the fragile scrap of paper. It went well and before long he had in front of him a small, perfect circle with a finely detailed pencil drawing of an octagonal building encircled by a snake. In the middle was a key. Ephaniah carefully put the precious circle of paper into a secret pocket under his tunic. He pushed his spectacles up onto his forehead and sat back with a sigh. He had done it. The most painstaking—and maybe the most important—piece of Restoring he had ever attempted was finished.

Now came the difficult part—the ReUnite.

“No,” said Stanley, his mouth full of breakfast. “Positively not. A Message Rat does not make deliveries. Mmm, nothing hits the spot like a cold bacon sandwich after a night out in the rain, does it? Care for a bite?”

“No, thank you,” Ephaniah replied disdainfully.

“Suit yourself.”

“It would be to your advantage.”

Stanley laughed bitterly. “Oh, ha. They all say that. But it never is. You end up starving in some lunatic’s cage or shoved under the floorboards and left for dead. You won’t catch me like that.”

“I can get you rats.”

“Rats?”

“All the rats you want. I’ll get them.”

Stanley put down his cold bacon sandwich. “You mean staff?” he asked.

Ephaniah nodded.

Stanley considered the matter. He imagined the East Gate Lookout Tower once more being headquarters of a thriving Message Rat Service—with him in charge. He imagined the paperwork and the wages bills…and Dawnie hearing about his success and deciding to make another go of things.

“No,” he said.

As Ephaniah walked slowly back from the East Gate Lookout Tower he saw something he had not expected to see—the Magykal

lights of the Wizard Tower were back. He blinked in surprise—yes, they were still there. The familiar purple and blue flickering lights were once more playing around the Tower, the deep glow of the golden pyramid at the top of the Tower shone out into the dull gray day and the purple windows shimmered once more with their Magykal haze. All Ephaniah’s worries left him. Everything was fine—he would go to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard and ask her to do a Send. All would be well. With a spring in his step—as much as he could manage with the painful bumps on the underside of his sore foot—Ephaniah wrapped his white cloths extra tightly around his face and took the next set of steps down to Wizard Way.

As he walked into the deep blue shadows of the Great Arch, Ephaniah bumped into Hildegarde Pigeon—and remembered nothing more.

34

FOREST WAYS

Y ou forgot your panther,” Sam whispered.

Jenna, Septimus and Beetle stood outside Wolf Boy’s bender in the gray-green light of the Forest dawn, blinking the sleep from their eyes. As far as Sam could see, they were minus the panther.

Too sleepy to get any words to work, Jenna took Ullr from under her cloak and showed Sam the little orange cat. Sam looked puzzled for a moment, then he raised his eyebrows and grinned. Trust Jenna to get her hands on one of those Transformers, he thought admiringly. The kid may not have any Magyk in her but she had something—that was for sure.

Queen-stuff, he supposed. Morwenna didn’t know what she would have been taking on. But whatever the Witch Mother did or didn’t know, it was time to get them out of the Forest before the Coven came Looking. It wasn’t a good feeling when the Coven was Looking.

Sam had packed three backpacks. They had belonged to Jo-Jo, Edd and Erik during their foraging days, but now that the young Wendron Witches kept them supplied with most of their food—except for fish—Jo-Jo, Edd and Erik had given up foraging and preferred to hang around the campfire all day, much to Sam’s irritation. Sam was an expert on traveling in the Forest and had made a good job of stocking all the things he thought the travelers could possibly need.

Jenna put Ullr down. From her pocket she took the precious book of Nicko’s papers, carefully placed it in her backpack and then heaved the heavy pack onto her shoulders. “Ullr,” she whispered, “you must follow me.” Ullr meowed. He understood Jenna’s language now as well as he had understood Snorri’s. He was a faithful cat and would follow Jenna anywhere.

Three laden figures and a small orange cat followed Sam out of the Camp Heap clearing. It was a damp, dull morning and moisture dripped from the trees, finding its way into their clothes and sending the Forest chill into their bones. Sam strode out along the broad track that led up the hill from Camp Heap. The long walking pole he grasped in his hand measured out his loping, easy stride and Jenna thought how much he looked like a man of the Forest.

They fell in and walked beside him but Sam’s pace was deceptively fast. They were all glad when, after about a mile, he stopped by a large, round rock. Sam kneeled down and tapped the rock, which gave a hollow, bell-like sound. Satisfied, he nodded, then jumped up and plunged into the close-knit group of tall trees with slim, smooth trunks.

Sam set off, weaving his way through the Forest, following a path that only he could see. Septimus, Beetle, Jenna and Ullr were in single file now, concentrating hard on following Sam and trying not to lose sight of his brownish-blue cloak that blended so well with the dappled bark of the trees. Luckily it was easy-going underfoot—a soft mulch of a thousand seasons’ leaf-fall mixed with tiny green fronds of bracken that were beginning to poke their heads up into the spring light like curious little snakes.

Suddenly Sam stopped. “We’re here—at the Gateway,” he said with a broad grin. “I thought I could find it again.”

“You only thought?” said Septimus.

“Yeah,” said Sam. “But it was a Forest thought. They’re always right. You just have to trust your big brother, little bro.

Okay, now we have to pass through. They’ll let me through, as I smell of the Forest. But you smell of the Castle. They don’t like Castle around here. You’d better put your cloaks on—they’re in the backpacks.”

From their backpacks each pulled out a wolverine-skin cloak. Ullr hissed as Jenna threw the cloak across her shoulders.

“Eurgh!” gasped Jenna. “It’s so smelly. And it’s still got legs.”

“Smelly is the whole point, little sis,” said Sam. “You need to smell right. And the legs are good for tying the cloak on.

See?” Sam tied the legs of Jenna’s wolverine cloak together tightly under her chin, just like Sarah Heap used to tie her cloak when she was little. “You’ve got two wolverines in that cloak,” Sam told her. “You always leave the front legs of the top wolverine and the tail of the bottom wolverine. Forest tradition.” Jenna looked down and saw that, sure enough, her cloak had a mangy-looking wolverine tail dangling from its hem.

“As long as they don’t still have their teeth, I don’t mind,” Septimus muttered. He threw the cloak over his shoulders and was surprised by how warm it was—and how protected it made him feel. Suddenly he was part of the Forest, just another creature going about its Forest business.

Sam surveyed the three new Forest inhabitants with approval. “Good,” he said. “They should accept you as Forest now.”

“Who should accept us?” asked Jenna, glancing around.

“Them.” Sam pointed at a pair of huge trees that reared up in front of them like sentries. The trees were the first in a long avenue of identical pairs of close-set trees. From each tree a thick branch looped down and barred their path. “Wait here,” said Sam. “Don’t say a word and stay very still. Okay?”

They nodded. Sam walked up to the trees and began to speak. “We are of the Forest as you are of the Forest,” he said, his voice deep and slow. “We seek to go the Forest Way.”

The trees did not react. Sam did not move. He stood, arms folded, feet apart, staring unblinking up into the depths of the trees. Jenna, Beetle and Septimus waited expectantly. Ullr lay down at Jenna’s feet and closed his eyes. The silence of the Forest enveloped them. Sam stood, immobile, waiting. The minutes passed slowly and still Sam stood waiting…and waiting. No one dared move. After about ten minutes, Beetle got a cramp in his leg and did a strange, slow pirouette to try and relieve it. Septimus watched him, his eyes laughing. Beetle caught the laugh and made an odd choking noise.

Jenna flashed them a warning look and they both did their best to look serious once more—until, with a sudden crash, Beetle fell over and lay on the ground shaking with suppressed laughter. And still Sam did not move.

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