The rear two-thirds of the bridge, as this room clearly was, could have been transplanted from an expensive hotel or café, though one with limited space. There were six elegant, narrow chairs, bolted to the deck in groups of three, each with a little table between them.
Longtayle and another submariner Rat were down at the controls, intent on going through a checklist. The only other person — or sentient being — there was an exquisitely dressed girl sitting demurely in one of the forward chairs, with her back to Arthur. She was wearing a pearly-white dress with puffed-up sleeves and numerous ruffles and flounces, topped with a very broad-brimmed white hat that had a spray of peacock feathers that almost touched the ceiling. She was drinking very slowly and precisely from a gold-rimmed teacup.
Arthur’s heart sank. She was too small to be a Denizen, but Dame Primus had obviously sent someone else, one of the Piper’s children more to her liking. Not the ragamuffin Suzy Blue.
Still, she would have messages, which could be important. With a sigh that he didn’t even try to suppress, Arthur slid between the chairs to approach the girl.
She turned her head very elegantly as Arthur sighed. Though the huge hat shadowed her face, Arthur recognised the sharp, dark-eyed face underneath. He tripped over his own feet and hit the shin of his good leg on the chair next to her.
‘Lord Arthur, I presume?’
Arthur recovered his balance and frowned. She looked like Suzy Blue, but her voice didn’t sound quite right. She certainly didn’t dress like Suzy Blue.
‘My name is Suzanna,’ said the girl.
‘Suzy Turquoise Blue,’ said Arthur, with more conviction. It was Suzy, just all cleaned up and nicely dressed, and putting on a different voice.
‘Suzanna Monday’s Tierce,’ corrected the girl. ‘That is my name and station.’
‘What’s happened to you?’ burst out Arthur. ‘I can’t believe you’re acting like . . . like . . .’
‘A properly brought-up young mortal,’ said Suzy. ‘That is the standard Dame Primus has set for me and that I try to attain. Please, do sit down, Lord Arthur. Would you like a cup of this rather strong, but quite refreshing, tea?’
Arthur sat down with a thump. He’d really been looking forward to seeing Suzy again, and having her help. This beautifully dressed, ramrod-straight girl might look like Suzy, but she might as well be an imposter. He couldn’t see her being much help. She probably wouldn’t want to leave the submarine.
‘Do you have any messages from Dame Primus?’ he asked abruptly.
‘Tea?’ responded Suzanna.
‘Just the messages, if you have any.’
‘La! You are in a fearful rush!’ protested Suzy. She put her teacup down with agonising slowness and took a small silk handbag out of her lap. It was a delicate shade of pink. Arthur almost couldn’t bear to look at it. Suzy Turquoise Blue was a brave adventurer, not someone who carried around a tiny pink handbag and said ‘La!’
Suzy reached into the bag and withdrew a tiny square of paper that grew as it came out, to become a larger envelope of stiff, heavy paper, sealed with a huge red wax seal that showed the stern profile of Dame Primus. Without a laurel wreath, Arthur noticed.
‘With the compliments of Dame Primus,’ said Suzy, passing it over with a very fake-looking smile.
Arthur snatched the letter. As he bent it to break the seal, he saw Doctor Scamandros out of the corner of his eye. The little sorcerer was being assisted to one of the chairs by the same Rat who’d shown Arthur in.
Up the front, Longtayle and the helmsrat sat down in the control chairs. Longtayle raised a pipe to his mouth and spoke into it. His amplified words crackled out of a speaker hidden somewhere above Arthur’s head, and could be heard echoing up from the corridor behind as well.
‘All hands to diving stations! Sections report when secure!’
Arthur opened the envelope. Like most letters in the House, there was no separate sheet of paper. The writing was all on the inside of the envelope. Arthur unfolded it completely and paused to listen as other Rats’ voices crackled and echoed through the loudspeaker system.
‘Engine room ready.’
‘Air circulation ready!’
Longtayle spoke to the helmsrat. Arthur started to read his letter.
To Arthur, Rightful Heir to the Keys to the Kingdom and Master of the Lower House, the Middle House, the Upper House, the Far Reaches, the Great Maze, the Incomparable Gardens, the Border Sea, and those Infinite Territories beyond the House commonly called the Secondary Realms.
