As Nyssa walked along the meandering new route in front of her, the path went from asphalt to concrete, and from concrete to flagstone, and from flagstone to boardwalk. At the same time the trees thinned out, and the terrain sloped down, and she was walking not through a park but across a field, and then along a beach. The boardwalk was propped up high above the sand, and felt solid under her shoes, and the sea breeze was brisk and salty. Nyssa was in no hurry to get wherever it might turn out she was going, so she stopped and leaned on the railing of the path to watch the waves crash against the shore.
"Hello!" said a voice behind her.
The boardwalk had many branches, leading into scrubland on the right, and many sets of wooden stairs leading down to the beach on the left. Nyssa hadn't taken any of these turns, but it seemed that someone had gone up to her along one of them, since she would have seen anyone coming the opposite way down the line parallel to the beach. She turned around.
Before her was a man barely as tall as she was, who looked in proportion as well as size much like a garden gnome. He was dressed in a toga made of cloth printed with a map, one of the old-fashioned, sepia-toned kinds with sea serpents undulating in the oceans, but when Nyssa took a second look the continents didn't look like the ones she knew and the names weren't familiar. Perhaps she'd just missed the chapter in some book she'd looked through, where it mentioned the State of the Art or a group of five Factor Oceans or sunny Extrapoland. He carried a duffel bag, stamped all over with markers of travel to still stranger countries, which Nyssa squinted to read: Imagi and Expla and Desti and Exami and Determi and Rumi and Procrasti...
She remembered her manners. "Hello," she said. "I'm Nyssa."
"I'm the Cartographer!" said the little man. "And you, my dear, look lost."
"I suppose I am," acknowledged Nyssa. She could have just turned around and gone back the way she'd come, but she wasn't sure if it would still be the way it had been, considering. "What's a cartographer?"
"Why, my dear," said the Cartographer, "a cartographer is someone who makes maps!" He pulled from out of his satchel a map case - a round tube like a poster mailer, with a cap on each end. From it he pulled a scroll, and poured out some pens and brushes and inkbottles that were tucked in the middle of the rolled-up paper, and used the inkbottles as paperweights to make the scroll lie flat on the boardwalk. "As you can see," he said, gesturing at the paper, "I make the finest maps in all the land."
"But," said Nyssa, "it's blank. Perhaps it's upside down?"
"No, no, it's blank on that side too," the Cartographer assured her. "Only the best for my customers! I wouldn't burden you with some pre-made map! I sell quality! Maps you can fill with anything on that you like! Would you like help creating the best map for your needs?"
"I suppose that could be useful," said Nyssa, although she didn't have very much of her allowance in her pocket and wasn't sure how much maps cost. "Since I don't know where I'm going."
"Where would you like to go?" asked the Cartographer, clapping his hands and beaming at her.
"Gosh," she said. "Somewhere nice, I suppose. I don't know much about where there is to see around here."
"That's quite all right," the Cartographer assured her. "In fact, so much the better. People who know a lot of things are so much harder to make beautiful maps for. I'll get you a map to somewhere nice, you'll see." And he took up a brush in his left hand and a pen in his right hand, and, quite ambidextrously, began to draw a map. It had snowy mountains and wide rivers and lush forests. It had cities and provinces and nations. It had islands in lakes and lakes in islands. In the corner he drew the loveliest and most intricate compass rose, showing north and south and east and west with gorgeously vivid colors and careful shadows - he clarified, as he put the finishing touches on the south-southwest point of the compass, "so you won't get lost so long as you know which way is which, you see".
Finally, with a flourish, he finished dotting in a highway that went from one corner of the map clear across to the other, winding pleasantly like a ribbon across and around all the other features.
"There!" cried the Cartographer, presenting Nyssa with the finished map with a flourish.
"It's very pretty," said Nyssa, "but -"
"I'm so glad you think so!" he exclaimed. "It's one of my finest! I'm really on a roll today! I use a sliding scale for payment -" He rummaged in his bag, took out a brass balance, and set it down, but before he could put anything on either of its sides it scooted down the wooden planks at quite a clip. The Cartographer jogged after it for a few steps, but soon became tired and plodded back.
"Never mind that," he said. "You may have this map for only five dollars, quite a bargain, I'd say!"
"I do have five dollars, but -" she began.
"Splendid! I didn't need that old scale anyway! Pain in the neck to keep track of it." He held out his hand.
"The trouble is I don't think this map will really work," Nyssa explained.
"But you said it was pretty! 'Very pretty', even!" said the Cartographer. "I think I did some of my finest work on this map. It has gradients! The lineweights on the distance scale are exquisite! The margins are clean, the mountains are rugged!"
"All of that is true," agreed Nyssa. "But I don't think it will help me find anything, because we're standing on a beach, right now, and this map doesn't have a coastline, so it can't include this beach where we are and I wouldn't know how to get from here to anywhere on the map."
The Cartographer peered at his map and frowned. "There are these lakes," he said, indicating them.
"I think they would have to be bigger to have tides," said Nyssa. She wasn't really sure about that, but she thought that if lakes like the ones on the map would have tides like the sea behind her, then the Cartographer would have explained that to her instead of checking his map to see if there was any water on it.
"Are you sure you don't want this map?" the Cartographer said.
"I'm sure," Nyssa said. "It's very beautiful, but I don't think I can really use a decoration right now, not for five dollars."
"I can draw you another!" offered the Cartographer, rolling up the map and stuffing it back into his case. "You like coastlines, is that it? Should there be fjords? I do the loveliest fjords."
"I don't know what a fjord is," said Nyssa, "and if there aren't any in real life I don't think having them on the map will do me any good even if they were very nice looking fjords."
"Well, what do you want, then?" said the Cartographer.
Nyssa was at this point quite sure that even if the Cartographer did know how to make maps that really showed you where things were, like the ones in malls with YOU ARE HERE marked on them, she wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a good map and one with extra fjords added just because he liked them. "How much for a blank one and a pencil?" she asked.
"Twelve cents," pronounced the Cartographer, after a forlorn look in the direction of his runaway scale and some quick figuring in his head. "For another ten I'll throw in a tube."
Nyssa gave him a dime, a nickel, and seven pennies, and took a blank map to spread out on the boardwalk. And she began to draw, near the bottom edge of it, what she had walked through so far, as precisely as she could remember it, until she reached the limits of what she'd visited.
"You forgot the compass rose," the Cartographer pointed out.
"If I ever find out which way north is," said Nyssa, "I can put one in, and until then, I can try turning the map around every which way. Have a good day, Cartographer," she added, and she tucked her mostly-empty map into her cardboard tube, tucked it under her left arm opposite her book under her right, and went on her way down the boardwalk.