A Reward Fit for a Royal Guard
I had to admit that despite the oddness Iniagus displayed, he was a fine tenor. When he finally stopped singing and sank down in a low bow, I couldn’t help but applaud.
King Iniagus beamed at me. “Thank you, thank you. I spent hours rehearsing that. Now, what were we talking about again?”
“Evil’s spreading across the land, your Majesty.” I reminded him.
With a shriek, Iniagus leapt behind the throne and cowered there like a frightened child.
A slight headache lightly throbbed against the back of my skull, though whether from fatigue or from the madness of Iniagus, I couldn’t say. Ignoring the fact that the ruler of Wenapaj was now cowering beneath his throne, I continued, “You said one of us was the prophesized hero, and were about to tell us why.”
“Oh, right! I’m sorry, my lads. I just got all excited,” Iniagus stood up, instantly tangling himself in his throne. The more he tried to get out of it, the more he just tangled himself further.
As Arc seemed inclined to do nothing more than snigger most inappropriately at our king, I stepped forward with a sigh and extracted the most powerful man in Wenapaj from his throne.
Slightly out of breath, he patted me on the arm once he was back where he belonged. “Ah, thank you, Jimmy. I see now why the ancient prophecy said you might be the one.”
Well, at least we were making a little progress. “I beg your pardon, but could you tell me more about this prophesy?”
“It was handed down by my ancestors, of course!” Iniagus flung up his hands, as though it would be inconceivable for us not to know what he was talking about, “The prophecy foretold that when chaos spreads through this country, a Galden child would begin his quest to save the world.”
I almost snorted; I had always felt that a person shapes his own destiny. To quote Narrator Number One, “Prophecies are a bunch of superstitious crap. They’re always vague to the point of senselessness, usually carry a hefty time period before anything happens, and only come true because of luck, careful planning, and the gullibility of those who believe in them.”
Arc apparently felt similarly about the matter. “Kind of a vague prophecy,” he said, “What evil? What quest? And why, if there is only one hero, why call two people here to bask in your presence?”
“Because you are the only two Galdens in the right age bracket!” Iniagus replied, oblivious to Arc’s sarcasm. “More importantly, you both have the shoe size predicted in the prophecy.”
I looked down at my feet for a moment before glancing over at Arc’s feet. I was wearing sandals, he some kind of fancy sports shoe, but our feet did seem to be very close in size despite our different ages.
The absurdity of the moment suddenly hit me. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “Wait, the prophecy indicated the hero by shoe size?”
“Not just shoe size! There is one question that I must ask to be completely sure.” He leaned forward and regarded us with a serious expression. “Tell me lads, what are your favorite colors?”
“Blue.” We both said instantly.
The King snapped his fingers. “There you have it! Now it’s for certain! One of you is the hero predicted! You must scour the land, find the evil’s source, and slay it! Oh, and don’t forget to bring back proof. Like a toenail or a piece of chewed gum or something.”
“But which one of us-” Arc said.
Iniagus waved him off. “Don’t know, can’t really tell. Perhaps another day. Besides, it stands to reason that the one who finds and stops the evil will be the hero, and with you both out there, scouring and all, I’m sure one of you will find it sooner or later!”
“I don’t ask you to do this for nothing, of course.” Iniagus said. “There will be a reward. DEVON!”
We both jumped. Devon ran into the room, a frosted cookie in his hand. He saluted with his free hand. “Yes, your Majesty?”
“Bring in the grand prize!” He proclaimed, clapping his hand.
Devon bowed and ran off again.
Iniagus bounced up and down on his web, his hands shaking with excitement. “Ooh!” He said, seemingly near his bursting point, “You’re gonna be sooooo excited when you see it! It’s simply, absolutely, indefatigably wondrous!”
In a matter of moments, Devon and Sera entered the room carrying a large trunk between them. They set the trunk between us and the king and stood rigidly to either side. Sera kept her gaze away from Arc. She seemed to be trying to keep her face blank, but I could tell she was still angry.
When a few seconds passed with no one else moved to open the chest, I glanced at Arc and said, “You mind if I …?”
Arc shook his head. “Knock yourself out, dude.”
I put a hand on the lid of the chest. After taking a deep breath and mentally preparing myself, I flung open the chest and leapt back out of the way of whatever was about to happen.
The back of the lid banged against the ground. To my great surprise and relief, the chest did not explode, nor did anything horrible or frightening jump out of it.
I approached warily, and glanced inside. I don’t know what I had been expecting, though given the origin of the chest, it could’ve been full of shards, dragonflies, and hard-boiled eggs and it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least.
I was wrong on all counts. In the bottom of the chest lay a beautiful white dress with matching sandals and several exquisite pieces of jewelry.
I carefully lifted the dress out of the chest. It was obviously a craftsman’s masterpiece. Precious gems had been sewn into the fabric, which itself was soft and supple, yet light. The bottom of the dress swirled with gentle colors as I ran a hand across it.
I glanced at the king, unable to suppress a smirk as I said, “It’s lovely, but I don’t think it’s my color.”
A giggle slipped out of Sera. I was surprised; she didn’t strike me as the giggling type. She quickly recovered, an embarrassed look on her face.
