Marcellus looked puzzled. “Nicko?” he asked.
Septimus’s heart sank. For six months now he had been trying to get Marcellus to tell him what he knew about Nicko, and a few days earlier Marcellus had finally agreed. Now it seemed as though he had forgotten—again. Septimus found it hard to get used to the fact that although Marcellus Pye looked like a young man once more, he often behaved like an old man. Marcellus had centuries-old habits that were hard to discard—he would lapse into a shuffling old-man gait and adopt a querulous manner. But it was Marcellus’s bad memory that annoyed Septimus the most. He had grumpily told Marcellus that this was just laziness, but Marcellus had countered by saying that he had five hundred years of memories in his head and where exactly did Septimus think he was going to find space for all the new ones?
Septimus sighed. He left Marcellus dithering in the hallway and went to answer the door.
“Sep!” said Jenna, sounding relieved. She stood on the doorstep, looking windswept and cold. Her dark hair was wet, hanging in tendrils around her face, and she had her thick red winter cloak wrapped tightly around her. “You took your time,” she said, stamping her feet with the cold. “It’s horrible out here. Aren’t you going to let me in?”
“Password please,” said Septimus, suddenly serious.
Jenna frowned. “What password?”
“Don’t you know?”
“No. Oh, bother. Can’t you let me in anyway?”
“Hmm…I don’t know about that, Jen.”
“Sep, I’m freezing out here. Please.”
“Oh, all right, then. Since it’s you.”
Septimus stepped back. Jenna rushed in out of the rain and stood shaking the drips off her cloak. Suddenly she stopped and looked at Septimus suspiciously. “There isn’t a password, is there?” she said.
“Nope.” Septimus grinned.
“Horrible boy!” Jenna laughed and gave Septimus a push. “Oh, hello, Beetle. Nice to see you.”
Beetle blushed and found that, once again, he had forgotten how to speak—but Jenna did not seem to notice. She was occupied taking out a small orange cat from beneath her cloak and tucking it under her arm, which surprised Beetle—he hadn’t thought of Jenna as someone who would have a cat. Then for some reason Beetle did not understand, Marcellus said, “Welcome, Esmeralda.”
“Thank you, Marcellus,” said Jenna. She smiled; she had almost forgotten how she had once been regularly mistaken for Princess Esmeralda in Marcellus Pye’s Time.
Then, with an old-fashioned half bow, Marcellus said, “Pray, Princess, Apprentice and Scribe, follow me.”
A moment later Beetle was following Jenna, Septimus and Marcellus upstairs, weaving his way around dripping candles, wondering what he had gotten himself into. And
how he was going to explain it all to Miss Djinn when she found out—which she always did.
IN THE ATTIC
T hey followed
Marcellus up to a small room right at the top of the house—a dark space, tucked in under sloping eaves and lined with wooden paneling. The room was sparsely furnished with an old trestle table with two benches, and a few chairs lined up along the walls—all left by the previous owner, Weasal Van Klampff. In the center of the table was a cluster of candles, lit earlier that morning by the housekeeper and already half burned down.
As Marcellus showed them in, a pang of recognition shot through Septimus—this had been his room not so long ago.
Yet he knew it was so
long ago that it seemed impossible. This was the room where, for the first few nights he had been in Marcellus’s Time, an Alchemie Scribe had slept across the doorway to stop him from trying to escape. This was the room where he had desperately thought up all kinds of crazy plans to return to his own Time; the room where he had sat for hours looking out of the window longing to see a familiar face pass by in the street far below. It was not, all things considered, his most favorite place in the world—but now here he was, back again with Beetle and Jenna. That was something he had never dared to imagine. Suddenly Septimus felt very peculiar. He sat down with a bump on one of the benches at the trestle table.
Beetle and Jenna sat beside him, and soon three expectant faces were looking up at Marcellus Pye. Marcellus returned their gaze with a puzzled expression. “Now…why did we come up here?” he asked.
“It’s to do with Nicko. You remember,” said Septimus hopefully, although he had no idea why Marcellus had taken them all the way up to this particular room.
“Nicko?” asked Marcellus blankly.
“Nicko. My brother. He was trapped in your Time. You must remember,” said Septimus, a trace of desperation surfacing in his voice. It had taken months for him to arrange this meeting and now, as Marcellus’s memory did its familiar disappearing act, he felt it all slipping away again.
“Ah, I remember,” said Marcellus. Septimus’s spirits lifted. “It was my spectacles. I still need them; it is most annoying.
Now, where are they?”
“They are on the top of your head,” said Septimus wearily.
“Indeed, so they are.” Marcellus reached for his spectacles and settled them on his nose. “Good,” he said. “I shall need them for Nicko’s papers.”
Septimus felt excited—now
they were getting somewhere. He smiled at Jenna, whose eyes looked suspiciously bright, as they always did when Nicko’s name was mentioned.
Lapsing into his old man’s shuffling gait—which Beetle blamed on the weird shoes—Marcellus went over to the chimney and pressed on a small panel high up on the side. The panel swung open with an apologetic creak. Everyone watched as he took out a ragged collection of brittle, yellowing papers. Carefully, he brought them over to the table and gently laid them down.
Jenna gasped—they were covered in Nicko’s distinctive scrawl.
“Nicko and Snorri left these behind,” Marcellus said. “I put them in the chimney for safekeeping as I was afraid that someone might throw them away, for they appear to be but notes and jottings in an untutored hand. But, as the years went by—and there were many, many years—I forgot about the hiding place. Indeed, Apprentice, I did not remember again until some months after you asked me about your brother.”
“When you said you didn’t remember,” said Septimus.
“’Tis true, I did not. But then things about my old life began to come back to me. And one day when I came up to this room I did remember. Briefly. After that I spent many weeks coming all the way up here only to wonder what it was I wanted. But when you last spoke to me about Nicko, I wrote it down. I carried the note everywhere and then, when I came up here again, I remembered. I even remembered the hiding place—which, to my amazement, I found undisturbed.
Which is why I sent you the message to come here today.”
“Thank you, Marcellus,” said Septimus.
“I owe it to you, Apprentice. I confess I cannot read much of what is in Nicko’s hand, but perhaps you can understand your brother’s writing better than I. It may be that the notes will tell their own story. But I will fill in the gaps as much as I can.”
Jenna cautiously looked at the papers. The ink was faded to a pale sepia color, and the paper was thin and almost as brown as the ink. Even so, Jenna knew it was Nicko’s work. There were doodles of boats, sketches of various sail rigs, numerous games of noughts and crosses, battleships, hangman, plus some she did not recognize and a lot of lists. But somehow instead of making her feel closer to Nicko, seeing his scribbles on such ancient, fragile things made him feel even farther away. Jenna found herself staring at a long, thin piece of paper with tears pricking the backs of her eyelids.
“What does it say, Jen?” asked Septimus.
“He…he’s made a list.”
“Typical Nicko,” said Septimus. “Go on, Jen. Read it out.”
“Oh. Okay. It says:
2 bedrolls (if can find) or wolfskins from market
Food for two weeks at least. Ask at market for salted stuff.
Dried biscuits & fruit
2 water bottles or flagon things
Permit to travel? Ask M.
2 warm cloaks
Boots with fur if possible
Aunt Ells’s lucky socks—remember