The Princess and the Dragon

by Kati Dlugosz

Long, long ago in a land far, far away lived a princess with hair like strands of gold and eyes like the sea in a kingdom ruled by her father, a great and powerful king. Each day the king sat on his throne and peered down at the glistening marble floors and decorated tapestries, and each day the princess leaned against the frame of her window, gazing out to the forest below.

She had never been outside the castle walls, but longed to explore the world that lay beyond them. At night she could not stop her heart from racing when she heard the howls of wolves or the wanderings of the deer. She liked to believe that there were still wonderful, undiscovered creatures in the forests like the fairytales read. 

Although she felt much adoration for the land, the people of the kingdom grew weary in their farming. A place once of plenty, the fields of barley and wheat grew brown and barren, the wells dried up in the village square, and the people became hungry for want of food and security where all seemed lost. But the sturdy, white castle loomed over the kingdom, and the people followed its endless shadow into the throne room where the king sat before them draped in his red capes, his decorated collars, and golden scepter.

“My great and powerful king,” said the peasant clothed in rags. “Another poor harvest has befallen us. We haven’t enough food to feed our families.” The king rapped his fingers against his scepter.

The peasant man continued, wringing his cloth hat between his shaking hands, “By all that is good under your reign, the dragon has returned.” The king scoffed. His booming chortle echoed off the walls of the castle. The princess pressed herself against the stone wall beside the doorframe, out of sight. She placed a hand over her stomach, and felt herself sick at her father’s laughter.

“I provided you with the land, gave you a home for your family, fields for you to grow your crops, and you come to me? You think a dragon could stop me?” barked the king. The peasants stepped back. “You come to me with your failure, and expect pity when I gave you every means for success?” With the rubies and emeralds glittering on his ringed fingers, the king sent the peasants away, back to their fields to toil in the fallow fields. The princess tiptoed back up the stairs, as though it was her father who sent her away instead. 

The princess watched her meat grow cold on her plate that evening at supper while her father feasted through every course. Every so often she glanced up across the long dining table to observe the king.

“Father,” said the princess. The king looked to his sides before looking up, as though he expected a tiny child to be pulling at his sleeves while he was busy.

“Why, you must speak up if you are to address the king,” said her father. The edges of his mouth pulled up in a grin. She pushed her plate away, and folded her hands together in her lap.

“Father, I would like to ask you something,” she said, peering up at him through her eyelashes. The king gestured for her to continue, waving his fork in the air. He pushed the pork into his mouth as she opened hers to speak. “For some time now I have wanted to travel beyond the castle.” The fork clattered to the porcelain, and a high-pitched whine resonated through the air.

“Everything you need is here for you,” said the king. “What more is it that you could want?”

“The castle is wonderful, and you provide more than enough for my comfort and luxury,” hastened the princess.

“Then the subject is done,” said the king. Her brow furrowed.

“But I am not,” responded she. He fell silent. Only the candles lining the wooden table flickered as the wax dripped down. “There is much I would like to see in the world, more than these walls can satisfy. If I can only step outside for a day, I’m sure I would learn countless things.”

The king picked up his fork, and resumed cutting his meat. His narrowed eyes darted to her as the knife sliced through the food. The king chewed thoroughly. He set his silverware upon the tablecloth, and padded his lips with the napkin in his lap.

“I think the time has come for us to choose for you a husband,” declared the king. Bacon fat dripped down the grey strands of his beard.

“A husband?” repeated the princess. A lump formed in her throat. Her stomach dropped.

“Yes,” said he. “Your beauty is at its zenith, and our kingdom will benefit from a royal wedding. And perhaps you will get these silly thoughts unbecoming of a lady of your standing out of that head of yours.” His furrowed brow eased and his smile returned.

“But who is to be my husband?” said she. She had never met anyone outside the castle, and had never known anyone from another land. The knights in her father’s army she had only watched going off and returning from battle. She shivered and dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand.

