The three women walked briskly in the woods of the hillside, breathing deeply the fresh morning air. The trail was clear to follow, they almost didn’t need the map after the first few hours of the previous day. They had set camp late in the afternoon the day before, so they could rest fairly for the second day of their little journey.
“We must be very close to the back end of the LARP (1) ground, already.” Said the taller one, looking like thirty and some years old. “I think we could stop by those boulders, change and make up for the party.”
“Sure, Aunt. I can hardly wait to thrush into the camp from the wrong side!” The red haired girl giggled. “One day in the wild hasn’t done much for my locks, tough. Lily spent hours curling them to look like a hobbit’s, but now I’m not sure it was worth all the work.”
“Oh, sorry, dear, but it was the best way for me to have a little more fun during my vacation. And the LARP camp is so close to this natural park I thought we really could hike it there.”
“No problem, Aunty!” The girl fastened the strings of her velvet corselet and the double scabbard for her fake swords. “I won’t wear my hobbit feet slippers until we reach the camp, they are too soft underneath to walk on these stones.”
“Good idea, Iris.” Her older sister said while reaching for her curls with a knowing look. “Here, let me fix your hair a bit. I can make it again at night, if you wish. You will be the prettiest hobbit in the Cosplay Contest (2) tomorrow.”
The youngest giggled again. “And in the Joust, too! Are you sure you won't go to the boffering (3) contest?”
“Sure I will, but with the archers this time. I spent the whole year training every spare time I had, I’m sure I have a chance to win a prize.”
“Yes, I believe it too, Lily.” She blinked. “Hey, lend a hand to Ellen with her wig, she looks more like a Wookie than like an Elf!”
The sisters laughed hard at their aunt as she made a Chewbacca like growl and took off the long black haired wig. Her own hair was brownish, with some lighter shades; its length was close to the shoulders. The eldest of her nieces complained as she easily put the wig in place and got it tight with some hairpins.
“I liked it better when you had your own hair long, you should not have to wear a wig, then.”
Ellen nodded while putting on her light boots that fitted with her long skirt.
“I had more time and patience then, dear. The rhythm of my work schedule barely gives me time to sleep, what then to take proper care of a long hair. No, just for playing at LARPs and boffering contests, a wig will have to do.” She tied some strategic strings to get her skirt away from the ground so she could walk without stepping into it through the trail they still had to go. “Good trick, Lily, the rough boots and the aluminum can seals hauberk make you look sturdier and stockier than you actually are, really dwarfish.”
“See, Aunt, with you as an elf and Iris as a hobbit, my size only fitted a dwarf’s, don’t you think so?”
They all laughed at the five feet seven inches ‘dwarf’, got their back packs and headed for the trail. It got stepper as they reached the next patch of trees, and wet from night’s moisture. Iris feet faltered, Ellen grabbed her arm and steadied them both.
“Iris, take one of your boffers and use it as a prop, like I’m doing with my bastard one.”
“Mine are half as long as yours, Aunty! I don’t believe it will work.”
“Better than nothing, dear. I have some duck tape to fix them if their points get torn.”
They went on, struggling trough the step path once more, not wanting to stop to eat because they should be so close to the LARP camp now. There they would be in ‘on’ mode for LARPing through the next five days, among two thousand other nerds. It would really be fun. Lily was thinking about all this and her boffering group friends who would be there when she heard a rumble behind her. She tried to steady herself but lost her footing when her sister and aunt came sliding down the path, and then the three of them fell to the side of the trail, rolling through bushes and small trees but with no chance to stop sliding down the hill.
Finally they rolled to a halt, back packs and boffers scattered around them. They sat up, moaning, patting down dirt from their faces and clothes. Ellen spat a little twig.
“Is everyone alright? Anything broken?”
“Nothing, besides my pride!” Mumbled Lily.
“Just a few scratches, I deem.” Iris looked up the step hill side they rolled down. “Wow, not that I believe it is possible! Look at this wall!”
The other two looked up, in dismay.
“How in the holly name of goodness will we get up there again?”
Then Ellen began to laugh, shaking her head.
“We won’t! We don’t have to!” The sisters looked at her, not understanding. “We had to go down the entire hillside to get to the Camp. We are already down, just not at the right spot the track would lead us, and, thank goodness, without any broken bones. In a way, it was a shortcut. Let us take a look at the map and then try to find our location, but I believe we just have to round this hill and find the trail again, and then we will be right there.”
They gathered their scattered things and rummaged for the map. It was folded in one of the outside pouches of Ellen’s backpack. She unfolded it, looked up at the hillside, at the position of the sun, and back to the map.
“Too much trees. I’d better have a wider view of the land, but for this we’d had to be on higher ground, and there’s no way to get up this wall.”
“What do we do, then?” Asked Lily, worried.
“I deem the best is to try to get around this hill. If we are at the place we should be, it would be the right choice.” Answered Ellen, thoughtful.
