The other witches looked on, impressed.
From somewhere inside her tattered black robes, Linda drew out a small silver cage on a chain, as delicate and beautiful as any of the jewelry in the stall. She unscrewed the bottom of the cage, opened her right hand and slammed the cage down over the bird. Then she poked the panicking bird into the cage with a prodding finger - it was a tight fit even though the bird was tiny. Quickly Linda tipped the cage upside down and screwed the floor back on, then she swung the cage over her neck so that it hung dangling by its chain like an exotic pendant. Inside the cage the bird blinked in shock.
"Hostage," Linda informed the other witches. They nodded, impressed, and - as they always were with Linda - slightly scared.
Linda held her left fist up to the cage and slowly unfurled her fingers. Inside her fist sat the other bird, trembling. It gave a despairing tweet at the sight of the caged bird and fell silent. Linda raised the bird up to her eyes and began to mutter in a low, threatening monotone. The bird stood on her palm, transfixed. Linda finished whatever ghastly thing she was saying and the bird flew up and hovered, looking down at the silver cage dangling from Linda's grubby neck. Linda pointed a long-nailed finger at the fluttering scrap of blue and the bird vanished. UnSeen, it flew off on an erratic course, which followed Jenna's path as she headed for the Palace.
"Lovebirds!" Linda commented scathingly. "Love. What rubbish." She laughed. "But useful rubbish. I still have that bird in the palm of my hand." She held out her empty hand and snapped her fingers shut. "And the Princess."
Chapter 10 Upstairs
Jenna and her invisible bird reached the Palace Gate at the same time as Beetle. Beetle looked flustered.
"Thought I was going to be late," he puffed. "Foxy . . . Chief Charm Scribe, my foot."
"You mean he isn't?" Jenna was surprised.
"Well, he is - if Jillie Djinn would only let him. Foxy said when he got back she'd taken all the Charms into the Hermetic Chamber for what she called stocktaking and wouldn't let him have them."
Jenna raised her eyes to heaven. "That woman. You're well out of that place, Beetle." She looked concerned. "But that means you haven't got a SafeCharm."
Beetle grinned. "That's okay. I probably won't need one. Anyway, I've got this. Foxy found it in the Pending Cupboard." He took a small, slightly curved, flat piece of wood from the inside top pocket of his admiral's jacket and showed it to Jenna. "Foxy reckons it'll be more use than a SafeCharm. He said a sea captain came in a couple of days ago and swapped it for a love Charm. It's a heartbeat thingy. You put it next to your heart like so . . ." Beetle put the Charm back into his top left pocket. "Foxy says that if you get really scared it knows and brings you back to the last place you were safe. Shall we get going?"
Beetle and Jenna walked up the Palace drive under a dark cloud that had blown in from the Port. Jenna did not want to meet Sarah right then, so she took the path around the back of the Palace. By the time they reached the small door into the turret at the far end, a cold wind was blustering up from the river and fat drops of sleety rain were beginning to fall. Jenna pushed open the door and they stepped inside. The door slammed in a sudden gust, the noise echoing down the Long Walk.
It was unusually dark inside the Palace. When Nicko had at long last returned safely home, Jenna had celebrated having both Septimus and Nicko in the Castle once more by asking Maizie Smalls, who lit the torches in Wizard Way, to live at the Palace. In return for two rooms looking out on the river and supper every night, Maizie had agreed to light a candle in every room in the Palace and to light the Long Walk with rushlights. But Maizie did not start "operation light up," as she called it, until a half hour before sunset. And there was, despite the gloom, still more than an hour to go before then.
Jenna always found the Long Walk - with its odd assortment of objects lining the walls - creepy, and that afternoon, in the failing light, she found it particularly so. So when Beetle took his old Ice Tunnel lamp (one of his mementos from his time at the Manuscriptorium) and flicked on its eerie blue light just as they passed a trio of grinning shrunken heads, Jenna shrieked out loud, then clapped her hand to her mouth.
