Royal Hunt of the Dragon

by J. Falconer

 

 

Copyright ã 2000: The characters in here belong to me. All rights reserved. No part or whole of this work may be copied or used in any shape, form, or manner whatsoever without the author's express written consent. If you want to use them, all you have to do is ask Ö nicely.

Violence disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Nothing too graphic (enter, stranger, at your riske Ė here there be icky bits), but readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

Love/Sex warning: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live - move along, move along, nothing for you here ...

If you like it, let me know. All comments except for nasty ones are welcome!

Major vote of thanks to my ever patient beta readers Foreva Xena and Tragic Prose for taking valuable time out to read this, and very helpful suggestions on improving this little tale.


Once upon a time, there were three beautiful Kingdoms, set close together and surrounded by lush, green forest. The Kingdoms were prosperous, the villages within filled with satisfied farmers joyous with their good fortune of bountiful crops. They traded the fruits of their labours peacefully, and celebrated their prosperity with great goodwill and kindness to one another. Under the guidance of generous and wise Kings, peace and contentment reigned for generations.

That was until the Black Dragon came.

An extraordinarily beautiful creature, covered in shimmering black scales, with piercing red eyes, it swooped over the two larger Kingdoms. It terrorized the inhabitants, demanding human sacrifices in exchange for not burning all within to the ground. Panicked, the two Kingdoms offered forward their people, one by one, until none were left except for the old and sick. Defenders came to the Kingdoms from miles around to kill the Dragon, but all were unsuccessful, their bones lying forgotten around the entrance to the huge black cavern the Dragon called home.

As the sacrifices were given to the hungry dragon and the people became fewer and fewer, it became angrier and angrier, burning bits and pieces of the two Kingdoms until nothing remained. All the inhabitants had been slain by the Dragon.

Seeing nothing more to consume, the Dragon left, flying over the beautiful green countryside, until it saw the third small Kingdom nestled in the green hills. Seeing a meal, the ravenous Dragon swooped low over the villages, causing much consternation and anguish, then spied the castle in the distance with its keen eyes.

The King and Queen were blissfully unaware until a huge black shadow fell over the castle. They ran to the battlements, guards in tow, and saw the Dragon hovering easily, its huge black wings outstretched over the castle, casting deep shadows. They gasped and exclaimed in terror.

"Why are you here?" asked the King and Queen together.

"I AM HUNGRY!" roared the Dragon, jetting flame over the battlements, setting fire to the Kingís Standard, and causing the assembled throng to dive for cover, where they trembled in fear. "I have come to destroy you, your Kingdom and your castle. I will let you live on one condition. Every day, one of your people must be staked to the hill outside the castle confines -" it pointed with one of itís huge, pearlescent claws to a rock in a clearing some distance from the castle "- and if this demand is not met, then I will KILL YOU ALL!" It bellowed, and jetted more flame. To demonstrate itís power and intent, it quickly speared one of the cowering guards with a massive claw and swallowed the screaming man in one gulp. Finished with its meal, satisfied they were going to yield to its demands, it flew off with a mighty roar, wings flapping. Howling wind swept the cowering King and Queen out of their hiding places as it soared off into the distance searching for a new place to call home for a while.

"Quick, fetch my scribe!" ordered the King when he had collected himself off the ground. "A proclamation is to be issued, ordering all my subjects to surrender their first born to the Dragon. Fetch my messengers! They are to travel far and wide searching for Dragon slayers!"

The Queen wept.

So it was done.

Sacrifices to the Dragonís appetites were found, reluctantly called forward to serve their King and country, defenders appeared high and low to attempt to slay the dragon.

All were unsuccessful.

Finally all that remained of the firstborn was the Kingís daughter, Bronwyn. With heavy hearts, the King and Queen personally escorted the Princess to the huge rock, bones littering the barren ground, chains hanging. Tearfully they shackled their daughter to the rock, bid her a sorrowful farewell, and went back to the castle, resigned to their extinction.

The young blond girl with emerald green eyes, innocent and pure, alternated between terror and prayer. She hoped against hope that a defender would appear to rescue her from the dragonís stomach. In the distance, she heard the mighty roar of the dragon, the whoosh of its wings, and the charred trees surrounding the clearing she was chained up in burst into flame again, as the dragonís foul breath ignited them.

"AH HA!" roared the Dragon, as it gracefully landed in front of the quaking Princess. "I HAVE ANOTHER SACRIFICE! PREPARE TO MEET MY WRATH!"

With those simple words, the dragon lifted a sharp white claw and carelessly snapped the chains binding her. Unable to move a single limb, she quivered, alternately mesmerized by the beauty that stood before her, in all itís terrible glory, and the dark knowledge that she was about to be devoured.

The Dragon leant down, drooling, opening and snapping shut itís jaws, breath reeking of rotting flesh. Bronwyn said her last prayers, as out of the smoke galloped a huge black warhorse carrying a fully armoured red knight, with a black plume in his helmet, black dragon crest on his breastplate. A huge silver sword suddenly appeared in front of Bronywnís face, causing the dragon to pull back its serpentine head to avoid its tongue being severed. The powerful arm grabbed her and whirled her out of the way, as the Dragon roared in indignation and jetted thick grey smoke.

