Roland's Quest

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Contently Deranged Travelers
Roland sets out to seek his fortune. Along the way, he escapes the clutches of a cruel crone, rescues a winsome wench and learns how not to shoe a horse. He finds his fortune where he least expects it.

Submitted: August 03, 2017

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Submitted: August 03, 2017

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Roland's Quest

Roland had just turned eighteen. He was a fine looking lad with curly fair hair and a charming grin that could make any damsel swoon; but he had no time for romance. He was born to be a hero.

Roland had his dad’s fighting blood. He would have had his dad’s armour and weapons too if the old man hadn’t pawned them to pay his gambling debts. The aging warrior was last seen riding into battle in his underwear brandishing a broom handle as a makeshift sword. Sadly, he did not ride back out again. Roland missed his dad. The enemy didn’t.

Roland was now a half-orphan, living in Poverty with his mum. Poverty was a nice little village. Roland and his mum would have been happier living in Poverty if they hadn’t been living in poverty. They eked out a meagre living by taking in laundry. Roland gladly helped his mum; but it was hardly suitable work for a hero. It required no greater courage than that necessary to launder Widow Wensum’s bloomers, which she changed regularly once a year at bath time.

 Roland wanted more out of life than Widow Wensum’s bloomers. He wanted to go forth and slay dragons; but the last of the dragons had been wiped out years ago. He wanted to rescue damsels in distress. He didn’t want to keep them. He just wanted the thrill of rescuing them, and then he would put them back for someone else to rescue. Sadly, too many handsome princes were rescuing these damsels, and then keeping them as their brides instead of putting them back where they found them. Soon, there were none left for Roland to rescue. Roland was bored.

‘Mum,’ said Roland one morning as he shared a boiled egg with her for breakfast. ‘We can’t go on like this, living in poverty.’

‘But this is our home dear. I have lived in Poverty all my life. I don’t want to move away.’

‘But Mummy darling, you can’t call this living! Half an egg each for breakfast? Zounds! We can do better than that.’

With that, Roland suddenly leapt on to the table and brandished his egg spoon as if addressing a cheering multitude. ‘I’ve made up my mind,’ he announced. ‘I am going to venture forth on a great quest to seek my fortune. Danger will be my constant companion. A fortune will be my reward.’

‘That’s nice dear,’ said his mum. ‘Don’t forget to take your toothbrush.’

Filled with resolve – not to mention half an egg – Roland strode toward the tiny curtained alcove that served as his bedchamber. He strode right off the end of the table and landed in a heap on the bare wooden floor. Pushing the heap to one side; he picked himself up, brushed himself off, and stalked into his bedchamber with as much dignity as he could muster. There, he girded his loins for the adventure that lay ahead. Then he changed his mind and put his trousers on instead.

Kissing his tearful mother farewell (she was peeling an onion at the time), Roland strode out of the house and into the stable. There, he threw his saddle onto the space where his horse always stood. The saddle fell straight to the straw-strewn floor with a thump.

‘That’s odd,’ said Roland to himself. ‘The mare seems to have shrunk! Damn, I forgot! I sold her to the glue factory last week. I guess she’ll be sticking around somewhere else now.’

And so, brave Roland set out on his quest on foot. He soon left Poverty far behind, but his empty purse reminded him that he was still in poverty. No problem. A brave adventurer must learn to live by his wits.

He wasn’t sure where he would most likely find his fortune. Perhaps he should have consulted a fortune teller before setting out; but he had heard there are pots of gold to be found at the ends of rainbows. His first objective, therefore, was to find a rainbow.

A sign, I need a sign.

Suddenly, just down the road, he saw a sign. It said, ‘RAINBOW’.

‘Hurrah!’ he shouted; startling a flock of birds which had been gossiping in a nearby tree. The birds fled raucously out of the tree, scaring the crap out of a cat that had been stalking them.

Gadzooks; I didn’t expect to find a rainbow so easily. I wonder who put that sign there.

But all was not as it seemed. As Roland approached the sign, a part that had been obscured by trees came into view, revealing the word ‘Inn’. Oh poos! It’s just the Rainbow Inn. Methinks there will be no pot of gold there; a little pot, perhaps, but no gold.

