R. Brian Campbell
“Run, Princess! Run!” I hauled on the Princess’s arm as hard as I could, pulling her along behind me as fast as I could manage without dragging her off her feet. Time was of the essence, but making her fall, then having to stop to help her back to her feet would be counterproductive. So, I pulled and begged. “Please, Princess, we need to go faster.”
“Is it coming after us?”
“Not yet,” I assured her. “If it was back, we’d know. We’d be dead. Probably burned to a crisp.”
She began to sob. Not again! Now that was counterproductive to a smooth escape. “Please, Princess. If we get out of this alive, there will be plenty of time to cry. Right now, we need to run.”
Why do I keep getting stuck helping these pampered Royals? Oh yeah, now I remember. They are the only ones who can afford to pay the fees I charge for an adventuring job.
Let me pause here a moment. Not literally. In reality, the Princess and I are still running for our lives. But for the sake of catching you up, I am going to take a momentary break in the story.
My name is Garth, former soldier, now Adventurer for Hire. After leaving the King’s Army a few seasons back, I decided to go into business for myself, hiring out my services to the highest bidder. It turned out that the average person doesn’t have much need of a bonafide adventurer. Not much actually happens to them that requires my services. And even if it does, they rarely have the kind of money needed to cover my expenses, never mind turn a profit. Royalty, on the other hand, not only has the gold on hand to pay for my services, they constantly seem to be getting in trouble, without a clue as to how they can get themselves out again.
Oh yeah, one other thing. When Royalty get themselves in trouble, it often involves something nasty and magical, such as a wizard, a pack of ogres, a giant, or, as in this case, a dragon.
Princess Rosalinda, of Butternut Kingdom, was kidnapped by a pretty nasty dragon, a two headed one, named Gem and Ni. On top of having two independent brains and two fire breathing heads, Gem has powerful vision that can see through buildings and even rock walls, provided they aren’t too thick, and Ni has powerful hearing that can hear a gnat sneeze up to a league away. But Princess Rosalinda’s father, King Thaddeus, offered me 100 gold, plus expenses for her safe return, so away I went.
A wizard created a cloak for me that blocks Gem’s vision, so I could sneak close to the dragon’s cave. Then my assistant, Bart, started a rockslide on the other side of the mountain, sending the dragon circling the mountain, seeking an intruder that was much closer than they expected. Once they were gone, I broke the princess out of her cage and got her out of the dragon’s cave. Which brings us back to where we left off. Here we go.
“Run, Princess! Faster!” It could be back anytime now.”
“WHO STOLE MY CAPTIVE!”
“OKAY, OUR CAPTIVE. IT DOESN’T MATTER. WE WANT HER BACK. NOW!”
“It’s back. Down!” I pulled the Princess into an indentation in the rock and pulled the cloak over us. “Shhhh… No sound.”
We barely breathed, as we felt the wind of huge wings stir the dust and pebbles around us. I was just happy that the cloak was heavy and didn’t flap up as the dragon flew over.
“WHERE IS MY-UH-OUR PRINCESS? YOU HAVE ONE CHANCE TO GIVE HER BACK, OR WE WILL TURN YOU BOTH TO CINDERS.”
The shadow of the dragon passed over us and the voices faded as they searched further down the mountain.
I put my hand over the Princess’s lips. “Shhhh… This way,” I whispered. “There is a tunnel back here that leads to the valley on the other side. But be very quiet. My cloak may block Gem’s vision, but it isn’t fireproof. Now come with me. Quickly.”
We snuck quietly towards the tunnel and almost made it, when a gust of wind from gigantic wings stirred up the dust all around us. A huge shadow fell across us, as I desperately pulled the Princess down and threw the cloak over us, knowing, even as I did, that I was too late.
“IT’S NO USE TRYING TO HIDE, PATHETIC LITTLE CREATURE. WE KNOW EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE.”
“YES. EVEN WITH THAT CLOAK COVERING YOU, WE CAN SEE THE LUMP WHERE YOU ARE HIDING.”
“YOU HAVE ONE CHANCE TO GIVE US OUR PRINCESS, OTHERWISE YOU BOTH DIE.”
“TIME IS RUNNING OUT. IS THAT YOUR FINAL DECISION?”
“SO BE IT.”
Twin bursts of flame converged on the lump on the stone surface. They struck the cloak with a flash and a sizzle, and a huge blaze shot up. A bloodcurdling scream erupted, then suddenly ceased. When it was done, all that remained were ashes and cinders, floating gently to the ground. The twin dragon heads looked at each other.
“PITY. NOW WE’LL HAVE TO FIND ANOTHER PRINCESS TO CAPTURE.”
“I HEARD THERE WAS ONE IN THE STARFLOWER KINGDOM. LET’S CHECK IT OUT.”
The dragon flew away, in search of a new victim.
Time passed, and eventually the Princess and I emerged from the far end of the tunnel, next to the forested wilderness that surrounded the base of the mountain.
The Princess looked at me accusingly. “I thought you said that cloak wasn’t fireproof.”
“Yes, I did,” I agreed, happily. “And I was counting on Ni hearing it when I told you. Now the dragon will no longer be looking for us, because they think we’re dead. Not only was the cloak fireproof, the outer covering was a flammable substance that would create an impressive fire and lots of ashes, to make it look like something large was burned to a crisp. Lucky we made it to the tunnel when it found us, so we could drop right in when they shot their flames. Sorry for covering your mouth, but it had to appear that we had died.”
Bart came out of the forest, holding the reins to three horses, including my trusty warhorse, Valor. “I trust that everything went well, sir.”
“Very well. Princess Rosalinda, meet my assistant, Bart. He was the one who caused the rockslide, which made it possible for me to rescue you.”
The Princess looked back and forth between us. “So this was all a part of your plan?”
“Yes,” I responded. “Sorry that I couldn’t fill you in on the whole thing, but I knew that much of what I told you would be heard by Ni, so I couldn’t risk giving anything away.” I looked at the redness forming on the Princess’s face, just as I was just beginning to feel the tingling in my own. “Oh, and sorry about the sunburn, Princess. I guess the cloak wasn’t entirely heat proof. Bart, by any chance, did you happen to bring my tub of Aloe Vera sap?”