"Wait," he told her.
"But Nicko - " Jenna protested.
Wolf Boy looked at Septimus. "Not yet, 412 - yeah?"
Septimus nodded. He knew Wolf Boy was calculating the odds, just as they had been taught in the Young Army. And right then the odds were stacked against them in the form of knives, ruthlessness and brute strength. They desperately needed something in their favor, and they had only one thing - surprise.
"To Win the Fight, Time It Right," Septimus said. Exasperated, Jenna raised her eyes to heaven.
"But Jen, it's true," said Septimus. "We must get the timing right. When they least expect it we pounce. Okay, 409?"
Wolf Boy gave Septimus a thumbs-up and a grin. This was like the old days - only a thousand times better. They were together in their own platoon and they were going to win.
Jenna, however, didn't see it that way. Horrified, she watched Skipper Fry follow the Crowes up the ladder, the glow from the Light glinting off a large cutlass thrust into his waistband. The Crowe twins had reached the top. They stopped and waited for Skipper Fry; then all three slipped silently onto the ship.
On the Cerys shouts broke out and someone screamed. Jenna could stand it no longer. She pulled away from Wolf Boy and ran out from the rock, splashing through the shallow water and leaping across the raised sandbars toward the stricken ship while the sound of screams, yells and thud s echoed down. Jakey Fry saw Jenna coming, but he did not move. He saw four more figures slip out from behind the rock and follow her, but still he did not move. He watched the figures reach the body of the sailor, saw them kneel down and turn the man over, and Jakey felt terrible. He clung to the ladder, apparently obeying his father's last words to him: "Hold on to that ladder, you little pikey, and don't you dare let go whatever happens, got that?"
But actually Jakey was too shocked to let go.
Jakey watched the five figures pick up the sailor and stagger with him back to a nearby flat rock. He wanted to go and help, but he didn't dare - right then he didn't dare do anything at all. He saw them haul the sailor up onto the rock, and then a boy with a nest of straw on his head kneeled beside him. A few seconds later, the boy got to his feet and pointed angrily at Jakey.
Suddenly Jakey heard his father's threatening bellow cut through the sounds of the fight above and all went quiet. Jakey shuddered. His father probably had a knife to someone's throat - that was the way he usually got what he wanted. He glanced up but could see nothing but the barnacled curve of the Cerys's hull. When he looked down he saw the boy-with-the-nest-of-straw-on-his-head and his four friends - one of whom was Lucy Gringe - heading straight for him. Jakey gulped. He was in for it now. Jenna and Septimus reached Jakey first. Septimus grabbed Jakey by his collar and pulled him away from the ladder.
"Get out of the way, you murderer."
"I - I'm not. I - I didn't do it, honest."
"Your friends did. It's the same thing. You're all in it together."
"No - no. They're not my friends. They're not."
"Just get out of the way. Our brother's on that ship, and we're going up."
"I'll hold the ladder fer ya," said Jakey, much to Septimus's surprise. Septimus jumped onto the ladder and began to climb.
"You be careful," warned Jakey. "You going up too?" he asked Wolf Boy.
"Yeah," said Wolf Boy, scowling.
"Good luck," said Jakey.
Jenna went next, followed by Beetle. Lucy hung back. She had had enough of ladders. She glared at Jakey. "What's going on, fish breath?" she demanded.
"I dunno, Miss Lucy, honest," Jakey babbled. "There's somethin' on the ship. Pa knows, but 'e never tells me nuffin'. You goin' up too?"
Lucy glanced up at the ladder just in time to see Septimus disappear over the gunnels. She sighed. There were two of Simon's little brothers up there now and, like it or not, she was going to have to help them - they were, after all, very nearly family. Businesslike, she tied her braids into a knot so that no one could grab them (Lucy had learned a thing or two at the Port Witch Coven).
"Yeah, turtle head, I'm going up," she said.
"You take care, Miss Lucy," said Jakey. "If you need any help, I'll be there."
