Damsel Knight Part 1: Chapter Nine

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It's the cold that wakes her as much as it is Neven's hand shaking her shoulder. She sits up groggy, cold burning her lungs when she breathes in. When she breathes out it shows by the light of the fire as a white mist.

"It's the princess," he whispers. "She's gone."

Bonnie blinks, looking about her. Sleep clings, making the meaning of the words trickle down into her consciousness slowly. For a moment she expects to see the paved yard at the back of her large stone house, where her father used to teach her swordsmanship. 'Remember,' he'd say to her at the end of each lesson. 'Don't tell your mother.'

Instead all she sees is darkness in every direction. The only spot of light is the fire, burning low. A few feet around it the shadows swallow the glow. Far away she can hear the dragon's steady breathing.

"Maybe she has business to attend to?"

Neven flushes red at the suggestion his true love has bodily functions like everyone else. "I told her to wake me if she had to - you know."

Bonnie's almost tempted to say she doesn't and have him explain it, just to see how red he can go. What is it with the two of them and blushing? Part of her wonders if that is how your true love is found, whether they blush and shy from confrontation as much as the other does.

"Have you tried shouting for her?"

"I don't want to wake your Gelert," Neven whispers. "And I waited ten minutes before I woke you. If she's nearby she would've come back, and she'd definitely hear that -" He points at the dragon. He doesn't snore, but he is very big. Every one of his exhales sounds like a gale of wind strong enough to blow down every roundhouse in their village.

"How do you mean to find her without shouting?" It's now that Bonnie realises that without knowing it she's been whispering too. But it's not because of the dragon. It's the feeling on the back of her neck, like she's being watched. It's in the question of why it's cold enough to see her breath and freeze her fingers on a summer's night next to a fire.

There's something out there in the forest, and she doesn't think it likes her.

Neven raises one of the longer sticks from the fire. The end stays burning bright.

She shrugs off the stupid superstitious thoughts. Magic is real, and so is black magic, but that doesn't mean that every childish whim is real too. Neven's more into that kind of thing than her, praying to the ancestors every day and giving offerings to the other world. If he's not mentioning it, then she won't.

"Prepare me a stick too," she says. "We'll walk the perimeter and see if we can see her."

They walk through the black with only the torches in their hands, the dot of fire, and the sound of the sleeping dragon to tell them they haven't wandered off too. They meet behind the dragon's back with nothing to show for it.

"We need to find her," he whispers. "If we don't find her soon she'll be lost forever. Anything could get her."

Bonnie tries to ignore the feeling that 'anything' is out there right now, watching them. He's right. They need to find her. There are too many stories of people going into the dark forest and never coming out. A long time ago after the purge of dark magic, King Robin sent armies into the Dark Forest to rid the circle of the last remnants of evil. Not one man who stepped into those trees ever stepped out.

They need the princess. In her focus on the dragon she'd forgotten the importance of that. The King needs the dragon dead and the princess returned to him before he'll give them the reward. Bonnie doesn't care about inheriting the circle, and Neven can wed the princess, but the riches and a knighthood do matter to her.

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