“Where’s who gone?” asked Jenna.
“You know who, Jens,” said Jo-Jo. “Marissa.”
“What’s it to you?” demanded Marcus, eyeballing Jo-Jo.
“None of your business,” Jo-Jo retorted.
“Hey, Forest boy, don’t get clever with me—”
“Stop it!” said Jenna, stepping between Jo-Jo and Marcus. “She’s gone off with Beetle if you must know.”
“Beetle?” three voices chorused incredulously. “Jeez.” They sloped off disconsolately and resumed their snowball fight, but with a lot more edge.
A succession of good-byes followed until Jenna was left alone with Septimus and Rose.
“Hey, Jen, you okay?” asked Septimus.
“It was great, wasn’t it?”
“Yep,” said Jenna. “I mean, yes, really great.”
“Time we went, Jen,” said Septimus. “Got to get Rose back before her pass expires.”
Jenna had an idea. “If you hurry you can catch up with Beetle.”
Septimus grinned. “Maybe he doesn’t want catching up with, Jen.”
“Don’t be silly, Sep,” said Jenna snappily.
“Ah. Well, g’night, Jen,” said Septimus. “And thanks. Great party.”
“Thank you,” said Rose. “It was really lovely.”
Septimus gave Jenna a hug; then he and Rose wandered off, weaving their way through the sculptures. After following a well-trodden path past the giant frog, a large chicken, a rowboat, a huge crown, three fat bears, a large, rude Water Gnome and something that bore a remarkable resemblance to Marcia Overstrand with a pile of saucepans on her head—much to their amusement—they reached the Palace Gate. In the distance Septimus saw Beetle and Marissa walking arm in arm up Wizard Way. After a few moments’ thought, he took Rose’s arm and followed slowly, in no more hurry than Beetle was.
Jenna felt decidedly unsettled. She looked up at the Palace, which was blazing with light from the candles in the windows, and sighed. It looked beautifully welcoming, but she didn’t want to go to bed. Not just yet. She slipped into the entrance hall and took her thickest fur cloak from the coat cupboard under the stairs. Beside it hung her Witch cloak, which she grabbed and angrily scrunched up into a ball: that was going in the trash. She’d had enough of witches.
Witch cloak stuffed under her arm, Jenna took the path that led round the back of the Palace to the new kitchens where the trash was. As she bundled the cloak into the bonfire bin something brushed against her dress. Jenna looked down. “Binkie!”
Maizie Smalls’s cat stared balefully up at Jenna. Jenna felt a little spooked—Binkie was not the kind of cat you wanted to meet alone at night. If it had been any other lost cat she would have picked it up and taken it into the warmth of the Palace, but there was no way she was going to touch Binkie. Jenna watched the cat stalk off toward the thicket of trees that bordered the Palace gardens. A feeling of unease made Jenna reach into the bonfire bin and take her Witch cloak out again. She threw it over her red fur cloak and set off toward the river—somehow, she didn’t know why, she felt protected by her Witch cloak.
There was a disused jetty just past Spit Fyre’s dragon field where Jenna liked to sit and think, and right now that was where she wanted to be. As she cut across the Palace lawns, Jenna glanced over to the thicket of trees that bordered the Palace grounds. She shivered, and felt glad of her Witch cloak surrounding her like a shifting shadow.
Deep in the darkness of the thicket, Binkie, chief of the Forest Cats and new familiar to Morwenna Mould, the Wendron Witch Mother, was purring loudly. Morwenna stroked the cat and crooned, “Well done, my little spy. Well done.” She eased her bulk off a fallen log and moved silently out of the trees. Morwenna was determined that this time, the Princess would not get away, unlike a few years back, in the Forest.
All Witch Covens crave a true Princess—it gives them great power among other Covens—and Morwenna knew that this was her last chance. Soon enough Jenna would no longer be a Princess and then the Wendron Witches would have to wait for Jenna’s daughter. The Witch Mother smiled grimly. The Wendrons would get in fast next time—CradleSnatching was so much easier. If only she hadn’t once made a promise to that lovely young Wizard, Silas Heap, they would have CradleSnatched this one fourteen years ago. How different things would have been.
