A Bad Knight for Dragons
Richard E.D. Jones
The knight probably would have been a lot more impressive if he hadn't been riding one of those dumb little wiener dogs. Since he was, though, it was all I could do to keep from laughing.
"Hail." The knight's voice was louder than I thought it would be considering he wasn’t even two feet tall. "I would speak with the lord of the castle."
I looked around the tree house Dad and I built last summer for my twelfth birthday. Since Kelekona and I were the only ones inside, I figured the knight was talking to me. I stuck my head out the window on that side of the tree house and shouted down to him.
"Um... Can I help you?"
The knight's armor squeaked as he looked up. The wiener dog did a little dance forward and back and then settled down, giving me the stink eye.
"Be you the lord of this castle?"
"Well, it's my tree house, if that's what you mean."
"Aye, it is. Know that I, Sir Brobdig, have come to rid you of the beast, which doth hide within." He shook his small lance, which looked like some kind of really long and thick needle. "I have tracked the fell beast for months and I mean to hang its head in my great hall."
Ooooh, man. Not good. I had to come up with something to get rid of him.
"I, uh, I don't know what you're talking about." Oh, really smooth, Ben.
The knight snorted, rattling the shiny bars wrapping around his face. A cloud must have moved away from the sun just then because the knight's armor started sparkling and shining, making me squint through the glare to see him.
"I would not want to call you dissembler, but—"
"What's dissembler mean?"
Sir Brobdig looked sort of strange, as if he couldn't believe what I'd asked.
"'Tis but a word for liar. I think it may be a word for you, if you would continue to deny the beast's presence in the castle. I ask a final time for permission to claim the beast."
"Really, I, um, I. There's no beast here."
The knight sighed and stroked his metal gloves against the brown fur along the wiener dog's neck.
"Very well, good sir. You leave me no choice. I shall return anon, soon, with my boon companions. We shall harry the beast and all who stand with it. You have been warned."
Kelekona's eyes shot open and she raised her head as the knight jabbed his lance at the bottom of the tree. Something like fire shot out of the lance's point and hit the tree, burning for a few seconds. The knight nodded, wheeled the wiener dog around and the two of them trotted off into the woods behind my house.
I slumped down onto the floor and held my head in my hands. Kelekona grunted and walked over to me, her splinted wing dragging on the floor behind her. I should have figured something like this would happen.
Wherever there's dragons, there's always a knight.
I needed help and I needed it fast. Gently setting Kelekona's head on the floor and scratching between her left horn and ear, I scooted over to my foot locker in the corner and grabbed the two-way radio. I thumbed the call button and waited for Keali to answer.
"Yeah, Ben. Whatcha want?"
"Keali, you gotta get to the tree house. Quick."
"I'm hurrying as fast as I can, but my mom won't get out of the kitchen."
Just great. Kelekona's scales were really getting pale and we thought it might be she needed more food. If Keali's mom didn't leave, we couldn't get the... No. We'd have to worry about that later.
"Never mind that right now. I think there might be some trouble."
"Auê nô ho`i."
"Yeah, oh-oh is right. Get over here."
Keali's house is two down from mine so I knew he'd be here soon. I gently moved Kelekona's head so she wouldn't keep nibbling at the wrap we'd put around her wing. I didn't know how much longer it would last if she kept scratching and nipping at it like that.
Keali and I found the dragon on the roof of my tree house a couple of days after school let out the month before. We managed to make friends with her and bandage her hurt wing, so I guess earning those Boy Scout badges was good for something after all. We tried, but we never found out where she came from.
The big oak tree shook a little as Keali charged up the ladder and flipped open the trap door. Keali's brown arm rose up through the trap door, followed by his bushy, black hair. If you try, you can get a tan here in North Carolina, but, standing next to Keali, I always looked like an albino grub worm living in a cave. I wondered if all Hawaiians laughed at their pasty and pale best friends.
Keali looked around the tree house. His eyes took in the condition of all our stuff, the nature magazines, bird watching guides, the camping gear and, of course, the green dragon in her nest of old clothes.
"What happened?" Keali asked, smiling at the sight of the dragon. "Does it have anything to do with the tree?"
"There was—What? What happened to the tree?"
"Down near the bottom," Keali said as he climbed the rest of the way in and closed the trap door. "It looks like somebody burned words into the tree trunk."
I stuck my head out the trap door and looked down. Sure enough, about where the knight and the wiener dog had been, there looked to be some black markings.
"What did it say?" I asked. Even with my head outside looking down, I heard the dry rustling of Kelekona's scales as she rubbed up against Keali.
"I don't know. It wasn't in English. Or Hawiian. I think it was something like 'hick funt dracens,' or something."
Even with the mangled pronunciation, I realized what it was almost right away, thanks to the research I'd been doing since we found Kelekona.
"It's Latin: hic sunt dracones."
