NaNoWriMo 2017: Day 2.

2,722 words writen today; 3,705 written in total.

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The paper dragon folded into itself, disappearing. Jangles sat down on a stool and grabbed his lute, indicating that the narrator was taking over.

And so, the Smiling Knight left the mourning dragon mother in her lair while he searched the land far and wide to find her eggs. He searched the countryside, but found no dragon eggs; he searched the churches and temples, but found no dragon eggs; he searched the castles and keeps, but found no dragon eggs; until, finally, he searched the underworld; the seedy burrows where lawless men gather to peddle their stolen goods, where he found the eggs at last.

A toothless rogue was auctioning treasure to the highest bidder, with the dragon eggs being the most coveted item. The Smiling Knight, ever the wily one, decided to sit and watch to see who would bid. He noticed that there weren’t just thieves here, no; most men and women who were bidding were aristocrats, fancy lads in fancy robes, looking for rare curiosities. And what curiosity would be rarer than an actual baby dragon!
The fancy men and women bought treasure after treasure; mummy wrappings, stolen paintings, ancient coins, when at least it was time to bid for the dragon eggs.

“Fifty gold pieces!”
“A hundred!”
“Two hundred!”
“A thousand!”
“A thousand, going once…going twice…”
The Smiling Knight had heard enough. Being quite the fancy lad himself, he decided to place his own bid. “Ten thousand!”
The aristocrats gasped. Even among the rich, ten thousand gold pieces was an absurd amount of gold.

The toothless auctioneer rubbed his little hands and grinned. “Very well! Ten thousand gold pieces by the-”
“Gold pieces?” The Smiling Knight interjected, “Who said I was offering gold? No; I bid ten thousand lives, for that is the price that was paid to buy these eggs, so it seems only fair.”
“Preposterous!” the auctioneer protested, “These eggs were found fair and square!”
“Tell that to their mother.”
“Sir, if you are not going to place a serious bid, then I must ask you to withdraw your ludicrous offer.”

“O, but it was serious – I never joke with people’s lives,” answered the Smiling Knight, “But if you are unwilling to accept that many lives, I suppose one – yours – will have to do.”
“Pay with your own!” the auctioneer snarled as he drew his sword.

Jangles the Clown hopped down from his narrator’s stool and exchanged his lute for his wooden sword. Right on cue, several paper rogues unfolded around him, brandishing their fake knives and blades. Wood clashed against paper as the Smiling Knight fought his foes in a series of dexterous maneuvers, besting one after the other, until finally he cut down the toothless auctioneer, retrieving the dragon eggs.

Skipping a tedious traveling scene, the defeated bandits folded and the dragon appeared in their place, ready to accept the eggs.
“I have retrieved your eggs, mother dragon,” said the Smiling Knight, “and, judging from how few fires I saw on my way here, you have held up your end of the bargain; I hand your children back to you.”
“You have my thanks, strange knight,” said the dragon. “I have never met one of your kind who was so helpful. I will not harm any of your kin while I roost, save for the fools who enter my lair or try to take my eggs.”
“It please me to hear that,” said the Smiling Knight, “yet that does not pardon you of your crimes. You have still claimed many a human soul in your wrath. While you justify it as vengeance, the laws of the land are clear.”
“Very well then, Knight,” said the dragon, “then let us do battle once more.”

“Fight a mother with young? I think not. No, without their mother’s warmth, these eggs will never hatch. The sins of the parent are not the sins of the child. You must be allowed to raise your young in peace. I will return to take your life when your children have children of their own.”
“At that point, foolish knight, you will be long dead; and your children will be, too.”
“Then my children’s children will come for you.”
The dragon mother roared with laughter. “May it be a glorious battle.”

“I’m sorry I’ll have to miss it.”

The Smiling Knight put his wooden sword away and Jangles the Clown once again assumed his place. “So ends the story of the Smiling Knight and Mother Dragon. She is still out there, in her lair, roosting on her eggs; or have they already hatched? No one knows; nor do I suggest you venture out to find out. There is no force in nature so dangerous as a mother guarding her young.”
“He should have slayed the beast,” a gruff onlooker argued, “that dragon will just end up killing more people, and so will her children, if allowed to hatch.”
“That may very well be so,” Jangles replied. “I am just a fool, sir; a singer and teller of stories, so I wouldn’t know; but if I were the Smiling Knight, I’d say that doing the right thing is always worth the price, whatever that may be. The Mother Dragon only attacked the countryside because her young were taken. Who’s to say what she’ll do now that she has been shown mercy? She may prove to be a boon to the people she once terrorized.”

