golden cross on purple cloth
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Damsel, 7: Last Chance through the Flames

Coming across Eve’s name burned into a fallow field was… interesting.

The horrifying art faced the knights exactly as they came down out of an old earthworks to rejoin the road. Some time, once upon a time ago, Eve had playfully interjected, there was a great war in the valley of Axes and the two raging queens—one a red head and the other a brewed blonde—refused to agree on whose bridal gown was better and so the soldiers went at it, but for too long, too savage, and they needed cover, so they built up the ground and…

“King Lorilander had no queen, and the other of the last valley kings was Harthmond. There have never been any ruling queens at all, according to Scripture, Eve. And what is this further nonsense about them fighting over a wedding dress?”

“Well, I may not know the history, but I don’t see how it’s any different from what nonsense you told me the other day. I see that these are left over from some battle, years before I was born, and there must be a story to it, so then I made one. People pick the one they like in the end, and don’t look at me like that, Cymen. That’s exactly how it works, too, and you know it.”

Cymen shut his eyes. “You spin so many tales, we never know what you’re really doing, or what you truly know, my Lady, and please excuse me for venturing so far as to call you a liar, but at this point I figure I’d better warn my men first.”

And then there it was, at such an angle that the sun couldn’t shine on it all…

Flowing, florid script. Not hack-away, the way a peasant might. Or even worried-rushed, the way a king may order. And did dragons even spell? The thing blazed wild as the wind picked up, but then it was also a little pretty, rose-colored.

Cymen just sat on his horse, which started to graze. “Oh, but then we don’t know if it was the dragon, or the angry villagers, a jilted milkmaid, a lumberjack who’s lost his life-savings to you or the Hood—”

“Or that bitch Marian.”

“…Or a Baron, or the Commodore. The Maid Marian, really?”

“Well, we never ever spoke. If we touched at all it would have been through passing a man between ourselves, like a winecask.”

“Far too much information. Please, Captain Ruecross—” went Skun.

“No, the train of thought is relevant.” Eve beamed and began to peer at it sideways, “…could be King Richard, too.”

The gold knights sat higher on their horses, and a spokesman went, “Why would that be? To Richard, we’re dead. And, only now it occurs to me–does Richard aware that his ancestors have been competing with the exact same group of knights for the Grail for a century?”

Eve averted her eyes and chewed a thumbnail. “Oh, right, I was the only one who’d lived through that fire. How silly of me to forget.”

Cymen unhitched his sword from across his wide back, held it out. He raised it to about Eve’s elbow, and level with the horse’s eye… the beast was more happy with it than she was, “I will finally admit that I detest that sword! How pompous of you to claim being a dragon-slayer when there haven’t been any seen around in more than four score years! Well, there is the one I saw, but we never left his romantic cave.”

Cymen said nothing as he lined the long blade up with the head of his horse, the position of the sun, or the road, or a ladybug clambering through the grass, Eve could hardly guess. But whatever it was, altogether, caused a shadow teased by the accented metal, warm, washing over its own hues like smoke or soap water passing over glowing Chapel-glass.

Ricasse went from dying demon to living cross once thus measured. Now, thunder in the west, lightning broke clouds in the north, and the scream of tortured man from behind.

“Oh, rapture!” Eve laughed and threw open her arms.

Villagers raced fast down into the earthworks. An army. On horseback, spread as far as the eye could see. Galloping from under tree-cover, as easily as deer—only Richard’s men of the Forest could do that. They held banners aloft, white with four red crosses in each corner, and an ‘R’ in the middle, in case they should have missed the first inkling.
Then a dragon with slender wings stretched as wide as heaven and soaring down to outrace them all. Cymen was able to measure his blade against the length of the beast in that moment, and Eve laughed at that too.

“Eve, get down and hide! I see it! Put it out, damn you, I’ve seen it, already, mind! Dragon, there’s a real dragon here!”

