"He," corrected Jenna.
"Well, while he is on board the regulations do not apply, but as soon as it - "
" - he sets - er" - Milo glanced down to check that Spit Fyre did indeed have feet - "foot on land it - he - will have to be escorted into quarantine."
Septimus stood up. "That won't be necessary," he said. "Spit Fyre is leaving now. Thank you for having us, but now that Spit Fyre is awake we have to go. Don't we, Beetle?"
Beetle was busy fending off Spit Fyre's wet snout. "Get off, Spit Fyre. Oh...yes, we do. But thanks, Mr. Banda. Thank you for letting us stay on your ship. I mean Jenna's ship. It was really...interesting."
Milo was recovering himself. He bowed politely. "You are most welcome, scribe."
He turned to Septimus. "But surely, Apprentice, you do not intend to fly immediately? I have sailed the seven seas for many a long year, and I can tell you that I smell a storm in the air."
Septimus had heard enough about the seven seas to last him for a long time - and far too much about Milo's weather-predicting skills.
"We'll fly above it," he said, stepping over to Beetle. "Won't we, Beetle?"
Beetle nodded somewhat uncertainly.
Milo looked puzzled. "But there is no above a storm," he said. Septimus shrugged and patted his dragon's nose. "Spit Fyre doesn't mind a little storm, do you, Spit Fyre?" Spit Fyre snorted, and a line of dragon dribble landed on Septimus's precious purple ribbons, leaving a dark stain that would never come off. Five minutes later Spit Fyre was perched like a massive seagull on the starboard side of the Cerys, facing out to sea, and the quayside was packed with an even larger and more excited crowd. Septimus was ensconced in the Pilot Dip behind the dragon's neck, and Beetle was sitting farther back toward the tail, wedged behind the saddlebags. The Navigator's seat was, however, still vacant.
Jenna stood beside Spit Fyre, her cloak wrapped tightly against the cold wind that had begun to blow into the harbor. "Stay here tonight, Sep," she said. "Please. Spit Fyre can sleep on deck for one more night. I don't want you and Beetle to go off into the dark."
"We've got to go, Jen," Septimus replied. "There's no way Spit Fyre's going to sleep tonight. He's just going to create trouble. And if he gets put in quarantine - well, I don't even want to think about that. Anyway, we want to go, don't we, Beetle?"
Beetle had been watching the dark clouds scudding across the moon. He was not so sure. Outside the harbor wall he could see the waves building, and he wondered whether Milo was right about a storm coming. "Maybe Jenna's got a point, Sep. Maybe we should stay tonight."
Milo chimed in. "You must wait until tomorrow," he said. "The crew will chain the dragon to the main mast tonight" - Beetle, Septimus and Jenna exchanged horrified glances - "and tomorrow," Milo carried on, "while the dragon is secure, we shall have a grand farewell breakfast on deck to see you off in style. What do you think about that?"
Septimus knew exactly what he thought about that. "No, thank you," he said.
"Ready, Spit Fyre!" Spit Fyre spread his wings wide and tilted forward into the wind. The Cerys listed dramatically to starboard, and someone on the quayside screamed.
"Careful!" yelled Milo, grabbing a handrail.
Septimus looked down at Jenna. "You coming, Navigator?" he asked. Jenna shook her head, but there was something regretful in her expression that made Beetle brave. "Jenna," he said, "come with us!"
Jenna wavered. She hated seeing Septimus go without her, but she had agreed to return in the Cerys with Milo. And there was Nicko too; she wanted to be with him while he sailed home. Indecisive, she glanced at Nicko; he gave her a wry smile and put his arm around Snorri.
"Please come with us, Jenna," said Beetle very simply and without pleading.
"Of course she can't go with you," snapped Milo. "Her place is here, with her ship. And with her father."
That did it. "Apparently, it's not my ship after all," said Jenna, glowering at Milo.
"And you are not my real father. Dad is." With that, she flung her arms around Nicko.
"I'm sorry, Nik. I'm going. Safe trip and I'll see you back at the Castle."
Nicko grinned and gave her a thumbs-up. "Good one, Jen," he said. "Be careful."
Jenna nodded. Then she reached up, grabbed hold of the Navigator spine and pulled herself up into the Navigator's space just behind Septimus. "Go, Sep," she said.
