There were a number of things I looked for in Fengarad but didn’t find. Book shops didn’t exist, although I knew books did. Now that I could read, books seemed the obvious way to gather a lot of information quickly, but they were incredibly rare. Most likely, there were private libraries somewhere. My guess would be that there was one in the Palace, but I had avoided that part of the city because palaces are where princesses live.
The other thing I couldn’t find was a compass. It would make life a lot easier if we knew which direction we were going in, but no one understood what I was going on about when I asked shopkeepers if they sold them. Perhaps magnets didn’t exist, or maybe there was no North Pole to attract them.
We left Fengarad heading north. At least, I think we did. The marshlands were a huge area with no towns or cities—not human ones, anyway. It took us two days to reach them. I expected to find swamps and crocodiles, but it was more like a series of lakes linked by narrow tributaries. Trees were sparse, but all sorts of other vegetation grew in and around the water.
Forcing our way through the tall grass, reeds and thick foliage was a chore—the one thing we didn’t bring was machetes—but on the upside, we were quite well hidden from whatever might want to have us for lunch.
Insects buzzed and hummed around us, but we saw no other creatures. No frogmen.
Once we had worked our way into the heart of the marshes, it was really hard to know which way was which. We may well have been travelling in circles. We had quite a lot of food with us, mostly dried meat and nuts, and there were also fish in the water, although they seemed particularly adept at avoiding the nets we had brought with us. After four days, there was some grumbling about what we were doing and how maybe it was time to head back.
I, of course, told them they could leave anytime they wished. Or rather, I said, “Well, fuck off then.”
On the fifth day, we finally saw our first frogmen. Flossie returned to our camp from a visit to the little girl’s room, doubled over like she had the world’s worst stomach ache, but she was in fact trying to avoid detection.
“Quick,” she whispered at us, “over here. Ah’ve seen ‘em.”
We followed her through the undergrowth to the edge of the water. We all lay on our stomachs, peering through the grass at the platform of logs floating on the lake. There were four frogmen on the platform. A female with a child, a large male with a spear and an elderly male sitting on what looked like chair made of wicker.
They literally looked like large frogs. They had skinny limbs, compact torsos, long legs with webbed feet, and the bug-eyes and wide mouths you associate with frogs. The only un-froggy thing about them was that they weren’t green. Their skin colour was light brown.
We lay there watching them for a few hours.
The larger male—he was about as tall as Dudley—used the spear to catch fish. He was good at it, scoring pretty much every time. There was a small fire burning on the platform, over which hung a pot. The female cleaned and cooked the fish. The child spent most of its time with her, occasionally going over to see what Dad was up to, and usually getting shouted at. They were too far to hear what they said, but they certainly spoke.
When they weren’t fishing or cooking, they swam. Messing about in the water, diving for various plants they used for cooking, teaching the kid to leap out of the water onto the platform—it looked like an idyllic life. One we intended to disrupt.
The older male spent his time smoking. He had a long pipe that he puffed on pretty much constantly. It was the first time I’d seen anyone smoking in this world. I had assumed tobacco didn’t exist until now, although there was no way to confirm it was tobacco.
What was more interesting, though, was how he lit the pipe. Every now and again it would go out and then he would raise his hand and a flame would appear from his finger. Like magic.
We continued to watch our family of frogs over the next few days. Three people would remain at the water’s edge while the other two stayed at the camp. Every few hours one of us would rotate.
The weather turned and it started to rain. We set up our tents and continued the surveillance. Our food was rapidly depleting and the best we managed with fishing was two in one day. I knew we’d have to make our move soon, but what that move was, I still wasn’t sure.
We couldn’t just go up to them and ask them about how to do magic. The bounty on frogmen was only 100 bits. You’d have to come all the way out here, find them, and then kill them. It was a lot of effort for not very much money, so not many people bothered hunting them. But I still couldn’t see us being treated as anything other than a threat.
They spent all their time on the water. They even slept on their platform. However, once a day the male would use his spear to punt the platform to the far side so the older male could go onto land for about half an hour.
I decided to find out what he was up to, so the next morning, I worked my way around the edge of the water and hid myself in the undergrowth. And waited.
The old guy was smaller than me, but no doubt he’d be able to put up a fight if need be. I’d warned the others if they saw me running, they should do the same.
After a couple of hours, the platform came floating across the water and bumped into the bank. The old frogman stepped off and somewhat unsteadily made his way onto land.
I kept my head down and waited for him to pass, then I slowly followed on all fours. Since he was a beast, there was a good chance he had heightened animal senses and would be able to detect my presence, so I was careful to be quiet and didn’t follow too closely.
He did pause a couple of times and look around. Perhaps he felt like he was being watched, but he didn’t seem too suspicious, just slightly puzzled. I wasn’t particularly familiar with amphibious facial expressions, but he looked a bit dozy.
He walked for about five minutes until he came to a small group of bushes. He pushed them aside to reveal a hole in the ground which he crouched over. Yep, he was going to the toilet.
Why he had to do this on land, and why the rest of his family didn’t need to, was a mystery. What I did learn, though, was that frogman poo smells just as bad as ours, and their farts are high pitched and kind of tuneful. I’ll never be able to listen to an Ellie Goulding song the same way again.
As I lay there, I considered going back to the others, organising a plan and then coming back the following day to capture him. It would take some time getting them sorted out and confident in what they were supposed to be doing, but it was probably the safest way to do it.
On the other hand…
I crept around the back of the bushes, wincing every time I made a noise. There were no twigs to step on, but even brushing aside stalks of grass seemed to be inordinately loud.
I managed to get right up behind him before he noticed me. It must have been a terrifying sight, my face looming towards him through the bushes as he tried to take a quiet dump. He let out a startled yelp and then keeled over as I hit him with my sap.
It was risky—there was no way to know if the sap would work. I’d never tried it before, and frogman physiology could have been very different to ours. His large, slimy head might have been covered in rubber for all I knew.
Fortunately, I connected well and his bulbous eyes rolled back in his head.
For those of you planning to kidnap someone while they’re shitting outdoors, here’s a couple of tips. If you drag them away by their arms, they will leave a streak of shit along the ground that will make it pretty easy for you to be tracked. Better to grab their legs and drag them off that way, although you’ll have to hold your breath. And don’t look down.
I knew I had some time before he would be missed, so I dragged him as far as I could in ten minutes and then tied him up. He was still breathing but out cold. I poured some water over his head and slapped him a bit, but that didn’t seem to do much. I ended up sitting down next to him and eating some jerky, waiting for him to come round. I just hoped I hadn’t put him in a coma.