Make your own free website on Tripod.com

hades.gif (1833 bytes)

Science Fiction Theater Magazine

Bach

Bach

Fur Elise

Beethoven

Bond Theme

Bond

Debussy

Debussy

Liszt

Liszt

Background

Sound?

1492

1492

1812

1812

2001

2001

Alien

Alien

Apollo 13

Apollo 13

Note: You must turn off current selection before starting another selection!

R. G. Currell

CAROLYN THE SWEET,

The Dragon Slayer

1998, Science Fiction Theater, R. G. Currell

Planet Earth.

The Avala Mall.

New Calender Year,2165 A.A.

9,200 Words

1

     Carolyn the Sweet was living quietly in the background of life, the only proper way for a good girl to be living, if you're a high school senior and resident in the Social-Conscious community of Avala-by-the-Lake. And Carolyn the Sweet was a very good girl. She was tall and elegant, slender-built with a bird-like delicacy. Her face was almond-shaped and her skin was creamy-pale, the way the English sometimes are. And her head supported yards of blonde and corn-silk hair. Her deep, brown eyes stared out enchantingly and captured the hearts of all who dared to look closely enough to see them. And they captured the world with the intensity of curiosity. Carolyn studdied hard, excelled in everything, radiated a universal appeal, and to all outward appearances was very dull. So, everybody loved her. Carolyn the Sweet was all everybody else wanted. Beneath the surface of her slow and deliberate movements that were carrying her to the coffee shop in the Avala Mall where she was to meet Richard in about an hour, her mind was arranging and rearranging the words of a puzzle: a poem for the school paper. "It's not much of a paper," she thought. But then, she didn't think it was really going to be much of a poem, either. Still, by the time she reached her regular table in the back, she would have a stanza or two ready. And by the time she had them copied down, Richard would be there. Richard. She like him -- most of the time. But then, good girls in Avala-by-the-Lake overlooked the other times, didn't they?

     Carolyn the Sweet had just seated herself when the waitress came over with a cup of hot coffee and sat it down in front of her. Carolyn liked coffee. Ever since the synthesizers had taken over the food industry in one ubiquitous surge of technology, coffee was about the only thing that really tasted the way things used to taste. The waitress asked if she would be ordering or waiting for Richard. People quickly knew how things worked in Avala-by-the-Lake. And they knew who went with whom.

     "He should be here in about an hour." Carolyn said, as though she owed the explanation. Perhaps she did. Society expected certain things. Information was one of them.

     Nodding, the waitress simply said, "See you in five." She smiled and left Carolyn the Sweet to herself.

     Carolyn wasn't smiling as she opened her binder, took out a pen, and started setting down her verse. She already had the suspicion that what she wanted to say was being lost in the fog of literary expression. Nevertheless, it would be an exercise. She told herself that one must first see the fog to learn how to burn it away with the sun light of the right words. And she labored over the verse, like an expectant mom.

     And Richard would be there in about an hour.

2

     Richard Wycliffe is on the brink of a major discovery. He is just about to learn that it's sometimes not until you loose everything that you value in life, that you come to the realization that all along it was really the people in your life that really mattered.

     "Hey, kid. No running in the concourse." A man in a blue uniform yelled. "And no ball-play, either. What do you think you are? A quarterback, or something?"

     "Yea. I'm the quarterback, the Avala Bullet." And the boy skipped along, a second under running-speed. "Rent-a-pig." He cursed it under his breath.

     Once around a corner, Richard tossed his old football into the air again and rushed down the concourse of the Avala Mall after it. A few steps later he caught it -- as though it had just been snapped by the center and he was just about to make another touch down pass with it. They seemed inseparable, the High School Senior and the pig skin, like he and his white letterman's sweater, the one with the big orange A sewed onto the left side of it. Then, the look on Richard's face became intense with concentration, as he neared his destination. His face looked like a boy studying for a test whose questions could cover any subject. Such is the learning of life, he thought. Anyway, his allowance was in his pocket and he knew just how he was going to spend it -- the way he always spent it.

     Then, he turned into the Arcade in the hurry of youth and almost sprinted toward the back, dodging people as he went. That's where The Dragon Chamber was. In the rear. It was occupied. He hadn't counted on that. After all, he was supposed to meet Carolyn in just about an hour.

     "She'll understand," he thought. "She always does." The frustration of his nerves began running his fingers through his longish brown hair. He paced back and forth. He waited. He used the time to toss his football again and again and again, and then to study the colorful paintings on the wall of The Dragon Chamber -- again, again, and again.

     Blue sky was broken by the white clouds that seemed to be raining horrific dragons down onto a scattering group of young maidens. Pure maids, untouched and unblemished maids. The visions of chastity all. But one maiden was already being carried off in the steel-like claws of a more sinister dragon than the rest. The young woman's long, blonde hair was streaming down behind her and flowing in the wind. "She's just like Carolyn the Sweet," Richard mused.

     Of course, Richard could always play the other Virtual Reality Chamber game, The Flight Simulator, a mission aboard the new Automated Shuttle between First World Space Dock and the first Interstellar Colony in the Planetary System around Vega. He had, once. But he thought of it as being dull. Just getting somewhere just wasn't winning anything to him.

     But then, that was twenty years before First Contact with the Empire.

