Britney stared at the large blue dragon blocking her path. The dragon stared back, unmoving.
“Excuse me,” Britney said. “I need to pass.”
The dragon regarded her coolly. Still, it refused to budge.
“Excuse me,” Britney said more forcefully. “If you don’t move, I’ll have to forcibly remove you.”
The dragon cast her a lazy stare as if daring her to try.
Britney glared up at the massive lizard. “You’re in my way.”
The dragon glanced at her again, seeming mildly amused by her antics.
“What could you possibly be late for?” The dragon inquired, now seeming wholly amused.
“I’m on my way to the castle. I have some business with the king.”
The dragon snorted, sending a little puff of smoke and sparks into the air. “The king doesn’t do business with little girls.”
“I’m seventeen— I’m as grown as you.”
The dragon grunted. “Little girl, I am over five thousand years old. Do not compare us. It is an insult to my entire nature to be compared to a scrawny human girl.”
“Your nature is to burn down villages and battle princes and kidnap princesses—”
The dragon huffed. “Now I think I’m offended. Is that what your mommy told you, little girl? Is that what you read in your little story books?” The dragon stood to its full height, towering over Britney. The dragon’s tone was mocking. “I am no fiend of the kingdom, despite what your princess tales may claim. I am a proud, regal creature and I do not wish to be insulted by you further. Leave now before I cave to my baser, animalistic urges and eat you for bothering me.”
Britney, wide-eyed, scurried away. She had known it was dangerous to take the mountain pass instead of the trail below but it was much quicker to travel through the mountains than to go around them and Britney wanted to waste no time. She had never imagined she’d encounter a real-life dragon, let alone bug it until it threatened to have her as its next meal. Frightened though she was by that prospect, Britney was rather proud of herself for remaining calm when addressing the giant, fiery beast. She thought she’d conducted herself quite well.
Continuing on, Britney made it to the base of the mountain before nightfall. But once night fell, she regrettably had to stop and make camp. It was far too dark to continue onward. She had made good progress that day, making it much farther than she would have thought. But she’d started out before the sun had graced the sky and she’d been traveling all day with little to no break. She’d paused, briefly, about mid-day, to drink some water and take quick bread. But then off again she’d set, trekking wearily over the land.
She was weak from fatigue when she’d finally unfurled her sleeping bag. Barely able to open her eyes, Britney ate a hurried dinner and then fell, dreamlessly, into her sleeping bag, not even bothering with the tent.
When she woke, the sun was barely cresting the horizon. She’d gotten a later start today than she would have liked, certainly much later than she had the day before. But after the day of walking, she had needed a little extra sleep. Got to keep up her strength for another full day of hiking. Tomorrow, about mid-day, she would finally reach the king’s castle. Sadly, after her business with the king, she would have to turn around and make the same two-and-a-half day journey.
But she would not think of that now. Now, she had to set her sights forward and think only of what was to come when she arrived at the castle.
Britney had never been to the castle, that she remembered. She knew she had been born in its nursery, but she was but an infant then. She’d been whisked away before she could walk. She had heard tales, stories of the grandeur of the place. She liked to fantasize what it would be like, but she was also worried the real thing wouldn’t measure up to her imagination.
Once she got there, she wasn’t sure what she was going to say. She’d been thinking since she’d gotten an audience with the king, but to no avail. She was at a loss for words.
Suddenly there was the sound of large wings beating above her. Glancing up, Britney spotted the same dragon from before. It was soaring above her in lazy circles, almost like an owl faking out a field mouse before diving its prey after lulling it into a sense of safety.
Britney worried. Did I push the dragon too far, back there on the mountain? Perhaps it was angry and had come to carry out its threat of eating her. Britney looked around, but there was nowhere to hide. Britney glanced up again.
The dragon had spiraled lower, this time looking at her. Its large amber, slitted snake-eyes were trained on her, and she was a walking target.
Use your magic, something in hr urged. Unfortunately, witchcraft of any kind had been banned centuries ago after the Thirteen Wars of Ilsalon.
But surely the kingdom wouldn’t hold it against her if it was to protect herself from a magical beast bent on killing her…? The king was rather blind when it came to the use of magic, however, and the queen was even more so. Their daughter, Thiera, had been killed by a warlock who was determined to take over the kingdom and make magic legal again, so they held a mighty grudge against all magically-inclined folk. The warlock failed, of course, and was imprisoned then burned for treason.
King Kiched and Queen Alfrenna had been more lenient toward magic folk than Kiched’s father, King Rathor, who was also known as Rathor The Merciless because of his intolerance toward magic and any beings who possessed the ability for magic. But after the death of their only daughter, the beloved Princess Thiera, their minds were forever closed to magic.
