Glimpses of the Multiverse

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Lilianne and the Dragon

Lilianne wanted to be a knight. For as long she could recall, it had been her dream to wear armor like her blacksmith father often made for the Marquis’s army and take up a sword as she set off on grand adventures, smiting evil and rescuing the downtrodden like in the bedtime stories her mother used to tell. The only problem, as her father constantly reminded her, was that girls could not be knights.

“Whyever not?” Lilianne asked.

Her father always answered the same way, with a sneer: “Women don’t have the strength or the stomach for battle. It’d be like making a sword out of leather - too soft to do the job.”

“But leather can be hardened,” Lilianne had once protested, “and made into armor.”

“Ye don’t kill men by beating them with a breastplate,” her father had countered quickly. “Besides, leather is nothing compared to proper steel, even in armor. Now shut your mouth and do as you’re told!” The slap that followed had stung for a full day.

The arguments did nothing to dissuade Lilianne from her dream. Rather, she grew determined to prove her father wrong, even if she had to work in secret until she was strong enough. She set up a thick log in a secret spot behind the outhouses, found herself a stick that felt like the right length and weight to stand in for a sword, and even sneaked a bucket to serve as a helmet whenever she could. When the fairs came around, she would hover around the fighting ring to watch the tournaments between knights, squires, and wandering adventurers, studying how they attacked and defended. At night, and whenever her father left on a long trip to deliver an order to a particular client, Lilianne would sneak out to her secret training yard and attack the log with the stick, trying to imitate the fighting forms she’d seen.

Lilianne’s plan went perfectly for a couple years, until the night when her father caught on. Lilianne had just finished practicing thrusts and had raised the stick to begin a chopping form, when it was suddenly wrench from her hand. She turned around to see her father with an expression of fury. “This is what you’ve been sneaking off into the night for?” he asked.

“Y-yes,” Lilianne said.

Her father’s countenance grew harder. “You have no business playing at being soldier, girl,” he said.

Lilianne started to stammer out a reply, but caught herself and took a slow breath before speaking. “I’m not playing at anything, father,” she said proudly. “I’m training to become a knight.”

Lilianne’s father’s eyes went wide, and then narrowed dangerously. With a growl, he broke the stick over his knee and then grabbed Lilianne by the ear. “Listen, you uppity little twit!” he bellowed, “I am sick of your nonsense! I’ve told you time and again, women have no place as knights. I’m trying to save you from making a damned fool of yourself. Or worse.” He threw Lilianne against her training log and walked over to tower over her. “You know,” he said with a sneer, “I’ve been hearing rumors there’s a dragon moving into these parts. Not just any dragon either, no, I hear this one’s got an interest in women that don’t mind their place, won’t listen to their fathers and husbands. I’m warning you, my girl, you keep up this foolishness, and the dragon might just come get ya.”

Lilianne stared up at her father in open-mouthed shock. Taking that as a sign of his success, her father nodded and walked away. Once he was gone, however, Lilianne’s surprise gave way to a rebellious grin.

A dragon, eh? Lilianne thought. Sounds like a perfect way to prove myself.

Over the next week, Lilianne pretended to comply with her father’s wishes, never speaking of being a knight and no longer trying to sneak in practice on the old log. Instead, she volunteered to do most of the shopping and other chores that required going into town. At the market, she mingled with the gossip circles she usually had little to do with, seeking any clue that the dragon was real.

What she found was mostly hearsay brought over from neighboring towns. A rich merchant’s wife. turned out on some pretense so the man could marry a younger girl, had been snatched up by a dragon when she wandered out of town. A shepherdess had disappeared, leaving behind only her bonnet next to large reptilian footprints in the hillside. An old woman whose nearest relative and only source of support had died suddenly had been plucked from her garden one evening. A woman had taken her children and fled from her husband, and the last anyone saw of them was when a dark shadow eclipsed them near the horizon.

The story that convinced Lilianne, however, concerned a girl from named Sarah from her own town. Rumors had been circulating for awhile that Sarah had fooled around with a boy and possibly gotten pregnant. About three weeks before, Sarah had suddenly disappeared, and from the stories Lilianne picked up during her week of investigation, at least two people had seen the girl, round-bellied, up on the hill outside town the evening she vanished, and a great, blue-scaled beast had swooped down out of the sky and carried her off. It couldn’t have been anything but a dragon.

Convinced of the reality of the foul beast, Lilianne put the next stage of her plan into motion when her Father left to take a large order of helmets to the Marquis’s army. That evening, Lilianne went into her father’s smithy and found a mostly-finished breastplate, a chainmail helmet, and a sword. The breastplate was too large, and the sword felt unbalanced and a bit too heavy, but Lilianne refused to let such minor things hold her back from slaying the dragon and proving her worth as a knight-in-training. She tied the straps on the armor as tight as she could, took the sword in both hands, and clanked her way to the hill outside of town.