     Yes, he thought, the damsel in the painting was like Carolyn the Sweet. And this was the scenario of The Dragon Chamber: to accept the challenge of the King, to find the Dragon Lair, and to rescue the damsel in distress. Off to one side, a caption read, "A Flight of Dragons". And a Prize was advertised for the first Liberator to come along. And Richard Wycliffe was committed to being that Liberator, to winning that Prize. After all, he was a winner. Life itself was no more than a field with goal posts at either end and he was the quarterback of the winning team. That was his philosophy. That's how he lived. And that's how he was taking his High School Team to the State Championships this year. And he'd sworn he'd win that too! He probably will. But he said he'd win this Prize first. And his football was just falling into his hands again, when the door to The Dragon Chamber slid open and a discouraged looking boy dragged himself out. Richard was happy about that. That meant the First Liberator had not saved the damsel yet. Richard could still be that Liberator. So, he sprang in.

     He closed the door abruptly behind himself, turned, and faced a bare Dragon Chamber. It was practically an empty room that measured twenty feet deep by forty feet wide. The walls were painted a solid light grey that met a darker gray floor at the base board line, and the ceiling was an amber tone, broken by only a few light bars, dim but steady. The only furnishing in the room was a shelf bracketed onto the back wall. It supported the money machine, a helmet, a pair of self-sizing gloves and a pair of self-adjusting boots -- the Dragon-gear. Richard dashed back there, as he dug into his jean's pocket. He dug his money out. He slipped the five-dollar bill into the money slot, which took it the way lips take spaghetti. Off came his shoes and on went the Dragon Boots. On went the Dragon Gloves. And on went the Dragon Helmet. Then, off went his world, as on came a nether world. The Interactive Virtual Reality of The Dragon Chamber was on-line. "Enter name and address," a mechanical voice said. So, Richard typed it into the money machine keyboard. "Acknowledged and recording." His own world now ceased to exist and was replaced in his mind by an Alternate Reality. And Richard now stood in another time and in another place. The Celts and Celtic Mythology were as alive as chivalry. And he knelt down onto a single knee, because he was standing just inside the threshold of the Regal Audience Chamber and he was in the presence of the King, who sat upon his majestic throne. Richard's eyes were cast down in unpracticed humility and his hands were out before himself, palms up and empty. The King would call when ready. And when the King was ready, the King would offer the Challenge to the prospective Knight.

     The King was silent for a time, as he appraised this subject bekneed before him. After a while, he commanded the boy-man, "Rise. Approach."

     Richard felt the common blood that oozed through his heart and was sluggishly forced through his arteries. He glanced around and saw tapestries hanging from a two-story-high ceiling. Statues of brave men from the past stood in ridged stances. Thick rugs were everywhere. Men stood about the room with unknown functions. Then, he slowly approached the throne. He chose not to speak.

     Unlike his own world, this Celtic Myth was populated by men, testosteroids all, villains and heroes, with but a few servile wenches on the outskirts, and one distressed damsel.

     Then, a collier announced his name of common brevity. And Richard came and stood before the King, who was shrouded in his valiant wraps and robes of purple and red. Royal.

     "The fair maiden...?" prompted the King.

     "Carolyn the Sweet," supplied Richard, "Your Majesty."

     "Yes, off course. The fair maiden, Carolyn the Sweet, has been abducted by the Flight of Dragons.

     "She has been taken away to their Treasure Lair.

     "To survive, she requires rescue.

     "Now, for you to earn the distinction as a Knight of the Realm, then, and to earn a new name, Richard, you must find that lair, having overcome every obstacle confronting you, and having passed every test challenging you, release her person unharmed, and withdraw her to safety. You must do this even at your own peril.

     "Do you accept the Challenge and the terms of the Challenge, Richard?" asked the King.

     "I do, Your Majesty."

     "Then, be wise and be of good courage, Richard. Recall this: 'Wisdom above Courage wins the Prize'. Go. Bring back Carolyn the Sweet. Let the Quest begin."

     Suddenly, the landscape around Richard was rocky and barren. The ground was hard and only thorns grew where he was standing. Richard was descending the slope of a small ridge that headed into a narrow ravine, about the width of two football field lengths. On the other side, steep cliffs loomed into the air with ledges running along at ascending angles. A few caves could be seen that led into the face of the mountain. But below was the bottom of the ravine, where deep trails were cut through the rock. "This is going to be dangerous going," he thought, as he paused to survey the place more closely. Everything around him was dry and hot and parched by the unrelenting sun that was just down from overhead, sitting just toward the south and the west from him. And he felt the fingers of a hot wind blowing to brush against his cheek. In order to get to the other side, he thought, he would have to walk down into the labyrinth of trails and then find his way out again. Perhaps he would even have to fight his way out again. "Who knows what prowls around down there?" he asked himself, as he descended further.

     Whenever there is a worthy Quest to be undertaken, there are dangers to be overcome, he thought.

     Patting its hilt, he said, "Feels good to have a sword at your side. Something you can count on." He glanced up and down the narrow gorges. Some were as deep as twenty feet and some were too wide to jump across. Well, he had to go through the labyrinth, he concluded, at least to the main gully. "Which trail?" he asked, as though a voice would answer. Should he just choose one? Was there a right or a wrong choice? Richard simply didn't know. So, he chose arbitrarily: "There!" he said, as he pointed at one of the deeper crevices. Then, he stepped down into it.

