This is a short story I wrote based on the much-told, rather overdone story of St. George and the Dragon. I changed the guy’s name, though. 😉 I apologize for not having this properly formatted- WordPress refuses to budge in their preferences.
By Grace Einkauf
November 2009- February 2010
Most children are curious. I was no exception. I rolled in the grass and looked up, laughing, to ask my father why it grew so fast. I wrinkled my nose at caterpillars and demanded to know why it was so hard to tell one end from another. I sighed up at the sky, and eagerly asked why it was gray. Yes, gray. Because, you see, although I was much like other children, in some ways I was very different. One difference was that I happened to be born a princess. And another was that as long as I can remember, I had lived under a thick gray sky. It hadn’t always been gray, though. My father the king told me glorious tales of valor and travels and merrymaking under a blue sky. A sky that always let the sun’s gleaming smile through, before gray clouds came and blotted it out. A sky that didn’t crouch as a roof over our dreams, but which offered a whole other world to peer into. He remembered the sky when it was blue, and he loved the memory so well that when I was born, he named me Azure. I was his blue sky. And he was mine; we were almost constantly together, especially since my mother died. I would lay out my dusty books on a little table in the throne room and study as he handled matters of state. When we could steal away from our work, we’d delight ourselves with the garden, and the horses, and just be content and alive together. As I grew older, he explained to me all the things I wished to know. I learned why those clouds were settled so thick above our kingdom, for he told me the frightening truth of the menace that hung over us. Long ago a dragon had torn apart this land, and set up his reign of smoke in the mountains. And he was still there, though unseen. The gray clouds that continued rolling over the peaks were all the assurance we needed to see that his reign was still uncontested. But we also knew that it wouldn’t last forever. Father had always told me that someday the sky would be blue again. I didn’t know what blue sky really was… even my imaginative head couldn’t conjure it up behind closed eyelids. But I knew that I wanted that blue sky more than anything else in the world.
I remember when the dragon brought renewed terror to our hearts, after so many years. I was tending the horses in the royal stable, though all the court thought it was ludicrous for a blooming princess to shut herself up like a common milkmaid. They didn’t realize that it was because of the exercise I received from substantial work that I was blooming at all. But this day it was dreadfully damp and foggy, and I shivered. Looking up from inspecting the feed bins, I saw a few of the most sprightly chargers suddenly begin pawing the floor and prancing with anxiety. My efforts to calm them were in vain, and I knitted my brows, unable to fathom this sudden confusion. That’s when I heard the whoosh of his wings, like a growling waterfall. He must have brought an ill wind from the mountains with him, because none of our friendly whimsical breezes ever sounded so foreboding. Afraid to discover the truth, I squinted through a knothole as the alarm bells began to toll furiously. I couldn’t see past the buildings, but I saw people running, and- oh, no!- I saw my father with his guards, marching towards the entrance to the city. They were going to parley with the dragon. I longed to run after them and throw myself into Father’s arms, pleading him not to endanger himself so rashly. But I knew it would be in vain; for he was always the bravest of men, ready to take any pain on himself if it would buy safety and comfort for his realm. But how cruel it would be if I should never see him again, and never be able to say goodbye! I sank down onto the dank sawdust floor and cried silently, the cold tears numbing my face, afraid of losing all I had ever held dear. I heard distant rumbles which I think were the tones of the dragon’s malicious voice, and then, after a while, silence. I think returning to the castle was the bravest thing I’ve ever done. I knew I might be confronted with news of Father’s death, or climb the highest turret to gaze down on endless ravished countryside. But I condemned the tears to flee, and left the stable with as steady a step as I could muster. It wasn’t very steady. The street was empty- everyone had retreated to safety inside. Even the castle was empty, except for a few guards. They told me not to worry, that the king would return soon. I wished so much to believe them! Alone, I dragged myself up to my chambers to wait… and pray.
I know I must have fallen asleep, because I was jarred back to reality by a hand on my shoulder. Jerking my head around, I beheld the face of my father, never so dear to me as at that moment. I buried myself in his arms, exulting inside. When I looked up at his face again, ready to hear the entirety of that morbid interview, I suddenly noticed the tears on his face.
