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may i be your shield

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The dragon awakens from her slumber. Her ears have picked up the telltale sound of a pair of boots making its way up towards the chamber where she was currently resting. And that could only mean one thing.

Yet another knight had come to rescue the poor Princess of Bright Moon, held captive in this tower by the fearsome, terrible dragon.

The dragon’s lips pull back in a rough imitation of a sneer, her teeth glinting in the dim light of the chamber. Unworthy men. All of them. Not one of them had succeeded in freeing the Princess. They had all been too scared, too stupid, too full of themselves, or in the unfortunate case of a few, all three. The dragon had long since given up any hope of meeting a worthy opponent. Nowadays, the men were simply a source of entertainment - a chance for her to spread her wings, and get some exercise.

The footsteps grow louder, and the dragon gets onto her feet, slinking into the dark shadows that would obscure her perfectly from whoever enters the room. She would hide there until she found the perfect place to strike. It really was quite amusing to see how some of these creatures walked in. Some came running in with a war cry, sword drawn and ready to fight, some peeked in nervously, and others strode in with their chests puffed, voices booming and loudly challenging the monster to a duel.

The dragon’s nose catches the scent of her newest contender. He’s here.

The footsteps get louder and louder, a glimpse of a gold-tipped boot appears and in walks a- a boy?

For he can’t have been more than twenty. Interesting. A much welcome deviation from the norm.

He is dressed in a simple gold cuirass over a white top, which covers his chest but leaves his midriff bare. His armour is adorned with a red heart, and he is armed with a quiver of arrows on his back, and a bow in his hand.

And then he gets down on one knee, head bowed as he puts his bow into his quiver. Curiouser and curiouser.

“Dear mighty creature of the tower, I have not come here to fight,” his voice rings steady and calm, with none of the pompousness or trembling of his predecessors. The dragon feels her ears perk up, now truly fascinated by this strange specimen of man and his unique choice of words.

“My only wish is to present myself to you, and talk to you. May I please do so?” he continues, the only sign of his nervousness being his hands, which tremble slightly on his knee and by his side. He eventually clenches them in an attempt to stop them from shaking.

The dragon considers her options. She could, of course, completely obliterate him right now. He is absolutely defenseless and in a vulnerable position. It would be so easy.

Or perhaps, he wasn’t as harmless as he seems. He could easily reach behind him, grab his bow and arrow and shoot straight at the dragon, possibly hitting one of her weak spots.

Still, never had someone so interesting approached the dragon before. To scare him away so quickly would be a shame.

Decision made, the dragon slowly makes her way out of the shadows, throat rumbling in preparation to shoot at the archer, just in case. She slinks carefully to stand in front of the archer, poised and ready to attack. And then she waits.

This close to the boy, the dragon can hear his thundering heartbeat. His head is still bowed, however, and he has not once lifted his eyes from the stone tiles of the chamber floor. An obvious display of respect.

She regards the archer and his words carefully. Sometimes the most dangerous of man wasn’t the one who could fight the hardest, but the one with the smoothest tongue. An idea forms in the dragon’s head.

One clawed foot raises itself in the air, and the boy squeezes his eyes shut, his body tensing up. The dragon can’t help but internally chuckle at how adorable he looks. Poor boy.

A glowing purple rune is drawn in the air, before it is pushed towards the boy and descends on him.

---

Bow sees something purple coming towards him, and braces himself for the searing heat of the dragon’s fire.

This is it, this is the end. I’m so sorry, dads.

After a few seconds, however, he realises that he can still hear the rumbling of the dragon before him, can catch glimpses of the dragon's purple claws, can still feel the coldness of the floor where his knee is pressed against the ground. He unfurls his fists, and slowly opens his eyes, blinking furiously, while still taking care to keep his head bowed.

Upon realising that he has not, in fact, been burned into a crisp, he heaves a soft sigh of relief.