Greetings from your faithful servant, Dame Primus, Amalgam of Parts One and Two (comprising Paragraphs Three to Thirteen) of the Will of Our Supreme Creator, Ultimate Architect of All and Steward of the Lower House and the Far Reaches in trust for the Rightful Heir.
This missive is conveyed to you by the hand of our good and faithful Miss Suzanna Monday’s Tierce. We trust it finds you well.
Get on with it, thought Arthur.
We are delighted to hear that you have once again chosen to prosecute the campaign against the vile and treacherous Morrow Days. We are not pleased that you have chosen to make alliance with Drowned Wednesday, as we fear that she clouds her true purpose. Do not trust her!
We are currently besieged by papers, as the Morrow Days seek to render us immobile and ineffective under a deluge of administrative tasks — a clever tactic made easier for them by Monday’s many millennia of sloth.
However, we are pleased to report that progress is being made to return the Lower House to efficient operation. Rehabilitation of the Far Reaches has begun, with the Pit already 0.00002% filled in.
We have not been able to locate the Mariner as you requested, but as is no doubt evident, Accelerated Coal has been provided to the Raised Rats.
On the matter of these Rats, you must be wary in your dealings with them. It is possible they are still following some obscure and eccentric plan of the Piper’s, which may be in opposition to our own aims. Do not answer their questions! Their curiosity knows no bounds and they always seek knowledge forbidden to them. Unlike the Piper’s children, no effective means has been found to wash between their ears, so they have gathered far too many secrets.
Arthur stopped reading and looked surreptitiously at Suzy.
That’s what happened to her, he thought. He felt both sorrow and anger rising up inside him. She got washed between the ears and Dame Primus let it happen! Or made it happen. Dame Primus never liked Suzy!
Suzanna noticed his look. She gave him that fake smile and said, ‘Dame Primus requested that you read her letter most carefully.’
It’s not her fault, thought Arthur as he bit back a sharp retort. The sadness overcame the anger he felt. He couldn’t look at Suzy, so he went back to reading the letter.
One thing may be said for the Raised Rats. They do keep their agreements. One must merely be careful what one agrees with them.
We await further news from you, Lord Arthur, and trust that we shall soon be united, by your hand, with the Third Part of our supreme Mistress’s Will.
Until then, we remain your obedient and respectful servant.
May the Will be done.
‘That’s a fat lot of help,’ Arthur said to himself. He started to fold the letter, but it folded itself instead, ending up no larger than a postage stamp. Suzy held out her hand for it, so Arthur gave it to her, and she replaced it in her pink handbag.
Up in front, Longtayle was issuing more commands.
The helmsrat flicked switches and, in answer, the crystal globe began to shimmer. After a moment or two, it showed a picture of the sea outside the submarine. The bottom half was just blue water, but the top half showed a view of the Rattus Navis IV steaming away.
Arthur caught another glimpse of Port Wednesday as the scene shifted through three hundred and sixty degrees, ending up back where it started, with the Rattus Navis still heading directly away.
The snout-eye view was all blue water.
The view in the globe changed again. It was still mostly water, but one corner of the great dark mountain of Port Wednesday was visible.
Longtayle swivelled in his chair to face the rear.
‘We’re ready to go, Lord Arthur. At your convenience.’ Arthur looked around. There was Suzanna, calmly sipping her tea. No longer the devil-may-care, ready-for-anything friend. There was Doctor Scamandros, looking unwell, his tattoos barely visible, hardly moving. The Mariner hadn’t come.
And then there’s me, thought Arthur. With a bruise on my head, one leg in a crabshell, and no real idea what I’m going to do even if we do get into Drowned Wednesday’s stomach and I can sneak into Feverfew’s secret little world.
Longtayle twitched one ear.
Arthur took a deep breath and said, ‘Let’s go!’
THE HELMSRAT MOVED his levers and the distant hum became a louder vibration, rattling Suzanna’s teapot till she laid a firm hand on it.
‘Full ahead both engines,’ commanded Longtayle. ‘Helm steady as she goes. Dive to twenty fathoms.’
The view in the crystal globe became full of bubbles and blue water that slowly changed colour from a light azure to a deep blue-black. The submersible angled down and Suzanna’s tray slid along the table, till it was arrested by the raised lip, a feature Arthur hadn’t noticed before. The incline was gentle, and didn’t last long before the submarine levelled off.
