Jenna could feel Boy 412’s constant shivering. She slowly reached out her arm and pulled him close to her to try and warm him up. Boy 412 seemed tense. Jenna could tell he was listening hard to the Hunter’s voice.
“We have them!” the Hunter was saying. “This is a Hexed Fog if ever I saw one. And what do you always find in the middle of a Hexed Fog? One hexing Wizard. And her accomplices.” His low, self-satisfied chuckle drifted through the Fog and made Jenna shiver.
“Give…yourselves…up.” The Hunter’s disembodied voice enveloped Muriel. “The Qu—the Princess has nothing to fear from us. Neither do the rest of you. We are only concerned for your own safety and wish to escort you back to the Castle before you have an unfortunate accident.”
Jenna hated the Hunter’s oily voice. She hated the way they could not escape it, the way they had to just sit there and listen to his silky smooth lies. She wanted to shout at him. To tell him that she was in charge here. That she would not listen to his threats. That soon he would be sorry. And then she felt Boy 412 take a deep breath, and she knew exactly what he was going to do.
Jenna clapped her hand tightly around Boy 412’s mouth. He struggled with her and tried to push her away, but she grabbed his arms with her other hand and held them tightly against his sides. Jenna was strong for her size and very quick. Boy 412 was no match for her, thin and weak as he was.
Boy 412 was furious. His last chance to redeem himself had been thwarted. He could have returned to the Young Army as a hero, having bravely foiled the Wizards’ attempt to escape. Instead he had the Princess’s grubby little hand shoved over his mouth, which was making him feel sick. And she was stronger than him. That wasn’t right. He was a boy and she was just a stupid girl. In his anger Boy 412 kicked out and hit the deck with a loud thump. At once Nicko was on him, pinning his legs down and holding him so tightly that he was completely unable to move or make another sound.
But the damage was done. The Hunter was loading his pistol with a silver bullet. Boy 412’s angry kick had been all the Hunter needed to pinpoint exactly where they were. He smiled to himself as he turned the pistol on its tripod to face into the Fog. He was indeed pointing it straight at Jenna.
Marcia heard the metallic clicks of the silver bullet being loaded, a sound she had heard once before and never forgotten. She thought fast. She could do a Begird and Preserve, but she understood the Hunter well enough to know that he would merely watch and wait until the spell faded. The only solution, thought Marcia, was a Projection. She just hoped she had enough energy to maintain it.
Marcia closed her eyes and Projected. She Projected an image of Muriel and all its occupants sailing out of the Fog at full speed. Like all Projections it was a mirror image, but she hoped that in the darkness, and with already sailing away fast, the Hunter would not notice.
“Sir!” came the shout of an oarsman. “They’re trying to outrun us, sir!”
The sounds of the pistol being primed ceased. The Hunter swore.
“Follow them, you idiots!” he screamed at the oarsmen.
Slowly the bullet boat pulled away from the Fog.
“Faster!” yelled the Hunter angrily, unable to bear the sight of his prey escaping him for the third time that night.
Inside the Fog, Jenna and Nicko grinned. Score: one up for them.
Marcia was snappy. Very snappy.
Keeping two spells on the go was a tough one. Especially since one of them, being a Projection, was a Reverse form of Magyk and, unlike most spells that Marcia used, still had links to the Darke side—the Other side, as Marcia preferred to call it. It took a brave and skillful Wizard to use Reverse Magyk without inviting the Other in. Alther had taught Marcia well, for many of the spells he had learned from DomDaniel did indeed bring in Darke Magyk, and Alther had become adept at blocking it out. Marcia was only too well aware that all the time she was using the Projection, the Other hovered about them, awaiting its chance to break into the spell.
Which explained why Marcia felt as though her brain had no room left for anything else, certainly not for making the effort to be polite.
“For goodness’ sake, get this wretched boat moving, Nicko,” snapped Marcia. Nicko looked hurt. There was no need to talk to him like that.
“Someone’s got to paddle it, then,” muttered Nicko. “And it would help if I could see where we’re going.”
