” said Snorri, “that it is not rats that spread the Sickenesse. They say it is another kind of creature.”

“People say many things.” Alice laughed. “They say that great chests of gold have mysteriously appeared on their ships without their knowledge. They say that barrels of water must have miraculously turned to brandy during the voyage. They say that they will return to pay the duty on their cargo. It does not mean that what they say is true.” Alice was aware of Snorri's clear blue eyes under their pale, quizzical eyebrows. She met Snorri's gaze and said, “But what I said to you was true. I hope you will stay.”

Snorri nodded slowly.

"Good. It is Warehouse Number Nine. You will find it on the fifth street on the left past the old dock. It is best to arrive before nightfall, for the old dock is not safe after dark. Go in the blue door set into the green, take a candle from the tub and walk through the lower warehouse. Take the iron steps at the back to the top. The door is always open. There is bread and cheese in the cupboard and wine in the jug.

Oh—and my name is Alice."

“I am Snorri.”

“I will see you later, Snorri.” With that, Alice was off to a small boat waiting for her at the foot of the harbor steps. Snorri watched the oarsmen row Alice toward a large ship at anchor about a half mile out from the Port, and Ullr rubbed against her tunic and meowed. He was hungry—and so, Snorri realized, was she.

Tucked away between the Traders' Dock Customs House and an abandoned loft was the Harbor and Dock Pie Shop. A welcoming yellow light glowed from its steamed-up windows, and the wonderful smell of hot pies drifted out the open door.

Neither Snorri nor Ullr could resist it. Soon they had joined a line of hungry workers waiting for their supper. The line moved slowly but at last it was Snorri's turn.

A boy came out of the kitchen carrying a tray of newly baked pies and Snorri pointed to them. “I shall have two pies,” she said.

The young woman behind the counter smiled at Snorri. “That will be four groats, please.”

Snorri handed over four small silver coins.

Maureen—ex-kitchen maid, ex-Doll House skivvy and brand-new owner of the Harbor and Dock Pie Shop—wrapped up the pies and added some scraps from a broken pie. “For your cat,” she said.

“Thank you,” said Snorri, hugging the hot pies to herself and thinking that the Port was not such a bad place after all. As she left the shop she heard Maureen scream.

“Rats! Quick, Kevin, Kevin! Get them!”

Snorri and Ullr sat at the Traders' Dock harbor wall eating their pies. Ullr, who always got very hungry just before nightfall, quickly ate the scraps from Maureen and then finished off the pie that Snorri had bought for him. As the sky darkened and gray rain clouds began to blow in from the west, Snorri and Ullr watched a tug tow the Alfrun out of Traders' Dock and take it on its way to the Quarantine Dock, which was in a bleak marshy area on the other side of the river mouth. Despite the warmth of her pie, the company of Ullr and Alice Nettles's offer, Snorri felt desolate as she saw the Alfrun leave the protected waters of the harbor and pitch to and fro as she entered the black waters of the Port tidal race.

Her mother's words came back to her: “You are a fool, Snorri Snorrelssen, to think that you can Trade on your own—what makes you so special? It is no life for a woman, let alone a girl of fourteen. Your father, Olaf, rest his soul, would have been horrified— horrified, Snorri. The poor man did not know what he was doing when he left you his Letters of Charter. Promise me, for the love of Freya, that you will not go. Snorri—Snorri, come back here right now!”

But Snorri had not promised, she had not come back right now. And so here she was, stranded in a strange port, watching all her trading hopes be towed away before being left to rot in some pestilential dock in the middle of nowhere. Snorri got to her feet with a sigh. “Komme, Ullr,” she said.

With the first few drops of a cold autumn rain falling, Snorri set off. Alice's directions should have been easy to follow, but Snorri was still preoccupied with her thoughts and soon found herself lost in a bewildering maze of derelict old warehouses and decrepit old ghosts. Snorri had never known such disreputable-looking ghosts. The streets were crowded with old smugglers and muggers, drunkards and thieves all jostling, cursing and spitting, just as they had done when they were Living. Most of them paid no attention to Snorri, for they were too busy fighting one another to notice the Living or to bother to Appear to them, but one or two, aware that Snorri could see them, began to follow her along the streets, enjoying the anxious look on her face as she turned to check if they were still there.

The rain began to fall heavily and Snorri's spirits sank even lower. She felt trapped.

She had no compass, no chart, and everything looked the same to her: street after street of great black shapes looming overhead, blocking out the sky. Snorri would far rather have been adrift in the towering gray waves of the northern sea in the Alfrun than lost among these menacing old warehouses. Looking all around, desperately searching for a blue door in the green—or was it a green in the blue?— Snorri began to panic. She stopped to try to get her bearings, but the entourage of ghosts closed in and Snorri could no longer see where she was. She was surrounded by mocking faces sporting rotting teeth, broken noses, cauliflower ears and blinded eyes.

“Go away!” screamed Snorri, her shout echoing along the chasm of a street and bouncing back to her.

“You lost, sweetie?” said a soft voice nearby. Anxious to see who had spoken, Snorri Passed Through the circle of ghosts to a chorus of curses and protests. A young woman, dressed in various shades of black, stood in the shadows of a doorway a few yards away—a blue doorway within a big green warehouse door. Cut into the brick arch above the door was the number 9.

“No, I am not lost, thank you,” said Snorri, heading gratefully for Alice's door.

Seeing where Snorri was headed, the young woman stepped forward and put her arm across the little door, barring Snorri's way. With a stab of fear, Snorri saw the young woman's shining black eyes with their flashes of brilliant blue. She knew she was dealing with a Darke Witch.

“You don't want to go in there,” the Witch told her.

“I do want to go in there,” retorted Snorri.

The Darke Witch smiled and shook her head as though Snorri had not understood what she had meant. “No, sweetie. You don't. You want to come with me. Don't you?” A spark of blue flashed across the Witch's eyes and Snorri felt herself weakening. Why did she want to go into some horrible old warehouse anyway?

“That's right, you come back with Linda now. Come on.” Linda, trainee Coven Mother of the Port Witch Coven, took hold of Snorri's hand, and Snorri felt her viselike grasp close over the bones in her hand and squash them together.

“Ouch,” protested Snorri, trying to pull her hand away while Linda's grip tightened even more, rolling her bones across one another. “Ouch, you're hurting.”

“ Surely not. A strong girl like you is no match for little ole me.” Linda giggled, knowing that she had Snorri in her power. Linda had been out on what the Witches called a Twilight Trawl; she needed to replace their maid-of-all-work after the girl's irritating accident in the coven's cauldron earlier that day. They had eventually fished the girl out but it was too late. Now Linda was determined to bring back what looked like a promisingly strong maid who would probably last more than the usual couple of months.

However, Snorri was not being as cooperative as Linda had expected. The witch roughly tugged her away from the doorway and Snorri resisted. Linda crunched her hand hard. Snorri gasped with pain, but suddenly Linda loosened her grip and Snorri saw a flicker of fear in the Witch's black eyes. She followed Linda's gaze and almost laughed with relief.

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