Bee swam down further into the gloom. The dark water was no problem though, her eyes easily adjusting. She had seen the fading light glint off something in the muck below. She wound her slight form down, her powerful tail propelling her though the water with a grace unmatched. She shooed away a greedy tench and ran her webbed fingers through the silt. Bee was small for one of the Folk but despite that she had been afforded the honour of being invited to the next Great Assembly. Her mother was very proud, imagine if a member of the Roach Tribe were the next Maid, such a thing was unheard of. Her brothers had teased her something awful but she could tell they were proud of her, brothers just had a funny way of showing it. Her fingers found something cold, a shiny ring pull. Dropping it into the pouch at her side she swam back up, the depths held larger fish than a fat tench, a full grown pike would think nothing of taking a bite out of her. Before she would break the surface she stopped to examine the content of her pouch. Three ring pulls, a few pieces of water turned glass of green and brown and a handful of bottle tops. Bee had decided to make a necklace for the Maid, to thank her for the invitation, even if she was not the next Maid it was still a great honour to be invited. Pressing on through the high growing reeds she startled a small school of bleak, the little silver fish scattered in every direction.
“Sorry,” she called as she continued towards home. Home for one of the Folk was the tribe they belonged to, there were many tribes that Bee knew of, some were always moving along the canals and rivers others stayed in one area. The Folk of the Open Waters held no tribes, or so Bee had heard from her mother, she had never seen one herself. Bee was part of the Roach Tribe, a small tribe but one of the oldest. For the most part they were farmers, though a few become errants, travelling folk without a tribe to come back too. An errant would help any tribe they came across, but would never be able to call it their own. Errants lived a life of travel and adventure. Her brothers Butterbur and Bogbean were training to become errants, learning all they could before they would leave. Her mother spoke very little of it, but would always sigh heavily whenever either of them brought it up and they would quickly fall silent. Bee thought such a life to be wonderful.
Winding her way through the water she was careful not to startle anymore schools and to avoid the human lines that dangled from the banks. She had once sat with her brothers watching a human pull fish after fish from the water only to return them shortly after. The fish were most confused by this turn of events, what an earth could the humans be doing if they were not eating the fish. The complexities and mysteries of humans were lost on her, they were strange folk better left alone, she had seen the dangers of getting tangled in the lines they cast. Still, it was fun to cut the lines and swim away with the little coloured sticks tied to them, they made for pretty headdresses. Bee was looking for more shiny items when the two large forms of her brothers swam out of the darkness. Butterbur was longer but Bogbean was heavier, both of them had fathers dark stripes and pointy spines.
“There you are,” Bogbean called, he waved her over.
“We have go, theres trouble,” said Butterbur grabbing her wrist. Bee pulled free and swam back, her brothers had played tricks like this on her before. They had once bound her in weeds and left her tied to the underside of a barge, a kind of human vessel. Mother had not been pleased.
“Bee, were not playing,” said Bogbean, “there’s trouble with Heron Tribe.” The Heron Tribe were the Roach Tribes closest neighbours, though they didn’t farm Starwort like the Roach Tribe. The Heron Tribe were almost all warriors. The warrior tribes of the Folk would patrol the waterways and deal with any threats that may put the Folk in danger. Most warrior tribes were under the control of the Maid herself, but Heron Tribe remained independent, independent and troublesome. They would bully smaller tribes into sharing food and resources or let the larger predators of the waterways into their territory. The Roach Tribe had been sharing the Starwort with Heron Tribe for a long time, and it was much more work for them. Trouble with the Heron Tribe wasn’t uncommon, but for her brothers to come fetch her like this, it must be serious. Bee nodded and fell in line with her brothers who led her through the tangles of weeds and larger human debris and back to the farm. Father was waiting at the hollowed out bank they called home, wringing his tail in worry. He beamed at them as they approached and quickly hustled all three inside. Mother was nowhere to be seen. Their hollow was simple, like most Folk dwellings, it was round and tall, with only four rooms. The centre room was were mother prepared meals and it had a large stone table big enough for the whole family to gather round. The walls were lined with glitterbells, a small green plant that gave off a soft glow that lit the inside of the hollow.
