Thursday, March 8, 2007

Sunrise on a Dragon - Chapter One

"Diedre..." The King, his royal highness trailed off, desperately thinking of a way to comfort his daughter without recanting his decision. And failing. "It's not going to be that bad..."

"Yes, it is!" Diedre managed to wail in between her sobs. Being the youngest of the five princesses, she had been petulant and spoilt growing up. Whereas Melanie and Sandria had to marry advantageously, Leana had to serve The Lady, and Arya had to act in their mother's stead in more than one occasion, Diedre had never had any duties. "Father! It's going to be - " hic " - horrible!" Another hic. "The dragon's going to eat me!" Hic.

The King patted her daughter's hand for lack any comforting words. "We don't know what the dragons do, daughter. And you know that the legends dictate a maiden princess."

"Then send Leana!"

His Majesty sighed. He had already explained all this to Diedre once, and there were many other things he had to do: petitioners, floods, possible threats... the list was endless. Still, the ravaging dragon was on top priority because of its horrifying damage. So, he explained again, "Leana serves The Lady. So, in effect, she is no longer unattached."

"Send Arya!"

"Diedre... although the whole kingdom doesn't know, you and I do: Arya is no longer a maiden princess."

"Then - then..." Diedre raised her head from her hands. Her eyes and nose were both red and running like water fountains. Her normally delicate mouth gaped wide open and quivering. For a moment, she looked at some space in front of her. Then, she exhaled noisily through her congested nose and her shoulders sagged. She whispered, "But it's not fair."

No, it wasn't fair, and the king had to agree. Nor did he want this for his youngest and most sheltered daughter. To Diedre, though, he only said, "Would it have been more fair any of your other sisters?" At Diedre's nod, he continued, "We are royalty, Diedre, and that means we serve the country before we serve ourselves - at any time."

Diedre could only nod miserably.

Gruffly, the king patted Diedre's shoulder. "Go pack, daughter. We leave a candlemark before sunrise tomorrow."

Just a little before the time her father had told her to meet with him, Diedre still stood in her lavishly furnished room. She looked at the beautiful, bright silk sheets to her flowing satin gowns. Then stared at the paintings framed in gold on the walls and the emerald trinkets that brought her eyes out just so. And she took none of them, because she knew that she would need none of them in the stomach of a dragon.

So, instead, she packed a pair of comfortable shoes, day dress, and night gown, hoping that she would be able to live until she could sleep again. She also had a silver circlet on her head, to show her status as a princess. Besides, her mother had placed the circlet on her, and Diedre brought it mostly to remember her mother and her courage.

The knocks to her door came swiftly enough. Some guard had taken the unfortunate second night duty. He was probably escorting her to the dragon, too.

Just as well, it wouldn't do for her to be killed before she even reached the dragon.

The carriage she rode in - which was the best of the best since this was probably her last carriage ride ever - bounced rhythmically over the cobbled road. Through a window of the carriage, Diedre had seen the black shadows of houses cram together against a midnight blue colored sky. But those houses had started spacing out more and more and the sky had become lighter and lighter.

Until now. Now, it was almost full day, and surrounding her were the trees. Tall trees. Short bushes. Vines and evergreens. Diedre had never studied herbs - and didn't recognize trees much either - but she was sure that there were many useful herbs in this multifarious forest.

That was growing on a mountain.

With a cave in it.

With a dragon in it.

That ravaged villages, towns, and cities.

So much so that Diedre was going to be a sacrifice.

And that thought brought Diedre back to the present like a snap. To be given to a dragon. To be given to a dragon. To be...

Firmly, she tried to optimistic. There must be something good about this whole situation. After all, didn't every cloud have a silver lining? Well, she just had to find it.

The carriage rolled ominously deeper into the mountain.

And all Diedre could think of was that she would have a quick death - possibly - as opposed to a miserable life spent... locked up by the enemy? Married and miserable? Sending children off to dragons?

She hoped that there weren't that many dragons.

At that moment, the carriage chose to stop. The guard opened the door for her and politely helped her down. Her father, meanwhile, also slid down from his horse and came to give his daughter away. To a dragon.

He tried for a courageous smile, and Diedre appreciated the effort as the sky brightened some more, almost to the point of full day, but not quite yet.

He gave her a quick peck on the cheek, but wouldn't quite look at her. Instead, he squeezed he hand and half whispered and half chocked out a "fare well".

Diedre didn't even manage that much. She gave her dad a nod and a squeeze back. Then, she clutched her bag in one hand, almost desperately, and gathered her courage as she walked towards the cave.

She could see it now, the mysterious dragon lair entrance, and she was loathe to let go of her father.

But a sacrifice had to be made freely. And though she didn't want to do it, she had to do it. For duty. For honor. For her family. For her country.

And laid that foot on the cool stone of the cave, so different from the damp dirt of the forest. She passed the point of no return.