Anyway, you know this works, don't you?"

Septimus nodded. He put the bottle on the rickety little table beside Beetle's bed and took out a pipette from the pocket inside his Apprentice cloak. He drew up a small amount of the Antidote into the pipette and dropped three drops of the clear liquid into Beetle's half-open mouth. And then, sitting on the edge of their seats, he and Marcia waited.

The last lit candle was just being placed in the window at the far end of the ward when Beetle blinked. And then he blinked again, frowned as if wondering where he was and suddenly sat up, wide-eyed, hair sticking up on end like it always did.

“Wotcha, Sep,” croaked Beetle.

“Wotcha, Beetle,” laughed Septimus. “Wotcha!”

“Shh...” Sarah shushed. “Beetle's family is here now, Septimus. They'd like a little time alone with him before ... you know ... oh, my goodness.”

“It works, Mum!” Septimus laughed. “My mixture works.”

“You mean ... you did this?” asked Sarah, incredulous. Sarah, with all her knowledge of herbs and healing, had tried endless remedies for the Sickenesse, and nothing had had the slightest effect.

“Where am I?” asked Beetle, looking around him.

“You're in the Infirmary,” Septimus told him. “You got the Sickenesse, remember?”

“Nope. Don't remember anything. Well, not after Princess Jenna came to see me ... I remember that. Hey—she was looking for you.”

Septimus smiled. “Well, she came and found me, Beetle. You wouldn't believe where she found me though.”

“Where, Sep?”

“Tell you later, Beetle. Get lots of FizzFroot, you'll need it. Here's your mum.”

There was still some of the Antidote left even after Septimus had dropped three drops into every mouth on the ward, so he left the bottle with Sarah for any new arrivals. To the accompaniment of an excited hubbub of chatter, and the celebration of relatives who had just arrived on the ferry for their evening visit, Septimus carefully wrote out a label—just as Marcellus had taught him—for Sarah to stick on the bottle:

Rx The Antidote sig: III drops p.o.

ut diet.

“Your writing's gotten worse, Septimus,” Sarah commented as she proudly took the bottle from her son and placed it in a cupboard behind her table. “It looks just like a real Physician's.”

Septimus smiled. At that moment, he felt just like a real Physician.


Palace Rats

Hildegarde was on duty at the Palace door when Gringe arrived, breathless and frazzled.

"I've come on important business on be'alf of the ExtraOrdinary,“ puffed Gringe. ”I need to see Silas 'Eap."

“I'm afraid no one knows where he is, Mr. Gringe,” said Hildegarde apologetically. “The Princess was looking for him earlier and could not find him.”

“ 'E'll be with the Counters, miss. Up in the attic.”

Hildegarde smiled at Gringe. “Well, you are welcome to go in, Mr. Gringe, and try your luck.”

“Thank you, miss.” Gringe, still a little overawed by the Palace, hurried past and disappeared into the shadows of the Long Walk. Minutes later he drew back a ragged curtain hanging in a dark alcove and took a long flight of dusty stairs up to the attic.

At the top Gringe pushed open the creaky door and peered in; at the far end of the long, beamed loft space, he saw the flickering light of a candle. Silas Heap was exactly where Gringe had expected—in the UnSealed room tending his Counter Colony.

The Counters were doing well, and at Gringe's approach Silas looked up, pleased to see his friend. "Look at this little fellow, Gringe. He's going to be a perfect Tunneler.

I'm training him, getting him used to wriggling through things. Look at him go."

“Yeah, very nice, Silas, I'm sure. But I ain't come to watch your precious Counters.”

Silas did not reply. He was down on his hands and knees, squinting into recesses under the floorboards. “Darn. He's gone. He's tunneled off.”

“Yeah, well, that's the trouble with Tunnelers, Silas. Now look 'ere, I've had the ExtraOrdinary on at me and I've 'ad to leave the good-for-nothing Bridge Boy on the Gate—and Mrs. Gringe'll have my guts for garters when she finds that out, make no mistake—but we've got to put that painting back up 'ere an' you got to Seal the room again. Pronto.”

