“But how?”

“It is something the Queens pass down one to another.”

“But no one’s passed it down to me.”

Marcellus was soothing. “I know. But I can tell you. That day in the Big Freeze when my Broda could no longer hear a heartbeat, she went to get my sister Esmeralda, who was Queen. I came with Esmeralda because she always panicked in the Queen’s Way. And I watched what Esmeralda did.” Marcellus gave a wry smile. “And what a fuss she made about it.”

“About what?” asked Jenna, irritated. Sometimes she thought that Marcellus enjoyed being obscure.

“I will tell you.”

By the time Marcellus was nearly through his explanation Jenna had a good deal of sympathy with Esmeralda. So did Septimus.

Marcellus finished with, “So now, Princess, you too must enter the Chamber of the Heart.”

Jenna looked at the reddish darkness beyond the two little doors and for a moment wished that she had never asked Marcellus for help. Like most Castle Queens and Princesses, Jenna had a squeamish side to her, and right then she felt quite sick. But she must do what she must do. She took a deep breath, ducked through the low opening and crept inside, where she found the wide, flat rib that Marcellus had described and crawled gingerly onto it. Below her, Jenna now knew, lay the Dragon Boat’s heart.

Following Marcellus’s instructions, Jenna tipped a few drops of the brilliant blue Tx3 Revive onto her palms and rubbed it in. The fresh smell of peppermint cut through the thick, meaty fug of the Chamber and took away her nausea. She reached down into the darkness, and her hand met something firm to the touch, cool but not ice-cold and not, as Jenna had feared, at all slimy. It felt like touching the side of her horse, Domino, on a chilly night. This was, she knew, the Dragon Boat’s heart. Stretching out both hands, Jenna dropped forward and leaned all her weight onto the heart for a few seconds, then released the pressure. She repeated it twice and then sat back and waited. Nothing happened. Jenna counted to ten slowly and did it again. One . . . two . . . three . . . Once more she waited and once again, nothing happened. Jenna dropped forward for a fifth time and leaned all her weight onto the stilled heart, willing it to respond. One . . . two . . . three . . . wait, count to ten, then ready to begin again. Just as she was reaching the end of her count to ten, Jenna became aware of something happening below in the darkness. A flutter, a twitch . . . and then a low, slow ther-umm pulsed through the Chamber. Jenna was out of the doors as fast as she could go.

“It worked!” she whispered excitedly. “It worked. Her heart just did a beat. She’s alive!”

“A true Queen,” said Marcellus, smiling. “No one else could have done that. I suggest we wait for another beat before we close the doors. Just to make sure.”

They waited. And waited. “Two minutes.” Marcellus’s whisper echoed around the cavern after what had felt like at least ten to Jenna. “Three . . . four . . .”

And then at last—another ther-umm resonated through the Dragon House.

“Thank goodness,” whispered Marcellus. “Now, let us quickly close the doors. It is not good to expose such delicate areas to the air.” Marcellus placed his Keye on the doors to lock them once more. “Perhaps you could ice them over, Apprentice,” he said to Septimus.

“An Ice Spell you mean?” asked Septimus, grinning.

“Whatever,” said Marcellus, who, like Marcia, had now caught Septimus’s slang.

Ther-umm came another heartbeat.

Septimus completed his spell and a fresh skin of ice crept across the doors. Marcellus, Jenna and Septimus stepped off the Dragon Boat and walked along the walkway toward the brightness of the snowy boatyard where the small, anxious figure of Jannit Maarten waited. As they stepped down from the marble walkway, a strange sound like the rustling of autumn leaves greeted them—the sound of ghostly applause from the crowd of Queens and Princesses.

Ther-umm.

The ghosts parted to let them through, all passing favorable comments on Jenna’s Queenly abilities. Her grandmother, Queen Matthilda, who had left her daughter sulking in the turret, could resist no longer. She Appeared to Jenna. “Well done, my dear,” she said.

