The boat crept forward under Crowe power. Jakey stared at the stupid backs of the Crowe twins as they dug their oars into the water like automatons; he saw his bully of a father up at the prow, his sharp nose to the wind, teeth bared like a wild dog, and he wondered what nastiness he was heading for. Jakey thought of the group of friends he had seen gathered around the fire, and suddenly he knew that more than anything, that was what he wanted - to be free to sit with friends of his own around a fire. His life didn't have to be like this. Jakey Fry wanted out.

Chapter 40 Aground

On the Cerys, Nicko came to his senses in the middle of every sailor's nightmare. He stared at Snorri in disbelief.

"What?" he gasped. "I've done what?"

"Run aground," Snorri replied tersely. "Nicko, you would not listen to me. were crazy."

"Aground? No...oh no. No! " Nicko ran to the side of the ship and stared down. All he could see were curls of mist hugging the surface of the water, but he knew Snorri was right. He could feel it - there was no movement of water below the keel. The beautiful Cerys had left her element and become nothing more than a great inert lump of wood. A hubbub had broken out belowdecks. The entire crew was awake, throwing themselves out of their bunks, hurtling up the companionways. The thunderous sound of footsteps filled Nicko with dread, and in a moment Milo - disheveled from sleep, a blanket thrown hastily over his silk brocade nightgown - was towering over him.

"What - " yelled Milo. "What have you done?"

Mute, Nicko shook his head; he could hardly bear to look at Milo. "I...I don't know," he said desperately. "I just don't know."

The first mate emerged on deck and promptly answered the question. "'E's run us aground, boss." An unspoken I told you so hung in the air. Snorri knew that Nicko would not even try to stick up for himself. "It is the lighthouse," she said. "It has moved."

The first mate laughed mockingly.

"But it has moved," Snorri insisted. "It is there now. Look." She pointed to the Pinnacle, which rose from the mist - a giant black finger of doom crowned with a brilliant light.

"Hah!" scoffed the first mate. "Some idiot lighting a fire on top of a rock. Happens all the time. No need to run the blasted ship at it."

"The ship, she...she is only on a sandbank," Snorri faltered.

"You're an expert, are you?" the first mate replied scornfully.

"I know how a sandbank feels beneath a boat, and I also know how a rock feels," said Snorri. "This feels like a sandbank."

The first mate did not know quite what to make of Snorri. He shook his head.

"She will float at the next tide, I think," said Snorri.

"Depends on the damage," the first mate growled. "Sand covers a multitude of sins - an' a multitude of rocks. You find the worst rocks under sand. Water smooths 'em. Sand don't. Sand keeps 'em sharp. Like razors, some of them. Cut through a ship like hot wire through butter." He turned away from Snorri and addressed Milo. "Permission to send a man over, sir. Inspect the damage."

"Permission granted," said Milo.

"I'll go," said Nicko, trying his best not to plead. "Please. Let me do something to help."

Milo looked at him coldly. "No," he snapped. "Jem can go. I trust Jem." Abruptly he turned on his heel and walked slowly to the prow, where he stood and stared dismally through the mist at the vague shapes of the land - so unexpectedly, unnaturally, close at hand.

In a daze Milo heard Jem climb down the rungs on the side of the hull, then put the rope ladder out to reach the sand below. He heard the sounds of splashing through the shallows and Jem's shouts: "Seabed is sand, sir...bit of a scrape here...not too bad...ah...uh-oh..." And then more splashing.

In despair Milo put his head in his hands. He thought of his precious cargo fastened below in the hold. The prize for which he had searched for so many years, which had taken him away from his wife and then from his daughter. Foolish years, thought Milo, foolish years that had come to this. He imagined the Cerys filling with water on the rising tide, the sea pouring in, surrounding the great chest, drowning it forevermore, consigning its precious contents to the seabed, to be washed up on the lonely shores of this benighted place.

