Chapter 13 – Sir Robin Takes Charge
For a heartbeat there was a stand-off. The dragon could not enter his barrow : the humans appeared petrified by fear. Then bold Sir Robin took charge as a knight should.
“Archers,” he commanded. “Draw!”
As one the villagers raised their longbows and pulled to full draw.
A dozen arrows and a crossbow bolt sped towards the dragon. Some fell short, a couple bounced off the tough hide, but at least two or three arrows and the bolt stuck in the dragon’s chest. They looked tiny and fragile.
“Draw! Loose!” A second volley of arrows was launched and this time more of them hit the dragon. The dragon shrieked, scrabbled at the missiles with his front claws, pulled them out and flapped skyward.
“Draw!” Sir Robin commanded again but the dragon was rapidly out of range.
“He’ll be back,” Will said anxiously, lowering his bow, “once he has regained his puff. What is your plan, Sir Knight?”
Sir Robin thought he had been following Will’s plan.
“I don’t know, Sir, but he will be back breathing fire again soon.” Will’s attitude to Sir Robin had undergone a subtle change. Clearly his plan, to shoot the dragon as it came back to the barrow, had failed.
“If we block up the entrance to his barrow permanently, will he go elsewhere to nest?” Sir Robin suggested.
“He might, or he might just wait around until the ground dries out, then burn the village and live in the ruins.”
The villagers clearly did not think much of this plan.
“What does he eat?”
“Cattle, sheep, us…”
“Every time he comes out.”
“But he’s been in there a long time?”
“About ten years at least…”
The villagers nodded agreement.
“So he must be hungry,” Sir Robin suggested. “Who is willing to sacrifice one cow to the dragon?”
No one volunteered.
“It will just have to eat you, then,” Sir Robin said and turned away.
“Where are you going, Sir Knight?”
“You can’t leave us now!”
“You care for your cows more than your own lives,” Sir Robin said casually. “You don’t need a knight, you need a priest. Goodbye.” He handed Will the longbow and prepared to mount the warhorse.
There was a clamour from the villagers and at least four cows were offered, several sheep and one woman even offered to run back and fetch some chickens.
Sir Robin declined the chickens but accepted the other offers. “Fetch them here and be quick about it. And bring ropes and fishing nets.”
Lady Silvermoon had had her hair dried and plaited into one long braid that hung down her back, and had changed into dry but casual clothes to await the time to dress formally for dinner. She had eaten a light lunch and was lying down on her day bed when she became convinced that the unicorn was agitated about something.
- My Lady?
- Is something wrong?
- I am unsure …
She went down into the courtyard and across to the stables. Grooms and stable lads scattered and bowed as she entered.
“Be easy,” she said, “I have only come to see the unicorn.”
Dawnstorm rolled his eyes at her.
- What is it?
- I need to get out of here.
- I offered you your freedom…
- No, I do not wish to leave your service but there is something that we need to do.
She noted the word ‘we’ and without speaking she opened the stall door and walked out with him. No one stopped her.
Lady Silvermoon rode the unicorn towards the west meadow. Smoke still rose from the wood but it was much less than before. Dawnstorm glanced at the sky and then at the woods again and back up at the sky. Lady Silvermoon glanced up as well.
- The dragon!
- Be calm, My Lady, he will not harm you.
- How do you know that??
- Trust me.
Lady Silvermoon tried not to think about her burned fingers. Maybe that had been an accident. The dragon had not been aiming his fire at her in particular, just the castle. Nevertheless she understood that dragons had no fondness for humans.
The unicorn increased his speed and changed direction so that they rode parallel to the woods towards the southern end. Lady Silvermoon tried to make herself inconspicuous, as inconspicuous as a lady riding a unicorn in the middle of the afternoon could be.
The dragon returned to his barrow, but cautiously this time. At first he stayed high in the sky, small enough to be mistaken for a bird, but gradually, seeing no activity, he came closer. After three cautious sweeps at extreme bow range, he came lower but there was still nothing to be seen except a few cattle and sheep in the field and the tiny arrows sticking out of the ground where he would normally have landed. Of humans, there was no sight. That did not mean there were no humans about. The dragon had not lived to this extreme age by forgetting that humans could be devious. If they were hiding in his barrow that would be excellent, as his belly was again filled with the venomous fumes that would ignite as soon as they were exposed to the air, and anyone trapped in the barrow would be instantly incinerated. Not that the dragon liked his food cooked. He much preferred it raw, as the putrifaction of the remains helped in the production of the incendiary gases.
Perhaps the humans were waiting for him to land to feed on the herd beasts and flock beasts. Well, he would not do that either, even though hunger was a gnawing pain in his stomach. No, he would swoop down, faster than they could loose an arrow, snatch up the beasts, devour them on the wing, then make a flying landing inside the barrow entrance avoiding the spiked grass. If they were in there already they were dead men, if they followed him in he would be waiting for them, with the same result.
Satisfied with his plan, the dragon swooped on a sheep and swallowed it whole before he had even reached the zenith of his climb, and looked back. There was no activity. He took the rest of the sheep one by one and then growing more confident, took one of the cows, and soared up again, chewing it and spitting out some of the pips. He took two more, wondering if he was getting tired, as he did not seem to be gaining the same height each time. He reckoned he was getting too old for all this soaring and blasting. He would be happy to be left alone to sleep for the last few decades of his long life. He took another cow and swallowed it down, but could not gain the height he intended. Instead he appeared to be sinking towards the ground. Maybe he had eaten enough. He turned to fly towards the barrow but realised too late that he was too low. He beat his wings to gain height but instead sank lower. He did not have enough momentum to carry him into the barrow entrance and ploughed into the ground just short of the bed of arrows. In a panic he raised his head and tried to get his feet under him but a rope was thrown across his neck and pulled downwards, forcing his chin on to the wet grass and at the same moment he felt more ropes going round his fore and hind feet. Humans ran out of the barrow with something else in their arms. He beat his strong wings violently but although that kept them at bay for a few minutes, eventually he realised it was only exhausting him and gaining him nothing and he stopped. His wings drooped down and he folded them in. Fishing nets were thrown over him.
The dragon was able to look left with one eye and with it he saw a herd beast, and only then did he notice that it was not moving, in fact it was already dead and propped up at the corners with slim bow staves. And he remembered then that herd beasts did not have pips. What had he spat out, then? Stones?? Out of his other eye he saw his fate approaching. The knight must have spent the last hour polishing his armour, for it glinted in the late afternoon sun. He had put on the rest of the suit as well, legs, arms and helmet. He looked every inch the hero. And he was marching towards the dragon with a sword in his hand.
Come closer little manikin, the dragon thought, and I will roast you like a lobster inside your crunchy shell…Copyright Hilary Robinson 1.4.2010
Sir Robin gets his chance at last to do what knights do best.
The collaboration continues. Medieval Living History supplies longbowmen for the fray.
The Faerie Tale is copyright and protected and is not in the Public Domain