The sun was high in a hazy Summer sky. The stone of the patio behind Haley and Alice's house was so hot they could not walk on it with bare feet. The birds were perched in the trees, staying quiet in the shade. The rabbits were hiding in their holes. Their father was having a nap, lying on his bed with no sheets.
On a day like this, there was one thing that Haley and Alice liked to do more than anything else, and that was go down to the stream to paddle in the shallow water and catch fish in their nets. So they put on their sandles and their swim suits, and walked down to the stream. Alice brought her invisible rod (see The Collector), and Haley brough her ring with a ruby in it (see Catacombs).
"I've got one!" Alice said, and she lifted up her net with a little fish, no longer than her finger, flapping around in the bottom.
Haley looked at the fish. It had a bright red tummy, and little spines on its back. "It's a male stickle-back. Very nice, Alice. Let's make a little home for him and catch some more fish to keep him company."
They picked up rocks by the side of the river and put them in a circle with some dirt and sticks to keep the fish from getting out, and they put him in there. He swam around quickly for a while, and then hid in the shade of one of the rocks.
Haley said, and she walked into the shallow water looking for more fish.
"I will get some water plants for his house, so he will be happy," Alice said, and she waded to a place where water plants were growing in the water, and pulled some up for the fish's house.
Haley chased fish around in the water with her net, but they kept swimming away from her. She decided to trick them into her net instead, and she took out her shiny ring, because she knew that her father could catch fish by pulling a shiny thing through the water with a hook on it. The fish would see the shiny thing their father dragged through the water and think it was an even smaller fish than them, and try to eat it. The fish he caught were bigger than the ones Haley was trying to catch, but perhaps the little fish would come into the net to look at her shiny ring anyway. Maybe a little fish would think the ring was a new shiny fish visiting the stream from another river far away, and it would swim into the net to say Hello.
When Haley took out her ring, the ruby sparkled in the sunlight. It was bright and red. She put it in the water, and it sparkled red in there too, and made little rainbows.
"Look at this, Alice," she said.
Alice waded over and looked at the ring in the water. "Wow, I can see all the colors!"
Haley moved the ring around in the water, and took it out and held it up in the sunlight.
"It's so beautiful," Alice said.
"Yes, it is," Haley said, "Do you think we should sell it, Alice, or should we keep it?"
"We should keep it. It is pretty, and when we grow up we can take turns to wear it on our finger when we go out. People will think we are beautiful."
"I think you're right, Alice. But I get to wear it first when we go out."
Alice sat down in the water. "Why don't I get to wear it first?"
"Because I found it, remember?"
"Huh!" Alice said, "I don't like you any more, Haley." She turned her back to Haley, crossed her arms, and stuck her lower lip out. The stream water went around her legs and her lower back. A little fish came and hid under knee. Alice watched the little fish. It flicked its fins and looked around. It seemed frightened. Alice wondered if little fish were always frightened, and if so, what were they frightened of?
Haley sat on a rock and looked at the ring. It really was beautiful. She would keep it. She and Alice would get the money to buy flashlights and other cool stuff by doing chores for their Father. They would always have the ring to look at and remind them of their adventure beneath the ground.
The little fish Alice had been watching swam away. She stood up and walked to the edge of the stream to her bag, and took out her invisible rod. She picked it up and started playing with it in the water. When she put it in the water, it looked as if the stream had a hole in it, because the rod was invisible, even though it was real and she could touch it. The water went around the rod just like it would go around a stick, only you could see right through the rod as if it was not there.
"Look at this, Haley," she said, "it's so cool."
Haley looked up, and as she did so, she saw an orc run out of the trees by the stream and come splashing through the water straight towards her. Or at least: it looked like an orc, but it was much smaller than any orc she had seen before, and his tusks were not as large. In fact, they hardly made it up past his top lip. And his head seemed too big for his body for him to be a grown-up.
Alice saw him too, and she said, "Look out Haley!"
The orc boy shouted at Haley. "My ring!"
Haley was surprised to hear the orc boy speak Weilandic. The only orc she had heard speak Weilandic was Ugluk (see Orc Music). Come to think of it, this orc did look a bit like Ugluk. Was it Ugluk made little by a magic potion?
"Haley look out!" Alice said, "He wants the ring!"
