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The Princess in the Tower
So this is actually like a story within a story. In another book I was writing, the main character was reading a book about Princess Hannah and Sir Frederic, and I figured, "Hey, I can work with this!" So this is the story a main character in another story was reading, if that makes any sense at all.
When Princess Hannah was a little girl, her favorite playmate was Sir Frederic. Of course, Frederic wasn’t actually a knight – he was only a little boy – and he wasn’t even from noble birth – his mother was a maid in the castle where Hannah lived. But in the children’s games, Frederic was always the heroic knight saving his princess from an evil wizard, dragon, puppy, or anything else that found itself the hostage-holder over the unfortunate princess. And they both loved it.
“No, Frederic,” Hannah would often say, laughing. “You have to kill the evil guy!”
And Frederic, in his armor made of gray sacks and holding a stick-sword in one hand and a pot-shield in the other, would often reply, “But I don’t want to kill anything, Hannah!”
“I’m not Hannah,” said Hannah, puffing out her little chest and crossing her arms. “I’m Princess Hannah.” She pointed at the cat, harmlessly licking itself. “Now go kill my captive so I can kiss you!”
Sighing, Frederic poked the cat with his stick. The cat glared at him and walked farther away before plopping down again and continuing its bath.
“My hero!” Hannah sang, springing up and throwing her little arms around Frederic’s neck. “You’ve saved me from the evil troll! How can I ever repay you?” Frederic blushed, knowing what was coming.
“Nothing is necessary, Princess,” he said shyly, dutifully reciting his lines.
“But something is necessary, good knight. I just can’t think of what is good enough!”
And Frederic couldn’t help it; he wandered off script and began to improvise. It was either a hit or miss when he did this, but every once and a while he found it worth it.
“If I may make a suggestion,” he began. Hannah blinked at him, surprised but not forbidding him, so Frederic continued. “Your lips are so fair, dear Princess. And I want none of your wealth. Perhaps just one kiss I will find more than worthy.”
“Oh Frederic!” Hannah cried. “I was thinking the same thing too!” She grasped his chubby child’s face between her chubby child’s hands and kissed each of his cheeks. “There,” she said, smiling. “Now we’re even.”
Frederic blushed a deep red and averted his eyes. That’s not what I meant, he thought. But he wouldn’t dare say so out loud. No, not to Hannah.
“Now,” Hannah said, grasping his hand, “let’s go home and get married.”
Frederic grinned. That’s better.
But before they could even start preparing, Hannah was called in for supper, and Frederic had to return his shield to the kitchen before eating his own dinner, and tomorrow, they would play it again.
They never got tired of their game of captive-and-hero, although they started many different games as well. There was the flip-flopped version of the same game, on days where Hannah felt cheated of her chance to be heroic, and there was always the usual games, too, of course. Row your Boat, Hang Man, when the two got old enough to learn their ABC’s, Pirate, and any other manner of make-belief or letter games. But those came and went, and their game always remained a constant.
That’s what they would call it. Their game. It was no one else’s, and when Hannah was bored and asked Frederic, “Want to play our game?” he understood her perfectly and never refused.
They grew older. Hannah turned seven the same year Frederic turned eight, and still they played their game. When the princess turned eight and began learning how to be a proper princess, their free time decreased, but still they would play their game. When Hannah was ten, she had almost no free time at all, and Frederic was the apprentice of a carpenter, so his free time too was diminishing, and yet they would always find time to play their game.
The week of Hannah’s twelve birthday, she was omitted from any lessons by her boring yet somehow charming instructor, whom she referred to as simply, “Teacher.” She had plenty of time by herself because Frederic still could not get a day off, and so she did what any normal almost-twelve-year-old would do – she would daydream.
Mostly she imagined herself as heroes of an epic tale, or the poor peasant girl rescued by her daring knight. She found peasant girls very fascinating, as she had never known any personally and couldn’t imagine someone not living in a castle. The king told her she was blessed to not know such discomforts, but Hannah couldn’t help but feel like she was missing something.
On the eve of her birthday, she lied on her bed and pondered what it would be like to have a pet unicorn, when she heard a knock at her door. “Come in,” she chimed, not bothering to sit up.
The door slowly opened and Frederic stepped in, still in his work clothes.
“Oh, there you are, Frederic!” Hannah exclaimed gleefully, sitting up. “Are you finally free from that dreaded place?”
Frederic stared at the floor. “It’s not dreaded,” he said quietly. “But yes, I am free. And I was wondering… Before you turn twelve, would you like to play our game one last time as an eleven-year-old?”
Hannah bounced to her feet. “Of course I would!” she said, striding across the room and grabbing Frederic’s arm. “Hurry up, let’s go before it gets dark!”
Thus being dragged, Frederic stumbled after the young princess, grinning from ear to ear. Today he would do it. Today he was going ask her to kiss her, and nothing was going to stop him.
They decided to switch roles today, mainly because Hannah was feeling particularly heroic. So in the courtyard, everything was set up. Princess Hannah was holding the customary pot-shield in one hand and was grasping a broom-javelin in the other, a new weapon Frederic claimed was ideal and one she was willing to try out. Frederic was sitting on the garden’s bench, absently stroking his capturer’s head, which today happened to be a dog.
“Frederic!” Hannah said impatiently, mounting her mop-horse. “Your lines, please!”
Frederic stood up, pushing the dog gently away, and recited, “For years I’ve been stuck in this tower, with no company but this horrid dragon. Won’t anyone save me?”
Hannah dramatically put a hand up to her ear. “Do I hear the voice of someone in need? Away, Bob, my trusty steed, and bring me to this damsel in distress!”
“Hannah,” Frederic gently reminded her, “I’m not a damsel.”
“Oh,” Hannah said, laughing. “Sorry. Bring me to this… peasant in distress!”
And away she rode, galloping over mountains composed of flower patches and rivers comprised of tipped over watering cans, until finally she stood by the bench, glaring at the dog. “Foul creature!” she said, jabbing the dog. “Away from this man!” The dog, obediently, trotted away happily and disappeared behind a corner.
“Fair maiden,” Frederic said, grinning, “you have saved me from that terrible beast. I am forever in your debt.”
“Nonsense, good sir,” Hannah said, dismounting her mop, Bob. “I shall just repay you with a kiss – it is all I ask for.”
Frederic’s heart started to bound. So did Hannah’s, although she would never admit it. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, bent forward, and was startled by a mighty roar. Blinking her eyes open, she looked into the darkening sky, Frederic’s gaze following.
“Frederic,” she began, “what do you think that –”
But she never got to finish. For just at that moment, a great, terrible dragon came swooping over the mountains, the rays of the dying sun glinting off of his awful grey scales.
“Hannah,” Frederic yelled, panicked, “run inside, now!”
The dragon pointed his muzzle earthward and went into a dive, but still Hannah stood there, dumbstruck. Frederic desperately tried to push and pull her to safety, but the princess wouldn’t budge. The dragon was growing rapidly closer, and Hannah could now see smoke trailing from the corners of his mouth. The dog started barking, and Frederic was yelling for the king and queen, trying yet failing to get his princess into the castle.
And then it was too late.
Frederic, who had been pulling at Hannah’s arm, suddenly fell to the ground as his lady was ripped from his grasp.
“Hannah!” he screamed, scrambling to her feet.
The princess screamed and yelled for Frederic, her knight in shining armor, but did nothing to try and loosen the dragon’s grip on her. Away she was carried in his massive talons, higher and higher, until finally her castle, her home, had vanished from sight, and she leaned against the dragon’s strong arm, sobbing uncontrollably.
Frederic was crying also, but not the heart-wrenching sobs Hannah made from far away. His tears were tears of frustration and self-loathing. Why couldn’t he have done more? What was wrong with him?
The dog was barking and whimpering at the same time, and all the yelling had finally drawn attention. All of the servants came pouring out of the castle, and the king and queen ran to Frederic’s side.
“Frederic,” the queen gently asked. “Where is Princess Hannah?”
And so Frederic, through his tears, told them the story. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I tried to save her, but I couldn’t.”
The queen’s eyes were bright with tears, and the king stood, hands clenched into fists by his side, his royal chest heaving.
“Margaret,” he whispered. “We thought this might happen.”
The queen closed her eyes and slowly walked toward her husband, silent tears streaming down her face. “She was almost twelve, Oliver. Almost.”
The king drew his wife close to her, wiping away her tears while his own eyes leaked a few.
“Little Hannah,” Teacher whispered, horrified, “gone.” She broke into loud sobs, and Frederic silently wished she wouldn’t.
“I’ll find her, sir,” Frederic said determinedly. “I’ll bring her home.”
The king shook his head. “What little you understand, Frederic,” he said, not unkindly. “The queen and I knew this might happen. A curse has been place on our family for generations, that our first born daughter would get carried away by the dragon before she turned twelve. If the dragon came too late, even a second too late, we would be free from the curse forever.” He sighed and stared into the skies. “And to think we were so close.”
Frederic’s blood boiled with anger, and he clenched his fists, saying quietly, “Who put this curse on the royal family?”
“An evil witch who goes by the name Morgan,” Queen Margaret replied. “But she has not been seen for centuries, and may not even be alive.”
“She’s alive,” Teacher said quietly, staring at the ground. “If she were dead, the curse would be lifted.”
“I will find her, sir,” Frederic repeated, staring into the king’s eyes, daring him to object. “I will bring Princess Hannah back home.”
Hannah had long since given up crying. It did her no good and it tired her. Besides, Teacher was always chiding her for whining. “Princesses do not cry to get what they want,” she was always saying. So Hannah had wiped her eyes and ebbed the flow of tears.
But now she could think about other things. Things like the dragon above her, beating his wings rhythmically and holding her in a surprisingly gentle grasp, despite his sharp talons. She also couldn’t help but notice how far off the ground she was, and how her castle and kingdom were far from sight.
Where am I? she thought, not for the first time. And how long have I been gone?
Then she thought of something very silly to think of when you’re in the grasp of a giant dragon being carried away from everything you ever knew and loved. She thought, I’m going to miss my birthday party.
The dragon sank below the clouds, and Hannah shivered as they clung to her dress and dampened her hair. When the white rolls of fluff were above them, Hannah could make out a single tower in the distance. It might once have been attached to a castle, but if had been, the rest of the castle was long since destroyed and in ruins, completely hidden from sight. As they flew closer to it, the princess discovered a very large window on the topmost floor, and a very large cavern beneath that window, stretching for an eternity, it seemed, into the depths of the earth.
“Sir Dragon,” she spoke, voice high from fright, “what is that awful place? It’s very dark.”
The dragon growled deep in his throat, speaking, “That is a tower. It’s very dark because it is during the night. But at day, it can become rather splendid.”
Hannah was a little surprised to discover the dragon could talk, but she didn’t say so; she was afraid that might offend him. She glanced at the tower again and shivered; it did not look like a happy place.
Suddenly, the dragon was right next to the tower, beating his wings to hover by the window as he stretched out his forearm and set Princess Hannah down inside of the large window and on the floor of the dark tower. As Hannah got shakily to her feet, the dragon landed on a rock protruding over the gaping hole. The could not have been less than seventy-five feet tall, and yet the dragon’s eye was level with the wall-sized window.
Hannah raced over to the window and peered out, looking at the ground, but soon stopped because it made her dizzy. “Sir Dragon,” she said, trembling, “why have you brought me here? Where is here?”
The dragon c***ed his head to the side and stared sidelong into the window, so that only his great amber eye was visible from inside. “Little princess,” he rumbled, “I have been capturing your ancestors for as long as I can remember, and bringing them here until one day a prince would come and rescue them.”
“But why?” Hannah sobbed, hiding her face in her hands.
“Because the witch Morgan wanted revenge on the queen of your kingdom long ago, for that queen was deemed lovelier than she. And so she cursed the queen’s daughters, sending me to bring them here until rescued.”
“Where is here?” Hannah whispered, peeping through her fingers.
“Morgan’s abandoned tower, where she once sat and watched over the world that she ruled. It is far away from your kingdom, about half a year’s journey on foot for you humans. I am a great big dragon and a very fast flier, so it only takes me an hour.”
“What will happen to me, Sir Dragon?” the little princess asked.
“You will live above, I will live below, and we will both wait for your hero. Now, it is late, Princess. It has been a long flight, and I am sure you tired. You will find a bed across the room, and I will see you tomorrow.” The dragon turned his head and dived into the monstrous cave, leaving Hannah alone in the tower with no company but her fear and the dusty floors.
Hannah was woken by golden beams of light, and slowly she opened her eyes and propped herself up on the bed. It had taken her a long time to get to sleep last night, but she had finally managed it as the first birds had broken into song. Now a breeze fluttered the curtains she hadn’t noticed before on the window, and her stomach growled.
Looking around at the tower, a gnawing that wasn’t associated with her empty stomach took hold of her insides. There wasn’t a thing in this tower that felt familiar with her, and the dragon’s words echoed inside of her head: It is far away from your kingdom, about half a year’s journey on foot for you humans.
Hannah groaned and flopped back down on the bed. Six months. She had to wait six months, assuming her father had sent someone immediately to rescue her, and they ran into no obstacles. Rolling onto her side and staring at the blank wall, she squeezed her eyes shut and felt hot tears roll down her cheeks.
Everything caught up with her. She realized what a predicament she was in and how long she would be in it. She realized that she was alone, in a tower far away, with a dragon living beneath her. She realized she was hungry and there wasn’t any food. She realized all this and started to cry.
Sobs raked the little princess’s body, and she didn’t try to stop them; indeed, she couldn’t stop them, not even if she tried. Tears flowed down her cheeks, soaking the pillow underneath her fair head. In the back of her mind, she heard Teacher’s stern voice telling her to get a grip, but she pushed it away.
“I’ll never see you anymore,” she sobbed into the pillow. “Why should I listen to you?”
But then she realized just how unladylike that sounded, and how upset Teacher would be if she said that to her face, and Hannah began crying anew.
“Little Princess,” a deep, rumbling voice interrupted her cries, “why are you crying?”
Princess Hannah wiped her cheeks and hiccupped, but didn’t turn toward the window, where she knew the dragon was looking in at her. “Why do you think, Sir Dragon?” she said. “I’m far away from my kingdom and my family and my friends, and I’ll never see them again. And I’m hungry.”
The dragon gave an amused growl. “Do not say you’ll never see them again. A prince will come and save you. I’ve seen it many times, why should you be any different? And if you open your eyes and stop feeling sorry for yourself, you’ll find food eventually.”
Hannah sniffed and sat up. “What do you mean?” she said. The dragon, however, didn’t respond. As Hannah looked at him, she thought she saw his one visible eye crinkle as if he was smiling, and then he was gone. Sighing, the princess decided he was right about one thing; it was no use feeling sorry for herself.
Tentatively, Hannah placed a foot on the dusty wooden floor, and then the other one. She stood up and explored the tower, leaving her sorrows and her tears in the rumpled bed.
Exasperated, the king shook his head. “How many times must I tell you, Frederic?” he said. “You cannot go after Hannah.” Frederic immediately started to protest, but the king put up a hand and silenced the boy’s tantrum. “I appreciate the gesture, but you’re too young. I’ll send Sir Harold along with some other knights straight away. We will get her back, I promise.”
“I know that, sir,” Frederic said. “But all the same, I would like to learn how to become a knight, if only knights are allowed to rescue Hannah.”
The king regarded the young carpenter, then nodded. “Very well. I shall find a knight who can teach you his ways. But until then, please don’t do anything rash.”
Frederic bowed and gave his promise, then hurried from the room, feeling lighter than he had in hours. It had been only a night since Hannah’s capture, and Frederic never stopped pleading his case to rescue the young princess. Now that the king had finally agreed, he could relax and talk to his mentor.
Racing to the carpenter’s house, he went over speeches in his head until he found one that sounded appropriate. He gently knocked on the door, and when it creaked open, all of his speeches disappeared.
“Frederic,” his mentor said, surprised. “I wasn’t expecting you today. The whole kingdom’s taking a day off due to the princess’s, um, er… loss, and I figured you would too.”
“I’m not going to be working for you anymore,” Frederic blurted in a small voice.
His mentor blinked. “What?”
“I will no longer be training to be a carpenter under your study. I… I’m becoming a knight to rescue Hannah.”
The carpenter blinked again and then burst into laughter. “You can’t be serious!” He said as tears of mirth rolled down his cheeks. “You? A knight? But you’re so small! And besides, what can you do to stop a dragon?”
Frederic stood and silently received the mockery, and when his old mentor had settled down a little, he quietly finished with, “I’m quite serious, I will be a knight, people grow, and I’ll do what I can to stop a dragon.”
He turned around and left without another word, not even glancing behind him as the carpenter made a hurried apology and a plea to stay and work with him. Frederic ignored him.
“Oh, look at that!” Hannah said, shocked. “But that wasn’t here before!” She was staring at a hot bowl of porridge that she discovered resting on a stool. Cautiously, she reached out a hand and stuck a finger in the middle of the bowl. Pulling it out, she first sniffed the porridge on it, and then hesitantly licked the porridge off. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited to drop dead from poisoning, but nothing happened, so she deemed the porridge safe to eat. Picking up the bowl and sitting on the stool, she discovered a spoon in her pocket, which she drew out and used to finish the porridge.
“Wow,” she said, smacking her lips contently, “that was surprisingly good. But now what?” She got off of the stool and looked around, spotting a wardrobe by the bed. The tower was circular, so there were no corners, and the protruding wardrobe seemed strange to Hannah, who lived in a square room. At least, she used to live in a square room. Curious, the young princess opened the door to the wardrobe and found it full of lovely gowns. Pulling one out, she quickly tried it on and found that it fit her perfectly.
“Oh!” she said, filled with wonder. “It’s a magic tower!” she realized. The dragon had told her that the witch Morgan used to live in the tower, and she knew that witches were magical, but she didn’t think the magic would have stayed. But the food had appeared when she was hungry, and this wardrobe was full of clothes that fit her just right, so she figured it must be a magic tower!
Hannah gave her new dress an experimental twirl and gently hung her old dress up in the wardrobe before closing its door and rushing to the window. The height no longer bothered her. “Sir Dragon!” she called. The dragon, however, didn’t respond, which upset Hannah. He was the only one she could talk to, and being a very talkative princess, she needed the conversations.
“Great,” she moaned, turning away from the window and the bright outdoors. “Now who will I talk to?” She thought for a moment and then got an idea. If this tower could give her food and clothes, would it be able to give her a companion? It was worth trying.
Closing her eyes, Hannah thought over and over about Frederic, or Teacher, and wishing they were there so that she could just talk to them. She opened her eyes wide and looked around, but the tower was still empty, save for her.
“You called me, Little Princess?”
Hannah squealed with surprise and jumped, spinning around to stare out the window. The dragon was looking in at her, perched on a rock that jutted over his tavern. “You startled me, Sir Dragon!” she scolded.
The dragon dipped his head. “My apologies, Princess. I did not mean it.” Hannah thought he was smiling.
“Why do you call me princess?” Hannah asked, cautiously stepping closer to the window. “Don’t you know my name?”
“I have not learned it yet, Princess,” the dragon said. “You have not told me.”