Wasting no time, the Knight scooped up Bronwyn with strong arms, draped her over the front of his saddle, leapt up onto the back of the snorting charger, and galloped full speed out of the smoky clearing. Columns of scorching blue flame followed them, as the dragon attempted to incinerate the knight. He rode harder as the Dragon took to the air. Bronwyn clung onto the saddle for dear life bouncing uncomfortably as they dodged the dragon, charging into a heavily wooded section of lush green forest.

The dragon took to the air, and finally caught them when they hit a clearing, coming in for a heavy landing in front of the horse, which reared wildly, throwing off rider and passenger in an ungainly, bruised heap. As Bronwyn groaned, the Knight was already on his feet wielding his sword, lunging fearlessly at the dragonís head. The horse took off at a wild run, and Bronwyn crawled and hid behind a thick tree, grasping at the rough bark, breathing heavily, and trying to stay hidden.

The Dragon roared; the Knight lunged and defended; the battle continued on for a full day and a night, Bronwyn watching her defender avidly, marveling at his grace and courage in battling the Dragon.

At the dawn of the second day of fighting, both combatants were flagging, on the point of dropping from fatigue. Finally the Dragon gained the upper hand and pinned the knight with one massive fore claw. It leant down and eyed the Knight closely with its fierce red eyes.

"Manling," it breathed. The Knight coughed in the face of its foul breath. "No one has ever battled me with your courage and skill. For this reason alone I will let you live. I will also grant you one request, you have but to name it."

"I ask that you let this poor innocent young girl live, and that you leave the Kingdom in peace, never to return. I also ask that you assist me in ridding myself of an Evil magician that holds my Kingdom to ransom." Bronwyn did a double take as she realised her spirited defender was a woman.

"Arrogant mortal! Thatís two more requests than I granted you. Perhaps I should kill you anyway Knight," said the Dragon coldly, ruby eyes narrowing dangerously, putting more pressure on the claw pinning the Knight to the earth.

"No you wonít," responded the Knight in silken tones.

The Dragon laughed. "And why is that?"

The Knight tapped the Dragonís claw. "That claw is sitting on your heart, Dragon. I think you know why."

There was silence for a moment, as the Dragon sized the Knight up with a calculating stare.

"So itís you," the Dragon hissed coldly. "I will aid in your quest, and I agree to your other terms Ė I have wanted to kill that magician for a long time." The Dragon snorted another thin tendril of smoke directly into the heavily visored face, causing the Knight to cough again, lifted the claw off the Knightís chest and offered it to her so she could lever herself to her feet. The Knight accepted gratefully.

"Then we have a bargain?" asked the Knight.

"We do," replied the Dragon, and offered itís huge claw, which the Knight shook.

Bronwyn took her courage in her hands, stepped out from behind the trees, and spoke.

"What is to become of me?" she asked in a small voice, as the Dragon laughed.

The Knight and Dragon both turned to her simultaneously. The Dragon looked thoughtful, the Knight inscrutable through her heavy helmet and closed visor.

"I will not kill you, I have given my word to the Knight," replied the Dragon evenly.

"The proclamation the King put out stated that your fair hand was offered in marriage to the knight who killed the dragon," said the Knight thoughtfully, and then turned to face the Dragon again. "I have no intention of killing you, Dragon." At this, the Dragon snorted, amused, and raised one jewelled eyebrow.

The Knight turned back and spoke to Bronwyn. "It seems you are free to leave if you so desire. What would you like to do? Would you like to return home or would you like to come with us?"

Bronwyn didnít have to give it a thought. She had always had an adventurous spirit and had longed to see the outside world. The problem was that her parents had spent most of her life trying to push her into marriage with one boring noble or another, so for her it was no contest. "Iíd like to come with you," she said, green eyes shining with excitement.

The Dragonís face creased in an enormous, unusual, toothy smile, fangs bared, red eyes glittering. Bronwyn couldnít see through the Knightís visor, but she could feel her grin.

"Itís settled then," said the Knight. "Iíll just get my horse, and weíll be on our way."

She whistled, and the horse came, stomping and snorting, eyes rolling in fear at the Dragon. The Knight spoke gently to it, and the animal calmed considerably. She mounted, offering a strong hand to Bronwyn who gratefully took it, pulling her up into the saddle to sit comfortably behind the Knight.

"Wow," said Bronwyn, fear of the Dragon forgotten in the wake of her excitement at real traveling. "This is exciting. Iíve never been out of the Kingdom before. You know, this reminds me ofÖ"

The Dragon and the Knight exchanged a look as they set off, the Dragonís huge body cutting a swath through the ancient forest. They sighed, thinking it was going to be a long trip.

