Editor’s Note: In case you missed it, here’s a link to episodes one and two of Jeromer Romery’s adventures.
Today’s tale represents the third episode we are having.
Something: The Irreplaceable Saddlepal of Jeromer Romery
by S. D. Smith, illustrated by Joe Sutphin
Jeromer Romery had been given Everything. To that was added Nothing and he believed he now had more than his share of gifts for one lifetime. But something had still been missing. He had still felt alone. It was the loneliness he felt from being by himself in isolation and without companionship and without any single someone other than his lonely self. But now, something was beginning to have become different.
His hand burned, as did his heart. He had been branded in friendship with Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed, wizard seer and, now, friend and fellow quester. What was their quest? Good question. It was a quest to find a quest. It was The Quest Quest.
“Where to now?” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed asked, as they strolled through the charred ruins of the former sentinel station. The sentinels had run off into the woods.
“Why do you ask me?” Jeromer asked.
“Listen, Jeromer,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said. “I’m your friend, but this is your quest.”
“It’s our quest.”
“OK, it’s ours,” the young, one-eyed wizard said. “But I’m fine with you taking the lead. I’m here to help you and be a friend to you. You lead.”
Jeromer shook his head. He had never been a leader. An accidental hero? Yes, a couple of times. A clumsy hugger? Yes, he had tackled his Grandma on numerous occasions. A whimsical muser? Yes, he dreamily supposed that might be so. But a leader? Him? OK, he might as well try.
“But we’re equals,” he said, making his hand flat for some reason.
“Oh, you’re not my equal, Jeromer,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said gently. “I just blew up a sentinel station by blasting fireballs out of my hands.”
“OK, not equals, right,” Jeromer said. “But I am…?”
“The leader,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said firmly.
“If you say so,” Jeromer said.
“Well,” Jeromer said, “when the Wise-Eyed insists, I can’t resist.”
They walked on in silence for a few steps.
“That was a little bit of poetry there,” Jeromer said.
“I’m not so sure.”
“Well, it rhymed.”
“I suppose it did,” Josiaclops said.
“And there was a little bit of a play on the word I, did you notice?” Jeromer said, his eyebrows raised hopefully. “You know, eye and I. Did you see what I did there?”
“I noticed, but you know, wordplay like that gets old pretty fast,” Josiaclops said. He seemed on the verge of tsk-tsking Jeromer, but held it back. “I find that kind of humor to be on the juvenile side.”
“Well, as long as I’m leader,” Jeromer said peevishly, “I declare it to be the finest form of humor available to mankind.”
And, of course, it is. Josiaclops said something smart and condescending, but who cares what he said, let’s get on with the story.
They walked on, through a storm, into the golden sunlight beyond. The road stretched on before them like an elastic road, but much more stony. They talked and talked, and Jeromer steered clear of poetry.
Massive Lake, around which the road wound like a winding avenue of paths, was off to their left. They chucked stones at it on occasion, seeing who could land one inside with a satisfying ploosh. But this got old as soon as Jeromer discovered that Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed was using magic heat to increase the distance of his rock flings. They sizzled as they entered Massive Lake. That was Jeromer’s first clue.
“It’s not exactly cheating,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said. “I mean, if you’re stronger than me, does that mean you’re cheating?”
“But magic is different; everyone knows that,” Jeromer insisted.
“If you insist,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said.
This went on for an unbelievably long time. Imagine ten more pages of this, then triple that, subtracting two. It did pass the time and they got further and further down the road. Incidentally, unknown to them, the same thing had happened four-hundred years earlier between two suitors for King Gullybottom’s daughter, Princess Peen. The king was so angry when he heard about the two idiots saying “Fine” back and forth for miles and miles that he decreed a tremendous penalty for anyone caught saying “Fine” even once on that road. Right now, Jeromer Romery and Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed were legally in debt more than the combined fortunes of the Seven Fat Kings of the Ubergolden Hills. Still they went on, heedless of the ancient law, thumbing their noses at the inestimable cost of the Fine Fine.
“Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed,” said Jeromer, finally. “I can’t remember why we’re fighting.”
“Yeah, probably so,” Jeromer said, nodding his head and looking around. “We’ve got to be careful.”
Just then, suddenly out of somewhere, there came an unsettling silence. “What was that?” Jeromer asked.
“Nothing?” Josiahclops the Wise-Eyed said.
“Nope, I’ve got it right here,” Jeromer said, patting his back, where hung his invisible shield, Nothing.
“It sure sounded like nothing,” the young wizard said.
