Marcia was silent. This was not what she had wanted to hear. “But Septimus did not actually Draw the Stone,” she said.
“So surely he is not on the Queste?”
Marcellus shook his head. “The Draw is no more than a formality,” he said. “It is, if you ask me, a way of ritualizing the unacceptable. The key moment is when the Apprentice accepts the Stone. By Drawing it, the Apprentice accepts it. And by taking it from an InHabited
Wizard and saying “thank you,” I fear that Septimus, too, has accepted it. And now he is on the Queste, which is why you cannot Find him. As the saying goes, ‘Once you Accept the Stone, Your Will is not your Own.’”
Agitated, Marcia arose and began pacing the room. Marcellus leaped to his feet, for in his Time it was very rude to stay seated when the ExtraOrdinary Wizard was standing.
“This is terrible,” said Marcia, tramping up and down her carpet. “Septimus is only twelve. How is he going to manage?
And what is even worse, it seems that Jenna’s gone with him too.”
“That does not surprise me,” said Marcellus. “She was a very determined girl. She reminded me of my dear sister—although less inclined to scream.”
“Your sister? Oh. Yes, of course. I forget that you are the son of a Queen.”
“Not a good Queen, unfortunately. I think Princess Jenna will be a better one. When the Time Is Right.”
“Well,” said Marcia, “it won’t ever be Right if we don’t get them back, will it?”
Without thinking, Marcellus placed his hand on Marcia’s arm. Marcia looked surprised. “Marcia,” he said, very seriously, “you have to understand. No one can get an Apprentice back from the Queste.”
“Rubbish,” said Marcia.
M errin Meredith was biting the head off a licorice snake when Simon burst through the door.
“You stupid little worm,” hissed Simon.
Merrin leaped to his feet in terror.
“Give me Sleuth before I bite your head off. You thief.”
“Baaaaaah…” Merrin was paralyzed.
“Give me Sleuth. Now.”
Desperately, Merrin fumbled through the pockets of his new Manuscriptorium tunic. He had so many pockets—which one had he put Sleuth in? Simon Heap stared at Merrin, a fierce, greenish glint shining from his narrowed eyes.
“Give…me…Sleuth,” he intoned.
With relief, Merrin’s trembling fingers closed around the tracker ball. He pulled it from his pocket, hurled it at Simon and shot off into the depths of the Manuscriptorium. Simon lunged to catch the ball but Merrin’s terrified throw was wide and fast. It hurtled past Simon and, as the Manuscriptorium door opened with a sharp ping, Sleuth was deftly caught by the twenty-sixth visitor to the Manuscriptorium that day—Marcia Overstrand.
“Well caught,” said Marcellus, the twenty-seventh visitor.
Simon Heap stood gasping. He opened his mouth and a bleating noise—surprisingly like the one Merrin had made a minute before—trickled out.
“Well, well,” said Marcia. “Mr. Heap. Now remind me, Mr. Heap, about when we last met. Was it up in my rooms perhaps, after a little trouble with a particularly nasty Placement?”
“I—I, yes. It was.” Simon Heap blushed. “That was kind of a mistake. I—I’m very sorry.”
“Well, that makes it all right, then.”
“Does it?” Simon said, brightening. Suddenly the possibility of being accepted back at the Castle lifted the burden he had carried ever since the night of Septimus’s Apprentice supper, when he had been stupid enough to canoe off into the Marram Marshes and look for DomDaniel’s bones.
But Marcia was scornful. “Of course
it doesn’t. How dare you show your face back here after all the trouble you have caused. How dare you!”
Simon stood staring at Marcia, who had Sleuth clasped firmly in her hand. Things were not going quite according to plan.
“You have five minutes to leave the Castle before I alert the lock-up. Five minutes.” Marcia’s eyes flashed angrily.
Simon seemed unable to move. “Um,” he said.
“Um. Can I have my ball back, please?”
“No. Now go!”
Simon hesitated and then, thinking of how upset Lucy would be if he ended up in the lock-up—not to mention his mother—he fled.
With Marcellus in tow, Marcia strode into the Manuscriptorium. All the scribes studiously carried on working, but Partridge looked up, glad of a break from his calculations, which he was laboriously quadruple-checking. “Can I help you, Madam Marcia?” he asked, jumping down from his desk.
“Thank you, Mr. Partridge,” said Marcia. “You can escort me to the Vaults.”
The other scribes glanced at one another with raised eyebrows. Two visits to the Vaults within the week by the ExtraOrdinary Wizard—what was going on?
A loud rustle of silk drew the scribes’ attention back to their work. Jillie Djinn bustled out of the passageway that led to the Hermetic Chamber. “Yes?” she said peremptorily.
Marcia looked at Jillie Djinn crossly. The woman’s social graces—never good—were rapidly disappearing, she thought.
“We wish to be escorted to the Vaults,” Marcia repeated.
“It is not convenient at present,” replied Miss Djinn, eyeing Marcellus Pye suspiciously. “All my scribes are occupied.”
“I’ll go!” said Partridge.
Jillie Djinn glared at him. “You will not. You will finish your calculations.”
Partridge sighed heavily and picked up his pen.
“If you would care to ask my new Front Office Clerk for an appointment, I will probably be able to fit you in sometime next week,” said Jillie Djinn.
“New Front Office Clerk?” asked Marcia. “Where’s Beetle?”
“He is no longer in our employment.”
“His conduct was not satisfactory,” replied Miss Djinn. “Allow me to show you out.”
Speechless and spluttering with rage, Marcia and Marcellus were ushered out. If the Chief Hermetic Scribe chose to refuse access to the Vaults, there was nothing Marcia could do. Within her own small territory, Jillie Djinn wielded as much power as the ExtraOrdinary Wizard did in the Wizard Tower. And Jillie Djinn knew it.
Jillie Djinn closed the door firmly behind them and turned to her new protégé. “If she thinks I am allowing someone wearing the robes of an Alchemist down to the Vaults, she has another think coming,” she told him.
Merrin nodded sagely, as though he understood exactly what Jillie Djinn meant and would have done the same himself.
Then he put his feet up on the desk, tilted his head back and tried to fit a whole licorice snake in his mouth at once.
Marcellus had had as much excitement—and as much Marcia Overstrand—as he could stand for the day. After offering any help he possibly could with finding Septimus, he bade her a polite good-bye. Marcia let him go; she could see he was unused to company and quite exhausted by it. She watched as the Alchemist wandered off down Wizard Way, his footwear attracting amused glances from passersby. Marcellus may have done all he could, but Marcia was not about to give up on Finding Septimus. She had another idea up her sleeve—literally.
Marcia didn’t like doing Magyk
in public. She felt it was showy and she didn’t like the way people would stop and stare. But sometimes it had to be done. And so those who had only just recovered from the sight of Marcellus Pye and his shoes were now treated to the astonishing spectacle of their ExtraOrdinary Wizard doing a Find right in the middle of Wizard Way. They stopped and gaped as Marcia—who was standing very still, chanting under her breath—became enveloped by a soft purple Magykal haze and very slowly began to disappear. One brave child ran up to poke Marcia to see if she was real, but by the time the little girl had reached her, all that was left of the ExtraOrdinary Wizard was a purple shimmering shadow. The child burst into tears, and her mother stomped off to the Wizard Tower to lodge a complaint.
Simon Heap was waiting for the ferry with Lucy when a shimmering purple haze appeared beside him. Lucy screamed.
When Simon realized who it was, he felt a little like screaming too. “I—I’m just going, really I am,” he stammered. “I had to say good-bye to Mum and find Lucy and then we just missed the ferry and—”