My day was going quite nicely until the human walked in.
Male, female, it doesn’t matter––I don’t want any of them in my swamp. Though I will admit that females are rarer, so I don’t immediately growl, bare my teeth, or threaten death upon her and her children’s children.
She’s what the humans would consider beautiful, with her honey-brown skin and long, night-black hair. I don’t see how having such soft, unarmored skin is in any way appealing, but then again, I don’t understand humans, not a bit.
She kneels, her dress dragging in the muck. Most females wouldn’t go near a swamp, let alone a dragon. I’m intrigued.
“Sotirios, great one.”
Fire smolders in the back of my throat. She knows my name? I thought I’d been doing the whole hermit thing quite well. But if this human has heard of me, then I’m not doing it well enough. I need to find somewhere even more secluded than a swamp, which will prove to be difficult.
“My name is Casimira, and I desire your assistance.”
I am not sure why she wants me to know her name. I have better things to do than get caught up in the meager lifespan of a human. “I am not interested,” I say. “Now, if you please, this is my swamp, and I would prefer that you leave alive.”
“This is my dominion, actually,” she says. “You are still inside my kingdom’s borders.”
Now she is threatening to take my home from me? I arch my back, my spines flaring.
Casimira holds up her dainty hands. “I did not mean any offense. I simply meant that I have a right to be here.”
“No human has a right in my domain.”
“Please, mighty Sotirios, listen to me, if only for a moment.”
I stretch my wings luxuriously, hoping their extended wingspan will cow her. She just stares at me, her big, dark eyes wide and hopeful.
Humans think they are the most important creatures in the world. They think they are free to enter any space without apology. But I swore off humans long ago, including my role in their incineration.
“I am to be married tomorrow.”
I pull my claws from the muck, trying to shake off the swampy mud to no avail.
“And I need you to kidnap me.”
My head snaps up. “I beg your pardon?”
“Dragons kidnap fair maidens all the time,” Casimira says.
I scowl. “We do not!”
“Well, that’s what all the bards say. So people will believe it.”
“You could simply leave. Is that so difficult? You are far from your palace even now.”
“I cannot run away.” A deep frown etches into her face. “That would bring such shame upon my father, and the kingdoms would likely come to war. No, that would not do. It must look like an accident.”
This is the strangest thing I have ever heard. A bride seeking to flee her groom on the back of a dragon?
“I do not want to get married.” Casimira’s voice trembles a bit.
“And how is that in any way my problem?”
“He’s not a good man,” she says.
“None of them are.” I shake away flashes of memory––a friendship, a rider, a sword thrust between my scales.
“No, really. He…” Her large, dark eyes find the ground and linger there. “I will not willingly subject myself to him for the rest of my life. I cannot think of a worse fate.”
“So you come to a dragon.”
“I could consume you.”
“You do not partake of human flesh. Everyone knows that.”
“Everyone?” I frown. “Am I a common topic of conversation?” I am a failure of a hermit.
“Well, no. But the bards all say you avoid humans in their entirety, even for food.”
My snort expels smoke. Casimira coughs. “And bards are such a reliable source of information,” I say.
“You have not eaten me yet.” Her eyes flash, as though daring me to prove her wrong.
Perhaps I could break my no-human fast. After all, this one was stupid enough to invade my territory. But no, if I broke that, then I would find myself breaking all my other rules.
“He will die eventually,” I say.
Her mouth gapes, revealing small white teeth that are only good for chewing the mush that humans call food. “In many years! That is many years I have to live with such a horrid man!”
I admire the sharpness of my muck-smeared claws.
She lets out a huff, then withdraws something from her satchel, something golden and gleaming with all manner of gems. My eyes fixate on it, my breathing suddenly shallow.
“I am a princess,” she says.
I know of human royalty. They have many trinkets like these, but this is the most valued of them all. A crown.
“But I have no power at all, not really.” Her lips pull downward. “My life is one to be offered in exchange for a strong kingdom with no concern for my well being. My decisions have always been made for me. But I will not allow them to do this, not when I can escape.”
