Thin Crowe was wiry, with muscles like steel ropes. He grabbed Lucy around the waist, lifted her off her feet and headed rapidly to the side of the boat. "Let go!" squealed Lucy. Wolf Boy lunged at him - the only effect of which was to make Thin Crowe grab hold of him too.

"Throw 'em both off," said Skipper Fry.

Wolf Boy froze. He had a horror of falling from boats.

As though he were throwing the day's trash overboard, Thin Crowe heaved Wolf Boy and Lucy over the side of the boat. But the Marauder's hurried departure had led to what Skipper Fry would call sloppy seamanship - a loose mooring rope hung down over the side. Wolf Boy and Lucy grabbed the rope as they fell and dangled like a couple of fenders as the Marauder sped through the waves.

Expertly - for he had done this many times before - Thin Crowe leaned over and began to pry Wolf Boy's fingers from the rope. A more intelligent seaman would have cut the rope, but this did not occur to him. This did occur to Skipper Fry, however, who was watching impatiently.

"Cut the rope, fishbrain," he growled. "Let 'em sink or swim."

"I can't swim!" Lucy's voice came from over the side.

"Then yer can do the other thing," said the skipper with a gap-toothed scowl. On the tiller Jakey Fry watched in dismay. By now the Marauder had cleared the harbor and was heading out to open sea, where Jakey knew there was no hope for anyone who fell into the sea and could not swim. He thought Wolf Boy and Lucy - especially Lucy - looked like fun. With them on board, the prospect of the long days on the boat with his unpredictable father and the bullying Crowe suddenly took on a less dreadful aspect. And besides, Jakey didn't agree with throwing anyone off boats - even girls.

"No, Pa! Stop!" yelled Jakey. "If they drown 'tis worse luck even than the witch's evil eye."

"Don't mention the witch!" yelled Skipper Fry, beset with more bad omens than any skipper had a right to be.

"Stop 'im cutting the rope, Pa. Stop 'im or I'll turn back to Port."

"You will not!"

"I will!" With that, Jakey Fry pushed the tiller hard away from him; the great boom of the mainsail swung across and the Marauder began to turn. Skipper Fry gave in. To return to Port on the very tide on which a boat had left was known to be the worst luck of all. It was more than he could take.

"Leave 'em!" he shouted. Thin Crowe was energetically sawing the rope with his blunt fish knife. He was enjoying himself and was reluctant to stop.

"I said leave 'em!" yelled the skipper. "That's an order, Crowe. Pull 'em in and take 'em below."

Jakey Fry grinned. He pulled the tiller toward him and, as the Marauder swung back on course, he watched Lucy and Wolf Boy being pushed through the hatch into the hold below. The hatch was slammed shut and barred, and Jakey began to whistle happily. This voyage was going to be much more interesting than usual. Back on the harborside, Simon shook off concerned inquiries. He politely refused offers from three young women to come to their houses to get dry and, instead, set off back to his attic room in the Customs House.

"Simon. Simon!"

Simon ignored the familiar voice. He wanted to be alone. But Maureen from the pie shop was not easily put off. She caught up with him and placed a friendly hand on his arm. Simon turned to face her and Maureen was shocked - his lips were blue and his face was as white as the plates on which she displayed her pies.

"Simon, you're freezing. You come back with me and get warm by the ovens. I'll make you a nice hot chocolate."

Simon shook his head, but Maureen was adamant. She linked her arm firmly through his and propelled him across the square to the pie shop. Once inside, Maureen put up the Closed sign and pushed Simon through to the kitchen at the back.

"Now, sit," she instructed, as if Simon were a soaking wet Labrador that had been stupid enough to jump into the harbor. Obediently Simon sat in Maureen's chair beside the big pie oven. Suddenly he began to shiver uncontrollably. "I'll go and get some blankets," Maureen told him. "You can get out of that wet stuff and I'll dry it overnight."

Five minutes later Simon was swathed in a collection of rough, woolen blankets. Now and then a shiver passed through him, but the color had returned to his lips and he was no longer pie-plate white. "So, you saw Lucy?" Maureen was asking. Simon nodded miserably. "Much good it did me. She's got someone else - she was running away with him. I told you she would. I don't blame her." He put his head in his hands and another uncontrollable bout of shivering overcame him. Maureen was a practical woman, and she did not put up with being miserable for very long. She also believed that things were not always as bad as they might look.

"That's not what I heard," she said. "I heard that she and the boy were escaping from the Coven. We all saw the witch, Simon."

"Witch?" Simon raised his head. "What witch?"

"The really nasty one. The one that Shrank poor Florrie Bundy to the size of a tea bag, so they say."


"A tea bag. The tea-bag witch was chasing Lucy and the boy. She was after them on one of those FlashBoards - dangerous things."

"Chasing Lucy?" Simon lapsed into silence. He was thinking hard. In the past he had paid the occasional visit to the Coven. It was not something he enjoyed doing, but at the time he had respected the Coven for their Darke Powers, and he had particularly respected Linda, who, he remembered now, was indeed rumored to have Shrunk her neighbor. But Linda's commitment to the Darke, combined with her maliciousness, had scared even him, and the thought that she had been chasing Lucy made him shudder. Maureen added another blanket. "It does explain why they escaped on the Marauder," she said, getting up to tend the boiling kettle that dangled above the fire.

"The Marauder is the last boat anyone would choose to jump aboard."

Simon looked up at Maureen with a frown. "Why, what do you mean?"

"Nothing," Maureen replied quickly, immediately wishing she hadn't said anything. What good would it do Simon to worry about something he could do nothing about?

"Tell me, Maureen. I want to know," Simon said, looking her in the eye. Maureen did not reply. Instead she got up and walked over to a small stove, where she had set a pan of milk to heat. She busied herself there for some minutes, concentrating on dissolving three squares of chocolate into the hot milk. She brought the steaming bowl over to Simon. "Drink that," she said, "and then I'll tell you."

Still beset by the occasional shiver, Simon sipped the hot chocolate. Maureen perched on a small stool beside the oven. "It's strange," she said. "There's something about the pie counter that makes people think it's a soundproof barrier and you can't hear what they're saying on the other side of it. I've heard a lot of things while selling pies - things I wasn't meant to hear."

"So what have you heard about the Marauder?" asked Simon.

"Well, it's more about the skipper really..."

"What about the skipper?"

"He's bad news. They remember him here when he was just plain Joe Grub from a family of wreckers up the coast. But now that there're more lighthouses, it's not so easy to go wrecking, is it? And that's a blessing, if you ask me. It's a terrible thing to lure a ship to her doom on the rocks, a terrible thing. So with the profit gone from the wrecking, Grub got himself taken on by one of those pirate ships that call in here sometimes, and he came back with a bag of gold and a fancy new name to boot. Some say he got both from some poor gentleman he threw overboard. But others say..." Maureen stopped, unwilling to go on.

"Others say what?" asked Simon.

Maureen shook her head.

"Please, you have to tell me," said Simon. "If I am going to be able to help Lucy, I must know everything I can. Please."

Maureen was still reluctant, partly because it was considered bad luck to talk about such things.

"Well...others say that a change of name means a change of master. They say the skipper's new master is an ancient ghost up at the Castle, and that's where all his money came from. But imagine working for a ghost - how creepy is that?" Maureen shivered. "I don't believe a word of it myself," she said briskly.

But Simon did. "A ghoul's fool," he murmured.

"You what?" Maureen asked, getting up to put another log in the fire below the oven. All the talk of ghosts made her feel cold.

Tags: Angie Sage Septimus Heap Fantasy