“Shhh,” whispered Boy 412. “He might hear us. Through the ground. They train them to hear like dogs.”
Jenna fell silent. She had forgotten about the Hunter, and now she didn’t want to be reminded.
“There’re pictures all over the walls,” Jenna whispered to Boy 412, “and I know I’ve dreamed about them. They look really old. It’s like they’re telling a story.”
Boy 412 hadn’t taken much notice of the pictures before, but now he held his ring up to the smooth marble walls that formed this part of the tunnel. He could see simple, almost primitive shapes in deep blues, reds and yellows showing what seemed to be dragons, a boat being built, then a lighthouse and a shipwreck.
Jenna pointed to more shapes farther along the wall. “And these look like plans for a tower or something.”
“It’s the Wizard Tower,” said Boy 412. “Look at the Pyramid on the top.”
“I didn’t know the Wizard Tower was so old,” said Jenna, running her finger over the paint and thinking that maybe she was the first person to see the pictures for thousands of years.
“The Wizard Tower is very old,” said Boy 412. “No one knows when it was built.”
“How do you know?” asked Jenna, surprised that Boy 412 was so definite.
Boy 412 took a deep breath and said in a singsong voice, “The Wizard Tower is an Ancient Monument. Precious resources are squandered by the ExtraOrdinary Wizard to keep the Tower in its garish state of opulence, resources that could be used for healing the sick or making the Castle a more secure place for all to live. See, I can still remember it. We used to have to recite stuff like that every week in our Know Your Enemy lesson.”
“Yuck,” sympathized Jenna. “Hey, I bet Aunt Zelda would be interested in all this down here,” she whispered as she followed Boy 412 along the tunnel.
“She knows all about it already,” said Boy 412, remembering Aunt Zelda’s disappearance from the potion cupboard. “And I think she knows that I know.”
“Why? Did she say?” asked Jenna, wondering how she had missed all this.
“No,” said Boy 412. “But she gave me a funny look.”
“She gives everyone funny looks,” Jenna pointed out. “It doesn’t mean she thinks they’ve been down some secret tunnel.”
They walked on a little farther. The line of pictures had just ended and they had reached some steep steps leading upward. Jenna’s attention was caught by a small rock nestled beside the bottom step. She picked it up and showed it to Boy 412.
“Hey, look at this. Isn’t it lovely?”
Jenna was holding a large egg-shaped green stone. It was slippery-smooth as though someone had just polished it, and it shone with a dull sheen in the light of the ring. The green had an iridescent quality to it, like a dragonfly’s wing, and it lay heavily but perfectly balanced in her two cupped hands.
“It’s so smooth,” said Boy 412, stroking it gently.
“Here, you have it,” said Jenna impulsively. “It can be your own pet rock. Like Petroc Trelawney, only bigger. We could ask Dad to get a spell for it when we go back to the Castle.”
Boy 412 took the green rock. He wasn’t sure what to say. No one had ever given him a present before. He put the rock into his secret pocket on the inside of his sheepskin jacket. Then he remembered what Aunt Zelda had said to him when he had brought her some herbs from the garden.
“Thank you,” he said.
Something in the way he spoke reminded Jenna of Nicko.
Nicko and the Hunter.
“We’ve got to get back,” said Jenna anxiously.
Boy 412 nodded. He knew they had to go and face whatever may be waiting for them outside. He had just been enjoying feeling safe for a while.
But he knew it couldn’t last.
The trapdoor slowly rose a few inches, and Boy 412 peered out. A chill ran though him. The door to the potion cupboard had been thrown wide open, and he was looking straight at the heels of the Hunter’s muddy brown boots.
Standing with his back to the potion cupboard, only a few feet away, was the figure of the Hunter, his green cloak thrown over his shoulder and his silver pistol held at the ready. He was facing the kitchen door, poised as if about to rush forward.
Boy 412 waited to see what the Hunter was about to do, but the man did nothing at all. He was, thought Boy 412, waiting. Probably for Aunt Zelda to walk out of the kitchen.
