Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Team members greeted each other under the reeds and told each other how nervous they were. Many supporters had arrived early to get a good viewing spot and now the younger ones were getting bored and making a nuisance of themselves.
Molly checked in the last of her team and sent them to join the others for Eddy’s last-minute pep talk. She would join them once she’d given Flo her team list, but the judges were meeting under the water lilies and the pond floor was an obstacle course while spectators were still arriving.
She recognised some of Flash’s supporters from last week’s friendly match. That plump silver one had been complaining about her view from the designated spectator zone. She was pouting again today.
‘Come on, Walter – there’s a space over there. Oh, triffic! Someone’s beaten us to it.’ Silver tendrils of hair trailed across her petulant frown as she briefly glanced behind them. ‘Can’t she swim any faster?’
Her friend, a pallid yellow youngster, ran his hand through the tufts of hair sticking up on his head.
‘It’s not my fault, Sylv. Either I look after Amber or I have to take my turn watching hatchlings, and then I couldn’t come at all.’
‘Why is it always you who has to look after Amber?’
Walter gave no sign that he heard, although the protest was loud enough to reach Molly. He was watching a frail, half-grown honey-coloured mirling as she swam unevenly towards them.
‘Come on Amber!’
‘His name’s Walter.’ Sylva released a sigh. Bubbles danced to the surface as Walter turned to study the assembled teams.
‘Have you spotted Flash yet?’
Molly followed his gaze to where the Strikers were gathering.
A wave surged through the water, blurring the scene. Fish darted for cover. Looking up, she saw a black streak whisk out of sight.
‘Was that the cat? Did anyone see? Did it get a fish?’
The shallows fell silent.
‘I think it did,’ someone answered. ‘I wasn’t looking that way.’
‘Spit!’ Flo was ashen. ‘We forgot to look out for the c-cat.’
A newly arrived Striker touched down, ‘Is Flash around?’
‘He was here a while ago,’ a teammate answered.
‘He swam up to the surface,’ another offered. ‘Probably gone to check out the targets.’
All eyes rose towards the rim of the pond.
‘I thought he was heading for a fish.’
The cat reappeared, playfully pawing at something on the ground.
‘Oh no.’ Flo’s hand covered her mouth.