Dragon and Knight

Into the jaws of death the Knight rode. Before him, the early morning fog lingered over the burnt remains of the entrance to the vale. There no signs that once a village had prospered within those borders.

“Might I ask what you think you’re doing?” A voice out of nowhere rumbled like thunder.

George and the Dragon
Dragon in the Vale
By
Grover
5/13/2011

Into the jaws of death the Knight rode. Before him, the early morning fog lingered over the burnt remains of the entrance to the vale. There no signs that once a village had prospered within those borders.

“Might I ask what you think you’re doing?” A voice out of nowhere rumbled like thunder.

Steadfastly, the Knight ignored the unseen Beast’s question. He’d hoped to surprise the monster as it left it’s lair to feed. Now that he’d been spotted far too early, that advantage was lost. He looked for the monster, but saw naught. Keeping to his task, he picked out the best path to its cave for he and his destrier to begin their charge.

From all accounts, he would need all the destructive power his lance could provide. It was said to be tall enough to peer over the high walls of the King’s own castle and its wings so broad they could blot out the noon sun. The commoners fleeing the attack on their home spoke of it being larger than any of their barns. His own reconnaissance had failed to spot any signs of the monster. The wily Beast was no doubt lying low inside the fire blasted vale.

If the Knight wanted to slay the dragon, he would have to go in after it. However, anyone prowling around inside the charred ring surrounding the vale proper would be easily seen. In the end, he decided surprise was worth more than any intelligence he could gain by risky direct observation.

He, like everyone else, thought the entire vale had been destroyed by the fires, but instead only a killing zone had been cleared away on the hills surrounding this area the Dragon had picked for its lair. Only once inside the vale proper, could one see the rich green orchards and crystal blue lake, it was renown for, still remained.

His chances for surviving this had changed and not for the better. Not that he cared. From the very beginning the odds had been against him. They had always been against him. He’d known and accepted that the moment he’d agreed to this quest.

The Beast would be dead by his hand, or it would kill him. His bravery and courage would be proven on the field of battle or the constant pain, but not pain which had plagued him his entire life would finally be ended. The Knight welcomed either outcome.

Fearlessly he rode forward determined to make his fortune or meet his fate’s end.

“Not very talkative are you,” That voice rumbled again. “That last fool couldn’t stop running his mouth with all the Thee’s and Thou’s; Evil this, and Foul that,” the Dragon mocked the last brave knight that had courageously tried to end its reign of terror.

He pulled his faithful charger to a halt. The knight still hadn’t spotted his foe. Fortunately the charred trees of the boundary didn’t offer any cover for the beast to hide. Unfortunately, they also didn’t help conceal him either. He was risking all that the monster was still within the cave where it laired which he could see from the tall saddle astride his mount.

“Not much of a knight in shining armor either is you?” That damnable voice continued to taunt him. “That other fool’s carapace was so bright that I nearly kept it for use as a mirror. But atlas, it fared worse for wear during our encounter.”

The Knight kept silent using one gauntleted hand to calm his destrier. It was true his own armor was lacking compare to other knights of the realm. His family lacked the great wealth required for gleaming plate mail. He did his best to make the best of the scale mail he wore, which provided nearly as much protection. Intentionally he’d dulled and covered anything that could serve to make him an easy target.

No quest for glory or knightly chivalry had bought him here. He was here to kill the beast anyway he could.

“I do wonder why they sent a girl to do a man’s job?” The voice jeered once more.

He gritted his teeth till they grounded together like millstones. Reflexively his fear fueled anger rose, but he did the best he could to remain calm. Berserk rage wouldn’t serve him here despite the protection and reputation it’d given him over the years. All soon learned to their woe that he dealt harshly with those who dared question his manhood.

“And a virgin too no less,” ridiculed the Dragon. “Are you here to fight or are you here in answer to my tithe for a virgin of noble birth?”

“I’m no one’s sacrifice!” He shouted back, his temper finally getting the best of him. “It’s your death that awaits you!”

