The following is an excerpt from the first draft of my in-progress novel, Map of Daggers. In this scene, Zinke, the head cartographer for the Kingdom, has to babysit his young nephew Barry. Barry can’t sit still, and starts looking over Zinke’s shoulder at the world map he’s editing, so Zinke decides to explain it to him. This is an introductory scene for the reader, something the narrator Zinke references by breaking the fourth wall early on. Names and locations of places on the island of Tinggo are subject to change in subsequent drafts, of course, but this gives a general idea of how the world is laid out.
As he continued looking at every location on the map, I could see thousands of questions popping up inside his head. I knew there was no sense now in trying to keep him out of my work. Once the wonder of maps grips you for the first time, there is no letting go. I was the same way at his age.
“Alright, Barry,” I began. “I can tell you really like maps. Have a seat. I’m about to give you (and the reader) a tour of the world.”
“What reader?” he asked.
“Shh! I’m starting!”
“You are here, in Cartopolis. See, it’s marked by a big grey castle on the map. It has a good central location so the King can administer the whole Kingdom from there. The Ithisis River runs by the west side of the city, and the Jollian Lake feeds the river from the south. Follow the river north through the outpost of Uptis and it takes you all the way to Gorn on the north shore. That’s a popular fishing and trading city. If the crab isn’t Gornian, throw it back, as they say.”
Barry winced. “Crabs are icky!”
I chortled. “You’ll get a taste for them, just watch.”
“What’s that stuff to the left of Gorn?”
“Oh, that’s the Fhoxian region. Lake Fhox is the largest freshwater lake on the island. To the north and west, it’s very wet and marshy, with lots of tiny rivers and streams bringing the water from the lake to the Murky Sea. So it’s very difficult to travel up here, and there are no big settlements, other than Fhoxton on the Eastern shore of the lake.”
“And those triangles to the right of Gorn? Are they mountains?”
“Very good. Yes, those are the Tung Mountains. We have lots of mining operations up there. We are able to mine many precious metals for building many of the structures on the island. They are so named for the abundance of tungsten within them, though we have yet to find a use for it. Maybe that’s why the name stuck, since it provided a constant source of curiosity. Anyway, moving on to the East are the cities of Liloo and Banak. Banak is the most easterly port, and it has a high observation tower, as you can see from the map.”
“What can you see from the top of the tower?”, Barry wondered.
I sighed languidly. “Sadly, nothing. I have been up on the highest level, gazing east by telescope. All I have seen over the Sea is that great and penetrating fog which never ends. The ships of Banak trade with the other cities and towns along the coast, but they dare not venture out into the fog. No ships that have ever returned.”
Barry’s eyes widened. “The sea dragons!”
“Barry, Barry,” I tut-tutted, “there are no sea dragons out there. At least, we have no proof of it. But harsh winds and brutal storms are real, and that’s probably what happened to them.” I cleared my throat to change gears. “Now then. South of Banak the coast slants down to the west. In the middle, you can see a small range of mountains and a few volcanoes. Stay away from Mount Yeppin, because we don’t know when it will next erupt.”
“How about those pointy things west of the mountains? Shovels?”
I was temporarily at a loss for words. “I happen to think those are a pretty good set of trees! I’d like to see you draw better! Sorry, sorry… that is the Meshontic Forest, stretching all the way from the mountains to not far from Cartopolis. Much more of the island used to be covered by forest, but we have cut down a lot of the trees for building material. For some reason, Meshontic Forest has been left largely alone.”
“Because it’s haunted!” blurted out Barry.
“Well, so the stories say,” I allowed, “and I suppose old stories die hard. But there’s nothing mysterious about the Forest. I go there to hunt all the time. Moving on, there’s the Plesk River, and everything south of that river, and East of the Turst River, is the region of Mung. It is autonomous, which means they mostly govern themselves, but still submit to the authority of our King. Mungians have a slightly different dialect and style of dress, but at the heart of it, they really are Tinggoans like you and me.”
“Daddy’s cook is from Mung.”
“There ya go, see, they have a lot of jobs here in Cartopolis and there’s nothing strange…”
“He smells funny,” Barry continued with a crinkled nose.
“I think you’re imagining things.”
“No, really! Just like… broccoli!”
“Oh, I see. You don’t like broccoli. But that’s another thing you’ll develop a taste for!”
“Not likely,” he said.
“Fine, you who knows everything, what’s this area west of Mung, across the Turst River?”
Barry scratched his head. “Where the beaches are. Ummm… Santamaa… Santimulaaa… I don’t know.”
“Santimalia,” I declared. “And yes, there are a few nice beaches there. The cities of Numio, Conshin, and Nuk are there. This area is about a half day’s ride from Cartopolis, not too far considering the size of our island, so it gets a lot of tourists. Moving on to the West is the outpost of Vertis, followed by the great mountain range of Shawanta. The mountains are very high and it’s quite difficult to get by them. The range stretches almost the whole height of the island, up to the Fhoxian region.”
“What about that purple triangle west of the mountains?”
“That,” I answered with restraint, “is Divol. A separate Kingdom, with quite a bit of land and resources, and tremendous natural defenses due to the mountains. They have just declared war on us.”
“I heard that from Daddy,” he related quietly. “I don’t want them to fight us. I’m scared, Uncle Zinkie.”
“Barry, don’t be scared,” I reassured. “It’s going to be fine, really. We’re stronger than them. There’s no way they will even reach our capital. We will drive them out of our Kingdom in no time.”
Just at that time, horns sounded in the distance. Training drills for our army were beginning. This new battle map would be needed for the military to begin planning their strategy, and I knew if it wasn’t ready in time, the King would be furious.
“Barry,” I spoke loudly over the din of the horns, “to win this war, we need good maps. Maps to show where troops are. Maps to show paths through the enemy’s defenses. Maps to show the location of resources to be harvested and used for the war effort. As much as I’ve enjoyed chatting with you, I have to finish this map.”
Barry nodded obligingly. “Uncle Zinkie… is there anything I can do to help?”
“Just go play, Barry. You’re too young to be concerned with war. There will be time enough for that.”