I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a daydreamer, fantasizing about having an epic adventure. The dream of having a fantastic adventure, the kind that gets books written about, grabbed my heart early and has never let go. Rescuing princesses, fighting monsters, slaying demons, saving the poor; it’s all so EXCITING! But adventure of that kind is a LONG way from Burg...
Burg is my hometown. Imagine the most boring place in the whole world, then accept that whatever you’ve imagined is way more exciting than this place. Burg is a tiny farming hamlet with one hundred people, tops. What you’ll grow up to be is decided by whether you’re a boy or a girl and what your family does for a living. Me? I’m a girl born to chicken farmers, so that’s what I’ll grow up to be. But dad also promised my hand in marriage to the sheep farmer, so that means I won’t JUST be a chicken farmer, I’ll be a baby factory! Fantastic!
She says sarcastically.
My wedding is six months away; it’ll be on the day after my sixteenth birthday. My entire life has already been mapped out for me, and I’m not even sixteen yet. My best friend, Joe, says that this is inevitable, but I hope he’s wrong.
“Alex!” I hear my mom call out. “Are you done gathering the eggs?”
“Almost!” I call back. I look down at my basket, which is almost full. I just need to check two more nests and I’ll be done for the morning.
“Well, hurry up! Old Man Jenkins is coming to town today!” Mom called back.
Holy crow, Old Man Jenkins! He’s the traveling trader who always brings weird things from beyond town, things you’d find in the cities! He comes in with this BIG wagon of goodies which he puts on a blanket he lays down, and then you can haggle for a good price for them! He’s the one who always tells me stories of far away places, in exchange for three eggs.
I hurriedly picked the last of the eggs and gave them to mom, who proceeded to walk me to the market. Dad then proceeded to lay down our blanket on our spot in the market and told us to take a look around, but to only buy the essentials. That means oil for the pan, bread, fruit, and milk.
I looked around the marketplace; I saw the Smiths making horseshoes and nails, the Bakers selling their fresh loaves (I bought two, one for now, one for later), the Apples selling apples, and the Milkers selling milk and cheese. I LOVE cheese, but today I’m saving up my money for Old Man Jenkins, who’s sure to bring something really neat and worth buying!
The church bells were ringing; that meant it was almost noon, which meant that Old Man Jenkins would soon arrive! I rushed to the church to meet up with Joe.
Joe’s my best friend since we were little kids; he’s a whole foot taller than me, has shaggy hair, and pointed features.
“Hey Joe!” I exclaimed as I ran up to him. I broke up my loaf of bread in two. “Want some?”
“Nah,” Joe said, as gloomy as usual. “What’s got you so happy? Old Man Jenkins again?”
“Yup!” I said as I ate my bread.
“Don’t eat in the church,” Joe said, shaking his head and sighing. “I’ll have to clean up later.”
“Not like you do much of anything here besides reading,” I said. “Except on Sundays.”
Joe’s the town priest, even though he’s only two years older than me. He’s also one of only three people in town who know how to read, the other two being his dad and older brother. His dad’s the mayor, and his big brother’s next in line to be mayor.
“Don’t remind me,” Joe said with a growl. “Every day the same thing, reading the same passages in The Book; practically know them by heart now.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Hey, maybe you can buy a new book from-”
“Books cost money, Alex,” Joe bitterly said. “Besides, what’d be the point? It’d just be another book to read in this empty box, waiting for Sunday to arrive so I can give a one hour sermon to a town that’s barely paying any attention anyway. This is my life, Alex; it’s not going to get any better. Certainly not with a new book.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that, Joe,” I sadly said. Joe was a lot like me, stuck in a life he didn’t want with no way out.
I sighed; being with Joe was rough sometimes, but I feel as though only he gets me. He and I, we’re one and the same. I exited the church; the local gossip was, predictably, gossiping about me.
“That girl sure spends a lot of time with the priest,” I heard her say. “She’s promised to the shepherd’s son, but who’s to say she doesn’t cavort with the priest behind his back?”
“I heard from Anna that she once spent an entire NIGHT with him!” Said another gossipy hen. “Oh, what a scandal this could be if people found out!”
I rolled my eyes; Joe and I aren’t like that. He knows it, I know it, and that’s what matters.
I yelped in excitement, though, when I saw Old Man Jenkins had already set up his wares. I hurried over to his stand, greeting him enthusiastically.
“Ahh, Alex Basket!” He said with a smile. “I’ve many wares for you to admire today! Take a good look, I am absolutely certain you’ll find something that’ll catch your fancy!”
I looked at his wares; sure enough, there was PLENTY to look at! Dishes made of porcelain with beautiful flowers painted on them, rings, books, knives, and even a sword! But one thing caught my eye: a map.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“That was given to me by a bonafide adventurer,” said Old Man Jenkins. “He told me it led to a treasure beyond your imaginings!”
“Wow...” I said. “How much is it?”
“I’d normally charge a groshen for it, but for you? Five linars,” said Old Man Jenkins.
A linar is a small, round, copper coin with a cross on each side. Twenty linars are worth one groshen, which is a larger copper coin with two wheat pieces on the front and a cross on the back.
“Sold!” I said, taking out the five linars I had left and paying for the map. It was so exciting; a treasure map! A real life treasure map!
The map was really pretty; there were rivers, lakes, cities, and mountains on it! It was also really big, forcing me to stretch my arms wide so I could look at the whole thing. That’s all I can really say about it, because I can’t otherwise...read...
I forgot I can’t read! Now what was I gonna do? And what was dad gonna say when he finds out I spent five whole linars on this thing? He’ll kill me! Or worse, he’ll move up the wedding so he can get rid of me quicker!
“The heck did you buy?” I heard Joe ask. I had a sudden flash of brilliance.
“Joe, can you tell me something about this map?” I asked as sweetly as I could, handing my map over to him. He growled, but begrudgingly took the map to read it.
“It’s a map of Zandar,” he said. That’s the name of the country we live in. “All of Zandar, really. This map is really well detailed; gotta be worth at least five groshen.”
“I got it for five linars,” I bragged. Then I whispered “it’s a treasure map.”
“Well, if it’s a treasure map, the treasure’s already been found,” he said. “I mean, how else could you buy it?”
“Because Old Man Jenkins likes me?” I suggested.
Joe just looked at me with a serious, condescending glare. “You’re a moron.”
“And you’re mean!” I protested. “I was gonna ask you to come with me to find this treasure, but now I won’t!”
“Fine with me, I wasn’t gonna go,” he said.
“Fantastic!” I said angrily. “More treasure for me!”
“ZERO treasure for you, because there isn’t any to find!” He yelled. “And how do you plan on going, anyway? No way your parents will let you!”
“So I won’t tell’em,” I whisper to him. “Who’s gonna stop me? You?”
“You bet I’ll stop you!” He quickly said. That’s when he noticed everyone was staring at us. “Back to your shopping, Children! Nothing to see here!”
“OK then,” I said to him. “Meet me at the town gate tonight, when the moons are between overhead and the horizon. Whether you’re there or not, I’m leaving at that time.”
“I’ll be there,” he growled. “But make no mistake; you’ll be turning back by the time we reach the next town over.”
“We’ll see,” I said.
And that’s how we started this crazy adventure.