“Ah, the shy lass has found her voice.” The Dragon goaded back. “But what? No denial of what truly lies within your heart despite your outward appearance? As for you being my death, I don’t think so. I did not grow so old by allowing a foolish human on horseback to stick me with a pointy thing.” The Beast laughed.

“And who said anything about a sacrifice?” The voice continued. “A human would make less than a mouthful for me. That’s what my demand for a herd of cattle was for, food. Perhaps your so-called King forgot to mention that.” The Beast sarcastically added.

“Only that you demanded the Princess as a sacrifice.” The Knight shouted back affronted that the monster would accurse the King of falsehood.

“His daughter?” The Dragon roared its mirth. “I can assure you that she’s not a virgin.”

“How dare you insult the Princess’s honor!” The Knight yelled back at his enemy.

“What honor she had was given away long ago. She’s as a much a cold-hearted manipulator as her father. Even if I did consider eating food that talk back to me, I wouldn’t touch that. It's a bad idea to eat things that you have no idea where it’s been.”

“Then why demand the Princess?” The Knight barked back growing frustrated at his hidden foe’s taunts. He was beginning to suspect that the beast was outside the cave and watching him somehow. Searching yet again, his sharp eyes found nothing.

“Not the Princess, but a virgin of noble birth.” The Dragon corrected. “Although she might make the better hostage, the Princess is far too much a spoiled child of privilege. No doubt she would complain about everything. No, most definitely not the Princess,” the Dragon concluded.

“However, I do love to read, and those of noble blood are usually better educated and more likely to be literate. Talons weren’t designed for turning pages, so I enjoy being read to or at the very least having someone to turn the pages.” The Dragon explained.

Shocked, the Knight stopped his fanatic hunt for his enemy.

“You mean all you wanted was a servant?” He asked scandalized that the creature would demand a noble lady for such a demeaning task.

“Not a servant,” The Dragon corrected again. “A hostage as a pledge my tithing would be paid on time, and a companion to aid me in those things which I have difficulty.”

“Then why in the name of the Gods does she has to be a virgin?” The knight demanded. “Any number of Ladies at the court would be suitable.”

“But would she hold as much value? As a virgin she has yet to be married and would be considered to be much less expendable than one of the older ladies. Besides, dragons find those who have yet to fall into carnality more pleasing.

“Already your King has tried to twist the truth of the situation to make me the villain of this drama. I carefully picked this kingdom because it can easily afford my rather modest demands. In exchange, I ensure that other less neighborly creatures behave themselves.” The Beast further explained.

“That’s extortion!” Exclaimed the Knight.

“No more so than when the King’s own great-grandfather first came here and claimed these lands. Just as he forced the natives here to accept his rule, so now do I. However, I think I can do without all the beheadings. His great-grandfather was really not very pleasant.” The Beast chuckled.

“You knew Great King Charles?” The Knight scoffed. “Impossible, he lived a hundred years ago.”

“Be careful with that word, lass,” The Beast warned patronizingly. “Dragons are very long lived. A hundred years are, but a mere hand span for us. No, I didn’t know him, but our senses are keen. Just as I know your secrets, I knew what was happening here during that time. He was called many things, but Great wasn't among them I can assure you.

The Knight thought about the request for a virgin, and said, “Don’t tell me you’re like unicorns?”

“No,” the Beast chuckled again. “Unicorns are much more sensitive to such things than Dragons, and I might add, much pickier. Think of it as having a calming influence on us. Since no one likes big angry serpents that’s bristling with claws, fangs, and spikes, that's a good thing.”

“Just how large are you?” He asked, still looking for his opponent. Whether or not his King was hedging his bets, he had still pledged to complete this quest. For that matter by its own admission the monster was an invader. Either he or it must die.

“You can’t be that big given the opening of that cave.” The Knight added trying to prod the beast into showing itself.

“What? Still no reaction that you’re much different within your heart than your outward appearance would suggest?” The beast riposted. “As for my size, we dragons are adept at squeezing into tight places.”

The slowly burning off fog was beginning to let the raising sun peer though. Carefully the Knight placed the warming rays at his back seeking any advantage he could get.

