A month passed.
Late in the night another dark figure was seen crossing the small courtyard, wrapped in a cloak, heading toward the castle walls. But this figure was not quite as lithe and limber as the last one. In truth, this figure was a little pudgy (or at least not in the best of shape). So climbing the castle wall, either up or down, was out of the question, really. This shadowy figure snuck up to the heavy gate which had been barred for the night with a long and stout six-by-six piece of timber. On the side of the gate, next to this timber, was a small door. The shadowy figure gave a low, melodic whistle. The small door opened. A small number of gold coins changed hands. Then the shadowy and slightly pudgy figure walked off into the night—just a little ways—to where a simple tradesman sat waiting on his wagon.
It was Prince Robin, of course.
Robin had had a rough few months. First, there was the thing with William. Their relationship had never been the best. Robin often heard (he might say, continually heard) criticism from his older brother, criticism that usually came in the form of “helpful interrogative hints.” William offered these hints liberally; in fact, almost every time Robin hove into sight. For that reason, Robin tried to hive into sight as little as possible. You’d think a whole castle would be big enough! (Well, you would! But it wasn’t.)
William would say, “If you don’t work on your swordsmanship Robin how will you ever be able to defend Witten Castle?” Or, “If you don’t study Eulalian law Robin, how can you be expected to administer it?” Or even, “Do you think the lining of that cloak sends the proper message?” (The lining was pink and green and (little known to William) Robin had designed the cloak to be reversible.)
So with William in an enchanted sleep Robin was expecting some relief. A break. A little free time, for Aeus’ sake. But even asleep William continued to plague him. The facts of the case (Star on the lam…William in a coma…) Prince Robin had not thought these through. Suddenly all his father’s attention was focused on…him! Bernardino had to face the fact that Robin might be It: The Once and Future King! This thought made Bernardino nauseas at times (and shudder the rest of the time) but he had to make the best of it. “Best” in this case meant getting his flighty son ready for the throne as soon as possible.
Which was why Robin was leaving. He’d had a month of law (boring); swordsmanship (dangerous) and falconry (Robin spent the time wondering if the white wine sauce he intended for the pheasant might be improved with a little nutmeg. And dare he bread it?). Well, the whole “king-thing” was impossible. It was the last thing he wanted. Hence: The Quest. His father had issued a proclamation; Robin had taken it to heart. The priests said William’s cure would be found outside Eulalia, beyond the Black Mountains, the far border of his land.
“Fine,” he muttered. “A Quest, if that’s what it takes. Get William fixed and we’re back in business.”
Now Robin climbed up into the simple wagon which was packed with seventeen of his trunks, suitcases, satchels, valises, knapsacks, along with numerous cases of wine interspersed with the occasional haunch. One small, black suitcase (stashed behind the seat) belonged to the simple tradesman, a hooded figure in the night.
“Let us be off, my good man,” said Robin, who had rehearsed this line. “Time’s a wastin’ and day’s a breakin’.”
“Who taught you to speak like that?” asked the simple tradesman. “You sound like a nut.”
Something in the man’s voice made Robin pause and take a second look. The simple tradesman threw back his hood. “Rodney!” Robin exclaimed. “It’s you!”
“The very same, me lad…” said Rodney, who muttered, “that is, if we’re going to keep up this ridiculous banter.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Driving the wagon. It’s the same as a coach, really.”
“No, I mean here! How did you know I was leaving?”
“Oh, everyone in the castle knew, sir. Packing seventeen trunks, suitcases, satchels, valises, knapsacks, and numerous cases of wine interspersed with the occasional haunch—well, it generally makes quite a stir in a castle of this size.”
Especially when you won’t pack them yourself, thought Rodney. “As for driving the wagon, sir, the King thought I’d better look out for you.”
“My father knows about this!”
“Oh yes, sir, indeed. Your Quest was approved at the highest levels.”
(If anyone needed further proof of his unworthiness to rule) Robin’ reply to this was, “Oh, damn! If I’d known that I would have packed a few more cases of wine. No telling what sort of swill you get on a Quest.”
“Yes sir,” said Rodney.
“Well, let’s go, I guess,” said Robin. “Where are we going anyway? Oh, the Black Mountains.” Robin gave a vague wave into the darkness. “That way, right?”
“Yes, sir,” said Rodney who had consulted (and carried) a map. “It is, generally speaking…that way.”
Rodney clicked his tongue. Forgiving the late hour and the chilly temps, his team of burros (for they were burros) began to trot happily in the insouciant manner of burros everywhere.
“Horses seem a bit smallish,” said Robin.
“Yes, sir,” said Rodney. “But very dependable.”
And off they went!