The maiden curled her slender fingers in the leather cords that connected to the bridle of the stallion. She detested this animal as much as the thought of childbirth. The horse had no sense of duty, always scarpering off at the first sign of danger.
“They are no longer giving chase, Raisa. Slow down!” Her thighs tightened on either side of the saddle, holding fast to the fickle mount.
Realizing she was still holding the small container in her free hand, she released the vial to the blur of landscape beneath her. She licked the last drops of green liquid from her lips as an afterthought of her decision.
“Just…just a bit further, Raisa,” her voice cracked. She did her best to maintain her calm, finding slight hilarity that she was giving the stallion mixed signals. Noble or not, it was clear that the strength of her mind was already dwindling.
The maiden was uncertain of how she felt in this moment. She had cried as heavily as seawater spilling from a ship’s scupper that morning, but it had ended after being chastised by her father, the King of Ardaim. He could not save the other maidens, nor could he protect her.
“Raisa…don’t stop,” she insisted again, as though reinforcing an endless lie. Her head was light as the stallion tore over another uneven hill towards the mouth of the dragon’s cave.
Clawed feet tore into the soft soil of the spring earth as the serpent body of the dragon crashed in front of the woman upon the horse. The large horn-tipped wings unfurled like a lady’s fan, red and gray as the loam found beneath the topsoil. There was no unearthly roar, no bellow of thunder from the beast. Still, Raisa halted mid-step and reared, throwing the woman from its back.
The woman cried out, reaching for the ill-bred animal. Her hands fell short of the mount as it coiled away from the massive dragon. Raisa whickered with its nostrils widening in horror, never taking a second look towards the collapsed rider. In an instant, the horse was fleeing back the way they had come, leaving the woman stranded in the wild country.
The dragon ignored the bolting stallion. It huffed heavily and swept its head sideways to leer at the fallen woman, “Certainly before, I have not had a maiden come to me. A pleasant surprise, this is!”
The woman’s jaw quaked uncontrollably, her lungs burning. Pain seared through her joints as she tried to talk, but words could not be formed. She twisted and thrashed about on the ground like an infant learning to stand.
The deep brown slivers that made up the serpent’s eyes widened, giving light to golden shimmers around the iris, “To whom do I owe the pleasure?”
The dragon was patient in waiting for her response. The beast was timeless, feared by all and threatened by none. Let alone a hapless female flopping on the palpable floor.
She coughed harshly, wheezing uncontrollably. The maiden did her best to steady her breath, realizing she did not have any incentive to move from her supine position. Despite her best attempts, her voice was shaking as though she had no brains about her, “Krutina Duveck of Ardaim, daughter of King Dudin, Heir of Hjaltok, and Keeper of Flockadalr, the Ashen Claw of the West.”
The dragon was obviously impressed, cooing through curled lips, “A princess maiden? A pleasant surprise, indeed! Noble blood always is honeyed, a thick crimson syrup without any matched taste! The perfumed scent is nearly as sweet as the delicate flowers of Floroand!”
She knew the beast intended to eat her, but had not thought that it would take such delight in tearing through her flesh.
“Surely you know of me, Princess?”
Krutina lay still, her leg aching through her toes, “I know you, Lamia the Devourer!”
“If you know me then you know where I roam. Why have you come here? You surely know I enjoy the flavor of maidens.”
“I know that,” she faltered. She had not thought of any reasoning to give the dragon for her coming. Krutina asked the only thing that came to her mind, “Why must you eat us?”
“It is the way of things, Princess. Do you raise question when you feed upon the cattle or the sheep?”
“But, you only consume women!”
“Do you not prefer the veal to the bull? It is only natural to have our preferred tastes.”
“You have fed upon every girl of age within Ardaim for the past ten years. You have brought my people nothing but angst! When would you have your fill? You are nothing but a vile creature!”
“Boldly spoken!” Lamia tittered with amusement, flashing teeth stained with a thousand corpses, “I cannot say that any other of your kind has been so daring to speak to me in such a manner. It is heartening to know that some humans do have a backbone! The question is whether yours will withstand my bite?”
Lamia chortled all the louder.
“We will see…”
Lamia snapped playfully towards Krutina, “Tell me, Princess. Does this mean that you are the last maiden of Ardaim?”
“I am the last,” she hissed. “You will torment this Kingdom no more!”
“Indeed! Tell me what Kingdom lies adjacent to your own?”
“No!” she screamed, voice echoing over the hilltops.
The dragon silenced the princess, snatching the girl from the ground with its mouth, tearing through flesh and bone. As Lamia gnashed its teeth, absorbing the noble woman, its stomach churned. The beast’s head spun and its vision blurred. With a grunt, Lamia collapsed to the ground in a heap. It heaved frantically attempting to empty its insides, but it was too late.
The poison that Princess Krutina had swallowed melded effortlessly into the bloodstream of the reddish brown dragon. Before the sun lowered beyond the horizon, the gold lining surrounding the serpent’s brown irises faded.
Lamia the Devourer breathed no more.