Then a huge, icy, dark shadow flew over him and his faithful steed.

Nothing in his experience prepared him for the pure magnitude of its dimensions. If anything, the other accounts fell short of the reality. Each of its wings could’ve served as the roof of a good sized cottage while the body from muzzle to the tip of its flared tail had to be at least 60 feet. Those fanged jaws were big enough to close about both him and his warhorse even though his mount stood at a good 16 hands.

Somehow he kept a curse from his lips. A hopeless inner voice reminded him that he’d been wise to visit the priest in the last village they passed thought. His Confession was said, and his affairs were in order. Staring up at the death above him, the Knight saw his doom.

“Ah! Now the blind begins to see! Dragons are nocturnal. I was winging my way back home when I observed you trespassing.” The soaring Beast chuckled.

“Why don’t you come down here, and we can discuss whether or not I’m intruding,” he replied. Looking Death in the eye, it surprised him how much he wanted to live. However, strangely at the same there was a kind of peace. Soon that endless discomfort that’d long ago turned into pain would be gone. The two extremes gave him a feeling of edgy and dangerous power, he longed to unleash upon this foe.

“How about I don’t.” The Dragon said, shooting a ball of fire from its toothy maw.

Long training let him and his charger move as one, dodging the flaming missile. It exploded as it impacted throwing up grouts of smoking sod that rained back down. Trained for battle yes, but nothing like this as the Beast spat more fire down upon them. Twisting madly, they avoided each strike. However finally, panicked by the most primeval of all fears, fire, as well as burned and scorched by all the near misses, his mount reared up. In spite of the high canted saddle and literally growing up on horse back, he was thrown.

His very senses shattered as the earth slammed into him. The weight of the armor and his weapons turned him into a heavy projectile that hammered a deep gash into the rich soil of the vale. Ignoring his ringing head, he began the awkward task of getting back to his feet while in full armor. This was a critical moment where a knight’s protection became his bane making him vulnerable to even the lowest born commoner with a knife. Not that it matter much against this opponent.

Staggering to his feet, among the small fires burning around him, he saw his terrified charger fleeing the vale. Discarding his helm so he could better see his foe, he spat trying to clear his mouth of bile that had risen up from his injury.

Fighting the dizziness, he drew his sword.

“Fight me!” He shouted up at the flying beast.

“No,” was the Dragon’s curt reply.

Blinking desperately attempting to clear his blurred vision, he shouted again, “Fight me!”

“So eager to die for someone so unworthy of your respect, but perhaps I have a solution.” The Beast said.

Blurrily, he could make out the Dragon landing and slipping inside its lair. Resolutely, he began his advance. What would’ve taken only seconds upon his charger took him, impeded by armor and his injury, much longer. He nearly stumbled and fell a handful of times, but his will was strong. Maybe this battle was still as hopeless as it had begun, but at least the Beast was on the ground now.

And honor, there was always the family’s honor to be kept. Honor to be proud of and yet hung around one’s neck dragging you down. Traditions that were to be treasured which only cared about what others thought and nothing of what was in the heart. No matter they lead down the path to an early grave. Always and forever there was honor.

Lurching unsteadily, his boots crushed the flowers unlikely growing before the monster’s lair. Taking a deep breath, the knight marshaled his strength standing on guard with his weapon at the ready. The sword had been in his family for generations after being bestowed by the King himself on an ancestor whose bravery on the battlefield had resulted in his being risen to the nobility.

The old blade made for a monarch was still sound and sharp as a razor, which was a good thing. His noble, but financially struggling family could never afford to outfit him with a sword otherwise sole child or not.

He wanted to laugh. All their talk of the family’s honor and traditions, but it seemed the line would end with him. He would die as a knight should.

“Ah! There it is!” The Beast exclaimed from within its lair.

The huge draconic head studded with horns and spikes stuck itself outside the cave, but unfortunately the Beast was still too far away for the Knight to strike. Wavering on his feet, he held his guard.

“My, aren’t you the stubborn one!” The Dragon chuckled. “Still eager to die are you?”

“No,” the Knight replied, “If you would just place your head right here, I’ll make this as painless as possible.”

