Brides and Beasts

She woke to larks chirping on her balcony, sunlight filtering softly through the drapes. Today was the day. The ceremony would take place after midday, when the heat was bearable and the great hall would be at its brightest. Her gown was layers of ivory silk and lace, banded with turquoise satin and embroidered in intricate patterns. She was mainly eager to have her first dance with her prince, under the sunset with guests from all over the kingdom looking on. She had been practicing for weeks, though her instuctor told her it was hardly necessary – dancing was her forte and her passion; she had been dancing for as long as she could remember.

After her breakfast of figs and lemon water (said to bring brides luck), her handmaidens began to prepare her for the ceremony. They scrubbed her with a paste that made her skin soft and supple, and when she was dry they began to cover her face in powders and liquids to accentuate her features. Soon enough, she was ready. She lifted her gaze to the looking-glass. Her dark hair was curled and pinned up, but a few curls were left loose to frame her face.The lids of her light brown eyes were covered in a pale blue powder and her tawny skin was made to glow with a golden powder. She was amazed at how different she looked.

She was taken to the great hall in an ornate palanquin, and when she peered through the curtains she saw servants rushing about everywhere – everything had to be perfect for the princess’ wedding day.The butterflies in her stomach began fluttering as they reached the doors of the hall, got more insistent as her two bridesmaid cousins helped her leave the palanquin, and rose into her chest as she took the few small steps towards the doors. But when the doors opened the butterflies burst into a pulsing heat that filled her body to her very fingertips as she saw her prince across the room, a look of awe on the face she loved so well. One bridesmaid handed her a bouquet of tulips, hydrangeas and garden roses and she started to take the slow steps towards the altar. Sunlight filled the room from the northwestern windows, and glittered on the polished marble floor. She was halfway down the aisle when they felt the tremor that shook the entire hall…

…and suddenly a giant scaled whip the width of two elephants crashed through the eastern windows, launching tiny shards of glass and chunks of rubble into every crevice of the room. Her eyes automatically clenched shut to protect her eyes from the glass and dust. She could only hear the screams of the guests faintly under the ringing in her ears, standing frozen in fear as she watched the whip curl around her prince and lift him screaming almost to the roof of the hall, before dragging out of the hall. She unfroze after what seemed a lifetime, and lifted her head to see that the whip was in fact the tail of a gargantuan dragon, scales the colour of blood and deep black spikes along the length of its back. Flying into the horizon, its beating wings blew dust in her eyes, and when she opened them again, her prince and the beast were gone.

***

She sat on the seat next to her parents’ thrones, staring down at the throne room floor. The High Advisor was speaking. ‘…absolutely devastated for Your Grace, not least for the pain your royal daughter must be feeling. Dragons are mischievous creatures who enjoy nothing more than causing havoc. We must rally our finest troops to hunt down the dragon and rescue the prince, but even at our fastest we will not be able to gather enough men in anything less than a week.’

Her eyes shot up and glared at the advisor. ‘A week?’ she thought, ‘How can he consider leaving my prince at risk of death for a week?’ She looked over at her parents, and was disgusted to find them nodding along with the advisor’s words.

‘…costs of the wedding has depleted our stores, I fear. We have not enough coin to supply our men with the right weapons for  facing a dragon.’

She had heard enough. She swept out of the hall, fuming.

As the moon rose over the castle, she went over her plan one last time with her most trustworthy handmaid, Alia.

‘Now remember, I can only get out if you play your part convincingly. You must have two voices tonight, mine as well as your own. Then I’ll slip out in your cloak, under the pretence of fetching water from the well for my bath. The cloak should hide my face well enough, but the guardsman outside my chamber must be under the impression that I am still inside. That relies on you.’

Alia nodded fearfully. Wide-eyed, she asked ‘My princess, are you sure this is the right thing to do? It is so dangerous, and I fear for your life.’

