‘I will not forget,’ said Dawn. ‘In any case, you are probably milady’s only hope.’
This time Dawn did not answer at all. As they glided steadily down, Arthur watched the approach of the Leviathan. Maybe she was getting smaller, but she still looked like a mountainous island, with enormously high cliffs of chalk at the front. Something too big to be mobile.
Then she raised her tail. Even though they were still twenty miles away or more, Arthur flinched in Dawn’s tentacular grasp. The tail rose up at least a mile and came crashing down with a rumbling explosion that Arthur could feel through the air as much as hear. He could see the wave it generated too, and was surprised that by the time the wave got to the ship it was just a slightly higher crest in the swell.
‘She’s changing,’ said Dawn confidently. ‘Already only half her normal size.’
Arthur found that hard to believe, but he supposed Dawn would know. They were circling above the ship now, still a long way up, but disturbingly no higher than Wednesday’s mighty white brow. It loomed closer and closer, and Arthur started to use his hand as a measure, holding five fingers out at arm’s length and counting the number of fingers from sea level to the top of the whale’s head. It wasn’t very scientific but Arthur was somewhat relieved to see that by this crude measure, the whale was reducing in size.
Not that it looked any smaller.
‘Shouldn’t we fly up a bit?’ he asked, repeating the question in a shout when Dawn did not answer.
‘No,’ Dawn roared. ‘That would show disrespect. I trust milady!’
Arthur took another measure from sea level using his fingers. The whale was definitely getting smaller, but she was still what he could only think of as humungous.
‘I don’t think it would be disrespectful to not go any lower,’ shouted Arthur. ‘I mean, I’m the visitor. Shouldn’t we let her get on the ship first?’
Dawn didn’t answer. But she also didn’t fly any lower.
Arthur kept looking at Drowned Wednesday. Because of her enormous size, he hadn’t really taken in how fast she was approaching. The distance between them was rapidly disappearing, and she still loomed higher than they were flying. He felt like an ant watching a freight train approaching, and he was stuck to the railway line.
At least she’s got her mouth shut, thought Arthur. She was close enough for him to see one of her huge eyes now, a thing the size of a racetrack. There were oily tears the size of buses rolling across the face of the eye, each one leaving a rainbow trace behind.
The pupil in the eye suddenly moved up and down a few times, then left and right. It looked like a weird code.
Instantly Dawn’s wings pumped the air and she veered away from the onrushing whale, circling to gain height. Arthur, taken by surprise, rotated in Dawn’s grip and found himself staring at her sharkskin belly. He urgently pushed and pulled himself around, desperate to see what was happening.
It took him a minute or more, a very long minute, with the expectation that when he next looked he would see the giant mouth open and them going straight into it, no matter how hard Dawn tried to fly away.
But he didn’t. He saw the top of Drowned Wednesday’s head, only a hundred feet or so below. A huge expanse of white whale blubber and, a few seconds later, a blowhole that looked like a billionaire’s sauna.
Which was not that big, Arthur thought. The Leviathan had shrunk considerably. She was now no more than a mile long and he could actually see the shrinking taking place. It was like watching a balloon slowly losing its air, while it still kept its basic shape.
‘A minor miscalculation,’ said Dawn as they began to glide around and down again. There was something in her tone that suggested to Arthur that she’d done it on purpose to scare him, perhaps on Wednesday’s orders.
Whether it was intentional or not, Dawn made no mistake with the landing on the ship. She circled a few times, watching the approaching white whale get smaller and smaller. Then, when Drowned Wednesday was no more than fifty feet long, Dawn swooped down onto the poop deck, dropped Arthur, and transformed herself back into human shape.
‘Go down to the main deck,’ said Dawn. ‘Milady will meet you there.’
Arthur unpegged his nose and slowly climbed down the companionway to the quarterdeck and then to the waist of the ship. Tables had been laid end to end on both the port and starboard sides, from the forecastle back to the mainmast. They were covered in fine white tablecloths and loaded with many different kinds of food on fancy silver platters and trays and china plates and bowls.
This, Arthur guessed, was the luncheon of seventeen removes, though all seventeen courses were already laid out and, as far as he could see, there were no places set, or chairs.
