Kiss of Flame(2)

By: Madelene Martin

"But why?" Was all she could ask as the guards began to turn away from her.

"Hundreds of years ago," Mattias said quietly, hanging back. "A dragon ravished the kingdom. It ended when the King sent a sacrifice. One of his virgin daughters."

Lily was speechless, her mouth hanging open in shock.

"Take heart, my Lady." Mattias said, lightly patting her on the arm. "You are a heroine to your people."

She screamed fruitlessly at him as he turned and walked away. She hurled every abuse and insult she had in her limited vocabulary, and cried and begged until she could only see the distant shapes of the guards riding off into the sunset.

Then she turned her blue eyes to the sky, tears streaming down her cheeks. Hope abandoned her. She was completely lost. Her family had given her up without a second thought. She remembered the townspeople cheering for her. Cheering for her death. A heroine! The dragon would come, and it would devour her. What was heroic about that?

She waited. The sky was empty, except for birds casually circling overhead. The wind increased, picking up the skirts of her white dress. She shivered, in cold and fear.

As the last rays were fading from the sky, Lily sagged in her bonds, her strength spent. She cried silently, tears running down her cheek and falling on her chest.

All of a sudden, there was a roar like thunder in the sky. She looked up, but was buffeted by a mighty gust of wind, and had to turn her head and squint her eyes shut. It was as though a sudden storm had come up, right above her.

Finally, a hot blast encompassed her and dust, soot and rocks were kicked up into the air as the dragon landed in front of her. She felt a heavy thud reverbrate up from the ground. Then there was silence and stillness.

Whimpering in fear, she kept her eyes clenched tightly shut and her head turned to the side. For a long moment there was nothing. And then, she heard the breathing. Slow, deep inhalations, and then a huffing sound and warm air exhaled over her.

This is it, she thought. It's going to breathe fire on me now, and cook me, and eat me right here.

She had never seen a dragon outside of pictures, of course. No one had. Like all children, she had gone through a period of fascination, reading endless stories about the beasts. In the end, she had outgrown it for more feminine interests. But - if she was going to die anyway, this would be her last chance to see what a dragon really looked like.

Steeling herself, Lily opened one eye, cringing as she turned her head to face the monster.

Its head was as big as she was, so that its glowing eyes were level with hers. It was covered by blue-black scales, myriad and varied, and long horns jutted backwards from its skull.

It bowed its head down to look at her curiously, its nostrils flaring as it took in her scent. She could see its huge body fading into the dim light, and a suggestion of wings, half-spread, as though warily.

It was magnificent.

"Gods, save me." Lily murmured hopelessly. But the Gods had never answered her before, and they didn't now.

The dragon tilted its head at the sound of her voice, one huge eye rolling toward her. It snaked its tongue out. It was long and forked, like a snake's, and it brushed over the skirt of her dress, then higher, where her arms were bound. The tongue curled over her wrists, and she could feel the heat of it, and a hint of moisture.

She froze as the tongue flicked down over her neck, caressing her skin as gently as a lover's fingers. Then it dipped below where her dress had torn, brushing across her exposed breast.

Lily was terrified, and distantly aware she was quietly whimpering. All she could do was close her eyes as the long tongue tasted her. She could feel its hot breath surrounding her, as though ready to engulf her in flames any second.

But suddenly, the dragon huffed out a breath and got to its huge haunches. With one claw, it snapped the rope that held her up.

Lily collapsed down to her knees, her ankles still trapped at the foot of the stake. She shook with fear, and the muscles of her arms ached with fatigue. She could barely support herself.

She felt the ropes on her ankles pull and twist. It's going to carry me off to eat me, then. She thought. As soon as the ropes snapped and she felt herself come free, instinct took over. She leapt to her feet and began to run as fast as she could.

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