Willing Aunt Zelda to stay away, Boy 412 reached down and held his hand out for Jenna’s Shield Bug.
Jenna stood anxiously on the ladder below him. She could tell that all was not well from how tense and still Boy 412 had become. When his hand reached down she took the rolled-up Shield Bug from her pocket and passed it up to Boy 412, as they had planned, sending it a silent good luck wish as she did so. Jenna had begun to like the bug and was sorry to see it go.
Carefully, Boy 412 took the bug and slowly pushed it through the open trapdoor. He set the tiny armored green ball down on the floor, making sure he kept hold of it, and pointed it in the right direction.
Straight at the Hunter.
Then he let go. At once the bug uncurled itself, locked its piercing green eyes on to the Hunter and unsheathed its sword with a small swishing noise. Boy 412 held his breath at the noise and hoped the Hunter had not heard, but the stocky man in green made no move. Boy 412 slowly breathed out and, with a flick of his finger, he sent the bug into the air, toward its target, with a shrill shriek.
The Hunter did nothing.
He didn’t turn or even flinch as the bug landed on his shoulder and raised its sword to strike. Boy 412 was impressed. He knew the Hunter was tough, but surely this was taking things too far.
And then Aunt Zelda appeared.
“Look out!” yelled Boy 412. “The Hunter!”
Aunt Zelda jumped. Not because of the Hunter but because she had never heard Boy 412 speak before and so she had no idea who had spoken. Or where the unknown voice was coming from.
Then, to Boy 412’s amazement, Aunt Zelda snatched the Shield Bug off the Hunter and tapped it to make it roll back into a ball.
And still the Hunter did nothing.
Briskly, Aunt Zelda put the bug into one of her many patchwork pockets and looked around her, wondering where the unfamiliar voice had come from. And then she caught sight of Boy 412 peering out from the slightly raised trapdoor.
“Is that you?” she gasped. “Thank goodness you’re all right. Where’s Jenna?”
“Here,” said Boy 412, half afraid to speak in case the Hunter heard. But the Hunter gave no sign of having heard anything at all, and Aunt Zelda treated him as nothing more than an awkward piece of furniture as she walked around his immobile figure, lifted up the trapdoor and helped Boy 412 and Jenna out.
“What a wonderful sight, both of you safe,” she said happily. “I was so worried.”
“But—what about him.” Boy 412 pointed to the Hunter.
“Frozen,” said Aunt Zelda with an air of satisfaction. “Frozen solid and staying that way. Until I decide what to do with him.”
“Where’s Nicko? Is he all right?” asked Jenna as she clambered out.
“He’s fine. He’s gone after the Apprentice,” said Aunt Zelda.
As Aunt Zelda finished speaking, the front door crashed open and the dripping-wet Apprentice was propelled inside, followed by an equally dripping-wet Nicko.
“Pig,” spat Nicko, slamming the door. He let go of the boy and went over to the blazing fire to get dry.
The Apprentice dripped unhappily on the floor and looked over to the Hunter for help. He dripped even more unhappily when he saw what had happened. The Hunter stood Frozen in mid-lunge with his pistol, staring into space with empty eyes. The Apprentice gulped—a big woman in a patchwork tent was advancing purposefully toward him, and he knew only too well who it was from the Illustrated Enemy Cards he had had to study before he came on the Hunt.
It was the Mad White Witch, Zelda Zanuba Heap.
Not to mention the Wizard boy, Nickolas Benjamin Heap, and 412, the lowlife runaway deserter. They were all here, just as he had been told they would be. But where was the one they had really come for? Where was the Queenling?
The Apprentice looked around and caught sight of Jenna in the shadows behind Boy 412. He took in Jenna’s gold circlet shining against her long dark hair and her violet eyes, just like the picture on the Enemy Card (drawn very skillfully by Linda Lane, the spy). The Queenling was a little taller than he had expected, but it was definitely her.