Since the GPS competition seems to be having trouble getting the version of my story up on their site, I figured I would post it here. I know there aren’t a whole lot of you reading this, but some of you have expressed interest in knowing exactly what story won me the contest, and I really want to see what you think of it!
So, without any further ado, here is the tale of DIOGENES THE GOAT, Scott Imes Award winner for 2017!
The young knight drew in a deep breath and charged up the slant of the rocky earth, following the clear prints along the ground. The shifting, unstable mountainside made any silent approach distinctly impossible even if the clanging of mis-sized armor had not echoed in the cold northern air, so a ringing war cry was employed instead.
“Have at thee, devil goat!”
A mountain goat, sized more like a bear than its usual kin, turned to face the knight and the blade advancing upon it. Two enormous horns crowned its narrow head, which it tossed with a snort.
“I beg your pardon. I am an ibex.”
The knight slowed, blinking. “A what now?”
“I am an ibex. Capra pyrenaica, to be precise.”
“Capra…? How did you learn to talk, foul beast?”
“Let us make a deal, you and I. We will speak to one another in a civil manner. You will put down your blade—quite well-sharpened, I see, unlike any demonstration of your wit thus far—and you will cease these pointless insults against my person.”
“And in return?”
“I will not bash your head to the mountainside and crack it like an egg.”
“Very well.” The knight shoved the quite-sharp blade into its scabbard. Almost fell over. Barely kept from sliding all the way down the hill.
Politely, the horned creature pretended not to notice the near-disaster. “I thought so, indeed.”
“Well, then, goat. Or, uh, ibex.” An obvious grimace. “Couldn’t I call you by name?”
“I haven’t one at the moment. Never saw the point, really.”
“Oh. Would you like one?”
“Naming never seems to go well for Civilized Animals such as myself. It either it sidelines us into the role of Non-Human Sidekick or it sets the groundwork for an ultimately tragic turn of events to prove the seriousness of the tale, neither of which I have any inclination to experience.” The ibex lifted up its front near foot and stamped it down in emphasis.
“But I must call you something.”
“You men of the sword truly are a ridiculous species. Very well. You may call me Diogenes, if only for the irony of it.”
The knight smiled. “So you are very wealthy, then? Possessed of many items which are superfluous to life?”
“Ah, the welp-knight has some amount of learning!”
“Enough to read your character in this single clue. You laugh at me, Sir Goat, and at all that I am.”
“Of course I do, child. Were you in my position, facing a youth whose weapon stands as the only evidence of any sharpness of perception, would you not relish this bit of enjoyment?”
“I don’t know, I suppose. Anyway. My quest is a simple one. I have been charged with slaying the demon mountain goat in order to alleviate the mysterious illness which keeps Princess Alabasteria abed.”
“Just a moment. Your princess is named Alabasteria?”
“Unfortunately, yes. Our king was very proud of her mother’s legendary fair skin.”
“I see. And I am supposed to be the great evil which causes this noble princess her infirmity?”
“Then be precise, if you can.”
The knight sighed. “There are four of us learned and practiced enough to be trusted on an errand of possible urgency. Princess Alabasteria had not been seen for many days. The king decreed that she must be under some sort of curse or spell and ordered us sent to combat it.”
Diogenes tipped his head and flapped an ear. “And so this led to you infringing upon my solitude this day? How exactly was I selected as the evil behind the princess’s predicament?”
“Not just you. Sir James, the eldest of us, was tasked with hunting down the great dragon of the western mountains.”
Diogenes snorted. “Whatever did dear Josephine do to your princess?”
“The dragon’s name is Josephine? Never mind. As far as I know, nothing. But the king’s soothsayer suggested that perhaps the poison of the dragon’s breath is to be blamed.”
“Your soothsayer has a paltry understanding of airborne particulate concentrations and the quantity required for effective doses, then.”
This the knight opted not to try to answer. “Sir Edward was ordered to snuff out the infernal flames of the great bird who guards the southern desert, in case they were casting a fever upon her.”
“Oh dear. Sparky will not appreciate that at all.”
“His true name is Stanislaus. He prefers the diminutive. Wouldn’t you?”
“Definitely. Then the king sent Sir Gerald to the eastern shore to slay the last sea unicorn and bring the horn back so that it may heal the princess.”
