She was raised in the old, crumbling castle, where the humans had left her. There was no family that she called her own – no one to tell her that she was only skin and bones, only valued by her outer shell. There was no one to tame her.
The little girl lived without fear poured down her throat, wild and fighting and alive. Along the dark corridors, she roared out with strong lungs, echoing the beast that had been with her since before she could remember.
He was as massive as the castle itself, big enough to black out the sky with his scales, big enough to slay armies with his voice alone, and his heart belonged only to the girl who snapped her dull teeth at him without remorse.
She had grown from a small abandoned child, hiding around corners and shyly touching the edges of his wings, to a woman full of dragon’s fire, a huntress who stalked the halls and fields of the castle with an innocent curiosity. She carried a dagger made of her beast’s tooth and nothing else; she needed nothing else. He was hers and hers alone – her guardian, irreverently brave, the one who stood by her and loved her, even when she had been rejected by her own kind.
(There was once – just once – when she had tried to become human again, when she had visited a small village to the west of her castle. They had stared and whispered and tried to dress her in scratchy clothes, pulling her tangled, wild curls into straight braids. She had growled and snapped at their closeness, tearing their uncomfortable coverings and ripping her hair out of the braids, not understanding why they kept trying to change her. When she roared, they fled in fear, and she stomped back to her dragon, lonely and sullen.)
Humans are only human, he had told her gently, warming her clammy hands with his breath. Forgive them, but do not forget.
Despite the time that passed, she did not forget. She made her heart into the heart of a dragon, declared fear her enemy, and slept each night knowing that her beast was beside her, heat radiating from his midnight scales and glowing in his molten gold eyes.
You are my huntress, he would tell her each night. Nothing that walks this earth can take my love from you.
Then the prince came.
He rode in with an army – he knew he could not face the old castle alone – and the huntress woke up cold.
Her dragon lay in enchanted chains, roaring fury through a muzzle that caged his fire.
The girl screamed and fought with the frenzy of desperation, but even one that wrestled with dragons was not enough to overcome a thousand men. She was carried away on the back of a horse, crying with pain and exhaustion, mistaken for relief by the misguided prince.
I didn’t need to be saved, she sobs, but her voice falls on deaf ears.
This castle is your home now, the prince says, wiping her wet cheeks, and she snaps at his hand. He introduces her to his disapproving mother, his spiteful younger brother. He grins wide and toothy and brags about the conquest of the dragon’s castle.
The huntress is forced into princess’s clothes, silken dresses that she trips over and corsets laced too tight around her broad, strong ribcage and bands and combs that pull at her hair and make her head ache. She is made to sit rigidly straight instead of comfortably slouched, carefully composed instead of snarling and honest. She wants to scream, wants to rip herself free of the layers of fabric that stifle her and throw herself back into the side of her dragon, but he is gone now and she does not even know where she would start to look for him.
At night she grows restless and sneaks out to the gardens, so boring and well-cultivated instead of exciting and wild like her castle fields had been. Her mind leaves her and she runs senselessly, as fast as she can go, until she wheezes for breath and bleeds from bare feet, stumbling and scrambling over stones and rose thorns.
The guards find her wild-eyed and ready to fight, her dragon-tooth dagger drawn and ready. They confiscate her weapon and throw her back in her room, and she screams and howls for the rest of the night, crying for the only piece of her beloved beast that she had left.
She becomes listless and sleeps most days, only leaving her room when it is demanded of her, or else. She has made too many attempts to escape for the royal family to trust her, and so most meals come to her from a slot in her door now, and the window is barred and shuttered permanently. Her freckles fade, her hair becomes matted, her eyes lose their shine. She is a shell of the laughing, roaring girl she once was, all pale, shaky hands and half-hearted growls at those who come to visit her.
(The prince comes often to talk, as if he is oblivious of everything that has happened. His younger brother brings friends that gawk and whisper and taunt and throw stones at her, until she either turns away or roars at them and chases them out. The woman she is to call ‘mother’ steals a disgusted glance in passing, but does not speak.)
