Raven hair and eyes to match. Wild tresses falling past muscular shoulders down to a trim waist clothed in green silk. Round mouth and strong jaw set firmly in a frown. Sun darkened olive skin peering through the knee-high slit in the dress and bare feet rested on the cold marble floor. An ornate cushioned chair held the perfectly poised woman in front of a luxuriously decorated mirror.
“Princess Laurenia, your duty is to your people. You belong in this palace and one day on the throne,” she quoted to herself in the clear, enunciated voice her mother, the queen, had drilled into her all her life.
Her perfect posture failed her, and she slumped into the chair. Laurenia stared into her dark, wild eyes and sighed in frustration at the words her mother had repeated to her all her life. She gazed at her dark arms. Why did I have to inherit my father’s skin? Why couldn’t I have ivory skin like my mother and sisters? She sat up quickly and leaned close to the mirror. No. I will not wish to look or be like others. I am myself. And I am no princess.
She spoke aloud once more with quiet vehemence. “Laurenia, you do have a duty to your people, and the best way to fulfill it will be to let a sister rule in your place. You don’t belong in a palace, nor ever on the throne. You belong in a field of flowers, or on top of a mountain.” Tears sprung to her eyes as she spoke. “You belong anywhere that is far away from here.”
She blew out a breath as she stood and wiped her eyes. Twenty-one years of perfect smiles, flawless dance steps, silk gowns, and marble halls when all she wanted was the loud laugh her mother hated, the imperfect posture she wouldn’t dare exhibit outside her chambers, leather breaches, and land as far as the eye could see. Laurenia slipped on the most comfortable heels she could find, plastered on a smile, and walked out of her room into the role she was born to play.
Athos’ hooves pounded against the ground, flinging bits of earth behind him as he carried Laurenia to what she hoped would be freedom. Her mother’s words from that morning swirled frantically in her mind as the afternoon sun poured through the trees.
“Laurenia, for goodness sake. Did you try at all to fix that hair of yours? It looks positively wild.”
Laurenia forced herself not to roll her eyes. “Yes, I tried, but as you know, it always looks like this.”
The queen’s mouth pulled together in disapproval. “You should really let one of the royal hairdressers fix it for you.”
“They’ve tried. They cannot do anything with it either, Mother.” She forced her voice to come out respectful and calm even though anger burned inside of her.
“Well, we will simply have to figure something out before the wedding.”
Laurenia turned to ice. “Whose wedding?” she asked, terror gripping her throat. Her legs would shatter underneath her at any moment.
“Yours of course. It’s high time you were married, and I’ve found you the perfect husband. He’s rich and handsome, and the marriage will form an alliance with a new kingdom. It’s perfect, sweetie, really.”
The queen said all of this without so much as a glance at Laurenia, so she let her emotions run rampant across her face. If her mother had been looking, she would have seen the terror in her daughter’s eyes.
A trickle of sweat ran down Laurenia’s spine despite the coldness of her body. Something squeezed in her stomach, and she had to close her eyes and take several deep breaths to keep her breakfast down.
“Is he kind?” she whispered.
“What does that matter?” The queen threw a hand in the air, waving away the question as if it meant nothing. “And speak up. That is not the way a princess speaks.”
Laurenia glanced desperately around her mother’s study. Was there a window she could jump out of? “I can’t get married.”
“Don’t be a fool. You have known this was coming. It’s what I’ve been preparing you for your whole life.” The queen looked at her daughter for the first time, but by then, Laurenia had composed her outward appearance.
“I’m too young. I’m not ready. Mother, I cannot get married.”
The queen looked back down at the papers on her desk where she sat. “You can, and you will, Laurenia. I don’t want to hear another word about it. He will be here in a fortnight.”
“You mean you will make me do this?” Her hands started to shake.
“If I have to, yes. But you are heir to this kingdom. You should know that this is your duty.”
Laurenia knelt by the desk. She spoke around the tightness in her throat. “Mother, look at me.” She waited until the queen regarded her. “Please. Don’t make me do this.”
