“All this, and for what? Loyalty to a creature he has never seen? Loyalty to the oath he was never a part of? This is madness,” Peregrine said. “We must have those scales before Caragon gets them.” Peregrine told his men as they secretly met in a small room on his fine sprawling estate outside the castle walls. A man of good fortune, Peregrine prided himself on his wealth and position as a Knight to the King’s court. They listened to their leader’s plans.
“When the King takes his men to the valley to begin battle, we will volunteer to hide by the forest entrance with our archers at the ready. This will give comfort to the King as he will assume we will be with his archers. But we will secretly enter into the forest and capture the Dragon scales for ourselves…and for Théadril, of course.” His face revealed his true feelings towards his King, and could not veil his ambitions any longer.
“Enter into the Dragon Forest?” said one of the Knights.
”But Sir Peregrine, no one Knight has entered and lived to tell! How can we secretly enter into this mysterious realm?”
Upon hearing the question, Peregrine slowly turned to face the inquisitor. With eyes of a piercing blue hue made more intense by his dark hair and eyelashes, he stared at the Knight and walked over to answer the question. “Well, my dubious friend, it appears you will just have to trust me now, won’t you?” Peregrine said as he approached the doubtful Knight.
“I trust you, my Lord,” the Knight stuttered as he felt the intense eyes stare right through him. “It is just that I have heard about the forest all my life. I have heard the tales of men entering into the woods and a bright blue flash of light followed…and then the men were never heard from again.” He swallowed hard at the thought. Most of the Knights had heard many tales of unfortunate souls deceived by their cupidity and lust for power entering into the Dragon Forest never to be seen again. Not one of King Alexander’s men had ever dared to enter into the woods.
“Yes, it seems that what I am suggesting is rather dangerous, isn't it?" Peregrine placed his arm on Sir Leonard's shoulder as he looked around the room at all of the Knights present. Some nodded in agreement while others chuckled under their breath. "Far be it from me to ask my Knights to partake in such a dangerous mission." Many of the Knights laughed.
“"But, Sir Leonard, if you are too afraid or if you do not feel this mission is for you,” Peregrine stated. “Then perhaps you shouldn’t be a part of it!” And with that, Sir Peregrine grabbed the tunic of Sir Leonard and quickly lifted him up off the stool he had been sitting on. “You coward!”
Peregrine then rudely shoved the Knight out the door of the small room, startling all the other Knights gathered there. Leonard fell to the ground as the door slammed shut behind him.
“Now,” Sir Peregrine said as he wiped his hands together as though he had tarnished them. “Will anyone else be joining Sir Leonard tonight?’
No one said a word.
As the butler laid out pheasant and bread on the table before the men, they ripped into the bird and bread.
But Peregrine did not join them. He was expected later at the King’s table as he entertained Lords and Ladies from the Valleys nearby.
The servants lit a fire in the fireplace and their shadows danced along the stone walls. The torches on the walls were lit and cups were filled. After eating, the men stood near the fire’s warmth and listened intently.
“What shall we do with the scales once we have them?” asked one of the Knights as he warmed his hands by the fire.
“In due time, my friend. I will explain everything in due time,” Sir Peregrine smiled at him. Then he patted his companion’s back as they all returned to the discussion as well as the development of the final plan.
Suddenly, a knock on the door stirred them. The servant looked at Peregrine who nodded for the door to be opened. “Ah, Sir Leonard,” Peregrine said as he drank his wine. “Will you be joining us after all?”
Sir Leonard looked around the room and lowered his eyes. “Yes, my Lord,” he answered. Peregrine smiled.
Peter heard voices outside of his door. It was darker now in his quiet room as the sun began to set. He realized that he had fallen asleep and the Steward had let him nap right through to lunchtime.
Agitated, he arose and saw that his window was still open. Looking out at the valley below his window, Peter could see the Dragon Forest. In its serenity, it seemed to call to him.
He glanced down and saw his wooden sword and quiver of arrows leaning on his bed. He quietly stepped over and picked them up. As he admired the craftsmanship, he remembered when his father had given them to him for his birthday. The King called them his Dragonslayer weapons and told him only to use them when slaying Dragons. Now the wooden sword looked so real in his hand. His fingers wrapped around the smooth wooden handle tightly. He felt a burning inside and his heart pounded in his chest. He looked at all his stuffed toys still staring at him from his bed. It was as if they understood: It was time to test his sword. It was time to help his father, the good King.
Now was the time to be the Prince he was meant to be. He grabbed a pillow sack from under his bed and filled it with a blanket for the cold nights, a favorite toy for companionship, and the compass his mother gave him just in case he became lost. His father’s astronomers had taught him to search the stars for the direction at night and to heed the moon above. He took one last glance around his room as if to say goodbye, for he did not know when he would return to its comfort. He looked at his toys as his friends. He glanced over at his books on the shelf. All of them he cherished.
He looked at his soft feather bed and smiled. No more dreaming of fighting dragons, now it would be a real adventure. He was amazed at how he had no fear at all.
Then he slowly opened the door, and with one last glance he snuck out of his room. He stopped to listen for voices in the hallway, but heard none. He crept over to the stairway leading to the great hall. No one was there any longer. Candles in the sconces and burning torches glowed and their reflections in the shiny floor cast enough light for him to make his way down. He made his way past the great hall, into the corridor and on his toward the kitchen. There was a loud commotion coming from the kitchen as the servants, cooks, and pantlers frantically prepared for the dinner the King was hosting that night. Several valley leaders were invited for dinner to discuss the plans for battle.