Diogenes tossed his head and let out a baying laugh. “Oh, that knight will suffer the most for certain. Josephine and Sparky will only defeat their opponents, at worst leave them somewhat maimed.”
The knight stared. “What’s worse than that?”
“Unicorns are inexhaustibly effusive by nature. Your Sir Gerald will certainly be injured, and while he is too hurt to escape, he will be told in excruciating detail how annoyed old Ignatius is to have to go to the trouble of spilling blood on his precious white shores. And Ignatius will moan about the mess for at least a month afterward as well.”
“And you, my questionable friend, were sent to defeat me?”
The knight kicked at a nearby rock, rolling it into a pile of pebbles. “I…offered. Just in case. The soothsayer said it couldn’t hurt to defeat monsters in all four cardinal directions.”
“Oh. Really.” Any drier and the ibex’s voice would have been sand itself.
“I didn’t really mean…that is…”
“You just wanted to go off on your own grand adventure like every hero does, regardless of the consequences.” Diogenes stamped on the ground. “Foolish and short-sighted.”
“Well, I see that now.”
“Then what do you propose, Sir Knight of Impulsivity? Shall you resume your attack? I can still crack your bones long before your blade touches my lifeblood.”
“Well…I’d rather not die today, no.”
“Then I bid you good day.”
“Wait!” Half-falling, the knight skidded along the unstable hillside until Diogenes turned once more. “You clearly are wise in many secret ways of the world. Maybe you can help me.”
“I cannot cure your hermiting princess of her entirely understandable attempt to avoid all this silliness.”
“That’s fine. But…maybe you could help me with my true desire.”
Diogenes sighed again. “Of course you have a Hero’s Journey. Well, come along. If we are to discuss this, we might as well do so where you are less in danger of plummeting to your death. Knight you may be, but nimble you are decidedly not.”
Diogenes led the way to a small cave hidden under an outcropping of rock. The knight, a handspan shorter than the ibex’s horns, had no difficulty entering, but a great deal of difficulty understanding all that was revealed in the cavern.
“What is all this?”
“Your world is very boring, child. I and my brethren make our entertainment by enjoying various alternatives.”
The space was cluttered by boulders worn smooth like so many tables and pedestals. Upon every surface, items of the wildest descriptions were perched and crowded. Some bore resemblances to the toys of peasants; others defied all explanation.
The knight’s fingers fell upon a small figurine of an impossible suit of armor, shiny and weightless as neither wood nor metal could ever be, and colored in outrageous shades of red and blue. “And these?”
“It is amazing what children leave in their pockets during washing. A little ingenuity, and a small amount of inter-dimensional space-time displacement, and there is no difficulty in borrowing things from other places. Though I do seem to collect rather a distressing number of socks as well.”
The cave was lit from the center by a luminous pool of water that was perfectly rectangular and bore evidence of regular visits from the cloven-hoofed Diogenes; the stone was worn smooth, as though the ibex spent many hours pacing or lying before the water which glowed and swirled with color.
The knight stared at the pool. “Sorcery!”
“But this is the work of the devil!”
“No.” Diogenes navigated the clutter with practiced ease, settling down in a worn dip beside the shining water. “I assure you, the only devilry in play is the shifting algorithm of streaming video available from day to day.”
The knight blinked. Swallowed. Coughed. “Sorry. What?”
“Never mind. Now, tell me your tediously predictable Hero’s Journey so I may fulfill my role as your Cynical Mentor Archetype and return to my program; I need to finish the first season before the second is released.”
“What’s a Cynical Mentor Archetype?”
Diogenes let out a gusty sigh. “I weep for the education you are receiving in your society. Even if you cannot recognize the reference, can you at least parse the words themselves?”
The knight shrugged.
“Oh, very well! Come and observe.”
Diogenes dipped a hoof into the water and the nebulous dancing colors shifted. A moment later, the water reflected a clear image with writing upon it. The knight leaned over the water and attempted to make out the strangely blocky writing.
“What can that possibly mean?”
“It’s one of my vices, I’m afraid,” Diogenes said. “There is so much work to be done in correctly identifying and categorizing all manner of clichés across multimedia these days, and keeping the entries well-ordered and accurate while avoiding spoilers is both rather time-consuming and profoundly satisfying.”
