Hey all, it's Paradox. Here at last is the end of the princess story. It's quite a bit longer and it ends kind of abruptly, but hopefully it ties everything up for everyone.
I remember this cave well. I ran around in it all the time when I was a kid, so I know there are a lot of entrances. I guide Fowler toward an entrance that should be pretty far away from the dragon. Being underground should disguise our scent, too, and then there’s a town close to the entrance, so we can disappear into all the other interesting smells there.
As we’re about to exit the cave, I realize that Fowler still looks funny. He’s clutching his gun like his life depends on it and he has all these things attached to his vest. None of them will work here, of course, so I’m not sure why he’s still holding onto them.
“Hey. You don’t need all that stuff, you know. It just makes you look weird,” I tell him. He scowls at me.
“You look weird,” he snaps. I raise my eyebrows.
“Uh-huh. Yeah, no, see, we’re in my world now, bozo. I am now the normal one… well, relatively speaking. I do occasionally carry on conversations with dragons.”
Fowler looks at me sideways.
“Wait. You mean you can actually talk to that dragon?”
“Well, yeah. He was the only company I’ve had for a few years, you know. I didn’t exactly get a lot of visitors in a dragon-guarded castle.”
“So why didn’t you just tell him he should go away?”
I sigh. I never realized how difficult it would be to explain my country’s customs to a total foreigner. I’m also beginning to question his intelligence, but I guess I looked pretty stupid when I fell into his world, too, so I really shouldn’t.
“Okay, the whole point of me being in that castle with that dragon was to keep any unsuitable kings away. I was supposed to stay there until the right guy killed the dragon and got me out and then we could live happily ever after.”
Fowler’s eyebrows arch in disbelief.
“And you were okay with that?”
“Well… yes. No. Yes. But… no. It’s like this: I didn’t like being in that castle, obviously, and all I really want to do is just go somewhere nice and quiet with a few cats and quit worrying about kingdoms. But. At the same time, somebody has to rule the kingdom, and that somebody has to be married so they can pass on the genes and such. So… I have to pass on the royal genes to make sure the right people can rule the country.”
“Right. Okay.” Fowler is frowning, like he’s concentrating really hard on something. “Yeah, I guess that’s why I left in a nutshell.”
I stare at him for a second.
“Why you left? Not to be rude, but you fit in here about as well as a water sprite fits in at a lightning dance.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But it’s all so familiar to me, like I used to live here or something. All this stuff you’re saying… it makes sense. And you’re right, I do look really weird.” He finally lets go of his gun and sets it down behind him in the cave. Then he takes off all his military gear and strips down to his boots, pants, and shirt—cleverly called a T-shirt because it’s shaped like a T. Why didn’t my country think of this?
“Okay, let’s go. I feel a little better now,” he says. I notice that his hair is turning whiter and frizzier. What is this sorcery? I don’t remember ever losing anybody to a different world. Then again, he’s older than I am, so maybe it was before I was born.
We leave the cave at a dead run, hoping the dragon doesn’t pick up our smell, because, let’s face it, we’re pretty stinky from running around everywhere. We manage to make it into the town, which fortunately happens to be our capitol city, before I hear the dragon’s roar.
“That wasn’t what I thought it was, was it?” Fowler asks. I try to smile, but it doesn’t work very well.
“I think it was. Here, try on this poncho.”
Fowler impatiently throws the poncho on and starts running toward the castle in the middle of the city. I pay for the poncho and follow him, confused. How does he suddenly know where he’s going? None of this makes sense.
I can hear the dragon coming closer. We get to the gates of the castle just as the dragon flies overhead, roaring its frustration at us. Fowler’s hair now very closely resembles mine, except that it’s significantly shorter and a little better groomed.
“Hey, let us in!” he shouts at the guards. “I have the princess here! We need help!”
The guards look at him blankly, so I step forward.
“Okay, knuckleheads, it’s really me. Let me in. I have to go knock some heads and kill a dragon,” I blurt. To my relief, the guards snap to attention and let me in. Fowler and I sprint up to royal audience room. I have no idea why we’re going that way; I’d rather go to the armory to get a bow so I can take that dragon down.
Fowler bursts into the royal audience room, startling all the jeweled courtiers inside. My mother and father are sitting on their thrones, and both their mouths drop open.