"Yeah," Keali said. "What's it mean?"
"Here be dragons. Supposedly, people used to write that on old maps when they didn't know what was there, but thought it was dangerous. But I'm thinking this time he really means it."
"He who?" Keali asked.
We sat down on the wooden floor, Kelekona stretched out between us, and I filled Keali in on my knight-mare of an afternoon.
"I still don't get it," Keali said after I'd finished talking. "A two-foot-tall knight? That doesn't make sense."
"Well, we never found out where Kelekona came from. Maybe she's some kind of huge thing there. Another world, different dimension sort of thing. All I know is the guy was here and he means business."
"But why would anyone want to hurt Kelekona?" Keali looked at the dragon on the floor. Kelekona yawned with her mouth wide open, showing long, sharp, white fangs, then settled her head between her forelegs and closed her eyes. "Yeah, okay. Fine. Those teeth do look dangerous, but, come on. She hasn't tried to hurt us."
Gently getting out from under the dragon's tail, I stood up and walked to the window. Scarlet ribbons of cloud reflected the dying sunlight setting in the west, dropping most of the woods behind my house into shadow. Night was coming.
"What are we going to do?" I asked. "We can't move Kelekona with that wing of hers and we sure can't take her inside either of our houses."
"It's easy, big man. We just move into the tree house for a few days. You know our parents don't mind us sleeping out here."
And it was just that easy. We took turns, one of us staying with Kelekona and the other racing back to the house, getting permission and grabbing all the food and supplies we thought we'd need. My tree house was far enough away from my real house that carrying the supplies really took the wind out of me.
When Keali came back from his house, we decided to sleep in shifts. One of us would always be awake in case the knight and his friends came back. We goofed off for a while, reading comic books and playing Yoshi's Island on our GameBoys by the light of the camp lantern. Finally, it was late enough that Keali thought he could get to sleep. He rolled out his sleeping bag and turned down the lantern.
I popped open a vanilla Coke can from the cooler we'd brought up to the tree house and settled in to wait. Kelekona nudged my ankle, a deep rumbling coming from her chest. The summer's experience had taught me that was her hungry sound. I rooted through the supplies and tossed a piece of chicken in the dragon's direction.
Kelekona snarled as she ripped into a chicken leg. I'd been sneaking into the big freezer in our garage to raid Mom's store of frozen chicken for dragon chow. So far Mom hadn't noticed, but I had a feeling that wouldn't last long. I shuddered as I heard Kelekona snap the bone in two. In the dark, it was all too easy to imagine that was the sound of a two-foot-tall person being ripped to shreds.
Maybe the knight was right. Maybe Kelekona was a danger, a beast. Maybe the only reason she hadn't tried to hurt us was because Keali and I were bigger than she was. Maybe... Maybe... Man, sometimes, befriending a mythological creature really sucked.
I wanted to talk this over with Keali, but his soft snores told me he was already asleep. Terrific. I heard a loud gulp as Kelekona finished off the chicken, bones and all. After a few minutes, even the dragon started snoring.
Sitting there in the dark, I got an idea. Moving as quietly as I could, I grabbed a flashlight and headed out. Kelekona and the knight had to come from somewhere. I figured I could find where they knight came from and block it off somehow. The light from my flashlight tore into the darkness and I headed in the same direction as the knight had earlier that afternoon.
Dried-up leaves crunched under my Nikes as I slowly walked between the trees. I walked for about ten minutes, weaving in and out of the oaks and pines, but I didn't see anything.
"This is useless," I said as I sat down and leaned against the trunk of one of the bigger oaks. I didn't even know what I was looking for. If only I didn't feel so horrible, like something really bad was getting ready to happen. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, trying to think.
I jerked awake and stared around in the pre-dawn dimness. I clicked the flashlight on and off, but no light. My batteries must have died while I slept. Then, off to my right I saw a little light. I stood up and crept closer to the flickering light.
The campfire burned brightly in the night. My heart was pounding and I could barely keep from hyperventilating as I got down on my belly to crawl forward. I thought I saw things moving around the light. And then I was stuck. It felt like I my shoulders were bumping up against a tunnel or something. I only just managed to stop myself from shouting as I waved my arms around. I didn't feel anything, but I couldn't move forward.
That's when I noticed how different the land looked in front of me. In my yard, it was almost dawn, but in front of me the full moon was somewhere overhead and it lit the area enough for me to see there were no more trees out there, and the ground sloped down steeply. That was not my back yard. I guessed it was a doorway or something. This place must have been where Kelekona and the knight came from.
Fascinated in spite of my fear I moved back a little, put my arms in front of me and wiggled forward. It was a tight squeeze so I grabbed at a fist-sized rock in front to help pull me along. I yelped when I touched the rock and a shock tore through my arm.
