Etheldredda stepped behind Jenna, her vicious hand hovering no more than a finger's breadth above Jenna's back, waiting for the right moment for that one final push.

Only Snorri Saw the danger. “Ullr will not Hear me,” she told Nicko. “But maybe there is once last thing ... I do not know if I can do it, but I have to try.” And then Snorri did something she had never dared to do before. She Summoned a Spirit across Time. In the Hole in the Wall Tavern, the bemused ghost of Olaf Snorrelssen found himself being picked up, dragged through the throng of ghosts and, breaking all the rules of ghosthood, hurtling toward the Palace. And Snorri Saw her father for the very first time.

Now, Etheldredda decided, was the time to send Jenna into the flames. Now.

Etheldredda extended her hands—and Olaf Snorrelssen grabbed her wrists. He did not know why, but he did it anyway.

“Unhand me, vile oaf!” screamed Etheldredda. Nothing would have pleased Olaf Snorrelssen more than to let go of the sharp and bony Spirit, but he couldn't.

Something would not let him. Jenna felt a strange prickling at the back of her neck.

Again she glanced around, but she saw nothing of the battle being fought over her by the two ghosts. Despite the heat from the flames, she shivered and turned back to watch Marcia.

Marcia was now well into the Fetch. Through the purple light of the flames and the Magykal haze, Jenna saw the portrait of Queen Etheldredda and the Aie-Aie emerge through the walls of the turret. Marcia reeled it in like a protesting fish—twisting, flapping, flailing—drawing it unrelentingly toward the BoneFyre.

Etheldredda saw it too and, knowing exactly what was in store, she redoubled her efforts to break free of Olaf Snorrelssen's grasp. If she was going into the BoneFyre, she was not going alone—she would take Jenna with her. But Olaf Snorrelssen, who had been strong and wiry in his Lifetime, hung on to Queen Etheldredda's arms and not once did the queen get her chance to give Jenna that great shove she so longed to.

Now the portrait was hovering above the flames, resisting to the last. The purple haze around Marcia deepened, and suddenly a resounding crack echoed around the Palace walls—Marcia had won. The portrait gave up its fight, and with a great whoosh it was sucked into the BoneFyre. It exploded with a searing black flame.

With a terrible shriek, Etheldredda joined it and was consumed by the Fyre.

Etheldredda the Awful was no more.

Snorri laughed with relief. Reluctantly—for she would have liked to have Seen her father longer—she let Olaf Snorrelssen Return to the safety of the Hole in the Wall Tavern, where he sat bemused for many hours, nursing his beer and wondering why he had such a strong image in his head of a young girl who looked so much like his own dear Alfrun.

But the Fetch was not finished. A small speck appeared in the sky above the Palace and a terrible wail pierced the air: “Aie aie aie aie!” Twisting and resisting, snake tail flailing, its red saucer eyes popping with panic, Etheldredda's Aie-Aie hurtled toward the BoneFyre and, with a terrible scream, joined its mistress in the flames.

Deep within the BoneFyre, something was happening. An intense golden glow could be seen in the center of the purple flames. Entranced, Jenna and Septimus watched until it was so bright that neither could look at it further. As they turned away, something rolled out of the Fyre. It landed in the grass with a soft thud and, to their amazement, they saw Etheldredda's crown bounce along the scorched grass and roll down the slope toward the river. Jenna raced after it, grabbed at the crown, missed—and the crown fell into the river with a great hiss of steam. Throwing herself to the ground, Jenna plunged her arms into the freezing water and caught the crown as it slowly sank to the riverbed.

Triumphant and dripping, holding the True Crown in her hands for the first time, Jenna went and sat beside Silas, Alther, and Alice—who lay pale and peaceful on the landing stage. Nursing the crown, which felt surprisingly heavy in her hands, Jenna murmured, “Thank you, Alice. Thank you for saving me. I will always think of you when I put on this crown.”

“Alice did a wonderful thing,” said Silas, still shaken by what had happened. “But, er, maybe best not to tell your mother everything just yet?”

