He and his alter ego Michell Plested are Co editors of A Method To the Madness: A Guide To the Super Evil and Dimensional Abscesses.
Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge our batteries, plan the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes. As part of joining the Escape Artists family, this year we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re running 10 staff pick episodes over the month, each one hosted by a different member of the Cast of Wonders crew.
We hope you enjoy assistant editor Jeff Hite’s favorite story from 2015, Princesses Do Not Breathe Fire by Sarina Dorie and narrated by Jeff Hite and family. The story originally aired July 19, 2015 as Cast of Wonders 170.
Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.
Princesses Do Not Breathe Fire
by Sarina Dorie
When Princess Draciona was born, it was obvious something wasn’t quite right. She had emerald eyes and viridian hair. Most unusual of all was her scaly, moss-tinted skin.
“This baby looks a little like a . . . ahem . . . dragon,” said Prince Rupunzelson (named after his great-grandmother).
“No, no,” insisted his wife, Princess Penelope. “That’s just green eczema. She’ll outgrow it.”
Prince Rupunzelson nodded and decided to let his wife worry about it. He would rather think about battle.
But Princess Draciona did not outgrow her eczema. To make matters worse, when she started to teethe, she grew sharp, dagger-like fangs. When she didn’t get her way, she sometimes breathed fire.
“Princesses do not breathe fire just because they don’t get their way,” said Rupunzelson, who was king by now.
Years passed and Queen Penelope and King Rupunzelson had three more children. They all had brown eyes and brown hair and smooth and creamy skin. They didn’t have so much as a patch of eczema.
As Draciona grew older, this became more of a problem. The hue of her skin changed from moss to lime green. The court often whispered about her and implied treasonous things about her mother’s behavior with dragons before she had been rescued.
“No, no, it’s a simple enchantment or fairy curse,” Queen Penelope said.
And who were her subjects to argue with her? She was queen, even if her firstborn was a bit scaly.
One fine spring day as Draciona sat in the flower garden playing dolls with her young brother and sisters, the court jester cartwheeled over and made up an annoying song, as he often did to poke fun at people.
“Look at Prince Fredrick,
What a shame,
It makes one sick,
That he plays a little girl’s game.”
He poked Draciona’s younger brother with his staff and made him cry. Draciona was so angry, she gobbled the jester up in one bite.
“I wish I could do that!” said Prince Fredrick as he wiped away his tears.
“Princesses do not eat jesters just because they don’t like their jokes,” King Rupunzelson said.
Draciona didn’t feel that bad about it. The jester’s meter had been off and his rhyming wasn’t very good.
Draciona’s problem became more serious as she grew older, for no matter what healer or magician the king and queen sent for, they couldn’t find an ointment to clear up her skin condition. When Draciona turned sixteen, her father made appointments with nobles to court her so she might one day marry. The nobles were so pompous and annoying that Draciona ate a few of them.
“Princesses do not eat their suitors,” her father warned.
“Yes, I know,” Draciona said, smoke fuming out of her nose. “Nor do princesses have green hair, green eyes and breathe fire, or have eczema that looks like dragon scales.”
“If you do not cease this unprincess-like behavior, I’ll lock you up in the tower for the rest of your life—or until a knight comes to rescue you and take you off my hands.” King Rupunzelson patted her head. “Now, go talk with your mother about your behavior. I’m busy planning a battle to acquire more lands.”
In the privacy of her mother’s chamber, Draciona cried. “Why must I be so different from other girls? Why can’t I have brown hair and brown eyes and creamy skin like my brother and sisters?” She hated how people looked to her like she was a freak. Worse yet, she dreaded disappointing her parents. “Why can’t I be normal?”
Queen Penelope stroked her daughter’s hair and tried not to get her sleeves singed when her daughter’s breathing became too fiery. “Because you are not a normal girl.”
“Father can’t stand me. The court whispers about me and says I’m enchanted by a curse and—”
“No, no, there is no curse. It’s a bit more complicated. . . .” Queen Penelope cleared her throat. “I think you need to meet your real father . . . Fredrick the Dreaded Dragon.”
Fredrick? Draciona’s younger brother was named after some dragon her mother had once had an affair with? Draciona was a princess and had lived a sheltered life in the walls of the castle. She couldn’t imagine how a human woman and a giant lizard could have conceived a child. Nor did Draciona want to know.
