Jenna, Nicko and Maxie had got up early to wave Silas off and give him messages for Sarah and the boys. The air was cold and frosty, and their breath hung in white clouds. Silas wrapped his heavy blue woolen cloak around him and pulled up his hood, while the Message Rat stood beside him shivering a little, and not entirely with the cold.
The rat could hear horrible choking noises from Maxie close behind him as Nicko kept a tight grip on the wolfhound’s neckerchief, and, as if that wasn’t enough, he had just caught sight of the Boggart.
“Ah, Boggart.” Aunt Zelda smiled. “Thank you very much, Boggart dear, for staying up. Here’s some sandwiches to keep you going. I’ll put them in the canoe. There’s some for you and the rat too, Silas.”
“Oh. Well, thank you, Zelda. What kind of sandwiches would they be, exactly?”
“Best boiled cabbage.”
“Ah. Well, that’s most…thoughtful.” Silas was glad he had smuggled some bread and cheese in his sleeve.
The Boggart was floating grumpily in the Mott and was not completely placated by the mention of cabbage sandwiches. He did not like being out in the daylight, even in the middle of winter. It made his weak Boggart eyes ache, and the sunlight burned his ears if he was not careful.
The Message Rat sat unhappily on the bank of the Mott, caught between dog breath behind him and Boggart Breath in front of him.
“Right,” said Silas to the rat. “In you get. I expect you’ll want to sit at the front. Maxie always does.”
“I am not a dog,” sniffed Stanley, “and I don’t travel with Boggarts.”
“This Boggart is a safe Boggart,” Aunt Zelda told him.
“There’s no such thing as a safe Boggart,” muttered Stanley. Catching a glimpse of Marcia coming out of the cottage to wave Silas off, he said no more, but jumped smartly into the canoe and hid under the seat.
“Be careful, Dad,” Jenna told Silas, hugging him tightly.
Nicko hugged Silas too. “Find Simon, Dad. And don’t forget to stay by the edge of the river if the tide’s against you. The tide always flows faster in the middle.”
“I won’t forget.” Silas smiled. “Look after each other, both of you. And Maxie.”
Maxie whined and yelped as he saw, to his dismay, that Silas really was leaving him.
“Bye!” Silas waved as he unsteadily steered the canoe along the Mott to the familiar Boggart inquiry: “You followin’?”
Jenna and Nicko watched the canoe make its way slowly along the winding ditches and out into the wide expanse of the Marram Marshes until they could no longer make out Silas’s blue hood.
“I hope Dad’ll be all right,” said Jenna quietly. “He’s not very good at finding places.”
“The Message Rat will make sure he gets there,” said Nicko. “He knows he’ll have some explaining to do to Marcia if he doesn’t.”
Deep in the Marram Marshes the Message Rat sat in the canoe surveying the first package he had ever had to deliver. He had decided not to mention it to Dawnie, or to the rats at the Rat Office; it was all, he sighed to himself, highly irregular.
But after a while, as Silas took them slowly and somewhat erratically through the twisting channels of the marsh, Stanley began to see that this was not such a bad way to travel. He did after all have a ride all the way to his destination. And all he had to do was sit there, tell a few stories and enjoy the ride while Silas did all the work.
And that, as Silas said good-bye to the Boggart at the end of Deppen Ditch and started paddling up the river on his way to the Forest, is exactly what the Message Rat did.
That evening the east wind blew in across the marshes.
Aunt Zelda closed the wooden shutters on the windows and CharmLocked the door to the cat tunnel, making sure that Bert was safely indoors first. Then she walked around the cottage, lighting the lamps and placing storm candles at the windows to keep the wind at bay. She was looking forward to a quiet time at her desk updating her potion list.
But Marcia had got there first. She was leafing through some small Magyk books and busily making notes. Every now and then she tried out a quick spell to see if it still worked, and there would be a small popping noise and a peculiar-smelling puff of smoke. Aunt Zelda was not pleased to see what Marcia had done to the desk either. Marcia had given the desk duck feet to stop it from wobbling and a pair of arms to help with organizing the paperwork.
“When you’ve quite finished, Marcia, I’d like my desk back,” said Aunt Zelda irritably.
“All yours, Zelda,” Marcia said cheerily. She picked up a small square book and took it over to the fireside with her, leaving a pile of mess on the desk. Aunt Zelda swept the mess onto the floor before the arms could grab it and sat herself down with a sigh.
Marcia joined Jenna, Nicko and Boy 412 by the fire. She sat down next to them and opened the book, which Jenna could see was called:
and Unharm Charms
For the Use of the Beginner
and Those of Simple Mind
Compiled and Guaranteed by the Wizard Assurance League
“Simple Mind?” said Jenna. “That’s a bit rude, isn’t it?”
“Pay no attention to that,” said Marcia. “It’s very old-fashioned. But the old ones are often the best. Nice and simple, before every Wizard tried to get their own name on spells just by tinkering with them a little, which is when you get trouble. I remember I found what seemed like an easy Fetch Spell once. Latest edition with lots of brand-new unused Charms, which I suppose should have warned me. When I got it to Fetch my python shoes, it Fetched the wretched python as well. Not exactly what you want to see first thing in the morning.”
Marcia was busy leafing through the book.
“There’s an easy version of Cause Yourself to be Unseen somewhere here. I found it yesterday…Ah, yes, here it is.”
Jenna peered over Marcia’s shoulder at the yellowed page that Marcia had open. Like all Magyk books, each page had a different spell or incantation on it, and in the older books these would be carefully written by hand in various strange colored inks. Underneath each spell the page was folded back on itself to form a pocket in which the Charms were placed. The Charm contained the Magyk imprint of the spell. It was often a piece of parchment, although it could be anything. Marcia had seen Charms written on bits of silk, wood, shells and even toast, although that one had not worked properly, as mice had nibbled the ending.
And so this was how a Magyk book worked: the first Wizard to create the spell wrote down the words and instructions on whatever he or she had at hand. It was best to write it down at once, as Wizards are notoriously forgetful creatures, and also the Magyk will fade if not captured quickly. So possibly, if the Wizard were in the middle of having breakfast when he or she thought of the spell, they might just use a piece of (preferably unbuttered) toast. This was the Charm. The number of Charms made would depend on how many times the Wizard wrote down the spell. Or on how many pieces of toast were made for breakfast.
When a Wizard had collected enough spells together, he or she would usually bind them into a book for safekeeping; although, many Magyk books were collections of older books that had fallen apart and been remixed in various forms. A full Magyk book with all its Charms still in their pockets was a rare treasure. It was far more common to find a virtually empty book with only one or two of the less popular Charms still in place.
Some Wizards only made one or two Charms for their more complicated spells, and these were very hard to find, although most Charms could be found in the Pyramid Library back at the Wizard Tower. Marcia missed her library more than anything else in the Tower, but she had been surprised and very pleased with Aunt Zelda’s collection of Magyk books.
“Here you are,” said Marcia, passing the book to Jenna. “Why don’t you take out a Charm?”
Jenna took the small and surprisingly heavy book. It was open at a grubby and much-thumbed page that was written in faded purple ink and large neat writing, which was easy to read.
The words said:
Cause Yourself to be Unseen
a Valued and Esteem’d Spelle
for all those Persons who might wishe
(for Reasons only Pertaining to their
Owne or Others’ safekeeping)
to be Missed by those who may cause