Damn! This one must be really stupid, the Dragon thought as he approached. The chain binding her to the traditional fang of black rock was extremely strong, but after all his hard work surely she could have broken it and escaped if she'd struggled hard enough? They just don't make princesses like they used to! She wasn't even beautiful, he noted with annoyance as he came in to land, though with those looks she would undoubtedly be a virgin as tradition demanded. Some of the previous victims had not been virgo intacta and he had wondered if the King had been aware of it. Like all Dragons he had an infallible built-in sense of virginity which came to the fore when faced with a princess chained to a rock.
Looking briefly at her face again (then wishing that he hadn't) he decided that there was just no respect any more. Had his father been presented with a sacrifice who looked like this, everyone in the entire country would have known about it - and suffered for it! Luckily for them he was different. But really, it was very tedious.
Doing his best to avoid looking at her again, he indulged in the expected ramping, roaring and breathing clouds of smoke. It was just too much of a fag to breathe fire, and he wasn't going to keep it up for very long either. The nerve of them, presenting him with someone like this. Were they beginning to take him for granted?
Choosing a moment after he had belched so much smoke that he was feeling slightly nauseous (though possibly the princess's face had contributed), he extended a powerful claw and severed the link that he had spent hours weakening. Then he went into a positive paroxysm of ramping as the chain fell to the ground.
The Princess, unexpectedly freed, should have made her escape through the smokescreen. Instead, she gave a little scream and fainted.
For goodness sake, the Dragon thought angrily, stopping in mid roar. This really was the last straw! What on earth was he supposed to do now? Ravish her? Ugh! It was bad enough looking at her! He could never bring himself to do it.
He looked around for a Knight-in-Shining-Armour, but there was none in sight, and his sight, being that of a Dragon, was both superb and far-reaching. Why, he asked himself resentfully, is there never a Saint George around when you need one? About the only thing he could do was to fly away and leave her. In fact the more he thought about her looks, the better the idea seemed. She could make her own way back to the palace after she recovered. It was a long walk, but no scales off his back.
Meanwhile he'd vent his annoyance on the countryside as he returned to his lair. And serve them right too. Offering him a sacrifice like this. What a cheek!
Leaving a trail of fire damage in his wake for the insurance companies to deal with (though as always they tried to avoid settling on the specious grounds that he was an act of God), he landed on the ledge in front of his cave and admired the sunset while he had his supper. Then, still annoyed, he went to bed, worn out by all the activity and emotion.
The Princess arrived at the palace gates, weary, footsore and in an extremely bad temper (her usual state). When she had recovered from her fainting fit she'd thought at first that the Dragon had ravished and devoured her, and she'd made it into heaven.
In which case, where were the pearly gates? Where was St Peter deferentially bowing her in as a saintly martyr? Where were the attendants, jewels and pretty dresses to which her rank entitled her? A handsome prince or two wouldn't come amiss either!
Instead of which, after all her trouble, terror and noble sacrifice, she was lying uncomfortably at the foot of the traditional black rock in the hot sun and tangled up in a broken chain. It was, to say the least, undignified. Both she and her beautiful new dress (bought especially for the event and never worn before) were covered in soot and the air was extremely hot and sultry. Hadn't the Dragon heard of Global Warming and the Clean Air Act? She had a good mind to complain to the environmental agencies (all six hundred and sixty-six of them) about it. Judging by the amount of black smoke the beast had produced it was badly in need of a service and probably an emissions check as well.
She wasn't very happy with her reception by the palace guards either. Instead of snapping to rigid and thankful attention at the sight of her, the younger ones were sniggering behind their hands at the state she was in, and the remainder were gawping in dismay.
"Stand at attention at once," she snarled. "It is I, the Twelfth Princess." Any Dragon, schoolmaster or prison guard would have envied her tone.
"Apologies, Princess Twelve," said the captain, manfully suppressing a grin. "We were struck dumb with pleasure at your escape."
Being prone to unreasonableness and bad temper she was not a popular princess. In fact had the guards been given any choice in the matter she would have been the first princess sacrificed instead of the twelfth, but she had insisted that protocol be observed and that her older sisters (all eleven of them) face the monster before her. After all, she had reasoned, surely one of them would do the trick and rid the land of the ravening beast.
