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In the Lair of the Terrible Dragon

Once upon a time in a village in the valley:

Once again, the villagers had gathered together to witness the sacrifice. The priests were chanting loudly. They had tied the young girl down on the sacrificial altar, and were just waiting for the dragon to show up.

After a moment the dragon appeared, large and evil-looking. It descended on the little village and grabbed the girl. He threw her on his back and flew away.

The girl screamed as loud as she could, but the dragon quickly travelled to such a distance that no amount of screaming could be heard back in the village; and to such an altitude that her screams went unnoticed on the ground directly below.

The girl gave up and sobbed, thinking that now she was doomed to be eaten by the dragon.

After a while the dragon landed on a vast balcony, overlooking the big valley. He threw the girl off, and she came down on a pile of hay, laid there for just such an occasion.

The girl stopped sobbing, and looked around. She was at a large white castle above the snow line of the mountains. And from the balcony she could almost make out where the village lay. There were other villages, she saw, some of which she did not know existed, as she had not travelled the land much, having busied herself like the others of her tribe with harvesting and other useful duties most of the time.

The dragon parched on the railing, and held vigil beside her, and no matter how she screamed at him, he did not respond, just stared down into the valley.

Her voice had broken when she was saluted from behind: “I am Lancelot, the owner of this place. Good to see you have made it safely.”

The girl stopped yelling at the dragon and turned around. The man, who was wearing a silken robe and a furry hat, spoke again: “I guess you already know that you have been sacrificed to me in exchange for my not sending my trusty dragon to set fire to your village.”

The girl gave him an icy look, and told him:

“My father hired a dragonslayer. He knows where this place is, and he will come here and kill you both.”

And Lancelot just smiled, and said, “Yes. I am sure we can come to an understanding, me and that slayer. But until then, I have to train you for your work.”

And Lancelot strode toward her and slapped her across the face. Then he dragged her inside, deliberately twisting her arm, and forced her into a room, and locked her in alone. He made her bathe and dress in an appropriate manner and behave courteously. Every night for a week he lay her until she behaved under him in a prescribed manner.

In the second week, Lancelot let the girl out. She behaved in her most ladylike manner, speaking softly and showing her happy face. She was led to the dining room, where a dozen young women awaited her, each smiling softly, some more softly than others. They toasted her arrival and laughed.

Lancelot sat at the table end, and before they dined, he said to them, “In two days, the Mongol hordes will arrive here on their way to conquer the lands beyond the mountain. They will be tired and longing the company of women. This is our newest member.” Lancelot pointed toward the girl. “I call her Lydia, you will remember her by that name. Now, please continue.”

And they all dined in peace. Once dinner was almost over, a thunderous voice announced a new arrival. Lancelot asked who it was, and the dragon put his head through the door and said, “He claims to be a dragonslayer.”

Lydia looked up, with hope in her eyes, and for a moment her smile was real.

“Send him in,” said Lancelot. And the dragon did. The dragonslayer came in, wearing shining armour, holding a big crossbow aimed at the dragon. And he announced, “It is I again, the dragonslayer.”

Lancelot smiled, and said, “Good to meet you again, mister slayer, and nice to have you back again here at Lancelot’s house of harlots. The same as usual, I guess?”

The slayer nodded his head.

“I have got a couple of new girls since last time, perhaps you want to try them out?” Said Lancelot, pointing toward the girls.

The slayer nodded again and grinned. Lydia almost lost her gentle smile as she heard. This was not the way she had wished to meet her knight in shining armour.

Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author

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