“What ... is ... that?” she asked in Jenna's language.

“ Fyre!” yelled Jenna. “He's making Fyre!”

Snorri, as any boat skipper would, understood the word fire. well enough. She grabbed a couple of buckets with rope tied to their handles and thrust one into Jenna's hands. “Water!” yelled Snorri. “Get water!”

Jenna followed Snorri's example and, holding on to the rope, she threw her bucket over the side of the barge into the river, pulled it up brimming with murky green water and threw it. It landed on a surprised Wolf Boy, who was quickly feeding Spit Fyre Snorri's breakfast of bread and bacon. It was then that Jenna realized that the rumble had stopped.

Wolf Boy grinned. “I figured he couldn't eat and make Fyre at the same time,” he said.

Snorri watched Spit Fyre gulp down the last of her bacon, siphon up the rest of the water from the fire bucket and finish by swallowing the wooden plate whole. This, thought Snorri, is going to be trouble. You didn't need to be a Spirit-Seer to see that.

23

Spirit-Seer

Spit Fyre was asleep and Snorri had an empty space in her tightly packed hold where one of the barrels of salted fish used to be. The Alfrun was tied up to a large willow tree that overhung the bank on the Farmlands side of the river, for the skipper felt it was too dangerous to continue the journey with an unpredictable dragon on board.

Snorri and Jenna were sitting in the cockpit at the stern of the barge, trying not to listen to Spit Fyre's snores and snuffles. Wolf Boy, who was still queasy after his dragon flight, and wanted to feel solid ground beneath his feet, was exploring the apple orchards planted along the riverbank.

Snorri had never expected to meet the Princess for a second time, let alone have her land on her boat on a dragon. She was a little overawed. She had provided Jenna and Wolf Boy with a welcome breakfast of bread, cake, pickled fish and apples, which they had eaten hungrily. Wolf Boy regretted that he had fed all the bacon to Spit Fyre, particularly as it had hardly dented the dragon's appetite, and Snorri also had to feed him a whole barrel of salted fish.

“I am really sorry, Snorri,” said Jenna yet again after Wolf Boy had set off. “We were on our way to find Septimus, and Spit Fyre just decided to land. I didn't stop him because I thought Septimus was here ... but he's not.” Jenna lapsed into silence.

She could not help wondering whether the Seek was going to work with Spit Fyre.

He was such a young and impetuous dragon, and if he could be distracted by the smell of frying bacon, what else would send him off on the wrong course?

“Your brother Septimus. He ... fell through some glass?” asked Snorri.

Jenna nodded.

“Then ... surely you will find him in the Infirmary?”

Jenna shook her head. “It was a looking glass—you know, a mirror?” she explained.

“Ah...” said Snorri. “An Ancient Glass. Now I understand.”

“You do?” said Jenna, surprised.

“My grandmother had one. But we are ... we were never allowed to touch it. Her sister, Ells, fell through it when she was young.”

“Did”—Jenna hardly dared ask—“did they ever find her?”

“No,” said Snorri.

Jenna was silent. Suddenly Snorri leaped up and ran to the side of the barge, looking upriver. Jenna followed her gaze but she could see nothing. The river was empty and quiet. The drizzle had stopped a while ago and now the water was flat and sluggish, reflecting the heavy gray clouds that hung in the sky. Nothing, not even an adventurous fish popping up to the surface for a fly, disturbed it.

Snorri drew out her Spirit eyeglass from a pocket in the folds of her tunic and put it to her left eye. She muttered something under her breath.

“What is it?” asked Jenna.

“I do not like this boat,” whispered Snorri.

“But it's a lovely boat,” said Jenna. “I really like it, especially your little cabin. It's very cozy.”

“No. Not this boat,” explained Snorri. “ That boat.” Snorri put the eyeglass down and pointed upriver. Jenna followed Snorri's gaze, noticing now how her eyes were locked onto something, following its slow progress downriver toward them.

