The meddling Princess, like Septimus, had had an unusually formal birthday morning. At nine o'clock precisely, a tall woman dressed in Palace robes so ancient that they actually had long gold ribbons dangling from their sleeves banged on the Palace doors.
The duty Door Wizard was having his breakfast, so it was Sarah Heap who eventually opened them. "Yes?" she asked irritably.
"I am the Bringer of the Book," the woman announced imperiously. Without waiting to be asked, she swept inside, bringing with her a pungent smell of mothballs and the faint whiff of fish.
"Presents go on the table," said Sarah, indicating a large table already piled with assorted colorful packages. "We are not opening them until this evening."
The Bringer of the Book made not the slightest move in the direction of the table. She towered over Sarah, her height increased by great swathes of white hair piled precariously on the top of her head and secured with a wild assortment of combs. She looked at Sarah in disbelief. "But I am the Bringer of the Book," she said.
"I know. You already said. That's very nice; Jenna enjoys reading. Just put it on the table. Now excuse me, I really must go. You know the way out." Sarah indicated the doors, which were still thrown wide open.
"The way out?" The woman sounded incredulous. "I am not going out. I have come to see the Princess. Now, my good woman, I will trouble you to announce my presence."
Sarah spluttered indignantly, but Jenna's timely arrival stopped any further escalation of hostilities.
"Mum!" she said, rushing in from the Long Walk. "Have you seen my - oh!" Jenna stopped and stared at the tall, imperious woman in the ancient Palace uniform. The old red and gray robes with their gold ribbons gave her the weirdest feeling, transporting her back to the frightening few days she had spent at the Palace in the ghastly Queen Etheldredda's Time. "Who . . . who are you?" she stammered.
The Bringer of the Book swept down into a deep curtsy, her long, fragile ribbons falling gracefully to the dusty floor.
"Your Grace," she murmured. "May I offer you my humble congratulations upon your Day of Recognition. I am the Bringer of the Book. I come to you as I came to your mother, and as my mother came to her mother before her, and as her mother came to her mother before her. I come to you to bring you the Book."
Sarah felt the need to translate. "She's brought you a book, Jenna. That's nice, isn't it? I've told her to put it on the table as we're not opening the presents until this evening."
The Bringer of the Book rounded on Sarah. "Mistress, I would ask you to hold your tongue. You may return to your duties - whatever they may be."
"Now look here - " Sarah began. She was stopped by Jenna, who was beginning to understand that something important was going on.
"Mum," said Jenna. "It's okay. I think it's - you know - Princess stuff." She turned to the woman and spoke in her best Princess voice. "Thank you, Bringer of the Book," she said. "May I introduce to you my mother, Madam Sarah Heap?"
The Bringer of the Book gave Sarah a small, perfunctory curtsy. "I apologize, Mistress Heap. I assumed from your dress that you were a menial."
"There's a lot of work to do around here and someone has to do it," snapped Sarah. "You can talk to Jenna in my sitting room if you want to go somewhere warm. I've just lit the fire." With that she walked off, head held high, stray wisps of straw-colored hair bouncing crossly as she strode into the Long Walk in search of Silas Heap.
The Bringer of the Book looked disapprovingly at the retreating Sarah. She did not lose the expression when she turned to Jenna. "A sitting room will not be suitable for this important occasion," she said. "It is traditional for the Presentation to take place in the Throne Room. Perhaps you will be so kind as to lead the way."
The last time Jenna had been in the Throne Room was five hundred years ago, in Queen Etheldredda's Time. It did not hold good memories. Before then - or, strictly speaking timewise, after - she had been in the Throne Room only once, and luckily she did not remember it. That was fourteen years ago to the very day, the day that her real mother, Queen Cerys, was shot dead. The idea of going into the Throne Room dismayed her, especially on this day of all days.
"The Throne Room is locked," Jenna said coolly. "I do not use it."
