Once Upon a Time
I opened my eyes to the melodious chirps of birds sitting outside of my window, blinded by sunlight. A call echoed from downstairs to signal the time to eat breakfast. I sighed and ran my fingers through my midnight black mess of hair and used most of my morning strength to at least sit up. It was any other ordinary day in the village, getting ready to help my family with the farm and spend the rest of my time with my best friend, Ryder. I had a wonderful mother and father, plus a brother who was always there by my side. No one was in any imminent danger, no one suffered from poverty or illness.
Life was perfect.
I eventually found the will to pull myself out of my bed and approached the window to greet the morning birds. The bright sun was smiling over the village, greeting those who strolled down the village paths. Not a single cloud was spotted in the vast blue sky. Another irritated call came from out of my room, prompting me to hurriedly leave my room. As soon as I opened my door, a rush of fresh scents of mother’s breakfast overwhelmed my sleepy senses.
“I had to call you twice today, young lady,” my mother scolded with a raised eyebrow. I easily giggled at her attempted harsh tone and sat right beside my brother. He had his face glued to the newspaper that had been delivered today. Apparently today was the day of the king’s parade. I usually try to avoid things that are related to the palace, no offense. There’s just a feeling I don’t like about it, so I stay way and mind my own business.
“Morning, Damien,” I mumbled while chewing my piece of toast. My brother barely lifted his head to return my smile, eventually uttering a grunt before indulging himself with more news.
As I was finishing my remaining toast, I glanced over my shoulder to briefly watch my mother washing the dishes. She seemed fairly happy this morning, considering that we managed to grow enough wheat to support us and the village for a week. “Where’s father?” I spoke aloud.
She stopped scrubbing at the plates for a moment to peer through the window over the sink. “He’s out there cleaning up the rest of the crops with the neighbors. Won’t you help him once you two are done eating?” I teasingly elbowed Damien before hopping off of my stool. “Of course!” I cheerfully piped. I made my way to the door and stopped to wait for the slowpoke. Once he glanced at me, I rolled up my sleeves and determinedly stared at him with a bright smile.
Damien finally sighed and dropped his newspaper to follow me out. “We’ll be out, mother,” he bid farewell to our mother. She waved to us and watched as we ran towards the fields of crops. From a distance, we could see tiny heads occasionally popping up from the field. “Father!” I cheerfully called out. One head raised out of the field at my call and waved. “There he is, let’s go,” I eagerly insisted Damien. We dove into the field and glided through the long stems of golden wheat.
“Need help there, pops?” Damien asked. He rushed over to help him carry several sacks of wheat onto the wagon. Our father let out a heavy sigh as soon as we finished loading the wagon. Beads of sweat were already dripping down our foreheads, despite coming out of the house only several minutes ago. The cool wind slowly breezed past us, creating pretty ripples throughout our fields. I spread my arms out to embrace the wind and laughed. “Well, good timing that you two came along,” our father said. “Why don’t you two bring the wagon into the village? We need to trade it in for some coins and ingredients for your mother to make tonight’s dinner.”
Damien and I exchanged an eager look and nodded. “Will do,” I cheerfully accepted. I ran towards the front of the wagon and greeted our horse. With a neigh of reply, I giggled and gently brushed its blonde mane. Damien climbed onto the wagon first and gripped the reins. Once it felt the reins gently tugging at it, I heard it once again neigh softly and clop on its hooves against the dirt ground. “Let’s get going, Lucy,” he insisted. I nodded and made my way right beside him.
The horse trotted out of the field and made its way on the path into the busy streets of the village. Along the way I greeted several neighbors and customers who happened to be in the market at the time. “It’s so busy,” I commented. Damien busily searched through each store for the man they were looking for. “I guess they’re preparing for the king’s parade,” he pointed out. I nod in reply.
As I too searched through the faces of the people wandering in the market, I noticed something rather peculiar. A young man around Damien's age was standing in the corner of one store, staring at me with a blank expression. He wore clothes unlike other villagers. Possibly fit for one living in the palace. "Hey," I blinked. "Who's that man over there?" As I tried to point him out, Damien glanced over a second too late and was staring at a stray cat mewling at a cranky old woman.
"What man?" my brother asked. I continued to stare at the spot where the mysterious person once stood, trying to find him once again. "He's gone..." I thought.
Damien raised an eyebrow at my strange behavior but continued to make his way down the street. "By the way," he cleared his throat. "Where's your boyfriend? Doesn't he usually stop by the house in the morning?" I stared at my brother with flustered cheeks and quickly slapped his arm. "H-He's not my boyfriend!" I exclaimed. "Only- And only my friend! You got that, Damien?" I pinched his cheeks really hard, knowing he never liked me doing that. He gripped the reins with one hand while trying to swat me away with the other. "Okay, okay!" he whined. "We're here, so just wait for your boyfriend while I go inside."
