"412no!" Wolf Boy cried out, feeling his hands burning all over again. But Septimus felt no pain as he gathered up the fire and placed it in the dragon's nostrils.
Suddenly there was a huge intake of breath, and the flames were sucked into the dragon's nose down deep within her. Moments later, the dragon reared her head, snorting, coughing and breathing out a bright tongue of orange flame, setting Jannit's Persian rug on fire and sending Aunt Zelda, Jenna and Septimus leaping to safety. Nicko threw a bucket of water to douse the rug. The dragon opened her eyes for a brief moment and then, with a resounding crash, her great green head crashed back down onto the charred rug and lay as limp as before.
The whole boatyard fell silent. Even Jannit stopped her unloading and stood waiting uncertainly.
Jenna looked dismayed. She glanced at Septimus as if for reassurance but Septimus was staring unhappily at the Dragon Boat, convinced that his Transubstantiate Triple had failed. Aunt Zelda gave a small cough and was about to say something when Marcia's voice traveled across the boatyard.
"Will someone get this blasted bucket off my foot!" A yard-hand rushed to her aid and pulled off a bucket that Marcia had inadvertently stepped into in her rush to return to the Dragon Boat. With her robes flying, Marcia continued her progress across the boatyard, and as she neared the dragon, Jenna, Aunt Zelda, and Septimus could see that she had a large green bottle in her hand.
Marcia arrived breathless at the pontoon and uncorked the bottle.
"Marcia, what are you doing?" asked Aunt Zelda crossly.
"Saving the Dragon Boat. I knew I had some somewhere. It's an ancient lizard-based Revive. I keep it under the floorboards in the Library."
"Put it away," Aunt Zelda demanded. "Don't let that stuff near her. It will kill her."
"Don't be ridiculous, Zelda," Marcia retorted. "It's not for you to dictate what happens to the Dragon Boat anymore. I am the Keeper now."
Jenna's and Septimus's eyes met. There was going to be trouble.
"You" spluttered Aunt Zelda incredulously. "Youthe Keeper?"
"Obviously," said Marcia. "The Dragon Boat is here now under my care. You are too far away to be able to continue with your duties as ... how did you get here so fast?"
Aunt Zelda drew herself up to her full heightwhich was not much compared to Marcia, but it made Aunt Zelda feel better all the same. Her witchy blue eyes flashed triumphantly. "Keepers' secrets are not pulged to all and sundry, Marcia, and I am not at liberty to tell you how I got here. All I will say is that, as long as I live, I am the Keeper of the Dragon Boat and I shall remain so and be available to the Dragon Boat at all times. Now Marcia, this is a matter of life and death. The Triple will take its time and nothing, particularly an ancient lizard Revive, must be allowed to interfere with it. As Keeper I am telling you to take that Revive away. Right now."
For the first time that Septimus could remember, Marcia was speechless. Very deliberately, she pushed the cork back into the Revive bottle and, with as much dignity as she could muster, she walked across the boatyard, studiously avoiding the bucket on her way out. It did not help her bad temper to discover that Milo Banda, plus Sarah and Silas Heap, had watched the whole episode from the shadows of the abandoned lock-up.
Chapter 45 Flyte
Marcia strode across the Palace Moat, her feet echoing on the warm planks of the old wooden bridge. At her side was Milo Banda who, on the brisk walk from the boatyard to the Palace, had had the task of calming Marcia after her encounter with Aunt Zelda.
Standing at the Palace door, beside the small gold chair on which the ghost Godric sat dozing, was a sub-Wizard, a smart young woman with brilliant green eyes.
"Good evening. Welcome to the Palace." The sub-Wizard smiled.
"Good evening, Hildegarde," replied Marcia.
Milo Banda hung back, standing uncertainly on the threshold. Marcia noticed that he was trembling slightly and there were tears in his eyes.
"Oh," she said softly, "I'm sorry, Milo. I didn't think. Would you like us to leave you alone for a few moments?"
Milo Banda nodded. He wandered off down the Long Walk, looking at the empty walls and shaking his head in dismay.
