The First Step
By Josh R Smith
Gilbert clenched his shaking hands and peered over the rock. The bodies of slain knights and their squires covered the ground around the dark mouth of the cave. Gilbert looked at the tattered bodies and recognized several of the banners: Sir Percival and his squire Kalen Benegar. Sir Nigellus and his squire Tomas Reinhold. Gilbert trembled. All were brave knights, skilled in combat and proven in battle. What chance did Gilbert the stable boy have against a fire breathing dragon?
Gilbert pictured himself marching back to the castle victorious. The missing princess was holding onto his arm. A crowd had gathered. Everyone in town came to greet the hero. Even the King bowed to Gilbert the Brave. He listened as they chanted his name. Gilbert! Gilbert!
A hand clasped over Gilbert’s mouth, tearing him from his vision. He nearly lost his bladder. He squirmed against his assailant, but he was held firm. He imagined it must be a troll, or a giant or some other fell beast. He felt the attacker lean close and he heard a quiet female voice against his ear. “Be still, young one. Do not call out.”
Trembling, Gilbert nodded and turned to face his attacker. Crouched low behind his hiding-rock was a beautiful, dark-skinned woman. Her armor was polished steel and fine leather. The hilt of a long sword stuck out from behind her small frame. Her eyes held a fierceness that he had only seen in the bravest of knights. She gave him an affable smile, and motioned towards the cave.
“What are you doing here, young one? Do you know what is inside that cave?” Her voice was smooth, and mysterious. He had never heard an accent like hers. “Surely you see the bodies. Is your master among them?” She pointed over the rock as she spoke, but Gilbert couldn’t drag himself from her deep, brown eyes.
“My Lady,” his throat was dry and his voice cracked as he spoke. “My lady, I tell you the truth. My master is not with the dead. Nor is he with the living. I’ve not been chosen to serve under a knight. I’m told I would just be in the way. I’m a friend of the princess. Our mother’s knew each other. I followed the knights to see her rescued, but I’m afraid the battle didn’t go as planned.”
The woman rested a hand on his shoulder. She smelled of incense and spices. She looked at the mouth of the cave, and spoke with an edge in her voice. “This Dragon killed my Caliph, my king,” she said. “I have tracked him across the oceans, and over mountains. It is fate that you are here today, young one. You are here to save the girl, and I am here to avenge my people. We will face this beast with passion and fury.”
Gilbert shook his head, unsure if he had understood the woman. He tried to picture himself charging the cave, his sword held high. He would be devoured in a single gulp by the massive beast within. How could he fight a dragon? He could not save the princess. Gilbert looked back at the woman. She had stood and rested her large curved blade on her shoulder. She gave him a nod and offered him her other hand.
“Young one, it is said in my land, ‘to face an enemy, you must know why you fight’.” Gilbert looked blankly at her outstretched hand. “You need to decide if you wish to fight for what you love, or to hide from what you fear. I do not know why a warrior has not chosen you. Who are they to choose? Today, young one, I choose to fight for my people. Will you choose to fight beside me, or will you stay behind this rock?”
Gilbert thought about running away. He wanted to run until his legs would run no more. He peered over the rock and looked at the dark mouth of the cave. He pictured the princess curled up inside, she was scared and all alone. An unfamiliar fury began to surge in his chest. He couldn’t let her be afraid any longer. He took the hand of the Moorish woman and stood. The rage in his chest was unlike anything he had ever felt. He couldn’t shake the image of the princess, cold and afraid. He would fight for her. He would save her, and no fire breathing dragon would stand in his way.