It had been a severe shock when Princess Eleven had returned (very footsore) to the palace and she had been told that it was her turn next. Not even the fact that Princesses One to Eleven had escaped unharmed had reconciled her to her fate and, during the weeks before the next attempt to placate the brute was due, the palace had been made hideous to everyone from the King down to the lowliest scullion.
When she appeared in the throne room, the King was as dismayed as the guards. The long delay before her return, due to her prolonged fainting fit, had raised false hopes on several counts. First that the Dragon had finally (and very belatedly) accepted the sacrifice and vanished, and second that they were free of her bad-tempered presence forever, thus killing two birds as it were (the dragon, after all, belonged to a winged species) with one stone. Or in this case, with a fang of black rock.
He had no need to ask what had happened. This was the twelfth attempt and still they were no further forward. Even replacing the original ancient and rusty iron chain with the latest variety, made out of the finest Cookmeadow steel, guaranteed to be class-one secure and kitemarked by the CPSDC (Committee of Public Security and Dragon Chains) to be proof against all forms of attack, had been a waste of time and money. Here she was, and there (presumably) was the Dragon, still rampaging around the countryside and upsetting the insurance companies. It was terribly depressing.
What had the Kingdom done to deserve it? Other lands with an infestation offered a sacrifice or two and away the Dragon went. But not this one. Could it be something to do with the Party Political System and Associated Acronyms (PPS and AAs)? It was shortly after their adoption that the Dragon had appeared. Whatever the reason, there was obviously something badly wrong with the country for it to be plagued like this.
It hadn't occur to him, or to anyone else, that it might be the Dragon that was wrong rather than the country.
The King called a meeting with the PM (Prime Minister), LOTO (Leader Of The Opposition), the PC (Privy Council) who had been checking the privies and were delighted to leave off, and the CCS (Chief Civil Servant) who was neither civil nor considered himself to be anyone's servant.
"What are we to do now?" the King asked, by way of opening the meeting.
The PM jumped instantly to his feet. "This is the result of months of opposition misrule," he yelled hysterically. "It is all the fault of the party opposite."
"The honourable member for Creep-Under-Sludge-and-Slush (CUSS - twinned with Derriere-du-Monde, France) is talking through his hat," the LOTO screamed. "Since his party took power, and I use the word 'took' advisedly, the country has faced a series of DUH's (Disasters Unparalleled in History)."
"Much you know about history," the Prime Minister shrieked.
"I know more than you do."
"No you don't."
"Yes I do."
"No you don't "
"Yes I do."
"No you . . ."
"Will you both be quiet!" the King bellowed, knowing that like all politicians they would go on in this vein for hours unless checked. "It's a waste of time having you two at meetings, you behave like school boys. Just as you do in Parliament."
The two statesmen subsided, recalling that the PPS (Party Political System) was still on trial and not yet an accomplished fact. The King had not so far given up any real power and could still return the Kingdom to that of an AM (Autocratic Monarchy) and where would the fat salaries, free accommodation with choice of duck house, expenses and pensions that they had voted themselves be then?
The Privy Council said nothing. It made no difference which system they served under, the privies smelt just as bad.
But the Chief Uncivil Nonservant's eyes narrowed as an idea struck him. Politicians were extremely easy to bully and subvert. The King, with his tendency to behead first and ask questions afterwards, was a different matter altogether.
"Sire," he said obsequiously, "if I may make a suggestion?"
He always made suggestions, having honed to perfection the art of giving orders that way.
"You do have - forgive me, Sire - another child who could be sacrificed."
"What do you mean, another child? I have twelve daughters and they've all been offered the chance to save their country." This was not quite accurate. They had been given no choice in the matter. "All of them have failed and there are none left, unless we could borrow one from old King Cole de Froid. He has forty seven, I believe, and could probably spare one or two."
"Forty nine at last count, Sire, and I understand that even that number is due to increase shortly."
