There was a flash of yellow light, and Septimus saw his jinnee whiz along the line of fallen warriors and disappear into the dunes. He took Syrah's book from his pocket and anxiously looked at the cover. It now read:
Septimus smiled - the Syren's crabbed writing was gone. He looked along the beach, then scanned the dunes.
"You okay, Sep?" asked Jenna.
"Yes, thanks, Jen. Very okay, in fact." He glanced up to the hilltop.
"You expecting someone?"
"Well, I - oh, bother," muttered Septimus.
A figure had detached itself from the group around the fire and was making its way toward them.
"Ah, there you are," said Milo cheerily, settling himself down between Jenna and Septimus. "Mission accomplished, Princess." He smiled at Jenna fondly. "I picked the rats up, though I would happily have left them stranded on that rock. Why you think the Cerys needs its rats back, I really do not know."
Jenna grinned. "They'll be leaving at the Port," she said. "I'll be arranging a pickup."
Milo smiled indulgently. "So like your mother. Always some mysterious project going on." He turned to Septimus. "And you, young man, I cannot thank you enough - you saved my precious cargo."
"You're welcome." Septimus sounded preoccupied.
"And he saved the Castle," said Jenna.
"Indeed, indeed. It was a very clever trick."
"Trick?" Jenna spluttered indignantly. "Sep doesn't do tricks. It was really brave and clever - hey, Sep, are you okay?"
"Yeah...fine," said Septimus, glancing back at the dunes once more. Milo was quite used to people looking distracted when he was talking to them. "Just think," he said. "Just think how different things would have been if I had found this army when I first began searching all those years ago. You, Jenna, would have grown up with your real mother, not with some weird Wizards, and of course you, Septimus, would have spent those precious, never to be recaptured, early years with your own dear parents."
"The weird Wizards, you mean?" asked Septimus.
"Oh. Oh, no, no, of course I didn't mean that. Oh, dear." Milo sprang to his feet, glad of a timely interruption. "Well, he llo. And who is this young lady?"
"Syrah!" gasped Septimus, also leaping up.
Milo suffered a rare attack of sensitivity. "I'll just go and check on things," he said, and hurried off toward the fire.
"Hello, Syrah," said Jenna a little shyly.
"Princess Esmeralda." Syrah dropped into an awkward curtsy. Jenna flashed a questioning glance at Septimus. "No, please, I'm not - "
Septimus stepped in. "Syrah, are you all right?"
Syrah looked anything but all right. She was deathly pale; the dark shadows around her eyes looked even deeper and her hands were trembling. "I am...I think...I am me."
She sat down suddenly and began to shake violently.
"Jen," said Septimus, kneeling beside Syrah, "could you get some water, please - and a HeatCloak too?"
"Of course." Jenna rushed off.
"Septimus," Syrah whispered, "the Syren...I do not understand...where...where is she?"
Septimus held out his hand. In his palm lay the silver phial, covered with a fine frosting of ice, which shimmered in the light from his Dragon Ring.
"Here. The Syren is in here," said Septimus.
Syrah stared uncomprehendingly at the phial. "In there?"
"Yes. Sealed in here," said Septimus. "Syrah, I promise you, the Syren has gone. Forever. You are free."
Syrah burst into tears.
The moon rose, and in the distance the two beams of the CattRokk Light shone out across a calm sea. On his Watching platform, Miarr prowled contentedly. He looked out at the island and, as Milo threw another log on the fire, he saw it blaze up into the night, illuminating the group gathered around it. Miarr smiled and chewed on a dried fish head. For the first time since Mirano's disappearance, he felt at peace. On the beach there was peace - but not quiet. The fire crackled and spat with the salt in the driftwood, people chattered and Spit Fyre snuffled and snorted. Septimus had decided that he was well enough to be moved down onto the beach. Spit Fyre was, he thought, becoming a little miserable on his own. The dragon, complete with bucket and bandaged tail, lay on the soft sand just below the sand dunes, gazing at the fire through half-closed eyes, watching Beetle dispensing cups of FizzFroot just out of reach of his tongue. He snorted, stretched his neck and tried to get a little closer. Spit Fyre liked FizzFroot. Wolf Boy was showing Jenna, Beetle, Nicko, Snorri, Lucy and Jakey how to play Village Chief - a fast-moving game involving shells, scooped out dips in the sand and much shouting.
Septimus and Syrah sat quietly watching the game. Syrah had stopped shivering and had even drunk some of Jenna's hot chocolate. But she was very pale, and against the bright red of the HeatCloak, Septimus thought she looked almost ghostly.
"How beautiful the Cerys looks in the moonlight," said Syrah, gazing out at the ship, which was ablaze with light as the crew repaired the damaged rigging and set her to rights. "She will be ready to set sail soon, I think?"
Septimus nodded. "In two days' time."
"Septimus," said Syrah, "I do not know how to thank you. I am so happy - all I wished for has come true. You know, I used to dream of sitting here with a group of friends from the Castle around a fire - and now, here I am." Syrah shook her head in wonderment. "And soon, so very soon, I shall see Julius."
Septimus took a deep breath. He had been dreading this moment. "Um...Syrah, about Julius, I - "
"Hey," Wolf Boy called over. "You two want to play Village Chief?"
Syrah turned to Septimus, her green eyes shining in the firelight. "I remember that game. I used to love it."
"Yep," Septimus called back. "We'll play." He would tackle the Julius question in the morning.
But it wasn't Septimus who tackled the Julius question - it was Jenna. Later that night as the swish-swash of the waves receded, the ancient roads in the sand slowly reappeared, glistening in the moonlight, and Wolf Boy became Village Chief for the second time, Septimus heard Jenna say to Syrah, "But I am not Esmeralda - really I'm not. That was five hundred years ago, Syrah."
Septimus was at Syrah's side in an instant. "What does the Princess mean?" Syrah asked him.
"She - Jenna - means that...um...oh, Syrah. I am so sorry, but what she means is that you have been on this island for five hundred years."
Syrah looked utterly bewildered.
Septimus tried to explain. "Syrah, you were Possessed. And you know that when someone is Possessed, they have no sense of time passing. Their life is suspended until the time they are - if they are lucky - DisPossessed."
"So...are you telling me that when we get back to the Castle, five hundred years will have passed since I was last there?"
Septimus nodded. Around the fire, a fearful hush fell - even Milo was quiet.
"So Julius is... dead."
Syrah let out a long, despairing wail and collapsed onto the sand. They rowed Syrah over to the Cerys and laid her in a cabin. Septimus kept watch all night, but she did not stir. And when the Cerys set sail for the Castle, Syrah still lay unconscious in the cabin, so thin and insubstantial beneath the blankets that sometimes Septimus thought no one was there.
Three days later, the Cerys drew up alongside Merchant Quay in the Port. The Town Band struck up its usual cacophony, and an excited chattering came from the crowd gathered on the quay. It was not every day that such an impressive ship came into Port carrying a dragon - and it was certainly not every day that the ExtraOrdinary Wizard came to meet a ship.
Marcia had caused quite a stir when she had arrived, and comments were flying around the crowd.
"She's got lovely hair, hasn't she?"
"Look at that silk lining on her cloak - must have cost a fortune."
"Not sure about the shoes though."
"Isn't that the old White Witch from the Marshes with her?"
"Ooh, don't look, don't look. It's bad luck to see a Witch and a Wizard together!"
Marcia listened to the comments and wondered why people thought that wearing ExtraOrdinary Wizard robes made her deaf. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a familiar figure hanging around at the back of the crowd.