Wolf Boy was having trouble finding the Seek. It was quite enough, he thought, to be hundreds of feet up in the air, feeling sick and trying not to fall off a flying dragon, without having to look at letters as well. Spit Fyre did not exactly fly smoothly. With every downbeat of the dragon's wings, a great rush of dragon-smelling air passed Wolf Boy's face. Then the dragon shot up in the air, where he hung for a few seconds until the upbeat of his wings. There was another rush of smelly underwing air, and then down he went again. These were not ideal conditions in which to look for a snaky kind of letter-thingy.
As he rifled through the toffee tin, trying not to lose any precious bits of dragon skin, something occurred to him that would explain his troubles finding the Seek. “But not all snakes begin with S, do they?” he shouted forward to Jenna. “I mean, there's python and adder and Big Green Forest Snake and—”
Jenna leaned back and saw the look of puzzlement on Wolf Boy's face. “Tell you what,” she shouted, “why don't you just pass me all the green pieces?”
“Hey, I've got it!” yelled Wolf Boy, triumphant, as the dragon wings swept down. “I was confused because ... aargh”—the dragon wings swept up—“...there are two snakes on this one. But none of the others ... oof”—the dragon wings swept down again—“...have any snakes at all so this must be it. Here, oops”—the wings swept up—“...you are.” He passed Jenna a piece of crackly green leather. On the front of it was written Seek and Ye Shall Find.
“Great!” said Jenna. With some difficulty—it was like reading on a roller coaster—and hanging on tight to the scrap of green dragon skin so that it did not blow away, she read out the words of the Seek:
"Faithful dragon Seek the One Whom you be Imprinted on.
Let this Seek show in your Mind The Way to your Imprinter— Find! "
At once Spit Fyre banked sharply to the right. Jenna was caught by surprise. She had taken both hands off Spit Fyre's spines while she read out the Seek, and in one swift and terrifying movement, she slipped from her place behind Spit Fyre's neck, grabbed at the spines she should have been holding on to—and missed.
“Jenna!” yelled Wolf Boy. “Jenna!”
There was no reply. Jenna was gone.
Jenna was too shocked to scream, she knew that there was nothing but thin air between her and Raven's Rock far below. But, as Spit Fyre felt the weight behind his neck disappear, something instinctive kicked in. Something that, unknown to Spit Fyre, all human-Imprinted dragons possessed: Rider Retrieve. As Jenna fell, Spit Fyre dropped like a rock and grabbed her with his feet.
Two seconds later he was carrying Jenna in his talons, as an eagle carries its prey.
Wolf Boy was frantic. He could not see Jenna dangling below. All he knew was that she was no longer there.
“Jenna!” he yelled. “Jenna!”
“ 409!” came an answering voice, or so he thought.
“Where's she gone, Stanley?” asked Dawnie peevishly. “I do think that's a bit much, just getting off like that. I mean, who's going to fly this thing now, I'd like to know?”
“Oh, do be quiet, Dawnie!” snapped Stanley. Dreading what he was going to see, the rat peered out over the great black spines of the dragon, but all he could see was Spit Fyre's fat stomach.
“409!” came Jenna's voice, almost blown away by the wind.
“Jenna?” Wolf Boy twisted around to see if she was behind him but there was nothing. He looked down to see if she was clinging on below him but he saw nothing except Spit Fyre's belly.
“409 ... I'm here...” Wolf Boy began to wonder if he was imagining it. Where was she?
Spit Fyre had turned back toward the Castle and was descending now, slowly and carefully. Wolf Boy looked down, scanning the ground, fearing the worst. They flew over Raven's Rock, across the new boat blockade, which spanned the river and stopped any Sickenesse-infested boats from arriving at the Port, and now they were heading toward the quay below Sally Mullin's Tea and Ale House. Customers were running from the cafe, and Wolf Boy could see people milling around, looking up and pointing excitedly. As Spit Fyre came in lower, Wolf Boy could hear what they were saying.
