There would be, thought Marcellus grimly. “Indeed?” he said coolly. “Is thirteen significant?”
“You tell me,” said Beetle.
Marcellus said nothing.
Beetle continued. “Now, if we place the tracing over the Vent diagram, like so . . . we can see that each red dot is on top of the end of a line on the diagram.”
“So it is,” murmured Marcellus. “How very interesting.”
“And I presume each line ending is a Vent.”
Marcellus shrugged. “Whatever a Vent is.”
Beetle knew he had to keep cool, but it was not easy. Fighting to keep any vestige of irritation out of his voice, he continued, “I—we—believe that the note is indeed from you and we believe that you wrote it to Julius Pike. FYI is, as I am sure you do actually remember, archaic shorthand for ‘For Your Information.’ Marcia and I are convinced that there is a connection between these puddles and the Fyre in the Great Chamber of Alchemie. We would like an explanation as to why the puddles occurred before the Fyre has even been lit. Before, in fact, the Chamber was opened.”
For a few seconds, Beetle thought he had done it.
Marcellus sighed and said, “Indeed, there is a connection. Perhaps I may demonstrate?”
Marcellus took a pen and proceeded to add a series of thick black crosses to the red dots on Beetle’s Castle plan. He then joined them up so that they formed a wavy line that meandered from the South Gate by the river to the Wizard Tower.
“You will find that all these places will have melting snow,” he said, looking at Beetle over the top of his spectacles. “You will also see that by no means all these spots have a—what do you call it—a Vent beneath them as shown on the diagram. It is an unfortunate coincidence that the ones you have found just happen to be above one of these Vent things. Whatever they may be.” He shrugged. “Coincidences happen.”
Marcellus took off his spectacles and looked up. “Dragon blood.”
“Dragon blood. After his fight with the Darke dragon, Spit Fyre left a trail of blood from the South Gate to the Wizard Tower. Each red dot, and now each cross, marks a spot of blood. You will find the snow has also melted at every cross I have drawn. I agree there is a link between the opening of the Chamber and the melting snow, but only insofar as that the flight made by Spit Fyre led to us being in the happy position of being able to do this at all.” Marcellus looked at Marcia. “No doubt you know all about the eternal heat of dragon blood?”
Marcia was not sure she did, but she was not going to give Marcellus the satisfaction of admitting it. “Of course I do,” she snapped.
Marcellus knew the interview was at an end. He took off his spectacles and put them back in their red velvet case. “Dragon blood is a wonderful thing, but it does have a tendency to lead to puddles in snow, which is most annoying for those who fall into them. I suppose your shoes were ruined, Marcia?”
“How did you know I—”
Marcellus stood up. He had won and he wanted to get out of Marcia’s study as soon as possible. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have important work to continue. I hope next time we meet it will be to do the job that we all wish to do—DeNature the Two-Faced Ring.”
Marcia opened the study door. “Yes, indeed.” She took a deep breath and said, “I apologize for interrupting your work, Marcellus. I’ll see you out.”
Beetle sat down with a sigh. Quietly, he put the Vent diagram and his tracing, now covered with taunting black crosses, back in his folder. He had made his first mistake as Chief Hermetic Scribe. It was not a good feeling.
Marcia returned without Marcellus. Beetle leaped to his feet. “Marcia, I am so sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about, Beetle,” said Marcia. “It’s all for the best. Marcellus knows we have our eye on him now. Please do not let this put you off. You must let me know about anything else suspicious—anything at all.”
Beetle felt very relieved. “Yes. Yes, of course I will. I will check out all the crosses he made.”
“Thank you, Beetle. Now I think we have both earned a strong cup of coffee.”
By the time Marcia escorted Beetle down the stairs he felt a little less embarrassed about the interview with Marcellus. As they spiraled down into the vaulted space of the Great Hall, Beetle saw that something had caught Marcia’s attention: Milo Banda was coming out of the duty Wizard’s cupboard.
Beetle saw Milo catch sight of Marcia and stop dead. Milo dithered. It seemed to Beetle that Milo wanted to skip back into the cupboard but was unsure whether Marcia had seen him. Marcia decided it for him. She jumped from the stairs and set off across the Great Hall at top speed. Beetle kept a tactful distance—something was going on, but he wasn’t sure what.
Milo was floundering. “Marcia, how nice. Goodness. Fancy seeing you here.”
Marcia looked confused. “I generally am here. This is where I live. And where I work.”
“Yes, yes. Of course. What I meant was that I didn’t expect to bump into you.”
“No. I, um, have some business here. A small project of mine.”
“Oh. You never said. I might have been able to help.”
“No . . . no, I don’t think so.”
“But of course, er, thank you for the offer. I do hope you understand,” Milo said anxiously. “I didn’t want to disturb you. I know how busy you are. That’s why I come here in the mornings.”
“Er, yes. Hildegarde said it was the best time.”
“Yes. But of course if you prefer I can see Hildegarde other times.”
“It matters not a jot to me when you choose to see Miss Pigeon,” Marcia said icily. “However, I will be having words with Miss Pigeon about using work time for social engagements.” Marcia turned on her purple python heel and strode off.
Milo caught up with her at the foot of the stairs. “But it’s not a social—”
Marcia glared at Milo. “I find that I have other commitments this evening. Double speed!” The stairs did Marcia’s bidding and took her whirling upward. A distant scream followed by a thump came from somewhere far above as a Wizard was thrown off by the sudden change of speed.
Beetle and Milo watched Marcia’s purple cloak disappear.
“Bother,” Milo said. “Bother, bother, bother.”
“I’ll second that,” said Beetle.
On the way back to the Manuscriptorium, Beetle saw Jenna’s distinctive red cloak going past the Manuscriptorium, and he decided to take a detour to check out the nearest of Marcellus’s crosses. After a fruitless hour he discovered that the three closest to the Wizard Tower were not possible to verify. Two were on top of roofs and one was actually inside a building. He suspected that the others would be the same. Beetle walked slowly back to the Manuscriptorium. He knew that Marcellus Pye was up to something. But what was it?
Sarah Heap was fiddling around in the herb garden potting shed when Jenna let herself into the garden from the side gate. From Jenna’s expression Sarah knew what the answer to her question would be, but she asked anyway.
“Hello, love. Any luck?”
“Well, it’s so cold. Look at the frogs.”
“Frogs? What frogs?” Jenna sounded touchy.
“Exactly—what frogs. They are all hiding in walls, asleep. Their hearts hardly beat at all in the winter, you know. And the Dragon Boat, she’s cold-blooded too, like a frog.”
Jenna was indignant. “She’s nothing like a frog, Mum.”
“Well, obviously she doesn’t look like one but—”
“And anyway, I heard her all through the last Big Freeze and the one before. I’m worried that the Darke Domaine might have seeped into her somehow.” Jenna took out a tiny blue glass bottle. On its small brown label was written: Tx3 Revive. “I’ve had this for so long now and every time I tell Aunt Zelda that we should use it and revive the Dragon Boat properly she makes an excuse. But I am not being put off any longer. I am going to see Aunt Zelda. Right now.” Jenna strode off.