The Apprentice had sat obediently in the back of the boat for the entire Chase. The angrier the Hunter had become, the less he had dared to say anything at all and the more he had slunk down into his tiny space at the sweaty feet of Oarsman Number Ten. But as time went on Oarsman Number Ten began to mutter extremely rude and interesting comments about the Hunter under his breath, and the Apprentice got a little braver. He gazed out over the water and stared at the speeding. The more he looked at, the more he knew that something was wrong.
Finally the Apprentice dared to shout out to the Hunter, “Did you know that that boat’s name is back to front?”
“Don’t try to be clever with me, boy.”
The Hunter’s eyesight was good, but maybe not as good as a ten-and-a-half-year-old boy’s, whose hobby was collecting and labeling ants. Not for nothing had the Apprentice spent hours at his Master’s Camera Obscura, hidden far away in the Badlands, watching the river. He knew the names and histories of all the boats that sailed there. He knew that the boat they had been chasing before the Fog was Muriel, built by Rupert Gringe and hired out to catch herring. He also knew that after the Fog the boat was called , and “” was a mirror image of “Muriel.” And he had been an Apprentice to DomDaniel for long enough to know exactly what that meant.
was a Projection, an Apparition, a Phantasm and an Illusion.
Luckily for the Apprentice, who was just about to inform the Hunter of this interesting fact, at that very moment back in the real Muriel, Maxie licked Marcia’s hand in a friendly, slobbery wolfhound way. Marcia shuddered at the warm wolfhound spit, her concentration lapsed for a second, and briefly disappeared in front of the Hunter’s own eyes. The boat quickly reappeared again, but too late. had given herself away.
The Hunter screamed in fury and slammed his fist down on the bullet box. Then he screamed again, this time in pain. He had broken his fifth metacarpal. His little finger. And it hurt. Nursing his hand, the Hunter yelled at the oarsmen: “Turn around, you fools!”
The bullet boat stopped, the oarsmen reversed their seats and wearily started rowing in the opposite direction. The Hunter found himself in the back of the boat. The Apprentice, to his delight, was now in the front.
But the bullet boat was not the efficient machine it had been. The oarsmen were rapidly tiring and were not taking kindly to having insults screamed at them by an increasingly hysterical would-be murderer. The rhythm of their rowing faltered, and the smooth movement of the bullet boat became uneven and uncomfortable.
The Hunter sat glowering in the back of the boat. He knew that for the fourth time that night the Trail had gone cold. The Hunt was turning bad.
The Apprentice, however, was enjoying the turnaround. He sat low at what was now the prow and, rather like Maxie, put his nose in the air and enjoyed the sensation of the night air rushing past him. He also felt relieved that he had been able to do his job. His Master would be proud. He imagined himself back at his Master’s side and how he would describe the way he had detected a fiendish Projection and saved the day. Perhaps it would stop his Master from being so disappointed in his lack of Magykal talent. He did try, thought the Apprentice, he really did, but somehow he just never quite got it. Whatever it was.
It was Jenna who saw the dreaded searchlight coming around a distant bend.
“They’re coming back!” she yelled.
Marcia jumped, lost the Projection completely and, far away at the Port, and her crew disappeared forever, much to the shock of a lone fisherman on the harbor wall.
“We’ve got to hide the boat,” said Nicko, jumping up and running along the grassy bank, followed by Jenna.
Silas shoved Maxie out of the boat and told him to go and lie down. Then he helped Marcia out, and Boy 412 scrambled after her.
Marcia sat on the grassy bank of Deppen Ditch, determined to keep her purple python shoes dry for as long as she possibly could. Everyone else, including, to Jenna’s surprise, Boy 412, waded into the shallow water and pushed Muriel clear of the sand so that she was floating again. Then Nicko grabbed a rope and pulled Muriel along the Deppen Ditch until she rounded a corner and could no longer be seen from the river. The tide was falling now, and Muriel floated low in the Ditch, her short mast hidden by the steeply rising banks.