As he approached the inn, Roland heard an ominous growl. He peered nervously into the shadows at the side of the road; but the source of the growl was much closer at hand – his own stomach, in fact. Having fully digested the half a boiled egg he had for breakfast, his tummy was now as empty as his purse. He needed food.

There would be food at the inn, but how would he pay for it? He needed a job. As he neared the inn, another sign came into view: ‘Help Wanted’. That was good news. As he came closer, the small print came into focus: ‘Barmaid’. That was not such good news. Barmaid? That’s sexual discrimination! I’m not going to stand for that!

Confident that right was on his side, Roland strode into the inn, tripped on the doorstep and stumbled noisily through the batwing doors. The only witness to his spectacular entrance was a toothless crone. She was perched on a bar stool slurping ale from a saucer and burping contentedly between swallows. Except for the gravy stains on her bodice, she was dressed entirely in black – like a witch but without the pointy hat. She regarded Roland with disdain.

Greetings toothless crone,’ cried Roland, quickly recovering his equilibrium and narrowly avoiding giving the crone a lap dance. ‘I seek audience with the propagator – er – the proponent – er.’

‘The proprietor,’ said the crone, punctuating her statement with a window rattling belch. ‘Seek no further. ‘Tis I with whom you seek – ah stuff the fancy talk. I’m the boss here. Waddaya want?’

‘I want work, madam. I seek a job that is well paid, has medical benefits, contributory superannuation and a key to the executive loo,’ replied Roland.

‘Ain’t no jobs going here pretty boy! Sod off.’

‘Oh but there is, my good lady. You need someone to tend the bar. The sign says so.’

‘Who do you think you are? Queen of the May? The sign says bar maid. You ain’t no freaking maid.’

‘That sign is in breach of Section 9, clause 4(b) ii, paragraph 3 ½ of the Anti Discrimination Act. The penalty for such breach is a month in the pillory. You will be pelted with rotten tomatoes, horse manure and other icky stuff; all hurled at you by outraged citizens, little children and the occasional trained monkey.’

‘Oooooh,’ said the crone, throwing her withered hands up in mock horror. ‘You just made that up didn’t you?’

‘Yea verily,’ admitted Roland, ‘but forsooth, I had you going there, didn’t I?’

‘No, it’s you what’s going. I ain’t hiring no pretty boy to serve ale. Me customers prefer buxom wenches.’

‘Egad,’ exclaimed Roland. ‘You offend me, madam. If you persist with this discriminatory attitude, I shall have to take strike action!’

‘You wouldn’t strike an old woman would you?’ said the crone indignantly.

‘With reluctance, my lady; but it’ll be OK as long as I wash my hands afterward.’

‘Strike me and I’ll call the police. They will drag you off to a dark dungeon infested with rats, cockroaches, and encyclopaedia salesmen.’

‘Nay; that you cannot do.’

‘Why not?’

‘Police haven’t been invented yet,’ said Roland smugly.

‘Persistent little bugger ain’t ya?’

A crafty expression suddenly crept across the crone’s cadaverous countenance. ‘OK. You’ve got the job. Here, sign this employment contract.’ She pulled a sheet of blank parchment from the folds of her baggy bodice.’

Roland peered at the parchment. ‘But – ‘tis blank,’ he announced.

‘No it ain’t. It’s all there in invisible ink.’

‘Invisible ink? Forsooth! What use is that?’

‘Security. It foils hackers and prevents identity theft. Nobody reads their contracts anyway. Just sign it or bugger off and harass some other poor old lady.’

Roland signed. Not a wise thing to do, but by now, the noise made by his stomach was beginning to sound like a swamp full of angry crocodiles. A job under a blank contract was better than starving to death.

‘Right,’ said the crone, pretending to read the non-existent contract conditions. ‘Dress code! The management of this establishment (that’s me) requires a minimum standard of dress for all employees who serve customers.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with my present attire,’ protested Roland. ‘I changed my socks only last month!’

