Once upon a time in a faraway land there was an evil prince who loved to breakfast on dragonet steak and dragon eggs (over easy). His bravest knights scoured the three-duchy area, stealing eggs and dragonets from every nest they could find, and killing any grown-up dragons who stood in their way. Soon the dragon population began to seriously dwindle, and the local dragon variety (Draconis horribili delectamentis) was placed on the principality’s Endangered Subspecies list. Unlike the wicked prince, however, the principality’s Environmental Ministry had no teeth.
Then one of the knights dared to steal from the King and Queen of the dragons, which finally got the attention of the royal pair. The King flew off to find and kill the miscreants, while the Queen flew about the lands adjacent to their lair, torching sheep and eating trees and doing all the things a Queen dragon does when she’s wroth. Once she had cooled down again, she called her counselors together. In the meantime they had learned that the King had been killed by the wicked dragon-eating prince, which did nothing to improve their mood.
“How can we stop this scourge?” she asked her counselors.
“We cannot fight all of these brave knights at once,” said the chamberlain. “But if we kill the evil prince who is sending them, they will desist.” Yet none of them seemed at all interested in trying. “The King was the bravest of us all,” they reasoned, “and if he couldn’t do it, there’s no way we can.”
Not knowing what else to do, they sought the wisdom of the Eldest Dragon of All (and dragons get pretty eld), who told them that only a female dragon could kill this particular prince, for reasons that don’t bear going into at this point (but which should become clear to all but the dullest of readers before they finish this tale).
So the word was spread far and wide in the dragon kingdom (well, queendom now) that whatever dragoness should kill the evil prince would marry the Queen’s eldest son, become queen after the Queen died, and dine on the choicest brave knights in the three-duchy area (marinated in the finest red wine, if so desired).
Many dragonesses came from far and wide to try their wing at killing the evil prince. One by one, they were drawn into the prince’s lair, and killed by his lance. Nobody knew how many slain dragons lined the walls of his lair. He lanced a lot.
Finally there arose out of the east, or maybe west, a trio of sisters, who came to try their wing at slaying the wicked prince. Not without some ill-natured bickering first, as the two older sisters never tired of tormenting their younger sister with the fact that she was adopted, even though their parents loved them all the same. Thankfully this foul behavior has not spread from dragons to humankind.
The eldest of the sisters was named Olga, and she came to the Queen all on a summer’s night, and swore to destroy her enemy. “I shall defeat him, and be the best daughter-in-law you’ve ever had.”
“You’d be the only daughter-in-law I’ve ever had,” said the Queen. “But you have to slay the evil prince first.”
“Piece of cake,” said Olga, and after a good night’s sleep, she flew off to do so. On her way to the prince’s lair she saw a stag trapped in a thicket, and swooped down to pick up a second breakfast.
“Please don’t kill me!” said the stag. “I can help you in your quest!”
“Help me! What a foolish idea!” said Olga. She devoured the stag right then and there, then flew to the entrance of the prince’s lair.
But the prince heard the dragon’s approach, even as she drifted in towards his lair, for her second breakfast made her burp as she flew. Thus he was ready for her, hiding just inside the narrow tunnel entrance to his lair, and attacked her before she even had a chance to catch her fiery breath. After a few minutes of pathetic and rather violent thrashing that nobody really wants to read about, her body lay in a heap with all the other dragons who had come to slay the prince.
The second sister, whose name was Doris, then came and made the same rash promise to the Queen. She’d destroy the prince, be a great daughter-in-law, and all that. The Queen merely nodded. After a fitful night’s sleep, Doris flew forth to fight the foe.
Like her sister before her, she came upon a stag caught in a thicket and ate him, despite his cries for clemency and promise to help.
Knowing the details of her sister’s ignominious defeat, Doris flew up from behind the prince, landed in the grass, and crept soundlessly to where he stood. But just as she was about to pounce, she hiccoughed due to her recent overeating, giving away her position. This also caused her to involuntarily relax her powerful muscles, so that she was no longer ready to spring. The prince heard her, turned around quickly, and ran her through as she lay.
