With the Paired Code feeling like it was stuck in his throat, Merrin had gone upstairs to Jillie Djinn's rooms to wash it down with her stash of biscuits and plan his next move. His mouth full of stale biscuit, Merrin stared out of the window and caught a glimpse of Spit Fyre as he flew past. What was he doing up there? Merrin cursed. Stupid Things. They couldn't even do a simple job like getting rid of a pathetic dragon. Well, he'd show that dragon. He'd get it. Merrin smiled at his dark reflection in the grubby window. Oh, he'd get it all right - one way or another. It wouldn't stand a chance. Not against what he'd got planned. This was, Merrin told himself, going to be fun.
Spit Fyre flew slowly on, past tiny attic windows containing flickering candles until they came to Snake Slipway. Below them, to the left of the Slipway was Rupert Gringe's boathouse, still happily ablaze with a couple of buckets containing torches. The houses on either side of the slipway were also still untouched; many of them seemed to have caught Marcellus's habit of burning forests of candles, and the whole slipway shone brightly.
Septimus had made his decision - Alther must wait. He would use his Darke Disguise to rescue Sarah and then he would stay and fight the spreading Darkenesse. But he could not risk Jenna's safety. He wheeled Spit Fyre out across the Moat and over the Forest borders in order to give the dragon space to turn for a good run into Snake Slipway, where he planned to land.
"What are you doing?" yelled Jenna.
"Landing!" yelled Septimus.
"Not here. Snake Slipway!"
Jenna leaned forward and yelled in Septimus's ear, "No, Sep! We have to get Mum!"
Septimus turned to face Jenna. "Not you, Jen. Too dangerous. I'll go!"
"No way! I'm coming too!" Jenna shouted above the whooshing of the air as the dragon's wings swept down.
Spit Fyre was lining up for the tricky swoop down into Snake Slipway, but Septimus could not concentrate with Jenna yelling in his ear. He wheeled the dragon around once more.
"No, Jen!" Septimus yelled as Spit Fyre flew back across the Moat toward the Forest again. "I'm taking you somewhere safe first. We don't know what's in the Palace now!"
"Mum's in there, you - you total dumbrain!"
Septimus was shocked. Jenna never used language like that normally. He blamed the witch's cloak. He turned Spit Fyre around and lined him up once more for landing on Snake Slipway.
Spit Fyre began his second attempt to land.
"Septimus Heap, you are not dumping me!" Jenna yelled.
"But Jen - "
"Spit Fyre!" yelled his Navigator. "Go up!"
Spit Fyre - who obeyed his Navigator's instructions in the absence of any from his Pilot - began to go up. But not for long.
"Down, Spit Fyre!" his Pilot countermanded. Spit Fyre went down. His Pilot was in charge.
"Up!" yelled Jenna.
Spit Fyre went up.
"Down!" Septimus yelled. His dragon obeyed. Septimus had one last go at persuading Jenna.
"Jen, please, listen to me! The Palace is dangerous! If something happens to you, that's it. No more Queens in the Castle. Ever. We can land here and I'll take you to Marcellus's house - he's got a SafeChamber - or we can even go to Aunt Zelda's. You choose. But you have to be safe!"
Jenna fumed. How many times had she been sidelined just because she had to be safe? She leaned forward - all the better to yell at Septimus and tell him she didn't care about being Queen, so there - and The Queen Rules dug into her. Angrily she pulled the book out of her pocket, intending to hurl it into the Moat below. But something stopped her. The little red book sat so naturally in her hand and felt so much a part of her that suddenly Jenna knew she could not throw it away - in fact, she could never throw it away. This fragile, worn, little red book contained her history. Whatever she thought of it, whether she liked it or not, this was who she was, who her family was, and she knew, as she looked down onto the Darkening Castle below, that this was where she belonged. Nothing she did would ever change that.
