Chapter 9

People always talk about how terrifying and huge dragons are, what no one mentions is how tall, and how useful it can be that they were so tall. The fireball that accompanied the next sneeze pretty much destroyed the lilac bush but sailed over our heads by a good three feet.

The Princess, who paid more attention to the "fireball" and less to the "completely missed us" part of the whole situation, took the oh-so-helpful course of dramatically fainting.

I snorted and the dragon glanced over, then did a double take. It looked me up and down with this mad speculative gleam in its eye. I glared back at him, I was fireproof that was the one part of being a fire-witch that had never failed me, fire was my element and it couldn't hurt me, and I wasn't about to let some overgrown lizard with a head cold intimidate me.

Suddenly the dragon slid right in front of me and bent its head down, looking me in the eye. I jumped at the sudden movement and it blinked.

"Are you a princess?" it asked, it's voice rather low, humming and vaguely musical.

Well there was no need to be insulting! "No. I'm a fire-witch, and if you bite me, I'll burn your nose off." I added, just in case it got any ideas

"Oh. I thought you were a princess." The dragon turned away, sounding distinctly disheartened, and noticed Daystar.

He bowed calmly. "Sir or madam," he said formally, "I offer you greetings in the name of myself and my companions, and I wish you good fortune in all your endeavors."

"I beg your pardon?" said the dragon, squinting over at him "Are you a princess?"

"I-" That seemed to get to him. I grinned, the idea of Daystar in one of those ridiculous fancy dresses was just too amusing. Daystar didn't seem to like the idea of being mistaken for a simpering royal beauty. But he pulled himself together admirably

"I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid I'm not a princess. My Name is Daystar, and I'm very pleased to meet you."

The dragon sat down dejectedly. "I had no idea princesses were so hard to find."

It blinked and glanced over at Daystar again. "I'm sorry I burned your bush, but I couldn't help it."

"Oh, please don't worry about it," Daystar said. "It really doesn't matter in the least." Considering it wasn't our bush and all

"It was the wizard," the dragon went on, dropping his voice as if it were some big secret. "I'm allergic to them. All dragons are."

I wondered how you could be allergic to a wizard.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Daystar said.

The dragon looked at him. "You're very polite, Daystar." It turned back to me suddenly. "Say-you weren't polite at all!"

Nightwitch poked her head out from behind Shiara's ankle and hissed.

"Well we don't think much of your's you sneezing idiot! At least she's not stupid enough to go asking male humans if they're princess, you overgrown lizard."

The dragon bristled and then peered down at her. "You aren't polite, either," it muttered, darkly.

Daystar nudged me. "Offer to do something for him," I hissed.

"What? Why?"

"If you insult a dragon, you have to do him a favor," he said, his voice rising in volume. "Hurry up!"

The dragon, heard. Its eyes glittered and it turned to me expectantly. I really didn't want to give in, it had been insulting first and I didn't see any reason why I should apologize much less offer to do it any favors. Still, it would probably go for Nightwitch first and I didn't want my kitten getting hurt, and then Daystar would jump in and try to be all heroic and I'd already gotten him burned once.

"Can I do anything for you?" I muttered , no one said I had to be happy about offering

"Find me a princess," the dragon said immediately

"You want a princess?" I glanced up at him. It was definitely something I could do, and it might just kill two birds with one stone. Provided he didn't actually kill her…and eat her. Though really I couldn't think of any other use, princesses didn't do much besides crying, fainting, and getting heroes to do stupid things. "Why?" I asked, finally.

"Dragons are supposed to have princesses," the dragon explained. "I can't be considered a proper dragon until I have one. But I've been looking for two days, and I haven't seen even a smell of a princess, and I'm tired of it. So you do it."

"You aren't going to eat her or anything, are you?" I clarified, just to make sure.

"Eat her?" The dragon gasped. "And waste a perfectly good princess? Of course not! There aren't enough of them to go around as it is. What kind of barbarian do you think I am?"

"Well, I've never met a dragon before, how was I supposed to know? I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." I added, trying to be diplomatic

"All right," said the dragon. "But you have to get me a princess. It doesn't have to be a large one."

"Do you want any particular kind of princess?" I asked. "I want to be sure you'll be satisfied."

"Oh, young and beautiful, of course," the dragon said. "Are there other kinds?"

"There are enchanted princesses," I pointed out. "Especially around here." If we went near one of the big quest sites I could probably give him any random rock and it'd turn out to be a princess.

The dragon blinked "That's right. Say, maybe that's why I haven't found one!"

"I wouldn't be surprised," I told him. "But will you take an enchanted princess?"

The dragon considered. "No, I don't think so. Spells make things too complicated."

No this wouldn't be complicated at all. The princess would have a nice strong dragon to look after her until her knight, or a suitably attractive and wealthy prince came to rescue her. And Daystar and I would be free to continue on the great sword adventure without a weeping fainting nuisance holding us back.

"And does it matter how long it takes me to find her?" I asked.