"Good grief," said the King. "Doesn't the man know when to stop?"
"Apparently not." He was about to add that old King Cole de Froid was desperately trying to produce a male heir but realised, just in time, that it wouldn't suit his plans. "I doubt if he would lend us a princess, Sire, after the problems he had getting his lawnmower back. To say nothing of the state it was in."
The King looked uncomfortable. The episode, during which the UND (Uncivil Nonservice Department) had joyfully wrapped the machine up in so much red tape that it looked like a beach ball and had then mistakenly sent it to a blacksmith for filing, had left a certain amount of bitterness between the two Kingdoms.
"So what is your suggestion?"
"Well, we don't have any more princesses left, but we do have - forgive me again, Sire - a rather, er, troublesome prince."
About to explode in a **** (Fit of Autocratic Rage and Temper), the King decided against it. The word 'troublesome' persuading him to forego the pleasure. It was perfectly correct. Prince Nicholas, his youngest child, was indeed troublesome.
He had refused to attend the spartan TUSP (Toughening Up School for Princes) set in the farthest, most inhospitable and coldest reaches of the Kingdom, stated that he wouldn't go into the ILA (Idiot Led Army - his own description) as tradition demanded, and even declined to join the UGH Soc (Uppercrust and Grand Heirs Society), preferring to keep company with stable boys and other lowborn riff-raff instead. He laughed at court etiquette and skipped the RBs for MPs and Ps (Royal Balls for Marriageable Princes and Princesses) at which it was his duty to dance with every hopeful contender for his hand, no matter what they looked like. But worst of all, he had once declared (in public too!) that the noble horse of legend, song and story, was a brainless creature with defective steering and faulty brakes, and that only persons who were equally moronic revered and rode the stupid animals.
His father didn't understand him at all, and didn't want to either; which was why, although he was the only prince in the Kingdom and so had been given a name rather than a number like his sisters, the King seldom referred to him by that name or, indeed, referred to him at all.
"But that would leave the Kingdom without an heir. If it worked."
"Not necessarily, Sire. You may recall that Princesses One to Five are not only married but have borne several non-troublesome sons already. I could make a simple change to the inheritance laws which would make the oldest of them heir to the throne." And afterwards, he added to himself, change it to someone more suitable (like myself!).
"Hmm," mused the King. "That really is rather a good idea . . . but the Dragon is so fussy . . . and of course it goes against tradition . . . and . . . well . . . but . . . do you really think it's worth a try?"
"Very definitely, Sire. We have tried everything else."
And if the Dragon doesn't take him, thought the **** (Chief Uncivil Nonservant Traitor), I will personally make sure that Prince Nicholas doesn't survive. Cheeky brat! Then when the King pops off I will only have the two PCs (Political Cretins) to deal with.
"Very well then," the King ordered. "Attend to it."
Prince Nicholas was surprised, some weeks later, to find a beautiful clean new tunic in his pigeon hole (the pigeon was out stuffing its face at the time, which was why it was still clean). Being extremely unpopular with his father, he was seldom given any new clothes and was forced to spend hours mending those that he had, if he wasn't to come bursting out of them. He didn't particularly mind the sewing, though most boys his age would have been even more troublesome than he was if they'd had to do the same.
Hoping that it might foretell a better future (one with fewer pricked fingers for instance) he put it on, brushed his hair and, when summoned to the throne room, looked rather attractive and much more a prince than he usually did.
"Oh, it's you," said his father in a disparaging voice. "Now that you're fifteen years old I've got a special task for you. One that will do great things for the Kingdom."
Nicholas's immediate reaction (as always) was to state firmly that he was going to do the exact opposite, but waited to find out more in order to make his troublesomeness particularly effective. However he wasn't given the opportunity.
"Take him away to do his duty," the King commanded, and Nicholas found himself bound in the traditional conveying chain (into which flowers had been intertwined for some reason), placed on the traditional decorated cart, and conveyed with much ceremony and loud blowing of trumpets (played very badly and horribly out of tune), to the traditional fang of black rock.
Good grief, he thought, what on earth do these idiots think they're doing?