“Oh, I have been terribly rude, then!” Hannah said, ashamed of herself. “I am Princess Hannah Belle the First, future ruler of Cyndira. And what is your name, Sir Dragon?”
“I am afraid I don’t know, Princess Hannah Belle the First, future ruler of Cyndira,” the dragon said.
“Oh, just call me Hannah,” said the princess, perching herself on the windowsill so that her feet dangled out of the tower. “But how come you have no name? Everything must have a name. Otherwise it is nothing.”
“Do be careful, Princess Hannah,” the dragon said, stretching out a great paw incase Hannah fell. “No one has given me a name. For, all though I’ve asked all of your ancestors for their names, they have never asked me for mine, and no one has told it to me.”
“Well that was dreadful rude of them,” Hannah said. “Would you like me to name you?”
“Sir Dragon will do nicely,” replied the dragon.
“But that isn’t a name; it is only a title.”
“And yet a title is the closest I have come to a name, and I like it when you say it.”
And so it was settled. Hannah agreed to continue calling him Sir Dragon, and Sir Dragon agreed to call the little princess Hannah. But he could not stay for long. He said he couldn’t keep his captives company for too long, because that was the way the curse worked. When Hannah asked why, he answered that Morgan wanted the princesses that fell under her curse to be as miserable as possible.
“Then why do you even try to talk to me, and why are there clothes that fit me just right, and why does food appear when I’m hungry?” asked Hannah, trying to keep up with what Sir Dragon was saying.
“Because,” replied the dragon slowly and patiently, “I do not want you to be completely miserable, and the witch wants her victims to live through their misery, otherwise they have no misery at all.”
Hannah shivered and drew her legs up. “How dreadful,” she whispered. “I’m really liking this Morgan less and less.” She looked up to say something to Sir Dragon, but he was already flying away, and Hannah didn’t know where to. Sighing, she swung her legs back inside of the tower and stared at it, bored out of her mind and wondering what to do next.
“Frederic,” said the king the day after the young former carpenter got his request approved, “this is Sir Timothy. He will be teaching you everything you need to know about knights.”
Frederic bowed to the knight, but Sir Timothy burst into merry laughter and clapped him on the shoulder. “No need for that, my little man!” said the knight. “We treat each other as equals, understand?”
“Yes, sir,” said Frederic, grinning.
“Splendid,” the king said. “I will leave you two, then. Queen Margaret and I have some business to discuss.”
As the king walked away, Sir Timothy bent down and whispered in Frederic’s ear, “Probably ordering new clothes for the party when Hannah gets home.” Frederic looked up at Sir Timothy, surprised, and Sir Timothy winked down at him. “Now,” said the knight, a little more business-like (but not much), “The first thing I want you to do is to bring me back the biggest rock you can find.”
“Right now, sir?” said Frederic.
“Yes, of course right now! And don’t call me ‘sir’, that’s so formal! Just call me Timothy.”
Frederic nodded, a little scared to do anything else, and ran off, searching for a nice, big stone. He found one by the moat of the castle, and he actually had to dive into the river to get it, but he didn’t mind; he was an excellent swimmer and loved the water. When he came back, he found Sir Timothy laughing and joking with another knight, and he placed it by Timothy’s feet.
“Is this a good one, sir – I mean –” He glanced nervously at the other knight. “Timothy. Is this a good one, Timothy?”
Timothy screwed up his eyes, examining the stone Frederic had brought. “Hmm… Well, it is a nice rock, I’ll give you that. But do you think it’s very big?”
Frederic did, in fact, think it very big, but he didn’t say so. He just obediently said, “I’ll get another,” and ran off again.
Each rock he got was twice as big as the last one, but Sir Timothy still didn’t seem satisfied. Finally, after rolling a boulder half his size, Timothy blinked in surprise and asked, a little hesitantly, “Can you… find a bigger one and bring it to me?”
Frederic inwardly groaned. He bent over, blinking sweat out of his eyes and staring with dismay at the array of stones at Sir Timothy’s feet. But he just nodded, once, and turned to find another, bigger, rock. He did find one, on the bank of the moat, stuck in the mud. Looking around to make sure no one was there, he let out a true, frustrated groan and kicked the mud, sending dirt spraying into the river. Then he shook his head, dug his heels into the ground, and shoved with all his might against the boulder.
This one was just as big as him; in other times he and Hannah would have struggled to be king of it, scrambling up its side. But now, all Frederic could think about was moving it, if only an inch. He managed only to sink his feet deeper into the mud. Finally, he had to give up and walk sulkily back to Timothy, ashamed.
“Sir Timothy,” he said when he had found the knight examining the stones he had already brought back, “I couldn’t do it. I’m sorry.”
Timothy looked up from the stones and realized that Frederic was truly upset that he couldn’t find a bigger rock. He grasped the boy’s shoulders and lifted his head so that their eyes met. Then he did something Frederic was not expecting: he smiled.
“Yes, you did do it,” he said. “You got the biggest rock you could carry, and then some. Don’t be mad, Frederic. I actually have no purpose for these stones. I just wanted to see how far you would go before you gave up, and I was expecting you to give up a lot sooner. So thank you, for trying like a true knight.”
Frederic smiled at Timothy, feeling, for the first time in a long time, proud of himself. Then he and the knight turned and headed inside the castle, both looking forward to a nice dinner and an even nicer bed.
Princess Hannah repeatedly hit her head on the side of the tower, eyes downcast, hair curtaining her face. “I’m so… so… There isn’t even a word to describe what I am right now! I’m beyond boredom,” she groaned, once more slamming her forehead onto the wall. She stopped then, because it was beginning to hurt.
“I’ve been up here for a week now, and everything is exactly the same every day,” she complained to no one, scratching another tally onto the floor. The first time she had done this, she had been a little angry with herself for caving into a cliché. She didn’t care, now. Now, it was something to do, if not for only a second or two.
“I wake up, eat a magical breakfast that’s the same as it was yesterday, get a new dress out of the wardrobe, maybe talk to Sir Dragon, if he isn’t hunting who knows what, and then sit and dream for the rest of the day. Dull.”
“Dreaming isn’t all bad,” a rumbling voice said behind her. “And I usually hunt cows.”
Hannah turned around and raced to the window, glad that Sir Dragon had come back from his morning flight. “Hello, Sir Dragon,” she sang, perching herself on the windowsill. “Did you catch any today?”
“No, Princess Hannah. I was just flying today.”
“What did you see?”
“The same thing I see every day,” said the dragon, like he said almost every day. “I saw the sea to my right as I flew north, and the forest to my left, with all sorts of creatures in it.”
“What sort of creatures, Sir Dragon?” This was Hannah’s favorite part of the day, because it allowed her to escape the tower for a little while.
“Well, I don’t always see them, but I know that unicorns run free by the forest’s streams, and phoenixes fly overhead, igniting the dark night with their bright flames. There are also elves and fairies, who many a tired stranger falls victim under their enchanting songs.”
“Are there any evil creatures, Sir Dragon?”
“Oh, yes. There are plenty. Trolls and goblins, and sly, smaller dragons than myself who like to strike at travelers’ heels and disappear before the lonely men know what happened to them.”
Hannah sighed with longing. “I wish I could travel in those woods. That would be an adventure.”
Sir Dragon cocked his old, gray head to the side. “Should a princess long for adventure?”
“Well, perhaps not,” Hannah said after thinking about this. “But all the same, I would like it.”
Growling affectionately, Sir Dragon turned his head to go, but Hannah stopped him. “Wait!” she called. “Please, I… I want to talk to you some more.”
“Unfortunately, that is something neither you nor I can control,” Sir Dragon replied, amber eyes narrowing with sadness. “The witch Morgan does not wish for her…”
“Does not wish for her captive to be happy,” Hannah droned. “I know that, Sir Dragon, but please? Could you not fight her enchantments just for another minute or two?”
The dragon turned his back to the window, shaking his wings and dislodging old scales, which fell to the ground like gray snow. “I have tried. I am trying now. But I must leave now. Forgive me, little princess.” He dove into his cavern, and Hannah stomped her bare foot with frustration.
“I hate that stupid Morgan,” she whispered. “I don’t care if that brings a greater peril to me than the one I am now. I don’t! I hate her and I will always hate her and I wish her dead!”
She waited. She waited for the thunder and lightning that would strike her dead. She waited for Morgan herself to appear inside the tower and start hurling fireballs with rage. For she thought, if a woman was powerful enough to keep a dragon from talking to her, surely that same woman would be able to hear everything she wished to hear? But Hannah waited in vain, and after a few moments, she sat down on the bed and stared at the floor, miserable beyond belief.
“No, Frederic,” Timothy said, shaking his head. “You’re still too frightened. You’re holding the sword like it’s going to bite your arm off; you’re holding it like it’s a big metal stick.”
Frederic let his arm drop, the tip of the sword clinking against the ground. “But it is a big metal stick,” he said. For a week, Sir Timothy had been trying to teach him to use a sword and shield, but still Frederic couldn’t master either. It frustrated him, and he felt bad for letting Timothy down.
“No, it’s not,” said Sir Timothy, drawing his own sword and holding it in front of him. “The sword is an extension of your arm; you should feel like it’s part of you.”
With a sigh, Frederic hefted his sword up so the blade was at eye level. “I’ll try. Now show me that move again. I don’t want to leave today until I’ve mastered it.”
Timothy smiled and obeyed. They drilled the one move over and over, until the sun was low in the sky and the first stars had just begun to shine. Finally, Timothy said, “Alright, enough. It is almost night. Go to bed, Frederic, you’ve done well today.” Frederic bowed and scurried to his room, but he did not go to bed. He held his sword in front of his face, furrowed his brow at it, and murmured, “I will be able to use you correctly. So don’t try to stop me! I have a princess to save and if you don’t cooperate, I won’t be able to save her. So please work with me.”
When Sir Timothy came to wake him the next morning, he found Frederic crumpled on the floor, his sword still grasped in his hand.
Sir Harold and the five other knights that had went with him to rescue Hannah had been travelling for a month, and they didn’t even know if they were going in the right direction.
“Harold,” said Phillip, the youngest of the six, “are you sure this is the right way?”
Harold sat in his saddle, looking toward the oncoming forest and the sun sinking beneath it. “No, Phillip,” the knight sighed. “I’m not sure. But the king said his mother was held captive in the east, so if we are to believe the tower is the same one every time, we should be heading west, which we are. Yet… something is not boding well with me…”
“Are you sure it’s not that wine?” joked Henry. “You’ve been saying it’s good wine, but now I’m starting to wonder.”
The rest of the knights laughed at this, glad of the chance to be merry. Harold, however, shook his head and said, “Enough, Henry. Your jokes might get you in trouble one day.”
Henry glared at the ground and muttered something inaudible.
“Come on,” Harold said, spurring his horse. “I want to be in that forest before night falls.”
“Night is already falling,” Henry muttered to Phillip. Phillip choked on a laugh but then became quiet under Sir Harold’s glower.
The six knights approached the forest warily, and their horses seemed to sense a danger they could not sense themselves, for the beasts reared and whinnied, making it almost impossible to go on further. With great care and patience, the knights were able coax their horses forward, and so they entered the dark woods.
They did not have to wait long for an adventure.
“Oh!” Sir Phillip cried almost the second they had entered the forest.
“What?” the other knights chorused. “What is it?”
“Look!” Following Phillip’s gaze, the other five gasped at the sight of a white unicorn staring at them from among the trees.
“Don’t look directly at it,” Sir Harold warned.
“Why not?” Phillip asked, immediately taking his gaze off of the creature. The rest of the knights were less willing.
“Because,” Harold said, averting his eyes from the unicorn with much difficulty, “only the purest man may look at a unicorn full on without being harmed.”
“I guess we’re all pretty pure then,” said Henry. “None of us are hurt.”
Harold turned on Henry. “Did you look directly at it? Or did your gaze flicker over it, trying to spot exactly where it was?”
Sir Henry opened his mouth to answer, but found that Harold was right, so instead he sat silently. Satisfied, Harold turned his horse around and said, “Come on. Let us leave the creature in peace.”
The knights kept walking, aware that the unicorn was watching them with its innocent eyes. It wasn’t until they decided to stop and rest that they realized Phillip was missing. All of the knights panicked and ran off in different directions, calling his name searching for him. However, when they reconvened at their camp site, none of them had gotten a clue as to where their youngest member was.
“He has decided to stay with the unicorn,” someone muttered.
“I was wondering if I should stay with the unicorn myself,” another confessed.
“Yes, but he actually did,” the first knight responded.
“What should we do, Sir Harold?” asked Henry.
Sir Harold stood, thinking hard, with his head down and his hand covering his eyes. Finally, he lifted his head and looked around at the four knights in front of him. “We keep going. There is nothing we can do for Sir Phillip. If he has – like you have suggested, and like I am inclined to belief – stayed with the unicorn, he is happier than he would be with us.”
“But Harold,” Phillip’s brother, Anthony, said, “you said only the purest man could look directly at a unicorn.”
“And I belief Phillip was one of the purest among us, Anthony,” Harold said. “There is nothing we can do for him – or for you. I’m sorry. Now let us rest. It’s been a long day.”
When the group woke up, Sir Anthony and his horse were gone, but his suit of armor they found heaped at the foot of a tree.
Sir Dragon’s eyes shot open. It was the first time in a long time that he had woken up startled. And he was old enough to know what that means.
He was surprised. It had only been a month. Usually it took at least two, but after one month the curse that had been placed on him forced him awake and involuntarily told him to get up. As he lifted his head and stretched his wings, he unconsciously tasted the air with his forked tongue. Miles away, he could smell humans. His tongue flicked out again. There were six, but only four were near enough to worry about.
It was still early morning. When he emerged from his cavern, the sun was just rising above the blue sea, and the sky was still gray. Carefully and quietly, he peeked in the tower, his great amber eye fixing for a moment on the sleeping princess, and then he took off, wings beating with a rhythm that wasn’t entirely his own.
Although Sir Dragon spotted the four weary knights within thirty minutes, he did not immediately attack. After all, he thought, circling slowly, they are not a threat yet. He watched them struggle through the dark woods for two days. He watched one get lured into the dark woods by a dark fairy, and another get distracted and dragged away by one of Sir Dragon’s smaller cousins. But the remaining two never wavered for a moment. When one of their comrades would fall, they would exchange one look, nod, and keep moving. When Sir Dragon finally decided that they were close enough to the tower to be harmful, he almost felt bad for them. They were so intent on finding the princess, yet none of them were the right hero.
Sir Harold and Sir Henry were weighed down by the loss of their friends. Henry began to almost wish that he had been left behind when the giant, smoky dragon fell from the sky and landed in front of them. Their horses reared and the two unsuspecting knights slid to the ground as their horses galloped into the woods. Laying a hand on his sword, Sir Harold quickly stood up and faced the dragon.
“Beast!” he called. “Are not the same dragon that stole our Princess Hannah?”
Sir Dragon grumbled in his throat, and he answered with slight amusement, “It is true, good sir. Which is why I cannot let you go any farther.”
“And how will you stop us?” Henry demanded, drawing his sword. “We are ready to fight you!”
“Are you sure?” the great dragon asked, cocking his head to the side. “You are not even the size of my scales; what is to stop me from eating you right now?”
“Will you eat us, Dragon?” Harold said. “I promise that we will not go down willingly.”
Sir Dragon bent his head so as to make himself as much on their level as possible. “Then listen closely, good knights,” he said quietly. “Princess Hannah is hidden somewhere far from even here. If the kingdom wants her back, send the right prince for her, and I may consider letting him go. As for you…” Sir Dragon reared up on his back legs and beat his wings furiously. He raised his head to the sky and let out a powerful roar along with a jet of flame. The two knights were suddenly aware of how big the dragon was, and although their hearts were hearts of iron, both of them turned and ran. Satisfied, Sir Dragon took flight and began his way home.
“Oh, Sir Dragon!” breathed Hannah with relief as she saw him land by her window. “I thought you had died down in there!”
“No, little princess,” Sir Dragon reassured her, “I was just flying.”
“For two days?” asked Hannah skeptically. “What on earth could you have been doing for two days? And without even letting me know! That was not very kind of you, Sir Dragon.”
Sir Dragon bowed his head. “My apologies, Princess Hannah. But it was not entirely my fault.”
“How do you mean?”
The dragon paused. He was reluctant to tell Hannah the truth, that he was obliged to stop anyone from rescuing her. “It has something to do with the curse placed upon your family,” he finally said.
“Is it that stupid witch, Morgan?” Hannah asked, understanding dawning on her.
“Yes,” Sir Dragon replied shortly. He was glad that Hannah so readily understood.
“Well, if she’s making you go off for two days just to frighten me, it won’t work anymore. Don’t worry, Sir Dragon. You don’t have to worry about scaring me. I’ll know you’re not dead.”
Sir Dragon didn’t reply. Instead, he nodded once and dove into his cave, guilt weighing down on him. He did not understand how Princess Hannah could be so innocent and good. And Princess Hannah, deep down, understood that Morgan would not send the dragon away just to frighten her. But at the moment, she did not want to accept the fact that Sir Dragon was keeping her rescuers away, so she pushed the thought aside and would not allow it to resurface.
The entire kingdom was buzzing about Sir Harold’s return. Some of the villagers were shocked he was back so soon, others shocked he was gone for so long, but most were annoyed that he did not come back with the princess. As Frederic wandered the city one afternoon, he could not help but hear rumors and complaints all around.
“I heard that he was travelling for a month and then became too tired to continue…”
“… wonder if his companions went on without him? That lazy…”
“Do you think he was too scared to continue?”
“No, not Harold. He’s never scared. I heard a wizard told him to turn back…”
Each story was more preposterous than the next, and each one left Frederic more confused. He did not know what to believe, and although Sir Timothy reassured him that Harold would never have given up without cause, still the young squire doubted.
Head down, arms full of results from his errands, Frederic walked back to the castle, lost in thought. He did not get past the drawbridge, though, because he bumped into someone, lost his balance, and fell into the moat, only saving his groceries by throwing them up and onto the drawbridge at the last second.
“…so sorry, my boy!” he heard once he resurfaced. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Thank you,” Frederic replied, swimming to the shore and hauling himself up. “Lucky for me, I learned how to swim when I was five.”
“That is lucky,” the man said, helping him to his feet. “That was quick thinking, saving your errands like that.”
“Not really,” replied Frederic modestly. “It was just instinct.”
The man laughed and helped the wet boy pick up his food. “Then you have good instincts. Where are you heading with all this food?”
“Sir Timothy wanted it for… I’m not sure. He just told me to get it.”
The man smiled. “Well, if Sir Timothy told you to do it, then it must be a worthy cause.” They began walking across the drawbridge again, when suddenly the man stopped and stared at Frederic and exclaimed, “Hullo! You’re Frederic!”
“Yes, sir,” Frederic replied, trying to think of who the man was and if he had known him before.
The man laughed. “I hardly recognized you, wet as you are! And you’ve grown since I was last here. You wanted to save Hannah, didn’t you?”
“I still do, sir,” Frederic said, a little more stiffly than he probably should have. He had just realized that this worn and weary man was the failed Sir Harold. “And I think I might do a better job than you.”
