The ghost of the governess fled sobbing to the old schoolroom.
At the Manuscriptorium at half past five precisely, the scribes leaped from their desks and rushed to the front door. It was locked. The Manuscriptorium had a One and All
Spell on the outside doors—if one was locked, all were locked. The scribes had to wait until Jillie Djinn emerged from the Hermetic Chamber some two hours later before they could get out. They spent the time discussing in some detail what they intended to do to Merrin when they finally got him.
When Merrin turned up the next day he had some explaining to do, but he had a good line in tall stories and Jillie Djinn (unlike the scribes) believed him. Jillie was not about to admit that she had made a bad choice—and who else but Merrin would be perfectly happy counting the entire stock of Manuscriptorium used pencils and arranging them according to Miss Djinn’s new cataloging system, which depended on the number of teeth marks on each pencil?
The beginning of Stanley’s Message Rat Service was not all that he had hoped for. After he had turned down Ephaniah Grebe’s offer of staff, Stanley found that word had spread about the reinstated message rat service and soon a steady trickle of customers found their way to the East Gate Lookout Tower.
Stanley was somewhat irritated by the sudden craze for silly birthday messages among the younger Castle inhabitants, and after—for the third time that day—he had flatly refused to sing a birthday greeting, he began to seriously consider packing in the whole enterprise.
The night after he had not only been asked to sing a message but also to perform a dance, Stanley went for a late night scramble along the Outside Path to clear his head. Stanley liked the Outside Path. It ran along the Castle Walls and was at some points—as Septimus had once found out—nothing more than a narrow ridge. Stanley didn’t believe the tales about Things walking the path; in fact, he didn’t believe in Things at all. But it was a dark night and when, at a particularly narrow and crumbly section, he heard scrabbling and a high-pitched squeaking right in front of him, Stanley suddenly discovered that he did believe in Things
after all. It was not a good moment, and he very nearly jumped into the Moat there and then.
But Stanley hated getting wet and the Moat looked dark and cold. He decided that the Thing would not be interested in a mere rat, and if he kept very still it would probably go away. But the noises did not go away. And the more Stanley listened, the more he realized how much they sounded like rat squeaks—baby rat squeaks.
Dawn was breaking by the time Stanley was back in the East Gate Lookout Tower—and he was no longer alone. With him were four cold, hungry and very small orphan ratlets.
When Syrah saw the long knives of the Questing Guards, she knew she was in trouble. With no time to say a proper farewell to Julius Pike, whom she loved like a father, Syrah was bundled onto the Questing Boat. As soon as she set foot upon the deck, Syrah felt her Magykal powers drain away.
Seen off by a triumphant Tertius Fume, the Questing Boat set off fast. A Magykal wind filled its sails, and soon they were sailing past the Port and out to sea. Syrah refused to go below. She sat, shivering in the wind and the rain as the Questing Boat
cut through the waves. Syrah stayed awake all through the first night and the following day, eyes wide—hardly daring to even blink—keeping a close eye on the Questing Guards and their sharp knives.
Syrah knew that as soon as she fell asleep, she was as good as dead. And as the second night on the deck of the Questing Boat
drew on, Syrah felt her eyelids droop and the lure of sleep become irresistible. As she gazed out across the calm sea, watching the distant loom of a lighthouse, the rhythmic movement of the boat lulled her into a brief sleep. She woke with a start to find three Guards advancing on her with their knives drawn.
Syrah had no choice. She jumped overboard.
The sea was a shock. It was cold and Syrah could not swim. Her heavy robes dragged her down, but as she struggled away from the Questing Boat, Syrah felt her Magyk return. She Called a dolphin, which arrived just as the water was closing over her head for the last time. Lying exhausted on the dolphin’s back, Syrah found herself heading toward the lighthouse on the horizon. Dolphin and Apprentice arrived safely as dawn was breaking.
Syrah began a new life far away from the Castle. She never dared return, but she sent a coded message to Julius Pike to tell him she was safe. Unfortunately, Julius thought it was a final demand for some Magykal pots he had ordered. He had already paid the bill, so he threw the message down the garbage chute.
The moment Morwenna discovered that she had been double-crossed and Jenna and her Transformer had fled marked the beginning of a feud between the Wendron Witch Coven and the Castle. Or, rather, it was the end of the truce that had existed since Silas, as a young Wizard, had rescued Morwenna from a pack of wolverines.
Morwenna considered she had paid her debt to Silas by taking him to his father. The flight of Ephaniah Grebe also angered her. After all she had done for him, he had reneged on his agreement to Promise and, she assumed, had taken Jenna with him.
Camp Heap was placed out of bounds for all the young witches, much to great their consternation, and the Heap boys suddenly found their lives much less comfortable, Jo-Jo especially. Marissa was forced to choose between Morwenna and Jo-Jo. Marissa was a true witch at heart and she chose Morwenna.
The Toll-Man was never a pleasant character. It is doubtful that those who had known him before the Thing suddenly appeared in his tree house would have noticed any difference—apart from the licorice ring. The ring would have puzzled them because it was the Toll-Man’s considered opinion that men who wore rings should be “shoved off the top of a cliff—that’ll show ’em.” Whether this showed the Toll-Man himself, no one will ever know.
But to be InHabited
is not something to be wished upon anyone, however unpleasant. The Toll-Man was up in his tree house, keeping clear of the Foryx as he did regularly twice a day, when the Thing
pushed its way in and made its intentions clear. Then, like Hildegarde and Ephaniah before him, the Toll-Man experienced a moment of pure terror—just as some reluctant toll-payers had when they refused him a gold tooth and suddenly found themselves plunging down through the mists of the abyss.
Ephaniah nearly died in the tree house beside the bridge. Even though Jenna, Septimus and Beetle left him as comfortable as they could beneath their wolverine skins, Ephaniah, like Hildegarde before him, was overtaken by a raging fever and became delirious. If he had not been so weak it is likely he would, in his confusion, have fallen from the tree house and died in the snow—or been eaten by the phalanx of Foryx. But luckily Ephaniah could do no more than lie on the cold wooden floor, shivering as waves of hot and cold ran through him and enduring the most frightening nightmares—even worse than those that followed the early days of his rat Hex.
It was on the midmorning of his second day in the tree house—although for all Ephaniah knew it could have been his second month—that his nightmares took on a frighteningly real turn. Overnight his fever had abated a little and he had regained a little strength. That morning he had rolled over to the door flap and poked his head outside. Luckily he was sensible enough not to tumble to the ground; instead he lay on his back gazing up into the snowy branches, his sensitive rat nose gratefully sniffing the fresh air and his tiny pink tongue licking the occasional snowflake that came his way.
Ephaniah had lain there for some time and was feeling almost content when a terrible thud shook the tree and a great load of snow from the upper branches landed on his face. Shocked, he shook his head, rolled over and found himself face to face with the most realistic hallucination so far. A huge dragon stood below the tree house, its long scaly neck reaching up into the branches, its red-rimmed emerald green eye staring right into Ephaniah’s.
A voice from somewhere—a voice that even in his befuddled state Ephaniah thought he recognized but could not quite place—said, “Can you see him, Septimus?”
Another voice replied, “It’s all right, Marcia, he’s here. He’s okay. You are okay, aren’t you, Ephaniah?” It was then that, almost hidden in a dip between the dragon’s huge shoulders and the rise of his neck, Ephaniah noticed a small figure with a big smile, and a little farther back, sitting uncomfortably between the dragon’s spines, a purple-robed woman squinting up at him with glittering green eyes that almost outshone those of the dragon itself.