THE PRINCESS AND THE DRAGON: Once upon a time there was a beautiful Princess who lived in a giant castle with a mean old Dragon. She had been trapped in the highest tower of the castle for a very long time, and she desperately wanted her freedom. She had none, of course, because the Dragon held her prisoner -- and she doubted that he would ever let her go. Whenever the Princess would walk down, down, down the many hundreds of stairs to the bottom of the tower, the Dragon would always be sitting there in the courtyard of the castle, lying upon his vast treasure trove, waiting for her. The Princess would get so scared that she would run back up, up, up into the tower even faster than she had run down. It was a terribly frustrating situation, but the Princess was quite confident that a knight would come to rescue her eventually; that's what happened in all the stories, after all.

The great beast could talk (the Princess had heard him speak), but he rarely did so. He spent most of his time lounging upon the vast piles of gold and jewels that filled the castle. When he did talk to the Princess almost everything he said was nonsense, and she had absolutely no patience for it. There was nothing she wanted to say to him, her captor, in any event, and so she saw no reason to listen to what he had to say to her. The Dragon brought her food (no doubt cooked with his own dragonfire, she thought) and clothing, and whatever else she might need, but otherwise left her entirely alone.

When the Princess wasn't otherwise occupied by running down or up the stairs of the tower, she spent most of her time reading through the many books that sat on the shelves that lined the walls of the uppermost room. Inside the books were hundreds of stories, and many of them contained princesses and dragons. By reading the stories she learned a great many things, such as the fact that the only weakness in a dragon's armor is on his belly. Unfortunately, she knew she could never fight the Dragon herself, even with this important knowledge.

From her books she also knew that a knight would someday come to slay the dragon and save her. He would be handsome, as all knights are, and brave of course. In truth, the stories made it clear that the knight wouldn't even need to be strong enough to fight the Dragon face to face, if he was clever enough to steal her out from under the Dragon's nose. She was certain, however, that her knight would be both strong and clever.

One day, as the Princess was sitting on the balcony of her tower and reading a fascinating treatise on turning frogs into princes, she noticed a tiny cloud of dust on the horizon. As she watched, she saw that the dust cloud was coming closer and closer to the tower; in fact, she saw that the dust cloud was not a cloud of dust at all, but a man upon a horse. She put her book down and looked more closely. The dust cloud that was really a man upon a horse was actually a man in armor upon a horse. Her knight had finally come!

The Princess' heart began to beat very rapidly as she started gathering her things. She had no suitcase or luggage, and so she tore the sheets from her bed and used them as sacks, piling her favorite books into them. Every few minutes she would rush back to the window to check on her knight, and he gradually approached the gate of the castle. When she heard his powerful knock at the door far below, she nearly leaped with excitement. The Princess tied the corners of the sheets together around her books, her favorite dresses, and all the other things she could not bear to leave behind, and then ran to the balcony.

The knight pushed open the castle doors and rushed bravely into the castle as the Princess watched from above. When he saw the piles upon piles of gold and jewels he turned and looked in every direction; the Princess could see the wonder and amazement on his face. She sighed, because he had such a handsome face.

The Dragon awoke from his slumber and beat his wings furiously when the knight entered, tossing treasure in every direction and nearly knocking the knight off his feet. But the knight was strong, as well as brave, and charged towards the Dragon with his sword held high over his head. The Dragon breathed deeply and fire engulfed the knight, and for a moment the Princess' eyes filled with tears and her heart stopped.

The Princess rushed down, down, down the stairs of the tower, desperate with fear that her shining knight had been slain by the terrible Dragon. When she finally reached the courtyard, the smoke from the Dragon's breath was clearing; over the stacks of treasure she saw that her knight had cleverly deflected the flame with the shield strapped to his arm, and that he hadn't been hurt at all!

The knight climbed back to his feet and attacked the Dragon again. He swung his sword against the Dragon's scales over and over, but he couldn't cut through the Dragon's powerful armor and eventually he began to get very tired. The Princess knew that her knight would never be able to slay the Dragon by attacking his hard scales, and she realized that he didn't know the Dragon's weakness.

"Brave knight," she yelled to him, struggling to be heard over the noise of the battle. "Strike the Dragon on his belly; that's his only weakness!"

Both the Dragon and the knight heard the Princess shout, and they were both surprised. The Dragon spun around to face her and tried to push her back into the tower, but the Princess would have none of it now that her knight was here to rescue her. While the Dragon was distracted, however, the knight recovered from his surprise and ran towards the dragon at full speed, holding his sword out in front of him like a lance. The Dragon was paying so much attention to the Princess that the knight was able to attack him from the side, and plunged his sword directly though the soft scales on the Dragon's belly and into his heart.

The mighty Dragon collapsed to the ground; all of the strength had gone out of him. The Princess was jubilant -- the Dragon was dead! She ran to the exhausted knight and threw her arms around him. "You saved me!" she screamed with delight, and hugged the knight through his armor as hard as she could. "I knew you'd come and slay the Dragon and save me, I always knew it!"

"I'm glad to have been of service, of course," the knight said, and began to survey the immense treasure hoard that the Dragon had been guarding. "Actually, I didn't know there was a princess here at all. Thanks for the help with the Dragon though, that bit with the belly was quite tricky."

"You didn't know I was here?!" the princess asked the knight, almost bursting into tears again. "Then why did you even come?"

"I knew about the treasure. Everyone knows dragons have treasure, and that beast sure had plenty," the knight answered cheerfully. He called his horse to him, and the Princess watched as he began to fill his bags with diamonds and other jewels. Once he had all he could carry, he jumped back up onto his horse and turned to leave.

"Wait!" the Princess yelled at him, and the knight turned his handsome face back around to look at her. "What about me? Aren't you going to take me with you?" she asked in tears.

"Well, I don't think my horse can carry any more weight," the knight said, and shook his head. "But I really am grateful for your help. In fact, to pay you back, why don't you take some of the treasure for yourself?" With that, the knight turned away again and rode out of the castle without looking back.



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