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The Princess and Her Dragon

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Long ago, there once was a verdant, thriving nation in the land to the north that we now call The Barrens and the great Queen Miranda was its ruler. Though she was a stern leader, who never suffered fools, she was considered the fairest monarch that had reigned in many an age. True, her luminescent snow-white hair framed ice-blue eyes and her skin shown like flawless ivory, but her beauty was not only what the people spoke of. Far and wide she was known as just and unbiased in her dealings with her subjects and the neighboring lands alike. The people adored their queen and the kingdom prospered under her firm rule.

All was not well in the castle, however, for a spiteful, jealous man was plotting against the good queen right under her very roof. Lord Stephen, a minor noble with ambitions of grandeur, had weaseled his way into favor with his king and been named as ambassador to Queen Miranda's court. He served in his role faithfully all the while scheming to make the queen his.

You see, with the queen as his wife he would gain immortality. Not only as name in the history books, but true, everlasting life would be his. For Queen Miranda was no mere mortal monarch, but the ruler over all of the Fairy Realm. Every magical creature, good and bad, fell under her govern and she had maintained a peaceful balance between the two for several centuries before Lord Stephen was even born.

Now simply marrying a fairy queen or king is no guarantee for eternal life. True love must be present in the monarch's heart so that a piece of his or her soul will separate from its host to live in the body of their one love. Lord Steven was well aware of this constraint, but in his great arrogance, he was certain he could easily win the heart of the queen. For years he charmed and wooed to the best of his abilities, writing poetic declarations of his all-abiding love and gifting rare, expensive trinkets from distant lands. Queen Miranda spurned his every advance, however, and Lord Stephen grew more bitter and vengeful with each passing day.

Seeing the futility of his plan, Lord Stephen delved into the castle's vast archives in search of an alternate route to the immortality he so desperately sought. After countless hours spent combing through the varied tomes and scrolls, he stumbled upon an account nearly a millennia old that detailed a sinister ritual that would grant unending life. It would require a considerable amount of magical power and the sacrifice of an innocent, but, for him, the promise it held was well worth the cost.

As he carefully tore the relevant pages from the ancient text, a wickedly delicious idea began to form in his mind. If the queen would not love him, he would find a way to oust her from the throne and seize her crown. Not an easy feat, to be sure, but Lord Stephen was a patient man not yet in his fortieth year. After all, what was a decade or two to a man that would gain eternity?

Seventeen years passed as Lord Stephen secretly swayed out-casted beasts and lesser nobles as allies to his cause while gathering the necessary ingredients for his evil ritual. Finally, in his fifty-fourth year, the final piece had fallen into place; he had found the powerful, dark wizard, Irving the Vile. Gold did little to persuade Irving to Lord Stephen's cause, but with the promised downfall of Queen Miranda, the mage readily agreed. A century and a half ago, the queen had banned Irving from her realm when he was caught practicing the most malevolent form of sorcery known, Blood Magic. That day Irving had sworn revenge on Queen Miranda and had been biding his time, waiting for the right moment to strike and in Lord Stephen he had found the perfect ally. All he asked was when the time came, that he be the one to kill the queen. The deal was struck that same day.

With everything ready, Lord Stephen set his plan in motion that very week.

Throwing open the large, ornate doors, Lord Stephen strode confidently into the throne room, a small army of fiendish creatures at his back, Irving the Vile at his side, and a score of slain soldiers in their wake. Gathered courtiers shrieked in terror and scrambled to escape the advancing hoard while Queen Miranda stood imperiously at the edge of her dais, icy gaze never wavering from the man that had once professed to love her.

"Queen Miranda, you have overstayed your usefulness to the kingdom and it is time you stepped aside. Do so willingly and you shall live. Refuse and suffer the consequences," Lord Stephen boldly declared.

With a disinterested wave of her elegant hand, Queen Miranda spoke in a bored tone, "I have grown exceptionally weary of your continued existence in my life, Lord Stephen. Leave now and scurry back into the dark hole from which you emerged. I have no desire to deal with your horrid presence any longer."

Angered by the queen's calm demeanor and cutting words, Lord Stephen signaled the attack. Imps, ogres, wraiths, vampires, shades, werewolves, and a host of other monsters sprang into action, slaughtering the unarmed gentry and clashing with the armored soldiers.

Irving the Vile stepped forward as Lord Stephen made his escape, unwilling to risk his own life, coward that he was.

