Suddenly the pile of leaves gave a lurch and a small wiry figure emerged, covered in dirt and bits of twig. Wolf Boy stood tensed like a runner waiting to start a race, glancing about. Nicko and Septimus instinctively stepped out of his territory.
"Don't look straight at him. Not to begin with. He gets scared," Nicko muttered under his breath.
Septimus could not help but steal a brief glance, and to his relief, Wolf Boy looked much more like a boy than a wolf. And he didn't even smell too bad either, more like damp earth than a wolverine. Wolf Boy was definitely human. He wore a short tunic of indeterminate color, which was tied around his waist with an old leather belt, and he had long, brown, matted hair, Forest style. His bright brown eyes, once they had finished checking out his surroundings, turned their attention to Nicko and Septimusparticularly to Septimus, who he looked up and down with a faintly puzzled air. Septimus felt the old embarrassment about his fancy clothes returning and, not for the first time, wished he had taken the time to roll in mud before coming to Camp Heap.
"Hi," said Nicko after a while. "You okay?"
Wolf Boy nodded, still staring at Septimus.
"We've come to ask you to help us," said Nicko in a slow, calm voice.
Wolf Boy at last took his gaze off Septimus and regarded Nicko with a solemn stare.
"We need you to help us find someone. Someone who has been taken away."
Wolf Boy showed no reaction.
"You understand?" asked Nicko. "It's really important. She's our sister. She's been kidnapped."
Wolf Boy's eyes widened briefly in surprise. Now it was Nicko and Septimus who were doing the staring, waiting for a response.
At last it came. Slowly, very slowly, Wolf Boy nodded.
Chapter 21 Wolf Boy
You ought to talk to Morwenna before you go," Jo-Jo told Septimus and Nicko. They were back at the campfire saying good-bye to Sam, Jo-Jo, Edd and Erik. Wolf Boy stood behind them, staring at Septimus, who shifted uncomfortably. He always knew when someone was watching him.
"Morwenna's scary," said Nicko. "What do we want to talk to her for, anyway?"
Jo-Jo heaved himself to his feet while the others lay on their backs, idly staring up at the small patch of brilliant blue sky, which shone through the leaves.
"She's the Witch Mother," said Jo-Jo. "She knows everything. I'll bet you she'll know where Jenna has gone."
"Perhaps we ought to see her," said Septimus. "Dad says that Morwenna has the gift of second sight."
"She's still scary," said Nicko, "and she always hugs you like she's going to squash you flat."
"C'mon," said Jo-Jo, "I'll take you there. It's on your way anyway."
A mocking chorus started up from the three boys lying around the fire. "He's going to see Mar-iiii-ssa, he's going to see Mar-iiii-ssa, he's going to see"
"Oh, shut up," growled Jo-Jo. He stormed out of the clearing and headed into the trees.
" 'Bye then," said Nicko to the remaining Heaps.
"Um. 'Bye," said Septimus.
Nicko and Septimus caught up with Jo-Jo, who was waiting for them behind a tree, out of sight of his brothers. They set off together, with Wolf Boy following noiselessly as they made their way through the trees. Jo-Jo knew the way well; he took them along a narrow but well-worn path that, after about half an hour's walking, brought them to the Wendron Witches' Summer Circle.
The Summer Circle consisted of a circle of tepees, constructed just like Jo-Jo's. They were perched on the top of the only hill in the entire Forest. It was a small hill and did not even reach above the canopy of the Forest itself, but it was light and airy and gave the witches a good view of all that went on around them.
As the four boys followed the footpath that spiraled around the hill, taking them up toward the tepees, a steady hum of purposeful chatter drifted down to them. Suddenly a voice called out, "Joby-Jo! Hello!"
"Marissa!" Jo-Jo called back, smiling broadly.
"Joby-Jois that what she calls you?" snorted Nicko, as a tall girl with long brown hair appeared at the top of the hill, waving and laughing.
