The inside of the Mapmaker’s Guild was as messy as its outside was neat. Fenn tried and failed to take it all in. It became immediately evident why the mapmaker had stumbled on his way to the door. The floor was all but uncrossable, and that was assuming you could see—which he clearly could not.
There were no less than eight tables of various shapes and sizes strewn with maps, books of maps, fragments of maps, maps in progress, and maps so faded as to be almost unintelligible. There were the tools of the mapmaking trade: ink-pots and quills, sticks of charcoal, rolls of parchment and vellum, compasses of every variety. Scribes, sectors, french curves, tapes and measures, most of them pinning down one curling corner or another. And candles. Dozens upon dozens of candles. About half of them were lit. Of the remaining half, nearly a quarter had melted down to stumps, and the rest had possibly simply been forgotten. The narrow paths between the tables, such as they were, were heavily obstructed by stacks of books and numerous stools, and strewn with papers. It was clear enough that stumbling, in this place, was not an infrequent occurrence.
The old man wound his way through the clutter with a fair amount of grace—punctuated with periodic grunts as he encountered corners. He called for Fenn to shut the door behind her, which she did, leaving them in warm, musty, candle-lit darkness. He managed to make it to a tall stool situated before the largest table and sat down with a grunt.
“You certainly have a lot of maps,” Fenn observed.
“Of course we do,” said the old man, squinting vaguely in her direction through his binocular lenses. “This is the Mapmaker’s Guild, after all.”
“Is anyone else here?” asked Fenn, glancing about the room in hope of finding, perchance, someone who had not yet reached his first centennial.
The old man shook his head. “Only me.”
“Oh. When shall the others arrive?”
“Others? What others?”
“The other mapmakers.”
The old man frowned. “There hasn’t been anyone but me in over twenty years. Not since Holm’s accident in the field.”
“You couldn’t possibly do all this by yourself,” Fenn’s eyes widened.
“I could. And I do.”
“But how do you—”
“How do I what?” the man’s expression darkened.
“Nothing,” said Fenn quickly, trying to get ‘see the maps’ off the tip of her tongue. “Never mind. Perhaps… perhaps you can help me then. I’m looking for a town.”
“What kind of town?” his brow furrowed attentively, drawn to the map-related inquiry.
“A small one. In the forest. It’s my home, actually, and I would like very much to get back. Except…”
“Except?” The mapmaker leaned back on his stool, his expression shrewd.
“I don’t know where it is,” mumbled Fenn, ashamed. “That is, I know where Wynne is. It’s in the Lisley Wood, near the western edge of the Windy Plains… What I don’t know is where I am. I mean. I know where I am,” she amended. “I’m in the city of Yarde, home of the Duke and his wife Jocelyn—”
“Josephine,” corrected the mapmaker sternly.
“—I just don’t know where Yarde is. Other than being here, I mean. …Do you understand?”
The mapmaker tilted his brow forward so that his face fell into shadow. “What you mean to say,” he hissed, “is that you are lost.”
Fenn nodded sadly. Then, wondering if he’d even be able to see her do it, quickly added, “Yes.”
“Well!” he exclaimed, clapping his hands on his thighs. “One is only lost insofar as they don’t know where they are.”
“Once one knows where one is and where one isn’t, they can determine where they ought to be!”
“And if your aim is to know where you are not, then you have certainly come to the right place—what was your name again?”
“Fenn,” said Fenn, “but—”
“Fenn. Because this Guild,” he opened his arms to gesture about the room, “contains the largest and most complete catalogue of places you are not outside of the King’s own library.”
“That’s wonderful,” said Fenn doubtfully, “but how shall we—”
The old man rose abruptly from his stool, sending it sliding backwards, so that it nearly fell over. “Leave that to me,” he said. “Now, where did I put my glasses?” He blinked heavily and squinted about.
“What is it, Fenn? Speak up girl.”
“That is—your glasses. They’re on your face.”