Her dreams haunt her even when she is awake – dreams of fire and flying, of giant beating wings and smoke that smells of pine and roasted meat. She remembers stalking through the long grass outside her castle, swimming in the river than ran down the hill. She remembers wrestling with her beast, play-fighting and hunting each other until both of them lay on the floor in the castle’s great hall, gasping for breath. Sometimes she still wakes up with her blanket in a headlock, snarling and chewing on its corner like she gnawed on her dragon’s horns – but she cannot fathom the happiness she once felt, or remember how to smile as she once did.
What seems like an eternity later – although the princess reasons with herself that it could not have been more than a few months – the prince comes to her room, commanding her to ordain the new knights and pass her favor to them. She growls and rolls to her other side on the floor – she refuses to sleep on the too-soft bed. Small victories are her only comfort now.
The prince gives up soon and calls his mother to deal with the obstinate princess, and the queen brings a handmaid to wrestle the girl into her finest dress and yank her hair into a presentable style, looking on in distaste.
My son is a fool, she mutters as she herds the princess down the stairs into the great hall.
The princess snarls and drags her feet, but she can do nothing more. She sits heavily in the place set for her, elbows on the arms of her chair, leaning her head on her fist, wistful for something she isn’t sure she can put a name to. She misses everything that she once was – the simplicity of her old life, the freedom in the ruined castle, the warmth of her beast.
One by one, the new knights swear allegiance to the prince or the queen, kneeling to them before receiving a blessing or favor from the princess. She is to grant them good luck, as if she is a prize to be fought for, and she loathes all of it. She is tired of being in this proper, dusty kingdom, where everything is a scandal behind closed doors and obvious wrongs are never spoken of or corrected. She loses herself in thought.
Only when the room quiets – when all voices cease, and the ring of solitary footsteps on the stone floor is the only sound remaining in the hall – does the princess shake herself awake.
He stands straighter than the rest. His head is held higher, not in humble supplication, but in proud readiness, as if he has come to challenge the prince for his throne. His armor is black instead of beaten silver, bearing the blood-red marks of a barbarian, and his mouth is curved into a hunter’s smile.
But the feature that strikes the princess most are his eyes.
And when they settle on her, molten fiery gold, her heart swells to bursting and she smiles, she smiles wide enough to crack her dry lips and does not care. She would recognize him anywhere, in whatever form he took.
The queen moves to speak, but the knight does not kneel before her, or the prince, breezing past them both and brazenly climbing the steps to the princess’s throne. There, finally, he kneels, smile widening into a grin. He takes her hand and places his forehead on her knuckles, swearing allegiance to her and her alone.
You are my huntress, he murmurs, and his rumbling voice shakes the princess to her wild bones. Nothing that walks this earth can take my love from you.
The queen stands to protest, the prince a step behind her, but the huntress’s beast is already on his feet again and wings are bursting from his back, fire roaring in his mouth, and he presses a dagger into her outstretched hand.
I took the liberty of crafting another for you, in case you needed it.
The huntress grins and cuts herself free of her heavy skirts and corset, kicking off her pinching shoes and shaking the combs from her hair. You came back for me.
Dragons never really leave their princesses, he says, as they turn toward the guards that rush in through the wide double doors, ready to fight.
And their princesses never really want them to go, the huntress replies softly, with a sudden peaceful feeling that no matter what happens, she is finally home.
[[A/N: IT'S FINALLY DONE. *cries* This is my thank-you gift for 100 followers! I love you guys! (also special thanks to Lightning because a;lksdjf;qoiwejfl;aksdg;lksa;jwo;ieht'aiwejt;lksdjf;oiwauer'qpwejtl;akjsdlkvslakjf I love you so much I CAN'T EVEN RIGHT NOW) Enjoy!]]