“Silence!” shouted Tertius Fume. He glared at Septimus. “I shall give you one last chance to accept the Rule of the Gathering or there will be serious consequences,” he said. “Make…the…Draw!”
Septimus felt himself wavering. Maybe he should make the Draw. Would he be putting everyone in danger if he didn’t?
Then Marcia squeezed his shoulder and he heard her whisper, “No. Don’t.”
“No,” replied Septimus, “I will not.”
Tertius Fume’s brief look of amazement was quickly replaced by fury. “Then I shall have no option but to put the Wizard Tower under Siege until you accept the Rule of the Gathering,” he bellowed.
Marcia’s green eyes flashed with rage. “You would not dare,” she told Tertius Fume, her voice shaking with anger.
Tertius Fume mistook the shake in her voice for fear, and laughed. “I do dare,” he said. He began to chant a fast and furious torrent of words. A cry of dismay rose from the Ordinary Wizards.
“Quick, Septimus,” whispered Marcia, “you must get out of here. Out through the Ice Tunnels—you know the way. Get out of the Castle; go to Zelda’s—or to your brothers in the Forest. When it’s safe I’ll come and Find you wherever you are—I promise.”
“Septimus—it takes only two minutes and forty-nine seconds to put us in a state of Siege. Go!”
“You must go,” said Alther, suddenly behind him. “Now!”
all the candles, and some of the more nervous Wizards screamed. The Hall was plunged into gloom, the only light coming from the depressing pictures flickering around the walls, but Tertius Fume did not even notice. Nearly halfway through the Siege Incantation now, his voice had an unstoppable rhythm as the ancient Magykal words filled the Wizard Tower and sent shivers down the spines of the Living and dread into some of the Dead.
“Sep!” Jenna grabbed Septimus’s hand and pulled him into the crowd of ghosts. Some stepped back to let them go, but many did not and they were Passed Through, their complaints lost in the ever-rising volume of Tertius Fume’s Incantation. Septimus was running now, behind him he could hear the heavy pad of Ullr’s paws, and behind Ullr was Beetle, he was sure of that—he could smell the lemony hair oil that Beetle had unaccountably started using recently.
They reached the line of Living Ordinary Wizards and dozens of willing hands guided them into the broom closet. The closet was packed to bursting, but a path was rapidly made for them—and even more rapidly for Ullr. With the help of the glow from his dragon ring, Septimus quickly found the catch that opened the concealed door to the Ice Tunnels. As he pushed open the door, to his surprise Hildegarde was there. She pressed something into his hand with the words,
“Take my SafeCharm.”
“Thank you,” muttered Septimus. He shoved it into his pocket and rushed through the door, closely followed by Jenna, Ullr and Beetle. As the cold air from the Ice Tunnels hit them, Tertius Fume bellowed triumphantly, “Siege!”
At once the door to the Ice Tunnels slammed shut and they heard the whirr-clunk of the door being Barred—just as at that very moment the occupants of the packed Great Hall were listening to the huge iron bars inside the doors to the Wizard Tower slide across and make them prisoners. Then, as all the Magykal lights and sounds of the Wizard Tower were Extinguished, they heard a muffled cry of dismay.
The Siege had begun.
ON THE RUN
B eetle was back on his
own territory and he knew what to do—he took out his tinderbox and lit his Ice Tunnel lamp. The blue light showed a steep flight of steps cut into the ice disappearing down into the darkness. Beetle and Septimus—who both knew the steps—started down, but Jenna and Ullr held back.
“But where—where does this go?” she asked.
Septimus had told Jenna so much about the Ice Tunnels that he had forgotten she had never actually been in them before. In fact, at first he had had a lot of trouble persuading her that they even existed, and whenever he had mentioned them to her he always got the feeling that she didn’t quite believe him. As he held out his hand for her to take, he could see the look of amazement on her face that they were real.
Jenna took the offered hand and, with Ullr padding behind, she followed Septimus down the steps, which were covered in a crisp frost and were not as slippery as she expected. At the foot of the steps they went through a tall, pointed archway where the ghost of an old ExtraOrdinary Wizard would normally sit guarding the entrance, but was now otherwise occupied in the Tower above. Glad that he did not have to explain himself to the ghost—who, to Septimus’s annoyance, had formed the opinion that he was not the brightest of Apprentices—Septimus followed Beetle through the arch and into the tunnel that led from the Wizard Tower. Beetle’s blue lamp shone down the long tunnel and lit up the glittery surfaces of the billions of ice crystals that stretched away into the distance. Septimus heard Jenna whisper,
He grinned. “I told you they were really something.”
“But, not like this. I had no idea. So much ice. It’s weird. And freezing.” Their breath hung in great white clouds on the icy air and Jenna thought she had never felt so cold in her life. She had, but she did not remember it.
There was something about the Ice Tunnels that gave Jenna goose bumps and it wasn’t just the bitter cold—she was sure she could hear a faint moaning echoing somewhere far away. Her goose bumps were not helped by the blue light from Beetle’s lamp, which gave their faces a deathly hue and made their eyes look dark and scared.
“Ullr,” she whispered. “Komme, Ullr.” She ran her hand along the big cat’s warm fur, which was bristling and raised all along his back, and she could feel the watchfulness in him. “So, where’s the way out?” she asked.
“Wait a minute, Jen,” said Septimus. He took a silver whistle from his Apprentice belt, put it to his lips and blew. No sound came. He took the whistle out of his mouth, shook it and then tried again. Nothing happened.
“Careful, Sep,” warned Beetle. “You only need to do it once, you don’t want to upset it. The Wizard Tower sled is really sensitive. I heard it used to get frightened and run away if you blew too loudly.”
“But the whistle didn’t work,” Septimus protested.
“You don’t hear
it, Sep. Only the sled hears the whistle. In fact, the only way you’d know it wasn’t working would be if you did hear it.
“Not really. But—”
“Shhh,” Beetle interrupted. “Did you hear that?”
“Oh, bother.” The moan was no longer quite so faint or so far away. It was, in fact, getting louder and nearer by the second. “Rats. It’s Moaning Hilda. I didn’t think she came this way.”
“Moaning Hilda?” asked Jenna, taking a firm grip on Ullr. She could feel the big cat’s muscles tensing, getting ready to flee.
“Ice Wraith. Quick—back under the arch and whatever you do don’t breathe in as she goes past. Got that?”
A wild wind came roaring down the tunnel, blowing the hoarfrost from the walls and spraying it into the air in a thick white mist. They dived for the safety of the archway. The shrill, hollow wail of the Ice Wraith began to fill the tunnel.
Ullr howled and quickly Jenna put her hands over the panther’s sensitive ears. A blast of frozen air shot past and Jenna was overwhelmed by the feeling of being dragged under ice-cold water. Instinctively she turned away, closed her eyes and held her nose as an ear-drilling aaiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeee
filled the tunnel. And then it was gone. The Ice Wraith went careening on her way, screaming through the tunnels as she had done for hundreds of years.
Jenna, Ullr, Beetle and Septimus emerged from behind the archway. “That was horrible,” whispered Jenna.
“Hilda’s all right, really,” said Beetle airily. “You get used to her. Kind of a shock at first, though. Oh, look, here it is.”
Beetle shone his lamp along the tunnel and a glint of gold met the blue light. Silently coming along the tunnel toward them was the Wizard Tower sled, its fine runners skimming along the ice. With a soft swish, the sled drew up in front of them and nuzzled up to Septimus’s knee like a faithful hound.