"Please, just call me Jenna," Jenna interrupted.
"It seems a little familiar. Princess Jenna if I may. Eh?"
"Well, Princess Jenna, if it had been anyone else asking this I would have to keep you in custody here until the arrival of the duty Wizard. But as it's you, eh, I wouldn't dream of keeping you against your wishes. Naturally." Igor looked highly embarrassed.
"What do you mean?" asked Jenna.
"Well, it's like this, eh? We have what we call a Notification List of certain Darke objects, potions, Charms, Spells, etcetera. Top of the list is the Two-Faced Ring. It is, as Marcus said, code nine-nine-nine. If anyone asks for something on the list, we have to notify the Wizard Tower."
"But why?" asked Jenna.
Igor shrugged. "I don't know, eh. The Wizard Tower doesn't actually tell us anything. But I would guess that knowing that these things exist, and then wanting copies of them, shows a knowledge of Darke things that is suspicious, eh? Maybe even dangerous. Excepting yourself, Princess, of course," he added hurriedly. "Of course you have a right to be interested in everything. Totally understandable - totally."
"So is that a yes or a no?" asked Jenna.
"A yes or no what?" Igor looked puzzled.
"Have you ever sold copies of the Two-Faced Ring?"
Igor looked shocked. "Good ghoul, no. Of course we haven't. What do you take us for?"
"I'm sorry," said Jenna. "I . . . we didn't mean anything bad. We just needed to know."
Igor lowered his voice. "Do not seek to know. Keep this ring from your thoughts. Take care, Princess Jenna. Do not meddle with this. Do not name it again." He gazed at a point a few feet above Jenna's head and a frown flitted across his brow. "Be careful, Princess," he muttered. "Walk with the Darke and you do not walk alone." He stood up and bowed solemnly. "Your traveling companions may not be what you would wish for. Marcus will see you out."
Still feeling as though they had done something wrong, Beetle and Jenna followed Marcus - or was it Matt? - back through the labyrinth in silence. As they passed a large jar of Gragull teeth, Jenna stopped and took a set.
"How much are these?" she asked.
"Free to you," grinned Matt - or was it Marcus?
"Oh, thank you," said Jenna with a smile.
The boy led them out of the maze and opened the door for them.
"Excuse me," said Jenna, intrigued, "but is your name Marcus or Matt?"
The boy grinned. "Matt."
"So why did Igor call you Marcus?"
"Marcus is my brother. We're identical. Igor thinks we play tricks on him and pretend we're each other, but we don't - that is just so lame. But Igor thinks he's being clever and when we tell him who we are, he always calls us by the other name." Matt shrugged. "It's like that in here. Weird."
"Weird," agreed Jenna.
Accompanied by the roar of the door monster, Jenna and Beetle stepped out into the wind funnelling down Little Creep Cut. Beetle turned to her, his hair blowing into his eyes, the sharp drops of sleety rain making him blink. "So Foxy was right," he said. "Merrin's got the real thing. This is serious - we need to tell Marcia right away."
Jenna wound her cloak around her, pulling the fur edging tight under her chin to keep out the rain. "I know," she said miserably. "Mum is going to be so upset. She's been looking forward to tonight for ages. It's the first time she's had me and Sep together for our birthdays - ever."
Beetle and Jenna walked in silence back along Little Creep Cut, heading toward a large signpost that read TO THE WIZARD TOWER. Above them flew the little UnSeen lovebird, buffeted by the wind, stung by the rain, but now with a ray of hope that it might soon see its own true love once again.
"Beetle," said Jenna.
"I never mentioned this to anyone before because I thought they'd think I was weird or something, but I think Merrin's been living in the Palace for a long time."
"What?" Beetle looked astonished.
"Well . . . every now and then I've thought I've seen him kind of disappearing around the corner, although I was never totally sure. I even mentioned it to Mum once, but she thought it was just a ghost. But you remember what Barney Pot told Aunt Zelda - that Merrin had ambushed him in the Long Walk? I know no one else believed him, but Barney doesn't tell fibs. And if that is true, then Merrin's been hanging around for at least eighteen months. Which is really creepy." Jenna shivered.
