"Wo ... ho!" Jenna heard Nicko's yell of astonishment and felt the air suddenly chill and darken. A smell of underground dampness hit her nostrils and, as she dared to look up, the Dragon Boat came to a haltinside the Castle wall, in a vast, vaulted lapis lazuli cavern.
Jenna picked herself up from the deck and whistled under her breath. "You can open your eyes now, Sep," she said. "The Dragon Boat's come home."
On the other side of the boatyard, a candle flared to life in the window of the small ramshackle hut. Jannit Maarten was suddenly awake. A moment later the door to Jannit's shack opened, and the flickering flame disappeared as her candle dropped from her hand.
"What thewhat in the name of Neptune is that?" Jannit gasped. She set off across the yard like a fox after a rabbit, leaping over the boats and the boatyard clutter, and a few moments later she was standing next to Nicko. Lost for words, Jannit surveyed an incredible new dimension to her beloved boatyard. Granted, it was a little ostentatious for Jannit's simple tastes. She herself would never dream of lining such a gigantic boat-house in lapis lazuli of all things, and she most certainly would not have gone to the trouble of drawing all those funny little pictures over it; and as for the gold inlay around the doorwell that was just plain silly. But Jannit could see that it was a truly astounding spaceand within it lay an incredible boat. Jannit, who was not given to emotion, found herself a little overcome and had to sit down suddenly on an upturned dinghy.
"Nicko," Jannit said faintly. "Isis this something to do with you? Did you find this?"
"No, thethe Dragon Boat found it. She knew..." Nicko ran out of words. He could not get the image out of his head: the Dragon Boat, head held high, heading fasttoo fastalong the Cut.
And then, as he stared in horror at the thick Castle Wall looming before her, Nicko had seen a brilliant flash from a gold disk set high up in the wall that he had never noticed before. The dragon had breathed a ribbon of fire from her nostrils, and as the flames touched the gold, the seemingly solid stones had melted before her and the stunning lapis lazuli cavern had been revealed. Nicko had watched the Dragon Boat glide serenely inside and come to a gentle halt. It was the most wonderful thing that he had ever seen. He only wished Jannit could have seen it too.
Septimus and Jenna clambered out of the Dragon Boat and walked carefully along the marble walkways on either side of the Dragon House. They joined Nicko and Jannit outside, and silently all four watched the Dragon Boat settle herself, like a swan on her nest, into the safety of the Dragon House.
"You know," said Jannit, after a while, "once, when I was a girl, I read about something like this. I was a bit of a tomboy and my aunt gave me a wonderful book. Now, what was it called? Oh, yes, I rememberA Hundred Strange and Curious Tales for Bored Boys. Got me interested in boats, that did. But of course, it can't be the boat I read about..."
"Well," Septimus said quickly, "that was just a story."
Jannit shot him a glance, remembering that he was Marcia's Apprentice. "Yes," she said quickly, "of course."
Jenna and Septimus left Nicko and Jannit sitting with the Dragon Boat and set off for the Wizard Tower. Septimus had checked inside the dragon-proof bag and saw to his relief that Spit Fyre was still fast asleep, and so, carefully carrying the sleeping dragon, they walked wearily through the deserted streets. The new moon had set and it was dark, but Jenna and Septimus felt safe at night in the streets of the Castle, unlike those of the Port; they knew the twists and turns, the alleys to avoid and the shortcuts to take. As they neared Wizard Way, the glow from the torches lit up the night, and they slipped down a narrow path. Soon Septimus pushed open the old wooden side gate that led into the courtyard of the Tower.
They had decided that Jenna would spend the rest of the night at the Wizard Tower and go back to the Palace in the morning. Jenna followed Septimus up the steep marble steps; he muttered the password and the heavy silver doors swung silently open.