“She'll find out soon enough, Silas,” said Alther. “It will be all over the Castle by the morning.”

“That's what worries me,” said Silas gloomily. Then he smiled at Jenna. “But you're back safe, that's all that matters.”

Jenna said nothing. Suddenly she knew how Silas felt. She couldn't tell him now.

Not about Nicko. Not yet.

Marcia Ceased the BoneFyre. The strange purple glow of the flames subsided and twilight began to take its place. Marcia, Septimus, and Spit Fyre joined the somber group on the landing stage. Marcia took off her heavy winter cloak with its indigo fur lining, folded it and placed it gently under Alice's head.

“How are you, Alther?” she asked.

Alther shook his head and did not reply.

Jenna sat quietly and looked at her crown. Even though it had spent years sitting on top of the disapproving head of Queen Etheldredda, the True Crown felt good in her hands—and as Jenna held it, the last ray of light from the setting sun caught the pure gold and the crown glowed as it never had when perched on Queen Etheldredda's angry head.

“It is yours now, Jenna,” said Marcia. “You have the True Crown—the one that Etheldredda stole from her descendants.”

Darkness fell and, unnoticed by anyone, the black from the tip of the DayUllr's tail spread slowly across the orange and changed him to the night creature that he really was. The NightUllr sat like the Sphinx, his green eyes seeing only what Snorri asked him to see.

Far away, in another Time, Snorri Snorrelssen Saw Jenna holding her crown and knew that all was well. She released Ullr. “Go, Ullr,” she whispered. “Go with Jenna until the day I will return.”

The NightUllr got up, padded out of the shadows and took his place beside Jenna.

“Hello, Ullr, welcome back.” Jenna smiled, stroking the panther and scratching his ears. “Come with me, there's something I want to do.”

As the Palace clock struck Midnight and the lights from a hundred and one candles—Jenna had placed one in every window of the Palace—lit up the night, they all stood on the landing stage and waved farewell to Alice, who had been placed in her Leaving Boat and was drifting slowly away. Alther sat quietly beside the new ghost of Alice Nettles, as he would continue to do for the next year and a day at that very spot—for under the Rules of Ghosthood, ghosts must spend a year and a day in the very place where they entered their ghosthood, and Alther had no intention of leaving Alice to do that on her own.

“Well,” Marcia sighed, as Alice's Leaving Boat disappeared into the night, beginning its long journey to the Beyond. “What a day ... I hope you don't have anything quite so exciting planned for tomorrow, Septimus.”

Septimus shook his head. It was not strictly true; he did have something exciting planned—but he figured that just then Marcia would not appreciate being told the details of how he was going to save Marcellus Pye from his fate worse than death and get his Flyte Charm back.

He kept it simple. He smiled at Marcia. “I'm going fishing,” he said.

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Queen Etheldredda and the Portrait in the Attic

After Queen Etheldredda fell in the river she did not bother to try to save herself—why should she? She was keen to embark on eternal life right away. She lay gazing up to the surface of the water, and soon she began to wonder why she felt so strange: kind of hollow and not quite there. Increasingly impatient, she watched the bottom of the Royal Barge as the bargee waited for hours, not daring to leave in case he missed her.

Slowly it began to dawn on Etheldredda that Marcellus's potion had not worked—she was nothing more than a common ghost. Unaware that the potion had worked to some extent and that she was in fact a Substantial Spirit—for it is hard to tell the difference at first—Etheldredda lay under the water, watching the shifting surface, and working up a temper.

Etheldredda's temper was at the boiling point when Marcellus Pye at last located his mother. And so it was that, thirteen days after she had slipped into the river and drowned, Queen Etheldredda was Called Up by her son at midnight. Like a cork out of a bottle, Etheldredda burst from the black waters of the river and, kicking and screaming, she flew through the freezing night air, giant snowflakes Passing Through her and turning her watery insides to ice. Still protesting, she was pulled into the small room hidden under the eaves at the far end of the Palace attic, where Marcellus Pye and Julius Pike, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, were waiting for her.

Tags: Angie Sage Septimus Heap Fantasy