The Princess and the Dragon

by Lesley Speller

They saw her often through the small circles of stone in the old tower.  No one knew how long she had been there or where she had come from.  They whispered that she was a princess.  After all what else could she have been?  She glittered with the silver and jewels that draped her hair and clothing each time they caught a glimpse of her.  She was lovelier than anything that the people of the village had ever seen.  Beautiful, mysterious, and obviously rich:  she would make a perfect wife for any man who could win her.

Why then had no one stormed the castle, rescued the princess, and tried to gain the lady's affections?  Well the answer to that one is quite simple.  The Dragon.

On a regular basis an enormous silver-scaled beast was seen emerging from the ruins at the base of the princess's tower.  It was the size of a small cottage with wings that stretched out fifty feet on either side of its huge body.  It would soar up into the skies and head off for unknown places.  It always returned within the week.  Some said that it was seen carrying back the carcasses of cattle and sheep to devour in its home.  However, the dragon must have known that it should do its hunting far from home, because the villagers had never lost any of their sheep or cattle when the beast was seen returning from the hunt.

A wandering knight entered the kingdom one day and heard stories of this princess who was being held prisoner in the ruined tower.  He went for himself to see if her beauty was all that the villagers claimed it to be.  He made camp in the woods at the edge of the hill where the Princess' tower stood and waited.

It was many days and nights before he saw her slender form silhouetted in the window of the great tower.  Her hair glittered with the strings of jewels that had been twisted into her long braids. 

The knight was immediately swept away by "true love."  How could a woman be so absolutely lovely?  He made a vow then and there that he would make her his wife.  He had also heard of the dragon that held her prisoner.  If he could just dispatch the dragon and return her to her parents, how could they possibly deny her his hand in marriage?

The knight sat down and began oiling his dull, leather armor.  He would have to wait until the dragon was gone and then sneak into the tower.  After all there was no way any one man could stand up to a dragon the size of a cottage and expect to come away the winner.  Could they?  The knight shook his head, answering his own thoughts, and went to sharpening his sword.  It was best to be prepared in any case.

He didn't have to wait long for the dragon to leave his captive unattended.  Two days later when he awakened he was startled to look up and see the great beast perched on the rooftop of the tower.  He stifled a shout, as it appeared that the hideous creature was looking in the direction of his encampment.

A few moments later the dragon spread its wings out around it and rose up into the sky.    The wind that it caused shook the trees so violently, that it brought leaves flitting down onto the pallet where the knight lay.  He trembled until he saw it disappear over the hills to the east, and then went around hurriedly preparing to meet his future bride.

He had to pick his way through the rubble that was strewn about the entrance to the tower.  At its base the tower was nothing but an enormous winding stone staircase that was crumbling from age and neglect.   The sound of the bits of rock and dust that slid away as he stepped on the more worn steps made eerie echoes up and down the lonely tower.  He moved more quickly and with more confidence as he drew close to the top.  Soon he would free this poor maiden from the terrible conditions under which she had been forced to live.  There was a keening sound further ahead of him up the stairs, like the crying of a small child.  He thought that it must be the cries of the poor maiden and that made him climb all the faster.

When he finally reached the top of the stairs what he saw caused his breath to stop in his throat.  It was one of the most beautifully decorated chambers that he had ever laid eyes on.  There was an enormous, gilded bed piled high with thick, down mattresses and covered with beautifully embroidered blankets and pillows.  The floors were covered with soft, ornately designed rugs, and every corner of the room was filled up with some piece of gilded furniture piled high with trinkets of all shapes, many encrusted with jewels of every color.

He was so caught up staring around at the trappings of the room that it took him a few minutes to realize that the princess was nowhere to be seen.  It was then that the knight noticed a small stone staircase in the corner of the room mostly obscured by a tapestry that pictured the night sky with diamond stars sewn into the cloth.

The crying that he had heard earlier was again coming from the direction of the stairs above him.  Thinking that the princess must be in some chamber at the top of these stairs, he climbed to the top and burst out into another room of shining metal.    What he saw here made his blood freeze in his veins and his heart skip several beats.  Curled in the corner of the room amidst many beautifully colored pillows was a dragon the size of a small warhorse.  The keening sound was coming from this creature, who when the knight clumsily pulled his sword from its sheath raised its head with a start and regarded him curiously before rising to its huge, clawed feet.
 
Was this the creature that he had seen on roof of the tower?  He could have been certain that he was much larger than this one.  But no.   This couldn't be the same one because the scales of the first had been distinctly silver colored and this one's held a pale, pink hue.  The knight struggled to find his voice and even when he did it came out in a rough croak something like the sound that a frog makes.  "What have you done with the lady that you hold prisoner in this tower?"

The dragon cocked its head to the side and took a step closer.  This, if possible, set the knight's heart to racing even faster and he raised his sword high above his head.  Just as he was about to bring it down onto the neck of the dragon something slammed into his side sending him sprawling along the floor and crashing into the wall.

For a moment his vision was blurred, and he was sure that he was about to be swallowed whole.  When he could again make out the shapes that moved around him he saw the woman that he had glimpsed through the windows of the tower.  She was dressed in a long flowing gown studded with diamonds and pearls.  The princess was an absolute vision of loveliness.  Her fists were planted firmly on her hips, and she stood with her back to the dragon, who peeked around her timidly.  When she spoke it was with authority and anger.  "If you lay a hand on her I will tear you limb from limb, you stupid little man."

The knight was so taken aback that he didn't know what to say for a long moment.  When he again found his voice, he stammered out, "Milady, is this creature your pet?"

The woman laughed scornfully at him.  "Oh, hardly."  She turned and said something to the dragon in a language that the knight did not understand.  Then before his eyes the creature melted away, and in its place stood a little girl with strawberry blond curls and blue eyes that glimmered with unshed tears.  The little girl raised her hands to her, and the princess swept her up into her arms.   "You dragon hunting imbeciles had better stay away from us, if you know what's good for you.   This is our home, and I won't have you taking it from us like you took her father!"

The villagers told stories for weeks about the knight who they saw running in terror from the tower where the princess was always seen.  It wasn't the first time that they had seen a would-be-suitor chased to the far reaches of the land with the enormous silver dragon close on his heels.  They always wondered what she did with them if she ever caught them, but they never had occasion to find out as the knights never ventured anywhere near the ruined tower ever again.