“A dragon? Note likely!”

Jangles smiled from ear to ear. “Like I said – I’m just a fool, sir. I wouldn’t know.”

The clown spun around and took off his cap, laying it in the floor. “Please do this hungry singer the kindness of sparing some coin. But, before we part ways, remember the Smiling Knight’s words.”

“Your Smile is your greatest weapon,” a little boy in the crowd recited, “for it can disarm anyone!”

“And your Humor is your greatest defense!” his littler sister added, “for when you’re in a good mood, nothing can harm you.”

“And that’s no story,” Jangles said, “That’s the truth.

That night Jangles the clown and his special effects wizard retired to a tavern to count their haul. Both of them had retired their costumes for the night. Jangles had removed the paint off his face, showing the fine features underneath, and had swapped his harlequin outfit for something more casual. Pedro the Gnome, who always wore black when he manned the props, wore a simple blue robe and the cone hat his people were known for. Unlike most gnomes, Pedro didn’t really like to show off with his clothing; his pink hair and curled mustache were already plenty eccentric. Jangles never let go of his eccentricity, though; even out of costume he wore puffy sleeves, tights and delicately buckled shoes. His long blonde hair, however, was bare.

Pedro was counting the coins, building shiny towers on the counter while Jangles was enjoying a well-deserved beverage to cool his throat.

“It comes down to thirty-nine gold coins,” said Pedro. “a little on the low side. Are you sure you didn’t tuck some coins away in those puffy sleeves of yours?”

“Pedro, friend – you wound me,” Jangles said with an unreadable smile. “We always split everything 50-50.”

“Except for the meals,” Pedro protested hotly, “you always take the bigger portions.”

Jangles chuckled loudly with a clown’s laugh. “That’s because I’m four times your size, gnome.”

“That’s not the point!” the special effects wizard protested hotly. “I do half the work; I get half the stuff. The coin, the food.”

“The praise,” Jangles added, “the adoration of the crowds…the women.”

“That would be nice, yes!”

“So this is about jealousy then, Pedro? Pedro – you know that I appreciate what you do, more than anyone else would. Isn’t that enough?”

“I know that,” said Pedro, “but you – you’re The Smiling Knight, the dashing hero, but what what am I?”

Jangles sighed as he drank the last of his ale. “You know all that isn’t real, right? The Smiling Knight is just a character I made up.”

“Can’t believe you actually fought a dragon and lived,” Pedro teased, “you must be an impressive swordsman!”

“Stop it.”

“No, really!” the gnome continued, “And beating a whole pack of bandits single-handedly? You must be one of the finest fighters in the land!”

“Indeed,” a new voice suddenly added, “The Smiling Knight’s prowess with a blade is the stuff of literal legends. He makes all other knights look like chumps.”

Jangles swung around to see three knights that were definitely not smiling.

“Ah! Fair knights!” said Jangles with a smile, “Come, have a drink on us. Let us thank you for keeping the peace, like good citizens ought to.”

“O, there’s no need for that,” said one of the knights with menace, “You’ve done a fair share of peace-keeping yourself, haven’t you, Smiling Knight?”

“Please, that’s just a character I play,” said Jangles, “for the kids.”
“Well, they seem to think it’s real enough,” another knight added, “when they ride they broomsticks they all play Smiling Knight, whereas I, an actual, real knight, haven’t had a single kid ask of he could squire for me in over a month!”
“I am sorry to hear that, good knights,” said Jangles. “It was never my attention to draw attention away from you; I should not be getting the praise that is rightfully yours. How about I join you on one of your quests and sing of it in my next show?”

The knights exchanged nervous glances. Two seemed hesitant, but the third flashed an evil grin. “O, don’t be shy; if you are to join us on a quest, it should be as an equal. It would be an honor for three no-name knights to accompany the Smiling Knight on a quest. Wouldn’t it, boys?”
The other two knights caught his meaning. “O yes, we could learn so much from you, Smiling Knight.”

“Gentlemen, please,” protested Jangles, “like I said, it’s only a character I play; it’s all theater. Tell them, Pedro-”

Jangles looked for his special effects wizard for support, but the wily gnome had vanished.

“That son of a-”

“As it so happens, we were about to embark on a very real quest,” said one of the knights, “the well in a village not far from here is said to be haunted by a vile frog monster poisoning the water. We are riding posthaste to slay it.”

“And like I said, gentlemen, I would gladly accompany you and record your heroics, so that I may-”

“Praise be the gods!” yelled one of the knights as he hoisted the lanky clown upwards. “The Smiling Knight is with us! The people of the village can rest easy, knowing their hero is on the way.” The knight began dragging Jangles to the exit while the jester reached for towers of golden coins that were no longer on the counter. “That rotten – he took the gold, too!”

