Most distressingly, Delmer's secret stash of limes had been destroyed in the fire. His original plan would have to be abandoned in favour of a limeless scheme of some sort.
He contemplated his options.
He could just not bother responding. Some said that living well was the best revenge. But if he did that, Biscotti would probably live just well, if not better. Some revenge. Clearly, such people were stupid and should be ignored.
He could fight fire with fire. But if he did that, people would brand him as unoriginal. Plus, Biscotti clearly knew how to use fire. Fighting a man with the weapon of his choice was usually a recipe for failure.
The only remaining option was to get revenge in a new and unique way. This had the great disadvantage of requiring some creative thinking, but he had managed to come up with that whole lime thing. Surely his creative wit would avail itself to him once again.
He paced the small room and pondered. Lemons. Limes. Fish sticks. What, oh, what could he use to extract his revenge. Suppose he convinced the local parish that Capo Biscotti was starting a cult that professed the gods to be some sort of undead river fish. Trout, perhaps. Yes, a Zombie Trout-worshipping cult. No limes needed. He could bribe Biscotti's bakery employees to testify that the breads being sold were sometimes made with trout meat.
There was a certain amount of risk to this plan, of course. If anyone realised that /he/ was the one who had come up with the thoroughly sick-minded and heretical idea of Zombie Trout gods then they're probably run him out of town and then burn him at he stake just outside the town border. Every major city kept a stake just outside the town border for heretic burning, though none had been used for a hundred years.
Wondering where he could find some trout meat, Delmer decided it was time to call up some of his old contacts.
The four men walked along in silence, their way lit by a small lantern held aloft by Dallywonk.
'I think we're going too far north,' said Filcher.
'I must humbly put forth that you are mistaken. I myself was about to say we were going too far south,' put in Breck.
'No, my good sirs, we're going due east, just like we should,' said Dudders. 'Rest assured, when the Sun rises, it will be right in front of us.'
'Look at the stars, my good man!' insisted Filcher. 'If we were going due east, the north star would be directly to our left. But do your noble eyes see any stars to our left?'
'I do not see any stars, honourable sir, but there are clouds obscuring the view. We could end up heading due north were we to just pick any old path where we didn't see the north star dead ahead. Or due south. Astronomy won't help us, I respectfully submit.'
'Which is why /I/ was simply looking at the lay of the land,' commented Dudders. 'We're going uphill. The ocean should be downhill, because it's filled with water that drained off the land. So we're going east. Surely two wise souls such as yourselves will recognise the wisdom of this reasoning.'
'Your reasoning is most ingenious, I will readily admit. However, I fear it is fallacious. We are going uphill because we are on the south side of the mountain and heading north. If we were on the eastern side going west then we would verily be going towards the ocean, yet still we would be walking uphill. The ocean isn't the bottom of a nice smooth bowl. The land is fraught with pocks and bumps.'
'Alas, there is some truth in your words, as one would expect from a noble gentleman such as yourself, but you must admit that it is still a better guess than stars we can't see. In our circumstances, the stars are of no use to us.'
'Stars are not useless, my good man. They're what the wise sailors use when navigating the sea in search of new fish.'
'You speak truthfully indeed, for stars are the guiding lights for sailors during their long journeys, but surely not when clouds fill the sky. Surely they do not say "Ah, no light from the north star is reaching us, so we must be heading south at the speed of light?" No, indeed! When there is no Moon and no Sun and no stars, they cannot rely on such things any more than we can. Such is our predicament.'
'We're going where the path leads,' said the Sergeant firmly, intending to put an end to the bickering. 'When people travel out here, it's to go to and from the coast. So long as we follow the path, we're either going east or west, and we know we're not going west, as that would take us straight back to camp. Do you see camp anywhere, my fine companions? I trust you do not. This is east.'
The others looked at him in awe. 'Most impressive!' said Dudders. 'It is no wonder that you're the Sergeant. That is most wise.' Filcher and Breck nodded in agreement.
Suddenly, the path came to an abrupt end. Sergeant Dallywonk looked around for something someone might have seen fit to build a path to or from, but they were standing on the side of a small hill with nothing of interest in view.
'So, what do we do now? Just keep going straight?' Filcher peered into the darkness.
'I guess so. We'll have to be careful not to accidentally curve off to one side, though.'
Onward they marched, up to the top of the hill and then down the other side, where they found a thick forest of tall, dark trees.
'We can't head into the woods!' exclaimed Dudders with alarm. 'I heard a story about a guy who banged his knees on some trees and later died from his injuries!'
'Aw, no one believes that old tale except crazies and Tanenbaumians.'
'Same thing,' commented Dallywonk absently. 'We'll have to go in. It's too soon to be turning north, and if we try to circle around to the south we could find the wood extends for a hundred miles and we'd be late for our rendezvous with fate.'
'Fate!' shouted Snook, even though he was hundreds of miles away.
The four Pesce soldiers cautiously made their way into the dark wood. 'It will be even harder to go straight when we're in here. We must keep our bearings.'
'Do you think there are bears in these woods?' whispered Dudders.