"Miranda, long have I awaited my chance for retribution. Now you shall experience the true power of my magic," Irving smiled wickedly as he strode untouched through the melee.

"Shall I be made to suffer through your tedious drivel as well, Irving, or shall we simply skip to the part where you die, you pathetic, little worm?" Queen Miranda taunted as the air around them began to crystalize into ice.

An epic battle ensued as Irving's dark sorcery sparred against Queen Miranda's light magic. Spells tore through the air as the sound of clashing metal and colliding flesh echoed off the stone walls. Though the queen's soldiers were vastly outnumbered, they fought valiantly in the name of their beloved monarch as she battled her own foe alone.

Overwhelmed by the unexpected strength of Queen Miranda's power, Irving desperately cast one last curse that would end it all. He watched in horror as it was easily deflected by a counter spell, only to gasp in delighted surprise as the combined incantations ricocheted off a suit of armor and slammed straight into Queen Miranda's back. Pure shock stole over her porcelain features before she disappeared in a puff of purple smoke.

With the downfall of Queen Miranda, Lord Stephen was able to seize control of the throne and set Irving the Vile as his second in command. Together they conquered the final remnants of the queen's army and the rebellion that arose in the wake of her defeat, executing any that would not supported King Stephen's claim to rule.

To this day, no one knows if Queen Miranda still lives, banished to another world, or if that one spell wiped out the last, great monarch that the Fairy Realm ever had.

Time passed, the Fairy Realm faded from the land of men, and Queen Miranda became nothing more than a myth told to children as a bedtime story. It is here that a young princess enters the story. She was known as the kindest soul in all the Talvimaa Kingdom. Her warm, brown eyes and kind, gentle smile weaving a magic of their own in the hearts of all that met her.

Though Princess Andrea, or Andy as she preferred, was blessed with adoring parents, her fate had been sealed at birth. Andy's eighteenth birthday approached and with it her marriage to Prince Christian of the Green Isles. A pact made before she was even born was set to bind her forever to a man she would never choose to marry.

One spring day, Prince Christian convinced the princess to join him on a ride through the surrounding woods. With a month until her birthday and four until their marriage, Andy saw no other choice than to accompany her future husband with the hope that she would find at least one aspect of him to like. She never did. What she found was an arrogant, insufferable bore who thought more highly of himself than he should.

As the two royals and their accompanying contingent neared the river, lightning flashed followed quickly by a clash of thunder and pouring rain. The horses, spooked by the uproar, reared up suddenly, throwing several riders from their saddles. Princess Andy included. Unable to grasp onto her horse in time, Andy sailed through air before landing in the raging river.

Weighed down by her dress, Andy fought her way to the surface as she was tossed with the current. Breaking free momentarily, the princess grabbed one quick gasp of breath before being sucked back under. Unable to wrestle herself from her outer layers, Andy began to lose hope. Already, her lungs burned and her consciousness was fading. She was no longer able to tell up from down and a strange weightlessness permeated her body.

Upon awaking, Princess Andy was startled to find herself in a warm, dry cave. Night had fallen outside and Andy could no longer hear the patter of rain. A fire sat near the large entrance, illuminating only a small fraction of the vast cavern. Relieved to be alive, Andy called out a raspy, "Hello?" in the hope that her savior was nearby.

All that answered was the hollow echo of her own voice. Unsteadily, Andy stood, wincing as her muscles protested every slight movement. "Is anyone there?" she tried again while taking a few steps further into the cave. Now, Andy could make out a low, steady rumble like a cat's purr, but louder. A few more steps and the rumble became a growl. Startled, Andy jumped back towards the fire. The sharp growl settled into a gentle purr once more as she made her way into the firelight.

Andy was certain that within that growl she had heard someone yell, "Too close!"

"My apologies, it was not my intention to intrude upon your space," she reassured quickly, peering into the dark in an effort to glimpse either the owner of the voice or the source of the continuous rumble. At her words, the noise halted for a brief moment as if the beast itself was surprised she had responded. "If there is any way I can ever repay you, please, do not hesitate to ask. My family and I are indebted to you for life."

"I want nothing," came from the dark and carried on another growl.

"Are you sure?" Andy asked in surprise.

"Yes. Sleep now. You will leave in the morning."

The city rejoiced at her return, having thought her lost to the river, and her parents threw a carnival for the people in celebration. Prince Christian had chosen to allow her time to "recover" from her ordeal and had returned to his duties in his own kingdom. Andy was exceedingly grateful for his generous 'gift'. Rumor was that Prince Christian was not always as affable has he presented himself to be and Andy feared the day she would know that truth of that rumor.

