On the Call to Adventure
It is not our place to ask why you have chosen to make this journey. If, of course, you made a choice at all. Many report that a feeling of longing urges them to set off, communicated from somewhere outside themselves in a language beyond words. Some travellers have more specific aims: glory or welfare or a change of scenery. Others, perhaps the most unfortunate, have the journey thrust upon them, by a disgruntled wizard, by losing a bet, or both.
In any case, the chance you will reach your destination is highly unlikely. We do not say this to adversely affect morale. On the contrary. Many travellers find the sensation of struggling against overwhelming odds to be a great stimulant.
On Saying Good-byes
There is no fixed method for this; we leave it to your discretion. Be aware that any last-minute pieces of advice offered in a whisper by friends, relations, tearful lovers, benign locals, and/or anonymous passers-by are likely to be worth their weight in gold at some undefined point in the future.
It may be the case that you have no good-byes to say. If this is the situation, bid farewell to the trees. Again, we leave the exact wording and choice of formal bow up to you.
If you are setting off from a place with no visible trees, do not say good-bye to the wind or the rain or the clouds. They’re all going with you.
It is advisable that you only take what you need: food and water are essential, as are a pair of good dancing shoes for court. The judicious traveller may also wish to obtain/acquire/find themselves in possession of: a selection of favours, sleeves, and/or handkerchiefs (for bargaining with cowardly and/or lovesick knights); a full set of unicorn treats in assorted colours (should it be deemed necessary or desirable to gain the favour of such a beast while not disclosing private information regarding anyone’s sex life); a working knowledge of local heraldry; a full set of wooden cutlery plus an additional bowl for guests; a quiver of arrows; a set of twine knots in different sizes; a back-up crossbow (for passing as an innocent hunting party should you be caught in Royal or otherwise privately owned woodland); spare verruca plasters (for acquiring Lake-based weaponry); a keen eye for the horizon (optional).
On Compass Points
It is not necessary to be able to tell true north from magnetic north. The difference is negligible and will not affect your journey.
On Starting Points
Begin where you are. Then go anywhere else.
This is an instruction many travellers find difficult to follow, but it is worth it if you can and will save a lot of back-tracking later. Think of the route as being drawn on tracing paper, able to be placed wherever you are, and then you can sort of go from there, if you see what we mean. Tracing paper is a far better and more charismatic material than, say, a humble piece of dirty old parchment like this one. Speaking of which: where did you get it? You must have found it in a relative’s abandoned attic, or hidden at the back of a treasure chest in the library, or beneath the little windmill at the miniature golf course where your cousin’s best friend gives the balls out on Wednesdays, or in the safe behind the tasteless painting in your boss’s office, or wherever else you found it. Surely nobody actually gave this to you? See below: On Riddles & Paradoxes.
On Sidekicks & Fellowships
Whether it is necessary or desirable to have an acquaintance for this journey or whether it is better to travel alone is a matter much discussed. Really it depends on your aims. If you foster dreams of glittering knighthood it is always good to have a retinue who can stand nearby and clap, but if you want to draw on uncanny associations when you get there it will be much more dramatic to turn up alone. Remember, though, that not everyone gets to be a knight, and fear and suspicion go along with wonder and can easily be turned against you.
Larger travelling parties make for fun and relaxing questing experiences if you can keep a lid on the endless storytelling competitions, but it is sometimes difficult to resolve who is in charge.
On Setting Off
A nocturnal getaway may harbour some romantic attraction: you are not the first traveller to fantasise about stealing away in the dead of night. But in the dark it is all too easy to mistake every second shadow for a troupe of bandits or a night constable or a dragon with a headache or a sorcerer with a grudge or an enchanted tree with a face. It is dangerous to be walking at night along badly lit, hazardous roads, especially when you’re shaky with adrenaline from the buzz of getting going. We recommend your party be en route shortly before dawn.
We realise that to some extent this suggestion is irrelevant, since you have no doubt set off already.
Do not be ashamed or embarrassed to hide beneath the appearance of another. You might find it necessary to perform as somebody above or below your own social station, and may be required to continue this deception for many years. Sir Bandolever is our example of choice here.
Sir Bandolever is not included in many of the greatest poem cycles about your destination, but it is still a good idea to know a few facts of their history.
Sir Bandolever was a champion at the joust, mace, and sword, and put in a decent effort at fencing, squash, and cabaret events as well. Arriving at Camelot without any warning, it is no surprise they proceeded to make themselves indispensable. Sir Bandolever never gained immortality for questing, quest planning, or quest administration, but they were wise, or at least had acquired a reputation for wisdom, which is nine-tenths of the battle. It is rumoured that even Sir Galahad sought them out for advice. They say it was only because of Sir Bandolever’s hints that Sir Gawain was able to capture a ruddy great crowbat that everyone thought had put a curse on the trellis in the herb garden. And so on.
However, when people saw Sir Bandolever without their armour, people assumed that they were their own squire. Take heart from this story, and know that in Camelot it is entirely acceptable to live what many outsiders would consider a lie.