“Look at you,” the Dragon laughed. “You can barely stand and yet you continue your bravado.”

He and the Beast locked eyes for a long moment.

It gave a long sigh sending smoke from its nostrils. “I hate to tell you this, but suicide by dragon is still suicide and by your beliefs a sin. However, I will make a deal with you.”

It threw something, his still hazy eyes couldn’t quite focus on, at his feet.

“Put this on, and if you still feel the same way afterward, I’ll fight you as you wish. I’ll even see that your remains are buried in sacred ground. What say you?” The Beast asked.

There before him was a knight’s girdle, a wide tooled leather belt used to hold weapons. Even his fuzzy vision could see this one was extremely well-crafted and would be very much beyond his usual financial means.

Their eyes met again, but it was he who looked away first. After all, the Beast held, very literally, the high ground. The advantages were all its. It was only a girdle so what was the harm?

Sighing, he reached for the girdle. He could hear the voices of his ancestors berating his weakness for having to use the family’s heirloom to help him kneel without falling.

Picking up the girdle, he tried to stand, but it soon became clear that wouldn’t be happening. Sighing, the Knight let himself fall to his knees. Unbuckling his own girdle, he let it fall to the ground still holding tight to his sword to keep from falling over. Awkwardly, he slung the Dragon’s offering around his waist one handed, but hesitated before buckling it. Could it be cursed or have some other evil magic cast upon it? He decided it didn’t matter as long as the Beast kept his word. The dead had few worries.

He clinched the belt tight, hearing the metal prong snap closed on the buckle.

Meaning to immediately demand the Beast deliver its promise, his voice was stolen by the sudden heat that enveloped him. At first it was only uncomfortable, but searing fire inside his head burned away any words. His last sight was the monster curiously looking down at him, his vision strangely clear again just before everything turned dark.

He awoke oddly rested considering his last conscious thought. Past experience told him that his head should be splitting from a headache after taking such a bad fall. Contrarily, he actually felt good.

Then he tried to move. That’s when he began to suspect something, well, maybe not was wrong, but was different. A questing hand told the Knight he was still armored, but again something was off. It was hard to tell just what given the clumsiness of his gauntlets.

Deciding to be cautious, he investigated his surroundings. For one he was on a real bed with a frame and mattress. Perhaps not a fine one like the upper nobility would have, but one much like he had growing up, stuffed with something else other than straw that was all most commoners had. The wood work of the headboard was well crafted if not overly elaborate.

In the same style, a pair of nightstands was on either side of the bed. A pitcher of water sat upon one along with a cup on one, while a plate with a rough loaf of bread and cheese were on the other.

Looking further away, he realized he wasn’t in a room at all. The bed was sitting in the middle of a large domed chamber. The wall had hundreds of nooks cut into it that all kinds of objects setting within them. That was the strange part. They weren’t works of art as one would expect although some were. Sitting right next to a finely made goblet was just as carefully displayed was a set of wooden dinner plates such as most humble family of the kingdom would use. There wasn’t any rhythm or reason to it all although the general theme appeared to be items that people used in everyday activities like eating, cooking, and other such. The Knight could see other cambers beyond the one he was in and they all appeared to have these nooks.

This had to be the dragon’s lair, but he was certain the hill the beast had excavated couldn’t hold one cave of this size much less all these other caverns. Pulling himself up and slinging his legs off the side of the bed, he felt awkward and off balance. It reminded him of the awkwardness of adjusting to a set of unaccustomed armor.

However that shifting on his chest was definitely not mail settling into place. That’s when he saw the framed mirror set into one of the lower alcoves. He got another surprise at how far he had to slide forward before his feet touched the floor. Walking gracelessly, but carefully to the mirror, he discovered the cause of his problem.

While his armor’s bulk and padding might’ve disguised it from his curious hands, the mirror however told him the truth. Or perhaps told her the truth would be more accurate.

The image in front of her was unmistakably a woman’s.

