Corbin collapsed outside the dragon’s lair, acrid smoke wafting from his armor. He was getting too old for this. He’d never asked to be the gods’ favored champion.
Sunlit forests spread out below him, a peaceful world unaware and unconcerned that he’d almost been eaten. Twice.
Corbin drew a shuddering breath and wrenched a dragon tooth from his armor. Yet another pointless quest completed. What the hell did the gods want with a dragon tooth anyway?
No more. Corbin was done.
A familiar high-pitched whistle made his jaw clench. A small iron-bound box streaked from heaven and half-buried itself beside him. Corbin growled. Couldn’t the gods just post a letter? Messenger by meteorite was so…overdramatic.
The box popped open, revealing all six inches of the fairy Elliott and his booming voice. “Corbin the Coward! You have found favor with the gods! They command–”
Corbin slammed the lid. “No!”
Elliott’s voice was only slightly muffled. “You can’t say no to a quest!”
The lid lifted and Elliott’s bright blue eyes peeked out. “Must we do this every time?”
“I’m done. Retired. Heading home to Caroline.”
“Just one more quest.”
“Twenty years you’ve fed me that line. No!”
Elliott looked abashed and crawled onto Corbin’s armored knee. His cherubic face held blatant hero worship. “But you’re the best!”
“Yet the gods dubbed me ‘Corbin the Coward.’”
“Their sense of humor is…quirky.” A laugh escaped Corbin and Elliott looked hopeful. “So, you’ll take the quest?”
Corbin quashed his humor. “No.”
“It’ll save the kingdom!”
“Heard that before.”
“There’s a beautiful princess.”
“I’m already married.”
“But…but…who will defeat the wizard Argenon? He kidnapped Princess Isabella for unspeakable experiments!”
Corbin’s eyes narrowed. His fingers drummed on his breastplate. “You do it.”
Elliott gulped. “Me? But I’m just a messenger. Dark wizards kill messengers!”
“You’ve followed me for years. Just do what I do.”
Elliott bit his lip and fluttered into the air, looking helpless. Corbin sighed. He needed to distract the gods’ fickle attention. He needed a proper champion.
What he had was Elliott.
Corbin sighed and stood, fighting his aching joints. He drew a small utility dagger. “Kneel!” he intoned.
Elliott looked unsure but landed and knelt.
Corbin tapped the fairy’s shoulders. “I dub thee Sir Elliott, Champion of the Gods.” He flipped the dagger, presenting the handle. “Happy questing!”
Elliott’s eyes widened and he took the dagger reverently. It made a perfect fairy broadsword. “You mean it? A real knighthood?” Corbin nodded and Elliott gave the dagger-broadsword a tentative swing. ”Okay. I’ll take the quest. But…come with me? Please?”
Corbin rumbled a sigh but nodded. “Fine, but as backup only.” He’d planned on coming anyway. His scheme wouldn’t work if Elliott died on his first quest.
They descended into the woods and Corbin provided a crash course on being a champion. “What does a questing hero need?” he asked.
“Humility, bravery, and noble birth.”
The first two were good, but noble birth? Where was that written? Corbin sucked his teeth then said, “You never told me you were noble.”
Elliott’s flight path drooped and his voice lowered. “The un-magical twelfth child of a minor Fae household, smallest of the brood. Everyone called me pipsqueak.”
Corbin nodded. A humbled noble. He could work with that. Elliott glanced up and Corbin resumed his scowl. “Champions aren’t judged by birth or gifts, but by what they do with the little they have. You’re a helluva messenger. Kept me in the field longer than I wanted. You’ll make a helluva champion.” Elliott perked up and flew straighter, chest out.
Several hours and a lifetime of advice later, they arrived outside Argenon’s crumbling keep. Overgrown vines gave it a menacing feel in the fading sunlight. Not a soul in sight. Corbin waved Elliott forward then crossed his arms.
The fairy brandished his dagger-broadsword. “Dark wizard Argenon, release Princess Isabella!”
Silence resounded before a high tower door crashed open. An old man with a pointed hat and impressive beard appeared between crenellations. “Get lost, pipsqueak!”
Elliott bridled. He streaked skyward and leveled his blade at Argenon, voice echoing off the walls.
“Beware the gods’ fury, worm! Heaven has warned you, hell follows after. Even I fear what comes next.”
Nice bluff. Corbin was impressed.
Argenon paled, bolted inside, and Princess Isabella was soon shoved out the keep’s heavy front door. The door slammed on her heels and she stalked forward, fists clenched.
“How dare you?” the princess yelled. “Argenon finally accepted me as his apprentice and you bumbling idiots scared him off!”
“Um–” Corbin said, but Elliott spoke over him.
“The gods heard your plea and sent us to rescue you from the dark wizard!”
The princess rolled her eyes when she reached them. Her dress and hands were grease-stained and the scent of sulfur wafted forward. “Argenon’s no dark wizard. He’s a brilliant scientist!”
Ah, science. Many feared this new magic based on nature instead of the gods’ favors. Corbin thought the idea sounded rather nice.
Elliott looked confused. “But the gods–”
“Were bribed with a sacrifice,” Isabella said. “My father just had to get his way. Drag me home. Oooh, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind!”
Isabella was interrupted by an iron-bound meteor that streaked from heaven. A fairy emerged, her voice booming at a slightly higher timbre than Elliott’s.
“Elliott the Eloquent, you have found favor with the gods! They command you to retrieve the Jewel of Agrippa from the evil djinn Daeva.”
The gods’ newest champion squeaked with excitement before covering his mouth.
Corbin scratched his chin. He’d never fought an evil djinn before. Perhaps…
He smiled at Elliott. “Good luck…champion. I’ll escort the princess home.”
And then right back here, he surmised from Isabella’s fiery expression. A quick little escort job, then he would go home to enjoy a quiet life with Caroline.
That would be his best quest ever. The last quest of Corbin the Coward.