Marie loved fire. She loved the way that it danced and spun as it sat on the wick of a candle. She loved how fire seemed to gently wave to everyone who passed it by. And she loved how it sent beautiful dancing shadows across every room it sat in. She even liked to imagine that it had a voice. It would be a wheedling, whiney, sharp voice, she supposed. But it would be a lovely voice all the same. Marie loved fire so much that she could sometimes spend hours sitting in a big chair by the fire in the library. She liked that fire especially. The chair was very comfortable, and the fire was big and seemed quite kind in a way. She’d named it Bartholomew (it seemed like a good name for a fire). She kept quite a large number of candles in her room at all times, and they were almost always lit, so that she could watch the tiny flames as they twirled and waved.
Marie’s parents had often scolded her and told her that fire was not what princesses were supposed to like. They suggested she might try to enjoy something more suitable, like embroidery. But Marie could not help liking fire; it was simply so wonderful! She felt that anyone else who was even halfway reasonable should like it too. And besides, Marie hated embroidery. She always poked herself with the needle.
Marie also adored anything related to fire, and this, of course, included dragons. She liked to sit down in the big chair by Bartholomew, reading old legends about great big dragons and all the adventures they had and then how, in the end, they were always killed by princes.
Marie didn’t like the last part of the legends - the part where the dragon inevitably got killed – very much; she couldn’t help feeling that the princes got too much credit. They weren’t as smart as the dragons (everyone knew dragons were exceedingly intelligent, while the same could not exactly be said for princes), and, as far as Marie could see, the only thing the princes had going for them was money, and a father who happened to be a king, and a mother who happened to be a queen.
Yes, the dragons sometimes kidnapped princesses, but they never ate the princesses (at least, not most of the time), and the knights, in her mind, were not much better than the dragons, at any rate; in fact, they might have been worse. They only came when the princess’s father offered half his kingdom and the princess’s hand in marriage to whoever could kill the dragon and bring the princess back alive and intact; it wasn’t like the princes really cared about what the princesses wanted, or else they would have gone off to “save” them earlier. They just wanted their share of the kingdom.
After the princes showed up and killed the dragons, the princesses were taken away by the princes, and they were stuck with them, even if the princes were beasts and scoundrels. It was, in Marie’s mind, more or less the same as what the dragons did, only it was more socially acceptable. And anyway, the princesses seemed quite happy with the dragons, or else they would have just run away.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the battle between the knights and the dragons was totally unfair. The knights always seemed to have some sort of magic armor that was invincible, and some sort of sword that never missed and was enchanted to be especially sharp and pointy. The dragons didn’t have any of that. ‘All things considered,’ thought Marie, ‘It is one of the most unfair things ever!’
Perhaps Marie’s dragon obsession and her excessive knowledge of dragon lore was why so many of her dreams were related to them. Marie particularly liked her dragon dreams, and could always remember them the next morning (or at least, she couldn’t remember forgetting any of them). Usually, they were just the old legends, but she was watching them unfold instead of reading about them. But one night, she had a particularly vivid dream, and it wasn’t any legend that she’d ever read before.
She was standing on a mountain that was scattered with small, dead, thorny bushes. It was cold, and, looking down at herself, she saw that she was wearing a simple grey dress, which was no help whatsoever against the freezing temperatures. Her long red hair was unbraided, and blowing in the wind. Marie stared at the blue sky. Slight wisps of clouds floated by, but something else was there too… what was it? She squinted at it, and as it came closer she saw that it was a dragon! It was huge, and sapphire-blue, and it was flying right towards her. As it came closer, she could have sworn that she saw it smile. It was a rather toothy smile, but it was a friendly smile nonetheless. Marie opened her arms to it in greeting, but she heard a rumbling noise.
