Simon Heap, one hand held to his blinded right eye, the other grasping Thunder's reins, was on his way back to the Badlands.
Chapter 27 On Marram Marsh
Now?" Stanley said incredulously. "You want me to go back now?"
"That is what I said," snapped Aunt Zelda, who had just unwrapped Jenna's sash from Wolf Boy's burned hands and did not like what she found.
Stanley stood on the doorstep of Keeper's Cottage, looking out into the brilliant sunshine where Jenna, Nicko and Septimus were sitting beside the Dragon Boat. Jenna had a clean white bandage around her arm and Septimus looked much less pale after one of Aunt Zelda's Anti-Snake cakes. Nicko was happily dabbling his feet in the warm marsh water.
Stanley gazed at the Dragon Boat. It was the most beautiful boat the rat had ever seen, and he had seen a lot of boats. Her prow was a tall arched dragon neck covered in iridescent green scales, her head was a shimmering gold and her eyes were a deep dragon-green. The hull of the boat was wide and smooth and shone a deep burnished gold in the sunlight, and folded alongside it were a pair of leathery, green dragon wings. At the stern, where the massive mahogany tiller rested, the dragon's tail rose into the air, its golden arrow point flashing in the sunlight. It was a peaceful, happy scene and Stanley felt safe on Aunt Zelda's islandhe didn't want to leave. Aunt Zelda, however, had other ideas.
"There's no point hanging around," she told him. "If you go now you'll be off the Marsh by nightfall. It's the longest day of the year today and the best day to travel through the Marsh. It's far too hot for most of the creatures; they'll all be under the mud keeping cool."
"Except for the Bogle Bugs," Stanley said, gloomily scratching an ear. "Got followed by a cloud of Bogle Bugs all the way here. I'm still itching. Nasty things."
"Did they go up your nose?" asked Jenna, joining Stanley on the doorstep.
"What?" asked Stanley.
"The Bogle Bugs. Did they go up your nose? That's what they do. They go up your nose and then they clean out all the"
"Jenna, Jenna, please. There is no need to go into details. We all know quite well what Bogle Bugs do." Aunt Zelda's voice came from the other side of a half-open door under the stairs with the sign UNSTABLE POTIONS AND PARTIKULAR POISONS on it. She was in her potion cupboard, searching for some Burn Balm.
"Stanley doesn't," Jenna pointed out.
"Stanley doesn't need to," said Aunt Zelda, emerging from the cupboard with a large glass jar of pink ointment. "Bogle Bugs don't do rats. Anyway, I'm trying to get him to go back to Marcia and tell the poor womanand your mother and father toothat you are all safe. There's no need to worry him about Bogle Bugs as well as everything else."
"Won't he go?" asked Jenna.
The rat raised a paw in protest. "Excuse me," he said. "I'm still here. And I didn't exactly say I wouldn't go, Your Maj. Just that I would rather not go. If it's all the same to you."
"Well it's not all the same to me," said Jenna. "Or to Aunt Zelda."
"No. Didn't think it would be, somehow. I'll be off then. Do you have anything in particular you would like me to convey to the ExtraOrdinary?" Stanley asked glumly.
"Tell Marciaand my parents at the Palacethat we are all safe at Aunt Zelda's cottage and I have arrived in time for the MidSummer Visit."
"Fine. Will do, Your Majesty."
"Good," said Jenna. "Thank you, Stanley. I won't forget this, I promise. I know you don't like the Marshes."
"No. I don't." Stanley jumped off the doorstep.
"Wait a minute," Aunt Zelda called out. Stanley looked back, hoping that she may have changed her mind. "Would you like to take a sandwich with you? I've got some left over from lunch."
"Um, what would be in the sandwich, exactly?" asked Stanley warily.
"Cabbage. I stewed it all morning, so it's lovely and soft."
"Very kind of you, but no thanks. I'll be off now." And with that, Stanley ran down the path. He scurried over the Mott bridge and out onto the Marram Marshes.
"Well," said Aunt Zelda, "I hope he'll be all right."
