A Different Kind of Quest: Part Two
Madie finally roused herself from her seat on the shady ground of the grove, still feeling a bit of shock. Illusen, the Illusen, had given her advice, and she had admitted to making mistakes - and had urged Madie to make more! Of course it was infinitely better than what King Skarl had told her, which she had labeled as a load of rubbish and had refused to dwell on. Madie realized with a start that the sun was much lower in the sky now, and she hurriedly got to her feet. She wanted to make to it to Brightvale Castle to speak with King Hagan before too much of the day had gone.
Madie made her way to the edge of the forest and found the road out of Meridell again. She followed the road as it wound through the countryside, until she could see a tall wall of trees ahead. The road plowed on between them, and Madie followed it into the mottled shade of the high pines. Finally, when she felt her feet aching from exhaustion, she came to the other side of the trees. There, in a pleasant valley, sat Brightvale and its magnificent castle.
A sparkling river ran through the lush grass, and large old shade trees grew amidst blossoming flowers beside the stone buildings. In the distance, Brightvale Castle and its brilliant white turrets towered above the valley, as its rippling green flags played in the gentle breeze. Madie breathed a sigh of relief as she crossed a stone bridge over the river, smiling at a passing merchant.
The first stone building across the bridge was the Brightvale Fruit store. Although she had wanted to make good time, her poor feet felt as though they couldn’t carry her another step, and so Madie headed off the road to enjoy the shade of the fruit grove. Large trees bore scores of fruits, from large purple Purblares to bright blue Squibble Berries. She wandered in their midst before finding a suitable spot to settle down for a nap.
“Ouch!” Madie cried. She reached up to rub her sore head, and spotted the reason for her rude awakening - a Passionberry, a small green fruit with a notoriously hard shell.
Her eyes still watering, Madie got to her feet. The sun was nearing the horizon, and Madie realized she had wasted most of the afternoon. She hurried out of the fruit groves and back onto the main road. She walked briskly past the Motery, intent on reaching the castle before evening fell. However, as she made her way quickly past the Scrollery, Madie reluctantly slowed her pace.
The air was suddenly full of the most amazing aroma - an intoxicating mix of sweet fresh fruits and freshly picked flowers. Madie thought it was the best thing she had ever experienced, and would have been quite fine standing there forever. Luckily the gentle breeze stirred again, giving Madie a breath of fresh air. She came to her senses with a start, and realized in a moment of clarity that whoever was producing that smell had to be more knowledgeable than anyone she had ever met. She turned on the spot to discover the origin of the scent, and found herself facing the Royal Potionery.
Madie took a deep breath, and pushed open the door to the shop. A faint bell tinkled from somewhere in the depths of the shop, and thick plumes of colored smoke floated lazily toward the ceiling. A tiny chimney in the top of the roof let out the smoke in tiny streams, while more came to take its place from a room in the back of the store.
“Hello?” Madie called, as she examined some of the bottles that lined the many shelves. “I was just hoping to have a quick word -”
A white Cybunny emerged from the back of the store, his light blue cloak fluttering behind him.
“Welcome customer! How may I assist you on this fine day?”
“Well actually,” Madie began quickly, “I was hoping that you could give me some advice - some advice not really related to potions. Or maybe it is related to potions for you, because this is your job, but ...”
Madie fell silent at the disapproving look on the Cybunny’s face.
“I am very busy! Do you know how many potion orders I have to fill? If you need some advice, then you should ask for it quickly! I am very, very busy!”
Madie hesitated before making up her mind, and began talking as quickly as she could.
“Right, well I smelled some of the potions you were making and they smell really incredible so I thought you must be really good at your job! So I was hoping that you could give me some advice about finding a job I can be good at.”
The Cybunny stared at her for a rather long time before raising his eyebrows and giving her a very small smile.
“Ah, I see. Well, the only advice I can give you is to keep trying! For you see, if I have learned anything while being the Royal potion maker, it is that in any experiment, the negative results are at least as important as the successes.”
“Now,” he continued in a harsher tone, “if you’re not going to buy anything, I must insist that you get out so I can finish up on my latest potion!”
Madie thanked him hurriedly and hustled out of the shop. She walked down the road again, unaware of exactly where she was going, when she found herself at a sudden stop yet again. This time it was a sight rather than a smell that made her pause. She was standing in front of the Brightvale Glaziers, watching the setting sunlight reflect off of the brilliant patterned windows. This time she stopped only long enough to catch her breath before making up her mind and stepping inside the shop.
The Glaziers shop was larger than the Potionery. Several roaring fires burned along the walls, and the heavy thudding of metal echoed off of the high ceiling and stone floors. Windows of every shape and pattern lined the wall near the door, all carefully stacked on top of one another and painstakingly polished so that they glinted in the sunlight from the open door.
“Yes?” called a sodden Draik from his work at an anvil near one of the fires. He had paused with his hammer in midair as he glanced over at Madie.
“Hello! I was wondering if you could give me some advice?”
The Draik didn’t say anything, but he set down his hammer. Madie took this to be a good sign and continued.
“I was passing by here on my way to the castle when I saw your windows, and I am convinced that anyone who can make art that beautiful must love their job. I was hoping you could tell me how you knew that this is what you wanted to do?”
