The ghostly Royal Barge drifted away from Keeper's Cottage, leaving a very unsettled Aunt Zelda in its wake. Lounging on her cushions, rocked by the slight swell of an ancient storm, Queen Etheldredda closed her eyes and dreamed of the day soon to come when the Princess would be no more and the Castle would revert to its rightful Queen—Queen Etheldredda the Everlasting.
The pale light of a frosty autumn morning was trying to shine in through the high windows at the back of the ground floor of Warehouse Number Nine. It was not helped by the thick green glass in the tiny windows or by the layers of grime that covered them, but it did its best and eventually emerged as long shafts of feeble brightness swimming with great shoals of dust.
"Where did you say this wretched mirror was, Alther?" asked Alice crossly, as she negotiated her way out from underneath a stuffed elephant. Alther was sitting on an ebony chest, which was firmly bound with thick iron straps and secured with a huge lock. DUTY UNPAID: IMPOUNDED was stamped all over it in bright red, as though some past Customs Officer had lost his temper and taken it out on the chest.
Alther looked ill; he felt as if he had eaten a bucketful of dust and washed it down with the slime from a bag of moldy carrots. He had spent the last hour Passing Through the most dusty, mildewed and decrepit pile of junk it had ever been his misfortune to Pass Through. There were so many large objects tied up in sacks, sealed in trunks and stuck at the back of inaccessible stacks that the only way to check every single piece in the warehouse was for Alther to Pass Through. So far he had found nothing and he had only checked maybe one thousandth of the available junk and rubbish piled up in Alice's warehouse. Alther could not even think straight, for the loud snores and foul-smelling burps—and worse—that were emanating from Spit Fyre stopped his dusty, muddled thoughts from making any sense at all.
“It's a Glass, Alice, a Glass—not a mirror,” Alther corrected grumpily. “And if I knew where it was, I wouldn't be sitting here feeling like I'd been trampled by a herd of Foryx, would I?”
“Don't be silly, Alther,” snapped Alice. “Foryx don't exist.”
“Are you sure, Alice? You've probably got a whole stash of 'em stored up here somewhere,” said Alther testily.
“When I was little, I used to think Foryx existed,” said Jenna, hoping to help things along. “Nicko liked to scare me with bedtime stories about them—all half-decayed and slimy, horrible warty faces, huge feet with great claws running forever around the world and crushing everything in their path. I used to have to watch the boats from my window for hours before I forgot about them.”
“That's not a very nice thing to tell your little sister, Nicko,” said Alther.
“Jen didn't mind, did you, Jen? You used to say that you wanted to be a Foryx.”
Jenna gave Nicko a push. “Only so that I could chase you, you horrible boy.” She laughed. Snorri watched the brother and sister together and wished that she had a brother like Nicko. She would never have left home and come to this crazy place if she had.
Alice clambered over a pile of sacks containing seventy-eight pairs of backward-pointing joke shoes. Her foot went through one of the sacks and a cloud of leather-beetle droppings rose into the air. She succumbed to a coughing fit and slumped down on the chest beside Alther. “Alther, are you quite sure— cough—that this Glass— cough—is actually— cough, cough—here?”
Alther felt too full of dust to reply. The ghost was sitting in a shaft of light, and Jenna could see that he was full of millions of minute swirling particles. The dust cloud inside him was so thick that it made Alther appear almost solid and strangely grubby.
“But you think it could be here, don't you, Uncle Alther?” asked Jenna, coming over to sit beside the disconsolate ghost.
Alther smiled at Jenna. He liked it when she called him Uncle Alther. It reminded him of happy times when Jenna was growing up in the Heap household in their chaotic room in The Ramblings.
“Yes, Princess, I do think it could be here.”
“Maybe we should ask Aunt Zelda to come help?” Nicko suggested.
“Aunt Zelda had no idea where it was,” said Alther grumpily, remembering his trying time with the White Witch in Warehouse Number Nine. “She just stood in the middle of the floor waving her arms like this”—Alther did an impression of a windmill in a hurricane—“and saying there, Over there, Alther. Oh, you silly man, I said over there! ” Jenna and Nicko laughed; Alther did a surprisingly good imitation of Aunt Zelda.
“But I am sure that the Glass is here. Marcellus himself says so. One hundred and sixty-nine days after he had his first success with what he calls the True Glass of Time, which he made a great palaver about and had gold doors for it and all the works, he completed two more Glasses of Time. A matched pair this time, which would be portable. These worked very well, apparently. It's these I am looking for. I reckon one of them is here.”
“Wow...” Nicko whistled under his breath and looked around as if expecting to suddenly see a Glass of Time looming out of the junk.
“Are you sure, Alther?” asked the ever-skeptical Alice.
The dust particles inside Alther were beginning to settle and the ghost was feeling better. “Yes,” he said, more definitely now. “It's all in Broda Pye's letters, even though Marcia says they're a load of old claptrap.”
“Sep told me about Broda once,” said Jenna. “She was a Keeper, wasn't she? Oh, I so miss Sep, he used to tell me so much stuff about all sorts of useless things ... and I used to tell him to stop going on like a dumb parrot ... and I wish I hadn't. I really do.” Jenna sniffed and wiped her eyes. “It's just the dust,” she mumbled, knowing that if someone said anything remotely comforting to her she would burst into tears.
“Ah, well. I expect Septimus was interested in Marcellus's Physik,” said Alther. “It worried Marcia sick. She got jumpy every time he went near the Sealed section in the Library. I wonder where he found out about Broda?”
“Aunt Zelda told him,” said Jenna.
“Did she now? Well, well ... and did she tell him about the stack of letters she found behind the fireplace when she was making the cat tunnel for Bert?”
Jenna shook her head. She was sure Septimus would have told her that.
“Well, those were the letters from Marcellus Pye to his wife, Broda.”
“But Keepers aren't allowed to get married,” said Jenna.
“Right,” agreed Alther. “And this goes to show why.”
“Why, Uncle Alther?”
“Because Broda told Marcellus all the Keeper's secrets. And when things got tough for Marcellus, she let him use the Queen's Way as a shortcut to the Port. He brought all sorts of Darke Alchemical stuff through there. There are still pockets of Darkenesse hanging around. You must always take care going through there, Princess.”
Jenna nodded. She wasn't surprised. She always felt a little scared on the Queen's Way.
“So Marcellus told Broda that he'd put the Glass in this warehouse?” asked Nicko.
“No. He wrote and said he'd been swindled out of it. Apparently he had taken it through the Queen's Way, got it to the Port on a succession of stubborn donkeys and finally put it on a ship. He planned to take it to a small but powerful group of Alchemists up in the Lands of the Long Nights, but he was double-crossed by the ship's captain. As soon as Marcellus was out of the way, the captain sold the Glass to a certain Drago Mills—a merchant in the Port who was in the habit of buying a load of old tat without paying too much attention to where it had come from. Anyway, some months later Drago fell out with the Chief Customs Officer over a small matter of unpaid duty for another cargo and got the whole contents of his warehouse impounded for his trouble. No one, not even Marcellus, could get into the warehouse without the say-so of the Chief Customs Officer, whom Marcellus referred to as an Officiouse Tubbe of Malice, and the Officiouse Tubbe never did give the say-so.”
“So this was Drago Mills's warehouse?” said Nicko.
“You've got it, Nicko. Warehouse Number Nine. Even more junk has been added over the years, of course, but at the core of it is Drago's hoard. And somewhere, hidden away under all this stuff, there is a Glass that should take you through Time—one hundred and sixty-nine days after Septimus arrived.”