"Oh . . ." Jenna did not know what to say. It was as if Aunt Zelda knew about her Port Witch Coven cloak hanging in the cupboard.

"Now, Jenna dear," said Aunt Zelda, "tell me all about it."

Jenna put some more coal on the fire. It was going to be a long evening.

Chapter 49 The Chief Hermetic Scribe

It was MidWinter Feast Day. Jenna looked out the Palace ballroom window and watched the snow falling fast, covering the lawns, festooning the bare branches of the trees and obliterating all traces of the Darke Domaine. It was beautiful.

Jenna was hosting a MidWinter Feast. She was determined to get rid of all traces of the Things in the Palace and she had decided that the best way to do that was to fill it with everyone she cared about. Silas, Sarah and Maxie had come over from the Ramblings. After a tearful reunion - on Sarah's part, anyway - between Ethel and Sarah, they began to help Jenna get the Ballroom ready for that evening. There was, Jenna said, a lot to do.

Silas smiled. "That's just what your mother would say," he said.

The winter morning drew on. Snow piled up outside the long windows, while the Ballroom was transformed with holly and ivy, red ribbons, huge silver candlesticks and a whole box of streamers that Silas had been keeping for a special occasion.

At the other end of Wizard Way, the Pick for the new Chief Hermetic Scribe was underway.

The previous afternoon Marcia had successfully gathered all scribes together in the Manuscriptorium. In a solemn ceremony she had placed the traditional enamel Pot on the table in the Hermetic Chamber, and then each scribe had gone in and put his or her Manuscriptorium pen into the Pot. The Pot had been left in the Hermetic Chamber overnight, and Marcia had spent an uncomfortable night in the Manuscriptorium guarding the entrance to the Chamber.

Now it was time for the Pick. All the scribes had gathered, robes freshly washed, hair combed. They filed into the dimly lit Manuscriptorium, glancing at each other, wondering who among them would be the next Chief Hermetic Scribe. Partridge had been running bets but no clear favorite had emerged.

A small, beautifully patterned square of carpet had been laid on the floor and Marcia told the scribes to gather around. The older ones looked puzzled - there had been no square of carpet at the last Pick.

Marcia began with a few carefully chosen words about Jillie Djinn, to which the scribes listened respectfully, and then she made a surprise announcement.

"Scribes. It has been a terrible time and, although most have weathered the storm, some people did not. Our thoughts go out to all who have lost anyone."

There were sympathetic glance at scribes who still had relatives and friends unaccounted for. Marcia waited a little and then continued.

"However, I do believe good has come of this. Since The Great UnDoing yesterday, we in the Wizard Tower have seen many stubborn pockets of Darke Magyk disappear and I think the same will have happened here. We have, I hope, at last got our Magyk back in balance with the Darke."

Marcia paused as a small round of applause broke out.

She continued. "During the last few days in the Wizard Tower, when I was trying to find a way to defeat the Darke Domaine, I made many important discoveries. One of them affects us all here today. Recently, in my opinion, the choice of Chief Hermetic Scribe has not been exactly . . . ideal. I believe there may be a reason for this. Over the years the Hermetic Chamber has seen much Darke Magyk, and I suspect the Pick has become corrupted. Now, with everything back as it should be, I am expecting the Pick to take a different form and give us a true result."

The scribes glanced at each other. What did Marcia mean?

Marcia allowed her comment to sink in and then she announced - loudly, to quell the murmuring - "Will the youngest scribe please step forward?"

Romilly Badger, blushing bright red, was pushed forward by Partridge and Foxy.

"Go on," whispered Partridge. "You'll be fine. Really, you will."

"Romilly Badger," said Marcia, sounding very official. "As youngest scribe I ask you to enter the Hermetic Chamber and bring out the Pot."

A muttering spread around the room. Normally the youngest scribe was told to bring out the pen that lay on the table, not the Pot.

