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Quest Rest

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently alternating between the UK and Madrid. Links to other things with his name at the end can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.

The inn sat at the edge of a forest on one side, an ocean another, mountains the third. The road that led you there, that ended at its door, rode through--on the whole--pleasant countryside, habitable land.
Poll stirred the stew set before him, whilst a mental spoon stirred the thought stew between his ears.
He wasn't alone in the inn. Aside from those that worked here, there were a good dozen more travelers, all enjoying a final night of warm bed, warm food, warm conversation, before setting out on their chosen quest. He wondered if any others were in search of Fyrrid's Magical Pebble and felt his emotions divide between the need to be cautious of a competitor, and the enticing possibility of company for the long journey that awaited him.
"You want me to warm it up for you?" the woman wiping down tables beside him asked. He blushed at the offer. "The stew," she added helpfully.
"Oh.... No. I--" He cleared his throat. "Sorry. This is my first quest."
"I'd never have guessed," she said.
The inn known as The Quest's Rest was here because all quests started here, and only those embarking on one would ever require its hospitality.
"I... er... any advice for a novice?"
"That depends...."
"On what?"
"On how disposed you are to hear it."
He smiled. "Advice is always useful."
She shook her head at that. "Not all advice is good advice."
"No? Such as?"
"Such as the advice someone gave you to embark on a quest?"
Given the place she worked, the clientele she depended on, the comment was both unexpected and a tad hypocritical.
"When I find the Pebble, I'll become a different man than the frightened novice you see before you!"
She sighed.
"No, you won't." She pointed towards the kitchen, the cook visible through the open hatch. "Lance Bidor--finder of the Sacred Scroll of Kap." Then to the man tending the bar. "Grandid--Chalice of Fallom." Then to the meaty bouncer standing inside the door. "Rachel--Shield of Silence." Lastly she touched her own chest. "And I spent two years searching for the Glowing Dragon."
"And you found it?"
"Found it, bound it, drowned it," she said.
"But you've all been on quests? All succeeded?" She nodded. "Then what are you all doing here?"
"Because we all discovered the same thing. It's not about finding the object--it's about who you are when you find it."
"I was told something similar," Poll said.
"I doubt it."
"That it's not the object but the trials of trying to find it that make you."
She thumbed over her shoulder. "There's a mouse, keeps getting into our larder. Catch it, snatch it, dispatch it. God knows, I've tried. You don't even have to leave this inn."
"You're making fun of me."
"Am I?" she asked. "I'm not the one suggesting you spend a year or more of your life wandering inhospitable lands searching for something those who apparently need it didn't deem necessary to seek out for themselves."
"I have my own reasons for going...."
"Months traveling all by yourself isn't a recipe for improving your social skills and learning how to fit in, Pebble-seeker."
He blushed at the accuracy of her assessment.
"You'll be the same man when you find it as you are now. Or one driven mad by isolation."
"Embarking on this quest will tell me who I am."
"It's already telling me plenty about who you are," she said.
The insult hardened him inside and she, in turn, softened: "Look. Every hero's journey isn't decided by the hero but by those he meets along the way." She leaned in closer. "And, Pebble-seeker, once you step outside that door, you don't even get to decide who those people are." She straightened up, shrugged. "If you make it back, cook needs a dishwasher, that's all I'm saying."
She moved away, wiping down more tables, unhurried and unworried. Poll watched her, wanting to pity her for how her life had turned out and, instead, only resenting the fact she seemed utterly untroubled and at peace with herself.
Maybe a quest wasn't about finding something, but losing something along the way.
He hoped.
He returned his attention to the bowl.
And if that didn't work, there was always a position at The Quest's Rest.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

Author Comments

Fiction loves the trope of the lone traveler. Jack Reacher, The Man with No Name, Kwai Chang Caine, Bruce Banner, John Rambo,.... Leaving the other "similarities" in their character profiles aside, maybe it's no coincidence that all of the foregoing resolved their challenges with sudden bursts of extreme violence. Granted, loneliness doesn't necessarily lead to violence--but neither is it character building. "Quest Rest" is not the subtlest relating of a "life lesson," I admit, but I do wonder (and worry) at Aragorn's story if the Hobbits hadn't come along when they did.

- jez patterson
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