“Princesses do not have quests,” King Rupunzelson said. All the same, Queen Penelope packed Draciona a small satchel and said goodbye to her daughter.
Draciona traveled across the kingdom toward the Mountains of Doom, through the Caves of No Return, and into the home of Fredrick the Dreaded. She was stumbling through the darkness of the cavern when she walked into someone.
“Excuse me,” said the man. “I mean—ahem, who goes there?”
“My name is Princess Draciona. I am daughter of Queen Penelope and King Rupenz—actually my mother says I’m daughter of Fredrick the Dreaded of Upper Valdor.”
A torch on the wall suddenly exploded with light. A handsome young man with long, dark hair wearing chain mail, stood before her.
Draciona placed her hands on her hips. “And who are you? Are you a knight here to slay my father?”
“I would never dream of killing a dragon, especially not Fredrick. I am Rob Greentree, court magician, chief librarian and official lackey of Fredrick the Dreaded. And I happen to be his cousin’s wife’s sister’s nephew’s adopted, but orphaned son.”
“A magician? Then why are you wearing chain mail?”
He smiled sheepishly. “I was cleaning the kitchen and some of the mice are quite ferocious.”
“As a magician, you must have knowledge of herbs. Do you happen to know of any ointments good for clearing up green eczema?” Draciona asked.
Rob shook his head. “No, do you know someone with green eczema?”
Draciona crossed her arms. “Me, of course.”
The young magician squinted his eyes, peering closer at her. “You don’t have green eczema. You have a mild case of dragon scales.”
“Is there a cure?”
He shrugged. “Not that I know of.”
“Well then, you’d better take me to my father.”
Rob led Draciona through dark and winding tunnels before they came to a large room lit by hundreds of sconces. Treasure surrounded a green hill in the center of the cavern. Draciona could now see Rob’s hair wasn’t black but bright green, and his eyes were the same viridian hue. She could only imagine what King Rupunzelson would say about that. At least Rob didn’t have eczema.
“Ahem,” said Rob. “A visitor, daughter of Princess Penelope and . . . you, apparently.”
The green hill shifted and turned. A dragon the size of her bedroom turned his big, puppy dog eyes away from the book of poetry he was reading. A grin spread across Fredrick’s face. Despite the rows of sharp teeth, he seemed more cute than menacing. It was difficult to resist the urge to pet his head like one would with a favorite dog.
Fredrick bowed his head. “I had hoped we might meet someday.” His voice was deep and gravely, rumbling like thunder. “How is Penelope?”
Draciona exchanged polite conversation for a while before explaining. “My mother sent me here because I told her I wished to be a normal girl. But the problem is, I have scaly, green skin.”
“Is that the only indication of being a dragon?”
“Well, sometimes I accidentally eat people who annoy me and I breathe fire at inconvenient times. Also, I seem to be unusually strong. Can you help me become a normal princess?”
“It sounds like you haven’t learned to control the dragon side of yourself. It can be difficult the first fifty years.” His green scales turned pink and smooth. His enormous tail receded, his muzzle shortened and he shrank. Within moments, a man with midnight hair and bright green eyes, dressed in dark green stood before her. Somehow, he still reminded Draciona of a puppy.
Fredrick’s ability to change shape explained a few things. And from his handsome features, Draciona could understand her mother’s attraction to him.
He said, “If you can behave as a human, I believe it’s possible for you to overcome your dragon side. I will give you a quest to bring out your princess nature. If you can complete it, your dragon scales should clear up and you can be a normal girl.”
Hope bloomed in Draciona’s chest at the idea of being normal and not an embarrassment to her family. That, and she didn’t particularly like the idea of being locked in a tower for the rest of her life.
Fredrick went on. “But if you fail your quest, the green hue of your skin will worsen, and you will be doomed to spend the rest of your days as a dragon. Are certain you wish to go on this quest?”
Draciona swallowed and nodded.
“But first, you must be tired from your journey. I will give you time to rest, and Rob will prepare something for you to eat.”
Draciona rested and then ate a meal with her father and Rob. Though Fredrick remained human, he had an unusually large appetite. With the caring concern of a long-lost father, he asked her about her life in the castle. Though his tone and manner were light and friendly, there was a shrewdness in his eyes, as if he were watching her far closer than he led on.