I can’t stop looking away from the crown. So many diamonds in one place. I itch to reach out and take it from the sun-skinned princess, to breathe in the scents of metal and minerals.
Unfortunately, when I swore off humans, I also swore off their treasures. A horde attracts pesky explorers and knights waving their swords and wreaking general irritation. I had been fine with that, dismal as my gem-less living space was, for the past three hundred years. Until now, when gems are right before my eyes, awakening a hunger long-forgotten.
“If you help me,” Casimira says, “then this is yours.”
“If you know of me, princess, you would know that I do not have a hoard,” I say, a bit hoarsely. Perhaps one piece of treasure won’t draw attention to Sotirios the dragon hermit…
But Tiago used gems to blind me to his treachery. I cannot fall for such a vile trick again.
“Is that so?” Casimira frowns, then glances around at her plain surroundings. “I thought perhaps you were simply hiding your treasure.”
“No. I do not store treasure with me.”
“Why in all the realms would you reject treasure? You are a dragon.”
“So that I don’t have to deal with your irritating kind.” I flick my tail. “And I was doing quite fine with that until now.”
“It would just be one crown,” she says. “That won’t attract much attention.”
But it would. Rumors would start, and my hermitage would be ruined. Tiago might even return to finish what he started. My belly-scales throb, as though remembering metal sliding past my defenses and piercing my skin.
“No,” I say curtly.
“What can I say to convince you?” Casimira clasps her golden-brown hands.
“Nothing.” I wait for her to leave, to take the siren song of the gold with her. And though I hate to admit it… her words are echoing in my head. “He’s not a good man.” The hollow look on her face when she spoke the words haunts me.
“You know how horrible humans can be.” Her dark eyes hold a sudden fierceness. “Why else would you have hidden yourself away from them?”
I stiffen, my teeth grinding against each other. “You are a beast,” Tiago hisses in my mind, “and you will die like a beast.” I feel the thrust of his sword, see the blood pooling on the ground.
Humans will never see me as anything but a heartless creature whose only passions are violence and treasure.
“They are horrible,” I say. “And you are one of them.” I extend my neck, spines flaring. “Now get out of my swamp.”
Casimira steps back with lowered eyes. “As you wish, mighty one.”
That is when I notice dark bruises creeping from her gown’s neckline to her chin, marks I’m sure are repeated underneath her gown’s sleeves.
She is right. Humans can be terribly cruel, both to other species and to each other. Perhaps she understands the betrayal I feel when I think about the rider who befriended me for the coin he would gain when he brought back my head.
But kidnapping Casimira would mean that my obscurity would vanish. A princess’ disappearance is no light matter. All matter of knights would pursue me, seeking vengeance on what they perceived to be a heartless beast. Tiago might return to vanquish the dragon that escaped his slaying prowess.
Casimira begins to trudge away, then whips back around. “Please.” Her eyes glint with moisture. “Take me far away, Sotirios. Somewhere Eduardo will never find me.”
Just the way she says his name carries a tone of darkness. I know that darkness. I experienced the darkness humans can inflict.
I edge toward her. She only flinches a little. I peer into her eyes, then look around at my swamp. I take in the sounds of frogs croaking, the scent of mold and mildew, the vines strung from the trees.
It never was a beautiful place, but it was mine.
“I needed a new hiding place anyway,” I say. “Too many humans have stumbled upon me here.”
Her mouth curves in a grin. “You will assist me?”
Even though it will cost me my obscurity, my hermitage, perhaps even my life––no one deserves to experience oppression, even a human.
I stretch out my wings and lower my neck. “Prepare for kidnapping, Princess.”
I hope you enjoyed “To Kidnap a Princess”! It was so much fun to write the proper dragon hermit Sotirios––and talking about deep subjects like betrayal and abuse are what I’m here for.
Check out my friend Laura’s story “Anywhere Far From Here,” another interpretation of the prompt. It’s about a princess who never quite fit in.
I hope you’re all staying well during this difficult time. Watch out for a prompt contest later this month!