A Knight in Arkansas

by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon

This is a brief short story I wrote recently. It is about a small town in Arkansas in a world slightly more magical and dangerous than our own. I have done a little editing on it but it is not the most tidy piece in the world. Regardless. Here it is.

A Knight in Arkansas

Not all knights wear shining armor; some of them prefer a less obtrusive style. Carl wasn’t one to want to stand out in a crowd. He wore jeans, a T shirt, and a backpack most nights, maybe a light jacket if there was a breeze. No one looking at this slightly doughy man with a deeply receding hairline would have guessed that he spent his evenings keeping their little town safe. Heck, most of the people in the town didn’t even realize there was something to keep it safe from.

For the most part, the people of Murfreesboro lived in blissful ignorance of the dangers that roamed their streets at night. And who could blame them? Dragons are, after all, giant make believe creatures; Surely they couldn’t go about unnoticed in a small town in Arkansas. Unfortunately for the cats, small dogs, and other animals of the town, the truth could be quite dangerous. In reality, dragons are skilled shape changers and pros at blending in.

As a tiny town of less than 2000 people, Murfreesboro is really only known for one thing- diamonds. The town sits near a crater and state park where anyone can go and root around to try at a chance to pull a gem from the dirt. This unique chance brings tourists to the tiny town to frequent its two modest hotels and tiny selection of options for dining out. Of course, the lure of precious stones doesn’t just attract vacationers, it also lures in creatures with sinister intent, sharp claws, and teeth like daggers. That is where Carl comes in.

If you were to take how many people are aware that dragons still roam about and divide that by about five, you would get the number of people aware of the group of modern day knights running around keeping those same dragons in line. They aren’t dragon slayers per-say. They don’t kill the creatures unless it becomes unavoidable. They are more like dragon police- keeping humans from getting eaten and keeping animal casualties to a minimum.

Because of the mine and the allure of the jewels, there was a permanent assignment for a knight in Murfreesboro. Carl had been at the post for a little over a year which had thankfully been largely uneventful. Most of the dragons attracted to the stones were content to spend their days digging in the soil with a dedication unrivaled by any human miner. As a rule, dragons weren’t real fond of the knights (given the whole slaying history) but overall they respected them. The only problems Carl had dealt with had been a rare pet eating incident and those had each been resolved with just a brief tense chat. Those pet eating problems had been rare.. until a week or so ago.

In the last week, best as Carl could find out, at least fifteen pets had gone missing without a trace. In such a very small town, that was more than enough to raise alarm. The townsfolk were sure that there was a mountain lion roaming the streets at night and younger children were suddenly forbidden from playing alone outdoors. If the townsfolk had known what Carl did about the real animal eating their pets, the town would have been abandoned over night.

It was a dragon, but not one of the locals. Carl had spoken to all of them after the fifth animal and a second time after the tenth. He was sure that no one was lying to him. Knights have a way of extracting information and they are not burdened by all the rules that apply to non-dragon policing police. The knight philosophy in a nutshell was that honor is important and all but when you are dealing with a fire breathing snake monster that spends its days looking like a normal fifty year old man, there are some allowances that can be made. Carl knew that knowing about the knighthood’s willingness to take extraordinary measures alone was enough to keep all the local dragons from even trying to slip such a big lie past him. They weren’t eating the pets and they didn’t know who was.

The mystery of who exactly was eating all those cats and dogs (and that one ferret) was what lead to Carl roaming the streets of Murfreesboro at ten-thirty p.m. on a Thursday. He was doing his best to look inconspicuous but in a town where everything closes at nine besides the dairy queen any activity late at night was viewed with some level of suspicion. His backpack that night contained equipment for sedating the phantom lizard along with supplies for a slaying if that was the only option. He hoped it wouldn’t be. Rules were a slaying meant a reassignment and a new knight for the area and he was just getting settled in.

As he passed the school, Carl noticed a strange bit of light and motion coming from the football field. He picked up the pace gradually transitioning into a run while getting nearer to what he was now almost certain was dragon flame. He stopped to make himself battle ready and pulled a long sword from his backpack. The order had bags enchanted to be able to carry large objects so that no one had to try and explain a broad sword to strangers on the bus. Using the sword wasn’t Carl’s first choice. He would prefer sedation and to that end he also took out of his bag a belt carrying an array of sedative potions and a rope specially designed for restraining an irritated scaly creature. With the belt and sword strapped on and the rope tied sturdily around his waist, he was as ready as anyone approaching a potentially deadly monster could be.

It was a simple football field with just a handful of bleachers and right now the distinctive greenish glow of dragon fire was coming from near a dark shape behind the far end of the seats. Carl edged his way forward trying hard not to alert the being to his approach. Unfortunately, dragon’s hearing is better than knight’s sneaking. (Even when the knights don’t clang.) A scaly head snaked out from behind the cover of the benches and hissed at Carl. Judging by the size of the head, the dragon was currently about the size of a buffalo. “Listen, I just wanna talk,” Carl pleaded hoping that he could coax the creature into a more manageable human like shape.

The dragon did not want to talk. It charged Carl from behind the bleachers. Its eyes glowed a deep red and it let out a monstrous roar that would have the locals believing in a whole pack of roaring mountain lions. As his training kicked in, Carl stepped neatly to the side as the beast rushed past. He felt relieved. He had never actually had to fight a dragon before and on some level he had been worried that when faced with a slay or be slayed moment all of the lessons would fail him.

After the failed charge, the dragon took a few moments to regain its balance and orient itself for its next rush. Those precious seconds were all Carl needed to uncork a stunning potion and have it at the ready. As he parried past the angry, and not very dexterous, creature’s second charge, he dumped the contents of the bottle onto it and waited.

Nothing.

He couldn’t understand why the potion had failed. Was it too old? Was he facing some new sort of dragon that was immune to its effect? Had he simply ended up with a dud? As he tried to sort through all these sudden questions and decide what to do next, the third charge came. Carl was so distracted by the puzzle of the failed potion that he barely managed to get out of the way. He took a long scrape of a claw against his side as he narrowly avoided being gutted. Bleeding and confused about the magic’s failure, he was out of options.

As the dragon turned and looked dead at him, ready for a fourth charge and one would assume thinking about its impending snack, Carl drew his sword. This time when the beast came barreling at him as fast as it could run, breathing fire from its mouth, Carl did not jump to the side. This time he ran straight at the creature, used his sword like a pole vault, and launched himself leaping up to sit astride the monster’s back.

The dragon began to squirm underneath him and Carl gripped down with his knees like he had on the bull rides the Order had insisted upon as a practice exercise. He took just a second to orient himself and find a vulnerable place where the scales met. Finding his opening, Carl jammed his sword downward pushing between the thick scales and hoped that the risk of mounting the beast would pay off. It did. Thick black blood gushed from the wound around Carl’s sword and became a spurting mess as he pulled the sword loose. The dragon rapidly fell on to its side and Carl barely was able to avoid his leg being trapped under the collapsing scaly mass. He had to do a rolling maneuver that had left him sprawling on the dirt.

He stood up, looked down at the bloody nasty mess, and sighed. He really hadn’t wanted to move.

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