the mapmaker’s treasure (a short story): Part 1

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“I think you dropped something,” she said to the boy as she pointed at a piece of parchment on the ground.

“It’s not mine,” he replied. He picked it up. Their heads knocked together as they squinted at the strange scribbles.

“It looks like…” he said.

“…a treasure map!” she squealed. They thrust back their chins and stared at each other with wide eyes. All at once both of them grabbed at the parchment, each trying to get a closer look at the map. After a quick scuffle and some elbow bruises, they agreed to lay it on a nearby boulder and study it together.

“What do you think the treasure is?” asked the girl.

“I bet it’s piles and piles of jewels and swords and armour and -”

“-tiaras!” she whispered to herself as she brought her knuckles to her teeth in excitement.

Suddenly, a shadow fell over them, and they realized they were not alone. They looked up to see a tall, bearded man looking at them.

“I see you found my map,” he said, with a slight twitch in his lip. Was he laughing at them?

The boy snatched up the map and offered it to the man, but he gently refused.

“It’s not my map to keep,” he said, “it’s a map I made, hoping that someone would pick it up and be excited to discover the same treasure I did. I am the mapmaker.”

The children looked at each other, then at him. He seemed honest. But why would someone make a treasure map and just leave it for anyone to find?

He continued, “I wanted to give others the excitement of finding the treasure too. I didn’t want to keep it all to myself.”

“But what IS the treasure?” asked the girl, eagerly.

“Follow the map, and you’ll find it,” he said with a secretive smile. “If you have any trouble along the way, blow this,” he gave the girl a small silver whistle on a chain, “and I’ll come help you. The map will lead you to a mountain, and on top of that mountain is the most amazing treasure ever.”

Again the children looked at each other, astounded at their good fortune. The most amazing treasure ever? The girl stared at the whistle in her hands, surprised that it felt warm and almost…alive. The man showed her how to use it, and the high clear note pierced her heart with its beauty. She carefully hung it around her neck and tucked it into her clothing. Next, the man explained the map to them, showing them the legend and how to understand the markings.

“Call to me,” he said, “and I will answer you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.”

They looked at each other in confusion, but it quickly melted away into excitement as they realized the incredible quest they were about to take. As they looked back to thank the mapmaker, they discovered that he had gone.

With a shrug and a giggle, they bounced off down the forest path.

As they trotted through the trees, they chatted excitedly about what the treasure might be and how long it might take them to find it. How would they split it up? (50/50 of course.) Would they share it with their families? (Depends on what it is!)

An hour later, the path divided. They stopped in their tracks and stared at the two ways they could go. They both looked the same; how would they decide?

“Can I help you?” came a trembling voice near their feet. They both jumped away from the sound, then peered at the face staring back at them. It was a woman, or at least, it used to be. She was so old that her legs and feet were twisted up and her dark eyes peered out of a face that had such deep wrinkles, they could have held water. The boy was a little frightened, but he ventured a question,

“Who are you?”

“I am All-Wise,” she croaked, “and I can help you choose the correct path.”

“How do you know which one is the right path?” asked the girl in a superior tone of voice.

“Because I am All-Wise,” she croaked again. “I’ll tell you the way but first I need a token from you.” The crone smiled a toothless and unpleasant smile as the children stuck their hands in their pockets, trying to find something to give her. Before they could find something, her eyes lit on the chain around the girl’s neck. She pointed a yellowed nail at the chain and said, “that would do nicely.”

With furrowed eyebrows, the girl touched the chain and pulled out the silver whistle. She gasped and shook her head fiercely while shoving it back under her clothes.

“Sorry,” she said, “I don’t have anything you can have.”

The crone looked disappointed and turned to the boy, who shrugged his shoulders in apology.

“Away with you then!” she screeched and the children went hastily off on the left-hand path, not looking behind them again until she was long out of sight.

Quieter and more tired now, they trod through the woods without speaking to each other. Eventually they stopped at a stream for a drink and a rest. As they discussed the old crone, they both remembered that they hadn’t even looked at the map when they came to the fork in the road; they had simply run where their instinct told them to go. Feeling chastened, they stretched out the map on the ground between them and took another look. Neither of them really understood the legend, but they tried their hardest to sleuth it out. They were concentrating so hard that they didn’t notice the man sauntering toward them down the path.

“Heya kids, whatcha got there?” he called out to them.

They tried hurriedly to shove the map away but he snatched it from them. He glanced at it, laughed, and threw it back at them.

“I’ve got one of those too! That man just keeps leaving his maps to nowhere laying around.”

“Excuse me sir,” said the boy, “but what do you mean, ‘maps to nowhere’?”

The man chuckled as he said, “silly kids. That mapmaker is a little bit crazy. He thinks there’s this treasure on the top of a mountain, but the truth is, I’ve been to that mountain and there’s no treasure there. It’s not worth all the work of following the path and climbing up the mountain! It’s just wasted effort. I see you have a whistle too,” he said as he pulled his out from a pocket. It was tarnished and looked like it had been beat up with a hammer. “It doesn’t even work.” He brought it to his lips and blew, but the only sound that came out was a strangled squeak. He laughed as he shoved it back into his pocket and walked away humming a lighthearted tune.

The children looked at him with their mouths hanging open, not sure what to say. Could it be true? Was there really no treasure? They had already walked so far! Would they have to walk all the way home with no treasure?

Read the ending here!