Chapter 10: Opening Ceremonies of the Princess Fiona Redemption Tournament
A full week of the preliminary Tournament of Precedence went by with no one seeing either the dragon or the ill fated princess, for they were very, very busy making their preperations for the main event. The little girl could here the cheers as one knight bested another on the nearby field, and yearned to watch the brave knights joust among themselves to determine the order in which they would fight the dragon . But she was allowed no chance to see the proceedings, for after her own regimented daily hygiene, as her dragon jailer ordered, Fiona slaved away during all her waking hours waxing and polishing every scale of the enormous monster. And what she hated the most was that the beast pretended they were having so much fun doing these girl things together, as the devious reptile claimed. Or was the killer beast actually sincere in her attempts at friendship? It was so confusing.
Fiona imagined the skin of every fingertip had been burned off as she melted block after block of the ruby red sealing wax in a small bronze cauldron, then picking up a gob of the scalding hot stuff on a rag, she rubbed it over each and every scale of the dragon's vast body, one at a time. And once the wax had dried and hardened, she had to buff it to a high sheen with a piece of sheep's wool. After the most exhausting week of her life waxing and buffing the behemoth, she had to crawl around in the frightful and disgusting mouth again for final tooth bleaching and polishing, and to scrub the slimy interior and tongue with Dama Fortuna's Minty Fresh Mouth Wash, concocted of chemicals so strong that it made her eyes burn. And for the first time since her kidnapping, she had to paint hot black tar over those ridiculous, fake, forged iron eyelashes because they were starting to rust.
And then one dawn, feeling too tired to crawl out of her bed, she heard Dragon cheerfully whisper through the tower window in her, tiny, melodious voice like a song, "Oh lovely yet tragic Princess Fi-oh-naaaaah, this your big da-aay. Hmmmmmmm? Now hurry up and put on your best princess dress, dear, the one you wore when I first met you and your parents, and don't forget the adorable pointed hat."
There were no chores for her that morning save for a little touch up on the dragon's lipstick. And in turn, Dragon helped Fiona with her own make up, deftly splotching rouge on each cheek with a pad looped to a sharp talon tip better suited for gutting an animal than applying cosmetics. Then Dragon laid her head and neck on the flagstones of the great hall, and said, "Now carefully climb up my neck, and hold on tight, for ladies of our great renown are expected to make a grand entrance, my dear."
Fiona found a barrel shaped helmet among the scattered debris of long deceased knights, and used it as a foot stool to get up on the huge neck. She grimly said, "I think I'm ready", and Dragon loped through the great pillared hall to the main door, and then leaped into the air.
The hot air wafting up from the moat of lava felt comfortable on Fiona's skin on the chilly morning despite its sulphuric stink. Dragon gained altitude, flew over a small rocky ridge, and Fiona gasped at the scene below her. Thousands of people seemed to fill the bleachers that bordered the tournament field. Behind the stands, there was a veritable sea of tents, in every imaginable color, and bearing the banners of the noblest knights in all the known kingdoms. And behind these was a great shanty town of hovels made of pine boughs and blankets where the vast number of peasants resided. " And they had all come to see my rescue", thought the princess, as she gazed down at the tableaux below her.
Actually, if the truth be told. they had mostly all come to see a bloody battle to the death between dragon and knights, just as they always came to the regular tournaments throughout the kingdoms in hopes of seeing deaths and maiming, as surely as they would flock to see criminals burned and beheaded on market days. But this coming spectacle proved to be greater than any bloodbath they had previously witnessed. For what they expected to see this time was something none of them had ever seen before - a knight slay a dragon, an event described in so many ballads and legends, though not one among them could honestly say they had actually seen it really happen. And this was quite understandable, for in truth, no one indeed had ever seen a man, or even an army of men, ever slay a dragon, for it was only the stuff of fairytales. But if dragons were real, as the spectators could plainly see in the sky above them, then too, shouldn't't the dragon slayers of legend be just as real as well? As they stared up in the sky in dismay with the rest of the awed multitudes, the sixty three knights and nobles who officially registered to fight the monstrous beast certainly hoped that slaying dragons was possible, and they all prayed they would be the one to accomplish the deed.