The following day, Fredrick announced, “I have finished deciding your quest. I will give you three tasks and if you can complete them in a princess-like way, your dragon nature will clear up. Rob will accompany you to take note of your progress and report back to me. You first task awaits.”
Draciona and Rob set out, away from the mountains and toward the farms and rolling hillsides. The balmy wind brought with it the scent of hay and manure. They stopped at a dilapidated barn full of straw.
Rob unrolled a scroll and read. “Your first task is to spin straw into gold.”
“What? That doesn’t sound at all like a princessly task.”
“That’s what it says, and Fredrick is very wise. I’m sure he knows best.”
Draciona looked at the piles of straw. She had no idea how to spin, as all the spindles in the kingdom had been hidden after some other princess’s freak accident with one.
“This is impossible. I can’t spin without a spindle and even if I did have one, it would take magic to turn straw into gold.”
Rob snapped his fingers. “That’s it! I’ll use magic.” He muttered a few words and the straw turned to gold.
Draciona grew very angry. A cloud of smoke puffed out from her nose. “This is my quest, not yours. I have to solve this problem without your help.” When she spoke, fire shot out of her mouth and engulfed Rob’s head. Draciona jumped back. “I’m sorry. I—”
Rob blinked back at her. Not a hair on his head was singed. “No worries. I’ll simply change the gold back into straw.” And he did so.
“How is it that my fire didn’t harm you?”
“I’m a magician . . . and I’m a tiny bit dragon myself.”
Draciona turned back to the straw. “Well, there’s no spindle here, and it would be cheating if you used magic to make one. How will I spin straw into gold?”
“Perhaps I may be of service,” said a creaky voice. Draciona turned, astonished to see a gnome with sharp teeth rubbing his hands together. “I can spin this straw into gold . . . for a price. For you, my dear, I will do this for the low, low price of your firstborn child.”
Draciona rolled her eyes. “That isn’t a low price at all.”
“Yes, it is. Usually, I charge a trove full of jewels, but a firstborn child? Well, you can have another.”
“That’s just despicable. Rob, I haven’t had lunch yet and I’m feeling hungry. Do you think if I ate just one of this man’s legs it would be all right? After all, he has another.”
The gnome made a face and slinked away.
By now, an idea was forming in Draciona’s mind. “Can I turn the straw into gold using another method?”
“I suppose, but I’ll have to revise the wording of the first task.” Rob took out an ink quill, scratched out part of the task, and preceded to write on the scroll.
Draciona used a cart to haul the straw back to the mountains. The gnomes and dwarves renowned for their metalwork lived in pleasantly warm and smoky caves. With their help, she was able to light a fire with her breath, melt some gold, and dip the straw into it. The molten metal burned the straw away, leaving hollow tubes.
The gnomes didn’t ask for her firstborn child as payment, they simply asked her to keep up their fires with her breath and charged the gold to King Rupunzelson’s open account.
Rob scribbled down some notes on the scroll. “Your next task awaits at a barbeque.”
It took days to find a barbeque, but when they did, Rob announced her royal presence to the merry party and she was quickly invited. Then he told her the task.
“You must sit here and eat only a salad. And because you are a princess, you cannot breathe any fire. If anything goes wrong at the barbeque, you must not help. Remember you are a helpless maiden.”
Draciona could see this task would be more difficult than the last; though she liked vegetables, refraining from eating meat at a barbeque was exceedingly difficult.
Draciona stared at the pig on the spit, her mouth watering. “Perhaps some bacon bits on my salad would be all right?”
The chunks of the crisp pork happened to be the size of her fists, but Rob said nothing. He simply scratched something on the scroll.
When it began to rain and the ladies in their fine clothes wailed about getting wet, some of the men took out a tent.
Draciona said, “That looks like it’s going to fall over, why don’t I just help with—”
“Ahem,” said Rob.
“Oh, yes, why don’t I just sit in the corner and bat my eyelashes and act helpless like a princess is supposed to do.” Draciona sat in the corner as the men struggled with the tent. Being a princess wasn’t easy.
When the fire went out due to the rain, the wood was too wet to relight.
“Oh, whatever shall we do? My picnic will be ruined if there isn’t enough meat to feed my guests!” said the host.
