The young knight moved with the rhythm of his horse as it plodded on through the rising mountain range. He remembered the day he left the citadel when dawn’s rosy fingers crept over the landscape, warming the cold earth with her delicate touch. A rooster heralded the day while the sows chuffed and snuffled amongst the hay in the stalls. The cows waited impatiently in the yard, eager to be rid of their bulging surplus, scuffing their hooves and quietly rumbling their displeasure at having to wait for the milkmaid.
In the stables, his horse sensed his nervousness and anticipation, and whinnied uneasily. Mounting the steed the knight looked around at the grim, grey walls. No fanfare sounded, no merriment signalled his departure. This was a journey anticipated with excitement and foreboding. Every knight had to earn his rank with a deed of valour. This knight sought the most prized of all trophies, the horn of the dreaded wyrm, the ancient red dragon.
Day followed day as the knight traversed the kingdom’s terrain. The green plains surrounding the castle and the village merged into the sparsely wooded forests. The trees transformed into cathedral-like pillars; sunlight filtering as a candle chandelier. The forest neither threatened nor welcomed, simply accepted the presence of the knight and his steed. High in the canopy birds chatted about the passing of the weather and the movement of the deer across the ranges.
Each passing day took the knight closer to his destination, the lair of the great wyrm. With each passing footfall of his horse, the animals became quieter until silence lowered its head in sombreness as the knight approached the dragon’s cavern.
The forest ended abruptly at the foot of the mountains. The sides rose steeply into the clouds forming a white wall. Wisps streamed out like banners unfurling declaring signals of war.
“Let us take the battle to this scourge,” said the knight.
The traverse was steep, littered with the bones of earlier combatants. The knight’s strength melted in his chest like the spring thaw.
“Have courage and fear not,” he said to himself.
Close to the summit the knight paused to plan his assault. At the cusp of daybreak the knight crept to the edge of the dragon’s cavern. Peering around a boulder he spied the great wyrm, curled on himself like a dog. The red sheen of the dragon’s scales glittered in the early light, a magnificent vision of ruby and rose. The slow rise and fall of its great body suggested it was sleeping.
“And what is your name, knight?”
The knight was taken aback by the sudden hail. “How did you know I was here?”
“You humans are clumsy and so predictable,” said the dragon. “You are best swatted out of the air like flies. But your name young knight.”
The knight took a stance of combat. “My name is Sir Justin of Thornleigh.”
“Ultimately, your name is unimportant. It is simply protocol. You are one more to add to the collection.” The dragon rolled to one side, exposing its underbelly. Melded into its scaly hide was a wall of shields. Justin recognised the standards of known champions.
“Dragon, would you give me the pleasure of your name.”
“Ulfthalas. Now pleasantries are over, we can commence hostilities.”
The fireball exploded from the dragon’s mouth. The knight dove to his right before rolling under the dragon’s tail as it swung overhead, the spikes grazing against his shield.
The element of surprise gambled on and lost, the knight sprang forward to attack at the dragon’s forequarters where the shield wall ended. The dragon’s cavern afforded some room for the wyrm to manoeuvre but the knight harried and hacked at the weak points, away from the fiery blast and the swinging tail.
Roars of frustration emanated from the dragon’s throat as it clawed back and forth to reach for the harrying knight underneath. The dragon raised its left foreleg and aimed to squash the knight. Bringing the claw down, the tips of its claws scored the shield, splintering the wood.
Taking his chance, the knight leapt up the dragon’s leg and swung onto its back. Sitting astride the dragon’s shoulders, the knight took his sword in two hands and raised it above his head, preparing to strike the death blow.
Suddenly, a motherly voice sang out like church bells at Sunday service.
“Justin, it’s time to come in for lunch.”
“I’m coming Mum. I’ll be there in a minute,” replied the young knight, pushing the bike helmet out of his eyes while the dog yapped and dodged around him. A green towel tucked into the collar acted as a cape, fluttering out behind.
The knight turned and addressed the dragon, “I beg your pardon, but I am summoned forthwith to sup.”
“Forsooth, one cannot deny the command. We will continue our melee at a later stage.”
Drawing his sword to his chest, Justin saluted the dragon and bowed in reverence to his worthy opponent. The dragon lowered its head to the knight in solemn respect.
The knight turned and began to discard his weapons and armour. The wooden sword clattered against the garbage can lid shield as it dropped into the dirt. Large gardening gloves fell easily off little fingers. The bicycle helmet bounced along the ground and caused the dog to leap away for fear of being skittled. A cardboard box covered in aluminium foil served as a breastplate and was left at the foot of the stairs as the screen door clattered shut. The dog sat expectantly at the door waiting for the boy’s return, but soon gave up and returned to gnaw its favourite bone under the shade of the orange tree.