A girl challenges the stone puzzle set up by a red dragon, who has taken control of the town, because there is a huge fee for marriage, and she grew up under the impression that they had gotten married because no one was allowed to have children unless t

Author's Notes: This story is from the point of view of a small girl. It will tie in with the upcoming story The Children of Danidar, so look for it.

A Child of Danidar

When I was young, we lived in the worst of oppressive societies. The town and all of its people were controlled by the duke in his tower. He made strict rules and when they were broken, he delighted in the ability to punish his underlings. The peasants, like my parents, were the worst off. If they worked a plot of land for thirty years, yielding twenty-five percent of their crop to the duke, they would be ensured a rich and comfortable retirement in one of the duke's manors. Unfortunately, the guards' and tax collectors' twenty-five percent waxed and failed to wane depending on the overall crop, and because of disease and the high death rates among the commoners, almost no one lived to see their "retirement."

However, this wasn't the worst of it. When the commoner population began to grow and get restless, the duke proclaimed that no two people could have a child unless they were married. Perhaps this wouldn't have been so bad if marriage was a common practice among our cast, but there were extremely high taxes on marriage, and only the rich could afford such a union. My people were appalled, and if his intentions were to quash the potential uprising, the duke's new law only served to fan the flame.

A few years later, I was born in the cottage of the town midwife, Mama Dena, who had almost been driven out of business by the decree, but was managing to make a living as an herbalist and cheap doctor. My parents were defiant, they faked the marriage papers and convinced a local minister, Daniel Perry, to vouch for them and state that he had performed the ceremony. So much money from taxes was pouring into the tower, daily, that no one would have noticed the absence for a single wedding, which they wouldn't even know about for several weeks. If they were ever discovered, I was at risk of being slain, and they could be forced forfeit their small farm as fine, but the two were very much in love and weren't about to stand by as their government made the decision that they couldn't be together because of their social standings.

Now, I think it is romantic and beautiful, what my parents did for each other…and for me, but at the time, I knew nothing of plagiarized papers, and a fake ceremony. I grew up thinking that my parents had gone against the flow and given up their lives' savings to be wed and be together forever. At the time, I thought that was romantic as well, but now, I see that the truth is even more perfect.

I suppose my parents' marriage papers passed the inspection because I was allowed (or forced depending on your point of view) to attend the school of the rich aristocrats and people of the middle class. Myra Nightingale, who had run a small school house for the lower class in hopes that their education would help them to recognize their rights and see when the government was cheating them, had all but fled when the duke's marriage decree was made. And so, I grew up under a strict schedule with lots of work and learning. I was being educated in the same way that the children of premier politicians were and even those who would vie for the inheritance of the village, when the duke passed away. The duke was a cold man, and thus had no wife and no heirs. I excelled in school, learning to read and write long before the others mastered the skill. I was an excellent writer and could manipulate numbers like it was nobody's business. My teachers, though, instead of taking a liking to the brightest child in the class, looked down on me, even in the very beginning. They, being of the upper class, themselves, did not see it as right or fair for me, a lowly serf, to be educated by such noble people as they thought they were.

At the end of my third year of education, something terrible befell the city. Not a plague, not a war, but something much worse. One day, without any warning, a Great Red Dragon flew into town. The dragon was lizard like, with a long spiny neck, ending in a head and long snout. Its body seemed cumbersome, but it was easily lifted through the air on paper-thin wings, which extended from its back. Its whole body was covered in red scales and thorn-like spikes, giving its skin a look of armor. It struck the duke's tower with a great fireball from its lips, and demanded that it turn over the village and its wealth at once, or the place would be wrathfully destroyed in a flaming inferno. At first, no one understood him. Dragon speech had been all but forgotten, mainly because it was commonly believed that every last one of them had been sealed away in the Ring of Fire, centuries before. Finally, one of the monks located an ancient manuscript and was able to make sense of its babbling. The duke was alarmed. He gathered his advisors and they locked themselves in a room for three days trying to come to a conclusion on their course of action.

This, however, was not an ordinary dragon, for it was true that they had all been sealed away. He was just a child as dragons go, but no one else was aware of this fact. While he was waiting, the dragon, who had previously been half the town in size, shrank itself down to a bit larger than a dog and went exploring in city. He seemed to be intrigued by everything, soaking up knowledge as if it were candy.

I was in the school, preparing my final report, when he came. We were all shocked at his presence, because though we had heard of his coming, none of our parents had allowed us to go and view him, and most of us didn't argue. The first thing I noticed was his size. I didn't understand why everyone was so afraid of him if he was about as big as the water trough the horses drank from. We were all silent as the dragon began to speak in his broken English.

"I like this place. It is a society of learning. It has flaws, but it is good. I don't want to kill it. I will create a puzzle. If someone can solve it, I will leave. I will return to my master. It shall be placed beyond the tower." The dragon moaned out his short blocky sentences. I was intrigued by the dragon's proposition. However, I had no great love for my town. It demonized my family and me. Soon, though, my mind would be altered.