“What are you going on about, Gringe? What painting? Here, boy, come on, boy, that's it ... oh, he's gone again. Darn.”

“The portrait of the crazy old bird in the crown. Pointy nose and scary look in 'er eyes.”

“I'm not putting that thing back here, it'll unsettle the Counters. It can go somewhere else in the attic if they don't want it downstairs.”

Gringe shook his head. “It's got to go back in 'ere, Silas—back to where it was before. And you've got to Seal it in like it was before an' all. Matter of Life or Death, your boy said.”

Silas looked up. Gringe had his full attention now. “Which boy?” he asked, hardly daring to hope.

“Your Apprentice boy. Septimus.”

“Septimus? When did he say that?”

'' 'Bout 'alf an hour ago. He was with the ExtraOrdinary. She's got scary eyes, an' all,

'asn't she?"

In a flurry of dust, Silas leaped to his feet. “He's back—Septimus is back! Is he all right, Gringe?”

Gringe shrugged. “Looked all right to me. Bit scruffy, I suppose.”

“And Jenna, is she back too?”

“I dunno, Silas, do I? No one tells me anything—except to move pictures around or get shoved in the lock-up,” Gringe said grumpily.

“I must get to the Wizard Tower and see him,” said Silas, gathering his dusty Ordinary Wizard robes around him and, candle held high, setting off toward the little door at the far end of the attic.

“He ain't there, Silas,” said Gringe, running after him. "He's gone to the Infirmary.

Got some cure for the Sickenesse or something. Silas, we gotta take care of that portrait or I'm in big trouble."

Silas ignored Gringe. He rushed off, stumbling over the uneven floor, picking his way around the broken and rotten boards. Suddenly Gringe said something Silas had never heard him say before.

“You've got to take care of that picture, Silas— please. ”

Silas stopped. “ What did you say, Gringe?”

“You heard.”

“Well, it must be serious. All right, come on, Gringe. We'll fix the picture.”

It was a struggle getting Etheldredda's portrait off the wall. Silas got the impression that the picture had a mind of its own and did not want to be moved. Eventually a vicious tug from Gringe pulled the painting, along with a great lump of plaster and the picture nail, away from the wall and sent Gringe flying with it. Then, with a fair amount of what Sarah Heap called “language,” Silas and Gringe began the awkward task of manhandling the disapproving portrait up the attic stairs.

“You'd think this thing 'ad arms,” muttered Gringe after squeezing around a particularly tight corner. “Feels like it's 'olding on to the banisters.”

“Ouch!” gasped Silas suddenly. “Stop kicking my shins, Gringe. That hurt.”

“Weren't me, Silas. In fact— ouch—you can stop kicking my ankles.”

"Don't be silly, Gringe. I've got better things to do than kick your stubby little ankles.

Hey! That was my knee. You try that one more time, Gringe, and I'll—"

“You'll what, Silas 'Eap? Huh, huh?”

Both Silas and Gringe were battered and bruised and very near coming to blows by the time they reached the landing outside the attic door. They leaned the portrait against the wall and glared at each other, while the portrait glared at them.

“It's 'er, isn't it?” muttered Gringe after a while. “I dunno how she's done it, but it's been 'er that's been kicking us.”

“Wouldn't be surprised,” said Silas, accepting Gringe's peace offering. “Come on, Gringe, let's have a rest, we'll do this later. Fancy a game of Counter-Feet?”

“Deluxe version?” asked Gringe.

“Deluxe version,” agreed Silas.

“And no mini-crocodiles?”

“No mini-crocodiles.”

On the floor below, Jenna and Sir Hereward were listening to the bumps and thumps above their heads. Jenna had returned to the Palace and, unable to find Silas or Sarah, had gone to see Sir Hereward. He was at his usual post, half hidden in the shadows, leaning against a long tapestry that hung down beside the doors.

Angie Sage Books | Fantasy Books | Septimus Heap Series Books