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by Margo Fallis
Chapter 2

           Arctica pines, heavily laden with cones, lined the path most of the way. Xander enjoyed the smell of the fragrant trees as he plodded along.

            Zog and Yok turned the third bend.

            Xander’s legs felt the path growing steeper. They ached from the climb. He stopped to rub them, sitting down on a bed of last year’s fallen leaves, now brown and crunchy. “Maybe I should have followed Larf and Jix. At least they didn’t go into the mountains. They chose the flat path, hugging Ugsnaw Creek. I’m going to feel this tonight.”

            “You are a complainer.” A high-pitched voice spoke from behind him.

            He rolled onto his stomach, hoping to catch whoever it was.  “Who’s there?”

            A furry green creature stepped out from behind a pine. “I said, you’re a complainer. Do you always whine?”

            Xander rolled to his knees and stood, brushing the dirt from his blue jeans. “What are you?”

            “My name is Toast and I’m a plumtuggle. I live in the woods. Now you answer my question.”

            “I’m Xander and no, I don’t always whine. I’ve never seen a plumtuggle before.”

            “That’s not my fault.” Toast came closer to him. “Quit staring at me.”

            “I’m sorry. You’re so round and plump. I didn't know there were creatures in the woods that had orange legs and only have four fingers and toes on each hand and foot.”

            “All of us plumtuggles look like this, though my fur is a bit greener than most others. I can climb trees too.”

            “You're awful small. You barely come up to my knees and you don’t seem to move too quickly. I can't believe you're good at climbing trees. How many other plumtuggles live in the woods? I’ve never heard anyone mention your kind before.”

            Her orange horn-shaped snout matched her legs and arms in color. She sneezed and a soft toot blew out. “Excuse me. Let me wipe my bulgy eyes,” Toast said.

            “Bulgy eyes? Well, I guess they do sort of bulge.”

            “I was being sarcastic. I’ve been sneezing all morning. I'm allergic to snockberries and they're ripe on the vines at this time of year. To answer your next question, I think there are about twenty-eight of us plumtuggles in the Woods of Bilbarth.”

            “It is nice to meet you, Toast. If you'll excuse me, I want to catch up writing in my journal. It’s been a busy day today.” Xander wrote an entire page about his morning and then put the book and pencil back in his pocket.

            Toast looked over his shoulder and watched the pencil move across the paper. Xander stood and looked at the plumtuggle. “I’m not trying to be rude, but I’ve got to run. You see, Zog and Yok are getting too far ahead of me. I’m going to have to run fast to catch up with them.” Xander bowed and turned to leave.

            “Wait! Take me with you. You can give me a piggy-back ride. I eat forest food, so I won’t be a bother to you that way.”

            “You want me to take you with me? Piggy-back ride? I might be going far away from the Woods of Bilbarth.”

            “Are you a parrot? You repeat every single thing I say. Yes, I want you to take me. I know these woods. I can help you. Let me come, please, Xander.”

            “You might come in handy. Okay. Climb on my back, but keep quiet. Zog and Yok don’t know I’m following them.”

            Toast clung to him, wrapping her long toes and fingers around his neck and back. “I’m ready.”

            Xander ran up the hill. Toast didn’t weigh that much so he didn’t notice a difference. “Shh. There they are, up at the top of the hill.”

            “Why are you following them?” Toast whispered in his ear.

            “The people of Appleworth were sent on a quest by the wizard, Grazan, to find the most precious thing in all of the Land of Waterberry. I wasn’t included in the gathering, but I think I can find it just as easily as the others.”

            “What is the most precious thing in all of the Land of Waterberry?” Toast scratched her head with one of her nail-less fingers.

            “I am not sure. Grazan said we’d know when we found it. Now be quiet.” Xander leaned against a pine, watching Zog and Yok. “They’re planning something. Zog’s showing Yok his map.”

            “I know these woods better than them. Why don’t we go off by ourselves and find it? We don’t need them. I am good at finding precious things.” Toast wriggled her body back and forth.