The Draik wiped the sweat from his forehead and paused for a minute.
“Who said this is what I love?” he said at last. “Maybe it’s just something I’m good at? Not everyone gets to do something they love; sometimes you just have to make do with what you can get.”
Without another word or glance in Madie’s direction, the Draik picked up the hammer again and resumed his work. Madie was shocked, but had the sense to back out of the shop quietly before she made him angry.
Feeling more determined than ever to get a straight answer from King Hagan at the castle, Madie made up her mind to head there with no more detours. As she approached the castle, she began to appreciate how different it was from the castle in Meridell. While King Skarl’s castle was built for defense, this castle was clearly a home meant to impress - instead of thick stone walls it had elegant white-washed ones, and rather than clunky towers it boasted thin twisting turrets.
At last Madie found herself at the gate, where a smiling guard waved her through. She had no trouble finding the King’s chamber, as it was in the very center of the castle, and several of the nobles scurrying about were happy to give her directions. The chamber was guarded by two large marble doors, and Madie pushed them open with a steadily increasing feeling of anticipation.
King Hagan sat on his large golden throne at one end of the large room, with a lush green carpet leading from the door to where he sat. For the moment he appeared lost in thought as he stared out one of the magnificent windows. However as soon as he heard the door creak open he glanced up.
“Welcome to my castle!” he said, his deep voice reverberating pleasantly throughout the room. “How can I be of assistance?”
Madie bowed low before speaking. “Your majesty, I have traveled a long way to seek your advice! I have asked the same of many whom I have met along the way, but I believe that yours will be the most valuable.”
King Hagan watched her for a moment. “Some may call me wise, and I am at least wise enough to know that there can be wisdom in the words of anyone. But that, I suppose, is not what you came to discuss, so please continue.”
Madie felt slightly humiliated, but she continued without pause. “Well, I was really hoping that you could give me some advice about jobs. I don’t know what to do, I can’t find anything I like, or even anything I am good at! I was really just hoping you could tell me anything you know about it.”
King Hagan nodded. “I understand that you have asked many others this same question, and I also gather that they have given you answers which you find to be unsatisfactory. I would tell you that this is probably because their advice was not meant for you.”
“Your Majesty, I’m afraid I don’t understand ...”
“You see, the words we speak to others often contain counsel we are trying to give ourselves. Think about what each person told you - who have you seen?”
“Well,” Madie began, still feeling a little confused, “I went to King Skarl first, and he told me that everyone has limits. Maybe... maybe he felt like he has limits? Maybe he was trying to explain why he feels like he is not always the best king?”
King Hagan nodded. “You could be right. Go on, who else?”
“Well, there was Illusen next,” she continued. “She told me that I should not be afraid to make mistakes, it is all for the greater good. So maybe she feels guilty about her feud with Jhudora and the trouble it may cause!”
King Hagan nodded again, this time with an encouraging smile.
“Then I went to the Royal Potionery, and he told me that negative results are just as important as positive ones in an experiment. He probably feels like he makes too many bad potions!” Madie took a breath; she was getting excited by her own good sense.
“Finally, before I came here, I stopped at the Glaziers... and well, that was obvious, he told me he didn’t like what he was doing at all, but he was making the best of it. So that doesn’t need any explaining.”
“Not from us, anyway,” King Hagan finished. “Now Madie, what do you think I’m going to ask you to do?”
Madie shrugged. “I’m afraid I don’t know, I’ve already told you everything I’ve done until now.”
King Hagan smiled again. “Madie, I think the best thing to do is to have you answer another question. What advice would you give to me?”
Madie was stunned - this was certainly not what she had expected. However she felt it would be rude not to answer, even though she felt very silly giving the King advice.
“Well, I suppose I would tell you that... I would tell you to...” Madie fumbled for words. “I think that I would say that you shouldn’t put much stake in what others tell you. I would say it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes as long as you keep trying.”
“A lovely summary of everything everyone has told you so far. But what would you really tell me? If I weren’t the king, if I were your friend asking for advice, what would you tell me?”
Madie paused for only a heartbeat. “I would tell you to quit thinking about things and to go out and do it. Just to go out and keep working. And I would probably tell you to stop being so darn corny.”
Madie found that she never could quite retell the story of her visit with King Hagan in a way that did it justice. When she published her first story, she read it over hundreds of times and replaced almost every word, but it still never felt quite right. All the same, her little book had sold very well.
“Apparently a lot of Neopets have the same questions I do!” Madie would say when she was trying to be modest. But she knew deep down that she had found something that she was really good at.
From the time she had written those last few pages, recounting the King’s thundering laughs at her final words, she had sold several other books. Her sister Nadia had encouraged her to try writing poetry, so she had tried that too. The final line of her bestselling poem had been painted onto a beautiful stained glass window - a gift from the Draik in the Brightvale Glaziers:
Because I am more than my virtues and strengths, ask me to show the mistakes I have made along with my success.
She tore herself away from the window’s beautiful colors, and reached down to pull open the book that King Hagan had given her as a present of admiration for her brazen final answer. It was an old book, but Madie understood its true value. Barely visible on the cover was the simple title: “What to do Once you Finish a Quest”.