“I’m fine, Nicko love. Thank you. Now, where’s this wonderful supper?”
While the Forest Heaps cooked fish for Sarah and Silas, down on Snake Slipway another supper was in progress. Marcellus, Simon and Lucy were sitting in the long, narrow dining room that ran from the front to the back of the house, at an equally long, narrow table lit with so many candles that Lucy found it hard to see anything in the glare.
“I have some bad news,” Marcellus announced.
Simon looked at Lucy anxiously. He still expected things to go wrong, and he braced himself, thinking that Marcellus was going to say that he no longer wanted him to be his Apprentice.
“The Alchemie Chimney has fallen down,” said Marcellus.
“It’s the frost,” Lucy said. “The mortar won’t set.”
“So they say,” said Marcellus gloomily.
“You need to put heaters inside the scaffolding tarpaulin,” said Lucy.
Marcellus looked suddenly attentive—why hadn’t the builder thought of that? “And you should make them build it like CattRokk lighthouse,” Lucy added.
“Yes. CattRokk has huge granite blocks as foundations, then bricks. They get smaller as they go up. You need the lower part of the chimney to be a good wide base for the upper part.”
Marcellus was impressed. So much so that by the end of the evening, Lucy was in charge of building the Alchemie Chimney. Later, as they walked across the road back to their little house, Simon said proudly, “There’s no way the new chimney will fall down, Lu. Not with you in charge. It wouldn’t dare.”
While Sarah fretted about her Forest sons leaving, the one group of Heaps who Sarah would have been very happy to wave good-bye to showed no signs of wanting to go. In fact, to Sarah’s dismay Ernold and Edmund Heap showed every sign of wanting to stay—permanently. They found themselves a suite of rooms at the far end of the Palace and set up camp, as Sarah put it. “The trouble is, Silas,” Sarah said one afternoon, “we can’t say we don’t have the room, can we?”
“We won’t when we move back home,” said Silas. “They’ll have to go then.”
The morning after the supper by the river, Silas was due at the Wizard Tower on Seal Watch. Sarah begged him to take Ernold and Edmund with him. “They are driving me nuts, Silas—they follow me everywhere and they don’t stop talking. All I want is a quiet morning in the herb garden without having to listen to a comedy double act.” Silas dutifully took his brothers along to the Wizard Tower. He signed them in as visiting Wizards—which they both claimed to be—and left them to explore the open areas of the Tower. Half an hour later, when he had finished his Watch, Silas found himself in trouble.
Head fuzzy from staring at Magyk, Silas emerged to find an angry Marcia Overstrand waiting for him with Edmund and Ernold standing sheepishly at her side.
“Are these yours?” Marcia demanded, as though Silas had left a pair of smelly socks on the floor.
“Er, yes. I signed them in,” Silas had to admit.
“As visiting Wizards?” Marcia sounded incredulous.
“As indeed we are, Madam,” Edmund piped up.
“Totally, utterly and entirely at your service, ExtraOrdinary Madam,” Ernold supplied.
“I am not an ExtraOrdinary Madam,” said Marcia severely. “I am an ExtraOrdinary Wizard. Silas, before signing people in as visiting Wizards I would expect you to at least check that they are bona fide Wizards. As these two persons”—with some effort, Marcia fought off the urge to refer to the visitors as idiots—“clearly are not.”
“Oh, but we are,” chorused the twins.
“We trained with the Conjurors of the Calm Green Seas . . .”
“. . . in the Wayward Islands of the West.”
“Absolute rubbish!” said Marcia.
“No, we did.”
“Really, we did. Honest.”
“You misunderstand me,” said Marcia. “I meant that Conjuring is rubbish. It is mere trickery and bears no relation to Magyk. I do not doubt you know a few tricks—the singing pink caterpillar infestation in the fourth-floor communal houseplant is testimony to that—but that does not make you Wizards. Take them home, Silas. At once.”
