The journey to the castle had been long and tedious. Along the way Elliot had come across every stereotype in the realm and encountered countless handsome and lovable princes and knights, all of whom believed their sole duty was to rescue a damsel in distress. Every time, Elliot had refrained from pointing out that most damsels in distress weren’t actually in distress until the knight came along. Talk about a misunderstanding…
Though sometimes, disregarding their ignorance took every single bit of Elliot’s self control. Thankfully, they’d lost most of the princes back in the forest. Seems they’d all been entranced by a rather attractive forest nymph. Elliot had heard screams a few minutes later but had elected to ignore them. Besides, there were far more important things to do, and, with a deep breath, they walked up to the castle gates.
“Ah, brave knight,” a nearby voice boomed, “are you here to rescue the princess?”
The knight turned, startled at the sight of the voice’s owner. They had an impressive orange beard and bulging eyes scattered with an unhealthy amount of blood vessels.
“Well, in order to do so, you must pass through the castle gates and enter…” – his eyes glittered – “…enter the dragon’s lair!” The knight glanced away since the guardian was wearing… little else. They instead took the opportunity to examine the iron gates through the bars of their visor. Scattered with rust and creaking in the wind, they looked as if they could collapse at any moment. The castle behind was in little better shape, bricks missing from the walls where ivy dug into the cracks.
“Yeah, yeah,” the knight muttered, lifting their visor to better see the top of the tower. “Can we get on with it?” The guardian’s eyes widened even further.
“A woman?” he hissed. “No woman has ever made it through the tower gates!”
“Because you haven’t allowed them or because none have arrived?” she asked, her foot starting to tap. “Now, would you excuse me? I assume there’s a person in there, most likely in need of rescuing?”
“You will die before you reach them.”
“That’s nice.” Elliot dropped her visor as she headed past him to the gates. “I’ll leave a note with my burnt out corpse.” She pulled the rusted lock off easily and glanced back. “Maybe you can use it as an example for the next woman who beats all the men to get through here.” Elliot started into the castle, stopping only when the guardian called.
“There is no princess!” he screamed. “You will die alone!”
The gates clanged shut and so did the doors, leaving the knight alone in the foyer of the castle. The walls were bone dry, heat radiating from the burnt out door opposite. There was also a staircase behind it, spiralling up and up and up to a broken tower roof. Her neck nearly cracked from trying to see the top. She held in a sigh.
“Every single time,” she muttered, leather shoes soft against the cobblestones. “Why does it always have to be stairs?”
The stairs were dry, the walls scorched. She stopped about halfway up to rub some deep cuts in the stone, as if a fight had taken place.The stains on the stairs seemed to agree with her. She shook away the thought, and kept climbing. Then, just a few metres from the top…
“What is it?” a grouchy voice snapped. “I told that man out there, no more knights and no more princesses! Nothing to see here. Go away!”
“And you,” Elliot muttered, going forward anyway, “must be the dragon.” She finally reached the top of the stairs, entering a wide and battered hall. She squinted for a moment, shoving her visor up in some irritation. She blinked, sunlight from the broken roof forming shadows in her eyes. She waited until the shadows faded, revealing a heap of battered scales that peered at her through filmy eyes.
“Yup,” she said, nodding to herself. “That’s a dragon.”
“Oh, what is it now?” they asked, head drifting on a too thin neck. “Are you here to fight me, to win honour for your family? Or are you here to steal my gold?” They lifted ragged wings and sighed. “Because if you are… there is none left.”
“Nope,” she remarked, dumping her shield on the floor with a clatter. “I’m here to rescue you.”
The dragon stared at her, then began to speak in a slow, scratchy voice, “Well I, you may have noticed, am not a princess. I am most certainly not the one to rescue.”
“Not the one I’m meant to rescue, you mean. It’s always about the princess and the gold and never the dragon. I mean, you must’ve been here for years, right? Always forced to guard some princess or other and never getting to leave this castle thanks to that idiot at the gate.” Elliot nodded at their hind legs. “And that shackle of yours.”
The dragon shifted, the attached chain clinking and sparks flew from their nostrils. Elliot tilted her head, a trickle of sweat reminding her that it was, in fact, rather warm in here. The pitted scales around the dragon’s chained up legs distracted her and her eyes blazed.
Quietly, she said, “I can get you out.”
The dragon kept looking, a certain flint in their eyes.“Really?”
Elliot nodded, baring her teeth in a smile. “Really.”
Elliot stroked the sheath at her waist before grasping the handle of her sword, drawing it so she could see the beaten up blade. They’d been through a lot, her and her sword. She twisted it so sunlight hit the metal, flashing it into her eyes.
“You’d never have to worry about that guardian again,” she murmured.
The dragon stared at her with eyes bright yellow through the film, then nodded slowly. “Very well.” They stood with a creak, stretching unused limbs.
“And what is your name?” the knight asked, as she bent to work on the shackle.
“Andrea,” the dragon answered, watching her closely.
“Andrea?” repeated the knight, smiling thoughtfully. “Well then, I guess I’m rescuing a princess after all.”