“You’re late,” said the dragon.
“I’m sorry,” stammered George. “I, um, didn’t know you were expecting me.”
“Of course I was. What else am I meant to do all day long? I was watching from the top of that cliff. When I saw that your friend with the lance was coming first, I flew down here to wait.”
“I see,” said George, looking round expectantly for his fellow knight. “So, er, what exactly happened to him?”
The dragon didn’t reply to this. She merely gave George one of those looks that his mother always gave him when he had said something particularly stupid.
George hopped from one foot to the other, uncomfortable in his armour, wishing it didn’t creak so much whenever he moved. He looked down at the pommel of his long-sword and thought about drawing it from its scabbard. But the dragon seemed unconcerned by George’s arrival and he found its silence unnerving. So, instead of valiantly leaping forward to the attack, he stood where he was and waited for something to happen.
After what seemed like a very long time, the dragon opened her huge mouth and flashed an evil-looking smile at him, revealing rows upon rows of sharp teeth.
“Do we really have to do this?” the dragon asked.
“I’m sorry?” said George. He was distracted by the thought of how easily the monster could swallow him in one piece. “I, uh, wasn’t paying attention.”
“I asked if we really have to do this. I’ve just had an early lunch. You’re not exactly dressed for the task at hand. And besides, all that iron plate gives me terrible indigestion.”
George was not impressed by this. Clenching his fist to his chest, he intoned, “I am a knight of the order of the Helm of Hiemlich. It is my sworn duty to rid this land of all that is vile, to right wrongs, and rescue damsels in distress.”
“Well said,” cheered the dragon, clapping its massive claws together in applause. “Only I don’t see any damsels …”
“That is true,” agreed George reluctantly, “But you are most definitely vile.”
“That is so unkind,” protested the dragon, slithering forward so suddenly that her nostrils sniffed against the knight’s chest plate. George coughed violently as she exhaled a cloud of noxious green smoke directly into his visor.
“Do you mind if I make a guess?” she asked.
George longed to tear off his helmet and breathe in some fresh air. But he knew that knights do not take on centuries-old dragons bare-headed.
“Your name wouldn’t be George, would it?”
George was surprised but determined not to show it. “Vile worm,” he exclaimed, “you should know that your vanquisher today is Sir George of Rachland, the son of Meldrud, the son of Meldram, the son of Meldret, the son of Meldrin, the son of …”
The dragon was yawning. George stopped. “Am I boring you?” he shouted angrily.
“You are rather,” replied the dragon. “It’s not that I mean to be rude. It’s just that I have met so many Georges. Some poor father is stuck for a name for his latest brat so he opts for George. Then the runny-nosed kid grows up with everyone telling him that he is to be a dragon-slayer.”
“But Saint George did slay a dragon, didn’t he? So I am following in illustrious footsteps.”
“Indeed,” agreed the dragon with a weary sigh, “Saint George did manage to despatch his first dragon – albeit the poor beast was deaf, half-blind, and crippled with arthritis. Of course he didn’t do so well with his second dragon …”
George noticed for the first time that the dragon was now blocking the only way out of the narrow valley. “I, um, didn’t know that he fought another dragon.”
“Let’s just say,” replied the dragon, sniggering, “that people prefer to boast about heroic victories rather than pathetically easy defeats.”
George felt a shiver run down his spine. “I, er, think I’ve changed my mind,” he said.
“Too late,” said the dragon, jumping to her feet and puffing out her wings.
“I thought you were full after lunch,” protested George lamely.
“I am. But I have dragon babies to feed …”
So she did.
Epilogue: a note to parents
When you’re choosing names, please do take care
You can’t go wrong with Tom, Sid or Claire
But of George or Dan, you should beware
Lest they end their days in some beast’s lair!
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