Rose hurried after Melinda, trying not to let her legs tangle in her long skirts. She was used to wearing pants, not the dress of the castle's servants. She tried not to make a face as the older woman spoke. She was here to do a job; she was here to blend in. As far as anyone in the castle was concerned, she was just another teenaged orphan, uprooted by the border wars who was seeking refuge and work in the castle. She straightened up.
"Everything needs to be cleaned and then cleaned again!" Melinda exclaimed. "I don't know if you've ever met a dragon."
Rose shook her head. It was easier.
"They're messy to clean up after – scales, smoke, fire. Their tails, they never watch their tails, although if any of them ask, I didn't say that."
Rose nodded but she didn't think Melinda noticed it. "Your main duty is the princess's quarters. Make sure that it is always clean, cut her fresh flowers from the garden when need be. Check in on her room regularly. Before she retires for the night, you are to turn down her bedsheets for her and make sure that she is comfortable. She does have her own handmaidens so her needs aren't specifically your responsibility. When you have finished with her room, report to Delores and she will find you another task."
"I will be helping you through today and then tomorrow, you will be on your own."
It was just cleaning; there was nothing there that Rose couldn't handle. She followed Melinda into the princess's room and together, they set to work.
The next day, Rose was so exhausted that she didn't understand how people did this every day. The castle was big but she had underestimated just how much work went into it. She returned to the princess's chambers and stripped the bed, realizing that some of the sheets had become singed during the night. Princess Haley was only about eleven years old and Melinda had warned her that, the younger the dragon, the more uncontrolled they were with their abilities and that she should not be surprised to find soot often in the princess's room. With a sigh, Rose gathered up the dirty sheets and carried them to the disposal bin, gathering new sheets on her way back up. She was ascending the servant's stairs, trying to peer around the blankets that she was holding, when she was bumped into. She promptly dropped the sheets and stumbled down the three steps she had managed to climb.
"Jeez! I'm sorry. Are you okay?"
Rose rubbed at her hip. "I'm fine, really. Can you watch where you're going next time?"
Rose looked up as the stranger she'd bumped into gathered her fallen blankets and put them in a pile. He finally turned to face her.
"Have I seen you before?"
Rose shook her head, thinking that she certainly would have remembered seeing him before. He was tall and well-built, his long-sleeved red jacket strained around his biceps. He had thick black hair and brown eyes that she realized she was just staring at.
"I'm Jake, manservant to the prince." He held out his hand.
Rose shook it, saying, "Isn't the Prince's name Jacob also?"
"Yeah, I've always thought that's why I got the job, just in case there was an assassination plot or something and they had to switch me out." He grinned brightly and Rose just laughed. What's your name?"
"Rose. It's my second day here."
"Where are you headed, Rose?"
"The princess's chambers. I'm supposed to be making her bed … Should I go and get her new blankets since I dropped those?" She made a face this time, feeling like Jake wouldn't rat her out.
"What they won't know won't hurt them," Jake advised and he picked up the blanket pile. "Can I walk with you?"
"You don't have somewhere else to be, manservant to the prince?"
"He's in a training session and I am free for a few minutes. Or do you not want me to walk with you?"
"I'd like you to walk with me," Rose decided. It was those eyes. He was a handsome man. She'd never really had the chance to really interact with someone her own age in that kind of way before but she already liked the way that she felt when she looked at him.
"Someone needs to protect you from people who aren't looking where they're going," Jake said with a grin.
"Well, thank you. I can take the blankets."
"Nah, don't worry about it. A quilt won't kill me … Luckily, you're not carrying two quilts because that would be the end of me."
Rose smiled to herself.
"How's the second day?" Jake continued.
"Dead tired?" Jake guessed.
"Yes! Big places get dirty without any work or anything and I know that but it's actually crazy how much needs to get done every single day! And I'm just focusing on the princess's chambers!"
"The prince is ten times as bad," Jake said with a conspiratorial look.
Rose shuddered. "Poor you."
"I've been doing this for a long time," Jake said. "I practically grew up here so I don't really know any other life."
"Is that better or worse?"
"You tell me," Jake said. They stopped in front of Princess Haley's chamber doors and Rose reached out for the blankets but Jake kept a hold of them. "Why don't we eat breakfast together tomorrow? You can tell me then?"
Rose didn't have to take a lot of time to consider what he was offering. "I'd really like that. What time do you think?"
"Five-thirty?" Jake said. "I have to be in the prince's chamber at six."
"I'll meet you by the kitchen," Rose said.
Jake handed over her blankets. "Have a good second day."
