Septimus had no idea. He stared at the dragon and caught Nicko's yawn. He was far too tired to go making up names for dragons. Suddenly the dragon sat up and coughed up some egg sac; two tiny bursts of flame spluttered from its nostrils and scorched Septimus's hand.

"Ouch!" he gasped. "It's spitting fire at me. That's itSpit Fyre. That's its name. Spit Fyre."

"Go on, then," said Aunt Zelda.

"Go on what?" asked Septimus, sucking his burned fingers.

"Dragons like everything to be done by the rules," Aunt Zelda told him. "You have to say ... now let me think ... ah, yesOh,faithful companion and fearless friend, who will be with me until the end, I name thee Spit Fyreor Poodle-Face or Derek or ... well, whatever you happen to have decided."

Septimus stared at the dragon in his hand and murmured wearily, "Oh, faithful companion and fearless friend, who will be with me until the end, I name thee Spit Fyre." The dragon gazed at him with its unblinking green eyes and coughed up some more egg sac.

"Yuck," said Septimus.

Septimus did not get much sleep that night. Spit Fyre was fretful; whenever Septimus dozed off the dragon nipped his fingers or scrabbled at his clothes with its sharp claws. Eventually, in a bad temper, Septimus stuffed the dragon back into the pouch he had kept the egg in and at last it settled down to sleep.

They were all woken far too early the next morning by Spit Fyre fluttering frantically at the window like a butterfly trying to get outside.

"Tell it to be quiet, Sep," Nicko said blearily, stuffing his pillow over his head and trying to get back to sleep. Septimus got up and snatched Spit Fyre off the windowpane. He was already beginning to see what Aunt Zelda meant about a baby dragon being trouble. The dragon scrabbled against his hand with its sharp little claws, and Septimus shoved it back into its pouch again.

The morning sun was already high in the sky and shining through the marsh mist. Septimus knew he was too wide-awake to go back to sleep again. He glanced at Jenna, Nicko and Wolf Boy who were all still bundled up in their quilts and had gone back to sleep. Not wanting Spit Fyre to disturb them, Septimus decided to take the dragon outside for its first breath of morning air.

Silently he closed the heavy door behind him and walked down the path toward the Dragon Boat. Someone was already there.

"It's a beautiful morning," said Aunt Zelda pensively.

Septimus sat beside her on the wooden bridge that spanned the Mott. "I thought maybe the Dragon Boat should meet her baby. I mean, I suppose Spit Fyre is the Dragon Boat's egg?"

"I imagine so," said Aunt Zelda. "Although one can never be sure with dragons. But Spit Fyre has Imprinted you, so I wouldn't complicate matters. Here, I found this for you. I knew I had one somewhere." Aunt Zelda handed Septimus a small green book bound in what looked suspiciously like dragon skin. It was called How to Survive Dragon Fostering: A Practykal Guide.

"Of course what you really need is the Winged Lizard's Almanac of the Early Years," Aunt Zelda told him. "But I doubt that even the Pyramid Library has one of those. Unfortunately they were written in rather flammable parchment and you just don't get them anymore. Still, this might be some help."

Septimus took the musty-smelling book and idly stared at the endorsements on the back cover.

"This book saved my life. No dragon tooth can get through the cover. Wear this book at all times."

"I only lost one finger while I fostered Fang, thanks to the handy hints section in this invaluable guide."

"After I got Imprinted by Skippy all my friends deserted me and I was going crazy until I read this hook. Now I am allowed out of the Asylum at weekendsand who needs friends anyway?"

"Oh, thanks, Aunt Zelda," Septimus said gloomily.

Septimus and Aunt Zelda sat in a companionable silence, each with their own thoughts, listening to the marsh sounds as the heat of the summer day began to seep through the mist and wake up the more active marsh creatures. Like Jenna, Septimus had become adept at identifying the different sounds, and he was sure he heard the squelch of the suckers of a couple of Water Nixies, followed by the sharp snap of a Mud Snapper and the splish-splash of some baby eels. Soon the heat of the sun had burned off the last remnants of the mist, and the clear blue sky promised a swelteringly hot day.

