Pamela Beetle-Gurney was not, to her great sadness, married to Brian Beetle for very long. A year after they were married, Pamela gave birth to a baby boy with a shock of black hair and a mischievous smile. The couple had not even registered the birth when Brian Beetle—who worked at the Castle Dock, loading and unloading the Port barge—was bitten by a snake that had crawled out of a box of exotic fruit. Brian—as Pamela would sadly tell people many years later—blew up like a balloon and turned blue. No one could save him.
A few weeks after Brian Beetle died, the Registrar paid Mrs. Beetle a call to inform her that the time limit for registering the baby’s name had expired and she must do so there and then. Mrs. Beetle was in a bad state. The baby cried all night, she cried all day and the last thing on her mind was what to call her baby boy. So when the Registrar got out the Ledger of Names, dipped her pen in the ink and very gently asked Mrs. Beetle for the baby’s name, all Mrs. Beetle could do was wail, “Oh, Beetle…Beetle!”—which was what she had called Brian. Beetle was duly registered as O. Beetle Beetle.
Without Brian Beetle’s wages coming in, Mrs. Beetle had to move to two small rooms at the end of a dingy corridor in The Ramblings. Her family—and Brian’s too—lived at the Port and did not offer any help. Mrs. Beetle considered moving back to the Port, but she liked The Ramblings, and her neighbors helped her more, she thought, than her family ever would. And Mrs. Beetle had ambitions for her son. She wanted him to do better in life than work on the docks, and the Castle schools provided much better opportunities for a good education than the rough schools in the Port.
The young Beetle went to one of the many small, good schools in The Ramblings and Mrs. Beetle worked extra hours as a cleaner to pay for a tutor on Saturday mornings. Beetle was a bright boy, and Mrs. Beetle’s ambitions were fulfilled even sooner than she had expected, for he was the youngest person ever to pass the Manuscriptorium entrance examination.
After Brian died Pamela had stopped using Gurney, her maiden name, and soon she stopped even using Pamela.
Everyone knew her simply as Mrs. Beetle—except for Beetle, who still called her Mum and didn’t care if the scribes teased him. All the scribes referred to their mothers as Mother—if they referred to them at all. But Beetle would often talk about his mother; he worried about her and wished she could be happy once more.
JANNIT MAARTEN AND NICKO
When Jannit Maarten got back to the boatyard after her visit to Sarah Heap she looked—as Rupert Gringe put it—as though she had had the wind spilled from her sails. And she was wearing a very peculiar hat. Jannit was not known for sitting around or gazing into space, but for the rest of that day Jannit did both. Even when Rupert showed her the perfect brass fittings he had finally discovered for Jannit’s pet project that season—the restoration of a rare Port Sloop—Jannit just smiled wanly.
Rupert Gringe knew what the problem was. When he had seen Jannit set off that morning carrying the Indentures, he had guessed what she was doing. Rupert was not a great fan of the Heap family, particularly now that his sister Lucy had run off with Simon blasted Heap—as Rupert always called him—but he, too, was unhappy about Nicko’s disappearance.
Rupert was not sure he believed all the stories that were going around the Castle about Nicko being trapped in another Time, but it was plain that something nasty had happened to him and Rupert was very sorry about that.
Although at first he had been extremely dubious about Jannit taking on a Heap, Rupert had grown to like and respect Nicko. He was fun to have around and always willing to sail down to the Port and have a laugh. And since Nicko had gone, Rupert had realized how much work Nicko had done—more than two yard hands’ worth put together, he told Jannit. But even though they could never replace Nicko, they needed a new apprentice before the summer season began.
That afternoon, when Jannit had returned from the Palace, Rupert watched her wander slowly over to her ramshackle hut at the entrance to the boatyard. There was a small shed attached to the side of the hut where the junior apprentice slept, and Rupert saw her gingerly push open the door and go inside. Half an hour later Jannit came and found him.
“Need a hand,” was all she said.