“That’s what feels so wrong.”
“You got Everything ready?”
“Sure,” he said, fingering the hilt of his sword, even though it was pointless.
They rounded a curve in the road and the road disappeared into a cave that appeared to cut through the bottom-middle of a mountain.
“Hello Mountain,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said.
“Well, don’t you just have the best of manners?” Jeromer said. “Hello, mountain,” he said, tipping his invisible, non-existent hat toward the gaping maw that opened before them like a gaping maw of something.
“No, Jeromer. The mountain is called ‘Hello Mountain.’ It’s called that because of the way it surprises you when you come around the corner. As in ‘Hello! There’s a mountain here.’”
“I see. Speaking of manners, how do we say ‘Goodbye’ to this place? I don’t want to go through that creepy cave.” An enormous bat flew out of the cave like a bat out of Hello Mountain.
“I see what you mean,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said. “It is riddled among the riddlers that passing over the mountain is longer, harder, scarier, and an even more dangerous journey than the Cave of Death and Misery.”
“The Cave of Death and Misery?” Jeromer asked. “It’s really called that?”
“That’s the shortened version. In the original Grapish it’s far more terrifying.”
“Grapish? This isn’t Grape land is it?” Jeromer asked, frightened by the fear of how scary it was.
“We’re getting close. If we can get through the cave, or over the mountain, then we’ll be in Grapish territory. So it’s out of the frying pot and…”
“…into the booger shaft,” Jeromer finished. “What a cucumber we’ve got ourselves into, friend.”
Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed looked mystified, but he nodded politely. They stared at the Cave of Death and Misery for a few long minutes, each lasting approximately 60 seconds.
“This requires wisdom,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said.
“You take this one, okay?” Jeromer said.
“But…” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said.
“Nope,” Jeromer cut in. “That’s my decision as leader. I’ll go with you over, through, and into any danger. But you must decide the right course. I will lead us wherever you decide. That’s what wizard guides do. They guide. Wisely. Name’s a total giveaway. You, my friend, must guide us into Death and Misery, or over it, or find another way.”
Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed nodded gravely, thinking about graves, and knelt to meditate. Jeromer sauntered off, admiring the foliage, as his friend assumed a meditative posture. This lasted several annoying hours, during which Jeromer became severely irritated and profoundly itchy. Poison ivy had tickled a hole in his stocking while his mind was absorbed in the trees above. The brain-absorbing tree was only one of the mind-sucking attractions of this small valley roadway.
“I have decided.” The wizard seer said after his long meditation. He stood slowly and pointed at the cave.
“Terrific,” Jeromer said, scratching his leg and hobbling over. “What’s it going to be?”
“For us, I choose Death and Misery,” he said bombastically, like a bomb blasting a giant piece of cauliflower.
“Nice,” Jeromer said, spitting on the road and drawing Everything from its sheath. “Let’s get our Death and Misery on.”
Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed nodded gravely, still thinking about graves, and walked beside his companion. Just as they neared the entrance to the cave, the mountain rumbled, the ground moved, the trees wobbled, the leaves rattled, the rocks slid, the earth shook and an enormous earthquake ravaged the countryside with its enormous ravages. The mountain spilled its contents into the little valley and the cave collapsed on itself like a bombed-out cauliflower mine. They didn’t wait. They ran away.
As the dust settled, they gasped and wiped their faces, bathing them in Massive Lake. It was several minutes before either of them spoke.
“If we had…” Jeromer began.
“I know, I know. It was…” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed interrupted dourly.
“…amazing,” Jeromer went on. “If we had gone up the mountain, we would have been killed by the sliding and crashing and the all-around cataclysmic tumult.”
“What?” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said. “I nearly got us killed!”
“I know,” Jeromer said. “Thank you.”
“Thank me? What’s wrong with you, Jeromer? Did one of those stones hit you on the head?”
“Well, yes,” Jeromer said, rubbing his head. “A few may have. But the point, my dear friend, is this. You nearly got us killed. Nearly! We’re alive. If you had taken even a few seconds fewer in making your decision, we would have definitely been killed. If you had chosen the mountain, we would have been killed. There were no other options! You saved us.”
“You saved us,” Jeromer repeated, shaking hands with his partner. “I owe you, buddy.”
Josiaclops shook his head, then started laughing.
A few minutes later they were climbing over the rubble and making their way over the mountain. They passed the dead bodies of scores of hideous monsters as they walked.
“Oooh,’ Jeromer said, pointing to a long, strong, scaly, many-toothed gorilla. “Imagine if we had to fight that one.”
