The following short story is from my first novel, The Coyote. It is told by one of the main characters to pass the time while he and the hero are being held in captivity.


Once upon a time, when knights-errant still roamed the land and dragons were known to be real creatures (that is, before the government convinced people that dragons were just fictional creations because it sounded better than admitting that they had been driven to extinction), there lived a king by the name of King Puffinjay. The king had been waging a war with a terrible dragon who lived in a cave in the mountains. Well, the king called it a war. In practice, it consisted of the king sending one of his knights to kill the beast every year. The knights thusly commissioned never returned, and no one could even say whether they were alive or dead. But it was a dragon, right? The smart money was on dead.

No one could remember what had triggered the war. It started long before the king was even born. Had the dragon stolen a maiden, or laid waste to the fields, or destroyed an entire village, or burned down an outhouse? No one from that time was still alive, and the story, unlike this one, had been lost. But, said the king, if the war was good enough for my father, and for his father before him, and for his father before him, then by gosh it was good enough for me.

Apparently, in all that time no one had seriously considered the option of sending several dozen knights all at once to kill the dragon and be done with it. The king’s rationale was that if one knight a year is what his father sent, and his father before him, and his father before him, then by gosh one knight a year was all he was going to send as well. The Puffinjay dynasty was very big on the importance of precedent.

It was on the first of May, when the snows had finally melted on the mountains, that the king would dispatch his worthiest (or unluckiest) knight to slay the dragon. Unfortunately, however, with the economy being what it was for the past couple of decades, and the slowing of the population growth rate, and the constant stream of young men who left the kingdom in search of jobs in the big cities, the King’s Round Table was no longer as well-attended as it once was. Truth be told, not many young men found the calling of knighthood particularly attractive anymore. Although there was some prestige to the job, and the pay was good, and the wenches willing, there was also the small matter of certain death if your number was called to kill the dragon. So whereas the Round Table had once held over 40 knights, loudly pounding the silverware on its surface and calling for more mead, it now seated only the king and one elderly knight, the last remaining. His name was Sir Mildew.

As the winter progressed, Sir Mildew knew that the time of his deployment to slay the dragon was fast approaching. There was hardly any need to continue the old practice of drawing lots to see which knight would be called upon to perform the dragon feeding duty, as it came to be known within the ranks of the knights. Every year the king and his knights would each place a small ball, with their names inscribed upon them, into a cup. The cup was shaken and the king would draw one of the balls and read off the name of that year’s dragon dinner … I mean winner. Although in theory, the name of the king himself could be drawn with a statistically equal probability, none of the knights had ever really believed that this egalitarian claptrap actually worked in practice. Nor would they have complained even if they had known that the little ball representing the king was just slightly smaller than all of the others, and that with sufficient shaking of the cup it tended to fall through an appropriately sized hole in the bottom. Knighthood was their job, after all. And he was the king.

But although Sir Mildew knew that the odds, so to speak, were not in his favor this year, he chose not to request early retirement, which the king would simply have refused, nor to run away and make a new life in the city, which would have been shameful. He knew his duty, and he would not disgrace himself in the eyes of all those worthy knights who had gone before him, now drinking mead in Valhalla, or Florida, or wherever it is that good knights go when they die. And thus it was, that on the first day of May, Sir Mildew entered the Great Hall and took his seat at the now unnecessarily large Round Table. And he idly wondered what the King would do next year when the first of May arrived.

King Puffinjay entered the room and sat at his throne on the opposite side of the table. “Greetings, Sir Mildew. We trust you are well?”

“As well as can be expected, Your Highness. And Your Exalted Self?”

“A touch of the gout, but we are otherwise well.”

By tradition, no mention of the dragon was made until the dinner was over and the plates had been cleared. The mead and turkey legs arrived, and Sir Mildew enjoyed his last meal with the king. For dessert there was cherry pie with custard, Sir Mildew’s favorite. But although the knight ate slowly, and had a second helping of pie, the dinner eventually came to an end. When the serving wenches had all departed, the king cleared his throat. Here we go, thought Sir Mildew.

King Puffinjay decreed, “As Sir Tweedledum has not returned from the quest that we sent him upon last year, we must send one of our worthy knights to complete his mission and avenge his presumed death.”

Sir Mildew thought, ‘one’ of our worthy knights? Plural?

King Puffinjay continued, “In keeping with our prior custom, therefore, we and each of our knights shall place into this cup a small ball …”

Sir Mildew cleared his throat. “Yes, Sir Mildew? You have something to say to us?”

Sir Mildew thought, oh, why not? It won’t make a bit of difference anyway. “Sire, on this occasion I would like to volunteer for the mission to smite the dragon and avenge all those knights who have bravely gone before me.”