"So do I," said Jenna.
By late afternoon, Wolf Boy had developed a fever. He lay on Aunt Zelda's sofa, his hands covered with Burn Balm and clean white bandages, mumbling deliriously, lapsing in and out of consciousness. Septimus sat beside him, holding a cool damp cloth on Wolf Boy's forehead, while Aunt Zelda leafed through a large and well-thumbed book, the Witch and Warlock Pharmacopoeia.
"It's a Darke burn, that's for sure," muttered Aunt Zelda. "I dread to think what that Simon Heap is up to. If he's incubated a Tracker Balland a very effective one toowho knows what else he can do."
"Flyte," said Septimus glumly, wishing that 409 would cool down.
"Flyte?" Aunt Zelda looked up from the book, eyebrows raised, with shock in her bright blue witch's eyes. "Real Flyte? Are you sure, Septimussure it wasn't just hovering and a bit of illusion? They're good at illusion, are the Darke ones."
"I'm sure. I mean he couldn't have got to us any other way. Not with the Marram Marshes to get across."
Aunt Zelda looked pensive as she continued turning the thick, crackly pages of the Pharmacopoeia, looking for the right potion. "Well, I just don't believe it," she said as she scanned each page of closely written vellum, trying to pick out the symbols she was looking for. "I mean, where has he got it from?"
"Marcia says the Flyte Charm doesn't exist," said Septimus. "She says it was thrown into a furnace by the Last Alchemist. He Sacrificed it in order to make the purest gold."
"Maybe," Aunt Zelda said. "Or maybe not."
"Oh?" asked Septimus, who was always interested to hear what Aunt Zelda had to say about Magyk. Her approach was refreshingly different from Marcia'sand sometimes Aunt Zelda knew surprising things that Marcia did not.
Aunt Zelda looked up from the Pharmacopoeia and regarded Septimus with a thoughtful expression. "This is between you and me," she said in a low voice.
"There is a story," Aunt Zelda continued, "that the Last Alchemist did not Sacrifice the Flyte Charm. That he kept it for himself. You see, it was made from the most beautiful gold there isfrom pure gold threads spun by the Spiders of Aurum. He fell in love with it and could not bear to let it go. So he Concealed it."
"Where?" asked Septimus.
Aunt Zelda shrugged. "Who knows? At the top of the tallest tree in the Forest? Under his mattress? In his socks?"
"Oh." Septimus was disappointed; he had expected more.
"But..." Aunt Zelda continued.
"I have always believed that the Flyte Charm was here."
"Here?" Septimus gasped. "In Keepers Cottage?"
"Shh. Yes." Aunt Zelda turned another page and squinted at the formulae scrawled across it. "Naturally I have looked everywhere for it, but the problem with these ancient Charms is that they come from the Darke Age of Magyk, and they often only respond to a touch of Darkenesseand that is one thing, Septimus, that I do not possess. Or have any wish to possess." The cloth on Wolf Boy's forehead had become hot. Still thinking about the Flyte Charm, Septimus got up and took the cloth into Aunt Zelda's small kitchen. He dipped it in a bucket of cool spring water and wrung it out, then sat down again beside Wolf Boy and carefully laid it back in place. Wolf Boy did not stir.
"But..." said Septimus.
"I thought there'd be a 'but'," Aunt Zelda said with a smile in her voice.
"But why did you think the Flyte Charm was here? I know you must have had a reason."
"Wellyou know, Septimus, that a Keeper may not marry?"
"And quite right too, for no wife should have to keep secrets from her husband, and a Keeper has many secrets to keep. But Broda Pye, one of the early Keepers, was secretly marriedto the Last Alchemist. It's my belief that her husband Concealed the Flyte Charm here. I also believe that she may have kept some part of it for herself, if her Keeper's Diaries are to be believedso the Flyte Charm may not be complete."
"Yes? Oh, this looks promising." Aunt Zelda was peering through her spectacles at a blackened page in the Witch and Warlock Pharmacopoeia.