Once, a very long time ago, an adventurer became a problem for the King of Smaragdine. Something to do with the kingâ€™s daughter. Something to do with the kingâ€™s daughter and wine and a dance hall. So the king decreed that this adventurer should be sent â€œon a long quest for the good of the Green.â€ The quest? To find the lost Tablet and bring it back to Smaragdine. The Tablet was in Siberia or Palestine or somewhere in South America or even possibly on the Moon, depending on oneâ€™s interpretation of the writings. Regardless, this fit the very definition of â€œa long quest.â€ Unfortunately for the adventurer, he had earned the nickname of â€œVignetteâ€ because his adventures, although intense and satisfying in the retelling, were always short and occurred in and around the city.
Vignette wasnâ€™t very happy about the kingâ€™s decision, but a long quest was better than immediate death, so off he went. Through Samarkand and East Asia he traveled; up into Siberia and around Lake Baikal; down to Mongolia; across China to Japan; by sailing ship to India; a brief stop in North Africa; up into the Mediterranean; over to Greenland; doubling back to England; braving the trip to the New World for several storm-tossed months; finding nothing there and sailing briefly down to South America.
He talked to everyone he could findâ€”Arabs, Jews, Christians, Bantus, Moslems. Holy men and beggars. Merchants and royalty. Over time, his body grew lean and weathered but strong. His eyes narrowed against the sun and yet he saw more clearly. Fighting brigands in the steppes. Running from Indians with blow darts in the Amazon.
If only they could see â€œVignetteâ€ now, he thought as he pulled an arrow from his shoulder and prepared a charge with Sudanese warriors against the fortifications of some other tribe. Climbing a mountain in the Himalayas, eyelashes clotted with frost, an avalanche crushed over them in a blink and as he dug himself out, he thought, Iâ€™ll show you the good of the Green.
After a time, though, it really didnâ€™t matter to him if he ever found the Tabletâ€”in fact, he no longer believed in its existence. He was homesick for Smaragdine and his friends there. So one day he began to head back, slowly. Some months later, he was close enough that all he had to do was cross the river by ferry and the walls shimmering in the distance would be real once more.
But he wasnâ€™t a fool. Heâ€™d brought three miraculous things with him, in a chest banded with gold: an ancient book from Siberia made of broad, thick leaves, written in a secret language none alive knew; a healing tincture from the Yucatan that smelled like honey suckle and chocolate; and a shiny green stone that tribesmen in the Amazon had told him was a godâ€™s eyeball that had fallen from the sky one night. At least he wasnâ€™t returning empty handed. With any luck the king would reward his efforts, or at least forgive his trespasses.
Word must have spread about his return, for a royal pavilion awaited him on the far side of the river.
But it was not the king who greeted him there. Instead, it was a woman and her retinue. At first he did not recognize her. Then he realized it was the Kingâ€™s daughter, five years older. She had wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. She had let her hair grow long. It hung free to her shoulders, framing a face that seemed too wistful, too sad, for one still so young.
â€œWhere is the king?â€ he asked.
â€œHe died a year ago,â€ she said, and he could feel her gaze upon him, lingering over every scar and bruise on his stubbled face. â€œI rule Smaragdine now.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t find the Tablet, but I brought back a chest of treasures,â€ he said. It was somewhere behind him, but he couldnâ€™t stop looking at her.
â€œI donâ€™t give a damn about any of that,â€ she said, and leaned up and kissed him on the lips.