Note: This post was originally published as an entry in The Friday Challenge. If you’re not a fan, you should be! For this particular challenge, the opening paragraphs were given, and the rest of the story was left up to the writers…
As Sir Epididymis squirmed on his rude straw bed and sought warmth in the tattered rags of his old saddle-blanket, he caught a glimpse of the rising harvest moon through the stable window, and once again the vision of that jaundiced, pock-marked orb reminded him of his lost love, fair Princess Gwenrowundelwynne, she of the twelve teeth. Oh, happy the legions of lice who dwelt in the forest of those greasy golden tresses!
His view of beautiful Luna was eclipsed by the short and stubby form of the farmer, who like many of the peasants in North Umborgringlugrand had the gift of understanding the language of the animals.
“Sorry, guv,” the farmer said, as he leaned in through the window. “I’ll ‘ave to ask you to move to the sty. The ‘orses are complainin’ about ‘ow you smell.”
“That’s quite all right, sir, I understand,” said Epid, as his friends called him. He had long ago given up on sleeping in fine taverns and comfortable beds. Normally he would have found a place to camp, but with the rains, it had been as muddy as a pig wallow and dangerous to travel any further.
An hour later, he took pity on the pigs, and let them out of the enclosure. One collapsed and refused to move, and was lying there still, breathing raggedly, when the farmer came to rouse him at dawn. Epid stood at the well, dumping bucket after bucket of cold water over his head. The muck of the sty came away on the third splash; the dirt of the road only took one more. The stench fought an epic defensive battle, and defeated twelve buckets of water.
Epid was shaking water out of his hair and face when the farmer left the pig to stagger back into the sty. “You said you were cursed,” he said. “I didn’t realize ‘ow badly. Poor Widlinn says she’ll be running in terror every time a bubble wells up in the mud of ‘er sty.”
“Aye,” the prince said. “Myself, my father the King, all of the royalty of the kingdom.” The farmer went to step away, but Epid continued speaking, and the farmer stayed out of courtesy, though it was a near thing. Dealing with pigs and cows since before he could walk gave him a certain…tolerance…but even that was being tested to the limits; his eyes were already beginning to burn, and he blinked a dozen times to clear them.
“Seven years ago, my father threw a great feast, and invited all of the noble families to attend. It was…it was our betrothal,” he said, with a quaver in his voice.
“An old woman came to the door, hungry and poor, but my father turned her away. And as she hobbled away, he laughed at her, and threw his bread at her, mocking her. All of the nobles laughed along with him.
“But she disappeared, in a great blast of lightning, and reappeared on the table. I could see the platter of venison between bony ankles splashed with mud and covered in blue and purple veins. She spoke with the shriek of a mad woman.
“‘You dare to mock ME, you besotted flatulent fool of a king? I have more power in a lock of my greasy hair than you have in your entire kingdom!’ She waved a bony claw at all the assembled nobles. ‘ALL of you, witless as a spoiled child, with no sense of what lies outside your own halls!'”
“‘Curse you, I do! I curse you all with all the ills of your people! Happy will they be, with the weight pulled from their shoulders and settled onto yours!’
“She vanished then, leaving behind naught but a green smoke that smelled of month-old eggs with cabbage. The wine had turned to vinegar and the cheese had grown mold, and the dogs–and even the rats–refused to eat what had been the venison.
“On the following morn, the nobles began to see the results of her curse.”
Tears welled up in the prince’s eyes as he remembered his family. “Brave Uncle Theonororffurus…trying to speak through a never-ending flood of snot. Duke and Duchess Whaltingsport, covered in pimples and boils and boils with pimples that rupture in purple pus.
“We dare not speak of the savage monster that dwells just beyond Lady Dentrifficus’ pearly gates…and my own lady Gwen, who waits for me, all these years, with all her insects for company…
The wistfulness of his voice turned hard with determination. “And my father…who cannot speak without letting out a belch so powerful that all within a score of yards are knocked senseless and unconscious.”
The Prince turned to gaze at the rising sun, and the animals for twelve furlongs behind him snuffled and wheezed and moved to other pastures upwind.
“And so…I am on a quest. A grand and glorious quest, to rid my father’s lands and family of this horrible curse.” He picked up his sack, and flung it open, showing a hundred small, neatly wrapped scrolls. One seemed to be covered in dried mucus, and two others were burned at the edges. “Apologies all,” the prince said, as he slung the pack over his back. “I have travelled to the home of every noble who was there that night, and all have written an apology to the witch. No horse would have me, or allow me to ride in a carriage without panicking or fainting dead away, so my travels are on foot. And no tavern would let me past the gate, because all of the other clients would leave, so I spend my nights deep in the woods, far from anyone who would be disturbed.
“It took two years to get them all, and I’ve spent two more searching through all the land for the witch herself.
“You don’t know of a witch who lives herabouts, do you?”
The farmer could only shake his head; the lack of oxygen in the area was making him swoon.
The prince sighed, and moved off towards the dawn light. The farmer watched him go, leaning heavily on the well with a rag over his nose, but the stench that followed the cursed prince remained until the sun was fully in the sky, long after the figure himself was lost to sight.
If you’re still breathing after this Nickel joke, take the nickels out of your nose, splash them in the local well water a few times, and flick them in the general direction of the Nickelatatime Paypal account, firstname.lastname@example.org!