"That's horrible," said Beetle. "The thought of him just lurking up there. Watching you. Wandering around at night - "
"Oh stop it, Beetle!" Jenna protested. "I don't even want to think about it."
They had reached the TO THE WIZARD TOWER signpost, which was illuminated by a small torch burning brightly in a holder on the top. The sign pointed down a well-lit lane known locally as Wiz Way. They turned down it and walked briskly between the neat houses, all with their Longest Night candles burning in their windows. As they progressed, Beetle noticed Jenna was becoming increasingly uneasy.
"Is this the right way?" she asked Beetle after a while.
"Of course it is." Beetle cast Jenna a wondering glance. He knew that she knew the lanes around the Ramblings backwards.
"But . . . it doesn't feel like it."
"Well, it is. You know it is. It's Wiz Way." Beetle was flummoxed.
Jenna had stopped and was looking around, as though seeing the alleyway for the first time. Above her the UnSeen lovebird fluttered hopefully. It was nearly home.
"What's wrong?" asked Beetle. He glanced up. It felt as if something was hovering above Jenna's head, just outside his field of vision.
Jenna rounded on him angrily. "Nothing's wrong. Stop nagging me, Beetle. I'm just not going your stupid way, that's all!" And with that she turned and ran back along Wiz Way, then suddenly scooted to the left and disappeared into a tiny, dark alleyway - the notorious Dagger Dan's pe.
Chapter 14 Dagger Dan's pe
Beetle tore after Jenna but, unlike her, he was not a natural runner. He soon lost sight of her flying red cloak as she drew ahead of him, leaping over puddles and skidding around blind corners, slipping through the twists and turns of the narrow, dark alleyway as though she had run down it a hundred times before. Doggedly Beetle followed the increasingly faint echoes of her footsteps, and soon he could hear nothing but the sound of his own boots thudding on the stones. Of Jenna there was no trace at all.
Of all the alleyways that led off Wiz Way, Dagger Dan's pe was the worst. The twisting, narrow passage was named after a notorious mugger and cutthroat who had used it as a foolproof escape. Even if closely pursued, Dagger Dan would always get away - and mystify his pursuers - by jumping into the open drain at the alley's dead end, then creeping through the water and filth to his small boat tied up on the river by the drain's mouth.
Beetle could not understand why Jenna had chosen to run down Dagger Dan's pe, of all places. Like him, she had grown up in the Ramblings. She had been to a Ramblings school, and she too would have passed her Ramblings Proficiency Test by memorizing the Ramblings map and undertaking three timed journeys on her own. This was the test that all children had to pass before they were allowed to become Ramblers and wander freely (or Ramble) on their own. But even for a Rambler there were forbidden alleys - and Dagger Dan's pe was at the top of the list.
The pe, as it was known locally, was inhabited by the more shadowy denizens of the Castle - the kind of people who one never saw out in daylight hours and hoped not to see out at night. With its decrepit overhanging buildings exuding the sickly sweet smell of rot (and worse) and the inhabitants' habit of jostling strangers or staring from their windows at every echo of footsteps - usually armed and ready to throw a bucket of slop if they didn't like the look of those making them - Dagger Dan's pe was a place no one chose to go, especially at night.
But as Jenna ran, she was oblivious to everything she knew about the pe. Escorted by the UnSeen bird, she raced along, jumping over potholes, skidding around stinking piles of rubbish, ignoring catcalls and curses shouted from windows far above and even a well-aimed rotten tomato that hit the back of her cloak. Toward the end of the pe, Jenna began to slow down, and she finally came to a halt under the dull light of a rusty lantern. She stopped to catch her breath and looked about, suddenly confused by where she found herself. Above her head the lantern squeaked as it swung mournfully above a dilapidated door studded with nails. Behind her was a boarded-up window with faded lettering above it proclaiming: