"Wait!" she shouted, speeding her pace. "Wait!" But her voice was drowned out as, on the other side of the trees, Spit Fyre brought his wings down and a great rush of air set the fir trees swaying. Puffing and wheezing, Aunt Zelda stopped to catch her breath. It was no good, she thought, she wasn't going to make it. That dragon was going to fly off any minute now, taking Septimus with him.
"You all right, miss?" a small voice somewhere below her elbow inquired anxiously.
"Uh?" gasped Aunt Zelda. She looked around for the owner of the voice and noticed, just behind her, a small boy almost hidden behind a large wheelbarrow.
"Can I help or anything?" the boy asked hopefully. Barney Pot had recently joined the newly formed Castle Cubs and needed to do his good deed for the day. He had at first mistaken Aunt Zelda for a tent like the striped one on the landing stage and was now wondering if she was perhaps trapped inside a tent and had stuck her head out of the top to ask for help.
"Yes...you can," Aunt Zelda said, puffing. She fished deep into her secret pocket and brought out the small gold flask. "Take this...to the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice...Septimus Heap. He's...over there." She flapped her hands in the direction of the waving fir trees. "Dragon. On the...dragon."
The boy's eyes widened farther. "The ExtraOrdinary Apprentice? On the dragon?"
"Yes. Give this to him."
"What - me?"
"Yes, dear. Please."
Aunt Zelda pressed the small gold bottle into the boy's hand. He stared at it. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. It felt strangely heavy - much heavier than he thought it should be - and on the top was some weird writing. Barney was learning to write, but it wasn't stuff like that.
"Tell the Apprentice that it is a SafeCharm," said Aunt Zelda. "Tell him that Aunt Zelda sends it to him."
Barney's eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his head. Things like this happened in his favorite book, One Hundred Stories for Bored Boys, but they never happened to him. "Wow..." he breathed.
"Oh and wait - " Aunt Zelda fished something else from her pocket and handed it to Barney. "Give him that too."
Barney took the cabbage sandwich warily. It felt cold and squishy and he thought for a moment it might be a dead mouse, except dead mice didn't have soggy green bits in the middle of them. "What is it?" he asked.
"A cabbage sandwich. Well, go on, dear," urged Aunt Zelda. "The SafeCharm is very important. Hurry now!"
Barney did not need to be told twice - he knew from "The Terrible Tale of Lazy Larry" that it was always important to deliver a SafeCharm as fast as you could. If you didn't, all kinds of awful stuff could happen. He nodded, stuffed the cabbage sandwich deep into his grubby tunic pocket and, clutching the gold bottle, shot off toward the dragon as fast as he could go.
Barney arrived just in time. As he ran onto the dragon field he saw the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice - a big boy with long, curly straw-colored hair and wearing the green Apprentice tunic. Barney could see that the Apprentice was about to climb onto the dragon. Barney's uncle Billy Pot was holding the dragon's head and stroking one of the big spikes on its nose.
Barney didn't like the dragon. It was huge, scary and it smelled weird - like Uncle Billy's Lizard Lodges, only a hundred times worse. And ever since the dragon had very nearly stepped on him, and Uncle Billy had yelled because he had gotten in the way, Barney had kept his distance. But Barney knew that there was no keeping out of the dragon's way now - he was on an important mission. He ran straight up to the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice and said, "Excuse me!"
But the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice took no notice. He slung a weird-smelling fur cloak around his shoulders and said to Uncle Billy, "I'll hold Spit Fyre, Billy. Can you tell Marcia I'm going now?"
Barney saw Uncle Billy glance over to the corner of the field where - oh, wow - the ExtraOrdinary Wizard was standing talking to Mistress Sarah, who was in charge of the Palace and was the Princess's mother even though she wasn't Queen. Barney had never seen the ExtraOrdinary Wizard before, but even from far away she looked just as scary as his friends said she was. She was really tall, with thick dark curly hair, and she was wearing long purple robes that were flapping in the wind. She had quite a loud voice too, because Barney could hear her saying, "Now, Mr. Pot?" to Uncle Billy. But Barney knew he didn't have time to stare at the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. He had to deliver the SafeCharm to the ExtraOrdinary Apprentice, who was about to climb onto the dragon. He had to do it now - before it was too late.
"Apprentice!" said Barney as loud as he could. "Excuse me!"
Septimus Heap stopped with his foot in midair and looked down. He saw a small boy staring up at him with big brown eyes. The boy reminded him of someone he had known a long time ago - a very long time ago. Septimus almost said, "What is it, Hugo?" But he stopped himself and just said, "What is it?"
"Please," said the boy - who even sounded like Hugo, "I've got something for you. It's really important and I promised to give it to you."
"Oh?" Septimus squatted down so that the boy didn't have to keep staring up at him.
"What have you got?" he asked.
Barney Pot uncurled his fingers from around the SafeCharm. "This," he said, "it's a SafeCharm. A lady asked me to give it to you."
Septimus drew back as though stung. "No," he said abruptly. "No. No, thank you."
Barney looked amazed. "But it's for you." He pushed the gold bottle toward Septimus.
Septimus stood up and turned back to the dragon. "No," he said. Barney stared at the bottle in dismay. "But it's a SafeCharm. It's really important. Please, Apprentice, you have to take it."
Septimus shook his head. "No, I don't have to take it."
Barney was horrified. He had promised to deliver a SafeCharm and deliver it he must. Awful things happened to people who promised to deliver SafeCharms and then didn't. At the very least he would be turned into a frog or - oh yuck - a lizard. He would be turned into a smelly little lizard and Uncle Billy would never know; he would catch him and put him in a Lizard Lodge with all the other lizards, and they would know he was not a real lizard and they would eat him. It was a disaster. "You do have to take it!"
yelled Barney, jumping up and down desperately. "You do! You have to take it!"
Septimus looked at Barney. He felt sorry for the boy. "Look, what's your name?" he said kindly.
"Well, Barney, a word of advice - never take a SafeCharm from anyone. Never."
"Please." Barney grabbed hold of Septimus's sleeve.
"No. Let go, Barney. Okay? I've got to go." With that Septimus grabbed hold of a large spike on the dragon's neck, swung himself up and sat down in the narrow dip in front of the dragon's powerful shoulders. Barney gazed up at him in despair. He couldn't even reach him now. What was he going to do?
Just as Barney had decided he would have to throw the SafeCharm at the Apprentice, Spit Fyre turned his head; the dragon's red-rimmed eye glared balefully at the small, distraught figure jumping up and down. Barney caught the look and backed away. He didn't believe Uncle Billy when he said that Spit Fyre was a gentleman and would never hurt anyone.
Barney watched Marcia Overstrand stride over to the dragon with Uncle Billy. Perhaps he could give the SafeCharm to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard and she would give it to her Apprentice? He watched as the ExtraOrdinary Wizard checked to make sure the two large saddlebags were securely fastened just behind where Septimus was sitting. He saw the ExtraOrdinary Wizard lean over and give her Apprentice a hug, and he thought the Apprentice looked a bit surprised. And then the ExtraOrdinary Wizard and Uncle Billy suddenly stepped back and Barney realized that the dragon was about to take off. It was then he remembered what else he was supposed to say.
"It's from Aunt Zelda!" he yelled so loudly that his throat hurt. "The SafeCharm is from Aunt Zelda! And there's a sandwich too!"
But it was too late. A thunderous whoosh of air drowned out his shout, and then a great dragonny downdraft hit Barney and blew him into a pile of something very smelly. By the time Barney had struggled to his feet, the dragon was way above his head, hovering at the very tops of the fir trees, and all Barney could see of the Apprentice were the soles of his boots.