The slap of water on deck made him look to the side ladder. A pulpy-fingered, dripping hand gripped the top rung, followed by another.
Drowned Wednesday was coming aboard.
She did not look good. Her skin was pallid and strangely lumpy, and her arms and legs were of different sizes, the left much puffier than the right. She was wearing a one-piece garment that looked like a huge flour sack with holes cut for her head and arms. Her hair hung limp and wet like a bunch of brown seaweed on her head, obscuring much of her face. Arthur could see that once she must have been beautiful, as were all the superior Denizens, but the fine bones of her face were lost in fat.
She had a rope tied around her waist in place of a belt, and thrust through the rope was a long silver fork — perhaps a short trident. Arthur’s eye was drawn to it at once, and he knew without being told that this was the Third Key. Right in front of him! He could run forward and snatch it out — ‘
Greetings, Lord Arthur,’ muttered Lady Wednesday as she staggered past him to the table and picked up a huge, meaty bone. She immediately began to gnaw at it, tearing off huge chunks of meat, which she swallowed down with barely a chew. ‘Wouldn’t believe how tired . . . I am of krill and . . . microscopic shrimps!’
Arthur tried to keep the look of disgust off his face as she threw the bone away and picked up an enormous cake and forced it into her face.
‘Repulsive, aren’t I?’ mumbled Wednesday. ‘Not my choice, you understand. Can’t stop eating.’
‘Why?’ asked Arthur. ‘I don’t understand. What’s wrong with you? What do you want with me?’
‘Cursed,’ came the indistinct reply, as Wednesday moved to a huge silver tureen of soup and started to drink it down. ‘Or something similar. Never should have gone in with the other Trustees. Started getting hungry back then, almost as soon as I took my part of the Will. But held it in check with the Key. Pass me that turkey.’
Arthur looked at the table. It took him a moment to locate a huge roast bird that had to be the turkey, though it was twice the size of any he’d ever seen. He lifted it up with some effort and handed it to Wednesday, who grabbed it one-handed and managed to get her jaws around two-thirds of the huge bird in one go.
Arthur had thought of snatching the Key as he handed over the turkey, but he couldn’t bring himself to get close enough. Lady Wednesday’s hunger was really frightening and it took all Arthur’s courage just to stay and listen to her — from a distance.
‘As I was saying . . . this good . . . started getting hungry but held it in check for a couple of thousand years without too much trouble . . . sauce for this duck, ah . . . ate a huge amount but didn’t matter . . . then I realised wasn’t just my appetite getting out of hand . . . cucumber sandwiches excellent, only four dozen, pity . . . the Border Sea was spreading without my direction . . . extending into the Secondary Realms, which was bad enough, but also into Nothing . . .’
She paused to eat a huge, towering jelly-cake, shoving handfuls of it into her maw in quick time. Then, between mouthfuls of bread torn from a loaf the size of Arthur himself, she continued.
‘I could stop the Sea spreading when I noticed it, using the Key . . . ugh, fish, you can have that . . . but I didn’t like what was going on. Eventually I concluded that the problem went back to our actions with the Will. So I decided —’ She stopped suddenly and flung herself on a platter of small chocolate desserts, smearing chocolate all over her pasty face. Then, through bubbles of chocolate, she continued what she was saying.
‘I decided that I would free Part Three of the Will and relinquish the Key. That I was not equipped to deal with whatever was wrong with the Border Sea and with myself.’
Wednesday stopped eating for a few seconds. Her face screwed up with a look of pain.
‘Unfortunately I also decided to share my plan first with my friend, the so-called Superior Saturday, who I thought might do the same. Two of us would have a better chance against the others. Or so I thought.’
She took a deep breath and staggered down the table to a barbecue plate that was sizzling away without any visible source of heat. It was crowded with thick, succulent sausages, which Drowned Wednesday picked up by the half dozen and crammed into a mouth that Arthur noticed was already bigger and wider than it had been moments before. Drowned Wednesday herself had also grown a foot or two in every direction while she was speaking.
‘Saturday betrayed me! The other Trustees, save that somnolent fool Monday, called me to a meeting. I was ambushed, five Keys against my one. They stripped me of my power and I was cast down into the Border Sea, my shape lost, my appetite unsuppressed!’
