Simon hurled himself through the air, aiming first for Septimus.
The Navigator saw him coming and yelled, "Down, Sep, down!" Septimus kicked the dragon twice on the left and Spit Fyre began to drop toward a spiky forest of masts below.
"Turn right!" yelled the Navigator. "Land on the pontoon!"
Septimus kicked once on the right followed by two kicks on the left and Spit Fyre headed down toward the pontoon, where Jannit was bringing the tugboat alongside with three Wizards in tow.
Simon was not to be put off. He threw himself toward Septimus, only to discover that the Flyte Charm had developed an alarming bias to the right, and he was now heading straight for Spit Fyre's nose. A dragon's nose is a sensitive spot, especially on a young dragon, and Spit Fyre did not take kindly to being hit hard on it. Instinctively the dragon opened his mouth to take a large bite out of Simon, only to be overtaken by the most enormous sneeze.
"Aaah ... aaah ... tchooo!" Like a cork from an enthusiastically shaken bottle of fizz, a huge slug of warm dragon dribble slammed into Simon and sent him cartwheeling through the air. Dragon dribble is a corrosive substance; it hit Simon on the stomach, winded him and, in a few seconds, ate its way through his cloak, his tunic and the red belt with the three black stars of DomDaniel. Simon was on his third somersault when the Flyte Charm parted company with his belt and tumbled to the ground, landing in a toolbox that Jannit had been using earlier.
Simon fell out of the sky.
Without thinking, Septimus shouted his very first dragon order"Save him!"
Spit Fyre knew what to do. He dropped like a stone, shot forward and caught Simon only seconds before he hit the ground. Then he landed with a jarring crash on the pontoon at the spot where the Dragon Boat's wing had been laid out only a few minutes earlier. The Navigator fell off with a bump and stood up angrily.
"What on earth did you do that for, Sep?" she demanded, jumping away from Simon, who was sprawled across Spit Fyre's back.
Septimus did not reply. He was staring at Simon.
"Hehe's not dead, is he?" Septimus asked Jannit, who had pulled Simon off Spit Fyre and was trying to get some response from him.
Simon lay white and still on the pontoon, his black robes full of holes from the acidic dragon dribble, his fair, curly Heap hair matted with sweat and his eyes closed. Jannit knelt down and put her ear to his chest.
"No," she murmured. "I can hear a heartbeat. He's just unconscious." At the sound of Jannit's voice, Simon's eyes flickered and he groaned. "Here, you lot," Jannit yelled at the Wizards, "come and make yourselves useful for a change."
Three dripping Wizards duly arrived at Jannit's side. "Help me get him over to the lock-up," Jannit told them.
Jenna and Septimus watched Jannit and the three Wizards each take an arm or a leg and carry Simon across the boatyard to the lock-upa tiny windowless brick building beside the Castle wall that boasted a thick iron door complete with three heavy, well-oiled bolts.
"I still don't know why you did that, Sep," Jenna said grumpily.
"Did what?" asked Septimus, stroking Spit Fyre's bruised nose.
Septimus looked up at Jenna, confused by her angry tone of voice. "But what else could I have done, Jen?" he asked.
"Let him fall. I would have." Jenna kicked a pebble angrily into the Moat.
Septimus shook his head. "But he's my brother," he said sadly.
Chapter 41 The Lookout Tower
Nicko had insisted on wearing the maskthere was no way he was going to let Rupert pe down to the Dragon Boat without him. Jannit had taken some persuading, however, as Nicko had not used the mask before. Jannit had invented what she called the inspection mask so that she could check her boats below the waterline. The oval slab of glass was edged with soft leather so that it fitted closely to the face and tied around the back of the head with a leather strap. The glass was tough and thick. It was a deep greenish color, which did not make for great visibility, but it was better than trying to keep your eyes open in the silt-laden water of the Moat.