"The King's orders, Prince," the COG (Captain Of the Guard) told him. He had made the journey twelve times to date and it was all old hat to him. He waited in a bored fashion for this latest victim to scream and wail and beg to be released.
But Nicholas did nothing of the sort. I don't know, he reflected, how they can be so stupid. I'm a boy. So of course the Dragon won't be interested in me, and nothing will happen.
He was helped from the cart, the conveying chain was removed and he was bound securely to the rock with the (newly repaired) steel one. It wasn't very comfortable but it wouldn't be for long. The Dragon always knew when the next victim had appeared: the appalling trumpet-playing alerted it. The Captain or the Guard (COG) and his MEN (Male Enforcement Nitwits) jumped into the cart, whipped up the horses and departed as soon as Nicholas had been secured, having no wish to meet the Dragon face to face. Dragons were by tradition only interested in royalty, but they felt it wise not to put it to the test.
The Dragon who had been enjoying a peaceful siesta until awakened by all the commotion, had watched the procession to the rock with some interest. He knew as well as anyone how many princesses the kingdom owned and was sure that he hadn't miscounted. There were twelve of them and twelve had been presented to him, so there were none left. Unless they were recycling them? It wouldn't surprise him in the least. Since the PEDS (Politicians Experts Do-gooders and Scientists) had gone mad about the environment, nobody was safe - especially the tax payers. Surely, though, even the PEDS wouldn't be stupid enough to present him with a used princess, and if they were substituting a commoner they would quickly discover their mistake. Well, better go down and have a look. 'Soonest Seen, Roasted Been' he thought idly, emitting a small flame as he repeated the old saying.
Prince Nicholas watched the Dragon approach with great interest. Hardly anyone had seen the creature close up and descriptions varied wildly according to terror, temperament and imagination. Some claimed that he was bigger than two elephants, others that he was a little smaller but of surpassing viciousness and depravity. In fact, the prince decided as he watched him preparing to land, he was rather splendid. If it was a he. Were there female dragons? He'd never heard of any, but if there were to be little Dragonettes there would have to be. Perhaps a Dragoness's place was in the Lair. Admiring the colourful wings, the shining scales and the elegantly-shaped body and tail, he decided that not only was the dragon rather splendid, he was rather beautiful as well. Though very much smaller than he'd expected.
As he came closer the Dragon was surprised to see that the victim was clothed in a short tunic that only reached the upper thighs and revealed a pair of rather nice legs. All the previous sacrifices had worn formal evening dress which went all the way down to the feet. Nor was the victim writhing, shrieking and begging for mercy, which made a pleasant change.
Landing close to the rock in swirl of dust - the weather had been rather dry recently; perhaps he'd been overdoing the fire-breathing a little? - he consulted his sense of virginity then took a startled step backwards. The victim was definitely a virgin, no doubt at all about that. But there was something else, something that he didn't understand, something decidedly odd. He stood up on his hind legs using his tail for balance and peered at the victim.
Nicholas, as the dust settled, peered back and with a feeling of satisfaction noted that the dragon was indeed male. Very male!
"Excuse me," the Dragon said politely in a husky voice (all that smoking, though at least he didn't inhale). "But, what are you?"
"Oh, I'm the latest sacrifice," replied Nicholas blithely. "Your next victim."
"But you're not quite the usual type. There's something very strange about you. I've never come across a princess like you before. I'm a little confused."
"Oh, I see," Nicholas said, beginning to giggle. "Sorry, but I'm not actually a princess."
The Dragon drew himself up to his full height, which made him a little taller than the Prince. "You're a commoner then, are you? Because if you are, I have never been so insulted in my life."
"Oh no, don't worry, I'm not a commoner, or even common, I hope. I'm royalty, but I'm not a princess. I'm a prince."
"A prince?" exclaimed the Dragon, not sure whether he had been insulted or not. "I've never come across one before. What exactly is a prince?"
"Good grief, don't you know?"
"If I knew I wouldn't have to ask."
"Of course. Sorry. I didn't mean to be rude. A prince is, well, I suppose a boy princess is the best way to describe it."
