"Is it not a beautiful day, my prince?" said Princess Merry dreamily, trailing her hand in the azure waters of Starflower Creek, the blossoms for which it was named nodding in profusion along the banks.
"Indeed it is my love," said Prince Karl from his stance on the stern as he expertly sculled their flatboat down a secluded branch of the creek, seeking a location for their picnic.
They had met at the royal ball celebrating the signing of a treaty of peace and friendship between their kingdoms of Lancshire and Vard after years of hostilities. From their first dance, the attraction was immediate and they were seldom seen apart thereafter.
They made a handsome couple; both in their early twenties, Karl tall, heavily built, muscular, possessing the strength that made the men of Vard formidable warriors, Merry nearly as tall with a curvaceous body, whipcord muscles and a grace that belied her lithe agility.
The gossip in both courts was that they were secretly betrothed so as not to upset their respective parents who traditionally had selected potential mates for them. They would have none but each other despite what anyone else thought.
"Look how clear the water has become," Merry exclaimed as they moved further down the branch, "I can see the fish swimming and the pebbles on the bottom."
"These trees are truly massive," Karl added. "I have naught seen such tall ones. What land is this? I thought I knew all of Vard."
They sailed along, amazed at the natural purity and splendor around them until they came upon a pond surrounded by green grass and massive trees where the creek branch seemed to end. Karl brought the flatboat against the bank and Merry stepped nimbly out carrying the picnic basket. He snapped off an overhanging tree limb, thrust it into the ground, tied the painter to it and joined Merry on their blanket.
Once they had eaten their fill and were stretched out in the filtered sunlight, Merry said "I am rather warm, shall we go for a swim?" She stood up and removed her clothing as Karl removed his. Soon they were swimming and playing in the crystal clear water, stopping to kiss and caress, then splash each other like children.
"My my, dear sister, who do we have here sullying my favorite pond?"
Karl and Merry stared in amazement at the figures that had suddenly appeared on the bank. They appeared to be beautiful young women, both nude, but ones skin was brilliant blue, the other a deep green. Their long hair, colored as their bodies, cascaded down their backs and their eyes glowed as if lit from within.
"They have damaged one of my charges as well," the green woman replied. "We must decide on a suitable punishment for this transgression."
Merry found her voice. "Who are you?"
"And what are you?" Karl added.
The women's laughter was as the tinkling of bells.
"I am Aqua," the blue woman replied. "A water sprite, my sister is Larch, a wood nymph. We are the powers of nature incarnate and not to be trifled with."
"No power of nature will protect you from my wrath if you attempt to harm my princess," Karl rumbled menacingly. He lifted himself onto the bank and offered his hand to Merry who sprang up beside him.
"You will feel my wrath if you attack my prince," she purred.
"You display uncommon courage," Larch said admiringly. "Mortals usually flee when we appear before them. From whence do you come?"
"We hail from adjoining kingdoms," Merry said. "I am Princess Merry of Lancshire and this is my intended, Prince Karl of Vard. Where are we now?"
"You are in the trackless forest by endless flowing waters; our domain," Aqua replied. "Wherever there is wood and water, so are we."
"Why did you address us in such a hostile fashion?" Merry continued. "We simply wanted to picnic and swim."
"That was a test of strength," Larch said. "If you had fled from us or begged for mercy, we would have sent you on your way and continued our quest for mortal assistance."
"You need our help?" Karl asked. "What would beings such as you need from us?"
"The Goblins have come to the surface again and are causing their usual mischief. Our powers are limited against them."
"Why don't they stay in their caverns where they belong?" Aqua sniffed.
"The trees have told me the nasty little creatures latest prank involves their damming up Whispering Creek directly downstream from it's headwaters to build a pool for swimming. The creek is drying up, the fish are dying and the birds and animals are suffering from thirst."
"The kingdom's flour mills are on Whispering Creek," Karl exclaimed as he and Merry dressed hurriedly. "They are processing our bountiful grain harvest for the coming winter. Now they must be idle and the grain will rot in the bins. These creatures must be dealt with quickly."
"Follow us," Larch replied. She and Aqua knocked on the trunk of a mammoth oak tree and an opening appeared. They walked inside with Karl and Merry following. In the darkness there was a sensation of being gently shaken, a momentary dizziness and they emerged from another tree trunk onto the banks of a stream bed; a thin stream of water being all that remained of the once swift flowing creek.
Oddly pitched hoots and guttural laughter emanated from upstream; the Goblins were enjoying themselves. Moving along the bank, the four were greeted by a truly amazing sight.
Several trees had been felled across the creek, interlocked in such a way that only trickles of water could pass between them. The creek had backed up behind them, overflowing it's banks and inundating the adjacent land. Cavorting in the deep water were the Goblins.
They were odd looking to say the least. Squatty, almost spherical bodies topped by smaller equally spherical heads with huge pointed ears, spindly arms and legs, short barbed tails and wattled skins the color of an overripe tomato.
Their faces consisted of bulging bloodshot eyes with vertical pupils, an upturned stubby nose and a large mouth filled with scraggly teeth that protruded randomly over rubbery lips.
They appeared to be about four feet tall, looking more comical than menacing.
"Let us confront them first," Larch said. "If they see the mortals, they may run and we'll have a hard time removing that dam without their help."
Karl and Merry watched from behind trees as the nymph and sprite walked toward the roistering goblins. When the creatures saw them they ceased their swimming, left the water and clustered on the bank chattering excitedly.
A goblin slightly larger than the rest left the group and began talking to Aqua and Larch. Scraps of the discussion reached Karl and Merry and they could tell it was becoming heated.
Suddenly the Goblins advanced as a body and attempted to tussle with Aqua and Larch. Larch stood as solidly as the trees she lived in and the goblins flailed away at her to no avail. Aqua turned opaque and the goblins claws merely passed through her. It was an impasse.
"I've seen enough," Karl muttered. "Shall we go down there and show those little nuisances who's boss?"
"My thoughts exactly," Merry replied. "That dam must be removed."
When Karl and Merry appeared, the goblins stood gaping, and then huddled behind the largest one.
"Remove this dam at once," Karl roared. "This creek must flow freely for all who depend on it downstream."
The larger goblin waddled to meet them, veined eyes unblinking as it looked up at the newcomers.
"By what authority do you command us, mortal?" it said in a voice like gravel cascading down a chute. "I am Nag, Boss of the Goblins, they answer only to me."
"I am Prince Karl of Vard, this is my kingdom and you are trespassers."
"Hah! Trespassers you say? We live beneath the ground and have for centuries. It is you who are the trespassers. Be gone before I become angry."
"Threaten my prince at your peril, Nag," Merry said icily. "You would do well to heed his request."
"I shall do no such thing," Nag snorted. "Females have no place in disputes between males in any case. You could be hurt."
"I tire of this chit-chat," Karl shouted, "Do as I command or face the consequences."
During the exchange, the other goblins had gathered behind their leader, moving restlessly as if waiting for a signal.
Suddenly, Nag aimed a vicious kick with a clawed foot at Karl's shin and the goblins surged forward.