Looking up, she saw that the mountain was collapsing! Great chunks of rock were breaking off the peak and rumbling down the slope. Picking up her skirt, Marie ran away from the tumbling rocks as fast as she could, but her dress got caught on the short, thick stalk of a long-dead plant. She tugged at it as a boulder hurtled towards her. Marie could feel the mountain shaking as she tugged frantically. The skirt ripped and she fell over. The boulder was practically on top of her. She was about to be crushed, and she took one last look at the dragon. It was rushing towards her. Marie knew, somehow, that the dragon was about to crash into the boulder so that it would not crush her. But the boulder was so close! Time seemed to slow down as the dragon raced closer and closer, and then blew a huge tongue of flame into the rock. Marie was sure something was strange about the flame, because when it reached the boulder, the boulder shattered into a million tiny pieces which fell all around her, and none of them were on fire. The flame disappeared as the last piece hit the ground.
Marie woke up.
It was still dark out, so Marie lit the candle closest to her bed with the tinder and flint she always kept nearby. She stared at the flames. They looked so much like the flame of the sapphire-blue dragon, only much tinier, and Marie reached out and, half-asleep, scarcely knowing what she was doing, touched one. It was warm, but not as hot as it ought to be, and it tickled.
“I must be dreaming,” murmured Marie, “But it’s a wonderful dream all the same.”
She gently scooped up the flame and held it in her hand. Somehow, it did not hurt. It only danced there for a little, then gently fizzled out. Marie sat in bed, unable to go to sleep, as thoughts raced haphazardly through her head.
When she eventually fell back to sleep, Marie dreamed of dragons again. This time, she was in a big, grassy field. There were small, tiny flowers in all the different colors of the rainbow – and some that weren’t colors of the rainbow – and a few trees in the distance. She looked up to the sky, hoping to see the sapphire-blue dragon from her last dream. But instead, she saw a huge green dragon, this one the color of emeralds. It swooped down towards her, and then hovered in the air for a moment, gently beating its huge wings. Marie was sure that it simply did not know what it should do. Marie thought for a moment, and then she had the craziest idea.
“DO YOU WANT TO PLAY TAG?” she shouted at it. The dragon moved its huge head in a gesture that was more of a “yes” than a “no.”
“YOU’RE IT!” shouted Marie, and set off running down the field.
That morning, the first thing Marie thought of was how she had picked up the fire. ‘Was it all a dream?’ Marie wondered. Sitting on her bed, Marie stared at the fireplace (some servant must have lit it before she awoke). ‘I shall die of curiosity if I do not find out if I can really hold fire,’ she thought as she walked towards it, and, shutting her eyes, slowly reached her hand into the fire and drew out a lump of the flame. It felt warm, but not unpleasantly so. It also felt a little ticklish. Marie opened her eyes and stared at the maroon flame.
Marie couldn’t help wondering if she could mold the flame. She decided to try and make a dragon, as a thank-you to the dragons from her dreams.
Marie had always loved making things, and she’d really enjoyed clay. The fire was sort of like clay, only it moved around more and felt more slippery when she tried to arrange it into the shape she wanted. It moved like wet mud, but it felt like air.
The dragon shape was, in the end, intricately detailed, and about a foot long. It wasn’t exactly realistic, but it had horns, and a mouth, and two eyes, and legs, and a tail. It had spikes along the length of its back and down to its tail, and there were squiggly lines all down its sides (which were supposed to be scales). The dragon looked a little bit smoky, and was sort of hazy along the sides, but it was beautiful all the same. It was a masterpiece.
Marie considered calling her mother and father to see the dragon, but realized they would be quite upset and probably frightened if they saw that she was holding fire in her hands, and that she had shaped it into a dragon; a unicorn would probably have been more accepted by them. Princesses were supposed to like unicorns more than dragons.
The dragon stayed in her hands for a moment, beautiful and warm and red; and then the haze got a bit thicker, and the area around it got a bit smokier. Marie coughed, and waved away some of the smoke; you could scarcely see the dragon at all because of the thick greyish-white haze. The swatting didn’t really do much good, but she continued relentlessly, then tried blowing on it. Eventually, she realized nothing was working, and simply waited for the smoke to go away, while holding the smoky blob as far away from herself as she could; she wasn’t really sure how to get rid of it, and it seemed like it would be a great waste to throw away something so beautiful as this dragon. ‘If I don’t throw away the dragon,’ Marie thought, ‘the hardest part will be keeping my parents from noticing it.’ Marie wasn’t quite sure how she would stop her parents from noticing the dragon, but she was sure she would, somehow, find a way. She wondered if fire-sculptures still held their shape if they were put back in the fireplace. This became such an interesting question that she felt it simply must be tried. But the smoke had to be cleared first.