"Sorry," she said, a little embarrassed. "Got a bit spooked."
"Whoooo," said Beetle in a mock ghostly voice, holding the light beneath his chin and grinning.
"Oh don't, Beetle - that's even more horrible!"
Beetle swung the light away from his face and shone it down the wide, amazingly long corridor. Strong as its beam was, it did not reach the end. "Actually, I feel a bit spooked too," he said in a half whisper. He glanced behind him. "I keep thinking something is kind of fluttering behind us . . . but I can't see anything."
Jenna looked around too. She had felt the same thing though she hadn't wanted to say anything. The word fluttering reminded her of the two little birds lying trembling in their boxes. Loudly - to reassure herself more than anything - she said, "No, there's nothing there."
The UnSeen little bird rested a few minutes on one of the shrunken heads, its tiny wings tired with having to keep airborne for so long, and then continued following Jenna.
They walked on quickly past the door to Sarah Heap's sitting room and a door with PALACE PAMPHLETS INC. scrawled on it in chalk, which was Silas's office. Jenna was pleased to see both rooms were empty. They soon arrived at some narrow backstairs and climbed up to the first floor of the Palace. Here were mainly suites of private rooms at the rear of the building looking out over the river, and more public rooms - including the locked Throne Room - at the front. The wide upstairs corridor had a hushed, subdued quality to it. Thick, dusty curtains hung down in front of many of the draughty windows and doors and down the center ran what was known as the longest carpet in the world, which had actually been made there, in the corridor, by an itinerant group of carpet weavers.
They walked silently through the muffled gloom. Jenna was not expecting to see anyone but as they went past Maizie Small's room, the door opened and Maizie rushed out.
"Oh!" said Maizie, surprised. "Oh, hello, Princess Jenna. And Beetle. I didn't expect to bump into you." Maizie cast a disapproving glance at Beetle. "Not upstairs."
Beetle went pink but he hoped it was too dark for anyone to notice.
"You're early, Maizie," Jenna said, rather irritated.
"It's the Longest Night tonight, Princess Jenna. I have to get every torch lit by nightfall, and I always help out with some of the displays on the Way. It's a crazy rush." Maizie took a small timepiece out of her pocket and consulted it hurriedly. "Now then, I've lit all new candles upstairs, and Mr. Pot's coming in to do the downstairs. You're all sorted." A loud spattering of sleet on one of the roof lanterns made everyone look up. "Shocking day to be out," said Maizie. "I must be off."
Beetle and Jenna walked on in an awkward silence past the wide corridor that led to the large double doors - and the ghost of Sir Hereward - guarding Jenna's bedroom. The faint figure of Sir Hereward raised his one ghostly arm in salute as they hurried by, and not long after they arrived at the foot of the attic stairs.
"Oh!" exclaimed Jenna. The entrance to the stairs was covered by an old red velvet curtain, which had been skewered to the wall by an assortment of large rusty nails. Jenna recognized Silas Heap's handiwork immediately. "Dad must have just done this," she whispered. "So he did listen to what I said . . ."
Beetle regarded the old curtain. "It's a bit makeshift," he said.
"That's Dad for you."
"I suppose he's put some kind of SafetyGate on there," said Beetle. "And he's nailed that up to hide it. SafetyGates do look a bit weird sometimes. Shall I have a look?"
Jenna nodded. "Yes please, Beetle."
Beetle took out his pocket knife. He unfolded the tool for pulling-long-rusty-nails-out-of-plaster and set to work doing exactly that. Immediately a great lump of plaster came off the wall and the curtain fell on his head - crump.
"Oof!" gasped Beetle as the curtain enveloped him in a cloud of dust and dead spiders. "Oof - eurgh. Gerroff! Gerroff me!"
The curtain did not do as requested and Beetle, convinced that he had been attacked by something nasty from the attic, began stabbing at it with his pulling-long-rusty-nails-out-of-plaster tool. "Argh . . . help!"