King Puffinjay replies, “That is very honorable, Sir Mildew. We appreciate and accept your chivalrous offer. You have our thanks.”

Sir Mildew thought to himself, why not ask him? What harm could it do now? And he spoke again, “Sire, before I depart on my mission, I ask that you grant leave that I may ask a question.”

King Puffinjay responded, “Of course you may ask us anything, Sir Mildew. Do we not pride ourselves on the openness of our court? Please proceed.”

“Well, Sire, my question is this. Why is it necessary to kill the dragon?”

The king was taken aback by the question, which no one had either thought of, or dared to ask, for four generations. “You’re asking me … us … WHY we must kill a DRAGON?” His face turned red.

Sir Mildew nodded. Normally at this point he would have been extremely fearful. But he was now facing the prospect of certain death, and the king’s anger suddenly did not seem as threatening as it once did.

“We….and our ancestors … have fought this dragon for over one hundred years! Untold numbers of brave knights have met their death at its claws!”

“Well, yes, sire, that is true. But the knights were the aggressors. They were sent to kill the dragon in its own cave. At least in our lifetimes, the dragon has never flown here to attack us. What has this dragon done to deserve death, apart from simply defending itself?”

The king considered this question, and his face turned a shade of purple which Sir Mildew had previously not known existed. Sir Mildew was about to call for the royal physician when the king finally sputtered, “But … if the dragon … does not deserve … death, then we … and our ancestors … would look … foolish!”

Ah, well, it had been worth a shot, thought Sir Mildew. And he said, “Quite so, Sire. Forgive my impertinence. I shall leave on my mission at first light.”


At five a.m., Sir Mildew woke his squire, Peter Honeypot, and had him prepare the horses for the journey. Sir Mildew was more than a little surprised that the boy, a lad of 17, was still there. After all, none of the squires who left on this quest before had ever come back, having very likely suffered the same fate as their masters. It was no secret that Sir Mildew would soon be departing on “The Quest From Which There Is No Return,” being the only knight left. Peter’s remaining presence was evidence of an exceptional degree of loyalty and dedication. Or of paramount stupidity. In either case, Sir Mildew resolved to save the boy from his predecessors’ destinies, if at all possible.

By six a.m., Sir Mildew and Peter were on their mounts, riding out of the town gates. Consistent with tradition, Sir Mildew wore his full armor on the ride out of town, to signify that he was on an official quest commissioned by the king. When they were several miles away, he would then dismount and remove the heavy metal suit, and pack it away until it was required for battle.

When they were about two miles outside of the town gates, they crossed a stone bridge over the river Gallifray, which rushed by underneath them with considerable force, caused by the spring thaw. As they approached the other side, Peter called out, “Sir! There is an old woman in the river! She is drowning!”

Sir Mildew rushed to the side of the bridge and looked over. Peter was right. Sir Mildew recognized the woman, who was reputed to be a witch. Other knights might have looked the other way, given the woman’s identity. But not Sir Mildew. Yet he had a major problem. If he were to jump in the river in full armor, he would sink like a stone and drown, without question. “Peter! I cannot save her! It is up to you.”

Peter recognized the knight’s problem and was already off his horse before Sir Mildew had even spoken. In a moment, he scaled the side of the bridge and jumped into the freezing water, close to the woman. He reached her and dragged her toward the shore, while Sir Mildew brought the horses down to the riverbank. The worthy knight waded into the water in his armor, and grabbed the woman as they got close to shore. “Well done, Peter,” he said to the exhausted boy. “I shall never forget your bravery today. It is an inspiration to me, young squire.” The trio reached the shore and collapsed on the ground.

The woman coughed up some water and slowly recovered. After a few minutes, she sat up and said to the knight, “Beware the claws of the dragon, Sir Mildew.”

“I am heartily glad that you are well, Madam, thanks to the efforts of my trusted squire. I shall indeed beware of the claws, as you advise. Now we must return to our quest. But first, please allow me to transport you home on my horse. You shall ride, and I shall walk beside. As soon as I remove this wet armor, if you don’t mind.”

Peter offered his own horse to the woman, but Sir Mildew waved him off, saying he had done enough. He packed away the armor and helped the woman onto the horse, throwing a blanket around her shoulders. Then she directed them to her home. They arrived in half an hour and helped the woman off of the horse. “I am indebted to both of you for your kindness and heroism today,” she said. “Listen closely now, for I am going to tell you something you must remember.” The woman closed her eyes and lifted her hands in the air. In a moment she began to chant in a singsong voice:

High in its cave doth the dragon await.