Haley stood up from her rock. She held the ring tight in her fist. She did not have a pocket in her swimsuit, otherwise she would have put the ring straight into the pocket. She would need both hands to fight the orc. The only thing she could do was hold the ring in her hand. She wondered if she should just run away. She watched the orc boy running. She was sure she could run faster than him, but not so sure that Alice could run faster than him. What if Haley ran away and he stayed and fought with Alice? On the other hand, with Alice to help her, she might be able to beat the orc boy in a fight. It would be better to fight, then.
"Help me, Alice!" Haley said
Alice was already running towards Haley anyway. She was frightened for her sister, and was sure that with her invisible rod, she would be able to defeat the orc boy.
The orc boy was still running through the water. He was wearing boots, heavy leather orc-boots. But he looked brave and strong, and his boots made big splashes every time they came down in the shallow water of the stream. He wore loose, strong trousers and a leather sleeveless jacket, even though it was a hot day. Haley was glad to see that he did not have a club or a truncheon in his hands, because she did not have one either.
The orc boy lept at Haley. She stepped out of the way and he landed with a splash in the water. She jumped on him and tried to sit on him so he could not get up. He must have wrestled many times before because he twisted around onto his tummy and then stood up, with Haley on his back, then he let himself fall down backwards, and landed on top of her. She felt the wind pushed right out of her lungs, and her head banged against the bottom of the stream. The water flowed over her and into her mouth. She could not see, but she did not let go of the ring, and swung her fists at the boy's head. She hit him once, twice, three times, so hard that her fist hurt.
The boy rolled off her and rose up onto his knees. Haley opened her eyes. She knew better than to lift her head up, because if she did, the boy would be able to hit her without leaning over. He grabbed at her arm and caught it. He tried to open the fingers of her fist to get the ring out. Haley pulled herself up and struck him in the face with her palm. She hit him as hard as she could, and his tusks hurt her hand. His head went back for a moment, but he did not stop trying to get the ring.
"My gosh," Haley thought, "he is tough."
The boy dug his claws into Haley's hand, and she cried out in pain. She hit him again, and just then, Alice reached the boy and poked him in the side of the head with her invisible rod. He shouted, "Aaargh!" His lips curled down in anger, and he shook his head at Alice, but he did not let go of Haley's hand. Instead, he dug his claws in so far that Haley was sure they were cutting through her skin, and she opened her hand.
Alice poked the boy again with her invisible rod, and again he roared. Haley thought she had heard that roar before, but she could not remember where. Haley hit him again in the face, but he grabbed the ring out of her open hand, stood up, and started running down the stream.
Alice ran after him. Haley sat up as quickly as she could, but her head was spinning from being banged against the bottom of the stream, and she stumbled as she tried to get to her feet. The orc boy must have been dizzy too, because he tripped over a rock in the stream, and Alice caught up with him. When he started running again, she stuck her invisible rod between his legs, and tripped him. He fell face-down in the water with a splash.
Alice jumped after him, and tried to poke him with her invisible rod, but then she held it up and said, "No!" She felt for the invisible rod in front of her hand, but it had broken off. "No! My stick is broken!"
The boy stood up and started running again. Alice ran after him. Haley followed as quickly as she could. She was catching up with them when the boy climbed around the waterfall a little way down the stream. Alice went after him.
The waterfall was about three times as high as Haley, and fell into a long, deep pool. The sides of the stream rose up on the right side of the pool until they were three times as high as Alice and Haley's house. The wall made a cliff that came right up to the edge of the pool. Grown-ups liked to jump off the top of the cliff into the pool, because the pool was so deep that you could never hit the bottom when you fell through the water.
The orc boy climbed down past the water-fall and began to go as fast as he could along the other side of the pool from the cliff. Alice followed him, and Haley reached the top of the waterfall. Alice was following as fast as she could, too fast, in fact, because she fell off a slippery rock and into the water.
"Alice!" Haley screamed. Her sister went right down into the deep water and then came up to the top gulping for air, terrified, and thrashing around with her arms. Usually, Alice could swim, but she seemed so frightened and tired now, that she could not get to the side.
"Alice, swim! Swim, Alice!" Haley cried.
Haley started climbing down the side of the waterfall, but her head was still dizzy, and she had to go slowly. Alice was still thrashing in the water.
