As the day wore on, the lush meadows of the river flood-plain gave way to the gently sloping hills of the Lowlands. The soft fruit crops and orchards of the small farms and market gardens changed to hillsides of vines, and still Thunder carried on, climbing upward as the hills became more pronounced and the misty blues and purples of the Border Mountains began to rise before them.

Now Jenna began to realize that Simon was not going to let her go. For much of the morning she had hoped that whatever strange joke he was playing on her would soon come to an end, that he would suddenly turn Thunder around and canter back to the Castle. Jenna had even decided exactly what she was going to say to him when they got back, and once or twice she thought he was about to do just that. But Thunder carried on, now walking more often than trotting, as the hills became steeper and the air clearer and more chill.

It was late afternoon, and they had reached the grim slate quarries in the sheep-filled foothills of the Badlands, when Jenna at last broke the heavy silence between them. ''Why are you taking me away, Simon?" Jenna asked. "Where are we going?"

Simon did not reply. But, as Jenna looked ahead to the looming mass of the Border Mountains, she already knew the answer to her second question. And she wasn't sure she really wanted to hear the answer to her first.

Chapter 11 Jannit Maarten's Boatyard

As Septimus neared the North Gate he heard the sound of raised voices. "You can't stop me, Father!" Lucy Gringe was yelling. "You can't keep me locked up anymore. I am not a child. If I want to go after Simon, then I will. So there!"

"Over my dead body!" came Gringe's low growl.

"With pleasure!"

"Stop it both of you. Please!" shouted Mrs. Gringe. "I'm sure Lucy isn't really going to run, are you, dear?"

"Of course I am, Mother. Right now!"

"Oh, no, you're not!" yelled Gringe.

"Oh, yes, I am!"

"Oh, no, you're not."

Septimus arrived at the North Gate just in time to see Gringe dart inside the gatehouse. A moment later there was a loud clanking noise as the massive chains of the drawbridge started to move slowly around the huge cogs on the ground floor. Gringe was winding up the drawbridge.

Lucy Gringe knew the sound well; she had heard it every sunset and sunrise of her life. Septimus watched Lucy sidestep Mrs. Gringea short but athletic-looking woman who looked remarkably similar to her husbandand make a run for the bridge.

"Stop!" yelled Mrs. Gringe, running after her daughter. "Stopyou'll get yourself killed."

"Fat lot you care," screamed Lucy, her long plaits streaming out behind her, as she went tearing up the slowly increasing incline of the drawbridge, intending to throw herself across the widening gap between the bridge and the opposite bank. Mrs. Gringe raced after her daughter. Suddenly she launched herself into an expert flying tackle and brought Lucy crashing down onto the thick wooden planks of the bridge.

In the gatehouse the deafening clanking of the chains drowned out all the sounds of the drama outside. With a determined grimace, Gringe carried on winding up the bridge, unaware that Lucy and Mrs. Gringe were now fiercely fighting each other as Lucy struggled to reach the end of the bridge. But with every second, the incline was becoming steeper, and soon it was far too steep for Lucy to make any headway at all. It was all she could do to stay where she was, with her fingers clutched around an iron ring embedded in the wood while Mrs. Gringe clung like a limpet to Lucy's left boot.

Inside the gatehouse the heavily sweating Gringe gave another turn to the chains and the drawbridge reared up yet again. It was now beginning to point toward the sky. Suddenly Lucy could hold on no longer. Her fingers let go of the ring, and she and her mother were sent slithering down the nearly vertical slope. And as they landed in a bruised and squabbling heap on the cobbles of the gate, the drawbridge closed with a loud clang and an earthshaking thump. Gringe, exhausted by his effort, collapsed on the floor and resolved to be nicer to the Bridge Boy, who usually wound up the bridge. He wouldn't like to have to do that again in a hurry.

Septimus slipped away. He didn't have time to wait around for the Gringes to patch up their quarrel and let the bridge down again. He decided to go down to Jannit Maarten's boatyard, where Jannit ran a ferry service across the Moat, if she happened to be there.