‘The same way I fear for my prince’s life.’ She replied. ‘This is the only way I can be sure the dragon will not kill him. It is using him as a hostage for gold, that is all dragons desire. The gold we have is too little to save him, so we need to rescue him by force. If we wait for the army to be gathered, he might be dead. Dragons are impatient. Besides, the dragon will never be expecting a single person to come and save him. This way, I have the element of surprise on my side. I will be safe enough in my armour, my father had it made in case I ever come into any harm, so it is the finest quality gold can buy. The sound of it will be muffled under your clothes and cloak, so we need not worry about the guardsmen hearing it.’

That made Alia seem a little more confident, but the fear still showed on her face. They carried it out the plan quickly, and all went smoothly. Now she was outside the castle at the edge of the forest. She was wearing her armour and Alia’s cloak, her clothes she had bundled into a roll and hidden amongst a pile of rocks. Her horse was pawing at the ground, waiting to be mounted. Ranger was brown and white, not a big horse, but healthy and strong from all the rides she had taken him on regularly. She took one last look up at the sleeping castle then mounted, kicked her heels into Rangers sides and set off into the foest. She rode hard and fast for a long time, she needed to gain some distance quickly because when morning came and they found she was not there they would be after her. The moon had begun to lower before she slowed down to a quick trot. She headed east towards the Great Mountain, where the dragon had been seen heading towards by some townsfolk. She travelled fast for two days, sleeping only a little and sustaining herself with hardbread from her pack and water from the stream. Finally, she reached the rocky slope of the Great Mountain.

Sleeping on a high ridge she spied the dragon, its tail curled around it and its wings folded over its body like a blanket. There was a path cut into the mountain which people used to gather minerals from the rocks. She began the ascent of the mountain when it was still dark, and by the time she got close to the ridge where the dragon lay still sleeping, dawn had coloured the sky a soft purple, though the sun had not yet risen its head above the horizon. Stealthily, she made her way over to the dragon, the heavy rumbling of its breathing muffled her footsteps. As she got closer, she noticed a nest of sorts made of large rocks and tree trunks. Within, her prince lay sleeping. Her heart began to pound as she made her way closer and closer to the dragon. She would try and help her prince escape without waking the dragon, but she had her sword and dagger on her belt just in case. Passing round the beast, she approached the nest and saw that her prince’s clothes were tattered and dirty and his face was covered with cuts. She was filled with sadness to see him hurt, and in her distraction stepped on a twig which snapped under her foot. The rumbling stopped. She froze. The dragon unveiled a huge yellow eye, a long black pupil slashed through the middle. It unfolded its wings and turned to face her with a roar. Her prince jumped awake; his movement shook her into action. She unsheathed her sword and pointed it at the dragon while running sideways to the nest. As she grabbed her prince’s hand, the belly of the dragon began to glow orange. It drew back its head, then released a wall of flame, setting the nest ablaze just as she and her prince dashed away, sprinting along the side of the dragon as it followed them to the mountain path. As they ran towards the path, she realised that the dragon would follow them back to the castle and wreak havoc on the town. She would have to kill it.

Whirling round to face the beast, she shouted for her prince to take cover behind some rocks, while she charged at the dragon, determined. The dragon swung its great tail round towards her, but she jumped away just in time. The belly of the beast glowed again, but she was too close for it to get a direct hit. The dragon seemed to realise this too, because the glowing died down and it hit at her with its claws, but missed. She continued to dodge the dragon’s attacks, dancing about the beast, trying to find a spot to stab it. To confuse it, she shouted ‘I’m over here!’ then ran to the other side as it turned towards the sound. She continued to do this until she saw her chance: the dragon’s throat was exposed, its foot placed underneath. She ran onto its foot, jumped and slashed at its throat, feeling the blade of her sword tear through scales and flesh into the boiling blood underneath. She fell to the ground as the dragon let out a screech and with its last strength, whipped its tail round again. This time the knife-like ridges on the tail found its mark: it sliced through the gap in the armour of her left leg, from which blood began to spurt immediately. Her head was swimming. The sun had revealed itself now and had turned the sky above a pale pink, flecked with golden shafts of light. She saw the dragon fall to the ground through blurry eyes and heard her prince running towards her before the world turned black.

 

 

I wrote this for fun after my cousin’s daughter asked me to tell her a story about a princess. Try to ignore the numerous holes in the story, the original was much shorter but this sort of spiralled out of control!  Hope you like it.