Part Nineteenth: The Guide
Velvet came to a complete stand-still, whinnying in distress as Gimel tried to urge her forward. Sir Richard pulled Jael to a halt and sat watching his guide’s fruitless efforts. Could this really be the best horse the King had in his stables to send? They could not even get it up the mountain. Well, that made it a smart creature, if nothing else. This was madness. He did not even know for sure if he was going to be able to get Jael—an experienced warhorse—all the way up to the dragon’s lair.
Velvet nervously started walking again, at last, and they continued up into the foothills winding around trees. Sir Richard could not see the dragon’s lair, but the sky was hazy with smoke around the mountain-peaks. He knew the horses could sense the danger and were uneasy—especially Velvet, who had probably never seen a dragon and did not even know what she was afraid of, poor creature! Cyrus could smell it in the air too, but the German Shepherd walked quietly beside his master steed, with only the barely-bristling hair along the back of his neck showing how tense he was.
They came at last to the end of the foothills and looked up at the sheer mountain-sides. The monster’s cave was fully visible at last, high above their heads, at the top of a cliff. A horrible place for a fight—at least when your opponent was big enough to fling you off the edge.
“The horses cannot get up this,” Sir Richard said, looking at the steep path upwards, to the left of the cliff-face. He wondered if the dragon had made the narrow trail.
“I know,” Gimel answered. “We’re not going that way. We’re going partway around the mountain and climbing up from behind the lair. It’s less steep, and we might surprise the dragon. Come!” He lifted Velvet’s reins, but she reared suddenly and turned back towards the foothills, breaking into a gallop in spite of all his efforts.
Sir Richard swung Jael around and followed the terrified horse back the way they had come. He found his guide in the foothills; Velvet standing and quiet at last, except for her heaving breath, but trembling all over. “She will not go further, Gimel,” the Knight said quietly.