His eyes opened slowly, half-cocked to shield against even the small amount of light that gave the room a gentle glow. A plump shadow waddled across the wall, dancing back and forth in quick bursts. The smell of boiled vegetables and roasted meat saturated the air, flooding Dego’s nostrils with every deliberate breath. He rolled over slowly, stopping a few times to rest before finding his way to his other side and seeing that Shem and Tulla were in beds next to him. The bed was better than a pile of hay, and the comfort was all encompassing.
Trying to sit up, every muscle in his tiny body ached and his stomach was pierced by a terribly sharp pain.
“Hn!” The sound escaped him, not having the strength to hold it back. He clasped his stomach softly.
“Oh ho ho!” a voice echoed from the other side of the room. A round man with tiny spectacles and bleach-white hair on either side of his head turned his head and smiled from beneath a plum of a nose. The light from a fire gleaned off his head. “So glad to see you’re awake! I did not know if you would ever wake up.”
The man toddled around a table that sat in the middle of the room. The room was all there was; Dego marveled at how big the hut was. Dipping a ladle into the fireplace, the man drew some stew and dropped it into a wooden bowl. Making his way across the room he gracefully dodged several obstacles on the floor that fell out of Dego’s view and delivered the bowl to the trembling boy.
“Here, lean back.” He tipped the bowl up and helped deliver the contents to Dego’s dry mouth. “Eat. Eat. There you go.”
“Buuurap!” Dego covered his mouth quickly, then sniggered. He was feeling better already. “Sorry.”
“No worries. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I don’t normally make soup, but there are few foods that you can be sure won’t offend.” The man toddled over to the table and began to chop away at a round white vegetable, dirt still clinging to its skin.
Dego licked the bowl slowly, making sure he got every drop. He tossed the bowl and hit Shem squarely in the back of the head. The snoring was interrupted by a brief snorting episode, and then resumed.
“Takes a lot to wake that one, eh?” The plump man chopped at a quickened pace. “I take it you all are friends?”
“Yes,” Dego replied, surprised at the meekness of his own voice. He tried to clear his throat and rasped out a request for water.
“Oh, absolutely, absolutely.” The little man seemed to roll around the room under some invisible force, returning with a cup that he laid on a table next to the bed. “Your friends woke up yesterday but were similarly weak.”
“Where are you?” the man asked.
“No, where’s Silverhide?” Dego shook his head, then said, “I mean, my snake. He’s silver.”
“Ah, that little chap was wound tightly around your leg. I thought it was trying to squeeze the life out your limb, but it was so small and looked like it was clinging for life.” The man took a white pot out, putting it on the table and removing the lid. He reached in carefully and slowly lifted Silverhide’s head up, the serpent sound asleep. Dego sighed and smiled.
“That’s good. I was worried something might have happened to him.” He scratched his stomach, then said, “Now that you mention it though…where are we? The last thing I remember, we were in our boat and then…” Dego scratched his head, trying to remember something that wasn’t there. “I think there was a storm…”
“That would explain why you were on the shore. Found you lot laid out, barely breathing. You must have been under for a long time. It’s a miracle you survived.”
“Yea…” The bottom of the sea returned to his mind, and Dego recalled the seafloor moving. The memory made him shiver.
“Look at you! Poor thing. I don’t know how long you had been lying there. You might have caught a cold.” The man helped Dego ease up and get out of the bed, the floor cold against his bare feet. Slowly he made his way across the floor, clothing and other odd objects scattered across it. “Watch your step, watch your step,” the man kept saying, but he didn’t even look down as he traversed the mess. He momentarily left Dego standing next to the fire, a black pot sitting firmly in the heart of the flames. The man brought a chair over and sat Dego down in it. “So tell me, where do you all come from?”
“Konida. It’s an Island.”
“Hm. Never heard of it.” The man wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Where is it?”
“I dunno. Somewhere in the sea.” Dego didn’t even know where he was, let alone where the island was.
“Ha ha! My boy, every island is somewhere in the sea.” He went over to a large wooden piece and opened it up, taking out a large rolled up parchment and opening it up for Dego pointing to a point on the large drawing. “See, we are here, out on Partick’s Shoulder.”
“What is this?” Dego ran his hand over the parchment, feeling the small grooves and bumps. The lines were black, save for a number of thin blue ones that wormed throughout the drawing.
“Haven’t you seen a map before?” The man’s eyebrows shot up. “That would be quite a disappointment.”
“This is my living,” the man said proudly, laying the map out on the table that rested at the center of the room. “My name is Peri Warvhal, cartographer.” He noted the blank look on the boy’s face. “I make maps.”
“Yes. It’s a drawing of the world. Well, this part of the world anyway.” He pointed again to Partick’s shoulder. “This is us, on the western most point of Dynesia.”
“Is that the name of your island?”
“Dynesia is a continent.” Peri looked at the map again, smiling. “Well, I suppose a continent is just a very large island anyway. So yes.”
Dego could not take his eyes off the map. He wondered how big the whole thing was. Most of the map was laid out with shades of green, a large swatch of yellow in the middle of the island with large brown patches surrounding it. “What’re these?”
“These are mountains,” Peri said pointing to the various brown patches. He traced a few of the blue lines, explaining, “These are rivers. Each one has a name. The mountains too.”
“Can’t you read?” He pointed to some figures above the mountains. “This is Crom’s Whisper, just above the High Council of Genio. This is the Giant’s Hand, which is where Crux’s Seat is. That’s the large one here.”
“How big is it?”
“They estimate it to be around seventeen miles to the peak.” Peri scratched his chin. “I don’t suppose you know what a mile is.”
Dego shook his head.
“Right.” Peri returned to the wooden piece and took out a stick with lines on it, holding it out before Dego. “See, this is a measuring stick. You use it to find the length of something.” He held it against his hand, saying, “See, my hand is five inches from wrist to the tip of my middle finger.”
“You see…this is an inch,” Peri explained, pointing to the smallest space between two lines. “There are ten inches in a foot, which is the length of the measuring stick. Five thousand of these make one mile.”
“Five thousand?” Dego had never counted that high before. “I know I have ten fingers.”
“Just as the Gods made it; one finger for every god.”
“I thought there was only one Goddess.” Dego shrugged. “Well, only one that mattered.”
“Blasphemy!” Peri shouted, throwing his hands into the air. “All the Gods sit equal to each other. And it wouldn’t be one of the Goddesses if there was one who sat higher than the others.” Peri sighed. “How about I just let you sit here and warm up. Here, have some soup,” Peri said, pouring more soup into a bowl and handing it to Dego. “Your friends might wake up some time soon. At least, I hope they do. You all could use a good washing.”
Washing was something Dego understood, and he shivered again. He hoped that he wouldn’t have to scrub himself with a sponge again. He hated the way it felt on his skin.