Septimus caught Wolf Boy's glance. Sheepishly he removed the wolverine skin and threw it onto Spit Fyre. "Sorry," he said.
"Don't worry. People wear 'em, I know that." Wolf Boy chuckled. "There's always trouble around here, isn't there?" he said.
"Is there?" asked Septimus.
"Yeah. You know - weird stuff falling out of the sky. First your brother and now you."
Septimus was not sure he liked being compared to that particular brother. He knew that Wolf Boy was referring to the time that Simon, in possession of the Flyte Charm, had swooped down on them almost where they were standing now and had tried to grab Jenna. But Septimus could never be annoyed when he was with Wolf Boy. He smiled and said, "Well, at least you didn't take a shot at me with your catapult."
"Nah. Still carry it though. So what are you doing, then?"
"I'm going to get Jenna. And Nicko and Snorri. And Beetle. Bring them home."
"What - all of them? On that?" Wolf Boy eyed Spit Fyre dubiously. The dragon returned the compliment.
"Yep. It'll be fun."
"Rather you than me. I prefer where I'm going any day."
"So where's that - the Port?" This was not a difficult guess - the Causeway led nowhere else.
"You got it. Zelda wants me to - " Wolf Boy stopped. Aunt Zelda had told him to tell no one what he was doing. "Do some stuff," Wolf Boy finished lamely.
"It's okay, you don't have to tell me. There are things Marcia doesn't let me tell anyone either. Want a ride?"
"Oh." Wolf Boy looked at Spit Fyre. He had sworn that he would never, ever get on that dragon again. The scales gave him the creeps, and the way Spit Fyre flew - up and down like a yo-yo - made his stomach churn.
"It's a long walk to the Port," said Septimus, who didn't want to leave his old friend on his own in the middle of nowhere. "And we won't go fast, I promise."
"Well, I...oh, all right then. Thanks."
Septimus was as good as his word. He flew Spit Fyre very slowly about fifty feet above the Causeway, and they soon came to the first outlying buildings of the Port - a few rundown workers' cottages. Watched by some silent young children - who had emerged wide-eyed at the sound of the dragon - Wolf Boy slipped down from his place behind Septimus. He landed on the Causeway like a cat and pulled his backpack straight.
"Thanks, 412. That wasn't so bad."
"Anytime. Look, watch out for the Port Coven, won't you? They're worse than they look."
"Yeah. And they don't look so great, either," said Wolf Boy. "Hey - how d'you know I'm going to the Coven?"
Septimus was suddenly concerned. "I didn't," he said. "You're not really going to the Coven, are you?"
Wolf Boy nodded. "Aunt Zelda, she..."
"Hmm," said Septimus. "Well, just remember that Aunt Zelda didn't get to be a Keeper by being a goody-goody white witch all the time." He fixed his gaze on his friend's dark brown eyes and lowered his voice. "No one gets to be Keeper without touching Darke, 409. Take care. Don't get too close, okay?"
"I won't. And you take care too. Come and see us when you get back."
Septimus thought how wonderful it would be to spend some time at Aunt Zelda's with Jenna and Nicko, just like it had been when they first met - only better. "We'll all come and see you," he said. "I'll bring Nicko and Snorri - and Beetle too, and Jenna."
"Great. And I'll show you the Marsh. I know all the paths - well, most of them. I'll take you to Chicken Island. I've got some good friends there."
"Sounds good. Really good." Septimus looked at Wolf Boy and wished he wasn't headed for the Port witches. Septimus wasn't sure that his friend understood just how dangerous they were. He reached into one of the pockets on his silver Apprentice belt and drew out a small metal triangle. "Here, take this," he said. "It's a Reverse. If those witches try anything, point the sharp end of this at them. It will send it right back to them - with knobs on."
Wolf Boy shook his head regretfully. "Thanks, but no thanks," he said. "Gotta do this on my own."
