There are all types of dragons out there.
Big ones, small ones. Ones that breathe fire, or ice. Ones that don’t breathe anything at all. Ones that can swim, ones that can fly, ones that can dig. There are all different kinds of dragons out there, and they all serve a purpose. All have a function. Every last one of them is important.
And I believe it’s the same with humans, too.
The ones with heritage, the ones without. The ones with royalty in their blood, and the ones that know their way around a field.
Even the sassy humans. The stubborn ones. The ones that don’t know when to quit, that don’t understand danger, don’t see it as a problem. Humans that don’t care for heritage. For responsibility or duty. Even humans that chase after something, without regard to what he leaves behind.
Even a human like you.
The first time we met was strange. Honestly, I don’t remember much of the exchange. Only that, in the end, I agreed to go play at his house.
Which, actually, was a castle.
The king’s castle, to be exact.
I wasn’t in full dragon form, but I wasn’t in full human form either. I was stuck somewhere in between.
In all honesty, it made me look like a wild demon.
That was probably why his mom startled when she turned and saw me, though it took her a few minutes.
Mostly because he hadn’t introduced me. Not really.
When we’d entered the garden, he’d simply said, “Mom, I brought home a dragon.”
To which his mother replied, “What?”
And he’d said it again.
“Mom, I brought home a dragon, and I’m keeping her.”
Which was when Her Majesty finally turned around to look at her son.
And found him holding hands with a demon-child.
Though, at the time, I wasn’t really self-aware enough that I understood what I looked like.
So, with my sharp, razor-like dragon teeth and my wings spread out behind me, I grinned at Her Majesty.
And you could tell Her Majesty was a bit alarmed, though she did a really good job of hiding it.
“Uh, hi sweetie. Um, where is your mother?”
“She’s on her way.”
Which was when my mother’s roaring, and a bunch of citizens panicking, could be heard.
Honestly, I’m not sure how any of survived that day. Mother was livid with me, Her Majesty was livid with Keizer, and Keizer was livid with my mother for spoiling his fun.
But, in the end, it all turned out okay. In fact, Keizer and I were still allowed to be friends (even though he kicked my mother in the shin). In fact, Keizer and I are best friends. Have been for years.
Which is how Keizer became known as The Dragon Prince.
Quite a title, from what I’m told. Apparently, in human culture, dragons are quite feared. Aside from Keizer, no humans are really able to order dragons around like Keizer does.
Really, Keizer isn’t ordering dragons—plural—around. I’m the only dragon he hangs out with.
And, in all honesty, Keizer isn’t really ordering me around. It just sounds like that because he’s a brash bastard who doesn’t have an ounce of sensitivity.
But, it’s alright.
It’s part of who he is.
“Hey, isn’t that the village your mom wants you to visit? For a morale boost or whatever?”
“Tch,” he tsks. Clearly, Keizer is not fond of running errands for his mother.
Or at all, really.
“I’m not going down there. What the hell am I going to do anyway? Give some motivational speech? Yeah, okay.”
My brain churned that over a moment as we flew by, the wind whipping under us as the clouds passed under me, hiding us from the village.
I can’t put my finger on it, but Keizer is being strange. Weird.
Since he had that conversation with his mother last night… right after that dinner I wasn’t allowed to go to…
Keizer had been pissed about that. But Her Majesty had been adamant that I wasn’t allowed to attend. Said that it would foster a different kind of atmosphere than the one needed. That I might startle or scare off the guests.
Which was understandable. Not the usual policy, but understandable.
Before this year, I’d been allowed to attend any and all parties as Keizer’s guest of honor. Before this year, it didn’t matter if having a dragon attend startled anyone. Didn’t matter if it fostered a different kind of atmosphere. Didn’t matter if Keizer and I left early to go for a late-night fly.
But something changed this year.
Suddenly, my human form wasn’t good enough. Even without my sharp teeth, wings, tail and scales, I wasn’t allowed into parties anymore. I wasn’t considered the prince’s guest of honor. I wasn’t a guest at all. Not even a guard.
Her Majesty banned me from the castle grounds during balls, feasts, dinners, and parties.
And, I can’t say that it didn’t hurt, because it did—still does.
I feel like I understand somehow.
Like… for humans, it might make sense.
Something like that.
I don’t like dwelling on it. Don’t like thinking about it at all, really. About all the nights I wait at the gate for Keizer to be done. For him to be released from his duties as prince. For him to come find me by the gate, tell me all the stupid little things I missed—the things that are stupid to him, but that I love. Like the good food, or how Duke Etherton is doing now that his leg is healed up, or how that dam in Holsted Forest is doing after Keizer and I sealed it up. I like to hear about those things. To hear how things are going in the kingdom. And Keizer knows that, despite not caring. He knows.
So he pays attention.
And he finds me.
And he gives me everyone’s regards while regaling the events of the evening. All while handing me bits of food he managed to sneak away with.
If there’s anything I dwell on, it’s that.
How he doesn’t abandon me.
It’s a small comfort when I’m being exiled.
“Keizer, should we…?” I leave the question as reality floats back to me.
We’ve overshot the village his mother wanted us to visit. Overshot it by miles.
We should go back…
“No,” he says, as if reading my mind.
He leans down, like he does when he’s readying himself for a fast flight. For speed.
He leans down, and he speaks again. Quietly, just loud enough for me to hear his words over the wind.
“Keep going. Go. Go faster.”
