I slouch on the back seat of the charabanc trying to get some sleep whilst simultaneously keeping one eye alert to the near continuous passing by of restless, incontinent natives to what is laughably termed the “facilities”. It seems an odd way to begin such a momentous quest – hurtling north in pitch darkness to the strains of an overworked latrine. But better this than the horrors of the iron horse that would have sapped my meagre store of coin, and most likely have yielded no more repose anyway. A mere 9 gold coins has secured my passage, even if it does mean I have to endure this far from ideal means of transport.
I close my eyes, try to listen to some music and think of the adventure that lays ahead. For this is NO ORDINARY QUEST. This odyssey, if blessed with success by the gods, will take me from coast to mountains, deep lakes and bleak moorland. I will journey through great forests, undertake perilous sea voyages and navigate through great native cities, bartering my way with the precious elixir so prized in those parts. I can expect to encounter all manner of rogues, bandits, tellers of tall stories, manifold foreign practices and much depravity. But the elusive prize will be well worth these trials. For somewhere out there, on the eastern shore of this strange, wild land is the Shirt of Destiny and the Sacred Scroll of Achievement.
Over 300 other assorted adventurers, chancers, bounty hunters and madmen are rumoured to also be seeking the Shirt. Not all will be successful – some will return to their lands battered and broken, but desperate for another try another time. Many will wear the Shirt and feel the smooth parchment of the Scroll under their trail-wizened fingers. The Shirt and Scroll have a magic of their own – they appear to each man or woman individually, for this is a personal quest and there is no competition to wear the Shirt. The Shirt is granted to all who fulfill the quest.
The charabanc arrives in the great western city, where accents are thick and understanding is little. A bitter cold seeps into my vestments as I retrieve my kit and turn my back on the conveyance. I make my way towards the great Stable of the Iron Horse, for I have a rendezvous to make.
There in the great staging area where travellers mill about I find the Man from the Moor. A man from the far reaches of the great island, where wind and rain scour the exposed granite of the hills. A man with an unnatural penchant for gorse, bluebells and rocks with ancient inscriptions on. An odd man.
We greet each other and set off together, for this is to be a joint quest. After many hours on the iron horse we arrive at the end of the line to a sparkling sea, views of distant islands, the screeching of sea birds and an overriding smell of fish. For this is Mel Vik, the “bay of sand dunes”, but more usually called Mallaig by the inhabitants of these parts.
Lodgings are secured for the night, and gear stowed away safely. We head to a local tavern to sate appetites and slake thirst and steal ourselves for the rigours we face the next day. There we encounter a local custom whereby in exchange for answers to great questions of science, art and culture, we can aspire to secure a bounty of 20 gold coins. The Moor Man and I put our heads together and are in contention for this Great Prize right up to the last, but ultimately we retire empty-handed. We return to our lodgings to contemplate our failure and whether this is a bad portent for our Quest…..