Dragon flew slow and steady for she did not want to risk the princess falling off, but had Fiona slipped, the predator's lightning-like reflexes would have snatched her up before she fell to her death. So today there would be no acrobatics. After circling the field she landed by Fiona's royal box with an earth shaking thud, but instead of dismounting her, Dragon decided to parade once around the entire field on foot, just in front of the crowded bleachers so everyone would get a good close look at her magnificence, and of course the little princess Fiona too, who bravely sat on her back. For after all, the tournament was named in her honor.
Save for a few gasps and stifled screams, the normally raucous crowd was hushed to a reverential silence as they gazed upon so surrealistic a scene. Dragon's freshly waxed and buffed ruby red scales shimmered in the bright morning sun like nothing of this world. Flushed with pleasure by so many admirers, the reptile cracked a wide smile that revealed wickedly sharp teeth almost too white to seem real. And atop the carnivorous monster sat the brave little princess, timidly waving to the sea of admirers who filled the stands.
In one of the best, front row seats of the commoners section, an enormous, bare chested young man with a great beer belly, broke the awed silence by standing up and clapping an ovation to the courage of the little girl atop the fearsome beast. Nick-named Bruno the Bear, he, and his similarly bare chested and beer-bellied comrades were derisively referred to by the I.T.A., (whose events these nonconformists loved to disrupt), as shirtless tournament hooligans.
Taking the cue from their leader, the others began clapping, standing and cheering the princess, though Dragon believed the ovations were in her honor, for she perceived she was the rescuer of the princess. And for the entertainment of this legion of admirers, she would now proceed to chastise the hated knights who had foolishly come here to slay her and steal away the child.
Upon completion of the circuit, Dragon stopped at the Princess's royal box, and laid her head and neck low so Fiona could dismount. Muldoon was the only person allowed by Dragon on her side of the field, and he helped the Princess off the scaly neck and up the short flight up steps into the enclosure.
Montague the Herald nodded in approval to no one in particular his approval the dragon's unrehearsed spectacle. He thought to himself, "Almost a shame we will have to kill her, for that would make a great start up act at all the kingdom tournaments".
He gave the cue to the fanfare trumpeters to announce his introductory speech, when to the surprise of everyone, a crowd of about thirty, mostly female young people in simple linen shifts and flower garlands around their necks and more in their hair, and apparently shackled to a long chain, formed a line across the middle of the field and sat down in unison. Two of them carried signs, one with the initials "P.E.T.A.R.D.B.B.A.", and the other was emblazoned Save the Dragons.
Montague took of his plumed hat and threw it down on the ground in anger. "Damn those bleeding heart animal activists" he shouted. Montague well knew of this group, they previously had gotten the bear baiting halftime shows banned at I.T.A. tournaments, for the initials of the neatly painted sign stood for; People Enlightened To Adore Really Dangerous But Beautiful Animals. They were essentially well-to-do city folk who loved predatory beasts like lions and tigers and bears, and apparently even dragons, but in their safe cities never had to confront the animals as did peasant shepherds with their flocks of sheep. They abhorred the nobles who hunted these beasts for sport, and even had the audacity to throw blood on nobles who wore wolf, ermine and mink fur trim on their coats at previous tournaments. Their spokesperson, the wealthy Ms. Melissa Wolvesfriend, (obviously a made up name), had threatened in the papers to stage a sit down protest of the dragon slaying tournament, and true to her word, there she was, the slightly plump, but still very attractive thirty-something woman who now stood on a small stool to address the multitude.
"Where were the guards when you needed them?", muttered Montague in disgust. He knew of course, normally the local kingdom hosting the tournaments supplied the security force, but this tournament was in the middle of nowhere, and the local leader of the region, Lord Faarquad, refused to sponsor the event. In fact, the wiley mercenary captain turned lord had the audacity to sell the P.E.T.A.R.D..B.B.A. activitists a permit to stage their protests, as Montague learned from an aide just then.
"Well, let her have her say, Montague thought", the crowd will boo her and her followers off the field soon enough.