It’s obvious to me that his patience is, suddenly, lost. Left behind like the village, miles below and away from us.
“Land on that mountain,” he instructs, voice gruff. Angry.
Though, with Keizer, anything that isn’t strictly happiness turns into anger.
So it’s kind of hard for me to tell what exactly is bugging him.
So instead of prodding and getting nowhere, I do as he asks.
I land, right in the crook of a mountain. Inside a small cave.
As I shrink down to my human form, Keizer turns, gives me some privacy as I fix my cloths and make them into clothes.
“What’s this about? What’s eating you Keizer?” I ask as I finish.
He’s still not looking at me.
And that can’t be a good thing.
“She wants me to give it up,” is all he says at first.
When there’s definitely nothing for me to glean from that, I inquire further.
“What do you mean? Her Majesty? What does she want you to give up?”
And he doesn’t answer, but he really doesn’t need to.
All he does is turn around and give me that knowing look. Like we’re in trouble. Like we’re going to be grounded. Like we’re not going to be allowed to leave our rooms for weeks.
Only, it’s worse.
Much much worse.
“She says I have to get married. That that’s the next step. Dad won’t be king forever, and she says I need a queen. Need to stop being ‘the dragon prince’ or whatever. That I need to grow up. That being married will settle me. Will calm me down.”
The list is getting too long.
It’s getting harder for me to react positively.
“Well, she’s not lying. It probably will mellow you out,” I point out, focusing on the things I can grab in that moment.
He glares at me, but not at me all at once.
I’m not the one he’s really angry with, I know that.
And he knows that I know that.
Which is why he explodes.
He starts ranting, already blowing his lid. Which is normal for Keizer. As he goes, my brain is still trying to process what he’s already told me, so I don’t catch exact words. I only can catch the gist of what he’s saying. Which is:
He doesn’t want to get married to some stranger.
He doesn’t want to become king.
He doesn’t want to give up being ‘the dragon prince’.
He doesn’t want to give me up.
And that one he does say. He says it looking at me, as he’s simmering down. The realization of all the shouting and letting himself express what he’s feeling comes crashing down, and he simmers. He looks at me, and he says it again.
“I don’t want to give you up.”
And, now that I understand what’s been going on, I imagine he’ll have to.
He’ll have to.
Because of his rule. Because of his wife. Because I’m a beast, a dragon. Because things like me don’t belong in the human world. Aren’t important enough.
In the world of castles and royals and power, I have no part to play.
I’m not even a pawn.
For some reason, Her Majesty has ruled me useless.
No, not useless.
A way to make enemies.
A roadblock for her son.
Her majesty really thinks that.
Her Majesty thinks I’m holding Keizer back.
The realization is like a punch to the gut. Like my own mother has abandoned me, or like I’ve been discarded completely. Deemed worthless.
Like clawing. Like aching. Like the time I swallowed my fire instead of spitting it.
It hurts so bad that it’s hard to stop the wet, angry, painful pricking in my eyes.
Without much warning to either of us, I start to cry.
It stops Keizer’s rant entirely.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, wrapping me in a hug.
I hate crying. Hate people seeing me cry. Hate it so much.
I have no problem hugging Keizer normally, on a regular day. But right now? It’s even easier to plant my face into the crook of his shoulder and cry silently into his shirt. Much easier than sitting there and standing alone, crying in full view.
So I push my face into his shoulder, and I cry for a bit.
The whole time, Keizer is speaking. Telling me he’s sorry, that he knew this would happen, that he’s sorry again, that he has an idea.
And, at that, the crying stops.
I’m still not ready to face him—I’m sure my face is red—so I sit there as he continues with his comforting words. His sweet-nothings.
But when I am ready to face him, I ask the question burning in my mind.
He looks surprised that I’ve gathered myself so suddenly. That my curiosity has overwhelmed my sadness.
He swipes at my face gently, brushing a tear stain away.
I nod at him. “What?”
He laughs once, but then sobers up. “Fly us away Etna. Your family won’t follow us, mine won’t be able to keep up. It’s perfect. Fly us away, somewhere safe, somewhere we can hide. Take us anywhere, I don’t care. Just take us away from here Etna. Fly us away.”
When he speaks, he isn’t just asking.
Begging to let me know that he’s desperate. I’ve never heard Keizer beg, never. Not before now. He’s only doing it so I know:
This is what he really wants.
And he’s pleading because he knows that I might say no. That this all hinges on me. That I have an unreasonable sense of duty. When it comes to the country, when it comes to him being king, when it comes to humans as a whole. And he knows that I know this will set the country in turmoil. That this will upset so many. That his mother and father will be devastated, and knowing that pains me.
This is what he wants.
And, if I’m being honest with myself…
I want it too.
That’s what makes it so tempting.
Keizer leans forward, placing his forehead to my own.
“Don’t let them take you from me Etna. I can’t be a king without you.”
And I realize why things changed.
I realize why his mother has tried so hard to discard me.
Every one of us has a place in this world. We’re all quite important.
But, sometimes, our importance isn’t in the place where we were born.
Sometimes our importance lies in stepping down from things.
Like being king.
And there aren’t very many ways to step down from something like that. Not many sure-fire ways, anyway. But:
Running off and marrying a dragon?
That’s definitely one of them.
Her Majesty knew that this would happen. Saw me as a threat because she knows:
There’s no way I’d say no to Keizer.
Not on this.
And she wasn’t wrong.