Heed you these portents if you would be safe.

No shield take you, nor armor. No weapons but one.

Take thee only the staff of Ombudsman Malone.

Bring the heart of a Unicorn, but remove not its horn.

Let compassion and logic your visages adorn.

And know thee the story of righteous Sir Gawain,

By whose axe Sir Green’s neck was sheared clean in twain.

If these portents guide thee, and thou take not affright,

Then avoid ye the fates of the previous knights.

The woman then lowered her arms and opened her eyes. “Fare thee well, kind gentlemen. Thank you for my life, which I have now repaid to thee both, though thou dost not knowest it yet. See me on your return.”

“By our faith, Madam, if we are successful, we shall return to you, “ said Sir Mildew. And they rode off.


Although it required them to return to the town, the knight and the squire decided to heed the old woman’s prophecy. And therefore, they turned their horses around and set out for the home of Ombudsman Stanley Malone.

Ombudsman Malone lived alone in a well-appointed cabin in the woods, just outside the town. He was a trusted advisor to the king and had been given the task of investigating potential wrongdoing by knights, nobles, and members of the Court. No one was protected from his inquiries, save the king himself, which made Ombudsman Malone one of the most powerful persons in the kingdom. And one of the most feared. Fortunately, Stanley Malone was as honest as he was meticulous, which is why the king had appointed him to this role. He never used his authority for personal gain, and he readily admitted when he was wrong. On the other hand, he had a deserved reputation for being confrontational, cantankerous and disagreeable. His staff was made of copper and was the symbol of his office, given to him by the king. He would not part with it lightly. Or at all, considered the knight. Sir Mildew ruminated on how best to request the staff, and he decided that complete honesty was the only possible approach. Ombudsman Malone had an amazing ability to detect an untruth, which was a great asset in his job.

The pair approached the ombudsman’s house and dismounted from their horses. They knocked at the door. A moment later it was opened by a tall, imposing man with a severe countenance. “Yes, well?” the man commanded. Then he paused. “Sir Mildew? Are you not supposed to be on a quest for the king? What brings you to my home?”

The knight replied, “That is the reason I am here. I need your help, Ombudsman. And may I introduce my squire, Peter Honeypot.”

Ombudsman Malone raised his bushy eyebrows, and replied gruffly, “Is that so? Well, I don’t know that I can help you to defeat a dragon in mortal combat. But I suppose you had better come in and explain yourself.” They entered.

They all sat down. “Very well, then. How can I help you, Sir Mildew?”

Sir Mildew explained all that had transpired with the old woman, and repeated her cantation word for word. He emphasized the words, “Take thee only the staff of Ombudsman Malone.” The Ombudsman’s face grew dark.

“And so you expect me to hand over my staff because of the words of some crazed old witch? What trickery is this? The king himself gave me that staff. You shall not have it, except by his direct order. Or from the hand of my dead corpse.”

Oh, dear, thought Sir Mildew. This was off to a bad start. He could not return to the king without first completing his mission. It just wasn’t done. Nor would the king be likely to grant his request for the staff, despite his desire to see the dragon vanquished. Taking back something that was freely given by his hand would have involved a loss of face, which this king would never abide. And Ombudsman Malone knew all this. No, the staff must be given willingly by the ombudsman or taken by force, the knight concluded. And if taken by force, Sir Mildew would never be able to return to the kingdom, even if his mission succeeded. Sir Mildew was at a loss. And then, his squire found the way.

“Dear Sir Ombudsman,” said Peter, “Why do you use such a tone? My master would never affront your person. He is a faithful vassal of the king, as you are. He came here not to steal your staff but to give you greater honor in the eyes of the king, if such a thing is possible, Sir.”

“What is this? Does a mere boy dare address the Ombudsman of the King? But what’s this you say of honor? Speak.”

Peter continued, “You are well aware, Honorable Sir Ombudsman, that the king has desired the demise of the dragon ever since he was a boy. What would he think when it becomes known that your staff was the instrument of the dragon’s destruction, even though it was not wielded by your hand? And knowing your love for this gift, how would he feel upon being told that you relinquished it willingly, simply upon being informed that there was a chance it would be useful in Sir Mildew’s mission?”

The ombudsman was silent for a moment. Then he asked the boy, “And what if you fail?” (Oddly, he asks this of the boy, not of me, noted Sir Mildew.)

Peter replied, “The honor would be yours in the king’s eyes, whether we succeed or no. Do not volunteer this information to the king. Wait until the king notices that the staff is missing, and then tell him the news reluctantly when he asks. Your star will rise as a result, and I would not be surprised if the king orders a new staff to be forged that very day.”