“What is it?” I asked, anxiety throwing my voice up a tone. His forehead smoothed and he breathed deep, but then it contracted again. All the same, his voice was strong and clear when he cleared his throat and answered,
“The dragon has agreed to relinquish his power over us, to leave here forever, if-“ He stopped, and I broke in quietly,
“If what?” He didn’t want to answer. I could see the pain in his heart reflected in his eyes. “What is so terrible, Father?” I didn’t think anything could be so bad, but I had never dealt with dragons. Father, I could tell, had agonized over his dealings with this one. He raised his head at last, and spoke in a toneless, controlled voice that I had never heard from him before.
“The dragon will leave this kingdom forever if he may have one thing.”
“What?” I was desperate to know.
“If he may have… you, Azure.”
Me? My head swirled in confusion and disbelief. Thoughts congealed and were swept away like leaves in a restless current. I thought about the most unrelated things… the caterpillars I had hated and loved at the same time… the warm nights when I had played for Father on the harp… pruning the roses in the castle gardens…. And all the while, I asked myself- why? Why did the dragon want me? Why I must be wrenched away from everything I’d ever known in order to save the kingdom? The noise in my mind gradually settled down, though my heart continued to throb, and I asked my father,
“When?” His eyes kindled with tears.
He held me close and we cried together. He assured me that he would never let me go, he would never let us be separated. But both of us knew that unless I yielded to the dragon’s wishes, the entire kingdom would be destroyed. And instead of being separated in life, we would die together, along with every innocent man, woman, and child who trusted my father to do what was best for them.
With my head on Father’s shoulder, I contemplated our fate. But we weren’t alone for long. A guard tapped on the door and asked for the king. I tried to summon all my scattered nerves while Father moved to open the door. I averted my tear-stained face, but something prompted me to glance up, and then my puzzled gaze was held transfixed. The guard was not alone. There was a man with him, mud-splattered and weary, with hair pressed completely out of shape by his helm. I must confess that my first thought when he was conducted into the throne room was selfish- here was a young warrior from far away who might have contested with dragons before. Could he save me, a frightened little princess caught in the burning clutches of my dream? Could he save our kingdom? But one look at his tired eyes and his rain-rusted armor, and I knew in my heart that this weak lad could never deliver us from such a foe. In my Father’s vacant eyes, I realized he knew it too. I had not been listening to their exchange, and was startled when the knight raised his voice in passionate resolve.
“I will fight this dragon,” he cried. His voice vaulted above the smoke-tarnished columns. “It does not matter if I live or die in the attempt. Though I hope, for your sakes, I will be victorious.” He stood tall, not taller than Father, but his chin was tilted to the invisible stars, and his crumpled and sweaty hair was flung back, so that he looked stronger and bolder than any trained warrior in our kingdom. All the same, Father was speechless at such rash words, and I could scarcely believe what I heard.
“Why?” I heard myself crying out loud. “Why, when we’ve never seen you before in our lives, will you risk all for us?” He was silent. I wondered if he even knew the answer. But when he replied, it was with clarity and resolve.
“Because I serve a king who wishes to eliminate all evil in this world, and fill it with brilliance. He sent me here in your time of crisis, to lend my aid. Lady, if I can bring the blue sky back to your country, I will.” His eyes didn’t look tired anymore- they shone steadily in the light of flickering lanterns. And for the first time since my world had come crashing down around me, I felt hope.
I trembled beside Father’s throne as he blessed the brave young warrior. Vacantly, I contemplated my restlessly twining fingers and suddenly realized that I was no longer concerned only for my safety and my father’s, but I prayed earnestly for the life of this rash man who was determined to rendezvous with death, for our sakes. He still looked sadly bedraggled, but I wasn’t to be misled again. One glance at his eyes revealed the same strength of character he had displayed the previous night. I read fear in them as well, and loss…. But amber courage glowed brightest, and all the anxieties were pushed aside. I looked at my father and was not surprised to find the same glow in his eyes. At last, he rose with all the grandeur befitting a king and approached the young champion, who knelt before him. And then my father banished his stiff, kingly manner with a pained sigh, and bent to embrace our resolute defender. I tried to squint back the tears, but somehow they slipped down my cheeks. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the hoary branch of a shivering apple tree tracing designs on the frosty windowpane, and I thought of russet apples regaling the trees in autumn and how they are plucked from the branch at their prime. “Please don’t let it be so with him,” I asked in my heart’s softest whisper. “Let him be victorious.” Father stood again. I saw his hand shake as he slowly pulled his sword from its scabbard. His voice quavered slightly when he spoke.
