"As near as makes no difference, dearie," said the Witch Mother who, after many years of goldfish spells, was a wiz at lip-reading. "By midnight tonight you will be one of us, like it or not."
Jenna shook her head violently.
The Witch Mother rubbed her hands together and perused Jenna once more. "Yes. You'll do nicely." She gave Jenna her best smile - formed by parting her lips and showing two rows of blackened teeth. "Very nicely."
Jenna was not sure how to take this. She wasn't sure that being considered good witch material was exactly a compliment.
Linda looked irritated. "You're such a toady, Witch Mother. She'll be a rotten witch. We wouldn't even look at her if she wasn't a Princess."
The Witch Mother glared at Linda and turned to Marissa, who was rapidly becoming her new favorite. "Now, this is a special job for you, Marissa dearie. Take the Princess to the room we've prepared and make her put on her witch robe. Take all that she has away from her. You can have her nice circlet if you want, it will suit you."
"No!" Jenna gave a silent yell and her hand flew up to her head. "You are not having it. You are not."
"Oh, I so love goldfish spells," spluttered the witch with her hair matted into a tall spike on top of her head.
"Quiet, Veronica," said the Witch Mother sternly. "Now, Marissa, take the Princess away."
Marissa looked very pleased with herself. She grasped Jenna's arm and pulled her to her feet, then she propelled her toward a heavy curtain hanging at the far end of the room. Jenna tried to resist but her feet betrayed her and took her seemingly willingly along with Marissa. As they reached the curtain the Witch Mother called out, "Bring me her nice red furry cloak when you're done, Marissa. It gets so cold here. Shakes my old bones, it does."
Linda glared at the departing Marissa; her long-nurtured position as Witch-Mother-in-waiting was looking precarious. She got to her feet. The Witch Mother looked up suspiciously.
"Linda, where are you going?" she asked.
Linda passed a hand wearily across her forehead. "It's been a long day, Witch Mother. I think I'll take a little nap. I do so want to be at my best for tonight's . . . proceedings."
"Very well. Don't be late. We start at midnight on the dot."
Gimlet-eyed, the Witch Mother watched Linda leave. She listened to the witch's footsteps clumping loudly up the stairs; she heard the creaking of the bedroom floorboards above and the squeak of Linda's bedsprings.
However, although Linda's footsteps had gone upstairs to bed, Linda had not. The Witch Mother had never mastered the art of Throwing footsteps and consequently did not believe it was possible. But it was. When Linda left the room, her footsteps had stomped up the stairs and into her bedroom, then they had jumped up and down on her bed and squeaked the bedsprings. Linda herself, however, had some-where else to go.
Unaware of Linda's deception, the Witch Mother surveyed the remaining three witches with an air of satisfaction. "We are on the up," she said. "Not only are we now six in our coven, we will soon be seven - and our seventh member will be a Princess."
From somewhere at the back of the house came the sound of a scream.
"Goodness me, what is Marissa doing to our dear Princess?" the Witch Mother said with an indulgent smile. But the Witch Mother was - as Linda often commented - getting forgetful. And what she had forgotten was that Jenna was still Silent.
It was Marissa's scream.
Chapter 16 Call Out
Beetle arrived at the Wizard Tower breathless and flustered. Hildegarde opened the door to him. She looked surprised.
"What are you doing here?" she said. "You and Princess Jenna have just been the subject of a nine-nine-nine from Gothyk Grotto. You should be there waiting for the Emergency Wizard."
Beetle fought to get his breath back. "I . . . she . . . they . . . let us go. Must see Marcia . . . now . . . urgent."
Hildegarde knew Beetle well enough to send an express messenger straight up to Marcia's rooms. While the messenger set the stairs on emergency and disappeared in a whirl of blue, Beetle paced the Great Hall impatiently, not daring to hope that it would have any result. He was as amazed as Hildegarde when, no more than a few minutes later, a flash of purple appeared at the top of the spiral stairs and whizzed its way down. In a moment Marcia was hurrying across to the agitated Beetle.