That night, I returned home and informed my parents, who had been working vigorously all day and had managed to completely miss the news of the dragon and the puzzle, about the entire thing. They scowled. Between the two of them, it would only be ten more years before they could retire and now their goal was in jeopardy. I was not bothered. Later, as I lay in my bed reading about the history of the town and the long tradition of the marriage ceremony, I noticed something odd. In the book here was an example certificate and in the lower right hand corner, a number was scrawled out in red ink. As a younster, I had stared at my parents' certificate for hours on end just feeling proud of them, but I had never noticed this number. It came to me in a flash, and in that instant my world fell apart. My parents weren't married, and…I…was illegal.

I ran, silently downstairs to the cupboard in which all of our meager collection of books and papers were kept. I pulled the certificate out of its corner nd looked at the spot where the number should have been. I looked closely at it and started to notice other discrepancies between it and the one in the book. They were small but noticeable. I fell over on the hardwood floor, my stomach twisting in fear.

After some time, I awoke, still lying on the floor of my home. I looked around and noticed the sun just beginning to peak out over the horizon. I changed clothes and left the house early. My mind was full of images flashing around like visions. I could see myself at the mercy of the duke, an executioner standing nearby. I saw my parents fleeing from the town, angry villagers flinging stones at them from behind. I saw the dragon cackling, flame spewing from its nostrils and jaw. The dragon! My mind snapped up like lightning. I was standing in front of a wooden sign that hadn't been there before. I read it allowed to myself.

"Dragon's puzzle. Save the town and become a hero. Duke's reward of two-hundred fifty silver crowns." That was enough for my parents to be wed, and if I became a hero and saved the town, the duke surely would spare my life. The sadness and confusion in my heart was filled and replaced with conviction and hope. I had a goal, and I would achieve it.

I skipped school, going straight to the garden behind the tower. I was surprised to find a great crowd there. The best the town had to offer had gathered to try their hand at the puzzle. I got in line behind a great strong knight discussing the puzzle with a scholar who stood in front of him. I stood in line and waited all day. Because of all the tall adults about, I couldn't even get a look at the puzzle until almost nightfall.

When it was finally my turn, the other challengers scoffed and made their way back to their homes. They didn't believe I could be the one to solve the riddle of the dragon. I approached the stone column with the statuette of a dragon sitting atop it. I quickly recognized the inscription as being in the old speech, and slowly and methodically deciphered it.

It read: What can no one live without. A thing that is taxed and taken away, but never gone. It is all around us, but some take It for granted as just another part of life, when truly it is the most important part.

I was confused and my mind boggled. A riddle had not been what I was expecting. Everyone had said it was a puzzle, but I never stopped to consider what kind of puzzle it could be. I should have known. The dragon said he valued learning, which I supposed included mind games, such as this. I concentrated hard and thought and thought. I sat there on a stone pick-nick table bench surrounded by the Duchess's garden of flowers, consulting my small but growing amount of knowledge. Eventually, when it must have been about midnight, I came upon an answer. Money! Money was integral part of life. Some took it for granted, and it was definitely all around us. I was supposed to find a way to communicate my answer to the dragon statuette. I fished around in my pocket and produced a single copper crown, the lowest in the hierarchy of our coins. I moved to the statue and started to place it in its hand, but I stopped. Something didn't feel right. I was nervous. What if I was wrong? Each person was only allowed one guess. I began to sweet even in the cold night air.

Suddenly, I heard a noise from the field beyond the garden's gates. I moved behind a bush and looked out. There were about ten teenagers frolicking in the field. They were laughing and dancing about. I found this very strange. One of them, a tall male, broke off from the pack and began to move in my direction. I didn't think he had seen me, but in any case, I moved behind the statuette to shield myself from his view.

"You don't have to come out," he said softly as he stood in front of the statue looking to my hiding place, "but know, for the answer you speak look to your heart and consider your intention." With that he ran back over to his friends, who cleared out of the field area moving back from whence they came.

I came back from around the column and watched them leave. I wondered who they were, and why I had never seen them at school. He had been carrying a small glass jar with a golden insect contained in i. I was very confused, but they didn't frighten me.

I sat back down on the bench, convinced that my answer had to be wrong. I considered what he said. My intentions? My intentions were to win the money to allow my parents to wed because I loved them and they loved each other….Love? Love! I looked to my heart, the organ of love and found that my intentions were pure and full of love. The love in my heart brimmed, filling my body with warmth. Love for my parents and love for a random stranger who even in hard times found it in his heart to help someone he didn't know.

I knew what I had to do. I reached up to the dragon statuette and grasped one of its claws in a symbol of love and friendship. The statuette's eyes glowed red, and to my surprise, the dragon rounded the corner of the tower, now in its full size, and greeted me,

"The smartest one in your town, and you're just a child. I should have figured as much. The cash prize will be awarded you, though doubtless that is not the most important thing. Let your mind rest and put your heart at ease for your parents shall be wed." The dragon's speech seemed to have developed well. My mind raced and I fell asleep on the spot.

The wedding was beautiful. I bought my mother a gorgeous white wedding dress and even my father dressed up. It was a day I would remember forever. The duke took five years off their service to him, and my parents promised me that the rest of the money would be saved for my future, that I might make it better than the present.

The End