She poked a strand of thin grey hair back under her purple silk hat. Now past her fiftieth year, and in straightened circumstances, she still made an effort with her appearance. She pushed the sturdy metal gate. A scent of warm spices floated down to her from the large house.
She ascended the neat cinder path which wound between two rockeries. Although it was spring, there were no flowers, only boulders. Puffing hard, she reached the brass-studded door and rapped her cane on it. A gust of air shook the tall oaks surrounding the house. The door opened.
As a young princess, she had often fainted, mainly through trying to maintain her figure by starving herself, but fainting was also useful to avoid attending all those tedious ceremonies. Now, although many times her youthful size, habit ensured that she fainted decorously.
A floral apron was being fanned across her face. Her eyes fluttered open. Attached to the apron was—
“You! But, you’re dead! Help! If this is Delirium Tremens, it feels really real—”
“Now shush,” came the reply. “Breathe slowly; you’re just having a little panic. Believe me, I know all the symptoms.”
“But you were dead. Your hideous carcass was thrown onto the fields beyond Daddy’s kingdom. This can’t be happening!”
“My dear princess, either take my advice or remain on my cinder path. It’s been newly scorched, not an ideal companion for silk, and that hat is such a pretty purple. Take my hand and we’ll have a nice slice of cake.”
The dragon led the tottering figure into a spacious sitting room, then reappeared with an apricot sponge.
“So, princess, why are you here? After. All. These. Years.”
Tears welled in the bloodshot royal eyes. “I came to find him to…oh, what does it matter now? I’m too late.” She pointed a bejewelled finger at the dragon. “Did you eat him, you fiend?”
The dragon smiled. “He is alive and as well as one can be after the demanding life of a Christian knight.”
“I heard he’d been tortured.”
“Well, rather a strong term for his, ah, brief marriage to you, but if that’s how you view it—”
“How dare you? We married after the great Saving of the Kingdom Day, and,” she sobbed, “hardly a year later, he disappeared on some chivalrous business and things did not go as I deserved.”
Tears rolled over her double chin.
“Daddy made me drink sweet wine to give me courage waiting for you to appear on Saving of the Kingdom Day. He was distraught sacrificing me, but the people insisted I was ‘the last resort,’ vile peasants. Sadly, wine became my support afterwards, and food, to cope with the trauma. The trauma you caused, you monster. My nerves were shredded, despite having George and saving absolutely everyone, the ingrates.
“But now, I’m on the seven-step programme.” She produced a card and waved it. “This is my last step, apologising to George. I was so awful to him. The Guild of Blacksmiths thought he lived around here. Their local representative sniggered, impudent man, and muttered ‘rockeries’. Wait, how do you know about George’s health?”
“Dear girl—excuse me, you haven’t been a girl for a very long time, have you? Can you gather yourself and look around? Hmm?”
The princess, despite the shocks she had bravely endured over barely a few minutes, heard an edge in the quiet voice. She saw paintings of horses, a desert, and several portraits of George. One showed him with an arm around the dragon. Smiling.
“Look to the hallway, dear, see his coat and riding boots. Understand now?”
“But, a man and dragon, living together, it’s against nature. And you’re male! It’s disgusting!”
The dragon’s jaws opened wide and laughter, with a hint of singed apricot, filled the house.
“You never worked out what happened that day, dear?”
The princess took a large bite of cake to steady herself.
“Heard of love at first sight, princess?”
“You mean,” she squeaked, “you fell in love with me?”
Suddenly the dragon was above her, dark eyes burning into hers. “No, ninny! Instead of eating you that day I fell, head over claws, in love with George!”
“But you were meek when he said to put my girdle about your neck.”
“A girl has to pick her moment. I wanted to go along with whatever he wished. I knew deep in my green heart that he thrust his lance into me for appearances’ sake. It hurt, but love does. I knew he would be mine, some day. I would have done anything for him then. Still would.” The dragon’s fond gaze turned to the double portrait.
“Look here, you beast, this is completely…did you say ‘girl’?”
“Yes, dimwit. I felt like a girl then, I feel like one today, but I can be a boy tomorrow just as easily. It’s a very rich and satisfying life. I am more lover and, certainly, more dragon than you will ever be, and today, princess, you are intruding on our anniversary.”
When George returned, with a beautifully wrapped box of charcoal, he was met by tantalising smells from the kitchen.
“Hello dearest! A roast for our special dinner? You spoil me!”
The dragon gazed at him with smouldering desire.
“Georgie, what a saint to bring me a present. And I have nothing for you. Can you forgive me?”
George put a veined hand to the dragon’s cheek. “To be with you is all I wish, my evergreen dear. Oh, I called by Ronnie’s and he’ll finish making your fire irons tomorrow. He was chuckling away to himself. Wouldn’t say why. Funny lot, blacksmiths. Now, your afternoon. Did you have time to sew, as well as preparing dinner? That looks like a bit of cloth between your teeth.”
The dragon deftly teased away the shred of purple silk and returned George’s trusting smile.
“Oh, just a little housekeeping, my angel, nothing of importance."
About the Author
Marka Rifat lived in California as a child. She now lives in Scotland and writes and performs her stories, plays and poems. In 2020, she was in Lines+Stars, Northwords Now, Twisted Vine and Grey Hen. In 2019, publications included Arachne Press, Black Bough Poetry, and Doric Literature Portal.