This was written for a flash fiction contest where we had to use two random nouns and a random connector to create our title. The nouns were all tried and true genre clichés, and I ended up with “princess” and “fire.” Below is the predictably off-center interpretation I chose to apply to that pair of words. I gave it a little snappier title for posting here, but otherwise, it’s the same.
It has to be a gorge, Firendorus thought miserably as he descended to the meeting place. They can’t do this in a meadow near a lake with a nice stand of trees nearby, no, it’s got to be some cold, foggy, rocky hole in the ground. And it was a particularly cold, foggy, rocky hole in the ground the dragon circled over, the kind that other rocky holes would have offered a blanket and cup of hot coffee to if they’d had the chance. The remains of what could have once been charitably called a stream trickled aimlessly down the center of it, its water the dull brown color of spit tobacco, only with none of the charm. High cliff walls rose past Firendorus as he landed, and his wings beat away soupy layers of fog, strands of it clinging to his wing tips as if it was actually going to miss the place. And in the parting fog stood the princess.
She was absolutely hideous. Some sort of bright yellow fungus cascaded down from the top of her head, obviously left to grow unchecked. Her skin hung about her so loosely it actually fluttered from the gusts of his wings, and draped so low it obscured her feet. Her flat, lifeless face puffed with redness, and some sort of vital fluid leaked from her eyes. Probably riddled with plague, Firendorus shuddered, not wanting to get anywhere near the obviously diseased creature. But he had no choice. He’d been chosen to face this monster, and for every intricately thought-out excuse he’d come up with for not going there had been an equally well thought-out slap to his head. He took a tentative step forward.
The noise that came out of the princess’ mouth sounded as if a large bird was being sat upon by another large bird that was having a third large bird painfully inserted into it. Firendorus couldn’t understand how so much sound could come from so small a thing.
“Oh now please, there is absolutely no call for that!” he said irritably.
The noise abruptly stopped. “You can speak?” the princess said weakly.
“Of course I can speak,” Firendorus said, shaking his head to clear out the last vestiges of her shriek. “Although I don’t speak whatever awful racket that was.”
“I was screaming.”
“‘Screaming’? Even the name for it sounds shrill.” He sighed, which blew away a layer of fog that had managed to creep back in. “Well, I didn’t come all this way for idle chatter. Kindly do whatever it is you’re going to do to me and be done with it.”
“Do to you?” the princess sputtered. “What could I possibly do to you?”
“Scream at me again, I suppose,” Firendorus offered. His head swam in confusion. Actually, it was more a dog-paddle than honest swimming, and the dog was drowning. Nothing he’d been told had prepared him for this pathetic thing. Her eyes were leaking uncontrollably now, and her nose as well. Maybe he could just wait it out until she collapsed in a fluid-less heap.
“Well?” the princess asked miserably. “Aren’t you going to eat me?”
Firendorus snorted. “Oh please! Your skin’s about to come off and your eyes are leaking. Not exactly appetizing. And even if you were, I’ve found bigger things than you stuck between my teeth. It wouldn’t be worth the effort of chewing you and swallowing you down. Where did you get such a ridiculous idea?””
“I was chosen by my people to be sacrificed to the dragon so that we may have peace for another year.”
Firendorus’ eyes narrowed. “I was chosen by my people to be sacrificed to the princess so that we may have peace for another year.”
“Well I’m obviously not going anywhere until you eat me,” the princess said.
“And I’m not going anywhere until you slay me.” Firendorus huffed, settling down on his belly. Dragons have an extraordinary amount of patience; one of his uncles once spent ten years waiting for a phoenix to die because he really enjoyed a good barbecue. If this was to be a contest of wills, well, this princess seemed to have already leaked most of hers out of various orifices. She’d crack soon enough.
An hour passed. The leaking around the princess’ eyes slowly lessened. She fidgeted nervously, then sat on a small rock. Firendorus squirmed uncomfortably against the cold ground. Daylight faded, as if tired of wasting its brilliance on such a boring scene.
The princess wearily raised her head. “I am Princess Vuestra of Dorivia.”
Firendorus blinked at the unexpected display of courtesy. “I am Firendorus of … well, a cave over that way.”
Firendorus sighed. He’d always hated the nickname. Too much of a cliché, for one thing. But he didn’t have the desire to correct her on the finer points of properly pronouncing Draco. “You can just call me Fire.”
“Fire, you know I’m supposed to be eaten.”
“Quite right,” he said, rising to his feet. “Just as you know I’m supposed to be slain. So I assume your martial interest in me is as equally negligible as my culinary interest in you?” The princess simply stared with wide blank eyes. Oh please don’t start leaking again. “You don’t want to kill me as much as I don’t want to eat you,” he explained quickly. The princess nodded vigorously. “So here we are, both of us expected to meet grisly ends by each other’s hands. But there’s something we haven’t considered.” He leaned in close, but not too close lest the waterworks start up again. “Perhaps it’s enough that it simply looks like we attempted to do each other in.”
Vuestra raised an eyebrow. “I’m listening.”
“It’s simple. You take one of these rocks and do me some harmless but grievous-looking injury, and I return home with a tale of epic battle and equally heroic escape. I singe you a little bit, and you tell a similar story. Both sides are satisfied that we have met our obligations, and neither of us has to suffer the inconvenience of being OW!”
He hadn’t seen the rock coming, and if he had, he certainly wouldn’t have expected that much muscle behind it. It glanced off one of the bony ridges above his left eye, leaving a perfectly dreadful scratch that looked far worse than it was. “I take it you’re on board with my little scheme then,” he said.
“Sorry, got a little excited,” Vuestra said. She held out her arm. “Your turn.”
Due to their tremendous size, dragons are blessed with a multitude of benefits. They have little to fear, since only the most foolhardy of souls would dare challenge them. They have the admiration of many kingdoms. They have few needs that are unmet. But for all their age, wisdom, wealth and grandeur, there is one thing a dragon often lacks.
A sense of proportion.
Firendorus stared dumbly at the fine pile of ash that was once Princess Vuestra and wondered if maybe it was time to get one.