Author: Chris Cook
"So... where's the dragon?"
The speaker was another in the vein of Sir Angel - less broody, possibly less intelligent, but in his favour, also less defeated thus far. His name was Sir Riley of Iowa, he was surveying the valley through a telescope from high on the eastern side of it, and his confusion, as indicated, stemmed from the lack of dragon therein.
"'At's it theyah, melord," Sir Riley's manservant said, in a curious accent assembled from odds and ends that sounded generically lower-class. The manservant took hold of the end of his master's telescope, and moved it downwards.
"I don't understand, Adam," Sir Riley protested. "We saw the dragon emerge and do battle with yonder knight-" He had heard someone in a play say 'yonder' once, and thought it sounded regal. "-and then it went over to the tower, and just vanished! What am I supposed to be looking at?"
"Aye suspect, melord, it'ul be on th' balcony, p'raps," Adam informed him.
"There's... the princess, I assume," Riley frowned. "And another woman... covered in red...?"
"At'd be th' dragon, melord," Adam said patiently. "'At's wot them's in the know calls a 'bimorphic' dragon, melord."
"You mean... it likes men and-"
"No melord, I mean it's a- Aye means," Adam corrected himself, realising his accent was slipping, "it be a beast wot 'as the abil... abi... knowin'," giving up on finding a suitably lowbrow way of pronouncing 'ability,' "of changin' isself from a big flyin' fire-breathin' dragon, inno a person, an' back again. Melord."
"Ah," Sir Riley observed, in a manner he probably thought of as sagely, as he watched the princess and the apparently-a-dragon conversing on the tower's balcony.
"Are you up for a trip into town?" Willow asked brightly. "I know we weren't going to until the weekend, but you know how it is with me, I get all restless when I breathe fire, so any excuse to stretch my wings..."
"Of course," Tara nodded. "Actually I was going to ask anyway, there's a few new books I'd like to send away for."
"I'll go get my saddle," Willow smiled. She gave an adorable little curtsey - something that had long ago become a playful gesture of friendship, rather than a requirement of Tara's social rank over her - and climbed up onto the balcony rail, crouching and tensing.
Tara bit her lip, and tried not to stare at Willow's lithe form too obviously, until the dragon leapt into the air, and with a rush of air unfolded into her previous huge form. She landed lightly, beating her wings to keep from crushing the grass beneath the tower, and thudded off towards her cave.
Tara had become quite good at carefully concealing her desires from Willow - necessary because her desires were uniformly for Willow, and she was by no means sure they were reciprocated. That Willow liked her, she was sure. She would have no hesitation in describing herself and Willow as the best of friends. But when it came to matters of the heart, Tara was somewhat inexperienced, and when it came to matters of how her heart felt for Willow in particular, she was quite at a loss.
The basic expectation was that she should marry a prince, or at least a well-to-do and valiant knight. This, she had decided fairly early in her teenaged years, would not do, and so she had set about reading through the complex and bewildering array of rules and traditions surrounding royal relationships, with the odd bit of quiet support and encouragement from her mother, to see if her particular tastes could be accommodated in some way - in short, to find out if it was allowable to be a gay princess.
As it happened, her relocation to a tower was handy in that regard, in that there was no actual requirement anywhere in the rules and regulations for being a princess in a tower that specified the hero who rescued her couldn't be a heroine. Doubtless an oversight by an unimaginative scribe at some point in the distant past, but the laws were written, and had been for many a generation, and that was that. Of course there weren't a lot of heroines around, compared to the veritable plethora of men in armour traipsing around the landscape in search of a quest, but Tara was prepared to be patient. Sooner or later, she assumed, a likely enough heroine would show up, and they could take things from there.
That had been the plan, at any rate. Until she had arrived at her tower, and met Willow.
She had been quite surprised, upon being delivered to her tower, to find that the terrifying guardian she had been imagining was in fact possessed of a very likeable, eager-to-please nature, with not a malevolent bone in her body. Their friendship was something Tara had not expected in the least, yet now could hardly imagine not having - the time they spent together, talking and laughing and debating, comparing philosophy and literature from the tower's substantial library, sharing memories of their lives prior to meeting, reading comedies aloud or simply making them up just to make each other laugh...
It was, Tara admitted, a shock to discover her attraction to Willow. She had no objection to her at all as a person, but as a human raised among humans, she had not expected to find herself in bed one night, inspired to some detailed self-examination by one of the rather more racy Sapphic romances from the library, imagining herself in the embrace of a dragon. Tara was no fool - for all her shyness around others, Willow included, she had never fallen into the habit of shying away from her feelings in the confines of her own head, and by the time her initial amazement had worn off, she was delighted to discover how aroused she could be by the thought of Willow. From that evening on, Tara's dreams, and fantasies, were filled with a lean, gleaming body, iridescent scarlet in the sunlight, and a smiling, curious face, scales diminishing almost to invisibility around her cheeks, her adorable nose, her lively lips and her wide, liquid green eyes, the delicacy of her features in sharp contrast to the long, solid flight scales that swept back from her forehead and temples, down her neck to her back, lying flat when she was relaxed, standing up like a crest when she was excited - and, Tara imagined, when she was aroused.
