'But I must remind you,' corrected Dudders, 'that the border is not a straight line running east-west. The Pesce territory curves upward and goes behind the Tanenbaum Region. What if we've travelled too far east and going north just takes us west of Silves?'
'I don't think we ran that far east. It was mostly south.'
'It was all over, my good man, and we've gone far enough north that we should have reached the border by now unless we /are/ too far east.'
'The real question, as I see it,' said Dallywonk with a less confident tone than he usually mustered in such situations, 'is how far the forest extends. I don't believe the path from Silves to the coast is heavily wooded, so we should hit plains before we find ourselves two hundred miles north of our goal.'
'Indeed, wise leader, but we could very well find ourselves far enough off that the war could end before we arrive to carry out our mission.'
'I doubt it will end, but the forces may have met in deadly struggle,' put in Breck. 'Casualties of war are undesirable.'
'Blowing up the enemy encampment may produce a few casualties,' commented Filcher.
'The Tanenbaums started it. We have to defend ourselves.'
'Oh, I'm not disagreeing with that.. I'm just saying: casualties are going to happen on at least one side. War always results in casualties. Even if an omnipotent historian promises none, you can rest assured that he's lying.'
'Cursed historians. There hasn't been a good one since Jaime.'
'All hail Jaime!' sang out Dudders. 'Say, what if we headed due northwest? Minimise the chances of going too far north.'
'But what if we cross the border too far to the west and are caught by an enemy patrol?'
'How about we just go to sleep and decide in the morning? I'm getting tired.' The others agreed that sleep sounded good and they set up camp between the trees.
The next morning, they awoke to the sound of a flock of birds stopping for a noisy rest on their way south.
'Are those edible?' asked Filcher. 'I'm getting tired of military rations.' He threw his knife at one of the birds, but missed, causing the entire flock to fly off and land a couple hundred yards away.
'No time for hunting. We must device a plan for reaching the enemy encampment. Going northwest sounded like the best idea.'
Filcher shrugged and began packing his stuff.
'Wait, I had an idea earlier,' said Dudders. 'Look, the Levis River flows west towards the sea. If we travel up until we hit it, we can then turn west and follow it into Tanenbaum Region, at which point we travel a few miles southwest and then go due west until we reach the encampment.'
'That is a good plan, but won't the river run through marshes from time to time? It will be hard to follow closely if the land is nothing but mud.'
'If we find ourselves in such a predicament, we can just go around south of the marsh. So long as we find the river, we'll at least have an idea as to where we are.'
'True. North to the river it is, then.'
Ah, perhaps that was it. Perhaps Hilfa, not wanting to be eaten by polar bears or cannibalistic savages, had convinced Snook to go south in search of proper swordsmanship training. But she was pretty sure they had left northward down the road, and turning around now would mean a lot of lost time. No way to catch up to them if they had gone south. North it had to be.
So she continued her long trek northward, passing the occasional merchant, none of whom admitted to having seen a couple wandering kids of the given description.
After a while, Sylvia came across an old lady walking southward. 'Excuse me, ma'am,' called the lady, approaching. 'I'm looking for my daughter. Years and years ago, I sold her into slavery, only she bought herself for a handful of shrimp, and now I want her back. She made the best fish stew, and I love fish stew. So I've been walking up and down these roads for thirty years hunting for my daughter. Her name is Sylvia and she looks just like you only thirty years younger. Have you seen anyone by that description?'
'No, but my children are lost too and I think they may have gone up to live with the polar bears in the ice land. Perhaps your daughter happened upon them and joined them on their trek. Perhaps we could go hunt for them together.'
'That sounds like a wonderful idea,' croaked the old lady. 'What's you name?'
'I'm Sylvia. It's a pleasure to meet you.'
'That's amazing. My daughter and you both share the same name. What a coincidence.'
'Not only that, but my mother once sold me for a handful of shrimp and I haven'tseen her since. You look a lot like her, too. Only, she wasn't so old.'
'Amazing. I feel we have a special connection due to our similar pasts and presents. If we get to the ice lands and my daughter isn't there, how about I be your mother and we hire a couple savages to be your kids? It'll be more fun than wandering these roads for thirty years, let me tell you.'
'Won't the savage kids try to eat us?'
'Oh, no, they're very nice and they make excellent ice cream.'
'Oh, I love ice cream! That's the only reason I ant my daughter back. She made fantastic ice cream. The boy, he was just a pain. One time, he lit the beehive on fire because he wanted to practice fighting against glowing red things. He said they were common in outer space, wherever that is.'
