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Belle and the dragon, p.2
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       Belle and the Dragon, p.2

           Tony Myers
 
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Belle led the way on horseback through the center of town, dressed in her own armor. It was a beautiful purple and white pattern. It looked quite fitting for a princess, yet still ready for battle. A small sword was bouncing gently off her side with every step of the horse. She wore no helmet, just a simple crown on her head. Michael and his men were following close behind Belle. Michael chose his eight best men to accompany them on this expedition. He didn’t want any trouble from the dragon. The knights were in their traditional battle armor, whereas Michael was dressed in his unique warrior-like armor. It consisted of a grey fabric material with a metal vest covering his chest and traditional metal gloves to cover his hands. He wanted the protection yet valued the ability to be mobile during a battle. Unlike the other knights, he wore a helmet that left his face exposed. The king wanted the people to see the face of the realm’s chief knight.

  It was prime time for the merchants. The streets were busy with people buying and selling in vast array. Many had stopped their transactions to watch the brigade of knights pass through the streets. Some of the young girls ran in excitement to see the king’s beautiful daughter pass through their midst. They clapped and cheered at the sight of the princess. Belle smiled and waved to the crowds as they showed their affection. A part of her felt deceptive leading knights through town like this, knowing that she was not going to engage in battle. In her mind she reassured herself that this was bringing the people hope, giving them something to rejoice about. Her father’s presence often brought dissension among the people. She was thankful that she could bring unity.

  A young girl ran up toward Belle’s horse in a full sprint. She couldn’t have been older than nine. She was bouncing with excitement. “Whoa, hold up!” Michael said, holding out his hand to slow the girl. She stopped in her tracks.

  “It’s all right… let her come,” Belle said, motioning with her hand for the girl to come closer. As she approached the horse, Belle could see that the girl held up a flower to her. Belle couldn’t help but smile as she gently took it from the girl’s hand. It was a daisy. The petals were nearly perfect. Stopping her horse in place, she put the flower in her hair, right by her ear. Giving the girl a small wink, she gave her horse a light kick as they continued on. The young girl waved as she ran back to her mother.

  “It seems the townspeople are quite fond of you, Your Highness,” Michael said, riding alongside Belle.

  “Maybe they’re cheering for you, the king’s chief knight,” Belle said, still waving to the people.

  Michael laughed slightly, “I can assure you they’re not. The princess of the land is the one they want to see.”

  “Michael, you know the people love you and appreciate your services to the kingdom.”

  “Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know they see me favorably, but you know as well as I that their true affection rests with you and you alone.”

  Belle kept smiling and waving to the people. She genuinely loved them. More than anything she wanted them to feel safe and at peace in the kingdom. She was happy that after many years the threat of the dragon that lived at their borders was finally going to be eliminated.

  It had taken them most of the day to reach the southeastern edge of the kingdom. They were currently on the outskirts to the kingdom’s border close to the dragon’s territory. A few small villages were located in this region of rolling hills. They were simple farming communities. Occasionally the king would send guards through the area for collecting taxes or for the issuing of new decrees, but for the most part these villages governed themselves.

  Michael, Belle, and the knights passed through the center of a small village located in a wooded area. A few houses lined the side of the road. On any other occasion, the people would have only given a slight notice to knights passing through their village, but as of late, the people were anxious to see the kingdom deal with the threats from the dragon. The group of knights was definitely a positive sign for the people, and seeing the king’s daughter riding with them was also a joyous sight.

  A few times each year, Belle would travel to these outlining towns, usually with a couple of knights by her side. She wanted to see the people’s faces. In her heart of hearts she truly loved them and wanted them to experience lives of peace and tranquility within the kingdom of Mendolon. She worked hard at learning names and remembering the occupations of the people she saw more regularly. She knew that one day she was going to be their queen, and they would be her people.

  Coming to the end of the line of houses, Michael instructed the men. “This road should take us right into the dragon’s territory. We have about another mile to travel and then we will stop for food before proceeding into the territory.” No one responded. The men were loyal and followed his orders without question. They trusted him.

  Belle spoke up, “Michael, I’m surprised we are entering on the south side. The dragon has been spotted more by the villages on the northwestern side of the territory.”

  Michael nodded without making eye contact. “I figure that is where the dragon might be spending most of his time. He may not expect anyone to approach his cave from the southern route.”

  “I’m surprised that we would need to take such precautions with a group of eight men and this small of a dragon.”

  Michael smiled as he turned to look at Belle, “Your confidence in me and my men is quite flattering, but I’m trying to eliminate any chance of an incident. This dragon has shown quite a bit of intelligence and I don’t want to underestimate him in any way.” Michael paused for a moment, “Even though he is small, he is still a fire-breathing dragon.”

  Most of the women in the kingdom admired Michael for his strength and good looks. He was truly a symbol for the kingdom and King Sebastian would not hesitate to parade him around the villages with a brigade of troops. Belle, on the other hand, admired him for his bravery and humility. She wished more people could see that side of him.