Morwenna followed Binkie down toward the river. Tail held high, Binkie tiptoed over the ice-crusted snow while Morwenna sank down so deep that the snow fell into the tops of her boots. As they drew closer to their quarry, Morwenna was shocked to see that the potential Wendron Witch Princess was wearing a Port Witch Coven cloak. She had heard a rumor that Jenna had kidnapped the Coven’s youngest witch and stolen a cloak—and it looked like it might be true. Morwenna smiled. This Princess was going to be worth having.
As Jenna walked below the trees that led to the Dragon Field, her cloak was doing what Witch cloaks do best—blending in with the shadows—and Morwenna could no longer see her. Horrified at losing sight of the Wendrons’ Princess, Morwenna made a decision. She would have to do some FootFollowing.
FootFollowing is an ancient witch skill. It involves following a quarry by stepping into their exact footprint. Once a witch has FootFollowed three consecutive footsteps she knows that her prey can never escape, wherever they go: through the densest forest, up the tallest mountain, under the deepest river. Always, the witch will be Following in their footsteps. Like most witch Magyk, it has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that the witch is sure to find her victim. The disadvantage is that she has no choice but to do so. She must FootFollow in every footstep until she reaches her target. It can at times be dangerous: for example, if the FootFollowed happens to fall off a cliff, the FootFollower will have no choice but to do the same. Morwenna was aware it was not something to be undertaken lightly, but Jenna’s Witch cloak had worried her—there was more to this Princess than she had realized. She must take no chances.
Finding three consecutive footprints was not as easy as Morwenna had expected, because the Witch cloak was doing its job well. As Jenna moved through the snow it had brushed across her footprints, blending them together—as Witch cloaks are meant to do. But Jenna had then stopped to open a gate, and Morwenna got lucky—three perfect Princess footprints planted in the snow. The witch whispered the FootFollow and set off. This, she thought, was going to be a pushover.
It probably would have been a pushover if Morwenna had not been encroaching on dragon territory. While Spit Fyre was perfectly happy to allow Jenna to walk through his Dragon Field—Witch cloak and all—he felt very differently about a real witch.
When one is FootFollowing it is not possible to look up from the footprints. Morwenna’s brilliant blue witchy eyes were fixed firmly on the ground, so she got quite a shock when she suddenly saw planted in front of her two huge green dragon feet with very large claws indeed. (No one cut Spit Fyre’s toenails anymore. Even Billy Pot, the dragon keeper, had given up—they blunted his hacksaw.)
Morwenna said a very rude Forest curse and slowed down—but she could not stop. Her feet were FootFollowing and she was heading straight for the underbelly of a nasty-looking dragon. This was not what she had planned. It was not what Binkie had planned either—tail puffed out like a bottlebrush, the cat shot off into the night.
Spit Fyre snorted threateningly. A tendril of dragon dribble landed on Morwenna’s winter fur cloak and scorched a trail of holes. A nasty smell of burning wolverine hit Morwenna’s nostrils, but she had no choice but to keep on going. With some difficulty, she squeezed beneath Spit Fyre’s tummy and headed for his frighteningly spiky back legs. Morwenna began to feel scared—those spikes were sword sharp. She would be cut to pieces.
After his recent fight with the Darke Dragon, Spit Fyre had grown his adult leg spurs. He was very proud of them, but although they were extremely sharp they were also soft and new, and Spit Fyre did not want a witch anywhere near them. And so, to Morwenna’s surprise and great relief, the dragon carefully lifted his feet and stepped aside. Morwenna was out of the Dragon Field as fast as she could go—but not before a well-aimed stream of dragon spit had hit her squarely on the back. Spit Fyre watched the witch go in disgust, then he took off for the boatyard, where he had taken to spending every night keeping the Dragon Boat company.