The following is a work of fiction.

Jerome crawled over the edge of the hill to peer into the valley below. He did not want to be spotted. He was sure that he was down wind, he could smell the beast. As long as he was very quiet, and stayed hidden, the beast would not know he was there.

There! There it was. It was awake, stalking before the white tent. Jerome could not even describe the foul creature. At times it walked on all fours, and at others on his two hind limbs. It grunted, it stank, it ate refuge. It was an animal, a dangerous animal that had to be destroyed. Jerome knew not how many people it had killed, and eaten. What he did know as that the Princess was in that tent. He alone of all the knights had stood forward to save her. He hoped he was not too late.

Jerome hated to just lay there and wait, but he knew that he had to know what the obstacles were. The tent, once bright and made for royalty, was now filthy, poorly set up, and yes, even bloody. The Princess had been with a guard of twenty four men and two ladies in waiting. The men had all died courageously, their bodies torn and scattered across the field of battle. The beast appeared injured. It seemed that at least one of the King’s men had scored a hit.

There were the remains of a fire in front of the tent, and what appeared to be the remains of a meal. Was the beast civilized? Was it aware of the importance of its captive? It had taken her alive, which was odd. How could it distinguish royal from common blood? Maybe it just captured women, killing all of the men because they were dangerous. Even animals could tell the difference between men and women.

There was a noise behind him. “Damn”, he thought. “I should have left the horse further away.” The beast had not heard, or appeared to not have heard. Jerome crept slowly around, away from the direction the noise had come from, but still down wind. It was early morning. He would eat cold biscuits and watch before trying to attack. He had to be careful. This was not just a fight, he had to ensure the safety of the Princess.

It was late in the morning before Jerome saw anyone else. The beast had gone down to the stream to bath, splashing a wallowing, making a great deal of noise. One of the Ladies in Waiting came out with a bucket. She went to the stream to get some water, careful to stay as far away from the beast as possible, going up stream to get clear water. The beast watched her until she was back in the tent. She was frightened, but appeared unhurt.

At mid-day, the beast kindled the fire and grunted to the tent. Both Ladies in Waiting came out. They cooked a meal. It smelled so good. Jerome had not eaten a hot meal in days. He crept nearer. He watched the food preparation and watched the beast. The animal had habits. It patrolled the area in a set pattern. It used the same tree to relieve itself. It spent the rest of its time watching the women and caring for its weapons.

When all was ready, the tent flap opened. The Princess came forth, still clean and radiant in her summer dress of white. Jerome stared. He had seen her at court, yet now she seemed even more beautiful. He crept even nearer. He told himself that it was to prepare for battle, but really he was drawn to the Princess.

The Princess ate with her ladies, then with a dignity that was overwhelming for Jerome, she arose and offered food to the beast. Jerome cursed under his breath. The princess was serving that animal. It was terrible. It had to be stopped. But Jerome waited.

The women cleaned up after the meal and retired to the tent. The beast patrolled again. Jerome feared that he had crept too close, but he was not detected. The beast curled up by the remains of the fire, blocking the exit of the tent, and went to sleep.

Now was the time. There would be no better opportunity. He crept silently through the brush. As he neared the sleeping beast, he rose up, and with more stealth than he thought he had, he approached. He stood over the beast, considering if he should slit its throat or drive his sward through it chest. Up close the beast almost appeared human. Its mane seemed a thick beard and unruly shock of hair. It did wear cloths, with a heraldic sign of a dragon sinking its talons into a lion. It slept secure in its own strength, not knowing that death was hovering over it.

One of the ladies stepped out of the tent, and seeing Jerome made a yelp of surprise. The beast awoke and seeing Jerome attacked. It swept with its great paw and threw Jerome to the ground. It took a second swipe as it rose, but Jerome rolled out of the way. It drew its sward as Jerome got back on his feet. The beast roared, charging Jerome, but its great weight was a hindrance against the agile young man. Jerome side stepped and brought his sward against the back of the beast. The beast whirled with remarkable speed and cut Jerome on the shoulder.

The women had all gathered at the entrance to the tent and watched. The battle continued, Jerome dancing out of the way of the beast, but the beast always getting some small strike back. Slowly, the combination of the injures from the fight with the guards and the strikes that Jerome was landing, the beast wore down. Finally, the beast lunged at Jerome to get him in a bear hug. Instead of jumping away, Jerome gripped his sward with both hands allowing the beast to impale itself. It stopped its forward rush an inch from Jerome’s face. Jerome could feel and smell its breath. As it sagged on Jerome’s sward, Jerome was dragged down to the ground. They both laid there for a moment, the women were sure that both of them were dead.

Jerome got up on his knees, and with all his strength, drew his sward free of the body of the beast. The ladies rushed forward, the Princess foremost. “You are hurt, valiant knight” she said and she brushed his hair from his forehead. She ordered the Ladies in Waiting to fetch water as she used the sleeve of her dress to wipe the sweat and blood from his face. Jerome could not believe it. The Princess was touching him, Jerome, the lowest of knight. He dropped to one knee, “Your Highness, it is my privilege to serve.”

Suddenly, Jerome had a new pain. Something had struck his left thigh. “Get up you lazy git! My horse was supposed to be saddled at sunrise. If I am late, I will add ten more stripes to what you deserve for sleeping in.” Prince Hugo stomped off. Jerome limped off to saddle the horse. He carefully spread the silk ceremonial blanket before hoisting the saddle and gear into place. He had to rearrange it several times to get it right, but he had to or there would be even more stripes. He bushed down the sides to make sure that Prince Hugo’s pageant was showing. After all, he was riding to his wedding. All the kingdom would be watching as he rode in. The pageant had to be perfect, a dragon slaying a lion.

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Martin writes about writing in his weekly column Ramblings from Martin.

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