Squire Thad trudged up the slope. “Riches and glory!” the criers had declared. “Grateful damsels! Free training!” Somehow they left out the suicide missions. He looked up the mountain at the cave issuing a thin stream of smoke, a gingerbread house for chivalrous meat shields everywhere, and wished he shared their sweet tooth.
Thad had had the bad timing to request a test for his knighthood just before Princess Penelope’s guards ran into the throne room. They described a vicious dragon swooping down, snatching the Princess off her horse, and carrying her into the mountains. Duke Tetzel and his court eagerly assigned Thad the rescue as his test, promising to praise his efforts in a ballad. Or at least a eulogy.
He noticed the smoke had stopped coming out of the cave. Assuming his presence was known, the squire abandoned stealth and strode in. Torches burned all around the barn-sized cavern’s walls. Princess Penelope lay on the ground, in front of the green dragon whose eyes focused on Thad.
“Welcome!” bellowed the dragon. “Let us hear why I should kill you today instead of a slower, more painful, more amusing demise. Every second your answer bores me will add a week to your agony. And hers.” The dragon rested a claw on the Princess’ neck. Thad saw her eyes moving frantically, guessing she was paralyzed.
Thad held his sword high and advanced. The dragon’s eyes widened as it regarded the sword, and it licked its lips. Was the reptile nervous? Or just hungry? Suddenly the dragon’s nostrils spewed blue fire towards him. The flames enveloped him, but the sword glowed brightly as Thad realized the blaze wasn’t burning him – it didn’t even feel warm.
Encouraged by the sword’s apparent protection, Thad launched himself at the dragon, who snaked its head back away from the glowing blade. Thad ducked a swinging front paw, but the dragon followed through and its surprisingly sturdy wing bowled Thad over. Thad rolled to his feet as the dragon turned to deliver the same 1-2 punch from the other side. This time Thad ducked the punch, then jumped and caught the wing mid-swipe.
As the surprised dragon reared up, Thad jumped from the rising wing onto the head and swung his sword down. The dragon ducked mostly below the blade, but the still-glowing sword cleanly cut off the tip of its snout. Thad poised the sword directly above the dragon’s eye to skewer its head when it cried, “The Princess’ life is tied to mine – if you kill me, she also dies! Let us try to reach a different solution!”
Thad looked down at the Princess, who eyed him even more frantically. Penelope appeared to be missing the tip of her nose. “Release her!” he ordered the dragon, and the Princess jumped up, grabbed her nose, and started wailing. “Magically, too!”
“It is done,” said the dragon, nervously eying the sword.
“Prove it!” ordered Thad. The dragon poked a claw into its forearm until blood welled. The Princess’ arm remained intact, and she ran out of the cave.
As Thad tensed to drive the sword home, the dragon convulsed its neck, throwing him to the ground. He quickly arose, brandishing his sword, but the dragon had retreated. “Let us see if we can find another way to resolve this matter,” hissed the dragon. “Your Princess is safe, and you obviously have the power to end the truce at any time.”Thad held his ground, thinking what to do.
TO BE CONTINUED