I was still in hibernation when Princess Wrendolyn came to my cave with an her offer. Winter had only just ended, and being a yellow dragon, I was inclined to sleep until the last of the snow had withered away under the spring sun.
"Hello – Dragon?" My first impression of the Princess was her hand as it peeled my eyelid open, and then a face as she crouched down with her nose inches away from my eye. Probably not the first thing you want to see after six months of slumber. Luckily for the Princess, my mind woke up a little slow. "Wake up! It's spring!"
And then I woke up. First I thought of the princess, but my second thought was that it was extremely cold inside. The fire that had been trying to form in my belly froze, and I was halted in mid take off for flight. I settles back down on my hoard, curled up like a cat, and started shivering uncontrollably.
While I was trying to do my best and not succeeding in blocking out the cold, the princess picked herself up from where she had fallen when I had jumped up. Brushing various golden treasures off of herself that had flown off my hoard when I had raised my wings, she walked back over to my head.
"Excuse me, Dragon. Sorry to wake you up like this, but it is the middle of March. I don't know of any other dragon still in hibernation."
"Yes," I whispered through my clattering teeth. "I'm a special dragon. March is still too cold for me."
She frowned. "A special dragon? I'm looking to hire a dragon for a couple days. I was told to come up here to any cave on Golden Mountain. Am I making a mistake and not coming to the correct creature?"
"Oh, no," I assured her. "I am a dragon, and I am offering myself up for service. I have my diploma from the Dragon Academy, should you care to see it. How may I assist you?"
"I'm Princess Wrendolyn of Attalia. You've heard of me before," she said in a matter of fact manner.
"I don't believe I have," I replied after thinking a second.
"The Goblin Wars? The Seven Kings of King Finch? Remember me now?"
"Sorry. Dragons don't have the much interest in current events. I'm Peacock, yellow dragon of Golden Mountain, by the way."
"Well, Peacock, I need you for a section D-32 and A-101 if I remember the dragon handbook correctly."
"Ah. Lesser Destruction and Mock Battle. What's the pay?"
"Well, it isn't the usual pay, but I'm doing this without my father knowing and I can't afford the standard gold items for your hoard. But the cook makes redhot candy balls to die for, and I could supply you with a couple tons. I don't eat them because they tend to burn holes in my tongue, so I've built up a collection over the years,"
I closed my eyes and thought longingly of the warm and delicious taste of redhot candy. One of those balls could keep me warm for hours. "Deal," I told her.
"Deal? You mean you accept the candy?" She looked surprised.
Yes, I do. Wake me up again in a month and I'll do your D-32 and A-101."
"A month!" she cried. "But I can't wait that long. I need you now."
"Now? But it's too cold now!" I protested.
I shouldn't have bothered to argue my case. Within minutes, Wrendolyn had scolded me about my dislike of the cold and I found myself agreeing to start the journey to Attalia immediately to start D-32. Wrendolyn also filled me in on everything I had to do. My grumpiness at her disappeared which I heard her plan. This girl had spunk!
She walked out of the cave, mounted her horse, and was off down the mountain with a wave. I rolled a boulder over the mouth of my cave before stretching out my wings and taking off north-northeast.
The air was freezing. I shivered, wondering what I had been thinking agreeing to this.
Half a day later, I landed on the border of Attalia with numb wings and legs. The slight breeze that swept though the countryside chilled my bones, even though it was considerably warmer down here than up in the harsh air. But I was ready to start carrying out Wrendolyn's plans. Since Wrendolyn had stressed the importance of time, I continued my journey to Attalia's capitol.
It was a bustling place. The castle and the village around it gave off an assured air. In the late afternoon, people were everywhere. The castle was the center of the village, and a market was set up in the street circling it. Beyond the rows of houses lay the fields. And at the edge of the fields lay the forest and a river.
I settled into the woods and dug myself a burrow. After a quick rest, it was time to proceed with Wrendolyn's plan.
Over the next couple of weeks I was a dragon of terror. I carried out D-32 with such style that it would have gotten and A and extra credit at the Dragon Academy.
I flew over the village a couple times before moving on. Total panic spread whenever they saw my shadow. And when I started walking in the fields among the farmers, the screams were deafening. There were times hen I was afraid on stepping on a running farmer of one of the oxen abandoned with everyone's haste to get away from me.
But Wrendolyn had stressed in her instructions that I was not to actually cause harm to the people or their property. All she wanted was the king's attention.
And I definitely got it. One morning I wandered out into the fields, looking forward to scaring some more farmers, but instead I found myself face to face with a cavalcade of knights. They were just as surprised to see me as I was to see them. We stared at each other for a few seconds, then one of them swallowed and pulled out a scroll. He read from it:
"His majesty, King Finch of Attalia, Destroyer of Goblins, Protector of the Seven Keys, Patron of Attalia, sends his greeting to the resident dragon and bids him to leave Attalia and cease terrifying the capital. If the dragon leaves willingly, then the king will show mercy. Otherwise, the king will employ his knight with the charge of disposal of the dragon-" Here the man paused, and looked up at me again. I game a little snort that blew smoke into their faces.