“What, these?” He reached up and jiggled his spectacles. “These are little more than an accessory. Like my teeth. They do help me navigate about the space a might, but—what I need are my corrective lenses. Now. Where the devil did I…”
He began to move about the room, searching by touch as much as by sight. His long, bony fingers slid over the tops of maps, lightly grasped various utensils before discarding them once it was clear that they were not the object of his search, and in general made a bigger mess of the place than it already was. In his fervor he knocked a candlestick and sent it teetering, spattering hot wax as it wobbled back and forth. Fenn quickly reached out and caught it before it set his maps alight, and wondered in that moment how he had managed not to burn the entire place to the ground.
When Fenn looked up he had his hand inside an iron teapot and was feeling around energetically.
“I don’t think—” she began.
“A—ha!” he exclaimed triumphantly. He withdrew his hand and discarded the teapot, sending it clattering to the floor, and she saw that he was in fact holding a pair of glasses. Although it might have been better to call them goggles. The lenses were nearly twice as thick as the ones he was wearin, round, tapered so that they were narrower at the front, and bound in dark leather, with a strap that tied behind his head. The old man removed his original pair and slipped the new glasses over his face with a snap, wriggling his cheeks and eyebrows to settle them into place.
“That’s much better,” he sighed, looking over at Fenn. “Oh,” he said in a tone of gentle surprise. “There you are.”
The fit of the lenses fixed his eyebrows in a permanently bemused expression.
“Those certainly are… impressive,” said Fenn.
He tapped them with the blade of his finger. “Gnomish work. Industrious little fellows, no doubt. Now then, to business! We were looking for a town, I believe. What did you say the name was?”
“Wynne,” said Fenn.
He rubbed his bristly chin. “Can’t say I’ve heard of it,” he said. “How long did it take you to get here from there, and by what means? If I know that, I can quickly devise a radius of search.”
Fenn cast her eyes toward the floor. “I… don’t know,” she said.
“I said I don’t know. I sort of… woke up here.”
“Peculiar way to travel,” the old man said, then shrugged. “All right. We’ll try another approach. The easiest way to find something small—like a town—is to find what it’s between. You mentioned some geographical features…”
“Lisley Wood,” supplied Fenn. “And the Windy Plains.” She glanced about the room, hoping that something would jump out at her. “The town is just inside the Wood. On the western edge of the Plains.”
The mapmaker frowned. “I don’t recognize the names,” he said. “Local monikers, perhaps.” He began once more to bustle about the room, examining one map after another, holding them up, or unrolling parts, but none seemed to satisfy him.
“Hmm…” he’d say from time to time. Or, “Perhaps?” But the majority of the maps were ultimately discarded. Fenn watched in silence and tried to keep out of the way as he flitted around, anxious, uneasy, and not entirely sure what to do.
Some time later he came to a stop, his face thoughtful. On one of the tables he had accumulated a small stack of maps, of various shapes and sizes.
“All right,” he said, turning to Fenn. “I’ve gathered all of the maps which I think may be pertinent to our search.” He beckoned her to join him at his table. “I tried to include any locale in which a forest abuts a plain, as well as a few more expansive views for clarity. Let’s take a look and see what we see, shall we?”
Fenn nodded and looked down at the uppermost map he had gathered. It was a large piece of browned parchment that curled at the corners, with nicks and dings along the edges. Fenn, who had never seen a map like this before, was loathe to admit that she was not entirely sure what sure was looking at. She could read, and could therefore pick out what she guessed were names—though the words were unfamiliar and sounded strange to her ear.
The map appeared to have been drawn in ink, and with impressive ability; for the lines were long and even, and the symbols that marked the various locations sharp-edged and clear. The map had been divided with the thinnest lines into a neat grid, and at the edges were letters and numbers, which must have had some significance. Fenn simply had no idea what they were.
She needn’t have worried. The mapmaker, grateful for an attentive audience, was eager to explain. His long forefinger settled in the midst of what Fenn had interpreted as a pale patch, next to a dark patch.
“This,” said the old man, “is the Plain of Searoburh.”
