Wanda handed Drake a steaming bowl of stew from the pot on the fire. He was still a little dazed from his fall, but the stew tasted heavenly and the couch he sat on was a cloud of comfort. The whole apartment was extremely cozy. He looked up at the old woman and smiled in spite of himself.
Wanda smiled back and walked to the center of the room. She gave a bard-like curtsy with one hand flourishing out to the side. Then she cleared her voice, and announced with a professional air, “The Tale of a Bold Young Knight.” and she launched into a story.
“Once, a bold young knight determined it was time to earn his glory by slaying a dragon living outside the kingdom. So he polished his armor, sharpened his sword, and loaded his horse with supplies for his adventure. As he left the castle gates, pretty young maidens threw colorful handkerchiefs at him as tokens for his bravery. He caught the last green one as it fell and tied it to his sword like a banner. Then he rode off into the twilight to meet his fate.
“Hurrah!” thought Drake. “This is my favorite kind of story . . .”
The first evening the knight didn’t travel far and made camp in the middle of the nearby forest. He sighed contentedly by a warm fire and drained his cup of the last few drops of hot chocolate.
“Surely, this is the life for me,” he said to himself. “I am young, strong, and the master of my destiny. I shall easily defeat the dragon with an hour or two and be back inside the castle walls before the week is out. Then I will have the respect and glory that I deserve.”
Suddenly, a high-pitched squeaking noise came out of nowhere. The knight jumped to his feet and fell backwards into the bushes. Needles showered all around. A small spiny ball with beady eyes was shaking with laughter next to the fire. A hedgehog had curled up there without his notice. It stretched and stood, peering at him and blinking.
The Knight was affronted, and attempted to draw his sword to kill the creature. But as he was still stuck in the bushes, he tripped over a root and fell again. His armor clinked and crashed, and made quite a ruckus all around.
“Forgive me,” said the hedgehog. As the knight extricated himself from the bushes. “I meant no offense. I am a simple creature, and when I saw your cheerful fire the only desire of my heart was to curl up beside it. I did not mean to startle you.”
“Ha!,” sneered the young knight. “As if such a thing were possible. Of course I knew you were there the whole time. It’s just that I felt a sudden itch in a discreet place. You know the only chivalrous way for a knight to scratch is to create a mighty crash.”
The Hedgehog blinked again, and said nothing.
“. . . Anyway,” said the knight. “I don’t mind too much if you share my fire. It is a cold knight, and I am amiable towards rodents of your kind. It’s the dragon that I’m after.”
“Indeed,” said the Hedgehog in his high pitched voice. “I am grateful. But why go after the dragon at all? What has he done to you?”
“He’s a dragon,” said the knight. “His mere existence is a threat to the kingdom. The Flames! The fire hazard alone is terrifying. But I am a poor young knight and I must prove my worthiness to the King. Therefore I journey to slay the dragon.” The Knight brandished his sword and made big swoops with it in the air, teetering slightly.
“Of course, of course,” said the Hedgehog. “How silly of me to forget. But how will you slay the dragon without being burned to a crisp?”
“Mouse, you do not know of whom you speak,” said the knight. “I am Sir Nigel Wooten, Sixth Son of the Earl of Chesterfield, and soon to be Order of the Dragon. I have my methods, and I see no reason to explain them to you. I’m tired and ready to bed down for the night.”
“I beg your pardon, Sir,” said the Hedgehog. “Thank you again for sharing your fire. Goodnight, sir” The hedgehog sounded sincere, but his spines twitched as he spoke. The knight grunted, and laid out his bedroll.
Sir Nigel blinked as the early morning sun found his eyes. He raised himself up and squinted past the dying embers of the fire. The hedgehog was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh, Flapdoodle.” He said.