Even her armor had been altered in such a way to make it plain to anyone with eyes that the wearer was a she. It was much more form-following, and the once crudely dyed linen surcoat was now a brilliant soft silk. It didn’t quiet look like something a frivolous noblewoman might come up with to put on pretensions of being a warrior, but it was close. So much so she doubted that the once sturdy armor still provided the same protection. There were just too many small feminine touches for it to belong to even the most vain of knights. And that was saying something considering some of the self-important peacocks he’d meet.

“Magic,” she breathed.

“Indeed,” Rumbled the voice of the Dragon. “That girdle was crafted by the great Elven mage-smith Erlond.

Turning the Knight saw the Dragon entering the hall of notches.

“What have you done to me,” she asked, feeling floatingly disconnected as a leaf caught within an eddy in a stream.

“You wanted to die, so I gave you a reason to live.” The Beast said plainly.

“How?” Her reflection drew her attention again. She couldn’t seem to look away.

“As I was saying,” He harrumphed. “Your girdle was made by Erlond. It is perhaps his greatest and yet most terrible work.”

“How can it be both great and terrible at the same time,” she interrupted.

“If you allow me to continue, I shall enlighten you.” A huge draconic eye glared at her.

Strangely it seemed to have no power over her. Perhaps it was still shock at her finding herself altered beyond all possible belief. Numbly she nodded her assent.

“Thank you,” He said dryly. “Erlond was one of the world’s most skill mage-smiths. His works graced kings and queens across the land. One day a knight who wasn’t too unlike the bones of the fools lying outside, came to him.

“This idiot of a knight demanded the mage-smith construct him an item that would give him the strength of ten, so he would be stronger than any other man.

“Erlond refused for he was as much an artist as a smith. His creations often emphasized or embellished characteristics of their destined owners. He refused to spend his time and energies upon such a project that was motivated only by greed and the lust for power.

To compound his stupidity, the knight kidnapped the great craftsman's daughter to force the issue. Because Erlond loved his child, he capitulated and forged the very girdle you now wear.

A haughty high-born fool, once he had what he wanted, he raped the poor girl and dumped her in front of her father’s workshop.

Elves mature much more slowly than humans. She was little more than a child. Heartbroken and filled with a horrible rage, Erlond went back to his forge. Within he had everything he needed to build a link to his most recent creation. Using all of his years of experience, he distilled all of his anger and rage into one single black drop. Then he flung it down the spell forged link at the arrogant fool who was riding back to the human lands. The idiot truly believed that he would not be held accountable for his actions. Not only was it only a craftsman, but it wasn’t even human.

“He learned differently,” The Dragon nodded his head at the girdle.

“I know part of what this curse entails.” She asked, inclining her head at the mirror. “I don’t suppose you would be willing to fill in the details?”

“But of course I would.” The Beast chuckled again. “I’m trying to give you a reason to live after all, not end up like the first who wore that belt you bear.”

“I take it, his life didn’t end well?” She thought of her own past torments and of how they dragged her down into desperation.

“No,” The Dragon replied. “It did not. Changed and altered so much that she was unrecognizable, no, she did not take it well. The girdle still gave her the strength of ten, but women not men. Even that was much greater than any single warrior or many beasts. However, a condition of the curse had it failing her when she needed it the most, during her moon time.

“As you can tell from your own armor, her appearance was enhanced.” Her host pointed out. “As an artist Erlond deliberately put his blackmailer's vanity on display. As a male, the moron reveled in his more attractive appearance and how the enchantments changed his clothing to further feed his narcissism. However, after the curse struck, that very same vanity proved lethal.

“Perhaps it was only retribution and not justice, but it did not take long for her to fall to those who were much like the man she’d been. Ironically, those who preyed upon her also fell victim to the curse when they unknowingly claimed the girdle for their own. I have no idea of how many other predators of that ilk experienced the same horror as the women they killed. Maybe it was poetic justice after all.

“Eventually even the thickest headed human realized the girdle was cursed. Seers and scribes weaseled out the story behind its making. Then followed times where owning it was a status symbol while during others it was used as a weapon against men who’d never wronged anyone at all.