Haley heard another splash, and looked up. She could not see the orc boy, but there were waves on the water where he must have jumped into the pool. Then she saw him under the water, and he came up right behind Alice and put his arm around her chest and under her arms. "Okay!" he said to Alice, "Okay!"
Alice relaxed in the boys arms, and he swam to the edge of the pool and pulled her out of the water and onto the ground. Alice lay there panting and spitting water out of her mouth. The orc boy kneeled next to her and held her head off the rocks on the ground with one hand.
"Okay, girl," he said, "Okay now."
Alice looked around her at the ground, and then put her head down again and stared up at the sky. "I dropped my stick in the water."
Haley reached Alice and kneeled down beside her. "Alice, are you alright?"
Alice nodded. She was looking up at the top of the cliff.
The orc boy stood up and looked into the water of the pool. He laughed. It was a short, sharp laugh. He said, "Ring in water."
Haley looked up at the boy. "You dropped it?"
The boy looked at her and nodded, and he smiled. His teeth showed, and his tusks looked longer for a moment.
"Dreadmanifold," Alice said.
The boy and Haley looked at Alice, and then followed her gaze up to the top of the cliff. Standing at the top was a black giant with huge orc-tusks, wearing a bright yellow pair of swimming trunks. He smiled at them, raised his arms above his head, and off the edge of the cliff. As he fell, his head came down below his feet, with his hands out in front of him. When he struck the water, his body was going straight down, with his feet pointed, and his fingers outstretched.
He disappeared into the pool.
Haley, Alice, and the boy watched the rippling surface of the water. They watched, and they watched. The boy walked down towards the water's edge. Alice sat up and said, "Oh no, he drowned!"
Haley stood up. "I don't think so."
A crow called out from the tree above them.
"Caw, Caw, Caw!" it said.
Alice looked at it. The bird looked back at her. She felt like crying.
Haley stood beside the orc boy, looking into the water. "Should we go and get help?"
The orc boy shook his head. "No."
Alice rose to her feet. She was wet and shivering. She stepped up and hugged Haley, and pressed her face to Haley's chest. "I don't want Dreadmanifold to die."
Haley put her arms around Alice to warm her up. "It's okay, Alice, he must be holding his breath."
The crow in the tree flew over them and away up the stream. "Caw, Caw, Caw!" Haley stared at the water, trying to see down into the pool. She could feel her heart beating. She tried to count the beats, but they were coming too fast, so she counted her breaths instead. One, two, three...
She had reached seventy-three, and Alice was crying quietly, when Haley saw a large dark shape under the water. "There he is!"
A moment later, Dreadmanifold's hairless head appeared from out of the water, dripping and shiny and almost black. He stood up and stepped onto the shore. Alice laughed. "I knew you were not dead!"
Dreadmanifold stood so high above the children that they had to look straight up in the air to see his face, and the sun was shining from behind him, so they could not see his eyes clearly. He held up his hand and between his fingers, something flashed in the sunlight. It was the ring.
"My ring!" the boy said.
"No, it's mine!" Haley said, "I found it, Dreadmanifold, in the catacombs beneath our garden."
"No, I find it," the boy said, "I go get tool, you steal it. And hurt parrot my also."
Haley turned to the orc boy. "So it was you in the tunnel!"
"I thought I recognised your roar."
The boy looked up at the black orc. "Lord, I find ring first."
Dreadmanifold looked at the ring. He turned it in the light and smiled at it. "But I found it last," he said, "And I shall keep it."
"That's not fair, Dreadmanifold!" Alice said.
Dreadmanifold smiled at her. "You don't think so Alicehashemi? Well, consider it the price of friendship."
He put the ring in the pocket of his swimming trunks, turned away from them, and dove back into the water. He swam across the pool, climbed out, and began to walk away up the path to Rocky Hill, where he lived.
Alice looked at Haley. "What did he say?"
"He said that we gave him the ring, and he gave us friendship."
Alice looked at the orc boy. "Oh," she said, "What is your name?"
"My name Vik."
"I'm Alice. This is my sister Haley."
The boy nodded and smiled. "I son of Ugluk," he said.
Haley and Alice stared at him for a few seconds. "Nice to meet you," Haley said.