art by Tihomir Tikulin-Tico
X Marks the Spot
by Kat Otis
I nudged the corpse with the toe of my boot. "Looks like he froze to death, poor sod."
"That's what you get, wandering these mountains unprepared." Ranulf snagged the corpse's rucksack and began rifling through it.
Shivering, I tucked my hands into my armpits. Spring was well underway, but the mountain heights were still freezing. The sooner we descended to the valley to sell our furs, the happier I'd be. "Anything good?"
Ranulf pulled out an old piece of parchment. "Just this." He unfolded it on the ground to reveal a map. "Seems pretty accurate. Might be worth something."
I bent closer to get a better look. "What's that symbol?"
"Looks almost like an X."
"As in X marks the spot?" I laughed. "Looks like we've got ourselves a gen-u-ine treasure map!"
Ranulf snatched the map off the ground. "I saw it first!"
"Peace!" I held up my hands, still grinning. "We don't even know if there is a treasure, yet." Ranulf just glowered at me, as if we hadn't been trapping partners for the past five years, and my grin faded. Ranulf had always been a bit paranoid--a trait that had saved our lives more than once--but I'd never known him to be greedy before. "Okay, okay, I don't mind an uneven split. Say, seventy-thirty?"
Ranulf glared for a moment longer, then grunted agreement and folded up the map before I could look at it again. "We'll need to head south of the road a ways when we get to the bottom of the pass." He rose, abandoning the rucksack and the rest of its contents without a second glance.
I couldn't help looking back at the corpse. "What about him?"
"Ground's frozen solid, can't bury him even if we wanted to waste the time." Ranulf slipped the map into his own rucksack and slung it over his shoulders again. "Come on. Let's find that treasure."
The map led us to a meadow in the middle of the woods, a full day's journey south of the road. Or, at least, that's what Ranulf claimed. I hadn't been able to get a good look at the map since he found it. Still, it matched the general area I remembered seeing the symbol in, so I was careful not to even imply I had doubts. Ranulf had grown even more touchy about the map with each passing hour.
"So, what now? We dig?" I looked around, frowning. It was all well and good to say this meadow was the right spot, but where, exactly, was the treasure supposed to be? The ground was still pretty hard; if we had to dig up the entire meadow, it would take at least a week, maybe longer.