Eleanor's Quest

June 30, 2008
In the age where trolls wandered loose on the mountains, where goblins and dwarves alike dwelled in the depths of the forest, there lived a young lady, sheltered from the horrors of her world by her overbearing parents. Yearning to prove herself to be courageous as her legendary role models whose tales of heroic quests are sung as ballads by the Troubadours in the courts, she resolved that the answer to her queries was to find a quest, not anything special like the knights on the search of the holy grail or the capturing of a great animal, just something to prove to herself that she isn’t as hopeless as she felt.

One day, along one of her nightly walks, she stumbled upon an old man with a queer looking staff, searching desperately for what seemed a perfect place to stash it. Upon seeing the old man in his distress, her kind and helpful nature overruled all the precautions her parents had drilled into her since she was their only child and the sole heir to the keep. She ventured forth to ask him, “Dear sir, how may I be of assistance? Your troubled expression worries me greatly and I would like to know what ails thee.” The old man, shocked as ever to be treated with such courtesy, stooped to formulate a plan to reward the young lady for her caring nature. His wise years and knowing twinkle in his eyes upon seeing her greatest wish comes to the conclusion that he will reward her of her heart’s desire.
“Worry not, fair lady for my troubles should not concern thee. I am but a poor, lonesome old man who was bestowed upon by the great wizard, Alkaban, a quest of sorts to seek a soul worthy of his staff and deliver it to its right master, the great wizard himself. Know you a capable soul, my lady?” he asked. “Nay, sir, it seems I can’t help you there. Though I have lived in these part for the past three and twenty years, I have always been forbidden to venture beyond the borders of the keep therefore, my chances of knowing such fine, honourable characters are slim.”, she answers, saddened by the fact that she can’t help the old man. “Hmm…” he signs, “that my lady is most unfortunate for I am at the ends of my patience and find myself in such a precarious position, the quest though simple it may be requires a certain time to complete and it seem I am running out of it.” Her curiosity getting the better of her, Eleanor of Alencon questions the aging man, “Sir, you mentioned it to be a simple quest, did you not? How simple should I ask, for I am partial to acquiesce to your requests, but tell me now, is it to be accomplished by one such as myself?”
The old man, grinning as ever, believing that he has found the perfect being to bequeath his precious quest nods and smiles encouragingly rushing on to give her the details before she has time to change her mind. “You must not speak a word of this to anyone, my lady for it would not do. You see there are many who seek the power the staff withholds and in the wrong hands, it can be lethal to us all. If you consent to this quest, you must be subtle in your approach, trust not everyone you meet on your journey. Your mission is simple. Now pay close attention, you are to take this staff to the great Wizard Alkaban. It is part of the maturing phases a wizard goes through, upon their 100th birthday, the year they become adults, they must go through a term of fasting. When fasting, a wizard would restrain from releasing their power which is a very painful interval since they have large, immense power and rely on their staffs to unleash the power soaring through them.”
“At precisely the stroke of midnight, you are to creep past the guards of the south exit doors of the keep. Again, it is important that no one must know of your departure. Keep to the river and do not stir off its course for the forest can be dangerous at night. Now I must leave you for I am needed elsewhere. It seems my quest here is complete, best of luck my fair lady.” And with that he vanished into a sudden mist leaving a quite baffled lady in his wake.
In a dazzled stride, she made it back to the keep where it seemed her absence for the first time was left unnoticed. Dinner was spent with Eleanor’s mind drifting off to the night to come where for the first time in her life, she would have her long awaited taste of freedom. When the last spoon of broth was tasted, she set off to pack all the essentials and stow it away in the secret compartment of her saddle. All set and ready to go, her timely appearance at the keep’s only study as she did every night, added the touches to her escape plan. Not mentioning a word to her maid as she dressed her for the night, it appeared that the lady had accepted the challenge and had made it her mission to see it through successfully. After all, it was what Eleanor craved, the chance to prove to herself to be the person she had always hoped to become.
Too anxious to sleep, she lay on her bed, waiting as patiently as ever for the opportune moment to steal off into the night. When the bustle of the keep eventually quieted, Eleanor crept off the bed, tip toeing through the hallways, and before she knew it, was on the back of her horse, galloping further and further away from the keep. Looking for the river she knew to be in the area, she let her horse guide her, the staff, held securely in her arms, heat radiating off of it warding away the night’s chill. Gathering the staff closer to her, keeping it hidden beneath her robes she felt the distinctive change in the atmosphere as a cold chill rushed up her spine. She was being watched. The enthusiasm she felt just moments ago drifted away with fear replacing its stead.