     He was at least out of the sun. Suddenly, it was darker and cooler. Each step was a deliberate step. He could hear the sound of the rocks crunching under his boots. But he never took more than five steps at a time, without pausing to listen. He listened for sound. Any sound. His eyes looked everywhere for movement. Any movement. Then, something moved at his feet. He felt in more than heard it. A small reptile snapped at him, as it rushed out of his way. It spit and it hissed and its tongue lashed out and threatened twenty millimeters of space. And then it turned and lumbered away, like a miniature alligator. It was just about to round a bend, when it froze, then lumbered the other way and disappeared.

     "Something's over there," Richard whispered. He would have to either face it or turn and go back. His hand drew his sword. "The King had said I'd have to face the challenges, didn't he?" Step by slow, deliberate step, Richard advanced on the bend in the crevice. His hands tightened on the sword with a two-fisted grip. He held its point out to eye-level. And he was ready by the time he reached the corner.

     Swiftly, Richard rounded that corner and was face-to-face with two shaggy looking creatures that looked like apes or orangutans, or something in between. They were thin and about his own height and appeared to be as startled. They turned and ran. So, Richard perused. He even yelled, as he ran and swung the sword at them, until they rounded the next sharp bend. And there it was.

     Whatever these two things were, Richard knew they had just found their mother. And Richard looked up to her. She looked down at him. And there was no question that she understood enough of the situation to know that they were afraid of something and that the little something was right there, in the person of Richard Wycliffe. So, Richard turned and ran back the way he'd come. And she lumbered after him, just fast enough to ensure he'd get away from her children. Then he turned.

     Richard turned and thrust his blade deep into her chest and she made a horrible sound. Painful. Startled. Dying.

     And then the world was a bare room again. The walls and the floor were gray and the ceiling was amber. And a voice called him. A voice called him by name. It was the voice of the King.

     "Richard. The Quest is over. Recall these things: the Knight of the Realm takes life to eat or to defend. You have taken life to enjoy the taking. Nobility always gives life, even sacrifices for life. Nobility never takes it simply because it can.

     "Richard. Perhaps another day. Learn your lessons well, that you may meet your challenges and pass your tests. And Carolyn the Sweet awaits her rescue."

     Discouraged, Richard walked slowly out of The Dragon Chamber. Another chap rushed in. And from the grin on the boy's face, he too was glad of his predecessors failure. So, Richard tucked his football under his arm and looked at the time on his watch -- late.

3

     It was certainly one depressed Richard Wycliffe who walked into the Avala Mall Coffee Shop and looked over toward the back, where he and Carolyn usually sat. She was there. Waiting. Alone. Reading something. Looking down into a cup. She didn't look at all happy, he thought as he slowly made his way back toward her. She sighed. So, Richard moved toward her, his football tucked up under his arm, as though it were some dead thing now. His face was uncharacteristically drawn and his step was flat. Uncharacteristically.

     At his approach, Carolyn the Sweet looked up from her cup of luke warm coffee and assessed his face. Then, she looked at her watch to assess the time. Her head shook at his tardiness and she brushed back a lock of her waist-long and honey blonde hair. It was like corn silk. His lateness wouldn't have mattered so much to her right now, except for its punctuality. She set her eyes upon him, those same deep, rich brown eyes he'd lost himself into on other occasions. But they weren't capturing him now. They weren't inviting him right now, either. They were accusative right now. And his own eyes were looking not to meet them.

     "Carolyn the Sweet," he said in a lightheartedness so heavy it wasn't authentic-sounding. He tossed his ever-present football onto the bench opposite her and slid in to sit beside her. Close beside her. But not too close, circumstances being what they were. He was trying to be lighthearted, even in his present down cycle, which Carolyn could sense. And she appreciated that. To a point.

     "Don't call me that," she said, as though it meant, "again."

     Richard looked longingly at her profile, then slowly brushed the fingers of one hand through that silky hair of hers. He loved its softness and the way it curled in his fingers. They tangled in it, as they so often did. He smiled a not-too forced smile. "But it's true. Did I ever tell you, 'I think you're the sweetest woman on the planet'?"

     "Yes. Yes, you did." She couldn't help herself from smiling. A little, anyway. But smiling and being "sweet" wasn't what she had in store for him at the moment. He was being sweet just now, she thought. Or at least trying. But it was side-tracking. "You say it, but you just don't act as though you believe it, Richard."

     He squirmed, as naughty boys squirm. "What do you mean?"

     "Tell me, how would you treat the sweetest woman on the planet?"

     At first, he just squinted his eyes and thought of the question as a chess move, one that seeks an advantage, or as a billiard shot that seeks to gain a position. But he could anticipate no strategy. So, he drew the closer, put his arm around her the more tenderly, and whispered in a voice he thought the more charmingly. So, after the -- noticeable -- pause, Richard smiled and spoke with all the romance in him. "For the sweetest woman on the planet -- for Carolyn the Sweet -- I would do anything: I would do any deed for her. I would sojourn to anyplace for her. I would accomplish any feat for her. I would overcome any obstacle for her. I would fight any battle. I would defend her against any foe. I would win any prize. I would give anything."

     Carolyn, whom he called the Sweet, shook her head in understanding. But she didn't smile. He had thought she would at least smile. But she didn't. She nodded her head in that understanding way unique to women and spoke. "So, for me you would do anything you would want to do?"

     "What do you mean by that?" he asked. Perplexed.

     "Well, I wouldn't really want you to do any of those things. Not really. And somewhere down deep inside, you know it. I don't want you to win all those Prizes. I just want you to win me. You don't have to go out and do all those 'great things'. That's not what I want. I doubt that's what any woman really wants. All any woman really wants is for her man to be sweet and warm and to want to spend his time with her. If he does great things, then all the better. But when he's away from her, he should want to be with her. That's what life's all about, Richard, Relationships...."