The shock stopped as soon as I let go of the rock. It felt like I'd been hit with the world's biggest jolt of static electricity. I stopped blowing on my fingers when I heard yelling and clanking metal. Torches flared up and in the light I saw mounted figures moving.
"Oh, geez." They were headed straight for me.
I backed out as fast as I could and pelted back to the tree house. Of course I didn't see the tree branch in my way and smacked head-first into it. I fell down dazed. I raised a hand to my forehead and felt something wet there. Blood. Great. I staggered up and ran, carefully, the rest of the way to the tree house.
Kelekona was already awake, her red eyes shining in the dark. Her growl woke Keali as I climbed inside.
"Help me with Kelekona. We gotta go. They're coming."
"What?" Keali still didn't sound all the way awake. "Who's coming?"
"The knight. The knight's coming back and he's bringing about twenty of his friends. We've gotta get Kelekona out of here. There's too many of them."
It was already too late. Kelekona growled as we heard one dog bark, quickly followed by many more. They were here.
We scrambled to the window and looked out. By the rising sun we could see the dim outline of a man riding a dog, followed by similar shapes. The lead knight halted his dog just below the ladder and looked up silently.
"You weren't kidding," Keali whispered.
"You thought I was joking and you still stayed out here with us? Why?"
"Well, duh. You guys are my friends. What else was I going to do? I—"
The knight broke in, with his surprisingly deep voice echoing eerily in the fog.
"Hail the castle. I have returned."
Kelekona's head jerked up at the sound of the knight's voice. A low growl rumbled out of the dragon's mouth and her tail swished angrily behind her. Before I could stop her, Kelekona pushed her head out the window and roared. The sound was beyond loud. I thought my ears were bleeding.
The dragons' scales flushed a deeper green, almost the same color they had been when we first found her. When Kelekona stopped roaring to inhale, Keali and I rushed forward and tried to gently move her back away from the window. She stayed where she was for a minute despite all our efforts, but finally she let us move her. I hadn't realized she was that strong. Keali murmured softly in the dragon's pointy ear, stroking her along the base of her spine. I went back to the window and looked down. The knight hadn't moved.
Man, he was braver than I was. If I had been his size and heard something like that I would have been gone so fast even the Flash wouldn't have been able to catch me. I had to admire the little guy. His courage sure didn't make it any easier to decide what to do. I leaned out the window and shouted down to the knight.
"Okay. You were right. We do have a dragon up here, but she's a really nice dragon. She... she's nice. Really."
"The beast is a danger to all. But I, Sir Brobdig, see you have been won over by the cunning fiend. Know this then: the beast will not live long in this world. Already it begins to sicken and soon, to die. Give it to us, that we may give it a clean, warrior's death."
As the knight finished he raised his knitting-needle lance and shook it at us. A small flame jetted from the end of the lance, burning the night air. Other knights rode forward into the circle of light cast by Sir Brobdig's flame and they shook their lances as well.
"Fire for fire!" It was like a chant or something.
I flopped to the floor of the tree house and looked at Keali and Kelekona. Keali's eyes were as wide as I've ever seen them and his mouth hung open. He shook his head and stared at the dragon.
"He's lying, right? Kelekona's not dying. Is she?"
"I... I don't know. I mean, she does look different, paler. And she's not eating as much. Maybe the knight's telling the truth."
"Well, should we..." Keali stroked the dragon's horns, again moving her head away from the injured wing. "Should we... you know?"
I sat and stared at the dragon. She was a carnivore. Who knew what she might do if, when, she grew bigger. And she was a wild animal. Could she even be tamed? Kelekona leaned into Keali's leg, twining her tail around his ankle.
"Uh-uh. No. I'm not giving up on her," I said as Keali smiled. "That guy might be lying. But even if he's telling the truth, maybe we can find a way to make her better if she stays..."
My eyes glazed over. Sometimes thinking really hurts. But this time I got a good idea for all the pain. I filled Keali in as I grabbed our wrist rocket slingshots and some ball bearings out of the footlocker.
"I don't know," he said as he scooted over to the cooler.
"Do you have any better ideas?"
"All right, then. Let's do it."
We went back to the window just in time to see the first grappling hook, which looked like it was made from a twisted up fishing hook, thump into the side of the tree house. A thin line trailed from the hook to the ground and a knight, who had already taken off most of his armor, was starting to climb.
I yanked the hook out of the wood and tossed it away. The knight landed with a loud thump and started cursing, using words I didn't really understand but filed away for future use anyway. I leaned out and aimed my slingshot at Sir Brobdig.
"I don't want to use this. Just go away and leave us alone."
The knight didn't answer, only raised his right hand and pointed at us. Jets of flame shot from several lances and six more hooks thwacked into the wood next to my head.
"Fine," I muttered. "Be that way."