Sir Harold’s eyes flashed for a moment, dormant anger waking. But then he sighed and hung his head, all hostility gone. “It’s probably true,” he said, ashamed. “Do you know how many people – commoners, Frederic! – have told me the same thing? That they could have done better?” Harold sighed again and raised his head, staring at something only he could see. “I’d like to see them try,” he whispered. “I’d like to see their comrades and friends disappear and wander off one by one, knowing that there’s nothing you can do for them. See if they don’t come home.”
“I’m sorry,” Frederic said. His voice was barely audible. “I didn’t mean –”
“Oh no, Frederic!” Harold said, dropping to his knee so they were eye-level. “I did not mean it toward you – I’m not angry. It’s just… frustrating. I know what they say. About me. About Phillip and Henry and Anthony and Peter and Patrick. And it saddens me to think that they despise men who were so honorable.”
“I’m sorry,” repeated Frederic. The two were silent for a moment. Tentatively, after working up his courage, Frederic said, “Should we go inside, Sir Harold?”
Sir Harold grinned. “Yes. I think we should.”
Inside, Frederic began to walk to the kitchen, but Harold stopped him. “Come see the king with me.”
Shocked, Frederic stuttered, “I – uh – I can’t, I – I’m not presentable.”
“Do you think I am?” Harold said. Frederic examined the knight’s stained and weary clothes, and figured they both looked about the same.
“But,” Frederic still protested, “I don’t have any reason to be there. When Hannah was around…” He paused, embarrassed. Harold nodded encouragingly and, swallowing his pride, he continued. “When Hannah was around, she would always let me stay. She always… protected me… from the king.”
“Well, let me protect you now,” Harold said smiling. “I’ll vouch for your presence.”
They knocked on the king’s door, and after a few seconds of patient waiting, the door opened and the king allowed them inside. First, he did not see Frederic. He only saw Sir Harold, but as the door opened wider to allow the knight in, the king spotted the blushing Frederic, still holding his armful of groceries.
“Frederic,” the king said, surprised, “shouldn’t you be heading toward the kitchen with all that stuff?”
Frederic opened and shut his mouth several times, staring at anything but the man in front of him. When Harold realized the boy wasn’t going to say anything, he placed a hand on Frederic’s shoulder and said, “Sire, I want him to stay with me while I speak to you; Princess Hannah was his friend, and I think he should hear about this.”
The king stood very still for what seemed to Frederic a very long time. Finally, King Oliver nodded and let the two into his council room. He gestured for a maid to take away Frederic’s burden and sat down at a table. “Sir Harold,” he began, not bothering to look at the knight, “I am, frankly, disappointed in you.”
Frederic waited for Harold to bow his head and mumble a humble apology. Sir Harold, however, did not. He stood erect and proud and said, “With all due respect, sir, we never stood a chance.”
“What?” the king said, deadly calm. Frederic unconsciously backed into a corner.
“It was a fool’s errand, Oliver, and you knew it.”
“How dare you address me by my first name! No one has that right except the queen!” Frederic wished he still had his armful of groceries he could hide behind as the king stood and faced Harold, eyes burning with rage.
Sir Harold only blinked. “The only one who can save the princess is her true love. A prince from another land, most likely. You knew it. You knew you were most likely sending us to our death. And here I am, the only one to return. So are you happy to have spent your distraction? Are you happy five of your best knights are gone forever?”
As Harold was speaking, the king’s eyes lost their anger. His body relaxed, and he fell into his chair. “No,” he whispered. Frederic was surprised to see him crying. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Harold. I’ve forgotten – I’ve forgotten our friendship; I’ve forgotten my sanity. I can only think of Hannah’s empty room, and my desire to fill it again. I’m sorry.”
Harold did not move. Neither his voice nor his stance softened, but his eyes grew less steely. “Oliver,” he said, “I know. I forgive you.”
The king looked up, composed himself, and said, “Alright. Are you willing to tell me what happened?”
With a sigh and a shudder, Harold took a seat and began his story. He began with the unicorn, and the disappearance of Phillip and then Anthony. Then he told of how they agreed to not stop again until they found Princess Hannah. Within twenty-four hours, however, Sir Patrick stopped to talk to a fairy, and in the morning they heard far off screams of pain and cruel laughter, and Sir Patrick was nowhere in sight. A day after, Harold said, Sir Peter couldn’t keep up. He slipped and fell, and when Henry and Harold tried to help him to his feet, he waved them off and told them he would catch up.
Harold closed his eyes. “Needless to say, he never did.” Then he opened his eyes again and continued, telling how a great dragon came and stopped them, forcing them to turn around. “So you see,” he told the king, “it wasn’t our fault. The dragon clearly stated he would kill anyone except for the right prince.”
King Oliver nodded, eyes downcast. “What happened to Henry?” he whispered.
“Henry – there’s no chance of Henry coming back.” Harold’s voice was tired and sad. “I don’t know what it was – he just stopped. He fell over, and when I went to see if he was alright, his eyes held the glaze of the dead, and his heart was no longer beating.
“I buried him in a meadow. It was two days before I began home again.” Sir Harold stared at the king. Frederic gulped, ashamed of himself for mocking the knight earlier. “I came back,” Harold continued, “to a town full of mocking neighbors. So forgive me, Your Majesty, for being harsh.”
Silence filled the room. No one would look at the other, and no one wanted to. Finally the king cleared his throat, “Thank you, Sir Harold,” he said, standing. “Everyone in the kingdom is eager to hear what happened, but are you eager to share it?”
Harold shook his head. “I’m going to try and forget what happened, and I wish the kingdom to do the same.”
King Oliver nodded. “Understood. You’re excused, Sir Harold.”
Sir Harold bowed and turned to go. As he left the room, the king added, “I am always glad to be a listening ear.” Frederic thought he saw the corner Harold’s mouth twitch upward, although the knight did not stop walking when the king spoke.
“Should I go too, Sire?” Frederic asked quietly when the knight had left.
“Yes, perhaps that is best,” the king whispered absently. Frederic scurried from the room, not looking back. As he went in search of Sir Timothy, he thought of Harold stating that he would try to forget. Secretly, Frederic decided to remember, in case Sir Harold succeeded in forgetting.
Princess Hannah stared at the floor, where her tallies of the days were scratched. She had come up with a system in order for her to tell accurately how much time had passed. After seven marks, she drew a line above the tallies to show a week. After four weeks, she drew a bigger line above the week marks to indicate a month. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to mark any years, but if she did she would scratch a third line above twelve months. Right now, there were one-hundred-eighty-two days, forty-five weeks, and six months carved into the wooden floor of her tower.
Sighing, she said to herself, “I’ve waited six months, and nothing has happened. But perhaps, if Sir Dragon was correct in saying that it took half of a year to get here, perhaps soon my rescuer will come.”
Hannah looked up from her tallies, eyes falling on the collection of bowls, plates, glasses, and silverware that stood at one end of her room. For reasons she didn’t know, after she was finished with her magical meals, the dishes would stay and new ones would appear at the next meal. All of those dishes were clean; the magic took the food away but left the bearers of the food for the princess to deal with. She had thrown many out of the window, but only every other week or so, and so there was always a pile by the foot of her bed.
Hannah cocked her head to the side, staring at the dishes and thinking. Then she got up and grabbed some, piling them in the center of the circular room. She made four pillars of bowls, plates, and glasses, being extra cautious of them falling over. Then she rushed to the bed and grabbed the blankets off, draping them very carefully over her pillars. She smiled. Before her, a fort stood in the middle of the room. She crawled into it.
Inside, light from the open window filtered through the blankets, turning the sunshine into a dull golden glow. It was warm and comfortable inside, and there was enough room for Princess Hannah to sit up. She didn’t. She curled up on the floor and closed her eyes, letting the magnified warmth of the sun fall on her face.
Hannah jumped. Her eyes shot open, but she recognized Sir Dragon’s voice, and she closed her eyes again. “Hello, Sir Dragon,” she said.
“Princess Hannah, are you under those blankets?” Sir Dragon asked. He was peering into the room, his amber eye searching for the princess.
“Yes,” Hannah responded. “I’m here. Now please go away, Sir Dragon, I want to be alone.”
“Princess Hannah,” Sir Dragon said, concerned, “you never want to be alone.”
“I want to now. Don’t talk to me.”
Sir Dragon didn’t know what to do. He stood by her window for a few minutes, and then disappeared into his cavern. Hannah heard his wings as they brushed against the tower, and she lifted her head. “Sir Dragon?” she called, sticking her head out of her fort. She didn’t see the dragon’s eyes at the window, like she was so used to seeing. “He left me,” she whispered. Retreating into her fort, she began to cry.
She couldn’t understand her own frustration. Although her words seemed to push Sir Dragon away, Hannah needed him the most at that moment. Her words contradicted her emotions, but her response confirmed them. And she was angry at Sir Dragon for not realizing that under her false commands, she was really crying out for him to stay.
Princess Hannah sobbed on the wooden floor of her circular prison. Curling in on herself, her hand brushed the marks of the days she had been absent from home. She grabbed at something, anything, wanting a hug and settling for a false one. Her arms closed around her pillar of plates and bowls. The pillar fell, causing the three other pillars to tumble and fall as the blanket fluttered onto Hannah.
Hannah screamed as plates, bowls, goblets, and a blanket crashed around her. She hugged the one bowl she had been able to grasp closer to her, as if it could keep her safe from the shattering dishes. When all was quiet, and the blanket from the bed had settled on top of the princess, Hannah remained silent. Tears still leaked from her eyes. She was tempted to start crying again, but she had just thought of something.
Today was Frederic’s birthday. They were born exactly a year and a half apart, and so today was also Hannah’s half-birthday. Under the blankets and amid the shattered remains of her empty dishes, Princess Hannah began to softly sing.
“Happy birthday to you.” She sniffed. “Happy birthday to you.” A smile twitched at the corner of her lips. “Happy birthday dear Frederic. Happy birthday to you.” She closed her eyes. A single tear fell down her cheek. “I miss you.”
Frederic felt weird. He was fourteen now, but that wasn’t why he felt weird. He felt weird because, ever since he could remember, Hannah had given him a present on his birthday, and he had given her one on her half-birthday. But today, his fourteenth birthday, Hannah was not here to give presents, or to receive them.
“Frederic,” Sir Timothy said, “are you alright?”
Frederic replaced the dagger the knight had given him back in its case. “Yes. I’m fine. Thank you, Timothy. But…” He hesitated. Timothy’s kind brown eyes were big and attentive and encouraging. “Hannah’s usually here.”
Timothy sighed. “I know you miss her, Frederic. Everyone does. You and the king and queen more than anyone. But King Oliver has sent word to all the neighboring countries, and soon we’ll have an army of noble princes and knights questing to save her.”
“One of them has to be her true love,” he whispered, staring at the floor.
“Pardon?” Sir Timothy said, unable to hear his squire’s quiet voice.
“One of them must be her true love, if they ever want to save her,” Frederic said, only slightly louder.
Timothy leaned back, staring at Frederic knowingly. “You don’t think any of them are going to be her true love, do you Frederic?”
Blushing, Frederic stammered, “Well, I mean… No, when you put it like that, I don’t. I think… I think you can’t have a true love without knowing each other first. It’s… It’s silly. And I think impossible.”
“Yes,” Sir Timothy said, smiling. “You’re most likely right.”
Frederic nodded. “Yes. I am.”
“Yes you are. Now, I know that it’s your birthday, but Miss Abigail wanted to tell you about magical creatures, and such.”
“Who?” Frederic asked, confused.
Standing up, Sir Timothy began to leave Frederic’s small room. “Miss Abigail,” he said at the door. “I believe she’s waiting in the library.”
Slightly perplexed, Frederic left his room, leaving his new dagger on his bed. Upon entering the library, he was shocked to find Teacher waiting by the door.
“Teacher!” he said, astonished. “It’s you! Sir Timothy told me… I didn’t know it was you.”
Teacher smiled. “Hello Frederic. Yes, I do have a name. Are you surprised?”
If Frederic was to be honest with her, he would have replied, “Yes.” However, he knew this was probably rude, so he said, “I guess I always knew that you must have a name, but I never gave it much thought.”
“Princess Hannah has given me a name, and so my birth name was never remembered.” Teacher sighed. “I don’t mind. I do wish her back, though.”
Frederic nodded. “Me too.”
The two sat silently for a few seconds. Then Teacher, suddenly brisk, clapped her hands and said, “Now. If you’re going to go through dangerous forests filled with dangerous beasts, then you must learn about these magical creatures. Although, honestly, I should be giving this lesson to anyone who wants to save the princess and not just you. But I don’t think many people will listen to me, and so I’m stuck with you.”
She turned around, grabbed a stack of books from a nearby table, and handed them to Frederic. “Read these, take notes, and we’ll meet tomorrow.”
Frederic blushed, staring at the books in his hands. The letters on the cover of the book on top looked to him like magical symbols that would take years to decipher. “Um… Teacher,” he said quietly, “I can’t read.”
Teacher blinked at him. “How can you not read?”
“No one ever taught me how. And I never needed to know.”
Grabbing the worn books from Frederic, Teacher groaned and set the books down with a thud. Seating herself at a table and gesturing vaguely for Frederic to do the same, she reached for a quill and piece of parchment. With neat and patient strokes, Teacher began to write the alphabet.
The entire kingdom of Cyndira buzzed with talk and excitement. The young girls followed behind the newcomer’s horse, giggling at his handsome features. The boys rushed forward, arguing which one among them was stronger than the man the girls found so attractive.
The man’s name was Prince Augustin, and he was the first to answer the king’s letter. He was young, too, for a questing prince; only a few years older than Frederic. His blond hair swept elegantly in front of his crystal blue eyes, and his white horse seemed to have no spots on its flank. Frederic immediately disliked him.
“Who’s this pompous man?” he whispered to Sir Timothy as Prince Augustin rode past on the streets, never looking anywhere but in front of him.
Sir Timothy almost laughed. “That, it appears, is the princess’s first true love.”
Frederic screwed up his face. “No way. Hannah doesn’t like prisses.”
This time Timothy could not contain his laughter, and Prince Augustin glanced uneasily at the pair. He was relieved to be inside the castle and away from prying eyes.
“King Oliver,” he said as he was shown into the king’s thrown room. “Queen Margaret.” Bowing low, he said, “I am Prince Augustin, first son of King Gregor of the kingdom of Jorlington. At your service.”
King Oliver immediately liked him. “Welcome, Prince Augustin. You have, no doubt, come in answer to my letter regarding my first-born daughter?”
“I have, sir,” the prince said, straightening. “My father has talked much about you, and of your help during the Elven Wars. Upon receiving your letter, he insisted that I set out at once to help repay your services to my kingdom.”
Queen Margaret, who almost no one could get to speak since her daughter’s disappearance, spoke up. “That’s what your father wants,” she said quietly but forcefully. “Why are you doing this, Prince Augustin? What will you do for my daughter, if you are the one to save her?”
Prince Augustin seemed taken aback by such a direct question, and he hesitated before responding. “I… I’m sure I would make her happy, Your Majesty. At least, I’d try my hardest.”
Queen Margaret was not satisfied, but she said nothing else. The king smiled at the prince and said, “Prince Augustin, the journey between here and Jorlington is no small ride. Rest until you feel prepared to rescue Princess Hannah.”
Prince Augustin bowed as a shy maid came to escort him to his rooms. The few belongings that he had brought along with him had already been laid out on the bed. The maid scurried away as soon she had shown him in, and Prince Augustin blinked, surprised at her skittishness. He turned from the closed door and examined his room.
The ceiling was arched. Back in Jorlington, the ceilings were all flat. The bed had four posts with curtains draping down, which was not unusual back home, but these curtains were thicker, and they weren’t the same colors as the drapes around his own bed. The drapes and the blankets in this room all were navy and deep red, with little splashes of forest green here and there; the colors of Cyndira, he knew, from his studies. Back home, they would be the colors of Jorlington: black, golden, and white. When he was little, he always pictured his kingdom as a bumblebee, although he could never tell if any parts of a bee were white, so the placement of white on his mental bumblebee always changed.
There was a knock at the door. Prince Augustin jumped and called out instinctively, “Who is it?”
“Um…” It was a boy’s voice. The prince was expecting it to be a maid. “I brought you some tea.”
Prince Augustin opened the door. A boy, not much younger than himself, was standing in his doorway. He had dark hair, and even darker eyes that wouldn’t meet the prince’s. Prince Augustin could tell he wanted to be anywhere but where he was.
“Thank you,” he said, excepting the tea from the boy. “But I didn’t ask for tea.”
“I know, but Sir Timothy thought you might want some, so…”
“Is Sir Timothy a knight?” Prince Augustin was only trying to be polite, but the boy was not excepting his politeness very well.
“Yes. I’m his squire. Good day, Your Highness.” He began to walk away. Prince Augustin almost let him. Then he called out, inspired by pure curiosity.
“In Cyndira, do squire’s usually do maid’s jobs?”
Frederic stiffened, because of course it was Frederic. “We are meant to do whatever our mentor tells us to do. If that’s a maid job, then we do a maid’s job. If that’s getting rocks out of a stream, we get rocks out of a stream.”
“I’m sorry,” Prince Augustin said. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just curious why you were in the castle at all, if you aren’t a servant.”
“Well now you know.”
“Is that all?” Frederic turned and glared at the prince. He was liking him less and less. Prince Augustin shrugged under the squire’s gaze. “You seem to have more than one reason. I can read it in your stance.”
Frederic sighed. “Fine, if you really want to know, I was Hannah’s… Princess Hannah’s best friend, so I know the castle pretty well.”
“If you’re her best friend why don’t you go and rescue her?” Prince Augustin said a little harshly. He wasn’t at all thrilled about facing a dragon.
“Why do you think I’m training to be a knight?” Frederic replied, equally as irritated. “I would gladly go right now and try to rescue her, but the king won’t allow it.”
“Oh,” Prince Augustin said lamely. “Okay.”
The two boys stood and stared awkwardly at each other, one a little annoyed, both a little timid. Finally Frederic cleared his throat. “Should I go now, Your Highness?”
The prince nodded. “Yes. Alright. You probably should. And my name’s not Your Highness, Squire. It’s Augustin.”
“And my name’s not Squire, Augustin. It’s Frederic.” And with that, Frederic turned and left, leaving a bewildered and lonely prince behind with tea that was getting cold.
Hannah had begun to dream about her rescuer. There was nothing else to do, and a month after Frederic’s birthday, she woke up every morning hoping that a dashing hero would be there to rescue her.
“I think he’ll be tall,” she told Sir Dragon one day. “But not too tall. Just tall enough that I have to stretch to kiss him, and he has to bend down to kiss me.”
“You’re but twelve,” Sir Dragon said, startled. “Should you be dreaming about kisses already?”
“Why not?” Princess Hannah said stubbornly. “And he’ll be extremely handsome, and mostly calm but with a hidden streak of adventure. Why else would he brave a dragon?”
Sir Dragon shook his head. “It is not a sense of adventure that will bring your prince. It will be a sense of love.”
Hannah smiled wistfully. “Yes, that as well.”