Just then, a merchant rode up in his cart and called out 'Old woman! You know that daughter of yours for whom you were searching? Someone told me a girl matching her description was spotted in Tench.'
'Oh, lovely! I'm sorry, dear, but you'll just have to go visit the ice men on your own. I have to go to Tench to meet my daughter.'
Sylvia shrugged. 'Very well. But isn't Tench along the way?'
'Normally, yes, but I've been up and down these roads so many times that I like to take a different one each time. Cover more ground that way. I'll be taking the next fork to the left, whereas you'll get where you're going faster if you keep going straight.'
So the two ladies thanked the merchant and continued on their way north together for about an hour. Then, they each went their separate ways, the old woman heading for Tench and Sylvia continuing up the eastern road towards the ice lands.
'We should hire a guide,' insisted Melville. 'Someone who knows the region inland.'
'No one knows the region inland /south/ of the border. He'd only be useful for the first half of the journey.'
'Why do you say "he"? Girls can be as guideful as boys. Anyone who says otherwise is full of codswallop making their heads all silly.'
'Maybe it's English's generic neuter pronoun.'
'Oh, sure, blame it on a thousand years of English history. I see right through your linguistic shield! You read the map wrong too, remember.'
'No, I read the map right. It was printed wrong, intentionally.'
'And it fooled you.'
'Fooled you to. The one it didn't fool was Melville, who is not, I should point out, a girl.'
'He's an experienced pirate. Pirates know all about maps.'
'Oh, yes, he's a great pirate.'
'Let's not start that again,' interrupted Melville. 'A guide could help us even if he isn't familiar with the region south of the border. It's not like we're low on funds.'
'But we don't want to reveal our mission to untrustworthy folk,' said Fin.
'We're going to blow up the enemy!' shouted Snook at passing townsfolk.
'Too late,' commented Hilfa wryly. 'Let's find a place to get some food and spend the night. We can ask around about guides afterwards. We don't have to specify exactly what we need a guide for. Just to show us around inland, and make sure anyone we hire knows we'll be going beyond anywhere he's explored in the past.'
'Why do you say "he"?' asked Fin sarcastically. 'Can't girls be as--what was the non-word you used?--/guideful/ as boys?'
'It's the sexist bias you evil menfolk have injected into the language. Your fault entirely, you sexist pig.'
The group located a nearby inn and booked a couple rooms for the night. Then they headed into the dining area to order some grub and locate possible guides.'
'I wonder if the cat's around,' commented Hilfa.
'The cat's not real, remember. She can't be around.'
'She was before.'
'No, that was nothing but a figment of our imaginations. Imaginary non-real cats don't exist. Even Snook knows that, and he's crazy.'
'Snook "knows" lots of things that aren't true. We all spoke to the cat. And some of us tried to burn her to a crisp.'
'That was me!' shouted Snook.
'Verily,' muttered Melvile. He stood up. 'Attention, everyone: we're looking to hire a guide for our excursion inland. If you know someone who could do the job, or are such a person yourself, please let us know. And just ignore our crazy companion. He seems to be unable to refrain from shouting out crazy things every few minutes.'
'Did you ever consider the possibility that I can speak in fully coherent sentences and am in fact quite sane, but merely have Tourette's Syndrome?' inquired Snook. 'Or perhaps I just find you all to be insipid and mind-numbingly boring so I try to liven things up with crazy antics, realising that intelligent conversation is useless as you lot simply want to argue and fight all day. That never occurred to any of you, now did it? No, I didn't think so. That's just my point: you people don't ever question anything. You just bicker bicker bicker.'
The others stared at him for a moment. 'Right,' said Fin. 'Do that part about how you're not crazy again. 'Cause, you know if you were sane when you nearly burned us all to death and destroyed our supplies, I'd like to know so I can just kill you now.'
'I like fire!' exclaimed Snook in his usual tone of voice. 'I want to see polar bears!'
'That's what I thought,' said Fin to nobody in particular.
Just then, a large man dressed in skins approached the group's table. 'You're looking to hire a guide? I've been all over the inland, and I'm looking to go back. I can guide you folks.'
'Ah!' exclaimed Melville happily. 'We will be going to various areas where it is most improbably that you've been. Is that okay?'
'If there are places left for me to explore, I want to explore them. What's the pay?'
A fee for the man's services was quickly arranged and they all agreed to meet there tomorrow morning to begin their journey. They informed him they had most of their own supplies already, in addition to having five horses. After a bit more discussion, they all headed off to bed for a good night's sleep.