When he reached the top of the steps he was met by a sweet-faced acolyte carrying a lantern.
“Good sir,” she said with gentle politeness, “our lady awaits you in the garden, may I escort you thither?”
He bowed floridly.
“That would be my pleasure.” His eyes rested on the girl’s smooth brown throat and the modest swell of her breasts. He thought he might come back one day for a bite of this tasty little morsel. But he followed her quietly enough, clasping his hands behind his back and emptying his mind of carnal thoughts.
The garden to which he was conducted was walled, and accessed via a green-painted wooden door. The acolyte curtseyed and gestured for him to enter. Once he was inside, the girl closed the door quietly behind him, before making the sign to ward off evil.
“Faugh,” she said, “he even smells of Her Majesty’s malice.”
Inside the garden, M’a’tsu found himself walking along a narrow grassy path beside a burbling stream. It wasn’t a comfortable walk as, although the path was lit with little twinkling star-like lights, the dragon had to bend his head to avoid the spiky undersides of the gunnera leaves that formed a green tunnel. When he stepped out into the moonlight he found himself blinking for a second in the brightness.
The princess was sitting on a velvety bank that was starred with tiny flowers which filled the air with a fugitive sweet fragrance. She turned her eyes to look at him, and the silver light picked out a sombre darkness in their depths that gave even M’a’tsu pause. His normally facile tongue deserted him for a moment and he stood in silence.
“Come and have a seat.”
She patted the grass and he walked towards her feeling the springy turf under his bare toes. It was still warm from the afternoon sun and the pleasure of it underfoot was almost sexual. The dragon smiled internally and regained his equilibrium. He couldn’t believe how his prey was playing into his hands. He sat down, at a careful distance from the princess. His eyes took in the long line of the princess’ neck and he allowed himself to think about his hands around that white skin as he despoiled her. The thought gave him great pleasure, but he kept his smile bland and avuncular. Or he thought he did. What he couldn’t see, or understand, was how the magic of the goddess’s garden revealed his innermost self to the gaze of his companion.
Her wide-set night-dark eyes, on the other hand, gave away nothing of what she was thinking. Banishing her inner revulsion, Tia smiled with shy modesty.
“Now then, my lord dragon, would you mind explaining why you are here?”
He gave her his shifted form’s most disarming smile and edged a little closer. “Truly, lady. I believe Her Majesty only seeks your happiness.”
“That is a change of heart since the last messenger who informed me that my lady mother had disinherited me and never wished to hear my name again.”