Sven Zoot sighed. 'You've asked that thrice already.'
'Yes, well, each time you decide we need to turn and go farther north or farther south or backwards for a while I get nervous. I mean, going a little north or south I can understand, but /backwards?/'
'The swamp is made of water and mud, not stone. It changes as time passes. It's only natural that we make the occasional wrong turn from time to time.'
'/You/ make the occasional wrong turn,' corrected Fin. '/We/ simply followed you aimlessly. You're the guide, remember. We're just a bunch of clueless northerners. Criminals and crazies and runaways and pirates.'
'Ex-pirates' amended Melville.
'Well, there's no map of these parts. I'll get you where you're going. It's still shorter than going around.'
'I think we are going around,' said Hilfa. 'Around in circles.'
'It's that sort of lame wordplay that makes you sound like a total carp. It's not clever at all, you know.'
'Oh, and you could do better?'
'No, which is why I said nothing. If the best line you can come up with is stupid, skip it altogether.'
'No surprise you'd hold to that philosophy. It took us days to get you to say a full sentence. What does that say about your wit?'
'That it has standards.'
'We'll have to turn back and take that other left,' announced Sven.
'Are you /sure/ you know where we're going?' asked Hilfa.
'Yes, we're going over to that strange tower in the middle of the swamp. I've never seen it before and that intrigues me.'
'You do realise we have somewhere to be, don't you?' commented Fin.
'From the top of the tower, we'll have a good, clear view of where we are and how to get where we're going.'
'Except the tower is surrounded by mist. And why would the owner let us climb to the top anyway?'
'Hey!' said Melville. 'There's a tower in the middle of a desolate swamp. How very bizarre!'
'What? Oh, you're right,' said Fin in realisation. 'I hadn't really thought about it that much.'
'So why aren't we walking towards the tower if that's our new target?' inquired Hilfa.
'Swamps are round-about places. We'll get there in good time. Just be patient. I'm the guide, remember? Don't question my skilled guidance.' Sven paused and looked around. 'No, we should have gone right at that last branch. I'm sure of it now.'
The sun was setting when the group finally found themselves an arm's throw from the tower. 'See, we're almost there!' declared Sven.
Fin greeted this proclamation with open scepticism. 'Yes, all that stands between us and our goal is an impassible pool of muddy water no doubt filled with venomous snakes. Good job. I don't suppose you have a small boat in that backpack of yours?'
'That's your high-standards witty remark?'
'Sarcasm makes for sharp wit in all but the most trite contexts.'
Melville was not daunted by the allegedly impassible pool of muddy water. 'Everybody gather sticks and logs and vines. We'll build ourselves a raft and float across like people did in old sea tales.'
'Oh,' said Sven, 'and this is only a suggestion, mind you, we could follow that path around the muddy water, thus reaching our destination in a matter of minutes without getting muddy at all.' He looked around at the others. 'Not that you lot haven't managed to get a fair bit of mud on yourselves already, despite my careful choice of paths that avoided such annoyances.'
'Oh, yes, delightfully unmuddy paths, so long as you're only an inch wide.' But Sven was already heading down the path, so Fin scowled and followed along.
A few minutes later, they arrived at the base of the mysterious tower.
'Should we knock?' asked Hilfa hesitantly.
'No, let's just stand outside and admire it while the insects eat us alive,' Fin responded accordingly. He walked up to the wooden door and pounded his fist against it. 'Open the door! Open the door! In the name of King Arthur, open the door!'
'Who's King Arthur?' asked Snook.
'I don't know. It just sounded right.'
'Sounded pretty stupid to me,' said Hilfa. It looked as if Fin was about to reply with an obvious comeback when the door opened and a tall man inside stood looking at them. 'Hello, good sirs (and madam). I welcome you most graciously in to, most humble of towers.' Then to someone inside, 'What? Oh, yes, Rude. Got it.' Turning back to the travellers, he said 'I mean, what do you want?'
'We were hoping we could come in. Spend the night. View the swamp from atop your tower to get our bearings. Use your phone.'
'What's a phone?' asked Snook and the tall man simultaneously.
'I don't know. It just seemed like the thing to use. If you haven't one we could just do those other things I mentioned.'
'Er...yes, okay. Come on in, my fine fe--I mean, yes, enter.'
