Chapter 33 Thieves in the Night

As Jenna and Septimus stood on the lonely slipway, the dark waters of the Moat to their right and the spreading Darkenesse of the Castle all around them, they heard an echoing, flip-flapping noise coming toward them.

"Quick, Jen. Let's get back inside."

Jenna nodded. The noise sounded horribly like an approaching Thing. Septimus was fumbling with the key when a voice called out, "Apprentice! Apprentice!"

The flustered figure of Marcellus Pye, with one shoe looking like a dog had mangled it, appeared from a gap between two houses and hurried toward them. "Thank goodness you are here." He bowed slightly to Jenna, as he always did, and then succeeded in annoying her - as he always did. "Princess. I did not recognize you at first. You do realize you are wearing the cloak of a true witch?"

"Yes. I do, thank you," said Jenna. "And before you ask, the answer is no, I will not take it off."

Marcellus surprised her. "I should hope not. It may prove useful. And you will not be the first Witch Princess in the Castle."

"Oh." Jenna was not entirely pleased. She had rather assumed that she was the first Witch Princess.

"Marcellus," said Septimus urgently. "Jenna needs to stay somewhere safe. I thought your SafeChamber - "

Marcellus did not let Septimus finish. "It is not safe here, Apprentice. Miss Djinn knows I have a SafeChamber - all Chambers are declared to the Chief Hermetic Scribe - and I fear our Chief Hermetic Scribe has already given away our secrets." Marcellus shook his head sadly. He hated to see what had happened to the Manuscriptorium. "There are Things abroad already," he continued. "They will come here soon enough, and Princess Jenna will be trapped like a rat. We must go somewhere the Darke Domaine will have trouble finding."

"But the Darke Domaine is spreading fast," said Septimus. "It will soon be everywhere. Jenna should leave the Castle."

"Sep, I'm actually still here," said Jenna, annoyed. "And I am not leaving the Castle."

"Quite right, Princess," said Marcellus. "Now, I believe that the Domaine will have some trouble getting into the Ramblings, and even once it's inside it will not find it easy to spread. So I suggest we head there and . . . what is that Young Army term, Apprentice?"

"Regroup?" Septimus offered.

"Ah, yes. Regroup. Ideally, what we need is an overlooked little fleapit down a dead end, with an outside window."

Jenna knew exactly where to find one. She pulled out the key that Silas had given her not so very long ago.

"What's that?" asked Septimus.

"It's a key, Sep," teased Jenna.

"I know it's a key. But where to?"

Jenna grinned. "An overlooked little fleapit down a dead end, with an outside window," she said.

Marcellus Pye closed the door of his house behind him with a sigh and looked up at his dark windows. Septimus had insisted he blow out all his candles and it had made him feel quite depressed.

"Come now, we must go," said Marcellus.

"I'll Call Spit Fyre," said Septimus. "Something must have spooked him. He can't have gone far."

Marcellus looked doubtful. He'd got along just fine without dragon flight for more than five hundred years and he wasn't in a hurry to change things. But Septimus was already letting out the ululating Call, which reverberated off the densely packed houses on Snake Slipway and made the Alchemist shiver. It was a primeval sound, Marcellus thought, one that went back way beyond Alchemie.

They waited nervously on the slipway, glancing at the shadows, imagining movements.

After a few minutes Marcellus whispered, "I do not believe your dragon is coming, Septimus."

"But he has to come when I Call," said Septimus, worried.

"Maybe he can't, Sep," whispered Jenna.

"Don't, Jen."

"I didn't meant that he was . . . well, I . . ." Jenna stopped. She could see she was only making things worse.

"Dragon or no dragon, we can wait no longer," said Marcellus. "With care we can travel short distances through the Darke Domaine. My cloak has certain . . . abilities, shall we say, and you, Apprentice, have a small tinderbox that may prove useful." Jenna shot Septimus a questioning look. "And you, Princess, will be protected well enough with your membership of . . ." Marcellus peered at the markings on her witch cloak. "My, you don't do things by halves, do you? The Port Witch Coven! Now, we must go. We will travel by the Castle Canyons."

"Castle Canyons?" asked Jenna, who liked to think she knew most things about the Castle. "I've never heard of them."

"I suspect not many Princesses ever do. Although now you have other, er, allegiances, you might find that will change," Marcellus said with a smile. "The Canyons are not, shall we say, salubrious places. Those using them generally have reasons to hide. However, I know them well and we can slip through the night unnoticed. I am much practiced at the art."

That did not surprise Jenna. Marcellus threw his long black cape around himself with a dramatic swirl and, equally theatrically, Jenna followed suit with her witch's cloak, pulling the hood over her head to cover her gold circlet. Compared with his companions, Septimus felt a little conspicuous in his Apprentice green. He followed in their footsteps, feeling like an apprentice thief shadowing his masters.

Almost immediately Marcellus ped into a tiny gap between the houses. An ancient sign half hidden behind some ivy announced its name: SQUEEZE GUTS OPE. With the rough bricks snagging at their cloaks, they threaded their way through the warren between the jumble of houses that were packed in behind Snake Slipway. Their footsteps made no noise as they trod on years of leaves, moss and the occasional soft mound of a small dead animal. Feeling like a small animal himself scuttling through its burrows, Septimus kept glancing up, hoping to see the sky. But the dark of the moon and the snow-laden clouds gave nothing away. Once or twice he thought he saw a star, only to be obscured by the black shape of a chimney or a twist of a roofline as he turned yet another corner. The only light came from the comforting glow of his Dragon Ring as he held his right hand out in front of him.

As they went deeper in, the Canyons narrowed, sometimes so much that they were forced to walk sideways, squeezing past towering walls that threatened to press them flat. Septimus had an image of them squashed between the walls like the dried herbs Sarah Heap kept between the pages of her herb book. He longed to be able to stretch his arms out wide in all directions without his knuckles hitting brick, to be able to run freely in any direction he wanted to, not crawl like a crab between rocks. With every step he felt as though he were going deeper into a place from which he would never escape.

Septimus tried to take his mind off the encroaching walls by looking out for lighted candles in windows but there were hardly any windows to see. The sheer sides of stone rising up on either side blocked any view, and few people had put a window in a wall that looked out onto another wall no more than an arm's length away. But once or twice Septimus saw the telltale glow of a candle way up above them, shining onto the opposite wall, and his spirits raised a little.

At last they followed Marcellus into a wider gap and the Alchemist raised his hand in warning. They stopped. At the end of the gap was a bank of Darke Fog - they had reached the edge of the Darke Domaine.

Jenna and Septimus exchanged anxious glances.

"Apprentice," said Marcellus, "it is time to open your tinderbox."

Jenna watched with great interest as Septimus took a battered tinderbox from his pocket and pried off the lid. She saw him draw something from it, but what it was, she could not tell. He muttered some strange words that she could not catch and threw his hands upward. She got the impression that something floated down very slowly and settled onto him, but she couldn't be sure. He looked no different. In fact, it seemed more like a mime than anything else - the kind of thing they had had to do in drama classes in the Ramblings Little Theatre, which Jenna had always found rather embarrassing.

However, Marcellus and Septimus seemed satisfied, so Jenna guessed something must have happened. And then she did notice a change - the light from Septimus's Dragon Ring seemed more fleeting somehow, as if thin gauze was moving across it. And, when she looked at Septimus and tried to catch his eye, she realized that something about him eluded her. He was there, and yet he was not there. A little spooked, Jenna stepped back. Sometimes she felt Septimus was part of things that she would never fully understand.

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