     "Our relationship's just fine," Richard countered. One got the impression they'd had this conversation before.

     "For you. Not necessarily for me. Take today, for example. I was here on time. Why? Because I wanted to spend my time with you. We have little enough time, as it is, you know. You were not here on time? Why not? Because you wanted to spend your time elsewhere. That concerns me, Richard. When everything else is stripped away, all that's left is Relationship. The only way to make things valuable is to make them part of the Relationship. We have a Relationship with God. We have a Relationship with each other. And everything we do is to support those Relationships."

     "But to support those relationships," Richard reasoned, "we have to Win. That's what supports relationships."

     Carolyn moved away just a little. It could have been a lot. Millimeters sometimes seem like miles. "You think so, Richard? Well, you know what they say? Winning isn't everything."

     "They also say loosing isn't anything."

     "What if you're not a big winner in life? Most people aren't, you know. Most people don't win. But they're not losers, either. Most people don't win, but they have Relationships. And even when they loose, they still have Relationships. So, Relationships aren't about winning at all. Tell me, what if you loose? What if you loose your Championship Game? What if you loose your -- your -- Dragon thing, or whatever it is? "What then?"

     "Oh, I'll win. And it's not just some Dragon thing. It's a cash Prize of a thousand dollars and having excerpts from the scenario appear in the up-coming Dragon Movie.

     Mark my word, it's going to be Classic stuff. It will be! Classic, like Gort Klatu Burada Necto: The words that saved the world in The Day the Earth Stood Still. The Movie that's coming out is The Unlikely Hero. It's a story about a Knight of the Realm who marches out on a Quest to rescue a fair damsel in distress. He overcomes every challenge and passes every test and uses every skill. But in the end, it takes a common man to rescue Carolyn the Sweet through his love for her and not through his skill. He's the unlikely hero."

     "'Carolyn the Sweet'?" Carolyn asked.

     "Oh, the unlikely hero gets to name the damsel. So, when I win, the King will challenge Richard the Lionhearted -- that's me -- to rescue the fair damsel -- that's you."

     "Richard the Ostrich hearted is more like it! You're burying your head in the sand, Richard...."

     "I'll win. You'll see. And just think, I'll be the unlikely hero and you'll be Carolyn the Sweet, the fair Damsel in Distress. What do you think about that?"

     "You being the Unlikely Hero is likely. 'Carolyn the Sweet', now that's just what I want to be: a helpless, frightened woman who can't take care of herself or do anything, whose only redeeming value is that she's young and good-looking. Thank you for all these distinctions, Richard the Ostrich hearted."

     "Don't be like that," he said. "I know," Richard snapped his fingers. "Maybe if you became involved in what I'm doing you'd develop a better interest in it. Why don't you quit that Dumb School Paper and be a Pom pom girl! Then you'd see how important the things I do really are."

     "No thanks. All I see Pom pom girls doing is generating higher levels of testosterone and adrenalin in macho boys. I want my life's work to be more than that. I want it to create alternatives to violence and the establishment of Peace." Carolyn announced it proudly.

     "You're going to do all this, working on some dumb High School Paper?" Richard asked sarcastically. "Not a chance!"

     "It's a start, Richard. We always begin our life's work today. No matter when today is."

     "What have you got there, Carolyn?" he asked, looking at her paper.

     "Just a poem."

     "Let me see it."

     "It's not ready for anybody to see it."

     But before she had even finished, Richard had it in his hands and was beginning to read it out loud:

"What arm is strong enough to capture love

And cast it into a cell of little words

And mold it into forms that eyes can see

And cure it into substance hands can touch?

Poets and other fools have tried as much.

 

"They bend down on their knees over still ponds

And they drink the lips that kiss reflections

And they see landscapes in little water waves

And the brushes of their tongues can't paint a tree

And they're just standing there for all to see.

 

"What thesaurus of the mind can contain the heart

And communicate emotions breathing there

And transcribe them into any more than metaphor

And assemble them with letters that would reveal

And punctuate them just the way they feel?"

 

     "Are you serious, Carolyn? This is the beginning of some great career?"

     The waitress stepped up to the booth and interrupted them. "Can I get you something?"

     Rachel Bennett and her old friend Tabitha Hasting were walking by the coffee shop in Avala Mall. They were both decked out in their furs that covered pastel dresses laced up and covered with jewelry. Watching the couple inside, Rachel said, "Victoria's daughter and the Wycliffe boy. Interesting. Don't they make a hansome couple, Tabitha?"

     "Good stock," commented Mrs. Hasting.

     "Two of the oldest families in Avala-by-the-Lake. I've watched the Wycliffe boy grow up from a child. Being next door. Don't you think he looks like his father?"

     "He's been gone for so long," Mrs. Hasting said. "It's hard for me to say. I remember only vague impressions of him. Now, Victoria's daughter is certainly crafted after her image, isn't she?"

     "Well. It appears he is reading poetry to her. Frankly I thought of him as being more physical than cerebral. Perhaps his association with this Carolyn girl is having a maturing effect on him. She may be good for him." Rachel Bennett nodded, as though in approval. But then she was always a let's-wait-and-see kind of a woman and never wholly approved of anything. "We shall see."

     "This Carolyn is of good character I'm told." Mrs. Hasting turned and looked at her friend.

     "So I hear. But we shall see. You know how easily fate turns a blind eye in Avala-by-the-Lake."

