After drinking all evening, it had sounded like a great idea. Charles had come off duty earlier in the evening and he still had his sword on him. The rest of them were only in their evening wear. It did not matter. They were just going to sneak up to the Dragon’s Lair and take a peek at the slumbering beast everyone said was there.
They bought an extra round of mead from the bar, jumped on their horses and road just out of town to the entrance to Hollow Mountain where the dragon apparently hibernated for centuries at a time.
The guard protecting the place was fast asleep, so it was not hard to get past him. In fact, as they snuck by, Charles drew a penis on his face with soot from his pipe. They all giggled and kept on going. Clattering down the rock steps, echoes reaching deep inside, they drunkenly crept deeper into the old dwarven ruins cut into the mountain. Occasionally, they would stop for a drink and then shush each other when one of them dropped something. Someone would say a joke, and then they would burst out laughing and begin stomping further into the old ruins.
They were in the middle of a moment like this when the world exploded into a bestial roar. The ground shook and the air vibrated with dust rising up from everything. Charles’ blood froze and he heard himself whimper.
The moments after this are all a jumbled blur of images: they ran to the surface as the world continued to roar and shake, they burst outside, the guard at the entrance was gone, the sky was lit up with fire. He remembered screams next to him as fire consumed his two of his friends, his other friend torn to pieces. A great scaled beast of his nightmares flew over them, roaring. He had his sword in his hand, but the thought to use it did not even cross his mind. Shrieking, he fell backward as the scaled monster descended upon him and, suddenly, he was covered in a hot, wet, sticky substance.
He opened his eyes and saw the dragon’s monstrous maw up close. Inches from his face, it was frozen in a snarl as the light left its eyes. Below its face and curled neck, his sword was stuck through its chest, its life blood pumping out over him. It had impaled itself on his upright weapon! Charles felt the pressure release, but it was not the weight of the dragon that had shifted. No, he had pissed himself, and the warmth in his pants met the lifeblood pumping out over him.
The beast’s weight began to slump down. It was crushing him, forcing the air out of his lungs and this was probably the only thing that stopped him screaming. But, suddenly, there was a hand pulling him out from under the monster. It was the guard from the entrance. He had come back. Charles could still see a smudge of the penis he had drawn on the guard’s face, but there was something else there too: admiration.
“All hail, Sir Charles Knowles, the Dragonslayer!” announced someone and trumpets blasted out to the crowd’s surging roar.
Charles stepped up from where he had been kneeling on the balcony. He was a bit embarrassed. The King turned to the crowd and repeated what had just been said: “All hail, Sir Charles Knowles, the Dragonslayer of Hollow Mountain!”
Under this royal palace’s ceremonial balcony, hundreds if not thousands of common people were gathered. They looked happy, shouting and waving. Charles felt embarrassed. He also felt hungover. All he could think of was how he had pissed himself and wanted to cry. He was no dragonslayer. But, because all his friends were dead or missing, it was his word against the Hollow Mountain guard’s word, and it just seemed silly to argue about something like that.
And then everyone had just gotten caught up in this story. Apparently, the dragon had been terrorizing the kingdom for centuries. Apparently, there was a reward for killing it. And, suddenly, he found himself the King’s personal guard and being knighted in public for his “service”…
Charles–Sir Charles Knowles, he quickly reminded himself–looked around. Everyone was smiling at him. Everyone loved him. The King handed him a glass of wine. He toasted the crowd and they cheered him on.
He could get used to this, he thought. The wine tasted good and he could feel his hangover lessening. He smiled and toasted the crowded again. The King slapped his back, laughing. He took another sip of the fine wine. He could definitely get used to this.
The sickly, pale light in the cavern just served to emphasize its vileness. From piles of bones and rotting corpses to fungus growing on the walls.
Sir Charles Knowles did not feel brave. What was he doing here? He was not brave or courageous. He was no knight. But he had accepted all the perks of his position and now, when a new monster emerged, he was going to die for that. That, and the lie about slaying the dragon.
As he crept deeper into the giant’s lair, he realized that he had become a prisoner of his own lie. There was no way out.