Draciona glanced at Rob. He was helping himself to a Jell-o salad. She discretely breathed fire on the wood, causing it to dry and light.
“It’s a miracle!” said the prince.
Rob raised an eyebrow. He wrote something down on the parchment. When the barbeque was finished, he read from the scroll. “The last task is to find a prince with some ailment or curse that you can cure by kissing him.”
Unfortunately, the prince hosting the barbeque was in perfect health.
They traveled all the next day until they came to a swamp that smelled of sulfur. A chorus of ‘ribbits’ greeted them.
“I’m sure you’ll find a grateful prince here who will be happy to be cured,” Rob said, wading through the soupy mud.
Draciona didn’t know much about princes or where they liked to spend their free time, but a swamp seemed an unlikely place. As it happened, the swamp was leaping with princes.
The first prince they found was a frog because a witch had cast a spell on him. But when Draciona tried to kiss him, he hopped away as fast as he could. The next few princes were the same.
Draciona used all her stealth and muscle to catch the next prince, splattering swamp muck all over herself in the process. He was a toad—figuratively, but otherwise looked normal. “You’re a princess? What’s wrong with your face? It looks like you have green eczema. Are you supposed to cure me or am I supposed to cure you? Cuz if that’s the case, it’s going to take a whole lot more than one kiss to cure you.”
Draciona accidentally ate him. She blamed it on her hunger. A salad with bacon bits the day before was hardly enough for a growing young woman.
The last prince they found was a toad—literally and figuratively. He was rude and disgusting, and green and warty. “Hey, baby, you wanna big sloppy kiss? Take a look at this tongue action.”
He caught a fly and ate it.
“I prefer being called Draciona to ‘baby’,” she said.
“Sure, whatever you say, baby. I dig green girls. You wanna make out?” He ate another fly.
Draciona looked to Rob.
“I’ll take him away before you accidentally eat him.”
Draciona sighed and sat on a lichen covered log. She didn’t think she could blame the witches who cast spells on these princes. She didn’t want to kiss any of them. Not that they were exactly lining up to kiss her, either. Was she really that dreadful to look at?
When Rob returned he asked, “Shall we hunt the swamp some more or try another swamp?”
“Are all princes really so horrible? I thought there were some decent ones out there, but apparently not the ones with curses. I want to cure my skin condition, but I can’t stand the idea of kissing someone with a toad-like personality. And, of course, once they see my scales, they definitely don’t want to kiss me.”
Rob sat down next to her. “There’s nothing wrong with dragon scales. They’re kind of cute. And very useful. Look.” He drew his knife and stabbed her arm. Draciona shrieked in surprise. A burst of fire erupted from her mouth and engulfed Rob. He remained unburned.
Her arm was unscratched, though Rob’s knife was slightly bent. “See how useful that is. And I bet you could survive flames, too.”
“That’s very well, but I don’t think princesses are usually useful. I’ve completed my other two tasks . . . more or less. I need to think of a way to accomplish the third and then I’ll look normal.”
“Well, if it’s that important to you. . . .I can make a slight revision to the scroll so that it doesn’t have to be a prince who you kiss.”
Draciona placed her hands on her hips. “And just who do you think would be willing to kiss me in the middle of a swamp?”
His cheeks turned pink. “A magician-librarian.”
Draciona blinked. That was most unexpected. Rob was a bit unusual looking himself with his bright green hair, but he was handsome. And more importantly, he didn’t have the personality of a toad. “But I have to kiss someone with an ailment or curse so I can cure it.”
Rob scratched his chin. “Well, I did stub my toe at the barbeque yesterday. . . .Maybe if you kiss me, it will make it go away. Then you won’t fail your test.”
That sounded reasonable. She leaned forward and kissed him . . . and kissed him . . . and kissed him. She wanted to be sure to cure his stubbed toe, after all. Draciona was surprised how pleasant it was. It certainly made her toes tingle.
“Is that what it’s supposed to be like kissing a prince?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never kissed a prince before,” Rob said.
Draciona laughed. “How’s your toe?”
“Completely cured.” He scratched a few notes on the scroll.
