The tale of a bold knight, a valiant steed, an innocent maiden and a cunning dragon…
“I may have a plan.” Cicero spoke thoughtfully. “I think it covers all the bases. Firstly, we have to arrive at the stone together. You two can come down this ridge and I’ll circle around to approach from the other direction. When we get to the girl, Sir Barnabas can discover whether or not she is willing to be divested of her virginity.” He paused and passed a claw across his eyes. “Assuming the young woman is agreeable, I can cover the event with my wings. And I’m sure neither Salazar nor myself would wish to watch such an undignified procedure. Once the deed is done I will be able to touch the stone and return to my library. The rest of you will be free to do as you will.”
Salazar shook his mane but said nothing, leaving it to Barney to voice the question they were both asking in their heads.
“What if the girl is unwilling?”
“Then I will eat her.”
“And what of my companion and I?”
Salazar’s skin twitched and he stamped a forehoof. “I guess we go down fighting.”
“I suspect we might. But you could always run away. I wouldn’t blame you.”
“No. I know you wouldn’t. Which is why I can’t do it.”
Barney laid a hand on the arched neck. “If that’s how you feel we should give some thought to what we do in the aftermath if this plan goes to plan.”
“That might be tricky.”
Cicero coughed genteelly. “You could come with me.”
“Yes. I have a very nice home. With room for friends.”
“What about your dragon chums? Who are generally very fond of horse meat.”
Cicero shuffled his feet and looked uncomfortable. “I don’t actually have any dragon ‘chums’. Regular dragons don’t have much time for vegetarian librarians.”
“Oh. Well. Umm. In that case.” Salazar swished his mane some more. Then he snapped his teeth together. “If we are going to do this thing, we should stop jawing and get on with it.”
Barney stretched until his joints popped and he and Cicero attempted a high five. The dragon waddled off in the opposite direction to the castle and spread his dun-coloured wings. He leapt into the air and the down draught all but brought Barney to his knees. Salazar swore, but sobered as Barney climbed awkwardly into the saddle. They set off down the spiny ridge at a careful walk, it not being safe to go any faster. When they reached the flat, green pastureland in which the Dragon Stone stood like a rotting tooth Salazar broke into a ceremonial canter while Barney sat upright in the saddle and tried to look noble.
Overhead the dragon circled and flamed, skilfully managing to make a good show for the watching castle without coming close to singeing his co-conspirators.
The trio arrived at the Stone together and Barney slid from Salazar’s back. Standing over the chained girl he brandished his broadsword so as to make it appear he was guarding her life.
Hs spoke without looking over his shoulder. “Can you hear me mistress?”
“Of course I can. I’m not deaf. And it’s Princess.”
“Oh right. Sorry. Well. Look. Umm. The thing is…”
Aurora studied the tongue-tied young giant with some approval. In another place and at another time, she thought, he might make a very presentable beau. But she did rather wish he’d spit out whatever it was he was trying to say.
Salazar took over. “Can you hear me?”
“I can. But you’re a horse so I shouldn’t be able to. Are you a hallucination?”
“No. I’m just a talking horse. And we’ve no time for idle chitchat. This is serious. We’re trying to save your life, but that requires your cooperation.”
“In these circumstances I’m all about cooperation.”
For a moment it seemed that even Salazar’s glib tongue had deserted him, but he coughed a bit and ploughed on.
“Do you know, young person, what it is about you that makes you possible dragon food?”
“Approximately. I mean. I’m young. Female. Not ugly. And…”
“And a virgin.”
“Precisely. You are currently a virgin.”
“Are you trying to tell me that all I have to do is discard my virginity I have a fighting chance of surviving this brouhaha?”
“You’re kidding me? That’s all it takes? ”
She narrowed her eyes and studied Barney’s broad back.
“That one will do,” she said firmly. “Except. What happens if he stops fighting off the dragon…?”
“You don’t need to worry about Cicero. Or you won’t if you can divest yourself of your inconvenient innocence. In fact he is prepared to shield you with his wings while the necessary happens.”
This adventure of Barney and Salazar will continue next week…