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The Knight Errant

Recently I’ve been going to meetings with the Leeds Savage Club, a writer’s group in the city that’s been giving me some great feedback on my writing. The last piece of work I presented was a piece of prose that contains a lot of ideas for my new comic.

With a current title of ‘The Knight Errant,’ this story is meant to establish a lot of ideas I want to explore in my writing: the dragon as something intelligent, but also hugely symbolic, surrounded by preconceptions… and an actual character, with strengths and weaknesses, as opposed to a mere obstacle we destroy. It’s also a nice starting point for the wider story I want to tell in the main Not to Scale comic: this story isn’t meant to exist in the same world as that one, necessarily. But it takes place far earlier, and I’d like to think that what happens in this story could easily shape what happens in a later one.

There’s a lot I’d like to change about this story: I think the direction I’m going in with the dialogue needs to be re-examined, and having a stronger sense of a specific geography and historical era might help as well. Still, give it a read and see what you think!

(Header image: Public Domain Pictures)


 

The princess trudged across the dry ground, as the sun began to sink under the earth. Its bloody red light barely illuminated her way through the wilderness. Fortunately, the blazing torches carried by the guards burned bright and strong. No denying the route now: the animal prints and bootprints scarring the ground beat a path to the water’s edge, about half a mile away.

Her finery had long since been ripped from her: she wore a plain cotton dress, covered with coarse brown robes as a defence against the biting wind. It also whipped the flames into a frenzy, each gust causing the fire to crackle and twist whilst remaining shackled to the wood. It was a warm night, but she pulled her robes around a little tighter: a strange chill had crept into her bones. Unsurprising, really. She expected it to have arrived all the sooner, and only the gushing of blood as her body was torn apart would dispel it.

As the lapping of the water on the shoreline reached her ears, she stopped a few paces from it. The steady trudging of the guards also ceased. Swallowing, she turned to face them: to her annoyance, her lip was trembling. What was the point of living in comfort and privilege, learning how to guard yourself and your emotions… only to fall apart at the first whiff of confrontation?

“Please. Please don’t do this. I- I’ll do anything you want: we’re all alone, no-one would see you-”

“You think we can be bought? The nearest guard seized her roughly by the throat, dirty nails gripping her flesh. “You think your blood makes you better than us? Rest assured, your blood’ll taste all the same to the monster: he’s better than you in that regard.”

“No! I didn’t mean-” But her words were cut off as the guard threw her roughly on the ground, crying out as a shoulder slammed into the dry earth.

“I lost my daughter.” The guard’s hands was shaking, his breathing fast. “I hugged her and kissed her and watched her go to the water… didn’t have the courage to see her there myself. What makes you think I’d spare you over her? Well?

“That’s enough.” The second guard spoke: though softer and more controlled, his lip still curled as he looked at the woman sprawled on the ground. “Whatever we would do, the beast will do far better. Let that be her punishment.”

Turning, but still breathing heavily, the first guard nodded- a short, sharp jerk of the head- and with stony expressions the two men began the long walk home. Their torches pointed downwards, illuminating the furrows and ridges of the earth as they departed.

The princess hugged herself all the tighter as the night closed in: it wouldn’t be long now. Even in the palace, she had heard the stories: once the offering- a cow or goat, at first- had been deposited, the waters of the pond bubbled and churned as the monster stirred. Then, just as you thought that was all, that nothing would happen, it erupted: a mass of scales and claws, wings spread wide and water spraying onto the earth. Flame leapt from its mouth in an unholy display, before it swooped down, seizing the offering… and staring into the eyes of its audience as it clutched its struggling prize.

Nobody quite dared stay after that. But the sacrifices continued nonetheless. Nobody wanted to risk the true wrath of a monster like that, after all.

And then, in the darkness… the water began to bubble. She heard it at first, before feeling the cool flecks of water land on her cheeks… She found herself rising unsteadily, heart pounding: should she run? No, running would be futile… and cowardly. She would face her monster. Alone, if she must. It was what was expected of her.

The water sprayed out at her, soaking her dress… and then, it was upon her. It roared, and fire poured from between its jaws. Before the flames died, she saw the monster for a split second: a green, scaly mass, leathery wings, and piercing eyes fixed on its prize… before being plunged into darkness.

The princess screamed then, her earlier resolve vanishing. She turned to run only to trip and fall heavily on the ground. She clawed at the earth, seeking purchase as the monster began to advance…

“Goddamnit.”

She froze, blinked a couple of times. A voice? A raspy, foreign voice, but a voice nonetheless. But that would mean…

Heat and light blazed in the corner of her eye as a stunted tree was set on fire, illuminating the area. Raising herself off the ground, she twisted round… to find herself face to face with the monster from the lake.

It was smaller than she imagined: imposing, to be sure, but no more than eight feet tall, or thereabouts. Its large wings squatted on its back, folded tightly against the shoulderblades, and a long, muscular tail swished behind it absently. A ridged, snubby snout jutted from its head as its green eyes stared into her own…before a look of scorn crept into each one.

“Ugh, again? Are times so bad that they have to send the likes of you? Is the livestock all gone? The cows? The goats, I’d settle for if I needed to…”

Yes, it was the monster that had spoken. The princess blinked, but stayed otherwise still. She suddenly felt very slow and stupid, as if she was sinking in water rather than merely soaked in it. Somehow she found her tongue.

“What do you want from me?”

The monster stared into her eyes for a moment before raising its snout dismissively. “Nothing you’ve got, sweetheart. Now, come on: there must be something left. A chicken or two, pecking round the-”

“If you would eat me, then go about it. I have no desire to be kept in suspense. Eat me and be done with it.”

“Jesus, how much water’s in those ears of yours? I don’t. Want. You. You need me to speak slower?  Pass me that stick, I’ll draw a bloody picture for you.”

“How dare you.” Against the odds, the princess found her fists clenching and her blood boiling. “I am a princess, demon, and you shall address me with the respect-”

A clawed hand shot out, seizing the princess by the wrist- she recoiled as its scaly skin brushed hers- and the monster raised itself on its haunches, pulling the princess to her feet as he did so and dragging her towards the cliffside.

“What do you want from me!?” she said angrily. “You terrorise our village, you steal our livestock, you get the princess of a kingdom…and now you’re just dragging me away!? Tell me what you want!”

The monster stopped and turned: though the dark was closing in as the tree smoulded, she could feel its eyes upon her. “Shut up. I’ve got better things to do than listen to your bloody whining. You have your part to play, princess… and so does everyone else.”

Puzzling over what that meant, the princess found herself at the foot of the cliffs…and standing in front of a cleft in the rock. Craning its neck, the monster slipped roughly between the gritty slabs of stone…and within a few moments, both it and its prize were swallowed by the darkness.

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