Ch. 1 To Kill a Queen's Dragon
A Knight Named Phillip: In which a disenchanted young man meets our hero after an encounter with a "lion".
With his sling on his back, Bill marched down the driveway away from his family farm towards whatever adventure awaited him. As the mailbox came into view, several thoughts started pestering his mind. How far was it to the nearest inn? Assuming he made it beyond the one in town, he had no idea. Did the next town over have an inn? Why hadn’t he thought of that until now? How much did a room at an inn cost? Again, he had no idea. They wouldn’t make him sleep outside if he hadn’t brought enough money with him, would they? Surely, any red-blooded person would realize a young man needs a place to sleep. If they did make him sleep outside, they’d probably let him go hungry, too. People who would let a boy risk his life with the wolves of night would probably be happy enough to let him starve if the wolves left him alone that long.
At this point, Bill’s pace started to slow until he reached a dead-stop right at the mailbox. When he realized his feet had stopped moving and saw the pitiful distance he’d made from his front door, his heart began to harden. “Well, whether things go wrong or not, I have to at least pass the mailbox. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I hadn’t even made it past twice,” Bill said to himself.
If it weren’t for a strange twist of fate, Bill very well may have turned home before the next bend in the road. After all, he was a boy, and making your first journey alone can be quite daunting, no matter who you are. The fact that you’ll be upsetting your parents only adds to the interior reluctance, and Bill probably would’ve seen reason fairly quickly. After all, he was not a bad boy, only angry and rash as most boys tend to be. Even if he had made it to the next town, the innkeeper there happened to be his second cousin, whom he had met at multiple family parties. That relative more than likely would’ve pieced the situation together from the poorly-packed sack on Bill’s back and the look of hesitant rebellion in his eyes. With a plate full of sweet treats, a late-night drive, and a long conversation, Bill would’ve been back home and ready to return to his chores before sunrise.
However, as Bill made his first step beyond the mailbox, he tripped on his own feet and fell to his knees. From the bushes to his right, he heard a deep growl. It sounded so deep and powerful that, for all the world, Bill thought it must be a lion. As Bill stared into the bushes, his heart pounding, the bushes began to quiver, and another low rumble seemed to shake the very ground. From the branches, an enormous mouth, which looked as if it could eat Bill whole, emerged. Following the terrible mouth, two evil eyes, clearly the eyes of a murderous beast, stared hungrily straight at Bill.
Without a second thought, Bill sprinted into the other side of the woods lining the path. He ran for all he was worth until his lungs gave out, and then he ran some more for good measure. Just as he reached the end of his strength and leaned against a tree for support, he heard the same low growl not twenty feet away and suddenly found himself racing away again with renewed vigor. Deeper and deeper into the woods he ran, and, in the few spare moments that he had to think amidst the panic, he noticed that the area was growing increasingly unfamiliar. The trees were changing from the normal oaks and elms to tall pine trees, and even the sun, which had been low in the horizon at the start of his walk, was nearly at its zenith. How long had he been running?
It was on account of this last observation that Bill made his next blunder. As everyone knows, running while looking at the sky can be quite dangerous. In this case, it was still dangerous but only served to embarrass him. Staring into the sun, Bill felt that his feet were no longer touching the ground. Suddenly, something slammed into his back, and, with his eyes still on the sun, he realized that he was lying on the ground.
A sore pain began throbbing in the front and back of his chest, and he rolled over with some difficulty. Right in front of him, instead of the gleaming eyes of a lion, were the two biggest hooves he’d ever seen. Above them, far higher than it should have been, a horse’s massive torso was connected, with a long stick extending behind it.
Two boots landed next to the horse’s hooves, and Bill beheld the man large enough to match the horse he’d been riding. The man’s face looked down at Bill anxiously.
“Boy, are you well?” the man questioned as he kneeled next to Bill. “My lance was protruding from behind my steed. Pardon me for not hearing your approach and moving it out of your way.”
“The lion…,” was all Bill could manage to croak out of his over-taxed lungs.
“There are no lions in these parts, sirrah. You must’ve seen a coyote or something of the kind. Don’t worry, such a one won’t bother you when you have company.”
The large man was forced to momentarily regret his words when a growl sounded from where Bill had just escaped. With lightning reflexes, the man stood with sword drawn and eyes searching the perimeter of the wood. To Bill’s shame, which lasted for years afterwards, what came from the leaves was certainly a large cat of some kind, but one that only reached up to Bill’s knees at its highest.
“A beast it surely is, dear friend, but perhaps not a lion,” the knight said as a smile broke across his face. “I think a sword might not be quite the tool to slay such a one. Hand-to-hand combat seems much more appropriate.” With that, the great man sheathed his sword and merrily walked towards the cat with his hand extended. In a few cautious strides, the man had knelt next to the ‘beast’ and began to carefully stroke its head and back tenderly.
“It… it was huge! Before, I mean. What happened to it?” Bill asked aghast.
“Surely, you must understand. This awful man-eater came chasing after you for scraps he smelled in your pack, and, caught unawares by a wild animal, your fear made it seem more fearsome than it really was.”
“But it was a lion! How would I mistake a cat for a lion?”
“Stranger things have happened to those traveling alone in the woods. You’re lucky that it wasn’t a troll or a goblin.”
“Those don’t exist. Dan Calloway from school said that they’re just in stories to scare babies.”
“This Dan sounds like quite the little goblin himself, perhaps. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sir Phillip. What is your name, may I ask, and what brings you into this forest with no fear of evil creatures? Is your family nearby? Your father will certainly worry if he heard you screaming and can’t find you.”
“I’m Bill, and my parents aren’t here.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Bill. I think that’s exactly the issue at hand, don’t you, your parents being absent?” the man chuckled as he stood up from the cat which stared at the two humans intensely. “But I mean to ask where they might be or were before. Excuse my inexact language.”
Bill began to nervously grope inside his pockets for something to fiddle with as boys often do when they feel nervous. “I mean that I left them.”
“Ah, you were running an errand? Or something more… nefarious?” Phillip’s face became more grave but not unkind.
“My dad was punishing me, so I decided to run away.”
Phillip paused for a moment until he asked with a touch of concern, “What kind of punishment was it, Bill?”