Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gryphon and Tiger and the Dim Knight Boy

Sometimes the King’s Dim Knights came to Polytechnic Academy and gave a grand presentation about being King’s Knights and how exciting it was to have your own bright shiny armor and your own long sharp sword and your own fine dashing charger and your own hot water bottle in the color of your choice. Gryphon and Tiger were not very impressed by all this foofaraw, even before they became best friends and the heroes of their pretty little Town.

But Dim Knight Boy saw the shiny armor and long swords, and he fell very hard for the promise of becoming one of the King’s Knights; so, he signed up for their training program. Before long even the friends of Dim Knight Boy thought he had become insufferable, though his list of friends kept getting shorter by the day. The Dean of Polytechnic Academy had to constantly reprimand Dim Knight Boy for using his sword to hack the arms off the statues of the Academy’s founders, and for forcing the smaller students to polish his armor over and over until it gleamed.

One afternoon after the last class of the day, Gryphon and Tiger walked along the flagstone paths of the campus quad and laughed at each others’ jokes and tried to guess when the last of the valiant autumn leaves that still clung to the trees would let go and jump to the ground. The bite of cold autumn air under the bright sun felt good, and Gryphon and Tiger held hands while they walked. Then, without warning, Dim Knight Boy rattled up the path in a self-important strut, and stopped in front of Gryphon and Tiger.

Dim Knight Boy was fifteen, like Gryphon and Tiger, and his eyes were dull brown and his hair was dun and spiky. His ill-worn armor rattled because, at long last, he no longer had any friends left to help him put it on.

Dim Knight Boy puffed up his chest and announced to Gryphon and Tiger, “I am going to kill a dragon!”

Tiger rolled his big gold eyes, while Gryphon said to Dim Knight Boy, “Put your silly sword away before you hurt someone.”

Dim Knight Boy did what Gryphon told him, since Gryphon was bigger than anyone else at Polytechnic Academy, and sometimes had a temper.

“Why,” Tiger said to Dim Knight Boy, “are you going to kill a dragon?”

“Yes,” Gryphon said, “ever since Tiger and I slew Gold Dragon, the dragons in the mountains north of Town have left Town alone.”

“Because,” Dim Knight Boy said, “killing a dragon will prove that I am heroic and worthy of being in the King’s Knights Brigade.”

Gryphon said, “Why do we need to know this?”

Dim Knight Boy laughed heartily, as if Gryphon and Tiger were his friends. “Because, since you slew Gold Dragon, I am willing to let you help me slay my dragon, and when I become a King’s Knight you can both be my squires!”

Gryphon and Tiger really did know better than to laugh so hard right in someone’s face, but truly Dim Knight Boy deserved it; and besides, they couldn’t help themselves.

“We don’t need to prove how brave we are,” Tiger said to Dim Knight Boy. “You’ll have to kill your dragon on your own.”

Gryphon thought Dim Knight Boy looked pale all of a sudden, so Gryphon said to him, “Which dragon are you going to slay?”

Dim Knight Boy puffed out his shoulders and said, “Purple Dragon!”

“You’re kidding,” Tiger said.

“Purple Dragon is harmless,” Gryphon said, “and collects stuffed animals instead of gold coins, like other dragons do.”

“Still,” Dim Knight Boy said, “Purple Dragon is a dragon, and must be handled the way all dragons should be handled. I’ll slay Purple Dragon all by myself, and then I’ll be the best hero in Town, and then I’ll force you two to be my squires!” Dim Knight Boy pushed rudely past Gryphon and Tiger, announced, “I’m on my way to the Dragon Caves,” and proceeded on his way.

Tiger looked at Gryphon with his big gold eyes and said, “Purple Dragon has never hurt anyone. I don’t think he even knows how to defend himself against a knight, dim or not.”

Gryphon didn’t even need to ask. “We have to rescue him.”

Tiger grinned a very big grin, and gave Gryphon a kiss.

* * *

The cloudless afternoon sky was almost silver with autumn sunlight, and Purple Dragon sat in the mouth of his cave and sorted through his stuffed animal collection, which was the biggest in the kingdom. Purple Dragon had purple scales and purple paws and purple claws and a purple tongue, but his wings were a bright and happy shade of lavender. He suspected his fire-breath might even be purple too, but being a very peaceful dragon, Purple Dragon had never breathed fire in his life.

