He had been riding his horse for hours, not sleeping, stopping only to give his noble steed rest. She was there, in the tower, waiting for his rescue. And he shall rescue her. His name was Sir Wilhelm Lexmark, Prince of Naphteria. He and his people lived richly, on the mountainside of gold. He had but one more thing to gain before he settled on his thrown as king. His mission was to find his love, to bring her back, and make her queen. As his horse drank from the lake at the bottom of the mountain, he stood in his white, shining armor ready for battle. It was fabled that a fearsome dragon awaited him in those mountains. It was not the only dragon he could have fought, not the only princess he could have won, but it was the one he wanted, the one they said he could not have.

"I shall have her," he exclaimed to his horse, making its head rise. With a quick snap of his fingers the horse obediently came to his side. Upon mounting, the horse took off like lightning up a steep slope that led to the drawbridge of a castle, wherein a princess waited to be rescued, in the very highest tower, beset by the Queen of all dragons, Dalrinsica. Sir Wilhelm gave a hearty laugh at the thought of her. She was the most feared dragon. But fear was all relative. He would stop at nothing to have his bride.

"Do you hear me, oh dragon?" he yelled into the emptiness, as the sun was setting. "I will stop at nothing to have my queen. Nothing!"

He made the rest of his journey quietly, listening for any signs of movement in the shadows of the rocks. Yet, all he heard were his horse's steps and the clink of armor as he galloped. He made sure of every landmark, every tree, that it was not out of place. His all-knowing eyes kept shifting from left to right. When he had passed the same bush for the third time, he abruptly stopped his horse and looked up at the towering trees.

"I thought you were stopping for nothing?" asked a wickedly deceitful voice.

Sir Wilhelm gave a wry smile before answering. He knew a serpents tongue when he heard it, and he was not stupid enough to believe a voice alone could cause him any alarm. He began his horse along the same path at a slower pace, so that he could chat with this deceptive enchantment.

"If you will recall my words, dragon, you would hear me say, 'I shall stop at nothing.' None of those words implied that I would not stop for nothing." He let his words come out calmly. He knew all too well the potency of calm words, for being in battle one must use such words to maintain an army. But it was at that moment, the serpent chose to laugh at him, a hideous, airy laugh that tried his patience. "Because it is for nothing that I stopped, am I right? You are a nothing aren't you? You must be, enchantress, if you will not show your face!"

His horse reared as a puff of smoke came from nowhere to circle around him. It was a dense blue smoke that smelled of lavender and honey. Upon making a full circle around him and his horse, the puff of smoke began to take form in front of him, revealing to him a pair of eyes in the midst of that smoke, and a cheshire grin that spoke more than words could. He held on while his horse reared again and again, at the smoke.

"I will not be intimidated, I will not be frightened, and I will not be dismounted. I am Sir Wilhelm Lexmark, Prince of Naphteria and as one royal blood to another, you stand between me and what is mine." At his roaring tone, his horse quieted.

"I admire your bravery, Sir Knight," said the voice again, in a lazy drawl. "But you've come at a rather bad time, I'm afraid."

"A bad time for one to die, is it?" asked the Prince, kicking his steed into motion. But his horse would not move, perhaps enchanted by those mystical eyes that grew, like fire, into a golden hue.

"Well, I was going to say that m'lady has no wish to see suitors, but now that you put it that way, I suppose I could…scribble you in. Right this way, knight, Hades will be with you shortly." With the same airy laugh, the smoke faded and his horse began to move. They passed that infernal bush for the fourth and final time as the infamous castle came into view.

It was the dankest, darkest castle you could have ever imagined. The moment he descended from the saddle of his horse, the winds began to stir the bare trees. The leaves began to gush around his feet as he walked up to the edge of the murky mote. The drawbridge came down with a loud bang, making the ground rumble. Sir Wilhelm stood strong, his broad, armored shoulders never moving, his face in the same grim slant of distaste as it was a few moments before. His bride was in there, beset by a dragon. He drew his sword and gripped the handles on his shield. His boots clinked on the metal drawbridge. There were no torches burning in the castle and he stood before the blanket of shadow that was the inside. He heard footsteps coming toward him and he took two steps back, bracing himself, ready to fight.

"Boo!" said the puff of smoke, coming toward him in such a rush that he fell backward on his armored backside. The horse behind him, reared in panic at his fallen master.