            “You are? Do you think you could help me find the most precious and rare thing in all of the Land of Waterberry?”

            “I think I can. Let’s start by going to the hills of Jeshar. I know a path across the Meadows of Framlin. We might even find some honey. I like honey.” Toast licked her lips.

            “Lead the way, Toast. I don’t need to follow Yok and Zog. I’ve got my very own plumtuggle.” Xander reached behind him and stroked her fur. “Which way?”

            “Go to the right and keep walking until you come to a banarba tree. It’s the only one of its kind in the land. Just look for the tree with the biggest roots.”

“How will I know if it has the biggest roots? Roots grow under the ground.” Xander scoffed.

“Not the roots of a banarba tree. They grow on the ground, not under it.” Toast’s voice was full of sarcasm.

“Okay. Sorry. I didn’t know that.” Xander took a deep breath and walked on.

Toast hummed a plumtuggle tune while Xander headed west.

            The sun was high in the sky. “How much longer, Toast? I haven’t seen a banarba tree yet and I’m getting tired and hungry.”

            “Let’s stop. I’ll go and find us something to eat. You can rest.”

            Xander sat in a field of wildflowers and pulled out his journal again. As he wrote, he watched how the dragonflies fluttered about, their lacy wings soaring above the fragrant yellow butterloos, pink tibbledops, and orange creamtails.

            Toast disappeared in the flowers.

            Xander heard her humming the same plumtuggle tune.  He closed his eyes and thought of the treasure he would surely find. I’ll find the biggest diamond, the rubiest ruby, the emeraldest emerald and a fist full of opals, and huge gold nuggets.

            Toast came back carrying an armful of fat grubs and snails and dropped them near Xander’s feet. “What are you smiling for?”

            Xander opened his eyes. “I was just thinking about the treasure and precious things I’m going to find and take back to Grazan, the wizard.” He saw something moving down by his feet and pushed himself backwards on his bottom. “What are those?”

            “Lunch! Just look what I found. Doesn’t it all look delicious?”

            “Ugh! I can’t eat grubs and snails.” Xander scrunched up his face.

            “Why not? I eat them all the time. If you bite the head off the grub and then suck out its insides, it’s quite tasty.”

            “That’s disgusting, Toast. What I want is a big sugarapple, so crisp that it crunches when I bite into it and squirts juice all over my face. I want fried mockle fish and mushrooms. I want a loaf of hot bread smothered with creamy butter and snockberry jam. That’s what I want.”

            “I guess you should have stayed with Zog and Yok if you wanted that. Hello! Remember I'm allergic to snockberries.” Toast scratched her ear. “I think there's a pond over that way.” She pointed to the south. “There’s probably a lot of fish and frogs in it.”

            “Fish? Okay, let’s go.” Xander stood, stretched his arms and put away his journal. “Wait a minute. Do you know how to make a fire? There’s nothing worse than raw mockle fish.”

            “Yes! Yes! I can make a fire.”

            “Oh? How can you do that?” Xander wasn’t sure if he believed her or not.

            “See my nose? It’s not really a nose, it’s more like a horn. There are four parts of my nose. One part is for smelling. One part is for sneezing. One part is for honking and tooting and the other part is for making fire.”

            “You can blow fire out your nose, like a dragon?”

            “Yep! I’m handy to have around, aren’t I?” Toast grinned and clapped her hands.

            “You certainly are. Let’s get to the pond and find some mockle fish. I’m starving. Don’t forget your grubs and snails.” Xander pulled a few died leaves from his pant leg and hurried on.

            Toast gathered her lunch and ran after Xander. The pond looked deep and dark. Flat lily pads with turned up edges floated on top of the water. Some had huge pink flowers growing from them and others only had wiry feelers.

            Xander picked up a straight stick and searched through his pockets for some string, finding it tangled among his glass marbles. “I need a wriggly worm.” Xander looked at Toast’s lunch. “One of those grubs will do.” He reached over and grabbed one.