The few commoners who could read, already began to boo, when they saw the Save the Dragons sign, for this lady meant to spoil their entertainment. Some had walked as much as 200 miles to see this spectacle. But their boos and catcalls were hushed by her surprising loud and commanding voice.
"Shame...shame on you all!", she scolded them. "You have come here to watch a beautiful and noble creature be killed in cold blood for your mere entertainment, and you call it sport. What right do any of you have to invade this poor, misunderstood creature's home, camp out in front of its home for days, so you make a spectacle of her slaughter by those baby-killing mercenaries." And she pointed an accusing finger at the assembled knights on their side of the field.
Dragon watched this new development with extreme interest, for beautiful young women with flower garlands and wrapped in chains evoked fond memories of wonderful times past when grateful villages presented her with just such treats in grateful appreciation for not roasting and eating the rest of them.
She had genuinely felt some regrets for the unfortunate misunderstanding concerning the three young sorcerer-apprentices from the future, a few weeks before, who it seemed, may not actually had wanted to be sacrifices. So she decided she would have to be more careful about such things in the future. But there certainly could be no misunderstandings this time, she believed, for now all the classic, telltale signs of a proper maiden sacrifice to a dragon were clearly being exhibited.
After all, they were all young, attractive people, wrapped in chains, wearing flowers, and some even carried signs claiming they adored dragons. And the one standing up, and shouting at the people, was saying what a beautiful and misunderstood creature she was, so she obviously wanted to have the honor of being the first to be eaten, as anyone could plainly see..
Dragon quietly padded forward until she was almost directly behind the unknowing Ms. Wolvesfriend, who was quite happy with her speech because she believed her words had hushed the crowd into awed silence, when in reality, it was an enormous dragon creeping up behind her who had done this.
The famished reptile, who hadn't eaten since the tournament construction began, patiently waited for the woman to say her last words, for this was often part of previous sacrifice ceremonies, but usually this talk was just prayers, and relatively short in duration. Dragon enjoyed the praise, (for after all, dragons were such misunderstood and gentle creatures, just like the lady said), but she just went on and on and on. So she finally decided enough was enough, so she deftly snaked her head right behind the still oblivious woman, who continued to speak, saying, "And although the popular literature states that dragons are maiden eating monsters, just how true are these accusations? Can any of you honestly say you have ever seen a dragon devour a helpless maiden? Of course you haven't. Might this just be cruel lies so knights can justify persecuting these beautiful and quite harmless...".
Dragon's long pink tongue quickly snaked around the woman's waist, and in mid-sentence, pulled her into the eagerly gaping jaws. Ms. Wolvesfriend did not even have a chance to scream as it had happened so quickly. Her barest shout of surprise was quickly stifled when the great maw clapped shut.
For what seemed like a long while to the shocked spectators, (though it was really only for a few moments), Dragon seemed to be rolling the woman around in her mouth, carefully tasting her as a child might suck on a hard rock candy. To the spectators' horror they saw she was very much alive, as evidenced by the muffled shouts of protest, and the sporadic bulges that appeared on dragons cheeks as frantic fists and feet pushed and kicked to escape the fleshy prison. Finally, an audible, ominous gulp was heard, and a still struggling lump rippled down the long dragon neck in peristaltic convulsions, accentuated all the more, as the shifting, highly polished scales reflected the bright morning sunlight.
Gasps of horror, and squeals of terror erupted in the stands, and in the expensive seats where the more genteel ladies reposed, a few even fainted. Dragon did not notice the decidedly unfavorable response to her act, for her full attention was now on the delectable group of remaining sacrifices. But to her immense disappointment, she quickly saw that they were really not tethered by the chain they had wrapped around their bodies, for now it lay empty, and what she had thought were willing sacrifices went running, and screaming from the field
For a moment she considered chasing and snapping up a few of the now reluctant offerings, but then thought it would not be very lady-like to do so in front of all of her admirers. Their initial shock over, everyone watching the field were hushed to silence wondering what would happen next. Bruno the shirtless tournament hooligan was awestruck by the spectacle, as was everyone else. But in a way, he thought, the dragon was something of a hero, for it had decisively ended the problem of the protestors so the show they all wanted to see could go on. He and his fellow hooligans really did not come to these events to see knightly equestrian and combat skills, instead they traveled to every tournament just to brawl with the supporters of the local knights, and hopefully see one get killed or seriously injured, which though a rare occurrence, still occasionally happened in this dangerous sport. If they rooted for any knight, it was always the poorest one. But now here was a new hero that he and his fellow hooligans could give their full support to. For the dragon had already snuffed out an uppity, self-righteous woman who sought to spoil all of their fun, and before the show was over, the beast just might eliminate a few of the despised knights before finally being ignominiously skewered by a jousting lance.