Stanley Malone considered this, and judged the boy’s advice to be worthy. “Very well. Sir Mildew, take my staff and use it to vanquish this dragon, if you can. If you succeed, do not clean the dragon’s blood from the staff. Return it to me as it is. The king’s peace go with you.”

Sir Mildew rose and bowed deeply, saying, “Thank you, Ombudsman.” He took the staff and exited quickly before Stanley could change his mind. Once outside, he turned to his squire and said, “Boy, you are worth your weight in gold, and I would not part with you for twice that sum.” They mounted their horses and went on their way.


Sir Mildew knew of a book entitled “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Although he had never read it, he had heard there was a copy in the Monastery of Saint Galoshes, in the Western hills. Luckily it was more or less on the way to the cave, and they directed themselves there. As to the last requirement of the cantation, Sir Mildew had no idea how they would find a unicorn, since he had never seen one, nor had he spoken to anyone else who had. But he hoped that an opportunity would present itself.

After a hard day’s ride, they knocked at the doors of the monastery as the darkness grew around them. A monk answered the call and led them to a clean but bare room with two beds, where they were bid welcome to spend the night.

At first light, the monk returned and escorted them to the monastery office. A sign on the door read “Abbot N. Costello.” The room was empty when they entered. In a few moments, an older man in white robes arrived to greet them. “I am Abbot Costello,” the man said, “How may I help you?”

“I am Sir Mildew, in the service of King Puffinjay. This is my squire, Peter Honeypot. We are on a quest for the king.”

“Ah, to kill the dragon, I assume.”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“We have sheltered many a knight on many a night, who have stopped to rest here on their way to the dragon’s cave. Sadly, none has ever returned.”

“Yes, well, shelter is not the only reason for our visit. We understand that you have a book which we shall need in our quest. It is called ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’”

“Ah, yes. I am familiar with it. We have only one copy, which is very valuable. It is being duplicated now by Friar Tummytuck.”

“We should like to examine it, if possible.”

“Yes, of course. The library is this way. Follow me.”

As they walked out, Sir Mildew noticed the sign again. “Abbot N. Costello. If you will pardon me for asking, what does the ‘N’ stand for?”

The abbot responded, “Norman. Norman by name, Norman by race. Ha ha ha ha. My little joke, you see. My mother always told me I’d be a comedian when I grew up.”

The three men walked along the stone floors of the monastery until they reached a flight of wooden stairs ascending in a spiral pattern. They climbed the stairs and entered the library, which contained several hundred volumes, all bound in leather, of various sizes. There were about a dozen monks at work, painstakingly copying the old manuscripts onto new parchment. Some of the books had elaborate pictures which would also be copied, by another group of monks who were expert in that function. They walked over to one of the monks and looked over his shoulder at a beautifully drawn book, which the monk was busily transcribing.

“Friar Tummytuck, these are our guests, Sir Mildew and Peter Honeypot.”

Friar Tummytuck bowed and said, “Pleased to meet you, kind sirs.”

Abbot Costello continued, “They are interested in your book about Sir Gawain. Could you please tell them a little about it?”

Friar Tummytuck brightened. “Ah, yes. It is a brilliant work. Unfortunately, we do not know who the author was. It is a poem of 2,530 lines which tells the tale of one of King Arthur’s knights, Sir Gawain, and a mysterious adversary called the Green Knight. The Green Knight arrives at King Arthur’s court one day and challenges anyone to take one swing at him with an axe, with the stipulation that the Green Knight may return the blow in a year and a day. None of Arthur’s knights step forward to meet the challenge. To save face, King Arthur himself begins to rise. Noticing this, Sir Gawain jumps quickly to his feet and volunteers. He wields the axe, takes a clean swing, and completely beheads the Green Knight. But the Green Knight’s body remains standing and it simply picks up his severed head. The head reminds Sir Gawain of his promise and tells him where they shall meet when the day comes. Then the Green Knight’s body mounts his horse and rides off, carrying the head in its lap.”

“Charming,” said Sir Mildew.

“About a year later, Sir Gawain rides off to find the Green Knight. On his way, he stops at a castle and meets a lord and his lady, who invite him to rest there until his battle four days hence, which is close by. The next day, the lord goes hunting and he strikes a deal with Sir Gawain. He will give Sir Gawain his catch from the hunt, and in exchange, Sir Gawain will give him whatever he has won that day. After the lord leaves, his lady comes to Gawain’s room and seduces him. But Gawain allows her only a single kiss. When the lord returns he gives Gawain a deer, and Gawain gives him a kiss but he does not tell the lord who it was from. On the second day, the lord exchanges a wild boar for two kisses. On the third day, the lady presses three kisses upon Sir Gawain and tries to give him a gold ring, but he refuses. Instead, she offers him her silk girdle, which she says is enchanted and will protect him from harm if he wears it in battle. Knowing he will meet the Green Knight tomorrow, Sir Gawain takes the girdle. When the lord returns that night, he gives Sir Gawain a fox, and he receives three kisses in return. But Sir Gawain says nothing of the girdle.”

