This is part of the A to Z Challenge. A story told in 26 parts. If you are visiting for the first time, there is a recap of the story to date (A-F) on Sunday's post (8/7).
The priest was so drunk by the time the evening meal was complete that he slurred his words. Xavier thought it was a miracle the man remembered them at all. He strained to hear the priest mumble the quest.
An uproar towards the entrance drew the room’s attention. A dust-covered traveler, a nobleman, and three of his men approached the main table.
“You may cease the trials for I have returned from many days of harrowing hardship with the answer!” The nobleman whipped a large bouquet of strange flowers from beneath his cape.
The collective oohs and aahs filled the room as he approached the king with the bouquet in his outstretched hands. The flowers were in the shape of the end of a cornu, a horn with a long narrow green body tipped with flares of white with maroon veins.
The priest leaned over the table to take the flowers.
“Careful!” the nobleman cried. “These beastly flowers will devour your hand if your fingers wander too close to their lips.”
The priest jerked back from the bouquet, face pale. Xavier laughed to himself and watched as the priest turned to King Quirinus and whispered into his ear. The King nodded and turned to face the nobleman.
“So tell me, how are those flowers the answer to the quest?” the old king asked.
“First line: Ye seek the nose of fifty two. Their shape reminds you of a nose, does it not?” The nobleman paraded his hazardous bouquet around the room. Xavier thought the flowers looked nothing like noses but kept quiet.
“Second line: The twelve of round are paired and true. I have gathered forty of them. Which is neither twelve or fifty-two, both numbers recited in your poem. But you see, twelve of the forty are double blooms, conjoined together, or paired and true. And if you count each flower separately, there are fifty two.” There is a round of applause for the nobleman’s cleverness. The nobleman bowed with flourish, then continued.
“The last two lines mention a flower of death.” The nobleman snaps his fingers and one of his underlings brings him something wiggling. “I have here, a mouse.” He returns to stand in front of the king so that the king may see up close. “Watch carefully,” he says as he takes one of the flowers, then plops the mouse into the petals. The petals close immediately upon the mouse. There is some movement inside the flower as the mouse struggles and then nothing.
“You see? The flower of death,” the nobleman announced to more applause. “So, I have fulfilled the quest. I ask, respectfully, that you bestow upon me the prize of your daughter and your lands.”
The nobleman executed a bow and stepped back, smiling confidently, a little too confidently in Xavier’s mind. Xavier felt heartsick, he was too late. He didn’t want to bear witness to losing his one last chance. He stood and pushed his way through the crowd that had gathered at the door.
“Not so fast,” King Quirinus said to the nobleman. Xavier turned back around, surprised at the King’s words.
Quirinus pushed back his chair and stood up. “While I admire your cleverness in interpreting the poem, it is not, unfortunately, the correct answer.”