And that was the end of reason. The knights collided in their haste to escape. It was actually pretty funny, watching their horse gallop back to the castle with the knights only half on.
It was just as Wrendolyn had predicted. All I had to do now was wait until the "dragon hunt" began.
I only had to wait three days. After hanging out in the forest (I made friend with all the local reptiles. Especially these two snakes – we spent hours sunbathing on a favorite rock together), I heard the music and noise of the dragon hunt.
In a dragon hunt, all the knight and ladies of the castle would ride out into a large field. Of course, some servants would immediately set up tents for the comfort of the ladies. The knights would treat the dragon hunt like a tournament, except their goal was to not bask each other up, but kill the dragon. That is, me. And of course the whole royal court would watch and reward the dragon's destroyer. This had been the tradition for countless generations, and the Dragon Academy had originally been formed to educate young dragons so they wouldn't be needlessly killed.
I hid behind a couple of close together trees with on the forest's edge and watched the procession come to a stop and start to unfold. When the tents had been set up and the armor polished, everyone's attention turned to the forest. A messenger with two trumpeters trailing him rode towards me. They stopped a few feet in front of the woods, and looked into the depth beyond the trees. The messenger cleared his throat and unrolled some parchment,
I chuckled to myself. The threesome stood off to my side and the messenger was getting ready to address the air to my left.
"His Majesty, King Finch of Attalia, Destroyer of Goblins, Protector of the Seven Kings, Patron if Attalia, calls forth from the depths of the Forest Vile, from the darkest shadows of the sinister trees, the yellow beast that has so forth terrorized the Royal Attalian Capital, and commands the beast to make the journey through the evils of the Forest Vile to the noble fields of Attalia." This is what the messenger said to the "yellow beast" that he thought was hidden deep inside the forest. It would have been pretty impressive if I hadn't been only a couple lengths to their right.
I gave a low growl. The three men jumped a little, then looked over each others shoulders and peered straight ahead into the forest. The whole court watched them from their safe position in the middle of the field. I could make out the king on his horse, surrounded by a couple of bodyguards.
And so I stepped out from behind the trees and scared them half to death. I walked towards the king, but respectfully kept my distance from any of the fierce looking knights. But now that I think of it, they looked fierce because their helmets were down covering their faces. I swear I could hear one of them rattling from where I was standing. Once I was comfortable, I faced their king.
"King Finch!" I boomed, "It is true I have taken up residence in the kingdom of Attalia. However, I have no intention of leaving. I have made my home in the forest and am ready to introduce myself as a neighbor of the castle. However," I smirked, "in order to insure the safety of your subjects and their property as well as my cooperation to the kingdom laws, I require a monthly tax of two maidens and half a stone's weight in gold." Now, it's not true that dragons eat maidens. The fangs of dragons are purely ornamental and defensive, much like the antlers of a deer and the horn of a rhinoceros. So, dragons are vegetarians. It may shock you, but its true. However, it's so expected that we eat young maidens that we have learned to use this conception to our advantage. Mostly, the young maidens are donated to the Society of Equines of Mystical Nature (the girls usually don't want to go back to the people who sacrificed them).
Everyone stared at me. Obviously, they were all extremely offended. Titters of disapproval sounded all around, and some of the ladies stared accusingly at the king, who looked uncomfortable. He whispered into the ear of the Royal Messenger who was standing beside him. (Actually, they were both on horses. And, as expected of a royal court, no one else had noticed yet that the horses were standing perfectly calm in the presence of a 'ferocious' beast).
The Royal Messenger cleared his throat. "King Finch refuses to meet the demands of the beast. If the beast does not leave Attalia, King Finch will be forced to appoint a champion to dispose of it."
Of course, this is what they had been expecting. No one guessed that I would leave willingly. After all, the whole court had tramped out to watch the fight. It wasn't everyday a knight got to form a name for himself by slaying a dragon, and I'm sure a lot of the younger ones had been itching to be appointed champion. It would never happen, though. Kings traditionally make their champions someone that they want to reap the benefits, like the royal heir.
"Well, if you want me out that badly," I smiled a toothy grin at the king. Someone fainted. "I'll be willing to make a trade. For your Seven keys, I will leave the kingdom." I didn't actually know anything about The Seven Keys of King Finch. But Wrendolyn had mentioned them and they were in the king's titles, so I guessed the keys were something big.
As I had assumed, everyone stiffened up. The king was so angry he didn't even ask the Royal Messenger to speak for him. "Be prepared to fight, you odious dragon, and meet your doom!" The king snapped.