Purple Dragon looked up when he heard bustling footsteps running through the fallen leaves on the forest floor, heading right for his cave. Upon hearing intruders, most dragons roared. But Purple Dragon smiled, for even though he loved company, he rarely had visitors.

Girl and Blue Girl came bustling out of the woods and stood on the ridge across the yard in front of Purple Dragon’s cave. Both girls were out of breath.

“Girls!” Purple Dragon cried. “Oh, how splendid! We can have a tea party!”

“We don’t want any tea,” Girl said. “We came here to — ”

“Would you rather hold one of my stuffed animals?” Purple Dragon said.

“No!” Blue Girl said.

Purple Dragon squinted at the girls. “You are girls, right?”

“Yes,” Blue Girl said, “but we aren’t very girly girls.”

“We know some rather girly boys,” Girl said, “but that’s not why we’re here. Dim Knight Boy is coming to slay you, and he’s not very girly and he’s not very brave; he’s just really, really stupid! You have to hide, Purple Dragon!”

“Why, that’s perfectly silly,” Purple Dragon said. “I’ll just put up some tea and offer him a stuffed animal to play with instead.”

“But Purple Dragon,” Blue Girl said, “Gryphon and Tiger told us to come warn you while they delay Dim Knight Boy and try to get him lost in the woods.”

Most dragons would become very frightened at this news, for they all knew that Gryphon and Tiger feared no dragons and had actually slain Gold Dragon, the most vicious dragon that ever lived. But all Purple Dragon did was smile, and he said, “I’m going to need my big teapot to make enough tea for everyone!” And Purple Dragon rearranged his teddy bears for the tea party, and lined them up neatly in front of his cave.

Girl and Blue Girl ran up to Purple Dragon, and they tried pulling on his lavender wings and tugging on his purple horns, but Purple Dragon simply laughed and asked the girls to help him make tea.

Because Girl and Blue Girl wished they were boys, neither of them had ever made tea in her life. While they tried to explain this to Purple Dragon, he dusted off some very dusty stuffed mice that had gotten under the bed, and said, “Well, I don’t understand why anyone with any sense wouldn’t want to be a girl!”

Then from beyond the ridge came a slow clop-clopping of horse’s hooves on the forest path, and someone was grumbling about the trip, and someone else said, “Shut up.” Before Girl and Blue Girl cried out, Dim Knight Boy appeared atop the ridge on a horse, and his armor shone and his sword was long, though his horse was neither fine nor a charger, and in fact the horse rather grumbled about the whole thing.

Purple Dragon saw the knight and the armor and the sword, clapped his forepaws together happily, and cried, “Company! Where’s my teapot?”

Dim Knight Boy sat atop Surly Horse, who was surly because Dim Knight Boy’s ill-worn armor was chafing his hide. Plus, Surly Horse was really Town Constable’s horse, which Dim Knight Boy had borrowed from the front of Constable Station House without asking permission.

Surly Horse gave Dim Knight Boy a surly glance over his shoulder, and said in a surly tone, “Now you’re going to slay a dragon?”

“Stop complaining,” Dim Knight Boy said. “Someday they will sing of our heroism in song!”

“I would rather no one sang,” Surly Horse said, “and go back to my stable for a bag of oats.”

Dim Knight Boy ignored Surly Horse, raised his sword, and cried, “Prepare to die, wicked Purple Dragon!”

“Oh, nonsense,” Purple Dragon said. “It’s much too nice a day to die. Will Earl Grey do for tea?”

Dim Knight Boy had no use for tea, so he sat up in his saddle, spurred Surly Horse (who complained back), and charged!

It was a rather slow charge, for Surly Horse was not in the mood for this nonsense.

Purple Dragon looked with wide purple eyes at his upset visitor, and wondered what could possibly have gone wrong with his little, impromptu tea party. Dim Knight Boy kept on charging, and got closer and closer to Purple Dragon. But Dim Knight Boy didn’t reckon on Girl, who carried a bigger sword than he did. Girl jumped in front of Purple Dragon with her sword drawn, and Blue Girl joined Girl with her dagger at the ready.

Girl cried, “En garde, you stupid Dim Knight Boy!”

