Keeping to his resolve to be straight with Jenna, Milo had something to admit. “Well, I almost did. Actually, I’m sure I would have done. But luckily your mother reminded me. It’s something you want to get right the first time. There’s not always a second chance with a witch.”
Jenna knew she’d been lucky: she had escaped from the Port Witch Coven once and from the Wendrons twice now. “Third time unlucky,” was another well-known witchy saying. But something Milo had said did not make sense to Jenna. And as he seemed to be actually answering her questions for once, she asked,
“What do you mean, my mother reminded you?”
Milo looked at Jenna with an odd expression in his eyes. She seemed so young to him, too young. But what did he know? The Queen was always right. “Jenna, your mother, or rather the ghost of your mother, is here.”
“There.” Milo gently guided Jenna around so that she was looking toward the Palace.
“Oh!” Jenna gasped.
Standing on the riverbank at the far end of the landing stage was the ghostly figure of a young woman wearing the long red robes of a Queen.
Milo asked softly. “Shall we go and meet her?”
Jenna was lost for words. She nodded.
Milo put his arm around Jenna’s shoulders and together they walked toward the ghost. As they drew nearer Jenna saw that her mother was just as she appeared in her dreams. She was surprisingly young, her long dark hair was caught up in a golden circlet, and her large, violet eyes did not leave her daughter for a moment.
With every step Jenna took, she felt as though she were walking out of one life and into another. The ghost of Queen Cerys stretched out a translucent hand and in response Jenna held her hand out to meet it, careful to allow the ghost to make the first touch, if she wished. Cerys did wish. She placed her hand on Jenna’s and Jenna felt something fleeting, like a warm breeze on a winter’s day.
“Daughter . . . dearest. My . . . Jenna.” It was hard for Cerys to say Jenna’s name, because it was not the one she had chosen for her. Milo and Cerys had decided that Jenna would be named after her two grandmothers, but the Naming Day had never happened.
Jenna stood silently. She did not know what to call her mother. “Mother” felt too formal, “Mum” was Sarah Heap and “Cerys” felt too much like a friend.
The ghostly Cerys guessed what Jenna was thinking. “Perhaps you would like to call me Mama?” the ghost asked.
Jenna was not sure. Mama sounded kind of babyish. “I . . . I don’t know.”
Cerys withdrew her hand and looked downcast. “Of course. You already have a Mama. For more than fourteen years you have lived your life with another family. A family that I would never, ever have . . .” The ghost’s voice became faint with emotion. Marcia’s selection of Sarah and Silas Heap as adoptive parents had horrified Cerys when she had first found out from the ghost of her own mother—who had wholeheartedly approved. “They will love her as their own,” Queen Matthilda had told her grieving daughter. “And that is the most important thing for a child.” But Cerys did not agree, and the choice of the Heaps still rankled.
Milo could see that Cerys was working herself up into what he used to call one of her “states.” “What’s done is done,” he said quietly. “The Heaps are a good family. And it is your time now, Cerys.”
Jenna watched her parents together with a feeling of disbelief. Ever since she had been given The Queen Rules on her fourteenth birthday, she had known that one day soon she would meet the ghost of her mother, but she had never expected to see her mother and her father together as a couple. It was a shock. There was none of the easy, happy banter that she was used to between Sarah and Silas. Jenna at first supposed it was because one of them was a ghost, but they seemed to slip into their roles with such ease that she began to suspect that they had always been like this—her mother edgy, and her father conciliatory.
Milo’s soothing words had their intended effect and Cerys calmed down. The ghost held out her hand to Jenna, saying, “Come, daughter, we have a Journey to make.”
Jenna was not surprised—a Journey was mentioned in the Arcane section of The Queen Rules, although no details were given. She wondered where the Journey would take them. She placed her hand into the shadow of her mother’s and allowed the ghost to lead her along the riverbank toward the Palace. Milo watched his daughter and the ghost of his wife walk away together, then set off after them at a discreet distance. He sighed, overcome as Jenna had been earlier, by the sense of what-might-have-been.
Sarah and Silas were dozing by the fire in Sarah’s sitting room. Ernold and Edmund Heap had long gone to bed but Sarah knew that Jenna was still out, and I can’t go to bed until I know she is safely home, Silas. You go on up without me.
But Silas had stayed with Sarah. He wasn’t going to leave her alone in that sitting room ever again. So when the door creaked open and Silas looked up to see Jenna peering round, he nudged Sarah.
Sarah opened her eyes and smiled at Jenna. “Nice time?” she asked.
Jenna did not return her smile. She came into the sitting room and—using the tone that announces something no parent wants to hear—she said, “Mum. Dad.”
Sarah and Silas were on their feet in an instant. “Ohmygoodnesswhatisit?”
In reply Jenna stepped to one side and pushed the door behind her wide open.
“Oh!” gasped Silas.
“Your . . . Your Majesty,” said Sarah. “Oh . . . my.”
“Sarah Heap. Silas Heap.” The ghost of Queen Cerys smiled uncertainly.
“Oh, Your Majesty. Please come in.”
The ghost drifted into what had once been her (immaculately tidy) sitting room and stared at the chaos in horror. Sarah saw the Queen’s gaze settle on the remains of that night’s supper, which was piled on the floor beside the fire, and she quickly threw a towel over it. A red stain from some pickled beetroot (Silas loathed pickled beetroot) spread up through the towel as though someone had shot it. And that made Sarah even more embarrassed. She glanced at Queen Cerys, trying unsuccessfully not to look at the great dark bloodstain over the ghost’s heart.
“Um . . . Mum, Dad,” Jenna said again, not knowing where to start.
“Yes, love?” Sarah said anxiously.
“My mother. The Queen. She has something she would like to say to you and Dad.”
“Oh, dear . . .” This was a moment that Sarah had been dreading—the moment the past came back to haunt them.
“It’s nothing bad, Mum,” Jenna said hurriedly. “Really.”
Sarah was not convinced.
Queen Cerys looked upset—she could not believe what Sarah Heap had done to her beautiful sitting room. Was this how her daughter had lived too? She was silent for a moment as she tried to compose herself. Sarah and Silas waited nervously.
“My husband and I . . .” the ghost began, and then turned and beckoned someone in from the corridor. “Come in,” she said, a little impatiently, Sarah thought. Milo squeezed in through the door and tried to hold it open with the fluffy pink rabbit doorstop, with little success. With some difficulty, he found a place to stand, wedged between two stacks of dog-eared romance novels, which were liberally splattered with duck poo. The ghost started again. “My husband and I wish to thank you both, Sarah and Silas Heap, for looking after our daughter.”
Sarah glanced at Silas. She didn’t like Jenna being described as someone else’s daughter. Silas raised his eyebrows in response. Neither did he.
The ghost continued. “We are both deeply grateful for the love and care you have given her. And we are well aware of the hardships that have befallen you as a result of your guardianship . . .”
Sarah flashed a look of dismay at Silas. They were not Jenna’s guardians—they were her parents.
“. . . of our daughter. We trust those difficulties are at an end and that you will now be able to resume your simple, yet happy life.” Silas let out a spluttering sound. Sarah looked like a goldfish that had been thrown out of its bowl.
Silas spoke for them both. “Your Majesty, Jenna has brought us nothing but good. And we have always considered Jenna to be our daughter. We always will consider Jenna to be our daughter. Nothing is at an end.”