“If you don’t eat the princesses, what do you need them for?” Melissa asked.
“I thought I could get people to come here. They would come looking for a princess, wouldn’t they?”
“That can be assumed”, Prince Victor said.
“When they come here, I can tell them that I would devastate everything they want if only they feed me again. I will even eat sheep if it must be.”
Melissa could hardly believe what she had heard. Her thoughts fluttered around like a bunch of excited chicken and settled on one hope. Perhaps I can still persuade the dragon not to eat me. She cleared her throat. “Do you really think that you are doing people a favor if you lay waste to everything?”
“Why else would they bring me gold and food?”
Prince Victor jumped to his feet and yelled, “they are afraid of you, you gluttonous monster. They give you the shirt off their backs to stop the rampage.”
“Does that mean they don’t like me?” The head of the dragon shot up. He stared at Prince Victor with wide open eyes, and his voice shook a little. Melissa felt sorry for him but obviously the prince didn’t.
“Who do you think paid the knights for trying to kill you? What a pity none succeeded.”
The dragon stared at Prince Victor. A tear rolled over his cracked skin. His lower lip trembled and he sniffled. “And how will I get people to feed me without destroying their fields? I haven’t learned anything else.”
“We’ll think about something.” Melissa extended her hand and stroked the emerald-colored scales as far as she could reach.
“That’s wonderful”, the dragon whispered and closed his eyes. While Melissa looked for a solution, she stroked the dragon. He purred like an oversized cat. Suddenly, she felt her own hunger. I can understand him well. I also wouldn’t mind something to eat now. She remembered the fruit Leander had brought her before her unicorn ride. Hesitantly, she felt for the makeshift bag at her belt. It was still there. She took the fruit out and handed one to Prince Victor.
He politely declined. “I do not feel like eating.”
Melissa bit into a fruit. With her free hand, she kept stroking the purring dragon. When she had eaten the last fruit, she said to him, “you could buy meat any time, but you’d have to do without human flesh.”
The dragon opened an eye and looked at her. “I can do without any kind of meat. I would do everything for a sack of lamb’s lettuce with yogurt dressing or for a rutabaga stew with cream and a bucket of milk.”
Melissa forgot to keep stroking. She thought she had misheard. “Lamb’s lettuce? Rutabaga stew? Milk?”
“For health reasons, I will eat a couple of chickens now and then or a sheep without the wool, but I am not really enthusiastic about it.”
Melissa’s lips twitched. She desperately fought against the rising laughter. In vain. She laughed from the bottom of her heart. She laughed and laughed. “A vegetarian dragon”, she gasped. “And nobody noticed.” She laughed till her belly hurt.
The dragon looked at her with his head crooked, and he bared his teeth. “I don’t know what’s so funny about this. I am still very, very hungry.”
Melissa mopped tears from her eyes. “Excuse me. With the amount of gold that lies here, you can buy every fruit and vegetable your heart desires. The merchants will bring you cartloads of salad if you pay in gold.”
“But the gold is my bed.”
Prince Victor stepped beside Melissa. “Take me back to my father, and you will get fruit and vegetables as much as you want for a whole year.”
“One year isn’t particularly long if you consider that I have at least another four hundred in front of me.”
“One year of tasty food is better than two humans you don’t even want to eat”, Melissa said.
The dragon stretched. His claws clicked on the rock bottom of the cave. “Very well then. I will bring you back to the castle. But if you lied to me, I will destroy the whole kingdom. Climb on my back.”
Melissa raised her hands in defense. “I cannot come.” She thought about Leander and Reginald. How could she find them if she was kidnapped to a town miles away?
The dragon growled. “It was your idea, and therefore you come along whether you like it or not.” He grabbed her and put her between two horn plates in the nape of his neck.