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A story about a princess who leaves her life behind for a dragon.
Princess Alandra sat chin in hand as she gazed through her tower window. It was a beautiful night. The moon’s bright light made the rolling hills shine. A cool fresh breeze blew through her fringe. The distant Pontine Mountains were a dark, mysterious shadow against the twinkling horizon.
‘Come, your highness,’ Lily, her handmaiden said. ‘You must hurry. You mustn’t keep you lord husband waiting.’
Princess Alandra snorted. ‘I doubt my dear husband will mind.’
But she rose to her feet and let Lily finish dressing her.
It should have been a simple process, making love to her husband. A silken shift, long golden hair brushed and flowing down the back, a touch of rouge on the cheeks, should have been all that was needed. But nothing was simple when one had a face like Princess Alandra’s.
Born with a long, hooked nose, eyes too close together, a broad jaw which jutted to one side and bearing the ravages of the pox, Alandra was more than plain—she was ugly.
She was dressed in a long, silken shift but beneath it was a pair of ankle-length, crotchless pantaloons so her husband could do what he had to do without having to touch her diseased thighs.
Lily applied yet another layer of powder against her cheeks, then stopped and stepped back to take a look. She frowned, and was about to apply more when Alandra said, ‘That will do.’
‘Yes, your highness,’ she said, with a bow.
A pair of diamond earrings and a green, velvet gown finished her outfit. Alandra lay against the pillows on her bed and smoothed out her golden hair so it flowed over her breast. Her hair was the only beautiful thing about her. ‘Tell him I’m ready.’
Lily left, and Lord Berrick entered, closing the door behind him. ‘Why are the candles still lit?’
Running her fingers down her velvet gown, Alandra didn’t answer.
He circled the room, blowing out the candles one by one and drawing the drapes until only a sliver of moonlight entered.
Alandra had been fifteen when she had accepted Lord Berrick’s hand in marriage. As fifth in line to the throne, she had had her pick of eligible men: lords, barons, dukes and all sorts of noblemen. Some were ugly or crippled, many were too old for her with white whiskers and potbellies, others were drunks and obscene. She had thought herself lucky when her father had chosen Lord Berrick. Only seven years older than herself, he was tall and strong, a fearsome knight, admired by his men and adored by the ladies.
She knew better now. Maybe if her father had chosen one of the old, ugly ones, she might have known, if not a great passionate love, at least a little tenderness.
His tall figure approached the bed. A strip of moonlight glittered over his handsome face and glistened upon his long, dark hair.
‘Stop looking at me,’ he said.
As she turned her face away, she heard him drop his pants. She desperately wanted to look, to see him, but it was always dark with Berrick, and she always had to look away.
The bed groaned and creaked, the mattress sank beneath his weight. He smelt of horse and steel. His heat seemed to burn right through her velvet gown, making her sweat. She gasped. Her heart pounded. They had been together a year, and her love for him hadn’t faded.
‘Spread your legs,’ he commanded.
She did and was glad. He would be on top tonight. Often, he did it from behind, and she never got to truly feel him.
He pushed up her shift, crawled over her and thrust into her. Alandra gasped. She was only slightly moistened and his hardness grated inside her. Berrick didn’t care or notice, plunging into her until she was forced to become slick.
‘Don’t touch me,’ he snapped.
She released his hips, and he pushed her face into the pillow. He was quick and efficient, like always. He needed an heir and would get one with the least amount of discomfort as possible. Even so, Alandra closed her eyes and enjoyed it as much as she could. He came with a growl and a shiver.
He pulled out with a grunt, his seed trickling out of her. He didn’t say a word as he put his pants back on.
‘Berrick? Should I expect you tomorrow night too?’
‘Doubtful,’ he said and left, the door slamming shut behind him.
The next morning, Alandra took Starlight, her beautiful white mare, and rode across the fields and farms, away from the town, away from Castle Anton. Her two loyal knights followed at a respectful distance. They were her father’s men, duty-bound to protect her, but they too couldn’t bear to look her in the face for long.