     "So it does, my dear. So it does."

4

     The boy who would be Richard the Lionhearted stepped into the empty Dragon Chamber and paused briefly before he inserted his five dollar bill. He wondered, "What had the King said when the last Quest ended? Ah, he'd said a true Knight killed to eat and defend. And he'd said to learn the lessons."

     "Okay," he said to himself, "I'm beyond that already."

     Richard slipped in his money and changed into the Dragon Gear. And the Dragon Reality came on line. "Enter name and address," it said. After Richard complied, it said, "Acknowledged and recording." And the old world went away. And a new world came to him. And Richard was kneeling before the King. The King ran thick fingers through his gray beard that had once been black with youth. The gold medallion around his neck seemed to come out of the beard itself, instead of hanging around the neck of His Highness. And the King was shaking his head, as though thinking many things about the boy before him.

     Then, the King addressed this young Richard. "The fair maiden, Carolyn the Sweet, has been abducted by the Flight of Dragons. Carolyn the Sweet is in mortal danger, young man.

     "She has been taken away to their Treasure Lair. In fact, Carolyn the Sweet has been made a part of their gathered treasure. To them, she is a chattel to be had, property to be owned, booty to be won or to be lost.

     "To survive this demeaning existence, she requires rescue.

     "Now, for you to earn the distinction as a Knight of the Realm, then, and to earn a new name, Richard, you must find that lair, having overcome every obstacle confronting you, and having passed every test challenging you, release her person unharmed, and withdraw her to safety. You must do this even at your own peril.

     "Do you accept the Challenge and the terms of the Challenge, Richard?" asked the King.

     "I do, Your Majesty."

     "Then, be wise and be of good courage, Richard. Recall these things, if you are to succeed, Richard:

     'Wisdom above Courage wins the Prize'.

     'Nobility above strength conquers the enemy'.

     'Dignity above power carries authority'.

     "Then, go. Bring back Carolyn the Sweet. Let the Quest begin."

     Suddenly, the landscape around Richard was rocky and hard. The world seemed livid with danger and corrupted by hating mortals. And Richard stood like a steady rock to survey the fields before him. They held such secrets locked away that not even his imagination could fathom them. He started down. He was descending the gravel slope of a small ridge and was headed into a narrow ravine. On the other side, bleached, steep cliffs loomed into the air with ledges running along at ascending angles. Something was up there, but he couldn't see exactly what it was. It was more a movement around the mouth of one of the caves than anything else. But something was there. For sure. Below, at the base of the cliffs, was the bottom of the ravine, where deep trails were cut through the rock. "Dangerous going," he thought, as he paused to survey the place more closely. In order to get to the other side, he thought, he would have to walk down into the labyrinth of trails and then find his way through the maze. Perhaps he would even have to fight his way out again. "Who knows what else prowls around down there?" he asked himself, as he descended further.

     Patting its hilt, he said, "Still feels good to have a sword at your side."

     "Which trail?" he asked, as though his voice would divine an answer. "Was there a right or a wrong choice?" Richard simply didn't know. Should he make the same choice as last time? Another? Hard choices. But he chose: he decided against going the same way as before. But he chose not to be so arbitrary, either. He looked down several of the canals but, except for their varying depths, they all looked about the same. They all had been cut straight into the rock at almost right angles to the ravine by the eroding fingers of overwhelming water power and then turned down stream. A few joined existing trenches. Those intersections, Richard thought, would offer additional options. He chose one of those. "There!" he said, as he pointed down one of the deeper crevices. Then, he stepped down into it.

     Richard thought it seemed hotter this time than last and the temperature didn't seem to drop as much, when he walked into the trench. The heat seemed to rise from the ground, coming through the armour boots more, too. Perhaps, he was just noticing the temperature more this time. Or perhaps it was a little later in the day. He hadn't noticed. So, Richard reached up and lifted the face cover of his helmet and looked around. Sweat ran off his forehead and he could feel it running down his chest and he began to smell himself. He advanced deeper into the network that was cut into the rock. And he could feel the weight of the chain mail pulling him down, and of the armour as it tugged at his shoulders, pulling him down to gravity.

     Richard stopped to listen, but he heard nothing. He tried to penetrate his surroundings with his feelings, but received no impressions for the effort. There was nothing around to be seen. There was nothing around to be sensed. There was nothing but the flat bottom of the long trench, the brown rock that cutting water had made into siding, and the blue sky occupied by three clouds at the most. The walls were about fifteen feet high now, and he was still walking down an easy decline toward the intersection ahead. The walls would soon reach twenty. Then, it would merge with the other water-carved trail. And then he would have a decision to make.

     Creek. Creek. Creek.

     Richard seemed to have picked something up in the joints of his knees and his ankles. Each step was getting noisier. Creek. Creek. Creek. Creek. Quickly, it was becoming annoying. He paused to catch a breath before he reached the bottom, then he started back down again. Creek. Creek. Creek. Creek.

     At the bottom of the decline, Richard paused and then looked both ways. He decided to turn to the right, where he thought he could see another trail that cut across the ravine and not just farther down stream. And soon, he reached it. He rounded the bend as silently as he could and then he froze in his tracks as completely as he could. He reached for his sword. He gripped his hand around the hilt until his knuckles turned white. But he didn't draw it.

