“A very human viewpoint,” the voice agreed. “But it brings so much trouble.”
“Exactly. I just didn’t fit in my father’s plans and... Well, I kind of got kicked out.”
“After I told my father, I was leaving,” Darinel explained, his hands moving to support his words. “I wanted to spare him the embarrassment so I packed my things and told everybody I was going on an adventure.”
“And that’s why you are here now?” the voice inquired, amused.
“Nah!” the prince said with a smirk. “I just wanted to leave with a believable explanation, so my father wouldn’t lose face for having a firstborn who doesn’t want to fight...and to make room for my little brother.”
“Lose his face? Like it would fall off?” the voice asked, confused.
The prince laughed. “Man, what rock have you been living under?”
“Why? What’s so wrong with living under a rock?” The voice sounded hurt.
The prince bit his lip to stop the laughter building up in his chest, but failed miserably. Laughing, he replied, “It’s just an expression. Haven’t you heard it before?”
“Not that I recall,” the voice said, sulking. “And I pride myself on knowing quite a few phrases.”
The prince sat up straight.
“I’m sorry. It is a common phrase where I’m from and it stands for ‘to be embarrassed by someone’s actions.’ But it also means to lose respect and honour.”
“Oh, I see. So, by admitting that you hate fighting, you would be a disappointment to your father and he would be embarrassed by you. Am I correct?” inquired the voice, eager.
The prince winced. “Yeah, you could put it like that.”
“Ha! I learned something new today!” the voice said, excited.
The prince smiled. “Glad to be of help.”
“So, what’s that got to do with your little brother?” the voice asked.
“Well, I’m the first born and so would inherit my father’s kingdom. My little brother would have been the one to leave and find his own place.” Darinel intertwined his long fingers. “But he belongs there and is madly in love with the daughter of one of the knights.” He smiled at remembering his brother’s astonished face.
“With me still being unmarried, they weren’t allowed to wed either. You know, stupid rules royalty have to live by,” he added, flinging his hands in the air. “So I decided to go. This way he can marry and stay in my father’s kingdom.”
“Quite a noble sacrifice.” The voice sounded impressed.
“Oh no...” The prince smiled, embarrassed. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Of course it is!” the voice boomed, and a few rocks splashed into the creek. “You gave up everything for your brother.”
The prince shook his head. “Isn’t that what any big brother would do?”
“I don’t know.”
The voice remained silent for a moment and Darinel watched the stream as it rushed by.
“So why are you here then?”
A grin flashed over the prince’s face. “Princess Tuskja dared me.”
“Did she now?” The voice sounded amused. “Knowing her, I can picture that.”
“You are acquainted with the princess?” He looked up, surprised.
“Well, just from her roaming around,” the voice admitted. “She has quite an inquisitive mind. She explored my mountains for a while.”
The prince nodded. “Yeah, sounds like her.”
“But then her father found out and locked her up in the castle.”
Darinel shaded his eyes, but still couldn’t make out where the voice was coming from.
“I heard rumours about that. Anyway, all I wanted to do is settle here.”
“So what happened?” the voice asked.
“I went to the king to ask his permission to stay,” the prince said, “which he granted. But then he threw in this assignment of killing the dragon and getting his daughter in reward.”
“Yep, that’s the deal,” the prince said. “I thanked the king and pointed out I was only interested in settling down, not marrying. That’s when the princess dared me.”
“Yeah.” He sighed. “I could not let that pass, could I? She ridiculed me in front of the whole court. So I packed my horse and came up here.”
“That’s tough,” the voice replied sympathetically.
“Yes, it is. But anyway, it’s way too hot to fight today. And I’d rather make friends than enemies. So, won’t you come out now and sit with me?” the prince offered a second time.
Silence fell over the little valley, where the creek bubbled quietly. He feared the voice had left when a loud rustle like sails in the breeze filled the air. The sun disappeared as the wind picked up. Little dust roses curled skyward and showered him with debris. He leaned into the rock as the dragon landed in front of him. With great care, the beast folded its wings, curling his tail around him. Darinel’s eyes widened with admiration. Tall as three horses stacked on top of each other and wide as a house, the dragon towered over him. His dark green scales reflected the sunlight so intensely he had to shade his eyes. Impressive claws scraped the ground as the dragon tilted his head and golden eyes studied him with keen interest.
He smiled as he observed the dragon in return. For a moment, neither of them spoke and Darinel had the feeling the beast was as curious about him as he was about it. Slowly, it lowered his triangle-shaped head to take a good sniff at him, revealing its horned eye ridges. Darinel held his breath, but strangely he didn’t feel scared, more intrigued. The dragon didn’t look mean. Its golden eyes radiated warmth and longing more than fierceness and malice. It was intelligent with a wicked sense of humour. He liked that.
“You knew it was me all along?” the dragon asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
The prince tilted his head, so he could see the dragon better and smiled.
“Who else would be out here with a dangerous dragon lurking around in the mountains?”