“Where’s Da, Bogbean said the Herons are up to no good again?” She asked her father. Her father bustled about the hollow setting food for each of them and fussing as only he could.
“I’m sure it’s all just a misunderstanding,” He assured her, “your mother has gone to see what’s going on.” That was all he would say on the matter. Bee knew better than to press her father, the women of the Folk ruled each family, if her mother had decided to see what was going on then that was an end to the matter. Butterbur and Bogbean gulped their food down quickly and left the hollow with only a quick goodbye. It wasn’t fair that they got to go off on their own. She edged close to the door whilst her fathers back was turned preparing more food. “No you don’t Bee,” came her fathers voice. Bee turned back to see her father still facing away from her.
“But it’s not fair, they get to go off and do what they like,” She protested swishing her tail in anger.
“Don’t you dare flair your tail at me young lady,” her father warned without turning, “Your brothers are big enough and ugly enough to take care of themselves, you are not.”
“But I am, I was invited to the assembly,” she pointed out. Her father turned and smiled at her. Bee was one of only five youngsters invited to The Assembly, an event which would determine a new Maid, the Guiding Chief of the Folk. Roach Tribe had never had a member become a Maid, it was a very high honour to even be invited.
“Now don’t you go getting too big for your fins. You were invited, and we are all so very proud of you, the whole Tribe,” he placed a hand on either side of Bees’ face and scrunched it up, “but if there is trouble out there I don’t want you to be any part of it.” That was the end of the discussion. Bee pouted and settled down to sulk in the corner. Emptying the items from her pouch she began to order them along a thin length of line. She was sure the Maid would have much finer pieces, but she did not have one from Roach Tribe.
Bee woke with the necklace still in her hands, she must have fallen asleep still making it. The glitterbells were bright and water outside the hollow was so dark that even one of the Folk would have trouble seeing through it. Her father and mother were in the middle of the hollow talking in harsh whispers. She decided to stay quiet, pretending to be asleep, grown ups had a habit of not talking about the important things in front of children. Sleep still fogged her mind but Bee could make out her mother’s worried tone, something about a beast in the water meadow and not enough food to go around. Her father was wringing his tail again.
“But to attack us!” he said in a louder voice. Her mother shushed her father and looked in her direction, it was a long moment before she was satisfied she was asleep.
“They drove the others out of the last meadow, set up guards to stop us getting back in,” she said, “When I got there, well, you know how Deadnettle can be. We were lucky to get away with a few bruises.” So the Heron Tribe had run them off their own farms and attacked them. Everyone knew they were bunch of bullies but they had never attacked another tribe before.
“What about the other meadow, did you find out what was in there?” her father asked. Mother shook his head.
“No, but if the Herons can’t take care of it then it has to be something big, not just a swarm of grindylows or a wayward kelpie.” Bee watched her through half closed eyes as she leaned in closer to her father, she had to hold her breath to hear her. “With only one meadow there wont be enough food for both tribes. Me and few others are going back tomorrow, and either they’re leaving, or we are.” She turned towards her and Bee closed her eyes, her mother lifted her effortlessly into her arms. “I want you to take Bee to the Assembly tomorrow as planned. If things go bad, I want you and her as far away from here as possible. It wouldn’t hurt to let the Maid know what Heron Tribe are up to either.”
Her mother laid her down gently in her bed of reeds and left her appearing to be sound asleep. So there was something in one of the meadows, something that scared even the Heron Tribe. Bee would find out what this creature was, a Maid after all was trusted to resolve the issues of her people. When her father would come to wake her he would find Bee’s bed empty and his daughter nowhere to be seen.