“A fine hero, a knight or prince who has proven his worth in order to marry you.”

Silence hung in the air. Her hands shook on the table. The king’s fingers twitched, as though searching for the scepter. Taking a deep breath, she asked in as calm a voice as she could muster, “And if I do not wish to wed?”

“Then you will keep your silence until ‘I do,” said the king. The princess deflated in her chair. “The choice is that of the king. You will not waste away the chance to unite kingdoms, to strengthen the throne, nor will you unravel the very fabric of my kingship or your duty.”

Her heart felt as though it had been pierced with the sharpest blade. Her hands wrapped around the edges of the table for stability. 

“A hero will come to win your hand, and you shall be wed!” The king smiled. A piece of meat was trapped between his teeth. The heavy chair screeched against the floor as he stood up and walked over to her. She stood up to meet him, but kept her eyes forward. The gems along his cape glinted in the candlelight. If her heart did not feel so dim, she would have thought them beautiful. He placed his hands on his daughter’s shoulders, and she looked to the carpeted floor. “It is a joyous occasion. You will see in time that the right decision is one that benefits all.” But the princess was not comforted.

  She retired to her bedroom after supper, the ascent up the staircase seeming endless. Drained, she collapsed onto her bed, feathers escaping from the seams of her pillows, and drifting to the floor. She wished she could fashion herself wings from the feathers in her bed. Sleep did not come. She lay awake and watched the stars, as though they could answer her.

Between the layers of consciousness and dreams, the forest shook with the vibrations of a deafening roar. She raised herself from her bed, and hastened to the window. She waited to hear the shrieking cry again, but no sound came. All of night came to a halt. 

She raced back to her bedside, and pulled her comforters and blankets together in a heap. Tying the fabrics together, the princess created a long, luxurious rope. Her fingers fumbled, but she threw the makeshift line over the edge of her window, and fastened it to her bedframe.

Her heart fluttered against her ribcage. She held her breath. Placing one foot on the edge of the stone window and gripping the knots on the blanket, she hoisted herself over the edge. Down the castle wall she crept, until finally descending to the grass. Without looking back, she sneaked to the edge of the forest, and disappeared into the trees.

Dawn stretched across the horizon, and the dew on every leaf and flower evaporated in the pink light. Birds chirped in the treetops and owls returned to their homes for a daytime rest. The princess held the sides of her dress in her hands to unencumber her feet. She had thrown off her slippers sometime in the night, and the grass and nettles on the ground poked at her bare feet. She welcomed the morning, for she had traveled far without direction, deeper and deeper into the woods until the outlines of the castle disappeared.

She ran her hands along a burl on a giant oak tree. The roughness scratched at her skin. Around her grew massive deformed burls on the sides of trees, and knarled roots crawled through the soil. The twisted branches reached upwards to the sky in blackened coils and ridges. She looked up. Sunshine dappled through the green canopies, playful with the shadows of the leaves against the pockets of light in the forest.

The further she walked into the forest, the greater the bramble vines grew, scaling over hedges and blocking pathways. Thorns clung to her dress. Her legs grew weary and her head ached. The sun ascended to high noon. She leaned against trees for support, and rested as the sun descended through the rows of trees. Her fingers toyed with the tears in her dress, the seams fraying the more she pulled at the threads. The darkened eyes of the birch trees followed her every move as she stumbled toward the setting sun.

Through a thicket in the maple trees, she came upon a meadow alive with wildflowers and tall grass. Dim stars appeared in the red sky. With a heavy heart, she fell to the ground and wrapped her knees into her chest. Bats flitted across the sky, bringing nighttime on their pointed wings. She closed her eyes, and longed to sleep.

A distant roar. Her eyes snapped open. Again, the cutting shriek clawed through the air, and she felt the noise circled the field. Looking up, the stars appeared to be shifting, as though the sky was preparing to take flight. She shook as the ground quaked under a giant crash in the center of the meadow. Silence followed. A giant mound of darkness grew larger, and stood as a black frame against the rounded starlit sky.

