The Portrait in the Attic
Silas Heap and Gringe, the North Gate Gatekeeper, are in a dark and dusty corner of the Palace attic. In front of them is a small door to a Sealed room, which Silas Heap, Ordinary Wizard, is about to UnSeal. “You see, Gringe,” he says, “it's the perfect place. My Counters will never be able to escape from there. I can just Seal them in.”
Gringe is not so sure. Even he knows that Sealed rooms in attics are best left alone. “I don't like it, Silas,” he says. “It feels peculiar. Anyway, just because you've been lucky enough to find a new Colony under the floorboards up 'ere doesn't mean they'll stay here.”
“They jolly well will stay if they're Sealed in, Gringe,” says Silas, clutching his box of precious newfound Counters, which he has just caught. “You're just being funny because you won't be able to entice this bunch away.”
"I did not entice the last bunch either, Silas Heap. They came of their own accord.
Weren't nothing I could do about it."
Silas ignores Gringe. He is trying to remember how to do an UnSeal Spell.
Gringe taps his foot impatiently. “ 'Urry up, Silas. I got a gate to get back to. Lucy is most odd at the moment and I don't want to leave 'er there alone for long.”
Silas Heap closes his eyes so that he can think better. Under his breath, so that Gringe cannot quite hear what he is saying, Silas chants the Lock Incantation backward three times, finishing it off with the UnSeal. He opens his eyes. Nothing has happened.
“I'm going,” Gringe tells him. "Can't 'ang around like a spare part all day. Some of us 'ave work to do."
Suddenly with a loud bang, the door to the Sealed room slams open. Silas is triumphant. “See—I do know what I'm doing. I am a Wizard, Gringe. Oof! What was that?” An icy gust of stale air rushes past Silas and Gringe, dragging their breath right up from their lungs and causing them both to subside into fits of coughing.
“That was cold.” Gringe shivers, with goosebumps running up and down his arms.
Silas does not reply—he is already in the UnSealed room, deciding on the best place to keep his Counter Colony. Curiosity gets the better of Gringe and he tentatively enters the room. It is tiny, little more than a cupboard. Apart from the light of Silas's candle, the room is dark, for the only window that it once had has been bricked up. It is nothing more than an empty space, with dusty floorboards and bare, cracked plaster walls. But it is not—as Gringe suddenly notices—entirely empty. In the dim shadows on the far side of the little room a large, life-size oil painting of a Queen is propped up against the wall.
Silas looks at the portrait. It is a skillful painting of a Castle Queen, from times long past. He can tell that it is old because she is wearing the True Crown, the one that was lost many centuries ago. The Queen has a sharp pointy nose and wears her hair coiled around her ears like a pair of earmuffs. Clinging to her skirts is an Aie-Aie—a horrible little creature with a ratty face, sharp claws and a long snake's tail. Its round, red eyes stare out at Silas as though it would like to bite him with its one long, needle-sharp tooth. The Queen too looks out from the painting but she wears a lofty, disapproving expression. Her head is held high, supported by a starched ruff under her chin and her piercing eyes are reflected in the light of Silas's candle and seem to follow them everywhere.
Gringe shivers. “I wouldn't like to meet 'er out on me own on a dark night,” he says.
Silas thinks that Gringe is right, he wouldn't like to meet her on a dark night either—and neither would his precious Counters. “She'll have to go,” says Silas. “I'm not having her upsetting my Counter Colony before they've even got started.”
But what Silas does not know is that she has already gone. As soon as he UnSealed the room, the ghosts of Queen Etheldredda and her creature stepped out of the portrait, opened the door and, pointy noses in the air, walked and scuttled out—right past Silas and Gringe. The Queen and her Aie-Aie paid them no attention, for they had more important things to do—and at long last they were free to do them.
Snorri Snorrelssen guided her trading barge up the quiet waters of the river toward the Castle. It was a misty autumn afternoon and Snorri was relieved to have left the turbulent tidal waters of the Port behind her. The wind had dropped but enough breeze caught the huge sail of the barge—named Alfrun, after her mother who owned it—to enable her to steer the boat safely around Raven's Rock and head for the quay just beyond Sally Mullin's Tea and Ale House.