When she turned sixteen, the princess wished for a needle. “I want to sew a bit,” she wrote on a note and put it into the basket that went down her tower for food and books. “Just so I have something to do.”
When she received it, tucked under berries and cheese, the princess took the needle between two fingers. She went down the tower and to the door where the dragon lay.
“Beast,” the princess said.
The dragon said nothing. The chain around its neck was golden and terrible. Its wings were folded. It lay still and looked at the princess.
She lifted her hand. The needle gleamed silver in the dragon fire under the beast’s belly. “I can unleash you.”
For a while, the dragon only looked. It looked and looked, and then it opened its jaws. “And what do you want in return?”
The princess smiled. She went over to the dragon and pushed the needle into the lock sealing its neck.
“What do you want?” the dragon asked again. But the princess said nothing.
While she worked, the beast slowly shifted to its feet, and the princess did not flinch when hot breath flooded over the scars on her naked shoulder blades. She did not tremble when the dragon nudged her where her wings used to be, neither when it sniffed where horns used to adore her bald head, nor when it nosed at the burns that torches had left on her four arms.
The chain fell. A shudder went through the dragon’s body. It took a deep breath, its throat bulged, and magic erupted from its freed lungs. The door on the bottom of the tower burnt to ashes.
The princess smiled.
“Well,” the dragon said when they stood outside and looked at the sky. “Now you must tell me.”
And still, the princess smiled, a slow and horrifying little smile that stuck to her tiny mouth. The dragon stumbled away from her, terror shooting through his veins. He was up in the sky within seconds, but the princess only looked at him.
When she spoke, it echoed across the clearing deep in the forest, and the dragon in the sky shuddered from her soft voice that sang gently:
“I want to ask them why they did not lock me up a bit better.”