Marcia sighed. “Oh, all right.”
Milo took Marcia’s hand and led her into the Long Walk—she knew where she was by the chill of the old stone passageway. “You can open your eyes now,” said Milo with a smile in his voice.
Marcia was lost for words. After some moments she managed, “It’s beautiful!”
Stretching as far as Marcia could see down the Long Walk, the ancient Palace gold candleholders were back in their places. Tall and elegant, in each burned a fat beeswax candle, filling the normally musty Walk with the subtle scent of honey. The light from the candles illuminated treasures that Marcia dimly remembered from before the Bad Old Days: Ancient portraits of the Queens, beautiful painted statues settled back into their niches, polished wooden chests, little gilded tables and chairs, and, covering the old threadbare carpet, intricately patterned rugs in soft blues and reds.
Milo began to speak. “When I first came back to the Palace and saw what DomDaniel’s thugs had taken, I swore that by the time my Jenna was Queen I would have returned everything to its rightful place. But it was not until I met Hildegarde that I was able to do this.”
Marcia said nothing. But she was beginning to understand.
Hildegarde had once been part of the Sales Force who had, under instructions from DomDaniel, sold off all the Palace treasures—mainly to fund DomDaniel’s lavish banquets. Hildegarde had joined the Wizard Tower as part of Marcia’s Second-Chance Scheme and had always wanted to make amends for her part in ransacking the Palace. And so when Milo asked her to help him track down as many of the old treasures as possible, Hildegarde had jumped at the chance. She had kept a note of every sale and with her help, Milo was able to buy back most of the long-lost treasures. He had spent the last weeks touring the Farmlands with a cart, picking up the more distant finds and hiding them in the locked rooms at the end of the Long Walk. On Coronation Eve, Milo and Hildegarde worked through the night, and by the morning the Long Walk was transformed into the wonderful place that Marcia now saw.
“So why didn’t you tell me?” asked Marcia.
“Well, at first I thought you would object to me using the valuable time of a Wizard for non-Magykal purposes. But after those unfortunate misunderstandings, I did try to tell you. But you wouldn’t listen. So I wrote you a letter explaining.”
“Oh,” said Marcia a little sheepishly.
“Which I could tell you hadn’t read,” said Milo. He smiled. “I reckoned you were still in such a temper that you probably threw it in the fire or something. So I figured the only way was to show you.”
“It’s wonderful,” said Marcia. “A new start for the Palace. Has Jenna seen it?”
“No,” said Milo. “I wanted it to be a surprise for her Coronation Day. I am about to show her. But I wanted to show you first.”
It was a most Magykal day. The sun shone—as Jenna had known it would—and the entire Castle turned out to see her.
In the morning, accompanied by Sir Hereward, Milo showed Jenna the Long Walk. Buzzing with excitement, Jenna wandered through the Palace gardens, glad of some time to be alone and think about what her future might hold. The gardens were decorated with the multitude of Coronation offerings that had caused Sarah Heap so much trouble. Metallic red and gold Coronation Bunting hung from the trees and glittered in the sunlight, the lawns were strewn with the huge assortment of Coronation Rugs, and Coronation Cushions were scattered underneath the brightly colored Coronation Sunshades. Jenna thought they looked wonderful. As she wandered down toward the river, Jenna came to a sudden halt. Running the length of the lawn was the longest table (the Coronation Table) covered with the longest, whitest cloth (the Coronation Cloth) that she had ever seen. The table gave her a strange feeling when she saw it. At first she was not sure why—and then she remembered. It was a much, much bigger version of the table that Sarah had once laid ready for breakfast on her tenth birthday—the day when her life had changed and she had discovered that one day she would be the Castle Queen.
In the afternoon the Palace Gates were thrown open and the Castle inhabitants began to drift in and enjoy the gardens and the Coronation Tea, which was now laid out on the long table. The table was piled high with the Coronation Plates, Coronation Candelabra, Coronation Biscuit Tins, Coronation Cups and Coronation Cutlery that had been brought to the Palace. To the plinky-plonky sounds of the Coronation Pianola, 1,006 Coronation Cupcakes, 2,027 Coronation Biscuits and 7,063 Coronation Sandwiches were consumed that afternoon. Along with—inadvertently—twenty-three caterpillars, fourteen slugs and a baby spider.
