“Are you sure we’re following the road as we should?” The man was concerned as he looked to his side to see his son, in the bloom of youth, confident and proud.
“The Map never lies. It got me out of dragons’ caves, numerous dungeons and a handful of prisons, it will take us to the heirloom.”
“Yes. Trust, trust, trust the Map. The Map knows best.”
“See? It wasn’t given the gift of speech if it wouldn’t use it well.”
“Fine, but do look at what it shows from time to time. Don’t just listen to the things it says. Give it here for a moment.”
The boy obeyed his father’s wish and handed him the magical map. In an instant, the plain yellow paper full of personality drew on itself with an invisible pen, giving their location and all that was around. It showed the kingdom an hour’s walk behind, the forest path, a couple of stranded woodcutter cottages and any other point of interest. At the end of the road they took was the cemetery, where they were bound to find the royal family’s heirloom, as promised by the map. On the road there, however, was an obstacle, symbolized by splashing water. It was strange, for there was no river or body of water anywhere in a few miles.
“What is that, Map? I don’t remember the crazy fountain being in this corner of the kingdom. Explain yourself for not warning us beforehand.”
Intrigued, the young man snatched the Map from his father’s hands and had a look while the Map gave its vague and unsatisfying answer.
“The Map was not asked about obstacles. So, Map did not mention obstacles. You wanted the destination and the shortest way. Not the clearest, not the safest.”
“Are you implying that this road is not safe? My goodness, for all we know there might be bandits round the next tree.” All a panic, the father began searching with his eyes for any sign of life. He turned around, stared at bushes to catch the slightest movement, tilted his head upwards to spot any strange colour pattern in the trees and listened for sounds as faint as the breeze. He was startled the moment his son spoke out, just a little too close to his ear.
“Father! That is not the crazy fountain, it is one of the magic wells of wonder. Stories say there are only three of them throughout the nine kingdoms. I didn’t think we might ever come across one in this kingdom.”
“Finally some good news, but still! If it is one of the wells of legend, then we might not be the only ones around. People are bound to be looking for it.”
And he was right. Only a couple of minutes later, the two of them were ambushed and surrounded. A curious and dangerously looking troupe of men pointed their swords at them. Swords stained with blood. It was a few hours fresh, it would seem.
The boy quickly hid the Map in his travelling sack and raised his arms. He did have a concealed dagger, and so did his father, but they would stand no chance against so many foes. He didn’t even see them all, for fear of moving a muscle and alarming them.
“Your names and intentions, now!” exclaimed a sturdy man who was most certainly the leader.
“We’re just travellers, on our way to mourn a grave,” said the boy in a low voice. With his hands still up, he pointed in the direction of the graveyard, someplace forward. He kept his calm, until a sound made him go pale like snow gleaming in the winter sun.
It was a laugh, loud and clear. He coughed to cover it, knowing it was the Map playing tricks on them and endangering their lives purposefully. The father frowned, but joined in the game and coughed as well, then moaned and spoke as dramatically as he could.
“Oh no, I thought we had escaped the plague! My son, you don’t think we have taken it from these men?”
“No father, but we might risk giving it,” another cough, this time strong from the throat. Another, even more powerful laugh from the Map followed, and the father coughed once more. “Risk giving it to them.”
There was confusion among the bandits as the Map laughed again. With every moment it became a deeper, louder laugh than reached their ears with an eerie reverb. It didn’t even sound like the Map anymore. It sounded like a demon, coming from the Underground. The earth shook, and without a wasted moment, the bandits scrambled one by one, all but the leader who was left in confusion. They screamed for angels to protect them from those demons, thinking the father and his son were demons in disguise, they prayed for the unholy to be trapped in the fiery pits of the Underground and for defence against the plague, certain they had indeed been exposed to it a moment earlier. It was a funny sight.
The leader, however, was not fooled, and pointed his sword at the two of them who were starting to take steps backwards. The boy found his back to a tree, and the Map hidden in his sack shrieked dramatically as it was squished.
“What’ve you got there, boy?”
The sword’s pointy end was nearing his chin while his father stuck his leg amidst the outgrown roots of a tree. Perfect timing, the boy thought. Getting a hold of his wits, however, he managed to speak in a clear voice, forcing it to sound so deep it was unnatural. If any of the cowardly bandits had been in the area anymore, they would have had another shock.
“Do you know how hierarchy works in the human world? You should know the humans borrowed the system from the devil. He has minions, like myself, to carry out his malevolent deeds, and I, in turn, have my minions. Would you like to see this one in my bag? Or should I let my other lovely minion fall from the sky with his acid tears? I’ll let you choose.”
“This is nonsense speech. I don’t buy your lies worth a bent copper penny.”
The sword’s point neared, and the boy’s father was still desperately trying to free himself from the roots. They only seemed to get tighter, as if they had a will of their own. Those kind of trees only did that when a rain was nearing. And indeed, a rain set in in only a matter of seconds.
A particularly large drop hit the armed man’s nose and made his eyes go wide. The impact had not only startled him, but also itched on a scar he had on that particular spot. Put together with the boy’s story about a devil minion that cried acid from the sky, he became terrified the next moment. He ran off screaming how it was true, the devil existed, and these two people were the devil’s pet demons. As he went further back into the forest, he also screamed repeatedly, “The Plague, the plague, the plague!” as if he were now certain he had caught it too.
The Map laughed again, a lovely and a faked innocent laugh. In frustration, knowing that the Map had brought all the danger upon them, the boy slammed his back to the tree behind, putting the Map to silence with a weak ouch. He helped his father out of the root trap and they were back on the road, laughing about the situation as the rain grew thicker.