Becca dropped an extra cloth napkin on one table as she passed by, a refilled mug on another, and finally a full bowl of steaming soup at the table she had actually been making her way towards. “You are always such a dear.” The elderly woman at the table patted her hand as she spoke in a soft voice high and crackling with age.
“Oh, Mildred,” Becca replied with a quiet chuckle. “You give me too much credit. You know I love seeing you here.” And it was true. She had actually worked a few minutes past the end of her shift, as usual, but it never felt like a burden. She loved working at the Second Home for the Elderly. As far as she was concerned, it was one of the best operations in the capital city, giving shelter, food, and plenty of love to any of the older citizens who needed some extra support. Becca waved a cheerful goodbye to Mildred and the other nearby patrons as she collected her coat and made her way out of the building.
The planks of the porch off the front of the building creaked under her feet, reminding her that all was not well at her beloved workplace. Becca felt a pang of sadness as she looked over her shoulder at the old building. Vines of ivy crawled across almost every surface. The window sills and frames were cracked and weathered. It was plain to see that funding was low, and despite her hope, it didn’t seem like the home would be able to function for much longer.
As Becca walked down the main street of the city, a conversation on the porch of the nearby tavern caught her attention. “Course I can’t tell you anything about the dragon!” One broad young man exclaimed, his flailing arms showing his agitation. “When that thing came blasting out of the mouth of the mountain with smoke and flame and red eyes blazing, I ran! That dragon is going to stay in that mountain no matter what, you mark my words.”
“But the queen said-” His companion tried to interject.
“Look, congratulations to the king for finding someone he thinks is so fantastic, but this quest is a fool’s errand. ‘Bring the dragon to the queen and you will be granted whatever you wish.’” The man huffed out a derisive laugh. “Sounds like such a great offer. Until you realize it’s impossible. That dragon is unbeatable, and you can’t have any wish granted if you’re charbroiled.”
Becca continued on her walk home, her thoughts now whirling with new ideas from the soldiers’ conversation. She had heard of the new queen’s offer months ago- that whoever was able to bring her the dragon that lived on top of Shadow Mountain would be granted whatever they requested from the king. Many people had thought it was a strange quest, but the king’s new wife was, after all, from a land far away with many different customs. Becca, of course, hadn’t thought much of it at all. But now… the queen had never said anyone had to slay the dragon, which Becca reasoned made the task a bit easier. And the image of the crumbling Second Home for the Elderly was still fresh in her mind. That evening passed as it usually did. In the morning, Becca left to seek out a dragon.
Shadow Mountain was a bleak landscape, the dark gray rock that was its namesake dry and crumbling into a fine dust that choked travelers. Still, Becca wasn’t eager to escape the barren surface of the mountain by entering into the gaping mouth of the cavern before her. But she hadn’t climbed all the way up the mountain to turn back now, and so she continued on. After all, no dragon had come “blasting out with smoke and flame and red eyes blazing” yet, and she took that as a good sign.
The inside of the cave was dark and warm, but not too hot. A light haze of smoke drifted on the slight air current, curling around… a dragon. A rather large dragon. Becca stopped mid stride, her heart suddenly caught in her throat. Very carefully, she settled her footing, figuring that her falling over and causing some sort of loud noise wouldn’t be a very good way to wake up the sleeping dragon. “Excuse me?” Her voice came out soft and timid, but still seemed far too harsh in the quiet cave.
The dragon’s amber eyes drifted open, focusing lazily on Becca. No red eyes- that was another good sign. Still, it didn’t do very much to reassure her in the current situation, as she was finding that it is very hard to breathe normally with a dragon’s gaze fixed on you. “You’re excused.” The dragon’s voice was low and melodious, underlaid with just the slightest growl. “Can I help you?”
“Well,” Becca began, fiddling with the strings of her apron. It occurred to her in the lull of this very strange and unexpected conversation that she didn’t look like much of an adventurer, with her blouse and skirt and apron. She shook her head. That was probably not what she should be focused on. “I’m not sure if you know this, but my queen has said that whoever is able to bring you to her will be granted a wish. And so I was wondering if, maybe, you wouldn’t mind… paying her a visit?”
The dragon lifted her head, tilting it slightly as she regarded Becca. There was a warmth and humor in her eyes. “Did you know that dragons can sense the intentions of those who seek them? We only allow those with pure intentions to walk so freely into our homes.”
“I- no. I didn’t know that.”
“Would you like a ride? It’s quite a long walk back to the castle.”
Becca’s eyes grew wide as she looked up at the magnificent creature. “I’m not sure if I would ever forgive myself if I turned that offer down.”
A short while later, Becca and her newfound dragon friend landed in the courtyard of the castle, to the astonishment of everyone present. The queen, on the other hand, did not seem surprised in the slightest, and greeted the dragon like an old friend. When she turned to Becca and asked what her wish was, Becca was ready. “Your Majesty,” she began with a curtsy. “I would ask only for funding for the Second Home for the Elderly. I want to be sure that it can continue providing services to those who need them.”
The queen went above and beyond in fulfilling her promise. The Second Home for the Elderly was restored to a condition that it had likely never been in to begin with. There was plenty of food and only the finest accommodations for their patrons. Becca delivered Mildred’s usual bowl of soup to her and let her eyes sweep over the dining room, feeling a swell of happiness.
Mildred patted her hand. “Thank you very much… my dear dragoness.”