Peter slid into the kitchen unnoticed by the busy cooks and maids. He found a large table used for carving. Peter waited for the right moment and then crawled underneath the table. The smells were plenty! There were pheasants, pigs, and turkeys all roasting. Venison, peacocks, grouse were also being prepared. There were meat pies and stuffing made with bread. Breads baking in the brick ovens were removed and laid out on a large wooden table. They smelled wonderful to Peter. His empty stomach could barely take it all in. His mouth watered as he hid under the large wooden table where the butlers were preparing to serve the first course. The Royal Taster was busy doing his unenviable job. He was paid very well for this risky job and for good reason. As the servants quickly made their way with large trays of food, Peter reached up and grabbed a few rolls, leg of lamb, and an apple. This would be enough food to get him through the day of battle. He hurriedly put them into his sack.
The meat carvers were hastily cutting pig, lamb, and venison into chunks and throwing the parts into a large black cauldron hanging over the fire. The cooks were making a spicy meat stew for the soldiers outside who were guarding the castle. The young pages rushed in to help serve wooden bowls of the spicy stew to the men. Bowls disappeared as each young page grabbed them off the table. There were several hundred men to feed that night.
Peter sat underneath the meat carvers table. All he could hear above him was the loud “thwump” of the hatchet as it met with the table. Then he saw the cooked pig’s head and feet fall to the floor. The ghastly sight made Peter gasp out loud, but everyone in the steamy kitchen was too busy to notice him. The meat carver just picked the parts up and tossed them to the dogs waiting by the doorway.
Peter waited as the servants quickly went in and out of the kitchen hall. The pots and pans clanging and all the chatter of the cooks covered the noise Peter was making as he crawled out of the kitchen. He was careful not to startle the women who were preparing large cakes and fancy pies for dessert. They gossiped and snickered and didn’t even notice the small boy creeping along the floor. The striped cat did notice him though, but it was too busy cleaning its paws to bother him.
When he made it out of the kitchen and into the small damp mud room where all the servants kept their muddied boots, brooms, and cloaks, he noticed it was cluttered with mats, large spools of thread, hats and gloves. The mat weavers sat here on cold days making their straw mats for the kitchen. The Spinners used this area to spin thread onto spools. It was here that Peter grabbed a water pouch hanging on a peg. He filled it with water from the well outside.
Now he was set for his journey. He gazed up into the heavens and saw the full moon following his every move. He often thought that the moon was his mother watching over him. There was a slight breeze which gave him a chill on his bare arms. He quickly put on his suede coat. He passed many squires and foot soldiers as they walked around the courtyard of the castle. Many of the soldiers were climbing the narrow stairs leading to the Curtain walls which surrounded the entire castle. It was here these loyal men stood watch all night. One by one they were changing shifts so they could eat the hot stew being served. They were too hungry to notice the Prince as he made his way past them.
Peter saw his loyal horse, Titan, tied up for the night in the stalls and he quietly crept over to him. A large horse, Titan was grey with dark spots on his hind quarters. He was a strong animal bred for farming, but the Queen gave him to Peter as a companion and the two were inseparable. The crest of his neck was arched confidently with his glossy grey mane swept to one side. He had strong shoulders that held his head high with pride as though he knew he was a horse to a royal prince. His straight front legs were lean and muscular with ample knees and fetlocks that were only slightly bulging with hard sturdy newly shoed hooves. He had a slightly swayed back that led to hind quarters that were large and rounded from running and jumping with Peter in the fields. Titan was a strong sturdy horse for a young boy. The horse whinnied when he saw the prince. Peter gently stroked his old friend’s long grey mane. He scratched the white spot on its nose. Because he was a large horse he was a steep climb for any ten-year-old boy. After he harnessed Titan, Peter tied his sack onto the leather saddle lying on the stable ground. Peter placed his horse blanket onto Titan’s back causing the horse to whinny again because he knew a night ride was coming. Then, lifting with all his strength, Peter managed to carry the saddle over to his horse. He grabbed a stepstool and quietly lifted the saddle onto his horse’s back. Some of the stable boys turned to see what the noise was, but Peter hid behind Titan’s large body. After he buckled the saddle under Titan’s belly, he quietly led him over to the fence so he could mount him without any trouble. The other horses whinnied in envy. They, too, wanted to go out for a moonlight stroll. Some of the stable boys and groomsmen heard the horses, but went back to playing cards near the barn doors. They had built a small fire in the stone pit so they could stay warm. They were too busy losing money to notice Peter. Once he was on Titan’s back, the two quietly walked away from the castle stables as the other horses looked on.
“Shhh,” Peter said to them as he grinned. They whinnied back and jerked their heads up and down. He winked at them then led his horse to the main gateway. The moon was already high in the sky as the sun made its last appearance over the hill. Four black crows hovered in the night air and cawed out to him. He just stared at their silhouettes flying through the moon’s face.
Peter looked up at his window and saw the familiar yellow glow from the candlesticks on his bookshelf and the torches on the wall. His heart was really beating fast now. He looked all around for the King’s guards knowing that if they saw him, they would stop him. They stood by the front gate which was still open after all the Valley leaders had ridden through. Several townspeople were walking back and forth through the gate with their horses. Some pages were walking by as well. These young men were Peter’s age and they lived in the castle courtyard. They were studying to become Knights one day. The guards were too busy talking to notice Peter. They didn’t see him. They were talking of battle.
Once passed the gate and over the lowered drawbridge, they came to the rushing waters of the Blue River. Peter grabbed a handful of grey mane tightly in his fists and swallowed all the courage he could swallow as they galloped over the bridge and across the river. His heart pumped blood through his veins and sweat covered his forehead. He looked back at the castle gate and around the land outside of the palace once again. No one had followed them.
Once the coast was clear, the two galloped away as fast as they could in the moonlight north towards the Dragon Forest.