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Erik chooses to search for a ford:
Erik wanted no part of that bridge. He would not risk his pony’s life. He turned to the left and rode downstream.
Although it was winter, the river wasn’t frozen solid, so they couldn’t cross that way. There were chunks of ice here and there, bobbing up and down in the river current like miniature icebergs. There was mud, too. Squelch, squolch, splorch went Benton’s hooves as he plodded through the muck on the riverbank.
Benton nudged Erik with his nose. He was trying to say, “Let’s go back to the bridge, this muck is not fun anymore,” but unfortunately, Erik didn’t understand Equine.
“Hey!” Erik exclaimed, as his feet skidded in the mud. “What are you trying to...” He looked across the river. The water wasn’t so deep just where Benton had stopped. And someone was crossing the river ahead of them. Benton had found the ford! “You are one smart pony, Benton!”
Benton nodded his head and snorted. He knew he was a smart pony, even if Erik had misunderstood what he was saying. They started across the river, Benton placing his feet very carefully. This was not easy. Ponies really shouldn’t have to do this sort of thing... but with a prrrrrrr of his lips and a shake of his head, he reminded himself that it was in a good cause, helping his boy.
Just then, the wagon ahead of them lurched. The driver scrambled out and splodged through the muck on the other bank of the river, grabbed his donkey’s harness and tugged. Splooosh! He landed on his backside, while the donkey and cart just stood there.
“Oh no, Benton!” Erik exclaimed. “That cart is stuck! We have to help them!”
Benton knew it was no use arguing that they might get stuck, too, and besides, there was that problem of Erik -- bright boy though he was -- not understanding Equine. He plodged forward, his hooves getting heavier with mud at every step.
Once on the riverbank, Erik noticed all the tin cups and plates and other things hanging from hooks on the sides of the stuck wagon. The tinker! He went everywhere and knew everything! Maybe, just maybe...
Erik hitched Benton next to the tinker’s donkey, grabbed Benton’s harness to urge him forward and started tugging. Splodge, grunt, squoosh, oof, SWOOOOOOOSH! As the cart finally came loose from the mud, bits of water and muck flew everywhere. Erik and the tinker were covered in the stuff!
Spitting bits of mud out of his mouth, the tinker said, “Thank you, young fellow-mi-lad! I am forever in your debt! I will repay you if it takes every tin cup I own. Simply speak what you wish.”
Erik wiped his muddy face with an equally muddy sleeve. “All I wish is to find my birthday present. It was stolen from the box before I could even find out what it was! Someone said something about a rider on a black horse. I’ve been following clues all over the castle and now the forest.”
The tinker grinned from ear to ear. There was mud on his teeth, so it wasn’t really a pretty sight. “I believe I can help you! I saw that very rider just before I started across the river. It was a young girl with fair curly hair streaming in ringlets down her back. She was riding low on her horse, clutching something long and shining in her hand. She disappeared into the forest.”
Erik paced around rapidly, kicking up more and more mud. “Lady Josie! The young princess’s lady-in-waiting. Well, girl-in-waiting. But what would she be doing in the forest -- she belongs in the castle. And with something long and shining? Maybe that’s my present! Maybe SHE stole it! But why?” He stopped and stared at the tinker. “I must find her! Which way did she go?”
“She went thataway,” the tinker said, in the first recorded usage of that phrase in history. He pointed south.
Erik slithered onto Benton’s back (he had to try three times, because the mud made him slide off the other side) and they headed off.
It quickly grew very dark and spooky as he rode into the forest. Benton was all for getting out of there, but he didn’t seem to have much say in the matter. Ahead of them loomed a huge, twisted tree. Benton neighed in alarm, and Erik reined him in.
There was a sign nailed haphazardly to the tree. It pointed right to “Soggybottom Swamp” and left to “Mystery Mountain”.
“We have another choice to make, Benton,” Erik said.
Choose the Swamp and go HERE.
Choose the Mountain and go HERE.