Then the scenery underwent another change. They swept around a bend and found themselves entering a mass of reeds. The reeds grew in clumps and the river divided around them.
‘We’re going slower than ever,’ groaned Tam.
The clumps reached higher and higher over their heads. Soon, it was like gliding through a silvery-grey forest. The ripples from the boat made a hissing in the reeds.
While Chiz steered with the oar, Tam and Nina stuck their arms over the sides and paddled with their hands. Their splashing hands generated more ripples and hissing.
Suddenly something flew through the air—many things!
Zwang! Zwang! Zwang!
With a sound like snapping elastic bands, a dozen silvery-grey eels shot like arrows across the boat. One wrapped itself round Tam’s arm, another round his throat. A third whipped around Chiz’s wrist and hand, binding him to the oar. They lashed tight in a fraction of a second, coil upon coil.
Tam cried and jerked, Chiz spasmed and fell forward. The eels were delivering electric shocks.
Zwang! Zwang! Zwang!
Nina flung herself flat in the bottom of the boat as another fusillade of eels shot across. Missed her again.
She jumped up to help Chiz. A second eel had knotted itself onto the tail of the first. She grabbed the second tail just before it could also whip around his wrist.
He was gasping from repeated shocks, but Nina felt only cold slippery skin. It seemed that the eels discharged electricity from their heads but not their tails.
She began to whirl the tail around and around, unwinding it. The second eel stayed joined to the first, so she unwound them both. When the head of the first eel came undone, she threw them into the reeds as far as she could throw.
She turned from Chiz to Tam. Her brother was in a bad way. His lips had turned blue, his breathing was shallow and he was twitching out of control. Two eels had joined on to the first one around his neck, delivering triple shocks.
But Nina knew how to deal with them now.
‘Lean forward!’ she yelled.
Tam was beyond understanding. When Nina yanked on the tail of the third eel, his head flopped forward anyway.
Again she started whirling, unwinding. The tail wriggled and squirmed in her hand, but she wouldn’t let go. Turn by turn by turn, she unwound all three eels from his neck, then tossed them away. They splashed down in the water like a single length of limp rubbery hose.
Recovering quickly from his own shocks, Chiz came to assist with the eel around Tam’s arm. He lifted the arm from behind while Nina did the unwinding.
‘You can hold them by the tail,’ she explained. ‘No electricity there.’
She hurled the last eel into the reeds. By luck, the boat hadn’t drifted alongside any more clumps. Chiz gathered the oar and started steering again. He kept his body down as low as possible in the boat.
Tam took longer to recover than Chiz. Nina put her ear to his chest and was relieved to hear his heart still beating. After a while, his breathing picked up too. The electric shocks had done him no long-term damage.
They made no further attempts to paddle and the eels launched no further attacks.