Jakey spun around to see a tall, willowy man in a yellow jerkin and breeches lurking in the shadows of the keel. The man was wearing the weirdest hat Jakey had ever seen in his life - or did he actually have a pile of ever-decreasing yellow doughnuts balanced on his head? Just then Jakey felt that anything was possible. He stared at the man, speechless with surprise. Jakey, who was used to sizing people up fast, could immediately tell that he was not a threat. Like an apologetic banana, the man seemed to mold himself to the contours of the ship, and as he withdrew his arm from tapping Jakey on the shoulder there was a rubbery quality to his movements.
The banana man gave Jakey a polite smile. "Excuse me, young master, be you Septimus Heap?" he asked in an oddly accented whisper.
"No," said Jakey.
The man looked relieved. "I thought not," he said. And then he added, "Be you the only young master around here?"
"No," said Jakey.
The banana man sounded disappointed. Meaning to be helpful, Jakey pointed up the ladder.
"There be another young master up there?" the man asked, rather reluctantly. Jakey nodded. "Lots," he said.
"Lots?" the man repeated dismally.
Jakey held up three fingers. "At least," he said. "Probably more."
The man shook his head mournfully, then he shrugged. "Could be worse, could be better," he said. "Maybe I shall be free a little longer, maybe not." The man looked doubtfully at the ladder, then he reached out his rubbery arms, grasped the thick ropes and put his foot on the bottom rung.
"I'll hold it fer you," Jakey said politely.
The man tentatively stepped on. The ladder swung away from him.
"Lean back a bit," Jakey advised. "Much easier to climb that way."
The man leaned out and very nearly fell off backward.
"Not so far," cautioned Jakey. "An' once you've got started, don't stop an' don't look down. You'll be fine."
Gingerly the man turned just enough to smile at Jakey. "Thank you," he said. He looked at Jakey with his oddly piercing yellow eyes. "And are you free, young master?" he asked.
"Yes," said Jakey with a grin. "I think I am." Jakey stepped off his sea-washed island and waded toward the towering stern of the Cerys. There he plunged into the deeper water, and began swimming toward the Marauder, which he had left beached on a sandbar some distance from the Cerys. The Marauder was now floating in a few feet of water, tugging at her anchor, ready to go wherever Jakey wished to take her. Jakey's smile broadened with every stroke that took him farther away from the Cerys. He was free at last.
As Jakey Fry swam to freedom, Jim Knee climbed onto the deserted deck of the Cerys. He gazed around for some minutes before deciding to sit and watch the sun rise while he considered his next move. Like all jinn, Jim Knee had the ability to track down his Master - if he absolutely had to - and he was sure his Master was on board the ship. So what, he reasoned, did a few more minutes of freedom matter? It wasn't as if his Master was going anywhere. No doubt he was tucked up in a warm bunk asleep - unlike his unfortunate jinnee. Jim Knee settled down on a fallen sail and closed his eyes. Not far below Jim Knee, five figures were moving stealthily through the deserted middle deck of the Cerys. The ship had three decks: the top deck, which was open to the elements; the middle deck, where Milo and his guests lived in some splendor; and the lower deck, which was used for the crew's quarters, kitchens, laundry and storage lockers. The middle and lower decks also contained the cargo hold, which descended into the very bottom of the ship.
Septimus led Jenna, Beetle, Wolf Boy and Lucy through the empty middle deck. They checked every cabin, every locker, nook and cranny as they went. Milo's stateroom door was thrown wide, showing his hastily exited bed; Nicko's cabin was shipshape and orderly, just as he had left it when he went up to take over the wheel for the night passage. Snorri's cabin was equally neat, with the addition of a folded blanket laid on the floor for Ullr. The rest of the guest cabins were also empty. They crept along the companionway toward the farthest part of the middle deck - the saloon, where Milo did his entertaining. Warily Septimus pushed open the mahogany door and peered inside. It was deserted, but hoping for clues, maybe even a hastily scrawled note - anything - Septimus stepped inside. The others followed. The saloon had been left tidy and spotless by the night steward. It lay ready for breakfast, which in normal circumstances would have been beginning soon. Somberly everyone stared at the table, laid with three place settings and a small bowl on the floor beside Snorri's chair.
"Suppose...suppose it's become a ghost ship," whispered Jenna, voicing Wolf Boy's thoughts.
"No," said Septimus, shaking his head. "No, Jen. Ghost ships don't exist."
"Aunt Zelda says they do," muttered Wolf Boy. "She knows about stuff like that. No, Lucy - don't."
Lucy Gringe looked offended. "I wasn't going to scream," she said. "I was just going to say that if it is a ghost ship, we ought to get off while we still can - if we still can...."
Her voice faded away, leaving trails of goose bumps all over her listeners. Jenna glanced at Septimus. They all knew the stories of ships that had somehow become ghost ships. There were many of them reputed to sail the seven seas, fully functioning with a ghostly crew. They all also knew that once anyone came aboard they were never seen on land again, though they were sometimes glimpsed on board waving at grieving relatives who had tracked down the ship.
A sudden thud from the other side of the wall made everyone jump.
"What was that?" whispered Jenna.
Thud, thud, thump.
"Noisy ghosts in there," Beetle observed.
Everyone laughed uneasily.
"That's the cargo-hold bulkhead," said Septimus. "It's Fry and those Crowes. They're trying to get out."
Worried, Jenna glanced at Septimus. "Can they break through?" she asked.
"No way," said Septimus. "Did you see the lead lining on those walls? They'd need an army to get out of there. Milo's sealed everything - doesn't want his precious stuff to get spoiled."
Jenna nodded. She knew the extreme care Milo took to protect his treasures from damage - the lead linings, the watertight doors, the strong room for his most precious objects...
"That's it!" Jenna gasped. "The strong room - it's locked from the outside and it's soundproof. That's where everyone must be. Hurry - hurry!"
"Okay, Jen," said Septimus, "but what's the panic?"
"It's airtight, Sep."
At the end of the saloon was a small door leading to steps down to the galley on the lower decks. Septimus threw it open and hurtled down the steps, where he stood waiting impatiently for Jenna and the others to catch up. "Lead the way, Jen," he said urgently.
"You know where it is."
But Jenna wasn't sure that she did know where the strong room was. All she could remember was feeling irritable while Milo was showing it to her and telling her how valuable all the stuff in it was - she could not remember how they had gotten there. Unlike the middle deck with its wide, bright corridors and generous portholes, the lower deck was a tangled warren of dingy, narrow passages cluttered with ropes, wires and all the workings of a complex ship like the Cerys. It was completely disorientating. Jenna looked around in a panic and saw everyone staring at her expectantly. She glanced at Septimus for help - hoping maybe he could do a Find or something - and saw his Dragon Ring begin to glow with its warm yellow light. And then she remembered.
"There's a yellow lamp outside the door," she said quickly. "It comes on when people are in the room, in case...in case they get locked in by mistake. It's this way."
Jenna had, to her immense relief, just seen the telltale yellow glow reflecting off a run of highly polished brass pipes at the far end of the corridor. As they approached the end of the corridor the relief gave way to dread. Jenna remembered the room - lead-lined and airtight to protect Milo's treasures from exposure to damaging salt air. How could anyone survive in there for long - let alone a whole ship's company? Jenna thought of Nicko's horror of enclosed spaces, then stopped herself - some things really did not bear thinking about.
The strong-room door was made of iron; it was narrow and covered with rivets. In the middle was a small wheel, which Wolf Boy, who knew he was the strongest, grabbed hold of and turned. The wheel spun, but the door did not move. Wolf Boy stepped back and wiped his hands on his grubby tunic.