Septimus did not move.
“Go on,” said Beetle. He gave him a gentle shove and Septimus stepped onto the bridge. Jenna moved up a couple of paces. Once again the bridge swayed. In a panic, Septimus grabbed the wire handrails.
“Wait for me,” said Beetle, sounding more confident than he felt. He stepped onto the bridge, which moved once again.
Septimus felt sick. He had been determined to walk across the bridge calmly, as though it was no more than a few feet above the ground—but suddenly he knew he couldn’t.
Jenna glanced back and saw that Septimus’s green eyes were wide with fear. “It’s okay, Sep,” she said. “The trick is to just take one step at a time. One foot in front of the other is all you have to think about. It doesn’t matter how long it goes on for because we know we are going to get to the other side. All we have to do is put one foot in front of the other, okay? It’s easy.”
Septimus nodded. His mouth was too dry to speak.
Like a trio of snails creeping along a washing line, they set off up the bridge with Jenna counting out the steps.
“One…two…three…four…five…that’s it, Sep, you’re doing great. Look how far we’ve gone already—oh no, I didn’t mean that, no don’t look—keep going, keep going, ten…eleven…twelve…thirteen…”
Septimus obeyed, putting one foot in front of the other like one of Ephaniah’s automatons. Unblinking, he stared straight ahead into the mist. The scene before him was oddly unchanging—always a few feet of bridge in front of them, rising in a gradual curve and disappearing into the whiteness. Sometimes a gust of wind blew some of the mist away and revealed a little more of the stretch in front but Septimus did not see it, as whenever that happened he closed his eyes until the bridge stopped swaying.
But closing his eyes did not take away the terrible wails and despairing cries that issued from the bottomless pit. As they progressed along the wobbling planks, clinging onto the ice-cold handrails with numb fingers, the cries became louder and ever more desperate. These bothered Beetle more than the bridge and he began to sing his own very special tuneless version of an old Castle favorite, “How Much Is That Weasel in the Window?” For the first time ever, Septimus did not object.
And so, to the accompaniment of Beetle’s drone—which was at times hard to distinguish from the moans far below—they put one foot in front of the other and climbed the ever-ascending curve. They had probably been no longer than a quarter of an hour on the bridge when Jenna said, “It’s flattening out. Can you feel it? We must be nearly at the top.”
At the mention of “top” Septimus had a sudden vision of them suspended in the middle of nowhere. The dizzying absence of earth traveled up from the soles of his feet and made his head spin. He swayed backward—Beetle caught him and the weasel song stopped. “Hey, steady, Sep. Easy does it.”
Septimus could not move. His hands gripped the wires, his knuckles white. Jenna felt his fear seeping into her, too. A long, desolate lament drifted up from the chasm, rising and falling as if telling the lonely tale of the lost souls who inhabited the fog. Septimus listened, entranced. He felt an overwhelming urge to let himself fall into the soft pillow of fog and join the voices below. He loosened his grip on the handrails. At that moment a patch of fog lifted and Jenna saw a large black bird fly across their path. She gasped in surprise.
Septimus woke from his trance. “Jen…what is it?” he croaked.
“Nothing, Sep.” But the flight of the bird had triggered her thoughts. “Sep, the Flyte Charm. Remember?”
At Jenna’s words, Septimus felt as if the fog had cleared from his mind. He remembered the feeling of the Charm in his hand, the silver flights on the golden arrow fluttering like the wings of a tiny bird, the Charm buzzing in his hand. And as he remembered, his feet began to feel lighter and less anchored to the rickety planks of the bridge. His legs no longer felt like jelly and the keening voices from below no longer invited him to jump into the fog. To the accompaniment of a renewed burst of the weasel song behind him, Septimus took a step forward.
“Come on,” he said. “We’ll soon be there.”
Septimus didn’t see the end of the bridge—his head was full of the image of the Flyte Charm and nothing else. But as Jenna and Beetle walked down the last few yards of the bridge, the gaunt shape of the House of Foryx slowly materialized out of the fog.
“It’s massive,” whispered Jenna.
Beetle replaced the weasel song with a long, low whistle.
With a huge feeling of relief, Jenna stepped off the bridge. As she kneeled to set Ullr free from the backpack, she found her eyes drawn up to the House of Foryx. It was a daunting sight. It towered above them—more of a fortress than a house—a forbidding mass of granite blocks perched on top of a rocky escarpment. True to Snorri’s drawing, it consisted of a central octagonal column flanked by four octagonal towers that disappeared into the milky white sky, the tops of their crenulated battlements hidden by a low snow cloud. A few small windows broke up the smooth gray surface but a strange swirling sheen—like oil on water—covered them. They reminded Jenna of the eyes of a blind old cat that she and her friend Bo had once adopted.
Spurred on by the resumption of the twenty-first rendition of the weasal song, Septimus had at last reached the end of the bridge. He stepped from the final wobbly plank and, with a feeling of exhilaration—he had done it—he let go of the image of the Flyte Charm. His feet felt heavy once more and his boots settled firmly back onto the ground. Painfully, Septimus tried to uncurl his fingers, which had been clamped tight to the freezing wire handrails, but they would not move. He shoved his frozen hands into his tunic pockets and the Questing Stone slipped into his right hand and nestled into his palm. “It’s hot!” he gasped.
“What are you talking about?” said Jenna. “It’s freezing.”
Septimus did not reply.
Gently, Jenna took Septimus by the arm and led him away from the edge of the chasm. “Come on, Sep,” she said, “let’s get going.”
But Septimus had something to say and he didn’t know where to begin. So he took his clenched hand from his pocket and opened it—in his palm lay the Questing Stone. It was glowing a brilliant orangy-red now, and it shone out in the white, muted surroundings like a beacon.
“What’s that?” asked Beetle suspiciously.
“Huh,” said Jenna. “It’s a Magykal hand-warmer. You might have told us, Sep, we could have all used that.”
“It’s not a hand-warmer,” muttered Septimus.
“No, it’s not, is it?” said Beetle, peering down at the Stone. “You kept this quiet, Sep.”
“Kept what quiet?” asked Jenna.
“The Questing Stone,” said Beetle. “He’s got the Questing Stone. Sep—why didn’t you say?”
“Because we were looking for Nik and Snorri, that was the important thing. And, well, at first I didn’t think it mattered.”
“You took the Questing Stone and you didn’t think it mattered?” Beetle was aghast.
“Give me a break, Beetle. I didn’t know it was the Stone when I took it, did I? I wouldn’t have taken it if I had.
Hildegarde gave it to me just before we escaped from the Wizard Tower. She said it was her SafeCharm.”
“Well, it’s obviously not her SafeCharm,” said Beetle snappily.
“And she wasn’t Hildegarde,” said Septimus.
“What’s going on?” asked Jenna crossly. “Who wasn’t Hildegarde? Tell me.”
“Hildegarde wasn’t Hildegarde,” replied Beetle, a trifle unhelpfully.
“Beetle,” protested Jenna, fixing Beetle with a Princessy stare.
“Beetle’s right, Jen,” said Septimus, coming to Beetle’s rescue. “I’ve been going over and over it—the moment when I took the Stone. I know Marcia says never accept Charms from strangers, but I didn’t think Hildegarde was a stranger.
But she had been standing next to the Questing Pot, hadn’t she? And I Saw the Thing in the Pot. So when Tertius Fume started putting the Tower into Siege, I reckon the Thing must have got out of the Pot and InHabited Hildegarde. It was so dark and crazy anything could have happened.”