Daughter stared into Mother’s eyes, but at this moment, and it would seem always, they were Queen and Princess. Laurenia saw nothing in the dark eyes opposite hers. No love for anyone, and certainly not for her. No life. Just the shadow of a woman who lived to perform. A mother who had a child because she should, not because she had wanted a baby. A mother who saw it as a duty to produce an heir and not an honor and a privilege to bring a child into the world. A mother who had never been what a mother ought. Not one day in her entire life.
“I won’t speak of this again, Laurenia. It’s final.” Her voice was tight and stern.
The princess nodded. It certainly was final. With all the grace and composure she had been taught her whole life, she exited the room, but once she was out, she broke free.
That wild, beautiful spirit she had been forced to hide came out. It clawed from the inside until it spewed forth from every part of her as she ran. Once Laurenia was back in her chambers, she tore off the green silk, and with it years of repression and anger. No longer. The chains wrapped around who she was slowly wore away as she pulled on the one pair of pants she kept hidden away. Her dark eyes were alight with the fire of a thousand suns when she looked in the mirror at the brown leather pants and blue top. She managed to sneak to the stables with a small pack of her things and saddle her horse without being seen. But when she reached the gate, she had to tell the guards something. She lied, informing them she was simply going for a ride along the cliffs, but she kept her head down, fearing if she lifted it, they would see her real plan written plainly in her face.
A shadow engulfed them as they rode, and Laurenia snapped back to the present moment. She looked up at the crystal clear sky and gasped.
“The dragon. Athos, we found him!” She urged her horse forward, keeping an eye on the orange shape above them.
Soon, it landed by a mountain so large Laurenia was almost sure she could see from the castle. She tied Athos firmly to a tree and stroked his black neck.
“Thanks, boy,” she said as she turned bravely to the mountain.
Laurenia took deep breaths as she approached the mountain surrounded by trees and lush, green grass. She gaped at the enormous dragon who, at the moment, had its back to her and took in the large horns atop its massive head and the ridges down its muscular, burnt orange back.
“Dragon.” Laurenia addressed it in the clear, resonant voice she was used to using in her palace life.
To her surprise, the dragon flinched. It seemed odd that such a large creature would be startled by a mere human. It turned large serpentine eyes to the ground and searched until it found Laurenia, and when it did, the eyes rolled.
“Go away. I don’t like people.” A voice like rocks pouring over themselves emanated from the dragon’s throat, and Laurenia assumed it was a male. Not that she knew what a female dragon sounded like. In general, dragons were rare, but they were especially sparse in her kingdom.
“Neither do I.”
The dragon raised its eyebrows at her and came closer to get a better look. Laurenia forced herself not to shrink back under his scrutiny.
“At least not mine. That’s why I’m here, actually. I need you to kidnap me.”
The dragon laughed, a grating but oddly not unpleasant sound. “Kidnap you? The heir to the throne?”
“How do you–?”
“I may live out of the way, your Highness, and I may never have any sort of human contact––that is, until you found me––but I keep up with what happens around me. For instance, your people have been building dwellings and getting uncomfortably close to my home.” He gestured with a wing to the enormous mountain.
“Well, I have the perfect solution for you. Kidnap me.” Laurenia spoke in a calm, serious tone. “Take me far away from this place so I can start over. So I can have a normal life. Then, once I have found a town to settle down in, you can find a new mountain or forest or anyplace you like to be far away from any humans.”
The large orange head lowered until it was only a foot from Laurenia. She couldn’t help admiring the smaller, shiny scales around his eye, snout, and horns even though her hands were trembling and her heart was racing. “I’m not interested in helping you start over, Highness.” His words might as well have been a growl.
Laurenia’s heart sank into her stomach, but she pressed on. “No, please. Just listen to my plan.” She spoke in a rush to get it all out before he could respond. “You come to the palace in a few days. I’ll make sure I’m in a secluded part of the gardens where people will see you take me, but not too many guards will be around to harm you. All you have to do is swoop in and take me, maybe knock down a few trees and uproot a few bushes. That’s it.” She shrugged, trying to show that it was nothing.
“Except for taking you to a new village, right?” The dragon glared.
“Well, yes. That too. But––”
“I already told you I was not going to help you. Now leave me be.” He started to turn away.
Laurenia fought the panic rising in her. She couldn’t give up. Not now. “Please! Please, you don’t understand! I can’t stay! You have to help me!”