Until then, the princess was more concerned about her reluctant savior and their lonely existence in that empty place. A few days later, the princess packed her saddlebags with various foods and a decent amount of gold and set off towards the cave just before the dawn break. Her rescuer may be reluctant to accept her gratitude, or even more so her presence, but Andy was drawn to this unknown person. Something felt different in that cavern. It felt powerful. It felt ancient. It felt magical.

Leaving her horse tied to a tree, Andy started her way up the mountainside. Carefully, she picked her way across stone and gravel until she finally reached the mouth of the cave. Andy called out into the darkness, but received no response. Stranger still, there was no sound of the continuous susurration so prevalent on her first visit.

Sighing in disappointment, Andy placed the basket she had brought down before lowering herself to the ground next to it. She would wait as long as she could, but it was an unfortunately short amount of time. As daylight broke over the horizon, Andy reluctantly stood up and made her way back to her horse, leaving the basket were it sat.

Thus, started a routine. Every day before dawn, Andy would slip away from the castle with the hope of finally seeing her enigmatic savior. Each trip she brought a small token of appreciation and a basket of food. Each time she returned, Andy found the previous basket waiting empty for her to collect. This provided some small comfort as it meant her rescuer was receiving the supplies, but Andy feared it also meant they were purposefully avoiding her. Unwilling to push her presence on anyone who didn't want it, Andy decided that with this next trip and all that were to follow she would simply leave the basket and return to the castle immediately after.

Ambling along the now familiar path, Andy allowed her mind to wander, secure in the knowledge that her mare knew where to take her. Lost in dreams where she could forge her own way, travel the world, and marry whomever she wished, Andy only realized something was amiss when her horse whinnied in fright beneath her.

Looking around frantically, Andy spotted three pair of glowing eyes peering at her from within the shadow of the forest. Advancing slowly, three snarling wolves broke from the tree line, blocking Andy's path. Without a second thought, the princess turned her horse and shot off into the woods. A lone howl sounded as the wolves gave chase. Branches tugged and tore at her clothing as she whipped past them toward the cave hopeful that her savior and their massive sounding beast were there this time.

A second howl was answered from somewhere to Andy's left, somewhere very close, and three more wolves broke through the undergrowth. Cutting a sharp right, Andy narrowly avoided the snapping jaws of one of the beasts. Desperately weaving through the trees, the princess could hear the wolves gaining on her. Suddenly, she found herself in a small clearing at the base of the mountain. The wolves surrounded her, pressing her and her horse closer and closer to the sheer rock face behind them.

Stalking forward, the pack leader prepared to strike when a deep growl carried a fierce, "Leave her alone!" At that, the wolves stopped their advance. Hackles raised, they began to slowly back away. Andy and her horse stood frozen on the spot. The voice had spoken from directly overhead and she could feel the air rush past her as a large body lunged at the wolves.

Nearly falling from her horse in shock, Andy took in the sight before her. A large, silver dragon was breathing fire and chasing the wolves into the forest. Andy's body trembled from the adrenalin rush of her encounter with the wolves and the complete and utter awe she felt at the scene she had just witnessed. A dragon had saved her. Dragons hadn't been seen anywhere within the kingdom for more than two thousand years!

Hastening after the dragon, Andy pushed her horse through the trees as fast as the mare could go, following the high-pitched yips and harsh roars. The noises abruptly stopped and Andy feared the outcome. Making her way cautiously along a final bend, Andy saw the dragon resting on a pile of snapped tree trunks, the lifeless bodies of the wolves scattered about.

The princess slipped from her horse and crept forward, hoping to get a closer look at the mythical beast. Another step and a twig snapped beneath her foot. Startled, the dragon jumped up and turned to growl at her. Andy was surprised that instead of the yellow iris she expected, this dragon's eyes were a vibrant blue. With that quick glance, the dragon began to take off into the sky.

"No, don't go!" Andy entreated. "You saved my life, again. Please, don't feel as if you have to hide yourself, not from me." Hovering over the treetops with heavy thrusts of its long wings, the dragon seemed to consider her plea. Andy happily watched as the dragon settled back on its prior perch.

And so the weeks passed with Andy visiting her new friend as often as possible. Hopes, dreams, frustrations, and even fears flowed freely from Andy to her nameless confidante as the princess felt more comfortable with each subsequent visit. While the dragon rarely spoke, seeming content to listen to whatever Andy wished to say, it often provided thoughtful insight into Andy's problems.

