Rather than helping her fight the Dragon, her teachers remarked on Lucy's screams and unpredictable behavior. They frowned on her lack of decorum. Her peers didn't want her at their parties--they had written her off as a drama queen. Lucy spent more and more time alone.
Finally, Lucy's parents visited. They were accompanied by all of Lucy's maids and servants, who made her milk and cookies. They served her dinner. They tucked her into bed at night under her soft goose-down quilt. The next morning, they made her breakfast and lunch.
And then over dinner that night, after meeting with Lucy's teachers, her parents asked her if she wanted to go home. It was her decision.
She stared at them.
"No," she said. "No. I do not want to go home. It's even more dangerous there."
"Why?" asked the king.
"Because he'd just follow me there."
"Who?" said her father.
The window opened softly. No one noticed. Not the servants. Not the maids. Not her parents. The Dragon slinked inside and sat beside the fireplace. He smiled at Lucy, showing his big teeth. He relit the fire with his breath.
Lucy stood, frantically. She pointed to the Dragon. She tried to control the scream that welled up inside her.
Her parents looked at the fireplace and then back at her. The servants and maids looked at the fireplace and then back at her.
"Sit down, Lucy," her mother said. "You're just being dramatic."
"Yes," said her father, kindly.
Lucy wouldn't sit down.
"You can't see him? There, in the chair beside the fireplace?" Lucy asked. She watched the Dragon begin licking the blood off his sharp claws.
Lucy's parents and maids and servants looked again.
"Jack, go sit in the chair," said the queen.
One of the servants walked to the chair beside the fireplace. The Dragon saw him coming. He grinned and flapped his wings, raising himself above the chair. He hovered there as Jack sat down.
"See, Lucy," said the king. "I'm afraid --" He looked at his wife.
"It's all in your head," said the queen.
The Dragon almost fell out of the air laughing. His body flopped about, his white, pasty stomach heaving.
"It's all right, Jack. You can go get dessert now," said the queen. Jack got up from the chair. He walked into the kitchen.
Once Jack left, the Dragon flopped into the chair again. He began biting between his paws. The dirt came off like crusty pieces of charcoal. The Dragon chewed them thoughtfully, licking his lips and watching Lucy as he did. He offered her a piece.
Lucy waved away his offer. She sank back into her chair, watching him intently. The Dragon preened for her. He brushed the black crumbs of his snack off his white waistcoat of a stomach.
Lucy could see his heart beating lightly behind the white, rubbery skin. It was missing the fourth beat, she decided. There was always a slight pause after the third beat. She wondered if all dragons were like that.
Lucy could see that the Dragon was flattered by her attention. After a few moment, he made a show of looking at his watch reluctantly. He turned to the window, looked out, and then back at her again. He winked at her. Then he waddled back to the window. He opened it, climbed out on the window ledge, and shut it behind him. She heard his wings beating the air as he flew off.
“Imagination is a wonderful thing, Lucy.”
Lucy realized that her mother was talking to her.
“But I think you’ve let it get away from you,” the queen said, pouring rich cream on Lucy’s blackberry cobbler.
“I’m very hungry,” said Lucy.
"That’s good, my dear," her mother said. She raised her fingers and snapped them. A servant jumped to attention.
“More cream for Lucy’s cobbler,” said the queen.
Lucy ate her blackberry cobbler and cream thoughtfully. She remembered the way the Dragon winked at her. She remembered his pasty, white stomach. She wondered if she should visit the little old lady again.
The next morning, Lucy's parents left. Lucy’s father wondered what he had done wrong. Perhaps he was a bad parent.
Lucy assured him that he and her mother were the best parents a girl like her could have. The queen joined them, patting dollops of cold cream on her face. She kissed Lucy goodbye and stepped into the waiting carriage. Servants assisted her.
Lucy’s father stood outside with Lucy. He looked at her a long time. She looked back. Then he hugged her tightly. He climbed into the carriage after his queen. The carriage rolled smoothly away.
And Lucy went off to her classes.
The morning her parents returned home, Lucy had a violin lesson. Afterwards, she went for a walk. She walked past the old lady’s cottage and turned down a small ally into the courtyard of a small inn called The Castle Café.
