Mr. Grant stood on the bank, staring across the water. The lake was completely black; rotten and lifeless. The King of the Ducks had not lied to him in dreams; things were not well here.
‘Are you ready?’ a voice behind him croaked.
Mr. Grant turned as the creature waddled closer towards him. It couldn’t have been taller than four feet; a curious thing of man and bird. A twisted beak hung from an old man’s face, while two gnarled arms reached out from the raw patches on the side of his feathered body.
‘Are you ready?’ repeated the King of the Ducks, never taking his narrow eyes from Mr. Grant’s face.
‘What are they all doing here?’ Mr. Grant asked through a dry mouth, gesturing to the hundreds of birds – swans, geese, herons and kingfishers – silently watching from the grassy verge above the river bank.
The King of the Ducks limped next to him, resting one webbed claw on his twisted cane, before gesturing a scarred arm towards the dark lake.
‘They have come to wish you luck. They have come to pray for your success.’
Mr. Grant nodded, scanning the dark eyes of the crowd. Of course.
‘And, if I kill it, the lake will return?’ he asked.
The King of the Ducks did not reply, turning his scabbed neck to preen grey flesh with crooked human teeth.
Mr. Grant took his first steps into the water, shivering as the cold pressed up against his body. He gave one final glance towards the King of the Ducks, before submerging his head into the darkness.
The stale water made his eyes burn but, in the gloom, he could make out the dark outline of a fish – impossibly large – with a tail the length of two men.
As the pike approached, looming through the darkness, Mr. Grant could hear the gleeful, vicious quacking of the birds from the bank above the lake.
The deceiving King of the Ducks had honoured the truce for another season.