And they clashed with slashing steel and shouted with angry words. But Dim Knight Boy could not get past Girl and Blue Girl, who were both braver than he was and had nothing to prove. The girls were careful not to hurt Surly Horse because it wasn’t his fault. Purple Dragon watched the very exciting fight and cheered on the girls because, although he wasn’t totally sure, he suspected they were trying to protect him. But suddenly, a horrible thing happened.

Dim Knight Boy slashed at Girl and Blue Girl with his sword. The girls ducked safely away, but the sword sliced off the heads of the row of teddy bears sitting in front of Purple Dragon, waiting for tea.

That did it. Purple Dragon’s nose huffed frightful purple smoke, and Purple Dragon’s eyes glowed dangerous purple anger, and Purple Dragon started to rise on his massive purple feet with their deadly purple claws. And then — before anyone could do anything to stop him! — Purple Dragon snatched up his headless teddy bears and cried.

“They were just waiting for tea!” sobbed Purple Dragon.

“Ha!” cried Dim Knight Boy, for he saw that when Purple Dragon reached for his headless teddy bears, he accidentally knocked Girl and Blue Girl right off their feet, and the girls had dropped their weapons.

Dim Knight Boy declared to Purple Dragon, “Prepare to die, thou wicked, fire-breathing vermin!”

Purple Dragon’s tears only made his nose smoke harder, and the smoke stung his eyes and made him cry even more.

Then a shadow passed over the sun, and down from the sky swooped chocolate and gold wings, and nattily-attired orange and black stripes. It was Gryphon and Tiger, who had been delayed by a message from Town Constable about his missing horse. Tiger rode on Gryphon’s shoulders and held on tight while Gryphon flew down and knocked Dim Knight Boy off Surly Horse. Surly Horse turned and trotted back to Town at once, muttering all the way in a surly voice about those wretched King’s Dim Knights.

Meanwhile Gryphon landed, and Tiger leaped from Gryphon’s back to the ground. Girl and Blue Girl found their weapons, and all four of them approached Dim Knight Boy. But Dim Knight Boy stood up and swept his sword around him in a circle, threatening everyone.

“Don’t come near me,” cried Dim Knight Boy, “for I am brave, and I will slice to sandwich meat anyone who dares oppose me!”

Purple Dragon blinked tears out of his eyes and saw Dim Knight Boy waving about the awful sword that had beheaded his beloved bears. Purple Dragon set down his headless bears very gently, and then snatched the bad sword out of Dim Knight Boy’s hands. And Purple Dragon huffed, and Purple Dragon puffed, and for the very first time in his very purple life, Purple Dragon breathed fire!

It was a very, very little purple flame.

Dim Knight Boy saw the tiny little flame and said, “Ha!”

But then his sword, touched just for a second by the very little purple flame, melted on the spot.

Gryphon and Tiger cried out together, “The purple dragon-flame!”

And everyone was very respectful to Purple Dragon, except for Dim Knight Boy, who fell to his knees and cried. For, as every child in Town learns when they are very little, no dragon-flame is hotter and more destructive than the rarest of rare purple dragon-flame.

When this was explained to Purple Dragon, he shivered and said, “Well, very obviously I must never breathe fire again! It’s much too dangerous.”

Of course there was tea, and Tiger sewed the heads of the headless teddy bears back on, though he mixed up two of them and Purple Dragon almost cried until Tiger made them right again; and finally everyone said good-bye. Girl and Blue Girl promised to come back and visit Purple Dragon again, and they did, even though they hated stuffed animals almost as much as they hated tea parties.

The King’s Knights took a dim view of Dim Knight Boy and made him start his training all over again, and for months afterward the Knights’ armor shone brighter than any armor in the world because it was all polished by Dim Knight Boy, who was often as surly as the horse he had stolen. And he polished armor until he finally admitted that hard work and persistence always counted for more than bravery in the end.

Purple Dragon wound up hosting many tea parties because the other dragons in the forest wanted to know what the fearful dragon-killers Gryphon and Tiger were really like up close. None of the other dragons believed Purple Dragon when he told them the mighty dragon-slayers were really just two very sweet boys in love.

If you ask Purple Dragon very nicely, sometimes he will throw all caution to the wind and use his purple dragon-flame to heat up the tea. But he will only use a very tiny purple flame, or else the teapot will melt and spill hot tea on his stuffed animals, which makes Purple Dragon cry.

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