In the kingdom of Velagera, there was a curious tradition. The first queen had been a princess stranded on an island. The first king had rescued her and established a colony on the island which had eventually become the kingdom of Velagera.
The people valued and cherished their history and so it was acted out. Every time that a prince or princess was going to get married, the rescue would be re-enacted. It became a grander and grander affair as time passed. Soon it was just a drama.
But King Gregarion was a reckless man. He was an avid hunter, believed in the strength of men, and that frivolities belonged in hell. When his wife gave birth to twin daughters, and the midwife stated that she could not give birth to anymore children, he took a reckless decision. His wife was given all control over the eldest, Lorinda. He took all charge over the raising of Miranda, the younger one. His wife pleaded him to follow reason and give her control, but he was king and would not bend.
By the time Lorinda was sixteen and ready for marriage, she excelled in embroidery, the mandolin, ballet and waltzing. She learned to always speak with a voice like a chime, and to laugh like the sound of tinkling bells. When she walked it was like she was floating, and when she sat, it was always with her hands folded across her lap. She was the perfect princess.
By the time Miranda was sixteen, she wasn’t ready for marriage. She was masterful with any weapon, and never missed her target on the long bow. Her father taught her to maintain authority over everyone, and she had a war cry that made her sister faint dead away. When she ran, no one could pass her, and when she fought, the opponent was good as dead. She was the perfect warrior.
Lorinda was beautiful in the careful, pampered, manicured way. Her blonde curls were always immaculately styled by her maid and her dresses never, ever, had a speck of dirt on them. Her hands were soft and white. Her mother taught her to use rouge and blusher to bring about artificial color to her porcelain skin, and to bear the pressure of the corset strings for the sake of beauty.
No one in the court called Miranda beautiful, they thought her to be, but to say so would be to step into a lion’s den with a steak around one’s neck. Because she was forbidden from cutting her lustrous black hair, she always kept it in a long plait down her back. She wore loose pants and cotton shirts most days, they enabled her to move more freely, and bloodstains washed out more easily. The wind in her hair and the pleasure of exercise brought color to her bronzed cheeks, more radiant than any rouge. Her body was slender and toned from years of training with weapons, not needing a corset.
According to tradition, the queen searched for grooms for her daughters since the day they turned sixteen. For Lorinda there was intense competition, princes and kings came forward in hoards. The queen quickly chose a suitable prince who would soon be on the throne. For Miranda, there was… nothing. At first, no one came forward. But with much difficulty she convinced a king from a distant land to consider her.
The king’s name was Kyran, and he was a man much like King Gregarion. The only differences were that he had none of the fighting spirit, preferring instead to indulge in material pleasures, and he weighed a good three hundred pounds. He reasoned that it would be a challenge to tame the rowdy princess. He was convinced that she would break and become docile. With his enormous ego he agreed to the match, convinced that Miranda was just a girl that wanted the freedom of a man, something she would not get.
As I said before, King Gregarion was a reckless man. The norm for a reenactment of the rescue was to put a few people in costumes and have a play, with the bride and groom acting as themselves. A long chain of people would pretend to be a dragon, or a sea serpent, or sometimes even a kraken. But King Gregarion wouldn’t settle for costumes.
Two dragons were brought to the kingdom for the re-enactment. The king wanted males, they were less aggressive, but one of them ended up being female. The male was young, with green scales and more fear than ferocity. The female was a gruesome thing, with dark blue scales, a long tail, sharp horns, and hunger for human flesh. It was decided that King Kyran would get the female, because Lorinda’s fiancée was just a wisp of a lad, and flighty. The ugly scaled beasts were held in the courtyard of the castle until the enactment.
Mr. Anelos, the local animal doctor was brought in. He was to drug the beasts to be of no harm for the reenactment. The old man hobbled in, with his little box of vials and syringes. Each of the dragons was the size of a two-story house, but his drugs were potent. He went to the male first, seeing that it was of a more agreeable disposition. Really, neither of the dragons had a nice temperament. Both tried to rip apart the muzzles that kept them from breathing fire. Both threatened to snap the iron bars of their enormous cages, and both looked down on the humans with hate, and more frighteningly, hunger.
But the male was less fearsome, less gigantic, and less hungry than the female. So Mr. Anelos took his vial of the drug out of his little box and injected it into the huge beast. Immediately it gave the desired effect, the dragon fell into a dazed stupor.
Just then the female managed to rip her muzzle and roared, releasing a funnel of blue-white flames into the air. The trainers hurriedly got a hold of her again and tied another muzzle to her mouth. But the damage was already done, Mr. Anelos had had the fright of his life.
And in his fear, he picked the wrong vial. It wasn’t the potent vial that would render the dragon harmless for the entire day, but a sleep potion that would only make its immense body limp for the next two hours. But it was horrible to blame the poor old doctor, for even a younger man would have made that mistake.