“Knighthood is bestowed in my kingdom when one has done something unusually worthy of renown.” He drew himself up taller, and his voice resounded with renewed vigor. “Never have I given this honor to a man before it has been physically earned. This will be the first time. You have shown us selfless courage and valor in your resolution to risk your life for ours, though we have so little claim on your life and don’t even know your name. Whatever may be the outcome, you have our eternal gratitude and regard, shown by this small token of knighthood.” Father pressed the shimmering flat of his sword down on the shoulders of the kneeling man, with more gracious pride than I had ever seen him bestow. I drew near to his side softly and leaned my tear-stained cheek into his broad shoulder. When the young knight looked up, his amber eyes shone with shimmering courage… and a hint of tears.
“I will do my best to deserve…” emotion broke off his speech. Kindness sometimes has more power than fear, I realized. Here was a man who laughed in the face of death… and he was trying to stem the tears that welled because of my father’s small kindness. My own tears threatened to return. He began again, haltingly, “I- will do my best,” he asserted once more. Then he smiled. His smile was a sunset… “And my name is Erik.” And without another word, but with a look that told novels, he turned and strode out of the hall to do battle with the dragon no man had ever dared to face. And part of both of us, my father and me, went with him.
Why did we have so many flights of stairs in the castle? My heart pounded as I climbed and climbed and climbed…. I was torn between wanting to watch, wanting to witness the awful fight, and the fear in the pit of my stomach that told me to turn back, lest I witness the death of all our wavering hopes. The destruction of blue sky forever. But with one last wilted breath, I reached the top of the highest turret, and beheld a carpet of smoke all around the city. It hung like ancient dust in a basement, settled deep, only the topmost layer being wafted by the breeze. I don’t know what I had expected to see… flashes of fire, at least. It occurred to me that I’d never actually seen our enemy the dragon. But I was sure to see him, or was he an it? soon. It stabbed into my heart on the wings of dreadful reality that our hero must have been vanquished with nary a fight. The steps were sprinkled with my last tears as I hung my head and my hopes and plodded back down the eternal staircase.
Father was as nervous as I was, waiting in that silent castle for some sort of sign from the outside. The afternoon passed, and the night, and still there was no swoop of black wings or the rumor of fire in the city. But no exhausted knight appeared dragging the dragon’s head behind him. When I crawled into my bed after sitting up for so long, I wondered if I’d awaken only to die.
I realized I was awake when I heard a bird trilling its little heart out. I turned my foggy head to look for the source, and I saw a little house wren perched on my windowsill. I hadn’t heard birds sing since…. Suddenly I remembered. Since the dragon came, the birds had been silent. My chest was filled with fear at the thought of the dragon, and hopeless hope at the rapturous song of the bird. I forced my unwilling legs to carry me over to the window, and I forced my eyes to look. My legs gave way. All of me simply drooped and I sat down hard on the window seat, as if I’d just received a hard kick from an exceptionally lively foal in the stable. But my eyes were livid, transfixed, gazing. When I could finally breathe, my breaths came in gasps and I found myself crying, raining tears on the windowsill, and my dress that I hadn’t bothered to change last night, and my quivering hands. It was blue. The sky! It was blue like the eyes of a little child, like the breast of an exotic bird. A basin of indigo paint had found its way into the clouds, and it had flooded the entire expanse, cascaded and blended. It was tangible music. It was perfect. Each of my tears lingering on the windowsill reflected blue glory. The sky was blue. I heard a step behind me, and I turned and flung myself into my father’s arms. I felt his heart leap and soar with mine. At last I found my voice, and I think there were blue tinges in it when I danced back to the window and said,
“Sky-blue is my favorite color.”