Cast of characters: Cigam, an enigmatic and bearded wizard. Edragne, a feisty warrior woman. Rieh, a farm boy with a crown-shaped birthmark on his left buttock.* And me.
The company is currently camping in an eerie forest with the sound of wolf howls in the not-so-distance. Cigam is looking enigmatic behind his beard. Edragne and Rieh are engaging in the kind of playfully insulting banter that's a prelude to them sleeping together. I'm hugging my knees and trying not to think about snakes.
Dammit. Now I'm thinking about snakes.
Cigam: We must reach E'calpecin ere break of dawn, else Redael will be slain and Drolkrad triumph.
Rieh: Do we have time for a brief stop by a moonlit pool that has a strangely arousing effect on all who behold it? Only Edragne and I -
Cigam: If you must.
Me: <startled yelp>
Edragne (drawing her sword): What is it? Do you sense the foul minions of Drolkrad approaching?
Me (sheepishly): Something brushed my cheek. I think it was a moth. Can we turn the fire down a bit?
Rieh: The bird-with-outlandish-name-that-happens-to-look-and-taste-a-lot-like-chicken is ready.
Cigam: Thank you, my friend.
(They both tuck enthusiastically into legs.)
Me: Um ... is there a vegetarian option?
(Blank stares all round.)
Me: Something that isn't made out of meat?
Edragne (doubtfully): You could try the bones.
Me: Never mind.
Rieh: You know, as well as my birthmark I also have this sword with sparkly bits that goes zing when I draw it. D'you think that means anything?
Edragne: It means you fight like a little girl, and also that I'll definitely sleep with you when we reach that magic pool.
Rieh: Mum said the sword was my father's. But come to think of it, that's weird, because he was a goat too. (He sees everyone staring.) What? I was raised by goats. That's perfectly normal, isn't it?
Cigam: All will be revealed in good time. Even the gazelle cannot outrun winter.
Me: <stifled scream>
Edragne (drawing her sword again): What is it? Have you foreseen our doom?
Me (shaking an arm frantically): Get it off me! Get it off me!
Edragne: Is it an omen of dire significance?
(I point wordlessly to the small spider clinging to my elbow.)
Edragne (brushing it off): That's nothing. There are spiders in here the size of your head.
Me (shuddering): Seriously? Then what the hell are we doing here?
Cigam: 'Tis the fastest way to E'calpecin. The coastal path, which is entirely danger-free and includes some beautiful vistas, would have taken half an hour longer.
Rieh: But we're still going to have time to visit that pool, right? Only Edragne and I -
Cigam: Yes, my friend. Even the platypus must sing when it rains.
Me: I'm sorry. Did you say platypus? What does that mean?
(Cigam rearranges his beard into a more enigmatic configuration and doesn't reply.)
Rieh: You know what I just noticed? Drolkrad is Dark Lord backwards.**
Cigam: Even a weed does not grow without order. (He looks pointedly at me.) In other words, there is no such thing as coincidence.
Me (in a mutter): Yeah, but there is such a thing as a lazy author ... (Another, bigger spider runs over my foot.) Oh, that's just mean.
To be continued ...
* So I'm told. I didn't peek, honest.
** Having written this scene, I'm now 95% sure that most of the fantasy names in existence were created using this method.