“We are lost.”
“We are NOT lost.”
“Have you ever been to this place before? Does any of this look familiar to you? Loni…Loni!”
Loni continued down the path without looking back. Dovni sighed, shrugged his shoulders, sat down, and leaned against a tree. His body ached, and he was hungry. They had not eaten a proper meal since setting out on their journey four days before. Now, as far as Dovni could tell, they were lost. The small men from Hill Country were a rugged sort, provided frequent meals from their well-stocked kitchens and long naps in their comfortable beds. “Adventurer” was the polite term given to those folks who fled Hill Country in desperation to avoid being locked up in one of the local jails.
Dovni pulled a loaf of bread out of his bag and tried to bite into it, then frowned. The bread was stale. He hit it on a rock repeatedly until it broke apart, and he picked up one piece at a time, brushing off dirt and a few insects as he ate. He watched Loni walk from one side of the path to the other, searching through the forest undergrowth. Loni pushed branches, ferns, and weeds to the side, feeling the tree trunks with his hands. He moved methodically from one tree to the next. He searched one side of the path and then the other, repeating the process every few steps.
Dovni felt a crunch and squish of beetle juice in his mouth. He shuddered and gulped, washing it down with water from his flask, and he shuddered again.
“We are lost!” he yelled, after he cleared his mouth of the bitter bug juice with another drink.
“We are NOT lost,” Loni responded, his words muffled by the leaves and stems surrounding him. “I found it!” Loni stood, holding what appeared to be a Luna Moth in his hands. “There! See!”
He walked back up the path and sat next to Dovni.
“Look,” Loni said, “I told you we were not lost. We’ve followed the Gat’s instructions to this point. And here is the next piece of the map.”
Loni unfolded and gently rubbed the back of the wings. As the scales shed, parchment was revealed underneath. Drawn on the paper was a meandering line with a tiny “x” marked in the corner at the bottom and a larger “x” marked toward the top.
“Here is where we are now,” stated Loni, pointing to the bottom corner. “And there is where we will find the next piece of our map. So, no, we are not lost at all. We are exactly where we are supposed to be.”
“Where we are supposed to be?! I am supposed to be home, sitting in front of a fire eating my dinner, or maybe at “The Border Inn” enjoying a meal and some ale with you, or at your Granny Nana’s house eating…oh, I can’t even think of it.”
Dovni picked a chunk of the bread off the ground, brushed it off, and held it out to Loni, who took it and began gnawing on its edge, a grin on his face.
“No,” continued Dovni. “We are NOT where we are supposed to be.”
“Where is your sense of adventure?” Loni spat out small crumbs as he spoke.
“Adventure?!? Are we criminals fleeing Hill Country? Adventure,” Dovni complained. “Adventures are for Valdaren or the large men who hunt in the Trividian Forest or sea-trading men. They are NOT for simple folk like us.”
“Drougerhead!” Loni bumped his shoulder into Dovni as he spoke.
“I am NOT!”
Dovni leaped to his feet and put his hands on his hips, glaring. Loni grinned up at him as he chewed.
“I am…I am NOT! We are days away from Hill Country, following a…well, what would you call it? It isn’t a map. The Gat could have at least given us a proper map!”
Loni folded the disguised paper in half for Dovni and then opened it back up. “It is a map…or a fragment of a map. We are here.” He pointed again to the small “x”. “And we are going here.”
He traced his fingers along the jagged line to the “x” at the top. He folded it again, showing off its lime green wings, and held it for Dovni to see.
“It is a Gat map,” he stated proudly.
Dovni shook his head in disbelief. “And, what do you know about the Gat?”
“Plenty. Do you ever read?”
Loni stood and brushed the dirt off his pants. He examined the inside of the moth map and looked down the trail ahead of them. He folded the map, opened the side pouch of his bag, and placed it behind several dozen other maps in the shapes of various moths and butterflies. He closed the flap, secured it, and patted it a few times with his hand.
“I read…plenty,” Dovni protested.
“Well, then, you would know that Gats are secretive. They take great measures to hide their houses. It is written that a single Gat home contains more histories, potions, and records of dark creatures and mysterious things than all the libraries in the great cities of men combined.”
“You mean there are more Gats? I have only ever heard of Mattoby,” Dovni said.
“I think there used to be…a long time ago. Mattoby is the only Gat I know of, but the old books told of more.”
“Mattoby is old…ancient.”
“Yes, so he must have a treasury of things worth hiding. He has given us a map, or fragments of a map, to get us to his gate. We are exactly where we are supposed to be…one more day to go…seven more maps to find. We are NOT lost. You are a Drougerhead, but you are a nice one who shares your stale bread.”
He grinned at Dovni, bumped him with his elbow, chuckled, and started walking down the path.
“I am not a Drougerhead!”
Loni continued walking.
“What does he want with us anyway?” Dovni questioned, raising his voice to get Loni’s attention.
Loni didn’t look back. He concentrated on the path ahead, matching his steps to the jigs and jags of the picture of Gat’s map he had sketched in his head. “Don’t know,” he answered, nonchalantly.
Loni picked up his pace along the dirt trail. Night would be falling in a few hours, and they would have to stop lest they miss one of Mattoby’s clues in the dark. He wanted to reach the next map piece, if possible, before dark and find a safe place to hide for the night off the trail. That should get them to the Gat’s gate before nightfall tomorrow. He wanted to leave extra time, just in case they did get lost, although he said nothing about that to Dovni.
Dovni sighed, shook his head, scowled, and jogged to catch up to his friend.
Chapter 1, Lost, from The Legend of the Lumenstones: The Lightbearer
words and cover art © 2017 Tanya Cliff
on sale now