“Jenna, talk to him while I get the Physik chest. Keep talking to him and let him know we’re here. Don’t let him slip away. Nicko, get some hot water from the pot.”
Boy 412 went to help Aunt Zelda with the Physik chest, while Jenna held the Boggart’s damp and muddy paws and talked to him in a low voice, hoping that she sounded calmer than she felt.
“Boggart, it’s all right, Boggart. You’ll be better soon. You will. Can you hear me, Boggart? Boggart? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.”
A very faint movement of the Boggart’s webbed fingers brushed against Jenna’s hand.
“That’s it, Boggart. We’re still here. You’ll be all right. You will…”
Aunt Zelda and Boy 412 came back with a large wooden chest, which they set down on the floor. Nicko put a bowl of hot water on the table.
“Right,” said Aunt Zelda. “Thank you, everyone. Now I’d like you to leave me and Boggart to get on with this. Go and keep Bert and Maxie company.”
But they were unwilling to leave the Boggart.
“Go on,” Aunt Zelda insisted.
Jenna reluctantly let go of the Boggart’s floppy paw, then she followed Nicko and Boy 412 out of the kitchen. The door was closed firmly behind them.
Jenna, Nicko and Boy 412 sat glumly on the floor by the fire. Nicko cuddled up to Maxie. Jenna and Boy 412 just stared at the fire, deep in their own thoughts.
Boy 412 was thinking about his Magyk ring. If he gave the ring to Aunt Zelda, he thought, maybe it would cure the Boggart. But if he did give her the ring, she would want to know where he had found it. And something told Boy 412 that if she knew where he had found it, she would be mad. Really mad. And maybe send him away. Anyway, it was stealing, wasn’t it? He had stolen the ring. It wasn’t his. But it might save the Boggart…
The more Boy 412 thought about it, the more he knew what he had to do. He had to let Aunt Zelda have the dragon ring.
“Aunt Zelda said to leave her alone,” said Jenna as Boy 412 got up and walked toward the closed kitchen door.
Boy 412 took no notice.
“Don’t,” snapped Jenna. She jumped up to stop him, but at that moment the kitchen door opened.
Aunt Zelda came out. Her face was white and drawn, and she had blood all over her apron.
“Boggart’s been shot,” she said.
WATCH AND WAIT
The bullet was lying on the kitchen table. A small lead ball with a tuft of Boggart fur still stuck to it, it sat menacingly in the middle of Aunt Zelda’s newly scrubbed table.
The Boggart lay quietly in a tin bath on the floor, but he looked too small, thin and unnaturally clean to be the Boggart they all knew and loved. A broad bandage made of a torn sheet was wrapped around his middle, but already a red stain was spreading across the whiteness of the cloth.
His eyes fluttered slightly as Jenna, Nicko and Boy 412 crept into the kitchen.
“He’s to be sponged down with warm water as often as we can,” said Aunt Zelda. “We mustn’t let him dry out. But do not get the bullet wound wet. And he needs to be kept clean. No mud for at least three days. I’ve put some yarrow leaves under his bandage, and I’m just boiling him up some willow bark tea. It will take the pain away.”
“But will he be all right?” asked Jenna.
“Yes, he’ll be fine.” Aunt Zelda allowed herself a small, strained smile as she stirred the willow bark around a large copper pan.
“But the bullet. I mean who would do this?” Jenna found her eyes drawn to the ball of black lead, an unwelcome and threatening intruder that posed too many nasty questions.
“I don’t know,” said Aunt Zelda in a low voice. “I’ve asked Boggart, but he’s in no state to speak. I think we should keep watch tonight.”
So, while Aunt Zelda tended the Boggart, Jenna, Nicko and Boy 412 took themselves and the Preserve Pots outside.
Once they were in the chill night air, Boy 412’s Young Army training took over. He scouted around for somewhere that would give a good view of all the approaches to the island but at the same time give them somewhere to hide. He soon found what he was looking for. The chicken boat.
