Leryn pretended to examine the bootmaker’s samples through the glass window, inspecting his reflection. He wasn’t unhandsome. His dark eyes were clear, not rheumy like some men’s. His dark hair was slightly curly, and while it was a bit unruly, it did cover his scalp, unlike some men’s hair. And, unlike some men, he bathed regularly.
Gwenevere…all he’d wanted was to bury his face in her bosom and die there. Was that too much to ask? Apparently, yes it was. She had married a man possessed of scant hair, rheumy eyes, and stale body odor—but with a fat purse.
She had only been Polcock’s barmaid for three weeks and now she was gone.
He sighed, turning toward his lodging, the Ploughman’s Inn. The aroma of the docks alongside the River Heath was carried on the wind, a pong that defied description.
“Hello, boy,” said a girl’s voice.
When Leryn turned, he saw a girl atop a gray mare. He’d been too sunk in his misery to hear their approach. “Me?”
“Oh! You’re more of a man.” She had a rather daft-sounding giggle. “Sorry. My name is…Bronwyn the…Brave. Where might I find lodging?” She was around his age, with wild crimson hair tumbling down her back, somewhat constrained by a battered knight’s helmet. A large sword was strapped to her side, and a brown skirt peeped from beneath her chainmail.
“I’m Leryn, the bard. Try the Ploughman’s Inn, just up the street. The food is good and it’s clean,” he said. He began walking again.
Her horse slowed to keep pace with him. “Do you know if they need help? I can work in the stable or the tap room.”
He sighed, reminded of his bereavement. “Yes. Actually the landlord is looking for a barmaid, as the previous one has married the wool merchant. We do have a stableman now, pathetic though he is.”
Polcock, hired her on the spot. Beneath the armor was a tall, thin girl, shaped rather like a beanpole, with a mop of wild red hair she twisted into a knot when she was working. “I can’t wear it up under the helmet, because then the bloody thing won’t fit. It’s a mess, either way. Cutting it makes it worse, because it fluffs up like a ball of red wool on my head.” She laughed that daft giggle.
Leryn wondered what kind of knight the rather ungainly girl could possibly be. He cringed as she stumbled and nearly dropped a tankard, as awkward and naïve as a new-born foal.
It turned out her name was actually Rosalyn. “People don’t have confidence in a knight named ‘Rosalyn the Rescuer.’ After I routed the wolves for him, old Mathers said I needed a better name. Bronwyn sounds braver than Rosie.”
Polcock sighed. “Just go by Rosie. That way you’ll remember to answer when a customer calls you.”
From his place by the fire, Sir Lancelyn’s handsome countenance shone with a sunny, intelligence-free smile. “What luck! Rosie the Rescuer is in town and I’ve just heard of something that could resolve Galahad’s problem. But it’ll require two swords, and Galahad is still….”
“Cursed.” Leryn decided to just get it out in the open. “Galahad’s still a horse, although the pig is a dwarf again. Apparently Morgause is a better spell-caster than Bramblestein.”
Rosie looked from Lancelyn to the bard. “I don’t understand.”
Lancelyn glared at Leryn. “It’s a long story. Nothing to sing about.”
“It has made an excellent comic ballad,” replied Leryn, winking at Rosie. “It’s one of the more popular songs here in Bleakbourne on Heath.”
She lifted her tray. “What sort of problem? I checked in at every place along the road and no one seems to need rescuing, which is why I’ve had to take a job.”
Leryn was in the mood to be brutal. “That’s because at the slightest hint of trouble Sir Lancelyn here runs out and saves them, whether it’s a good idea or not.”
The knight burst out, “That’s unfair. How was I to know the man doing all the screaming was the thief?”
Leryn grinned. “This is why the lone knight in our town is now working as the stable-boy at this fine inn—having to buy a trousseau for a barmaid, and reimbursing the jeweler has eaten his stash.”
Ignoring the bard, Lancelyn said, “William Smith told me a young dragon is snatching livestock in broad daylight, upriver from here, and leaving no tracks.”
“It does sounds like a dragon. Or it could be a ghost.” Rosie set the tray down. “You realize that killing even a small dragon is no easy task for just two knights?”
Lancelyn’s sideways glance at Leryn was smug. “Oh, we won’t be alone. Galahad will be with us and Leryn here will be along, purely to record it for posterity.”
The bard set his mug down. “Oh, no. I’m not going on a dragon hunt with you. They breathe fire. I don’t like fire. Also, they cast spells. I don’t want to be there when your curse gets Rosie here turned into a cow or a warthog.”
“I’m counting on the dragon casting its magic at me.” Lancelyn’s perfect, chiseled features showed no trace of his normal vacuity. “Don’t you see? Dragons have only one kind of magic, but it’s a spell to beat all spells. What they cast negates all magic, which is why they are so bloody difficult to fight—bespelled shields and magic swords mean nothing when facing a dragon. I feel sure it won’t counter the curse I’m under, but if I can get it to cast its magic-nullifying spell at me, it should rebound, and turn Galahad back into a knight.”
Polcock paused in cleaning the window. “That actually makes sense. You’ll have to go along, Leryn—just to record what happens.”
Leryn rested his head in his hands. “Nothing is more frightening than the village idiot making sense.”
Handing Elsinore’s reins to Leryn, the knight pointed out that he could have gotten his own horse.
Leryn retorted, “You’re the stable-boy. It’s bad enough you’re forcing me to go on this idiot’s errand.”
“Usually bards are merry drunks,” observed Rosie. “Maybe you should drink more.”
