Sometimes it does not pay to be first. Written for the November Weird Tales contest.
| Night After Knight
He should have paid more attention. He should have heeded the warnings. So many times he had told himself these same two things. Too late now; decades too late. No, make that centuries!
Sir Percival, for that was, and is, his name, had set off with pure intentions. A dragon had been spotted and the king implored his knights to go forth and slay the beast before any of his subjects were stolen away to become lizard food.
Perhaps, in hindsight, the orders had been given in too much haste. Certainly Sir Percival had thought so many, many times. But he could not really blame his king, for if he had not been so determined to be the first to take on the beast someone else might now be in his place.
Perhaps the ease with which the dragon had been found should have sounded alarm bells. It had been so easy. Sir Percival and his horse, Silver Steed, had not even had to climb the mountains, for there the dragon had been, just cavorting and tripping about.
Not an impressive specimen, he remembered that he had thought. Very small for a dragon, that was indisputable. It could have been young, not fully grown; it was perfectly possible that it would grow up to be a formidable blood-hungry beast. Without pausing, for surprise was on his side, he drew his sword, turned Silver Steed, and rode forward to attack.
His sword hit the target and the air was split with a horrendous scream, along with the sound of tearing fabric. Fabric? That could not be right, he had thought, and had backed off to think on this. He was not allowed to retreat though, for the dragon advanced on him, hissing and spitting.
Not a dragon! No, not a lizard at all, but a witch, THE witch, and she was angry.
"How dare you! Do you have any idea how much spelling I had to put in to get a costume of such magnificence? Of course you don't. And you wouldn't care either. You goody-goody knights with your goody-goody king!"
"I'm sorry, your Witchiness, truely I am. I honestly thought that you were the genuine article. The real thing. Perhaps, with a needle and thread I could make amends."
"Amends, he says. This was the work of armies of spiders. Too late for repairs, for the fancy-gathering's tonight. I would have won. The silver cauldron would have been mine." She might not have been a dragon but the witch's anger was so great that steam was coming from her ears.
"I can't say more than I'm sorry, can I!" Sir Percival was beginning to get a bit irked himself. How was he supposed to have known?
"Well, that just makes things fine and dandy, not. I tell you what I'm going to do... I'm going to curse you to walk this land forever. No end to your travels, how do you like that?"
"No, please. Show some mercy," Sir Percival had begged.
"Mercy! Mercy! I'll show you mercy, you good-for-nothing tinpot knight. I'll curse you twice. Your horse will walk forever with you, and no matter how stiff you get, how sore your rear end might be, you will never, NEVER set foot on solid ground again!" And before Sir Percival could plead again, witch and dragon disappeared in a puff of smoke.
And so it had been. Backwards and forwards they had wandered, watching those that they had known disappear from life. Year after year, night after night, Sir Percival rides his horse Silver Steed, from castle ruins to mountain pass, wishing forever that he had been last to take up the king's challenge.