"The world is smaller than you might imagine," Belinda told me. She seemed apologetic, at least.
I had tried to run away - somehow, the thought that I might actually die had triggered a panic in me. So I ran, as hard and as fast as I could.
It wasn't fast enough. Belinda had made a sound, like the faraway ringing of a thousand tiny bells, and I had fallen.
Now I was trudging through the snow, bound to the goblin by a rope of light. Belinda had begun to tell me stories as we walked. I appreciated the gesture, even as I partly blamed her for my current predicament.
It was my own fault, really. Everyone I had ever met had used me to their own ends. Why should this goblin be any different? I should have set out to find the Hermit on my own. To get my answers on my own.
"From here on Earth, it looks like the world is flat, but if you could fly high enough, up as high as the stars, you would see that it's actually curved upward, like a bowl."
"More like a saddle," the goblin said. "I hear tell that in the North and South, it curves downward, and rush off the edge into the underworld."
"I wouldn't know," Belinda said wistfully. "I was a child when you captured me. I have never been outside the Western Woods."
"So you're a slave of this fire goblin?" I said.
"She was willing enough when I captured her," the goblin laughed.
"You promised me adventure! You said if I only joined your service, I would see all four corners of the earth. I would dance with dragons and feel the heat of the Eastern winds. All this and more, you promised me."
The goblin smiled. "All this and more you shall have, my sweet one, as soon as the War in the Woods is ended."
"This war has lasted for three hundred years!"
"And now at last it may end," the goblin said.
I felt a chill run deep into my bones.
"This boy has a piece of the river spirit inside him. We kill him, and we destroy that piece, drying up the river."
"Would that end the war?" Belinda asked.
"Not quite," the goblin admitted, "but it would certainly make things very, very interesting."