“Things end, Silas Heap,” said Cerys. “Things begin. It is the way of the Castle. The way of the world.”
Sarah was becoming increasingly agitated. “What do you mean?” she burst out.
“I mean that today things begin.”
“What things?” demanded Silas.
“That is not for you to know, Silas Heap.”
Silas thought differently. “If it affects our daughter, it most certainly is for us to know.”
The Heaps were not quite what Cerys had expected. She had assumed that they would curtsy and bow respectfully, gratefully hand over her daughter, and she would see no more of them. Cerys felt quite rattled: when she had been Queen no one would have dreamed of speaking to her like that—especially Sarah and Silas Heap. Stranded at the doorway by the sheer amount of junk she would have to Pass Through in order to go any farther into the room, Queen Cerys raised her voice and spoke very slowly.
“It is time for our daughter to go on her Journey,” she said.
“What journey?” Sarah demanded. “Where?” Memories of a similar visit by Marcia Overstrand to take Jenna away from their room in the Ramblings some four years in the past had come flooding back. “You can’t just come here and take Jenna away. I won’t allow it; I won’t.”
“It is not for you to allow or disallow, Sarah Heap,” Queen Cerys informed her.
Milo watched in dismay; he had become very fond of the Heaps and did not like to see them upset. He had forgotten quite how bossy Cerys was. Time had thrown a rosy hue over his life with her—now he remembered why he had gone away on so many voyages. Milo was back to his role of fifteen years ago: smoothing the waters. He threaded his way across the room to the upset Heaps.
“Silas, Sarah,” he said. “Please don’t worry. All Princesses go on a Journey with the ghost of their mothers before they become Queen. They go back to where their family came from, I believe.”
This did not make Sarah feel any better. “Where on earth is that?” she asked. “And how does Jenna get there? How long will she be away?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Milo. He shrugged just like Jenna, thought Sarah. “It’s Queen stuff,” he said with a rueful smile. “They do a lot of that, you’ll find.”
Jenna pushed past a stack of washing and hugged Sarah. “Mum, it’s okay. Milo’s right; it is Queen stuff. And that’s what I have to do. You know I do.”
“I know, love.” Sarah noisily blew her nose into a large handkerchief and woke Ethel. Since the Darke Domaine the duck was easily frightened, particularly in Sarah’s sitting room. Ethel now launched into full-scale panic. A frantic quacking filled the room and the duck rose up, flapping her little bony wings. She careered across the tiny room, bouncing from Milo’s head to washing pile to flowerpot stack, and shot out of the door, Passing Through the astonished ghost of Queen Cerys.
The ghost of the Queen had never been Passed Through before. It is a shocking experience for any ghost the first time it happens, particularly when the Passer-Through is a hysterical duck. Queen Cerys fell out of the room with a groan and Milo rushed after her.
Jenna had a few moments with Sarah and Silas. “Mum. Dad. You mustn’t worry. I will be fine. I know she—I mean, my mother, the Queen—seems a bit . . .”
“Rude,” Silas supplied.
“Yes,” Jenna admitted. “But she hasn’t spoken to anyone for ages and I think things aren’t quite what she expected.” Jenna took a deep breath. She felt excited at what she was going to say. “And I think I am going to be Queen soon.”
Sarah nodded. “I think so too, love.”
“Yes. I can tell. There is something different about you. I do understand that The Time Is Right.”
Hearing this from Sarah made Jenna feel relieved and happy. “You don’t mind?”
“Of course we don’t. We knew it would happen one day. Didn’t we, Silas?”
Silas sighed. “Yes, we did.”
Milo appeared anxiously at the door. “All right?” he asked. “Ready?”
“Yes.” Jenna nodded. “Bye, Mum. Bye, Dad. I’ll be back soon.” She hugged them both hard, then Sarah and Silas watched Jenna pick her way across the room.
Queen Cerys’s pale hand stretched out toward Jenna. Jenna turned, blew Sarah and Silas a kiss and then she was gone.
Tactfully, Milo slipped out, leaving Sarah and Silas together. There was a long silence in the sitting room.
After a while, Silas said gruffly, “I’d better go and find that blasted duck.”
Now that it was known that the Princess was gone on her Journey, a strange collection of objects and people began arriving at the Palace.
Never a day went by when Sarah Heap was not called to the entrance hall—always hoping it would be Jenna—only to find someone holding some kind of pot, box or bizarre object. At the sight of Sarah the person would make a formal bow and say: “Comptroller, I bring you this Wonder for the Coronation. We, the family (insert family name here) are honored to be the Keepers of the Coronation (insert description of object here, e.g. trumpet, fire shovel, broom, eggcup, shoehorn, stuffed ferret) and as is our bounded duty since Time Began, we now present this to thee, O Comptroller, for its sacred duty. Safe Journey.” The donor would then bow three times, walk backward across the Moat bridge, taking care not to fall prey to the snapping turtles—and once out of role, he or she would either give Sarah a cheery wave and shout “Good luck!” or scuttle off in embarrassment.
Sir Hereward, on guard in the shadows, faithfully awaiting Jenna’s return, had seen it all before. He watched the arrival of each object with approval, pleased to see the old traditions continuing. He was less pleased to see the precious objects carelessly thrown into an ever-increasing pile beside the doors.
Sarah had become almost used to the visitations. She had given up telling people she was not the Comptroller—whatever that was—she had even stopped telling people she was not going on a journey, thank you, when she realized it referred to Jenna’s Journey, but she wished they would stop. As soon as she had begun to do something she would hear the tinkling of the bell in the entrance hall. If she ignored it the duty doorperson would come and find her—because no Keeper would leave without personally handing the object over to “the Comptroller.”
Sarah could not help but be anxious about Jenna, but she did her best not to show it. She wanted her four Forest boys to enjoy their time “back home,” as she called it. Sarah nursed hopes that they might decide to stay, so she tried to hide her fears. But Nicko understood how his mother felt. He knew how much she had fretted when he had been lost in another Time and he wanted to make things up to her.
A few nights after Jenna had gone, Sarah was sitting at her window watching darkness fall. It was a bad time of day for Sarah—yet another night was drawing in and she could not help but wonder where Jenna was and what she was doing. As Sarah gazed out toward the river, she saw lights flickering by the Palace landing stage. Excited, she sprang to her feet. Jenna was back already! She ran out of the room only to cannon straight into Nicko.
“Oof! Hello, Mum. Good timing,” said Nicko with a big smile.
“She’s back,” said Sarah. “What a relief.”
“Oh, that’s brilliant. Sam’s got plenty of fish.”
“Fish?” Sarah was flummoxed.
“It’s a surprise, Mum. We’re having a Forest supper. For you.”
“Down on the riverbank. See?” Nicko pointed to the lights outside.
“Oh.” Sarah gazed out at the lights. Now that she looked closely she could see the burly figures of her four Forest sons tending a fire and yes, standing beside the river, holding lanterns, were Simon and Septimus talking to Silas, Edmund and Ernold.
“Mum, are you all right?” asked Nicko.
Sarah shook off her disappointment. She knew that only a few months ago if someone had told her that she would have all her boys with her, safe and happy, she would have been ecstatic. Count your blessings, Sarah Heap, she told herself sternly. And smile.