  They trotted along in silence for a minute or two. Belle and Michael were about ten feet in front of the others. The sound of the horses’ hooves was soothing as they traveled closer to the dragon’s territory. None of the men seemed scared. They found their confidence in their leader.

  Belle broke the silence, “At times you really surprise me, Michael.”

  “Oh, how so?”

  “You often fall in line with many of my father’s wishes and desires. Why are you so loyal to him and give him so much respect?”

  Michael spoke calmly, “Belle, I don’t know how much you heard this morning, but we were arguing for quite a while about what to do with this dragon.”

  “Yes, I know, but even still, you are here doing my father’s bidding… even bringing me along. You know my father can be a harsh man at times. Why do you have such an allegiance to him?”

  Michael waited just a moment before speaking. His mind seemed to be elsewhere. “My allegiance is to freedom, justice, and peace. Yes, your father is harsh at times, but he has provided a stable realm for the people of his kingdom. I will seek to maintain that. I will honor him as our king… for the sake of the people.”

  Belle was happy for these few minutes alone to talk with Michael. She wanted to speak with him more in depth. All morning she had suspected that something was on his mind. It may have been a simple inflection in his voice, or possibly the way he was not making eye contact, but somehow Belle knew Michael was hiding something. He was truly a man filled with honor and truth, and most of the time he would easily give himself away if he wasn’t being completely honest.

  “Michael, I know this dragon needs to be dealt with, but he has been here for years and not crossed our borders. Why the urgency? Couldn’t this dragon just be making us aware of his presence? Reminding us of his territory.”

  “Isn’t ridding our border of a fire breathing dragon enough motivation?”

  Though Belle often came across as sweet and soft spoken, she did have a determined side to her personality that wouldn’t give up till she got the answer she was looki
ng for. “Michael, please,” she said reaching over and grabbing his arm, “You give yourself away so easily. What is really going on?”

  Looking down at Belle’s hand holding his arm seemed to soften him. Though at times he tried not to think about it, he knew the rumors among the townspeople that one day they would wed. He looked up at her eyes as they were fixed on his. He knew there was no need in hiding anything, especially since she was accompanying them on this journey. He looked back at his men before speaking, “Belle, something does not add up with this dragon.”

  “What do you mean?” she said, releasing his arm.

  “I mean the whole situation. It’s always disturbed me. For one, have you ever heard of a dragon positioning itself directly between two kingdoms, and marking off its boundary? Usually they live far off, hoarding and protecting whatever gold they have accumulated. I have never heard of a dragon dwelling this close to such a populated region, much less two vast kingdoms.”

  “Michael, that was about twenty years ago when he marked off his territory. You would have been young. Do you even remember that time?”

  “I do. I was five at the time. People were filled with fear, wondering what the implications of having a dragon at our borders would mean.”

  “I can imagine that was a hard time to grow up,” Belle said softly.

  “For a time it was. I remember as a boy hearing about how the dragon had marked the border of his territory with fire. Among the townspeople they nicknamed the area Dragon Waste. Quickly, stories began to grow about the size of the dragon and if this would somehow incite a war with our neighbors to the east. I believe at that time, every boy in the kingdom had visions of growing up to become a dragon hunter.”

  Belle was anxious to hear more as her father never talked much about it. “What happened, Michael?” she inquired. “Do you remember why the kingdom did nothing about it at the time?”

  Michael shrugged his shoulders, “Life moved on. After he marked his territory the people knew to stay out of it. We didn’t cross his border and he stayed out of our villages. Other matters then concerned us as a people. King Sebastian, your father, heard rumors of war to the north. We thought we might be headed into it. Our attention was turned there. One day turned to another and the dragon was slowly forgotten.”

  “You know, when you put it like that, it is strange that we, as a kingdom, have just come to accept a dragon living this close to our border.”

  “Precisely. The whole situation is odd.” Michael paused for a moment as if he was in deep thought, “But at the moment there is something else that has brought even more curiosity to me,” he said, brushing his blond hair out of his eyes.

  “Oh, and what’s that?” Belle said, puzzled.

  “The king is right on one thing… for years this dragon has lived at our border in solitude. The only incident was the passing merchant that went into his area. But still, he has never directly threatened us like he is doing now.”

  Belle thought for a moment about what Michael was implying. She figured she would ask directly, “So what’s your point? What do you think is happening?”

  “This dragon is being provoked. He would not act like this unless something was making him angry.” Michael stared hard into the distance. “And maybe not necessarily something… but possibly someone.”

  They reached the border of the dragon’s territory in the middle of the afternoon. They stopped for a quick meal and to check supplies before heading into the area. A wooden sign stood at the border warning all travelers, “Dragon Waste: KEEP OUT! Enter under no circumstance.” Michael gave it only a passing glance as they proceeded forward.

