“You

will find no one in there,” the girl said to Beetle, stepping in front of him. She grabbed hold of the door handle.

“Because you are not coming in.”

“Yes, he is,” said Jenna. “Where Sep goes we all go.”

“Your Majesty,” the girl began.

“Don’t call me that,” blazed Jenna.

“I am sorry. I did not wish to offend. Princess, I will give you a few minutes to say farewell to the Questor and then you and your servant must leave. I realize this is a sad occasion but I wish you Good Speed in returning to the Castle and Good Fortune in finding a Time that is Right. You are lucky, you have the key to this House. May your freedom to roam take you where you wish. Farewell.” The girl bowed; then—taking everyone by surprise—she pushed Septimus inside,

ran in after him and slammed the door in Jenna and Beetle’s face.

Shocked, Jenna and Beetle looked at each other as they heard the unmistakable sound of the door Barring.

“Oh, pigs,” said Beetle. “Pigs pigs pigs.”

46

ULLR’S QUEST

J enna banged on the purple door. “Sep!” she yelled. “Sep!”

Seizing his chance, Ullr wriggled out from under her arm, but Beetle grabbed his tail as he shot past. Furious, Ullr screeched. Ignoring the cat’s sharp claws, Beetle picked him up and stuffed the struggling animal under his arm.

“Jenna—we’re going to get Septimus out. Whatever it takes,” Beetle told her. “Ouch. Stop it, Ullr.”

Jenna slumped against the Barred door in despair. “But how?” she wailed. “How?”

“I shall find an ax and break down the door,” said Beetle quietly, looking Jenna in the eye.

Jenna returned his gaze. She knew Beetle meant what he said. “Okay,” she said.

They set off down the marble passage. As a parting shot, Beetle yelled, “We’ll be back!” The door stared back at them, impervious.

Waiting on a bench on the candle-filled landing was the horse-faced Guardian. As Jenna emerged through the concealed door, the Guardian got to her feet. “Princess,” she said, planting herself in front of Jenna and barring her way.

“Yes?” Jenna snapped.

The Guardian smiled smoothly. She had an expression bordering on smug that irritated Jenna. “Whither do you go?”

“To find an ax,” Jenna replied sharply—and then wished she hadn’t.

However, the Guardian did not react. “I have some business with you,” she said. “You can send your servant for what you need.”

“My servant?”

The Guardian waved her arm at Beetle, who was stuck in the passageway behind Jenna, occupied with Ullr.

Jenna was indignant. “He’s not my servant,” she said.

“What is he, then?”

“He is not a what; he is a who. And it is none of your business. Would you let me pass, please? We have things to do.”

Jenna tried to sidestep the Guardian but once again her way was barred.

“Whatever it is you wish to do,” the Guardian told her, “there is no need for haste. You have Eternity in which to do it.

You are no longer on the donkey cart of Time, forever trundling onward.”

“Thank you,” said Jenna icily. “But I quite like the donkey cart. At least it gets you somewhere. Now excuse me.”

“You are young, so I will excuse you. Now give me the key.”

“What?”

“The key.” The Guardian indicated the key to the Queen’s Room—a beautiful gold key set with an emerald—that hung from Jenna’s belt.

“No!”

“Yes!” The Guardian grabbed Jenna, digging her nails into her arm. “You must,” she hissed. “It belongs to the House.

You have stolen it.”

“I have not!” Jenna was furious. “Let go of me!”

The Guardian shook her head. “Not until you give me the key.” She smiled, her horse teeth glinting in the candlelight. “I am patient. Time is nothing to me, although it still has meaning to you, it seems. I will wait. We can stand here as long as you like.” The nails sunk deeper into Jenna’s arm.

“Let go of her.” There was an edge of menace in Beetle’s voice that Jenna had not heard before.

“Your servant is very loyal,” the Guardian said with a sneer.