They traveled for a year and a day to the Knightís beleaguered Kingdom. During that time, they became firm friends, and Bronwyn came to deeply love both her companions. The Dragon proved to be a wise, intelligent and oddly gentle creature, with legends of ages past that never ceased to fascinate Bronwyn. The Knight was pure of heart, courageous, performing many great deeds of valour. Bronwyn and the Dragon had never seen the Knightís face, as she was always fully armoured, helmet and visor firmly in place.

Though she became worldlier, Bronwyn remained a compassionate, sweet girl, unable to harm a single living creature, her stories enchanting all that heard them. Far and wide her tales became legend, and new ones were told by others of the deeds done by three very different companions Ė a very beautiful girl with hair the color of the sun, a dashing brave Knight in shining red armour, and a fierce, loyal Dragon. They took great pleasure in each otherís company, the Dragon no longer willing to consume Princess Bronwyn. The giant beast and the Knight had come to love her as much as she loved them.

One day, as they were walking across a sickly meadow, Bronwyn spoke.

"Where are we?" she asked.

The Knight was silent for a moment, and then responded in a voice filled with pain, "We are on the borders of my home, now but a day away from my castle."

A gentle girl, Bronwyn hugged the Knight around her waist. The Knight laid an armoured hand on her wrist, quietly thanking her for the support. The Dragon surveyed the suffering countryside around them and snorted in disgust as its keen eyes took in every nuance of decay surrounding them.

The meadow had started off green, then faded to a sickly yellow before it finally died. A misshapen and gnarled border of trees twisted up to the heavens in tortured pain on both sides of the unsightly grass. The hot sun shone down relentlessly on them, the Knight showing no signs of discomfort at the increase in temperature. Bronwyn pushed up the sleeves to her shirt, sacrificial gown long since disposed off in favour of breeches and a white shirt, showing her shapely body off to good advantage, much to the discomfort of her companions. The Dragon began to pant, breathing out great gusts of warm breath, doing nothing for their comfort levels. Bronwyn and the Knight had long since tactfully discussed with it the wonders of oral hygiene, and much to their mutual relief its breath was no longer carrion.

As they got closer to the Castle in the center of the Kingdom, they were assaulted by an even more repugnant smell of decay and death. All around them, in the small village they traveled through, scavengers had feasted on the multitude of dead animals and citizens, all lying in various states of decay where they had dropped in gruesome death whilst performing their daily routines. The Dragon raised an eyebrow at this; Bronwyn took shallow breaths and kept her head firmly against the Knightís hot back. The Knight stared ahead grimly, clearly forcing herself not to look left or right at the sights. Suddenly she stopped, leapt from the horse and dived into the nearest abandoned house, returning seconds later with a bowl. She swiftly packed it into her saddlebags. Bronwyn and the Dragon exchanged surprised glances, but said nothing.

They continued on out of the blasted village, and headed towards what had once been thick wood. Again, the Dragon cut a swath through the wood, and all grimaced as the huge body squashed the trees into thick, watery pulp. Deep inside the ailing forest, there stood an unnatural tree, vibrant green, growing rampant in grotesquely cheerful defiance of nature amongst its dead neighbours. The Knight abruptly stopped, and the Dragon looked at her questioningly.

"Knight, why is that Ö tree Ö still alive and why are we stopping?" asked Bronwyn, disgust written plainly on her delicate features.

"That is the Guardian. We need the root buried at its base," said the Knight.

As soon as the Knight had spoken, the tree abruptly appeared to swing all its branches towards them. The knight again climbed down from the nervous horse, this time gently helping Bronwyn to her feet. With a nod to her companions, the Knight leapt forward as the treeís branches reached towards her. Grimly she began hacking away at the writhing foliage, and the Dragon quickly took to the air, anxiously snorting smoke, hovering over the roiling greenery, waiting for a clear shot. Bronwyn ducked in, trying to get to the base of the tree, but a branch grabbed her about the waist, threatening to tear her in two. Her breathing was laboured as the life was slowly crushed out of her.

"Knight!" she wheezed, struggling futilely with the virulent limb. "Dragon! Help me!"

The Dragon heard her plea, and came to her rescue. It directed a careful nostril of flame at the base of the rubbery branch, which howled in agony as the hot blue flame consumed it.

The Knight was faring much better as she hacked the foliage away from the tree with her mighty shining sword. As the sap hit the ground, it hissed and splattered, melting all in its path. Yet the Knight remained unharmed as droplets splashed harmlessly against the unmarked armour.

The Dragon burned all it could with thin streamers of fire, struggling not to hit Bronwyn, and to protect her from the acidic sap. Bronwyn managed to dig a small way into the foul earth near the roots, and grasped a vibrant green nodule, pulling with all her strength. Abruptly the tree shivered, and began to renew its efforts to stop her, thwarted by the Dragon and the Knight.

Suddenly, the tree screamed. The Knight had swung her sword in an effort to cut a branch snaking towards her, missed, and hit the trunk of the tree. The tree bled great gouts of black blood, as the Knight lunged forward and pierced the trunk. The tree howled in agony, the sticky blood hissed and sizzled, and the struggles slowly began to cease. The Knight pulled her sword, remarkably shiny and untouched, from the trunk as great clots of bark and pestilence fell off to sink into the crying earth as it noisily died.