“Oh, move along, will you, smoke? I’m trying to see the dragon!” she muttered, angrily glaring at it. Somehow, this seemed to work. The smoke gradually faded away, drifting out her open window (‘Was it open before?’ Marie wondered. She didn’t remember it being open…). And there, in her hand, was… nothing.
“What?” Marie anxiously stared at the air in her hands. It was definitely not a dragon. It was just… air. And, Marie felt, extremely un-dragony air. She stared at her hand again, bringing it up close to her face; maybe the dragon had shrunk? But there was nothing, nothing at all, and especially no small, glowing, ruby-red dragon made of fire. Marie collapsed back onto her bed with a sigh. This was not a good start to the day.
The next night, Marie did not dream. In the morning, she was rather sad about it; the dragon dreams had been so lovely. It seemed a shame to not have any more of them. But, when she went to the window and looked out, the sight made her feel a bit better. That night, it must have snowed, because the ground was covered in a thick white blanket of snow. It shimmered and glimmered in the sunlight.
Some of the servants’ children were already playing in the freshly packed snow. Marie smiled, then winced as one of them (the butler’s son, she thought; his name was Michael) got knocked over by an especially large snowball thrown by the cook’s daughter. Eventually, Marie shook herself out of her daze, got dressed, and headed outside, wrapping her cloak tightly around her. The others scattered; they did not want Marie to see them. Marie sighed, and looked longingly after the last small figure disappearing into the kitchen door. Of course, the servants’ children felt a little intimidated by her. If she was them, she would, too, but still, she felt rather sad that she could have so little friends; the children of the nobility all seemed stuffy and annoying. Gloomily, she looked down at her feet, and saw… footprints? But these were not any of the servants’ children’s footprints, and they most definitely were not hers; these were much smaller, and looked sort of like a bird’s. But Marie had never heard of a bird with footprints like this, there were five claws and there were four of them grouped together. Hoping the bird was still nearby, and desperately curious, Marie looked up, hoping to get a small glimpse of the bird (perhaps it was a new species?). Instead, she saw a flash of red against the clear blue sky.
“What?” she whispered as she strained her eyes to get a better look.
The red flash grew bigger until eventually it stopped being a flash and instead became a blob, and then took on a more definite shape. It did not look like a bird; at least, not any bird Marie had ever thought could exist. ‘It almost looks like a…’ Marie tried to stop herself from thinking the thought. It went against all reason and logic. ‘It couldn’t possibly be a dragon. They don’t exist! Dreams are one thing; but this is real life!’ But, to be sure, she pinched herself. It hurt.
The dragon, however – for that is what it was – refused to accept that it didn’t exist. It sped swiftly towards Marie, who could scarcely believe what she was seeing. Yet it was, most definitely, a dragon. It had all the things that a dragon was supposed to have. It had horns, and a mouth, and eyes, and legs, and a tail. It had spikes along the length of its back and down to its tail, and there were scales all over it; they looked a bit like squiggly lines if you didn’t look closely. The dragon looked sort of smoky, and was sort of hazy along the sides, but it was beautiful all the same. In fact, it looked a lot like the dragon she had made the night before, only it couldn’t have been, because this dragon was real. And it landed right in her outstretched hands, and curled up.
“You’re lucky you landed on me, and not one of those nasty knights,” Marie said softly to it. Somehow, it reminded her of a puppy, and there was a part of her that felt that you should always speak softly to puppies.
The dragon exhaled a puff of smoke in response, and Marie thought she heard it murmur, “Good night,” in a wheedling, whiney, sharp voice. But it was a lovely voice all the same.