Greta slept in the moving boat while Alesander, Lucius, Hermes, Vedix, Bogus and Briana took turns with the poles and kept as much eye as they had on the dark riverbanks, at least to be sure they did not get too close in the dark. Pincushion slept in fits, getting up and down through the night. She fretted about how she could make food that anyone could eat. Her nose was good, and she said she would smell the Wolv if they got close, but that did not help keep them from starving to death. Mavis got up several times in the night and spent Hermes’ shift with him. She said her eyes were not made for the dark like Ulladon, but her ears were sharp. She told them when she heard movement along the banks, but she said she sensed beaver and once a bear, not Wolv.
When Greta woke in the morning, Briana asked if maybe the Wolv lost the trail. “Not a chance,” Greta answered. “They have eyes like a fairy, I should say, like an eagle, ears like an elf or a bat, and noses like true dwarfs, like bloodhounds that can smell us miles away.”
“My turn,” Hermes butted up with a question. “I don’t understand why this boat was just sitting there untouched. If Wolv attacked my city, escape by the river would be an obvious option.”
“Boat’s too big?” Briana guessed.
“Probably single people or maybe a family went for the river, but there were probably smaller boats for the taking,” Alesander added.
“This big freighter was probably more than one or two could handle, especially if the attack came at night. We only got it because we had the hands.” Briana finished the thought.
“They probably came at night” Greta wanted to explain. “But you must remember, they are like people, they are smart, they are not animals. They probably moved right away to cut off the river as an avenue of escape. They maybe even swam the river to close the port first thing.”
“They can swim?” Hermes looked from bank to bank, but he sounded a bit like Nudd.
“Doggie paddle.” Greta nodded and she took a moment to sigh for Nudd. “But wait.” She had another thought. “This boat does not exactly have a shallow draft. You men don’t know this river, the currents or the deep-water channels. How is it we haven’t run aground?” Greta imagined that might be what the Wolv were waiting for, but Mavis knew the answer.
“Water babies,” she said. “They came early in the night when we set out and promised to keep us in the deep water and away from the banks.” Mavis let out a mighty grin because water sprites were the cutest things. That gave Greta an idea. She stood and called to the sky.
“Sky babies, please come and hear me. Water babies, listen.” Then she waited because they were not like ogres who had to be told everything twice.
It only took a moment for the waves around the boat to form into dozens of little gingerbread-like jelly babies. The one who jumped up on the deck shouted, “Good Lady,” in a sweet baby voice
“Bubbles,” Greta called the sprite by name and offered a small curtsey. “Thank you for your good care of my person.”
“Think nothing of it. A pleasure. A real pleasure,” Bubbles said before people were distracted by two small clouds that looked to be falling from the sky.
“Lady calls,” one cloud spoke.
“Calls to us,” the other cloud agreed.
“We are here,” the first said.
“Here we are,” the second agreed.
“Fluffer and Sprinkles, welcome,” Greta said, as the two clouds took on human-like form to stand on the deck. They were not much bigger than Bubbles, and even though they had a head, arms, legs and such, they never lost the look of little clouds. The people on deck stared and Briana wondered if the clouds were male and female, though she had no way of telling, and when she asked Mavis, all Mavis could do was shrug.
“How can we help?” One of the cloud people asked.
“We want to help,” the other echoed.
“Now babies, I have a request.” Greta got down on her knees and whispered. She did not want Lucius to hear. It took a little time, but when she finished, she stood and said, “Thank you.” The cloud people reverted to clouds right away and rose again into the sky.
“We will do everything you ask,” one cloud spoke.
“All you need to do is ask and we will do it,” the other agreed.
Bubbles stood as tall as he could, just over a foot tall. He appeared to salute as he made his way to the edge of the boat. “You can count on us,” he said in his sweet voice. “We will bring you safely to the place I am not talking about.” He waved from the edge before he dove back into the water and disappeared.
Greta stood with the inevitable grin on her face. “No need to pole,” she said. “The sweet water sprites will carry us safely.” The others smiled as well until Lucius broke the spell by asking where they were going. Greta answered, and as the saying goes, she lied like an elf.
“When we join up with the Muskva, we will turn upstream for a few miles and pull in to the north shore at a place where I hope the Wolv won’t find us.” Greta knew she was no good at telling lies. Mavis, Bogus and Pincushion all caught the lie, and Mavis gasped, but Bogus spoke right up to provide cover for the words.
“Those water sprites will have a hard job pulling us against the current, but I am sure they are up to it.”
Greta wisely said no more about it, and Pincushion changed the subject. “Lady. Did you arrange for us to build a fire somewhere? I can’t hardly cook on thin air.”
“Let’s see what we can find,” Greta said, and she, Pincushion, Hermes and Mavis scrounged through the hold beneath the deck. What they came up with was a bronze shield that might work as long as no one stepped on the edge and tipped it. The fire would have to be small and stay centered, but Pincushion said she could work with that, even if she could not do much.
“We have two buckets,” Hermes said, and lifted them. He found some rope and handed one bucket to Vedix. Vedix filled his right away while Greta, Mavis and Pincushion found a place amidships where they could lay the shield and prop it with other artifacts to prevent it rolling.