All three companions grimaced.

"Here is your root, Knight," said Bronwyn, subdued.

Her nose wrinkling in disgust, Bronwyn handed the Knight the root she had collected and wiped her hands on her breeches, trying to rid them of the offensive soil. The Knight whistled for her horse, which had run when the fighting started. It returned, tossing itís mane and stamping. Wordlessly, the glittering red visor faced her; an armoured hand took the root from Bronwyn, crossed to the horse, and packed it away in the saddlebags.

Silently the Knight and Bronwyn climbed back aboard the horse, and the companions continued on.

The noxious forest began to thin out, and Bronwyn, who had taken to walking to give her backside a rest from the horseís uneven gait, tripped over a stone sticking forlornly up out of the soggy black ground. The Knight sprang off her horse, and took her gently by the arm to steady her.

"What was that?" asked Bronwyn.

"A headstone," responded the Knight quietly.

"What?!"

"This is a cemetery."

"Knight," chimed in the Dragon, "what are we doing here?"

"In the center of the cemetery is the Royal Tomb, where the first King of this land is laid to rest. His body bears a medallion we require."

"Why donít you have it already?" asked Bronwyn apprehensively, scanning the muck beneath her feet, as it began to stir uneasily.

"Because the Tomb is too heavily guarded for one person to enter," said the Knight, armoured head whirling and frantically scanning the ground. A withered hand suddenly shot from the uneasy earth nearby, creakingly fingering the humid air experimentally. The damp, fetid earth began to break open with great clots of mire flying in all directions, as the guardians of the cemetery stirred from their rest. Bronwyn blanched, partly at the sight, more fearful of what the awesomely capable Knight considered too heavily guarded.

"That way," yelled the Knight, pointing to the deepest part of the shadowed cemetery and setting off at a dead run, gracefully avoiding the rapidly appearing, questing bones.

"Figures," mumbled Bronwyn, following close behind, leaping over more emerging zombies, Dragonís mighty limbs popping and crunching the emerging fiends into pulp.

More of the withered, slimy half people struggled forth from the reluctant earth and lurched painfully out to intercept them. The Knight cursed, pausing for a second to swing her sword, wet ripping sounds punctuating the tearing of rotting flesh, the splintering of fragile bones. She continued to run and swing her sword, Dragon and Bronwyn close behind.

"There!" exclaimed the Knight during a particularly vicious blow to one of the denizens, shattering it into a million fragments. She ran harder towards an ancient, unkempt, vine strangled tomb, dragging Bronwyn with her, Dragon uneasily bringing up the rear. Suddenly she stopped, and Bronwyn crashed into her broad metal back. Bronwyn grunted and peeked over her shiny shoulder.

"Uh oh," she said, as the dull green rubbery vines surged and heaved and heavily armoured skeletons, seated proudly on skeletal horses, trotted forth to meet them.

Cold as death, the dead knightís horses blew moribund air from remembered lungs. Grimly, the Knight raised her sword, and prepared to meet them.

"Nay," said the Dragon, "let me try."

It sucked in a huge lungful of stagnant air, and blew out a mighty breath of pure blue flame. It washed over the hellish defenders, bathing them in cleansing fire. When the Dragon had run out of air, the flames ceased and the thick grey smoke cleared uneasily. The Dragon peered, red eyes glittering, and with itís keen sight, could still see the defenders standing whole and untouched, smoke enshrouded in front of the tomb. The skeletal horses trembled with obscene life as they pawed the sodden earth, anxious for their long dead masters to flay the intruders.

"What now?" asked Bronwyn, fearfully eyeing the spectacle, Knight sizing up her malformed, shrouded, grimly determined opponents.

"Not to worry," said the Dragon firmly, spreading its thick wings to cover the Knight and Bronwyn as they anxiously turned to eye the steadily lurching, ragged bodies behind them. It sucked in a huge lungful of the fouled air and blew as hard as it could. The skeletal knights instantly shivered in the turbulent wind, and there was an unearthly crack as the bones shuddered and flew apart at the joints, splattering against the dull, mossy stones of the tomb, and lay still.

Slowly the decaying zombies dragged themselves to the rear of the Dragon. Swinging to meet them, the Knightís sword moved faster than lightning, hacking and slicing, and Bronwyn picked up dirty rocks and hurled them into the midst of the disorganised rabble, careful to avoid the Knight. The zombies began to splinter, the carelessly severed limbs quivering as they tried to come together to make whole bodies again. Despite the spirited Knightís killing strokes, and Bronwynís true aim, the number of reforming corpses was slowly starting to overcome them.

The Dragon carefully eyed the scattered bones in front of it. Suddenly they quivered eagerly, then flew together with blinding inhuman speed to reform the ghastly knights. With great grinding and creaking of uneasy bones, they presented arms, and spurred their steeds to charge the Dragon.

The Dragon sucked in a great gust of air and blew with all itís might at the two dead knights. They rumbled, and slowly came apart at the joints, rotting cloth dispersing uneasily in the howling wind. They shattered into a million pieces, as the Dragon collected itself, and prepared to blow once again.

