The Princess and the Knight

Princess Eira rode through the forests of the western mountains for three days. On the third day, she stopped on an outcropping that gave a view of the mighty valley below, and pulled cheese and apples out of her bag for lunch. Halfway through her apple, Eira heard a piteous cry: half-roar, half-groan. Curious, she mounted Senna again, and they picked their way along the tree-lined cliff, following the beastly moans. 

Eira gasped when they reached the next outcropping: the sound was coming from a dragon! The beast was three times the length of Senna. It had a long head framed by a shaggy, dark blue mane. Its light blue scales were iridescent, like the insides of oyster shells.

It had no wings, but its long, coiling body levitated as it strained against the harpoon that pinned its clawed forepaw to the ground. The beast groaned as it pulled, but it could not move the iron spear. On the ground in front of it was a pile of gold as high as Eira’s knees.

Filled with excitement, Eira trotted Senna forward and shouted, “Sir Dragon, what’s happened?” 

The beast’s head jerked up, and its yellow eyes—more human than reptilian—met the princess’s. Its snake-like body floated to the ground, and its maw opened, revealing enormous teeth. “There is a knight questing around here. For weeks, he’s been making the forest-dwellers miserable: catching fairies, stealing treasure, completing tasks that no one asked him to do. Now he’s got his heart set on killing a dragon, and I’ve been caught in his trap!”

Eira was shocked to hear the beast speaking so intelligently, and she knew she couldn’t let this creature be killed for sport. She dismounted Senna and approached the dragon’s hurt paw. “I’m on a quest myself,” she said. “My people are dying, and I need a dragon’s favor to heal them.”

The scared dragon nodded and said, “I’ll grant your wish if you’ll save me!”

Eira grasped the spear shaft and heaved, but the weapon didn’t budge. “How did he trap you?” she grunted as she yanked again.

The dragon winced as he glanced at the mountain of riches. “No dragon can resist gold, and as I came to get this prize, this spear pinned me in place.” Eira glanced at the tree and saw a cleverly rigged launcher nestled in the branches. 

“I can’t move this spear,” Eira said, “but the knight will come, and I’ll make him free you.” Eira concealed herself among the trees and waited.

Soon, the knight approached. He wore full armor and a sapphire and maroon tunic that was still clean, proof of his youth. He laughed when he saw the trapped dragon.

When he was near, Eira strode from the forest, sword drawn. “Stop! You must free this dragon!” she commanded.

The knight whirled, surprised to see a girl in the lonely mountains. He was handsome, with the shadow of a beard on his face and his black hair cut neatly. “I am Sir Garrett. Dragons are terrors that kill maidens and steal cattle. I won’t free it,” he said.

Eira spun the sword nervously in her hand. “I am Eira, Crown Princess of Lennox, and this dragon has done nothing. My kingdom is plagued by a terrible disease, and if we free him, he’ll give me the ability to cure it.”

The dragon swung his shaggy head toward his captor. “I am not a dragon who kills and burns. You will save many more people by freeing me than by killing me.”

Sir Garrett laughed again. “This forest is filled with illusions. I do not believe you! Will you fight me and prove yourself, Princess?”

Eira gulped. She had brought the sword to protect against wild animals; she wasn’t ready for a fight with a knight. 

Before she could respond, though, a huge shadow fell over the outcropping, and the deafening thump and wind of beating wings sent Eira and Garrett to their knees. 

“I thought I smelled gold,” a deep voice rumbled. Eira looked up to see a dragon—a real dragon—hovering above them. It was green and so large it couldn’t land on the cliff without crushing them. With one paw, it reached down and scooped up the pile of gold.

The bravado-filled knight leapt up and cried, “Die, you demon!” and he lunged toward the dragon’s leg, sword sweeping.

The dragon growled with laughter as the sword glanced off his thick hide. “You are an amusing one. I’ll add you to my collection.” With that, he snatched Garrett with his free paw and flew away over the valley. 

“That poor young man,” the dragon said as Eira gaped at the sky. “I’ve changed my mind.”

“What?” Eira stammered. She’d already given the annoying knight up for dead, and good riddance, too. 

The dragon said, “That was Fyrenus, another dragon who lives in these mountains. He’s the one who burns villages and eats humans. If you save the knight from him, then I will grant you my favor.”

Eira wanted to scream. She didn’t have time! “But you said—”

The dragon roared, and Eira cowered. “I am Feng, Wind of the Mountains,” he thundered. “I changed my mind, and if you want to save your people, you’ll do what I ask. The knight was only doing what he thought was right. He doesn’t deserve to die.”

“Fine,” Eira huffed, “but you’re going to help me save him.” She tied the knight’s horse and Senna to the spear. Feng roared, and the two horses charged forward. Together, they were strong enough to yank the spear from the ground, and the dragon was free. When Eira returned from retrieivng the frightened horses, Feng had changed into a tall, graceful man. The dragon's magic astonished her. Feng mounted the knight’s horse, and Eira climbed onto Senna. Together, they rode to save Sir Garret from Fyrenus.

Author's Note: In this story, we see Eira quickly finds the dragon she is looking for only to have her quest extended when Sir Garrett is captured.

The fictional setting of my Storybook doesn't have a geographical Asia or Europe, so Asian dragons and European dragons can be found in the same wilderness. However, they are still quite different. Asian dragons are traditionally benevolent, so Feng is quick to offer Eira his magical favor in exchange for her help. Asian dragons have magical powers, including the ability to shape-shift into different "avatars," which Feng does at the end. Feng also takes the shape of an Asian dragon, being snake-like and wingless. Fyrenus, on the other hand, is a European dragon, and those were typically destructive and evil. They coveted gold and ate humans. "Fyren" is an Anglo-Saxon name meaning"wicked," which definitely fits Fyrenus the dragon, and Feng is a Chinese word for wind.

The story of Saint George and the Dragon is a basic knight-hero story: St. George, a knight, saves a princess from being eaten by an evil dragon. He kills the dragon and marries the princess. I wondered what the story would look like if the roles were shuffled around a bit, so in this version, the princess saves the dragon from the knight. St. George is commonly depicted killing the dragon with a spear, so I chose to have Feng trapped by a large spear. Also, Garrett is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "strong-spear," which is a fitting title for our over-zealous young knight.

Sir Garrett is captured by the dragon at the end of this chapter, which is from a different story: The Dragon and the Prince, in which a dragon has captured a prince and many other people. We'll explore more from that story as Eira's quest continues!

Bibliography: The English Fairy Book by Ernest Rhys. Web source.

Image: Green mountain valley, made interactive using Genially. Source - Public Domain Pictures

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