Dragons aren’t real. I know because my mother has told me so my whole life long, and everything she knows, grandmother told her.
As I grew up, I asked my mother why so many knights would brag of dragon slaying if there’s no such thing to slay. She snorted and said, “Knights! There’s a reason knights like their armour silvery-shiny. Bloody dazzlers!”
I have never forgotten this. On my 16th birthday, I received a letter. It was the first I’d ever received. I knew instantly that the wax seal on the back, glossy and dark as blood, was royal.
If mother had been home when the letter arrived, I think she would have taken it. But she was not.
The letter told me, in words so fancy that I don’t care to remember them, that a prince was trapped in a labyrinth, waiting for me to rescue him.
Mother was still not home when I saddled up Capala and rode out of the village. What else could I do?
“I know the way,” Capala said, “just hold tight,” and he doubled his gallop.
Along the road, something shifted in the pit of my belly and, lo, I was further from home than ever before.
We came soon to edge of the labyrinth. Its walls were lush but punctured with thorns. “I can’t go in,” said Capala. “From here, you’re even more alone.”
I refused to be afraid. Stepping forward, I remembered what grandmother taught me. “Trace your left hand along a labyrinth’s wall to find its heart.”
I wound around the path automatically, my arm outstretched. My fingers were nicked as they grazed the thorns, but only the first cuts hurt, and the labyrinth’s centre appeared quickly.
What I found there was a boy in a crown, upon a throne of cold stone. “You’re here!” he said. “How was your adventure?”
“I wouldn’t think of it as an adventure, exactly,” I said. He didn’t look happy.
“No? Because it was meant to be the perfect quest for you.”
“I don’t even want a quest.”
“Which farm girl wouldn’t want to ride a talking horse, solve labyrinths, meet the prince, help him slay the dragon?”
“But dragons aren’t real.”
The prince got up from his throne and walked over. “How dare you,” he said. “So selfish. I built this whole thing just for you.”
“Why?” I said. “And…how?”
“My father taught me how, like his father taught him.”
The labyrinth shifted, green to grey. There were bricks and plaster now, posters and unwashed clothes. There was a guitar, a TV set, and the sound of cars through the window. The throne became a tatty chair on wheels. In that moment, I remembered everything I had forgotten. I turned to leave.
“Where are you going? Are you just going to leave me here?” he said.
I let the door slam, punctuating my last words to this boy. “You’re the one who built this mess,” I said, “Find your own way out.”