“Now.” Marissa’s lower lip stuck out crossly and her witch-blue eyes flashed in the firelight.
Jo-Jo’s protests were interrupted by Sam. “Jo-Jo is not going anywhere tonight. It’s too dangerous. It’s past midnight and it’s time for bed.” Jo-Jo flashed Sam a grateful glance but Sam ignored him. He stood up and said, “Sep, Jenna and Cockroach can have Wolf Boy’s old bender. Come on, you guys,” he said, looking in their direction. “I’ll show you where it is.”
Septimus was about to tell Sam that there was no need, he remembered where it was, when Sam caught his eye with a meaningful glance. “Yeah. Okay,” muttered Septimus.
As soon as they were out of earshot of the campfire, Sam said quietly, “You’ll have to be off at dawn tomorrow. Marissa will go straight back to Morwenna, you can bet on that. And if Morwenna wants Jen for the Coven she’ll get her—one way or another.”
“No, she won’t!” said Beetle vehemently. “Not while me and Sep are here.”
“Look, Cockroach,” said Sam patiently, “you two don’t stand a chance against a Witch Mother, believe me. You need to
be out of here first thing before the witches realize you’ve gone.”
“I suppose we could try to catch the Port barge,” said Septimus doubtfully. “But it doesn’t usually stop at the Forest.”
“What do you want to do that for?” asked Sam, puzzled. “I thought you were taking the Forest Way.”
“Yeah. Well, that was the idea. Until Morwenna got nasty and wouldn’t show us where it is.”
“You don’t need that calculating old witch,” said Sam. “I’ll show you.”
“You?” Septimus gasped.
Sam glanced at the group silhouetted around the campfire. “Don’t give that Marissa any ideas we’re planning something. I’ll come wake you first thing. Okay?”
Septimus nodded. And then said, “Night, Sam. And thanks.”
“’S all right. Got to look after my little brother and sister, haven’t I?” Sam said with a grin.
It was warm and comfortable in Wolf Boy’s bender after Sam had thrown in a pile of thick blankets. Feeling very, very tired, Jenna, Septimus and Beetle burrowed under the blankets and curled up on the bed of leaves.
“G’night,” whispered Beetle.
“Night, Cockroach,” came the replies.
W hile Jenna, Septimus and
Beetle slept dreamlessly in Wolf Boy’s bender and the NightUllr listened to the sounds of the Forest, a small ferryboat was making a perilous crossing to the Castle. The ferryman had extracted a high fee for the trip but even so he was beginning to regret it—the tide was running fast against the wind, and as they reached the middle of the river, water was splashing into his boat with every wave it hit.
His passengers were beginning to regret it too.
“We should have waited till morning,” Lucy Gringe moaned as the boat dipped alarmingly and her stomach seemed to go in the opposite direction.
“Don’t worry, Luce,” replied Simon Heap encouragingly. “I’ve known worse.” He hadn’t, but now was not the time for strict accuracy, he thought.
Lucy said nothing more. She thought if she did speak she would probably be sick, and she didn’t want Simon to see that.
A girl had to keep up appearances even in a rotten little rowboat. Lucy closed her eyes tight and sat concentrating on her thoughts. She could not get out of her head the expression of horror on Simon’s face as they had walked into the Observatory that afternoon. “Luce,” he had whispered in a panic. “Get straight back down those steps and get Thunder.
Lucy didn’t like Simon telling her what to do—and he didn’t usually dare—but this she knew was different. She had fled back down the steep, slippery slate steps, past the horrible old Magog chamber, and by the time Simon had joined her, Thunder was saddled once more and ready to go. She had asked Simon what was the problem, but all he would say was, “I did a See.”
They were nearing the other side of the river now and the water was a little calmer. Lucy brightened. If what Simon had said—that they were never going to set foot in that awful Observatory again—was true, then she was very pleased indeed, but she wished they weren’t going back to the Castle. She would much rather have been heading for the Port.
Lucy liked the Port; it was much more fun than the Castle and there was no risk of bumping into her mother and father there, either.
However, the most pressing reason that Lucy did not want to go back to the Castle was Simon himself. Simon seemed to have forgotten the events that had led up to him fleeing the place almost a year ago. Lucy did not know exactly what had happened but she had heard all kinds of terrible things—most of which she did not believe but some, she knew, were true. Her brother, Rupert, had told her he had seen Simon throwing a Thunderflash at Septimus, Nicko and Jenna—and Lucy knew that Rupert did not tell fibs. And there were other stories too: that Simon had tried to do some horrible Enchantment
on Marcia by using DomDaniel’s bones and had very nearly succeeded, and that Marcia had let it be known that if Simon ever set foot in the Castle again she would put him in the lock-up forever.
Lucy looked at her beautiful ring—most definitely not
from Drago Mills’s warehouse clearance sale—and sighed. Why couldn’t she and Simon be normal? All she wanted was for them to be like everyone else—planning to get married, looking for somewhere to live—just a room in The Ramblings would do. Why couldn’t she take Simon to see her mother and father and have him and Rupert be friends?
Why? It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t.
The boat pulled in to the night ferry quay, just below Sally Mullin’s Tea and Ale House. The ferryman, Micky Mullin, who was one of Sally’s many nephews, tied the boat up with a feeling of relief and bid his soaked passengers good night. He watched them walk unsteadily toward the South Gate—which, if you knew where to look, had a small door that was open all night—and wondered what they were up to. Even though Simon had taken care to pull down his hood well over his face, Micky had noticed the distinctive Heap features. Simon, now that he was in his early twenties, looked remarkably like a young version of his father, Silas. Micky decided to go see his aunt the next morning; she liked a bit of gossip—and she made a good barley cake, too.
As they walked along the deserted streets, keeping out of the worst of the wind, Lucy was still unusually silent.
“You okay, Luce?” asked Simon.
“I wish we weren’t back here,” Lucy replied. “I’m scared they’ll find you and lock you away forever.”
Simon drew out a crumpled letter that had been waiting for them on their return. Lucy heaved a sigh. She so wished she had not seen it tucked under a rock beside the path leading up to the Observatory entrance, but the envelope was stamped with the words DELIVERED BY THE PORT PACKET POST COMPANY, and she had thought it sounded exciting. Lucy now knew the contents of the wretched letter by heart, but she listened once again as Simon read out the tiny, spiky handwriting.
The letter was written on official Manuscriptorium notepaper and it said: Dear Simon,
I expect you have noticed that I have gone.
You may have noticed that something else has gone too. I have Slooth Sluuth Sleuth and it is MINE now. It likes being with me.
If you come to find it I will make sure someone finds you.
As you see from this writing paper, my talants
talents have at last been recognized as I have a very good job here. Much better than the one I had with you.
I am back where I belong now but no one will have you back again. Not in a milloin million years. Ha ha.
Your ex faitful faithfil faithful servant,
Merrin Meredith/Daniel Hunter/Septimus Heap
“I told you, Luce, he’s not getting away with this,” said Simon, shoving the letter back into his pocket. “He’s teamed up with two other wasters—dunno who Daniel Hunter is but I always knew that precious little Septimus was no good—and now he thinks he can scare me into letting him keep Sleuth. He’ll soon find out just how wrong he is.”