The Dragon Said to the Knight

by Keith Frady


“Would you like a cup of tea?”

“What? No, I’m not here for tea! I’m here to save the princess and slay you if need be.”

“Slay me?”

“If need be.”

“What would precipitate this need?”

“Refusing to give her back, or breathing fire, or some such dragony thing.”

“Forgive me if I sneeze, but that hardly seems reason to flail your toothpick.”

“My sword?”

“Toothpick. They’re most useful as toothpicks.”

“Could you just hand her over?”

“I meant to inquire earlier: to whom are you referring?”

“The princess!”

“Which princess?”

“You’ve abducted more than one recently?”

“I ‘abduct’ a princess every other week.”

“You fiend! You monster! Wait... why did you say ‘abduct’ like that?”

“Because I don’t really abduct them.”

“You take them from their homes! Steal poor virgin maids from their comfortable lives and do heaven knows what with them! After a couple of weeks, the priest switches from praying for her safe return to hoping it was a quick and painless death.”

“Of course I take them, but I don’t abduct them. Abduction implies I do it against their will.”

“I don’t follow.”

“You wouldn’t. As a species, you humans have a bad habit of underestimating your females.”

“Well, they’re so soft.”

“Not really.”

“Why would princesses want to be captured?”

“Why would someone not want to spend her days sighing out of tower windows? Some kingdoms don’t even allow princesses to weave or garden. To those nobilities there is nothing so common as sweat and dirt.”

“They ask you to abduct them?”

“Liberate them. It’s become a business. Bob’s Liberation Service, they call it.”

“Who’s Bob?”

“I’m Bob.”

“Your name is Bob?”

“My parents weren’t very creative.”

“I mean, you have a name?”

“Of course I do. How rude of me, I never introduced myself. Hello, sir knight, I’m Robert. What’s your name?”

“Prince George.”

“Pleasure. As I was saying, Prince George, princesses can find their lives to be stifling, and they send for me to free them. They’re rather grateful. A few come back now and then for a chat and tea. Speaking of which, are you sure you won’t have any?”

“It was a long journey. And in this very heavy armor.”

“Please, be my guest. Get comfortable and I’ll pour us a cup. Best tea you’ll ever have, I assure you.”

“What do you get by liberating the princesses?”

“I request they read me a book before they go live their new, towerless lives.”

“That’s it? They only have to read you a book?”

“All dragons love stories, but ours was an oral tradition. And human books are too small for me to read. In exchange for their freedom, the princesses read me their favorite book. They know to grab a few from their castles’ libraries before I come shouting thunder and fire. Sugar or milk?”

“Sugar, please. Two lumps. I suppose I can see why a princess would want to leave, Robert, but —”

“Bob, please.”

“I can sort of see why they would want to leave, Bob, but princesses lead easy, carefree lives. I would have taken care of her every need. We would have grown old together, sired children.”

“Tell me, George. Are you her first or second cousin?”

“Technically her mother and my father are siblings.”

“Indeed. And when was your wedding announced?”

“We’ve always known we would be wed.”

“Did it once cross your mind she might not want to marry you?”

“Why wouldn’t she? You were right; this is a good cup of tea.”

“Thank you. Family recipe.”

“Where is your family now? Do you have a wife? Do dragons marry?”

“We do. I did. They’re dead.”

“My sincerest apologies, I got carried away. Never thought to ask those questions before. But, if you don’t mind, how many dragons are left?”

“Me. Species of one. No more hatchlings, no more fire ceremonies, no more flights of passage. No more stories.”

“That’s... I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right. Really, I think I should be angry. But I’m not. Just tired.”

“I see you have a small library. The princesses leave the books after they read them?”

“I ask to keep them. That way I can have my favorites re-read later.”

“The tea is excellent, Bob. Perhaps as payment I can read you a chapter from a book?”

“That would be lovely, George. Here, I’ll pour us more while you read.”

Once upon a time, there was a princess living in a castle far, far away. One day, a dragon assaulted the tower she lived in and abducted her. Weeks went by, and the priest’s prayers turned from those of safe return to those hoping it was a quick and painless death.

A knight, who was also the prince betrothed to the princess, proclaimed to the people he would slay the dragon and return with her safe and sound. After a long journey, during which he wore very heavy armor, the knight arrived at the dragon’s lair. Bellowing a savage war cry, the knight bravely ran into the lair with his sword drawn. Inside, he found the dragon tending a boiling pot. The dragon said to the knight...

* * *

“You’re late.”

“I didn’t know you were so eager to die, lizard.”

“Not at all. I merely expected you sooner. Knights usually try to slay me in the morning, and it’s almost noon. Clocks could be set by the idiocy of heroes.”

“And what of heroines?”

“A woman knight? I admit surprise.”

“Revenge always sneaks up on the sinner.”

“Revenge?”

“I’ll tell you a story. Once upon a time there were two princesses. Sisters who played—”

“Yes, I understand. Your sister was delicious.”

“There’s more. There was a knight betrothed to the elder princess.”

“He wasn’t as tasty. Too much metal. Doesn’t sit well with my digestive system.”

“This knight was the bravest, strongest, kindest in the kingdom. The wedding between him and the elder princess was inevitable.”

