by Megan Arkenberg
Every day, she needs
to slay that dragon again.
It starts with the questions—
why didn’t she fight? (It never
seems to matter
that the dragon had claws, teeth
like steel blades, fire burning
in its belly, and she had only
her father’s broken sword.)
Why didn’t she scream, or think
to build some clever trap
while the creature was yet circling
over her head? What
could she have been thinking,
walking alone and unarmed
in the palace garden—a place known
to be frequented by monsters?
And didn’t she know
that pretty little princesses like her
are just the sort dragons look for?
Then the blame takes over.
Surely she provoked him,
with the sound of hot blood
beating through her veins
and golden river of her hair—
a tempting reminder
of that gold in her father’s treasury,
gold he would undoubtedly pay
to bring his wayward daughter back.
But would he? If that knight
hadn’t happened by would she
still be there in darkness,
a silly, damaged little princess,
too stupid to run. She breaks all
her mirrors, hacks off the hair
they blame for her fate. Some days,
she’s not so sure it wasn’t
her own fault, after all.
Inevitably, some bastard asks
if she enjoyed it.
Still, some part of her rebels,
hoping against hope
that this will all pass. Every time
she meets someone, witches,
trapped fairies, visiting delegates,
she prays they haven’t heard—or if they have,
that they will try, for once
to look in her eyes
and see more than the dragon’s shadow.
The palace women try
to make something useful of her,
teaching her to weave straw
into gold, to find the pea
in a mountain of mattresses.
These things, she already knows.
Tell her rather
how to keep that dragon dead—
how to heal the wounds
that never start to bleed.