"Fur, feathers, farts and scales! What a marvelous presentation of romantical dragons, showing off for the ladies of their choice, happenstance or traditional. A very good collection for all hungry draconphiles, aka dragonlovers. Well written, stylish and above all inventive, Dragon Lovers is sure to please readers of all ages."
which was published in Dragon Lovers, 2007
How I came up with this story. My novels are all historical romance, so you may be a little surprised by this story, but those of you who've been following my writing will know I have a strong interest in fantasy and science fiction, where I get to play with the stranger ideas that come my way. Take this story, for example.... Years ago, I wanted to write a fairy story. Not a story about Faery, I did that in my story in Faery Magic, but a fairy story, like Cinderella, or the Princess and the Pea. One with a pretty, turretted castle, knights in very shiny armor, and a princess in floaty garments and a tall, pointed hennin.
So I did, just for amusement. And because I was thinking fairy story, which links with nursery rhyme, the king was counting his money while listening to his fiddlers three, and the queen was eating bread and honey while waiting for a pie full of blackbirds to be baked. It was amusing, but insubstantial. But then the various fables about the virgin sacrificed to the dragon sneaked in.
But I put it aside, and there it lay, simmering quietly, until my friends from Faery Magic and I decided to get together again and this time, tackle dragons. You'll find this a wonderfully varied collection, drawing on our different interests and backgrounds -- in my case, fantasy fiction. I hoped -- go on, laugh -- that this would be a simple, romp of a story, but of course when I set to writing it (without the nursery rhymes now) all kinds of questions arose. How had this tradition of the virgin princess arisen? Why did the dragons want the blood of a virgin princess? Why were things different this time?
Protesting all the way, I developed a history of Saragond and Dorn and a complete picture of dragon culture and biology. Most of it isn't in the story, but I had to work it all out because a story has to make sense. Now, here's a taste of things to come.
"Being the Sacrificial Virgin Princess of Saragond stinks."
"I'm sure it does, highness."
"Seven years. Seven interminable years!" Princess Rozlinda leaned forward on the Royal Mage’s table. "Not only have I been SVP longer than anyone before, today I doubled the previous record. And," she swept on before the mage could speak, "Princess Rosabella's term ended when she was sixteen. How old am I?"
"Nineteen, highness." But Mistress Arcelsia's aged eyes seemed to say, Magic cannot solve this.
Rozlinda whirled away, her skirts brushing knick-knacks, her veil snagging on something. She yanked it free, not caring if the silk ripped. Stupid, stupid thing!
Nineteen, and she'd never flirted with a man, never danced with a man, never kissed a man. She hardly ever spoke to a man outside her family. She had eight elderly lady attendants whose sole purpose was to make sure the SVP stayed V.
The mage's sanctum lay at the top of the highest tower of the White Castle of Saragond and through the window, Rozlinda could see all the way to the Shield Mountains. "I feel like a bird in a cage. Look, but don't touch. See but never go."
"Now that's not true, Princess. You can ride out any time you wish."
A moving cage is still a cage. But Rozlinda turned back, attempting a smile. None of this was Mistress Arcelsia's fault, and a princess should make all around her comfortable. "Perhaps I will later."
When she went riding, her knights escorted her. She'd still have her ladies to protect her from her knights, but they'd be there. Young, virile men in their silver armor and bright, heraldic tunics, so masterful on their prancing white horses.
Much good would it do her. Could anything be more cruel? The SVP Guard should be as wizened as her tutors and her ladies.
"Sit down, Princess. We'll try scrying again. Perhaps you'll see your future."
"As I never see anything," Rozlinda muttered under her breath, "that's not encouraging."
But she gathered her skirts and sat on the stool before the deep golden bowl. In her disgruntled mood, she sat on her trailing veil, dragging her conical headdress to one side. With a hiss, she rearranged herself and pushed the hennin straight so the silken bands beneath her chin weren't choking her.
"I don’t see why being SVP means a person has to dress this way.”
Rozlinda looked at Mistress Arcelsia's white robe and scarlet velvet cloak. "No one wears clothes like yours, either. Doesn't it bother you?"
"Not at all, Princess. They are the outward sign of my position and skill, and very comfortable."
"Mine are merely the outward sign of being the youngest fertile female of the blood, and they're awful."
"Princess, do try to put your mind into a state receptive of magic."
"Fat lot of good it's done so far," Rozlinda mumbled, but only because the mage was drawing water for the scrying bowl and wouldn't hear. They both knew Rozlinda didn't have a scrap of magical ability, but they pretended.
Mages could do magic, or so they said. Rozlinda rubbed a finger on the rounded edge of the bowl. "Is there some magical way to bring on Izzy's flowers?"
Mistress Arcelsia turned so sharply water sloshed. "No there isn't, and it wouldn't be right. You know better than to tamper with fate."
"I'd suspect she was concealing the bleeding if she wasn't so desperate to be SVP."
"Princess Izzagonda would never do such a wicked thing. After last time."
Last time, when the ceremony had gone awry.
Mistress Arcelsia poured the water into the bowl. "I'm sure she'll flower before the dragon comes. She's thirteen, after all."
"I'm not afraid of the sacrifice. I'm just tired of the Princess Way. Another year seems unbearable."
