The valley was deep and remote, far away from the castle; otherwise, King Arthur would never have approved of this. In fact, if he’d known what this “team-building exercise” would really entail, he certainly would have put a stop to the whole thing.
Way down in a desolate tomb of a valley, eight brave men fought one ferocious dragon, and they’d been doing so for nearly an hour now.
“Why ARE we doing this!?!” Sir Lancelot cried, beating at the edge of his burning tunic. The hideous dragon let out an ear-splitting shriek before flooding the valley with yet another wave of fire and smoke. Knights in grimy armor scattered every which way.
When there was finally a slight lull in the din, a creaky, old voice echoed down through the valley from above,
“Because it’s effective!” Merlin stood at the very top of the jagged cliff, watching the knights fighting below. “You’ll thank me later,” he croaked.
Of course Merlin had been the mastermind of the operation. Most of the knights of the round table weren’t quite comfortable around Camelot's old warlock. He was a bit like a crazy old uncle, but one who could turn your toes into roots if he felt like it.
None of the men had been excited when Merlin asked them if they felt like trying something new. Come to think of it — and facing a hideous demise tends to make one more reflective — Merlin’s eyes had glinted that morning in a way they all had found rather ominous.
“ ’Tis but a little something I invented to help you, good sirs, in your chivalrous pursuits,” Merlin had explained in the calm quiet of the great hall. Within the safety of the castle walls, everyone had looked, silently, across the round table, sharing another uncomfortable Merlin moment until Arthur asked,
“And what might that be?”
“Oh, you can go on dropping your gauntlets before walloping one another, then accepting dainty little handkerchiefs afterwards, or you can wisen up and use my new technique for a nearly-instant, practically-invincible, chivalrous team!”
“And how do you purpose we achieve this, Merlin?”
Arthur had long held the task of trying to keep the wizard focused. The old man had a way of wandering about.
Merlin beamed. “I call it ‘the High-Stakes, Intensive Team-Building Exercise,’ or… Th’ Beist! — which is, actually, yet another thing I invented. I call it an ‘annacronym.’ Arthur, you know how I pride myself on being such an adept inventor…”
Five hours later and the knights were all paired off into teams, fighting a ludicrous battle in the name of building a legendary team.
“No! To your left! Your LEFT!” Gawain yelled.
Perceval stood facing the opposite direction, frantically swinging his sword away from the beast at his back; a dirty band of cloth tied over his eyes.
Upon Gawain’s instruction, he turned and swung a wide arc left, completely missing.
“Can you not hear the thing?”
“The brute sounds like it’s everywhere in this cursed rift!” Percival howled, “Curse this echoing!”
“Sorry, but I can’t do that,” Merlin chortled.
Gawain watched as the dragon’s spiny tail swung just past his blind fellow.
“Just run man!” he hollered. “We’ll try again once you—”
The beast slowly turned its gaze to the grumbling knight. Leaning back, and opening its toothy maw wide, a furnace lit within.
“GET OUT OF THERE!”
Not far off, Sir Kay sat behind a boulder yelling, “Don’t you think it unwise to have our king battle a dragon blindfolded? Can we not at least trade places?”
“HA! You think I’d let him off that easy?” Merlin cackled. “For this exercise to work, Arthur will have to pull his own weight for the team. A king must be both willing and ready to lay his life down for his subjects.” Merlin chuckled to himself, but then reassured the greening knight,
“He’ll be fine, Kay. Don’t worry.” Merlin’s long white beard waved as he shook his head. “These round table fellows are really no fun at all.”
“I see an opening!” Ector cried, gripping the hilt of his sword tightly.
“Good. But you need to get your blind buddy to execute the attack.”
“Come on now, sirs!” Merlin urged. “Do you not want to go down in history as a gild of brave and chivalrous heroes; legends even? Just one of my Team-Building Exercises and you’ll be a far better court of knights than four score tournaments could make you!”
Sir Ector growled. “Fine! Galahad, run to where you hear that deathly ruckus, then jump when I say.”
The somewhat lanky but ever brave Sir Galahad ran as fast as his legs could carry him, his armor clanking as he approached the great serpent.
“Now!” Ector yelled.
Galahad leapt smack into the beast’s side. All of the knights without blindfolds laughed and cheered. Sir Galahad immediately began climbing up the creature’s scaly side.
Everything was looking up until there came a low hissing sound. The cheering died down. The hissing slowly grew.
“Galahaaad. Hurry up. Hurry, Galahad,” Ector, Kay, and Gawain all urged, trying to remain calm; their voices sounding somewhat like a group of disturbed chickens.
Apart from the strange new hissing and the hens, everything had grown strangely quiet. Arthur, Perceval, and Lancelot gripped their blindfolds, wanting terribly to tear them off.
Merlin’s voice cut through the tension. “Ector, you might want to get ready.”
“Ready for what exac—”
But before Sir Ector could finish, the dragon kicked off the ground, and with a single beat of its wings, the beast and its unfortunate passenger were 25 yards up.
With a flick of its claw, the dragon sent Sir Galahad flying through the air in, unfortunately, a steep downward projection.
“I’ve got you, Galahad! I’ve got you!” Ector shuffled around, his neck craned, watching.
With a loud metal clashing of armor, Sir Ector actually managed to catch Sir Galahad.
When he realized that he was still alive, Galahad let out a giddy laugh, then looked up. “You know? That was really quite valiant, Ector.”
Merlin called, “You see what I mean, men? You’re getting better and better by the minute! I see you’ve also stumbled upon my ‘valiant catch’—” he rambled on, “ ‘faith fall?’ Ah, I’ll keep working on it. ”
The knights only got a slight break while the dragon banked back around for a landing. By that time, however, they were ready to end this exercise.
Twenty minutes later, the beast was dead. Arthur, Lancelot, Galahad, and Percival all tore off their blindfolds, and drew their swords out of the great reptilian corpse. After many hurrahs and huzzahs, Merlin hobbled down to meet them.
“Well done! Well done!” he said.
And, having finally conquered the beast, the knights were all so excited, they couldn’t help but include the old wizard in their celebration. That is until he said,
“And I’ll have an even better challenge for you next week!”