It was certainly true that all land-based traffic to and from Tanenbaum Estate did go through Whitefish, but by the time they got to Whitefish, most transactions had been made, so the real nexus and truly booming market of Tanenbaum Region was farther west, in Sawbill, where the peninsula connected with the mainland. It was a little ironic that the economic powerhouse of a seafaring nation was in a city of relatively small harbours, but sea traffic could go from any town to any other town without having to stop at any particular city along the way. You could stop at Rhimuth or at Mantus or at Tench. No one town could monopolise the sea traffic, but when it came to land travel, you always went through Sawbill.
It was this geographic maxim that Fin was looking to resist. The last thing he needed was to be seen by a hundred different witnesses, so avoiding towns was a must. Yet while there were a million roads leading in and out of Sawbill, there were few roads connecting these, so to get from the road you're on to the road you need to be on, you'd have to follow the former into town until it met up with the latter. The only other option were the small, dark paths from the days of old. Overgrown and surrounded by foreboding trees. The only trees the Tanenbaums liked were small decorative trees spaced evenly and surrounded by green grass. Crowding them together in a forest was just disturbing. There was an old Tanenbaum saying, 'You can't fell a tree with a herring.' There was a story behind this saying, but few could recall just how it went. Something about bumping your knee at night. Whatever it was, one thing was for sure: trees weren't to be trusted.
Fin was standing on one of the main roads staring down one of these dark and foreboding paths when a voice just down the road called out, 'Hey, there! What're you doing?'
Turning, Fin found himself facing a plump man wearing a tweed jacket and sitting atop a cart filled with lemons. 'Trees can't be trusted, son. Stay on the main road. You can ride with me if you'd like.'
'Lemons are good', thought Fin. If he rode into town on a cart filled with lemons, no one would notice that he smelled of limes, the forbidden fruit. Hopping on the cart, Fin thanked the man and sat back as the cart continued its way in to Sawbill.
The boy had only been in the woods once before, last Winter. At that time, all the leaves had fallen, so the sun shown more brightly, Though it was November now, most of the leaves still held fast to their branches, and the shadows cooled the air more than he liked.
Worse, though, was what he noticed after a few moments walking: he was on a path. No one ever went in the woods save for possibly a few brigands, yet something had definitely cleared a rough trail through the wood. A land beast? Outlaws? Whatever it had been, it could reappear at any moment. Should he leave the path?
No, the brush was too thick, and if he did meet up with something, he wanted to be able to make a run for it. He just hoped he found himself in a clearing of some sort before the sun went down. He could build a fire, bake a herring, and warm himself before the flames.
Until recently, the boy had made a living by stowing away on various fishing boats. Once they were out into the ocean, he'd reveal himself and get a free meal in the brig, or sometimes be forced to work as a cabin boy for the duration of the journey. Either way, he got food and shelter. On the mainland, though, people wouldn't give you safe harbour and food until the end of the journey. No, they'd just throw rocks at you as you ran away with their fish.
Finally, the path widened. It was far from a clearing, but it was better than nothing, and rocks on one side would allow him to build a small fire without so much risk of burning the entire forest down. Not that doing so would be any great loss, but he wanted the forest not on fire for as long as he was in it. The boy brushed off the rocks and set his fish down on them. Then, gathering up some sticks and leaves, he made a small stack. Standing back, he pulled some sparks out of his pocket and tossed them onto the pile, which quickly ignited.
By the time he'd cooked and consumed his herring, the sun was well on its way to its landing strip in some far away land, whereupon it would begin its night trip back around the edge of the world to the east for morning take-off. An orange glow still lit the sky, but the trees hid most of the light. Gnats were starting to appear in greater numbers, larger insects were taking interest in the remaining fish.
The boy waved off a few flies and tossed some more wood onto the fire. So long as he kept that going all night, little would bother him. If it went out, a bizarre and possibly fatal series of events could unfold in the most unexpected of ways.
Realising that keeping the fire going all night would require either staying awake to refuel or piling on a log so huge that it would burn for hours on end, he decided the best option was to put a full tree trunk on so it would last all night as he slept. Grabbing one of the raw herrings, he walked over to the nearest tree and began to chop. After a moment, the herring fell apart with a squish. So, tossing the squished herring onto the fire, along with a few twigs, the boy lay down and went to sleep, bizarre and potentially fatal series of events be damned. Since he had already considered their possible occurence, they couldn't really unfold in a most unexpected way. Most likely it would just be a pack of wolves setting upon him in the night, and he could fend those off by throwing one of his most delicious fish off into the bushes for them to chase after whilst he climbed a tree. Yes, everything would be all right.
Some time during the night--there was no way to tell when, but it was after sundown, before sun-up, and after the fire had died down to a few small embers--the boy awoke shivering. With the fire pretty much out and no blankets, he was rapidly discovering that Winter isn't the only cold season.
Standing up, he headed into the darkness to find some more wood. He was quite low on portable sparks, so he wanted to restart it from the remaining embers if at all possible. However, in the darkness, he wandered right into a tree, banging his kneecaps.
As he rubbed his aching knees, the unfortunate traveller began to hear quiet noises from a nearby thicket. Peering up, he saw a discoloured and scarred man stumble into the clearing with arms held out stiffly, and drool rolling down his chin. Drooling, but clearly uninterested in chasing a herring, or perhaps a grouper, into the bushes whilst our unfortunate thief of a boy climbed a tree to safety. If anyone could saw the climbed tree down with a herring--or perhaps a grouper--it would be this fiendish fiend.
'Zounds!' shouted to boy. 'Either my eyes deceive me in this cursed darkness or I am set upon by zombies from the wood!' He stumbled back in fear. 'And I am without a trout with which to defend myself from these creatures, the most fearsome of foes! Alas!'
And with that, the boy promptly died of a cardiac infarction combined with internal bleeding from banging his kneecaps just moments earlier. The zombie, who was actually just a trick-or-treater still dressed from Halloween, examined the dead body and the scene of the boy's death, learned what had happened, and then decided to become a professional minstrel, singing this cautionary tale about the dangers of trees, unfellable with mere trout and quite dangerous for your knees at night.
All his fellow workers were Prawns as well, but they had been working it this bakery for years and were very disdainful of this newcomer. Yet the boss didn't hate him so much. Didn't like him either, but that's the way Tanenbaum bosses are with Prawns. It was a good enough job for now. Gar hoped one day to get an all-fish job, or work on a ship, but until then, working in a bakery that made delicious fish breads was a decent stop on the way.
Arriving two minutes late, Gar grabbed a broom and began sweeping. Two minutes late meant he was still ahead of Gill, who would end up with the loser job of the day, carrying in non-fish deliveries.