I know I said I was going to try to rewrite this in order, but I go distracted when this scene popped into my head. Continuing from
* * *
The argument between the barbarian and the knight seemed to finally reach a conclusion, with the barbarian walking off grumpily, his paperwork balled up in his first. The knight in the white enameled armor nodded in satisfaction, walking up towards the mouth of the cave, halting about halfway up the slope leading to the entrance. He doffed his helm and Miriam saw that he appeared to be an older man, perhaps in his early sixties, with neatly trimmed grey beard framing a round, grandfatherly face.
“Oh, Great Dragon of the Green Hills,” he bellowed in an impressive baritone, one hand resting on the butt of his sword. “I, Sir Simon of the Broken Lands, call you forth to engage me in single combat, for the life of the innocent maiden you hold in your clutches.”
“Is he serious?” Miriam asked the dragon, finishing the last of her popcorn.
“Yes, but don’t worry. He means well,” the dragon reassured her. She stood up from her relaxed sitting position, stepping out of the cave, unfurling her wings and letting loose a roar that rattled Miriam’s teeth and set the baby wailing, before shouting, “You dare come before me, insignificant mortal, to challenge my strength?”
Sir Simon winced, covering his ears with his palms as she bellowed her challenge, before answering calmly. “Have a care, dear. You’re going to make me deaf in my old age.”
The dragon smiled, coming down the slope to meet him. “I’m sorry, Simon. It’s been a rough few days, and I haven’t had a chance to be properly shouty in ages.”
“Believe me, I understand,” he started to say, before looking past the dragon to Miriam, “Has she got a baby?”
“Yes, it’s all very complicated,” the dragon said. She turned her head back towards the cave, “Come on down, Miriam. It’s all right.”
Mariam made her way carefully down the slope, the wailing baby clutched tight in one arm as she tried to balance with the other. “Hello, Sir Simon,” she said rather breathlessly as she stopped her half-slide down the rocks.
“Just Simon, dear. The Sir is for when I have to be official.” Simon looked at the still wailing baby in her arms. “And who are you? Was the dragon’s roar too loud?” he cooed, wiggling one gauntleted finger in front of the baby’s face, to be grabbed by two tiny hands. In the same tone he continued. “Don’t be scared, she’s a nice dragon. She truly is. We’ll just finish this up and get you something nummy to eat, would you like that?”
He had to be a grandfather, Miriam quickly realized, as the wailing baby hiccuped, looked surprised for a moment, then giggled happily. “Are you and the dragon going to fight?” she asked.
“Well, I was hired to rescue you,” Simon replied, retrieving his finger from the baby’s grip.
“I”m sorry, ‘hired’?”
“Exactly.” He held out his hand to her. “Sir Simon of the Broken Lands, professional monster duelist. I’ve battled wyverns, outsmarted sphinxes, dealt with occasional bridge troll, and fought dragons. Mostly dragons as a matter of fact. I’m the one they send in when some poor maiden is kidnapped and unransmoed, and no younger, unmarried knight wants the job.”
“I see.” Miriam shook his hand automatically, then blinked, thinking about what he’d just said. “So no one else wants to rescue me? Should I be insulted by that or not?”
“I shouldn’t think so,” he said amiably. “Honestly, it’s become quite unfashionable for women to find a husband this way. Though I’ll admit it’s a bit cheaper nowadays as well. Repairing the dings in one’s armor can be quite expensive, never mind the stabling costs for a warhorse.”
“I know,” the dragon said, her tone growing melancholy. “It used to be I’d have a waiting list of princesses wanting to be kidnapped each season. Took me seven years to find this one.”
“I’m not really a princess,” Miriam corrected.
“It says you are here,” Simon said, showing her his paperwork. “I saw the king sign it himself.” He glanced at the glowing runes encircling her neck, eyes narrowing. “Though I’m beginning to believe there’s more to it than that.”
“She’s a wild mage, completely untrained,” the dragon explained. “By the time I found her she was convinced that she was possessed by a demon, and her own family had staked her out hoping I’d just eat her.”
“Ugh, peasants,” Simon declared. Then he frowned deeply. “Wait, if she’s the daughter of peasants, why would the king get himself involved?”
“Because he’s concerned about his people?” Miriam ventured. At the dragon and Simon’s mutually dumbfounded expressions, she added, “No?”
“No,” Simon confirmed. “Well, unlikely at least.”
“It’s a mystery,” the dragon agreed.
Simon looked cheered. “Oh, you know what that means, don’t you?”
“What?” Miriam asked.
“You get to go on a quest,” the dragon and knight both exclaimed.