            “Hey! That’s my lunch. You catch your own.” She tried to snatch it back.

            “I just want one grub to catch a fish and then I’ll give it back to you.” Xander found a short, sharp, hook-shaped twig, and tied it to the string. “Now, little grub, you’re going for a swim.” He stuck it with the wooden hook. The grub squirmed and screeched, but Xander ignored it and tossed the line into the pond. “There we go. Come on fish. There’s a tasty snack for you.”

            Toast finished her lunch and began exploring around the edge of the pond. She spotted a plump, green frog with orange spots and a long tongue. When it’s long, sticky tongue shot out of its mouth and wrapped around a pale blue dragonfly, Toast gasped. “Poor dragonfly.”

            The frog, at least half the size of Toast, sat on a fallen hollow tree branch, chewing away on the dragonfly. It didn’t see Toast when she snuck up behind it and jumped on its back. “I’ve got you now!”

             The frog, struggling to get free, hopped around in the grass and leaped through the air.

            Toast didn’t let go. “Whoa! Whee! Whoa!”

Xander heard her shouts and frowned. He’d never catch a fish with all that noise. He plopped down in the grass, still holding on to his makeshift fishing pole, landing on something hard. “Ouch!” Moving to the side, he saw a piece of glass poking out of the ground. “What’s this? Someone left glass here? I’m glad it didn’t cut my jeans.” He dug around it, freeing it from its prison. “That’s a big piece of glass. It’s so smooth. There’s not one sharp edge on it.” He scooted over to the water and swished the glass around, washing the mud off. “This isn’t glass. It’s a diamond! Yipee! I found a diamond.”

The frog, with Toast holding on, leaped onto a lily pad in the middle of the pond. “Whoa! What a ride!”

 “Toast, let go of that frog. Come and see this diamond. Surely the wizard will think this is the most precious thing in all of the Land of Waterberry.”

Toast sighed and let go of the frog. It jumped into the water and dove down deep. When it came up, it had Toast’s grub in its mouth.

Xander watched in dismay. “He ate my grub. Now I won’t catch any fish. Oh well.”

“That frog ate a dragonfly too.”

Xander showed the diamond to Toast. “It’s huge, isn’t it? Do you think this is the greatest most precious treasure in all of the land?”

Toast held it up to her eye for closer inspection. “It might be, but maybe you should find one more, just in case.”

Just then the frog sprung through the air and wrapped its long tongue around the diamond. It pulled it into its mouth and leaped back into the water.

“Hey! That frog just stole my diamond!”

“It went into the water. We need to go after it and get the diamond back.” Toast pointed at the still rippling water.

“But, I can’t swim.” Xander hated revealing his weakness.

“I’ll help you. We can’t let that frog take the diamond can we? Come with me.” Toast stepped into the pond. “Be careful it gets deep fast…” Toast disappeared under the water.



Arctica pine – grow along path in mountains north of Appleworth, long needled, fragrant

Banarba tree – only one of its kind in the Land of Waterberry

Butterloos – a lemon yellow flower with six petals, red center, long stems with iris-like leaves

Creamtails – orange flowers that grow in meadows, ten petaled, fragrant, short stems, thick, broad leaves

Mockle fish – silvery fish, found in lakes and streams all through the Land of Waterberry. A favorite for eating and usually cooked fried with mushrooms

Plumtuggle – round, plump, orange legs and arms, climbs trees, short, green fur, orange horn-shaped snout, bulgy eyes and 28 of them live in Woods of Bilbarth

Snockberry jam – made from snockberries, which are versatile and used for many things. Deep red in color, plump with tiny edible seeds inside.

Sugarapple – red peel, grow on trees, sweet and juicy when ripe, also worms make their homes in them.

Tibbledops – pink flowers that grow in meadows, long stem, long grass green leaves. Attracts bubbagons and bees. Favorite of ladybugs

Ugsnaw Creek – flows from Lake Wite, through the Woods of Bilbarth, and empties into the Nillipilli Sea

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