“I know,” said Septimus. “Anyway, I think he’s fine. His breathing is good.”

Jenna smiled. “You know,” she said, “even though it was horrible, you being trapped in Marcellus’s Time, you’ve come back really different—in a good way. You know stuff. Stuff that no one else does. Not even Marcia.”

“Yeah,” said Septimus glumly. He was silent for a while and stirred his witches’ brew, watching the toffee whiz around faster and faster. Then he said, “I’d be a better Physician than a Wizard.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Jenna. “You’ll be a great Wizard. One of the best. You know you will.”

“Marcia doesn’t think so.”

“She didn’t say that.”

“No. But I can tell she thinks it. She says I just mess around with stuff. It’s true, really. I…I don’t think I want to be a Wizard really, Jen.”

Jenna nodded. “Sometimes I think I don’t want to be Queen,” she said. “It’s horrible to feel you have to be something.

At least you can decide not to be a Wizard if you don’t want to be.”

Septimus did not reply. He put his hand in his pocket and felt the Questing Stone. He didn’t think there was going to be much chance of deciding anything anyway. “Jen,” he said.

“What is it, Sep?” Jenna looked concerned.

“Oh…nothing.” He couldn’t say it.

Later, when night had fallen and Jenna and Beetle were sleeping, the NightUllr was lying across the doorway, and even Ephaniah was breathing peacefully, Septimus took out the Questing Stone. Jenna stirred and he quickly shoved it back into his pocket—but not before he saw that the yellow had deepened to a dull orange: “Orange to warn you that over you’ll go.” And now Septimus knew exactly what that meant.

Septimus woke the next morning feeling groggy from the musty fumes of the Foryx skin. It was still dark inside the tree house and the only way that Septimus could tell it was morning was by the presence of a small orange cat mewing impatiently to be let out. He lifted a corner of the Foryx skin door and, tail up, Ullr stalked out into the morning air. A moment later the cat landed with a soft thud in the snow below the tree and set about hunting for a more interesting breakfast than dried fish.

Unskilled in the art of hunting tree voles, the occupants of the tree house had to make other arrangements for breakfast.

They set to heating some water and wondered if dried fish could be made more interesting by boiling it up with toffee.

Jenna thought not, although Septimus liked the idea. Beetle woke with a headache and a stiff neck and grumpily refused both fish and toffee, either separately or together.

Septimus put an end to the fish-or-toffee discussion by using the pan of boiling water for an infusion of strips of willow bark from his Physik tin. He made Beetle drink it. It was bitter and made Beetle gag, but half an hour later his headache and stiff neck were better and he was helping Jenna open three more of Sam’s packages. They discovered some tiny sticky raisin cakes that Melissa had made for Jo-Jo, and a long strip of dried bacon. Suddenly breakfast seemed a lot more interesting.

Septimus decided to take Ephaniah’s pulse; he wondered if it would be in the usual place. It was, even though his wrist was covered with soft rat fur. The pulse was weak but regular and Septimus was sure that Ephaniah was now in a deep sleep and not unconscious, but he could think of nothing in his Physik tin that would be of any help to the rat-man. It

was, he thought, a question of time and, later on, something to stop the recurring nightmares that always afflicted those who had been InHabited.

About midmorning—according to Beetle’s silent, tick-free timepiece—they had finished breakfast and decided that the only thing they could do was leave Ephaniah in the tree house to recover, and call for him on the way back. “Nik’s really strong,” said Jenna. “It will be so much easier with him to help get Ephaniah back to the Forest.”

Septimus said nothing. He didn’t think they’d be coming back at all, let alone coming back with Nicko, but Ephaniah was as safe in the tree house as anywhere—safer, in fact, than they were going to be.

Jenna kneeled beside the rat-man, covering him with their wolverine cloaks and making him comfortable. “Good-bye, Ephaniah,” she said. “We’ve got to go, but we’ll be back soon.” Ephaniah’s whiskers twitched and Jenna stroked his forehead. “You’ll be fine,” she said. Ephaniah half opened one eye. “He’s waking up!” Jenna gasped.

Ephaniah seemed to be trying to focus on Jenna. He groaned and lifted his hand restlessly. Jenna took his hand and laid it gently back on his chest, but Ephaniah resisted. Jenna let go and watched his long, bony fingers scrabble inside the folds of his robes around his neck. “What is it?” she asked. “Does your neck hurt?”

In answer, Ephaniah drew out something from a hidden pocket and pressed it into Jenna’s hand. Then, with a long sigh, he closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep.

Jenna stared at her hand. On it lay a slightly shiny circle of paper covered in a mass of finely detailed pencil lines. For a moment Jenna wondered what it could possibly be, but only for a moment. And then she knew—it was the missing piece of the map. It was the House of Foryx.

43

THE BRIDGE

T hey spread the map out

on the snow below the tree. As they unfolded it the stiffened paper crackled and looked yellow against the frosty whiteness.

“No, Ullr,” said Jenna. “You are not

sitting here.” She held up the missing piece. “Do I have to do anything special?” she asked. “Like say the ReUnite or something?”

“No,” said Beetle. He grinned. “It’s ready to go.”

Jenna let go of the circular piece of paper and slowly it fluttered down. Ullr went to bat at it with his paw but Jenna grabbed the cat and held him tight. The missing piece hovered for a few seconds above the hole, turning this way and that, deciding which way to go—and then, to the accompaniment of “Yaaay!” it slipped into place. Snorri’s map was complete once more.

“That’s amazing,” said Jenna. “You can’t even see the join.”

Beetle inspected the map with a professional air. “Nice work,” he said.

Septimus took his Enlarging Glass from his Apprentice Belt and held it over the center of the map. As the glass passed across, they watched the minutely annotated details rendered in Snorri’s neat hand spring into focus. They saw an octagonal building shaded a delicate gray. In heavy letters over the gray, Snorri had written HOUSE OF FORYX. In the middle of the octagon Snorri had drawn a key, and wrapped around the outside of the octagon was a huge snake. The House of Foryx was on what seemed to be an island, connected to the surrounding land by a spidery contraption of a bridge. Beside the bridge was a tree and a small figure with an arrow pointing to it. Snorri had written in tiny writing, BEWARE THE TOLL-MAN. She had also written the words BOTTOMLESS PIT across the gap that the bridge spanned, but Septimus did not care. He was so relieved that the Queste had not taken them away from the House of Foryx after all that he felt he could walk over a hundred bottomless pits if he had to—although he would rather not. One was quite enough.

With Ullr securely ensconced in her backpack, Jenna stood for a moment between the two soaring pillars that formed the gateway to the bridge. She looked up and saw it rise, black and spiderlike into the white air, its thin wire ropes shining with damp. The fog swirled around her feet and a long, low wail came from somewhere far below.

Jenna swallowed hard. This was the way to Nicko, she told herself, and this was the way she would have to go. She stepped between the pillars and onto the icy dusting of unmarked snow that lay on the first precarious plank. Ahead of her the line of planks rose up into a curve and disappeared into the fog. Jenna put out her hands to take the wire handrails. They were taut, cold, and felt frighteningly flimsy. Aware that Septimus was right behind her, Jenna gathered her courage and took another step forward. The bridge gave slightly under her weight. She froze, horribly aware that there was nothing but a thin plank of wood between her and a plunge to oblivion—but she was determined not to show how scared she was. “It’s fine,” she said brightly. “Come on, Sep.”

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