Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Knight

     Geoffrey Knight and his good friend Thomas mounted the hill with some difficulty. Down in the valley before them lay a vast, horrific network of cliffs and canyons and tunnels. And somewhere in that labyrinth was a dragon and his frightened prisoner.

     "There it is, Thomas," Geoffrey said. "Somewhere in there the dragon is holding the king's daughter captive."

     "Indeed," Thomas's unusually high, nasally voice and his stubby height made him a very comical figure standing next to the taller and more rugged Geoffrey. "It's your last chance to turn back."

     "I can't do that, Thomas," Geoffrey said with determination. He looked down at the pile of armor he and Thomas had dragged to the top of the hill. He couldn't tell which piece went where on his body. "Can you help me put this on?"

     Thomas sighed and helped his friend climb into the lustrous metallic garb. "You know," he said. "You really don't have to go through with this. Just think about it reasonably."

     Ho boy. Thomas had lectured Geoffrey like this five times on the journey thus far. It was likely that he would do it several more times before everything was finished.

     "I've heard this princess is astonishingly beautiful," Thomas was saying. "I understand. But what's the point of throwing your life away for that? That's why we have painters make portraits. You could look at her all you want in the castle gallery. Of course, it might still be hard, you being a peasant and all, but it would be better than risking your life!"

     "It's not that," Geoffrey said, trying to stand still so Thomas could strap on the armor.

     "OK, so the reward," his friend went on. "You can make money doing any number of other things. Feed someone's cattle, or the pigs, or chickens, or something. Why, you could even raise chickens and sell them at the market. I hear it's not that hard."

     "I don't want the money, Thomas." It wouldn't do any good arguing with him. Thomas would keep going on and on about how dangerous the mission was. Geoffrey would go ahead and do it anyway. It just had to be that way.

     And Thomas would probably come along, regardless.

     "Fame, then? All you need for that is to tell your landlord that you quit, and run away and join a band of wandering troubadours. You'll be the talk of the kingdom for at least a week!"

     "I'm going to do this, Thomas. You can't stop me."

     "More's the pity." Thomas strapped Geoffrey's sword belt on tightly. "But you won't get me to go any farther. I don't want to be fried to a crisp and served up for dragon's tea time."

     "Well, that's really a shame," Geoffrey said, picking up a bag of food and starting down the hill. "I was going to give you half the reward money."

     "Ha!" Thomas called after him, "Don't think you can get me with that old trick! I know how to practice what I preach! You can't--" He paused, and watched Geoffrey go. After a second's thought, he sped down the hill after him.

     His breastplate was on backwards.


     They found the dragon's cave without much difficulty. It stood forbiddingly over them as they climbed up into it. As they entered, Thomas began to mutter his lecture again. At the sound of it, Geoffrey smiled in spite of himself.

     "Do you think we should challenge the dragon?" he asked Thomas.

     "Better ways to be famous," his friend was saying as he eyed the fearful darkness before them. "Like chickens, you know? You could sell them to troubadours or something."

     "Right," Geoffrey agreed. "Best to go with stealth."

     They hadn't gone far when they were confronted by the sound of a woman's weeping. They both advanced cautiously. A little further on, they came upon a small fire. Nearby sat a young woman in a once fine but now ragged dress. She held her face in her hands and was crying loudly.

     Geoffrey cleared his throat awkwardly. "Um, excuse me? Princess Penelope I presume?"

     The girl looked up in surprise, taking in Geoffrey and Thomas at a glance. Next moment she had thrown herself at Geoffrey and wrapped her arms tightly around his midsection. "Finally!" she cried. "You're finally here! You've rescued me! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"

     "Uh, you're welcome...?" Geoffrey looked to his friend in embarrassment. Thomas just shrugged and glanced about nervously. They both hoped that after a moment, the princess would let go and they'd all leave. But still she hung on, clutching his waist ever tighter.

     "Uh, look," Geoffrey said, trying to extricate himself from her grasp, "I know you're happy to get out of here and everything, but we can't really get going until you release me."

     "Oh! Right!" In an instant she had let go of him and was standing upright. "What are you waiting for? Come on, let's go. Hurry up!"

     She didn't have to tell them twice. But still Geoffrey couldn't help but feel a little curious. "Where's the dragon?" He asked as they started toward the exit.

     "What?!?" she practically screeched. "You mean to tell me you haven't slain it yet?"

     "No..." Geoffrey felt embarrassed again. "We were hoping to avoid a direct confrontation."

     Princess Penelope looked incredulous. "Really? You didn't slay the dragon first? What kind of knight are you?"

