Alther shook his head, horrified at the turn that events had taken. He had lost Jenna, Nicko and Snorri through the Glass, and now he was about to lose his beloved Alice.

Alther held out very little hope of seeing any of them again. He would have given anything to be able to go with Alice, but he knew that as a ghost, he could not go.

Wretched, Alther watched Alice gingerly step into the chest. He saw her stand delicately on the frame of the Glass, gathering her courage for the plunge and resisting a strong urge to hold her nose, which Alice always did when she jumped into water. As Alther tried to fix the last sight of Alice in his mind, a sight that would have to last him forever, Spit Fyre finally located the Seek.

Spit Fyre, whose dragon nerve endings had yet to catch up with his growth spurts, had no idea what size gap he might or might not fit through. He flung himself at the Glass, expecting to go through, just as he had seen Jenna, Nicko and Snorri do. Alice Nettles was thrown back out of the chest and fell beside Alther, where she lay winded, unable to stop the dragon from smashing the Glass into a thousand dark, glittering fragments of nothingness.


Princess Esmeralda

Two Palace Guards had just come off duty and were making their way toward the kitchens, where one of their wives worked as a Stewer of Meates and the other as a Keeper of the Gravie Boate. The smaller guard, a chubby man with a stretched, shiny face and little piggy eyes, had been discussing exactly how many kidneys should go into a steak and kidney pie.

His thinner, rather ratty companion, who was beginning to feel queasy, almost stepped on a dazed Jenna as she stumbled out of the UnderCooks' coat cupboard. In a moment she found herself grabbed by her arms.

“Well, well, well, what be here?” asked the piggy-eyed guard, whose eyesight was none too good in the dim light of the lower reaches of the Palace.

“Where be thy Palace livery, my girl?”

Jenna stared at the guard. She had the oddest feeling that she almost understood what he had said.

“Thou'rt a Stranger here,” the piggy man growled. “A trespasser upon the Royal Ground. 'Tis a grave offense. Thou wilt have to answer for this.”

Jenna had the distinct feeling that it was better not to say anything just then. She was aware of the ratty guard staring at her. She glanced up at him and saw a look of panic in his eyes.

“Let her loose, Will. Do you not see she wears the garb of a Royal Princess?”

The piggy guard peered at Jenna so intently that his eyes became little slits in the rolls of fat in his face. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead, and he let go of Jenna's tunic as if he had just had an electric shock. “Why didst thou not say?” he hissed angrily to the ratty one.

“Forsooth, I have said. If thou didst not prate on so with Kidneys and Stewes and Gravies until my stomach revolts against me and my mouth fills with bile, then thou wouldst have seen with thine own tiny eyes.”

Jenna's head was spinning. What were they saying? She had heard Royal Princess and she had an uncomfortable feeling that she had been recognized. She found herself taken firmly, but this time respectfully, by each elbow and propelled along the passageway.

Jenna listened to the guards' excited talk, catching some of the words and trying to make sense of it.

“There will surely be a reward for us, Will. To have found our lost Princess will be truly marveled at.”

“ 'Tis true, John. And what a great joy for the Queen, to be reunited with the daughter she had feared drowned. Perchance we might see a queenly smile once more.”

“Maybe. Though I do not know that we did ever see a queenly smile, Will, if truth be told.”

Will grunted in agreement and Jenna was respectfully asked to climb the stairs, if she pleased, up to parts of the Palace “more Fitt for her Royal Person.”

