The Cartographer’s Daughters, Part III
by Rachel Creager Ireland
You’ll have to excuse us. A short journey followed by the kinds of technical delays often associated with Mercury in retrograde have resulted in our failure to bring you the third installation of this story in a timely fashion. Well, here it is today. We hope it will prove to have been worth the wait. For earlier parts, see The Cartographer’s Daughters, Part I and Part II. For the final part, see Part IV.
Of course I couldn’t sleep. I willed myself to lie still in bed, to breathe deeply and evenly. Finally I gave up and stood by the window, looking out over the moonlit lawn toward the woods. I planted my feet and stood still, so as not to cause the floor to creak and alert anyone. There was no movement save the stars in their silent advance around the invisible pole.
Then I saw her. She was a dark figure moving through the snow toward the residence. She was making a beeline for the french doors, not near any other entrance. From upstairs I could see that she would leave footprints that would shout out to anyone looking that someone had been here. What was she doing? How could she not have foreseen this?
I had assumed that the safest course of action would be for her to enter and leave without my presence. More movement through the residence would mean more potential for noise, for disturbing the sleep of our father, and greater loss if two were apprehended than only one. But now I felt I had to go down to her, to warn her about the footprints. I had no idea what she might do about them, but she must be made aware.
Moving soundlessly down the stairs seemed to take forever. I wondered if it would be dawn before I got there. But it was still night, and she was already in the study when I entered. She was in the same place my father had been earlier, looking over a large map.
“The snow,” I said in a low voice.
“Someone will see the footprints.”
“It will snow again. They’ll be gone by morning.”
How could she know that, when I’d been watching the moon and stars for hours? I had no choice but to hope she was right.
I came to her side. “Why do you need a map?”
“I’ll be moving a lot. I might need to run. The more I know in advance, the better I can protect myself.”
I’d forgotten not to ask questions. Her answer didn’t help, but there was nothing I could know that would change anything. I looked at the map.
I could see right away our own location, far from any cities, on a river, with a stream that entered at just such an angle. I could see the woods, the highway I always avoided, the towns and cities down the road. I could see other roads and other landmarks. I had always thought of maps as a way to be somewhere other than where one is now; I’d preferred to let it be enough to know my feet were on the earth, to let my senses tell me directly what was to be known. But now I could see so much more. Suddenly I understood the value of a map. It could show the greater view, and how everything was woven together.
My sister began to trace with her finger, as if to memorize the features shown on the map. But she wasn’t memorizing roads or locations of cities. With her finger, she was following the waterways.
Then I saw it clearly. Water was everywhere, seemingly scattered at random, but in fact more conducively spaced than any grid of roads. Water was by every city and town, but also in the remote places, in the mountains. Water moved through and into places where no roads went. Rivers, streams, canals, all could be a way to get to any place, and an escape route no vehicle could follow. It was as if there were a hidden network already in place, so ordinary that no one could see it.
Whatever subterfuge my sister was engaging in, water was the key.
I gasped a little when I saw it, then watched wordlessly as she studied. Finally she nodded to herself, as if satisfied that she had acquired the necessary information. She wrapped herself in her cloak, pulling the hood over her chestnut locks.
A heavy snow was falling, and her footprints were already disappearing. I locked the door behind her.