"So?" asked Jojo. "So what if she does?"
"So nothing. Just asked." Nicko smirked.
Marissa came running down the hill to meet them.
"Marissa," said Jo-Jo, "these are my brothers Nicko and Septimus."
"Whatmore brothers, Joby?" Marissa laughed. "How many brothers do you need?"
"Don't need any more, that's for sure. I've brought them to see Morwenna."
"Good. She's expecting you. I'll take you to her. She's up in the Circle."
Morwenna Mould, Witch Mother of the Wendron Witch Forest Coven, was sitting on a rug at the entrance of the smartest tepee in the Circle. She was a large, impressive woman and she wore a capacious green summer tunic, which was tied around the middle with a white sash. Her long graying hair was held back with a green leather headband, and her piercing witch-blue eyes watched Wolf Boy, Jo-Jo, Nicko and Septimusparticularly Septimusmake their way across the Circle to her tepee.
"Thank you, Marissa dear," said Morwenna, then turned and smiled at the boys. "Welcome to the Forest, Septimus, Nicko. I have heard so much about you both from your father, my dear Silas. And you both look so much like him. In fact wherever I go in the Forest now I seem to bump into smalland indeed, some not so small anymoreversions of Silas. And all with the same wonderful green eyes too. Now, boys, sit down beside me for a few minutes. I won't keep you long, for you have a hazardous journey before you."
Nicko shot Septimus a glance, which said, What docs she mean, hazardous?
Septimus raised his eyebrows at Nicko but kept his gaze fixed on Morwenna. Septimus liked the Witch Mother, but he knew that underneath Morwenna's motherly appearance something unpredictable and powerful lurked. Until Morwenna had taken over the Forest Coven, the Wendron Witches had been greatly feared by the inhabitants of the Castle. But since Morwenna had become Witch Mother, the Wendron Witches had changed, although no one knew whyexcept for Silas Heap. Silas Heap knew it because one night many years ago, when he was a young man with only one baby son, and Morwenna was a beautiful young witch, Silas had rescued Morwenna from a pack of wolverines. In return Morwenna had offered him anything he wanted and, to her disappointment, he had asked that the Wendron Witches stop preying on the inhabitants of the Castle. A few years later, when Morwenna Mould became Witch Mother, she had kept her promisebut no one was sure how long the apparent truce would last, and it was still considered wise not to offend the Forest Coven.
Morwenna began to speak in a low, musical voice, and everyone paid attention. "You are going on a long journey and I foresee some troubles ahead," she said. "There are three things you must know. The first is that you will search for, and indeed find, your sister in the Port. The second is that a tall dark man, a stranger to some but not to all, will also search for your sister in the Port." Morwenna paused. The boys waited politely for her to tell them the third thing they must know, but Morwenna stayed silent, lost in thought and gazing at the changing patterns of the leaves against the sky.
Eventually Septimus said, "Excuse me, Witch Mother, but what is the third thing we must know?"
"What?" Morwenna snapped herself out of her reverie. "The third thing? Oh, yesdon't go to the circus."
Nicko burst out laughing. Septimus nudged him urgently and said, "Nikdon't be rude. It's not funny."
"Yes ... it is," spluttered Nicko under his breath, his shoulders shaking. He rolled onto the grass and lay on his stomach with his hands over his head, emitting loud snorting noises.
"I'm sorry about my brother, Witch Mother," said Septimus, worried. "He nearly got eaten by a wolverine last night and it has affected his mind." Septimus aimed a kick in Nicko's direction. It had no effect. Nicko was beside himself, snorting like a pig in a trough.
Morwenna smiled. "Do not worry, Septimus, I am used to the antics of young Heaps now. Maybe before your brothers had come to live in our Forest I would not have understood, but now, believe me, nothing surprises me where a Heap is concerned. They are their father's sons. And Nicko is only laughing. There is no harm in laughter."