The armor clanked loudly, almost drowning out the sounds of hooves clicking on the cobblestone. The knight looked around, eyes moist and red rimmed. The surrounding lands were charred and the acrid smell of smoke permeated the air. Red and yellow light reflected off the knight’s silver armor, as cracking flame still flared among the remaining few trees still standing. Continuing on his path, the land turns to open countryside, broken by smoldering wooden fences. There were wisps of smoke rising from the blackened ground. Scattered around were steaming piles of gore from cattle and goats, great hunks of flesh torn from the carcasses.
The knight knew who must be responsible, it could only be one beast; the great dragon. He had heard stories of its fury. It was said the creature threw torrents of wind under its batlike wings. Great gouts of flame bringing death down upon the once pristine landscapes. Its neck and head were serpentine, with eyes glowing the color of amber. Its gaping maw was filled with yellow dagger like teeth, stained brown and red with gore. The beast lived far from the kingdom, across tangled and stinking jungles, over a barren rock face, and through the scorching unrelenting desert.
Nevertheless, he clicked his tongue and pushed his spurs into the sides of the muscled chestnut stallion he rode. The creature pulled itself taut, threatening to toss its rider to the side, but the knight tugged firmly on the reins, and its powerful muscles dropped slack and it began to pump its powerful legs swiftly, clacking loudly.
The sun rose and set twice, with the knight and steed stopping only when the night swallowed the path into darkness. During these times the knight’s sleep was rocked by visions of smoldering homes, and the piercing screams of children. His dreams brought the creature to life, all muscle and sinew, gouts of blue and red flames bursting forth from its horrid maw. His heavy eyes bursting open. He fed his small campfire for the remainder of the night. In truth, none had seen the beast. Only one peasant, torched by the beast’s fires claimed to have heard an ear-shattering roar, proof enough for the knight that the dragon was involved.
The next day he reached the edge of the jungle. Great trees tangled with vines reached high above him, putting the undergrowth into a murky twilight. He could hear the hoots of some animal or another, and the clicking sounds of insects filled the air. The smell of must and decay assailed his nostrils. The small opening between trees would not allow for the great horse to pass. The knight sighed as he opened the faded leather saddlebags, pulling out rations, water, and other necessities, loading them into a woolen rucksack which he slung over his shoulder. The weight pressed his armor down upon his flesh, pushing through the padding so he could feel the bite of the seams of his armor. Shrugging, he turned to the horse, striking it firmly in the rump. The beast reared dangerously, then turned and charged away down the dirt path towards the castle. The beast was headstrong but it knew the way home.
Stepping forward, the knight hacked at the thick, stringy vines with his shining blade and strode into the jungle. Hours of chopping and squeezing through the dense undergrowth found the knight consumed by the gloom, with no sun or stars to guide his path. His shoulders drooped and his head whipped around searching wildly. He sighed, followed by a deep inhalation. He lowered himself downward til his knees sunk into the squelching mud. Crossing himself, he bellowed out into the gloom. “Oh Lord, please guide my path through this place of darkness and despair. I seek to avenge your flock and see justice done in their name! May your glory guide your simple servant to the lands beyond. Amen.”
Stiffly he rose and felt a holy light fill his body. Squaring his shoulders the knight continued, his shining sword now stained green from the slimy vines. For three days he wandered the jungle hacking a path, arms straining, and struggling through undergrowth until he finally stepped blinking out into the warm sunshine beyond. He scanned the area, his heart rising in his chest. Sure enough, his eyes alighted on the sheer rock cliffs he sought. The aching knight faltered a bit seeing miles of land ahead of him, but soon shook himself and began moving, feet pounding a steady rhythm with his mud-caked silver boots.
The trip took the rest of the day and was over smooth, flowing grasslands. He breathed deeply, smelling the aroma of grass and flowers Finally he found himself looking upwards at the sheer rock face. Only small lips and stones jutted out from its side. The knight lowered himself to his knees, grass brushing across the chest plate of his armor. He reached a hand upwards, shoving his metal mask to his forehead revealing a dirt-caked face with streams of sweat pouring down from his brow. His legs felt leaden, and his shoulder aflame under the weight of his sack. His shoulders drooped and body went slack. He slid the bag off his shoulder, which dropped roughly to the ground. He laid back in the tall grass, and soon his heavy eyelids drooped and closed, his breath slowly rising and falling.
