This story is by John N. King and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It really was over.
Wing sat on the balcony of the highest tower, her electric green eyes gazing down as the rising sun bathed the kingdom below in a soft golden glow. They had won. The dark knight was defeated. The kingdom was saved, and she – despite being a dragon – was a hero. Wing had even managed to save the princess – her breath quiet as she dozed in a chair by the fireplace, having fallen asleep in the middle of their late-night conversation.
The adventure was over; the good guys won. They were all going to live happily ever after. Wing couldn’t help smiling to herself, when suddenly a dark thought arose.
Wing sighed, leaning her head back as a burst of flames escaped her nostrils. The snort woke the dozing princess.
“Still awake, Wing?” she asked.
“Oh, sorry, your highness,” Wing said, returning inside and sitting next to the Princess. “Just been thinking…”
“Wing,” the princess said gently. “After all we’ve been through? Please call me ‘Celine.’” She leaned forward. “What’s keeping you up?”
Wing stared at the fireplace, where only embers seemed to be glowing, and unconsciously sent a jet of flame to rekindle it. “We saved the kingdom… right?”
“Well, you did.”
“And so…” Wing glanced at her. “You don’t need anything else?”
Celine hummed. “Well, how much do you know about taxes?”
Wing flinched. “Not much.” She grinned half-heartedly. “But… if you have… I dunno, criminals or something I can chase?”
Celine chuckled. “Sorry. Having a dragon protecting the kingdom isn’t exactly very encouraging for thieves.”
Wing smiled. “Ironic,” she said, looking down. “People used to think I was a thief. They assumed, just because of my scales, that I stole gold, kidnapped princesses like you… destroyed towns.” She gazed at the kingdom, downtrodden.
Sensing her pain, Celine touched her side. “But they’re wrong. You saved us.”
Wing smiled. “Just like in the stories,” she mused. “The ones that really mattered. Songs and tales where the lone outcast became a legend.” She nodded. “I always hoped I’d be like that. That I’d prove my worth.” Her smile faded. “But was it enough?”
“It was enough for me,” Celine assured her. “You saved my life, the lives of my people… everyone loves you.”
Wing hummed, unconvinced. But she gave her princess a grin all the same. “Thanks, Celine.”
Celine nodded, giving Wing a kiss. “Thank you again for everything, Wing,” she said. “You’re my hero.” She then left the room to attend to her duties.
Wing, meanwhile, gazed down at the kingdom in thought. The Princess certainly believed she had proven herself. But what did the rest of the kingdom think? Curious, Wing spread her wings, and glided down towards the castle courtyard.
The knights were already training, sparring each other with swords. As Wing landed, she saw several of them turn to her, swords briefly at the ready before they lowered them.
“Good morning, Wing the Great,” they called.
“Good morning indeed,” Wing replied. “Everything well in the kingdom?”
“Well as can be,” the knights replied. “With the dark knight and his forces defeated, anyway.”
“That’s great,” Wing noted. “Anything I can help with?”
The knights glanced at each other, far too many clutching their swords with white knuckles.
“Nope,” the captain of the knights finally stated. “Everything’s good here.”
Wing managed to keep her grin, even as her heart fluttered with a stab of worry. “Alright.” She flew out of the castle and further out into the villages of the kingdom.
To her dismay, several villagers rushed into their houses as she landed in the town square. Though plenty of others smiled at the sight of her, she couldn’t help but focus on the ones who shut their doors and closed their blinds. She wondered if they even huddled under their beds, as the songs said they would do when a dragon normally came to town.
“Greetings, Mighty Wing,” the other villagers cheered, breaking her out of her thoughts. “Praise be to the Savior of the Kingdom.”
“Sure, yes,” Wing replied. “Say, everything going well in the villages? Anything I can help with?”
“NO!” several voices yelled from their homes, though the villagers outside managed to keep their grins.
“T-They mean, we’re doing just fine, Mighty Wing,” one of them replied. “Thank you again for all that you do.”
Wing’s grin was more of a grimace, but she managed to keep it all the same. “Lovely.”
She took off again, the sight of those villagers hiding festering in her heart like a rusted sword. She had saved the kingdom; freed them from the dark knight’s tyranny. Shouldn’t that be enough of a hint that she was a good dragon?
On the outskirts of the villages, Wing caught sight of a quaint little cottage. Perfect, she thought. Surely someone who lived so far out would have need of aid. She steered towards it.
Working outside was a strange little man, garbed in a shirt of many colors. His face was set in a permanent smile, and his eyes glittered with a coy and mischievous light.
“Why, if it isn’t the Mighty Wing,” the man mused, “Come back to the lands beyond the kingdom she saved.” He chortled. “Such an ironic story. Aren’t dragons usually the villains in these songs?”
“Well, not anymore,” Wing replied. “I’m a hero now, and that means I do heroic deeds. Speaking of which… you got any heroic deeds that need some attention?”
The man scoffed. “Nope. The dark knight’s been defeated, and everything is fine now. You get to live…”
“DON’T SAY IT!” Wing barked. She grabbed her snout in horror, but the man merely blinked up at her in shock. “Sorry. It’s just… I’m not happy.”
The man tilted his head. “Oh?”
“I mean… I’m glad I helped the kingdom,” she admitted. “But… it didn’t do what I wanted it to do. There’s people that are still afraid of me. Knights, villagers…” She sat down, her voice cracking as she held her head in her talons. “Saving the day was supposed to mean everyone would like me and realize I was good. How was it not enough?”
The man tsked and pat her head. “My friend,” he said. “Humans are a stubborn lot, and it doesn’t help that you’re not exactly the norm. Dragons have always been unpredictable creatures, and while you are certainly better than most, people these days can be very suspicious.” He grimaced. “It doesn’t help that people will often take advantage of what is the norm. Look at the Dark Knight, for example; how he banked off how knights were supposed to be heroes so he could run the kingdom like a tyrant.”
Wing huffed. “Not anymore,” she said.
“Exactly,” the man said. “But let me ask you something else; if people don’t like you, so what? Surely, there are still some people who do appreciate what you’ve done.”
Wing smiled, thinking of Celine. “Yeah,” she admitted. “Yeah, there are.”
The man nodded. “Don’t waste your life trying to change the minds of people who don’t want to change. Take happiness and satisfaction from helping the ones you really care about. The ones who love you for you.”
Wing glanced at her scales, and grinned. “Sage advice.”
“Comes from strange places, doesn’t it?” he asked with a grin.
She chuckled. “Well, while I’m getting advice… what do you know about ‘taxes?’”
The man laughed, but gave some advice. Wing returned to the kingdom, eager to share what she had learned about ‘taxes’ with the Princess.
While, admittedly, it wasn’t the most exciting thing she could do as a hero, it still counted for something. And who knew; maybe someday, another evil force would rise up for her to make a bigger spectacle out of fighting. She might even finally win the trust of those who didn’t fully believe in her.
But for now, the Princess did believe in her. And for Wing, that was good enough.
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