Map of the Realm he last light of day streamed through the silvery trunks of the tall stand of birch trees and caught the rising plume of smoke. Gathered around the crackling blaze the small group of travelers finished the last few scraps of the evening's meal and huddled close to the warmth. In the east a hunter's moon rose over the tree tops, its pale light poised to replace that of its heavenly twin. The journey left before the gallant band reached its goal; the shrine of St. Cafadel. Each member of the party had their own reasons for making the long, arduous trek along roads seldom used. On previous nights each had quickly dropped off into a dreamless slumber and had only awakened to take his turn watching the night's shadows for signs of danger. This night was different, as the twilight deepened, every face turned to the old man they had met upon the road that morning. At first he seemed like any other, his long white beard flowed midway down his chest and his clear blue eyes sparkled from within a craggy, lined face. Closer examination had revealed the long neck and thick body of a seven-stringed lute strapped to his back. A storyteller! The travelers couldn't believe their luck. A series of quick negotiations later and the storyteller had joined them in their journey. In trade for the safety of their company and a good hot meal he had agreed to entertain them this evening with songs and stories. Now the last of the food was gone and the travelers passed a skin of new wine around the fire. It was time for the storyteller to earn his keep. By mutual consent it had been decided that a story would be told first, but which one? A blonde-haired girl asked for a tale of romance and of Princes and Princesses. No, cried a young boy who wanted to hear an adventure with brave knights overcoming horrible monsters. The old man took a long swallow of wine and passed the skin to his left. A smile played on his lips and he raised a long, bony hand to silence his audience. A stillness fell over the forest as if the very trees strained to hear his words. He paused momentarily, then began his tale...

"There is, far to the south and east of this place, a great castle with shining white stone walls and tall graceful spires that seem to reach up to the very stars themselves. Therein resides a great King who rules all of his kingdom fairly, with kindess and justice for even the lowest born of his subjects. He is much beloved by his people who lead quiet lives of unequalled happiness. The King would often stand in the window of his highest tower and look out over his kingdom and smile. Far below he could see the village and, in the distance, farms studded the horizon. From this vantage point he would wave down at his daughter, the beautiful Princess Daphne, as she sat on the castle's lawn under a stand of apple trees and took her lessons from her tutor. She would laugh and wave back, the sunlight gleaming off her long golden hair. Out of the whole kingdom there was nothing that the King loved so much as his daughter. She was the fairest young woman in the lang, beautiful not only in face and form but in spirit. So when it came time for Daphne to take a husband, the King made up his mind that she would have only the best and the bravest in all the Realm. To this end he declared that there should be a great contest in which all the eligible young men could compete and from their number surely Daphne would find a suitor that would bring her the happiness that she deserved. The King dispatched heralds and bards to the farm corners of the realm to spread the word of the great tournament.

On the appointed day the entire kingdom gathered to celebrate and watch the unfolding spectacle. Brightly colored tents were set up on the great lawn and all manner of jugglers, acrobats and clowns entertained the crowds with their fabulous skills. Huge fire pits had been dug and whole sides of beef had been cooking since first light. Mead and music flowed freely and the people sang and danced.

At the stroke of noon trumpets sounded and the King escorted the fair Princess Daphne up the stairs of the royal pavilion to their awaiting thrones. The Princess was never more lovely; her skin was like cream and her smile was more dazzling than the sun itself. Gathered on the field of honor were the best the Realm had to offer, brave knights in armor each stood beneath their banners awaiting the start of the games. There were many that day: the Knight Randal with his magic shield, Sir Percival of the Green Wood, Duke Julian of the great Enchanted Mountain and the bravest of them all, Dirk the Daring, hero of many battles. A quiet fell over the gathered crowd as Princess Daphne stood, and with a drop of her lace kerchief the games began.

All that afternoon the sound of breaking lances and clashing swords echoed off of the castle walls as one by one the competitors were eliminated and left to nurse their wounds and their bruised egos 'till only one was left standing in the center of the tournament lawn. It was Dirk the Daring who stood before the king and his daughter that day and knelt to receive his reward. He raised his visor, his eyes met those of Princess Daphne's and at that moment they both knew they had found true love.

Now finding your true love usually signifies the end of the story, with the lovers living happily ever after, but this was not to be. For far to the north, beyond the Misty Mountains, in a land barren and bleak there was a dark, foreboding castle. Word of the contest, and of the beautiful Princess Daphne, had spread far and finally reached this dismal place. In the castle lived the Evil Wizard of Nor and his Dragon, Singe, who was old when the world was young. The Wizard had long hated the kingdom to the south that had successfully resisted all his attempts at conquest. When he heard of the contest to take place he swore to himself that it was not to be and so he sent Singe flyuing southward with a great beating of leathery wings.

So it came to pass that the the moment that Dirk the Daring stretched out his hand to the fair Princess a horrible rustling was heard and a great shadow fell upon the tournmanet lawn. With a roar of trimuph, Singe swooped down out of the clouds and with one massive claw scooped up the Princess before anyone could react.

The King was beside himself. The one he treasured above all others had been snatched from beneath his very nose and he called for volunteers to rescue the Princess from the evil lizard. But the reputation of the dragon was well known and well deserved. Many had braved the perils of this castle, but none had ever returned to tell the tale. 'A rescue!', the King cried, 'who will rescue my daughter?' And from the collected Lords and Ladies, Knights and Squires, all was silence. Until with the sound of metal on metal a single sword was drawn from its scabbard and held aloft. All eyes turned as Dirk the Daring knelt before the King and pledged his life to the safe return of Princess Daphne."

The old storyteller stopped his tale at this point and as one, the travelers begged him to continue. 'What happened,' they cried, 'did Dirk the Daring rescue the fair Daphne?' Once more he silenced them with a raised hand and instructed them to listen closely. The rest of the story, said the old man in a hushed voice, has yet to be written and from the darkness of the forest came the distant sound of galloping hoof beats. The party turned as one in their direction. On a low hill in the distance, framed against a swollen moon, a lone Knight rode north...

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"Dragon's Lair" is a registered trademark of Bluth Group, Ltd. 1989. Character designs 1983 Don Bluth. All audio visuals and concept Don Bluth Multimedia Inc. All Rights Reserved, no infringement intended.

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