By the end of the afternoon, Jenna was convinced that she had talked to absolutely everyone who lived in the Castle at least twice. As the daylight began to fade, a respectful silence fell and Jenna began to feel a little nervous. Beetle, Septimus, Milo, Marcia, Sarah and Silas joined her as she walked down toward the riverbank, where she had decided the Coronation itself would take place.
And as Jenna stood on the threadbare Coronation Carpet surrounded by Sarah and Silas Heap and her seven brothers, the ghost of Queen Cerys looked at the Heaps with undisguised horror. Like Theodora Gringe, she wished they would just keep to the back. But another ghost, Queen Matthilda, stood chatting happily to Alther Mella and his partner, Alice Nettles. She was smiling broadly. Queen Matthilda thought the Heaps were “a breath of fresh air,” she told Alther with a smile.
As the light of the setting sun turned the river a deep orange and sent glints of green glancing off the Dragon Boat, which lay bobbing quietly beside the landing stage, Hotep-Ra picked up the simple, True Crown that he remembered so well, and placed it on Jenna’s head, saying, “Jenna. I name you Queen. All will be well in the best of all possible worlds. So be it.”
A ripple of polite applause ran through the crowd—Castle people did not believe in making a great fuss of their Queens. But as the new Queen wandered around the Palace lawns, she was surprised and touched to find how popular she was. People flocked to her to offer their congratulations and tiny gifts—tiny because tradition dictated that a Coronation gift must be able to be held in one hand. (This was something that had passed Milo by.)
Marcia gave Jenna the Transmuted ring that had once belonged to Hotep-Ra’s Queen. Hotep-Ra Magykally rebound The Queen Rules in soft red leather with an imprint of the Dragon Boat stamped upon the front, and furnished it with a pure gold clasp and corners—the first to be made in the Fyre—courtesy of Marcellus. Wolf Boy—who now called himself Marwick—had come with Aunt Zelda and arrived only just in time. Aunt Zelda had not only gotten stuck in the cupboard door coming out of the Queen’s Way, but she had insisted on bringing the rather large Storm Petrel with her, which she had told Marwick had followed her home on the Dragon Boat. Relieved to see Jenna at last, Marwick thrust a grubby leather drawstring bag into her hand and smiled.
“Ooh, pebbles!” said Jenna, opening the bag excitedly. By then she had been given so much gold and so many jewels that she was genuinely happy to see a bag of perfectly round, plain pebbles.
“Yeah. But not all the time,” said Marwick cryptically.
Jenna took out the largest pebble and held it in the palm of her hand. It felt oddly familiar.
Suddenly, Jenna felt the pebble move. A small head emerged and then four short, stumpy legs. “Petroc Trelawney!” she cried. The pebble paid no attention; it raised itself up on its little legs and walked a few steps over to where a small cupcake crumb was stuck on Jenna’s finger.
“He’s got kids,” said Marwick. “They’re everywhere. We wondered why we kept finding pebbles in the kitchen until Zelda saw them walk in one morning.”
“So she remembered?” asked Jenna.
Marwick smiled. “Yeah. She figured out who it was at once.”
Jenna loved having Petroc Trelawney back, but the gift she treasured most was the one Beetle gave her: a small gold heart with the True Crown engraved on it. “I found it in the Saturday market,” he said. “It’s really old. I think it belonged to a Queen a long time ago. I hope you don’t mind. That it’s a heart, I mean.”
Jenna smiled. “Oh, Beetle, I don’t mind at all.”
AN EXTRAORDINARY WIZARD
After the Coronation, Hotep-Ra decided to return to the House of Foryx. Very early, one warm morning in early July, Jenna, Beetle and Septimus stood on the Palace landing stage beside the Dragon Boat, which glinted with brilliant flashes of gold and azure blue in the early-morning sun. Standing at the tiller of the Dragon Boat was Hotep-Ra.