Read by Susan Moisan
I didn’t decide to be a monster. I didn’t even know I was one at first; and sometimes I miss those days. I’ve never killed anyone, in armour or otherwise, or captured anyone, virginal or otherwise. My family are herbivores. No one ever believes that: I think it’s the teeth. Or the scales. But I am a monster; I must be, because here I am in chains in this specially-made dungeon. Made for those like me. I came quietly when they brought me here. I almost regret that now; how docile I was then.
As we grew more used to each other, more comfortable, she stayed longer and talked more. She began to read me stories. I liked that. I tried to tell her a few of my own in turn. And she grew bolder, or fonder, or both. She stroked my snout and she told me I was beautiful. She told me I was beautiful. She said that my eyes were stars and that my scales shimmered like the sunlight on the ocean. I have never seen the ocean.
Is she beautiful? I wouldn’t know how to tell. Princesses have never been my thing. She is kind, and clever, and when she appears things are brighter. One day she kissed me very gently, and then she cried. I didn’t understand at first, but I knew that I had failed her. She didn’t come back for a week. A whole, terrible, boring, deadly, heart-wrenching week. When she did she cried again, but in a different way. As if she had failed me. It took time that day, but she told me the truth. She had let herself believe that I had been enchanted in some way. That a curse had been placed upon me. In short, that I might be a human prince.
I can’t believe she assumed I was a boy. I mean, honestly! But she was my friend and she was sorry; and I forgave her for her foolishness. The next time she came she was serious, but no longer sad.
‘We will just find a different way to set you free,’ she said. I have to admit it was a beautiful idea. The thought of spreading my wings into flight again, to unfurl, rise. To simply move where I pleased. The possibility of it was maddening. Wonderful, and beyond belief, of course. Of course. But tantalising. And she was on edge with it as well, I could feel it. Why, I wondered, was this of importance to her?
‘Because I know what it is like to be in a prison too.’ A different look on her face then. Oddly strong; undefeated. Not really a princess look, to the best of my scanty knowledge. Perhaps I have been making assumptions too, all this while.
We carried on as before for a time, though increasingly serious. More stories and confidences shared. There was a strange sweetness about it and I can’t deny I enjoyed my time with her. Yet, there was always this pressing, needling sense in me of something bigger and greater that now seemed possible. The almost-promise of freedom in what she said. The image dancing in front of my eyes, which so delighted and frustrated me that I felt I might die.
One day she came and she told me that she had an idea. And her eyes then as she said it; I didn’t understand her eyes! They sparkled with an excitement that she would not explain, but beyond that emerald gleam was something sadder and deeper. I cried and I did not know why.
I didn’t see her again alone. Instead, after some days, some men came and they laughed and said that the princess had taken an odd fancy to me and that I was to be her pet. Instead of this dungeon I was to live in a pretty cage in her apartment. A silk-draped gilded cage. Like her. I was to be moved in time for the coronation of her brother as King. I was to be presented in a parade.
In due course I was tied and hoisted and moved. It was wearying and uncomfortable, because I could not, of course, be permitted to make my way there myself. Instead I had my wings tied, and was in turn tied to a cart, and manoeuvred through corridors not designed for my bulk. Humans can be so impractical! Finally I was placed, well, more or less dumped, onto silk cushions in my – literally - gilded cage. She had better have a good explanation!
She never explained in words as such, and yet she did explain. She said such cruel things when her attendants were around, but in the brief moments between, when their backs were turned, that look came into in her eye; and a snatched apology was given. And then the one crucial moment.
Near dawn, us both awake, attendant sleeping. She reaches through those golden bars and to the collar fitted on me. She has a knife and for one terrible moment I think she intends to free me through death. No, she slides it under the collar and cuts almost all the way through the leather from the back. From the front nothing looks amiss, unless you were to get too close; and no one will do that.
The next morning: the parade. Noisy and over-bright, but humans, like everything else, will have their fun. A good number of gasps at my presence, led by her on, I kid you not, a pink silk leash, studded with jewels, attached to the doctored leather collar. I have to admire her style. And it was, I admit, somewhat gratifying, the stir we caused. I found myself craving, enjoying it almost. I saw her toss her pretty dark hair and incline her prettier chin towards the crowd; She felt it too, and was intoxicated like me. We could be so wonderful, so praised. Such a strange sensation, on the point of freedom, to see the beauty of the cage.
She broke the spell, not me. She turned briefly, caught my eye, and said quietly but firmly, ‘Now.’ She turned back, and a few seconds later I felt the sharp tug she gave. I pulled back against her and beat my wings. Underused, and shaky as they were, they did not fail me. The collar snapped and I soared.
Soared up and up and away from it all. Away from her. There were some shouts, but the only one I could pick out was hers. Play-acting to convey her innocence, I conjectured. I hope so; I hope so.
In the wide open sky I dance, giddy on my freedom. This is what I was born for. I may see all the oceans of the world now, and all the lands. I no longer belong to the ground, or the dungeon, or the cage. I no longer belong with her. I couldn’t take her with me, you understand. Just think of the stories that would be told: the dragon capturing the princess! They would hunt us down with their bows and arrows and swords.
But some nights nestling in the snowy mountains I think of her, and I hear that cry. Was I supposed to take her with me? Did I betray her? I do not know, and the not knowing chafes at me like the chains I used to wear. I will go back: I must go back, and so I do one night.
She is there on the battlements and she sees me and she doesn’t hesitate. ‘Just over the gate,’ she says, and climbs on. I rise gently, and she clings tightly. It hadn’t occurred to me that she might be scared of flying, but she is. Scared, but determined, and brave.
I set her down gently outside of her cage-no-more, and she kisses my snout once again. ‘Goodbye.’ I beat my wings, stronger now and sure. They catch the air currents, and I move up, higher and higher, and fly to freedom.
(c) Joanne L. M. Williams, 2014
Joanne L. M. Williams used to be a historian who worked in theatre management. Now she studies environmental science, is involved in too many campaigns, and works by night in media monitoring. She's addicted to writing and ballroom dancing and has not yet decided what to be when she Grows Up.
Susan Moisan trained at Drama Studio London and has appeared in a variety of roles including Elizabeth I, an elderly hypochondriac and a Russian prostitute. She has been involved most recently in a series of stage productions raising money for Armed Forces charities helping soldiers and veterans suffering mental trauma.