She missed Castle Deakin, her home. She missed her loving father. She missed her little spaniel, Rufus. They had never turned away from her. Her father had loved her, kissed her, held her without hesitation. Rufus used to curl up at her side, even lick her face. Rufus had been hers, but she had to leave him behind because Berrick didn’t like dogs. She missed him so much.
With a kick and a flick of the reins, Alandra pushed Starlight into a daring canter, jumped a high hedge, skirted a brook. She laughed, her tears drying on her cheeks as she forgot Berrick’s disgust, her ugliness, all her troubles. All there was now was Starlight, the glorious blue sky and leagues of rolling hills to explore.
At the sound of shouting, she slowed her horse and looked back. Her knights were galloping towards her, Sir Ganton gesturing desperately towards the sky. She looked up and the breath caught in her throat. There was a monstrous figure, dark against the sun, enormous wings outstretched, claws sharp and savage and at the ready.
She spun her horse around and kicked it into a gallop, hair and skirts streaming behind her. Her knights raced up to her, kicking up billows of grass. She met them halfway, and together they galloped back towards the castle, Sir Ganton’s hand on the pommel of her saddle, Sir Desmond’s sword unsheathed and upraised. Alandra could have cried. The castle was so far away, and what was a sword against a dragon?
She heard its great flapping wings, the air whooshing and clapping around them. Then its long, cool shadow fell across her, and at that moment, she knew all was lost. Her strength left her, and the reins slipped from her hands.
‘Princess!’ Sir Ganton cried.
She gripped onto the pommel, but now Starlight was out of her control. Sir Ganton made a desperate grab for her bridle but missed, and her horse turned off course, away from the castle. Her loyal knights kept to her side, their mounts bumping into either side of Starlight as they tried to guide her back towards the castle. Starlight screamed as the dragon approached. The knights’ mounts were little better, frothing at the mouth, lathered with sweat, tossing their heads. They were losing speed.
There was a loud whoosh as the dragon plunged for the kill. Alandra screamed. Sir Ganton shouted. Sir Desmond waved his sword. Something collided with her back, and then she was soaring high into the air. Sunlight blazed below her feet, green hills rolled above her head, clouds and horses and green, leathery skin whirled around her, as the dragon carried her far away from Starlight, from Castle Anton, from Lord Berrick. In a daze, she could see Sir Ganton and Sir Desmond watching from below, still mounted, heads tilted up, hands shielded against the bright sun, growing more and more distant until they were nothing but black dots against the green.
Then Alandra fainted, and everything was lost to darkness
Princess Alandra rolled over and sat up with a gasp, then gave a small shriek at the sight of the dragon resting beside her. It grunted, snorted in its sleep, and Alandra clapped a hand to her mouth. She looked at it in horror. It was huge and hideous, covered in green, leathery skin that stank of the Mantric Swamps. Its thick, lizard tail was curled around them both, long savage spikes along the top. Its massive bat-like wings were now tucked against its back, and she would never forget the horrible sound they had made as it chased her down. Then there were its teeth and its claws.
She stifled a yelp. She was sitting in its foot, its black claws surrounding her like terrible bedposts. She scuttled away.
She glanced around. She was in a huge cavern. Her eyes widened. Sunlight poured through a giant hole in the ceiling where the dragon must have entered and shone upon mountains of gold. There were enough riches to run an entire city for years. But there wasn’t only gold: jewels, glittering armour, mirrors and silverware, anything that gleamed.
Alandra shivered at the sound of the dragon’s tail sliding across the floor. The dragon huffed, snorted, and plumes of black smoke coiled from its nostrils.
She backed away, then turned and ran. There wasn’t anywhere to escape to, but there were plenty of places to hide. She tripped over a goblet. It rolled away with a metallic ring. There was a grunt. A gleaming eye opened. Alandra leapt behind a jagged stalagmite of rock and held her breath, skirts clenched in her fists.