Glaring at Sir Timothy, Frederic silently accepted the platter filled with lunch for the prince upstairs. “You’re doing this on purpose,” he complained, “all because I said I don’t like him.”
Sir Timothy smiled down at Frederic. “You’ve hit it right on the nose, my dear boy. Now off with you, and don’t return until you’ve had a civilized conversation with him.”
Frederic groaned. “That will be harder than you think.”
“Knights do not complain, Frederic,” said Timothy as Frederic left the kitchen, “so plaster a smile on that face of yours (even if it’s a fake one) and have a talk with the priss, Prince Augustin.”
Unsurprisingly, Frederic did not want to have another conversation with Prince Augustin. He took as long as he could climbing the stairs, and wandered down the hallways at a cautiously slow pace. He could not hold off his meeting with the prince forever, though, and eventually he forced himself to stop and knock at Augustin’s door.
“Oh, it’s you again,” Prince Augustin said upon opening the door. “Frank, isn’t it?”
“Frederic,” muttered Frederic.
“Oh, sorry, Frederic,” Prince Augustin apologized. “I was never good at names. I couldn’t even remember my own sister’s name when she was born. I was only five, though, so maybe I could’ve been forgiven.”
Frederic didn’t really know how to respond to this, so he just held up the meal and said, “Lunch.”
Augustin blinked, surprised. “Isn’t there royal lunches?”
“I don’t know,” Frederic said. “If there is, Hannah skipped them. She and I would always eat while we played.”
“My sister and I did that, too!” Augustin said, smiling. “We’d hide when Mother called us for supper, and I snuck into the kitchen to steal some food. We would pretend we were pirates, and we did everything in secret.”
Unable to stop himself, Frederic smiled as well, recalling aloud, “Hannah and I pretended… We had this game where she was a captive of an evil enemy – or sometimes I would be – and I was her rescuer – or sometimes she would be mine – and we’d rescue each other day after day. We’d always get married afterwards.”
Suddenly he clamped his mouth shut. What was he doing? Why was he telling this stranger prince this? This was Hannah’s and his secret; it was their game, why would he share it with someone else? His face grew hot with embarrassment and shame. Wordlessly, he held the platter up to Prince Augustin. Taking it, Augustin said, “That sounds like fun. I wish I could still play with my sister. I bet you wish you could still play with Hannah, don’t you?”
“Maybe someday I will,” Frederic said quietly.
Augustin smiled sadly. “I wish I had hope like you.”
“You’ll go home,” Frederic said, trying to be reassuring. “You’ll see your sister again.”
“No I won’t. My sister died when I was twelve. There was this terrible plague – we all got it, but she couldn’t fight it. She – we found her unbreathing in the morning one day. It was awful.”
“I’m sorry,” Frederic said, not sure what else to say. He suddenly realized it wasn’t fair to call the prince prissy even before he knew him. He hadn’t realized that he was a boy as well, with a real life, even though it might have been an extravagant one.
Prince Augustin sniffed, averting his eyes. “Don’t be. I’m sorry. You didn’t have to know that.”
“I’m glad you told me,” Frederic said. “My dad was a carpenter. I never really knew him; he died when I was two. But he cut himself with a nail, and the cut got infected. Apparently he couldn’t breathe, and so one day he just stopped.”
Augustin smiled feebly. “I guess we know each other a little better know.”
Frederic smiled. “Yes, I suppose we do. I won’t tell anyone, if you don’t want me to, about your sister.”
They stood for a few seconds, silent. Both wanted to leave, but neither wanted to leave without saying anything else. They couldn’t find anything to say. Finally, Frederic said, “If you’re going to rescue Hannah, I know someone who could help you get prepared. She’s teaching me, actually, about dragons and stuff.” He didn’t mention that he was also being taught how to read.
“Yes, I’d like that,” said the prince, smiling. “When do you meet with her?”
“Don’t worry about coming to meet her, I’ll come get you,” Frederic said.
“Thank you, Frank – uh, Frederic. Thank you, Frederic.”
“Your welcome, Your Highness,” said Frederic, bowing. “I’ll be seeing you soon, I think.”
“Yes, I think so too.”
The door closed, Frederic left, and both he and the prince felt better, knowing that they had gained a new friend.
She had had it. She really had had it. She was tired of being disappointed each day, tired of crying each night. She had had it. And she was going to leave.
Princess Hannah had discovered that the bed was the only spot in the tower that seemed to hold no magic. It did not make itself, it did not gain new sheets magically, and when she brought a meal to the bed, the food did not leave the plate. She had also discovered that the wardrobe magically replaced any dress that was taken out of it. So she began to form a plan.
Each day, Hannah took all the new dresses out of the wardrobe and shoved them under her mattress. The wardrobe also replaced any dress put into it with a new one. Hannah constantly wondered where the dresses went, and so one day she stepped into the wardrobe herself, to see if it would take her anywhere. All it did was strip her of the gown she had been wearing, leaving her to fumble in the dark closet for a new one.
But now she had a real, concrete plan. When Sir Dragon was away, she would take all the gowns she had stored up under her mattress and tie them together, flinging them out of the window to see how far down they fell. Then she would haul them back into the room.
It was nice. The thought of escape occupied Hannah’s mind, and when she was working on her plan, there was room for nothing else. She was busy, and she enjoyed it. It was the first time she had worked from the beginning to the end of the day since Sir Dragon had taken her, and it calmed her.
Within a month, there were enough gowns tied together to reach the bottom of the tower from her window. However, her new challenge was to find a safe place to crawl down to. Morgan’s tower was built over Sir Dragon’s cave, so there was hardly any safe spot of solid ground directly below Hannah’s window. But she had looked out of that window every day, and she had memorized the landscape around it.
Below the left corner of her window, almost hidden because it was so tiny, a small jut of rocky ground extended past the wall of the tower. It connected to a wide loop of rocks, forming the edges of Sir Dragon’s cavern. That was Princess Hannah’s goal. If she could get to that, she could get past the cave and towards the forest. With any look, she’d meet a prince on the way, so she wouldn’t have to walk all the way home. Now all she had to do was wait for the right moment. It didn’t take long.
The day after she completed her rope of gowns, Sir Dragon came to her window, peering inside of it. “Princess Hannah?” he called.
Hannah rolled out of bed, groaning. She had spent a good long way into the night finishing her rope, and she hadn’t gotten as much sleep as she would have liked. “What is it, Sir Dragon?” she said.
“I – nothing. I just wished to inform you that I would be flying now. I won’t be back until sundown.” Ever since he left to stop the knights, and she grew concerned with his absence, Sir Dragon had gotten into the habit of informing Hannah of when he would leave and when he would return.
“Okay. Thank you, Sir Dragon,” Hannah said, hoping she didn’t sound too enthusiastic. She had a whole day to escape!
The dragon nodded, satisfied, and stretched his wings, soaring high into the sky. Princess Hannah waited until he was out of sight. Then she ran to her bed, pulled the rope out from under her mattress, and flung it out the window. The end that she still clasped in her hand she tied to the wardrobe, which was the closest object to the window.
She stared down from the window, positioning the rope so that it hung above the little edge of rock. It was shorter than she had thought, but that didn’t hinder her. Her heart began to beat faster. She took a deep breath. Grasping the gown-rope in her hand, she stood on the window ledge. She turned toward her room. “Farewell,” she said to it. “I hope I never see you again.” Then she laughed. She began climbing.
It was exhilarating. The wind swept over her, whipping her hair and skirts around her. Princess Hannah did not think how disappointed Teacher would be at her un-ladylike-ness. She did not think of the distance between herself and the ground. She only thought of lowering herself, inch-by-inch, until her feet met the ground. But she did not get far.
Suddenly, a great talon wrapped around her. She squealed, not out of fright but out of surprise and anger. She knew that talon belonged to Sir Dragon.
Setting her down inside the tower, Sir Dragon grabbed the rope in his jaws, tearing it apart so that only half of a dress hung from the window. He tossed the rest into his cavern.
“Sir Dragon!” Hannah said, standing up and glaring at her prison guard. “I thought you were going to be gone all day!”
“I was,” Sir Dragon replied. If Hannah hadn’t been so absorbed in her own failed escape, she might have noticed the hint of sorrow in the dragon’s voice. “But when you left the tower, I knew it somehow, and I was forced back here, just like I am forced to prevent anyone but your true love from rescuing you.”
Hannah blinked away an angry tear. “Stupid. Stupid witch. Stupid Morgan. Stupid true love! What if I don’t have a true love?”
“Everyone has a true love, Princess,” said Sir Dragon.
“Did you ever have a true love?” Hannah asked. She was not angry at Sir Dragon for stopping her – she was only angry at being stopped – and she wanted to let him know that she didn’t blame him. So she made conversation with him.
“I don’t think so,” the great dragon said slowly. “If I ever did, I don’t remember it.”
“Well, then,” said Hannah playfully, “I guess not everybody has a true love.”
Sir Dragon did not laugh. He stared mournfully up at the sky. Spring and summer had already passed through the lonely land of Morgan’s tower, and every day the leaves of the forest visible to Hannah turned more golden and red and orange, and the sky grew cloudier and the air brisker. “I think a storm is coming,” the dragon observed. “Close your window, Princess Hannah. It’ll be safer that way.” He disappeared beneath the earth, and Hannah sighed and untied the remainder of her gown-rope, letting it fall out the window and watching as it fluttered in the breeze. It landed on the small ledge of rock that was her destination just minutes ago. Angrily and bitterly, she turned away from the sight and slammed the window panes closed. Not far afterward, raindrops began beating against the glass.
It was depressing. Back at the castle, on days like this, if her mother allowed her to, the princess and Frederic would run and jump in puddles. Or they would sit indoors, playing chess or hide-and-seek. Interwoven throughout all these games was their game. And suddenly, Princess Hannah realized that their game had become reality. “Come and rescue me, Frederic,” she said to the falling rain. “I miss you.”
She backed away from the window and the rain. Beneath her foot, a floorboard squeaked. It always squeaked. But something stopped her today. It felt lose, loser than usual. Or maybe it had always felt this way, and she had just never noticed it before. She looked at her bare feet, and the wood beneath them. She picked up her foot and put it down again. The floor squealed, and she saw the wood panel sink beneath the weight of her. Dropping to the ground, Hannah groped around the edges of the floorboard until her fingers caught on a ledge. Digging her fingers into the tiny crack between the lose floorboard and the others, she gripped the board and yanked.
She stumbled backwards, falling onto her back, with a wooden board still gripped in her hands. There was a gaping hole in the floor now, and it was full of something.
Cautiously, Hannah crawled toward the empty spot in the floor of the tower, peering inside. Nestled in the tight space, covered with dust and stains but still intact and in good condition, there was a small but thick red book. As if in a daze or under an enchantment, Hannah slowly reached out a hand and gingerly pulled the book out. She on its cover, releasing millions of dust particles that swirled around her in a dull cloud.
Under the covering of dust, Hannah could see that the book was bright red, obscured by tiny scratches that did not look too different from her own tallies on the floor. She sat on her bed and the book fell open in her lap. Without thinking, she began to read it.
"I have been here now for a year. Tomorrow is my half-birthday: I will be twelve and a half tomorrow. There’s still nothing to do. The dragon tries talking occasionally, but I do not want to talk to him. I’d rather talk to my mother, but she’s far away. I’m glad I had been carrying this book when the dragon took me, and hadn’t dropped it. It’s my only source of entertainment."
Hannah realized what this book was. It was a diary of one her ancestors; of a princess kept in this tower long before she was born. Her curiosity peaked, the young princess flipped to the beginning, and began reading.
A couple facts she soon discovered: one, that the book was written a hundred years before her birthday; and two, that it was written by a princess named Isa Belle, which meant that the second part of Hannah’s name came from this princess. (She already knew that Hannah was her mother’s mother’s name.) She also discovered that Princess Isa Belle kind of annoyed her.
“She’s so whiny,” she said to herself after reading the first couple entries. They had been written before Isa was captured and taken away to the tower. “So spoiled. I hope I’m not like that.” But then she thought of Frederic, and how Isa never wrote about any friends, and she felt better.
And then there was the fact that she always referred to Sir Dragon as just “the dragon”, and Hannah thought how impolite that was. “That’s because she didn’t have Teacher to teach her.” Then she laughed at her own rhyme, and put the book under her mattress. Standing up, she went to replace the floorboard, and then she sat by the window and watched the rain. The falling droplets swept her gown-rope out of sight, and Hannah never thought of it again.
Prince Augustin had not stayed in the palace of Cyndira for more than a week when another prince joined him. This prince was bigger and stronger, and the kingdom he came from was larger than Jorlington or Cyndira.
This was Prince Humphrey, and he was more like the king than the prince, for his father was ill and could hardly run his kingdom alone. So Prince Humphrey handled all of the king’s affairs, and when King Oliver’s message reached him, he felt he could accomplish this task easily.
Queen Margaret disliked him at once, and even King Oliver had a hard time seeing the good in him. But if Prince Humphrey noticed the monarchs’ distaste for him, he ignored it.
“He scares me,” Prince Augustin confessed to Frederic one day before their lessons together. “I’m actually jealous of you, Frederic. You don’t have to eat with royalty, and you don’t have to sit next to him at dinner. He’s terrifying.”
“Why?” Frederic said, looking up from the book he was trying to decipher. “What does he do?”
Prince Augustin shuddered. “I don’t know if I should talk about him – Mother says never to talk about people behind their backs.”
Frederic sighed, slightly disappointed. “Yes. You’re probably right.”
But before he had finished speaking, Augustin turned to him with a grin and said, “But I’m going to tell you anyway. First off, he’s incredibly rude –”
“Wait!” Frederic said, panicking. “Don’t! That’s… that’s un-chivalrous, Augustin. Your mother was right. It’s rude to talk poorly about people, even if you think what you’re saying is true. You never know what they’re going through,” Frederic found himself lecturing, thinking about Sir Harold.
Augustin frowned at Frederic, surprised and slightly angry. “Alright. If you say so.” But he secretly thought it unfair that a boy younger and poorer than he was telling him what to do – and that the younger and poorer boy was right.
Prince after prince came into the castle within days, until five in total stood before the king and queen one day. On either side of the king’s and queen’s thrones stood the king’s two best knights. Sir Harold stood to the left of the king’s throne, and Sir Barnabas, an old but wise man, stood to the queen’s right.
“Gentlemen,” the king said. “Thank you for answering our call of distress. As you know, our daughter, Princess Hannah, has been taken, and it is believed that only her true love – a worthy prince – can bring her back. And so if any of you prove to be her true love, I find no fault in giving the winner of this task my daughter’s hand in marriage.”
Queen Margaret glanced at the king, and then at the princes before her. Grumpily, she slouched down in her throne, and not even the fiercest Teacher could have gotten her to sit up straight again.
“My Queen,” Sir Barnabas whispered beside her, “I’m afraid you’re not portraying yourself as a queen.” The queen glared at him, but straightened a little, only enough for Barnabas to notice.
“I think this a fair proposal,” Prince Humphrey spoke out. “And one I’m sure all of us find to be so.” There was a general murmur of agreement from the princes. “But how, Your Majesty, do you propose us to accomplish this task?”
“A fair question,” King Oliver replied, “and incidentally, that is the main reason I brought you here. We know how great this dragon is, and we also know that he will not let anyone pass a certain point unless he is the princess’s true love. Now, I originally thought that each prince would go alone with an accompaniment of my knights, but now that five brave princes stand before me, I find no reason why I should not send all of you together. Does anyone have any objections?”
Silence filled the hall. Then someone cleared their throat. “Your Majesty,” said Sir Harold, “just to be clear, you are proposing to send all of the princes together, in hopes that one of them will be Princess Hannah’s true love?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“I see.” Sir Harold fell silent. The king wasn’t sure he liked Harold’s expression, but he did not wish to question further.
“Sire?” one of the princes chimed in. He was the youngest there, even younger than Augustin. “Will it just be the five of us? Perhaps it is just a silly superstition, but I would feel very comforted if our company was an even number.”
The king thought about it. “Very well,” he finally said. “You may have a vote among yourselves as to which of my knights you would like to accompany you.”
The princes fell into instant clamor. They all shouted random, meaningless names, and it wasn’t until Prince Augustin raised his voice that they all fell silent again. “Gentlemen!” he practically screamed. “We cannot vote now! We barely know any of the king’s knights. With the king’s permission, I propose we reconvene in a week, and cast our votes then.”
All the gathered heads, all eight of them, turned to the king, waiting for his verdict. King Oliver sat quietly on his throne, absently stroking his beard. After what felt like a long pause, he said quietly, “Very well. In a week, come to me with your decision, and I will make sure that knight will be ready to go immediately. You are dismissed.” The princes left, but the two knights stayed.
“Oliver,” Harold said as soon as the door shut and the last prince had left, “This isn’t fair to the knights. None of them want to make this journey, and to have one of them leave with little time to prepare… Let the five go alone, and let them be whittled down to the last one alive.”
Sir Barnabas shook his head. “Sir Harold, you let your anger of the past blind you. Do not be so harsh on the princes; they must go through the same thing the chosen knight must go through. But I do agree that it seems a bit unfair to that knight, Your Majesty.”
“None of them will make it,” the queen whispered, “anyway. None of them are right.”
“Who do you believe is right, Margaret?” asked the king, the hopelessness he had been feeling since the night Hannah was taken seeping into his voice. But Queen Margaret made no reply. She just stared across the room, unseeing. The king sighed. “I have decided. And you cannot shake my decision. I am the king, and the king will always rule what is right.”
“Sometimes what is right,” Sir Barnabas said quietly but not unkindly, “is admitting what is wrong.”
A week later, the princes gathered again, this time in the dining room. Prince Humphrey immediately took charge. “Alright,” he said once everyone was seated. “Before we vote, let’s discuss who we think are likely candidates and why. I personally am in favor of Sir Harold.”
Prince Augustin, who had heard from Frederic that Harold did not enjoy his first attempt, shook his head. “Sir Harold already tried; let’s not make him try again.”
“But he has gone on it before,” one of the other princes, a young man from the kingdom of Krillo, pointed out. “He can help us; he knows which ways our safe and which ways aren’t.”
“But he didn’t make it all the way,” the youngest prince said. “He’ll only be able to help up until a certain point.”
“Exactly,” said Prince Augustin. “I think Sir Dominic can come.”
“Wasn’t he just knighted?” asked the prince from Krillo.
“Yes,” a fourth prince said, “but that may help us; he’s young like us –” the prince stole a quick glance at Prince Humphrey “– er, like most of us, so we’ll probably get along well. Also, he has more energy than some of the others.”
“What about Sir Timothy?” said the youngest. “I like him.”
“No,” Prince Augustin immediately said. He knew that if Sir Timothy went, Frederic’s training would be postponed, and he did not want Frederic to be delayed of knighthood. Then he paused, thinking. “What about Frederic?” he said quietly.
“Who?” the other four said.
“Frederic. He’s only a squire, but he’s smart, and he wants to help save Princess Hannah; they were friends.”
Humphrey snorted. “We are not taking a squire. We agreed on a knight, and so we are taking a knight.”
Prince Augustin fell back in his chair, disappointed. “I guess.”
