You may not believe this but I am actually of royal blood. Back in the long-long-ago, I might have been a princess. I most often think of her, that long ago maid, when the frail morning mist beribbons the valley outside my window. She must have looked out from a castle turret, upon some magical vista such as mine, and dreamed, as I do, of possessing personal sovereignty. No doubt her father, The King, and her mother, The Queen, despaired at her preoccupation. I am certain that she must have finally realized she could not be a princess and decide her own destiny, and that her only hope lie in leaving the castle and striking out on her own. I imagine that late one night, when the moon was just an old sliver, she stole herself away…
There are no stairs to the secret loft. My lady makes her way under an arbor and across a bridge to the top of the old house that is built on a hill. The arbor is draped with Jasmine, a harlequin, dancing with fragrance at her approach. The bridge winds around a redwood tree that stands guard, reaching hundreds of feet into the air. Tulips, pansies, alyssum, and hanging lobelia bow over their baskets as she makes her way along the bridge. There are windchimes hung to herald the story of the winds.
There are animals. Raccoons rustle through ivy entangled trees, looking for the nests of the stellar jays. Squirrels, busy with gathering, leap from branch to branch in the leafy bays. All day long the hummingbirds flit, squeak and shimmer at her windows. Often a titmouse comes to the bridge to speak to her. She knows exactly what he says, and she chirps her answers. At dusk, skunks search through the fallen leaves and underbrush for dinner. And best of all there is a magic cat. A large black and white beauty, with comprehending eyes, and a purring heart. And then…at night the mourning doves coo my lady to sleep…
If after a knock on the carved door, it opened to me, I would immediately know it for the house of a princess. At first glance, rainbows and crystals, music and flowers, candles and mirrors swirl before my eyes. Once inside there are mullioned windows, and glass doors, and verandahs that look out onto her mystical and peaceful green forest.
If the Princess were to invite me to dinner, by candlelight I would fair on crepes, and a delicate salad of watercress, and raspberries. We would eat and drink from pink crystal dishes and goblets. Later she would concoct a dark something she called "the Dragon’s brew," which we would drink from large, colorful mugs. Then she would bring forth a confection of meringue and spun sugar, looking every bit like a gilt-edged cloud.
As the sun set and the loft became subdued in the candlelight, she would make me laugh, and show me the treasures she has collected while adventuring. The princess has had many adventures…
She might show me the sandlewood box, with the brass corners, and the dark, ornate key that lies beside it. Laughingly, she would say that inside are fallen stars and a bit of a comet tail. There are candlesticks of blown glass, colored the lavender and golden strains of the sunset. These were a gift from a tiny fairy mother and her enchanted baby who had butterfly wings, and wore a smock of toadflax. There are hydrangeas, and dried leaves from a silver bush, gathered beside the cottage of the wise woman, deep in the forest. The shells, and sea glass, she found beneath tangled, rusty seaweed on the shores of the Isle of Wyndemere.
Finally, when the forest became shadows, the candles burned low, and the owl softly called the hour, she would show me the faceted, violet amethyst. It covers the palm of her hand as she holds it out for me to see. She would confide that she had won this treasure from the Jade Dragon.
As the night turned black, and the candles sputtered in their sockets, I would ask her to tell me about the Dragon…
"Oh, so you wish to hear about the Dragon?" she smiled.
"Well, it does seem as if there is a story."
"Oh yes," the Princess admitted. "There is a story. A bittersweet story."
"What did he look like?" I wanted to know.
"The Dragon was very beautiful, and very powerful. You see, I had never seen a dragon before. I did not know what to expect. He was the color of sun shining through ocean waves, ever changing. He shimmered, and sparkled, and gleamed like green jewels in the light. He was magnificent. His eyes immediately struck me. They were such a dark brown that they looked black. He smiled with his eyes. There were dancing lights in them. When he looked deep into my eyes with his laughing black ones, I felt that he must see everything about me."
"Could he see you were a Princess?" I wondered.
"I think not." she answered. "For he never treated me as if I were royalty. "
"He was very happy." she went on. "He laughed. He laughed at me. No one had ever laughed at me before."
The Princess chuckled, but then quietly continued. "It is a serious thing, being a Princess."
I had to prompt her to continue, for she seemed lost in thought.
"Tell me about the game."
She sighed, "Oh, very well," but she did not seem reluctant as she enthused,
"I met him on a perfectly ordinary day. I was minding my own business when our paths crossed. He set out immediately to charm me, waving his long tail, roaring. I was a little intimidated rather than swept away, so he stopped short of breathing fire!"
"You’re joking!" I laughed.
"Well, so to speak," grinned the Princess.
"We saw each other often, and I got over my initial feeling of reticence and grew to trust the Dragon. As I told you, he laughed at me. People are not usually amused by me. Usually they are subject to me. To have this magnificent beast find me entertaining was a heady experience indeed. It was not long before he told me I was beautiful, and he proposed that we play an ancient and perilous game. How could I resist?"
Enthralled, I just shook my head, and thought, "How indeed?"
"And play we did. By day we swam in the lagoon, splashing in the diamonds on the sun-dappled water. At night we lay in the meadow, and he taught me about the stars and the planets, under the lantern moon. We told each other fantastic and elaborate stories. We journeyed to the enchanted woods to celebrate the solstice with the summer fairies. By torchlight we danced round and …round…and…round…"
Quiet settled down upon the Princess, and I knew we were coming to a change in the story.
"Then, one day, something frightening happened," she confided. "We were at the lagoon and as I looked at my skin in the water and the sun, under its surface, I could see a faint opalescent green pattern. Scales."
"What…?" I was bewildered.
"I was beginning to belong to the Dragon." Tears shown in her eyes as she spoke. "I realized we were playing a game of giving, and it scared me. My freedom had been bought at a great price, and I could not have it taken away. Even by the wonderful Dragon."
Anxiously I asked, "What did you do?"
"I told him the truth." she said simply.
"That you were a Princess?"
"Yes." she said earnestly. "And how important my freedom was to me."
"Well after our one halcyon summer, the Dragon admitted defeat, and bestowed upon me his amethyst treasure. Then, just as autumn’s frost began to splash the trees with color, the Jade Dragon strode away, into the high mountains. I have not seen him since."
Consumed by curiosity, I asked, "What would you do if you did see him?"
"Sometimes, I am sure I made the right choice, and I am happy." She smiled.
"And at other times?" I whispered.
"At other times, when the moon is magic, and the night is full of electricity, I feel I would give anything, yes, even my freedom, just to hear his laughter ring out over the starlite meadow, or to feel his dark eyes searching me again." she confessed.
She shook herself, and then asked, "Would you like some more of his silly brew?"
As the Princess prepared the drink, she spoke again of the Jade Dragon’s laughter.
"Sometimes the Dragon would laugh so completely, and with such abandon, I would have to look away, because I couldn’t continue to look at so much happiness."
The Princess, carrying two steaming mugs of the Dragon’s aromatic mixture, said,
"Bring the candelabra. The night is beautiful. Let’s sit on the verandah."
She told other stories. There had been a sinister desert scorpion who came and went. There had been a Fiery Knight who had his mind on other battles, and could not stay to play the game. There had lately been a jester, who had tried to fool her. She said he had hardly been worth her time.
At last we sat in companionable silence. The warm night air was heavy with the fragrance of jasmine. Black pines trees were etched against a charcoal sky, pierced full of diamonds.