"Wait!" yelled Milo. But Spit Fyre did not answer to anyone but his Pilot and sometimes - if he was in a good mood - his Navigator. He most certainly did not answer to anyone who proposed to put him in chains for the night. Everything in Harbor Twelve stopped for Spit Fyre's takeoff. Hundreds of pairs of eyes watched the dragon lean out from the ship, raise his wings high and, on the downward stroke, rise slowly into the air. A great downdraft of hot, under-wing, dragon-smelling air swept across the deck, sending Milo and his crew coughing and retching, while the sound of applause rose from the quayside. Spit Fyre raised his wings once more and flew higher, his outstretched wings beating slowly and powerfully as he steadily gained height. Flying into the wind on a wide curve, Spit Fyre wheeled across the harbor just above mast height and headed out over the harbor wall. Briefly the clouds cleared from the moon, and a gasp of wonder came from the quayside as the silhouette of the dragon with three small figures traveled sedately across the white circle of the moon and headed out to sea, leaving Milo gazing after them. Milo barked a few orders at the deckhands to clear up the decks and then disappeared below, leaving Nicko and Snorri on deck with the cleanup in progress.
"I hope they will be safe," Snorri whispered to Nicko.
"Me too," said Nicko.
Nicko and Snorri watched the sky until the distant speck of the dragon disappeared into a cloud and they could see no more. When they at last looked away, the deck was clean, tidy and deserted. They huddled together in the cold wind that was blowing in from the sea and watched as the lanterns of the Trading Post were extinguished for the night and the ribbon of lights stretching out along the shore became thinner, with only the flames of the torches burning. They listened as the sounds of voices quieted until all they could hear was the creaking of the timbers of the boats, the splash of the waves and the plink of the taut ropes on the wooden spars as the wind caught them.
"Tomorrow we sail," said Nicko, staring out to sea longingly. Snorri nodded. "Yes, Nicko. Tomorrow we shall go."
And so they sat, well into the night, wrapped in the soft blankets that Milo kept in a trunk on deck. They watched as, one by one, the stars disappeared below the incoming bank of clouds. Then, curled up beside Ullr for warmth, they fell asleep. Above them, the storm clouds gathered.
Chapter 19 Storm
B eetle was not sitting in the most comfortable position in which to ride a dragon. He was behind the wings and on the downward slope toward the tail, which meant that, because Spit Fyre used his tail to control his flight, Beetle found himself moving up and down like a yo-yo. He was, however, tightly wedged between two very tall spines and kept telling himself that there was no way he could fall off. He did not find himself totally convinced.
After Spit Fyre had taken off, Beetle had twisted around and looked back past Spit Fyre's massive tail, watching the boats in the harbors grow ever smaller, until they looked no bigger than tiny toys. Then he had concentrated on the twinkling lights of the Trading Post, strung like a necklace along the shore. Beetle had watched them grow ever dimmer and, when the night finally closed in behind them and the last faint glimmer disappeared, a feeling of dread had crept over him. He shivered and pulled his HeatCloak closer, but Beetle knew he was not cold - he was scared. Being scared was not something that had happened to Beetle before, as far as he could remember. He'd had moments in the Ice Tunnels, especially during his first few trips, when he had been a bit uneasy, and he had not felt too great in the frozen forest on the way to the House of Foryx either, but he didn't think he had ever felt the feeling of dread that was now sitting like a fat snake curled up in the pit of his stomach. Spit Fyre flew steadily on. Hours passed - which felt like years to Beetle - but his fear did not subside. Beetle now realized why he felt so bad. He had ridden Spit Fyre before with Septimus on illicit trips out to the Farmlands and once even up to Bleak Creek, which had been extremely creepy. He had even sat exactly where he was sitting now when they had all flown from the House of Foryx to the Trading Post, but he had always flown low and had been able to see the land beneath. Now, in the dark and high up over the sea, the great emptiness all around them overwhelmed him and made him feel as though his life were hanging by a thread. It didn't help that it was becoming increasingly windy, and when a great gust of wind suddenly caught Spit Fyre and sent him wheeling sideways, the snake in Beetle's stomach curled up a little tighter. Beetle decided to stop looking out at the night and focus instead on Septimus and Jenna, but he could only see Jenna - and not much of her. She too was wrapped in a HeatCloak, and the only clue as to who was actually inside it was an occasional long tendril of hair escaping in the wind. Septimus was out of sight, down in the dip of the dragon's neck and hidden by the broad Pilot Spine. Beetle felt weirdly alone. He would not have been surprised to suddenly find that he was the only one riding Spit Fyre. Septimus, however, was fine. Spit Fyre was flying well, and even the gusts of wind, which were getting stronger and more frequent, did not seem to bother the dragon. True, Septimus wondered if he could hear distant thunder, but he told himself that it was probably the noise of Spit Fyre's wings. Even when a sudden squall of freezing rain hit them, Septimus was not too concerned. It was cold, and it stung when it briefly turned to hail, but Spit Fyre flew through it. But it was the sudden craaaaack of lightning that shocked him.