However mad or bad the person was, whatever crime they had committed in the Port or were planning to do in the Castle, they were unfailingly polite and grateful to Julius’s mother, Martha Pike. She would sit them down by the kitchen fire and feed them a hot drink and a mutton pie, no questions asked. In return they would give her a little “merchandise” and tell the young Julius stories of their adventures, keeping the inquisitive child amused for hours. It was a Wizard— indulging in a little part-time smuggling—who had first awakened Julius’s interest in Magyk and who had told him what his mother already knew—that he had a Magykal gift. And so, at the age of fourteen, Julius Pike had left the farmhouse for an Apprenticeship at the Wizard Tower and had, for the first time, traveled to the Castle overland. But when he was homesick he would—like Tallula Crum’s little scullion-boy—Bolt home to see the orchards and eat a mutton pie.

And now he was back in the Bolt once more. The ghost hurried along, heading toward the Castle. He felt quite disturbed by the trail he was following. It was Darke and full of what his mother used to call Bad Intentions.

A ghost can move a great deal faster than two exhausted human beings and it was not long before Julius Pike heard the pitiful moans of Edmund and Ernold. The ghost hung back and Listened.

It was then Julius realized that he was not the only one following them. Beneath the malevolence of the Ring Wizards and the despair of the Heaps, he caught a whisper of something else: the presence of an ancient entity. As the ghost wafted along, slowed by the pace of the two failing humans in front of him, Julius pondered what the entity could be. There was a strange sound to it, a rhythmic rattle, which intrigued him. It sounded oddly insectlike and yet there was something old and wise and human about it. It puzzled Julius for some time as he followed the twists and turns of the tunnels and the gasps and groans of the Heaps. It took the ghost a few miles to figure out that the mysterious entity must be a Transformed jinnee. Julius felt relieved. Even as a ghost he did not relish the thought of being alone in such close confinement with two evil beings. It was good to have some company.

And so, through the night, not far below the Farmlands, the strange procession made its way slowly and painfully along Smugglers’ Bolt, heading toward the next exit—Number Sixty-Seven Wizard Way.

Back at the Port, Jenna, Simon and Nicko stood shivering on the harborside, watching Septimus do his Transport back to the Wizard Tower—the sooner Marcia knew what had happened, the better. As the purple fuzz of Magyk dispersed into the night air and Septimus was gone, Nicko hurried them off to Workman’s Quay, where Jannit’s supply boat was moored. Soon they were heading out into the night. Nicko had been right: it was a bumpy ride. The wind against the tide threw up waves and the boat reared up and down as it crashed its way into the mouth of the river where the tide and current met.

Nicko stood at the helm, smiling broadly. He loved the excitement of sending the boat through the wild water—something that he did not do often enough, now that he was Senior Apprentice at the boatyard and was so often overseeing work and enviously watching the new Apprentice, sad little Eustace Bott, head off on yet another errand to the Port. Nicko’s two passengers were less thrilled with the journey. Jenna and Simon sat in the cuddy, wrapped in damp blankets that smelled of tar, and tried to get some sleep.

It was going to be a long night.

35

SPRUNG

At the top of the Wizard Tower, Septimus was back safe from his Transport and asleep in his bed. Marcia, however, was wide-awake. She had just finished sending out a practice Alert to the entire Castle and was now touring her new LookOuts checking on the result. Judging by the huge number of candles that had rapidly appeared in the majority of upstairs windows, the practice had been a great success.

The Alert was a new safety measure. Shocked by the casualties caused by the Darke Domaine, Marcia had been determined that no Castle inhabitant would ever again be caught unawares by Darke Magyk. To this end she had set up an intricate system of Alerts in every building. Of course not everyone had accepted the presence of a Lert in their home or business—Larry in Number Sixty-Seven Wizard Way being one of those who didn’t—but most were only too glad.

Marcia watched the lighted windows grow dark once more and retreated to her kitchen to instruct the coffeepot. While she was waiting for the coffee to brew, she picked up an unopened envelope banded with red and gold. It was, she knew, from Milo. Marcia stared at the envelope while the coffee- pot made its usual happy spluttering sounds. “Huh,” she muttered at the envelope. “More pathetic excuses.” The coffee began to bubble up; Marcia leaned over to the cooker and set fire to the envelope and whatever lay within.

Marcia had just poured the coffee when she heard a knock at the big purple door. That night, the door was under instructions to admit any senior Wizard Tower Wizard, and Marcia heard it swing open. She braced herself for Jillie Djinn’s stare and strode through the sitting room to see who was there.

It was Dandra Draa. Marcia was pleased; she liked Dandra and right then she could do with some company. The Sick Bay Wizard was hovering uncertainly, unsure whether to come in. “I have something important, Madam Marcia,” she said.

“Oh, please, just call me Marcia,” said Marcia.

To both Marcia and Dandra’s shock, the ghost of Jillie Djinn chose that moment to speak for the first time. Her high, wavering voice poured into the room, a brittle stream of noise. “Call me Marcia . . . oh, please, call me. Oh, Marcia, call me, please.”

Dandra emitted a small shriek.

“Drat!” said Marcia. “I’d hoped for at least a couple more months’ silence.”

“A couple more . . . I’d hoped for . . .”

Marcia sighed. “Come in, Dandra,” she said. “It’s very good to see you.”

“To see you . . . too . . . see you . . . see too you too see you.”

“If she carries on like this I’m going to kill her,” muttered Marcia.

“Job done, I think,” said Dandra with a wry smile.

Marcia smiled grimly in return. She liked Dandra’s sense of humor. “Indeed. Come through to the kitchen, Dandra; have some coffee.”

“Have some coffee . . . coffee some. Have . . . the kitchen, Dandra. Come.”

Marcia thought that she would go crazy if she listened to the ghost’s jangled singsong a moment longer. She steered Dandra briskly through the room and closed the door very firmly behind her.

The ghost of Jillie Djinn sank back into the cushions of the sofa. She wore a satisfied smile. Jillie Djinn: one, Marcia Overstrand: nil. And she had nine more months to hone her skills.

As Marcia instructed the coffeepot—two cups, with sugar, and hot this time—Dandra placed a mangled band of gold on the kitchen table. “I find this,” she said. “It is the ring, I think.”

Marcia picked up the fragile gold circle with care, then got out her Enlarging Glass and inspected it. “Goodness, I do believe it is,” she said. “It shows signs of recent Darke activity. And . . . ah, yes . . . here, I can see the imprint of the heads.” She looked up and smiled for the first time that evening. “Dandra, that is wonderful. Wherever did you find it?”

Dandra smiled. “Stuck in a Wizard’s shoe.”

“Really?”

“He come to Sick Bay with sore foot. So first I look at the shoe. And this is stuck in it. There is nothing wrong with his foot.” Dandra shook her head. “He is, what you say—fusspot?”

“Yes, that is exactly what we say,” said Marcia. She smiled at the forlorn, distorted ring thinking how, according to legend, it had once been treasured by a Queen and yet had spent so long containing such evil beings. Marcia felt sad that it would have to contain them once again, but it was much safer that the Ring Wizards should be Committed to their original ring, rather than risk one of the untried Triple bowls.

“Thank you so much, Dandra. It’s so lucky you found it—and that you knew what it was.” Marcia sighed. “Right now I could do with a bit of luck.”

Dandra sipped her strong, sweet coffee, made exactly how she liked it. She took her job of being responsible for the health of all the Wizards in the Tower seriously and thought that Marcia looked in need of some support. “Your ghost, he not here? I mean nice old ghost with naughty jokes.”

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