On their journey back to the cave of Fredrick the Dreaded, Draciona couldn’t help thinking how refreshing it was to not have to worry about Rob being harmed if flames accidentally shot out of her mouth. And he was helpful and nice and never complained about her dragon scales. She never had the inclination to eat him, either. Rob caught her sneaking furtive glances at him a few times and smiled. Draciona blushed.
“Ouch! I think I just stubbed my other toe,” said Rob, hopping up and down, holding his foot. A mischievous smile spread across his face. “Hmm. Maybe you could, um, use your princessly nature and cure it?”
Draciona kissed him, not minding at all.
When they returned to the cave, Rob handed Fredrick the list.
Draciona’s father looked over the scroll. “I see Rob took the liberty of making a few changes. You cast straw into gold. Hmm. Interesting interpretation. I see Rob added that the salad could have bacon bits. . . .Fair enough. Your last task was to cure a prince’s ailment or curse by kissing him.” There was a long pause. Fredrick’s gaze flickered to Rob. “I see you had some difficulty finding an adequate prince?”
Rob nodded, a sheepish grin on his face.
“Well, you did try your best in these endeavors, and it was Rob’s judgment that you passed your quest. Though, I don’t know if I would have been as generous.”
“Really?” Draciona had been sure Rob had failed her on the first two tests. “So my green eczema will go away?”
“If you can continue with your princessly behavior, and refrain from letting the dragon half of you rule your actions, your dragon scales should clear up. Now all we have to do is find a tower to lock you in, and you can wait to be rescued by a prince or knight who you can reward with a kiss. Then you can be married and live happily ever after, which means being locked in a castle for the rest of your life, doing nothing other than having children and darning your husband’s socks.”
Draciona scrunched up her nose. That didn’t sound very happily ever after to her. “But why do I need a prince to rescue me? I could rescue myself.”
“I’m sure you could, but that wouldn’t be princessly.”
Draciona didn’t like the idea of kissing another prince, even if it was one who didn’t look like a frog. “Is there any chance a, um, magician-librarian could rescue me and I could, um, kiss him instead?”
“Certainly not. Princesses must be rescued by and marry knights or princes. Never magicians or librarians. And you must continue to eat salads, as princesses eat as lightly as birds. Then your dragon scales should completely vanish.”
This just kept getting worse and worse. “But I don’t want to eat just salads and wait for a prince to rescue me. And I prefer magician-librarians to princes. And I really don’t want to darn some prince’s socks.”
“But you did say you wanted to be rid of your—What did you call it?—eczema?”
Draciona glanced at Rob. “Rob said my dragon scales are . . . cute.”
“Did he now? Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.” Fredrick gave Rob a meaningful look. He turned back to Draciona. “Well, if you want to be a princess, you must behave as a princess, so your dragon scales will clear up. If you want to be a dreaded dragon, you must read books and learn magic, become wise and useful, spend time with me so I can teach you to change your shape at will, and occasionally go to barbeques and be in charge of the fire when needed. And if anyone annoys you, you can eat them.”
Draciona nodded. “That sounds kind of nice, actually.”
Fredrick winked at her. “Fortunately for dragons, there also are no rules against kissing magician-librarians—on occasion.”
About the Author
As a child, Sarina Dorie dreamed of being an astronaut/archeologist/fashion designer/illustrator/writer. Later in life, after realizing this might be an unrealistic goal, Sarina went to the Pacific NW College of Art where she earned a degree in illustration. After realizing this might also be an unrealistic goal, she went to Portland State University for a master’s in education to pursue the equally cut-throat career of teaching art in the public school system. After years of dedication to art and writing, most of Sarina’s dreams have come true; in addition to teaching, she is a writer/artist/ fashion designer/ belly dancer. She has shown her art internationally, sold art to Shimmer Magazine for an interior illustration, and another piece is on the April 2011 cover of Bards and Sages. Sarina’s novel, Silent Moon, won second place in the Duel on the Delta Contest, hosted by River City RWA and the second place in the Golden Rose contest hosted by Rose City Romance Writers. Silent Moon won third place in the Winter Rose Contest hosted by the Yellow Rose RWA and third place in Ignite the Flame Contest hosted by Central Ohio Fiction Writers. She has sold stories to Daily Science Fiction, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, Crossed Genres, and Roar.
Now, if only Jack Sparrow asks her to marry him, all her dreams will come true.