Finally the third sister, whose name was Clementine, came to the Queen and offered to kill the evil prince. She said nothing about what a great daughter-in-law she’d make. Which truth be told made the Queen rather like her.
Clementine spent a restful night, and flew off in the morning to accomplish her task. Like her sisters before her, she spied a rustling in the thicket, and flew down to investigate. Sure enough there was a stag caught by the horns. Some thickets just attract stags.
“Please don’t eat me,” said the stag, “I can help you in your quest.”
“What do you know about my quest?” asked Clementine, intrigued.
“I know you are going to try to kill the wicked prince who eats dragons,” said the stag. “I can see it in your eye.”
Clementine wondered how exactly her eye could give away that level of detail. “Okay, I won’t kill you,” she said. “But how can you help me in my quest?”
“Free me from this thicket,” said the stag, “and I will tell you.”
Clementine carefully pried the branches away from the stag’s antlers with her front claws. The stag shook himself free, and stood before her. “You may use your fiery breath outside the prince’s lair to drive him inside, but once you are inside you must not breathe fire. For there is a magic spell on the cave, and also a hidden passage in the roof. If you breathe fire, it will come back around and hit you from behind, and you will be driven further into the lair. The prince will be safe from the flame, and you will drive yourself onto his lance.”
“How do you know all this?” asked Clementine.
“A bat told me,” said the stag. “They hate him and he hates them. They are the only thing he fears.”
“Thank you!” said the dragon, and she sprang into the sky.
Soon she saw the prince on the hillside. She dove toward him, flaming as she came. He quickly retreated into his lair, and Clementine lighted on the sill. She turned off her flame, so to speak, and looked into the entrance of the cave. With her keen dragonsight she could see the prince deep inside, standing against the back of the cave with his lance at the ready. Clementine crept into the cave.
“Come and get me, sucker!” cried the prince. “Burn me to a crisp!”
“I never breathe fire underground,” said Clementine. “It’s bad for the complexion.”
“Well aren’t you clever!” said the prince. “Come and get me then.”
Clementine emerged from the entrance tunnel into the high-vaulted lair, and faced the evil prince, dragon-to-man.
“Well I suppose this is where you lance me,” she said.
“You first,” said the prince.
“Augh!” said the dragon, ducking her head.
The prince sprang forward, but she was ready, and dodged his thrust. He retreated to his earlier position. The dragon stayed where she was.
“Augh!” she said again, ducking in another direction.
“What?” asked the prince.
“Something keeps flying towards my eyes.”
“Bats!” said the prince in dismay. He shuddered, and in so doing lowered his lance just a bit. That was all Clementine needed. She sprang upon him, knocked him to the floor of the cave, and relieved him of his head. Then she scuttled out of the lair and flew back to the Queen.
There was great rejoicing in the dragon palace when Clementine presented the Queen with the head of the wicked prince.
“You have rid my queendom of this evil scourge!” cried the Queen. “You are a true hero and worthy to wed my son.” Everyone looked at the royal price, who truth be told didn’t much look like he wanted to marry Clementine.
“He doesn’t look like he wants to marry me,” said Clementine.
“It’s not that you’re not a brave dragoness and worthy of my wing,” said the prince. “It’s just that, well, I’ve always wanted to go to the monastery. The wedding thing was Mom’s idea.”
“Actually that suits me as well,” said Clementine. “Not that you aren’t a fine specimen of dragonhood yourself, don’t get me wrong.”
“But how can I reward you for saving our subspecies from certain extinction?” asked the Queen.
“Breathe your flames into my face,” said Clementine.
The Queen shrugged, and breathed into Clementine’s face. As soon as the flame stopped, she turned into a human princess.
“Thank you!” she said. “I am the true ruler of the principality that was usurped by the wicked, dragon-eating prince. Now if one of you could give me a lift to the castle, I am going to reclaim my own.”
“Climb aboard,” said the prince. “That’s on the way to the monastery!”
So all the dragons rejoiced, the princess regained her throne, and the dragon prince became an acolyte at St. George’s. And eventually abbot, but that’s another tale.
Copyright © 2016 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.