So they folded the map, put on the backpacks, got their boffers and went on. The ground was easier to walk on, no real track but smooth anyway, and they kept the hill on their right side.
Some hours later it was clear that the hill would not end. There was a distant noise of water to their left, which reminded them of thirst. Their bottles were long dry, and what was meant to be a delightful trek in a relatively safe surrounding was beginning to show itself a mistake.
“Aunt, I don’t remember this river in the map. What river is this?” Iris asked, thirsty. Her aunt answered, worried.
“I don’t know. I have to look at the map again, thought it is making us no good until now. I don’t remember a river that should sound so loud in this region. I’ve camped in this park since I was your age, although mainly at another quarter of it; I should know of a river like this.”
It was getting late and they should have found the LARP camp several hours ago. They all began to worry, or at least to express the worry that already was on their minds for some hours by now. The sun was getting low on the small bit of horizon they saw amidst the trees. They got to the river.
“Water! Blessed water! If you are not potable, I don’t care, I love you anyway!”
Ellen and Lily laughed at Iris´ love manifestation, but hurried like her to wash their hands and faces and to drink from their cupped hands. Then they tacitly began to set up camp, without a word. When the fire was high and the dehydrated soup was becoming palatable in the copper pot (all fitted to the LARP camp, of course), the sisters noticed Ellen’s tears as she watched the flames.
“Aunty, are you ok?” Asked Lily, holding her hand.
“What do you think? Of course I’m not. I’ve lost ourselves. I am responsible for you both, and I lost ourselves. How can I be ok?”
The sisters looked at her, feeling her pain. She was the only family they had beside their father, and, although a hard beat when it came to her job, one who sought to make her days worthy to be lived, and wanted that her kin lived at their fullest too. Actually, her way of living was her way of working, and that was what granted her a very good position as a project manager at a multinational company. She’d got less free time to do what she liked beside her job (which she loved fiercely), but then it seemed she valued plainly the chances she had to live what she loved. And boffering, LARPing, trekking and camping were things she loved. To be lost in a natural park she knew, with a map in her hands, was like death to her, more so because she deemed herself responsible for the girls.
“Aunty, relax, we will find our way tomorrow. Our boffering bunch will miss us and alert the forest police, this kind of thing.” Lily tried to comfort her.
“And there is the river!” The younger one said. “Geography teachers don’t always tell that if you are lost you should go where the river goes? Let’s take this river side, then!”
Ellen thanked the girls for their approval, and swore she would be all right. But inside herself she felt horribly responsible for the youngsters. After her brother lost the girl’s mother, they were his only thought day and night, and, as she was a long time on herself (or, as she said, “away from business”), she helped him to take care of the girls as they were her own. And now she lost themselves with a map of her brother’s library in her pack. It was not fair.
Shaking her head, she got the map to study it once more. She unfolded it and looked at it under the light of the fire, as crying out her guilt would do no good at all. Then she tried to remember each reference point from the two trekking days, mainly the first one, for she guessed the difficulty they had at the beginning could be the reason why they got lost.
Then it stuck her. There should be no river like that in the park, but it was on the map. It was the wrong map, but they were in the place it described. What map was that? She had studied the map the night before they started the journey, folded it and left it on the corner of the table in her brother’s library. The next morning they were finishing packing and she asked Iris to take the map in the library.
“Iris, where did you take the map?”
“On the table in the library, Aunt.”
“Yes, but where in the table?”
“Hmm, it was atop of some books, at the center of the table. Why?”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I am, Ellen! Why?”
The woman was white as paper.
“This is not our map! This must be one of your father’s collection. Our map was on the corner of the table, with no book at all.”
The sisters looked at her in dismay; Lily stated. “This is why we had trouble finding the track! The map is wrong!”
“Yes, but no!”
“Aunty, you are not making sense…”
“Yes, it is the wrong map, but no, the map is not wrong! The park has no river this size, but this river stands here in this map. And here in the map is the hill we were trying to round most of the day long.” She begun to show in the map the things she was saying. “I really don’t know in what bloody place on Earth we are, but I believe this map can guide us out of this nowhere. Here, this line shows what must be a road of some kind, and this star must be a town. In a town we shall find help to get back to where we belong!”
“Are you sure?”
“Actually, no. But this is the best I can figure out. Let’s take some sleep, but it is better if we take turns of watch. We don’t know where we are nor if there’s any threat around. Three hour each, so all of us get six hours sleep. We shall keep the fire on, too. Don’t take your boots off.”
“Why?” Complained Iris.
“If you have to get up and run for your life all of a sudden, you won’t do it barefoot.”
(1 – LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing Game)
(2 – Cosplay is short for Costume Play, a type of performance in which people wear costumes to represent a character, usually from games, movies, anime etc.)
(3 – Boffering is a mock fight with foam padded mock weapons, simulating a combat.)