She didn’t actually have a name. Indeed, she would have been insulted if she’d been told she needed one. “The Dragon of the Green Hills” was a lovely title, and it fit her perfectly. Well, if you wanted to get really technical about she was A Dragon of the Green Hills, but her son would earn his own title in time, assuming he didn’t accidentally spear himself on the end of some poor knight’s lance before he grew old enough for his own cave.
Another half-century and I can kick him out to find a home of his own, she reminded herself. She loved her son, but she’d be the first to admit that sometimes he didn’t have the sense of a cow, looking up into the rain with its mouth agape and wondering why it was drowning.
She sighed and shook her carriage sized head, trying to shake off her mood. It had been over seven years since someone had offered up a princess for her to kidnap. Seven years of dutifully patrolling the kingdom during a full moon, looking for hopeful young women staked out in order to attract a dragon to kidnap her and then a brave knight who would rescue her. Or at least a fellow with money who could afford a warhorse, and who knew how to follow the proper forms during a dragon vs. knight duel. Seven years of fruitless monthly searching, and what did she finally get? A rich merchant’s daughter without an ounce of noble’s blood in her. Honestly. Did people think she didn’t keep up with the society pages to know who was who? If you didn’t maintain standards, people might forget what dragons were all about. Worse, they might start calling her a wyrm, and that could lead to all sorts of unpleasantness.
She gave a little shudder, sending ripples along the length of her wings, and tried to think of more happy thoughts. She’d soon be home in her warm cave, nestled in her comfy bed of gold. Tomorrow she’d find a nice meaty gryphon to eat for breakfast, spend a pleasant day perusing the paper, and then perhaps encourage her son to hunt like a proper dragon, instead of going after easy pickings like cow or deer.
Her first clue that something was wrong was that her son, a dragon a quarter her size and with the same green scales as herself, was actually awake, awaiting her arrival in the center of the cave, a suspiciously innocent smile on his face. Her second clue was the fact that his corner of the cave was scrupulously cleaned, his small hoard neatly shelved for once, his bed of gold recently shined. That didn’t happen unless he really screwed up.
She skimmed through the cave entrance, landing lightly and folding her wings back, and then waited for her son to greet her. He didn't of course, but instead kept the smile fixed, his tail neatly curled around his feet.
As the silence grew increasingly uncomfortable, she finally gave in and leaned forward, asking simply, “What did you do?”
The dam broke. “I didn’t do anything, Mother,” he exclaimed. “I thought if you were going out a princess hunt I should be able to. I mean you haven’t actually found one since forever so I figured I could go looking and you wouldn’t be mad because all I would be doing was flying around at night and you told me I was supposed to do that, and anyway if I hadn’t found her she might have been eaten by wolves or something and I…”
“Stop,” she interrupted. “Who did you find?”
“Um…” Her son shuffled a little to the right, revealing the small, terrified human figure that had been standing behind him.
Oh, dear. It was a girl perhaps all of fifteen, if she remembered human growth cycles correctly, dressed only in a thin nightshirt, her copper colored head pelt unbound and sticking out in every direction. She was about to guess that her son had accidentally grabbed some poor girl on her way to gardrobe when she spotted the loop of hemp cord still bound to her left wrist, her right showing signs of bruising and abrasion. Which meant rather than being a princess, she was probably just some poor girl who had come in conflict with the powers that be in whatever superstitious village she came from, and left out as a “sacrifice” to whatever hungry wolf, gryphon, or wyrm came along looking for an easy meal. Not the poor girl’s fault by any means, but neither was it the dragon’s problem.
The dragon breathed in with deliberation, reigning in her temper. “Where did you find her?”
“In the stone circle at the edge of the Old Wood.”
“On the stone altar?”
She squeezed her eyes shut briefly. “The big table in the center.”
“Right, thank you. Look, Dearheart, I know you tried to do a good thing, but you can’t keep her.”
Her son looked distraught. “But she followed me home!”
The dragon glanced over to the girl, who was frankly cowering at this point. “Followed?”
“Well I found her anyway,” he replied. “They’d left her there and she was all cold and alone and she could been eaten by wolves and died.”
As opposed to being eaten by wolves and not dying, which would have been arguably worse. Rather than point this out, she continued, “Dearheart, she belongs with own kind. If we keep her too long they won’t take her back. Tomorrow we’ll give her some proper clothes, a little bag of gold, and send her on her way.”
Her son looked hopeful. “Can we at least keep her overnight?”
She sighed. “Yes, dear.”
She mantled her wings as her son scampered off, leaning close to his newfound pet, careful to keep her fires banked as she said, “Don’t worry, my son is too young to be kidnapping princesses yet, or poor village girls. We’ll send you home tomorrow.”
The shivering girl looked up at her, and said between her chattering teeth, “No.”