"Will you ever tell me your name?" Andy asked out of the blue one day.

Her friend seemed to consider this for a moment, "Yes, one day I shall tell you my name."

"My birthday is in three days, that could be your early present to me," Andy teased.

"As you wish. For your birthday, I will tell you my name. However," the dragon continued before Andy got too excited, "today is not your birthday, so your present shall have to wait until I next see you."

Andy pleaded the rest of her visit, but her savior would not budge. She would just have to wait.

The day of her birthday had dawned and Princess Andy's heart was filled with dread. As grateful as she was to see another year, her looming marriage to Prince Christian drew nearer still, casting a dark shadow on this happy occasion. Moreover, due to final preparations for her birthday celebration and the responsibility of bidding farewell to the attendees the following day, the princess would be unable to visit her dragon friend for another two days.

The Grand Ballroom was awash with chatting dignitaries and dancing guests all having donned their most expensive jewels and ornate attire. Andy had spent the proceeding hours dancing with her betrothed and various other guests when required to do so and conversing with those around her, but none of it truly held her attention. Currently, the princess found herself caught in a dull conversation with a few foreign ambassadors, forced smile plastered to her lips, her own elaborate dress stifling in the mass of bodies, when a hush fell over the crowd.

The string quartet stopped playing as all heads turned towards the new arrival. Andy turned to follow their gazes, gasping at the striking woman standing at the top of the marble staircase. White hair framed her elegant face and a wayward forelock dropped teasingly across her brow in a short style not common in Andy's kingdom. The woman was draped in the most elegant cerulean gown adorned with diamonds and intricate, silver stitching. Her poise and confidence spoke of maturity while her grace and flawless features spoke of a contradicting youthfulness.

Unable to tear her gaze away, Andy watched the mysterious woman descend the stairs. As if a spell had broken, the band began playing once more and people returned to their previously abandoned conversations, though more and more were turning to speculation on the latest guest as the woman in question began making her way across the ballroom. Princess Andy froze in shock at the realization that the woman was headed her way.

"Your Royal Highness, please allow me to wish you a happy birthday," the enigmatic stranger curtseyed, speaking in a throaty whisper that sent chills down Andy's spine, "as well as my sincere apologies for my late arrival."

"Please, there is no need to apologize..." Andy hesitated, ignorant of the woman's name.

"You may call me, Miranda, Your Highness," the woman supplied, taking Andy's hand in her own and leaning down to brush a soft kiss across her knuckles. Andy inhaled silently at the spark created by the other woman's touch.

"Princess Andy, please," she insisted only to be met with the sardonic rise of an elegant eyebrow. "It's Andrea, actually, but I prefer Andy."

"Hmmmm..." Miranda gave a thoughtful hum, "Princess Andréa. Yes, much better."

Andy swooned at the way Miranda said her name. Never before had she liked the sound of it quite so much. "Would you care to join me in a walk through the garden?" Andy was astonished at her boldness.

The night air was refreshing and cool in contrast to the overcrowded ballroom. After a few awkward starts, both women fell into an easy exchange as if they had known one another for years. As they walked along the garden pathways, Andy's eyes never wavered from the white haired goddess at her side. Enraptured as she was, she missed an errant stone in the middle of the path. Stumbling, the princess was surprised to find herself caught in the strong grip of her companion. Her own hands were tightly clasped around Miranda's delicate arms and Andy was unable to tear her gaze away from the concerned blue eyes staring back at her. Time stretched between them, each heartbeat seeming a century apart. The edges of her vision blurred until all she could see was Miranda. The clock behind her struck midnight, startling the two women apart.

"You must forgive me, Your Highness, but the hour grows late and I must take my leave. I hope to see you again soon... Andréa," Miranda whispered her name before quickly disappearing back into the masses.

Andy awoke early the next morning in the hope of finding Miranda before she left. With her naturally regal bearing, the princess was certain Miranda was royalty from one of the other kingdoms. Questioning everyone she could, Andy was unable to find even one person who knew who Miranda was and the servants were adamant she had not stayed in the castle the night prior. Disappointed, Andy was bereft in a way she didn't quite understand.