‘Twenty fathoms,’ reported the helmsrat. ‘Cruising speed achieved. Eighteen knots.’
‘Very good,’ confirmed Longtayle.
‘Phew!’ said Suzanna loudly, startling everyone. She ripped off her large white hat and threw it on the floor. ‘Fair thought I’d never see a ceiling again with that on!’
‘Suzy!’ exclaimed Arthur. He started to get up and was surprised to find a restraining belt had automatically slid around his waist when the submarine dived. It had a buckle, but it took him a few seconds to work out how to release the old-fashioned bronze hook and clasp.
Suzy, in that short time, had torn the puffy sleeves off her dress and was reaching into her pink handbag to pull out a much larger, much scruffier leather suitcase with a broken strap. She undid her belt, put the case on the floor, and rummaged around in it.
‘What were you doing?’ asked Arthur. He felt quite cross that she’d been pretending, though he was also relieved. ‘What was with all that Suzanna stuff?’
Suzy pulled out her favourite squashed top hat and stuck it on her head with a pat to the crown that made it even more dented.
‘Promised, didn’t I? Old Primey wouldn’t let me go excepting I swear to be all ladylike and proper on the Border Sea. So I swore, but we ain’t on the Border Sea anymore, are we? We’re under it.’
‘I’m glad to see you,’ said Arthur. ‘The real you, I mean.’
‘Good to see you too, Arthur,’ declared Suzy. She spat in her hand and held it out for him to shake. ‘Be even better once I get out of these ridiculous duds. I reckon you couldn’t even run in this, let alone climb a wall.’
Arthur took her hand with some hesitation.
‘I didn’t really spit,’ whispered Suzy as they shook. ‘Just did it to stir up the Rats. They’re awful particular for folk who started out as vermin. Not that I hold that against them. They’re good mates to all the Piper’s children, long as it don’t cost them any hard cash or real secrets.’
‘Dame Primus didn’t say much in her letter,’ said Arthur as they sat back down. He tried not to flinch as his seat belt crept back around and refastened itself. ‘How is everything? How long has it been since I left you in the Far Reaches?’
‘Over a twelve-month,’ said Suzy. She carelessly poured some more tea, letting it slop over the top of the cup. ‘And a busy time it’s been. I reckon the Morrow Days have fair got the wind up about you, Arthur. And Dame Primus. You should see the stuff they’re sending down to try and keep her busy. One of the forms was eighty-two feet high when all the pages were stacked up! Mind you, that old Primus doesn’t really read like normal folk. She just sits there absorbing it. Like dropping a biscuit in tea. Oops!’
‘So they’re just sending lots of paperwork? That doesn’t sound so bad.’
‘Well, there’s also been assassins, sabotage, and tons more Nithlings boiling up out of the floor, and no help to deal with them,’ said Suzy, fishing for her biscuit with a spoon. ‘It’s been much more exciting than it used to be. Not that Dame Primus lets me anywhere near anything if she can help it. Lessons, lessons, and more lessons, that’s her idea of what’s good for me. Surprised she let me come along here, though I s’pose since you asked directly she couldn’t say no. Thanks.’
‘You do know what I want to do?’
Suzy nodded airily.
‘Course I do. We sit here in comfort scoffing tea and biscuits till we get swallowed up by old Wednesday whale. Then we have to get into some crazed pirate’s private world, which is stuck in her ladyship’s guts, grab the next bit of the Will, and then the usual, only you reckon Wednesday’s just going to hand over the Key.’
‘I guess that covers the main points . . .’
‘And you’ve got your own sorcerer along this time,’ said Suzy approvingly. She waved at Doctor Scamandros. ‘How-do. I’m Suzy Blue. Used to be an Ink-Filler.’
‘Pleased to meet you, young lady,’ said Doctor Scamandros. He leaned forward in his chair and came up against his seat belt. He looked puzzled, then subsided back again, obviously considering the three foot distance too far to travel. ‘I am indeed a sorcerer, though sadly not in full bloom. Doctor Scamandros is my name. I shall be assisting Lord Arthur and yourself, I believe, by constructing sorcerous disguises to ease your entry into Feverfew’s hideaway.’