If you were foolish enough to cast your eye around the Heaps' room hoping to find a space in which to sit, the chances were a book would have found it first. Everywhere you looked there were books. On sagging shelves, in boxes, hanging in bags from the ceiling, propping up the table and stacked up in such precariously high piles that they threatened to collapse at any moment. There were storybooks, herb books, cookery books, boat books, fishing books, but mainly there were the hundreds of Magyk books, which Silas had illegally rescued from the school when Magyk had been banned a few years back.
In the middle of the room was a large hearth from which a tall chimney snaked up into the roof; it held the remains of a fire, now grown cold, around which all six Heap boys and a large dog were asleep in a chaotic pile of quilts and blankets.
Sarah and Silas were also fast asleep. They had escaped to the small attic space that Silas had acquired a few years back by the simple means of knocking a hole up through the ceiling, after Sarah had declared that she could no longer stand living with six growing boys in just one room.
But, amid all the chaos in the big room, a small island of tidiness stood out; a long and rather wobbly table was covered with a clean white cloth. On it were placed nine plates and mugs, and at the head of the table was a small chair decorated with winter berries and leaves. On the table in front of the chair a small present, carefully wrapped in colorful paper and tied with a red ribbon, had been placed ready for Jenna to open on her tenth birthday.
All was quiet and still as the Heap household slept peacefully on through the last hours of darkness before the winter sun was due to rise.
However, on the other side of the Castle, in the Palace of the Custodians, sleep, peaceful or not, had been abandoned.
The Supreme Custodian had been called from his bed and had, with the help of the Night Servant, hurriedly put on his black, fur-trimmed tunic and heavy black and gold cloak, and he had instructed the Night Servant how to lace up his embroidered silk shoes. Then he himself had carefully placed a beautiful Crown upon his head. The Supreme Custodian was never seen without the Crown, which still had a dent in it from the day it had fallen from the Queen's head and crashed to the stone floor. The Crown sat crookedly on his slightly pointed bald head, but the Night Servant, being new and terrified, did not dare to tell him.
The Supreme Custodian strode briskly down the corridor to the Throne Room. He was a small, ratlike man with pale, almost colorless eyes and a complicated goatee beard that he was in the habit of spending many happy hours tending. He was almost swamped by his voluminous cloak, which was heavily encrusted with military badges, and his appearance was made faintly ridiculous by his crooked, and slightly feminine, Crown. But had you seen him that morning you would not have laughed. You would have shrunk back into the shadows and hoped he would not notice you, for the Supreme Custodian carried with him a powerful air of menace.
The Night Servant helped the Supreme Custodian arrange himself on the ornate throne in the Throne Room. He was then waved impatiently away and scuttled off gratefully, his shift nearly over.
The chill morning air lay heavily in the Throne Room. The Supreme Custodian sat impassively on the throne, but his breath, which misted the cold air in small quick bursts, betrayed his excitement.
He did not have long to wait before a tall young woman wearing the severe black cloak and deep red tunic of an Assassin walked briskly in and bowed low, her long slashed sleeves sweeping across the stone floor.
"The Queenling, Lord. She has been found," the Assassin said in a low voice.
The Supreme Custodian sat up and stared at the Assassin with his pale eyes.
From Magyk: Septimus Heap Book 1 by Angie Sage. Copyright Angie Sage 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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