|"The Captives," by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan|
Editor's note: The mixture of the magic and the familiar made this work an easy winner for April. I especially like the sister with the dietary requirements!
The Old Weaver began at the beginning as the children gathered at her feet, “There was a time and it was not my time and it was not your time. It was a time of dragons and dirigibles, a time of eaters and evil, a time of fantasy and forgiveness. It was a time when a girl who was destined to be our greatest princess was born of humble parents in poverty and sadness, in pain and sincerity.”
The Dragon of the North was a demanding taskmaster who insisted upon a sacrifice on the first day of spring each year. The young man who had been chosen was expected to bring the gift to the dragon. The gift was not gold. The dragon had baskets of gold. The gift was never jewels. The dragon had buckets of jewels. The annual gift was not food for the gluttonous dragon. The dragon’s troughs overflowed with cupcakes and doughnuts for his ten daily meals. The spring gift was always a human sacrifice. The young man was compelled to bring his favorite sister to the dragon.
Some had tried to fool the dragon with slave girls purchased in the market place or strangers they had abducted or distant cousins. The dragon always knew the difference. This was a fairy tale time of large families and a young man might have seven sisters. He might substitute his second favorite sister for the dragon.
The dragon would sneer, “I need to have your favorite sister or I will destroy the village.”
The young men were forced to sacrifice that which they most valued to save their people. The young women were never seen again. The villagers continued to bring gifts to the dragon. They brought baskets of gold and buckets of jewels each week. The cooks carried cupcakes and doughnuts to refill the troughs ten times each day. On the first day of spring, a doomed young man was compelled to bring his most beloved sister to the Dragon of the North.
One year the chosen man had three sisters. Insisting that he loved them equally, he could not decide which sister should be taken to the dragon.
As the oldest brother, he’d known the oldest sister the longest and reasoned that maybe that meant he loved her best. After all she’d been willing to take care of the other sisters after their parents had died. She was expert at spinning and handiwork.
Abandoned in the dragon’s castle, the oldest sister began to eat the cupcakes and doughnuts. Within minutes, she had eaten them all.
The dragon was outraged to find an empty trough, “Why have you eaten all of my food?”
“There will be more food in a few hours. Tell me about your parents, How did you feel about your mother? Did she nurse you or were you weaned too young? Did you have a wet nurse? What flavor milk was the breast milk? Was it green? Or chocolate? Is that why you are obsessed with doughnuts and cupcakes because you weren’t given enough love as a dragon-pup? I raised my younger sisters and I know a lot about child-psychology. Your relationship with your father is very important as well. We have lots to talk about.”
“I have no intention of sharing my personal business with someone who eats all of my food. You cannot be the favorite sister of your brother. Go back home and tell him to send another sister!” said the dragon.
The young man sent for his second sister. She was a poor scholar but was a talented musician. She schemed to make lots of money and wanted the dragon’s gold and jewels. She refused to eat any of the food and complained when the dragon entered the room
“Is this the only kind of food that you have? I cannot eat cupcakes and doughnuts for the next year. My family should have explained my specific eating requirements. I eat liver sausage on homemade fresh-baked white bread. I drink medicinal tonic sold by the traveling medicine show barker. I refuse to consume anything else.”
“The only way I will leave is if you give me 100 baskets of gold and 100 buckets of jewels,” said the second sister.
“That’s ridiculous” said the dragon “but I want you to leave so I’ll give you 99 baskets of gold and 100 buckets of jewels.”
“I won’t leave until I have one-hundred of each!” demanded the girl.
“I’ll agree to anything as long as you leave the castle. Take it and be gone!” said the dragon.
The young man didn’t know where to find his youngest sister. He followed the hoof prints of their horse deep into the forest. She was sitting in the branches of a tree reading.
“Will you go to the dragon’s castle to save the village?” asked the young man. “I guess you are my favorite sister although I can never find you.”
“It’s difficult to find the one you need the most. Of course I will save the village,” she said.
Unlike her sisters, she didn’t remain with the food or valuables. Instead, the girl explored the rest of the castle. She found women from previous spring sacrifices reading in the library. They told her everything she needed to know to outwit the dragon.
When she returned to the throne room, the dragon was licking icing from a cupcake. The girl dumped the trough contents onto floor and crushed the food with her brown boots.
“Why don’t we go outside?” she asked the dragon.
“I never go outside. I stay inside and play video games,” said the dragon.
“Today we are going outside and we will play basketball, I will teach you Horse,” the girl said. “And we are going to start eating fruits and vegetables as well. It’s time that you became a fit dragon and made some dragon friends.”
“I have 983 Facebook Friends,” said the dragon.
“You need friends in the real world,” said the girl.
Within months, the dragon had shed his excess kilos. He’d met several dragons at book club meetings at the castle. After the youngest sister was convinced the dragon had embraced a healthy dragon lifestyle, she bid him farewell. She rescued the other women from the library. Then they flew away in a rainbow-colored dirigible to another kingdom where everyone lived happily ever after.
Laura Beasley has a horse named Amos and a dog named Audrey. She and her husband have three grown children whose names do not begin with the letter A. Her stories have been published in Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine and Rose Red Review.