Fenn shook her head. “That—that’s not possible!”
The mapmaker shrugged. “There are three possibilities,” he said, holding up two bony fingers and a thumb. He folding them down in turn as he listed. “You’re mad—” down went the thumb. “You’re lying—” the middle finger followed. “Or you’ve crossed the sea.” He held up a closed fist.
Fenn was shaking her head more and more emphatically, and tears threatened once again. “I’m not lying!” she protested. “I’ve never crossed the sea! I’ve never even seen a boat!”
“It is not my place to judge,” the mapmaker said gently. “But I know my field well enough to tell you with absolute certainty that one of those three things is true. Tell me. You said you woke up here. What exactly did you mean?”
Fenn blinked up at him, her eyes rimmed red. The old man blinked back at her through his spectacles, and for a moment they simply stared at one another. And then, haltingly at first, she recounted her tale. The mapmaker’s expression grew more and more thoughtful as she spoke, but he didn’t interrupt. Not once. Until she reached the end, and the part where Valt and Duglass Calwert had sent her to his door.
For a moment, both of them were silent. Her, story told; he digesting, hand rubbing slowly back and forth across his sparse whiskers. “Remarkable,” he said at length, and then rubbed his jaw some more.
“I have a theory,” he announced.
Fenn’s eyebrows rose and she looked up at him. She’d been gazing at her knees.
He was nodding to himself, and appeared to be doing some sort of mental arithmetic. “How old are you, Fenn?” he asked.
She was surprised by the question, and couldn’t fathom where it had come from or what the answer might signify. “I’m sixteen,” she said slowly. “I’ll be seventeen in less than two months.”
He nodded and his expression said that he had filed the information away. “And when is your birthday?”
“It’s on the twelfth day of Fis Poeth.”
“Aha,” said the mapmaker, his tone satisfied.
Fenn looked at him. “What?”
“I,” he smiled, “have never heard of any month called Fis Poeth.”
“What does that mean?”
“Bear with me,” he said, and took a piece of paper and a piece of charcoal that were lying nearby and began to write. He spoke aloud as he did. “You are sixteen,” he said. “To be seventeen in less than two months. And your birthday is on the twelfth day of Fis Poeth.”
“That’s right,” said Fenn, who wondered why he was suddenly so interested in her birthday.
“Tell me. How many days are in a month?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Just answer the question.”
“About twenty, I suppose. Not every month is the same.”
He nodded and wrote it down. “How many months in a year?”
“Eighteen,” said Fenn, getting exasperated. Surely he knew that.
“What is the first month of the year?”
“Herdid Gaef,” said Fenn.
He looked up. “Is there anything special about the first day of the year? Anything unusual?”
Fenn frowned. “It’s the shortest day of the year,” she said, after thinking for a moment.
“The solstice! Wonderful!” He made some notes, his quill scribbling across the page.
He waved the question away. “How far is your birthday from the beginning of the new year?”
Fenn counted on her fingers, eyes moving back and forth as she thought. “About eleven months,” she decided at last.
“Excellent,” he said, and wrote some more. “And you said your birthday was in less than two months…”
“Give or take,” said Fenn, “Yes.”
For a moment he considered the notes he had taken, before he set down the quill, and smiled. “Your birthday is in mid-summer,” he told her.
Fenn shrugged. “Yeah. I know that. What does it have to do with whether or not I’m crazy?”
“You said your birthday is in less than two months. Presumably between thirty and forty days from today.” His smile deepened as he went on. “Which means that you believe it to be sometime in Spring. Tell me,” he said again. “What year is it?”
Fenn squinted at the old man, wondering if he’d lost his mind. “It’s 936.”
His eyes widened at that. “Oh!” he said, “Wonderful!”
“Wherever you do come from, unless there has been a terrible coincidence, we appear share enough history to be using the same annual calendar!”
“I don’t understand,” Fenn moaned, her exasperation, her confusion, and her fear getting the better of her. “What has any of this got to do with anything! What does it all mean?”
“It means, my dear girl, that I know, roughly, what day you think it is, as well as what day it actually is.”
“And,” he said slowly, apparently enjoying the drama of the moment, “you are not sixteen.”
“That’s right,” he said, nodding excitedly. “You’re seventeen. And what’s more, not only are you a year older than you supposed, you have been so for approximately ten of your months.”
Fenn leaned away from him. “But—that doesn’t make any sense! I can’t just be seventeen! That isn’t possible!”
