GENRE: Fantasy • Fiction • Gay • Historical • Young Adult
LENGTH: 8,660 words
A monster plagues the tiny kingdom ruled by King Awiergan. The dragon, left unchallenged by untrained warriors of a weak king, is pacified only through a monthly sacrifice of the kingdom’s young people. Prince Caedmon, though the heir to the throne, suffers in silence as friends and innocent subjects are chosen by lottery to be the dragon’s victims.
While it seems good luck has kept his name from coming up, things come to a head when his lover falls victim to the lottery, and Caedmon starts noticing strange conversations in the castle that hint at an act of betrayal. Blinded by grief and rage at what he discovers, Caedmon recklessly attempts to balance the scales through his own sacrifice -- until the unexpected appearance of a tired and soiled knight.
The worst thing would have to be the people’s faces -- the mingled looks of terror and despair on those whose child had been chosen and relief, joy, and pity on those who’d been spared. I’d seen them all -- twelve times a year for four years -- I’d seen them all.
They were my subjects, people who depended on my family’s benevolence and my father’s wisdom and sense of justice. In us they’d placed their trust and loyalty, unwavering and blind to the very end. They were unschooled, ignorant, their dependence on us child-like to the point of absurdity at times. But they didn’t know any better. Their innocence had spared them the bitterness of the truth, and the burden fell on us -- those of us close enough to my father to know his deeper desires and intentions -- to bear the weight of the complete incongruence of his words, his actions, and his heart.
I’d long wondered why I was always spared the misfortune of being chosen. Twelve times in a year, I was placed on equal footing with my peers -- standing on the platform with the rest of my family while one of my father’s ministers would pull out a black wooden chip from the chest, watching and waiting with bated breath for the next victim’s death warrant to be proclaimed before the entire kingdom.
For four years -- since I was thirteen -- my name had never been called. Month after month, year after year, I had to stand by in nervous anticipation before falling into a state of shocked relief and overwhelming sadness and pity for the poor family whose child had been chosen for the sacrifice.
“Bronwyn, daughter of Cuthbert,” the minister would say, the sound of his voice heavy on the terrified crowd.
A gasp would ripple through the huddled mass as parents, brothers, and sisters turned to each other and held each other tightly, prayers of thanks on their lips for being granted mercy this time around. In the meantime, Bronwyn and her family erupted in desperate tears, holding each other close as well but for different reasons.
The drawing of Bronwyn’s lot would signal her final day spent in her family’s company. From this point, she was escorted to one of the castle towers, where she was cleaned and dressed in white as though a young bride, a garland of wildflowers perched almost mockingly on her head. She was then carried off by horse with an impressive escort to the cliffs just beyond our kingdom’s borders. There, on a gigantic boulder that had been split in two by lightning, she was shackled and then abandoned— -- to wait for her “groom,” who was expected to make his appearance at the expected hour.
The groom was a dragon, her wedding-bed a pyre.
Early the following morning, my father’s soldiers would return to the cliffs to confirm the sacrifice and come back to us with tokens of Bronwyn’s demise -- a tattered piece of fabric, a stray flower, a ring -- anything that used to belong to her was produced, partly burned and, in some cases, smeared with blood.
The kingdom then mourned, the dragon left us in peace for another month, and all went back to its regular rhythm. Men and sons labored, wives gave birth, daughters cooked and cleaned.