Long days of convalescence after her terrible accident. Hotep-Ra bringing the beautiful young Queen from the Castle to visit her on MidSummer Day. Days turning into months dragging into years as the Dragon Boat lies on the floor of the temple and is slowly, so slowly, put back together by Hotep-Ra’s boatbuilders. And each MidSummer Day the Queen, now accompanied by her baby daughter, visited the Dragon Boat. The years wearing on and still the boatbuilders have not finished. Endless lonely months when the builders disappear and leave her alone. And then Hotep-Ra becoming older and more frail, and when at last she is restored to her former glory, Hotep-Ra is too ill to see her. He orders the temple to be covered over with a huge mound of earth to protect her until the day she will again be needed, and she is plunged into darkness.
But the Queen does not forget what Hotep-Ra has told her—that she must visit the Dragon Boat each MidSummer Day. Every summer she comes to the island. She orders a simple cottage to be built for her ladies and herself to stay in, and every MidSummer Day she lights a lantern, takes it down into the temple and visits the boat she has come to love. As the years go by, each successive Queen pays a midsummer visit to the Dragon Boat, no longer knowing why, but doing it because her own mother did so before her, and because each new Queen grows to love the dragon too. The dragon loves each Queen in return, and although each one is different in her own way, they all possess the same distinctive, gentle touch, as does this one.
And so the centuries pass. The Queen’s midsummer visit becomes a secret tradition, watched over by a succession of White Witches who live in the cottage, keeping the secret of the Dragon Boat and lighting the lanterns to help the dragon through her days. The dragon dozes the centuries away, buried under the island, hoping one day to be released and waiting for each magical MidSummer Day when the Queen herself brings a lantern and pays her respects.
Until one MidSummer Day ten years ago when the Queen did not come. The dragon was tormented with worry, but there was nothing to be done. Aunt Zelda kept the cottage ready for the advent of the Queen, should she ever arrive, and the dragon had waited, her spirits kept up by Aunt Zelda’s daily visit with yet another freshly lit lantern. But what the dragon was really waiting for was the moment when the Queen would again throw her arms around her neck.
As she had just done.
The dragon opened her eyes in surprise. Jenna gasped. She must be dreaming, she thought. The dragon’s eyes were indeed green, just as she had imagined, but they were not emeralds. They were living, seeing dragon eyes. Jenna let go of the dragon’s neck and stepped back, and the dragon eyes followed her movement, taking a long look at the new Queen. It is a young one, thought the dragon, but none the worse for that. She bowed her head respectfully.
From the stern of the boat, Boy 412 saw the dragon bow her head, and he knew he was not imagining things. Neither was he imagining something else. The sound of running water.
“Look!” yelled Nicko.
A narrow dark gap had appeared in the wall between the two marble pillars holding up the roof. A small trickle of water had begun to pour ominously through the opening as if a sluice gate had been nudged open. As they watched, the trickle soon became a stream, with the gap opening wider and wider. Soon the mosaic floor of the temple was awash with water, and the stream pouring in had become a torrent.
With a thunderous roar, the earth bank outside gave way, and the wall between the two pillars collapsed. A river of mud and water swept into the cavern, churning around the Dragon Boat, lifting and rocking her from side to side, until suddenly she was floating free.
“She’s afloat!” yelled Nicko excitedly.
Jenna stared down from the prow at the muddy water swirling below them and watched as the small wooden ladder was caught up in the flood and swept away. Far above her, Jenna became aware of some movement: slowly and painfully, with a neck stiff from all the years of waiting, the dragon was turning her head to see who, at last, was at the helm. She rested her deep-green eyes on her new Master, a surprisingly small figure in a red hat. He did not look anything like her last Master, Hotep-Ra, a tall dark man whose gold and platinum belt would flash in the sunlight glancing off the waves and whose purple cloak would fly wildly in the wind as they sped together over the ocean. But the dragon recognized the most important thing of all: the hand that once again held the tiller was Magykal.
It was time to go to sea once more.
The dragon reared her head, and the two massive leathery wings, which had been folded along the sides of the boat, began to loosen. Before her, for the first time in many hundreds of years, she could see open water.