“That’s a little dishonest on his part,” observed Peter.

“Yes, quite. The next day, Sir Gawain rides off to meet the Green Knight, wearing the girdle. He exposes his neck to the Green Knight, who swings but holds his hand back at the last moment such that Gawain is unharmed. Sir Gawain flinches, though, and the Green Knight makes fun of him. He swings again, and the blade barely touches Sir Gawain’s neck. But Sir Gawain does not flinch this time, and he tells the Green Knight to get on with it. The knight takes his final swing, and this time he deliberately gives Sir Gawain a non-fatal wound. He then reveals himself as the very same lord of the castle where Sir Gawain had just stayed. The lord tells Sir Gawain that this has all been a test of his worthiness. The wound that the lord gave Gawain on the third blow was because Sir Gawain broke his promise on the third day, by not offering the girdle to the lord. Sir Gawain is severely embarrassed by this, but the lord laughs and says that he still passed the test, having refused his lady’s advances and the gold ring. Sir Gawain returns to King Arthur’s court and truthfully tells them the story. All the knights decide to wear a green sash from then on, to remind them of the need for purity and honesty in all their exploits.”

“A brilliant story,” observed Sir Mildew.

“Yes. There is a great deal of symbolism in the tale. The Green Knight is sometimes taken to be Christ, since he overcomes death and treats others with compassion.”

“Fascinating. Abbot Costello, as it happens we have need of this book in our quest. It was foretold to us that we must know the story of Sir Gawain in order to defeat the dragon. May we please borrow this volume for a time? I promise to bring it back unharmed, once we are successful.”

The abbot scowled, and responded, “That will be quite impossible, at least until the copy is finished. We have only one volume. It cannot leave the monastery.”

Peter asked, “And when will the copy be finished?”

The abbot turned to Friar Tummytuck. “Let’s see. How long have you been working on it, Friar?” Friar Tummytuck whispered into his ear. “I see. And what time is it now?” The friar whispered again. The abbot did some calculations in his head and looked up. “Twelve years. More or less.”

Sir Mildew excitedly replied, “Twelve years? We cannot wait even twelve days. Please loan us the book, Abbot. We are on a mission from the king himself.”

The abbot responded, “I’m sorry, but here we answer to a higher King. You may stay here as long as you like. But the book remains in the monastery.”

The pair decided to spend another night in the monastery, in the hope that the abbot would change his mind. Sir Mildew briefly considered stealing the book, but could not bring himself to be dishonest. Then Peter had an idea. “We will appeal to a higher King,” he said.

That night, well after all the monks were asleep, Peter and Sir Mildew crept out and stood beneath the window of the abbot’s cell. They brought with them a hollow drum they had noticed in one of the rooms. Peter pounded the drum, which woke up the abbot. Peter shouted in a deep voice, “Hey Abbot! Heeeaaay, Abbotttttt!” He banged the drum again.

“Who is it?” shouted the abbot.

“I am the Angel Pikachu. The Lord is much displeased. The Lord hath sent you two travelers doing His work, and you dare to send them away empty-handed?” He struck the drum. “Repent, thou sinner, and do right by God.”

“But the books must be protected.”

“Trust in the Lord to protect the book. This is your final warning. Heed the message of the Lord. The Angel Pikachu has spoken.” He pounded the drum again, and they returned to their cell.

The next day, to Friar Tummytuck’s shock and indignation, the abbot delivered the book to Sir Mildew, asking him to take special care of it. He gave the two men his blessing, and they rode off.


The knight and his squire traveled for several days, and finally entered the woods at the base of the mountain where the dragon’s cave was located. They heard a thrashing in the bushes, and when they investigated they were shocked and amazed to find a young unicorn caught in a tangle of ropes which had been set by a poacher to catch a deer.

“The Lord is truly watching over our quest,” Sir Mildew said as he dismounted his horse. He withdrew his knife and approached the unicorn, who cowered in fear.

“Wait, Sir Mildew. Sheathe thy weapon,” said Peter.

“But we must have the unicorn’s heart,” explains Sir Mildew.

“But we must also act with compassion,” replied Peter. “Killing this poor beautiful beast just seems wrong.”

“But if we do not do so, how shall we fulfill the prophecy?”