And now for the A-101. I smiled to myself as the court put on the ceremony for the king to choose his champion. I didn't pay attention to it, it was obviously the crown prince, Prince Lucifred. Wrendolyn had prepared me well. I hoped Wrendolyn was pleased with how things were going. All that was left to do now was to fight and defeat Prince Lucifred, then fight and lose to the next champion. Even though Wrendolyn hadn't provided much more information, I could safely assume that the second champion would be Wrendolyn's chosen suitor. Ladies and Princesses often did this. The man of the household chose the husband for noble ladies, but sometimes they took things into their own hands. This was what Wrendolyn was obviously doing. I was smart enough that I could tell. Princesses hired me to fight and lose to a knight they wanted to marry. And the king always grants his daughters hand in marriage to the one brave defeater of a dragon. For me, the job was easy. I just had to pretend one of the second champion's jabs was well placed, and play dead for an hour or so. And then, I would get my redhot candy. How good it would be to be warm again!
The battle was about to begin. The lords, knights, and ladies spread their horses to form a large clearing. When the last stragglers had given the champion their congratulations, a knight in shining armor mounted on a splendid black charger, stepped up. The Royal Messenger announced him as "His Royal Highness, the Heir of Attalia, Prince Lucifred of Attalia, champion of King Finch." Everyone fell silent watching. Lucifred kicked his horse into a gallop and charged at me. The fight had begun.
I roared and swung my tail around at him. It snapped his pointed lance in two. Lucifred pulled out his sword. "Prepare to die!" He shouted at me. But before he did anything else, he took off his helm and slid a hand through his gleaming blond hair. There were cheers of approval from the crowd, and Lucifred flashed them a smile. I swear I saw his teeth sparkle.
His sword had been encrusted with so many jewels that the smiths had had to make the blade extremely flimsy so that Lucifred could actually lift it. I didn't see the sword as a serious threat.
Lucifred galloped his horse at me again, taking a few passes with his sword and said something like, "Take that, murderous beast!"
The crowd cheered once again and I found myself hoping that he wouldn't chop off his horse's head. He took a few jabs at me, easily dodge able to the point that they were pathetic, but he did it with so much flourish that the cheering didn't stop. The prince was a crowd pleaser, and I could tell he half expected me to drop dead voluntarily at his feet so hat I could glorify him.
I snaked my tail out again and banged it against Lucifred's side. With a hollowed bang from his armor, he slid off the side of his horse and landed on the ground with a clatter. A few people gasped, and the crowd waited in horror to see if he would get up. He didn't. I stooped over to pick him up when he leapt up and shouted "Ah ha!" With tow strides he vaulted up onto my back. I was too stunned to do anything for a few seconds. Lucifred wasved to the crowd from astride me, and their cheer was the loudest thing I had ever heard. Then Lucifred started hacking at my neck, and the sword against my rough scales woke me. I reached back and pulled him off me, dangling him in the air. I paused for a second before leaning back and throwing him over the heads of the king and his knights. Lucifred landed and slid in the grass a few lengths before coming to a stop. Someone rushed over to him, yelling that he was unconscious. I doubted it, the angle I had thrown him at combined with a slight spin guaranteed that he wouldn't be hurt. More likely the self centered prince had fainted.
The king looked shocked and embarrassed. The knights and ladies talked worriedly amongst themselves. Many others were just staring at me with disbelief. They had always been taught that a strong, powerful knight could easily kill a dragon. And for the prince, the heir to the crown, to be defeated himself, was hard for them to grasp. I could see that doubts were spreading among the crowds, and some knights started to look very uneasy as they stared at me as if I was different somehow.
Any moment now Wrendolyn's knight would surely step out and challenge me. I was right; a knight riding a bay mare who was a little on the pudgy side pushed out to stand before the king. The knight didn't say anything, he only bowed his head to the king. But everyone understood. The messenger announced the arrival of the new champion, and the crowd politely applauded. A couple men jeered, but it was only when the knight came closer to me that I could see why.
The knight's armor was in a pathetic state. Nothing like Prince Lucifred's gleaming silver. This knight was in rusty armor, scratched and dented to the point of no return.
So, this fellow wasn't rich. I hoped he was nice enough that Wrendolyn wouldn't regret marrying him. Obviously, the king was only letting him try me because he didn't think the knight could actually do much, but his other knights would see it as a blow to their pride and not want to be shown up by the newcomer. And his fight would provide entertainment, which they need after Lucifred's defeat to boost the morale.
