Jenna pulled her cloak closely around her and set off slowly along the path, following the tracks she had made the day before, and the days before that. The path on top of the Castle walls followed the curve of the Moat. The Moat slowly folded in toward her, turning always a little to the right like the python in the Marram Marshes. On her right-hand side the path was bounded by the back walls of typical tall, narrow Castle houses, which regularly gave way to unnerving sheer drops that could rapidly deliver the unwary walker to an alleyway twenty feet below. At these points she kept close to the battlements and took care not to look down.
Jenna passed softly—and unknowingly—over the ancient Hole in the Wall Tavern, a popular meeting place for ghosts that was hollowed out in the wall below, and approached a bend in the path. She rounded it and suddenly, laid out below, she saw Jannit Maarten’s boatyard, which was now no more than a collection of boat-shaped snowy mounds. Jenna walked on, following her old, snow-covered footsteps until she came to a widening of the wall, open like a plateau, where her footprints ended in a circle of well-trodden snow. She stopped for a moment and glanced around. The open space was deserted, as it always was. And yet, as she walked slowly forward, Jenna could not shake off the feeling that she was pushing through a crowd.
And she was—a crowd of ghostly Queens, Princesses and Princesses-in-Waiting were waiting anxiously for her. With each careful step that Jenna took, the ghosts of her grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts and great-aunts fell back to avoid being Passed Through. Ghostly violet eyes followed their descendant as she made her way slowly to an icy spot in the middle of the space from which the snow had been scraped away. Jenna stopped, shivered, looked around once more, then took a few steps across to the battlement at the edge of the wall. She leaned over and looked down to check she was in the right place—just in case she had got it wrong. Some six feet below she saw a burnished gold disc set into the wall. Jenna stood back from the battlements and sighed. She was in the right place; of course she was. The crowd of royal ghosts parted as she returned to the icy spot, kneeled down and began to unlace her fur-lined winter boots.
High up in one of the houses set back from the path, Jenna added one more to her audience—a small boy. He peered out of an attic window and saw the Princess. Again. Soon he was joined by his mother and grandmother. Noses pressed against the glass, they watched the Princess take off her boots and a pair of furry purple socks, then stand barefoot on the cold stones.
“See, I told you she did that,” whispered the little boy.
“Oh, dear,” whispered the mother. “I do hope she’s not going to be a crazy one like that Datchet.”
“Shh,” scolded the grandmother. “She’ll hear you.”
“Of course she won’t,” retorted the mother.
But down in the crowd of ghosts, the ghost of Queen Datchet III did hear. It is a fact that those who have been a little paranoid in Life develop a wonderful ability in ghosthood to hear their name mentioned many miles away. But Jenna heard nothing—neither the mother in the attic nor the sound she longed to hear—the ther-umm . . . ther-umm . . . ther-umm of the Dragon Boat’s slow but steady heartbeat, pulsing through the stone and the soles of her feet as it always had—until the last few days. Jenna willed herself to feel that unmistakable thump. She thought of the Dragon Boat lying beneath the path, immured in her lapis lazuli Dragon House. She remembered the last time she had seen the Dragon Boat. In her mind’s eye she could still see the great green dragon head resting on the marble walkway that ran along both sides of the barrel-vaulted Dragon House, and the thick dragon tail coiled like a massive green rope, laid on the marble ledge that ran along the back wall. Jenna remembered how perfect the boat had looked—so beautifully repaired by Jannit Maarten—and yet how limp and lifeless the dragon had been.
And then Jenna thought about how Aunt Zelda had still not let her have the Transubstantiate Triple bowls so that she could use the Revive she had gotten from Broda Pye so long ago. A wave of exasperation washed over her, but Jenna pushed the bad feelings aside, took a deep breath and emptied her mind of everything—everything except what she could feel through the soles of her feet. She stood stone-still, silent, immersed, but once again, she could feel nothing at all.
In the attic room the three watchers fell silent. The grandmother knew what the Princess was waiting for. She had not lived above the Dragon House without thinking about the beautiful Dragon that lay beneath and, especially on long, cold winter nights, wondering if the creature was still alive. And that was exactly what Jenna was wondering now.
The ice numbed Jenna’s feet but still she waited for a small ther-umm of hope. A sudden gust of bitter wind blew a flurry of snow off the battlements; it sprinkled her bluish toes with icy white frosting and Jenna realized that her feet had gone numb. There was no hope of feeling anything now. The wind—or something—brought tears to her eyes. Slowly she kneeled down, pulled on her furry socks and her brown leather boots. She stood up, irresolute for a moment and then, watched by the family far above, and the ghosts of fifty-four Queens, Princesses and Princesses-in-Waiting, she began to retrace her snowy footsteps.
The small boy watched Jenna go. “She looks sad, Gramma,” he whispered.
The grandmother watched Jenna walking slowly back along the path, her red cloak a splash of color against the monochrome whites and grays of the snow-covered walls and the dark Moat and wintry trees beyond.
“Yes, she does,” the grandmother agreed. “It is not good for the Princess to be so sad.”
Marcia watched Terry Tarsal wrap up her new shoes in his special By Appointment to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard gold tissue paper.
“Thank you, Terry,” she said. “You’ve done a lovely job.”
Terry glowed with pride. It wasn’t often Marcia handed out praise. “It’s been a real pleasure, Madam Marcia; it’s always nice to do something special. I think the glitter really adds something to them. And I just adore the little bit of blue fur peeking out at the top. Inspired.” Terry sighed as he put the neatly wrapped shoes into a smart gold box. “These have been a lifesaver. I’ve had twenty-nine pairs of brown galoshes to waterproof for the Ramblings Roof Gardening Society. Highly depressing.”
“I can imagine,” said Marcia. “Nothing worse than galoshes.”
“Especially brown ones,” said Terry, tying his best bow around the box with the dark blue ribbon he kept for special customers. He handed the package to Marcia, who took it excitedly. “That will be half a crown, please.”
“Goodness!” Marcia looked shocked but she handed over the exact money. It was worth it.
Terry quickly put the money in the cash register before Marcia had the chance to change her mind. “Going somewhere nice this evening?”
Marcia was. Milo Banda had asked her to accompany him to a new show at the Little Theater in the Ramblings, but she wasn’t about to let Terry know. “That’s for me to know and you to wonder, Mr. Tarsal,” she replied. Feeling flustered at the thought of the evening, Marcia hurried off. The door threw itself open and she rushed out.
Terry Tarsal went pale. He knew exactly what had happened. It was the wretched kids next door. They’d done it again. They had moved the puddle cover. Terry rushed outside to find his worst nightmare. His most prestigious customer was up to her neck in icy, muddy water right outside his shop. She didn’t look too pleased about it.
“Get me . . . out!” spluttered Marcia.
Terry was small and thin but he was stronger than he looked. He grabbed hold of Marcia’s arms and pulled hard. Marcia landed on Terry with a soft, obliterating therwump.
“Oof!” gasped Terry.
Marcia picked herself up and, like a large purple dog, shook as much water as she could off her Magykal cloak. Painfully, Terry crawled over to the puddle and extricated the gold shoebox floating forlornly on top. He should have known that a week occupied by twenty-nine pairs of brown galoshes was not going to end well.
Terry got to his feet. “I am so, so sorry, Madam Marcia. It’s this blasted puddle. I’ve tried filling it in. You wouldn’t believe the amount of trash I’ve put down there, but it just stays right there—a great big hole filling up with water. I don’t understand. We shouldn’t even have puddles at this time of year.” Terry looked down at the soggy gold mess in his hands. “I’ll make these as good as new for you, I promise.”