The knight looked at the directions again, muttering under his breath. Yes, these were the Crow Woods. Yes, there was Horsehead Mountain in the east, exactly two miles away.

"So where the devil is this princess I’m supposed to escort?" Sir Raven asked his horse. Not being able to speak Human, his horse continued grazing. "Fine help you are . . ."

Sir Raven was slightly nervous, as this was one of his first real Tasks. He had only become a knight in the past year, and that was mostly due to his father’s connections. But once he had gotten through training, the Tasks had been easy and he had gained enough praise to be chosen for his current one: Princess Escorting.

It was simple, really. Go halfway to a neighboring kingdom, watch for a Princess with a gold tooth, meet her, and then take her back to the king’s castle to meet the prince. Couldn’t be easier.

Except that this princess was late. He knew he’d get the blame if she didn’t show up. Nervously, a hand went to his neck where the pendant of the realm hung. It was little more than a stylized flower blossom, but he felt better touching it all the same. Raven glanced at the sun again. Suddenly, a winged shadow crossed over it, huge and threatening.

"Oh, my . . ." Moving quickly, Sir Raven jumped into the thickest patch of trees he could. Wetting his lips, he kept an eye on the monster.

The dragon circled lower and lower, finally landing more or less on the path. Raven’s horse finally started, pulling and tugging at the reins. Raven cursed himself for tying the animal to a tree trunk in the first place. Making a decision, he drew his sword. At least now he had a pretty good idea what happened to the princess. Poor dear . . .

The dragon suddenly reared on his hind legs, stretching its neck to its limits. Seeing it distracted, Raven attacked.

He leapt from cover and drove his sword into the dragon’s belly. It was tough going, for a dragon’s stomach skin at any age was thick. Lucky for him, this was a young thing, but it was still like driving a sword into an oak.

The animal screamed; a high, piercing screech of agony. It flailed its short arms, catching him on the side. Raven flowed with the slash, drawing on his training, but was still winded. His pendant was torn loose by one of the claws and sailed away. The dragon had made a mistake, however. By forcing him to move, it had moved the sword as well, making a fairly deep gash in its middle. Grim-faced, Raven yanked his sword out, back-stepping furiously. The monster screamed again, appearing more interested in the wound that the attacker. It tried holding the skin together with claws that did more damage than good. With each new wound, it squealed in pain.

Raven took that time to load his crossbow, trying to take aim. It was near impossible; the dragon was keening and stupidly clawing at its wound. Finally, his chance came when it cried to the sky. The arrow sped, directly lodging itself in the extremely fragile throat skin. Blood gushed like a fountain as it collapsed. Its mouth still remained open as the last scream died.

Raven smiled, wiping sweat from his brow. Success! This would make up for losing both his pendant and the princess. Weary but proud, he walked to examine to the dead creature. It was red-scaled from its snout to its tail, with transparent wings draping on the nearest trees. Beautiful in death.

Then the knight stopped and stared at its mouth curiously. With a hesitant hand, he lifted the upper lip of the beast and stared down in shock. Growing right at the front of its mouth was a golden tooth.

Raven lowered the lip in shock, staring at the dragon with enlightened and fearful eyes. Slowly, he circled the area, eyes searching. Finally, so heavy it was bending the upper part of an oak nearly in two; he found what he was looking for.

Much larger than most, as it was made to fit a dragon, was the crown of a princess.

Rachel Baril -- 2005