Sapphire opened the door with some trepidation, holding a dagger discreetly behind her. She had no idea who could be knocking so loud and so early in the morning. She enjoyed this cottage and escaping the life of a prince, but it wasn't as difficult as it should be for people to find her here. When she saw who it was, her eyes widened.
"Come, my lady, adventure awaits!" announced Captain Blood.
"I am not your lady," Sapphire replied with some irritation. There were so many ways one could interpret that, and all of them true.
"You've never had the urge to be a pirate queen?" Blood asked.
"Not particularly, no. But adventure sounds like it might be interesting. Where exactly are you headed?"
"We are going to Bronzeland!" he replied triumphantly. "Where the streets are paved with--"
"I suppose. I don't know. No one has ever been there."
"If no one has ever been there, then who built the streets?" asked Sapphire with a faux innocent look.
"There are people there, just not people from here, and-- oh, you know what I mean."
"Why exactly do you want me along?" Sapphire asked. She hoped the answer wasn't going to be another of his attempts to claim her as his bride. Partly because they annoyed her, and partly because every now and then it occurred to her that Captain Blood was actually rather dashing and certainly his consort would never be bored.
"We have only heard old tales of Bronzeland. No one ever goes there because they would have to sail a very small craft through a narrow strait which is guarded by a great sea dragon."
"And as one of the best swordfighters I know, I am certain you can defeat the dragon," Captain Blood said.
Sapphire raised her eyebrows. "Thank you for your confidence. But I think it's a bit much for you to ask me to kill a dragon that never did anything to hurt us."
"I don't want to kill it. I want to capture it," he replied.
"Are you sure one person will be enough?"
"I have a metal net, magicked to catch it. And I am also one of the best swordfighters I know," replied Captain Blood, tapping his foot with impatience.
"Clearly we ought to find out which one of us is really the best. I firmly believe that I could--"
"We haven't got time for that! We must sail for Bronzeland before the wind changes."
Sapphire seriously considered not going, but only for about half a minute. What a tale she could tell if she returned home with a great sea dragon and Captain Blood by her side! And everyone would know that she was the better combatant of the two of them, especially after she challenged Captain Blood to a public display of swordsmanship. But first they must go to Bronzeland, or at least to the strait.
Sapphire put on men's clothing and her best sword. There was a time for beautiful dresses, and this wasn't it.
The craft was indeed small, and only the two of them went aboard it. The beginning of the journey was quite pleasant and Sapphire began to relax, enjoying the play of sunlight on the water and the cries of friendly dolphins. Due to its size, the boat was also quite fast. Sapphire was intrigued to see the nearby land go from green hillsides to rocks covered with snow.
Finally, they sailed into what seemed to be a bay, then a narrow passage between two cliffs. Sapphire braced herself for the arrival of the sea dragon. Then she saw it, a huge snake-like being with shimmering blue scales and a wide mouth with large teeth. It darted toward their boat, and she jumped to at it with her sword. When it reared back, she only slashed at empty air. Captain Blood tried to throw the net toward the dragon, but it also did not come near it. The dragon threw itself against the side of the boat. Sapphire was able to stay upright, but Captain Blood fell into the water with a shout.
Sapphire ran to defend Blood from the dragon, but it didn't attack him. The net was still in Blood's hand, and when the dragon nudged it with its snout, it backed away and rapidly slid into a hole in one of the cliffs.
Sapphire sheathed her sword. "It looks like we can sail on now," she said. "Clearly it's too afraid of the net to continue the fight."
She reached out a hand to Captain Blood and helped him back into the boat.
"We can't just let the dragon go! It's probably sitting in its cave right now, curved around a pile of stolen gold and the skulls of sailors," said Captain Blood.
"You read too many stories," snorted Sapphire.
"Says the beautiful princess to the handsome pirate," muttered Captain Blood.
"You can't even compliment me without throwing something in about yourself," Sapphire said. Of course, she always referred to herself as a prince rather than a princess, but it was an argument she had long ago stopped having with Captain Blood.
They entered the cave and at first saw only darkness. Captain Blood managed to light a torch and they walked further in. Finally, they saw the dragon, curled up on itself and still breathing. There were no skulls or treasure in sight. At the dragon's head was a very familiar small figure.
"Tink!" exclaimed Sapphire.
Captain Blood only rolled his eyes.
"I've been following you!" Tink said.
Captain Blood sighed. "Obviously."
Tink murmured something to the dragon. It growled in reply, and Tink seemed to be listening carefully.
"It's all right," the cherub said brightly. "You didn't hurt him."
Captain Blood gave Tink a sidelong look. "You do realize he was, in fact, trying to kill us?"
"He was just trying to protect Bronzeland from invaders," said Tink.
"We aren't invaders," said Blood.
"Well you are a pirate," said Sapphire. "You even look like one. Or at least you do when you're not soaking wet."
"It would be a bit ridiculous for us to try to plunder Bronzeland with a crew of two people," Blood pointed out.
Tink whispered something softly to the dragon and listened to it hiss in reply. "He says if you give him something nice, he'll let you into Bronzeland."
"I'm not in the business of giving things away," said Blood.
"I know just the thing," said Tink, as if Blood hadn't spoken. He quickly left the cave.
An awkward silence descended as Sapphire tried to decide how one best apologized to a dragon. Eventually, she decided to follow Blood's lead and stay silent.
Tink was back soon, somehow carrying a large round object that was bigger than he was.
"An egg? You brought him breakfast?" said Blood.
Tink and the dragon both looked offended. "Of course it isn't breakfast. It's a dragon egg!" said Tink. He placed it near the dragon. The beast curled around the egg and gave a sigh that sounded happy.
It wasn't the dramatic victory Sapphire had been hoping for, but it did seem to have solved their problem. "So he'll be too busy mothering the egg to bother us any further," said Sapphire.
"Don't you mean fathering?" asked Blood.
"Not really," said Sapphire with a wave of dismissal.
Blood still did not look happy. "Blood the Pirate Captain, savior of dragons and their babies," he said with a sigh.
Sapphire laughed. "Well we may not be covered in glory but we can still see what Bronzeland has to offer? We can go down in history as explorers, even if we aren't dragonslayers."
"As usual, you get to the very heart of the matter," said Blood with a grin.
Sapphire held out her hand. "Adventure awaits," she said.
"Yes, my--" There was a long pause before Blood spoke again. "Yes, my prince."