The Mapmaker’s Guild.
That was where they’d sent her.
“If anyone in this city knows where your home is, girl, it’s them. You’ll find their headquarters up on the Hillock, near the Duke’s castle. It’s on the western side, so you’ll have to go around the castle to get there.”
Fenn was nearing the boundary now between the Hillock and the rest of the city, and she spied another short stone stair much like the one she’d been thrown off that morning. Through the moderate foot traffic she caught a glimpse of red—a pair of guardsmen standing at the bottom of the steps. Her stomach fluttered.
“They won’t do anything this time,” she Fenn told herself firmly. “I’m clean now. And better dressed. And I’ve done nothing wrong.”
All the same, when the moment came to mount the stairs a short time later, she did so on the other side of the street.
And then, when one of the guards shouted, “You there! Stop!” her heart nearly jumped out of her chest.
Fenn whirled, mouth open, ready to protest that she’d done nothing wrong, already on the verge of tears. The guards stalked towards her wearing fearsome scowls, hands on the hilts of their swords. Fenn cringed away, raising her hands to shield herself. Her knees quavered. They were nearly on her. And then—!
They pushed past her, falling instead upon a stocky dwarf with a great, bristly red beard.
“Ach!” The dwarf bellowed in surprise as they grasped him by the arms and forcibly turned him, “Wot’s this?”
A wealthy-looking older man dashed up behind them, a gold ring glinting on his finger. “Aye, that’s him,” the he told the guards feverishly.
“Vanimoots?” demanded the dwarf angrily as the man thrust a finger toward his barrel-shaped chest. “What do ye—”
“That’s the dwarf that broke into my warehouse and ate twenty noble’s worth of my chocolate!”
The dwarf sputtered. “I never—!”
“Quiet, you!” snapped one of the guards, a scarecrow of a man with a crooked nose, shaking the dwarf bodily. “Yer certain it’s him, Master Vanimoots?”
“I’m sure,” said the man. “He was dressed differently at the time. In a green cloak. But I’d recognize that bramble of a beard anywhere. This is the one!”
“Chocolate!” the dwarf roared, struggling against his captors. “I don’ bloody like chocolate! Tastes like cow sh—”
“I said quiet!”
“I want this dwarf locked up,” demanded Vanimoots, tucking his thumbs into his front pockets and puffing out his chest. He nodded, setting his fleshy neck to wobbling. “That axe of his will fetch a pretty penny. You can sell it, and he can start paying off his debt. I’ll take any money that he’s carrying as well.”
“My stones, you will!” the dwarf thundered. He was red in the face and straining violently enough that the two guards were having trouble holding onto him. “I’ll give you a piece of my axe all right, ye great stumping oaf! Let me go!”
He actually managed to drag the guards a couple of inches toward the chocolatier, who took an uneasy step backwards before they got him under control. Between the two of them, the guards actually managed to lift the dwarf off his feet, so that he kicked futilely at the air as they dragged him up toward the castle.
As they wheeled him around, he caught sight of Fenn, standing off to the side. His eyes widened when he saw her, and he twisted to look at her as the guards carried him in the opposite direction. For a moment he went slack, limbs dangling limply as he stared, fuzzy red whiskers sticking out over his open mouth. Then his efforts to escape redoubled.
“Oi!” he shouted, “That’s my cloak! That’s my cloak! Let me go you blasted—! Let me go! She’s the one that’s don et! Let me go ye bastards! Let me go…!”
It was no use. He was not particularly stout for a dwarf—not much bigger than Fenn herself, in fact—and the guards weren’t listening. Fenn stared dazedly after him as he was carried, kicking and screaming all the way, up the hill and away to the castle dungeons, where he would be locked up, and his belongings sold off until he could repay the chocolatier.
Fenn imagined all the sorts of tortures that might be put to him and shuddered.
She ran her fingers across the edge of the cloak. Stolen? Me? She shook her head. Impossible. I could never… I wouldn’t!
But then there were the symbols. The strange writing. Could it be Dwarfish?
Fenn bit her lip. What if I’m responsible for the dwarf’s predicament? What if I’ve done something—and he’s in trouble for it? But then… even with the cloak, there was no way that I could be mistaken for a dwarf! The beard alone…
Fenn shook her head.
“I’ve got to find the mapmaker’s guild,” she murmured. “There’s nothing I can do for him. Besides, I’ve done nothing wrong. He was mistaken.”
She nodded firmly. “Yes… Mistaken.”
Fenn straightened her back and raised her chin. Put a bit of Ms. Farrow’s steel into her eyes. No mistaken dwarves, no guards are going to stop me from finding my way home!
As far as she knew, it worked.
Either that, or it was the washing and the change of clothes. She whispered thanks to Jinny and Valt, and even Duglass Calwert.
Regardless of the reason, none of the several guards she passed on her way up the hill spared her a second glance. Except for one. Pimple faced and gangly—likely only a few years older than she herself—he spared not only a glance, but a wink. Fenn responded with a rigid scowl. She was not that kind of girl.
