The day green banners unfurled against the weatherworn walls of the Castle Lennox, the entire kingdom was silent. The only sound that rang out over the streets was coughing: the coughing of the sick.
The kingdom of Lennox was suffering from a terrible plague: the emerald scourge. The disease had creeped through the city for months, eradicating entire families and neighborhoods. It began with a raging fever and dryness of mouth and throat that no amount of cool water could soothe. After a week, forest-green bruises would appear on the stomach, and they would creep upward until even the victims' eyes were rimmed by the emerald sores. The bruises would become infected, and the fever was unrelenting. After three weeks' suffering, every infected person succumbed to the scourge; there was no treatment, no cure, no hope.
The green banners meant the inevitable had happened: the scourge had reached the royal family.
Crown Princess Eira, only seventeen years old, was sick, not from the scourge, but from being cooped up within the castle for weeks. She knew it was for her own safety, but she still longed to visit her favorite shops, and she knew her horse was restless for a ride over the hilly countryside. She was in her room, reorganizing her belongings for the tenth time, when a ruddy-faced page brought the news: the king was sick. Eira immediately rushed to her parents’ bedchamber.
“Father!” she cried when she saw King Aethel wilted among the sheets of his bed. Queen Valia stood to the side, soaking rags in cool water.
As Eira rushed toward her father’s side, the castle doctor moved to block her path. “Wait, Princess,” the physician said. “He’s very contagious.”
Eira, hotheaded, was about to tell the woman just how contagious she could be when the king held out a hand.
“Listen to the doctor, Eira,” he said. His voice was cracked from the dry soreness in his throat. “Don’t look so worried. There's not a bit of green on me, so I have a few more weeks.”
The doctor drew herself up. “Your Majesty, I beg that you not sound so defeated already. We’ve been working tirelessly toward a cure for months now, and I’m sure your falling ill will double our efforts.”
King Aethel smiled wryly. “I know Lennox has the best physicians in the realms, but if you haven’t found a cure yet, you won’t have time to save me.”
Princess Eira asserted, “I’m sick of watching our people suffer day after day, and I won’t let this disease take you, too!” And with that, she marched from the room, determined to make good on her words.
The crown princess knew nothing about medicine or healing, but she was well-read in the magical lore of the continent. The legends said that dragons could imbue items with their life energy, making them able to perform miracles. Mythical heroes had armor that made them skilled warriors, swords that could cut through anything, and arrows that would never miss. There were flowers that brought forbidden lovers together, coin purses that were never empty, and stones that gave one power over the weather. Eira determined that if she could find a dragon, she could ask it for a relic that would allow her to cure the green scourge.
The problem was that dragons lived in wild and dangerous places, and even if you could find one, they didn't give magical rewards easily. Plus, dragons had a habit of burning and eating humans before they could plead their cases. That wasn’t going to stop Eira, though. She packed a knapsack with clothes, food, and maps while plotting a journey into the west mountains. Surely she could find some trail of magic and mystery in that deep wilderness.
Before she left, she said farewell to her parents.
"I wish you wouldn't go," said her weakened father. Eira looked away. The thing she feared most was that she would come back too late to save her father, and she would have missed her last chance to spend time with him.
Queen Valia had a different answer. "You might be safer outside the city than here in the castle," she said. Eira knew her strong, loyal mother wouldn't leave her father's side while he was ill. It would only be a matter of time before she woke up with a fever, too.
Eira fetched her white mare, Senna, from the stables, and before she mounted to leave on her journey, she strapped a full-sized sword to her saddle because even a princess of Lennox knew how to defend herself.
Satisfied in her preparation, Princess Eira rode out of Lennox that evening, passing under the green banners that hung from the castle gates. She waved to the handful of citizens who were healthy enough to watch her pass, internally swearing that she would save their dying loved ones.
By early evening, the princess reached the hilly lands of Lennox, in search of a dragon’s help and a dragon's panacea to save her people.
Author's Note: Welcome to my story! In this Introduction, we are introduced to Princess Eira, the hot-headed heroine of the story. Her name comes from "Eir," a Norse goddess of healing, which reflects her quest to find the dragon relic that will save her kingdom from succumbing to a terrible plague. This premise comes from the Chinese "Boy Blue" story in which a herbalist finds a dragon disguised as a blue boy. The herbalist receives a flower that is imbued with the dragon's energy, and he uses it to save the emperor's daughter from a deadly sickness. I chose to make the princess the protagonist in the story, and she's saving more than just the king; she's trying to save her entire kingdom. I hope you enjoy the rest of the story!
Bibliography: Myths of China and Japan by Donald Mackenzie. Web source.