The dragon thought about that for a moment. "I don't want to wait too long, but I really don't want to be unreasonable, either. How about a week? You bring the princess here by a week from today, otherwise you owe me another favor."

It licked its lips appreciatively. It would have been pretty disconcerting if I didn't already have a princess all lined up.

"That sounds reasonable," I told it. "But what if I'm early?"

"The earlier the better," the dragon said.

"Then, there's your princess!" I said and pointed at the passed out Princess

"My, you do work fast," the dragon said. It turned and looked at the Princess itself. "She's certainly beautiful enough, but are you sure she isn't enchanted?"

"I'm quite sure."

"Then why is she asleep in the middle of the day? I didn't think princesses were nocturnal creatures."

"She just fainted when she saw you," I assured him. "It's nothing to worry about. It happens to princesses all the time. Will she do?"

"Quite well." The dragon nodded. "You're very prompt. Thank you very much."

I nodded back officaially, glad that was settled. But as soon as the dragon turned Daystar scowled at me.

"Why did you do that?" he whispered "That was a terrible thing to do!"

"Would you rather I got eaten?" I shot back just as quietly back. "She won't get eaten. The dragon said so. And I bet it won't want her for long." In fact I gave Her Royal Faintness two weeks maximum before the dragon pawned her off on someone younger and stupider, or just tossed her at a passing knight. "Dragons are smarter than some people."

Daystar blinked and turned quickly back to the dragon.

"And that dragon thought he was a princess." Nightwitch snickered.

I grinned and turned to watch as the Princess opened her eyes to see a dragon peering down at her. She gave a little gasping shrieked, and the dragon frowned.

"You don't have to be frightened," it said. "Really. You're my princess now, and I'm going to take proper care of you, and you can clean my scales and cook for me. I believe that's the standard arrangement."

The Princess burst into tears and I mentally subtracted two days off the princess's expected time with the dragon. The dragon reared back, eyeing her uncomfortably. "Did I say something wrong?"

The Princess began truly weeping. "Alas! Ah, woe is me! So recently was I happy, awaiting the coming of my love to rescue me from this dismal forest! And now am I a prisoner of a monster, and when my love arrives he will be eaten by this awful beast, and I abandoned to my fate! Alas, that I should come to this!" And subtract another two.

The dragon seemed shocked. It turned back to me. "This is a princess?" It asked, unsure.

"Yes, she is," Daystar said. I nodded, as well.

The question had gotten through the Princess's wailing. She raised her head and sniffed.

"Indeed, I am a princess, and the daughter of a king, and see to what misery I have been brought!" she said tragically. "Alas, the day I left my father's house! Yet would I flee again, and endure with patience all the trials and woes which have come upon me, only to be with my love once more!"

The dragon backed away from her. Subtract a day and a half. "Are you sure this is a princess?" As if hoping we'd say no.

"Alas! Now even my birth is doubted, and to whom shall I turn in my distress? Ah, pity my sad state! For I am alone and friendless, and parted from my love. Ah, woe! That ever I let him leave my side! For he is mighty among men, most brave and fearsome in battle, and of a fair and pleasing appearance in all things, and he would not leave me thus, did he but know my fate." And went back to incoherent wailing.

"If this is a princess, I'm not sure I want one after all," the dragon said. Bingo

It looked at the Princess speculatively. "Maybe I could eat her instead."

"Ah, help!" said the Princess. For once a rather logical reaction.

"I really don't think you should eat her," Daystar said, hastily. "After all, you did say you wouldn't."

"That's right, I did." The dragon glanced back at the weeping Princess, and sighed. "Nobody told me princesses were like this," it moaned. "And who is this love she keeps talking about?"

"We haven't met him yet, I'm afraid," Daystar said. "She says he's a knight that she ran away with because her father wanted her to marry someone else."

"A knight?" The dragon backed up even farther. "I don't think I'm ready for knights yet. They're so unpredictable. I don't suppose you could find me a princess without a knight?"

Well as long as we were going down the 'make the dragon not want a Princess" track, might as well do it properly.

"All really good princesses have knights," I said firmly. "And you wouldn't want a second-rate princess, would you?"

"All of them?" the dragon asked mournfully.

"Well, not all of them," Daystar said. "Some of them have princes instead."

I suppressed a grin. "Princes are much worse than knights," I said, as if considering. "They have magic rings and sorceresses for godmothers and things like that. With knights you only have to worry about their armor and weapons, and maybe once in a while an enchanted sword."

They actually did, we normally got heroes, but the occasional prince passing by my town was normally much better armed, magically speaking.

"My love has no need of magic!" the Princess protested indignantly, as if that was the important part of this whole conversation. "For he is most strong and skilled, and never has he been beaten in combat with sword or spear. Woe that he is no longer at my side!"

"I don't like the sound of this," the dragon said uneasily. "Maybe if I just-" A loud crash interrupted him and a tinny-sounding voice sounded from the bushes at the edge of the clearing

"What ho! A dragon?"