“What about you, Prince Geffrey?” said Prince Humphrey, turning toward the fifth prince who had remained quiet the entire time. “Do you have any suggestions?”
Prince Geffrey shook his head, staring at the table. “I don’t like this whole business,” he said. “It isn’t right to assume that one of us may be the princess’s true love, and take her hand in marriage without knowing her, and without her knowing any of us.” He sighed. “For this past week, I’ve been debating with myself, and I’ve finally made up my mind. I will not be going with you. I will be returning to Hasick tomorrow morning.”
The princes erupted into shocked protest. But Geffrey was not to be moved. “No; you cannot stop me. My kingdom needs me more than this kingdom does. And without me, you are at an even number. You will not even need a knight.” He stood up. The others watched him leave with disbelief.
The meeting, it appeared, was over, and the four princes would be leaving the next day.
“Here,” Frederic said, holding a book out to Prince Augustin. “It’s about dragons, and how to deal with them.” He lowered his voice and added, “Hide it; Teacher doesn’t know it’s missing yet.”
Augustin accepted the book grimly. It was the morning the four princes would be leaving, and he had gotten up early to say goodbye to his friend. “Thank you, Frederic. But I don’t know if I’ll make it that far.”
“You’ll live,” Frederic said. “I don’t know if you’ll make it that far either, but I know that you’ll live.”
Augustin laughed. “Gee, Frederic, you’re really encouraging.” His smile faded, and he took a bundle of papers out of his bag. “Here,” he said, holding them out to Frederic. “In case I don’t live… these are letters I wrote. I want you to deliver them for me. Or, have messengers from your kingdom deliver them.” He paused, thinking. “No. You deliver them. There’s some for my family. And I know that means you have to go to another kingdom, but Jorlington isn’t far. It would mean more if my friend gave these to the people they’re intended for and not a stranger. Would you do that for me, Frederic?”
Frederic nodded. He blinked. He was surprised to feel tears cling to his eyelashes, and even more surprised to realize that he would truly miss Augustin. On an impulse, he grabbed the prince and pulled him into a hug. Augustin didn’t hesitate to hug back.
“I have to go now,” said Prince Augustin, pulling away. “I hope I’ll see you again, Frederic.”
“I hope I’ll see you again, too, Augustin,” said Frederic. Augustin nodded once, turned away, and walked out to join the other princes. When Frederic could no longer see the prince, he looked at the bundle of papers in his hand. He blinked. The first was addressed to him. He separated it from the rest and went back to his room, where he could try to read it alone.
It’s funny, but although I’ve known you for the shortest time, I feel like I’ve known you for the longest. Which means I’ll miss you the most. I guess this is sort of a will, in a way. If I don’t come back – if I’m not Princess Hannah’s true love (which I hope for your sake that I’m not) – I want you to know a couple of things. I left my dagger under the mattress of my room. I want you to have it. Its name is Luminar, but if you want to name it something different you can. I thought it was useless when my father gave it to me. Maybe you won’t find it useless. Anyway I guess I really wanted to say that, although I don’t think we liked each other at first, it’s an honor to call you my friend. If I get back, I think we should visit each other often. I hope that fate will be kind to you, and that you and Hannah can play together again.
P.S. My father wouldn’t approve of having a commoner call me by my first name, but I don’t think you’re a commoner. And besides, I was always a little rebellious when it came to stupid rules."
The days were getting colder. Much to Princess Hannah’s dismay, she found that she had to keep the window shut most of the time to prevent any cold drafts from entering. This meant that she and Sir Dragon talked not nearly as often as she would have liked, and the outside world seemed more distant than ever.
To keep her company, she had nothing but the diary of Princess Isa Belle, which was a great comfort. Princess Isa had been rescued after two years, which gave Princess Hannah hope. And although Isa never said when she was rescued, her last entry’s date was almost exactly two years after her first entry in the tower. It was Hannah’s favorite entry, and it went like this:
"July 6th, 1058
Oh, I’m so excited! Today, when I looked out of the window, I saw a horse and its rider in the distance. The dragon saw him too, but he did nothing to stop him, which means that my rescuer will soon be at hand! I will be free from this accursed place and be with my true love soon. Farewell, hopefully for the last time in this tower!"
After this, there were nothing but blank pages. Evidently, Isa’s true love had come and rescued her, and in her haste to leave, she had neglected the book that was hidden under the floor.
Hannah had developed a routine, and it went similar to this: wake up, eat a magically prepared breakfast, scratch another tally onto the floor (today’s was the 222nd day, 32nd week, and eighth month (November)), then read another entry of the diary. She skipped around a lot, and when she had finished what was already written, she thought of ways she could fashion a pen from what was offered her so that she might write in it herself.
One day, on December first, as the little princess was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking, an idea came to her. “Oh!” she cried, sitting up. She rushed over to where a pile of leftover dishes sat, and grabbed a goblet from among the abandoned heap. With the cup in her hand, she turned toward the window.
She shivered. It would be cold. Snow fell in thick clumps, and there was at least an inch of the white powder collecting on the windowsill. Taking a deep breath, she opened the window, pulling it toward herself.
Immediately, a blast of cold wind swept through the tower, brushing her lengthening blonde hair away from her face. She giggled in the cold. She took a step closer to the bitter outdoors, and she held her hand out, letting the snowflakes fall into the goblet.
“What are you doing?”
Hannah jumped, nearly dropping her cup. “Sir Dragon!” she said. “You startled me!”
“What are you doing?” Sir Dragon repeated. He shook his wings, and dislodged snow fell in a shower. Hannah stuck her hand and goblet out again.
“I’m collecting snow, Sir Dragon,” she informed him.
“And why would you do that?” he asked.
“Because,” said Hannah obstinately, “I want to make ink, and you need liquid to make ink.”
Sir Dragon was silent. “But snow is not liquid.”
“It will melt.”
“Water does not leave a mark.”
“I plan to add a color to it.”
“How will you do that?”
“I don’t know yet.” Hannah was reluctant to admit she didn’t have a complete plan. “But I’ll soon figure it out.”
Snow was gathering on her outstretched arm, and sticking to her hair and eyelashes. She shivered. Her cup was not even half full yet. She looked down at the windowsill, and began scooping the gathered snow up from there. The snow burned her fingers, but she didn’t mind. Soon, her goblet was full. She put it on the floor of the tower next to her and looked at Sir Dragon, who had been staring at her with fascination. She grinned mischievously.
Sir Dragon shook his head, surprised. Something cold had just hit him on the shoulder. He looked down, and spotted a smudge of white on his gray scales. Hannah was laughing. “What was that?” he asked.
“A snowball,” Hannah giggled. “I threw a snowball at you!”
Sir Dragon’s eyes widened. “Oh?” He turned away from Hannah, and Hannah frowned. She was worried that she had upset him. But then a shower of snow came hurtling toward her, and she stood, cold and wet, in the snow spewed by Sir Dragon’s sweeping tail. She laughed with delight and grabbed a new handful of snow from the windowsill, hurling it at the dragon’s face. It splatted against his forehead, and he shook his head. A deep rumbling issued from his throat, and Hannah thought he was laughing. He lifted his wings, and Hannah prepared herself for another blast of snow, but Sir Dragon did not continue the fight.
He stood frozen, head lifted west. Princess Hannah waited for him to move, but for a long time he did not. She could see snow gathering in the cracks between his scales. “Sir Dragon?” she called. “Are you alright?”
“Princess Hannah,” he whispered. “I must go. I am sorry.” He beat his wings and took off into the gray sky.
“I’m cold,” the youngest prince complained, shivering. “Let’s build a fire.”
“No,” Prince Humphrey said commandingly. “We must not give our position away.”
“I don’t think not building a fire would save us from prying eyes,” said the prince from Krillo. He stared into the trees around him uneasily and shuddered. “I don’t like these woods. I feel like millions of hidden eyes are staring at us, waiting for one of us to fall behind.”
Prince Augustin looked around him. “Let’s not full behind, then,” he said quietly.
“You all are just full of superstitions,” Prince Humphrey said scornfully. But he looked uneasy as well.
The trees around them were devoid of leaves, and snow fell from the sky, coating the bare branches with a blanket of white. It stuck to the princes’ outfits, and clung to their hair. It melted on their skin and trickled down their backs, causing each of them to tremble and stand straighter, trying to avoid the coldness. They had been travelling for a month now, and although they did not know it, they were in the forest that many of Sir Harold’s friends got lost in. Not many magical creatures exposed themselves now, however; they were either hibernating or too cold to pay attention to the small group of travelers.
The youngest prince shivered again as the group kept moving and a clump of snow fell from a branch above and landed on him. “I don’t like snow,” he complained. “It’s cold. In my kingdom, I never had to be in the snow. Let’s build a fire.”
Someone snorted with amused annoyance. The young prince frowned. “Who’s laughing at me?” he demanded.
The princes looked at each other. They all shook their heads, saying, “It wasn’t me.”
“It was me,” a deep, rumbling voice said. “I was laughing at you, little prince, because if you wish to save the little princess, you will have to deal with a lot more than snow.”
“Who’s there?” Prince Humphrey called, drawing his sword. Prince Augustin put his hand on the hilt of his own, but he did not unsheathe it yet.
He saw the speaker before anyone else did. “Dragon,” he called to the gray beast who was hiding amid the trees and under a blanket of snow, “what do you want from us?” He was surprised it could talk; the book that Frederic had given him said that dragons couldn’t talk. Nonetheless, as the only one in the company who had read about dragons, he was the only one who knew how to deal with dragons. “Are you the guardian of the tower where Princess Hannah is captive?” He let go of his sword, knowing that dragons do not like to feel threatened and are much more likely to cooperate with an unarmed person.
“You speak well, little prince,” Sir Dragon rumbled. “I am the guardian, as you call it. And I have come to prevent you from coming any closer. So turn away now, and I will spare your lives.”
Prince Augustin bowed. “Very well,” he said. “I see that none of us can be the princess’s true love, if you are stopping us. Thank you for your mercy, Dragon.”
He turned away, and the youngest prince and the prince from Krillo followed him eagerly. Prince Humphrey, however, did not. “Fools!” he called after him. “Would you return to your kingdoms dishonored? Would you turn away at a threat, without first challenging that threat? You bring dishonor to your households! May dishonor and war fall on your kingdoms for your lack of courage!”
“It is not a lack of courage that turns us away, Humphrey,” Prince Augustin said. “And there is no dishonor in realizing that you are not the right one for a quest.”
Prince Humphrey, filled with haughty rage, bellowed at them. “You speak fancy, Prince of Jorlington, but you are nothing but a coward! I will return triumphant! I will take on this beast alone! I will show the world that when the slightest danger showed itself, you showed it your retreating form! I will kill you, Dragon!”
This last sentence he addressed to Sir Dragon, who had been watching calmly as Prince Humphrey argued. Now he stood up among the trees, and the princes quavered at his size. He shook snow from his wings, spreading them wide and blocking out the sun. Prince Humphrey faltered as he stared up at the dragon, but he soon regained his ground. He held his sword aloft and shouted a challenge at Sir Dragon. Prince Augustin tried to yell a warning, to stop this fight that the prince was destined to lose, but Prince Humphrey had no ears for warnings. He charged at Sir Dragon, and Sir Dragon reared up. Suddenly, the dragon’s head came down, mouth wide. His jaws closed, and nothing remained of the arrogant prince but a shield quivering on the path.
The other three princes stared in horror at the spot where seconds before their comrade had stood. Their eyes traveled from the shield to Sir Dragon’s mouth and back to the shield. “He ate him like a lizard eats a cricket,” the prince of Krillo said hoarsely.
Sir Dragon showed no signs that anything had happened. “I will not leave until you leave,” he informed the remaining princes. “And if any one of you tries to come closer…” He did not need to finish his sentence. The princes knew what he meant. They turned away.
Princess Hannah watched for Sir Dragon every day. She knew what he had left for, and she didn’t mind, except that now she was lonelier. The weather forced her to keep the window shut, because it was so cold and snowy. Sir Dragon was gone for almost a week, and the entire time it never stopped snowing.
“What’s taking him so long?” Hannah wondered, staring out the window at the gray sky. “I hope he doesn’t do anything dreadful to… whoever’s trying to save me.”
She turned around, gazing at the room that had been her home for the past nine months. A meal sat steaming on the stool, but Hannah wasn’t hungry. She looked at the book that lay open on her bed, but she didn’t feel like reading. She glanced at her feet, where the goblet from a week ago sat, filled with melted snow. Angrily, Princess Hannah took it in her hands, opened the window, and flung the entire thing out; cup and water alike. It fell and landed in the snow without making a sound. Even if she had found a way to color the water, it would not have worked; there was nothing in the tower that could be used as a pen.
“I’m destined,” she said desperately, watching the curtains flutter in the breeze, “to stay here forever without a single thing to keep me occupied.” She closed the windows and turned away, not seeing the great gray dragon land by his cave. And the dragon did not see the lonely princess as he entered his cave; he did not wish to after what he’d done.
On the morning of Hannah’s thirteenth birthday, the porridge that always magically appeared tasted a little better, and at lunch time there was a small cookie. “Maybe Morgan isn’t that cruel,” she thought, munching the cookie.
When she was finished with her meal, she ran over to the window and through it open. A warm spring breeze fluttered inside, ruffling her golden hair and the curtains. “Sir Dragon!” she called.
Sir Dragon did not answer. She called louder, “Sir Dragon!” But still he made no reply. Hannah frowned. “He’s probably still sleeping, the great lazy bones,” she thought, turning away from the window. She scratched another tally on the floor, and then put a star above it. The star represented her birthday and the end of a year in the tower. “I hope I don’t have to put another star,” she said quietly, gazing at the marks on the floor.
She had given up writing in the journal; it was just as much fun imagining what she would write as it would have been actually writing it. And in the three months since Sir Dragon left in the middle of their snow fight, he had disappeared two more times. Knowing that the dragon was leaving to turn any possible rescuers away, Hannah was both discouraged and heartened. Heartened, because it meant that her father was not giving up trying to get her back, but discouraged because in four of the king’s attempts, not one of them succeeded.
“Maybe today,” Hannah said every morning. Maybe today her true love would come, maybe today she would be able to leave.
For three more years she said that. And by the end, she no longer said it. Because each night when she went to bed and her wish wasn’t fulfilled, it hurt. It wasn’t the waiting that hurt. It wasn’t even the loneliness or lack of activities. It was the hope that seemed to never be of any use.
“She won’t get any presents,” Frederic said absently, staring out of the library’s window. “Do you think she’ll get cake?”
Teacher looked at him, eyes sad. “How should I know, Frederic?” she whispered. “I hope that she does; she deserves it.”
“Yes,” said Frederic, “she does.” He said nothing, and neither did Teacher. Then he turned toward her and said, “When do you think they’ll let me go?”
Teacher laughed. “You are really impatient,” she said, “just like Hannah. But you’re kinder about it. Hannah would have demanded that she go now, instead of asking if she could.” She sighed. “I don’t know, Frederic. The king must be waiting for something.”
“I don’t know what he could be waiting for,” Frederic said, looking down at the book in front of him. It was about curses. “I’ve learned how to swordfight, I’ve learned how to ride a horse, I’ve learned how to read and write and I’ve learned more about dragons and witches and curses than any of the princes that have tried to rescue her have learned. Why won’t he knight me?”
“Frederic,” Teacher said warningly, “that decision is not for you to decide. If Sir Timothy doesn’t think you’re ready, and King Oliver doesn’t think you’re ready, you must not be ready.”
Frederic grumbled something incoherent and slouched down in his chair. He sat right back up though when Teacher slammed her hand down on the table right in front of his eyes. “Frederic!” she said sternly. “Pay attention, don’t slouch and don’t mumble. It’s not very attractive and you’ll never learn that way. Now what were we talking about?”
“Curses,” Frederic said.
“Right, curses. And what can you tell me about a curse that still exists?”
“The witch who enforced the curse is still alive. Which means if I want this curse to end, I have to kill Morgan before rescuing Hannah.” But he wasn’t into it. His mind was far from the text in front of him. He was thinking about Hannah, and how lonely she must be on her fourteenth birthday.
Hannah’s thirteenth birthday had been somber for the entire kingdom. No one celebrated, and no one worked. Everyone sat at home and did practically nothing. The queen wouldn’t say anything. The king tried to lighten her mood, but Queen Margaret would not be cheered. It was the first day everyone in the kingdom felt Hannah’s absence. It was a day of grief.
Now, a year later, it was almost the same. Except the queen kept running around asking why people weren’t getting the party ready. King Oliver wouldn’t admit it, but everyone knew her daughter’s loss had finally driven the poor woman insane.
The queen burst into the library, eyes frantically searching around. She spotted Teacher and Frederic, who had been sitting at a table, but they stood as the queen entered. “Oh, thank goodness I found you two!” Queen Margaret gasped, running toward them. “I can’t seem to find Hannah, and her party is about to begin! Frederic, you’re friends with my daughter, aren’t you? Go find her for me.” The queen grasped Frederic’s shoulders, and she stared into his eyes. Their eyes searched each other’s and suddenly it seemed to Frederic as if Queen Margaret had the eyes of a sane person, and he felt as if she was asking him to go rescue her daughter. The two came to a silent understanding.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” he said.
The queen broke into happy sobs. “Oh, thank you! Thank you! I know you will, you always know where she is. I can’t find her and I miss her. And she’ll miss her party! Now, I’ll look inside for her, and you can go look outside.” The queen left, and Frederic watched her go, but he did not move.
“Teacher,” he whispered, “I must find Princess Hannah.”
Teacher blinked at him, astonished and worried. “Frederic,” she said quietly, “you know she’s not in the castle. She’s not in Cyndira at all. She’s locked in a tower far away with a dragon guarding her.”
Frederic nodded absently. “Yes, I know. But I must find her. And I must find her soon.” He blinked. He shook his head. He turned back to his studies. “I believe we were discussing the different types of curses, weren’t we, Teacher?”
Teacher glanced uneasily at Frederic, but continued pressing him with questions all the same.
It seemed to all those who spoke to Frederic from that day forward that he had grown wiser, as if suddenly he was no longer a boy chasing a wild desire, but a man who knew exactly what he had to do.
Frederic patiently waited for the announcement that he could go and try to rescue Princess Hannah, but none such news came. He continued with his training, he did not disrespect the many princes that came trying to accomplish a feat they would never be able to accomplish; he simply quietly waited, until he finally could wait no longer.
“Timothy,” he said one day, suddenly stopping his riding, “do you think I’m ready?”
“Ready for what? Knighthood or the quest?” Sir Timothy responded, not looking at his squire. The two of them had been racing, but as the night wore on so did their energy, until finally Frederic stopped his horse.
“Either one of the two, or both,” replied Frederic. It was the night of his sixteenth birthday, and it seemed to him as if two and a half years was quite enough time for Hannah to be all alone and far away.
Timothy sighed. “I think you’re ready for anything, Frederic,” he said. “I’ve thought that since first I saw you. But it’s no longer up to me to decide. King Oliver wants to oversee everything, and anything must go through him first.” He glanced at Frederic, anticipating the words that were about to escape the boy’s open mouth. “And I have tried to suggest to him, Frederic, that you’re ready to be knighted, but he won’t hear it. He’s too caught up with the thought of saving his daughter.”
