"Careful! You'll get yourself trampled."
Simon's horse thundered by. Jenna shouted something to Septimus and Silas, but her words were lost in the thudding of the horse's hooves and the rush of the wind as the huge black horse sped past.
Septimus, Silas and Gringe watched the horse with its two riders go pounding over the drawbridge. When they reached the dirt track on the other side, Simon pulled the horse sharply to the right, and, with its hooves slipping on the dry dirt as it turned, the horse sped off toward the North Road. The North Road, as Septimus knew from his map studies in the Young Army, led along the river, over the One Way Bridge and after a day's fast riding would take them into the Border Country, or Badlands, as it was often called in the Castle.
"Disgusting!" exclaimed Silas, staring after the horse. "That was a case of reckless riding if ever I saw one. Showing off to his girlfriend, that's all it was. Young men should not be allowed fast horses if you ask me. With them it's always speed, speed, sreed, with no thought of anyone else"
"Dad!" shouted Septimus, desperately trying to get a word in. "Dadthat was Simon!"
"Simon?" Silas looked confused. "What do you mean? Our Simon?"
"It's Simon and he's taken Jenna!"
"Taken her where? Why? What is going on? Why doesn't anybody ever tell me anything?" Silas sat down again, aware that the day was beginning to go wrong and not sure exactly why.
"I'm trying to tell you," said Septimus, exasperated. "That was Simon and he's " But Septimus was interrupted again. Lucy Gringe, a pretty girl with deep-brown eyes and light brown hair tied into two long plaits that hung to her waist, had appeared at the gatehouse door. She wore a simple, long, white summer tunic, which she had embroidered herself with an odd assortment of flowers, and on her feet was a pair of heavy brown boots laced up with pink ribbon. Lucy was well known for her unusual approach to clothes.
"Simon?" asked Lucy, looking pale under her freckles. "Did you say that was Simon?"
"Lucy, I will not have you mention that name here," growled Gringe, staring at the Counter-Feet board and wondering how such an enjoyable morning could suddenly turn into such a nightmare. But, he told himself sternly, he should have known better. Wasn't that always the way with the Heaps? They were nothing but trouble.
"Yes, it was Simon, and he has taken Jenna away," said Septimus flatly, the urgency gone from his voice as he realized that it was too late now to do anything about it.
"But," murmured Silas, "I don't understand..."
Lucy Gringe understood. She understood only too well. "Why?" she screamed. "Why didn't he take me?"
He was riding like, a madman, Sarah," puffed Silas, who had found Sarah with her friend, Sally Mullin, potting herbs in the Palace greenhouse at the bottom of the kitchen garden. "He would have trampled Septimus into the ground if I hadn't pulled the lad clearand Jenna was screaming her head off. It was awful."
"No!" Sarah gasped. "I don't believe it."
"Jenna wasn't screaming, Dad," said Septimus, trying not to upset Sarah any more than she was already. "Jenna wouldn't scream. She just shouted something, that's all."
"What?" asked Sarah. "What did she shout?"
"I don't know," said Septimus glumly. "I couldn't hear. The horse was making so much noise."
"Maybe she was saying she'd be back soon. Maybe Simon just took her out for a jaunt along the river," said Sarah, trying hard to convince herself and not doing a very good job of it.
Sally, who was living at the Palace while her Tea and Ale House was being rebuilt, put a consoling hand on Sarah's arm. "You mustn't worry yourself, Sarah," she said. "He's just a headstrong young man showing off his fast horse to his sister. They all do it. He'll be back soon."
Sarah gave Sally a grateful glance, but, deep down, Sarah had a very bad feeling about Simon. Something had happened to him; something had changed him from her Simon intowhat?
Silas was still trying to catch his breath. He and Septimus had run all the way from the North Gate, leaving Maxie asleep under the Counter-Feet table and Gringe dragging Lucy up to the gatehouse tower to stop her from running off in pursuit of Simon.
Alther Mella floated anxiously above the potting bench. He had spent the previous night down at the Hole in the Wall Tavern, a favorite haunt for ghosts, and had not left as early that morning as he should have. Alther was annoyed with himself. If he'd been there, maybe he could have stopped Simon, although Alther wasn't quite sure how. But at least he could have tried.
