A knight's complicated quest.
I’ve taken on a few quests in my time but never one as complicated as this. It was bad enough that there were so many places to be and all at the correct time, but some of the instructions were just weird. I was still trying to get everything sorted out in my head when I arrived at the first destination.
The Cave of Tangladore was less imposing than its name, being little more than a cleft between two rocks embedded in the hillside. Turning in the saddle, I checked the landmarks once more. In the east, the jagged peak of Mount Gorno, as ever, pointed at the evening sky, southwards the plain of Urrin stretched out its darkness to the horizon, still glowing with the last rays of the departed sun. Directly above me. the evening star, Asragon, shimmered in its blue coldness. Seven o’clock on the night of March 24, time to deliver the gift.
I dismounted and removed the box from its position behind the saddle. It was heavy and I’ll not deny I staggered a little as I carried it to the mouth of the cave. The chains binding it seemed a bit unnecessary to me, particularly as I’d been given the code that would unlock the gemlike secret of its lid. With some difficulty, I set the box on the ground and took a few steps back from it.
My instructions gave no hint of how long I would have to wait, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that a red glow had begun to expand deep in the heart of the cave. As it grew, the colour changed to a fiery orange and then a, burning yellow. In the centre of this brightness a dark shape formed, steadily increasing in size until it became a shadowy figure advancing towards me. It carried a mighty, two-handed sword with a blade of white hot light. I waited as it approached. The dark form stopped by the box, planting the sword in front of itself.
There was little to see in the figure, it being hidden in black monk’s robes and hood. It was full night within the hood, not even a glimmer of eyes being revealed. I spoke the greeting I’d been told.
“You are the Faceless One, I presume?”
“I am.” The voice sounded as though it issued from the deepest cavern of the cave behind it, a yawning emptiness of sound that echoed from the rocks around us. “Do you have the key to the chest?”
For answer, I directed my gaze to the jewel in the side of the box facing me. “Argenudum er fascelda du Monestram,” I intoned. “Carrigando!” The gem glowed brightly and the chains fell away.
“Good,” said the Faceless One. “You may wield the Brightling Sword.” He held out the weapon and I stepped forward to take it. The weight was so great that I nearly dropped it. I wondered what use it would be if I could not swing it in battle.
“Go now,” said the dark shadow. “What is in the chest is not for mortal eyes.”
“You don’t happen to have a sheath for this thing?” I asked. “It’s light is a bit of a giveaway on a night like this.”
“No sheath,” he said. “Who carries the Sword is unafraid of detection.”
I took off my cloak and wrapped it around the blade, then strapped it on the horse where the box had been. “Thanks for that, pal,” I said as I climbed into the saddle. He gave no answer as I rode off into the darkness.
It was easy enough to find the next part of the quest. The blue light from the Falls of Undereth were quite visible from where I had stood in front of the cave. Within a half hour I was dismounting at the pool formed at the base of the falls. I took down the sword and unwrapped its blade. Its light was probably a trigger for the next part of the quest, I figured.
A bit unsteady under the weight of the ridiculous weapon, I marched right to the very edge of the pool, being careful not to let my feet touch the water. The falls were iridescent in the night, radiating a blue glow that sparked off the edges of the sword’s light. In contrast, the waters of the pool were blacker than the night itself.
And then, out in the centre of the pool, a white arm was raised, its hand dripping with dark water and fingers stretched out as if in appeal. “Not waving but drowning,” I thought but I knew what was required of me.
Gripping the sword with both hands, I began to swing it around my head, faster and faster. Just as it was about to overpower me with its weight, I gave it one last heave and threw it as far as I could out into the pool. I staggered back from the effort of the throw and watched as the sword fell all too quickly towards the water. The arm raised a little wake as it hurried through the water towards the sword. At the last moment before the sword disappeared into the depths, the hand lunged forward and grasped the handle. For a moment there was a tussle as the arm fought the sword’s momentum, and then composure was regained. The arm slipped slowly beneath the water with its trophy.
“Part Two completed,” I muttered under my breath. “Now, let’s see, what was next?” There was a flash of lightning on the horizon and, not for the first time, I noticed the castle frowning at the crest of the hills in the north. “Of course, Harthakor’s Fortress,” I thought. “Looks fairly straightforward to get to.”
As it turned out, that was a bit optimistic. The hills were a confusing maze in the dark and it wasn’t until I stumbled upon the road leading to the castle that I made real progress. It was midnight before I stood before the imposing front door to Harthakor’s humble home. I tried knocking but doubt that the sound reached even halfway through the mighty oak beams comprising the door. Only then did I notice the handle protruding from one of the gateposts. There was a sign beneath it.
Pull for Admission, the sign suggested. I tried it and, somewhere in the deep recesses of the castle, a bell tolled once. Understanding that I might have to wake the attendant to the gate, I waited many long minutes before pulling at the handle again.
Once again, the bell gave out its single deep peal. This time, a hatch opened in the main door and a nose peered out.
“‘Oo’s that?” came the query.
I moved to a position where the nose could see me. It was now apparent that a pair of eyes peered from above the nose. It was a nose of spectacular length and girth, however.
“It is I, Sir Ropart Fleming de Lance,” I announced. “I seek an audience with the Duke Harthakor. My quest is granted by the Mage Obdinagong of Hessock and I am to present this document as proof of my goodwill.” I hauled the scroll from the depths of my pack and handed it to the nose. The eyes looked at it without comprehension.
