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Dealing with Dragons

1

In Which Cimorene Refuses to Be Proper and Has a Conversation with a Frog

Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable.

The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished mainly for show-it had been centuries since a dragon had come east. There were the usual periodic problems with royal children and uninvited fairy godmothers, but they were always the sort of thing that could be cleared up by finding the proper prince or princess to marry the unfortunate child a few years later. All in all, Linderwall was a very prosperous and pleasant place.

Cimorene hated it.

Cimorene was the youngest daughter of the King of Linderwall, and her parents found her rather trying. Their first six daughters were perfectly normal princesses, with long, golden hair and sweet dispositions, each more beautiful than the last. Cimorene was lovely enough, but her hair was jet black, and she wore it in braids instead of curled and pinned like her sisters.

And she wouldn't stop growing. Her parents were quite sure that no prince would want to marry a girl who could look him in the eye instead of gazing up at him becomingly through her lashes. As for the girl's disposition-well, when people were being polite, they said she was strong-minded. When they were angry or annoyed with her, they said she was as stubborn as a pig.

The King and Queen did the best they could. They hired the most superior tutors and governesses to teach Cimorene all the things a princess ought to know-dancing, embroidery, drawing, and etiquette.

There was a great deal of etiquette, from the proper way to curtsy before a visiting prince to how loudly it was permissible to scream when being carried off by a giant. (Linderwall still had an occasional problem with giants.) Cimorene found it all very dull, but she pressed her lips together and learned it anyway. When she couldn't stand it any longer, she would go down to the castle armory and bully the armsmaster into giving her a fencing lesson. As she got older, she found her regular lessons more and more boring. Consequently, the fencing lessons became more and more frequent.

When she was twelve, her father found out.

'Fencing is not proper behavior for a princess,' he told her in the gentle-but-firm tone recommended by the court philosopher.

Cimorene tilted her head to one side. 'why not?'

'It's… well, it's simply not done.'

Cimorene considered. 'Aren't I a princess?'

'Yes, of course you are, my dear,' said her father with relief. He had been bracing himself for a storm of tears, which was the way his other daughters reacted to reprimands.

'Well, I fence,' Cimorene said with the air of one delivering an unshakable argument. 'So it is too done by a princess.'

'That doesn't make it proper, dear,' put in her mother gently.

'why not?'

'It simply doesn't,' the Queen said firmly, and that was the end of Cimorene's fencing lessons.

When she was fourteen, her father discovered that she was making the court magician teach her magic.

'How long has this been going on?' he asked wearily when she arrived in response to his summons.

'Since you stopped my fencing lessons,' Cimorene said. 'I suppose you're going to tell me it isn't proper behavior for a princess.'

'Well, yes. I mean, it isn't proper.'

'Nothing interesting seems to be proper,' Cimorene said.

'You might find things more interesting if you applied yourself a little more, dear,' Cimorene's mother said.

'I doubt it,' Cimorene muttered, but she knew better than to argue when her mother used that tone of voice. And that was the end of the magic lessons.

The same thing happened over the Latin lessons from the court philosopher, the cooking lessons from the castle chef, the economics lessons from the court treasurer, and the juggling lessons from the court minstrel.

Cimorene began to grow rather tired of the whole business.

When she was sixteen, Cimorene summoned her fairy godmother.

'Cimorene, my dear, this sort of thing really isn't done,' the fairy said, fanning away the scented blue smoke that had accompanied her appearance.

'People keep telling me that,' Cimorene said.

'You should pay attention to them, then,' her godmother said irritably.

'I'm not used to being hauled away from my tea without warning. And you aren't supposed to call me unless it is a matter of utmost importance to your life and future happiness.'

'It's of utmost importance to my life and future happiness,' Cimorene said.

'Oh, very well. You're a bit young to have fallen in love already; still, you always have been a precocious child. Tell me about him.'

Cimorene sighed. 'It isn't a him.'

'Enchanted, is he?' the fairy said with a spark of interest. 'A frog, perhaps? That used to be quite popular, but it seems to have gone out of fashion lately. Nowadays, all the princes are talking birds, or dogs, or hedgehogs.'

'No, no, I'm not in love with anyone!'

'Then what, exactly, is your problem?' the fairy said in exasperation.

'This!' Cimorene gestured at the castle around her. 'Embroidery lessons, and dancing, and-and being a princess!'

'My dear Cimorene!' the fairy said, shocked. 'It's your heritage!'

'It's boring.'

'Boring?' The fairy did not appear to believe what she was hearing.

'Boring. I want to do things, not sit around all day and listen to the court minstrel make up songs about how brave Daddy is and how lovely his wife and daughters are.'

'Nonsense, my dear. This is just a stage you're going through. You'll outgrow it soon, and you'll be very glad you didn't do anything rash.'

Cimorene looked at her godmother suspiciously. 'You've been talking to my parents, haven't you?'

'Well, they do try to keep me up to date on what my godchildren are doing.'

'I thought so,' said Cimorene, and bade her fairy godmother a polite good-bye.

A few weeks later, Cimorene's parents took her to a tourney in Sathem-by-the-Mountains, the next kingdom over. Cimorene was quite sure that they were only taking her because her fairy godmother had told them that something had better be done about her, and soon. She kept this opinion to herself. Anything was better than the endless rounds of dancing and embroidery lessons at home.

Cimorene realized her mistake almost as soon as they reached their destination, for the King of Sathem- by-the-Mountains had a son. He was a golden-haired, blue-eyed, and exceedingly handsome prince, whose duties appeared to consist entirely of dancing attendance on Cimorene.

'Isn't he handsome?' Cimorene's lady-in-waiting sighed.

'Yes,' Cimorene said without enthusiasm. 'Unfortunately, he isn't anything else.'

'Whatever do you mean?' the lady-in-waiting said in astonishment.

'He has no sense of humor, he isn't intelligent, he can't talk about anything except tourneys, and half of

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