The tale of a bold knight, a valiant steed, an innocent maiden and a cunning dragon…
The watchers on the high hill to the east of the castle looked at each other with identical expressions of resignation.
Needless to say, it was Salazar who found his voice first.
“It’s up to you, sir knight. But strictly speaking we ought to go and rescue that female.”
Barney looked down at his utilitarian garb and winced. When his companion would have spoken again, he held up a hand for silence.
“Hush now. I’m thinking.”
The big horse subsided.
“Okay my friend, this is what we are going to do.” Barney unhooked something from Salazar’s saddle as he spoke, but whatever else he might have been going to say was strangled in his throat by the sound and down-draught from a pair of massive leathern wings. A huge shadow blotted out the sun before there was a sound almost too loud to hear and the earth beneath their feet shook as a humongous dragon crash landed in the grass about three man lengths in front of the duo. It wasn’t the handsomest of mythical creatures, and it didn’t seem at all happy to be doing whatever it was doing.
“Why isn’t the earth flatter?” a somewhat peevish voice complained. “It isn’t as if…”
Barney cocked the crossbow he had unhooked just seconds before and levelled it at the saurian head.
The creature held up its forelegs with their massively taloned claws.
“I say,” it said plaintively, “there’s no need for that y’know. If I’d have wanted to hurt you I’d have flamed from up there. You two would have been toast. Literally.”
It laughed gleefully at its own joke, but Barney kept his crossbow pointed to where it would do most harm. Once it got over its pleasure at its own wit the dragon sobered sufficiently to speak about the situation.
“I’m sorry to drop in unannounced, but I’m suffering somewhat of a moral dilemma. Rather hoped you chaps could assist one.”
“Yes. Y’see there’s a young woman down there. Chained to Dragon Rock. Offered as a sacrifice…”
“And I don’t want to eat her.”
“Well don’t then.”
The dragon sighed. “If I was to give you my word not to harm you, or your noble steed, would you please put the crossbow down and let me explain?”
“Salazar. Are we trusting the lizard?”
“Yeah. So long as you stop insulting it.”
Barney lowered the bow. “Explain then.”
“When the humans chain a virgin to that rock a dragon has to come. Unfortunately for me, I was watch dragon when they locked the last chain about her waist. One minute I was reading a fascinating treatise on medical herbs, the next… boom. Just had time to remove m’spectacles before I found myself hovering over this hilltop.”
“Spectacles? I never heard of a dragon wearing spectacles.” Barney had the distinct impression that Salazar would have scratched his head if he could.
The dragon looked pained. “I don’t suppose you did. Look. I’m a librarian. All I want to do with my life is curate books. But I’m here. And the only way I can get home is by touching the Dragon Rock.”
“So. Touch it and go home.”
“I can’t. If that young woman down there is really a virgin I will eat her. I won’t be able to help myself. That’s just how it is.”
A huge and boiling tear ran down the dragon’s scaly cheek. It had Barney and Slazar leaping backwards to avoid being scalded, and the dragon looked truly abashed.
Salazar grunted. “So. If I have this right you were brought here against your will. You can’t go back without touching that rock. And if that’s a virgin you won’t be able to stop yourself from eating her.”
“Yes, noble steed. You have the right of it.”
“Cut it out with the noble steed. The name’s Salazar. And the human is Sir Barnabas. We will try to help you as soon as we can think of a way.”
“Oh. Right. Thank you Sir Barnabas and Salazar. My name is Cicero.”
“I’m assuming we can’t just go and set the young female free.”
“No, noble Salazar. There will be watchers. With weapons trained on the Stone. They really aren’t going to let anyone remove their sacrifice before I get there.”
Barney scratched at his incipient beard. “When you get down there do you have to eat the virgin immediately?”
“No. I will be tempted, but until I touch the Stone I should be able to hold out for a while. Although I don’t know where that is going to get you. And before you suggest it I won’t be able to let you just take the virgin and run away. I will want to but the compulsion is too strong. If she were not a virgin…”
This adventure of Barney and Salazar will continue next week…