"Stand forth and do battle!"
Emmalina considers her outfit for a moment. She's been playing dress up in the treasure room again, and she'll look more than a little ridiculous going out to meet someone dressed in a grungy apron and a full matched set of diamond and emerald jewels, but Morath is due back any minute. For the distance he'll have traveled, he'll need sleep, not a fight; Farzil's cave is practically at the other end of the Mountains of Morning. If she's going to head off whoever-it-is, she really ought to hurry. With a sigh, she heads outside.
"Ho, dragon! Stand-" the figure out front breaks off as he spots her and visibly squints at her through his visor. "Uh, Princess Emmalina? Is that you?"
Emmalina manages not to roll her eyes. "No, I'm an unusually tall dwarf with a fancy tiara," she says.
To her surprise, he laughs and removes his helmet. With a better look she pegs him as a knight, not a prince; there's the lack of a crown, for starters, but his armor is well maintained and functional. In her experience, princes adventure in outfits ranging on a scale from 'ostentatious' to 'blindingly ostentatious.' "It's a very nice tiara," he agrees, "but you have to admit it doesn't quite match the apron."
"I have it on the best authority that tiaras match everything," she says loftily, but she's smiling.
"Far be it for me to doubt a princess," he says with a polite bow, but she doesn't miss that he's not, technically, agreeing with her. Which is for the best really, since she's fully aware she's talking nonsense and looks, frankly, absurd. "I am Sir Philip of Marevale, at your service, princess."
Emmalina returns his bow with a curtsy out of habit. "Pleasure to meet you."
"So," Sir Philip says, leaning against the rock next to him and gesturing at the sword at his belt. "About that dragon?"
"Oh!" Emmalina looks up, and breathes a sigh of relief when she doesn't see anything in the sky to the north. "I'm afraid Morath's not here at the moment. He's visiting, um, friends up north."
"Oh," he says with a thoughtful look. "So, there's no one here besides you...?"
The silence sits for a couple seconds before Emmalina realizes what he's suggesting. "Um, well, not right now, but Morath's due back any minute, really, and I..." she trails off weakly. He can fill in with something like worry about being eaten if I annoy him by running away if he likes; it sounds so much nicer than like it here much better than I did at my parents' castle, thanks very much.
"Well, I don't mind waiting," he says. "If you don't object, that is?"
Emmalina blinks at him in astonishment. That's the closest one of her rescuers has come to asking her opinion on the whole matter since... well, ever, really. "Actually, I don't-"
"INTRUDER!" Morath's voice roars from above.
Emmalina, much to her embarrassment, shrieks in surprise. Morath was supposed to be coming from the north, how did he- never mind. Morath stalks out from what is definitely the west and interposes himself between Emmalina and the knight. She hears a ring of steel that must be Sir Philip drawing his sword, and promptly takes three steps back so she's safely back in the entrance to a cave. Being collateral damange would be painful and embarrassing. (And she can see better from here, which doesn't hurt.)
Sir Philip circles Morath warily, moving just fast enough that Morath quickly gives up trying to flame him. Morath, for his part, is- mostly staying in place, as she'd rather expected. Emmalina shifts nervously. Sir Philip had seemed nice enough, but Morath's been good to her, as dragons go. Morath usually has no trouble knocking her rescuers around just enough that they aren't too mortified to return home, but he must be exhausted. Exhausted enough to make mistakes? How badly? She can't tell.
Sir Philip manages to shove his helmet back on just in time to dodge a snap of Morath's teeth, and he retaliates with a sweep of his sword. She can't see around Morath's head anymore but from the ripple of Morath's tail, she suspects it was a hit. Morath's next bite is aimed better, and she hears a yelp as Morath's teeth close on Sir Philip's arm. The dragon spits him out before he breaks a tooth on the plate mail, but from the dents, there will be some nasty bruises tomorrow. Emmalina gulps and risks a step forwards. If Sir Philip can't get close because of Morath's flames, but Morath is too tired to move... and she has a nasty suspicion that Morath stopped flaming because he's too tired to make more, not because of the dodging. At this rate, there'll be no managing who gets hurt.
Sure enough, it only takes a few more rounds before Morath takes another hit from the sword, and this time, his tail flails more violently- right into Emmalina. Getting thrown into one of the boulders outside the cave door isn't quite debilitating, but it's painful, undignified, she's pretty sure she's damanged her jewelry, and did she mention painful? Of all the people to get injured in this ridiculous mockery of a fight, it had to be her. Suddenly, she is entirely done with this situation. She manages to scramble to her feet and plants her hands on her hips. "All right, that's ENOUGH," she shouts.
Two sets of eyes of wildly different sizes turn to her with matching expressions of astonishment.