To get everyone's attention, Bruno stepped out into the edge of the field, faced the bleachers of the economy section, and madly clapped and shouted "Hooray for the dragon! Hooray for the dragon!" His fellow shirtless tournament hooligans followed suit, thinking this would be a terrific way to annoy the noble knights that they all hated, for although they were all fairly well off as the sons of merchant and lawyers, they would always be mere peasant in the eyes of the nobility. They stood up in the stands to give the dragon a rousing ovation, and with threats and cajoling, they encouraged all the peasants around them to do the same.
In truth, the peasants needed little encouragement. They also hated the knights and their ladies who were their feudal overlords. Though not as overt as middle class Shirtless Tournament Hooligans, they also came to these events in the hope of seeing a despised nobleman getting killed. And already they had seen a spectacle much more entertaining than the usual executions they also flocked to see. But instead of seeing one of their fellow peasants being beheaded, drawn and quartered, or burned at the stake, they had seen a stupid rich lady being eaten alive by a dragon, something quite remarkable that they could fondly tell their grandchildren about, (if a peasant was lucky enough to live that long).
The economy bleachers resounded with shouts of "hooray for the dragon", cheers, and thunderous clapping. Dragon was positively delighted with all of the favorable attention, and just as she had so carefully rehearsed and performed for the good King Harold and his beautiful Queen Lilian, the reptile gave a deep, lady-like curtsy to her admirers. Now the crowd of peasants went wild that this mighty beast would give them such an honor, and besides, they loved performing animals, and while starving themselves, sometimes gave their last crust of bread to the equally emaciated dancing bears that were a common sight on market days.
The knights and nobles in the opposite stands were outraged by the cheers that the peasants gave the cruel monster. Dragon turned around and gave them a similar bow, but to nobles, they thought the beast contemptuous and mocking by her dignified and cultured curtsy as only a noble lady was allowed to make. The reptile next turned to the end of the field where the royal box stood, and gave its only occupant, the lovely yet tragic Princess Fiona a similar curtsy, not noticing the horrified expression on the poor child's face. And lastly, Dragon executed a smart about face, took a deep breath and deftly spat a round, soggy projectile larger than a human head (that was comprised of the unfortunate Ms. Wolvesfriend's dress and flower garland), into the throng of solemn knights waiting to fight her. The giant spit-ball hit one of them squarely in the chest and knocked him down, causing the crowd of peasants to raise the loudest cheers yet, followed by a chorus of raucous laughter, as if they were oblivious to the fact that the creature who was the object of their affection had only moments before, eaten a defenseless woman alive.
Dragon followed the spit-ball attack with a dignified curtsy to her would be slayers, turned her back to them and almost seemed to have taken on a skipping gait, if such a thing I possible for a dragon. She happily loped back to her side of the field where she put her head in Princess Fiona's royal box. Oblivious to the fact the little girl was terrified by the spectacle of her devouring a woman that reminded her of her own mother, Dragon pushed her toothy muzzle so close to Fiona's ear that she could smell the minty fresh mouthwash, as well as the perfume and quite possibly the urine of Ms. Wolvesfreind on the predator's breath. Like a school girl seeking encouragement from a friend at a dance recital, Dragon whispered to Fiona in her tiny, child-like voice with genuine, giddy glee, "Did I not tell you we would have a wonderful time? And hear how the people cheer us and hope we shall win. We mustn't disappoint them now shall we dear? Oh, and from your perspective as a genuine princess, do you think my curtsies were executed in a suitably noble and lady-like fashion?"