“On the contrary, my dear Fenn! It’s wonderful! It explains everything! And it means you haven’t lost your mind! What you have lost, my child, is time. Over one hundred and sixty days of it, if I had to hazard a guess. Plenty of time to cross the sea from some distant land with windy plains and Lisley Woods. These White Isles stretch far and wide, but the World… For all I know, it may well be infinite!” His eyes burned with intensity behind his thick lenses. “You must draw me a map, when you get the chance! I’ll help you with the technical parts, of course. I—”
“Wait wait wait,” Fenn interrupted, holding up her hands to stem the flow of words. “I don’t understand. I lost time? You said this explained everything, but I feel even more lost than I did before I got here. How can I have simply gotten older?”
The mapmaker bent his head in slight apology. “I may have misspoken, slightly,” he said. “It doesn’t explain everything. It simply shows that your story is feasible—to lose yourself in the midst of some foreign expanse and wake in the city of Yarde without traveling the distance in between. Barring miracles or feats of magic, such things are simply not possible. But what is possible is loss of memory. No, Fenn, we have not answered all of your questions. In fact, we have inarguably created more. But now you know what questions you ought to be asking. Specifically—How did I survive? Where have I been? And what have I been doing for the last one hundred and sixty days?”
Fenn thought about what he’d said. As unbelievable as the ideas were at first, they did make a kind of sense.
Have I simply lost my memory? Traveled farther than I’ve ever dreamed—and then somehow forgotten?
It seemed that every time she learned something new, the truth became more and more muddled.
Oh, if only I had stayed, safe in my bed that night, and let Master Fenwick and his wagon pass on by…
“I suppose,” she said, “you could be right.”
The mapmaker nodded, looking pleased. Then a thought appeared to occur to him.
“What you ought to do,” he said suddenly, “is retrace your steps.” He bit his lower lip, and tapped a thoughtful beat on the edge of the table with his fingernails. “When you woke, was there anything about you? Any signs? Any… clues as to where you might have been?”
Fenn thought about that. At length she shook her head. “Not that I can think of…”
The mapmaker nodded. “Then I have two thoughts. One,” he reached out and pinched the edge of her cloak between his fingers, pulling it around to get a better look at the back. “This writing is most certainly Dwarvish. The dwarf you encountered on your way here—he may have been telling the truth. It is possible,” the mapmaker mused, expression dire, “that before you lost your memory, you were up to… mischief.”
Fenn cast her face downwards.
“The other is that before you came to, you clearly spent time at Mossy’s Inn. The people there may possess knowledge that will help you determine where you’ve been—even if they themselves don’t realize it.”
“I should go back.”
“Yes, I think you should.” The mapmaker stroked his chin. “There is one possibility.”
“What is it?” Fenn asked, looking up at him, hopeful and worried both.
“That you have been a victim,” he answered grimly, “of dark magic.”
Fenn gasped and put a hand to her mouth. “Do you think so?”
He chewed his lip, ruminating. “I’ve little knowledge of such things,” he admitted. “But it would explain certain… aspects of your predicament. Why you weren’t aware of your actions. Perhaps you weren’t even in control of them. Your apparent misbehavior. And if you were traveling by other than natural means…”
Fenn looked down at her hands. They were trembling. “Have I been cursed?”
The old mapmaker shook his head, his mouth a thin line. “I cannot say. But such things have been known to happen, from time to time. Although, in most of the cases I’ve heard of, the afflicted person usually did something foolish. Like anger a Wizard, or blaspheme, or—”
“—or go off into an enchanted wilderness?” Fenn moaned.
He coughed. “Erm. Yes. Or that.”
I’m cursed. Hexed. Bewitched… I must be.
“I don’t… feel any different.”
“That might mean something. Or not.” The mapmaker held up his hands. “I’m afraid we are out of my area of expertise. But it occurs to me that you may already know someone who can answer these questions better than I.”
Fenn frowned at him.
“A witch? Most definitely. I have even heard tell of her hexing people who’ve wronged her, over the years.
“But she seems positively inclined towards you. If anyone can tell you if you’ve been cursed, it will be her.”
“And then? What if I am cursed?
“Best not to worry about that, just yet,” the old mapmaker said, patting Fenn on the shoulder. “I believe the original course of action is still the best one. You must retrace your steps. Start with where you know you’ve been and work backwards. Find out what you’ve been up to, and in doing so, perhaps shed some light on how you came to do it. The first thing to do, though, is to pay Old Moll the visit you promised her.”
“Yes,” said Fenn. “Yes, you’re right. I’ll go to Old Moll’s, and then… back to Mossy’s I think. Even if they can’t spare a bed, perhaps they’ll let me sleep by the hearth.”
“An excellent plan,” the mapmaker said. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t provide you a map.”
Fenn nodded, rising. “You’ve helped me tremendously,” she said. “Thank you.”
The old mapmaker nodded. “Think nothing of it, my dear,” he said as Fenn climbed towards the door. She’d nearly reached it when he called out after her. “Fenn, child?”
“Do remember to be polite. Old Moll is not one to forgive a slight.”