"This is ridiculous. Morath, you can barely stand up. Don't look at me like that, your scales are practically turning gray. Go to bed." Morath opens his mouth to say something, and Emmalina glares. "And don't say you'll flame me. Even if you weren't too tired to manage it, you fireproofed me yourself."
"Clearly a mistake," Morath grumbles, but he backs inside quickly enough.
"And you," she rounds on Sir Philip. "What kind of knight fights a dragon that's too tired to flame him?"
"How was I supposed to know? I was a little preoccupied at the time!" he says defensively.
Emmalina sighs. She supposes he has a point, but the throbbing along her side where she hit the boulder is making her cranky. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"Rescuing... you...?" he says, looking uncertain.
She waves her hand. "No, no, obviously, but why... um. Rescuing? Knighthood? Me in particular? Any of it, I guess?"
"I'm a middle son and I'm good at fighting?" he says. "There's not a lot of respectable middle son jobs out there, and I couldn't exactly go questing without becoming a knight first."
Emmalina considers all the stories about questing middle sons and their probability of success. "I suppose not."
"I, well." He shuffles his feet, which shouldn't be as adorable as it is, given the full suit of armor. "There's a list, you see."
She can't help a smile. "A list?"
"Of princesses with known dragons, and the reward, and, well..."
"My parents are offering a lot, I'm sure," she finishes dryly when he trails off. Sir Philip nods, looking even more embarrassed. "Oh, don't look like that," she says wearily. With a sigh, she removes her (Morath's) jewery- at least one bracelet is definitely dented, she notes unhappily- and sits down on the nearest boulder. Sir Philip picks out a boulder of his own to sit on, wincing slightly as he bumps what must be a nasty bruise on his arm; Emmalina grimaces in sympathy. "Much better. Um, anyway, it's- I mean. You couldn't very well talk to all of us before showing up."
He waggles his head side to side. Emmalina decides to interpret this as I know you're right, but don't want to admit it. "Still rather mercenary."
"It's all mercenary," she grumbles. "Even Morath."
"Your dragon? How is he mercenary?"
Oh, she really, really does not want to get into this. "Ah. It's nothing. You didn't talk to my parents, then?"
"No? That's not expected, is it? They didn't mention anything in school..." he trails off with a frown. "Were you hoping for a message or something? I'm sorry if you were, I didn't realize-"
"No, it's fine," she hastens to cut him off before he can get into how much she must miss and love her parents. (She does love them. She thinks. It's complicated.) "I shouldn't have said anything." There's an awkward silence before she finally mumbles, "I should... go check on Morath, I suppose."
Sir Philip looks at her directly then. She hadn't realized quite how deferential he'd been acting until he wasn't. "Do you not want to be rescued, then?"
"I... maybe?" she says helplessly.
"I know I didn't exactly defeat him, but-"
"-no, it's not-" she realizes she's cut him off, again, and blushes. "That was horribly rude of me, I'm sorry."
He smiles. "I don't mind."
"Dragons mind," she says fervently, picturing some of the dinner arguments she's seen. "But I apologize anyway."
"Well, then, apology accepted. But as you were saying. Do you want to be rescued? I don't- I mean. I wouldn't rescue you against your will, obviously!"
"Obviously," she murmurs. It doesn't seem all that obvious to Emmalina, actually. There's been at least one or two who she thought might've been tempted by the reward, before Morath drove them off. Griffinmarsh isn't much of a kingdom, as kingdoms go, but it's still a kingdom. It speaks well of Sir Philip, certainly, that he sounds so horrified at the suggestion. "I mean, I don't want to stay here forever. I just don't..." want to go home "...know what else to do, I suppose."
"So you're not looking for a traditional rescue wedding, then?" he says. Emmalina almost hurries to reassure him before she realizes he's trying not to laugh. Not offended, then. Small favors.
"It's not that you're not being very nice about this," she says apologetically. "But really, we only just met."
"Well then. If you don't want the rescue wedding, what do you want, princess?"
"To know the answer to that question?" she says wistfully.
Sir Philip stands up, mostly managing to work around his shoulder, and comes over to wear she's sitting to bow politely to her. "Then I must leave you to consider," he says gravely.
"Leave?" she repeats, startled, as though this wasn't the entire reason she'd come outside in the first place.
"Well, you see, I was told by a very reliable source that I hadn't properly defeated your dragon." She blushes. "And anyway, now he's sleeping and I have some armor repair to do, so."
"He might not be asleep," Emmalina says, thinking even as she says it how inane she sounds. As though that's the part of his statement she should be responding to. But he laughs, so he must not mind.
"He wouldn't dare not, after that scolding you gave us." Not having any idea how to respond to that, Emmalina keeps her mouth shut, but it seems like it's at least adjacent to a compliment? "Until next time, princess." And he starts off down the cliffs where he came from.
Emmalina watches him go, eyes wide and confused. Next time?