"Get your medallion Knight!" it yelled between puffs. "I canít hold them forever."

With one last vicious swipe of the silver sword, the Knight and Bronwyn ducked past the Dragonís protective wings, through the stubbornly quivering bones, and thundered across the unhallowed ground to the tomb. With a single blow of her mighty fist, the Knight shattered the ancient rusted seal holding the heavy old iron door closed. She lost her sword as another great gust of warm wind from the Dragon threw them headlong down hidden, slippery stairs into the impenetrable blackness of the tomb. Bronwyn screamed as the door slammed shut behind them with a resounding boom.

In the grim, expectant blackness, Bronwyn felt her Knightís arms surround her, soothing her, guiding her gently to her feet. Suddenly there was flickering light as long forgotten torches hissed and popped to life one by one all around them. Bronwyn blinked at the unexpected brightness, and surveyed the room they found themselves in. It was two tiered. Bronwyn and the Knight were standing at the base of stairs they had rolled down. In the center of the sunken cavity, there was a huge crypt; itís uneven surface dancing with the deep shadows cast by the flickering torches.

Suddenly the light became brighter, the flickering of the torches was no longer noticeable, as light from another hidden source starting to overpower them. The Knight and Bronwyn glanced around anxiously.

"What now?" asked Bronwyn, and the Knight gently shushed her.

"Look," said the Knight reverently, pointing toward the crypt.

A ghostly outline, the source of the gentle golden glow, lay on top of the cold stone of the crypt, steadily increasing in solidity and brightness.

Welcome, said the figure, sound echoing eerily off the ancient stone of the tomb, rising to itís booted feet to greet them. It was a grey bearded middle-aged man, in shiny chain mail, with an ornate gold crown resting on his head surrounded by a clear golden aura.

The Knight sank to her knees, dragging Bronwyn with her.

Show me your heart, brave knight it said, unearthly voice ringing against the stones, torches flickering in cadence, walking slowly to the kneeling Knight. The Knight looked up straight into the spectreís sharp, hawk like black eyes.

Suddenly Bronwyn was pushed aside, crumpled against the damp stone, and the Knight froze, eyes locked with the spectre, both bathed in the fierce golden glow. It nodded slowly, and the moribund voice boomed again.

What you seek is in the crypt. Be warned Knight - the medallion will protect only the person wearing it.

The Knightís visored face remained locked with the bottomless eyes of the spectre.

"How are we going to get out of here?" asked Bronwyn, staring at the apparition uneasily.

Knight, take my sword.

The ghost drew itís sword, and handed it easily to the Knight. When the Knight took it, it became solid. It was almost five feet in length, solid gold with black jewel encrusted hilt. She bowed low to the ground, accepting the sword reverently.

You have my blessing fearless Knight, he said, as he gently laid his ghostly hand on the Knight and her armour began to glow a fierce red, then faded as the man began to fade. Slowly, all became quiet, and the torches flickered once more on the walls, as peace flowed through the Knight and Bronwyn.

The Knight took the golden sword, gave a few practice swings and nodded appreciatively as Bronwyn looked on. Then she put it into her scabbard, moving towards the crypt, as Bronwyn rushed to join her.

An almost obliterated outline of a once powerful King adorned the old stone lid. They grasped the edge, and began to push, heaving and straining. Despite the Knightís formidable strength, it took every ounce of their combined strength to move.

The stone slid back with a heavy, hollow scraping sound, and they peered inside at the skeletal remains, still shrouded in half remembered chain mail, cloth long since rotted away, ancient crown dulled by the long passage of time. Around itís neck hung a shiny chain with a solid ruby medallion resting easily on the chest.

The Knight slowly leant in, as Bronwyn asked, "How are you going to get that off?" She was expecting the Knight to tug the chain.

"Like this," responded the Knight, slipping the chain over the remains of the head with reverent, gentle fingers. She brought the medallion to her visor, evidently kissing it, saluted the long dead King, and slipped the chain over her helmet, to her neck, ruby medallion resting almost unseen on the red shiny armour of her chest. Bronwyn tried not to look surprised and decided to say nothing. The peaceful air swiftly dissipated, to leave a darkly expectant atmosphere.

As soon as the medallion had been placed around the Knightís neck, the torches flared and guttered out, and in the advancing inky blackness, the Knight dragged Bronwyn up the slippery stairs. As the darkness reached out to enfold them, sighs of waking voices turned to outrage at the living intruders.

Voices whispered and exclaimed behind them, as the Knight felt her way to the door through the blackness, Bronwyn clutching her armoured back in terror. She ran her hand across the rough surface of the mass in front of her, and found a crack. Her fingers slipped into the crack and Bronwyn clung to her as she heaved the door open. Swift footsteps mounted the mossy stairs below and behind them, reaching for them, as they launched themselves out of the door. The Knight slammed it shut behind them, and there was a bang on the door as an unnamed thing tried to follow. She pushed the door again, and frantically grabbed her shining silver sword on the ground near her feet, using it to seal the door once again. A thwarted, funereal howling began from the tomb, as their unseen assailant realised it could not realise itís intent to embrace them.