She stood next to the door and watched the back of his head until he was out of sight and then she scurried back into the room. Her thoughts were occupied today and the work flowed much easier. Maybe she really could build herself a real life here. Maybe she could really be free from the before life. Either way, by the time her second day at the castle ended, she was feeling optimistic.
Jake shrugged at his grandfather's loud exclamation as he strolled onto the open field. He had a good reason for being late to training – whether or not Gramps agreed with him, Rose was an excellent reason. He knew that Gramps would scoff at him and say that pretty girls were not the point that he should be focusing on. There were still wars; he needed to learn as much as he could so that he could go to the front when he was ready and not put himself and the army in jeopardy but it felt so far away. He knew people were dying and he knew that people deserved a prince that was there and there were few things more important than training but, every once in a while, Jake could take the five minutes.
"I'm here now. I'll stay late," Jake said, like it would placate his grandfather.
The giant blue dragon let a jet of flame come from his lips instead of answering. He stood up on his hind legs and crossed his arms over his chest. He just stared at Jake until Jake sighed and let himself transform. He lost his human appearance, taking on one of magic: one of a bright red dragon. He stretched out his muscles, unfurling his wings and letting the breeze catch them without lifting his heavy body from the ground. He dug his claws into the damp earth.
"What are we doing today, Gramps?"
Jake cocked his head to the side. "Hunting?"
"I have prepared, through the forests, signs of campsites. Things that you may see of human enemies when you are on the front. I want you to see if you can discover all twelve of them."
Jake stretched his arms out in front of him and flapped his wings, hovering just above the ground. "This is too easy."
Gramps just seemed amused by the whole thing. "After you, then."
Jake took off confidently, listening to the flap of his grandfather's wings behind him. He kept a sharp eye peeled as he went but, mostly, all he saw were citizens, waving up at two members of the royal family. Jake waved back, as he had always been told to do, but, honestly, he'd probably have done it even without the word of advice. He liked being seen as protector. He liked that people looked up to him as the crown prince.
He was focusing! He was! But there was absolutely nothing to see. Jake circled the edges of the woods, working his way in, and there was nothing to see. Six hours later, he had found nine campsites and he could tell that Gramps was frustrated with him. Well, fine, he was frustrated with himself too.
"We are done for the day," Gramps decided.
"I can do it!"
"We will try again tomorrow," Gramps said. "And every day after, until you can do it consistently."
Jake dropped onto the field, annoyed. He shook himself and stretched his wings out. He kept his dragon persona as he followed Gramps back into the castle. He wasn't, technically, supposed to be running around as a human but he knew that Gramps didn't lecture him about it because, honestly, it was the quickest way to get around and sometimes, he needed to be able to move around, looking like a servant. The fact that Jake, and his little sister, Haley, could look like humans was something that had always been kept under wraps. There were only a handful of people in the world that knew they could. Gramps said, that when the time came, it would give them a tactical advantage, but Jake was hoping that the border wars ended before it got to that point. His parents often sent news back from the front but it went from small skirmishes to full on battles too often for Jake to say what the outcome could be or when it would come.
"Take a few moments to rest before dinner," Gramps advised.
Jake nodded and headed back to his room. His manservant and best friend, Spud, was in his chambers already. As soon as Jake shoved his door shut with his tail, he turned back into a human. He loved being a dragon – he loved the power and abilities that it gave him – but, sometimes, just being a person was so much easier. His dragon's body was so much clunkier and, when he was inside, it was nicer to not have to worry about where his tail was going.
"You were gone a long time today," Spud observed, digging out fresh clothing for Jake.
"Yeah and none of it was great," Jake said. "I'm never going to be where he wants me to be."
"You're doing great."
"You have to say that," Jake said, tugging his old shirt over his head.
"It doesn't mean I don't mean it."
"Thanks, Spud." Jake sat on the end of his bed. "Tell me about the new servant."
"Rose. The one cleaning Haley's chambers now."
"Pretty. From the border. Said her parents were killed in the war."
"So, totally human?"
"Mhm. She saw a leprechaun last night leaving dinner with Lao Shi. She looked a little freaked out. Clearly, she hasn't had much exposure to magic, no matter what her parents were doing."
Jake nodded along, thinking of her pretty blue eyes. If she had lived on the border, if her parents were soldiers, she'd probably seen more than he had.
"I'm having breakfast with her tomorrow."
"As you or …"
"If she meets you, I have another manservant named Jake. Just so you're in on this."
"If she talks to anyone else, they're going to tell her the truth."
Jake could only shrug. "Maybe get Trixie to befriend her."
"Trixie's going to yell at you."
"Trixie always yells at me," Jake said. "Come on, what's it going to hurt?"
"Depends on how hard this Rose girl can hit when she finds out you're lying to her."
"If," Jake said, watching Spud clean up behind him.
