As she wordlessly yelled for Beetle and the lantern fizzled out, Jenna had heard the studded door creak open behind her. Terrified, she had tried to run, but her feet had stayed planted firmly outside the door. And when an arm had stretched out and a hand grabbed the back of her cloak and began to pull her inside, Jenna's feet had taken her across the threshold of Doom Dump and waited patiently while a girl, wearing witch robes that would not have looked out of place in Gothyk Grotto, Locked and Barred the door.
"Marissa!" gasped Jenna, but once again she made no sound.
"Goldfish." Marissa smirked. Mockingly she opened and closed her mouth like a fish.
Keeping her hand firmly on Jenna's cloak, Marissa shoved Jenna along the corridor of a typical long, narrow Castle house. It was totally dark, but Marissa knew her way. She threw open the first door leading off the corridor and pushed Jenna into a tunnel-like room, lit at the far end by a pair of rushlights and a tiny fire sputtering in a huge fireplace. The rushlights illuminated what at first appeared to be a comforting scene - a table around which a group of woman were seated for a meal. But Jenna felt anything but comforted. Sitting at the table was the Port Witch Coven.
All eyes were upon Jenna as Marissa delivered the unwilling addition to the party. As they reached the table - which had two empty chairs - Marissa tightened her grip on Jenna, afraid that her prize might elude her at the last minute. This was her first test set by the Coven and she knew she'd done well. Both the Silent and the FootLock Spells had worked, but Marissa knew from past experience how elusive Princesses could be and she wasn't taking any chances.
Marissa pushed Jenna down into one of the vacant seats and took her place beside her. Jenna did not react. She stared at the table in front of her, at first because she was determined not to catch a witch's gaze and then because of a horrified fascination with what the witches were actually eating. It was, she thought, worse than Aunt Zelda's offerings - and that was saying something. At least Aunt Zelda made an effort to cook whatever weird ingredients she used until they were reasonably unrecognizable, but the bowls of squirming salted earwigs and a large dish of skinned mice covered with a lumpy, pale sauce made no effort at disguise. Jenna felt sick. She switched her gaze to the tablecloth, which was covered in Darke symbols and old gravy.
Linda - the boss-with-the-stare from the jewelry stall - pushed her chair back with a teeth-on-edge scrape and got to her feet. Slowly and menacingly she made her way around the table toward Jenna. Linda loomed close and Jenna could smell the musty damp of the witch's robes mixed with a stale, heavy smell of dead roses. Suddenly, as if to land a slap, Linda's arm shot out and, despite herself, Jenna flinched. But Linda's open palm traveled to a spot just above Jenna's head and snatched something out of the air.
Linda drew down her closed fist and held it in front of Jenna. She muttered a few words to reverse the UnSeen and snapped open her fingers. Lying in the witch's palm was the tiny shimmering bird that Jenna had - so long ago, it seemed - refused to pick up from the stall.
"There, little birdie," Linda crooned. "You have done well. You have Brought the Princess. You may have your reward." From inside her robes, she pulled out the tiny cage that hung around her neck, took it off and swung the cage and its prisoner in front of the terrified bird lying in her hand. "Here is your little friend. Take a look."
Both birds looked at each other. Neither made a move or a sound.
Taking everyone by surprise, Linda suddenly threw the bird in her hand into the air. At the same time, she hurled the tiny cage to the floor. She raised her foot to stamp on the cage, but the Witch Mother shouted out, "Linda! Stop that right now!"
Linda's foot stopped in midair.
"You made a bargain, you keep it," said the Witch Mother.
"It's only a poxy bird," said Linda, her foot hovering above the cage.
The Witch Mother hauled herself to her feet. "You renege on a Darke bargain at your peril. Remember that. Sometimes, Linda, I think you forget the Rules. It is not good for a witch to forget the Rules. Is it, Linda?" She leaned across the table, eyeballing the witch. "Is . . . it?" the Witch Mother repeated menacingly.
Linda slowly lowered her foot away from the tiny cage. "No, Witch Mother," she said sulkily.
Daphne, the dumpy witch who looked, Jenna thought, as if she had been sewn into a sack that someone had left some rotten rubbish in, got up quietly. She tiptoed up behind Linda and picked up the cage.
"You're horrible," Daphne bravely told Linda. "Just because you stamp on my giant woodworm all the time doesn't mean you can go stamping on everything." Daphne's fat, mouse-stained fingers fumbled with the cage door and managed to open it. The trapped bird fell out onto the table next to a neat pile of mouse bones - which the Witch Mother was using to pick her teeth - and lay there, stunned.
Jenna watched with horror, all the while desperately trying to make a plan but unable to think of anything. She saw the hovering bird - the one that had brought her to Doom Dump - fly down to its companion and nudge it gently. The stunned bird fluttered its wings, shook its feathers and, a few moments later, both birds flew unsteadily off into a dark corner of the room. Jenna found herself envying them.
The Witch Mother turned her attention to Jenna. "Well, well," she said with a ghastly grimace. "We have our Princess." She looked Jenna up and down as though she were buying a horse and trying to get it cheap. "It will do, I suppose."
"I still don't see why we need one," came a querulous voice from the shadows. It belonged to a young witch with a large towel wrapped around her head.
"Dorinda, I have already told you why," said the Witch Mother. "I'd have thought with those ears your memory might have improved."
Dorinda gave a loud wail. "It's not my fault. I didn't want elephant ears. And I don't see why we want a Princess either. She'll just spoil things. I know she will."
"Shut up, Dorinda," snapped Linda. "Or else."
Dorinda shrank back into the shadows - it was Linda who had Bestowed the elephant ears upon her.
"As I told you before, Dorinda - the possession of a Princess gives a coven the right to rule all other covens," said the Witch Mother. She turned to Marissa and patted her arm. "You made the right choice to come to us, dearie." Marissa looked smug.
As if they had already lost interest in their new acquisition, the witches switched their attention from Jenna to the remains of their meal and carried on talking and arguing as though she was not there.
Jenna watched them suck the rest of the mouse bones clean and then pick out the biggest earwigs and pop them into their mouths. The only thing that gave her any satisfaction was the expression on Marissa's face as she tried to force down an earwig. Marissa's old coven, the Wendron Witches, ate normal, forest-gathered food. Jenna had once had dinner there and had actually enjoyed it. That was, she remembered, the night they had tried to kidnap her.
Once supper was over, the Witch Mother called out in a rasping voice, "Nursie! Nursie! Clear the plates. Nursie!"
A rotund figure, whom Jenna recognized but could not place, bustled into the room carrying a bucket over the crook of her arm like a handbag. She stacked up the plates, scraping the revolting leftovers into the bucket, and staggered out, balancing the plates precariously. A few minutes later she returned with the same bucket, but this time it contained a concoction of foul-smelling Witches' Brew, which she ladled into cups for the witches. Nursie glanced at Jenna briefly, showing no interest in her, but as she left the room once again, Jenna remembered where she had seen her before. Nursie was the landlady of The Doll House - a guesthouse next door to the coven's residence in the Port, where Jenna had once had the misfortune to spend a night.
The witches slurped their Witches' Brew and continued to ignore Jenna. The Witch Mother tipped her head back and noisily drained her cup, then she patted her stomach and regarded Jenna with a satisfied sigh. Mouse and maggot casserole followed by a slug of Witches' Brew always improved her temper - the coven's new acquisition wasn't so bad, all things considered.
"Welcome, Princess," the Witch Mother said, pulling at a piece of mouse ear stuck in a gap between her teeth. "You are one of us now."
"I am not," retorted Jenna silently, causing the rest of the coven to fall about laughing.