With some effort, and a consequent increase in snappiness, Marcia cleared a tunnel through the Fog. Silas kept quiet. He knew that Marcia was having to use a huge amount of Magyk energy and skill, and he felt a grudging respect for her. There was no way Silas would ever dare attempt a Projection, let alone keep a massive Fog going at the same time. He had to hand it to her—she was pretty good.
Silas left Marcia to her Magyk and paddled Muriel through the thick white cocoon of the Fog tunnel while Nicko carefully steered the boat toward the bright starry sky at the end of the tunnel. Soon Nicko felt the bottom of the boat scraping along rough sand, and Muriel bumped up against a thick tuft of sedge grass.
They had reached the safety of the Marram Marshes.
Marcia breathed a sigh of relief and let the Fog disperse. Everyone relaxed, except for Jenna. Jenna, who had not been the only girl in a family of six boys without learning a thing or two, had Boy 412 facedown on the deck in an armlock.
“Let him go, Jen,” said Nicko.
“Why?” demanded Jenna.
“He’s only a silly boy.”
“But he nearly got us all killed. We saved his life when he was buried in the snow and he betrayed us,” Jenna said angrily.
Boy 412 was silent. Buried in the snow? Saved his life? All he remembered was falling asleep outside the Wizard Tower and then waking up a prisoner in Marcia’s rooms.
“Let him go, Jenna,” said Silas. “He doesn’t understand what’s going on.”
“All right,” said Jenna, a little reluctantly releasing Boy 412 from the armlock. “But I think he’s a pig.”
Boy 412 sat up slowly, rubbing his arm. He didn’t like the way everyone was glaring him. And he didn’t like the way the Princess girl called him a pig, especially after she had been so nice to him before. Boy 412 huddled by himself as far away from Jenna as he could get and tried to work things out in his head. It wasn’t easy. Nothing made sense. He tried to remember what they told him in the Young Army.
Facts. There are only facts. Good facts. Bad facts. So:
Fact One. Kidnapped: BAD.
Fact Two. Uniform stolen: BAD.
Fact Three. Pushed down rubbish chute: BAD. Really BAD.
Fact Four. Shoved into cold smelly boat: BAD.
Fact Five. Not killed by Wizards (yet): GOOD.
Fact Six. Probably going to be killed by Wizards soon: BAD.
Boy 412 counted up the GOODs and the BADs. As usual, the BADs outnumbered the GOODs, which didn’t surprise him.
Nicko and Jenna clambered out of Muriel and scrambled up the grassy bank beside the small sandy beach on which Muriel now lay with her sails hanging loose. Nicko wanted a rest from being in charge of the boat. He took his responsibilities as skipper very seriously, and while he was actually in Muriel he felt that if anything went wrong, it was somehow his fault. Jenna was pleased to be on dry land again, or rather slightly damp land—the grass she sat down on had a soggy, squashy feel to it, as though it was growing on a big piece of wet sponge, and it was covered in a light dusting of snow.
With Jenna at a safe distance, Boy 412 dared to look up, and he saw something that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
Magyk. Powerful Magyk.
Boy 412 stared at Marcia. Although no one else seemed to have noticed, he could see the haze of Magyk energy that surrounded her. It glowed a shimmering purple, flickering across the surface of her ExtraOrdinary Wizard cloak and giving her dark curly hair a deep purple shine. Marcia’s brilliant green eyes glittered as she gazed into infinity, observing a silent film that only she could see. Despite his Young Army anti-Wizard training, Boy 412 found himself awestruck in the presence of Magyk.
The film Marcia was watching was, of course, and her six mirror-image crew. They were sailing fast toward the wide mouth of the river and had nearly reached the open sea at the Port. They were, to the Hunter’s amazement, reaching incredible speeds for a small sailing boat, and although the bullet boat managed to keep in sight, it was having trouble closing the distance enough for the Hunter to fire his silver bullet. The ten oarsmen were also tiring, and the Hunter was quite hoarse from screaming at them to go “faster, fools!”