Nicko was a good swimmer. When the boys were younger, Silas had often taken them out of the Castle to a sandy spot just past the One Way Bridge, which was where Nicko had learned to swim. But Nicko had never swum underwater before, and now, as he and Rupert struggled to lift the Dragon Boat's unwieldy head off the mud at the bottom of the Moat, Nicko was desperate to take a breath.
Rupert made a thumbs-up sign and together he and Nicko swam to the surface, bringing the dragon's head once more into the air. Jannit was waiting with a large canvas sling, which she quickly slipped under the head to take the weight.
"Well done, boys," said Jannit, gently bringing the limp head and neck down to rest on the side of the Cut, where she had laid her one and only Persian rug for the dragon's head to lie on.
Jenna watched. Septimus had taken Spit Fyre back to the Wizard Tower, but Jenna had refused to go with him. So Septimusunwilling to fly without his Navigatorhad walked Spit Fyre through the streets, much to the great interest of everyone he met.
Jenna knelt beside the muddy head of the dragon, searching for signs of lifebut there were none. The head lay motionless and the eyes were tightly closed under heavy green lids. Carefully, Jenna brushed the mud from the golden ears, and, with the hem of her dress, cleaned the silt from the dragon's smooth, scaly eyelids. She talked to the dragon as she always did, but there was no response. Only silence.
Jannit squatted down and looked at the head with a professional eye. There was no obvious sign of damage, but then what did she know? Was this a boat or a living creature? If it was living,could it breathe underwater? And if it couldn't, had the creature drownedor been killed by the Thunderflash? Jannit Maarten shook her head. She was out of her depth here.
"Is she ... dead?" Jenna whispered.
"I-I don't know, my lady," Jannit replied, a little ill at ease having the Princess kneeling beside her, covered in mud and with tears rolling down her face. "But we will have her out of the water in no time, once the boys get the sling underneath her hull. We will see what needs to be done, and then we will do it. We can make her hull as good as new."
"But can you make her open her eyes?" asked Jenna.
"Ah ... that I couldn't say," replied Jannit, who never promised anything she was not sure about.
But suddenly there was something that Jenna was sure about. She did not know how she knew, but she knew it was truethe dragon was dying and only Aunt Zelda could save her.
Jenna stood up. "There's something I have to do," she said. "Will you stay with her until I get back?"
Jannit nodded and Jenna was off, tearing across the boatyard. She flew through the dank tunnel and out the other side, into the sunlit streets of the Castle. She hurtled up the nearest flight of steps, which took her to the ledge on the inside of the Castle walls, and headed for the East Gate Lookout Tower. This was her last chance, she thought, as she sped along the broad ledge, oblivious to the sheer drop on one side. The dry stone of the ledge was well worn and smooth under her feet, and once or twice in her haste she very nearly slipped and fell. Slow down, Jenna told herselfyou will be no good to the Dragon Boat if you fall.
The Castle wall twisted and turned along the higgledy-piggledy houses that clustered around it. Jenna kept her eyes firmly fixed on the Lookout Tower, which rose from the Wall some distance away and looked toward the Forest. She kept up a steady pace and before long found herself standing at the foot of the tower, hot, flustered and out of breath.
Jenna took a few moments to get her breath back, breathing in the sour smell of some overflowing garbage bins lined up beside the small wooden door which led into the tower.
A faded notice hung on the door:
CUSTOMER OFFICEMESSAGE RAT SERVICECHARTERED, CONFIDENTIAL, LONG-DISTANCE RATS AVAILABLEOPEN ALL HOURS
Under the notice hung a much newer sign:
Jenna was not to be put offshe gave the wooden door a shove and almost fell into a small dark room.
"Can't you read? We're closed," a grumpy voice greeted her from somewhere in the gloom.
"The notice says OPEN ALL HOURS," Jenna pointed out.
"And the other notice says CLOSED," the voice retorted. "And closed is what we are. You can come back tomorrow. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm about to lock up."
"I don't care," said Jenna. "I want a Message Rat and I want one now. It's urgent. It's a matter of life and death."