“Please, gentlemen, if I might venture a suggestion?” said the unicorn.

“Thou canst speak?”

“So it appears. And I can also make promises. And I promise you that I will go with you wheresoever you wish, if you will spare my life.”

“Sir Mildew, there is nothing in the old woman’s verses which indicates that the unicorn’s heart must be removed from its body when we take it into the cave. Let us agree to the unicorn’s request.”

“Very well,” says Sir Mildew, who himself was loathe to harm the majestic animal. “Let us see then if we can free you from these ropes.” And this he did. “What shall we call you, unicorn?”

“Call me Ishmael.”

He wasn’t sure why, but for some reason Sir Mildew didn’t like the sound of that.


After one more day’s ride, they finally arrived at the entrance to the cave. They found evidence of previous encampments from earlier years. They made some torches for use in the dark cave, and they decided to leave their horses untied, in case they are unable to return to them. They supposed that in past years the other knights and their squires did the same, since they found no remains of other animals.

Sir Mildew removed his sword and daggers and placed them on the ground. “I hope we know what we’re doing by entering unarmed,” he said.

Peter responded, “All of the other knights entered with swords and full armor. It didn’t seem to do them any good.”

“True.” Sir Mildew turned to the unicorn. “Ishmael, we are pleased to have your help in this quest. But I cannot ask you to enter this cave under coercion. You are hereby released from your promise. It is up to you if you wish to accompany us.”

Ishmael replied, “You honor me, sir. I shall go with you.”

Unseen by Peter, Sir Mildew then whispered in the unicorn’s ear. “I thank you, Ishmael. But I must ask you for one more favor. If I should die, or if it looks like we shall not survive this encounter at any point, I would like for you to knock young Peter Honeypot unconscious, toss him on your back, and exit the cave as fast as possible. Can you do that?”

Ishmael whispered back, “I can, and I shall. For the sake of your squire I shall do it; not for my own sake.”

“I am truly sorry that harming you ever crossed my mind for a second, Ishmael. You are noble indeed.” He turned to Peter. “I have the staff. Do you have the book?”

Peter nodded, and they all entered the cave.

They had not traveled far before they found the remains of the first knights. Their armor lay on the ground, melted. Their bodies must have been completely vaporized. The walls of the cave were scorched black and were smooth as glass. It must have taken tremendous heat to do this, Sir Mildew thought.

The cave opened into a rectangular room, from which there appeared to be no exit. There were at least twenty suits of skeleton-filled armor scattered around. All of them had been crushed so as to be unrecognizable. As they were examining the remains, a hidden panel slid down, blocking their way back to the cave. They were trapped in the room. After a moment they heard a deep rumbling in the walls. Two of the walls on opposite sides started to move closer together. “Well, I guess we now know what happened to these fine knights,” said Peter. Sir Mildew was busy pushing against one of the walls. Which, not surprisingly, was of no use whatsoever. As the walls continued their inexorable movement, Peter cried, “The staff !” Sir Mildew immediately understood, and the two of them held the staff such that it lay perpendicular to the approaching walls. They waited for the walls to reach the ends of the staff, and they prayed that it would hold. The walls reached the staff and stopped moving. The staff quivered, but it did not buckle.

“That’s great, but we’re still trapped,” said Sir Mildew.

“There must be a way out. Let’s look at the fourth wall.”

They examined the wall and found a hole. Perhaps there was a lever inside. “My arm won’t fit into the opening. Peter, you try.” Peter did, but his hand was also too large to fit in the hole. They both looked at the unicorn. Ishmael lowered his head and inserted his splendid horn into the hole. There was a click, and suddenly a section of the wall opened, leading to another cave. “Quickly. The staff might break at any moment.” The group exited the room, and the wall panel closed behind them.

They continued through the cave. They saw more melted armor, the same as before. “We’re not the first to make it this far,” the knight observed.

“True. But we’re probably the first to be here unarmed,” said Peter.

“Not completely. We have the torches. And Ishmael has his horn.”

Ishmael said, “If you think I am going to rush a fully-grown dragon and butt it with my head, you’d better think again.”

“We have the torches.”

“Which I’m sure will absolutely terrify the fire-breathing dragon who can vaporize bodies and melt metal armor with his breath,” said Ishmael.

“Good point. We have your biting wit, anyway. Perhaps you can needle him to death with it.”

After another few minutes, the cave opened up to reveal a vast underground room. Inside was a treasure trove of gold and jewels. There were several melted armor suits scattered around.

“Well, now. This is new,” rumbled a deep voice from the dark interior of the cavern.

“Who’s there?” asked Sir Mildew.