In the café, two fierce knights sat at a small table under a palm tree. Their names were Sir Castellon and Sir Baptisto. They were drinking large mugs of coffee, black and strong. Their armor clanked when they moved.
Lucy went over to them and stood there. She waited until Sir Baptisto looked at her.
“Hello, I’m Lucy,” she said.
“Hi,” said Sir Baptisto.
Lucy continued to stand. Finally, Sir Baptisto gestured to Lucy to sit down.
"Thank you, I will."
The two men continued to drink their coffee.
"I don't want milk and cookies," Lucy said.
"How about a cup of coffee?" asked Sir Baptisto.
"Sure," she said.
Sir Castellon whistled a tune under his breath as Sir Baptisto left to get a large mug filled with coffee. As he returned with it, Sir Castellon pulled out a small knife and silently cut a piece of sausage with it. Then he ate it.
Lucy watched the knife suspiciously. She drank from her mug of coffee. It was black. Bitter.
“What is this place?” Lucy asked them.
“It’s a training school for knights who want to kill dragons.”
“I thought no one around here actually killed dragons. They tell me dragons don't exist,” Lucy said.
“Oh, they’re around,” said Sir Baptisto. “It’s just that most people don’t see them. I just killed one this morning. Right out there on the street.”
Lucy almost choked on her coffee.
“What?” Lucy turned to Sir Castellon. “You see dragons too?”
“Yes,” said Sir Castellon. He cut another piece of sausage and ate it.
“We each had to slay a dragon before we could be knighted,” said Sir Baptisto. "Years ago."
“I thought no one else saw dragons,” said Lucy. She said it before she realized it.
Sir Castellon turned to look at her. She flushed red. He watched her, chewing his sausage thoughtfully.
“Would you like to learn how to slay dragons?” Sir Baptisto asked her. Lucy looked at him gratefully.
“Do we have an opening?” Sir Baptisto asked Sir Castellon.
“Yes,” said Sir Castellon, getting to his feet, his armor clanking. He limped away into the inn.
“All right, then,” said Sir Baptisto, lingering a moment and smiling at her. “That’s that, then. You’re accepted. Meet us here for your first lesson at 6 AM tomorrow. Be on time.”
“Just like that?” said Lucy.
But she was talking to the air. Sir Baptisto had followed Sir Castellon into the inn. But before she went inside, she looked back at Lucy and smiled.
Lucy sat at the table in the midday sun and drank her coffee. She liked its bitter taste. Its blackness was comforting, somehow. It warmed her all the way to her stomach.
“I will learn how to slay him," she told herself.
It was a much-changed Lucy, five years later, who heard a scream coming from the class next to hers.
The young woman, fully grown now, her face and arms tanned from regular exposure to the sun and exercise, stepped outside.
A young girl she hadn’t seen before was running down the street.
Lucy set her violin down and walked to the little old lady's house. She waited outside. No need to distract the little old lady from her work..
When the girl came back out, she saw Lucy. She stopped. She looked at Lucy with a smile that was pasted over her perfectly white teeth.
“Hi,” said Lucy. “Like some company on the way home?”
The girl looked surprised.
“Yes, thank you,” said the girl.
She continued to look at Lucy. Lucy looked back at her with grey, serious eyes. Finally the girl smiled, a real one this time.
Satisfied, Ariel turned and began walking up the street. She flipped her blonde hair away from her face and ate from the cookie in her hand. Lucy’s armor clanked as she walked beside her.
“Everyone knows you. They say you fight dragons.”
“Yes,” said Lucy.
“And kill them.”
“You don’t talk much,” said Ariel.
“No,” said Lucy. “I used to have more to say.”
Lucy’s hand rested on her sword. She looked around, then glanced at Ariel. She realized that the girl had followed her security sweep perfectly. Fearful she might be. Stupid she was not.
“How did you know?” asked Ariel.
“Know what?” asked Lucy.
“About the Dragon. No one else can see him.”
Lucy stopped and looked at Ariel. She looked back at Lucy. Fear in her blue eyes. Finally, Lucy turned and began walking again. Ariel followed.
“How did you know?” she repeated.
“It’s what I do,” said Lucy.