Lucy flashed Jakey an unexpected smile. "Thanks, kiddo," she said. "You take care too." With that she began the precarious climb.
As Lucy struggled up the side of the Cerys, an odd-looking gull with yellow feathers landed on the sandbank. It put its head to one side and looked at Jakey Fry with some interest; then it stuck its beak into the sand, pulled out a long, wriggling sand eel and gulped it down. Yuck, it hated sand eels. Sand eels were the worst thing about being a gull. But it couldn't help it. As soon as it felt the shift of sand grains beneath its sensitive little flat feet something took over, and the next thing it knew it had one of the disgusting things halfway down its throat. The gull took off and flew to a nearby rock to recover. The little yellow gull could not believe that once again its fortunes had suddenly changed. But it had had no choice, it told itself. It knew that the bossy ExtraOrdinary Wizard would indeed have kept it imprisoned in the Sealed Cell forever if it had not agreed to her terms. The gull decided that it would not be rushed. It would get moving when it had digested the sand eel and not before. It hoped its Master would be worth all the trouble, but it doubted it. Trying to ignore the sensation of sand eel wriggling in its stomach, the gull watched Lucy climb the precarious-looking rungs up the side of the Cerys's hull.
At last Lucy reached the top. She peered over the gunnels. To her surprise, the deck of the Cerys was deserted.
Where had everyone gone?
Chapter 41 The Hold
Lucy looked across the deck of the Cerys, which she thought looked surprisingly normal, apart from some spilled paint that she had stupidly stepped in. Lucy bent to pick her trailing boot ribbons out of the annoying goop, which stuck to her fingers and - oh. Lucy opened her mouth to scream, only to have a smelly hand shoved over it.
"Shh, Lucy. Don't scream. Please," Wolf Boy hissed.
"It's blood, it's blood," Lucy spluttered beneath Wolf Boy's grubby paw.
"Yeah," muttered Wolf Boy. "There's a lot of it around. And there'll be even more if they find us." He jerked his free thumb toward the prow of the ship. Suddenly Lucy realized that the deck was not quite as deserted as she had thought. On a large open area in front of the middle mast she could see three figures silhouetted in the light of a lamp, trying to operate the cargo-hold crane. They had not noticed the most recent arrivals on board - and if Wolf Boy had anything to do with it, they were not going to notice either. Slowly, stealthily, he walked Lucy backward to the cover of an upturned rowboat.
"No screams, okay?" he whispered.
Lucy nodded, and Wolf Boy took away his hand.
The upturned boat was on the dark side of the deck, away from the glow of the Light. Lucy slipped in behind it.
"Oh, that's where you all are," she whispered touchily. "You could have waited for me."
"Didn't think you were coming," answered Septimus, who had rather hoped that Lucy wasn't.
Like a curious meerkat, Lucy suddenly stuck her head above the boat and looked around excitedly. "So - what are we going to do?" she whispered eagerly, as if they were deciding on which games to play at a picnic.
Jenna gave an angry yank on Lucy's precious - and very stained - blue cloak. "Get down, shut up and listen," she hissed. Lucy looked shocked, but she settled down without another word. Jenna turned to Septimus and Wolf Boy.
"You're the experts," she told them. "Tell us what to do and we'll do it."
Five minutes later, they had a plan. They split into two groups, one led by Septimus, the other by Wolf Boy. Septimus's troop consisted of a grand total of one - Jenna. Wolf Boy had drawn the short straw with Lucy, but he figured Beetle made up for it. It was decided that each troop would take one side of the deck in a pincer movement that would have impressed even the Crowe twins. Wolf Boy's band was to have the shadows of the port side and Septimus's crew would take the more exposed starboard side, which was illuminated by the Light. When they arrived at the hold they were all to do their UnSeens. At this Lucy had protested. It wasn't fair: everyone had an UnSeen except for her. But Septimus had no intention of trying to teach Lucy Gringe an UnSeen, even though he had just - he hoped - taught Beetle a very simple one.