Sally brought the ale over to the Traders’ table by the window and set it skillfully down in front of them without spilling a drop. But the Traders paid no attention to the ale, for they were too busy rubbing the steamed-up window with their grubby sleeves and peering out into the gloom. One of them pointed at something outside, and they all broke out into raucous guffaws.
The laughter was spreading around the cafe. Other customers began coming to the windows and peering out until soon the entire clientele of the cafe was pushing for a place by the long line of windows that ran along the back.
Sally Mullin peered out to see what was causing the merriment.
Her jaw dropped.
In the bright light of the full moon, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Madam Marcia Overstrand, was covered in rubbish and dancing like a madwoman on top of the municipal rubbish dump.
No, thought Sally, that’s not possible.
She peered through the smeary window again. Sally could not believe what she saw. There indeed was Madam Marcia with three children—three children? Everyone knew that Madam Marcia could not abide children. There was also a wolf and someone who looked vaguely familiar to Sally. Now, who was it?
Sarah’s no-good husband, Silas I’ll-Do-It-Tomorrow Heap. That’s who it was.
What on earth was Silas Heap doing with Marcia Overstrand? With three of the children? On the rubbish dump? Did Sarah know about this?
Well, she soon would.
As a good friend to Sarah Heap, Sally felt it was her duty to go and check this out. So she put the Washing-up Boy in charge of the cafe and ran out into the moonlight.
Sally clattered down the wooden gangway of the cafe pontoon and ran through the snow up the hill toward the dump. As she ran, her mind came to an inescapable conclusion.
Silas Heap was eloping with Marcia Overstrand.
It all made sense. Sarah had often complained about how Silas was obsessed with Marcia. Ever since he had given up his Apprenticeship to Alther Mella and Marcia had taken it over, Silas had watched her amazing progress with a mixture of horror and fascination, always imagining that it could have been him. And since she had become ExtraOrdinary Wizard ten years ago, Silas had, if anything, been worse.
Completely obsessed with what Marcia was doing, that’s what Sarah had said.
But of course, mused Sally, who had now reached the foot of the huge pile of rubbish and was painfully scrabbling her way up, Sarah was not entirely innocent either. Anyone could see that their little girl was not Silas’s child. She looked so different from all the others. And once when Sally had very delicately tried to bring up the subject of Jenna’s father, Sarah had very quickly changed it. Oh, yes, something had been going on between the Heaps for years. But that was no excuse for what Silas was doing now. No excuse at all, thought Sally crossly as she stumbled her way up toward the top of the dump.
The bedraggled figures had started making their way down and were heading in Sally’s direction. Sally waved her arms at them, but they appeared not to have noticed her. They seemed preoccupied and were staggering a little as if they were dizzy. Now that they were nearer, Sally could see that she was right about their identities.
“Silas Heap!” Sally yelled angrily.
The five figures jumped out of their skins and stared at Sally.
“Shush!” four voices whispered as loud as they dared.
“I will not shush!” declared Sally. “What do you think you are doing, Silas Heap? Leaving your wife for this…floozie.” Sally waggled her forefinger disapprovingly at Marcia.
“Floozie?” gasped Marcia.
“And taking these poor children with you,” she told Silas. “How could you?”
Silas waded through the rubbish to Sally.
“What are you talking about?” he demanded. “And will you please be quiet!”
“Shush!” said three voices behind him.
At last Sally quieted down.
“Don’t do it, Silas,” she whispered hoarsely. “Don’t leave your lovely wife and family. Please.”
Silas looked bemused. “I’m not,” he said. “Who told you that?”
It took most of the long stumble down the dump to explain to Sally what had happened. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open as Silas told her what he had to in order to get her on their side—which was pretty much everything. Silas realized that they not only needed Sally’s silence; they could do with her help too. But Marcia wasn’t so sure. Sally Mullin was not exactly the first person she would have chosen to help. Marcia decided to step in and take charge.
“Right,” she said authoritatively as they reached the solid ground at the foot of the dump. “I think we can expect the Hunter and his Pack to be sent after us any minute now.”
A flicker of fear passed over Silas’s face. He had heard about the Hunter.
Marcia was practical and calm. “I’ve filled the chute back up with rubbish and done a Lockfast and Weld Spell on the rat door,” she said. “So with any luck he’ll think we’re still trapped in there.”
Nicko shuddered at the thought.
“But it won’t delay him long,” continued Marcia. “And then he’ll come looking—and asking.” Marcia looked at Sally as if to say, And it will be you he’ll be asking.
Everyone fell quiet.
Sally returned Marcia’s gaze steadily. She knew what she was taking on. She knew it would be big trouble for her, but Sally was a loyal friend.
She would do it.
“Right, then,” said Sally briskly. “We’ll have to get you all far away with the pixies by then, won’t we?”
Sally took them down to the bunkhouse at the back of the cafe where many an exhausted traveler had found themselves a warm bed for the night, and clean clothes too if they needed them. The bunkhouse was empty at this time of day. Sally showed them where the clothes were kept and told them to take as much as they needed. It was going to be a long, cold night. She quickly filled a bucket with hot water so that they could wash off the worst of the mess from the chute and then rushed out, saying, “I’ll see you down at the quay in ten minutes. You can have my boat.”
Jenna and Nicko were only too pleased to get rid of their filthy clothes, but Boy 412 refused to do anything. He had had enough changes that day, and he was determined to hang on to what he had, even if it was a pair of wet and filthy Wizard pajamas.
Eventually Marcia was forced to use a Clean-Up Spell on him, followed by a Change of Dress Spell to get him into the thick fisherman’s sweater, trousers and sheepskin jacket plus a bright red beanie hat that Silas had found for him.
Marcia was cross at having to use a spell for Boy 412’s outfit. She wanted to save her energy for later, as she had an unpleasant feeling that she might need it all to get them to safety. She had of course used a little energy on her One-Second Dry Clean Spell, which, due to the disgusting state of her cloak, had turned into a One-Minute Dry Clean Spell and still hadn’t got rid of all the gravy stains. In Marcia’s opinion, the cloak of an ExtraOrdinary Wizard was more than just a cloak; it was a finely tuned instrument of Magyk and must be treated with respect.
Ten minutes later they were all down at the quay.
Sally and her sailing boat were waiting for them. Nicko looked at the little green boat approvingly. He loved boats. In fact, there was nothing Nicko loved better than being out in a boat on the open water, and this looked like a good one. She was broad and steady, sat well in the water and had a pair of new red sails. She had a nice name too: Muriel. Nicko liked that.
Marcia looked at the boat dubiously. “How does it work, then?” she asked Sally.
Nicko butted in. “Sails,” he said. “She sails.”
“Who sails?” asked Marcia, confused.
Nicko was patient. “The boat does.”
Sally was getting agitated.
“You’d better be off,” she said, glancing back at the rubbish dump. “I’ve put some paddles in, just in case you need them. And some food. Here, I’ll untie the rope and hang on to it while you all get aboard.”
Jenna scrambled in first, grabbing Boy 412 by the arm and taking him with her. He resisted for a moment but then gave in. Boy 412 was getting very tired.
Nicko jumped in next, then Silas propelled a somewhat reluctant Marcia off the quay and into the boat. She sat down uncertainly by the tiller and sniffed.