Without a seed to mark the way, Queen Smira and her three boglings set out in search of the weeping willow. After a few paces, Smira quickly realized that the swamp was overrun with willows.
“Which one do you think it is?” Yeka asked.
“The one that’s weeping, silly.” Ñekkum bonked her on the head.
“Momma…pee-pee” Gagem pointed.
“Hold it a moment longer, dear.” The queen looked around.
“Maybe we could ask him.” Yeka pointed to an orangish-brown scatterfoot with hundreds of chained segments, three legs adorning each partition. “Hey Mister, do you know where we can find a weeping willow?”
“Hmm…a weeping willow, you say?” the arthropod scratched his head.
Suddenly a clear, green liquid squirted in his face.
“Gagem!” Smira snapped as the wily tot hiked up his pants and ran off.
“It seems to have slipped my mind. Good day, goblings.” He glared at Gagem, and crawled under a log.
“No, wait,” said Smira, but the insect was gone.
As the day dragged on, the task of locating the weeping willow proved more elusive.
“Perhaps daddy meant a sleeping willow. There are plenty of those around here,” said Yeka.
“And creepy willows.” Ñekkum pointed to a black tree with twisted branches and spiders the size of his hand scattering from cocoon to cocoon.
Gagem tugged Smira’s dress.
“Not again.” She looked down.
“Pee-pee,” Gagem giggled.
The queen took the child over to a cluster of tall weeds and waited.
“Are you out of your mind?” A spotted owl flew out, shaking its feathers. “Is this how goblins introduce themselves around here?”
“I am sorry, maam.” Smira pulled up Gagem’s pants, and tucked him behind her. “We are trying to find a weeping willow, but no one will talk to us.”
“No one will talk to you because you are a bunch of wretched goblins.” She circled and flew off.
As the sun began to fall, the queen decided to retrace her steps, and search for the willow another day; but quickly she found herself going in circles. “Oh no,” Smira gasped. “If we do not find our way soon, we will have to sleep in the swamp.”
“Oh please, please, please. Can we spend the night out here?” Yeka pleaded.
“Yeah, that would be cool,” said Ñekkum.
“There are creatures in this swamp with appetites more voracious than ours,” Smira warned. “Wait a minute, where’s Gagem?”
“Where do you think?” Ñekkum pointed to a bush.
Suddenly a creature roared. Gagem scampered out of the brush as a two-headed serpent with knotted horns charged after him.
“Children, run!” Smira snatched up Gagem, and scurried through the mire.
The beast chased them through the wetlands till the water turned black and only shadows loomed before them. Smira scooped up the three tots, and hid under a tree as the hydra sniffed around and continued on.
“I have failed you, my sweet stalklings. Pray that we make it through the night.” As tears fell from her eyes, more trickled down from the leaves above.
“What is it with that boy? Perhaps he drinks too much swamp water,” said the owl. “Fate smiles upon thee. ‘Tis the willow you seek.” She flapped her wings, and drew closer. “What brings you to this part of the swamp?”
“My husband sent me on an errand to find an imp named Tutis.” Smira dried her eyes as more tears rained down.
“An imp? Is that what I look like?” The owl transformed into a slender sprite with long, brown hair covering her naked body, green eyes like gems, and a ring of feathers crowning her head. “‘Changeling’ would be closer to the mark.” Tutis combed her umber locks. “Still you have not answered my query. What brings you here?”
“To enroll my children in Hollawree,” said Smira.
“You are misinformed. I am no registrar; but your wandering eyes tell there is something more.”
“My children…have a hunger that cannot be staved.” The queen shielded herself from the downpour.
“Tell me more of their addiction.” The mystic leaned forward.
“They have a keen taste for celery, the very flesh our king is made of.”
“A goblin’s hunger cannot be completely averted, and stamping it out only makes it burn brighter,” Tutis chuckled. “Since he is your husband, why do you not ask for the same remedy? Are you not also afflicted?”
“Celery is poison to me,” said Smira. “I break out in hives each time I devour a piece.”
“Very well.” Tutis snapped off a twig. “Take this sprig, and stab it in the waters beyond the thornlands.”
“Sprig? But I was told that you would baptize us.”
“This willow is meant to purify the soul, though I have my doubts about its effect on goblins.” Tutis whipped her wet locks from her face. “For the change you seek, you will have to travel farther north. Be careful within its influence. Their hunger can be bound to anything…absolutely anything.” She transformed into the owl and flew off.
“Wait. How do I get there? I do not know where I am now,” Smira cried.
“Gogus will take you,” said the changeling. The beast slithered out of the shadows, one head licking the other with its black tongue. The owl sat, perched atop one of its horns.
The three infants scattered under Queen Smira’s dress.
“Come now, Gogus. Don’t make me expose your secret.” Tutis tickled the hydra’s scales with her feathers. “Gogus feeds on moss alone, cured by the very waters that you seek. Once there, you must drop in two items: the one that will lose is influence, and the other that will be reinforced. You have one chance to do this, and one chance only. Do not screw it up.”
“Very well.” Smira carefully scaled the serpent, holding her young ones tight. “And what if something does happen?”
“The predicament is yours to untangle.” The owl returned to the tree.
“Then untangle it I shall.” The beast turned and fled into the night.