Simon shrugged.

"A ghoul's fool, a phantom's bantam, a specter protector - whatever you want to call it. I think the real term is a Spirit's Bondsman. It's someone who sells himself to a ghost."

"Goodness!" gasped Maureen, slamming the door to the firebox. "Why would anyone want to do that?"

"Gold," said Simon, remembering the time Tertius Fume had made him a similar offer. "One hundred and sixty-nine pieces, to be precise. But they all regret it in the end. There's no escape, not once they've taken the payment. They are Haunted to the end of their days."

"My," said Maureen, "the things people do."

"Yeah," Simon agreed. "Er, Maureen..."

"Yes?"

"So...what is the skipper's new name?"

"Oh, it's a nutty one if ever there was. Theodophilus Fortitude Fry. It makes you laugh when you think he used to be just plain Joe Grub." Maureen chuckled. Simon did not join in Maureen's laughter. He did not find the Darke obsession with names at all funny.

"T.F.F.," he muttered. "Same initials as old Fume. I wonder..." He sighed. "Oh Lucy, what have you done?"

Maureen tried to think of something positive to say, but all she could come up with was, "But his son, Jakey - he's a good boy."

Simon put down his empty bowl and stared gloomily at his bare feet sticking out from under the blankets. He said nothing.

After some minutes Maureen murmured, somewhat unconvincingly, "Look, Simon, Lucy's a resourceful girl. And brave too. I'm sure she will be fine."

"Fine?" asked Simon incredulously. "On a boat with a skipper like that? How can she possibly be fine?"

Maureen did not know what to say. She quietly got to her feet and set about making up a bed for Simon on one of the wide benches along the side of the kitchen. Early the next morning, just after dawn, when Maureen came down to the kitchen to get started on the first batch of pies, Simon was gone. She was not surprised. She began kneading the pastry and silently wished him and Lucy luck - they were going to need it.

Chapter 13 Dragon Flight

T he Double Dune Light was set high on a rickety metal frame at the end of a treacherous sandspit. From the air it looked thin and flimsy, as though the slightest gust of wind would blow it down, but Septimus knew that people said it was impressive from the ground.

At the light, Septimus turned Spit Fyre about forty-five degrees to the left and headed out to the open sea. Septimus knew he had no need to direct the dragon because Spit Fyre was, for the moment, merely retracing his earlier flight, but he enjoyed the thrill of the dragon responding to his commands. When Spit Fyre was earthbound, Septimus often had the uncomfortable feeling that the dragon was the one in charge and he was merely there to do his bidding, but in the air the positions were reversed. Spit Fyre became docile and calm; he obeyed - even anticipated - Septimus's every wish, to the extent that sometimes Septimus felt as though the dragon could hear his very thoughts. Septimus was not completely wrong about this. He did not know that a dragon rider - particularly the dragon's Imprintor - imparts his thoughts through tiny flickers of every muscle. A dragon reads the whole body of its rider and often will know which way the rider wants to go before the rider knows him - or her - self. It was in this way that, two days previously, Spit Fyre had flown a very agitated Marcia Overstrand all the way to the House of Foryx without a single mistake. Given the fact that Marcia had gotten the basic dragon-direction instructions completely backward, this was quite an achievement. Marcia naturally believed it was her innate dragon-riding skills that had gotten them safely there, but in fact it was down to Spit Fyre's innate ExtraOrdinary Wizard - ignoring skills.

Septimus and Spit Fyre headed out across the open sea. The air grew brighter and the multitude of little white clouds disappeared, until Septimus could see nothing but blue - the azure sky around him and the sparkling sea below. He gazed down, entranced, watching the shifting shadows of the currents, seeing the dark shapes of the huge whales that inhabited the deep trough over which they were flying. The late spring air was cold at five hundred feet, but the warmth generated by Spit Fyre's muscles provided Septimus with a not-unpleasant microclimate of his own - as long as he ignored the occasional waft of hot, smelly dragon breath. Soon the rhythmic up-down, up-down flight of the dragon lulled Septimus into a half-dreamlike state where Magykal rhymes swirled around his head and dragonny songs played in his ears. Some hours passed in this way until suddenly he was jolted awake.