And so it came to pass that Jangles the Clown rode towards the village of Bredon in the company of three knights in shiny armor riding magnificent horses. He himself was forced to wear his costume and, since he did not have a steed of his own, was allowed the use of a donkey.
“A jester riding an ass,” one of the knights remarked, “How fitting!”
Jangled agreed. “Far more fitting than an ass riding a horse.”
The knight that had addressed him smacked him on the back of the head with his gauntlet. “Guard that tongue of yours, clown.”
“Clown? Wasn’t I the Smiling Knight?”
Another smack taught Jangles to keep quiet on the road. Even though he was forced to embody his character, the knights hadn’t been kind enough to supply him with any knightly regalia, save for the ass. He was not wearing any armor and his sword and shield were only props. If they were going to force him to actually fight a monster – which Jangles had every reason to suspect they would – he would fare…poorly.
“Can’t I at least get an actual sword?” Jangles asked again.
“Why, Smiling Knight, I thought your smile was your greatest weapon.”
“For it can disarm anyone!”
“Fine. Can you give me a shield, then? For protection?”
“But Smiling Knight, isn’t your Humor your greatest shield?”
“Nothing can harm you when you’re in a good mood!”
“Glad you’re familiar with my work,” Jangles muttered. He was in a pickle, that much was certain. But he would talk his way out of it. He always did.

Jangles and his Smiling Knight was well-known in these parts, and when the clown arrived in Bredon he received a hero’s welcome, which he would have reveled in if not for the fact that he was trying very hard to pass as just a silly clown as not to anger his armored companions. They grit their teeth and glared at Jangles as he awkwardly tried to dismiss the cheers he received. They didn’t say anything; they just watched, confident that the clown’s comeuppance was coming soon. How convenient that there would be a crowd to witness it!
“Jangles the Clown,” an elderly villager said, “are you here to alleviate our worries with tales of the Smiling Knight? The children would be thrilled.”
Before Jangles could even answer, one of the knights cut in. “Even better, citizen! This isn’t Jangles the Clown who sings about the Smiling Knight; this is the Knight himself, in the flesh! Rejoice!”
The old man looked understandably confused. “Please, I’m not, really – I’m just a traveling minstrel, I-”
“Is just modest, that’s all,” the cleverest of the knights added, “You see, the Smiling Knight and Jangles the Clown have been one person, all along! How else would he know of all these thrilling adventures, if he hadn’t been there to witness them firsthand?”
“That’s easy,” said Jangles, “I made them up”
“Such admirable modesty!” the knight retorted, “Truly an example to us all.”
The old man shuffled towards Jangles, studying him closely. He touched the young clown’s painted cheek with a trembling hand. “We’ve always had our suspicions, but…son, we are so grateful for everything you’ve done. You’re a brave lad.”
You’ve got to be kidding me, thought Jangles to himself. By now, just about the whole village had gathered to welcome the Smiling Knight; imagine, to be able to witness one of his legendary exploits up close, not just in a story, but in real life!
“Smiling Knight! Smiling Knight!” said a small child, “Would you draw a smile on my shield?” The boy tried to get Jangles to sign his pot lid. By now it was more than obvious that Jangles wasn’t going to be able to undersell himself as a simple minstrel. These knights wanted a show? Fine. Jangles was going to give them a show. But if they expected him to humiliate himself to heal their shattered ego’s, then they had another thing coming.
“Of course, little one!” Jangles bellowed in the voice of the Smiling Knight. He took the lid and an offered paintbrush and drew a smile on the boy’s shield. “But remember that your true arms are on your face – look, there it is!”
The boy smiled from ear to ear. “That’s what I’m talking about. A smile that could fell an ogre!”
The crowd loved it. But when the cheering quieted down, the old man – supposedly the village elder or something – spoke again, telling Jangles what he least wanted to hear.
“I trust you have come here because you have heard of the monster dwelling in our well? Please, you have to help us – we are running out of water.”
“Have no fear, elder,” one of the knights said, “The Smiling Knight is here to save the day!”
More inconvenient cheers. Jangles was really starting to get nervous now. But he wouldn’t break character. Not until he absolutely had to; he wouldn’t give the knights the satisfaction. He was just to being nervous; he knew how to deal with hecklers.

“My squire here is right,” Jangles said with a smile, “lead me to this well, elder; I will slay the monster and deliver your water back to you without fail.”

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