Shrieks of terror tore through his mind, the heat of flames nearly consumed him. Homes crackled slightly, blackened boards lying in heaps. Twisted corpses littered the ground, faces unblinking, mouths locked open in a silent scream. The knight’s eyes flew open, and his body shot upwards. He quivered with quickly rasping breath. He stayed that way for a moment then lowered himself down to the rough ground. Motionless, his dark rimmed eyes staring at the cliff face till the sun peeked over the horizon.
The cliff rose upwards, monolithic and unassailable. He pushed himself to one knee, voice echoing across the grasslands “Oh Lord! Please give your child the strength to avenge your flock.” The knight lifted himself from the ground and released the straps on his metal gauntlets and boots. The gloves dropped to the ground with a crash, and he struggled with the metal boots, forcing them off his feet. He picked them up and placed them in his sack Shoving aside unwanted items he recovered a pair of soft leather boots, which he slipped over his blistered feet. Digging further he recovered a pair of kid leather gloves, fingers removed. These he slid onto his aching hands.
Feeling the cliff face, his questing fingers found a small crack just higher than his head. Sliding his fingertips into the rock, his muscles tightened, and he pulled himself up. Holding himself with only his fingers, he slid his feet across the featureless surface, searching for footholds, and finally resting on some protuberances of rock. After hours of pulling, scrabbling and running his fingers over the sheer surface, the knight’s lungs blew out ragged breaths, the muscles in his arms spasmed slightly, and his legs felt like jelly. Looking upwards, hoping for the upper lip to lay nearby, but the face stretched far above him. The knight squeezed his eyes closed, a breathy groan escaped his cracked lips. Dropping his left arm he tried to shake some strength back in his limbs, then switched arms and shook the right. Grunting with exertion, he slid his hand up the face seeking the next handhold.
Through the day and night, he climbed, finally hauling himself over the edge. He lay there for hours, his arms leaden, fingertips red and raw, and legs lying uselessly behind him. Slowly he rose and looked at the desolation before him. The sun baked the shifting sand, a hot breeze blowing, promising but not delivering any relief. Reaching into his sack he pulled out a waterskin which sloshed heavily and let water flow down his parched throat. His mind crossed the years, to his childhood when desert nomads told him stories of their barren home. “Don’t hoard your water.” they told him “Most who travel the desert die with water in their skins. Wait for the night, for it is cooler and the sands will not burn your feet.”
Heeding the advice of times past, he dropped to the sand in the sweltering heat, waiting for the sun to sink. While he waited he emptied his rucksack before him and carefully took stock of the items inside. A few pieces of salted meat and three dry biscuits, it may last him two days if rationed carefully. He ignored his growling stomach as he packed his things away. His head drooped, eyes devoid of life. There would be no return trip. No honor to be gained, he would die on this quest. Still, he thought as he lifted his head to see the sun slip over the horizon. He would avenge the lost before he died.
Temperatures dropped swiftly, heat giving way to a bitter cold. His breath steamed through his mask, the constant pumping of his legs warmed his aching body. He guided his way by the stars, keeping his path firmly to the north. As the sun rose over the horizon his legs gave out, dumping him unceremoniously to the sand. He pulled his skin to his parched lips letting the warm water run down his dry and cracked throat. The incessant heat beat down on him, turning his metal skin into an oven. He struggled for a time, unbuckling straps and tugging away at pieces of the suit. For a few short seconds it was a sweet relief, but the beating sun still shone down, causing rivulets of sweat to pour down his body. The unrelenting sun took a toll on the knight’s skin, as it rapidly changed from a pale tan to a deep crimson that radiated heat. Looking at himself he saw small bubbles form in his flesh, painful to the touch. As the day passed he ate a stale biscuit and a tough piece of beef, and let his diminishing water supply quench the agonizing thirst. Night fell, and the knight pulled the heavy pieces of armor over his raw and blistered skin, the pressure forcing air through his gritted teeth. Resolutely he rose and tromped unsteadily through the icy winds of the desert.
The knight squeezed his eyes to slits as the bright sun climbed over the horizon. The warm rays outlining a great spire of rock, rising like a spear from the sands. The base of the mountain gaped into a huge opening, shadowy and dark against the bright sands. He poured the last few dribbles of water into his parched mouth, throwing the now useless skin to be swallowed by the sand. With military precision he marched towards the darkness. The sun was high in the sky when he finally stood on the rough stone at the mouth of the cave. The knight dropped roughly to his knees and offered a silent prayer. His foe only meters away he shuddered at the thought of awakening the beast. He desired silence as he entered the cave, but his metal sheath groaned and shrieked as he walked, piercing the tranquility of the endless desert.