The dragon turned to her once more and laughed. “And why is that?” His smiling eyes bore into hers as he waited for an explanation he planned to be amused by.
She sighed deeply. Sadly. “Because…The truth is, I’ve never belonged in the palace. I’m wild and dark. My spirit can’t be tamed in any way, and my physical appearance tries to show that as much as possible.” She gestured to her unruly hair and sculpted frame. “I’ve tried to find ways to calm this spirit of mine. To tame it… I ride. My mother thinks I never go above a trot, but oh, when I can get away, I ride hard. I ride until every part of my body aches and trembles, and I feel like I can’t hold on to the saddle for a second longer. Sometimes I climb on the cliffs when no one is around. My body is strong, but my spirit is stronger. It refuses to be satisfied with temporary relief.”
Tears began to form in her eyes, and her voice trembled. “I can feel it. Crawling inside me. Begging for release. It needs something. It needs to be free. Away from the palace. Away from the titles and especially the throne. I don’t belong here. I can’t do it anymore.” Tears now spilled down suntanned cheeks. Laurenia wiped her sweating palms on her shirt before continuing.
“My mother will force me to marry a man I don’t even know. A man who is rich and creates an alliance, not a man who is kind or cares to create any kind of alliance with my heart. He will be here in two weeks, and if I don’t leave now, there will be no escape. I wear a crown, dragon, but there is no power in it. It is only a symbol. A birthright I never wanted and a cage without a key.” She blew out a shaky breath. “You, as odd as it seems, are my only chance at freedom. I am heir to the throne. I have the power to sentence people to prison. I have power over their life and death, but not my own. You are my only option. You are the only one who can give me my independence. Please, will you help me?”
The dragon stayed silent for a long while. Stunned. Trying to sift through what he had heard. Laurenia thought she saw something in his thoughtful eyes. But, before she could quite identify it, he lifted himself from the ground and spoke as softly as a dragon could. “Where is it that you wish to go, my lady?”
She laughed and wiped the tears from her face. “Anywhere that is far from here!”
“Well, I have a question then. How will I know where to find you? At the palace, I mean.”
Laurenia sniffed and swiped at her nose with her sleeve. “Right. I brought a map of the grounds––” She dug in her pack and laid it out in front of him. “––so I could show you exactly where to go.”
“Were you so sure I would help?” The dragon sounded surprised.
“No, just, if you were, I didn’t want to delay another second if I didn’t have to.”
“I see.” He nodded his giant head, and they began to plan.
When everything was well in place, Laurenia stood to leave, not wanting to wear out her welcome with the irritable dragon. She twisted a plucked wildflower in her fingers. “May I know your name?” she asked gently.
A low, pleasant rumble started in the back of his throat before he spoke. “It is Cimin, your Highness.”
“Oh, please, don’t call me that.” She shuddered at the title.
“As you wish, Laurenia. Now, if you don’t mind, I have some much-needed solitude to catch up on. Especially if I am about to spend who knows how long flying you around.”
Laurenia tried not to smile at how grouchy he sounded. “Of course. I am thankful that you are willing to help me, Cimin. More than you will ever know.” Tears sprang to her eyes again, but he did not notice.
Cimin’s back was already turned, and he simply fluttered a light orange wing in response. She grinned and rolled her eyes. She knew he cared no matter how grumpy he seemed now. It had been in his eyes after she spoke. She recognized it now. There was something familiar. As if perhaps he had that same deep, wild desire for freedom that she felt.
Her face broke into a full, radiant smile. She was thinking of riding on Cimin’s back high in the clouds. Wondering what places she might find beyond the horizon. How free would her spirit feel standing on the threshold of all it had ever desired? She thought she might burst from joy. Laurenia glanced back at Cimin and caught him smiling at her. In three days…they would both be free.
I hope you guys enjoyed this newest prompt story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I also hope you are all safe and well during this odd time. If you want to read another version of this story, which I highly recommend you do, head over to my friend Cassie’s blog by clicking HERE. She will also have the prompt that we based our individual stories on if you are interested in seeing it, or even writing your own version! Have a great weekend, my lovely readers. And keep yourself and others safe by staying home.