Noiselessly the pair crossed the Great Hall. Jenna glanced down to see the words WELCOME, PRINCESS AND APPRENTICE, UPON YOUR SAFE RETURN, WELCOME, SPIT FYRE flickering in subdued nighttime colors across the floor. The inside of the Tower felt as strange as always to Jenna; the strong smell of Magyk in the air made her feel slightly giddy, and although she was aware of being surrounded by Magykal sounds she could not hear them properlyit was as if they were just out of reach. Jenna picked her way across the floor, which felt as though she were walking across sand, and followed Septimus onto the silver spiral stairs. As the steps began to move upward, both she and Septimus wearily sat down for the long journey to the top of the Tower.
The spiral stairs were in nighttime mode, which meant they traveled slowly and silently. Jenna dozily rested her head against Septimus's shoulder and counted the floors as they went up. A dim bluish-purple haze lit each floor and the gentle sound of snoring drifted from one or two of the older Wizards' rooms. As they approached the twentieth floor Jenna and Septimus stood, ready to step off. Suddenly Jenna grabbed hold of his arm.
"Look..." she whispered.
"What's he doing here?" muttered Septimus. Silently, he and Jenna stepped onto the landing and tiptoed toward Marcia's massive purple front door. A thin figure wearing brown robes edged with the blue flashes of a sub-Wizard and an oddly shaped plaid hat with earflaps tied under his chin was sitting on a small wooden chair outside the door, his head drooping as he slept.
"Who is it?" whispered Jenna.
"Catchpole," hissed Septimus.
The figure suddenly snapped awake. "Yes? Yes?" he said, looking around, confused. He caught sight of Septimus. "What do you want, 412?" he barked. Septimus jumped to attention. He couldn't help it; it was, for an awful moment, as if he were back in the Young Army again being shouted at by the disgusting Catchpole.
Suddenly Catchpole remembered where he was andwith a feeling of horrorwho Septimus now was. "Ah ... er, excuse me, Apprentice. I wasn't thinking. Very sorry. No offense meant."
Septimus still looked shocked, so Jenna said politely, "We're staying here tonight, would you let us in, please?" Catchpole peered into the gloom. His eyesight was not good (which was one of the many reasons he had been no good as a Deputy Hunter) and he had not realized anyone was with Septimus. When he saw who she was he jumped up, sending the chair clattering to the ground.
"Oh, goodness. It's ... so sorry, Princess, I didn't see you."
"Don't worry, Catchpole," Jenna said with a smile, pleased at the effect she was having. "Just let us past, will you?"
"No. Sorry. Under orders to let no one through the door. Security measures. Sorry. Really terribly, terribly sorry about that," Catchpole said anxiously.
"Why?" asked Jenna.
"I'm just following orders, Princess." Catchpole looked wretched.
Septimus had had enough. "Oh, buzz off, Catchpole," he said. "We're going in whether you like it or not." He stepped forward and the heavy purple door recognized the Apprentice. It swung open and Jenna followed Septimus into Marcia's rooms, leaving Catchpole wringing his hands in despair.
It was pitch-black inside."Why wouldn't Catchpole let us in?" Jenna whispered. "You don't think something awful has happened, do you?" Septimus stood quietly for a moment while the glow from his Dragon Ring grew brighter. He was listening hard.
"No," he said. "I can't feel any Darke stuff. Well, no more than the usual Shadow. And I can hear ... yes, I'm sure I can hear Marcia breathing. Listen."
"I can't hear a thing, Sep," Jenna whispered.
"No? Oh, well, I suppose not. I'm learning to Hear Human Breath from Beyond. It's how Dad found you, you know. And how Marcia found me under the snow. I'm not that good yet, but I can easily hear Marcia."
"Oh. But howhow do you know it's not the Shadow breathing?" "Easy-peasy. The Shadow doesn't breathe, silly. It's not alive. And it's certainly not human."
Hearing that did not make Jenna feel any better. "It's a bit dark in here, Sep," she said.
Septimus touched a candle beside the great stone fireplace. It flared to life, casting dancing shadows across the wall and illuminating the ShadowSafe, which lurked in the corner like a gigantic spider awaiting its prey. Jenna shivered. The ShadowSafe was creepy; there was something about it that reminded her of the Observatory.