* * *
It was getting awfully cold, Gilly thought. Here she was, wearing her best party dress and tiara, standing in the middle of the front lawn, at midnight, chained to a post, and the blasted dragon was late.
She gave the chains desultory tug, then unlatched her right wrist and scratched her nose before resecuring herself. It was midnight under a full moon, and she was a princess. The dragon had to show up, those were the rules.
I’ll give it ten more minutes and then I’m calling it a night, Gilly thought irritably, feeling the chill wind blow against her dress, her silk slippers growing damp and cold in the dew covered grass. She should have brought a shawl just in case, but it had seemed to clash with the whole “Princess Waiting to Be Devoured” thing. It had been hard enough to convince Daddy to mount this ugly pole in the middle of their nice, manicured lawn. She wasn’t exactly looking forward to the Look he’d give her if the dragon didn’t even show up.
A shadow fell across the moon, darkening the sky. Clouds, that tears it. I’m going back inside before it starts raining, she thought. Gilly was just reaching up to undo the latches on the cuffs again when she was nearly blown blown off her feet, a hot wind blasting her back as a dark shape passed over her head.
Something with wings larger than the sails of one Daddy’s ships swung around in a tight arc around the lawn, coming to a landing with a thump that nearly shook the pole out its posthole. A head the size of a carriage leaned forward to face Gilly, small gouts of flame puffing from its nostrils, their light shimmering off the dragon’s gleaming green scales.
Oh, this one is a lot bigger than the ones in the storybook pictures, Gilly thought, feeling the blood drain from her face.
Glowing golden eyes the size of serving platters stared at her in what seemed like idle curiosity. The dragon blinked slowly, then said in a surprisingly pleasant contralto, “I am the Dragon of the Green Hills. Who might you be?”
“I am..” Gilly was distracted a moment as the dragon stifled a yawn, revealing a glowing fire at the back of its throat. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I am the Princess Gilliam Annette Westerling.” she declared. After a moment’s silence she added, “The Second.”
“Princess Westerling?” the dragon asked, sounding unconvinced. Its brow furrowed. “So you’re the daughter of Robert Westerling, the wheat merchant?”
“King Westerling,” Gilly corrected, trying to regain her confidence. This had seemed like such a good idea yesterday. But yesterday she hadn’t thought dragons came in the size of a barn.
The dragon let out a sigh, and a dry wind blew over Gilly’s face. Compared to the earlier chill, she almost welcomed it. “No. I’m sorry, but no.”
Gilly blinked. “What?” she asked.
“I’m sure you’re a very nice girl, and deserve an ambitious knight as a husband, but you don’t rate a dragon kidnapping you. Sorry, you just don’t qualify as princess,” the dragon declared.
“But I’m chained right here,” Gilly shouted, her voice growing desperate. “I’ve got the tiara and everything!”
The dragon shook its head. “There’s no kingdom.”
“You’re standing in it!”
The dragon sighed. "Look, I've said this before to other girls; A manor house with a couple of servant cottages does not constitute a kingdom and village."
“But Daddy’s got money!” she protested.
“It’s not the money, it’s the bloodline. I’m sorry but you’re not a princess and I do not have the time to be capturing every rich merchant’s daughter who wants a nice byline in the society pages.” The dragon stepped back and spread its wings. “Now get back inside. You’re going to catch a cold in this chill.” Then the dragon leaped into the air, great wings snapping like a ship’s mainsail, and flew off into the starry night.
Gilly watched it go, then turned her gaze to look at the lawn with dismay. The dragon’s claws had left great rents in the neatly tended grass, ruining it.
Daddy was going to give her such a Look.