Suddenly Marcia felt wearyit had been a long day. The Identify had left her feeling curiously empty and, to top it all, her foot throbbed painfully from its encounter with Spit Fyre that morning. With a sigh of relief, she sat down heavily on Godric's chair and took off her shoe. The ghost leaped off the chair in alarm and fell onto the floor in a confused heap.
"Alther," said Marcia crossly, "I thought I told you to get rid of all the Ancients. We don't need them now that we have the sub-Wizards on door duty."
"Godric was very upset when I asked him to leave, so I told him he could stay. Anyway," Alther tutted, "you should have more respect for the Ancients. You'll be one, one day."
Alther dusted Godric off and wafted him over to a comfortable armchair in a quiet, dark corner of the hall. The old ghost immediately fell into a deep sleep and did not wake until many years later, when Jenna's own daughter ran into him with her scooter.
It was unfortunate that when Jenna returned to the Palace, she did not notice Alther and Marcia sitting quietly in the shadows cast by the rows of flickering candles placed around the hall. The first person she saw, as he emerged from the gloom of the Long Walk, was the stranger from the Port. At the sight of Jenna he gasped and stopped in his tracks. Jenna screamed.
Marcia jumped to her feet. "Jennawhat is it?" she asked, glancing around anxiously.
Jenna did not reply. She tore out of the Palace and headed for the safety of Septimus, Nicko, Aunt Zelda and Wolf Boy, who were making slow progress across the Palace lawns while Spit Fyre insisted on chasing a lawn lizard.
"He's here!" yelled Jenna as she reached Aunt Zelda. "That manhe's here!"
"What man?" asked Aunt Zelda, both bemused and amused at the sight of Marcia running across the lawn toward them, wearing only one shoe.
"Jenna," said Marcia breathlessly as she finally caught up with her. "Jenna, what's wrong?"
"That manthe stranger at the Port. The one who grabbed Thunder, the one who followed me, the one who's in league with Simonyou've asked him to my Palace. That's what's wrong!"
"But Jenna," Marcia protested, "that man has every right to be in the Palace. He's Milo Banda. He's"
"I don't care who he is!" yelled Jenna.
"But Jenna, Jenna, listen to mehe's your father."
Everyone stared at Marcia in shock.
"No he's not," stuttered Jenna. "Dad's down at the boatyard ... with Mum."
"Yes, Silas is at the boatyard," said Marcia gently. "And Milo is here. Milo is your own father, Jenna. He has come to see you."
For a long time Jenna was silent. Then suddenly she said, "So, why didn't he come to see me beforewhen I was little?" And she took off across the lawns and along the path that led to the back of the Palace.
"Oh dear," said Marcia.
Silas Heap did not take kindly to the arrival of Milo Banda either, especially when Sarah insisted on arranging a celebration supper on the Palace roof to welcome him home.
"I don't see how you can celebrate when our eldest son is stuck down in those awful Ice Tunnels," Silas had objected.
Sarah was busying herself with laying the table while Silas had plonked himself down on one of the Palace gold chairs and was staring gloomily at the darkening summer sky.
"I just don't want to even think about Simon," Sarah said briskly. "The Search Party will soon find him and then at least he'll be somewhere safe and warm."
"Safe and warm in the Castle jail is not what I wanted for him, Sarah," Silas muttered.
Sarah shook her head. "Silas, if you remember, yesterday we had no idea where any of the children were. We have three back todayfour if you count Simonand we should consider ourselves lucky. That's the way I am going to look at it from now on." She straightened the tablecloth and told the Supper Servant to go and see how the cook was getting on. "Anyway, Silas, we must make Milo Banda welcome. He is Jenna's father after all."
"Huh," said Silas grumpily.
Sarah carefully put her favorite candlesticks in the middle of the long table. "We knew this might happen one day. It's no good being funny about it."
"I'm not being funny," Silas protested. "I just think it's odd that he's turned up after all these years. I mean, where's he been all this time? Seems downright suspicious to me. Huh."