They traped onward.
'How far are we from the next town?' asked Fin.
Hilfa pulled out their map and studied it carefully. 'About five hundred miles.'
'Somehow I doubt that.'
'Well, you read it then. I'm a girl. Girls always have a terrible sense of direction. Everyone knows that.'
'That's just codswallop causing people's brains to be all silly. Girls are just as good as boys at such things.'
'Maybe you're right. Which would mean we're about five hundred miles from the next town.'
'Oh, right. Maybe I'm wrong, then. Girls are stupid.'
'It's about time someone realised that,' said Fin.
'You read the map then.' Hilfa shoved the map at Fin who carefully scanned over it and proclaimed them five hundred miles from the next town
Just then, the group happened across a small village. 'Wow. Fire hundred miles is a lot less groud to cover than it sounds.'
'It's because I ran the whole way!' explained Snook.
'Maybe we should buy a new map while we're getting the horses,' commented Fin.
'Or a guide who can read a map.
'I can read a map. Look at it: it shows five hundred miles.'
Melville looked at the map. 'Oh, this is one of those maps designed to scare kids off of running away from home. The scale is off by a factor of one hundred in order to convince them they could never reach the nearby town where their kind uncle Moe lives.'
'Oh, so the town we're currently standing in is actually only five miles away? That makes much more sense,' commented Hilfa sarcastically.
'The messed up scale no doubt confused you as to how far we'd already gotten. We're in this town down here, not way up here,' Melville explained, pointing to two towns along the red path.
'Lunch!' said Snook.
'We just had breakfast a couple hours ago,' said Hilfa. 'It's not even nine o'clock yet.'
'Let's find a place where we can buy some horses. Hey, there, citizen!' Melville flagged down a passing man and inquired about purchasing five horses for their long and wearisome journey.
'Try Sawbill up north. They have all sorts of things for sale up there.'
Melville explained that they had just come from Sawbill and that they needed to get horses along their journey, not backtrack to buy them, so did anyone around here have some spare horses possibly? You don't know? Well do you know anyone who might know? No, we can't go back to Sawbill. We're heading south. It's really important. Yes, we're with the army, so could you please help us? No, I suppose we don't look like ordinary soldiers.
This went on for quite some time until Fin tapped Melville on the shoulder and showed him the five fine horses he'd just acquired.
'Oh, you bought some already! Fabulous! That's all then, thanks for your help.' To Fin, 'How much were they?'
'Oh, you know...they were...um...how much would you expect them to cost?'
'I haven't the slightest idea!'
'Well...okay. Neither do I. But let's just say I got a very nice price on them and let's leave right now before the former owner comes out of the post office and changes his mind about selling them to us.'
'Why would he change his min--'
'Hurry!' interrupted Fin.
The four of them rode out of town, Fin leading the fifth horse as best he could.
He woke the others and after a couple minutes, they set out with the sun in their face and slightly to the right of their path. The going was considerably easier in the light of day, and Sergeant Dallywonk felt they were making good time.
'How far east do we need to go?' Breck asked around noon. 'Surely the enemy encampment cannot stretch this far inland. The Tanenbaums fear the trees, so they would most likely avoid the wood.'
'Ah, but when we head north and cross into their territory, will the wood still be there?'
'So long as there's somebody to see it, it's there, my good man,' put in Dudders, smiling.
'You misunderstand, esteemed sir. This isn't a philosophical quandary. It's geographic in nature, the very thing you were so keen on this past night. How far north does the forest range? Perhaps it turns to plains a mile north of here.'
'Indeed, that is a possibility one must consider, and I thank you for bringing it up, but even without the forest, we should be well beyond the range of the enemy base.'
'Indeed.' The three Privates turned to look at Dallywonk. He shrugged.
'Wise considerations, these all are, however, I believe we should continue on out current eastward course for the rest of the day. It would be best to be entering enemy territory under cover of darkness. If, however, the woods should end before nightfall, we could perhaps turn north then so as to have wooded cover--something likely even more valuable than the cover of darkness.'
The others agreed that this was the best plan and the group continued on its way, discussing politics, the war, and which aquariums they'd visit first with their special military passes once hostilities had ended in a landslide victory by the Pesce.
One of the primary points in each watcher's report was the number of troops in the enemy encampment. It had become a game of sorts to try to estimate the actual number, and the guesses ranged from forty-two to two thousand, with most people estimating somewhere in the two to five hundred range. Leath favoured this range himself and was always annoyed by reports stating that the watcher on duty had 'counted at least fifteen hundred troops' or 'only spotted thirty men in the northern encampment, with no more than twenty being out of view. Personally, he would have liked to take such incompetent troops off of their extremely important guard duty and put them on something relatively harmless, like pealing potatoes to go with the fish, but the higher-ups didn't want to dampen the troops willingness to truthfully report their sightings, so punishing people for reporting what they honestly thought they saw was discouraged.
Of course, the one report Leath was really awaiting in eager anticipation was the one announcing 'last night, as I stood watch, the entire enemy encampment exploding in a giant fireball and one of our Sergeants with three Privates came running over to in us in celebration'. That would mean Leath got his Sergeant back and wouldn't have to continue doing all this paperwork himself.