“That was how it came into my possession.” The Dragon lectured. “The last owner found me while searching for some way to break the curse. Her only crime was to have fallen in love with the daughter of a vindictive and powerful man. After finding out the two young lovers planned to elope, he arranged for would be groom to be incapacitated.

"Gloating, he fastened the girdle about his daughter’s paramour himself. Unfortunately, the nature of the curse had overshadowed the original intent of the commission, to make the bearer invincible in battle. Shocked, the now young woman threw off her shackles and rescued her lover.

"Tragically, they loved each other true, but due to their own natures, the curse prevented them from expressing their feelings for each other as lovers. The two traveled far searching vainly for someway to break the curse. Yes, even into the lair of a Dragon.

“If I could have helped, I would have.” The Dagon sighed. “Erlond himself had passed into the worlds beyond, but perhaps he is the only one who could’ve destroyed what he created.”

“There are greater powers in the world.” The Beast explained. “But none approached the level of Erlond in his chosen trade. It is my belief that only a God would truly be able to break it. However such beings have their own agendas that also would’ve separated the two. To the end of their lives, they stayed close friends.”

“On her deathbed, she willed the girdle to me after I promised it would never again be used to harm another.” He bowed his head.

“Just how does tricking me into being the next victim of this curse fits into your promise? The Knight asked still unable to take her eyes from the image before her.

“Don’t lie to yourself.” The Dragon replied sternly. “I know that by accident of birth you experienced your own version of the girdle’s curse. The two has canceled each other out, and for the first time in your life, you’re free of that blight."

"So tell me." The Beast asked, "Is the girdle a curse or a cure?"

"I don't want to fight you at this time," she stiffly replied not answering his question. "However, I do still hold you to your promise. Time is required for me to become accustomed to my new circumstances."

"As you wish," The Dragon smiled if that was possible for such a creature.

"Now tell me if I can get out of this thing or am I going to be stuck in armor for the rest of my life?" She almost let a smile of her own slip by.

***

Six months later.

She watched the latest knight errant ride off, his bare bottom visible in the moonlight.

"You know Beast," she said to her companion next to her. "I thought we were going to be forced to kill him. The fool would not be scared off."

"Indeed," he replied. "Kind of reminded me of someone else I know."

She sniffed, not dignifying his remark with an answer. The moon above was icy bright as only a frigid winter's night could make it. Even her fur lined cloak and winter weight dress could keep the chill from reaching her. Like everything she wore, the girdle had transformed it and itself into matching accessories highlighting her feminine beauty.

A long moment of silence passed as they enjoyed the evening.

"You know, you can leave anytime you like. I have more than enough gold to allow you to live in luxury anywhere you like." He remarked trying to be casual.

"Still trying to get out of your promise, are you?" She replied, but he could hear the humor.

"I'm content right where I am. Besides someone has to look after the place since you chased off everyone. There are the cattle, chickens and all the other livestock to look after. This isn't too different from what I grew up with so it's not a problem.

"Moreover who ever heard of a dragon willingly giving up part of his hoard? Who knows what would happen and what it would do to your reputation. Besides most of what you own is cursed or spelled anyways. Leave it to me to find the one dragon in the whole world that has a fetish for curses." She pulled her cloak in tighter against the cold.

"Not all of them are cursed." He defended his belongings. "I'm fascinated by the strong emotions can be imparted into even everyday things. Not all come from tragedy like your girdle. Think of that set of humble wooden dishes that makes all the food placed upon them more filling and tastier, all because of the love and care of an outwardly unremarkable woman cooking for her family." The Dragon pointed out. "In any case, I have more than enough ordinary gold to suffice for your needs, and no, I'm not worried about my reputation."

Silence was her only answer.

"You're not going to admit you're happy now, and have no intentions of making me fulfill my promise for us to fight are you?" He sighed, his steaming breath creating a small fog bank.

"And I've told you before, I'll let you know when I'm ready." She turned towards the abandoned cottage she'd taken for her own. "Since you're too big to fit within, I must bid you good night. It's cold out and there's a warm fire within."

"Goodnight, Lady Knight." He said rousing himself.

