A darkness moved across the sun. Emmaline looked up and then rushed under cover of the bushes. The sunlight shimmered off the dragon’s creamy iridescent scales. Once it flew over, she ran as quickly as she could down the path to her secret castle entrance.
She ran into the throne room, her father, brothers and several knights had gathered.
“Father! The dragon…”
Her mother came into the room behind her and caught her arm. “Why are you running through the castle? Can’t you see that your father is busy running the kingdom?” She pulled Emmaline out of the throne room.
“But Mama, the dragon.”
“Your father is taking care of it. You need to be back in your room working on your lessons.” Suddenly, her mother reached over and pulled at her hair. She pulled a large twig from the princess’s tangled hair. “You have been running around outside again. It is just not ladylike! I am going to have to lock you in your room if you can’t start acting like the princess.”
“Don’t talk back to me, young lady!” The Queen was angry. She marched her daughter down the hall to her room, opened the door and pushed her in. “You need to stay in here and think about how a princess should act. And I do not want you going into the forest ever again! It is too dangerous for you. What if you were to be kidnapped? Or worse, what if the dragon found you?” She left the room, locking the door behind her.
Emmaline threw herself down on the bed, but she couldn’t cry. She had to do something. Her father and the others were going to ride right into a trap. She hadn’t had a chance to tell them where the dragon was going.
She rose and walked to the window. She could see that the hunting party was preparing to leave. She needed to get down there before they departed.
Quickly, she changed into the worn pants and shirt she has gotten from one of the stable hands. She braided her long hair and put the braid inside her shirt. Then she slid on her riding boots and a long, dark cloak, pulling up the hood to cover her face.
She plumped up her pillows under the blankets on the bed so that, hopefully, her mother would think she was sleeping. She grabbed her bow and quiver of arrows, then slipped into the closet and through the passageway that led to the kitchen. Moving quickly, she got to the bottom of the stairs and then walked out into the bright sunlight outside.
The knights, led by her father, were mounting their horses. There was a nervous excitement in the air. Everyone was excited about hunting the dragon, but afraid of what would happen when they found it. Emmaline found a small gray horse, saddled and waiting for a rider. She mounted the horse and then moved around so she was as far away from her father and brothers as possible. She whispered encouragement to the little horse as they began the trek into the forest, keeping close to one of the knights who had several pages with him.
They took the main road leading through the castle heading east. The column of knights, pages and horses moved quickly through the forest. As they came out into a clearing, they could see a huge plume of smoke rising from the village. Suddenly, the dragon flew up over the ridge. He was huge with opalescent scales. He slowly turned over the village and then quickly dove, a burst of flames shooting from his mouth. As the stables went up in flames, horses ran terrified from the burning building.
The archers moved to the front of the line and prepared to fire on the dragon. The rest of the soldiers began to move into the forest. A small group of men began to ride toward the village. The dragon saw them coming and turned toward them, swooping through the distance in an instance.
Emmaline dismounted and led her horse back into the woods. She found the tallest tree on the edge of the forest and climbed to the top. She watched as the group of men split up and ran in different directions. That movement confused the dragon and the archers chose that moment to let their arrows fly. Most bounced harmlessly off the dragon’s opal scales. A few lodged in the dragon’s nose, which just irritated the beast. He dipped down suddenly and blasted the nearest man and horse.
The archers prepared to fire again. The dragon saw them and began to fly toward them. The archers held in a line until the dragon was almost upon them. As he began to open his mouth, they fired. Several arrows hit him in the nose and mouth. He shook his head and the flames sprayed wildly. A small stand of trees burst into flames, flushing out the men and horses hiding in them. One unfortunate soul ran screaming aflame.
Emmaline had watched the volleys of arrows hit the dragon and had a plan. His face was vulnerable and she thought that if he were shot in the eye, it might just be enough to take him down. But was she good enough to do it herself? Or should she climb down and try to convince the archers to aim for the eye? As she thought, the dragon came around for another pass. He was bearing down upon the archers and the main group of soldiers, including her father and her brothers.
She didn’t have time. So she notched her arrow and slowed her breathing. The Master Archer found it amusing to teach the princess with her brothers, until Emmaline had turned into a better archer than her brothers could ever hope to be. The Queen had been furious and refused to allow Emmaline to continue the archery lessons because “it was just not ladylike.”
She took a deep breath and held it as she drew back on the bow. Slowly, she released the air as she aimed. The dragon was coming closer, ever closer. Making an adjustment for a slight wind, she let the arrow fly. She notched another arrow, even as the first spiraled in slow motion toward the fuming beast.
Bullseye! The arrow entered the dragon’s eye. He slowed and the second arrow followed it. His body jerked and then fell from the sky, crashing to the ground. Knights ran to the fallen dragon and looked her direction.
She started climbing down the tree and by the time she got to the bottom, there was a group of knights waiting for her. Her brother, Michael was among them. He knew who she was before she hit the ground.
“Emma! That was an amazing shot!” He pulled the hood from her head, showing her face to the knights. Then he lifted her to his shoulders and carried her to their father. The look of shock and then joy on the King’s face made Emmaline feel incredibly proud.
He lifted her down from her brother’s shoulder and pulled her into a hug. “I am so proud of you, my girl. But you do know your mother is not going to be happy.”
“But if I hadn’t been here, you guys would have been killed!”
“I know and I will talk to her. But she is still going to be disappointed that you are not the little ladylike princess she had always hoped for.”
Just then, her brother, Brian came up and ruffled her hair. “I brought you a present.” She turned to look at him. He was holding a beautiful opal scale from the dragon. “I thought you might like a souvenir of the most incredible shot I have ever seen!”
Emmaline went and got her horse. She rode back to the castle at the head of the column, triumphantly, by her father’s side. She walked into the throne room with him and her brothers. The Queen moved toward her, but was stopped by the King. He spoke quietly to her for several minutes.
When she turned back to Emmaline, her face softened. She opened her arms and Emma ran into them. She could feel her mother’s tears on her cheek. She showed her mother the dragon scale. “Oh, it is beautiful! If you would like we can have the jeweler create a necklace for you. I am so very proud of you.”
She looked to her father. He smiled but then said, “I am happy you were there and that you were able to slay the dragon. However, we will need to talk about your sneaking out and disobeying your mother. After all, I can’t have a Master Archer in Training who doesn’t listen to what she is told.” And he walked to her and pulled her and her mother into a huge hug.