  The day grew dreary as they traveled through the territory. Belle wondered if it was going to rain. She figured rain would actually be an advantage in battling a fire breathing dragon. Soon the trail faded away. Plant life had overtaken it. Michael’s top soldier, Gideon, directed them according to a map of the area. Gideon was in his late forties, and he had been in the territory a couple of times before the dragon had settled. The dragon’s cave was nearly in the center of the territory, and it would be at least an hour before they arrived.

  Belle had felt a little anxiety when they first entered the territory, but as the journey dragged on, the anxiety slowly faded. Occasionally glancing at the knights, she saw no fear in their eyes. She gleaned much confidence from their demeanor. They followed their captain whom they trusted. He was focused. From their earlier talk, Belle knew that Michael had questions about this dragon. There was a mystery with this dragon, and Michael was ready to explore.

  Besides the overgrowth of plant life, the territory did not look much different from the outskirts of Mendolon: a thick forest followed by a small open plain, followed by a cluster of trees. Belle’s mind went to the battle that would be fought. She wondered how close she would be. She wondered how much she would be able to see. Or how long would it last? Surely a dragon this small would be a quick victory for Michael, especially with the amount of men that were brought along.

  A rustle in the woods startled the company. Everyone stopped and looked to their left. Every man’s hand instantly went to the hilt of their sword, except for Michael who went for one of his daggers attached to his belt. For a distant enemy he would not hesitate to throw a small dagger. The men watched closely as a rabbit bounced from a small bush on a hill. The tension eased and the men continued on.

  Since they entered the territory, no one had said a word. Gideon and Michael led the way, and Belle was surrounded by knights on both sides. She longed for conversation. She wanted her questions answered. Her mind slowly drifted to her recurring dream. She had a faint hope that something on this journey would jog her memory and help her remember it. Belle felt as if it was on the edge of her mind, just waiting to be grasped. Oh, how I wish I could remember it, she thought.

  Without warning, Michael stopped the company. They were on the edge of a clearing of trees. A small hill lay just before them. “We’re here, men,” Michael said in a quiet voice. Belle thought this was odd as she couldn’t see the cave from where her horse stood. The men quickly dismounted from their horses and tied them to nearby trees. Belle followed suit.

  Michael continued, “Gideon, you take the men around to the front of the cave and wait for me. I will make sure Belle is situated before joining you.”

  “We will wait,” Gideon responded obediently. Michael and Belle watched as the knights walked around the hill, swords drawn, ready to fight. It was obvious the entrance to the cave was on the opposite side of the hill. Belle hoped she would be positioned where she could see the battle transpire.

  “Belle, I’m going to position you here at the top of the hill among those two small trees,” Michael said, pointing to the top of the small hill. “Common to most dragons, at this time he should be sleeping.” Michael began leading her up the hill. She was a little disappointed as a part of her wished that somehow Michael would have allowed her to engage in the fight.

  Michael further explained the plan. “Our strategy is simple. We attack the dragon while he is sleeping. If he awakes, he will have nowhere to go. Our numbers should overwhelm him pretty easily.”

  “What if he decides to breathe fire on you?” Belle said bluntly.

  “Highly unlikely. If the dragon is trapped, most of the time they won’t breathe fire, knowing that in a confined space the fire might lead to their own demise.”

  Reaching the trees on the top of the hill, Belle could see there was a steep cliff on the side where the opening of the cave was. Looking over the cliff, she could see she was about twenty feet off the ground. She could also see the knights at the base. Michael gave a small wave, indicating he would be ready soon.

  “I’d advise you to lay low among the trees. If the dragon seems to somehow get past us, he will probably head for the horses. Up here you will be completely out of the battle.”

  Michael looked off into the distance when he spoke. He did not face her. Belle could tell h
is mind was occupied. In the past she had seen Michael before small battles, and this was completely unlike him. “Michael… is everything ok?”

  “You can take my shield,” Michael said, completely ignoring the question. “You can use it to cover yourself, just in case the dragon is not in the cave. As soon as the battle is done, I will come for you. Remember to stay here.”

  Michael turned to leave. “Michael,” Belle said, reaching out and trying to grab his hand. Failing to grasp his hand, her fingernails tore the cloth around his forearm, just above his gloves. Her grip was tight. Michael stopped. Looking down, Michael could see the torn cloth around his forearm. He looked up at Belle, making direct eye contact.

  She continued, “Michael, I’m sorry, but is everything ok? Do you need me in this battle? I can help you guys. I’ve…”

  “Belle,” Michael said, placing his hand on her shoulder. “I know you are a capable warrior, and have shown valor, but… I will follow your father’s wishes. You will be safe here.”

  He tried to turn away again, but she held tight. “Tell me, is everything all right? You don’t seem yourself. What is it?”

  Michael took a deep breath as he looked off into the distance. It seemed as if he was trying to choose his words carefully. “I keep thinking about our earlier conversation about this dragon.”

  “Do you still have questions about this whole situation?”

  Michael looked right at her, “I do and the more I think about it… the more questions I have. Something is going on, and I want to get to the bottom of it.”

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