"It's not that bad, Beetle," Septimus told him. "They just love the Forest, that's all. My grandfather is a tree out there somewhere. It's in the family."
"Excuse me? Your granddad's a tree?" Beetle spluttered and inhaled some FizzFroot up his nose.
"Eurgh. Not all over me, Beetle. Keep your snot to yourself," said Septimus with a laugh. "My grandfather was a Shape-Shifter. He became a tree," he explained, wiping the sleeve of his tunic.
Beetle let out a low whistle, impressed.
"Not many Shape-Shifters about anymore, Sep. Do you know where he is then?"
"No. Dad goes out and looks for him sometimes. Hasn't found him yet though."
"How does he know?"
"That he hasn't found him? I mean, how do you tell which tree is your father and which tree isn't?"
"Dunno," said Septimus, who had often wondered the same thing. "Look, Beetle," he said, steering Beetle back to the question he had asked him before, "you must have seen Simon. He came in first thing this morning. Jenna and I saw him. Jenna would tell you" Septimus stopped as he suddenly saw a vivid picture of the terrified Jenna thundering by on Simon's horse, on her way to ... where?
"The only person who came in this morning was the Traveler," said Beetle.
"The Traveler. That's what he calls himself. Everyone thinks he's a loony, but I think he's scary, Sep. And I reckon that Old Foxy does too, although he'd never let on. The Traveler often comes in with a package for Old Foxyyou know, Foxy's dadhe's the Chief Hermetic Scribe. They spend ages in the Hermetic Chamber and then the Traveler goes off again. Never says a word to anyone. Weird. Old Foxy looks white as a sheet after he's gone."
"Does the Traveler have green eyes and hair a bit like mine?" asked Septimus. "Was he dressed in a long black cloak? And have a big black horse tied up by the door?"
"Yep. That's him. Horse ate my bag of apples what I brought for my lunch, though I didn't dare mention it. But he don't look much like your brother, Sep. He's not like a Heap if you know what I mean. Heaps ain't scary. They may be mad, but they ain't scary."
"But Simon is scary," said Septimus. "Really scary. And he's taken Jenna. He's kidnapped her."
Beetle looked shocked. "The Princess?" he gasped. "The Traveler's kidnapped the Princess? I don't believe it."
"That's the trouble," said Septimus. "No one will believe it. Not even Marcia."
Chapter 9 Leaving
Septimus was in his room, packing his bag. His small, round room at the top of the Wizard Tower was neat and orderly, a result of its occupant's ten years of training in the Young Army. Dreadful and dangerous as those years had been for Septimus, now that the Young Army was disbanded and he was reunited with his family, he had begun to stop despising everything that he had learned as a boy soldier. He was no longer wildly untidy just because he could be; after a brief period when it had resembled the Municipal Rubbish Dump, his room was now neat and ordered. The room bore other traces of his previous life too: its dark-blue curving walls and ceiling were covered with the constellations, accurately painted by Septimus, who had had to memorize them for his Young Army night exercises. And in his cupboard he always kept an emergency backpack, packed strictly in accordance with the Young Army regulations.
Septimus's emergency backpack contained:
compass (1)eyeglass (1)water bottle (1)bedroll (1)socks (3)mess tin (1)tinderbox (1)spare flints (2)kindling (moss, dried, bunch of)ex Young Army regulation pen knife (1)catapult (1)wire, length of (1)rope, length of (1)
To this Septimus was now busy adding a few things that reflected his new life as Apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. They were:
Unseen Charm (1)Seeker's Charm (1)Fast Freeze Charm (1)Double Action Escape Pack (1)
Plus a few bits and pieces that he thought may come in useful:
The Little Book of Survival and Bushcraft by Ram Seary (1)Wiz Bix, everlasting, packet of (1)Mint Blasts, tubes of (3)
There wasn't room for much else, but there was one last thing that Septimus wanted to take. It broke all the rules because it was both unnecessary and heavy, but Septimus didn't care. Down the side of the backpack Septimus stuffed the smooth iridescent green rock that Jenna had given him when he had first known her. With some difficulty, Septimus buckled up the backpack and put it on. It was heavier than he had expected.
"Is that you, Septimus?" Marcia called out as he came down the stairs and headed for the front door. He jumped in surprise.
"Yes," he replied warily.
Marcia was kneeling on the floor beside the ShadowSafe. In front of her was a huge piece of paper with an extremely complicated diagram on it, which she was examining closely. For a brief, horrible moment, Septimus caught a glimpse of a large murky figure leaning over her, also peering at the paperbut when Septimus looked more closely the Shadow faded from view. But he knew it was still there, hovering behind Marcia, silently staring at the plans for its own demise. Septimus put down his heavy backpack; he felt bad about leaving Marcia alone with her dark companion.
"What's a flange?" asked Marcia.
"A flange. It says here attach piece Y to the long, upright D, taking care to align holes P and Q with the corresponding holes N and O in the left-hand flange. I can't see a wretched flange anywhere." Marcia rifled irritably through a large box of fixings that Professor Van Klampff had given her for the construction of the ShadowSafe.
"It's not in the box," said Septimus. "It's that bit that sticks out. Look, there " He ran his finger down a curved projecting rim that ran the length of the edge of the ShadowSafe. The Amalgam felt like glass to the touchsilky smooth and cold.
"Well, why didn't it say so," said Marcia grumpily as she slotted piece Ya long, curved triangular sectiononto the ShadowSafe, carefully aligning holes P and Q with holes N and O. Marcia dusted down her tunic with an air of satisfaction. "Thank you, Septimus, it's looking good, isn't it? Only one more piece to go down the side here, then the final Stopper and"Marcia twisted around, trying to catch sight of her Shadow"you will be gone, you pathetic creature."
Septimus looked at the ShadowSafe. Good was not the word he would have used to describe itweird, maybe, or just plain ugly was more like it. It rose from the floor, dominating the room with its shiny blackness and bizarre shape, which reminded Septimus of a gnarled hollow tree. The odd assortment of molded panels, which Professor Van Klampff had so carefully constructed, had come together to form a roughly conical enclosed space, open at the top, with a long narrow gap running from top to bottom through which Marcia and her Shadowfor a Shadow must Follow whether it wants to or notwould eventually squeeze. Then someone, probably one of the more senior Wizards (as Marcia felt it was a lot of responsibility for her young Apprentice), would place the last piece, the Stopper, in the hole in the top, and Marcia would walk out, free at last, leaving the Shadow trapped inside, like a lobster in a lobster pot. After that it was a simple job for the Bin Disposal Squad.
"Hang on, Septimus," said Marcia, suddenly remembering what she had said to him earlier, "what are you doing back here? I gave you the day off. You should be up at the Palace with your mother."
"I'm going to find Jenna," Septimus said, picking up his backpack and heaving it onto his shoulders. "Seeing as no one else will."
Marcia sighed. "Look, Septimus," she said patiently, "Jenna will be back soon, mark my words. You're just a little upset after your spider bite. It's perfectly normal."
"I am not upset," he said indignantly.
"Septimus," said Marcia, "I know you think I don't believe you"
"I know you don't believe me," said Septimus.
"but, just to put your mind at rest, I have done a Remote Search of the Farmlands across the river and there is a horse with two riders on its way to the North Gate. It is bound to be Jenna and Simon after their morning out. And I have sent Boris"
"Boris?" asked Septimus.
"Boris Catchpole. Moved in yesterday, he's a new sub-Wizarda bit old really to get started as a Wizard but he's very keen. He's part of our Second-Chance Scheme. He trained as a Tracker in the Army. Got as far as Deputy Hunter, believe it or not."