     Sitting on a small boulder in the middle of the gully was a diminutive man about the size and weight of a five-year-old boy. He was dressed oddly, Richard thought. He was all decked out in green from head to foot. The small man sat there cross-legged, smiling, and looking at Richard as though he were someone already known or one expected. There was a long bow on his lap and a lethal-looking arrow in the man's hand. However odd he appeared to be, he was a part of the normal population of Celtic Myths. His smile broadened, as though into welcome.

     "Hello," he said to Richard.

     "Hello," Richard answered, before he knew he'd even spoken. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

     "I'm the Helper," the little man said, as his eyes watched Richard move his hand so that the sword slid slightly out of its sheath. "You won't be needing that sword there, Richard."

     "How do you know my name?"

     "How can I not know your name, Richard, when I'm here to help you? You need no sword, no armour, no mail. They will drag you down. You need only these," he said. He held out the bow and the flinted arrow. "Used properly, the way the King intended, they will distract the Dragons, so that you may fulfill your Quest. Take them. Use them. But use them wisely."

     "No!" Richard snapped. "Keep them yourself, you little...." Richard looked the little man over again. "What are you, anyway?"

     "I'm the Helper."

     "Well! I don't need any help. I certainly don't need any help from you -- whatever you are. I've got the situation well under control. I'm the one to do the saving around here. And I'll do it alone. What do you have to say about that?"

     And then the world was a bare room again. The walls and the floor were gray and the ceiling was amber. And a voice called him. A voice called him by name. It was the voice of the King.

     "Richard. The Quest is over. Recall these things:

     'the Knight of the Realm stands not alone'. 'Nobility always Trusts';

     'Nobility always believes that whatever is needed will be provided at the proper time.

     "Richard. The Quest is over. Perhaps another day. Learn your lessons well, that you may meet your challenges and pass your tests. Carolyn the Sweet still awaits in mortal danger for her rescue."

     Discouraged, Richard walked slowly out of The Dragon Chamber. Another chap rushed in. Richard tucked his football under his arm. Soon, it would be time. For this was the big day of the Championship game. So, he looked at the time on his watch -- time to get ready.

5

     The State High School Football Championship Game was in progress. Well spend, as a matter of fact. Nobody had remembered such an exciting game as this one. It was a spectator's game. It was that, because it wasn't the kind of game that the players love to play. Both teams would like to have just gone out onto the field and slaughtered the other and ended up with a score of a thousand to nothing. That's a game-player's game. But this game saw that inches were worth the battle. And the price paid for inches were greater here than for yards elsewhere.

     Tensions were high in the stands, as the teams were beginning to assemble for what could be the final play of the game. The home team was down by two points. Avala High School. At this moment, all those visitors from out of town weren't welcome anymore. And Richard Wycliffe had just signaled for a time out and ran to the side lines to argue with the Coach.

     "What do you mean, 'kick'?" The young quarterback scorned the Coach.

     "Just that. Kick. You're fourth and goal and two points down. Kick and you at least have a tie. Run the play and you could have a loss. It's Conservative. Standard Policy. It's how we got here. Remember?"

     "Yeah. But we also got here because I have a sense about these things, too."

     "I won't argue that, son."

     "I don't want a tie. I want a win. An' I got the feelin' now. I say, 'Go for it'!"

     "It's against my better judgement."

     "This play decides the game. Let's do it," Richard exclaimed. Pleaded, actually.

     "Well, all right. It's your game, now, son. Win or loose. Can you live with that responsibility?"

     Richard put on his helmet and nodded, as he ran out to rejoin his team. Everyone knew the decision was made and the Home side of the stands cheered in loud voices and awfully-played instruments from the side lines. Pom pom girls jumped up and down and went through ancient rituals to excite the boys. For all is carnal on the battle field. Richard held up a single fist as he went out, signifying the Spirit of the fight -- I suppose. And the team huddled. And a play was born. And they lined up on the scrimmage.

     They were all set up, like chessmen on a board, except that all the middle squares had been cut away. On the front lines, everybody was threatened by somebody and testosterone flared like adrenalin and boys on both sides made ugly faces at their opponents. But nobody was afraid, really. Richard was calling out a list of numbers and everybody's muscles were tense on the playing field. Nerves were tense in the stands. The only one in the stadium with a sense of calm now was Richard Wycliffe. This was his moment. This was his Glory. This is what he lived for. It seemed to Richard, for just a moment before the Center snapped the ball, that this was the moment for which he'd trained and worked all year. These few moments were about to be his greatest. He had the feeling. He had that certain knowledge about the future. At least this future.

     Everything was quiet and all Richard could hear was his series of numbers as he barked them. The ball would snap at the number eight. The number eight was the number on his uniform. "Sixteen, forty-two, twenty-one, nine," Richard enunciated clearly, as he stood at the ready and the clock was ticking down toward zero. He was all athlete, now. All that needed to happen was for everyone to do his job and everything would turn out just fine. Richard thought in that moment, "The team that can block better and runs the ball better wins." That was his team. "One, eleven, four, ninety-nine, eight." And the center snapped the ball. Perfectly. And Richard caught the ball. Naturally.

     Richard held the ball with a grip like a vice. He more than knew the play. He knew how plays happen. That's necessary, if you're to make them happen. Everyone scattered. At first, it all looks random. Rushers rush aimlessly. Blockers block relentlessly. The offense scatters recklessly. And the defenders follow them faithfully. And if things work out, a hole happens. It might not be your first choice, but if you have enough offense out there, you will have a hole in the defense. And that hole's going to be your intended receiver and that intended receiver's going to be your completed pass. It had always worked like that. That's how Richard had brought his team this far. Things were beginning to shape up out there, as Richard back stepped a little more, and studdied the playing field like a chess board. And then he saw it. It was a hole. And that hole was just on the other side of the Goal Line. "This'll be the game pass," he thought.

