The young princess left the castle in the same manner that she usually did: tears and pride stinging her eyes, bow gripped furiously in fist; all signs pointing to another common occurrence - Merida and Queen Elinor were once again at each other's throats. The love and understanding found between the pair during their last frightful escapade had never wavered, but there were just some things they'd never see eye-to-eye on; the evening had begun with a simple request - 'No weapons on the table'! - and had descended into chaos and harsh words, mostly concerning the witches spell. Guilt was now the greatest and most cutting weapon in Queen Elinor's arsenal, and Merida was still too emotionally raw to fight it. Every time the word 'bear' came up, all Merida could do was flee, once again escaping into the cover of night on the back of her trusty Clydesdale. Angus wasn't a horse, really, he was her best friend, the kind that was so in tune with her emotions that he would rear his head and stand to attention as soon as she took her first step out of the heavy castle door. Angus was so accustomed to running now that he ran up to meet her, and Merida leaped onto him without a second glance, burying her head almost deep enough in his black fur to silence the sound of Elinor calling her name.
The pair tore off into the woods, Angus putting as much distance between the castle and the girl as he possibly could, just waiting for the moment that her tears would stop dampening his skin. Eventually, she did lift her head, making sure to place a grateful kiss on the horse's neck before her lips twisted into a scowl. "Did she no learn anythin', Angus?" Merida declared bitterly, notching an arrow on her beloved bow. She peeled the arrow back and let it go flying into the forest - she'd find it tomorrow, but for now, she didn't care where it landed. Solace could usually be found in the sound of her string being pulled taut, the wind zipping through her hair and his fur, but all of it was not quite enough to quell the sadness that had turned to anger. Aimless shooting was nothing compared to the thrill of hitting a target. Clearing her mind and breathing in deep, Merida notched another arrow, pointing it straight into the sky. "Gimme somethin' tae shoot at, gimme somethin' tae shoot at..."
A black shadow obscured the stars.
The resulting howl was nothing like she'd ever heard before. Birds were great target practice and she'd killed her share, and they never, ever sounded the way that did. With great wanting and sick pride, Merida watched as the black shadow tumbled from the sky, listening as it's body tore through the trees as it fell. She sighed contentedly. "Let's go find it, Angus. Dinner wasnae that good tonight anyway." Once again, Angus ran, Merida's rage diminishing with every stride he took. She was almost calm before she realized that the path of destruction they were following was much more damaged than a large bird could cause. Broken branches littered the way, and with a sick knot forming in her gut, she noticed that small rabbits and squirrels were running from the direction they were headed, owls cooing ominously as they flew far above the now-broken treetops. "This... this isnae right, Angus..."
The horse ground to a halt a short distance before one of their most frequented clearings, a normally beautiful patch by the river, one that was covered in wild heather and had apple trees nearby. Under any other circumstances, Angus would have headed straight for it, but he knew better. Angus knew that Merida would go striding in there without thinking about the danger, and even though he knew when she needed to get away, his first priority was keeping her safe. With a whinny, Angus started to turn around. "Och, ye big bairn," Merida sighed, jumping from her best friend's back and guiding him to safety at the very edge of the clearing. "I'm gonnae go see what's up. You stay here, I'll be right back."
With yet another arrow on her bow - she wasn't stupid enough to go in unarmed - she took a big breath and stepped out from the shadows, immediately wishing that she hadn't.
The beast bellowed instantly and the sound went straight to her heart, all the air rushing from her lungs to leave her gasping, her body wracked in horror. Everything seemed to stop, especially Merida's ability to speak or scream, her words jammed in her throat like a gammy cake. She was rooted to the spot like a tree, as still as if she could have been standing there for centuries. Great black beasts were no stranger to her, given her history, but not like this. No, the emerald eyes that were now locked on her with unflinching fury did not belong to a bear. Not even close.
They belonged to a dragon.
Merida scanned the beast frantically from her spot, desperately trying to convince her self that seeing wasn't believing, that the scales that danced in the moonlight and teased her so were not scales at all, that they were some trick of her muddled mind. But no. It wasn't a fairytale or folklore, nor was it an illusion - it was very, very real, and very, very angry. She started backing up slowly, quickening her unsure step as she got ever closer to the safety of the forest she knew so well, leaping behind the tree where Angus stood at the first opportunity. Chest heaving and fear coursing through her body like an electrical charge, she dared to peek out from behind her tree, Angus doing the very same. Instantly, he whinnied in dismay, stomping the ground with his feet and rearing up behind her. But Merida was transfixed.
It was trapped, entangled in a net of loose branches, one wing stretched to full span but stuck under a boulder by the water. Though it couldn't move, it's reflexes were still sharp - the dragon caught her gaze and let out a mighty bellow, one that could shake the leaves off the trees. Not the time, or the place, but her quick mind declared that it's loud cry was only so much quieter - but a lot more pleasant than - her father's singing. Merida shook the thought away and dived behind the tree once again, a grim realisation coming to mind: she had done this. What seemed like just moments before she had brought down this majestic creature with her arrow, her misdirected spite. Her carelessness had toppled a creature of myth and wonder. King Fergus would have dealt it a 'mercy blow' and hoisted it upon his broad shoulders, brought it to the castle to exhibition in front of the villagers and the clans from beyond, a trophy better than that of Mor'du. But Merida didn't feel proud, and she certainly did not want it to die - tears welled in her eyes, guilt boiling in the pit of her stomach for the second time that night.
Terrified but wanting to help, she stepped out from behind the tree, staring at the beast. It growled once more, and Merida took a deep, slow gulp of breath, letting the air flow into her lungs. Maybe it would have been fun, she thought as she took even steps towards the dragon, to take it's body back; to see the look on her mother's face as she deposited it on the stone floor of the throne room. But no. Her feet forced her forward, her nerves burning and tense, instinct screaming for her to run. "Ah'm so sorry," she whispered, her voice choked and hoarse, watching it watching her as she approached the boulder that held it down. Merida circled the stone, examining it's position, but when she felt blindly confident enough to give it a shove, the beast growled in pain. "Ah know, Ah know! It's gonnae hurt, and... ye're probably gonnae kill me at the first chance, but..."
Persistent, Merida gave the boulder another almighty push, and the dragon growled once more. "Och, will ye shut it jus' now? I'm trynna he-"
Merida froze. Someone was approaching, clambering through the forest so loudly she could hear the twigs break under their feet. They were close, too - looking for something called a Toothless? - but getting far, far too close to the dragon. She spun her head in the direction of the movement, and through the fog appeared the silhouette of a person. The dragon made a groaning noise, and there came the voice again - "Toothless?" She grunted, partly from the exertion of trying to back the boulder of the dragon's wing, partly because she knew that it was her royal duty to protect the stranger first.
"Go away! Uh... it's no safe!" Merida cursed under her breath, for the first time wishing that she had her mother's way with words.
"Toothless!" The stranger replied with more urgency, the voice coming ever closer to the clearing. Merida's heart was pounding, but her eyes rolled - despite her warning, the person kept advancing, calling out that odd name. The dragon, however, perked it's head up, letting out a weak, guttural groan. With a jolt, Merida realized that the dragon was replying to the person - but it was too late. "Get away from him!" The other voice screamed, and before she could react, she and the person were sent tumbling into the water of the creek - a boy, it seemed - had launched himself at her.