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Feeding Hungers

Douglas DiCicco is an author of speculative fiction living in Clovis, California. He has been a lawyer, a teacher, a camp counselor, and a renaissance faire performer. Follow on Twitter @CiccoDouglas.

Now that she'd won the dragon, Clara had no idea what to do with it. She hadn't wanted to win, really. She'd just wanted to make sure the duchess lost. The duchess had made a disparaging remark about Clara's shoes at the midwinter ball, and Clara had never forgotten the slight. When auction day came and the duchess began bidding on the hatchling, Clara saw an opportunity for revenge and jumped on it.
The look of disappointment from the duchess had been satisfying, but buyer's remorse set in as the auction house clerk guided her to the treasure vault. Perhaps sensing Clara's regret, the clerk made certain to remind her of the steep fees incurred for cancelling a bid. She knew her mother, the queen, was going to be livid about the expense, and would be especially livid if she returned home with nothing to show for it.
Clara's mother had always been controlling, but it had grown much worse of late. When Clara had voiced her disagreement with her mother's decision to wage war on the southern tribes, the queen had responded by sealing Clara away in a cold, bare tower for a fortnight. The whole thing made no sense to Clara. The southern tribes made such pretty jewelry.
The dragon was packed in a wooden crate. "Is that really secure?" Clara asked. "Can't they just breathe fire and burn their way out of the box?"
"Just hatched this morning, princess. They don't breathe fire until they're full grown." The clerk explained. "That won't be for several centuries." He pressed a wet lump into Clara's hand. "Hold this out to it."
The clerk opened the front of the crate. The creature inside was less fearsome than Clara had expected. It looked smaller than her mother's hunting hounds. The dragon cowered pitifully against the back of the crate, whimpering.
The clerk had given Clara a handful of raw, bloody beef. She worried about staining her gloves. She held it out toward the dragon.
The dragon crawled out and took the lump, gobbling it down. Clara found the beast even less impressive in the light. "Where are its wings?" She asked the clerk, staring into the dragon's silver eyes. The dragon stared back.
"Only the emerald and onyx breeds have wings, princess. This is a vermilion."
Clara's disappointment with the dragon only grew during the carriage ride back to the estate. The beast hopped and crawled all over the seats. By the time they arrived, it had completely ruined the upholstery.
Clara planned to foist the dragon off on the stable hands to care for, as she had with the unicorn foal she'd acquired during the previous summer's auction. The stablemaster had raised it well, right up until the queen ordered it slaughtered and roasted to impress the visiting delegation from the Onyx Isles.
This time, the stablemaster refused. "It's imprinted on you, princess. Happens with the first one to feed them. It thinks you're its mother. Even if we tried to keep it here, it'd stop at nothing to get back to you."
The stablemaster's warning proved true. In the weeks to follow the dragon was Clara's constant companion, allowing her neither privacy nor rest. The beast could open unlocked doors as well as break down locked ones. After the third time it broke into Clara's bathing chamber, she decided that it was less annoying to allow the dragon to follow her than it was to keep summoning the royal carpenter.
The dragon quickly developed a reputation as a terror to the estate staff. The creature's presence made it all but impossible to keep meat in the larder, as it would grow ravenous and aggressive at the first whiff of blood. It developed a habit of relieving itself on the garden's prizewinning geraniums, rendering a once beautiful garden foul in both appearance and odor. Worst of all it shredded Clara's shoes from the midwinter ball, leaving strips of fabric strewn all across the closet.
A victory for the duchess in the end, Clara thought.
After a month, Clara's mother could tolerate it no longer. "The dragon must go. Find a new home for it. If it truly cannot be kept from returning to you, I will have one of the knights dispatch it."
Clara did not accept this. "It is my dragon. I bought it with my money. You can't make me get rid of it." Despite what an annoyance the dragon had been, some small part of her had warmed to it.
"I can, and I am. I am your mother and your queen. Defy me again, and I'll put you back in the tower. We will discuss this no further." Clara's mother was terribly stubborn. "I will give you one week. If the dragon is not gone by then, it dies."
Clara sought out the stablemaster. "The imprinting. Can it be broken?"
The stablemaster shook his head. "In the wild, the clutch stays with their mother until they're stronger than her. Then the brood rips her apart, gobbles her down, and splits their treasure hoard among themselves." His lips turned up into a rueful smile. "New generations always eat the old. That's the only way they get strong enough to stand on their own. Dragons know this better than we do."
That night, Clara crept into her mother's bedchamber. She'd stolen a bucket of lamb entrails from the kitchens. She poured it out onto the sheets. The queen had ordered a stop to the dragon's feedings, leaving it ravenous with hunger. Before she could even cry out the dragon had devoured her, bones and all.
A week later, just after her coronation, Clara sat on her new throne and received the act of homage from her new vassals, each bowing and swearing fealty in turn. It pleased Clara to no end to see the duchess had worn a pair of the very same shoes she'd mocked at the midwinter ball.
The dragon, curled beside the throne, laid its head on Clara's lap. Clara smiled and scratched it behind the crest. She'd decided to name the dragon after her mother. After all, the old queen was a part of it now.
Clara assumed she'd meet the same fate one day. The stablemaster said the dragon wouldn't eat her until it was stronger than her. With how slowly dragons aged, Clara hoped she would be old by then, and have children of her own.
Clara wondered if they would eat her first.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 13th, 2021

Author Comments

Dragons in fantasy stories are usually depicted as these majestic, dignified creatures full of guile and cunning. Fantasy princesses are often sweet and innocent, and rarely take the initiative. This story is an attempt to flip both those ideas on their heads.

- Douglas Paul DiCicco
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