"These are the original words as laid down in The Undoing of the Darkenesse," Marcia told the scribes. "And if - as I hope - the Pick has reverted to its original form, there will be one pen only left in the Pot, with the rest thrown out onto the table. The pen in the Pot will belong to your next Chief Hermetic Scribe. Of course, if there is only one pen on the table and all the rest are in the Pot, then we will have to accept that choice as we have done in the past - though personally I believe this method to be flawed. Does everybody agree?"

There was some general muttering and discussion, the upshot of which was agreement.

"So, Romilly," said Marcia, "if there is only one pen on the table, you will bring that out. But if there is a pile of pens, bring out the Pot. Understand?"

Romilly nodded.

Marcia carried on with the prescribed words.

"Romilly Badger, I ask you to do this so that the new Chief Hermetic Scribe may be lawfully and properly Picked. Do you accept the task? Yea or Nay?"

"Yea," whispered Romilly.

"Then enter the Chamber, scribe. Be true and tarry not."

Romilly walked self-consciously into the seven-cornered passage. After what felt like an hour - but was less than a minute - her footsteps were heard coming back along the passage. A spontaneous round of applause broke out when she appeared carrying the Pot.

Marcia broke into a broad grin. She had instantly regretted her words about the Pick, thinking that if the old method remained, then whoever was Picked would not have total authority. But now all was well. The Pick had reverted to the true method and all that remained was for Romilly to take the pen from the Pot.

"Scribe Romilly, place the Pot on the carpet," said Marcia.

Hands shaking, Romilly put the pot down. It stood tall, its ancient dark blue enamel pitted and worn.

"Scribe Romilly, place your hand in the Pot and draw out the pen."

Romilly took a deep breath. She didn't want to put her hand in the Pot - she could not get out of her head thoughts of large, hairy spiders lurking inside - but she bravely reached into the cold, dark space.

"How many pens are there?" Marcia whispered.

"One," Romilly whispered back.

Marcia felt relieved. The Pot had worked.

"Scribe Romilly, take out the pen and show it to the scribes."

Romilly took out a beautiful black onyx pen with a swirling jade green inlay.

"Scribe Romilly, read the name scribed upon the pen."

Romilly peered at the pen. The convoluted swirls made it very difficult to tell what the name actually was.

"A candle, someone please," said Marcia.

Partridge grabbed the candle and held it up so that Romilly could read the letters. Foxy saw the pen clearly for the first time and the blood drained from his face. The next moment there was a crash. Foxy had fainted.

Marcia had a bad feeling. Foxy had recognized the pen - surely the new Chief Hermetic Scribe could not be Foxy? Surely not.

Forgetting the formal language of the Pick, Marcia said urgently, "Romilly - whose pen is it?"

"It says . . ." Romilly squinted hard. "Oh! I see. It says Beetle!"

A loud cheer broke out from all the scribes.

Foxy had a tiny room in a grubby part of the Ramblings and he'd invited Beetle, summarily evicted from his room in Larry's Dead Languages, to sleep on his floor until he found somewhere to live.

When Foxy burst in, red-faced from running all the way from the Manuscriptorium, Beetle was busy scraping some burned soup off the bottom of the pan. He hadn't known it was possible to burn soup - there was more to cooking than he had realized.

"Wotcha, Foxo," he said, a little preoccupied. "So who's the next boss, then?"

"You!" yelled Foxy.

"Barnaby Ewe? Oh well, could be worse. I think I've killed your saucepan. Really sorry."

Foxy rushed over to the tiny sink and grabbed the pan out of Beetle's hands. "No, you dingbat - it's you. You! Beetle, you are Chief Hermetic Scribe!"

"Foxy, don't kid around," Beetle said, irritated. "Give me that pan. I was cleaning it."

"Bother the stupid pan. Beetle it is you. Your pen was Picked. It was, Beetle. I swear it."

Beetle stared at Foxy, pan scourer dripping in his hand. "But it can't have been. How could it get into the Pot?"

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