The dark creature moaned, and the princess scrambled to her feet. She paused, and with a swell of fear and curiosity, hurried to the center of the field. The creature must have heard her stumbling feet, for the body shifted to the side. It rounded to face her, and snarled with long, sharpened teeth. Coming upon the rear, she faltered backward, and her hands flew to cover her dropped jaw. The dragon unfolded his black wings, and it was as though every constellation of the heavens glittered within.

Her hands fell to her side, and she breathed, “A dragon.”

The dragon opened his burning mouth, and said, “A human.”

Both alarmed at not just seeing another, but hearing the other speak, the dragon and the princess stepped closer to bridge the gap between them. The dragon’s massive head was a size twice her body, his scales gleamed like onyx, and spikes protruded from his long neck. He leaned in toward her. They were face to face, close enough for her to touch.

“You are not of the forest,” said he. His breath was warm. “I have not seen one of your kind here, and you do not run in fear.”

“Nor have I,” said she. “You are fearsome, but I have run away from something I fear much more.” He hummed deep in his throat. He tilted his head, a gesture which she assumed meant she could continue. 

“So, you see, Dragon, I have come a very long way, and am searching for a place to call home, as there is no longer a place where I may rest my head,” said the Princess, “nor my heart.” The dragon pressed a cold, black talon to her pink cheek. She saw her reflection in his eyes. She could not believe how gentle the touch of a dragon could be. “I fear I will be pursued once my absence is noticed,” said she. He lowered his head, and his neck stretched out upon the ground before her.

“Then, come, and no harm will befall you.” She climbed upon the dragon’s back, and he raised his wings. He pushed off with a flap of his wings, and flew into the darkness above the trees.

By next morning, after flying for what seemed hours, the dragon and princess arrived at a castle in ruins, secluded among the forest and hills. Ivy and moss scaled the walls, transforming the grey to vivid green. Birds and woodland creatures darted in and out of the crevices in the stone. The entrance to the castle lay in disrepair, the gate charred and blackened.

Lifting the princess with his talons, he helped her balance along his wings as she climbed through the window to the highest tower. She stepped down onto a plush ornate rug, and curtsied to the dragon. He pressed his eye against the opening, and watched her explore the room.

“What is this place?” she asked. She ran her hand along the walls, and found ash on her fingers.

“A place where you will be safe,” he answered. “The humans were driven from here long ago. This edge of the forest they will not reach.”

She padded the bed in the corner, and while the bedframe creaked, the mattress yielded to her weight. Upon opening the warped cupboards and chests she found colorful fabrics and linens, and in others she found plates and teacups with saucers. Upon the shelves sat empty flower pots and plant seeds. She turned to the other side of the room and gasped at the towers and piles of books pressed against the wall.

“A library?” the princess asked. The dragon’s mighty head nodded from outside the tower window. She grabbed an old book from the dusty shelves, and ran her fingers over the title. She did not recognize the runic language, but found the most descriptive illustrations drawn on the pages. On the next shelf, another aged book with descriptions of flowers and plants, and beside that a collection of children stories. Some tomes were charred and burnt, the pages frayed and too fragile to be legible. When the shelves became overcrowded, stacks of books towered to the ceiling or had been placed neatly across desks and chairs. “Can you read, Dragon?”

The dragon folded its wings back, and a gust of spring air whipped through the room. Pages flew and the furniture whined. With a glance at the princess his black eyes lowered.

“I cannot,” the dragon said. “Dragons cannot read the languages of humans. Our understanding is of the skies and land, the trees and earth, not that which one creates from manipulating them.”

The princess loosened her grip on the book. She hung her head, and strands of her golden hair fell before her face. At once she felt guilty.