Made shy by her feelings, Tara had never quite been able to broach the topic of attraction with Willow, even when they had found themselves discussing dragons in general. She had no idea whether dragons found humans appealing, whether her smooth, scaleless skin was exotic to Willow or just plain and strange, whether her scent was alluring or forgettable to Willow's senses - smell being a dragon's most refined sense, she had learned - or even whether draconic sexuality was as whimsical as it was in humans, or based inescapably on pheromones or body language or some other quality she simply did not possess.
"Ready," Willow called up to her, and Tara realised she had got carried away with her thoughts and dreams, as she often did around Willow. She supposed it might have been easier had she suggested Willow wear clothes, at least while she was in her human-sized form, but somehow she could never bring herself to ask. The rational part of her mind considered that, whatever intimate parts Willow had, they were concealed in any case beneath her scales, so really she was no more 'naked' than a person in a tight suit. And in any case, Willow was happier without clothes, which dragons, she said, rarely bothered with.
The rest of her mind was quite happy with this rationalisation - or indeed any rationalisation that kept up a continuous supply of what amounted to naked Willow, as fodder for her fantasies. Tara occasionally felt a little guilty for picturing her friend in such vivid detail during her night-time activities - but only a little, and never enough to stop.
"Wait a moment!" Sir Riley protested, as he and his manservant watched Tara climb aboard the saddle she had strapped around Willow's neck. "She can't leave the tower! Can she?"
"Aye b'leive, melord, they do be doin' just that," Adam replied. Indeed, Willow took one bound and soared off over the mountains, with Tara safely atop her.
"But... but, surely, the princess is supposed to be trapped in the tower...?"
"Ar. No melord, aye think yerlordship will find that to be a fallacy," Adam said distractedly, watching the dragon dwindle into a silhouette in the sky.
"A what?" Riley asked sharply. "You don't mean like those wooden implements they sell for female adventurers, for when they're alone on their travels? I always took them to be some kind of massage aid..."
"Yes, melord," Adam backpedalled hastily, "or no rather, in this case. Aye means, melord, that wot a princess does, traditionally, with regard to 'er tower, is to not stay in it."
"Pardon?" Sir Riley turned a bemused expression on his servant. "How can a princess not stay in her tower? That's the point, isn't it? The princess gets put in a tower, until a hero arrives to rescue her..."
"Wot can possibly take weeks or even munfs, melord," Adam noted patiently.
"Worl, the princess'd starve to death, melord."
"Oh," Sir Riley frowned. "Well... I suppose... I assumed they stock the tower with food, and suchlike..."
"'S very difficult to find enough foods wot'd last long enough, melord," Adam shrugged. "Plus which, people wot're locked alone in towers fer extended periods 'ave a tendency to go round the twist, melord."
"'At happened to Princess Glory, melord, when she were a girl. I unnerstand it was on account of 'er father tryin' to do the 'old princess-in-a-tower fing on the cheap, an' not consultin' experts on 'ow it should best be done."
"Princess Glory?" Sir Riley searched his memory. "You mean Queen Glorificus the Homicidal?"
"'At's the wun, melord. O'course she became Queen, once a 'ero let 'er out of 'er tower. Word is she was still wearin' 'is 'ead as a 'at when she got 'ome and persuaded 'er old man to abdicate in 'er favour."
"Wif considerable vehemence, I unnerstand," Adam nodded.
Sir Riley took a moment to digest this.
"But, if this Princess Tara isn't being held captive, why am I here to rescue her?"
"Oh, tradition melord! 'At's how a big strappin' 'ero like yerself acquires a beautiful damsel, as is spoken of in legend and such, melord. 'At's the traditional way of doin' it."
"Oh," Sir Riley said, nonplussed. "Well... I suppose, if it's traditional..."
"'At's the spirit, melord. Now we ort to just get ourselves down 'ere before yon dragon turns up again. An' it'll all go just like you planned it, melord."
"Yessir. You'd be recallin' 'ow I explained wot your plan was to you, melord. Dashed impressed, I wos, melord, o'course me bein' a commoner an' all, but even so I daresay there ain't never bin a plan wot 'as been so well fort out."
"Oh. Well... yes, I do have something of a gift for planning." Sir Riley nodded uncertainly. "So, this plan... of mine... of course begins with...?"
"Us goin' down and preparin' for the dragonís return, melord," Adam replied faithfully. "An' then, we won't 'ave no trouble at all wif the dragon. No trouble at all. And you'll get your princess, melord." Sir Riley was too distracted to notice how Adam hastily added this last part, almost as an afterthought.