“I wonder why he won’t hear it, then,” Frederic muttered.
Sir Timothy glared at Frederic. “It isn’t kind of you,” the knight scolded, “to assume such things. Why would the king believe that the princess’s true love isn’t a prince? It always has been.”
“I’m sorry, Timothy,” Frederic said, dismounting. “Teacher was right. I’m too impatient.”
For another half a year, Frederic continued patiently, or maybe not so patiently, with his training and reading and his learning. He mastered jousting, and swordfights, and archery, and riding. He even mastered his letters, and could spell dragon without a hint of nervousness. But still the king would not allow him to be knighted. Five more princes came, left, and came back empty-handed and defeated. Frederic hadn’t even realized there were so many different kingdoms. Finally, on the morning of Princess Hannah’s fifteenth birthday, one prince came, and he would not go with any other prince; just with a handful of knights.
“And I want a young knight, too,” he informed the king. “Maybe even an advanced squire. Someone who maybe hasn’t gotten the chance to be knighted.”
The king stared at the young prince. “Have I seen you before?” he inquired.
The prince shrugged. “It’s possible. After all, I am a prince. I travel often to other kingdoms to negotiate on the behalf of my father. I may have ventured into your castle before.”
“Perhaps,” said King Oliver, sitting back and staring at the prince, not wholly satisfied. “So be it, Your Highness,” he finally said. “Pick however many knights you wish, and a squire, too, if you desire, but I don’t see why you would. Take as long as you like, but remember; I am weary and growing older in the absence of my daughter. Don’t take too long in deciding and leaving.”
The prince bowed. “I understand, Your Majesty. Thank you.” He turned and left and followed a maid who escorted him to his room. Grinning upon entering, he was glad to see that it was the same room he had stayed in during his last visit to Cyndira. He checked under the mattress of the bed, but found no dagger. “Well, so Frederic did take it,” he thought happily, “or else a maid got a surprise as she made the bed.” Prince Augustin laughed and fell onto the bed, hoping that Frederic would come and knock on his door.
Frederic stared, unbelieving. He almost dropped the tray he was carrying.
Once again, upon the arrival of a new prince, Sir Timothy sent Frederic to welcome the prince with a tea tray. When he had knocked, and the door was opened, he couldn’t say anything for a long time, because he knew the face grinning back at him.
“Frederic!” Augustin said. “I see they’re still wasting you with a maid’s job.”
Laughing, Augustin said, “Oh, come on! You didn’t think I would never visit again, did you?”
“But,” Frederic finally managed, “why? You already tried to save Hannah.”
Prince Augustin frowned in jest. “What, are you not happy to see me?”
“That’s not what I meant. I am happy to see you, just surprised,” Frederic explained. “Why have you come again?”
Beckoning Frederic into the room, Prince Augustin said, “Well, I figured, I hadn’t heard any news about the rescue of Hannah, and it’s been over two years –”
“Three years, actually,” Frederic interjected.
“Precisely. It’s been three years, and no one has rescued that poor girl, which means no one has sent you to rescue her.” Frederic blushed. Prince Augustin continued as if he didn’t notice. “So I figured, I could come over here to visit, and if Princess Hannah had returned without my knowledge, or you had gone to rescue her, I would pass my visit off as an invitation. And if the princess hadn’t returned, and you were still here being wasted as a squire, I could pose as another suitor, and ask for some knights, and a squire.”
Frederic laughed. “Wonderful!” he said. “When will we leave?” Then he paused. He frowned with confusion. “An invitation?” he said. “An invitation to what?”
Prince Augustin grinned at him, and it seemed to Frederic as if it was the first time the prince had seemed genuinely happy. “My wedding,” he said.
Stunned into silence, Frederic could do nothing for a while but stare. Then he began to laugh. “Wonderful!” he cried again. “Who is she? When did you meet? When will the wedding be?”
Laughing, Augustin said, “The wedding isn’t until sometime next year, we haven’t decided on a date yet. But as for the girl…” He grinned, seeing his lady in his mind’s eye. “She’s just lovely. There’s no other word for her. We met on my return journey to Jorlington, the prince of Krillo and me were travelling together, since our kingdoms are neighbors. And she was waiting for him. She is his sister.”
Frederic smiled. “Well, I’m happy for you, Augustin. I have no doubt she is one of the loveliest ladies in the land.”
“You’re reserving the title of the loveliest for your own lady, aren’t you?” said Prince Augustin. “Which is why we should leave soon, so that you and ‘the loveliest lady’ can be together again.” The prince frowned. “Who do you think should come with us as well?”
Within a day, the prince had given to the king the names of the knights he wished to take with him, and the king had informed those knights. Most of them were not thrilled.
“I have already gone,” Harold growled. “I don’t think it fair to ask me to go a second time.”
“You will be a good guide for us, Harold,” Sir Timothy tried to comfort him. “And you have survived once, it is likely you will survive a second time.”
“It is not a matter of living or dying that daunts me,” said Sir Harold, “it is the matter of watching my friends fall.”
“We will not fall, Harold,” Sir Dominic said. “I forbid any one of you to fall.”
The other two knights laughed. “Did you hear that?” Timothy said. “Sir Dominic has proclaimed that we should not fall. We must honor the noble’s law!” The three of them jested, as if Sir Dominic was a nobleman worthy of honoring.
As the laughter ceased, Harold asked Timothy, “What do you think about the request that Frederic should come with us?”
Sir Timothy sighed. “Part of me is glad, because I know that Frederic has always wanted to, and that he is ready. But the other part is loath to put him in harm’s way.”
Sir Dominic stared at the floor. “I am loath to put myself in harm’s way,” he muttered.
Harold looked up at the setting sun. At its rising tomorrow, they would be travelling to unknown and dangerous lands. “So are we all, Dominic,” he said.
“I’m sorry I had to choose you,” Prince Augustin said. He and the three knights and Frederic had been travelling for half a day, and they had remained silent, unless conversation proved needed. “I know you didn’t wish to go, but I knew of no better knights.”
“Perhaps you should have looked harder,” Sir Harold said.
“Sir Harold, he was giving you a compliment,” Sir Timothy scolded. “Don’t turn it into an insult.”
Harold sighed. “Forgive me, Prince Augustin,” he said. “I had just hoped to never have to travel this rode again.”
Prince Augustin nodded. “I know, Sir Harold. It was hardest asking you.”
“You did not ask, though,” Harold said. “You demanded.”
Prince Augustin could say nothing. Quietly, he finally ventured, “I meant it as a question. Sorry if it wasn’t communicated that way, but I think that that is not my fault.”
The company fell into another silence, laden with awkwardness. Frederic felt cumbersome, as if he was a piece of baggage that didn’t quite belong or fit with the others. He sat at the back of the group, listening to the others argue, having nothing to offer himself. He looked ahead. The Wistad River he could see to their left, although it was a long way off. He figured they needed to cross it, but they were going alongside it, not toward it. “Isn’t the tower across the river?” he asked quietly. “Shouldn’t we be heading toward it?”
Only Sir Dominic heard him, who was riding just ahead of him. The good knight repeated the question louder, for he didn’t know the answer either.
“There’s a bridge up ahead,” Sir Harold responded. “We can’t cross the river without a bridge, it’s too deep and swift.”
Prince Augustin smiled. “This is why I chose you,” he said quietly. Sir Harold didn’t hear.
That night, the five of them camped in a grassy field, with the stars shining above them. It was the first time Frederic slept outdoors, and it disquieted him a little to be so near the wild. He thought of Hannah, looking at the same stars that he stared at, and he grew calmer. Closing his eyes, he fell asleep.
Far away in her tower, Princess Hannah stared at the stars, wondering if her childhood friend was doing to the same, and wishing she would not have to spend her sixteenth birthday away from home. Sir Dragon she could hear gently snoring in his cavern, but sleep was far from her. She sat on the window ledge, feet dangling out of the window, and let the spring breeze breathe across her face as she dreamed of what her rescuer might be like.
The three knights plus the prince and Frederic encountered little trouble as they drew closer to the bridge and the menacing woods. Even as they crossed the river into the woods, no dangers came their way. Their spirits rose. “I see no evil creatures,” Sir Dominic said, looking around at the deep foliage. “Only trees and an occasional squirrel.”
“I would not be surprised if the trees were the evil creatures,” Harold muttered.
Prince Augustin looked around him. “It looks so different in the spring,” he said. “Less foreboding, and yet… more alive.”
“Be careful where you trod,” Sir Harold warned. “And don’t wander from the path for anything.”
Frederic could feel his horse trembling below him. He had an odd suspicion that the horse knew more about the forest than he did, and that it was aware of dangers unseen to the rest of the group. Beginning to tremble himself, he looked around, but could see nothing malicious.
“…will we get past that dragon?” Sir Timothy’s voice suddenly floated back to him. Frederic listened. “From all accounts that I’ve heard it is far stronger and bigger than anyone one knight can handle. What will we do if we get that far?”
Sir Harold had no ideas. Frederic had some ideas. “Excuse me?” he quietly said. He did not wish to seem intruding, or eavesdropping, or anything bad. “May I say something?”
Timothy smiled and nodded at him to continue. Frederic took a deep breath and said, a little louder than before, “Well, it’s just that you’re forgetting that this is a curse. So the dragon is probably only doing what he is doing because of the curse. So if we get rid of the curse, then the dragon might be easier to get rid of.”
“And how do you get rid of curses, Frederic?” Prince Augustin asked.
Frederic hesitated before responding. When he did, his voice was barely audible. “To get rid of a curse, you must first get rid of the person who cast it.” He looked up at the group. “We must kill the witch Morgan.”
Silence met his words. They all stared at him, horrified. None of them asked if he was sure, or questioned if he was right. They all somehow knew – maybe they had known from the beginning, and had just refused to acknowledge it – that this was their quest, even before the quest to save Hannah. For truly, it was the same quest, and they could not finish one without finishing other.
It was Sir Harold who broke the silence. “Very well,” he said. “The boy is right. And because he is, we must adjust our course.” He turned his horse to the south and spurred it off the path.
“But Harold,” Sir Dominic said, alarmed, “you have just told us not to wander from the path!”
“We are not following that path anymore, though,” he replied. “There is a harsh and deserted place called Morgan’s Valley, where the witch may still reside, and it lies this way, not through that forest. Follow me.”
The rest of the company deserted the path as well and followed Harold through the trees, trusting in him. Frederic was surprised to see that the woods were narrower than anticipated, and they were soon on the other side, with the foreboding trees behind them. Mountains now were challenging them from in front.
“The valley is just on the other side of those mountains,” Harold said, pointing to the snowcapped hills. “I know there’s a path through them, but I don’t know exactly where.”
“Would it have been better,” Sir Dominic wandered, “if we followed the path through the woods and then towards the mountains?”
Harold shook his head. “It would have taken too long, and besides, there are no paths to the mountains. If there ever were they are gone now.”
Silently, the company started forward through the grassy fields that stretched from the mountains’ feet to the edge of the woods, watching as the mountains grew larger and cast shadows over them.
Prince Augustin, who was riding alongside Harold in the front of the group, pointed to their right where a great boulder resided at the foot of a great hill. “Is that a path that I see beside that rock?” he asked Harold.
Sir Harold squinted his eyes, following Augustin’s pointed finger. “Possibly. No harm in checking.” They changed their course, heading toward the big stone and the potential road. As they drew nearer, they saw that it was indeed a path, but a narrow and overgrown one. With a shrug, Harold spurred his horse onward, saying, “I don’t suppose we have much choice. Let’s see where this road takes us.”
They had to proceed in single-file; first, Sir Harold, then Prince Augustin, then Sir Dominic, then Sir Timothy, and lastly Frederic. He glanced uneasily over his shoulder as the path turned and the boulder that had marked its beginning disappeared from sight.
The road wound slowly upwards. The grass dwindled to stone, and the little trees that clung to the side of the mountain became sparser. No sound could be heard, save the steady clomping of their horses’ hoofs. No other animal was in sight.
Presently the path widened, and the climb levelled out. The group had come to a small valley, a still pond stood mournfully in the center, reflecting the sun and its mountainous prison walls. Here, at least, there was some life. Short grass carpeted the ground, and here and there popped up a wild flower. There were a couple of trees as well, and birds flew from one to the other, but they did not sing cheerfully as the birds back home did.
Sir Harold looked at the darkening sky. “Let’s camp here tonight,” he said. “It may be the friendliest environment we’ll encounter for a long time.”
Before they settled down to sleep, they decided to send two of them around the perimeter of the valley, to see where the path took up again. Sir Timothy and Frederic were nominated, and so they set off together around the pond.
As they looked, Sir Timothy kept glancing at his squire. Unable to stand the silence between them any longer, he said, “Frederic, you’re doing well on your first outing. How do you feel about it?”
Shrugging, Frederic responded, “Fine, I guess. Nervous. I don’t feel like I’m ready, though. And I don’t feel very helpful.”
“You told us about getting rid of the curse,” Timothy reminded him.
“I told you where to find death.”
Timothy frowned. “That’s not very kind, Frederic. Or hopeful. You don’t know what awaits us in Morgan’s Valley.”
“I know that Morgan awaits us in her valley, and that Morgan is a very powerful and evil witch. She has remained alive for hundreds of years, and her curse has not lessened in anyway, so she is still very powerful.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Timothy,” he frowned. “I just can’t shake the feeling like something bad is going to happen to us.”
“I know, Frederic,” Timothy sighed. “We all feel it. We all fear it. Something will go amiss, but when and exactly how terrible it will be only time can tell. Now cheer up. You’ve got friends over there who are rooting for you, and every single one of them knows you should have been knighted a long time ago.”
Frederic blushed with pleasure at the compliment. He didn’t know how to respond, so he said nothing, and instead kept looking. “Could that be it?” he asked, pointing. They were now at the opposite side of the pond, and there was a small opening just big enough for a horse and its rider.
“So it is,” Sir Timothy said, examining the opening. “Let’s go tell the others.”
“And get some sleep,” Frederic added.
In the morning, Prince Augustin insisted that Frederic should lead the way. “He discovered the path,” he said, “and I just have a feeling.” He wouldn’t say what sort of feeling he had, but none protested greatly, except for Frederic.
“I’m not a leader,” he tried arguing. “I’m not even a knight. I’m just a carpenter who thought he could be a knight.”
“Frederic,” Harold said, surprisingly harsh. “Shut up and lead the way. You’re greater than you think you are, and stop thinking you aren’t. Only the selfish and cowardly stray from a position that will benefit others but potentially harm themselves. And you are not selfish or cowardly. Besides, I have a feeling as well.”
Swallowing, slightly cowed by Sir Harold’s sudden lecture, Frederic nodded and led the group through the narrow entrance to the mountain path. Almost immediately, a great rumbling and trembling filled the mountainside, and their horses whinnied with fear. Glancing up, Frederic paled and shouted, “Avalanche!” Out of instinct, he spurred his horse forward and leapt out of range of the falling rocks. His companions retreated to the pond and its valley. They huddled together, waiting for the stones to stop, as Frederic kept moving, less safe than his companions but safe all the same, as long as he kept moving.
The avalanche ceased, and all stood still, breathing deeply. Suddenly the three knights realized they were missing their prince and their squire. “Frederic!” they shouted. “Augustin!”
“I’m here,” came Frederic’s reply. He stood staring at the wall of rocks that now completely blocked the narrow entrance to the valley and his friends. “Where’s Augustin?”
“I’m here,” Augustin said. He sounded tired, and hurt. “But I’m stuck. My leg is stuck.”
The knights ran to the opposite side of the rocky mound that spilled from the path’s entrance. There they found Prince Augustin lying face down in the grass, one foot badly cut and the other completely hidden under the rocks. His horse was gone. Realizing it could not outrun the rocks, the noble beast had tossed its rider forward, saving the prince’s life but sacrificing its own.
Frederic looked around himself, searching for a way to get to his friends. He could not find any. “I can’t get to you,” he said. He tried to hide his panic. “I can’t get back! Timothy, what should I do?”
It was Prince Augustin who answered. “Keep going, Frederic,” he said. “It was always meant to be you, and just you. The mountain knew that. I knew that. Keep going.”
“But what about you?” Frederic protested. “I can’t leave you, not when you’re hurt and have a bride waiting for you back home.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Augustin. “I’ve got three of the best knights with me.”
“Frederic.” It was Sir Timothy’s voice. “We’ll get the prince out and bring him home. Don’t worry about us. Just think of Hannah. She’s the only one you have been thinking of these past three years, don’t stop thinking of her now.”
A short silence. Then Augustin asked, “Do you have the dagger I gave you?”
“I always have it, Augustin,” Frederic responded.
“That’s good. I’m glad.” He laughed feebly. “I told you I had a feeling. Now go, before you waste any more time thinking about me.”
Frederic nodded. Then, remembering they could not see him, he tried to speak, but only a hoarse whisper came out. Swallowing, blinking away tears, he turned to the path that still lay in front of him. Suddenly filled with a realization that he was the only one left, that he alone could save Princess Hannah, he held his head up high. Frightened but strong and courageous, Frederic made his way through the mountain path to Morgan’s Valley.
It was a lonely road. The barren mountain path offered little beauty and little comfort, and as he rode in solitude Frederic’s mind wandered often to Prince Augustin and the friends he had left behind. He didn’t allow himself to think of the task that faced him, because every time he did so he quailed at the idea. Only at night, when he stood alone, did he pull his sword out, the only weapon he had taken with him besides Luminar, the dagger given to him by Augustin. At night he would pull forth his blade, challenge an imaginary witch, and fight with her.
“I am Frederic,” he rehearsed, “you have taken my friend, and I want her back.”
"Then you will have to kill me," he imagined Morgan replying.
“That is why I brought my sword.” And he would fight the air.
Except it seemed to him as if the air was an easy enemy, and the words too predictable to be true. Maybe that is the reason these rehearsals did not frighten him as much as letting his imagination lose.
When he was done with his sword fighting, he would lay down to sleep, and that is when he thought of Hannah.
He didn’t have much food with him, and any edible plants he found along the way – which were not many – Frederic would gather, because he never knew when his supply would suddenly run dry. He tried hunting with his knife, but he always scared the rarely seen animals away. Even if he had killed one, there was no wood to make a fire with, and he wondered if he would be able to eat something raw.
After the third night, he stopped counting. That was when his food supply from the castle finally ended, and he relied on the wild plants he had found. It was also the night he looked down from a distance and saw Morgan’s Valley below.
Two more days Frederic travelled down the mountainside, stopping every time he spotted vegetation, checking to see if it was edible. If it was, he would store half the plant in his saddlebags and eat the rest; he never knew when the next time he would be able to eat was.
Finally, tired and hungry, the traveler stood in a flat valley, the plants limited to clinging grasses and dying and gnarled trees. The whole basin was dry and rocky, and it was no refuge from the mountains, as the pond’s valley had been. Standing in the middle of the valley, a small hut stood, and there was smoke coming from its chimney.