Maxie growled, the hair on his neck standing up on end.
The boat began to move.
“What are you doing?” Jenna yelled at Boy 412.
Boy 412 shook his head. He wasn’t doing anything. It was the boat.
“Let go!” Jenna yelled at him above the noise of the storm outside. “Let go of the tiller. It’s you making this happen. Let go!”
But Boy 412 would not let go. Something kept his hand firmly on the tiller, guiding the Dragon Boat as she began to move between the two marble pillars, taking with her her new crew: Jenna, Nicko, Boy 412 and Maxie.
As the dragon’s barbed tail cleared the confines of the temple, a loud creaking began on either side of the boat. The dragon was lifting her wings, unfurling and spreading each one like an enormous webbed hand stretching its long bony fingers, cracking and groaning as the leathery skin was pulled taut. The crew of the Dragon Boat stared into the night sky, amazed at the sight of the huge wings towering above the boat like two giant green sails.
The dragon’s head reared up into the night, and her nostrils flared, breathing in the smell she had dreamed of all those years. The smell of the sea.
At last the dragon was free.
Steer her into the waves!” yelled Nicko as a wave caught the side of the boat and crashed over them, soaking them with freezing-cold water. But Boy 412 was struggling hard to shift the tiller against the wind and the force of the water. The gale screaming in his ears and the driving rain in his face did not help either. Nicko threw himself at the tiller, and together they put all their weight against it, pushing the tiller away from them. The dragon set her wings to catch the wind, and the boat slowly came around to face the oncoming waves.
Up at the prow, Jenna, soaked with the rain, was clinging to the dragon’s neck. The boat pitched up and down as it rode through the waves, flinging her helplessly from side to side.
The dragon reared her head, breathing in the storm and loving every minute of it. It was the start of a voyage, and a storm at the beginning of a voyage was always a good omen. But where did her new Master wish her to take him? The dragon turned her long green neck and looked back at this new Master at the helm, struggling with his shipmate, red hat sodden with the rain, rivulets of water teeming down his face.
Where do you wish me to go? asked the dragon’s green eyes.
Boy 412 understood the look.
“Marcia?” he yelled at the top of his voice to Jenna and Nicko.
They nodded. This time they were going to do it.
“Marcia!” Boy 412 shouted at the dragon.
The dragon blinked uncomprehendingly. Where was Marcia? She had not heard of that country. Was it far away? The Queen would know.
Suddenly the dragon dipped her head and scooped Jenna up in the playful way she had done with so many Princesses over the centuries. But in the howling wind the effect was more terrifying than playful. Jenna found herself flying through the air above the surging waves, and a moment later, soaked by the sea spray, she was perched on top of the dragon’s golden head, sitting just behind her ears and hanging on to them as though her life depended on it.
Where is Marcia, my lady? Is it a long voyage? Jenna heard the dragon ask hopefully, already looking forward to many happy months sailing the oceans with her new crew in search of the land of Marcia.
Jenna risked letting go of a surprisingly soft golden ear and pointed to the Vengeance which was coming up fast.
“Marcia’s there. She’s our ExtraOrdinary Wizard. And she’s a prisoner on that ship. We want her back.”
The dragon’s voice came to her again, a little disappointed not to be traveling any farther. Whatever you wish, my lady, it shall be done.
Deep in the hold of the Vengeance, Marcia Overstrand sat listening to the Storm raging above her. On the little finger of her right hand, which was the only one on which it would fit, she wore the ring Boy 412 had given her. Marcia sat in the dark hold, turning over in her mind all the possible ways Boy 412 could have found the long-lost Dragon Ring of Hotep-Ra. None of them made much sense to her. However he had found it, the ring had done for Marcia the wonderful thing it used to do for Hotep-Ra. It had taken away her seasickness. It was also, Marcia knew, slowly restoring her Magykal strength. Little by little she could feel the Magyk returning, and as it did so, the Shadows that had haunted her and followed her from Dungeon Number One began to slink away. The effect of DomDaniel’s terrible Vortex was disappearing. Marcia risked a small smile. It was the first time she had smiled for four long weeks.