“All right, people, listen up. We’ve got a dragon on the loose and it wants to take Flower here back to her castle. I don’t really think that’s okay, though, because it’s really boring for her there and she doesn’t like it, so I thought maybe I’d just talk to the dragon for a bit and see if it won’t see reason. Okay? Also, I’m the crown prince.”
I’m reasonably certain that all the jaws in the room, including mine, hit the floor. Crown prince? What is he going on about? I don’t have a brother, that’s for sure. I’m an only child… except…
Except his name is an anagram of mine, which is a typical naming convention here. Siblings have very closely related names.
“Look, since I’m here and I’m supposed to do the conquering, Flower doesn’t have to be locked up in that castle anymore, right? I mean, she doesn’t have to rule or anything, so there’s no need for some goofball to kill off that poor dragon.”
What he’s saying does make a certain amount of sense, and he really does look like me. Or I look like him or whatever. Anyway, the point is we both obviously look like my father, whose white-blond hair sticks straight out from his head like an awkward halo.
Everyone collects their jaws off the floor and stuffs them back on their faces. I think people are beginning to remember. Personally, I’m starting to remember why I always felt so lonely. I did have a brother, but he disappeared when we were little kids. Hey, maybe I don’t actually have to worry about this dratted kingdom now. Fowler would probably be a better ruler than I would, anyway. He’s smarter.
This does, of course, assume that the dragon doesn’t just eat him on sight. This is a distinct and unsettling possibility.
“Just let me go up on the roof and talk to the dragon, okay? If he eats me, he eats me. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t, and everything will be unicorns and rainbows,” Fowler pleads. My mother and father exchange looks.
“Okay,” my father says, in his typical laconic fashion. I got all my gab from my mother.
Fowler sprints out of the room and up the stairs to the roof. I follow him, to provide moral support in case the dragon does decide he would be tasty.
The second he gets on the roof, he starts waving his arms and jumping up and down.
“Hey, you! Dragon! I’m over here!” he yells. The dragon catches sight of him and lands on a parapet with an audible wumph. I back up a little bit, just to make sure I don’t get fire on me or anything.
“Look, dragon. I’m sure you can smell the family resemblance by now. I’m that long-lost brother… remember? We used to play together when we were little.”
The dragon snorts. Is it… laughing?
“Yeah, I remember. I wasn’t trying to eat you in the forest, you know,” he says. His voice kind of bypasses our ears and goes directly into our heads. “I was trying to give you a lift to the town. I’ve been watching that little spot in the forest for years, hoping you’d come back from wherever you’d gone.”
There’s an uncomfortable silence. I feel like a total idiot. I should have listened for the dragon’s voice instead of just running away from him.
“So we’re good?” Fowler asks. The dragon makes that weird snorting sound again. It’s definitely laughter.
“Yeah, we’re good,” he says. “Oh, and Flower, I’d be happy to take you to a nice out-of-the-way hut I know about. It’s a home for abandoned cats. I thought you might find it pleasant. I’ve already taken the liberty of outfitting it for you.”
I think I must be dreaming. There’s no way this dragon can be so nice. He was always so concerned with smashing things. Or was he just trying to live up to his dragon-y expectations, like I was trying to live up to my princess-y ones? Maybe that dragon wasn’t such a bad friend after all.
My father and mother have appeared on the roof. I turn to them, almost nervous to ask if I can finally go and live my dream.
“So… can I? Can I go? Please?” I beg. They exchange another look.
“Okay,” my father says.
“Just come back for visits, and write us letters, and make sure you wash behind your ears, and let us know if you need anything, and…” My mother would go on for a very long time if the dragon didn’t intervene. He huffs and extends his leg to me across the gap between the roof and the parapet. I scoot across and crawl up onto his back. He takes off into the sunset, and I ponder how the past forty-eight hours have treated me. I now have a brother, I don’t have to rule, and I get to live in a hut with cats. Oh, and this dragon is actually a really cool dude.
So all in all, not too shabby for a slightly nutty princess. I’m still kind of afraid I’m just going to wake up and it’ll be a dream and I’ll still be in the castle with an angry dragon, but I think my life is finally going to be fun. After all, I have lots of love-starved kitties to take care of now. I better not let them down.