Frederic took a shuddering breath. Suddenly, he was terrified. Mustering his courage, he strode across the field, leading his horse by its bridle, not wishing to tire it more by riding it. As he drew closer to the cottage, he saw that it was made of wood, and there was nothing threatening about it. Maybe it isn’t her home after all, he thought, hoping shamefully. Then he thought of Hannah, and what would happen to her if he couldn’t do this. He nodded with frightened determination and knocked on the door.
It opened before he could knock twice. He stood in the doorway, arm frozen comically where he had raised it to knock again. He stared in amazement, and he could not speak.
A woman stood behind the door, but she was not a cackling, old, ugly woman as Frederic had expected. She was young and beautiful, and she smiled at him. Her hair was golden and gently curling, falling down her back. Her eyes were bright green and her eyebrows were dark and thin, arched artfully over long lashes, as if she knew where they looked best and held them there for guests, but it did not look forced or awkward. Her lips were full and red, and her teeth were a dazzling white. She wore a gown that rustled and shone as she moved, and it seemed to Frederic as if she floated, for her feet were not visible under the voluminous skirt.
“Frederic,” she beamed at him. “I have waited long for you, for I knew you would come.”
“I, uh, um,” Frederic stammered. He couldn’t find words, or his thoughts.
The lady giggled and grabbed the front of his shirt, playfully drawing him into the house. “You humans are so funny,” she said as she closed the door behind Frederic. Frederic stood and stared at her, bewitched.
“You… you aren’t human?” he managed.
“Of course not, silly boy,” she said. “I think I was, a long time ago. Yes, I must have been. For although there have been many men who have learned magic, I have been the one and only woman. Don’t you think that’s impressive, Frederic?”
Frederic nodded, unaware of what his own body was doing. He only knew that this lady was gorgeous. “You have magic?” he asked quietly.
“Yes,” said the lady. “I thought you knew that. I thought you knew that I’m Morgan.”
“Oh, well, I guess I did,” said Frederic drowsily. “But I didn’t think you’d be so… beautiful.”
Morgan giggled with delight. “Oh, you think I’m beautiful?” she gushed. “I’ve been sitting here wondering if I am or not, I’m so glad you say I am. You know, a long time ago someone thought the queen from your kingdom was lovelier than me. Can you believe it? Prettier than I am? I just don’t see how that’s possible, can you?”
Frederic mumbled that he could not see, feeling as if something were terribly wrong. He stood still and silent, trying to figure it out. He was aware of Morgan speaking, but he no longer heard words, or even her pretty singsong voice. Frowning with concentration, he suddenly yelled aloud and covered his ears. “Stop!” he shouted. “I know – I know what you’re doing!”
Morgan giggled. “I’m talking, aren’t I?” She laid a playful finger on his cheek, stroking his jawline. Frederic jerked away from her touch; it was cold and dry, and felt dead.
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean, you are, but that’s not all you’re doing. You’re trying to distract me. Well, I know why I’m here, Morgan. I’m here to kill you.”
A shrill laughed escaped Morgan, and as Frederic glanced at her again, her beauty peeled away. The features that had made her so attractive were still there, but now they seemed harsh and forced. And as she spoke again, her voice no longer held a pure note, but a shrill and evil one. “Go on then,” she said. “Kill me.”
Frederic drew his sword, but he did not strike. “This is a trick, isn’t it?” he said. “Why aren’t you stopping me?”
“This is no trick, Frederic,” Morgan said. Her green eyes flashed. “And I’m not stopping you because nothing you can do can harm me. Go on, try it.”
Frederic bit his lip. He stared at the witch, unbelieving and afraid. He thought of the evil deeds that Morgan had done, about Hannah trapped in a tower for three years with no one to talk to, but somehow he could not strike. “I will not harm you for no reason,” he finally said. “You have not tried to attack me, and if I kill you now it will be cold-blooded murder.”
Annoyed, Morgan rolled her eyes. “Why do you hero types have such good moral codes? Honestly, Frederic, you irk me.” And suddenly she was on top of him, screaming, grabbing at his hair. Frederic hesitated no longer. He drove his blade through the witch’s heart and stood back panting as her hand released him.
Morgan looked down at where the sword protruded from her, and then she looked at Frederic. “Finally,” she said. She shrugged. She was not harmed at all. “I told you that you could not harm me. Now take your sword back. No? You won’t? Fine.” She grabbed the hilt and pulled it out of her own chest, handing it back to him. Frederic would not take it. He only stared in horror at where the wound should have been but wasn’t.
“But…” he breathed. “How? Why?”
“Because I am already dead.”
Frederic stared at her, terrified. She did not look dead. She laughed at his gaze. “No, this is not my dead body. And did you really think I’d be alive after hundreds and hundreds of years? Even witches grow old and die. It takes them longer, but they do.” She looked down at herself, proud. “I cast this projection of my younger self before I died. It’s very life-like, isn’t it? Even solid, and can touch and hold things.” She reached forward and clasped her hands behind Frederic’s neck, leaning into him and staring up at him. He was too amazed to push her away.
“But… if you’re dead,” he thought aloud, “why is the curse still functioning?”
“Frederic, you’re very strong,” she said, putting a hand on his chest. “And tall for someone your age. How old are you? Sixteen? Seventeen? Very impressive, I can see why you were the one.”
Disgusted, Frederic freed himself from her grasp and stumbled back. He picked his sword up from the ground where Morgan had let it drop and pointed it at her. “Why hasn’t the curse broken?” he said, almost yelling it.
“Oh, that was one of my more clever ideas,” Morgan said, ignoring the sword and stepping closer to him. “You see, I made it so that the curse would continue forever, unless someone lets himself be beaten by the dragon first. Strangely, no one seems to like that idea.”
Frederic’s head reeled. “What are you saying?” he said. “That I have to let myself die in order to save Hannah?”
“Oh, no!” Morgan laughed. “You can save Hannah without dying, the dragon will let you. But then the curse will go on, and Hannah’s precious little daughter will be taken to the same tower she’s in now. No, no. If you want the curse to be gone forever – forever, Frederic – then you must allow yourself to be killed.” She shrugged. “It’s simple, really, but no one has ever done it before. They think that the curse won’t affect them in their lifetime again, and so they only save their lover, and not her children. Humans are so selfish, aren’t they?”
“You’re lying to me,” he gasped, unable to believe her.
“No, I don’t lie,” Morgan said. “I deceive, certainly, but I never lie. I tell only portions of a whole truth, or hide the truth completely, but I never lie. Deceive, yes. I love to deceive.”
“Then you’re deceiving me,” Frederic insisted.
Morgan shrugged. “No, actually, for once I’m telling the whole truth.”
Frederic could not breathe. His sword hand began to droop. He stared unseeing at the wall behind the witch. Finally he spoke quietly, “Why are you telling me this? You don’t want the curse to lift.”
“Of course not,” said Morgan. “But I no longer fear that. I don’t believe I’ll ever see a human get so close to his lover and then let himself die in front of her. Many, maybe, have thought they could, but none of them can.”
Frederic stumbled backward, searching for the door handle. “I can,” he whispered hoarsely. “And I will.”
Finding the handle, he wrenched it open and stumbled into the sunlight, the laugh of Morgan filling his head as he mounted his horse and rode away. Sorrow consumed him, but not fear. He was not afraid to be riding to his death. It was not death that daunted him. It was never being able to see Hannah again. Because he knew that if he got close enough to see her, then his resolve would melt, and the curse would live on.
“I can’t let it,” he yelled to the wind. “I won’t let it. Someone will save you, Hannah. But it won’t be me. I must save your daughter. I must die.”
And saying it strangely calmed him. And he sat up straighter in his saddle and rode away, seeking the dragon and his death.
Princess Hannah was devastated. It was nearing her sixteenth birthday, and no one had come for her. The cold winter was melting into a chilly spring, and by the marks on her floor, it was mid-February.
The longer she stayed in the tower, the slower time went by. Seconds lengthened into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days, and days into months. Often she marveled that it was only four years she was captive, and not an eternity.
“Sir Dragon,” she said once, standing on the windowsill, “I have been here for four eternities, but my calendar says it’s only been four years.”
“But, Princess Hannah,” Sir Dragon replied, “it has been only four years, and the fourth isn’t even finished yet. And there is only one eternity, so how could you have been here for four eternities?”
Hannah laughed. “Sir Dragon, you are so literal. I meant it only feels like multiple eternities.” She fell silent. Then, sitting down so her legs swung outside the tower, she asked, “When do you think my true love will come? You haven’t left to stop anyone in a long time. Do you think it’s because he’s coming?”
Sir Dragon sighed. “I do not know, Princess. It could be that or your father has given up.”
Terrified, Hannah gasped and drew her legs close to her, hugging them. “Has that happened before?” she whispered.
“No. Well, perhaps. I can’t remember. But no princess has died in this tower. They have all been saved sooner or later.”
“That’s comforting,” Hannah said, slightly sarcastic. Sarcasm was something she had picked up over the years to amuse herself in her loneliness. She was especially sarcastic to Princess Isa Belle’s diary, and anything else that irked her immensely. “But honestly, Sir Dragon, do you think my true love will be here soon?”
Sir Dragon only sighed and shook his head, unable to answer.
Exactly a month before her birthday, on the last day of February, Hannah stared out the window, unbelieving. Riding toward her with his tired head held high and his eyes downcast was a man, the first man she had seen in nearly four years. And she knew that the appearance of this man could mean only one thing; she would soon be free. She laughed aloud. The idea was too great and foreign to even comprehend, and she looked harder at her soon-to-be rescuer.
He was tall, and handsome, although he wore no coat of armor and no coat of arms. He appeared to Hannah to be nothing more than a tired peasant bearing a sword and a dagger he didn’t know what to do with. But his dark hair and dark eyes captured Hannah, and it seemed to her as if she had seen those eyes before, although they would not look at her. And suddenly the princess knew who she was looking at, although he was no longer the scrawny, awkward boy she had missed so much.
“Frederic,” she breathed, astonished and happy. “Frederic!” she screamed, waving to him. He would not look up. Hannah laughed. “Frederic, I’ve been locked in this tower for years with no company but this horrid dragon – no offense, Sir Dragon. I don’t think you’re horrid.”
Called from his layer by the unmistakable feeling of his cursed duty, Sir Dragon emerged, blinking. He spotted him right away, of course. He knew he would be there. But he stared at him, confused. “You are not a prince,” he said. “You are not even a knight. What are you?”
Frederic dismounted, walking to the edge of the cavern, and looked up at the dragon. “I am a lost carpenter who thought he could be a knight.”
“Who are you? It has never been anyone but a prince before. How can a commoner now be the one? And yet, I know you are the one. I feel you are. Who are you?”
“I, Sir Dragon,” said Frederic, drawing his sword, “am Frederic.” His sword clattered to the ground. “I have come to rescue Hannah.” He drew a small dagger. “But I am afraid I can only rescue her descendants.” His dagger fell from his hand. “I have come to end this curse.”
Princess Hannah, unable to hear the conversation below her, screamed in horror. “Frederic, what are you doing?” she yelled, watching her childhood friend drop his weapons. “You must say your lines! You must fight him! You must rescue me!”
Frederic almost failed at her voice. But he would not look at her. He knew that if he did, his resolve would fail, and he would defeat the dragon, dooming Hannah’s daughter to the same fate she had. He trembled at her voice, and looked at the dragon’s amber eyes with tears in his own. “Sir Dragon,” he whispered, “I am yours.”
Sir Dragon did not want to. He wanted the princess to be saved. But the curse made him attack, as it always did, until the princess’s true love wounded him, and then he would allow her to be rescued. But until he was injured, he would attack to kill. “I will kill you,” he warned Frederic. “I won’t be able to stop myself.”
“Don’t stop yourself,” Frederic said. He spread his arms, accepting his death, as Sir Dragon reared his head, and opened his mouth. As Frederic watched his death approach, when he knew he could not escape even if he wanted to, he glanced at the window, and saw Hannah in all her mature beauty. And as the dragon’s jaws closed around him, he smiled, and was glad, and knew no more.
Hannah screamed. She was horrified. She watched as Sir Dragon and Frederic talked. She watched as Frederic gave up all his arms, and stood defenseless, welcoming death. She watched as Sir Dragon swallowed her playmate, her best friend, her true love. And she screamed.
“No!” she yelled. She was aware of tears streaming from her eyes, but she didn’t try to stop them, or wipe them away. “How could you?” she screamed at Sir Dragon. “How could you?”
Sir Dragon turned his amber eyes on the princess. “I tried to stop myself,” he said. “I did. But the curse makes me –”
“Oh, shut up!” Hannah wailed. “I don’t care! I’m tired of hearing excuses about the curse making you do this and that. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of Morgan, I’m tired of the curse, I’m tired of this tower, I’m tired of you!” She sobbed. “You just killed my best friend. Now who will save me?”
“Princess Hannah, there may –”
“No there won’t,” she shouted. In her rage and grief she picked up something from the floor – she wasn’t even aware of what it was – and tossed it at the dragon. It bounced off his scales harmlessly. “There will never be anyone like Frederic, and you just killed him! Go away! I never went to see you again!” She sank to the floor, weeping. She did not see if Sir Dragon left or not, and she didn’t care. The overwhelming joy followed immediately by overwhelming grief was too much for her, and as she lay on the ground sobbing, she wondered if she would die. It felt as if she might.
She may have lain there for days, or only seconds, but eventually, Princess Hannah was aware of a light, brighter than the sun. And through her tormented sorrow, curiosity bubbled up, and she opened her eyes, only to have to shield them with her arm.
From outside her window, a golden light shone everywhere, washing all things from sight. It fell through her window, blinding Hannah and filling the room. It seemed to her as if a cloud of light had fallen around the tower, and with it standing there nothing could be seen through its brilliance.
As she looked out the window, it began to shrink, and to fall. She could lower her arm now, and tentatively she stepped toward the window. “Sir Dragon?” she called out, for he was nowhere in sight. She looked around, at the falling golden globe of light, and watched as it landed lightly on the rocky ground, and fell in on itself, and disappeared. Where it had been, two men sat, blinking and confused. Both were young and clad in clean garments, armed only with a sword, and one also had a dagger by his side. The weapons Frederic had dropped no longer lay on the ground. One had gray hair, like the color of Sir Dragon’s scales, and pale brown eyes so light they appeared golden, but the color fit him well. The other had dark hair and dark eyes, and Hannah knew those eyes well.
The man with gray hair suddenly jumped up, and gave a cry of joy. Then he turned to the younger one and offered his hand, helping him to his feet. “Sir, who are you?” he asked, kneeling before him. “Truly, you must be a knight of high honor, or a lord, or a king, or all three! For you have done what no man has been able to do before, and you have all my gratitude and all my praise. Sir, I will forever pledge my allegiance to you, my rescuer!” And he offered the boy the hilt of his sword.
“But, I am none of these three,” said the young man, pushing the sword back towards its owner. “I’m only a carpenter who tried to be a knight to save his princess. I’m only Frederic.”
“Only Frederic?” the gray-haired young man said, frowning. “But surely, you must be more than a boy. You have freed me from bondage, and no mere boy could accomplish that.”
“Did I accomplish it?” Frederic asked. “I thought I had died.”
“And so you did. And by dying you have freed myself and yourself, and your kingdom and your fair princess yonder.” He looked up at the tower and grinned, waving to the bewildered princess.
Princess Hannah, in her bewilderment, forgot to be joyful of Frederic’s miraculous return, and she found herself saying, “Sir Dragon, is that you?” for the gray-haired man sounded just like her dragon companion, except his voice no longer sounded like thunder, but like a human’s voice.
“Nay, princess,” the man said. “I am Sir Theodore, though you knew me as Sir Dragon, but truly that is not my name. I am a knight, and the true love of the queen that many thought lovelier than Morgan, and so the witch cast her evil curse, and turned me to a dragon, doomed to carry my love’s descendants far away from their home, not remembering my past life. But everything has come back to me, thanks to the brave deeds of your true love.”
And then Hannah turned her eyes to Frederic, and he turned his eyes to her, and they stood, gazing at each other. Frederic could not believe how beautiful Hannah was. Her skin had paled in the absence of much light, but it was a gentle and fair shade, befitting her well. Her golden hair was longer than he remembered, but equally as beautiful, and her simple features held him in a trance far more powerful and lovely than the false beauty of Morgan had. A soft touch at his shoulder shocked him from his daze, and he turned to see Sir Theodore grinning at him.
“Go to her,” the knight said. “Bring your princess home.”
With a nod, Frederic ran to his horse, grabbed a rope from a saddlebag, and began climbing the side of the tower, unaware of the height or the gaping hole beneath it. And Hannah, watching him come to her, finally grasped the joy of having him back from the dead, and she cried.
“You’re late,” she whispered as Frederic pulled himself through the window.
Frederic grinned at her. “I got lost,” he said.
Laughing, Hannah fell into him. “My savior,” she said, “what can I give you for repayment?”
“I think, fair maiden,” Frederic responded, “that a kiss will suffice.”
Hannah looked up into his dark eyes, and he stared into her light eyes. “A kiss I will give you,” said Hannah, “and much more besides.” And finally, their game ended in a real kiss, a long and passionate kiss, and every kiss they shared afterwards was only a reflection of their first.
Frederic tied the rope he had brought up with him to the foot of the wardrobe, and flung the rest out the window. They climbed to safety, and Princess Hannah could not believe she was standing on the earth once more. Sir Theodore was waiting to welcome them.
“Princess Hannah,” he said, bowing to the girl, “you are fairer than my dragon eyes remembered. I hope you forgive me for capturing you?”
Hannah laughed and pulled the knight into a hug. “You will always be Sir Dragon to me, if it does not offend you, Theodore. For I don’t believe I’ve had a truer friend – other than perhaps Frederic – than the dragon that kept me company for four eternities.”
Sir Theodore grinned at her as he pulled free from her hug. “But, dear princess, there is only one eternity.” Hannah laughed.
Frederic was frowning. “I only have one horse, and he is tired and can carry only one rider. I hope, Sir Theodore, that you won’t mind if I let Hannah ride him?”
“Of course not, Frederic. Tell me, have you no royal blood in your veins? You seem so kingly to me.”
Frederic laughed and helped Hannah mount his horse. “No. Just the blood of a servant and a carpenter.”
“Then how could you have given your life up? Did you know what the reversal of the curse meant?”
“Do you mean did I know that I would not stay dead? No. I only knew that giving myself up was the only way to end the curse, and I did not wish Hannah and her daughter to go through the same thing she and I did. I think I would have rather saved her in the long-run than in the short run.” He looked at Sir Theodore as they began to slowly make their way back to Cyndira. “Sir Theodore, do you think you would have done the same?”
Sir Theodore shrugged. “I don’t know. I know that after Morgan announced her curse on our family – our daughter was not born yet – I went to seek Morgan, and I slew her, thinking that would stop the curse. I had not realized that only a sacrifice such as the one you made could save our daughter. In her dying breath, she turned me into a dragon, and I became part of the curse.” He shuddered. “I never realized it was my descendants I was carrying away. Not until now, that you have saved me from the curse.”
“Sir Dragon,” Hannah said, confused, “are you then my many greats-grandfather? And why do you still seem so young? Why, you look younger than Father!”