Jenna looked shocked. No ghost of a Queen—apart from the ghastly Etheldredda—had ever spoken to her. There was, as she knew from section 133 in The Queen Rules, a ban on ghosts speaking to Living Princesses and Queens. It was put there for the very good reason that all Queens were convinced that they knew best and would have no hesitation in telling the current incumbent so. But Queen Matthilda—who had watched over her granddaughter since the day she was born—could keep silent no longer. Her granddaughter needed to know she was doing well and Queen Matthilda intended to tell her. She lightly patted Jenna’s arm and smiled. “You will make a good Queen,” she said.

“Oh!” said Jenna. “Thank you!”

Ther-umm.

A sudden gasp from Jannit broke the moment. “My hot pot!” she yelled and took off running across the yard, leaping over the upturned boats, heading for her hut. A cloud of black smoke was billowing from the stovepipe in the roof and suddenly everyone could smell burning.

Septimus went to help.

To the background of sailor’s curses and the sound of a metal pot hissing in the snow, Marcellus and Jenna looked at the Dragon Boat, lying white and majestic in the blue of the Dragon House.

Ther-umm.

“I don’t want to wall her in again,” Jenna said. “I want to be able to come and talk to her. To watch over her, just like Aunt Zelda would do if she were here.”

“I understand, Princess,” said Marcellus, “but perhaps you should seek advice from the Keeper first.”

Jenna was not sure. “Aunt Zelda forgets stuff now,” she said. “I don’t know if she knows what’s best anymore.”

Marcellus was still annoyed with Marcia, but he knew he must give as good advice to Jenna as possible. “Then ask Marcia,” he said. “She will know.”

Septimus took a very reluctant Spit Fyre back to his Dragon Field and arranged to meet Jenna by the Great Arch. Jannit retreated to her hut, locked the door and embarked upon cooking sausage-and-bean hot pot take two.

It was later that evening that Jannit, to her utter dismay, found she had two dragons in the boatyard. Spit Fyre had returned and was sitting, perfectly quietly, at the entrance to the Dragon House. Jannit was not pleased, but there was something about the two dragons together that touched her. It was almost, she thought, as if they were mother and son.

13

WELCOME BACK

Alther Mella, ex-ExtraOrdinary Wizard, ghost and mentor was up in the Pyramid Library with Marcia. Alther’s presence broke the convention that ExtraOrdinary Wizard ghosts did not return to the Wizard Tower, but after her old tutor’s shocking death, Marcia had missed Alther so much that when he was released from his year and a day in the place where he had entered ghosthood, Marcia had asked Alther to come back to the Wizard Tower and to use it just as he had when he was Living. She had never regretted it.

The tall, purple-clad ghost with his white hair tied back in a ponytail was hovering over a large book with tissue-thin pages, wafting them over one by one. He was helping Marcia search for something—anything—that would explain the puddles. It was a thankless task. They had found nothing. But Marcia could not shake off the feeling that deep below the Castle something was going on. It was even giving her nightmares: fires burning out of control and monsters coming out of the deep regularly invaded her sleep.

Marcia knew that everything relating to What Lies Beneath the Castle was stored either in the Manuscriptorium Vaults or in the Pyramid Library. Beetle had done a complete search of that section in the Vaults and found nothing more than his Vent diagram—so whatever information there was had to be in the Pyramid Library.

What puzzled Marcia was that although she and Alther had found nothing positive, they had found some strange absences. In many of the shelf indexes there were unexplained gaps, even complete empty pages. The Alchemie section was almost nonexistent apart from some very basic student primers, and the notes relating the Ice Tunnels went back no further than when they were Frozen after the Great Alchemie Disaster, which was very odd, Alther said, because they were as old as the Castle itself. It seemed to both Marcia and Alther that a large chunk of Castle history had been systematically removed. And Marcia was beginning to suspect that the lack of information about the Fyre and the Vents was linked. They must be, she thought, part of the same system and were therefore removed at the same time. But why?


Tags: Angie Sage Books Septimus Heap Series Books Fantasy Books
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