Septimus decided to take a chance that she would be.

Half an hour later Septimus had reached the tunnel under the Castle wall that led to Jannit Maarten's boatyard. The yard was on a quay beside the Moat, just outside the Wall. Septimus walked through the damp, dripping tunnel and soon emerged into the sunlight and a chaotic jumble of boats. As he started picking his way carefully through assorted sails, ropes, anchors and endless contraptions that were essential for building boats, Septimus at first thought that the boatyard was deserted, until the sound of voices drifted to him from the edge of the Moat. Septimus made his way over to them.

"Sep! Hey, Sep! What are you doing here?" It was a voice that Septimus knew well. Nicko Heap had noticed the unmistakable green tunic among the boatyard clutter. Nicko was standing in the prow of a long, narrow boat; he was a little taller than his brother Septimus and much more solidly built. And unlike his brother's pale complexiona result of weeks on end spent inside the Wizard TowerNicko's smiling face was a deep wind-burned brown. His long fair hair was caked with salt from the sea; the curls were tangled from the wind and had a number of brightly colored braids woven through them. The braids were a summer craze among the young boatmen at the Port, and Nicko had taken to the braids with enthusiasm along with a collection of wristbands to match. Like Septimus and all the Heaps, Nicko had the deep green eyes that Wizard children get when they come into contact with Magyk. Nicko was not interested in being a Wizard, but he could turn his hand to a few spells if he had to, and, like all the Heap children (except Septimus), he had been taught Magyk as a child by his parents.

Next to Nicko was a tall young man with bright, spiky, red hair, wearing a grumpy expression, who Septimus knew to be Rupert Gringe, Lucy's brother. Jannit Maarten, the boat-builder, was on the boatyard pontoon securing the boat with a rope.

"Nickoyou're back!" yelled Septimus happily, leaping over a pile of planks and some old buckets and running toward his brother. He was surprised at how pleased and relieved he felt to see him. Nicko would understand about Jenna; Septimus was sure of that. Jannit Maarten smiled at Septimusshe was fond of all the Heaps. Nicko had recently started helping her and Rupert at the boatyard and she was impressed with him.

Jannit was a small, strong-looking woman in a grubby blue smock.

She had a pleasant nut-brown, deeply lined face, and her hair was plaited into a long, thin, gray ponytail which hung sailor-style down her back. Jannit lived and breathed boats; she slept in the small tumbledown hut at the entrance of the boatyard and rarely ventured out of the yard.

Although there were other boatyards at the Castle, Jannit Maarten's was the best. She had taken on Rupert Gringe as her apprentice when he had just turned eleven and it wasshe was fond of telling anyone who would listenthe best thing she had ever done. Rupert was a gifted boatbuilder. He had an eye for the line of the boat and an instinctive sense of how each boat he built was going to sit in the water, and of how she would respond to the wind.

Jannit was almost as pleased with Nicko. Nicko's first project was helping Rupert build a new Muriel for Sally Mullin, who had given her much-loved boat to the Heaps for their escape the previous year, and Jannit could see that he had a good eye and was skillful with his hands.

Nicko was also a natural sailor, better, in fact, than Rupert Gringe; and so it was to Nicko, much to Rupert's irritation, that Jannit addressed her question, "How did she sail then?"

"Like a dog in a bucket," growled Rupert, determined not to let Nicko get a word in.

Jannit's face fell. The boat had been her pet project but nothing had gone right with it from the start. She looked at Nicko for his opinion.

"It wasn't good, Jannit," he admitted. "We capsized twice. Then the mast broke. Had to get repairs down at the Port."

"It was that bad?" said Jannit. "I must be losing my touch."

"Nah. Of course you're not," said Rupert. "Just teething troubles. We'll figure it out."

"Oh, well." Jannit sighed. "You boys will be wanting to get back and see your families. Off you goI'll sort things out here."

Tags: Angie Sage Septimus Heap Fantasy