This Friday’s Flash Fiction challenge (c 1000 words), courtesy of Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com, is a randomly generated character and situation: a glum empress is trying to kill a dragon to acquire its treasure.

“Your imperial majesty…” the courtier bowed deep before the throne.

“Well,” she scowled, “has Sir Woebegone returned?”

“Er, no, your most elevated highness, only his page has returned.”

A tide of murmuring rippled into the furthest reaches of the hall as the assembly exchanged comments.  They expressed regret at Sir Woebegone’s demise, but they were more worried about the next to be selected for what was becoming a ritual sacrifice.

The empress sensed her Court’s growing ambivalence towards the quest.  Her scowl etched deeper lines in her forehead and at the sides of her mouth. Nobody understood the burden she was under.  They wilfully misrepresented her intentions.  They thought she was sending her best knights to their doom purely for her own greed.  All this was a facade.  The empire was bankrupt and they were living on borrowed time.  And the demand that she celebrate her Jubilee!  Did they think she was made of money?

She stood up, and all the courtiers curtseyed or bowed.

“You are dismissed!”

She swept through the hall, through doors opened and closed for her by coiffed pages, along the sumptuously decorated cloister, and into her own room. She sank into an old, badly sprung sofa, which had stuffing leaking from various parts, and pulled a moth-eaten rug over her.  Her personal apartments were freezing.

She stared at the blank wall, ideas swirling around in her brain.  The tryptych of Sir George Slaying the Green Dragon had raised 10,000 guineas.  Maybe she could claim it from Sir Woebegone’s estate in lieu of the success of his mission.  Maybe not, since Sir Woebegone had paid with his life.  She had to have that treasure.  The Red Dragon had no right to it.  Darkness fell. Rather than light a candle, she retired to bed.

She awoke with the moon on her face and something poking in her hip. She sat up and rummaged in the bedclothes.  A peanut.  For Heaven’s sake, what was her staff doing these days, letting a peanut get into her bedding?  Had they nothing better to do than play tricks on her?  Well, maybe the cook did resent doubling as chamber maid, but it was better than no job at all.  Maybe she would look better with no head at all, the empress grimaced.

She pulled her dressing gown around her and shoved the peanut in its pocket.  She vaguely thought of slipping it into the cook’s shoe, but her attention was caught by moonlight showing through a slit in the wood panelling. That should not be there, she thought.  She pushed the panel and it swung back into a recess.  Steps led down, lit by the moon through the grill over the gutter outside.  After a hundred steps, the light was a distant memory, but the rough tunnel she now found herself in seemed to glow enough for her to find her way.  Something drew her on, despite her self-disgust at following a childish whim.

The glow grew brighter, yellower.  She rounded a corner; the tunnel opened onto a cavern.  The floor was covered in gold, precious jewels and other treasure, glowing and glistening. Greed overcame caution, and she hurriedly gathered up what she could.

“Ah,” a subtle sneer came from behind her. “I see you aren’t so proud that you miss a chance for a little thievery all of your own.”

The empress spun around, and found herself staring up into two large, golden eyes. They drew her in like a whirlpool.  Nothing existed apart from the eyes and the voice.

“Nothing to say for yourself? Well, I suppose you’re too used to others doing your dirty work for you.”

“I…,” the empress faltered.

The dragon moved into the cavern and lay down on some jewelled cushions.

“Why do you keep sending people to kill me, anyway?”

“Well… you’re a health hazard,” she said.

“Health hazard?”  His strange snort sounded like laughter. “Well, it certainly is hazardous to their health.  But if they try to kill me, well, what is one to do?”

“Er, what indeed…” The empress was beginning to doubt her sanity; first the peanut, then the secret passage, now talking to a dragon.

“I’ve been living here for centuries, minding my own business, counting my wealth from my legitimate sources of income, and you send people to kill me and steal it. Why?”

The empress paused.  This was highly unexpected.

“It is vital that your wealth is incorporated into our Treasury,” she announced. “The empire shall be run for the welfare of its subjects.”

“They’re all sponging off you.  Make them pay for the empire out of their own pockets.”

“If they paid for it, it wouldn’t be an empire any more.”

“Well, it’s hardly one at the moment, is it?  You can’t afford it and your staff hates you.”

“My staff adores me; I am a caring and generous employer!”

“Who can only afford them if they double up on jobs, so they play tricks on you to get their own back. Yee-ee-es,” the dragon sneered.  “It’s a farce, and you know it!”

“But I’m the empress!”

“Of what?”

The empress sat down on the treasure at her feet and fingered the coins, letting them run through her fingers, caressing the gold plates and candlesticks.  It was a very good question.  Of a large empire where people bickered with each other, made themselves rich at her expense and laughed at her behind their backs.  Only her most loyal knights had been willing to obey her, and she’d been killing them off.

But if only she had enough money that would change, and she would be supreme.  She idly toyed with a small gold tube at her side and the peanut in her pocket.  She slipped the one inside the other, then blew hard; the peanut shot out and went straight up the dragon’s nostril.  The dragon inhaled, choked, clutched at his throat, thrashed around for a good few minutes, then lay still.  The empress went over to it.  She poked him in the eye with a candle stick.  There was no response.  As far as she could tell, the dragon had died from anaphylactic shock.

What a shame, she thought, as she filled her pockets with coins.  He really did seem to understand her problems.

Fancy a dragon suffering from a peanut allergy.

The Empress and the Peanut
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