by Stella B. James
You’ve heard the story of the princess trapped in the tower, the damsel in distress awaiting her white knight. The story is almost too common that when I set out for this quest, I had my every move planned. Save the beautiful princess from whatever evil had her trapped there and deliver her to the king for a handsome sum. Easy money.
Can you imagine my surprise when I arrived at said tower, so high up that you can barely make out the top through the clouds, to find this, this mess? The princess, should I even grace her with such a pleasant title, is nothing I expected. Any princesses I’d heard about were legendary beauties with poise, and grace, and a general appreciation for someone who has risked their life to save them.
Not Princess Avery. Oh, no, not her. The second I held my sword over the dragon’s head, not the largest of its kind but something still to conquer, she threw her shoe at me. Her dirty little shoe. At my head.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Her voice, high and shrill, caused me to clap my hands over my ears. The dragon somehow slept through the commotion, and I rushed towards her.
“My lady, I’ve come to save you.” Her laughing, complete with loud, unladylike snorts, interrupted me.
“From what?” Her question, while odd, came out a bit condescending. I glanced around me, in an obvious way I’d like to think.
“From the, uh, dragon and this tower.”
She rolled her eyes and walked over to the snoozing dragon.
“You mean Blaze?”
I arched an eyebrow at the weird name. Blaze? She named the dragon?
“He’s all steam, no flames, unless you try to hurt me.”
“Wait, he protects you or something?” She nodded and kissed the dragon’s snout. It rolled over happily, tongue lolling out. I couldn’t lose hope. This princess had been locked away in the tower. Maybe I don’t have to dirty my hands by slaying a dragon now, but I should still bring her back. Her family has offered much for her return.
“He really doesn’t like swords, so I would put that thing away.”
With much hesitation, I finally sheathed my sword, crossing my arms in my discontent. “I’m still here to rescue you. Or I guess in your case, bring you back.”
“And what if I like it here?”
I took another look around. It isn’t much and the view outside is terrifying. I’m thankful I didn’t have to use her hair to scale the walls or anything daring like that. Heights really aren’t my thing.
Speaking of hair, hers could never have assisted me. Her black hair barely brushed her shoulders, thick messy bangs almost covering her eyes. Eyes that glared at me in a defiant manner. Two huge blue orbs just daring me to say the wrong thing so she could sick her dragon on me. Assuming the dragon answered to her, which, with the way this encounter had played out so far, wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
“Who would want to live in a tower? With a dragon?”
Her hands wrapped around one of his arms and she raised her chin as if to dare me. “Who wouldn’t?”
I could name a thousand people, but I kept my mouth shut, reminding myself to think of the big reward she’s worth.
“Your family misses you.”
I pulled out the reward poster from my satchel, thrusting it in her face. Her eyes widened a fraction, then narrowed in frustration. She snatched the thing away from me and tore it to shreds, throwing it into the small furnace I hadn’t noticed in the corner.
“You shouldn’t have to put a price on loved ones. Or send a stranger to retrieve them.” My mouth fell open, and stayed that way as I watched her sit on the floor by the dragon, her head resting on his side. I had nothing to say… What could I say? So I left.
Only to return a few days later. She wasn’t up in the tower as I expected. She had a sizable tree branch in her hand and she spun around a few times before letting it fly in the air. I hadn’t seen many princess wear pants, but they looked nice on her. I tried to remember what she had been wearing the first time I met her, but I think the unexpected trained dragon took up most of my attention.
“You’re back.” She stated it matter of factly, but I could see the curiosity in her eyes.
“I thought about what you said. But your family does love you. Let’s go back.”
“You just want money.”
Blaze landed behind her, tree branch in his mouth, and he plopped it down between us. She turned to nuzzle him, and I could swear he purred or something akin to it. “Not everyone.”
I had no choice but to leave once more, especially when Blaze made good on his name and set the branch on fire, successfully separating us.
A part of me wanted to give up. No damsel in distress would be worth the trouble, not to mention an ungrateful one in blissful ignorance. They weren’t outside this time, and I hated the thought of going up all those stairs once more.
I stopped short when I heard her voice, singing. And she could sing, well, not great, but something about it moved me all the same. Her voice didn’t come out in a beautiful, tinkling melody. It was deep, with a slight rasp to it, and beautiful in a slow, haunting way.