"You couldn't have said anything other than prince's manservant? It's too obvious! You've got me and that's it. The whole castle knows that."
"So, I'm not that smart! No one is surprised that I didn't think this through. I don't know! I ran into her on my way to training and she was pretty and I didn't even want to think about it. I was a human. How was I going to just not talk to her again?"
"Aww, you've got a crush. This is cute. No, this is good. I'm going to enjoy this."
Spud was unoffended and continued on, "You've got to really romance her. Sweet talk her, girls love stuff like that."
"Number one, when was the last time you had a date? Number two, Trixie would knock out a man that tried to sweet talk her."
"Just because I've never had a date doesn't mean that I don't know what I'm talking about."
"I really think it does."
"I always know what I'm talking about."
Jake really didn't believe that but Jake knew that he couldn't argue with Spud. Spud's mother was Jake's mother's servant and, somehow, it ended up that Jake and Spud were the same age and had been best friends throughout growing up. It was unusual that Spud had taken over the job of manservant when, normally, it would have been given to someone older with more experience in the job, but Jake and Spud knew each other so well and Spud was already in on Jake's secret and so there was no one better for the job. It meant that they had a deeper understanding of one another than was expected and it meant that the two of them often got into more trouble than it was worth, along with Haley's maidservant, Trixie, who was also in on the dragons' secret.
"Come on," Spud said, "transform back. You've got to go down to dinner."
Jake pushed himself from his bed, letting the transformation take over. He felt too big for the room, though he knew that the castle had been built oversized to accommodate the years of royal dragons that had walked through its walls. When he was a dragon, he felt uneasy unless there was open sky above him. Spud opened the door for him. Jake headed out and Spud followed behind him, at a respectful servants' distance. As they had gotten older, the difference between prince and manservant had only grown and Jake often found himself resenting it. When they were children, they'd been allowed to play like they were the same and Jake often found himself missing it. It had been better then, when he'd been more ignorant of what was waiting on him as he grew up.
His claws clicked on the top of the stairs and he half-turned his head, knowing it was their last moment alone before they started down onto the main floor.
"Will you please talk to Trixie?"
"I'm telling her it was all your idea."
It was fair. There was no reason for Spud to get in hot water with Trixie because Jake had said something stupid. And Trixie would dish out the hot water, though she couldn't take as good as she gave, which often ended in her being angry with Jake and Spud. It would all eventually subside. She'd get over it.
Jake lumbered through the open archway of the dining hall, taking his station next to Lao Shi at the head table. Haley was already there and she stuck out her long, forked tongue when Lao Shi couldn't see her. Jake resisted the urge to retaliate – if only because he would get caught where his perfect little sister never would.
"You were almost late," Haley hissed.
"Were too! And you smell!"
"You're lucky it's just sweat," Jake said.
"Ever heard of a bath?"
Jake snapped his jaw shut and his grandfather's simple word, glad that Lao Shi had said children and not Jacob. He tried not to gloat too much that Haley had been caught too because Gramps would, somehow, notice that too and he'd end up running double drills for the rest of his natural life. Which, he absolutely couldn't do if he had to wake up to have breakfast with Rose. A jet of flame darted out between his lips as he became distracted by the thought of her. One of the servants behind him immediately had water thrown onto the table.
He cast his eyes around the room but Rose, of course, was not there. She was a maid, not a personal servant, and wouldn't be required. He half-turned his head to watch Trixie and Jake, positioned just behind Haley and he. Spud caught his eye and then he gestured Trixie to him. Jake watched her eyes go wide with shock at his utter stupidity and then she glared at him in a way that Jake knew that he was going to get an earful later. He snapped his head back around to his grandfather. He could already feel Trixie's fist going into his human arm but he didn't even mind that. He had friends instead of servants and he was glad that he hadn't lost them as he had grown into his princely title.
Dinner finished with a round of dessert. Despite his grandfather's look, Jake dove right in. His body was hard as a rock – he couldn't get any more fit! – and Jake didn't believe in a training diet to begin with. Part of the old man's magic and fancies, he was sure. Finally, they dispersed, Trixie trailing Haley, Spud trailing Jake, and Fu Dog shuffling along after Lao Shi.
"Trixie's not happy with you."
Spud shut Jake's bedroom door securely behind him and Jake transformed back.
"I whacked my wing," Jake complained. "My shoulder hurts."
"Do you need me to call a masseuse?"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," Jake said.
The door cracked open and Trixie was inside. She hit Jake, hard and he didn't even bother to try and defend himself.
"What is wrong with you?!"
"I'm a servant to the prince, I'm human, I'm going to chat up every girl I see like an idiot," Trixie spewed.
"Jake doesn't sound like that."