“I appreciate the explanation,” the knight said, “though I’m not sure I should name it such as I didn’t understand any of it!”
“Well, put very simply, because this particular dimension is rather dull, I have acquired access to the digital reality of a parallel world which allows me to both consume entertainment and interact with others across the internet freely, including functioning as an administrator in various communities and forums. In terms you might understand, I have inserted myself into the books and letters of another world.”
“I must take your word for it. I think my ears will begin to bleed if you explain it again.”
“If you have come to me for wisdom, you must agree to listen to it.” Diogenes touched the water again and the screen changed. “Now, let us begin your education about a Hero’s Journey and how it differs from The Quest so we may operate under the same assumptions of archetypes before you launch into your undoubtedly unique and intriguing Backstory which sets up your Call to Adventure.”
“Coming here was a very great mistake on my part, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, come. You enjoyed this lesson. Don’t pretend otherwise.”
“I suppose.” The knight sighed. “At least I understand why you find this world so boring.” The knight flicked an errant pebble across the cavern floor. “In that, I completely agree with you.”
“Yes, yes. Now, let’s have it out. You have learned why I must hear your Backstory of the Day so that I may direct you onto the path of your Quest. The sooner you begin your hero-ing, the sooner I can resume my binge-watching.”
The knight shifted, ill-fitting armor clanking. “Well…you see…”
“Come, now. You are clearly not what you seem to be. Tell me, are you a peasant acting above your station? The offspring of some evil king or baron of another land sent to infiltrate this kingdom? Perhaps a homely orphan seeking your true origins?”
The knight let out an aggrieved breath and removed the slightly-oversized helmet. A long, messy braid fell out of it, wisps of auburn hair escaping artfully.
“I am Princess Alabasteria.”
“Are you not the least surprised?”
Diogenes snorted. “Not particularly. It was obvious you were female from the start, and the fact that you concealed your identity while demanding my name proved that you were acting as a Sweet Polly Oliver, and not very convincingly. Though I would have expected a Tomboy Princess to be more skilled. Your stumbling at the beginning to deceive me was almost a stroke of true cleverness.”
“It was not intentional.” Alabasteria wrinkled her fair nose. “I was obliged to pilfer this armor in secret and could only escape with a set built for men with feet like logs.”
“And, pray tell, why were you required to act in secret?”
“Is it not obvious? I’m a princess. Princess are not permitted to do anything.”
“Not true in all incarnations, but clearly in your own. Very well. What is it you wish of me, then?”
“Help me,” she said, turning beseeching eyes on him. “My father is kind, though rather dull. He means well, but he is better suited to practically any other vocation than the responsibility of his birth. He is as uninterested and unskilled in ruling the kingdom as I am in sitting prettily to the side and watching him do it poorly.”
“Then why do you hesitate? Request the power of the throne from your father and cure your boredom forever more with the tedious work of running a Standard Fantasy Setting kingdom.”
“My father’s soothsayer convinced him that I could not be trusted with more than embroidery and other such pursuits unless I could prove myself worthy. I thereby promptly challenged my father’s finest knight to a duel and defeated him soundly.”
“In those boots?”
She offered Diogenes a glare. “In my own, thank you, which were taken from me afterward. For my father was so very concerned for my safety that he forbade me from any other dangerous activity. I had little choice but to feign illness so I could present myself in the guise of one of the younger knights to join in the quest to cure myself. I thought perhaps…”
“You surmised that if you could slay one of the legendary beasts that your father might be satisfied and permit you greater freedoms.” Diogenes gave an oddly smooth shrug. “Yes, very well. Your reasoning is sound, if irritating in that you have called knights to trouble myself and my three brethren.”
“I hardly expected you to be what you are,” she replied.
“True. Then I shall confer unto you a Quest which shall meet the requirements of your king father and his apparently troublesome soothsayer that you might achieve your final destiny and rule your kingdom with glorious success.”
Alabasteria frowned at him. “How is it possible to say such things with so much disdain?”
“It is a gift honed by many years battling trolls.”
“There are no trolls in our lands.”
“Not those sort of trolls. Anyway.” Diogenes dipped a hoof into the pool of water. “Journey west and seek out the Ring of Dauntlessness. It has been lost for centuries and plays a significant role in no fewer than four ballads and six tales. When you return home with it, your father will have no choice but to admit to your superiority.”