The following day, Andy pushed aside her lingering unhappiness and set off to visit her dragon friend. She was, after all, still owed a birthday present that she was eager to receive. Andy rode quickly through the pre-dawn light, confident in her knowledge of the trail, and before long she reached her destination. Bypassing all niceties, the princess requested her gift immediately upon entering the cave causing the dragon to chuckle at her impatience.

"Have you not figured it out, Andréa?" The dragon asked, crystal blue eyes narrowed in amusement.

Blue eyes remarkably similar to... "Miranda?" Andy asked uncertainly.

A pleased growl was her only response.

"But... H-how? Are you a shape shifter?"

Miranda proceeded to weave a tale of the rise and fall of a queen who was now cursed to live as a dragon. With no knowledge of the spell cast by Irving the Vile, Miranda hadn't yet been able to find a way to break free. The woman had been forced to watch the demise of her once prosperous kingdom until it finally faded from the world. From there she had travelled through the realms, seeking a solution that looked increasingly impossible to find with each passing year. Andy, she was told, had been the first person in over three hundred years that was even able to understand Miranda in her dragon form.

"It is only recently," Miranda continued, "that I have been able to return to my true form, albeit only for a few hours each night. Hence, my rather hasty departure at your birthday celebration."

"You think the spell could be wearing off after all of this time?" Andy asked.

"Possibly," Miranda hedged, but if she had any alternative theories, she seemed reluctant to share.

Miranda's story and current plight tore at the princess's heartstrings. Even in her saddest moments, Andy had never felt truly alone. She vowed to herself that night to help Miranda in any way she could, even if it was simply by visiting more often or researching in the castle's vast library.

After that conversation, Andy spent every free moment she had pouring through the library archives. Not only did she wish to help the woman she was growing fonder of every day, but it also provided a convenient distraction to her upcoming wedding. Andy's heart grew heavier with each lapsing day. It was only in her moments with Miranda that she found any joy. The woman was slowly opening up more each visit, sharing little things about her life in the Fairy Realm and interesting sights she had seen as a dragon.

One day, Andy finally worked up the courage to ask Miranda for something she had been dying to try since she had first laid eyes on the silver dragon. To her astonishment, Miranda reluctantly agreed. Carefully, Andy climbed onto her friend's back and, once assured the princess had a firm grip, Miranda took off over the treetops. Andy knew the other woman was flying lower to the ground than usual, but was happy to concede to this as long as it meant Miranda didn't stop flying anytime soon. With a well-practiced pout, Andy was able to persuade Miranda to take her on more flights on her following visits. Each time both women grew more confident with their own abilities and limits until they were eventually flying high above the mountains.

When Andy was able to visit at night, the princess found herself just as enthralled with Miranda in her true form as she did with Miranda the dragon. Andy adored her patrician nose and the way the other woman could clearly express herself with the simple twitch of an eyebrow or by the pursing of her lips. Then there were her eyes. Andy didn't think she would ever be able to find the words to truly express how captivating Miranda's eyes were in either form. Every time she looked into them, as far back as that first time in the woods, Andy felt as if time stopped. The universe slowed to a standstill around her until only she and Miranda existed in that moment. It was the most invigorating thing she had ever experienced and she never wanted to lose that feeling. Unfortunately, she had no say in the matter.

"My marriage to Prince Christian is tomorrow and I am unsure what my future will bring," Andy stated miserably, unable to look Miranda in the eye for fear of losing the battle against the tears threatening to fall. "Please, if I cannot visit you for a while, do not for one second believe that I have abandoned you. You are my dearest friend and I promise to return just as soon as I am able."

A single teardrop fell from her eye as Andy leaned to press her forehead against the dragon's. The lone tear fell from Andy's cheek to the silver scales beneath her chin. A strange light diffused the drop as it was absorbed by the dragon's scales. "I will find a way to break you of this curse one day, I swear." I love you, she thought, pressing a single kiss to her friend's snout. With that, Andy left quickly, tears running down her face, missing the ripple of magic left in her wake.

The morning of her wedding Andy swore she would die of heartbreak. It was as if her very soul was calling out to Miranda. Time passed in a blur as the servants bathed and clothed her for the big event. Andy blinked and her corset was being tightened. Another blink and a tiara was being sat atop her head. Another blink and she was standing before the ballroom doors once more, bridal bouquet clutched tightly in her hands. Every fiber of her being screamed for her to run, to find Miranda and beg her to take here anywhere but here. Family and obligation kept her feet firmly rooted to the floor, however.