With the reflexes brought on by war and royal training, the prince was quickly on his feet. His helmet had flown off revealing golden brown waves of gorgeously groomed hair, and dark, midnight blue eyes. His sword was in front of him as he faced the blue smoke again. The blue smoke swirled and materialized into a dragon, no bigger than the average dog. She had tan scales that shimmered in the light of the setting sun, making her look almost silver. There were the same, cat-like, golden eyes on her face and the same cheshire smile, this time full of sharp teeth. The wings on her back unfolded. She had the paper-thin wings of a bat, with a length of twice her body. She stretched her wings, folded them behind her back, and shook, like a mutt would shake off water. Her tail swished playfully from side to side. "You see?" she said, continuing in the lazy tone of hers. "I'm harmless."

"Then why don't I believe you serpent?" asked the prince, trying to be bold. Every muscle in his body tensed, ready for anything she threw at him. Dragons such as she, were not fighters. They where swindlers, living only for a moment to fumble a brave knight into a mad-hatter. But he was no average knight, he told himself. He was not to be made a fool of by a lower-than-dirt mistake of creation.

"Oh ye of little faith," she cooed. Tilting her head to the side, she examined his lovely face. "My, my, my, you are a handsome prince. Then, of course, so were they," she said looking pointedly at the mote. There in the murky, greenish waters, a skull floated to the top. It turned his stomach, but did little to squelch his determination.

"Shall you move, demon, or will I have to fight you? And believe-you-me, I've swatted flies bigger than you."

Dalrinsica rolled her eyes. "Must you men always do things the hard way?" As she spoke, her tail came up over her head like a scorpion ready to strike and the very tip became a jagged edge, much like the sword he held in his hands. He swung and she countered his step with a yawn. His sword met her tail with a spark as he swung again and again. When he made a particularly low swing she used her large wingspan to lift her off the ground away from his reach. She laughed as sweat gleamed on his brow. "Foolish prince," she purred. "Shall you move, or will I have to fight you?" She flapped her wings again, the wind from them knocking him head-over-heals off the drawbridge at the foot of his horse. "Of course, you aren't the average knight are you? You are not to be made a fool of by a magnificent creature such as I." She threw his thoughts that she had read back at him, twisted and torn, making his eyes widen.

"Dale, stop this incessant banter at once!" Coming out of the shadows, his princess stood before him. She was every bit the beauty told in story books. Her skin was as white as snow, with not a blemish in sight, save the freckles on her nose and cheeks. Her hair fell in waves over her shoulder like liquid fire. Her forest-green eyes were those of poise as she gave a disdainful look at her dragon. Sir Wilhelm stood on his feet. He should have known such a woman who would live with a dragon for all these years would be a dragon herself. He instantly fell in love with that power in her, and also the beauty of her face. Her frame was delicate, with curves almost hidden by the gown that billowed behind her as she strode toward him.

"You should not waste your breath fair lady, on nothing more than a dragon," he said with a lopsided grin as he brought her hand up to kiss. Her mouth curved sweetly in a smile as she gave him a discrete curtsey. But had he been as clever as he thought, he would have seen the fire that lit in her eyes the moment arrogance shown through to his face.

"Indeed, sir," she said as painful control crossed her face. Her eyes squinted as she shoved a parcel her delicate hands had been holding into his chest. "I pray you forgive me," she said with bite in her voice, "when I ask you to leave. I have no patience for arrogant knights come to sweep me off my very capable feet at the moment." She gave him no room for input as she walked back toward the castle, stopping short of the doorway. "There is food and water for your journey; that is all the hospitality I will be sending you as I hope you will not be returning." With that she went inside, making the drawbridge slam shut behind her.

"Like I said," added Dalrinsica, still aloft in the air, the cheshire grin back on her face. "I'm harmless." With that she left him standing with his mouth open as she flew up the tall tower that was her lady's bedroom. The prince grimaced in anger as he sheathed his sword and mounted his horse. He gripped the reins, making his knuckles as white as the shining armor that shielded them. He was not going to give up. This princess was not a twittering female he had ever seen before. She was a bride worth having, a stubborn mare worth taming. He would be back, and she would rue the day she all but spat in his face. His vow stood true—he would stop at nothing to have her. He rode out of sight just as the sun yielded to the star streaked sky.

