Chapter IV: Trouble Upstream

“I don’t know why we have to look for these stupid chickens. You didn’t steal them. I certainly didn’t. You always drag me into your messes! Come on. Let’s go to the stream and I’ll show you how to catch a trout,” said Mills to her brother.

Mills often visited the streams around ToadChapel, where she enjoyed being alone, catching trout, skipping stones off the surface of the water, and carving fantastical symbols into the trees. She had discovered one rivulet, too small to attract other anglers, where tiny deep blue fingerlings could be carefully pulled from beneath the stones under which they hid. She chased them from stone to stone until she could catch the fish in her clever hands. From time to time her fingertips got a nip from a crayfish, instead!

“Come on,” she repeated. “You’re always losing track of things and daydreaming. We’ve got to look for these stupid chickens. If we turn off the main stream here and head up this way there’s an old statue in the woods. It looks a little like the one in the sophotasters’ Garden. I’m not sure anyone even knows it’s there.”

The children picked their way through the trackless forest, drawing farther from the course of the Meander, ToadChapel’s main waterway. Here the stream was narrow enough to jump in places.

“This isn’t even a real stream,” cried Gramm. “I can walk across it.”

Though his sister was miffed at the jest, she had to admit, her stream wasn’t very impressive. In fact, as the two slowly travelled farther upstream, there was hardly any water in the stream at all.

“Something isn’t right. I was fishing here just yesterday, and the water was up to my knees in these pools. You can see the streambed’s all muddy, but something’s stopped up the flow. Let’s keep going.”

Then she spotted him about thirty yards away: an ugly little goblin shuffling from one foot to the other. Goblins seldom ventured so close to ToadChapel, and when they did they came for mischief, not war. This one was armed with a long spear and wore a wooden shield and an iron cap. More, rocks had been piled into a makeshift dam, blocking the flow of the stream and creating a kind of bog behind it. The bored-looking goblin stood guard over the dam.

Mills touched her finger to her lips to silence her brother and drew him down beside her behind a big mossy log. She pointed ahead at the goblin.

“I’ll throw a stone at his ugly green nose, and we can charge him with sticks!” Said Gramm excitedly.

“Shhh!” Mills hissed through her teeth. “He’ll hear us. Don’t be stupid. He’s got a spear and an iron cap. He’s not lost, he’s guarding that dam, and from the look of him there’s sure to be more around. Something very strange is going on here. We’ve got to get back to town quick.”

The children stole stealthily away from the dam, keeping behind trees, bushes, and rocks where they could. Mills looked back frequently and kept her brother’s hand in hers. When they reached the course of the Meander and heard the distant sounds of normal village life, they took off at a run, forgetting all about Herling and the problems they faced in ToadChapel.

~

Head here to find out what’s been going on back in ToadChapel.

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