Soon they emerged into the Long Walk and it was only then that Jenna became sure that the Glass had not only transported her back to the Palace, but back through time as well. The Long Walk was just as Sir Hereward, one particularly talkative evening, had once described to her. It was full of ancient treasures—not the strange, exotic finds that Milo Banda had strewn along the Long Walk, but a rich array of history that belonged in the Palace and told its story. There were beautiful tapestries, finely detailed paintings of Princesses and their nurses, Palace dogs, visiting Magicians and Soothsayers, even a great bronze of a rare blue dragon, which had a look in its eye that reminded Jenna of Spit Fyre. The Palace was not the quiet, hushed place that Jenna was used to; it was buzzing with activity. The Long Walk reminded Jenna of rush hour at The Ramblings. Hundreds of Palace servants—all immaculate in their Palace livery of a gray tunic or dress with a deep red stripe around the hem—were bustling to and fro on important business. Some were carrying trays of small covered silver dishes; some had stacks of documents. Many were clutching Palace message bags, which were small red folders with the Palace crest stamped upon them in gold.

But the strangest thing was that the air was filled with the tinkling of bells, for outside every room a small bell was poised, ready to be rung by a higher servant to summon a passing lower servant to do their bidding. The bells rang incessantly, and generally their only effect was to cause the nearest servants to rush past and pretend not to notice.

Jenna's progress was slow. As each servant realized who was walking between the guards they stopped in surprise, causing others to bump into them. Some gasped in shock, others curtseyed or bowed, and many smiled and quickened their pace, anxious to be the first to tell the news that the drowned Princess was Returned.

It was some time later when the guards finally made it to their destination: the Throne Room. The Throne Room was the one room in the Palace that Jenna had never been in, and had no wish to go into either, for it was the room where her mother and Alther had been assassinated, and the room where she too had nearly lost her life—and would have done so had not Marcia Overstrand taken her to safety.

When Jenna had returned to live at the Palace, she had decided that she wanted the Throne Room locked, and Alther, who had no love for the place either, had readily agreed.

At the sight of the drowned Princess, the two door pages' eyes widened in shock, and the smaller boy squeaked in surprise. Both pages bowed low, and in a well-practiced maneuver, they pushed open the great doors to the Throne Room and ushered Jenna in. The Knight of the Day, a rotund, friendly faced man who was the Queen's personal knight for that day, looked astonished at the sight of Jenna, then made a low and extremely elaborate bow, which involved a lot of arm waving and hat doffing.

While this was going on, Jenna's attention wandered to the Throne Room itself. The Throne Room was huge. It was the second biggest room in the Palace and took up the front five windows of the building, which looked out over the Palace Gate and straight down the old Alchemie Way. To the left was Wizard Way and in the distance, behind the Great Arch, Jenna could see the Wizard Tower soaring into the pinkish late-afternoon sky. The golden Pyramid at the top was almost lost to view in what Jenna recognized as a Magykal haze, which was drifting out the windows of the ExtraOrdinary Wizard's rooms and swirling up into the sky.

The Knight of the Day, having finally finished his bow, had been a little put out to find that the person it had been directed at was staring out the window. He gave a discreet cough. Jenna's attention snapped back to the Throne Room. It was richly hung with thick tapestries depicting the lives and adventures of various Queens. At one end, a blazing fire roared in the huge fireplace; at the other, on an ornate golden throne, sewing her tapestry with short, vicious stabs of her needle, sat the living, breathing, greatly disapproving Queen Etheldredda.

“Oh, no,” gasped Jenna.

The Knight of the Day stepped forward and addressed the Queen, who had still not bothered to look up. “Your Majesty,” said the Knight, who took hours to say what most people said in minutes, if they bothered to say it all. “Your most Gracious and Royal Majesty, may I present a Joy to Your Heart, a Succor to Your Mother's Grief, a Great Returning, the Wondrous Thing for which we all Hoped but yet did Fear may never come?”

“Oh, get on with it, man,” snapped Queen Etheldredda, breaking a thread with her teeth and crossly tying a complicated knot.

“Your own drowned daughter, Your Highness,” the Knight continued, allowing what Jenna thought was a slight air of disapproval to color his words. “Your very own Flesh and Blood, Madam. That Delicate Rose for whom the Castle has Pined these long months gone, those dark months of Grief and Pain are now but a painful Memorie—”

Tags: Angie Sage Septimus Heap Fantasy