Alabasteria rose. “I thank you for your help and your wisdom, Sir Goat. Farewell.”
She was gone before he could even grumble at her, “Ibex, you vexing child. I am an ibex.”
“Hail and well met, Diogenes!”
Diogenes stamped a hoof into the water, pausing the uproarious scene before him. “Who disturbs my rewatch?”
“It is I, Princess Alabasteria.”
Diogenes peered at the warrior before him. She now wore armor which was fitted to her properly, and her boots no longer seemed overly large. But her scowl was dark.
“To what do I owe this distinct non-pleasure?” he asked.
“I retrieved the Ring of Dauntlessness as you advised,” she said, pulling off a heavy glove to reveal the glowing stone upon one of her fingers. “And my father was satisfied. But his soothsayer now suggests that I must atone for the wounds taken by the other three knights who met with such misfortune in their quests to save me from my imagined illness.”
“Ah, yes. Josephine did say that poor boy might never be right again.”
“Sir James now speaks only in what you called ‘hashtags.’ Sir Edward returned from the south bound and determined to turn each and every phrase into an acronym. And Sir Gerald…”
“I did warn you about Ignatius.”
“You did.” She folded her arms. “So now I require another Quest that I may pacify the soothsayer. Otherwise I shall never do more than knit and play the lute and I may well go mad.”
“Oh, very well. A Hero’s Journey does often involve many excursions to prove one’s worth.” Diogenes swiped at the water and pulled up another image. “Seek out the Auroral Pendant of the Dawnlands far to the east across the sea. That should suffice.”
“You are truly a wise and helpful mentor, Diogenes. Farewell.”
“I would rather be a Relegated Mentor so I could finish my shows without interruption!” he called after her.
“No. Absolutely not.” Diogenes lowered his head as if to charge before Alabasteria could take more than three steps into the cavern. “An entire series that I have been waiting years to watch has just been released on Netflix and I will not be delayed in enjoying it!”
“I seek your council,” she said, looking entirely frustrated. The bauble that hung on a long chain over her chestplate showed a dusky, sour orange. “I promise to speak quickly.”
“Then speak and be gone.”
“This Auroral Pendant of the Dawnlands did not win my father’s soothsayer over to my side at all, though the other knights were impressed. At least, I believe that is what ‘hashtag awesome mood-ring’ implies.”
“But my father’s soothsayer continued to deny me, and my father was forced to remove him from his position. And therefore, many of the nobles and the people of the kingdom now feel that I cannot be trusted, that I am attempting to usurp my father.”
“Which is technically exactly what you are doing,” Diogenes said. “Except that you do it with his permission.”
“Precisely. Please, Diogenes. I need something to convince the people that they can trust in me, that I act not out of mindless ambition nor evil intent. And that I am truly capable of the task of rulership.”
“Fine. Seek to the south for the Sword of True Judiciousness. It can only be wielded by one of pure heart and honorable spirit. Carry it to your people and they will be able to put their faith in your stewardship of the land.”
“So I shall. Thank you, my noble goat friend.”
“I am an ibex and we are not friends!” Diogenes snorted as the princess left. “Friends don’t keep friends from their favorite shows!”
Diogenes stopped a few paces from the entrance to his cave. “Do you not have a kingdom to run? That sword cannot have failed to impress even the lowliest servants.”
Alabasteria rose from her perch beside the cavern, sword expertly belted to her side. “I have far, far too many matters which require my attention, Diogenes. And yet I find I must avail myself of you once again.”
Diogenes shook his head and trotted to her. “Well? Say on.”
She was surprised. “Do you not have another of your shows to watch? More people to educate and facts to correct on your beloved internet?”
“I’ve just extricated myself from a flame war,” he said. “A vile pastime and yet one which is sometimes necessary in the defense of that which is accurate and just. I am in no hurry to return to the digital realm. For once, my lady, you have the most excellent of timing.”
“Ah. Well, I suppose I am grateful. As you suggested, the Sword of True Judiciousness has won me much respect and loyalty, and the people of the kingdom have accepted me acting as ruler in my father’s name.”
“And? Are you finally able to be more than a mere decorative item seated upon the princess’s throne?”
