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Challenge #01252-C157: A Friend for the Princess

Princess is Dragon -- Gallifreya

The tallest tower of the castle is the largest. The widest. The roomiest. And it has the largest windows. The Princess is held there, they say. They say that there's a dragon. They say that the Princess is the most beautiful creature that ever lived.

Toe had heard all the rumours, of course. How suitors came to see her, and often ran away. How some came with blades to conquer the beast of the tower. They went up, but they came down as rains of fine ash.

Toe was just a peasant. A kitchen Boy, whose job it was to take out the ashes, take in the deliveries, take the slops to the pigs, and take the blame. They let him sleep in the hearths and often used him to keep the chimneys clean. He spent his days in ashes and sacking and a constant rain of blows aimed at his head.

But in the nights... when everyone was asleep... he would climb the network of chimneys. Looking for the one that lead to the tower. He just wanted to see for himself. To take one, good look at the Princess. And to see what kind of dragon guarded her.

Toe always liked the storytellers. On the Sundays, when almost everyone was at church, he would listen to tale after tale about dragons. He liked the descriptions of them. How wide the wing. How long the tail. How shiny the scale. And he always cried for the dragon when it died. That was always a shame how the dragon had to die. It felt... wrong. What had the dragon ever done to anyone?

The one that some people say they saw in the night had never done anything. That was for sure. All it ever did was scare a few drunkards.

So whenever Toe had a hard time sleeping, he would climb the chimneys and look for the Princess' tower. Just to see a really real dragon.

Of course he got the fright of his life when he found it. Because he learned the secret that the King had been keeping from the entire country.

The dragon wasn't guarding the Princess. The dragon was the Princess.

Her bed was made of hard gemstones, and she was bigger than the biggest horse that Toe had ever seen. Her claws and scales were sharp and shiny. So much like the gems she slept on. The rumours had one thing right. She was the most beautiful creature that ever lived. Toe was probably around eight. Nobody had given him any birthdays, but he remembered five winters. That was good enough for him. He was probably eight, and he had fallen in love.

He forgot all about hiding and crept out of the soot to just see what her scales felt like.

She saw him before he left her hearth. "What are you?" she said. Her voice was sweet. Sweeter than honey. More melodious than an Elf.

He shrank back into the hearth, next to the smouldering embers. "Jus' Toe," he said. "'M a kitchen boy."

She turned about. She was so graceful and fluid. Her bones could have been quicksilver. Or magic. "Sure you aren't a soot demon, Toe the kitchen boy? You're black from head to foot."

"...like that anyway. They got me 'cause they said I wouldn't show th' dirt."

The scales of her snout were finer than seed pearls, and brighter than stained glass. And she sniffed at him. "I don't smell any weapons. You haven't come to defeat a dragon?"

"No, m'm. Not me, m'm. Killin' a dragon's the worst thing ever."

"And why is that?"

He couldn't help himself. He took the deepest breath he could and talked until he ran out of air to speak with, only to repeat the process over again. Dragons were just magnificent, of course. They could fly and live in volcanoes and be bigger and stronger than anything else and it was a crying shame that knights had nothing better to do than to kill dragons because if they killed all the dragons, there'd be none left and if they're all as pretty as Your Majesty, that'd make the world so sad because having no dragons would be way so much worser than having no unicorns or no elves or no fairies or no trolls. (gaaaaaaassssp) Dragons are way much more magic than any of the old fakers who come to the court. They only need to eat once a moon and they can go anywhere they want to but they choose to live near humans and who wouldn't want to see a dragon because they're all so graceful and he was just grateful for them existing at all.

The Princess caught him as he nearly passed out. And in her jewel-scaled arms, he told her everything he knew about Dragons because they were the best thing there was in the world.

It was the most he had ever spoken to anyone. It was the most he was allowed to say in his entire life. He wanted to share as much of his love for dragons as he could, despite the fear of a clip on his head or a stick to his legs.

The Princess Tarelli gave him a bath, and sent a maid for all the food that Toe could eat. She was only ten years old, and he couldn't believe it. She had a bathtub like a swimming hole and it could fill with water and soap and perfume and flower petals and milk and she could warm it with her own fire which was the best thing in the entire world and why couldn't knights just leave dragons alone because of this?

The maids were less at home with washing a filthy little kitchen boy, but he loved it. It was the first time he had ever had warm water to bathe in and the first time he hadn't instantly got mud on his feet. And the first time he had been dried by someone with a warm, fluffy towel. And they gave him real clothes like a courtier. Made of hemp instead of rough sacking twine. And fine, knitted hose and real shoes made out of leather when the best he could hope for as the Boy had been wooden clogs that someone else had grown out of.

Nobody in the kitchens cared that the Boy had gone missing. Nobody had really cared for Toe down there. They just sort of fed him because he was useful. But the Princess... she treasured his company. He brought her storytellers who nervously told their dragon tales, and books from the copymasters. And anything interesting from the markets.

During the days, he was her window to the world. And during the nights... on her back... he flew to anywhere their hearts could desire.

The King didn't much approve. It was not seemly to have a Princess love a kitchen Boy. But then, nobody else had won her heart like this child. And she needed a companion more than she needed a husband. And when he heard her talk about the world and the things that she and Toe had seen... he could not forbid it.

And the next time a knight came to slay the 'venomous beast plaguing the kingdom'... he was rode out of the kingdom on a rail, with tar and feathers for his raiment.

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