"Look, Lucy," whispered Jenna, "Beetle and I won't do ours, okay? Then you won't be the only one."

"All right," said Lucy grudgingly.

They set off toward the lamplit figures, picking their way through the mass of ropes and collapsed sails and stepping over ominous spatters of blood. As they inched their way forward, the worrying silence on the ship persisted - the only sound they could hear was the creaking of the overhead lifting gear that Jenna had last seen used to lower the doors of the cargo hold. She had not noticed the noise in the hubbub of the port, but now, in the silence of the night, the squeaking of the handle that turned the crane set her teeth on edge. Luckily it also drowned out the squeal that came from Lucy Gringe when she stepped on what she thought was a severed hand - which turned out to be a glove used when handling ropes.

Septimus and Wolf Boy crept forward, keeping their eyes fixed on the scene ahead. Septimus could tell that Skipper Fry was on edge. He was impatiently directing the Crowes as they tried to swing the crane into position over the cargo-hold doors, but every few seconds he cast a hasty glance around the deck. Each time he did, the two approaching pincers froze. As soon as he turned back to the sweating Crowes and the squeaking crane, the pincers moved off once more, noiselessly slipping from pile of rope to boat to mast to capstan to hatchway, until they reached the cargo hold. Wolf Boy's crew slipped behind a pile of barrels, and Septimus and Jenna found cover behind a hastily lowered sail. From either side of the deck, they took in the scene. Septimus gave a thumbs-up, which Wolf Boy returned. They were ready to go. Each made a silent count of three, then slipped onto the deck and began their UnSeens, synchronized so that they could both still see each other. Skipper Fry sniffed like a suspicious dog and his left eyebrow began to twitch. He knew what that meant.

"Stop the crane!" he yelled at the Crowes. Poised above the cargo-hatch doors, the crane creaked to a halt.

Skipper Fry listened hard. The only sound he heard was the swash of the sea as, far below, the tide turned and began to feel its way back toward the Cerys. It was a sound that told Skipper Fry he needed to get moving. But his eyebrow was twitching like a caterpillar in a hurry - and he didn't like it. It gave Skipper Fry the creeps. He preferred Darke Magyk, and not just because it didn't make his eyebrow twitch - Darke Magyk did the kind of things that he liked to do.

Skipper Fry scanned the deck suspiciously. He figured that one of the crew must have used an UnSeen to escape the roundup. The Cerys was a fancy ship - too fancy by half, he thought - and it would not surprise him if one of her sailors was some kind of part-time Wizard. Skipper Fry despised UnSeens. If you didn't want someone to see you, you got rid of them - much more effective and enjoyable too. But Skipper Fry knew a few tricks and he prided himself on having outwitted some of the most Magykal of Wizards. He went over to the crane and made a great play of inspecting it - then suddenly spun around. But he saw nothing. Skipper Fry was puzzled. In his experience anyone doing an UnSeen reacted as though they could still be seen - and ran for cover. As a sailor who was used to watching the seas for hours on end, Skipper Fry was an expert at spotting a moving UnSeen, which always led to some distortion. But he could see nothing - because both Wolf Boy and Septimus were standing stock-still - instinctively obeying the Young Army rhyme: "When You Freeze, No One Sees." Skipper Fry stared into the dark, moving his head from side to side like a pigeon (another trick of his), and very nearly caught Septimus, who was suddenly almost overcome with a desire to laugh.

But Skipper Fry's eyebrow still twitched. He decided to run - literally - a basic check for UnSeens. Suddenly he launched into a wild, zigzagging dance, swinging his arms like a windmill in a gale. Skipper Fry's unorthodox approach to detecting UnSeens was surprisingly effective - Wolf Boy and Septimus only just got out of the way in time. He did in fact brush against Wolf Boy, but luckily Wolf Boy was in the process of leaping behind the main mast, and Skipper Fry mistook Wolf Boy's elbow for a knot of rope.

Septimus was seriously considering a retreat when the dancing windmill impression stopped as abruptly as it had started - Skipper Fry had caught sight of the Crowe twins making signs to each other, indicating that their skipper's sanity was not all it could be. Their signals touched a raw nerve.

"Bloomin' freezing here," he said, harrumphing and stamping his feet as if he were cold. "Get a move on, yer useless lumps." The Crowes grinned mockingly and did not move. Skipper Fry unsheathed his cutlass and advanced on Thin Crowe. "Do as yer told or I'll slice that stupid head off yer scrawny little chicken neck," he growled. "An' yer too, Fatso."

