CHAPTER TWO

Biscuit and Cookie were being pulled through the cold green water by the water boatman. Cookie was panicking; he could not hold his breath any longer when suddenly they surfaced! Where was Biscuit? Using one hand to wipe the slippery weed from his face he looked behind him. There he was! Covered in pondweed himself and coughing and spluttering but he was alive.

"Wahoo!" Yelled Cookie. This was amazing! The water boatman was pulling them through the water so fast they looked like they were water skiing behind him.

"Aaaaarrhhh!" Yelled Biscuit, once he had coughed out some pondweed and some surprised looking pond life.

In front of them some pond-skaters propelled themselves out of the way using their middle legs. Cookie tried to push some of the slimy weed off his head, for some reason it seemed to be stuck? Biscuit looked at him curiously then his eyebrows raised and his mouth dropped. "Trommy, tremmy, trammy, TREMATODE!" he said at last

Cookie tried to think, which was difficult at the best of times. Being dragged through the water at speed with a strange slimy thing on his head was not the best of times. A thought burrowed into his head, as it appeared something else was trying to. "Isn't that that flatworm, that burrows into you?"

Biscuit let go with one hand and reached over to grab this grey slimy worm from Cookies head. With a revolting squelching sound it let go of Cookies head, leaving behind silvery mucus on his hair. Above them several midges were taking an interest in what was happening. With a look of extreme disgust Biscuit shook it off his hand and threw it into the water, where it landed with a splash and undulated quickly away.

"Thanks," said Cookie gratefully. Using one hand he tried to clean some of the shiny, sticky mucus from his hair. Nice! "This could be a good look for me!"

Biscuit gave him a withering look. "Where are we going?"

"He's taking us home!" Said Cookie, beginning to enjoy himself. "Look I'm holding on with one hand!" He took one hand off the rope and started posing.

"Cookie, shut up," said Biscuit, spluttering as water was splashed into his face.

"Look one foot!"

"Show off, look out here comes Ponditon port!"

"Look, no hands!" That was stupid, he thought as he sank under the water.

The water boatman raced under the bright green lily pad and Biscuit let go and went hurtling onto the side of the pad with a squelching sound. He crouched down and kissed the lily pad beneath his feet. "I never though I would be so pleased to see this place again. It might be mouldy but its home." He looked around him, quickly. "Cookie?" He wasn't on the pad. He stood up and looked about, pushing his damp hair from his eyes.

"Help!"

Cookie had fallen off the rope and was swimming towards the lily pad, some way away.

"Come on Cookie, what are you waiting for?"

"Go and warn the others about the wasp men!" He yelled, "I'll swim in."

Biscuit ran off at the curiously deserted village and shouted, "Hide, the wasp men are coming!" He raced up the stairs, past several houses built around the reeds, which were strangely quiet. He peered through a window and could see a table apparently floating? He stared under the table. Someone was hiding under a table; he could see a foot sticking out from under the tablecloth. No it wasn't just one person it was several people. The table wasn't just standing on the floor, more sort of resting on them. Biscuit tried the door. It was jammed shut. He went back to the window and crawled through it, landing with a thud on the floor. Moving his wet hair from his eyes again he stuck his head under the table cloth, staring into the frightened faces of several people under the table and said, "The wasp men are coming, hide!"

"Sssh!" said one of the people under the table.

"The wasp men are coming!" said Biscuit, again.

Cookies grandfather, one of the people under the table said - "You're a bit late boy, they've already been and gone."

"Oh no," said Biscuit, his lips starting to tremble. They had to be wrong they just had to be. "Where's my sister? Petalla, Petalla!" He ran up to the door, pushed the bark chair away that was blocking it and opened it with a wrench. "Petalla, where are you? Magaray? Magaray? Petalla?"

Biscuit had stopped at the next house and was shouting through the window, when Cookie's Grandfather caught up with him and put his hand on his arm. "I'm sorry they took them both this time and every able bodied fisherman we had."

"No I don't believe you," said Biscuit. "Petalla! Petalla!"

"Get real boy, they've gone." Biscuit looked into the old man's eyes, normally hidden under his great eyebrows and saw them glistening.

"We've got to get them back."

"People have gone after the wasp men before boy. No one ever comes back."

"I don't care I'm going," said Biscuit, getting angry.

"You can't go, you and Cookie are the only fishermen we have now," said the old man. "If you go the village starves."

"I don't care," he said stubbornly. "You can start eating the winter stocks. As soon as Cookie comes in we are going." He started walking slowly down the stairs to the lily pad port.