Bronwyn blinked frantically, rubbing her eyes, as she slowly became aware of the black Dragonís plight. Zombies swarmed around it and on it, twisted and rotting figures clawing and biting its exposed flesh as it reared and roared, and tried to shake them off. It swung around and beat itís wings, trying to dislodge them with limited success, as it tried to destroy the knights advancing on it with rotting horses.

The Knight yelled, drew the golden sword, and jumped into the fray, Bronwyn close behind.

As the Knight swung her sword, all that it touched shattered, spasmed and then lay still, littering the rotten earth. Bronwyn leapt to the Dragon, trying desperately to avoid itís head and teeth as she grimly tore at the figures tormenting it, chunks of soft slimy flesh and bone coming off in her hands.

When the Knight turned to the demons on the horses, she swung and scored two direct hits. They screamed, high and keening as they slowly began to dissolve into a greasy, greenish powder. The Knight watched this then turned to assist the Dragon and Bronwyn. She began to pick off the zombies, one by one. Gradually all lay still on the unhallowed ground, shattered to memory by the companions.

"Thank you Knight and Bronwyn," said the Dragon, puffing from exertion.

"Youíre welcome," responded Bronwyn, eyeing the beast with concern. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, thank you," said the Dragon wearily.

"Thank you Dragon," said the Knight evenly, and saluted it with the golden sword; the Dragon grinned.

Slowly, distastefully, they made their way back through the ruined earth of the graveyard and back into the forest. The Knight whistled for her horse, which appeared tossing itís mane and stamping its hooves. The Knight and Bronwyn mounted the horse, and continued out of the crumbling cemetery back to the hellish forest.

They had not gone far when the thick forest of decaying trees slowly petered out and stopped, and they saw the ruins of a castle in the distance. Its battlements were black and twisted, stone crumbling, surrounded by a foul smelling moat full of dark, oily water. There was no apparent way into the castle, as the drawbridge had long since rotted and fallen into the murk below, twisted wreckage clearly seen on the other side.

They stopped at the shore of the moat, and pondered what to do next. The Dragon grinned, baring huge fangs, and said, "I believe I can help. Bronwyn, may I have two strands of your hair?"

Bronwyn sighed. "Yes," she said, as she plucked two strands of her hair from her head, and attempted to hand them to the Dragon, who shook its head.

"Nay," it said. "Lay them on the ground as close to the Ö water Ö as you can."

Bronwyn complied, and the Dragon sat back on its haunches, closing its glittering red eyes. It took a deep breath, and both the Knight and Bronwyn stood back spellbound as it sang. On a thousand delicately made wind instruments, a song wound forth, surrounding them and the castle. The strands began to stir under the gentle, feather light caress of the melody. Slowly they began to wind sinuously forth, stretching and growing until suddenly a huge drawbridge of solid gold spanned the distance from the shore where they stood to meet the stumps of the old drawbridge at the castle.

The Knight and Bronwyn were both speechless when the Dragon finished. Its grin had gotten bigger, if that was possible.

"That was so beautiful," said Bronwyn with shining eyes.

"If you have magic, then you could easily have killed me rather than fought me," added the ever practical Knight in her sultry voice, and crossed her arms.

"Thank you, fair Bronwyn," said the Dragon, bowing. Then it addressed the Knight. "Whereís the sport in that?" it asked, grinning. "Besides, who said I wasnít using it?"

"Good grief," muttered Bronwyn, feeling the Knight roll her eyes and nod in agreement.

The Knight said nothing more as she climbed back aboard the horse and began to move towards the drawbridge, Bronwyn and the Dragon following tensely behind.

They entered the courtyard littered with skeletons and thick dust. A black miasma of foul air congealed in one corner of the courtyard, seeping down from one of the huge ruined towers, slowly spreading obnoxious feelers towards them.

"Up there," announced the Knight unnecessarily, and the Dragon arched an eyebrow at her, as Bronwyn stared. "Sorry," she muttered, and set off towards the ruined stairs leading to the tower, Bronwyn running as fast as she could behind her.

"Iíll just meet you at the top," said the Dragon from behind them. The Knight ignored it and Bronwyn turned and waved an arm, then continued in her hot pursuit of the Knight as she fearlessly urged her horse forward. The horse skidded to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, rolling its eyes, unwilling to carry the Knight further, as the she attempted to spur it on. Finally she relented, jumped off the horse and slapped itís rump. It instantly bolted back through the ruined courtyard over the golden drawbridge. Up and up the crumbling, slippery stairs they climbed, Bronwyn miraculously never tiring until they reached the top. Outside the heavy oak door, the knight paused.

"Bronwyn," she said. "Know that I love you whatever happens."

She slipped in close to the Knight. "Knight," said Bronwyn gazing deep into the shiny visor, unable to penetrate the inky blackness behind it. "I love you too. Please come back to me."