The thought of what Sarah would say if he returned with Edmund and Ernold after only an hour made Silas brave. “Marcia, my brothers are not here for long—”
“Oh, but we are,” said Edmund.
“No, you’re not,” retorted Silas. He turned to Marcia. “My brothers would dearly like to learn about Magyk. Education is one of the purposes of the Wizard Tower, isn’t it? They are willing to take their turn in all tasks and they humbly apologize for the caterpillars—” Silas kicked Ernold on the shin. “Don’t you?”
“Ouch!” said Ernold. “Yes. Absolutely. Edmund didn’t mean to do it.”
“But I didn’t do it!” protested Edmund.
Marcia looked at the squabbling brothers. “How old are you?” she inquired.
Silas answered for them. “Forty-six, believe it or not. Marcia, please let them stay. I think it would be really good for them. I will never let them out of my sight, I promise.”
Marcia considered the matter. Recently Silas had been frequenting the Wizard Tower on a regular basis. He had told Marcia that so very nearly losing the Tower to the Darke Domaine had made him realize how much he valued the place. Marcia knew that Silas had taken more than his fair share of the unpopular Seal Watch and there was a chronic shortage of Wizards available to do it. She supposed that even a couple of Conjurers might be trained to Watch. Marcia relented.
“Very well, Silas. I will ask Hildegarde to issue each of them with a Visitor Pass. It will restrict them to communal Wizard facilities only. You can train them as Watchers and they can take their turn, providing they pass the elementary Watch test.”
“Oh, Marcia, thank you,” said Silas. It was more than he had hoped for.
“My condition is that you must, as you promised, accompany them at all times. Is that understood?”
Silas smiled. “Yes, it certainly is. Thank you so much.”
THE ALCHEMIE CHIMNEY
Septimus’s vacation flew by and soon his month was nearly over. The Big Thaw set in. Sarah Heap had been dreading it—now there was nothing to keep her Forest boys in the Castle. But determined not to think about it, Sarah busied herself by trying to organize all the “Coronation Clutter,” as she called the multitude of offerings that were still arriving. Sarah was particularly pleased when she saw her old friend Sally Mullin coming up the drive—Sally always took her mind off things. Sarah hurried to the entrance hall, past the huge pile of “Clutter” watched over by a rather disapproving Sir Hereward. Barney Pot was on weekend door duty, sitting on a tall chair, happily swinging his legs and reading his new comic from the Picture Book Shop.
“Don’t worry, Barney,” Sarah told him. “I’ll get the doors.” She pulled them open and a gust of wind blew in. Sarah and Barney shivered. It was a dismal, raw day. “Come in, Sally, it’s so nice to see you, I’ve been—”
“Comptroller,” Sally began hurriedly in an oddly strangled voice. “I bring you this Wonder for the Coronation. We, the family Mullin, are honored to be the Keepers of the Coronation Biscuit Tin and as is our bounded duty since Time Began, we now present this to thee, Oh, Comptroller, for its sacred duty. Safe Journey.” Sally handed over a very battered golden tin, which sported a beautifully engraved crown on its lid.
Sarah took the tin. “Oh!” she said, nearly dropping it. It was heavy. Clearly it was made from solid gold.
Studiously avoiding Sarah’s amused gaze, Sally bowed three times and then walked backward across the plank bridge. As soon as she reached the other side, her suppressed giggles erupted and both she and Sarah collapsed in laughter.
“Oh, Sally,” gasped Sarah, “I had no idea. Come in and have a cup of herb tea.”
Sally scurried gratefully back over the bridge. “Ta. It’s perishing out here. Blasted biscuit tin weighed a ton, too.”
The slamming of the Palace front doors woke Septimus, who was sleeping in a large room at the front of the Palace. Blearily, he sat up in the creaky old bed—yet another dream of the red eye of Fyre still vivid in his mind—and remembered that it was the last day of his vacation.