“The land is at peace,” said the brave knight Asmus, looking sadly into his empty mug. “And I am bored, to the point of death.”
“Well then, have another,” said his serving-woman, Tisa, exchanging the empty vessel for a full one. It was like a ritual: he would eat, drink, complain. Tisa would help him to bed. Some nights, he needed some special comfort, and Tisa would provide. It was almost like being married, except Asmus treated her better than did her late husband.
But to her surprise, Asmus rested his chin on his arms and only stared at the mug. “I need purpose. Direction.”
“M’lord: you tamed the realm, routed the bandits, and the last wolf anyone’s seen in years is hanging on yonder wall. The people are content. You’ve done well by them. Any would say you have earned your rest and ease.”
“I’m done with rest and ease!” he yelled, slamming one fist onto the oaken table. The mug (and Tisa) jumped, ale sloshed. “I need a quest — for I fear I will not live until I stare down Death anew.”
Tisa sighed. The realm featured few fair maidens, and none of them had needed rescuing of late. “Perhaps you could visit that fortune teller in the village,” she said at last, putting a warm hand on his shoulder. “Let me help you to bed now.”
The fortune teller was a kindly grey-haired lady whose name was Helena. “Would you like your palm red?” she asked, producing a jar of cherry juice.
“Um, thank you, but no,” said Asmus. “I need a quest, for I am bored with rest and ease. I come to you for purpose and direction.”
Helena smiled and poured herself a cup of juice, then peered into her orb and was surprised at what she saw within.
“Go to the land of Aht-Lann-Tah,” she said, “and there will you find a dragon, a mighty terror to the people who live there.”
Now you might think Asmus went straightaway to this distant land, but a knight going into battle never travels alone. He has an armor bearer, weapons bearer, a squire, a page, and a minstrel. The page, Bert, was a clever and quiet fellow. Asmus had learned to listen when Bert spoke, for his counsel was always wise. Indeed, it was Bert who freed him from the clutches of a yellow giant, stepping between those huge fingers to free his knight and the fair maiden. (Thus the people say, “let your pages do the walking through the yellow fingers.”)
The journey to Aht-Lann-Tah was not without incident, but the armor bearer has paid well for my silence in this matter. And so, when the people learned that a brave knight had come to deliver them from the dragon, they rejoiced and put on a great feast. There was music, and dancing, and food, and drink, and many fair maidens draped garlands of spring flowers around the neck of Asmus. A few, who had partaken more than their fair share of drink, garlanded the squire and Bert as well. The merrymaking went on to dawn, when only Asmus and Bert remained standing.
“What shall we do with these, Bert?” asked Asmus from behind his blanket of flowers.
“Take them along,” said Bert from behind his own blanket. “Perhaps the dragon will be too curious about what approaches, and you may spit him unaware. Besides, if the garlands bring you luck this morning, they may bring more luck tonight.”
“Excellent counsel, as always!” Asmus chortled. “Now let us gather up the others and find glory!” Sleep-deprived and tipsy as he was, Asmus was anxious for action. The bearers could not be roused, though; fortunately, they slept with what was entrusted to them. The squire was nowhere to be found. So with some help from Bert, Asmus donned his armor and they marched to the lair of the dragon. It was a fearsome-looking cave, bones strewn for a long way outside.
Bert, footpad-quiet and unencumbered by armor, took a peek inside. “He’s asleep!” he whispered, gesturing to Asmus to approach. “Glory is yours!”
“Seems unsporting to spit even a dragon in his sleep,” said Asmus, but entered as quietly as he could anyway.
Alerted by the clanking of armor, the dragon opened one eye and sniffed. “What — what —” It sniffed again, then reared back. Before Asmus could charge, the dragon sneezed. He expected to be bathed in fire, but found himself drenched in dragon-snot.
“You are disgusting!” Asmus shouted, raising his sword.
“I’m allergic!” the dragon bellowed. The great worm sneezed again, but Asmus ducked and the huge wet wad hurtled outside. “Flowers! Ah!” It fell to the floor of the cave, exposing its soft belly. “Kill me now — better that than this!”
“Sir! Wait!” Bert shouted, running inside. “I have a better idea!”
After securing certain unbreakable promises from the dragon, Asmus and Bert shed their flowers outside and brought great news to the people of Aht-Lann-Tah. The feast began anew, and the fair maidens made good on their implied promises until Asmus fell from exhaustion. Then they wore out Bert, which took a little longer.
Later that day, Asmus and Bert left the bearers and squire behind and flew home on the back of the dragon. Asmus and the dragon sparred daily, drawing crowds from far and wide, until Asmus finally named Bert Knight of the Realm and settled into a quiet retirement with Tisa. Flowers were not allowed in the palace, and they all (including the dragon) lived happily ever after.