     Richard stepped back one more time to balance himself. "No sense in hurrying the game-winning pass," he thought. His feet were rooted in the ground. His eyes were on his intended receiver. His arm was back and his hand was feeling the stitches on the ball. Everything was right. His arm was in motion now. And then it happened.

     Richard wasn't sure just what was happening. He was still holding onto the ball when something bludgeoned his side. It struck him so hard and so unexpectedly that his mind left his reason. He was on the ground. That was as much information as he could access for the moment. Where the ball was. Where was the ball, anyway? He was on the ground and that was as much information as he cared about. All was lost. The Slew of Despond. Depression. Failure.

     He wanted never to get up again. Never.

6

     The boy who would be Great, or at least Richard the Lionhearted, stepped into the empty Dragon Chamber once again and paused briefly before he inserted his five dollar bill. He had to win this time! He wondered, "What had the King said when the last Quest ended? Ah, he'd said a true Knight was never alone and believed what was needed would be supplied. And he'd said to learn the lessons."

     Richard slipped in his money and changed into the Dragon Gear. "I've learned all the lessons!" Richard said it out loud. He snapped out the words staccato. And the Dragon Reality came on line. "Enter name and address," it said. After Richard complied, it said, "Acknowledged and recording." And the old world went away. And a new world came to him. And Richard was kneeling before the King.

     And the King spoke: "The fair maiden, Carolyn the Sweet, has been abducted by the Flight of Dragons.

     "She has been taken away to their Treasure Lair.

     "To survive, she requires rescue.

     "Now, for you to earn the distinction as a Knight of the Realm, then, and to earn a new name, Richard, you must find that lair, having overcome every obstacle confronting you, and having passed every test challenging you, release her person unharmed, and withdraw her to safety. You must do this even at your own peril.

     "Do you accept the Challenge and the terms of the Challenge, Richard?" asked the King.

     "I do, Your Majesty."

     "Then, be wise and be of good courage, Richard. Recall this: 'Wisdom above Courage wins the Prize'. Go. Bring back Carolyn the Sweet. Let the Quest begin."

     Suddenly, the landscape around Richard was rocky and hard. He was descending the slope of a small ridge and headed into a narrow ravine. On the other side, steep cliffs loomed into the air with ledges running along at ascending angles. Something was up there, but he couldn't see exactly what it was. It was more a movement around the mouth of one of the caves than anything else. Below, at the base of the cliffs, was the bottom of the ravine, where deep trails were cut through the rock. "Dangerous going," he thought, as he paused to survey the place more closely. In order to get to the other side, he thought, he would have to walk down into the labyrinth of trails and then find his way through the maze. Perhaps he would even have to fight his way out again. "Who knows what else prowls around down there?" he asked himself, as he descended further.

     Some of the crevices were as deep as twenty feet and some were too wide to jump across. "Which trail?" he asked, as though a voice would answer. "Was there a right or a wrong choice?" Richard simply didn't know. Should he make the same choice as last time? He decided, "Yes."

     Richard thought it seemed a lot cooler this time than last and the temperature dropped dramatically, when he walked into the trench. But then, he had no armour or mail or sword to weight him down and heat him up.

     At the bottom of the decline, Richard paused and then looked both ways. Cautiously. He turned to the right, where he thought he could see another trail that cut across the ravine and not just farther down stream. Soon, he reached it. He was there. He rounded the bend as silently as he could and then, he found him there, as expected.

     Sitting on a small boulder in the middle of the gully was the diminutive man as before, all decked out in green from head to foot. The small man sat there cross-legged, smiling, and looking at Richard as though he were someone already known or one expected. There was a long bow on his lap and a lethal-looking arrow in the man's hand. However odd he appeared, he was a part of the normal population of Celtic Myths. His smile broadened as though into welcome.

     "Hello," he said to Richard.

     "Hello," Richard answered, "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

     "I'm the Helper, Richard," the little man said.

     "How do you know my name?"

     "How can I not, when I'm here to help you? You need these," he said, as he held out the bow and the flinted arrow. "They will distract the Dragons, that you may fulfill your Quest. Take them. Use them wisely."

     "I will," said Richard. And so he did. And the little man went silently away. So, Richard moved on, until was facing a wall of water rumbling down the trough toward him. Then, Richard slung the bow over his shoulder and started climbing and kept climbing, until he had reached the top and the water was rushing below him in rivers. And he lay there for a time, exhausted, but alive.

     When Richard the Unlikely Hero had sufficiently recovered, he found himself making his way to the other side of the ravine without too much trouble. He was able to jump across the canals now. And he was at the base of the cliffs that rose above him. Then, he began to climb. And he kept climbing. Carolyn the Sweet was up there, alone and afraid and in need of him. Finally, he was on that level he'd seen from below. And there it was. The Dragon.

     It's tail pounded the ground. Its claws scratched the surface, digging up chunks of what appeared to be rock. And Richard couldn't believe what it was doing. It was eating the dirty mess. Eating it! And it burped. At least, that's what he thought it was doing. And then, fire belched out of its mouth.

