The collision with Merrin sent Jenna flying backward; she hit the wall with a thud that knocked the breath out of both her and Ullr. Merrin went sprawling to the ground but, like a gangly spider, he scrambled back onto his feet. He glared angrily at Jenna and raced off, determined not to be late.
Dazed, Jenna allowed Ullr to untangle himself from her cloak. She stood up and rubbed the back of her head, where a large bump was already beginning to form. For a moment she felt confused and, as she glanced down, she wondered about the strange brown confetti floating in the puddles at her feet. And then she knew.
Feeling suddenly sick, Jenna kneeled down and stared in disbelief. All Nicko’s notes—and worse, Snorri’s map—had been crushed in the collision and were now in hundreds of wet pieces on the ground. Their last chance of finding Nicko was gone.
Beetle was wandering slowly across the front of the Palace, oblivious to the rain, which was soaking through his woolen jacket and finding its way into his boots. The excitement of the last bizarre hour he had spent with Septimus and Jenna had evaporated in the downpour, and Beetle had begun worrying about what awaited him at the Manuscriptorium. He wondered if Marcia had already paid a visit to inform Jillie Djinn that he had been in the company of the Alchemist.
Beetle was also worrying about how to get his sled back. Unlike the Wizard Tower sled, it did not respond to a whistle.
It didn’t even have
a whistle. Even worse, the sled was prone to wandering off and Beetle could not remember if he had tied it up or not. He had been so keen to see Jenna that he had completely forgotten about his job. How was he going to explain that? Beetle felt very annoyed with himself and swore that he would never, ever again let the thought of Jenna get in the way of his work—and then he caught sight of her down the Palace alleyway kneeling in a puddle.
“Princess Jenna?” Beetle’s concerned voice intruded on Jenna’s despair. “Are—are you all right?”
Jenna shook her head. She did not look up.
Feeling as though he was doing something he shouldn’t, something that only someone who knew her well would do, Beetle kneeled down beside her. “Can I help?” he asked.
Jenna looked at him. Beetle was not sure whether it was raindrops or tears running down her face. He had a feeling it might be both. Jenna pointed at the flurry of paper floating in the puddle and said angrily, “I’ve messed up. It’s all my fault. We’ll never find them now.”
Beetle had a terrible feeling that he knew what the bits of paper were. “Oh no,” he murmured. “That’s not…”
Jenna nodded miserably.
Tentatively, Beetle picked up a soggy fragment and laid it on the palm of his hand. “Maybe…” he said slowly, thinking very hard.
“Maybe if we collected it all we could do something.”
“Really?” A small note of hope crept into Jenna’s voice.
“I—I don’t want to promise too much, but the Manuscriptorium is good at this kind of stuff. It’s worth a try.” From his pocket, Beetle took a small packet and unfolded it until he had a large square of fine silk balanced on his knee. He licked his finger and thumb and rubbed the edges of the silk so that they parted. The silk square revealed itself to be a pouch with many compartments. “I always carry one of these,” said Beetle. “You never know when you might find something you want to put in it.”
“Gosh,” said Jenna, who never seemed to carry anything useful with her.
With the rain still falling—and to the accompaniment of miserable mewing from a sodden orange cat—Beetle and Jenna spent the next ten minutes meticulously picking up the delicate scraps of five-hundred-year-old paper and laying them in Beetle’s silk pouch. When they had satisfied themselves that they had found every last piece, Beetle carefully rolled up the silk and said, “Would you like to carry it under your cloak, Princess Jenna? I think it will keep drier there.”
“I’m just Jenna, Beetle. Please.” Jenna smiled and tucked the roll of silk inside her cloak.
“Um. Shall I…?” Beetle pointed to the shivering Ullr, faithfully waiting beside the puddle.
“Oh, yes please,” said Jenna.
Beetle picked up the cat and tucked the soggy animal inside his jacket. Then together he and Jenna set off for the Manuscriptorium. As they walked along Wizard Way, it occurred to Beetle that if it were not for the niggling fear that the Manuscriptorium would not be able to put Nicko and Snorri’s papers back together, he would be completely and utterly happy just then.
All that changed when he pushed open the door to the Manuscriptorium. He was confronted by Jillie Djinn and Merrin Meredith, who were about to go into the Manuscriptorium itself. At the ping of the door and the click of the counter, both of them looked back.
“And where have you been?” demanded Miss Djinn.
“I—I was doing a hatch Inspection. Marcia—I mean Madam Overstrand told me to—”
“You are not employed by Madam Overstrand, Mr. Beetle. You are employed by me. I have had to take a scribe out to cover you. Which leaves precisely nineteen left for the Duties of the Day. Nineteen is not enough. Luckily for you, I have a promising candidate for the vacant post.”
Jillie Djinn continued. “And what, pray Beetle, do you mean by removing my advertisement, crumpling it up into a ball and throwing it in the garbage? You are getting above yourself. In fact I may well consider this young man for your post if you continue in this manner.”
Beetle went pale.
“Excuse me, Miss Djinn,” said Jenna, emerging from the shadows of a teetering stack of books by the door.
Jillie Djinn looked surprised. She had been so angry at Beetle that she had not noticed Jenna. In fact, Jillie generally found dealing with more than two people at one time confusing. The Chief Scribe gave a small bow and said, a little awkwardly, “How may I help you, Princess Jenna?”
Jenna put on her best Princess voice. She thought it sounded pompous but she had noticed it generally got her what she wanted. “Mr. Beetle has been engaged on very important Palace business. We have come to give you our personal thanks for allowing us to have the benefit of his expert knowledge. We do apologize if we have kept him too long. It is our fault entirely.”
Jillie Djinn looked confused. “I was not aware of any Palace business this morning,” she said. “It was not in the diary.”
“Highly confidential,” said Jenna. “As we are sure you are aware.”
Jillie Djinn was not aware of any such thing, but she did not want to be shown up in front of her possible new recruit.
“Oh,” she said. “Well, yes. Highly
confidential. Of course. I am glad we could be of service, Princess Jenna. Now, please excuse me, we are already two and three quarter minutes late for the interview.” With that Miss Djinn ushered Merrin into the gloom of the Manuscriptorium, gave another small bow in Jenna’s direction and was gone.
Beetle extricated Ullr and set him gently on the desk. “Phew,” he said. “I don’t know how to thank you, Prin—Jenna. I really don’t.”
“Yes, you do.” Jenna smiled. She handed him the rolled-up silk pouch.
“Yes,” said Beetle, looking at the pouch. “I guess I do.”
MR. EPHANIAH GREBE
F oxy?” said Beetle in a hoarse whisper.
Nineteen scribes looked up from their work and the sound of nineteen scratching pens ceased. “Yeah?” said Foxy.
“Would you watch the office for me? There’s something I need to do.”
Foxy was not sure. “What about her?” he whispered, jabbing his thumb in the direction of a firmly closed door just off the Manuscriptorium, where Jillie Djinn was interviewing Merrin.
“She won’t be out for twenty-two-and-a-half minutes,” said Beetle, thinking that sometimes Miss Djinn’s obsession with timekeeping had its advantages.
Glad of an excuse to stop copying out Jillie Djinn’s calculations about the projected price of haddock for the next three-and-a-half years, Foxy slipped down from his high stool and padded out to the front office. At the sight of the soaking wet and disheveled Jenna he raised his eyebrows but said nothing.