The Knight pulled her in close, and Bronwyn melted against her cold embrace, tears in her eyes.

The Knight gently pulled back, took a deep breath and smashed the door open with a gauntleted fist. Bronwyn followed close behind her. She burst into the room, plunged in filthy blackness, torches burning cheerlessly on the walls of the circular room. In the center of the floor was a pentagram and a cauldron bubbling over a green flamed fire. An extraordinarily ugly old man, bent of limb, twisted of eye, coarse haired with clawed, wizened hands bent intently over the foul brew, bubbling away with the most obnoxious smell roiling forth from itís uneasy depths.

The Knight lunged forward, towards the hideous apparition. The magician, keen of hearing, saw the blows coming, flicked a claw, and a broken shield flew off the stone wall, colliding with the Knight so she was knocked backwards off her feet. She skidded across the room, ruby medallion flying off, armour showering sparks until she crashed into a far wall with a clang. She easily got to her feet as Bronwyn turned to run toward her, and lunged forward again, crying "Dragon! Breathe your fire!"

Jets of flame shot through an unseen window, and bathed the magician, dissipating harmlessly over the sphere of power he had erected around himself. He looked up; milky cataracts aimed towards his long-lived foe, and began muttering.

The Knight froze, as a thin layer of ice began to form in the joints to her armour. A siren song called to Bronwyn, slowing her down until she felt as though she was trying to walk through thick molasses. She felt her will slowly being drained from her, as she struggled to turn and face the magician.

The Dragon continued to stream fire at the wizard, as the Knight began to freeze solid. Bronwyn slowly felt her limbs seizing up as the hypnotic song continued. She crawled across the miles separating her from the Knight, reaching out slowly and painfully for the medallion, lying discarded at the base of a misshapen pillar. Her leaden fingers closed around it and life began to flow back into her aching limbs. She struggled to her feet, and dragged herself over to the Knight on protesting legs, fumbling the medallion around her neck. The Dragonís flame began to melt the ice, as Bronwyn collapsed again, firmly in the grips of the spell the magician cast. Sweat appeared on his vile brow as he struggled to maintain control. Great chunks of ice fell off the Knightís armour, and she leapt forward on unsteady legs, drawing her golden sword.

With tremendous concentration, she hurled the sword, straight and true, through the sphere of fire. It embedded itself into his wrinkled neck and he uttered a high keening, bubbling scream as his flesh began to melt off his bones in great wet chunks. The spell of protection wavered and collapsed, and the Dragonís blue flame burst through, consuming the magician in a thousand tongues of superheated fire. With itís master incinerated, the magic brew, now defenseless, began to evaporate away. As the liquid boiled, a million souls in torment screamed their agony to the dead world.

The Knight grabbed Bronwynís still uncoordinated body, cradled her with cold arms, running back down the stairs as fast as she could. She screamed for the Dragon to back away, as her headlong rush down the stairs continued. The Knight was knocked off her feet by the heaving earth, and she protected Bronwyn as best she could as they rolled the rest of the short way back down the stairs out into the dead courtyard.

At the bottom, the Dragon swiftly covered them both with one of its great wings, as the Tower exploded into a million glittering fragments. Great sheets of flame erupted from the shards of the tower, then were viciously sucked inward into the dark hole of uncontrolled magic, air rushing inward after them. Abruptly the unrest ceased, leaving a huge crater where the tower once stood.

With a sigh, the three friends picked themselves painfully up, as the horse guiltily galloped up to join her relieved rider.

Bronwyn looked around her, and still saw the same state of decay she had become familiar with. "Why hasnít everything turned back?" she asked.

"There is one thing left to do," responded the Knight, exchanging a look with the Dragon.

"Itís time," the Dragon said simply, nodding its great head sadly.

"Itís time for what?" asked Bronwyn apprehensively.

The Knight quietly took the root from her saddlebags, along with the bowl, and crushed it with her gauntleted hands into a fine powder. With the most gentle of fingers, she lifted Bronwynís hands, and poured the dust in them. "This dust," she said softly, "must be scattered all over the Kingdom. It will restore life to my land. Go with the Dragon, and give life back to my people."

A tear escaped from Bronwynís eye, as a doomed feeling broke through her rigid self-control. "What are you going to do?" She cupped the dust with reverent fingers.

"Iíll be here waiting for you," said the silky voice, as the Knight pulled Bronwyn in for a tender embrace. Bronwyn began to cry in earnest, and the Knight gently wiped away the tears, gauntlets hard and cold on her soft skin. "I love you my sweet Bronwyn."

"I love you my brave Knight," Bronwyn said, voice breaking, tears trickling down her face, as she looked deep into the impenetrable blackness behind the Knightís visor.

Dread settled firmly on her shoulders, Bronwyn gently disentangled herself from the Knight, sniffling and looked at the Dragon.

"Iím ready whenever you are," it said.

Bronwyn gingerly climbed aboard the Dragon with the Knightís assistance, making sure not a drop of the sand was spilled. The Knightís gentle hand steadied her as she more comfortably seated herself. The Knight stepped back as the Dragon launched itself into the air.