Cookie was just hauling himself in. He knelt down and kissed the lily pad. "I never though I would be so pleased to see this place again. It might be mouldy but its home." He stood up and saw Biscuit, striding grim faced towards him. "Biscuit! Are we in time?" Biscuit looked at Cookie in horror. "What's wrong? I haven't got a Trematode in my hair again have I?"

Behind Cookie Smurrell hauled himself up onto the leaf, slime and mud dripping from his fangs.

Magaray and Petalla had fallen from the wasp onto a thick bluish green leaf of a giant tulip. Magaray looked around her. Above her she could see the bright red petals of the tulip flower and beyond that the deep blue sky with clouds skittering across it. A big hairy bumblebee, with broad orange and yellow bands, buzzing loudly landed with a thud in the flower making the whole plant shake. Magaray looked around at Petalla who had still not opened her eyes.

"Where are we?" said Petalla, in a small voice.

"If you opened your eyes, you could find out," said Magaray unhelpfully. She looked to her left into the small black eye of an aphid. The insect was green with a huge belly and was mouth down feeding on the sap. There were dozens of them, surrounding her. Several of them were dead, just husks and she could see wasp larva burrowing through them. Her upper lip rose in disgust.

Petalla nervously opened up one eye and then the other. "We're safe!" she said looking up.

"No we're not we're surrounded by APHIDS! I hate aphids, they are the thirteenth worse insect I know." Several dozen aphids were sucking the sap out of the leaf they were standing on. They looked like friendly placid cows, just very green.

"What's wrong with them?" said Petalla, patting one in a friendly fashion on the abdomen.

"They're icky. Eeerrrhh!" She shivered.

Petalla looked over the edge of the leaf. "We're still up very high." She went even paler than she was before. "I get vertigo, I've got to get off, I've got to get off!"

"Not again," said Magaray, sighing.

Behind them an ominous buzzing sound heralded the arrival of the wasp.

Petalla ran to the edge of the leaf, pushing aside several aphids as she did and leapt into space. Magaray sighed and ran after her. Whatever was down there had to be better than these aphids? Eeeurh!

Cookie stood up with a squelching sound and looked behind him, his eyes wide open with terror. Smurrell was clambering up, his eight small black eyes focussed on Cookie, "Run!"

Biscuit was way ahead of him "Back to the house!"

The lily pad started sinking slightly as Smurrell climbed onto it. Small rivulets of water raced onto it, submerging part of the leaf. Some of the daphnia fishing nets got carried out by the water and sank to the bottom of the pond. Biscuit reached the stairs and waited for Cookie who was not far behind him.

"Come on!" he said pushing at Biscuit, who raced up the stairs.

Cookie ran past his grandfather who was making his way down the stairs. "Hi Gramps, bye Gramps."

"Youngsters always in a hurry, never have time for elders and betters," he looked up. "Smurrell!" Biscuit and Cookie grabbed an elbow each and carried Gramps up the stairs. Behind them the water spider, dripping mud and water from his huge hairy body, started scuttling towards them with evil purpose reflected in his every eye.

"Smurrell!"

"We know!" Said Cookie, racing up the stairs. The reed the stairs were attached to started swaying as Smurrell scaled it. An ominous creaking sound was sound was heard from the reed as the spider climbed up it.

"Smurrell!"

"Don't you hate it," said Cookie. "If you visit someone at home they immediately think they have to visit you in yours."

"Smurrell!" Gramps got some of his senses back. "Let go of me you idiots!"

"Fine," said Biscuit. Gramps raced up the spiral staircase ahead of him.

"Quick through the door!" Shouted Cookie.

"I know where I live!" Shouted down Gramps. He burst through the door and slammed it shut.

"GRAMPS!" Shouted Cookie and Biscuit. "Let us in!" Cookie and Biscuit started hammering on the door. Behind them Smurrell was clambering up the reed staircase behind them, dripping mud and slimy water behind him.

"Tell your friend Smurrell to go home first."

"He's not our friend, let us in!"

Gramps opened the door a crack and was pushed back by the rush. "Cheers Gramps!" Cookie and Biscuit burst in and slammed the door shut behind them. Behind them Smurrell had clambered up the same level as them and was peering through the window at them.

The wind whistled past Magaray's ears as she plummeted down. Below her she could see Petalla screaming and falling. Suddenly the wasp came flying in and Petalla landed with a thump on its back, shortly followed by Magaray. "Ouch!"