He snickered once more before hopping off of the seat. I lifted my fist at him threateningly and stared off at my brother entering into one of the stores. I closed my eyes and sighed. But Damien was right. My best friend Ryder usually came by our house to delver the fruit his parents grew, bringing me into the market and just relaxing by the shore. "...cy... Lucy... Lucy...?" I opened my eyes to find him standing right beside the wagon.
I scrambled up and stared down at the young man smiling in amusement. "R-Ryder," I blinked with flustered cheeks. "You weren't at the house earlier." He weakly chuckled while scratching the back of his head.
"I had to help get the store ready for the king's arrival," he shrugged. "But I'm here now."
I nodded and slouched back to my comfortable position, pouting upon hearing of the king once again. "Remind me again why you don't like the palace, Lucy," he sighed. He casually made his way onto the wagon and right next to me. "I don't know," I admitted childishly.
I looked up to find several village girls giggling about the prince, decorating their carefully braided hair with flowers. Sure, they looked pretty, but I had no interest to show off my looks with flowers or makeup to a man I've never personally met in hopes of receiving his love.
"There's just something about it that hurts my heart," I muttered softly. Ryder didn't hear the last part and glanced over to the right to find Damien emerging from the store with the man. "This much?" he thought. "There's quite alot this time, Damien. That's good." He calculated the amount equal to the sacks of wheat and handed the pouch of coins to my brother.
"Nice doing business with you again, you two," he waved before returning into his store. I waved back with a friendly smile and watched as two men emerged in place of the businessman to take the sacks.
"All we need to do is buy some groceries," Damien thought. "I can finish the rest, so you two can go on and have fun." I teasingly ruffled my brother's hair before jumping of of the wagon seat. "You're the best, Damien!" I called out. Ryder offered his hand to me and prepared to break off into a run. I grinned in reply and grabbed his slightly warm hand.
We ran out of the street and found ourselves panting as we made our way towards the dark forest up ahead. "Ladies first," Ryder kindly insisted with a grin. I giggled at his playful gesture and ran into the forest without any care. We leaped over bushes and ducked under branches until we heard the distant sounds of waves crashing along the shore.
The smell of salt and the evidence of sand gradually appearing through the grass underneath my feet caused my excitement to grow and grow. We finally escaped the dark forest and found ourselves standing along the shoreline.
The sea was glittering like jewels under the sun, the sand calling out for me to just run and bury myself into it. "It's so beautiful," I happily sighed. I kicked my boots off and sank my toes into the warm sand.
Ryder too followed along and walked along the shore with me. The wind carried the fresh scent of salt and brushed past my hair, letting my locks float in the air. I tucked my hair behind my ear to keep it away from my face and glanced at Ryder. He seemed to be enjoying his time here as well. "I like the shore," I commented. "I feel somewhat... free here, you know?" Ryder glanced at me as I continued to speak. "It's as if something was preventing me from coming here before." The man walking beside me gave me a strange look and laughed. "What are you talking about, Lucy? It's not like your parents forbade you from coming here, right?"
I laughed along with him. He was right. But I did feel a sense of freedom whenever I came here. I felt... rebellious? At the sound of a distant growl, I turned to face Ryder with an excited smile. "Let's go see if it's still there!" I broke off into a run without hearing what he had to say, making my way into the cave just along the shore. I carefully stepped over the pointed rocks and hopped onto the smoother parts of the cave floor. The soft patters of water trailed down the sides of the cave as I made my way deeper into the darkness. Another low growl echoed from the end of the cave, prompting me to move quicker.
"L-Lucy!" Ryder called out. "It's probably sleeping, so don't disturb it!" I easily brushed his warning away and stepped forward to reach the end of the cave. Several slivers of sunlight leaked through the cracks above, allowing the light to cast over a curled up figure laying before me. Brilliant red scales shined under the sunlight, slightly rustling around as the large figure itself shuffled in its slumber.
It was a red scaled dragon, sleeping within the dark cave in peace.
I could feel its warm breath brush past me in time and time again, steadily breathing without any worries. Ryder finally reached me and stared up at the sleeping creature. "Didn't I tell you?" he insisted. "Let's let it sleep for today. It played with you yesterday, didn't it?" He grabbed my hand to pull me out of the cave, but I couldn't help but continue to stare at the creature. "There's someone there..." I finally uttered.
I managed to step closer to recognize who it was that stood at the feet of the sleeping dragon. "Lucy?" Ryder curiously called out. I stopped before I could call out to the stranger, my eyes widening upon the man's familiar appearance.
"How odd," he thought. He raised his hand to gently glide his hand across its shining scales. "To think that dragons were still alive..." The dragon did not stir as the man touched its scales. I cautiously cleared my throat to catch his attention, only to watch as he turned and suddenly disappeared right before my eyes. "A magician...?" Ryder realized. "Lucy, are you okay?"
