“The problem with Bruges,” Matticus stated as he trudged beside Revis, “is that it’s impossible to find.”
“Well, that and the place is boring as hell,” Revis retorted with a scowl.
“That’s the whole problem. Because it is boring no one ever goes there. Because no one ever goes there is no need for proper signs. Because there are no proper signs it is impossible to find!”
The frown on Matticus’ face matched his companions. Needing a break, unaccostomed to carrying the extra weight of the armor and a sword, the jester king leaned up against a tree. It was a tree he recognized very well because he had seen it three times before.
“We are going in circles.”
Revis stopped and faced his leige, and took a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow. The heat of the day and the miles were beginning to take a toil on even his well conditioned body. His eyes swept beyond Matticus to the trail they had been following. He peered down it intently and then turned to face the direction they had been headed.
“And what are we going to do to rectify that situation?”
Suddenly, Revis cried, “Down,” as he tugged on the front of Matticus’ armor. Looking up, he saw an arrow lodged in the tree he had just been leaning against. Had Revis not pulled him, the arrow would’ve hit him in the chest. He crawled around to the back of the tree, putting it between himself and his attacker. Unsheathing his sword, he peeked around the edge.
Whoever shot the arrow was adept at hiding, because he didn’t see them. He also didn’t see Revis. That didn’t surprise him, however, as Revis was a master at blending in to the background. Turning to peer around the other side of the tree, he was shocked to find himself staring down another arrow. This time, it hadn’t left the crossbow yet. Seeing who wielded the crossbow was another shock. It was one of the “sparkly” vampires.
Even after looking closely, Matticus couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. It seemed to be both, although its mannerisms favored the feminine side. For just a second, he thought about asking it whether it was male or female, but it interrupted his train of thought. “Where is the other one,” it asked.
“Right behind you,” Revis said, as he plunged his dagger into the back of its skull.
Revis withdrew his dagger and Matticus scrambled out of the way as the body slumped forward.
“Take it’s head!”
“It’s not dead?”
The vampire was already beginning to stir from the awkward angle it had come to rest leaning head down against the tree. It’s neck presented an easy target and Matticus didn’t hesitate any longer. With all his strength he hefted his sword and sliced downward. Even then he was almost too late. The vampire had recovered quickly and an instant later it would have been able to turn and resume its attack.
The head thumped softly at Matticus’ feet and he kicked it away. A look of disgust full across his face. He cleaned his blade in a nearby patch of grass and sheathed the sword. Turning to face his knight, he considered saying “thank you” for saving his life, but dismissed that bit of nostalgia. It was Revis’ job to save his life.
“So, that’s a sparkly vampire?”
“Okay. That’s fun. And how many of them are there?”
“I don’t really know. There numbers seem to be growing uncontrollably, especially among young men and women.”
“No, not really, and we are still lost.”
After sitting down to grab a bite to eat, and discuss a new plan of action, the duo took off in the opposite direction that they had been going in. This path was more overgrown than the last one, but it was something different. Two hours in, they came across the Golden Sea. Their moods improved immediately, as now they should be able to follow the coast to Bruges.
That plan soon proved to be impossible when they ran into a cliff that rose hundreds of feet into the air. Without any climbing gear, they couldn’t scale the cliff. Swimming around it was out of the question, as well, because their armor and weapons would weigh them down too much. It seemed like their only option was to follow the cliff inland and hope to find some place to cross. Matticus, sighing at the prospect of a lot more walking, caught movement out of the corner of his eye.
Out in the water, perched on one of the rocks, sat a beautiful woman. She had large dark, almost black, eyes, long golden hair, and a shiny gold tail. Wait, Matticus thought, a tail? “Hello,” she shouted, to be heard over the waves. “My name is Goldfish. Who are you two?”
“It’s the lady of the lake,” Matticus stammered under his breath.
Revis raised an eyebrow, “What?”
“Nevermind.” Addressing the mermaid, “I am Matticus, the Royal Jester of the nearby kingdom, and this is Revis, my First Knight.”
Goldfish studied the questing companions for a moment, then smiled and slipped gracefully into the water. Her long tail powered her forward, Matticus and Revis stood in awe, mesmerized by a sight neither had seen before, and the beautiful creature came closer to shore. She emerged from the surf, pushing her upper body out of the sand with graceful, and strong, arms. She cupped her two hands under her chin and tilted her head over so slightly to the right. The tide ebbed and flowed around her but she payed it no mind.
“Are you lost? No one ever finds their way to my beach on purpose. You have to forget where you are to make your way here.” Her voice was like music.
Not wanting to disclose too much information about their quest, not sure if the mermaid could be trusted, Revis and Matticus exchanged a quick glance to make sure they were on the same page. They would tell her they were trying to find Bruges but wouldn’t say more than that. For all they knew, Goldfish could have been an agent of the sparkly vampires.
“Do you happen to know the way to Bruges?”
“Of course, I do. It’s the closest city for you surface-dwellers.”
“Great. Can you tell us how to get there?”
“Sure. If you follow the cliff inland for half a day, you’ll come across a road. The road will lead you over the cliff and straight to Bruges.”
The duo thanked Goldfish and turned to walk away. Before leaving the beach, Revis could’ve sworn he heard the mermaid call him something derogatory (something about a female cleansing utensil), but, since they were hot and tired, he attributed it to his mind playing tricks on him. Matticus and Revis followed her directions for the rest of the day. They didn’t find the road, so they stopped to sleep. Thinking that maybe they hadn’t gone far enough, they spent most of the next day looking for the road some more. When they still didn’t find it, Revis looked at Matticus. “I think we need to pay that friendly mermaid another visit.”