By midday, the stream has narrowed considerably, and then they reach a broad, level area where the water appears to expand in all directions. In reality, of course, this is where the stream begins, trickling out of the fen. Some of the vegetation is familiar from the wetter parts of Estbryn Forest, but there tall trees shelter the watery areas. This quag is far more exposed, the tallest woody plants being mere bushes and shrubs. Reeds and cattails tower above those. Tric immediately recognizes signs of Connie and Marvin’s digging, and he points out the section to Heppa. “Oh, yeah, there’s some good peat over there,” he declares. “And a little further on, that would be a good place for bog iron.”
Heppa is immediately interested. “What’s bog iron?”
“No one is quite sure, but I assure you it’s not just a sword that’s been left in a swamp. It turns out you don’t always need to just dig iron out of the ground. With some bogs like this one, iron will collect in places, and you can get a little bit to work with. Then, in not too long—thirty years or so—it will refresh, and there will be more iron! Whereas, if you dig iron out of the ground, it’s gone; it doesn’t come back. Don’t tell the dwarves, or they’ll start stealing the bogs… I guess that’s not a big deal, actually. They can have them.”
Heppa had been about to suggest they take a break, but now she proposes they go examine this fascinating-sounding material. She asks if it could pollute the water, but her cousin states that bog iron is naturally occurring. He agrees to lead her to it and begins confidently picking his way through the swamp. They jump between sections of raised ground, balance on rocks that are definitely not turtles, and slosh through some low-lying mud. Tric Manu does an excellent job of pointing out all the places that are firm enough to step, perhaps because he is so attuned to not-water.
“Oh, look! There’s a shield over there!” Tric says, pointing. There is a wooden one partially visible on a clump of wet grasses across an open stretch of water. “We don’t have to go all the way to the bog iron to find something exciting.”
“Do the bogs also make shields?” Heppa asks playfully.
“No, I’m pretty sure that was dumped here during one of those battles. Why someone would have a fight in a swamp up in the middle of the hills, though, I don’t know.”
Heppa is torn between continuing on to the bog iron and investigating the shield, but the latter is closer, so she settles on that for now. She and her cousin poke around some, trying to find a safe route to the shield that does not involve wading. In the course of that, they uncover some old planks, remnants of a boardwalk. Once upon a time, someone spent enough time in this swamp to construct pathways through it, but those have since fallen into disrepair.
“Can you do some sort of tanglevine to drag the shield toward us?” Tric asks.
Hepalonia counters with a suggestion that they use the planks. Technically, she does know how to move brambles, she just has never really been able to get them to cooperate. So instead of resorting to elvish magic, they go through their supplies and what is on hand and approach the access problem mechanically. They spend a while trying to shore up the decaying boardwalk before deciding that making a floatation aid is the better approach, given how deep the water seems between them and the shield. They scrape together enough sturdy pieces of wood and incorporate some reed clumps, binding them all together using some of the stronger plant tendrils around. Tric Manu is a source of many good ideas, but Heppa does most of the physical work. The process goes so smoothly that they end up with a raft they can both sit on, rather than just a pair of bodyboards. When it finally floats in front of her, Heppa turns to her cousin, excited. “Excellent! We have a raft, Tric Manu!”
“Now we can explore the bog in style,” Tric says. He encourages her, as shipwright, to give it a name, like the great ocean-crossing vessels have in Breda’s tales about the arrival of humans. They board the Raftielia and shove off, floating towards the shield. Late afternoon sun illuminates the area at a low angle, and the sounds of frogs fill the air.