Septimus looked at Marcia and Marcellus, who were still arm in arm. “So, um . . . do I need to congratulate you?” he asked.
“You can if you like,” said Marcia. “From today we have a new partnership!”
“Septimus, I am surprised you are not more excited. A partnership between Alchemie and Magyk is what you have wanted for a long time. No more secrets.”
“So you’re going to move in together?”
Marcia looked at Septimus uncomprehendingly for some seconds. Then a flash of understanding, swiftly followed by dismay, crossed her face and she dropped Marcellus’s arm like a hot potato. “Goodness, no! Oh, horrors. Perish the thought. This is a business relationship.”
Erk Erk Erk . . . Erk Erk Erk . . . !
The Stranger Chamber Alarm chose that moment to save Marcia from any more embarrassment. With almost a feeling of relief, Marcia raced over and threw open the blue door. Inside she met a very agitated ghost.
“He pulled the lever!” yelled Alther. “Stupid, stupid boy!”
Marcia stared at the gaping hole in the floor where the Stranger Chair should have been. A damp and not very pleasant smell drifted up from it.
“Which setting?” she asked anxiously.
“Moat. It’s on Moat.”
Marcia felt relieved. At least it was possible to get people out of the Moat. “Idiot!” she said.
“I know. Marcia, I am so sorry. I took my eye off him for one second. That was all, I promise you—”
“Oh, Alther, I didn’t mean you were the idiot. I meant Merrin. You’ve been wonderful. Don’t worry, we’ll get some Wizards down to the Moat right away. Merrin must come straight back here. I do not want those Ring Wizards being drawn out into the Castle.”
As Marcia hurried off, something occurred to her. “Alther, who was sitting on the Chair?”
“Oh, Nursie, of course.”
“So how come Merrin’s gone too?”
“He jumped in after her. He actually seemed very upset; I don’t think he meant to do it.” Alther shook his head. “He’s a funny lad. You can’t help but feel sorry for him.”
Marcia nodded. “You know, Alther, I think this is the first time that Merrin has cared about anyone but himself. Maybe there’s hope for him yet.”
“Maybe. I’ll take some Wizards down to the Moat, pronto.”
“Thank you, Alther.”
“Oh, anytime. Well, no, not anytime. Actually, to be frank, never again.”
Marcia smiled ruefully. “Indeed, Alther. Never again.”
The little pyramid Keye was on the map table, sitting on the footprint of the Wizard Tower—which it fitted perfectly. Watched by Milo, Marcia, Septimus and Marcellus, Jenna was sitting at Marcia’s command table writing the complete Committal into The Queen Rules in her most careful handwriting.
“Septimus, would you fetch Julius, please,” said Marcia. “I would like him to check this before we go.”
Septimus found Julius with some difficulty—the ghost had become very nearly transparent. But as requested, and with great care, Julius checked through the Committal. “Yes . . . yes, I believe it to be correct. Hathor, see there, is the Keystone,” he said, his long finger pointing to a bird symbol in a square.
“Thank you, Julius,” said Marcia. “We do value your knowledge.”
“You are very welcome,” the ghost replied somewhat stiffly.
“Julius,” Marcia continued.
“Do you not have something to say to Marcellus?”
“Oh!” Julius made an odd, ghostly coughing sound. “Marcellus. I am. Um. Sorry. I . . . I apologize.”
“It is those who lost their lives in the disaster to whom you should apologize,” said Marcellus.
“Yes. I . . . I realize that.”
“Not to mention all succeeding ExtraOrdinary Wizards who were denied essential knowledge of the Castle. And access to the skills of Alchemie for nearly five hundred years.”
“Yes . . . well.”
“And to my Drummins, whom you knowingly left to die.”
“Apologize to Drummins?” Julius was aghast.
“I leave it you to consider your actions, Julius. I can say no more.” With that Marcellus turned on his heel and walked away.
Jenna watched Marcellus go with a good deal of sympathy. She closed The Queen Rules and got to her feet. “Okay,” she said. “I’m ready to do the Committal.”
“Not on your own,” said Milo. “I am coming with you.”
“Jenna will not be going alone,” said Marcia. “You can be sure of that, Milo.” She got to her feet. “Excuse me a moment.”
Marcia quickly returned with Marcellus. “Our Castle Alchemist has a suggestion,” she said.
Marcellus smiled happily. He knew what it meant for Marcia to freely use his old title. “It is extremely dangerous approaching from the Fyre hatch,” he said, “as Simon here will attest.” Simon nodded. “I suggest we go to the Fyre Chamber through the Covert Way.”
“Covert Way? Another secret, Marcellus?” Marcia asked with a wry smile.
This was still a sensitive subject for Marcellus. “It is not my secret, Marcia,” he retorted.
“It is mine, ExtraOrdinary,” admitted Julius. “The Covert Way is the direct connection between here and the Fyre Chamber and emerges on the Chamber floor, behind the Cauldron. I Concealed it after the Great Alchemie Disaster. It lies beneath the spiral stairs. I will show you.”
In the cramped and dusty inspection space beneath the spiral stairs, Milo, Marcia, Septimus, Jenna, Beetle, Marcellus and the ghost of Julius Pike were gathered, looking at a roughly plastered, blank wall.
“There is an ExtraOrdinary Conceal here.”
“Not noted in the Concealed Register,” said Marcia tartly.
“No,” admitted Julius.
ExtraOrdinary Conceals were undetectable and used only by ExtraOrdinary Wizards within the confines of the Wizard Tower. A condition of their use was that they should be entered in the Concealed Register so that every ExtraOrdinary Wizard would know what was Concealed where in the Wizard Tower.
“So what have you been Concealing here, Mr. Pike?” asked Marcia.
“A moving chamber that will take us to the Chamber of Fyre.”
“Really? Well, I suggest you Reveal it right away.” Septimus could tell that Marcia was furious.
Julius obeyed and a smooth and shiny black door in the wall was Revealed: Marcia gave Septimus and Marcellus a quizzical look. “That looks familiar.”
“Yes, I know,” Septimus said guiltily.
“Was that what you were doing on that terrible day—traveling to the Fyre Chamber?” Marcia asked.
Septimus felt really bad. “Yes, it was.”
“Goodness!” said Marcia, shaking her head.
“I so wanted to tell you,” said Septimus. “But I had promised not to.”
“A promise very reluctantly given,” said Marcellus. “But it was necessary, Marcia. I needed his help. You do understand?”
“I do understand,” she said. “And it will never be necessary again.” She turned to Julius. “Is this safe?” she asked.
“Yes. When I Concealed it I left it Charging,” said Julius. “I always believed that maintenance of the moving chamber was important. Unlike the Alchemists who left theirs to look after itself.”
“Huh,” harrumphed Marcellus.
Up until then Septimus had found little to agree upon with Julius Pike, but he had to admit that the ghost had a point about maintenance.
“Very well, Julius,” said Marcia. “Take us through the Covert Way.”
Julius Pike placed the palm of his ghostly hand onto a worn patch to the right-hand side of the door—then snatched it away. “I forget that I am a ghost,” he said despairingly. “It must have a Living hand.”
Septimus considered that he had some experience in the matter. “I’ll do it,” he offered.
The ghost shook his head. “It will not recognize you,” he said. “This Covert Way would open only for the Identity palm prints of the then-ExtraOrdinary Wizard—who was myself—my Senior Apprentice and the Castle Alchemist.”