Milo looked out over the prow, which rose up even higher than usual, for the Cerys had settled into the sand and was leaning back at an unnatural angle. He stared through the mist at the Light on top of the Pinnacle and saw that it was not, as the first mate had said, a fire. And as he looked at the Light, trying to figure out exactly what it was, the mist began to retreat. A chill settled on Milo as he watched the mist behave as no mist should - rolling up the craggy hill toward a small tower perched at the very top, as if it were a line being reeled in by a fisherman with a very large fish by the name of Cerys on the end of it, thought Milo wryly. A shiver ran through him. There was something strange going on, and there was something particularly strange about that tower - and he wanted a closer look.

"Telescope!" yelled Milo.

Within seconds a member of the crew was at his side with his telescope. Milo put the finely tooled brass tube to his eye and focused on the tower. Running along the top of the tower he saw an eerie line of tiny blue lights. They reminded him of a strange sea tale the pirates on Deakin Lee's ship would tell late at night about the Isles of the blue-eyed Syrens, which were scattered throughout the seven seas, where voices Call and Beguile sailors, luring their ships onto the rocks.

Milo watched the carpet of mist rolling up the hill and streaming into the tower through the blue-lit windows, and he began to wonder just how much Nicko was to blame for the grounding. He decided to go have a quiet word with the boy. It was then that Milo heard a girl's voice calling from below. It sounded like - but surely it couldn't be - his daughter.

"Look, it is the Cerys! I knew it. Hey, Nicko! Milo!"

Now Milo knew it was true - this was indeed one of the notorious Isles of Syren.

"Hey - hey, Milo -  father! Look down. It's me, Jenna!"

Milo put his fingers in his ears. "Go away!" he shouted. "Leave us alone!"

Far below, at the head of a small band of would-be rescuers wading through the shallows, Jenna heard the shout. Upset, she turned to Septimus and Beetle. "Typical," she said.

"Shh," whispered Septimus. "There's someone coming. Quick, everyone, get down!" He ducked behind the large rock that the Cerys had so very nearly plowed into, pulling Jenna with him. Beetle, Wolf Boy and Lucy quickly followed.

"What's up, Sep?" Beetle muttered, kneeling on a limpet, much to the discomfort of both creatures.

Septimus pointed to the rearing shape of the Cerys, so very different from when he had last seen her in all her glory on Harbor Twelve at the Trading Post. Now, seen from limpet's-eye view, her massive rounded shape was no longer elegant but fat, like a beached whale. Although her topsides were still smooth and her gold stripe shone in the glow of the Light, below the waterline the ship was dull and dirty with a scattering of barnacles. But it was not the sad sight of the beached Cerys that Septimus wanted to point out - it was the unmistakable shapes of the Crowe twins, almost invisible in the shadows of the overhang of the hull, stealthily making their way toward Jem, who was busy inspecting the damage.

They watched in horror as, in their classic Pincer- Splat maneuver, the Crowes crept up on the unsuspecting Jem. At the very last moment, just before they pounced, Jem turned in surprise, then he gave a sharp cry and tumbled face-first into the shallows. Each Crowe put a knife back into his belt, then continued on their way, creeping along the keel of the ship, well hidden from the view of anyone on board. The Crowes moved stealthily to the rope ladder that dangled from the unsuspecting Cerys. Now the watchers saw two more figures - Skipper and Jakey Fry - appear from behind the stern and creep toward the ladder. At the foot of the ladder they stopped, and Jakey could be seen pointing to the sailor's body. An argument appeared to break out between Jakey Fry and his father, who settled it with a long knife held to Jakey's throat. The Crowe twins had now also reached the ladder. Jakey was told to hold it, and one at a time the Crowe twins, each with a fearsome collection of knives stuck into his belt and boots, began a laborious ascent.

"No!" gasped Jenna. She went to slip out from behind the rock, but Wolf Boy grabbed her.

Tags: Angie Sage Septimus Heap Fantasy