I stared at where the man should have been still standing, reminding me of how he had disappeared in the market. I clenched my fists tightly and bit my lip out of frustration.
"What's going on?" I thought bitterly.
We eventually returned to the market without disturbing the dragon. I was about to search for Damien when I realized that the parade had already started.
Wizards and dancers were making their way down the street with their wands and props tossed into the air. Magic swirled over our heads and spread confetti and illusions of small animals scattering around us. The children laughed and chased after the animals while Ryder and I enjoyed the parade from the florist's shop.
"Do you want to leave before the king arrives?" Ryder asked. I turned to glance at the ma standing beside me. He knew I did not feel comfortable watching the rest of the parade. I sighed in relief and gave a nod. "Yes, please," I insisted. I could already see the royal carriage being pulled over the bridge and making its way towards their street. I took Ryder's hand as he led me through the crowd in search of the path back to my home.
Just as I thought I was going to be safe, I felt Ryder abruptly stop in front of me. "What's going on?" I curiously asked. The man sighed in frustration.
"They're stopping to pay respects to the royal family," he informed. "Let's go into one of the stores for the moment-"
Ryder stopped when he laid eyes on the arriving carriage. I dared to look at the street, but quickly averted my eyes back to his face. "What's wrong, Ryder?" I curiously asked. His face became pale and struck with shock as if seeing a ghost appear before him. "Look at the princess, Lucy..." he finally managed to speak. I frowned and crossed my arms at him. He knew I didn't want to, yet now he's encouraging me to see the royal family? And what was so special about the princess?
"But..." Ryder blinked. "She... She looks just like you, Lucy..." I stared at the princess standing beside the waving king when her eyes suddenly locked with mine. We both stiffened at that moment, as if causing time to freeze. I pressed my hand over my chest, feeling my heart wallow in confusion and shock. "What's... What's going on...?" I uttered.
A man placed his hand on my shoulder and turned me to face him. It was the man I was seeing throughout the day, ominously disappearing every time I tried to get a second look.
"It's time for you to wake up," he insisted with a soft voice. I immediately pulled away from his grasp and stepped into the street. As time began to unfreeze, the confetti once again fell from the sky. "Who are you?" I continued to demand. I was beginning to feel scared, praying that my family would come to my rescue. But even Ryder was no where to be found. The wizard suddenly stretched his arm out to me and yelled, "Princess!" I cluelessly turned to witness the carriage with the king and his family standing within it approach me. The driver tried to stop the horses, but realized it was too late. Fear froze my legs and caused me to witness my own impending death approach.
I shut my eyes and felt darkness overwhelm me.
"Luc... Lucind...a? Dear, can you hear me?" I opened my sore eyes to find myself enveloped in bright sunlight. Several faces peered over me and watched as I regained my senses. Strange.
I wasn't wearing my usual comfortable dress, and instead felt loads of cloth covering my skin. My eyes looked over to find the frilly dress the princess in my dream was wearing. "Ryder...?" I softly called out. My eyes widened upon the realization and shot up from my bed. A woman prevented me from leaving the bed and pushed my shoulders down. "You've just woken up from a terrible spell," she insisted with a frail voice. "Don't rush yourself, dear." Dear? The words echoed through my blank mind as I scanned through the faces once again. This woman... "Mother...?" I called out.
The woman who was trying to push me back down stopped to stare at me. "What is it, dear?" she asked. I froze in response. I took my time to look at what she was wearing- a dress fit for a queen. And as for the rest of the people in my room, all dressed in a similar attire or servant's clothing. Once my eyes met with the man's that I had seen many times in my dream, I scowled bitterly and grabbed my pillow from behind me.
"You're the wizard...!" I exclaimed. "You're the one who kidnapped me!" The wizard exchanged a sorrowful glance at me before stepping out of the shadows to embrace the sunlight as I did. "You were in a mere dream, Your Highness," he persuaded. Your Highness? Who is he talking about? I glared at the wizard and placed my hand over my chest. "I'm Lucy," I declared. "not this Princess Lucinda. What are you guys talking about?"
They all stared at me in surprise, softly murmuring to each other. "What's gotten into you?" the queen asked worriedly. "Did you hit your head? Wizard, is the spell still in control?" I pushed her hand away from my cheek and faced the man once again. "Then what about Ryder?" I challenged. "Where is he? Did you take him? And my dragon!"
Everyone stared at me as if I were delirious. "Y-Your Highness," one servant stuttered. "Dragons do not exist in this world. They are extinct. Your father himself was the one who eliminated the last ones." I froze in shock and stared down at my hands. The hands that once pinched my brother's cheeks, the ones that felt the smooth and perfect scales of that dragon by the shore, and the warmth I felt when taking Ryder's hand through our adventures... I refrained from crying and stared down at my lap while asking the queen, "M-Mother... Can I go to the beach?"