Slide. Thump. Slide.
A terrible growl boomed around the cavern. She gasped. It could speak!
‘Come out, little princess,’ it said, its massive tail sliding against the floor as it searched the cavern. ‘You can’t hide from me in my own lair.’
There was a roar of heat and wind as it blew its fiery breath somewhere behind her. Alandra clapped her hands to her ears with a squeal, then coughed and spluttered as black smoke fell around her in a thick blanket.
The dragon fell silent.
Slide. Thump. Growl.
Alandra pressed her hands to her eyes, shaking. Its monstrous breaths rumbled around the cavern. Loose rubble fell from the ceiling. In a burst of wild courage, Alandra glanced over her shoulder to meet a big orange eye glaring at her.
She screamed and ran. She raced around the perimeter of the cavern, the dragon at its centre. It was standing at the foot of its mountains of riches, following her with its orange gaze. The sunlight streaming into the cave made the dragon’s plunder glitter.
She searched for a crack in the cavern wall, fingertips cutting against the jagged rock, skirts catching and tearing. With a gasp, she found an opening, tried to squeeze through, only to be torn away, ensnared by one of the dragon’s clawed feet.
Screaming and struggling, kicking and squirming, she was hauled high into the air. The floor fell away, the ceiling rushed to meet her. Partway up, she stopped with a jolt that flung back her head. She hung flaccid in the dragon’s grip, weeping, gazing through the hole to the blue sky above.
‘Look at me,’ it said.
Alandra didn’t move. It shook her, and she squealed. She forced her head forward, long golden hair hanging in front of her face. She glimpsed its long snout, its sharp teeth, its spiked tail, its enormous wings, and shut her eyes. Her arms rested along a massive forefinger, her elbow pressing against its savage claw. She pulled her arm away with a start.
Slide. Thump. Purr.
Alandra whirled through the air, whimpering, as the dragon turned around. It stopped, and she jerked backwards with a cry when it gently brushed back her hair.
‘So beautiful. You will be the crowning jewel of my collection, my little golden princess.’
She opened her eyes with a start. ‘You—you think I’m beautiful?’
She whooshed through the air again, her stomach knotting with sickness, and was sat atop the dragon’s tallest mountain of gold. She was eye to eye with it now, and this time she didn’t look away.
It snorted and huffed, sending more plumes of smoke coiling into the hole above.
‘What—what are you going to do with me?’ she said.
‘Nothing,’ it said. ‘I only want to keep you.’
‘As part of my treasure.’
‘That’s all? You’re not going to eat me?’
The dragon huffed. ‘There is better food to eat.’
It sat on the floor. Alandra’s lip twitched. It sat like her Rufus used to when he wanted something. Even its tail swished like a dog’s.
She looked around the cavern, at the piles of treasure, the jagged rock walls, the hard, cold floor. ‘Where am I going to sleep?’
‘With me. You’ll find me very comfortable.’
‘What am I going to eat, to drink, to comb my hair with?’
A snort, and black smoke wafted in her face. She winced and coughed and waved it away.
‘You’ll eat what I eat, drink what I drink, and I’ll comb your golden hair.’
She looked at its sharp, black claws. ‘You’d tear my head off.’
Slide. Thump. Groan.
The dragon lay down, dropped its head onto its feet and looked up at her, tail sliding along the floor. ‘I can be gentle.’
Alandra couldn’t help but smile. She bit her lip. ‘Do you really think I’m beautiful?’
‘More beautiful than my gleaming treasure, more glorious than the glowing moon, more astonishing than the blazing sun.’
Tears pricked Alandra’s eyes. Nobody but her father spoke to her like that.
Coins slid and skittered across the floor as its voice rumbled through the walls. ‘I saw you with your golden hair, your shining skin, that glow on your face, and knew you had to be mine.’