Princess Analise walked through the darkened halls of the castle on expert feet. In the years since her father had sent her here, she had learned to move through the darkness. She could not remember her father, or even his face, only that he had sent her here to Dalrinsica, queen of all dragons, to keep her safe. A ten year old girl left at this castle, with only here tears to befriend her. She had long since put that piece of her life on a shelf. She had Dale to dry her tears and keep the demons at bay. Now she had pompous, two-faced, noble headed, knights in shining armor to deal with. Well Analise thought as she climbed the stairs to her tower this is the last. I will wait in darkness no more.

Her bedroom was one of elegance. She would give the dragon one thing, besides being a friend through all these years, she also provided for Analise quite nicely. Her four-poster bed was draped in sheer net and her wardrobe reached from floor to ceiling. It was not just any wardrobe, oh no. It was a wardrobe that granted her every garment wish. As she slammed the heavy wooden door to her room, Dalrinsica landed gracefully on her open windowsill. She pointed a claw at her, wanting to say something, but Analise cut her off with a look.

"Did I not tell you, Dale, to send them away?"

"Yes, but—"

"And did I not say that I wanted no visitors, especially, swaggering, air headed, buffoons, come to save me from my distress?"

"Well, I—"

"And why must you encourage them? They're rude and conceited and male and all you want to do is fight them. And all they want is to show how big and macho they are by helping their damsel in distress. Well…I am not a damsel any longer, Dale, I'm running away."

"About that, uh—" Dalrinsica stopped then as her cat-eye pupils got smaller. "Running away?! What do you mean, running away? You can't run away. I made an oath to your father to keep you safe and get you married. How am I supposed to do that if you run away? Ya know no one is going to go looking for a princess on the streets. I had it all planned out," Dalrinsica said, jumping into the room and running off a list on her claws, "the dark castle, the high tower, the ugly mote, the gloomy forest, a rumor here, a whisper there, and bam! You have yourself a husband in no time. But what do you do? You run off any guy that comes to call! How is that supposed to work? I do believe I've faked my death about a hundred times, what kind of dragon do you think that makes me?"

The whole time Dalrinsica was talking, Analise was packing peasant clothes from her magic wardrobe into her bag. Suddenly she threw the bag against the nearest wall and crumbled onto her bed. Letting out a sigh, she screamed into her pillow.

"Come on, Ana. You have to admit that last one was brilliant and fast witted, smart. I mean, you could tell he was willing to fight for you. Oh and he was gorgeous wasn't he? Not my species, but he was definitely your type da'ling. And his swordsmanship was amazing. I think I was even out of breath there for a second. If I weren't the dragon I was, he would have won you, sure enough—"

"That's just it," exclaimed Analise, sitting up and placing the pillow on her lap. "I don't want to be fought for anymore. I don't want to stay locked up here in a gloomy castle waiting for someone to rescue me. I want to fight my own battles, win my own way. I've never done anything on my own, I know how to cook and clean and read and write…and for all that I know not how to live. I'm tired of it!" Analise retrieved her bag from the floor and began to change her clothes. "And if you want to protect me, you'll just have to come along."

Dalrinsica thought about this a long moment. Humans weren't much fun. Really, she despised the whole lot of them. But Analise, she cared for. Analise, she loved. She gave an impatient flap of her wings and her eyes became slits. "Oh, I hate this," she said as she disappeared into smoke.

"I'm sorry, Dale, I hate it too," said Analise, putting a dash of soot on her cheeks for effect. She grabbed the mane of her hair and tied it in a rather messy bun. She knew Dale could still hear her, even if she had disappeared. "It's just something I have to do. I've spent seven years of my life waiting for love…let love wait for me for once!"

"How do I look?" Dalrinsica asked. Analise turned to see what once was a dragon was now a beautiful woman standing before her. She had short, black hair sticking up in spikes and a thin, rather fun face that bespoke mischievous adventure. She was dressed in the most refined clothes there was and her thin, spidery fingers had two-inch, very well manicured nails. She pointed those nails at Analise's bag and it was filled with bread, cheese, and water for their journey. Analise was ecstatic and put her arms around Dalrinsica's neck.

"Oh, thank you Dale, I will never forget this."

Dale had not experienced many endearments in her young age of 349. But in this fragile body, she felt the warmth of Ana as she hugged her, and it almost made her want to…want to…want to what? Oh yes, she thought, cry is the word.

"Ok, ok, get off. You know I don't do well with mushy stuff. Why do you think I hate swamps? Besides, that's no way to speak to your master, peasant! You are looking at Baroness Dalrinsica."

Analise laughed and put the bag over her shoulders. "Well then, after you m'lady," she said with a bow as they walked out the door.