“Yes. And it is marvelous. With one exception.”
Diogenes nodded. “Or else you would not have come. What troubles you now?”
“My father. He does not attempt to countermand me, which is a great relief, but he is forever at my side, wishing to tell me of the tale he just read or the new song his favorite minstrel has composed. Now that he is no longer acting as a king, his time is his own. And he seems to want to fill mine with his frivolity as well. It was necessary for me to feign illness once again just to escape long enough to seek your counsel!”
“Have you considered finding him a companion? Perhaps a lady whom he can impress?” Diogenes asked.
She sighed. “He says that no one could ever fill his heart as my departed mother did, and all the nobles have taken to avoiding him. Even the minstrels grow tired of his constant interest.”
“I have no magical item which can make your father less enthusiastic in his pursuits,” Diogenes said. “Although, since boredom appears to run in the family, perhaps you yourself hold the key.”
Alabasteria looked at him and considered. “My relief came through your assistance, Sir Goat. Perhaps you could provide the same service to my father.”
Diogenes kicked a foot against the ground. “You are more than enough visitor for me in my home. I will not suffer your exuberant father here even as often as yourself.”
“Then is there no way to give him the secret magic you so easily work? No way for him to find the constant entertainment of the digital realm you and your brethren frequent?”
“There is. But the journey is long. I can create another doorway as I have for myself and the others, but as your father has no magic of his own, it must be anchored to something more powerful than everything you have acquired up to now.”
“Then I beg you, send me. I will gladly tromp the wilds of the world if it means I may rule in peace when I return!”
“Far into the frozen wastes of the north you must seek the Lost Shield of Peculiar Implacableness. If you can bring it to me, I will enchant it to be your father’s own portal to the internet. But be warned—once he is exposed to the unmitigated chaos that is the online world, he may change in entirely unexpected ways.”
“Believe me, Diogenes, any change would be welcome.”
“Somehow, I sincerely doubt that.”
“I did tell you, princess.”
“I know!” In a fit of pique, Alabasteria only just kept from sweeping some of Diogenes’s belongings to the floor in a satisfying crash. Instead, she kicked the no-longer-Lost Shield of Peculiar Implacableness across the cavern floor. It, being Implacable, suffered not at all for the rough handling.
“Will not the king be angry that you have removed his access to all he now holds dear?”
“He will not notice its absence,” she said, stalking back and forth like an agitated cat. “He has decided to turn the entire plotline of the first season of some drama which has caught his fancy into an epic ballad to be performed before the entire court. And Sirs James, Edward, and Gerald are all sulking in seclusion after a great falling out from their different interpretations of something lost.”
“You mean Lost,” Diogenes corrected her.
“I believe I said that.” She groaned. “I feel as though I have put a broadsword into the hands of a babe. With every passing hour, the four of them descend into madness. I cannot govern them myself, and each person I have sent to serve as nursemaid or keeper has been drawn into their ridiculousness. Four guards, six nuns, and a steward had to be removed from the castle after a plot to try to steal the Shield of Peculiar Implacableness from my father—and there was very nearly bloodshed over it!”
“I can help you even less in this matter,” Diogenes said. “The obsession of email and YouTube and instant streaming access is not limited to this world. In fact, it is rather pervasive in its native realm as well.”
“But you do not suffer such ill effects,” she said, kicking at the Shield once more. “You watch and engage as you like, but you retain all good sense. How do you manage it?”
“It does take some discipline. You have my sympathy in this. It was I who taught good online behavior and habits to Josephine, Sparky, and Ignatius. But human heads are thicker even than my own. I wish you very good fortune in handling them, indeed.”
Alabasteria paused. Looked at him.
Diogenes instantly pawed the ground. “No.”
“I would offer you the finest of chambers, the most delectable foods, even servants to wait upon your every whim.”
“Cease this line of thinking at once.”
“But you are my Mentor, are you not?”
“Which means that you are the Hero upon the Journey, not I. You are the one charged with overcoming impossible odds.”
“But you must assist me in my tasks. You showed me the examples yourself: a Mentor may even take on that which is particularly difficult that the Hero may be free to seek their destiny. Did not the old teacher allow himself to be struck down that his young protégé might live?”
“I shall not!”