Before long, breathing heavily from the ascent, she reached the castle’s outer wall. It was verily plastered with posters.
Dead or Alive
For crymes againste His Grace the Duke!
Reward — 75 Nobles
In the middle was an etching of some ambiguously monstrous creature, all claws and fangs. Fenn tried not to look at it. Staring up past the crenellations of precisely fitted grey stone, she could see a series of asymmetrical terraces, each marked with a painted sign depicting some fruit or vegetable. The highest was of an enormous, leafy turnip.
They were overseen one and all by the main keep, which boasted three tall towers. The Duke’s standard, the black hound on a red field, fluttered atop each of them.
He must have an excellent view from all the way up there.
Despite her urgency, Fenn couldn’t help but be impressed. Before the fateful night she’d stowed away in Master Fenwick’s wagon—almost a lifetime ago, yet hardly a week past—she had never been more than a few miles outside of Wynne.
The Lisley Wood was not a particularly dangerous place, if you kept to the roads. It was just that unless you were planning a trip that would take weeks to complete, there was really nowhere to go. It was a few hours’ ride to the eastern edge, if you had a horse. But that would only take you to the boundary of the Windy Plains.
In general, the folk of Wynne did not hold high opinions of most travelers that passed through their quiet little town. The Plains were an unnatural place. Home to strange things. Dangerous things. Wasps the size of horses. Bird men. Spirits, if you believed such things.
And even if you didn’t, there were the storms, which everyone could attest to. You could hear them, even deep in the wood. Whether going east or west, if you passed through Wynne, it meant that the Plains were either before or behind you. Those with the Plains at their backs often came bearing strange, frightening tales—many having scarcely escaped with their lives. Those who left Wynne to cross them were rarely heard from again.
Traveling west through Lisley Wood would take you several days. On the other side, you’d find the Kingdom of Worthe, ruled by King Bodwyn, for whose great grandfather Fenn’s hometown had been named. The King’s men patrolled the winding road through the Wood, and kept it free of highwaymen. But Fenn had never travelled that way.
As such, this was the first castle she had ever seen, outside of books. It was, she thought, a thing of beauty.
If this is the castle of a Duke, she wondered, how great must King Bodwyn’s castle be?
Circling the castle, Fenn came across a curious scene. A little guardhouse stood outside a small, peripheral gate. The building couldn’t have been big enough to fit more than two people comfortably. Yet it was so packed with red guardsman and their spears that it looked like a bloody porcupine. One poor guard was so tightly squeezed that he had bent double, the upper half of his body hanging out a low window. His face was almost as red as his tabard, and his expression, if it could be read correctly at such an angle, was one of extreme forbearance.
“Pardon me,” said Fenn, addressing a passerby as she stared back at the display, “but what on earth is going on over there?”
“Duke,” the man said. “‘Hind that there little door is his private garden. Ever since the Beast went n’ ate the turnip he was planning to trump Lady Milkthistle with, he’s been wound tighter than a gnome’s whisker.” He nudged Fenn genially with his elbow and leaned closer. “There’s a pool running down at The Two Fox over which one’ll pass out first. My money’s on the folded one.” He grinned, patted Fenn on the shoulder, and continued on his way.
Fenn shook her head and hurried on as well. All this fuss over a turnip? She tried to imagine what a hundred-and-fifty-stone turnip would look like and failed. It must have been as big as a horse. And the Beast ate the whole thing? A little shiver ran down her spine. She had to get out of this city as soon as possible—or barring that, make sure she wasn't sleeping outside tonight. Anything that could devour a horse-sized root would make quick work of her.
It didn’t take her much longer to finish her half-circuit of the castle, and after consulting a few more helpful townsfolk, Fenn found herself standing outside the Mapmaker’s Guild.
It was a narrow, two-story building of familiar white plaster, with visible crossbeams. The second-floor window boasted a colorful flower-box, and there was a brass lamp beside the rounded wooden door. A signboard hanging from an iron rod set into the wall depicted a scroll, a compass, and a quill. Stepping up onto the porch, Fenn knocked.
There was a commotion from within and the sound of more than a few heavy objects being knocked over. A scraping noise, followed by a muffled voice:
“I’m coming, I’m coming, hold your horses! Oof!
A loud clattering. A long, unsettling silence. Finally, just when Fenn was starting to worry that something had happened, she heard a key turning in the lock and the door swung open.
The man behind it must have been over a hundred. A shock of white hair stuck out from his head—although there was nearly as much protruding from his ears. His pale, wrinkled pate was covered in brown spots, and beneath his pointed chin, the flesh of his neck dangled like a rooster’s wattle. He stood a good two heads taller than Fenn, and wore a pair of thick, wire-framed spectacles, too low to do any good. He scrunched his nose and squinted in an effort to bring them up into an angle appropriate for viewing, and turned his head this way and that, apparently trying to see who’d knocked.
“Bother,” he grumbled, screwing up his face, “go to all the trouble of answering the door and they’ve already gone.”
Fenn coughed. “Um. No, sir. I’m down here. I was hoping you could help me with a map.”