"Goodnight to you too, Beast," she said softly to the night.

***

Three years later.

"So how many times does that make it now that I've been rescued from you now?" She shook her head at the unconscious lout sprawled on the ground.

"I'm not certain," The Dragon replied watching the horses and prospective dinner run off. "Does the one who doused you with the love philter counts? You did kind of run off with him."

"Oh please!" The Knight exclaimed. "Don't remind me. At least I had enough sense left to follow him back to your lair. I know you say no mere human can slay you, but with all the magic he was toting, I wouldn't have bet against him."

"As you say Lady Knight," he chuckled. "But we will never know will we? After you got finished braining him, I think he still needs help dressing in the morning."

"He had it coming." She dusted herself off. "I can't think of anyone who deserved the title of knight less. I mean, using a love potion. So no, I don't think that one counts. He wasn't trying to rescue anyone."

It went unsaid between them about what was the only thing that could break such a spell.

"Well, in that case, seven," The Dragon said, still looking longingly at the fleeing horses.

"Well, go on." The Knight said. "I know you're hungry since the King sold off your tithing to pay for this idiot to kill you. Just don't eat the warhorse or all the pack animals, and don't let me see either. I'm still partial to horses."

"I really don't get the difference." He said, spreading his wings. "Both horses and cows have hoofs and eat grass. Why does it make such a difference?"

"Because, humans can ride horses, and cows aren't good for anything but milk, leather, and meat." She said annoyed because they'd this conversation before. Then she began sorting though the all the stolen goods from the Beast's lair so it could be taken back. With his obsession with magical and cursed things, you really had to be careful.

"You know there is enough here that you could keep going into the next town and live well." He said, after a pause.

Crossly she looked up at his toothed maw.

"Will you just go?" She dug though the pile disheveled by the fight. "It's going to be night before we're able to get back to the vale. And don't forget to not to eat all the horses. We're going to need them."

He watched her sorting though the loads. Then shaking his horned head, the dragon's wings lifted him into the sky.

Feeling the blustery winds of his departure, she turned and watched him fly away into the distance. A tear ran down her cheek. Wiping it on her cuff, she went back to her labor.

Silly Dragons.

***

Two years further.

"There!" She yelled over the roar of wind and battle.

Wheeling about, the soaring dragon let loose a ball of fire that sent the last of the supply wagons up into flames.

Holding tight to the leather harness, the Knight saw the world tilt as the Dragon carried her skyward.

"I don't think he'll do that again," She leaned over and hollered so he could hear her. "Without supplies and the army's train in flames, I think this battle is over."

"I'm honestly surprised he waited this long to try sending an army." The Beast rumbled beneath her, "Then again maybe not. Armies cost money, and he is nothing if not greedy. Still it was stupid of him to think he could move all of those men quickly and quietly enough so I wouldn't notice."

"You're are, but one and they are many." She pointed out, knuckles turning white as he banked into another turn. "You do have to sleep sometime, but I don't think he was expecting those other, err, creatures."

"What!" He exclaimed, humorously. "You thought perhaps I hunted down and killed all the others you humans called monsters. I promised to keep this kingdom safe from them. I'm sure you've noticed that I don't eat all of the cattle from the tithe. Some go to feed the others. After all we don't all fill the same predatory niche."

She thumped him with her armored gauntlet.

"Of course I've noticed. I'm the one who manages the livestock, remember. I simply didn't know what you were doing with the ones you weren't personally taking care of. After all you've never introduced me to any of the 'other' monsters." Her stomach fell, as they suddenly climbed even higher into the blue. Down below them the fleeing army looked like so many toy soldiers.

"That probably wouldn't be a good idea." The Dragon laughed. "Some of them aren't as picky as I am about if their food talks."

"If they think I'm dinner, that's the last thought they'll ever have." The Knight promised.

"Indeed!" He laughed.

"You know you can see all the way to the sea from up here." The Dragon pointed out. "It would take only a few hours to reach it."

"Stop," she demanded. "I have no intentions of going anywhere, and don't think for a moment I've forgotten about the promise you made. Please take me home now."