From the darkness came the answer, “I’m a lost knight. Thank God, you’ve found me. I killed the dragon but I’ve been stuck here ever since.”

“Really? What is your name, good sir knight?”

“Sir Cuitous the Confused.”

“I’ve never heard of a Sir … oh, no. You’re the dragon, aren’t you?”

A giant pillar of flame erupted from behind the treasure pile and struck the opposite wall.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” muttered Sir Mildew.

“The only reason that you are not already dead,” roared the voice, “is that I must know what knight would be so foolish as to enter my cave unarmed and unprotected by armor.”

“You mean, as opposed to those knights who would be so foolish as to enter your cave armed and protected by armor?”

“Well, you have me there,” said the dragon, who finally emerged. He looked like your everyday, normal dragon, towering twelve-feet high, green and scaly, with numerous sharp teeth and claws (memo to self, thought Sir Mildew: avoid those), and altogether terrifying.

“I’m not here to kill you, dragon,” said Sir Mildew.

“You’re not?” asked the dragon, Honeypot, and Ishmael, all at once.

“No,” replied Sir Mildew.

The dragon said, “Well, that is extremely wise of you, Sir Knight. Since you have no weapons or armor, I mean. What, then, is your purpose here?”

“To ask you a question. My name is Sir Mildew, and my friends here are named Peter Honeypot and Ishmael. What is your name?”

“Is that the question you entered my lair to ask? Because frankly, it seems rather pedestrian. Hardly worth risking almost certain death for. Or so I would have thought. But to each his own, I suppose.”

“No. That is not the question. I just wanted to know how to address you, is all.”

“I see. Well, you have told me your names, so that seems fair. I will not count this as your question. Well, then, you may call me ….” (the dragon paused for maximum effect) “…DRAGON BUTTERCUP!”

“…um … Buttercup. OK. You are a girl dragon, then?” and Sir Mildew hastily added, “And that is not my question either. I’m just seeking clarification.”


And the dragon let loose another pillar of fire which unfortunately melted three or four chests of gold, but thankfully left our heroes only slightly singed.

“Um, OK. Male dragon. Got it,” replied Sir Mildew. “And so, may I ask you my question?”

NO. First, you must answer one of mine. And you must answer correctly. If you do, then I will answer your question.”

“And if I answer incorrectly?” asked Sir Mildew.

The dragon stared pointedly at the pools of melted armor around the room. Then he looked Sir Mildew in the eye. “I suggest that you answer correctly,” he said, ominously.

“Very well. Ask me your question, Dragon Buttercup.”

The dragon sat up and said, “Tell me, Sir Mildew, what is the most important treasure a knight may keep? Take your time, and consider well. You, and you alone, may answer. There is no second chance.”

Peter whispered, “Think of Sir Gawain! Consider his mistake!”

Sir Mildew tried to recall in detail the story the monk told them. In a moment, he had the answer. He was sure of it. “The Truth,” he said.

The dragon was surprised. He did not expect the correct answer. He responded, “You are wiser than you look, Sir Knight.” The dragon looked at Sir Mildew more closely. “Considerably wiser, in fact. Very well, ask me your question.”

“OK, then. Here it is. Just what happened here?”

“What?” asked the dragon.

“I mean, all of this. Our kings have been sending knights to this cave every year for almost a hundred years to vanquish you. Why? We no longer even know. This quest has just become force of habit.”

“You’re kidding,” said the dragon.

“No. Seriously. No one in the kingdom knows what this fight is about anymore.”

“Oh my God. I never saw this coming. Very well. About a hundred years ago, I stepped on a tree and a large piece of wood became embedded in my foot. It was extremely painful. The bottoms of our feet are actually fairly soft, you see. A man happened to walk by, and I asked him for assistance. In those days men and dragons were still on speaking terms. The man, an ancestor of your king, pulled the piece of wood out of my foot, and then he bandaged it. I was so grateful that I offered him the highest honor that we dragons can give to one another.”

“And what was that?”

“I told him, in my fiercest voice, that I would dig his grave and the graves of all of his offspring, as long as I should live. And then the man ran away, screaming. I have no idea why.”

“Um… I think he most likely took that as a threat to his life and that of his descendants.”

“What? That is absurd. Why would I threaten his life? He had just helped me. I was simply doing him honor by offering to dig his grave whenever he should die. It’s a dragon thing. It is the highest honor that we can bestow on each other.”

“Oh, dear,” said Peter.

“I retired to my cave, for it was my time to hibernate. And then what happens? Every single year, I get awakened by some idiot in a tin can suit and his little helper, who try to kill me. Have you ever tried to sleep when someone is waking you up every fifteen minutes? It’s not very restful, and it puts one in an extremely bad mood. After several decades, I began to enjoy toasting knights. And I certainly did NOT dig the king’s grave when he died. Or his sons’ graves. Serves them right.”

