Sarah watched the pale, wintry sun edging up above the distant hills, shining weakly through the bare branches of the trees on the opposite side of the river. She sighed. It was good to see daylight once more - but who knew what the day would bring?
It brought another fight between Septimus and Simon.
Septimus and Marcellus had retreated to a quiet corner by Silas's bookshelves and were looking through his old Magyk books, searching for anything written about Darke Domaines. They found nothing of use. Most of Silas's books were common textbooks or cheap versions of more arcane books with pages missing - always the pages that promised something interesting.
Septimus, however, had just found a small pamphlet hidden inside an ink-spattered copy of Year III Magyk: Advanced Bothers when Simon wandered across to see if any of his old favorites were still on the shelves. He glanced down and saw the title of the pamphlet: The Darke Power of the Two-Faced Ring.
A dangerous and deeply flawed device, historically used by Darke Wizards and their acolytes, Septimus read.Traditionally worn on the left thumb. Once put on, the ring will travel in only one way and so cannot be removed except over the base of the thumb. The faces are thought to represent those of the two Wizards who created it. Each Wizard desired to possess the Ring and they fought to the death over it. (See this author's pamphlet on the formation of the Bottomless Whirlpool. Only six groats from Wywald's Witchery). After this the Ring passed from Wizard to Wizard, wreaking havoc. It is thought to have been instrumental in the Slime Plague at the Port, the horrific Night River Serpent attacks at the Ramblings and very possibly the Darke Pit over which the Municipal rubbish dump was eventually built. The Two-Faced Ring possesses Incremental Power - each wearer attains the Darke power of all the previous wearers. This power reaches its full potential only after it has been worn for thirteen lunar months. Although many say that the Two-Faced Ring is still in existence, the author does not believe this to be the case. It has not been heard of for many hundreds of years now, and the likelihood is that is has been irretrievably lost.
"Interesting," said Simon, reading over Septimus's shoulder. "But not entirely accurate."
Septimus's reply was short and to the point. "Go away," he said.
"Ahem." Marcellus coughed ineffectively.
"I am only trying to help," said Simon. "We all want to find a way to get rid of this Darke Domaine."
"We do," said Septimus, looking pointedly at Marcellus. "I'm not so sure about you."
Simon sighed, which annoyed Septimus. "Look, I don't do that stuff anymore. I really and truly don't."
"Ha!" said Septimus scornfully.
"Now, now, Apprentice. Remember what you promised your mother."
Septimus ignored Marcellus.
"You just don't get it, do you?" Simon sounded exasperated. "I made a mistake. Okay, it was a really bad mistake, but I am doing my best to put things right. I don't know what more I can do. And right now I could be really useful. I know more about this . . . stuff than both of you put together."
"I'll bet you do," snapped Septimus.
"Apprentice, I do think you should calm down and - "
Simon exploded. "You think just because you're Marcia's precious little Apprentice you know it all but you don't."
"Don't patronize me," said Septimus.
"Boys!" Suddenly Sarah was there. "Boys, what did I tell you?"
Septimus and Simon glared at each other. "Sorry, Mum," they both muttered between clenched teeth.
It was Marcellus who was the go-between. To a seething Septimus he said, "Apprentice, these are desperate times. And desperate times call for desperate measures. We need all the help we can get. And Simon has a great advantage; he knows the Darke and - "
"Too right," Septimus muttered under his breath.
Marcellus ignored the interruption. "And I do believe that he has changed. If anyone knows a way to defeat this Darke Domaine, it will be him and there is no need to make that kind of face, Septimus."
"We must do all that we can. Who knows how long we can keep the Darke Domaine out of the room? Who knows how long the poor people in the Castle can survive inside the Domaine? And indeed, who knows how long the Wizard Tower can hold out?"
"The Wizard Tower can hold out forever," said Septimus.
"Frankly, I doubt it. And what would be the point if it did? Soon it will be nothing more than an island marooned in a Castle of death."
"Mark my words, Apprentice, the longer the Darke Domaine is in place, the more likely this is to be the case. Most people will survive for a few days. Others, perhaps those less lucky, will survive for longer but be driven mad by their experiences. We have a duty to do our utmost to prevent this. Do you not agree?"
Septimus nodded. "Yes," he said heavily.
Marcellus arrived where Septimus knew he'd been heading. "To this purpose I believe we should enlist the help of your brother."
Septimus could not bear the thought. "But we can't trust him," he protested.
"Apprentice, I truly believe we can trust him."
"No, we can't. He knowingly messes with the Darke. What kind of person does that?"
"People like us?" Marcellus said with a smile.
"And I believe your brother is different too."
"Apprentice, do not deliberately misunderstand me," Marcellus said sternly. "Your brother has made mistakes. He has paid - and indeed still is paying - a high price for them."
"And so he should."
"You are being a little vindictive, Apprentice. It is not an attractive quality in one with so much Magykal ability as you. You should be more magnanimous in your victory."
"Ask yourself who anyone would rather be - Septimus Heap, ExtraOrdinary Apprentice, loved and respected by all in the Castle, with a brilliant future ahead of him, or Simon Heap, disgraced, exiled and living a hand-to-mouth existence in the Port with little to hope for?"
Septimus hadn't thought of it like that. He glanced over to Simon, who was alone, staring fixedly out the window. It was true; he wouldn't swap places with Simon for anything.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah. Okay."
And so it was that, much to Sarah Heap's surprise and joy, her youngest and eldest sons spent the next few hours sitting together at the foot of Silas Heap's bookshelves, in deep discussion with Marcellus Pye - about whom Sarah had had a complete reversal of opinion. Occasionally one would take down a book from the shelves, but for the most part they sat quietly and apparently companionably together.
By the nightfall both Septimus and Marcellus Pye had learned a lot from Simon: How Simon had last seen the Two-Faced Ring on the slimy bones of his old Master, DomDaniel, as they were about to strangle him. How he had trapped the bones into a sack and thrown them into the Endless Cupboard in the Observatory. How Merrin must have somehow retrieved the ring from the slimy thumb bone of DomDaniel - the thought of which made them all shudder.
Septimus thought that if they got hold of Merrin and took the ring off him the Darke Domaine would disappear, but Simon had explained that once the Darke Domaine was in place it would take more than that to get rid of it - it would take the most powerful Magyk possible. When he mentioned the Paired Codes, Marcellus reluctantly recounted what had happened and a gloom fell.
"There is another way," said Simon after a while. "Apprentices to the same ExtraOrdinary Wizard share a Magykal link. Alther and Merrin were both Apprenticed to DomDaniel. And Alther is the most senior. There is a slim chance that he could UnDo the Darke Domaine, as it is the work of a more junior Apprentice. But . . ."
Septimus was listening with interest. "But what?" he asked. It was the first question he had asked Simon that was not an accusation too.
"But I am not sure if it works for ghosts," said Simon.
"It might though?"
"It might. It might not."
Septimus made up his mind. He would go to the Darke Halls and find Alther. It didn't matter whether Alther had the power Simon thought he had or not. Alther would know what to do, he was sure of that. He was their only hope.
"Marcellus," Septimus said. "You know how you said there were other Portals into the Darke Halls?"