The Hero's Quest

For a dear friend, for Christmas.

The hero had a name, once. He quickly forgot it.

He woke in a field, head and heart and lungs heavy with the scent of flowers, of every kind of flower that grows in full sun. Petals pursed like lips to greet him, their whispered welcome bidding him tread softly. And so he took off his boots, savored one last tinkling of the bells threaded through the laces before he dropped them on the ground. He had loved that sound, once.

He quickly forgot it.

From the field into a wood he wandered and there the beasts spoke to him.

“A hero must have a quest,” said a buck, horns swinging with every word. “What is yours?”

“I don’t know,” the hero answered.

“A hero must seek knowledge,” murmured a hare, back paws pounding. “Where will you look?”

“I’m not sure,” the hero answered.

“A hero must be certain in all things,” a falcon cried, wings slicing the air as it alighted on a branch above. “How will you proceed?”

The hero didn’t say anything this time but studied his surroundings: the forest path beaten beneath his bare feet, the moss-furred trees, the little mushrooms that sprouted at their bases, red and white caps like heads nodding. He tried to remember how’d he come to be there, what he’d meant to do, but his mind felt only hours old. There was the field, the flowers. The smell of earth and the sound of bells.

And then there was something else, something hidden and nearly forgotten. There was a face and a pair of sparkling eyes beneath pitch-dark brows. There was a laugh like a bell but deeper, the kind of joy that stakes itself in the ground, a ward against sadness.

“I am going to find the princess,” the hero said, because every quest has a princess, he thought. She must belong to this one.

The buck and the hare and the falcon all inclined their heads toward him, and then as one looked down the forest path. They did not need to tell him the way would be hard. It was a quest. All ways are hard.

In the forest the hero encountered goblins and kobolds and trolls and orcs and spiders as large as three men. With the buck’s aid, he drew a sword from a boulder to slay them.

In the valley beyond he met with tricksters and thieves and liars and great temptation. With the help of the hare, he outsmarted them.

In the mountains at last he fought wights and ghosts and the shadows of all the things he feared the most. The falcon flew to him and cried courage from every peak, until at last the hero fell to his knees before the gates of a shimmering palace. The stones that made up its walls seemed in one light to be made of silver, another of gold or diamonds. The hero, weary from his trials, could only bow his sorry head when a pair of soft-booted feet approached. Gloved hands took his elbows and drew him up.

“I am glad you are here,” the princess said, eyes merry, teeth flashing. “I’ve been so bored and you look like you have a story to tell.”

The hero looked at the princess. He knew her and he didn’t know her. Her voice was familiar but her hair wasn’t right. If he closed his eyes he imagined the giddy shake of her head stirred feathers, not curls.

“I do,” the hero replied. “I do have a story.”

“Then come in and tell me,” said the princess, still smiling, still a little wrong. “We have plenty of time.”

The hero had a concept of time, once, of the brevity of his life and the rich joys he’d filled it with. He wanted to tell the princess of fires and songs and sweetness on the tongue. But this was a forgetting that had taken time. This forgetting was a quest.

So with their feet on cobbles radiant as pearls, her attentions and the thrill he felt with her hand in his, he forgot.

He forgot completely.