     "A volunteer one," Thomas said.

     "This is not the time," Geoffrey said to Thomas, trying to move them both toward the mouth of the cave.

     But now the subject would not go away. "What are you talking about?" Penelope asked, her tone betraying a rising suspicion, and even anger.

     Thomas seemed proud to tell her, "This good fellow here dropped everything when he heard that you'd been captured, rented some armor and a sword, and brought me to help, so he could come down here and rescue you. I'm his best friend, by the way, and I was with him from the very beginning."

     Geoffrey rolled his eyes and said, "Of course. But we need to get out of here."

     "You rented your armor?" Penelope asked him. "You don't have any of your own?"

     "Well," Thomas admitted good-naturedly. "He's not exactly a real knight. We're both from the lower class, if you know what I mean."

     "YOU'RE A PEASANT?!!?!?!!?!"

     Thomas and Geoffrey both fell over. The princess began whining and sobbing and near-screaming while Thomas tried to help Geoffrey stand back up.

     "I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!" Penelope was crying, "I can't be rescued by a peasant! I'll be ruined! My father will probably want to give me in marriage to you or something! And then I--I can't bear to say it--I'll be a peasant too!" She collapsed into an uncontrollable fit of hysterics.

     Meanwhile, Thomas lifted Geoffrey to his feet. "You know," Geoffrey whispered to him, "That reward is looking better all the time."

     At that moment, there appeared, looming out of the shadows, the large reptilian face of a dragon. Its eyes were the yellow and red of extreme age, and its skin was pale and dry, cracked like thousand-year-old parchment. Its jaws hung open and its tongue lolled out on one side of its mouth. It drooled.

     At the sight of the creature, the princess fell into yet another tantrum. "AIEE!!!" she screamed. "The dragon! Kill it, slay it, destroy it. For goodness' sakes, kill it!"

     These commands were lost on Geoffrey. As soon as the creature showed its face, he scooped up the princess in his arms and ran toward the cave's exit, Thomas close behind him. Just as they reached safety, Geoffrey set Penelope down on a rock and left Thomas to look after her. He charged back into the cave to face the dragon head on.

     Thomas was about to go in after him, when there was a loud yell, a thundering quake in the earth, and a great ball of fire leapt from the mouth of the cave.

     Geoffrey! Was he really...? There was no way he could have survived that, was there? Thomas drew off his cap and held it over his heart. He had been a good man. One of the best men that he knew. As good a peasant as ever there was, that was for sure. Thomas sniffed as a tear formed in his eye.

     He was suddenly, painfully aware of the princess sitting on the rock nearby. Her wailing had not ceased. She was still there crying and bemoaning the facts that 1) she had been captured by a dragon, 2) she was soon to be eaten by the dragon, 3) that a peasant had come to rescue her, and 4) she had actually been touched by said peasant.

     Thomas felt a burning anger come over him, hotter than the dragon's flames. "What in the world are you crying about?!" He exploded, "Don't you know what just happened? My friend Geoffrey just died trying to save your pathetic hide! Does that mean anything to you? Maybe he wasn't a real knight, but he was a better man than all those real knights put together. He knew what kind of spoiled rotten brat you are and he still risked his life to keep you safe. Do you understand what that means? No, it does not mean you're really special. It means he was!"

     He was foiled in his rant as Penelope, who had been watching him pitifully, finally fainted dead away. He was about to go and shake her awake, when there came a tap at his shoulder. "Excuse me, Thomas?"

     He turned to see Geoffrey standing there, his face streaked with soot, his dirty helmet in his hands.

     "You're alive!" Thomas threw his arms around his friend and hugged him warmly. "But how? What became of the dragon?"

     "He's dead," Geoffrey said with an odd grin. "I went back in there to kill him, but when I got in, he was already hacking and wheezing like nobody's business. He was coughing these little fireballs, so I took cover, just as he let loose that gigantic breath of flame. After a couple of minutes I went to investigate, and he was dead. Of old age, I guess."

     "Wowee. That's amazing. I'm glad you're back, though." Thomas looked to the fainted princess. "Now, what shall we do with her?"

     Geoffrey shrugged, then took a step forward and regarded her kindly. He sighed, then handed his helmet to Thomas and picked her up gently.

     "We'll take her back to the kingdom where she belongs," he said. "Come on, let's get going."

     He started down the path, back through the labyrinth of cliffs and tunnels. Thomas halted where he was, watching him go. He shook his head in amazement at his friend's character. Then a smile forced itself over his face, and he set out after him.

     His breastplate was still on backward.

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