He had found the cave with natural ease, considering his intense training, and delved into the deep warm cave, into the cavern with the dragon’s hoard piled high with the wealth of a small kingdom. He was admiring suits of fine armor, with a mind to his reward, when he spotted her. A hollow had been made in a pile of coins, and on the gold slept the maiden.
They had said that she was beautiful. They had no idea when the dragon had taken her captive, but the blacksmith said she was sometimes seen, near to the mouth of the wyrm’s lair. The young knight thought that if he had been a dragon, he would have never let such a fair creature out of his sight, but the villagers simply shrugged and left him to his opinion. His young mind had conjured images of golden hair like a silken waterfall, blue sky eyes, cast down modestly, and her slim form dressed in damask silk, finery appropriate to her gentle birth. His imaginings had left him unprepared for the woman sleeping before him.
Her hair was not gold, but tumbled about her face and body like a fire caught in the moment of catching. Strings of small pearls and jewels were twined in her tresses, and draped about her long, strong limbs. Her skin was not lily white, but copper, color lent by the fires burning on the walls, the knight was sure. Instead of rich fabrics, she was dressed only in the jeweled strings and baubles from the trove. And when her eyes snapped open and focused on him, they were the same color as new wheat in his noble father’s fields.
Her eyes immediately darted about the cavern, and he tried to follow her eyes, breaking from his rapture with alarm. The dragon! But his eyes found only the empty cavern. When he looked back, she was regarding him with irritation and confusion. “My lady, I have come to rescue you.”
She sat up slowly as a smile of delight spread across her face, and she stroked his embossed breastplate with dark fingers. She seemed to have not heard him. Of course! The dragon had her enchanted. Why else would a virtuous woman be in such an immodest state? He caught her hand and scooped her up in his arms, a startled squeak springing from her. “I beg your pardon my lady…” he trailed off, realizing that only his leather gauntlets separated his fingers from her warm, bare skin. He was suddenly very grateful for the unyielding nature of his armor, because the maiden would not have been able to miss his shame. Wrapping his cloak about her, he carried her from the cavern.
She had not moved in several long moments, and as they emerged from the cave, he swallowed his embarrassment long enough to look at her face. His father had allowed a simpleton to work in the chicken house, and the man was prone to wild imaginings. She looked at him with the same look that mad man would earn, her fiery green eyes fixed on him with tolerant bemusement, but none of the alarm he might have expected. He stopped outside the cave and set her on her feet, unsettled by her steady regard.
Her eyes suddenly broke from his face, and she pointed to the sky. He spun, sword drawn, and faced nothing but a summer day, a green meadow, dotted with distant sheep. Irritation drew his brows together. “Now, my lady…” He heard the heavy sound of his cloak dropping to the grass behind him, and as he turned the bright jingling of jewels. Heat sank into his armor, followed by an elemental growl that reverberated in his bones. Copper scales writhed in the corner of his vision, and he raised his sword in an arc that never completed.