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Story: "Finding the Library" (Part 2 of 4) - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Story: "Finding the Library" (Part 2 of 4)
Below is Part 2 of my Aether Dancer story, "Finding the Library."  (Begin with Part 1.  See also Part 3, Part 4.)

"Finding the Library" Part 2

"You follow this route northeast, in a fairly straight line," Sesha said, poking a dotted line.  "It'll take you to Lumby in Oskinus, then Knocks."  She laid two more pebbles, then stroked the dust into a ridge.  "You'll have to cross the Smoky Mountains -- don't worry, they're not real mountains, more like hills with delusions of nobility."

"Lumby, Knocks, Smoky Mountains," he repeated.

Sesha nodded.  "That's right.  Come down into the hill country, and you'll find Salem," she said.  A chip of glass indicated the city.  "That's in Lachesis; you'll be safe there."

"I'm already farther from home than I've gone before," Tomo said, his voice shaking. "I'm not sure I can remember a whole map."

"You won't have to," Sesha said.  She thought about easy ways to navigate.  "You know the sun rises in the east, right?"  Tomo nodded.  "Good.  So in the mornings, you walk toward the sun to go east."  Sesha drew a sun at the eastern edge of the map where Lachesis touched the ocean. 

"I can do that," he said.

"Of course you can.  Now, do you know the group of stars called the Drinking Gourd?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.  "People tell stories."

"The two stars at the far end of the cup make a line that points to another bright star, which doesn't move around the sky like the others do.  That's Polaris, the north star," Sesha said.  "At night, you follow the Drinking Gourd to go north."  She tapped the map where the northernmost spur of Oskinus stretched up to separate Central Empire South from Lachesis.  Then she dotted the stars above the map.

"How do I know if I'm doing it right?" he asked.

"Hide carefully, but listen to the people around you," Sesha said.  "You should be able to hear the names of the bigger settlements.  Lumby, Knocks, and Salem are the ones you want.  Memphis, Huntsville, and Chatty are too far south.  Padding, Hopkins, and Bowline are too far north."

Tomo repeated the names, chanting them in the way of serfs who needed to memorize a list.  That would help him even if he forgot exactly how the map looked.  As long as he could apply what skills he knew to the challenge, he had a chance.

"There are songs for the road, but no time to teach you now," Sesha said.  "Perhaps you'll meet some people as you go, and hear them then."

"I thought you said to hide from people," said Tomo.

"Some people will hunt you; some people will help you," Sesha told him.  "You'll need to change out of those serf clothes, for one thing.  So watch for a clothesline with a bowtie quilt hung on it.  That means you can take clothes --"

"Isn't that stealing?" Tomo asked. 

"No, the bowtie quilt makes an invitation to take what you need.  Also, if you leave your old clothes, it's trading rather than just taking," Sesha said.  "Now another sign is a shovel leaned against a gate.  You can work for food there.  Pitchfork against a barn or shed says you can pitch camp and sleep inside."

"Any way to tell about people?" Tomo asked.

"Sometimes travelers scratch pictures in gateposts, on walls, that sort of thing," Sesha said, sketching a quick row under the map.  "Cat stands for a kind-hearted person.  A square with a dot inside stands for a mean person, or danger in general."

Tomo traced the pictures on his palm with one finger.  "These work the same everywhere?" he asked.

"Some of the signs change, but most don't, and they travel a long way," Sesha said.  "Others are local.  When you get up in the mountains, a bear's track quilt means a game trail nearby that leads to food or water."

"Food's good," he said.

"If you get sick or hurt --"

A distant howl sounded outside.  Tomo bolted for the door, but Sesha grabbed him.  "Do not  run.  Serftakers look for a man running."  She swept away the map with her boot, checking carefully to ensure that nothing remained.  Then she handed Tomo her backpack.  "Take this, lower your head, and follow me," she ordered.

"Yes, m'lady," he said automatically.

"You'll need to unlearn that later," Sesha muttered as she opened the door.  Her sweating hand slipped on the latch as she closed it behind them.

[Continued in Part 3 ...]

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