With a last movement of the stone, Sir Matthew finished sharpening his sword. He held it for a moment, admiring it in the light, before sliding it into his sheath. Then he knelt by his shield and admired the coat of arms he had painted on it himself. He could have had his herald do the paintings, but he felt he needed to do some things himself.
It was time. He was ready.
“Squire!” he shouted and his assistant was instantly in the room. “What news?”
“Well, we’ve received all the replies to your appeals for a quest.”
“And nobody has one.”
“What? Nobody? I sent messages to every kingdom within a hundred leagues!”
The young squire merely shrugged.
“Tell the stables to saddle my horse. And help me get my greaves on. I’m going out.”
* * * * *
It was late morning when he knelt in the torch-lit throne room of his neighbor, Lord Snowdaw.
“Rise, good knight,” Snowdaw said from his purple throne, “And tell us why you honor us with your presence.”
“My lord, I came calling about the letter I sent you a few months ago.”
The king looked confused, and stroked his salt and pepper beard.
“About the quest, my lord?”
“Oh! Yes. Sorry, I can’t help. We don’t have any quests for you.”
“But sir, at last season’s harvest festival you told me there was a dragon plaguing your kingdom.”
“What? Oh, the dragon! Yes. We have a dragon, but he’s no bother.”
“You told me he ravaged the countryside, burning crops and devouring cattle.”
“Well, yes, he does that a bit, but we can manage.”
Sir Matthew stared at the king’s earnest face for a moment, confused.
“But, I’m looking for a quest… And you… You have a dragon… I just thought… You know. I could slay it for you as a quest.”
Lord Snowdaw shook his head.
“No, no. Don’t trouble yourself. Thanks for dropping by, though. Always nice to see the neighbors.”
* * * * *
In the middle of the afternoon, he reached the keep of Lady Ellech, who called down to him from the parapet.
“No, sorry, no quests here, good sir!”
“But, m’lady, you told me once a hideous witch troubled your lands.”
“No, I would never say anything like that.”
“I remember it quite clearly. You said there was a hag who ensnared men to break their marital vows.”
“No, I never-“
Another woman appeared on the castle wall. She looked much like Lady Ellech, but was younger, with tangled hair and bad teeth.
“What did you say?” she said, practically bellowing at the Lady.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You called me a hag? I’m your sister!”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Did she tell you I seduced someone?” the hag said, calling down to Sir Matthew. “It was one kiss. One. It was a party. He was drunk.”
“He’d have to be,” Lady Ellech said.
Her sister punched her in the arm.
“Ladies, if I may…” he called from below, but they ignored him.
“You’re always driving men away from me!”
“No, that’s your breath.”
She punched her sister’s arm again.
“Ladies!” he shouted, but they continued to fight, ignoring him. After a few minutes, he turned his horse away from the keep and travelled homeward.
* * * * *
He reached the edge of his fields as dusk fell. The serfs working the land were packing in their tools to head home. Several looked up as he halted his horse and called out to them. After a few moments of confusion, a short, dirty man came forward. He climbed down from his saddle to greet the peasant.
“Good evening, Sir Matthew.”
“Good evening to you, peasant. What is your name?”
“Grunion? Isn’t that a kind of fish?”
“I don’t think so, sir. My father said he named me that because I was always underfoot, like a grunion.”
“Er, I think he meant ‘bunion.’”
“Did he? Well, then I guess my name should be Bunion, sir. Thank you for correcting me. How may I help?”
“I’m on a quest for… Well, quests. Is there anything you serfs need done?”
Bunion looked at the others, confused.
“Like what, sir?”
“I mean, are there any bandits? Monsters? Any children missing? Anything you might need the help of a knight to fix?”
Bunion scratched his head.
“No, I think we’re good, sir. If you want, there’s an orphanage down by the river. They can always use some help.”
“No, no. That’s not a quest. I need someone to assign me a task.”
Bunion stared, confused.
“See, it’s not a quest if I just go do volunteer work. If someone were to ask me to volunteer somewhere in specific…
Bunion, still confused, said nothing.
“Someone like you, perhaps…”
Bunion scratched his head again. The knight shook his head , climbed back into the saddle, and rode off.
* * * * *
As he reached the drawbridge of his castle, the portcullis raised and his squire ran out to meet him.
“Sir! A quest. It’s the Dowager!”
“She’s on the enchanted mirror. She needs your help.”
He practically flew up the stairs to where his children clustered around the Kindle, talking to their grandmother.
“Ah, there you are, Sir Matthew. I was hoping you’d help me with these paintings I bought in Nice. I was showing them to your children, but I have trouble pronouncing the painters’ names. You took French, right?”
He nodded, and she held up a picture.
“Degas,” he said. She held up another. “Gaugin. Renoir.”
And so he continued until she ran out of paintings.
“Thank you,” she said. “And now you’ve completed a quest.”
“Er, well I suppose. For it to be a real quest, you’re supposed to give me a reward of some kind.”
“I already gave you the hand of my youngest daughter in marriage. What more do you want?”
The magic mirror went black. With a sad sigh, he went to bed.