Aunt Zelda gazed up at the bright blue. There was something tense about her that caught Septimus's attention. He looked at Aunt Zelda. Her lined round face, which was framed by her crinkly and somewhat disheveled gray hair, had an anxious look to it, and her deep blue witch's eyes glittered as she focused on something high in the sky. Suddenly she heaved herself up from the bridge and grabbed Septimus by the hand. "Don't look up," she said in a low voice. "Don't run. Just walk slowly back inside with me."

Inside the cottage, Aunt Zelda quietly closed the heavy front door and leaned against it. She was pale and her eyes had a desolate expression. "Jenna's right," Aunt Zelda whispered, almost to herself. "The Dragon Boat ... she'll have to leave."

"Why? Whatwhat did you see?" asked Septimus, although he had guessed the answer.

"Simon. He's up there. Like a vulture. Waiting."

Septimus took a deep breath to try and quell the knotted feeling that had suddenly appeared in his stomach. "Don't worry, Aunt Zelda," he told her. "The Dragon Boat will be safe at the Castle. I'll take her back there."

Although he had no idea how.

Chapter 30 Takeoff

Merrin watched the Dragon Boat through his eyeglass. He had found the eye glass half buried in a Brownie burrow during one of his many lone expeditions on the Marshes, and it was his little secret from Aunt Zelda. Merrin liked having secrets from Aunt Zelda, although they did not usually last long, as she invariably found them out. But he was sure that this secret was one that he had managed to keepby means of burying the eyeglass under a slab of rock on the grassy knoll beside the Hundred-Foot Pit. Merrin knew that as long as Aunt Zelda did not see him using the eyeglass he would be safe, for there was no way she could get across the sinking bog that surrounded the pitonly Merrin was light and agile enough to jump over the hidden steppingstones that lay just beneath the surface of the bog.

Merrin had guessed, rightly, that the eyeglass had once belonged to his old Master, DomDaniel. There was a Darkenesse about it that made Merrin feel comfortable and reminded him of old times. They may not have been happy times, but at least they were interesting and he was not stuck out on a smelly old Marsh with only a load of cabbages and an interfering old witch for company. He raised the eyeglass to his eye, careful not to let the sun glint off it and give his position away, and he smiled to himself to think it was he who was still alive on the Marsh and DomDaniel who was now nothing more than a pile of bones, picked clean by the Marsh Brownies. Serves him right, thought Merrin gleefully. That old Necromancer shouldn't have been so nasty to his faithful Apprentice.

It was now late in the afternoon and the high spring tidefor it had been a new moon the day beforewas filling up the channels of the Marsh. Merrin's grassy knoll was now completely surrounded by black, peaty marsh water. The Marsh was quiet in the sleepy late afternoon heat and Merrin lay idly on the knoll. He had been observing the comings and goings between the cottage and the Dragon Boat all afternoon and could not make any sense of it. Aunt Zelda, who was usually so bossy, seemed to be at a loss, dolefully hanging around the Dragon Boat, while the Princess girl and the pig boy had busied themselves raising the mast and talking to Aunt Zelda. The Septimus Heap boy had been on the boat for ages, which really irritated Merrin, as he was never allowed on. Merrin tried to see what Septimus was doing, but as far as he could tell he was just looking at the tiller while the pig boy was standing beside the Mott, talking to him. Stupid boys, thought Merrin.

"Come on, Sep," Nicko was saying. "You've flown her before so you can do it again. Easy-peasy."

"But I don't know what I did, Nik. I mean, I didn't do anything.

The boat did it." Septimus was still staring at the tillerhe was afraid to put his hand on the tiller, a massive, curved piece of mahogany, as the last time he had done that, the Dragon Boat had come alive and set off to sea.

"Well, you're wearing the Dragon Ring this time, and you weren't before, so it should be even easier," Nicko pointed out. "I don't see what you're bothered about, Sep. Boats are a piece of cake."

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