It was a good choice. At night the chickens were safely shut away in the hold of the boat, leaving the deck free. Boy 412 clambered up and crouched down behind the dilapidated wheelhouse, then he beckoned Jenna and Nicko to join him. They climbed into the chicken run and passed the Preserve Pots up to Boy 412. Then they joined him in the wheelhouse.
It was a cloudy night, and the moon was mostly hidden, but every now and then it appeared and shone a clear white light over the marshes, giving a good view for miles around. Boy 412 cast an expert eye over the landscape, checking for movement and telltale signs of disturbance just as he had been taught to by the ghastly Deputy Hunter, Catchpole. Boy 412 still remembered Catchpole with a shudder. He was an extremely tall man, which was one of the reasons he had never made it to be Hunter—he was just too visible. There were also many other reasons, such as his unpredictable temper; his habit of clicking his fingers when he got tense, which often gave him away just as he had reached his prey; and his dislike of too many baths, which had also saved those he hunted who had a keen sense of smell—provided the wind was blowing in the right direction. But the main reason Catchpole had never made it to Hunter was due to the simple fact that no one liked him.
Boy 412 didn’t like him either, but he had learned a lot from him, once he had got used to the temper tantrums, the smell and the clicking. And one of the things that Boy 412 remembered was watch and wait. That’s what Catchpole used to say over and over again, until it stuck in Boy 412’s head like an irritating tune. Watch and wait, watch and wait, watch and wait, boy.
The theory was that if the watcher waited long enough, the prey would surely reveal itself. It may be only the slight movement of a small branch, the momentary rustling of leaves underfoot or the sudden disturbance of a small animal or bird, but the sign would surely come. All the watcher had to do was wait for it. And then, of course, recognize it when it came. That was the hardest part, and the bit that Boy 412 was not always very good at. But this time, he thought, this time without the pungent breath of the revolting Catchpole breathing down his neck, he could do it. He was sure he could.
It was cold up in the wheelhouse, but there was a pile of old sacks stacked up there, so they wrapped themselves in them and settled down to wait. And watch. And wait.
Although the marshes were still and calm, the clouds in the sky were racing past the moon, one moment obscuring it and plunging the landscape into gloom, the next rolling away and allowing the moonlight to flood over the marshland. It was in one of these moments, when the moonlight suddenly lit up the crisscross network of drainage ditches that covered the Marram Marshes, that Boy 412 saw something. Or he thought he did. Excited, he grabbed hold of Nicko and pointed in the direction where he thought he had seen something, but just at that moment the clouds covered the moon again. So, crouched in the wheelhouse, they waited. And watched and waited some more.
It seemed to take forever for the long, thin cloud to wander across the moon, and as they waited, Jenna knew that the last thing she wanted to see was someone, or something, making its way through the marsh. She wished that whoever it was who had shot the Boggart had suddenly remembered that they had left the kettle boiling on the fire and had decided to go home and take it off before their house burned down. But she knew they hadn’t because suddenly the moon had come out from behind the cloud, and Boy 412 was pointing at something again.
At first Jenna couldn’t see anything at all. The flat marshland stretched below her as she peered through the old wheelhouse like a fisherman searching the sea for the sign of a shoal of fish. And then she saw it. Slowly and steadily, a long black shape was making its way along one of the distant drainage ditches.
“It’s a canoe…” whispered Nicko.
Jenna’s spirits rose. “Is it Dad?”
“No,” whispered Nicko, “there’re two people. Maybe three. I can’t be sure.”
“I’ll go and tell Aunt Zelda,” said Jenna. She got up to go, but Boy 412 put his hand on her arm to stop her.
“What?” whispered Jenna.
Boy 412 shook his head and put his finger to his lips.
“I think he thinks you might make a noise and give us away,” whispered Nicko. “Sound travels a long way over the marsh at night.”