Will A. Sanborn
9/24 - 9/25/96
"You aren't scared are you, Lady Katherine?" the knight asked the woman, as they rode their horses through the forest.
"No, not really, Sir Richard," she replied calmly. "I've been through these woods a couple of times before, though perhaps I would feel a little better if we'd brought another rider or two along to accompany us."
"I can understand your worry my lady, given some of the tales that are told of this place, but as I said before, if we traveled in too large a group, it would draw attention to us."
"I suppose so, and as you're captain of my guard, I trust your judgment."
His lips curling just slightly in a smile, he continued "We wouldn't want anyone to find out about these jewels of yours, now would we?" motioning to the strongbox hidden within his saddlebag.
"No, we wouldn't," she replied, pulling at the reins, bringing her horse to a faster gait.
Matching his horse's speed with hers, coming back alongside her, he changed the subject to one more to his liking. "Did I ever tell you about my campaign on the Ivory Coast? Now that was a battle..." his smile growing a little broader.
Looking interested, she listened to his tales for quite some time, until coming round a bend, entering a small clearing, they were greeted with a grisly surprise. There in the clearing lay the bodies of two men, their knives lying useless beside them, the blood from their fatal wounds still seeping into the poisoned earth beneath them.
Stopping in shock, the knight reacted quickly, unsheathing his sword as he assessed the situation, an uneasy look on his face.
"Friends of yours?" the lady asked matter-of-factly, watching him as he took in the scene before them frantically, a stoic look across her face.
"Stay back, there's likely to be danger nearby" he hissed at her, guiding his horse a couple of steps into the clearing.
"Yes, that is likely to be true," a new voice spoke, low and rumbling, it came from off to their side. Turning to face the unseen foe, the knight was greeted with the sight of a dragon coming out from the trees, stepping into the clearing to confront him.
The terrible lizard stood before him, walking on two legs, his body roughly like that of a man's, but the green scales of his skin, his reptilian face and the large tail dragging behind him broke any illusions of his semblance to humanity. Wearing only armored plates on his forearms and a pair of breeches, a jeweled amulet hung from a small chain around his neck. A ruby set in a golden disk, the talisman was a brilliant contrast to the pale green of the fine network of scales covering the dragon's chest.
Watching the dragon approach, the knight sized up his opponent, clutching his sword at the ready as the lizard regarded him coldly. Pausing just briefly, he made his stand. "You may have taken those two men easily, but now you're up against a knight, vile beast. I won't let you harm the lady," he spat out.
A toothy grin forming on the dragon's snout, he replied "We'll just see about that my good knight." As he spoke, the ruby of his amulet began to glow, lightly at first, then becoming brighter.
Kicking his horse into action, the knight charged at the dragon, his sword held high, ready to come bearing down on him. The space of the clearing was too small though, and the charge was not very fast. Reacting quickly, the dragon was easily able to deflect the knight's blow with the metal plating on his arms, forcing the arc of the blade off to the side.
As the horse went by, the dragon swiped at it. Having warded of the knight's attack he brought his taloned hand down across the horses flanks, leaving red gouges as the animal screamed in pain. The knight was then out of his reach, turning to prepare another assault, but it was as useless as before. In minutes, the poor steed lay fallen on the ground, the knight having jumped off his mount barely in time to avoid being pinned beneath it.
On foot, the knight had even less of a chance of defeating the dragon, but he fought against his foe with blind determination and fury. Throwing his weight into the blow, he swung his sword against the dragon once again. He had a little more flexibility than before, but had lost the advantage of height being on horseback had given him, and once again the dragon was able to block his blows.
Tiring, the knight continued to swing at his opponent, his breathing labored, the intensity of his emotions toward the beast growing in power, clouding his mind with rage. As the knight's blows continued to miss their intended targets, the dragon watched him coldly, the pupils of his eyes focused into small slits, the ruby of the amulet glowing a fiery red.
Switching tactics, still defending himself with one hand, the dragon began to use his other to attack, as the strength of the knight's blows was weakening The dragon's talons flashing out, the knight was able to dodge his first blow, but the second connected, cutting through the material of the knight's coat, and the skin below.
Letting out a scream, of both pain and rage, the knight's fighting ability began to fade very quickly. He tried a few more blows, each with diminishing power, as the dragon tore at him again and again. Finally, it was all but over, his energy almost completely drained away from him, he staggered, ready to fall.
The dragon caught him, holding onto his shoulder and looking him right in the eyes, seeing the knight's fear and anger staring wildly back at him. "Now the game is over knight, you have gambled and lost," the dragon hissed at him as he hung there in his grasp. A moment later he dealt the final blow, his talons finding the human's flesh for the last time, the knight's body collapsing upon the ground before him.
When it was over, the dragon knelt above the body of his latest victim, quickly cleaning his hands on the tattered remains of the knight's coat. Slowly standing up, he turned to face the lady, looking at her sitting there on her horse, gazing at the carnage before her.
The glow of the ruby amulet fading, he spoke to her, his voice softer now. "So Katherine, are you satisfied that what I told you was true?"
"Yes Cyrus," she said, letting out a sigh. "I've learned well enough by now to trust your council... but I had hoped it wasn't."
"I know Katherine," the dragon replied, his expression having warmed slightly, but now sombered by the situation. "I told you he was plotting against you, and the trap of your jewels got him to act quicker than he was planning." Kneeling over the fallen horse, he retrieved the strongbox, walking to carry the small treasure to her, placing it in her saddle bag.
"Thank you Cyrus, it was a good idea. I just hate to think that honor can be compromised so easily. Dismissed from the high ranks of the royal service, relegated to manning the small guard of my manor, I should have seen his resentment, but I thought he was satisfied with his position."
"Some men's ambitions drive them to destruction. He must have been looking for a way of stealing from you for quite some time, and this little setup worked perfectly."
"Yes," she said with a slight chuckle. "What a fool he must have taken me for, wanting to take these jewels all the way to my cousin's, barely protected like that. I guess he saw the opportunity for an easy retirement to luxury and took it."
"Still, I didn't think he'd go through with it, hiring those highwaymen to ambush us," her voice cooling as she glanced down to the two bodies of the fallen strangers. Shivering slightly, she added "I'm glad to have you as my councilor, and knight of valor. They have gotten what they deserved."
"As always my lady, my loyalty and honor for you" the dragon replied, bowing before her, then smiling with friendship.
"Come on, let's be rid of this place and these traitorous thieves," she said, turning the horse away from the mess in the clearing, back towards home. Waiting for him to climb up behind her, she gave the reins a small tug and they were off.
A few minutes later, the unpleasantness behind them, she reached into her pocket to retrieve a small pouch of gold. "Here Cyrus, your payment for your services."
"No Katherine," pushing it away with his hand, "I'm just glad to see you safe and the corruption in your house taken care of. Besides," he added, his arms wrapping tighter around her, "I've got all the treasure I need right here."
Pulling at the reins to stop the horse, she turned her head towards him as he leaned forward. Meeting his smile with hers, she kissed him lightly on his snout, then her lips finding his. There with her secret councilor and lover, all was right once again, for while a knight at your hand can be quite instrumental, dragons are a girl's best friend.