‘Inappropriate!’ declared the crone. ‘Come with me.’

Roland followed the crone into a storeroom behind the bar. She flung open the door to a large closet, revealing several serving wench’s costumes.

‘Er, I don’t see …’ began Roland.

‘Yair you do,’ cackled the crone. ‘Here, try these for size.’ She thrust a bundle of garments comprising petticoats, two skirts, a puff sleeved blouse and a lace up bodice at Roland.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said Roland aghast. ‘That’s what wenches wear. Nobody is going to buy ale from a man dressed like that!’

‘No, they won’t,’ cackled the crone, ‘but they’ll come in droves to see a pretty boy like you perform the only drag queen act in the county. Think of the fame and fortune it will bring.

 Fortune? Did she just say fortune?

You can have the fame,’ continued the crone. ‘I’ll keep the fortune.’

Damn!

‘You can sing can’t you?’ enquired the crone.

‘I only tried it once – in the bath – but the neighbours called the SPCA. They thought I was torturing the dog!’

‘Dance then; surely you can dance? Come on; show me what you can do.’

 Roland wasn’t sure that he wanted to be a drag queen, especially if it didn’t further his quest for a fortune; but he tried a few experimental steps anyway. He lost his balance attempting a pirouette and ended up flat on his face with his nose close to the crone’s unwashed feet. It was not a pleasant experience.

‘Oh, this is useless,’ cried the crone. ‘You’re fired!’

‘Hired?’ said Roland, his hearing temporarily impaired by the fall; ‘but you already hired me.’

‘FIRED; you moron!’

‘Er, do I get severance pay?’

The crone angrily threw the garments back into the closet and slammed the door. ‘Out!’ she screamed. ‘Out, out, out!’

‘So you want me to leave then?’

All this had been quietly observed by a pretty girl in a serving wench’s costume. It was Sally, the head – and only – barmaid at the inn.

‘Don’t fire him Cronelia,’ said Sally.

Aha, the crone has a name. ‘Cronelia the Crone’. How appropriate.

‘If you want a barmaid, why not promote Kate the kitchen maid to barmaid, and give Roland her job as kitchen boy?’

‘Hmmm. Very well then,’ grumped Cronelia. ‘Minimum pay. No benefits!’

‘Zounds! No dress code?’ asked Roland, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

‘Don’t push yer luck, sunshine.’

***

And so it came to pass that Kate became Rainbow Inn’s second barmaid, while Roland became Rainbow Inn’s only kitchen boy – a job for which he was quite unsuited. Among other things, he was surprised to learn that, before scrambling eggs, it was customary to remove the shells.

After eight weeks of hard labour and abuse in this demeaning capacity, Roland had enough. Despite having saved barely enough to continue his quest, he decided to quit.

‘Cronelia!’ he declared. ‘I quit.’ He tore off his soiled pinny and tossed it carelessly into a pot of broth that was simmering on the stove. Oops! Who put that broth there? Oh yes; it was me.

‘You can’t quit!’ smirked Cronelia.

‘Why not?’ demanded Roland.

‘This is why not,’ she cackled, pulling the crumpled contract from her bodice and waving it in Roland’s face. He recoiled at the bodily stench thus released. ‘You’ve been indentured for a minimum term of five years.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with my dentures,’ shouted Roland. ‘I’m leaving!’

‘Then you’ll be in breach of contract,’ snarled Cronelia. ‘It says here,’ she added menacingly, ‘that the penalty for breach of contract is ten lashes with a wet stagecoach ticket, followed by six months locked in the pillory; pelted daily with putrid fruit and veggies. Oh, and you will still have to work through your indenture.’

‘Leave my dentures out of this; I’ll see you …’

‘Hush Roland,’ said Sally urgently. ‘She has your signed contract so she can do whatever she likes.’

‘That’s right, my lovely,’ said Cronelia triumphantly. ‘NOW GET BACK TO WORK.’

Later, Sally took Roland aside and whispered, ‘Cronelia is serious about the pillory. She once pilloried a stable boy for a whole month.’

‘What had he done?’ enquired Roland.