Hidden away in the darkest pits of the night, two malicious, calculatingly evil creatures, with the appearance of humans and the sharp, greedy instincts of goblins they stood, planning their ambush on the lady and her horse. They wanted the staff, the lure of its power, the greed churning within their very souls, beckoning them to the drowsy Eleanor. It would be just moments before they got close enough to play the song of the ancient kings, the song used to captivate their predators, hypnotize them, making them lose their ability to think straight, and then came the ambush. They could feel the chant, the magic that sucked out consciousness of poor Eleanor, submitting her to their control.
She woke up at jolt with an aching back and a thumping headache. Her wrists burned where the rope was tied tightly. It took but a moment to gather her wits, realizing that she was held captive by the strangest creatures she had ever laid eyes on. In a brief moment of panic, her thoughts flew to the safety of the staff before she recalled hiding it in her robes. She allowed herself to feel a moment of relief, without betraying her face of any emotion. Looking around, she tried to take in all her surroundings, she asked in a curious voice, still disoriented to no one in particular, “Where am I?” “Well, you are currently held captive by those foul creatures. From the likes of our surroundings, we are about four miles away from the river. You look hungry. Come on, I saved you some of this porridge I made. Don’t worry it is quite edible”, responded a strange, yet kind individual, half-man half-goat or in short the goat-man, surprising poor Eleanor again. “Thank you sir for your consideration but I regret I find it hard to eat when found in such circumstances. We have to get out of here. Give me but a moment to think.” They became good friends fast, united against their captor in formulating a plan of escape ever since. Between the two of them, they came up with a diversion, something to distract the guards while they escape from the temporary camps that the creatures set up.
Soon, an intriguing idea blossomed in Eleanor. In a burst of excitement, she exclaimed, “I have it sir! Someone told me that there is a great river in this region. Are you aware of its location? There must be a way to form a connection from the river to the camp.” Trying very hard to make sense of the plan yet failing miserably, the goat-man replied, “I believe the river to be off some thirty miles away but pray tell me, how can the river help us escape?” What had started, as a flicker of an idea became an outright plan. Continuing in a blaze of excitement she cried out, “Oh dear friend, I believe we are fortunate after all. We shall be spared. How fast could you dig with your horns to create a path from the river to the camp? Would two weeks be sufficient enough?” Still, very lost, he responds, “Yes, yes more than enough, but I still don’t see what can be the outcome of all of this.” With a relenting sigh of exaggerated exasperation, Eleanor told him the finer details of the plan, “Our only chance of escaping is for you to dig a passage from the river thirty miles away and allow the water to flow through it. If we can somehow flood the camp, the creatures will have their hands filled up with work to pay close attention to us and with the less attention, it gives us the ability to escape much faster and get as far away as possible.”
The plan proved to be a success. A week later, the entire camp was submerged and all the guards of the camp joined the others to help rescue the supplies. Seizing this as her chance, Eleanor bid her dear friend good- bye and set off in the opposite direction, going as fast as her steed possibly could to place enough distance between herself and the creatures. To her complete and utter amazement, she realized that the staff had extraordinary powers that added to the speed of her horse, making her gallop into the darkness break-neck speed, completely forgetting about the warning the old man issued about staying on the course of the river.
All in due time, her horse panting, exhausted beyond the limits, where every bone in her body ached and pained from the saddle, she soon realized the grave error she had just made. She was lost. It is just as plain and simple as that. With no survival skills of how to survive in the wilderness, she found herself wishing for the comfort of her bed and the taste of freshly baked bread and ale that was usually served for dinner. Instead she had to make do with a pile of dead grass as a makeshift bed where the dryness of the grass made her itch, killing her chances of falling off to a peaceful slumber. Waking up the next day, ravenous, dirty at best, her fortune rather improved and the situation got considerably brighter when with the help of agility and speed the staff provided, she caught a rabbit and ate her first wholesome meal, with the manners of a starving man not giving a care for propriety and decorum. It was the best meal she had ever tasted.
A full stomach and a long peaceful nap later, leaning against a tree trunk, she realized that there is only one river in the forest and all the animals needed water to survive so all she had to do was to find an animal and follow it to get to the river. Just as the solution to her dilemma popped into her head, a foe jumped over the ferns running as though it was heading for somewhere of great importance, without a thought, Eleanor was quick to follow. As she predicted, the deer came right up to the banks of the great river. She was finally back on track. Safe.
