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Nepotism

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Edit: Title changed, and typos extinguished. Thanks Jodi and Claire!

Cecilia peered over the edge of her breakfast bowl.

“Just eat it,” said her mother. “Today’s a big day.”

“Yeah, big day,” sang her little sister.

“What is it?” asked Cecilia.

“Nevermind what is it,” answered her mom. “It’ll give you energy. Eat up.”

“Ceci’s big day, gotta eat up,” sang her little sister, who was getting on Cecilia’s nerves.

Cecilia poked at the food. “It looks like mashed brains,” she said. “You know I don’t like mashed brains.”

“Look, just eat it, OK? There’s only a little mashed brains in there.” Her mother’s voice got a little louder.

“Fine,” said Cecilia. She dragged a claw through the bowl and licked off the tip. “Ew,” she said. “Too much brains.”

Meanwhile, Princess Plum was being primped and poked and pinned into a singularly impractical gown. She sighed while her handmaidens dashed about, adjusting her bustle and nudging her perfect curls into a somewhat more-perfect tumbling hairdo. They powdered her face and polished her nails and lightly scrubbed the inside of her ears. Her footmaidens daintily dabbed her insteps, and her kneemaidens buffed her regal patellae.

“I wish I had kneemaidens,” said Princess Claire, lying on her back on her sister’s bed. Her head dangled backwards off the edge, so her hair fell downwards towards the floor. She was dressed in suitable young princess-wear: fluffy soft footie pajamas, with grass stains on the knees and butt.

A trumpet sounded from the castle gate, and the assorted assistants gasped and jumped. A few darted forward to make the last adjustments as Princess Plum raised her chin and swept from the chamber. It was going to be a big day.

It was a fine, sunny morning. The air was crisp and cool, and multicolored banners fluttered at the end of tall posts surrounding the parade grounds. The autumn grass had been freshly mowed by a team of trained Royal Goats, whose droppings had been freshly swept away by the Royal Goat-sweepers, who had been gently but thoroughly hosed off by the Royal Hosemasters. The goat-sweepers stood to the side of the parade ground, holding their wet hats tightly to their chests. Nearby, in neat rows, stood the hosemasters, the cooks, the cleaners, the cook-cleaners, the armorers, the fletchers, the smiths, the arborists, and all manners of other assorted tradesmen and workers of every class. Behind them were the goats.

Across the field from the workers stood the Royal Guard, the Bowmen, the Pikemen, and the Swordsmen. Some sat upon stamping Royal Horses. All were dressed in their finest, shining armor. One man from each of these four phalanxes stood in front of his troops, dressed in even finer, more-shiny armor. It was these four men who were to face the dragon, one by one, to save Princess Plum, winning her hand (and, presumably, the rest of her) in marriage.

The Princess, alone, had been tied to a stout pole set in the ground, right in the center of the parade ground. Her hands were tied behind her back.

A murmur rose from the crowd as they turned to look over the hills. A dark shape, growing quickly larger, was gliding effortlessly towards them across the treetops. The people all drew backwards a few steps when Cecilia landed gracefully on the lawn.

Cecilia was a Royal Dragon, and though still young by dragon standards was still quite impressive. Her huge scales glinted in the sun, with an iridescent glow that appeared to be a magical color somewhere between gold and silver. She had enormous black talons and enormous black teeth, and her mouth, when she yawned and smacked her lips, was easily big enough to snap up a Royal Horse in one bite. She stretched her wings, rolled her shoulders, and looked over at the young woman tied to the pole.

Princess Plum bowed. Cecilia lowered her head towards the ground and blinked a few times, a dragon curtsey.

The pikeman, who had lost a complicated series of rock-paper-scissors throws, was supposed to go first. They found him cowering among the goats. After a cleansing hose-down to restore his armor’s shine, he was shoved out onto the parade ground to face the dragon.

“Prepare to die!” he shouted, bravely. Or at least he meant to. It sounded more to Princess Plum like he said “Omigod it’s huge,” or something like that.

Cecilia leaned her head towards him on her long, scaley neck and bit him in half.

A kneemaiden fainted.

The hosemasters were busy that morning, cleaning up the Royal Parade Ground. The pikeman, the swordsman, and the bowman had all fallen. By the third man, Cecilia wasn’t even hungry any more. She just squashed him into the ground with one huge, clawed hand.

Royal Guard Jasper, an elite soldier who had risen though the ranks of the other divisions to be chosen as one of the castle’s finest warrior-protectors, advanced alone across the sodden field towards the dragon. He carried a heavy mace in one hand, and an huge shield in the other. His helmet was drawn across his forehead, and his armor chinked and sparkled as he approached Cecilia.

The dragon looked under her claws, trying to lick out a little bit of bone or spleen or something.

A shrill, young voice rose across the field as Princess Claire ran towards her sister. She was brandishing a wooden stick that still had a few leaves attached, and her toes had torn through the footies on her pajamas. “You get away from my sister!” she yelled, running straight at the Royal Dragon.

Jasper tried to grab her as she darted by, but slowed by his armor, he could only twist towards the girl as he toppled over.

“Sister?” thought Cecilia. The dragon looked at Princess Plum, who pursed her lips and rolled her eyes, pointing her royal chin at the little girl running towards her.

“That’s my little sister,” said Princess Plum. “She gets on my nerves sometimes.”

Cecilia looked down towards her own thick back legs, where Princess Claire was mightily whapping at her with the stick.

“Watch out!” screamed Princess Claire. “She might be invisible!”

“Invisible?” asked Cecilia.

“No, not invisible,” said Princess Claire, correcting herself. “What’s the word, for something you can see, but isn’t really there?”

“Imaginary?” replied Cecilia, who wasn’t.

“Yeah! I bet she’s not even here! Go back to where you really aren’t from ‘cause you’re not real you big dragon!” yelled Princess Claire.

Princess Plum, again, rolled her eyes.

Cecilia drew herself up to her full height, towering over the crowd. She glared at the rest of the pikemen, swordsmen, bowmen, and the Royal Guards. They scattered from their formations and ran. Jasper, wet and muddy, had managed to raise up his chest onto his elbows so he could watch.

Princess Claire glared up, defiantly.

The dragon drew up a huge hand, and extended a black, bloody claw. Then she held it in front of her eyes and said, “I can’t see you.”

Princess Claire blinked. “She’s gone! I defeated the dragon!”

Cecilia looked sideways at Princess Plum, who mouthed quietly, “Thanks.” The Royal Dragon shrugged back at her, and leaped into the air, flying away.

The King declared, “Royal Guard Jasper has defeated the dragon and has won Princess Plum’s hand in marriage!”

Jasper, who had been through a lot, thanked the king. He did marry a princess, later, but had to wait for her to grow up.

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One response

  1. Title suggestion: Nepotism

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