Kiss of Flame

By: Madelene Martin
 (The Dragon's Virgin Tribute)

Princess Lily had never felt particularly close to her royal parents, who barely saw or spoke to her. She was the fourth daughter of the King of a tiny country, and had lived a pampered life, with the finest clothing, jewels and food, the best tutors and nurses, and a gaggle of maidservants.

None of that mattered now, as she struggled against the armored men – her father's guards – who bound her wrists and ankles tightly together.

At first, she hadn't understood. Lily had grown up blissfully unaware of the troubles of the kingdom. When she'd turned eighteen – barely a week ago - she had finally started to wonder why she hadn't yet been betrothed. All of her sisters had been married one by one - and all by the age Lily was now.

She'd tried to ask her sisters about it, her chambermaid, and finally her mother. All of them had turned away or hurriedly excused themselves from the room. Her mother had tightened her mouth and told her to stop asking questions.

One day, she had looked out the windows of her tower room and seen, on the horizon, a huge gout of black smoke rising into the twilight sky.

The smoke hadn't stopped. On different days, different areas of the sky were blackened, and it seemed to be moving closer and closer.

The castle became busy, with many people visiting, rushing in and out. When she looked out the windows she could see streams of people coming into the city. She was constantly ordered to stay in her room, under guard. The guards wouldn't speak to her or tell her what was happening, but she could sense the tension in everyone she encountered.

Then came the day when she was given a white dress to wear, and taken from her room. She was put on the back of a horse next to Mattias, the captain of the guard. He had always been kind to her so she wasn't afraid. She asked where they were going, and the man told her they were going to meet her future husband.

Common folk and nobles alike lined the streets, cheering as she rode past with the captain, his guards trailing on horses behind them. Lily was astounded – she had never been cheered before – had never even been among the people since she was an infant.

She smiled, and waved at them, enjoying the attention. Her heart was fluttering with excitement and nerves. Somewhere deep inside she noticed there was a strained quality to the crowd, and many of them were gaunt and dirty. But for all she knew, this was normal.

They had travelled for most of the day, and finally they'd reached a huge swath of burned land. She could see the remains of a village, burned to the ground. Shells of huts and houses stuck out of the earth, only charred wood remaining.

"What happened here?" She asked, confused.

To her surprise, Mattias dismounted and helped her down from the saddle.

"Dragon fire." He said.

"Dragons?" Lily's eyes went wide. "But I thought all the dragons were gone!"

He nodded, an uncomfortable expression on his face. "Yes," he said. "So did everyone."

"But... why are we here?" She looked out over the husk of the village, smoke stinging her eyes.

Mattias didn't meet her gaze, only taking her by both hands, and holding them together, pulled a rope around them.

"What are you doing?" Lily cried in alarm. She looked at the guards for help, but they all sat on their horses, just watching. She shot a look back at Mattias. "What's going on?"

"I'm sorry, my Lady," he said sadly. "We had no choice."

She struggled then, but the captain was far stronger than she was. He pulled the ropes tightly until her wrists couldn't move.

"Stop!" She yelled, and tried to kick him, now angry. Two guards dismounted as Mattias grabbed the struggling girl and easily slung her over one shoulder. They ignored her screams and struggles and followed as Mattias carried her through the village.

They tied her to a tall metal pole that stood just outside the ruins. She fought as hard as she could, landing a few good scratches on Mattias' cheek. In her struggles, her dress was torn at the neck, a flap of fabric dropping down to expose one breast. But it all was to no avail.

They had secured her wrists up over her head and tightly bound to the stake, her ankles tied at the bottom of the pole. She could only just stand, and it was pointless to try to struggle any further. Tears stung her eyes and began to roll down her cheeks.

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