‘Be on your guard, Plotkin. They could be anywhere.’
The squire looked around warily and drew his horse closer to his master’s massive warhorse. He looked up at the knight encased in the armour Plotkin had spent most of the night polishing. ‘Sire?’
‘You said, back at the Inn where you hired me, that you were Sir Roderick… Sir Roderick the Dragon Slayer.’
‘Er… yes. Don’t watch me, boy, keep a look out.’
‘Of course, sire.’ Plotkin, eased the sword in the scabbard at his side. Not that a sword would be much use against a dragon. ‘It’s only… well, how many dragons have you actually slayed, out of interest?’
Plotkin had been the last of the apprentices left at the job market at the Inn. He’d worried when there was only him and Jerby left when Halbrid the Night Soil man had wandered in looking for another apprentice. Plotkin had hid under the table until Halbrid offered Jerby the job. Halbrid was at every job fair always looking for a new apprentice. His apprentices didn’t last long. Night Soil man was not a job with long term career prospects, unless you had no sense of smell and little understanding of the concept of personal hygiene as Halbrid.
Then, after Plotkin thought it was safe to come out from under the table, the knight had arrived looking for a squire – horse and sword provided.
Now here he was squire to a dragon slayer… possibly.
‘What do you mean how many dragons?’
‘Just a rough figure will do.’
Roderick turned to look down at Plotkin on his small horse. ‘How many knights have you been squire to – before me, that is?’
Plotkin thought, counting on his fingers. ‘None.’
‘Right,’ Sir Roderick said. ‘We all have to start somewhere don’t we?’
‘So you haven’t slayed any dragons yet then? Just so as I know.’
‘Not as such. Are you sure this is the right place?’ Roderick stood up in his stirrups as much as his armour allowed him to. ‘It looks deserted.’
Plotkin pulled the battered map from his Lord’s saddlebag and unfolded it. ‘No, look it says, Here be Dragons.’ He tapped the map.
‘And that’s here, is it?’
‘Oh, yes.’ Plotkin replied with a confidence he didn’t feel. He put the map away. ‘Hang on, look!’
The sign was some distance away, but it was large, illuminated in the early evening light by a couple of torches.
‘HERE BE DRAGONS’ it said.
‘Come on,’ Sir Roderick took a firm grip on his lance and spurred his horse into… well, a slightly faster amble.
‘Good evening sire, how can I help you?’ The man in the multi-coloured robes was there in the doorway, apparently appearing out of nowhere.
‘The dragons?’ Sir Roderick said.
‘Oh, yes. We have plenty. At all prices. We’ll have an ideal one for you sire. A discerning knight like yourself.’ The man in the multi-coloured robe beamed. ‘If you would care to dismount and follow me.’
Sir Roderick glanced at Plotkin, who shrugged.
‘Sir, if you wouldn’t mind?’
‘If you would leave the lance at the door.’ The man pointed to a lance stand in the hallway. ‘After all, we wouldn’t want to frighten the dragons, would we?’
The man was off leading the way before Sir Roderick could respond. The knight handed his lance to Plotkin who put it in the rack. They rushed to catch up with the man.
‘In here,’ the man I the robes gestured.
‘Rather small, isn’t it?’ Plotkin whispered to his master.
Sir Roderick had his hand on his sword in readiness as they entered.
‘What’s that?’ Sir Roderick gestured to the little ball in the man’s hand.
‘A dragon, of course.’
‘It’s tiny.’ Sir Roderick peered into the room. Cages, each about a yard square, covered the walls. Inside each one, he could see a small dragon, each about a foot tall. ‘Dragons are supposed to be huge.’
‘They were once,’ the man said, stroking the dragon that sat purring on the palm of his other hand. ‘But that was a long time ago. People these days don’t have the room for them. They much prefer to have a pet this size.’
‘Of course sire. You know back in the bad old days Knights like you used to hunt and kill the poor defenceless creatures. Terrible times. We are more enlightened than that now of course, aren’t we.’
‘Er… yes, of course.’
‘Now sir would you be interested in just the one, or a breeding pair?’