However, as soon as this knight charged I could tell I had made the wrong assumption about his lack of skills. I dodged, weaved, and even hovered in the air for a few seconds, trying to get away from his sword. Wrendolyn had told me that this battler had to go on for a long time, I couldn't end it quickly. I had fist thought it wouldn't be hard at all to keep it drawn out. That was a mistake- I had to use all my skill to keep myself from "dying" to early. And when the knight's horse started to tire, he dismounted and continued to fight me from the ground, running back and forth with surprising agility in armor.
At the beginning, the crowd had been stunned at the knight's skill. Now, everyone was screaming their heads off, caught up in the excitement. Even the king added his loud voice to the cheers.
It was time to die. The knight had the full appreciation of the court. Gratefully, I didn't dodge one of the stabs at my armpit. The sword bounced off my scales, but to the people standing far away, it looked like I got stabbed. I groaned, and made a drastic death. (I hate to admit it, but I was so tired that maybe some of my fall to the ground was real).
The court cantered their horses over to me and the knight, people pressed in, trying to congratulate the knight and take a look at my "carcass" – once they wad waited and didn't see me move.
The king rode over to where the knight was standing proudly at my head.
"My congratulations, young knight, for ridding the kingdom Attalia of this fearsome dragon and protecting both the young maidens of the village and the Seven keys. For your bravery I award you the Princess's hand in marriage as well as a Duke's title and estates in southern Attalia. Will you not remove your helm and grant the court your name?"
It was finished. I completed D-32 and A-101, and Wrendolyn would marry her knight. And then I could go home and look forward to actually being warm this spring!
The knight removed his helm. Long, shiny brown hair tumbled out. The knight – was a girl! And, to my astonishment as well as the astonishment of the king and his court, it was Wrendolyn!
Before the king could say anything, she started talking. "Father, I know you are probably extremely angry at me right now. But I did it for the good of Attalia. Apparently you thought I would be a good ruler. Well, that shouldn't change because I'm a girl. You know that I should be heir of Attalia. Not Lucifred. I'm ten minutes older than him, even though we are twins. And he isn't fit to rule a field of flies. I defeated the dragon when he couldn't, don't tell me that he deserves to rule because men are stronger. "
And that was that. Wrendolyn became King Finch's heir. After all, what else could he do? She had given him an argument he couldn't top. And even most of the knights and lords who would object to a female heir didn't dare object to the future warrior queen – not after she had defeated a dragon, a task which Lucifred had failed at.
I went home. Wrendolyn's redhot candy and thanks arrived just when the weather took a turn for the worst. I was grateful for the warmth. Wrendolyn and I became good friends. We visited each other often, though mostly she came to my cave on Golden Mountain because it was too cold for me to venture outside.
During one of these visits she finally found the words to a question that had been building up over the weeks. "Peacock, you're a yellow dragon of Golden Mountain, right?"
"Right," I said, popping another ball of candy into my mouth. I wondered where this was going.
"Well," she continued, "All the other dragons I've seen on Golden Mountain are gold. And to the east, the Blue Mountain dragons are blue. And on Green Mountain, they're green. But there isn't a Yellow Mountain. Why are you yellow?
"I told you I'm a special dragon. You see-" I was embarrassed to talk about it. I had never told anyone about it, and I hadn't needed to, because all of the other dragons already knew. –"I can't breathe fire."
"You can't breathe fire!" She repeated, amazed. "But you're a dragon! Dragons breathe fire, and I've seen you breathe smoke!"
"Yeah, I do breathe smoke. That's the fire in my belly that can't escape. So when I try to breathe fire, all that comes out is smoke. My mother explained it to me. It's something of a birth defect. I can never get warm enough, which is why my fire isn't big enough to escape my belly and come out of my mouth. And because I don't have enough fire, it doesn't keep me warm, which is why I am forever cold. It's a vicious cycle. So that's why I'm yellow. I'm supposed to be golden, but because I don't have enough fire, my color never fully developed. So that's my sad story."
"Hmmm," she said, looking at me thoughtfully. "Now that I think about it-you were a pale yellow when I first met you. But since you've started eating the candy, your color has deepened. You're a rich yellow now."
"I am?" I twisted my head around to look at my scales. "I am!"
"So," Wrendolyn continued excitedly, "I'm willing to bet that the candy is what is changing your color. You say the balls warm you up, and every time I try to eat one, I walk away with a smoking hole in my tongue. What if, instead of eating one ball at a time like you usually do, you eat a mouthful at once? A couple mouthfuls? Maybe it would warm you up enough that your fire could escape your belly!"
She ran over to where I had stored the bags of redhot candy. When I opened my mouth to speak, she emptied a couple bags into it. Overwhelmed, I swallowed. And felt a rush of warmth, unlike anything I had ever felt before, go through my body. Something in my belly roared, and I opened my mouth again.
Fire shot out, barely missing Wrendolyn. She whooped with joy as she leapt aside.
"Peacock!" She shouted. "Your scales – you've turned gold!"
I was never cold again.