“Searoburh,” the mapmaker repeated firmly. “It’s quite far. In the south. You could get there in ten days with a good horse and fair weather. And look here.” His finger slid over to the dark patch. “This is Moss Shaw. A dense forest. A little boggy, but there you are.”
“Boggy?” said Fenn.
The mapmaker looked up at her. “Swampy. Miry. Damp. Not ideal for erecting great structures, but if you pile up enough stone… And then there are the frogs—”
“The Lisley Wood isn’t boggy,” said Fenn.
“It’s dry. Moist, sometimes, maybe. Beech, oak, spruce, and pine. I told you, it’s next to the Windy Plains.”
The mapmaker frowned at her for a moment. “All right,” he said, and discarded the map. And the two after it.
“How about this?” The map he showed her seemed a little newer, and had been drawn by someone more artistically inclined. It was clearer to Fenn this time what she was looking at.
“This is Kirhirst. Its a forest in the No—”
But Fenn stopped him. “This is a mountain?”
“What? Yes. That is Binne Gor—”
“There are no mountains.”
“Anywhere near Wynne. There are none.”
“It’s completely flat,” said Fenn. “There isn’t so much as a hill.”
The old man stroked his chin, the short bristles there making a rasping noise against his fingers.
“Hmmm…” he said slowly. He set the map aside. And the next one. And the next one. And the one after that.
“There is a place,” he said, blinking down at the newest map, on a thick sheet of vellum, through his spectacles. “It is quite far north, and it—”
“What’s this?” said Fenn, pointing to a spot on the map.
“That? It’s a lake. Near the center of the wood there, it—”
“There are no lakes either,” said Fenn. “A few rivers, but no lakes. Not in the forest. Not this big.”
The mapmaker looked uncomfortable. “No lakes you say?”
Fenn shook her head. The old man discarded that map as well. They were at the bottom of the stack. Only one map remained.
Fenn tilted her head to the side, peering down at it. This one was different from the others. Fewer pictures. More words. It was hard for her to tell what she was seeing. “What’s are these big shapes?” she asked. “What’s this line drawn around everything?”
The mapmaker pursed his lips. “Why, that’s the sea. This is everything. The entirety of the White Isles. Here is Yarde.” He pointed to a small dot in the middle of the larger shape.
Fenn gave him a puzzled look. “The White Isles?”
The mapmaker frowned back at her. “My dear girl. Surely you know the name of the land in which you were born.”
Fenn shook her head. “There are no… no isles. They say a sea lies to the south, but everyone knows that in the north it’s mountains.” She was getting upset now. More and more afraid. “The Windy Plains in the east, the Wood stretches west, and on the other side, the Kingdom of Worthe.”
Now the mapmaker was shaking his head. “Worthe, Lisley… the Windy Plains. I’ve never heard of any of these places, and I’ve been at this for a very long time. Even if they were local appellations, I ought to have at least come across them once or twice.”
“I don’t understand,” said Fenn, tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. “The Windy Plains are so big. How can you not know them? Everyone… It takes weeks to cross by horse. They say… I… What if I… oh—”
She lost the ability to speak, the words stopped up by the lump in her throat.
Am I dead? Is my body still lying in the Windy Plains, slowly being consumed by the elements, and my spirit now wandering some ethereal isle? It seemed impossible that this man, who knew so much, could possibly be unaware of something so immense. Never heard of Worthe? How could you possibly—
The old mapmaker was staring at her.
The intensity of his pale blue-eyed gaze startled her out of her tears. She sniffed. “What?”
“Weeks. You said weeks.”
“Yes,” Fenn nodded, sniffling and wiping at her eyes.
“From east to west.”
“West to east,” she corrected, but he waved his hand. The direction didn’t matter.
“My dear,” he said slowly, sliding his finger across the map, “at its widest point, the Greater Isle is almost exactly ninety one leagues across. It takes a fast horse eight days to ride from one coast to the other. There is no way that there is any place on either isle that would take weeks to traverse. It is simply impossible.”
“Which means,” he interrupted, “that there can be only one solution to your conundrum.”
“What is it?”
“It is simple,” he said with a shrug. “You have crossed the sea.”