“Shouldn’t you be happy? You are next in line for the throne.”

“But the knight’s marriage was performed in duty only.”

“I’m sure he performed his duty in their bedchamber with great reluc—”

“You were right, earlier.”

“About what?”

“I am late.”

“Family secrets are the best kind of secrets. Devoured your sister and your lover then, did I? You must really want to kill me.”

“Hellfire would melt beneath my fury.”

“Spare me, cruel fate, from poetic knights. Their metaphors are almost as dull as their wits.”

“Then I’ll speak with my sword.”

“I don’t get it.”

“She’s saying that her sword is sharp, unlike her poetic—”

“No not that. The ‘late’ thing.”

“Oh. Really?”

“Yeah. You already established she’s late. That whole sunrise bit.”

“I meant ‘late’ colloquially.”

“Oh, right. Don’t know why I didn’t think about that. Wait, you’re doing that because you’re pregnant.”

“Doing what?”

“Making the knight pregnant. And a woman.”

“Projection isn’t uncommon in storytelling.”

“I can’t say I’m too thrilled with you telling this story to the baby.”

“Why?”

“What if it sends the wrong message? That you’ll throw yourself in danger before he’s even born.”

“She—”

“—Or he—”

“—Hasn’t fully developed a brain yet. I don’t think she could comprehend that kind of message.”

“Then why tell the story at all?”

“I want her—”

“—Or him—”

“To know that she can overcome any obstacle.”

“Like a dragon.”

“Like a draconian system.”

“Do you have to start throwing metaphors at the poor baby before it’s even born?”

“I am not throwing anything at the baby. Dragons take many forms. It isn’t about which one she has to overcome. I just want her to believe she can.”

“Okay. Fine.”

“You’re angry.”

“I’m not.”

“This isn’t political.”

“Why does the knight have to slay the dragon? It’s so violent.”

“She won’t. I was going to have her outsmart it.”

“Yeah, this isn’t political at all.”

“I’ll stop. I’ve upset you.”

“Please, continue. I want to hear how the knight outwits the dragon. Just let me tell my version tomorrow night.”

“Your version? Okay. Fine.”

“What happens next?”

“The dragon said to the knight...”

* * *

“You came at sunrise, last time.”

“I was younger. Someone’s maudlin idea of a symbol.”

“And now the sun bends to kiss the west.”

“While I hobble into your cave wearing rusty armor, my sword practically a cane. Disgusting, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. There’s a strength in the primal symbols. It’s why they last so long.”

“Longer than we, I imagine.”

“I’d like to think we’ve reached that status ourselves.”

“That’s problematic. If we’re symbols, then we cease being characters.”

“The gods are cruel.”

“What gods do that? What gods pit us in eternal war?”

“The bored ones. The ones who want to hear a story.”

“The ones who are thirsty for blood, you mean.”

“Same thing.”

“So we fight for their amusement. And here we stand for yet another round. How many times do we have to kill each other?”

“As long as there are stories.”

“That sounds like a long time.”

“I’d imagine so. Yes. A long time indeed.”

“If we’re bound to kill each other again at some point anyway, would you like to take a break?”

“A break?”

“Yeah. Sheathe the old sword and claws? Maudlin as it is, the sunset is pretty and it feels like it’ll be warm tonight.”

“I’ve never stargazed with a human before.”

“Nor I with a dragon. What names do dragons give the stars?”

“I’d be happy to teach you. What are human constellations?”

“Heroes, and the monsters they slay.”

“Makes sense.”

“We tell stories with the stars.”

“As do we. But only one of them involves a battle.”

“Between what?”

“A dragon and a knight.”

“Ah. Humans have that one too.”

“I don’t think I’m surprised anymore, by stories.”

“Of course you are. Maybe not by the endings. But sometimes there’s a turn of phrase that makes you chuckle. Or a character you fall in love with and wish you could hug. Stories are always surprising. Otherwise we’d never tell them.”

“You are older. I prefer you this way, with rusted armor and polished eyes.”

“I do too. How does your dragon and knight story go?”

“Once upon a time there was a dragon who—”

“We start with the knight. Or a princess. Once upon a time there was a knight.”

“This dragon was wise beyond his years, and burned much breath on candles so he could study the ancient scrolls late into the night.”

“The knight was the bravest in the land, protecting his beloved kingdom from barbarians and fearsome beasts.”

“One day, the dragon stumbled upon a forgotten bestiary. In it was a drawing and a description of a strange creature.”

“One day, the knight was hunting in the forest with his best men to catch food for his wedding feast.”

“Spurred by curiosity, the dragon flew out to discover the land of intelligent apes.”

“Suddenly, a horn sounded in the distance, calling the knight back to the castle.”

“Overwhelmed with excitement that the legendary country existed, the dragon selected a specimen and brought the female to an isolated area for academic observation.”

“Reaching the castle, the knight discovered the princess, his betrothed, had been kidnapped by a creature of legend and taken to the mountains.”

“The dragon was studying in the cave.”

“The knight rode to the cave.”

“The dragon was testing the princess’ intelligence, asking...”

“Torturing her when the knight burst in.”

Their eyes locked.

The dragon said to the knight...


Copyright © 2014 by Keith Frady

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