The Crowes set to work with renewed enthusiasm.

Still troubled by his left eyebrow, Skipper Fry warily surveyed the deck while he directed the Crowes. Fat Crowe grabbed the hook on the end of the crane, pulled it down and looped it through the ring in the center of the starboard hatch.

"Stop!" yelled Skipper Fry. "Yer got pudding for brains or what? I told yer not to open the hatch until I said them words." He stuffed his hand in his pocket and drew out the crumpled incantation. "Get me the lamp, chicken head," he told Thin Crowe. "Now!"

Thin Crowe brought the lamp. Skipper Fry smoothed his scrap of paper, coughed a little nervously and very carefully intoned,

"Yks eht ni tel, hct ah eht lae SnU,

Eil su nee wteb re irrab on tel."

Septimus and Wolf Boy shot each other wary glances - and so did Fat and Thin Crowe. All four, for different reasons, recognized a Reverse Incantation when they heard one. Skipper Fry wiped the sweat from his brow - he hated reading - and yelled, "Don't just stand there, pin head, open the doors!"

Thin Crowe ran to the crane and began to turn another squeaky handle. A few minutes later the doors to the cargo hold were lifted and there was now a great dark, gaping hole in the deck. Septimus and Wolf Boy glanced at each other - this was the opportunity they had been waiting for.

Skipper Fry held up the lantern and peered down into the depths. Gingerly the Crowe twins peered in too. From behind the heaped-up sail, Jenna watched the eerie scene. It reminded her of the drawings she had seen of the midnight grave robber gang, which had terrified the Castle one winter when she was little. The next moment all resemblance to grave robbers had gone, and the scene now reminded her of the flying monkey troupe that had performed outside the Palace Gates at the Spring Equinox Fair - except this time the monkeys were bigger, uglier and made a lot more noise.

Three heavy thud s later the monkeys were lying on top of the massive chest at the bottom of the hold.

"Got 'em!" Septimus's triumphant voice came from beside the crane, which began to swing down to pick up the cargo-hold doors.

Deep in the hold, Skipper Fry and the Crowes unleashed a torrent of foul words - many of which Jenna and Beetle had not heard before - which continued until the doors were dropped firmly in place and the arm of the crane lay on top of them. Septimus and Wolf Boy let go of their UnSeens and the five headed toward the nearest hatchway to the decks below. Septimus pushed against the small double doors, expecting them to be locked and barred. They weren't. The doors swung open much too easily, leaving everyone wondering why no one had ventured out. And so, as dawn approached and the sky lightened to a green-gray, one by one they left the deserted deck and followed Septimus through the hatchway, down the companionway and into the ship.

What, everyone wondered with a feeling of dread, were they going to find?

Chapter 42 Banana Man

J akey Fry leaned against his ladder watching the sunrise. The tide was coming in and the hummock of sand he was standing on was now a small island surrounded by swirling, sandy seawater. Jakey knew that soon his island would be back below the waves where it belonged, and then what? Should he climb the ladder up to the Cerys or did he dare to wade out to the Marauder - and leave them all behind?

Jakey glanced up at the Cerys. He had heard the creaking of the crane and the thud of the hatch cover being dropped into place, but since then he had heard nothing at all. What was going on? Jakey wondered what had happened to Lucy; he figured that whatever had happened was not good - Lucy was never quiet.

Not so far away, perched on its rock, the yellow gull had finished digesting the sand eel. Gloomily its little bird brain ran through the agreement the interfering ExtraOrdinary Wizard had forced it to sign. If the gull could have sighed it would, but it hadn't figured out whether that was something birds did. There was no way out. The gull took a deep breath and, with a yellow flash and a small pop, it Transformed. Jakey looked out to sea. Past the gently rolling waves to the east, behind the line of rocks that led out to the Pinnacle, the sky was a beautiful milky green and promised a brilliant sunny day - a good day, thought Jakey, to be in charge of your own boat with no one shouting at you, no one ordering you about. The water lapped at Jakey's toes and the next swash of waves covered his island and washed around his ankles. It was decision time. Jakey realized that at this moment he was free - free to leave behind all that he loathed so much. A new life beckoned, but was he brave enough to take it? The sun rose above the horizon and sent shafts of warming light across his face. Jakey made a decision. Right now, at this moment, he was brave enough. He stepped off his drowned island and the water came up to his knees. Then someone tapped him on the shoulder. Jakey nearly screamed.


Tags: Angie Sage Septimus Heap Fantasy
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