"You're a boy!?" The Dragon's voice squeaked on the last word (he was very young, as dragons go). "But, but if you're a boy, how is it that you're a virgin? Don't boys attend to the matter as soon as they're old enough? Or even before?"
Nicholas blushed. "I suppose they do. In fact I know they do. But I'm, er, well, I'm, er, different. It's a little hard to explain, and a bit embarrassing. You see, I'm a . . . a gay prince."
"Ah! A Happy Prince. I've heard of them," the Dragon said, pleased. He'd read the book and enjoyed it.
"Er, no. Not The Happy Prince. Nor am I a particularly happy prince either. What I mean when I say that I'm gay is that I'm a boy who likes boys, rather than a boy who likes girls."
"Does gay mean that as well? I didn't know." He shook his head. "So you're a, er, Homoboy like a Homodragon?"
"I suppose so. Well not suppose. I am, I'm afraid."
"Why be afraid?" the Dragon asked, rearing up a little. It didn't add to his height but Nicholas's eyes opened wider at the sight.
"Do you mean that you're a . . . a . . . what did you call it?"
"A Homodragon. Yes I am. That's why I could never bring myself to ravish the princesses and always made sure that they escaped."
"Wow, way cool!" said Nicholas in an excited voice. As well as being troublesome he was also quite modern in his use of language though not perhaps, entirely accurate. He thought for a minute but, not having an infallible built-in sense, was forced to ask, "Are you a, er, virgin too?"
It was the Dragon's turn to blush, his lovely blue, green and golden scales going quite pink.
"Well, er, yes I am, I'm afraid."
"Why be afraid?" Nicholas asked, rearing up a little. It didn't add anything to his height but the Dragon's eyes opened wider at the sight. "Well, me being a Homoboy is why I'm a still a virgin, in spite of certain people trying to change me. Was it the same with you?"
"All the time," the Dragon sighed. "All those aggressive young Dragonesses . . . " He shuddered at the memory. "When I refused to, er, co-operate, they decided to sacrifice me to a troublesome Amazon-in-Shining-Armour, so I ran away from home."
Nicholas looked at him sympathetically. He'd thought he had problems when he was pricking his fingers instead of pricking, well, other things. At that point he realised that although he didn't have an infallible sense of virginity like the Dragon did, he did have another sense which would serve them both even better.
"Am I right in thinking," he said after a pause during which he and the Dragon regarded each other with increasing interest and admiration, "Well, does it mean that you would like to, er, ravish me?"
The Dragon blushed again. This time his attractive blue and green and golden scales went a fiery red. "Er, yes, I'd like to very much. You wouldn't, er, mind, would you?"
Nicholas gave a huge sigh of relief. "No, not at all. I'd like you to be, er, gentle at first, though. You're a bit bigger than me."
"I think we're about the same size but I'll be as gentle as a tiger cub if you will be as well when it's your, er, turn," the Dragon said, breaking the chain just where the kitemark was, and at the same time (purely by accident) slitting Nicholas's new tunic from top to bottom. Nicholas blushed again, his attractive pink and white skin going a fiery red because in the excitement of new clothing he had forgotten to put on any underwear. "Do you think I should ramp and roar a bit as I usually do to frighten the populace?" the Dragon went on, his eyes widening even more at the sight.
"No," Nicholas replied, shrugging out of what remained of his clothing and the chain. "Much as I'd love to watch you, I think you should take me home right away without wasting any more time. You can always do it later."
"Great minds think alike," said the Dragon, rising further to the occasion as he watched Nicholas doing the same. "You won't mind living with me in the cave, will you? You must be used to more comfortable places."
"It isn't chilly, is it?" Nicholas had always hated the cold.
"No. I have built-in central heating," the Dragon told him proudly, emitting a small flame to prove it.
"Then I won't mind at all. As long as we're together."
The Dragon retracted his claws, which had a tendency to extend when he was excited, and picked Nicholas up.
"Off to ravishment then," he said happily as the boy put his arms around his neck and kissed him.
Extending his wings he swept up into the air and carried Nicholas off to his lair, where they loved, and lived happily forever . . .