"Septimus, Septimus..." Someone was calling his name. Septimus sat up, at once alert and confused. How could anyone possibly be calling him? He shook himself and muttered, "It was a dream, you dillop." To chase away the fuzziness in his head he looked down at the ocean once more - and gasped with wonder. Far below was a jewel-like group of islands. A large central island lay surrounded by six smaller satellite islands. All were a deep lush green bordered with little coves and white sandy beaches, while between the islands the delicate blue-green of clear, shallow sea sparkled in the sunlight. Septimus was entranced; suddenly he longed to be sitting on a warm hillside and drink from cool springs bubbling up through mossy rocks. For a second - no longer - he thought about taking Spit Fyre down to one of the little coves and landing on the sand. In response the dragon began dropping in height; immediately Septimus came to his senses.

"No, Spit Fyre. No, we have to go on," he said regretfully. Spit Fyre resumed his flight, and Septimus turned around to watch the exquisite circle of islands recede. Eventually the islands disappeared from view and a strange feeling of loss came over him - he and Spit Fyre were alone once more. Dragon and Imprintor flew on into the late afternoon. Above them white clouds came and went, and, below, the occasional ship trailed its white path through the endless pattern of waves, but there were no more islands.

As early evening approached, the clouds began to thicken until they formed a thick, gray ceiling. The air temperature plummeted and Septimus felt chilled to the bone. He drew his wolverine fur around him more tightly, but he still felt cold. Septimus did not realize how cold he had become. It took him a good ten minutes to remember that Marcia had insisted on packing what she had called her Emergency Kit, which she had personally loaded onto Spit Fyre in heavy carpet saddlebags. Marcia had told Septimus that she had packed six bright red HeatCloaks, which she had been very excited to find in Bott's Wizard Secondhand Cloak Shop.

After another ten minutes spent trying to open the saddlebags - which Marcia had very effectively laced closed - Septimus managed to get his ice-cold hand to pull out a HeatCloak. He wrapped the oddly crinkly cloak around him; immediately the warmth spread through him like a hot bath, and his thoughts began to work once more. By now the light was dimming fast. Ahead on the horizon Septimus could see the dark rim of the coming night. A spattering of rain began, but it seemed that the HeatCloak repelled water too. Septimus pulled on his old red beanie hat, which he had slipped into his pocket before he left. It was a tight fit now, but he didn't care. No other hat felt quite the same. Now he was totally rain-and windproof. Septimus turned his attention to the horizon once more. The dark line of night was wider, and within it he thought he could see a faint ribbon of lights. Septimus kept his eyes fixed on the horizon and, as the twilight deepened and Spit Fyre drew ever nearer, the ribbon of lights shone brighter by the second. A thrill of excitement ran through Septimus - he had done it. He had found his way back to the Trading Post, and one of those lights belonged to Jenna, Nicko, Snorri and Beetle, sitting in their damp little net loft, waiting for him to rescue them. Septimus leaned back against the Pilot Spine and grinned. The dragon rescue team had done it again.

Half an hour later night had fallen and they had reached land. Spit Fyre was flying low and fast along a sandy coast. The sky had cleared and the waning gibbous moon was rising, casting a silver light and long shadows on the land below. Septimus leaned out and saw, scattered among the sand dunes, the dark shapes of fishermen's cottages, faint candles burning in the windows and little boats pulled up onto the beach for the night. Beyond he could see the ribbon of lights of the Trading Post shining brighter than ever, illuminating the long string of harbors.

Now Septimus slowed Spit Fyre down and swooped in even lower. Below, he saw the first of the long line of harbors - Harbor Number Forty-nine, if he remembered rightly. But, since Harbor Number Three was the one they were heading for, there was still some way to go.

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