She punctuated her last remark by eating an entire watermelon, rind and all, washing it down with a huge flagon of ale that spilled down her front.
‘Ahh! Since then, I have not been fully able to wield the Key. All the power I have is directed at growing no larger, else I eat up everything in the Border Sea and beyond!’
‘What about the Will?’ asked Arthur. ‘Why didn’t you just release it like you were going to?’
‘Stolen!’ roared Wednesday as she slavered over a side of suckling pig. ‘They reached into my mind and stole out the secret of its location, then Saturday or one of the others sent that pirate Feverfew to take it. But you will get it back, Lord Arthur! You will get the Will, and I shall give you the Key, and all will yet be well. Oh, how I long not to . . . eat! Eat! Eat!’
She threw herself on the table, sliding along with her mouth gaping open like some sort of awful giant vacuum cleaner, scooping up food, plates and all. As she ate her way along the table, her torso grew larger and larger, and her arms and legs shrank back into her body.
‘Where did Feverfew take the Will?’ Arthur shouted. He started to back even farther away from the feeding frenzy, darting glances at Dawn, who did not look at all ready to fly away.
‘Aaaarrch homp homp ugh,’ Wednesday gurgled and spat, bits of mangled silver falling from her jaws. ‘Don’t know! The pirates have a secret harbour. I know it is in my very own Border Sea, I feel it in my gut! But I cannot find it. You must! Now run! Run!’
She focused on the last few yards of piled-high food on the table and swallowed the lot down in one sweep of her now enormous mouth. Then she turned towards Arthur and slid onto the deck, a huge blubbery cylinder that was not yet whale but no longer human, her now vestigial arms and legs writhing and her vast mouth chomping, the ridges of bone that had once been teeth making a hideous clattering sound.
Arthur wasn’t on the deck anymore. He was halfway up the main mast, almost jumping from ratline to ratline. He climbed so quickly that he made it to the cross-trees and was working himself onto the small platform there when Dawn caught up with him and plucked him away and into the air.
Below them, Wednesday continued to grow and grow, threshing and rolling in her hunger, biting at the timbers of the ship until her own rapidly increasing weight broke the vessel’s back and sent it to the bottom.
Dawn did not waste any time letting Arthur have a look at Wednesday’s transformation. She started flying directly away, her wings beating rapidly and full, gaining height as well as speed. It took Arthur a moment to understand that even now they might not get away, that Dawn was pushing herself to the limit in order to escape Wednesday’s remarkable growth and even more remarkable hunger.
Neither of them spoke for some time, till it was clear that their flight had taken them out of Drowned Wednesday’s ravening path.
‘Where do you wish to go?’ asked Dawn finally. ‘I will do as promised, and take you to a place of safety, if you so desire.’
ARTHUR DIDN’T REPLY immediately. He felt himself at an important crossroads, and his choice here would decide not only his own fate but the fate of many others as well.
‘If safety is your prime concern,’ Dawn continued, ‘then I must take you to Port Wednesday. It is the only place in the Border Sea where there are elevators to take you elsewhere within the House, and thence wherever you wish to go.’
Arthur was silent, thinking this through. It would be so easy to go to Port Wednesday, take an elevator to the Lower House, and then go home through the Front Door or Seven Dials. That would be the safe course to follow. But deep inside he felt that there were no safe courses for him anymore. Not in the long run.
‘How far are we from the Triangle?’ he asked.
‘A half-day’s journey, by way of an ocean in the Secondary Realms,’ replied Wednesday. ‘Or a week or more if we stay within the House. Port Wednesday is even closer, only a few hours away, again by way of a suitable sea on another world in the Secondary Realms. There’s nothing for you at the Triangle.’
‘My friend Leaf is there, and some Raised Rats. Have you asked them to try and find the pirates’ secret harbour?’ asked Arthur.
‘No,’ said Dawn. ‘We do not deal with Rats. Milady Wednesday wished to ban them from the Border Sea, but they possess a patent of authority from the Architect herself, allowing them to roam where they will within the House. What can you possibly want with the Raised Rats?’