“Or that one,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said, pointing to a deceased creature that appeared to be the size of a large house and was covered from head to toe with porcupine-like barbs of some kind of metal. These creatures were everywhere, and all of them were dead. All were rare, amazing, terrific, and entirely deceased. It was wonderful.
“I’m so glad we came this way after everything collapsed,” Jeromer said, “the mountainside was ruined, and all these rare monsters were killed. We would have been eaten in gulps.”
They argued a little bit about whether this or that creature would have eaten them in gulps, or after a good chew. They almost descended into another “Fine” battle, but they were too happy to be petty. They made it over the mountain in the late afternoon, finding the road once again and breathing a sigh of relief. But it wasn’t to last.
“We’re in the Fiefdom of the Dreaded Grapes,” Josiaclops said, slowing down.
“The Grapes. How terrific. I was so relived about not being gulped or chewed, or killed in a landslide, or in the Cave of Death and Misery, that I had forgotten.” Jeromer said, going a little paler than the near-transparent white he always was. “Are they really as evil as we all truly know they must be?”
“Eviler, I assume,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyes said. “Group biases tend to be, if anything, under-exaggerated.”
“You are so wise.”
“We know almost nothing about them except what we tell each other,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said, gravely, thinking of grapes. “But most of that paints a pretty bad picture.”
“Why are they called the Grapes?” Jeromer asked, slowing down and almost reaching out for his friend.
“You mean, other than the fact that they paint their heads purple?”
“Yeah, other than that.”
“They say they once said that people used to say they were once part of the Kingdom of Shatterdawn,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said. “But those who know things say that those sayings are not right. The truth is that some others say that among the wise they are well-known for treachery, horrible acts, and vegetarianism.”
Jeromer gasped. “They eat their own…vegetables?”
“And nothing else.”
“Not a bleating speck.”
“Not a drop of beef.”
“Listen, Jeromer,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said. “They only eat vegetables.”
“Right. Right. Cool, cool,” Jeromer said coolly and rightly. But he felt a prodding of his gag reflex so profound that it reminded him of eating peas once. “I would miss chicken.”
“Me too,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said, shuddering.
“Let’s just hope we never fall into their hands,” Jeromer said.
Just then, from out of the bushes, nothing at all popped. Hands from the shadows did not lay hold of them. A hail of arrows from the treetops did not descend on them like a plague of arrow-shaped birds with a brain just big enough to think about killing them. None of those things didn’t not happen. Sometimes it’s just as important what doesn’t happen in a story. The point is, if I may, that nothing was going on. They kept walking, but did it very slowly.
Suddenly, the sun began to slowly descend in some freakish game of hide and seek. The land darkened like the face of an angry god about to go hunting for people to munch on while he watched the big game.
“The Grapes always come out at night,” Josiaclops warned, “except for the ones on day-shift.”
“They’re probably in those woods right there,” Jeromer said, “those dark, dark woods, eating vegetables with tomato juice surging over their beards like savages.”
“Great, now I’m having nightmares for sure,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said. “That is, if we decide to sleep here tonight.”
They looked at each other and shook their heads. No way, they seemed to say, and also, Are you kidding me?
They proceeded slowly all night, like people not going fast, and by dawn had nearly made it past the lands of the Grapes.
“When we will be beyond their border?” Jeromer asked.
“See that standing stone about twenty yards ahead?”
“That’s the border,” Josiaclops said, panting. “We’ll be beyond the land of Grapes when we reach that.”
Then they reached it. They sighed. They nearly collapsed from hunger and fatigue. They laughed. They embraced.
“My friend,” Jeromer said, “I don’t know where I’d be without you. You are indispensable to me.”
“And you to me, Jeromer,” Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed said, resting by the roadside.
Jeromer smiled at his friend, then looked down the road. The road wound on and on around Massive Lake. Later on it would, or so legend said, veer off into unknown lands, where people had never heard of Massive Lake at all. He shook his head. Imagine that, people without a lake. He couldn’t imagine it, but he could imagine what it was like to be friendless.
That had been his life. Now he had something. He had someone. He had a friend. He thought of the poets who sang about friendship and believed it possible he might find them fractionally less irritating in future. Friendship was something, something he had longed for. He had it now. Had it and would fight like Hello Mountain to keep it. It would take a several-species-destroying earthquake or worse to separate them. They would stick together through whatever came.
Jeromer turned around. Josiaclops the Wise-Eyed was gone. A dust cloud stirred in the shafts of light breaking through the trees in the morning sun.
The young wizard had vanished.