This being my entry for the milestones blogfest. It's one of the more traditional heroic milestones, even if this doesn't work out quite as planned.
Norman’s muscles bulged, or at least creaked ominously, his fingers fighting for purchase on the hilt of the sword, his feet jammed against the stone below it. He paused, swore, and then took out an inhaler from the pack slung across his back. He stepped back, stared at the stone, and reached into the pack again.
A few seconds of work later, and he held the sword aloft. It caught a shaft of light perfectly, sparkling in the early morning sun.
A rather elderly figure hobbled forward at speed, leaning on a gnarled staff. He wore an ancient robe that Norman fancied was worked with mystic symbols.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the old man demanded. ‘I was in the bath!’
‘I have drawn the sword from the stone,’ Norman said. It sounded more impressive in his head.
‘I can see that. Set all the alarms off too. This thing is supposed to be locked down tight until tomorrow. Bugger off, you.’
‘But I’ve drawn the sword from the stone!’ Norman repeated. ‘I’m the rightful king!’
The old man looked Norman up and down. Or at least, given that Norman was five foot two, down and further down. ‘No you’re not.’
‘The rightful king is a stroppy great bloke called… hang on, I’ve got it written down somewhere… begins with A. Oh, forget it. Anyway, you’re not him.’
Norman put his hands on his hips and attempted to look the other man in the eye. After a moment’s thought, he stood on the rock to do it.
‘That’s not how this works. You don’t know in advance who’s going to pull the sword out.’
‘Of course I do. I’m a powerful seer and wizard, I am. Also,’ the alleged wizard added, ‘he’s not coming by until a little after ten tomorrow, so you can’t be him.’
That didn’t strike Norman as particularly fair, but he didn’t get much chance to say so. The wizard was too busy trying to put the sword back into the little groove it had left in the rock.
‘Honestly, I’ll have to glue it now. And it’s not even as though super glue works. You have to use the builders’ stuff. Have you ever stayed up three hours with your thumb on the pommel of a sword while the glue sets?’
‘Look,’ Norman said, ‘I know how this works. “Whosoever pulls the sword from the stone shall be the rightful king,” the legends say. Whosoever. Not some bloke you’ve picked in advance.’
The wizard shrugged. ‘Well… whosoever is a difficult word, isn’t it? And not just with the things chronicles do with the spellings these days. I mean yes, technically whosoever is right. It’s just that… well, it has to be the right whosoever.’
‘So all this is a fix?’ Norman demanded. This was just typical. Like that thing with the screaming stone in Ireland. Apparently, it only counted if the stone screamed when you stepped on it, not if you just happened to stub your toe…
‘If you want to look at it like that,’ the wizard replied. ‘I mean, it’s not like I’m about to go to the trouble of shoving three foot of steel into granite for just anybody, is it?’
‘Why can’t I be the rightful king? I think I’d make a very good rightful king.’
The wizard appeared to give this some thought.
‘Three reasons. First, you aren’t the right bloke, he’s tougher than you, and you’ll only get your head cut off if you try.’
‘Second, I can see that bottle of WD40, you know. Oiling the stone is cheating.’
‘Um…’ Norman hurriedly returned the bottle to his pack.
‘And third… blokes wandering around with swords almost as big as they are is fine, as far as it goes. Perfectly acceptable part of the fantasy landscape, that is. The thing is, generally the swords are almost as big as they are because they’re bloody great two handed things, not because the bloke in question wouldn’t get onto most of the rides at a funfair. It just wouldn’t scan.’
Norman sighed. There hardly seemed to be much point in arguing.
‘Look, just go away,’ the wizard said. ‘Fair play to you for inventiveness, but some of us have a job to do. More of a job now. And I've got to set up some sort of quest thing. Honestly... all I ever wanted from life was a chance to settle down and look after my garden, but do I get chance? They delivered a rockery last week, and... well, let's just say that someone wasn't reading the scale properly, but have I had chance to sort it with all this going on? Have I heck as like. So the last thing I need is some twerp adding to my problems.’
Norman hung his head and skulked off. Well, that hadn’t gone as well as he hoped. That was the problem with these heroic milestones. For some reason, people always seemed to demand heroes. Still…
Norman rooted through his backpack, drawing out a couple of faded maps with big Xs drawn in blood, a scroll labelled “to finde thee rightful kinge”, and a ring with some writing on the inside. The ring next, he thought. He had a good feeling about the ring.