A Letter to My Sister

Edited by Julia Rios

December 2018

My dearest Cassa,

First, please extend my congratulations to Princess Fortuita on her pending nuptials to Sir Archibald. I am happy for your charge, though I could not have guessed she would settle on “The Singed Knight” of your letters, or that he would settle on her, after you so soundly roasted him. I daresay he has more than proved himself to Fortuita, and you and her parents will have to content yourselves with that.

To your last correspondence, yes, I am still on the search for my replacement. I would like to get another guardian settled before the dormant season. I can’t imagine there will be any knights to come calling until the spring, but it will give Larissa time to get acquainted with her new chaperone.

My dear sister, the length of your last letter! I did not think such a long roll of parchment existed, but I found the place in the middle where you glued the two sheets together. Very clever of you. To your assumption that my current intentions are an attempt to, as you said, “bring ruin upon our profession”: absolutely not, though I am flattered you think me so clever a schemer. I have never held any intent greater than behaving admirably, as a guardian of my station must. What transpired at North Elm Tower was unanticipated, and I will admit that, to avoid this current situation, I should have killed him that first day.

He is pretty, as knights go. You know how I loathe the pretty ones. Their bones are brittle and sharp, and crack unpleasantly when chewed. Upon first sight of him, I knew I could never have ate him for that reason alone.

To be clear, I did not lose that engagement, and I resent the accusation. I simply withdrew. I will confess that he was much better than I expected. His hide bears so few scars compared to his sword. He is good… Not a seasoned knight, but cautious and clever where most knights rely solely on strength and sheer nerve.

There was heat to him. Not like the brimstone that burns in our lungs, but something glowing, nonetheless. In any case, I thought it worth sparing. Perhaps a knight of such fire could be a fitting match for my Larissa. I let him go, with some faint hope that he would gather himself and present me a proper challenge later. I know you will sympathize with this, for isn’t that what you did for Fortuita? Though, to my credit, I never burned my knight so bad as you did to Archibald. (Fortuita is a dear sweet thing to take him on, even though slightly charred.)

My estimation of the man’s mettle was right. He did come back, hardly a month later, and I let him closer this time, so that Larissa could get a look from her window.

I shall not regale you with the joke he told on this meeting. I only have so much parchment, and my claws are already stiff from writing. In any case, I do not recall the whole narrative. What I remember is how Larissa laughed! She giggled so that I feared she might pass out. I pummeled the man with my tail just to make him go away. Many nights I have turned it over in my head. I still don’t know what prompted such a story in the middle of our confrontation. Was it nerves, or was it to catch me unawares? Whatever the reason, that he survived only seemed to encourage him.

And so, we fell into a routine. He never came empty-handed. There was his sword and shield, and we would spar until I grew bored or he grew tired. There were his jokes, and he seemed to have a never-ending well of them. Indeed, I got the sense that he found as much sport in attempting to make me laugh as attempting to slice through my scales.

The young man was clumsy, but earnest. He was exhaustingly loquacious, but witty. More than that, he had spirit. I could waylay him for hours. I flattered myself that I was simply very good at my job, presenting a worthy challenge while showing off his assets to Larissa. I confess to you, Cassa, that a selfish part of me enjoyed our meetings, but I did not ever consider that the knight had, at some point, given up the chase of the tower in favor of me. And perhaps it would give him too much credit to assume he knew any better than I.

I have never understood human attraction and tastes. The princesses we guard are appealing in the way of calves. Their tiny heads and limbs bring out our maternal tendencies, which is essential to our roles as guardians. Their wings are shorter than their legs, their necks are so short as to be useless (why do they have them at all?), and they lack tails completely. But they are tiny, and helpless, and these seem to be qualities prized among knights.

I am not tiny, though I have tried to make myself so. I have practiced shifting into my smaller form, but I am still large by human standards, and my hide still burns his skin. He never complains, and yet I am always waiting for it. He praises the smoothness of my scales and I cringe, afraid their edges will cut his hands to ribbons. He begs to hear me sing, but I imagine the smoke on my tongue choking his lungs. When we kiss, I hold my mouth closed, so he can’t feel my jagged teeth.

I am a fine specimen, as dragons go. I am strong, sleek, and my wings bow adequately upon my back. But in these moments, when his arms are around me, I wish that I could be a proper match for him. I have never thought myself ugly… but Cassa, I wait for him to call me so. I would not mind if he did. Against any fair princess, how could a knight think me otherwise?

And yet, his eyes hold none of the revulsion and fury that I have come to expect from his kind. His gaze on me is so wondrous and hungry that I find myself in wonder of what treasure he has unearthed. And it’s the funniest thing: he looks at me, and suddenly I do not care at all about my size, or my scales. I feel as grand and dazzling as the sun.

For all his grandiloquence, he is not a romantic. He has made no bold vows to me, no declarations of ever afters. He only asked that I go with him.

Larissa encourages my departure. I feel some measure of guilt, as I have robbed her of a marriage and freedom from the tower, though she assures me that she is not hurt at all. I fear she treats this like a game. She is silly and so pretty, too much of either for her own good. To guard her requires a discerning eye that I fear most dragons do not have, so Cassa, whoever applies for the job, please inform them that they will require an interview with you personally. I trust your judgment above all others. But, perhaps I could tempt you to consider taking my station? With Fortuita gone, you are now available, and I think you would rather like Larissa, as you both are as silly as the other.

You have asked as to my intentions, and I am sad to say that I can offer you no assurances, for I do not know myself. Do I love him? That answer changes from day to day. I do not know if I am in love with him, or simply in love with the way he looks at me. But is it acceptable to you if I say that, for now, I do not care? He is an adventurer, this knight, and I shall go with him for a time, for as long as it suits us. It is a privilege that most princesses are not afforded, and I shall take advantage of it. I do wonder that more kings and queens don’t give their daughters over to adventures. It seems a more promising way to cultivate a bond between princess and knight, rather than fighting dragons and climbing towers.

I look eagerly to the days ahead. It has been decades since I’ve had a proper vacation. And maybe, on the road, I will come to the answers to your many questions. In that event, I shall write you a long letter. You will know it by the glue in the middle, binding the two sheets together.

Think of me kindly until then.

Sincerely,

Your sister

© 2018 Nilah Magruder

About the author

Nilah Magruder

Nilah Magruder is a writer and illustrator based in Los Angeles. Her picture book How to Find a Fox was published by Feiwel & Friends and her award-winning webcomic, M.F.K., is available in print from Insight Editions. She has written for Marvel and drawn storyboards for DreamWorks and Disney. She is currently illustrating Creaky Acres, a middle-grade graphic novel written by Calista Brill. When she is not working, Nilah is reading fantasy novels, watching movies, roller-skating, and fighting her cat for control of her desk chair. Her website is at nilahmagruder.com.

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