He hears the dragon’s rumbling stutter, before it continues steadily. It had almost sounded like...a huff of laughter?

And then he hears a woman’s voice asking him a question.

Why have you come here?

Bow’s brow furrows in confusion. It seemed as though he wasn’t hearing the voice through his ears, but rather...his head? A voice that wasn’t his was somehow asking him questions in his head?

And suddenly, Bow feels himself being compelled to speak. It was as though something was pulling the words forward from his throat, from his heart, and he was unable to stop it.

“Thank you, creature of the tower, for giving me this opportunity. I know that many before me have come here to duel you, or inflict damage in some way, but I don’t wish to do any of that.

I know that you are a protector at heart, and that you’re simply fulfilling your duty to Queen Angella to protect her daughter. I- I discovered through my historical research that the family has been hurt before, badly, by someone who had betrayed their trust. And I am so sorry that the family had to go through that. I understand why the Queen would want to protect her daughter in this way, to protect her from having to go through what she had gone through.

Which is why I don’t wish to challenge you to a fight. I am willing to undergo whatever test you feel is needed to determine if I would be a worthy protector for the Princess, so that you can relinquish your duty and she may be safely reunited with her family once more. That is my only wish, and I hope I can serve the rulers of my land. I will accept whatever decision you come to.”

Bow finally finishes his speech. He swallows nervously, his throat suddenly dry. He wasn’t sure what urged him to say all that, completely deviating from what he had planned in his head the whole way here. It was all true, nonetheless. He just wished he hadn’t blurted all of it out like that.

Throughout Bow’s speech, the dragon had slowly shifted its position, until she now came to sit gracefully on her four feet.

Silence descends upon the chambers yet again, though this time the silence was significantly longer than it had been before. Bow was starting to feel his pulse speed up again, knowing that this time was surely the end of him.

Bright light flashes before his eyes, and he closes them tightly, hardly daring to breathe. For the longest time, he hears nothing, until a voice suddenly rings through the chamber.

“You may open your eyes now.”

It’s the same voice that he had heard in his head earlier.

An angel. That must be an angel talking. Huh, guess this is heaven.

“Um- I- I said you may open your eyes now,” the voice repeated, though this time it’s owner seemed to be holding back a laugh. Bow opens his eyes cautiously, puzzled to see the same stone floor he had been kneeling on before.

His eyes land on a pair of pink and purple boots, adorned with a white crescent moon and a pair of pale blue wings on the side. His eyes shoot up to meet a pair of pale pink eyes, crinkled in amusement.

“P-princess- uh- Your Majesty- Your Royal Highness?” he stutters in disbelief.

Her smile grows wider. “That’s me. And no, you’re not in heaven yet, sorry. Still on Etheria.”

Bow feels his face heat up at that. He didn’t know he had been talking aloud. She kneels down to sit before him on the ground, crossing her legs. She gently pats his knee.

“Hey, have a seat. Your knees must be hurting,” she laughs gently.

He slowly mirrors her position. It feels a bit strange to be sitting so casually with someone who was essentially his ruler. His eyes dart all over her, taking in the sight of her. Her pink fluffy hair, cut through with sparkling purple on the bottom. Her pink tunic, her purple shorts. Her gloves. Her blue sparkling cape.

His eyes finally meet hers again, and realises that he’s been essentially gaping at her for the last few minutes. He glances away, feeling his face heat up again.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. I just- I can’t- I didn’t know-”

“You never thought that I was actually the dragon that was supposed to be protecting myself?”

“...Yes.”

She bursts into laughter, and soon Bow can’t help but join her, their giggles echoing in the huge chamber.

Eventually, their laughter dies down, and a kind of awkward silence ensues.

Bow clears his throat. “Um, so, how did that come about? I’m a little confused.”