On Navigating Forest, Desert, and Sword Bridge
The Great Forest is where you are most likely to meet any unicorns and/or dragons. Although it is (understandably) tempting to call a unicorn to you, generally speaking it is never quite as useful or glamourous as you think it’s going to be. On no account interrupt a boar hunt.
The desert will not last as long as you think it will. Keep drinking water in small sips. Search discarded armour for jewellery, money, or anything else you may be able to trade at She’spire Village. Although the view looks barren and harsh in its emptiness, take time to enjoy its majesty. They long for stories about this kind of sunset at court, where the stars do not twinkle half so much due to the incessant light pollution.
Since it has been designated an Official Quest Point ever since Lancelot’s Comeback Victory Tour, there is likely be a long queue to cross the Sword Bridge. Place a token or hire a squire to stand in your place, and take the opportunity to spend the time exploring the surroundings. Be sure to collect the watercolour engraving of yourself crossing the bridge to prove you did it, should any sceptical maidens or cynical pirates question your claim to this achievement. If you do not cross the Sword Bridge, cynical pirates can be placated by being beaten in a game of chess. If you can’t play chess, cynical pirates also enjoy operatic duets along the themes of unrequited love, tragic romance, and misspent youth. Strangely, neither opera nor chess will placate a sceptical maiden.
When it is your turn to cross the Sword Bridge, don’t try to saunter over on foot in the manner you will see naive young scallywags attempting. Kneel and shuffle. There’s no shame in it.
It may become necessary to seek employment during your stay in She’spire, depending on whether you reach this village when you have just begun your journey or when you are bordering the outskirts of your destination. Many enjoy their time here so much they choose to stay. This is an entirely valid decision.
Be sure to ask for Kate at the corner shop, as she is always willing to extend the deadline for buy-one-get-one-free offers and will turn a blind eye to best-before dates, which are all for show anyway.
Left at the Crakshaw Mountains
This item has been placed here deliberately to catch out those who would merely scan the main points of our argument, just as a devious cartographer will introduce a deliberate error into their work to prevent plagiarism by lazier mapmakers. We must make it clear, then, to those who are reading this carefully, that it is imperative that you do not go left at the Crakshaw Mountains. Going any other way will result in your eventually reaching the Broken Road, around the Wobbly Haze-Oasis, and thence directly to the suburbs by the castle grounds. Taking a left, however, will lead you through the mountain pass and along the remains of an avalanche and into a non-gobackable dead end with mould on, by which time you will have realised your mistake but it will be too late, and you will find yourself left at the Crakshaw Mountains.
On Duplicitous Castles
Castles look forbidding in the distance—especially if they are well fortified and prone to boiling oil–based decor. But if you seek warmth, shelter, entertainment, or directions (we hope you will not by this stage in your perusal want for directions, but we understand that you may wish to seek out a second opinion from time to time) it is always worth knocking. But be wary of Castles that merely perform hospitality, while actually impeding your progress. Remember your ultimate destination and try not to be waylaid. See below, A Handy Metric for Gauging the Duplicity of Castles, including: Sprinkling of Seductive Lies, The; Tools Abetting Procrastination, Know Your; Fear Factor, The; and Leaps into the Unknown (Temptation to Avoid), Making Your First.
A good rule of thumb: if too many people say they’re so glad you’re staying, look for the exit. But don’t tell anyone you’re doing that. This is an occasion where it is advisable to steal away under cover of the night.
Give ruins a chance. They have much to teach you. See if you can identify the cause of the ruin. If you discover an individual is responsible for the carnage, seek them out and ask if they can give you any hints.
On Achieving Success at the Fisher King’s Arms Pub Quiz
It is forbidden to place a list of the answers here, but we can offer some advice: be on the lookout for double-, triple-, and quintuple-bluffs; multiple choice questions favour the second-least obvious; the circumference of the Round Table is measured in millimeters and calculated via the usual algebra; hawks and handsaws have the same collective noun; page thirty-four of the Livre de chasse; nobody knows; it was there all along; wheelbarrow.
Although the Fisher King’s Arms is the only place in the kingdom with access to full broadband rather than the dial-up ynternet under which the rest of the populace suffers, it is vital that you do not cheat. Spies and scabs will report you to the Round Table Complaints Dept. and your quest will be for nothing.
On Fighting Dragons
Keep a gold coin in the bottom of your shoe, or in the bottom of a friend’s shoe; in most places this will be enough to hire someone to do the fighting for you. Or else, run. This is why it is best that the heavy coin is not in your own shoe.