Suddenly, a pile of bones erupts and a hand the size of him shot out at him. He instinctively jumped back, shrieking and slashed at it with his blade. He drew blood and the pile of bones and corpses stood up roaring. The giant was wearing his previous victims as clothing! Charles wanted to puke. He was going to die!
Suddenly, he was angry. If he was going to die for some stupid lie after a silly night of drinking, he was going to fucking do so on his own terms!
The giant roared at him, the walls vibrating. Charles snarled and ran at him, slashing wildly in front of himself. His blade sliced cleanly through the lumbering giant’s knee. Its massive form dropped down a level, and Charles stabbed blindly, screaming upwards into its murderous, roaring face.
A low, growling breath left the giant as the blood poured out of its gaping wound in its head. Charles’ blade had slid through it jaw and into its brain. He pulled out his sword and stepped back. The giant’s blood and some gray matter poured out of the gaping wound, as it collapsed forward into a pile of corpses, itself now a corpse.
Charles fell to his knees, his sword slipped from his grasp and clinking impotently on the ground. He was shaking and wanted to cry. He lurched forward, puking on the ground.
It was at this moment that Sir Charles Knowles realized that he was not a prisoner of his lie. Prisoners did not have to go and fight monsters. No, Sir Charles Knowles, the Dragonslayer, his lie owned him and he was now a slave to it.
When everyone had left the room, Sir Charles Knowles reached out and took his wife’s hand. She smiled, sadly, down at him in bed. He loved her so much.
“My love,” he started, but then succumbed to a fit of coughing. She let him finish, before wiping the blood away and kissing him on the cheek. “My love,” he started again, though he could feel death rattling around inside his lungs, “I love you so much, and you have given me three of the most beautiful children a man could want. I am not going to live much longer and I cannot die knowing that I have lied to you all these years.”
Holding his hand, but he could feel her hesitate. She was confused at where he was going with this, but he knew–for both her sake and his soul–that he needed to continue.
“I–I am not the brave, courageous knight that you think I am,” he pushed forward, tears coming to his eyes and his hands starting to shake, “I am a coward, and I do not deserve you. All those years ago, I did not set out to slay that dragon. We broke into the Hollow Mountain as a bunch of drunken louts and, in the chaos as the dragon woke up, I fell with my sword out and the dragon merely fell on top of me. Everything else from there had been just a lie built on a lie, to protect that lie…”
His voice faded out. The tears were openly running down his cheeks now, as they were running down hers too. He hoped she did not leave him. He hoped that she did not take the children and leave him for his last hours to die alone. But, at least now, he was no longer a slave to the lie. At least now he was free.
She leaned down and kissed him gently, her tears mingling with his.
“My love,” she began, squeezing his hand, “My love, you are the silliest man I have ever met.”
He was confused, and he suspected his look gave it away as she laughed gently at him.
“Did you or did you not kill the Dragon of Hollow Mountain?” she asked him.
“I did, but–” and she cut him off.
“Intentions aside, you did kill it,” and she continued, “and then you went on to kill the Giant of Bone Cavern, Yes? Yes, you did. And then you went on to protect the King from numerous assassins, and then you went on to fight in the Seven Day Siege, and then you went on to win my heart, look after me and give me my beautiful family while being the best husband a wife could ever want. These are all true.”
“Yes, but I–”
She cut him off again with her look. Squeezed his hand, leaned down and kissed him and stood up to walk to the door. Just before opening it and calling the family back into the room, she turned around and said:
“Those are all true. You may not have started out as the bravest man alive, my love, but who does? But, each day you have gotten up and done your best. Being brave is not about never feeling fear. No, being brave is about overcoming that fear that you feel. And you have won that battle time and time again. Even now, you fought fear and won. I love you, you silly man, but sometimes you really are silly.”
Sir Charles Knowles smiled and nodded. He wiped away his tears and flung out his arms to embrace his children as they ran back into the room. His wife was right, he knew, but he was mostly just relieved that his family was not going to abandon him in his last hours.