The Princess's tears magically vanished and she started posing herself.

"Hark! My love approaches! Now shall you see his prowess for yourselves!"

More crashes came out of the bushes and the dragon backed up nervously. Then a knight in a dented suit of armor fell gracelessly out of bushes, right at the dragon's feet.

"On guard, monster!" the knight said picking himself up hastily. "Prepare to die!" He pulled out a rather unimpressive sword and waved it vaguely in the general direction of dragon.

The dragon looked at him, and then back at me.

"This is a knight?" it asked.

"My love is the bravest and best of knights!" the Princess cried. SDomehow I doubted that, and I thought it gave the dragon the wrong impression.

"If this is a knight, maybe I can handle him after all," the dragon said. "He doesn't look so bad."

"Ah, hideous reptile! No longer do I fear you, for my love will defend me! Yea, he will defend me even unto death!"

"Now, wait a minute, Isabelle," the knight said. He pulled off his helmet, glared at it, and threw the dented can on the ground behind him.

"I'm perfectly willing to kill dragons for you, but who said anything about dying?"

"You are my knight, and my brave love!" the Princess said wallowing in the drama "Oh, save me from this awful monster, who would carry me off and eat me!" She jumped up and threw her arms around the knight.

The knight looked slightly awkward "It's going to be a bit difficult for me to save you if you hang about my neck like that. It's quite awkward." He apologized to her " If you'll just sit down, I can see about doing this properly."

The Princess just latched on tighter, so the knight had to turn and wiggle uncomfortably to get his arms free to fight and maneuver the Princess somewhat behind him. Her arms were still around his neck and I figured she had to be cutting off some of his air supply.

The dragon watched the farce with steadily brightening eyes. "You certainly aren't very polite," it said.

"My love is the soul of courtesy!" the Princess cried from behind the knight. "For he is a knight most gentle and well spoken, much given to-"

"I say, Isabelle, must you go on like that?" the knight said in a slightly strangled gasp ."It's embarrassing. Do, please, sit down and let me fight the dragon. Then you won't have to worry about being eaten, you know."

The Princess gave a small scream and let go of her beloved knight to bring her hands to her face.. "Alas? she warbled "Behold my sad state! For now must I watch a bloody battle, and perhaps see my love slain before my eyes, and become a captive of this monster."

"This is ridiculous," I said. I marched over to stop the dragon who didn't want the Princess at all from killing the metal clad idiot who could get rid of the nuisance. Daystar followed looking worried.

"Ah, save me!" the Princess shrieked, as soon as we got close.

I'd already done that, and now she was screwing it up, if she hadn't made such a big deal about how the dragon had previously wanted to carry her off, we wouldn't be in this mess.

"You shut up," I told her with a glare. "You've caused enough trouble already."

"I say," said the knight. "If we're going to discuss politeness-"

"We aren't," I snapped "We're going to discuss battles. Battles between dragons and knights. Why do you want to fight this dragon?"

"Knights are sworn to do battle with the beasts that ravage the fields, carry off innocent maidens, and generally make a nuisance of themselves," the knight rattled off, as if reading it from some stupid text book. The Princess nodded approvingly.

"Well, this dragon isn't ravaging anything, and it doesn't even want your stupid princess," I pointed out.

"I do, too!" the dragon broke in. "If I'm not going to carry her off I could eat her, after all. And if I fought a knight no one could say I'm not a proper dragon, even if I don't have a princess."

"I really don't think that's a good idea," Daystar said. "Princesses aren't all that common, after all."

"Besides, you promised me you wouldn't," I added.

"I did not!" the dragon said. "I only said I wouldn't waste a perfectly good princess, and this one's not so great. Eating her wouldn't be much of a waste."

Well he had a point.

"I don't think that would be very polite," Daystar said, definitely. "Especially when you've talked to her this long without bringing it up. You really ought to ease into these things gradually, you know."

"Are you sure?" the dragon asked.

I wasn't but, Daystar nodded and the dragon seemed to give up.

"Oh, all right," it muttered "I won't eat her, then. But couldn't I fight the knight anyway? Just for practice?" It glanced up hopefully.

The knight was all for it. "I say, that sounds like an excellent idea," heexclaimed."A sort of exercise for both of us."

"A tourney!" the Princess cried, almost as happy as her knight. "Oh, brave and clever, to think of such a thing!"

The knight basked in the attention.

The dragon looked pleased, and nodded. Then it rounded on me. "What's a tourney?" it whispered

"It's like a battle, only no one gets hurt. Usually..."

"Not even a little?" it sounded disappointed

"Of course not? I told him. "It's a show of skill." And we didn't want the knight too hurt to take the Princess far, far away.

"If you were trying to hurt each other, it wouldn't be a tourney," Daystar said, though he looked vaguely skeptical about the whole thing.

"Oh, all right, then," the dragon grumbled. "I don't know why I'm letting you talk me into this. How do we start?"