Flash Friday 13/02/2015: Coming of Age
Special thanks to Lazette Gifford for giving me the prompt for this flash fiction: a bird, a letter and a quest.
Also, it wasn’t until I finished the story and typed in the title that I realised that this should totally have been a Friday the 13th-themed story. Thankfully, the next occurrence of a Friday the 13th is next month — here’s hoping I remember!
Antonio the Musketeer never told his secrets to anyone. His ways of capturing the hearts of men and women across the country was his and his alone. Males would offer handsome fortunes to be tutored by the dashing rogue, all of which were rejected. If they saw that Antonio’s son was getting the lessons they so desired, they would have killed him out of pure envy.
“Do you really think I can do this, dad?” James said. “I mean, I only just turned eighteen.”
“Only just?” Antonio said, wiggling his black moustache under a cavalier hat. “Only just? Why, my dear son, you have been a whole week as an adult now! You know what I always say about time; every second you spend as an adult when you’re not swinging by a dragon’s tail, shuffling along a crumbling cliff face, or thrusting a rapier through the heart of an orc is a second that is wasted. And, until recently, the only thing you were fit to wield was a rattle. But now!” Antonio clapped both hands on both of James’ shoulders, nodding to himself. “Now, you are a strong, dashing young adult, and do you know what that means?”
James blinked. “Well, I don’t feel much different than a week ago.”
“Ah, but you should! Fate herself has cast a different eye on you, my son. Once nothing more than a body to be saved when the village is attacked, you are now a man who can stand on the front line, do a twirly thing with your sword, and insult the enemy’s mothers while you do it. But everyone deserves a humble beginning, and yours starts today. In fact, it starts the moment the mail comes in.”
On cue, a bird shot through an open window. With a thud, it struck a dartboard beak-first, embedding itself within the cork that desigated the bullseye. As if this were a daily occurrence (and if James knew his father like he did, it was), Antonio reached over and pulled the bird out. He took the canister strapped from the bird and let it fly out of the window.
“Now, let’s see here.” Antonio undid the top of the canister, shaking out a small array of papers into an open hand. Unfurling them, he began to read each one. “Bill, bill, spare hat is ready to be picked up, bill…magazine advertisement. Seems to be something to do with elven women.” Antonio flipped the advertisement over, then blinked in surprise.
“Something wrong?” James said.
“Hm? Oh, no no no. It’s just that, well…you wouldn’t be interested in a magazine about, uh, bikinis, would you?”
James shrugged. “I found they don’t really suit me.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Antonio pocketed the advertisement. “Those kind of magazines are more for adults.”
“But I thought you said I was an adult.”
“Uh.” Antonio looked to the side. “Not until you’re twenty-one. Anyway! This is the part we’re looking for — all the quests the land has to offer us. Now, let’s see here.” Antonio began to peruse one of the letters with great intent. “Dear sir, yadda yadda, hiring your services, doo dee doo, quest of much danger, duh duh duh, lots of gold and treasure in return. Oh, this does sound good. Yours sincerely, Alastaria, dragon within the–oh, bugger. Nope, can’t be having that one.” Antonio threw the advert aside. “James, promise me you’ll never take a quest from a dragon.”
“Why not? They have a lot of gold, right?”
“Yes, because they’re natural hoarders. They don’t believe in paying people. They believe in saying they’ll pay people, and then reminding them of a dragon’s big teeth and fire breath when they come knocking with an invoice. See, this next one was written by someone who studied calligraphy, so it has to be good.” Antonio read the next quest. “Dear Antonio, I am currently stuck in a tower with no means to get down. An evil wizard has locked me in a tower until I agree to marry him, and I only pray this message reaches you soon before I break. Please, save me. Signed…Princess Patricia. Oh.” Antonio peered over at James with a glint in his eye. “Did you catch the good part in that sentence?”
James nodded. “I’m glad the message did reach us soon.”
“No, no, not that part. The bit where it says ‘princess’. See?” He pointed the word out to James, which was written in particularly flowy handwriting. Whoever wrote it had far too much time on their hands stuck up a tower to do anything else. “And you know what that means?”
“That she’s royalty. And saving royalty is always good.”
“Yes, but a princess a little different than a prince.”
“I wouldn’t like to see a prince in a dress, myself.”
“No, I mean–taking a quest from a prince is all well and good, but a princess…well, you know, there’s always the little added bonus that you get from saving a princess, hmm?”
James tilted his head.
“Because she’s female.”
“And when you save a female there’s a chance of a special reward.”
The light within James’ head turned on. “Oh, yes, of course. I was confused there. Yes, I know that people tend to pay people who do quests for them.”
“Well, yes, of course you’re going to get paid. What I’m trying to get here is that you’ll be paid in more than one way.”
“That’s alright, I’m old enough to bank cheques now.”
Antonio sighed. “Look, just get your cavalier hat on and get into something more dashing. Defeating an evil wizard sounds like a trivial task for a son of my own blood, and it’ll put hairs on your chest. Now, go! Swing a sword, defeat the evil, and save the day! And don’t forget the princess!”
James caught the letter that was thrust into his hands. He hoped his very first quest would not be his last.