The heavy, wooden doors opened as she took one last breath of freedom. A plethora of white flowers and gold drapery adorned the banisters and railings of the Great Ballroom while a wedding trellis covered in white roses sat upon the dais. Gold carpeting laid the path fate had chosen for her. The orchestra began playing and all eyes turned to watch her descend the staircase. Andy felt her corset constrict further with every inhalation and her extravagant, white gown with its lengthy train weighed down her every step forward.

Andy soon stood upon the platform with Prince Christian and the officiating cleric, oblivious to the words flowing around her until she found herself slipping the ring partially onto Prince Christian's finger with a stuttered, "I-I d..."

"Stop!" cried the last voice Andy had ever expected to hear. Carelessly, the ring slipped from Andy's grasp, falling to the floor and rolling off into the crowd of stunned onlookers. Elation filled the space inside her where a mere moment ago existed nothing but despair. A wide smile stretched across her lips as she unconsciously stepped towards the woman who had captured her heart, held back solely by the firm grip of her unwanted bridegroom.

"My name is Miranda, rightful queen of the Fairy Realms," though it never raised above her normal speaking level, Miranda's voice carried clearly over the surprised murmuring of the guests. "I have come here today to declare my intention to marry Princess Andréa of the Talvimaa Kingdom, should she agree, of course."

"The Princess is already my wife," Prince Christian gloated, his tightened grip on Andy's hand causing her to wince when he roughly pulled Andy behind him. Miranda's eyes narrowed at his rough handling of her and Andy could have sworn the air around them took on a frosty chill.

"I believe you will find, Your Highness," Miranda spat Prince Christian's title in disdain, her silver gown fluttering around her as she stalked down the staircase, "that not only has the Princess not completed her vows, but the cleric has failed to finish the ceremony as well. Thus, the Princess is in fact not married to anyone."

Pushing Andy aside, Prince Christian strode forward, grasping the handle of his sword tightly and unsheathing it as he went. With a negligent flick of Miranda's wrist, the prince was incased in solid ice, his menacing scowl frozen in place, but eyes wide with fear. A collective gasp arose from the gathered guests as they all anxiously took a step back.

"Miranda, you have your magic!" Andy exclaimed excitedly.

"Well, of course, Andréa," Miranda smirked, "how else do you believe I've been dressing myself?"

Andy valiantly fought off her rising blush at the thought, but knew she had failed by in the increasing gleam in Miranda's eyes before the woman turned back to Prince Christian with a heated glare. "I will release you, but I highly encourage you to lower your weapon and leave the princess to make her own decisions. Should she wish to marry you of her own free will, I would bow out mournfully but gracefully. However, should you attempt to take her from me against her will, there is nowhere you could hide in all of the realms where I would not find you. Choose wisely."

Prince Christian may have been many things, but, luckily, a fool was not one of them. Once freed, the prince tucked tail and slinked dejectedly from the ballroom. Though, with the number of maidens following after him offering solace, Princess Andy was certain he would recover in the fullness of time.

Truthfully, however, Andy could have cared less as Miranda's arms pulled her in close and warm lips met hers for the first time.

And they all lived happily ever after.

"But momma, you're leavin' out the best part!" a young girl cried out at the end of the tale.

"Did I now?" the mother asked playfully. "And which part would that be?"

"You know what part, mama!" the young girl's sister cried out from the bed next to hers. "The part where Queen Miranda and Princess Andy get married and then unite the kingdoms to defeat Lord Stephen and Irving the Vile."

"That's our favorite part!" the first girl added for good measure.

Chuckling at her daughters' antics, the mother leaned forward in her chair that sat between their beds and tweaked their noses teasingly. "I am more than aware of that, Cassidy Anne. However, it is time for you and Miss Caroline Grace here to go back to sleep. Behave and I promise to tell you the rest of the story tomorrow night. Alright?"

The twins grumbled in half-hearted agreement before dutifully slipping beneath the covers of their beds. With a gentle kiss to each forehead and a quiet "goodnight", their mother slipped from their room and headed to her own.

Entering quietly so as not to wake her wife, the woman tossed her dressing gown over the bedpost and slid into bed as gently as possible. Curling into her sleeping wife, she settled in to recapture her interrupted slumber. Just as she was beginning to dose off, the sleepy voice of her wife asked, "Are the girls back to sleep, Andréa?"

"Yes, Miranda," she replied with a relieved sigh.

"Good," came the rumbled growl of her wife and, before she knew it, Andy found herself pinned under her very awake queen.

The End.