Once the five travellers were inside the crowded base of the tower, introductions were made. 'Thank you for letting us stay here tonight. I'm Melville Pennybrook, and this,' he said, pointing to each of them in turn, 'is Snook'--('I'm crazy!' exclaimed Snook, while Fin commented 'He's crazy' at the same time)--'who is indeed crazy', continued Melville, 'and Hilfa, who isn't'--('I'm not so sure,' put in Fin)--'the boy who won't shut up despite his former unwillingness to say two words is Fin'--('He's a criminal /and/ he's incredibly annoying' added Hilfa)--'and lastly, this fine fellow is Sven Zoot, our guide in these parts.'
'Could we get that without the interruptions?'
'Melville, Snook, Hilfa, Fin, Sven' repeated Melville quickly.
'Ah, jolly good. I'm Breck, and my companions here are Ca--that is, Morris and Dudders. Filcher is upstairs at the moment.'
'A pleasure to meet the lot of you, I'm sure.'
'Why does no one ever take note when I declare my insanity? I'm crazy mad, you know. I burn things. Fire and brimstone!' Snook paused for a moment. 'What's brimstone? Does it burn well?'
'Well, we expect crazies in this area.'
'How's that?' inquired Melville. 'You mean it being a swamp?'
'Oh, yes, that's precisely what I meant,' replied Breck, re-realising the people he was speaking to were crazy Tanenbaums themselves. 'Have you had dinner yet? Filcher is getting started on dinner.'
'Oh, yes, that would be lovely,' said Melville amid general agreement by the others in his party. 'We are slightly short on supplies--I lost my pack while saving the others from a vicious gazebo--but we should have enough that we'll gladly share. The kitchen is upstairs?'
'Seems to be. I'll show it to you.' Morris and Melville headed up the stairwell to join Filcher in the meal preparation, leaving Breck, Dudders, and the other four to stand around and stare at each other in silence.
'So...you guys like the swamp?' asked Breck.
'It's awfully muddy,' said Hilfa. 'Shut up,' she added for Fin's benefit.
'You expect me to pass up a snide remark like that? You can't lead a horse to water and then command him not to drink.'
'Fascinating. And you say you're crazy,' Breck asked Snook.
'I nearly killed them all!'
'Oh. A dangerous kind of crazy. That's not so much fascinating as worrisome.' Dudders nodded in agreement.
'He hasn't done anything like that for a number of days,' put in Hilfa quickly. 'He's gotten more erratic in his speech and less deadly in his actions.'
They all discussed Snook's behaviour and debated whether he was getting better, worse, or just different. Snook seemed to prefer the 'worse' position, as any time Hilfa or Breck made a claim for the 'better' side, Snook would make a proclamation about how much he loved fire and would probably kill them all that night. Breck was on the 'worse' side, or perhaps the 'not better enough--can we throw him out to wander the swamp all night?' side. Fin, for his part, seemed to be firmly on the 'worse' side of the debate, but was clearly happy to take Breck's abandonment position as well. Sven just didn't seem to care that much and watched on in amusement as Breck got more and more nervous. Dudders also refrained from arguing, but he did not appear to be sharing in Sven's amusement so much as Breck's nervousness plus a bit of panic on the side.
Finally, the argument was interrupted when Melville popped down to inform that that dinner was ready, but clear try to wipe off some of that mud first, if you would, kids.
After dinner, the two groups of travellers sat around and chatted for a bit, having quite the jolly time indeed and eventually called it a night--for that is what it was--and went to bed.
The next morning, they had none of them been burnt to a crisp by Snook and his devious machinations. Breck and Dudders were thoroughly relieved. Filcher and Melville got started on breakfast while Morris, Breck, and Dudders showed the others to the top of the tower.
'To tell the truth,' Morris explained, 'we're somewhat lost too. We're not entirely familiar with this landscape and we stopped here yesterday afternoon hoping to get a good view, but it wasn't a lot of use.'
'Oh, so you didn't build the tower?' said a surprised Sven. 'I wonder how it got here.'
'I don't know. It was empty when we arrived.'
'Well, with luck the view will provide me with sufficient reference for me to expedite us along our journey.'
'Where are you going, anyway?' asked Breck curiously.
'We're going to blow up the enemy encampment,' Hilfa said absently.
'So are we!' exclaimed Dudders happily. Suddenly he realised something. 'Oh. Oh dear.'
'Why would the army send two teams to blow up the enemy camp?' wondered Hilfa.
'Honestly, you're as bad as Melville, sometimes,' said Fin.
'Why? What? Explain, if you're so smart.'
'I'd rather not.'
'I think we have to kill you now,' said Morris.
'If you try I'll burn you up!' said Snook. He turned to Hilfa and Fin indignantly. 'You guys should have let me have a sword. I could easily chop these three up.'
'Well, we would have, but you're crazy and kept nearly killing us, if you'll recall,' Fin commented.