“I don’t know,” replied Aunt Zelda. “But whoever it is, they’re in the marshes now. Just arrived. I can feel it. Go and lie down, Maxie. Good boy. Now, where’s that Boggart?”
Aunt Zelda gave a piercing whistle. The squat brown figure climbed out of the Mott and waddled up the path to the cottage.
“Not so loud,” he complained, rubbing his small round ears. “Goes right through me that does.” He nodded to Jenna. “Evenin’, miss.”
“Hello, Boggart.” Jenna smiled. The Boggart always made her smile.
“Boggart,” said Aunt Zelda, “there’s someone coming through the marshes. More than one perhaps. I’m not sure. Can you just nip off and find out who it is?”
“No trouble. Could do with a swim. Won’t be long,” said the Boggart. Jenna watched him waddle off down to the Mott and disappear into the water with a quiet splash.
“While we’re waiting for Boggart we should get the Preserve Pots ready,” said Aunt Zelda. “Just in case.”
“But Dad said you made the cottage Enchanted after the Brownie raid,” said Jenna. “Doesn’t that mean we’re safe?”
“Only against Brownies,” said Aunt Zelda, “and even that’s wearing off by now. Anyway, whoever is coming across the marsh feels a lot bigger than a Brownie to me.”
Aunt Zelda went to find the Shield Bug Preserves spell book.
Jenna looked at the Preserve Pots, which were still lined up on the windowsills. Inside the thick green gloop the Shield Bugs were waiting. Most were sleeping, but some were slowly moving about as if they knew they might be needed. For who? wondered Jenna. Or what?
“Here we are,” said Aunt Zelda as she appeared with the spell book and thumped it down on the table. She opened it at the first page and took out a small silver hammer, which she handed to Jenna.
“Right, here’s the Activate,” she said to her. “If you could just go round and tap each Pot with this, then they’ll be Ready.”
Jenna took the silver hammer and walked along the lines of Pots, tapping on every lid. As she did so, each Pot’s inhabitant woke up and snapped to attention. Before long there was an army of fifty-six Shield Bugs waiting to be released. Jenna reached the last Pot, which contained the ex-millipede. She tapped the lid with the silver hammer. To her surprise, the lid flew off, and the Shield Bug shot out in a shower of green goo. It landed on Jenna’s arm.
The released Shield Bug crouched, sword at the ready, on Jenna’s forearm. She stood frozen to the spot, waiting for the bug to turn and attack her, forgetting that the bug’s only mission was to defend its Releaser from her enemies. Which it was busy looking for.
The Shield’s green armored scales moved fluidly as it shifted about, sizing up the room. Its thick right arm held a razor-sharp sword that glinted in the candlelight and its short powerful legs moved restlessly as the bug shifted its weight from one large foot to the other while it sized up the potential enemies.
But the potential enemies were a disappointing lot.
There was a large patchwork tent with bright blue eyes staring at it.
“Just put your hand over the bug,” the tent whispered to the Releaser. “It will curl up into a ball. Then we’ll try and get it back into the Pot.”
The Releaser looked at the sharp little sword the bug was waving around, and she hesitated.
“I’ll do it if you like,” said the tent and moved toward the bug. The bug swung around menacingly, and the tent stopped in her tracks, wondering what was wrong. They had Imprinted all the bugs, hadn’t they? It should realize that none of them was the enemy. But this bug realized no such thing. It crouched on Jenna’s arm, continuing its search.
Now it saw what it was looking for. Two young warriors carrying pikestaffs, poised to attack. And one of them was wearing a red hat. From a dim and distant previous life the Shield Bug remembered that red hat. It had done him wrong. The bug didn’t know exactly what the wrong was, but that made no difference.
It had sighted the enemy.
With a fearsome screech, the bug leaped off Jenna’s arm, flapping its heavy wings, and set off through the air with a metallic clattering noise. The bug was heading straight for Boy 412 like a tiny guided missile, its sword held high above its head. It was squealing loudly, its wide-open mouth showing rows of little pointed green teeth.
“Hit it!” yelled Aunt Zelda. “Quick, bop it on the head!”
Boy 412 gave a wild swipe with his broom handle at the advancing bug but missed. Nicko aimed a blow, but the bug swerved at the last moment, shrieking and waving its sword at Boy 412. Boy 412 stared in disbelief at the bug, terribly aware of the bug’s pointy sword.
“Keep still!” said Aunt Zelda in a hoarse whisper. “Whatever you do, don’t move.”
Boy 412 watched, horrified, as the bug landed on his shoulder and advanced purposefully toward his neck, raising its sword like a dagger.
Jenna sprang forward.
“No!” she yelled. The bug turned toward its Releaser. It didn’t understand what Jenna said, but as she clamped her hand over it, the bug sheathed its sword and curled itself obediently into a ball. Boy 412 sat down on the floor with a bump.
Aunt Zelda was ready with the empty Pot, and Jenna tried to stuff the curled-up Shield Bug into it. It wouldn’t go in. First one arm stayed out, then another. Jenna folded both arms in, only to find that a big green foot had kicked its way out of the jar. Jenna pushed and squeezed, but the Shield Bug struggled and fought against going back into the Pot with all its might.
Jenna was afraid it might suddenly turn nasty and use its sword, but desperate as the bug was to stay out of the Pot, it never unsheathed its sword. The safety of its Releaser was its prime concern. And how could the Releaser be safe if its protector was back in its Pot?
“You’ll have to let it stay out,” sighed Aunt Zelda. “I’ve never known anyone able to put one back. I sometimes think they are more trouble than they’re worth. Still, Marcia was very insistent. As always.”
“But what about Boy 412?” asked Jenna. “If it stays out, won’t it just keep attacking him?”
“Not now that you’ve taken it off him. It should be all right.”
Boy 412 looked unimpressed. “Should” was not quite what he wanted to hear. “Definitely” was more what he had in mind.
The Shield Bug settled down on Jenna’s shoulder. For a few minutes it eyed everyone suspiciously, but every time it made a move, Jenna put her hand over it, and soon the bug quieted down.
Until something scratched at the door.
Outside on the door something was scratching its claws down the door.
The Shield Bug stood up and unsheathed its sword. This time Jenna did not stop it. The bug hovered on her shoulder, poised to jump.
“Go see if it’s a friend, Bert,” said Aunt Zelda calmly. The duck waddled over to the door, cocked its head to one side and listened, then gave one short meow.
“It’s a friend,” said Aunt Zelda. “Must be the Boggart. Don’t know why he’s scratching like that though.”
Aunt Zelda opened the door and screamed, “Boggart! Oh, Boggart!”
The Boggart lay bleeding on the doorstep.
Aunt Zelda knelt down by the Boggart, and everyone crowded around. “Boggart, Boggart, dear. What has happened?”
The Boggart said nothing. His eyes were closed, his fur dull and matted with blood. He slumped down onto the ground, having used his last ounce of strength to reach the cottage.
“Oh, Boggart…open your eyes, Boggart…” cried Aunt Zelda. There was no response. “Help me lift him, someone. Quick.”
Nicko jumped forward and helped Aunt Zelda sit the Boggart up, but he was a slippery, heavy creature, and everyone’s help was needed to get him inside. They carried the Boggart into the kitchen, trying not to notice the trail of blood that dripped onto the floor as they went, and they laid him on the kitchen table.
Aunt Zelda placed her hand on the Boggart’s chest.
“He’s still breathing,” she said, “but only just. And his heart is fluttering like a bird. It’s very weak.” She stifled a sob, then shook herself and snapped into action.