For the first time the Bringer of the Book regarded Jenna with something like approval. "Of course you do not use it, Princess. That is exactly how it should be. You have had no need for it until today. But today, the occasion of your fourteenth birthday, is the day of your first official engagement. Traditionally this takes place in the Throne Room - as you know." The Bringer of the Book smiled at Jenna as though they were in on the same joke - a joke that no one else was clever enough to understand. Jenna had known girls like that at school and she hadn't liked them. She felt the same way about the Bringer of the Book.
Jenna was about to retort that she didn't care what the occasion was, she wasn't going to unlock the Throne Room for anyone and anyway, she didn't have the key, when Silas appeared. Jenna felt in need of his support.
"Dad," she said, forgetting her Princess manners in her distress at being asked to unlock the Throne Room. "Dad, we don't have the key to the Throne Room, do we?"
Silas surprised her. From his pocket he took a heavy, red-jeweled key and presented it to her with a small bow.
"Don't be silly, Dad." Jenna laughed, deliberately not taking the key. "You don't have to bow."
Silas looked serious. "Maybe I should now that you're fourteen," he said.
"Dad?" Jenna began to feel concerned. What was happening? It sounded as though something was about to change, and she didn't want it to.
Silas looked uncomfortable. "Marcia told me last week about, er . . . her." He waved his hand at the increasingly affronted Bringer of the Book. "She gave me the key. She said that from your fourteenth birthday forward it is possible at any time that The Time May Be Right."
"Right for what?" Jenna demanded crossly. She hated it when people arranged things without telling her and then expected her to go along with it. It took her right back to her tenth birthday, when she was suddenly taken away from her family. And, as ever, Marcia was involved.
Silas was conciliatory. "You know for what, love," he said. "For you to be crowned Queen. You are old enough now. It doesn't mean you are going to be, just that it is possible. And that is why this lady - "
The Bringer of the Book glared at Silas.
Silas coughed. "Ahem, I mean this very, er . . . important, very official lady has come today. She is the hereditary Bringer of the Book. And traditionally you receive it in the Throne Room." Silas caught Jenna's gaze. She looked upset. "It's uh . . . symbolic, you see. Of, um, of what you will be one day."
"So why didn't you tell me?" demanded Jenna. "Or Mum?"
Silas looked upset. "I didn't want to spoil your birthday for you or Mum. I know how you feel about the Throne Room. I'm sorry, I suppose I should have said."
Jenna sighed. "Oh, it's all right, Dad. I'll do it - as long as you come and help me with the key. Okay?" She gave Silas a meaningful glare."Ah. Okay. Right. I'll come with you."The Bringer of the Book objected. "This is a private ceremony. It is not suitable for a member of the public to attend," she said."He's not a member of the public," snapped Jenna. "He's my dad.""He is not your father."Jenna exploded. "No, he's not. Of course he isn't. It's my birthday and you wouldn't expect my father to be here, would you?" Jenna took Silas's arm. "This is my dad. He's here. And he's coming with me." With that, Jenna and Silas slowly and sedately climbed the sweeping stairs up to the first floor. The Bringer of the Book had no alternative but to follow.They arrived outside the huge double doors that led into the Throne Room, which occupied the very center of the Palace. The doors were covered in ancient gold leaf, worn so thin that the squares of gold showed the red beneath. Jenna thought they looked beautiful - but she had no intention of opening them. "Okay, Dad?" she said.Silas nodded. He put the key in the lock, and Jenna thought she saw a small flash of Magyk - at least, she hoped she did. Silas turned the key. It went halfway around and stuck."It's Jammed," he said. "You try it, Jenna."To Jenna's relief, the key was indeed stuck fast. "It is," she agreed. "It's Jammed."The Bringer of the Book wore a distinctly suspicious expression."Would you like to try?" Jenna asked, offering her the key.The Bringer of the Book snatched the key, pushed it into the lock and gave it a fearsome twist. Jenna could see she meant business and hoped that Silas's spell held out. It did. Reluctantly, after a lot of vigorous twisting and poking at the lock, the Bringer of the Book returned the key."Very well," she sighed. "The ReTiring Room will do just as well."Jenna refrained from asking why she hadn't said that in the first place. She figured she knew the answer already. The Bringer of the Book wanted to bask in the reflected glory of the Throne