All the preparations for the enactment were made. In a giant stadium where the gladiators usually fought, the entire population of the kingdom assembled readily. The stadium was oval in shape, with two boulders at one end. Those were the boulders that the two princesses sat on, waiting for their future husbands to rescue them.
The dragons were brought in, and the people gasped and applauded at the courage and planning of their king to bring live dragons. Then the two heroes entered, looking very much not like heroes. Prince Vaspin, Lorinda’s fiancé, looked like he would die just hearing the dragon’s roar. He shook in his armor, too big for him. The sword in his hand hung at his side, too heavy for his body without exercise.
King Kyran was even more ridiculous. Stuffing his three hundred pound body into even the biggest of the armors had not been an easy task. Unseemly bulges appeared here and there in the chain mail. He brandished his sword bravely, but it was evident to everyone in the stadium that he had never had to use one in his life. He held it like one would hold a carving knife.
The arena in which the four stood in was about one thousand feet long. Since the dragons were already drugged, all they had to do was make a few dramatic swings with the sword as they walked past the beast, and catch hold of their future wife’s hand.
Prince Vaspin went first, being the younger. He waved his sword in front of the dragon who didn’t move so much as an inch and quickly gripped Melinda’s hand. King Kyron, a self-titled master of the performing arts, put much more effort into his role. That’s where the trouble began.
When it was King Kyran’s turn to go to his future wife, it was fifteen minutes till the sleeping potion would wear off. A normal person could have done the reenactment twice or thrice. But the king wanted to flaunt his bravery to his would-be wife. He parried, ducked, and swung his sword in a menacing manner. This not only succeeded in wasting precious time, it managed to vex both Miranda and the dragon.
Finally, he poked the dragon with the point of his little rapier and then sauntered towards his future wife as if he was taking a walk in the park. When the dragon had less than a minute towards freedom, he reached the boulder. Even then he could have survived. But instead of taking her hand immediately, he instead recited a contrived poem for her.
“My dear Miranda, a poem for you,” he announced. Although his bride was not particularly impressed, actually, not at all impressed, he earned a few “aww”s from the romantics in the audience.
“You shine like the full moon,
Whoever doesn’t see your charm,
Is a complete loon,
Your voice is like a clear bell,
Whoever doesn’t hear it,
Is an idiot and deaf as well.”
Miranda looked down at the pudgy poet with obvious dislike. The king was oblivious to dislike, and he continued his charade as her lover.
Finally he raised his hand towards her, mere seconds before the dragon would awake, and asked, “Will you come with me, sweet princess?”
Miranda wanted to say no. And she paused for a second to wonder if perhaps she could say no. That was enough time for the dragon. It unfurled its wings which had been so weak just a moment before, and glided over the length of the arena.
The dragon was angry, tired, sleep deprived, and had a hangover from the drug. But more than anything, it was starving. Its eyes, yellow orbs in an ugly head, scanned the arena for something good. And saw its lunch. A round little meal to go, packed into a tight metal cover. Three hundred pounds of goodness, and it would get revenge for the way he had poked it too.
Its talons gripped the chain mail of Miranda’s groom-to-be and lifted him off the ground. Miranda stared in open shock as the pudgy man was carried farther and farther away from the stadium, away from Velagera. His screams grew faint and finally were unheard, replaced by the frightened shrieks of the audience, hurrying to get away and safe. Lorinda and Prince Vaspin clung to each other in fright. King Gregarion had his mouth in a pout, disappointed at the outcome of things for his favorite daughter.
The crowds soon hurried to their homes, cursing the king for his lack of care. The few people who had come from King Kyran’s land rejoiced in their freedom and held many toasts to Velagera, King Gregarion, and some even to the dragon.
Miranda felt like celebrating, but she followed her father’s lead and maintained a steely silence. Finally her father spoke. They were in the parlor of her father’s suite of rooms. Her mother was weeping at the loss of such a good alliance.
Miranda sat steely-faced, although she was jumping for joy in her mind. She expected that her mother wouldn’t be able to find another match, and that she would be free again, to ride her horse and fight and hunt.
But it was not to be. Although her mother kept silent, her father proposed, “You should see what has become of him, Mira.”
Her father never addressed her by her full name, it was always Mira. And she was used to her nickname, a nickname everyone else was forbidden to use.
“But father, he is surely dead,” she protested. She didn’t want to go searching for his remains, and if he was alive, what would she do then?
“You were engaged to the man, Mira, you owe him that much.”
But Miranda wouldn’t give up, she wasn’t going to sacrifice her freedom. “Father, I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“The dragon will keep him alive until it reaches its nest. We know where the nest is, you’ll be heading to Loret right after your sister’s wedding ends.”
She gets her honeymoon and I go corpse searching, Miranda thought with envy. Her sister had fallen in love with Vaspin, who she proclaimed was her soul mate.
“You will leave with an escort of my best men,” her father continued. Miranda only listened to snippets of the conversation, not knowing whether to feel happy at the cancellation of her wedding or miserable at the planning of her search for her betrothed.