Thiera’s youngest brother, Prince Alfonzo, swore to avenge her death and was on a journey to murder any magic folk he crossed. No one had seen Alfonzo at court since Thiera’s murder, four years prior.
The middle son, Prince Jakk, took Thiera’s death quite hard, as they were twins. Jakk went into a deep depression and tried to commit suicide in the hopes of joining her (he was on attempt sixteen so far— obviously some higher power believed it wasn’t Jakk’s time yet).
The heir to the kingdom, Prince Keynrid, was said to appear strong in public but the servants talk and what the buzz in the palace was that the eldest prince was falling apart. He held his head high, for the sake of the throne he was to inherit, but apparently he could be heard sobbing late at night if you listened carefully outside his chambers. To compensate for the pain of his sister’s loss, he slept around. A lot. With everyone— men, women, servants, nobles…
Britney eyed the giant beast above her casting a dark shadow over her. “What do you want?” Britney called up to the flying lizard.
The dragon didn’t respond.
Britney could see its scaly underbelly clearly as it circled lower. Please don’t kill me, she thought desperately. Panic sped up her heart and made her breathing labored.
The dragon landed finally, in front of Britney, blocking her path.
“What do you want?” Britney shouted, repeating her earlier question. She had nothing to give the dragon. She’d offended the dragon yesterday, but surely the dragon wasn’t still miffed about that. She owned nothing of value to give. Even if the dragon was merely hungry, she was scrawny and would be hardly filling; it would be like eating a single stick of string cheese.
“Why do you travel to the castle, little girl?” The dragon asked.
“It’s none of your business.”
The dragon bared its teeth. “It could be.”
“I’m going to ask the king who my real parents are. I was raised in the country by a scullery maid. I was told my parents died tragically, but I was never told their names. I want to know who I am.”
“And you think that learning who your parents were will give you… what, little girl? A new sense of identity?”
“Something like that.”
“And what makes you think the king even knows? Or remembers? You were probably the daughter of some maid who couldn’t keep her legs closed. Basically, of complete inconsequence to the king.”
“Well, that’s a chance I’m willing to take.”
“Then you’ll have travelled all this way for nothing.”
Britney shrugged. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
“And what if he tells you something you don’t like?”
“You’re a mistress’s daughter?”
“A mistress? Like a palace whore?”
The dragon bobbed its massive horned head in a nod. “The daughter of the king’s prostitute. How shocking that news would be.”
“And why would he tell me that?”
The dragon appeared to smile. “Because it’s true?”
“That’s a horrible thing to say— now who’s being offensive?”
The dragon snorted, sending a spray of sparks into the space between us. Britney took a cautionary step backwards to avoid getting singed. “And what if my story’s true?”
“It won’t be.”
“It could be,” the dragon replied cryptically, for the second time in this conversation.
It can’t be, Britney thought. I’m not a bastard child. However, the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. She didn’t want to believe she was the illegitimate child of the king, but… She had been cared for in the palace nursery, her maid took her away from the palace (Bekkaa claimed it was because the other children picked on her, but would it make more sense if it was because the king paid the maid to get rid of her?), Bekkaa had always been unforthcoming about any personal information about her parents, and more than one person over the course of her life had remarked on how she looked like Princess Thiera. Britney had never met the princess, or anyone of the royal family, before. What if that was to keep her from learning the truth? That she had royal blood running through her veins?
Britney shook herself. There was absolutely no chance that was true. She was allowing herself to be deluded by the dragon’s words, by the chance of a better life than being the daughter of two dead castle servants. Clearing her head, Britney glared up at the dragon. “Nice try, lizard. I’m no lost bastard. Bekkaa would have told me.”
“Not if your maid was ordered into silence?”
“She would have told me.”
“Fear of the king is a great thing, little girl. If she feared his retribution, she would have kept anything from you or told you anything he wanted.”
“I’m not the king’s daughter,” Britney argued.
The dragon studied her for a long moment. Finally, it appeared it shrug its large shoulders and said, “Very well. I guess we’ll never find out, will we?”
“I will ask him when I arrive at the castle.” Britney said, half wondering if she’d be imprisoned or ordered to be killed if she claimed to be the king’s lost daughter, with no proof but the word of a dragon.
“Oh, but little girl, you won’t be going to the castle.”
“Yes, I am,” Britney said. “I’m headed there now.”
“Are you?” The dragon smiled pleasantly. “I don’t think so, little girl,” it said and proceeded to devour her.