Sarah pushed a stray wisp of straw-colored hair back behind her ear as she fiddled distractedly with some parsley seedlings. "I'm sure Simon wouldn't take Jenna away against her will," she insisted, stabbing at the soil with her trowel.
"Of course he wouldn't," said Sally soothingly.
"But that's just what he has done," Septimus insisted. "Jenna didn't want to go with him. I Transfixed the horse and he wouldn't let her get off. He got really angry."
"Well, he did seem very proud of his horse," said Sarah. "Maybe he was just upset about you Transfixing it. I'm sure he will be back soon with Jenna."
"He's kidnapped her, Mum," said Septimus, almost angry now. He could not understand why Sarah kept making excuses for Simon. But Septimus was still not entirely used to how mothers behaved.
Alther Mella floated dismally through a discarded pile of flowerpots. "It's my fault, Sarah," said Alther. "I blame myself. If I had allowed proper guards at the Palace Gate instead of those useless Ancients, this would never have happened."
"You mustn't blame yourself," said Sarah, giving the old ghost a wan smile. "Even a guard would have let Simon in. He is a Heap after all."
"But they wouldn't have let him out, would they?" said Septimus pointedly. "Not if Jenna had told them she didn't want to go."
"Septimus, you shouldn't speak to Alther like that," scolded Sarah. "You should be more respectful to an ExtraOrdinary Wizard, especially the one whom your tutor was Apprenticed to."
"Ah, Sarah." Alther sighed. "The boy is right."
Alther floated off the potting bench and hovered beside Septimus. Compared with the Ancients in the Palace, Alther looked positively substantial. His purple ExtraOrdinary robes, although a little faded, looked almost real, even down to the bullet hole and dark brown bloodstains just below his heart. The ghost's long white hair was scraped back into its usual ponytail, and his green eyes had a bright glint in them as he regarded Marcia's Apprentice.
"So," said Alther to Septimus, "what do you propose we do now?"
"Me? What do I think we should do?"
"Yes. As the Apprentice of the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, I thought you might like to stand in for Marcia."
"We go after Jenna. And get her back. That's what we have to do."
Sarah dropped the trowel she had been poking the seedlings with. It landed with a clang in the middle of Alther's foot. The ghost stepped back hastily. "Septimus," declared Sarah, "you are not going anywhere. It's bad enough with Jo Jo, Sam, Edd and Erik all running wild in the Forest, getting up to goodness knows what and refusing to even come and see their mother. Then there's Nicko, who's gone off with that Rupert Gringe boy testing some boat or other, and not come back yet, even though he promised he'd be home last week to take Jenna down to Aunt Zelda'sanything could have happened to him, I'm just so worriedand now Simon and Jenna are gone..." At this Sarah suddenly broke into loud sobs.
Silas put his arms around Sarah. "There, there, love, you mustn't worry. Everything will be all right," he murmured soothingly.
"I'll go and bring you a nice cup of tea and a big slab of barley cake," said Sally, "and everything will feel much better, just you see." And she bustled off to the Palace kitchens.
But Sarah would not be comforted. "Simon and Jenna, gone," she wailed. "Why? Why would Simon do such a thing? Why would he take Jenna away?"
Alther put a ghostly arm around Septimus's shoulders. "Come on, lad," he said. "Let's leave your parents alone for a while. You can take me to see Marcia."
Septimus and Alther made their way out of the Palace and took the Snake Slipway, which led down to the Castle Moat. The Castle was surrounded by water. Most of the water consisted of the river, as the Castle was built on the inside of a wide river bend, but some of the water was in the form of a moat, which had been dug when the Castle walls were built. The Moat was wide and deep and was full of river water, for both ends of the Moat ran into the river itself. It was a popular place for fishing and, in the summer, for swimming. A large wooden pier had recently been built out into the middle of the Moat for the Castle children to swim from, and the enterprising Rupert Gringe had just started renting out his new invention, the small Rupert paddleboats, to those who fancied messing about on the water for an hour or two. This had been extremely popular with everyone in the Castle, except for two people: Weasal Van Klampff and his housekeeper, Una Brakket, who had the misfortune to live beside the new pier and above the boathouse where the Ruperts were stored.