Jenna tugged her head away from Simon's grasp. "What's wrong with you, Simon?" she yelled. "You're my brother. Why are you being so horrible?"
In reply, Simon grabbed hold of Jenna's gold sash and twisted it hard in his left hand, while he tightened his grip on Thunder's reins with his right. "Let's just get this straight, Princess," he snarled. "I am not your brother. You are just some unwanted kid my gullible father brought home one night. That's all. You have caused nothing but trouble for us and you have ruined our family. Understand?"
Jenna went white. She felt as though someone had hit her in the stomach. She looked down at Septimus for help, and for a brief moment Septimus glanced up at her, as bewildered as she was. But in that very moment when Septimus met Jenna's gaze, Thunder knew he was free. The horse's nostrils flared with excitement, his muscles tensed and suddenly he was away, cantering at full speed into the sunlight and onto the cobbled road that led to the North Gate.
Stunned, Septimus watched the horse disappear. His head spun with the effort of Transfixing the horse, which had fought him all the while and had been nothing like the practice rabbit which Septimus was used to Transfixing. Septimus knew he had one last chance to get to Jenna, and he shook his head to try and clear the muzziness that the enchantment had left. Then, shakily, he Transported himself to the North Gate.
Chapter 6 North Gate
Down at tbe North Gate, Silas Heap was playing a game of Counter-Feet with Gringe the Gatekeeper. Silas and Gringe had recently made up a long-standing feud. When Simon Heap, Silas's eldest son, had tried to run off with and marry Gringe's only daughter, Lucy, both Silas and Gringe had been horrified. Gringe had shut Lucy up in the gatehouse attic to stop her from running away again. It was not until Silas came to see him some time later with the news that Simon had gone off into the Marram Marshes in the middle of the nightand had not been seen sincethat Gringe had at last let Lucy out of the attic. For Gringe knew as well as anyone that the chances of surviving in the Marram Marshes at night were slim.
Silas and Gringe found they had a lot in common. There was Lucy and Simon for a startand then there was Counter-Feet. Both Silas and Gringe had fond memories of playing Counter-Feet as boys. Counter-Feet was now a very rare board game, although it had once been commonplace in the Castle, and the Premier Counter-Feet league final used to be the highlight of the year.
At first sight the game appeared to be a simple board game played with Counters. The Counter-Feet board consisted of two castles pided by a river down the center. Each player had a set of Counters of various shapes and sizes in their own team strip, and the aim of the game was to get as many of your own Counters over the river and into the opposing player's castle. But there was a twist in the game: the Counters had minds of their ownand, more importantly, feet of their own. This was why the game was so popular, but unfortunately this was also the reason for the game's rarity. The Charms that created the Counters had been lost in The Great Fire three hundred years ago. And since then, most sets of Counter-Feet had gradually become incomplete as over the years their Counters had up and left in search of adventure or just in search of a more interesting box of Counter-Feet. And while no one ever objected to opening his or her box and finding that a whole new colony of Counters had taken up residence, it was a different matter when you discovered that all your Counters had got bored with you and left. So three hundred years later, most Counters had disappeared: flushed down drains, trodden into the ground or simply having a good time in small, undiscovered Counter colonies under the floorboards.
Most Wizards, including Silas, played the Magyk version of Counter-Feet, where the castles and the river on the board were realalthough smaller, of course. Ever since he was a boy, Gringe had always wanted to play with a Magyk set of Counter-Feet. When Silas had mentioned to Gringe that he actually had a complete and sealed Magyk Counter-Feet set somewhere in the attic with all his books, Gringe had miraculously overcome his long-standing dislike of the Heap family and suggested that they might, perhaps, have a game or two together sometime. It had soon become a regular occurrence which both looked forward to.
Earlier that morning, Silas had left the Palace and taken the shortcut to the North Gate, carrying with him his precious box of Counter-Feet. Silas had walked slowly, for beside him loped a large, unkempt wolfhound with creaky joints. Maxie was no longer the young dog he had been, but he still went everywhere with his master. As an Ordinary Wizard, Silas Heap wore a deep-blue tunic fastened with a silver belt. Like all the Heaps he had fair, curly hair, although his was now beginning to acquire a dusting of gray, but his green eyes were still bright. As he walked through the sunny, early-morning streets, he hummed a contented tune to himself, for unlike Sarah Heap, Silas did not worry about anything for very long and reckoned that things eventually turned out for the best.
Silas and Gringe had sat down companionably outside the gatehouse and set up the Counter-Feet board, while casting expert eyes over the Counters and trying to work out what their characters might be that day. Counters were fickle, and you never knew how they might turn out from one game to the next. Some Counters were easily persuaded to go where vou wanted them to; others were not. Some would appear to do as you asked and then betray you at the last minute. Some would fall asleep just when you needed them to do something important, and others would run madly around the board creating havoc. The trick was to quickly understand both your Counters and your opponent's Counters, then use your knowledge to get across the board and into the opposing castle. Every game was different: some contests were chaos, some were aggressive and the best were hilariously funny. Which is why, as Septimus Appeared at the North Gate, the first thing he heard was Gringe's loud guffaw.
"Ha, you didn't expect 'im to do a double duck, Silas, did you now? He's a right one that little fat one is. I thought 'e'd do summat like that. I think that puts my Spare back on the board, don't you?" Gringe, a stocky, somewhat argumentative man in a leather jerkin, leaned over and took a large round Counter out of a tub by the side of the board. The Counter kicked its short, fat legs with excitement and ran onto the board.
"Hey," protested Gringe, dismayed, as the Counter jumped straight into the river and disappeared into the depths of the water, "yer not supposed to go in there you little b well, well, ain't this your little lad, Silas? Where did 'e come from then? I dunno, you 'Eaps get just about everywhere, you do."
"I'm not falling for that one, Gringe." Silas chuckled, intent on trying to persuade one of his Counters, the Tunneler, to squeeze into the tunnel that led under Gringe's castle. "I know what you're up to, Gringe. As soon as I take my eyes off the board, your Kicker will have kicked my Tunneler into the river. I wasn't born yesterday, you know."
"But it's your little Apprentice lad, Silas. I think 'e's up to some Magyk."
Septimus's Transport was taking some time to wear off. He still looked a bit misty. Underneath the table, Maxie whined and the hairs on the back of his neck rose.
"Good try, Gringe," said Silas, trying to get his Pusher to shove the Tunneler under the castle without much success.
"No, 'e is 'ere. Hello, lad. Come to see your dad, have you?"
At last Silas took his eyes off the game and looked up. "Oh, hello, Septimus," he said, surprised. "Well, well, are you doing Transports already? He's a clever one, my youngest. Apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, you know," Silas told Gringe, not for the first time.
"Really? You don't say?" muttered Gringe, who had his arm up to his elbow trying to retrieve his Counter from the river. He had forgotten that Silas's game was the deluxe version that came with mini crocodiles.
"Ouch!" yelped Gringe.
"Dad, Dad!" yelled Septimus. "It's Jenna! Simon took Jenna. They're coming this way. Get Gringe to raise the drawbridge.
Silas could see Septimus's lips moving but he could hear nothing. Septimus was not quite there yet.
"Raise the drawbridge, Dad!" Septimus's voice came back on the last word.
"Yes, what is it? No need to shout, Septimus."
The clatter of horse's hooves sounded behind them and Septimus knew it was too late. He jumped out in front of the horse in a last, desperate attempt to stop them, but Silas grabbed hold of him and pulled him back.