Marcia listened to Beetle's story of Merrin in the Palace attic, the Two-Faced Ring, the Darke Domaine and finally, Jenna's disappearance, with increasing concern.
"I knew it," she muttered. "I knew it."
Marcia heard Beetle out and then sprang into action. She sent Hildegarde up to the Search and Rescue Center on the nineteenth floor of the Wizard Tower to begin a Search for Jenna at once.
"And now," said Marcia, "we must do a Call Out to the Palace. There is no time to lose."
It was a relatively easy matter to Call Out all the Wizard Tower Wizards. The Tower had an extremely ancient Magykal intercom system that no one understood anymore, but which still worked - although Marcia did not dare use it too often. A fine spiderlike web of Magykal threads connected all the private rooms and public spaces in the Tower. The control point was a tiny circle of lapis lazuli set high up in the wall beside the Wizard Tower doors. Beetle watched Marcia ball her right hand into a fist and then throw it open, letting go a well-aimed stream of Magykal purple that hit the center of the circle, whereupon a wafer of paper-thin lapis detached itself and floated down into Marcia's outstretched hands. Marcia pressed the flimsy circle of blue into her left palm. Then she held her hand up to her mouth and addressed her palm in an oddly flat monotone.
"Calling all Wizards, Calling all Wizards. This is a non-optional Call Out. Please make your way immediately, I repeat, immediately, to the Great Hall."
Marcia's monotone sounded in every room in the Wizard Tower, as loud and undistorted as though she were there in person - much to the dismay of one elderly Wizard taking a bath.
The effect was immediate. The silver spiral stairs slowed to steady mode - a setting that allowed easy access for all - and a few seconds later, Beetle saw the blue cloaks of the first Wizards descending.
Wizards and Apprentices gathered in the Hall - the Wizards grumbling that the ExtraOrdinary Wizard had chosen to do a Call Out practice just as they were about to have tea, the Apprentices chattering with excitement. Beetle kept an eye on the stairs for Septimus, but although plenty of green robes were mixed in with the blue, his was not among them.
The last Wizard stepped off the stairs and Marcia addressed the crowd. "This is not a Call Out practice," she said. "This is the real thing."
A surprised murmur greeted her announcement.
"All Wizards are required to form a Cordon around the Palace within the next half hour. I intend to put the Palace into Quarantine as soon as possible."
A collective gasp of shock echoed through the Great Hall, and the lights inside the Tower - which, if there was nothing else to do, reflected the Wizards' collective feelings - turned a slightly surprised pink.
Marcia continued. "To that effect I am asking you to exit the Tower with Mr. Beetle. En route to the Palace you will provide backup to Mr. Beetle while he Calls Out the Manuscriptorium Scribes."
It was Beetle's turn to look shocked.
Marcia continued. "You will then proceed to the Palace Gate and assemble there silently please. I must impress the need for absolute silence upon you all. It is imperative that our target in the Palace does not realize what is happening. Understood?"
A murmur of assent ran through the Hall.
"Raise your arm, Beetle, so that they all know who you are."
Beetle obeyed, thinking that it was pretty easy to see who he was, as he was the only one wearing an Admiral's jacket. But right then - after learning that Merrin had been living in the Palace for nearly two years and Silas Heap had not noticed - Marcia had a poor opinion of the observational powers of the average Ordinary Wizard. She was taking no chances.
"Beetle, I now declare you to be my Call Out Emissary," Marcia said rather formally. From her ExtraOrdinary Wizard belt she took a tiny scroll tied in a wisp of purple ribbon and gave it to Beetle.
The scroll lay in Beetle's palm, surprisingly heavy for its size.
"Gosh . . ." he said.
"The scroll is a twice-tap," Marcia informed him. "Make sure you hold it at arm's length when it is Enlarging, as they can get a bit hot. Once it's full size, all you have to do is read out what it says. Emissary scrolls are reasonably intelligent, so this one should respond to most things Miss Djinn throws at you. I have given you the adversarial model." Marcia sighed. "I suspect you will need it."