“Give it ‘ere then and I’ll tek it to ‘is Lordship,” said the nose. It pulled back then and a hand appeared at the hatch. I placed the scroll in its care and the hand retracted, the hatch snapping shut thereafter. A long wait ensued.
When the hatch opened again, the nose appeared once more with its attendant eyes. “‘Is Lordship wants ter know what time yer call this,” announced the nose. A finger appeared and searched an impressive nostril for treasure.
“I should think it must be the first hour of the new morn by now,” I answered. “Look, I’m sorry it’s so late and all that but I’m working to a very strict timetable and you’re the third part of the quest this night. If his Lordship will consider my request, I’m sure old Obdinagong will consider himself duty bound for any favours he might grant his Lordship in the future.”
The finger withdrew itself from the nostril, apparently satisfied with its quest. “I’ll ‘ave another word with ‘im,” said the nose. The hatch slammed shut again.
Another long wait ensued. But, eventually, the hatch opened and my conversation with the nose resumed. “‘Is Lordship ‘as haccepted yer hapology and ‘e sends this message. You are to continue hup the road to the crest of the ridge and then keep goin’ until yer come to the Blasted Tree of 'Agabon. Yer’ll know it when yer sees it and pretty soon somethin’ will ‘appen that removes all doubt.”
There was silence then as the nose stared out at me, seemingly content with the information conveyed. The eyes, however, looked faintly puzzled, as though attempting to remember something else. Light dawned somewhere deep within the cavern of those eyes. “Oh yeah, ‘e wants you to ‘ave this as well. To assist in yer quest, ‘e says.” The nose disappeared, to be replaced by a sharp instrument being pushed through the hatch. Unfortunately, the lengths of wrapped cloth that followed the point of the object proved too much to be pushed through the hatch.
The instrument was drawn back and I heard the gateman (if that is what he was) muttering, “Too big, too big, I’ll ‘ave to send it though the postern.” He called out louder, “‘Ang on a mo, it won’t go through the ‘atch.”
There was the sound of keys rattling and machinery turning, then the outline of a small door appeared in the face of the main door. “The postern,” I thought. The door opened a little wider and then a hairy arm appeared, holding the strange implement that the nose had tried to force through the hatch.
“‘Ere yer are,” said the familiar voice. “Yer goin’ ter need this when yer gets to the Blasted Tree.”
I regarded the strange implement. It was sharp enough to be a weapon but most of it was wrapped up in black cloth. A long metal shaft emerged at the blunt end and curved into a handle at the end. “What the hell is it?” I asked.
“It’s a humbrella,” answered the voice of the nose. “Very useful against the weather. If yer feel around under the cloth, yer’ll find a switch what opens it up.” The door slammed shut and I was left alone on the doorstep, holding the strange implement and wishing I still had the sword.
There seemed nothing to be done but continue so I packed the humbrella into my gear, climbed into the saddle and joined the road to the ridge. The going was hard now, the slope steep and the way crumbling in parts, so it was a good two hours before I reached the crest of the ridge. Ahead, the land seemed empty of vegetation, as though burned or devastated by some furious storm. No trees could be made out in the darkness but, as I looked, a flash of lightning revealed a huge oak silhouetted against the electric sky. It was without a single leaf and seemed to be split down the middle.
“That’ll be the Blasted Tree,” I thought, as I urged Charger, my faithful steed, towards it. Arriving beneath its twisted branches, I dismounted and went closer. This was the tree alright. But what was I supposed to do now? The instructions had very little to say on that score. I stared at the blackened tree, hoping for inspiration.
Maybe it was in the humbrella. I fetched the implement and tried to open it, as suggested by the nose. After much searching, pulling and twisting, something suddenly became depressed under my touch and the thing sprang open. With a bit more fiddling, I managed to get it to open fully and found that it was shaped rather like a mushroom. If one held the handle, it could perform the duties of both sword and shield in one.
I was quite enamoured of that until I realised that it wouldn’t take much to pierce the flimsy cloth that was supposed to protect you. And then I had revelation. The nose had said it was useful in bad weather. If I were to hold the thing so it pointed at the sky, the cloth would serve as a lightweight protection against any rain that fell.
I looked around at the skies lowering down on the ridge. Lightning flickered intermittently near and far but, in spite of the dark clouds, no rain fell. The bloody thing was the nose’s idea of a joke. In annoyance, I threw the thing upwards as far as I could. The wind caught it and carried it higher until the hooked handle snagged the topmost branches of the tree. And that was when all was revealed.
A blinding flash of lightning speared down from the clouds to strike exactly at the sharp point of the humbrella. With a deafening roar, everything seemed to explode into sound and fury. I was thrown to the ground and lay there, wondering if I was dead. Crickets sang in my ears and I could see nothing through eyes blinded by the white light of that instant.
It was several minutes before I could sit up and see what had happened. In the tree, the humbrella burned away merrily, its little fire the only light in that blasted landscape. Oh, it was the Blasted Tree alright.
But something else had become very clear. If that bastard, Obdinagong, wanted me dead, surely there were easier ways to do it? It was only his delight in the devious that had somehow kept me alive through this stupid quest.
Word Count: 2,321
Entry to Magic Words Contest, March 2020.
Image prompt used.