'Surely not!' exclaimed Breck. 'Or, rather, I should think that any bears should be asleep at this hour of the night. And bears hibernate all Autumn, do they not?'
'I fear you may be mistaken, my good friend. I was under the impression that bears slept during the /Winter/, thus allowing them to remain awake for the whole of the rest of the year.'
'It matters not,' said Filcher. 'Four armed humans are enough to frighten off any bear.'
'It's dark. The bear might not see our weapons and attack.'
'That is why we have a lantern,' said Dallywonk quietly. 'Were a bear to happen upon us--or us upon him--he would see us and us him, and he would run off. Bears are strong creatures, but they prefer not to fight when they can avoid it.'
'That's good,' whispered Dudders. 'I don't like big animals that can kll me with a single swipe of its massive paw.'
'There are no bears,' said Dallywonk firmly.
Suddenly, a bear appeared to their left and reared up before the travellers. With a mighty roar, it waved its massive paw at Dudders, teeth glistening in the lamp light.
'Holy macarel!' shouted Breck. 'It's a bear! A bear, for Dag's sake!'
'Quickly, everybody follow me!' shouted Dallywonk, quickly turning right and running off into the trees. The others hastened to keep up, something Dudders found all too easy, quickly passing Sergeant Dallywonk and taking the lead.
Most unfortunately, Dallywonk was the only one carrying a lit lantern, and Private Dudders suddenly found himself in the dark, having far outpaced the others. He stopped quite abruptly, with the assistance of a very hard-trunked tree, to wait for them to catch up and begin applying first aid to his bleeding nose.
'Dudders, what happened?' asked Filcher as the three men ran up to the injured private. 'Are you all right? You stopped running.'
'Tree got in the way. Had to stop. Is the bear still following us?'
'I believe we lost it.'
'I believe we're lost.'
'East is that way.'
'Isn't there some old adage about mossy trees?'
'If there's moss, it's your loss?'
'No, like, one side always has more moss.'
'Usually. Sometimes it has less.'
'That's annoying. Which side, anyway?'
'The mossy side.'
Sergeant Dallywonk decided it was time to make an executive decision. 'We'll set up camp here for the night. Tomorrow, we'll be able to get our bearings by observing the Sun.'
'Assuming a bear doesn't eat us while we're asleep.'
'Assuming a bear doesn't eat us while we're asleep,' confirmed the Sergeant.
'This will take forever,' commented Hilfa. 'We need a faster mode of travel. Have cars been invented yet?'
'No, but horses have,' said Fin. 'Next town we visit, I say we buy ourselves a buttload of horses.'
'Just four should be plenty.'
'Five. One just for our supplies.'
'Five then. But we needn't be wasting our money on entire buttloads of stuff. It seems like a lot now, but you never know what ridiculously expensive costs could arise at any moment along our long and arduous journey.'
'"Arduous" means fire, right?' asked Snook.
'You're crazy,' Fin told him. 'It means difficult.'
'"Arduous" means difficult, obviously,' put in Melville, 'but it comes from the Latin for high or steep. What Snook is thinking of is /"ardour"/, which comes from the Latin for "to burn".'
'Oh, right. I knew that.'
'Oh, you did not. You just hate to admit that my nutty brother is smarter than you.'
'Well, he almost tricked me with that "pretend to be somewhat sane and then light them on fire while they sleep" routine. I'll admit that. But knowing one Latin root means very little. Plus, he got it wrong, apparently.'
'Still, he should get credit for recognising the similarity.'
'Fine, you're very bright, Mr. Nutty Nuttikins. Now could you please put that super-intelligent mind of yours to the task of /not/ killing us all for a change?'
'You're not dead yet!' shouted Snook gleefully.
'See, it's that "yet" that really bothers me,' Fin informed Hilfa. 'Does he intend to keep trying until I'm dead?'
'If he doesn't, I might,' she responded. 'Could you just shut up and walk?'
'I'm trying a new thing where I speak in full sentences a lot. You know, say a lot of words. I used to avoid talking, but that didn't work out too well. I ended up stuck with a bunch of limes.'
'Limes? You have limes? And you think /Snook/ is dangerous?'
'I don't have limes anymore. I left my last one with an annoying lemon merchant.'
'That was mean.'
'He was annoying. I also took his purse.'
'He didn't mind?' asked Melville, suddenly interested. 'Whenever I tried taking a merchant's purse, he'd get angry and try to stop me. It was very aggravating.'
'I didn't /tell/ him I was taking it. I just slipped the lime into his cart, slipped his purse off of his person, and fled into the crowd. He probably didn't realise I'd taken the purse--or left the lime--until much later.'
'What an intriguing methodology. The piracy academy I attended was all about ostentatiousness. We were to jump right out in front of our victims and shout "Avast!" and then demand their money.'
'I know. I remember you trying that on us. You demanded our wallets, and forgot to even ask if we had a /purse/.'
Melville looked crestfallen. 'I never thought of that. I guess I figured people would know I just meant whatever they kept their money in, purse, wallet, or clay pot.'