Vanda met Wilom early in the morning the very next day.
“You know,” she said, “Just because you wake up this early, doesn’t mean you have to inflict it on the rest of us.”
“You agreed,” Wilom said.
She groaned. “I always think I’ll be fine to get up early, but then when I do …”
Wilom chuckled. “Just don’t fall asleep on the way. You wouldn’t want to get us lost.”
“Lost?” Vanda sniffed. “I’m Vanda, student of the lighthouse keeper and Finder of Paths. I don’t get lost.” She held out her hand.
“Do you want a look at the map first?”
Vanda took the map off him. “Shh. I knew where I was going.”
“The circles are areas of influence for each government,” he said, ignoring her. “We need to find somewhere outside those circles, so that if we get found out, we can at least count on an argument about whose problem we are, and have some time to escape. And so that we’re only running afoul of the smaller patrols, not the big city ones. The crosses are spots I think might work.”
“I know that lake,” Vanda said. “We could start there.”
Wilom nodded. “Well, lead on, o Finder of Paths.”
Vanda took his hand and started to walk into the Pathways.
“Do you want to stop somewhere and get a coffee?” Wilom asked
Vanda stifled a yawn. “Already had one. Let’s just go.”
Vanda stepped out of the Pathways, pulling Wilom with her. “Here,” she said.
The lake was huge. At its widest point, it took up nearly a quarter of the horizon, and Wilom could only just see the other side. With the sun high, he could make out houses and one or two larger buildings on the other side, but only just.
He bent over and had a drink of the lake water. It was fresh, clean, and ice cold.
“How difficult do you think it’d be to see from all the way over there?” Vanda asked, squinting at the towns.
“You can just about see the town halls and clumps of buildings,” Wilom said. “So, you could probably see smoke, perhaps once the buildings get larger and closer together, you could make it out.”
“That’ll be a problem. Maybe they’d let the houses slide, but people tend to investigate unexplained smoke.”
“I know. But it’s perfect otherwise. We’ll keep an eye out for something better, but if we have to, we can probably make do here.”
Vanda nodded. “I’d prefer if we didn’t have to, though,” she said. “We need this to work.”
“I know. What do you think of this soil?” Wilom pulled up a lump of grass and studied the dirt under it.
Vanda shrugged. “I’m no farmer.”
“Me neither. My uncle was, but you can guess the odds of me listening to him. He kept chickens, anyway. Any plants he grew were chicken feed.”
“Chickens could well be useful.”
“Well, it’s not clay, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing,” Wilom said. “It’s protected from the nearby villages on this side of the lake by those hills over there, mostly. Looks like it’s just the other lake towns.”
“Next place, then?”
“Yeah, next place.”
Wilom didn’t have time to strike up another conversation between entering and leaving the Pathways.
“I like this valley,” Vanda said. “Very protected. And it’s not too far from fresh water.”
“We’ll have to be careful with this one, though,” Wilom said. “There’s only so much of it that’s not technically within the borders of this town here,” he pointed to the map “or this one. We won’t be able to expand at all.” Wilom sighed. “Well, it looks alright otherwise. Who knows — we might not need something very big.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“No, I’m not really. My other thought was building up the hills, but they’re too steep down this end of the valley. Let’s move on to the next one.”
In the Pathways, Wilom sighed. Vanda turned to look at him.
“I … I just can’t help but think that we might be going about this all wrong. I’ve seen what they’re doing with the guards around the city, but do they really have enough people to be patrolling this far out of the towns?”
Vanda’s grip tightened, and suddenly she changed direction.
Vanda pulled them out of the Pathways, with a finger over her lips.
Wilom stayed silent, and didn’t ask where they were going or what he was supposed to be looking at. When they arrived between some bushes and a small copse of trees, Wilom just crouched down and looked around.
He barely needed to look. Coming directly towards them was a small group of people, all in military uniforms, led by a bulky woman in a police uniform. Unlike most of the police, she carried a soldier’s weapon — a large rifle.
They were all new. They were recruits. This was training. They wanted to do this properly, to please their leader, to prove that they could —
Before Wilom could finish, Vanda had pulled them back into the Pathways.
“They use the recruits to patrol,” Wilom said.
“But they’re so far out of towns … what happens if they find someone? Do they bring them along? Send them back with part of the group? There’s no efficient way to transport them.”
Vanda gave him a serious look with her head tilted downwards.
Wilom realised that he was being very naïve. “They don’t transport them at all,” he said.
“Got to get target practice somehow,” Vanda said.
The next place could be seen from a town on a clear day. The one after that was near marshes, and the ground wasn’t solid enough to build on. Several were just too far away from the Capital, and at least one was just too close. Vanda vetoed one of the more promising ones for being too close to regular patrol routes.
“Is that all of them?” Vanda asked, finally.
“Yeah,” Wilom said. “That’s everywhere I’ve got marked.”
“Looks like we’re going to have to make a decision,” Vanda said. “Where do you think?”
Wilom scanned over the crosses and the notes he’d made again. “I think we have rule out the ones that can be seen too easily,” he said.
“That leaves us with,” Vanda said, reading over his shoulder.
“You think it can be farmed? With the tools we’ll be able to get them?”
“I know people have farmed worse, and very successfully. There has to be someone we can still contact who can give us some tips. We’ll go to the library if we have to.”
“True. Best have someone a little more qualified look at it, you think?”
“Yes, I think so.” Vanda looked up at the sun. “Well, looks like we’re done here.”
“Excellent.” Wilom made a few more notes on the map. “That should do it.”
“Let’s go, then.”