As they sailed on Nicko became increasingly concerned - something was not right. He had expected to see the tall tower of the CattRokk Light by now, but there was still nothing but a bright light shining in the distance. The moon disappeared behind a large cloud, and the night seemed suddenly dark. Nicko glanced yet again at the compass; the needle held steady, shivering slightly as compass needles do, above the marker for 210 degrees. They were on course - it did not make sense.

"Snorri, can you see CattRokk yet?" he asked anxiously.

"No, Nicko. It is strange. This is not like the chart, I think," said Snorri. A shout suddenly came from the lookout above. "Fog ahead!"

Nicko was shocked. The night was crisp and clear, most definitely not the kind of night he would have expected fog. "Fog?" he shouted up.

"Aye, sir," was the reply. "Comin' this way."

Nicko had never seen anything like it. A bank of fog was rolling across the sea toward them like a long white tidal wave. In a moment it had wrapped the ship in its chilly, dripping blanket of damp. It spiraled up the masts, enfolded the sails and smothered all sound, so that Nicko never heard the lookout's surprised shout of,

"CattRokk Light sighted! Dark - it's dark, sir!"

Syrah sat in the Peepe, perched in the little metal chair at the top of the rickety ladder, creaking and grinding around and around in circles as it traveled its endless journey along the rusty rails. A bright blue light filled the whiteness of the Peepe, and as Nicko's ship drew level with the blind eyes of the CattRokk Light, Syrah threw back her head and opened her mouth. From somewhere deep inside her a beautiful, sweet, enchanting voice sang out. The notes did not die away as normal voices do but hung in the air, waiting for more to join them. As Syrah sang, the sounds formed eddies in the air inside the Peepe - tumbling and twisting into a whirlpool of song, growing louder and stronger with each circuit, sweeping around the walls, gathering itself until at last it flew from the windows like a bird, into the night air, across the sea, heading toward the full-sailed ship in the moonlight.

As the fog covered his eyes, Nicko's ears were filled with a song more beautiful than he had imagined possible. Deep inside the song he heard his name, "Nicko, Nicko, Ni cko..."

"Snorri?" Nicko asked.

"Nicko, where are you?"

"Here. I am here. Did you call me?"

"No." Snorri's voice was strained. "Nicko, we must drop the anchor. Now. It is dangerous to proceed. We cannot see where we are going."

Nicko did not reply.

"Nicko... Nicko..." sang the voice, filling the air with delight and his heart with a wonderful feeling of coming home at last.

"Nicko...Nicko...come to me, Nicko," the song sang so sweetly. A soft smile spread across Nicko's face. It was true; he was indeed coming home. Coming home to the place where he truly belonged, to the place he had been searching for all his life. Suddenly, much to Nicko's irritation, Snorri's urgent voice broke through his reverie. "Anchor! Drop the anchor! "

Nicko thought Snorri was being very tedious. There was a sound of footsteps below, but Nicko did not care. All that mattered now was the Enchanting song.

"Land Ho!" came the lookout's shout from above. "Land Ho!"

"Nicko!" Snorri screamed out. "Rocks! Bear away now. Now!"

Nicko did not respond.

Snorri looked at Nicko in horror and saw his unfocused eyes gazing into the distance. Snorri, a Spirit-Seer, knew at once that Nicko was Enchanted. She hurled herself at him and tried to wrest the wheel from him. Nicko shook her off. He grasped the wheel tight and the Cerys sailed on.

"Ullr, Ullr, help!" gasped Snorri. Ullr's green eyes lit up; the panther bounded up to Nicko and opened his mouth. "Ullr, pull him away. No, don't bite. Quickly - I must have the wheel." But as Ullr took a mouthful of Nicko's tunic, a great shudder ran through the ship and, a few fathoms below, the keel plowed a deep furrow into a sandbank and the Cerys ground to a juddering halt.

