Flyte (Page 62)

"Don’t keep saying ‘huh’, Silas. It makes you sound so crotchety."

"Well, maybe I am crotchety. And I’ll keep saying ‘huh’ if I want to, Sarah. Huh."

Supper went on late into the night. Sarah had put Milo Banda at the head of the table simply laid with a white cloth. It reminded Jenna of the morning of her tenth birthday, which now felt like another lifetime. Jenna had sat as far away from Milo Banda as she could getat the other end of the tablebut it wasn’t until she sat down that she realized she was now opposite Milo, and every time she looked up she saw him trying to smile at her or catch her eye. Jenna spent most of the meal staring at her plate or making pointed conversation with Aunt Zelda, who was sitting next to her.

As the torches burned down and midnight approached, the summer air cooled and people began to yawn. Aunt Zelda leaned over to Jenna and said in a low voice, "Your father is a good man, Jenna. You should hear what he has to say."

"I don’t care what he has to say," Jenna answered.

"A wise Young Queen listens first. Then she judges."

Supper was finished. Marcia, Septimus and Spit Fyre had gone back to the Wizard Tower. Nicko was off with Silas, who wanted to show him a new colony of Counters he had found behind a pipe in the Palace attic. Sarah was tending to Wolf Boy, who had fallen asleep at the beginning of supper, and Aunt Zelda was down in the kitchens trying to get the night cook to boil a cabbage for breakfast the next morning. Alther Mella sat quietly in the shadows, musing on the events of the day.

And Jenna was listening to Milo Banda.

"You know," Milo was saying, "your mother and I were so pleased when we knew we were going to have a child. We both hoped for a girl so that she could become Queen. Of course, I was never King; it is not the way you do things here, unlike many of the Far Countries. There, would you believe, they pass the succession down through the boy childrenvery strange. But I was glad not to be King, for although I was just an ordinary merchant, I loved my job. I loved the excitement of traveling and the possibility that one day I would make my own fortune. Then six months before you were due to be born, I heard of just such an opportunity. With your mother’s blessing, I chartered a ship at the Port and set off. My luck was in and before long I had a ship full of treasure to bring back to you and your mother. All went well, I had a good crew and fair winds all the way home, and I arrived in Port on the very day you were due. Everything, I thought, was perfect. But then … when we docked…" Milo’s voice faltered. "I remember it as though it were yesterday … a deckhand told me the news, the terrible news that was all over the Port … that my dear Cerysyour motherhad been killed. And my little daughter, too."

"But I wasn’t killed," whispered Jenna.

"No. I know that now. But thenI didn’t. I believed what everyone said."

"Well, they were wrong. Why didn’t you come to the Castle and see if it was true? Why didn’t you come to find me? You ran away."

"Yes. I suppose it seems so. But at the time I could not bear to stay. I left on the next tide and wandered wherever the winds took meuntil I was captured by Deakin Lee."

"Deakin Lee!" Jenna gasped. Even she, who was not at all interested in pirates, had heard of the dreaded Deakin Lee.

Milo risked a rueful smile in Jenna’s direction. She gave him an uncertain half smile in return.

"I will never forget those seven long years in Deakin Lee’s hold," he said in a low voice. "All the time I thought of the terrible thing that had happened to you and your dear mother…"

"How did you escape?" asked Jenna.

"One night, in the spring of last year, the ship came upon tumultuous waves. I’ve heard it said they were the swell from a Darke storm thousands of miles away, but they were good waves for me. Deakin Lee was washed overboard and his crew freed me. I took over the ship. Some weeks later we put in to a small port and I heard the rumor that you were alive. I could hardly believe itI felt my life was beginning again. We set sail immediately and had fair winds all the way to the Port. We anchored offshore and raised the Yellow Duster to alert Customs, and the Chief Officer was rowed out to us the next morning. She took one look at the treasure onboard and told us we had to wait until the main bonded warehouse was freeshe was a tough one, that Officer Nettles. But I am grateful to her, for had she not done so I would not have seen you that night."

Jenna remembered the scene at the warehouse. It all made sense now.

Milo continued, "When I looked up and saw you sitting on that horse, just the way your mother used to, and then I saw the circlet around your head, I knew you were my daughter. But I am sorry, Jenna, I think I frightened you that night. I wasn’t thinkingI just wanted to talk to you. Jenna … Jenna?"

Jenna had spun around and was gazing into the shadows cast by the torches guttering on the Palace roof.

"Jenna?" Milo repeated.

"I can feel someone watching me," she said.

Milo shifted uncomfortably. "So can I," he said. Milo Banda and his daughter stared into the shadows but neither saw the ghost of the Queen watching her husband and daughter talk together for the first time in their lives.

Alther wafted up to the Queen. "It’s good to see you venturing out of the Queen’s Room at last," he said.

The Queen smiled wistfully. "I must return at once, Alther; but I could not resist seeing rny dear Milo just once againand with our daughter, too."

"You can tell they are father and daughter," observed Alther.

"Yes, that’s true." The Queen nodded slowly. "There is something about the way they stand, is there not?"

"Yet she looks like youremarkably like you."

"I know," sighed the Queen. "Good night, Alther." Alther watched the Queen drift silently past Jenna and Milo Banda, both of whom looked straight at her but saw nothing. Soon the Queen reached the turret and delicately stepped through its thick stone wall. Inside the Queen’s room the fire burned as brightly as always and the Queen sat quietly in her chair, remembering the events of the daythe day she had awaited for so many years.

Septimus, Marcia and Spit Fyre walked slowly along Wizard Way. The torches blazed in their silver posts, and Spit Fyre kept pouncing on the flickering shadows cast on the pavement. It was now after midnight and all the shops were closed and dark, but as they walked past the Manuscriptorium, Septimus thought he glimpsed a light behind the great piles of books and papers. But when he looked more carefully he could see nothing.

Marcia limped painfully up the marble steps to the Wizard Tower. Septimus settled Spit Fyre into the dragon kennel for the night.

"Make sure he can’t get out, Septimus," Marcia told him as the great silver doors of the Tower opened for their ExtraOrdinary Wizard. "And don’t forget to double bolt the door."

"All right," he said, and Marcia tottered gratefully inside.

Spit Fyre settled down surprisingly easily. Septimus shot the two massive iron bolts across the door and tiptoed away to the sound of the dragon’s snores shaking the kennel.

It was a beautiful night. The Wizard Tower courtyard was deserted; the Magykal torches placed along the tops of the courtyard walls cast a soft purple light across the old flagstones, dim enough for Septimus to still see a myriad of stars in the night sky.

Septimus was reluctant to go inside. He looked up at the stars and all his old dreams of flying came back to him. He knew he could resist no longerhe took out the Flyte Charm. The golden arrow with its new silver flights sat buzzing in his hand, and Septimus felt a thrill of Magyk go through him. As the flights began to flutter, Septimus felt himself lifting off the ground, up, up, until he was as high as the Great Arch. Holding the arrow between finger and thumb he pointed it toward the Palace, then he spread his arms out as he had once seen Alther doand he flew.

He swooped down Wizard Way, low and fast just as Aither liked to, sped over the Palace Gate, and then soared up onto the Palace roof, just as he had always done in his dreams. Below him he saw Jenna and her father leaning over the battlements, talking quietly. Unsure whether to interrupt them, but longing to surprise Jenna and show her how well he could Flye, Septimus hovered for a moment waiting for a break in Milo’s ramblings. Then something caught his eye.

On the other side of the river, a horse galloped through the Farmlands. Riding the horsenewly stolen from outside the Grateful Turbot Tavernwas a familiar figure. Simon.