Upon reaching the top of the hill, Lilianne stopped to catch her breath and make last vain attempt to settle the oversized breastplate properly, and then raised the sword to the sky and shouted, “Dragon! If you are nearby, come and fight me!” She paused and scanned the darkening sky for a moment. Nothing. “Dragon!” she shouted louder, “I am Lilianne, daughter of the blacksmith and protector of this innocent village! I defy your preying upon the maidens of this village and this land! Come face my justice!” The only answer was the rising of a gentle breeze.

Lilianne started to feel a little foolish. Even if the dragon was around, would it even understand her cries? If it did, why would it bother answering? Maybe her father was right after all.

“No!” she screamed. “No, I refuse to give up. Even if nobody else believes in me, I will become a knight! I don’t care if I have to slay a hundred dragons to prove myself, I’ll do it! And I’ll start with you, maiden-stealer!” She waved her sword above her head desperately until she lost her balance and fell onto her back. She struggled and kicked to stand back up, but the heavy armor proved too cumbersome. She was stuck, and although no one was around to see, Lilianne’s cheeks grew hot with embarrassment.

The breeze picked up suddenly then, and a dark shape descended from the sky. It grew in size rapidly until Lilianne could make out the shape of large, leathery wings, a long pointed tail, and a reptilian head. Dragon! Lilianne realized, resuming her struggles to right herself, but to no avail. The dragon landed on the side of the hill with a loud thud and a heavy gust of wind from its wings, and its head - with a mouth big enough to bite the girl in two - hung over Lilianne on a sinuous neck. The dragon regarded the prone would-be knight for a moment, and then seemed to smirk. Before Lilianne could react, the dragon’s front claws shot out and wrapped around her torso, and then the dragon took off into the air.

Lilianne tried to scream, but the rush of wind as the dragon picked up speed stole her voice. She tried attacking the dragon, but the first downbeat of the dragon’s wings made her lose her grip on her sword, so she was reduced to pounding her fists uselessly against the beat’s blue scaly hands. The dragon’s grip warped Lilianne’s breastplate so it was wrapped around her somewhat, which was one good thing at least. Without that armor, Lilianne was sure the dragon would have crushed the life from her or torn her stomach with its… red lacquered claw?

Calming slightly, Lilianne took a closer look at the claws wrapped around her and, indeed, the sharp, curved nails had been painstakingly painted with the kind of colored lacquer that the wealthier women in the village sometimes painted their nails with. For that matter, the blue scales of the dragon’s hand looked like they’d been polished to a slight shine. What sort of dragon is this? Lilianne wondered.

The dragon climbed through the air, high enough to hide its form against the dark night sky, and then leveled out and headed toward the rising, waxing moon. Their course was mainly over the moonlit countryside, but when Lilianne looked around, she could make out the lights of towns and villages in the distance. When she saw the towers of the Marquis’s castle, its windows and arrow slits aglow with torchlight, pass by on the right, Lilianne realized that the dragon was carrying her in the general direction of the kingdom’s capital. A confident dragon, this, she thought, to dare live so close to the King and his greatest knights.

Lilanne’s surprise rose when the dragon came within sight of the capital city itself and the veered toward a mountain to the south. So close! Lilianne wondered. How has this dragon not been hunted down or driven off yet? As the dragon neared the peak of the mountain, Lilianne got her answer. Or, at least, part of it. A tingling sensation passed through Lilianne, the air around her seemed to shudder, and suddenly the face of mountain was changed to include a massive stone tower hundreds of feet tall and as big around as the Marquis’s entire keep. The tower was mostly dark except for a few windows near the top and a trio of torches set into the edge of a balcony one storey below the tower’s crown. The dragon back-winged into a hover just above the balcony and then dropped Lilianne onto the carved stone surface, which would have been smooth if it weren’t for the myriad of deep claw-scratches all over the place.

Lilianne tried to crawl away as the dragon alighted on the balcony, adding a fresh set of scratches to the floor, but she didn’t get far before the dragon reached out to her and deftly sliced the straps of Lilianne’s breastplate, and then nudged her gently when the armor didn’t fall off her..

“Oh, sorry about that,” the dragon said, leaving Lilianne boggling again. It wasn’t so much the words that surprised the young woman as the dragon’s voice. Rather than the deep rumble or sibilant hiss one would expect, the dragon had an almost melodious, yet quite girlsh, voice that seemed entirely disproportionate to the size of the beast’s mouth. “Uh, you might want to get out of that armor, if you can,” the dragon continued. It looked at Lilianne closer, and then asked, “Are you going to need help? I’m afraid I did bend it quite a lot. Sorry again.”