Iniagus looked offended. Despite his eccentricity, I didn’t want to seriously upset him; insane or not, the man was still a king after all.
I said, “Look, your Majesty, I’m not saying that this isn’t a nice reward. I’m sure it cost thousands-”
Iniagus jerked a thumb up.
“Hundreds of thousands-” I said, but he jerked his thumb in the air again.
I raised an eyebrow. “Millions?”
“Four million, six hundred and twenty three thousand, four hundred and twenty-seven shards and seventeen flicks.” He gestured at the dress with a sweeping hand as he continued, “Hand-woven by a vuestan seamstress out of the finest of materials chosen for feel and durability. The gems were cut by the most skilled Cleftan craftspeople on Vinta. The cloth is a unique material that was recently invented on Earth that feels as soft as silk and changes colors according to the desires of the wearer. There’s a non-wear and tear enchantment on it too; it’ll mend itself when torn. The shoes-”
“We get the idea.” Arc said as I very carefully folded the dress and set it gently back inside the chest.
“Your Majesty,” I said respectfully, “It is truly a magnificent dress, but I’m afraid I just don’t have much use for it.”
“It’s a wedding dress.” Iniagus said, “For the hero’s bride.”
Feeling a bit embarrassed, I replied, “Which could come in handy someday, I admit, but … well, I can’t speak for Arc, but seeing as I’ve been guarding a bridge in the middle of nowhere for the last decade, I don’t have much in the way of marriage prospects.”
“My poor, simple-minded friend.” Iniagus smiled indulgently at us as though we were small children, “Surely you don’t think the dress itself is the prize?”
I looked at the chest. It was a nice chest, sturdy. A bit big, but nice in its own way. I could surely find something to store in it. I was, however, wrong again.
“The prize is a marriage, a marriage that is sure to bring much happiness.” Iniagus said, clasping his hands together and batting his eyes demurely.
I wasn’t sure what to say. Fortunately, my rapidly developing sense of cynicism quickly found a question. “And exactly, who would I … or Arc, of course … who would the hero be marrying, your Majesty?”
Iniagus didn’t reply; he just stood there smiling as Sera, Devon, Arc, and I waited.
After it seemed that no one was going to answer, I continued, “I mean, do you even have a daughter? I’m sorry if that seems a rude question, but-”
Iniagus beamed. “Why yes, Jimmy my lad! I do have a daughter! Several in fact, and the true hero will be marrying one of them.”
“Father!” Sera said, somewhat alarmed.
Iniagus snapped his fingers and pointed at Sera, a wide grin on his face. “Right in one!”
Looking very alarmed, Sera stammered, “W-what? Wait just a-”
As everyone else started talking all at once, I took the opportunity to focus my thoughts. It wasn’t easy, but at least one person in the room needed a clear head.
“Surely you mean if she wishes to marry, right?” I asked, making myself heard through the din. Everyone stopped talking instantly and stared at me. Devon’s look was appraising, Sera’s grateful, and the King’s confused, while Arc just looked at me like I was an idiot. I maintained my composure, slightly uncomfortable under everyone’s gaze, but the question had to be asked.
“Well, of course!” Iniagus said, rising to his feet and approaching his daughter so he could put an arm around her shoulders, “but it’s not like she wouldn’t marry a hero, right?”
“But doesn’t she have a-” I said.
“Father,” Sera interrupted, showing remarkable composure, considering the bomb her father had just dropped on her, “I-I can’t marry a complete stranger!”
He patted her on the arm, looking sympathetic. “My dear, that’s always been a problem of yours. You have to believe that you can do things. Be more assertive!”
Leaving her stunned beyond words, Iniagus walked back to his throne and sat upon it. “And now I’m feeling a bit tired. Devon, Sera, kindly take the dress back to storage.”
Sera bit her lip but complied. I was rather impressed with her behavior; a lesser person would have stormed out of the room or perhaps even struck Iniagus, but she helped Devon pick up the chest.
As they left the room, I thought about it: marrying Sera. I know I’ve said it before, but she was a fine woman. She wasn’t just beautiful, but kind and strong as well.
Unfortunately, she was also unavailable. She loved someone else. As long as the cared for another, I could not marry her in good conscience, not even if the king decreed it. No, if this prophecy was real, I would not hold her to her father’s promise.
Iniagus tapped the side of one of the statues. To my surprise, the windows rolled themselves up. Apparently, what I thought were windows were actually tapestries made to look like open windows. The lights, visible now that I knew they were there, dimmed as another set of window tapestries (this time showing a moonlit skyline) quickly unrolled into the same places as the previous tapestries.
Iniagus sat on his throne with eyes closed, not saying a word. After a few minutes, I coughed and asked, “Is there anything more we should be aware of, your Majesty?”
Without opening his eyes, Iniagus said, “Nothing more needs to be said. Your audience is ended, your quest before you. Have a nice day.”
He clapped his hands three times. A large trapdoor opened beneath us, taking both of us by surprise. The last thing I saw before the doors closed over our heads was Iniagus, his head held high and his eyes closed.