She didn’t seem to notice me, and not even the dragon outed me as I stepped closer. He did shove me further in, and by the time she turned around, we were nose to nose. She screamed, of course, and stabbed me in the arm with her sewing needle. I should have never given up wearing my armor when coming here.
After not apologizing, Avery had me kneeling on the floor as she rolled my bloodstained sleeve up. She left me in her dragon’s care as she went to the window and grabbed some fresh herbs from a pot. I watched her work in aggravated silence, wondering if she truly knew what she was doing.
“Oh, quit belly aching!” She added the homemade ointment as she scolded me, but it burned. She finished bandaging me up, which was completely unnecessary, but still nice I guess. As she rinsed her hands in her pot of water, I dared a peek out the window. From a foot back. Clouds, nothing but white, wispy clouds.
“Where did you hear that song?” I didn’t mean for it to come out, but something in me had to know. Her cheeks turned a pretty shade of pink and it’s the first time I noticed how smooth and creamy her skin was.
“My dad used to sing it to me. After my mother passed.”
I didn’t know what to say. What do you say to something like that? No, I didn’t ask for clarification, didn’t pry. I thanked her for the bandages and ran down the stairs without asking her if that’s why she didn’t want to return home.
I never took her for a filthy liar. Dead mother. How could I fall for such a thing? Upon returning to the castle to lie to the king and explain that I could not retrieve his daughter, his wife, the queen, offered me tea. I should have told them everything then, about her refusal to return home.
I didn’t. It seemed her lies were contagious and I swore to redouble my efforts. I would shackle that silly excuse for a dragon, and hog tie her if I had to. I would get my money in the end. And no, replaying her melancholy song in my head every night for the week I spent plotting against her did not mean I missed her in the least.
She didn’t expect me to come. Or maybe she did. Either way, the wooden door at the bottom had the deadbolt set. It wouldn’t keep me away if that’s what she hoped. I made it about halfway up the tower, scaling it by using whatever jutted out stones I could grasp onto, before I realized what a terrible mistake I made.
I clung to the side of the tower, too scared to climb up or shimmy down. Just wonderful. A gust of wind startled me, almost to the point of me letting go, but luckily self preservation kicked in. Blaze hovered in the air near me, staring at me as if I had lost my mind.
Too terrified to say or do anything, I tried to convey everything through my eyes. His steam washed over me and I clenched my eyes shut, preparing myself for the fire sure to follow. But a long, slimy thing pressed itself against my cheek, and I gagged once I realized he licked me. And then, he lifted away from the wall, higher and higher, as if I weighed nothing at all. I’ll admit I screamed a bunch.
His talons secured each arm and he brought me to the window at the top. Princess Avery, in all her frustrating glory, hung out to coo at what a good boy he was. Her odd behavior reminded me of why I was in my predicament in the first place and the second my feet found purchase on solid ground, I pounced on her.
“Your mother makes great tea.” Her eyes widened and it was all the confirmation I needed. I suddenly found myself laid out on my back, with Avery hovering over me, checking my eyes. Her shoulders sagged in relief as a long breath released.
“But you didn’t drink it. Good.”
“What is the matter with you? I just said your mother’s tea. I’ve obviously caught you in your lie and now you will go back with me or-”
The fear in her eyes stopped me. Or maybe the slight trembling of her fingers against my cheek. I felt bad, for scaring her and for yelling. She lived with a dragon; I didn’t think there was an ounce of fear left in her.
“My step mother. She’s not mine.” She got up and went to the window, hugging herself though it felt too humid outside to be cold. “She controls people with her tea. Especially father.”
“And that’s why… you were happy I didn’t drink.”
She turned and offered me a lopsided smile. “I always hated tea, and she didn’t like that. But she’ll never control me. With or without it.”
I collapsed on the ground, my mind buzzing with the new information. I couldn’t in good conscience take her back there. But if I didn’t, would someone else give it a try? I couldn’t very well allow that to happen either. “What now?”
She plopped down beside me, taking my hand in hers. Her hands are small, and dainty. Maybe the only princess-like thing about her. “Are you up for saving a king from an evil queen? I can pay you.”
I clasped her hand in mine, bringing it to my lips to kiss the inside of her wrist.
“I don’t think I’m after the money any longer.”