“I…” Lilianne said intelligently.

The dragon sighed, and then turned her head to the giant curtained doorway leading inside the tower and bellowed, “Jewel! Saffron! I require assistance!”

The curtain parted and two women walked out onto the balcony. One was an old, grey-haired woman, while the other was not much older-looking than Lilianne. “Oh,” the old woman exclaimed, “she’s done it again. You were right, Jewel.”

“Yep,” the younger woman, Jewel, said brightly. “Chrissy owes me her dessert tomorrow!” The pair hurried over to Lilianne, grabbed her hands, and hauled her through the curtain before she could react. Inside was a bedroom built on a massive scale, with a fireplace the size of Lilianne’s room back home, in which burned a veritable bonfire, a vanity six feet tall with ladders built into the sides, and a four-post bed big enough to sleep twenty or more. The whole place was obviously meant for the dragon’s use, and yet there was a collection of mis-matched, normal-sized chairs arranged near the fireplace at a comfortable distance from the flames. There were four women in the chairs, ranging in apparent age from a decade or two younger than the grandmotherly Saffron, in the case of the tall woman who looked like she was from a well-off background, to somewhere around Lilianne’s age in the case of the girl dressed as a shepherdess and the just-visibly pregnant girl who jumped up and ran over to Lilianne with recognition in her eyes.

“Lilianne? Is that you?”

“Sarah,” Lilianne exclaimed, managing to place the girl’s face in her memory fast enough to not seem awkward. “So, the dragon did make off with you!”

“Of course I did,” the dragon said, crawling into the room. “She’d been kicked out of her home for making one foolish mistake, and was crying her eyes out praying for help. I couldn’t just fly by and do nothing.” Her eyes narrowed as she looked at Lilianne and said, “You’re still stuck in that armor? Someone help her out of it all ready.”

“Oh! Right away, Your Highness,” Jewel exclaimed. “Chrissy, Ms. Caroline, give me hand, please.” The shepherdess girl and the middle-aged woman came over and, between them and Jewel, managed to pry the bent breastplate enough for Lilianne to slip out of it.

The middle-aged woman, Ms. Caroline, picked the breastplate off the floor and examined it. “This is fine steel,” she declared, “and possibly of expert workmanship before the princess got her claws on it. Still, we could get a good price for it as scrap.”

The dragon pouted and slinked over to the bed. “I wouldn’t have messed it up if it hadn’t been so ridiculously oversized for Lilianne.” She curled up on the mattress and fixed Lilianne with an inquisitive look. “Why were you wearing that, anyway?” she asked.

“Because you don’t go out to fight dragons without armor!” Lilianne said without thinking, and then blushed in embarrassment.

The dragon just laughed, as did everyone else in the room aside from Saffron. “Ok, ok, you make a good point,” the dragon said. “Well, if a knight is what you want to be, I can arrange that.”

“Really?” Lilianne asked, skeptical. “How? What sort of dragon are you, anyway?”

The dragon grinned, baring her impressive set of fangs. “My name is Lapis Lazuli Regencia Blandor,” she said.

“Blandor?!” Lilianne asked, and her eyes went wide. “Wait. You’re the Cursed Princess?!” The most popular story among the gossips and conspiracy theorists of the kingdom concerned the firstborn of the royal family, the princess whose existence was openly acknowledged but who had never been seen by anyone beside the immediate Royal Family Blandor and a couple servants whose loyalty assured closed lips. Rumors abounded that the mysterious Princess Blandor and the reason for her total isolation. Most said she was cursed in some manner from birth. If the great, blue-scaled, feminine-voiced dragon who’d brought Lilianne to this tower was the Princess… well, it explained how she could live so close to the capital without worry.

The dragon rolled her eyes at Lilianne’s outburst. “I’d hardly call it a curse,” she said, “but yes, I’m the same Princess Lazuli Blandor everyone knows about but has never met.”

“But, you’re a dragon,” Lilianne pointed out. “How?”

“We’re not sure,” Princess Lazuli said. “There was a great deal of investigating done when Mother gave birth to a dragon; doctors, wizards, alchemists, and priests filled the palace, I’m told, all trying to figure out what happened. The best theory anyone has come up with is that because the Queen has sorcerers in her ancestry she has some magic in her blood despite never showing the ability, and when she drank dragon’s blood-”

“Sorry,” Lilianne asked, “but what?”