“I was when I was enslaved. Perhaps I never truly aged while I was in a dragon’s shape.” Suddenly his face fell. “My queen will not be there. I never returned to her. And when I did, it was only to steel her daughter. I have done many ignoble deeds because of that witch.”
“It was not you, though,” Frederic said. “Not really. It was Morgan. You didn’t remember, it was not your fault.”
Theodore sighed. “It’s kind of you to say. I will tell myself that for the rest of my life, but I doubt if I’ll believe it.” He looked at Frederic, and his mood lightened. “Will you tell us your story, Frederic?”
And Frederic did. He started with what immediately happened after Hannah was taken, because he thought that Hannah would like to know what passed in her kingdom while she was away. He told them how his training to be knighted started, and how every group of potential rescuers came back defeated. He looked sadly at Hannah, and hesitantly told her that in her absence, the queen had gone mad and the king became old and tired. Then he told of his own journey, and how they had travelled through the mountains to slay Morgan, and how he was separated from the rest. He told them of Morgan’s projection, and how she told him how to lift the curse, confident that no one would.
He grinned sidelong at Hannah. “And this is where I got lost,” he apologized. “I would have gone back the way I came, except it was blocked off. So I found another path through the mountains, except this one led me to the Wistad River, and then I had to figure out how to cross it, for the river is very swift and deep. But there was a fallen tree across the river, and it was wide enough for my horse, and we crossed that natural bridge. Well, then I figured I was back on the other side of the river, and I had to cross it again, so I had to travel all the way back up to the forest and the bridge we crossed before, and from there I followed the path to you.”
Both the knight and princess enjoyed his story, and it lasted for many days, for there was a lot to tell about four years. And so they made their way back to Cyndira, and the forest didn’t seem so menacing with friends and lighthearted talk.
“If there is one thing I miss about being a dragon,” Sir Theodore said, looking at the distance they still had to travel, “it’s having wings. Freedom has only one name, and that name is wings.”
Prince Augustin, Sir Timothy, Sir Harold, and Sir Dominic slowly made their way back to the castle. Each took turns walking, since they were short one horse, and they always made sure Prince Augustin never walked on his injured leg.
When they returned, Prince Augustin was immediately taken to nurses and skilled healers, and the three knights reported to the king, to tell them of their adventures.
“You sent Frederic on alone?” King Oliver demanded angrily. “You have sent him to his death! He is not able to save my daughter all by himself.”
Sir Timothy took a step forward angrily. “You discredit him, Your Majesty,” he said. “Frederic is young, and maybe naïve, but he is noble and strong, and he loves Hannah more than anyone you’ve sent. I couldn’t have picked a better person to complete the quest alone.”
Before the king could reply, the door opened and Queen Margaret stalked in. The king never wanted her to hear tales of how princes and knights failed, so he talked to her gently as she approached him, urging her to leave. But she would not even look at him.
“My daughter has a best friend,” she told the knights. “And he is the only one who knows where she’s hiding. But now I can’t find him, either. Where did he go?”
“To seek you daughter,” said Sir Harold.
The queen’s eyes lit up. “Frederic has gone to rescue her?” she whispered. She turned to her husband. “You’ve sent Frederic to rescue our daughter? Thank you, thank you! You watch, they’ll both appear shortly, running around and chasing each other. And they’ll be all dirty, because they’ve been playing in the mud again, even though I’ve told Hannah a thousand times not to get her dresses dirty. But she doesn’t listen because she doesn’t care. She just cares about having a good time with her best friend, and they’ll appear shortly, they will, I know they will.” Slowly as she was speaking her composure broke, until she was sobbing. She turned to the door she had left open, and she took a gasping breath, ordering everyone to be silent. “There they are now. Do you hear them laughing? They’re here, I know they are.” And she took off running out of the door and down the castle’s hallways, chasing phantom laughter. The king ran after her, distraught.
The months dragged by. Frederic’s seventeenth birthday passed, but no one noticed; not even Frederic. There had been no word from Frederic for nearly half a year, and the king and even Sir Harold and Sir Dominic began to lose hope. Sir Timothy did not, and neither did Prince Augustin. He refused to leave Cyndira (even if he could have with his broken leg) until both Frederic and the princess came back.
One day, a watchman who had just gotten off duty and was coming down from the castle’s walls looked out and saw three weary travelers. He went to ask the king if he should allow them to enter the city, and the king distractedly agreed.
Opening the city gate for the travelers, the watchman saw that one was a beautiful young lady, and the other two were young men, although at first he thought one was an old man because he had gray hair.
“Welcome,” said the watchman, bowing to them. “You look tired. Come, follow me. There is an inn that you may stay at. I will show it to you.”
The girl looked at him, shocked, and although her clothes were worn and dirty, it seemed to the watchman that she held herself as no peasant could. “That’s very generous of you,” she said. “But I think we shall stay at the castle.”
The watchman frowned. “But, begging your pardon, commoners cannot stay at the castle.”
“Well, it’s a good thing we’re not commoners,” the girl said, lifting her chin in proud stubbornness. “Do you really not recognize me?”
The watchman furrowed his brow, and stared hard at the lady, and it seemed to him that her face was familiar, although changed and different from what he remembered. And suddenly he recognized her, and the young dark-haired man beside her, and he shouted for joy, leading them through the streets, as his call echoed around the kingdom: “The princess has returned!”
The queen was the first to hear the call. She looked out her window, and spotted a great parade, with people singing and clapping, and in front of all there rode a young girl, with two men beside her and the proud watchman leading the way, shouting the news. The queen stood, mouth open. She ran from her room, down the steps of the castle, through the doors and across the moat, and she kept running, running toward her daughter.
Princess Hannah saw her from a distance, and hurriedly she dismounted and ran to her mother. They embraced with such force that they almost fell over, and they wept with joy. Suddenly the king was with them, and Hannah left her mother to meet her father, and their meeting was equally as joyful. Hannah looked at her parents for the first time in four years, and she cried to see their hair graying and their faces creased with worry. But the tears and smiles were smoothing away their faces, and the princess could see the parents she remembered and loved come back to the surface.
“I knew you’d come back,” the queen whispered. “I knew you would. I knew you wouldn’t leave us for good, I knew Frederic would find you.” Her eyes strayed to the boy she spoke of, and she smiled and beckoned him over. Timidly, Frederic came forward, and Queen Margaret hugged him. “Thank you,” she said in his ear, “for bringing my daughter back to me. I knew you would.”
Frederic grinned. “I’m glad you knew, because I certainly didn’t.” The queen laughed.
The king, still holding Hannah tightly, looked at his wife in amazement. “Margaret,” he said, “you don’t seem unwell anymore.”
“Unwell?” Queen Margaret laughed. “Unwell? How can I be unwell, when my daughter is back home? I wonder now if I ever was unwell, or just faking it. I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. It only matters that my Hannah is safe and home again.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead, but Hannah’s eyes were not on her mother. They were on a figure she knew well, and loved well, and thought of often in her fits of unladylike behavior. She broke away from her parents and slowly walked to meet her teacher.
Teacher stood still, silent tears streaming down her face, watching as the princess – her princess – came toward her, grinning. Hannah stopped in front of her and curtsied. “Teacher,” she said, “I think a few months ago I was supposed to have stopped learning to be a princess and should have started to be one. But I seem to have missed four years of training, so would you please catch me up?”
Teacher burst into tears and flung her arms around Princess Hannah. “Look at you, so grown and beautiful!” she wept. “You don’t need any training to be a princess, you already are a perfect one. You always have been, but I just never got to tell you.”
As Hannah met the people she had missed and longed for for four years, Frederic scanned the crowd for a certain prince and a certain knight. He spotted the knight first, and he ran to him, bowing when he arrived. “Sir Timothy,” he said. He drew his sword and offered it to his mentor. “You lent me this, and I think you’d like it back.”
Sir Timothy gingerly lifted the sword. “How wonderful, to be offered the sword of a hero,” he said, grinning at Frederic. “I think such a gift is not worthy for me.”
“But it’s yours,” Frederic insisted.
“It was mine,” Timothy returned, handing the sword back. “But passing it into you keeping has made it too great for a humble knight like me to accept. Keep it, Frederic. It has brought you honor.”
Frederic sheathed the sword, and stood before his mentor. Then, hardly realizing what he was doing, he embraced Sir Timothy, and the noble knight hugged him back. Then, drawing back, Frederic asked, “Where is Augustin? Is he alright?”
Timothy laughed. “I was wondering when you would ask. The prince is alright, and he set out to meet you with me, but now he’s a little slow.”
Frederic frowned. “Slow?”
“Unfortunately, yes. Hello, Frederic.” Frederic turned, and found the prince standing beside him. He hadn’t even noticed him approach. Augustin was grinning, and he did look well, except that his leg was bandaged and he relied on crutches to walk. He caught Frederic staring mournfully at his injury and laughed. “The nurses say I’m not supposed to walk a lot at the moment, but I had to to see you. And it doesn’t hurt. At least, not always.”
“I’m sorry,” Frederic said.
“Don’t be. I’m fine, really I am. Just, tired a lot.” Prince Augustin frowned for a moment, but then his smile was back and he said, “But enough about me. I am staring at your lady, and she certainly is lovely, but I’m not positive she is lovelier than mine.”
Frederic grinned. “I think I shall have to decide that for myself, when I see your lady.”
“Yes, I think you shall. But no doubt you’ll still see yours as lovelier. Perhaps we should hold a competition, and see who truly is deemed the loveliest.”
Frederic suddenly grew stern. “No. If it wasn’t for a competition long ago to see who was the loveliest, I wouldn’t have had to leave to rescue Hannah, and you wouldn’t have broken your leg.”
Prince Augustin sighed. As he was constantly discovering, Frederic was right. And he takes the fun out of a lot of things. But all he said was, “How did you manage it? You killed Morgan, I suppose?”
“Well, actually, she –”
But he was cut off by a young nurse, bustling up to inform the prince that his highness must get back to the castle to rest his leg. Augustin rolled his eyes at Frederic, but followed the nurse. “You’ll tell me the whole story later,” he said, “at my wedding.”
“Or hopefully sooner,” Frederic suggested.
“No, I want my wife to hear it, too. At my wedding.”
Frederic laughed. “Alright. At your wedding.” He returned to the royal family just in time to hear the king ask, “Who is this man who came with you?”
“Oh!” Hannah said, blushing. She forgot to introduce to her family her friend. Hooking her arm through his, she brought him over to her parents. “Father, Mother, this is Sir Theodore. He is one of my closest friends, and has done many honorable deeds.”
Sir Theodore smiled sadly. “And some ignoble deeds as well, I’m afraid.” He bowed to the king and queen and added, “It has been my honor and delight to have gotten to know your daughter.”
“It has been an honor meeting you,” the king replied. “But where did you come from? Not from Cyndira, for I have never seen you before.”
“I come from a land much like this one, but I knew it differently. I come from a land from a long time away.”
King Oliver frowned. “Stop speaking in riddles and start speaking plainly, Sir Theodore.”
“I do speak plainly if only you understood the riddles.”
“But I do not. Tell me, who are you?” Suddenly Sir Theodore’s elusive answers and his mysterious presence unsettled the king, and he grew suspicious.
Sir Theodore looked at the king, his amber eyes suddenly sad and wise and reluctant. “I am Sir Theodore. I suppose I could have been considered a king, for I was married to a queen, but I never made it to my coronation.”
“And what land were you to be king of?”
King Oliver drew himself up to his full height, and he looked down at Sir Theodore with scorn. “Do you mock me, Sir? Do you challenge me?”
“No, Your Majesty, of course not.”
“Then what are these riddles?” the king demanded, practically shouting.
Princess Hannah and Frederic quickly stepped in between their king and their friend. “Father, Sir Dragon does not mean to insult you,” Hannah said. “He’s answering as best he can, but he’s scared.”
“Scared? Scared of what?” Then suddenly the king realized what Hannah had called the mysterious man, and he pushed his daughter and Frederic aside, stepping up to Sir Theodore. “Sir Dragon,” he said. “Why would a noble knight be called a dragon? Why would he be afraid to reveal his identity? I am not a fool, dragon. You are the one who took Hannah away, or I am not the king.”
Sir Theodore blinked. He was silent. Then he sighed and said, “You are right, Your Majesty. I never thought you were a fool, and I did not mean to hide the truth longer than I did and make you appear one. I was only afraid, and ashamed. I am the dragon who took you daughter, and all of your ancestral daughters as well. But in that horrid skin, I did not remember who I was, and even if I did I would not have been able to stop myself, for Morgan’s magic was strong, and I could not fight it.”
“Father, he was the only friend I had,” Prince Hannah pleaded, clinging to the king’s arm. “He was a wonderful friend, and a wonderful dragon. Please don’t do anything dreadful to him.”
King Oliver stared at his daughter, and at the man in front of him. Then he smiled. “No, I will not do anything dreadful to him. He has helped bring you home, and I am grateful to him for that.”
Sir Theodore smiled and bowed. Then the king turned with his wife on one arm and his daughter on the other, and Hannah held her hand out to Frederic, and Queen Margaret held her hand out to Sir Theodore, and so linked, the five of them made their way back to the castle, with the joyful city following.
In an audience with the king and queen, and anyone else who wished to hear (which was a great many people), the two men and the princess told their stories.
First, Sir Theodore stood and told the story of how a competition was held among the kingdoms, to determine who the fairest maiden was. It was a friendly tournament, and no one grudged the other, except Morgan. It was between Morgan and Theodore’s wife at the end, and when Morgan lost she promised that the queen’s descendants would pay, and she cast the curse on the queen and vanished.
And so Sir Theodore traveled far to find the witch, and end her life and the curse. But Morgan was prepared. She had spent long hours in the making of this curse, and only one thing could stop it. As the knight drove his sword through her body, she cast a spell on him and changed him into a great dragon to carry out the curse placed upon his own descendants, and she mocked him in her dying breath, telling him that his life had been wasted, and that the curse would not die with her. And he remembered not his human life, until Frederic saved him.
“And that story,” he finished, “I will let Frederic tell.” He paused. Then he looked at the king and said, “I expect that this is the part where I offer you my sword and service, and pledge myself to you, Your Majesty. And I would. But I have already pledged my service to Sir Frederic.”
Frederic blushed. “It’s just Frederic,” he said.
The king smiled. “Perhaps there may have been a time when I would feel insulted to have a noble knight offer his service to a squire. But not now. Now, I say that you could not have chosen a better person to serve. But enough! What about Frederic’s story, and what has my daughter been doing alone in that tower for four years?”
Hannah laughed and told of her not so exciting tale, but she included almost every detail and all the most interesting mischief she accomplished, and tried her hardest to make it seem not half as bad as it was. And when she was finished, Frederic told his story.
All who listened were amazed by his courage, and all who knew him before stared at him, and didn’t recognize him. And the king knighted him, and he was no longer Frederic, the lonely boy who set out to accomplish the impossible, but Sir Frederic, the renowned and courageous knight who never allows defeat.
Prince Augustin, soon afterwards, returned to his kingdom. He had been present at Sir Frederic’s knighting, and for Sir Theodore’s and Princess Hannah’s stories, but he would not hear Frederic’s until his wedding day. His leg had healed enough for him to walk on it with no cast, but he retained a limp and a cane for the rest of his days. However, despite his disability, he remained a terror when mounted and in battle and a cheerful and just king.
Sir Frederic and his fiancée, Princess Hannah, attended his wedding, and the prince’s bride was indeed beautiful, and the prince himself, with his blond hair and blue eyes, was agreed to be the handsomest prince in all the land. And after the wedding, Sir Frederic retold the story of how he rescued the princess in the tower to all present, and so Prince Augustin heard it for the first time, and was amazed.
“There’s a hero hidden in you, Frederic,” he said. Frederic only grinned and kissed his princess.
And through Prince Augustin’s marriage to the princess of Krillo, those two kingdoms became one.
The day of Sir Frederic’s and Princess Hannah’s marriage was the happiest the kingdom of Cyndira had ever known, and all the people agreed that never was there a more fitting couple than the rescued and the rescuer. A week prior to the wedding, Prince Augustin came with his wife, and the happy princess informed the royal family that she would bear a royal baby.
“We will name him Frederic,” Prince Augustin told Frederic.
“No, we will not,” Prince Augustin’s wife responded, playfully smacking him in the arm. “Because we don’t know if it will be a him. But if it is, we might name it Frederic,” she added with a smile to the knight.
“And what if it’s a girl?” Princess Hannah demanded.
The other princess laughed. “Well, then we will name it Hannah, of course!”
On the morning of the wedding, King Oliver paced the floor uneasily, and Queen Margaret laughed at him. “What are you worried about, Oliver?” she asked her husband. “We’ve triple checked to make sure everything is arranged, Hannah is happy, Frederic is happy, I’m happy, I know you are, although you’re hiding it now in your pacing. Why are you pacing? What’s worrying you?”
“Worried? I’m not worried. I’m just nervous,” the king replied. “What if she’s not ready? What if he’s not ready? I mean, Frederic’s an honorable and good kid, but do you think he can be a prince?”
“I think he can be anything,” the queen said. “Even Hannah’s husband. Do you?”
The king sighed. “Yes. Yes, I trust him…”
The queen looked knowingly at her husband, and she smiled. “I know what you’re really afraid of. You’re afraid of losing her again, but to a man and not a dragon.” The king looked at her, and his eyes confirmed this. Queen Margaret laughed gently and said, “Well, she is eighteen now, and she can fend for herself, and Frederic will not keep her away from you.”
Nodding, King Oliver took a deep breath. And watching the love that his daughter used to gaze at Frederic, and the love returned to her through his gaze, his fears dissolved, and he began to view Frederic as a son.
A year later, Prince Frederic and Princess Hannah bore a son, and they named him Theodore, and he was perfect. Prince Augustin and Prince Frederic remained friends for the rest of their lives, and the daughter that Augustin’s wife bore grew up loving Theodore, and through their marriage when they were older, Jorlington became a part of Cyndira.
Frederic became one of the best kings the kingdom had ever known, and it grew under his diplomatic and conquered gains, until it became the largest kingdom in the land. And he and Hannah never stopped loving each other, and when Hannah had twin daughters, they laughed at the thought that they would never have to part with them.
Sir Theodore remained in Frederic’s service, and the two became friends, and Frederic never saw Sir Theodore as a knight under his command, but as a friend ready to help. Many people argued whether or not the scales and eyes of the dragon Theodore became were remnants of the man he had once been, or if the hair and eyes of Theodore were remnants of the dragon he had once been. Sir Theodore himself did not remember, or he would not say, and Princess Hannah often thought that the knight enjoyed the argument centered on him.
The tower that Hannah had lived in began to fall into ruins after the magic left it with the curse, but it remained standing. No one visited that tower ever again, but if someone could look inside, he would find 1432 marks on the floor, an unmade bed, a stack of clean dishes, a wardrobe with no clothes inside, a floorboard half removed, and a diary under the mattress. And he would wonder at these things, and climb down a rope tied to the foot of the wardrobe, and stand at the entrance to a giant cave, and look up at the black tower and watch as a breeze stirred the open window panes and fluttered the tattered window curtains and the rope that hung forever by the tower’s side.