The Dragon Slayer
In mere minutes, the battle was over. The scaly beast lay dead at Sir Tristan’s feet, tail twisted between his ankles, reptilian eyes staring unblinking into the starless night sky. The knight wiped the thick, black blood from his blade upon the scattered grass, and winced as the gravel bit into his singed knuckles.
The dragon had relieved him of his eyebrows and left his golden locks a little worse for wear, but the advantage had been his on this overcast night. The mindless brutes were notoriously blind in the dark – and though the dragon heard his approaching footsteps, it hadn’t known which way to strike its razor-sharp claws until the knight was already upon it.
Tristan was sheathing his sticky blade when the Princess emerged from the tower, her nightgown fluttering gently in the wind. She clutched a lantern in her long, lean fingers, and she gasped as she came upon the scene. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
The knight stifled a satisfied smirk, and bowed. “Your Highness, I am Sir Tristan of Amberhill, defender of the innocent, protector of the weak, sworn to the service of King Ambrosius, may he live long and–”
The Princess rushed passed him and threw herself upon the dragon’s corpse. “Coco? Coco!” She shook the beast by one meaty shoulder, shining the lantern upon its sightless eyes. Then she spotted the gash deep in the monster’s chest and rose, scowling, knuckles white as she clutched the handle of the lantern. “What did you do to my dragon?”
Tristan cleared his throat. “Well, you see, Your Highness, I had to slay the beast to protect you. As soon as it heard me approach, it began to blast smoke and fire into the air. How else was I supposed to free you from the tower?”
“Free me from the…merciful creator!” She slumped down upon a stone bench at the edge of the courtyard, laying her lantern beside her. “Of course the bloody guard dragon tried to run you off! You were trespassing on my fucking property! What in the name of heaven made you think I needed rescuing? And what’s with all this ‘Your Highness’ nonsense?”
Now that Tristan had a look at her, he noticed she didn’t look exactly like what he’d expected. Her dark hair was a wild and tangled mess, her skin tanned by the elements, her hands roughened by years of hard labor. It was hard to see, in the darkness, but it seemed she even had the beginnings of crow’s feet around her violet eyes. “I-I…the people of the village, they told me of a Princess in a tower, a fair woman of unsurpassable beauty, who had been taken captive by a vicious dragon–”
She actually laughed at that, pounding a tight fist against the hard stone beneath her. “Vicious? Coco was only two years old! A wee babe! And you trusted everything those arseholes down the road told you, didn’t you? A princess indeed. You see any castles nearby? What the fuck did they tell you I was princess of?”
“I…I don’t understand. Why would they send me here, if you didn’t need my help?” Sir Tristan helplessly wrung his hands, pacing across the courtyard. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Holy mother, you’re dense,” the woman sneered. “Blacksmith a mile up the road. He’s been hounding me to marry him for months. Started showing up at my doorstep at night, piss-drunk and hollering up at the windows, banging on the door, talking about how he’s going to scale the damn tower and show me what I’m missing. You think a girl gets a dragon just for the fun of it? Even a baby eats three goats a week!”
“I…I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize–”
“Just go!” She leapt to her feet, glaring the warrior down. She swiped at him with one dainty fist and cringed when her fingers met the stiff mail covering his chest. Holding her bruised fingers in her other hand, she shouted, “You knights are all the same! You have no respect for personal property, you just trespass as you please and take what you want–”
“I’ll pay.” Sir Tristan held his hands up in meek surrender. “Look, do you have a piece of parchment? I’ll send a bill to King Ambrosius, he’ll sort the matter out. I’ll buy you another dragon. A bigger one. A scarier one.”
The woman eyed him suspiciously. “You’re sure this king of yours will pay up?”
Tristan shifted nervously. “Well. It’s going to come from my own vault, that’s for certain. But look, I have my own little keep. Some serfs. Some modest savings. I’m sure it’s enough to replace your losses, Miss…?”
“Grizelda,” she sighed. “Fine, we’ll send a courier in the morning. But if you think you get to leave without cleaning up this mess you’ve made…”
“Madam, I swear my service to you until ever last spatter of dragon blood is cleared from this courtyard.”
“Good luck with that,” she muttered. “Well, no use trying to work in the dark. And now that you’ve taken out my alarm system I’m going to need someone keep that fucking smith away from my house. You want to come up, put on a pot of coffee? Just business. Don’t get any ideas.”
Sir Tristan smiled, bowing low. “Miss Grizelda, it would be my honor.”
She rolled her eyes, and opened the door to invite the knight inside.