“It's the Princess!”
“That Wizard dragon's taken the Princess!”
“Look at her—just hanging there ... oh my, oh my...”
“Don't say that. She can't be. She can't!”
“Well, she ain't doin' much.”
“Ain't much she can do, stuck in them claws like that. I always said that that dragon would turn. They all do.”
“Look! Look—she's moving. She's alive, look...”
“He's comin' down. He's going to squash her.”
“Aargh! I can't look—I can't!”
Spit Fyre was now hovering no more than ten feet off the ground. Wolf Boy's relief at realizing that Jenna had not fallen was replaced by a horrible thought: How was Spit Fyre going to land without crushing her?
Slowly, slowly, Spit Fyre came lower until he was so near to the quay that Wolf Boy could easily make out the complicated patterns on top of the fishermen's hats. The beating of Spit Fyre's wings—and quite possibly the strong smell of dragon—pushed the crowd back; Wolf Boy watched their astonished faces as the dragon hovered about five feet above the ground, uncurled his talons and let Jenna jump lightly onto the edge of the quay, running forward to keep her balance.
The crowd applauded and there were a couple of appreciative whistles, which seemed to go to Spit Fyre's head, for the dragon settled onto the quay, stuck out his neck and rumbled so that Wolf Boy felt it deep inside him. The crowd, fascinated by seeing Spit Fyre at such close quarters, especially after such a daring feat, was drawing near, pointing out the various strange bits and pieces that are part of any dragon.
“Horrible black spines he's got...”
“Look at the size of his tail...”
“Wouldn't fancy being stuck in them claws myself...”
And then, noticing Wolf Boy: “There's a kid on the back...”
“He's got quite a stare on him. Wouldn't want to come across him on a dark night.”
“Shh, he'll hear you.”
“No, he won't. Listen, what's that?”
The rumble deep inside Spit Fyre was getting louder. Jenna jumped back, for she knew what was coming, missed her footing and fell off the edge of the quay into the water. Still intrigued by the dragon, the crowd paid no attention whatsoever to the splash as their Princess vanished below the flotsam. As if drawn by a magnet, people drew closer and closer to Spit Fyre, watching the dragon as he threw back his head and flared his nostrils, listening to the volcanic rumblings inside him. Unnoticed, Jenna surfaced, spat out a small, but disgustingly dead fish and swam toward the steps at the end of the quay.
Suddenly, with a jet-engine of a roar, a great plume of hot gas streamed from Spit Fyre's nostrils and Ignited. Ten, twenty, thirty seconds of fire shot into the air and across the water, where it torched the sails of two herring boats that formed part of the blockade across the river. At the end of the thirty seconds the crowd had gone.
Many had taken refuge in Sally Mullin's cafe only to find themselves handed one of the large collection of fire buckets kept at the ready and told to “go and put that dragon out before we all go up in flames.” The rest could be seen running up the hill toward the South Gate with a great story to tell in the taverns at lunchtime.
By nightfall, most people in the Castle had heard a version of how “the Princess was snatched by the Wizards' dragon, yes, she was, I'm telling you, she was. Great beast of a thing. Then it dropped her like a stone, it did. Yes, it did. No, she's all right. No, she didn't bounce. She fell in the river. She's a good swimmer, that girl. But then the dragon, see, he turned. They all do. Great fire spurting out of his nose right at me—singed my hair too, see? No, look, this bit here, no, here. Well, you need to get yourself a decent pair of glasses, that's all I can say.”
Most people had also heard the other version too—how the Princess was to blame for bringing the Sickenesse in her pestilential boat, how she had tried to trap the RatStranglers in the Castle wall by means of some Darke trickery and—“Well, if you want proof, I'll give you proof. She rescued a couple of vermin. Not ermine, vermin. Are you deaf? Rats, you fool, rats. Took them away on her dragon. Now what do you have to say to that?” And the speaker would sit back, arms folded with a smug smile.