"Okay," said Septimus, replacing the Charm. "I understand. Be careful." Septimus watched Wolf Boy's long, loping stride take him quickly past the cottages and onto a narrow, cobblestone track that led into the dark streets of higgledy-piggledy houses, which hugged the fringes of the Port. He watched until Wolf Boy turned a corner and disappeared into the shadows. Then, under the somewhat disconcerting gaze of the silent crowd of grubby toddlers and young children, he told his dragon, "Go up."
Spit Fyre, who - despite what Barney Pot thought - was very careful of small children, cautiously beat his wings, and Septimus slowly saw the ground below loosen its hold once more.
They were on their way.
Chapter 6 Jim Knee
L ike a spider returned to its web, Merrin was back in his secret space. He had discovered it by accident a few days earlier when, sauntering down the Long Walk on his way to the Manuscriptorium, he had seen Sarah Heap hurrying toward him. Merrin had panicked; he was caught in a particularly open part of the Long Walk with no shadows to lurk in and no doors or curtains to slip behind. Merrin never thought well in a panic, so all he did was press himself against the ancient paneling and hope that, by some miracle, Sarah Heap did not notice him. But, to Merrin's amazement, another kind of miracle happened - the paneling behind him swung open and he fell backward into an empty space.
Merrin had sat, winded, deep in layers of dust and watched Sarah Heap hurry by with never a glance at the dark gap in the panels. Once she was safely past, he had inspected his hiding place. It was the size of a tiny room and contained nothing more than a broken-down old chair and a pile of blankets heaped in the corner. Half afraid of what they might conceal, Merrin prodded the blankets with his foot - they promptly fell to dust. Coughing, Merrin had rushed out of the cupboard only to see Sarah Heap heading back toward him. He dived back into the concealed room and, desperately trying to stifle the coughs, crammed his knuckles into his mouth. Merrin need not have worried, for Sarah had other things on her mind right then, and the sound of muffled choking noises coming from inside the wall did not even intrude on her anxious thoughts. Since then, Merrin had paid quite a few visits to what he thought of as his secret space. He had stocked it with essentials: water, candles and licorice snakes, plus a few Banana Bears that were new at Ma Custard's and, if chewed at the same time as a licorice snake, tasted rather interesting. Whenever he could, Merrin sat quietly in the room listening and watching, a spider in the center of its web, waiting for a young, innocent fly to wander by - and eventually one had indeed wandered by in the form of Barney Pot. Merrin had been an efficient spider and now he was back in his den, excitedly clutching the spoils of his very first ambush. He struck the flint of his tinderbox and, with the spark, lit the candles that he had "borrowed" from the Manuscriptorium. Gingerly he closed the section of paneling that faced the Long Walk, taking care to wedge the catch open. Ever since his nurse - on the orders of DomDaniel - locked him in a dark cupboard whenever he did not do what he was told, Merrin had a fear of being trapped in dark spaces, and the one drawback of his den was that he could not figure out how to open the door from the inside.
After testing the door thirteen times to make sure it still opened, Merrin settled himself on some cushions that he had taken from a storage cupboard in the Palace attic. Then he bit off the head of a brand-new licorice snake, stuffed a Banana Bear into his mouth and sighed happily. Life was good.
Merrin inspected the small gold bottle, which was still warm from Barney's hand. He smiled; he'd done well. He could tell the bottle was pure gold just by how heavy it was and by the deep untarnished sheen that glowed almost orange in the candlelight. He looked at the silver stopper and wondered what the strange little pictogram was on the top. The bottle looked like a scent bottle, and he reckoned the symbol was the name of the scent. He'd seen some similar ones in the window of a little jewelry shop near Ma Custard's place, and some of them were very expensive indeed - enough to buy Ma Custard's entire stock of licorice snakes, Banana Bears and probably most of the FizzBom specials too. Merrin's mouth began to water, and he dribbled licorice spit down the front of his gray Manuscriptorium robes. He grinned and popped another Banana Bear into his mouth. Decision made - that was exactly what he would do: he would take the gold bottle to the jewelry shop and sell it, then he would go straight to Ma Custard's and buy up her entire stock of snakes and bears. That would show the old bat. (Merrin's licorice-snake consumption had outrun his Manuscriptorium wages, and Ma Custard had informed him that she did not do credit.)