The men picked her up and raced away. Cymen rode up along the length of the ‘E’, and then down between the branches of the ‘V’, so that Cymen found himself trapped. From then on, it was the horse’s instinct that drove him, wild and whinnying away from the rush of flame that painted itself against the hillside. All almost brown now, smearing against that canvas.

“Well don’t you just stand there,” Eve said to the other men. “I was only joking about the dragon!”

“You were?”

“It wasn’t… well, I don’t know if the beast still cares for me or not, or if maybe I’d only fallen asleep in that thicket of mushrooms at the edge of the Valley and dreamed that I’d been licked so well all over, after it’d been so long? I didn’t want Cymen to think I was a novice with no good lovers at all! Who would give me something so nice? No, I probably stole the necklace, there was a fat nobleman’s wife I’d crossed paths with… In either case, who’s going to go asking a dragon for the truth? Why do you look so surprised that I get into spore-snuff time and again—he’s either going to burn to death, or that savage raptor is going to enjoy barbequed Ruecross!”

The men all explained that they were more cautious of fire now, more than ever, after the last time. And then dragons breathed it, and they also had such large bellies, with space for air and charred bits of things to eat if an immortal person got desperate…

His horse’s name was Chance. Eve learned this because Cymen’s men gave to wincing and groaning when Cymen rode, on a chance, up and down the swift angles of her name. Next, they shouted, ‘Chance, Chance, Chance!’ when Cymen almost outraced the marauders, caught imbetween the strange sport of putting the fire out and those who were eager to meet it, lit.

Chance was an immortal, well-bred beast. Eve realized that her man wielded it with skill in and around the high red letters of her name. Chance, in the end, no matter how it was guided, was unkind however, solely concerned with itself. It gave in to the elements of fate, bucked and relinquished its rider in order to preserve itself, and then galloped away in mindless pursuit of the next void in happenings, another gap in earthworks that cut up the balding valley, to freedom.

Richard’s horsemen ran for the scaped silly-goat, a flash of rich yellow up near the one horned soldier—that one was the king, Eve had to be told, because few real people had ever seen the elusive Richard. Cymen did battle with the one man, so forced was he, and the sword play was amazing. The king’s men bore down upon the Knight of Gafe, but his enormous sword kept each at bay with every thrust and swing—

“Eve, how crude of you to narrate such. He could be killed!”

She went on, however. Richard was handsome with horns coming from his helmet, she’d decided. At some point his head flew off, no, just the helmet, how sad. And the entire army swarmed around them, like flies on dung. That was bad because she could no longer see.

The last of it she gathered by running at it. The men yelled at her for gaining better perspective, and she called them cowards. Was Cymen felled? No, it seemed not. But a golden dragon had alighted then, and all of those souls in silver armor turned their pikes upon it. Bursts of flame and gurgling, all. Webbed wings lashing out and up, tail whipping, winding, and it grabbed a man in each claw, flew up, twisted, exploded in a show of wings and somersaulting legs and teeth. One chewed like jerky, the other snapped in half, blood rained down as if natural weather.

“Axz? Hallooooo!” but perhaps he didn’t hear her. Or, perhaps dragons didn’t even speak in the first place? Bother.

Eve turned to find the warm press of villagers on her. Their stink, their rage, also cut down by the sudden filter of men through the crowd, throwing shields and swords into it, knocking arrows from afar. Clay grabbed her hand and they ran through what became tall grain, then corn, and dead-stopped at the edge of that, a jagged stone cliff he cussed at her to take her broom and fly over.

1 Tie Me to the Tree :: 2 But First, a Snack of Strawberries :: 3 Five Love Stories :: 4 Robin in the Hood :: 5 Even Crispy Children :: 6 A Good GAFE :: 7 Last Chance Through the Flames

Filed under: Damsel

About the Author

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I've always wanted a place to share my weird, wild, nature-loving, talking animal, multicultural and multilingual fantasy fiction stories online. I also have a fashion blog!


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