Trixie glared at Spud to and Spud settled into the chair by Jake's window.
"Trixie, it's harmless –"
She shook her head at him. "You don't think! And you want me to lie for you? And spy for you?"
"Well, are we friends or not?"
Trixie crossed her arms, her dark brown eyes turning almost black with anger.
"Jake thinks she's hot."
Trixie's glare shifted over to Spud. "And do you think she's hot?"
Spud shrugged. "You've seen her. I think you think she's hot."
Trixie spluttered. "Jake, how do you think it's going to end?"
"Who cares?" Jake asked. "We're fighting a war, Trix. We might wake up and the whole of the Huntsclan army might be on the grounds! Who cares if I have breakfast with a pretty girl?"
"Funny," Jake said to Trixie. "You sounded just like Gramps there."
"Do you think this is a good idea?" she asked him.
"No. But, that's never stopped me." Jake grinned. "Trixie, please, will you talk to her?"
"I'm not doin' this for you," Trixie said. "She came from the border and she's got no friends. She's probably traumatized to begin with."
With a snort, Trixie was out of the room again. Spud carefully shut the door.
"She only hit you once!" Spud exclaimed, giving a thumbs up.
"That's a win for me!"
Rose rubbed the bridge of her nose, sitting down at the servant's table just off the kitchen. They ate in shifts, to avoid overcrowding the kitchen or conflicting with the royal family's meals. She had drawn a late meal shift today and she spun the spoon around her bowl of stew. She was thinking of her bed in the servant's quarters when there was a thump across from her. Rose started – no one had spoken to her at all but for Melinda and Jake. She had seen the dark-skinned woman in the princess's chambers, following the princess around.
"Hi, I'm Trixie. I'm Princess Haley's maidservant."
"I'm Rose," she said. "I just clean."
"I heard you grew up at the border," Trixie said.
"Yeah, something like that," Rose said, feeling herself start to shut down. She didn't want to talk about her upbringing, the family she'd had, or the war. "What about you?"
"I moved into the castle when my parents died. I've made some good friends – like Spud, have you met him?"
Rose shook her head.
"And Jake. They were playmates when I started," Trixie said. "They welcomed me."
Well, she had Rose's attention.
"Jake? With the black hair?"
Trixie nodded. "Have you met him?"
"Yes. We ran into each other. He helped me out, made me feel better." Rose tapped her spoon against the bowl. "I like having the job and I'm glad that I was able to get here but –"
"It's hard," Trixie agreed. "If it helps, the job never gets easier but it does get better once you figure it all out."
"May I confess something to you?" Rose asked. "I don't have any other friends to talk to."
"I am a good friend. Really, you wouldn't believe it."
There was an edge to Trixie's voice but Rose chose not to question it. "Does the royal family …" here, Rose checked over both shoulders, "ever scare you?"
"Scare me?" Trixie asked. "No, why?"
"Well, you're human –"
"And they have very big teeth."
Trixie laughed. "Teeth? That's what you're worried about?!"
Rose squirmed, taking a bite of her stew. "No. Yes. My parents … I didn't, exactly, grow up on this side of the war."
Trixie's expression changed. "Oh. So, you believe … ?"
"That they were wrong," Rose said firmly. "But it's easier to believe it than to be comfortable living in it. I wasn't a warrior. I grew up in a very human and dragons are big. Like … really big."
"They've never eaten anyone," Trixie said. "So, you can relax about that."
"You've grown up around here, you're probably used to it, but it's a culture shock. I'm a little glad that I don't work directly with any of them. Does that make me sound awful?"
"You sound like you're adjusting," Trixie said. "I can't imagine what it was like living in the middle of it."
Rose looked down at her hand. "I wasn't a fighter but I am good nurse. I had to help put a lot of people back together."
"I guess it's different, being out there than being here," Trixie said. "I never really thought about it which I guess sounds like a luxury."
Rose shrugged. "I don't want to talk about it, if I'm being honest. Thank you for sitting with me but I have to go to bed. The day starts early. I hope we'll talk again."
"I think we will," Trixie said.
Rose hurried away, to the little alcove that she had been given for her bed and her little bit of belongings. She quickly changed into her bedclothes and climbed between the sheets, resting her head on the pillow. She closed her eyes and tried not to think of growing up in the middle of wars, she tried not to think of all that red on her hands through the years, she tried not to think of running away from all of that.
Of course, it was all she thought about all night long.
I will always be in love with this fandom and I'm glad this burst of inspiration came to me. I love the idea of dragons in a modern setting but the show itself covered that so well so I wanted to do the traditional thing of dragons in a medieval setting.
This story will be eight chapters long and new chapters will come out every Friday.