Prince Pembroke looked happily at the ribbons and medals displayed before him. He embraced the older man standing at his side. “Sir Seersucker, thou hast tutored me marvelous well! Forsooth, I couldst not have gained such breadth of wisdom in the princely arts, hadst thou not been my faithful companion.”
Sighing, Sir Seersucker removed Pembroke’s hands. “Y’know,” he said, “now that you’ve passed Ye Olde English, you don’t have to talk like that any more.”
“Yessss!” said Pembroke, pumping a fist. “Anyway…those classes were hard.” He fingered his medal for Recognizing Enchantments. “Remember when I thought that kitten was really an ogre?” The two men were silent for a moment, remembering. Seersucker patted Pembroke’s back.
“Well, now that you’ve mastered Rescuing Damsels, you’ve only got two tasks left and then…you’ll marry Princess Serendipity. Ready, sire?”
“You bet!” Pembroke stroked the jeweled hilt of his sword. “Can I slay something?”
“Sorry. Your last two tests are Tolerance of Weirdness and…Dealing With In-laws.” At the word in-laws, a shadow passed over the sun. “Sire, these will be your most difficult tasks. Can you remember all I’ve taught you?”
“You bet…when do we start?” Pembroke looked around, expecting to see a Weird Person lurking behind the curtains.
“Your horse is waiting. You’re off to Jellonia, where the people are…well, you’ll see. If you pass this test, you’ll be ready for…” Seersucker whispered. “…the in-laws.” Far away, a raven shrieked.
Several hours later, Pembroke approached a small castle. Night had fallen and Pembroke was weary, but eager to demonstrate his Tolerance. He worked the doorknocker and was greeted by two young men who introduced themselves as Mortarboard and Willy-Nilly.
“Happy to meet you,” said Pembroke, relieved that his hosts seemed Not Weird.
Willy-Nilly took Pembroke’s hat. “You’re probably tired. I’ll take you to your room.” Hopping on one foot, Willy-Nilly and Mortarboard headed down the corridor.
“Well, that’s weird,” Pembroke mumbled, but he followed, hopping all the way, feeling smugly Tolerant. When they finally reached the door, Pembroke was winded. “Thanks,” he said as they unlocked the room. “Say—why do you hop on one foot? Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”
Mortarboard regarded Pembroke seriously. “Saves on shoes.”
The next morning, Pembroke awoke after dreaming of Serendipity. He dressed hurriedly, then hopped toward the smells of sausage and eggs.
Mortarboard and Willy-Nilly were at the table, waiting. When he approached, they burst out laughing. “Why are you hopping?” asked Willy-Nilly. “We only hop on Mondays. It’s ridiculous to hop on Tuesdays.”
Abashed, Pembroke lowered his foot and sat. Breakfast looked scrumptious: honeyed porridge, fluffy eggs with sausage, bowls of mixed fruit. Not wanting to embarrass himself, Pembroke watched his hosts. To his astonishment, they sat on their hands and attacked their plates face first, surfacing seconds later with food-besmirched mouths. “Have at it, Pembroke!” said Willy-Nilly. “It’s delicious!”
Pembroke lapped at his porridge. “It’s delectable, but…why no silverware?”
Mortarboard snorted. “Less work for the kitchen staff, of course.”
Pembroke nodded thoughtfully. “Right. Well, then.” He finished his breakfast and left the table with egg on his chin.
Days passed in which Pembroke found himself riding a goat, yodeling between noon and five o’clock, and painting his fingernails orange. For each Weirdness, Mortarboard had a reason. Pembroke wondered when this test would end so he could get to the In-law Test, and Princess Serendipity.
One morning Willy-Nilly suggested badminton. Feeling relieved—badminton was distinctly un-Weird—Pembroke agreed. Mortarboard produced the equipment, then summoned a servant. “Bring the birdies!” Promptly the servant appeared, carrying a cage of twittering doves.
Pembroke gasped. Surely they weren’t intending to use actual birdies…wouldn’t that hurt them? But Mortarboard and Willy-Nilly were in position, waiting for Pembroke’s serve. He shuddered, then grasped a small struggling dove and tossed it into the air, preparing to swing…
…and it flew away. Mortarboard and Willy-Nilly laid down their racquets.
“Man, we really thought you were going to pass.” Mortarboard shook his head. “We had you doing every weird thing we could think of, and you were so kind-hearted. I can’t believe you blew it by being willing to whack that dove.”
“Was that—the exam?” Pembroke smacked his forehead. “Rats! Well, there’s still the In-law test…maybe Serendipity will still take me, even with one failed subject…”
“Ummm, about that…” Mortarboard said. “Serendipity’s our little sister. This was the In-law Test…you blew it, Pembroke.”
Pembroke sat heavily in the grass and rested his head on his racquet. Overhead, a dove took careful aim.
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