It was then that she noticed the markings of Alkaban as the staff was now vibrating in her hands. She felt it calling out for its master. She was close to completing her mission. Optimism soared through her as the staff led her to a secluded path. Trusting her instincts that yet to fail her, she finally got her first view of the white castle, energy coursed through her as the power of the staff, drew her and her mount to the great doors. With a burst of elation, the knocker beat against the oak and door swung open revealing sparkling marble flooring and a golden banister to which a staggeringly tall wizard with white hair and long silvery beard to boot, descend from grinning spreading waves of contentment through the air.
``Welcome my child to the castle of the great. I have been awaiting your timely arrival, ever since my old friend, Alakam informed us that you would be delivering my staff to me. We have much to speak of. But first, you must have some food and rest, a bath shall be set up for you. Eliza here, will see to your comforts. We shall be honoured to have you dine amongst us.”
Eleanor, feeling suddenly exhausted from her ordeals followed the charming maid to her bath feeling quite content with herself and an unexpected nervousness of what was to come.
By the time she bathed, had her hair done up and dressed in an exquisite gown of a midnight blue with gold embroidery that accentuated her red curls and her sweet strawberry lips. Eleanor’s maid announced that it was time to break fast. Gathering all her courage and poise drilled into her from a young age, she walked with a graceful stride through the endless passages and finally into the great hall where the wizards sat in row of elegant white tables. All conversation came to an end upon her timely arrival.
Sitting down, with a blink of an eye, servants of a magical sort served the crowd the mouth-watering dishes prepared by the best cooks of the century. Eleanor, still quite ravenous waited for the elder wizard to start the meal as was customary. As soon as the meal progressed and conversation stirred through the air, the scene reminded Eleanor of home at the great hall where Father and his knights dined. Her mind drifting of to the thought of home and all the things she realized she missed deeply, from the cute kittens in the barn to her parents who even with all their strict rules, loved her deeply.
Alkaban’s voice cut through all her thoughts, “We have to talk”, he said in that soft yet commanding tone he reserved for serious discussions, “Let me begin by telling you a secret that has been long kept from you. You are the long lost daughter of the most powerful wizard of all, Stanbald who is the previous owner of my staff, which is why the staff responds to you in a way that it isn’t supposed to respond to mortals.” “I am afraid sir, that you are sadly mistaken. The staff has no more responded to me than the food that we eat.”, exclaimed Eleanor in a aura of panic as she grasped false hopes anything to keep everything she had ever known from drifting away from her. In a calm, unhurried tone, Alkaban pushed his point further, “Remember when you are attack by the creatures, did you not feel that shiver your bone where you felt you had to hide the staff within the depths of your robe or when you ran away from imprisonment and the staff provided you the speed you needed to get away from them? The staff only responds to those with the blood of wizards in their core to others, it is just a stick, a limb of a tree. The magic, however, dwells in the splinters of the staff that is why it can be lethal if it falls into the wrong hands.” He let the weight of the matter sink in before he revealed the greatest matter at hand, “As to your reward for helping an old man out, it is customary for a wizard to give away one sole splint of his staff if such an occasion occurs. For the courage you have shown during your journey, the countless times where you strove to help others in their predicaments, as you did with the old man you barely even knew to the goat-man you befriended when all others of your station would have shunned him away, the wizard council has decided to bestow upon you the largest splint in the staff. Whether you choose to accept it is entirely up to you.”
Eleanor, feeling shocked to the core and suddenly wary of all the responsibilities she found placed on her, sipped her glass of wine and then made up her mind about what she wanted. “I have a few questions myself before I decide what it is that I want to do.”, she said and then questions, “First of all, will there be others who upon hearing of the splints existence will try to acquire its power?” “Yes, there will always be evil in the world I am afraid”, replied the wizard. “Then in that case, it seems that it would be better for the world if such power did not exist, wouldn’t you agree sir?”, Eleanor reasoned. The wizard, amused to think that this simple, plain or girl was nothing like she appeared to be, was intrigued enough to question, “And what are you suggesting, Eleanor of Alencon?” She answered with that roughish grin she adapted from her friend the goat-man, “I suggest that we burn the splint and destroy the power that dwells in it, it is the only way to gain some peace in life.” Chuckling in a hearty manner, Alkaban asked, “If you would not have the magic splint then what would you have for surely you deserve a gift for your considerations?” With a wistful sigh, Eleanor responded, “After wanting freedom all my life, I find that now that I have it, I want nothing better than to go back home to my bed where the sounds of the owls hooting will lull me back to sleep. I miss my parents, my maid, the smell and sounds of home that can’t be found elsewhere.” The wizard though sad to see her go gives her what she wants. With the swing of his staff, he sent her off to her home where the moon is still shining and her pillow awaiting her arrival.
She woke up the next morning, fit as a fiddle recalling her secret quest and happily set off to her chores that she had once dreaded and lived happily ever after.

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