“Dragon’s blood has many beneficent properties,” Ms. Caroline said, “but it’s so hard to obtain, as you can probably guess, and doesn’t keep for more than a couple days, so it’s practically priceless and only those on good terms with a dragon or the right sort of Fey can get their hands on it. Apparently, our King and Queen are part of that chosen group.”

“Thank you, Caroline,” the princess said. “Now, as I was saying, my Mother drank some dragon’s blood to insure conception, and the prevailing theory is that it interacted with her dormant magic and made… me. The thing is, there’s never been any other accounts of the magically gifted giving birth to dragons after drinking dragon’s blood.”

“So, they just put you out here, then?” Lilianne asked. “Out of sight, out of mind?”

“Oh no!” Jewel exclaimed. “Their Majesties dote on the Princess; they come by every day to visit and give Lazuli lessons in ruling. She just wouldn’t fit in the castle nowadays, is all.”

“That, and my Fairy Godmother is paranoid about me being slain by wannabe heroes,” Lazuli grumbled. Lilianne gave the Princess a strange look, and the Princess returned it with narrowed eyes. “Yes, I have a Fairy Godmother,” Lazuli said. “At least, she claims she’s Fey. She certainly had enough magic to create this tower, hide it from sight, and build a magic portal between the third floor and the royal palace.”

“Ok,” Lilianne said slowly, looking around the room at the other women, who were all paying rapt attention to the conversation. “So, the King and Queen, and your Godmother, they… know about everyone here?” Princess Lazuli nodded. “And they’re ok with it?”

“Godmother isn’t,” Lazuli said. “She’d much rather I just stay cooped up in this tower my whole life, learn how to run a kingdom, and be a secret advisor or something to my perfectly normal human brother when he takes the throne.” She snorted, and thin curls of smoke trailed from her nostrils as she continued, “But I want to do more, something to a make difference only I can make. I go flying every night, studying the kingdom and looking for something that needs my attention. Two months ago, I saw Chysanthemum there,” she pointed a claw at the shepherdess, “crying near the common sheep fold of Lanster. Hiding myself so as not to scare her or the sheep, I asked her what was wrong.”

“If I may, Princess,” Chrissy cut in, “this is my story, so I have the right to tell it.” Lazuli nodded, and Chrissy took up the tale. “I’m not actually too interested in sheep,” she said, “but being a shepherdess was the only job I knew of that would let me have the time and space to read the books I love. Or so I thought, at first. It turns out that a young girl tending sheep around Laster is just inviting all the men - young and old - to come harass her with unwanted flirting and lewd glances. One day, it was just too much, so I went out into the night to have a good cry. Then Princess Lazuli showed up, got me to pour out my grief to her over the next few nights, and once I was comfortable enough she revealed herself and promised that if I went with her, she’d get me access to the royal library and a private space in the tower to read whenever I want.”

“Ms. Caroline was my next rescue,” Princess Lazuli said, indicating the merchant lady.

“My boar of the husband found some excuse to divorce me so he could marry some young tart that had caught his eye,” Caroline said. “It’s his loss; I know as much about running a proper trading company as he does, and I was the one keeping our books.” She bowed slightly to the Princess. “Now that I’m here, I have plans to support our growing family of unwanted women without relying on the royal purse so much.”

“When my husband died,” old Saffron said, “I had nobody to care for, and nobody to care for me. Her Highness has given me a new home to look after.”

“And then there was me and my children,” said the last woman, who had not given Lilianne her name yet. “My husband has such a vile temper, we weren’t safe in his house. We’re fortunate the Princess was flying by that night.”

“I heard the breaking dishes the night before, Jennifer,” Princess Lazuli said gently. Jennifer nodded.

“Well then,” Lilianne said, “I already know what brought Sarah here, and I’m here because I got fed up with my father not supporting my dream and tried to prove myself. But, what’s your story, Jewel?”

“Oh, I’m just the Princess’s handmaiden,“ Jewel said brightly. “I’ve been here forever. Well, ever since I stumbled through the portal from the castle on my first day on the job.”

Lazuli grinned at the girl. “And I couldn’t be happier with any other maid,” she said. She turned back to Lilianne and grew serious. “Now, Lilianne,” she said, “You’d better get some sleep. We’ll be busy tomorrow convincing Father to set you up for proper training as a knight. I want you ready as quickly as you can, because you’re going to have to be the captain of the guard for my secret kingdom of the unwanted.”

“Uh, sure,” Lilianne said, head spinning at the thought.

“Come on then,” Jewel said, taking Lilianne’s arm, “let me show you to the suites, and you can pick one out.” Lilianne nodded faintly and followed the cheerful handmaiden. As she left the dragon princess’s bedroom and walked down the stairs to the next floor, a huge grin split her face.

She was going to be a knight! A knight for a dragon!

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