That morning Terry had just fed the python, which always upset him. He was recovering with a cup of hot cider when through the frosted glass of his shop window he saw the purple blur of Marcia Overstrand’s robes. The next moment the shop door—which was terrified of Marcia—sprang open.
Terry Tarsal was made of sterner stuff. “Good morning, Miss Overstrand,” he said, not bothering to get up. He took another sip of cider. “Your new ones are not ready yet. I’m still waiting for the wretched python to slough.”
“I haven’t come for those,” said Marcia, hobbling in. “It’s an emergency.” She bent down, pulled off her shoe and dropped it on the counter along with the broken heel. “Snapped, just like that. No warning. I could have broken my leg.”
Terry picked up the offending shoe and held it at arm’s length. “You’ve stepped in something,” he said accusingly.
“Really? I was under the impression that was what shoes were for,” said Marcia, “stepping on things.”
“On, yes. But not in. Well, I suppose it will brush off. Do you want to wait or come back later?”
“I don’t plan on hopping all the way back to the Wizard Tower, thank you, Mr. Tarsal. I’ll wait.”
“Please yourself. I am quite happy to lend you a pair of one-size-fits-all galoshes.”
“I do not
wear galoshes,” said Marcia stonily. “And I most particularly do not wear one-size-fits-all galoshes, thank you very much.”
Terry Tarsal picked up the shoes and disappeared into the back of the shop. Marcia sat down on the uncomfortable wooden bench beside the counter—Terry did not like his customers to linger—and gazed around the little shop.
Marcia enjoyed her visits to Terry Tarsal. She liked to sit in the quiet old shop in the dark alley where no one could find her. And if someone did
stumble across her sitting there, she enjoyed the look of shock on their face at seeing the ExtraOrdinary Wizard sitting on the rickety bench in the shoemaker’s shop, waiting for her shoes just like any other Castle inhabitant.
And so, while Terry Tarsal scraped off the dragon dung and set about making a new heel and finding a scrap of python skin to cover it with, Marcia contentedly sat and gazed at the shoes awaiting pick-up. They were a motley bunch. Most were run-of-the-mill boots of brown or black leather with thick laces and heavy leather soles. There was a collection of red and green workmen’s clogs, the kind that many of those who worked in the craft rooms and small factories in The Ramblings wore to protect their feet. There was a troupe of small pink dance shoes festooned with ribbons, two pairs of fisherman’s boots made from oiled leather—which Marcia realized were the source of the pungent smell of linseed oil that filled the shop—and a pair of the most bizarre shoes, with the longest, pointiest toes that Marcia had ever seen.
Intrigued, Marcia got up and went over for a closer look at the strange shoes. She could not resist picking them up. The shoes were beautiful, made from soft red leather, embellished with deep tooled swirls of gold leaf. Although the shoes were made for a normal foot size, the long, tapering toes stretched to at least two feet in length, and at the far end of each toe two long black ribbons were sewn onto the shoe. Marcia held them in her hands, marveling at how light they were, and at what good quality leather Terry Tarsal had used. She ran her finger along the lines of the gold tooling. The more she looked, the more she became convinced that the elegant swirls on each toe formed the letter M.
Still holding the soft red shoes, Marcia retreated to the bench with a feeling of excitement that she had not felt since she was a little girl on the eve of her birthday. It was, in fact, Marcia’s birthday the following week and a suspicion had begun to form in her mind that maybe Septimus had actually put some thought into her present—rather than his usual hurried bunch of flowers picked from the Palace gardens. She remembered Septimus describing the shoes that they had worn in the Time that he had been kidnapped into by that ghastly Alchemist, Marcellus Pye. She had commented that the shoes sounded like they were about the only decent thing there. It would, thought Marcia, be just the kind of unusual present that Septimus would come up with if he put his mind to it.
Feeling a little guilty at seeing her present before her birthday, Marcia was hastily putting the shoes back on the shelf when Terry Tarsal reappeared. “Strangest shoes I’ve ever made,” he commented.
Marcia spun around as though she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t. Unable to resist, she asked, “Who ordered them?”
“Your Apprentice, if I remember rightly,” said Terry Tarsal.
“I thought as much,” said Marcia, smiling. How sweet it was of Septimus, she thought. He could be so considerate at times; she must try to be less grumpy with him. She decided that if Septimus settled down and worked hard with his Projection, she would take notice of what Alther had told her—that Septimus was getting to the age where he needed more freedom—and she would try not to make a fuss about him going out and not telling her exactly where he was going.
Terry Tarsal’s voice interrupted Marcia’s good resolutions. “Are you paying for them?” he asked.
“Certainly not! And I don’t want him to know I have seen them either. Is that clear?”
Terry Tarsal shrugged. “Don’t know what it is about these shoes,” he said. “That’s exactly what your Apprentice said to me—don’t let Marcia see them. He was very definite about that.”
“I expect he was,” said Marcia approvingly.
“Anyway, I’ve got to deliver them tomorrow. Though why he can’t come and get them himself, I don’t know. It’s not as though Snake Slipway is miles away, is it?”
“Snake Slipway? What’s Snake Slipway got to do with it?” asked Marcia.
“That’s where he lives,” said Terry patiently as though Marcia was being deliberately slow. “Now, about this heel—”
“That’s where who lives?”
“The odd fellow who came in with your Apprentice—the one who the shoes are for. Look, the glue on the heel needs at least an hour to dry and—”
“The one who the shoes are for?”
“So are you sure you want to—”
“Mr. Tarsal, answer me. Exactly who are these shoes for?”
“I really can’t answer that. It’s confidential information.”
“Balderdash!” exploded Marcia. “They’re only a pair of shoes, for heaven’s sake. It’s hardly top secret, is it?”
Terry Tarsal would not give in. “Customer confidentiality,” he replied.
“Mr. Tarsal. If you don’t tell me who these shoes are for I will be forced to…to…” Marcia racked her brain for something Terry would find particularly galling. “I shall be forced to make all the shoes awaiting pick-up half a size smaller.”
“I would. Now who are these shoes for?”
Marcia yelled so loud the door rattled in terror and a jar of tiny green buttons leaped from the counter and scattered across the floor.
“Now look what you’ve done,” said Terry, getting on his hands and knees and hunting down the buttons. “I’ll never find them all. They’ve gone everywhere.”
Marcia stared at Terry scrabbling after the buttons as though he were from another planet. She could not make sense of anything; there were just three words going around in her head and they seemed to be taking up all the thinking space.
The words were: “Septimus,” “Marcellus” and “Pye.”
“You could give us a hand instead of staring into space like a constipated camel,” Terry Tarsal broke rudely into Marcia’s spinning thoughts.
It was not every day that someone called Marcia a constipated camel but it did the trick. Marcia came to and joined Terry Tarsal in the button hunt, but still the thoughts whirled around her head. “You did say Marcellus Pye, didn’t you?”
said Terry irritably. He levered a small green object out from between the floorboards with his fingernail only to discover it was a green sherbet pip. “Marcellus Pye. Remember writing it as ‘Pie’ as in apple and your Apprentice telling me it was ‘P-Y-E.’”