The sound of the Hunter screaming at the oarsmen drifted across the water, and Marcia stuck her head up over the top of the Ditch to see what was going on. She had never seen anything quite like it. The Hunter was standing very precariously in the back of the bullet boat wildly waving one arm in the air. He kept up a nonstop barrage of insults directed at the oarsmen, who had by now lost all sense of rhythm and were letting the bullet boat zigzag across the water.
“I shouldn’t do this,” said Marcia. “I really shouldn’t. It’s petty and vindictive and it demeans the power of Magyk, but I don’t care.”
Jenna, Nicko and Boy 412 rushed to the top of the Ditch to see what Marcia was about to do. As they watched, Marcia pointed her finger at the Hunter and muttered, “Dive!”
For a split second the Hunter felt odd, as though he was about to do something very stupid—which he was. For some reason he could not understand, he raised his arms elegantly above his head and carefully pointed his hands toward the water. Then he slowly bent his knees and dived neatly out of the bullet boat, performing a skillful somersault before he landed perfectly in the freezing cold water.
Reluctantly, and rather unnecessarily slowly, the oarsmen rowed back and helped the gasping Hunter into the boat.
“You really shouldn’t have done that, sir,” said Oarsman Number Ten. “Not in this weather.”
The Hunter could not reply. His teeth chattered so loudly that he could hardly think, let alone speak. His wet clothes clung to him as he shivered violently in the cold night air. Gloomily, he surveyed the marshland where he was sure his quarry had fled but could see no sign of them. Seasoned Hunter that he was, he knew better than to take to the Marram Marshes on foot in the middle of the night. There was nothing else for it—the Trail was dead and he must return to the Castle.
The bullet boat began its long, cold journey to the Castle while the Hunter huddled in the stern, nursing his broken finger and contemplating the ruins of his Hunt. And his reputation.
“Serves him right,” said Marcia. “Horrible little man.”
“Not entirely professional,” a familiar voice boomed from the bottom of the Ditch, “but completely understandable, my dear. In my younger days I would have been tempted myself.”
“Alther!” gasped Marcia, turning a little pink.
MIDNIGHT AT THE BEACH
Uncle Alther!” yelled Jenna happily. She scrambled down the bank and joined Alther, who was standing on the beach staring, puzzled, at a fishing rod he was holding.
“Princess!” Alther beamed and gave her his ghostly hug, which always made Jenna feel as though a warm summer breeze had wafted through her.
“Well, well,” said Alther, “I used to come here fishing as a boy, and I seem to have brought the fishing rod too. I hoped I might find you all here.”
Jenna laughed. She could not believe that Uncle Alther had ever been a boy.
“Are you coming with us, Uncle Alther?” she asked.
“Sorry, Princess. I can’t. You know the rules of Ghosthood:
A Ghost may only tread once more
Where, living, he has trod before.
And, unfortunately, as a boy I never got farther than this beach here. Too many good fish to be had, you see. Now,” said Alther changing the subject, “is that a picnic basket I see in the bottom of the boat?”
Lying under a soggy coil of rope was the picnic basket that Sally Mullin had made up for them. Silas heaved it out.
“Oh, my back,” he groaned. “What has she put in it?” Silas lifted the lid. “Ah, that explains it.” He sighed. “Stuffed full of barley cake. Still, it made good ballast, hey?”
“Dad,” remonstrated Jenna. “Don’t be mean. Anyway, we like barley cake, don’t we, Nicko?”
Nicko pulled a face, but Boy 412 looked hopeful. Food. He was so hungry—he couldn’t even remember the last thing he had to eat. Oh, yes, that was it, a bowl of cold, lumpy porridge just before the 6 A.M. roll call that morning. It seemed a lifetime away.
Silas lifted out the other rather squashed items that lay under the barley cake. A tinder box and dry kindling, a can of water, some chocolate, sugar and milk. He set about making a small fire and hung the can of water over it to boil while everyone clustered around the flickering flames, warming up their cold hands in between chewing on the thick slabs of cake.