The giant beast dominated the cave, its huge body’s breath rising up and down slowly, moving shadows in strange shapes on its scales. Its huge talons glistened in the light of a fire at the far end of the room. The bulging muscle lay placid on the stone. Its sinuous neck stretched across the room connected to the wedge-shaped head, amber eyes glowing and teeth stained yellow. And it was wearing spectacles.
He shook his head, hoping to clear away the strange sight. He looked again and saw it was indeed wearing spectacles, the tip of its long nose rested in front of a leather tome easily the size of his arms spread wide. Casually it flicked out its thin tongue, turning the page in its book. The knight stared, head cocked sideways and mouth slack. Dragon were terrors of brimstone and death, he had never heard of one reading. No matter, he thought the beast must pay.
Honor demanded a confrontation, man to beast, not an ignoble stab to the unaware. “Dragon!” he bellowed, causing the creature’s head to pop up and its eyes to widen. “I have come to slay you for the destruction of my fair kingdom!”
The dragon slowly removed the spectacles with two razor-sharp claws and lay them gently on a table. He then lazily turned to look at the knight, his scaly brows furrowed.
“Hmm,” he said in a surprisingly tenor voice, though it boomed, echoing through the dim chamber. “I don’t recall razing any countrysides recently. Can you tell me where it is? It might jog my memory.”
The knight again bellowed forth “I come from a land across the desert through the jungle and across a great plain. I traveled many days to reach you and now that I have you shall be slain in the name of the Lord God!”
The dragon looked upwards and muttered to himself. He then lowered his head and said “No, I’m sorry that wasn’t me. It must have been someone else. Sorry you had to travel all this way. Would you care for some tea?”
The knight stuttered for a moment, forehead creasing and mouth moving silently. Shaking his head he then shouted “Of course it was you! The land was razed in flames!”
“Well,” the dragon said brightly “there is a flame-breathing giant salamander who lives in a swamp far closer than I to your kingdom. Perhaps it was him. Do you like sugar or cream in your tea?”
Without thinking he said “cream” then ground his teeth. His voice echoed through the cavern “You can’t fool me, beast. The cattle of the land were all mauled and eaten! No salamander would do that!” He nodded his head resolutely.
The dragon was silent for a moment, back turned to the knight, clinking noises filling the air. Finally, he spoke “That settles it then. It must have been the wyvern two mountains down. I don’t care for cattle in the slightest, I much prefer pig.” His slender neck turned to face the knight and his claws held a porcelain cup, with cherry trees dropping petals gracing one side.
The dragon pushed this in the direction of the knight who took it without thought and raised the cup to his lips. He held the aromatic tea in his mouth savoring the fragrance and slight bitterness, mellowed by the rich cream. His hand froze in place, mind dragging him back to the present. His color rose to his cheeks as he again heard the screams of children echo through his mind.
His head shot up, eyes slits, his face red “Damn your tea, and damn wyverns. The destruction of my home was all your doing!” He threw the cup down onto the stone floor. With a delicate crunch the mug shattered sending porcelain and tea flying. The knight’s hand dropped to the hilt of his blade, sliding it smoothly from its sheath and raising it menacingly at the beast.
The dragon’s eyes were alight with a flaming orange glow. “That was fine china!” it voice blasted through the room, leaving the knight’s ears ringing. “From a complete set! Do you know hard it is for a dragon to find a full set of fine china?”
The knight bellowed “Damn your china! You will have no need of it now. I will destroy you in the name of God and Kingdom!”
The dragon clicked its tongue and opened its mouth. Heat and smoke issued forth, followed by a great gout of blue flame. The knight’s mouth dropped open, but no sound emerged before the flames engulfed him. His body blackened in the intense heat and his shining armor melted down into so much slag.
The dragon raised its head, and shook it slowly “That kingdom is full of barbarians. “ he muttered “Who would be so rude to destroy a prized piece of china like that? I wish I HAD razed that kingdom.” he cocked his head thoughtfully “Well, the castle must still be there, or where did the knight come from? Maybe they have a new set of china? Perhaps even a book or two?” He smiled, sharp teeth glinting in the firelight. “Yes. It’s definitely worth a look. Where did he say it was? Across the desert, past the jungle and over a plain? I think I know where that is.”
He stretched his wings and strode out of his cave, earth shaking at his steps. He pumped fiercely, hurricanes of air swirling beneath the force of his thrusts as he rose from the ground. Wings thrown wide, he soared across the desert as the sun dropped over the horizon. Rising higher, the dragon muttered grumpily about his ruined china.