Are we to Part 20 already? Wow, this story is going fast!
Part Twentieth: Danger
“Tell me how to reach the dragon’s lair, and then ride Velvet back. You have guided me well.”
“I haven’t guided you anywhere, sir—not yet.” Gimel’s voice was almost challenging. “I don’t want the dragon to take you by surprise. I’m coming.”
Sir Richard frowned. “On foot?”
“If that is the only way, sir—yes.”
The knight looked into the hard, brown eyes of his guide, under his dark, curly hair. He was not going back, no matter what Sir Richard said. That much was obvious. Why was he so determined? It was not his princess. The King had chosen one of the Shepherds to guide him. And he was so young; the knight did not think him over twenty—if that old. “I cannot let you. It is too dangerous.”
“Any way is dangerous, sir. But the Princess is in the gravest danger, and you are wasting time.”
Sir Richard sighed. “Very well then, lead on. But be cautious.”
They tied Velvet to a tree, at the edge of the foothills and started around the mountain, Sir Richard guiding Jael slowly after the young Shepherd. “Do your people consider yourselves part of the City?” the Knight asked at last. “I would have thought Her Majesty was one of your people by your dedication.”
Gimel frowned over his shoulder. “No, we do not consider ourselves part of the City. Princess Penelope has little to do with us, but she is a maiden and I a man; and her City gave my people refuge when the dragon drove us out of the hills—and most likely the beast would have killed us too, had she not sacrificed herself. Look now,” he added, pointing. “Here is our path up the mountain.”
The new path zig-zagged slowly up the opposite side of the mountain, not so steep but still rocky and uneven. The end of the trail, at the mountain’s peak, was out of sight from the ground between the sheer mountain-sides. Sir Richard took a deep breath and flipped the visor of his helmet shut. He gripped the carven hilt of his ancient sword, which he now wore openly, as he felt his heart-beat quicken.