‘Nothing, and that was the problem. He failed to put feed out for the horse, and we didn’t even have a horse at the time.’ Sally grabbed Roland’s arm. ‘You’ve got to get away from here, and take me with you.’

‘Don’t be silly Sally,’ said Roland. ‘I’ll take your warning, but I can’t go about seeking fortunes encumbered by a wench. You will just slow me down.’

‘I can get you a horse.’

‘When do we leave?’

That night, under cover of darkness, the pair crept out to the stable. There, they found a forlorn mare that had almost reached her ‘best before’ date.

‘Hey,’ said Roland. ‘That’s the horse I sold to the glue factory.’

‘And that’s where Cronelia stole it from,’ said Sally, ‘So we are not really stealing it from her. It wasn’t hers in the first place.’

‘Cronelia can’t be all bad then,’ observed Roland. ‘She saved the horse from a sticky end. I wouldn’t have sold her if we hadn’t needed the money to pay off the last of my father’s gambling debts.’

He took the reins and led the horse quietly over soft ground until they reached the road. Then, anxious to put as much distance as possible between them and Rainbow Inn, they galloped off into the night.

‘Er, Sally,’ gasped Roland.

‘Yes?’ puffed Sally.

‘Wouldn’t it be quicker if we climbed on to the horse?’

‘Neigh!’ said the horse. But they climbed up on her back anyway. Thus burdened, the valiant horse galloped off into the night. Sally’s wind blown hair streamed out behind her, lashing Roland about the face and gratuitously flossing his teeth.

Next time, I get to ride up front.

  ***

For months, the intrepid duo rode their trusty steed through forests and deserts, over mountains and meadows, over hills and dales, over – well, you get the picture. They had almost despaired of ever finding a fortune when suddenly; another sign came into view in the distance: ‘FORTUNE’. They shouted with glee; but again, things were not as they seemed. The sign belonged to a travelling fortune teller.

‘Curses, fooled again!’ cried Roland.

As if things weren’t bad enough, just as they were making good time up a dirt road that wound its way between the foot of a mountain and the edge of a dense forest, the horse lost a shoe. Roland blamed Sally for not tying the horse’s shoe laces tightly enough.

‘Horses don’t have shoe laces, idiot!’ said Sally defensively. ‘I think they wear slip-ons.’

‘No, I remember now, their shoes have to be nailed on,’ said Roland, airing his knowledge. ‘I think they use toe nails,’ he added.

 Neither of them knew much about horses’ shoes, but fortunately, they met a likely looking lad hitch hiking along the way.

‘Ho there, likely looking lad. Can you shoe a horse?’ enquired Roland.

‘Ar,’ said the likely looking lad.

‘Oh good. Would you kindly shoe this one for us please?’

‘Ar,’ said the likely looking lad.

The likely looking lad led the horse to the side of the road, and suddenly clapped his hands. ‘SHOO!’ he shouted. The horse took off like a rocket and disappeared into the forest.

‘What did you do that for?’ spluttered Roland.

‘You asked me to shoo the ‘orse, so I shooed ‘em.

‘Argh!!!’ said Roland and Sally in two part harmony.

Sensing hostility on the part of his new companions; the likely looking lad emulated the actions of the horse. Without waiting to be thanked for shooing the beast, he took off like a rocket and disappeared into the forest.

Frustrated and horseless, Roland and Sally continued their journey on foot. Weary and footsore, they trudged for hours along the dusty road. At last, they came across an inn, wherein they would surely find good food and comfortable beds.

‘Ah!’ said Roland. ‘Food and a bed in which to rest our weary bodies.’

‘A bed?’ enquired Sally, coyly. ‘Don’t you mean two beds?’

‘Of course. Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, it would be unseemly for a lady and gentleman to share a bed when they aren’t even related, yet one bed is all we can afford.’

‘So what are you going to do about that, oh masterful one?’

‘I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t suppose you would …’

‘Yes, go on.’

‘Would you consent to be …’

‘Yes, yes, yes - what?’

‘Sally, I would be honoured if you would kindly consent to be my, um …’

‘Oh come on, spit it out before I wet the place where my pants would be – if I was wearing any.’