Silence followed them back to the vale. Dismounting, she removed the harness slinging it into the barn with the rest of the tack. Still wordless the Knight left him there as she went to her cottage to bathe and change.

Hours later, she raised an eyebrow at the ringing of the bell the Dragon had placed outside years before to serve as a door knocker. Opening the door, a tall man stood there who was simply dressed.

"It's about time." She said taking his hand and leading him within.

His startled expression made her giggle.

"How do you know I'm not a deserter from that army or someone else wanting to rescue you?" The man asked, as she pulled him inside.

"A woman knows." She said, closing the door behind them.

***

20 years yet later.

She sat by the lake watching the sun set. By her side the Beast in his natural form sunned himself in the last rays. In the distance, cow bells rang as a pair of their adopted children drove their bovine charges home. The children were orphans, she and the Dragon had given them, among others, a home here in their vale.

A sigh escaped her. Despite how the curse kept her fit and of course attractive, there were gray among her brunette locks. It seemed even curses were helpless before the power of time.

Her companion wisely stayed silent as the sky faded to oranges and reds turning the few clouds to purple. As the evening star began to shine, a man walked up putting his arms around her.

She sighed again, but this time in pleasure enjoying his embrace. He'd waited until dark before transforming no doubt to conceal the difference in their apparent ages. She remembered all too well of how a hundred years were just a hand span to his kind. Refusing to think what it meant for a mere human cursed or not, she kissed him gently.

As if on cue, the bell rang letting all know it was time for supper. Together they both laughed. Taking his hand, she led him to the family they'd made.

***

25 more years.

She opened her eyes and smiled seeing him there. His human form still looked as young and vital as he had when he'd first came to her door some 40 years ago. His smile in return warmed her as it always did although it no longer caused her to burn with desire. Time had taken care of that.

The curse helped make her as beautiful as it was possible for an old woman to look, but she was still old. She'd taken her last fall, but this time she wouldn't be getting back up. This was her death bed.

He took a lock of her silvered hair and bought to his lips.

Touching his face, she understood only too well the hurt that was coming for him. She loved him so much it hurt, her Beast. How much more it hurt him seeing time so quickly overpower her, she couldn't imagine.

From the other room, she heard her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren lingering after they said their final goodbyes to her. However as matriarch of the family she'd made plainly known who her last moments had to be with.

They still had business the two of them.

"It's time Dragon," she said her voice barely a whisper.

"Time?" He asked, denying the truth.

"For your promise to be fulfilled," the Knight answered. "I do hope you haven't forgotten. You said you would fight me if I put on this girdle." Her fingers traced the fine silk belt it'd transformed itself into to match her night grown.

"You would ask that of me, now?" His disbelief made her smile again.

"Can you think of a better time?" She countered looking into his amber eyes.

His gentle hands upon hers spoke of his oncoming heartbreak, as he shook his head either in denial or confusion.

"I do have a request," The Knight continued fighting with the last of her strength. "After I'm gone, please take the girdle once more and make certain it's not used for evil. However, if you find another like me in need of the healing it can bring…" Her voice trailed off.

Her fading sight saw a Dragon's Tear tickling down his cheek.

"Have at thee, Beast." Her final words were lost in his cry as he held his Lady Knight to him.

***

"That night it is said a mighty roar echoed across the entire kingdom. A tower of fire lit up the whole sky as all beheld the grief of a Dragon." The storyteller smiled watching the apt faces of his young listeners.

One child more precocious than the rest stared at tale teller. He had to know if this was just a story or if there was any truth to it. His stark need overcame his shyness.

"If this girdle was so infamous why haven't any of us ever heard of it?" He asked his young face distorted as he thought. "You talk of events that all should remember, but yet none of us know of this vale or of fires in the sky."

Reaching out, the storyteller tenderly touched the child's face.

The youngster's eyes grew wide as for just a moment the teller of tales own eyes flashed amber. Startled, he glanced at his fellow listeners, but none of them seemed to see it.

Winking at him, the storyteller's smile grew into a grin.

"Indeed! But, that is a tale for another time."

The End


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