"The fates have their reasons."
"The reason," Rozlinda said forcefully, "is that the royal family is having fewer and fewer girls, and no one seems to be doing anything about it."
"There is nothing to be done-"
"Then hasn't it occurred to anyone that we're doomed?"
The royal family of Saragond existed solely because their female blood had a mystical power to appease a dragon -- the blood of a princess who had flowered but remained a virgin, that was. They married only within their line so that the blood would remain strong.
"Well?" Rozlinda demanded.
Mistress Arcelsia walked behind her. "Clear your mind for magic, Princess. Perhaps you'll receive wisdom." She put her hand on Rozlinda's neck and pushed, so she had to look into the depths of the golden bowl. "What do you see?"
Rozlinda sighed and concentrated. She had no magic, but she'd been trained all her life to respect ritual and tradition, and daily magical exercises were part of that. Part of the Princess Way, which was all to do with saving the world when the dragon came. If only it would come today.
"Clear the mind, Princess!"
Rozlinda squinted, trying to see images in the scant play of light on still water. She puffed a breath to stir the surface.
Snakes? Ribbons? A jelly pudding?
Mistress Arcelsia's assumption that as usual there would be nothing snapped Rozlinda's patience. "I see water. A river, I mean, not the bowl. A deep one." Might as well be dramatic. "There's a storm coming. Lightning. A golden fish leaps out."
"A golden fish! An excellent omen."
She suspected that Mistress Arcelsia knew she was lying, but carried on anyway. "A man catches the fish. In a big, black net."
"Alarming, Princess. What sort of man?"
"A..." Rozlinda's imagination faltered. A knight, a prince, a brute? But then she gasped.
She saw a man!
She blinked, but this was no ripple-image. It was as if the round bowl had become a window through which she saw a strangely-dressed, pale-haired man. He was standing by a river or lake, but in sunlight.
"Describe the man, Princess." Mistress Arcelsia's bored voice seemed from another world, and perhaps she was. Rozlinda was finally having a vision!
"The picture's changed. Now I see a sunlit scene. Countryside. Water. And a different man."
"Tell me more." A sharp tone showed that the mage knew the difference.
Rozlinda strained to catch every detail.
"He's not from around here. Long pale hair but dark skin. Not like the dark of Cradel. A sort of bronzish gold. His clothes are strange, too. A sleeveless leather jerkin such as a farm worker might wear, but cut tight. And no shirt underneath."
Rozlinda had to swallow. That leather was almost like a second skin and left his brown, muscular arms open to her inspection.
"And?" the mage prompted.
Rozlinda dragged her eyes away from more manly perfection than she'd seen as an adult. She grew hotter. The jerkin went down to his thighs, but his legs were covered by garments as form-fitting as her own silk stocking.
"Green hose, brown boots."
How inadequate. How deceptive. But she felt that if she truly described this man he might be snatched away as a forbidden treat.
It was as if he were drifting toward her, or she toward him. Details became clearer. His arms weren't totally bare. "Metal bands around his arms, upper and lower. They look like gold. Can't be. He's no prince. You can't see this, Mistress?"
"No, it's your vision. Blond hair, you said?"
Rozlinda concentrated again. "Not really blond. More white."
"No, not at all. It's...this is a strange word for hair, but it's bone colored."
"You do?" Rozlinda tried to sit up, but Mistress Arcelsia pushed her down.
"Tell me more. Tell me everything."
Something urgent in the mage's tone both excited and scared Rozlinda. It had been so long since anything different had happened to her that she didn't know how to react.
"Pale hair. Loose down the back but in thin plaits at the front. Glinting, as if woven with shiny wire."
"Is he alone?"
"Yes. No! He just looked to his side and spoke to someone, but I can't see who. And it would have to be someone in the water. Or in a boat. The water rippled. Perhaps someone's swimming. He's picking up a bag and hanging it from his shoulder. A scruffy bag. Definitely not a wealthy man. A thief, do you think? Is this some warning about thievery? He's walking toward me."
Rozlinda tried to shrink back, but the mage's hand was firm on her neck. This was a vision, she reminded herself. A prognostication or an omen. Important.
"Is there anything else about him that you haven't told me, Princess?
"He walks well." Rozlinda became lost in the easy grace of that walk. Not a trudge at all, but a smooth swing, as if the whole world was his to walk over and he intended to do it.
As he drew closer, she noted more about his face. It was as handsome as the rest of him, with a square chin, high cheekbones, and chiseled symmetry, but the set of his mouth was grim and his startling pale amber eyes were cold.
And looking straight at her.
"Let me up!"
Mistress Arcelsia's hand clamped her down. "More, Princess. Tell me everything!"
Panting with fright, Rozlinda looked anywhere by at those eyes. "Leather belt. Pouch. Knife. A buckle. It looks to be..."
"Set with dragon eye stones. It can't be. Only princesses of the blood wear dragon eyes!"
Who was this man? What did this vision mean?
Deep inside, instinct answered: Nothing good.
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In 2009 a new anthology from the "Faery Four", Chalice of Roses, contained stories woven around the Grail myth.
Read chapter one of my medieval romance, The Raven and the Rose, here
My story, The Raven and the Rose, is a stand-alone e-novella, March 2014.
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