By and by, Spanakopitus observed a steady diminishing of water pressure at his castle. The shower, which had once produced a lovely, needly cascade, now gave a half-hearted, watering-can sprinkle. Spanakopitae's deep, claw-footed tub now took half an hour to fill.

"Do you suppose a bear has bitten the line?" Spanakopitus wondered aloud. And so he had Spanakopitae pack him a lunch, and he whistled up Polaris and headed for the springs--which he visited infrequently, for they were at a considerable remove from his castle.

As he strode along enjoying the warmth of Indian summer, Spanakopitus basked in the sights and sounds of his beloved land. "A fine year for game," he opined to Polaris. "Lots of acorns, a goodly crop of 'em. The deer and the quail and the grouse should be thriving. Yes, indeed, it's a beautiful year."

Reaching the lush, spongy springs, he said again, "Yes, indeed, a beautiful year. Just look at how well the springs are flowing." And he patted the side of the stout water tank.

The springs were going full bore.

The stout water tank.

Just then, Polaris started a ground squirrel and took off like a catapult. Pell-mell the rodent dashed toward its burrow at the foot of the 1,200-gallon tank, the hound only an open jaw's length behind. Flik-flak, its little tail disappeared down its burrow. Snip-snap, Polaris's jaws closed on air. With a howl of frustration, the hound sent clouds of dirt flying.

"Silly pup, you'll never catch him now," said Spanakopitus fondly. And as Polaris's paws churned the soil, Spanakopitus set about inspecting the water tank, first walking its sturdy perimeter, patting it to feel for hidden leaks, and then lifting the lid and peering inside.

Three-fourths of the way down the tank, the water shimmered.

"Well, look here, the water level is indeed down, indeed down quite a bit," he said. "But why? The springs are still going full bore. Are the oaks drawing more than their usual share of water? But they've usually begun hardening off by now. And the springs are producing as well as they've ever done--just look at all the ferns and grasses. There's no leak in the tank, no unusual wet spots in the surrounding soil. Hmmmm." He stroked his beard pensively.

The squirrel chittered derisively from deep in its hole. Enraged, Polaris dug like an excavator in high gear. And suddenly the watching Spanakopitus caught a glint of white plastic as the hound's claws struck the illicit water pipe buried by the Zom.

There it lay, brought to light, the undeniable evidence of their perfidy.

27: Down to a Trickle