“Name your price,” she said, planting her hands on her hips. “Name it and it is yours.”
“There is nothing you could give me that would induce me to serve as nanny to the foolhardy king and his compatriots who have lost themselves.”
“Nothing at all?”
Alabasteria smiled, slow and dangerous. “Not even the Holy Anklet of the House of MacGuffin?”
Diogenes actually stepped back. “You have been speaking to Ignatius!”
“He and Sir Gerald have become friends on the Book of Face. They share many images and witty anecdotes.”
Diogenes let out an entirely undignified bleat. “That ugly pony! How dare he?”
“Then you admit that it tempts you?” she asked.
“Of course! The Holy Anklet of the House of MacGuffin would…it would…oh, how can I explain it to one who has never crossed wits with adolescents with too much time on their hands? Those who seek to prank and troll every site which has meaning? The Holy Anklet of the House of MacGuffin would allow me to protect truth and accuracy from teenaged mischief! It would give me permanent superiority over every internet troll who ever dared enter a comment!”
“Then I shall acquire it for you. And in return, you must agree to supervise any in the castle who become besotted with this wretched digital world until they again become sensible people who stop causing me trouble. I have a kingdom to run without trying to maintain sanity in my own castle!”
“It is impossible,” he told her. “The Holy Anklet of the House of MacGuffin does not exist. It is a myth.”
“So are talking goats and dragons and unicorns,” Alabasteria told him. She turned on her heel to go, only reluctantly retrieving the Shield. “Trust me, Sir Goat. For this, for my peace of mind, I shall find it.”
“I am an ibex!”
“Good evening, Diogenes.”
Diogenes looked up from his pile of fine cushions. “Good evening, Princess Alabasteria.” With a glance he took in her billowing robes which were modeled after those of male royalty rather than the gowns of queens. She still carried the Ring, Pendant, and Sword of her Quest, all of which suited her perfectly and added to her imposing competence. “You seem very comfortable in the life you now lead.”
She smiled. “I am, thank you. And you seem quite comfortable yourself.”
“Indeed.” He tipped his head to the wide, well-lit chamber which was just as filled with otherworldly items as his cavern had been. “My initial reluctance to abide by our agreement was justified, I believe, but I am now much more well disposed to my place here with you. Even if it does come at the price of a great deal of patience on my part with my charges.”
“And how fares my father this evening?”
“Very well. I have introduced him and his companions to the concept of ‘cat videos’ and I believe they will be content to do nothing but watch them for many days.”
“It pleases me to hear it. Then I shall plan to complete my trade negotiations during this time when I can be assured that we shall not be interrupted. And yourself?”
Diogenes looked up at her with a flash of vengeance in his eyes. “I? I shall take the Holy Anklet of the House of MacGuffin and put it to good use. The forces of inaccuracy have been at work again and must be vanquished.”
“Then I wish you much victory as you strike out at those who are in the wrong on the internet, while my father laughs at the antics of felines and I ensure the prosperity of the kingdom for a generation, Sir Goat.”
Diogenes snorted at her, but did not correct her. “Well played, Princess,” he said.
“I was well-taught, after all.” Alabasteria smiled and left him to his pursuits.
And Diogenes reclined upon the largest pillow, which had been carefully sewn by the finest seamstress in the castle at the princess’s own orders. Not only was the pillow perfectly constructed to support an ibex’s frame leaning over the relocated magical pool of water, but it was lettered specifically for Diogenes himself.
“Diogenes: The Greatest Of All Time.” He chuckled. “A GOAT Mentor indeed!”
Point the first: I am NOT AT ALL SORRY.
Point the second: I genuinely believe that Alabasteria is the BEST name ever for a stereotypical help-me-save-me damsel-in-distress princess. If I ever do any more fractured fairy tales, I’m using it again. I think all my princesses, badass or useless, shall be henceforth called Alabasteria.
Point the third: If you happen to know the Mighty Max fandom, I think it is ENTIRELY appropriate to read every word of Diogenes’ dialogue in Virgil’s voice. (RIP Tony Jay)
Point the fourth: Making up increasingly-outlandish item names is a FANTASTIC way to spend an hour.
Point the fifth: Apparently I spend WAY too much time on TVTropes.org. Oh well!
I hope you enjoyed it!