The thick door of the inn was slowly pushed open, and a mighty champion sulked in. He limped his way across the hardwood floor and sat at the nearest table. Dark circles hung under his eyes, and his skin was gray and sickly, save for the large regions of black and purple bruises. He folded his arms on the table and laid his head down. A young boy scurried out from behind the bar and to his aid.
“Sir Bob!” said the boy in an anxious whisper. “My lord, are you okay?”
“No,” said Bob. “I suffer, young Brian.” His words were muffled by his arms. “I suffer and grieve tremendously.”
The young boy made a wave to his older sister and she rushed over with a fresh loaf of bread and some cool ale. “Sir Bob,” Brian said, “please, drink this.” He slid the wooden tankard toward the defeated hero, but the man made no moves to drink from it.
“It’s all so foolish!” Bob yelled into his arms. “Our fair maiden, Princess Catherine…”
“Yes!” Brian cheered. “The wonderful woman you so bravely rescued from that vicious flying beast. She’s back safe because of you, my lord!”
Bob raised his head, and Brian clearly saw the weariness in the hero’s eyes. “I certainly did rescue her,” Bob said. “I traversed the open plains and crossed The Sand Sea. I climbed the sharp crags of The Fanged Mountains. I endured the snows and frozen glaciers and reached that smoldering volcano the beast called its home.” The hero sighed, lifted his head and began to drink from the tankard. The two children watched his Adam’s apple pulse as he took large gulps. The wooden cup came down hard, and Bob wiped his mouth. “I slayed that beast,” he said with a dull horror in his eyes. “I saved the princess and I brought her back to our king.”
Brian smiled and nodded. “Yes, sir. Yes, you did!”
Bob’s eyes rolled and he took another swig from the tankard.
“My lord, Sir Bob,” said Susanne with a timid curtsey. “Why does this disturb you so?”
“She’s been snatched!!” he shouted. The words seemed to explode from his mouth and a brief pulse of color came across his gray cheeks.
“What?” asked Brian. “The princess?”
“I told the fat old fool, his majesty,” Bob said with a sneer, “to stop keeping that poor girl in that tower. But he just insists it’s the safest place for her.” Bob finished his ale and gave the empty tankard to Susanne. She rushed off to gather his refill. “Not two days after I return her, she’s taken from her bed yet again by another bloody dragon.” Bob shook his head. “The King is already calling upon me, and my wounds aren’t even healed!”
Brian worked at his dirty fingernails with unease. “I thought the dragon was slain, my lord.”
“It certainly was,” Bob said. “I brought back the head. But that dragon was not the only one.”
“What will you do, my lord?” Susanne returned in a flash and landed the full mug of ale in front of them.
Bob looked at Brian and Susanne and the mug. He shrugged his shoulders, gripped the wooden handle, and drank up.