Fantasticoe 2004

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Graham Milldrum
 
Dragon and Knight


     The rain ran down my old battered helm, dripping from the nasalation right into my beard. It was cold rain, cold rain for a cold day. I had just ridden into town, after a miserable day on horseback. My squire Grimwalt and I were about ready to fall into the mud and call it a day. But we couldn't do that. There was a dragon to fight. A vicious dragon, one that stole sheep and carried off maidens. Spawn of Satan, the priest at Derry had told us. And so we had come to slay it.

     "Sir Knight." A voice called out of the darkness, dampened by the unending rain.

     "Who's there?"

     "It is I, Sir Englesce, once the lord of this unhappy land. Come into my hovel, brave sir."

     I followed the thin ray of light that hovered and shook in the darkness, to where Sir Englesce stood. It was indeed a hovel, a little shack with a dirty straw roof. Inside it was warm and bright, and there was a place to put the horses. My squire led my destierer away while I went forward to talk to the knight.

     He told me, as I stood shivering in the rain, of how the dragon had appeared out of nowhere one night. It had driven him out of his manor with fire and tooth, terrifying his servants.

      "It was not a great building, I must admit. But it was home. So I had to come into town and take the home of the village headman. Far from my tapestries and silken sheets. " He sighed a deep sigh.

     "Why, good Sir, are you trapped here? Why did you not die fighting the dragon, as a good knight should?"

     He laughed then, rather a shock to me. Most knights would have been sorely insulted by such a direct question.

     "Because that damnable beast shattered my leg and took my arm. Rather hard to spear an overgrown lizard when you can't hold the lance!"

     I saw it was true. He was supporting himself on the doorframe, his left leg twisted about, and his right arm gone below the elbow. His injury was hard to see, with his bulk blocking the light coming out of the door.

     "I am sorry, good Sir. I did not notice in the poor light."

     "That's alright lad. Most people don't. Either that or they are to afraid to talk about it. Glad to see such freshness in a knight. It's a dying trait, all covered up by flowers. At least, that's how our good King Arthur would have it."

     I could hardly stand such an insult to my king, but I knew he was angered, and rightly so. He surely would not have said such a thing if I had not been clumsy enough to remind him of his handicaps. But anger still stirred my heart at this abuse to my lord and master. I stood looking at him for what seemed forever. Why was he not allowing me into his home?

     He finally stood aside and let me enter the hut. I rushed forward, heedless of being proper any longer. Sir Englesce laughed, a cold noise.

     "Well, lad, it's best you go to bed so you'll be fresh in the morning. There's a nice warm spot by the fire for you."

     I thanked him mechanically and collapsed by the fire. It was going to be hard on Grimwalt to to clean the chainmail for tomorrow. But that's the duty of a squire. As I fell asleep, I could hear him already at work, drying the mail and cleaning the mud off.

     I slept very deeply that night, so deep that no dreams disturbed my slumber. The next morning was wet, but the sun was already cutting through. Grimwalt was already awake and immediately began gearing me up. I strode outside, all glimmering steel, rattline slightly.

     Grimwalt was still saddling up our horses, so I walked about town. I could not help noticing that the villigers could not meet my gaze, nor did they speak to me. One man walked straight past me, his eyes fixed right over my shoulder. The workers were going to the fields, chattering to each other. As soon as I raised my hand to greet them, they turned as silent as the grave. Odd behavior when I was about to slay the beast that was hanging over them.

     Grimwalt came up to me and told me he would need a while to get the girths together. He had stored them improperly. I wasn't overly concerned. His work with my armor was extraordanry, and I would not reprimand him for a simple mistake. Anyways, I wanted to find out why everyone was ignoring me.

     I was too unsure of myself to stride up and begin question the peasantry as they labored in the fields, so I explored the village. The town was well ordered, with neat little thatched-roofed huts grouped around the road that lead to the manor. The road was churned into a deep, sticky mud, so I picked my way behind the homes.

     There I found my first shock of the day. Right behind one of the houses, in the little garden, was a giant foot print. It was planted right between two plants of some sort. As I leaned over, I realized it could come from only one thing- the dragon. As I looked around, I saw that the dragon mush have walked down from the manor, through the gardens and into the field. I was confused, until I realized that the dragon must have injured his wing in the fight. That still did not explain why he had not trampled the plants.

     As I was pondering this, Grimwalt walked up and told me the horse was ready. I walked away, wondering what sort of beast this was.

     And so I rode to the manor, which was kept in quite good repair for a hellbeast to live in. Banners waved from the towers, depicting a red dragon on a green field. As I rode up to the gate, it fell open for me, although no one greeted me.

     "Dragon, come out and fight! I am here to slay you!"

     "Oh, dash it all! Would you fools just leave me alone!"

     I was rather shocked, to say the least of the matter. A dragon, talking? I thought they were unable to do that. Where was the fire? And the sharp claws? I quickly recovered my composure.

     "What?"

     Well, perhaps not my composure.