“You have wonderful books,” she said. His mouth pulled upwards, and revealed his shiny, pointed teeth. “Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine seeing so many, and in the care of a dragon!”

The dragon nodded, and said, “They remain from the humans. Those who escaped took the items that shined, and left what is here.” 

“Shall I read to you?” Her smile seemed to brighten the room, and cast the sun behind the clouds.

“Yes,” he said. He leaned his black head against the window, his spikes scraping against the stones as he nestled into place. The princess dragged a cushion to the front of the room and, pulling her dress underneath her knees, sat beside the dragon. She opened the book, held it up so the dragon could see the pictures, and began to read. Each word carefully fell from her tongue, and the dragon believed her voice to be that of the sound of blooming flowers.

The princess stayed in the dragon’s tower for many weeks, and delighted in his visitations. When he flew between rolling clouds, she followed the streams of mist leftover from his gigantic wings, and he made swirls of smoke form his nostrils to hear her laugh. At night he roared into the heavens, as his claiming his place among them. She thought the dragon looked like starlight, the way his scales shimmered against the moon. She felt comforted in his presence, and each day he lifted her down with his mighty talons to the ground where they planted a garden.

He observed her gestures and expressions, as he had never been so close to a human, and when she blushed, the dragon chuckled at the color of her cheeks. He planted light pink roses around the tower. Sleeping in her bed, curled beneath quilts, she glowed in the moonlight, and so he planted baby’s breath beside the roses. Upon her wake, calling to him, he returned with bundles of daisies in his jaw. On their walks about the woods, she fashioned crowns of laurel and ivy, and adorned them on his horns.

And upon one of these walks through the forest, the birds stopped chirping in the treetops and a gust of wind ripped through the canopies. The air became stagnant and heavy. The dragon lowered himself to the forest floor, and tucked the princess under his wing. She pressed herself against his body, and felt heat churning in his belly.

“Another walks here,” said he. She listened to the silence, and peered at her surroundings. A twig snapped to her left, and the dragon coiled its neck around to face the sound.

The princess did not see the arrow spiraling through the air except that the dragon’s wings blew a gust of wind so fierce the assailing weapon broke in two. She covered her ears as he reared his head back and roared. A man dressed in shining armor stepped through the trees, and pulled back his bow, readying for another shot.

“Dragon, your destruction has come to an end. I have come to win the princess,” said the knight, “and your head.” The dragon raised himself up, and released a flurry of flames from his mouth, scorching the trees and setting the canopies ablaze. The knight darted to the side, and threw off his helmet. His arrows shot between the trees, and pierced the dragon’s flesh, but his flames never ceased. The dragon’s tail crashed into the trees, and with cracks and whines oaks and elms fell.

The knight pulled forth a glinting silver sword from his case, and brandished it before the dragon. The blade winked in the light from the surrounding flames. He tossed his flowing blonde hair over his broad shoulders, and smirked. The dragon readied himself, smoke billowing from his nostrils. He glared at the knight, and pushed the princess behind him. She held her hands to her chest and the knight clambered forward, sword raised.

“No, wait! Please!” she screamed.

They fought, sword against teeth, armor against flames. She watched in horror as the knight pierced the dragon’s flesh, and blood spurted from between the scales. The flames turned the forest into a realm of heat and horror, and she believed the knight had brought hell upon his blade.

With a blow to his chest, the knight fell to the ground, and the dragon’s talons sliced through the armor. He pressed down against the intruder, the force pushing the breastplate upon his torso, and the pressure forcing the air from his lungs. Fire pulsed from his stomach, up his winding throat, and into his jaw where he held the flames between his teeth. The knight reached for his sword, and coiled his fingers around the handle. As the dragon narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to blow. The princess screamed.

The blade sliced the dragon’s neck, and the chilling roar became a strangled gurgle in his throat. A high-pitched wail rose from the dragon. His legs collapsed under the pressure of his massive body, and he crumbled to the ground. Blood streamed from the wound in his neck, and his eyes darted from the knight, to the empty sky above him, and to the princess. She sprinted forward.

