Sir Gallant’s smile evaporated when he stepped into Smoke the Dragon’s cave. Normally teeming with light and warmth, the cave had Sir Gallant shivering so violently that the noise of metal on metal between the plates of his armor echoed down the caverns. None of the torches were alight. He couldn’t see any deeper into the darkness than the sight of his own breath condensing in the still, frigid air.
“What gives, Smoke?” Sir Gallant called out into the void.
“Is that you?” A dreary voice sounded from a corner of the cavern as Smoke’s serpentine figure appeared in the faded light.
“It’s freezing in here!” Sir Gallant exclaimed. “I can tell you need my help again. But, you know, you don’t need to go kidnapping the princess every time you want to see me! She’s got a lot on her plate these days.”
“I know….” Smoke sighed. “I was just testing something. You see, I’ve lost my spark, and no matter what I try, I can’t breathe fire like I used to! Ever since we became friends, it’s like my flame is gone! I was thinking, just maybe, if things were like old times, you know, me kidnapping the princess, you coming to slay me, that I might get my spark back.”
“Oh Smoke.” Sir Gallant pushed some dirt with his foot, not sure what to say. He leaned his shield against the cold rock and put his chin in his hand.
“I’ve got it!” Sir Gallant snapped up. Smoke turned his head. “What you need is a trip to the lava pit! Yes! Remember we had a pretty fierce battle there like seven years back when you and I were young enemies. Not anything like the one in Nottingwood Forest though. That was truly epic. Anyways, I’ll bet if we get you nice and warmed up, that spark inside will reignite, no problem!”
“Okay!” Smoke was eager to try something to set himself straight again. Without his flame, he was basically just an obese lizard. Smoke weakly stood and shook out his wings. They cracked and popped with the movement. He hadn’t flown in days. Overcome with hope, he scooped up Sir Gallant and they were off.
FIfteen minutes later, they arrived at the lava pit.
“All right, Smoke, you’ve got to take it alone from here. Any closer and my skin will blister under all this armor.”
Smoke waddled in the direction of the intense heat and disappeared out of sight.
Poor Smoke. Ever since he and Sir Gallant had decided that life would be better as friends he really hasn’t been the same. Sure, there was a brief honeymoon period where they were hanging out at the cave almost every night, drinking ales and remembering all the brushes with death they had faced at each other’s hands. Things just felt . . . boring now. That said, they had become such fast friends that going back to being enemies was just out of the question.
Smoke reappeared. His gaze was fixed on the ground, and he was shuffling up the embankment.
“No luck,” Smoke muttered. “With my flame gone, I can’t bear the heat of the pit! As soon as I got to the edge of the lava I could feel my blood boiling. It was a burning pain! I used to be able to surf those lava waves and now I can’t handle it at all.”
“No worries. I thought this might happen!” Sir Gallant tried to sound upbeat. “You look famished! Let’s go find some field rabbit for you to eat! That will set you straight and reignite that spark. A flame needs fuel, you know.”
“I haven’t eaten in days,” Smoke said. “That sounds like a good idea.”
So the two flew over to Bixbie Field and made a quick hunt of a dozen rabbits.
Sir Gallant pulled out his pocket flint and lit the fire while Smoke skinned the rabbit. Sir Gallant saw jealousy and sadness flooding Smoke’s eyes.
“I should be the one lighting the fire!” Smoke shrieked. He was so distraught that he threw a rabbit into a bush and slunk off from the campsite, out of sight of the humility. He let out a sorry puff of ash, devoid of any glow or heat.
Sir Gallant kept at the meal preparations, leaving Smoke alone for a bit. “If I could just somehow help Smoke reignite that flame, all would be right again! But how do we find that spark when I, his spark’s source, am no longer who I used to be?"
Off in the distance, from the tallest tower in the keep, the king was watching a fire light grow through his looking glass as darkness fell on Bixbie Plain. “Sir Alva, we must investigate this encampment at once!” There was a squeal in the king’s voice, as only happened when he was supremely excited about something.
As they rode up to the encampment, Sir Alva called out, “Who makes camp on Bixbie Plain? You are in the king’s realm!”
“It is only I . . . Gallant.,” He tried to make his voice big and tough, like a good knight would. He quickly hid a few rabbits to make it look as though he was the only one making camp.
“What are you doing out here in the open as darkness falls, Sir Gallant? Don’t you know that Smoke the Dragon is most active at night?”
“Well . . . um . . . yes . . . of course I knew that! I was making a . . . “
Then, a rustle came from the bushes.
Smoke appeared to see what the voices were. Sir Alva and the king’s eyes turned to saucers when they saw him approach. They drew their swords and lifted their shields as though it were a born instinct. In that instant, time slowed for Smoke. To see men’s eyes get so big they might pop out of their skulls. To hear the sound of steel in sheath and the clang of shields. These two men looked brilliantly ready to burn.
Smoke grinned. And in that grin, Sir Gallant saw a deep orange fire alight between the recesses in those dragon fangs.