Her throat swelled, and she gasped. Looking up to the sky above, she wiped at her streaming face.
‘And now there are diamonds on your cheeks.’
‘They’re not diamonds,’ she chuckled. ‘They’re tears.’
‘Diamonds, tears—’ the dragon huffed—‘all the same to me.’
She looked at the dragon. It was gazing at her, like nobody but her father gazed at her. Or Rufus. She smiled at it, then looked down at the steep slide of gold beneath her feet.
‘How do I get down from here?’
‘Here.’ It held out a foot.
She climbed into it, and it lowered her gently to the floor. It dropped its head back onto its feet so its eyes were at her level. She was close to it now. Close enough that it must see her scars, her ugliness. But it didn’t turn away.
‘My name’s Alandra.’
‘Are you going to keep me forever?’
Alandra coiled her hand through her golden lengths as she gazed at the dragon. The thought didn’t distress her. She smiled.
‘Sir Ganton, take three knights and search that mound of rock,’ Lord Berrick ordered.
Sir Ganton looked up. The mound of rock Lord Berrick referred to was high above at the top of a steep, treacherous climb.
‘Yes, my lord,’ he said. Sir Desmond promptly joined him, gripping onto the nearest handhold. Sir Ganton turned to Lord Berrick’s group of watching knights, ‘Sir Laurel, Sir Montmount—’
Sir Ganton, Sir Desmond and Lord Berrick, along with twenty other knights, had been trekking through the Pontine Mountains for over a month in search of Princess Alandra. It had been gruelling, the days hot, the nights freezing, the way difficult and perilous. But they would not give in. Not until she was found.
They began to climb. It was mid-afternoon. Their chainmail reflected the burning sun. Wind gusted against them, throwing leaves and wet earth into their faces. It had rained recently, and the rock face was slippery and tricky.
He looked down at a shout. Sir Montmount had slipped. He was clinging to the rock face, legs dangling in the air. With a heave, the knight found a sturdier foothold and regained his balance. Taking a moment to steel himself, he then grabbed the next handhold and resumed his climb. Sir Ganton gave a grunt of respect. Sir Berrick’s knights were well trained.
Sir Ganton met Sir Desmond at the top. Shortly, Sir Montmount and Sir Laurel joined them. Below, Lord Berrick and the rest of his knights had dispersed to continue with the search.
‘What do you think?’ Sir Desmond said, studying the mound of rock.
It was huge and round, and from what Sir Ganton could see, impenetrable.
‘It’s worth a look,’ he answered. ‘You take the west face,’ he told Sir Desmond. ‘Sir Montmount, you take the east, and Sir Laurel you take the rear. I’ll take the north.’
They parted ways. The north face was the most perilous of the four. It faced outwards, a steep drop below, Castle Anton little more than a black dot in the distance. After giving his gloves a good wipe, he clung to the rock face and sidled along it, chin and chainmail scraping against the surface. The wind was fierce here, plucking at his pants, tangling in his hair. But Sir Ganton was brave and strong, and soon he was halfway along, stopped in front of a vertical, body length crack. His ears pricked at the sound of giggling coming from somewhere within—Princess Alandra.
He entered, the crack wide enough for him to slip into side-on. He stepped into a great cavern. It was filled with light: a giant hole in the ceiling, piles of gold and jewels. He ducked and scrambled out of sight. The dragon!
Unsheathing his sword, he peered over the slab of rock he was hiding behind.
It was monstrous, at least sixty feet long from snout to tail, and twenty feet high from the floor to the top of its out-jutting wings, and that was while laying down. Black spikes, taller than a man, ran along the top of its tail. There were smaller horns along its brow and snout too. Its eyes were orange with vertical slits for pupils.
