“Good morning, fair Princess. The Palace rats do grow ever bolder, I declare,” said the knight, pointing his broken sword up to the ceiling, where, immediately above them, Silas had got his foot stuck between two rotten floorboards.
“Good morning, Sir Hereward,” said Jenna, who had become used to noises in the attic ever since Silas had started cultivating his Counter Colony. “They sound like two-legged rats with boots on to me.”
Sir Hereward looked at Jenna as if searching for an answer to something that was bothering him. “You are safely returned after your absence?” he asked. “For as I recall you were not here last night, nor the night before—two long nights indeed, for none knew where to find you. Tis good to see you, and with a little orange rug as a keepsake from your travels. How very charming.”
“It's a cat, Sir Hereward,” said Jenna, holding Ullr up to show the knight.
Sir Hereward peered at the scrap of orange fur. Ullr stared vacantly at the ghost, seeing only a Time five hundred years ago. “ 'Tis a poor kind of cat,” observed the knight.
“I know,” said Jenna. “It's like he's not here anymore.”
“Perchance your cat has the Sickenesse,” said Sir Here-ward.
Jenna shook her head. “I think he's missing someone,” she said. “Just like I am.”
“Ah, you are strangely melancholy this morning, Princess, but here is something to raise your spirits. What is the difference between an elephant and a tangerine?”
“One's big and gray and has a trunk, and the other is small and orange.”
“Oh.” Sir Hereward looked crestfallen.
“Just joking. I don't know, what is the difference between an elephant and a tangerine?”
“Well, I won't send you out to do my shopping then. Hur hur.”
“Ho, ho. Sir Hereward ... you know where I went away to, don't you?”
The knight seemed unwilling to answer. He poked his sword at his foot and fiddled with a loose plate of armor. “Only you can know that, Princess. Where, pray tell me?”
“I was here, Sir Hereward. And so were you.”
“I was here five hundred years ago.”
Sir Hereward, who as an old ghost was on the transparent side already, nearly faded away. But he recovered himself enough to say, “And you are back. Safe. And only two days gone. It is a wonder, Princess Jenna, and it is a burden lifted from my old shoulders. Ever since you told me your name was Jenna, I have worried that one day you would disappear and never be seen again.”
“You never said.”
“I thought that it was not something you would wish to know, Princess. It is best not to know what the future holds for us.” Jenna thought of Marcellus Pye knowing that he had at least five hundred cold, dark years to spend alone in the Old Way, and she nodded.
“I have so many questions to ask you about what happened in the past, Sir Hereward.”
“One at a time, Princess. I'm an old ghost now, and my memory tires easily.”
“Just one today then: Did Hugo get home safely?”
Sir Hereward looked puzzled. “Hugo?” he asked.
“You remember Hugo,” said Jenna. "He was with us. Well, with Septimus really.
Wore a Palace Servant's uniform that was far too big for him."
Sir Hereward smiled. “Ah yes, I remember Hugo. And very pleased his mother was to see him too.”
“I'm glad. Hugo was sweet.”
“Yes. He became a wonderful Physician later, due to young Septimus Heap, he always said. But I shall cause you to tarry no longer. You will be wanting to go to your Chamber and rest.”
Jenna shook her head, the memory of the little Princesses' crying behind the wainscoting was still fresh. “No, not just yet, thank you, Sir Hereward. I am going to sit by the river.”
The autumn sun had warmed the old planks of the landing stage, and Jenna—comfortably upwind from Billy Pot's piles of dragon dung—was sitting with Ullr on her lap, dangling her feet into the surprisingly warm water of the sluggish river. Beside her was a blue and white saucer full of mashed corn, and nibbling at the corn was a small, naked duckling. As Jenna watched the corn steadily disappear into the duckling, her eyes grew heavy, and the blankets and cushion that she had brought down from Sarah Heap's living room seemed irresistible.
Which is why, when the Chief Customs Officer's launch drew up alongside the Palace landing stage, Alice Nettles and Alther Mella found a steadily breathing pile of crocheted blankets with an orange cat with a black-tipped tail and a small, stubbly duckling asleep on top of it.
“It's Jenna!” Alice gasped, recognizing Jenna's dark hair and the golden circlet.
“How did she get here?”
“Are you sure?” asked the ghost, hardly daring to believe it. Alther and Alice had come to the Palace to break the terrible news of Jenna's and Nicko's disappearance to their parents. Alther had been ready to fly off alone, but Alice had insisted on going with him, and so Alther had followed the Customs Launch on its long journey upriver, all the while dreading what he was going to have to say.
“See for yourself.” Alice smiled. “She's fast asleep.”
Gently, Alther blew the covers back from Jenna's face and saw for himself. Jenna stirred at the ghost's warm touch but slept on, exhausted.
“Best to leave her sleeping,” said Alice. “It's a warm afternoon, and she'll come to no harm.”
“Funny ducklings they have around here,” said Alther as he and Alice wandered across the sunlit lawns toward the Palace. “Must be a fancy new breed, I suppose.”
The shadows over the lawns were lengthening, and still Jenna slept on, curled up under her blankets. From a distance Alther and Alice, who had searched the Palace for Silas and Sarah Heap and found neither, sat together on the lawn, watching the river from afar and chatting quietly. On the other side of the Palace, walking briskly up the drive, were Marcia and Septimus, closely followed by Spit Fyre.
Septimus was bringing Spit Fyre to see Jenna so that she could UnDo the Seek. Spit Fyre was dogging his every step and it was beginning to get extremely irritating.
“What I don't understand, Septimus,” Marcia was saying, “is how a ghost of some kind of rat thingy—”
“It's an Aie-Aie,” Septimus corrected. “Spit Fyre, please don't breathe down my neck like that.”
“Aie-Aie, rat, elephant, whatever it is doesn't matter—the point is that it is still a ghost. And ghosts don't bite. Granted they can sometimes Cause a window to blow open or a door to slam shut, but they don't bite. Mind my cloak, you idiot dragon. ”
“ Ouch. That was my heel, Spit Fyre. I know, but this isn't just a ghost, it's a Substantial Spirit.”
“Those don't exist, Septimus,” said Marcia. "You've been reading the Witches'
Apparition Almanac again, haven't you you?"
“No, I haven't. I know it's a Substantial Spirit because Marcellus said—”
“I am getting just a little tired of hearing what Marcellus said,” snapped Marcia.
“But you see, the Aie-Aie drank the same thing that Etheldredda drank. It was the Tincture that Marcellus made—”
Marcia heaved a loud sigh at Marcellus's name but said nothing.
Septimus continued. “He was going to drink it himself but it wasn't ready and then Etheldredda snatched it and drank it. Marcellus was really upset. And then Etheldredda grabbed Jen and took her to the river but it was icy and she—Etheldredda—fell in and drowned, which served her right, so then Marcellus said he was going to Entrance her ghost into her official portrait and Seal it into a room, as he knew that she would become a Substantial Spirit and that soon it would be just the same as if she were alive anyway except that she would be able to live forever, which is what she wanted in the first place and—”
“Stop!” said Marcia. “I can feel another headache coming on.”
“So the Aie-Aie is a Substantial Spirit too and that's why it's biting people,”
Septimus finished in a rush before Marcia could stop him.
By now they had reached the little wooden bridge that spanned the Palace Moat.
Marcia stopped for a moment to collect her thoughts. She had, despite appearances to the contrary, listened to every word that Septimus had said. “So who knows what the Substantial Spirit of Etheldredda is capable of by now?” she muttered. “We've got to get her Sealed fast, Septimus.”