Room. Jenna had met many people like her in Queen Etheldredda's Palace, which was where she had begun to learn how to deal with them.The ReTiring Room was intended as a personal space for the Queen to put on her ceremonial robes and to retreat to from the Throne Room if she needed. It was dusty and dark, but Jenna liked it and often used it as a quiet place to work. With the Bringer of the Book trailing behind her, Jenna led the way into the ReTiring Room. Silas excused himself and left; this time Jenna did not object.The ReTiring Room was long and narrow, with one tall window at the end that looked out over Wizard Way. A shabby curtain on the right side of the room covered a door that led to the Throne Room, which was impassable due to a large plank Jenna had hammered across it. The room was extremely chilly, but a fire was laid ready in the small grate. Jenna took the tinderbox from the chimneypiece and struck a yellow flame into the dry moss at the base of the fire. She used the flame to light the candles as well, and soon the room glowed with a yellow light and looked much warmer than it actually was.The Bringer of the Book fussily settled herself at a small desk below the window. From an array of mismatched but comfortable chairs Jenna took the chair she liked to curl up and read in - a battered red and gold one with a pile of cushions and a wonky leg - and pushed it toward the fire.It was a long and tedious three hours but at the end of it, as she stood at the Palace door, watching the Bringer of the Book sail off down the Palace Drive, her ribbons fluttering in the cold wind that was blowing in off the river, Jenna held in her hand a small red book entitled The Queen Rules.Jenna went straight back up to the ReTiring Room. She closed the door with a feeling of relief to have the place to herself once more, then pulled her chair even closer to the fire and looked at the little red leather book. It was so delicate. The pale red leather was soft to the touch, well worn and rubbed - she realized with a shiver of goose bumps - by the fingers of her mother, her grandmother and her many great-grandmothers before her. The pages, edged with gold leaf, were made of delicate paper so transparent that they were printed only on one side. The spelling was bizarre and the type was tiny and full of swirls and curlicues, which was why it had taken so long for the Bringer of the Book to read - and explain - the entire contents to Jenna. But now that she was at last alone with her book, Jenna turned to the page that she wanted to reread the most:Protocol: Wizard Tower(N.B. Substitute P-I-W for Queen if appropriate)After her three-hour tutorial, Jenna now knew that "P-I-W" meant Princess-in-Waiting. There were two sections that particularly interested Jenna.SECTION I: THE RIGHT TO KNOWThe P-I-W has a Right To Know all facts pertaining to the security and wellbeing of the Castle and the Palace. The ExtraOrdinary Wizard (or, in absentia, the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice) is required to answer all the P-I-W's questions truthfully, fully and without delay.Jenna smiled. She liked the sound of that, but she was willing to bet Marcia didn't. She read the second section even more carefully.SECTION II: PALACE SECURITYIt is for the P-I-W to deem if a matter relates to Palace Security. If she deems it to be so, she may Call upon the ExtraOrdinary Wizard or the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice to assist at Any Time. This Call will be given priority over all other matters at the Wizard Tower. So Be It.Huh, thought Jenna. Sep had obviously not read this.She reread the second passage, smiling at the hand-drawn, heavy red lines below the words "P-I-W," "Any Time" and "all." It seemed that she was not the only Princess-in-Waiting to have this kind of trouble. She particularly liked what was written at the foot of the page in a different but equally determined hand: "Wizards are replaceable. The Queen is not."Jenna uncurled herself from her chair like a cat. She got up, dampened the fire and closed the door on the ReTiring Room, leaving it to settle into its stillness once more. She would go straight to the Wizard Tower and do a bit of deeming. Right now.On her way out, Jenna bumped into Sarah who, with the help of Billy Pot and the cook, had begun to put up bunting in the entrance hall."Has Dolly gone?" asked Sarah."Who?""Dolly Bingle. She works in the fish shop down by the New Quay. I knew I'd seen her before. Funny how different she looks with a bit of gold flummery and her hair out of a fish net.""The Bringer of the Book was Dolly Bingle?" Jenna was stunned."Yes, it was. And Dolly knows perfectly well who I am. I shall expect some cheap haddock when I next go there," said Sarah with a wicked grin.