Angus knew that dragons were supposed to be fierce. Marauders. Attack a town and take their ill-gotten gold and burn down a few buildings while at it. Wait for the kings to send their knights and thieves to send themselves to come for the gold, then cut them all down. This was the way dragons had behaved, and should behave, and would behave.
But Angus, small and unassuming, didn’t want to be that kind of dragon.
He thought of it every morning, sitting outside his cave on top of the mountain overlooking the valley. It was always cold in the mornings, this high up, and he’d light a fire with his breath and sit next to it, and watch as the morning sun awoke the people. There were three villages down in the valley. And on the other side of the valley, the king’s city. He could, and had, spent all day watching the people move, between the villages and up and down the valley to the city and back. There were trade routes over his own mountain, to other people back east. They were well away from his little cave, though. He was sure there were rumors of him. Perhaps the humans saw his little fires in the morning and thought it was him, bellowing. They came for him, mostly the young ones and mostly on dares. He would hide in his cave, and only bellow and snort if they came too close. Or if they were particularly funny looking. Angus had a feeling either the teenagers never told anyone or their parents didn’t believe them. No one had ever come for Angus with any actual murderous intent.
It was still very early in the morning, so early the sun had only reached the castle, when Angus began to be aware of a continuous rustling. Too big to be a squirrel, or rabbit. Too much intensity to be a deer, which usually moved and stopped, moved and stopped. No, something big was pushing through the trees and the brush, and whatever it was had purpose. Human. But at this hour? Usually the young ones who dared each other to throw rocks at him showed up around midnight.
Still, a human was a human, and Angus was just picking himself up to lay low at the back of his cave when something caught his eyes – a flash of color. Pink? Yes, pink. What was any pink doing up here? The forest was made of greens and browns, and the people in the villages below wore the same. The only time a color like pink would show up was spring, when all the flowers bloomed. But it was early autumn, not the time for pretty colors, so why was a swatch of pink making its way through the trees?
Angus was so entranced by the pink he forgot about hiding, and was still sitting in front of his cave when the pink finally broke through the tree line. The pink, it turned out, was a dress. Inside the dress was a young woman. Long black hair was pulled back into a braid. The dress was torn, shortened to fall no further than her knees. Instead of the sort of slippers a young woman in a pink dress should be wearing, she was wearing soldier’s boots. On her back was a pack, nearly as large as she was. She was sweaty, panting, and clearly tired, but Angus’ keen eyes saw her hands were soft. A lady at least. Standing in his clearing, staring at him warily.
“Are you the dragon that haunts these woods?” she asked. One of her hands had gone to a spot between her hips and her pack, and Angus supposed there was a knife there.
“I don’t know of any other,” he said, his voice a sooty growl. He hardly ever spoke. “Whatever you’ve come for I don’t have it. I don’t pillage gold and I don’t raid villages. I sit in my cave and watch the world below. I only wish to be left alone.”
The young woman released the blade behind her back and grinned.
“I was hoping you would say that. That’s the same thing I want. To be left alone. So if it’s not too much trouble, I’ll be moving in now.”
“You’ll be…what? Wait, what are you doing?”
But Angus didn’t really need to ask. She was walking into his cave and dropping her pack onto the ground.
“Quite nice up here. I thought it would be chillier,” she said, opening the top of her pack. Out came all manner of things. Clothes. Blankets. A pot for cooking and a bowl and spoon for eating. Still she was pulling things out, not paying attention as Angus entered the cave and stared at her with one eye crooked.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Is this where you sleep? Over on this hay and leaves? Oh, I can sleep over here. This is quite a nice alcove, actually. I might be able to put up curtains.”
“You can’t just move in. Why would you want to move in, anyway?”
“I am Ayanna, Princess of this kingdom, and as this little cave belongs to my kingdom, I can do whatever I wish.”
Angus stared, lightly moving from foot to foot. “Ayanna. Yes, I’ve heard that name on that wind. Don’t you have a wedding come up?”
“I am to be married in a week’s time,” Ayanna said, smoothing the wrinkles from her unpacked clothes. “To Prince Royce from the kingdom on the other side of these hills. Have you heard that name on the wind, dragon?”
In fact, he had. He’d heard far too much about this Royce character. About the drunken duels and the sobbing barmaids and the crashed carriages. So many crashed carriages.
“They intend you to marry him?”
“‘Secure the union of our borders and protect our blah blah blah blah.’ Father won’t listen to me when I tell him that man will kill me within the year, and that’s not the half of it.”
Angus shook his head and shook out his wings. He slowly sat down, and leaned his chin on one clawed talon.
“I guess what I’m failing to see is why you thought the solution to your predicament was to move in with a dragon?”
Ayanna looked up from where she had placed her shoes in a line. “Dragons kidnap princesses, right?”
“Usually, to hold them for ransom for more gold. But I haven’t.”
“Well, congratulations! You’ve just kidnapped your first princess. If anyone comes up the hill for me, be a dear and mow them down with your fire?”