Gerald came up short as he crossed the threshold. He had been expecting to see a giant, fire breathing lizard, with great creaking wings and teeth as sharp as swords. He had expected a pitched battle, dodging blasts of fire that would incinerate him in an instant. What he hadn’t expected, however, was the vision of beauty standing before him.
For there was no dragon in this room, at least not the kind of dragon that all the tales had led him to imagine. In the room, huddled on the four-poster bed, was a woman. She seemed younger than him, if not by much, and her beautiful locks cascaded over her shuddering frame like a waterfall of molten gold. But this was not what was most remarkable about her.
Gerald had seen many maidens in his day, but none like this. For the most part she resembled a normal woman, but he saw that her arms and legs were scaled in gold from the elbows and knees down, and ended in large, wicked looking claws. From her temples, horns sprouted, twisting back from her brow in captivating whorls, reflecting the firelight like gemstones. Her back sported a pair of wings, leathery and large enough to cover her entire body, and the scales covering the wing bones were also of gold. These she draped over herself, as sobs wracked her body.
The knight’s arms drooped, his sword point lowered to the floor, and he stood to his full height. Thought of battle was gone from his mind, and in a soft voice, full of wonder, he inquired, “My lady? Are you the Princess of Zaevaria?”
At his voice her sobs trailed off into sniffles, and as she peered up through her golden hair he saw that there were scales running along her jawline and cheeks as well. Her eyes were deep pools of gold, and as he looked Gerald felt he could get lost in them for eternity, and that might not be such a bad fate. She regarded him with suspicion, saying in a voice that was like honey mead, “Yes, I am Miassi, Princess of Zaevaria. You are not Wizard Benshi.”
He chuckled and smiled, saying, “No, I am no wizard. I have been sent here to rescue you.” Gerald had heard stories of love at first sight, and always discounted them as the romantic ramblings of lovesick lunatics. However, upon seeing this lovely creature, and hearing her mellifluous voice, he thought he might have to put some stock in those tales after all.
Her eyes lit up and she started, saying, “Truly? You will take me back to my father?”
Gerald remembered his manners, and dropped to one knee. He planted his sword point in the stone before him, rested his hands on it, and replied, “My lady, I am Sir Gerald Ilberd. I have been sent here by the King Thairon to rescue you, and return you to your father, if you will allow me to accompany you there.”
“Of course!” Miassi leapt up from the bed, and he saw that she had a tail as well. It was waving out behind her, twitching in excitement. He stood, and she ran over to wrap her arms around him, and he felt her tears on his cheek. He embraced her, comforting the distressed dragon woman, until her tears ceased.
“On my honor, I swear I will protect you, Princess Miassi,” he said. “Now, let us quit this place. I imagine you want to be gone more than I do.” He fished in his pouch and found the magical whistle given him by Dyzohr, brought it to his lips, and blew. No sound came out, but Gerald had learned to stop questioning the ways of wizards. If the whistle worked, then Dyzohr had heard it, and would be sending word to King Thairon.
Taking his sword up in his right hand, he offered the other to Miassi. She placed her right claw into his gauntleted hand, and their grips tightened. She looked into his eyes and smiled, saying, “I think this is the first time I’ve been truly happy in years. Thank you, Sir Gerald.”
“Of course, Princess. Now, be careful of the stairs as we descend. This place is laden with enough traps to slay an army.”
They went carefully, and at last made it back to the library. Gerald hadn’t been as thorough in putting out that fire as he’d thought, and when they emerged from the stairwell they saw a fat man in long robes and a cowl rushing about the room. He was tossing books in large piles away from the fire, throwing rugs across the room, trying everything he could to contain the blaze. They watched with some amusement as he ran about, until he noticed them.
In a blubbery voice he screeched, “What are you doing out of your room?”
Gerald raised his sword, proclaiming, “She is under my protection now, wizard, and I will cut you down if you try to take her back to that place.”
Benshi didn’t waste more time. His hands flew up, and he began a casting. Miassi seemed to recognize the spell, and pushed Gerald to the side as she took in a great lungful of air. Gerald watched in horrified amazement as she breathed out a stream of fire stronger than any blacksmith’s forge right at the wizard. His casting not yet complete, his robes burst into flame, and the smell of charred flesh filled the library as he collapsed into a screaming, burning heap.
They ran out of the library then, Gerald looking at his new charge with a level of respect and fear he didn’t know he was capable of. As they crossed the meadow, past the body of Mugork towards Heiko, the knight thought he heard a familiar laughter. Looking towards the source, he saw a mud and thatch hut hove into view, carried on great tree trunks that were moving like spider legs. Not wanting to remain any longer, he mounted the battle charger, helped Miassi on behind him, and they rode away towards town.
The two rode for hours, and until they were in sight of the town walls they were followed by the thin, reedy laughter of the Wizard Dyzohr as the ancient mage plundered the hold of his former rival. As they approached the town, Miassi rested her head on Gerald’s broad back, and he thought that no matter the distance, no matter the danger, he would face it all for her.