With her head spinning she looked around her into the grinning face of Lord Zircon. At least she hoped he was grinning, he was certainly showing her all his teeth.

"Thank you for joining us again," said Zircon. "We don't want you dropping out of our tour any more."

In the distance they could see a large flint rock sticking out of the ground. An earthen rampart that was being patrolled by wasp soldiers surrounded it. There were several buildings built out of soil surrounding the flint.

The air was full of wasps that were coming out of a large tunnel outside the ramparts. Most of them carried a pilot, some had seats attached like the wasp they were on.

Petalla and Magaray's wasp landed next to one of the buildings and deposited them onto the ground. Magaray clambered painfully down the side of the wasp, down a small rope ladder and looked around her. An earthen wall surrounded them but a huge flint in the middle dominated the place. At the sides of the flint were groups of people chipping away at it. Several small huts made of bark and leaves were dotted around. A chill settled on her stomach as she realised where they were.

Zircon stepped down from the wasp and addressed the huddled prisoners.

"Welcome to the flint mines."

Cookie and Biscuit were staring wide-eyed through the small window. The house was in darkness and swaying back and forth due to the spider outside. The eight eyes of Smurrell stared back through the window. Cookie could see himself and Biscuit reflected many times in his eyes. Looming up behind him he could see someone who looked angrier than Smurrell.

"I'm so pleased to see you," said Gramps sarcastically, grabbing hold of the wall to stop himself falling over. "Why do you have to drag everything you find back home Cookie?"

"It followed me home, Gramps," said Cookie, shrugging his shoulders. "It's not my fault."

"That's what you said about the caterpillar!" said Gramps. "And that leech, the ant that had fallen in the water, the pill bug. Although that last one tasted nice."

The house got lighter. "I think he's going!" said Biscuit. It got darker again. "No he's come back again." He turned to Gramps. "Do you think they will let us have another fishing boat?" .

"What happened to the last one you had?" Asked Gramps, not really wanting to know the answer.

"Smurrell got it."

"I'm tempted to throw you two out to ask for it back."

"He's starting to put a web about our house Gramps."

"Oh joy!"

"As soon as he goes, we're going to get Petalla, Magaray and the rest of our people back," said Biscuit.

"If I was young enough I'd probably go with you," said Gramps.

"I thought you loved the fishing life?" said Cookie

"I do love the fishing life," said Gramps, "but to be honest I sometimes wish I were young enough to go after my son who was kidnapped. The Pond people treat me with a bit of suspicion because I actually saw a human being once. When I was young I was bored with the dull existence my people follow and I thought I would sail to the other side of the pond. Day turned to night and when I looked up I could see a human blocking the sun. It was the biggest creature you could ever imagine and it tore up several plants that lined the side of the pond at the time with one hand. It was the first and only time I have seen a human. The plants round the side of our pond now grow tall and are watched over by the Quanto's people, the Ant farmers. They are a lot more adventurous than we are and I think they look on us as a bunch of superstitious idiots. To be honest sometimes I agree with them."

"I'll take a boat at first light and go to Nestiton the Ant town," said Biscuit.

"I'm coming with you," said Cookie.

"If you go, you'll need a guide," said Gramps. "Talk to Quanto he's more adventurous than most sorts. He'll help you out."

"Not Quanto," groaned Biscuit. "Magaray fancies him something rotten. Just because he is tall, good looking and witty, they are so shallow girls."

"I have no idea what you see in my sister," said Cookie. "Why don't you like one of the other girls about like Norbert or Triuwert?"

"They're ugly!"

Magaray looked around at the frightened huddle of Ponditon people. Lord Zircon walked to the front of the frightened mass and began to address them.

"My name is Lord Zircon and I am the ruler of Wasp city. My race has full control of over wasps and this enables us to dominate the air. Our city is based next to a large flint, which we mine for trade and weapons. My people need flint to trade with but unfortunately there are not enough of us to mine it especially as we are engaged in a war with another race of Bee soldiers in the far eastern part of Garden. We do not have the resources to mine flint ourselves so we take slaves from the simple folk of Ponditon."

Petalla whispered to Magaray. "What does simple mean?"

Magaray put her hand up. "Excuse me Lord Zinc."

"Zircon," said Lord Zircon.

"Bless you," said Magaray. "What are our hours here?"

"We operate two shifts, the morning to noon and the noon to night shift. You have two breaks either side of your lunch break."

"What break?"

"Lunch."

