The tale of a bold knight, a valiant steed, an innocent maiden and a cunning dragon…
Marplot didn’t move, so Barney gave him a not too gentle shove.
“Go on, man, be about your business.”
Marplot scuttled off and Barney swore.
“We need to be not here, my friend.”
Salazar neighed at him, and he got the feeling that meant someone was about who might overhear should they converse.
Indeed, the tent flap opened almost immediately to disclose a hard faced man with the impressive muscularity of someone who takes fitness very seriously.
“Are you Barnabas?”
“Good. The name’s Gawain.” When Barney didn’t react, he carried on speaking. “Are you aware that a certain lady may have what we could call designs on your person?”
“And what do you propose to do about the situation.”
“Run like fuck!”
Which must have been the right answer because the hard face actually broke into a grin.
“That makes things nice and simple then. His Majesty was of the opinion you might be a reasonable man. I wanted some convincing, particularly when I saw that toad Marplot sneaking out of this pavilion.”
“He wasn’t here by invitation.”
“Oh. Right. Lucinda sent him did she?”
“The Queen. You really haven’t got close, have you?”
“I have not. And I’m currently looking for a way out. Yesterday for preference.”
“Of you are serious about legging it I can help.”
Barney raised an eyebrow.
“Okay. His Majesty can help. He’s just been asked to provide a dragon hunter and…”
Barney lifted both his eyebrows.
“Yes. I know. But His Majesty has a peculiar sense of humour. However it would give you an excuse to be gone.“
“I suppose it would. Details please.”
Gawain handed over a scroll and clapped Barney on the shoulder.
“If you stay away for a couple of months she’ll forget you and set her sights elsewhere.”
Then he was gone. Barney waited a few moments before speaking with elaborate casualness.
“Salazar. How do you fancy a dragon hunt?”
“A dragon hunt? Have you completely lost your mind?”
“No. I just thought it was a good excuse to leave here. We could maybe go for a long walk together. And perhaps not come back.”
“Now you are making sense. Just as long as you aren’t proposing to ride around the countryside in an iron suit.”
“As if I would. Serviceable leather is what I’ll be wearing.”
“If that’s the case, I’m with you.”
So it was that as darkness fell a tall man and a tall horse made their quiet way out of the royal encampment and up into the peaceful hills.
It was sunrise on the very next morning when it all started to come unravelled.
Not very far away from the green meadow and its gaudy pavilions, a grey stone castle stood at the head of a metalled causeway. As the sun poked over the horizon the portcullis squealed its way upwards, the sally port opened, and half a dozen heavily armed men dragged a cloaked and chained figure across the drawbridge. The group began to climb a grassy ridge with the armed men setting a punishing pace. The chained figure stumbled, but they had no mercy, dragging their captive along in their wake. At the head of the ridge stood a rough, granite obelisk with iron rings set in its pockmarked sides. The soldiers quickly chained their small charge to the stone and jogged back from whence they had come leaving a forlorn figure spreadeagled on the cold dewy grass.
After a while, the chained one sat up. She, for it was a young woman, put back the hood from her face and surveyed her predicament. The soldiers had freed her hands, but that was of little assistance as she was chained to the rock by both ankles and by a steel hoop around her slender waist. She dropped her face into her hands.
“Princess Aurora,” she sighed. “Your beauty and virtue aren’t a lot of use to you now.”
For a moment there was despair written in every line of her body. But then she sat upright and set her chin.
“If I’m going to die,” she muttered, “I’m going to do it sitting up.”
This adventure of Barney and Salazar will continue next week…