‘You’re not wearing pants?’

‘Of course not. Wenches never wear them. It’s hard enough going to the loo with three petticoats and two skirts to push aside without struggling with knickers too.’

‘Oh – too much information!’ said Roland, taking a few steps back and covering his ears. It had never occurred to him that pretty girls sometimes needed to pee just like ordinary people.

‘You were about to ask my consent for something. What was it?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Roland. ‘In the interest of decorum, you and I need to be related if we are to continue our journey together. Would you consent to being my …’

‘Yes, yes, yes?’ enquired Sally with building excitement.

‘… adopted sister?’

Roland regained consciousness ten minutes later. He was flat on his back and had a slight swelling under his left eye.

‘I have been smitten! Did you just smite me?’

‘Yep,’ said Sally, blowing nonchalantly on her reddened knuckles.

‘What for?’

‘Oh, it’s just something we older sisters do when we have to discipline our little brothers.’

‘Little brother? I turned 18 last birthday. How old are you?’

‘I turn 19 next birthday, so that makes me the oldest and it makes me the boss. OK?’

Damn. The last thing I need is a bossy sister. She doesn’t seem very happy with me. I wonder why?

They used the last of their diminishing funds to eat a hearty meal at the inn, and to hire a room. It had only one bed. Sally was not about to share it with her ‘brother’, but she kindly put a pillow and a spare blanket in the bath for him. Unfortunately, she forgot to pull the plug and empty out the bath first. That night, Roland experienced his first wet dream.

Next morning, over breakfast, Roland voiced his concern at the time it was taking to find his fortune.

‘It could take years to find my fortune, right?’

‘I suppose so,’ replied Sally.

‘And this is just a short story, right?’

‘I guess that depends on the storyteller.’

‘I know. I asked him and he said he is getting writer’s block and might have to end the story with us stuck out here in the middle of nowhere. I think we ought to get home before we run out of story.’

‘I haven’t got a home,’ said Sally sadly. ‘Cronelia kidnapped me as a baby. Rainbow Inn is the only home I have known and I don’t want to go back there.’

‘Of course you have a home. You are my sister aren’t you? I just have to figure out how to divide a boiled egg three ways and we will get along just fine.’

‘Oh Roland, do you really mean that?’ She flew into his arms and kissed him full on the lips. It was a long and lingering kiss. She pressed her body close to his. Roland experienced a sensation that he had never felt before. He wanted to tell Sally about it, but it was too hard.

‘Er, about that sister thing …’ gasped Roland when they came up for air.

‘Later,’ said Sally happily. ‘First, we have to figure out how to get home quickly before the story ends.’

They decided to take a bus home. They got most of the way home with it before the bus company stopped them and took their bus back.

When they reached the street where Roland had lived for so long with his mum, he suddenly stopped and stared with amazement. The old cottage was gone. In its place stood a magnificent mansion. The door opened. A figure emerged and leaned nonchalantly against the door frame with an electronic cigarette sending nicotine free vapour spiralling into the atmosphere. She was wearing some kind of designer outfit and was dripping with diamonds and other expensive accessories.

‘Well, don’t just stand there staring,’ said Roland’s mum. ‘Come on in. Is this your girlfriend? My, she is pretty.’

‘No,’ replied Roland. ‘She’s my sis- oof!’ A sharp dig in the ribs cut him off.

‘I’m his fiancée,’ said Sally, clinging to Roland’s arm. ‘Roland, you never told me your mother was rich.’

‘Oh, it’s not me,’ said Roland’s mother. ‘It’s Roland. The day after he left to seek his fortune, his fortune came here seeking him. He had won the lottery jackpot! He is the wealthiest man in Poverty now.’

Roland discovered that a fiancée is much more fun than a sister, so he took their relationship to the next level and married her. He gave her a pair of designer knickers for a wedding present. I like leaving my wife panting and breathless, but I won’t have her running around breathing and pantless!

They lived happily ever after.

Aw!!

END



© Copyright 2017 Joe Stuart. All rights reserved.

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