And so, sitting on a somewhat confused dragon, Jenna realized what the Day of Recognition actually meant. Somehow, without any official ceremony, procession or traditional hoo-ha, it had happened. She understood who she was and she accepted it. It was, she realized, recognition of something she had known for a while but had preferred not to notice. It was a bit late in the day, she thought, as she heard the chimes of the Drapers Yard Clock strike ten, but that was fine.
Septimus took Jenna's sudden silence to mean that she had stopped speaking to him in disgust.
"Landing!" he yelled.
"Okay!" Jenna shouted back.
Surprised, Septimus turned around. "Really?" he shouted.
Jenna smiled. "Yep! Really!"
Septimus gave Jenna a huge grin of relief - he hated arguing with her - and once more Spit Fyre began his approach to Snake Slipway. The slipway was hemmed in on both sides by houses, some leaning in toward each other and none wanting their windows smashed by a misplaced dragon's tail. It was not an easy landing, even for a dragon used to the narrow confines of the Castle. With a loud snort of excitement - Spit Fyre liked a challenge - the dragon headed down.
It was a perfect landing. Spit Fyre settled lightly in the center of the slipway and folded his wings with an air of satisfaction and the creaking sound of old leather. His Pilot and Navigator slipped down from their places and stood on the sleet-shined slipway.
"Spit Fyre," said his Pilot. "Stay!"
Spit Fyre regarded his Pilot quizzically. Why did his Pilot want him to Stay in this bad place? Had he done something wrong? His Navigator came to his rescue.
"You can't tell Spit Fyre to Stay, Sep."
"It's only for a few minutes, Jen. Then I'm going to get Mum."
But Spit Fyre's Navigator dug her heels in. "No, Sep. Supposing those Things come back? You have to take the Stay off. It's not fair."
Septimus sighed. Jenna was right. "Okay. Spit Fyre, Stay replaced with StaySafe." He patted the dragon's nose. "Okay?"
Spit Fyre snorted. He thumped his tail and sent a plume of Moat water up into the air. The dragon watched his Pilot and Navigator walk to a doorway a few yards up on the left where the slipway leveled out. His Pilot placed a key in the lock and turned it, then they disappeared inside and the door closed behind them.
Spit Fyre watched the door, waiting for them to come out again. And while he watched he stretched out his wings so that he was ready to take off quickly - just in case. He didn't like the slipway. It was narrow and full of hiding places on either side. Spit Fyre didn't like what was happening to the Castle either; he could smell the Darke, he could feel it coming closer. And then, suddenly, he saw a movement in the shadows. His Pilot's StaySafe kicked in and so, as a group of Things crept up on him in a pincer movement, knives at the ready, Spit Fyre raised his wings and, with one powerful downstroke, he was airborne. He looked down and saw the Things on the slipway staring up at him. A moment later there was a loud splat - a particularly large amount of dragon poop had scored a direct hit.
Jenna didn't like Marcellus's house very much. There was something about the smell of it that reminded her of a Time five hundred years ago.
"Do we have to come here?" she asked uneasily.
"Marcellus has a SafeChamber," said Septimus. "Where you can be, um, safe." He glanced around. The narrow hallway and the flight of stairs leading up to the next floor were ablaze with candles, as they always were, but a stillness hung in the air, and he knew the house was deserted. Septimus felt at a loss. He realized he was also hoping for Marcellus's company - and advice. "He's not here," he said flatly.
Jenna was puzzled. "He must be. All these candles are lit."
"He always does that," said Septimus. "I've told him that one day he'll come back to find his house burned down but he doesn't listen."
"I don't want to stay here on my own, I really don't," Jenna said anxiously. "It's so creepy . . ."
"Let's go," said Septimus. "We'll sit it out on Spit Fyre and wait for him to come back."
"I'm not leaving the Castle," said Jenna, a warning in her voice.
"Neither am I. We'll just kind of hover. We'll be safe on Spit Fyre." Septimus opened the door and stepped outside. Jenna heard a sharp intake of breath.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Spit Fyre. He's gone."