What Jannit needed a hand with was tin trunk with NICKO HEAP painted on the top in spidery writing. Rupert helped her carry it over to the old lock-up.
“Keep it in there until he gets back,” said Jannit.
“Yeah. Until he gets back,” Rupert said. Then he went and sat on the bowsprit of the Port Sloop for half an hour and watched the muddy waters of the Moat drift by.
SIMON AND LUCY
Simon and Lucy made it safely over the river, paid a small fortune to get Thunder out of the Ferry stables and then set off for the Port. It was a subdued journey—being back in the Castle had upset them both.
Simon had been shocked to see the Wizard Tower in a state of Siege. It had made him realize how important the place was to him and how much he cared that it continued unharmed. And with this insight had come the unwelcome realization that through his actions of the last three years he had thrown away any chance he might have had of one day becoming an Ordinary Wizard (which Simon would have gladly settled for now) and actually being able to live and work in such a wonderful, Magykal place. Now he was unlikely to even see the Wizard Tower again.
Lucy sat behind Simon and looked back mournfully. Thunder trotted briskly along the riverbank path and, as the Castle disappeared behind Raven’s Rock, Lucy wished she had been brave enough to say hello to her father when she had gone to the gatehouse the morning after they had arrived. He had looked tired and careworn—and so much smaller than she had remembered. Lucy didn’t really know why she hadn’t dared to tell him she was there. Well, she did know—it was the thought of a full-blown Mrs. Gringe tantrum. But now she really wished she had. How long would it be before she saw her parents again? Years probably, she thought. And she would never be able to bring Simon to meet them. Not that they would want to, she thought gloomily.
As Thunder trotted along, in high spirits after leaving the damp and dingy stables, Lucy made an effort to brighten the gloom. “At least Marcia didn’t put you in the lock-up,” she said. “She can’t be totally mad.”
“Huh,” was Simon’s response. But then, later, “I hope she looks after Sleuth. That blasted Merrin took it before it was completely ReCharged. I think I’ll send her the instructions.”
“Si, you can’t!”
“Oh, Simon. You don’t give up, do you?”
“No, Luce. I don’t.”
The beginning of Merrin’s employment at the Manuscriptorium was not the best. After the shock of being confronted by Simon—and the unexpected loss of Sleuth—Merrin ate his entire licorice snake supply. By mid-afternoon he felt sick and very irritable. When Foxy asked him to fetch a copy of the Cameloleopard Conundrum Pamphlet from the Wild Book Store, Merrin—who was terrified of the store after Beetle’s lurid tales—told Foxy to get it himself. Foxy looked shocked. Beetle never
would have done that. Foxy then proceeded, in Merrin’s opinion, to get very unreasonable. Merrin promptly told Foxy what he could do with his precious Camel-thingies and Foxy stomped back to his desk in a huff.
Merrin listened at the door for a while, but like all listeners, he did not hear anything good about himself. He decided to leave them to it and go stock up on snakes. He snuck out, locking the door behind him to make sure that no customers could get in, then he crossed Wizard Way and headed into the tangle of alleys that would take him—he hoped—to Ma Custard’s All-Day-All-Night Sweet Shop.
But the alleys were not as Merrin remembered them—someone had changed them just to annoy him. By the time Merrin eventually found Ma Custard’s, he was very hungry. Which was probably why he bought three dozen licorice snakes, two bags of spider floss, a box of toffee termites and a whole jar of banana bears. Ma Custard asked Merrin if he was having a party. Merrin wasn’t quite sure what a party was, so he said yes. Ma Custard gave him a tub of crumbly cocoa crumbs “for his little friends.”
Merrin decided it was too late to bother going back to the Manuscriptorium that day. After eating three snakes dipped in cocoa crumbs and ten banana bears, Merrin felt quite brave. He went to the Palace kitchen garden, retrieved his things from the horrible shed and, safe in the knowledge that Simon Heap had been thrown out of the Castle, he reclaimed his room.