Snorri glanced at Jenna. “Ah,” she said, “you cannot see the Spirit Ship?”

Jenna shook her head.

“It is coming this way,” whispered Snorri.

Suddenly the air felt colder and the river seemed threatening. “ What is coming this way?” Jenna asked.

Snorri did not reply. Squinting through the eyeglass, she was engrossed in watching Queen Etheldredda's Royal Barge draw near. Although the barge had been on the far side of the river as it rounded the bend, it was now crossing the river and heading straight for the Alfrun. Snorri shivered.

“ What? What can you see?” Jenna whispered.

“I see a barge. It is with a high prow and it is built as they used to build many years ago. I see four ghostly oars on the port and four on the starboard; they move but they make no disturbance on the water. I see a Royal red canopy covering the barge on gilded posts, and I see the Queen who sits beneath it.”

“Does ... the Queen wear a high ruff around her neck and have coiled plaits wound around her ears?” whispered Jenna, who suddenly had a horrible feeling who the Queen was. “Does she look as though she has just smelled something disgusting?”

Snorri turned to Jenna with a smile, the first smile that Jenna had seen on Snorri's face.

"So you, my sister, are a Spirit-Seer too. I have so much longed for a Spirit Sister.

Welcome!" Snorri enveloped Jenna in a hug but, desperate not to be seen by Queen Etheldredda, Jenna wriggled out and fled to Snorri's cabin.

Snorri followed Jenna below. “I am sorry if ... I offended you,” she said.

Jenna was sitting on the steps, white-faced and hugging her knees. “You—you didn't offend me,” she whispered. “I mustn't let the Queen see me. She is the one who made me show my brother the Glass. She's horrible, really horrible.”

“Ah,” whispered Snorri, not at all surprised, remembering the chill that had run through her when she had first seen the Royal Barge. “You stay here, Jenna. I shall go See this Queen. I will tell you what she is doing, for I think she has chosen not to Appear to you for a bad reason. Maybe she has your brother prisoner on board?”

“Sep!” said Jenna. “On a ghost boat. But that would mean that he's a ghost too...”

“No, not always. It is possible to be Taken by a Spirit and still be Living. It happened to my uncle Ernold.” With that, Snorri disappeared up on deck, leaving Jenna to reflect that Snorri's family was somewhat accident-prone when it came to the Spirit side of things.

The Royal Barge was nearing the Alfrun, and Snorri saw that it had once been a beautiful boat. It was a long, narrow barge painted with intricate gold and silver swirls. Ornate gold poles held up a luxuriant red canopy to keep the sun and the rain off the Queen and her courtiers, who would have lolled on the long cushioned seats on the dais at the stern of the barge. But now Queen Etheldredda sat alone, as she had also done for much of her lifetime, for her courtiers had found all manner of excuses to avoid being stuck on the Royal Barge without escape from the Queen.

Belowdecks eight ghostly oarsmen sat on their narrow wooden benches, pulling their insubstantial oars to and fro, to and fro, while the river water remained undisturbed.

As the Royal Barge swung toward the Alfrun, Snorri put the Spirit eyeglass away and busied herself tidying the breakfast things. She had no wish to show the Queen that she was a Spirit-Seer and it was clear to Snorri that if Jenna could not see the Queen, then the ghost had chosen not to Appear. Queen Etheldredda rose from her cushions, walked over to the side of her boat and stared across the water at Snorri.

The Queen sniffed disapprovingly. A servant girl, no doubt. The Queen's stare took in the remains of breakfast, which the servant girl was slowly clearing away—disgracefully slowly. Servants were so lazy in this Time; things would change once she became Queen again. Etheldredda's eyes were drawn back to Snorri herself. There was something odd about the girl, she thought. She didn't like the way the girl's eyes flickered from side to side like a lizard's and avoided looking anywhere. Very devious. No doubt her employer would be waking one night soon to find his entire cargo had been sold under his very nose. It would serve him right.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com