It was the epitome of evil, a terrible beast, destined to die at the end of a sword. And that’s why it was so shocking to see Princess Alandra with its tongue in her lap, giggling and shrieking. She was naked, her long golden hair trailing down her back, a jewel-encrusted crown on her head, a large golden necklace with a giant emerald dangling between her breasts. At a distance, he couldn’t see the scars and deformities. At a distance, she was smooth, young and innocent and undeniably beautiful.
His grip tightened on the hilt of his sword. He must save her. It was obscene, disgusting. What else had the dragon done to her?
He watched in horror as the dragon lapped at her breasts, between her legs. She laughed, and it laughed too, a dreadful cackle that boomed around the cavern. Sir Ganton shook his head as dust and bits of rock dislodged from the ceiling and fell into his hair.
Princess Alandra lay down and spread open her thighs, hands on her breasts, groaning and squirming, as the dragon licked at her golden thatch.
The blood drained from Sir Ganton’s head, and without thinking, he charged towards them. Neither the princess nor the dragon noticed his advance until he was upon them, sword upraised. With a cry, he cut down on the dragon’s foul tongue. Blood spurted. The princess screamed. The dragon roared and pulled away its head. Its tongue was thick and tough, the sword only nicking into it, but it was distraction enough for Sir Ganton to grab the princess and haul her away.
‘No!’ she screamed, thrashing against him.
He heaved her over his shoulder and ran for the crack. She was slippery with the dragon’s saliva, but he held her tightly, sword dripping red, as the princess screamed and punched at his backside.
He didn’t make it, skidding to a halt with a shout when the dragon’s tail slid across his escape route, barring his way like a tall, leathery wall.
He spun around. ‘Release us—oomph.’
Pain shot through his body as the princess kicked him hard in the groin. He let her go with a grunt. Breathless and gasping, he made a grab for her, but she scampered away, back to the dragon.
With a terrific roar, the dragon lifted an enormous foot, about to squish him. He ducked, and the princess cried, ‘No!’
The dragon stopped, glowing orange eyes filled with rage, foot hanging above Sir Ganton’s head. It pulled back with a growl and stood over the princess protectively.
‘Leave with your life, Sir Ganton,’ she said. ‘I’m not going back to Lord Berrick.’
‘I cannot, Princess. You cannot stay here with this demon.’
‘Gor is not a demon,’ she said, resting a tender hand against its leg. ‘We love each other.’
‘You do not.’
‘We do!’ Sir Ganton shook his head and gripped his sword with both hands. ‘Leave, Sir Ganton. Know that I’m grateful for all you’ve done for me. You are a fine knight but I have no need of you now.’
‘I cannot. I have sworn to the king to protect you.’
‘And you have. Now go. Gor’s patience is wearing out.’
The dragon lifted its tail, and with a growl, smashed the slab of rock Sir Ganton had been hiding behind.
Backing away, Sir Ganton said, ‘I will come back for you, Princess. I will take you home. I swore an oath, and I intend to keep it.’
The dragon lifted its tail again, and Sir Ganton scrambled for the exit. He slipped through the crack and stepped outside, the wind blasting against his face. He sheathed his sword and quickly sidled along the rock face. When he reached safe ground, he sped over to Sir Desmond and the others.
‘You must find Lord Berrick now.’
‘Why?’ said Sir Desmond. ‘Did you find her?’
‘Yes. The dragon is holding her prisoner inside.’ He grabbed Sir Desmond’s shoulder. ‘We will need all our strength to defeat it. We must—’
They all turned, unsheathing their swords at the sound of a sharp crack. Dirt and rock exploded out the top of the cavern. Amongst the pall of dust was the dragon, wings beating against the air, clawed feet gouging at the cavern until the whole thing collapsed with a boom and a shudder, burying the riches within.
It took to the sky, treasure spilling from one of its clawed front feet, a small golden figure clasped in the other. Helpless, Sir Ganton could only watch as the dragon flew away, first a monstrous beast, then a smudge in the sky, then a dot in the distance.
Princess Alandra was gone.
© Morgan Tonkin 2018