Suddenly, a long, rumbling growl began somewhere by the Guardian’s knees. She looked down and the NightUllr, ready to pounce, stared back with angry eyes. “Let go of the Princess,” said Beetle quietly, “or she will set her panther on you.”

The Guardian let go. A panther was a panther, whatever Time it was.

Beetle grabbed Jenna’s hand. “Come on,” he said, “we’ve got an ax to find.”

Too afraid to move, the Guardian watched them walk swiftly across the landing and then—as the panther suddenly veered off and raced up one of the turret stairs—saw them break into a run.

“Ullr!” yelled Jenna, racing off in pursuit. “Come back! Ullr!”

Unused to such excitement, the Guardian resumed her place on the bench and waited—knowing that all things in the House of Foryx come to those who wait.

The turret stairs were steep, narrow and seemingly endless. Jenna and Beetle pounded up after Ullr and came to a halt at a small stone archway. The stairs carried on upward but through the archway Jenna could see a long, dark corridor lit by a few sparse candles. She stopped and tried to catch her breath. Which way had Ullr gone?

Beetle caught up with her. “Can you see him?” she puffed.

Too breathless to speak, Beetle shook his head. Then, in the light of the very last candle at the end of the corridor he caught a glimpse of the orange tip of Ullr’s tail. “There!”

With a new burst of energy, Jenna lifted up her long tunic and hurtled down the corridor, with Beetle close behind. The corridor followed the shape of the octagonal turret, each 135-degree bend turning just enough to obscure their view of the next. The turret was rougher than the marble opulence of the main part of the House of Foryx and their feet echoed on bare stone flags as they ran. So intent were Jenna and Beetle on catching up with Ullr that they paid no attention to the little rooms that led off from the corridor. Each one was lit by a single candle and occupied by shadowy figures slowly performing their familiar everyday routines, as some of them had been doing for thousands of years.

As Jenna and Beetle rounded each corner, they caught a brief glimpse of Ullr’s tail disappearing around the next—then the next and the next. A few of the inhabitants of the turret glanced up, first at the panther and then at the hurried

footsteps of Jenna and Beetle, but none paid them much heed.

As they rounded yet another corner Jenna realized there was no sight of Ullr’s tail. She stopped to catch her breath.

“Can’t see…him,” she puffed as a few seconds later Beetle caught up with her. “Gone.”

Beetle leaned against the wall, gasping. He had led a sedentary life up until the previous few days and the last few minutes had just about finished him off. “Haaaah…” was all he could manage in reply.

Suddenly, from somewhere down the corridor, there was a scream and then a yell of joy. “Ullr! Ullr, Ullr, Ullr!”

Jenna looked at Beetle, half excited, half afraid. “It’s Snorri,” she whispered.

“Is it?”

“Yes. It is. Oh, Beetle—Snorri is here. So Nicko…Nicko must be too.” Then an awful thought struck Jenna. What if Nicko wasn’t there—what if something had happened to him and it was just Snorri? Jenna looked at Beetle. “I’m scared,” she whispered. “Scared we’ve come all this way and he won’t be here.”

Beetle put his arm around Jenna. “There’s only one way to find out,” he said. “Come on, let’s go see.”

It felt like the longest walk Jenna had ever taken. She and Beetle went slowly, looking inside each dimly lit room. In the first room were two beds and a simple table. Two girls were sitting at the table chatting quietly, a bottle of wine between them. The second room was sparse and barracklike; at the end of a narrow bed with folded blankets a man sat polishing a gleaming suit of armor. In the third room a hammock was slung from one wall to another. The only piece of furniture was a large trunk, on which an old man with a full white beard and a tattered sailor’s uniform sat knitting. The fourth room was lined with books; in the shadows Jenna saw the outline of a woman in a long, dark dress hunched over a desk, writing. The fifth room was empty. The sixth contained three members of the pointy hat contingent sitting around a table, playing a board game. The seventh contained Snorri Snorrelssen.

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