Ten minutes later Jim Knee pushed his way into the hall carrying a huge plate of cold chicken and hot roast potatoes. He paused a moment and studied the smoke-filled room. It was the just the same: the soaring beams, the inefficient fire, the crest on the massive lintel above it. Jim Knee gritted his teeth and inspected the wall behind him. Yes, there it was—low down, carved into the plaster in old-fashioned angular writing:
HAS A BIG BUM.
IF SHE EATS ANY MORE
SHE’LL GET STUCK IN THE DOOR.
Jim Knee harrumphed quietly to himself. He was surprised to find that it still annoyed him. He remembered the little brat of a Princess who had taken a dislike to her—for Jim Knee had been a her in that life. He remembered how the child had very carefully written the graffiti in her best pen and made sure she, Miss Tallula Crum, a cook of generous proportions—and portions—had seen it. And how the Queen had insisted it stay because “children must be allowed to express themselves.”
Jim Knee set his plate of chicken and potatoes in front of the fire. He offered it to all, as a jinnee is bound to do, but to his relief there was plenty left for him. And so, to the background swash of the waves outside and Jim Knee’s quiet sucking of chicken bones, Jenna began the story of her Journey.
“Well, after she, I mean my mother, the Queen, nearly had a fight with Mum—yes, Sep, she was really rude to Mum—we went up to the Queen’s Room, like I expected, and through the Queen’s Way. Only we didn’t come out at Aunt Zelda’s, we came out into . . .” Jenna shook her head in disbelief. “Oh, it was so weird. One minute I was in a tiny dark cupboard with the ghost of my mother; the next I was standing in a boat.”
“Yep. And not just any old boat. It was amazing. Long and narrow with a sweeping-up pointy thingy at the front—all right Nik, a prow—covered in gold. The inside of the boat was all shiny and black and there was a big red canopy at the back with lots of tassels hanging down from it. Underneath the canopy were three chairs, just like these . . .” Jenna waved her hand at the line of little red-and-gilt chairs that were set back against the wall.
“Two of the chairs were empty but sitting on the right-hand one was an oldish lady—a Queen—who had spoken to me at the Dragon House. I was really pleased to see her; I felt like I had a friend there.
“My mother took my hand very formally, like we were at a dance or something; she led me to the chairs and we both sat down. It was then I realized something really amazing. She wasn’t a ghost anymore—my mother was alive! I didn’t know what to say—I kind of wanted to jump up and hug her but she just sat on her chair and smiled at me like I was some kind of visiting aunt or something. But the old lady put her hand on mine and squeezed it and said, ‘Hello, Jenna, dear. I am your grandmother and I’ve been so looking forward to this.’
“I must have looked really shocked because she said, ‘Do not worry. We’ve all been on the Journey. It was just as strange for me.’ Which was lovely, but my mother still said nothing, which upset me. I’ve always been disappointed that she had never Appeared to me at home but since I read The Queen Rules, I knew there was a reason for that. But now there was no excuse for her being so distant with me. My grandmother seemed to understand, though. She kept hold of my hand and squeezed it tight. Oh, Sep, she was lovely.
“Anyway, I decided that if my mother was going to be so stuffy with me then I would be the same way with her. So I got into Princess mode and sat on my dinky little chair, looking around me like I did this kind of thing every day. I decided to try and figure out what was going on. The first thing I realized was how hot it was. I longed to take off my winter cloak but I was determined not to move a muscle before my mother did. We were definitely at sea because I could smell the salt in the air, but it was weird, because it wasn’t like the sea at all. It was so flat that the surface looked like it had a skin over it and it glistened like a mirror. But I couldn’t see much more than that because we were surrounded by mist with just a pool of light around our boat. The light came from two big candles, one in a lantern set high on the prow and the other in a lantern behind us set on a smaller prow—yes, Nicko, I know it’s not a prow at the back, but you know what I mean. Sternpost? Okeydokey, sternpost, then.
“The boat was being rowed by four men—two at the back and two at the front—dressed in black and gold with funny red hats a bit like Mum’s gardening hat. They were standing up and had long oars that they kind of twisted into the water. The boat moved very smoothly and I could tell we were making good progress because through the mist I suddenly saw a glow from a flame about six feet off the water. We went past it quite fast and along came another and another, and I realized we were following a line of lights. I felt a bit less scared then, because the boat had felt really flimsy to be out at sea and I was relieved that we must be near land.
“Soon I saw some beautiful buildings a little bit like the Palace, only taller and much thinner, looming out of the mist. They went right down to the water and had big striped posts in front of them that glinted in the sun that was beginning to break through the mist. The oarsmen steered our boat through a line of gold-and-red posts and up to a landing stage in front of a big archway. My mother stood up. She arranged her cloak and spoke to me for the first time since we had arrived.”
“What did she say?” asked Septimus.
“‘We are here,’” said Jenna, pulling a face.
“Nice,” commented Nicko.
“Yeah. The oarsmen helped my grandmother, then my mother, then me, out of the boat and we walked up some wide pink marble steps into a massive hall that smelled of damp stone and seaweed. It was so cool in there and such a relief not to be boiled like a lobster anymore! The hall was totally empty and I guessed it was because the sea often came up into it, because the old stones were shiny with water. But even though it was just a bare space, it looked full because it was made with hundreds of different kinds of marble laid in complicated patterns. The walls had kind of wavy stripes in lots of different colors and the floor was laid with a black-and-white pattern that kept zigzagging in front of my eyes. So we walked through the hall in a kind of weird procession with my grandmother at the head of it, then my mother and then me. We went up an amazing wide staircase, each step a different colored marble but all with wavy black stripes running through them. By the time I got to the top I felt really sick. I must have looked pretty green or something because my grandmother took hold of my arm and said, ‘Cerys, Jenna is exhausted. She must rest.’
“My mother looked a little annoyed, I thought, but she nodded and said, ‘Very well, Mama, I am sure you know best as always. I shall see you in the morning . . . Jenna.’ She always said my name like it made a bad taste in her mouth.
“My grandmother took me to a long narrow room that led off from the big upstairs hall. She was really sweet and told me not to worry and that ‘everything is just as it should be, Jenna dear.’ The bed was cold and lumpy, and when I lay down it smelled damp, but I didn’t care. I was so tired and I just longed to be back home with Mum and Dad and wake up to find that this was all a dream.
“When I did actually wake up, I thought for a moment that I was in a dream. But it smelled so different from home—so damp and old—that I soon remembered. I tried to get back to sleep but I couldn’t, so I decided to explore. Someone had lit a candle and left it on a table by the door, so I took it and crept out of the room.
“Once I was out of my stuffy room and in the upstairs hall, I felt quite excited. It was much nicer being on my own and not feeling upset all the time about my mother. So I decided to look around. It was dark and my candle didn’t shed much light but I could see delicate old chairs and tiny sofas, each with a table, set along the walls between the massively tall double doors that opened off. On every table burned a candle so I could see the walls really clearly, especially as they were covered in gold leaf, which shone even though I could tell it was very old. It was a beautiful place.”
“Palace,” Nicko said, grinning. “Another one.”
Jenna stuck her tongue out at her brother. “Yes, Nicko, another Palace. One needs at least three. So anyway, rude boy, I decided to head for the huge window at the end of the hall and see what was outside. I tiptoed past beautiful paintings hung all over the wall—all of people who looked a little bit like me, I thought. But they weren’t Queens or anything special, just people in all kinds of old-fashioned clothes. And as I went by I felt like they were all looking down at me, kind of saying hello. It was weird, but nice too because I began to feel that I belonged, that somehow I was part of this place just as much as I was part of the Castle back home.