“Well...you kind of said it yourself. My mom, or well- my family, really, was really hurt by someone we thought was good. And so my mom decided that this was the only way to make sure that I didn’t fall into the hands of someone who would hurt me just as badly. I would hide away in a tower, use my magical powers to shapeshift into a dragon, and see who would be honourable enough to brave a dragon for me,” she replies. And then she chuckles gently. “Kind of a bit much, isn’t it?”

“Well….kind of?” Bow ventures, wondering if he would inadvertently be offending her only a few minutes after meeting her properly. “But at the same time, not really. I mean, he really wrecked your whole family. And, well, it resulted in your dad- um- you know,” he stumbles to a halt.

She is silent, and turns to look at the floor instead, picking at the top of her boots. “Yeah.”

“I’m so sorry.”

She looks up at him at that, a soft smile on her lips even as her eyes shine with unshed tears. “Thanks,” she whispers. And then a frown crosses her face.

“Wait, how do you know what happened? We tried to keep it under wraps as much as possible.”

“Oh- well, I’m a historian. I work with my dads and basically, someone gave us some scrolls a few months ago but they were being really dodgy about it. So we read them, to try and see what it was about and it was basically an insider’s account of the whole story. We realised it was incredibly sensitive information so we’ve kept it under lock and key since then, and haven’t told anyone else about what the three of us read. We didn’t know what to do with it. Though, if you want, we could always give it to you, or- or burn it or something?”

Glimmer regards him for a long time, eyes narrowed. Eventually, she sighs, rolling her eyes. “Let’s just talk about this later, I’m not even sure myself,” she says, waving a hand in his general direction, before frowning yet again. “Wait, a historian? Aren’t you an archer?”

Bow smiles shyly at that, a hand coming up to scratch the back of his neck. “Well, I’m technically a historian, but I trained myself in archery on the side. I wanted to have some combat skills.”

And then his face suddenly turns serious, and he regards her squarely. “I haven't said this yet but thank you. For choosing me. It will be an honour to serve you and your family.” He ends by doing a weird head bob to compensate for a bow, and she giggles at that.

“Oh, it was quite an easy decision to make. You won’t believe how many others have tried before you, and they were all so…” she shudders exaggeratedly, pulling a laugh out of him. “You were really the first one who just...made me feel like I could trust you. You’re very respectful and smart, and loyal, and obviously a skilled fighter, and caring, and- and- nice,” she finishes lamely, though there is a genuine warmth in her eyes.

All of a sudden, though, her eyes become shuttered and she looks away from him. “I guess now it’s time to return home and start the betrothal arrangements”

The- “Wait, what?”

“The betrothal arrangements? Whoever succeeds has the right to- oh...” she trails off, evidently seeing the confusion in his face.

Bow’s head is reeling, and he takes a moment to gather his thoughts, before taking a deep breath. He finally speaks again, gentler than she has ever heard him so far.

“I really mean what I said earlier. I’m just- I'm here to protect you so you can reunite with your family and your people again. I know you haven’t seen them in a long time. I want to be here for you, for your family, and you should be free to be with whoever you want, not just whoever happens to rescue you. You’re more than a prize to be won. You don’t owe me anything, and I don’t want you to owe me anything. You’re your own person, and you should be allowed to make your own choices. Although...if the dragon did think I was okay but actually that was you making a decision then I guess it was your choice all along but also I’m getting really confused now so I’ll just stop talking.”

He isn’t sure when he had taken hold of her hand, but he gives it a gentle squeeze now, hoping to punctuate his incoherent rambling with something nice. She sighs, relief crossing her face before she gives him a blinding smile, and he can’t help but smile shyly in return.

“Oof-” he huffs as she launches herself at him, encasing him in a tight hug.

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

His hands come up to wrap around her too. “You’re welcome.”

She pulls back to regard him with shining eyes. “I think we’re going to be great friends.” She then releases her grip on him, and holds her hand out for a handshake. “I’m Glimmer.”

He grins, taking hold of her hand firmly.

“I’m Bow.”