Finally finishing his executive report on the nights reports with a quick signing of his name, he decided to take a group of soldiers for a quick patrol of the border. He'd been doing this lately mostly for practice, but also because at some point the Tanenbaums would edge across the border to attack, and regular patrols were the best way to reduce their chances of making it deep into Pesce territory unchallenged. It also put on a good show for any watching guards from the north. 'We're ready for you. Don't try anything sneaky.' Not that the loudmouth Tanenbaums were any good at sneakiness. That took finesse and less stinky breath.
Grabbing his scythe, he headed outside to find some available soldiers, and quickly stumbled across four slackers playing cards. 'Tally-ho, men! Cards are not the game for soldiers. It is a routine patrol to defend our borders you should find to be bracing good fun. Grab your scythes and we shall be off to show a brave face to the treacherous northerners.'
Realising how right the higher ranking offer giving them orders was, the Privates quickly dropped their card game and grabbed their weapons. Cheerfully they marched out of camp and began patrolling the border to the west goose-stepping around and having a grand old time showboating their snappy dress and smart moves.
They had been out marching for about an hour when they abruptly found themselves facing a similarly-sized group of Tanenbaums on patrol. 'Ack, we're under attack!' shouted one of the Pesce Privates.
'You? We're under attack!' shouted back on of the Tanenbaumian soldiers.
'You're on our territory! Prepare to meet your untimely death!' proclaimed another member of the Pesce party, stepping forward to deal an arm-removing blow with his scythe.
'Are not! The border's over there,' said the Tanenbaum, pointing south.
'Really? Oh, carp,' said the Pesce Private, lowering his weapon. 'Er...we'll just be going then. Dreadfully sorry for the inconvenience.' They made a hasty retreat.
'Okay,' said Leath. 'I think it's time we headed back to camp and studied navigation a bit more.'
The others nodded in agreement and they all began goose-stepping their way back to base.
As you all know, I run a bakery, among other business endeavours we needn't get into right now. Suffice to say, I run an operation of considerable magnitude, and my projects tend to be of a similar scale. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should begin a few days back.
My old and faithful competitor Delmer Ravioli was in the neighbourhood, so I asked if he and his boys could help me out a little. He and I go way back with our little rivalry, but we have never really been enemies. Not friends, exactly, but not enemies. We were in the same business and had a mutual respect, even when the other found it necessary to off one of our boys. So Delmer said sure he'd help, so long as I did him a favour in return, which I did in the form of not crushing his little organisation under my own.
Delmer, bless his heart, agreed to fake a robbery at my bakery and then smuggle the goods down south. To avoid suspicion, and to pick up a little spending money, he also robbed a number of other bakeries in the area. Now, he doesn't know it yet, but the goods he's smuggling are ordinary lemon seeds. He thinks there's something special about them, but they're just a ruse. Anyway, they're hidden in with the money he 'steals' from us. And this all goes just as intended. Delmer's happy. I'm happy. Different reasons, though.
See, my actual plan is to get Delmer arrested for the robberies so his people are busy trying to get him out and he's stuck in prison while I do my business. Only, Delmer, being the numbskull he is sometimes, decides he wants to get fancy and steal away on the royal yacht. The big boss's birthday is coming up and Delmer thinks this would make a powerful gift to get him in good with the guy who decides both our fates in the end of all things. So he's sneaking out earlier than I expected. He was supposed to be taking a boat out the next day, by which time the police would have apprehended him with a little clandestine help from the mastermind behind the thefts. But when I learn of his new plan, I have to act quick. I have my associates blow up the royal yacht. This is so he gets nabbed, only he doesn't. He gets off scot free, which is not a problem so long as I can keep him busy and away from his organisation until my plan is complete.
Now, I know he's going to be thinking right off that I'm the one who tried to kill him with the explosion--which I am, except he wasn't supposed to die at all, as he'd be replaced right away and no one would be distracted like they're supposed to be. First goal is to make him think I'm off the scent. So I send that young fellow, Gar, down to Tanenbaum Estate to make it look like I'm gathering intel on his whereabouts. This also gives me another chance to check if the kid can be trusted, 'cause I ask him to find out Delmer's name, which I obviously already knew. He gets back and tells me what I already know. But I know I have to pace myself. It was Delmer's turn to make a move, which he did with the lime stunt. After that, I bomb his place. Back and forth. Keeping him busy.
All in the meantime, my associates and I are carrying out my master plan, the one all these diversions are covering up. See, I intent to monopolise the lemon trade by feeding green dye into the ground in orchards I don't control. Their property value will drop when the trees produce green lemons and then I'll buy them up for a fraction of the price. But if anyone detects my massive green dye production, they'll get suspicious, and Delmer's just the one who would notice such a thing. Luckily, he's also his own distraction, though he'd never know it.
As for the war, well, that was unplanned, but it doesn't concern me much. I figure they'll eventually work out that conflict never solves anything.
Diplomats tend to believe nutty things like that.