“It usually is, Sep,” said Jenna with a smile, “especially when you’re telling it. Come on, then, let’s get somewhere warm. And there’s someone else who’d like to hear the story too,” she added mysteriously.
Jenna set off along the winding Queen’s Way, which was quiet and still after the blustery harbor front and carried no sound from outside. She hurried forward and Septimus, Simon and Jim Knee followed in single file, their footfalls quiet on the smooth mosaic. Soon they were around the first bend and another line of candles sprang alight, illuminating the next stretch of the alleyway. This way and that the Queen’s Way took them until they had lost all sense of direction. As they rounded yet another bend Septimus—who was now a little taller than Jenna—could see over her shoulder to a wide wooden door, which formed the end of the alley. From a small window in the middle of the door shone a bright yellow light. The light grew brighter as they approached and soon Jenna was taking a large golden key from her pocket, unlocking the door and holding it open.
“Welcome to my Port Palace,” she said.
They stepped inside. A few fat candles on a table lit a wide passageway—which Jenna called the cross passage—with a warm glow. In the dim light Septimus could see that to his left was an ancient screen of dark wood carved with a series of crowns and initials, in the middle of which was an ornate door covered in gold leaf that glowed a deep red gold in the light of the candle flames. To his right was a plainer wooden screen, which had two smaller doors set into it.
Jim Knee put his hand out to touch the right-hand wooden screen, which was warm from the heat of the kitchen behind it—as he knew it would be. The jinnee felt a little strange. He took advantage of his Master being occupied to lean against the warm wood and think. Sometimes the incessant clatter of humans, particularly young ones, was too much for the jinnee and he longed for some stillness. The shadows of the cross passage gave him just that.
Septimus had forgotten about Jim Knee. He and Simon followed Jenna along the passage and watched her turn left, as he expected she would—nowadays Jenna and gold seemed to go together. He saw Jenna lean on the gold-leaf door and give it a shove. The door protested with a creak—as Jim Knee knew it would—and reluctantly opened a little. Jenna put her head around the gap and yelled, “Hey! Guess who I’ve found!” Then she turned to Septimus. “Come on, Sep. Push.”
Together they pushed the complaining door open to reveal an ancient hall, as tall as it was wide, with finely carved oak timbers soaring up into the shadows of the roof. Layers of woodsmoke hung in the air, blurring the light from candles placed in alcoves in the walls and giving the place a mysterious air. A blazing log fire in a wide, low-arched fireplace set into the right-hand wall threw a semicircle of light into the gloom—and standing in the middle of the light was Nicko. Grinning.
Septimus was amazed. “Nik! What are you doing here?” he asked, hurrying across to his brother.
Nicko looked amused. “Same as you both, I should think. Pootling around the Port minding my own business—well, Jannit’s business, actually. Bumped into Jenna.”
“The Queen’s Way from our Journey Palace came out here,” said Jenna. “See that cupboard?” She pointed at a small cupboard near the fireplace, with faded gold letters that read UNSTABLE POTIONS AND PARTIKULAR POISONS. “I was expecting to end up at home, or maybe at Aunt Zelda’s, so I was really surprised. I had no idea where I was. I had a look around, and eventually I found the way out along that alleyway. I was so relieved to find I was in the Port. And then I saw Nik and it was so good to talk to someone normal again.”
Nicko grinned. “There I was, looking forward to a nice, cold night on the supply boat when I got dragged back to yet another Palace—sheesh, how many do you need—to hear all about Mama.”
“Aha, Mama,” Septimus said. “I’ve not heard about her yet.”
“You will,” said Nicko with a grin.
“No, you won’t,” said Jenna sternly. She joined them by the fire and threw herself down on the pile of cushions in front of it. “Not unless you tell me what’s going on first. Sit down, Sep. Simon. Spill the beans.”
Septimus held his hands out to the fire to warm them. “This is so weird, Jen. I’ve never seen this place before. Where actually is it?”
“You know the last of the really old houses on the waterfront? Just before you get to the beach?”
“I think so . . .”
“There’s a boarded-up old warehouse just past them—well, it looks like an old warehouse. But it isn’t. It’s a façade built around this place. Listen. We’re right by the beach; you can hear the waves outside.”
The hall fell silent and they listened. Septimus realized that the background sound he had thought was the hissing of damp logs on the fire was actually the muffled swash of waves on the shore.
“Okay, Sep,” said Jenna. “Now tell me what’s going on.”
And so Septimus explained all that had happened since Jenna had left the Palace for her Journey. At the mention of her uncles, Jenna exclaimed, “I’m not surprised. I thought there was something weird about them.”
Septimus shook his head. “I think they were just unlucky, Jen. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shamandrigger Saarn and Dramindonnor Naarn were—”
“Shh!” hissed Simon. “Don’t say their names.”
Septimus laughed. “I didn’t know you were superstitious, Simon. That’s witchy stuff.”
“No, it’s . . .” Simon looked around; he could not get rid of a feeling of being unsafe, sitting with his back to the room. “Darke stuff too, you know,” he whispered. “Names matter. You know that, Sep.”
Jenna looked surprised at the new familiarity between her brothers.
Septimus remembered his own Darke name, Sum. “Yeah. Okay,” he admitted.
To the background of an increasingly noisy sea crashing onto the beach outside, Septimus told the whole story of the Two-Faced Ring—apart from one thing. He didn’t want to spook Jenna. But she knew.
“But it’s not only Merrin who’s the bait, is it, Sep?”
“Well . . .”
Jenna got out her little red book and with a practiced ease of one who knew her way around it backward, she flipped to a page titled Feuds and Enemies and passed it to Septimus.
It was a long list and Septimus wondered about the confrontational nature of some of the Queens. But he did not have to look far—right at the top of the list were the names of the Ring Wizards. “Ah,” he said.
“I know about the Queen shooting them both in the heart, Sep,” said Jenna. “I know it was her ring they were Committed to. I know they swore revenge on her descendants. And, right now, I know that means me.”
Everyone looked around uncomfortably. Hearing Jenna say what they all knew made it sound far too real. Jenna lowered her voice. “This place is kind of creepy. I reckon something bad happened here and that’s why they closed it up.”
Nicko lightened the atmosphere. “Doesn’t it say in your Queen instruction manual, Jen?”
“If you are going to be rude, Nicko Heap, I won’t tell you about my Journey. Or anything else, for that matter.”
“Oh, go on, Jen. You know you want to tell us.” Nicko’s stomach rumbled loudly. “You know,” he said, “the weird thing is I can smell roast potatoes.”
Jim Knee had once spent a short but not unpleasant life as a jinnee-cook in a Palace kitchen. As soon as he walked into the cross passage, Jim Knee knew he was back. After getting over his shock, Jim Knee remembered how much he had enjoyed his time there—until the very last ten minutes. And so, when Jenna, Septimus and Simon had gone into the hall, Jim Knee had taken a deep breath and, remembering the motto—in left, out left—he had pushed open the little left-hand door and stepped into the kitchen.
A trail of goose bumps swarmed over Jim Knee’s skin as he had walked into the room. It smelled the same. It looked the same. It was the same. This was where he had spent twenty years of his last life and to Jim Knee’s surprise, all was exactly as he had left it.
Because there was a Queen-to-be in residence, the kitchen and all its contents, like the candles in the Queen’s Way, had Magykally come to life. Jim Knee wandered around, looking at everything he remembered so well, and very soon he was pottering happily. He found a large roast chicken and a pile of cooked potatoes exactly as he had left them, and set about carving the chicken and roasting the potatoes using his high-speed fire method, which worked well and left surprisingly few scorch marks on the wall.