"We'll have two over here please. Roast daphnia with a side order of fried pond weed, please."

"I'm a vegetarian," said Petalla. "I'll just have the pond weed."

"I don't like roast daphnia," said another prisoner. "Can't we have it boiled?"

"You can't have it boiled," said Magaray. "It ruins the flavour. A little bit of algae on it and it is gorgeous."

"I don't hold with eating Daphnia at all," said their teacher who had been captured with them. "I prefer fried ant meat, fresh from Nestiton."

"Ant meat?" Said Magaray. "It's stringy, tacky and tasteless."

"Not if you marinade in a garlic sauce for twenty minutes first," said the teacher. "It takes the dryness out but you have to cook it just right."

"Excuse me," said Lord Zircon. "I believe we were discussing your slavery?"

"Sorry, carry on Zincy boy," said Magaray.

"Is there a hairdressers here, I can't see one?" Said Petalla looking around at the buildings.

"It's not important," said Zircon biting his lip.

"It is to me," said Petalla. "You can't expect me to work with my hair like this."

"Just listen for two minutes please?" Pleaded Zircon. "Your accommodation is over there," he said pointing to a hut, "and the food block is over there and I don't know if they serve Daphnia."

"You don't have a menu do you?" Asked Magaray.

"I believe they are serving pill bug today," said Zircon.

"I'm not eating pill bug," said the teacher. "It gives me wind."

"You find that as well do you?" Said Lord Zircon. "That's why you should always fry it."

"You are right," said the teacher, "but I find you lose the texture if you do that."

"I know," said Zircon, "but sprinkle it with a dash of Thyme before serving and it tastes wonderful."

"Let's go and see what there is to eat in this place Petalla," said Magaray and walked off.

"Where are you going?" Asked Lord Zircon.

"We're going to get some food," said Magaray.

"You're here to work your not here to eat!" Said Lord Zircon. "Come back!"

"You're the one who has been talking about food all the time," said Magaray, turning back. "Ok, carry on."

"Are you sure? Right," said Lord Zircon. "Have I got everyone's attention? Good. Right you will be joining the E working party which consists of some Ponditon and some Nestiton villagers."

"I'm not working with anyone from Nestiton," said the Teacher.

"Why not?"

"No offence to you land dwellers," said the Teacher. "But you all smell."

Lord Zircon sniffed at a Wasp soldier next to him. "No we don't!"

"You live with the smell," said Magaray, "you don't notice it anymore. Look I'm sorry we are not happy with our working conditions here, we're going back home."

"I'm sorry you're leaving our service," said Zircon shaking Magaray's hand. "If you want a reference just ask."

"Thanks Lord Zinc," said Magaray, "sorry we didn't get on. You know personality clash."

"Hang on!" Said Lord Zircon. "You can't just go! Guards!" A group of wasp men soldiers ran up. "Join this group up with work party E."

"You can't mix Ponditon and Nestiton people, Lord Zircon," said the guard. "They'll be forever complaining about the smell."

"Just do it!"

"Excuse me, Lord Zircon," said the teacher. "I can't do any physical work, I've got a slipped disc."

"That's very painful isn't it," agreed Zircon. "How did you do that?"

"I was pulling in a net of daphnia at the time."

"Nasty," nodded Zircon. "You should lift with your knees not your back. Well what can you do?"

"I teach fishing actually," said the teacher.

"Not much call for that round here actually, seeing as there is no water to fish in."

"I see." He thought for a moment. "I also do a very good Mayfly impression." He started a very annoying buzzing sound.

"I think you've got the wrong nasal pitch for a Mayfly, they are more like nnnnnnnrrrrnnnrrrnnn," said Lord Zinc.

"Nothing like," said Patella who had been listening in on all this. "It's more like mmmmmmmnnnmmmnnn."

"That's very good actually," said Lord Zinc. He slapped himself on his forehead. "Just a minute! What am I talking about this with you slaves for?" He gestured to a large guard to come over. A huge guard armed with a big spear covered in wasp claws came striding over. "Norbill here is the real expert on Mayfly noises. Norbill a demonstration if you please?"

"Mmmnnnnnnhhhnnnhhhnnnhhh!"

"That's very good," agreed the teacher, nodding at the others.

"Quite superb," said Patella in awe.

"Anyway that will have to wait for every third evening which is insect sound night," said Lord Zircon. "I want to hear plenty of practicing while you are working! Guards take the prisoners to their new quarters and show them their working area. You'd better give them their own working party, I don't want any more trouble from them."