“But—”

Marcia cut in. “If you were with them at all times then that makes you an accomplice, does it not?”

All Silas could do was to shake his head.

“You understand that breaking your Induction vows can lead to permanent Barring from the Wizard Tower?”

Silas nodded miserably.

“And I assume you are aware that the Barring of a Wizard will also affect their immediate family?”

Silas was horrified. “No! No, you can’t make Septimus suffer for my stupid mistake.”

“I don’t make the rules, Silas. If you are Barred, then it is highly probable that Septimus will find he cannot access the arcane secrets of the Tower. This will mean that, should he wish it—and right now I don’t know if he ever will—he will never be able to become ExtraOrdinary Wizard. He will be Tainted by you.”

Silas groaned.

“It’s not fair, but that’s how it goes. You know that. There would be nothing I could do about it. The Tower has a mind of its own, and the deepest Magyk is not available to all. Why do you think we still have a Wizard Tower after it was inhabited by DomDaniel? He never got to its heart. Never.”

Silas was aghast. “You can’t lump Septimus in with that awful old Necromancer!”

“Of course I don’t. But the Wizard Tower might.”

Silas put his head in his hands. What had his brothers done?

Marcia spoke. “I want you to know that it is only for Septimus’s sake that I am not Barring you from the Tower.”

Silas sat up. “You’re not?”

“I’m not. I give you my word. So I suggest you try to fix things as soon as you can.”

Silas felt bleary, as though someone had hit him on the head. “Fix what?” he asked.

“Come on, Silas. Now you have my word that I’m not going to Bar you—and I keep my promises—you can be straight with me. You knew what Ernold and Edmund were planning. You’re their brother, they’ve been living with you, working with you—of course you knew. Just tell me where they are and what they’ve done with it and all will be fine.”

Silas leaped to his feet. He had had enough. “Knew what?” he demanded. “Done with what? Marcia, what are you talking about? What have my idiot brothers done?”

At last Marcia was convinced that Silas had no part in his brothers’ deed.

She stood up and looked Silas in the eye. “Edmund and Ernold have stolen the Two-Faced Ring.”

26

BAD TIMING

The door to the Sealed Tunnel in the Wizard Tower swung to and fro like a broken window in a hurricane as the last eddies of Magyk drained away. A somber group of senior Wizards stood at the door, waiting until it was possible to close it once more. It was essential that the tunnel be drained of all contamination before it was ReSealed.

Septimus—extricated from the Pyramid Library—was there. It was important, Marcia had told him, that he saw the correct procedure for DeContaminating. Marcia had then hurried off to the Stranger Chamber where, Septimus guessed, she had the culprit.

Bernard Bernard—a big bear of a man with squashy features and dishevelled hair—appeared. “Anyone need a break?” he inquired. And then, seeing Septimus, he added sympathetically, “Ah, hello, lad. Don’t you worry, now. He’ll be all right.”

“Who’ll be all right?” asked Septimus.

Bernard Bernard suddenly realized that Septimus did not know that Silas was in the Stranger Chamber. He looked embarrassed. “Ah. Well, I meant to say, we’ll be all right. All of us.”

“So Marcia’s got the you-know-what back?” someone inquired. (Some of the more superstitious Wizards considered it bad luck to name the Two-Faced Ring.)

“Just being, er, optimistic,” Bernard Bernard flannelled.

“That’s a no, then,” observed the Wizard. A sigh ran through the group.

“It’s those two idiot Heaps in there, is it?” asked another, and then glanced apologetically at Septimus. “Sorry, Apprentice. I forgot.”

“That’s okay,” said Septimus. He wished he could forget.

“Not sure how many exactly,” said Bernard Bernard awkwardly. “Must go.” And he hurried off.

An embarrassed silence descended, broken only by the mournful squeak that the door to the Sealed Tunnel had developed: eek-erk, eek-erk, eek-erk.

Marcia was determined that to any visitor to the Wizard Tower it must appear to be business as usual. It was Septimus’s job to deputize for her, so when Hildegarde came to tell him that there were some important visitors for Marcia and would he come now, please, he felt very relieved to leave the group of Watchers.

Septimus found Marcellus and Simon sitting on the visitors’ bench next to the discreet door to the Stranger Chamber—and he knew what they had come for.

Marcellus got straight to the point. “Septimus. You know that I would normally be very happy to deal directly with you. But as I am sure you realize, this particular errand demands I speak to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard herself. Is she available?”

Septimus felt very uncomfortable. He wanted to say to Marcellus, No, she’s not, she’s in a real panic, someone has stolen the Ring, but of course he couldn’t. “Well . . . um,” he began, “Marcia is busy at the moment.” He decided to buy some time. “Would you like to come upstairs to her rooms?”

Marcellus was dismayed; he knew that Septimus was not telling him something. His hopes for complete trust between the Wizard Tower and the Alchemie began to falter. Marcellus had somewhat grumpily accepted Septimus’s offer when the door to the Stranger Chamber was thrown open and Marcia strode out.

“Marcia!” said Marcellus leaping to his feet. “Got you!”

Marcia jumped. “Ah!”

Silas appeared tentatively around the door.

“Dad!” gasped Septimus and Simon together.

“Oh,” said Silas, feeling as though he had been caught red-handed.

Marcellus had seen the panic that had flashed across Marcia’s face when she first saw him. “Marcia,” he said, “I thought you’d be pleased to see me. The Fyre is lit. All is now ready for the DeNaturing of the Two-Faced Ring.”

“Jolly good,” said Marcia.

“I was just taking Marcellus and Simon upstairs,” Septimus told Marcia, “so you can talk to them in private.”

But Marcia could not bear the thought of having to tell Marcellus that the ring had gone. “Tomorrow,” she said.

“Tomorrow?” Marcellus and Septimus chorused, one indignant, the other shocked.

“Tomorrow,” said Marcia. “Now excuse me, Marcellus, Simon. I really must get on.” Silently, she gave the password to the Wizard Tower doors and they swung open. The fresh outside air drifted in.

Very deliberately Marcellus looked Marcia in the eye. “To save me another wasted journey, I would be most grateful if you would send someone with the ring when you find . . .” He paused meaningfully.

“Find what?” Marcia dared him.

“The . . . time. Good-bye, Marcia.”

“Bye,” said Septimus apologetically as the doors swung silently closed, leaving Marcellus and Simon standing on the top step.

“Well!” Marcellus exclaimed.

Alchemist and Apprentice walked swiftly across the Courtyard and emerged from the Great Arch. A gust of wind blew up Wizard Way and Marcellus raised his cloak to shield himself from the chill—and eavesdroppers.

Marcellus had not defeated all eavesdroppers, however. Not far above him—returning to the Wizard Tower after a fruitless aerial search of the Castle—flew the Unseen ghost of Alther Mella. Alther had a Wizard’s mistrust of Alchemists and he wondered if Marcellus had anything to do with the theft of the ring. Now, he thought, was the time to find out. Still invisible, Alther swooped down low and followed Marcellus and Simon, flying no more than a few feet above their heads.

“She’s lost it,” he heard Marcellus say in a low voice.

“I thought she was quite calm, really,” Alther heard Simon reply. “I’ve seen her much worse than that.” Not entirely successfully, Alther fought back a laugh. Simon glanced up. “There’s some weird birds about,” he said, puzzled.

Marcellus looked at his Apprentice sternly. “Simon, right now there are far more important things to think about than wildlife. I meant that I believe our ExtraOrdinary Wizard has lost—” Marcellus stopped and looked around. “It,” he whispered.

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