Far and wide it flew, Bronwyn sprinkling the dust over all she saw with a heavy heart. Below her, she could almost feel the earth sigh in relief as it was released from its torment, and the ground grew from barren and sterile to vibrant greenery again. The villages were rebuilt, the skeletons rising from the earth to gradually become whole people again, cheering at her passage.

Finally the job was done, and the Dragon was in sight of the castle when she felt a tremor in the great body. The Dragon suddenly howled in anguish and screamed in pain as Bronwyn clung frantically to itís back.

"Whatís the matter?" she called.

"My heart," wheezed the Dragon, tumbling towards the earth, ending in a graceless landing in the courtyard. Bronwyn had been thrown clear, and picked her bruised body off of the cold stones. She spied the fallen body of the Knight, shining sword sticking out of her chest. Bronwyn moaned in agony and denial, as a flood of tears streamed down her face. She crawled to the fallen Dragon, and tried to cradle itís great head.

"When we are both gone, you must burn our bodies, gather the ashes in the bowl and scatter them all over the castle. When you are finished, cast the bowl into the moat," gasped the Dragon. "Promise me!"

Bronwyn sobbed brokenly as she whispered, "I promise. I love you my Dragon."

"Do not grieve for me," the Dragon said, voice fading, fire seeping slowly from itís fierce red eyes. "I have lived a long and full life, and I have once again known love."

With that, the great chest stopped heaving, they ruby eyes flickered shut and its scales became dull, as life seeped from the body.

"Why?" wailed Bronwyn, as she left the Dragonís side to go to her love, the Knight. She gently leant down to cradle her body, and the empty armour fell apart in her hands. She screamed in horror and disbelief, and bowed her head in desolation. The Knightís horse nuzzled her in sympathy, and wandered off.

Finally, drained, she gathered debris from the castle, and built a massive pyre for her Knight and her Dragon. She lit a discarded torch with the Knightís flint and threw it onto the pyre, watching them burn, heart and soul aching for her brave Knight and fierce Dragon. Slowly the fire consumed both bodies until nothing but a cold, fine grey ash remained. She gathered as much as she could in the bowl and traversed the black and dead castle, scattering what she could as her friend had asked.

Done, she made her way back to the courtyard, unrestored by the dust as the roots had healed the land. She sagged to the ground, head hanging in defeat, tears still flowing.

Rage overtook her, and she thundered to the drawbridge and hurled the bowl into the murk, tears dripping from her eyes into the still water below. She watched with dead eyes, as the water became clear, the brick of the castle becoming whole once again, shining white in the healing sunshine. From behind her, she heard the sighs and murmurs of people climbing slowly to their feet as life was breathed into them again. Gazing into the crystal clear water with empty eyes, no longer with the will to live, she didnít hear the footsteps coming slowly behind her.

"Bronwyn," came the deep sultry voice from behind her, which she had never thought to hear again. Spinning around in recognition and hope, she saw the most beautiful woman she had ever seen in her entire life. She was tall, a shade over six feet in height, a simple circle of gold resting on top of a flood of black hair, cascading down the back of her simple white gown. Her features were cleanly sculpted, and the most stunning sky blue eyes Bronwyn had ever seen burned into her with the same love and desire that she felt.

Bronwyn never hesitated. She ran forward and threw herself into the waiting arms, tears and anguish forgotten. The Knight held her close, looking deep into her eyes. She had already captured Bronwynís heart, and now leant down to claim her lips. They kissed deeply and passionately, Bronwyn breaking it regretfully, never wanting to let her brave Knight go, breathing ragged.

"I love you with all my heart," she said simply.

"Dearest Bronwyn," responded the Knight. "I love you and I want you to be my Queen. I have ever since you agreed to come with the Dragon and I on our quest."

"I want nothing more than to be your Queen, and to be by your side."

Bronwyn kissed her, and allowed her hands to begin to explore the Knightís long, muscular body.

"What happened to my beloved Dragon?" she asked when they broke again for air.

"When the Wizard stole my Kingdom, he cursed me and split me up into two half beings Ė one a Dragon, the other a Knight. If either one ever killed the other, then the curse would continue on forever. If either half had killed themselves, then my Kingdom would never escape from the Wizard. He did not believe we could overcome our differences and work together if we ever met."

Bronwyn smiled, knowing her fierce, beloved Dragon was also standing in front of her.

Safely nestled in her loveís arms, Bronwyn allowed the Knight to gently steer her back across the shining drawbridge to her cheering subjects and her new home.

The Knight and Bronwyn sent word to Bronwynís parents, inviting them to the wedding. When they arrived, Bronwyn forgave them for attempting to sacrifice her to the Dragon, and thanked them for leading her to the love of her life. There was much rejoicing by both Kingdoms at the slaying of the evil magician, the departure of the Black Dragon, and the new life and peaceful prosperity granted to both Kingdoms. The Knight and Bronwyn ruled for a long time over their Kingdom. It came to be known as a shining habour of wisdom and justice throughout the land.

And they all lived happily ever after.

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