idol season nine | week 34 | 1175 words
Lost the plot
Against the verdant hills of the sacred seventh kingdom, Sir Harold Wickham battled the dragon Darkwing to determine the fates of the citizens of the realm. The fighting had raged since dawn, both man and beast caught in a war pitting strength against agility. Sir Harold sought to claim both honor and the king's youngest daughter, and the dragon envisioned treasure-filled storerooms and legions of frightened farmers pledging loyalty and livestock in equal measure.
Although both parties were growing fatigued, neither would grant the other an easy victory. Sir Harold traded his spear for his broadsword, raising it to counter the beast's fearsome attack. The dragon roared the fullness of his wrath, when suddenly—
"What just happened?" Sir Harold whispered.
"It appears that the words ran out," the dragon murmured.
"Oh, dear," Sir Harold said. "I don't recall such a thing having occurred previously. Do you? What shall we do?"
"Let us delay a moment. Perhaps they may yet return."
The knight and the dragon waited for a bit. Sir Harold shifted in his armor and poked holes in the earth with his sword. The dragon examined his talons and brushed off some loose scales.
"I wonder if anyone is even aware that a problem has arisen?" said the dragon. "We've been here ages, and there hasn't even been an announcement."
"How much longer shall we wait? This is frightfully dull."
"At the moment, I have lost all interest in our battle. Do you suppose we might find a more amusing way to pass the time?"
"I have a chess board in my satchel. I left it at the river," the knight said. "Perhaps a game?"
The dragon adored chess. "Delighted."
They strolled down to the river and began.
In another part of the forest, a wolf menaced a little girl.
"There are many paths to your grandmother's house. A child your age might so easily become lost! I, however, know several shorter ones. I would be terribly pleased to guide you. Come, let us take this one that goes into the deep, shady parts of the forest…"
The little girl pulled her basket closer. "Mother said not to talk to strangers."
"Did she?" said the wolf. "Still, I am not a stranger. Your grandmother and I are great friends."
"I am grateful, but I must refuse. I shall continue alone."
The wolf was forced to admit that his initial plan would not work. Instead, he would simply—
Oh, dear. The wolf knew there was more, but he could not begin to remember what came next. He searched his memory, he recalled the basic archetypes, but nothing felt quite right. He tapped his foot, and came to a decision:
"Then I'll huff, and I'll puff—"
"What are you doing?" the little girl asked.
"Improvising," the wolf said.
"That is expressly forbidden! It is in the rules of your contract!"
"Very well." The wolf scratched his chin. "So what comes next, then?"
"After where we left off. How does the rest of the story go?"
"Oh!" said the girl. "It, well, um…hmm. Oh, for goodness' sake. What indeed?"
Off in the deeper, darker part of the forest, an old woman tended the fire in her hearth. She was chewing on a bone when she heard voices calling to her from outside.
Oho! she thought, as she peered out the window. Two plump, juicy children stood behind her gate. What a marvelous surprise!
She went to the children and listened to their sad tale, as they told of being sent to live with her and do as she wished. She set them to impossible tasks, promising she would eat the children if they did not succeed. Then she waited for them to fail, as all the other children had.
Days went by, and the children did not fail. No matter what impossible chores she assigned them, they somehow managed to complete them. Then one morning, the children disappeared.
The old woman raged, knowing she had somehow been betrayed. She looked at her little black cat and her dogs, and then—
Oh, what was the next part? It was something, but there had already been a great many "somethings" and she was old, and what did it matter when her dinner had just escaped?
She did, however, suddenly notice that there were far too many animals about for such a small home. She decided they should leave, and told them so rather forcefully.
Then she sat next to the hearth and thought and thought, hoping things would soon make sense again.
Her little home thought too, and in the absence of any narrative or specific direction, it decided to eat her.
Feeling full and revitalized, it rose up on its chicken legs and went in search of a much sunnier place to live.
The wolf waited and waited for some hint of what he ought to be doing, but nothing transpired. He had run out of patience, for the little girl was tiresome, and this was not his preferred part of the forest to begin with.
"I'm afraid I must leave you," he told the little girl.
"But we aren't finished yet!"
"Our story may not be finished, but I am no longer convinced it is worth pursuing," he said. "Farewell."
The little girl seemed perplexed, but she did not stop him.
Within two hours' time, the wolf had crept out of the woods and found a flock of poorly-protected sheep. The one he caught was delicious, and already he felt more at ease with the idea of this new life than the one he had obediently lived for so many years.
The knight and dragon had taken to alternating games of chess with a simple variant, one in which only the colors of the pieces mattered.
"It has been so long, I can scarcely remember what we were fighting about," the knight said.
"Nor I," the dragon agreed. He hopped one of his black chessmen over several of the knight's white ones, collecting the pieces he'd taken. "There was a princess," he remarked.
"Yes," the knight said. "The beautiful Princess Aldera. I would still wish her for my wife."
The dragon traced a talon along the edge of the chess board. "It occurs to me that there are other kingdoms to attack," he said. "I might, for instance, decide to leave this one alone and conquer a different realm altogether. If, that is, you would consent to visit me at my cave and play chess now and again."
"That is a most elegant idea!" the knight said.
"I supposed we ought to part company, then…" the dragon said.
"In time, perhaps." The knight set up the chess pieces again. "It's a lovely afternoon. Care for another game?"
"Certainly! Would you like another helping of roast stag before we begin?" the dragon asked.
"Oh yes, dear friend." The knight skewered a piece with his sword. "White or black this time?"
"White," the dragon said.
"I'm feeling decidedly adventurous."
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