Peter said, “May I make a suggestion, Dragon Buttercup?”

“Well, what is it, boy? I’m about ready to kill you three and get back to sleep.”

“If you let us live, we will head back home and tell everyone that you are dead. You will never be bothered again, and will be able to sleep in peace.”

“And why would you do that?”

Sir Mildew answered, “Because you do not deserve to be tormented, and we cannot afford to continue losing knights and squires.”

The dragon considered. “You would need to stay silent about the treasure. Otherwise, I will get no rest at all.”

“If you will allow us, we will take a little treasure with us. Just what we can carry. And we will tell the king that there is no more.”

“If I let you go, how do I know that you will keep your end of the bargain?”

“The Truth is a knight’s most important treasure,” said Sir Mildew, solemnly.

“But you will be lying about my death. And about the treasure,” the dragon astutely pointed out.

“It’s not exactly a lie. You will be dead asleep for the rest of our lifetimes. And you would kill anyone who came to get the treasure, so for all practical purposes it does not exist.”

“And you can live with that?” Buttercup asked.

“There is factual truth, and there is the Real Truth,” opined Sir Mildew. “We shall be telling the Real Truth.”

And thus the bargain was agreed. Buttercup allowed the trio to take all the treasure they could carry, and he gave them a viscous black substance which he told them to spread over the cave entrance. They were to throw a torch upon it and stand well back. Then Buttercup laid down to sleep.

“When will you awaken again, Dragon Buttercup?”

“Oh, somewhere around the year 2020, I should think. Give or take a few years.”

“By the way, how do we get out of here?”

“The way you came. Do not fear, the walls will not close in on you again. But do not tarry.”

“Farewell, then, Dragon Buttercup. Sleep well.”

“Goodbye, little men. Do not forget your promise, or I shall return to dig your graves. And not in a good way.”

The cave doors opened and the walls returned to their original positions. On the way out, Sir Mildew picked up Ombudsman Malone’s staff, which was lying on the floor and appeared to be unharmed. When they reached the cave entrance, they spread the black substance as instructed, stood well back, and threw a torch upon it. There was a huge explosion and a great deal of smoke. When it cleared, there was just a pile of boulders where the cave entrance had once stood.


Sir Mildew and Peter thanked Ishmael for his help, and they parted.

They returned by way of the monastery, where the Abbot Costello and Friar Tummytuck were rapturously overjoyed to see the return of their book, unharmed. They took the book, kissed it, and got down on their knees and prayed for two hours to thank the Lord for its safe return. And they were pleased to see the knight and his squire still alive as well, although they were not quite as expressive about it.

After leaving the monastery, the heroes stopped at a small village, where Sir Mildew found a butcher and asked him for some pig’s blood. He gave it to them at no charge, since he had plenty. Sir Mildew took it and rubbed some upon the ombudsman’s staff. Then they purchased a variety of cured meats and breads, which they gave to the old woman whom they had pulled from the river. They left her a very small portion of the gold as well, which she later used to buy a beachfront condo in Tampa.

Their final stop before they reached the king was to the home of Ombudsman Malone, to whom they returned the staff. They told him that it was covered in dragon’s blood, and thanked him for its use. And they said they would be sure to tell the king how grateful they were for its loan.

King Puffinjay was amazed to see Sir Mildew again and hear of the completion of his mission. Sir Mildew introduced his squire, Peter Honeypot. He told the king that the victory over the dragon was Peter’s, and his alone. He explained how it was Peter who had saved the old woman in the river. It was he who had convinced Ombudsman Malone to loan them the staff, and Abbot Costello to grant them the book. It was he who had stayed Sir Mildew’s hand from killing the unicorn. It was he who had suggested they use the staff to hold back the walls of the cave. And it was he who had felled the dragon, which would never be seen again in their lifetimes.

The king almost wondered if indeed all of what his knight told him was true. (For example, how was the staff used to kill the dragon when it was busy holding back the walls of the cave?) But upon seeing the treasure that Sir Mildew delivered to him, and considering how badly he wanted to end this unprofitable war, he decided that he really didn’t care. And so the king directed Peter to kneel before him, and he touched his sword to each of Peter’s shoulders and named him Sir Honeypot. And the king never had cause to regret that decision, for Sir Honeypot served well and truly, and was one of the best knights that the king had ever had.

Sir Mildew happily took his retirement later that year and was reported to be writing a novel.

And the dragon slept peacefully on. Up until now, at least.



Pete Simons