     Richard the Unlikely Hero knelt and studdied the ground. It looked like lime stone to him. "Lime stone," he recited. "In the beast's stomach, it would react with the acid and form hydrogen gas -- flammable. That must be how it does that," he thought. He looked at the arrow still in his hand, the arrow with the flint on it. And he smiled. Now, he thought he understood. What was needed would be provided. And it had been. But the Dragon looked into the sky and lifted off with a greater ease than Richard thought aerodynamically feasible. "The Gas is lighter than air, too," he decided. The Celts made some sense, after all.

     The Dragon flew up and disappeared in the sunlight. Richard squinted his eyes and then moved forward and entered the cave. The first thing that registered was the foul air in the place. It wasn't the musty odor he'd expected. It was decay he smelled. Soon his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness of the wide cave and he saw the mighty treasures laid about randomly. And he saw Dragon bones and a recently diseased Dragon Carcass, bloated with gas. And then he saw her.

     "Carolyn the Sweet!" She barely moved at first. Then slowly she lifted her head and saw him standing near by. She was tangled in chains of gold that held unbelievable gems. Evidently, she was a show-piece, like any other treasure.

     "Richard! You've come."

     "Let's get you out of here," he said, as he started untangling her. "We haven't much time before the Dragon Returns -- I guess."

     "How did you ever make it this far?"

     "Re-takes, my dear. I'll tell you all about it, when we have the time." Having unloosed her, he helped her to her feet and guided her out toward the ledge that would be their escape route. And they almost made it to the edge, when the Dragon landed there, blocking their way. Smoke was curling out of its nostrils. And its shark-like eyes were riveted on them, like spikes of steel, to mix a metaphor.

     "What do we do now?" asked Carolyn the Sweet.

     Richard studdied the Dragon and then looked back into the Treasure Lair. "Two choices. We start a fire in the Treasure Lair and hope the Dragon tries to save it. Shoot the Dragon with this," he said, as he knocked the arrow on the bow string.

     "What are you going to do?" she asked.

     "I don't know, but I'd better know it soon."

     The Dragon roared with fire, then gurgitated another mouthful of lime stone.

     Then, Richard pulled back on his bow string and aimed at his selected target. And he let loose. And the arrow flew and it hit the Dragon in the chest, so that it fell back in a sheet of flame and screeched a hideous sound. Then they came.

     A dozen Dragons came over the ridge behind them, shrieking and blowing fire. And their route of escape was cut off forever.

     And then the world was a bare room again. The walls and the floor were gray and the ceiling was amber. And a voice called him. A voice called him by name. It was the voice of the King.

     "Richard. The Quest is over. Recall these things: the Knight of the Realm takes life to eat or to defend. You have taken life to enjoy the taking. Nobility always gives life, even sacrifices for life.

     "Richard. You took life a second time, when unnecessary. Had you incinerated the Dragon's Treasure Lair, the Dragons would have defended their den and would have given you opportunity for escape. Instead, you killed the Dragon, which brought the Revenge of the Dragons upon you and upon Carolyn the Sweet.

     "Richard, you are disqualified. There will be no other day."

     Discouraged, Richard walked slowly out of the Dragon Chamber. Another chap rushed in.

7

     And Richard walked out into the Mall and took a seat to blend in with the Mall People. He sat there for a long time. Thinking. Evaluating. Remembering. What had Carolyn the Sweet said? He thought about their recent conversation. He remembered. He recalled some of the things she'd said that afternoon in the coffee shop.

     "All any woman really wants is for her man to be sweet and warm and to want to spend his time with her. If he does great things, then all the better. But when he's away from her, he should want to be with her.

     "When everything else is stripped away, all that's left is Relationship. The only way to make things valuable is to make them part of the Relationship. We have a Relationship with God. We have a Relationship with each other. And everything we do is to support those Relationships.

     "Most people don't win. But they're not losers, either. Most people don't win, but they have Relationships. And even when they loose, they still have Relationships. So, Relationships aren't about winning at all.

     "Tell me, what if you loose? What if you loose your Championship Game? What if you loose your -- your -- Dragon thing, or whatever it is? "What then?"

     What then, indeed? So, Richard thought about it.

      Carolyn Lockerby walked slowly down the main concourse of the Avala Mall. Her mind was really on something else, but she stopped now and then to look at the displays behind the glass windows of the stores. There were dresses and shoes and books and toys and many of the useless items that affluent societies manufacture and sell. Then, she saw a reflection in the window. Richard the Ostrich Hearted was sitting on a bench alone. She knew the outcome of the game. Everybody did. And she knew he hadn't taken it well. Nobody did. She turned and walked to him.

     "Hi," she said.

     "Oh! Hi!" His sudden enthusiasm took her a little bit off guard. His seriousness was unexpected. "Did I ever tell you, 'I love you'?" he asked without preamble.

     "Yes. Yes you have."

     "Well, that's all that matters. Here," he said, patting the place beside himself. "Have a seat. Did I ever tell you, 'There's nothing in the world I'd rather do than to just be with you?'"

     "No. But I'd like to hear about it, Richard."

     He put his arm around her shoulder and ran his fingers through her long, beautiful hair. His eyes looked soft somehow, as though they were about to melt out of their sockets. And he said, "No matter what happens, I want to just be close to you. And I want you to be close to me."

     "I like that, Richard. Why don't you tell me more about this? I like hearing it."

     "I have something for you Carolyn." Richard reached into his pocket and extracted a small maroon box. And he opened it. And he showed it to her. A perfect emerald was smiling up.

     "It's beautiful, Richard."

     "The next will be a diamond. And they say diamonds are forever."

 

The End


Hades