They followed the path in silence for a while,
content to listen to the peaceful calls of songbirds and
mourning doves, and the buzzing of colorful dragonflies
circling the banks of the pond. Then, the trees suddenly
thinned on either side, revealing the open forest once
more, and Colin spied a small bridge ahead, which
crossed over a stream that branched off from the pond.
“Copper Stream,” Ailfrid said.
As they approached the bridge, Colin saw that the stream
was aptly named. The water, which babbled happily by, was
nearly golden-copper in color, brilliantly reflecting the
sunlight. Throughout the water, Colin spied several large
fish, also of a copperish hue.
“Does the stream have a story?” he asked.
“Everything in Tanglewood has a story to tell. But the
tale of Copper Stream is a tale for another time. Now, we
fish! A big fat fish, cooked over a fire!" Ailfrid grinned
from ear to ear. “How does that sound?”
Colin’s belly rumbled, and he realized he was
starving. He hadn’t eaten anything since his supper the
night before, and the thought of freshly roasted fish set
his mouth to watering. “That sounds really good.” He
nodded and grinned like a fool.
Ailfrid placed the blackberry branches on a log that
lay along the bank, and produced a tangle of fishing line
and a crude hook from his pocket. “I’ll catch us a fish
or two. You can relax on the bridge.”
Colin doubted he could relax, not when he was
famished. Still, the placid, serene waters of the pond
were a calming sight, and the sun glancing off Copper
Stream was warm and soothing at his back. He sat
himself down on the wooden bridge and quickly lost
himself in the tranquility, while a short distance away,
Ailfrid troubled himself with untangling the fishing line.
Colin closed his eyes and felt the breeze tickling the
back of his hair. He opened them again and squinted
against the rush of dazzling sunlight, which set the
whole pond to glowing. Wildflowers of all sorts grew
along the shore of the pond, tall and luxurious. A short
distance to his left, he could see the shafts of sunlight
streaming in through the thick trees of Root Path,
highlighting the floating motes of dandelion spores that
hovered peacefully in the air.
Colin smiled, feeling deep contentment. This place was
truly magical, and he was a part of it. His allowed his mind
to wander, much in the same way the dandelion spores were
spending their time on this summer afternoon.
The stream glided beneath the bridge as smoothly as
fine silk. Colin eyes followed the gentle waters as it they
passed beneath him. Glancing down at the bridge, he
spied a large black ant emerging from the space between
two planks of wood. It was steadily making its way
Casually, Colin drew back a finger and proceeded to
flick the ant across the wood, where it disappeared into
the thin shadowy chasm between the planks.
Satisfied, Colin turned to look at Ailfrid, who
appeared to be deeply concentrated on the surface of the
pond. He had apparently managed to untangle the line
and fasten it to the end of a stick, which he dangled
over the water. He slowly reeled in his line by hand,
hoping for a hungry fish to nibble on the bait.
Suddenly, the ferrish dropped the stick and sniffed at
the air, glancing about furiously. He settled his
measuring gaze on Colin.
“Did something just happen?”
Colin shook his head. “Nope. I’ve just been sitting
Ailfrid remained silent but sat with a furrowed brow.
He did not remove his gaze. Colin was about to inquire
of Ailfrid what had him worried, when he was
distracted by a subtle whispering, very faint, but
growing steadily louder by the second. It was coming
from beneath the bridge.
Ailfrid’s silver eyes grew wide. “Colin! To your left!”
Colin turned his head and shrieked, scrambling to his
A thick tide of black ants was streaming up through
the slats of the bridge, so numerous they began to cover
the expanse of wood like a rapidly growing fungus. The
whisper of hundreds of thousands of tiny legs and black
carapaces brushing against each other was like the
rustling of dead, dry leaves.
The army of ants was headed directly for Colin,
forming bridges across the spaces between the planks of
wood for the main bulk of the insects to scurry across.
They were moving fast.
Colin turned to run, and beheld a similar scene on
the opposite end of the bridge. Another force of ants,
rapidly closing the distance.
Ailfrid was running along the bank of the pond, and
shouting at Colin. “The water! Jump in the water!”
But Colin was frozen still with shock and fear. His
mouth was incapable of screaming or shouting; only
frightened breathing managed to escape past his lips.
Then the tide of ants were upon him, swarming over
his feet and up his legs, wriggling their way under his
pajamas. He felt the itching of a hundred thousand legs
thoroughly covering his skin. He found his voice again
and shrieked when they began to bite.
He was dimly aware that Ailfrid was still shouting
something, but then the ants invaded his ears and tried
to get into his mouth and nose. He was forced to shut
his eyes and end his flailing about, in order to keep his
hands over his face. Completely covered by the thick
mass of ants, he sank to his knees and curled into a ball,
his whole body twitching, his flesh reeling under the
onslaught of a thousand tiny pinpricks.
Despite the shell of ants that covered him, he
somehow sensed that the air about him had suddenly
gone dry, and now his skin tingled not with the bites of
ants, but with a static charge. A series of loud pops, one
after the other, echoed across the pond, and Colin felt
several tiny shocks along the length of his body.
He thought perhaps he had been electrocuted, and
the strong scent of sulphur filled the air. He felt
Ailfrid’s arms about him, helping him to his feet. The
ferrish was also knocking off the blackened crust of
thousands upon thousands of dead ants. Still
smoldering, they fell onto the bridge in large, crackling
“Damn sprites! Got nothing better to do than pester
us with your tricks!” He helped Colin shake off more of
the dead insects. They fell upon the bridge by the
hundreds, fused together in brittle masses. Ailfrid
kicked them into the water.
“It was pixie magic that did this. They were angry
that I led you away from their hole earlier. They don’t
often get the chance to claim a deiney plaything, and I
ruined it for them.”
Colin, visibly shaken, scratched at himself furiously.
His skin was alive with bites, and it still seemed as if the
ants still surged over his flesh. He noticed his pajamas
were slightly charred.
Ailfrid saw Colin’s concern. “Sorry about that, but it
couldn’t be helped. I’ve got a bit of magic myself, and it
was the best way to get the little buggers off you. Hope
I didn’t hurt you?”
“No, I’m okay.”
“Good. I would have tried to blast them before they
got to you, but I was too far away.” Ailfrid looked
about. “Damned intolerable sprites! I’d blast them if
they’d the courage to show themselves.”
Familiar laughter sounded from the undergrowth,
and it was not at all pleasant. Colin and Ailfrid scanned
the bushes and the trees, but saw nothing. Ailfrid
“I sensed them. Or their magic, rather. It has a scent,
like honeysuckle. If you are alone and you ever smell
that, you better run, until you don’t smell it anymore.”
“Well, they’re likely gone back
down their hole now. They made their
point. Come, sit by me over there.
We’ll have that fish soon enough.”
They ambled back over to Ailfrid’s
fishing spot, but neither could mask
the concern that clouded their features.
They still felt as though they were
being watched, and they both
wondered what other tricks the sprites
would cast their way.
For more information regarding the fantasy series, The Tales of Tanglewood, please visit the website to learn more about Colin and the other characters in the 'wood, and to download a sample of the first few chapters of each book for free.