     "Yes, you heard me!" called the dragon back. "I was just enjoying a nice scale cleaning and snacking on a sheep and you have to show up. I'm tired of killing knights! It's a horrible mess. The scorch marks get all about the place and it's such a hassle to bury you as a hero. We have a whole bloody plot of you out back."

     I stood in confusion only for a moment.

     "Then I shall come inside and fight you!"

     "In that case, you accept my hospitality?"

     "What?"

     "If you want to come inside the great hall, you must accept my hospitality. With all the attendant rules, as well. You know, no stabbing me unexpectedly and such."

     "What?"

     I heard some rumbling coming from the building. And out came a rather lovely lass, although obviously of peasant stock.

     "My Lord, the dragon asked me to explain things to you. First off, he is not interested in fighting you."

     "What?"

     "He is rather a nice dragon, if I may be so bold."

     "A nice dragon? They are sent by Satan to trouble the land!"

     "Well, he certainly troubles us less than Sir Englesce ever did. He never cared for the children he…"

     "What!?!" I was rather shocked, both at her boldness in speaking to me and all she was saying. How could a dragon possibly be less trouble than a nobleman?

     She seemed about to make a most unfeminine commment, but bit her tounge and continued.

     "Sir, if you will disarm and remove your gear, the dragon says you may come inside."

     I was too confused to do much else, I must say. So I took off my chainmail and helm and gave my lance and sword to Grimwalt. He'll be an excellent knight someday.

     "Welcome to my castle, Sir Knight," said the dragon. "Would you enjoy some roast mutton. It is quite excellent, if I do say so myself. I do hate to brag, but I am rather a good cook. Comes with the fire-breathing, I suppose."

     There, curled up on the dias like some sort of red, scaly cat laid the dragon. The vicious horns that were capable of implaing a man were polished to a high sheen. His tail, strong enough to overturn a loaded wagon with ease, was curled about him. His fangs glimmered with unholy light as he opened his mouth.

     His body was reclined on a pile of sheepskins and he was busily devouring a sheep. Several comely young peasant women were cleaning his scales with wire brushes, giggling and talking. He was laughing at some joke one of the women said, his tail twitching.

     "What?" I cried out again. My mind totally froze up.

     "Is that all you say, Sir Knight? I understand that you are horribly confused, but please, stop with the 'whats'. I've had quite enough of those, thank you very much. Although it is better than 'Die, dragon!' And 'Back to the pit from whence you came!' Ah well, humans." His massive shoulders gave a very Gallic shrug.

     "So, you are a dragon."

     "Yes, I rather suppose I am," he said with a chuckle. "And a very poor one at that, I would wager. I would much rather lie about than go about burning and killing and piling up treasure."

     "You seem to be good at that."

     He regarded me with one baleful eye. All of a sudden I noticed his lethal arsenal agan. His horns were as long as my arm and as sharp as my lance. The fangs that had been joking before suddenly seemed much sharper. Then the scales around his yellow eye crinkled and he began to laugh.

     "Yes, yes, I am, aren't I! Well, I heard about this rich manor with a bad ruler. And I heard they kept lots of sheep. Oh, how I adore sheep. So nice and they cook up well. And their skins are so nice to lay on. I especially like how the lanolin…"

     I was not about to be distracted by his wanderings, especially not with my heart beating so fast. It was about ready to burst of out my chest. Fighting the elves at Brannock was more relaxing than this!

     "Dragon, I had been told you just carry off sheep and kidnap maidens for horrible activities."

     "Well, I do carry off sheep. But it's all a part of the tax burden. It's actually far lower than what the peasantry had to pay under 'Good Sir Englesce', let me tell you." He said Sir Englesce's name with quite a suprising sneer, for a giant reptile.

     "And the maidens?"

     "Well, that is part of the tax as well. Every Tuesday afternoon, rain or shine, four maidens must come to the castle…"

     "And…"

     "Would you stop interrupting? Where was I? Oh, yes, the maidens. Well, then they have to scrub my scales and clean me off. All the walking I do about town, checking on how things are going gets rather dirty."

     "Walking about town?"

     "Why yes, of course! A good ruler should always check on his subjects? So that's what I do. I make sure the crops are growing well and that the animals are healthy. Although that blasted mud gets all over me. It's so much easier to fly, but I don't get such a good view in that case."

     I managed to close my mouth, which had been hanging wide open.

     "Ruler. Are you saying that you are pretending to be lord of this manor."

     "Not pretending, old boy. Quite the opposite. I am the Lord of this manor. Got it like everyone else- took it from the previous owner. I must say the peasants like me much more that Sir Englesce."

     "That's true, and no mistake," said one of the peasants cleaning his scales, "the dragon treats us right well. Now won't you please have some of his mutton and sit down for a bit?"

     I stared at her for several moments. This was beyond anything I had ever experienced before. Finally Grimwalt nudged me with an elbow.

     "I suppose I shall…"

     "And that's how I became the Dragon's Knight, my King Arthur. It's my duty to convince my fellow knights to stop trying to kill him, and to act as an emissary to other Lords. He wishes to become the legal lord of Brighton and to swear fealty to you. Will you accept?"