The rubber sling pulled tight and I squinted my left eye shut. I eased off on the pressure a little bit since I didn't want to really hurt anyone and let go. The ball bearing spanged off a knight in the middle of the group and knocked him to the ground. I swept the hooks off the wall and backed up, letting Keali get into position at the window.
"All right," I said. "Throw 'em."
Keali leaned out, then jerked back as a column of flame roared past the window. Breathing heavily, he moved closer to the window and dropped two shaken-up cans of vanilla Coke to the ground.
"Bombs away," he said, sliding back from the window. "I'll get Kelekona ready."
I shouldered out the window and took aim at the Coke cans. I took a deep breath, held it, released and then did it again. My first shot missed, but the second scored a direct hit on a can and speared right through. The can shot off like a rocket, spewing vanilla Coke everywhere.
Dogs howled and knights cursed as the Coke started stinging eyes. The can itself knocked over several knights. I didn't give them time to recover. I hit the other can on the first shot, drenching the rest of the knights and making the dogs go crazy.
"Now," I screamed. "Now."
Keali flipped up the trap door and started down. We had to hope the knights were too busy with Coked-up eyes to worry about anything else. Keali jumped the last few feet and waited. I dropped my slingshot, pushed Kelekona to the door and started lowering her out feet first. Her front claws scrabbled on the floor and she didn’t look happy, but I got her through and lowered her to Keali. As soon as they moved out of the way I saw a knight closing fast.
I held on to the door, swung out a bit and then dropped, windmilling my arms to try and stay balanced. I thumped down a few feet from the charging knight and stuck out my foot. The wiener dog tripped, sending it and the knight sprawling to the ground. Keali and I picked Kelekona up between us and started running.
We almost made it.
One of the knights threw something and tangled up Keali's feet. He went down hard and I tripped over him. Kelekona went flying. She was only in the air for a few seconds, but in that time she stretched both wings to their full size, shredding the sling we'd wrapped around her injury. She flapped her wings once, then hit the ground. I fumbled with the length of twine around Keali's ankles, my hast making me clumsy.
"Come on, come on," Keali said. "They're getting closer."
"I'm hurrying as fast as I—There! Let's go."
We scrambled up and started pulling and pushing Kelekona toward the doorway or whatever the knights had come through. As soon as we got near the doorway, Kelekona sped up, running eagerly. She easily outdistanced us.
Kelekona slithered her thin body through the doorway, then paused and turned back to us. Dragons don't have facial expressions like humans, but I thought she was smiling. She leaned her long neck down and picked up in her mouth the stone that had shocked me earlier. She winced as she picked it up, then turned and trotted away. Her scales already looked greener, more healthy.
As Keali and I watched, not even noticing the stampeding wiener dogs, Kelekona leaped into the air. She was wobbly and looked unsure, but her flight was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Keali rolled to the side and picked up a stick from the ground.
"We need to give her time to get away," he said, turning to face the oncoming knights.
I grabbed another stick and started swinging. It didn't do much good against flame-spouting lances. The first three knights stopped their dogs and fired their lances at us. I yelled as my stick burst into flames and threw it back at the knights. To my left I saw Keali shaking his hands and staring at the knights.
"The stone," one of the knights shouted. "The beast has taken the stone."
Keali and I looked at each other. We were clueless. So what if she took the stone?
"Quickly, with the stepping stone gone, the portal will degrade. We must go now."
I didn't know about Keali, but I didn't want to be responsible for stranding those knights in our world. Besides, I sure didn't want to get stuck by knitting needles or flame broiled. I stepped aside, leaving the path to the doorway open. The mass of knights and wiener dogs roared past us, through the doorway.
The last dog in line turned and growled at us as it raced through the doorway. The sound of yipping dogs and yelling knights slowly faded as they ran off. Keali sucked on the fingers of his right hand and looked at the doorway.
"You all right?" I asked.
"Yeah, just a little singed is all. You think we gave her enough time?"
"Sure," I said. "She's flying and they're riding wiener dogs."
"Heh. Wiener dogs."
And then we both collapsed on the ground laughing our guts out. Wiener dogs. We were laughing so hard we never even noticed when the doorway closed.
After a while, we started walking back to the tree house. Keali decided he needed to go get some ointment for his hand so he went back home, leaving me to pick up around the place. We didn't want to leave anything around that might show people there'd been a dragon living with us for a month and we'd suffered an invasion of knights. There's some things parents probably don't need to know.
I already missed Kelekona. I didn't cry, because guys don't do that, so it must have been dust or something that got in my eye.
As I picked up the old clothes and rags Kelekona had used to build her nest, I saw something and started smiling. Reaching out, I gently touched the hard oval shape hidden in the nest. I had a feeling Kelekona would be back. My parents really didn't need to know about a dragon egg.
A Bad Knight for Dragons
©2011 to Richard E.D. Jones
All rights reserved.
Published by World Domination Press.