Ephaniah Grebe’s eyebrows were raised in surprise and he put his head to one side in a way that reminded Jenna—rather comfortingly—of Stanley. He reached for a pad and a pencil and wrote: I will do my utmost. I promise.
“Thank you, Mr. Grebe,” said Jenna. “Thank you!”
They left Ephaniah Grebe poking at the sodden mess with a pair of tweezers. As they left the cellar, Jenna turned back for a last look at the precious fragments—and nearly screamed once more. Snaking out from under Ephaniah Grebe’s voluminous white robes was a long, giant pink rat’s tail.
Beetle was heading fast through the cellars. “We’ve gotta run,” he said as Jenna caught up with him. “Miss Djinn will be out any minute now.” Jenna nodded. Together they raced back through the cellars, shot up the stairs—and were just in time to see a smiling Jillie Djinn emerging from the interview room, followed by a grinning Merrin Meredith.
The Chief Hermetic Scribe’s smile faded as she saw Beetle emerge at the back of the Manuscriptorium. “What are you doing away from your post again?” she demanded. And then, noticing Jenna, a little irritably, “Good afternoon, Princess Jenna. We are honored to see you so very many times in one day. Can I help you?”
“No, thank you, Miss Djinn,” Jenna replied in her Princess voice. “Your Inspection Clerk, Beetle, has already been most helpful. We are sorry to have kept him from his post. Naturally, Beetle ensured that it was not left unattended. We will take our leave now, as we have important business to attend to.”
“Ah,” said Jillie Djinn, feeling somehow wrong-footed once more, but not sure why. She gave a small half bow and watched the nearest scribe to the door jump down from his stool and hold the door open for Jenna, who swept out in the manner of Marcia Overstrand. Jillie Djinn turned to Beetle. “In that case, Beetle, now that the Princess no longer requires your services you can spend the rest of the afternoon showing our new trainee scribe the ropes.”
“What?” gasped Beetle.
From behind the voluminous blue silk robes of his new boss, Merrin Meredith made a rude sign at Beetle. Beetle very nearly returned it but stopped himself just in time.
“B—but he hasn’t taken the exams yet,” Beetle could not help protesting.
“It is not your place, Mr. Beetle, to suggest the criteria I apply when appointing my scribes,” Jillie Djinn replied icily.
may well have needed to take the Manuscriptorium examinations, but Daniel has shown enough knowledge to convince me that the examinations would serve no purpose whatsoever in the selection process. Now, I would be grateful if you would do as I have requested and take our new scribe on his induction tour. You have one hour and thirty-three minutes.
I suggest you make a start. I shall leave it to your own initiative to decide where.”
Beetle grinned. He knew exactly where he would make a start—the Wild Book Store.
T hat evening another gale came
in from the Port. It howled up the river, whisking slates off roofs and making everyone irritable and edgy.
Septimus was marooned in the Wizard Tower under the eagle eye of Marcia Overstrand. He was beginning the complicated preparations for his first Projection, which was an important milestone in an Apprentice’s studies. A first Projection traditionally involved the Apprentice choosing a small domestic item and then trying to Project a realistic image of this object inside the communal areas of the Tower in the hope that it was believable enough to pass for the real thing. All Projections
were mirror images of the original but, providing the Apprentice was careful not to choose something with lettering on it, this did not usually matter. Sometimes a seemingly innocuous “broom” would be propped up in a dark corner, a small
“ornament” would sit high up on an inaccessible window ledge or a new “cloak” would hang in the closet. Throughout the time of the first Projection, an air of excitement would pervade the Tower as the Wizards, busy pretending they were doing something entirely different, went around prodding all manner of suspicious objects—and taking bets on what exactly the Apprentice would Project.
With Septimus shut away in the Projection
room, Marcia made a start on removing the traces of Spit Fyre from the yard—or rather, she got Catchpole to do it for her. However, by that evening Catchpole had locked himself in the Old Spells cupboard and would not come out.
Exasperated, Marcia sent a message to Hildegarde, the sub-Wizard on door duty at the Palace, to come to the Wizard Tower straightaway.
Hildegarde arrived windswept and out of breath, having run all along Wizard Way, thrilled that at last she had received the summons to the Wizard Tower that she had long wished for. But instead of being offered a post as an Ordinary Wizard, Hildegarde was given a large broom and an even larger bucket. Hildegarde, determined as ever, rolled up her sleeves and got to work, telling herself sternly that any job at the Wizard Tower brought her one step nearer to her dream. The next morning Hildegarde was Terry Tarsal’s first customer. She bought a sturdy pair of waterproof boots.
With the eagle-eyed Hildegarde gone from the Palace, Merrin began to get cocky. He no longer crept along the corridors but walked with a swagger. Twice he nearly bumped into Jenna coming unexpectedly around a corner. The second time he was tempted to walk past her and see if she noticed, but at the last moment he thought better of it and hid behind a curtain.
Jenna may well not have noticed Merrin even if he had walked past her. She was too preoccupied thinking about Nicko and the map. Unable to keep away from the Manuscriptorium, she stopped by to see Beetle at least twice a day. Beetle had mixed feelings about this. He loved to see her but every time the door went ping—or rather, pi-ing, in the particular way he was convinced it did only when pushed by Jenna—he braced himself to tell her that there was no news from Ephaniah Grebe. But on the third day that Jenna came by, Beetle did have news—and it was not good.
It was late in the afternoon and the dark clouds made it feel even later. Beetle had just lit a candle and placed it on his desk. He was getting ready to do the last round of the day—the LockingUp round—when pi-ing, the door flew open and Jenna was blown in. She pushed the door closed, pulled her windswept hair from out of her eyes, jammed her gold circlet securely down on her head and, with an anxious look, said, “Any news?”
Beetle had been dreading this moment. “Well, yes…but, um, not good news, I’m afraid. This note was on my desk this morning.”
He handed the large piece of white paper to Jenna. On it was written: Re: Ancient Paper Fragments. Vital piece missing.
“I suppose it’s not surprising,” said Beetle with a sigh.
“But we searched everywhere,” Jenna protested. “And I looked again when I went back. And the next day just to make sure. There can’t be…” Her voice trailed off. Now that she thought about it, she knew it would be a miracle if there wasn’t a piece missing.
“I went to ask Sep what to do but they wouldn’t let me see him,” said Beetle. “Wouldn’t even take a message. Said he was not to be disturbed. Marcia’s as good as got him prisoner up there. I’m sure he could find the missing piece. There must be some kind of spell or something.”
“We could ask Ephaniah,” said Jenna. “He might know of a spell. Maybe we could get an Ordinary Wizard to do it for us.”
It seemed like a long shot to Beetle, but he couldn’t think of anything else to suggest. “Okay,” he said.
The Manuscriptorium was empty. All the scribes had gone home, allowed to leave early before the wind became stronger at nightfall. Even Jillie Djinn had retired upstairs to the Chief Hermetic Scribe’s rooms. As the wind rattled the office partition door, Jenna and Beetle crept though the rows of desks, which rose high above them like skeletal sentries and gave Jenna the creeps. At the top of the basement steps was a basket with that day’s offerings—a couple of spells to be ReSet and an old treatise in need of rebinding. Beetle picked it up and took it down with them.
Beetle and Jenna pushed open the green baize door and set off through the cellars, which were almost blindingly bright in contrast to the shadowy Manuscriptorium. Once again the cellars were empty, but this time they walked briskly through and headed for the last one. There they found Ephaniah Grebe peering through a large magnifying glass and hunched over the table, which was covered with hundreds of tiny scraps of paper spread out like a huge, impossible jigsaw puzzle.