Still at his post on Star Island, Jakey Fry peered into the thickening mist, scared that he might miss something. He watched the night lantern set atop the main mast of the Cerys sail past like a small boat cast adrift on a strange white sea and accompanied by a horrible grinding sound, he saw it shudder to a halt and topple from the mast. Jakey leaped from the rock and, skidding on some loose stones, he hurtled down the hill to the tiny deep-water harbor on the hidden side of Star Island, where the Marauder was docked. The goat-eyed ghost was lounging aggressively on the harbor wall, while Skipper Fry and the Crowes were sitting awkwardly on the deck of the Marauder. It looked like a very uncomfortable tea party - without the tea. Suddenly Jakey was glad that he had been on watch on his own.

A shower of small stones skittered onto the narrow quayside and Passed Through the ghost. The ghost jumped up and glared at Jakey with narrowed eyes.

"Don't... ever...do...that... again," the ghost intoned very slowly. It was the most threatening voice that Jakey Fry had ever heard in his life. Goose bumps ran down his neck and it was all he could do not to turn tail and run. He stopped in his tracks and managed to squeak, "The ship - she just grounded."

Skipper Fry looked relieved. He and the Crowes jumped to their feet as though an unwelcome guest was at last leaving.

"We're off," Skipper Fry told his son. "Get down here and let go of the rope."

Jakey dithered, unwilling to go anywhere near the terrifying ghost who was standing right beside the bollard with the rope on it. But the ghost solved the problem for him - it began to walk slowly along the quay to the steps at the end. At the top of the steps, the ghost stopped and pointed a menacing finger at Skipper Fry. "You have the Talisman?" it said in a hollow voice that gave Jakey more goose bumps all over.

"Yes, sir," said Skipper Fry.

"Show me."

Skipper Fry removed the leather pouch that Una Brakket had given him from his trouser pocket.

"Show me," insisted the ghost.

With trembling, clumsy fingers, Skipper Fry extricated something from the wallet.

"Good. And the words? I want to see you have the idiot's version," snarled the ghost. More fumbling produced a water-stained piece of paper with a phonetic incantation scrawled on it.

"Here, sir. It's here," said Skipper Fry.

"Good. Remember - accent on the first syllable of each word."

"On the first... sill?"

The ghost sighed. "The first part of the word. As in don key-brain. Got that?"

"Yes, sir. I got that, sir."

"Now, put it back in your pocket and don't lose it."

The ghost turned and walked down the harbor steps, continuing - to Jakey's surprise - into the sea. As its head disappeared below the water, the words, "I'll be watching you, Fry," drifted through the mist.

"Don't just stand there like a plucked chicken waitin' fer an overcoat," Skipper Fry yelled at Jakey. "We're off."

Quickly Jakey Fry leaped onto the quayside, unwound the rope from the old stone bollard and threw it into the Marauder. Then, anxious not to be left behind in case the ghost came back, he jumped aboard.

"Take the helm, boy," Skipper Fry growled. "An' yer two," he said to the Crowes,

"yer two can take one a them each." He pointed to a pair of large oars. The Crowes looked puzzled. "Ain't no wind with this blooming fog, idiots," the skipper snapped, "so yer can get paddlin' and keep it quiet. No splashin', no gruntin' and no moanin'. This is a surprise job, got that?"

The Crowes nodded. They picked up the oars and went to the starboard side of the boat.

"One on each side, fatheads," snarled the skipper. "Yer might want ter spend yer life going round in circles, but I don't."

With his father at the bow making hand signals to go left or right, Jakey Fry did the best he could inside the fog and steered the oar-powered boat out from the narrow harbor into open water. The tide was very low, but the Marauder was built for fishing close to the shore - she had a shallow draft and could easily go where other boats dared not venture. As he steered the Marauder around the northernmost point of Star Island, Jakey could not resist a glance across the water to see if he could spot the beach fire, but there was nothing to be seen except a blanket of low-lying mist - and the three masts of the Marauder's prey rising above it.


Tags: Angie Sage Septimus Heap Fantasy
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