“He looks very heavy,” said the purple woman.
“He is very heavy,” replied the boy. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it.”
him down onto the snow. Then Spit Fyre will have to carry him in his talons. Do you think he can do that?”
Ephaniah began to realize they were talking about him. It was a horrible nightmare. He wished it would go away.
“Easy. Spit Fyre carried Jen like that once, didn’t you, Spit Fyre?”
“You never told me that,” said the woman sharply.
“Um. No, I think I forgot.”
“A dragon carries the Princess in its talons and you forget?”
The nightmare got worse. In fact it got so bad that Ephaniah lost consciousness once more and when he awoke a week later in the Wizard Tower sick bay he remembered nothing about a dragon at all. But Spit Fyre remembered him and from that day on the dragon never stamped on another rat.
Benjamin Heap had no wish to end up as a ghost floating around the Castle getting confused and retreating to the Hole in the Wall Tavern. He wished to end his days in the Forest, a place he had always loved, and this is what he did.
Benjamin Heap, Shape-Shifter, became Tree. He became one of his favorites, a western red cedar, and stood tall and proud—and slowly growing ever taller.
When Benjamin Heap became Tree, his thoughts became Tree also. But there was always a small part in the core of that western red cedar that was Ben Heap, Ordinary Wizard, or Grandpa Benji as he was known to his numerous grandchildren. Ben Heap had married Jenna Crackle (sister of Betty Crackle, a white witch) one winter’s day in the Great Hall of the Wizard Tower. They had seven sons, and all bar two, Alfred and Edmond, had had an assortment of children.
The Forest trees were always listening. People meeting beneath a tree exchanging whispered secrets, travelers talking, voices carried on the wind—the Forest trees heard it all. The rustling of leaves in the Forest was not always because of the breeze—it was often the trees talking.
This is how Benjamin Heap knew about the fortunes of his huge family. It was his youngest son—Silas, his seventh—who he followed the most closely. Silas was born late into the family, and when his last baby boy arrived Benjamin already felt old. He waited to become Tree for as long as he could, but when Silas turned twenty-one he could wait no longer. Benjamin Heap knew he had to go while he still had the strength to Shape-Shift into a healthy tree.
Silas had missed his father terribly. He had spent many long weeks in the Forest looking for him, but he never found him. And when at last, on one of his fruitless searches, he met the young and very pretty Sarah Willow gathering herbs in the Forest, Silas decided he had looked for his father long enough. He and Sarah got married, and Silas settled down to look after his rapidly growing family.
Benjamin Heap listened to the Forest gossip so he knew that Silas had had seven sons. For a long ten years he had also known that the youngest grandson was lost, and was in the Young Army. He had longed to tell Silas where Septimus was, but Silas never came to see him and there was nothing he could do except make sure that all the Forest trees knew to keep Septimus safe on the notoriously dangerous Young Army exercises. And so, when Morwenna took Silas to see his father, both were overjoyed—although there were serious things to discuss.
Silas told his father the dream about Nicko in a frozen forest. Benjamin told Silas that the frozen forest had once been warm and friendly, teeming with animals and small, happy settlements. But now it was under a Darkenesse and it was not a safe place to be. When Silas insisted that he must
go, his father very reluctantly told him how to find the Forest Way.
Early the next afternoon as Silas and Maxie were leaving the Ancient Glades to start their journey, they met a large, shambling figure in white wearing a small licorice ring on the little finger of its left hand—although Silas was too surprised at bumping into someone in the middle of the Forest to notice the ring. When Silas looked at the figure’s bottle-glass spectacles he felt very odd indeed—so odd that he babbled his father’s instructions on how to find the Forest Way without even being asked. Silas was unaware that he had very nearly been InHabited—but Maxie’s long growls and the sight of the hackles going up on the wolfhound’s neck—not to mention his teeth—had persuaded the Thing not to bother.
Silas never did remember what had happened after he had left Morwenna. He put the lost day down to a witchy hex and worried about what he had done to offend the Witch Mother. He forgot that he had ever met his father.
Maxie led Silas back to the Castle. When at last, with tired feet and weary paws, they reached the Palace, Silas could not find Sarah anywhere. Billy Pot told him that Sarah had gone off with Marcia on Spit Fyre, but Silas would not believe him. Why on earth would she want to do that?
Billy Pot had shrugged. He didn’t know either, but one thing he did know: there was no stopping Marcia when she wanted to fly a dragon.
Spit Fyre liked his new field and he liked Billy Pot too. The only thing he missed about the Wizard Tower was his breakfasts. No one made his breakfast quite like Septimus. Naturally Spit Fyre wondered where Septimus was, but now that he was nearly fully grown, the dragon did not feel the need to see so much of his Imprintor.
Neither did Spit Fyre feel the need to see the person who he suspected was his dragon mother in disguise—as some dragon mothers are. But this person, who wore purple and shouted a lot, suddenly seemed to feel the need to see him.
But when Spit Fyre realized that the purple-dragon-mother had brought with her four buckets of sausages and bananas—one of Spit Fyre’s all-time favorites—he changed his mind. And he didn’t even mind when the purple-dragon-mother told him that she was taking the place of his Imprintor and he was to do as he was told. Spit Fyre would do anything for four buckets of sausages and bananas.
And that is how Spit Fyre set off on the longest flight he had ever made.
His new pilot did a good job, although her navigator—a thin woman in green—screamed a lot. Spit Fyre enjoyed the flight; he had needed to stretch his wings, and meeting his Imprintor at the other end was good too. It was nice of the purple-dragon-mother to arrange that for him. But it was a strange place she brought him to—cold, creepy and suffering from a distinct lack of sausages and bananas. And suddenly there seemed to be a lot of people expecting a ride. They wouldn’t all fit on, and there was no point in the purple-dragon-mother shouting either—shouting something didn’t make it any more possible. They would have to figure something else out. And where was his dinner?