He cried out again as her image faded, and the sound of her voice grew fainter. She knelt before him, embracing his head within her arms. Blood seeped into her white dress. Tears poured down her cheeks, and her voice cracked as she called to him. A lump tightened in her throat. His eyes darkened, and reflected no light. She thought the sound of her broken heart would have been louder in her chest.

  “Permit me, dear princess,” the knight said. He extended his hand toward her. His armor shone in the sunlight, but his figure cast a long shadow over the dragon’s head. “Do not dirty your gown. Come here, take my hand.”

The princess smacked his hand away. She laid her head upon the dragon’s cheek, as though to shield him despite the smallness of her body.

“Please, do not weep. Women are meant to faint at the sight of dragons. Save your tears unless they are for your hero,” said the knight. He slid the sword back into its case. Her hands balled into fists at the sound.

“You monster!” she said, forcing the words from her mouth.

“I, the monster?” the knight chuckled. He held his gauntlet to his breast, and scoffed. “The monster lies before you. Slain, thanks to your hero.” 

Her jaw tightened, and she her hands shook. She raised herself up, and stood shakily to her feet. She straightened her hair, and smoothed the wrinkles in her ruined dress. Facing him, her lip trembled, but she met his gaze. He smiled, and ran his fingers through his hair. He extended a hand to her. She slapped him across the face, and left a streak of red dragon’s blood across his cheek.

The princess felt a flame in her stomach, licking at her insides and billowing smoke into her lungs. She seized the knight’s sword from its case, and with a power she had not believed she had within her, brandished the weapon upwards. The knight shrieked. Before him she stood, her hair wild and her stance tall. Blood dripped down the metal of the blade. He cowered.

While nearly as big as she, she marveled at the lightness of the blade and the power she held in her hands. She sliced through the air to hear the ringing whoosh. The knight fell on his rear, his armor clanging. He whimpered, and pushed himself backwards through the grass.

The princess stepped forward in pursuit. He halted and squeezed his eyes shut as she sliced again. He waited for the ringing, for the blackness and emptiness. He heard sobbing, and opened his eyes again. The princess held the sword with two hands, wielding it fixedly between his eyes. A drop of blood fell from the tip and onto his breastplate. Tears fell from her blue eyes, and her face twisted in agony.

Through her trembling lips, she said, “You will return to the king, and tell him that the dragon has been slain.” The knight only nodded, his eyes darting between the tip of the sword and her watery eyes. “You will say the battle was fierce. That the dragon fought, that he almost triumphed.”

Her grip tightened on the handle of the blade. Her knuckles turned white. Tears poured down her reddened cheeks. She straightened herself, keeping the sword at the threatening angle, and took a deep inhale of breath.

“You will tell the king the dragon is dead,” said she. “But your princess has not been won.” The knight nodded, and stumbled to his feet. He hesitated, as though she would return his sword. Sweat dripped down his temples, and he coughed from the smoke. He backed away, and sprinted away through the trees, his armor clanging in his wake.

The princess inhaled, and let the smoke seep into her lungs. She lowered the sword, hoping it would somehow vanish. It glowed orange reflecting the flames. She dropped the sword to the ground away from the dead body of the dragon. He appeared so much smaller encircled by his own flames.

She turned away, and strode forward through the fire. Closing her eyes, she thought of the dragon flying among the stars, and wished she could gaze upward to see him soaring above her once again. A space hollowed inside of her where she once thought her heart was, but realized it continued to beat paces behind her within the dragon. She walked into the trees.

The End

more Complex Fairy Tales


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2 Responses to “The Princess and the Dragon”

  1. Barb Says:

    Wonderful story. I love how strong the princess is in this piece!

  2. bunga tangan Says:

    bunga tangan

    […] » Blog Archive » The Princess and the Dragon[…]

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