Lancelyn smirked. “He’s just pining for Gwen’s plump, white titties, which are now married to the wool-merchant.”
Leryn glowered. “At least I’m not lusting after a horse’s a—”
“Ahem,” Rosie said, blushing furiously. “So, where to?”
“Bogwarden Meadow, along the River Heath,” replied Lancelyn, scowling at the bard. “Rosie—how do you usually lure dragons out? Galahad and I usually catch them on the ground.” He tugged Galahad’s reins. The emerald-eyed horse had slowed to sniff at Brunhilde’s nether regions. “Stop it, Galahad. Brunhilde’s a lady, so have some respect.”
Rosie laughed. “They were acting pretty frisky when I took the chamberpots out this morning. If there is a dragon nearby it’ll find me—for some reason they want to kill me. Stopping the fire-breath is more the problem. A skull-sized round stone does it for a while, but sometimes they gag them right up.”
Leryn shuddered, listening to the two unlikely companions talking shop. Riding alongside the immense knight and his warhorse, the girl looked more like a boy of twelve or so, playing with his father’s sword. Lancelyn however, seemed to see something in her and gave respect to her ideas.
The knight said, “I did plan ahead for the fire-breath.” He pulled something out of his saddlebag. “This should quench the problem—permanently.”
“A water-orb! How did you get a warlock to part with that?” Rosie’s astonishment got Leryn’s attention.
The knight looked uncomfortable. “I…found it. In a tower.”
Leryn smacked his forehead. “Don’t say you stole it from Bramblestein.”
Lancelyn burst out, “Well, he was pigified! I didn’t know how long his condition would last and he had no use for it. It was just sitting there.” He shrugged. “I’ve always known that only a dragon can resolve this, so of course I took it. The trick will be getting the dragon to swallow it.”
Her riotous hair flying in the breeze, Rosie winked at him. “Leave that to me. I’ve developed a good throwing-arm since I’ve been in the rescuing business.” She settled her dented helmet on her head, and urged Brunhilde to a canter.
Taking his rider by surprise, Galahad sped up, following closely behind the mare.
They arrived at Bogwarden Meadow, the field of daisies where the dragon had been seen hunting. “Now what?” Leryn intended to remain well back in the trees.
Rosie giggled. “Now I’ll ride out to the center of the field. When the dragon comes to eat me, Lancelyn will help me kill it. But first I’ll need the orb, so I can bowl it into the dragon’s mouth.” She seemed quite sure of herself.
“A good plan.” Lancelyn handed over the orb.
Humming, Rosie turned Brunhilde and rode to the center of the field. She dismounted, picking daisies. “Here, Dragon!” she called. “A tasty virgin and her horse are standing all unaware in this wide field with nowhere to run!”
Leryn stared. “She’s completely daft.”
Lancelyn prepared to join her, his mighty sword drawn. “I’d never have thought of doing that. Of course, I’m probably not a virgin.”
Both Leryn and Galahad rolled their eyes.
A dark shadow sailed over the field. Lancelyn and Galahad bolted to the girl’s side.
Leryn watched, horror-stricken, as the ghastly black creature swooped down, jaws wide, intending to bite Rosie in half. Her mail-clad arm flashed, and she hurled the shining orb into the immense, open maw of the attacking beast.
Instantly the dragon fell to the ground, thrashing, coughing up foul-smelling foam.
Rosie had her sword out, hacking way at it for all she was worth, with Lancelyn right beside her, yelling, trying to draw the creature’s attention.
“The hide’s too thick!” Rosie raced up the creature’s outstretched leg to its broad shoulder, her sword raised to pierce an eye, but the dragon heaved himself up and took to the air. “Whoa! Oh, no!” She slipped down, lying flat and clinging to its neck as if riding a horse. Her sword tumbled to the ground.
“Wait!” shouted Lancelyn. “Wait! Dragon! You have to cast your spell at me!” He stood forlornly. “You have to change Galahad back!”
The dragon swooped over the field, trying to shake the girl off, then flew out across the river, disappearing from sight.
For a moment Leryn was frozen, unable to believe what he’d just seen. Anger took him, and he ran out to the center of the field, shoving the sobbing knight aside. “What about Rosie? You great jackass—you let her get kidnapped!”
The bard grabbed two large handfuls of daisies, waving them. “Here, Dragon!” he yelled. “A tasty virgin and the village idiot are standing all unaware in this wide field with nowhere to run!”
From behind him he heard, “Wheee!” He turned. Her crimson hair streaming from beneath her helmet, Rosie cried, “Oh, no…the ground…too fast!” A shadow raced across the field.
The dragon swooped low, and a force-wave of some sort blasted directly at Lancelyn, knocking him and Galahad to the ground. Lancelyn scrambled to his feet as the spell rebounded, knocking the dragon out of the sky.
Rosie tumbled from its neck before it hit the ground. Catching the girl, Leryn staggered and fell, pinned beneath her. As they went down in a shower of daisies, he saw Lancelyn lop the beast’s head off.
“My hero!” Rosie’s lips and mail-clad embrace were far sweeter than Leryn had imagined Gwen’s to be. With that sudden discovery, he forgot they weren’t alone, rolling atop her and kissing her properly, which she returned with interest.
“Ahem.” They looked up to see a large, blonde man with emerald-green eyes standing over them, stark naked. “Before you two start humping in the daisies, I’d like to find some clothes.”
Lancelyn grabbed him in a bear hug. “Galahad! You’re back—I knew it would work!”
© Connie J. Jasperson, 2015-2017 All Rights Reserved
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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.