On Breaking Curses
In the unlikely event that you find yourself cursed, above all do not panic. Take deep, steady breaths and consider your options. Ask yourself: do you really feel cursed, or are you merely succumbing to the placebo illusion? Plenty of fraudulent sorcerers out there. Ask yourself if the magickal effect(s) you think you saw might not have been concocted manually, perhaps involving an intricate rope and pulley system; an accomplice hiding in the trees; a partially inflated balloon full of coloured dust; a secreted knitting needle; a dove or sparrow let loose at the operative moment from an overly embroidered sleeve; a cunning mishmash of various obsolete and sinister-sounding languages and a simple abcb rhyme scheme; centuries of superstition; or just having the confidence. Ask yourself how you might re-create a similar-appearing curse effect to frighten and disorientate your own enemies. Ask yourself: wasn’t there something just a little bit, you know, off about the way they swooped their cape like that, almost as if there were strings attached or something?
These sorts of questions will serve to distract you while the curse takes full effect and you sink into oblivion.
On Not Getting Involved in Grail Quests
When the knight first puts it to you, it may seem like a great opportunity: an acknowledgement of your skills, a useful means to get you in with the Round Table crowd. However, remember that these quests only ever lead away from your destination.
Once the negative answer has been given, do not rise to anything the disgruntled knight may consequently declare about chivalry being dead or dying.
On Dinner and Miracles
Perhaps the most commonly known fact about your destination is that it is impermissible to begin dining until a miracle occurs. Many travellers decide, therefore, that the best way to obtain entrance into the Great Hall is to take on the responsibility of supplying the miracle themselves. The rest of the guests will certainly be glad to see you, especially those of the lower orders who are not even able to fill up on bread in the meantime.
See below, A Taxonomy of Miracles, to help determine which activities, apparitions, and appearances are designated Miracles and which are merely classed as Marvels, Events, Excitements, Interruptions, Troubles, Bothersomes, and Get That Imposter Out of Heres. If you do decide to get into the Great Hall this way, you don’t want to waste your time concocting something that will fall into one of these unfortunate categories.
On Love Triangles, Parallelograms & Other Geometric Shapes
Should you find yourself caught up in the heady politics of the Arthur and Lancelot situation, we can only suggest that you do your best not to get involved. We realise that sometimes this will not be possible. Therefore, a primer: the system of meritocracy (which names Lancelot the best) and the fact of divine right (which names Arthur the best) are in conflict over who is therefore truly, really, actually the best, and this, as you can imagine, casts great precarity over the respect, seating plans, and lovelife that are consequently due to these gentlemen. Don’t be fooled by the apparent democracy of a circular dining surface. It’s war out there. A good rule of thumb is to do whatever Sir Galahad does, but if he is out questing and/or otherwise unavailable, Guinevere is your best guess. But try to keep your head down. It’s really best not to rock the Round Table on this particular issue. It’ll sort itself out. You’ve only just arrived.
Should you find Guinevere herself is asking your advice in this regard, it doesn’t really matter what you say. You are already in trouble.
On the Episodic Nature of the Great Poem Cycles & How to Navigate It
This structural conceit is why it is difficult for us to inform you of the exact order in which you might encounter various landmarks, crossroads, allies, enemies, obstacles, and personal crises (both existential and food-based) as you go. No two journeys to Camelot are the same. However, you will find that wherever you go first will provide vital information and/or items to help you succeed against whatever obstacles you face at your next destination, and so on. The problem is knowing which objects to keep and which to leave behind. A further complication: sometimes leaving an object behind is the very thing you need to do to make the best use of it. Overall it is best to take the episodic nature of your excursion in your stride, as it were. The mindset will suit you well at court in any case.
You may even find that once you reach your destination your adventures, if we might use so grand a term, have only just begun.
On Major-to-Minor Character Dissonance & How to Avoid It
The problem crucially is one of authorship. Depending variously upon historical agenda, political agenda, religious agenda, patriotic agenda, gender agenda, or confirmation bias; depending variously upon how one feels about the verse/prose binary (if, indeed, one accepts such a binary at all); depending variously upon what one deems necessary in terms of plot complications, rising action, Grail questing and its conflicts (both internal and external), familial strife and the intricate mechanics of blackmail and/or betrayal within those dynamics, the status of a pair (or trio) of lovers (star-crossed, unrequited, or Other) — all these points of interest will affect the landscape in which you find yourself. The point we are making here is that you may meet a great and brave and mighty knight one moment, and, in the time it takes a lion to yawn, find yourself confronting the same person as a meek and mewling guttersnipe the next.
For example, you may find Sir Bandolever is spoken of once in passing as having been present at a jousting tournament or sitting at the war council, and then never mentioned again: not so much a cameo appearance as a suspected spelling mistake. Or they might be at the centre of everything. Do you see?
On the Heavy Burden of Protagonism
It falls to you, we’re afraid.
Rose Biggin writes stories and plays. Published fiction includes “A Game Proposition” in Irregularity, “The Modjeska Waltz” in The Adventures of Moriarty, and “The Gunman Who Came in from the Door” in Defenestration magazine. Theatre work includes genderqueer retelling Victor Frankenstein and BADASS GRAMMAR: A Pole/Guitar Composition in Exploded View. She has a PhD in immersive theatre and tweets at @rosebiggin.